1387/07/26, 17:08 #1
The Absence of a Timeless God
The Absence of a Timeless God
American Christian philosopher
professor of Division of Humanities and Bible
That God is eternal is a common confession of believers in the biblical God. But how the divine eternity is to be understood is very much in question. The predominant theological tradition, deriving from Augustine and Boethius, has understood eternity as timelessness, so that the contrast between time and eternity is the contrast between changeable reality and absolute changelessness. But there is a minority tradition— which among contemporaries is perhaps no longer a minority—that understands eternity as everlastingness, so that the contrast is rather between that which is temporally bounded, having a distinct beginning and perhaps also an ending, and that which is boundless, without beginning or end. 1
The burden of the present essay is that a certain way of understanding divine timelessness is in the end incoherent. The incoherence arises, however, only if one holds also that the biblical God is also present to his creation in a unique and intimate fashion. In order to avoid the incoherence, one must acknowledge that God is not thus present but is rather absent from the world. It is controversial whether this consequence should be accepted. If one finds it unacceptable, one should conclude that the timeless God is “absent” in yet another sense—that there is no timeless God, that the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of the universe is the God who is everlasting.
The essay proceeds in several stages. First, there is a brief exposition of divine timelessness, emphasizing the particular aspects of the doctrine that are crucial for the present discussion. Then the argument is presented to show that a timeless God cannot be present—in particular, that a timeless God cannot have “immediate knowledge” of the created world. This is followed by a discussion of several different attempts, by adherents of timelessness, to show that the argument fails and that a timeless God can indeed be present in the sense that the argument denies. In the course of responding to these objections, we shall consider additional reasons why the aspects of the doctrine of timelessness that generate the problem are essential to that doctrine and cannot well be abandoned while retaining timelessness itself.
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1387/07/26, 17:16 #2
The Doctrine of Divine Timelessness
The classic definition of divine timelessness was given by Boethius: “Eternity therefore is the complete possession all at once of illimitable life. ” 2 Also of note is the following quotation from Augustine:Nor dost Thou by time, precede time: else shouldest Thou not precede all times. But Thou precedest all things past, by the sublimity of an ever-present eternity; and surpassest all future because they are future, and when they come, they shall be past; but Thou art the Same, and Thy years fail not…. Thy years are one day; and Thy day is not daily, but To-day, seeing Thy To-day gives not place unto to-morrow, for neither doth it replace yesterday. Thy To-day, is Eternity. 3
The central idea is stunningly simple: whereas we temporal creatures experience our lives spread out in time, moment by moment, the eternal God experiences the whole of time all at once, so that nothing of the world's life is “past and gone, ” and nothing of it is “yet to come”; rather, all is enjoyed at once in the divine Eternal Present.
Such thoughts, while intuitively appealing, raise a great many questions and call out for a more systematic exposition. No modern rendition of the doctrine of timelessness is uncontroversial, but the two that are most frequently cited are credited to Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann and to Brian Leftow. 4 It has been questioned whether a God that is timeless in the sense of the doctrine can be a living God, and whether he can be an agent in the world or can know what transpires in the temporal world. The expositions cited make a good case that a timeless God can do all of these things, and while the matter remains controversial we shall assume for present purposes that the replies to these objections are successful.
One aspect of the traditional doctrine deserves special emphasis here. According to Anselm it is improper, strictly speaking, to assign any location in the temporal continuum to God: “You were not, therefore, yesterday, nor will you be tomorrow, but yesterday and today and tomorrow you are. Indeed you exist neither yesterday nor today nor tomorrow but are absolutely outside all time. ” 5 This implies that while God knows temporal realities, his knowledge of them is not in time, and while God performs actions that have temporal consequences, the acts themselves are not temporal. We shall refer to this principle of Anselm's, which holds that God neither exists, nor acts, nor knows in time, as “Anselm's Barrier. ” The point is well summarized by Delmas Lewis:
Thus God, if eternal, bears no temporal relations to any object or event whatever. It cannot be said that God exists now, for this would assign him a position in the temporal series, which he cannot have. Strictly speaking, then, it cannot be said that God did exist in the past or will exist in the future, because he does not exist pastly or futurely: he simply exists in the timeless mode of existence peculiar to an eternal thing. 6
It needs to be said, however, that in spite of this Anselm did hold that God is in a certain sense present to temporal realities, and they to him. How this is so, is something we shall be exploring in due course.
Another feature which characterizes many versions of the doctrine of divine timelessness is adherence to libertarian free will. This adherence is not universal, of course, but it has characterized many in the eternalist tradition and is clearly the majority view among contemporary proponents of timelessness. It is well known that Boethius introduced a solution to the problem of foreknowledge and free will based on timelessness: God does not foreknow temporal events, but knows them in the Eternal Present, and this, it is claimed, creates no more problems for free will than does our own knowledge of events which occur in our temporal present. It may be that divine timelessness has seldom been adopted merely as a solution to the foreknowledge problem. Nevertheless, timelessness would clearly lose a good deal of its appeal for many if it did not lend itself to a solution of this problem.
