“On Time,” by Cameron Daly

With my fall semester and sophomore year at HACS having started just yesterday, it seems like a fitting time to upload my term paper for Philosophy of Nature, the excellent course I took over the summer. I’m happy to say that it was indeed submitted “on time” (though the title ensured my professor couldn’t have accused it of not being “on time” even had it been late). Hope you enjoy it!


Holy Apostles College & Seminary

On Time


Cameron Daly

Dr. David Arias

PHS 421: Philosophy of Nature

17 August 2017


One thing that every human person has experienced is time. Time’s a fact of life. We measure it; we judge any number of things we do, or desire or need to do, by it; we waste it; we live, work, eat, and sleep by it. In this life, we are constantly subject to it. Despite all of this, there is a lot to time that many might not take the time to consider: in particular, the question of what it is, but also its attributes and implications therein, how it’s experienced and how it might be manipulated, and its ultimate meaning.

Time is so fundamental to our lives. What is it? Everyone “knows” the answer, but can anyone really answer satisfactorily? One man who tried was Aristotle.

Aristotle made it clear that time could not be a series of individual instants; for each instant would have to end—something it could do neither in itself, “since it then existed,” nor in another instant, since that would mean the two instants would exist simultaneously.[1] In what “third instant” would the both the first cease to exist and the second simultaneously begin to exist? He also makes it clear that all of time could not be just one big “now”; that, he points out, would indicate that “things which happened ten thousand years ago would be simultaneous with what has happened to-day, and nothing would be before or after anything else.”[2]

Aristotle also argued that time could be neither motion nor change. He first states that it can’t be these, because change and motion are relative to the objects that experience them (since those objects could exist without motion or change), whereas time is “present equally everywhere and with all things.”[3] He also argues against time’s being motion or change by pointing out that the latter two are considered “fast” or “slow” based upon how much time they take. He reasons that “time is not defined by time, by being either a certain amount or a certain kind of it.”[4] But going back to the first argument mentioned, it’s worth noting that Aristotle betrays a definite notion of time as an absolute thing, with everything else subject to it. This in itself is an important aspect of time to take the “time” to consider.

Before one even does this much, he needs to get his mind away from the notion that time is dependent upon the rotation of the Earth about its axis and its revolution around the sun; for these things are events that happen within time. They themselves are not time.[5]

Aristotle’s conception of absolute time would probably be the position of most people, without their even having to think about it. However, according to certain general relativity formulas and tangible evidence, the rate of time actually changes for a given object depending on the object’s position in the gravitational field and its speed: time moves slower for objects that experience less gravity or very high speeds. [6] This shows that time is relative, in a way, to change—though as stated above, it is not necessary to change. These two pieces of information together should serve as a reminder that time is its own distinct physical principle, a substrate that can be affected by other physical things.

As to whether time is completely relative to or dependent on change is certainly a matter of debate. For instance, some would hold that, if the entire world froze, time would continue on in the world’s simple duration; others, however, would hold that time would freeze right along with everything else.[7] In light of time’s ability to be altered based on certain physical circumstances, time would seem to be subject to the universe as a whole as much as any other part of it, and I would say that time should freeze along with the rest of physical reality in such a case. Now, if Einstein and Minkowski’s theory of a space-time continuum is correct and space and time are one and the same[8], I might have to say that time would continue for as long as space (as it currently exists) endures, regardless of what takes place within space-time. And in light of the fact that space itself seems to be expanding,[9] space itself would also have to freeze—and thus time could be seen to freeze in conjunction with it.

Returning to Aristotle, he also argued that time could not be the “the movement of the whole,” because if there were more than one universe (more than one “whole”), there would be multiple times, or “many times at the same time.”[10] Aristotle seems to think this impossible, but theoretically, I don’t see why it would be: couldn’t “the whole” just mean all of the universes together? Or if each universe had to be a different, totally disconnected “whole,” why would there be an issue with each one having an individual time?

