Friday, November 06, 2015

God and Time (for Sean K.)

Stephen T. Davis writes: "Time, perhaps, is an eternal aspect of God's nature rather than a reality independent of God. But the point is that God, on this view, is a temporal being" (Reason, Logic, and the Nature of God, 23).

Davis also notes that John of Damascus set forth another possibility, namely, that "time has always existed . . . yet is only measurable when things like the sun and moon exist" (Davis 23).

The Bible itself states that God is "from concealed time (OLAM) to concealed time" (Gesenius). Thorleif Boman also notes that OLAM denotes "boundless time."

Moreover, the Complete Word Study: Old Testament avers that OLAM in relation to God does not necessarily mean that God is outside of time:

"Temporal categories are inadequate to describe the nature of God's existence. The Creator has been from "everlasting to everlasting" (Ps 90:2). Even then, it [OLAM] still expresses the idea of a continued, measurable existence, rather than a state of being independent of time considerations" (The Complete Word Study: OT, page 2348).


According to Boethius (in De Consolatio 5), on the metaphysical level, there is no such thing as "divine forevision" or foreknowledge. Boethius writes:

"If you will weigh the foresight with which God discerns all things, you will rightly esteem it to be the knowledge of a never fading instant rather than a foreknowledge of the 'future.' It should therefore rather be called provision than prevision because, placed high above all things, it looks out over all as from the loftiest mountain top."

In other words, while humans may rightly call God's knowledge of that which is future "foreknowledge," in reality, it is not foreknowledge, but intimate awareness of the present insofar as the present is nunc stans.

But why would an orthodox Christian be tempted to make
this move? There are at least two reasons that readily
spring to my mind. First, Boethius believes that if
God actually foresees future events or states, then He
also causes them. Second, Boethius reasons that
"Without doubt . . . all things which God foreknows do
come to pass, but certain of them proceed from free

Boethius argues that something known "cannot be
otherwise than it is known to be," though free acts
viewed IN SE, "do not lose the perfect freedom of
their nature" (See William Hasker's _God, Time, and
Knowledge_, page 7).

Boethius is not alone in this regard since Thomas
Aquinas further writes:

"Hence what is known by us must be necessary even as
it is in itself; for what is future contingent in
itself, cannot be known by us. Whereas what is known
by God must be necessary according to the mode in
which they are subject to the divine knowledge, as
already stated, but not absolutely as considered in
their own causes" (S.T. I. 14. 13, Reply Obj. 3. See
also Hasker, p. 10).

Notice that Thomas too escapes the possible dilemmas
that may arise from positing divine foreknowledge by
appealing to the notion of God's eternal present. But
if God subsists in timeless eternity, above time,
which both Boethius and Aquinas believe, then He
doesn't really see future events or behold future
states before they occur, bnut as they occur.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Edgar:-)

God's relation to time seems to be an impossible nut to crack. There seem to be essentially two possibilities, both of which are unintelligible to me:

1. God is timeless, and brought time into existence with the creation of the physical universe; or

2. Time, like God, has always existed.

Regarding #1, we have no clue what "timelessness" would be like, and regarding #2, we can't even begin to comprehend how "now" ever got here if time has always existed into the eternal past. How do you arrive at "today" if there is an actually infinite number of yesterdays? I haven't a clue:-(

~Sean K.

Philip Fletcher said...

Look the fact of the matter is time exist because God either created it or allows it. I also think it is possible that time exist only for us. I know animals are not aware of time, they are not given understanding of it. So it does not exist for them. It is our memories that make us aware of events. Events take place, they end up in our memories. We are aware of past present and future, thus we have time. Once Jehovah set things in motion, from our stand point it becomes what is referred to as time. Is Jehovah outside of time, maybe from his viewpoint but for ours he was before he is now and he continues to eternity. It is not really measurable, it is only perceived by us. Jehovah gave us intelligences to grasp at such things, in conparison animal apparently do not grasp at it, they have only instinct, not intellegence. That is my point of view.

Duncan said...

Intelligence is by degree.

