The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion – The Nature of Reality (Part 1)

November 29, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 10:25 pm   Category: McMurrin Reading,Spirits/Intelligences,Theology

I am finally getting around to reading Sterling McMurrin’s 1965 book called “The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion“. Clark already sponsored a reading club for this book about 18 months ago so in this post I will pick up on that long-dead discussion and follow Clark’s outline. Both Clark and Dave started by posting on the topics covered in the first eleven pages.

Before diving in let me first say I have enjoyed this book. McMurrin is a philosopher and seems mostly interested in comparing Mormonism to the rest of Christianity to point out the theological similarities and differences. While he uses way too much technical jargon I found the overall information quite useful. Part of what I appreciate as a reader 40 years later is learning what he considered to be the dominant Mormon position on all sorts of sticky theological issues. I think McMurrin probably does us a disservice by blithely describing “the Mormon view” on unsettled theological issues though. I think he would have been better served referring to the dominant position or “a popular Mormon view” since these views remain open for us until there is revelation through the proper channels on these subjects.

So on to the issues! (I’ll only highlight the parts that interested me most)

On Naturalism and Supernaturalism

McMurrin states that Mormons are essentially naturalistic and humanistic theists (believers in God), and that we largely deny the supernatural. In a strict sense this is true I suppose. Brigham Young and lots of other church leaders taught that miracles are simply miracles from our limted perspective, but that God works within the laws of nature to accomplish them. This is a sort of naturalism, but certainly not the sort that an atheist would approve of since we simply replace faith in supernatural miracles with faith in a God that knows how to manipulate the Universe in ways we have not discovered yet.

He further states:

The [naturalism] continuity is attested especially by the rejection of the traditional Christian concept of eternity, which is essentially Greek in origin, where eternity means timelessness, the denial of temporality. Mormonism conceives of God as a being within both time and space.

I found it interesting that in 1965 (at least in the eyes of McMurrin) the “Mormon” conception of God was that he lives within time. While I think the view that God lives within time is accurate, I’m not so sure that is the majority view among Mormons in 2005. Based on some of the discussions we have had here it appears the timeless God of Greek philosophy has become the version of God many Mormons want to worship nowadays.

On Necessity and Contingency

This section is on what things are necessary, which in this context means what things are uncreated and beginningless, and what things are contingent, meaning the things that are created or that have a beginning. The point is that in most of traditional Christianity, only God is without beginning and all else was created by God out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). McMurrin points out that in Mormonism all matter is uncreated and even spirits are made up of matter.

…whatever is ultimate and essential in the human soul is self existent. … By “necessary” being is meant the being of whatever could not not exist. Anything has contingent being if its being is not necessary, that is if it could not exist.

The question of whether spirits are necessary or contingent is not covered in this section, though it is discussed a bit in later sections. The Book of Mormon notions of “the destruction of the soul” and the idea that God could “cease to be God” surely must factor into this question what is necessary and what is contingent though.

On Materialism

In close conjunction with Mormon naturalism an humanism is Mormon materialism. As our scripture states:

“There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes”.

But calling Mormons strict materialists is somewhat misleading because materialism is traditionally the foundation of strict causal determinism. Basically causal determinism is the notion that every action is a reaction to prior causes. The problem is that Mormons are generally devoted believers in libertarian free will or free agency and that mean we believe that (at least some of) our actions are not caused by forces outside of us but are self caused.

So in a sense Mormonism claims a middle ground between the dualism the most of Christianity inherited from Plato, where there is spirits are strictly immaterial; and strict scientific materialism which doesn’t buy the idea of “spirit matter”. Basically Mormons are materialists that functionally act like dualists.

Interestingly, the Third century theologian Tertullian held a belief similar to Mormons. Apparently Tertullian refuted Plato’s idea that the soul was immaterial though he did buy notion that the soul was “simple” rather than made up of constituent parts. McMurrin says:

The Mormon view, agreeing with Tertullian’s materialism and with Plato’s belief in the preexistence and uncreatedness of the soul, disagrees with both in holding that the soul is a compound of constituent parts

Again, I find it interesting that in 1965 the notion that the soul (spirit) is made up constituent (and “necessary” rather than “contingent”) parts was deemed by McMurrin to be “The Mormon view”. While I agree with this view, if my recent conversations in the bloggernacle are any indication, this view is not nearly as dominant anymore with many believing that human spirits are “simple” or “necessary, or as I like to call it, “cut from whole cloth”.

On Monism and Pluralism

This section talks about whether one believes that when everything that exists is reduced to its simple and necessary parts it is made up of one kind of stuff (monism) or that there are many kinds of fundamental stuff (pluralism). McMurrin concludes that Mormons are “thoroughgoing pluralists”.

The pluralistic character of the Mormon view of reality can be seen at many levels: the tendency to think of the spirit as a compound of entities rather than as simple, in itself is a major departure from classical Christian metaphysics; the clear conception that in its original nature the world is composed of independently real intelligences and material elements; the rigorous distinction between man and God or God and the world; or the tritheistic conception of the Godhead, where the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are described as three ontologically separate beings.

This has become a long post and might be a lot to digest so I will stop here; but I thought it would be useful to lay a foundation for future theological discussions here at the Thang. What do you think of McMurrin’s 40 year old take on the “Mormon view” of the nature of reality?

I want to know how so many Mormons started believing (incorrectly in my opinion) that God lives outside of time and that spirits are simple and irreducible rather than made up of constituent parts since this book was written… Must be a sign of the times ;-)


  1. I think there have long been two major strands of Mormon theology. A useful typology distinguishes between humanistic Mormonism, which McMurrin represents, and redemptive Mormonism, which is the kind of other perspective. Humanistic Mormonism emphasizes the continuities between God and man, whereas redemptive Mormonism focuses more on the differences that exist between God and humanity. McMurrin’s book is one of the classic expressions of humanistic Mormon theology, and therefore it has a lot to recommend it!

