There are at least 3 ways to think of God’s eternality. First, God is everlasting in the sense that he is in time and exists from the infinite past and will exist into the infinite future. Second, God is timeless, outside of time altogether. Lastly, there’s Craig’s hybrid view: God is timeless sans creation and temporal since creation. In this post I criticize coherency of Craig’s hybrid view.
I can’t make sense of his view. It seems to me that if something it timeless, then it can’t become temporal, for if it became temporal the timeless part would come before the temporal part, which is a contradiction. Timeless things don’t come before anything; rather, timeless things stand apart from time altogether. As Leftow says:
If God is timeless, there is no before and after in His life. No phase of His life is earlier or later than any other phase, for only temporal durations and their phases stand in these relations. As it lacks earlier and later parts, an eternal life has no phases …. If God is timeless and a universe or time exists, then, there is no phase of His life during which He is without a universe or time, even if the universe or time had a beginning. For a life without phases cannot have one phase which is without the universe or time and another phase which is with it. If God is timeless, the whole of His life is identical with the ‘phase’ of it during which the universe or time exists, whether or not the universe or time began.
But why could there not be two phases of God’s life, one atemporal and one temporal, which are not related to each other as earlier and later? Leftow merely assumes that if any phase of God’s life is timeless, the whole is timeless. But it may be the case that God’s atemporal phase does not exist temporally prior, technically speaking, to His temporal phase.
So if God is timeless, he is also unchanging, but it does not follow that He cannot change. I’d say that He can change and if He were to do so, He would cease to be timeless. And that’s exactly what I think He did. Whether God is timeless or temporal is a contingent property of God, dependent upon His will. What is impossible is changing while remaining timeless. But it seems to me that a timeless being can change and thereby cease to be timeless.
Consider an analogy Craig gives to support his view:
[A] man sitting changelessly from eternity could freely will to stand up; thus, a temporal effect arises from an eternally existing agent.
Craig holds to a relational view on time such that time only passes if there is change. By contrast, on a substantival view, time would pass in the absence of change. So I think Craig’s idea is that since the relational view is true, and the man is sitting there changelessly from eternity, he is timeless in his sitting state. The moment the man stands up, change occurs and he enters into time. (To make this situation analogous to God’s, we should think of the man as existing by himself, and his standing being the first change in the world.)
It seems to me the man’s sitting phase has to be temporally before his standing phase. Wasn’t he sitting temporally before he was standing? If that’s right, then he’s not timeless in his sitting phase but in time and at t=0. (This is analogous to God having an unchanging intention to create the universe, and then acting to create the universe.) If there isn’t a timeless phase of the man’s life then he (and God) begins to exist, according to Craig’s technical definition of begins to exist. Obviously Craig wouldn’t accept this. Craig’s move here is to distinguish between two senses of change, which I’ll call change_1 and change_2.
Craig explains change_1:
By an “event,” one means any change. Since any change takes time, there are no instantaneous events so defined. Neither could there be an infinitely slow event, since such an “event” would, in reality, be a changeless state. Therefore, any event will have a finite, nonzero duration.
So change_1 is an event that has a finite, nonzero duration, and this is the kind of change that cant regress infinitely, according to Craig. An event occurs when a thing gains or loses properties. This is the common sense understanding of change, and this is the sense I was thinking of when describing the man sitting from eternity. So the man would be sitting at t=0 and the change of him standing up took a finite, nonzero duration. Craig realizes that when God “changes” from being timeless to temporal it can’t be this sense of change, because this kind of change takes place over a finite, nonzero duration. So he introduces change_2:
… in the context of discussion of God’s relationship to time. Here I was using the word “change” in a different sense than the sense it carries in the kalam argument. In saying that God changed in creating the world, I meant merely that God is not the same in His timeless state and in His first temporal state. He has different properties (my italics). In that sense He changes. But that difference does not take place over time and therefore is not a change or an event in the sense spoken of in the kalam argument.
So when God changes from being timeless to temporal, it’s of this change_2 kind: God changes from being timeless to temporal because being timeless is a different property than being temporal. It seems Craig’s words are misleading when he says that God enters into time and ceases to be timeless. This kind of entering and ceasing is merely the having of different properties.
If God changes from being timeless to temporal in this change_2 sense, this would avoid the contradiction I stated earlier, but it introduces a new problem. If God is not changing in the change_1 sense, it’s hard to see how God is not still timeless. If God is still timeless, and given that Craig thinks that God is temporal since creation, then God is both timeless and temporal right now, a contradiction. It’s change_1 that’s needed for God to lose the property of timelessness (which is itself contradictory for it would mean he’s timeless in the past). So it seems to me that if God is timeless, God is timeless through and through.
