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Chapter Ten | God and Time

In the place of the omnipotence there is neither before nor after, there is only act.

—Charles Williams, Descent into Hell, ch. vi.

In a discussion of natural theology one can hardly avoid enquiring how God is related to time, that mysterious and tragic feature of the world concerning which St Augustine remarked in a famous epigram that he knew what it was as long as nobody asked him but as soon as anybody asked him he did not know.1 On the problems connected with time itself I should like to commend in the warmest terms Dr G. J. Whitrow's book The Natural Philosophy of Time, in which the author has brought together, with a quite astonishing versatility, a vast amount of relevant material from the realms of philosophy, psychology, biology and experimental and mathematical physics and has handled it with uniform understanding and sympathy. On the strictly theological issues I would specially mention Dr Nelson Pike's recent book God and Timelessness, which is remarkable both for the minuteness and skill of the argument and for the modesty and restraint of its conclusions; if it suffers, as I think it does, from one rather serious oversight, this does not diminish my sense of the very great help that I have received from it.2

The matter of the relation of God to time involves in fact two distinct but connected questions: (1) Is God timeless? (2) Is God changeless? That they are connected is shown by the fact that if the former is answered in the affirmative the latter must receive an affirmative answer as well, for change can be predicated only of subjects that exist in time. (It may, however, be well to add that the changelessness that is predicated of a timeless being is very different from the changelessness that would be predicated of a being that existed in time but did not undergo any change.) We cannot consistently assert both that God is timeless and that he is subject to change, but we could consistently assert that he is immune from change without being timeless.

The main tradition of Christian theology has asserted both the timelessness and the changelessness of God, while admitting that this raises a number of very difficult problems. Popular religion, not surprisingly, has been more concerned with God's changelessness than with his timelessness and has tended to understand it in a moral rather than in a metaphysical sense. Biblical scholars tell us that in the Scriptures the emphasis falls upon God's faithfulness to his own moral nature and to his promises rather than upon sheer immobility, and indeed God is represented as manifesting love, anger, patience, impatience, sorrow, joy and a variety of other emotions and also as intervening in often very decisive ways in the events of individual lives and of world history. Philosophical theologians, too, have been anxious to assert that God is concerned with the changing events of the universe without himself being dominated by them, and they have admitted that there is a genuine problem of reconciling God's compassion with his impassibility.3 They have, however, for the most part interpreted such apparent changes in God as arising rather from the changing perspectives under which he appears from a standpoint within the historical process than from any real alterations of God himself; thus they have asserted that the wrath of God is nothing else than the love of God as it appears to and impinges upon creatures whose wills are set against him in obstinacy or rebellion. Only by philosophers whose basic metaphysic is pantheistic or at least immanentist has it been held that God is himself the subject of vicissitudes or developments. Two such notable cases must, however, receive our attention; namely those of the late A. N. Whitehead and of Dr Charles Hartshorne.

Whitehead's Gifford Lectures, delivered at Edinburgh in 1927–8, were published in 1929 under the title Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology; they contain, in a highly systematic presentation, the fully worked out statement of his metaphysics.4 I have discussed them at length in my book He Who Is. Whitehead's ambition was to bring into a synthesis the insights of all the chief philosophies and religions of mankind. In particular he was concerned to give due weight to both the stable and the dynamic aspect of the universe, represented, to use his technical terminology, by ‘eternal objects’ on the one hand and ‘actual entities’ or ‘actual occasions’ on the other.5 The latter, he held, are the only reasons;6 in this he is fundamentally an empiricist. The actual occasions, while distinct and substantial, are not isolated; each of them mirrors all the others, either in positive prehensions as being relevant to the prehending entity or in negative prehensions as being discarded. And they are constantly passing away and entering into new complexes of entities. And out of this perpetual self-relinquishment and self-creation of actual entities the history of the physical universe is built up. Each of them is an embodiment of ‘creativity’, which Whitehead describes as ‘the principle of novelty’,7 and it must be noted that it is this creativity, and not either God or being, that is his ultimate metaphysical principle. This would suggest that Whitehead's philosophy is essentially immanentist, and in the last resort I am convinced that it is. The matter is, however, complicated by his introduction of an entity which he names ‘God’; though this God is very far from the God of classical theism. The function of Whitehead's God is to be the locus of eternal objects; actual entities prehend one another and the eternal objects, and thus bring about their own creation, in accordance with the valuation of the eternal objects by God. This valuation occurs in God's ‘primordial nature’, but this primordial nature of God is entirely abstract, for only actual occasions have concrete actuality. It is only by his interaction with the world of actual occasions that God acquires a ‘consequent nature’ and thus becomes concrete and conscious. Thus for Whitehead there is no question of God having an ultimate status in reality; that status belongs not to God but to Creativity.

