Saturday, December 16, 2006

Does God know what time it is?

Believe it or not, this question is one of real debate among philosophers.

I mentioned in my last post blogs which I would like to read regularly, but don't. Jeremy Pierce and his associates' Parableman blog is one of these. Ever since July 2005 Jeremy has been posting a long series on Theories of Knowledge and Reality. His latest post on Omniscience and Time is number 34 in the series. I wish I had time to read them all.

But I did just dip into the series by reading the latest post. And yes, it really is about the philosophical question "Does God know what time it is?" Apparently there are three possible answers to this: God is within time and so knows what time it is in the same way as we do; or God doesn't know what time it is and so this is an exception to his omniscience; or, despite what most of us think, there is simply not such a fact as what time it is now - which I suppose must mean that the whole concept of "now" is illusory. Well, I'm not sure how accurate this summary is, so if you are interested you really ought to read Jeremy's whole post - and probably also his whole series!

Update (19th December): I realised even before Jeremy commented on this that my point
which I suppose must mean that the whole concept of "now" is illusory
is not really correct. The third alternative mentioned above is more that what time it is now is not an absolute fact but a relative one. There has been some more discussion about this in comments on Jeremy's post, including some further explanation of what is meant by a relative fact. I suggested the following way of putting it, and Jeremy has agreed that this is right:
God cannot say where he is, because he is not in any one place but is omnipresent; and for the same reason he cannot say what time it is, i.e. at what point he is on the time axis, because he is at every time.
So actually, after some further thought, I find myself agreeing with Jeremy's third alternative, that God doesn't know what time it is because for him this is not a meaningful concept.

3 Comments:

At Sunday, December 17, 2006 7:52:00 pm, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Peter, I've replied to your comment in my own comment thread. The short version is that "now" isn't illusory but is merely relative to what time the speaker is, just as "here" is not illusory but is merely relative to what place the speaker is. Both expressions are indexicals, which often are relative to some fact about the speaker.

 
At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 3:29:00 am, Blogger codepoke said...

Sure. If y = x^2, then you can say that when x = 4, y = 16. You don't experience yourself moving from 3 to 5 through 4, but you know exactly what 4 means, and you know where on the graph to find y.

So, if God is outside time, it doesn't mean that He cannot tell what time it is, but that He can observe any time He pleases.

 
At Friday, December 22, 2006 7:14:00 pm, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Codepoke, the issue is whether there's some absolute fact about what time it is. If not, then the phrase "what time it is" only has meaning in time. It takes its meaning from what time someone utters it. That means in an atemporal location there's no proper answer to the question. God would still indeed be causally connected with every moment just as he's causally connected with every place. But omnipresence doesn't mean physical presence in every location, because God isn't physical. Why not the same for time?

 

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