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Why didn't God Create the World Sooner?

  • Brian Leftow (a1)

The Western monotheisms agree that (1) God has created the universe, and that (2) at some point in the past, the universe began to exist. Thus they believe that (1) and (2) are compatible. Yet one can argue that (1) and (2) are incompatible, so that the Western theistic picture of creation is inconsistent. Augustine's Confessions quotes a famous argument that (1) entails~(2):

What was God doing before he made heaven and earth? … if (God) did nothing, why did he not continue in this way … forever …? If any new motion arise in God, or a new will is formed in him, to the end of establishing creation which he had never established previously …, then (God) is not truly … eternal. Yet if it were God's sempiternal will for the creature to exist, why is not the creature sempiternal also?

This argument suggests that if God has created the universe, then for any t, God must have been acting before t, and therefore the universe must have existed before t. But if for any t the universe existed before t, then the universe had no first moment of existence, and so (2) is false.

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1 Augustine, , Confessions, Ryan, John K., tr. (NY: Doubleday, 1960), XI, 10, pp. 284–5.

2 As in e.g. Augustine, , City of God, XI, 6, 10.

3 Augustine, , 83 Different Questions, tr. Mosher, David (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1977), q. 19, p. 47.

4 We need no account of what a sufficient reason might be. (10) is clearly true regardless of this.

5 One such reason could be that God's character gives Him a love for a particular sort of universe. God's character would in this case constitute a pre-given fact of which He rationally can take account in creating.

6 Ryan, , op. cit. XI, 13, pp. 286–7. For a survey of other responses see Sorabji, Richard, Time, Creation and the Continuum (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983), ch. 15.

7 This should be clear intuitively. But in case argument is asked, here is one. If God's existence presupposes time's, time's existence is prior to God's in the order of explanation: time's existing is one thing one must invoke to explain why it is possible that God exist. If God creates time, God's willing, and so His existence, is prior to time's existing in the order of explanation: one must invoke God to explain time's existence. The relation of explanatory priority is asymmetrical. Thus we have the conditional in the text.

8 Either by foreseeing this or by inferring it from His own present character and its likely stability.

9 Jantzen, Grace, God's World, God's Body (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 144. See also Ward, Keith, Rational Theology and the Creativity of God (NY: The Pilgrim Press, 1982), pp. 85, 86.

10 One can only anticipate something which has not yet happened. A timeless God has no future. So no events which will ever happen to such a God have from His perspective not yet happened. Thus a timeless God could not anticipate.

11 This case opens up many questions which I cannot tackle here. I claim only that intuitively, there is truth in what the child would say. If so, this intuition has a prima facie claim to be respected by any analysis of what is going on here. That is, if analysis A preserves as true something the child could mean by saying this and analysis B does not, then ceteris paribus this counts in favour of analysis A. So it is not unreasonable to hope that the best analysis will in the end validate this intuition.

12 Ps. 90:4.

13 If He does not literally foresee this, He at least has a perfect self-knowledge at every moment, and on the basis of this can surely extrapolate it.

14 For instance, it is rational to feel frustration if one wants something and cannot have it, or cannot have it as one wants it. But on certain assumptions, God can be in this situation. Alvin Plantinga has argued that owing to the freedom of creatures, there are possible worlds which God cannot in any sense actualize (The Nature of Necessity, New York: Oxford University Press, 1974, pp. 169–89). On Plantinga's view, it can be the case that if God makes His contribution to actualizing a certain world W which includes a certain history of free actions by creatures, creatures will in fact act in such a way as to actualize not W but a different world with a different history. In this situation, God could want to have W actualized and yet be unable to effect W's actuality. Were this to occur, God might reasonably be frustrated by it.

15 Doing so will add to the parabola's usefulness as a model of human anticipatory pleasure.

16 The ascription to God of de renecessary moral perfection has occasioned controversy. For a defence of this see Leftow, Brian, ‘Necessary Moral Perfection’, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, LXX (1990), 240–60.

17 This is so even if God has some causal responsibility for the obtaining of necessary states of affairs, as argued in Leftow, Brian, ‘God and Abstract Entities’, Faith and Philosophy, VII (1990), 193217.

18 I allow that God's character may ultimately be arbitrary to avoid a lengthy discussion. But actually it may not be necessary to grant this. Suppose that God is necessarily omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly rational and morally perfect. It is arguable that these traits would wholly determine the rest of God's character. If they did, God's character would be essential to Him, rather than arbitrary. If moreover God existed necessarily, then in every possible world in which he created, He would create at the same time – and so there would be a necessary beginning-point to every possible universe. On these assumptions, in other words, there would no arbitrariness at all in the universe's beginning at one particular point in time.

19 Of course, if the birth were delayed by ten years or more, parents' happiness would not grow for that entire period. But this does not matter. My point is only that conceivably happiness grows without either a definite date of birth or an already-existent baby.

20 But one need not say that God does newly acquire reason to act. If God exists through infinite time and foreknows His own states, one can also say that from everlasting, God foreknew that at t He would have had enough anticipation, and so everlastingly willed that at t the universe should begin to exist. On this account, God's changeless intention constitutes a standing condition whose effect is triggered by the arrival of t. Sorabji suggests this at op. cit. pp. 243–4.

21 An earlier version of part of this paper was read to an APA Pacific Division Philosophy of Religion Colloquium in Los Angeles, on 29 March 1990. I thank my commentator Thomas Senor and the members of the audience (especially Evan Fales) for their helpful comments.

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Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
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