Omniscience and Time

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This is the the thirty-fourth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I started a series within the series on philosophical theology, beginning with omnipotence and possibility. Now we turn to the first of two posts related to omniscience.

We might define omniscience in a similar way to how we initially defined omnipotence. We could say that it means knowing everything. That will not do, because omniscience cannot mean knowing things that are false. Omniscient beings could only know what is true. But maybe omniscience means knowing every truth. Some will want to retain that definition, while others will modify it further. One issue that will affect this is as follows.

Does God know what time it is? If God is in time, then hardly anyone thinks there will be a problem with thinking God knows what time it is. But some people think of God as outside time. In the next post on omniscience and freedom I'll look at one reason some people are attracted to that ideal (some think it solves problems about how God knows what's future to us). Another reason reason is that some simply view temporality as a limitation that a perfect being would not have. A third reason sometimes comes up in relation the cosmological argument, although it wasn't important to the version of that argument that I discussed earlier in this series of posts. Some people think there could not have been an infinite past, because an actual infinite is impossible. We could never have reached the present, because that would have involved having counted to infinity, which is impossible. Not everyone agrees with this line of argument, but those who do had better not think of God as experiencing time the way we do. If they did, then God would have had to have existed for an actual infinite length of time. Whatever reasons some might have, it is by far the dominant view within theism historically speaking, even if most contemporary theistic philosophers have abandoned it.

So can an atemporal God know what time it is? If not, is that a problem for omniscience?

That depends on the nature of time itself. Philosophers divide theories of time into what have not very informatively been called the A-theory and the B-theory. On an A-theory of time, we could list all the facts about what takes place across history. Once we've done that there would still be at least one fact that we haven't specified yet. That would be the fact about which of the moments in time throughout that timeline is the current one. In other words, could we know all those facts without knowing which of those times is the present one? If so, then this special now is a further fact beyond the facts about what events take place when.

On a B-theory of time, time is enough like space that there is no such further fact about which time is now. If we listed all the facts about the history of the world, including all the facts about the future, we would then know exactly when each event takes place. Is there a further fact about what time it is now? Most philosophers say no. They think we've got all the facts about time once we know when each event takes place. Whichever time we call now is just the one we're at, just as whichever place we call here is the one we're at.

Let's think a little further about the comparison between time and space. Could know where everything is and yet not know where they are in the grand scheme of things? Someone could know which places everything takes place at without placing themselves in any of those places and then calling it “here”. (Technically speaking, if you knew enough about yourself you could figure out where you are just from the description of each thing and what you know about yourself, but I'm ignoring that complication here. There are ways to get around this, but it gets technically messy, and I'd rather keep it simple for the sake of greater clarity.)

What both the A-view of time and the B-view of time agree on is that there is no special place called here. Here is wherever you are, but there is no special here independent of the person speaking or thinking of something as here. It does not have a special mode of existence, as if only here is real and other places are not. Where here is is relative to the individual. Wherever someone is, they will call that place “here”. It does not say something special about the place itself to call it “here”.

Now consider a similar view about time. If time is like space in this way, then there is nothing special about calling a time “now”. All it means is that it is the time you are currently at. At another time, you would call a different time “now”. It does not mean this time has a special feature that other times do not have, as if only this one is real in some sense. A-views of time do take there to be some special fact about its being now in a way not analogous to the spatial case of its being here. B-views treat time and space as similar in this respect such that there is nothing special about now any more than there is with here.

So the B-view, in short, says that knowing all the facts about which things take place when is all you need to know which time is now for each being in time. There is no separate fact about when now is absolutely. Now is just when each being exists, in the same way here is where each being is without there being an absolute here.

According to this view, God can know all those facts about when things take place. God would know that my writing of these notes takes place now in the sense that God knows what time I am writing the notes. God would not know some special additional fact about which time is now, as if that means there is an absolute time that is now. God knows which things come before or after others, and those facts are the only facts to know about time. If you say, “Yes, but does God know what time it is now?” you are not asking anything further. There is no further fact about what time it is now for God to know. Therefore, God can know all the true things about time without knowing what time it is now in any further sense, and God’s omniscience is retained.

So a traditional view of omniscience can be retained if God is in time or if time is sufficiently like space, as the B-view of time has it. There is one further view of defending omniscience against this objection, even if God is atemporal. But it involves a slight revision of what you might have thought omniscience involves. This third view, unwilling to give up an A-view of time or God's atemporality, simply says that God doesn't know what time it is. So how is that a way to retain omniscience?

Recall from the last post how omnipotence has traditionally been defended from objections like the rock problem. Omnipotence is not the ability to do anything but rather the ability to do anything possible. Similarly, perhaps omniscience is not knowing all truths but simply knowing all truths that are possible to be known. This revised definition of omniscience plays a role in one response to the foreknowledge and freedom issue that my next post will deal with, but some philosophers have held that it helps here too. If God is atemporal, and it is impossible for an atemporal being to know what time it is, then God might still know everything that it's possible for God to know. So this isn't a limitation of God's knowledge beyond simply being a logical limitation, and logical limitations aren't real limitations, as the argument in the last post shows.

On this view, an atemporal God would not know what time it is, and thus God would not know something that is nonetheless true. People who hold this view do ultimately accept that there are true things that God does not know. But they do not consider this to be a problem for omniscience. Some things are not knowable by an atemporal being, and what time it is would be an example of those. It is not a problem for omniscience, on this view, if God does not know which time is now. God knows all the important facts, such as which things occur when. That God does not know the additional fact of when it is now is just a result of atemporality. It is no problem that a perfectly good being cannot do wrong. It is similarly no problem that an atemporal being does not know what time is now.

