I was reading through this article and it says:

What may be the dominant view of philosophers today is that he is temporal but everlasting; that is, God never began to exist and he never will go out of existence. He exists at each moment in time.

Suppose the universe had a beginning. We ask “What caused the universe?” and the answer is “God”. Then we ask “What caused God?”, and we get infinite regress.

To solve this problem, it used to be said “God is eternal. He is outside of time”. This eventually led to a God who cannot move, because time is simply the measurement of movement.

Now we have a God who can move, but he has lived infinitely in the past; so that must mean (without involving space into all of this) he has always moved.

In other words, he has moved towards more than every configuration an infinite amount of times. It seems unreasonable to say that he only has a few moves that he repeats an infinite amount of times, otherwise, there would be an infinite amount of universes that work the exact same way.

Regardless of what God does, we get infinite regress, which is no different than asking “What caused God?” What proposals (if any) have been made by philosophers and theologians to explain how God can be temporal without an infinite regression of movements?

Controversial Post — You may use comments ONLY to suggest improvements. You may use answers ONLY to provide a solution to the specific question asked above. Moderators will remove debates, arguments or opinions without notice.

  • This conversation has been moved to chat. Please use the comments only for suggesting improvements, not for (partial) answers or discussions. You are free to use chat for this. – Philip Klöcking Oct 12 at 5:42
up vote 1 down vote accepted

You asked this question relative to "movement", but a better and more general term would be "state change". This ties the question more explicitly to time -- the sequence of state changes.

God being in time is actually a minority position among Christian theologians. Two I have encountered who accept that are Richard Swinburne https://philpapers.org/rec/SWIGAT-2 and John Polkinghorne http://www.cambridgeblog.org/2008/09/god-and-time/. A God in Time changes states, and if God can be in another state, then God cannot be logically necessary. Most theologians are unwilling to give up on claiming God being necessary -- and prefer to try to finesse a God out of time not being able to act over one that is contingent.

There are only three ways to deal with ultimate cause:
1) postulate some exception to causation, 2) causal loop 3) infinite series

All three tend to be rejected as violating one or another assumption of reasoning.

Most theologians adopt 1), and assert God is the sole exception to everything needing a cause. As a argument strategy -- this is flawed, as non-theists are free to propose exceptions to causation of their own -- the favorite is the Universe -- but a time-space probability field, or an Eternally Inflating state -- these have both been proposed as well. Stephen Hawking took this approach in A Brief History of Time -- where he proposed a single cycle universe was just a closed volume in space-time and did not need a causal explanation. In more recent writing, now that the openness of our universe has been fairly well settled and his "closed shape" assumption isn't true, he advocated that the small size of the initial Big Bang singularity mixes time and space per Heseinberg's Uncertaintly Principle -- and without a well defined "first time" -- the "prior" to that time need not be explained.

Some assert that God is self-created, with would actualy make God a causal loop (2) of just two steps. There is a lot of logic thinking today that is exploring causal loops -- they are no longer automatically rejected: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23250587?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents Many of the Gods of other religions are self-created: https://www.ancient.eu/amun/ Among contemporary thinkers, the causal loop concept is less popular. It is advocated by Elijah Mohammed, of the Nation of Islam, and by the Sikh Gurus: http://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php/Guru_Granth_Sahib_on_the_Universe there is a non-theist version of a causal loop explanantion. Although the universe is not a plausible two-step causal loop, it is possible that a cycling universe could be a long causal loop.

Option 3) -- a God just existing for eternity, is what Swinburne and Polkinghorne are arguing for. This too allows for a non-theist equivalent -- that the sequence of universes too could exist for eternity.

So, there are two other options for you besides an infinite series.

  • While I don’t agree with what the theologians have written, I believe this is the correct answer to my question “What proposals have been made...” Thanks, answer accepted! – anonymouswho Oct 22 at 12:03

How can God be temporal if he never began?

