Neo-Pragmatism and a Young Earth

September 30, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 12:27 pm   Category: Before Abraham,Determinism vs. free will,spirit birth

Neo-pragmatism (at least as Richard Rorty understands it) is committed to the position that, in some sense, the earth did not exist until there was a community of people to conceptualize and categorize it as such.  To be sure, there are obviously ways of reading this which do not do justice to the neo-pragmatists.  The main point at issue lies in the question, “In what sense did the earth not exist until relatively recently?”  I think this question is especially interesting within the context of a Mormon worldview that – in some sense – believes in a very young earth.  In this post I want to sketch out some (very) rough interpretations and possibilities of how neo-pragmatism might(!) link up with LDS claims.  (Warning: rampant speculation ahead!)

Before I move on to the Mormon version of the young earth, I will first address the neo-pragmatic version of the young earth that Rorty defends.  The first, and least surprising thing to keep in mind, is that Rorty frames the issue in humanistic terms which do not presuppose God or spiritual existence outside of our mortal realm.  Thus, until communities of mortal men were able to conceptualize and categorize the earth, there was no person at all that was doing so.  Second, Rorty is not claiming that the thing that we now conceptualize as the earth in its unconceptualized self did not exist until humans came along.  Instead, the claim is that that thing did not exist as the earth until there was some linguistic community to categorize and construe that thing as the earth.  “The earth” and its pre-human past – as we now understand it – is a set of interpretations and categories which we now retroactively project onto the earth and its pre-human past.  This position can profitably be understood as a clear rejection of the reductionism that is built into most forms of naturalism (especially scientism) in that what makes an object does not solely depend upon its internal make-up, but also upon its relationship to those linguistic beings that interact with, categorize and conceptualize it.

At this point, it probably looks like we are needlessly splitting irrelevant hairs (I don’t totally disagree with that), but I think the point that’s being made here can be better articulated if we trade out our example of the earth for that of a rabbit.  One way of conceptualizing a rabbit is to not see it as a rabbit at all, but as a particular region in which various kinds of matter are in motion.  More concretely, if we choose to see in the world purely in terms of physics and chemistry, rabbits do not exist, since that is not a physical or chemical category within such a vocabulary.  In other words, we can quite easily imagine a linguistic community for which rabbits do not exist as rabbits (such a community would not see itself as a linguistic community either).  Yes, the things that we in our linguistic community call rabbits do exist for that community as well… but not as rabbits.  It is in a similar sense that the earth did exist before mortal humans… but not as the earth.  From Rorty’s perspective, the earth, rabbits and mankind did not come into existence as the earth, rabbits and mankind until there was a linguistic community which could construe such things as the earth, rabbits and mankind.  Until such a community existed that could talk about such things in that way, such things did not yet exist in that way.  And this way of talking about such things did not come about until quite recently – I would say about 10,000 years ago if I had to venture a largely uninformed guess.

Let’s now move on to the Mormon view of creation.  The first, and least surprising difference between the Mormon position and Rorty’s neo-pragmatism is that the former insist that before mortal man ever began to conceptualize or speak of anything at all, God and all His spiritual children already existed.  In other words, I think that – regardless of one’s inclinations toward neo-pragmatism – Mormons are fully committed to the idea that the earth, rabbits and mankind were all conceptualized as the earth, rabbits and mankind long before it was ever done within any mortal community.  A second point about the Mormon view of creation is that – in some sense – it happened relatively recently – about 10,000 years ago.  Third, Mormons also believe that – again, in some sense – there was a spiritual creation that came prior to the physical creation of things and while the physical creation seems to have happened about 10,000 years ago, it’s not clear how long ago the spiritual creation is supposed to have happened.

I hope that by now the direction I’m heading in is pretty obvious.  I think that Rorty’s idea that a rabbit does not exist as a rabbit until it is conceptualized as such by some linguistic community can be a useful way for Mormons to understand the creation.  To be sure, this idea is utterly speculative and by no means doctrine to be defended as such, but that doesn’t mean that it might not be helpful for some.  So here we go:  Whatever else the spiritual creation of the earth, rabbits and mankind involved, it also involved the conceptualization by spiritual beings of those things as the earth, rabbits and mankind.  Without this conceptualization on the part of spiritual beings, such things might(!) have spiritually existed in some sense, but they would not have spiritually existed as the earth, rabbits and mankind.  Then, approximately 10,000 years ago a community of linguistic mortals (and this community already spiritually existed as mortal men) began to conceptualize the earth, rabbits and themselves as the earth, rabbits and mankind.  This was the physical creation of the earth, rabbits and mankind.  Yes, such things had already spiritually existed before as the earth, rabbits and mankind, but until that point they did not physically exist as such until physical and mortal beings conceptualized them as such.  From this perspective, most of the long, long history of the earth’s creation and evolution are not really the physical creation at all, but can instead be seen as the spiritual creation.  (As a side note, I also think this idea pairs pretty well with the idea that all spirit matter is material in some sense.)

Now for the potential problems, and there are quite a few to be sure.  First, I’m not so sure that the terms physical and spiritual creation can consistently be applied in this way.  After all, the scriptures never say in any non-tendentious way that the earth did not exist as the earth before some point even though it did exist in some sense before that.  We might interpret, “the earth was without form and void” in this way, but it’s not clear that we ought to.  Second, it raises other questions which would not otherwise exist, such as: How involved was God in that extended spiritual creation?  Does this in some way minimize God’s contribution to the creation of that unconceptualized aspect of the world – I mean, that part of it that exists in some way prior to its conceptualization as the earth, etc.?  Third, I’m not sure how well the timelines actually match up, nor am I sure how important this timeline actually is.  Fourth, I’m not at all clear on what ramifications follow from the existence of different linguistic communities which conceptualize the earth and mankind differently.  In other words, I’m not sure that this historicism is fully compatible with the universality to which Mormonism lays claim.  Fifth, I’m not at all clear on how consistent these ideas are with the Mormon doctrine of the fall.  I’m sure there are other problems that might come up, but to be honest, I don’t really plan on address these or any other objections to this view anytime soon.  Again, my intention is not to put forward any kind of doctrine or systematic theology –I am very suspicious of all such things.  Rather, I simply wanted to put forward one potentially helpful way of diffusing the tensions that might arise within some readers between faith and science.


