God Logically Implies A Block Universe Theory Of Time — Guest Post by the Cranky Professor

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.


  1. Gary

    So how does free choice square with B-theory?

  2. tom

    Despite protestations, B-theory is incompatible with Free Will: the future exists and there is nothing you can do to change it. In that sense, the future and the past are the same.

    Also, if you look at them, the Laws of Physics are time-symmetrical. Given “initial conditions” at any time, the future and the past are equally well predicted. Try it!

    However, there is a problem. While Classical Physics is compatible with a block-universe, and General Relativity demands it, we know we don’t live in one, a fact that has been experimentally demonstrated. We can’t live in a block-universe according to the Before-Before experiment (Gisin, Suarez), and other results. Of particular importance are the Free Will Theorems of Kochen and Conway.

    Actually, there is a potential way to recover the block-universe: SUPERDETERMINISM. Under Superdeterminism, you don’t even have the freedom to set up experiments as you wish, and science becomes a conspiracy theory.

    So, back to Reality. We don’t inhabit a block-universe, but according to realist quantum mechanics, we do inhabit a block of some kind, which for want of a better term, is a block-multiverse. Only in such a multiverse can we have freedom, and a block.

  3. c matt

    Is there any reason B-theory could “co-exist” with the spotlight theory – that is, block time exists, but individuals inside time experience it as spotlight (in which case, progression of time is an illusion in a sense). Is it really an illusion, or simply how you experience it – viewing a circle (a 2D object) in 1D from its side, it would appear to be line, which in some sense is an “illusion”, but from the 1D perspective it is a line. A true 1D line, and a 1D circle from the side are indistinguishable from the 1D perspective and equal from that perspective.

  4. c matt

    Why is block time necessarily incompatible with free will? Do you define free will as the ability to make a choice – that is, for action A and not A, you are able to choose either? The existence of the future in block theory simply means you have exercised a choice, not determined which choice you made.

  5. You are giving time too much of an existence. This is a side effect of being human- we are incarnate and find ourselves highly concerned with moving things.

    God is ever-present and, to him, nothing moves.

    He also knows all things, which I happen to think is a subset of what people generally think of as all things. Much like I think people have been up to naughty things with time and space- wittingly or unwittingly trying to tie God down- creating a sort of metaphysical prison in which God must live.

  6. Pickstocks After Writing is good. More concerned with space, if I remember correctly, but the point is the same- God rules creation, not the other way round. Since various aspects of creation form rather hard rules for us, we tend to unthinkingly assume they form similar rules for God.

  7. Akinchana Dasa

    “If God cannot change, he cannot change in his knowledge or his will,…..” (and other similar statements throughout the article)

    To me it seems as though the words ‘God’ and ‘cannot’ should not occur in the same sentence, as they are contradictory. By definition, God should be able to do anything, otherwise He would not be God. Finite, human logic cannot be a constraint on an infinitely potent being.

  8. As was pointed out by Gary, the big objection to a block universe (timewise) is that it seems to deny Free Will. I haven’t read Craig’s book, referenced by Briggs, but I gather it espouses Molinism. Now the Molinist view has it that God has Middle Knowledge, knowledge of all possible (i.e. logically possible) futures. However, even if God does have this knowledge of all possible futures, if only future exists, there are no choices and no Free Will. The only way I see out of this is to bring in the quantum Many Worlds theory. I’ve discussed this in a blog post:

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    Free Will and God’s Providence: Part IV–The Many Worlds/Many Minds of Quantum Mechanics

  9. John Q Public

    Please read William Lane Craig.

  10. I see the embed didn’t work. Here’s a link to a talk.
    It’s called “Visual Heresy: Imaging God the Father in the History of Art”
    And it’s good, despite this guy being wacky in other areas.

  11. Sander van der Wal

    I don’t understand why in a block universe there is no *objective* moving present. If a thing is travellimg along its world line, one would think that its time coordinate is the things present.

    A world line is after all a things path through spacetime, and for a world line to be a things path the thing has to be on world line at any time for all the time. Further, we see things bump into each other, so for that to happen there should be two world lines touching each other, and two things being on that point at the same time.

    If time is subjective, i.e. just there for me, how can I bump into somebody else?

