Saint Augustine of Hippo

Years ago, I read “Confessions”. One really interesting thing I remember is when the philosopher did away with time. When you consider the present, you are forced to go down a progression of successively smaller instants of time. If the present this second or is it .01 of this second, or is it .001 of this second, or is it .0001 of this second? Well, Augustine laid the basis for Newton’s Calculus (limit theory) when he said, that this progression leads to a instant so small as to be nil. He concluded that there is no present, and that future flowed directly into past. Also, since past and future really didn’t exist but were just memory and anticipation, that there was no such thing as time. So if there is no time, everything happens at once. That does away with problems of predestination and praying for the dead and a host of philosophical problems that plagued early Christianity. So, can this group of gargantuan intellects draw any religious implications from Augustine’s conclusion?

You should really check out Paul Helms refutation of this “eternalism” position.

Augustine, Aquinas, and even more modern philosophers like Gordon Clark, and William Lane Craig hold to this position as well.

There are a host of problems that go along with this position though.

Read Helms blog. As a matter of fact, last month’s blog was called: “Eternalism: Contra Craig”

I also had some questions about this very issue, so I asked a pastor friend of mine, and he quite unexpectedly wrote an entire blog on the subject as well. He points out the arguments against this eternalism. … ation.html

Your initial presentation of Augustine’s analysis of “the present moment” seems irrefutable to me. Obviously the given in this logic is that we initially take our normal conceptions concerning time to be true. The natural conclusion in the analysis is that our normal belief in time doesn’t hold up to its own internal logic. I’m not so sure that a positive assertion (i.e. “eternalism”) about the nature of time is necessarily inherent to the insight. It strikes me as backwards to then try to apply that insight back to a conventional logical understanding of time. It seems to me that a more natural outcome of the analysis would be experiential in nature - perhaps a reduction in fixation on conceptual problems and an awakening of sorts into a deep and vast experience of “the present moment”. If we stop taking the present moment to be a singular thing that simply slips by before we can grasp it, that moment itself can become an entire universe just waiting to be experienced in all of its vivid detail.


I read “and then…”. To me it sounded like Helms tried to make Augustine’s timeless view at least a little bit supportive of Craig’s “timelessness until creation” view. Can’t say that I totally grasp what he’s saying, but I see nothing here that goes against Augustine’s deduction. Anyway. Augustine’s proposition is mathematical at the heart of it. To refute Augustine is to call mathematics into question. Specifically it would deny that as something tends towards zero, it may be set to a limit of zero. This theory of the limit is fundamental to Newton’s calculus. It also conforms to reality. If a ball bounces some mathematical function of the previous bounce, then mathematically the ball never stops bouncing unless you apply the theory of the limit. No, my friend, I’m afraid there is no time. Now what does that tell us about God?

Oh noes, another.

Apply Augustine’s limit theory to a bar of length L. I submit to you, using your own logic, that you can keep dividing the bar into smaller and smaller lengths. Eventually you get to a length that is so small, it can be considered nil. Therefore, one piece of the bar must flow into the next, and the bar doesn’t exist.

That argument doesn’t make sense.

Also, a lot of people consider space to be ‘grainy’, which takes away the problem of infinitely dividing any length or time or energy or what have you.

It’s true that argument doesn’t make sense. The more correct conclusion would be that the bar doesn’t exist in the way we think it does. The logic undercuts substantialist notions of reality - that the object has an independent and lasting essence.


Interesting argument. But with a bar, it would all still be there, wouldn’t it? Say you started by sawing it in half, well, you have half. Then you have half of the next division or a quarter, for a total of 3/4ths sawed off, and so on, and by the time you reach the theoretical limit, the entire bar is lying round in differing length pieces. I say theoretical limit, because you never really could get there, could you? YOu’d be bound to saw off your fingers working on a really tiny length before long.

Time may only have pertinence in this reality. If there is a demensional change, time may not have any bearing in another plane of existence. Perceptions would most certainly change since the laws of this physical universe wouldn’t exist. Something like when I had surgery. The anesthetist told me to count backwards from 100 after injecting me with a knock out drug. I remember making it to 96 and the next moment (or seemed to be) I was being awakened after a 3 hour operation. A weak analogy, but the closest I could come up with.


