Real and logical relations in divine causality

James Anderson expresses an opinion that he disagrees with:

William Lane Craig… argues that God is timeless apart from a creation but temporal with a creation. Craig maintains that God considered alone (so to speak) is a timeless being; there’s no intrinsic need for him to experience the passing of time. But if God chooses to create a temporal universe, God’s relationship with that universe entails that he must also be temporal along with the universe.

Dale Tuggy responds:

I’m with Craig. I don’t think his position implies any change in God. Rather: if God hadn’t created, he’d be timeless. But given that God has created, he’s “in time.” It seems to me that if there is time, there’s no where else to be. Our spatial metaphors (“outside” time, “above” time) are wrongheaded. So are the trapping metaphors (e.g. “bound by” time). If God freely chose to create, then he freely chose to operate “in time” and he’s not been “trapped” by anything other than logical consistency.

Tuggy’s response can be read in more than one way, and the scare quotes around the phrase in time (which seem to mean that he takes it as a metaphor) commit him to almost nothing, since if this is all metaphorical speech then it is just as true to say God is in time as to say Christ has the wings of a hen. At any rate, I too think God is not  trapped by anything other than logical consistency, but I suspect that I don’t mean the same thing Dale means; and if Dale means what Anderson said Craig meant then I disagree with everyone.

The question of how God relates to the world, or how he relates to it before and after creation is obviously a question about relation. depending on what one wants to know about relation there are limitless ways of dividing it and accounting for it, but Aristotle’s account highlights a division that is relevant to the problem here. In his account of relation in book VI of the Categories, Aristotle first says that a relative thing is whatever we speak of as of or to another. This account, however, ends up collapsing on him. One reason for the collapse is that it would do away with relations of dependence or causality. If being of or to another sufficed to show that something’s existence was relative to another, then (since causes are obviously causes of effects) then causes exist relatively to effects, which is the same as saying that a cause, even qua cause, is a sort of effect. Now if you’ve got a theory that identifies one thing with its contrary, there’s a problem in your theory, and the easiest solution is to divide things that are understood relatively to others with things that exist or are dependent on another. When there is a difference between the two, St. Thomas tends to call the latter a real relation and the former a relation only on thought or a logical relation. The naming does not translate well. For example, when St. Thomas says that God has no real relation to the world, or even that there is no real relation between Mary and Christ (he says both) all he is claiming is that God does not depend on the creature in order to exist – which is so self- evident that it doesn’t seem much worth mentioning; but to us the same claim sounds as though STA is arguing that God is aloof from the universe or that the Incarnation is a sham. But this is a PR problem and not a theological one.

Still, if it is necessary that we divide some reality from the way we must understand it, there is a mystery of some sort or another. Though we can see that causality is not a sort of effect, our examination of particular causes will show some sort causality moving from the effect to the cause: the gun will recoil against the shooter; the load we press forward presses backwards on our hands; and we even depend on some sort of resistant force to force something forward. All these experiences are easily generalized to a general statement of causality being a sort of effect… of one thing being its contrary.

Aristotle, to be sure, took a more basic approach to this problem: if you don’t distinguish what is necessary for our understanding for what is necessary for existence, then you end up concluding that that the reason my son is crying is because I hear him. It’s true, however, that the problem of relation makes this harder to see, and we really are tempted to see a dependence of causes on effects, which is due to the homogeneity of the sort of causes we can understand. Nevertheless, when we say that God is non-temporal because he acts in the temporal universe as simply a cause. God is a cause pure and simple – even if this causality is viewed in the temporal order, for causality is divided from dependence on another. To say God is non-temporal even while acting in time is to say that he most of all satisfies the notion that we have of a cause acting in time, and that he satisfies this notion in a way that nothing else can satisfy.

This doesn’t touch on Dale’s main argument in his post, but at the exact sense of “real” relation and its contrary need to be set down first before we can touch upon the biblical issues of how one seems to affect God, change the order of providence, have prayer be really causal of things, etc.

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