One might think that there is no contradiction in God being both timeless and temporal if we qualify it somehow. Let’s consider two ways. First, let’s consider the sitting man again. Perhaps as the man stands his foot remains unchanging while the rest of his body moves such that his foot is timeless while the rest of his body enters time; so there is a part of the man that is timeless and another part that is temporal. Contradiction avoided. This won’t work on Craig’s view because any change extrinsic to the foot is enough to bring the foot into time. Craig explains:
Let’s imagine this hypothetical rock that is absolutely changeless and isolated in outer space. Then imagine that a meteor whizzes by and another meteor whizzes by. Clearly the rock would not be timeless even though it is intrinsically changeless. Why? Because it changes in its relation to other changing things about it. First there was the one meteor going by, then later another meteor went by. The rock, though changeless intrinsically, would clearly be in time because it is related to changing things. Since God is really related to a changing temporal world, God would undergo extrinsic change and therefore he would be in time. This seems to me to be a very powerful argument for God’s being temporal.
So even if the foot is changeless, the changing of the rest of the body is enough to bring the foot into time. Even if Craig is wrong here and the foot is timeless, I don’t see how this could help the holder of Craig’s hybrid view, for God doesn’t have any internal parts that could play the role of the foot.
Let’s look at a second way to qualify the view to avoid the contradiction. Consider the two propostions:
A. Trump won the U.S. presidential election.
B. Trump did not win the U.S. presidential election.
Unqualified, these two propositions contradict each other. Now suppose we add a temporal index.
A’. Trump won the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
B’. Trump did not win the U.S. presidential election in 2012.
Now the contradiction has been avoided. Craig does something similar when he states that God is timeless sans creation and temporal since creation. Craig says, “God’s state of existing timelessly sans creation can serve logically as a sort of temporal index.” With this qualification, it’s not immediately obvious that Craig’s hybrid view is contradictory. Craig supports his hybrid view with a though experiment:
The impression that the state of affairs of God existing changelessly sans creation is timeless may be reinforced by a thought experiment: think of God in a changeless, solitary state in a possible world W* in which He freely refrains from creation. In such a world, it is entirely plausible and coherent to conceive of such a state as timeless. But no intrinsic difference exists between such a state and the state of affairs of God existing sans creation in the actual world. The allegedly initial segment of the actual world TW is perfectly similar to the world W*. It seems groundless to say that in one world God is temporal in such a state and in the other world atemporal.
Suppose there is no intrinsic difference in God (sans creation) between the two worlds, as Craig says. I don’t see how this helps, for according to Craig intrinsic or extrinsic change is enough for time to pass, and we have both intrinsic and extrinsic change in God in the actual world. Recall Craig’s unchanging rock with a meteor whizzing by. Craig thinks that this extrinsic change is enough for the rock to be in time. We could run a parallel thought experiment. Suppose in w1 a solitary unchanging rock exists, and in w2 that same unchanging rock exists but a meteor whizzes by. Since there is no intrinsic difference in the rock between the two worlds, should we say the rock is timeless in w2? No. Craig’s thought experiment says it is in time. So I think his rock thought experiment and his intrinsic-similarity thought experiment are in tension.
Ultimately, I’m skeptical if Craig’s “sort of temporal index” is legitimate. I don’t think there is state of affairs of God existing sans creation in the actual world. Even if there is some possible world with the state of affairs of God existing alone sans creation, this world is not like that world. There never is a time or state of affairs of the universe not existing, and this is true even assuming God caused the universe, an A-theory of time, and that time had a beginning. If you disagree, then when did the universe not exist? It seems to me that God’s being timeless sans the universe in the actual world is merely conceptual. For example, imagine an ball resting on a cushion from past infinity. We can conceptualize the ball sans cushion, but in reality there is no state of affairs of the ball sans cushion. We could similarly say that the unchanging rock is timeless sans whizzing meteor in the world where the meteor whizzes by, and this would also be merely conceptual when in reality both the rock and meteor co-exist.
If I’m right and Craig’s hybrid view is incoherent, then the theist needs to adopt a different model of God’s relationship to time. (I leave Padgett and Swinburne’s view aside. Craig thinks that view reduces to God being past infinite.) On the one hand, the theist could think that God is everlasting and give up the idea that an infinite past is metaphysically impossible. He could still retain the Kalam, but he’d have to give up the philosophical argument against an infinite past. On the other hand, the theist could think that God is timeless simpliciter, like many classical theists do. This theist will have to face Craig’s argument that extrinsic change is enough to bring God into time. (There are other issues with a timeless, omniscient God ability to know tensed facts, which I’ll leave aside.) Lastly, and unlikely, if these two alternatives are too much to stomach, the theist could hold that God begins to exist, and question the idea that everything that begins to exist has a cause.
Leftow, Brian. “Why didn’t God Create the World Sooner?.” Religious studies 27.2 (1991): 157-172.