God is not timeless, deal with it

March 18, 2007    By: Jacob J @ 9:48 pm   Category: Foreknowledge,Theology

Recently, a series of comments on different threads and from different people has convinced me that far more people believe that God lives outside of time than I would have suspected. I think the idea of a timeless God is a-scriptural and unworkable in the context of Mormon theology. The problems I see with divine timelessness fall into two categories. The first category involves conflicts that arise because change cannot happen in a timeless existence. The second category has to do with the lack of an intersection between time and timelessness. Let’s consider each one.

Change and Timelessness

The lack of change in a timeless existence may not strike you as a problem right off the bat, since we often say that God is unchanging. However, the concept of change is central to many things we take for granted, like moving and thinking.

First, let’s just state explicitly why change relies on time. The very concept of change is based on the passage of time. When we say something has changed, what we mean is that it was one way at time T and then a different way at time T+1. If I want to change my shirt, there must be a time in the future in which I can wear a different shirt than the one I am wearing now.

Of course, in order to change my shirt, I will have to take this one off (the one I am wearing now), which requires me to move my arms. Movement is a type of change, in which my arm is in one position at time T and then a different position at time T+1. In order to move my arm, there must be time. If there was no time, I couldn’t have an arm that is in one position now and a different position later, because there would be no such thing as “now” or “later.”

Of course, before I ever move my arm to change my shirt, I will have a thought in which I decide to change my shirt. Thinking involves a stream of consciousness–one thought leads to another, or something in my environment (an uncomfortable shirt perhaps) leads me to take an action. Now, the “stream” in stream of consciousness should be a pretty good clue that thought involves change. It takes time for you to consider the argument I am making now–this point surprises me constantly, even though it should be obvious. If you were to think through the issue on your own, in your own mind, it would take you time to do so. You would have to consider one thing, and then another, and then the consequences of that thing on yet another. Thinking, planning, and reasoning all require time. Stop for a moment and consider what it would mean to think in a timeless existence. What it is to “think” is eviscerated by timelessness.

From the discussion above, I conclude that if you maintain that God is outside of time, you must also maintain that he does not think, he does not move, and he does not change his clothes. For our evangelical friends, this might be fine, but for Latter-day Saints who worship a corporeal God this will never do. After all, our God does wear clothes. He has a body which moves from place to place. He is in one location now, and a different location later. Consider these verses from Abraham’s vision of the heavens:

9 And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord’s time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.
10 And it is given unto thee to know the set time of all the stars that are set to give light, until thou come near unto the throne of God.
11 Thus I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another; and he told me of the works which his hands had made;
12 And he said unto me: My son, my son (and his hand was stretched out), behold I will show you all these. And he put his hand upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof. (Abraham 3)

Verse 9 explicitly states that there is such a thing as the “reckoning of the Lord’s time, and the whole passage places God inside a universe with time. His time may be reckoned differently (more slowly according to that chapter), but it is quite clear in describing God as experiencing time and duration. Notice, additionally, that all the phrases I italicized above require time or they become incoherent. These verses were later the launching pad for a question asked of the prophet Joseph Smith:

4 In answer to the question–Is not the reckoning of God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time, according to the planet on which they reside?
5 I answer, Yes. (D&C 130)

And thus we see that God’s existence in time is explicitly taught in modern revelation and required by our notions of who God is and the kind of existence he leads.

The intersection of time and timelessness

I have already made mention of the fact that God is known for doing things that require time. He appeared to his apostles and ate fish with them (chewing requires one to move one’s jaw). He appeared to the Nephites after being resurrected and glorified. He has been known to converse with men from time to time as he did with Moses on the Mount or Joseph Smith in the Grove. Notice that having a conversation involves the existence of time since one person speaks and then later listens while the other speaks. God listened to Joseph’s prayer at time T and then responded at time T+1. This requires time.

Obviously, those who wish to put God outside of time are aware that humans live inside time. Any interaction with humans will necessarily entail a foray into time. Perhaps God lives outside of time, but just enters into time as necessary to interact with man. The trouble with this is that it is impossible to conceive of what it would mean to move in and out of time. To even speak of it, I just had to use the word move. But how does a timeless being move into time? Even worse, when does He move into time? There simply is no intersection between time and timelessness, so to talk about such an intersection gives rise to contradictions and nonsense.

The whole idea of a timeless God precludes His entrance into time. What is true about a timeless God is always true (or else he would have changed, which is disallowed). If God entered time and ate a fish, then it must be true now and always that God is in time eating a fish. But if God is in time eating a fish, then how can he said to be outside of time?

The only remaining option for a person who holds to divine timelessness seems to be an appeal to mystery. We don’t know how he does it, he just does. It doesn’t make sense, and that is what makes God so amazing! With such an argument, God goes back to being unknown and unknowable–totally other, as the classical theists would have it. With such an appeal to mystery, we flush the genius of Joseph Smith and the beauty of the restored gospel down the toilet and replace it with the very creeds God condemned in the First Vision.

So, here’s your chance, all of you who think God lives outside of time. Let me have it.

113 Comments »

  1. By the way, anyone who wishes to bring Neal A. Maxwell into the conversation, please be aware of his discussion with Blake Ostler, as it may inform your view. (Just click on the word “different” in the first sentence of the post and follow the trail.) This came up again a few days later and Blake made this comment which is worth reading if you missed it.

    Also, for completeness, I should include a link to Kent Robson’s paper on Timelessness published in Sunstone: Time and Omniscience in Mormon Theology.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 18, 2007 @ 10:29 pm

  2. Jacob J:

    The two popular conceptions of God outside of time that I have seen truly favored in Mormon thought would not fall into the traps you are laying.

    1. God was in time for his development but he eventually hit the point of becoming God at which point all time and space become here and now. This idea comes from a romanticized version of the theory of relativity.

    2. God is not timeless per se, but lives outside of our conception of time. We do not know the rules of his conception of time, except that they are different than our rules…

    I was once in camp one due to the D&C institute manual, but rarely find it tenable anymore. And while I agree with the sentiment of camp 2, I wonder if, for all intents and purposes, time ought to be held constant for these sort of discussions.

    I could also add that we definitely can say God is not bound by time, having no beginning nor end. Neither are we bound by time though, so it is not “special” for him to lack this binding.

    Comment by Matt W. — March 19, 2007 @ 7:45 am

  3. My comments were not an attempt to deny the perfect and glorified coporeal nature of God. I was just reminding the readers that God’s omniscience is tied to what Joseph Smith referred to his existing in the “Eternal Now”

    “The true God exists both in time and space. He has extension, and form, and dimensions, as well as man. He occupies space; has a body, parts, and passions; can go from place to place-can eat, drink, and talk, as well as man.” –Orson Pratt

    Doctrine and Covenants 38:2 says that “the same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes.”

    Now, the D&C only says that time is present “before mine eyes.” So, that seems to indicate that God can see all the past and the future. I agree that it does not speak to his physical existence or actions. It says he sees all time but it does not speak of his ability to act or exist independent of time.

    My understanding is not that God doesnt exist in time and space. He does. I am just saying that I don’t believe God is confined by time and space in the same way man is.

    Comment by BRoz — March 19, 2007 @ 8:03 am

  4. I go with Matt’s number 2, I don’t see how God’s time could be our time. It is delineated as different in many different circumstances in scripture. There comes a point where things are just not understood by us. It doesn’t make God unknowable, it means we have to wait for further light and knowledge and revelation. Clearly, Einstein blew open the door on just how little of physics and the nature of time a space are really in the realm of our knowledge.

    Comment by Doc — March 19, 2007 @ 8:10 am

  5. BRoz: Now, the D&C only says that time is present “before mine eyes.”

    Wait… where does the D&C say that? The passage you quoted doesn’t say all time (including the future) is present “before [God's] eyes.” It just says that for God “all things are present before mine eyes”. I take that to mean he is omni-aware of all existence in the present (and past?) — every particle, as we learn in Moses. Saying that the future is “present” also makes no sense at all to me (it sort of destroys the meaning of both words the words present and future) and is not justified by that verse in my opinion.

    And we all live eternally in the now so I fail to see why that “eternal now” quote holds much weight either (even though lots of people are enamored with it). It seems to me that it could be used as an argument for the notion of God living in time rather against against it.

    Comment by Geoff J — March 19, 2007 @ 8:45 am

  6. Matt (#2),

    Your option 1. runs headlong into the problem of time not intersecting with timelessness. If God eventually hit the point where time and space collapsed to here and now, then we are left to explain how a being in that type of existence can interact with time-bound beings like us. Even before doing that, I would need to know more about what you think it means for time and space to collapse. What does that mean for God’s body? Is his body here in my room now, and in your room now? If everywhere is here, is he bodily omnipresent? Does he have emotional responses to what he sees going on here on earth (as the scriptures attest)?

