Monday, December 20, 2010

Eternal and Everlasting God

When a philosophical theologian expresses his concept of the most perfect being, he must defend his choices against other alternatives expressions. We might ask a painter, 'Why did you choose a particular shade of red for that bush?'; 'Doesn't that tree clash a bit with it's surroundings?'; or even 'Can a picture really depict your backyard at dusk?' Similarly we might ask a philosophical theologian, 'Why did you choose to define God this way instead of that?'; 'Doesn't that idea about God clash with your other claim about God?'; or even 'Can language ever hope to realistically depict what a perfect being would be like?'

These are all good questions, but I'll focus on a very simple distinction related to the second. I've been playing around with a paradox to find the strongest way to state it. I consider this an application of the principle of charity, which compels us to always reconstruct the strongest form of an argument, if we intend to deal with the argument.
One of the questionable premises: 3) At all times, God desires to receive worship.
There are at least two basic ways to understand God's relation to time. One view is that God is an eternal or timeless being. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “He who goes along the road does not see those who come after him; whereas he who sees the whole road from a height sees at once all those traveling it.” [1] Is this consistent with the premise above? It appears not. If the above premise places a temporal index on God, and yet God is timeless, then how would a timeless being be temporally indexed?  However, it looks like a temporal index can be placed on the predicate (having desires) without applying to the subject...or can it?  Another way of seeing God's relation to time is that of an everlasting being. This is the sense in which the premise would be correct if it applied to God: namely, that God exists throughout the entirety of time. The psalmist declares, "For the Lord is good, and his mercies are everlasting." [2] Of course, the translation committee may have decided to use 'everlasting' instead of 'eternal' for precisely the purpose of making that distinction, so don't get too impressed.

Here's the real humdinger: suppose God is eternal and everlasting?

Let ID be the (eternal) intrinsic property of having desires
Let ED be the (everlasting) contingent property of having desires about actual objects*
Let S be the temporal state of affairs 'God's being worshiped'
Let EW be any being other than God, an eligible worshiper

Another revision of the set
1) God is a perfect being
2) God has ID
3) God has ED|any actual state of affairs
4) God has ED|S only if S obtains
5) Prior to God creating EW, S does not obtain
6) Prior to God creating EW, it is not the case that God has ED|S

No contradiction is apparent, but let's think about the premises.  If God knows all past/present/future states of affairs, then 5 is false. Premise 4 will likely be rejected by the likes of Plantinga, who give possible worlds some sort of ontological status.  And 4 must be true in order for the move from ~S to ~(God has ED).  It also appears that relative to an everlasting being: all actual states of affairs are known (and exist) regardless of their temporal index. If S is actual, then God desires it at all times. So even if S is actual at t2, but not t1: God knows S for all values of t. That appears to be the eternalist view of time.  Perhaps a presentist might have his own objections.

Even though there is no paradox, there are still problems. What does the second premise actually mean? Does God desire Himself timelessly? Well, Christians might agree with that...but then why create anything at all. And now we have arrived at what I think is the true heart of the matter. If God is intrinsically perfect, why did He create anything at all?  Feel free to make corrections to this post.

[1] Summa Theologica, Part I (14)
[2] Psalm 100:5
*It seems to me that a temporal state of affairs entails that an object exists. So contingent on any temporal state of affairs obtaining, God has ED with respect to whatever objects subsume that state of affairs. God desires rocks, rock concerts, and rocket fuel, and the Rockettes.   This assumes a Reformed view of sovereignty.


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