On the Beginning of Time

December 3, 2008

Did time have a beginning? If time began, then each point in time will be reached given sufficient time. But what if time did not have a beginning, and always existed? Then, every point in time will be preceded by an infinite amount of time. Just as adding to a finite number will never reach infinity, so subtracting from an infinite number will never reach a finite number. We may take the present as a finite reference point; the passage of time, by its very nature, is finite. Thus, if time has no beginning, the amount of time preceding the present is infinite; no passage of time, necessarily finite, could possibly reach the present, a clear absurdity. Therefore, time must have had a beginning.

But we must be very careful about what it means to say that time had a beginning. It does not mean, as we mean when we say that anything else had a beginning, that there was a time when time did not exist, a clear contradiction. But if time had no beginning, something must lie beyond it; if not time, then what? We refer to this meta-time eternity, which at this point we must define by simple negation: eternity is the condition of time not existing. The defining characteristic of time is its passage; thus, in eternity, their must be no passage, no “before” and “after”. But with no before and after, then there can be no change, for change implies a before when one thing is true, and an after when it is not. Thus, eternity is, most simply, changelessnesss, without even the change of growing older.

But some created things, such as souls and angels, are immortal, and thus never cease to exist, and yet in the Apocalypse of John, we read “and time shall be no more”. Nothing created can be eternal, for being created implies change. Thus, we must designate a third status, aeviternity. Aeviternity is, as it were, a created eternity, having a beginning, but no further change.

Thus classification solves, I think, many commonly raised problems. For example, one objection raised against divine creation is that it implies that God at one point did not see fit to create the world, and then did, implying that God changes his mind. But this supposes that God lives within time and that time was not itself part of the creation; in reality, time just is, without being preceded by a different time. Thus, God simply created the earth, just as the Son simply proceeds from the Father, without the procession involving temporal change. The only difference is that that the Son exists in eternity, and thus it is appropriate to use the present tense, while the earth exists in time, and thus it is appropriate to use the past tense. All times the present with respect to God, and thus a change occurring in time implies no change in God.