Saturday, June 16, 2012

A tentative philosophy of time

The philosophy of time is a very complex subject. I've put further study of it on hold since I started preparing for a few essay contests on Ayn Rand's philosophy, but a friend recently asked me some questions about it, and I think the following summary I provided is a good indication of where I stand.

While I'm still open to the idea that God is not timeless, the primary problem I have with it is that it seems to be incompatible with even a weak understanding of divine immutability, a doctrine I think is Scripturally supported.

If God is temporal, then an A-series theory of time - which I will explain shortly - is true, and His knowledge literally changes. For example, the proposition "x will occur" would be true until x occurs in time, after which it would be false - so God would know "x will occur" at one point in time but not another. If God's knowledge changes, God changes.

I've tried to construct an argument that God could not be omniscient unless He is timeless, but to be honest, I haven't thought of one which holds. Of course, the meaning of "omniscience" would have to be qualified if God is temporal - it would have to mean something like "knowledge of all propositions which are now true" rather than simply "knowledge of all true propositions[, each of which are unchangingly true]" - but so long as one accepts determinism, God could control under what conditions His knowledge changes.

That's one reason I didn't really like the TF article on time. Parkinson didn't discuss an A-series vs. a B-series view of time, eternal creation, the meaning of omniscience, etc. The discussion is more complicated than "if God's knowledge changes then God is not omniscient," for why couldn't it be the case that God's knowledge changes in accordance with divinely predetermined changes?

Parkinson also doesn't seem to realize omnitemporality traditionally refers to the view that God has an infinitely extended past and future, or at least that He is at all times (contrary to atemporality). He can define omnitemporality in a certain way to make it compatible with Calvinism if he likes, but to me it seems like trying to define free will similarly - it's more likely to confuse than help.

Anyways, for "now," the best argument for divine timelessness I can think of is the argument that it follows from explicit Scriptural testimony of divine immutability. There do appear to be good philosophical arguments against an A-series view of time, however (e.g. McTaggart's paradox), which could also be used as arguments for divine timelessness. I haven't studied those enough to cite them as support for divine timelessness, though.

As for a defense of divine timelessness from counter-arguments, some language used to describe God is anthropomorphic, figures of speech not literally true. This includes words such as "past," "present," "now," and "future." Temporal events are not literally related this way. The A-series view of time says they are and that there is an objective "now." A simple way of thinking about it is to say that the A-series view of time regards some language as irreducibly tensed. So, for instance, a proposition like "I am writing this post now" cannot be reduced to "I write this sentence at 10:51 pm, June 16, 2012." Both may be true, A-series theorists say, but what they each mean is different.

A B-theory view of time, on the other hand, believes events are related by means other than tensed language. Or, at least, any tensed sentence expresses a tenseless meaning (hence, tensed language is non-literal). So in place of words like "past," "present," "now," ""future," yesterday," "today," "tomorrow," "was," will," "did," "had," etc., B-series theorists substitute words like "earlier than," "simultaneous with," and "later than." These substitutes are not tensed phrases. "I write this sentence simultaneous with Jodie driving a car, you sleeping, etc." is not tensed. "I write this sentence later than my reading of your post" is not tensed. No time has a privileged status of "now" or "present" on a B-series view of time. It rather relates events in the direction of logical causation. An event is earlier than another because the earlier event causes the latter event. Events may be caused by other events without its being necessary that they could have been, at some point, modified by the word "now."

If God is timeless and omniscient, a B-series view of time must be true. Otherwise, propositions describing events would be tensed, God would have to know those propositions, and God's knowledge of tensed propositions would necessitate and A-series view of time. This would lead to divine mutability, as shown earlier, which I find problematic.

How does a B-series view of time square with creation? Paul Helm theorizes an "eternal creation." To be eternal is simply to be atemporal or timeless. What does this mean? Well, A and B-series views of time define time in terms of the tensed or tenseless relations events possess (e.g. past/present/future vs. earlier/simultaneous/later). So the point is that God does not acquire [new] relations if He is timeless. What relation[s] God has to the universe, then, must be timeless - that is, on the B-series view of time, these relations cannot be earlier than, simultaneous with, or later than any other events.

