Eternal God (Paul Helm)

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Helm, Paul. Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time. Oxford. Second Edition.

Paul Helm is painstakingly thorough in examining the challenges to God’s being outside of time. Almost too thorough. In any case, this book will likely be remembered as one of the classics in analytic theology.

Flow of the book: If God is outside of time, then a number of challenges and (perceived) difficulties arise. The traditional view is the Boethian view: all of past, present, and future is present to God. This view is correct in maintaining that God is outside of time. It is open, however, to a number of devastating defeaters. Helm’s goal is to reformulate the Boethian view in light of these defeaters.

The most challenging section of the book deals with indexicals: I am here at this place at this hour. The problem is that many of these indexicals can’t apply to God’s being timeless. God can affirm the following proposition?

(1) I know that it is raining today.

The critic says he can’t because this would place God in a time-bound relation. It’s not clear, though, why God can’t timelessly affirm this proposition. The only force indexicals would have is that God can’t affirm the following proposition:

(2) I know what it is to be married.

This deals more with omniscience than eternality. In any case, it doesn’t seem like anything is lost.

Can God know future events? Presumably, he can. This has been a given in almost every form of theistic belief. Some philosophers like Swinburne say God can’t know the future if he has also given libertarian freedom to his creatures. The future actions haven’t yet happened; therefore, God can’t know them. Helm offers something along the lines of a rebuttal:

(3) There is no logical connection between the view that the future does not already exist and the view that the future is indeterminate (121).

Possibilities of Fatalism

Not all fatalisms are the same. One can mean:

(4) Everything that happens was bound to happen.

It can mean something weaker:

(5) Everything that happens does so because of a logical necessity.

Timelessness and Human Responsibility

(6) God timelessly decreed that B occur at t₂ and this cannot be isolated from his timeless decree of A at t₁

(7) God timelessly decrees a complete causal matrix of events and actions (170).

Whenever we speak of God’s being and actions, we must realize that God’s being is logically prior to what he does.

Kripkean Terms

Rigid designator: a proper name which has x property in every possible world.

Accidental designator: property in some world.

Using these terms Helm suggests that “God” expresses the individual essence of God (208). A general essence isn’t a particular essence. God has a set of properties unique to himself. These are “God-making” properties. This is important because “Being the creator of the world’ is not a part of his nature whereas ‘being infinitely good is’” (209).

Eternal Generation of the Son: “There is no state of the Father that is not a begetting of the Son, and no state of the Son which is not a being begotten by the Father and necessarily there is no time when the Father had not begotten the Son” (285).

Corollary: If God is in time, then it does make sense to speak of a time when the Son was not. When did the Father beget the Son? Even asking that question illustrates the problem. You can’t say in eternity past, for that is the thing the temporalist denies.
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