HUGH ROSS'S EXTRA-DIMENSIONAL DEITY:
A REVIEW ARTICLE
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG *
Hugh Ross is evangelicalism's most important scientific apologist. An astronomer by training, Dr. Ross is the founder and president of Reasons to Believe, an organization devoted both to evangelism within the broader context of scientific apologetics and to the task of healing the cultural rift among Christians between science and religion. He has vigorously defended scientifically the cosmological and teleological arguments for a Creator and Designer of the universe and has championed progressive creationism over against naturalistic accounts of biological evolution on the one hand and so-called "young earth" creationism on the other. Though a tireless promoter of Reasons to Believe, one measure of Dr. Ross's humility is his unsolicited promotion of the materials of other authors, including this reviewer, in the organization's catalogue. It has been my privilege to share the platform with Dr. Ross in a number of university and church outreaches, and I enthusiastically support his work.
I offer these accolades lest this review of Dr. Ross's most recent book Beyond the Cosmos strike some as excessively critical. But I am convinced that Dr. Ross's attempts to invest the (possible) extra-dimensionality of the universe with profound theological significance is misguided and that a corrective is in order. In his book Dr. Ross advises that "careful scholarship, meticulously reviewed, offers a vital safeguard" against heresy (p. 58). I wholeheartedly concur, and I have been mystified by evangelicals' apparently uncritical acquiescence to some of the positions advocated by Dr. Ross in this book. For I believe that the errors in Beyond the Cosmos are many and that some of them, at least, are serious.
Dr. Ross's basic tenet in Beyond the Cosmos is that certain physicists' suggestion that in addition to the four familiar spatio-temporal dimensions there exist six (compacted) spatial dimensions carries with it enormous theological freight, shedding dramatic new light on doctrines of the Trinity, the incarnation, predestination, perseverance, the problem of evil, and so forth. Such extra-dimensional theories, in Dr. Ross's view, suggest that God also exists extra-dimensionally, which affords him access to our four-dimensional realm in ways unanticipated by human beings.
Now in one sense it is a commonplace of traditional theology that God exists extra-dimensionally in that he transcends both time and space, and theology had neither to await nor to thank modern science for that insight. A charitable reading of Beyond the Cosmos might be that Dr. Ross simply means to affirm God's transcendence - his timelessness and spacelessness, inspired by the analogy of spatial dimensions beyond the three we experience. In his final chapter, he says, "Extra dimensions are simply new terms to describe truths that have been known for as long as God has been known by any human" (p. 207). In several places Dr. Ross adds qualifying expressions which might be interpreted to indicate that God's extradimensionality is metaphorical. For example, he speaks of "the existence of extra dimensions or the functonal equivalent of extra dimensions (p. 20, my emphasis). He explains, "...the cause (Causer) of the universe operates in a dimension of time or its equivalent (that is, maintains some attribute, capacity, super-dimensionality, or supra-dimensionality that permits the equivalent of cause and effect operations) completely independent of ours" (p. 23). This is the clearest statement of what it is for something to be the functional equivalent of an extra dimension, and it suggests that divine extra-dimensionality need not be taken literally, but may simply be a metaphor for God's ability to act immanently in creation while transcending it or for his timelessness and spacelessness (supra-dimensionality). (1) If this charitable interpretation is correct, talk of the modern discovery of God's extra-dimensionality may be written down to a combination of theological naiveté and scientific over-exuberance, and the only corrective in order is that Dr. Ross needs to explain the metaphorical nature of his language clearly in his lectures to popular audiences, in which the crucial qualifications are typically neither made nor explained. Otherwise he does his audience a serious disservice when he asserts that traditional Christian doctrines are logically inconsistent unless formulated in more than four dimensions - a terribly misleading way of affirming that Christian doctrines entail the transcendence of God.
