Thursday, June 30, 2022

Backwards causation, the A-theory and God


  1. There are tensed facts.

  2. If F is a contingent fact solely about physical reality that does not depend on creaturely free choice, then God can effectually will an exact duplicate of F.

Assumption (1) is a central claim of the A-theory of time, in fact form. Assumption (2) is a hedged consequence of omnipotence, formulated to take into account the possibility of uncreatable Platonic entities and the essentiality of origins.


  1. Backwards causation is impossible.

We now have a problem. Let B be the tensed fact that the Big Bang occurred billions of years ago. This is a contingent fact solely about physical reality that does not depend on creaturely free choice. So, by (2), God can effectually will an exact duplicate of B. But an exact duplicate of B would still be a tensed fact about what happened billions of years ago. And to will such a fact about the past would be backwards causation, contrary to (3).

Note how the problem disappears if we don’t have tensed facts. For then all we have is an untensed fact such as that the Big Bang occurs at t0, and God can will that without backwards causation, whether God is in time (e.g., he can then will it at t0) or outside time.

I personally don’t have a problem with backwards causation. But a lot of A-theorists do.

I suppose what the A-theorist should do is to replace (2) with:

  1. If F is a contingent fact solely about physical reality that does not depend on creaturely free choice, then God can effectually will a perhaps re-tensed exact duplicate of F.


Don said...

Assuming there is no change in God, how is it backwards causation?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Well, God would be willing today that something happened yesterday.

Don said...

But the "today" and "yesterday" of God's will are only distinctions in reference to creatures. They're not distinctions in the actual will of God as that is outside of time. It's only causation in the since that it's eternally accounted for by God. I don't see how the temporal direction (in reference to creatures) of this type of causation matters to the A-theorist. For example, I don't see why an A-theorist would be okay with praying for some future intention but not okay with praying for the soul of someone who has long since died.

Amhar Iqbal said...


I apologize in advance this is a question irrelevant to the Topic. Iam teenager interested in Philosophy of Religion and Mind. Iam New to Philosophy

Does Essentiality of Origins Pose a Problem for The Leibiniz Cosmological Argument?

Walter Van den Acker said...

How van a timeless being do something 'today'?

Alexander R Pruss said...


God's point of view is the correct point of view. If from God's point of view, there is no objective present, then there is no objective present.


Despite some efforts to argue to the contrary, I don't think God can be a timeless being if the A-theory is correct.

Don said...

God's pov is outside of time so I don't see how it's relevant to temporality.

Don said...

Dr. Pruss,

I don't see how your last comment isn't different from saying: if from God's pov there is no change (meaning He is immutable) then there is no objective change. I don't see why the fact that God's mode of existence is not a creaturely mode of existence should dismiss the mode of existence of creatures as not objectively real.

Apologetics Squared said...

(2) seems strange to me. It states that God can effectually will an exact duplicate of a fact. If a fact here means a proposition, then that means God can will the duplicate of a proposition. What does that mean? That He creates another abstract object? Or that He wills an duplicated truthmaker of this proposition?

Alexander R Pruss said...


If God's point of view is outside temporality, in such a way that God doesn't know which time is objectively present, and if the A-theory is true so that some time IS objectively present, then God isn't omniscient, because there is some objective truth that he doesn't know.


Here, I am thinking of facts as concrete states of affairs, not as true propositions.

Don said...

Dr. Pruss,

Knowing time is a creaturely operation. It's the product of a creaturely mind since it's the measure of change. No mind experiencing change means no time. God not knowing the present, past, and future *as* present, past, and future (which can only happen by means of temporal experience) doesn't impinge his omniscience any more than does His not knowing the color red by means of sight.

Don said...

To clarify my last point: God knows the present, past, and future but not *as* present, past, and future--ie, not by temporal means.

Amhar Iqbal said...

Dr Pruss, I'd like to ask few questions. I will be happy if you reply.

Sir If we need to escape Modal Collapse Should we accept an indeterministic Link between God and his Effects?

If we Do, Does God Have no control over his effects? And Does it reduce God as an Intentional Agent?

Manuel said...

I have a question,

P1. Every fact has an explanation.
P2. It is a fact that God is necessary.

C1. The fact that God is necessary has an explanation

Doesn't God's necessity itself need an explanation?

James Reilly said...


Most philosophers who endorse the PSR favor a somewhat restricted formulation, according to which it is only contingent facts (or non-autonomous facts, etc.) which require explanation. On this view, the fact that God is necessary would not require any explanation, since it isn't a contingent fact. Of course, some philosophers do continue to endorse an unrestricted PSR, and the theists among them do try to give some kind of explanation for God's necessity. For a good example of this, see C.A. McIntosh's recent paper "Why Does God Exist":

Alexander R Pruss said...


It either is or is not an objective mind-independent fact that 2022 is present. If it is an objective mind-independent fact, God had better know it. If it is not an objective mind-independent fact, then we have a B-theory of time.

Alithea said...

Dr. Pruss, I agree that if A-theory is true, then God is in time. Dr. Craig uses the argument you do here. I'm Catholic like you, so I reject A-theory.