Makes good sense to me. More and more I think that we are like the people in Edwin Abbott Abbott’s novel FLATLAND, where pyramids and spheres both looked like straight lines to beings living in a 2 dimensional world. Quantum science points in this direction too, with string theory requiring something like 10 dimensions. Personally I think Quantum Entanglement is due to a spaceless dimension. So what does the absence of space and time mean about our relationship with God? Without space there must be unity and no separate individuals. Is God a consciousness that fills the universe and we are like conduits of that consciousness, so that God is all and we are all connected in Him? Do you think Christianity could support such a belief?

That’s what I’m saying. Time would still be there.

Without knowing anything about the quantum implications, I intuitively think the universe is grainy at the smallest level because of this argument. The differential dL or dt exists mathematically and might as well exist for most practical purposes of science, but adding an infinite amount of zeros still gets you nowhere.


Since time has no physical substance, we don’t have the physical limitation of only being able to do a finite number of divisions. We can go straight to the theoretical limit of 0, which = no present. By the way, God has no physical substance either. If a person believes in insubstantial time, why not believe in insubstantial God as well? Why is it that physical proof of God’s existence is required, but physical proof of time is not?

I do like your grainy space. It goes well with all of the rest of the quanta. We have the graviton and the photon, it seems that there should be a corresponding quantum for space. Wow, space as a particle…sort of blows your mind, doesn’t it. I’m not sure what you are deducting from this possibility though.

Forget the bar. The dimension of length doesn’t have physical substance, but are you going to tell me since we can reduce length to a differential of 0 length that the spatial dimensions don’t exist? The argument is flawed.

God is probably a consciousness in our plane of existence more than anything else. I have no doubt He could transcend ‘our’ perceived boundaries of Him. I cite the ‘Burning Bush’ and Moses meeting with God on the mountain while the ‘Ten Commandments’ were being made for him and his people. If we were to stand before God’s Glory of His Essence, I don’t believe our physical bodies would endure that ‘Presence’.

Regarding Christianity supporting a belief such as that, it may not fit well with the ‘fundamentalist’ point of view. For some people in Christianity that hold the Bible in a more literal sense, they may see this as a challenge to the Bible’s teachings rather than another possible avenue of thought. I think one of the first things things that is understood by new people to Christianity is that anyone who tries to alter the ‘Word of God’ of the Bible will looked at in a very disfavorable way by Him and may suffer from God’s Wrath. Through the study of ‘God’s Word’ with a prayer prior to that, people may feel a little better about understanding through questioning. Then again, I know of some pastors who are still very staunch about the literal translation of the Bible.


No I won’t tell you that spatial dimensions don’t exist because of the limit. But they might not exist for other reasons. In observed entanglement scenarios, an action on a particle causes an instantaneous reaction in a particle that can be any distance away…even light years. Entanglement is being heavily researched now due to its applications in quantum computer development and cryptography, so its not pure bullshit. Anyway these reactions are instantaneous = faster than the speed of light. Now since it is not physically possible to exceed the speed of light , it must be our perception of space that is flawed. My humble guess is that the reaction is instantaneous because it is not crossing space and it is not 2 particles, but in some unknown dimension, the 2 particles are one. You can also imagine space disappearing if you consider space from the point of view of a photon. A hypothetically intelligent photon would not perceive any space but “feel” itself to be totally static. Photons go at the speed of light so there would be nothing visible to measure distance against. Travel at the speed of light would be the portal to such a spaceless dimension. If you can accept this possibility, maybe we can get back to God.


I have never understood why folks claim to have a “literal” interpretation of the Bible. Any written material is bound to be full of ambiguous things that have to be interpreted IAW the reader’s experiences. So “God is omnipresent” = God’s consciousness permeates the universe, and “God is in us” = we are conduits of his consciousness. Its all in the interpretation. Maybe Christianity is open to so many interpretations so that everyone can grasp it with the talents that they have. Maybe God demands that we have faith, because he is too far above us for us to even hope to comprehend Him. Anyway, I think it is good for Christians to explore all the avenues that they have the faculties to explore. I think it promotes spiritual growth.

I agree. If we were given the ability to read and understand words, then it necessarily follows we should pursue as much knowledge about God as possible. Faith is the bonding agent for our spirit and mind that connects us to God. The basis to which it is necessary to have a relationship with God.