Paul Helm: Eternal God

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Helm, Paul.  Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time.  New York: Oxford University Press, Second Edition 2010.

Paul Helm is painstakingly thorough in examining the challenges to God’s being outside of time.  Almost too thorough. In any case, this book will likely be remembered as one of the classics in analytic theology.

Flow of the book: If God is outside of time, then a number of challenges and (perceived) difficulties arise.  The traditional view is the Boethian view: all of past, present, and future is present to God. This view is correct in maintaining that God is outside of time. It is open, however, to a number of devastating defeaters.  Helm’s goal is to reformulate the Boethian view in light of these defeaters.

The most challenging section of the book deals with indexicals: I am here at this place at this hour. The problem is that many of these indexicals can’t apply to God’s being timeless.  God can affirm the following proposition?

(1) I know that it is raining today.

The critic says he can’t because this would place God in a time-bound relation.  It’s not clear, though, why God can’t timelessly affirm this proposition. The only force indexicals would have is that God can’t affirm the following proposition:

(2) I know what it is to be married.

This deals more with omniscience than eternality.  In any case, it doesn’t seem like anything is lost.

Can God know future events?  Presumably, he can. This has been a given in almost every form of theistic belief.  Some philosophers like Swinburne say God can’t know the future if he has also given libertarian freedom to his creatures.  The future actions haven’t yet happened; therefore, God can’t know them. Helm offers something along the lines of a rebuttal:

(3) There is no logical connection between the view that the future does not already exist and the view that the future is indeterminate (121).

I think there is an easier rebuttal, though.  Christianity and Judaism (and I presume Islam) believe that some humans can prophesy (with varying degrees of accuracy) about the future.  If they can know the future actions of free creatures, then it stands to reason that God could, too.

Possibilities of Fatalism

Not all fatalisms are the same.  One can mean:

(4) Everything that happens was bound to happen.

It can mean something weaker:

(5) Everything that happens does so because of a logical necessity.

Timelessness and Human Responsibility

(6) God timelessly decreed that B occur at t₂ and this cannot be isolated from his timeless decree of A at t

(7) God timelessly decrees a complete causal matrix of events and actions (170).

Whenever we speak of God’s being and actions, we must realize that God’s being is logically prior to what he does.

Kripkean Terms

Rigid designator: a proper name which has x property in every possible world.

Accidental designator: property in some world.

Using these terms Helm suggests that “God” expresses the individual essence of God (208). A general essence isn’t a particular essence. God has a set of properties unique to himself. These are “God-making” properties.  This is important because “Being the creator of the world’ is not a part of his nature whereas ‘being infinitely good is’” (209).

Eternal Generation of the Son:  “There is no state of the Father that is not a begetting of the Son, and no state of the Son which is not a being begotten by the Father and necessarily there is no time when the Father had not begotten the Son” (285).

Corollary: If God is in time, then it does make sense to speak of a time when the Son was not.  When did the Father beget the Son? Even asking that question illustrates the problem. You can’t say in eternity past, for that is the thing the temporalist denies.

Naming and Necessity (Saul Kripke)

Kripke’s thesis is that rigid designators are true, we have an intuition of them, and that they are the same in every possible world (Kripke 48).   A designator is a common term that covers names and definitions (24). Specifically, names are rigid designators (48).

Kripke also has a lucid discussion on what a “possible world” is (and isn’t).  We imagine a situation that could have been otherwise. What properties of x would remain in that world and which would be different?  

Example: “The man who invented bifocals is Benjamin Franklin.”

“Benjamin Franklin” is a rigid designator.  Benjamin Franklin is Benjamin Franklin in every possible world.  But the phrase “the man who invented bifocals” is a nonrigid designator.  One can imagine a world where someone other than Franklin invented bifocals.  

His most notorious and ground-breaking argument is that there can be both contingent a priori truths and necessary a posteriori truths.  How? Take Goldbach’s conjecture: every even number greater than two is the sum of its primes. This appears to be necessary, per mathematics, but is only known a posteriori.


*Kripke agrees with Mill that singular names are non-connotative (127).

*General terms, those of natural kinds, have a greater kinship with proper names that normally realized (134).

*a priori truths can be contingent, meaning the fixed reference for a term isn’t always synonymous with a term (135).

*the relationship between a brain state and a mental state is a contingent one, and relations of identity cannot be contingent (154).


Kripke sometimes spends several pages analyzing a minor point with little payout.


One can see why this book broke new ground.  I read it after I read Plantinga’s The Nature of Necessity, so I didn’t see what was objectionable about possible worlds semantics.  Much of the book, however, was beyond my pay grade.



Harassing the Hobgoblins: Intro to Analytic Theology

I am not an expert in analytic theology, and I have been critical of analytic philosophy in the past.  Nonetheless, it can be useful in clarifying concepts.  One problem is that people jump into the deeper waters, reading countless computer symbols and the analytic guys never bother to clarify what’s going on.  I’ll try.


McCall, Thomas.  Introduction to Analytic Theology.  It is what the title says. He introduces some key concepts but doesn’t really get beyond Leibniz’s Law.  Still, anything McCall writes is worth getting.

Moreland, JP.  Love Your God with all your Mind.  What would it look like if you applied analytic reasoning to the development of the soul?

Morris, Thomas V.  Our Idea of God.  He doesn’t call it analytic theology, but it is an early essay into how it is done.  Wonderfully accessible.

Nash, Ronald.  The Concept of God.  Kind of a simplified version of Plantinga’s Does God have a Nature?  Some great responses to open theism.

Clark, Kelly.  Return to Reason.  This is the unsung volume in apologetics.


McCall, Thomas.  Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?  Not primarily analytic theology, per se, but it is a great application of analytic theology.

Crisp and Rea, Analytic Theology: New Essays.  Some outstanding essays, some bleh.  Sadly, Rea, Wolterstorff, and possibly stump have surrendered the field on sexual ethics.

Craig and Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.  Somewhat technical, but simply grand.

Moreland and Rae, Body and Soul.  Outstanding defense of substance dualism.  Moreland writes with Kingdom Power.

Moreland, JP.  Kingdom Triangle.  Triangulates (sorry) analytic theology with continuationist theology.

Morris, Thomas V. Logic of God Incarnate.  Rescues Christology from the contradiction charge.  Several very important concepts introduced.

Plantinga and Wolterstorff.  Faith and Rationality.  Almost as important historically as it is philosophically.

Richards, Jay Wesley. The Untamed God.  Introduces modal concepts and show where they advance beyond Aristotle.


Kripke, Saul.  Naming and Necessity.  Some technical chapters, but a mostly accessible work on language and possible worlds.

Lewis, David.  Counterfactuals.  Very difficult, but Lewis does walk you through his method, so it is readable.

Plantinga, Alvin. Nature of Necessity.  One of the most important philosophy works in the last century.  Possible Worlds matter.

———–.  Does God Have a Nature? Plantinga got accused of denying simplicity in this book.  I never saw where he did so.  Great primer on how to do analytic theology.

———–.  Warrant and Proper Function.   Clears up a lot of (perhaps deliberate) misunderstanding on what Plantinga means by “warrant.

———.  Warranted Christian Belief.  Application of his previous two books.