f The Wittenberg Door: Was Time Created?

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Was Time Created?

Dr. Peter May has a fine article at bethinking.org titled, Has Science Disproved God? In it he fortifies the Cosmological argument with scientific discovery.

I do have one disagreement, though. In his article, Dr. May suggests that time is a created thing:

We cannot speak about time before time existed. God, if he created the universe, must live outside of space and time.

Time as the Movement of a Clock

For scientists such as Einstein or Hawking, time must be physical because their worldview rules-out the existence of abstract entities. Therefore, they ascribe a beginning to time and describe it as, basically, the movement of the hands of the clock.

Christians too typically fall into this line of reasoning when they speak of God being “outside of time.” Time is seen as a creation of God that will someday be done away with. Until then, He will content Himself with being a sort of jack-in-the-box, jumping in and out of this box called “time.”

Eternal Now?

Another Christian explanation of God and time, sometimes called “eternal now,” was held by many of our Church Fathers, including Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and Methodius.

This view puts God in a window overlooking a parade—the ever-present spectator, God is perched high-above observing all events at once. Consequently, the creation of the earth, the crucifixion of Christ, and the consummation of the age are all happening at one time. As if all events were thrown into a cosmic Cuisinart.

Sequence

There is certainly a created aspect of time. But is it exclusively so? I don’t think believe it is. There seems to be an uncreated element that is a necessary consequence of God’s existence. Consider this: Time is usually defined as duration—that which passes between events. It seems to me that there is something else to consider: sequence, which includes the events themselves. Here’s what I mean:

There are two types of sequence: logical and temporal. An example of a logical sequence would be counting, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. “2” logically follows “1.”

A temporal sequence would be a simple recounting of events. For example, if I numbered four Popsicle sticks and then randomly laid them out, they might turnout like this: 4, 2, 1, 3. That’s a temporal sequence.

Sequence and Temporality

Before God created the material universe there was a before. Before denotes a temporal sequence and is a hallmark of time. Therefore, since there was a before preceding the creation of the material universe, then time could not been part of that creation.

Here’s something else to consider: before that creation, God created a certain number of angles; and before He created them, He set a fixed number in His mind. This involves counting—logical sequences. Since God is not material, and since He is counting and creating, then neither logical nor temporal sequences are material; and since they necessarily precede His creative work, they themselves cannot be created; hence time cannot be material nor created.

The Challenge

Every Christian I’ve discussed this with has simply assumed that time is created and have offered no arguments for time’s creation and no valid refutations to my argument regarding sequences and time markers.

For those espousing the “time is a created thing” position, please tell us why we should accept your position? Why should we believe that before God engaged in His creative handiwork that He didn’t think (was He comatose?), plan (e.g., when would the consummation of the age be), add (e.g., establish the number of angels He’d create), love (inner-Trinitarian), etc.? Why should we believe something that is obviously self-refuting: that before before there was no before? Why would we believe that right now, to God, He is talking to Moses, bringing the plagues upon Egypt, being crucified in the person of Christ, bringing about the consummation of the age, ect?

What those of us who are skeptical of this position are looking for is a rational argument for time being created and not applying to God. (I'd also appreciate a refutation of the argument I've offered.)

It is a difficult issue, and highly speculative and mysterious, and we must take care not to create new mysteries. Those of us with these questions could be completely wrong about this, but to know that we are, we're going to need a valid argument (not an assumption) that time is a created thing.

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Joe Chavez said...

I was hoping for more feedback on this topic.

One of my favorite Bible teachers is fond of saying that time is a physical property and that God and the Bible are and from outside our time domain. A lot of it makes sense to my feeble pea-brain, but I'm not a scientist.

It was an interesting post that has caused me to re-evaluate my own thoughts on this.

Thanks for sharing. I'll be linking to it tomorrow!

6:57 PM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

I’m glad you found value in the post, Joe. I’m looking forward to seeing if you get any comments.

Thanks for stopping by (and the link).

--Shawn

9:53 AM  
Anonymous John F said...

Great post. I contemplate this often myself and have come away thinking many of the same thoughts. Since the post is still open, allow me to share some thoughts.

I don't find the 'eternal now' at all satisfying. I believe scripture reveals God is transcendent within His creation. The word clearly presents God as omnipresent, omniscience and omnipotent, the complete bundle. There fore, the notion that He sometimes disengages, so to speak, to view creation as a scroll or parade doesn't seem to fit within the defined attributes. Based on this, I don't find the suggestion that God can be in several temporal locations at once all that implausible.

