Ep17-The Attributes Of God Ch 11 - Time, Timelessness, and Omnitemporality

We discuss various ideas on what time is what it means, starting with Aristotle's thought. We then turn our attention to physics and how time is relative depending on one's inertial frame of reference. We summarize the implications of the concept of time from the general and special theories of relativity. We then turn to what it could mean for God to be timeless and problems with that. We then discuss possible issues of God having a body and if God can still be immediately immanent to all existence and implications from the Contingent Omniscience that we discussed last week.

Topics Discussed:

• Everlasting Time
• Measured Time
• The Theory of Relational Time
• Temporality
• The Theory of Absolute Time
• Simultaneity
• Relative Space-Time
• Defining Timeless Eternity
• Implications of Divine Timelessness
• Problems with Divine Timelessness
• Reasons to Adopt Divine Timelessness
• God’s Omnitemporality

Show Notes:


“Unless we carefully define the different notions of time, space and space-time involved in a discussion of the divine timelessness, we will become confused in massive equivocations and analogical distortions. Though definitions usually are not possible, it is necessary to at least lay the conceptual groundwork for the discussion which will follow.”

Everlasting Time


 “First, events in time are bounded by a beginning and an ending. An event begins and ceases to occur. The experience of temporal things is bounded by a beginning and ending in the sense that they experience only what is actually occurring at the temporal moment in question. Second, there is an ordering of before and after to the events which occur in time. Not all events occur simultaneously but only in successive order.”

Measured Time

“It follows from Aristotle’s view of time that if there are no material objects, there is no time. If there are no material objects in existence, then one cannot determine the measure of time by calculating the length of time it will take to travel at a given speed between two spatial locations. Further, there will not be any regularly recurring events by which we can form a clock or a metric to establish the regular intervals of time marked by different occurrences.”

The Theory of Relational Time

“If Aristotle was correct, we cannot detect measured time when there are no regularly recurring events at equal or proportional intervals. There must be a relation between at least two events or material objects to discern time.”

“epistemological claim—that is, it merely asserts that we cannot know of measurements of time unless we have some metric by which to measure the temporal distance between events. However, the epistemological interpretation does not purport to argue that there really is no such thing as time but merely that we cannot know about it unless there is change. ”

“ ontological—that is, it claims that time really does not exist without change. The ontological claim does not seem to be justified, for the mere fact that we cannot have an idea of what the measurement of time would be unless material objects existed does not entail that there is not time, for a being who could imagine such regularities may be able to at least have a coherent idea of measured time though that being would not have an actual experience of such time. ”

Without Material objects there is still ‘time’ but no way to measure it


“it seems that there might exist a mode of time which is not measured time but which is characterized by successive and distinct mental events. I am not claiming that there are such things as Cartesian minds. I am making the minimal claim that such things seem to be logically possible and that, if they are, it is possible to form an idea of temporality or successive events even though no material objects would have ever existed.”

The Theory of Absolute Time

“In contrast to the relational view of time is the absolute theory of time. The absolute view of timeis more or less the common-sense view of ordinary experience.”

“On the absolute theory of time, times exist whether we experience them or not because time actually exists mind-independently.

“Time would still consist of the timeline of successive instants whether there were changing material objects or not. There can be a period of time in which there was nothing existent, preceded and followed by periods in which physical objects existed.”


“On both the relational and the absolute views of time, there is an absolute temporal “now” or simultaneity of two events.”

“Two events occurring at the same interval are necessarily simultaneous in time on the absolute view of time.”

Relative Space-Time

“Both the special theory of relativity (STR) and the general theory of relativity (GTR) maintain that, for observers in motion relative to one another, there is no absolute simultaneity. This result follows from the notion that nothing travels faster than the speed of light and that the speed of light is the same for all observers regardless of their motion or frame of reference.”

“the special theory of relativity maintains that simultaneity can be established only within a given inertial frame or system, and will not hold valid for observers in systems in motion relative to the given system, or inertial frame of reference.”

…More stuff

Defining Timeless Eternity

eternity according to Boethius: “a timeless present which possesses all at once the whole of temporal time without succession: “Eternity therefore is the complete possession all at once of illimitable life . . . so that which embraces and possesses equally the whole completeness of illimitable life, and which for thee is not some of the future absent nor some of the past elapsed—that is rightly held to be eternal. And it must be in possession of itself and always present to itself, and must have present to itself the infinity of moving times.”

