God’s infinite “specious present”

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This is one of those freely speculating posts where I just think out loud. I know some think that’s pretty much all I do anyhow. If that’s you, then this won’t be any different. Why I’ve chosen Bernini’s (the greatest sculptor of all time) Blessed Ludovica Albertoni is something I’ll let the post explain (or not). (Hint: it has something to do with the immediacy and ecstasy of fulfilled desire relative to temporal becoming.) Bernini dedicated this work to a wealthy Roman widow who devoted herself to the poor and who (like his The Ecstasy of St. Teresa that pursues the same theme) testified to having unusual spiritual ecstasies. Both works are a kind of perichoretic embodiment of the rapturous experience of mystical union with God. This is no doubt a strange introduction to thoughts about God and time, but let’s see where it takes us.

In Trinity & Process (a work we’ve discussed a great deal), Greg Boyd constructively critiques Process theism (PT). Much of his criticism parallels criticisms that Fr Tom Hopko made in his doctoral dissertation on PT. More interestingly, Greg’s conclusions at points end up articulating Orthodox insights without having any real knowledge of or appreciation for Orthodoxy as such. That said, one critique of PT that Greg engages is PT’s thoroughly dipolar doctrine of God with respect to divine temporal becoming. I’d like to think aloud on this aspect of Greg’s thought and make a suggestion that takes Greg’s thought in a direction that he perhaps didn’t intend.

Dipolar theism is a complicated philosophical project which has since Whitehead diverged into a variety of conflicting views. I wish only to pick up on Greg’s treatment of God and time through his use of the concept of the “specious present.” By “specious” I don’t mean “misleading” or “false” in appearance. The term “specious present” was coined in the late 19th century by E. Robert Kelly (known under the pseudonym E. R. Clay) and popularized by William James. It roughly describes the time duration wherein one’s perceptions are considered to be in the present, one’s “intuited duration” (Pringle-Pattison, 1913). It’s a concept that I think helps us imagine God as temporally immutable and open to the temporal world. By temporally immutable I mean experience having neither beginning, end, nor succession, an extended interval without becoming. Can such an experience nevertheless be open to contingent relations with the changing world?

The life and experience of finite creatures who derive their existence from God is one of irreducible “becoming.” We know that much. Our experience is temporal in the sense that it is always mediated within the given restrictions of material existence. In particular:

…we possess our life as “becoming,” as an ever-moving process in which we determine ourselves in the present by relating our perceived past (the data of past experience; i.e., memory) to perceived possibilities at which we aim ourselves in the hope of becoming what we are not (i.e., more than we are). We just are this ever-moving act of becoming, a perpetual negotiation between the perceived effects of the past and the perceived possibilities of the future.

Let me say unequivocally here that I don’t see how God can be reduced to such “becoming” even if the process is qualified by saying it occurs “necessarily.” Giving such “becoming” the status of necessity doesn’t make this concept of God fundamentally unlike that of Zeus or other members of the Greek pantheon.

clock_silhouette_by_ginnyhahaThat said, by “specious present” I am not talking about a totum simul, which is how Bill Craig takes it in his criticism of the idea. And I don’t particularly have in mind Robert Jenson’s curious description of Jesus as God’s “specious present,” but I agree with Jenson’s pursuit of a divine temporality of which he says, “God’s duration is without loss.” I say yes to this. And so I’m asking if it’s possible to conceive of an infinite “specious present,” an experience not divisible into or reducible to more fundamental experiences, having neither beginning, end, nor succession; i.e., an “experience” which is not an experience of “becoming.” Can we conceive of God’s eternity, his essential, triune plenitude, as such a “specious present” but which is not intolerant of or incompatible with the possibility of relations with the finite “specious presents” of created entities that occur within it?

An infinite “specious present” not a moment of “becoming” would encompass rather than preclude specious presents of finite duration and accommodate real relations with the world. All creation’s possibilities would be tacitly enfolded within its fullness. All our “specious presents” would have the movement of their temporal becoming—their past, present, and future as they contingently and freely unfold—within the embrace of God’s single, indivisible “specious present.” And the world’s finite becoming would freely self-determine itself within the all-encompassing fullness of God’s accomplished beatitude. Time would “flow from” God as God flowed to and within the world. This would (I think) roughly parallel the sense in which Bulgakov suggested that God “posits himself outside himself.”

