Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Is it Possible For A Timeless God To Choose To Create A Temporal Universe?

In one of my MCCC Philosophy of Religion classes yesterday I was presenting William Lane Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's existence. Craig believes he has proven that our universe had a cause. Whatever caused the universe to come into being must be sufficient to explain the effect of the universe. Craig believes whatever caused the temproal effect of the universe must itself be "an eternally existent agent." How can a temporal effect arise from an eternally existing agent? Or, as one of my students asked yesterday, how can a timeless being make a choice to create something like a universe?

Craig's answer is that there is nothing incoherent about, say, a person sitting from eternity who wills to then stand up. But doesn't such an act indicate a change in the eternally existing agent? Craig thinks not. He writes: "Indeed, the agent may will from eternity to create a temporal effect, so that no change in the agent need be conceived." So Craig thinks that there is nothing logically incoherent in the idea of an eternally existing agent who chooses to create a temporal effect, such as our universe.

Someone asked Bill the following questions:

1) I don’t understand how “a man sitting from eternity could will to stand up”? Again, wouldn’t that imply that endured through a period of time before standing up? Similarly, if “a finite time ago a Creator endowed with free will could have willed to bring the world into being at that moment” wouldn’t that imply that the Creator endured through a period of time before bringing the world into being?

2) I don’t understand how anyone could do anything if there was no time?

3) I am having trouble comprehending ‘By “choose” one need not mean that the Creator changes His mind but the He freely and eternally intends to create a world with a beginning’? Do you mean that by “choose” all that is meant is “intend”? That God always wanted to create a world with a beginning and never changed his mind about this? If so, why wasn’t the world created from an infinite time ago?

Bill's response was as follows.

Prior to creation there was no time. "So the question is asking, “What happened at a moment of time before the first moment of time?”, which makes no sense. It’s like asking, “What is the name of that bachelor’s wife?”"

Re. the "timeless man" who chooses to stand up Bill writes: "Free will doesn’t require any antecedent determining conditions. The very nature of free will is the absence of causal determinants. So a free choice has the appearance of a purely spontaneous event. [Emphasis mine] The man can simply freely will to stand up. Thus, you can get a temporal effect from a changeless cause, if that cause is a free agent. Now in God’s case, God exists changelessly without the universe. Creation is a freely willed act of God that, when it occurs, brings time into being along with the universe. Thus, to say that “a finite time ago a Creator endowed with free will could have willed to bring the world into being at that moment” does not imply that there was time prior to that moment."

Bill writes: "What timelessness entails is that one doesn’t do anything different, that is, that one does not change. Timelessness implies an unchanging state of being. Now some activities don’t require change and time. For example, knowing something doesn’t require change or time. God can know all truths in that timeless state without any change."

Finally. Bill says: "By “choose” I mean that God has a free intention of His will. Its timelessness does not negate that this is, indeed, a choice. For one can conceive of possible worlds in which God has a quite different intention, namely, to refrain from creating a world at all. Initially, I thought that this was all that was needed to explain the origin of the world; but reflecting on agent causation leads me to think that in addition to that timeless intention there must also be an exercise of causal power on God’s part. That act is simultaneous with the moment of creation - indeed, it just is the act of creating - and brings God into time. If you ask, “But why didn’t God execute His intention sooner?”, you’ve fallen back into the Newtonian view of thinking of God as existing temporally prior to creation."

See Bill's complete response here. For more see Bill's extensive writings on the relation of God to time. See also Bill's Time and Eternity: Exploring God's Relationship to Time.