Sunday, October 24, 2010

God's Immutability versus Omniscience?

Craig and Moreland both argue against a strong doctrine of divine immutability. They use the following example:

1. God is timeless only if He is immutable. (Definition)

2. God is immutable only if He does not know what time it is now. (Premise)

3. If God is omniscient, then He knows what time it is now. (Premise)

4. God is omniscient. (Premise)

5. Therefore, God is not timeless. (From 1 - 4)

(5) entails (6): God is not immutable.

I list (2) and (3) as premises, as opposed to definitions, because what they are assuming (and they are quite upfront about this) is an A-theory of time. If time is dynamic and the present is constantly changing, then in order for God to be omniscient, He must know what the present is. Given that the present changes, there is a change in God's knowledge, implying that God is not immutable.

I have to wonder whether this turns out to be an argument not against immutability, but rather against an A-theory of time. Consider this:

1*. God is immutable and omniscient. (Premise)

2*. God is only immutable and omniscient if He knows all times simultaneously. (Definition)

3*. If all times are simultaneous to God, then time is static. (Definition)

4*. Therefore, time is static. (From 1 - 3)

(4*), of course, is a description of a B-theory of time.

It's not that I'm trying to take a position on whether I prefer an A-theory or a B-theory. Rather, I point out that one's presuppositions with respect to the nature of God will ultimately prove determinative for one's view of the relationship between God and time. If an A-theory is incompatible with divine immutability (and it's arguably not), then a good argument for divine immutability will simply lead one to accept a B-theory.


  1. Does one's knowledge/experience *really* change one? I mean, is the cliché "I'm a different person now!" really true?

    Can one understand a thing *only* if one has directly experienced it? Thus, since I have never even seen a unicorn, nor heard of anyone who has, I do not and cannot understand unicorns?

  2. Hi Ilion,

    You're quite right to say that you would be the same person. God would be the same person (or three persons) if He acquired new knowledge, but that isn't quite what Craig and Moreland are criticizing. The strong doctrine of divine immutability that I am referring to requires that God be impassible, with no change whatsoever.

    When I am aware that the present day is October 24, but then become aware that the present day is October 25, there is a change in my current temporal experience. This can only occur because I am passible, but God (according to many of the classicists, at any rate) is not even passible in this sense. He is completely immutable, and impassible.

  3. I admire both Craig and Moreland but I do have mixed feelings about them fiddling with orthodoxy. Such is the risk of fides quaerens intellectum.

    Here are some immediate reactions to bounce off them:

    1. If knowledge of a change SOA compromises God's immutability, then does He know, say, my transition from being damned in the 1980s to being redeemed in the 1990s?

    2. God's omniscience contains the knowledge of what any person who says now refers to in their own cultural language of time. If I say, "It's 1:47 now" and then, "Now it's 1:48," I don't see how God's knowledge can be altered by either reference to now, since both now's are just lexical placeholders for "how this American male speaks in conjunction with the entire spatiotemporal SOA as he is contained in it."

    3. Does God know where "here" is? If so, presumably He is spatially contained/conditioned and His immateriality goes the way of His immutability, if Craig and Moreland are right.

  4. Hi Codgitator,

    I share your admiration for Craig and Moreland. I do become a bit concerned whenever I hear people talking about God's omnitemporality as opposed to His timelessness. On the other hand, these issues are a bit esoteric for the average Christian, and I don't think it is a matter of Christian essentials.

    Your first question is very interesting. I presume you are talking about a tensed fact: at future time t, Codgitator will be in heaven. This tensed fact is true both in the 1980's and in the 1990's, since they refer to a future moment of time that God knows through His foreknowledge. I don't think this would compromise God's immutability, since it's not as if t is ever ~t.

    Questions (2) and (3), I think, are related. Even though our cultural language is distinct from God's knowledge of propositions, "It is now 1:47" corresponds to some truth. It's the "nowness" of the truth being corresponded to, according to Craig and Moreland, that changes for God. "Here" is a term that depends on context. When I say, "I'm here," I am referring to a town in Texas; but when somebody in China says, "I'm here," the "here" refers to somewhere else. God's knowledge is therefore contextualized to include certain indexicals, e.g. "Doug Benscoter is in Texas" is what is known by God whenever I utter the statement, "I'm here."

  5. But, there is no such thing as "a future moment of time that God knows through His foreknowledge" -- God is timeless, after all.

    To speak of God's "foreknowledge" is to make the mistake of thinking of God as subject to time, or as being time-bound as we are. This error -- forgetting that God is “outside” spacetime – comes naturally to us, of course; and it’s made constantly whenever people start trying to think about and talk about these issues.

    What there are are a vast number (indefinite, but not infinite) of potential "moments in time," which come about or do not come about as the world unfolds and God's creatures make choices -- all of which God knows, eternally.

    Codgitator:1. If knowledge of a change SOA [whatever that stands for] compromises God's immutability, then does He know, say, my transition from being damned in the 1980s to being redeemed in the 1990s?

