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.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

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 so. 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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6 Comments:

Blogger Dave said...

A fair muse. However, time has as one of its prerequisites the distance between two points. The issue is that God is always in the present everywhere present. He is immanent. He cannot sequence to one point and then the next and still at the same time hold the universe together.
For me to travel from A to B I need to have time at my disposal. God is already present at A and B at once.
For God to hold the universe together he has to be outside of time as he cannot hold the farthest reaches together if he is not everywhere present at once.
That there was a before before there was a before is not necessarily self refuting, it is merely to us incomprehensible, as is the idea of a one being everywhere present at once, being conscious of all things at once and yet able to concentrate on each individual thing individually.
To insist that God has to think in sequence is to insist that he cannot know all things at once.
the argument against the atheist that thinks he is making a clever argument by asking where God comes from is precisely that God is not from this dimension whereas energy and matter are. The atheist necessarily misses this point.

9:53 AM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

Greetings, Dave. First, I think your challenge falls prey to a category error: the equating of time and distance. To say that it’ll take five minutes to drive to the store is not the same as saying the store is five miles away. That’s why I can’t measure time by my odometer, or distance from my wrist watch. God is everywhere present, but that does not mean that, at present, he is in every time period (i.e., right now he is talking to Moses, bringing the plagues upon Egypt, being crucified in the person of Christ, bringing about the consummation of the age). If it is your belief that God is doing all of that right now, then make your case.

You say that for God to hold the universe together he must be outside of time. Why? This assumes that time is a created thing. Don’t simply assume that; give an argument.

That there was a before before there was a before is not necessarily self refuting, it is merely to us incomprehensible, as is the idea of a one being everywhere present at once, being conscious of all things at once and yet able to concentrate on each individual thing individually

God’s omniscience and omnipresence are incomprehensible to us. That’s true. But those things are taught in the Scripture and are, though beyond our complete comprehension, rational. Unlike those attributes, to say that before before there was no before is not taught in Scripture nor is it rational. If I’m wrong, tell me why.

To insist that God has to think in sequence is to insist that he cannot know all things at once.

Right now, I know that I’m sitting at my desk typing; feeling the cool breeze from my fan; hearing the sounds of people talking behind me; I know what my name is, my address, my kids names, etc. I know all these things simultaneously, and yet I can still count. Why can’t God? What evidence to you have that God’s mind is a jumble? That he can’t count? That he can’t construct a sentence? All of these requires sequence.

Dave, I appreciate you taking the time to reply, but you haven’t answered my challenge, nor my arguments against your position.

--Shawn

2:40 PM  
Blogger Dave Froneman said...

Hi Shawn

So sorry i only just found your reply to my comment, So I do apologise for the delay.

if I may begin with your charge of "category error".

"To say that it’ll take five minutes to drive to the store is not the same as saying the store is five miles away. That’s why I can’t measure time by my odometer, or distance from my wrist watch."

I am afraid I cannot grasp your point. let me explain. Were I to take a coin i could insist that heads is a category and tails is a category, but this would really be sleight of hand because neither can truly exist as categories on a coin without the actual coin.

My point is that time and distance necessitate one another just as heads and tails do. Much like energy and mass.

Your point about measuring time with your odometer or distance with your watch is an obfuscation and necessarily misses the obvious point, that travelling a distance requires a measurement of time as well. Equally, time never passes without travel. it might have escaped your notice but you live on a spinning globe, which is part of a dynamic (expanding) universe. sic.

Now to your other point, "God is everywhere present, but that does not mean that, at present, he is in every time period". You might not have noticed but you sneaked in a category which is self refuting. A bit like Descartes "I" in "I think therefore I am". No one is suggesting that God is "at present" in every time period, merely that God does not necessarily live in a "present" as you perceive it. You sneak in a category of time to make your point, thereby assuming that God works "in time". this is not just cyclical reasoning it is ad absurdum reasoning. Reductionist.

Finally, "Right now, I know that I’m sitting at my desk typing; feeling the cool breeze from my fan; hearing the sounds of people talking behind me; I know what my name is, my address, my kids names, etc. I know all these things simultaneously, and yet I can still count. Why can’t God? What evidence to you have that God’s mind is a jumble? That he can’t count? That he can’t construct a sentence? All of these requires sequence."

Your argument for multi-tasking again bears little resemblance to the point at hand. You again intentionally missed the word I useed "concentrate". What is in your periphery has little to do with your focus. I am insisting that God thinks at all times in focus and has nothing in His periphery. Your cute little anecdote misses this completely.

So your conclusion is again an obfuscation and not cogent.

Dave

10:00 AM  
Blogger The Catechizer said...

Hello again, Dave. Thanks for coming back. I’ll take a shot at answering your questions:

My point is that time and distance necessitate one another just as heads and tails do. Much like energy and mass. . . Your point about measuring time with your odometer or distance with your watch is an obfuscation and necessarily misses the obvious point, that traveling a distance requires a measurement of time as well. Equally, time never passes without travel. it might have escaped your notice but you live on a spinning globe, which is part of a dynamic (expanding) universe.

I think we’ve gotten a little far-up-field, and I’ll take responsibility for that. The argument about time that I’m making is pertaining to its non-material aspect, and I use sequences and time markers to make my case. The time/distance question has to do with the material aspect of time. I’ll concede your point for the sake of our discussion.

