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Problems with William Lane Craig’s View of God being Timeless SANS creation and temporal SINCE creation

Craig’s view of God’s choice to create the world entails a contradiction insofar as he affirms both a) that God is timeless, and b) that God is temporal. Craig believes God’s timeless decision to create, and his subsequent entering into time, is necessary because the world cannot be infinite in the temporal past. The world – or rather temporal becoming and time itself – cannot be eternal in the past direction on Craig’s view. For this implies a contradiction (he thinks), because it means that an infinite series would have to have been traversed to arrive at the present moment. No infinite can be traversed (for then it would be finite). Therefore, Craig concludes, the past cannot be infinite.

First – this objection is not new. The medievals knew it well. Aquinas answers it in about three sentences in the ST by saying that it rests on a category mistake. No one who thinks the past is is eternal supposes that that very eternity has somehow been traversed. Rather, what they are saying is that there is no contradiction in supposing that temporal becoming has always been, for forever in the past. The category mistake comes in when you use the word “traversed” and try to apply it to this past infinity. To traverse implicitly implies some completion of a finite movement through space and time. “I have traversed the distance between my door and my car.” I.e. I have walked that finite distance. But if the past is eternal, all that is implied is that “movement has always been occurring.” Thus it would be meaningless to refute this proposition by saying that “infinite movement has been completed” since the one term – “completed” – implies finite movement, which is the opposite of what the proposition is suggesting to begin with.

In short, when you try to describe a) “movement has always been occurring” as b) something that has been “traversed” you are just changing a) into the following sentence: “movement occurred.” But you see saying movement occurred is very different from saying that it has always been occurring. The first implies a finite completion. The second, never ending succession.

Second – there is an implicit contradiction in Craig’s view insofar as he says that God “was timeless” sans (i.e. without) creation and is temporal “since” creation. If God “was timeless” then this proposition is indexed – that is, it has a temporal location, which is the past. But nothing that did exist is timeless in the strict sense. It was either temporal, and continues to endure, or it was temporal, and did not continue to endure. I.e. it is either like the grand canyon, which did exist in the past and still exists today or it is like the meteor that caused the grand canyon, which did exist in the past but no longer exists today.

In other words, if God was timeless, he is temporal, and Craig is contradicting himself.

On the other hand, if Craig is simply describing God’s existence in himself, independent of the world, then he is saying that God is in himself timeless. But what is timeless cannot “become” or “change” or move or it would not be timeless. Further, it would make no sense to further nuance God’s timeless state by saying that he is temporal “since” creation. For what does this word “since” here mean? It is again just a copula of temporal index – akin to the phrase “since back at time such and such.” That is, what Craig’s phrase really means, when looked at grammatically, is this: “God exists timelessly without creation, but back at the first moment of creation, God entered into time.” But “entered” is a past tense word. It implies temporal becoming. It implies that God existed in the past and then took on some new mode of being – some mode of being accrued to him or he lost some – when he “became” temporal (a contradiction.) But then, God cannot “be” timeless.

Craig must break down how he is using the word “is” with respect to God’s relation to time. If God is timeless, it is contradictory to predicate of that same God (since God is identical to himself) temporality. God’s “is” is either timeless – like the medievals thought – or it is temporal. It cannot be both.

Here is Craig’s view of God and time in his own words: “God is timeless without creation, and temporal since the moment of creation.” When stripped to its bones, it is self contradictory. To see this more explicitly, one must ask of this view: did this same timeless God “become” temporal? If we answer yes, then this same God was never timeless (and so Craig’s view is false.) If we answer no, then we cannot predicate temporality to the same being we predicate timelessness to. And so again, the view is false.

Behind this problem of Craig lurks another, which is this.

