Is God in Time?

A skeptic has posed the following two logical statements as an attempt to refute God’s atemporality:

1.) God, an atemporal being, created the Universe.
2.) Creation is a temporal processes because X cannot cause Y to come into being unless X existed temporally prior to Y.
3.) If God existed prior to the creation of the Universe he is a temporal being.
4.) Since God is atemporal, God cannot be the creator the Universe.

Further:
A1)  A timeless being would be without the proposition of past and future.
A2.) But to be omniscient, God must know the past and future.
A3.) Hence a God that is atemporal and omniscient cannot logically exist.

 

Response: We must first realize how to define time. Time is not a state of being, as in something that one is in or out of. Neither man nor God is “in time” in the same sense as being in a shower or in a car. Rather, time is a measurement of change. “15 minutes” is only relevant when it measures a certain amount of movement of the earth in relation to the sun. So time measures change, and if there was a thing that never changed, it would be timeless. The concept “four” does not get older and has no before and after.

Therefore when we speak of God being timeless we mean that God does not change. He is the same; He knows everything, so he cannot observe things, get smarter, or figure out problems. He does not decay, so He does not get older. He had no beginning and was not created, so He does not age. Only things with beginnings that get older can be spoken of as aging. So God is timeless because He does not change. Time is a measurement of change, and God does not change.

The syllogism above is invalid for several reasons. First, it equivocates on what time is measuring. Premise 1 speaks of God being atemporal in being. This speaks of God’s essence; it does not speak of any creation He made. Premise 2 speaks of God’s actions, not His essence. Likewise, A1 again speaks of God’s essence, while A2 speaks not of God’s knowledge of Himself, but God’s knowledge of created things, for only created things have befores and afters. So both of the logical statements above make false conclusions, equivocating between statements about God’s nature and God’s actions or knowledge of His effects.

Second, both logical statements are not presented in formal logical syllogisms, which introduces the fallacies I am mentioning here.

Third, statement 3 mentions God’s existence and His creative act. If we say that God existed prior to the creation of the universe, we have only spoken of the causal relationship of God to the universe, not of God’s being. Statement 3 compares God’s relationship to the universe with God’s nature within Himself, which is an invalid comparison. It could be that God’s personal essence is timeless (unchanging) within His being, but He is still prior to the things He caused, the universe. God’s nature could be timeless, while He is still logically prior to the effect He generated. Therefore 3 is invalid, causing 4 to be invalid also.

In summary, there is no connection between God’s causing of creation and whether His essence experiences change. The universe experiences change, therefore it can be spoken of as before it was created and after it was created, but since God’s essence never changes, He cannot be spoken of as having a before or after in His nature. There is also no connection between God’s knowledge of a temporal thing and whether God’s nature experiences the change that is necessary to measure time. Neither statements above are presented in valid syllogisms.

 

 

 

 

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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16 Responses to Is God in Time?

  1. JoeC says:

    To a timeless God, past, present, and future would have no meaning. Relative to a timeless God, everything in this universe and beyond would be set and unchangeable at the moment of creation. Time would only have meaning in a physical world. Would it not follow logically that once you die, time would cease to have meaning? Would that make you all knowing or would you even have a concept that you exist?

    Obviously, no one can answer these questions, but it does seem to make concepts like free will seem much less plausible.

  2. humblesmith says:

    As mentioned in the post, there is a distinction between what God is in His essence and the relationship of created things to God. God is timeless, and as such, does not have a distinction between past, present, and future. So your first statement is correct as to how it relates to God’s essence (how He exists in being). However, just because God does not experience past and future does not mean that created things must exist in the same way. Unlike God, objects have a beginning and change over time. Created objects can experience past and present, and will experience a future, while God does not.

    Regarding your second sentence, God is set and unchangeable, and is therefore timeless. Creation is not set and is changeable, and therefore experiences time. There is no logical reason why God could not be changeless and the universe changeable; you have not presented any reason to the contrary, but merely make an unsupported assertion.

    Time has meaning for any being that has a beginning and experiences change. Dying would not change this, unless a person were to become unchanging.