One difficulty with this view is that it doesn't seem exactly analogous to the omnipotence issue. It's one thing for an omnipotent being to be unable to cause contradictions to be true. It's not as if contradictions are possible to begin with. But it's quite another for a divine being not to know something that is not just in principle knowable but is in fact known by lots of people all the time. That does strike me as a real limitation. If atemporality has that result, then atemporality seems to be a limitation in addition to being a perfection. Accepting this way out of the difficulty does seem to be more problematic than doing the similar thing with omnipotence.

So there are three views available to respond to this problem while accepting omniscience. Each has to deny something that you might initially have thought true.

1. You could deny God’s atemporality. This has several potential disadvantages, depending on how strong or relevant the considerations often given for God's atemporality really are. It means denying the traditional theistic picture of God’s relation to time. Some think it limits God in a way that a perfect being wouldn't be limited. It means sacrificing whatever atemporality will help with the foreknowledge problem of the next post. Finally, it means either admitting that God came into existence or thinking of God as having existed for an infinite time in the past, which in turn requires accepting an actual infinite, which many think is impossible.

2. You could retain atemporality and the A-view of time, but it means revising the original notion that omniscience means knowing every truth. It has to accept that there are some true things that God does not know, and these aren't just things that are impossible to know in principle. They're just things that are impossible for God to know, which strikes many as admitting to a real limitation.

3. You could instead deny that time is different from space by accepting the B-view of time. The A-view is the commonsense view, since time does not seem like space, so this sacrifices a view that seems true to many people. I do think it's worth keeping in mind that the B-view is very much the consensus view among philosophers who work in this area of metaphysics. Even though most philosophers take this option, most theistic philosophers do not like this idea as much as philosophers in general do. I'm not sure why that is so, however.

Any view on this subject seems to have to deny either an omniscient God or one of those things that a theist might originally have thought to be true of God. Different theists have taken different options in the list, but as far as I know no one has come up with a solution besides the ones I've listed.

As I've already mentioned several times, the next post will look at the implications of omniscience for the problem of God's foreknowledge and human freedom.

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31 Comments

It looks as if a word like "deny" is missing from point 1 of the three final numbered points in this post.

I have linked to this post from my own blog. But am I right in suggesting that a B-theory of time implies that the whole concept of "now" is illusory? How do B-theorists explain the psychological reality of the concept of "now"?

I think that, despite "consensus", the most implausible alternative is the third one. According to the B-theory-solution God does not "know", what time it is now, because the sentence "Now it is ten o'clock" does NOT express a FACT - so there is not something real, he is unaware of. But there is a still greater problem emerging here, if you only accept future contingents: Right now it is not raining (I am writing this looking at my garden and I am quite positive about it). Does God know, what it means for me to more certain about not raining now, than I was yesterday about today's weather (when today's raining or not were future contingents)? Even with B-theory He doesn't. So the fault has to be on the side of omniscience. At least on the traditional view of omniscience.

Peter, it's not that now is illusory. It's that it's relative to what time you're at. The concept of here isn't illusory. It's just relative to where you are. The B-theory says the same thing about both cases. So the only way the B-theory makes now illusory is if everyone's ordinary views make here illusory, which I think is very much not the case.

The psychological concept of time is simply how time appears to us as we experience one moment and then the next in succession. But the B-view takes all those moments to be equally real, and our experience of them in succession doesn't tell us anything about any of those moments being special. Our experience of something and its nature don't always line up. This is true of both space and time in physics because of relativity already, so saying it here doesn't add anything other than what our best science already tells us. Space and time are ontologically very different from what seems to be true within a reference frame.

Stamatios, "Now it is ten o'clock" does express a fact on a B-theory. It expresses the fact that the time I'm saying the sentence is 10:00.

The difference between my state of mind given my ignorance and God's state of mind given God's omniscience is genuine. But that doesn't mean God doesn't know what it means for me to be ignorant. God still knows what ignorance is. God just isn't ignorant. I'm not sure how that's a problem for omniscience. I also don't see what this has to do with future contingents. There are issues people raise with future contingents, which will come up in the next post. But this doesn't rely on future contingents at all. You simply distinguish between my not knowing something and God's knowing it, and then you say that that means God isn't omniscient because he doesn't not know what I don't know. That strikes me as a very strange argument. Or am I not getting your point at all?

God knows that I am ignorant, no doubt about it. But according to your third solution He doesn't seem to know, what it is LIKE to be more uncertain about something, due to this something's being future (and contingent), than about something, due to this something's being present. In other words: He never sees something as future (the way we use the word "future"). He sees temporalised sentences (past, future or present) as sentences, whose truth conditions are present ones. Ergo: my point was not that God doesn't know something that I don't know, but that He doesn't know something that I DO know indeed: I.e. He doesn't know WHAT IT IS LIKE to have past AND present knowledge of today's raining (right now it's raining here). That is, according to solution three, He doesn't know what it is like to HAVE BEEN more uncertain about a fact, than I AM right now. But this is to be ignorant about the meaning of tense operators. Solution three ascribes to God inability to grasp the difference between sentences, which describe the same fact, but have another tense operator. You can still come with a McTaggart-like-argument against time of course (and against tense operators alltogether), but this would not make solution three more plausible.

The way you put it, you are probably right, that "now it's ten o'clock" expresses a fact according to B-series. But is this the STANDARD meaning of "now"?

Without explaining how I came to my conclusions on time and eternity, I'll just dive right in.

First you mentioned "knowing all truth or knowing all truths that are possible to be known". Both are the same, all truth is all truth. I think this is the question you are trying to ask: Is there more to God than he knows? I hate to stop the dialouge so quickly but if there is, then, how could we know it.