  12. BB

    I have also always thought that the block universe and spotlight theory are (or can be) equivalent: the spot light theory represents the observations in a particular frame of reference; the block universe is a reference frame independent way of expressing the same information. It is possible to have a bijective mapping from any observation from one reference frame to another, and from any reference frame to the block universe viewpoint and vice-versa. In that sense, they are just two different ways of saying the same thing.

    With regards to free will, I have always defined free will as meaning that it is impossible to predict the actions from knowledge of a moment in time just before those actions (and relative time differences are not meaningless in a block universe formulation). If, given complete knowledge of the universe at time t (measured in whatever reference frame and units we choose), it is impossible into predict in principle that Mr Briggs will choose to do A or B at time t1 > t, then Mr Briggs has free will. If it is possible to predict, then Mr Briggs actions are determined and he lacks free will in this respect.

    In a block universe view, God is sitting outside the universe, and knows what happened at time t and what happened at time t1. He thus knows that Mr Briggs choose to do A. But this doesn’t contradict free will, because He doesn’t know this through prediction but by other means (namely looking at the universe as a whole).

    Free will means that it is impossible to know through prediction the actions of an individual at a future time given complete knowledge of that individual and his environment at a present time. It doesn’t mean that it is impossible to know the events of the future time through any means. Thus there is no contradiction between God knowing the future and free will.

  13. Ken

    A critic of Craig’s views makes this observation:

    “… according to Craig, at some hypothetical point A, God knew all future possibilities and then at some point B, He knew all future-tense truths concerning what we would freely choose to do in the future, and then finally at Point C, He created the world. So it follows from this that his knowledge of what we will freely choose to do, does not force us to do it, fine, I’ll give him this, BUT He would also have to know beforehand all HE would do, for our responses often are responses to His actions! Even if all this knowledge is before the creation of the earth, it still has to be known in logical sequence, since future events are influence or caused by former events, and our future choices are contingent upon what God does beforehand.”

    Another critic cites Craig’s thesis that one need not necessarily do whatever God predicts, one might exercise free will and do something different — that’s possible (apparently) per Craig. Apparently, that essentially doesn’t occur.

    –> If God sees all possibilities any one of us does, and those possibilities AND the actual outcome that will transpire are ALL derivative from God’s initiation (He was, after all “first mover”) — He would know, like Santa Claus, who’s going to be naughty & nice, but unlike Santa He knows in advance not after the fact … how is anyone really culpable for anything … AND … how just is such a God who punishes [eternally] those who are held culpable for ‘bad’ actions given He knew what was going to happen before the whole thing was set in motion?

    If one argues such things as Craig, etc., AND argues for free will, one certain solution would be for God to reveal Him-/Her-/It-self to everybody with some regularity. None of this ‘believe on faith’ stuff. Real revelation. THEN humans, with such regular reminders to settle the debate of existence & the nature of existence would, no doubt, behave accordingly. If people truly knew there was a God holding them to account, with zero doubt or uncertainty, think how much better we as a species would treat each other.

    But God doesn’t do this. He keeps His existence concealed and, if one believes the cryptic ancient & garbled hints, presents conflicting perspectives that induce uncertainty and debate into his nature, what’s expected, etc. The diversity of just “Christian” doctrines illustrate this fact.

    Craig, in other words, portrays a God that exhibits the sort of parent that turns the kids loose with matches & access to the family guns & so forth, then sits idly by after predicting some of those kids will burn and shoot themselves/each other, or others, burn down some houses, and so forth…then punishes the kids for the misbehavior later … instead of having intervened up front. We are pretty much unanimous that that kind of parenting would be irresponsible, even sadistic–if we punished the kids for such predictable mayhem enabled by our neglectful parenting. But that kind of sadism is exactly what we attribute to God, who we then claim is so wonderfully loving … at least via some of these convoluted “proofs” and philosophical musings … which is either evidence God is truly a sadist, or, the “proofs” & musings are flawed, or both. Or, maybe, the fact that such contortions of logic are needed to accommodate God per all the various benchmarks that cannot be retracted at this point perhaps suggests that it is God that doesn’t really exist — whole thing is a myth breaking down under the weight of the various inconsistencies locked in over some two millennia we slowly begin to realize are simply unsupportable without inventing ludicrously complicated notions to hold it all together (like the child that begins to grasp that Santa couldn’t possibly fly thru air and survive to deliver presents to all the good little girls & boys in one night, fit thru a chimney with bags of toys also fitting…with magic pixie dust or whatever…..).