There is another doctrine which, like libertarian freedom, is not strictly a part of the doctrine of timelessness but is nevertheless associated with it in the thought of many contemporaries. This is the teaching that God in eternity has immediate knowledge of everything that transpires in time. This view has been forcefully stated by William Alston in his article “Does God Have Beliefs?” In support of a negative answer to this question, Alston points out that the analysis of knowledge as justified true belief (+ …), usually taken as a given by contemporary philosophers, stands in contrast with a historical tradition in which knowledge is understood as immediate awareness, which is quite a different psychological state than belief. On this traditional view, “Knowledge is not a state that could be just what it is intrinsically without the actual existence of the object; it has no intrinsic character over and above the presence of that object to consciousness…. Whereas belief that p is, by its very nature, a state that can be just what it is whether or not there is any such fact that p. ” 7 Alston recognizes that this account will cover at most only a small fraction of human knowledge. It is difficult, in fact, to find any convincing examples of such knowledge, other than knowledge of one's own present psychological states. He says, “We reject the intuitive account for human knowledge, not because we suppose ourselves to have something better, but because it represents too high an aspiration for our condition. ” 8 But it is precisely the ideal character of intuitive knowledge which, while it renders such knowledge for the most part humanly unattainable, also recommends this as the best and most adequate conception of divine knowledge:
Immediate awareness of facts is the highest form of knowledge just because it is a direct and foolproof way of mirroring the reality to be known. There is no potentially distorting medium in the way, no possibly unreliable witnesses, no fallible signs or indications. The fact known is “bodily” present in the knowledge. The state of knowledge is constituted by the presence of the fact known. This is the ideal way of “registering” a fact and assimilating it into the subject's system of cognition and action guidance. Hence this is the best way to think of God's knowledge. Since God is absolutely perfect, cognitively as well as otherwise, His knowledge will be of this most perfect form. 9
Recent experience has shown that many philosophers find Alston's conception appealing and wish to incorporate it into their own views of divine knowledge. How- ever, there is in the medieval tradition a contrary view, one which, so to speak, minimizes rather than maximizes the intimacy of God's cognitive contact with his creation. This preference is supported by the traditional doctrine of divine impassibility, which rejects any dependence of God on creatures such as would be involved in his having creaturely states of affairs as literal components of his cognitive states. According to Thomas Aquinas, for example, “He sees himself through His essence; and He sees other things not in themselves, but in Himself: inasmuch as His essence contains the similitude of things other than Himself. ” 10 He also says, “Now those things which are other than God are understood by God, inasmuch as the essence of God contains their images as above explained. ” 11 Yet again, “Now the species of the divine intellect, which is God's essence, suffices to manifest all things. ” 12 On any reasonable reading, it would seem that Aquinas is speaking here of some sort of inner representation of temporal things in the divine intellect rather than of a literal immediate presence of temporal things to God. 13 The thinking behind such a view is nicely summarized by Anthony Kenny: “The Psalmist asked, 'Is the inventor of the ear unable to hear? The creator of the eye unable to see?' These rhetorical questions have been answered by Christian theologians with a firm, 'Yes, he is unable. '” 14 It is the main burden of this essay that supporters of divine timelessness may be forced, willy-nilly, to embrace this Thomistic conception of divine knowledge rather than Alston's. 15
1387/07/26, 17:21 #3
The Objection:Timeless Intuitive Knowledge Is Incoherent
The time has now come to present the basic argument of this essay, to the effect that the conception of divine intuitive timeless knowledge of temporal realities is incoherent. Previously I have stated the argument as follows:Just how is it … that temporal events are directly present to God? Temporal events exist in time as the medium of temporal succession, so it would seem that a being which experiences them directly must itself exist in time and experience temporal succession—but of course, this is just what a timeless being cannot do. What the tradition has said about this is that temporal beings also exist in eternity and as such are present to God. But how is this possible? In God's timeless eternity, nothing exists in temporal succession, so how can temporal events and processes, whose very essence involves temporal succession, exist there? If they do so exist, does that mean we are mistaken in thinking them essentially temporal?
The same argument can be put in a slightly different way. Let us assume that some temporal reality is literally immediately present to a timeless God. But of course temporal realities are different from moment to moment, whereas a timeless God cannot experience things differently at different moments; in the life of such a being, there are no different moments. So we may ask, which momentary aspect or “temporal cross-section” of the temporal entity is present to God? The answer, of course, must be that all of the temporal aspects of the entity are present—literally present—to God, not successively but simultaneously. But for an entity to have a number of apparently temporally successive aspects present simultaneously is precisely what it is for that entity to be timeless rather than temporal. So if an apparently temporal entity is literally immediately present to a timeless God, that entity really is timeless rather than temporal. 16
It will be convenient to have the argument before us in a formalized version, as follows: 17
. If God is directly aware of a thing, that thing is metaphysically present to God. (Premise) 2. If God knows temporal beings, God knows all of their temporal stages. (Premise) 3. If God is directly aware of temporal beings, all of their temporal stages are metaphysically present to God. (From 1–2) 4. If the temporal stages of a temporal being are metaphysically present to God, they are present either sequentially or simultaneously. (Premise) 5. If God is timeless, nothing is present to God sequentially. (Premise) 6. If God is timeless and is directly aware of temporal beings, all their temporal stages are simultaneously metaphysically present to God. (From 3–5) 7. If the temporal stages of a temporal being are simultaneously metaphysically present to God, those stages exist simultaneously. (Premise) 8. The temporal stages of a temporal being do not exist simultaneously. (Premise) 9. If God is timeless, God is not directly aware of temporal beings. (From 6–8)
The expression “metaphysically present” may call for a bit of explanation. By this is simply meant that the thing in question is literally present, in its own proper being, as opposed to being merely “epistemically present. ” If we recall in vivid detail the last moments we spent with a loved one who is now far away, that person may be epistemically present to us but is certainly not metaphysically present, as she would be if she were sitting across the room from us.This argument, of course, by no means settles the matter; instead, it provides a basis for further discussion. In the next three sections, we shall see how three leading proponents of timelessness respond to the argument and attempt to defeat it.
ویرایش توسط Borzin : 1387/07/26 در ساعت 17:22
1387/07/26, 17:27 #4
Brian Leftow attributes to me the following argument: 18
1. God is immediately aware of temporal facts. 2. For all x, if x is immediately aware of temporal facts, these are really present to x's awareness. 3. For all x, if temporal facts are really present to x's awareness, x is temporal. 4. Therefore God is temporal.
Leftow then proceeds to suggest a number of different interpretations of premise (2), and he argues in the case of each such interpretation either that the premise thus interpreted is unreasonably strong or else that it can be satisfied by a timeless God and the conclusion does not follow. The details of these different readings need not concern us, however. What is important is that Leftow understands me as arguing that God must have the sort of “direct realist” perception of temporal entities that we human beings have of ordinary physical goings-on. Thus, he suggests that
2a. For all x, if x is immediately aware of temporal facts, these facts obtain at the same time that x is aware of them
is not always true of human sense perception, because of the time lags involved in the latter. (This is particularly evident, of course, in the case of our perception of stars that may be millions of light-years away. ) Unfortunately, Leftow considers only the argument as presented in God, Time, and Knowledge and does not refer to Alston's and my articles. If he had consulted those articles he would have realized (as is evident above) that ordinary human perception does not qualify as “immediate awareness” in the sense that is pertinent to our discussion. 19 In view of this, his arguments simply are not relevant to the case I was trying to make.For further light on these matters, we can do no better than turn to the first chapter of Alston's Perceiving God, in which he distinguishes three grades of immediacy as follows:
A. Absolute immediacy. One is aware of X but not through anything else, even a state of consciousness. B. Mediated immediacy (direct perception). One is aware of X through a state of consciousness that is distinguishable from X, and can be made an object of absolutely immediate awareness, but is not perceived. C. Mediate perception. One is aware of X through the awareness of another object of perception. 20
To illustrate the concept of mediate perception, Alston suggests that “we can distinguish directly seeing someone from seeing her in a mirror or on television”; in the latter sort of case, we perceive the person by perceiving something else, namely, the mirror or the television set. 21 In ordinary (direct) sense perception, on the other hand, there is nothing else we perceive in order to perceive the object of the perception; that is what makes it direct. Nevertheless, this is still not the highest degree of immediacy. Ganssle makes the point nicely:
When I see a table directly, there is no other object of vision through which I see the table. My perception of the table is mediated, however. It is mediated through my conscious state. My conscious state is not identical with the table but my perception of the table is mediated by it. I am aware of my conscious state but not as the object of my visual perception.