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — November 29, 2005 @ 11:30 pm

  2. I’m not familiar with that dichotomy you describe, RT. If McMurrin is a champion for “humanistic Mormonism” then who is a champion for “redemptive Mormonism”?

    (I recently read Widtsoe’s Rational Theology and he is clearly in the camp that emphasizes the close proximity of God and Man as well.)

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2005 @ 12:08 am

  3. A few qualms. First off I’m not at all convinced libertarian free will is a Mormon doctrine. (I’m not sure I accept it, for instance, and I know you know others who don’t)

    While Mormons are materialists I’m not entirely convinced we’re naturalists, depending upon what that means. (Both are notoriously vague and inconsistent terms — which is part of their problem) I think that one can (and perhaps ought) see the transcendent in Mormonism. One obviously has to bring up figures like B. H. Roberts who were dualists and whose theology of man was hugely influential in LDS thought. Roberts and many other thinkers merely move the immaterial entity from spirits to intelligences, creating a divide between the two.

    Overall I’m not at all convinced McMurrin did justice to the LDS thought current in his day. It’s certainly dated now and he never engages with Continental Thought much.

    Comment by Clark — November 30, 2005 @ 12:35 am

  4. I wonder if there hasn’t been a ‘dumbing down’ that has occurred in the last few decades in the church. I certainly do not mean to insult myself or anyone else, but it has only been recently that I have started taking a greater interest in coming up to speed with the deeper questions of our theology. This has been entirely self motivated. It also seem that if you want to know what church leaders have to say on these subjects that you need to go back 100 years to find anyone willing to address them. Are we becoming more simple minded as a church? Is this a bad thing? It certainly appears to me that there has been a dramatic ‘back to the basics’ apporach going on.

    Comment by Eric — November 30, 2005 @ 6:57 am

  5. Also Geoff, thank you for providing so many definitions and explanations in you post. That was very helpful for me.

    Comment by Eric — November 30, 2005 @ 6:58 am

  6. I think God lives outside of time. I think His concept of time is totally different than ours and it has to do with light. I think you’re out to lunch on that one, but I seem to remember we’ve had this conversation before.

    The other stuff is way beyond my level of understanding.

    But good job.

    Comment by annegb — November 30, 2005 @ 8:41 am

  7. Geoff, the humanistic version of Mormon theology has probably predominated for most of Mormon history since about 1835 — although everyone was a redemptive Mormon before that. But the redemptive idea is one that has been gaining ground in recent years. The three most influential advocates of redemptive Mormonism in the last thirty years have probably been Ezra Taft Benson, Stephen E. Robinson, and Robert Millet. The hallmarks here are the relative emphasis on the sinfulness of humanity, the absolute need for and reliance on a Savior, the remarkable distance in terms of perfection and other attributes between God and mortals, and the centrality of divine grace in bridging that distance — both by forgiving our sins and by changing our characters. For rather obvious reasons, the New Testament and the Book of Mormon tend to be the favorite scriptural texts of redemptive-theology Mormons.

    Humanistic Mormonism, on the other hand, tends to place relative emphasis on the perfectibility of humans, on extreme libertarian conceptions of free will, on the nonabsolute nature of God, on the role of individual merit in exaltation, on knowledge as the central pathway toward divinization, and more generally on the continuities (rather than the divergences) between God and humans. Humanistic-theology Mormons tend to name the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price as the most theologically rich books of scripture, in contrast to the tendency of redemptive-theology types.

    What I’d emphasize is that both of these approaches are authentically Mormon, drawing on Joseph Smith’s theology although emphasizing different periods. Roughly speaking, one might say that redemptive-theology Mormonism priviledges Kirtland and public Nauvoo theology, while humanistic-theology Mormonism privileges private and late-period public Nauvoo theology.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — November 30, 2005 @ 8:49 am

  8. Clark – I think we have the same qualm with McMurrin’s claims about “the Mormon view”. I suspect that then, as now, there was no clearly dominant Mormon view on most of these sticky questions. Nevertheless I find his guesses on what most Mormons believed at his time to be interesting.

    This Libertarian Free Will issue is a good example. I suspect that if a poll was taken, the vast majority of Mormons would agree that Mormons believe in Libertarian Free Will after hearing a standard definition with no other context. But if the pollster then explained that robust Libertarian Free Will as described was not compatible with God’s exhaustive foreknowledge I suspect a large number of Mormons taking the poll would recant or at least back off on the idea. As our discussions on the subject here have proven, Mormons want their cake and to eat it too — they want robust free will in the Libertarian sense but they also want God to have exhaustive foreknowledge.

    The dualism of BH Roberts and other examples you give are good points. Still, I think it is an interesting perspective to see what a scholar thought the dominant Mormon theological positions were in 1965.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2005 @ 8:56 am

  9. Eric – I think that what appears to be a “dumbing down” of our theology is in fact a natural and inevitable result of the massive growth of the Church. The bigger the Church gets, the less top leaders can afford to have a slip of the tongue on any doctrinal issue. One doctrinal misstatement by an apostle can have massive and devastating consequences these days. That means that deeper doctrinal sermons have largely disappeared from the brethren over the past several decades. When you combine that with the neo-conservatism that dominated the church in the last 30 years (examplified by leaders like Bruce R. McConkie) I think that there has been a lot of hesistance in many members to search out the “mysteries of godliness” as of late. I think the bloggernacle is the vanguard of the current grassroots movement for Mormon theological and doctrinal junkies. If and when I specualte on a doctrine incorrectly nobody gives a hoot!

