Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Eternalism contra Craig

(The first half of this paper, 'And then....', was posted in December)

The final thing I wish to do in this paper is to prod Craig’s view from the direction of timeless eternity. I stress that what follows is ad hominem to Craig and not intended as a full-dress defence of eternalism. As I implied earlier, Craig’s view could equally well be prodded from a temporalist understanding. We do not have the opportunity here to review all these arguments. I shall concentrate on one: one of the objections to pure eternalism that Craig expends some energy on is that creation by a timelessly eternal God entails changes in God, thus ‘temporalising’ him.

According to Craig, God is temporal ‘in view of the extrinsic change he undergoes through his changing relations to the world. But the existence of a temporal world also seems to entail intrinsic change in God in view of his knowledge of what is happening in the temporal world.’ By an intrinsic change Craig means, roughly, a change that takes place in God’s internal state of mind as a consequence of some extrinsic change he undergoes. This point is intended as a way of refuting God's necessary timelessness, his pure eternality.

As Craig understands matters there are two alternatives. One is that at the moment of creation God becomes temporal in virtue of coming to possess a real, causal relation to the world. His temporality is a logical consequence of that new relation. Alternatively, God exists as timelessly with creation as he does sans creation. But, says Craig, this second alternative seems 'quite impossible.

This is what Craig says

Imagine God existing changelessly alone without creation, with a changeless and eternal determination to create a temporal world. Since God is omnipotent, his will is done, and a temporal world begins to exist.... Once time begins at the moment of creation, God either becomes temporal in virtue of his real, causal relation to time and the world or else he exists as timelessly with creation as he does sans creation. But this second alternative seems quite impossible. At the first moment of time, God stands in a new relation in which he did not stand before.... this is a real, causal relation which is at that moment new to God and which he does not have in the state of existing sans creation.

Craig couples this argument with the use of a certain amount of rhetoric against Thomas Aquinas's view that while in creation the creature exists in a real relation to God the Creator, God himself does not, calling it 'extraordinarily implausible', and 'quite incredible', and 'fantastic'. But since as we have seen Craig thinks that his own view is 'extremely bizarre' there does not seem to be much to choose between it and Thomas's, at least on rhetorical grounds. In any case I shall argue that the essential point that I believe that Aquinas is making can be presented without reference to his doctrine of real relations.

For I shall argue this argument of Craig’s is unsound and that nevertheless there is a perfectly clear sense in which God, in creating the world, is related to it. A number of questions here require separation. The first is the purely logical question, If A is related to B is B related conversely to A? The answer is obviously yes.

Then there is the second question. if it is true that God creates a changing world does God extrinsically change? To this question, Craig must answer yes, because there is now something distinct from God, the universe, to which he must be related, related as its Creator. This is one of the ways that Craig has of answering the first question

Even if the beginning of the temporal world is the result of a timeless volition of God, the fact that the world is not sempiternal but began to exist out of nothing demonstrates that God acquires a new relation at the moment of creation. At the moment of creation, God comes into the relation of sustaining the universe or at the very least that of co-existing with the universe, relations that he did not before have.

For Craig, the third question quickly follows from the second. It is, in the circumstance in which God extrinsically changes must God also intrinsically change? Does whatever is involved in sustaining the world imply that God intrinsically changes? The question here is not whether Aquinas thought God does nor does not intrinsically change in such circumstances, but whether an eternalist must answer yes. Craig himself holds that ‘the existence of a temporal world also seems to entail intrinsic change in God in view of his knowledge of what is happening in the temporal world.’ But this change is only necessary if the world that God creates is really a world with an A-series temporal order.

The point is not that had the creation been different then God’s eternal will would have been different, and so God would be intrinsically different from possible world to possible world. This is obviously true and Craig himself must recognise this, since for him as for the purest eternalist God’s willing of the first moment of this creation must be different, for God, from his willing of the first moment of that creation. It may be that the contents of the divine mind, being the fruit of omniscience, never change. Necessarily God knows all the contents of all possible worlds. But which of these he creates clearly implies a fundamental difference. But God’s eternally willing that this possible world be created, rather than that possible world, is not a change in God.

By contrast, as Craig says, that any universe exists, and that in creating a universe God decided to create this universe, are both contingent matters. God’s creation is causal, though in a sense of cause that requires no material cause, but a cause that is temporal with a temporal effect. Once this changing universe is created then according to Craig, in sustaining what he has created God himself experiences the reality of tense and of temporal becoming. But in creating some universe does God intrinsically change? Craig claims that he does, but without argument except one that assumes the reality of the A-series account of the temporal series, the reality of tense and temporal becoming.

Let us suppose two possible universes, X and Y, and let us also suppose that X is the actual universe, the universe that God eternally and voluntarily wills to create. Y is a universe distinct in its description from X that God might have created but has voluntarily and eternally chosen not to create. Then we can say the following: that it is intelligible to suppose that God might have eternally willed that Y exist, and not X, but that given that he has eternally willed to create X then God has a different relation to X than he has to Y. Given his decision to create X rather than to create Y his mind is in a different state from the way it would have been had he eternally willed to create Y and not X.

