GOD IN TIME OR TIMELESS?
God has a definition. He is bestowed certain "attributes" that are mostly agreed upon. He is morally perfect, supreme creator, incorporeal, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent, immanent, ingenerable, personal, and of course, eternal. Here is one point that theologians and philosophers are disagreeing and argue today. Where is God? Is God in time, at all times, all the time? Or is God timeless, existing outside of time?
This is a very complex issue that is pretty equally weighted on both sides. It is reminiscent of the old puzzle, "which is heavier, a pound of lead or a pound of feathers?" One knows that a pound is still a pound, but is none the less inclined on impulse to say the pound of lead. One might be having a preference to say that God does not live by physical law, and therefore does not exist "in time". But does this follow with the doctrine and attributes of God? Two arguments will be put up against each other. The first will be Stephen T. Davis and the writings from his book Temporal Eternity. The second will be Hugh J. McCann and his writing The God Beyond Time.
Stephen T. Davis' argument, Temporal Eternity tries to differentiate between what he calls "timeless eternity" and "temporal eternity" arguing for temporal eternity. Davis begins by stating that it is part of the Judeo-Christian tradition that God is eternal. What exactly does that mean? Jews and Christians agree that "God's eternality entails that he has always existed and always will exist, that he has no beginning and no end." Davis argues that a timeless being cannot be the Christian God and that the notion of a timeless being is incoherent.
This is Davis' main argument. He bases the second point on Nelson Pike's definition of timeless eternity. What does the term "timeless" or "timeless being" precisely mean? A being is timeless if and only if it:
(2) lacks temporal extension.
These criteria are hard to comprehend because it is difficult to guess what they might intimate. One could not say of this being that he existed on your birthday or that he will exist when you die. One could also not say that this being has existed for a number of years or will exist for a number more. This leads to the next point that criteria (1) and (2) could imply another characteristic of a timeless being:
Davis defined temporal term as terms such as "past, present, future, before, after, simultaneous, always, later, next year, forever, at 6:00 p.m., etc." He continues that if God is a timeless being, sentences such as "God existed before Moses," or "last week God wrought a miracle", is either meaningless or necessarily false. An example of this lies in the following:
(2) x first exists at T.
(3) Therefore, God creates x at T.
Here lies the heart of the argument. One could maintain that (3b) God creates x, and x first exists at T. Statement (3b) is, according to Davis', merely a conjunction of (1) and (2), and is certainly entailed by (1) and (2). But can (3b) "be true of God if God is timeless?" He feels that "only if we have available a usable concept of atemporal causation, which, as I say, we do not have."
Davis goes on to hold that a timeless being cannot be "the personal, caring, involved God we read about in the Bible." How can a God that exists outside of time, make his presence known in time?
In the selection by Hugh J. McCann titled The God Beyond Time, it is sustained that God exists "where the verb, though in the grammatical present, signifies nothing of temporal presentness, but rather a reality that stands completely outside of time...."
McCann explains the two sides of this debate as sempiternity versus timelessness. McCann argues that the atemporalist must agree with statements such as:
(b) There never has been, is not now, and never will be a timelessly eternal God.
He must agree because these statements use terms of "temporal existence, which cannot belong to any timeless entity, God or otherwise."
This does not mean that God, being timeless, does not have knowledge of time, nor is time unreal to Him. If God were omniscient and the supreme Creator of time, then God would have to know of time. For if God existed in time, and created all, there would be one thing He did not create. Namely, time.
McCann believes that the idea of God experiencing history as a simultaneous present, is a contradiction that the atemporalist need not adhere. By holding this view, it makes all of history simultaneous. "God creates and is aware of all of history neither simultaneously nor at different times, but eternally." The following passage from McCann best summarizes this point: "There is no time at which He creates the universe, for time itself is an aspect of the world of change and that is what God creates. In a single fiat, He produces the entire universe, in all of its history,..."