God and the World are the contrasted opposites in terms of which Creativity achieves its supreme task of transforming disjoined multiplicity, with its diversities in opposition, into con-crescent unity, with its diversities in contrast.… For God the conceptual is prior to the physical, for the World the physical poles are prior to the conceptual poles.… God and the World stand over against each other, expressing the final metaphysical truth that appetitive vision and physical enjoyment have equal claim to priority in creation.8

It is difficult to do justice in a few words to a system as elaborate and, in some places, as obscure as Whitehead's but it will, I think, be clear from this brief summary that the God of Whitehead is not the God of classical theism. So independent a thinker as the late L. Susan Stebbing asserted that ‘Professor Whitehead's indefensible use of language becomes nothing short of scandalous when he speaks of “God”.’9 As I have already said, the ultimate principle of existence in Whitehead's system is what he calls ‘Creativity’, not what he calls ‘God’. However, we cannot identify his Creativity with the God of classical theism, even if we understand the term ‘God’ in the minimal sense in which I have defined it, as denoting the transcendent cause of extra-mental material beings. For in Whitehead's system these beings have no transcendent cause at all; as embodiments of creativity they are self-creating. A. E. Taylor was, I believe, right when he accused Whitehead of ‘unconscious tampering with his own sound principle that all possibility is founded on actuality’ and asserted that ‘the attempt to get back somehow behind the concreteness of God to an elan vital of which the concreteness is to be a product really amounts to a surrender of the principle itself.’10 As an analysis of the structure and development of finite beings Whitehead's doctrine of eternal objects and actual entities is, I think, ingenious and suggestive, though it is open to criticisms which other philosophers have not been slow in making; in particular his account of the emergence of con—

sciousness has been accused of question-begging légerdemain with such metaphors as ‘prehension’ and ‘feeling’. More seriously from our standpoint, it is difficult to see Whitehead's justification for investing his ‘God’ with personal attributes and for describing him in his consequent nature as ‘the great companion—the fellow-sufferer who understands’.11 It is, nevertheless, hardly surprising that Whitehead's final attitude to his God is not one of adoration so much as of sympathy. It is instructive to note that, when Lionel Thornton, who had a great admiration for Whitehead, adopted Whitehead's philosophy of organism as the medium for a modern reformulation of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, he found it necessary to part company with Whitehead at the precise point where the relation of finite being to ultimate reality is involved. (It should be remembered that, although Thornton's work The Incarnate Lord appeared only when Whitehead's Gifford Lectures were in course of delivery, Whitehead's thought had been maturing and finding expression in a series of books during the previous decade.)