  1. Wouldn’t the direct route be to substitute “God” for earth and say that until people were around to conceptualize God, God didn’t exist as God?

    Comment by Martin James — September 30, 2014 @ 2:04 pm

  2. That’s actually a pretty good point. I wouldn’t say that God didn’t exist in a full fledged sense in the same way that the earth didn’t exist in a full-fledged sense either. The tension that you set up, however, is a strong one: To the same extent that you rely upon this idea of creation, to that same extent you deny the existence of the Creator. In neither case is it all or nothing, but the tension is still there.

    Very nice comment, Martin.

    P.S. Your point is exactly the one that Nietzsche was getting at when he proclaimed the death of God: when a linguistic community no longer employs the category of God in their lives, in a certain sense He ceases to exist as God to them.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 30, 2014 @ 3:13 pm

  3. Jeff G.

    The paradox is that an old earth is a very new creation!

    Comment by Martin James — September 30, 2014 @ 4:43 pm

  4. I can’t tell how literally you mean the word “paradox”. (Ah, the plight of online communications.) As such, I can’t tell if I’ve communicated the perspective well enough or not.

    If, on the one hand, you’re not convinced by the perspective, that’s fine. I don’t really care either way.
    If, however, you’re saying that the perspective is self-contradictory and therefore ought to be rejected, I think you’ll have to say a lot more.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 30, 2014 @ 4:54 pm

  5. I was just pointing out that this “conception as creation” perspective involves the same kind of issues as time travel. In other words in the past the earth was 6000 years old and then in became millions and then billions of years old.

    On you prior post, its not quite clear to me what status to give when one party doesn’t have the conceptions that another is using. To add to the example of God, for many people “sin” is a not a concept that they have.

    So do they live in different realities?

    Comment by Martin James — September 30, 2014 @ 5:56 pm

  6. Yeah, there is a lot of gray area in there to be sure. The way that a Mormon would cash it out is that we are all, whether we believe it or not, part of God’s eternal linguistic community. Thus, coming to the truth means seeing things in the same terms that he does, as described by His prophets. Thus, whatever view does not see sin in the same terms as the prophets is, by God’s standards, false.

    On the other hand, we could say that when the prophets do not see things in the same terms as the world, they are rejected as false prophets… just as we would expect. Hence, the importance of finding for ourselves from God whether some person is sent of Him or not.

    Pragmatic considerations such as these are exactly what open up a legitimate (by God’s standards) appeal to priesthood authority. Just that has been a topic for other (previous) posts.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 30, 2014 @ 6:11 pm

  7. “A second point about the Mormon view of creation is that – in some sense – it happened relatively recently – about 10,000 years ago.”

    I don’t think this is an accurate statement. We have no basis for any kind of timeline for our LDS creation myths. Statements that include references to timelines are always based on unquestioned assumptions that general Christian views on the subject are correct. We have statements going back all the way to Brigham Young admitting that from a religious perspective we have absolutely no idea when the creation happened. There is no revelation on this topic, not even DC 77, in which the Lord simply replies to JS within the paradigm he asks his question. If he had asked how old the earth is, he would have received a very different answer (probably none at all…). We do ourselves a terrible disservice when we present fundamentalist Christian views like this as LDS doctrine–you can only teach kids the sky is green for so long until they stop trusting you.

    Comment by Owen — September 30, 2014 @ 8:49 pm

  8. I agree with Owen. I think your statement about “relatively recent” or “10,000 years ago” creation is flat out wrong.

    I don’t know of any canonical reference or doctrinal reason why I should believe in a “young Earth” creation story. On top of that, my anecdotal perspective is that I don’t know of even one person that believes that to be true.

    Without a sound basis for that comment I think you should edit that part.

    Comment by Pug — October 1, 2014 @ 6:01 am

  9. Owen and Pug,

    I couldn’t disagree more. To deny that the events in the opening chapters of Genesis aren’t supposed to have happened relatively recently in any sense whatsoever is far too strong of a position to defend.

    The case is pretty straightforward really:

    1) Everything that has been revealed about Adam suggests that he is the first man, the father of all other men.
    2) Nothing that has been revealed about Adam suggests that he lived more than 10,000 years ago.
    3) In some sense, man was created relatively recently.

    Now there are lots of ways in which people try to harmonize these issues with modern science and I don’t think that my strategy is the only or even the best one (I’m not convinced that the two perspectives need any harmonizing). All I’m doing is providing options. If you (somehow) believe that in no sense whatsoever was the creation of men or the world relatively recently, that’s fine. But there are lot’s of people in the church who do think that is what’s taught in the scriptures. This post is for them.

    Comment by Jeff G — October 1, 2014 @ 11:11 am

  10. OK, Jeff G, I’ll bite. Name one revelation that directly addresses how long ago Adam lived or how long ago man was created.

    (An absence of statements that he lived more than 10,000 years ago is not evidence that he did not live more than 10,000 years ago. You could just as easily argue that nothing has been revealed that suggests he lived more than 1,000,000,000 years ago.)

    We’re likely to argue in circles here though. It might be reasonable to argue that the events related in Genesis are “supposed” to have happened at one time or another, but since the intent of the authors is not to relate history (as opposed to e.g. arguing for the importance of the exilic Sabbath a la Gen 1 through Gen 2:4 1/2), it’s hard to connect that “supposed” with when they actually happened, in whatever sense they happened. I’m sure you’re aware that biblical scholarship (including LDS) is quite clear that the genre of early Genesis is not history.

    Comment by Owen — October 2, 2014 @ 8:09 am

  11. You make it sound like it is me who is making up a position and using an absence of evidence (that I think is official enough) to the contrary as support.

    Let’s be clear. Any church authority that has put any kind of timeline on Adam’s existence puts it within 10,000 years. The timeline in the scriptures suggests (even if it doesn’t directly reveal it) that he lived within the last 10,000. And even if all this weren’t true, the strong majority of members believe that the story of Adam was supposed to have happened within the last 10,000 years.

