Space, Time, and Incarnation (Torrance)

At barely 90 pages of text, Thomas Torrance wrote a book on cosmology that shocked the theological world.  If his arguments in this book obtain, then all of modern Protestant theology (and Catholic modernists like Schillebeeckx) are not only biblically wrong, but scientifically wrong (which compounds the irony, given that they gut the faith to make it scientifically relevant).

Plato: Spoke of space as a receptacle, but only metaphorically.  It is that in which events take place.  A formless and passive medium (Torrance 4). The problem is that Plato had to use spatial terminology to refer to a world that was beyond space and time.

Aristotle: container notion of space (Physics, Book IV).  He saw the Platonic separation (χωρισμός) as the stuff or substrate.  It is associated with the category of quantity. It is a vessel (αγγειον).  There is a “relation of interdependence between the container and its contents” (7).  There is no void or empty space since the container is always in contact with that which it contains.

Problems: “in equating being in place with a particular volume, it also equated the volume with a spatial magnitude” (8).

Stoics: Space moves as the body or agent fills it.  Much closer to the biblical view, yet ended up making God part of the world, or the active principle of the world.  Degenerated.

Origen: accepted the Stoic contention that limit and comprehension go together.  God’s comprehending all things limits them.  He begins to form a relational notion of space.

Athanasius: doesn’t operate with the bifurcated worldview of Plato and Origen (the separation of cosmos aesthetos and cosmos noetos).  Torrance writes, “for the linking together incarnation and creation in the manner of Nicea made that impossible” (15).

The mediator who is also homoousion fulfils the space relations between God and man.   Mere creatures are unable to make room for God. Torrance writes, “The inter-relations of the Father and the Son must be thought in terms of ‘abiding’ and ‘dwelling’ in which each wholly rests in the other” (15).

The Son for us is the place (topos) where the Father is.  Therefore “place” “is here stretched beyond its ordinary use and must be interpreted elastically” (16).  Torrance then drops a cosmological hammer: “This forces theology into the construction of a sort of topological language in order to express the dispositional and dynamic inter-connection between topos and topos, or place and place” (16).

This requires, to use another Athanasian term, different paradeigma under the impact of divine revelation.  Space “is here a differential concept that is essentially open-ended” (18).  Torrance continues with the mathematical language: “It is treated as a sort of coordinate system (to use a later expression) between two horizontal dimensions, space and time, and one vertical dimension, relation to God” (18).

Modern and Reformation Conceptions

What is the “receptacle” mode of thought?  It is when we think of x being in y.  This works well on some level in classical physics.

For the ancient Greeks “finite,” “comprehensible,” and “limit” were all bound together.  An actual infinite was inconceivable.  This had to give once Christian revelation came on the scene, since God is infinite and maker of heaven and earth.  This “meant that God does not stand in a spatial or temporal relation to the universe” (23). 

The receptacle notion of space was applied to the sacraments.  Grace operates as though it is in a vessel.

Patristic notion of space: seat of relations or meeting place between God’s activity and the world.  It is a differential or open concept of space, as opposed to the closed Aristotelian system of limited bodies (24-25).                                                                                                                    

Duns Scotus began to correct the medieval problems by focusing on God’s creative will (29).

Extra Calvinisticum

One of the Lutherans’ problems with Calvinist Christology arose due to the former’s “container” notion of space (30ff). The Reformed were able to speak of Christ’s ascending to heaven or leaving heaven without abandoning his governance of the universe because they saw space in relational, and not quantitative terms.

Eternal Simultaneity in Luther

For God’s presence all spatial relations are reduced to a mathematical point (34). To his credit Luther recovered the biblical idea of the living and active God, yet Luther never escaped from the dualism embedded in a receptacle notion of space.

The problem: “If we posit any kind of spatial relation without extension in time we make it impossible to discern any real difference between the real presence of Christ in the days of his flesh, in the Eucharist, and at the Last Day” (35).


