Leaving Time

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Evangelical Outpost has joined the intermediate state debate (cf. my contribution here). The views on the table were cessation of existence and then resurrection, an intermediate state of complete consciousness, and my own tentative suggestion that there's a conscious intermediate state but not fully conscious and not involving much of what we normally consider to go along with our conscious states now. Since it was mostly scriptural interpretation, I was keeping it at my own blog, but now that it's philosophical I'm cross-posting it at Prosblogion.

Joe says that he's surprised not to see a fourth view, that we simply cease to exist in time but don't cease to exist altogether. We live in time until we die, and then we leave time to go be with God in eternity, a timeless existence. He says he doesn't think his view conflicts with Christian scripture. I agree that his view need not conflict with scripture, but I don't think it can make any sense philosophically without conflicting with one of the most crucial Christian beliefs about God's creation of the universe.

I don't think any scripture says anything clear about this in any direct way, but the view he seems to be advocating, in its strict literal interpretation, doesn't make sense philosophically. I do want to point out that a number of theologians have said things like this, so Joe is in good company, but the view doesn't hold up philosophically.

Craig's view, as he usually states it, is that God was timeless and then entered time after creating it. This makes absolutely no sense. How can God be not at any time and then become at a time. The succession in that sentence seems to move from one time to another. At one time God is not at a time, and then at a later time God is in time. I can't see any way to make sense of that if it's taken in the way sentences like that are normally taken.

Craig is aware of this problem with the most straightforward interpretation of the way he usually words his view. When he's being more careful, he describes atemporality or eternity as a point dimension of time. There's the temporal order, which is a timeline from start and going forever without end. Then there's the atemporal dimension, which is a point, and that point is related to all time because God in that atemporal point dimension is simultaneous with the whole timeline. Apart from time, therefore, God is timeless. At the beginning of time, which causally stems from God's timeless existence and timeless act of creation, God is also in time. This is the more careful view. So God is both in time and apart from time, because God is in both realms.

I think there are still problems here, because Craig's claim now seems to me to be completely trivial. God is in time with respect to time and atemporal without time. Every time I think about that sentence I get lost in what significance it's supposed to have. I'm spatial with respect to space but not spatial when you ignore my spatial aspects. It's not Craig I'm interested in here, though, so let's get back to Joe's view.

Joe isn't saying that God was outside time and then entered it. He's saying that we're in time and then leave it. It amounts to the same thing in terms of the issue I raised above. It doesn't make any sense to say that at one time someone is in time and then at a later time is not in time. That's what Joe's view amounts to. How can it be later if it's not later but rather outside time? So what is it supposed to mean that you leave time?

Here is a view that makes more sense. We are in time until we die, and then we cease to exist in time. Later on, we will be recreated, and thus in time we are gappy beings. There's an interval in time between when we exist and when we exist again. Then you add to that a parallel time dimension that's not a line but a point. We're in that time dimension too. That's eternity.

Of course, if you hold this view then we're timeless with God and we exist apart from creation. Joe wanted to avoid a view that conflicts with Christian scripture, and this seems to have us with God apart from creation. I can't say "before creation" because nothing is before creation, but we're present in our timeless state apart from the temporal realm and thus there as God acts atemporally to create. Still, this makes more sense philosophically than the idea that we somehow are in time and then at a later time are not in time. That's self-contradictory.

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8 Comments

In John Gardner's Grendel the dragon was a creature that had a different existence (or perception) of time. If I remember correctly the dragon did (or claimed to) exist in a different manner with respect to the timestream. Its consciousness was not localized in time, but spread over its whole existence. I'm not sure, but that might be what they are trying to express.

I don't really have the time to get into this :) but I have to say that you, Jeremy, make me laugh. You have a way of bluntly and directly pointing out fallacies and contradictions that is refreshing. It is rare, sadly, and so "spiritually incorrect" as to be quite biblical.

Unless, of course, you're taking one of my posts or comments apart. Then it's terribly unloving! ;)

Mark: The dragon's consciousness might not be localized in time, but that's what atemporalists say about God. I'm one of them, as it happens. It's quite another matter to say that someone has a consciousness in time and then later not in time (or the reverse, as Craig says of God).