No one is suggesting that God is "at present" in every time period, merely that God does not necessarily live in a "present" as you perceive it. You sneak in a category of time to make your point, thereby assuming that God works "in time"

Popular among many today is the belief that God lives in an eternal “now,” that in His experience, there is no past and no future, all is now. Since everything is now He must be, by consequence, creating the world (now), being crucified in the person of Christ (now), and bring about the consummation of the age (now). I cited those in church history who held this view, and they held it because of a strictly materialistic concept of time. Christians who hold the strict material view of time see God as working “in time,” as you say I am doing. My view is actually the opposite: I don’t view time as a box that God is jumping in an out of.

Your argument for multi-tasking again bears little resemblance to the point at hand. You again intentionally missed the word I used "concentrate" . . . . I am insisting that God thinks at all times in focus and has nothing in His periphery.

Perhaps I did miss your point, Dave, and for that I apologize. As for your charge that I intentionally left out the word concentrate (one more attack against my character), it isn’t true. I didn’t think it germane to your point. If I understand your point correctly, you are saying that God can concentrate on many things at once. I agree. I also think that God can count, think discursively, plan, etc., all of which involve sequences and time markers. And if this is true, then I’ve proven my case.

So your conclusion is again an obfuscation and not cogent.

Of course, Dave, claiming something is so doesn’t make it so. This is another example of you attacking me instead of my arguments. I’ve enjoyed (for the most part) our conversation. You’re very thoughtful and I appreciate your challenges, and I hope that you'll take a shot at the challenge I made in the post. But if we are to continue, you’ll have to elevate your dialog. No more personal attacks or derisive dismissals. If you can’t discourse respectfully, don’t bother leaving a comment.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Dave Froneman said...

Sean! Hi. I do apologise for being brusque and unnecessarily rude. I got carried away and was focused on dissembling rather than appraising you arguments.
I enjoyed the debate and was in fact thinking about it while walking yesterday.
it is in fact in truth my opinion that we Christians have made far too much of a philosophy of God and have in much of our thinking lost the Biblical concrete/relational testimony of who He is.
That said I was merely wanting to explore the notions which you posted in an attempt to hear further ideas on the subject.
The issues of time, sequence and space, not to mention God's foreknowledge, sovereignty His immanence and other imponderables are by necessity forced upon us by history and are in many ways distractions which we have forced upon ourselves as Christians throughout history.
As an example let me cite "the problem of evil". We as Christians often mean by this the philosophical problem of evil; "how could a good all powerful all knowing God allow evil", when in fact the Biblical idea of the problem of evil is that we have to fight it. Engage it and war against it. The sad fallout of this is that much of our eschatology is fatalistic.
So to your arguments about God and time, I do not think we can know if God even thinks sequentially, but what we do know is that Genesis 1-11 is at pains to impress upon its readers that God is not His creation. In other words creation cannot exist without God, not just in the sense of being created in the first place, but of being sustained as well. But God can and does exist apart from His creation. I believe in the immanence of God but not in a pantheistic sense at all. My point in this is that the concepts of time and space are created by God but do not constitute God.
Biblically it seems the ancients were convinced that God (and in the New Testament Christ) knows the beginning from the end. Philosophically this is very difficult to conceive without the assumption that God is "times" master. Either he is merely an astute mathematician who can foresee His and our enemies connivance's by intricate equations of probability; or He has been to the future and can then in full authenticity assure us of His ultimate victory.
We cannot understand why God created with the potential of evil let alone the assured foreknowledge of it, but what we have to maintain is that God at the same time was not surprised by it, otherwise the Biblical assurances of God being able to care for us ultimately (we call it sovereignty) become much like Churchill's assurances to the British in the second world war. He was simply gee-ing them up and getting them to believe in themselves and to hang in with grit. surely God's assurances are more?

11:01 PM  
Blogger The Catechizer said...

Greetings, Dave. Thank you for the graceful apology; it’s certainly accepted. (I can relate to letting the leash of my pin extend too far.)

. . . I do not think we can know if God even thinks sequentially . . . My point in this is that the concepts of time and space are created by God but do not constitute God.

I agree that space and the material aspect of time are created things and have nothing to do with who God is. My argument is that the non-material aspect of time reflects the way God’s mind works and therefore can’t be part of creation.

I do think we can extrapolate that God does indeed think sequentially. For example, mathematics and the laws of logic require sequence. I would argue that both exist because they reflect the way God’s mind works, and His mind is the standard (e.g., 2+2=4 because it’s so in God’s mind, and that would be the same for the Law of Non-contradiction, Excluded Middle, etc.). Therefore, we, as creatures created in His image, think our thoughts after His (His thoughts and manner of thinking are original and ours derivative).

If it weren’t for the ability to think sequentially all of our thoughts would be a jumble; math would be an impossibility, as would communication, planning, and acting. I have no reason to believe that this doesn’t apply to God (i.e., He can think, add, communicate, plan, act, etc.). And if He can indeed do these things, then sequences exist and so do time markers and are thus not created. Why would you believe otherwise?

We cannot understand why God created with the potential of evil let alone the assured foreknowledge of it, but what we have to maintain is that God at the same time was not surprised by . . .

I believe that God is sovereign over all things and that He has decreed all things that come to pass. Evil, by consequence, is part of that eternal decree. This brings up the question, “Is God, then, responsible for the evil since He decreed it?” My answer is, No, we humans are solely responsible for the evil we commit. The Bible teaches both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility; they are two sides of a track that meet somewhere in Heaven—a mystery, to be sure, but not a contradiction.

--Shawn

9:09 AM  

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