In the case of absolute immediate awareness, my awareness of an object is not mediated by anything distinct from the object, even my conscious state. In human beings, perhaps only our awareness of our own conscious states is absolutely immediate. When I am aware that I feel tired, there is no other conscious state (apart from that of feeling tired) involved in my awareness. 22
The claim that divine knowledge consists in intuitive awareness means, as Ganssle rightly says, that “God's direct intuitive awareness of facts must be absolutely immediate. This is because God will have the greatest mode of knowledge possible. Absolute immediacy is a 'greater'type of direct awareness than mediated immediacy. ” 23 But, one might ask, why is this so? Why must we think of God's knowledge as absolutely immediate? Why should we not be content to attribute to God knowledge which is “direct” in the sense in which ordinary sense perception is direct, as Leftow's discussion might suggest?
I do not think we should place primary emphasis here on the infallibility, the freedom from possible error, of absolute immediacy. After all, any mode of knowledge attributed to God will be said to be infallible. So infallibility is not a strong argument for any particular view of God's awareness of things, unless good reasons can be given why God would be fallible were he to lack this most favored type of awareness. I do not think the prospects for showing this are bright, so we must look elsewhere to argue for the “greatness” of absolute immediate awareness.
It seems to me there is a strong case for regarding directness or immediacy in itself as a ground of cognitive excellence. To whatever extent cognition is “indirect, ” there is something separating the knower from the known, something that (at least potentially) keeps the knower from apprehending the object fully in its true nature. Clearly this is the case with human sense perception; the limitations involved may be limitations we happily accept, but limitations they are nonetheless. We can hardly help but regard phenomenal color and sound as genuine properties of external objects, in spite of what science tells us about the matter. We are completely lacking in faculties that would enable us to directly apprehend the true nature of physical reality at the molecular, atomic, and subatomic levels. To be sure, direct apprehension of such matters would be of little use to us in everyday life; no doubt we should be thankful to Providence and/or evolution for equipping us with the kinds of faculties we possess. Nevertheless, there is an incompleteness here and even a certain distortion (though doubtless a benign distortion) which we should hesitate to attribute to the divine knower of all. In the case of God, we should ask: why should we suppose God would lack immediate awareness of the “mechanism” which mediates his perceptions? Why should we assume that anything at all is needed to mediate to God the awareness of the world he has created? It seems to me, then, that it is the attribution to God of anything less than absolute immediacy in his knowledge of creatures that requires justification.
1387/07/26, 17:31 #5
Stump and Kretzmann's Reply
Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann reply to my argument in their essay “Eternity, Awareness, and Action. ” This topic is only one of a number of objections to their views addressed there, but several things they say are pertinent. For one thing, they correct the impression, which I had mistakenly formed, that they would agree with the view of divine knowledge as representationalist rather than intuitive. And they modify their definition of “ET-simultaneity” in order to forestall such an impression. 24
They also challenge me, in effect, with the parallel to my conclusion
9. If God is timeless, God is not directly aware of temporal beingswith regard to space, namely,
9′. If God is non-spatial, God is not directly aware of spatial beings.
Neither I nor any traditional theist, they say, could accept 9′, but if we do not accept 9′ we cannot reasonably accept 9 either. 25 This conclusion, however, is much too hasty.
For one thing, a traditional theist might very well accept 9′. Such a theist might hold, as I understand Aquinas to have held, that God's knowledge of creatures is not a matter of direct awareness at all. Or she might accept 9′ but hold that God is not nonspatial in the same sense in which he is non-temporal. God is not spatially bounded or spatially divisible, of course, nor is he essentially spatial, all of which distinguishes him sharply from ordinary spatial things. But it might be true all the same that, as suggested by the traditional doctrine of divine omnipresence, 26 God is present in space in such a way as to make direct awareness of spatial beings possible.
For that matter, Stump and Kretzmann give no compelling reason why it would be unreasonable to accept 9 but reject 9′. I have, after all, given an argument in support of 9, and until they have shown that an equally strong argument (based on premises I accept or should accept) can be marshaled for 9′, the mere fact that 9′ is the analogue of 9 with respect to space is hardly compelling. This challenge, then, is not one that need give us pause.
It is not clear, from Stump and Kretzmann's discussion, which premise of my argument they would reject. This could hardly be expected of them, since the formalized argument was not available to them when they wrote their essay. One might reasonably ask of them, however, some kind of explanation of how it is possible, in their view, for an eternal God to be directly aware of temporal realities. They address this issue, among others, through a story they tell. The story concerns a one-dimensional world, Aleph, and a human being, Monica, who is aware of Aleph and its inhabitants and has established communication with one of them, called Nabal. 27 In a charming dialogue they show the difficulty Nabal has, operating within the constraints of his one-dimensional world, in understanding Monica's explanation of her three-dimensional existence. Many of the things she says seem to him flatly impossible. Nevertheless, we who read the story can see that everything she is saying is strictly coherent and readily intelligible. The message, then, is clear: what seems incomprehensible, and indeed impossible, to us temporal beings is nothing of the sort from the standpoint of the higher dimensionality inhabited by the Eternal Being, and it is short-sighted of us not to acknowledge this fact.
Stump and Kretzmann's story is both lucid and enjoyable, but it is not without its weaknesses. We must remember, of course, that Stump and Kretzmann, who tell us the story, are themselves “Alephians” in the wider context. And many of us have severe doubts as to whether the Being in question has communicated to us that he is timeless rather than temporal! But there is one disanalogy that effectively disqualifies the story from providing any sort of insight into the relationship between eternity and time. Monica in the story fully shares in the single dimension that measures Nabal's existence. The single linear dimension of the world Aleph is only one of the three dimensions of her world, to be sure, but it is a dimension of her world, and there is nothing in the story that even suggests any sort of problem concerning her access to Nabal's linear spatiality. But on the doctrine of timelessness, God does not share in the temporal dimension of the created world—to suppose that he does is to breach Anselm's Barrier. It is, of course, precisely this that creates the problem, and there is nothing analogous to it in the story of Nabal and Monica. The question of how it is possible for an eternal God to be directly aware of temporal realities remains without an answer.
1387/07/26, 17:37 #6
The direct target of my argument, both in “Yes, God Has Beliefs!” and in the book session (see note 17) on Divine Nature and Human Language, was William Alston. It is not surprising, then, that Alston has replied to it in a more concerted and detailed fashion than either Leftow or Stump and Kretzmann. This reply was contained both in his response at the book session and in some correspondence we engaged in subsequently, and I shall take the liberty of relying on these unpublished materials in setting out his position. In his “Response to Critics” Alston raises questions about several of the premises of the formal argument. The best way to understand his objection to the argument, however, is to see him as denying
7.If the temporal stages of a temporal being are simultaneously metaphysically present to God, those stages exist simultaneously.