The sequence thing you mention is where I too get hung up. At first I contemplated the Book of Life. Was there a point in eternity that God actually 'wrote' our names in the Book (Rev 13:8) and was written name by name? Was Joe above recorded prior to me, John? That would indicate sequencing. But that could be dismissed because the Book and the names could have existed since eternity and the 'writing' mentioned in Rev is anthropomorphous. However, when it comes to creation itself, as you indicate, there was a point in eternity that God specifically said “Let there be light...”, thus the beginning of something that was not. This is a definite sequence; not-->is. I believe this is what you are referring to with the 'before' scenario. If so, I like it. When discussed, none of my friends can offer a viable explanation either.

Then again, we as created beings are somewhat confined in our way of thinking. Because we are finite beings, our thought processes tend toward the linear rather than abstract. (Even abstract has linear roots). To elaborate, Hawking and other modern physicists theorize up to 11 dimensions when discussing the complex intricacies of time and space. Since our present physical environment consist of only three, I myself struggle visualizing more than three, however, mathematically, Hawking can offer 'proof' that 11 dimension can indeed exist. So the hang up may be with our available thought processes. Could a thought process exists that is not based on linear sequencing in which God has not revealed? For example, at the risk of sounding a bit wacko, take the phenomenon of Deja Vu. Scientist recently chalk this up as not any mystical revelation but rather irregularities within the impulses of the brain that regulate memory vs. now. Sorta a reverse linear. Are there impulses that lay dormant within the brain that may extend, or even supersede our linear thought process?

It's a very interesting question and , like Joe, I'm anxious to hear more on this subject.

6:31 PM  
Blogger David Bishop said...

You make a good point about sequence. I understand the argument in terms of logic. God's logic is logical, in other words. However, I do have a couple reservations about the rest of your argument.

The Bible does not use the phrase "before creation". Rather, it uses the phrase, "in the beginning." Unless one holds to the opinion that everything is immortal (an opinion the Bible clearly does not share), then one will conclude that a beginning necessarily denotes an ending. God has no beginning or ending, correct?

Your argument appears to hinge on the notion that God is "not material". Here again, the Bible does not use this kind of language. Rather, the Bible says God is Spirit. It does not say He is not material. In fact, I would argue that God may indeed be material in the sense that Christ does, even now, have a body. And this not even to say what sort of body the believer will be raised with when Christ returns. A spiritual body may not be the same as an earthly body, but it is still nevertheless a body. 1 Cor 15:44

4:39 AM  
Blogger The Catechizer said...

David, I’m not sure where we differ, so perhaps you can clarify.

The Bible does not use the phrase "before creation". Rather, it uses the phrase, "in the beginning."

I’m not sure why the distinction matters. Everything that is created has a beginning; only that which isn’t created (God) has no beginning.

Unless one holds to the opinion that everything is immortal (an opinion the Bible clearly does not share), then one will conclude that a beginning necessarily denotes an ending.

I assume you’re using “immortal” in the eternal sense. If so, then you’re right, the Bible does not teach that everything is immortal. For instants, the souls of dogs are not immortal. But the souls of people are. Thus while it’s true that dogs souls have an end, it is not true that human’s do, so your conclusion that things that have a beginning must have an end is not correct.

Your argument appears to hinge on the notion that God is "not material". Here again, the Bible does not use this kind of language. Rather, the Bible says God is Spirit. It does not say He is not material.

My point has nothing to do with whether or not God has a body. It’s simply that if time were only material, and material things came into existence, then time came into existence. But I argue that there is a non-material aspect to time that pre-dates the creation of the matter: if it pre-dates creation then it can’t be part of that creation.
Rather, the Bible says God is Spirit. It does not say He is not material.

By definition “spirit” entails being non-material. Why do you believe otherwise?

In fact, I would argue that God may indeed be material in the sense that Christ does, even now, have a body.

I’m not sure how you would make this orthodox. Christ took on a physical body; he did not have one prior to the incarnation. Do you believe otherwise?

“it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”

I take the above verse to mean that our physical body dies but our spirit lives on, and that the one implies the other. Is it your view that we are given another material body to temporarily use until the resurrection?

10:05 AM  
Anonymous Eric Anderson said...

You are making some great points. However, I would suggest that there is a false dilemma that comes from thinking there can only be one thing called "time" and that "time" is either material and created or else it is not created and not material.

Instead, I would suggest that there is indeed a kind of "time" that is very much created as an integral aspect of the space-time continuum that physics studies. The relativistic aspects of this physical time have been experimentally verified repeatedly. These are subject to speed and affect perception.

