The Blog of Jack Holloway

Monday, May 6, 2013

To Infinity and Beyond: What C.S. Lewis Got Wrong, Part 1

C.S. Lewis is internationally known for being a Christian apologist, imaginative theologian, and powerful author of fiction. To the average Christian, he is brilliant. And indeed, most of his writing is quite powerful, well-thought-out, and genius. That being said, his theology of God's relationship with time is anything but brilliant. Here, I will first present some excerpts of his explanation of it from Mere Christianity, and then I will analyze and dismantle its biblical and philosophical integrity.
"Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist in moments following one another."(1) 

"[W]hat we call 'tomorrow' is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call 'today.' All the days are 'Now' for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not 'foresee' you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him."(2)

[W]ith Him it is, so to speak, still 1920 and already 1960.(3)

If you picture Time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn. We come to the parts of the line one by one: we have to leave A behind before we get to B, and cannot reach C until we leave B behind. God, from above or outside or all around, contains the whole line, and sees it all.(4)

For, of course, to have a history means losing part of your reality (because it had already slipped away into the past) and not yet having another part (because it is still in the future): in fact having nothing but the tiny little present, which has gone before you can speak about it. God forbid we should think God was like that. Even we may hope not to be always rational in that way.(5)
This view has been around for centuries, and is quite popular among many Christian theologians. However, when analyzed thoroughly, it falls apart. In Part 1, I am dealing with this theology philosophically. In Part 2 (here), I will deal with it biblically.

Before I break down his argument, I must comment on something Lewis says at the beginning of his chapter on God & time: he makes the point that theologians "first started the idea that some things are not in time at all: later the Philosophers took it over."(6) I don't know where he got this, because it is simply not true. The concept of divine timelessness was originated in early Hellenistic philosophy, not in Scripture or in Christian theology.(7) The philosopher that introduced the concept was Parmenides.(8)

Is the "eternal now" concept philosophically sound?

Though there are many problems philosophically with this view, I will deal only with the ones that stick out to me the most.(9)

1) The "eternal now" concept that Lewis here supports assumes many things. One of which is a faulty understanding of past, present, and future. Lewis believes that every second of human history (past, present, and future), or Time, is present to God, and God doesn't move along with time. But for this to be true, God can't have any relation to the world at all, because relating to the world consists of moving with time, and God apparently doesn't.

Lewis says God "does not 'foresee' you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them."(10) His use of sees implies time. If God is in tomorrow, seeing what I am doing, he is experiencing time. Every second cannot be present to God in the eternal now if God is seeing what we are doing, because that implies that in his seeing, he moves from one second to the next, or, to use Lewis' words, from A to B.

And, of course, when Lewis says God "sees" what we are doing tomorrow, he not only means that God watches it, but that he is involved with it. After all, Lewis is not a deist, but a Christian, so he believes that God is intimately involved with the world. So not only does God see what I am doing tomorrow and yesterday and today all in the eternal now, but he is involved with it in the eternal now. So then, his statement about tomorrow would also imply this: God does not simply 'foresee' himself relating with you tomorrow, he is simply relating with your tomorrow self now. But this cannot be, for that would mean God is experiencing time, for he is relating with you, which implies that he moves from one second to the next

The only way the eternal now concept could work is if God wasn't involved with the world at all but just staring at it like a finished painting or a reel of film: God sees every frame all at once, but is not involved in it in any way, shape, or form. As William Hasker states, "the eternalist must hold that there is no time at which God exists."(11) Isaak August Dorner explains,
the living participation of God in the world . . . depends in fact upon our positing that God knows continually what is now present and that he does not have to the present simply the relation which he also has to the past and the future, as if these were just as much present for him as the former, since that would lead to a very lifeless and inadequate relation.(12)
He also rightly states that the eternal now theology implies Deism. Indeed, this is logically the only way that it could work, for God could see what we are doing yesterday, today, and tomorrow all at once only if he isn't involved in what we are doing.

2) Lewis doesn't realize that the state of 'Now' involves time. 'Now' moves, it progresses. 'Now' does not describe a fixed, frozen state in which something just is; 'Now' is always changing. I am typing this sentence Now, but as I type Now is continuously moving from second to second. 'Now' is not a state in which Time stops or does not exist. Thus, to say that past, present, and future, every second of human history, is 'Now' to God doesn't remove him from the process of moment-by-moment succession.
Watch the video to the right for a humorous illustration.
"What happened to 'Then'?" 
"We passed 'Then'." 
"Just now. We're at 'Now', now." 
"Go back to 'Then'." 
"I can't." 
"We missed it." 
"Just now." 
3) Lewis assumes that Time is a finished product. That past, present, and future are all settled like a reel of film, a painting on the wall or, to use his analogy, a book. This is a concept that was dreamed up by ancient Greek philosophers.(13) However, we have no reason to believe it is true, biblically or philosophically. In fact, we have considerable reason to believe that it isn't true. I will deal with the reason for this with my next point.

4) Not only does the eternal now concept assume that Time is a finished product, but it implies that God is the author of Time. Lewis creates an analogy of an author and his book, saying that "God is not hurried along in the Time-stream of this universe any more than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his own novel."(14) Lewis doesn't realize that this makes God the author of all of human history. Thus, Time is a finished product, a novel, and God is the author who relates with every page--or, more correctly, with every letter--of the book all at once. The flaw here is that God is not the only author involved in writing the book. He gave free agents the ability to contribute to how the novel will turn out. Thus, Time is not a finished product, because everything that happens in it is dependent upon not only God but all other free agents. Past, present, and future are not settled because the future is up to free agents to create. This leads me to my next point:

5) Lewis assumes that the future exists. He says, "Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow."(15) Of course this isn't true, but I guess Lewis just wasn't aware of any open theists. Nor should it be true, for tomorrow is dependent upon free agents to create. For God to see and be involved in tomorrow assumes that tomorrow exists when it doesn't.

Lewis also assumes that tomorrow is dependent solely upon God. Of course, this is true in the sense that all things are dependent upon God's sustaining power, but the actual reality and existence of tomorrow is dependent upon the actions of God and other free agents.

For these (but also many other) reasons, the eternal now concept that Lewis advocates is logically absurd and, therefore, not philosophically sound.

(1) C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1952), 131.
(2) Ibid., 133.
(3) Ibid., 132.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Ibid., 132-133.
(6) Ibid., 131.
(7) See Henry Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966), and Edwin Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity (New York: Harper & Row, 1957). For a general overview, see John Sanders, "Historical Considerations," in The Openness of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), as well as his The God Who Risks, rev. ed. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007), 140-160; also, Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 65-74; Gregory A. Boyd, "Two Ancient (and Modern) Motivations for Ascribing Exhaustively Definite Foreknowledge to God," Religious Studies 46, no. 1 (2010), 41–59; and, finally, Michael R. Saia, "A Brief History of Timelessness," in Does God Know the Future? (Fairfax: Xulon Press, 2002), 29–50.
(8) Sanders, "Historical Considerations," 62. For a thorough treatment of Parmenides, see G.S. Kirk, J. E. Raven, and M. Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: The Cambridge University Press, 1983), 239-262.
(9) For more philosophical objections to the eternal now concept, see William Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), 144-185.
(10) Lewis, 133. 
(11) Hasker, 162.
(12) Isaak August Dorner, Divine Immutability: A Critical Reconsideration, trans. Robert R. Williams and Claude Welch (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 152.
(13) See note 7.
(14) Lewis, 131.
(15) Ibid., 133.

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