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I feel like this morning is a good time for a very fundamental question:

One of the reasons I can no longer believe in the 'mainstream' concept of God the Creator is what I call the "Inside out" problem. (Perhaps there is a "real" name for it that I'm not aware of.)

In summary, the problem is that God's creation of the world is defined in terms of the world itself.

The smaller issue is with time. In mainstream Christianity, creation is thought to have both location and size in time, that is, it is thought to have taken some time (whether 7 days literally or that being a figure for other amounts of time) as well as being placed in time "in the beginning" and having a time-ordered set of steps. The problem is that time is part of the world, part of spacetime. So, if we focus on just the time aspect of the world, we can paraphrase that "In the beginning, God created time", which seems nonsensical, as the word "beginning" is already a location in time. The same goes for duration (whatever it may be).

The larger issue is with causality, which also, I should like to think, is part of the physical universe, given that it has very real physical mechanics and constraints just like everything else. However, the concept of God Creator already contains causality, it implies God is the cause of the world. Essentially, if we again substitute focusing just on the causality part of creation, we get "God created causality" or "God is the cause of causality", which is, again, a self-contradictory statement.

So that's the gist of my "Inside out" problem. So far I haven't come across a solution that would be reconcilable with mainstream Christianity.

One could argue, and I have seen arguments along these lines, that somehow causality (and perhaps time) is a thing more fundamental than (the rest of) the World itself, ie. "part of God himself" or something like that. This line of reasoning, in my perception, is not a solution to the problem, just shifts it. Essentially, it's saying that not all parts of our world are accounted for by the Creation. Which reduces the relevance of creation drastically. It's kind of like saying that God created galaxies in an already pre-existing universe. It would still be a mighty feat, for sure, but kind of irrelevant when you're wondering about why the universe itself exists the way it exists.

Are there perhaps any Christian writings approaching this problem?

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    Beginning is what we use to mark the starting point of the dimension which is linear called time. That time dimension was also created by God. Sep 14, 2023 at 9:41
  • 1
    God brought all these dimensions called time, space and matter into existence Sep 14, 2023 at 9:41
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    That language needs to be used for the brain of man to understand. God is a mystery and he intended it to be that way so people who doubt may also be tested Sep 14, 2023 at 9:47
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    By the way, science doesn't deny miracles. It explains them. :)
    – kralyk
    Sep 14, 2023 at 10:08
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    Time is the measure of a change in a physical quantity. Physicality needs space to occupy. Creation of time, space, matter were concurrent by necessity. There are five manifestations of all scientific phenomena. In the beginning (time) God (force) created (action) the heavens (space) and the earth (matter). Sep 14, 2023 at 12:58

7 Answers 7

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God is necessarily outside of time, space and matter, as I think I prove in this answer:

HOW does the existence of the Universe make those who do not worship God to be "without excuse"?

When Genesis 1:1 says "In the beginning" it means the beginning of this Universe. Time existed before that... or did it? It matters not whether it did or did not because God is not affected by it. He is outside of Time.

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  • I'm having a hard time interpretting that answer. But I have two notes: 1. You seem to say infinite time implies infinite distances between points in time, which doesn't follow - even an infinite line has finite distances between any of its points. 2. I don't see how ex nihilo creation is solved by adding God. It's simply a statement that (somehow) God solves the problem, but it's not explained how or why...
    – kralyk
    Sep 14, 2023 at 14:55
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    +1 for the phrase "outside of time" which is basically all @kralyk needs to know about the Christian concept of Creation.
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 14, 2023 at 16:50
  • I'm not saying "infinite time implies infinite distances between two points in time": not at all! I'm saying if the Universe had always existed then there would be an infinite distance backwards from the current moment and from every other moment in time. That infinite distance cannot possibly be traversed to the current time. Since we are in the current time therefore the Universe must have had a beginning in real time. Before that beginning there was void. But from nothing you get nothing.. always. Therefore there must be an almighty God outside of time able to create ex nihilo. Sep 14, 2023 at 22:02
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    @kralyk, the point being made here, which is also the point of the cosmological argument is that the universe is either a brute fact (a God-of-the-gaps argument), or it had a Cause which exists outside causality. There really are no alternatives.
    – Matthew
    Sep 15, 2023 at 4:41
  • " Before that beginning there was void. But from nothing you get nothing.. always." Why do you think so? Presumably, you're referring to various physical laws of conservation of energy/matter, but this is again the very same inside-out thinking, ie. description of the origin of universe in terms of its parts. Really, I don't think there is any reason to think that universe couldn't have come about out of nothing... I'm not saying that's the case, but it seems definitely possible.
    – kralyk
    Sep 15, 2023 at 12:59
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Note: This answer is just a skeleton, but I want to develop this answer further based on your feedback, so I know I'm not going off a tangent or addressing another issue. You're not new to StackExchange, so you know that it will be helpful if eventually your question is refined with your own feedback as through our interaction you become clearer in expressing the difficulty in your mind in a way that become useful for others in the topic of integration of Christian theology, cosmology and philosophy of science.