My reason for referring at such length to a system which saw the light over forty years ago and has been ignored by most professional philosophers ever since is that quite recently there has been, first in the United States and now to a lesser degree in Britain, a revival of process thinking which seems to have obliterated the short-lived death-of-God theology and to have become the latest fashion in the theological world. This has largely been due to the other philosopher whom I mentioned at the beginning of this lecture, Dr Charles Hartshorne. One of Hartshorne's chief interests is, as we saw in an earlier lecture, the ontological argument of St Anselm of Canterbury.12 I summed up Hartshone's judgment on Anselm by saying that, according to Hartshorne, while almost everyone since Anselm has radically misunderstood Anselm, Anselm himself radically misunderstood the nature of God. More explicitly, while Anselm was right in holding that God—that than which nothing greater can be thought—is, in fact and in principle, unsurpassable by any other being, he was wrong in not recognising that God is perpetually and without limit surpassing himself. The best-known exponents of the movement in Britain are Dr W. Norman Pittenger, Mr John B. Cobb and Mr Peter Hamilton;13 it is typical of Pittenger's whole-hearted commitment to process metaphysics that he takes Lionel Thornton to task for thinking it necessary, as a Christian thinker, to make certain modifications in Whitehead's doctrine.14

It would take me too far from our present concern if I were at this point to attempt a full critique of process-theology, but it is important to distinguish between two senses in which it might be alleged that God was personally involved with time. The first is the sense maintained by the process-theologians, for whom God himself is subject to temporal process and undergoes vicissitudes and developments. This sense is altogether alien to the line of argument which I have followed in these lectures, for which temporality is a characteristic of the finite world and for which God's transcendence of the finite world necessarily includes transcendence of temporality and of becoming. God is the ‘strength and stay upholding all creation, who ever doth himself unmoved abide’—

rerum Deus tenax vigor,

immotus in tepermanens.

There is, however, another sense in which God may seem to be involved with time and which arises out of God's transcendence itself. God is the perpetual creator and sustainer of the finite temporal world and is in the most intimate relation, as creator, with every one of its constituents and with every phase of their history. Admitted that in his own ontological depth he is entirely timeless and changeless, must not his creative relation to the whole web of temporal events and his knowledge of them constitute a genuine experience of change and development on the level of his activity and consciousness? Classical theism has, of course, not been oblivious of this problem. St Thomas tells us that the relation of God to creatures, while it is ‘real’ as regards the world, is only ‘logical’ (secundum rationem) as regards God,15 and he warns us that our mind ‘is unable to conceive one thing as related to another without on the other hand conceiving the relation as reciprocal’.16 Such an answer may well appear inadequate and it will no doubt seem to many to be a clever but unqualified evasion; it should in any case be remembered that St Thomas amplifies it considerably and makes many statements about God which imply that God has a genuine, if not in the technical sense a ‘real’, concern for his creatures. However, I do not intend here to embark upon a vindication of the Angelic Doctor, but to enquire how we are to think about the transcendent God and his relation to a temporal and changing world in the light of our previous discussions.

First it must be emphasised that temporality is an essential characteristic of the created world or at any rate of the material part of it. (St Thomas, we might remember, ascribes to pure spirits a mode of existence of their own, termed aevum or ‘eviternity’, which, though differing in many ways from time, is quite distinct from God's eternity and does not involve absolute changelessness.) I would further hold that time is a derivative from, or an aspect of, the existence of finite beings and is not an antecedently existing medium into which they are launched. In this I am in the line of Christian tradition going back at least to the time of St Augustine, with his famous assertion that God created the world not in time but with time.17 I am also in line with the outlook of modern physical science, which conceives the spatio-temporal continuum as a systematic structure of relations between concrete physical point-events; the Newtonian view of time as a river which ‘of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external’,18 though it is associated with the great triumphs of the modern scientific revolution, has only an episodic status in the history of scientific thought.19 Again, if we turn from the time of physics to that of biology and psychology, the temps vécu of Bergson, it is even more evident that each sentient individual has its own process of time, which is intimately involved with its own vital rhythms in spite of its complicated interrelation with the time-processes of others. It is at this point that I find the weakness, to which I have previously referred, in the very lucid and impressive book of Dr Nelson Pike; for, though he is quite explicit that, for orthodox theism, God is not merely changeless but is also timeless, he apparently assumes, though admittedly without clearly stating this, that there is one time-process common to all finite beings and that it is, at least logically (though obviously not temporally), antecedent to them. They are in time, time is not in them. A good deal of Pike's argument is unaffected by this, or it is at least easy to make the necessary adjustments; it is, however, of some importance when we enquire how we are to understand the apparently time-referring statements which we are accustomed to make about the confessedly timeless God.