  14. Kyle

    Why has no one commented on the fact that the article ends abruptly as if it wasn’t copied correctly?

  15. JohnK


    The Cranky Professor writes: “the traditional Christian belief that God is timeless as held by Aquinas, Anselm and others.”

    This remark highlights just how “un-Christian” is “the traditional Christian belief that God is timeless.”

    You know: that whole “Christ” thing. You know, that guy referenced in Jn 8:58? “Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (This is Jesus taking the name of God, I AM, which God had taught to Moses, and saying that this name, I AM, refers to Jesus Himself). That guy who in Jn 10:30 said, “The Father and I are one.” That guy?

    That same guy who still, in His Resurrected body, can show Thomas the holes in his hands and side? Who can eat fish? Who is not a ghost? Who DIED? Who is by no means, not by any stretch of the imagination, “immutable”?

    Who, in other words, that guy who IS God, who is literally “I AM” – because that is how He called Himself, but who is NOT timeless, and in His Resurrected body, still operates in time, and indeed bears the marks and wounds and suffering of time upon him?

    How ironic that The Cranky Professor can talk – quite accurately – about a “Christian” belief in a timeless God that is completely dissociated from the very Christ who is the linchpin of the entire Christian faith.

    I am far from the first to notice how absurd, how shameful, how impossible it is for any Greek to even think about the actual reality of the Christ: “Crucified is the Son of God; not shameful, because it is shameful. And dead is the Son of God; it is trustworthy because it is absurd. And He is raised from the tomb; it is certain, because it is impossible.” [Tertullian, De carne Christi 5, 25-29.]

    What does this prove? It proves that “Aquinas, Anselm, and others” could never quite take the mystery of Christ Himself seriously. It proves that their “Christian” theology is radically unserious. For they allowed their root predilections to overrule the basic fact that Christ Himself, by His own words and His deeds, is BOTH “I AM” and not timeless, NOT immutable at all. He is I AM, by His own testimony, and He DIED. Remember that part? How much more “mutable” can you get?

    I am aware that I am speaking into the wind. I am aware that the dedicated Thomist is unmoved by the absurdity of calling an inquiry “Christian” that cannot, by its fundamental principles, take the mystery of the actual Jesus Christ completely seriously; which must talk around that mystery, make it some kind of special case, so that “God” can remain timeless – because somehow the idea that “God is immutable” or “God is timeless” is much more fundamental to the “Christian” faith than the actual Reality of Jesus Christ.

    This is not to impugn anything but the reasoning of great saints such as Thomas and Anselm. Theologians, even saints, can and do make mistakes. Very well, stand on their shoulders and find a theology that can go on and go further from them, but that doesn’t make those particular mistakes, that takes the “Christian” in “Christian faith” with greater methodological seriousness than heretofore seen, and that thence can ask better questions of the Catholic Faith – that Faith which is professes in its sacraments that no other than Jesus is Lord; He, the Christ, is Lord, yesterday, and today, not some more “satisfying” Greek timeless immutable something-or-other.

    yesterday and today
    the beginning and the end
    Alpha and Omega
    all time belongs to him
    and all the ages

  16. DG

    LoL! Temporal flow and change is only an appearance! All cheers to Parmenides, McTaggart and Einstein!

  17. Joy

    Yet he appeared to tell you in person what he is in as far as he wanted to be revealed and understood! Not for intellectual edification.

    To save the world from error and sin and that ‘you might know’ that there is forgiveness and life everlasting. To offer hope, which is forgotten to dogmatists. which was not known before him. He came for emotional reasons, sorry lads,
    He said,

    “Man’s heart has become hard”.

    “In the beginning was the word”
    A beginning, no mystery, there.
    “without him nothing came to be that came to be”,
    If you deny the past you deny God through Jesus Christ.

    “And The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

    “BEFORE Abraham WAS, I Am.”

    (not just a secretarial slip.)
    So he is eternal, omnipresent and omnipotent,
    Eternal is captured within his statement “Before…I AM”.

    “Alpha and Omega.”

    I Am The Way the Truth and The Life.” That’s what he is!
    “God IS love…”
    ..and nobody thought the world was flat. Only sloppy moderns think that.