Unfortunately, I fear that the above interpretation may be too charitable, that Dr. Ross does, in fact, conceive of God as literally existing in extra spatio-temporal dimensions. Dr. Ross could not be more explicit in his rejection of divine timelessness:
My choice of the word timeful to describe God's time-related capacities deliberately contradicts a notion that much of the church has held and taught for many centuries, the notion of a 'timeless' eternity as the realm where God lives and where we will live someday also (p. 65). (2)
Singling out Augustine and Aquinas as proponents of this doctrine, Dr. Ross exclaims, "...rare indeed is the student or professor who dares to challenge the doctrine of God's dwelling in a timeless eternity" (p. 66), as Dr. Ross evidently means to do. In his view, God "must possess at least one more time dimension (or some attribute, capacity, super-dimension or supra-dimension) that encompasses all the properties of time...The Creator's capacities include at least two, perhaps more, time dimensions" (pp. 23-24). God is thus a temporal being which exists in at least one additional dimension of time to the one we experience. Less explicit, but strongly implied is the view that God also exists spatially. Dr. Ross frequently speaks of God's "operating" in ten dimensions of space, which a defender of divine spacelessness might reasonably construe to mean that God, though transcending space, produces effects in space. But this is evidently not Dr. Ross's meaning. For he thinks of God accessing our four-dimensional realm from higher dimensions, just as a three-dimensional being can access a two-dimensional realm from the third dimension (pp. 74-79, 89-95). Thus, he says that God "exists and operates in several spatial dimensions beyond our three" (p. 24); "God...lives and operates in the equivalent of at least eleven dimensions of space and time" (p. 33); "...His space or other dimensions give Him a complete view of us, inside and out" (p. 132); by contrast, "...we lack God's extra-dimensional perspective to look directly upon 'the thoughts and intents of the heart'" (p. 158). It is difficult to avoid the interpretation that God literally exists in higher spatial dimensions which afford him access to our three-dimensional space.
Consider then Dr. Ross's account of divine eternity and its relationship to time. While I agree that God ought to be thought of as temporal since the moment of creation, Dr. Ross's account of God's temporality strikes me as multiply flawed on several counts as well as inadequately motivated. To deal with the second point first, Dr. Ross rejects divine timelessness because such a doctrine would imply that God "exists where causes and effects do not happen, and this idea contradicts biblical teachings" (p. 66). In what has to be the most whopping understatement in the whole book, Dr. Ross muses, "To be fair, Augustine and Aquinas probably did not see the connection between time and cause and effect to the degree that people in contemporary society do" (p. 66)! That no doubt has something to do with the fact that Augustine and Aquinas were not positivistic reductionists, as twentieth century physicists and philosophers of space and time have tended to be. Dr. Ross himself subscribes to some sort of causal theory of time: "Time is defined by the operation of cause-and-effect phenomena" (p. 66). He gives no justification for this controversial view. (3) Indeed, I think that such a definition is obviously incorrect. We can imagine a world in which occasionalism is true: God recreates the world anew at each successive instant so that there are no cause effect relations between phenomena in the world. Such a world seems obviously possible; in fact some Christians (like Malebranche) believed occasionalism to be true. So causation is not a necessary condition of time. Neither is it obviously a sufficient condition. On Dr. Ross's conception of time, why could God not timelessly cause the whole space-time manifold with all the events in it to exist? Dr. Ross gives no answer. Moreover, even if God is temporal subsequent to his creation of the world, what about God existing sans the world? Could he not be timeless in such a state?
As for the first point, Dr. Ross's account of God's temporality is problematic. (4) His answer to the problem of God and the beginning of time is to postulate a second time dimension, a sort of hyper-time, in which God exists and created the world. Now we need to be very clear as to what a hyper-time would be. It would be a succession of hyper-moments at each of which our entire time dimension exists (Fig. 1).
But Dr. Ross misconstrues the nature of hyper time, representing God's time on his diagram by a line parallel, rather than perpendicular, to our time dimension (Fig. 2, p. 62).
What this implies is that God's temporal dimension is really the same as ours, only that he pre-exists for infinite time prior to the creation of the universe. It is, in effect, a Newtonian view of God and time. Now I certainly agree that God could have existed in absolute time prior to the inception of physical time at the Big Bang. But the proper distinction to be drawn here is not between two dimensions of time (since they are not perpendicular, but linear), but between metaphysical time and our empirical measures thereof. God can be temporal without anything spatial or physical existing if we are talking about metaphysical time. But postulating an infinite metaphysical time prior to the creation of the world fails to win any of the advantages Dr. Ross perceives, for it raises new, difficult questions of its own: How could God traverse an actually infinite number of equal, non-zero, past temporal intervals to arrive at the moment of creation? What reason could God have for delaying for infinite time his creation of the world?