Hence, as Helm puts it, God does not will "in" time but rather "with" time; He eternally or timelessly decrees {event A at time t1, B at t2, etc.}. He does not eternally decree {to will event A at time t1, to will B at t2, etc.}. God's will is eternal - it does not occur in time. So the whole temporal order is timeless, though the events in this order are temporal because of their tenseless yet temporal relations with each other (earlier/simultaneous/later).

In my own words, I think of the whole temporal order - the entire B-series - as a set: {A, B, C...}. A is the earliest event (or events) within this order, B is the next, and so on. A causes B, B causes C, and so on. While the entire set is eternally or timelessly created - hence God stands in static relationship to it and the events of the set, none of which possesses the tensed distinction of being "the present" - the set itself is not earlier/simultaneous/later than any other event, for there is no other event to which the creation of the temporal order could stand in [temporal] relation. However, A, B, C, etc. do stand in relation to each other in such a way, which is why we can say such events occur in time. They are earlier/simultaneous/later with respect to each other.

Thus, since there is no earlier event, the creation of the temporal order (the entire B-series set of events) is eternal. The entire created order is metaphysically dependent upon God's will, however (by definition, since created), so that creation would be eternal does not empty the word of its meaning.

If anyone is finding this difficult to understand, don't feel bad. I've read Craig's Time and Eternity (which was very helpful in introducing the material and written by an A-series theorist) Helm's Eternal God, and God and Time: Four Views, and I still have a hard time keeping it straight. I would recommend reading these books. Helm's summary view presented in God and Time: Four Views is viewable on googlebooks. It seems that he updated his views in Eternal God, though (e.g. possible worlds).

37 comments:

Max said...

"... the proposition "x will occur" would be true until x occurs in time, after which it would be false ..."

That depends if "x" is something general or specific. I think all events are specific because all events have their unique attributes that separate them from others.

God knows the time of this event's occurrence, and thus his knowledge of it won't change after it happens, since he always knew "x" would happen at "such a time" and not earlier or later. Do you hear what I'm saying?

Ryan said...

It sounds like you're saying that a tensed sentence and a tenseless sentence express the same meaning. But that isn't true on an A-series view of time: "x will occur on June 18, 2012" cannot be reduced to "x occurs on June 18, 2012."

Max said...

Yup, you're right - the future tense has a different meaning than the present tense. "x occurs" is synonymous with "x is occurring."

What do you mean by "tenseless sentence"?

Ryan said...

"x occurs on June 18, 2012" is not a sentence in the present tense, it's tenseless. It can be said at any time and be true, and can be said by an atemporal being and be true. It is a sentence which doesn't relate the event described (x's occurrence) to an alleged past, present, or future. So it's tenseless.

So this is what a B-series theorist would say a timeless God knows. God, if timeless, can't know a tensed sentence, because such a sentence would relate an event to the past, present, or future. That would mean God knows what is the past, present, or future, which means God must be in time or temporal. Why?

Take an example of the present tense. For instance, it would have been the present tense if I had said "x occurs now, and objectively, it is now June 18, 2012" or "x is presently occurring, and objectively, it is presently June 18, 2012." God can't know either or these if God is timeless. God can't eternally know "x objectively occurs now, on June 18" because it is not the case that "now" always refers to "June 18." When the present becomes June 19, then June 18 will be in the past, right? So God couldn't know on June 19 that "x objectively occurs now, on June 18." That would be false on June 19. Rather, His knowledge would change to affirm "x objectively occurred in the past, on June 18, because it is now June 19."

If God knows tensed propositions - i.e. if tensed propositions are true - then God is not timeless. In other words, God, to be timeless, must know tenseless propositions. Furthermore, if God is omniscient, either tensed sentences cannot be true or they can be reduced to tenseless sentences (in meaning). So an A-series view of time, which draws a distinction between the past, present, and future, must be false if God is timeless. A B-series view of time, in which true propositions are tenseless, must be true if God is timeless.

Max said...

"God can't eternally know "x objectively occurs now, on June 18" because it is not the case that "now" always refers to "June 18.""

