Sunday, May 25, 2014

Can An Atemporal Being Be Personal?


On a recent Q & A on Reasonable Faith, a fan of Dr. Craig's ministry asked whether it is logical for a being to be both atemporal and personal. Craig's answer: Yes! Here's how he goes about justifying it and where I think he goes wrong.

First, I have argued many times that a timeless mind is by definition, non-functional. Minds think. That's all they do. Thinking is a verb; it's a process. The absence of time means one cannot think, and if one cannot think, it doesn't have a mind. On Craig's view, god is atemporal only sans the creation, and is temporal with creation. Under this view, the god that exists now is a temporal god, who is "free" to change with the passage of time. So since Craig believes the god who exists since the moment of creation is temporal, I'm going to focus on the atemporal god who is said to have existed prior, whether logically or temporally, to creation.

The questioner quoted an argument from an apparent atheist that said:

A thinking creature has will, reason and make choices based on reasoning. A creature beyond time and space can therefore not make the choice, since he is not bound by time and his reasoning can not work in any particular order.

Craig's response is that god doesn't require discursive reasoning. which is the process of arriving at conclusions from rational thought and decision making. God's omniscience, Craig argues, precludes reasoning discursively because god already knows the answer, regardless of whether god is temporal or atemporal. And this, he says, in no way precludes god's personal nature. 


But let's examine this further.

What does it mean to be personal? A personal being is said to be existing as a self-aware entity, not as an abstraction or an impersonal force. Such a being would have to be conscious and have a will of some sort that would express preferences in seeing certain conditions over others. A personal being would also have to be emotional, otherwise it would be an impersonal. 

Imagine yourself "paused" for an eternity. You're forever frozen in a moment. All of your thoughts, knowledge and memories are locked into how they were at a certain time. I struggle to see how you could be thought of as a personal being if you were in such a state. How could you relate to me, a temporal being, who is dynamically changing from one moment to the next if all of your thoughts and emotions never change? How could an emotion even be atemporal? Is god simultaneously loving, angry, jealous, mad and forgiving? It seems that an atemporal being would have to be.  

One of the reasons a timeless god never made sense to me is the idea that god "chose" to create the universe through his free will. How can god chose without time? Craig says god doesn't need to arrive at conclusions that are inferred from premises because of his omniscience and so god must always have had the knowledge he was going to create our universe, and not a different universe, or no universe. But such a scenario entails that god could not have chosen any other way. Craig disagrees, saying:

God does decide in the sense that His will intends toward one alternative rather than another and does so freely. It is up to God what He does; He could have willed otherwise. This is the strongest sense of libertarian freedom of the will. In God’s case, because He is omniscient, His free decisions are either everlasting or timeless rather than preceded by a period of ignorance and indecision.

How could god have willed otherwise if he knew timelessly that he was going to create our universe? It seems as if Craig is arguing that god thought about whether or not to create a world, as well as all the possible worlds he could create and then freely decided he was going to go with ours, but this all happened without time. That doesn't seem coherent to me. If god knows his conclusions then this doesn't strike me as having free will, especially when those conclusions are not based on logical outcomes inferred from premises but are instead a matter of personal choice and preference. If I know I'm going to choose A, I cannot choose B. I see no room for libertarian free will. To have libertarian free will is to have many possible choices that aren't completely constrained by external factors and having the knowledge of all of your conclusions is about as constraining as you can get.

So, what I have to show is that there are certain properties required by personal beings that cannot be exemplified timelessly. My argument is that personal beings have to be consciously self-aware, have a will, and be able to relate to temporal beings such as humans who dynamically change from one moment to the next. A being that was forever frozen in time with every emotional (or just one emotion) could not do that, and thus is not personal. Furthermore, it makes no logical sense to say a being is free to chose between alternatives if it already knows its decision because if you know your conclusion then no other alternative is possible.

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