    Now, your option 2. is fine as far as it goes. I mentioned right after the quote from Abraham 3 that God’s time is said to be reckoned differently (more slowly), but it is not clear exactly what that means. I think there is some wiggle room here for people to be creative, but only to a certain point. When you say it outside our conception of time, I think that is going farther than the text warrants. From that passage of scripture, it is clearly the same things as our time conceptually, otherwise it would make no sense to put both man’s time, angel’s time, and God’s time on a sliding scale. I think, for example, that it is clear from this that God experiences a past, present, and future. Time comes at him a moment at a time as it does for us. He experiences duration, etc.

    This is the sort of thing I mean when I say it is conceptually the same. It is simply an abuse of language to say that, yes, God experiences time, but the word “time” for him doesn’t share any properties with what we call “time.”

    If you want to say we don’t fully understand God’s limitations within time, I agree. But, if you want to start using God’s timelessness to explain various other things (like God’s omniscience), then you need to be very careful not to negate everything it means to be inside of time. People us it as a get-out-of-jail-free care whenever they run into a contradiction, and meaningful theology cannot be done in that way.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 19, 2007 @ 8:48 am

  7. Outside time can be considered as merely outside of our particular space/time bubble. Something fairly mainstream in modern physics now – albeit there is no known or asserted means of communication between universes in most views. (M-theory may be able to although that’s such a loose open theory even many of its supporters criticize it for providing too many answers)

    Comment by Clark — March 19, 2007 @ 8:50 am

  8. Clark (#7),

    albeit there is no known or asserted means of communication between universes in most views

    Bingo. I am not opposed to looking for connections between our scientific theories and our theological ones, but I would always use extreme caution when doing so. Especially when we are making connections to “science” like that which describes bubble universes. It is a lot like creative writing mingled with mathematics much of the time. It’s fine as far as it goes, but I am not anxious to be John Widtsoe declaring the universal “ether” to be the light of Christ.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 19, 2007 @ 9:00 am

  9. but I am not anxious to be John Widtsoe declaring the universal “ether” to be the light of Christ.

    Hehehe. Amen brother.

    Comment by Geoff J — March 19, 2007 @ 9:22 am

  10. Jacob, the reason I bring it up isn’t to harmonize with science merely to point out an alternative that far too many don’t consider. i.e. that there are separate universes and thus to be out of time isn’t to not be time-bound but merely to not be part of our time. i.e. there is often a false dichotomy between being timeless in the orthodox Christian sense (roughly platonic) and then being in our universe (Pratt’s sense). There are other options.

    Comment by Clark — March 19, 2007 @ 10:41 am

  11. I think part of this is mixed up with OUR perception of time. Einstein is credited with saying something to the effect: “One second is far too long when sitting on a hot stove and far too short when kissing your lover.”

    I think God perceives time differently than we do. I think He lives in time differently than we do. And I think He understands time in a way that allows Him to use time in a way that we cannot conceive.

    Comment by don — March 19, 2007 @ 10:59 am

  12. Geoff J #5- I don’t think a time bound God can be omni-aware of the past in the absolute sense, due to the fact that the past is infinite as is the future, unless of course God was a static non-evolving being.

    Jacob #6, that’s why I said that time ought to be held constant for these sorts of discussions. When we talk about God and time we typically just mean that yes one instant happens in front of another. I will confess that the main reason I dropped the God “reaching the point where all time and space become here and now” is that I felt it was based on an understanding of the theory of relativity that I either do not agree with or do not understand. I actually abandoned that concept on this very blog in discussion with Clark and Geoff just a few years ago. I conceptually envisioned the situation being somewhat like when DC comics Flash character moves so fast that time stands still or reverses. I still am fond of it, in a juvenile sort of way, but just am not interested enough in physics to really go after it, and it raises all sorts of other problems.

    Comment by Matt W. — March 19, 2007 @ 11:05 am

  13. Matt: I don’t think a time bound God can be omni-aware of the past in the absolute sense

    I agree.

    (Thus the tentative nature of that aside in #5. I just didn’t feel like getting into the nuances of that problem at the time.)

    Comment by Geoff J — March 19, 2007 @ 11:22 am

  14. It depends. If there is a kind of shared mind that all divine beings have then keeping track of an infinite past ought be no problem.

    Comment by Clark — March 19, 2007 @ 12:44 pm

  15. Another way to see the problem of the intersection of timelessness and time is to consider the ontological implications. If God can enter our history at any point he chooses, he can cause an effect in, say, 1950 that prevents me from being born. We’re stuck with the disturbing notion that what we’re experiencing is only quasi-real and probably not be the final draft of our earthly history.

    Comment by Onlooker — March 20, 2007 @ 8:43 am

  16. I don’t necessarily disagree with your stance. I just disagree with the finality of your opinion based upon your arguments.

    That is, you are asserting that God cannot really be timeless because your understanding of reality does not allow for it.

    If I could analogize here: i could see someone from the 1800′s making a similar argument thusly:

    “Prayer obviously cannot work because even when I yell into an amplifying cone whilst at the edge of a canyon, the furthest that my voice can travel is a couple miles. There is absolutely no way, even with the most advanced technologies, that I could ever hold a conversation with someone who is more than a couple miles away from me.

    Comment by Ryan — March 20, 2007 @ 8:53 am

  17. Ryan,

    The kinds of problems I am describing in the post are fundamentally different than your example of the prayer and the speed of sound. I am not talking about limitations that are susceptible to solution by technological advances. The meaning of movement requires time. If you are in a timeless environment, the concept of movement no longer makes sense. That is very different than saying God cannot go faster than the speed of light, or something like that. Do you see the distinction?

    Now, I did allow for the fact that God could be timeless, but I pointed out that going that direction requires us to appeal to mystery. If God’s existence is not required to be logically coherent, then we can’t meaningfully discuss him at all. Many religions go this route, but Mormonism has not traditionally been one of them. When Joseph Smith claims that God has a physical body, that has logical implications. You either accept them, or you throw out logic. If I’ve made a logical error in my analysis, I am open to correction, but if not, then those are your only options.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 20, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

  18. Onlooker,

    Very good point, thanks for stopping by.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 20, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

  19. If God is great enough to enter our history wherever He wants, He’s great enough to affect only what He wants to affect.

    Comment by annegb — March 20, 2007 @ 8:37 pm

  20. #15 Why is it a “disturbing” notion that there might be other “drafts” of earthly history. Can’t God operate in time but move backward as well as forward in time?

    Comment by Jonathan N — March 20, 2007 @ 9:18 pm

  21. What Joseph Smith revealed is a God, like Jesus’ Father, and Jesus Himself, we can understand, that we can actually “know.” He said that it is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty His attributes, perfections, personality, etc. There are things – like the metaphysical mechanics that underlie the Atonement, the means through which God the Father answers prayers, etc. – that we do not understand fully at this time. (and many other things we don’t collectively understand.) But, I feel quite certain that when we, as Abraham already has, received our exaltation, we will see that those processes are quite a simple matter. John says that when Christ (another being that is already exalted) comes again we will “be like Him”, for no other reason than that we will “see Him as He is.” In other words, we will understand Him because we can observe Him. God need not be without body, parts or passions, living on top of a topless throne, filling the expanse of the universe (or time), in order for us to exercise faith in his perfect ability to effect our salvation – and I think that when Elder Maxwell or Elder McConkie said things that seemed otherwise, they were overmaking a point to rightly emphasize His actual perfections, that He is a God, that we can have all faith in Him.

    I also don’t beleive that the phrase “all things are present before mine eyes”, equates to “omni-aware” (as in His apparent awareness of the sparrows fall). Right now, my understanding of his omnipotence is that he has all power and understanding to effect His purposes – I can have faith in this; my understanding of his omniscience is that he can see anything, anywhere, in any time, including into our hearts (all things are present before Him, but this doesn’t neccesarily mean that he is simultaeously aware of every particular thing at any given monent – I’m with Mark Butler on this, completely – this is barely someone we can recognize at all); my understanding of His omniprsence is that His influence can be extended to any point in space, rather than that He IS at every point in space _or time_ – which cannot be so if He has a body and enjoys life in the physical universe – the primary Mormon doctrine about God – the first lesson Joseph learned, eh?

    Whenever I hear that this or that thing is beyond our understanding because God is incomprehensable in any of his attributes, I hear an echo of some phrases that used to be included in the Endowment. I recoil a bit from it.

    There are all kind of we are all living on a giants thumbnail, THC moments . For instance, if Christ (an exalted being) were to go back in time to observe His Ressurection, would He, at that time, have one body or two? And if that moment of His observing himself is contained in time, could he also revisit that moment in time, and then would He have three bodies? These are absurd questions. One can either go the way Christianity finally went and say that God is incomprehesible, or one can go Jospeh’s way and say ‘we would understand more about God by peering into heaven for five minutes than we can know by reading everything ever written on the subject.’

    ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — March 20, 2007 @ 9:25 pm

  22. Jonathan N: Why is it a “disturbing” notion that there might be other “drafts” of earthly history.

    The disturbing part would be that our universe and existence right now could be just a draft that could be scrapped or simply obliterated for a better draft of existence under such a scheme. Of course I think the idea of multiple timelines in existence (with our clones actually existing in alternate universes and all) is more nonsense than disturbing…

    Comment by Geoff J — March 20, 2007 @ 10:30 pm

  23. Jonathan: Can’t God operate in time but move backward as well as forward in time?

    What does that even mean? That God could be in a time and place that he wasn’t? The entire idea is incoherent de maximus (and I’m not referring to the Roman gladiator).

    Comment by Blake — March 21, 2007 @ 7:43 am

  24. God can be whenever He wants to be. You guys are forgetting that God is all powerful, omnipotent. Do you think He’s so stupid that–if He exists out of time (and I think He does)–He would go back and mess everything up, take away agency?

    For heaven’s sake. God is too timeless, deal with it.

    Comment by annegb — March 21, 2007 @ 8:54 am

  25. annegb,

    The problem is that it sounds like you are describing the God of the creeds, not the revealed God of the restoration. Remember what God told Joseph Smith he thought of those creeds?

    the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight (JS-H 1: 19)

    Comment by Geoff J — March 21, 2007 @ 9:18 am

  26. C’mon Geoff, we all know that being Timeless doesn’t mean being the God of the creeds. Just watch a couple episodes of Quantum Leap.

    Comment by Matt W. — March 21, 2007 @ 9:24 am

  27. Hehe. And Star Trek NG had some good episodes about multiple timelines if I remember correctly too…

    Comment by Geoff J — March 21, 2007 @ 9:33 am

  28. annegb,

    For heaven’s sake. God is too timeless, deal with it.

    touché

    You’ll notice that nowhere in my post or in the comments have I suggested that the problem is God being too stupid to do something. The problem is one of logical coherence with other ideas we are firmly committed to, like God’s corporeal body.

    As far as changes in the past go, it is not a matter of God being too stupid to do it without changing the present, but simply the fact that there is no such thing as changing the past without changing the present. If God makes a change in the past that doesn’t affect the present, then it isn’t really a change, is it?

    Comment by Jacob J — March 21, 2007 @ 9:56 am

  29. I was serious. well sort of. :)(and sorry annegb if I seem flippant) I think it is obviously conceivable to see God as able to move around in time, in a sense, since we’ve been conceiving of the idea for some time now. (at least since the creepy Time Machine by H.G. Wells) You and I may not agree with the conception for our own reasons, but it isn’t inconceivable. It’s just inconceivable with the set of constraints we are placing on it.

    That said, my big problem with God outside of time boils down to nothing to do with God, but to thinking about time and free will(sort of) in that time as a concept depends completly on linear tracking of events, with the future only being potential events and the past being finished events. A single static future can not exist, and if there are an infinite amount of potential futures, based on the existance of free will, then it doesn’t matter if these futures are merely conceptual in heavenly father’s head or if they are actual, because the infinite number of potential futures are going to change an infinite number of ways with every single act by every single actor who has free will. That takes care of moving forward in time. As for backwards in time, if God is omnisuperwonderful inside or outside of time, he isn’t going to need to go back and make corrections in any event. So ultimately it doesn’t matter if God is inside or outside of time, so far as I know, anymore than it matters whether God shops at Target or Wal-mart. (obviously Target.)

    Comment by Matt W. — March 21, 2007 @ 9:58 am

  30. You begin with the assumption that “time” exists. But what if, as Julian Barbour and others argue, time is an illusion? Perhaps God does not exist in time because time itself does not exist.

    Comment by kuri — March 21, 2007 @ 10:18 am

  31. kuri,

    I am not familiar with Julian Barbour, but from his wiki, he seems to be a modern day Parmenides. I am familiar with the fact that Einstein was fond of saying time is an illusion.

    Here is the problem, as I see it. Our experience and perception of reality is fully intertwined with our experience of time. To say that time is an illusion is to say that we have no reliable handle on reality through our experience of it. Nothing in my experience is coherent or meaningful in any way if what I perceive to be the passage of time is actually an illusion.

    So, I guess I have about the same reaction to your comment as if you had chimed in to say “You begin with the assumption that there is a world external to yourself. But what if there is nothing but you and everything else is in your mind. Maybe God doesn’t exist in time because he only exists in your mind and that is all that there is?” There is nothing I could say to disprove such an idea, but it is a complete non-starter because if it is true there is no point to any discussion. If I turn out to be a brain in a vat, or if there is nothing but me, or if time is an illusion, then those things would certainly undermine a lot of what I think, but I don’t lose sleep over it.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 21, 2007 @ 12:45 pm

  32. I don’t think Barbour would argue that our experience is unreal, but rather that it is misunderstood. IOW, our experience and perception of reality is intertwined with something that seems like “time” to you and me and everyone else, but that’s not really what it is.

    If he’s right, then I think that God the Creator or Organizer of the universe must understand this and is (probably) able to operate in reality rather than in our mistakenly-perceived reality. If so, then God can accurately be described as “timeless.”

    I should point out, BTW, that Barbour’s arguments are not metaphysical. He is a physicist and is attempting to use the mathematics of relativity, quantum mechanics, etc., to prove his ideas. So unlike the ideas of the Eleatics, Barbour’s ideas can be disproved if they are wrong.

    Comment by kuri — March 21, 2007 @ 1:40 pm

  33. Kuri,

    You are right that if one questions the existence of time then this discussion becomes moot (because if there is no time then we are all timeless along with God…). But I suspect the number of Mormons who seriously question the existence of time is very, very small. As Sterling McMurrin noted, Mormon theology has always been about becoming and becoming requires time.

    Comment by Geoff J — March 21, 2007 @ 2:03 pm

  34. “You are right that if one questions the existence of time then this discussion becomes moot (because if there is no time then we are all timeless along with God…).”

    I wouldn’t call it “moot,” because then the question becomes not whether God is bound by “time,” but whether God is bound by the same misperception of physical reality that we are.

    “But I suspect the number of Mormons who seriously question the existence of time is very, very small.”

    Argumentum ad populum?

    As Sterling McMurrin noted, Mormon theology has always been about becoming and becoming requires time.

    If Barbour’s theory is correct, change does not require time, time requires change. That was the basic idea that led to his theoretical work.

    Comment by kuri — March 21, 2007 @ 2:31 pm

  35. There are a large number of fundamental scriptures that do not make any sense if God does not experience time in much the same way we do. For example:

    “This is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39, italics added)

    How can a being without the experience of time have any sense of purpose or work? And in particular how can he strive to change the world from a less desirable state (e.g. universal misery and death) to a more desirable state (eternal life) if nothing ever comes to pass?

    And more particularly how can an entity with no sense of time be said to be alive at all? To bless? or love? or reward or punish? Sounds more like a piece of funiture to me.

    Comment by Mark Butler — March 21, 2007 @ 5:32 pm

  36. as Sterling McMurrin noted, Mormon theology has always been about becoming

    For the record I think McMurrin spent as much time trying to make Mormonism into his theology as elucidating what was Mormonism. While Mormon theology certainly emphasizes becoming that’s not all it’s been about. And certainly there’s been a strain of Mormon theology such as McConkie and JFS which wasn’t about becoming except to a limit amount.

    Comment by clark — March 21, 2007 @ 6:35 pm

  37. Kuri: If time doesn’t exist, could you explain to me how long it took you to write the post #32 and whether there was a change from before your post appeared to the time it appeared and the time interval whent this post appeared?

    Comment by Blake — March 21, 2007 @ 10:01 pm

  38. Clark,

    I don’t see where McMurrin tried to make Mormonism into his theology. Can you give me an example of him doing this?

    Even though BRM and JFS had a different conception of perfection than BY and Wilford Woodruff, you can hardly call theirs a philosophy of being rather than becoming. Name me one Mormon thinker who has not put progression at the heart of man’s purpose.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 21, 2007 @ 10:10 pm

  39. The problem with your logic is that time is just a concept that exists in mortality. Time itself is a fluid concept, it’s not even real.

    Comment by annegb — March 22, 2007 @ 9:27 am

  40. Mark,

    I think time, if it exists, is nowhere near as uniform as people in this discussion seem to be viewing it. We know that subjectively time is experienced at different speeds under different circumstances. It flies when we’re having fun, it may slow when one is depressed, it is generally experienced as faster by older people and as slower by children. Special Relativity asserts that time objectively moves at different speeds under different physical conditions. There are, of course, a number of scriptures that indicate that time is different for God than it is for us (e.g., Ps. 90, 2 Pet. 3:8, D&C 130).

    The scriptures also treat “time” and “eternity” as separate concepts. God is “eternal,” not “temporal.” Time will end (D&C 84: 100 & 88:110). I don’t think that is intended to turn us into furniture. :)

    Blake,

    If there is no such thing as time, then, according to Barbour’s hypothesis, what we experience as time is actually static arrangements of matter in “Nows” that only appear to involve time and change.

    I think that a possible theological implication of this idea is that, although it would make no practical difference for mortal beings because the only way we can experience those arrangements is as “time,” an “eternal” being with great power and knowledge might be able to experience them in a completely different way, perhaps being able to manipulate them in some way or move through them at will.

