On February 25, 2009, Hugh Ross and Fuzale Rana from Reasons to Believe debated Michael Shermer (of Skeptic magazine fame) on the question of the scientific testability of divine creation. Gary Whittenberger wrote an article on the debate for eSkeptic, a weekly email report produced by Skeptic magazine. According to Whittenberger, “Ross asserted that God caused the beginning of time at the moment of the Big Bang. As other Creationists often do, Ross seems to ignore the fact that an act of a person causing something is itself an event in time, and so he backs himself into the corner of contradiction by implying there was time before the beginning of time. Of course this makes no sense, but Ross is unfazed; he simply imagines that there is a supernatural time and a natural time and supposes that this solves everything.”
While I am familiar with Ross’ work, I do not know enough about his views on time and God’s relationship to it to either defend or critique his position. Instead, I would like to challenge Whittenberger’s claim that God’s causal act of creation requires a time before time, and thus is nonsensical. God’s causal act of creation requires no such thing.
God’s causal act of creation constituted the first moment of time (i.e. it was a temporal act), being simultaneous to the effect of the universe coming into being. God’s causal act could not have been an eternal act, because that would require the universe to be eternal as well. Let me explain. A cause cannot exist without its corresponding effect. Take for example, the act of lighting a match. For the match to light, it requires a sufficient cause (an agent acting to strike the match against an abrasive surface). As soon as the sufficient cause is present, the effect (the match being lit) immediately follows. There is no temporal gap between the sufficient cause and the effect. If the match would have been struck from eternity past, it would have been lit from eternity past as well. It would be impossible to strike the match from eternity past, and yet the match remain unlit until a finite time ago. Likewise, if God’s causal activity to create the universe was an eternal act, the universe would have been created an eternity ago, making it co-eternal with God Himself. And yet we know from both philosophy and science that the universe if temporally finite, ergo God’s act of creation had to be a temporal act (an act in time).
Since God was timeless without creation, His causing the universe to come into being must have been the first temporal event of the universe. God’s causal activity in creating the universe was a temporal act that constituted the first moment of time. The change from God existing alone without creation, to God willing creation and co-existing with it, then, brought time into existence.
See also my article “Does God Know When Now Is?: Revisiting God’s Relationship to Time”