    The only reason why any of us doubt that Adam lived 10,000 years ago has to do with things that have nothing to do with scripture or revelation. It is because of these non-scriptural reasons for doubt that many people search for ways of dealing with the resultant tension. This post is merely one way. Your game of playing “technically, it was never actually revealed” is just one other way.

    Comment by Jeff G — October 2, 2014 @ 9:31 am

  12. Again, name one revelation that directly addresses how long ago Adam lived or how long ago man was created.

    Church authorities and the general membership were also pretty unanimous in assuming various reasons for the priesthood being withheld from those of African descent. All of which current authorities disavow. Just because lots of people assume something doesn’t make it doctrine. Your “timeline in the scriptures” is an invention of non-Mormon Christianity during the Great Apostasy that makes all sorts of assumptions about the completeness of genealogies and accuracy of ages in the Old Testament, not to mention completely misunderstanding the genre of many of the books of the Bible.

    Let’s be clear, you are preaching as doctrine something that is not. If we’re charitable, as Elder Holland has been of the explanations for the Ban, we would call this a “folk belief”. Widely held by those of the older generation to be sure, but based on assumptions and misunderstandings rather than revelation nonetheless.

    There is no tension, or shouldn’t be, on this topic since the scriptures teach us nothing about it. We have *no* history in the sense we now think of that word from the scriptures addressing anything prior to about 1000 BC (And that’s being charitable with the numbers. Personally I would put it at Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem. Before then it’s all mythology, not history.).

    Comment by Owen — October 2, 2014 @ 10:07 am

  13. Here’s a great example: most church members, including I’m sure many general authorities, believe Joseph Smith used the Urim and Thummim on a breastplate to translate the Book of Mormon while he had the gold plates in front of him, separated from his scribe by a curtain. Widely held, based on church-produced materials, and completely false. The real story is no more or less incredible than the one from the Gospel Art Kit, but many people are confused and hurt when they are disabused of their incorrect notions. The same goes for this young earth (or young humanity) stuff. It’s all well and good until people learn a little more and start feeling like they were deceived, even if that was never the intent. If we don’t want to lose so many members for no good reason, we need to stop insisting on things that aren’t actually doctrine. Christ rising from the dead is doctrine. Jonah being swallowed by a whale or an ass talking are not (funny how those things never happen in the NT or BOM…again: genre!).

    What I’m asking from you is some evidence that the underlying assumption of your argument here is doctrine rather than well-meaning, long-held speculation.

    Comment by Owen — October 2, 2014 @ 10:28 am

  14. Owen,

    I’m losing patience.

    As I have said many times, the main point is that many members think that the fall did happen within the last 10,000 years. This alone justifies my post.

    I can go further though by asking if you think all these members are really just conjuring that belief out of thin air? The Christian who came up with the 4000 B.C. date used the same scriptures we do.

    Your interpretation of the idea that “the scriptures aren’t history” is just as speculative as anything I have said. What gospel principle leads you to attack my thoughts here while yours get a free pass?

    Even if you’re right in everything you’ve said, you’re still far from being out of the woods. Adam is supposed to have been the first man and father of all. This too flies in the face of science, regardless of what date you put on it. My post helps ameliorate this tension as well.

    Finally, I’ll give you what you ask for. Remember, I said that everything suggests a relatively recent date for the fall and nothing suggests otherwise. Here are all those suggestions:

    “D&C 77:12. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The world has had a fair trial for six thousand years; the Lord will try the seventh thousand Himself” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 252). See also Marlin K. Jensen, Ensign, Dec. 2002, p.60; The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, pp.104-105; Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, pp.253-254; Marion G. Romney, Ensign, Oct 1983, p.3; George Albert Smith, Tambuli, Jan 1980, p.39; Marvin J. Ashton, Ensign, Nov 1989, p.35; Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, May 1978, p.100; Marion D. Hanks, Ensign, Jul 1971, p.60; Marion G. Romney, Ensign, Nov 1977, p.14; Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Sep 1987, p.6; Guide to the Scriptures, Chronology; Bible Dictionary, Chronological Tables; Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part A, p.9. Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, pp.8, 65, 95-96, 241, 252; Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.445; Faith Preceeds the Miracle, p.326; Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, pp.104, 403, 555; Messages of the First Presidency, 2:221, 3:93; Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2, Meridian of Time.”

    HT NDBF Gary.

    I know you think you’re trying to protect the church by attacking me, but really all you’re doing is protecting one particular kind of evolutionary science – or more specifically, the naive realism at the heart of it.

    P.S. As many in the ‘nacle know, I am a very strong supporter of Darwin, so don’t think I have some strong motive to defend young earth creationism. Indeed, the whole point of the post is that the argument between young earth creationism and evolutionary science assumes much (naive realism) that cannot be defended.

    Comment by Jeff G — October 2, 2014 @ 6:03 pm

  15. I get it Jeff G, and I won’t belabor the point any more. You are certainly correct that many people believe this and need ways to square it with knowledge from other sources.

    For the record, I didn’t say “the scriptures aren’t history”. Some of them are, some of them aren’t. It depends on the book and how strict you are about what you consider history. The first chapters of Genesis definitely are not history.

    As for the people who invented the timeline using the same bible we do…well, yeah, and so have all sorts of horrible people, who find whatever justifications for whatever crimes they want to commit. That isn’t much of an argument. People find what they want to find in it. Like both of us!

    I did go ahead and look at some of the references you quoted, since I demanded them so fiercely. Not all of them to be sure. So far, every one of the eight I’ve read at random does exactly as I described, mentioning in passing a 6000 year timeline without justification or citation. It’s an idea people brought with them when the church was founded and never questioned much. Genesis 1 tells a story of 6 creative periods and a Sabbath to teach an important lesson about the importance of the Sabbath, not because the creation was necessarily divided into those periods when it happened. The 6 dispensations and 6000 years idea is similar. It creates a nice arc for the story of (some of) mankind’s dealings with God, but that doesn’t mean it relates (or is intended to relate) a complete history. Hebrew starts with a word that means “time period”, and we end up saddled with “literal day”. Hebrew starts with a word that means “a long, long time” and we end up stuck with “exactly 1000 years”.

