Colm, I like your way of thinking. Like you, I try to understand things logically, in fact, many people might say excessively so. Some of us are just left-brain dominant I suppose. Your observation that without time there would be no cause and effect is perfectly logical, but the really tricky bit is trying to conceptualize what a universe without time would look like, and whether God could in fact exist outside of time. To do this I’m going to have to resort to quantum physics, which I really hate to do because most people aren’t too keen about reading through a lot of oversimplified and hypothetical quantum BS. Which is what this will probably sound like. So I will try to keep this as simple as possible, but keep in mind that there are those on this forum who believe that I know absolutely nothing about quantum physics, and as such you should take any arguments that I might present with a grain of salt. Because even I’m not sure that I’m up to describing this in a way that makes sense, to either physicists or laymen. So if I write this in a manner that is below or above your level of understanding, or if I make some glaring mistakes while attempting to do so, please bear with me. I’m also sorry if this answer seems a bit too long and involved, but I will try to make it as clear and simple as I can. But be forewarned, I will probably fail.
In quantum physics a major field of study is quantum computing. In a normal computer the information is contained in bits that can be either a zero or a one, but in a quantum computer the information is in the form of individual particles called qubits, that can be both a zero and a one at the same time. To achieve this bizarre state, scientists create what are known as “entangled” particles. All particles have certain characteristics, one of these characteristics for instance, is spin. A particle might have spin up, or it might have spin down. But when two particles interact, their spin characteristics take on complimentary values, they become “entangled”. So if one is later measured to be spin up, then the other will always be spin down. The thing is though, that until you measure one of them, it isn’t simply that you don’t know which particle is spin up and which is spin down, it’s that they’re each both up and down at the same time. Measuring the spin of one of them will force both of them to collapse into just one spin or the other. Thus they are said to be entangled, because doing something to one of them will instantly affect the other one, and also because until you measure one of them, neither of them is in one particular state, but they are in a superposition of all possible states.
Superposition refers to a particle, or system of particles, that is in more than one state at the same time. Like the particles that I just described, that are both spin up and spin down at the same time. They are an example of two particles that form a system which is in a state of superposition. We can do the same with three or four or five particles if we want to. Theoretically there is no limit to how many particles can be entangled in this way. In the real world though, there is a problem with maintaining such a state of entanglement. Any outside interference from the macro-environment will cause the superposition to collapse, and our state of entanglement will be lost. In the real world there are always particles trying to interfere with the system. The macroworld is just teeming with elusive particles fouling up our entanglement. Scientists try to keep the particles isolated from the outside world, but so far they have found it quite difficult to create an entangled system of more than just a small number of particles. But the idea is that you can create a system in which all the particles are in a state of superposition, such that it can’t be said that the system is in any one particular state, but the system is in fact in every possible state at the same time. Although scientists have not yet been able to produce a system with more than just a few particles, it is theoretically possible to create a system with an almost infinite number of particles. But like I say scientists can’t do that yet, but the question is, what would it look like if they could?
Let’s consider for a moment that we could actually keep our entangled particles isolated from the outside world indefinitely. We could form a sort of quantum bubble. The particles inside the bubble would exist in a kind of cloud of entangled particles, perpetually in a state of superposition. The particles in this cloud could not be said to be in one particular place or state, but each particle would be in a superposition of all possible states. No particle could be said to have been in one position, or will be in another position, they’re in all possible positions, and they’re in them all at the same time. Inside the bubble there is no concept of time. Things don’t change, unless something, or someone, forces them to change. But outside the bubble, time would be moving along quite normally. Two completely different concepts of time existing simultaneously. One inside the bubble, one outside. Now for men this might be a difficult feat to pull off, but for an almighty God this should be no problem. In fact, when we look at the most fundamental building blocks of our universe this is exactly what we see. Things don’t exist in one definite state unless someone, or something is observing them. When they’re unobserved, particles will revert to being in every possible state. The world that we see as reality, forms out of an infinite cloud of possibilities. Time is not a characteristic of the cloud, it is a characteristic imposed upon the cloud by the observer. It is possible to have multiple realities, each with their own concept of time.
This explanation may seem a bit contrived, but it is based firmly on the laws of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is amazingly accurate at describing how our universe behaves. At the most fundamental level, our universe is simply a collection of possibilities, from which emerges what we perceive as reality. You are correct, that if God created the universe, then He must exist in time. He just doesn’t necessarily exist in the same time as us.
This post was meant simply to point out that it is possible for God to have existed before the universe, and to have created it with all its accompanying laws and structure. The implications of this scenario however, are quite profound, and must almost certainly be rejected by any true Catholic. In fact most normal people would deem it to be quite absurd. So I fully expect it to be summarily dismissed. But you did say that you would appreciate any answers. Hopefully even one as feeble as this.
Your job is to figure out which answer is the right one. Good luck.