Many of the statements which philosophers and theologians make about God are, of course, intended to be understood as describing one or other aspect of his timeless existence. Thus, when it is said that God is wise or good, the verb ‘is’ is taken as relating not to a temporal present, sandwiched between a past and a future, but to a ‘timeless present’ before which the time-processes of all finite existents and the successive moments of each are uniformly and indifferently displayed and which would belong to God even if he had not created a world and was himself the only being in existence. This does of course raise questions about the possibility for time-conditioned beings such as ourselves of conceiving a timeless mode of existence and of talking about it intelligibly. Clearly, the relation between our temporal present and God's timeless present, and between the ways in which we use the same word ‘is’ in connection with both, is a highly analogical one. It may be helpful, though it is not altogether sufficient, to point to the contrast between the ‘is’ of the mathematical proposition ‘The square of three is nine’ and the ‘is’ of the empirical proposition ‘There is a wart-hog in the garden’; for, without entering on the much disputed question of the logical status of mathematical entities,20 we may say that, for anyone except an extreme Platonist, the mathematical ‘is’ is omnitemporal rather than strictly timeless; the square of three always was, is now, and ever will be nine, but there was not always a wart-hog in the garden. Now the ‘is’ of ‘God is good’ may also be taken in a temporal or omnitemporal sense; when I say ‘God is good’ at a particular moment, I certainly mean that God is good at that moment and very probably mean that he always was, is now and ever will be good. However, when I remember that God is in fact timeless, I recognise that the implied reference to time in this sentence arises from the fact that I am speaking of God from within my own temporal order of existence and does not, or should not, suggest that God is himself in time. We might draw a rough parallel with the fact that, if I say ‘God is good’, I am making an assertion in English, but this does not imply that God himself is English. Exactly the same assertion could be made by a Frenchman by saying ‘Dieu est bon’. What is being ascribed to God is neither the English word ‘good’ nor the French word ‘bon’, but that which both these words denote. Similarly, when several human beings in talking about God use the superficially temporal verb ‘is’, the implied temporality belongs to the mode of existence of the speaker, not to the object denoted by the subject of the sentence, ‘God’. We may add that the different speakers do not even share a common time-scale; each has his own, though they are systematically connected, much as the Englishman and the Frenchman have each his own language, though the two are connected in the ways described in grammar-books and dictionaries.

There is not, I think, any substantial difference if we consider not timeless statements about God but statements which ascribe to God actions within the temporal process: ‘God spoke to Abraham’, ‘God saved the Israelites at the Red Sea’, ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’, and so on. The difference here is that the element of temporality arises not from the fact that the sentence is spoken or written in time, but from the fact that it describes an action taking place in time. The temporality is, so to speak, inside the sentence and not outside it. Nevertheless, the action is, at its subjective pole (at God's end, if we may use the phrase), timeless, even though at its objective pole (at the creature's end) it is temporal. God timelessly exerts a creative activity towards and upon the whole spatio-temporal fabric of the created universe. This will be experienced as temporal by each creature who observes it and describes it from his own spatio-temporal standpoint; but it no more implies that God is in time (even his own special grade-one time) than the fact that I describe God in English means that God is English. English may be the only language that I know; temporal language certainly is. And since temporal existence is the only existence that creatures have, God's activity towards them is necessarily experienced by them in terms of time. But the fact that we can experience and speak of God only in temporal terms does not mean that we cannot speak of him accurately; it means that even when we speak of him accurately we have to speak of him in temporal terms. It does of course mean that there is a great deal about God that we cannot know or about which we cannot speak, except perhaps in the most distant and obscure way, but that is a different matter. God is supremely mysterious and transcendent. As Dr Cahil Daly has said, the final alternative is not between mystery and clarity but between mystery and absurdity.21 And it is not absurd, though it may sound paradoxical, to say that it is only in temporal language that we can talk about God's timelessness.