God’s eternity, we’re suggesting, is an infinite “specious present”—a “moment” (just to go with the analogy for now) analogous to our “moments” of experience but which, unlike our “specious presents,” does not exist as ‘memory informing a present resolve to become what one is not in light of future possibilities’. We’re thinking of a “moment” of experience as such, a simple act not composed of beginning, end, and succession (i.e., it does not “become”) because it does not possess itself as ‘memory informing a present resolve in light of future possibilities’. God’s specious present does not “take time” to “become” in this way, but it does not negate created ‘becoming’ or relations to created entities. It is becoming’s possibility and so compatible with it without being an instance of it. As such God’s specious present is the infinite ground of every created specious present of finite duration (i.e., experiences of finite perspective and surpassable beauty which have beginning, end, and succession—i.e. they ‘become’).

One specious present may contain other specious presents. To unpack this a bit, here’s Greg Boyd in TP:

Self-identity [for Hartshorne], therefore, whether at a human or sub-atomic level, is abstract, partial and relative. It is, in contrast, the present moment of becoming which is concrete, complete, and absolute, as we have seen. There can, for Hartshorne, therefore be no concrete self-identity which preserves over time. The only concrete reality is in the “specious present,” the present momentary experience of becoming. For human beings, for example, the concrete self becomes anew “every tenth of a second or so.” This alone constitutes truly concrete reality. Everything else concerning human self-identity is an abstract feature of this.

This means, clearly, that one’s self-now is not the same as the self of one’s childhood, or even one’s self an instant ago. To be sure, the self-now must relate to (prehend) the self-past. But it must also prehend other past occasions. And it is, strictly speaking, no more concretely identical with the past self than it is with any other past occasion.

a9818396559c4039e0998b5ce79f128aHartshorne defines finite, temporal “becoming” as the prehension of immediately past data via creative synthesis. One’s “identity” supervenes upon and is derived from this process. But this sort of becoming could not describe God’s essential-necessary actuality. God’s identity as God could not supervene upon a process that prehends ‘past’ data from which his actual ‘present’ is determined in light of some desire to become in the ‘future’ what he is not now. That’s very important (for Dwayne and me) to say.

To borrow Whitehead’s language (but not how he understands it, since he rejects creatio ex nihilo): God’s essential triune act would be the “epochal immediacy of an occasion’s subjective indivisible unity.” Our suggestion is that God be understood as an infinite such occasion. Moving on with Greg in TP:

Beyond the already discussed difficulties with this understanding of the dipolarity of God, one must wonder what is intrinsically contradictory about saying that a being can be actual in different respects? Why cannot one aspect of the divine actuality be necessary and eternal, and another aspect of God’s actuality contingent? It seems that, in at least one sense, even Process thought must admit that this is possible in terms of its own categories.

According to Process thought, any given “society of actual occasions” can be made up of entities whose “living immediacy” and “specious present” varies from one another considerably. A “specious present,” according to Hartshorne, can vary about as far as the imagination can stretch: from less than one millionth of a second to more than a century is one suggestion Hartshorne toys with.

Now it seems that there is no a priori reason why a “specious moment” may not be eternal, though the society which it “dominates over” includes occasions whose “specious present” is finite. Just as the mind, the dominate occasion of the human person, consists of “specious presents” whose durations vary from those occasions which it rules over, so too we might conceive of God’s essential self as an eternal specious present which encompasses other “specious presents” of finite duration within itself. (emphasis mine)

…So far as I can see, then, there are no grounds for supposing a priori that the “specious present” of an experiencing actuality could not be both definite and actual, while being, at the same time, endless in its duration.

After some discussion, Greg continues:

The only remaining question, then, is whether or not one subject could be both infinitely and finitely, both necessarily and contingently, actual at the same time. Here again I see no reason to deny this. One subject can, in Process terms, be constituted by numerous occasions of varying duration of subjective immediacy, as we have said. But then what in principle is there from disallowing the possibility of a subject who is necessarily constituted by an everlasting…experience, on the one hand, and yet who has finite contingent experiences on the other?

We can render this point clearer by appealing to the analogy of human experiences. We have, it seems, the ability (however limited) to be aware of different things in relatively different modes of consciousness at the same time. If, for example, I go to the art museum and become absorbed in (say) Munck’s painting “The Scream,” I do not completely block out the noise around me; I am not completely oblivious to the people around me. If a person next to me faints, I will no doubt notice it and turn to help him or her. But clearly my awareness of my surroundings is relatively tacit in relation to my awareness of the painting.

I thus pick up, in a relatively tacit manner, the moment by moment changes in my environment, but my dominant sense of time is measured not by these changes, but by my experience of the work of art. What constitutes my consciousness-now are many experiences had at differing levels of distinctness, but all are now conditioned by the dominant experience of Munck’s painting.

My “specious present,” then, is in one respect very long—hence my “ordinary” sense of time is distorted in such experiences. Yet the fact that I am at least tacitly conscious of the bustle around me shows that I also have, at the same time, occasions whose “specious present” is much shorter. Every sensed alteration in my environment is, in Hartshorne’s view, a new “specious present” for some actual occasion(s) I am composed of.

