Are We Eternal or is it Just Our Parts That Are Eternal?

August 17, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 11:31 pm   Category: Spirits/Intelligences,Theology

Rusty’s recent post got me a’thinkin. And that means trouble my friends, that means trouble.

He linked to a talk by good ol’ Cleon Skousen in which brother Skousen speculates extensively on the nature of particles of intelligence and then applies his speculation to the nature of the atonement. You can check that out for yourself. But I want to talk about the nature of our spirits. Just what part of me has always been in existence?

There are a couple of ways I could think of looking at this. One is that our spirits in their current form are eternal. That we have always existed (as the individuals we are now) and always will exist in the same way that God has always existed. Lots of Mormons (smart ones too) believe this is the case. They point to various scriptures and statements by Joseph for backup.

Another way to look at the nature of our spirits is to consider them to be made up of lots of little particles of intelligence. That is, rather than being single “intelligences” cut out of whole cloth, as it were; perhaps our spirits are made up of tiny intelligence particles working together in a community. Perhaps “you” are really the synthesis of all of these little intelligences that have joined the community over the eons and what arises from that combination of intelligence particles is far greater than the some of the parts — it’s you.

If this latter model is correct then perhaps we are something like snowballs of intelligence rolling through eternity. (Oh yeah, I can only imagine the speculation-alert meters pegging right now…) Perhaps we are either pick up more intelligence (or maybe it is light and truth?) or shedding existing intelligence/light/truth constantly. God is the most intelligent of them all, so maybe that is because he has always had the most light and truth of all.

I can see gobs of benefits to looking at things in this latter model. It would help the Universe and eternities make a lot more sense to me if it were the case. (Perhaps I’ll explain why in later posts if I don’t get blasted out of the water for this one.)

There are several scripture that could be used to back this up (loosely), but I’ll just leave that for later discussions. First I’ll test the waters with this intro post. What do you think? Must it be that our spirits are eternal in their current form or does my model of spirits being like snowballs of light and truth work?


  1. You’ll find your greatest support in Orson Pratt (in The Seer) who viewed spirits this way. Particals of spirit/intelligence form plants which are consumed by animals and eventually organized into humans.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 18, 2005 @ 12:23 am

  2. I actually picked up a copy of The Essential Orson Pratt earlier this summer but I haven’t gotten to it yet. Maybe I’ll have to bump a few other books and read that one next.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 18, 2005 @ 8:04 am

  3. There used to be a sequel of sorts to that Skousen talk online but I can’t find it now. Anyways, Joseph’s KFD says that it something can be created it can be destroyed. Thus in as much as we consider our spirits “created” or “born” of lesser parts, to that very extent our spirits are mortal. For this reason I’m not too anxious to lean too far in CS’s direction.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — August 18, 2005 @ 9:14 am

  4. Wow, crickets are chirping on this subject. I somehow thought everyone else would be as fascinated with this subject as I am… Oh well.

    Jeffrey — So to clarify, did Skousen push the “whole cloth” concept of intelligences, or the unified community of tiny intelligence particles (snowball) concept, or something else? You seem to have read him a lot more than I have and I can’t tell from this one talk.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 18, 2005 @ 10:42 am

  5. I have up on my blog Orson’s main paper that is also in the Essential Orson Pratt. I’d add that Pratt’s not the only one who believes this. But his conception of what these parts are is quite unique. The other alternatives is Brigham Young’s view of intelligence which I think verges on idealism. (Basically the idea that the basic building blocks of reality aren’t physical but mental) Then there is B. H. Robert’s popular view in which the eternal intelligence is a single Cartesian mind.

    The debate really ends up being the debate about what is called Four-Dimensionalism. Do we endure (that is some part of us is essential and persists through time), or do we perdue (that is we’re not just made of parts – physical or otherwise – but we’re also made of temporal parts). It’s a complex topic and I’ve discussed it on my blog before. Within LDS theology I don’t think there is a real answer. Even people who push an ontological sense of free will can reject agent-libertarianism in place of event-libertarianism. Although it is an open question of how well that will work with the necessities of responsibility in LDS thought.

    Comment by Clark — August 18, 2005 @ 10:55 am

  6. I have understood things a bit differently. I thought that the intellengence part (whether a whole or particles is interesting and goes along with your speculation) always existed. But our spirits were “born” as spirit children of our heavenly parents. That birth was the combination of the intellegence and the spirit, in a similar manner to our earthly body being a combination of our spirit and our physical body. How many particles of intellegence had to get together before something happens?

    Comment by don — August 18, 2005 @ 11:03 am

  7. I guess the confusion which I have centers on what Joseph meant by “intelligence” in sections 88 and 93. That was a very different context than the one in which he would give the KFD. Clark has quoted Quinn who argued that some of Joseph’s later statements regarding things such as this should probably be understood in a Neo-Platonic sort of way: Speaking of D&C 131 Quinn says,

    This reflected “the occult tradition going back to Neo-Platonism … [that] tended to blur the difference between matter and spirit, making matter spiritual and spirit material. Its emphasis was on a matter almost alive, permeated with the divine, filled with secret sympathies and antipathies.

