The standard view of an everlasting God is that God has existed in time for an infinite amount of time and will continue to exist for an infinite amount of time, and a finite amount of time ago, creation sprang into being. Thus, God existed a year ago, a billion years ago, a trillion years ago, and so on. (I think, though I shall not argue for this here, that if one denies God’s atemporality, one should adopt the standard view on pain of believing something theologically much worse, such as that God has a finite age or that creation is infinitely old. So if the standard view of everlastingness is false, then God is not atemporal.)
I shall talk of the universe springing into being a finite amount of time ago rather than its’ being created a finite amount of time ago, to disambiguate between the time of the cause (God’s act of creating) and the time of the effect (the universe’s springing into being).
Problem 1 (Augustine’s problem): Why did God wait this infinite amount of time before the universe sprang into being, rather than, say, making the universe spring into being a hundred years earlier? Augustine records the old chestnut that God was busy preparing a hell for those who ask such questions. His own answer that time began with the universe’s springing into being is not available to the defender of the standard view. One might take a relational view of time on which the question does not make sense–the world where God create a hundred years earlier is the same world. Only a B-theorist can say that, and not every B-theorist can.
Problem 2 (Deliberation and omniscience): Suppose God at t0 is deliberating what should spring into being and when it should do so. But God being omniscient already knows what will spring into being and when it will do so. How can one deliberate over what one already knows?
It seems, for instance, that deliberation requires a belief in alternate at least epistemic possibilities. But if one knows with certainty what one will do, then there are no alternate epistemic possibilities.
One answer is that one can bracket some of one’s beliefs when deliberating. The alcoholic who keeps on falling off the wagon can intend to stay on the wagon while bracketing the inductive data that gives her a justified belief that she will fall of it again. It seems to me that positing such bracketing should be a last resort in the divine case. Another answer is open theism, but I shall simply dismiss that as being one of the options least compatible with the theological traditions of the three great monotheistic religions.
Now consider what the atemporalist has to say. The atemporalist also has this problem: she thinks that God outside of time is deliberating what to create and when it should spring into being, and that God knows what he will create and when it should do so. However, she can say that God’s knowledge is explanatorily posterior to God’s deliberation, even if it is not temporally posterior to it, and indeed the knowledge is partly constituted by the result of the deliberation, and this means that he does not need to bracket the knowledge.
Can the everlastingness advocate say that? Maybe, but I feel–though I cannot argue–that it is not as satisfactory. So let me just put the problem out for comments.
Problem 3: When did God decide at what time the universe should come into being? There are three options: (a) at the moment at which the universe came into being; (b) at some earlier moment; and (c) the decision was made at every earlier time.
Option (a): This faces Augustine’s problem with a vengeance. Now we have God going on for an infinite amount of time without deciding to create, and then suddenly he decides to do so. This sits poorly with the idea of God’s goodness as fittingly diffusive of itself–why did he earlier, and so often–indeed, infinitely often–decide against creating? Was God slowly warming up to the idea of creating? That is theologically problematic. If he said “no” to an infinite number of earlier chances to create, what does that say to his character? It does not seem to be a character that is diffusive of goodness in the way the Tradition holds it to be.
Option (b): The problem of waiting an infinite amount of time is still here, and it’s married to the problem of why God set the date of the universe’s springing into existence for some specific time that is finitely in the future of the decision. Note that the B-theoretic relationalist answer to Augustine’s problem is irrelevant, because what is at issue here is the amount of time between the decision and creation, and the relationalist can make sense of that.
Option (c): God had decided from everlasting eternity. This seems to be the most promising solution, but I think it runs into several problems. One way of taking “God had decided from everlasting eternity” is that for every time t, God had decided before t. But unless there is a time before every time, which would be contradictory, or unless God exists outside of time, which is not what the standard view says, this is incoherent. So, instead, we have to say this: for every time t1 prior to the universe’s springing into being at t2, God decided at t1 that the universe would spring into being at t2. This is problematic, however, for at least two reasons.
Problem 3c1: God’s decision is the cause of the universe’s existence. It seems, then, that the universe’s existence is massively overdetermined by an infinite number of divine decisions. Isn’t that weird?
Problem 3c2: Presumably, the decisions couldn’t have been independent of one another. It surely was not possible that God at t0 would decide that the universe would spring into being at t2, while God at t1 would decide that the universe would instead spring into being at a later or earlier time t3. For that would impugn God’s power–the power to decide at t0 what happens at t2. Moreover, it would lead to weird questions like: Did God in fact change his mind? Which decision was the one that was in fact effective? What sorts of grounds led him to change his mind? And of course the very idea of God’s changing his mind in a literal sense is problematic theologically. Surely, once God decided the universe would spring into being being at t2, he couldn’t un-decide that. So God’s decision at t1 is already predetermined by his decision at t0. So when did he originally decide, one wants to ask? Each decision was predetermined by an earlier one, ad infinitum, so there seems to be no room for freedom. Indeed, there seems no room for a decision–each “decision” seems rather to be a reaffirmation. Moreover, we seem to have here a regress of precisely the sort that defenders of the cosmological argument deny the possibility of. So, anybody who says this must accept Hume’s infinite-regress critique of the cosmological argument.
One way out of some of these problems is to suppose that God must create the best, and so he has no room for libertarian freedom–he always necessarily decides what to create. One problem with this is that unless relationalist B-theorist holds, it is clear that this world is not the best–a world where the universe sprang into being five minutes earlier would have been no worse. Another problem is that it denies the gratuity of creation.
Departures from the standard view: One might try to hold on to an everlasting God, but depart from the standard view in one or more ways. One way is to say that God has come into existence a finite amount of time ago, and decided to create then and there. This, I think, may escape all the problems, but has the problem that it makes God have a finite age, which seems as absurd as anything. Moreover, if God decided to create then and there, then creation is as old as God. Furthermore, plausibly, anything that comes into being has a cause, and a sufficient condition for coming into being is having finite age.
A different, and I think preferable, way is to suppose that creation has always existed. Nevertheless, one will still have variants of the problems. Let H be the whole history of the world. When did God decide to make a world with history H? Barring backwards causation (which still has an arbitrariness problem), since H goes infinite far back, the decision cannot have been made at any point in time. One probably has to go for a view on which God was creating the universe temporal slice by temporal slice. But then at each time he was already stuck with there having been a universe–he suffered from thrownness just as much as Dasein does. (Couldn’t resist that bit.) Let p be the proposition that there was, is or will be something contingent. When, on this view, did God decide on p? Nowhen, it seems. But surely that is exactly the sort of thing we want to have depending on God.
The best way is simply to opt for an atemporal God.