But the word "now" there is defined by "June 18."

Ryan said...

"But the word "now" there is defined by "June 18.""

The point is that on June 19, God could no longer know "x objectively occurs now, on June 18." That means God's knowledge would change.

biblicalrealist said...

Ryan,

This seems to me to parallel the question of whether God strictly transcends space or is present within space at every point. Have I oversimplified, or does this question of tensed propositions translate into the question fixed geographical proposition? "Past," "now," and "future" are like "west," "here," and "east." Is God present in my house in Ohio, in order to know the proposition, "Indiana is west of here"? --Or, does God only know that "Indiana is west of Ohio"?

A friend of mine argues that God is not present within creation, but only transcends it, such that every point in creation is present before God, but God is present in no point. The table is in God's presence, but God is not in the table. I agree that God transcends creation, but argue that God is also in the table (and in every point of space and particle of matter). This seems to me to parallel the debate about God and time.

If God is present at every point within His creation, then His nature requires that He is wholly present at each point, rather than being "spread thin," so to speak. God would be as much present at any single point as He is at all points together. Like His omniscience, His attention on any single point of His creation would be just as focused as if His attention were nowhere else. So He is as much present at any single point as if He were present nowhere else. My point is that God's attention, perception and mind are fully engaged at the microcosmic level at each point, as well as the transcendent macrocosmic level. While the propositions, "Indiana is west of here," and "Indiana is east of here," would be contradictory at the macro level, it would not be contradictory at the micro level. Rather, it would be true depending on what geographical point the Mind is present. God in Dayton, Ohio can truly know and declare, "Indiana is west of here;" while God in Indianapolis can truly know and declare, "Ohio is east of here." For God on the westbound bus, the former proposition would be true until the state line is crossed, after which it would be false and the latter would then be true.

Only those propositions that depend on an unchanging frame of reference can be expected to be unchanging in God's knowledge. Those propositions that depend on a variable or changing frame of reference necessarily change in the knowledge of God, because it is not the propositions in God's knowledge that are unchangeable but the truthfulness and accuracy of those propositions even at the microcosmic level with a variable frame of reference.

Does that make any sense?

biblicalrealist said...

It seems to me that a change in frame of reference does not cause contradictions, since every proposition presupposes its own frame of reference. It also seems to me that it is not the information in God's knowledge that must remain the same, but the fidelity to any and all frames of reference. Any frame of reference that changes is outside of God, so that it is not God that has changed; but God's unchanging fidelity to frames of reference necessitate the change of the information that constitutes the proposition within that frame of reference.

Ryan said...

God isn't physical, so what it means for God to be "present" at some point in space would not be the same as it would be for me to say that I am present at some point in space. But this is a trivial point in that it doesn't concern whether or not God can be omniscient.

The important analogy between space and time in this context is that in the same sense God doesn't need to be where I am in space to know what it means when I utter the proposition "I am here" (since the indexical "here" can be reduced to "location x"), God also doesn't need to be when I am in time to know what it means when I utter the proposition "I am now [doing y]" (since the indexical "now," meant properly - i.e. according to its B-series meaning rather than its A-series meaning - can be reduced to "at date and/or time z").

biblicalrealist said...

Ryan,

Thank you for replying. Please bear with me if I'm not understanding this. But I still have some things for you to consider.

Would you agree that the difficulty here is in trying to use a sequential mind to understand God's non-sequential mind?

One of the things that I think you are doing is applying our single-focus thinking to God's omni-focus thinking. I don't think that God views the set of temporal events from a distance, such that He uses a single focus to take it all in. With such a single focus, He would have to choose which single perspective (or frame of reference) to use, and could not use the contradictory "tensed sentences."

But what if God views the set of events not from a single-perspective distance, but "up close?" What if God interfaces with the temporal order in the closest imaginable way, such that He uses omni-foci(?), just as He does spatially? Every person has the eyes of God on him just as if God were looking at no one else. He is the God who sees just as if He were standing next to you. Why assume that He only sees from the single perspective of some distance sufficient enough to take it all in?