I share belief in the following various premises with some other philosophers, although I may be the only one who believes all of them simultaneously:

  • The Universe is all of space and time and their contents

If the Universe is time, then it is eternal. It was never created or caused by anything. It simply exists, forever and infinitely.

And if the Universe was never created, it must be the Creator. Thus:

  • The universe is eternal
  • God is the universe
  • God is eternal

Therefore, God did not "create the universe". Because if the universe has always existed, it could not have been created by anything. So God did not create itself. It just exists, eternally.

So it is correct to say that God "never began". Nevertheless:

  • Eternity is defined as what exists outside time
  • So eternity is not temporal

Therefore if God is eternal and exists outside of time as we know it, then God is not temporal.

However, God the eternal universe is the environment affecting everything within it. Therefore God is the creator of all things which are temporal. That is everything which is not the universe itself, including our species.

And the only way that God can be outside of time ("timeless"), is if God is time: past, present, and future, together.

He has made every thing beautiful in his time: also he has set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God makes from the beginning to the end...I know that, whatsoever God does, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it...That which has been is now; and that which is to be has already been; and God requires that which is past.

Ecclesiastes 3:11, 14-15

And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, And swore by him that lives for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished...

Revelation 10:5-7

So, from my readings of the KJV Bible I conclude that:

  • God is eternal, not temporal
  • there is no mention of God creating the "universe"
  • someday time will no longer exist for us, so we will no longer be temporal either
  • precisely how that will happen is a mystery

The Biblical suggestion is that we mortals are temporal until the day when we will somehow be allowed to join God in eternity. Evidently that is where divinity or holiness comes in. Or some might say, spiritual communion. Or faith.

How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?...Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 3:8, 16-18

It seems to me that consciousness of our moral responsibility to and recognition of our creator God as the source of Righteousness, as applied to the exercise of individual free will, is some sort of manifestation of our personal divine nature and connection to immortality.

"I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven..."

Matthew 16:19

Again, "How can God be temporal?" He is not temporal. Jesus Christ the incarnated son of God was 'temporal', 2000 years ago. But his immortal body is eternal, because he gained victory over death, in the resurrection. So perhaps suffering and death is all just an illusion.

But moral responsibility / freewill is not an illusion; it's very serious. And our illusions should be taken just as seriously. Because if life really is "but a dream", shouldn't we want our children to have sweet, happy dreams rather than nightmares?

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Philippians 4:8

  • 4
    Unfortunately, this answer seems to be Christianity-centric, and that too on a specific non-dominant interpretation of Christianity, unsupported by papal dogma. This answer could be improved if it were specified that this answer was a non-general Christian interpretation of the question, and if sources from received theological scholarship were provided to back up the interpretations made here on the primary sources (since anyone can interpret these religious texts in any arbitrary way). – Carl Masens Oct 15 at 8:35
  • 1
    It may be Christian-centric but it fits rather well with the perennial view. For this time would be metaphysically non-existent (ie reducible). The difference is that for the view given above the way in which time is transcended is a mystery whereas in the perennial view it is knowledge to be acquired on the way to enlightenment and is self-knowledge. I feel it is a very profound answer albeit it may not quite address the question that was asked. – PeterJ Oct 22 at 14:33

I don't think it's contradictory to say that timeless God exists temporally wherever time exists. According to Christians, God has overcome weirder transitions than that: omnipresent God became monopresent at the incarnation of Christ.

Likewise, I think that it's not contradictory to end the causal chain at God. Of course it's true that causal logic precludes that; but it should come as no surprise that "God is special."

Still, it would be very silly to view Christian thinking as a tiny walled city, outside the walls of which much knowledge has been excluded for no good reason. The discussions among Christians like William Lane Craig about the nature of God should demonstrate otherwise! ...let alone Christians who make contributions to social and natural sciences, both under the umbrella of "Christian ministry" and as ordinary members of society.