    (And you’re welcome for the definitions and links. This philosophical jargon is pretty obscure and I want to broaden the conversation. A year ago I had hardly hard any of these terms myself…)

    Anne – You are not alone in believing that God lives outside of time. Plato would be happy to know he has so many Mormon fans in the last days — I just don’t think God is quite as thrilled. ;-)

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2005 @ 9:08 am

  10. RT,

    I’ll give you Millet and Robinson, but I am highly skeptical that President Benson would fit in the camp you are describing. The other thing I am not impressed with is the highly slanted set of titles you have given these two “camps”: redemptive vs. humanistic. Come on – talk about stacking the deck in your favor! (Did you make those names up?)

    Since we’re stacking the deck in our own favor try these alternatives: What you call “redemptive Mormons” I’ll call “abominable creeds Mormons”. And what you call “humanistic Mormons” I will call “literal children of God Mormons or traditional Mormons”.

    Anyway, you get my point. I am completely unimpressed with this recent trend led by Robinson and Millet to try to theologically bridge the gap we have with creedal Christians. My biggest problem is that I think we end up swallowing false doctrines in the ecumenical process. Our scriptures make it clear that God felt that the creeds of these religions were an abomination. Why on earth would we start moving toward accepting them now?

    I think McMurrin does a decent job of showing that the absolutest conceptions of God largely originated with Greek philosophers rather than with revelation to begin with. Plus I think they naturally drive us toward other false notions like creatio ex nihilo.

    My take is that the creedal/redemptive camp you mention likes to use the New Testament and Book of Mormon because the language is similar enough between the two to allow for the well-worn, incorrect readings of those scriptures that creedal Christianity has been teaching throughout the apostasy. If the traditional-Mormon/humanisic camp prefers the modern revelation it is probably because the modern revelation plainly cuts through the false absolutist doctrines that had been foisted on the world throughout the Dark ages.

    Having said that, I do agree that there is plenty of room in the church for all sorts of beliefs. That might be part of the reason there is so much emphasis on agreeing on the basics lately as well.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2005 @ 9:33 am

  11. As I think about your two main questions (paraphrased):

    When did mormons start to believe that God lives outside of time?

    I observe that most rank-and-file members (like me) want their cake and to eat it like you suggest in believeing in free will and absolute foreknowledge. For me that makes me vaguely believe that God is somehow able to live outide time in order to prophecy any specifics. That is the only way I can eat the cake.

    As far as whole cloth spirits, I feel this maybe comes from a literal belief in our being part of a heavenly family with a MIH and perhaps a literal spirit birthday. This perhaps comes from extrapolating human family life as a pattern for eternal things. Which is probably easier than considering the alternative.

    Comment by Eric — November 30, 2005 @ 10:27 am

  12. The idea of God living outside of time appears to be based upon some misunderstandings. I think when you query people they tend to just mean something akin to outside of the universe. When you ask them about God it is clear they don’t really mean outside of time the way that say Protestants or Catholics do.

    Comment by Clark — November 30, 2005 @ 10:47 am

  13. Geoff, I think the person who invented those terms was an advocate of humanistic Mormonism, in fact. As I understand it, the inventor was O. Kendall White, who used these terms as a replacement for his earlier typology of “traditional Mormonism” (=humanistic Mormonism) and “neo-orthodox Mormonism” (=redemptive Mormonism). This typology is only slanting the field if “humanistic” is seen as an inherent pejorative, automatically involving ideas of atheism which are obviously not relevant in the present context. As used by White, the term is evidently meant to celebrate that flavor of Mormonism’s emphasis on human potential, on the need to earn via human exertions a place in the Celestial Kingdom, on the essential divinity and perfectibility of humans, and therefore on the divine and sacred nature of human effort at self-improvement. If you prefer a different term, I’m happy to let you choose it, on the condition that you avoid misleading terms such as “traditional” — since both sides in this discussion trace roots back to Joseph Smith and are therefore equally traditional.

    With respect to “all their creeds were an abomination,” John Welch has an interesting take on this at a relatively recent Sperry Symposium discussion on the issue. As he points out, the text doesn’t say each of the creeds was an abomination, or even that all the creeds are abominations. Rather, it says that the collectivity of creeds is a single abomination. In the broader context of Smith’s narrative, Welch argues, it becomes evident that the abomination in question is the abomination of contention and confusion — rather than the abomination of anything in particular that the creeds have to say. This is in some ways an important point, since probably a majority of Mormon beliefs have shown up in one creed or another over time.

    That said, I think it’s unfair to characterize redemptive Mormonism as creedal. While redemptive Mormons do relatively emphasize the difference between God and mortals in terms of holiness, perfection, power, knowledge, etc., many or most emphatically do not accept the philosopher’s God without body, parts, or passions — a God that, as McMurrin helpfully suggests, is really just a Platonic ideal form and not a being at all. There’s no idea for me, at least, (and the same would be true for many other redemptive-theology Mormons) that God’s form is anything other than that of a perfect body. So, not so very creedal after all.

    The Book of Mormon actually sometimes teaches redemptive-theological ideas in different language than the New Testament, most notably in the King Benjamin speech — which is as fundamental for redemptive theology types as the King Follet speech often is for humanistic theology types. This is an especially important point for me, because I was converted directly to redemptive-theology Mormonism by the Book of Mormon. At the time, the only other form of Christianity that I knew anything about was Catholicism, which I found interesting on the basis of its showiness. But I was almost totally unaware of other religions’ teachings about Christ and the atonement — as I was likewise unaware of such teachings within the Mormon tradition. Because I was so thoroughly inattentive to such ideas, I have a hard time imagining that those ideas would have heavily colored my reading of the text. When I found the redemptive-theological message in the Book of Mormon it was — quite literally — a revelation to me. If I was finding something that I already knew, or bringing ideas from some other source to the reading, it would be hard for me to account for the sense of surprise that I felt at the time. Hence, I’m inclined to acquit myself of the charge of reading the Book of Mormon and New Testament in light of an apostate hermeneutic. Of course, readers will draw their own conclusions on this point, as they should.