Or again, when listening to a symphony, one is aware of the minute moment by moment tonal changes of the many different instruments, and yet it is the over-all musical piece, not the individual contributions, which is enjoyed. One could not enjoy the wholeness of the piece without, in some sense, attending to each of the individual instruments, and indeed to each tonal change that was made every fraction of a second or so. But the “mode of consciousness” is quite different with respect to the individual changes than it is with respect to our appreciation of the whole.

Thus experience, including the experience of consciousness, can be multifarious and multidimensional. Indeed, at a human level it always is. Hartshorne, of course, argues that it is only the “lowest” dimension of consciousness the minute alterations in our experience, which are “truly concrete.” Our experience of wholes, whether they be of art, music, or the world around us, is “abstract.” But this supposition we have already shown to be the result of an arbitrary reductionistic presupposition. Once the definition of “concrete” and “abstract” are recognized are being perspectivally contingent, the actuality (concreteness) of our phenomenological experiences, as well as (from a different perspective) the actuality of the minute alterations which, in one sense, comprise these experiences, can be admitted. To say that our normal sense of consciousness is multifarious is thus to say that our dominant perspective always encompasses relatively tacit perspectives.

Prima facie, then, no obvious absurdity is committed in maintaining that God can be, in one sense, necessarily actually infinite while further maintaining that God can also be, at the same time but in another sense, contingently actually infinite. This is, from another angle, simply to say that God can have a necessary eternal perspective on Godself which may include a perspective which encompasses non-divine perspectives. God is eternally and necessarily defined by this one’s eternal experience of Godself, and this experience may encompass, and find expression in, the interaction of non-divine creatures.

When we say that God might be actually eternal and actually contingent, therefore, we do not mean to suggest that God is essentially defined by both an eternal and contingent actuality. God is essentially defined only by this One’s necessary actuality. Thus we have not in the preceding said simply that “God’s essence is God’s existence,” but rather, “God’s essence is God’s essential existence.” For if there can be contingency in God, then God’s existence can encompass more than what this One essentially and necessarily is. God can be “more than necessary.” (emphasis mine)

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www-St-Takla-org--Moses-Prophet-05-Burning-Bush-CopticThere is much to question in Greg’s project when it comes to how theological language functions, and I don’t mean to endorse every point he makes. But I don’t think our differences undermine the helpfulness of his main thought here. We believe it’s possible to conceive of God’s essential-necessary triune fullness as the living immediacy of a ‘specious present’, an experienced plenitude which is not an instance of temporal becoming (i.e., it has neither past nor future). But neither is it the negation of such becoming. On the contrary, it is free and able to open itself to ‘specious presents’ of finite duration which aim at contingently expressing (not constituting) the beatitude of God’s abiding present.

An immutable temporal interval that does not “become” (i.e., has no past or future or the kind of present which negotiates the two)? I think so, yes. It’s the temporal equivalent of a ‘burning bush’. I call it a ‘temporal’ interval because I believe it has living-loving content and that leads me to default analogically to ‘temporal’ (as opposed to ‘atemporal’). I’d rather say ‘temporal’ and then qualify it (i.e., it isn’t an instance of temporal becoming). That is—it’s a bush. And it’s on fire without being consumed. Doesn’t make sense, but there it is. At the same time it’s is not the experience of a “becoming” subject (viz., a subject in temporal pursuit of personal realization). We have to say this also, because it’s fire that does not need the bush for fuel. It’s an off-the-map sort of experience.

The controversial claim we make here is that God’s infinite specious present would not preclude real relations with finite creatures and changing states of knowledge with respect to the world. Created realities do indeed come to be and pass out of being. These are possibilities immutably contained in God. However, which particular possibilities come to be the actual world (and, for my Orthodox friends, the relevant point here is that not all possibilities pre-contained in God come to be) is not something immutably pre-contained in God. God would know the ‘actually contingent’ contingently, i.e., in its contingent actuality, without suffering any negation of the living immediacy of his immutable specious present. That is to say, the world “lives and moves and has its being” in God. It is then not the case that God lives and moves and has his being in the world (viz., PT).

Does this make God just another finite subject of “becoming,” one who possesses his identity and full beatitude in the realizing of possibilities given him under the constraints of past experience negotiating his way toward some unfulfilled desire? I don’t see that it does. If God were to know the changing contingencies of the actual world with a knowledge that changes as well, this “as well” needn’t be understood as introducing “loss” into God’s special present. God’s duration is without loss (Jenson).Surely we are not confined to an occasionalism in which God’s sustaining of the world reduces the world to divine will, nor to an opposite occasionalism which views God as reduced to the world’s becoming (viz., Process theism) simply for holding that God’s knowledge of the changing world changes.

