Paul Helm

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Is Middle Knowledge Uncontroversial?

luis-de-molina-2I was reading a recent blog post at one of the sites from which I read every post–the Pastor Matt blog–and discovered a point of some importance for those interested in the debate over omniscience and divine foreknowledge. His post “Middle Knowledge Misunderstood” is a brief introduction to the concept of middle knowledge. My focus is not going to be on that topic so much as on a claim made in the article: that middle knowledge is uncontroversial. Simply put, this claim is mistaken. Middle knowledge is the subject of much debate to this day.

Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom: specifically, God’s knowledge of “If x, then y” in regards to human and other created beings’ freedom. It is more than that, and yes I am simplifying this quite a bit.

Middle knowledge has been the subject of no little amount of my efforts in studying, and when I read the claim that it is uncontroversial, I was taken aback. Frankly, to say that middle knowledge is not controversial is just entirely mistaken. I shall now demonstrate that point.

First, middle knowledge is controversial among those who deny that God has absolute knowledge of the future, namely, open theists. William Hasker, John Sanders, Clark Pinnock, and other open theists each explicitly deny the existence of these counterfactuals that make up middle knowledge. Greg Boyd, another prominent open theist, argues in multiple places that the “would” counterfactuals of middle knowledge (i.e. in situation x, person would do y) should instead be “might” counterfactuals because “would” counterfactuals can have no truth value (see, for example, his response to William Lane Craig in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2001).

Second, middle knowledge is controversial among Calvinists. Paul Helm, a noted Calvinist philosopher, writes:

Since the Reformed held that all that occurs is unconditionally decreed by God and that men and women are responsible for their actions, they saw no need for a third kind of divine knowledge, a middle knowledge, which depended upon God foreseeing what possible people would freely do in certain circumstances.

In other words, middle knowledge is superfluous. Helm goes on to state as much:

Not only is middle knowledge unnecessary to an all-knowing, all-decreeing God, but the Molinists’ conception of free will makes it impossible for God to exercise providential control over his creation. Why? Because men and women would be free to resist His decree.

I would contend that most any theological determinist should hold to a similar belief regarding middle knowledge. On such a position, middle knowledge is unnecessary and indeed contrary to their entire system. Certainly Calvinists in general would deny that middle knowledge is necessary or uncontroversial.

Third, Thomists, I believe, would also reject middle knowledge–and historically have–for a number of reasons, including the notion that it entails potentiality in God. The reason it would do so is because of the whole structure of modality–including possible worlds–which advocates of middle knowledge tend to put forward as well. If the assertion is that there is a different way that things God could have created, then that implies that there is a potential there–something that any Thomistic view of the world would deny. I believe the same point would go for Scholastic thinkers in general, but I’m not familiar enough with the range of scholasticism to say that is for sure.

All of this is not even delving into things like whether those who hold to simple foreknowledge would endorse middle knowledge. David Hunt, for example, in the aforementioned Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, also argues that counterfactuals of freedom required for foreknowledge are illogical. Frankly, I think any position of simple foreknowledge would have to deny middle knowledge because on simple foreknowledge the whole concept is just as superfluous and contrary as it is for theological determinists. After all, if we contend that God just knows the future, then there is little room for things like God’s knowledge of what creatures would do in varied situations: God just knows what the future is going to be. Again, I don’t know the range of thought within the simple foreknowledge position to say for sure, but I suspect the majority position would be to deny middle knowledge.

Now when I shared some of these thoughts with Pastor Matt, his response was to grant that open theists deny middle knowledge, but then later he also granted that some Calvinists do. My point is that even were these the only ones who denied middle knowledge, that would not qualify as being “uncontroversial.” But now, having demonstrated that it is theological determinists, Calvinists, some who hold to simple foreknowledge, open theists, and Thomists (and possibly others?) who would deny middle knowledge, I think that the point has carried: middle knowledge is not uncontroversial.