Though I don’t really have “time” to examine Aristotle’s entire analysis of time, one major conclusion of his was that “every change and everything that moves is in time.”[11] However, and despite the fact that he gives good arguments for his position, I don’t see how this can be possible—even from his own standpoint; for Aristotle himself believed in an eternal First Mover.[12] If all change and motion were contained within time, then how could the change of the First Mover having “moved” time itself to existence ever have happened? It could not have happened within time, for time did not exist—which we know because the passage of time itself would be considered a “movement,” and therefore cannot logically have taken place prior to the first mover’s moving it. Therefore, change must be able to happen beyond the plane of time, though due to our limited experience and our finitude, we have difficulty (if not near or actual impossibility) properly imagining such a thing.[13]

Another who made a noble (and in his case prayerful) attempt to understand time was St. Augustine. He came upon an interesting theory that, in short, only the present exists: the past is no more, and the future is not yet. It’s our anticipation/prediction of the future and our memory of the past that exist in the present, not the future and past themselves.[14] For human beings, this makes sense if we use an analogy proposed by C. S. Lewis:

If you picture Time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page upon which the line is drawn. We come to the parts of the line one by one: we have to leave A behind before we get to B, and cannot reach C until we leave B behind. God, from above or outside or all round, contains the whole line, and sees it all.[15]

If this is true, then within time and the universe, only the present could possibly seem to exist.

Another thing to consider, however, is how this relates to God’s relation to time. As Lewis puts it, God “sees it all” (how true in a couple different senses)—“all” of time, that is. Lewis analogizes God as the piece of paper, but I would analogize God as He Who drew the line on the paper, and sees the whole thing from there. As Hahn puts it, “for God, the past, the present, and the future are one simultaneous moment, one eternal present.”[16] What this shows is that, in the eyes of God, all of time does exist—not just the “present” that we happen to be experiencing. Perhaps one could say that all time is accessible to God, whereas only the present is accessible to human beings.

It should be obvious that time is experienced differently by God than by man; but less obvious is that even different creatures can have different experiences of time. Concerning mere circumstances, most people have probably heard the phrase “time flies when you’re having fun,” but it goes deeper than that. Ven. Fulton J. Sheen once made a very interesting point about the difference between animals’ experience of pain and humans.’ He essentially said that humans who were in pain for prolonged periods of time were to be more pitied than animals, because while a human had the capacity to reflect on how long the pain had been going on and how long he’d been suffering up to a given point, an animal has no such capacity, suffering only in the present (that is, without regard for the suffering’s duration).[17] This is worth keeping in mind for other experiences as well. As human beings, we ought to be thankful to be able to remember how long we’ve been happy for at any given point, rather than only having available to us our current happiness at that moment. But at the same time, how a person might long for past happiness, and to return to it! I’ve known that feeling.

Is this—or at least reaching a previous time of more happiness—possible? Could “time travel” (that is, traveling through time in a different way than usual) ever be achieved? This is worth considering in light of the question of the past and future’s existence: does our having to travel point-by-point through time automatically prohibit us from time travel, or is that just begging the question, and the fact that all of time exists to God means that all of it objectively exists at all times and could theoretically be reached at any time? If time is indeed a physical principle (as it seems to be in light of its relativity to things like speed and gravity, and its relation to space), then it could be theoretically possible to manipulate it in different ways; for to say it isn’t might be to consider time too supernatural a principle. It would probably be worth saying that time travel is about as realistic a possibility as teleportation, given how closely related time and space allegedly are, and how both actions would involve irregular manipulation of one of them.

To the idea’s credit, there are models that demonstrate sorts of potential “curves” in time, which would seem to allow one to cut across to prior or future times (were such “curves” to actually be able to exist).[18] If one wanted to see or visit past times on the Earth, however, he might have to be more meticulous than most people realize; for in addition to however meticulous the technology for time travel would have to be in the first place, to visit Earth in particular one would also have to account for placement. I say this because the Earth is hurtling around the sun, through the Milky Way, and through the universe, in anything but a straight trajectory and at who-knows-how-many miles per hour, while space expands. My point is, the Earth won’t necessarily be anywhere near where it was “five years” (or any length of time) ago. This could apply both to traveling through time via some rocket that can penetrate the fabric of space-time and (perhaps even more specifically) to the traditionally-envisioned “time machine.” Then, of course, there’s also the issue of changing the past (Could it not be changed, but only witnessed and/or made to take place? Would we be unable to change anything that we ourselves had experienced?[19]), and the possibilities of not being able to exist outside of one’s own time frame, of not being able to exist simultaneously with oneself, and of one’s moving to a different time period posing an issue in regards to the conservation of matter as far as basically introducing additional matter to the universe at some point by traveling to that point.