So, how do I still try to grapple such a cool concept? By using the truth given me, even if only sublime, and standing in awe of the icredible possibilities it offers. #1. God has said he is truth, therefore all possibilites known or unknown for truth have their origin in him. #2. We were created in the image of God. Thus,the only reason we can even begin to understand, and even venture to comprehend these concepts is due to the fact we have a but a poor reflection of theses things in the first place. #3. I know when I begin to consider these tings it apeals to my flesh, to think that somehow, in and of myself I can attain or find some weakness in the logic of the premiss of an all knowing everpresent God. The mere freedom to think that way comes from God. #4 Descartes said "I think therfore I am". He used this premis to justify describing the world outside the mind, whcih in apearence is three demetional, through, scientific explenation both mathmatic and quanatatively. This break through has become the stumbling block to further growth in knowledge because science can only describe things from a dead perspective. For instances; from a scientific perspective a door is made up of various carbon based molecules with certain mass and weight with leangth width and height. Yet in the world of expereience a door is a gateway to a special place or protective barrier from harm a portal from one place of significance to another. #5. Finaly since we have this vague mirror of the impression of the creator it's safe to say the following: He is therfore we are. His dreams are reality "For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring." Acts 17:28

We are 2 separate beings-1.Body-2.Soul-The things accomplished in the body are temporary---not eternal----thus we have a time line------a starting point and stopping point----Things accomplished by the soul are eternal---there is no time line----but the soul continues---ie....Christ was crucified and buried---bodily--his soul or an aspect of his soul is still on the cross being crucified--there is no beginning or ending of time---it is eternal---but other aspects of his soul go on to accomplish other traits----

Stamatios, that problem is more general. It's not an issue of time at all. You could just as easily say that God doesn't know what it's like to be incarnate as a female human being, what it's like to be incarnate as a chipmunk, what it's like to sin, and so on. It's not about time at all. On these issues I think there are two potential responses. One is to say what the second view says about these cases, which means you might as well say it about time too. But another option is to say that God does know what it's like via having direct causal contact with everything that exists.

(I should say that Christians do think God knows what it's like to experience things temporally, because he was incarnate as a human being in time. But I won't make much of that, because the issue you're raising is more general, as I've noted above.)

As to what the word 'now' means, I would think that it means whatever the closest existing thing corresponding to our usage might be. If there is no objective now, then it refers to something else.

Jeremy, thank you for your response. I think I am understanding things better now. Would it be correct to put it like this?: God cannot say where he is, because he is not in any one place but is omnipresent; and for the same reason he cannot say what time it is, i.e. at what point he is on the time axis, because he is at every time. On the other hand, he could say to me now "it is nearly midnight there in England (and so you should go to bed)", because "it is nearly midnight" refers to the time he speaks. (Obviously I am here speaking as a theist who believes that God speaks to humans today; a cessationist Christian theist might claim that God made such statements during the apostolic age, such as Romans 13:11-12 if understood as a prophetic message, but doesn't do so now; but there is no issue here for a deist who does not believe that God makes any statements to humans.) So perhaps he is not really in a different position from me. So I suppose I am in fact leaning towards your B-theory. But perhaps I had better take notice of what I am sure God really wants me to do, even though I don't really claim that he specifically said it to me tonight.

Peter, I think that all sounds right.

Interesting post Jeremy. I got the insight out of the post that God's omnipresence would also imply, if space-time is true (i.e. time is just like space), that God is everywhere in time. It is an interesting thought I will have to consider more.

Have you read William Lane Craig's book 'The Tensed theory of time'? This book seems (as far as I can tell) to outline the notion of A-theoristic relativistic presentism.

Also, will you be following up with any sort of time travel implications for your view?

1. Omnipresence is not usually thought of as God being everywhere in space. God is usually thought of as not being in space at all. Omnipresence isn't about being literally anywhere. It's about God being directly in contact with everywhere in space such that God has causal control over that region of space.

2. I haven't read that book of Craig's, but I have read his treatment of the same subject in Time and Eternity. His view of God and time seems to me to be incoherent. I've discussed that in my review of the IVP God and Time: Four Views book. I don't know enough physics to evaluate his treatment of presentism and relativity, but I did get a bad review of it when I asked a philosopher of physics about it. I believe every metaphysician I know thinks he can't make it work, even those who are presentists. Dean Zimmerman has tried to reconcile presentism with relativity (in still unpublished work), but he thinks you have to say some things that are very strange. I don't think Craig has dealt with those issues at this point. The best treatment of the difficulties presentism (or any A-theory) will have in the face of physics is the chapter on time in Ted Sider's Four-Dimensionalism.

3. I don't plan to discuss time travel in this series, but I have discussed it before here, and Wink's followup here has some further good discussion. The other issue I sometimes connect with this one is retroactive prayer, although that one should come up again with the next post about foreknowledge.

Jeremy, thanks for your very interesting answer. You say that God does not know what it is like to be incarnate as a female human being neither, so the problem is not about future contingents. I thought about it and still I cannot but think, that there is a specific issue about omniscience and future contingents. Because God was never incarnate as a female human being - so you have a reason to suppose, that He has no idea about it. But if you supposed for some reason that He had a daughter, who fulfilled all conditions, which Jesus does, then you would have to say, that He would very well know what it is like. Now, even if you suppose that there ARE future contingents - as you have more grounds to do than to suppose that God has a daughter, given your third solution, an omniscient being in the traditional sense would not see the epistemic shift between "It will rain at t1" and "It is raining at t1". I am attracted to the 2nd solution, although, I think, that you are demonising it: You needn't take the 2nd position to say that God doesn't know something. It would suffice to say, that God sees our truths and (well some of) our falsities realised in what for us are different possible worlds.

Here is what I will grant about option 2. God knows all the truthmakers of all truths. Then you could define omniscience as knowing the truths at the ground floor that serve as truthmakers for all other truths. Then you could further say that truths about what it is like to experience certain things would be grounded in other, third-person accessible, truths. My problem with this is that I don't think all such first-person-accessible truths are grounded entirely on third-person-accessible truths.

I'm also a little uncertain why it should matter if these truths are contingent. Even if they aren't contingent, our access to them in the present might be imperfect. It's our asymmetrical access to the future and the past that should be the issue, shouldn't it? Whether it is necessary or contingent is irrelevant to this point. The only place contingency should play a role in terms of God's knowledge is if you accept that God couldn't in principle know the future. You don't seem to be tempted by open theism, however, so I'm not sure why contingency is an issue here.

