Adam the Transformer

November 9, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 11:46 am   Category: Before Abraham,Eternal Progression,MMP,Theology

The Garden of Eden story is packed with symbolism. Jeff Giliam has even made compelling arguments here at the Thang that the Garden story is entirely symbolic. In this post I will riff on this idea that the Garden story is symbolic rather than literal. Before doing so, I want to point out that I am not hinting that there was no literal Adam on this earth. I think the evidence that there was a literal Adam is quite compelling. Rather, I want to look at possible meanings of the garden story and pre-garden story.

Hugh Nibley often called the temple a “scale model of the universe”. There are clearly a lot of inferences in that but he preferred to keep many of them obscured. But it is interesting to me that in our scriptures and other sacred narratives we are taken from alpha to omega; from emptiness of space through the construction of the earth, through the formation of lower forms of life, through higher forms of life, through the formation of humans moving through the Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial kingdoms culminating with them (us) entering a perfect unity with God. The part I want to talk about is the part prior to entering a Telestial sphere where Adam and Eve are in the Garden and do not know good from evil.

I will lead by mentioning there are lots of foundational facts we simply do not firmly know about our pre-mortal life, the nature of the fall, etc. I have talked about many of these things here in the past. For this post I will choose some options as a temporary structure to build on. First, I will assume that our spirits as currently constituted are not eternal, but rather the intelligence that makes up our spirits is eternal. As we have discussed here before, this is disputable but an acceptable position in the church and has been believed and taught by former apostles. Second, I will assume that the model Jeff Giliam proposed of the Garden of Eden as symbolic of action in our pre-mortal life is accurate. This is of course also disputable, but I find it the best model I’ve yet seen.

Alright, so if we fundamentally are “Intelligences” that are made up of what Orson Pratt like to call “particles of intelligence” and we have the capacity to gather more “light and intelligence” and have been doing so throughout the eternities past, that means that we have come a long way already. Part of that long way means that eternities ago we were much, much less “intelligent” than we are now. We have progressed to this point.

Are you with me still? Ok.

The point is this: It appears to me that the creation and garden narrative is saying that at some point in our past as intelligences we came to the point where we were ready to make the leap from innocence and ignorance to “knowing good from evil”. I am wondering if this is the point when our intelligences became sentient; the point where we went from being a lower class of intelligence to becoming our current class of intelligence. Is this the point at which we became prepared to come to an earth like this as Adam and Eve did?

This is very important on several levels. If this theory is accurate it explains how in the future we might make the leap from being human intelligences, to being like God himself. It means that while God is really nothing like us now, we, as intelligences, have the ability to transform from lower forms of being to higher forms. If it worked then it could work again in the future.

I know this is highly speculative, but I like the general direction. I think it makes the “Fall” actually symbolic of our “falling up” from being intelligences that didn’t understand the difference between good and evil to being intelligences that did. It represents the moment for our progressing intelligences when a massive light bulb came on. And if that light bulb came on to bring us up to this point from below, it makes sense that another more startling light bulb may come on for us in the future as we make another astonishing transformation to becoming more like our Heavenly Father.


  1. This is pretty much what I had in mind in my formulation of the garden/preexistence model. The only corrective I might offer has to do with “the point” when our intelligences became sentient. I’m not sure that we should consider it an either/or situation in which the light is off one minute and on the next. I’m not sure what this would do for your model.

    Can I also just say that I love the Eric Cartman song you guys have in the sidebar.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — November 9, 2005 @ 1:28 pm

  2. I was just thinking the same thing Jeff. I think that symbolically there is a lightbulb effect, but as far as I can tell these things happen gradually rather than in a real instant in time. There are obvious break moments between spheres, though (like the break from pre-mortal to birth or from death to spirit world) I suspect there are some real and more abrupt transformations that occur in those transitions.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 9, 2005 @ 1:51 pm

  3. Maybe you could use a dimmer switch in your model. There is that moment when you hit full power but you get to it gradually.

    I’m not sure about the Eric Cartman song. Usually it ends up going through my head, in the Cartman voice, and I walk around singing things like, “Make it funky now” out of the blue.