Mike: That's what graduate school in philosophy does to people. Since philosophy Ph.D. programs are evil, I can just say that the devil made me do it.

ROFL! Sorry, I hate posting something like that, but that was REALLY funny.

Would that be the PhDEvil, made you do it?

Very interesting, Jeremy. Your objection to Craig seems to me to apply to the a-temporalist perspective as a whole, though. What can be the significance of saying "God is a-temporal, except when He is active in any way"? Unless one were to suggest that God can *sometimes* do the second thing before the first, and *other times* He can't?

Why not say that there are certain predicates of deity that are stative, and certain that are active, and that the stative predicates are at all times true, and insusceptible of change? Why need we monkey about with the notion of time in any way to get there?

This is rambling from the main point of your post, though, wherein I quite agree with you.

Cheers,
PGE

I would have thought the atemporalist not to consider God temporal in any way. The effects of God's actions are in time, but there's no temporal succession in God's mind except in the form of "For Jeremy, the succession is as follows...", etc. So I'm not sure how this objection relates to the traditional (i.e. genuine) timelessness view.

But you've reified the "time is a place" metaphor with "in time" again. That won't do.

More to the point, saying that we exclude the notion that God acts "at" such-and-such time, and instead say that God acts "with reference to" such-and-such time, stipulating that "time" then is the intersubjective experience of a divinely-established succession in all non-divine persons . . .

We still have the logical problem. God's action "with reference to" the time of such action forecloses some possibilities at later stages in the succession. That is, God, having acted "with reference to" t=1 to create the universe, has no options "with reference to" t>1 that involve the universe's not having been created.

There is thus no final difference with regard to God's options between this sort of atemporalism and temporalism, unless the atemporalist is willing to throw logic to the winds of "theological mystery" altogether; we must affirm one of two things:

1) God's character, motives, etc. are unaffected by our experience of time, but His being in relation to His creation is such that the second thing cannot happen before the first; or

2) God's being is such that no possible state, including those logically excluded by some actual states, is ever foreclosed; the past, for instance, may not really have happened . . .

And note that while position (1) would hold even if it were only a volitional, and not a metaphysical, condition of divine being, (2) would be meaningful only if there were actual cases of the logically incoherent being done to justify.

Cheers,
PGE

I'm having trouble following your argument. In the first comment, you said something about God's actions being in time, but I deny that. God's actions are not in time. God has one action. At least some of its effects are in time, and they take place at different times.

I think we differ on the nature of time anyway, which may explain why I don't understand much of what we're saying. When you talk about reifying time as if it's like place, I'm not sure what you mean, but I'm a committed eternalist (what philosophers call the B-theory of time). All times exist equally, and there's nothing special about what happens to be present, past, or future to me. I think physics shows that, but I think the other views of time that philosophers call A-theories are philosophically problematic anyway.

I'm not sure I understand this idea of no options. There's got to be a logical ordering for God's decisions in the one act, and given that God has a logically prior decision, he's not going to decide something later on in the logical order that will conflict with it. Some of that will affect the logic of succession in time because the order of causation tends to run in temporal order for beings in time. I don't see how any of this is a problem.

As I see it, God could have refrained from creation if God hadn't timelessly acted in creation. That doesn't require a notion of temporality. One possible world is God timelessly not creating. Another is the actual world, where God timelessly creates. The only way you'd think this means God couldn't have refrained from creating is if you think possibility depends on things having gone differently at some point in the past rather than things having been different period. Things would have been different period if God hadn't created.

I wouldn't say that God is unaffected by events in time. God clearly has relations with creatures in time. But these relations are not temporally ordered. God is eternally affected by events in time. It's not as if God was one way and then another. God is eternally affected by events that are logically posterior to the act of creation.

I don't see a problem with saying that the past could have been other than it was. After all, we say the present could have been other than it was, and the future could have been other than it will be.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I just don't follow any of the steps of your argument. Unless there's a clearer way to put it or a way to put forth some of the assumptions that we're disagreeing about, I'm not sure what else to say.

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