    Comment by kuri — March 22, 2007 @ 10:08 am

  41. annegb,

    Time itself is a fluid concept, it’s not even real.

    Okay, permit me to ask a couple of follow-up questions then. Do you ever pray for God to do something which would affect the future? (heal someone, protect someone, strengthen someone, etc.) Do you ever pray for God to change the past? If so, are you able to pray with faith that God will change what has already happened?

    Comment by Jacob J — March 22, 2007 @ 10:12 am

  42. Jacob says:

    Recently, a series of comments on different threads and from different people has convinced me that far more people believe that God lives outside of time than I would have suspected.

    Thank you kuri!
    I suspect that what annegb is trying to say is that some of those different people Jacob mentions who may be without a physics or philosophy background have an intuitive understanding of God and time that allows for the kind of ideas kuri mentions. It’s kind of an Eliza Snow “I’m a stranger here (in time)” thing.
    That in itself could be viewed as pretty meaningless, but can you deny that physics has plenty of room for what kuri is talking about?

    Comment by C Jones — March 22, 2007 @ 11:20 am

  43. Kuri,

    Since you are being persistent I guess I will ask: Do you actually believe that time is an illusion — that there really is no such thing as time — or are you just throwing that idea out there since one controversial physicist (Barbour) is pushing it?

    If you do really believe it, what evidence has led you to that belief?

    Comment by Geoff J — March 22, 2007 @ 11:28 am

  44. C Jones,

    some of those different people Jacob mentions …have an intuitive understanding of God and time that allows for the kind of ideas kuri mentions.

    If they have an understanding that allows for time to be an illusion, it is anything but “intuitive.” What I am observing from this and other discussions is that Mormons who believe God lives outside of time are generally unaware of the implications of that view. That’s okay. That’s why I’m here.

    [Since you don't know me very well, I better add that this last statement is made with a big smile and an elbow in your rib.]

    Comment by Jacob J — March 22, 2007 @ 11:48 am

  45. Geoff, is a controversial view the same thing as a controversial physicist? :-)

    Jacob- Mormons who believe that God lives outside of time are getting that idea from somewhere. Maybe from the scriptures kuri mentions in #40. Maybe they aren’t aware of the philosophical implications, but I still think we don’t know enough about the physics implications to say that there is not another way of understanding time that we can’t comprehend yet.
    “Deal with it” is so. . . absolute!

    Comment by C Jones — March 22, 2007 @ 12:24 pm

  46. Geoff,

    I have no basis for believing or not believing the idea — it has yet to be proved or disproved. My understanding is that Barbour (and a collaborator — he’s not entirely alone) has demonstrated mathematically that his ideas work for classical (Newtonian) physics and for General Relativity, but that the mathematics to test it as an entire “quantum cosmology” have yet to be developed.

    I should add that the idea of time not being real is not that far outside the mainstream of physics. Others, including Stephen Hawking, for example, have also addressed the concept. Barbour is noteworthy for the extent to which he has fleshed out a hypothesis, and of course he has attracted additional attention for writing a popular book and for having a somewhat eccentric personal story. I think that even those scientists who consider him dead wrong, if they have actually examined his work, view him as a serious scientist and not just some sort of crank.

    So, while I can’t say that I “believe” the idea, I do like it. I find it intellectually appealing. To the extent I’m able to understand it, I think it’s quite an elegant concept, and one can play with interesting theological implications as well. (For example, it would completely overturn Ostler’s claim that God must be in time if He is in space, and it would be one way that God could simultaneously experience “past,” “present,” and “future” as Elder Maxwell said.)

    But my reason for bringing it up in this discussion was not to promote Barbour’s concepts specifically, but to attempt to broaden the discussion by pointing out that we really know surprisingly little about “time,” i.e., what it actually is and how it actually works. I think that makes it very difficult to say with any certainty what an “eternal” existence is like and how such an existence must relate to “time,” especially since the scriptures are rather contradictory.

    Comment by kuri — March 22, 2007 @ 12:25 pm

  47. #41 Jacob,
    Did the atonement redeem all mankind prior to Christ from the fall? What is an “infinite” atonement anyway? Was repentance prior to Christ made efficacious by an event yet future? It seems like changing the past to me.

    Comment by Doc — March 22, 2007 @ 12:45 pm

  48. Kuri,

    I believe the original “time is no longer” scripture is Rev 10:6. It is likely the D&C scriptures are echoing the same idea.

    However, by long standing convention in LDS theology, “time” is often used as a synonym for “mortality”, and eternity for “post-mortality”. A typical example is we speak of couples married outside the temple as bound for “time only” and speak of couples sealed in the temple as bound for “time and all eternity” (or some similar expression).

    The scriptures extensively describe temporal succession between the time of death and resurrection (cf. Alma 40 and D&C 138). And we use the term “time only” to describe a “til death do you part”-style marriage. Those are two different and incompatible senses (mortality only and post-death temporal succession) in formal LDS usage.

    Furthermore, as the concepts of “action”, “power”, “potential”, and “possibility” are all incompatible with a strictly timeless state, an end to temporal succession of any kind would entail becoming strictly impotent and impassive, with no possibility of affecting or being affected by anything else. (At least piece of furniture pushes back when you kick it.)

    Therefore, lacking any sensible interpretation of what it would mean for time to be no longer other than for mortality to end (e.g. after everyone is resurrected), I think it is reasonable to read those three scriptures in the former pertaining-to-mortality sense only. The alternative would be to adopt some sort of Catholic style “beatific vision” doctrine, but doing nothing forever I think is a little foreign to our common conception of both divinity and exaltation.

    Comment by Mark Butler — March 22, 2007 @ 5:57 pm

  49. Time and Eternity are very different.

    Eternity is time without deadlines. :>

    ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — March 22, 2007 @ 6:14 pm

  50. Kuri: The problem with Barbour’s view of time is that there is no relation between the times defined in slices as “now.” Thus, Barbour’s theory wouldn’t allow you to answer the most basic questions about time duration and how long it takes to complete a task that I asked in # 37. Yet any view of “time” or lack thereof that doesn’t have the resources to allow answers to such basic questions is certainly an impoverished idea of time. Because change is essential to the LDS view of things, and quite unshakable for any person that is serious at all about science (not withstanding the 4d block universe of some theories of STR), I suggest that it really is not understandable at all and is empirically disproven every time something actually happens.

    Comment by Blake — March 22, 2007 @ 7:33 pm

  51. #23. Blake, I don’t know what you mean by God being in a time and place that he wasn’t. IIRC, your philosophical approach relies on Einstein-Minkowski spacetime. I think you agree that two observers in relative motion have “nows” that are different because they slice through spacetime at different angles. As Brian Greene describes it, “observers moving relative to each other have different conceptions of what exists at a given moment, and hence they have different conceptions of reality.”

    I think we had a discussion of Greene’s concept of applying the Lorentz transformation by assuming great distances between observers instead of great speeds. If you consider someone in a galaxy 10 billion light-years away from Earth (e.g., Kolob), that person would have the same “now-slice” as us if we are not moving relative to each other. But if that person moves directly away from us at even 10 miles an hour, his now becomes what we would call 150 years ago in the past; if he moves toward us, his “now” would be what we consider 150 years in our future.

    Did you disagree with this application of the Lorentz transformation? Was there a part of the formula that you disagree with?

    Traditionally, physicists don’t see a causation problem because of the vast distance involved; i.e., light (and knowledge and power to influence) cannot travel fast enough for the distant observer to affect our “now” even with his ability to “know” the past and future. But if God knows everything in his current “now-slice”, regardless of distance, he’s able to move backward and forward in our “now” simply by moving relative to us over these vast distances.

    This is the sense in which I suggest that God can move forward and backward in our time frame. It doesn’t require him to be present at a place he was not. He can experience time in his sphere (in proximity to Kolob, say), yet at the same time experience our past, present and future as he wishes by simply moving relative to us. The only supernatural aspects of this are God having instantaneous knowledge of everything in his “now-slice” and instantaneous ability (power) to effect changes (including, say, giving prophetic revelations) but aren’t these fundamental assumptions about God’s nature that you make in your books? Well, I suppose you don’t accept that God’s reveals the actual future, as I do; but with that difference, don’t you agree that God would have this type of knowledge and power?

    Comment by jonathan n — March 22, 2007 @ 9:14 pm

  52. I meant to add that I don’t think God is outside time or timeless, but simply that he can use time as a material in bringing about his purposes. This is why I think prophecy can reveal what actually happens in the future, and not just a “best guess” of what it might be. The theory that the future doesn’t exist yet I think creates more problems than it solves when it comes to understanding the specific prophecies that we have. I understand that Blake interprets these specific prophecies (the missing BoM pages, Enoch seeing Christ crucified, etc.) as modern expansions of more vague ancient texts, but I think they were revelations of the actual future.