Alston holds, on the contrary, that “there is no reason to suppose that God cannot nonsequentially be directly aware of something that is itself temporally successive. ” Now, this is initially puzzling, given that the mode of the divine direct awareness is what Alston described in his essay “Does God Have Beliefs?” Recall his assertion there that “knowledge … has no intrinsic character over and above the presence of that object to consciousness. ” And in case we might wonder whether this is “presence” in the full, metaphysical sense, we have also his statement that “the fact known is 'bodily' present in the knowledge. The state of knowledge is constituted by the presence of the fact known. ” But then how can it be that the temporal stages of a temporal being are simultaneously metaphysically present to God, and yet those stages do not exist simultaneously?
An intriguing answer to this question emerged in the course of our correspondence on the matter. The key to Alston's view lies in his conception of what it takes for a subject (S) to be directly aware of a fact (X). He wrote, “As I see it, S's direct awareness of X is a relational fact, an irreducibly relational fact, one involving both S and X as relata. This fact 'stretches over'both relata, as one might say. This is what renders intuitive knowledge infallible. If one intuitively knows that p, one stands in the appropriate relation (direct awareness of) to the fact that p. If there were no such fact, one would, naturally, not stand in any such relation to it. ” Alston further states that, since he takes the concept of direct awareness as basic and unanalyzable, he considers it to be “up for grabs, conceptually speaking, what it takes for one or another subject to be directly aware of something. ” 28 In our subsequent correspondence, Alston adhered resolutely to his contention that direct awareness is unanalyzable and that, in view of this, one cannot derive from the notion of direct awareness any conclusions as to what else must be the case in order for direct awareness to be possible. For instance: I pointed out that even if direct awareness does not consist of any other facts it may nevertheless entail other facts, such as that the subject is conscious and non-comatose at the time. My thought was, of course, that if direct awareness can entail these facts then it might have other entailments as well, including some which might provide support for my argument. Alston agreed that for a subject to be directly aware entails that the subject is conscious. “But, ” he wrote, “that is not a different (concrete) state; it is sim- ply a determinable fact, of which, in this case, SAF [S's being immediately aware of F] is the determinate. ” 29 He rejected my contention that SAF must involve some intrinsic state of S, in the sense in which “intrinsic” is contrasted with “relational. ” He wrote,Awareness… seems clearly to “make a difference” to the subject of that awareness. If I am aware of a book on the shelf, then I am different in some significant way from what I would be if I were not so aware. And you, along with many other thinkers, take it that this implies that I have some non-relational property I wouldn't have otherwise. But this is where we part company. I don't see why the way in which I am different by virtue of being aware of X can't be just that I stand in that relation. Why isn't that something that “makes a difference to the way I am”? 30
At this point it becomes possible to see more clearly just what Alston's attitude is toward the formal argument presented above. He can assent to
1. If God is directly aware of a thing, that thing is metaphysically present to God,
if what this means is simply that the thing God is aware of is one of the relata in the direct awareness relation. But this, in his view, does not license any further inference concerning the way in which God and the item in question are present to each other— for instance, that God and the things he is aware of must all be “simultaneously present, ” whether in time or in eternity. Given this understanding of direct awareness, Alston can very well deny
7. If the temporal stages of a temporal being are simultaneously metaphysically present to God, those stages exist simultaneously,
and, along with it, the conclusion of my argument.At this point, our discussion ground to a halt—inconclusively, as is so often the case with such discussions. I must confess that I could not see then, nor can I see now, how direct awareness can be a relational fact that does not imply any intrinsic, nonrelational fact about the subject. But my failure to comprehend this is not an argument against it, and with no additional arguments forthcoming, there was no way for the discussion to make further progress.Now, however, I think it may be possible to find a way forward. And I suggest we begin with Alston's contention that it is conceptually possible (whether or not it is metaphysically possible) that a temporal God should be directly aware of past and future facts. 31 Greg Ganssle, a student of Alston's, has produced an intriguing argument on this topic. 32 Suppose, as Alston thinks possible, that his model of divine knowledge as immediate awareness can be applied to a God who is temporal. We then have the following assumptions:
1. God is temporal, so that there is one moment that is present for God. 2. God knows all facts, past, present, and future, by immediate awareness. 3. God's knowledge consists entirely of his immediate awareness of all facts.
1387/07/26, 17:44 #7
From these assumptions it can be deduced that 4. God does not know which moment is present.
Why is this so? Let t 1, t 2, and t 3 be three moments of time, such that t 1 is past, t 2 present, and t 3 future. In what does God's knowledge that t 2 is present consist? God is immediately aware of all the facts concerning each of t 1, t 2, and t 3 ; so far, there is no difference between them. So something more has to be added to our description of the situation, in virtue of which God knows that it is t 2 that is present rather than t 1 or t 3. A natural thought is that there is some special property—call it “Nowness”—that belongs to t 2 in virtue of its being present. And God, being immediately aware of this property of Nowness, thereby knows that it is t 2 that is present and not t 1 or t 3.
Such a conclusion would be hasty. To be sure, it is quite true that t 2, and t 2 alone, possesses the property of Nowness at t 2. But it is equally true that t 1 possesses the property of Nowness at t 1, and t 3 possesses the property of Nowness at t 3. And God, who always enjoys immediate awareness of all the facts concerning each of these moments, is fully aware that each moment possesses Nowness in its own time. So symmetry is restored, and there is still nothing special about t 2 in virtue of which God could be said to know that t 2 is present now.
One may be tempted, at this point, to say something like “But it is t 2, and t 2 alone, that really possesses the property of Nowness now. ” Quite so. But of course, at t 1 it is t 1, and t 1 alone, that “really possesses the property of Nowness now. ” And similarly with t 3. Once again, symmetry is restored. And it is obvious that additional moves along the same line will get no further. Whatever property is ascribed to the present moment, each other moment will enjoy that same property in its own time, and God, being at all times immediately aware of all the properties of all moments, will not thereby have any way to distinguish the moment that is “presently present” from all the others that have been or will be present. God still doesn't know what time it is.
