Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Time out

Dale Tuggy has posted a critique of James Anderson’s exposition of the incarnation of a timeless God.

Dr. Anderson can no doubt respond better than I. But I have a few things to say about Tuggy’s critique.

It should be kept in mind that Dr. Anderson’s exposition was pitched for a popular audience. It wasn’t meant to go very deep.

Back to Tuggy:

I’m with Craig. I don’t think his position implies any change in God. Rather: if God hadn’t created, he’d be timeless. But given that God has created, he’s “in time.” It seems to me that if there is time, there’s no where else to be. Our spatial metaphors (“outside” time, “above” time) are wrongheaded.

Several problems:

i) Tuggy says our spatial metaphors are wrongheaded, yet he proceeds to use a spatial metaphor: God is “in time,” there is nowhere else to be.”

ii) Does Tuggy think that time is eternal? Did time already exist when God made the world?

I ask because Tuggy says it’s wrongheaded to speak of God “outside” of time or “above” time. So does he think God always subsisted in time?

Yet he seems to index God’s temporality to the moment God made the world. Wouldn’t this suggest that God was “outside” of time or “above” time until he made the world?

iii) There’s also the question of whether Craig’s hybrid position is coherent:

Tuggy can’t very well accuse orthodox Christians of inconsistency if his own position is inconsistent in a different respect.

That’s right. So the “fathers” never had any good scriptural grounds for their belief in divine timelessness. It was all based on philosophical reasons, and I would say bad ones at that. But that’s another post.

Well, that’s ironic since he just said he sided with Craig on God’s relation to time. Yet Craig thinks there are scriptural grounds for believing that God was outside time until he made the world. Cf. W. L. Craig, Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (CB 2001), 14-20.

In addition, it’s arguable that Gen 1 depicts the origin of time as well as the origin of space. Indeed, that these go together in the creation account.

The line that God only appears to change, but doesn’t really change, implies that he cannot ever genuinely respond to human beings. He does not open himself to be influenced either way by us. And arguably, that makes a real friendship with God impossible. But that such is possible, is at the very heart and soul of the whole Bible.

Well, that's packed with a number of unbacked assumptions.

i) Is Tuggy talking about how God is depicted in Scripture or the concept of friendship and/or responsiveness?

ii) Does Tuggy accept every Scriptural depiction of God at face value? For instance, when God comes down to earth to find out what’s happening (Gen 11:5-7), does Tuggy think that God is really like Hermes?

iii) How would Scripture depict God differently if God were timeless?

iv) Apropos (iii), if God were timeless, wouldn’t he still relate to human beings according to our timebound experience? If, for example, God has a conversation with Moses or Abraham, where they hear divine speech, either in their minds or their ears, wouldn’t divine speech be sequential? Abraham tells God something. Abraham hears God say something in reply. The back-and-forth you have in dialogue.

Yet that doesn’t require God to be in time. It only requires the audible divine words to be heard by Abraham in time. In a particular sequence. Divine words as successive events which God effected in time, at a particular time.

In principle, that’s no different than other sequential events that God brought about. God has a plan for the world. That include every event in its causal and chronological order.

God instantiates the whole plan. But that doesn’t mean God successively brings about successive events.

v) What about the concept of friendship and/or responsiveness? To begin with, we need to distinguish between two sides of friendship:

a) I’m a friend to you.

b) You’re a friend to me.

Reciprocity is a common element of friendship, especially among peers.

But some friendships are one-sided. A mentor or benefactor may be a friend to someone who’s in no position to return the favor.

Yet that’s a “real friendship.” The benefactor was a genuine friend to the person in need. A genuine friend to the needy person he befriended.

Indeed, that type of disinterested friendship is a very pure type of friendship. Where the mentor or benefactor isn’t motivated by the expectation of reciprocity.

Doesn’t Scripture describe divine friendship as a type of patronage? Doesn’t Scripture describe the profound asymmetry between God’s provision and our need?

vi) Would it be a good thing for God to be impressionable? Would it be good for God to to be influenced by evil creatures?  

vii) There are different kinds of responsiveness. There’s the type of responsiveness in which I don’t know what you’re going to say or do next. I don’t know what you think or feel unless you tell me. I’m waiting for a cue from you, then I react or adapt accordingly.

There’s another type of responsiveness in which I anticipate your needs or desires. I have a prepared response. I know before you ask. I don’t wait for you to ask.

viii) At the risk of stating the obvious, we must make allowance for the difference between God and man.

Even at a human level, the way one adult relates to another adult isn’t the same as the way an adult relates to a young child, and vice versa. The dependence is asymmetrical.

Likewise, the way a man relates to another man isn’t the same as the way a man relates to his pet dog, and vice versa. You can be a friend to a dog. A dog can be a friend to you. Yet that’s not reciprocal in the same that two high school buddies are friends.

The dog can’t relate to you on your level. You have to relate to the dog on his level.

The problem with this is that it seems that what you know-in-a-nature, you know. And what you don’t-know-in-a-nature, you don’t know. So this seems no improvement on just saying that Jesus knows and doesn’t know something, or that he knows all, and doesn’t know some.

Because of Tuggy’s heretical agenda, he acts as though the “qua stuff” doesn’t make a meaningful addition to the analysis. But that’s patently false.

Take two statements:

a) Jesus knows everything yet Jesus doesn’t know everything.

b) Because Jesus is divine, he has the attribute of omniscience, as a result of which he knows everything. But because Jesus is also human, his knowledge is limited.

(b) is not reducible to (a). (b) is more informative than (a). (b) has more explanatory power than (a).

(b) supplies an underlying reason for the difference. So (b) marks an advance over (a). It grounds the difference.

Now that explanation doesn’t explain everything. It doesn’t explain how these two things fit together in one individual. But it’s hardly equivalent to Tuggy’s reductionistic formulation.

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