    I don’t see the error in the application of the Lorentz transformation I mentioned above, but I’d be happy to understand why it doesn’t work. For me, it leaves God in a specific location of spacetime, in an environment where time operates, as I think the scriptures require, while also making it possible for him to see the past, present and future whenever he desires, which I also think the scriptures require.

    Comment by jonathan n — March 22, 2007 @ 9:53 pm

  53. “This is why I think prophecy can reveal what actually happens in the future, and not just a “best guess” of what it might be. The theory that the future doesn’t exist yet I think creates more problems than it solves when it comes to understanding the specific prophecies that we have”

    What about conditional prophecies, of which there are many, including those in my Patriarchal Blessing – such as this or that will or wont occur based upon our faithfulness, or that this or that society will prosper based upon its righteousness? Why give us the illusion of choice if in fact we have none? I know this is Philosophy 101, and infinitely dull: but I think that it isn’t possible to distinguish between God’s absolute foreknowledge of our choices and no choice at all. If there is contingency for us, there is contingency for God.

    I think that the future is fixed at any point in time, based on all conditions as they currently exist – more or less predictable but not computable to us; computable to God. But always in motion is the future, says Yoda. Where there are prophecies, they shall fail – only charity never faileth, says Paul. eh?

    ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — March 22, 2007 @ 10:39 pm

  54. Blake,

    The problem with Barbour’s view of time is that there is no relation between the times defined in slices as “now.”
    Not at all. In Barbour’s view, every Now belongs to the set of all possible Nows. The set of all possible Nows forms a definite topography (a stratified manifold, which is a type of configuration space), and each Now thus has a spatial relationship to every other Now.

    Thus, Barbour’s theory wouldn’t allow you to answer the most basic questions about time duration and how long it takes to complete a task that I asked in # 37.
    You could use a stopwatch to do that.

    Yet any view of “time” or lack thereof that doesn’t have the resources to allow answers to such basic questions is certainly an impoverished idea of time.

    I think that’s rather like calling General Relativity “impoverished” because it doesn’t tell me how much I weigh.

    Because change is essential to the LDS view of things, and quite unshakable for any person that is serious at all about science (not withstanding the 4d block universe of some theories of STR), I suggest that it really is not understandable at all and is empirically disproven every time something actually happens.

    Barbour’s starting point was the idea that change is not dependent on time.

    Really, I have to apologize for being unable to present these concepts better. If anyone’s interested in these ideas, Barbour has a website , there’s an interesting interview here, and of course, there’s his book, The End of Time.

    Comment by kuri — March 23, 2007 @ 7:41 am

  55. #41, Jacob, of course. But what we understand as time is an entirely different concept to God. We’re debating something based on finite temporal understanding. It’s a way God has given us to keep track, but it’s not the way God does things at all.

    You guys, never fear, all will be revealed. It’s all gonna work out okay.

    Comment by annegb — March 23, 2007 @ 9:41 am

  56. Kuri,

    I think that while the technical question of whether there is such a thing as absolute time (as opposed to time being a perception driven by other changes) might have some merit, for our purposes here if God has a present, a future, and a past (such that the past is history, and the future is open to his own discretion) then he is not timeless (or changeless) in the sense under discussion.

    If the future was fixed, as some have suggested, it is hard to see how divine foreknowledge would do any good, as God would be strictly powerless to change what he foresaw. All of existence would be a cosmic accident (or determined ex nihilo) and no one would have any real discretion to do anything about anything.

    Comment by Mark Butler — March 23, 2007 @ 10:31 am

  57. To add to jonathan n’s discussion of time, distance, and relative motion in #51 and #52, I’d like to mention that Brian Greene also says that the best modern physics can tell us about time is that it appears to be a frozen river — that our conceptions of flowing time don’t stack up with the math. According to him, everything that has happened and everything that will happen are there, in that frozen river, ready to be fast-forwarded or rewound, depending on the observer’s distance and relative speed.

    It’s hard to see where agency and different futures would fit in.

    (I might be grossly misrepresenting what Greene said. I haven’t read his book since last year.)

    Comment by Jason — March 23, 2007 @ 4:04 pm

  58. I’m a bit late to the comment party here, but I have put up my thoughts on this post at my blog. I invite the author’s and the audience’s comment.

    Here be it.

    Comment by Brad Haas — March 24, 2007 @ 12:45 am

  59. Doc (#47),

    You are certainly correct that the atonement was efficacious before the birth of Christ. I suppose one way to resolve this is to say that Christ’s suffering in the garden had some sort of backward causation. I personally don’t think that explanation is a very good one because I think backward causation opens up a can of rotten worms. Certainly, there are theories of atonement which do not require backward causation. So, it seems that belief in the atonement doesn’t lock a person into one view or the other on the matter of backward causation. If you believe God is timeless you might go the direction you suggested, but is there anything in the scriptures that suggests this as the correct interpretation of how the atonement functions? If not, it seems you are just saying that backward causation is part of your understanding of the atonement, not that the reality of the atonement is evidence of backward causation.

    Annegb (#55),

    But what we understand as time is an entirely different concept to God.

    This is the standard “God’s type of existence is inconceivable” approach I mentioned in the post. I don’t find it compelling, but there are obviously a lot of people who like it.

    You guys, never fear, all will be revealed. It’s all gonna work out okay.

    God already revealed himself to Joseph Smith, so we don’t have to wait. According to Joseph Smith he has a body “as tangible as man’s.” (D&C 130:22). Unlike classical theology, and many people commenting here, Joseph Smith was not prone to using the same word in describing man and God only to mean entirely different things by the same word.

    Mark (#56),

    Right on.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 24, 2007 @ 12:34 pm

  60. Brad, I responded over at your blog.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 24, 2007 @ 1:21 pm

  61. Jonathan: In Minkowki space-time there is no chance that what is past in one frame of reference can become future in that frame of reference. Further, for space-like events, all past events are in the light-cone of our past and therefore cannot be future in any frame of reference. So your argument from the STR won’t work as far as changing around past and future.

    Comment by Blake — March 24, 2007 @ 11:05 pm

  62. I also responded to Brad on Brad’s blog.

    Kuri: In Babour’s thought the space-like relations of the manifold are not adequate to provide a temporal relation to the time-slices. They are simply temporally part of spatial a continuum without any causal relations. So such a view makes causality non-sense and cannot explain the temporal relation of beginning to write from finishing to write — especially since they can be interchanged. Thus, the notion of causality is eviscerated. Such a view isn’t logically coherent and it certainly isn’t empirically indicated. So why adopt it at all?

    Comment by Blake — March 24, 2007 @ 11:22 pm

  63. Annegb (#55),

    But what we understand as time is an entirely different concept to God.

    This statement requires that we have God’s perspective as the basis for making the observation. Thus, the statement is incoherent because it implicitly asserts that we must have knowledge in order to make the statement that we cannot possess.

    Comment by Blake — March 25, 2007 @ 6:46 am

  64. Huh? Did you mean “thus, the statement is incoherent because it implicity asserts that we must have knowledge THAT WE CANNOT POSSESS in order to make the statement?”

    Because if that’s what you meant, I think the fact that we cannot possess a perspective on God’s timing is reason enough to say that we cannot understand eternity.

    I have two reasons for my opinions on “God’s time vs our time.”

    1. I fervently believe that time changes (I believe it stops, but for sure it changes) when things reach the speed of light and that God lives at the speed of light. Light is the medium through which God travels and communicates and watches over us. Perhaps even the electrical impulses in our body.

    2. I’ve studied near death experiences extensively and everyone who reports having one reports many many things happening in only a few minutes time. George Ritchie, upon whose story “Return From Tomorrow” is based, was clinically dead for 90 minutes, but he’s the exception. His experiences with the Savior would have taken hours in our realm. Thus, time in the spirit world is different than our measurement of time here.

    For instance, Raynelle Wallace was clinically dead for minutes, but she experienced hours of communication in the spirit world.

    Jacob, your rather sarcastic response to my comment ” This is the standard “God’s type of existence is inconceivable” approach I mentioned in the post. I don’t find it compelling, but there are obviously a lot of people who like it.” ” just doesn’t wash with me.

    Can you really conceive God’s type of existence? Do you flatter yourself that you know what it’s like to be God?

    The fact that God has a body–um, isn’t that a glorified exalted body, which is uncomparably superior to yours, or mine–doesn’t at all negate the transcendancy of His reality or His existence or His omnipotence.

    It appears to me that you are gauging God by your earthly experience and that is faulty reasoning.

    Comment by annegb — March 25, 2007 @ 8:34 am

  65. Annegb,

    First, I apologize for coming across as sarcastic. I did not intend that statement to convey sarcasm, but rather that I am aware that there are many people who agree with you. Obviously good people can come to different conclusions, which is what I am trying to acknowledge, even while stating why I come to the conclusion that I have.

    As far as NDEs go, I think the phenomenon you refer to can be fully accounted for by the fact that God’s time is reckoned differently (more slowly) than our time, as is stated in Abraham 3. In the post, I stated that “His time may be reckoned differently (more slowly according to that chapter), but it is quite clear in describing God as experiencing time and duration.” So, even in the experiences you describe, the people reporting their NDEs relate experiences that happened in time. They had one thing happen to them first, then something else happened after that, and so forth. In other words, they continued to exist in time.