I say all of this as someone who thinks middle knowledge does exist. But I think that we need to confront the reality that Molinism–the position which most closely endorses middle knowledge–is itself highly controversial and hardly above criticism.

Links

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Middle Knowledge Misunderstood– Pastor Matt’s post on middle knowledge.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

James White on Molinism- Confusion about middle knowledge

luis-de-molinaRecently, James White (a theologian and apologist) did a review of the debate on the Unbelievable? radio show between Paul Helm and William Lane Craig [accessible here; audio will begin immediately]. I thought that White did a decent job critiquing the synergistic tendencies in Craig’s exposition, but I also felt he failed to grasp the thrust of Molinism. I say this with great respect for White, whom I consider very thoughtful in the areas in which he engages. However, it is because of this respect that I write this with the hope that he–or at least others who wish to engage in this area–may be better equipped to engage with Molinism.* Although there are a number of places I could engage with White’s commentary, I want to focus on three particular areas, along with a fourth, methodological, issue.

Molinism and Free Will

The most problematic area in James White’s exposition came when he argued that free will is essentially vacuous on Molinism. His argument was essentially that the Molinist assertion that God knows what we will do in any given circumstance (the doctrine of middle knowledge) entails: “In this circumstance, this person will always do this” (emphasis White’s). Thus, he argued that Molinism is incapable of preserving human free will, which is ironically what Molinism was intended to preserve.

White based his argument on an example [actually a few examples, but this was most prominent]. While biking, he often came to a certain fork in the road. On one day, he may choose to turn one way, on another, he may choose to turn the other. Here’s the issue: White then said “The exact same conditions…” were in play in the scenario he described. The difficulty should be immediately obvious: White is very clearly mistaken that these are the “exact same conditions.” One day is not “exactly the same” as another day. Period. Thus, White’s objection fails. It fails for another reason, which we’ll explore in the next section, but for now it is enough to point out that White bases this objection on the notion that humans are able to choose differently in similar circumstances. That is, although he used the terminology of “the exact same conditions,” his example is merely that of similar conditions. His objection therefore fails.

Confusion about Middle Knowledge

It pains me to point this out for someone who I value as much as White, but I must object that it appeared as though White was disturbingly unfamiliar with what middle knowledge actually is. He continually objected to middle knowledge, as shown above, by arguing that people should be able to choose differently on Molinism but may not. Now, I don’t know how much White has read in this area, but surely if he’s going to engage with Molinists like Craig, he should–as someone whom I recognize as taking great care to read and engage with primary sources–read and understand Molina [let me be clear: I’m not saying he never has–I do not know what White has or has not read and would not claim to know]. Molina himself answers White’s objections in this regard very explicitly at a number of points in his On Divine Foreknowledge.

First, White is mistaken when he portrays Molinists as holding that middle knowledge determines choice. He has it backwards. It is the choices which “would be made” which determine middle knowledge. If one would have chosen differently, middle knowledge would have had different content. This is absolutely central to Molina’s view, and I’ll just quote him once to prove it. In his exposition of how various church fathers allegedly taught things similar to his own view, Molina wrote, “…when free choice by its innate freedom indifferently chooses this or its opposite, then God will bring it about that from eternity He foreknew nothing else, they [the church fathers he is favorably citing] are obviously teaching not that things will come to be because God foreknows that they will, but rather just the opposite” (180, emphasis mine).

Now whether Molina accurately exegeted these church fathers, and regardless of the objection which clearly will follow such a statement (“How is this possible?”–something Molina himself answers in detail in On Divine Foreknowledge), the clear and plain teaching of Molina is exactly opposite of what White seemingly attributed to him: namely, the notion that God’s middle knowledge determines free choices. Rather, it–even according to Molina–is exactly the opposite. Thus, White’s critique in this regard is simply wrong.

