A Choice Apart From Time

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

May 16, 2017

Question

Dear Tim,

I recently ran across a blog post by an atheist who is a physics major with a philosophy minor. In response to the Kalam Cosmological Argument, he contends that God could not have created the universe. His argument proceeds as follows:

1. The word “choice” must imply a progression from a state of multiple possibilities to a state of single actuality.
2. The word “time” must imply a progression from one state to another.
3. Since a choice is one such progression between states, time must exist in order for choice to be possible.
4. Since there was no time before the creation of the universe, the creation of the universe could not have been a choice.
5. Therefore God either didn’t create the universe or had no control over how it was created.

I know you are always discussing different theories of time, perfect being theology, free will, and “choices.” I thought this argument would be right up your alley. Would you mind considering this syllogism to see if it is sound?

– Derry


Tim’s Response 

You are right, Derry, these topics are “right up my alley.” Thank you for sending me this syllogism to evaluate. I find it interesting that this argument comes from someone with training in both physics and philosophy. The reason I say that is because in a deductive argument, all one must do to show it is faulty is disprove (or provide reason to doubt) only one of the premises leading to the conclusion. In this case, there are reasons to doubt or reject at least two of the premises in this particular argument. I will review this argument step by step.

Premise 1

“1. The word “choice” must imply a progression from a state of multiple possibilities to a state of single actuality.”

So far, so good. I would agree that when a choice is actually made, one must have existed in a state of affairs in which he is aware of multiple possibilities from which to choose. When the choice is actually made, then the chooser exists in a different state of affairs from the one in which a choice had not been actualized. Now the chooser exists in a state of affairs in which a choice has been made.

Consider God and the universe: God existed in a state of affairs in which He existed alone in a static state of aseity. Since God is omniscient (perfectly knowing) without beginning and omnipotent (perfectly powerful), He is eternally aware of everything He has the power to accomplish (if He chooses to do anything at all). This means that God is eternally aware of all His options — He never gains this knowledge; rather, He possesses it infallibly and without beginning.

Since God is omniscient, He does not have to “think things through” similar to humans. He simply knows! God does not have to examine His options before coming to a conclusion. He simply knows all of His options eternally and also knows exactly what He will do (even though God is free, nothing is forcing God to act or create — the choice is up to Him).

Premise 2

“2. The word “time” must imply a progression from one state to another.”

Many B-theorists of time would disagree. He should know this as a physicist! On a B-theory of time, there are not genuine “progressions.” So, the word “must” renders this premise false. However, in light of treating one’s argument with charity, I will assume he is discussing the A-theory of time (dynamic time).

With the A-theory of time in mind, I agree with this premise. In this scenario it implies a timeless and static state of affairs where nothing ever happens — to the first thing happening! As my colleague Jacobus Erasmus (PhD) has explained, the static state of affairs is the “first moment,” the first thing that happens is the second moment.

Consider God and the universe again. Think of the static state of God’s aseity as the first “moment” of time. Think of God’s first act as the second “moment” or the first thing that happened. With this in mind, the first moment of dynamic time is the second moment of “all time.”

So far, there are no logical problems for God.

Premise 3

“3. Since a choice is one such progression between states, time must exist in order for choice to be possible.”

This premise is false when considering God’s attributes. Although it might be true regarding human choices, we must be careful when discussing a being who is not a mere human, lest we error and anthropomorphize! When thinking properly regarding God’s omni-attributes we see this premise is mistaken.

When it comes to the omniscience of God, He exists in a static state of aseity and knows the truth-value to any and all propositions. God simply knows everything (“all at once” with no beginning)! Time is not “flowing” in this all-knowing static state. Things are not happening nor are thoughts occurring “one after another.” God exists, knows everything, and knows all options (the things He has the power to do).

God knows that He can create many specific and different worlds. After all, in His omnipotence, He has the power to create any logically possible world or none at all. Since God is omniscient, He knows all things about all of these possibly actualizable worlds prior to creating any world. God also knows counterfactual truths about how free creatures would freely choose if they were to exist in a certain state of affairs (God’s middle knowledge). He knows it all! That is to say, God knows all things about each world that He has the option to create. (This gets us into logically possible and feasible world semantics.)

In God’s case, His choice to create one of all the possible worlds in which He could have created was not made after something akin to human deliberation or “thinking things through one at a time.” Indeed, an omniscient being simply does not behave in this manner. So, this premise is false since it states that “a choice is one such progression between states.” This might be true for humans or any being limited in knowledge, but this is not the case for an omniscient being.

Moreover, dynamic time began to exist along with the second moment of “all-time” or the first thing that happened. But as Erasmus has pointed out, in a sense, time did exist prior to the beginning of dynamic time. The first moment of time existed in a static state.