You said, "God doesn't need to be where I am in space to know what it means when I utter the proposition 'I am here' (since the indexical 'here' can be reduced to 'location x')..."
No, He doesn't need to be where I am; but what if He IS here where I am? That changes things. You continued, "...God also doesn't need to be when I am in time to know what it means when I utter the proposition 'I am now [doing y]' (since the indexical 'now,' meant properly - i.e. according to its B-series meaning rather than its A-series meaning - can be reduced to 'at date and/or time z')." What I am suggesting is that God is so closely interfaced with our temporal reality that it is as if HE were here in time with us. Just as He is not limited in spatial focus, but sees all things at all points with equal, "simultaneous" focus, He is not limited in His focus on temporal events, and has equal, "simultaneous" focus on all events just as if He were "in" each moment.

I have more comments to send your way, but I will post the rest on my blog, since the remainder is more related to what you've posted over there.

Ryan said...

"He doesn't need to be where I am; but what if He IS here where I am? That changes things."

Given that God has no body, what do you mean?

"Every person has the eyes of God on him just as if God were looking at no one else... I am suggesting is that God is so closely interfaced with our temporal reality that it is as if HE were here in time with us."

By saying "as if," you seem to be implicitly admitting that God can't literally be temporal (physical). But then what is your contention? God can't be timeless and literally know tensed propositions.

ixopaul said...

"The Kingdom of God is within you."
i.e. Ye are given LIFE, freely!
All discussion above betrays lack of understanding!
Time itself is non-existent! It is a delusion assumed in an attempt to explain change, which is a change of viewpoint, thus changing form in APPARENT time and space.
God, infinite, boundless, formless, does not change!
Life is not bound in time or space, although lifeforms are!
The problem lies in man's dualistic mind splitting subject-object or Deluded self - in illusory world.
God is ONE. Ye are to be at-ONE-d.
Neither self nor world exist of themselves!
Creation is the LETTING of the play go on... Lila, Maya, samsara...
Reality, God, is in ALL of this... let's all of this go on... but nothing is real in itself.
Realization is in God alone, All ONE!
Your discussions are lost in duality, which is the Devil!
meta4site@hotmail.com

Ryan said...

Either you're trolling or just an idiot.

Jerry DeHaven said...

Ryan, I agreed with Craig's view of how God interacts with His creation in accordance to our time (thus operating with us in time as well as His time), but disagreed with him on timeless existence before creation. Such timeless existence would necessitate immobility. God's knowledge is always moving, not onto new knowledge, but over the eternal knowledge He has - thus, eternal time (His time), not timeless existence. So I reject Helm's view, although I like his determinism; but partially except Craig's view, although I hate his Molinism.

Ryan said...

How do you address the infinite regress argument, that there have been infinitely many previous A-times and thus no means by which there could be a present? It's like knowledge; if we didn't [implicitly] begin somewhere, we could never have gotten to where we are.

Jerry DeHaven said...

I have thought about that. I believe the concept of infinity can only work with God. This is so, because then there would be that reality of existence which would wrap around Him (figuratively speaking of course). I don't understand it, but there are examples of it within God's logic - such as the infinite non-existence of ourselves before we were born - or the infinite division of things God has created - attesting to His infinite nature in creation.

Jerry DeHaven said...

I'm an ardent A theorist myself; because time is not an entity in itself, but a concept. And so long as there is movement (and there was always movement of thought with God, and His mind to measure that movement (yet not sequential movement like ours), then there was time. This is why I consider God's existence as being in time unending (eternal time), not our time, but His. I can't go with timelessness because of how I understand time, for time is the measurement of movement.

Jerry DeHaven said...

I'm sorry Ryan, a blunder on my part, for I shouldn't have said: "not sequential movement like ours;" for this would not be consistent with my argument. Of course He is a sequence of movement, for all sequences of movement find its origin in Him - and our time exists because of the father of time. If logic has its origin in Him, and morality; why wouldn't "time" also find its origin in Him?

Jerry DeHaven said...

The regress argument is a good one to show a finite universe, because if it infinite, we wouldn't have today; but presuppositional arguments are still much better, as you know.

Ryan said...