    An equally important point, from my perspective, is the near-total absense of the central themes of the “other” flavor of Mormonism within the Book of Mormon. The text really never discusses the embryonic divinity of humans, the composite and fundamentally uncreated nature of human souls, the rich schema of different levels of salvation and/or exaltation based on different degrees of spiritual effort and achievement, or the doctrine of divinization. So it’s not just that the Book of Mormon is rich in texts emphasizing the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ as the central gospel message (although it is) — but also that it’s poor in texts that address the themes of Joseph Smith’s later theology.

    One last point of clarification. I know that you and other “humanistic/merit-focused/private-Nauvoo-theology/whatever” Mormons believe in the redeeming efficacy of Christ’s atonement with the same degree of fervor as “redemptive/Book-of-Mormon/Kirtland/whatever” Mormons. However, there’s a real difference that deserves acknowledgement in terms of how much work the two perspectives typically think the atonement does for us. Redemptive types tend to claim that the atonement effectively does all the work for us, and our (quite central and efficacious) role is deciding whether to accept that gift and the accompanying — and sometimes quite painful — process of sanctification via the Holy Ghost or not. The other perspective tends in the direction of seeing the atonement as something that opens otherwise locked doors for us but that leaves us to do the work of becoming perfect. There are gray areas and people who blend these perspectives on the atonement, but the dimension implied by these two polar types is one that I find quite useful as an organizing framework for discussions of Mormon theology.

    With respect to whether Benson or anybody else was on one side or the other, I think that’s a relatively uninteresting direction for this discussion. So let’s bracket that for now. Sufficient bona fides can be established for both sides by pointing out that everyone involved here draws on ideas from Joseph Smith. (How much more authentically Mormon can you get than that?)

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — November 30, 2005 @ 10:53 am

  14. Clark – I’m sure you would agree that we are fooling ourselves if we think average Catholocs or Protestants have any idea of what God living outside of time means either — certainly no more than the average Mormon does at least. The whole notion makes no sense at all to me. (I think Blake Ostler did an excellent job of illustrating that in his first book.)

    Eric – I agree with you on that timeless/free-will/foreknowledge subject. I think that the reason most people settle on the outside of time solution though is because it requires very little thought (and most people don’t want to be bothered with thinking about deep things). However, I think a much better solution is the notion of a God that is both the unltimate predictor of free choices and the ultimate reighteous influencer of free choices. (In other words, he influences without ever resorting to compulsion.) That has been the model I have worked on in my various foreknowledge posts.

    I’m not sure I understand your logic on the whole-cloth model of spirits fitting better with the notion of spirit birth though. If spirits have always existed as simple, irreducible, necessary, and beginningless realities then how could spirit birth have happened. Spirit birth is by definition the idea of a beginning to the spirit after all. It seems that believers in spirit birth would be much better off with the model where the spirit is a compound of beginningless constituent parts.

    Of course some believers in literal spirit birth hold that there was an “intelligence” that preceded our spirit. But that dimply pushes the discussion back one step. Besides, the evidence seems to show that spirits and intelligences are two words for the same thing.

    I actually currently prefer to constituent parts model of spirits/intelligences without literal spirit birth.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2005 @ 11:11 am

  15. My old institute teacher came up with one of the biggest whoppers of a doctrine which I have ever heard:

    God is outside of time.
    Since He is omnipotent, God can enter and leave time at will.
    Thus God can enter time at any point and leave at any point.
    Therefore God can go back and forward in time.
    Thus God can enter time and always be by one’s side throughout their entire life and exit time at their death, entering again at the birth of every single person.
    Thus God is literally accompanying each of us by our sides at all times, this is how much He loves us.

    I hardly need to point out the problems which obviously arise with these ideas. First of all, it suggests that there are just as many Gods in the world right now as there are people. It also maintains that the future is VERY set and decided. Third, a being is either in time or not, their can be no change whatsoever is a timeless state.

    Need I go on?

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — November 30, 2005 @ 11:46 am

  16. Geoff, I meant more the formal beliefs of Protestants and Catholics regarding eternity and God. The Mormon view of necessary embodiment and rejection of creation ex nihilo entails that there is a huge gap there.

    With respect to Mormons, I think one has to ask what they mean by outside of time and that typically is the idea that God has foreknowledge and can interact with past, present and future. Clearly this isn’t compatible with Libertarian free will for obvious reasons.

    With regards to intelligence and spirit being synonymous. While they cross over in terms of range of meaning, I’d be careful saying they mean the same. Nor do I agree with Blake that elements of the later tripartite views can’t be found in Nauvoo. Ambiguously so, I’ll agree. But to say that there is no distinction seems as problematic as saying there is a distinction in those early texts. (IMO) I should add that the tripartite view of humanity goes back quite a ways in ancient Jewish thought.

    Comment by Clark — November 30, 2005 @ 12:01 pm

  17. Beautiful, Jeffrey! Isn’t wish-fulfillment theology the best?

    As far as I can tell, any conception of God standing outside of time requires the future to be fully predetermined. This must be true because the future and the past are indistinguishable in their certainty and fixedness to God. Hence, from at least one point of view, the future is fully determined, and therefore it cannot be altered by any possible contingency. Is there anything that I’m missing here?