Confusion about Middle Knowledge II

A final difficulty with White’s critique was that he, at at least one identifiable point, confused middle knowledge with free knowledge. White was criticizing Craig by saying “if you’re truly free” you should be able to choose a different thing from what middle knowledge states (such as buying a different car than the Mercedes you wanted).

White’s critique was off base for two primary reasons. First, as shown above, he failed to recognize the absolute core of Molina’s doctrine of middle knowledge: that middle knowledge is not dependent upon foreknowledge. Second, White’s critique fails to recognize that middle knowledge interacts with free knowledge (God’s comprehensive knowledge of all things which will occur in creation). The reason for this is because White argues that one, if one has freedom, cannot “violate the middle knowledge… that was supposedly true.”

Here White seemingly confused the free knowledge of God with middle knowledge. It is true that the free knowledge of God cannot have been otherwise, for it is a result of the decree of creation. However, what White failed to recognize is that free knowledge is posterior to middle knowledge and so the fact remains that on Molina’s system (as demonstrated above), one can, in effect, change middle knowledge which would thus bring about a different state of affairs.

Again, the question is not here how this may be the case. Instead, what I am arguing is that White failed to correctly explain Molina’s position and so his critique actually failed to be centered upon the view against which he was arguing.

Methodological Issue: Philosophy?

I was surprised to see White comment so frequently on how this or that “may fly in philosophy classrooms” but apparently would not fly in the “real world” [this latter is not a quote, but he contrasted philosophy classrooms with the world outside of them]. He repeated this claim–or something similar–a number of times. I’ll keep this brief: White’s own engagement with Molinism was almost entirely philosophical. He continued to bring up the grounding objection (a philosophical objection if there ever was one), and he also pressed the attack by saying that Molinism cannot adequately account for the free will it is supposed to preserve (again, a purely philosophical argument). I was surprised to see this from White because I do really think he is quite a careful thinker, but the bottom line is that in denigrating philosophy while using a number of philosophical objections to Molinism he appeared rather inconsistent. Philosophy is a tool of the theologian, and White himself uses it in a number of ways. I would urge him to drop this kind of tongue-in-cheek dismissal of philosophical reasoning, even within theology. It seems to me he himself finds philosophical objections to theological systems to be of worth.

Conclusion

I commend White for taking on a difficult issue, and I readily admit he has more knowledge on any number of areas than I can begin to claim. I highly recommend much of his work, and even where he and I disagree, I have found him to be thoughtful and challenging. That said, I maintain White is mistaken in a few aspects of his interpretation of molinism. In particular, he doesn’t seem to acknowledge the broader philosophical framework behind the view. He also failed to allow for Molina’s own very explicit distinctions and definitions, and thus his critique actually declared Molina’s view to be the exact opposite of that which Molina actually held. I hope my own critique will be seen not as an attack, but rather as a call for clarification for White and others who hope to interact with Molinism.

*Full disclosure: I am a Lutheran with Molinist leanings, though I reject the synergism Molina himself held to. I view Molinism as a philosophical framework as opposed to a complete system.

Links

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Sources

Luis de Molina On Divine Foreknowledge, edited by Alfred Freddoso (New York: Cornell, 1988).

James White, “The Dividing Line,” January 16, 2014. Accessible here. The primary interaction starts a ways into the show.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

A Denial of Theological Determinism

It was not too long ago that I read a book by John Frame, a respected Calvinist theologian, entitled No Other God: A Response to Open Theism. In my review of that book, I wrote, “Interestingly, while I went in reading this book looking for some good arguments against Open Theism, I came out with the realization that theological determinism is a far more dangerous doctrine indeed.” It is time to address theological determinism more fully.