    The reason I feel that I can comment on God’s type of existence is that he has revealed himself. You can say I am flattering myself, but I am simply taking the statements we have about God as relayed by prophets in the scriptures and looking at their meanings and implications. I quoted some verses from D&C 130 in the post, here are the ones that come before:

    1 When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves.
    2 And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.
    3 John 14:23—The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false. (D&C 130)

    Joseph Smith consistently relates God’s kind of existence to our own. He is a man “like ourselves.” He enjoyes the “same sociality” in his existence that we enjoy here. He gives “personal appearances.” So, rather than gauging God by my earthly experience, I am attempting to gauge God by the statements made about him in scripture and the logical ramifications of those statements.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 25, 2007 @ 10:37 am

  66. anngb: Actually, as Jacob points out, neither of your data support timelessness. The notion of timelessness is the absence of temporal succession. However, moving at the speed of light entails change and before and after. Time dilation may entail that we have different perceptions of “nowP in different inertial frames; but it certainly doesn’t entail timelessness.

    In addition, NDEs (which like you I take quite seriously) always include the occurrence of one experience or event before another even in the after-life. Such experience may suggest that our experience of time is different; but it doesn’t entail that there is no temporal succession.

    Comment by Blake — March 25, 2007 @ 11:25 am

  67. Hmmm….it appears, as happens far too often, I missed the point. I do believe God exists with natural laws and has some sort of measurement. I thought you were making the argument that His time is like our time. You wouldn’t believe how often I go back and read carefully and feel like a moron.

    I have mixed emotions, Jacob, about what you write. Not that it could or could not be fact, but how I feel emotionally. Do I want God to be more like me, therefore the possibility exists that I can be like Him (I know we’re told that, but personally, for myself, I have my doubts I’ll get that far) or do I want God to be totally magical, like a fairy Godmother, er, father?

    I want both.

    Comment by annegb — March 25, 2007 @ 3:45 pm

  68. There is an experiment in the works that is looking for retrocausality. (See here)

    Here’s a quote from this story:
    “Dating back to Newton’s laws of motion, the equations of physics are generally “time symmetric” — they work as well for processes running backward through time as forward. The situation got really strange in the early 20th century when Einstein devised his theory of relativity, with its four-dimensional fabric of space-time. In this model, our sense that history is unfolding is an illusion: The past, present and future all exist seamlessly in an unchanging “block” universe.”

    And: “If it (retrocausality) exists, the presence of conscious observers later in history could exert an influence on those first moments, shaping the laws of physics to be favorable for life. This may seem circular: Life exists to make the universe suitable for life. If causality works both forward and backward, however, consistency between the past and the future is all that matters. “It offends our common-sense view of the world, but there’s nothing to prevent causal influences from going both ways in time,” Paul Davies says. “If the conditions necessary for life are somehow written into the universe at the Big Bang, there must be some sort of two-way link.”

    I’m not arguing for or against timelessness, only that I don’t think we can be certain one way or the other yet. I realize that timelessness has implications for free will, etc. but what if this experiment succeeds? How would we work that result into our Mormon theology?

    Comment by C Jones — March 25, 2007 @ 4:48 pm

  69. Haven’t they already discovered backwards causality in the experiment with the branching photon and detectors of interference patterns?

    And just to point out, annegb, I used to like that D&C manual idea of the Lightspeed God too, until I learned some of the math behind the physics and realized that nothing can even hypothetically travel at the speed of light, else the equations that define the entire theory will end up in fractions with zeros on the bottom, which is the same thing as a mathematical impossibility.

    Jacob: As far as NDEs go, I think the phenomenon you refer to can be fully accounted for by the fact that God’s time is reckoned differently (more slowly) than our time

    Except, there would be less time for those experiences, not more. Either way you look at it (God’s day = 1000 earth years, or God travels faster through space than us), more time on the “other side” means way more time on this side.

    Comment by Jason — March 25, 2007 @ 5:53 pm

  70. anngb: Sorry, my intent wasn’t to make you feel bad. I just wanted to be precise in what timelessness entails. No reason to feel bad at all — when most start these discussions they have an amorphous concept of what it is to be outside of time and don’t deal with issues.

    C. Jones — the equations of STR may be isomorphic; the causal sequencing never is. A cause is before its effect — and there has never been in the history of the world any instance of the past being changed by a cause that occurred after the effect. No — photons don’t exhibit retrocausality. It is much more parsimonious to second guess the measurement devices or to believe in superluminal effects. So in terms of empirical support the equations are mere excercises in idealistic mathemtical realism. Most of us don’t take equations as linking to reality in that way — at least I don’t.

    Comment by Blake — March 25, 2007 @ 6:05 pm

  71. C Jones,

    That is an interesting article, but the author has failed to make a couple of important distinctions. The big one is that the known deterministic laws of physics, rather than implying that the past can be changed to a state different than what it was, actually strictly imply that it cannot be, but rather that the past (like the future) is a strict mathematical function of the present.

    The second is that what is considered causality in physics is generally different than what causality is considered in philosophy. Several philosophers have made the argument that in a perfectly deterministic world there is no such thing as causality, because there are no causally significant actions, such as decisions that could actually have made been one way or the other leading to different outcomes in each case.

    So unless the experimenters are allowing for the possibility of libertarian free will in the first place I can’t possibly imagine how they think they are going to introduce any causally significant actions to test against, let alone suggest the past actually changed – that seems a virtually impossible thing to establish.

    In any case, it is worth noting that a world in which the past could be changed would not be a-temporal or timeless, but rather hyper-temporal, as in having multiple versions of the past and thus the equivalent of more than one time dimension. The arguments for and against divine hyper-temporality are rather different than those for and against divine a-temporality, two completely different propositions that seem to have been confused quite a bit around here as of late.

    Comment by Mark Butler — March 25, 2007 @ 6:25 pm

  72. I don’t feel bad, I think it’s kind of funny, but it’s got to be maddening to people I argue with. “There she goes again.”

    I should have realized being New Cool Thang it was more complicated than I thought. I should have realized when I thought I knew what you were talking about, that I was in trouble. :)

    Comment by annegb — March 25, 2007 @ 7:58 pm

  73. Hehe… Maybe NCT should start standing for New Complicated Thang?

    Comment by Geoff J — March 25, 2007 @ 8:39 pm

  74. Jason (#69),

    I don’t take Abraham 3 to be teaching the concept of general relativity, and I am not trying to read that into the different reckonings spoken of. I don’t know exactly what the different reckonings mean, ultimately. I think the way it is portrayed in Abraham 3 leaves enough wiggle room to allow for the differences in perception of the speed of time reported in NDEs like those annegb refered to. I probably made it sound like I am reading general relativity into that text, so I am glad for the chance to clarify.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 25, 2007 @ 9:54 pm

  75. annegb,

    Glad you are along for the ride. I must quickly comment on one of the last things you said because I think it is profound:

    Do I want God to be more like me, therefore the possibility exists that I can be like Him …or do I want God to be totally magical, like a fairy Godmother, er, father?

    I want both. (#67)

    This nails it, and you are not alone in wanting both. Sterling McMurrin hits on this same point in his essay about God as a person. Many of the debates about the nature of God arise because it seems we cannot have both, and perhaps the best indicator of which way a person will go on various theological issues is discovered in how they answer your question above.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 25, 2007 @ 10:07 pm

  76. I too think this God as a person issue is huge Jacob. For instance, the description Brad was giving God in his response over at his blog seemed to be totally incompatible with personhood as I understand it.

    Comment by Geoff J — March 26, 2007 @ 7:49 am

  77. “Time is a placebo, masquerading as a simile.”
    -They Might Be Giants

    Comment by Doc — March 26, 2007 @ 2:33 pm

  78. A cause is before its effect — and there has never been in the history of the world any instance of the past being changed by a cause that occurred after the effect.

    Well, be careful. That really depends upon how one takes Feynman diagrams. What you say is true only for macro-level phenomena. For quantum phenomena one valid interpretation certainly is to throw out forward only causality. Although many scientists are loath to do so without further evidence.

    There are interesting experiments in this regard though. John Cramer, of the transactional interpretation of QM fame, has some experiments underway that will push this further than it has thus far been pushed. Although probably not in an unambiguous fashion.

    Comment by Clark — March 26, 2007 @ 3:07 pm

  79. To add, as Mark points out, causality itself is not an unproblematic notion. Hume, if no one else, demonstrates why.

    Comment by Clark — March 26, 2007 @ 3:08 pm

  80. Clark,

    Although I would appreciate a pointer to what Hume had to say, I take the side of those who believe that causation (like responsibility) is a problematic concept in a strictly deterministic universe.

    Comment by Mark Butler — March 26, 2007 @ 3:39 pm

  81. Hume’s point is more about deductive logic and the impossibility of proving causation since correlation (which is all we can witness) doesn’t imply causation except via loose induction.

