Monday, October 30, 2006

Against Divine Timelessness from Alan Rhoda

Can a timeless God freely create? Alan Rhoda thinks not.


Mike D said...

Rhoda knows his problem is in his description of God's choice to create. He correctly anticipates that this is the weak point in his argument. The comments are correct that he imposes a temporal definition of choice while presupposing that God is atemporal. He needs to find a way to describe God's decision-making as a timeless being.

I find the proposition of God's timelessness to be unncecessary. It is beyond any Scriptural basis and causes a myriad of contradictions resulting only in distancing an understanding of a personal God.

Don Jr. said...


I didn't see Rhoda anticipate premise 5 (if that is the premise you are referring to) as a "weak point." In fact, he said that it "seems to be highly plausible." Also, could you provide an atemporal definition of choice. And might it not be the case that premise 5 entails, rather than imposes, temporality?

Alan Rhoda said...

Thanks for the link.

FYI, I only presuppose that God is atemporal for the purpose of setting up a reductio. My goal was to refute divine timelessness. Like you, I find the doctrine lacking in motivation.

Mike D said...

Don, Alan:

I dislike defending a position that I don't confidently hold, but here goes.

As I understand current formulations of Divine Timelessness, the essential concept is that God simultaneously experience what we know as past, present, and future of all time. In this sense, God is atemporal or existing outside of time. In this system, it is wrong to describe God as experiencing a temporal sequence of thought or action. All his thoughts and actions are simultaneous.

Therefore when Alan states, “And it is simply incoherent to suppose that God (or anyone else) could be in both states at once. There are two distinct intentional stances here, and they are incompatible. Hence a free decision to create involves a qualitative change in God's mental life. And qualitative changes are temporal, not logical.”, he imposes temporality as a definition of choice in premise 5. I want to agree with his argument because I am not comfortable with the Timelessness theory, but I also think he has spoiled his argument by imposing temporality in his definition of choice. This statement in defense of premise 5 contradicts and undermines the presupposition of premise 1. This sets up the conclusion in premise 8. It only proves that we cannot maintain the immutability of God if we conclude that a free choice he makes requries God to undergo a temporal, qualitative change. This is the type of issue that has lead to Open Theism (which I have some sympathies toward).

A fundamental problem with theology (and especially speculative theology) is the challenge of using language. Almost every term we choose carries anthropomorphic baggage. The concept of God “choosing” to create certainly interposes our own concept of how we choose to begin a project or not. If we are not careful, we accuse God of being the (almost) eternal procrastinator since he existed for an eternity “before” he chose to create (wry grin). I don’t mean it. Please put down the stones.

Alan Rhoda said...


Thanks for the comment. I grant that my understanding of free choice entails undergoing a qualitative intentional change. And you're right that the atemporalist theist who wants to continue affirming that God is free in creating is going to have to reject that premise of my argument. But I don't think that vitiates my argument. The issue between myself and the atemporalistic is whether my premise 5 can be plausibly denied. I don't think it can. At any rate, the atemporalist owes us an explanation of how denying 5 can be plausible.

To my mind, all of the options here amount to denying that God can really make a 'choice' that A as opposed to just 'eternally willing' that A. Suppose the atemporalist concedes that much. In that case, the atemporalist is committed to holding that God cannot, strictly speaking, 'choose'. But if God cannot choose, then how is it still still meaningful to say that God is 'free' with respect to what he eternally wills? That's what I don't get.

Mike D said...

I suspect that you are also inclined toward Open Theism?

Alan Rhoda said...

Yes, I am quite sympathetic to open theism.