Strategy is not unique to humans. To have some level of strategy animals must have a level of conception of time but cannot see outside of it as we do as demonstrated by pondering here demonstrated.

Sean Killackey said...

Hi Edgar,
I feel that unless we are given an absolute (or sufficient) understanding of time we cannot know what time is or whether it was created. We know that our (physical) time had a beginning. But it is not the only "expression" of time, but since the spirit realm (which is "linked" to our time, for the angels "peer" into prophetic things as we do) existed before our realm, well time itself predates our physical "expression" of it.

The fact that time exists in the spirit realm, which is not physical, implies that time is not a real thing, or at the least can be expressed in different ways. Perhaps, as some say time is not even real, not any kind of "fourth dimension." In that case time is a mental construct, more or less. So could it exist always in God as a mental construct? I think it could, and perhaps, even if it was "something," it could also exist as "part" of God's nature. But if it is a mental construct it is still something that is based on something else, that is change.

I find the idea that God is outside of time 1) hard to understand or talk about (without using time-based words). 2) Hard to reconcile with the God who atcs in our temporal existance.

He answers prayer - how can he do so if what was given in time already existed as an ever-present moment before God? If we love him he loves us, be if later one we apostatize, he won't forgive us and hate us, so are we loved and forgiven, or hated and condemned? How can both of these actions be "eternally" done if they are two different states? Are we loved now, but hated later? To God, at least (if he is atemporal) no, for there can be no change, yet how can we both? From there we could go into free will or predestination, but I won't.

Edgar Foster said...

Philip: time could also be an aspect of God's nature; God could be everlastingly temporal. I'm not dogmatic about this point--I offer this suggestion as a possibility.

The part that has long bugged me about saying that Jehovah is timeless is that it entails complete immutability. If God is timeless, he is emotionbless (it seems), he does not respond to prayers, he does not change at all. God also has no past or future, and it's questionable that God has a present, if he is not temporal. Insight (I:526) states:

"It is because of God's will that all things 'existed and were created.' (Re 4:11) Jehovah, who has existed for all time, was alone before creation had a beginning.—Ps 90:1, 2; 1Ti 1:17."

Edgar Foster said...


Are elephants or dogs intelligent? What about dolphins? Do elephants or dogs (etc) have a conception or awareness of time? I believe the answers to these questions are highly debatable. But I tend to believe that animals do not conceive anything since they have no way to form concepts without having a lingual apparatus like ours.

"We also possess a keen sense of time and a perception of eternity. King Solomon wrote that God 'has planted eternity in men's hearts.' (Ecclesiastes 3:11, The Amplified Bible) Under normal circumstances we want to keep living indefinitely. We want life with no expiration date. There is no indication that animals have such a yearning. They live with no awareness of the future."

From Awake 12/07

Sean Killackey said...

I have only developed this part way, but I'll introduce it hear and work on it some more.

Basically, I am thinking: There are three expressions of time: HUMAN TIME, ANGELIC TIME, DIVINE TIME. They are in sync with each other. Humans are bound by HUMAN TIME, but Angels can enter that time and the physical realm and leave it, our realm has its own expression of time, so why can't God both dwell in the temporal real of spirits and leave it, yet staying in his own, which is "in" him?

I will go into more of my thoughts sooner or later, but I'll let you look at it.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Sean,

Some time theorists distinguish between a) metaphysical time and b) cosmic time or space-time. The first didin't necessarily have a beginning although the second kind of time evidently did. There's a huge body of literture on the subvject as philosophers and theologians try to define time: so do physicists. There is no one accepted definition of time, and even our experience of time is difficult to articulate. That is why I'm not dogmatic about these matters.

Robert J. Spitzer (based on a number of experiments in science/physics) make a strong argument (IMO) for the objective existence of cosmic time. But I admit that not everyone is going to concur with his analysis.

Regarding your last set of questions, I will point out that they show why I find it difficult to believe in a timeless God. It's possible for a timeless God to answer prayers; however, it is not possible for a timeless God to respond to human prayers. A timeless God--as far as we know--does not change.

Sean Killackey said...