Can I have an AB-view of time?

I'll take the B-view of time to be roughly General Relativity. Now conceptually merge this with the Many-Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics - so in any one “World" there is a complete space-time canvas, past/presence/future, which looks like the B-view. But there is more to know. God has to know which "World" you are in; that's the extra fact, somewhat like saying "It's now ten O'clock", which puts me back in the A-view. Sort of. Because the fact of knowing which Universe we’re in is something no mortal could ever know - but God might be able to know, even is God is temporal and therefore coexistent with multiple space-times all at right angles to each other.


My point here, is that the shape of omniscience depends on the nature of time which in turn depends upon the laws of physics (in contrast with omnipotence where physics is an optional extra), and physicists have yet to pin down time sufficiently to have a serious discussion. Indeed, Thermodynamics implies an A-view, as done Quantum Mechanical “wave-function collapse”, while General Relativity clearly denotes the B-view. Since all these models work, it is possible that, like the particle/wave duality, time can behave in different ways in different situations, but might not be entirely like any of them. That’s assuming causality even holds, of course. And there maybe other “universes” with different laws of physics, and correspondingly weirder notions of time. (Does creationism suddenly sound attractive?)


FWIW My naive summary of the issue is this: can God merely know time (atemporal God) or does God experience time (temporal God). Or is it more subtle than that?)

General relativity is consistent with a B-view of time, but they're not the same thing. You can hold the B-view and not accept relativity. A Newtonian model of space-time is consistent with B-time, for instance.

The different worlds thing is a very different issue. I see several different places where you can make this general kind of distinction. I talked about the analogy with "here". You could defend a view called hereism, according to which only here exists, and all other locations are not real. No one holds such a view, because it's pretty ridiculous. But some people do hold the analogous view with time, even though it seems to be inconsistent with our best science.

Then there's a third issue you can raise, whether the actual world is the only one or whether all the other possible worlds exist but just not in this world. David Lewis defends such a view, saying that not just time but also possibility is like space, with words like 'here', 'now', and 'actual' all serving as analogous indexicals that simply refer to the one you're at. Hardly anyone follows Lewis in this, so pretty much everyone draws the line at actuality. Most philosophers accept that time and space work analogously, but some don't accept it for time. Very few accept it for possibility.

But pulling this move with actuality and possibility does not give you an A-view or B-view of time. That's a separate issue. You might call it an A-view or B-view of possibility. No one does call it that, but I suppose you could. If what you're saying is that you could hold a B-view of time and an A-view of possibility, then you're right. But it's inaccurate to describe that as holding an A-view and a B-view about the same thing. That's impossible, since they contradict each other.

For the record, I don't think physics establishes the many universes model. As far as I can tell, it's a theoretical model built up as a possible response to intelligent design arguments based on the cosmological constants of the universe, and it's always seemed less plausible an explanation to my mind than the simple designer model that so many people already believe independently.

Hi Jeremey,

Here's a similar but simpler realisation of my argument which I came up with before reading your reply. (I'll write some stuff about the Many Worlds/Many Universes in a bit. And I will check out Lewis, he sounds interesting.)

Suppose the Universe is a simulation run by a digital computer. The software could do anything (omnipotent) and is everywhere (or rather, we are entirely in it - a bit more like Hindu ideas; but anyway omnipresent). To the best of our knowledge, the software is also flawless (unlike the preview function on this blog - which, because it didn't WYSIWIG the paragraphs, tricked me into inserting extra line breaks. Sorry about that).

Now to omniscience. The computer is embedded in its own space-time which has no correlation with our space-time - it could take a year or a nanosecond to calculate one second of our life. And the amount of time required to calculate each second probably varies, depending on the complexity of the calculation. So anyway this software is atemporal (from our point of view).

Now lets suppose the software is simulating our universe as per the B-view - its filling in a 4D array of what happens at every point in space and time. (And, rather impressively, modern physics can tell you the maximal information density of space-time.) Assuming cause precedes effect, the computer can't calculate the events at a point P in space0time without knowing all the causes that might have an effect on P. (For example, you can't calculate anything about the Earth without knowing about the Sun, and to know about the Sun you need to know about all the stars whose leftovers contributed to the Sun, and so on back to the Big Bang).

So for the software to know what happens at time T at P, it has to start at the Big Bang and calculate forwards. That means there is a "calculation front" moving forwards through time, beyond which the software knows nothing; but behind which the computer knows everything. (And N.B. the front doesn't have to be smooth - and could perfectly accommodate GR - see graph)

Despite B-view physics, this appears to be an A-view universe with software (aka God) that doesn't know the future; and yet this apparently temporal God is also entirely outside of our time.

I'm not sure why you're calling this an A-view universe. Do you mean A-with-respect-to-possibility or A-with-respect-to-time? It seems to me to be definitely not the latter. It may be that within this program's own time frame (in its orthogonal time dimension) it doesn't know what it hasn't calculated yet, but that doesn't have anything to do with what time it is in the B-universe that it's calculating about.

To be clear, when the traditional view says that God is atemporal, this sort of thing does not capture that. If you're going to think of God's time-dimension in a geometric way, it would be better to think of it as a point rather than a line. That point is then simultaneous (in some sense) with every point in the time dimension by being causally connected with every point in the time dimension. But there is no duration in the point-dimension. God's thoughts are all simultaneous within the eternal dimension.

Okay, so what's the geometric interpretation of an A-view? Is it God as a "cover" of the Universe?

My software, I think, was a line (time but no space) with mappings from each point on the line to more and more points in the Universe's space-time. However, no point in space-time "exists" until there is a connection to the software (God creating and sustaining the Universe); and the moment—in software time—when that mapping to God occurs, causes our sensation of "now" - even though a 4D space-time has no concept of "now".