He held to the receptacle view but made it infinite.  Space and time are in God as in a container (38).  And since space and time are now infinite, they are now attributes of God.  This further mean that if God is the container, he can’t really become Incarnate.  A box cannot become one of the several objects it contains” (39).  This is partly why Newton was always suspected of being an Arian.

Incarnation and Space and Time


Receptacle notion: finite receptacle (Aristotle) and infinite (Newton).

Relational notion: Maybe Plato and the Stoics. Nicene and Reformers.

God’s relation to the world is an infinite differential, but the world’s relation to God is a created necessity (66). This means God is free from any spatio-temporal or causal necessity in relation to his creation.

Back to Einstein: the flow of time and the extent of material bodies depends on the velocity at which those bodies move.  The geometrical structures change according to the accumulation of mass within the field. If Einstein (or James Clerk Maxwell) is even remotely correct, then the old dualisms are necessarily false.

Theological Geometry: The Incarnation must create for us the field of organic connections “within which we are to develop our thought and language about it” (70-71).  “The interaction of God with us in the space and time of this world sets up, as it were, a coordinate system between two horizontal dimensions (space and time) and one vertical dimension (relation of God through his Spirit)” (72).

Economy: the orderly purpose and control of God as introduced by the Incarnation (79).

The analogy of topological language: we have to connect the different ways in which we must speak about topos and place in accordance witht he human and divine natures of Christ (81).

“Mind is not in time and space in the same sense in which ……


Einstein: His Life and Universe

Isaacson, Walter. Einstein: His Life and Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007.

Philosophical Moments

Early on Einstein began to question Kant’s distinction between analytic and synthetic truths (83). Kant’s famous example of an analytic truth–a triangle is 180 degrees–would be false in non-Euclidian geometry or in curved space.  These contents, in Einstein’s famous words, “contain nothing of the certainty, or inherent necessity, which Kant had attributed to them.”

Key Scientific Moments

Maxwell: a changing electric field could produce a changing magnetic field. That could yield another changing electric field.  This “coupling was an electromagnetic wave” (91). The important concept here is the introduction of “field.”

Light quanta: In 1905 Einstein suggested that light came in tiny packets of quanta, later to be known as photons (94).  Was the universe made up of tiny particles or was it an unbroken continuum?  What happens when the evidence suggests both?

Special Relativity

There are several thought experiments to explain special relativity.  Galileo’s is the best.  Imagine you are on a moving ship.  If you are inside the ship and drop a pebble, etc., it behaves the same as on land, even if the outside is gliding past you.  These are two different inertial systems. These systems also add up. If the waves are coming at you at 10 mph and you get on a jet ski at 40 mph, then the waves are coming at you at 50 mph.

Einstein’s genius was in asking if light behaves the same way. Earlier thought supposed that light behaved like sound: it was a disturbance in an unseen medium, called ether.  This raised problems.  If light came from a distant source, then ether must pervade the entire universe, which would seem to make it an ephemeral, gossamer substance.  On the other hand, “it had to be stiff enough to allow a wave to vibrate through it at enormous speed” (111).

Einstein saw this hunt for ether as showing why Newtonian models had trouble explaining electromagnetism, leading “to a fundamental dualism which in the long run was insupportable” (113).

Imagine you are chasing after a beam of light.  If you caught up with it, it would appear to be frozen, yet this seems wrong.  Let’s pretend you are riding on a train.  Shouldn’t you see, among other things, light beams coming at you at 186,000 mps?  Newtonian models said velocities add, and Maxwell’s equations provided for the speed of light, so why don’t we see light in motion?

Einstein realized that without reference points, you couldn’t see the light in motion (if you were riding beside a light beam). Einstein had to reimagine the concepts of space and time.

General Relativity

Special relativity, however, had some shortcomings. 

Equivalence-principle: there is an equivalence “between all inertial effects, such as resistance to acceleration, and gravitational effects, such as weight” (190). “Both are manifestations of the same structure, an inertio-gravitational field.

