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Fun for philosophers: Is God in time or not?

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Readers may recall that we have sometimes addressed the reasons that there cannot be a past infinity of time fort his universe, whether positive or negative (minus numbers).

It is more of a logic issue than a science issue: We would have been buried an infinity of time ago under the weight of all the events that had already occurred. One outcome is that most theorists who entertain the idea of an infinite universe in the past assume that there were previous universes (whose data gets wiped instead of cumulated).

But what about divine timelessness, the idea that God is not in time? Lydia McGrew explains and defends the idea, disagreeing with William Lane Craig:

We have seen above that anyone who holds that time had a beginning must have a somewhat counterintuitive notion of “beginning.” But what Craig says here goes well beyond that. At least when we say that time had a beginning we are not forced to say that an existing entity, the universe, changed from not existing to existing. What Craig here asserts is that God Himself underwent a change but that that change did not occur in any timestream whatsoever, since it was a change from not being in time to being in time. What could this mean? At a minimum, a change seems to require that an entity has existed at two different points in some timestream and has had one set of properties (though perhaps only relational properties) at one point and a different set of properties at a different point. But the change from being timeless to being in time cannot be of this sort, so what is the meaning of “change” as Craig is using it here?

The apparent incoherence is especially evident when Craig says, “[A]t the first moment of time, God stands in a new relation in which He did not stand before (since there was no ‘before’).” Since, as Craig says, there could be no “before” in this scenario, in what sense is the relation new? Craig says that God did not stand in this relation before, but he does not mean that claim in the sense that is necessary for a change or something new. We can argue from “God did not stand in this relation before” and “God stands in this relation now” to “this relation was new at some point” only if we are saying that there actually was a time before God stood in the present relation. To say that the very concept of “before” is meaningless in the scenario envisaged is to remove all the meaning from the claim that God entered into a new relation at the creation of the world and hence that the creation constituted a change in God. I can see no way for Craig consistently to maintain both that God is timeless sans creation and that God underwent a change at creation.

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13 Replies to “Fun for philosophers: Is God in time or not?

  1. 1
    Jim Smith says:

    I don’t know the theological terms, but I think the big bang and the fine tuning of the universe show that the creator of the physical universe must be transcendent, must be outside the physical universe. Time and space were created as part of the big bang, so the creator must be outside of time and space. My personal belief based on reports of near-death experiences and results from parapsychology is that all consciousness is non-physical, is not part of the physical universe. Consciousness, ESP, is not dependent on time and distance and is not constrained by any physical limitations … at least when not connected to a physical body.

  2. 2
    VunderGuy says:


    I don’t know why you brought up consciousness, since the issue being raised here is God’s relationship to time, but I would agree that with your take on consciousness and also agree on your take that, logically/causally prior to (as opposed to temporally prior to) the creation of the universe, God can be said to be timeless.

    However, with respect to Lydia, I don’t think she quite understands the nuances of William Lane Craig’s view, which have been expressed numerous times on his website.

    To summarize, Craig’s view is that God exists timeless sans creation and that God exists omnitemporally at the moment of creation which would be simultaneous with his decision to create. This view hinges on an A or Tensed Theory of time and a relational (I.E., time requires events before it can be said to exist rather than the other way around) view of time and a rejection of space-time realism and the acceptance of the conclusions arrived from a Lorentzian interpretation of special relativity.

  3. 3
    JGuy says:

    What is time?

  4. 4
    VunderGuy says:

    Well, on the relational view, time is the sequence of events such that, if no event ever occurred, there’d be no time.

    On the substantive view, time is well, a substance that events take place in such that, where this substance not to exist, no events would occur. In this view, time could very plausibly and oddly enough be said to be a particle such that ‘synthetic time’ could be produced and used to artificially age someone.

  5. 5

    An interesting concept of time can be found in Julian Barbour’s “The End of Time”. He presents a concept of space/time as a huge collection of superimposed potentials, which he illustrates as universal planck-variance states that all exist simultaneously.

    The Big Bang, he says, is just the space-time location of maximum spatial efficiency. It still exists where it exists in the 4-D stack of universal planck states, but from our perspective, in our particular sequence of planck states, it appears to be in the distant past.

    According to Barbour, mind is the sequentializer (linear organizer) of planck-state potentials. Time doesn’t really exist as we think of it, but rather is an artifact of local mind ordering a sequential experience.

  6. 6
    VunderGuy says:

    @William J Murray

    So, in other words, he subscribes to a B-Theory/Tenseless theory where temporal becoming is an illusion of human consciousness and past, present, and future are all equally real (IE, they’re simultaneous). His ‘interesting concept’ is just a restatement of that view. Anything that takes space-time as real (aka, takes the 4-D space-time block envisioned by Minkowsky with a wooden literalism) is just a restatement of the B-Theory, and subsequently, treat time substantially.

    I do wonder how retributive justice is to be handled by folks who hold this view.

  7. 7
    Sirius says:

    Someone should tell VunderGuy that his posts are not intelligible. Well, I guess I just did.

  8. 8
    CuriousCat says:

    As Berkeley said there is no time, no space. All are imprinted on our minds by God. Case solved.. dismissed.. 🙂

    P.S. I am not joking with Berkeley. Quite on the contrary, I agree with most of his views.

  9. 9
    Mapou says:

    How can God be in something that does not exist in the first place?

    Why is it that after all those many years, nobody seems to understand that a time dimension makes motion impossible? Is it really that hard to grasp or is it because it would show that nothing can move in Einstein’s spacetime by definition? Is it because the truth is embarrassing to relativists and modern science? I mean, how many people have not been taught to believe that gravity is caused by the curvature of spacetime? Of course, if nothing can move in Einstein’s spacetime, what does it say about all those spacetime physics claims? It says it’s all hogwash, that’s what it says. The hard truth is that we have been taught to believe in lies.

    None other than Karl Popper (of falsification fame) compared Einstein to Greek philosopher Parmenides who, along with his famous disciple Zeno of Elea, denied the possibility of motion. In Conjectures and Refutations, Popper called spacetime “Einstein’s block universe in which nothing happens.” Are there any relativist or time-dimension believer willing to contradict Sir Karl? Or are you all closet disciples of the ancient Eleatic school of thought?

  10. 10
    Axel says:

    CuriousCat, that seems to accord with my own view (which I mentioned a while back), that QM and our solitary life and death would tend to indicate that we each live in little world of our own, seamlessly coordinated, however by God.

    However it would definitely give our naturalist friends the vapours. Even though they are parasites who batten on the QM paradigm, which, while providing them with a good living*, they pooh hoo as woo.

    * At least in the eyes of a habitual ‘hewer of wood and drawer of water’, such as my good, (some say, bad, some say, indifferent) self… as someone reminded me, fitted my cv rather well!

  11. 11
    Mung says:

    Even though it is true that there is no time like the present, I don’t think this is the right time to discuss this.

  12. 12
    Axel says:

    It could be the right space though, Mapou, as long as it’s not been bent out of shape by excessive gravity on the part of the posters.

  13. 13
    Mung says:

    Black hole appears in vicinity of former website.

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