A Dynamic Theory of Time Preferred Over A Static Theory

by Max Andrews

The dynamic theory of time (A-theory) holds that God is not timeless and relates to the actual world within the bounds of time.  First advocated by J. M. E. McTaggart, this entails a tensed knowledge of God and that all events are not simultaneously real, there is only one absolute now.[1]  Given that the General Theory of Relativity is true, objects in motion tend to slow down.  This in no way takes away from an absolute now; Lorentz advocates that this absolute now cannot be measured because measuring devices are in motion.[2]  God’s relationship to time would be the absolute now.  Dynamic theory holds that façon de parler (in a manner of speaking), prior to creation (cf. Jude 25); God was timeless and so entered time to relate to man.[3]

The static theory of time (B-theory) holds that God is omnitemporal and continues to exist timelessly (atemporal) since creation.  There are no tensed facts.  Yesterday is just as real as today, which is just as real as the year 2039.  God is simple under a view of timelessness.  If God is simple then He cannot be temporal, for a temporal being is related to the various times at which it exists:  It exists at t1 and at t2, for example.  But a simple being stands in no relations.[4]  This implies that God does not have parts; there

[are] no distinctions between His omnipotence and His goodness.  He has no relations and thus He does not literally love, know, or cause His creatures.  He is not really composed of three distinct persons.  There is no difference between His nature or essence and His existence, He is, the pure act of existing all at once.[5]

Too often Christians give lip service to the doctrine of simplicity and timelessness without understanding the radical implications of this doctrine.  More specifically, the doctrines of divine simplicity and immutability find absolutely no support in Scripture, which at most speaks of God’s immutability in terms of His faithfulness and unchanging character (Mal. 3.6; Jas. 1.17).[6]  Brian Leftow attempts to reconcile divine timelessness without the negative implications behind simplicity,

[…all] events are actual at once, in eternity. But it does not follow that time is not tensed. Events also occur in temporal reference frames, and the time of these reference frames may be tensed… The reason a timeless God does not know the essentially tensed fact that (T) is that in His framework of reference, eternity, this is not a fact at all. (T), again, is the claim that a proper subset S of the set of temporal events, consisting of a, b, c, etc., now has present–actuality. In eternity this claim is false. In eternity all temporal events… have present–actuality at once.[7]

Even process philosopher Paul Fitzgerald rejects this notion because “this would cause God to have an infinitely split personality, each sub-personality evolving in monad-like isolation from the others.”[8]  In order to preserve God’s consciousness and the consciousness of one being, we must not allow it to be broken and scattered among inertial frames in the universe.[9]  There is reality and veridical truth behind tensed facts and an objective difference between the past, present, and future and God knows these to be true by His relation to us.  Our experience of an objective past, present, and future warrant for a properly basic belief:

1. Belief in the objective reality of the distinction between, past, present, and future is properly basic.
2. If our belief in the objective reality of the distinction between past, present, and future is properly basic, then we are prima facie justified in holding this belief.
3. Therefore, we are prima facie justified in holding our belief in the objective reality of the distinction between past, present, and future.[10]

A plausible view of the nature of time, then, is that time involves an objective distinction between past, present, and future, and that temporal becoming is real, mind-independent feature of the world and that God is in time.[11]  For at the moment of creation, God comes into the relation of sustaining the universe or, at the very least, of co-existing with the universe, relations in which He did not stand before.  He undergoes an extrinsic change at the moment of creation, which draws Him into time in virtue of His real relation to the world.[12]

This argument can be summarized as follows:

1. God is creatively active in the temporal world.
2. If God is creatively active in the temporal world, God is really related to the temporal world.
3. If God is really related to the temporal world, God is temporal.
4. Therefore, God is temporal.[13]

Craig summarizes his conclusions about time:

