God, Time, and Middle Knowledge
Psalm 90.2 (NASB95)
Before the mountains were born
Or You gave birth to the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
If God exists necessarily, it is impossible that he does not exist. He cannot come into being. Thus, God exists permanently. The question then remains as to what manner could he exist permanently? There are two possible answers. He could exist omnitemporally throughout infinite time or God could exist timelessly. In the latter case God would transcend time and have no temporal whereabouts.
Biblical data regarding God’s eternality is somewhat difficult to work through. There are numerous passages depicting God as working in temporal activities such as foreknowledge of the future (prophecy) and remembering past activities (Isa 42.9). Passages such as these seem to display God as exiting temporally however; passages depicting God’s relation to creation denote him as transcendent to time and creation itself (Gen 1.1; Jud 25). One might conclude from these passages mentioned and others that the biblical data is underdeterminitive. So as not to violate the law of non-contradiction we must be sure that God cannot exist both temporally and atemporally at once.
Ancient Philosophers such as Plato, Plontius, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas posited that God transcends time and space. God’s atemporality can easily be deduced from his immutability. Immutability is defined as “the unchangeableness of his essence, attributes, purposes, and consciousness. Immutability results from eternity, as omnipresence does from immensity. That which has no evolution and no succession is the same yesterday, today, and forever: ‘I am Jehovah, I change not’ (Mal. 3.6).” Also, God’s omniscience makes a strong case for his timelessness. Consider the following argument:
- Future Contingent events cannot be known by a temporal being
- Future Contingent events are known by God
- Therefore, God is not a temporal being
One would think no modern theologian would deny premise two, but “open theists” do just that, which puts them out of the range of orthodox theology. In regards to (1) it is thought that contingent events can be known if they are existent, which follows that if God knows them, they are indeed existent. This means that the defender of divine timelessness is positing a tenseless theory of time for the reason that any and all contingent events are seen as real because God foreknows them. For anyone positing a tenseless theory of time, so called (B-theory) there is a heavy philosophical and theological expense to pay. Therefore, (1) must be rejected. It seems to me that future contingent events can be known by God the question remaining is how can he know them. There are two possible ways to model divine cognition: (1) the perceptualist model which understands divine foreknowledge as analogous to sense perception—hence, perceptualism; and (2) the conceptualist model in which God knows these future contingent events in an innate way; God is an omniscient being and thus this knowledge should not be looked at in a way in which he learns or acquires knowledge. Moreover, the perceptualist model faces many difficulties. For one, it faces the difficulty of the reality of the future contingent events. If they are contingent, then they are not necessary. And, if they are not necessary, they may not exist and if they do not exist, then there is nothing for God to perceive. It seems to me the percepturalist model only works if one presupposes a tenseless theory of time, as it understands that events are necessary rather than contingent. The perceptualist model must be rejected.
How can God know future contingent events under the conceptualist model? The best model I have come across for understanding this is Middle Knowledge (scientia media). Middle Knowledge construes God has the knowledge of what free creatures would do in any certain circumstance. Based on this Middle Knowledge, God then decreed the circumstances and places certain free creatures in them. This is how God can know future contingent events; it is an innate part of God’s mind. It must be noted that this is not learning as moving from the moment of Middle Knowledge to the moment before the Decree to create is a logical moment and not a chronological moment, thus God does not learn. Given that God has middle knowledge and then decrees the actual world based on this knowledge, it follows from this that God has foreknowledge.
Another argument for divine timelessness arises from the concept of Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity (STR). Einstein posited that there was no unique universal time, thus no unique “now.” This is to say there is no overall universal time and that each inertial time frame is its own and is not integrated into a larger overarching time. This leaves the question that if God is in time, which time is he in? If one holds to divine timelessness, there is no answer to the question. For if God were in time as STR sees it, he would be in only one unique frame of time and he would not have foreknowledge of anything outside of the frame he is in. So in order to preserve the omniscience of God we must reject the notion of God being in a privileged inertial time frame. And being in STR there is no universal time frame; God cannot be in time and have foreknowledge. Thus, God must exist timelessly.
William Lane Craig offers the following argument:
- STR is correct in its description of time.
- If STR is correct in its description of time, then if God is temporal, He exists in either the time associated with a single inertial frame or the times associated with a plurality of inertial frames.
- Therefore, if God is temporal, He exists in either the time associated with a single inertial frame or the times associated with a plurality of inertial frames.
- God does not exist in either the time associated with a single inertial frame or the times associated with a plurality of inertial frames.
- Therefore, God is not temporal.
According to Craig, the most controversial premise is (1) because it relies on verificationism. Einstein argued that if absolute time and space are undetectable empirically, then they did not exist. Suffice to say, verificationism is a bankrupt epistemology that has been demonstrated false numerous times over and it will not be delved into here. With this in mind there is no reason to think that (1) is correct.
Given God is the most perfect being he must live in the most perfect mode of existence. A temporal existence is a much less perfect mode of existence than a timeless one. Therefore, God must have a timeless kind of existence. The difficulty with a timeless existence is personhood. For if God exists timelessly, he does not remember, anticipate, reflect, decide, or act intentionally. Being that the biblical God is personal, he must therefore not be timeless. The argument can be formulated as follows:
- Necessarily, if God is timeless, He does not have the properties x, y, z.
- Necessarily, if God does not have the properties x, y, z, then God is not personal.
- Necessarily, God is personal.
- Therefore, necessarily, God is not timeless.
The problem with the above argument is the assumption that God’s timelessness is an essential property of God. If God is indeed temporal, is it logically impossible that God could be timeless instead? One could conceive of a possible world where God did not create anything and thus exists timelessly. Thus, God’s temporal mode of existence is a contingent property rather than a necessary property. This is to say that so long as God does not create space/time then he is timeless. What also follows as long as God does not engage in remembering, reflecting, anticipating, and so on he would be timeless; were he to engage in those he would be temporal. With this in mind God can be personal and timeless. The difference is whether he wills to engage in such activities. Moreover the properties of remembering and anticipating are ruled out by God’s omniscience; he poses this knowledge innately. Other contingent properties of God’s personhood such as deciding are ruled out by omniscience as well, at least in the way we make decisions. Being that God is omniscient there does not exist a period of ignorance before a decision. We should think of God’s decisions as what his will intent on doing. The above argument for divine temporality based on personhood is not successful.
The question remaining is whether God can exist timelessly and then temporally. It seems to me he can for as long as he refrained from creating he was timeless, yet once he creates the world he stands in a new relationship with a temporal world. Thus, God exists temporally based on a free decision of the will to create a temporal world. Observe the following argument:
- God is creatively active in the temporal world (Scripture affirms this).
- If God is creatively active in the temporal world, God is really related to the temporal world.
- If God is really related to the temporal world, God is temporal.
- Therefore, God is temporal.
This argument does not prove that God is essentially temporal, just that it is a contingent property of God. Being that God changed extrinsically at the moment of creation due to his new relationship with the temporal world it must be said that God is temporal. If God is temporal and omniscient then it would follow that he would know tensed facts (past, present, future) for if he were timeless he would not know tensed facts as he would stand in no relationship with a temporal world. Thus, God was timeless sans creation, but upon the decree to create the actual world he is temporal, by his own free choice and this fits well with the opening of John.
John 1:1–3 (NASB95)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
 William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 284.
 See Gerald J. Holton, “Mach, Einstein and the Search for Reality,” in Ernst Mach: Physicist and Philosopher, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science 6 (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1970), pp. 165-99. See also “Coherence of Theism” Lecture by William Lane Craig.