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — November 30, 2005 @ 12:03 pm

  18. How do we go about explaining D&C 130:7? It seems like an outside of time model is the best way to understand it.

    Comment by Eric Russell — November 30, 2005 @ 12:06 pm

  19. RT, regarding Creeds, after reading Bushman I tend to think that the issue was less the content of the creeds than the relationship to the creeds. That is, that there were creeds at all. It seemed quite in contrast to the religious seeking mentality that some in Joseph’s environment held to. I think the term Nibley uses is horizontal versus vertical religion. I think that is still present in our own faith where there is a presumption that one should go directly to God rather than to scholarship to get answers. Although of course in practice things are much more complex (for a variety of reasons)

    Jeffrey, what your institute teacher outlines appears to be a fairly common belief. (Brigham Young accepted it I believe – he has some explicit comments about divine beings being able to time travel) I should add that I’ve argued for it on my blog using the idea of multiple universes and the postulate that inter-universe travel is possible. (Something that I don’t think any physicist is argued for) I’ve argued that if there is a big bang that this is required for our notion of eternity and an infinite past to be possible. The implication is unfortunate for the ideas about free will that Geoff argues for. But it seems to me that there requirements for Mormon theology necessitate it.

    Comment by Clark — November 30, 2005 @ 12:07 pm

  20. Clark, I agree with your comments on the issue of creeds. In my reading of Joseph Smith’s comments about creeds, I find two major themes. First, the theme of contention, which I’ve mentioned above. Second, the theme of revulsion toward the compulsion of religious ideas. Joseph wanted to be free to adopt any idea that seemed to bring him closer to God, and hence wanted to avoid systematic constrants of any sort whatsoever on his beliefs — and on those of his followers.

    If we accept that these two themes — rather than the contents of the creeds — drive condemnations of the creeds, a corollary is that we can’t reject theological ideas on the basis of similarities between them and specific creeds. Indeed, such a stance would constitute a systematic constraint on our ability to try out ideas and see whether they bring us closer to God!

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — November 30, 2005 @ 12:18 pm

  21. I disagree with your catagoriazations of monism and pluralism, Geoff. As I see it there is pluralism and pluralism. You espouse of pluralism that is based on sensient particles. The “whole cloth” model, as you call it, is based on non sensient spiritual matter.

    …and I love it when Clark starts talking about multiverses and the colapse of the wave function!

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 30, 2005 @ 12:24 pm

  22. I also think a careful parsing of the “destruction of the soul” in the book of Mormon and D&C does not lead where you imply it does.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 30, 2005 @ 12:29 pm

  23. I think that the best way to interpret D&C 130 as well as Brigham’s statement (I’ve only read one where he advocates a sort of spiritual time travel) is in a way in which the past, present and future are revealed to God, He being limited to His own time. This is very different from God as He is in His present condition being able to go, visit and influence past, present and future events. Einstein, if I remember correctly, said that observing the future is very possible as explained in Paycheck.

    Brigham’s statement, if I remember right, was that everything was created spiritually first and has, in some sense remained as it was created. From there, he somehow jumped to the conclusion that if we want to visit the garden of Gethsemane we simply have to wish it and we would be there. Its probably one of the most interesting passages which actually made it into coorelated material in the BY manual, but I must confess that I never really understood what he was claiming exactly.

    Here is what the encyclopedia of Mormonism says of the matter, as I have quoted it many times:

    “Whatever the subtleties of the ultimate nature of time, or of scientific postulates on the relativity of time, and of the modes of measuring time, several assurances are prominent features of LDS understanding:

    1. Time is a segment of eternity… Time itself had no beginning and will have no end.
    2. Time unfolds in one direction… Individual creative freedom modifies the outcomes.
    3. Eternity, as continuing time, is tensed: past, present, and future. God himself… is… related to time. At his own supreme and unsurpassable level, he has a past, a present, and a future. Neither he nor his creations can return to or change the past.
    4. In a cosmic sense, the reckoning of time is according to the rotations of the spheres… There is some connection between time and space, for example, “one day to a cubit” (see Book of Abraham: Facsimiles From the Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2, Figure 1)…

    The thesis that God is beyond time has sometimes been introduced to account for God’s omniscience or foreknowledge… For Latter-day Saints, as for the Bible, God’s omniscience is “in time.” God anticipates the future. It is “present” before him, but it is still future. When the future occurs, it will occur for the first time to him as to his creatures.”

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — November 30, 2005 @ 12:29 pm

  24. Clark,

    I don’t see how an idea of mulitple universes saves anything at all in that scenario. In order for there to be only one God per universe, that must mean that there is a unique universe in which each person is accompanied by God. How can each person know if they are in that universe or not? The only answer to this question would seem to imply strong solipsism where I know that God accompanies me in this universe because all those other “people” that I see are really only zombies which don’t really count as people at all.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — November 30, 2005 @ 2:00 pm

  25. Wow, I have gotten a little behind in the conversation…

    Regarding creeds (RT and Clark): I have no problem with the idea that among the problems with creeds – the problems for which God called them abominable – is the idea that they created laziness among people. As has been mentioned, the very existence of the creeds encouraged horizontal search for about God rather than vertical (aka direct revelation). This lack of direct revelation also led to the contentions RT complained about. The other problems with the creeds are a) they are full of false doctrine, and b) when they are vague (like the Nicene Creed) the standard and accepted interpretations of them are full of false doctrine. God finds false doctrine abominable too.

    Regarding BoM teachings vs. later teachings (RT in #13): It seems to me that the point should be that the teachings are compatible. Joseph grew in light and knowledge just as we all do and even as Jesus did. The readings you favor of the earlier texts like in the restored canon seem to not be compatible with the later texts. Because of that you seem to want to discount the later texts rather than amend your interpretations of the earlier texts. That seems like an unwise methodology to me.