Regardless of whether we ourselves can personally travel there, I do think that we can have significant effects on the past—through our prayers. Though it may seem unconnected, this works out because of how God goes about His act of creation. For God did not create once and then let creation run its course; instead, His act of creation goes on for as long as creation exists, as He maintains His creation in existence.[20] This is why, as Origen argues, God does not change things or alter His eternal plans according to His answers to our prayers, but instead creates from all eternity according to how He answers our prayers.[21]

Therefore, I would have to agree with St. Peter Damian’s theology that God can indeed “change the past” such as in accordance with our prayers, because for God, it isn’t really the past at all.[22] For us, His changing it would make absolutely no difference, as it would be the same that we’d always known it to be—never having known that it had been altered according to some later prayer. Say a child had prayed for his mother’s salvation three years after she had died: God may have answered that prayer by allowing the child’s mother the grace of perfect contrition just before her death—not by “going back and doing/inserting it,” but by creating that grace to have been given to the mother from all eternity, in answer to the child’s prayer (even though it was prayed at a later point in time).[23] But of course, this isn’t something that the child would have personally experienced. It would be absurd for him to ask for it if he already knew it had happened. Similarly, it would be fruitless, wishful thinking to pray for something to be different that one knows has already come to pass (assuming he does indeed know that it’s happened); because, again, it’s not as if God “goes back” and changes things, but rather has already done or allowed whatever He intended to do or allow.

Perhaps the correct answer to this issue is that, if there’s reason to hope, there’s reason to pray. As a personal example, I once saw on Facebook a headline that a bus had crashed, and that six people had died in the crash. I prayed briefly that fewer or no people would have actually died (I guess I was praying for an error in the headline), and then read in the article that only five had actually died.

In contemplating the nature of time, there is one final thing of penultimate importance to consider—and it’s actually something that time has in common with many other things. As the Church teaches, all created, physical things that are not man are created for man’s use, and man is meant to use them all to grow closer to God.[24] Time, then, is a gift to us—something we’re meant to use for our own good, the good of others, our enjoyment of creation, and, ultimately, to decide within the span of whether or not we desire to be with God or separate from Him for all eternity.[25] While the nature of time in itself is a worthwhile thing to ponder, there is no aspect of it more important than the fact that it is at the service of the good of man: herein does its true importance and preciousness lie. We all only have one life, contained in a limited span of time. Our time is not something to be trifled with or wasted; rather, every second we have should have as wise and full use as possible made of it to do good and to bring oneself and others closer to God. Considering the nature of time and the implications surrounding it is a greatly profitable endeavor; but this—the purpose of time, the “final cause” as Aristotle might say[26]—is the most practical fruit that can be derived from such consideration, the one which takes into account all others and directs them towards man’s own final end. Knowing that time is a physical principle, that it can potentially be traveled back through, and that it isn’t a barrier to prayer, are all of great importance, but are all concern mere aspects of the overall wise usage of time.



[1] Aristotle, Physics, IV, 10, at the Internet Classics Archive (350 B.C.E.) at classics.mit.edu, trans. R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye

[2] Aristotle, Physics, IV, 10, trans. Hardie and Gaye.

[3] Aristotle, Physics, IV, 10, trans. Hardie and Gaye.

[4] Aristotle, Physics, IV, 10, trans. Hardie and Gaye.

[5] cf. Augustine, Confessions, XI, 23, 30, trans. and ed. Albert Cook Outler, Dover Thrift Editions (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2002), 231.

