Science in Christian Perspective


Letter to the Editor

 

Response to Adam Drozdek

Karl M. Busen, ASA Member
505 Kingston Terrace
Deerfield, IL 60015

From: PSCF 50 (March 1998): 75-77.

In his Communication "Time and Eternity" (PSCF 49 [September 1997]: 192˝5), Adam Drozdek refers to my citation of Nelson Pike's findings as an example for the incompatibility of an eternal with a personal God.1 I am actually more concerned with Paul Davies' denial of a personal God.2 There he argues that because space and time are inseparably intertwined, a God who is in time is then tied to space thus "in some sense caught up in the operation of the physical universe Clearly, God cannot be omnipotent nor can he be considered the creator of the universe, if he did not create Time."3 He concludes that God is timeless and cannot be personal.4 Implicit in his discourse are two assumptions: (1) that there is only the time of the physical universe and (2) that eternity has no time.

Drozdek notes that there seems to be "at least a terminological dissonance." He refers to my wording of a "timeless" eternity.5

 Taken out of context this concept seems to be disputable indeed. But I also said the following: "First we suggest that eternity, as comprehended by the ancient philosophers is "timeless" in the sense of not comprising Time 2 Because the equation of dynamics contain time as devoid of modes, the `timelessness' of eternity may be pictured alternatively as the idea of Time 1."6 I then entered "timeless" in the call-out on page 45 in the above context where the quotation marks indicate that the word here takes on a special meaning.

Drozdek raises the question: "Can Time 1 be considered timeless, or can any time, for that matter be timeless?" Of course not! Time 1 has no modes but it can be measured by a clock. It appears as a variable, for example, in the equation x=vt as "objective time," as von Weizsöcker calls it.7 The words physical or real do not apply here. This could imply modes. Even instantiation does not change its nature: my digital watch tells me it is 11:30 a.m. as my plane departs. A few seconds later I fall soundly asleep. The flight attendant wakes me up at 1:00 p.m. upon arrival. I know that the average speed of the plane was 500 mph. That means my trip covered 750 miles. What do I have here? Just numbers! They may take on a special meaning when I compare them with the time I need to walk 3.5 miles in my favorite park. But then I am already experiencing Time 2. (See also my Note 20 as another example for the nature of Time 1 and Time 2).

Can Time 1 be considered at best an image of timeless eternity? The answer is "No!" According to an analysis by Proclus (410˝85) Plato already implied the idea of two times, one of them belonging to eternity:

As we have often remarked, things have a twofold nature: the one invisible the other one visible. If this is so, then time is also two fold. There is a time for heaven and one for earth.8

Park quotes two other thinkers who elaborate on time. Parmenides asserted that the "idea of the world includes all its history: present, past, and future taken at once." Heraclitus said that the world is process, and we are immersed in it. Later commentators saw the opposing views of the two. One was thinking in terms of Time 1, the other one in terms of Time 2.9 According to Plato, Forms or Ideas are transcendental realities which can serve as an intelligible model or blueprint of the sensible world.10 Proclus' analysis is an example for Plato's teaching. Time 1 is the Idea and Time 2 is part of the sensible world, the model.

I understand Drozdek's concern for endowing the physicist's tenseless time with a metaphysical dimension. In the equation x=vt, the velocity is assumed to stay constant. In the physical world, friction slows the motion down unless an acting force is applied for compensation. Yet, this equationˇbesides a host of othersˇis useful to obtain, under idealized conditions, numbers which describe events occurring in the world of Time 2. "The physical world is such that it can be described by the equations of dynamics."11

If Time 1 in my examples were understood as an analogy for the time which Tillich intimates as a quality belonging to God's eternity,12 one could tentatively endow it with transcendental meaning. I did this and justified it in my paper by quoting Tillich as follows:

[Any concrete] assertion about God must be symbolic, for a concrete assertion is one which uses a segment of our finite experience in order to say something about him. It transcends the content of this segment, although it includes it. [But] can a segment of finite reality become the basis for an assertion about which is infinite? The answer is that it can, because that which is infinite is Being itself, and because everything participates in Being itself.13

Tillich also intimates Time 1 in one of his essays:

every moment of time reaches into the eternal. It is the eternal that stops the flux of time for us. It is the eternal "now" which provides for us a temporal "now." Not everybody, and nobody all the time, is aware of this "eternal now" in the temporal "now." But sometimes it breaks powerfully into consciousness and gives us the certainty of the eternal, of a dimension of time which cuts into time and gives us our time.14

Drozdek relates Cantor's number theory to the realm of time, which he sees as a tripartite division of realityˇfinite, infinite, and suprainfinite. He continues: "It seems, however, that eternity can be understood in three ways: (1) time without end, (2) truths valid always and everywhere, and (3) atemporal existence." A one-to-one correspondence would match the following elements: the finite, time without end; the infinite, truths valid always and everywhere; and the suprainfinite, atemporal existence. Let El, E2, and E3 be the eternities for the three different time concepts. Time without end means time from infinite past to infinite future. E1 would be a "bad eternity" because according to Tillich eternity is neither timelessness nor the endlessness of time.15 Nietzsche and Marx are using this time concept for their philosophies. Any finite being would then, following Nietzsche, become subject to the doctrine of eternal reoccurrence, that is, of the unconditional and infinitely repeated circular course of all things. Endless time constitutes also the basis for Marx's dialectical materialism. Both philosophies are untenable because Augustine, and later Einstein, taught that time began when the universe came into being. "Everywhere" means in every place or part and belongs thus to the physical universe where Time 2 is reigning. There are several types of cosmological models which can be classified by their spacial and temporal infinities and by Einstein's cosmological constant. Four of them depict the past as finite. They fit the Big Bang theory which can be thought of as the act of a Creator. Their eternity, E2, does not reach beyond t<<0. There is, however, a time concept, which can be associated with E3. This is Time 1, which Drozdek holds to be a faint reflection of God as a temporal being but I think, according to the above, can be used as an analogy for the time in God's eternity and thus becomes part of God's essence.

