Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Kind of Time Do We Have?

William Lane Craig has recently been talking about theories of time. Listen to his recent podcasts. I’m going to talk about these theories, what Craig believes regarding these theories, what I believe about these theories, and the relationship these theories have with theology.

Most people reasonably perceive time as passing basically the same for everyone. This is reasonable because macroscopically that’s the only perception we need in order to function well in this world. But time is a little more complex than that in how it is integral to the form and function of the created order.

There are two basic sets of theories for how the universe functions. Craig goes into more detail, but I’ll try to explain them both here. The A Theory of time is that the past exists because it has happened and that the future is not fixed and determinate like the past. The B theory of time is that each moment of time is its own stand-alone slice of existence and that the future is as determinate as the past.

Craig goes into some detail about the difference between time passing and the measurement of time. Don’t get bogged down by this. Philosophers are good at using very specific language without specifically defining the language they are using. The specific definition may have been expounded on somewhere, but philosophers assume that everyone knows what those definitions are. I do the same thing, but at least I’m trying not to do that. In fact, there’s much to say on this, but it’s not relevant to the point I’m going to make here so I’ll refrain. When Craig starts talking about relative time, the clocks ticking, the Lorentz transformation, etc., don’t worry about trying to follow him. It’s not overly relevant to the point he’s ultimately driving at.

What is relevant, however, is that Craig makes some observations that imply that the A Theory and the B Theory are mutually exclusive. The debate may often go there, but for all the wrong reasons. He’s right to criticize B Theorists that dismisses the A Theory. Particularly, he gives as an example the one who on judgment day stands before God for judgment. The slice of a person standing before God is different than the slices who sinned against God. I would add that such a slice would be different than the slice who came to faith. How could God condemn a slice that didn’t sin?

One problem that Craig has with this argument is that he is using a false understanding of the nature of sin. I can see that if his exclusionary view of the B theory is true, that this may be the nature of sin. But it’s not the biblical nature of sin. And perhaps this is why Craig says that if the B theory is exclusive of the A theory that this denial of the biblical nature of sin, among other things, would negate the B theory in favor of the A theory.

But that’s the other problem. Although many may argue for mutual exclusion between the two theories, I don’t see why they are necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact the reason that Craig doesn’t like the B theory is given in the third podcast: If there is any truth to the B theory, then there can be no room for libertarian free will. The reason that this is a problem is that Craig dismisses it because of a conclusion that he doesn’t like, not because of some problem that is foundational to the theory. The only argument that he gives is that there is no evidence possible for the theory. But this is an argument from silence. Craig, himself, is a Molinist. Molinists believe that God chooses from the best possible outcome based on libertarian free will choices that He knows people will make. Molinism isn’t a view taught in the Bible and it’s not provable. So this particular argument that Craig makes is an argument against Molinism.

But there is another problem with his Molinism and what he criticizes in these podcasts. He also talks about the multiverse. This is a theory well represented in science fiction television programs and movies. He gives one example from one of the Star Trek episodes. The theory is that at every point where more than one thing could have happened, a new universe is formed to accommodate the decision that didn’t get made in this universe. He’s right to point out that materialists use this argument to make it possible for the universe to be fine-tuned in order to sustain biological life as we know it.

But there is a problem with his rejection of a multiverse as a Molinist. He likely considers that since God has chosen the best possible course of action for the universe, that there is only one universe. However, the Molinistic way that God does this is by considering all the other possible universes. Now, I could at this point argue that by simply considering them, they would exist at least with some limited ontological form. It’s a stronger observation, however, to note that if God controls secondarily at every libertarian decision, then there must be some truth to the B Theory. In fact, the B theory must be compatible with the A theory. They can’t be mutually exclusive.

The issue that Craig has with the B Theory exclusive to the A Theory is that it presumes hyper-predestination. But he never considers in these podcasts if it is possible that the A Theory and the B Theory are compatible. That’s what I believe. I believe that we experience the world God created as the A Theory considers it but that God creates it as the B Theory presents it. I consider that His creation, providence, and sustenance are all the same thing to God. But He also provides a continuity from one slice to the next. My slice now is the same spiritual and moral entity as my slice a moment ago. I’m mostly the same material being as well. I ingest food and drink and expel various wastes as I go along. So my body changes over time. Nevertheless, I am the same being albeit my decision-making ability is limited to the created order that God has provided. To what extent has God determined my choices? I don’t know, but He will glorify Himself in all of them.

1 comment:

  1. Jim, thanks for the post. Have you written anything more on this particular subject? If not, can you recommend other reading material related to this subject. I have to confess that I have held this position for a little while now without calling it A and B Theories. I wasn't even aware of the A,B theory debate and so I just thought of it as eternal and chronological timelines that run together.