    I’m not sure if we can put such an understanding on Joseph’s earlier statements retrospectively. I have, over at my site, briefly listed Joseph’s uses of the phrase “intelligence” :

    1) “Intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence” – Dec. 1832
    2) “Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” – May 1833
    3) “All intelligence is independent in that sphere which God has placed it to act for itself” – May 1833
    4) “The glory of God is intelligence or in other words, light and truth” – May 1833
    5) “One spirit is more intelligent than another” – 1835?
    6) “The Lord rules over all intelligences” – 1835?
    7) “Intelligences were organized before the world was” – 1835?
    8) “This first Comforter or Holy Ghost has no other effect than pure intelligence. It is more powerful in expanding the mind, enlightening the understanding, and storing the intellect with present knowledge” – June 1839
    9) “When you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas” – June 1839
    10) “They will there enjoy a fulness of that light Glory & intelligence which is received in the celestial kingdom of God” – Mar. 1842
    11) “Whatever principle of intelligence man attains in this life will rise with him in the resurrection” – Apr. 1843
    12) “Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end.” – Apr. 1844
    13) “Intelligence exists upon a selfexistent principle -is a spirit from age to age & no creation about it-All the spirits that God ever sent into this world are susceptible of enlargement. That God himself-find himself in the midst of spirit and glory because he was greater saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself.” – Apr. 1844
    14) “The mind of man-the intelligent part is coequal with God himself.” – Apr. 1844

    What the phrase seems to mean in the context of sections 88 and 93 that truth, meaning knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come, is intelligence, it being uncreated and self existent. This would almost sound a bit Calvanistic, deterministic and maybe even fatalistic. This, of course, might not be terribly consistenct with later or even some contemporary revelations regarding free will, creation and mind.

    Any ways, thats my stab at it.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — August 18, 2005 @ 11:31 am

  8. Here is the link to The Seer pg. ~102

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 18, 2005 @ 2:23 pm

  9. Good information guys. I fixed Clark’s link so that might be an interesting article, albeit a long one. I found that stuff from The Seer in my copy if The Essential Orson Pratt (p. 283) so I am going through it now. It does indeed appear that Orson was a particle of intelligence guy, though with some interesting twists. For instance, he believed in an actual spirit birth, which is a concept I currently am highly skeptical of. I’ll report more and respond to these good comments later after I read a bit more.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 18, 2005 @ 4:11 pm

  10. Just to clarify, I’m not sure I agree with Quinn. However I definitely think that Brigham Young’s discourses verged upon idealism. Although I suspect Young didn’t really know what idealism was, let alone the realists who opposed it. And Pratt definitely embraced an odd form of realism.

    It’s also Quinn’s point not just the *word* intelligence was from neoPlatonism – especially the forms in the late Renaissance – but that the context was. i.e. there is a bit more to his point than just a word.

    BTW – there are a few typos in my entry of Pratt. So if you see any obvious ones let me know and I’ll fix them.

    Comment by Clark — August 18, 2005 @ 4:18 pm

  11. Here is the link to Blake Ostler’s 1982 Dialogue article called “The Idea of Pre-Existence in the Development of Mormon Thought“. As usual with Blake’s stuff it is an excellent article overviewing this very unsettled question I bring up in the post. (I am obviously not the first or last one to wonder about this.)

    It appears from this and later writings (including recent discussions at blogs) that Blake sides with BH Roberts and friends in the “whole cloth” crowd, though I believe he rejects the idea of spirit birth.

    As of right now I like some of both of the primary approaches with the Orson Pratt school of thought on one side and the BH Roberts/John Widtsoe school on the other. Perhaps I’ll overview the schools of thought in later posts. I would like to propose a hybrid between the two to see what problems it poses.

    (BTW — I thought I had read that article by Blake already but I hadn’t. That issue of Dialogue also contains and excellent Adam-God article which I did read earlier this year. It is worth a look too.)

    Comment by Geoff J — August 21, 2005 @ 8:20 pm

  12. More than a comment I would like to ask a question:

    If the GLORY of God is INTELLIGENCE, LIGHT and TRUTH (no mention of body), why such focus on God’s body of flesh and bones as the ultimate nature of God?

    Doesn’t the God of flesh and bones refer maybe only to our galactic Father, but not necessarily to the highest God of Gods whose glory manifests through Intelligence, Light and Truth?

    In other words, the question could be: once intelligence goes through its potential development and growth cycle does it ultimatly manifest as a body or does it return to its original status even with increased glory?


    Comment by Patricia — January 5, 2008 @ 1:40 pm

  13. How did Brigham Young’s views on spirit-element verge on idealism?

    And if there are particles of intelligence, why would there be whatever precise quantity there is (why a trillion, or a quadrillion rather than a thousand)?

    Comment by Mike — May 10, 2012 @ 5:26 pm