Sorry, I don't find that reply particularly convincing :)

For example, why think "there was always movement of thought with God"? That seems to beg the very question at hand.

Also, "time" can originate with God without its being the case God becomes temporal, just as space can originate with God without its being the case God becomes spatial. So that argument doesn't work either.

Finally, I'm also not sure what "the infinite non-existence of ourselves before we were born" or "the infinite division of things God has created" refers to. The latter could be a sort of Zeno's paradox, but Planck units could be a possible refutation of that.

Ryan said...

I also don't think whether our universe is finite or infinite is very relevant to presuppositional apologetics, though I guess it could depend on what you mean by those concepts.

Jerry DeHaven said...

Ryan, I'll respond to each of your replies one after another.

You said: "For example, why think 'there was always movement of thought with God'? That seems to beg the very question at hand."

My understanding is, that timelessness would mean no movement whatsoever. I cannot conceive of God as existing in a frozen state.

You said: "Also, 'time' can originate with God without its being the case God becomes temporal, just as space can originate with God without its being the case God becomes spatial. So that argument doesn't work either."

I really didn't present it as an argument, but as a possible consideration of how time could be a reflection of the time element He possess . I know that the way you might have taken it (based on a poor way of presenting it I suppose) is a fallacy in argumentation. Anyway, if not temporal, what is atemporality? Explain what timelessness would be?

You said: "Finally, I'm also not sure what 'the infinite non-existence of ourselves before we were born' or 'the infinite division of things God has created' refers to."

I was merely demonstrating an actual infinite reality where regression at our birth did not actually take place (by postponement of going back a notch). Of course the reality of such non existence would lye in the eternal mind of the Creator. The infinite existence of temporal becoming in God (of course a different level of temporality) would not cause a regression at created time taking place.

You said: "I also don't think whether our universe is finite or infinite is very relevant to presuppositional apologetics, though I guess it could depend on what you mean by those concepts."

The regression argument with respects to infinity usually is used by evidentialists to establish a finite universe, presuppositionalism usually makes no case for it.

Ryan said...

"My understanding is, that timelessness would mean no movement whatsoever. I cannot conceive of God as existing in a frozen state."

I don't think timeless immutability implies immobility. That's certainly not what Helm argues, anyway.

"Anyway, if not temporal, what is atemporality? Explain what timelessness would be?"

Clark says timelessness is equivalent to no succession in thought. But I haven't made up my mind either way on this subject, and it's been some time since I've read relevant literature on it.

"I was merely demonstrating an actual infinite reality where regression at our birth did not actually take place (by postponement of going back a notch)."

How is that an actual infinite? There is no continual regress from where we are now to when we were born; it stops at the point at which we were born. Whereas God was never born, so there could have been no beginning if He is essentially temporal, in which case there is an infinite past.

Max said...

"If God's knowledge changes, God changes."

Why do you think this is so?

"Whereas God was never born, so there could have been no beginning if He is essentially temporal, in which case there is an infinite past."

I am currently leaning towards the A-theory and I'm open to the idea of an infinite past and no beginning of time. Have you read Philo (Judaeus)'s commentaries / interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2?

Ryan said...

I believe I wrote that before changing my views on Clark's theory of personhood.

I haven't. Look up my post on McTaggart's paradox, however, I don't find the A-theory coherent. God could still be temporal on the B-series as the first cause/beginning of the temporal sequence, though.

Max said...

McTaggart: "But this explanation involves a vicious circle. For it assumes the existence of time in order to account for the way in which moments are past, present and future. Time then must be pre-supposed to account for the A series. But we have already seen that the A series has to be assumed in order to account for time. Accordingly the A series has to be pre-supposed in order to account for the A series. And this is clearly a vicious circle."

I think Philo's view supports the A-series: What do you think:

"However, time also affords a very great argument in favour of the eternity of the world, for if time is uncreated, then it follows of necessity that the world also must be uncreated. Why so? Because, as the great Plato says, it is days, and nights, and months, and the periods of years which have shown time, and it is surely impossible that time can exist without the motion of the sun, and the rotary progress of the whole heaven. So that it has been defined very felicitously by those who are in the habit of giving definitions of things, that time is the interval of the motion of the world, and since this is a sound definition, then the world must be co-eval with time and also the cause of its existence. And it is the most absurd of all ideas to fancy that there ever was a time when the world did not exist, for its nature is without any beginning and without any end, since these very expressions, "there was," "when," "formerly," all indicate time."