It is true that Christians accept revelation about God from prophetic sources as well as knowledge about God that is available in nature. But this should be no more controversial than accepting the verdict of a civil or criminal case in court.

"What proposals have been made by philosophers and theologians to explain how God can be temporal without an infinite regression of movements?"

None that I know of, or none that make any sense. It is telling that Whitehead characterises commonplace Christianity as 'a religion in search of a metaphysic'. This is because it fails to deal with questions such as this one.

There is another form of Christianity, the classical kind, and this form would question the idea that God exists in the same way as pianos and toasters and so avoids these problems. Regrettably the Church stamped out this 'heresy' in favour of the new Roman doctrine, thus rendering itself a metaphysical muddle.

You might like to check out the doctrine of Divine Simplicity.

  • I agree with this answer, but Dcleve added some sources that do attempt to explain it. – anonymouswho Oct 22 at 12:04
  • @anonymouswho - Quite so. – PeterJ Oct 22 at 14:36

I think it is quite clear that many people who say "God is temporal but everlasting; he never began to exist and he never will go out of existence" are trying to use that to evade the question of "What created God?", because if God did begin to exist at some point in the past then there must have been something before God. Of course, this approach fails because it cannot evade the other question of "Why does time/God even exist at all?" This question is usually evaded by taking the alternative approach, namely to claim that "God exists outside of time". However, that of course does not seem to solve the first question. If one wants to have a consistent worldview, one has to be very careful not to adopt mutually incompatible beliefs.

What I have stated does not just pertain to God, but it is of particular concern to those who wish to hold the belief that there is a God that created everything. That really is the key issue. A common fallacious argument would be that God can have created everything non-eternal if God never had a beginning to begin with (A). One fallacy is in jumping from "no beginning" to "uncreated". If one stipulates "create" to mean "create at some point in time", then it is clear that we still cannot avoid the question of "What created God outside time?" Another issue with (A) is that there is still the question of "What created time?" If one holds that God is completely within time, then God could not have created time. But if one holds that God also exists outside time, then (A) clearly fails to address the question it was supposed to address.

And in fact, the following beliefs are compatible with one another:

  • God exists outside time, not inside time.
  • God can manipulate the things inside time.
  • God created time, as well as all the things inside time.
  • God was not created, but is the reason for God.

Note that the above list does not stipulate any other properties about God; the word "God" just refers to a specific entity.

The above is sufficient to address your inquiry, but specifically:

This eventually led to a God who cannot move, because time is simply the measurement of movement. [...]

Time is not a measure of movement. Even our best scientific understanding of time so far (namely relativity) considers it to be an inseparable part of the space-time continuum, and physical objects have trajectories within space-time. So after that single erroneous claim about time all the rest are invalidated.

What proposals (if any) have been made by philosophers and theologians to explain how God can be temporal without an infinite regression of movements?

As explained above, God can be completely temporal, but then God cannot have created time. Nor can God be time itself.

  • 1
    I enjoyed reading this answer. Thanks and +1 – anonymouswho Oct 22 at 12:06

Interesting question! Unfortunately I suspect whether there is an answer at all depends on whether you are primarily interested in the concept of God or the concept of time, so I will try to be brief with a abstract answer and a hint at a direct answer (which I can elaborate later if you clarify the question).

First, consider a flat surface that stretches out to infinity along the X axis, has a width of n along the Y, and no depth in the Z axis (i.e. it lies entirely on the XY plane). If you observed this object from one aspect, you would say it is infinitely large; from another, that it has a diameter of n ; from a third, that it has no measure at all. Normally it is contradictory to say that an object is unbounded, and infinitesimal, and has a discrete measure of n, but not when these refer to distinct aspects of the entity. Orthogonal spatial dimensions are the easiest version of "distinct aspects" for us to visualize (what else would we visualize?) but they certainly aren't the only example of aspects.

