Saturday, December 01, 2007

And then......

On the issue of God’s relation to time there are two main views. One is that God is timelessly eternal, existing in a state in which there is for him no before and after, who creates and sustains the universe by a timeless act of will. In what follows I shall refer to this as the eternalist view. On this view creation is usually taken to be cum tempore, as with Augustine, but there is no necessity to this.

The other is that God is purely sempiternal, existing for all times, backwardly and forwardly everlasting, who creates the universe at some instant of this temporal series and (on some accounts) in creating and sustaining an orderly universe brings about the metrication of time, which is (prior to the creation) otherwise temporally amorphous. I shall refer to this as the sempiternalist view.

In his numerous writings on God and time William Lane Craig endeavours to appropriate elements of each these views, combining them together. For example in various papers, such as 'The Tensed vs. Tenseless Theory of Time: A Watershed for the Conception of Divine Eternity' ; his books, Time and Eternity, and God, Time and Eternity , and Creatio ex Nihilo (with Paul Copan) ; and his contribution to Four Views on God and Time. In all these places Craig has argued that God is timeless sans creation and in time avec creation. God is timeless but not necessarily timeless. God was timeless but is so no longer. As far as I can see Craig's views are expressed in a consistent way throughout these various sources, though with varying emphases, and I shall assume that his view is presented consistently, and so I shall refer to these sources indifferently.

So he states

Suppose…. that God did not exist temporally prior to creation. In that case he exists timelessly sans creation. But 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 (since there was no before)…..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 coexisting with the universe, a relation which he did not before have. As God successively sustains each subsequent moment or event in being a multiplicity of new relations result. So that even if God is timeless sans creation, his free decision to create a temporal world constitutes also a free decision on his part to enter into time and to experience the reality of tense and temporal becoming.

Elsewhere he writes of ‘two phases of God’s life, one timeless and one temporal’. So let’s call this the two phases view.

At least two philosophical positions motivate the central claim of the ‘two phases’, a view which Craig rather disarmingly calls 'curious', 'extremely bizarre', 'startling and not a little odd’. The first position is his adherence to the Kalam cosmological argument, with its commitment to an actual infinite universe, which requires that the first moment of time is also the first moment of the creation. This is inconsistent with the view of God’s life as sempiternal in the sense of being backwardly and forwardly everlasting, with the creation occurring in time. By itself, this adherence to the Kalam would be consistent with pure eternality, if pure eternality is consistent with the universe's first moment being the first moment of time, the Augustinian cum tempore, as it appears to be. So why does Craig not opt for the eternalist view? His answer identifies the second philosophical source that motivates the two-phases view: it is that pure eternality commits one to the B-series account of the temporal order of the creation which he thinks is philosophically weaker than the A-series account, and which he rejects. He may also have theological reasons for preferring the A-series account, but I shall not be considering what these views might be in this paper.

So Craig's argument is not simply an ingenious approach to the vexed question of God's relation to time, but an essential requirement of other important features of philosophical things that Craig believes.

In what follows I shall offer a set of critical reflections on Craig’s view. I approach his view in a spirit of curiosity rather than of hostility. Craig wants to have his cake and eat it too, and who can blame him for that? I shall conclude, nevertheless, that there are serious difficulties with what he claims about which he has said little or nothing. Finally, I try to show that the pure eternalist view, the view that God is necessarily timeless, the traditional timelessness view, the view which Craig significantly modifies, can be stated in a way that meets at least some of Craig’s problems with it.

Reactions to Craig

(a) The peremptory reaction

Craig’s view is sometimes peremptorily rejected as being straightforwardly incoherent. So Brian Leftow says (without referring explicitly to Craig, though perhaps with Craig in mind), that God cannot first be timeless, and then later be temporal. ‘For then God's timeless phase is earlier than His temporal phase, and whatever is earlier than something else is in time'. In an explicit reference to Craig, Daniel Hill similarly claims that 'The very word 'become' is a temporal word, and so we cannot truthfully say that an atemporal being can become anything.' And Paul Helm has accused Craig of holding the view that God is timeless before he created the universe and temporal afterwards.

