Joseph Smith introduced the idea of “intelligences” in both modern scripture and in non-canonized sermons. In this post I want to explore what exactly it is that “intelligences” are. I don’t expect to come up with definitive answers because I don’t think enough has been revealed to find such, but I do hope that a fruitful discussion will ensue that helps us all sort out the various ideas that relate to the concept of intelligences.
Intelligences (plural) are not the same as intelligence (singular)
One of the problems with the whole notions of “intelligences” is that intelligences (plural) are reportedly things – usually thought of as proto-spirits, or essences, or sometimes as another name for spirits. Intelligence (singular) is usually referred to in the more traditional meaning of the word and is synonymous with knowledge of truth.
Here are some examples from the LDS canon.
Intelligence as knowledge of truth:
The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. (D&C 93: 36)
Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. (D&C 130: 18-19)
Accordingly, as I had been commanded, I went at the end of each year, and at each time I found the same messenger there, and received instruction and intelligence from him at each of our interviews, respecting what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner his kingdom was to be conducted in the last days. (JS-H 1: 54)
Intelligence as autonomous proto-spirit or spirit:
Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. (D&C 93: 29-30)
21 I dwell in the midst of them all; I now, therefore, have come down unto thee to declare unto thee the works which my hands have made, wherein my wisdom excelleth them all, for I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence, over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen from the beginning; I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen.
22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born. (Abr. 3: 21-23)
Intelligence used in a way that could mean either of the above (though seems more like the knowledge usage in context):
For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things. (D&C 88: 40)
There are two main models that LDS thinkers have come up with regarding intelligences. One is the intelligence particles model as first described by Orson Pratt and the other assumes that each person (or animal or plant?) is powered by a single beginningless intelligence.
The intelligence particles model
When describing the particles model Orson Pratt wrote:
If the human spirit be nearly the same form and magnitude as the fleshly tabernacle in which it dwells, it must be composed of an immense number of particles, each of which is susceptible of almost an infinite variety of thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Whence originated these susceptibilities? Are they the results of organization? Did each particle obtain its susceptibilities by being united with others? This would be impossible; for if a particle were entirely destitute of the capacity of thinking and feeling, no possible organization could impart to it that power. The power to think and feel, is not, nor can not be derived from any arrangement of particles. If they have not this power before organization, they can never have it afterwards. It follows then, that if ever there were a time when the particles of the human spirit existed in a disorganized state, each particle so existing, must have had all the susceptibilities of feeling and thought that it now has; and, consequently, each particle must have been a separate independent being of itself. Therefore, under such circumstances, one particle would have been no more affected with the state or condition of others, than one man is affected with the pleasures or pains of others with whom he is not associated.
(Orson Pratt, Absurdities of Immaterialism, Liverpool, 1848)
Preceding that period there was an endless duration, and each particle of our spirits had an eternal existence, and was in possession of eternal capacities. Now can it be supposed, for one moment, that these particles were inactive and dormant from all eternity until they received their organization in the form of the infant spirit? Can we suppose that particles, possessed of the power to move themselves, would not have exerted that power, during the endless duration preceding their organization? If they were once organized in the vegetable kingdom, and then disorganized by becoming the food of celestial animals, and then again re-organized in the form of the spirits of animals which is a higher sphere of being, then, is it unreasonable to suppose that the seine particles have, from all eternity, been passing through an endless chain of unions and disunions, organizations and disorganizations, until at length they are permitted to enter into the highest and most exalted sphere of organization in the image and likeness of God? A transmigration of the same particles of spirits from a lower to a higher organization, is demonstrated from the fact that the same particles exist in a diffused scattered state, mingled with other matter; next, they exist in a united form, growing out of the earth in the shape of grass, herbs, and trees; and after this, these vegetables become food for celestial animals, and these same particles are organized into their offspring, and thus form the spirits of animals. Here, then, is apparently a transmigration of the same particles of spirit from an inferior to a superior organization, wherein their condition is improved, and their sphere of action enlarged. Who shall set any bounds to this upward tendency of spirit? Who shall prescribe limits to its progression? If it abide the laws and conditions of its several states of existence, who shall say that it will not progress until it shall gain the very summit of perfection, and exist in all the glorious beauty of the image of God?
When therefore, the infant spirit is first born in the heavenly world, that is not a commencement of its capacities. Each particle eternally existed prior to the organization; each was enabled to perceive its own existence; each had the power of self-motion; each was an intelligent, living being of itself, having no knowledge of the particular thoughts, feelings, and emotions of other particles with which it never had been in union. Each particle was as independent of every other particle as on individual person is of another. In this independent separate condition, it would be capable of being governed by laws, adapted to the amount of knowledge and experience it had gained during its past eternal existence.
(Orson Pratt, “The Pre-Existence of Man”, The Seer, 102-103. 1853)
The single intelligence model
This model assumes that there is a single intelligence that powers (or is the same as) all spirits. Some assume that uncreated intelligences are limited in their potential, so for instance a dog-level intelligence can never progress beyond the level of dog. Others seem to think that each intelligence is beginningless as something like a blank slate and that each has infinite growth potential. (If anyone else has something to add here please chime in!)
Both of these models have some strengths and some weaknesses. I am not firmly in one camp or the other, but of the two I lean toward the particles model currently. It may be that neither of these models is correct though. One question I am interested in with both models is if intelligences vary in “degree of glory” in their most fundamental, beginningless and irreducible states or not. If anyone has an opinion one way or the other about this question please share. So sound off friends – what is your theory of “intelligences”?
[Associated radio.blog song: The Waterboys – Spirit]