The Debate

There are many sides to the debate over the content of and/or level of determination entailed by of God’s omniscience. Briefly, I will summarize what I see as the four major positions:

  1. Open Theism- Open Theists hold that the future is, in some sense, “open” to the extent that even God doesn’t know for sure what will happen. God knows everything that might happen, and so can plan for every contingency.
  2. Theological Determinism- Essentially, the view that God, in His sovereignty, has determined everything which will happen. It is generally paired with compatibilism, the view that, despite God’s determining of creaturely action, those creatures are still responsible for their behavior.
  3. Molinism- The “middle knowledge” perspective holds that God knows counterfactuals of creaturely freedom–God knows what anyone will do in any situation–and so comprehensively knows the future. However, molinists hold that God does not determine what will happen, He merely foreknows it.
  4. “Bare Omniscience”- Those who hold this view basically fall into a combination of the previous three categories–mixing and matching as they will.

The Biblical Evidence

I’m only briefly going to operate under a claim which I’m sure will be quite contentious for all involved, so I will qualify it heavily:

P1: The Biblical data about God’s omniscience lacks the philosophical development to settle the issue. 

Now, this claim is very qualified: essentially I’m claiming that any one of the four positions discussed only briefly above can claim some kind of Biblical justification. Do I personally think they are all equal? Not at all, actually. But I do think that each position can put forth at least a few passages to try to justify their position. Thus, my suggestion is that the issue needs to be settled philosophically, not exegetically.

Some may latch onto this claim and rejoice, arguing that “J.W. has clearly rejected the Bible! [insert series of Bible verses]!” Such a strategy is wrongheaded for a number of reasons, foremost among them is the forcing of [cited verses] into a preconceived philosophical paradigm. I’m not arguing that the Bible cannot or does not reveal philosophical development. Rather, my argument is that on this issue, the Bible does not present a specific picture. Certainly, there are those who will disagree and say, “Well J.W. is just wrong! The Bible clearly states [favored position]!” It is not here my purpose to enter into a proof-text vs. proof-text argument. Rather, I wish to argue that determinism cannot be true and therefore one of the other positions must be the case. Given that most theologians grant there at least a few verses to support any of the previous positions, I think this is a safe qualification.

Against Determinism

I have argued extensively elsewhere for molinism and against open theism, and it is high time I turn my sights against determinism. I feel that theological determinism is, at best, philosophically untenable. At worst, it is incoherent. I shall put forth three theses to press my claim:

P2: Theological determinism’s only way to preserve creaturely responsibility (and thus save God from responsibility for causing evil) is compatibilism, which is incoherent.

Compatibilism, essentially, is the claim that God determines all things, and people are responsible for their actions.

I confess that, on the face of it, I struggle to understand compatibilism of any sort. But rather than giving in to a lack of imagination, I will seek to understand how theological determinists present compatiblism. Paul Helm, a Calvinist philosopher for whom I have great respect, writes “…God, though responsible, is not to blame for bringing about an evil act on the part of a human being if he has good reason for bringing such an act about, which he must have” (Helm, 164, cited below). Helm argues that God is the sufficient cause for all actions, but not the necessary cause of them. Because of this, Helm holds that “God may be ‘responsible’ for evil in some sense, but this does not mean that he is morally culpable” (Ibid, 164).

Again, I don’t see any way for this to work. First, if God really is the sufficient cause for evils, then it is extremely difficult to see how God would not be culpable. Sufficient causation implies exactly what it seems to: that God’s action alone is sufficient to bring about the evil. Yet Helm seems to think that because he holds that God is not a necessary condition for the evil actions, this removes God from responsibility.

Again, this seems to be exactly backwards, for at least a couple reasons. If God is the sufficient cause of all things, then that means that for any evil I can imagine (let’s say the Holocaust), one need only to refer to God to reveal its cause. Now Helm would hold that humans are the necessary conditions for this evil to occur. In other words, while God may have determined it to be such that the Holocaust would occur, it would not have occurred had there not been creatures to bring it about. But if this is the case, then it seems God is indeed squarely to blame for such evils because, after all, God is not only the sufficient cause of the events, but He also created the necessary conditions and set them up in such a way that these events would occur.

