God, Time, and Eternity
Craig (William Lane)
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  1. Those who think about time are thinking deeply. Those who think about God are thinking even more deeply still. Those who try to think about God and time are pressing the very limits of human understanding. Undaunted, this is precisely the project which we have set for ourselves in this study: to try to grasp the nature of divine eternity, to understand what is meant by the affirmation that God is eternal, to formulate a coherent doctrine of God's relationship with time.
  2. This study, the second instalment of a long-range research program devoted to a philosophical analysis of the principal attributes of God, flows naturally out of my previous exploration of divine omniscience. For the most contentious issue with respect to God's being omniscient concerns divine foreknowledge of future contingents, such as free acts of human agents. The very concept of foreknowledge presupposes that God is temporal, and a good many thinkers, from Boethius to certain contemporary philosophers, have thought to avoid the alleged incompatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom by affirming the timelessness of God. Thus, in examining the complex of issues surrounding the foreknowledge question, we found ourselves already immersed in the question of divine eternity. In this study, I shall not return to the discussion of the bearing which God's temporal status has on His knowledge of future contingents; rather we wish to press on to consider other arguments aimed at showing that God's eternity is best construed as either temporal or atemporal and to explore how one's answer to this question affects in turn one's understanding of God's relationship to time.
  3. Although the biblical data are under-determinative with respect to the nature of God's eternity, historically the conception of divine eternity as timelessness has, through the influence of Platonic thought – the Church Father Origen and the Neo-Platonist Plotinus were both pupils of Ammonius Saccus in Alexandria – dominated Christian theology until John Duns Scotus, who offered an incisive critique of Thomas Aquinas's own defence of divine timelessness. As I have elsewhere briefly surveyed the thinking of several key Christian theologians from Augustine to Suarez on the nature of divine eternity, the present study shall forego a historical exposition of the doctrine and focus immediately on a critical discussion of the arguments.
  4. Unfortunately, the works of contemporary theologians will be of little help here, for the lack of analytical tools or the theological anti-realism which has in recent years blighted systematic theology foil or prevent a significant grappling with the issues on their part1. Fortunately, there has been during the last two decades a burst of interest in the doctrine of divine eternity, no doubt due in large part to the stimulus of the foreknowledge-freedom debate, among analytic philosophers of religion.
  5. The construal of divine eternity in terms of infinite omnitemporality has been greatly advanced during the twentieth century through the influence of Whitehead and Hartshorne's process theology and its critique of the classic conception of God as pure actuality, simple, impassible, immutable, and timeless.
    • For many years, Nelson Pike's God and Timelessness (1970), in which he argued that the doctrine of divine timeless eternity is incoherent, remained the only monograph on the subject.
    • The dearth of material on divine eternity is evidenced by the fact that no entries on this subject were included in William J. Wainwright's Philosophy of Religion: an Annotated Bibliography of Twentieth Century Writings in English (1978).
    • Then in 1981 Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann published in the Journal of Philosophy an article entitled simply "Eternity," ("Stump (Eleonore) & Kretzmann (Norman) - Eternity") in which they defended a conception of divine eternity as atemporal and sought to spell out how a timeless being could be related to temporal entities. Their article sparked a revival of interest in the nature of God's eternity and His relation to time.
    • Since 1987, when I first began this study, a steady stream of monographs (not to speak of journal articles or book chapters) on the problem have issued from the presses:
      Paul Helm, Eternal God (1988),
      William Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge (1989),
      → John Yates, The Timelessness of God (1990),
      Brian Leftow, Time and Eternity (1991),
      → Alan Padgett, God, Eternity and the Nature of Time (1992),
      → Robert Neville, Eternity and Time 's Flow (1993),
      → Lawrence Fagg, The Becoming of Time (1995),
      all conspiring to rob me of anything to say!
    I hope to show that much original work, especially of an integrative nature, bringing together discussions of the philosophy of time and space, philosophy of language, phenomenology, philosophy of science, Special and General Relativity, classical cosmology, quantum mechanics, and so forth, with the concerns of philosophy of religion and theology, remains to be done.
  6. I initially attempted to carry out such an integrative study in a single work. The book grew to two large volumes, which, though having philosophical theology as their central concern, turned out to be very much like an introduction to the problems of time and space. Being advised that many philosophers of religion and theologians might not have the patience to work through the discussion of the issues involved, I decided to distil from that work the central questions of interest to philosophical theology and to publish the remaining two-volume work as a treatise on the so-called A- vs. B-Theories of time, to which I could then refer the interested reader for further discussion. In that work I explore such topics as the reality of tense and temporal becoming, the anisotropy of time, the metric of time, the continuity of time, the conventionality of simultaneity, the relativity of simultaneity, the ontology of spacetime, and so forth. In yet a fourth book to issue from my research I provide an introduction to Relativity Theory and its philosophical underpinnings, with a view toward integrating one's doctrine of divine eternity with scientific conceptions of time. One of the major implications of my study is that a theistic approach to problems of time is surprisingly fruitful. One cannot understand the nature of divine eternity without understanding something of the nature of time; but it is equally true that how one understands the nature of time will be in part determined by one's views on the existence of God. The goal of the Christian philosophical or systematic theologian is to formulate a doctrine of divine eternity that is at once biblically, philosophically, and scientifically informed and coherent. Because so few of those who have written on divine eternity have undertaken such a synoptic approach to the subject, our examination of this question is sometimes difficult and ground-breaking, but in the end well worth the effort.
  7. I am intellectually indebted in this study to too many persons to recall by name; but I should like to acknowledge specifically my gratitude to Quentin Smith, from whom I have leamed a great deal about language and time, and the late Simon J. Prokhovnik, the eminent Australian physicist, who helped me to see the wisdom of H. A. Lorentz. In this volume I have reproduced a number of figures from textbooks and discussions of relativity theory.