What conclusion should be drawn from this argument? The conclusion Ganssle wants to draw is that a temporal God can be immediately aware only of present facts. I have a great deal of sympathy with this conclusion, but it is not forced by the argument. This is because there is another way of avoiding the conclusion that God does not know which moment is present; namely, by relaxing the requirement of premise (3), which states that God's knowledge consists entirely of immediate awareness. Suppose that, in addition to his immediate awareness of all facts, God judges at t 2 that t 2 is now present. To be sure, it will likewise be true that at t 1 God judges that t 1 is now present, and that God judges at t 3 that t 3 is now present. And God at t 2 will be immediately aware of the fact that he makes these judgments at t 1 and t 3. But over and above these immediate awarenesses, God actually judges at t 2 that t 2 is now present, and he does not make this judgment at t 2 about t 1 or t 3. So it is by God's making this judgment that t 2 is distinguished from t 1 and t 3, and in making it God knows which moment is present.
I conclude, then, that Ganssle's argument does not quite accomplish what he intended, which was to show that a temporal God cannot have immediate awareness of past and future facts. 33 It does show, however, that, contrary to Alston's assertion, Alston's model of divine knowledge as consisting entirely of intuitive awareness cannot be applied to a temporal God. And that is no mean achievement!
Is it possible to go further, and establish directly that a temporal God cannot be immediately aware of past and future facts? I do have an argument to offer for this, but I cannot be sure that it will convince Alston or readers who may be inclined to agree with Alston. As so often happens, I can only lay out my argument and hope for the best. I once wrote about the intuitive knowledge of a temporal God as follows:
Suppose, then, that God does experience temporal succession. Now we are free to suppose that temporal things really are immediately present to God…. To that extent, then, the intuitive theory of knowledge comes into its own.
But not completely. Temporal entities may indeed be immediately, “bodily” present in God's awareness. But they can only be so present at the times when they exist to be present! But of course, God's knowledge of such realities cannot be so limited. It follows, then, that there is a requirement for an inner mental representation on God's part, to enable him to know what has passed away or (perhaps) what is yet to come. 34
The reasoning here is straightforward: temporal entities can be immediately present in God's awareness only when they exist; past and future entities do not at present exist; therefore, past and future entities are not immediately present in God's awareness. The argument is clearly valid, but in order to make my argument convincing I must make the case that, in order for temporal entities to be the objects of immediate awareness by a temporal God, it is not enough for them to exist at some time or other. Rather, they must exist now.
Look at it this way. An event can ground the truth of propositions in the present so long as it exists tenselessly; 35 the mode of its existence as past, present, or future is not relevant, except as specified by the particular proposition in question. But in order to exert causal influence in the present, the event must exist now. So ask yourself: which of these two situations—grounding the truth of a proposition, or exerting causal influence—is more closely similar to the event's existing “bodily” as part of God's present cognitive state?
The point can be developed further. We accept that past events can exert causal influence in the present, given that this influence is mediated by an appropriate causal chain. They cannot, however, be causally affected by what happens in the present. Future events, on the other hand, cannot affect what is going on now, but they can be causally affected by events in the present—again, when this influence is mediated by an appropriate causal chain. Now as we “shorten” the causal chain in each case, we bring the past and future events closer; eventually, we bring them into the “immediate past” and the “immediate future. ” If the causal chains connecting these events to the present disappear entirely, then in order to have either causes or effects in the present they must themselves be temporally present—they must not only exist, but exist now.
But now, suppose we proclaim that divine cognition is a matter of “absolutely immediate” awareness of its objects—that the objects are, as Alston has said, “bodily present” in the knowledge. What then? Are we now to say that existence in the present is no longer required of the objects—that existence at some time or other is sufficient? Are we to conclude that when the ultimate grade of immediacy is reached these objects can be “bodily present” in God's present knowledge even though they ceased to exist long ago, or will never come into existence until some remote future time? And why would we say something as bizarre as that? Surely, God's immediate awareness
of temporal events is awareness of them as actually occurring, not of them as having occurred or as going to occur. (That would be more like a “ghostly presence” than a “bodily presence”!)
More could be said along these lines, but it is time to bring this part of our discussion to a close. Readers who are inclined to be receptive to my ideas are probably already convinced, whereas those who are determined to resist would continue to do so whatever more might be said. In any case, it is time to return to the main theme of this essay. These last few pages may have seemed a diversion, pursuing the notion of intuitive knowledge by a temporal God when our proper subject is the intuitive knowledge of a timeless God. But if you have been convinced by Ganssle and me that a temporal God cannot have intuitive knowledge of facts at times other than the present, a fairly direct refutation of Alston's main position becomes available.
Assume that there is a timeless God who has immediate awareness of all objects and events in time. Now take an event, E, and a time at which E occurs, say our old friend t 2, and ask yourself this question: given that God is immediately aware of E, when does this immediate awareness of E occur? The only possible answer is that it occurs at t 2. (Recall Alston's remark that the relational fact “'stretches over' both relata. ”) One might be tempted to say that the act of awareness occurs in eternity, and it is only its object, E, that exists at t 2. But this is ruled out by Alston's insistence that the relational fact is basic and unanalyzable, an insistence that is incompatible with the notion that the fact can be divided into parts, one existing at one time and another at another. What we must say, rather, is that the relation exists both in eternity and at t 2 ; it stretches over the ontological space between them. But this conclusion is a momentous one. We have now been forced to assign to one of God's cognitive acts a location on the temporal continuum: Anselm's Barrier has been breached. 36
Here is another question: what else is God aware of at t 2, in addition to E? Here again, only one answer is possible: Everything. It is out of the question that the timeless God knows one thing at one time and another thing at another time. On the contrary, he knows at all times whatever he knows at any time. If we say this, however, we have in effect sacrificed the advantage that was supposed to attach to divine timelessness with regard to the problem of foreknowledge and free will. That advantage, it will be remembered, came because God's timeless knowledge does not exist in the past, and therefore cannot be used to ground the premise of an argument based on the “necessity of the past. ” But on the view now being considered, God's knowledge does exist in the past, and the Boethian solution to the foreknowledge problem must be rejected.
But there is more. On the view being considered, God is immediately acquainted at t 2 with X, which occurs at t 1, and with Y, which occurs at t 3, as well as with E. Or so it would seem. But at t 2 X and Y do not exist to be known. Or rather, to speak more moderately, they exist only tenselessly—which is to say, they exist only in the mode of having once existed, or of going someday to exist. But such objects are not, cannot be, the relata in a relation of direct awareness. That relation may, as Alston suggests, be able to span ontological gaps of various kinds. But one gap we cannot ask it to span is the gap between existence and non-existence—or rather, between existence and nolonger-existence, or existence and not-yet-existence.
The argument of the last three paragraphs can be summarized as follows:
1. If God has timeless immediate awareness of temporal objects, that awareness occurs at the time when those temporal objects exist. 2. At all times God is aware of everything that he is aware of at any time. Therefore, 3. If God has timeless immediate awareness of temporal objects, God has this awareness at times when the objects do not yet exist or no longer exist. But, 4. God does not have immediate awareness of temporal objects at times when those objects do not exist. Therefore, 5. God does not have timeless immediate awareness of temporal objects.