Both use the example of numbers. Davis' holds that numbers are eternal and a "sort of necessary being," but on the definition given about timelessness a statement such as "the number seven was greater than the number six during the whole of the Punic wars" could not be made meaningfully. McCann disagrees by directly responding that it is incapable of intrinsic change. Two is two and never changes. You can speak of it in temporal terms, for that is what you know and how you exist, but two is still two. The same is applied to God.
The strengths in Davis' argument lie in one assertion; that it is "not clear how a timelessly eternal being can be the creator of this temporal universe. If God creates a given temporal thing, then God's act of creation is itself temporal....If God is timelessly eternal in the sense defined earlier, he cannot create temporal things." No temporal term can be placed on a timeless creator, so how could God have created the beginning without being there?
Davis' weaknesses are in his conclusion. Overall, his argument was effective until he became a wining, Bible thumper at the end. In recapping his three main points, instead of reiterating his arguments in condensed formats, he squirms to the "because the Bible says so" adage. He began his argument by quoting the Bible which was effective in siting examples of God being eternal, but in the end, it only served to weaken him by not even siting quotes, but by simply declaring so. On his first point that free will and foreknowledge he says that it can be conceived without resorting to the theory of timelessness. That was never even thoroughly brought up in the main text and one is left to rest on that final note. Second he concludes that nothing in his book or in the bible logically requires God to be timeless. That is not a very proficient recapitulation of the paramount argument. Third is the notion that to say God is timeless is to exalt His transcendence in every possible way. Davis replies by saying that he perceives no reason to exalt God in every way except for how scripture says. Doesn't the Bible say to exalt God in every way? It seems to be a grasping of straws to say that.
McCann makes two very strong points. If God is the Creator of everything but himself and has complete power and authority, he is confined in that He would be constricted by the simple fact that He did not create time if He exists in time.
The next point of note was arguing that if God is not seen as spatial, why take that view with time? In addition, "atemporalism is not committed to the view that for God there is no time. It holds, to be precise, that God is not in time, that his life and experience transcend change and temporal passage. It does not follow from this that time is unreal or even that God is unfamiliar with it." "God" is supreme creator and omniscient according to the attributes correlated with God, that the opposite would be true.
McCann hits a weak point when he is relating that the world requires God to continue sustaining it after it is created, and therefore, requires a timeless God. This is completely unsubstantiated anywhere in his writings. He uses this as justification for God's providence, a reason for being the "loving Father" and intervening in the world's history.
I believe God to be timeless on several points. We can begin with the Bible. "And the earth was without form, and void", Genesis 1:2. This could lead one to believe that everything was created from nothing. It is difficult to use a source such as the Bible without falling in the trap of man's interpretation. Written entirely too long ago, translated from several different languages, and pieced together by too many people, whether the true word of God or not, it is not a stable source unless taken on faith. And not all have that. I just wanted to show at least one point in which God could be seen as timeless in the Christian doctrine.
A friend and I were arguing the truth of homosexuality, and though we did not agree, he made a point that I feel is compatible here. He said that "homosexual" did not exist until one man, sometime, committed the act of homosexuality. At some point we had to name pepper because we already had salt. I feel time is the same. The act of time had to begin. It began when someone got tired of counting the number of times the moon and sun exchanged places.
But that is speaking of time in a matter of minutes and hours. We can take a look at the past, present, and future. The past has happened, the present is happening, and the future will happen. This is where I disagree with McCann. I don't believe that God has to continually propitiate our existence. Otherwise there would be no need to reproduce. There would be no need for complex physical law. We would just be.
I agree with McCann in that I feel that timelessness is the better theory and best fitting in with God's attributes. McCann made his illustration without resorting to "just because" conclusions. He carefully restated his conclusions on each point and I feel, was the most clear and decisive, not only rebutting each instance he brought up of the other point of view, but by having scope in being able to encompass a lot of them. So it seems that the pound of lead really does weigh more than the pound of feathers after all.
Copyright Jonelin (L.B. Jonni Taylor) ©1998