Even postulating a hyper-time fails to avoid such questions, for we may ask the same questions all over again about whether hyper-time has a beginning or not. In two places Dr. Ross suggests that the two dimensions of time may have the geometry of the surface of a hemisphere (Fig. 3).
In such a representation our time is the latitudinal line and God's time is the longitudinal lines. (5) This conception avoids both the infinitude of our past as well as a beginning of our time only at the expense of making time circular, a conception contradictory to the Judaeo-Christian conception of the linearity of time. In any case, the postulation of a hyper-time of any sort appears to preclude the reality of tense and temporal becoming, since at each hyper-instant our whole time line exists. Time is, in effect, "spatialized," and the distinction between past, present, and future becomes a subjective illusion of human consciousness. This is a high price to pay for so problematic and extravagant a hypothesis, which is not implied by any of the extra-dimensional theories surveyed by Dr. Ross.
In one place Dr. Ross suggests that the postulation of a hyper-time helps to answer a third-grader's question about how God can listen to a billion prayers at once. Not only does Dr. Ross seem to get his answer backwards (he, in effect, turns our time into a hyper-time above time instead of saying God has infinitely many hyper-instants at which to listen to each prayer in succession), but his answer dreadfully depreciates divine omniscience. Rather than cast God anthropomorphically as a cognitively limited, hyperdimensional telephone operator, Dr. Ross should have explained to his third grade friend that just as a super-computer can do millions of operations at once, God is infinitely more intelligent than a super-computer and so his lines can never get jammed!
Issues concerning divine eternity are difficult and perhaps not too close to the heart of orthodoxy. When it comes to divine spatiality, however, the problems become more serious. The unwelcome implication of Dr. Ross's view is that God is a spatial entity; more than that, he is (at least) a three dimensionally existing entity as we are. This conclusion follows from the fact that if any entity exists in any dimension of a multi-dimensional space-time manifold, then it exists in all of them. Consider a point existing in a three dimensional manifold. The point exists in all three dimensions of the manifold: it has height, length, and depth coordinates which specify its location. One of Dr. Ross's most fundamental and surprising errors is his apparent assumption that God can exist only in higher dimensional realms without also existing in our space-time dimensions. He asserts, "Each of the four space-time dimensions of the physical universe is independent of the others" (p. 15). This sentence is jarring because the central insight behind Minkowski's notion of space-time is that space and time are not independent of each other but together comprise a single four-dimensional geometry called "space-time." Admittedly Dr. Ross has an idiosyncratic definition of independence: "This independence means that each dimension always must be exactly perpendicular...to all the other dimensions..." (p. 15). But even on this peculiar understanding of what it means to be independent, Dr. Ross's own diagram illustrates that an entity which exists in one dimension of a manifold exists in all of them (Fig. 4).
Object E, though not intersecting the axis C, is nevertheless clearly located in the dimension represented by C, for it has a location with respect to C, namely, the point where B and C intersect. Thus, E exists in both the B and C dimensions. This entails that God exists somewhere in our universe. But that occasions very troubling questions. Is he located at some point in distant space where we could reach him via space travel? Is God spatially extended? Is he spread out everywhere like the invisible ether of nineteenth century physics? It is not enough merely to answer "No" to these questions; Dr. Ross owes us some account of how the biblical God can be a spatio-temporal entity, as his view entails.
Dr. Ross thinks that by positing God's existence in higher spatial dimensions, he can make sense of God's invisibility and proximity. (6) He claims that
"God is hidden from us in the sense that we cannot make contact with Him through our five senses" (p. 72). But this is a clearly deficient conception of God's spirituality and incorporeality, for it leaves open the view that God is a spatial object which is simply undetectable by our senses. As for God's proximity to us, Dr. Ross seems to interpret biblical passages like "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted" in terms of literal contiguity, when the sense of nearness at issue here is clearly relational, having to do with intimacy, not contiguity! In any case, any advantages in terms of Cod's proximity to us thought to accrue from divine extra-dimensionality can also be had via divine spacelessness, without the added problem of threatening to make God a spatial entity.