    Comment by Kristen J — November 9, 2005 @ 4:19 pm

  4. Did those that participated in the War in Heaven have their light bulbs on or off? I would argue that their bulbs would have to be on (i.e., knowing good from evil) in order to make a choice to follow Christ or Satan.

    In your model is the ‘light bulb on’ when we became sons and daughters of God (which is hard for me because I like the idea that God and His wife ‘begat’ me) or did the light bulb on occur (way) before we could become His children?

    In the light bulb off state did we have any choice but to obey his will? How then did we ‘earn’ the right to transfer to the light bulb on state?

    Comment by Daylan — November 9, 2005 @ 10:37 pm

  5. Daylan,

    I agree with you about the war in heaven thing. Of course I think we’re still in the thick of the proverbial war in heaven right now.

    I think that you have it right — the light bulb coming on is when we become sons and daughters of God in this model.

    In the light bulb off state did we have any choice but to obey his will? How then did we ‘earn’ the right to transfer to the light bulb on state?

    Good question. I’m not sure I have solid answers yet. My sense is that the process is a gradual one and that it really is about agency. I think agency is probably emergent throughout the eternities and that as light cleaves unto light in an intelligence the amount of agency in that intelligence increases. (This is loosely related to my causal determinism post I think). I suspect the narrative in the garden is symbolically depicting the transition from one type of intelligence to a higher type that represents humankind. In other words it depicts our transformation into intelligences that are what we now call sons and daughters of God.

    Interestingly, if my theory is right, the garden narrative also shows that God loves and deeply cares for those intelligences that are lower than humankind.

    As Nibley said:

    Do not begrudge existence to creatures that looked like men long, long ago, nor deny them a place in God’s affection or even a right to exaltation for our scriptures allow them such.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 10, 2005 @ 1:06 am

  6. I think that we have always had free agency. Our Heavenly Father offers us opportunities to gain further light and knowledge from time to time. If we show our faith and willingness to be obedient, and often enter into a symbolic covenent associated with our commitment, we then are given the opportunity for further light and knowledge. I think our choice to follow Christ in the pre-existence was based on our faith and obedience. And because of our willingness to commit to following the plan we are then in a position to have or light bulbs brighten.

    Comment by OOOOOT — November 10, 2005 @ 6:56 am

  7. Not sure about this line of seeing the Garden of Eden story as figurative (it didn’t happen in a garden of trees somewhere here on earth…) in a historical sense (…it really happened long ago in another realm of existence).

    If we consider ourselves as if we were Adam and Eve, then perhaps we follow the same path as Adam and Eve. If we see it as symbolic, but representing our own eternal journey as it relates to this mortal probation, perhaps we go from helping to create the earth, to existing here on earth in some form of innocence (childhood?), to becoming accountable for an understanding of good and evil, to having to repent and make covenants in order to reach the Celestial Kingdom.

    And of course, there’s all that talk about other worlds, where we used to live…

    Comment by Rob — January 18, 2006 @ 6:57 pm

  8. I think this Garden story as allegory for pre-existence fits nicely with the eternal-progression/MMP/spiritual-evolution idea. I can’t see why a literal earthly garden is necessary at all in the overall scheme of things. If there are MMPs why would a literal Garden on each planet help the story along?

    Good point about the Michael (as member of earth construction committee) to Adam transition in the ancient narratives though. Unless that is a flashback for the divine Michael it requires some ‘splainin’.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 18, 2006 @ 7:43 pm

  9. I don’t have a problem with seeing it as allegorical. Just still thinking about how much it symbolizes pre-earth experiences, as opposed to personal experiences we all have here in mortality as we grow from a childlike understanding, to one that recognizes difference between good and evil. Though it is interesting to wonder about how we were able to jump the consciousness gap to our current human level of consciousness. If the earthly fossil record is any indication, there may have been many stages of possibility between primate and human levels of consciousness.