Prayer

Always fulfilled, always at rest,
You never wait to be your best;
And yet you can take time to be,
To stoop in partnership with me.
You know me within my own time,
And yet remain wholly sublime.
Give me a heart to give myself
In poverty to your own wealth.

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18 comments on “God’s infinite “specious present”

  1. A lot to chew on here Tom, and I certainly can’t do justice to all your great insights, but I do want to latch onto one thing. You say:

    “This is, from another angle, simply to say that God can have a necessary eternal perspective on Godself which may include a perspective which encompasses non-divine perspectives. God is eternally and necessarily defined by this one’s eternal experience of Godself, and this experience may encompass, and find expression in, the interaction of non-divine creatures.”

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  2. Arg, I hate typing in these boxes! You can so easily hit enter which automatically posts what you’ve written when you only want to drop paragraphs!

    Anyway – the quote you make above, along with other things you’ve written about God’s impassibility and eternality – makes God necessarily SUPRA-temporal (or timeless), doesn’t it? We both agree that God cannot be simply one more changing temporal being amidst a universe of other temporally changing beings. Such a system posits a further OVERARCHING metaphysical reality – a “common space” so to speak – that is outside even God, which is absurd. But where we disagree is that you still do want to locate God “within” time somehow. That is, you want to maintain God’s immutability but also his temporality. But to me, if God has knowledge of the creation, and if God is temporal, then he cannot also be immutable. For his very knowledge must be constantly changing in time itself. His relations to the world themselves would be constantly undergoing change – e.g. God holds you guilty, but since you repent he NOW forgives you. And since God would himself KNOW such changing relations, the content of his knowledge – that is his cognitive state itself – would likewise he constantly changing. Thus, it seems to me, if God is in time he cannot also be immutable.

    If God were in time it seems that he would be a being who is in a constant state of becoming himself. But again THAT would reduce him to something we both want to avoid – a mutable God. For not only would it leave us with the first problem – i.e. positing a ontologically prior, God-like, overarching metaphysical space in which both God and creatures co-exist – but you run into another problem as well. That is, you have the positive Aristotlian argument that the existence of changing beings (or beings which experience becoming), necessarily demands a final being which undergoes no change – no becoming – at all itself. For whatever else you want to say about scholastic theology, it seems impossible to deny the stout metaphysical argument that everything which changes from one thing to another does so by being “acted on” by another. Nothing can “change itself” – or act on itself to change itself – for otherwise it would be in both act and potency at the same time regarding the same properties, which is absurd. That is, nothing can “move itself” into a particular state of existence because that would imply that the initial being already in some sense POSSESSED that state of being beforehand. But if it “came” to possess such a property in the future, that implies that in the past such a property was possessed only potentially. Yet if it possessed it only potentially, it could not have possessed it ALSO actually. How, then, did it come to possess the property in the first place? Thus you end up either having to say that God is both actually and potentially creator at the first moment of creation (which is absurd), or you say that there is some being further back, itself unconditioned and immutable, which conditions God’s state of becoming itself and “gives” him whatever potentiality he “comes” to possess (which is also absurd.) So I think we have here a strong argument suggesting that God cannot “become” or “acquire” any new property. Yet if he was in time this is precisely what would be occurring.

    In short, it seems much easier to hold onto these central attributes of God (eternality, self-sufficiency, immutability) if we adopt a view of God as SUPRA-temporal or “timeless.”

    Check out my blog for a post on how an eternal, immutable God can nevertheless possess knowledge “caused by ” the free creation. It is called God’s eternal and immutable knowledge of the free creation: combining ideas of Norris Clarke, Brian Leftow, Eleonore Stump.”

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  3. To go back over that Aristotelian argument for a prime mover really quickly (whether or not one agrees with it), it asserts that nothing can move itself, and so God could not change himself and cannot “go from” existing in potency to actuality. Ergo it holds that God cannot experience becoming. Here is the argument: if God is composed of potency and actuality, then the new characteristic “acquired” in the transition from potency to actuality (i.e. whatever is added in “becoming” itself) must pre-exist in the part of the being that is already actual. (Otherwise, where would the metaphysical characteristic that is being added come from?) But if such a characteristic is already actual, it would already be present in the being and not also only potentially present. (I.e. the distinction between actual and potential would then be meaningless.) Therefore, the first mover cannot “become” or “acquire” a new attribute, for that would imply that he gains it by another giving it to him, which would imply that something exists ontologically prior to God.

    Anyway! There’s the Aristotle lesson for the day.