    D.Benscoter: Your first question is very interesting. I presume you are talking about a tensed fact: at future time t, Codgitator will be in heaven. This tensed fact is true both in the 1980's and in the 1990's, since they refer to a future moment of time that God knows through His foreknowledge.

    This forgetting that God is eternal/timeless, or not understanding what it means (and, of course, coupled with some cause-and-effect confusion), is what is behind the distinctive Calvinistic errors related to their doctrine of predestination.

    Taking Codgitator’s hypothetical –

    FROM OUR point of view (which is not the “objective” POV), Codgitator was damned in the 1980s and redeemed in the 1990s.

    BUT, FROM GOD’s point of view (which is the “objective” POV), Codgitator was never damned, for God knows *all* the decisions Codgitator makes (and all that he might have made had they not been eliminated by those he made).

    Consider the parable of the sower and the seeds: we are the seeds, and the difficulty, from our point of view, is that we almost never can tell with any confidence into which group any specific seed falls eternally. But God knows, always. This is why we can sensibly speak of “backsliding,” or for that matter, of “becoming” redeemed -- because we are speaking from our point of view, not from God’s.

    Also, is it really true that a change in one’s knowledge changes one’s essence?

  6. Doug: "'It is now 1:47' corresponds to some truth. It's the 'nowness' of the truth being corresponded to, according to Craig and Moreland, that changes for God. 'Here' is a term that depends on context."

    I'm still not clear on the distinction you/they want to make. Do they address location in their argument?

    Let's rephrase it: "John is here" and "Brad is here." I never moved from 'here' for either utterance, but both truths correspond to respective truths/SOAs. And again: "John is here now" vs. "Brad is here now."

    Moreover, stating the time necessarily happens somewhere. If this were a live chat, I (in Taichung, Taiwan) would say, "It is 9:55 now," while you (in Texas) would say, "It is 7:55 now" (if I have the time zones adjusted correctly). We're both right, yet that means 'now' occurs at two different times (and, conversely, two different times occur 'now' at once); the same holds for all the time zones. Which truth does God know 'now'?

    C&M might object that we only need to explain that I am saying "It is 9:55 PM now in Taichung" while you are saying "It is 7:55 AM in Texas," and thus we're not really talking about the same time 'now' that would compromise God's immutability. But notice that contextualizing 'now' requires referring to 'here'. "It's 9:55 here." vs. "It's 7:55 here." In which case, God's knowledge includes temporal indexicals as easily as spatial indexicals. This is especially so on general relativity, where time and space are coextensive. Craig is huge into cosmology and physics, so I wonder how/if he addresses the unity of space-and-time in this argument.

    I guess my main point is that God's knowledge contains the factors which justify my uttering some contextually defined temporal markers in conjunction with 'now' and I don't see this as being any more problematic than God knowing (contextually) how/why I say "I am here," "My body is here," and "My tongue [or any body part] is here."


  7. Sorry, Ilíon, SOA is shorthand for "a state of affairs," at least in some of the philosophical work I've read over the years.

    I also agree with your hidden premise: C&M's argument presupposes God's temporality (albeit by tacking on a deferential omni-), and therefore CAN ONLY furnish arguments for God's mutability. If God's knowledge of "what time it is now" were such a profound objection, I think a) it would have been more prevalent in the past centuries of debate and b) it would undermine the Gospels themselves in at least a major way (or two): for God could not know that "the Kingdom of God is at hand [now]" or "now the Son of Man is being lifted up" etc. But he does know what 'the time' (kairos) is now and that is as biblical as "I, the Lord, do not change." It is a mere detail that we say "It is X:YZ now" and other cultures might say "It is the hour of salvation now" or "It is the great kaliyuga now." If Jesus criticized humans for not knowing the signs of the times--the semiotics of now--, would He also criticize the Father?


  8. It seems that we all agree that God is timeless and immutable. What I was arguing in my post was that if Craig and Moreland are correct in their assessment of divine timelessness being inconsistent with an A-theory of time, that means we should consider a B-theory of time. The two choices are an A-theory or a B-theory. Given that God's immutability is inconsistent with an A-theory, this means we should either abandon the A-theory in favor of the B-theory, or else abandon belief in God's immutability in favor of the A-theory.

    According to the A-theory, time is dynamic, so there is no "eternal now," so-to-speak, even for God. The question ultimately comes down to whether the arguments in favor of an A-theory outweigh the arguments for divine immutability, or vice-versa. Craig and Moreland cannot use the A-theory as a reason for rejecting divine immutability, or else they risk the charge of question-begging.

    Does this help to clarify my post?

  9. One more thing: there is no objective "here." If, however, an A-theory is correct, then there is an objective "now": the present alone is real; the past has ceased to exist and the future is only potentially real.

  10. Thanks for the added explanations.

    Where is the argument by C&M to be read/cited?