Any change in God seems to be explicable ultimately only by some active principle that is itself unchanging. Suppose, for instance, God was always changing in the infinite past. One would have to ask why he was changing in just such a way. But the only possible answer to this question would have to come in the form of a changeless principle, an ultimate principle of sufficient reason, which was absolutely timeless. Or again, on Craig’s view God’s timeless state before creation “was” contingent. Since God “became” temporal (I’m entertaining the contradiction here), then it was evidently not necessary that he remain timeless. For what is necessary cannot cease to be – and God became temporal. But what explains this contingent state in God, in which he existed “before” creation timelessly? It must be some further necessary principle outside of God. It cannot just be God himself in this timeless state – for that state is contingent and becomes temporal. But in such a case, you have something acting on or causing or explaining God’s own contingent state sans creation. Of course, this is inadmissible.

Once again, classical theology seems to have the upper hand on the analytic guys.

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Paradoxes of Creation

the issue with god freely creating is puzzling. but it does seem to me the medievals were right to suppose that god is not somehow more fulfilled with creation than without one. that would seem to imply that god is perfected through something outside himself and that he isn’t himself the fullness of being and goodness (the aseity issue.)

the question seems to be does a “difference” in gods “conscious” experience (willing, loving, relating to creation) necessarily entail a diminishment of his necessarily fulfilled existence (which he has with or without creation.) it may be that these are value neutral differences: i.e. whether or not god creates or is made man ,he will be just as maximally fulfilled.*

now if this is right, and if god cannot be enriched by his creative act – though he can be different because of it – god cannot create for a need within himself or to do himself any good. *he can only create for the good of that which he makes.* given creation then god necessarily wills the good of each thing he makes as such, for itself.

this to me if a powerful (and classical!) argument for universalism based on gods aseity. the only reason god could have to create is to bestow (or “pour out” – love that image!) goodness on what he makes: i.e. to will the goodness of the other as an end in itself. eternal torment and annihilation are not instances of this. therefore, god cannot will these things. (the argument is, more specifically, although god need not create, if he does he must will universal reconciliation to all, for no other alternative is consistent with him willing goodness to creatures.)

*this is closely connected to impassibility. could god freely will in himself something analogous to grief, anger, or patience? in gods triune life these experiences seem to have no place or even meaning. given just the trinity, who would cause them? yet given the sheer fact of creation it can’t be impossible for god to have experiences other than just his triune life. for he at least knows the world, that he creates it, that he became man to die because of sin it it, etc.

but god can’t get these “extra trinitarian” experiences from the world absolutely speaking, for then he would be receiving being (and how could the source of all being receive being?) but how then can god have them? how can god know “loss” or other “negative” emotional experiences, since by nature his triune life is perfectly harmonious in will?

Three Conundrums for Open Theism

i) God’s free choice. It seems once God has freely chosen to create, he has also freely chosen how to respond to every situation that occurs in the world. (Or has he?) If so, this seems to rob God of his freedom. He is not “now” free to do either A or B. He’s locked in. Doesn’t that make him now (and forever?) determined? Was God’s initial choice to create the only libertarian choice he will ever have? Or has God only decided how he will respond this side of heaven, and after the end of the world – or the end of each of our lives here on earth – he will be free again? And if so, did God decide that very fact during the initial act of creating?

ii) Prior to God creating, God existed without the universe. This state of God was contingent. Otherwise it could not have changed and God necessarily would have remained alone. Now, if God’s state prior to creating was contingent, what caused it? If it is contingent it need not exist. It could therefore fail to exist. What then explains why it existed? The preceding moment, and so on, ad infinitum?

iii) Each moment of God’s existence – if he experiences a before and after – seem to entail a kind of finitude, insofar as it is defined as “this” moment. But what sets a limit on this finitude?

Is it possible Gods necessary existence is akin to our “subconscious” being? It necessarily presents stuff sequentially into God’s conscious mind at “fitting” and maybe even necessary times (given God’s nature) and then God freely acts on this information?

