God and Time: An Analogy

An illustration from my philosophy professor yesterday had me really excited (although it may have just been the 30 ounces of coffee in my system at the time. Don’t ask.)

Background: we have been reading a variety of essays this week by philosophical theologians arguing for an atemporal God. There have been different ways of going about it, but the basic illustration stays the same. Think of time as a line (a timeline) on which events in our time take place. Then there is God, removed from time, and (depending on the particular philosopher) still able to act in and on our timeline. But God cannot be seen as having his own seperate timeline – God does not experience time.

Dr. Woodruff’s analogy is related to a popular understanding of time that most atemporalists would agree to: that is, the “B theory” of time. The A theory of time is one that most hold to without realizing it. If you think of time as having a present (now), a past, and a future, you would be an A theorist. A B theorist, however, would assert that the idea of “now” is an illusion. Everything can be reduced to tenseless language – that is, before, after, and simultaneous with. I will illustrate the difference in regard to my writing this post right now:

I am writing this post right now.

My writing of this post is simultaneous with 11:00 am on January 13, 2007.

The first statement fits into an “A” understanding of time. The tenseless statements of the second are “B” statements.

The analogy was one to try and illustrate how time may operate. Think about time as a dimension (just as you think about a flat plane or the dimensions of a 3 dimensional world) laid out as a line. If you can, draw a line out in front of you horizontally. Now distinguish the left from the right side of the line. If you understand what a line truly is (an infinite number of points that extends in two directions infinitely) then you’ll see a problem with identifying a left and a right side. As long as you have a 2 dimensions (such as a square or rectangle) it is not a problem to divide the line in half. Notice that it is impossible to denote a left and a right absent of a reference point. In other words, with a point it would be easy to label a left and a right.

Relate this to time. Can we have a past or a future without an ontologically unique present? Not only that, but should it be within God’s power to know the current “now”? This is related to the Kretzmann article from a few days ago. After typing this I’m not sure whether or not I communicated it as well as I would in person without a whiteboard. You’ll have to let me know. Or contact me in person about it; I don’t mind talking about it!

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