Let's clear two things out of the way, about the Biblical language:

  1. "In the beginning" is a literary language (not scientific) for describing the story of creation. I agree that "In the beginning, God created time" is nonsensical. Instead, Christian theologians and philosophers conceive time as bound with the universe itself, which in turn is outside God (although God leaves traces of Himself in the universe). So yes, God created time along with the universe, ex nihilo.

  2. About causality, the key idea is to realize that some Christian theologians and philosophers adopt Aristotle's 4 causes to describe God's relationship with the universe, but by default modern people are unconsciously affected by David Hume's eliminating the 3 causes leaving us with only efficient cause that science investigates. Obviously miracles and creation have God behind them, so some form of causality is implicit in the literary language that the Bible used to describe God's agency in miracles and creation. BUT we cannot limit this causality to be merely efficient cause only, which I think led to the conundrum you expressed in your question. In short:

    • efficient cause is immanent in the universe: the David Hume's only cause that science investigates
    • material cause is how the "stuff" (including atoms, time, space) came to BE, which has to come from somewhere. And in Christian cosmology this "stuff" is not part of God, therefore God caused the "stuff" to BE ex nihilo (hence the Biblical language in Gen 1 "Let there be ...")
    • formal cause is in God's mind: the natures of things, the "design", the way things are supposed to "work"
    • final cause is the telos that science can also observe, most clearly exhibited in biology (the science of living things), which explains the "purposiveness" behind human, animal, and plant "instinct" & "desire", which God puts in natural things. This then enable natural law ethics to explain good and bad by evaluating whether the actions of humans 1) conform to the formal cause (suitable for our nature) and 2) directed toward the built-in telos

What we are discussing is Christian understanding of the nature of God's agency in

  1. "causing" the universe to exist out of nothing
  2. "sustaining" the universe
  3. "relating" to the universe (including the people in it) via some forms of presence in the world so he is not merely a watchmaker who after creating sit back and do nothing (this is a Deist picture of God)

In particular, you ask:

  1. How God is related to time
  2. How God is related to the universe
  3. How God is related to the causality operating within the universe

If I understand you correctly so far, I'll just say that there IS a solution already in the history of Christian philosophy and theology:

  1. Boethius worked out the concept of God's eternal now
  2. ...
  3. Aquinas works out the 3 modes of God's presence in the world

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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    @kralyk You said: "Essentially, it's saying that not all parts of our world are accounted for by the Creation. Which reduces the relevance of creation drastically." I agree; my answer so far DID show that creation (along with the time, the "stuff" and even the efficient causality itself) does NOT contain within it a satisfactory explanation for its own existence and operation, which then points to something BEYOND itself, which can be answered in terms of "formal cause" and "final cause". The question to you: "Why is this a problem?" Sep 14, 2023 at 17:54
  • Good question. I suppose it boils down to... Well, Creation is supposed to be an explanation of some big questions (such as Why am I here). However, if (in general) some explanation is incomplete or circular in its logic, then ... to put it a bit bluntly ... it is most likely wrong. To be fair, there are no fully consistent and complete cosmological views, whether scientific or religious.
    – kralyk
    Sep 15, 2023 at 13:31
  • ... and I suppose I could somehow solve this, if I tried hard enough, ie. adapt Christianity such that these problems are solved / worked around. But I'm not sure the result would still be Christianity, I think most churches would consider it severly heterodox. For example, I would probably have to make God pantheistic, maybe other changes as well...
    – kralyk
    Sep 15, 2023 at 13:34
  • @kralyk Thanks, you have given me 3 angles to work with: circularity, creation-as-explanation-to-life-meaning-quesion, concern for pantheism if answer is in terms of creation. Busy today with work, will try to update my answer this weekend along with some book recommendation in the appropriate topics. One candidate is Alister McGrath who wrote at least 6 books on this topic in the past 20 years from several angles, the latest is this year on natural philosophy. Sep 15, 2023 at 13:47
  • Looking forward to the continuation of your answer......
    – Lesley
    Sep 23, 2023 at 17:21
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As much as I hate the simulation hypothesis (it contains a lot of anti-Christian implications), I think that framework can be helpful in trying to address some of the concerns here.