And I think that, if I allow the Universe to pre-exist (so that, rather than God calculating the values of space-time, God is rendering the wireframe into a 3D image) then any proposition about an A universe or a B-universe would be true, i.e. its an AB-Universe. QED.

I've actually developed yet another approach (based on partitioning knowledge into sets), which reframes my original proposition except without ref to Quantum Mechanics. But I'll refrain from dumping that it in here until I'm certain I've grasped the A-view, and am on the right track here.

There are several geometric representations of A-views. With presentism, there is just the present point. There is no time line to move along, since there is only the present, but the one point becomes later and later. With a growing block view, there is a past timeline, and the present is just its tip. With a moving spotlight view (which I don't think ends up being coherent), the whole time line exists, and the present is like a spotlight moving along it.

A B-view, in contrast, just has the whole time line existing with no special moment. Which one is the present just depends on where you are along it, the same way which location is here depends on where you are when you ask the question.

In the B-view, the mapping occurs at every moment, doesn't it? If there is a moment in time when, to those in time, God is not connected to it, then God is not sustaining that moment. On a B-view, every moment would then be mapped to God, and so every moment would be now on your definition (but you could then say what every B-theorist says, that every moment is now for those who are at that moment).

I don't know how the next bit is supposed to follow at all. It sounds completely obscure to me, but maybe it's just based on a misunderstanding of what an A-view would be like.

You're right - I'm both misunderstanding things and talking nonsense. (But I'm enjoying it and learning something; so thanks for persevering with me.)

First off, I want to point out that an A-view is challenged by multiple, disjoint space-times - which, I understand, is one of the predictions of string theory. (I'll take it as read, that an A-view implies "non-deterministic" physics.)

Okay, so to Presentism. In the computer analogy, this is like having a 3D array of space which is continually updated for each instance of time. Or like having an orator instead of the Growing Block's writer. But the words of an orator could be recorded and replayed at a later time - or typed-up in a transcript; or the orator might be reciting from memory, rather than making it up on the spot. Or, if the computer program was actually adjusting something external, it could still remember the past in its own internal memory. In each case, there seems a way to convert Presentism into the Growing Block model. The only way around this, that I can see, is to make God forget some or all of the past. (Have I missed anything there?)

Anyway, the Growing Block View is how I understood the A-view. But I'm getting in trouble here. Consider the statement "now it is ten o'clock". That statement is initially true and then false. Since I would like truths to be eternal, I will have statements generates a set whose elements are the times when that statement is true. So the statement 1 + 1 = 2 generates an infinite set - i.e. is true for all time; while the statement "now it is midnight (GMT) on January 1st 2007" generates a one-element set. I'll allow my truth sets to be "open", so that I don't have to worry about the future.

Now consider the statement "it is is one hour in the past". That statement has rotted my brain. I think the only way to avoid paradox is to require two time dimensions: the time at which the statement is being evaluated, and the value of the present; thereby forcing the truth set of a statement to be composed of ordered pairs. Essentially, I think that in order to record time changing you need another (?fixed) time dimension measuring the change. Agree/disagree?

PS: I've done a graph (Fig 2) of my "AB" view. Reflecting on it, I realise I've created a B-type universe, with an A-type God. And this may be another source of confusion - as an {A,B}-type God neither requires nor implies an {A,B}-type universe.  

I don't think an A-view requires non-deterministic physics. An A-view is compatible with determinism. What it seems to be incompatible with is relativity. Just one spacetime of the sort that relativity seems to require creates problems for an A-view, since it requires absoluteness about simultaneity if there's an absolute now. So it follows that it's inconsistent with multiple, disjoint spacetimes, but it doesn't have anything to do with there being multiple spacetimes or with their being disjoint.

But if we didn't have relativity and could allow for an A-theory, I think an A-theory would be ok with determinism. Determinism just says that the laws of nature and any given state of the world at a time will determine what will be true at any later time. On an A-theory, one of those times is now in some special way. On presentist and growing block versions, future times don't exist. But that's consistent with saying that those times are predetermined. You could then predict how things would go even if there's no time yet existing when it does happen.

I'm not sure what you mean by converting presentism into a growing block view. Are you saying that anyone who accepts the reality of the present (as presentism does) and the unreality of the future (as presentism does) has to accept the reality of the past (as presentism does not and the growing block view does) on the grounds that God would have to forget the past for presentism to be true? I can't figure out what else you would mean, so I'll consider that to be your meaning.

I don't think this is true. For one thing, not everyone who discusses these views believes in God. Atheists aren't going to base anything about these views on God's memories, because they don't believe in God having any memories. Another problem is that God's memories don't make anything true. God has memories because it happened. If God is in time, then it's not God's memories that make it true that it happened. It happened, and God's memories are just a record of that. So I don't see how God's memories make presentism become a growing block view. People who hold a growing block view are motivated by thinking the future is not like the past in terms of being fixed. Presentists can't really say that. Presentists are motivated by the sense that only the present is real, but that means the future and past are equally non-real. But I don't see how whether God has memories could make one or the other of those two views true.

I think it's worth distinguishing between statements or sentences (which are human-language ways of expressing propositions) and the propositions that such statements express. Propositions are eternal, on a B-view, and sentences express them. So if I say that it's 10:00, and I say it at 10:00, then I'm expressing a true proposition with that sentence. If I say it an hour later (in the same timezone), then I'm expressing a false proposition. But the proposition I'm expressing is an eternal one. It's a proposition about that time. That time is always 10:00. It's just that we're not always at it to call it now. When we can rightly call it now, we can then express that proposition by saying "it's now 10:00". When we're at a later time, say 11:00, and we say the same sentence, we then express a different proposition, one that is false. The later time is not 10:00, and so the same sentence becomes false because it expresses a different and false proposition. That's how I think we ought to think about the changing truth values of such sentences on a B-theory of time.