Perhaps Craig would complain that such a reaction doesn't pay sufficient regard to his idea that the two phases of God's life, the timeless and the temporal, are not related to each other as earlier to later. Such a rejection of the two-phase view is based upon the belief that they are earlier and later phases of the divine life, and perhaps that it is Craig’s view that they must be earlier and later phases in the divine life. But Craig insists

Detractors of this position (viz. that God is simply timeless without creation and temporal subsequent to creation) simply assume that if God’s life lacks earlier and later parts, then it has no phases. But why could there not be two phases of God’s life, one timeless and one temporal, which are not related to each other as earlier and later? Critics have perhaps too quickly assumed that if any phase of God’s life is timeless, then the whole must be timeless.

I now have some sympathy with such a complaint about the critics’ accuracy, though sometimes it seems that Craig’s way of characterizing his position lends plausibility to the peremptory rejection, as when he writes ‘God acquires a new relation at the moment of creation’ and ‘Once time begins at the moment of creation…. God becomes temporal in virtue of his real causal relation to time’. Nevertheless I wonder whether the peremptory critics do sufficient justice to Craig's statement of his own view on the question of the relationship between the two phases of God's life. Craig might grant to the peremptory view that God’s being in time cannot be after his being timeless, but nevertheless his being in time can be subsequent to his being timeless. Perhaps the temporality of God is a logically subsequent phase, not temporally after. For Craig might say that the creation of the universe is (or logically entails) the abdication of divine timelessness.

On such a construction, there is a phase of God's life that is his timelessness, in this sense only, that had there been no creation then God would have been timeless. Had there been no creation God is timeless would have been almost the complete answer to the question of how God’s existence relates to issues of time. The reality would have been that God is timeless. Almost complete but not quite, for the complete answer, or a more complete answer, is: God is contingently timeless. Perhaps it would be less misleading than using the word 'phase' to say that Craig's view amounts to there being two modes of God's existence, a temporal mode which logically follows the will to create the universe, which ipso facto dissolves or terminates the timeless mode which logically preceded it.

This sort of thing, the loss of a modal property, is surely familiar enough to us. The change that Craig supposes occurs in the eternally timeless life of God upon creation is not a temporal change, but more like a change of status, as when a monarch, on abdicating his position, ipso facto loses the prerogatives of the monarch, such as immunity from prosecution. Or, employing the language of the theologians, we might say that what Craig proposes is a kind of divine kenosis, not as this applies particularly to the second person of the Trinity, but to the entire godhead. In virtue of creating, the timeless God necessarily foregoes his timelessness just as on some versions of kenoticism, in becoming incarnate the eternal Son loses his omniscience, perhaps even his impeccability. Yet the comparison with kenoticism is not perhaps perfectly apt. For on standard kenoticism, the self-abnegation is voluntary. On Craig’s view, construed kenotically, the creation is voluntary, the dissolution or abdication of timelessness follows as a logical consequence. In creating, God necessarily loses his timeless immutability.

I am not altogether certain whether this discussion and the analogies I have suggested convey Craig’s sense better than that which either Leftow or Hill (or an earlier phase of my own existence) held to be his position. Craig himself comes near to using the language of kenoticism, as when he says that the second phase is the result of ‘a free decision on his [God’s] part to enter into time and to experience the reality of tense and temporal becoming’. So I think that it does go some way to giving Craig’s sense, and I shall employ this understanding in what follows. Of course on such an understanding if God had of necessity to create some temporal universe or other then he could not have been timeless, though one might wonder whether sustaining such a world would entail change. In these circumstances there could be no fulfilable truth–conditions for the proposition God is timeless.