    Preface – ix
    • Section 1: Arguments for Divine Timelessness
      1. The Case for Divine Timelessness – 3
    • Section 2: Arguments for Divine Temporality
      1. Timelessness and Personhood – 43
      2. Timelessness and Divine Action – 56
      3. Timelessness and Divine Knowledge – 112
        Conclusion – 134
    • Section 1: God, Time, and its Measures
      1. The Classical Concept of Time – 143
      2. God's Time and Relativistic Time – 163
      3. God, Time, and Relativity – 197
    • Section 2: God, Time, and Creation
      1. Creatio ex nihilo – 247
      2. God and the Beginning of Time – 256
    Conclusion – 281
    Bibliography – 285
    Subject Index – 311
    Proper Name Index – 315

In-Page Footnotes ("Craig (William Lane) - God, Time, and Eternity")

Footnote 1:
  • One can only agree, for example, with Jantzen when she concludes that the writing of Karl Barth on the subject of God's eternity (Church Dogmatics [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1936] vol. 2, pt. I, pp. 608-677 – "Barth (Karl) - Church Dogmatics: Volume II - The Doctrine of God - First Half-Volume") amounts to little more than "edifying nonsense" (Grace M. Jantzen, God's World, God's Body [London: Darton, Longman, & Todd, 1984], p. 59).
  • Even so level-headed a theologian as Pannenberg is of little help, for he seems to reject the mere timelessness of God in favor of timelessness with a relation to time; but he never explains how this is possible (Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. I, trans. Geoffrey Bromiley [Grand Rapids, Mich: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1991], pp. 402-409).
  • At least Pannenberg does not repeat his earlier obscure doctrine that God somehow exists in the future, which is unfortunately adopted by Ted Peters, God – the World's Future (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992). Although Peters says, "God creates from the future, not the past" (lbid., p. 134), what he really describes is God' s bestowing on us a future, ie., continued existence, hope, etc. Elsewhere he interprets the dictum "God creates from the future" in terms of God's transcending the whole spacetime manifold, such that creation is "a single event incorporating the whole history of the cosmos" (Idem, "Cosmos as Creation," in Cosmos as Creation, ed. T. Peters [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989], pp. 88-89), a comprehensible doctrine, but insufficiently supported by argument on Peters's part.
  • By contrast I do not even understand what Robert Neville is talking about when he says, "Eternity ... is the togetherness of the modes of time – past, present, and future – so that each can be its temporal self' (Robert C. Neville, Eternity and Time's Flow, [Albany, N. Y.: SUNY Press, 1993], p. 60). One might think this a garbled affirmation of a tenseless theory of time, except that Neville also says that "Without eternity, time can be conceived only as a static dimension like space ... "; eternity is the "non-temporal togetherness of past, present, and future" (Ibid., pp. 12, 28) – which is just unintelligible.
  • Perhaps the most comprehensible theologian writing on divine eternity today is the process thinker Keith Ward with whose views I shall interact.
  • For a recent survey of theological thought on eternity, focusing on Heim, Barth, and Tillich, see Karl Hinrich Manzke, Ewigkeit und Zeitlichkeit, Forschungen zur systematischen und ökumenischen Theologie 63 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992).

  • Sub-title: "The Coherence of Theism II: Eternity"
  • Springer Science + Business Media, 2001
  • Downloaded during Springer promotion, Dec. 2015

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