Unless some way can be found to avoid this argument, the prospects for timeless divine immediate awareness are grim.
1387/07/26, 17:49 #8
A Medieval Solution
For an eternalist who has been stymied by the argument so far, it is still too soon to capitulate. Help is available; indeed it has been available for a long time. 37 The objection to Alston's view of divine intuitive knowledge, both for a temporal God and for a timeless God, is that the objects of that knowledge exist to be known only at a particular time, whereas “immediate awareness” requires their actual existence whenever the awareness occurs. But is it so clear that they do not exist except for a brief duration? Anselm thought not; he wrote:
For within eternity a thing has no past or future but only a present; yet, without inconsistency, in the dimension of time this thing was and will be…. However, although within eternity there is only a present, nonetheless it is not the temporal present, as is ours, but is an eternal present in which the whole of time is contained. For, indeed, just as present time encompasses every place and whatever is in any place, so in the eternal present the whole of time is encompassed at once, as well as whatever occurs at any time…. For eternity has its own “simultaneity” wherein exist all things that occur at the same time and place and that occur at different times and places. 38
As Delmas Lewis points out, this passage is decidedly metaphysical in tone and clearly asserts the real, objective existence of time and its contents in the eternal present. Note in particular the analogy Anselm develops: just as items existing at many different places coexist in the same time, so items from many different times coexist in the one eternity. In order for the analogy to work, it must be the case that, just as items in different parts of space are on a par with each other with regard to existence, so items from past, present, and future must be on a part with regard to existence. The real existence of past and future events (though not, of course, their existence in the temporal present) is strongly affirmed.
Lewis gives evidence that the same view occurs both in Boethius and in Aquinas. 39 Such a view immediately resolves the problem posed in the previous section. The first premise,
1. If God has timeless immediate awareness of temporal objects, that awareness occurs at the time when those temporal objects exist,is seen to be dubious because it assumes that temporal objects exist only for a brief period. In time, to be sure, their existence is so limited, but they also possess an existence in eternity that knows no temporal bounds. And step (4) of the argument,
4. God does not have immediate awareness of temporal objects at times when those objects do not exist,is simply false, for though there are indeed times during which the objects do not temporally exist, those same objects exist in eternity and are thereby available for God's immediate knowledge. And finally, this view enables the eternalist to defeat our initial argument by rejecting premise (8):
8. The temporal stages of a temporal being do not exist simultaneously.For while the various stages do not exist simultaneously in time, it is also true, as Anselm says, that eternity has its own simultaneity, and in eternity all temporal things whatsoever coexist and are available for God's knowledge.
There is yet another benefit that can be derived from “Anselm's Solution, ” as we may call it: it permits Anselm's Barrier, which forbids the assigning of temporal location to God and God's acts, to be repaired and put back in place. On Alston's view, the Barrier was breached because the divine intuitive awareness of temporal realities had to “stretch over” the gulf between eternity and time, thus assigning a temporal location to the act of awareness. But now we see that the temporal realities are available to God in eternity, and there is no need of a relatum in time for the awareness relation. And this is a major gain for the theory of timelessness.
It seems, then, that divine timelessness has nicely survived the challenges that it has encountered. But like other solutions to philosophical problems, this one comes with a price tag—and the price is not cheap. For one thing, there is a sort of metaphysical extravagance involved in the idea that all the familiar things and events of everyday life do not really pass away, as we seem to see them do, but instead persist eternally—that they do so quite literally, and not merely as “thoughts in the mind of God. ” It is one thing to attribute timeless existence to God himself—not that such an attribution can be lightly made, but God is in any case so far beyond us that we may well hesitate to set limits to what could be true of him. But that the chalk-stub that I wore down on the chalk-board and eventually threw away—that this chalk-stub literally exists in eternity, and indeed still exists at every one of the innumerable temporal stages of its existence—this is a mind-boggling thought, and one might well wonder whether eternal existence is not being dispensed a bit too freely.
Anselm's Solution also causes a certain strategic embarrassment for the friends of timelessness. In virtually any exposition of the doctrine, one will find early on some disparaging remarks about the evanescence of temporal existence; these remarks are intended to motivate the recognition of the need to attribute to God a superior, eternal mode of existence. According to Boethius, for example, “There is nothing placed in time which can embrace the whole extent of its life equally. It does not yet grasp tomorrow, and it has already lost yesterday. Even in today's life you do not live more
than in the moving and transitory moment. ” 40 For a contemporary example, take the following from Stump and Kretzmann:
The existence of a typical existent temporal entity, such as a human being, is spread over years of the past, through the present, and into years of the future; but the past is not, the future is not, and the present must be understood as no time at all, a durationless instant, a mere point at which the past is continuous with the future. Such radically evanescent existence cannot be the foundation of existence. 41
But from Anselm's Solution we learn that the existence of temporal things is misdescribed in these passages. Far from being “radically evanescent, ” the existence of my chalk-stub is as enduring as that of the Andromeda galaxy. Boethius's “moving and transitory moment” possesses an existence as eternal as that of God himself. The motivationally important contrast between temporal beings and the Eternal Being has been undercut. To be sure, it could still be said that temporal beings like ourselves are not aware of their own eternal existence—but this is not what Boethius, or Stump and Kretzmann, are saying, and it is doubtful that their words would be equally effective, were the Anselmian doctrine put in place of what they actually do say. But if Anselm's Solution is going to be invoked to save timelessness from logical collapse, the friends of timelessness need to be true to that solution in the rhetoric they use to commend their doctrine.
The metaphysics of Anselm's Solution causes yet other difficulties. Specifically, it is fatal to libertarian free will. This is doubly ironic because Anselm, like Boethius before him, was concerned to preserve free will and saw in divine timelessness a means of doing so. But whatever benefits the doctrine of timelessness might otherwise have had on that score are negated by Anselm's Solution. That solution destroys libertarian freedom by negating the existence of “alternative possibilities” to the actions that are taken. Remember that the future events of the world, including your and my future actions, always exist in the timeless eternity of God. In Anselm's words:
I am not saying that my action tomorrow at no time exists; I am merely denying that it exists today, even though it always exists in eternity. And when we deny that something which is past or future in the temporal order is past or future in eternity, we do not maintain that that which is past or future does not in any way exist in eternity; instead, we are simply saying that what exists there unceasingly in its eternal-present mode does not exist there in the past or future mode. 42
In that eternity, nothing can be changed and nothing will be changed. There is no more possibility that I will act differently than the action which exists, in all its concrete actuality, in the divine eternity—there is no more, indeed there is less, possibility that this will happen than that I will fly to the moon tomorrow.