Hi Edgar,
I find it hard to feel that a God who cannot change (does not "move") in any way cannot think. Thinking, even if time is somehow not "real" involves two different states, THOUGHT A is, THOUGHT A is not, but THOUGHT B is. Can a God who cannot change states think?

Duncan said...

It depends how you define your bench marks, but IMO and many others, there are a number of reasonably intelligent animals:-

Your analogy falls down for those humans born deaf and dumb who still learn to communicate and understand and respond to time critical decisions (strategy).

ABP Ecc 3:11 συμπαντα α εποιησε καλα εν καιρω αυτου και γε συν τον αιωνα εδωκεν εν καρδια αυτων οπως μη ευρη ο ανθρωπος το ποιημα ο εποιησεν ο θεος απ αρχης μεχρι τελους

We do conceive of something more than standard time but both olam & αιωνα and the the way the LXX translates in comparison to the majority of verses using olam (ad) into greek. I do not think we can really grasp eternity & this is why we struggle when thinking of the olam ad of Jehovah.

We can conceive of ages but not of the endless string of ages.

Exo_15:18 κυριος βασιλευων εις τον αιωνα και επ αιωνα και ετι

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, I would like to more fully address some of these points later. But for now . . .

It depends on what you mean by "intelligence." In one sense, a dog might be intelligent or an elephant, but in another sense, neither creature would be. However, I particularly focused on concept formation--not intelligence per se. And in order to form concepts in the physical realm, it seems that one needs a natural language and speech in order to form concepts. A thing also needs a brain like ours with the type of neocortext that we have.

Humans who are born deaf or mute still might have Chomsky's language acquisition device, and they certainly still have the kind of brain needed to form concepts and learn a language. They also have a conception of time.

We must also make a distinction between conceive and comprehend.

Duncan said...

Pg 393

Quine (1997) pointed out one of its basic contributions: the language allows, among other things, the reification of abstract entities, like numbers, and allows, by means of verbal tenses, to place such entities in a time beyond the simple now, a time that goes from the remote past to the most distant future...

... We have seen that some primates show a certain degree of meta-cognition (they have representations about representations). However, as far as we know, the possibility of a critical reflection on their representations is completely beyond their means. For that purpose language is an indispensable vehicle. Thanks to language, human beings can assess their own reasoning, they can see to what extent their beliefs fit one another or fit the available evidence, and they can seek to improve them. In this precise sense, José Luis Bermúdez (2003: chaps. 8 and 9) is right when he claims that only language holders can (critically)think about their own thoughts (or about others’ thoughts).

This one comes back to the concept of color which I have already demonstrated that a person blind from birth just does not have.

Duncan said...

From Jeff Benner,

"Hebrew words used for space are also used for time. The Hebrew word qedem means "east" but is also the same word for the "past." The Hebrew word olam literally means "beyond the horizon." When looking off in the far distance it is difficult to make out any details and what is beyond that horizon cannot be seen. This concept is the olam. The word olam is also used for time for the distant past or the distant future as a time that is difficult to know or perceive. This word is frequently translated as "eternity" meaning a continual span of time that never ends. In the Hebrew mind it is simply what is at or beyond the horizon, a very distant time. A common phrase in the Hebrew is "l'olam va'ed" and is usually translated as "forever and ever," but in the Hebrew it means "to the distant horizon and again" meaning "a very distant time and even further."

Not really any different to an aion.

Compare psalms 52:8 72:19 89:29 MT vs LXX.

Psalms 85:5 is an interesting one.

Compare psalm 111:3 to 111:5 & the many other contrasts in psalm 111.

Luke 18:30 sums up the usage quite well. αἰών vs αἰώνιος. The latter being equivalent to olam ad.

Edgar Foster said...

On the issue of animals and thinking, Fred Dretske argues that animals do not have beliefs; therefore, they have no knowledge of the distinction between real and rational numbers. Fido does not know he will be 8 years old next Sunday; nor does Kitty believe in a transcendent reality.


Edgar Foster said...

I should have said that Dretske thinks animals don't have certain kind of beliefs--the beliefs that permit them to know abstractions like I mentioned above.