What could this be, a ‘phase’ that is not earlier than the first moment of time, and with a temporal universe not later than that phase? Craig says little or nothing more than that the two phases are not related to each other as earlier and later (nor, presumably, as simultaneous, though he does not say this). This explanatory silence is a rare act of philosophical self-denial on the part of a philosopher who is not usually stumped for offering positive reasons in support of any philosophical position that he holds. God’s eternal phase is a state from which changes in time stem, but he brings these changes about not by being before, nor simultaneous with, the changes, nor do the changes occur temporally after what brings them about. One might think, perhaps, that a phase that is not earlier than another phase is ‘above’ it in some hierarchical sense. But if so then, we might ask, how could that more exalted phase be touched by time, how could it be sufficiently unstable to have to abdicate its superior hierarchical position by something that occurs in time, the occurrence of which is in no way temporally related to it? In any case, how does what occurs in time succeed in destabilizing the eternal in a way that produces the effect temporally after the cause? If the timelessly eternal phase is not earlier than the temporal phase, in what positive relation is the first phase to the second? I think that it is fair to say that Craig has difficulty in answering that question.

But let us try to answer it. If, in so doing, we take a closer look at Craig’s claim, then with respect to Craig’s two-phase proposal there appear to be three possibilities:

First, that it boils down to the view that God is eternally timeless. He eternally wills the creation, as Craig puts it, and is nothing other than eternally timeless. One might suggest, from things that Craig says, that if it is possible for God voluntarily and eternally to will some event, like the first created something or other, which Craig claims, then it is surely possible for him eternally and voluntarily to will a series of such things. On such a view there would be no abdication of eternality. This would be eternality of the Augustinian-Boethian variety. God’s will is an eternal cause, or causes, the efficacy of which does not require an intrinsic change in God. But Craig rules out such a view for various reasons, chiefly, as I’ve said, on account of his adherence to the A-series view of the temporal order.

Anyhow, I think we can rule out God’s being timelessly eternal avec creation, given Craig’s clear statements on the matter. He says that this view is ‘quite impossible’. This leaves two other possibilities.

A second possibility is that given that there is a creation, and therefore God having created, there is not a true pre-abdication phase in the life of God. And, I suggest, nor ever was there. It is possible for us to imagine such a phase, but there truly isn’t one or wasn’t one. I can imagine Mr Blobby, but it does not follow that there could be a Mr Blobby. However, it may be said, not only can one imagine a pre-abdication phase of the life of God, it is possible to conceive of such a phase, in rather the same way that one can conceive of the edge of the desk. But the edge of the desk is not a part of the desk, a spatial phase, like its lid or its inkwell, it is simply where the desk ends. So it is possible for us as creatures to conceive of a pre-creation phase of God’s life. But this phase does not exist, it is simply the limit of his temporal phase, in the way in which two o’clock is the later limit of the hour between one o’clock and two o’clock, not a non-temporal phase of that hour. So if there is no true pre-abdication phase then there’s no abdication; there could never have been. That is, if one presses the idea that there are two phases, not related as earlier and later, this now – by which I mean the ‘now’ during the ‘later’ phase of the divine life - entails that the ‘reality’ of the first phase is purely conceptual. And a purely conceptual phase is not a real phase at all, any more than two o’clock is a very short temporal phase.

The third possibility is provided for us by supposing that there is no creation. That is, God eternally and voluntarily refrains from creatio ex nihilo. In this case ex hypothesi there are not two phases, only one. So again, as with the second possibility, there is no true abdication. But in this situation the one atemporal phase, the ‘first’ phase of Craig’s way of thinking, is not merely conceptual, a creature of thought, but real. God is really timelessly eternal. So he’s really timelessly eternal if there is no creation, but not really timelessly eternal if there is a creation.