  18. Plantagenet

    Would not block theory imply that beings were brought into existence who were already doomed? Would God allow this?

  19. Oldavid

    Here we have the anthropocentric notion that God can be perceived and defined by navel-gazing, which has resulted in the popularised, but ridiculous, Einsteinean insinuation that time is some “stuff” that can be bent, twisted, stretched, shrunk, sliced up, etc.

    I propose, ladies and gentlemen, that time is only (as in nothing but) the succession of events. It is only perceived, and perceivable, as a succession of events and it is only measured and defined by us that are stuck in it by comparing some reasonably regular succession of events (like the rotation of the Earth, the swing of a pendulum, the vibration of a Caesium atom, or any other arbitrarily chosen and defined repetitive event) to other successions of events that are not necessarily so regular.

    This has already been alluded by great thinkers of old trying to make the distinction between temporal and eternal. Temporal is where there is a succession of events and eternal (as in no beginning and no end) is timeless because there is no succession of events… everything is “present”. I think it was Tom Aquin. that said that God “lives in” an eternal “now”…. i.e. no before, no after; everything just IS.

    Now, I think that Tom’s discussion about free will and predestination is one of the things where he comes unstuck by trying to reconcile the prevalent (Augustinian) implications of predestination with the implications of free will. His cogitations are convoluted and unconvincing. Luis Molina made a much better fist of it.

    Anyhow, human free will is only possible in the temporal (a before and after) where the subject can choose between possible (not certain) outcomes.

    The above scoffings that implicitly demand that the God-Man is entirely deterministic ignore the fact that He was a real Man with real human sensibilities.

  20. Mactoul

    Is the concept of “moments” existing or not existing, be the moments be present, past or future, even a sensible concept?

    Surely what exist are things. And things exist in time. But time or moments can’t be sensibly be said to exist, independent of things.

    And it certainly seems that the whole idea of block universe, far from being required by Thomism, makes total nonsense of it. The very idea of immutable God is reached by considering how things change in time. No change in time, no immutable God. Thus, it is incoherent to appeal to immutable God to disprove change,

  21. DAV

    Is the concept of “moments” existing or not existing, be the moments be present, past or future, even a sensible concept?

    We measure time using events. Does lacking a means of measure mean time wouldn’t exist or would it merely mean it is immeasurable? Is time the measurements or is it independent of measurement?

    Likewise, would distance exist without a way to measure it?

  22. Sander van der Wal


    To measure time, you need a thing that changes state while time is passing. Someyhing very simple such as a pile of sand that flows through some small funnel will work.

    Cannot imagine a pile of sand creating time, though.

  23. What are you imagining when you imagine time?

    My guess is space. The way people talk about past, present, and future- it seems to me they talk about them as places.

    France exists. What do you mean, France doesn’t exist? I was there once you know!
    This is usually the structure of an argument for some sort of meaningful existence of the past, especially if there are a few alcoholic beverages and a movie about time travel involved.

  24. Oldavid

    The tricky bit.
    The old thinkers had an advantage over us contemporaries because they recognised (and assumed) their smallness. They could accept that there is a great, universal, absolute reality of which the temporal is only a manifestation of a bit of it that must be trudged through because that’s the very nature and definition of temporal. One event after another… a before and an after. Start from the infinite and extract from it the finite.

    We are tempted, though, to start from the finite and attempt to extrapolate it to the infinite… to take bits of “time” and expand them into bigger and bigger bits of time to an imaginary infinity, or regress “bits of time” to an imaginary nothing.

    However, events are not separated by some “stuff” called time. Time is only the fact that events are not coincident or omnipresent in the realm of temporal. We residents in the temporal only perceive time as consecutive events, and we measure it as a comparison of one sequence of events to another.

    Very similarly, “space” is nothing but a separation of points. Points are not separated by some “stuff” called space but that “space” is the fact that points are not coincident. Space is only perceived by us that’s in it where one point is not coincident with another, and can only be measured by comparing a separation of points with other separations of points.

    Omnipresence is the ultimate, absolute, reality where there is no inflicted sequence of events or separation of points.

  25. grodrigues

    This is one long post defending one thesis, a thesis I think is flat out false, but I will say only a couple of things in my defense, which is already more than I ought to.