    None of the eight references I chose at random from your list constitutes a doctrinal statement about the age of Adam, mankind, or the earth. DC 77 is really the only contender, of course, but even Brigham Young (apparently) didn’t consider it a revelation on this topic.

    Comment by Owen — October 2, 2014 @ 10:08 pm

  16. Make that 9…if you look at the Encyclopedia of Mormonism reference, you get another 6000 year discussion (a bit more detailed this time), but then if you flip back to the entry Earth, you get his little gem:

    THE AGE OF THE EARTH. The scriptures do not say how old the earth is, and the Church has taken no official stand on this question (Old Testament, pp. 28-29). Nor does the Church consider it to be a central issue for salvation.

    Comment by Owen — October 2, 2014 @ 10:12 pm

  17. Sorry. That was really sucky “not belaboring”. I promise to shut up now.

    Comment by Owen — October 2, 2014 @ 10:25 pm

  18. Of course the church takes no official position on the age of the earth; there is thus far no way to reconcile various doctrines of the church and the apparent age of the Earth.

    It’s pretty clear from the scriptures that the Earth persists for about 7,000 years after becoming mortal at the fall of Adam. This is its temportal (i.e. mortal) existence. Yes, a thousand years means a thousand years. Abraham 3:4 spells it out pretty clearly – namely that the planet upon which God dwells rotates, does so more slowly than the Earth, and that one complete rotation (a day) takes 1,000 Earth years.

    While in the garden before the fall, the Earth was immortal. It was obviously not immortal while being created; it is likely that it was immortalized on the seventh day when it was “sanctified”. Prior to that, it was created over an unspecific amount of time (from pre-existing, possibly very old material, to note).

    How it was created and how long that took is unknown. For example, did God create the body of Adam as a full grown man, or did his body have to develop from, say, a single cell? After all, Christ said that God could “raise up” seed unto Abraham from stones. Does “raise up” imply that it would be a process that take a period of time?

    On the other hand, supposing God could/did create things instantaneously in their fully grown form, then of course those things would appear to be older than would accurately reflect when they were created. For example, full-sized trees in the garden would undoubtedly have rings indicating they were decades old despite having just been formed.

    As far as the translation of the BoM. The scriptures relate that the Urim and Thummim were preserved with the golden plates for the express purpose of translating them. It is also relayed in the D&C that the work of translation required study and effort – completely contrary to the story that Joseph would merely peer into a hat with a “seer” stone in it and the words would simply appear to him. A story that originates from apostates some 60 years after the fact, mind you (one of them being a founder of the RLDS church).

    On that note, do you think people dig up stones that have actual magic power? I sure don’t. Why would the Lord have had the Urim and Thummim prepared with the plates in the first place if Joseph was just going to find a magic stone anyways?

    Comment by Eso — October 5, 2014 @ 9:38 pm

  19. So Jeff G. (Or anyone else),

    Can you explain to me what you think is going on when people have non-commensurate discourse?

    For example, is there any difference between people who are talking literally(whatever that means) and people who are thinking that words do not have a literal meaning?

    Take Eso’s comment above, Take words like mortal and immortal, reconcile, magic, existence, is, official, undoubtedly, etc.

    What process would I use to tell the difference between “magic” and what God does to turn the Earth from immortal to mortal?

    It’s the part I don’t get about your whole authority worldview. There is no way for authority to constrain the meaning of words. No way to tell if someone’s words relate to anything.

    It just seems hopeless to me to talk about this type of thing.

    Comment by Martin James — October 6, 2014 @ 7:00 am

  20. Eso’s comments about the BoM transcription process do not reflect current church teachings.

    Comment by Owen — October 17, 2014 @ 8:31 am

  21. Nevertheless, it is in direct conflict with D&C 9. Specifically:

    Some accounts indicate that Joseph studied the characters on the plates. Most of the accounts speak of Joseph’s use of the Urim and Thummim (either the interpreters or the seer stone), and many accounts refer to his use of a single stone. According to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument.

    …is not consistent with scripture, where, “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.” That would certainly describe simply looking into a hat waiting for words to appear. Instead one must study it out in their mind and then ask if it is right.

    Which would you trust, canonized scripture or third-party accounts of a magical seer stone Joseph found years earlier while digging for treasure?

    Comment by Eso — October 19, 2014 @ 1:21 am

  22. Scripture requires interpretation. I’m going to go with the interpretation of events authorized by the current prophet and supplied at rather than the one suggested by you, who are not the prophet.

    Comment by Owen — October 19, 2014 @ 10:46 am

  23. I’m pretty sure the supplied translation vs Joseph-produced translation approach also squares with the work of the preeminent LDS scholar on the topic, Royal Skousen. I’m not an expert on that though, so don’t quote me.

    Comment by Owen — October 19, 2014 @ 10:49 am

  24. “Fully determined English-language text” is the term Skousen uses, meaning Joseph was revealing something that already exist d for him to read rather than translating in any sense we use that word.

    Comment by Owen — October 19, 2014 @ 10:55 am

  25. OK, I’m back and off topic.

    So, I’m interest in the differences in approach of SilverRain and Jeff G. to the following question that will seem like trolling, but I’m quite serious, not just for my self but for my children and grandchildren.

    Here is the question. My assessment is that it is not possible to have integrity, to be honest and wholesome, and not believe that heaven refers to a place that we can see with a telescope.

    So, I’m interested in how each of you answer the question, can we see heaven, why or why not?

    What ties this to the prior conversation is that I think there is no part of our understanding (whether mental or sensual) that is not worldly, so I can’t understand how any words about “transcendent” are defined. Personally, I can’t use transcendent is a sentence and have it mean any thing.

    It is not just your replies that I’m interested in(I don’t want to argue with you about them) its the differences in your replies that interests me.

    You’ll just have to take my word for it that my interest is worthwhile and not frivolous.