There is a kind of oddity to this, if these reasonings are sound. On Craig’s view if God creates then his eternal, timeless phase is only ideal, conceptual, based upon a mere distinction of the reason. He is no longer timeless because he never was timeless. However, if he refrains from creating then his eternity is not merely ideal, it is real. Paradoxically, it is not so much creating that has a real impact upon the being of God as refraining from creating. Refraining from creating would ensure that God is timelessly eternal. Our first and third possibilities preserve pure eternalism. On their accounts of the matter there is no true temporal phase, either because, in the case of the first, there is creation but no second phase and a fortiori no temporal phase, or because (as with the third possibility) the temporal phase is an unactualised possibility. Another way of putting this would be: on the third possibility God’s temporality is purely counterfactual. For if he had not created then he would have been timelessly eternal.

In correspondence with Craig he has suggested that there is another possibility which better captures what he wants to say. He provides the following illustration of God’s really being in a state of timelessness which ceases to obtain at the moment of creation. It’s like a world that consisted of nothing but mathematical objects. Somehow, one of these underwent a change, and time would automatically spring into being and a temporal state would obtain, but it would not occur chronologically after the tenseless state, but it may nevertheless have explanatory priority

The trouble I find with this suggestion is that it is perfectly possible to construct a narrative of an extraordinary kind, one in which timelessly eternal objects become temporal. But the fact it is possible to tell such a story does not mean that it represents a logical possibility, nor even the presumption of one, any more than the story of the Owl and the Pussycat does. Besides the narrative there has to be some reason given to think that this is how it could be. The state of divine timelessness can only be explanatorily prior to the state of divine temporality if there is such a state, and telling a story which says that it is is simply a petitio.

Reasons against the two-phases view - memory and God's unity

If it is as Craig suggests, that God's eternity dissolves or terminates as a logical consequence of the coming into being of a temporal order, what else happens to God when this happens? The answer is: Quite a lot, actually.

Although Craig tells us that in creating God becomes temporal he does not say whether or not all that is God becomes temporal. It follows from his account that timelessness is a contingent feature of God, because in creating God loses it. Losing it looks like it entails a certain kind of change in his knowledge and in his willing. He wills what is other than himself, and his knowledge becomes counterfactually charged and tensed. But perhaps there are other essential features of God that retain their atemporality, that are in some way immune from the abdication of timelessness with respect to knowing and willing.

Suppose we think of timelessness not as an attribute of God, but as a mode of possessing attributes. And suppose we think that God possesses a large number of properties expressible as one-place predicates. Such properties might be divisible into two sorts: those he has necessarily timelessly, and those he has which have a temporal phase avec creation. There are those that survive creation unscathed, and those that do not.

So perhaps what happens to God upon creation is something like this: in creating God abdicates his timeless knowledge and will, but (perhaps) his timeless goodness, or his timeless truthfulness are unruffled by the onset of time. Perhaps we could say that God is immutably good or truthful because these properties are had timelessly. It is not possible for him to abdicate these. However, his knowledge and his will change with his creating. And we might defend this division by noting that creatio ex nihilo is a pretty remarkable business. Upon creation there is something, however inferior, that is other than God. Little wonder if this unparalleled act has deep consequences for God.

So – we are supposing - God’s timelessness continues avec creation, albeit in a mutated, not to say mutilated form, in the form of a set of properties he possesses timelessly, and a set of properties that he possesses in a temporal mode. Or rather, (as Craig has suggested to me) God has essential properties, such as being necessary, being self-existence, being morally perfect etc. whether he is timeless or temporal. But maybe we just don’t know. Craig supposes that in becoming temporal God becomes a temporal being. But maybe not. It’s hardly a matter of stipulation. Perhaps in becoming temporal only some of God’s essential properties become temporal. Craig does not canvass such a possibility, but it is I think consistent with his overall outlook. But of course the character of God would then be much more complex, and it may be that attempting to work out the details of such complexity takes us in the direction of incoherence.