    First, is the very simple fact that virtually every Christian theologian in the classical tradition (say Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Athanasius, just to stick to some of the prominent A’s) is committed to: (1) God is a-temporal and therefore, impassible (2) The parmenidean thesis that change (or time) is not real as allegedly implied by the static block view of the universe is false (*). My problem is that those same authors wrote *extensively* on the subject, and yet there does not seem to be any awareness of what they actually defended, which I find baffling.

    (*) To be perfectly clear, the problem is not so much the static block universe, but more some of its alleged entailments — namely that change, and time as the measure of change, is not real.

    As far as I can tell (and if I am wrong, please someone correct me), the single argument presented in the defense of the thesis is:

    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.

    But this is not a valid argument, but at best an enthymeme. There is some underlying assumption that the author has not made clear, that allows him to infer from the (to me, true) premise “God cannot change, he cannot change in his knowledge or his will” to the (to me, false) conclusion that time is not real.

  26. grodrigues

    I should have added that the classical tradition is definitely not dead. For one example, David Braine (recently deceased) published in 1988 “The Reality of Time and the Existence of God”, which defends at length (1) and (2). Good luck in getting your hands on the book, though. Also good luck in fully grasping it — it is really tough going, but then again, I am hardly a good measuring stick.

    And now, exeunt.

  27. DG

    Thanks Kyle, for the observation. The article did end a bit abruptly without being copied exactly right at the end but that’s alright.

    @Grodrigues: The contention here is not that time doesn’t exist per se but rather that time or what call “time” is simply a changeless block of history. Aquinas and other Medievals, of course, tried to resolve the problem of how can God remain timeless if there is a changing world before Him by saying that God is unrelated to the world or that God is not effected by the change in the world. But this solution does not work because if God is omniscient, or even simply if he is the Creator of the universe, then He is going to recognize the changes that occur in the world. If a presentist theory, for instance is true, then how is God as this involved Creator, not going to recognize that He is currently causing moment one to exist then He now knows He’s no longer causing that moment to exist but is now causing moment two to exist? Because a dynamic theory of time seems to imply that God is temporal and changing, this is one of the reasons why some contemporary philosophers that advocate an A-theory of time also suggest that God is temporal like William Lane Craig. And there are perhaps some historic philosophers as well like William of Ockham and Isaac Newton that would make the same argument in support of the idea of a temporal God.
    At any rate, if God is timeless or even simply changeless, then that is going to entail that God has his entire life all together in completion without any addition or subtraction of his activities going on. And a block universe allows God to freely choose to create, to create a particular cosmos, and to accomplish all the events of time within one, unified state of affairs without this process needlessly being divided into a sequence of stages happening one after another as they would if an A-theory of time were true.

    And while OldDavid is correct in saying that no one can fully comprehend the timelessness of God, a timeless God, being nonetheless changeless, does seem to imply a B-theory of time. And as far as I am concerned, the timelessness of God is dependent on whether the B-theory of time is correct or not. The B-theory of time may imply that change is only an appearance like in Parmenides, but so what? Plenty of things are only an appearance like the appearance of the sun revolving around the earth and yet we know that it’s rather the earth that revolves around the sun. Besides, there are problems with the idea of an objective temporal flow like how would one account for the speed of time or the extension of the present moment?

  28. grodrigues


    “The contention here is not that time doesn’t exist per se but rather that time or what call “time” is simply a changeless block of history.”

    I don’t think this is what you meant to say.

    “Aquinas and other Medievals, of course, tried to resolve the problem of how can God remain timeless if there is a changing world before Him by saying that God is unrelated to the world or that God is not effected by the change in the world. But this solution does not work because if God is omniscient, or even simply if he is the Creator of the universe, then He is going to recognize the changes that occur in the world.”

    There is simply no inconsistency in God being a-temporal and impassible, and the existence of temporal creatures; none at all. They are in different modes of being. The fact that at t_0, I am in state s_0 and at the subsequent time t_1 I am in state s_1 (I changed), and that God knows these two facts and that I changed, implies nothing of the sort you take it to imply. If there is such an implication, there is no argument in sight to back it up.

    And a-temporality is not an ad-hoc addition that the Scholastics thought would be a nice addition to Christian theology, but rather a *direct* entailment of virtually all the classical arguments for His existence (including the First Way, whose starting point is… the recognition that change is objective and real) and the doctrine of divine simplicity, an absolutely central doctrine to orthodox Christianity.