Now, as I said, Dr. Ross thinks that postulating divine extra-dimensionality serves to shed new light on traditional theological problems. Take, for example, the doctrine of the Trinity. Dr. Ross claims that the doctrine of the Trinity preserved in the Christian creeds is a paradox-that is, an "apparent contradiction" (p. 89, cf. p. 53). But Dr. Ross believes that extra-dimensionality can help to resolve seemingly contradictory statements. He considers the following conjunction of two statements: "Triangles cannot be circles, and triangles can be circles." Dr. Ross does not seem to appreciate the fact that not only are these statements contradictories, but the second conjunct alone is broadly logically impossible. Dr. Ross asserts that in three dimensions the second conjunct is true because a triangle can be rotated about an axis to form a cone, which may be analyzed as a stack of circles. But surely the correct response to this thought experiment is that a triangle is not a cone (not to mention that a cone is not a circle)! Moreover, even if we admitted the second conjunct were true, that would do nothing to resolve the original problem, for then the first conjunct would be false. When Dr. Ross says, "...the truth of both statements...can be recognized" (p. 56), what he leaves us with is not a resolution, but an antimony.
Now Dr. Ross asserts that "The charge that 'Trinitarians' accept a mathematical absurdity would seem appropriate ... if the biblical God were confined to the same dimensional realm as humans" (p. 82). This amounts to saying that a denial of God's extra-dimensionality is a sufficient condition of the doctrine of the Trinity's being a logical absurdity. I take this to be an enormously serious allegation, for it implies that Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and other champions of Trinitarian doctrine, who did not believe in God's extra-dimensionality as Dr. Ross understands it, were all advocating a logical incoherence and that anyone accepting the doctrine of the Trinity was believing a logical contradiction. In fact, however, Dr. Ross never shows how the traditional formulations of the Trinity are even apparently contradictory. There is not even the appearance of contradiction in affirming that "There is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three eternal and coequal Persons" (p. 88, citing Ryrie). If there were a contradiction, positing God's existence in extra, spatial dimensions would not solve it. At best, then, Dr. Ross appeals to extra-dimensionality only to illustrate how three can be one. But as an illustration of the Trinity, Dr. Ross's scenario of a three-dimensional hand intersecting a two dimensional surface seems no more adequate than the well-known, deficient illustrations he criticizes. When flatlanders see the finger of the hand intersecting their plane in different ways, "They might never discern that the six-plus manifestations were all governed by one entity and one source of operation" (p. 93). But this amounts to an illustration of modalism, not the Trinity. Later Dr. Ross imagines the flatlanders seeing the several intersections of the hand's fingers with their plane, commenting, "The twoness, threeness, or moreness of our hand (or one aspect of that plurality) they could imagine, but not the oneness" (p. 95). But the fingers are merely parts of the one hand, and Dr. Ross himself earlier quoted from the Augsburg Confession that "...the term 'person' is used, as the ancient Fathers employed it in this connection, to signify not a part or a quality in another but that which subsists of itself." The hand-flatland illustration thus only succeeds in illustrating modalism or one thing's having three parts. It certainly does not make the Trinity more intelligible.
Dr. Ross also believes that God's extra-dimensionality serves to illumine Christology. Unfortunately, although Dr. Ross clearly affirms that Jesus is both God and man, it may be justifiably doubted whether he affirms the Chalcedonian formula of two natures united in one person. For example, he does not describe the incarnation as the second person of the Trinity's taking on a human nature in addition to his divine nature, but as God's literally turning himself into a human being:
...the second person of the triune God, the Creator of all angels and of the entire universe, actually became a man.
...God supernaturally entered the womb of a virgin (Mary). How He interacted with or modified Mary's egg is not made clear in Scripture, but He became a flesh and blood embryo (p. 104).
This remarkable statement suggests that Dr. Ross stands in the Alexandrian tradition of one-nature Christology. Such a conception seems to require God's relinquishing some of his divine attributes in becoming a man, and this is just what Dr. Ross affirms:
In coming to Earth as an embryo in the virgin's womb, Christ "emptied" Himself" leaving behind the extra-dimensional realm and capacities He shared with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. When He had completed the work He set out to do, the work of redemption, He returned to the place and powers He had left behind (p. 49).