But, it may be asked, are we not making unnecessary difficulties for ourselves in describing God as timeless or even as changeless? Has not Dr Hartshorne argued that God is perpetually surpassing himself, while remaining unsurpassable by any of his creatures? Has not Whitehead maintained that God and the world are in ceaseless interaction and come to the conclusion that God is ‘the great companion—the fellow-sufferer who understands?’ Has not Dr W. R. Matthews asserted that the ‘Deus philosophorum is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’22 and said that ‘the conception of the self-sufficiency of God in and for himself is an abstract idea which cannot be allowed to dominate our theology without disastrous results’?23 Does not, in fact, the notion of a transcendent and timeless God take all the warmth and consolation out of religion?

I do not believe that it does, especially if one believes in the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, that is to say, if one believes that God's eternal being is a life of infinite love and self-giving and that God the Son has made himself the subject of a created human nature so that, as has been finely said, the central point of Christian belief is that the maker of the universe is now a man.24 The assertions of revealed religion must, however, not be expounded here. It is, nevertheless, proper to point out that even strictly natural theology should not admit that its God is remote and callous or that, like the first unmoved mover of Aristotle, he is entirely unconcerned with the world and is interested only in himself and his own perfection. For, as I have emphasised many times, the timeless God and his temporal creatures are in the closest possible relation. Their radical difference from him consists in their dependence upon him; not for one instant is he absent from them at the ontological root of their existence. And, although they can experience his timeless relation to them only under the forms of their own temporal existence and although they have only their temporal concepts and speech in which to envisage and describe his timelessness, the relation which they so describe is more intimate than any that can hold between two or more temporal beings. Once again, there is mystery but not absurdity. Nevertheless, it may still be asked, why, in ascribing transcendence to God, do you find it necessary to include timelessness in that transcendence?

The simple answer to this is that temporality is precisely one of the characteristics of finite beings which, when we pass from finite beings to God, needs to be transcended. I have stressed the fact that time is neither a kind of Ungrund or Urgrund, antecedent to God himself, nor a medium created by God in which, having created it, he then finds himself to be immersed and into which he subsequently launches his creatures. The whole outlook of modern science, both physical and biological, supports us in holding that temporal process is inherent in creaturely existence and, indeed, that each individual physical or mental subject has its own individual spatio-temporal frame of reference, which is distinct from, although systematically related to, the spatio-temporal frames of others. Thus, the act in which God both preserves and knows the finite universe must necessarily be timeless and spaceless, since its object is the totality of spatio-temporal existence. If it is asserted that, in spite of this, there must be in God's own mode of existence something analogous to time, we can only reply that this must in fact be God's eternity and that what differentiates it from time is the absence of change and succession. And I do not think that we shall find a better description in our time-bound mode of speech than is given by Boethius's famous definition of eternity as ‘the total, simultaneous and perfect possession of interminable life’ (interminabilis vitae tota sitnul et perfecta possessio).25 It may, however, be worth while to enquire how it is that Whitehead, who was thoroughly versed in the outlook of modern science and who moreover formulated a theory of relativity that was for some time a quite serious rival to the better-known theory of Einstein and Eddington,26 should have propounded a doctrine according to which God is inherently mutable and temporal.