Accepting B-theory has implications for temporal versions of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. If time doesn't really exist, it seems like the Universe didn't begin to exist. Nothing, in fact, began to exist. There are no beginnings or endings.

Finally, there is an objection to God's timelessness that I've been thinking about. How can God be a personal being if he is outside of time? It seems like a person can't just be in an eternal, frozen, changeless state. It also loses one's ability to relate to God. A reply to this could be that we ourselves are actually timeless in a sense because B-theory is true. If God is not a person because he is timeless, then we are not persons. I would like to know your thoughts on this.

Zsolt Nagy said...

Since when does accepting B-theory of time have the implication of assuming there to be no time at all or time being non-existent?!?
If accepting of B-theory of time has any implications, then the implications are, that there is time or that time exist - the past and future events are as real as the current event and moment in time.

By the way accepting A-theory of time also has the implication of there being time or that time exists. But A-theory also implies, that only the current event or moment is real. Past and future events are not real or at least not as real as the current event or moment in time.

Does William Laine Craig really think, that accepting B-theory of time would imply there to be no time at all?!?
I don't think so, but if that's so, then I guess, that this is just a big misunderstanding of what each theory of time does or might imply from some non-particular persons here.

Alithea said...

Zsolt Nagy:

I was thinking of a block Universe. Time would be like the dimensions of space. So time would exist, I guess. It's just time itself would be timeless. There would be no change, only differences between points in time. I guess I went overboard in my thinking about people not being in time. That's like saying people aren't in space.

I only cited Craig for the argument that if A-theory is true, God is in time. He does say under B-theory, the Universe is co-eternal with God. He talks about his views on B-theory here:

Alexander R Pruss said...

"There would be no change, only differences between points in time": But differences between points in time ARE changes. :-)

Alithea said...

Alexander R Pruss:

I guess the differences between the points in time would be changes. I have problems understanding causation with eternalism. Did God eternally cause the Big Bang, which then eternally caused the next states in the Universe? Or did God cause the entire Universe eternally, while leaving humans free?

I also have some other questions. Is eternalism the only B-theory of time? Do you know of any other theories? Do you have any good resources on theories of time?

Zsolt Nagy said...

Of course, Alexander, time changes with time or to say, that the time derivative of time is 1 and not 0: dt/dt=1≠0 ⇒ t(t)≠const - Therefore, time as a function of time is not a constant function. Duh. ;v)

Yeah, I looked at that video from Craig here: "Doctrine of God Part 6: God's Relationship to Time" by ReasonableFaithOrg
Hm. I guess, the problem here is with that "divine timeless/atemporal(/without time)" being of yours.
Is that "divine" being inside of time or outside of it and, how does that being relate to time, if that being relates to it in any given way?
Maybe, if a "timeless" being, a being without any time, causes such problems for your doctrine, then I would rather suggest you to simply consider the possibility of that being to be omnitemporal, a being existing at any time or all the time. If that being supposed to be omnipresent, then why even consider him "spaceless"?
Really, time is time and either on A- or B-theory of time time exist or there is time, which can be measured by clocks: "What Is Time? | Professor Sean Carroll explains the theories of Presentism and Eternalism" by Wondrium

Zsolt Nagy said...

PS: Besides that, Craig at 18:16-18:50 in that mentioned video of his:
"... [According to B-theory of time] rather everything in time is spread out kind of like a spatial line and everything is equally existent. For the people in 1868, 1868 is now. For the people in 2015, 2015 is now. For the people in 5030, 5030 is now. If you say, which one is really now, the answer is there is no real now. It is just each of their subjective personal perspectives, none of which is objectively true."
Further Craig at 23:57-24:57:
In my book I weigh the arguments for and against these theories [A- and B-theory] of time. Without trying to go into that this morning let me simply say that it is universally acknowledged that the A-theory or the tensed theory is the common-sense view of time. This is the layman's view. Things really do come to be and pass away. There really is a present and that is different from the past and future. This common-sense view is rooted in our experience of temporal becoming - as we experience the passage of time and things coming to be and passing away. I see no reason to deny that experience. It seems to me that we are perfectly rational with what our experience tells us: that in fact temporal becoming is objective and there is a difference between past, present and future..."

No. The fact is that, time is not an absolute thing. TIME IS RELATIVE! Or to say, that that time is subjective to any frame of reference and that is the objective/ultimate truth about time or time and space: "Why is Time Relative?" by The Science Asylum
That is the "common-sense view" since Einstein - for the last century or so.
That's the current state of affairs and the current "layman's view".
So yes, for the people in 1868, 1868 is now and for the people in 2015, 2015 is now and for the people in 5030, 5030 is now. Yes, it is each of their subjective personal perspectives AND any one of them is objectively true in the subjective sense, since TIME IS RELATIVE and because of Einstein's first postulate of any (inertial) frame of reference being relative to each other or to say, that there is no absolute (inertial) frame of reference.

I now understand, what Stephen Hawking meant by "philosophy being dead".
Well, I wouldn't go as far as to state that. But I would state, that "current philosophy can be quite ignorant or blind to our current understanding, knowledge and wisdom", which is quite frightening, since philosophy shouldn't be blind to any wisdom but rather it should be welcoming that.