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  4. Tom says:

    Malcolm: The quote you make above, along with other things you’ve written about God’s impassibility and eternality – makes God necessarily SUPRA-temporal (or timeless), doesn’t it?

    Tom: I’m open on how best to express it. I don’t want to reduce God to what’s left after our categorical/logical contradictories have carved things up, but I suppose ‘supra-temporal’ could express a perspective on it.

    Malcolm: We both agree that God cannot be simply one more changing temporal being amidst a universe of other temporally changing beings. Such a system posits a further OVERARCHING metaphysical reality – a “common space” so to speak – that is outside even God, which is absurd.

    Tom: True.

    Malcolm: But where we disagree is that you still do want to locate God “within” time somehow. That is, you want to maintain God’s immutability but also his temporality. But to me, if God has knowledge of the creation, and if God is temporal, then he cannot also be immutable.

    Tom: You mean like bushes can’t be on fire without being consumed by a fire the uses them for fuel?

    Malcolm: For his very knowledge must be constantly changing in time itself. His relations to the world themselves would be constantly undergoing change…

    Tom: I grant that much. God can have specious presents of finite, changing duration in his relations with a changing world. My point is that specious presents can be embraced within a single, unchanging specious present. The specious present which is God’s triune act of self-relationality would itself not change.

    Malcolm: If God were in time it seems that he would be a being who is in a constant state of becoming himself.

    Tom: If God were “in” time, he would “become” in that sense, yes. The question is, is ‘change’ inconceivable apart from such “becoming”? Is all change the change of the kind of ‘becoming’ we do not want to attribute to God. I don’t think so.

    Malcolm: That is, you have the positive Aristotlian argument that the existence of changing beings (or beings which experience becoming), necessarily demands a final being which undergoes no change – no becoming – at all itself.

    Tom: Right. There’s truth in that conclusion; namely, it can’t be the case that everything (God and world) is “becoming.” That appears to be Process’ solution against the classical believe that God is absolute immutability and the world is absolute mutability. That’s problematic once you want to posit relations (like ‘knowing’) between the two.

    Malcolm: For whatever else you want to say about scholastic theology, it seems impossible to deny the stout metaphysical argument that everything which changes from one thing to another does so by being “acted on” by another. Nothing can “change itself” – or act on itself to change itself – for otherwise it would be in both act and potency at the same time regarding the same properties, which is absurd.

    Tom: I’m not so sure. Certainly if one assumes all ‘change’ constitutes ‘becoming’, then yes. Are you familiar with the notion of ‘entelecy’ (or entelechia)?

    Malcolm: That is, nothing can “move itself” into a particular state of existence because that would imply that the initial being already in some sense POSSESSED that state of being beforehand. But if it “came” to possess such a property in the future, that implies that in the past such a property was possessed only potentially. Yet if it possessed it only potentially, it could not have possessed it ALSO actually.

    Tom: I don’t suppose there to be any self-constituting temporal becoming in God. I’m proposing (after others) self-expressive temporal relations which do not actualize in time any self-constituting potential in God. God has no unfulfilled self-constituting potential.

    Malcolm: So I think we have here a strong argument suggesting that God cannot “become” or “acquire” any new property.

    Tom: Self-constituting, certainly. But self-expressive, I don’t see the problem.

    Malcolm: In short, it seems much easier to hold onto these central attributes of God (eternality, self-sufficiency, immutability) if we adopt a view of God as SUPRA-temporal or “timeless.”

    Tom: It wouldn’t work for me, but I’ll try to check out your stuff on it. Thanks!

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    • Tom says:

      Another way I’m thinking of trying to express this is with reference to the transcendentals (a kind of transcendental temporality). We want to affirm that God is the transcendentals—Goodness, Beauty, Truth (and Unity if you go with Balthasar). I understand divine transcendence basically in terms of these. After all, God’s being these in their fullness as the summum bonum is what does the heavy lifting for us existentially speaking. I know Fr Aidan always asks, “Can it preach?” That’s Jenson’s question too. But it’s being unable to preach absolute timelessness that makes it a useless instrument in the preacher’s/counselor’s toolbox (IMO).

      Finite “becoming” (wherein God’s identity would be a temporal achievement) would be problematic. But I don’t see that all change is problematic. True, that triune act which is convertible with the transcendentals as ground of all else cannot itself be achieved temporally—it can have no past, present, or future in that sense. But that it can accommodate no contingent expressive relation with created things that reflect to varying degrees transcendentals immutably achieved in God? That doesn’t seem to me to be a problem.

