What is time?


(SeanO) #1

Since time is an idea and not an actual thing (assuming we are not Platonists in that sense) then doesn’t the fact that God is eternal and unchanging make God the fulcrum or hub since all events happen relative to Him? I read a bit about A-theory and B-theory. I feel like I would be a B-theorist. A-theory appears to treat ‘the now’ in away that almost feels a bit like conjecture. Though I am not very familiar with either theory.

Thanks for taking the time to answer questions. Your thesis sounds intriguing.

Ask Dr. Greg Ganssle (November 6-10, 2017)
(Greg Ganssle) #2


This is a great question. Time is complicated. Is it a thing? or an idea? Of course it depends on what counts as things. One way to think theologically about time is to ask whether God created time or whether time is an aspect of God’s nature. I tend to think that God created time, because it makes sense to me that time is not something that exists necessarily. IF God created time, then God is in some sense outside time. Time is not part of the divine nature.
Your question is whether this view makes God "the fulcrum or hub since a events happen relative to Him"
In some sense EVERY view will hold that God is the fulcrum or the hub. God’s being and activity are the central items in reality. Everything is ordered around Him. This feature of Christian thinking is more a matter of God’s ultimacy rather than anything about time.
Whatever our views about God’s relation to time, there are some theological convictions we need to hold. First, God can and does act in the physical world. He does miracles from time to time. Second, He knows anything that can be known. Third, He is able to accomplish His plan.

The debate between the A and the B theory is a great one. The A theory (for the benefit of those listening in on our conversation) holds that the most fundamental thing about time is the present- the Now. As a result the future and the past are fundamental as well. The B theory holds that the most fundamental things about time are the relations things or events have to each other. So my birth is before my wedding. The “before” relation between these two events never changes, while which event is present, past, or future, does change. I am grateful that both of these events are past!

Some people object to the B theory because they think it denies that change is real. I don’t think that this objection is strong. Something changes if it has different properties at different times. On the B theory this is perfectly possible. I have a beard in 2017 but I did not in 1957.

Some people object to the A theory because they think relativity theory implies the B theory. Again, I do not think that this is a strong objection. In order for the objection to hold, it has to be the case that physical time is all there is to time.

One thing is for sure, time is in several ways different from space. For example, there is a privileged direction to time (events begin as future and become present and then become past) but there is not privileged direction to space.

The A theorists hold that there is also a privileged location in time (while there is not one in space) That location is the Now. The B theorist thinks that time and space are similar in that there is no privileged location for either.

Thanks for your question!

(SeanO) #3

Greg - thanks for the response! Very clear explanation.

The objection to the B theory that change is not real seems to be viewing change as a thing rather than as a category we have for describing a change of state in physical objects or a change in relationships between abstract categories we have created (married, bearded, etc). Now we have not only time being called a thing, but change too - a descriptor for the passage of time. Starting to feel like I might see the number two walking down the street :slight_smile:

(Greg Ganssle) #4


I do worry about how you draw the distinction between something being a thing and it being a category for description. I am not sure this is a distinction you want to draw. It sounds like you are arguing that change is a way of describing something. But a way of describing something is a piece of language. So, of course, we use language to describe a change, but we are not talking about the language. We are talking about the thing - change.

Perhaps you are worried about calling change a substance or something like that. I think we want to say that changes are real. They are not just linguistic or psychological things. But the B theory can say that change is real.

(Kay Kalra) #5