Given his will to create universe X God’s relation to universe Y is a relation to a counterfactual possibility. But his relation to X, the real universe, is a relation to an actual state of affairs. The two relations are obviously different, in rather the way in which a potter's relation to the cup he has created is different from his relation to the jug that he might have created. But God's having a relation to this, the actual universe, does not involve him in intrinsic change, for the universe that is actualised is actualised as the sole result of his timelessly eternal will. It’s a truth about God that entails a truth about something contingent that really exists and is distinct from God.

So the basic Craigian idea must be that of a timelessly eternal will eternally willing the first moment of the creation and as a consequence of the success of that operation God himself becomes temporal. By contrast, there can be no temporal 'and then' for a timelessly eternal God. Even if the universe is created in time, and even if a timelessly eternal God eternally creates the universe by willing a temporal succession of events without changing his will, he nevertheless has a timeless relation to each of these. So for such a God there is no first moment of creation.

How does understanding time as a B-series help in our understanding of creation by a timeless God? On that view, each event is tenselessly related to each other. The Battle of Hastings has a fixed, tenseless but nonetheless temporal relation with the Battle of Waterloo, the temporal relation of being earlier than Waterloo. How does this help? Invoking the B-series view enables us to think of the temporal series from a standpoint that is indifferent to any point within it. So we can think of God as similarly indifferently occupying a standpoint outside that series, a timeless standpoint that entails a tenseless standpoint but which is not entailed by it.

So, according to this eternalist view of creation, God creates the universe as a B-series, according to which every event in that universe is, tenselessly, either before, after or simultaneous with every other event in the universe. But God is in no temporal relation to this B-series, not even in the tenseless relation that, according to the B-series view, any event in the universe is to any other event in it, and it is a simple mistake to suppose, as Craig does, that in creating the universe a timeless God must become contemporaneous with the first moment of creation and contemporaneous with any subsequent moment. For this would be to suppose that God is related to time on an A-series view of time in which certain events are present for God, certain events are future and (as the universe unfolds from its first moment), an increasing number of events are past.

If one wishes to use the language of time to characterise the relation of a timelessly eternal God to a temporal order then it must be said that God has always stood in the relation of being the Creator of the temporal world. But this language is itself misleading, and therefore needs to be used cautiously. It is better, more accurate to eternalism, to say that God has a timelessly eternal relation with the temporal world, but a relation that is nevertheless causal and contingent.

So Craig has the resources, drawn from the first phase of God’s two-phase existence, to affirm eternalism, which does not involve God in change, even though God comes into new relations. God may related to a temporal order without himself being or becoming temporal. This alternative is open for Craig. But we know why he doesn’t take it. This leads me to make a few brief concluding reflections.

Concluding reflections

Establishing a philosophical position often involves a trade off between downsides of varying intensities, a trade-off which is amenable to a kind of cost-benefit analysis. The shoe pinches somewhere for Craig as it pinches somewhere for anyone who wishes to establish a positive philosophical conclusion and not simply to demolish one. In the case of the tradition of faith seeking understanding theological matters are also among the constraints, though they have not figured in our present discussion of Craig. Why is Craig not attracted to pure eternalism? Not I suggest, because it is internally incoherent or the like. It is simply that the costs of pure eternalism, for Craig, outweigh its benefits. The shoe pinches by the pressure exerted by the ‘bizarre’ two-phase view, because the A-series view is more centrally entrenched in Craig’s system of things. Since Craig’s attachment to that view is strong, more central to his view of things, he tolerates the discomfort. Similarly, though things that Craig says about God’s second phase, together with his commitment to the A-series, suggest that pure temporalism may beckon, (a possibility that I have not discussed at any length in this paper, of course) he resists its attractions because of his commitment to the Kalam argument, and also because of the problem of why did God not create the world sooner.. This commitment exercises pressure in favour of the ‘bizarre’ view from a different direction.

If the A-series view is true, then temporality involves true becoming, some version of presentism. God’s involvement with the creation, if it is temporal, involves his true becoming. If the Kalam argument is true, then the universe must have a first moment. So given the Kalam, God’s involvement with time is not an involvement with a backwardly everlasting temporal order at some moment of which the first created thing arrives. If pure eternalism, then no A-series; if pure temporalism, then no Kalam. From the way in which Craig writes, it is clear that his commitments to the Kalam and to the A-series matter more to him than his commitments to either pure eternalism or to pure temporalism. And so, as regards God’s relations to time, Craig opts for an ‘extremely bizarre’ hybrid, the two-phase view. We have noted that this view is indeed beset with ‘bizarre’ difficulties, difficulties in understanding it, difficulties in its consequences. Perhaps the view is downright incoherent, though I have not argued this, or claimed as much. The most anyone who does not favour the two-phase view can hope for is that acknowledging that its slide towards incoherence will eventually pinch Craig so hard that it crowds out the benefits of holding on to it. Otherwise Craig will hold on to it, or something like it, so long as his commitments to the A-series view of time and to the Kalam argument endure. The shoe will continue to pinch, with no relief in sight.

(I’m grateful to Oliver Crisp and William Lane Craig for comments on an earlier version of the paper.)