Imagine that reality is a simulation. As an entity in the simulation, the only possible understanding you could have of "time" is as it exists inside the simulation.

Now imagine, also, that time in the simulation is a dimension over which the simulation acts as a solver. That is, the goal of the simulation is to determine what exists at every point of the simulation state across all dimensions, including time. Now imagine, further, that the simulation isn't stepping through time, but acts in a way that it produces a complete solution "all at once". This would mean that "time" in the simulation has absolutely no correlation to anything which the designer of the simulation might conceive as "time". The designer perceives across the entire dimension of "time" at once.

This is how Scripture speaks of God. God exists outside our concept of "time", allowing Him to perceive the entirety of past, present and future at once. It also means He can act outside of time.

The smaller issue is with time. Creation is thought to have both location and size in time. The problem is that time is part of the world, part of spacetime. So, if we focus on just the time aspect of the world, we can paraphrase that "In the beginning, God created time", which seems nonsensical.

Right. Again, consider the simulation. In the simulation, "time" is a dimension of finite extent. We perceive it as having a direction, which permits us to speak of "minimum" and "maximum" values.

What doesn't follow is that the designer's actions — that is, God's actions — correlate with that dimension. We do know that God can interact with Creation at certain points, and, because time is a dimension of Creation, those points have a dimension of time. Thus, when Scripture says God did something "in the beginning", it refers to the temporal component of where an interaction occurs within Creation.

Note that Scripture does not say "In the beginning, God created time". Certainly God Created "time", as God Created all things that are part of the universe, but trying to place the creation of a dimension within itself is an exercise in madness. A better way would be to understand that "time", to us humans, has a direction, and, more importantly, is finite. Thus, when Genesis 1 says "in the beginning", it's establishing several things. First, that God is outside of time. Second, that God Created time and (from our perspective) "set it in motion". Third, that we are about to learn about other interventions which can be placed in time, which happened at or near the lower boundary thereof.

It's also worth noting that "created" is perfect tense. Thus, it isn't wholly unreasonable to read the passage as "in the beginning, God had created...". The following verses make it clear that very little exists as of Genesis 1:1 (no stars, no land, no light), but it seems quite reasonable to read Genesis 1:1 in two parts; first, that God is the creator of time and space, and second, that the following verses describe events which happen "in the beginning" (of time).

The larger issue is with causality, which also, I should like to think, is part of the physical universe, given that it has very real physical mechanics and constraints just like everything else. However, the concept of God Creator already contains causality, it implies God is the cause of the world.

Correct, but this is actually a firm refutation of atheism. Again, God is outside of our reality. As such, He can impose His will on Creation, which includes acting as a First Cause.

Without God, no First Cause can be established, because every effect must have a cause, ad infinitum.

Actually, one part of your statement is faulty; the "very real physical mechanics and constraints" are, in a sense, illusory. Creation acts according to God's Will, and while it is normally God's Will to maintain things in an orderly manner (in the form of "physical mechanics and constraints"), as matters of that same Will, God is perfectly able to deviate from them as He pleases to do so. Causality is the Will of God. Certainly, He is able to impose that Will as he pleases, or to alter or retract it. He is certainly not bound to causality, nor is He bound to "physical mechanics and constraints". Rather, He is the source of such.

This line of reasoning, in my perception, is not a solution to the problem, just shifts it. Essentially, it's saying that not all parts of our world are accounted for by the Creation.

I think your reasoning must be flawed. The second sentence here is absolutely correct; God is outside Creation. To place God anywhere else would be to limit Him, and would leave open the question of why the universe (which could no longer be called "Creation", because, rather than Creating it, God would exist inside of it) exists in the first place. It is this reasoning that is "not a solution to the problem".

Again, consider the simulation hypothesis. Clearly, the designer of the simulation must exist totally outside of the simulation itself. If that isn't satisfactory, because it merely shifts the problem, well... too bad. It's not logically valid to discard the simulation hypothesis because it can't explain the designer, any more than it's invalid to discard Christianity because it doesn't explain the origin of God.

There is, in fact, no hypothesis which purports to explain reality to infinite regress, nor can there be, because such an explanation would necessarily be infinite. At some point, you have to take something on faith.