      With respect to being the transcendentals — the relational, loving beatitude of truth, goodness, and beauty — God is an infinite specious present. He has no memory of being THIS and no anticipation of continuing to be THIS. But I do think that finitely temporal experiences that come to be and pass out of being are remembered, known, or anticipated by God. These constitute a TACIT awareness of creation and do not share in constituting the transcendentals. How could they? Their existence is a participation in the transcendental fullness of God’s specious present.

      I prefer “infinite” here to “timeless” or “atemporal.” God doesn’t “become” the good, the true, the beautiful. But he suffers no loss of beauty, truth, or goodness if “what he knows” regarding those contingent actualities that participate in him by his sustaining grace changes.

      God is transcendentally timeless. But one can say just as truthfully that God is transcendentally temporal.

      Burning Bush.

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  5. Thanks for the comments Tom. It’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts put on the page! I must admit, however, that I am scratching my head a bit at the moment. Based on what you’ve written, I’m not sure where we disagree. More precisely, I don’t see how your view IN FACT does differ from the classic, timeless view.
    You say “My point is that specious presents can be embraced within a single, unchanging specious present. The specious present which is God’s triune act of self-relationality would itself not change.” This seems eerily similar to the eternal NOW. I.e. you have God existing in an unchanging state whereby he possesses a simultaneous cognitive relation between all that is changing in time. This is a hallmark feature of the classic view.
    Now the point you raise after this seems to me entirely appropriate. Namely you want to know if all “change” constitutes “becoming.” And here you raise a profound question that goes to heart of the simplicity of God and his freedom to create.
    It seems to me you are essentially try to understand the relationship between God as he exists in himself, in perfect fullness, as unconditioned, and as not necessarily related to any thing outside himself and as God “subsequently” or “additionally” relates to creation – i.e. the CONDITIONED, CONTINGENT reality that he has freely called into being. Hence your dichotomy between God as “self-constituting” and “self-expressive.” There is evidently a mode being that God possesses on the former level that is not possessed on the later. The former you want to say is “changeless” but the later you want to say is “changing.”
    I think you may benefit from another medieval or classical distinction here – one which you are probably familiar with – which is between what God necessarily wills absolutely necessarily, and what he wills by supposition or conditionally. Now the classic doctrine holds that God necessarily wills and knows his own being and self, but he only conditionally wills the existence of other beings and other selves. However, SUPPOSING THAT GOD DOES WILL THESE THINGS, it does not follow that God has undergone any “change” in being related to himself and “then” to other creatures through an act of self expression. Indeed, God may be different across possible worlds – for he may conditionally will different things, such as to be related to beings by being a creator, or not to be so related. But it is consistent with a timeless view of God ONLY THAT in whatever possible world God eternally (or timelessly) chooses to actualize, he himself does not undergo change in that world. As Norris Clarke aptly said, a DIFFERENCE in the divine mind and will – such as one of relation to creatures, or one of self-expression in a particular way, neither of which necessarily had to occur – need not imply a CHANGE in the divine mind and will. For more on this see Stump’s chapter on God’s simplicity here, particularly pages 122-126 (http://www.morelightinmasonry.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Stump-Aquinas.May_.2003.pdf)
    So, to answer your question, it does seem to me that any change DOES imply becoming. In fact the phenomenon of change seems to be an necessarily TEMPORAL process. But I think what you are getting at is not so much a “change” in God but rather a CONDITIONAL NECESSITY that he timelessly, eternally, and immutably takes on. It is not something he “goes from” having and “then” not having – that is a temporal notion excluded by the arguments we’ve both given. Rather it is something that he has simply always, “undividedly” willed.

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    • Tom says:

      Just a quick couple thoughts.

      Malcolm: I don’t see how your view IN FACT does differ from the classic, timeless view.

      Tom: One difference would be this—I can posit changing states of knowledge in God, even open theism (given my understanding of what I’ve said). I haven’t met a proponent of classical timelessness agree this is even possible given their view. I don’t think it is possible given their view.

      Malcolm: …Hence your dichotomy between God as “self-constituting” and “self-expressive.” There is evidently a mode of being that God possesses on the former level that is not possessed on the later.

      Tom: Perhaps Greg’s dispositional ontology here might help.

      Malcolm: But I think what you are getting at is not so much a “change” in God but rather a CONDITIONAL NECESSITY that he timelessly, eternally, and immutably takes on. It is not something he “goes from” having and “then” not having…

      Tom: Eternally foreknowing what you’d do IF a certain contingency actualizes wouldn’t amount to a change in ‘will’ should that contingency arrive, true. Familiar with Richard Creel’s work? He’s an open theist who argues immutability of God’s will but now of God’s knowledge. Though God’s will with respect to such situations wouldn’t change, he’s knowledge would change. That situation isn’t eternally actual, and actual-A is not convertible in every sense with possible-A. God would ‘know’ the difference. And if the latter isn’t eternal, the knowledge of it as actual can’t be eternal. So God would still change in that respect.