    Comment by Martin James — October 24, 2014 @ 4:42 pm

  26. I too am suspicious of the word transcendent…. but I’m not sure that naturalistic materialism is its opposite. With regards to the question you ask, I think it’s just a bad one. Sort of like asking whether its good to wash your hands for the thirtieth time in a day: the very fact that the question came up is far more significant than the answer ever could be.

    (I might also mention that I think I have to back away from the position I put forward in this post – I never was committed to it all that much. There just seems to be a contradiction in this account as it applies to the spiritual creation of man.)

    Comment by Jeff G — October 24, 2014 @ 5:39 pm

  27. I’m with Jeff. It’s a kind of an “angels dancing on the head of a pin” question. It has nothing to do with anything that matters.

    I could speculate and back up my speculations with reasoning, but why spend the effort? I’m more into applied religion.

    Comment by SilverRain — October 24, 2014 @ 9:29 pm

  28. For the record, I’m not trying to merely dismiss the question. Rather, I am trying to draw attention to the mistaken notion that religion is – in any meaningful sense – epistemological in nature. Yes, there is an ethics of belief at the heart of religion, but this ethics is not logical or empirical in nature.

    Comment by Jeff G — October 24, 2014 @ 11:10 pm

  29. Ok, I promised not to argue, so just take this as my version of applied religion.

    The reason it matters to me, is that honesty and integrity matter to me in a way that avoiding questions of the connection between natural and religious explanations is not an option.

    The fact that the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin lead many people to drop angels from their applied religion.

    This is why I’m against compartmentalization. Saying that naturalistic questions of the religious are not well posed always strikes me as evasive to the point of dishonesty.

    Why should applied religion not apply to the moon or mars or pulsars?

    I don’t see way to say they don’t.

    Some see limiting our concerns to the here and now as humble and practical. I see that as arrogance and unworthy of Gods creation.

    Again, I’m not arguing, I’m just explaining why these questions are vital for me.

    Comment by Martin James — October 25, 2014 @ 6:52 am

  30. That the number of angels on the head of a pin is not a meaningful question, lead to a decline in the belief in angels.

    Comment by Martin James — October 25, 2014 @ 7:01 am

  31. Jeff,

    Religion that is not both ontological and epistemological is not a religion whose language I can speak. I don’t know how not to bear false witness without epistemology. Whatever makes something false either is an epistemology or it is meaningless.

    I really have given up any hope of convincing and it feels more like calling across a canyon and wondering if anything more than an echo will come back.

    Comment by Martin James — October 25, 2014 @ 7:09 am

  32. “The reason it matters to me, is that honesty and integrity matter to me in a way that avoiding questions of the connection between natural and religious explanations is not an option.”

    Where in the world did you ever get the idea that intellectual puzzles of that sort had any relevance whatsoever to honesty and integrity? The most honest person who ever lived never seemed to give a hoot about such questions, nor did those who most closely followed Him. By contrast, in my experience those who dabble the most in these intellectual puzzles are those who I would least likely attribute honesty and integrity. When scholars associate those virtues with the profession that they have learned and sell to others, we can safely assume that a power-play is at the root of such claims.

    “Whatever makes something false either is an epistemology or it is meaningless.”

    Says who? The overwhelming majority of people who have ever lived got along just fine bearing true witness to each other without knowing or careful one whit about epistemology. They never tried to figure out if some theory about the world was true or false, but instead focused on whether people were telling truths or falsities. To think that honest follows from our theories of the world rather than the other way around is totally backwards.

    “Saying that naturalistic questions of the religious are not well posed always strikes me as evasive to the point of dishonesty.”

    And I think that saying that naturalistic and philosophical questions simply must apply to religion always strikes me as being simplistic, unreflexive and dogmatic to the point of dishonesty. Why in the world must we accept that religion must submit to such endeavors when such endeavors show no inclination of submitting to religious scrutiny?

    “Why should applied religion not apply to the moon or mars or pulsars?”

    Because it’s a waste of time…. That is unless you can see some reason why it OUGHT to so apply. The soteriology of pulsars simply has no bearing on anything we are trying to accomplish in this life or the next. In other words, the burden of proof is on the side that says that such things are relevant, not those who says it isn’t.

    “Some see limiting our concerns to the here and now as humble and practical. I see that as arrogance and unworthy of Gods creation.”

    Speaking of arrogant…. It was God not us who focused our religious attention on the here and now.

    I don’t mean to sound too dismissive and harsh. The harshness of my opinions on this subject come from the contempt which I have for my former self who defended these very same positions to the teeth. All of your ideas reify science and philosophy by making into something that is more than activities which people happen to do. You seem to endorse all that obnoxious talk about God speaking to us through the book or nature – an obvious ploy aimed at bringing the Bible down of it’s pedestal. But epistemology and the like are simply ways that we have learned to approach the world. It might very well be that we can apply such practices to everything in the world, but we have no reason whatsoever to think that we ought always to do so or that we ought never approach the world in some other way – aka religion. THAT is the unreflexivity and dogmatism that I mentioned above, and I see it infecting most many of your comments.

    Comment by Jeff G — October 25, 2014 @ 9:57 am

  33. It is a simplistic point of view, I’ll grant you that. I do t think it is dogmatic however because I not saying religion is constrained by naturalism, just that it should explain it.

    I certainly feel like they are childlike questions not power plays. I’m not saying anything other than that language that isn’t comprehensive doesn’t work for me.

    A simple example is that I don’t know what you mean when you say “person” who ever lived. What does it mean for a god to be a person. I don’t really know.

    It also seems odd to me to use historical people as some kind of measure of what is moral or meaningful in life when almost all historical cultures are worldly at best and evil often.

    I find the materialism of the Mormon god to be strongly different from historical Christianity in a way that your rejection of naturalism seems to also minimize if not reject.

    Mormonism is not “legitimate” Catholicism.

    Comment by Martin James — October 25, 2014 @ 1:00 pm

  34. “I do t think it is dogmatic however because I not saying religion is constrained by naturalism, just that it should explain it.”

