WHAT GOD KNOWS, Time and the Question of Divine Knowledge, edited by Harry Lee Poe and Stanley Mattson. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2005. 175 pages, notes, index. Softcover; no price indicated. ISBN 1-932792-12-0.
In the Introduction, page 2, the editors, noting that " . . . theology, philosophy and science have not reached a consensus within their own disciplines about what time is," observe that the implications (of time's nature) are "strikingly important." Based on this claim, and driven by Harry Blamires's 1963 book, THE CHRISTIAN MIND, which rebuked Christian scholars for an abandonment of their intellectual heritage, the C. S. Lewis Foundation began a series of summer conferences. This book comes from the 2002 conference. It is must reading for ASA members.
Poe is a professor at Union University; Mattson is president of the C. S. Lewis Foundation. Mattson's preface explains the conference's origins; why the C. S. Lewis Foundation was involved. It is an interesting micro-history; the papers in this book are transcripts of the 2002 conference talks. The preface is marred by an off-the-subject paragraph castigating "the enemy," secular classrooms, hostile faculty, irresponsible media and activist courts. But this diversion is momentary, and not repeated elsewhere.
Dr. Poe begins with "The Problem of Time in Biblical Perspective." He treats the difference between "kairos time" (the Hebrew concept of quality) and "chronos time" (the Greek concept of quantity), arguing that when these two ideas are confused, scripture gets misinterpreted, for instance, Ussher's calculation of the date of creation.
The second paper, "St. Augustine and the Mystery of Time," by Timothy George, expounds on how one of our most revered theologians looked at time, and how his insights are still pertinent to our modern age.
Russell Stannard comes next, with "On the Developing Scientific Standard of Time." He unfolds the idea that God's experience of time must be much different from ours. He claims that many of our "common sense" ideas about time are simply wrong; that modern physics has now proven them wrong. His claims include the counterintuitive idea that, in some sense, the future is fixed, waiting for us.
Perhaps the most useful paper comes fourth, "Time in Physics and Theology," by John Polkinghorne. Polkinghorne disagrees with Stannard's "fixed future," and argues that time's nature is a metaphysical issue, and cannot be settled by unaided science. He has a marvelous discussion of how the basic laws of physics are reversible. Yet, we never see them reverse; instead we are aware of five different "arrows" pointing from the past to the future. These are: (1) the thermodynamic arrow of increasing entropy in an isolated system, (2) the arrow of increasing complexity in a non-isolated system, (3) the expansion of the universe, (4) cause to effect, and (5) human temporal experience. All five arrows point the same direction; there is no general agreement on why this is so. Polkinghorne then explores the time as just a psychological trick, time as a measure of a closed universe, time as the unfolding of an open universe, the many worlds speculations, and concludes with his own theological perspective (in the end, God wins).
William Craig, in "God, Time and Eternity," begins with the observation (agreeing with Polkinghorne) that relativity teaches us nothing about the nature of time; only about how we measure it. He describes two ways in which God could exist eternally, (1) omnitemporally (at every point in time) and (2) timeless (outside of time). Claiming that scripture can be interpreted in either way, and that thinking about the differences between the two ways is apologetically important, he identifies Newton, Scotus and Ockham and several contemporary philosophers as arguing for the former and Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas and other modern thinkers as claiming the latter. Both cannot be correct; Craig examines the arguments both for and against each view. To appreciate his resolution of the issues, you need to read his papers.
Robert John Russell, with "Eschatology and Scientific Cosmology: From Conflict to Interaction," discusses how the natural sciences affect theology. This is followed by Hugh Ross writing on "Time and the Physics of Sin." Ross points out that both science and scripture agree on time's origin. Then Tony Compolo addresses "Meeting the Cosmic God in the Existential Now." Among other observations, Compolo notes that for God everything is the "eternal now." Finally, Dr. Poe summarizes the book, noting that no consensus has been reached.
This is a difficult, but rewarding, book.
Reviewed by John W. Burgeson Rico Community Church, Rico, Colorado 81332 Submitted to PSCF 05-01-2006