The Timeless Now and Causal Loops

Eternalists – or those who believe God exists timelessly and unchanging – often believe this picture of God because they think it allows us to explain how God has foreknowledge of future events, in particular prophecy. God knows who will win the presidential election because God is “already” in the future. Thus he can, the argument goes, reveal to someone right now what will happen in the future because he sees it already going on.

I think this explanation of prophecy, God’s knowledge and his causal interaction with the world is flawed. And I will start my argument for this opinion with a question, which is this: granting that God is timeless, and granting that he interacts “at once” with all moments of time and the free choices we make at these moments, how does this mesh with prophecy?

What I mean is this. “Timeless-now-ists” (i.e. those who think God exists in a timeless now) would say that God knows all truths in a single logical moment. They will say that this includes God knowing his giving of free will, the free movements of the creatures themselves, and his response to their movements. Thus God knows in a single Now what happens at t1, t2, t3, etc. From this it follows that it also true that God knows that what happens, say, at t3 happens in part due to times that come before t3. That is, God knows that each moment in time is what it is in part because of times that come before it. I am married in part because at some time in the past I proposed to my wife, I was raised in a certain part of the world, and I was born from my two parents, etc. Now from this comes an important point: it seems undeniable that this temporal, causal relationship is also temporally sequential. That is to say, I was not raised in a certain part of the world because I later married my wife; nor was I born because one day I would propose to her.

How the point ties in to prophecy is this. It seems to me that in an timeless now, God’s causal interaction with moments of time would likewise have to follow a temporally sequential causal relation. That is, how he interacts with t3 would be “because” of what occurs at t3 and also because of what occurs before t3. But it doesn’t seem possible that how he interacts with t3 would be “because” of what occurs after t3. This is because if God uses what is after t3 to interact with t3 – say for instance that what occurs at t9 is his “because” for interacting with t3 in a particular way – then that would involve a causal loop insofar as the t9 that God is interacting with already has the preceding t’s as part of its causal history. So, I say that to say, it seems to me that God could not “see what happens” at t9 and use that to give a prophecy at t3. (I.e. God could not use knowledge gained at t9 to effect t3, because t9 already contains t1-8.)  Unfortunately this is the most common response from timeless-now-ists that I have read regarding how God makes prophecies in time.

It seems to me 2 things follow from this idea combined with the doctrine of God’s mode of existence: a) that God’s causal interactions with us, which involve true responsiveness and God doing things “because” of what we do in time, would uphold this temporally sequential relation among themselves. That is, God’s interaction at each stage would be “decided” by previous t stages, but not vice versa. His interaction at t3 would involve his interaction at t1 and t2, but not t4, t5, etc. This is because later t stages represent open possibilities with respect to God’s causal relation to us. And b) it seems no prophecy which temporally precedes the event of which it prophesies about could come about with absolute certainty without God taking away free will. That is, if a prophecy occurs at t3 about t9, then God’s interaction at t3 has not yet (logically speaking) “taken into account” what freely happens at t9 (again, because t9 itself already contains t’s 1-8). God could of course impose his will so that the prophesied event came about certainly; or he could give a conditional prophecy. But it seems to that if God were timelessness this would preclude the idea of him using what occurs at later temporally sequential points to affect earlier temporally sequential points, for that would involve a causal loop/regress.

So even if the eternal block theory of the universe is true, there is still a logical sequencing of temporal events within it. And this logical sequencing would have to be present in God’s being himself if he were to be really related to us. That is, if he relates to us in such a way because of what we do – say as forgiving us because we repent rather than holding us guilty because we do not – then God’s very being itself must “wait” on what we do in order to take our free movement into account with regard to his own relation to us.

Therefore I think no timeless-now-ist can consistently believe in free will and God’s real relation to the world. For there is a temporal sequencing in God’s relations themselves if we are free, as shown above. And, obviously, temporal sequencing is excluded by a simultaneous now that itself excludes sequence.

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