    Here’s one paper on the topic. It ends up being a constantly problematic issue in philosophy of science.

    Comment by clark — March 26, 2007 @ 10:03 pm

  82. #61 Blake, are you saying that the Lorentz transformations are incorrect? In what way are they incorrect?

    Comment by jonathan n — March 31, 2007 @ 4:35 am

  83. Jonathan: What do Lorentz transformations have to do with what is in the past and future of the light cone? No I’m saying that there is a region of light signals and that no light signal from our own inertial frame of reference that is past can be present or future to us because they are in our past/future light cones.

    Comment by Blake — March 31, 2007 @ 9:02 pm

  84. Has anyone here read Flatland? What if God simply exists in a 4 dimensional realm? This would not require him to be 4-dimensional, simply that he was somehow conscious of it (and that we are not, perhaps thanks to the veil?). If that 4th dimension was simply a fourth spatial dimension, he could walk through walls. If that 4th dimension was a time dimension, he could walk through time. Or there could be 5, in which case he could do both. Or perhaps Matt’s #1 leads to an infinite number of dimensions (spatial and at least one time but maybe more) that are not necessarily linear and now he can go anywhere and anywhen with very little effort. That doesn’t mean he is literal omnipresent (as in the size of the entire universe+), only that he can go anywhere he chooses.

    Comment by Robert — March 31, 2007 @ 11:56 pm

  85. Robert, I’ve read some parts of Flatland, and it was great because it opened my eyes to the possibility of more spatial dimensions — dimensions like the 4th that are utterly unimaginable.

    Although, there have been several mathematical exercises (anthropic arguments) showing that there must be only one time dimension and three spatial dimensions, else waves wouldn’t work the way we see them work. There’s some other stuff too, all mathematical, that also seem to dismiss more spatial dimensions than three.

    Comment by Jason — April 1, 2007 @ 10:18 pm

  86. Jason,

    But then, string theory introduces several other spatial dimensions, so I wouldn’t say science has ruled anything out.

    All,

    I just want to emphasize Mark’s comments in #71 about the difference between hyper-temporality and a-temporality. This post is focused on the problems with God being atemporal.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 2, 2007 @ 12:39 pm

  87. Jason,

    Jacob beat me to the string theory comment (and there are several other competing theories that also require multiple spatial dimensions). Unfortunately, those are usually tiny rolled-up dimensions but it still goes to show that science doesn’t rule out multiple dimensions. Additionally, if you believe in spiritual beings of any kind, you can’t rely on using science’s non-detection of something as proof that it’s not there.

    Hypothetical: what if we are all 4-dimensional beings with our spirits existing solely (or at least primarily) in a 4th dimension and our physical bodies existing primarily in the standard 3 dimensions. Just like the 2d beings couldn’t really fathom the 3d being we would be hard pressed to conceptualize what the 4th dimension was. Our senses would only understand 3 dimensions (particularly our sense of sight and touch). I present it more as a conceptual exercise than a real theory but consider now what it would mean for the spirit world to be “all around us” or to open your “spiritual eyes”. You get a real, physical explanation for all of the spiritual things that seem to defy physics as we understand them.

    Most likely, that’s not how it works but the real way is probably analogous in some way.

    Comment by Robert — April 2, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

  88. #83. Sorry it takes me so long to reply to this but I broke my left hand and my typing is much slower.

    Okay, I understand what you’re saying about light cones, but that’s precisely the point that Greene makes when discussing this application of the Lorentz transforms. After explaining how the special relativity equations produce the result that movement of someone (A) at even a slow speed toward or away from someone (B) at a vast distance from B would move A forward or backward in the time-reference or “now” of B, Greene points out that the speed of light is slow enough to prevent any causation paradox. I think this is what you are saying by referring to the light cones.

    What I’m saying is that if God’s knowledge and power is not constrained by the speed of light, then he can literally move forward and backward in “our time” simply by physically moving through spacetime–at least if the relativity equations, including the Lorentz transforms, are accurate. This means that while God is temporal, he is also capable, through his knowledge and influence not limited by the speed of light, of perceiving what we think of as past, present, and future, whenever he wants and in whatever order he wants.

    IOW, relativistic events are greatly amplified even at low velocities when considered over vast distances in space. This is what I think Abraham’s teachings are getting at; the further A is from B, the greater the impact of relativity.

    So in order for you to maintain that God cannot see our actual future, you would either have to reject the equations of relativity, you would have to say that God is physically oo close to us for thie application of the equations to work, or you would have to say that God is bound by the limitations of the speed of light. Maybe you have said this and I missed it somewhere, but is this your position?

    Comment by jonathan n — April 5, 2007 @ 11:56 am

  89. Jonathan N.,

    I think the first thing to recognize is that there are quite a few unresolved questions about the compatibility of relativity and quantum mechanics. The latter is an inextricably non-local theory and the first corollary of special relativity is that non-locality is impossible.

    The problem I see with your suggestion is similar. In SR anything that travels faster than the speed of light is going backwards in time in some reference frame, i.e. it is a causality violation. It doesn’t really matter what the transform predicts about psuedo-simultaneity at great distances, the whole basis of the transform is that nothing can exceed the speed of light.

    By the time evidence of the “future” at some remote distance has arrived, the events will be long since past – in the sense that nothing can be done to affect them anymore. In other words, relativity based foreknowledge isn’t fore-knowledge at all, but rather conventional “after” knowledge.

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 5, 2007 @ 5:48 pm

  90. Mark, you’re right about this, and I said the same thing with regard to how the limits of the speed of light prevent causality problems. But aren’t you confusing evidence of the “future” with what is actually occurring at any specific moment?

    As we read this, a distant galaxy is forming, but we won’t see evidence of this for hundreds or thousands of light years because of the slowness of the speed of light. Do you mean to suggest that God, at this moment, would be unable to know both that we are reading these posts and that that distant galaxy is forming? Or do you mean that God, assuming he is capable of knowing both of these events, is unable to exercise power or influence over both events?

    I’m saying that anything which is occurring at this moment anywhere in the universe is within God’s perception of “now.” Whether it is us reading this post or the distant galaxy forming right now, both events are within God’s “now-slice.” He is not limited to what he can perceive by the speed of light. If so, then God is also able to move forward and backward in time relative to any place distant from his physical location.

    I’m not clear on what part of this you disagree with.

    Comment by jonathan n — April 6, 2007 @ 11:09 am

  91. Jonathan,

    The formalism of SR does not allow any sort of transluminal communication, including anything that would allow an immanent being to know of an independent event at a remote distance faster than the light arrival time because any such communication goes backward in time (i.e. is a causality violation) in some reference frame.

    So it would seem that your argument requires that the formalism of SR is both correct and incorrect – correct with regard to pseudo-simultaneity of remote future events and incorrect with regard to the impossibility of transluminal communication.

    If transluminal communication is possible, SR (as a theory) is seriously defective, i.e. virtually certain not to have the properties the other half of your argument depends on.

    Of course extremely well attested results from quantum mechanics imply that is actually the case – that SR has something seriously wrong with it. Physicists claim it is not a problem because the communication has has yet to be shown to be anything other than random, but it would seem that random influences travelling backward in time in some reference frame would be just as much an SR violation as controlled ones.

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 6, 2007 @ 6:34 pm

  92. So it would seem that your argument requires that the formalism of SR is both correct and incorrect – correct with regard to pseudo-simultaneity of remote future events and incorrect with regard to the impossibility of transluminal communication.

    Bingo. This is the crux of the problem I have with jonathan n’s argument.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 6, 2007 @ 10:06 pm

  93. Thanks, Jacob.

    [I am confused. Are you the same Jacob who started posting here a few months ago? I see posts by "Jacob" but no recent comments by him.]

    Comment by Mark D. — April 6, 2007 @ 10:25 pm

  94. Yes, Jacob and Jacob J are one and the same on this site. I changed handles (on this comment, to be precise (the context there will explain why I added a J when my last name does not start with that)) because I was worried there would eventually be another Jacob out there. I have since found out that there is another Jacob (or perhaps more than one) who posts at various places (for example, this comment is not me), so this was a good thing. We never updated my profile on the site, so my posts still come up under Jacob.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 7, 2007 @ 1:14 am

  95. Ha! That other Jacob made a comment I would not want to take credit for either.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 7, 2007 @ 9:59 am

  96. Mark, we rely on SR, which describes the world as we perceive it, but as you point out, it breaks down at the quantum level. I’m saying that our belief that God resides at a vast distance from us necessarily implies that his knowlwdge and influence cannot be constrained by what we know of SR, including the limits of the speed of light.

    So yes, I think SR is incorrect with respect to the impossibility of transluminal (or superluminal) communication. Do you believe that God is bound by SR?