Two problems with saying God does not suffer

All the criticisms that maintain that God does not suffer – there seem to me two problems. i) On any view of the Incarnation, the second Person of the Trinity suffers. Assuming one adopts a two natures Christology, the suffering of the second Person is not negated by the fact that it only occurs in his human nature, for he has a human nature just as fully as a divine nature. ii) Suffering, insofar as it is a conscious experience, is still a modality of being – of existence. It is incomprehensible to me that such a thing could exist and be existentially “unknown” to God. It would be like saying that God doesn’t know what the color blue looks like. Blue only exists because God made it so. But surely if God makes a mode of being he must know it perfectly – indeed it must come absolutely from him and him alone. The same holds, I would argue, with suffering.

The Problem of a Necessary Being Causing a Contingent World

There seems to be the following contradiction (or, at least, puzzle) in saying that a necessary being explains the contingent world. Consider.

It is normally assumed that a necessary being (NB) can explain the contingent world (CW) by some causal action taking place in the NB. However, this seems viciously circular. For the causal action that gives rise to the CW cannot be in the CW, since it accounts for it. But if the action is in the NB, then it is an item either itself necessary, or contingent. If contingent, then we must account for it by some further contingency, etc, until we get to some causal action that is necessary. But then, this action must necessarily be in the NB. In which case, the action which gives rise to the CW is necessary. For given the NB, it’s causal action will necessarily be present in it, and the CW will necessarily exist.

Thus, if a NB causally accounts for a CW, the CW is likewise necessary.

Another way to put the problem is like this. What explains the CW? Such a cause is either contingent, or necessary. If necessary, then, it must necessarily be what it is and cannot be otherwise. For any contingency in the cause must be explained by some prior necessity. But then, when we reach this necessary cause, its action must be necessary: it must necessarily do what it does. But what it does is cause the CW.  But then, the CW is no longer contingent, but necessary.

Now, this appears to only be a contradiction on Thomistic metaphysics. For if God is temporal or everlasting it seems a NB could cause a CW by a spontaneous act of freedom. This may be mysterious or even incomprehensible – but it also may avoid the contradiction above.

A Self-Contradiction in Thomistic Metaphysics

Here is the end of a recent exchange I had with a Thomist.

Fr. Joe,

Thanks for your reply. I agree that God must be essentially incomprehensible to us. What I am wondering is if Aristotelean metaphysics allows us to retain this mystery or if it entails contradictions. I suspect the latter is the case, given the difficulty of explaining God’s knowledge of the world.

The contradiction – which I’ve not seen even possibly explained – is precisely this. God knows truths which need not exist: for instance “the world exists.” This is an item in God contingently. God need not know “the world exists.” However, on Aristotelean metaphysics, nothing can cause itself. Thus the existence of any contingency must be referred to something outside itself to explain why it exists rather than not. There is nothing outside God, however. But then there is nothing to explain why God knows the world rather than not know it.

Further, nothing can be in act and in potency in the same respect. But God, if he may either know the world or not know it, is in potency towards this fact. But God knows the world. Therefore he knows it actually. But since he is in potency towards this fact, something outside him must explain why he knows it rather than not – something must actuate this potency. And again, since nothing can cause itself or act on itself in this metaphysics, something other than God must act on God to explain why he has knowledge of the world which he need not have.

Despite appeals to transcendence, I’ve not seen an answer to this problem that does not in fact entail a rejection of Aristotelean metaphysics.

For more on this line of thought, see below.

A puzzle about baptism

Quick thought.

From the council of Florence (held to be Ecumenical by Roman Catholics), we read, concerning baptism:

“The effect of this sacrament is the remission of every sin, original and actual, also of every punishment which is due to the sin itself. Therefore, no satisfaction must be enjoined for past sins upon those who immediately attain to the kingdom of heaven and the vision of God.”

Question –

If death is a punishment for original sin, as well as the loss of original justice and the subsequent concupiscence, then how do these remain after baptism if baptism takes away all punishment for all sin, even original?