I finally started reading that copy of Truman Madsen’s Eternal Man that has been sitting on my bookshelf for the last couple of years. Eternal Man is an interesting little set of short theology and philosophy essays aimed at laymen. It was published in 1966. In the second chapter of the book Madsen makes the following assertions about the minds/souls/intelligences/spirits of all people:
The quantity of souls is fixed and infinite.
There is no beginning to us.
Mind has no birthday.
No one is older or younger than anyone else.
We have always been separate from, and coexistent with other intelligences.
Creation is never totally original.
Immortality is not conditional — it is inevitable and universal.
Death does not destroy the self.
Suicide is just a change of scenery.
No self can change completely into another thing.
No one will ever lose their mind or consciousness.
Nothing is something we never were and never will be.
I agree with most of his assertions here. But in this post I want to delve into Madsen’s first assertion that “The quantity of souls is fixed and infinite“.
As for the assertion that the quantity of souls/spirits/intelligences is fixed I think Madsen is on solid ground in Mormonism. There is no disputing that Joseph Smith taught that the spirits of humans have no beginning, are co-eternal with God, and cannot be created or destroyed. Therefore it follows that the number of spirits is indeed fixed. In the William Clayton account of the King Follett discourse we get this:
God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all. He could not create himself — Intelligence exists upon a selfexistent principle — is a spirit from age to age & no creation about it
Whether spirits themselves are eternal or if pre-spirit intelligences/minds gain spirit bodies is not relevant to the discussion I wish to have in this post. Both camps in that debate can agree that Joseph Smith taught that intelligences have no beginning. I’ll refer to these beginningless minds/intelligences/spirits simply as spirits in this post to keep things simple.
But is there an infinite supply or a finite quantity of spirits? The revelations don’t tell us clearly. Nevertheless the answer to this question has important metaphysical and theological implications.
Implications of an infinite number of spirits
It is certainly logically possible that there are an infinite number of spirits. The problems I see with the notion that there are an infinite number of spirits are more logistical that logical. Namely, if we accept that there are an infinite number of spirits waiting to get a body then we must accept that we already waited an infinite amount of time to get our bodies here. We would also have to accept that there are an infinite number of our “brothers and sisters” that will have to continue to wait an infinite amount of time before getting the chance to get a body. And of course for all eternity there will always be an infinite number of spirits just… waiting. This model portrays God as inefficient at best and as utterly inept at worst. That eternal thumb-twiddling reality associated with the assumption of an infinite supply of spirits just waiting ever waiting for their chance to get a body and progress doesn’t work for me. If there are an infinite number of spirits why doesn’t God organize an infinite number of inhabitable planets for all of them at once? Well even then we are in trouble because infinity isn’t a number. (Maybe this is the problem with playing fast and loose with the concept of infinity.)
Implications of a finite number of spirits
So what happens if we assume a finite number of beginningless immortal spirits? Well if we assume that we end up with a very different looking universe. I wrote a thought experiment post on this very subject a few months ago. My conclusion then is my conclusion now — given an infinite amount of time and assuming our finite number of eternal spirits are eternally rational and free-willed, we all would have been exalted and part of the extended Godhead prior to this earth being created. We all would have been part of the One God eternally already.
This is obviously a radical theological idea that I would expect most people to recoil from. Not that there aren’t potential passages that one could point to in loose support of the general idea that we all condescended to come to earth:
Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matt 25:40)
when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. (Mosiah 2:17)
In such a universe these scriptures are much more literal than we imagine.
Of course I am not presenting any of this as truth. Rather the idea is offered only as one of the many possibilities that exists in the absence of clear revelations on some of these issues.
I must admit though that eternal thumb-twiddling waiting for My Turn On Earth sounds like an eternity of hell to me. I personally find that notion much more disconcerting than the suggestion that we might all be slumming here on earth. That is why I prefer the finite number of spirits model. Or at least this month I do. I reserve the right to be talked out of any such opinions at any time.