Thursday, October 19, 2006

Time & eternity


“Perhaps in any other discussion, we can reduce ‘cause’ to focus on necessity, but in reviewing “cause” when it comes to creating Time, it is a key issue. It should not be defined away. What appears is that the timing significance of causation of Time is a problem, so rather than address it; this approach re-defines ‘cause’ to remove any consideration of time, and now claims the problem is addressed. No, what appears is that the problem was just ignored. (Again, this is my opinion, and I am saying this so that you can see where I am coming from.)”

You are making temporal priority a necessary condition of causation.

I countered that assumption by citing the definition of David Lewis. In a discussion like this we need to define our terms.

This is not a case of my ignoring the problem or defining it away. To say so begs the question in your favor. It assumes that there is a problem to solve. It tacitly (or explicitly) assumes your definition of causation.

The definition I offered is not a definition I concocted on the spot to evade your question.

David Lewis was one of the top philosophers of his generation. A leading logician and metaphysician.

He was also, I believe, a secularist.

I responded to the question by citing a preexisting definition of causation which is one of the standard definitions of causation, and applied it to the case at hand.

The fact that it proves useful in addressing an objection to the Christian faith is no doubt convenient for me, but it’s adventitious convenience and utility is independent of Christian theism.

It strikes me as a reasonable definition. I know of no better one.

“We have the simple statement ‘A causes B.’”

Who is the “we”? Are you speaking for yourself, or for me? The definition I supplied you wasn’t that simple.

“A brute fact of the universe is that things exist.”

Is that a “brute” fact?

“With the exception of God, they come into existence. Even looking solely at necessity, the reality is that A existed before B, or A came into existence simultaneously as B, or A came into existence after B.”

This is equivocal. There is temporal priority or simultaneity between one mundane event and another, but not between God and the world.

The sequence is internal to the world, not external to the relation between God and the world.

“What I am wondering is, in light of the reality of existence, even with using necessity as the basis of causation, don’t we have to still confront the problem of how this actually works in a universe where there is Time?”

This, again, is equivocal. How things work “given” the universe? Or in the “giving” in the universe?

“I am uncertain as to how A could cause B, and then subsequently come into existence. The definition of ‘necessity’ would allow it, of course, but is that ever a reality? I can’t think of such an instance, so I will move on.”

You’re confusing the definition of causation with an incidental mode of causation.

The definition I gave you doesn’t explain the circulation of blood. The cause is supplied by a beating heart.

But a beating doesn’t figure in a definition of causality. A definition necessarily operates at a higher level of abstraction.

A definition needs to be as general as possible. To be consistent with the various concrete particulars which are covered by the definition.

But a definition doesn’t pick out any particular instance—with all its attendant circumstances.

“A could cause B and come into existence at the same time (Craig’s pillow example), but you have indicated that Time has a point of origin, so if it was simultaneous, that would mean God has a point of origin.”

What was simultaneous with what? There was no time apart from God’s creative fiat. But the cause (divine fiat) is not simultaneous with the effect, or prior to the effect. The sequence is progressive, not retrogressive.

You might as well say that if I’m $50 overdrawn at the bank, this means that I still have $50 in my account, only they are negative dollars, and that if I withdraw my $50 dollars from my account, the teller will hand me 5 crisp, negative $10 bills.

“Leaving us with A (God) existing prior to the caused event B (Time).”

No, not at all.

“But you say that God did not exist prior to time.”


“Which leaves me back: confused. I do not want to start guessing your position—can you provide more clarification?”

Since I don’t know the source of your confusion, it’s hard to clarify.

To say that God “did” not exist “prior to time” is not to say that God “did” not exist. Rather, it’s merely to say there was never a time when God “did” not exist since God is a timeless agent who subsists outside of time.

We used tensed language (past, present, future) to express this idea since our language is indexed to temporal relations.

“As to the differences between supernatural modes (I said “planes”—I think we are talking of the same thing) are you saying that God has neither time nor space in the spiritual mode, and created creatures have time, but no space?”

My statement was more qualified than that.

1.God has no spatiotemporal attributes, but he has the attribute of spirituality (i.e. mentality).

2.Some creatures, like angels or discarnate souls, have temporal attributes as well as their spiritual attribute, but no spatial attributes.

3.Other creatures, like living human beings, have temporal, spiritual, and spatial attributes.

4.Inanimate creatures, and possibly lower animals, have spatiotemporal attributes, but no spiritual attribute.

I allow for the possibility that some higher animals have a soul.

“First you state we would not use empirical (observational) evidence for a non-empirical object. I agree.”

No, that is not what I said. My statement was far more qualified: “We wouldn’t necessarily expect empirical evidence for a nonempirical objects.”

Continuing with Dagood:

“ We cannot use sight, taste, touch, hearing or smell for something that is invisible, inaudible, untouchable, and has no taste or smell.”

Not directly.

“But then you indicate that a non-empirical object can have a physical manifestation.”

In at least some cases.

“I think you are talking about such things as the numeral “2” which is a concept, but in and of itself is not observable. We manifest it by creating a set of lines, and a set of conventions, so that you and I can discuss, and when I place a “2” on the paper, you understand the idea. Am I close?”

1.A “numeral” is not a concept. A numeral is a concrete representation of a number.

2.A number is a concept, but I’d distinguish between God’s timeless, constitutive idea of numbers (which function as abstract objects) and our finite, derivative concept of numbers.

3.Numbers are also exemplified in the physical world.

“However, here we have a mode that has no time, no space, and a non-empirical object (God.)”


“The question that plagues me, is how does this no time, no space, non-empirical item translate over to a new mode, in which there IS time, and IS space, and ARE empirical objects?”