It is further clear that the Creator is not bound within this type of time. It is fascinating that many centuries before Einstein discovered the relationships between time, space, and the speed of light, King David had already recorded in Psalm 139 that God's perceptions are not limited by time (knowing event before they occur), not limited to any location in space (there being no place we can go to be away from God), and not limited by dependence on light (even the darkness is not dark to God). I would suggest David's inclusion of specific points about time, space and light is not merely a coincidence, but inspired revelation.

Obviously God is not limited to perceiving in the way that creatures within the space-time continuum are limited to perceiving. We exist only at a place and time and are dependent on beams of light to reach us in order to see an object or observe an event. None of that is true about God.

Yet God's transcendence over created space-time does not in any way deny or exclude God's immanence and interaction with creation.

Likewise, the idea that God is not bound by created time does not require that there does not exist any type of sequence for God's activities beyond created time. Even the understanding that God already sees all the events within created time (which is true) does not require throwing all events (including events before the creation of our space-time) "into a cosmic Cuisinart" (i.e. a description that would inappropriately imply a denial of sequence).

For example, we have multiple New Testament references to God's reality and activity before time.

No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. (1 Corinthians 2:7)

This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9)

The hope of eternal life, which God... promised before the beginning of time (Titus 1:2)

To the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:25)

I have never had a problem with recognizing God's ability to act before our created space-time existed. There is no necessary contradiction. The only apparent conflict comes if one supposes that there could only be one kind of "time".

It seems to me quite possible that, just as we humans have been created to bear the image and likeness of God, our created time is a created counterpart to an aspect of sequence in God's creative activity even before the existence our created space-time. I believe this capacity is part of God's eternal nature. (Yet here we would be referring to something that is clearly beyond our experience and likely beyond our comprehension.)

9:59 AM  
Blogger The Catechizer and The Deacon said...

Eric, I agree with you that there is a created element to time. What I’m saying is that there is an uncreated element as well. This uncreated element is a necessary consequence of God’s existence. I use sequences to illustrate that point. If there are no sequences, then everything happens at once (cosmic Cuisinart). If you disagree, then please answer the challenges above.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Eric Anderson said...

While I welcome your agreement, I should point out that I did not say, "there is a created element to time" as you wrote in your response. Similarly, in your article you stated,

"There is certainly a created aspect of time. But is it exclusively so? I don’t think believe it is. There seems to be an uncreated element that is a necessary consequence of God’s existence."

I am saying that it is a mistake to assume there is only one thing that might be called "time". It would still be a mistake even if one were to try to delineate this one "time" into created and not created elements or aspects. How could one entity be both created and not created? How could that "created" "element" or "aspect" be inherently an element or aspect of something that was never created? That does not appear to be a viable coherent option. The created is never an essential or inherent element of the uncreated. That would be a contradiction of terms.

A more coherent resolution would be to acknowledge the distinction between two different aspects of reality, one created and the other not created.

Physical time, i.e. the time of this physical universe, was created as part of the creation of the physical universe. This is unavoidable since it is inseparable from the physical space of this created universe. Physical time and space are interwoven aspects of the universe's time-space continuum. This is a reality we can study and demonstrate repeatedly.

This physical time is not an "element" or “aspect” of time. Being created, it is distinct from the uncreated reality that existed before creation.

You wrote, "What I’m saying is that there is an uncreated element as well. This uncreated element is a necessary consequence of God’s existence. I use sequences to illustrate that point. If there are no sequences, then everything happens at once (cosmic Cuisinart). If you disagree, then please answer the challenges above."

and in your article...

"Sequence and Temporality

Before God created the material universe there was a before. Before denotes a temporal sequence and is a hallmark of time. Therefore, since there was a before preceding the creation of the material universe, then time could not been part of that creation."

The first problem is that this reasoning runs directly contrary to the intention of the four passages I provided, where there is a clear indication of God's existence and activity "before time began" (1 Corinthians 2:7), "before the beginning of time" (2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2), and "before all time" (Jude 1:25).

Those passages directly indicate what your reasoning is calling into question, i.e. sequences of activity before created time. Sequence in terms of God's activity does not require the created physical time of this universe.

The mistake is to incorrectly assume there is only one thing called "time" and that "Before denotes a temporal sequence and is a hallmark of time." Notice your use of "time" singular, as if there were only one thing called "time" that is implied by any type of sequence, even the sequence of God's activity.