The explanation is, I suggest, to be found in the fact, on which I have already remarked, that the entity to which Whitehead gives the name ‘God’ is a very different being from that which is called ‘God’ in classical theism and has quite a different metaphysical status and function in relation to the world. It has indeed been suggested by some critics that Whitehead's God is an ex post facto principle of interpretation, introduced into his metaphysical system after it had been constructed and owing its introduction to Whitehead's religious cast of mind; one of Whitehead's most recent and careful students, Mr William Christian, has however come to the conclusion that this is not so and that the conception of God is ‘a part of the structure of the system’.27 Whatever is the truth about this—and I think Mr Christian makes his case—it is clear that for Whitehead God is not the ultimate metaphysical reality but that this position is reserved for what Whitehead calls ‘creativity’, a principle which is manifested in all actual entities, God not excepted. God differs from the others in that he is ‘primordial’. ‘Every other actual entity originates at some time and emerges into being from some definite past actual world. God originates at no time.… His conceptual experience is unlimited.… He does not perish, as all other actual entities do. For primordial means “not before all creation, but with all creation” (Process and Reality, p. 521). In his “consequent” nature he prehends every other actual entity throughout the course of nature.’28 Christian adds that ‘there is not explicit reference to God in [Whitehead's] categoreal scheme.… Categoreally speaking, the conception of God like the conception of the extensive continuum is a “derivative notion”. The existence of a primordial and everlasting actual entity follows not from the categoreal scheme but from the nature of the world.’29 And, in spite of the extreme elaboration of his system, Whitehead never seriously asks the basic metaphysical question, what is the explanation of the existence of contingent being? In this sense, he is not really concerned with explanation at all but rather with logical arrangement. ‘Speculative Philosophy’, he writes, at the beginning of his exposition, ‘is the endeavour to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted’, and he adds ‘By this notion of “interpretation” I mean that everything of which we are conscious, as enjoyed, perceived, willed or thought, shall have the character of a particular instance of the general scheme.’30 Here, it seems to me, Whitehead makes his purpose quite clear. In spite of his frequently expressed concern with empirical reality and with process, his final ambition is to make everything fit into a niche that he has provided for it. ‘The philosophical scheme’, he writes, ‘should be coherent, logical, and, in respect to its interpretation, applicable and adequate’,31 and he significantly adds, not that an ‘adequate’ scheme will be one which gives a satisfactory answer to all reasonable questions, but simply that it will be one in which no items are incapable of the interpretation which it provides for them. And, as we have already seen, God, while unique, is in no sense ultimate; he is an accident of creativity.

In all philosophical theory there is an ultimate which is actual in virtue of its accidents. It is only then capable of characterisation through its accidental embodiments, and apart from these accidents is devoid of actuality. In the philosophy of organism this ultimate is termed ‘creativity’; and God is its primordial, non-temporal accident.32

We may be surprised to find God here described as ‘non-temporal’, in view of what we find later on in the book about the development which God undergoes in the course of his dialogue with the world, but the key is to be found in the juxtaposition here of ‘non-temporal’ with ‘primordial’. It is only in his primordial nature that God is non-temporal, and his primordial nature is purely abstract. He attains actuality in his consequent nature and, although he has presumably his own time-scale which is different from the time-scales of other actual entities, in his consequent nature he is anything but timeless.

Two points, then, emerge from our examination of Whitehead: first, that his God has a totally different nature from that of the God of theism and plays a quite different cosmological role; secondly, that Whitehead fails to pose the basic cosmological and metaphysical question but addresses himself to a quite distinct task. It is therefore not surprising that he arrives at the notion of a changing and developing God. He writes: ‘God is not to be treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles to save their collapse. He is their chief exemplification.’33 There is an important sense in which this is true, but it needs to be supplemented by Dr H. D. Lewis's reminder: ‘The infinite is not an extension of the finite but its condition.’34 Whitehead's process-philosophy may or may not give an adequate account of the nature and development of the finite world—I think that it is in fact very largely successful—but his introduction of the actual entity which he calls ‘God’ seems to me to confuse rather than to clarify the situation, and his application to it of the name ‘God’ increases rather than lessens the confusion. I would add that, although it is common to look upon Dr Hartshorne as a disciple and expositor of Whitehead, his fundamental position is really very different. For the basis of his theism is Anselm's ontological argument, while Whitehead, with his background in Cambridge mathematical physics, was above all else an empiricist.