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      • Tom, thanks for the reply.

        You say the reason you prefer the temporal view is because you can “posit changing states of knowledge in God.” But that seems to me precisely the problem, isn’t it? That would make God mutable, insofar as I can see, and don’t we both want to avoid that? I know you (and Boyd) try to pin down a difference between God’s “essential” changeless nature and how that is then “self-expressed”, but I don’t see how this helps if God is in time. (I am probably not really understanding the significance of this difference!) For it seems to me if God has a singular intelligence which unifies all his various relations to creation, and if the creation itself changes, and if God is in time and his knowledge of the changing creation changes as well, then HE would change, wouldn’t he? How can God’s knowledge change and God himself not change? It seems you would have to take God’s knowledge – which includes the knowledge of how he is himself related to what he has made – out of God’s inner, changeless being. You would have to make him sort of inherently indifferent to all that he knows and sees go on in the creation. But THAT undermines the initial open project of having God be “really related” to creation.

        As far as separating God’s will and his knowledge and making one immutable and the other mutable – that is an interesting approach. I would have to think about it more to see what inconsistencies came up. But I really just don’t see the need for it in the first place. That is, I don’t see the REASON to suppose that these things change in God. I think we can get as much relationality as we want on a timeless view (God is always fully related in his intentional consciousness to all things), and we also logically maintain God’s immutability (which we both want to do.)

        I also want to say that I am somewhat suspicious of the coherence of statements like “Eternally foreknowing what you’d do IF a certain contingency actualizes…” For if God is timeless then a) God has no foreknowledge – that word is meaningless when applied to him; and b) “counterfactuals of freedom” possess no truth value, and so cannot be known, since something has to be REAL in the first place to be known, and there is no actual universe or state of affairs in which merely possible states of affairs actually obtain. So the idea of God “pre-planning” or having a “Kasparovian predestinarian strategy” in mind pre-creation is excluded by the timeless view. On the other hand, if is applied to a temporal view such a scheme does, yet again, seem to rob God of relationality since he is not as it were being “presently affected” by the temporal unfolding of creation. He has already decided what he would do if… and is so not “really” moved.

        I again encourage you when you have the time to look at my post on Norris Clarke, Leftow, and Eleonore Stump, which may express some of my thoughts a bit clearer (at least I hope!)

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      • Tom says:

        Malcolm,

        I wanna reply to this as a brief post. So I hope I can get that together today.

        Tom

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  6. I really hate being unable to edit these comments. Hopefully you can see where my paragraph breaks were intended! I meant also to say that I am sorry I didn’t respond to all your particular questions, but I had assumed I had typed up enough by then for us to continue the conversation if you wished.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. brian says:

    Tom,

    It’s a shame you are always thinking about the most trivial issues 3:-)

    In one of his First Things essays, Hart writes about Nabakov and the enigmatic metaphysics suggested by his oeuvre. If I remember correctly, he seems to suggest Nabakov as holding a kind of “infinite specious present” that would enfold all finite, temporal consciousnesses.

    I like the focus on the burning bush as an image of “non-becoming” temporality. I am trying to work through these matters in terms of a long-standing project (I’ve told you about it before) that exists mainly in my head, but partially on paper. It is a story that wrestles with the complex questions you raise. I find that all the best books do not address what I am after and it is difficult to explain to others what is especially confounding. I think you have similar issues.

    Perhaps, time should not be thought as simply other to eternity, though its important to remember that as well. In another sense, as Plato said, time is the moving image of eternity — but even this is more suggestive than fully illuminating. What Balthasar does is he locates the archetype for everything in TriUne life. I think this is manifestly correct. Hence, I will say, if one wants to understand what it means to be a Person, begin with the Trinity. Likewise, if one wants to understand the event quality of human experience, begin with God. Though one may posit a distance between the immanent and economic Trinity, I think it is still valid to claim that the former is disclosed through the latter. And the latter allows Paul to say something like 1 Cor 2:10 — “But to us God hath revealed them, by this Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”

    Now what could that mean? How is it that the Spirit searcheth the deep things of God if one imagines God as a kind of perfectly lucid, comprehensive consciousness in which all of reality is simply revealed in its entirety? Where I would go is to say, forget for a moment the conundrums of creation and time and wonder about God simply. Is surprise, drama, event merely a secondary, conditional good, something for creatures, but not for God? If one answers yes to this, one has agreed with those who claim a static, full eternity — and it is just this that renders the thought of eternity potentially insipid. Of course, one can deny this and say fullness is flourishing is delight is anything but dull, yet the suspicion will hang about in a dark and neglected corner of your soul. Following out analogy in a different manner, Balthasar suggests that the “distance” between the Persons of TriUne God is the “space” that allows for the distance between God and creation. Similarly, one might argue that temporal drama is “always already” rooted in a “dramatic eternity,” which is to say that a “non-becoming” temporality must be part of God’s intrinsic nature. This is the sort of thing Balthasar is trying to get at in TheoDrama V when he talks about a “Supertime” in God. Call it “supratemporal” if you like, but the key is not to cede to creatures in fallen time a manifest good that would somehow be lacking in eternity.