If this is true, then gravity should bend a light beam.

Central idea of general relativity: “gravity arises from the curvature of space-time…Gravity is geometry” (193).

Tensor: a vector on steroids (194).

Perihelion: the spot in a planet’s elliptical orbit when it is closest to the sun (199).

Bottom line: space and time do not have independent existences. Einstein rejected Newton’s container notion of absolute space and absolute time (223).

Cosmology and Black Holes

Main idea: “space has no borders because gravity bends it back on itself.” If we had an infinite universe, per Kant, then there “would be an infinite amount of gravity tugging at every direction” (252). Einstein’s solution was a finite universe without boundaries. It lacks boundaries because space curves.

Einstein and Religion

Einstein was very clear that his god is the same as Spinoza’s.  That makes sense, since Spinoza’s hard determinism is probably the reason why Einstein never embraced quantum mechanics.

Einstein and Politics

The best way to describe Einstein is as a moderate Social Democrat. He liked the idea of socialism, but he balked at the dehumanizing practice of it.  He would not have called himself a Communist and he was openly critical of Russia.  Likewise, he was a pacifist.  He was an intellectually honest pacifist. Like many pacifists, he could not pass the “What about Hitler?” test.  Pacifism is morally bankrupt when it faces questions like, “If you could stop a genocide, would you?”  To his credit, Einstein saw that and stopped his opposition to war.


While it is not mentioned in this review, Einstein never came to grips with quantum mechanics.  Such a discussion is worth an article in its own right, so I will forgo it here. The book itself is excellent and a serious layperson can easily understand its concepts.

Revamping Natural Theology

Let’s explore a different angle. I went over some of my notes on Torrance, Einstein, Polanyi, and the like.

With the natural theology guys, we agree that there is a rationality in nature that points towards God and to which even the unbeliever has access.

Against the natural theology guys, this rationality is more along the lines of post-Newtonian models and not simply Aristotle’s causality.

With the Van Tillians I agree that without God this rationality would be impossible, as it would no longer be contingent.

Against the Van Tillians, it is better to pursue this as seeing a God-given rationality within nature rather than bizarre transcendental models.

Bottom line: the extreme Van Tillians are wrong to reject natural theology as proposed above. The classical theists, although correct on the doctrine of God, need to move beyond Plato and Aristotle.

Notes on Polanyi, Personal Knowledge Part 1

Main Idea: Pythagoras saw numbers and rationality inherent in nature. Science moved from this inherent rationality to seeing itself as a tool or instrument.

Copernicus elevated theory over senses (Polanyi 3). He still remained anthropocentric.

Shift from Pythagorean to Ionian knowledge: “Numbers and geometrical forms are no longer assumed to be inherent as such in Nature” (8). Mathematics is now divorced from experience.  Math is now a mere instrument. We have the mathematical version of “Lessing’s Ditch.” Mathematics is necessary while reality is contingent.  While they may overlap, one isn’t inherent in the other.

With Einstein we see a beginning attack on this type of thinking.  His 1905 essays “discovered rationality in nature, unaided by observation” (11).

Space, Time, and Resurrection

Torrance, Thomas F. Space, Time and Resurrection.

When we study the New Testament, “we try to understand that reality in its own light” and letting our mind “fall under the power of its intrinsic significance” (Torrance 5). This means the texts point beyond themselves (cf. Athanasius, CA 2.3).

Crucial topic: is the resurrection a biological fact or a special fact? This is the question that gutted liberal Protestantism. However, the “conservative” answers sometimes missed a key truth. The answer is both, but both as in a “staggered hierarchy.” Yes, Jesus was bodily raised from the dead, yet so was Lazarus, which means the resurrection of Christ cannot simply be reduced to a biological “yes.” As Torrance points out in a footnote, quoting John Wilkinson, biological answers cannot yield theological answers, yet neither can they be placed against them (Torrance 60 n16). This is analogous to the relationship between classical mechanics and post-Einsteinianism. You can’t get to the latter by means of the former, yet you need both.