[6] Some are skeptical of this, saying that what really takes place is an altered behavior of clocks in these conditions. I would give more consideration to this notion, but given that this seeming altered behavior matches up with the equations that point to the relativity of time, it would seem to validate them rather than provide an alternative to them. For all of this and what’s footnoted from the text, see, David Arias’s predecessor, PowerPoint on Time Travel (Cromwell, CT: Holy Apostles College & Seminary, distributed 8 May 2017).

[7] see David Arias’s predecessor, PowerPoint on Time (Cromwell, CT: Holy Apostles College & Seminary, distributed 8 May 2017).

[8] see Arias’s predecessor, PowerPoint on Time (8 May 2017).

[9] see, e.g., Fraser Cain, “Is Everything in the Universe Expanding?” at Universe Today (12 December, 2013), at http://www.universetoday.com.

[10] Aristotle, Physics, IV, 10, trans. Hardie and Gaye.

[11] Aristotle, Physics, IV, 14, trans. Hardie and Gaye.

[12] Aristotle, Metaphysics, XII, 8, at the Internet Classics Archive (350 B.C.E.), at mit.classics.edu, trans. W. D. Ross.

[13] cf. Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity (Illustrated), chapter 2, Examination of Intellect, Kindle edition, where Sheed discusses how the imagination can at times hurt more than help a proper intellectual understanding.

[14] Augustine, Confessions, XI, 20, 26, trans. and ed. Albert Cook Outler, 229.

[15] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001), 168.

[16] Scott Hahn, Understanding the Scriptures: A Complete Course On Bible Study (Woodridge, IL: Midwest Theological Forum, 2011), 50.

[17] I’m very sorry to say that I’m having trouble finding exactly where the archbishop said this.

[18] Arias’s predecessor, PowerPoint on Time Travel (8 May 2017).

[19] cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 25, a. 4, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, at New Advent (1920), at http://www.newadvent.org.

[20] see Sheed, Theology and Sanity, chapter 10, God as Creator.

[21] see Origen, On Prayer, IV, trans. William A. Curtis, at Christian Classics Ethereal Library, at http://www.ccel.org.

[22] Arias’s predecessor, PowerPoint on Time Travel (8 May 2017).

[23] cf. the example given by Arias’s predecessor, PowerPoint on Time Travel (8 May 2017).

[24] see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., 226, 356, 2415, at St Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, at ccc.scborromeo.org.

[25] see CCC, 1013.

[26] cf. Markus Visconti, “Why is final causality problematic for modern philosophers?” Philosophy of Nature (class discussion post), 28 June 2017, at holyapostles.populiweb.com.



Augustine. Confessions. Trans. and ed. Albert Cook Outler. Dover Thrift Editions. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2002.


Arias, David (predecessor of). PowerPoint on Time. Cromwell, CT: Holy Apostles College & Seminary, distributed 8 May 2017.


Arias, David (predecessor of). PowerPoint on Time Travel. Cromwell, CT: Holy Apostles College & Seminary, distributed 8 May 2017.


Aristotle. Metaphysics. At the Internet Classics Archive, mit.classics.edu, trans. W. D. Ross.


Aristotle. Physics. At the Internet Classics Archive, mit.classics.edu, trans. R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye.


Cain, Fraser. “Is Everything in the Universe Expanding?” at Universe Today, 12 December 2013, at http://www.universetoday.com.


Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. At St Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, ccc.scborromeo.org.


Hahn, Scott. Understanding the Scriptures: A Complete Course On Bible Study. Woodridge, IL: Midwest Theological Forum, 2011.


Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001.


Origen. On Prayer. At Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org.


Sheed, Frank. Theology and Sanity. Illustrated. Kindle edition.


Thomas Aquinas. Summa theologiae. At New Advent, http://www.newadvent.org, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1920.


Visconti, Markus. “Why is final causality problematic for modern philosophers?” Philosophy of Nature (class discussion original post). 28 June 2017. At holyapostles.populiweb.com.

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2 Responses to “On Time,” by Cameron Daly

  1. jimlabrosse says:

    Glad I took the “time” to read it…very thought provoking.


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