Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Some philosophy of religion for your week

Some philosophy of religion for your week

(Originally published at What's Wrong With the World. Link to original post at 'permalink' below.)

I've been doing a little debating over on Facebook recently regarding divine timelessness, and it seemed that W4 readers might like to get in on the discussion. My own position is the Boethian position--namely, that God is timeless, except insofar as God the Son was made man.

I've always been a Boethian, ever since I understood the issue. It seems to fit well with much of Scripture, though not to be absolutely necessitated by Scripture. The position fits exceptionally well with the Einsteinian intertwining of space and time, since obviously God, as a spirit, is not essentially a spatial being. It provides a good way to comprehend divine omniscience regarding the future, and it is consonant with the general idea that God transcends all created things. The position has a lot of advantages.

However, I know that not everyone agrees. William Lane Craig, for example, holds that God has been timeless aside from creation, but that with the creation of the world God came to be "in time," a position that I admit I don't really understand.
One argument for divine temporality, at least "since" creation, goes approximately like this:

1. Any cause must either precede or be simultaneous with its effect.

2. The act of God's will that brings about a miracle is a cause of the miracle.

3. God sometimes does miracles.


4. The act of God's will that brings about a miracle must either precede or be simultaneous with the miracle.


5. The act of God's will that brings about a miracle must be in time.

6. If an act of God's will is in time, then God is in time.


7. God is in time.

I can think of a couple of places at which one could question this argument. Here is an analogy that seems to me to raise doubts about premise 1.

Suppose that I am writing a story that includes a car accident. Thinking about my car accident scene one evening, I decide that I will add to the story and have one of my characters, Joe, get a sudden craving for Starbucks coffee, which will motivate him to go to a certain part of town, thus bringing him to the accident scene in time to be a witness of the accident. I get up, go to my computer, and write in this addition to the story.

I have just caused Joe, in my story, to come to the Starbucks and be a witness of the accident. Did my causal act precede or come simultaneously with Joe's sudden urge to buy a Starbucks coffee? It seems to me that the obvious answer is that it did neither. To say that it did would be to put me in the story and to put my acts into the timeline of the story. In terms of my timelessness vis a vis the story, that would be to assume what is to be proved. But it also simply seems an incorrect analysis. I, as author, am not carrying out my authorial acts within the world of the story at all but rather within my own world. Hence it is meaningless to say that my act of causing Joe to have a desire for coffee came before or didn't come before his desire, as that desire is imagined to occur in the story. The question simply makes no sense, because my acts in my own mind and even my acts on the computer are strictly non-comparable to the timeline of events in Joe's story.

Premise 1 seems to be intended to rule out backwards causation in time, which I'm quite willing to grant is impossible. But if we revised premise 1 to say instead merely, "No cause may come after its effect," we wouldn't be able to get the argument off the ground, for the Boethian isn't claiming that God's causal acts come after their effects in the created world.

So it seems to me that the possibility remains open that acts from an infinite, transcendent being upon a finite universe are an exception to the usual rule expressed in premise 1, though that rule may well be correct for finite-finite causal events.

Have fun, chaps.

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