“Boethius thus understood eternity to mean that God is not limited or bounded by any time and that all temporal moments are possessed at once in the divine life. In God’s life, all temporal instants are present all at once rather than successively. There is no before or after. There is no measured time. There is no space-time. There is only the eternal now.”

“First, a timeless being has “life.” God is living, not in the sense that he carries on life processes like temporal beings, but in the limited sense that he wills, knows, acts and responds.

Second, this life is illimitable in the sense that it is not bounded by temporal instants before or after the single and unique moment of the eternal now.

Third, the illimitable life involves “duration in the special sense that it endures throughout an indivisible instant which both encompasses time and is unbounded.” They readily admit that this notion of “duration” is not the usual notion which requires existence through at least two instants of a divisible interval but believe that some notion of duration is preserved. I am skeptical about whether the attribution of duration to any entity which exists at a single instant has any meaning.

Fourth, the divine life is atemporal or such that there is no succession. Everything in the divine experience is experienced all at once as if simultaneously present. All temporal effects of acts by God are the result of acts which are performed all at once in the single nontemporal instant of the eternal now. On the Boethian view, objects in time are not also timeless; rather, they merely appear to a timeless God as if they are present eternally.”

“The best exposition of the notion of eternal timelessness and its relation to temporal succession is found in Anselm’s Harmony of Foreknowledge, The Predestination, and the Grace of God with Free Choice.”

“Anselm is not claiming that all temporal events merely appear to be present to the eternal God in an epistemological sense; rather, Anselm claims that temporal events actually are present in the eternal now in an ontological sense. God observes things to be present in the eternal now in the same sense that we observe events to be present in the temporal now. ”

“Nixon’s death can already be simultaneous with God’s glance in the eternal now though Nixon has not yet died from the perspective of temporal time: “It cannot be that an eternal entity has a vision of Nixon’s death before it occurs; in that case an eternal event would be earlier than a temporal event. Instead, the actual occasion of Nixon’s dying is present to an eternal entity.”

Are both sinners and resurrected sitting next to god at the same time?

Stump and Kretzmann: “There is no privileged observer (or frame of reference) such that with respect to it we can determine whether the two events are really simultaneous; simultaneity is irreducibly relative to observers and their frames of reference, and so is time itself. Consequently, it would be a mistake to think that there is one single uniform mode of existence that can be referred to in specifying “at once” . . . in order to derive a definition of temporal simultaneity.”

Implications of Divine Timelessness

Explain...“Stump and Kretzmann assume that the law of transitivity does not apply to events observed as they actually occur simultaneously in the eternal now, though past events have ceased to occur or future events have not yet occurred in the temporal present.”

Assumes the B-Theory of time

Explain Tensed time vs. Tensless time

“The notion of divine timelessness also entails that God is immutable in the strong sense that neither any being distinct from God nor even God himself can change any of God’s intrinsic properties.”

“All temporal events are frozen in a motionless snapshot before the divine gaze. All of the temporal events brought about by God are contained in the divine act performed at the single nontemporal instant of the divine now.”

“The notion of divine impassibility also follows from divine timelessness because this doctrine is a form of immutability in a narrower sense applied only to God’s feelings. No being distinct from God can influence him to feel any differently than he does in the single instant of the eternal now. God possesses every feeling in the single instant of the eternal now that can possibly characterize the divine life. Nothing we do now in time will make God any happier or influence him to feel pain or suffer in any way.”

“It also follows that God is incorporeal and entirely immaterial. It is a consequence of relativity theory that nothing having space-like properties can fail to occupy a temporal position. Every physical event can be identified in a four-dimensional grid that defines where it occurs in terms of the three spatial dimensions and when it occurs in a fourth temporal dimension.”

Problems with Divine Timelessness

“Mormons cannot adopt the view that God is timeless for the simple and dispositive reason that spirit is essentially material and God the Father is corporeal. Any material being has spatial position and thus is located within space-time. Indeed, God is contemporaneous with all spatial positions, or everywhere present. If our idea of time entails a number of consecutive temporal positions, then even a perfected body must relate to time. Because matter is uncreated, it follows that space-time is an eternal feature of the material universe. Both spirit and matter are described as material states of affairs in Mormon thought, and therefore spirit also occupies space and moves in spatio-temporal dimensions.”

