Time and Eternity

29 November 2007

In this fascinating treatment of God’s relationship to time, William Lane Craig argues that God, though timeless without the universe, is in time since the creation of the universe. This detailed study encompasses a wide variety of issues, including the biblical conception of God, the nature of time, relativity theory, the linguistic account of tensed facts, and a slew of other topics.

Near the beginning of the book, Craig considers arguments in favor of God’s timelessness. He first considers arguments that God’s immutability or simplicity necessitate a timeless nature. Craig points out that these doctrines, however, are more controversial than the doctrine of divine timelessness itself, and therefore cannot be used to support timelessness. Moreover, both of these doctrines have conceptual difficulties and lack a clear scriptural basis (verses discussing God’s immutability only entail that God’s character does not change).

The next argument leads into some exciting territory. Defenders of divine timelessness sometimes argue that Einstein’s relativity theory supports their view. Since the special theory of relativity implies that there is no absolute “now” but rather a plethora of inertial frames, we must reject the idea that God is in time. For if God is in time, then He is either in a specific inertial frame (according to which He is ignorant of real facts concerning all the other reference frames) or He is in multiple inertial frames (which leads to a radical splitting of God’s consciousness). Since both of these alternatives are untenable, we are forced to reject God’s temporality.

Here, Craig argues that Einstein’s interpretation of relativity theory is not the only valid interpretation, and, in fact, the physicist Hendrick Lorentz (a contemporary of Einstein) offers a better interpretation which upholds absolute time and space. According to Lorentz, measuring devices shrink or contract in the direction of motion, and it is impossible to experimentally determine one’s absolute location and time, even though in reality there is an objective fact about the matter. Craig contends that Einstein’s interpretation of relativity was heavily influenced by a verificationist epistemology and that Lorentz’s interpretation is actually superior, since it upholds the commonsense notion of absolute time and actually accords better with some scientific findings.

Finally, Craig considers the argument offered by some advocates of divine timelessness which contends that temporal existence is not adequate for God, as the most perfect being. Due to the inherent limitations of temporal existence, God must exist timelessly. Craig argues that, while the argument has some plausibility, it is inconclusive. God’s omniscience entails that He always knows what is coming in the future and He never forgets what happened in the past, and, moreover, there is some evidence that consciousness of time’s flow can be an enriching experience.

In chapter 3, Craig offers two powerful arguments in favor of God’s temporality. The first concerns God’s actions in the temporal world. Given that God is creatively active in the temporal world, God is really related to the world, and is therefore Himself temporal. The second argument concerns God’s knowledge of facts. Since some facts are tensed (and thus are past, present, or future), God’s knowledge of such facts must change. For example, in order for God to know what time it is now, He must constantly change His belief about the current time. Craig argues that it is impossible for a timeless God to know tensed facts such as “It is now 3:00 P.M.”

After discussing arguments for and against divine timelessness and divine temporality, Craig embarks on a fascinating discussion of the very nature of time. There are actually two main theories of time seriously discussed by philosophers today- dubbed the “A-Theory” and the “B-Theory” of time (or the tensed theory and tenseless theory of time, respectively). Essentially, the A-Theory is the theory of time of the man on the street. According to this view, there really is an objective ‘now’ and things really come into and go out of existence. The B-Theory holds that ‘now’ is just a subjective feature of consciousness and that things do not really come into or go out of existence. Past, present, and future events are all equally real.

Craig argues at length that our experience of tense and the ineliminability of tense in language provides powerful justification for adopting the A-Theory. The B-Theory of time is primarily justified on the basis of a Minkowskian interpretation of the special theory of relativity, according to which reality should be understood as a four-dimensional structure called “space-time.” On this view, the universe just exists as a four-dimensional block and there is no room for tensed facts or temporal becoming. Craig argues that, once again, a Lorentzian interpretation of relativity can plausibly account for all the same facts and is metaphysically superior to the Minkowskian interpretation.

Having considered the arguments for and against divine temporality and divine timelessness and surveyed the arguments for the competing models of time, Craig concludes the book by arguing that God is in time. However, as can be recalled from a summary of the arguments for divine temporality, Craig’s case that God is in time is based on the existence of a temporal universe. Without that universe, there is no reason to think that God is in time, and, Craig argues, this view leads to incoherencies. If God has existed for an infinite amount of time prior to the creation of the universe, then why did He wait so long to create? Craig therefore concludes that God, though in time since the creation of the universe, is timeless without the universe.

Anyone interested in God’s relationship to time should read Craig’s illuminating study in Time and Eternity. Whether or not you accept his conclusion, this book will help clarify your thinking on this complicated subject, as well as enhance your knowledge of a number of intriguing issues being discussed in philosophy and theology.


  1. This is all very interesting, but there is one assumption that the writer is making that may not actually be true… The author is assuming that God is constrained by our human understanding of logic. While logic is our best tool in understanding the nature of the universe, and has thus far provided us with accurate discoveries, it is important to take into consideration the fact that the methods of logic are only as good as the information you have available and the person who is applying the methods. I think it is important that this level of inquiry be done, but I also think that it is important to put it in it’s proper context as a philosophical exercise rather than a serious argument.

    John 672    Nov 29, 04:58 PM    #
  2. This will be interesting to read!

    — Parvinder    Nov 29, 07:37 PM    #
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