Ryan said...

Well, from that quote, it appears he would have had to hold an A-series view. But I see no reason to think that time must have been uncreated; indeed, this appears false if necessitarianism is false (as I think). I also don't see how an infinite regress is handled.

"...it is the most absurd of all ideas to fancy that there ever was a time when the world did not exist..."

True but irrelevant. The existence of the world or time are mutually implicatory, but that doesn't mean either must exist at all.

Max said...

Which infinite regress are you referring to?

(btw, I still believe in Necessitarianism)

Ryan said...

The infinite regress of prior present moments relative to our alleged present discussion which would seemingly rule it out. If the past (moments which were the present) extends infinitely backwards, how did we even get to this present moment?

Max said...

My answer is kind of trite, but:

"That which has been is now; and whatever things are appointed to be have already been; and God will seek out (to cause) that which is past." (Ecclesiastes 3:15)

I'm sorta rethinking the whole question of the canon, like which books are inspired and which not, but the above quotation makes sense - we got to this present moment because it has already happened in the past. History keeps repeating, in some way or other. I haven't really wrapped my head around it, though. But I don't see a contradiction.

Ryan said...

Obviously that interpretation doesn't work within Christianity, as in that case there could be no end to all things.

That verse might actually make for a good argument with respect to the B-series of time: all temporal events are equally real, no time in particular is privileged (e.g. an "objective" present), and they all correspond to an eternal decree (and hence eternal truths) which cannot be changed.

Max said...

By the word "end" do you mean purpose or goal? The only passage in the Bible where I found an expression like this is 1 Peter 4:7, and he said it was "at hand." And he could not have meant "purpose" there, judging by context.

Ryan said...

There's no finality. No defeat of sin and God's enemies, for instance. No final judgment. Contrast that to passages in the gospel I think you would accept as canonical. It's the concept that's important, not a particular expression.

Max said...

Within individuals, there is a final defeat of sin at death when they become total spirits, but this is not true of collective humanity all at once, of course. In theology as I understand it now, God has no enemies.

I will say this, though: It seems like every Christian denomination that exists today twists language to explain contradictions, which is quite dishonest of them. I prefer to take the texts at face value, based on the intended meaning. If you read an NT book, and say to yourself, "that phrase or verse can't possibly mean such and such, because of something else in another book," you will create more confusion for yourself in the long run if you interpret like that. I believe in divine revelation (Scripturalism) and the tool of logic, but as you can see, not settled on the issue of Canon.

Ryan said...

So then there is a final defeat after which no repetition of historical events occurs?

Are there contradictions in Scripture?

Max said...

"So then there is a final defeat after which no repetition of historical events occurs?"

For individuals, yes.

"Are there contradictions in Scripture?"

Sorry for going off the time topic: Scripture which has its origin of God, obviously cannot contradict, but I don't know that all 27 NT books are part of Holy Scripture, because I see contradictions. The Canon must be self-authenticating, but the New Testament fails the consistency test in some things. If you want to press the point, it's better to discuss by email: bukluvr1051@hotmail.com

In short, my current view is that the letters of the apostle Paul (I believe some that bear his name are not really his and contradict the real Paul) contain the keys to understanding the Old Testament. I am quite influenced by F. C. Baur at this time, who held that only Galatians, 1 and 2 Cor., and Romans are Paul's writings; and even then, we cannot rule out interpolations into the texts and stuff like that. The NT writings can be critically examined just like any body of literature.

Max said...

Regarding "eternal earth" - now I view this as pagan and leading to nature-worship, so I no longer believe in it. I still hold to the view that God created the world through His literal spoken word. Also I'm open to God having actual emotions according to the literal word (Gen 6:6), because the reasons against this are not convincing to me anymore.

I like discussing this stuff with you, Ryan. I believe G.H. Clark was on the right path.

Happy Reformation Day!