    Comment by jonathan n — April 10, 2007 @ 7:47 am

  97. Jonathan,

    No I don’t. For one, I think a speed of light limitation to the Spirit would make divine administration of the universe rather untenable. And second, I think that the non-locality of quantum mechanics (even over macroscopic distances) more or less contradicts conventional SR/GR anyway, and the level of evidence for the former vastly outweighs the evidence for the strict constraints of the latter.

    But the main point is that SR, were it strictly correct would make it harder rather than easier for God to even have a complete knowledge of the present. And I take the position that a natural law that doesn’t apply to God isn’t a natural law at all. The necessity of a suffering atonement is ample evidence that natural laws do apply to God, or he could just dispense with the whole thing, along with war and starvation and so on.

    Comment by Mark D. — April 10, 2007 @ 11:47 am

  98. I’m confused by what you mean about SR being strictly correct. It explains the natural world well enough that we rely on it all the time, just as we do gravity or chemical reactions. In this sense, isn’t it strictly correct? Would you say that these are natural laws that God is bound by?

    SR describes the relationship between velocity and mass, but it doesn’t account for the type of knowledge and influence that God has.

    But at any rate, what better description do you know of for the influence of vast distances and relative motion on our concept of time?

    Comment by jonathan n — April 11, 2007 @ 6:53 am

  99. Jonathan,

    I think one of the things that is not well appreciated is how radically different a physical theory that provides useful results can be from an alternative theory that provides better ones. It is a question of model vs. reality.

    And the typical problem is until we have a better model, it is difficult not to believe that the best one we have corresponds to the way things really are. However, experience has shown that there is often a considerable (and occasionally enormous) gap between the model of reality presented by one pragmatically useful theory, and reality as implied by a more accurate successor.

    In this case, as long as we have two pragmatically useful theories that present such diverging and contradictory pictures of basic physical realities, it is difficult to conclude that either of them is quite right.

    With regard to your other question, it is hard to know what laws are sufficiently basic that they are not special cases of more fundamental laws. However, when we say ex nihilo creation is impossible we are at minimum making a statement about the conservation of energy.

    Comment by Mark D. — April 11, 2007 @ 7:32 pm

  100. I get #100.

    Has anyone here read The End of Certainty by Ilya Prigogine? If so, any opinions? I just finished it and found it to be fascinating. Prigogine makes lots of interesting arguments; most relevant to this thread are his arguments for the necessity of an arrow of time to account for time-irreversible processes studied in thermodynamics. Far-from-equilibrium processes and chaotic systems provide the examples, and as he points out, these are the most common things found in nature (all the time-reversible stuff is generally a simplification of what actually occurs in nature). At the end of the book, he offers a solution to the problem of the special role of the observer in quantum mechanics (which is why Mark’s #99 made me think of it). His refutation of determinism would also be of interest to some of the people here. It is interesting that quantum mechanics often comes up in discussions of determinism because of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, but Prigogine argues that the real breakdown happens in chaotic systems (Schrodinger equation being deterministic and time-reversible). Anyway, intersting stuff, I’m curious if anyone is aware of it and has an opinion.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 11, 2007 @ 8:46 pm

  101. Jacob J,

    I haven’t read that book, but it sounds like one I should.

    Comment by Mark D. — April 12, 2007 @ 11:04 pm

  102. Jacob J: Yeah, I have read Prigogine’s book and enjoyed it — it has a certain process philosophy assumption that agrees by and large with the way I approach the interface between metaphysics and physics.

    Comment by Blake — April 13, 2007 @ 3:05 am

  103. Just for an additional take on God not being timeless:

    The thesis that God is beyond time has sometimes been introduced to account for God’s omniscience or foreknowledge. Only if God is somehow transtemporal, it is argued, can he view past, present, and future as “one eternal now.” This position is assumed by much postbiblical theology. But, again, this leads to contradiction: What will happen in the infinite future is now happening to God. But “now” and “happening” are temporal words that imply both duration and change. For Latter-day Saints, as for the Bible, God’s omniscience is “in time.” God anticipates the future. It is “present” before him, but it is still future. When the future occurs, it will occur for the first time to him as to his creatures. The traditional concept of “out-of-time” omniscience does not derive either from the Old or the New Testament but is borrowed from Greek philosophy.
    (time and eternity, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1479.)

    Comment by Matt W. — April 14, 2007 @ 9:32 pm

  104. “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”

    From The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

    Comment by S. Marshall — April 26, 2007 @ 5:59 am

  105. I hate to break it to you, but the confusion lies within your reading of texts not in the Holy Bible and based on the teachings of a suspected heretic. Drop the extra books, get back to the KJV or American Standard versions of the Holy Bible, and you will not doubt the timelessness of God.

    Ecclesiastes 3:11

    Comment by Christian — March 31, 2010 @ 1:13 pm

  106. Lol.

    Good one Christian.

    Comment by Geoff J — March 31, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

  107. Christian:

    Just reading the Holy Bible does not satisfy the doubt that God is timeless.

    Furthermore, if Ecclesiastes means what you interpret it to mean, how can you say that God is timeless since “no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. ”

    Proposing that God is timeless is “finding out.”

    Comment by James — June 15, 2010 @ 10:30 am

  108. You got it. We cannot conceive change without the concept of time. But you don’t seem to realise that even the concept of changelesslessness requires time. We say the scenario A is changeless if it has the same characteristic from time to time. Infact without the proper concept of time, we cannot conceptualise anything at all. Timelessness is simply a meaningless concept!

    Comment by Kirui — April 2, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

  109. Kirui,

    That the concept of change requires time was one of the main points of the post, so I don’t know why you think I don’t realize that. Your argument that timelessness is meaningless as a concept seems a bit thin to me. Just because our thoughts exist in time does not entail that timelessness is a meaningless concept. After all, I can conceive of situations in which conceptions do not exist. Thoughts as we understand them require brains, but I can conceive of a universe without brains, even though conceptions would be impossible in such a universe.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 3, 2011 @ 10:04 am

  110. I also can conceive a situation where there are no conceptions. But for it to be a situation at all. It must last for some time! When does this situation happen? There must be a period during which there are no conception. It is the changelessness scenario which I said yot don’t seem to realise that it requires the concept of time. Conception is an event just like football match. It involves changes in the brain. There being no such changes requires a period during which there are no such changes. Please not the difference between the CONCEPT of time and the CONCEPTION of time. it is the conception of time that can be said not to be there without thougth. But for us to figure this out AT THE PRESENT MOMENT, the concept of time when there was no conception time absolutely comes out.

    Of course you realise that the consept of change requires time. It was changelessness as a different concept that I was talking about. But now do you agree that conception is a form of change and non conception is a form of changelessness? This is just how I view time. Every truth must have a period during which it is true. Including the truth that ‘there is no conception’. It is just like there being no football match. the scenario occurs at a certain time.

    Comment by Kirui — April 7, 2011 @ 4:51 am

  111. The concept of time is very different than the conception of time. I agree with you that the conception of anything requires time, which is why I said thinking requires time. In 108 you said “the concept of changelessness” requires time, which is what I took issue with.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 8, 2011 @ 11:57 pm

  112. It’s all a matter of math really. Like many here have stated multiple scripture reference talk about time being different for us … even “lengthened”. “Lengthened” timelessness makes no mathematical sense whatsoever (nevermind all the scriptures that discusses “the Lord’s due time”). Of course, we don’t know whether the scriptures have been given to us in that way simply because our puny temporal brains can’t possibly conceive of how timelessness can interface with time.

    But if that is indeed the case, then who am I to argue with God when he’s taught us that he has is “own time”? There’s obviously a reason why he wants me to perceive of Him having a timeline and I’d be a fool to consider my metaphysical musings as being superior to his instruction. Even if such references are only symbolically true of what really happens on his timeless scale (but there again “timelessness” and “scale” – 2 incompatible concepts as far as my puny brain can determine), there’s a reason He’s taught us that way and I’m fairly convinced it’s a good reason. A timeless-nature of God is fun to consider though – but beyond mere consideration it seems fraught with confusion that seems largely disputed by LDS cannon.

    Comment by davea0511 — April 11, 2011 @ 10:09 am

  113. When we were young and i think could think better, we could not ask; ‘who created time?’ we were right!

    Put aside the morden indoctrinations and lets think through some issues. What is to begine? It is right to say, the beginning of a soccer match, the beginning of life, the beginning of race etc. Think about it. By saying event had a beginning, i mean that there was a moment when there was no such an event but there was another moment when there was such an event. Apply this to time. It mean there was moment when there was no time. What can such a statement mean? It mean there was a time when there was no time. So which ‘time’ is time? When we were young and i think could think better, we could not ask; ‘who created time?’ we were right!

    Put aside the morden indoctrinations and lets think through some issues. What is to begine? It is right to say, the beginning of a soccer match, the beginning of life, the beginning of race etc. Think about it. By saying event had a beginning, i mean that there was a moment when there was no such an event but there was another moment when there was such an event. Apply this to time. It mean there was moment when there was no time. What can such a statement mean? It mean there was a time when there was no time. So which ‘time’ is time?

    Comment by Kirui — August 7, 2011 @ 1:50 am

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