    I do not see a connection between time and omniscience. This is the first time I have considered the question, but I can not think of a logical necessity preventing a person from being timeless yet finite in knowlege. God, of course, is both timeless and all-knowing. God does not think in discoursive, sequential thought, for this would mean that He figures out things by thinking about them in time, which would mean that prior to thinking about things, God is limited in knowledge, which is heresy.

  3. JoeC says:

    For God to be timeless how could he not know how everything will play out. He knew at creation what I was going to have for breakfast this morning, otherwise he has limits to his knowledge. He knew at creation that 9/11 would occur and it’s aftermath. If not, then God is not timeless and must wait as we do for things to happen and once again, he would have limits to his knowledge.

    Death is the end result of life, at least on earth. What is the result of eternal life? Why would time have any meaning in the after-life? Eternity is forever. If you are no longer restricted by time, then what is left to experience? What new knowledge can you gain without time?

  4. The problem is that “prior” to some point the universe did not exist. God had a timeless existence as far as we can imagine. There must have been a “point” where God decided to create. Then He spoke (or thought) creation into existence. This indicates change prior to the creation event. There is either a change in God’s mind-state (deciding to create) or a change in God’s activity (going from not creating to creating) which means there was some type of time, even if it is a sort of “hyper-time” essential to God’s nature.

  5. humblesmith says:

    Your first and third sentences seem to switch from the universe beginning to exist to God’s making a decision. If this is what you are implying, these two items should not be compared, since the universe needing a sequene in order to exist has no causal relation to God’s making a decision needing a sequence.

    Your explanation assumes that “there must have been a “point” where God decided to create.” Why must this be? It could be that from all eternity God intended to create. There is no logical reason this could not have been the case, and there is good reason to show that He does not have discoursive thought. Making a decision requires a thought process where one considers factors and makes a decision. Such a process would indicate that God did not know something prior to the decision (i.e., what He decided) that He knew after. God does not learn, for He knows all things. In any case, it is entirely reasonable to say that God did not go through a decision process regarding creation, but knew from eternity that He creates.

    To take this further, in God’s being there is not even a before and after in the creative act. God is act, and is act from eternity. The result happens in time since it is change, but the cause does not happen in time, since it does not change. An analogy, although perhaps a poor, limited one, is that of a doctor who makes a single prescription for a patient to take medicine three times a day for six weeks. The doc made one act which carried out several times over a lengthy period. With God, he is one unchanging act that always has been, but the effect of creation happened over a sequence.

    So this is a logical, reasonable explanation for God’s decision and act to have been unchanging from eternity.

    Fun, spacey stuff.

    • Perhaps a better way to put that would have been: there was a point where God acted on his intention. I did not mean that there was a point where God didn’t know he would create the universe and then at some other point thought it up.

      Unless you assert that the universe is co-eternal with God, your response does not hold up. You are also equivocating God’s intention to create with his actualization.

      So to put it in (hopefully) more clear terms: there was a sequence wherein God intended to create the universe, but had not actualized this intention by operating according to his will.

      It would seem that there must be some sense of temporality inherent to God’s existence, which is why I mentioned some sort of hyper time, beyond our complete understanding (as we should expect God’s existence to be).

      • humblesmith says:

        Again, temporality, or being in time, actually means the change between two things in relation to another. There can be change in creation, such as it’s coming into existence, without there being change in God.

        Eternity is not endless sequence, but rather a changeless existence. God can be in a changeless eternity and cause things in a changing sequence in the universe.

        • God went from a state of “not creating” to a state of “creating.” This is inescapable, as I said, unless you affirm that the universe is co-eternal with God. What would you call this progression from one state to another?

          • humblesmith says:

            I deny that God went from a state of not creating to a state of creating. I also deny that God went from a state of having not decided to create to a state of having decided to create. God is always in an unchanging state of commanding creation, and never changes. The only thing that has changed state was creation, and that only because it came into existence. The only progession of states is in the effect, not the cause. The universe changes, so it is not eternal.