    You misunderstood – which very well might have been my fault. I wasn’t accusing you of placing religion underneath naturalism. Rather, I was accusing you of placing religion under that enterprise that thinks explanation is one of the most important things that people can do. This enterprise thinks that religious beliefs must be constrained by explanation, but refuses to return the favor by allowing religious beliefs to constrain the practice of explanation. THAT is the idol before which you dogmatically and unreflexively worship…. seeing good explanations as some kind of eternal standard against which all else must be measured.

    “I certainly feel like they are childlike questions not power plays.”

    It doesn’t matter how individual people feel about any of these things. The historical fact of the matter is that they did amount to power plays – intentionally or not, it does not matter. Thus, when we naively go down the same path, we are also reinforcing and undermining the exact same institutions and worldviews as those that came before us.

    “I’m not saying anything other than that language that isn’t comprehensive doesn’t work for me.”

    This is most definitely not all that you are saying. You’re actively arguing against any perspective which does not allow epistemology and explanation its perceived right to asymmetrically rule over everything else. (To repeat, I do not deny the universality for those things, but their claims to exclusivity and indispensability are totally without support. You certainly haven’t made an argument for such.) Once again, historically speaking, the intellectuals who advanced the ideas you defend also made similar claims about their motives as they silently transitioned from intellectualism that serves religion to intellectualism that is compatible with religion to intellectualism that sits in judgment of religion. This just is the transition from feudal society to modern society.

    “I find the materialism of the Mormon god to be strongly different from historical Christianity in a way that your rejection of naturalism seems to also minimize if not reject.”

    Most importantly, I don’t see how any of this is relevant. Second, who says that Mormonism is materialistic in the sense that you think? Why do you think that materialism and naturalism are, in some sense, the same thing? After all, modern science is NOT materialistic any more… not by a long shot. Finally, the reason why naturalism is bogus is because it can’t explain what it itself is: a moral commitment to rejecting all claims which cannot be explained by natural science. But, moral commitments such as these cannot themselves be explained by natural science and thus, by its very own logic, must be rejected.

    The reason why I know that you are not merely saying “it doesn’t work for me” is because you actively and systematically mis-characterize my ideas so as to discredit them. It’s not that you are simply misunderstanding me… you are actively trying to force my ideas into your mental framework without making any effort at all to adjust or open up your framework for analysis. You’re not judging my ideas according to some personal standard of workability, but according to the standard of modern intellectualism which you implicitly take to be the one true standard against which all things must ultimately be measured.

    Comment by Jeff G — October 25, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

  35. Jeff,

    You do me wrong in the closing paragraphs.

    Show me one nonmormon intellectual that believes in a material god like I do. There are none.

    Comment by Martin James — October 25, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

  36. 1. I still don’t see how the issue is relevant.
    2. I never said anything about the (im)materiality of God according to you anybody else.
    3. The point was that it would be grave mistake to equate modern naturalism with the kind of materialism that Mormonism does embrace.

    Comment by Jeff G — October 25, 2014 @ 3:29 pm

  37. I may be under the spell of explanation but that spell was nurtured by Mormonism.

    I have no intellectual dogma to convince you of and your ideas interest me only as brother to brother struggling for a Mormon future.

    I admit that my particular way of being is not common in the faith but it is unheard of in intellectual and scientific discussion.

    Again, I may be wrong but I am fighting as hard for a uniquely Mormon way forward as you are.

    I will revisit whether I am not giving your ideas a fair chance. Thatay be the case but if it is so, it is because I find them unworkable and this hard to consider.

    Indeed, saying we are speaking different languages was a way to try and recognize that your way may be workable, just not by me.

    We mainly disagree about where the moral high ground is. I will revisit your approach and see where I am not giving it a try.

    I would likewise ask you to reconsider your position that this discussion may truly be internal to Mormonism and not from importing outside conceptions.

    Comment by Martin James — October 25, 2014 @ 3:36 pm

  38. “I may be under the spell of explanation but that spell was nurtured by Mormonism.”

    I can certainly sympathize with what you’re saying here. I think it would be helpful to point out, however, that essentially all of the “helpful” material within Mormonism does not go by the name of official revelation. I know that this move can seem a little ad hoc, but I think it does raise the question of why you happen to highlight and embrace that particular aspect of Mormonism so strongly? I would suggest that outside influences have colored your interpretation as well as the importance that you assign to this particular topic. That was most definitely what happened to me. Secular books and books that pretend to harmonize science and Mormonism taught me to read these ideas into the scriptures. It’s not that I think these books were bad, however they did serve to reinforce within me and teach me to take for granted these naturalistic ideas in such a way that I bent the gospel in order to suit my philosophical commitments.

    “I admit that my particular way of being is not common in the faith but it is unheard of in intellectual and scientific discussion.”

    I get that. My experience is that for all too many people that is an unstable place to be and that sooner or later the criticisms by one side against the other will eventually win out in some way or another. I too felt that I was finding a respectable way of fitting the two together, but what was actually happening is that the secular side was imperceptibly taking over various (seemingly unimportant) nodes within my web of belief one at time until my faithful worldview simply couldn’t stand up any more. My fatal flaw was in thinking that I was discovering or uncovering truths that were just “out there” in some sense waiting to be discovered, when in fact I was actively building the cognitive structures that would define me. Whereas I had felt that I had “discovered” or “come to the conclusion” that the church wasn’t true, whereas what really happened is that I built up a worldview that stood in competition with the church and continually reinforced it until it smashed my testimony.

    “That may be the case but if it is so, it is because I find them unworkable and this hard to consider.”

    Well, it might very well be that my ideas aren’t workable and it could be that you haven’t understood and simply not accepted my ideas. However, the way in which you have consistently misattributed beliefs to me is suspicious to say the least.

    I don’t know if you’ve read After Virtue, by Alasdair MacIntyre, but I highly recommend it. Here’s a nice little summary.

    Comment by Jeff G — October 25, 2014 @ 4:11 pm

  39. Yes, we are both feeling miss attributed.

    Here are some ways I’m feeling misunderstood.

    I don’t understand how I can be in the modern intellectual camp when, I have never argued for any of the things argued for morally by modern intellectuals such as reason or society being able to posit values or that science can tell us what to value.