Process-philosophy, then, has performed a valuable task in stressing the essentially time-involved and developing character of the finite world and in exorcising a tendency, which is persistently recurrent in European thought, to identify the real with the static and to dismiss what is changing as mere appearance. But, just because time and change are genuinely inherent in the finite world and are not just an ocean in which it floats or a backcloth against which it casts its shadows, its transcendent Creator must transcend its temporality as he transcends all its other limitations. A God to whom, in his timelessness, the whole spatio-temporal fabric of the world is eternally present is not less but more concerned with the world and its affairs than would be a God who was entangled in it. For the latter kind of deity would be limited in his experience at each moment to the particular stage in its development that the world had reached at that moment, while the former, in his extra-temporal and extra-spatial vision and activity, embraces in one timeless act every one of his creatures whatever its time and place may be. Difficult, and indeed impossible, as it is for us to imagine and feel what timeless existence is like, we can, I think, understand that a God to whom every instant is present at once has a vastly greater scope for his compassion and his power than one would have who could attend to only one moment at a time. Thus, in emphasising the timelessness of God, we are not conceiving him as remote but quite the opposite. And we can all the more whole-heartedly endorse that concern with history and finality which marks the thought of such outstanding contemporary writers as Karl Rahner and Johannes Metz and which provides one of the most hopeful starting-poirts for dialogue between Christians and Marxists.35 It is equaly characteristic of the writings of the great Jesuit priest Piere Teilhard de Chardin, who, in spite of the many points at which he laid himself open to criticism, has done more than any other thinker to synthetise the religious and the scientific outlook upon the universe. Indeed it might well be maintained that it is only in the light of the timelessness of God that the tenporality of the created world can be made fully intelligible.

If, then, we hold fast to God's timelesness, all those problems about foreknowledge, predestination and the like, which can only be formulated in sentences that, explicitly or by assumption, speak of God as being subject to time, simply do not arise. Neither the act of creation nor anything that happens within creation involves any change in God or in his relation to the world, true as it is that when we describe that relation from our temporal standpoint we inevitably make use of temporal language. There is, however, one point to which, in concluding this lecture, I must briefly refer, although I have discussed it at greater length elsewhere.36 Even when we have conceded that in God's relations with the changing world the change is all at the world's end of the relations and not at God's end, the fact remains that for the world to exist as well as God is more than for God to exist without a world, and that therefore the presence of the world to God appears to add something to God, even if it adds it to him timelessly. Even when we have said that the creation of the world is a timeless act of unconditioned will on the part of God, does not the existence of the world add something to God's own existence and therefore, however timelessly, make God different from what he would be without that timeless act? The answer to this problem lies, I believe, not, as in the former case, in the contrast between God's timelessness and the world's temporality, but in the contrast between God's infinity and the world's finitude. God's presence to the world makes all the difference conceivable to the world—the difference between existence and non-existence—but, in the strict sense, the presence of the world to God makes no difference in God; and this, not because the world is any less in God's sight than it is in its own, but because God himself is infinitely more. Finitude and infinity simply do not add together; or, if this is too mathematical a manner of expression, let us say that dependent and self-existent being do not add together; and this, not because there is no link between them but for the precisely opposite reason that it is from its dependence on self-existent being that dependent being derives its character as dependent. That there is mystery here we gladly affirm, but it is not absurdity, for we can see that in the mystery the answer lies hidden. But let us be quite sure of this: that if we mitigate the mystery in the least degree in the hope of making understanding easier, we shall defeat our own purpose, and absurdity will be the penalty. Admit the tiniest element of time into God's timelessness, admit the tiniest element of finitude into God's infinity, admit the tiniest element of dependence into God's self-existence, and the very existence of the temporal, finite and dependent world becomes altogether inexplicable and unintelligible.37 That self-existent being should create a world is indeed mysterious. It is, we say—and rightly—an act of supreme love, but this is another way of saying that it is unnecessary. For is it not of the essence of love that it does what it need not do?