This passage constitutes an endorsement of kenotic theology, which interprets Christ's self-emptying as the divestiture of certain divine attributes. Now this sort of non-Chalcedonian, kenotic Christology seems to me a very serious aberration. As the Antiochean theologians realized, if Christ had only a single "theanthropic" nature, then he was in fact neither God nor man, but sort of hybrid of the two. Kenotic theology faces the severe difficulty of how it is that God can give up his attributes, since any being lacking such attributes as omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, aseity, and so forth, by definition is not God. As is typical chez kenotic theologians, Dr. Ross would preserve Christ's deity by means of the continuity of his moral attributes: "Jesus' divine identity as God. His character, wisdom, purity, and motives, remained perfectly intact, but He voluntarily relinquished the independent use of His divine attributes and His extra-dimensional capacities" (pp. 103104). Consistency requires us to say, then, that attributes such as omniscience, omnipresence, and so forth, are not in fact essential to God's nature, that in some possible worlds God is weak, ignorant, spatially confined, and so forth. This seems to me an extraordinarily high price to pay for any supposed benefits thought to accrue from the kenotic approach.
Dr. Ross's non-Chalcedonian Christology leads to a bizarre view of the atonement. Traditionally Jesus is understood to have died in his human nature, but his divine nature is, of course, incapable of perishing. But if Christ has only a single nature, then his death is literally the death of God. Thus, in a section entitled "God Both Dead and Alive" Dr. Ross seems to affirm precisely what the title states.
Some skeptics and atheists have argued that if Jesus were God, He could not have cliecl and if He died, He could not have been God. They recognize, of course, the contradiction in saying that Jesus is both really dead and really alive...
The simultaneity of Jesus' death and immortality would only be a contradiction, however, if the time, place, and context of His death were identical to the time, place and dimensional context of His being alive....
Because of Christ's identity as God and His access to all the dimensions or super-dimensions God encompasses, He could experience suffering and death in all the human-occupied dimensions and then transition into any of His other dimensions or realms once the atonement price had been paid (pp. 108109).
Here Dr. Ross does seem to affirm that God was both dead and alive, but that contradiction is avoided by extra-dimensionality. But this escape does not seem to work. For Dr. Ross had clearly affirmed that in the incarnation God the Son had left the extra-dimensional realms and capacities he shared with the Father and the Spirit. Thus, if he died in our human realm, God died. How he could then transition back to extra-dimensional realms once he had died seems inexplicable. In any case the logical problem here is not just God's being both dead and alive, but God's being dead, period. By definition, God cannot perish. But without a two-natures Christology, we are forced to affirm the absurdity that God died.
Extra-dimensionality leads Dr. Ross into even more bizarre speculations about the atonement in answer to the question of how one man's death could pay for all people's sins. Instead of answering that question in terms of the dignity of Christ's person, he hypothesizes that perpendicular to our time dimension is another dimension composed of billions of separate time lines on each of which Christ suffers death and subsequent isolation from God for infinite time (p. 112). 1 find this speculation profoundly unacceptable. It requires, in effect, billions of Christs, thus destroying Christ's personal identity. For it is a distinct person who dies on the cross in each of these time lines. Moreover, each of these Christs suffers separation from God endlessly with no hope of resurrection and victory at the end. That Christ rises in our temporal dimension is the exception to the rule; the other Christs remain separated from God forever, which makes a mockery of Jesus's triumph over death.
Dr. Ross also makes a curious suggestion concerning Jesus' resurrection appearances: in disappearing from view, Jesus "rotated" each of his three spatial dimensions into a fourth, fifth, and sixth spatial dimension respectively (pp. 46-47). Jesus' resurrection body thus literally came apart and became three one-dimensional lines-not a very robust conception of a body!
Dr. Ross also thinks that extra-dimensionality will help to resolve the conflict between divine sovereignty and human freedom, but a reading of the relevant chapters makes clear that most of what he says has little to do with extra-dimensionality, focusing instead on the relative strength of God's influence on us as we draw near to or retreat from him. When he finally gets down to reconciling sovereignty and freedom, what he winds up with is, in effect, if he is to avoid determinism by our circumstances, a middle knowledge account of providence (pp. 153-154). But such an account owes nothing to extra-dimensionality.