We cannot interpret the resurrecting processes within the old frame of death and entropy. It requires an irruption into a newer order. Liberal Protestants, being Deists and Gnostics, simply “spiritualized” this away. In accordance with Torrance’s kataphysical theology, the resurrection “impresses” itself on our minds and forces our minds to interpret it accordingly to its own reality.

One of the ways the resurrection safeguards man against the false teachings of Eastern religion, Gnosticism, and Neoplatonism is that it anchors the reality of man. Resurrection, among other things, heals creation. It keeps man from sliding into an ephemeral fog.

Moreover, the resurrection places the theologian into the concrete realities of space and time.

Torrance has a very explosive chapter in “The Nature of the Resurrection Event.” He deals with eschatology proper and the reality of heaven. It is at times poetic and moving. He has some very interesting discussions on the nature of time. On one hand, the resurrection takes place within the coordinates of space and time. On the other hand, it begins to redeem time. Our current time is “refracted.” It has “broken loose from God,” yet neither does it descend into pure chaos and nothingness (97). Instead of liberal Protestantism’s “two histories” (geschicte and historie), Torrance calls us back to Paul’s “Two Ages.”

His meditation on the Ascension is also quite good. Torrance brings to bear the full power of his doctrine of vicarious humanity. Christ “presents us before the Father as those who are incorporated into him…He makes an offering to God through his eternal Spirit” (115). “Christ prayed with us in the flesh and puts the ‘Our Father’” in our mouths. He eternally is before the face of the Father. We have to think in terms of representation as well as substitution (116). Christ has “so identified himself with us” that he makes “his prayer and worship ours.”

Ascension, Space, and Time

The Lutherans accused the Reformed of an “extra Calvinisticum” because they operated with a receptacle view of space (124). The problem that all want to avoid is saying that the Eternal Logos became man in such a way that part of the Logos was excluded. If you have a receptacle/container notion of space, this seems to be an inevitable conclusion.

Against this, Torrance posits “a relational view of space and time differentially or variationally related to God and man” (126). Torrance alludes to his earlier work, but he never really unpacks this claim. He gives us some hints, though. In the incarnation God and man met in man’s space. In the ascension God and humanity (of Jesus) meet in God’s space. He suggests, following modern understandings of space-time, that space and time are always space and time for something. They cannot be abstracted.

Perhaps we can look at it this way. Torrance writes, “In the nature of the case, statements regarding [the] ascension are closed at man’s end (because bounded within the space-time limits of man’s existence on earth) but are infinitely open at God’s end” (131). Perhaps this is similar to his claim that God (and maybe his decree) aren’t contained within Aristotelian notions of logico-causality.

At the end of the book Torrance goes off on a wonderful tangent and trashes dualist thought. It doesn’t really have anything to do with his thesis. It’s just fun to read. The older Newtonian/Aristotelian views saw atoms and particles being connected by means of causes. Anything that doesn’t conform to this system isn’t “real.” Torrance says that the rise of James Maxwell Clerk and electromagnetism put an end to this (185). Electromagnetism cannot be reduced to Newtonian/Aristotelianism. For example, the relationship between fields of force are just as real as the atoms.

Levels of knowledge: According to Polanyi, the sciences can be arranged in a hierarchical structure of levels. “They open upwards into wider and more comprehensive systems of knowledge but are not reducible downwards” (Torrance 188). Sometimes we have to add an “additional factor” into the field of knowledge, but this factor can only be found at a higher level. These are boundary conditions, per Einstein, “where each one is coordinated with a higher system, in terms of which it becomes explicable and intelligible” (189).

In light of all this, Torrance doesn’t completely reject the old notion of “chain of being.” To be sure, in its older forms it is crude and outdated (and probably pantheistic). Instead of being, it might be better to see a structured hierarchy of knowledge.