Space and time are limits. They exemplify the actual infinite (more than one, to be precise). Time and space are finite modes of subsistence.

“Further, it would seem that you are claiming it created Time, but not space, on its own mode.”

God created both time and space.

“How does such a thing (for lack of a better term) manage to create something so completely opposite of its own existence?”

I don’t know, but so what?

You’re assuming that causes resemble their effects. But since causes are often quite dissimilar to their effects, you can’t tell me how unlike the two cmust be before they are too dissimilar to enter into causal relations. So you and I are in the same boat.

“Further, you indicated that the Bible produces evidence of the incorporeal realm. (Another term for spiritual mode, I presume?) However, in those instances, there ARE concepts of Time and Space.”

That all depends on the particular examples.

“Within Creation we have the Godhead talking to each other. Which requires both time and space. Certainly you could argue this is an anthropomorphism, and there was no actual talking. No actual time taking place.”

Actually, I’d construe that as a case of God addressing the heavenly court. But it’s still a bit anthropomorphic.

“But what about angel’s interaction in the incorporeal realm. What of Satan’s fall? This, too, would take time and space. Or Satan appearing before God about Job.”

Angelic activity in the spiritual realm would take place in time, but not in space.

“Or the author of Isaiah’s vision of a throne. Or Stephen’s vision of Jesus. Or the author of Revelation’s numerous accountings of events happening in the incorporable realm. Every one of these events are placed within a circumstance of time and space. People talking, moving, causing and effecting. (He He. Just threw that in.)”

Visionary revelation is like a dream, only it’s a directed dream or collective dream. Indeed, dreaming is one modality of visionary revelation, while a dreamlike trance is a waking version of the same.

A vision, like a dream, simulates space. But the objects which appear to us in dreams do not occupy actual space. They are immaterial objects.

The difference is that ordinary dreams are the creative product of the dreamer’s imagination.

But in the case of visionary revelation, God is producing the imagery. And the imagery may correspond to real agents, albeit spiritual agents—although some of the details in a divine vision like, say, Zechariah’s, are just window-dressing.

“If we are to use the Bible as evidence, it would describe a spiritual mode unlike what you have indicated exists. Is the Bible inaccurate?”

You’re failing to distinguish between the representation and what it represents.

“If we say that these are humans limited in their ability to describe the indescribable, then what evidence is it?”

I wouldn’t say it’s indescribable. Spirituality and eternity admit literal definitions. “Spirit” is a synonym for “mind.” And we can also have a literal idea of a timeless object.

However, it’s also possible to give what is naturally or essentially insensible a simulated, sensory manifestation. That’s a means of symbolizing spiritual truths.

We do this all the time. I have an idea. But you can’t perceive my bare idea. So I objectify my idea in time and space. I put it on paper, or a canvass.

“Bringing us back to the top of the circle, that the idea of a spiritual realm, and its impact on a physical realm appears (to naturalists) to be assertions, and un-provable hypotheticals that only introduce further problems.”

Have you ever bothered to study the standard literature in defense of dualism? Quite a lot is available on the Internet.

“’Justice’ means to follow a law.”

It does? I would put it the other way around. The law should follow justice. Justice is the abstract universal, of which the law is, at best, a specific, concrete example.

According to your definition, there could never be an unjust law.

For me, justice is prior to law, not vice versa.

“’Mercy’ means deliberately withholding enforcement. In other words, Mercy means to NOT be Just. If Justice demands you pay a fine of $100, and a Judge rules you pay $50—you have received mercy. Not Justice.”


“With Justice, there is no such imposition. By indicating that God can be both Just and Merciful, God has no restriction.”

No external restriction. But there is, in a sense, an internal restriction.

“That is why I was questioning on any real value in discussing ‘just’ about God. We have no verification of any standard by which God is limited.”

That may depend on how you define “verification.” If you say the law supplies the standard of justice, then that’s an arbitrary standard.

“And even if we could, God can, apparently, refuse to abide by that standard.”

For a one-time Christian, you should have a better grasp of theology—but maybe that’s why you’re a one-time Christian.

God’s mercy doesn’t come at the expense of his justice. Ever heard of penal substitution?

“If the very reason for Suffering, is for us to understand what it means for God to be Just, and God to be Merciful, don’t we need to know the standard by which those words, as we know them, are being applied?”

I’m not the one who’s casting my theodicy in terms of suffering. My theodicy covers pain and suffering, but suffering, per se, is not a means to a higher end.

1.To begin with, I don’t believe that all pain and suffering is a result of the Fall. I think it’s quite possible that unfallen Adam could stub his toe.

2.More to the point, pain and suffering are a secondary consequence of sin and evil. Sin and evil supply the primary means of reaching the second-order goods of God’s manifested mercy or justice insofar as they supply the objects on which his mercy or justice are visited.

“Are you resolving the problem of Suffering with “the ends justify the means”?”

In a qualified sense. The end doesn’t justify any means whatsoever, but some ends justify some means pursuant an otherwise unobtainable good, and so long as no divine injustice is done along the way.

“Is this the Unknown Greater Purpose defense?”

It’s a greater good defense, but hardly an “unknown” greater good defense inasmuch as I’ve repeatedly identified the greater good in question, viz. an existential knowledge of God’s justice, mercy, and redemptive wisdom.


  1. Here is a recently published paper titled "What's God's Time Frame?", by Joseph E. Torres.

    I have not read it yet, I'm only offering it as a resources at this point.

  2. :::YAWN!!!:::

    All of this time babble has me sleepy again.

    Steve, you are truly my own personal bottle of Sominex.

  3. Thank you, Steve. I believe I have gained more clarity in your position.

    Jeff Downs. Interesting article. I look forward to studying it more in depth.