I do not expect that this conclusion will be readily accepted. Why, it will be asked, does the fact that my actions are already present in the divine eternity entail that those acts are causally determined? The answer is that it does not. But causal determination is not the issue. Causal determinism is inimical to freedom because it eliminates alternative possibilities for the action that is taken. But alternative possibilities can be eliminated in other ways as well, not least by the fact that the act to be done already exists—and exists, let us recall, in its full concrete particularity—in eternity.
We will also be told, no doubt, of the dreaded Frankfurt Counterexamples, which show that, libertarians or not, we must be prepared to give up the principle of alternative possibilities. These counterexamples have my vote as being the most overrated philosophical objection of recent times. The argument cannot be spelled out here, so let me just state that these counterexamples fail entirely to refute the principle of alternative possibilities as this principle is employed by libertarians. 43
Finally, we will be reminded that divine foreknowledge is thought to be a problem for free will because the divine knowledge (or belief) exists in the past—but divine timelessness, by removing God's knowledge from the past, also removes the problem. But once again, this misconceives the problem.
Divine knowledge existing in the past is problematic for free will because the past is now fixed, and beyond anyone's power to make it otherwise. But as Marilyn Adams has observed, “if the necessity of the past stems from its ontological determinateness it would seem that timeless determinateness is just as problematic as past determinateness. ” 44 Previously I pointed out that divine timelessness can be reconciled with libertarian freedom only if the following proposition is true: there are things that God timelessly believes which are such that it is in my power, now, to bring it about that God does not timelessly believe those things. 45 Given Anselm's Solution, we may add another necessary condition: there are future actions of my own which timelessly exist in the divine eternity which are such that it is in my power, now, to bring about that those actions do not exist in eternity. Does anyone seriously believe that these requirements are satisfied?
1387/07/26, 17:54 #9
The final objection to be considered against divine timelessness is independent of those considered so far, though some of our previous discussion may be helpful in motivating it. It does not depend on immediate awareness as the mode of divine knowledge, nor on the espousal of libertarian free will. It has the additional benefit that the assumptions it makes about the nature of time are strictly minimal. I believe that this objection, if successful, is decisive against all versions of divine timelessness. But the difficulty is perhaps somewhat subtle, and it has certainly proved easy to overlook. I myself, in earlier writings, mistakenly dismissed the objection as ineffective. So this section serves the purpose, among others, of the confession and purging of old errors.
Recall once again Ganssle's objection to Alston's theory of divine intuitive knowledge as applied to a temporal God. It was shown that God, having immediate awareness of all facts concerning all moments of time, has nothing whereby to distinguish the present moment, the one that is actually occurring, from others. God does not know what time it is. What is needed to break the impasse is that God's awareness should contain some additional feature—my suggestion was a judgment that “suchand-such a moment is now present”—that would serve to pick out the present moment and distinguish it from others.
Next, try the thought experiment of making the same assumptions about divine immediate awareness, with the subject of this awareness a timeless God. Now what is re-quired in order for God to be able to identify the present moment? A very little reflection shows that no answer is possible. For any feature of God's mental life which served to pick out the present moment would have to alter from moment to moment— at one time, the feature picked out the moment in which George Washington crossed the Delaware River, while more recently it picked out the time of President Clinton's 1999 State of the Union address.
But in eternity nothing can alter; everything is eternally the same. It simply is not possible, then, that a timeless God should know what time it is, or what is happening now. This much is absolutely clear, and there should be no dispute about it. Where the dispute will begin is about the significance of this undeniable fact.
It was stated that the objection makes only minimal assumptions about the nature of time. It could, however, be avoided if someone were to hold that our experience of the passage of time is wholly illusory—that there simply is no such thing as a present moment. But in spite of Parmenides, such a view seems simply unintelligible. To deny that I experience sequence and change in my experience is entirely on a par with denying my own existence, and neither of these views can be commended as lying on the path of wisdom. Even if all the physical, “objective” facts in the world, facts that we designate as past, present, and future—even if all such facts are ontologically exactly on a par and neither come into being nor pass away, there remains the fact that I experience these facts in a certain order, an order that involves succession and change. If this is denied, the denial (which will of necessity involve succession and change) is self-refuting. 46
An eternal God cannot identify the present moment, cannot know what is happening right now. (On the “minimalist” view described in the previous paragraph, God cannot know what I am experiencing right now. ) This much is clear; the question that must be answered is whether this amounts to real, substantive ignorance on God's part, ignorance which is incompatible with the perfect knowledge we wish to attribute to God. One philosopher who has answered this question in the affirmative is Arthur Prior, who wrote:For example, God could not, on the view I am considering, know that the 1960 final examinations at Manchester are now over; for this isn't something that he or anyone could know timelessly, because it just isn't true timelessly. It's true now, but it wasn't true a year ago (I write this on 29th August 1960) and so far as I can see all that can be said on this subject timelessly is that the finishing-date of the 1960 final examinations is an earlier one than 29th August, and this is not the thing we know when we know that those examinations are over. I cannot think of any better way of showing this than one I've used before, namely, the argument that what we know when we know that the 1960 final examinations are over can't be just a timeless relation between dates because this isn't the thing we're pleased about when we're pleased that the examinations are over. 47
In contrast with this, I argued that this does not amount to substantive ignorance on God's part. The arguments I used now seem to me to contain a mixture of truth and error. I wrote, quite correctly, that “It is not of course a question of its being 29th August for God, but of whether God can know the thing that Prior knows, when Prior knows it is the 29th of August. ” In order to answer this, we must consider the nature of Prior's own knowledge:
On 28th August he does not yet know that “It is now 29th August, ” for this is not yet true. Nor does he know this on 30th August, for it is then no longer true. Does it follow that there is some item of knowledge that Prior has on the 29th but lacks on the 28th and 30th? This does not seem very plausible. When Prior said, on 28th August, “Tomorrow is 29th August, ” or when he said, on 30th August, “Yesterday was 29th August, ” it seems reasonable to suppose that he expressed thereby the same item of knowledge that he expressed on the 29th with “It is now 29th August. ”
I then went on to suggest that God could express this same item of knowledge by saying (or timelessly affirming), “When Prior says, 'It is now 29th August, ' and … [assume other information added so as to identify the occasion uniquely], it is then 29th August. ” 48
Now, God could certainly affirm such a proposition as this one. Would God thereby express the same item of knowledge as is possessed by Prior when he says, “It is now 29th August”? It seems reasonable to agree that this is so, if we concur that the same item of knowledge is also expressed by Prior himself when he said, on the 28th, “Tomorrow is 29th August. ” We would then have a situation in which the same temporal fact is described in different ways from different temporal or eternal perspectives; the expression is different, but the substantive item of knowledge remains constant.