It should be clear by now that I am not espousing a God who is detached from timeˇneither from Time 1, nor Time 2. My reference to Aquinas served as an illustration of the problem he and others before him had with timelessness. They thought of time in psychological terms, of what we have called Time 2, and were not aware of the dynamical laws of physics that find their natural expression in terms of Time 1. Truly, Aquinas says in his reply to Objection (Obj.) 4 in the second article of Question (Q.) 10 that "Words denoting different times are applied to God, because His eternity includes all times." But what are these times? Obj. 4 defines them: " words denoting present, past, and future time   (Time 2!)." These cause us according to Reply Obj. 1, second article of Q. 10. to "apprehend the flow of the now; the apprehension of eternity is caused in us by apprehending the now standing still." The "now standing still" and the inclusion of "all times" leads me to suggest that Aquinas formulations could imply the concept of Time 1.

How and why do I reconcile God's eternity with his personhood? I started with the historical problem that by assuming God's eternity to be timeless one encounters logical contradictions for the existence of a God, who is also personal. If one introduces two concepts of time: one which is tenseless and belongs to eternity and another one which embraces past, present, and future, the problem can be resolved by using the principle of complementarity. This allows us to refute logically the reasoned denial of an eternal and a personal God.

Drozdek's question whether "temporality" constitutes humanness of humans is relevant. There is certainly more to a person than just his or her time-dependent existence in the physical world. Drozdek notes that "although mental processes are temporal, their role is to bring us into the extemporal" and that "a person should be eternity oriented" according to the admonitions of Aquinas and the Apostle Paul. I concur wholeheartedly. I also endorse Drozdek's reference to Pascal's complaint about divertissement. Tillich says similarly: "We remember experiences that, at the time, were seemingly filled with an abundant content. Now we remember them, and their abundance has vanished, their ecstasy has gone, their fullness has turned into a void They did not contribute to the eternal."16

But to keep the paper to a reasonable length, I focused on those attributes which stem from a person's bondage to the physical world. Davies uses them for his denial of a personal God. To be fairˇhe considers problems "not only from the perspective of the divine but also from that of the human" as Drozdek did in his communication. I can highly recommend reading Davies' fascinating chapters on "Mind and soul" and "The self," where he looks at problems from a higher dimensional vantage point outside of space-time.

Toward the end Drozdek writes that without eternity the human personality withers and that human beings turn into just beings. "Eternity is, therefore, no foe to human personality. Is it to God's as Busen is afraid of?" I am somewhat surprised. Why should I be afraid that eternity could be a foe to God's personality? It is Davies to whom an eternity without time is a foe to God as a person. It is I who refute this claim. Even if arguments against God's personality appear weak from Drozdek's viewpoint, one still has to weigh the proliferation of Davies' book, which has been translated in many languages and has its impact on the world. It is also Pike who concludes, after a lengthy search, that a timeless being contradicts the time-dependent definitions for a person. Finally, there is Pannenberg's question: "Is there any positive relation conceivable of the concept of eternity to the spatiotemporal structure of the physical universe? It is unavoidable if the reality of God is to be related in a positive way to the mathematical structure of the spatiotemporal world of nature."17 I am not sure to what extent I am answering this question to the reader's satisfaction, but I hope that my attempt to find a solution may contribute to the debate on the theological impact of the concept of time which appears now at many places in the literature.

So far I could not assess sufficiently Drozdek's arguments about the tripartite division on reality, based on Cantor's theory of transfinite numbers. He meanwhile kindly provided me with a reprint of his paper "Beyond Infinity: Augustine and Cantor" and "Descartes: Mathematics and Sacredness of Infinity." I will evaluate them for a possible addendum to my reply.

ę1998

 Notes

1Nelson Pike, God and Timelessness (New York: Schocken Books, 1970), chapters 5 and 7.

2Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984).

3Ibid., 133.

4Ibid., 134.

5Karl M. Busen, "Eternity and the Personal God," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (March 1997): 40˝9, call-out on p. 45.

6Ibid., 43.

7Carl Friedrich von Weizsöcker, Aufbau der Physik (MŞnchen: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1988), 47˝52.

8David Park, The Image of Eternity: Roots of Time in the Physical World (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), 103.

9Ibid., 18.

10Anthony Flew, A Dictionary of Philosophy (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979, 1984), 273.

11Park, The Image of Eternity, 110.

12Busen, "Eternity and the Personal God," 45.

13Ibid., 45.

14F. Forrester Church, The Essential Tillich (New York: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Company), 127.

15Busen,"Eternity and the Personal God," 45.

16Church, The Essential Tillich, 126.

17Wolfhart Pannenberg, "Theological Questions to Scientists," Zygon 16 (1981): 60˝77.