What Necessary World Theology has to say about the Nature of Time

When one looks at the fundamental premises of Necessary World Theology (NWT) – these stating that God exists at all moments in time simultaneously – the question of the nature of time becomes inevitable.

There are two primary theories regarding the nature of time. The a-theory of time is the one which seems intuitive: that the present is the only state in which time exists, and that what is present is in a continual forward motion such that the past is no longer persistent, and the future simply refers to the forward direction in which the present is moving.

The b-theory of time is one which has become largely embraced in philosophical circles. This theory states that time describes a fourth dimension into which the physical universe extends, such that to the conscious individual, past, present and future are more or less illusory and that they simply describe a state of perception that the conscious individual has at every given point in the dimension of time. B-theory of time also has some crossover into the Field Theory of physics which states that the universe is composed of a series of overlapping fields which resonate at various frequencies in order to create the various states in which matter and energy exist. So, for instance, protons represent one field of the universe which “vibrates” at a certain frequency to create the motion and presence of light at any given point in the universe, whereas electrons represent a different field, vibrating at various frequencies to create the motion and presence of the electrons. Under this theory, time also represents a fourth-dimensional field, vibrating at various frequencies across the field to create the entropic effect.

Both theories present questions for NWT. A second premise contained in NWT is that humans are not present at every moment of time simultaneously. This constant motion from past to present to future is what allows humans to have free will; as they operate on information from the past to make choices in the present causing consequences in the future. Under b-theory, past, present and future all exist simultaneously, which challenges the notion of free will. However, b-theory is that which makes the most sense of this assertion that the presence of God exists at all moments simultaneously.

Under a-theory, free will remains a possibility, but no apparent mechanic exists for God to be present at all instances of time simultaneously.

Under NWT, God’s omnipresence is that which allows for his omniscience. If God is simultaneously present at all points in space and time, he has total knowledge of the universe. Also, God’s eternal presence in every moment of time is the only mechanic that allows for his foreknowledge.

Classically it has been taken as a given that foreknowledge is just some mystical aspect of God’s nature such that he knows what is going to happen when it hasn’t actually happened yet. How this is possible is rarely considered. God can do anything, so why can’t he see the future, one supposes.

NWT resolves this by defining the mechanic that allows for foreknowledge. God knows what will happen because he is currently existent in the future as much as he is in the present.

This has frequently been used as a challenge against free will. If God knows that something is absolutely going to happen, then humans have no capacity to choose anything else, as the future is already set in stone. NWT potentially solves this objection by saying that God doesn't so much know what is going to happen, rather he is present when it happens.

Consider this thought experiment:

Under any theory of time, imagine an event in the past. Say, the battle of Waterloo or a housewife’s selection of canned mushrooms on a shopping trip. Imagine that this exact moment in history were played over and over again with no variation or change, either in the circumstance or in the minds of the people involved. Would the decisions made by the individuals, or the outcomes of those decisions ever change, no matter how many times the events repeated exactly as they did?

Intuitively, one would answer that, no, given the circumstances with absolutely no changes, the decisions and outcomes would be inevitable.

And yet this idea of the deprivation of free will given fixed circumstances persists. If the common notion of free will were taken as a given, one would be forced to believe that humans might make entirely different decisions under particular circumstances if given multiple opportunities to do so. But this notion of free will only applies to the future. If one extends this notion to the past, it seems counterintuitive. No matter how many times one plays over a particular moment in the past – unless there is some small change introduced into the circumstances of that moment, it would inevitably play out exactly as it did.

Under A or B theory, circumstances of any given moment are what they are, and circumstances determine decisions.

Whether A or B theory, it is understood that objects are different at any given point. If one pinpoints a particular cross section of time, the object extended into that cross section is going to have a different configuration than it would in any other cross section.

However, if one allows for the concept of mind/body duality, the immaterial aspect of the human in question is not necessarily subject to the kind of change and entropy represented in their body. This immaterial aspect of human beings could possibly be the device by which humans consciously experience the flow of time from past to present to future, even if objects extend across the dimension of time simultaneously. So, the matter and energy that compose the human body at any moment extend backward in time to the moment of creation, and forward in time, either eternally, or until space/time is terminated. However, the immaterial part of human nature – call it a “soul” – has an origin point along the flow of time, and extends eternally forward across time from that point.    

Does this mean that human beings are present at all moments in time simultaneously in a similar fashion to God?

Firstly, one obvious difference is that God is eternally conscious of each moment simultaneously. He doesn’t just remember the past or foresee the future – he is currently consciously experiencing the past and the future and the now. Humans have no such experience.

It is at least possible that even if matter, energy and the motion thereof extend across time and space in four dimensions in a persistent state, that the immaterial aspect of human nature – the mind – still travels along this continuum independent of the persistent state the physical universe.

This possibility still begs the question of how the human mind – isolated moment to moment though it be – would be capable of choices since it cannot act upon the physical universe such that it changes events in space-time.

A possible solution to this might exist within the interaction between God’s mind and the mind of moral agents (such as humans and angels). Consider God’s act of creation to be a single instance which represented all of space and time. In that instant every particular item and event are simultaneously actuated. They are actuated by the actuator – that is, God. However, God’s act of creation includes the creation of moral agents on the other side of the space/time sandwich. God’s persistent and immutable nature represents the foundation upon which the physical universe rests and is actuated. The limited, mutable and capricious moral agents represent the other side of the sandwich. Even as space and time are simultaneously actuated in four dimensions by a single creative act of God, so are the individual choices of each moral agent on the other side of the sandwich. These wills are activated by God, and actuated by the individual decisions of these agents, moment-to-moment across space and time. God’s nature being immutable, each instance within space and time is decided by and drawn toward the foundational aspects of God’s nature.

Whatever the case, it is at least apparent that human beings have at their root an observant aspect, such that even if matter, energy and motion are eternally fixed, humans are conscious and observant of this larger reality. Whatever control they may or may not have, they are at least capable of contemplation upon it as they observe it.

Perhaps this is why God is so insistent upon the state of the heart and mind above and beyond the actual physical activity of humans. Scripture is replete with “thought crime” language. It will observe that “the thoughts of their hearts were only evil continually.” It commands not to envy. It commands not to lust or to hate. It tells the reader that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” It ties practically all instances of sin and righteousness not to the motion and state of the physical body, but rather to the state of the immaterial mind.