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11. Timeless Eternity - Phil 181 Fall 2010 11 Timeless...

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Phil 181 Fall 2010 11. Timeless Eternity : Boethius’ Reply to the Divine Foreknowledge Argument I . The Role of Eternity in God’s Foreknowledge On every version of the argument we’ve seen, it is God’s foreknowledge that generates the incompatibility between her existence and free will so long as certain assumptions are granted. According to Pike (and Boethius), God’s infallibility is one of these assumptions, but (as we saw) though this assumption implies that God knows of every human act, it implies nothing about when she knows of them. God’s necessary omniscience alone, then, does not imply that she ever had foreknowledge of our acts. Pike’s argument establishes God’s foreknowledge by adding the assumption that God is eternal where the concept eternity is understood to be temporal, for the essential omniscience assumption in conjunction with the assumption that God is everlasting or sempeternal implies that God knows of our acts before they occur. In light of these considerations, one strategy for reconciling God’s existence with free will is to attribute necessary omniscience to God in such a way as to deny that she has foreknowledge. And given the essential role of the temporal eternity assumption in the inference from omniscience to foreknowledge, one way to pursue that strategy is to deny that God’s eternal existence is in any way temporal. This is exactly what Boethius (480-525 A.D. ) does. II . Introduction to Boethius’ Response A . Boethius’ Theory of Eternity Boethius understands eternity as “the total and perfect possession of endless life.” 1 As beings with a temporal mode of existence, you and I can only ever possess the present parts of our lives, for we’ve already lost the past parts and we have yet to possess the future parts. Therefore, no temporal being—not even an everlasting one—can be eternal in Boethius’ sense. Since God is eternal, it follows that she possesses the whole of her life all at once. This implies that no part of God’s life can occur before or after any other part and, thus, that her life it is not divisible into temporal parts. Oddly, then, God’s existence has no duration! Boethius’ interpretation of God’s eternality makes her existence instantaneous ! B . God’s Mode of Existence 1 The Consolation of Philosophy , book 5, chapter 6. 1
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Phil 181 Fall 2010 One way for a being to be instantaneous is for it to cease to exist the moment it comes into being, which makes for a bizarre theology. However, Boethius understands God’s existence as atemporal or wholly independent of time. It’s because God exists entirely outside of time that her life has no duration (for that is a temporal concept). So, we can, if we like, describe her existence as instantaneous, but the entirety of her existence is contained in a timeless instant, which cannot pass away. (Of course, it can’t persist, or begin, either.) On Boethius’ conception of eternity, God exists in her entirety in the indivisible, static, and unchanging realm of timelessness.
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