Against that assumption, we have the direct indication of Scripture of sequence and activity before the beginning of time, which itself indicates that time had a beginning, i.e. was created.

In short, Scripture teaches us that the argument is wrong and that, even if we consider God's activity before time to be a "sequence", the sequence of God's activity did happen before time began, and therefore "sequence" in this sense is not the hallmark of the physical created reality that we created beings call "time".

6:46 AM  
Anonymous Eric Anderson said...

p.s. As part of your challenge, you also wrote about logical sequences.

"Here’s something else to consider: before that creation, God created a certain number of angles; and before He created them, He set a fixed number in His mind. This involves counting—logical sequences. Since God is not material, and since He is counting and creating, then neither logical nor temporal sequences are material; and since they necessarily precede His creative work, they themselves cannot be created; hence time cannot be material nor created."

I've already addressed the part of this argument that leans on temporal sequences. Does the addition of logical sequences add anything more? No, it doesn't.

Notice that you distinguish between logical and temporal sequences. In doing so, you implicitly acknowledge that they are not the same thing. If you hold onto that fact, it reveals the error in this reasoning. You assumed that a logical sequence implies a requirement for a temporal sequence. But it doesn't, as is indicated by the fact that they are distinct terms and concepts. If you remove that false assumption, then there is nothing in what you have said about logical sequences that implies that logical sequences are (or require) temporal sequences or that logical sequences imply that time is eternal rather than created.

The only part of your reasoning there that even implies a temporal requirement is the idea of temporal sequences (discussed previously). Joining logical sequences and temporal sequences in the same argument does not transfer the temporal quality to the logical sequences.

In short, it is not true that Christians have "simply assumed that time is created". We affirm both that physical time is created and that God acted "before time began" because that is what Scripture affirms. We affirm this even though it clearly implies divine activity prior to the beginning of time, and even though this is difficult for us to conceive.

There is nothing surprising about the difficulty of conceiving reality before time, since we are created beings who have never known reality outside of physical time. Nor is there anything about these affirmations that is inherently contradictory or irrational. It only seems so if one assumes there is one thing called "time" and that all sequences require the same thing that we created beings experience as "time".

7:03 AM  
Blogger The Catechizer and The Deacon said...

Greetings, Eric. I’ll admit, I’m having trouble understanding parts of your comments, and am also having difficulty tying what you’re saying together. Ultimately, I think you’re saying that time is an exclusively created thing (although at points you seem to be saying that there are two things called time, which confused me; one of those might not be created, but I’m just not sure where you were going with those remarks).

How could one entity be both created and not created? How could that "created" "element" or "aspect" be inherently an element or aspect of something that was never created? That does not appear to be a viable coherent option. The created is never an essential or inherent element of the uncreated. That would be a contradiction of terms.

Christ is an example of having aspects that are created and uncreated (i.e., he took on a created nature, humanity). Therefore, I see no reason to believe that time can’t have both a created and uncreated aspect to it. And I agree with you that the created isn’t an essential or inherent element.

Regarding the scriptures you cited, they don’t present a problem for my view. First, “before time” is typically a figure of speech meaning “before creation.” It isn’t meant to taken as a commentary on time’s ontological status. But even if we took it that way, it would be referring to the created aspect.
In short, Scripture teaches us that the argument is wrong and that, even if we consider God's activity before time to be a "sequence", the sequence of God's activity did happen before time began, and therefore "sequence" in this sense is not the hallmark of the physical created reality that we created beings call “time”.

I’m not clear as to the point you’re making here. But look, you have before, during, and after. These are time markers. I’m saying that these time markers existed before creation, which is why we have a “before” creation. I gave other examples that time markers existed, such as God thinking (thoughts are sequential, and you have before the thought, during the thought, and after the thought). I’ve concluded, therefore, that this element of time had to have always existed as a necessary consequence of God’s existence. In other words, this is how things are because of who God is. Why is this controversial to anyone but an atheist?

Regarding your second group of comments, you totally lose me. I’m not sure what you’re saying. One of the things you seem to be claiming is that I’m conflating logical and temporal sequences, but that isn’t true (easily demonstrated by the fact that I carefully defined both). They are, by nature, linked, of course, but I don’t think you’re saying that they are not.

Your last two paragraphs seem to simply be an assertion that time is exclusively created; there is also no retort to my challenges.

“What those of us who are skeptical of this position are looking for is a rational argument for time being created and not applying to God. (I'd also appreciate a refutation of the argument I've offered.)”

7:19 AM  

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