Other theological determinists take two supposedly different approaches to the problem. Some argue that because of total depravity, human wills are in fact free. In other words, humans are incapable of choosing good, but that does not mean they are not free or responsible because they continue to freely choose evil. This tactic does not seem to work, however, because theological determinists must also hold that God made humans in such a way that they would not desire good. In other words, God made these people totally depraved to begin with. Thus, those who disagree with determinists could counter by once more asking, “But isn’t God responsible for causing humans to only be free to choose evil anyway?”

The other tactic is to argue that while God is cause of all things, people themselves are the secondary cause. So while God might sustain my existence and even determine that I should do evil, it is I who do evil, not God. I am a creature, and I bring about the evil. God and I are separate entities, so it follows (on this view) that God is not the cause of evil. Now this view is really no different from Helm’s view explained above, but with less philosophical terminology. The problems with it are the same. Suppose we grant that it is the secondary causes, not God, which bring about evil. Whence these secondary causes? Why do these secondary causes act as they do? According to theological determinism, God created, ordained, and sustains these secondary causes. When a being brings about evil, that being acts secondarily–they are not themselves God. But God ordained and caused the world to be such that theses secondary causes would act in exactly the way in which they do. The secondary causes themselves are caused to act by God. So we have only pushed the problem back one step. Why would God cause secondary causes to do evil? It seems God would certainly be culpable for such evils.

Finally, a brief survey of those theological determinists who take the determinism seriously seems to confirm that God is the cause of evil. John Frame, for example, writes:

“The uniform witness of Scripture is that the evils of this life come from God” (Frame, cited below, 140).

“…[I]t is important to see that God does in fact bring about the sinful behavior of human beings, whatever problems that may create in our understanding” (68).

John Calvin himself wrote, in the Institutes:

When, therefore, they perish in their corruption, they but pay the penalties of that misery in which ADAM FELL BY THE PRDESTINATION OF GOD , and dragged his posterity headlong after him. Is he not, then, unjust who so cruelly deludes his creatures? Of course, I admit that in this miserable condition wherein men are now bound, all of Adam’s children have fallen BY GODS WILL. And this is what I said to begin with, that we must always at last return to the sole decision of God’s will, the cause of which is hidden in him.

It seems, therefore, that theological determinists, when consistent, acknowledge that God causes evil, and indeed wills it. The main reason given is some kind of mystery or hiddenness. I conclude this section with the observation that, despite attempts to the contrary, theological determinism must hold that God causes evil.

P3: Theological determinism is not a “lived” philosophy.

One of the tests for a philosophy–and I should think a theology in particular–is whether it is livable. If something is true, it should reflect reality. Theological determinism holds that every action I take is determined by God. I have found that in practice, I have not yet run into any theological determinist who agrees that they live as though their lives are determined. When bad things happen to them, they are distressed; when relatives are in danger, they pray for the danger to pass without harm; etc. Yet if theological determinism is true, none of these things would matter–all things are determined already. Even were one to pray, that prayer itself would have been determined, along with the outcome. Therefore, theological determinism seems to be unlivable.

P4: If theological determinism is true, I cannot know that it is true. It is therefore self-refuting.

Finally, even if none of the above arguments seem convincing, P4, at least, seems devastating to theological determinism. The argument itself is remarkably simple:

1) If I am determined by non-rational factors to have belief x, then I cannot rationally hold x.

2) On theological determinism, I am determined by non-rational factors to have any given belief.

3) Therefore, on theological determinism, I cannot rationally hold any given belief.

4) Therefore, if theological determinism is true, then I cannot rationally hold that theological determinism is true.

It seems to me that this argument is quite powerful. If theological determinism is true, then my beliefs are determined by God. That includes the belief I currently have that theological determinism is false. However, suppose I believed theological determinism were true. In that case, I have been determined by God to believe theological determinism is true. In fact, my act of deliberating and coming to believe that determinism is true would, itself, be determined. Thus, I cannot rationally hold theological determinism to be true (this argument can be attributed to a podcast from William Lane Craig, though I can’t track down the reference).