That a concept of God requires an entity with more than one aspect is widely - universally? - recognized. The problems with naive monistic theism go much deeper than the issue you're raising about time (even e.g. Spinoza, probably the most famous modern "monist", posits that God is a substance with two fundamental attributes), so any coherent onto-theology can easily solve your problem by assigning interaction within time and eternity beyond time to different aspects. The actual challenge in these theories is to demonstrate that the aspects in question do inhere in a single unified entity, but probably (unsatisfying though it may be for you) whether they do so successfully won't hinge on how the different aspects they postulate handle God's various relations to time.

This doesn't mean, though, that there isn't a substantive question to ask about how God intersects with time. I'm sharing three thoughts on this (with the caveat that, as I explained above, it's unlikely you would see these as "resolving" the problem that worries you).

a. If you think of a bulletin-board as a two-dimensional manifold where the creator can pin things to the board and take them down without ever being on the board; or a slide-show as a three-dimensional manifold where the creator can fiddle with the contents of the individual slides without ever becoming a slide himself; there is no real conceptual difficulty with the idea of Creation as a four-dimension manifold embedded in a higher-order space. Not only God, but any angelic creature with the appropriate dimensions could then readjust the contents of the manifold without ever entering into the manifold; the differences between the possible states of the manifold would be observed by its inhabitants as motion in the sense you stipulate (measurement of movement towards a configuration) but the cosmic entity doing the rearranging would not have moved towards any configuration (within the manifold).

(Note that I am not claiming God is a 7-dimensional creature! I'm merely pointing out that it doesn't raise even the slightest conceptual difficulty, you don't even need to step outside of linear algebra to find ways to evade the supposed paradox.)

b. But why would we accept the definition of time as "the measurement of motion" at all? Other ideas would be to relate time to (i) non-invertibility, (ii) conservation of quanta across moments, (iii) unity of identity across manifestations. If the essential attribute of time is that temporal sequences are non-invertible then again there is no conceptual difficulty with God existing outside time yet also moving: just as someone can walk to and fro around a pool and also dive off the diving board, so too can an entity exist outside time and also inject itself into non-invertible temporal processes.[*] In fact, it could be God's primary form of interference with the world to enforce and uphold the non-invertibility of temporal processes —— mutatis mutandis for time defined with respect to conservation laws and with respect to unity of identity. There is no problem understanding an entity as not being subject to X yet also influencing a domain where all entities are subject to X, especially if it is that influence that upholds the condition!

c. The business about repetition of configurations, eternal recurrence etc. that you mention in your initial post I haven't really focused on because you don't have a very strong grasp of the mathematics of infinite sequences. Let's say that God is occupying a discrete point in space 1 foot away from me right now (time t) and was occupying a point 1.5' away from me at t-1 and 1.75' away at t-2 and, generally, is 2-1/(2^n) feet away from me at t-n... then God can occupy a different unique point in space at every moment in time back through infinity without ever needing to leave that specific 2-foot line segment. —— This doesn't mean your concern is nonsense, but you should think about finding a better example (and it may underscore my original suggestion that your ontological concerns will turn out to be unrelated to the nature of time).


[*] Question: The issue I have with walking around a pool “until” you decide to jump in is, if you walk around it an infinite amount of times, you will never jump in. The “moment” you jump in, you have ended the sequence of walking.

Answer: In the case of the swimming pool, there is an period in time where you walk over the cement as you please; then a period of time where you "let go" and your position is determined by kinematics (plus your initial leap); and then as soon as your feet touch, you can walk out of the pool and be on the pavement again. In the case of God (or any other heavenly entity existing beyond the spatiotemporal dimensions), where God "intrudes" on the spatio-temporal order of creation, the causal consequences of this intrusion follow from the momentum of the initial "leap", but not only is God not bound in the temporal period before this intrusion and after it ends (here He is precisely like the diver), God or any celestial being can also continue to exist outside the spatio-temporal order even while he intrudes within it (as in the bulletin-board example), just as he exists outside the manifold's temporal edges (i.e., its beginning and end).