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The semi-science fiction novella Flatland (written by a pastor I believe, and therefore sort of worth mentioning on this site) does a good job of illustrating what it means to be an upper-dimensional being moving down to inhabit dimension on a lower plane.

When a sphere (3d) drops in to Flatland (2d) the square protaganist is called every name in the book and his faith in science is shaken. The sphere realm would be our understanding of the natural world.

A being that is outside of the 3d realm, could conceivably make its presence known in the 3d realm, it could even skip a couple realms, but it would only be able to be perceived by us with the faulty 3d senses although we could think about it using whatever reasoning ability we have.

Many (well at least two) Christian philosophers posit that the senses that God gave us that make up our rational souls (our ability to think about thinking) are given so that we can perceive (albeit in a mirror, darkly) a realm above our own - and that the lower order souls (mineral, plant, animal) likewise have at the limit of their powers the ability to perceive the next order up.

God, being the highest of all beings, uncreated, unchangable, etc. etc. is above all His creatures. We can't really understand the orders between 1up and 2up and 3up etc... It may be infinitely up until God, in fact, it stands to reason that it is infinitely up until God. But the scriptures even give us a hint of these up-nesses when they speak of the choirs of angels.

Either way, it's not a creation from the inside out - God's creation of reality was whatever He wanted it to be, it may not even be all that interesting, it may even be less interesting than the method by which He became a man in the person of Jesus Christ.

The other philosopher was E.F. Schumacher and the book worth reading on this subject is called "A Guide for the Perplexed"

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  • I would be very interested to know how you think about “creation” in the scientific view. The big bang theory, and it’s modern development. When and how did time start in that view, en how about causality? If you could go into that maybe it helps in finding answers to your question here
    – ABM K
    Sep 14, 2023 at 13:56
  • @ABMK I really haven't read or heard anything about Biblical creation in relation to scientific theories that wasn't just opinion. The Biblical account of creation shows us the right order of things. Philosophizing on the scientific theories of creation show is injurious to the soul.
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 15, 2023 at 13:24
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Those who have gone through Stephen Hawking's book ' A Brief History of Time ' will know that science is equally at loss as is a believer, in explaining the concepts of time and space .Hawking uses the analogy of two infinitely long snakes swallowing each other, each starting with the tail of the other. At some point, each will have swallowed a part of itself which in turn,has been swallowed by the other snake.The cycle goes on infinitely, because the snakes are infinite in length. Now, let us have a look at the two concepts 'inside' and 'outside' as appearing in the question. In purely physical terms, something that is inside something else, is outside ( i.e. it covers) something else. The 'outer thing', from its part, is inside something else. Visualise the famous Arabian Camel Roast. Its preparation starts with an egg which is inserted into a fish, which in turn is inserted into a chicken which, in turn, is inserted into a sheep which in turn is inserted into a calf which in turn, is inserted into a camel that is finally roasted over a huge barbecue! The roast needs not end with the camel or start with the egg. The ingredients can stretch from both sides. Science believes that the universe is expanding, stating at the same time that it has no boundaries. How does something which is not defined by boundaries 'expand ' or ' shrink ' ? Does time also comes with the scope of expansion - both backward and forward ? So, there is a fundamental flaw in believing that science takes over where faith stops its search. It is in fact, the other way around : faith takes over where science stops !

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    It isn't that the totality of the universe expands or shrinks, but that the relative distances between "stuff" (stars, galaxies) changes. Imagine an infinite line marked with every integer, with each integer 1" apart. Now imagine making the line bigger or smaller, so that each integer is 2" apart, or ½" apart. The line is still infinite, but nevertheless it has "grown" or "shrunk".
    – Matthew
    Sep 19, 2023 at 4:29
  • Thanks, Matthew. But, Maths is Greek to me ! I am able to follow the analogy of a balloon , with spots marked in it, as was used by Hawking in his book. As the balloon takes in air and expands, the distance between the spots increases. Stellar constellations are to the spots what the cosmos is to the balloon. Sep 19, 2023 at 4:40
  • How does something which is not defined by boundaries 'expand ' or ' shrink ' ? By process of inflation, what expands is the empty space between lumps of mass. It is in fact, the other way around : faith takes over where science stops ! I wish it did! I have yet to find a religion/faith that will deliver on that promise. Hopefully one day I will...
    – kralyk
    Sep 26, 2023 at 21:00
  • Kralyk, the 'empty space' between the lumps of mass is also an integral part of the universe, is it not ? If it has been there from the very beginning, and has an unending coverage , where does it expands to ? After all, is the 'empty space' absolutely empty ? Oct 5, 2023 at 2:38
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You are right that the claim that "God caused causality" or "God is causality" is unscriptural and does not make sense. It violates the very meanings of words, and denies the meaningfulness and liberty of eternity. That liberty obviously includes the capacity of God to create as He pleases, which necessarily presupposes causality. If we are to do or enjoy anything in eternity, there must be causality (our desires and our deeds in this life interestingly have a causal effect on the quality of eternity that we will experience), not acausal platonic ambivalent mush.

