Smith and Divine Eternity

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Smith and Divine Eternity

Edward Feser


Quote:...his work in the philosophy of time, in which his deep knowledge of and interest in metaphysics, physics, and philosophy of religion converged.  All three are in evidence in the book he co-wrote with William Lane Craig, Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology – the book which, I think, is what introduced me to Smith’s work in the early 90s, at a time when I was myself still an atheist.  They are also evident in another book of his from that period that I especially liked at the time – the fun little volume Time, Change, and Freedom: An Introduction to Metaphysics, which he co-wrote with L. Nathan Oaklander.  It is written in the unjustly neglected dialogue form that once was common in philosophy, and done very well.


Quote:1. Eternity as non-temporal duration: On this view, for God to exist eternally is for him to exist simultaneously with every instant of time...

As Smith points out, this view won’t work.  If 1776 is simultaneous with God’s awareness and 2021 is simultaneous with God’s awareness, then 1776 is simultaneous with 2021 after all.  Or, if they are not simultaneous, then God’s awareness of 1776 and his awareness of 2021 are also not simultaneous, in which case God exists at different moments of time and is not eternal.  The “non-temporal duration” interpretation is a muddle.
Quote:2. Eternity as tenseless duration: Consider the tenseless theory (or B-theory) of time, according to which all moments of time – 1776, 2021, and all the rest – are equally real.  There are earlier and later events (for example, events in 2021 are later than those of 1776) but no event is objectively past, present, or future (as events are on the tensed or A-theory of time).  The “tenseless duration” view of eternity holds that the tensed or A-theory of time is true, so that events in time are objectively past, present, and future.  But it holds that God has duration with successive parts, ordered in something like the way that events are ordered according to the B-theory.  There are earlier and later stages of God’s existence, but none of them is objectively past, present, or future (the way that events in time are) so that God is outside of time.

One problem with this, as Smith points out, is that it implicitly brings God into time after all....
Quote:Eternity as a present instant: This view abandons talk of duration and conceives of God as existing in a single instant.  But this instant remains permanently present, being outside of time and thus having no instants preceding it or succeeding it.

As Smith objects, this is simply a muddle...


Quote:Eternity as a tenseless instant...
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell



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