    This is pure speculation on my part, but I would guess that you think so because you are thinking of God as observing the unfolding of events, or that God knows particular, contingent facts (e.g. at time t_0 I did X) in the same way we know them, and that as we must change in order to know (because we know by observation which implies interaction and thus change), so too He must change. But this is all denied by the classical tradition, and by St. Thomas in particular (which is whom I know best).

    “At any rate, if God is timeless or even simply changeless, then that is going to entail that God has his entire life all together in completion without any addition or subtraction of his activities going on.”

    Right, this is pretty much how Boethius defines God’s eternity in his Consolation, a definition St. Thomas repeats. I have no beef with it. My beef is that this in no way implies a static, Parmenedean block universe — and to repeat myself, the problem is not in the block universe per se (because it admits of varying interpretations), but in (some of) its alleged entailments, namely, no objective change and no real, objective time, as time is the measure of change.

  29. grodrigues


    One other thing:

    “The B-theory of time may imply that change is only an appearance like in Parmenides, but so what?”

    You are talking to an Aristotelean-Thomist. If you need to ask “so what?”, I am sorry for the condescension, but you should read a book.

  30. Oldavid

    DG, I think you misread or misinterpreted what I was trying to say.

    I am contending that time is not some “stuff” or “thing” that has existence as moments, or blocks, or strings, or anything else. It is no more or less than events separated in sequence… a particular manifestation or presentation of the ultimate, or absolute, omnipresence “where” everything just IS as in the “mind” of God… there is no “has happened” or “will happen”… everything is eternally “happening”.

    This sequence or succession of events is not so that God can decide what to do next; it is purely so that we, for whom events are made successive, can freely choose what we will do according to our circumstance. What we can freely choose in our temporal “before and after” are eternally “happening” in the a-temporal eternity. It’s hard to conceptualise and even harder to describe.

    That’s why I suggested that we should start with the eternal and draw the temporal out of it rather than start with the temporal and try to extend it to the eternal.

    I guess you could say that I am disagreeing with both the dynamic and block hypotheses of the nature of time.

  31. John

    I’ve been around a long time and when I was younger I also was so sure I had this figured out. I also believed in B Time.
    I realized, first that not I, Aquinas, or anyone else has any right to tell God what He is. I wonder how God likes these bold proclamations we make?

    But understand this. It seems to me a huge mistake to ascribe some of God’s attributes as resulting from mechanisms. Such as You claim a block universe “Enables God” to be changeless. You have know that’s nonsense when you reexamine this. Nothing enables God.
    God does not know the future because he is in a block universe. He simply is omniscient. He doesn’t need a vehicle to give him his attributes.
    Understand I’m not saying what the answer is because I don’t think that’s our prerogative. But free will, and the incarnation can appear pathologically incoherent in a block. And the mass, well that’s just a terrible argument.

  32. Oldavid

    No, John. I, for one, is not trying to “tell God” or “enable Him”. It’s just a matter of trying to comprehend the distinction or difference between the temporal (the succession of events) and the eternal (no before and after).

  33. Jonathan R

    Under B theory, god (I use lowercase g because this is a weak being and not the Christian God) is just as much bound to time as anyone else. Under B theory, time itself is the true God. A theory is the only theory that works for Christianity. And it still allows for determinism, for those who hold to a reformed view and can’t tolerate free will. It’s just that God Himself is the determiner under A theory, rather than the universe under B theory.

  34. Jonathan R,

    Also, just as a correction: WLC explicitly affirms the A theory.

  35. Oldavid

    So, time is only acceptable as some kind of Einsteinian stuff that can be bent, twisted, stretched, shrunk, or otherwise mangled?

    I am contending (along with many astute thinkers from centuries gone by) that time is not any kind of stuff, but only the succession of events recognised by us in it as “before” and “after” and it can only be quantified or measured by comparing some convenient, arbitrarily chosen, reasonably regular succession of events (such as the rotation of the Earth) to other successions of events.

    It’s not stuff and it cant do anything.