As for the statement "it is is one hour in the past", I don't think that statement is coherent unless the person saying it has time traveled an hour into the past. In that case, it would be an hour earlier than where the person had just been, so it is an hour earlier than what had just been the person's time. It is an hour earlier in actual time than it just had been for the person in the person's personal time line. But without that sort of thing, I'm not sure why you should try to make sense of the statement any more than we should try to make sense of square circles or other combinations of words that imply contradictions.

I'm not sure why God needs to be part of the explanation for our consciousness of now, as your chart suggests. Why can't we just say our consciousness of now is just our consciousness of what time we're at? We're only at one time at any given time, after all. Bringing God in seems to me to create problems that you don't need in order to answer the question you're asking.

I don't think Presentism is challenged by Relativity - any space-like cross-section looks "now" (Fig 3), and can progress forwards in a time-like way. For example, in the twin "paradox" both twins agree "now" is "now", they only disagree about how much time has elapsed since they were separated. (That was why Fig 1 had a rough line.) Sure - relativity says there is no absolute "now"; but anyone happy to have a relative "now" can maintain an A-view. And that's how I'm going to proceed.

The stipulation on non-determinism was to prevent me reapplying my argument about the past to the future, and so completely eliminating the A-view. (I thought an Atheist wouldn't be worried about an omniscient being.) My essential question is: what's the difference between the past and a perfect memory? I'd supposed there was none; for example, if I have two TVs, one playing a live cricket match and one showing a replay, then unless you'd seen the replay or had some other external information, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart. Disabuse me of that idea...

(The general point here is to try and connect disparate A-views; ideally I'd like to show they're isomorphic with each other, so that I can pick and choose the views as needed.)

Anyway, I want to explore the concept of now a little more, and make sure I'm on the right track. As I understand it, the Growing Block view say there is something special about "now" (?a qualia?) which enables me to know that I am in the present and not infact dead and living a B-like existence in the past of a Growing Block universe. I see this as a kind of baton passing - as times grows from t to t+1, "now" shifts from t to t+1.

Now suppose, for some proposition, I need the set of times less than "now". That set is not consistent over time - but changes as "now" changes. And mathematics isn't equipped to cope with that - sets are eternally true. But I can get round the problem by creating the set of sets whose times are less than now - which might look like

 
{ {}, {0}, {0, 1}, {0, 1, 2}, ... }

where the first element is the set of all times less than "now" when now = 0; the second for when now = 1; and so on. If I rewrite this:
 
{}
{0}
{0, 1}
{0, 1, 2}
...

You can see it forms a two-dimensional (albeit triangular) array. And I could arrange a mapping from that set onto a set whose elements are ordered pairs - or complex numbers. To date, I have supposed that this extra time dimension is real. But it needn't be - it's a mathematical trick, and only the bottom entry in the list ever need be "real"; the rest are sets that represent what was real but doesn't exist anymore.

It might help if you think that "change" implies that something is changing in time. E.g. all my diagrams are static; to get them to change I would have to make them animations, thereby embedding them in time. For "now" (i.e. time) to change, it must change in something - i.e. a different time.

If I can make this argument (or find another way round this problem), then I can reach Quantum Mechanics, show that Quantum Mechanics provides both A and B interpretations of the same physical processes; and then attempt to bridge the two and provide a physical interpretation of "now".

I think we agree over the 10 o'clock stuff. And I won't be pedantic over timezones or other spatial issues. The statement "It's one hour in the past" maps to the proposition "t = now - 1hour" where t is the time the statement is made. And that has no problem, as far as I can see. But anyway, it was just a another attempt to try and show what I've said above.

Fig 2's is a dead-end off-shoot of my attempt to get from A to B (literally and figuratively). I did find it attractive to have a B-'verse (no special "now") and then recover "now", subjectively through God. I also felt it was a beautiful notion that my coming to terms with the universe was is in someway similar to the process God is undergoing. It also provides the mechanics for a bizarre account of why God allows suffering. Anyway, with a Fig 2b variation, I'll let it rest. It's no longer important.

If you hold to a relative now and then say that only the present exists, then what exists is relative to the reference frame. Do you really want to say that what exists depends on your reference frame? I haven't encountered a philosopher who wants to defend presentism who wishes to allow that. What's worse is that there aren't really any other reference frames but the one you arbitrarily single out, since nothing exists but what's simultaneous within that reference frame. To get another reference frame, things that would be past or present within the actual reference frame you've chosen would have to exist, but there are no such things. So there's only one reference frame and what it declares to be simultaneous, and nothing else exists. In effect, you've denied relativity altogether as a result. This one reference frame becomes absolute, everything it has existing now is what exists, and nothing else exists. That reference frame, since it's the only one, has become absolute.

It seems very strange to me to consider a memory to be the past just because it's perfect. A memory is a record of the past, not the past itself. If I make a replica of the Mona Lisa, it isn't the original. It's a forgery. Similarly, even if our memories were perfect records of what happened, that wouldn't make them be what happened.

I think the TV example helps here. You may not be able to tell from the TV example that one is the instant replay and the other the original, but that's because they're both on TV, and the same information is being sent to the TV without any independent confirmation that one is delayed much longer than the relatively small amount live TV feeds are usually delayed. But they're both on TV, which means they're not the original events, which took place not in a TV set but in a stadium (or whatever they call the places people play cricket if they're not stadiums).

If all you want to show is that there's something subjectively like A-time, then that's fine. But you won't be saying anything new. B-theorists happily accept that. To us, time passes. We are at one time, and then we are at the next one. What B-theorists say that A-theorists don't say is that all the facts about time can be expressed in terms of the relations before, after, and simultaneous with. These relations hold of events at any time. A-theorists insist that there are further facts about what is past, present, and future. If my saying something is future is more than being after the moment of my saying it, then an A-theory is true. If my saying A is future can be captured just in terms of A's being after my statement, then a B-theory is true. Whether a divine being is conscious of certain moments and not others seems to me to be completely independent of that issue.

