Assuming creation, what is God’s relationship to time? There are two popular views—God is infinite (existing everlastingly, but within time) and God is eternal (existing changelessly with no relation to time). In both cases, God is uncaused, never begins to exist, and never ceases to exist. William Lane Craig, interestingly, adopts what you might call a hybrid of these two views to make sense of some philosophical problems.
There have been many responses to Craig’s arguments about time and infinity. I consider many of these to be successful, but I hope to take a new approach, or at least new to me. I feel that Craig’s arguments regarding the relationship of God and time fall victim to the same absurdities as the arguments he rejects. I plan to show this through an analogous hypothetical situation.
Kalam Cosmological Argument
Craig presents some difficult arguments in favor of theism. Probably his best known argument is a defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which says:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The Universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the Universe has a cause
Some have countered that the Universe could perhaps be infinite. With regard to modern physics, we might say there have been an infinite number of big bangs and big crunches to create a sort of cyclical Universe.
For premises (1) and (2) to be true, though, the Universe cannot be infinite. It must have a finite beginning in order for the statement “begins to exist” to have any meaning. If the cyclical model, or similar model, is true, then Craig’s argument has a problem. So Craig counters that actual infinites are not possible and create metaphysical absurdities.
I should briefly explain what is meant by an actual infinite. If you think of time as a traditional timeline, with the present being located at time t0 right in the middle, then time would extend endlessly in both directions. There would be an infinite number of moments in the past and in the future. This is in contrast to a potential infinite. One example of a potential infinite is something that has a definite beginning and then can stretch infinitely into the future. It is the actual infinite that Craig addresses.
Craig’s argument, a variation of Hilbert’s Hotel, is succinctly described by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as follows:
Craig argues that if actual infinites that neither increase nor decrease in the number of members they contain were to exist, we would have rather absurd consequences. For example, imagine a library with an actually infinite number of books. Suppose that the library also contains an infinite number of red and an infinite number of black books, so that for every red book there is a black book, and vice versa. It follows that the library contains as many red books as the total books in its collection, and as many red books as red and black books combined. But this is absurd; in reality the subset cannot be equivalent to the entire set. Hence, actual infinites cannot exist in reality.
In other words, since we know there are black books in addition to red books, how can it be the case that there are as many red books (a subset of the whole) as total books (both red and black)? We seem to have a compelling paradox on our hands.
Now we are faced with an interesting problem. Craig has tried to show that actual infinites are absurd, yet some hold the view that God is infinite within time. This would make God absurd. So, he must find a new home for God. The obvious choice is the eternal position.
The other way in which a being could exist eternally would be by existing timelessly. In this case God would completely transcend time, having neither temporal location nor temporal extension. He would simply exist in an undifferentiated, timeless state.
What do we make, then, of creation? It seems to be a temporal event. Craig’s resolution is to say that God exists eternally in a changeless state except for the duration of the Universe, in relation to which he is temporal.
With the creation of the universe, time began, and God entered into time at the moment of creation in virtue of His real relations with the created order. It follows that God must therefore be timeless without the universe and temporal with the universe.
How can this be? It appears problematic to assert that God fits into both categories of time. Craig himself sees the difficulty in this argument.
Now this conclusion is startling and not a little odd. For on such a view, there seem to be two phases of God’s life, a timeless phase and a temporal phase, and the timeless phase seems to have existed earlier than the temporal phase. But this is logically incoherent, since to stand in a relation of earlier than is by all accounts to be temporal. How are we to escape this apparent antinomy?
Craig goes on to briefly describe his response to this problem.
What must be done is to dissolve the linear geometrical structure of pre-creation time. One must maintain that “prior” to creation there literally are no intervals of time at all. There would be no earlier and later, no enduring through successive intervals and, hence, no waiting, no temporal becoming. This state would pass away, not successively, but as a whole, at the moment of creation, when time begins.
But such a changeless, undifferentiated state looks suspiciously like a state of timelessness! It seems to me, therefore, that it is not only coherent but also plausible that God existing changelessly alone without creation is timeless and that He enters time at the moment of creation in virtue of His real relation to the temporal universe. The image of God existing idly before creation is just that: a figment of the imagination. Given that time began to exist, the most plausible view of God’s relationship to time is that He is timeless without creation and temporal subsequent to creation.
The way we get here is essentially as follows. Actual infinites are not possible, according to Craig, so God cannot exist infinitely in a temporal state. To avoid this problem, God is considered essentially outside of time. Yet, God created the world, so that means God has relation to the world. This relation has to be temporal in order for creation to happen. So, God is temporal in reference to the Universe. Both ideas have to be true – one in reference to the non-existence of the Universe and one in reference to the existence of the Universe. As of this moment, and for all the history of the Universe, God is temporal and can act within time. Without the Universe, God is timeless and changeless. God cannot act in this latter state because that would imply a passing of time for the action to take place.
I find this dualistic argument to also be absurd. I’d like to offer a similar analogy to Craig’s library.
Let’s suppose there is a library that exists. This library is necessarily changeless; it is impossible for the library to change in any way. Thus, the library cannot loan any books because its collection must remain unchanged. Yet, the library has a will and is also omnipotent, and it is the library’s will that it should loan out some books. So, the library’s will is done and books are loaned. Books leave the shelves of the library even though by definition that cannot be the case.
How can the unshakable rule of not loaning books be reconciled with the fact that books are loaned? Even an omnipotent being cannot do what is impossible. For example, an omnipotent being could not be a married bachelor, since by definition a bachelor is unmarried.
In the same way, how can a being that is necessarily changeless and timeless become changing and temporal? It is a counterintuitive absurdity.
If you agree with me that I have created absurdities similar to those of Craig on infinity, then it seems you are forced into one of two conclusions. Either you reject the idea of God as presented because of the absurdity or you reject that an apparent absurdity derails the argument. If you favor the first, then you think the paradox approach is a good argument, but then you still have to reconcile the notion of God and time. If you favor the second, then you think the approach is a bad argument and an apparent absurdity does not discount the possibility of an infinite Universe.
I tend to agree with the second approach – I don’t think Craig’s apparent absurdities mean there can be no actual infinites. Thus, the Universe could be said to have no beginning. I don’t think it has ever been adequately shown that counter-intuitive results, like those demonstrated by Craig, must mean the proposition is false. Furthermore, if Craig holds a counterintuitive position himself, then it appears apparent absurdities only matter to him when they do not affirm his view.
 In Defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument
 Another interesting example of a potential infinite is expressed by the distance between two points. Let’s say you throw a ball at a wall. At some point, the ball will be exactly halfway between the two original points. Then, the distance can be cut in half again, again, again, and so on. You can divide a line segment in half an infinite number of times and the two points will never touch. Given that there are an infinite number of line segments between the ball and the wall, how does the ball ever make contact with its destination? How can it traverse an infinite number of spaces between itself and the wall? Of course, it does reach the wall. The paradox does not make it untrue, as I believe is the case with actual infinites too.
 There are mathematical responses to this critique from set theorists, but I am trying to meet Craig on his own grounds. For the same reason, I am also assuming an A-theory of time.
 T and O
 T and O