  11. "The two choices are an A-theory or a B-theory."

    Those are the only choices?

  12. Time is either dynamic (A-theory) or it's not-dynamic, e.g. static (B-theory). It wouldn't surprise me if a hybrid theory became fashionable, however.

    The following Q&A article by Craig is what made me think of the argument:

  13. What if saying "time is either dynamic or not-dynamic" is analogous to saying "time is either blue or not-blue"?

    I gotta tell ya' when I read a discussion (admittedly, it was only Wikipedia) of the two theories, the major difference I saw was in verbiage. That is, it seemed to me that the B-theory is differentiated from the A-theory by equivocation. At the same time, I realize that it may just be that I’m not getting it.

    And, once again, I point out: God is "outside" time-and-space. Whether either (or neither) of these theories are correct, it cannot matter when you're talking about God, for he is timeless, he is not time-bound any more than he is space-bound.

    "One more thing: there is no objective "here." If, however, an A-theory is correct, then there is an objective "now": the present alone is real; the past has ceased to exist and the future is only potentially real."

    If modern physics is correct, there is no more an objective “now” than there is an objective “here.”

    And, aside from modern physics, “now” doesn’t “stay put” (for lack of better phrase). So, how can it be objective in the way you seem to be using the term?

  14. I agree that God is timeless. In fact, God may be timeless regardless of what theory of time is postulated. This would imply that God is timeless on an A-theory, but He wouldn't be omniscient. There is a lot to say about what modern physics implies. General relativity theory (and the "space-time" of a B-theory) breaks down at the quantum level, and it has yet to be discovered if a quantum theory of gravity can reconcile the two.

    By the way, when I say that "now" is objective on an A-theory, I don't mean to imply that it is changeless. Rather, I mean that "now" is present to everyone.

    To reiterate what a B-theory implies: each moment of time (past, present, and future) is equally real. You might think of a yardstick in which each of the points exist simultaneously. On an A-theory, the past has ceased to be real, whereas the future is only potentially real. Only the present is real, and the present is constantly changing.

  15. I realize you are not advancing the argument, just treating the consequences for A-B theories given how we treat immutability. I have been reading q. 7 of De Potentia and an idea is gestating that, if Craig posits temporality in God, he must grant composition in God, as well. I will keep cogitating, but perhaps you would like to ponder the text as well:

    It also dawned on me that David Braine advances an argument for God's existence––and Braine is a neo-Thomist––precisely from the progression of time (A).

  16. Sorry to keep worrying this bone, but the more I ponder it, the more repugnant it becomes to me.

    If God is mutable because He has a proper knowledge of the actual present, then He contains a multitude of discrete thoughts––unique episodes of consciousness––which undermine His metaphysical supremacy in two further ways.

    First, it makes God composite. Thomas teaches over and over again that God knows all things in/by His own essence, but Craig rejects that kind of aseity. Hence, God must know present actualities by some other means, which entails that His knowledge is a composite of His substance and cognitive effects in the temporal order.

    Second, as Thomas argues in DP q. 7, a. 1, co.:

    "…seeing that composition requires difference in the component parts, these different parts require an agent to unite them together: since different things as such are not united. Now every composite has being through the union of its component parts. Therefore every composite depends on a pre-existing agent: and consequently the first being which is God, from whom all things proceed, cannot be composite."

    How does Craig's temporal divnity make God composite? By 'refracting' His otherwise unified, simple self-knowledge over myriad temporal moments. Kant spoke of a synthetic unity of apperception, the unity of consciousness: something that holds our consciousness together long enough to form a thought, follow a syllogism, enjoy a meal, sing a song, etc. Craig seems to require something similar which binds together all of God's discrete knowings of every present SOA. Hence, God would be in potency as a unified knower to some power outside Himself.

    I realize that God's temporality is a major pet project of Craig's so I hardly think my clanging suffices to convince him, but I personally find it disturbing how wide a chasm his "personalist theism" (if that's the name for it) opens for dogmatic theology.


  17. Interestingly, Craig appeals to the possibility that God has a simple (that is, non-composite) intuitive knowledge of all things in one of his podcasts. Dated 2009/12/22, "God's Omniscience and the Kalam Argument" may be listened to on Craig's Reasonable Faith site:

    In any case, I agree with your assessment about the need to better incorporate God's simplicity. Many modern Christian philosophers, Craig included, accept some version of divine simplicity, but not nearly to the extent that Thomas and the Scholastics did. If, however, you listen to the podcast, Craig's answer to the question about reconciling God's omniscience with aspects of the kalam argument is most compatible with the Thomistic view of God.

  18. Thanks for the link. I just read yesterday (in some piece by Craig) that he does posit simple knowledge in God despite holding less than absolute simplicity in Him. I'm not a big podcast guy (a bit of a Luddite, I am), but a friend of mine here is, so maybe he and I can do some "theology on tap" and discuss it.

    Totally out of nowhere, but… GO BULLS!!