    Comment by Rob — January 18, 2006 @ 8:04 pm

  10. I do have a problem with the Garden of Eden being methaphorical. I do believe it is symbolic. Everything I study in ancient Judaism is packed with symbolism, but I feel that Christians must accept it as happening. The entire role of the Messiah is based upon the restoration of all things. The fall of man is what creates the need for that restoration. If the garden never happened, there is no need for a Messiah.

    Comment by Rob S — July 27, 2006 @ 9:44 pm

  11. I do not believe that the idea of an unsentient intelligence is comprehensible. The way I understand knowledge is that the knowledge of divine law is necessary to be able to intentionally transgress it. And only those who intentionally transgress the law are counted has sinners.

    And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them;
    And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.
    But by the transgression of these holy laws man became sensual and devilish, and became fallen man.
    (D&C 20:18-20)

    It is worth noting of course that God created his own image, i.e. God created his own (second) nature. Otherwise he is not a creator at all. The transgression of the law is the transgression or corruption of what God intended. e.g. the natural man is an enemy to God and has been since the fall of Adam and ever will be save he yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit [i.e. the intent of God in his creation]. Compare Ether 3:8-9.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 14, 2006 @ 10:42 am

  12. So how do you explain the intelligences in animals then, Mark? Do you think they are sentient too? If so, perhaps we are using the word sentient differently.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 14, 2006 @ 10:51 am

  13. I believe that all anima-ls are sentient (concious, animated) in some sense, but not plants. In other words I believe that animals have intelligences and free will, and plants do not. I understand animals as having an easier time obeying celestial law, because they are simpler, more humble, and more spiritually attuned than most humans, even though they don’t really understand what is going on – they know good from evil according to the spirit which they feel, not according to rationality as a rule.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 14, 2006 @ 11:00 am

  14. Well, you’ll have a hard time defending the claim that animals have free will. I actually agree that all intelligences, including the intelligences in animals have some rudimentary form of free will; but many LDS disagree.

    So when I am using the term sentience in this post I am referring to the progression of an eternal intelligence from pre-rationality into rationality — I just used the terms pre-sentience and sentience to describe that. I think the Garden of Eden narrative shows that progression in all of our intelligences.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 14, 2006 @ 11:19 am

  15. I agree that infinitely far in the past even the greatest of intelligences did not have language, logic, law, philosophy, morality developed to any great extent. However, as a rule I do not see how anything strictly pre-rational or sub-rational can lead to rationality. Intelligences must have some essential properties, and free will, conciousness and a primitive capacity for rationality are most assuredly among them, lest the term be meaningless. I do not think conciousness evolved out of non-conciousness. God has always been concious, and so have we – that is what Joseph Smith taught. But certainly his capacity and our capacity was once far less than it is now. That is what eternal progression is all about.

    We can have a never ending, roughly exponential increase in capacity, but note that an exponential function is never zero. One cannot create intelligence out of nothing, nor evolve from nothing. You have to start somewhere, and since intelligence is the driving force of creation, we must start with intelligence, and some form of rationality or intentionality (goal directed behavior).

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 14, 2006 @ 11:38 am

  16. Geoff,

    You don’t think animals have free will? That surprises me. I would argue that the agency of animals has a much smaller sphere than that of humans because of their limited knowledge and understanding, but I certainly don’t view them as deterministic. I would not subscribe to Mark’s idea that they are more spiritually attuned either. I think the scriptural idea that we needed a knowledge of good and evil to be able to exercise agency is explained quite well by comparison to animals who do not have a well developed sense of morality. This limits their ability to develop morally, which is one of the most important ways for each of us to be developing.

    Comment by Jacob — August 14, 2006 @ 12:14 pm

  17. I think you must have misread #14 Jacob. I said I do think animals have a rudimentary form of free will but that other people disagree. I largely agree with your comment.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 14, 2006 @ 12:23 pm

  18. Jacob,

    I do not mean rationally attuned (e.g. as to a knowledge of God and his laws), but emotionally/spiritually attuned – more likely to feel and follow (and be startled by) the spirit, without knowing why.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 14, 2006 @ 12:26 pm

  19. Yes, I read the end of the sentence wrong. Thanks for the correction.

    Comment by Jacob — August 14, 2006 @ 1:12 pm