With respect to doctrine of salvation, Dr. Ross's diagrams on pp. 161, 162 seem to betray the Reformation doctrine of sola fide, for they show a non-Christian gradually increasing in "Christlikeness" until he irrevocably crosses the "salvation threshold." Even if we interpret this increase to be the result of God's prevenient work, it is still surely false that salvation is achieved by a non-Christian's growing more Christlike until he crosses the line of no return and is saved.
In the remainder of his book, Dr. Ross treats such issues as perseverance, the problem of evil, and hell; but his insights on these questions do not involve essential reference to extra-dimensionality.
In short, while appreciative of Dr. Ross's work in other areas, I find his attempt to construe God as existing in hyper-dimensions of time and space and to interpret Christian doctrines in that light to be both philosophically and theologically unacceptable. I am sure that Dr. Ross did not realize some of the implications of the positions he took in Beyond the Cosmos. He needs now either to explain why his views do not have such implications or else to modify his views so as to avoid them. (7)
1. In personal conversation Dr. Ross has told me that he felt that the crucial qualifications were made in the book and that our differences were "just semantic." But even after our conversation it is still unclear to me how literally he takes God's extra-dimensionality. He clearly believes that there are six additional spatial dimensions, and he seems to think that God actually inhabits these. He insisted in conversation that God is not confined to ten dimensions but can exist in as many dimensions as one can imagine. But my critique is not aimed it God's being confined to extra dimensions, but is rather lodged against the claim that God literally exists in spatio-temporal dimensions, and Dr. Ross's response only reinforces one's suspicion that Dr. Ross believes God literally to exist in such dimensions. Similarly, his insistence to me that God's extra-dimensionality is merely a possible solution to the problems he addresses, rather than the actual fact of the matter, shows that he is taking extra-dimensionality literally, for divine transcendence could not he so characterized. Perhaps the problem here is that Dr. Ross does not appreciate that tire classical doctrine of omnipresence entails God's transcending space altogether, while being cognizant of and causally effective at every point in space In ;my case, I am absolutely confident that lay audiences who hear him do riot understand him to he speaking metaphorically, so if that is his intention, he needs to affirm clearly that God does not literally exist and operate in extra dimensions of space and time.
2. xIt should be noted that the classical doctrine of divine timelessness holds that it is impossible for any creature, even angels, to share in God's timeless eternity.
3. In personal conversation, Dr. Ross told me that he is merely adopting the common scientific understanding of time in order to communicate efrectivelY with the type (if person he is trying to reach. Such people think that God's timelessness implies that God is causally inactive. Dr Ross's response is apparently intended to show such persons that God is not timeless in that sense. This strikes me as very odd apologetic strategy: rather than correct the person's misunderstandings, one instead formulates a view of God's eternity which is compatible with the person's misconceptions but which we know to be literally false. Thus our unbelieving friend is led to become a Christian at the expense of his accepting beliefs which we know to be wrong, i.e. believing literally what we understand to be merely metaphorical, viz., that God exists in some sort of hyper-time.
4. Notice here that whether literal or metaphorical, Dr. Ross's account of God's relationship to time is confused and theologically unacceptable.
5. A curious feature of this model is that it is our time which is the hyper-time in which God's time is embedded, not vice versa. For there is one line of our time, but many timelines for God. Since these are timelines which endure through moments of our hyper-time, they cannot also represent lines of divine causal influence, as Dr. Ross suggests. Moreover, it is incorrect to situate God only at the pole, for this would treat his time as the embedding hyper-time; in fact he would exist at all points along his longitudinal time lines.
6. Again, notice that in what follows Dr. Ross's account is problematic theologically, whether we construe it literally or metaphorically. He just has an incorrect understanding of divine proximity, the Trinity. the two natures of Christ, etc.
7. For a response by Dr. Ross to this critique, see Philosophia Christi 21 (1998): 54-58. 1 shall leave it. to the reader to judge whether Dr. Ross has adequately responded to my criticisms.
* William Craig is research professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and lives at 1805 Danforth Drive, Marietta, GA 30062-5554.
Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
JETS 42/2 (June 1999) 305-373