  36. Jef Son

    As a Molinist, I agree with the Block Time Universe theory. If God sees all of spacetime as a one whole block, then, for Him to actualise a feasible Universe without compromising our LFW (libertarian freewill), He has to use his Middle Knowledge (scientia media) to survey all possible choices that a feasible individual would do in a given feasible situation. The goal of God is to minimise a free agent error (depravity) in disusing their LFW, which would be allowed in its maximal expression. So, yes, I affirm LFW in its maximal expression but the overall error in its disuse was minimised by God by only allowing what would be optimal for His overall plan for creating the Universe. Everything was predetermined including the choices that we would do. Our choices are our own but only allowed by God.

  37. DG

    Well thank you Jef Son for the feedback! Not too many B-theorists here.

    While Molinism doesn’t strictly imply a B-time model like divine changelessness would, but it’s certainly compatible with it.

    Molinism holds that God has a real knowledge of the free choices of created persons independently of their existence; it essentially holds that God has a pre-creation knowledge (or middle knowledge) of the free willed decisions of individuals. Now the apparent problem with Molinism is the so-called “grounding objection” – how it is possible for God to know with certainty how a creature will act freely independently or prior to the creature’s existence? I don’t find that objection conclusive, but even assuming if it were correct, and God can only know what a person would freely do by creating that person, the B-theory of time would still secure God’s knowledge of the future just fine. So part of the advantage in favoring an eternalist theory of time is to uphold God’s certain knowledge of the free choices of his rational creatures.

    I will also add that Molina’s basic idea that God has a pre-creation knowledge of free choices has been widely supported by other Christian thinkers in the past and that notion wasn’t an original idea of his. Eramus, Scotus, Ockham as well as many of the early church Fathers like Justin Martyr, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa would all agree that God can know future free willed decisions independently of the person’s existence. And of course none of these people held a B-theory of time where future moments were clearly believed to exist. All what Molina did was develop that basic notion into a more thorough, theological description of divine providence and how God can know what all can happen in all these possible worlds or creation scenarios that God can choose from as such. There’s also some passages in the Bible like Matthew 11, that seem to support the idea that God has a knowledge of the all possible choices a person would make in about any given situation.

  38. Bobcat

    Thanks Jef Son for the Pingback and good article!

  39. Shaun Schofield

    he block universe makes some sense from God’s point of view since he must know all future actions and his response. So from His point of view the DVD is already printed and we are watching it play only able to move forward. The past present and future are already written. God has already reacted in his planning, to what he knows we will do. In that sense he cannot change the DVD since it is the best possible DVD he could produce created in reaction to a fallen world. They only problem being his creation of Satan, the fall etc were all part of the plan to produce the best result possible. However, we look at, it does raise the question, why God would create a man knowing the vast majority would go to hell for eternal damnation. As I ask any evangelical Christain if you knew were going to have three children and the last would go to hell would you still have him/her? My answer would be no, how could I as a loving father, but god is meant to be a more loving father than me. In essence free will may, exist in some sense, but must be constrained by the overall plan, so not really free. Another question to ask why Lucifer become Satan, either his spirit was created such that it was inevitable or the his working environment caused it or a combination of both. God knew this would happen so he could have altered the factors that led to his fall, but did not. Satan must have been part of his overall plan. Or as Faust said “I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.” ? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, First Part. In fact so must have been everything. Two escapes may be possible God was originally unconscious as Jung suggested and changed as he developed a relationship with man and changed his understanding of them after the story of Job. A block universe would no longer be required, being unconscious to start with the future was not set and free will existed. Or perhaps the multiverses do exist and as such in at least in one of them we are saved and at the end of time all are different selves are pulled together producing a sort of universalism. We shed off the lives we knew were wrong enabling us to be part of heaven. The idea came to me while watching the man in high castle where his films represented each block universe, with different outcomes. Each of these universes, taking in account the new discoveries of quantum physics, could be holograms, each be run by God. Each one created by his eternal love to make sure all man, his beloved creation would find salvation. This makes far more sense to me than families being split and mothers/fathers knowing their children were roasting in hell or the other way round, but still being able to be happy in heaven (this made no sense). To summarise free will does exist across a multitude of block universes that take into account are free will decisions, until one permutation leads us back to the Father. Calvin will be pleased in all universes, you will be glad to hear. This idea also weirdly limits God in each block universe, but in the totality of all universes his will is not frustrated, a bit like the Russel’s paradox set problem!!!

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