Does a timeless God logically imply a block universe theory of time? The answer is certainly yes! But before I demonstrate that a timeless (unchangeable) God implies a B-theory of time, let us briefly go over some time philosophy.
Time theories are divided into dynamic theories (A-theories) and of course the static theory of time (otherwise known as block universe or block time theory or simply “B-theory”). A dynamic theory of time says that events change in their positions of being past, present and future. A dynamic theory of time holds that there is an objective, moving present, however the “present” is defined as such. Here are four dynamic theories of time:
- A) Presentism—the theory that only the present moment is real and past and future moments do not exist;
- B) Growing block theory—the notion that past and present moments exist but that future events do not yet exist;
- C) Shrinking block theory—the idea that the present and future moments exist but that past events no longer exist;
- D) Moving spotlight theory—the theory that all past, present and future moments exist and there is a moving “now” or “spotlighted area” that is the exclusive present moment.
All these theories assume that there is a moving, changing present moment going on in some form or another. Now there are many objections that can be raised against these theories but for now we will see how they cohere with an immutable God. Note that in contrast to all these dynamic theories of time, you have the static theory of time or block universe theory. The static theory in a nutshell is:
- E) The block universe theory says that all moments past, present and future all exist and that there is no objective moving present or temporal flow.
Temporal flow is purely subjective appearance to temporal minds. What one considers “present” is a matter of perspective of where you are located on the static timeline. From the perspective of people in 3000 BC, the year 2017 AD is their relative future. From the perspective of people in 2017, the year 2017 is the current year. From the perspective of people in the year 2050 AD, the year 2017 is in their past. Also with a block universe theory, moments do not come into existence nor go out of existence, but all exist equally on par with each other.
Now my thesis here as Kathrin Rogers, William lane Craig, and others have pointed out, is that a timeless God implies a Parmenidean block universe theory of time. And it’s simple to demonstrate. If God cannot change, he cannot change in his knowledge or his will, then evidently a timeless Deity can only cohere with a block universe theory. Why? Because with a block universe theory, there is no objective change going on.
Change is only an appearance within a block universe. Because nothing literally comes into existence and nothing goes out of existence, and all the events of history are all existent and no events are being added or subtracted, then there is no change occurring. Also there is no privileged “present moment” moving across the timeline whatsoever. To use a common illustration, the block time theory makes time and all of history look like a frozen ice block with no change and this is perfect for a timeless consciousness to view time without having to change in his knowledge of what’s occurring. The bottom line is that if God doesn’t change, then neither does reality change. And if time looks like a static, frozen ice block of history with no dynamic temporal flow and change then this fits well with a Deity that must comprehend all things in one unified and unchanging state of consciousness.
It should be evident by now that a dynamic theory of time would clash with a timeless God because if temporal flow and change is real, then God must change along with the upcoming temporal flow. Take a classic example of presentism or the thesis that only the present moment is real. Could God remain timeless or unchangeable with a presentist universe? Certainly not. With a presentist theory, moment 1 would come into existence, then God’s knowledge would change and then he would observe that moment 2 now exists, and then moment 3 comes into existence and God’s mind once again changes in recognizing the temporal flow.
Not only would a dynamic theory imply that God’s knowledge changes as the present moment changes, it would also imply that God’s will changes along with the temporal becoming. After all, God has to cause things to exist in order for them to exist. So at first God’s will would cause moment 1 to exist, and then God’s will changes and he no longer causes moment 1 to exist, but now he causes moment 2 to exist, and then God’s will changes and he now causes moment 3 to exist, etc. As one can see, a dynamic theory, if true, would imply that God is a temporal, changing entity.
Even the moving spotlight theory, with it being the closest compromise in reconciling the dynamic and static theories of time, will not work with a timeless Mind. As you will recall, the moving spotlight theory says that all past, present and future events exist (like the block universe model), only it says that there is a highlighted area on the timeline that is the moving present. As the present moment or “spotlighted area” moves across the spacetime block, God’s knowledge and will would have to change along with the moving spotlighted area. At first, God knows that the spotlighted area or present is moment 2, then his knowledge of the matter changes and he now knows that moment 3 is now the spotlighted area on the spacetime block. Hence, even a moving spotlight theory would imply that God is not timeless but temporal.
As one can see, any dynamic theory of time would needlessly divide the life of God into a series of changing stages that relate to a moving present moment. The life of God would simply be divided into a sequence of changing stages that change along with the moving present given a dynamic theory of time. But if God is timeless, then his existence cannot be divided into distinct, changing stages that relate to a moving present in time. A timeless God evidently would have to see all of time and history under one unified perspective, and only a block time theory can supply God with a single unchanging picture of time.
Moreover, even if we were to assume that God views time like we do, and time appears to flow to him like it does for us, if we were to simply grant that God is unchangeable then we would still have to conclude with a block universe theory. For even if we were to assume that God isn’t exactly timeless but rather that God is a meta-temporal mind that cannot undergo any real metaphysical change, we would still have to advocate a B-theory of time.
Supposing that God is a meta-temporal mind that is metaphysically changeless and that all his causal activities on the world have to be accomplished within one, unified state of affairs, then evidently a meta-temporal God, in this case, would again imply a B-theory of time. Such a Deity would be unchangeable in that he would have all of his being present within his meta-time and he would be correspondingly causing our entire temporal world to exist within one single state of affairs.
Now I personally don’t think that God is a meta-temporal mind, but nonetheless this scenario illustrates that an immutable Deity in any form implies a block time theory. So whether God is timeless and beyond all temporal dimension, or God happens to be meta-temporal, a block universe would enable God to be changeless either way. After all, a block time theory holds that all of history is existent without any new events being added, nor any old events being subtracted from the complete timeline, and this coheres well with any type of immutable Deity.
So the traditional Christian belief that God is timeless as held by Aquinas, Anselm and others, implies a block universe theory of time. You can be certain that a timeless God implies a block time theory whether you live in the matrix or not; it’s simple to know once you understand some basic concepts of time and immutability.
Not only does the block universe make sense of God’s transcendence over time, it also makes sense of the traditional Christian view of the sacrifice of the Mass. Many Christians of the traditional type (Catholic and Orthodox) believe that the Mass somehow re-presents Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary and that people participate in the sacrifice made on Calvary by receiving the Eucharist. Consider what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the Mass:
“The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross…” and “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice” (CCC 1366-1367).
Now a B-theory makes sense how the Mass can be a re-presentation of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross because with a block time theory, the past events exist. We can still be said to participate in the sacrifice of the Cross because the event still exists given a block time theory.
But with a traditional dynamic theory of time like presentism, it’s very difficult to account for how the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacrifice on the Cross are one and the same thing. For how can the Mass re-present Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary if that past event no longer exists according to the presentist model? The Mass re-presents something that doesn’t exist? We participate in a sacrifice that isn’t real? How can a presentist theory make sense of the Mass? A block time theory can escape this problem in presentism by pointing out that past events are just as real as the perceived present moment.
We can go into the more plain philosophical and scientific reasons for advocating a B-theory of time later. The B-theory of time, of course, may have some odd implications such as that temporal flow is only an appearance. It may also imply that other strange idea that we find in Parmenides, namely, that change is only an appearance. But maybe we shouldn’t find these implications to be too strange since nature is known to produce mere appearances of things. The sun appears to revolve around the earth but it doesn’t; it’s rather the earth that revolves around the sun. The earth may also appear to be flat, but of course it’s.