Given these reasons, it seems that there are some quite sound objections to theological determinism. Given that there are other positions with at least some Biblical support, it seems theological determinism should be abandoned. The position makes God the author of sin (contrary to the objections of its supporters), it is unlivable, and it is incoherent.

Sources

Paul Helm, Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time (New York, NY: Oxford, 2010), 2nd edition.

John Frame,No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001).

Image Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caen_palaisdejustice_peristyle.jpg

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time” by Paul Helm

Paul Helm is, in my opinion, one of the most lucid thinkers on the topic of God and Time. His Eternal God defends two extremely unpopular positions within Christian philosophical theology: 1) that God is timeless; and 2) that time is static (the B-Theory of time).

Helm points out early in his book that the issue of divine temporality/atemporality is “underdetermined” in Scripture (7). This means it’s one of those fun issues that lies most squarely in philosophy of religion.

And that is where Helm excels. Chapter-by-chapter he outlines a cohesive case for divine atemporality. Where Paul is most successful, I think, is in his rebuttals of arguments for temporality. For example, a well-known argument for temporality is that if God interacts in time, he must be temporal. Helm counters by pointing out that a precisely parallel argument could be constructed for God and space. Yet few Christian philosophers accept that God is spatial (49ff). While this doesn’t rebut the argument, it does point out something important: it doesn’t seem as though the conclusion (God is temporal) follows from the premise (God interacts in time) any more than it would if it were spatial (God is spatial/God interacts with space).

There are many different accounts of divine timelessness, from Brian Leftow’s spaceless timelessness (see his work Time and Eternity) to relative timelessness, and beyond. Helm takes the much less popular route and takes the tough pill of saying that God created spacetime as a static bloc. This allows Helm to easily deny many of the arguments for temporality which stem from a-theory or dynamic time. But it also raises many problems. Foremost among these (in my opinion) is human freedom. For, on the B-Theory of time (static theory), everything which will ever happen, has happened, and in a sense exists. As we go from moment to moment, we’re really just passing through a bloc of spacetime, we aren’t literally moving through a present. Presentness is a subjective phenomenon, given static/B-theory. It’s just our perspective. So where does human responsibility and freedom come in?

Helm here turns to compatibilism. He freely admits that timeless creation entails determinism (170). Thus, he denies that humans have free will in the libertarian sense. But this, he argues, does not undermine human responsibility. I don’t think I can do justice to the nuances of his argument, but the basic idea is that Helm argues that just because past actions/events determine our actions in the future, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t responsible for what we do. As I said, this is a really, really watered down version of his argument, but I think this is one of the weaker points of his work.

Why? Because the idea of responsibility simply does not make sense on determinism, particularly when it is theistic determinism. For consider the idea proposed here. God has created all of time and space as one bloc. Thus, everything I do or have ever done was created by God once he brought the universe into being. Literally, everything I did, I do because God created the universe such that I would do x. So how could it be that I am responsible for doing x, if I never chose to do x. I simply do x because I have to, I have “already” done it, on the static theory. If I could create a time travel device, I could travel forward in time and see myself doing x, and could not prevent it, because God created the world such that I would do x. But the core of responsibility is that I chose to do x. While we punish people for things they do by accident (vehicular manslaughter, for example, or accidentally breaking a window), these things still resulted from prior choices (playing baseball near breakable window/driving carelessly). I simply do not see how any account of responsibility could make sense unless someone can choose to do what they do.

There are several different positions about divine temporality/atemporality. Helm swallows the hard pill of going with the static theory of time to ground his divine atemporality. This, I believe, grants his account extreme philosophical plausibility. If God created the entire universe as a space-time continuum (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase from Star Trek!), then there’s no reason to suppose God would be affected by time. It’s ontologically outside of God, and all of his interactions already have taken place. While I’ve already pointed out some of the problems with this view, these problems are not with the coherence of the view but with the theological nature of it. Thus, I think it possible to say that Helm has adequately defended a position of divine eternity.