    Regarding the atonement (RT in #13): I agree that there is are fundamentally different camps here. As you know I have come down strongly against Robinson’s Parable of the Bicycle. I think it fundamentally misrepresents exaltation by comparing it to a thing. I have recently written my own Parable of the Pianist which I think is a much more accurate analogy of the atonement.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2005 @ 2:51 pm

  26. Geoff, there is some basis for an alternative argument that the Book of Mormon is higher priority scripture than any other, but I don’t have time to sketch it out right now. Consider this an IOU!

    I’m not sure how abominable God finds false doctrine, as opposed to the rigid adherence to and authoritarian enforcement of false doctrine. It seems to me that our history suggests the creation and propagation of a great deal of false doctrine is a necessary component of the process of discovery of true doctrine…

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — November 30, 2005 @ 2:58 pm

  27. Clark (#16): I didn’t mean to imply “intelligence” is synonymous with “spirit”; rather that “intelligences” (plural) as used in Abraham are the same as “spirits”. Intelligence (singular) can mean lots of things.

    Also, when you say “triparite view” does that mean the intelligences->spirits->soul (spirit+body) model?

    RT (#17): No you aren’t missing anything. Exhaustive foreknowledge does require a fixed future and a fixed future mean no real free will (only the “hypothetical free will” the compatibilists push). We’ve covered that at length here.

    Eric (#18): I have discussed how the future is scripted out already, but because of free will there is a major element of improv to it still. So God “sees” the future as well as it is possible to be seen without being fixed.

    Stapley (#21-22) – It is not my characterization of monism vs. pluralism it is McMurrin’s. Besides, I think you misunderstood the point. The question in that section is how many types of fundamental stuff reality is made up of. The question of the nature of spirits is a different one. I mostly found it interesting that McMurrin saw my preferred view that spirits are a compound rather than irreducible as “the Mormon view” in 1965. I’ll probably post on how the BoM references to the destruction of the soul supports this view separately.

    Jeffrey: Good additions. Since an institute teacher taught you that I guess it must be true… I appreciate the Encyclopedia of Mormonism quote again. It is always useful for newcomers. Again, I found it interesting that McMurrin also called God as bound by space and time “the Mormon view”.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2005 @ 3:18 pm

  28. RT,

    I look forward to that defense. But let me say it is not a question of putting the Book of Mormon first, but rather a problem of putting one’s interpretation of BoM scripture above later clarifying revelations. I hope you will address that problem in your arguments.

    I agree that God tolerates falsehood among us, but that doesn’t mean he likes it. I happen to think that moving away from the revealed higher truths from the Nauvoo period back to creedal-like interpretations of scriptures is an abomination that God specifically warns us against:

    And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2005 @ 3:25 pm

  29. Geoff, if there were explicitly clarifying revelations about Book of Mormon texts, then I would think your statement was admissible. As it is, this is a pure hypothetical.

    What are the traditions of our fathers? At this point, I’d have to say that the traditions of my fathers are humanistic Mormon theology. By contrast, I’ve found light, truth, and peace in the Book of Mormon teachings about accepting the atonement and sanctification through the Holy Ghost….

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — November 30, 2005 @ 3:53 pm

  30. Well the clarifying teachings like those taught in the King Follet Discourse are the ones I am thinking of, RT. Further, the teachings that matter or people cannot be created (only organized) put a serious kink in creatio ex nihilo doctrines. Yet the ex nihilo doctrines are the foundation of creedal Christianity and much of the position I think you are descibing where God makes us something different “out of nothing” because of seemingly supernatural effects of the atonement.

    I am interested in studying the idea out more with you though. Perhaps I am missing something.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2005 @ 5:46 pm

  31. I do think you’re somewhat misinterpreting the redemptive position, Geoff. I don’t believe in ex nihilo any more than you do. (Remember — both positions are Mormon!) But once again I can’t do more than note that an explanation is necessary on my part. (I’m leaving town for a job interview tomorrow morning, I’ve got no time, and I’m only making these comments as a place holder to remind myself of the discussions that I owe you on Monday when I get back.) So please forgive the telegraphic comment, and I promise an actual attempt to explain myself in a couple of days!

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — November 30, 2005 @ 5:56 pm

  32. Forgive my goading you RT. (I want you to be good an motivated for what you get back…) I actually didn’t mean to imply that the parable of the bicycle camp specifically believed in traditional creatio ex nihilo. However I was implying that the parable of the bicycle concept finds its ultimate roots in ex nihilo even if those are distant roots and largely obscured even (or especially) from its adherents… You can add that to the list of my claims for you to refute after your interview. (Knock ’em dead, BTW!)

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2005 @ 6:10 pm

  33. As our discussions on the subject here have proven, Mormons want their cake and to eat it too-they want robust free will in the Libertarian sense but they also want God to have exhaustive foreknowledge.

    Unfortunately I missed these discussions. I’ve just begun to stick my toes in these waters here and here, and plan another relatively soon.

    If Geoff’s characterization of typical Mormons is correct, I am truly a black sheep—for I am a pretty hard-core determinist (I don’t really know but I think that means I don’t believe in robust libertarian free will), while at the same time being extremely skeptical of exhaustive foreknowledge. How’s that for a nice combination!

    Comment by Christian Y. Cardall — November 30, 2005 @ 8:23 pm

  34. You did miss all the fun Christian!

    Here is the entire foreknowledge category of posts. And here is the grandaddy post of ’em all with a debate that created more nearly 300 comments at last count.