A human being can be equally conscious of some events and then others, learning as time goes on (i.e. knowing more at later moments of time). Putting a divine being into the mix and then making the divine being's time-dimension orthogonal to the one we're in doesn't change anything. If the A-statements about past, present, and future can be reduce to B-statements about before, after, and simultaneous with, then a B-theory is true. Otherwise it isn't. What God is aware of doesn't change any of that.

I'm not going to comment on the technical stuff that you go on to say, since I think it all relies on confusions about the above, but I did want to say one bit. Sets aren't true at all, so they can't be always true. Sets have members. Sets exist if their members exist. If the members always exist, then the sets always exist. If a B-theory is true, then if all the members at some time exist, it follows that the sets always exist. Once you say that, which is I think what you wanted to say, then presentism and growing block views have to be false. You can't have a set whose members don't exist. You can have the empty set, but that's not the same thing as the set of Santa Claus and Marvin the Martian. Such a set is fictional to begin with. Maybe you'd want to work this out with fictional sets of something, but I'm not sure how to deal with fictional sets. I think there are much deeper worries than this, but I thought that was going to be a quick point to add at the end, and I guess it's turned out to be a bit lengthier than I'd had in mind. Oh, well.

Re Relativity and A-View: my argument is that what you perceive to exist depends on your reference frame.

Consider the TV transmission of a sporting event. As you pointed out, there is a finite delay - so events in the game don't exist, even while a Presentist watches them. (Particularly a Presentist who's listening to a Long Wave cometary on the other side of the Atlantic.) Relativity simply expands on those delays.

Consider, for example, a line of a people, with Chinese Whispers beings passed along the line from each end. The original whispers don't exist by the time an observer in the middle receives them. And an observer's position in the line (coupled with variable propagation times) means that the observer may not receive the whispers in the order in which they were started.

Note, however, there remains a total order on events - even though the observer doesn't know it. And Relativity similary prohibits an A-viewer from knowing any "underlying" order (by saying there are many possible orders, all indistinguishable). However such an order could still exist. (And for an example of how pervasive A-view ideas are - read this report saying the Pillars of Creation no longer "exist".)



The rest of the threads seems to be arguments over existence.

Let me start by being cheekily pedantic - you said "Sets exist if their members exists." So do the real numbers exist? If not, then the set of real numbers doesn't exist. If they do, then you've implied something about the nature of existence; and brought uncountably many objects into reality - which God, temporal or atemporal, must (presumably) know. I'll also throw in the set of fictional detectives created by Agatha Christie. Such a set shapes our reality - through books, films, TV programmes, (theme-)music and even figures of speech. So does that set exist?

I'd be prepared to separate out physical existence from conceptual existence. (In which case I'd argue that 1.1111... and a moustached, Belgian detective have a conceptual existence, separate to the physical existence of the apple on my desk.) Is that acceptable? Or are there better solutions?

The question about the past being identical to perfect memory is another question about existence. A perfect memory of the past would enable me to (re-)construct the past in the present - e.g. instead of replaying a recording of a live cricket match, I could fabricate the same recording from my perfect memory. How could they be told apart? The B-view, has an answer - it says my past is somebody else's present. The A-view seems to struggle here.

Finally let me try and push forwards. My motivation for the technical stuff was to create a function x(t), giving the trajectory of an object in time. Classically, that's a mapping from the set of real numbers (i.e. time) to Euclidean Space. To me, that is the essence of the B-view: time is timelessly handled as a coordinate, with past/present/future all defined (i.e. "existing"). An A-view needs a very different domain for t, something which captures all the subtleties. That was the conceptual object I was attempting to construct. And in my opinion, taking an A-view "outside time" requires more than one time dimension. Very many more.

what you perceive to exist depends on your reference frame

That's fine. But presentism and the growing block view say something stronger. They say what does exist depends on your reference frame. So all you might have gotten to at this point is that an A-theory seems to be true. But most B-theorists admit that.

the Pillars of Creation no longer "exist"

You need to keep in mind the following ambiguity. A statement like the above can mean either of the following:

1. the Pillars of Creation no longer "exist" now, which is consistent with saying the Pillars of Creation exist in the past
2. the Pillars of Creation tenselessly no longer "exist", i.e. at the level of basic reality there is nowhere and nowhen with the Pillars of Creation

A-theorists accept that both of these statements are true. B-theorists accept the first but deny the second. They will disagree over whether ordinary statements like the one you quote mean 1 or 2 (or are genuinely ambiguous such that their meaning is indeterminate even in particular contexts). Of course, even if in ordinary language our assumptions are A-theoretical, that doesn't mean the A-theory is true. Ordinary language treats the sun as if it moves around the earth.

I believe the numbers do exist, so yes I think there are uncountably many abstract objects. That issue is a huge matter of debate in the philosophy of mathematics, however, and it's also controversial what the numbers are.

I think fictions exist, and I think of sets of fictional characters as sets of fictions. The set of Superman is a unit set that contains a fiction as its member. Within the fiction, there is a set of a real guy named Superman, but in reality there are just sets of fictions. There are lots of other ways to do this, but that's how I'm thinking of it at the moment.

A much better example of my argument would be the refraction of a straw in a glass of water: the straw physically exists, but not where it appears to be. (Ditto reflections of objects in a mirror.) Things exists, sure; but at astronomical scales and relativistic speeds they don't exist where they appear to be (for Presentism) or they exist where they appear but in the past (for Growing Block). If you argue differently, surely you're saying light has traveled instatneously from, say, the Pillars of Creation.

Of your numbered points, surely point (2) disagrees with the Growing Block model? I thought the Growing Block said there is a physical past where things exist. Although, I've not yet understood how physical existence without "now", is different from B-view existence (either in reality or in God's memory).