So, premise (3) is false for several reasons, but (4) has bigger problems.

Premise 4

“4. Since there was no time before the creation of the universe, the creation of the universe could not have been a choice.”

This premise is based on an assumption that we have reason to doubt, and if it happens to be true, it is irrelevant anyway. That is to say, this premise is irrelevant and probably false!

While it is true, that if our space-time universe is all that exists, then the big bang marks the beginning of the space-time universe. Thus, if there is nothing else existing (including God), then the big bang marks the beginning of dynamic time. It is worth noting that even on an atheistic view, there would still have been a static state of nothingness where nothing happens to a state of affairs in which something happened — BANG!

So, even with atheism, the first moment of dynamic time derives from a static state of affairs. On a theistic view, the first moment of time is grounded in God’s static state of aseity. Keep in mind that God is omniscient so He does not have to “think things through” the way humans do. Thus, in this static state, God knows full well all the options at His disposal. He also knows exactly what world He will create.

Simultaneous with the first change of affairs, dynamic time comes into being. To use the Kalam’s nomenclature: dynamic time began to exist!

Now, it is quite possible that dynamic time did exist chronologically prior to the big bang. After all, God could have created the angelic realms before He created our space-time universe. God could have created other physical universes (perhaps the multi-verse) prior to creating our space-time universe. Perhaps the second person of the Trinity uttered a sentence in Hebrew to the Holy Spirit (not that an omniscient being must do such a thing to another omniscient being). Perhaps God counted down prior to His creative decree: “3. . . 2. . . 1. . . Let there be light!!!”

All of these logically possible examples provide states of affairs in which this premise is false and dynamic time (things happening one after another) exists prior to the beginning of our space-time universe.

The Best Explanation

When considering the beginning of dynamic time, in a sense, both the atheist and the Christian are in the same boat. That is to say, since an infinite regress of things happening in the past is logically impossible — if the present moment really does exist — both the atheist and the Christian agree that a static state of affairs existed logically prior to the first thing that happened. The atheist believes the original static state was absolutely nothing … “and then” something happened. The Christian theist believes the original static state was absolutely nothing physical or material, but God exists … “and then” He actualizes the universe into existence — BANG!!!

Consider a supporting argument for the Christian position:

Time Proves God

1- Things change.

2- A changing state of affairs cannot be past infinite.

3- Therefore, a first change resulted from an unchanging state of affairs.

4- Only a volitional agent can cause a change from an unchanging state of affairs.

5- Volitional agents are personal.

6- Therefore, this personal agent existed in an unchanging state of affairs.

7- Anything existing in an unchanging state of affairs never began to exist and is eternal with no beginning.

8- Therefore, the cause of the first change (and ultimately the change of affairs in which we find ourselves) is a personal agent who is eternal with no beginning and was in a changeless state of affairs logically prior to causing the first change.

Premise (4) seems to be the controversial step of the Time Proves God argument. However, upon further examination it stands strong. It is virtually synonymous with the following: “apart from dynamic time things do not happen unless the cause of dynamic time is a volitional agent.”

Consider this: dynamic time itself cannot begin to exist in a timeless and changeless state. This is the case because, as the theoretical physicist, Dr. Foitini Markoupolo, has stated, “apart from [dynamic] time things do not happen.” Things do not decay or begin to emerge if dynamic time does not exist. If dynamic time does not exist, all things that happen to exist would exist eternally with no genuine beginning and exist in a “frozen” and static state. Therefore, dynamic time could not even begin to exist in a frozen and eternally static state – UNLESS at least one of these eternally existing “things” is a volitional agent who can freely choose to act and bring about change.

If the cause of dynamic time exists timelessly in a static state, but can also freely choose to act, then simultaneously with the first free action (whatever it is) dynamic time begins and the clock starts ticking!

For a more detailed defense of the Time Proves God argument, click here.

Conclusion

Let us get back to the original argument. The blogger’s final conclusion reads:

“5. Therefore God either didn’t create the universe or had no control over how it was created.”

FALSE! This statement fails to account for God’s omni-attributes; namely, God’s omniscience and omnipotence! This mistake led to faulty premises which, in turn, led to the demise of the conclusion. With God’s omniscience in mind, one can see that God can exist in a static state of aseity (where nothing happens) and know all of the things He can or could do, and all of the possible worlds that are available for Him to create. Moreover, with God’s omnipotence in mind, we can see that God has the power to choose/actualize one of these worlds. This is no problem for a maximally great being!

Bottom line: unless God counted down (“3. . . 2 . . . 1”) or created the angelic realms prior to our universe, or something of the like, then simultaneous with his choice or actualization of this universe — BANG!!! — the first thing happened and dynamic time began to exist.

That is to say, the clock started ticking!

Stay reasonable (Philippians 4:5),

Tim Stratton

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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