God and Time: The Concept of Eternity and the Reality of Tense

Dissertation, The University of Wisconsin - Madison (1985)

Abstract

The focus of this dissertation is the classical concept of eternity, which involves the claim that God exists outside of time. Boethius provided medieval thinkers with the standard definition of eternity as "the complete possession all at once of eternal life." In Chapter One I discuss the implications of this definition as it was understood by Boethius, Anselm and Aquinas. I argue that that God is timeless only if the tenseless theory of time is true. Duns Scotus's objection to divine timelessness are canvassed, and the recent attempt of Stump and Kretzmann to characterize the concept of eternity is criticized. ;The traditional theological motivation for eschewing the everlastingness of God involves the claim that divine foreknowledge is incompatible with human freedom. In Chapter Two I evaluate and reject the arguments of Boethius, Jonathan Edwards and Nelson Pike for this claim. ;In Chapter Three I argue that the tenseless view of time is false, and that it follows that a timeless and immutable God cannot be omniscient, and that an omniscient God cannot be immutable. I argue that twentieth-century physics provides no conclusive grounds in favor of the tenseless view of time, that the leading accounts of the present put forth by adherents of the tenseless view of time are not acceptable, that the tenseless view cannot account for our capacity for timely action, and that the tenseless view implies the unreality of change. I conclude that since tense is real, an eternal God cannot be omniscient, and an omniscient God cannot be eternal. ;Chapter Four addresses the implications of the doctrine of divine eternality for divine and human personhood and agency. I defend Pike's objection that a timeless God could not create anything, given the ordinary meaning of the term "create." I argue that an eternal God may still be regarded as a person. Finally, I argue that the tenseless view of time presupposed by the doctrine of divine eternality undermines the conception of human beings as moral agents responsible before God for their actions.

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