One should read his earlier work on the Incarnation before reading this volume. The material in here is grand, but Torrance at times doesn’t give enough argumentation or merely alludes to other sources.

God the Father Almighty (Erickson)

Erickson, Millard. God the Father Almighty: A Contemporary Exploration of the Divine Attributes. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.

Always go to Millard Erickson when it comes to strong doctrines.  With the possible exception of his take on eternal generation, Erickson is a most reliable guide to the doctrine of God. This volume brings all the strengths of analytic theology without burdening the reader with truth tables, Bayes’ Theorem, and the like.

Erickson begins with a thorough analysis of heterodox and heretical positions such as process theology and open theism.  The one good thing we can say about process theology is that it acknowledged that metaphysics is an important and inescapable view.  Instead of substances, process theology sees reality as “actual occasions” and “concretions.”  Reality is di-polar, having a physical and mental pole.  Process thought is better able to accommodate modern science than earlier atomistic views.  The flow is dynamic.  As Cobb says, “Things happen in bursts or jerks rather than an even flow” (quoted in Erickson, 54).

All of that is well and good and probably true on the creation-level.  It completely rejects the normal understanding of God.  God is now seen as a “loving-creative response.”  Further, on process thought it is hard to understand how anything–man or God–could be identical through time, since reality is “bursts and jerks.” Burst 1 follows Burst 2 but what is there in the gaps?  

Erickson then gives the standard evaluations of open theism, which I won’t go into here. In another chapter he explains how God doesn’t change while noting the numerous ambiguities in the word “change.”

His chapter on God and Time is quite good and hints towards several possible solutions.  Is God eternal (the traditional view) or everlasting (infinite duration, but duration nonetheless)?  Before we can even answer this question, we have to ask: “What kind of definition of time are we using: A-tense or B-tense?).  A-tense is the normal understanding of time.  B-tense is a tenseless view, which suggests that the flow of time is an illusion.  Here is where it gets interesting: the Eternal and Everlasting positions can accommodate either.

Here is where it gets even more interesting:  if Einstein is correct, and time should be viewed more as “spacetime,” then the debate changes.  I’m not entirely sure of Erickson’s conclusion, but he suggests that the atemporalist and temporal debates might not be real contraries when applied to God.  


If God is impassible, does that mean he is devoid of all feelings? Augustine said that impassibility is a balanced harmony where the mind is in agreement with reason (Civ. Dei. 8.17).  Further on, Erickson notes that impassibility is connected with discussions on divine foreknowledge and immutability. If this obtains, then can God really be said to answer prayer?  Thomas Morris offers a plausible scenario: “God’s intentions are indexed to…occurences in the created universe” (quoted in Erickson, 150). For example, per Jonah, God didn’t change his will but has eternally willed a change from ‘the Ninevites will be punished’ to ‘the Ninevites will not be punished’ if they repent.  As Erickson comments, “changing one’s will is different from willing a change in things” (151).

Divine Power

This hasn’t been debated as much as foreknowledge or impassibility, but a proper view of God hinges upon it.  Erickson runs through the standard discussions in analytic philosophy of religion. In short, God cannot perform logical contraries or anything contrary to his perfections (e.g., God can’t will himself not to exist).

Divine Simplicity

This is the most important chapter in the book.  Erickson highlights one fascinating implication of divine simplicity: we cannot say we don’t know God’s essence.  Or rather, the claim that we can know God’s attributes but not his essay doesn’t work.  God’s attributes are his essence, and if we can know one we can know the other.  Of course, we must immediately add that we know analogically.

Erickson tackles the number one problem with divine simplicity: if God is identical to his properties, doesn’t that make God a property? A similar property is that if God is good, does that mean he is exemplifying the property of goodness, which means that God participates in something greater than himself?  That clearly will not work, which is why theologians have always said “God is Goodness.”  Yet, if we say that we are back at Plantinga’s critique.