But does Prior know the same thing on the 28th and the 30th that he knows on the 29th? It now seems clear to me that he does not. To be sure, from a certain standpoint the difference in information-content is minimal. Any normal person who knew on the 28th that “tomorrow is 29th August” would, barring exceptional circumstances, also know on the 29th that “today is 29th August” and on the 30th that “yesterday was 29th August. ” Nevertheless, Prior knows something perfectly definite and concrete on the 29th that he does not know on the 28th or the 30th. He knows that the world's history, and especially his own personal history, have reached a certain point, a point marked on the calendar by the date 29th August, and perhaps more significantly by the fact that the examinations are now over. It is this knowledge that enables Prior to take advantage of opportunities, and respond to challenges, that may be unique to that particular day. The world's having reached that particular stage is a perfectly definite and concrete fact. That this fact cannot be expressed from the standpoint of a timeless eternity reveals the inherent limitations of such a standpoint; it does not cast doubt on the reality and significance of the fact itself.
This assessment is confirmed in an interesting way by a passage in Stump and Kretzmann's article “Eternity, Awareness, and Action. ” They ask us toimagine two parallel horizontal lines, the upper one representing eternity and the lower, time; and let presentness be represented by light. Then from a temporal viewpoint the temporal present is represented by a dot of light moving steadily along the lower line, which is in this way lighted successively, while the eternal present is represented by the upper line's being entirely lighted at once…. On the other hand, … from the eternal being's point of view the entire time line is lighted at once. From an eternal viewpoint, every present time is present, co-occurrent with the infinite whole of the eternal present. 49
This picture illustrates in an elegant fashion the eternalist conception of the relation between time and eternity. And it seems altogether fitting that there should be “more light” from the eternal standpoint than is visible from the temporal standpoint. But the picture also illustrates the point made in the argument given above: on the time-line, there is a single point that is now, the actual present, the point which the world's history has reached. This fact, however, is necessarily invisible from the eternal perspective. There are facts that are well known to human beings of which the eternal God knows nothing. 50
One might think that, providing the argument given here succeeds, all theists would agree in rejecting divine timelessness. Brian Leftow, however, argues that this need not be so:Personally, I would be very surprised if any contemporary theistic philosopher were to deliberately and knowingly adopt the sort of position suggested (but not adopted) by Leftow. 52 But it is rash to speculate about what one's colleagues may or may not do; instead, I must commend the issue to my readers for their own consideration and decision. 53If two claims conflict, one should drop the claim with less backing. The friends of MTOA [the metaphysical timelessness-omniscience argument] evidently think that “God is timeless” has less to back it than “God is omniscient” does. The late-classical and medieval philosophers who developed and defended the doctrine of God's eternity might not agree. These writers took this doctrine to be a consequence of a well-supported overarching theory of God's perfection. So if faced by the inconsistency MTOA alleges, these philosophers might not reject divine timelessness. They might instead reject the claim that an omniscient being knows all truths or facts… or simply drop the claim that God is omniscient. 51
ویرایش توسط Borzin : 1387/07/26 در ساعت 17:58
1387/07/26, 17:57 #10
Summary and Conclusions
We began by setting out briefly the doctrine of divine timelessness, with its companion doctrines of libertarian free will and divine intuitive knowledge. We then presented the argument that divine timeless intuitive knowledge is incoherent. We saw that neither Leftow nor Stump and Kretzmann have effective answers to the argument. Alston, on the other hand, initially seemed able to block the argument by his contention that the immediate awareness relation is basic and unanalyzable. But this view led to our locating the divine act of immediate awareness on the temporal continuum, which in turn created the paradox that God is immediately aware of temporal realities at times when they do not exist to be the objects of his awareness. Anselm avoids this by holding that temporal objects and events literally coexist with God in eternity. But this leads to still further difficulties; in particular, it has devastating consequences for libertarian free will.
All of these objections depend on the assumption that God has intuitive knowledge of the world; they can be avoided by accepting the Thomistic representationalist model of divine knowledge. A further objection, however, cannot be avoided in this way. It was shown that God, because he is timeless, cannot have knowledge of present-tense facts; he cannot know what is happening now. It was argued that this is a significant cognitive deficiency on God's part, one that arguably is inconsistent with the
divine perfection. The fact that temporal facts are “invisible” from a timeless perspective in no way calls into question the genuineness of such facts; rather, it reveals an inherent limitation of that perspective.
I believe these considerations add up to a compelling case for rejecting the doctrine of timelessness. It is with considerable relief—indeed, with a powerful sense of liberation—that we turn from the labyrinth of timelessness to the biblical conception of a God who has freely created our spatiotemporal world and involves himself actively in its history. God calls things into existence, he orders and arranges them, he speaks to his rational creatures and involves himself intimately in their lives. He issues promises and commands and suffers grief when the promises are spurned and the commandments broken. He frames a plan for the redemption of his broken world and executes that plan at great cost to himself. He places before us his children the goal of a Kingdom that shall have no end.
Why, one might ask, would a timeless God have created a world that is so deeply historical? We have not merely the constant, repetitive cycles that might well be, as Plato surmised, a “moving image of eternity. ” The cycles exist, but overlying them is the theme of a unique, unrepeatable historical process—a process, in the case of human beings, that is fraught with sin and tragedy, but one that all the same is guided to its ultimate goal by a wisdom that is able to overcome all obstacles. God pleads, promises, cajoles, rejoices at the sheep that returns safely to the fold, and thunders judgment at those who cause a little child to lose her way. The ontological aloofness so prized by Parmenides, Plato, and Plotinus is altogether lacking from the biblical picture of God.
The climax of the story, of course, is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. This event is astonishing on any reading, but taken together with the doctrine of timelessness it comes close to being incoherent. On that account, the eternal divine Logos is not aware of the events of “his” incarnate Life as they occur! All of human history finds its focus in that incarnate Life—but for a timeless knower, the distinction of “before” and “after” the Messiah, so crucial for all the writers of the New Testament, has no significance whatsoever. On the Anselmian view the crucifixion, the siege of Troy, the betrayal by Judas, the day of Pentecost, and the Nazi holocaust are all occurring now in the eternity of God; nothing new ever happens, and nothing old, however worthy of being forgotten, is left behind. This, I submit, is profoundly inconsistent with the thoroughly temporal and historical outlook that permeates the biblical text. We may well be thankful that the biblical story has served as a corrective, and has prevented many who embraced timelessness from suffering the distortion of the life of faith that could have resulted from the doctrine. Surely, however, the time has now come for a decisive break from a doctrine that has in it so much of pagan speculation and so little that is biblical and Christian. There are signs, indeed, that such a break has already begun.
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