“the biblical God is conceived as a distinctly personal being who can univocally be described in human terms such as caring, judging, forgiving, responding, planning, deciding, deliberating, remembering, anticipating, freely choosing and so on. Yet none of these acts is consistent with the notion of an atemporal God, for all of these actions entail a succession of time, either in the sense of taking time to perform (such as deliberation) or in requiring a temporal viewpoint as a requisite to performance (such as remembering or anticipating).”

“Deciding” essentially involves determining a course of action which was not previously determined.”

Third, “The kenotic view asserts that there was a time when God emptied himself of divinity and became mortal. After his death, Christ again took upon himself a fullness of divinity. The problem for timelessness on the kenotic view is that an atemporal entity itself enters time and becomes temporal.”

“Thomas Senor has developed the following argument which shows that God the Son must be temporal (assuming the kenotic view):

P1) Jesus Christ read in the synagogue (at the start of his ministry) before he carried the cross.

C1) So, temporal predicates apply to Jesus Christ.

P2) Jesus Christ = the Son of God.

C2) So, temporal predicates apply to God the Son.

P3) Temporal predicates don’t apply to timeless beings.

C3) So, God the Son isn’t timeless.”

“There is also a good deal of question as to what it could possibly mean for God to “act timelessly.” …explain why

Eternalists say… “Consider a Cartesian mind which wills to bring about events in space-time though the mind itself is not in space. The mind acts outside of space and yet brings about events in space through interacting with a body. Similarly, an atemporal being can will outside of time and bring about effects in time. God’s act of willing is not temporal, but takes place (tenselessly) in the eternal now; however, the effect is in time.”


“However, this entire argument assumes that the B-theory of time is true. If future events do not yet actually exist, God cannot be causing them to exist (even tenselessly), for if he were causing them to exist, they would in fact exist at their respective times.”

“The divine causation must occur in the temporal frame of reference where it has effects, for no causal influence can be effected in time unless the cause is temporal.”

Robin’s virginity example… “If God cannot do what he could once do, then past, present and future are not equally real and present to him.”

Reasons to Adopt Divine Timelessness

“Several philosophers have recently concluded that the doctrine of timelessness is merely peripheral to Christianity at best and, at worst, constitutes an unwarranted intrusion of Greek thought into Christianity which contaminates and distorts the view that God lives and acts in history. However, theists have accepted the view of timeless eternity as the proper mode of the divine life for various reasons”

1. “Persons apparently have had experiences in which they felt they had transcended all limitations, including limitation of time and of self. They also felt that they approached God through these experiences. ”

“this type of experience is far removed from the prophetic experience of God in the Old and New Testaments. Further, such “classical” mystical experiences are virtually absent in the Mormon tradition.”

God...not only brings about events in time, he also appears in time and discloses information that can, at least in part, be reduced to a written message to humans pertaining to their historical lives in the temporal here and now.”

2. Boethius was motivated to adopt the notion of divine timelessness as a way to resolve the incompatibility of infallible foreknowledge and human free will. However, it is extremely doubtful that divine timelessness avoids the incompatibility problem because it simply creates a new problem of incompatibility of divine immutability and human free will. Further, it seems clear that the problem of divine prophecy cannot be resolved by the notion of divine timelessness.”

3. “Augustine adopted divine timelessness as a way of making sense of the notion of creatio ex nihilo. Augustine believed that the best way to explain what God was doing “before” he created the world was to adopt the relational theory of time and thus there was no time “before” God created material objects. Augustine believed that he was thus relieved of the obligation of responding to the embarrassing question, “why did not God create the world sooner?”

4. “Stump and Kretzmann: “We are painfully aware of difficulties in the concept of eternity. We also think that conceiving of God as the absolutely perfect being entails that his mode of existence must be eternity rather then time. Theists committed to conceiving of God in that way are thereby committed to the struggle to make sense of eternity, atemporal duration, of a timeless being’s presence in time, knowledge of time, and action in time.”

For those who conceive of perfection as a dynamic love constantly interacting with temporal persons, the notion of a purely actual unmoved mover is not religiously acceptable.”