Anyway, retracing steps. My argument was you can't have a set change - all sets are entirely specified. For example, consider the set P = { humans beings who are presidents of U.S.A }. In a B-view, we could "extensionally" define it - by naming every president (because they all exist physically, even the ones we don't know about). In an A-view, such a set can't be extensionally defined, but it could still be defined "intentionally" by the properties the elements must posses. And that definition can be used to make deductions about things which could or could not exist. (e.g. there could not exist a president who is not a citizen of the U.S.; whereas there could exist a president who is a woman). I need the same powers to talk about time in general - about things that may or may not exist.

Let me finish with an interesting result from my relativistic A-view. I said that you couldn't get at the absolute order of events. But that's not true. Although my cross-section through space-time is maximally space-like, it's unlikely it's totally space-like - i.e. there will be localities where the universe ought be growing in a different direction to time. If such regions exist then there will be anomalous effects to be found there; or it could be such regions are forbidden, in which case one might imagine an invisible "force"--?Dark Matter--warping space-time so as to ensure local time always coincides with the direction the universe is growing. That's a falsifiable prediction - which, if shown to be true, would strongly suggest space-time is growing in an A-like way rather than pre-existing in a B-like way. And if enough anomalous regions could be located, then the cross-section in use could be calculated giving access to the true order of events.

I think that God IS Time……not “who” rather “what.” No matter how I look at it, it seems to me that out of our choice of nouns….person, place, or thing…the latter seems the only reasonable conclusion. Person is specific…place is specific….thing is everything else. Unfortunately, our language may attach an “insignificance” to the idea of “a thing” but, if God is Time, then a whole lot more of the Bible and Jesus’ teachings, as well as the Old Testament tales, and most world theologies begin to seem much more accessible, usable and understandable to me. When God is Time, every second that passes is a holy moment and responsibility for how we exist in that moment is squarely on our shoulders then…”the kingdom of heaven (truly) is within.”

First, are you implying by solutions (1) and (2) that an A-view necessitates an atemporal God?

Secondly, if we say that God is (wholly) temporal, are we then imposing limitations on His Nature? Also, what would you say about "before" He created everything? You have explained why time had to have a beginning (cannot have an infinite past). Would not the facts of God's eternal (meaning both past and future) existence and time's having a beginning require that (at least at some point) God be atemporal at least partially?

I think this second point could this be resolved by claiming God to be atemporal by His Nature, yet after creating the universe (time being part of it) choosing to also become part of that universe while not governed by its laws, as we are. This would mean that He is both atemporal and temporal, filling the whole of time (a sort of temporal omnipresence) as well as existing outside of it. I don't see a problem with an atemporal being operating in a temporal universe, especially if said being created that universe along with its temporal properties. In essence, if God is powerful enough to design time, certainly he would be powerful enough to act within it (perhaps by self-imposed limitations similar to when He was incarnated).

1. Views 1, 2, and 3 offer different ways out of this problem. One involves keeping an A-theory and atemporality, one involves denying the A-theory, and one involves denying atemporality. I'm treating those all as coherent options, so the answer is no. I don't think an A-theory requires atemporality. View 1 retains the A-theory and denies atemporality.

The only arguments I've ever seen about the relation between theories of time and views on God's relation to time in fact go the other way. A lot of people think atemporality requires a B-theory of time. Several philosophers have tried to resist that conclusion. Since I hold to a B-theory, I don't care much myself. But I've never seen an argument that atemporality requires an A-theory.

2. I think being temporal is a limitation. But then this problem shows that being atemporal might also be a limitation. God certainly has limitations of logic. The question is whether God has non-logical limitations and whether the limitations we're discussing count as non-logical. I'm not sure this sort of argument is all that effective. I'm more convinced by the time-is-like-space argument from physics that being outside space makes most sense if it also means being outside space-time as a whole.

Now a temporal God does have problems if time has a beginning. I happen to think time did have a beginning, and I think physics shows that it did. But there are philosophers who think otherwise. One way involves distinguishing between physical time (which physics talks about) and some other thing that I don't understand that they call metaphysical time.

On your proposed view, which sounds a lot like William Lane Craig's, I'm still not convinced that it's coherent. You can't say that God was first atemporal and then later began to be temporal. That's a contradiction. You could say that God exists in one time-point of eternity, which has no duration, and in the timeline, which does. But then are God's thoughts temporally-ordered? Does God experience things in order? If Craig is right, then God experiences them atemporally and temporally. Does God have two consciousness, then?

(This is ignoring issues of the Incarnation, where it might make sense to propose that, with a second person who exists for a duration of time as fully human. If Craig is right, God is temporal for all of time but also in eternity for all of time without experiencing any temporality in eternity but fully experiencing temporality in time).

As for your last sentence, anyone who holds to atemporality thinks God is powerful enough to act within time. The atemporal view in fact insists that God acts within time. The effects of God's actions occur within time. That's what it means to act within time. But an atemporal being would not experience events in temporal succession but all simultaneously, while fully knowing what order temporal beings experience them in. So I'm not sure how an argument from God's power could get you the Craig-style view.

I guess this may be slightly off-topic, or perhaps merely a tangent.

What would you say we as believers should do about subjects such as this (and says the "how" particulars of God's creation acts) when we get as far as logic can take us and we still have no definitive answer? Do we lean on the scripture that states that His ways are not our ways (etc.) and simply deem these topics unknowable, or is there an alternate path we can take?

Logic never tells us anything about which views are true, just which ones are consistent and which ones follow from which premises. So logic never gets us all the way to holding any views of philosophical interest. We have to figure out which premises are most plausible to figure out which arguments to accept. I don't have a problem accepting views (tentatively, of course) that aren't 100% certain, because hardly anything is like that. We can have good reasons for preferring certain views to other views. I happen to think the atemporal view makes the best sense given other commitments I've got, and I've got reasons for those other commitments, but I'll be the first to admit that other views can be made sense of, so I have nothing like a solid proof for my view on the matter. But I do think it's the view that I think is best to hold.

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