            I have shown that it is logically possible for the nature of the cause to be eternally unchanging, while the effect be changing. You have shown no logical necessity that says that because there is sequence in the essence of the effect, there must be sequence in the essence of the cause. You have also shown no logical necessity that because the cause is unchanging (eternal), that the effect could not be changing (temporal). You have merely asserted these things.

            I suspect that you might be still thinking of time as a state of being that one is either “in” or “out” of, rather than a change in relation between things.

          • humblesmith says:

            Oh, and further: regarding the unchanging state of commanding creation: He can unchangingly command, from all eternity, that something happen next Tuesday. So just because the cause is eternal does not mean the effect necessarily has to be eternal.

          • You are still confusing God’s will or decision to create with his actualization.

  6. allen993 says:

    I Believe That God Always Existed Before Time Began!

  7. We are doing an entire topic at RC this semester on God’s relationship to time! My question is whether God has knowledge of tensed facts. It seems clear that if he does, then the content of his knowledge changes. Of course the propositional content of his knowledge would not change with tensed facts, but it seems that the tense component added to a proposition is necessary for interaction with temporal beings. Also both arguments make the mistake of not stating which theory of time is being considered. If ‘A’ theory is true, the meaning of atemporal is very different from its meaning under ‘B’ theory. On ‘A’ theory, temporal becoming is real, and the past and future do not exist. This implies that atemporal means something like changeless. It cant, however, mean that he does not experience time (since temporal becoming is real). If ‘B’ theory is true, then atemporal can have a very different implication. It would imply that God exists outside of the flow of time in the same manner in which he exists outside of the spatial universe. Now the atheists argument, I think, fails on premise 2, creation only requires that the cause be logically priority, not temporal priority. but I do think an argument could be constructed that would make the point. It seems difficult to conceive of God as a being that cannot comprehend tensed facts, and cannot interact with a tensed world. All of this applies only to ‘A’ theory of course. The idea of timelessness seems coherent on ‘B’ theory, but I think there are good reasons to reject that theory. William Lane Craig discusses the topic in depth (he literally wrote the book on the subject! “God, Time, and Eternity”)

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-time-and-eternity-2

    • humblesmith says:

      The issues surrounding God and time are difficult for us to comprehend because 1) it is conceptual, not visual, and we live in a visually-oriented culture, 2) God is infinite and we are finite, and the finite will never comprehend the infinite, 3) we know things in a different way than God knows things. We learn in succession, live in succession, think in succession, and God does not.

      I know of no way to boil down all the issues about God and time to a single session. Good luck. But here are a few tips.

      Much of the writings about God and time present an “either/or” fallacy by assuming that God must be in either A or B time, and there is no other concept. Further, they assume from the start that a timeless being cannot act in a tensed world, or would have difficulty doing so. As Eleonore Stump says, “If an eternal God is also omnipotent, he can do anything it is not logically impossible for him to do. Even though his actions cannot be located in time, he can bring about effects in time unless doing so is logically impossible for him. Aquinas . . . argues that the creation of things in time does not imply succession on the part of the creator.” (Stump, Aquinas, p.151).

      As to whether God has knowledge of tensed facts, you are correct that the propositional content of His knowledge cannot change, for then God would be learning, and indeed ever learning, hence God would be a finite mind, which presents logical and theological absurdity. But would this not also apply to the “content of his knowledge” as you say? Indeed, it seems it would. As to whether God has knowledge of tensed facts: Norman Geisler explains it thus: “God knows everything in one eternal now, including the past, present, and future. god knows the future before it happens in time. Therefore, when time changes, God’s knowledge does not change, since He had unchanging knowledge in advance that it would change. In other words, God knows what we do, but not in the same way that we know it . . . Each being must know in accordance with it’s own being: temporal beings know in a temporal way, and an immutable Being knows in an immutable way. Further, as the cause of all things, God knows all things as they preexist in Him.” (Systematic Theology, II, 91).

      Think of it this way: God knows everything there is to know about sin, but He does not know it from the perspective of a sinner, for He is not a sinner. So God knows all about tensed facts, but does not know them in the same way we do. Temporal becomming is real, but not in God.