5.  “A final reason given for accepting the doctrine of divine timelessness derives from the relativity of time.”

“The challenges presented by STR and GTR confront Mormonism with some force because God the Father is not merely material, he is corporeal. Any body, even a glorified body, must have spatio-temporal extension and be located within the three dimensions of space and a fourth dimension defined by a temporal coordinate.”

“The sense in which the Father’s body is like a human body must be qualified somewhat. The Father may have a body in some sense distinctively like a human body, but the Father is not a mere body any more than persons are mere bodies.”

“If the Father tried to cross the vast universe, would the travel be limited to the mere speed of light and thus take vast amounts of time to get from here to there like other material objects in the universe? If God wandered too near a black hole, would his body be pulled into its gravitational force which is inescapable by every other type of material body known to us? If the universe collapsed in the opposite of the big bang, the big crunch, would God’s body be smashed by the incredible gravitational forces? I don’t mean to be impious. These questions naturally arise if we take seriously the notion that the Father has a material body located within the space-time universe, for our bodies clearly would be crushed by such forces. ”

Concurring power is a solution…but I thought withdrawing concurring power would just cause something to cease to be organized as any matter. To withdraw such power wouldn’t you have to thus withdraw power from all the forces that make it so. Say you want an apple to have power withdrawn. You would have to in effect turn off the effects of the universe like gravity and energy laws that would definitely affect more than just the apple.

“The notion that God is immediately present to all things in all inertial frames of reference seems to be impossible, however, if there simply is no simultaneous “now” which can be defined which applies to all places in the universe at once. Given Einstein’s version of GTR, there simply is no such thing as a universe which exists “all at once.”

God’s Omnitemporality

“The view that God is all-knowing in the sense (CO)—that he knows all things that are actual through experiencing them as immediately present in time—entails that God knows all things from every perspective, including all inertial frames of reference.

“As Richard Creel observed, what “makes two events simultaneous is not that they are perceived simultaneously but that they occur simultaneously.” The fact that we cannot determine what is actually simultaneous based upon empirical evidence from light-signal or clock transport methods, does not mean that we don’t have a coherent and perfectly acceptable view of simultaneity.”

“Mormon scriptures which assert that God resides at a particular place in the physical universe near a creation known as Kolob. (Abr. 3.9) The motion of the heavenly bodies is relative in the sense that time as measured in one local galaxy or star is different than the measurement of time in another (Abr. 3:3–7). However, there is “a reckoning of the Lord’s time, according to the reckoning of Kolob” (Abr. 3:4). This scripture explicitly states that God is located in time, but that his perspective of time is different relative to our own frame of reference. It seems to anticipate STR more than 50 years before Einstein formulated his own theories of STR and GTR.”

“Craig suggests that the absolute now can be determined by reference to the frame associated with cosmic expansion at the edge of space. The galaxies are expanding away from the moment of the “big bang” at mutual recessional velocities. The universe thus constitutes a natural clock calibrated by the universe as a whole. We cannot know the universe as a whole because some regions are inaccessible, and our own measuring devices conspire against us to prevent any such measurement by themselves expanding in different frames of reference. However, it does not follow that there is no such “cosmic time” for a being who is immediately present in and through all inertial frames of reference at once.”

“It follows from God’s immanence that God is immediately aware of all events that occur in all places in the universe at once. Therefore, his experience includes immediate awareness of all subjective experiences from the particular frames of reference in which persons exist. God also experiences reality as a whole all at once from a perspective which includes the entire physical universe at once. God’s time is thus an overarching frame which includes all particular inertial frames possible and transcends them by viewing events not merely from within an inertial frame of reference, but from outside all limitations imposed by particular horizons or frames of reference.”


“I conclude that God is omnitemporal in the sense that he is not limited by our own temporal dimensions. God is not in our measured time. His being includes within it all temporal frames which exist now—referring to “now” in the sense of the ontological present which defines what is really actual at any given moment of the universe’s existence. This “now” does not possess all at once all past and future events. God has a temporal horizon beyond which it is logically and physically impossible to see. All instants that exist in any temporal frame, God knows, acts upon and is acted upon immediately. I think that this view accurately captures the Mormon view of God’s relation to space-time.”


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