    What you will discover is that you are not alone in being a weirdo Mormon that believes in strict causal determinism but not exhaustive foreknowldege. As it turns out our very own Jeffrey Giliam is in your tiny camp. I must say that your joint position is absolutely the worst of both worlds though — you believe we have no free will and that we worship a God that is not smart enough to use causal determinism to figure out the fixed future! How can y’all stand such a bleak worldview??

    Well if it makes you feel any better let me assure you that you are both totally out to lunch on this subject… ;-)

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2005 @ 9:06 pm

  35. Yeah, tripartite is the intelligence/spirit/body division. You can find it in both Pratt’s and Roberts’ views, albeit in different forms.

    Just a note to all that there are more choices than just libertarian free will and strict determinism. I accept neither of those two choices.

    Jeffrey, why must there be only one God per universe? I don’t see why that would be true. As to the rest and the charge of solipsism, I’m afraid I’m not following your thought process.

    Regarding Brigham Young, here’s the quote I was thinking of:

    I can say with regard to parting with our friends, and going ourselves, that I have been near enough to understand eternity so that ave had to exercise a great deal more faith to desire to live than everr exercised in my whole life to live. The brightness and glory of next apartment is inexpressible. It is not encumbered so that en we advance in years we have to be stubbing along and be careful lest we fall down. We see our youth, even, frequently stubbing their toes and falling down. But yonder, how different! They move with ease and like lightning. If we want to visit Jerusalem, or this, that, the other place-and I presume we will be permitted if we desirere we are, looking at its streets. If we want to behold Jerusalem it was in the days of the Savior; or if we want to see the Garden Eden as it was when created, there we are, and we see it as it existed spiritually, for it was treated first spiritually and then temporally, and spiritually it still remains. And when there we may behold the earth as at the dawn of creation, or we may visit any city we please that exists upon its surface. If we wish to understand how they are living here on these western islands, or in China, we are there; in fact, we are like the light of the morning, or, I will not say the electric fluid, but its operations on the wires. God has revealed some little things, with regard to his movements and power, and the operation and motion of the lightning furnish a fine illustration of the ability of the Almighty.

    You are right that he does tie it to the spiritual creation somewhat. But the implication is the spirit creation entails all the history of the world.

    Comment by Clark — November 30, 2005 @ 11:52 pm

  36. Man, Brigham, you say some ka-razy things!

    I was familiar with the notion of the world being created spiritually AT FIRST then temporally. But every change made to the earth since then (the economic conditions of a 9th dynasty Chinese village, for example) was created spiritually first? By whom? I’m assuming by people like ourselves (“Hmm.. I think I’ll open a little general store here in this Chinese village, and I’ll buy goods from my farmer neighbors.”) And those spiritual creations remain?

    So is Brigham saying the universe is a big library full of spiritual creations, and re-creations, and modifications and enhancements, and a resurrected being could commune with those spiritual plans in order to view anytime and anyplace?

    But reality always turns out differently than what is concieved. I’m different than what I was spiritually concieved to be (hence the difference between my current self and the one described in my patriarchal blessing). I want to view the ACTUAL economic conditions of a 9th dynasty Chinese village, not the spiritually concieved economic conditions.

    Am I totally missing his point?

    It’s not just crazy. Ka razy.

    Comment by britain — December 1, 2005 @ 10:05 am

  37. Clark,

    Like I said, I simply have no idea what Brigham was talking about. Its almost as if he were saying that the future, past and present already exist in some way. This would jive with relativity a little bit, not to mention causal determinism. (Take that Geoff! :0p )

    I guess I’d assumed that you wouldn’t be willing to go it for God being in two places at the same time, but I guess I was wrong. (I’m not talking about 2 gods, but 2 or more of our unique God.) If travelling back in time is an option then serious question arise in my mind regarding the validity of our decisions.

    Let me try to make my thoughts of solipsism more clear:

    A. God, according to my institute teacher, personally and physically accompanies each of us individually through out our lives by a process of entering our time and leaving it upon our death.
    B. This would imply that God is physically in billions places in this world at the exact same time unless some form of parallel universes is postulated.
    C. The idea that God is in different places in this world at the same time is avoided by suggesting that God never returns to the same time in which He has already been in the same universe.
    D. Instead He personally accompanies each person which is alive at any particular time in a parallel universe so as to avoid the problem.
    E. Thus in any particular one of the parallel universes, God is only physically accompanying one individual at a time.
    F. Thus, in this universe in which I find myself now, how can I know that I am the one person which God is accompanying? The odds are very much against such.
    G. The only way to assure that this is the world in which God accompanies me as opposed to anybody else, is to assume that not only does nobody else in this world have God accompanying them, but that in every other parallel universe God is not accompanying me.
    H. This would suggest that this entire universe, during the course of my lifetime at least, is designed principally for my own personal benefit. Nobody else’s.
    I. Unless I am to believe that there will be countless parallel versions of myself in the eternal scheme of things, I must conclude that either all the universes in which I am not physically accompanied by God don’t “count” or that “I” don’t even really exist in those other worlds at all.
    J. Thus, I have three options: 1) this is the world in which God personally accompanies me and it counts for me, but not for anybody else if these other people exist at all, 2) I exist in this world, but God is personally accompanying somebody else so this life doesn’t really “count”, or 3) I don’t really exist in this world.
    K. (3), by Descartes’ reasoning is wrong. (2) goes against all I have experienced and should be rejected on moral grounds anyways. (1) is my only morally acceptable option, a position which amounts to either ontological solipsism or ethical solipsism.

    Sorry if that seemed like a bit of overkill. I think that I probably just wasted a lot of words for nothing since you didn’t really mean what I have attributed to you. But then, I’m not attributing these beliefs to you as much as I am my institute teacher who really did believe that our individual, unique God accompanies each person physically and personally through out the entire span of their lives. What garbage.


