Sunday, September 30, 2007

Could God Pause Time?

Markosian (1993) defends A-theorists (who believe in the objective 'moving present') against the objection that they cannot answer 'How fast does time pass?' He suggests three possible answers:

(1) Measure time against itself. Time thus passes at the trivial rate of one second per second.

(2) Measure time against a non-temporal standard:
If I tell you that Bikila is running at the rate of twelve miles per hour of the pure passage of time, for example, then I have also told you that the pure passage of time is flowing at the rate of one hour for every twelve miles run by Bikila.

(3) Claim that the question involves a category error. Perhaps rate talk essentially "involves a comparison between some normal change and the pure passage of time." (p.843) The pure passage of time itself then has no rate to speak of. But it passes all the same.

These responses all seem woefully inadequate. Especially the third - what does it mean to speak of movement that occurs at no rate? Surely this is just to say that it doesn't literally move after all. The second seems similarly senseless: to move just is to move through time, i.e. to be in different positions at different times. And the first says nothing of substance.

Things that flow may speed up or slow down. Not only does movement entail a rate of movement (contra 3), but it must be possible for this rate to change. If time passes, it must be possible for God to alter its rate of passage - to 'fast forward', 'rewind', or 'pause' the flow of history. But that is incoherent. So time does not pass.

Why is it incoherent? Well, suppose God decides to pause the flow of time for five minutes. How much time has passed? None, for time is frozen. But ex hypothesi five minutes have passed, so time is not frozen. This is a contradiction. (Similarly for the other manipulations, which all involving changing the rate of time's passage to something other than 1 second per second.)


  1. While it seems to me that we can meaningfully say, "God has paused the flow of time," I'm not sure the notion "God has paused the flow of time for five minutes" is meaningful. If the flow of time has been paused, then whence comes the "five minutes" measurement? What is being measured? The latter proposition seems to me to be in the same category as the squared circle. If the flow of time has been paused, it isn't the case that its rate has changed, but that it no longer has a rate to change, since time no longer would "exist" in any sense. It would be like asking how the rate of change would differ for a runner if we were to somehow remove the runner from the universe. His rate of change wouldn't slow down; rather, it would be meaningless to speak about his rate of change at all because it would cease to exist.

  2. Right, but I take this incoherence to indicate that the original thought was not possible after all. (After all, for something to be paused is for it to stop for some duration and then start again.)

  3. Perhaps the problem is one of language. The word "pause" does suggest that there is a limited time between a stop and a start, but does it follow from this that the notion of a "gap" in time is incoherent? Such a gap will not be measurable, but does this mean that it is not (logically) possible? The contradiction seems to arise from the limitations of the word "pause" and not from the nature of time itself (whatever that is). What if the word "pause" were being used metaphorically to describe the actions of a god that stops and starts time without any time passing "in between"? I surely can't imagine what such a gap in time would be like, but that doesn't mean that it's inherently contradictory.

  4. I think that God IS Time……not “who” rather “what.” No matter how I look at it, it seems to me that out of our choice of nouns….person, place, or thing…the latter seems the only reasonable conclusion. Person is specific…place is specific….thing is everything else. Unfortunately, our language may attach an “insignificance” to the idea of “a thing” but, if God is Time, then a whole lot more of the Bible and Jesus’ teachings, as well as the Old Testament tales, and most world theologies begin to seem much more accessible, usable and understandable to me. When God is Time, every second that passes is a holy moment and responsibility for how we exist in that moment is squarely on our shoulders then…”the kingdom of heaven (truly) is within.”

  5. Well, humans discovered time based upon the movements of the sun and the stars. Therefore, if God has more than one object in his realm, that move at a constant rate, the correspondence between the two would define the time that is passing.


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