      But apart from all the spacey philosophy, here is what I would bring to the discussion with the Ratio Christi group: Focus on the theology first. WL Craig is a very intelligent and influential man, and I respect him a great deal. However, he brings up an issue with time that could become theologically critical. Craig holds that God was timeless before creation but became temporal after creation. Imagine what this would mean if we applied it to spacial. If we are to say that God became spacial after creation, then He would exist over here and not over there, and the linchpin of our theology would be pulled…..we would be waiting for the entire system to collapse. The same is true for Craig’s view of time. If God became temporal, what doctrines would follow? Now, Craig is quick to deny Open Theism, and rightfully so. But what will his disciples teach in 50 years? The Open Theists claim that the future has not happened yet, so God cannot know it. Craig does not teach this, but this is the fear for future followers of this doctrine. How can God become temporal and successive? If He can do this, what keeps Him from becoming spacial?
      See here: https://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/god-time-acts-eternity/

      As to your comment responding to the atheist: you are correct, the answer is creation is logically prior, not chronologically prior.

      I’ll see if I can untangle any more of this in a few posts in coming days. Good to see you tackling the hard stuff.

      • Your initial statement that God does not live in succession begs the question, since it is just a restatement of your view. Certainly, we learn as time progresses, and God does not. But that is irrelevant to the question at hand.The key is that the scriptural data supports the divine timelessness view and the Divine eternity view (mine) equally well. We will go over the scriptural data first, but either view is an equal extrapolation.

        As for WLC he does have doctorates in both philosophy and theology as does Geisler (well a masters in theology), and both work very hard to start with the scripture first. But frankly I think the divine timelessness view is more guilty of injecting philosophy into theology than the divine eternity view. A number of historical attributes of God seem to be highly indebted to neoplatonist theology (timelessness, immutability, impassibility, simplicity) and this influence can be clearly seen (and is understandable) in Augustine, origin, and others. Taken together, these attributes tend to portray God as an unknowable, static, dead god. This is what is often termed the ‘god of the philosophers.’ The discussion of open theism is ironic, because, the favorite method of open theists to convert people to their view is to point to these attributes in the ‘god of the philosophers’, contrast them to the way the Bible describes God, and then point the listener to open theism as a solution (or worse, to process theology). The best way to combat these silly ideas, is to reclaim a robust and thoughtful understanding of the attributes of God. Accepting an attribute for purely historic or authoritative reasons, (the Church says, Aquinas says, Augustine says) is not good enough. Now, timelessness alone is not the culprit, but I do think it rightly deserves taking a look at, the point just being that the divine eternity view is actually less indebted to non-Christian philosophy and takes a clear, simple view that fits the scriptural data and preserves a common sense view of time.

        Now, the open theist claims that God cannot know the future, because future propositions have no truth value. They redefine omniscience to mean that God can know only what is logically possible for Him to know, and therefore claim that he can be omniscient and not know future events. This argument fails all on its own though, since it requires fallacious argumentation to show that knowing future events is a logical impossibility (or entails determinism). As for the slippery slope argument, that a denial of divine timelessness leads to open theism I say:

        1) The doctrine of divine eternity does not lead to open theism, those who move in the direction are of open theism are often initially proponents of an overly rigid and static view of God that is shown to cause theological problems.

        2) Whether some people may use Divine eternity as a jumping off point for open theism is irrelevant to the truth of the doctrine. Even if the claim is true that it can lean to open theism, that would not justify teaching divine timelessness if divine timelessness is false.

        I think the argument from spaciality is a specious one. The main tenant of ‘A’ theory of time is that time is NOT analogous to space, therefore temporal becoming in the mind of God would not be at all the same as God being limited in space. The argument is equivalent to saying ‘if God is limited by being loving, what keeps him from being limited by space.’ Love and space are different and unrelated things, as are space (a feature of the created world), and ‘A’ theory time (a feature of a mind).