It would be impossible to cover everything of interest in such a comprehensive look at the topic of divine timelessness. Helm analyzes an extraordinary number of arguments in great detail. I cannot recommend the book more highly. Although I ultimately reject Helm’s second contention (B-theory), I believe his view is extremely coherent, and I can find little fault in it. Anyone interested in the issue of God’s relationship to time must read this book. It’s a book I think I shall re-read so that I can better grasp his arguments.

(Note: This review is based on the recently published second edition of this text, which includes several new chapters with much of interest, including a rebuttal of William Lane Craig’s arguments against timelessness. I recommend interested readers get their hands on the newer edition.)

SDG.

Source:

Paul Helm, Eternal God (New York, NY: Oxford, 2010).

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“God, Time, and Creation”: A Seminar with William Lane Craig

Over the past weekend, I was privileged to spend some time in Georgia (Atlanta area) at the seminar “God, Time, and Creation” with William Lane Craig (in picture next to me). It was part of a class of the same name for the Master of Arts Program with Biola University.

The seminar was a blast. I took approximately 25 pages of notes. Craig’s lecture notes comprised about 440 pages. Awesome!

The seminar focused on God’s relationship to time. Is God timeless, or temporal? Interestingly, Craig holds that God was timeless without creation and temporal subsequent to creation. His book, Time and Eternity, expands on the issues at great length.

First, Craig covered the arguments for and against a timeless God. It seems like a timeless God is not philosophically untenable, and the argument for a timeless God based upon the idea of the imperfection of a temporal life has some plausibility. Then, Craig went over the arguments for and against a temporal God.

After that, we covered the static (B-theory) of time–which holds that all of time and space is a kind of 4-dimensional block–and the dynamic (A-theory) of time–which holds that temporal becoming and passing away is real. It seems that the B-theory of time is, at best, extremely counterintuitive. If the B-theory is correct, our feeling of passing through time is illusory. Further, the theological problems with the view make it really implausible. If time is static, then the J.W. from three hours ago is literally a different entity than the J.W. now, because each is a different “slice” of  a four-dimensional “block” of time. So, for example, it would seem as though the J.W. now could not be punished for the sins of a past J.W.–they are, in fact, different entities. Therefore, the doctrines of atonement, justification, sin, etc. seem to be at best vacuous. So a static theory of time, I think, is very implausible for the Christian to hold.

I’m reading through Paul Helm’s Eternal God: A Study of God without Time right now. He holds that God is timeless, and holds that time is static. I’m interested to see if he counters any of these theological issues.

Craig concluded that without creation, God is timeless–there is no change. But once God created, He underwent at least an extrinsic change, which Craig argues means God is temporal subsequent to creation.

This is one of the few areas I disagree with Craig on. I actually think it is more theologically plausible to hold that God is timeless, period. The main problem with this view is that many argue a timeless God entails a static theory of time. If I find on my further study into the area that this is the case, I may be forced to abandon the view that God is timeless. Therefore, I’m looking forward to delving into greater detail on this topic.

I’ve read Brian Leftow’s Time and Eternity and found it extremely interesting and thought-provoking. Craig is highly critical of Leftow’s view and charges that Leftow makes category mistakes throughout his work. As I said, I’m also reading Helm’s Eternal God, so I’ll see how that holds up. This is a very interesting topic which affects the core of study about the nature of God, how God relates to the world, divine providence, and many other areas. I’m excited to continue my research in this area.

On a side note, the Atlanta area is pretty awesome to visit! The weather was gorgeous. It isn’t that much fun driving there, however.

I visited a Christian Bookstore in the area–Lifeway Christian Bookstore–which had a huge sale on CDs. I couldn’t resist picking up some more Christian music (5$ cds!).

SDG.

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