Craig’s timeless moment sans creation

William Lange Craig’s model of how God relates to time can be stated succinctly: God is timeless sans creation, and temporal since creation.[1] The reason we word it like this is obvious: he can’t be timeless before creation, since before-ness is a temporal relation and creation includes time itself. Craig holds this view largely because he is a presentist,[2] believes that time is relational,[3] and that the past is finite.

Ok, now let’s talk about “states.” Let’s say that a state is constituted by a collection of things exemplifying properties, and that an event is a change from one state to another.[4] We’ll say that a state is maximal if it is not properly contained within any other state. We’ll use the word moment as synonymous with maximal state. Finally, we’ll call the moment of God existing sans creation the timeless moment.

The central problem of this post comes when we try and answer the question, “What makes a state temporal?” Or, in different words, what is a moment of time? One is tempted to say something like the following:

1. The moment S is temporal if and only if there is another moment T such that S is causally prior to T or T is causally prior to S.

There’s an interesting consequence of (1): combined with finitism (of the past), relationalism, and presentism, it entails that God began to exist. To see this, picture the scene: God exists and nothing else exists. We’re in the timeless moment, call it t1. God creates something, bringing about the first change, and therefore the first event, and therefore time itself. Let t2 be some moment later than the beginning of this first event. How are t1 and t2 related? Well, there have been a series of changes that lead from t1 to t2, so either they’re the same moment, or t2 is later than t1. They’re not the same, so t2 must be later than t1. But, given (1) it follows that t1 is a moment of time. And because God didn’t exist before t1 (since there is no “before”), it follows that God’s existence is completely contained within time. And since the past is finite, God’s existence (extended temporally backward) is finite, and thus he began to exist.[5]

Such a conclusion is certainly worrying for theists. But regardless of whether one is a theist or not, surely it’s absurd to think that the timeless moment is temporal, or that it somehow went from being timeless (sans creation) to temporal (since creation)!

So, what’s wrong? It seems to me that the entire approach to time seems to start in the wrong place. On relationalism, time is understood as a relation between events, not states.[6] Furthermore, it seems that a necessary condition for a moment being a moment of time is that there be an event occurring at that moment. After all, surely it always makes sense to ask what is happening at a given moment of time? Moments are temporal, then, only by virtue of being “part of” or “contained within” an event.[7]

Now, go back to our timeless moment. Certainly, no events are happening at this moment: things only start happening at the first moment of creation, and surely the moment sans creation is not the same as the first moment of creation. So the problem doesn’t arise once we start in the right place. However, I’d still like an account of what makes a moment temporal, in terms of just moments (like we had in (1)). This time, of course, taking into account the fact that in reality it is their relation to events that makes moments temporal. Assuming that “instants” of time are merely potential,[6] and that in reality all temporal intervals are open, the following might work:

1′. The moment S is temporal if and only if there is another moment T such that S is causally posterior to T.

That is, there is a series of changes that lead from T to S.

There’s another interesting perplexity that is solved by starting the right place is this: the timeless moment is causally prior but not temporally prior to creation. This does seem strange at first glance. I suspect it seems strange because we try to make sense of this cause as an instance of event-event causation. But, obviously, since the timeless moment is timeless, it is not contained in any events, and so we simply can’t make sense of this as an instance of event-event causation. And of course, since the effect is an event, we can’t make sense of this as an instance of state-state causation. What we need is some sort of state-event causation, and this is what leads Craig to introduce agent-causation as the solution.Actually, thinking of agent-event causation as an instance of state-event causation can be quite helpful: the state in question is the agent being impressed by various reasons for an action combined with the causal powers they possess in that state, and the event in question is the agent freely choosing to act in accordance with some of these reasons.[8]

Notes

  1. Here we are including time and all reality apart from God in the notion of “creation” and ignoring concerns about Platonic abstract objects.
  2. Presentism is the A-theoretic view that only the present exists. That is, the past no longer exists, and the future hasn’t but will exist.
  3. The relational view of time holds that events or change is explanatorily prior to the passage of time. Thus, if there were no events, there would be no progression of time.
  4. This definition allows for states to be constituted by events: the state of me waving my hand consists of the event of me waving my hand.
  5. “Having one’s existence completely contained within a time range finitely bounded in the earlier-than direction” is, for me, a defining characteristic of “beginning to exist”. A cool paper to read about defining “beginning to exist” is Adolf Grunbaum and the Beginning of the Universe by David Oderberg.
  6. Indeed, the whole idea of thinking of events as collections of instantaneous moments seems wrong, for Zeno paradox-like reasons. I’d refer the interested reader to another of David Oderberg’s papers, Instantaneous Change Without Instants, particularly section 3.
  7. I might need to be a bit more precise than this: considering that in note 4 we said that states can be constituted by events, it’s also possible for a moment to be temporal insofar as an event is part of it. This nuance is not relevant to the upcoming discussion, so I’ve left it here as a sidenote.
  8. This suggestion is highly influenced by Timothy O’Connor’s paper Agent Causation, and Alexander Pruss’ paper Divine Creative Freedom (particularly section 4).

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