    I have had one primary contention and that is that moral language relies on language in a way that makes reliance in authority alone problematic.

    Let’s take the word of wisdom. It cautions against hot drinks, but authority doesn’t give us our idea of what hot is or what a drink is. Authority mediated through language relies on all the faculties we need for language.

    Whatever your view of the word of wisdom, you will have a very hard time tying the way it has operated in mormondom back to authority.

    This point is completely unrelated to any commonly held modern intellectual moral tradition.

    Comment by Martin James — October 25, 2014 @ 4:42 pm

  40. “I have never argued for any of the things argued for morally by modern intellectuals such as reason or society being able to posit values or that science can tell us what to value.”

    I have never said that you argued for any of those things. That’s the whole point, is that the influences of modernity in the way that it structures our thinking and the premises that we find plausible. Your arguments have all been very structured by modern interpretations and priorities, even though you have never argued for them. Indeed, this has been a major frustration for me because I have repeatedly asked you to make those commitments explicit by defending the structure and presuppositions of your arguments. It is this repeated refusal to defend such assumptions that has convinced me that you actually do endorse them, even if you haven’t said so. For this reason, your refusal to explicitly address or argue for the modern language/presuppositions you use is my complaint not yours…. for addressing such things is the entire point of my posts. Your having not addressed or argued those points just is your not having taken my posts seriously.

    “Whatever your view of the word of wisdom, you will have a very hard time tying the way it has operated in mormondom back to authority.”

    Here is where I get really confused because I can’t trace the WoW back to anything but authority. Our refusal to drink coffee, tea, alcohol, etc. most certainly does not come from reason or from individual preference. Just because priesthood authority has carved out a space for personal interpretation does not mean that that space was not carved out by and defined by priesthood authority. Reason did not create that space for private interpretation. Neither did personal preference.

    It is for reasons such as these that I continue to not understand that semantic argument you keep to.

    Comment by Jeff G — October 25, 2014 @ 4:54 pm

  41. I’m not saying that authority didn’t start the ball rolling, I’m saying that it has a life of its own and is always contested and problematic.

    In the ward Where I grew up drinking coke was without a doubt a sin and a violation of the WOW as understood by ward members and no one would have any more brought a coke into the warehouse that a fifth of JD.

    Were we relying on authority. It’s complicated.

    Show me how my concerns with language are modern. They were concerns in the 13th century. They are as feudal as it gets.

    Show me where a concern that authority explain natural phenomena is modern. Explanation is ancient.

    I need to sleep on it, but what is the most direct or concise statement that you hold, that you think I reject out of A modern structure in my thought?

    Comment by Martin James — October 25, 2014 @ 5:36 pm

  42. “Were we relying on authority. It’s complicated.”

    Why? Once again, it was priesthood that provided that space. Furthermore, the space itself is room for people to appeal to a different authority in the Holy Ghost. At no point are people invited to simply use human reason or go with whatever they want.

    Again, I have no clue how this is supposed to be a critique of my position.

    “what is the most direct or concise statement that you hold, that you think I reject out of A modern structure in my thought?”

    There are quite a few examples. Like I said, your refusal to ever give support where I ask for it is the most telling one. The idea that things are either objective or totally subjective is another. The idea that God must be empirically observable is clearly modernist.

    To be clear, there were plenty of ancient thinkers that taught ideas that would later define modernity. Modernity is defined by the rise of capitalist (consumer) and socialist (critical) worldviews at the expense of the feudal (traditionalist) worldview. There were lots of people who attempted to encroach upon traditional religious authorities before the Enlightenment.

    Comment by Jeff G — October 25, 2014 @ 6:33 pm

  43. OK, here are some ways that I think that I am giving support.

    1. Agree that authority is important and that mormon religious authority is not based on whoever has the best use of reason.

    2. Agree with your objective of helping find a way for yourself and other’s in a similar situation of staying in and doing well in the church.

    3. Agree that Reason and Scientism are not reasons to leave the church.

    4. Complimentary of the effort involved in your posts and that I enjoy them.

    Its because I think that your project is important that I offer my perspective which I would characterize an analogical to not overcorrecting when steering out of a skid.

    I don’t think in terms of subjective/objective and I think you’ll find that when I used it, I offered my own definition of objective. I usually use terms like “reality” or consistent with experience all of which can be interpreted as not strictly subjective or objective.

    My recent focus has been on internal consistency “subjective integrity” rather than a search for objectivity.

    “The idea that God must be empirically observable is clearly modernist.”

    I love that you said this. I have never demanded empirical observability for God because he is obviously empirically observable because Joseph Smith observed him. It is modern and it is mormon – the God has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s. Of course he is empirically observable and I’ve never questioned it.

    But back to the feudal traditionalist view. Almost all traditionally authorities in history are not of God. I don’t see the big deal in setting traditional authority against modern notions when what we what to do is to distinguish good authority from bad authority. That an authority is a feudal one, doesn’t increase its likelihood of being good authority to any appreciable extent.

    Comment by Martin James — October 25, 2014 @ 9:16 pm

  44. Wow, you two. Seriously. ;)

    Martin, I don’t avoid such questions. There was a time they fascinated me. Even now, sometimes I find myself pondering similar questions. My point was not to avoid the question, but that the answer isn’t worth discussing in this context. I suspected accurately why you framed the question. It was your motive I rejected, not the question.

    The reasons such angel/pin questions cause a loss of faith is not because they are asked, but because people place too much importance on answering them.

    As I have grown in my discipleship, I increasingly resonate with James’ epistle and with Elder Holland.

    “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

    “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

    “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

    “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

    In other words, debating and discussion of the points of religion, even epistemology, isn’t bad. But it isn’t religion. Religion is taking the things you hear and learn about God, and changing from them: changing into a person who learns compassion and immerses him or herself into physical and spiritual ministry.

    Epistemology is well and good for a training ground. Debate and discussion are a fine schooling for discipleship. But there is a time to gird up your loins and put on God’s armor, thrust in your sickle, prune and dig about and dung the orchard of the Lord. That is when you truly take up your cross and follow Jesus. That is the only way to unlock the power of the Atonement to find redemption and partake in the glory of God.