Let me add a potentially clarifying point: the bulletin-board example clarifies (in the language of spatio-temporal manifolds) the sense in which God can meaningfully interact with the world without ever putting any part of Himself "inside" the spatiotemporal order or becoming subject to its laws. The diving-board example clarifies the sense in which an entity can make itself subject to a spatio-temporal causal process (here, gravity) in a way that deliberately restricts its choice within some slice of the time-cone, but without forfeiting its freedom of action in an absolute sense.

  • It's a very interesting answer, but it would be nice to be able to verify what you are saying with some sources. Especially for the paragraph in section b. – daegontaven Oct 19 at 11:17
  • I like this answer, but I have to agree with @daegontaven. The issue I have with walking around a pool “until” you decide to jump in is, if you walk around it an infinite amount of times, you will never jump in. The “moment” you jump in, you have ended the sequence of walking. So some sources would be good and satisfy the question. – anonymouswho Oct 21 at 5:32
  • Thanks anonymouswho. As I mentioned, I think your question is interesting but equivocal so please let me know if you edit the question to make it more forceful/rigorous. I'm adding one more sentence on the diving-board analogy but I would need a more detailed response (for example, is this the only remaining objection you have?) to elaborate my answer. One reason I have pressed you to rethink your question and phrase it more clearly is so that it can be related to existing debates; as it is no "sources" touch on it directly. – guest1806 Oct 22 at 15:21

The only ‘palpable’ place God can be found is in the parts of the brain where the concepts that form God are stored. However storage undergoes change all the time and as long as the memory is present there, any concept including God is temporal...if we forget about God the memory of God would fade out in history.

  • I made some edits. Please check that they still represent your position. I assume you are aware you may edit your answer. Something to add to your answer to strengthen it would be references to people who take a similar view. Then the reader has a place to go for more information. Welcome! – Frank Hubeny Oct 16 at 21:57
  • Hi Frank, well done. I don’t see anything changes to what I wanted to state as the answer. It is hard fore to refer to people who think the same as most is my own reasoning. I like to add answers that help apply knowledge from other fields to philosophical subjects. But if I know of one I will not hesitate to mention them in edited to help people along. And anyone reading this and knowing of good references feel Free to add in the comments. Thank you for the welcome. – Ajagar Oct 16 at 22:17

There are multiple ways to address this. Here is one: If God is unchanging, but infinite, and perceptible in some part from within the world, then God can take on the appearance of action, as the world perceives different aspects of God. When an ant crawls around a mountain, he perceives a constantly changing landscape, even though the mountain does not actually change. Another practical example is this Journey Through the Mandelbrot Set, showing the infinite variability of an unchanging "object."

  • Thanks for the video. I recommend consuming a popular herb before watching. At 3:25, the video zooms out and there’s a black area. What might that be? It seems like the set is finite within that dark space and a computer screen. – anonymouswho Oct 22 at 14:52
  • @anonymouswho That's what makes the Mandelbrot interesting --it's infinitely complex within finite boundaries. That's actually the mathematical property that give fractals their name --they are said to have "fractional" dimension, because they are so structurally complex, they effectively overload their native dimensionality. That may sound like some stoner's dream, but it actually can be tightly mathematically defined. – Chris Sunami Oct 22 at 15:21
  • Are you saying infinity does not stretch out boundlessly, but there is an infinite within everything- as though the physical universe is mathematically defined as an irrational number? In other words, one of my skin cells contains an infinite amount of worlds that are infinitely divided into an infinite amount of worlds? – anonymouswho Oct 22 at 16:05
  • @anonymouswho - I am not presenting that as a general statement about the character of the universe, but responding to your earlier comment by detailing a specific, known and knowable property of the Mandelbrot Set in particular (and other similar fractals). Since it is bounded on one side, the Mandelbrot is arguably easier to contemplate than an infinity that stretches in both directions. – Chris Sunami Oct 22 at 16:10

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.