>Can God Hear Music?

Posted: 26/05/2009 in Foreknowledge, music

>(For all my musician friends)

I endorse something other (and I believe better) than “God is outside of time” dogma. This is controversial for sure, but I cannot help what started as an intuitive aversion and has grown into Open Theism. True, very smart and sincere Christians disagree with me and others on this. Yet “God is outside of time” still seems to create problems. Already, I have argued why I think it is a problem for free will. Now, I think I have another: can a timeless God hear music? Can he know our songs and voices when we sing to him? Or is music, which must exist in time, simply another ‘weakness’ of us pitied temporal beings? The truth may be in between, but If God is timeless, hearing music might be very, very, hard.

God’s timelessness –or eternality- carries with it some implications for knowledge of anything –music included. Timelessness does not say that God lives forever, or that God has infinitely long past. Rather, it says that God is outside these temporal categories altogether. Putting time prepositions on God such as “before,” “during,” “after,” etc are actually incoherent. There can be no changes in God, for this involves time. Likewise there can be no learning in God, for this would change God’s knowledge.

God’s timeless knowledge of things in time is different than our knowledge. God knows all things, as Aquinas put it, “in one act of understanding.” God knows all things without them being mediated via time or anything else. Saying God knows “instantly” fails to capture it. This of course, does not mean that God doesn’t know when things happen. God knows that my typing occurs at 11:08am Friday morning. He also knows that I drive my Toyota at 9:43am the same day, and that I talk with a friend at 12:32pm. God knows the times, but God does not experience them in a sequential order. This would imply changes in God’s knowledge and thus violate timelessness.

The crux of the problem comes when we think about what music is. During my time at a junior college (I was a music major, then I switched to theology for the money), my theory instructor explained that music is an art form that unfolds in time. It is not like a painting or sculpture that is static. When listening to music, we hear a sequence of notes, changes in timbre, crescendo etc. Something as fundamental as a single pitch (“the A string vibrates at 440hertz per second”) is still measured and described in time. For someone to know music as music, it must be known in time. Dramatic crescendos are not music until you hear them soft before and then louder later. A melody is not a melody unless you hear one note, followed by another note, and then a third and so on. To know music, one must do something a timeless being does not: know things in a sequential order and experiences the changes over time.

Some may object here and say that a timeless God would know music just like he knows everything else. God knows this note is played at this time, another is played at another time, a third played a different time and so on and so forth. God knows also the intensity and volume of each note. Any other detail he knows in the same way. Thus, God knows an entire song in one act of understanding, without experiencing it sequentially.

But is this really music? What this sounds more like to me is a piece of music written down but not played, or better yet MIDI data or piano reel. Does anybody seriously think that looking at piano reel is fundamentally the same as actually listening to a piano? Of course not. The piano reel or the MIDI data are not music. It is not until that you hit the “play” button and listen to changes of sounds and music sequentially and in time.

Some may persist, under that grounds (or habit) that God’s timeless is simply too sacrosanct to reject. I can respect this position, but I still think that it has certain implications for music. If someone wants to preserve God’s timelessness and God hearing music, then we have to change the term “music” slightly. Instead of saying that music is art form that unfolds in time, we have to be willing to say that there is no essential difference between MIDI data and music being heard in time. Or, a piece of sheet music is more fundamentally music than that music performed. This is strange implication that I think most musicians (myself included) would not accept, but this is what I think follows from reconciling God’s timelessness and God hearing music.

That’s the end of this blog then. Music is something that must be experienced sequentially, but a timeless God experiencing nothing sequentially. Therefore, God does not know music. No doubt, many of you reading this probably think I’ve gone of the top. Chances are you are correct. Nonetheless, I think that my lifelong involvement with music is probably one of the reasons why I’ve always had an intuitive aversion to timelessness dogma.

Thanks for reading.

  1. >Must one be “in” time in order to comprehend time/temporality? It seems, at least in principle, that an all-knowing God would, of necessity, be able to apprehend temporal events as humans do (although He would surely not be limited to such a perspective). I suppose you could say that time is the sort of thing that one has to, in some sense, experience in order to understand (or, in a Kantian or Husserlian fashion, that it is something that is in fact a precondition of conciousness). As I am fond of saying, however, this problem can be addressed after the fashion of the Medievals: by cheating. The Incarnation would seem to allow for this sort of “experience” of time/the “experience” of time conciousness in the “human sense.” Just some throwing that out there. Frankly, I think you are spot on with some of your other objections. A God outside of time has long struck me as incoherent (even within the parochial domain of traditional analytic philosophy of religion). What would a “timeless act” look like, for instance? -Daniel W. Ambord

  2. Jin-roh says:

    >heheI love how you call the incarnation “cheating.”that, in my humble opinion, is one of the best reasons to reject the timelessness stuff.

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