    When we ask these questions, our eyes are opened to evil. We can gain knowledge.

    But when you roll up your sleeves, your eyes are opened to the Good and you grow in wisdom.

    Comment by SilverRain — October 26, 2014 @ 6:49 am

  45. Well, I do love Silverrain as I love myself, so I’ve got that going for me.

    As further proof of my arrogance and propensity for missing the point, my testimony relies to a considerable extent on the fact that the words to I am a child of god were changed from teach me all that I must know to “I must do” when I was in primary and I took it as a personal rebuke.

    My only defense is that I try to stick to commenting on posts of people well into the theoretical. Given that there are many mansions and all that, my small part of the vineyard is to be a testing ground for perspectives that someone’s child or someone’s neighbor may have.

    Even, when you take me to task, I find you one of the more hopeful people on the bloggernacle.

    See you at church!

    Comment by Martin James — October 26, 2014 @ 9:05 am

  46. I was actually going you would provide support for your assertions and assumptions, not mine.

    Comment by Jeff G — October 26, 2014 @ 1:03 pm

  47. *Hoping

    Comment by Jeff G — October 26, 2014 @ 1:03 pm

  48. It is a stretch to read my explanation of my perspective as a rebuke. Any rebuke present is not from my intentions.

    Comment by SilverRain — October 26, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

  49. What does “support” mean in an issue of the meaning of the words of authority?

    Silverrain thinks it lawyers that tell us what words mean. I can’t offer any support without knowing how we know what the words of authority mean?

    Support seems modern not feudal in your world and that makes it especially confusing why you want support. It’s like you are pharaoh and want my staff to kick butt on your staff or aomething

    Comment by Martin James — October 26, 2014 @ 3:33 pm

  50. Thanks for the clarification SilverRain.

    Comment by Martin James — October 26, 2014 @ 4:45 pm

  51. I think that supporting our leaders is about semantics?

    Martin, pardon the bluntness, but you have a serious problem with reading comprehension. I’m done trying to correct it. It’s like talking to a wind-up toy.

    Comment by SilverRain — October 27, 2014 @ 4:05 am

  52. SilverRain,

    That’s my whole point. Authority can’t fix reading comprehension.

    You take comprehension for granted and give up on those that don’t get it.

    Comment by Martin James — October 27, 2014 @ 6:01 am

  53. Not only that but it’s interesting that you say I am what naturalism says we all are: wind up toys.

    Still love ya though.

    Comment by Martin James — October 27, 2014 @ 6:05 am

  54. Of course I “give up on those who don’t” TRY to get it. Because I believe in agency and taking responsibility for yourself. If you’re going to be obtuse—particularly deliberately obtuse—it’s no skin off my nose.

    That is the part of authority you can’t seem to comprehend. That ultimate stewardship is to the Lord. You don’t have to objectively define anything, because any attempt to do so is illusory at best.

    Comment by SilverRain — October 27, 2014 @ 7:19 am

  55. Silver rain,

    Good point.

    Comment by Martin James — October 27, 2014 @ 7:22 am

  56. Hi Jeff,

    I’m curious how inquiries such as the number of angels that can fit on the head of a pin amounted to power plays more than anything else? I’m also unfamiliar with what naive institutions and worldviews you are referring to? Any insight would be appreciated!

    Comment by Ryan T. — November 14, 2014 @ 12:17 am

  57. Since you mentioned Rorty over at my blog I thought I’d chime in a bit here. (Note I’ve not read the comments yet – so forgive me if things have already been addressed)

    First I’m not sure what you mean by “in some sense believes in a very young earth.” Rorty is more or less appealing to something like a language game (Wittgenstein) in which the earth as we use it in our game didn’t exist as such until that game started. I certainly agree that in a certain sense the idea of the seven dispensation of time is tying time to a certain kind of language game. And to translate from one language game into an other (say that of science) can be deeply problematic.

    All that said though I think Rorty goes a little farther than that moving into outright idealism.

    Further as you note the language game in an LDS conception is very much older. (Some might argue that Genesis 1 as spirit creation is actually the organization conceptually and thus the start of the language game)

    All that said I’m not sure this really illuminates much. It gets at the idea that terms like “world”, “time” and so forth in scripture have a special sense. But I think we can explain that without Rorty.

    Comment by Clark — November 15, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

  58. Ryan (56), the debate about the number of angels on a pin was primarily about whether it would be a finite or infinite amount and was really a debate about the nature of angels at that time.

    While there’s lots to condemn medieval thought for, I’ve long thought this was an odd place to pick. That said the saying is a good one in a certain sense. If we have no way to distinguish, why bother arguing? There’s not way to verify an answer. That said, for the medieval monks who debated it they thought there *were* texts they could appeal to. We just don’t accept those texts the way they did.

    Comment by Clark — November 15, 2014 @ 1:12 pm

  59. Clark,

    Your comment #58 is tremendous. (Answering sarcasm seriously is always amusing.)

    Comment by Geoff J — November 17, 2014 @ 11:52 am

  60. Ryan,

    I’m not sure what you are talking about. If you go into more detail I might be able to help you out.


    For the record, I’ve pretty much backed away from this post. The idea that a spiritual creation happens when spiritual beings apply certain categories does not explain how those beings themselves came to be spiritual. More importantly, I think I should’ve embraced my caveats within the post a bit more strongly and resisted the tendency to think that the creation narrative is meant to be a objectively accurate description of events. By this I do NOT mean that it is metaphorical in any kind of wishy-washy, pretend to believe when I really don’t kind of way. I guess my thoughts are still pretty scattered here.

    “Rorty is more or less appealing to something like a language game (Wittgenstein) in which the earth as we use it in our game didn’t exist as such until that game started. I certainly agree that in a certain sense the idea of the seven dispensation of time is tying time to a certain kind of language game. And to translate from one language game into an other (say that of science) can be deeply problematic.”

    Comments like these help me realize how much I’ve missed having you around!

    Comment by Jeff G — November 17, 2014 @ 1:35 pm