    It’s actually quite surprising how similar many of our positions are to one another. Of course mine are, as you put it, not very polished and highly speculative at times. The positions on which I am not quite so doctrinally exotic are very similar to yours in content, though admittedly not in presentation.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — December 1, 2005 @ 10:56 am

  38. I don’t understand (A). Is he talking about D&C 88?

    Comment by Clark — December 1, 2005 @ 1:22 pm

  39. I don’t know if he had any scripture in mind at all. He wanted to suggest, well beyond anything that can reasonably be found in the scriptures, that God is a personal guardian angel by personally and physically accompanying each and every person through out their lives. For instance, when I was born, He entered time to be with me always until I die, upon which time He will leave time and re-enter it again at the birth of my brother a mere two years after my birth and so on for everysingle person who has ever lived. In other words, there are about 6 billion versions of the same exact person, God, who is in this world right now.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — December 1, 2005 @ 2:37 pm

  40. Jeffrey, in the mouth of two witnesses is the truth established. We have it right and everyone else be damned.

    As another example, I was spooked when you brought up the Garden of Eden as premortal life, because I had thought that for several years.

    There’s something to be said for speed and volume over polish—especially on blogs, where the main thing seems to be to get the ideas out. (You’ve got so many of your ideas out at M&E while mine dribble out ever so slowly.) I take way too long to write anything, and always fall behind the discussions. It almost feels paralyzing sometimes.

    Comment by Christian Y. Cardall — December 1, 2005 @ 5:58 pm

  41. everybody shut up just watch The Matrix (Clean Flicks version)

    Comment by cadams — December 1, 2005 @ 7:33 pm

  42. Clark and Britain,
    The BY quote is an interesting one. But I think that the comment about everything being created spiritually first is an offhand one that is the result of live improvisational preaching and should not be read into too deeply. We have scriptures about spiritual creations and I think Brigham was probably just on a role and vamping on the subject.

    My take on his quote is that we can “visit” the past when God shares the databases with us much like the way Harry Potter and Dumbledore “visit” the past using the pensieve. That is, God can clearly read all of our minds and thoughts so it is very likely that he also has all past thoughts and perceptions stored and it seems likely to me that he can and does share that database with those with whom he is becoming “one”. Moses had an experience approaching this when he had his mind opened to some of the expansive knowledge of God. God does not have the future in a database yet because it has nbot happened yet for him either.

    Christian and Jeff,
    I’m completely on board with the figurative garden representing the pre-earth existence. I also believe that causal determinism (or at least something very much like it) is real. I just believe that there is the opportunity and potential for truly self-caused (in the full libertarian sense) thoughts, words, and deeds in humans.


    Comment by Geoff J — December 1, 2005 @ 11:02 pm

  43. “the parable of the bicycle concept finds its ultimate roots in ex nihilo”

    Huh? Whachoo talkin’ ’bout, Geoff?

    Comment by John C. — December 2, 2005 @ 9:30 am

  44. John C,

    I should have been more precise and said the ulitimate foundation for “parable of the bicycle”-like notions is in Augustinian absolutism (which is inextricably connected with ex nihilo). Since modern revelations have gutted classical absolutist assumptions any doctrine that leans on them is in trouble. I’ll get more into this as I post further on the McMurrin book.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 2, 2005 @ 10:01 am

  45. Augustinian Absolutism means what (wikipedia wasn’t helpful)? That humans and God are eternally different? That God is literally everywhere and everything? That people are completely depraved? That everything should be read allegorically? These are just some the things, justly or unjustly, I have heard attributed to Augustine.

    Comment by John C. — December 2, 2005 @ 10:18 am

  46. Augustinian Absolutism means what?

    Lol! Nice work. You totally called me on my laziness (using the one obscure phrase to try to explain lots of complex things… I usually scrupulously avoid that kind of dirty trick here…)

    I think you have much of it. I will indeed post on this in the future because I think McMurrin does a nice job of illuminating the differences between Mormon conceptions ofthe nature of God and the creedal ideas. Apparently St. Augustine was the most influential of the classical Christian theologians and it is largely from him that we get the “ommi” notions of God and from there creatio ex nihilo. (The main omni’s being omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.) So while we like to use the big 3 omni’s in Mormonism we don’t define them the same way that creedal Christianity does because modern revelations have gutted the classical definitions. I think that Blake Ostler was really on to something when he suggested we replace “omni” with “maximal” in our internal discussions. It is certainly a more precise and accurate way to describe our revealed understanding of God I think.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 2, 2005 @ 10:56 am

  47. I like this conversation very much, and I’ve missed Jeffrey G! I have always assumed God exists outside of time as we experience it, thought not from any desire to worship “the timeless God of Greek philosophy”. Geoff, have you written more specifically about this time stuff somewhere?

    Comment by C Jones — December 3, 2005 @ 12:27 pm

  48. C Jones,

    It’s good to see you back here as well. I’m not sure how much we have specifically talked about the Greek notion of timelessness in my posts. The notion of timelessness or not has been brought up and debated regularly in my series of posts on God’s foreknowledge though. For further reading on the subject of God being timebound (beyond this McMurrin book) I highly recommend Blake Ostler’s first book (even if it is a bit too long).

    Comment by Geoff J — December 5, 2005 @ 6:37 pm

  49. Any one interested in joining my argument forum? We cover these philosophical issues from time to time and I really enjoy open-mindedness. Most of us are Mormon, and the rest of us are everything under the sun, including: deists, agnostics, and atheists. we argue civilly about everything, including religion, god, politics, and current events.
    Check us out here:

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