This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Do people not on your current timeline exist? For example, I leave home and go to work, I serve a customer and they leave. After leaving my presence do they still exist?
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
I’m sure some folks will think I’ve gone off my rocker choosing a question like this! But I think that there is actually an important practical lesson to be learned from your question, Bob.
As an aside, some proponents of spacetime realism maintain that if we reject a tenseless, four-dimensional view of reality, then the Special Theory of Relativity implies the outrageous view that only what is here-and-now exists. So people who leave our presence no longer exist. I’ve argued that such a conclusion does not follow, for we can avoid such an untoward conclusion by adopting a Lorentzian interpretation of Special Relativity, according to which absolute simultaneity holds between spatially separated objects. In other words, people who leave our presence still exist.
In any case, from a theistic point of view, people who leave our presence are sustained by God and known to Him, so that they don’t cease to exist just because they leave us. They can’t leave God’s presence after all!
But that’s not the point I wanted to make. Rather your question highlights so well how each of us perceives himself to be the center of the universe. We look out at the universe through our own eyes and view it from that vantage point. When people leave us, we continue to exist just as before, but they no longer seem to be at the center of things. We are. But, of course, a moment’s reflection reveals that from their point of view it is we who have left and so are no longer at the center of action. They are. We must seem as unreal and marginal to them as they do to us. So each one of us seems to see himself to be the center of the universe.
The result of this ego-centricity is that we can develop very naturally a sort of self-centeredness that overestimates our importance in the grand scheme of things. We can come to think of ourselves as a lot more important than we really are. That sort of self-importance can lead to pride, which puts us in opposition to God (James 4.6). The fact is that neither you nor I is the center of the universe and that things go on pretty well without us. That ought to give us due humility.
The realization that we are not really at the center of things should not, however, lead to the opposite reaction of feelings of worthlessness and insignificance, for God is the one who is at work in and through us to accomplish His good will and Whose unconditional love is the source of our self-worth.