Erickson borrows from William Mann’s essay and reformulates the problem this way:

With regard to God’s properties, we aren’t saying that wisdom (W) = power (P).  We are saying the W of God = the P of God.  This means there is a difference between “Deity-instance identities” and “instance-instance identities” (220).  This might sidestep Plantinga’s critique, but in its present form his technicality limits its use. It’s not immediately clear what an instance-instance identity is.

Mann has another interesting argument, though.  We make a distinction between degreed and non-degreed properties. Many of God’s great-making properties are generally degreed, such as knowledge.  I can always have more knowledge.  But God’s degreed properties have something mine do not: an intrinsic maximum.  God already has the maximum amount of a degreed property. God can never be “more knowledgeable.” 

It’s a bold move.  I think it takes more work, though.  Morris responded to Mann’s essay (eliciting a response from Mann).  

Transcendence and Immanence

Hegel: history is just God daydreaming (264).

This is a top-level book in both the doctrine of God and philosophical theology.

Time and Eternity (William Lane Craig)

Image result for time and eternity william lane craig

The best tool for understanding what is meant by God’s being eternal is not poetry but analytic philosophy (Craig 11).

Divine eternity: God exists without beginning or end.  But is God temporal or timeless? We will come back to this question, as Craig himself revisits it at the very end of the book.  We see much about time and eternity, and the numerous tortured arguments from all sides, but little on (T/E’s) relation to God, per the book’s subtitle.  That shouldn’t detract from the fine scholarship, though.

Much of the book is a sustained analysis of Einstein and the various debates concerning relativity.  I’m going to skip those. The heart of Craig’s argument is setting forth two views of time

Tensed time (A).  This is the common-sense view of time (and the one Craig upholds).  We can speak of past, present, and future. However, if God is timeless, as he must be if we deny that time is eternal, then it’s hard to see how he can relate to time.

Tenseless time (B).  Time is an illusion, or at least speak of a past and a future is meaningless.  This fits well with some models of relativity. If time is actually space-time, and space is a 3-D coordinate, and if space isn’t tensed (and it isn’t), then time is tenseless.  While this is quite bizarre, and Craig offers a number of rebuttals, but its strength lies in its ability to comport with God’s eternity.

In conclusion, Craig argues that God is eternal before Creation but has a temporal dimension with respect to creation.  And that’s my problem with his conclusion. I think there is something to it, but he does very little to develop it (Craig, 217-235, and much of that discussion is a summary of his Kalam argument). He adds a fine discussion on God’s foreknowledge as an appendix.

Divine Timelessness


  1. God is simple


(1’) God is immutable.

(2) If God is simple or immutable, then he is not temporal.

(3) Therefore, God is not temporal.

(4) Therefore, God is timeless.

This argument, though, depends on certain Thomist formulations.  Craig doesn’t pursue this line of thought.

Relativity Theory


Absolute time: time without relation to anything external.

Absolute space: 

Relative time: time determined by clocks.

19th century experiments on speed of light.

Light’s measured velocity is the same in all inertial frames.


Simultaneity becomes relative.  There is no absolute space.

What does this mean for God, Time, and Eternity?  If God is in time, then whose time is he in, for time is relative to the observer? The argument becomes thus:

  1. STR is correct in its description of time.
  2. If STR is correct in its description of time, then if God is temporal, He exists in either the time associated within a single inertial frame or the times associated with a plurality of inertial frames.
  3. Therefore, if God is temporal,He exists in either the time associated within a  single inertial frame or the times associated with a plurality of inertial frames.
  4. God does not exist in either the time associated witha  single inertial frame or the times associated with a plurality of inertial frames.
  5. Therefore, God is not temporal.

Craig is going to challenge (1).  Einstein’s relativity already presupposed that there couldn’t be Absolute Space.  But this was because Einstein held to verificationism, which has since been debunked.