Here I must end, very much in mediam rem. Mr J. A. Baker, in his astonishing book The Foolishness of God has said many things with which I wholeheartedly agree and some about which I am less confident. In the former class are the two assertions that ‘the present contempt for natural theology must be exorcised’ and that ‘the supposed conflict between reason and revelation is a phantasm.’38 If these lectures have done anything to assist the said exorcism and to evaporate the said phantasm, I shall feel that they have been worth while.

  • 1.

    Confessions, XI, xiv, 2.

  • 2.

    I would also draw attention to the very interesting article on ‘The Timelessness of God’ by Mr R. G. Swinburne in the Church Quarterly Review, GLXVI (1965), pp. 323ff, 472ff.

  • 3.

    Cf. my Existence and Analogy, pp. 134ff.

  • 4.

    Cf. William A. Christian, An Interpretation of Whitehead's Metaphysics; D. M. Emmet, Whitehead's Philosophy of Organism.

  • 5.

    The difference between actual entities and actual occasions is that the former may include God, the latter do not; cf. Process and Reality, p. 122.

  • 6.

    Process and Reality, p. 33.

  • 7.

    ibid., p. 28.

  • 8.

    ibid., pp. 492, 493.

  • 9.

    Review of Process and Reality in Mind, XXXIX (1930), p. 475.

  • 10.

    ‘Some Thoughts on Process and Reality’, in Theology, XXXIII (1930), p. 79.

  • 11.

    Process and Reality, p. 497.

  • 12.

    Cf. pp. 48ff supra.

  • 13.

    W. N. Pittenger, Process Thought and Christian Faith; P. Hamilton, The Living God and the Modern World; J. B. Cobb, A Christian Natural Theology.

  • 14.

    W. N. Pittenger, The Word Incarnate, pp. 107ff; Christology Reconsidered, pp. 19f, 101f.

  • 15.

    S. Th., I, xiii, 7 ad 4; xlv, 3 ad 1. S.c.G., II, xiii.

  • 16.

    De Pot., I, i, 1 ad 10. Cf. my Existence and Analogy, pp. 130ff.

  • 17.

    De Civ., XI, vi.

  • 18.

    Principia, trans. A. Motte, ed. F. Cajori, p. 6.

  • 19.

    Professor T. F. Torrance, in his book Space, Time and Incarnation, has shown the harm that has been done to theology by the adoption of a receptacle view of space and time.

  • 20.

    Cf. e.g., S. Körner, The Philosophy of Mathematics, or any other of the many text-books on the subject.

  • 21.

    Prospect for Metaphysics, ed. I. T. Ramsey, p. 204.

  • 22.

    God in Christian Thought and Experience, p. 104.

  • 23.

    The Purpose of God, p. 173.

  • 24.

    Kenelm Foster, O. P., Introduction to Vol. IX of the Blackfriars edition of the Summa Theologiae, p. xxi.

  • 25.

    De Consolations, V; cit. Aquinas, S. Th., I, x, 1.

  • 26.

    A. N. Whitehead, The Principle of Relativity with Applications to Physical Science (1922).

  • 27.

    Christian, op. cit., pp. 335f.

  • 28.

    ibid., p. 288.

  • 29.

    ibid., pp. 288, 289.

  • 30.

    Process and Reality, p. 3.

  • 31.


  • 32.

    ibid., p. 9.

  • 33.

    Process and Reality, p. 486.

  • 34.

    Freedom and History, p. 282.

  • 35.

    Cf. my Theology and the Future, pp. 81ff.

  • 36.

    He Who Is, ch. viii; Existence and Analogy, ch. vi.

  • 37.

    Here I must part company with Professor A. Boyce Gibson, in his Theism and Empiricism (1970), pp. 98f et al, in spite of the many points in his most interesting book with which I agree. Cf. Appendix I infra.

  • 38.

    op. cit. 3 pp. 367, 368.