Like the incarnation, the creation of the world is an act of condescension on God’s part for the sake of His creatures…His timeless, free decision to create a temporal world with a beginning is a decision on God’s part to abandon timelessness and to take on a temporal mode of existence…He stopped to take on a mode of existence inessential to His being or happiness in order that we might have being and find supreme happiness in Him.  His taking a human nature into intimate union with Himself in the incarnation of the Logos…was thus not what the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard regarded as “the Absurd,” union of eternity with time, for God was already temporal at the time of the incarnation and had been since the inception of creation… As a result of God’s creation of and entry into time, He is now with us literally moment by moment as we live and breathe, sharing our every second.  He is and will be always with us.  He remembers all that has transpired, knows all that is happening, and foreknows all that is to come, not only in our individual lives but [also] through the entire universe…He is, as Isaac Newton said, the Lord God of dominion throughout His universe.  Well did Jude exclaim, “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!”[14]

The implications that time has with middle knowledge would affect His relations to the world.  If God is relating to the world at an absolute now, then He controls His creation primarily via His omniscience (asserting the Molinist understanding of the logical moments of God’s knowledge). The doctrine of divine providence does little justice to His sovereignty if He does not actualize His will to come to pass before it actually happens.  Under B-theory, God simultaneously controls everything, literally, at the same [indexical point in] time.  This hardly bears witness to the biblical witness of divine providence and asserts that Scripture’s references to events coming into being by God’s foreordination is merely illusory.  A-theory has a robust understanding of divine providence and accomplishes this via divine middle knowledge.



[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith ed. 3 (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway Books, 2008), 121.

[2] William Lane Craig, “What is the Relation Between Science and Religion?”, Reasonable Faith [page online]; available from http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5355; Internet; accessed April 17, 2009.

[3] William Lane Craig, “God, Time, and Eternity,” Reasonable Faith [page online]; available from http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5387; Internet; accessed April 19, 2009.

[4] Craig, Time and Eternity, 30.

[5] Ibid.

 

[6] Ibid., 30-31.  I would speculate that many (not all) Christians who affirm these doctrines without understanding the implications do so to project God’s sovereignty and power (i.e. God cannot be constrained by time—this assertion’s implication is that God is not powerful enough to go beyond the dimension of time to relate to His creation.  As will be examined later, God’s absolute temporal relations to His control of the spatiotemporal world have nothing to do with His omnipotence, but His omniscience.

 

[7] Leftow’s argument appeals to Einstein’s GTR as a milieu.  Brian Leftow, Time and Eternity (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), 333.

 

[8] Paul Fitzgerald, “Relativity Physics and the God of Process Philosophy,” Process Studies 2 (1972):  259-260.

 

[9] Craig, Time and Eternity, 44.

 

[10] Ibid., 132-133.  (3) follows from (2) and the only disputable premise is (1).  The assertion is that this distinction is not merely observed, but it really is.  Because it is objectively true, God also must know it to be true.

 

[11] Ibid., 240-241.  Craig argues that God exists now.  On the Christian doctrine of creation, the world had a beginning, though God did not.  Craig presents three thorough arguments in Time and Eternity to show that [metric] time is finite in the past, so that God existing without the world must exist either in an amorphous time, or more plausibly, timeless.  In short, given the reality of tense and temporal becoming, the most plausible construal of divine eternity is that God is timeless without creation and temporal since creation.

 

[12] William Lane Craig, “Timelessness and Omnitemporality,” Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2000, 29.

 

[13] Ibid.

 

[14] Craig, Times and Eternity, 241.


5 Responses to “A Dynamic Theory of Time Preferred Over A Static Theory”

  1. Max, Do you think it might be possible that the universe exists in a dynamic time relation, and God might exist outside of that time transcending it in some way? Does this view have a particular name? I just have trouble thinking that A and B theory are the exhaustive alternatives… Or maybe the whole question is misconceived! :) Thanks for any help.

  2. This is exactly what I’m writing a paper on for a class this semester.

  3. There are certainly more theories than A and B discussed here. Also, given that we and our minds are trapped in time and do not know eternity, our ability to define the relationship between the two seems unlikely. Also, does trying serve a purpose?

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