    But all this really requires a careful inquiry into the metaphysics of the Good. I’ve touched on this in some of the meditations Father Kimel has posted — how for the modern, mystery is a diminishing return ultimately eliminated by knowledge, but for a Christian metaphysics, mystery is deepened with knowledge. It is NOT simply that their is always more to learn. The giving itself, the moment of illumination, involves an inherent increase in depth. I owe you a discussion of this Tom. Difficulties in life have gotten in the way. What I’d like to suggest here, however, is that when one thinks that drama and surprise requires a lack of knowledge, one is appropriating the common sense perspective of human temporal experience. I am not convinced there isn’t a different alternative that would allow one to have one’s Pure Act and enjoy one’s eternal drama as well.

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    • Tom says:

      Brian: It’s a shame you are always thinking about the most trivial issues 3:-)

      Tom: My curse!

      Brian: Hart writes about Nabakov and the enigmatic metaphysics suggested by his oeuvre. If I remember correctly, he seems to suggest Nabakov as holding a kind of “infinite specious present” that would enfold all finite, temporal consciousnesses.

      Tom: So there’s a Russian novelist/poet who thought of this already? I’m not insane!

      Brian: Balthasar suggests that the “distance” between the Persons of TriUne God is the “space” that allows for the distance between God and creation. Similarly, one might argue that temporal drama is “always already” rooted in a “dramatic eternity,” which is to say that a “non-becoming” temporality must be part of God’s intrinsic nature.

      Tom: That’s where I’d like to go.

      Brian: This is the sort of thing Balthasar is trying to get at in TheoDrama V when he talks about a “Supertime” in God. Call it “supratemporal” if you like, but the key is not to cede to creatures in fallen time a manifest good that would somehow be lacking in eternity.

      Tom: Agree.

      Brian: But all this really requires a careful inquiry into the metaphysics of the Good. I’ve touched on this in some of the meditations Father Kimel has posted — how for the modern, mystery is a diminishing return ultimately eliminated by knowledge, but for a Christian metaphysics, mystery is deepened with knowledge. It is NOT simply that there is always more to learn. The giving itself, the moment of illumination, involves an inherent increase in depth. I owe you a discussion of this Tom. Difficulties in life have gotten in the way. What I’d like to suggest here, however, is that when one thinks that drama and surprise requires a lack of knowledge, one is appropriating the common sense perspective of human temporal experience. I am not convinced there isn’t a different alternative that would allow one to have one’s Pure Act and enjoy one’s eternal drama as well.

      Tom: Take all the ‘time’ you need! Looks like I’ll have to visit the East Coast sometime in the near future. 😀

      Like

      • apophaticallyspeaking says:

        Quite likely the conundrum will not be fixed by means of some trick of logic, at least let us hope that won’t be the case, we will all be disappointed.

        We must realize that something so quite uncontroversial as “divine movement”, is, after all, utter transgressive and bloviating non-sense to the carnal mind.

        So we are compelled to affirm, that yes, of course! we must allow for Pure Act and eternal drama. Is this not the infant God, born in a cave? He who fed Israel with manna in the desert, suckling at his mother’s breast?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Bloviating. Had to look that one up. Definitely a keeper!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      I’m poking around in Nabokov. Interesting.

      Like

    • Tom says:

      Reading up on Balthasar this morning, I noticed the interesting word “contraction” to describe the manner in which created things participate in the transcendentals and the transcendentals manifest within creation: ‘Every form is a contraction of the totality of being, and some [forms] are more contracted than others’. The word ‘contraction’ got me thinking about the sense in which we might conceive of God’s infinite specious moment entering into relations with creaturely, finite specious moments (without abandoning the experienced fullness of being). The image of a beautiful fractal came to mind. Fractals are “never-ending, infinite patterns that are self-similar across different scales.” The plenitude of a fractal infinitely expands outward, but it also contracts infinitely. Any finite experience of it, i.e., any limited perspective on it, nevertheless contains the whole and the whole is truly within it. A fractal is a specious present embracing specious presents.

      Liked by 1 person

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