        More importantly, existing ‘in time’ is not limiting God in any way if the ‘A’ theory is true. On ‘A’ theory, time is not a physical feature of the world, but rather an experience in a mind as change occurs. Remember that omnipotence is the ability to do all things that are logically possible. On ‘A’ theory, the past and the future do not exist, and God interacting with the past or the future would be logically impossible. However, since he exists at every point in time he can still act at any point in time, and since his propositional knowledge is complete, his actions would be the same regardless. All of this means that for all of the issues that you gave, it seems that God being ‘in time’ in the manner in which I described would be theologically neutral.

        Additionally, ‘A’ theory and ‘B’ theory are contradictories, therefore there cannot be a third option. (‘A’ theory=temporal becoming is real and future and past do not exist, ‘B’ theory = temporal becoming is not real and the future and past do exist). That is the law of excluded middle, temporal becoming is either real, or it is not.

        A question to ask would be: Is it within God’s power to create a state of affairs wherein ‘A’ theory of time is true and God experiences temporal becoming. To prove divine timelessness, I think you would have to show that the state of affairs implies a contradiction, and I just do not see one.

        In your other article you define time time as change, and argue that God cannot experience time since he cannot change. Now I would agree with the definition of time as a measure of change, but I would contend that God can experience time without changing in any meaningful way. Infact, the only thing that would be required for God to experience time would be for Him to know tensed facts, this would entail no change in his nature, no change in his being, no change in his knowledge of propositions. Your other article equivocates on what you mean by time. first you define it as above (more of an ‘A’ theory view) but then you compare it to space (‘B’ theory view). The problem is that ‘A’ theory time is completely different from space. It is not analogous. That is why philosophers spend so much time understanding God’s relationship to time compared to His relationship to space. His relationship to space is simple. He is completely outside of it. But since time is NOT like a dimension of space on ‘A’ theory, we have to understand His relationship to time differently.

        Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately!) we obviously wont be talking about all of this at RC, I think we will just break the surface of the discussion, but it will be a very interesting day!

        • humblesmith says:

          In my point about WLC’s position that God can change from being eternal being so that He becomes in time, such a change from timeless to being bound by time is just as troublesome as becoming spacial. The problems are equally troublesome. I only used space as an analogy, since the issue is easier for most people to grasp. I did not intend to imply that time and space are the same issue.

          As to the issue of “injecting philosophy,” my response is this: philosophy is merely thinking, and yes, we must inject thinking into determining what the scriptures tell us. As an example, the Bible tells us that God has arms, hands, breath, and makes sounds when He walks. It also says that He is spirit. How do we know to interpret one set of passages by the other? What principle do we use to say that God is spirit and the arms and hands passages are anthropomorphic? We do so by looking at the world and thinking about it: things with arms are created and finite, nothing created and finite can be eternal, the creator must be eternal. Therefore God is spirit and the other passages are anthropomorphic. We do the same with the passages that say God had to look for Adam to find out where he is, had to test Abraham so that he could say “now I know” that Abraham has faith. If God had to “find out” what Abe would do, He was finite, limited, and everything that goes along with this. To say that God does not know the future because it has not happened is equal with saying God learns. This is a severe theological problem. To say God was timeless then became temporal is confusion that invites theological problems. This is theology, not some outside philosophy.

          As to your claim that A and B theory are contradictories, and reference to logic. Statements can be contradictions if they are used in the same time and the same relation. If two statements about time change relation, they are no longer contradictory. Further, the view of time I am speaking about is neither A nor B, but is a definition of changing being, a completely different concept. It is logical to say that God can be unchanging and humans can be changing. There is no issue here with the law of excluded middle. Perhaps I was unclear last time.

          I think you are close in your description at the end where you say God can remain changeless while the facts around Him change. If this is what is meant by time, then yes, God would then be timeless and changing beings would be in time. But I still fail to see how knowledge of tensed facts is required. Could not God know past, present, and future, all at the same time, and know them from eternity? If not, then you are saying God does not know event A because it is future, then later does know event A because it came and is now past, and we again have an ignorant God that has to learn things.

          Perhaps I equivocated in the post you cited……I’ll have to go back and look. Thanks for the discussion….fun stuff.

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