The only theology I am aware of that addresses the question of the pre-existence of causality is the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith Jr., the first prophet in this last dispensation of the Gospel, is reported to have said:

"God who sits in yonder heavens is a man like yourselves. That GOD if you were to see him to day that holds the worlds you would see him like a man in form, like yourselves."

He goes on to say:

"We suppose that God was God from eternity, I will refute that Idea, or I will do away or take away the veil so you may see. It is the first principle to know that we may convers with him and that he once was man like us and the Father was once on an earth like us; And I wish I was in a suitable place to tell it! The scriptures inform us--mark it-- that Jesus Christ said As the Father hath power in himself so hath the son power in himself to do what the father did--even to lay down my body & take it up again. Do you believe it? if not, [you] dont believe the bible; I defy all Hell and earth to refute it."

In the same discourse, Joseph Smith corrects millennia-old misconceptions of the Hebrew word for "create". There is no such thing as ex nihilo in any language. The fundamental laws of conservation are true. All of this makes God more relatable and approachable rather than some abstract, arbitrary or unknowable being or idea. I have completely abandoned credal superstitions and embraced our ability as children of God to come to know Him completely, even as Moses conversed with the Lord face-to-face in the mount of Sinai. The children of Israel feared and were superstitious and idolatrous and would not come up into the mountain nor would they make themselves worthy to look upon the face of God. We (speaking of Christendom during the dark ages) are the inheritors of their post-apostasy creeds, and it therefore required a restoration of that light, even through a modern Moses, to understand the true nature of God again.

The same church teaches extensive doctrine about pre-earth life and the co-eternal nature of man with God as His prospective joint-heirs with Christ the Only Begotten Son in the flesh of the Father--none of which teachings have ever been sensibly refuted from the Scriptures.

Sources: Accounts of the “King Follett Sermon”

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  • Downvoters, care to explain how this doesn't answer the OP's question of whether "any Christian writings approach this problem?"
    – pygosceles
    Dec 26, 2023 at 23:17
  • FWIW I didn't downvote and I have no idea why you were downvoted. Downvoters should indeed explain themselves. Upvoted to balance it out.
    – kralyk
    Dec 29, 2023 at 18:06
  • @kralyk A few days ago I got a notification that some serial downvoting was reversed. Apparently SE has algorithms to detect that with some threshold of sensitivity; I just noticed another spate of downvotes on my other unrelated questions and answers after attracting some ire from someone on an issue he disagreed with :| I did recently ask a question on meta to see if we can make this place a little friendlier since we have a lot of issues with downvoting non-mainstream views. christianity.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/7460/…
    – pygosceles
    Dec 29, 2023 at 19:14
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Genesis 1:1 is not a discussion of the origin of the universe or space-time. It is a preview sentence of what is going to be described in the rest of Genesis - namely the creation of life and an environment suitable for it on Planet Earth. If this was about the universe, then surely we would learn about the creation of the angels and the events of creation on whatever planet they inhabit as well. The building of the New Jerusalem and God's throne would also be included. On the contrary, that is outside the scope of Genesis which is about humanity and the world they inhabit.

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    ...except scripture is clear in many places that God is "the origin of the universe [and] space-time". Genesis doesn't talk about the Creation of angels, or God's throne, is because that isn't the point of scripture, nor do angels specifically inhabit some other planet. It doesn't talk about the Creation of New Jerusalem because that hasn't happened yet.
    – Matthew
    Sep 17, 2023 at 0:17
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I would also recommend reading the Help Center's sections on asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Sep 17, 2023 at 3:29
  • There is order in the universe. The angels have a homeworld. It is whatever planet God's throne exists on. The New Jerusalem already exists. John was transported there in Revelation. The New Jerusalem will one day be transported from Heaven to the Earth. If it wasn't already built then why not just build it on Earth to begin with instead of transporting it?
    – Lemon Pie
    Sep 17, 2023 at 12:57

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