But such a categorizing of divine powers may be too simplistic. For those in the timelessness column will be affected by those in the temporalist column. God’s truthfulness entails his being truthful, and his being truthful in a situation in which his knowledge is temporal would seem to require the adaptation of his truthfulness to temporality, its infection by temporality. And similarly with any power which involves intentional beliefs or propositional attitudes. Perhaps we could sort out this complexity carefully, but it looks as if the introduction of such complexity will create more problems, rather than provide us with help in coming to terms with the existing ones. In any event, as Craig says in becoming temporal God’s knowledge will switch from knowing truths tenselessly to knowing tensed truths: God in time literally foreknows whereas a timeless God does not.

Further, if the first act is a timelessly eternal act, as we have been supposing, then in that act God does not know what will happen, or what is presently, in a temporal sense, happening, only what happens in a sense that Craig may prefer to leave unspecified. In coming into time God necessarily acquires a memory, but he has no memory, nor any expectations, in his timelessly eternal phase. Having created, what would God know by memory? Presumably every detail of the unfolding temporal creation that he has brought into being. Would he also remember what it was like to be timelessly eternal? This seems more problematic. To remember anything, to least in the sense of remember that we are interested in here, what is remembered must necessarily be in the past. Was God's timeless eternity over when the temporal world first came into being? Did it have a temporal boundary coincident with that first moment of time? Or did it have a temporal boundary coincident with the sustaining of what was first (in a purely serial sense) created? Was the beginning of time the moment of the end of timeless eternity? If God's pre-creation phase was not before the creation then it is impossible to remember that phase. Is he nevertheless aware of it? If so, is he aware of something that never was the case?

Taking the Craigian story a step or two further, it must follow that God's capacities change on creating the universe and so coming to be in time. In certain respects he becomes incapacitated, in other respects he gains new capacities. Prior to the creation he had the direct awareness of timelessness, whatever that's like. After the first moment of the creation he lost that capacity to be directly aware timelessly or at least it became impossible for him to exercise that capacity even if we suppose that he retains it. And he gains other capacities, of course, or the ability to exercise other capacities, particularly the capacity of experiencing things one after the other, the use of temporal indexicals, and (at least on some accounts of propositions) he gains knowledge of the temporal order (that expressed by indexical propositions), and loses those items of knowledge that are only expressible timelessly.

So, teasing out Craig’s view, the disunity or disruption in God’s mind may become even deeper, because those properties he possesses in timeless mode may not be accessible to him while he is operating in temporal mode, avec creation.

More than that, let us presume that the direct awareness of timeless eternity is a unique kind of awareness. The truth that God is thus timelessly aware of may be representable propositionally, which those in time may share some understanding of, however partial that understanding is. But the sensibility, the phenomenal awareness that is unique to a state of timelessness is something unique to being timeless. Like the sensibility that comes from being weightless, it can be reported in propositions but only had by those who are in that state. In creating God loses whatever sensibility the awareness of timelessness is, or he loses the capacity to exercise it. Does he lose it for ever? Perhaps he does. But perhaps not.

Let's suppose what is logically possible, if creatio ex nihilo is possible, namely the total annihilation of the universe, not simply the change of the world as we know it into something else, but its ceasing to be in any form. Let's call it annihilatio . Given annihilatio there is no time subsequently. At that point presumably God ceases to be temporal. His memories vanish, he resumes timeless eternity. ‘If there were to be annihilatio then God would resume timelessness’. Is this counterfactual true? Or is it that once temporal, never not temporal? Do God’s memories carry over into his resumed state of timelessness? Does timeless eternity start again? Does temporality stop at the point of annihilatio? Is it necessarily the case that if time has a beginning it can have no end? Is contingent timelessness and a two-phase view of the divine life going to deliver a coherent doctrine of God?

I hope you agree that our attempt to provide some positive content to the two-phase view has not enjoyed much success. It seems to yield a sense of God’s eternality that is purely counterfactual. For it does not look as though any essential aspect or power of God can be timeless avec creation. How the metaphysical unity of God survives the transition from one mode to the other is not apparent. And what story we should tell on the supposition of annihilatio is not clear.

The remainder of this paper will appear in January 2008