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Why does anything exist?

Posted by nebula0 on August 25, 2008


And there is one of the basic questions of philosophy: why does something exist, and not nothing?  This is also a question that religion has taken up and given God as its answer.  This is also why I am not a Mormon.

Mormonism does seek to explain a lot.  It posits an explanation for why we are here as we are.  That is, Mormonism talks about the necessity of mortality, the formation of the earth by the Gods, and how our spirits became united with physical bodies to become living souls.  We are also given a sense as to where we are going.  After death we’ll go to the spirit world, or spirit prison, and then at the final judgement we’ll be assigned to a kingdom of glory in a resurrected, immortal body, or if we are one of the unlucky few, be assigned to eternal outer darkness with Lucifer and the fallen angels.  I don’t want to give the impression that Mormonism doesn’t explain anything about our existence, it seeks to explain a lot, but in the end fails to explain the question: why is there anything at all in the first place?  Because, according to Mormon theology, the essence of who we are, our intelligences have simply always existed, and will always exist.  The rules by which the cosmos operate were in existence before God became God.  They simply were.  Besides, all of this is the realm of mysteries that we should be careful of exploring in Mormon culture.  Which in the end is to say, answering the question of existence is a peripheal concern in Mormonism, at best.

If you’re like me, this situation will not be a satisfactory one.  Positing that a bunch of finite, limited entities just happened to exist for all eternity doesn’t seem all that rational.  I don’t claim to have definite proof of anything, let alone of God’s existence, but it does stand to reason that if I am going to bother positing that God exists that His existence will be grand enough, infinite enough, to explain the existence of everything else.  So it is that God is a different kind of Being from the rest of the ‘stuff’ we encounter in the universe, unlike anything else, He is infinite, and not at all contingent on anything else for His existence or His circumstances.  This may seem like a cheap answer to you, you may shoot back “but where did God come from then,” but that’s the whole point.  Because God isn’t like you or me or a tree or a star or anything else we encounter, subject to causality, He alone escapes this question.  He alone must exist.

It is with the above considerations that my final break with Mormonism was made.  I could stay a Mormon with historical ‘issues’, with critiques of the leadership as long as I stayed quiet enough, and so on, but I could not stay a Mormon with such a fundamental rift in theological vision.  By changing my view of the nature of Deity, my entire orientation of the world became monotheistic.  And so here I am, now an ex Mormon, believer in God.

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11 Responses to “Why does anything exist?”

  1. Seth R. said

    I fail to see why you find the idea of a time when you did not exist, and now exist only at the whim of something else more appealing than immortality.

    The idea of a God that was first and final cause has some really unappealing aspects to me.

    First off, what was He doing before He created it all? And why did God bother to create a universe at all?

    Think about it. God is perfect right?

    So any alteration in things would mean to move from perfection to imperfection. But it remains a great unexplained point of traditional Christianity that God DID change the arrangement. He created the universe, the earth, and us.

    This leaves the orthodox Christian with only two options:

    1. God was NOT perfect originally and had to alter the way things were in order to make things more perfect, or

    2. God was perfect, until He screwed everything up by creating us.

    Seriously. Think about it. Why would a perfect, complete, and self-existent being need to create anything at all? Because He was bored? Doesn’t sound perfect to me.

    And let me get this straight… You like the nihilistic idea that you did not exist better than the idea that you’ve existed eternally?

    Why?

    Maybe the idea of an eternity behind you makes you uncomfortably look over your shoulder. For me, it’s incredibly exhilarating. Infinite capacity for expansion. What’s not to like?

    One of the darkest and most abhorrent doctrines of traditional Christianity for me is how it embraces the void. The idea of nothingness is a terrible idea – but one that traditional Christians almost seem to revel in. Utterly at odds with a universe of light and truth. The universe always existed. The idea that it ever did not is nihilism.

  2. Seth R. said

    Maybe I’m being too combative. But the main point is, when you start looking back into the eternities, it’s going to be unsettling no matter what explanation you come up with. I fail to see why traditional Christian explanations are particularly more comforting than Mormon ones (other than the mere familiarity appeal).

  3. nebula0 said

    You’re mistaken about the idea of immortality. I am immortal – by the grace of God, I am not eternal (I have a beginning, no end). That doesn’t bother me in the least.

    By asking what God was doing ‘before’ He created us betrays a mistaken notion that you have that God is in time. God isn’t in time, He is eternal, therefore beyond time. So to ask what He was doing ‘before’ creation makes no sense.

    God created us in His image, that is, He gave to us rational spirits, in order that we might have a meaningful relationship with Him. This is also why things are imperfect. In order that we might have choice means that there must, logically be, the possibility for evil and imperfection to exist in the world.

    My existence is anchored in God’s ultimate, infinite existence. I exist at His whim and pleasure. Because He is a omnibenevolent God I find complete comfort in this (and it is also an anchor to epistemology, see Descartes), much more than if I were somehow an eternal entity out there by my very nature.

    The universe didn’t always exist. That is a scientific fact, unless you want to deny the reality of the Big Bang. What’s more, ‘traditional’ Christianity provides more solidity than Mormonism could dream of by acknowledging the existence of the eternal, infinite God as the ultimate ground of Being.

    I don’t mind disagreement or challenge at all Seth, you needn’t worry about that. But I disagree it’s all a matter of perspective and opinion. It’s not a matter of which view is more comforting either. It’s a matter of which one is true.

  4. Seth R. said

    “God isn’t in time, He is eternal, therefore beyond time.”

    Yes, this is Augustine’s famous answer to the question. But in the end, it doesn’t satisfy. Why did God choose to alter things if He is perfect? I would say that the static Christian notion of perfection is what is wrong with this picture, but…

    You wrote:

    “The universe didn’t always exist. That is a scientific fact, unless you want to deny the reality of the Big Bang.”

    Actually, that scientific view is over thirty years old and has seen a lot of change. You may want to check with modern physicists, astronomers and mathematicians. Science is no longer convinced that the universe began with the Big Bang. Modern astrophysics has been showing that the Big Bang may be only one of many such events as the universe continually expands and contracts.

    Then you have quantum physics, string theory, particle-wave duality and such, which shoot serious holes in the limited Big Bang universe. In fact, such studies are showing that more than one dimension exists and even physical particles can resonate with each other across the entire width of the universe.

    The Big Bang as a comprehensive theory for existence is really, really struggling right now.

    So yeah, I say the Big Bang was just a localized event, and was not the beginning of the universe, as you assert. In short – your God is too small.

    I’ve read Descartes and he had some serious problems with his thinking too. Ultimately his arguments for proof of God were circular and didn’t go anywhere in proving God (although they did provide other useful side benefits).

  5. nebula0 said

    Nope, the scientific consensus is still with the Big Bang unless you happen to attend the Creation Institute. It’s hard to get away from 1. background radiation and 2. the fact that galatic clusters are moving away from each other at steady speeds. I don’t see why you’d need to defend a static universe view anyway, why not simply argue that the cosmos and the energy that makes up the universe is eternal? Then you don’t have to be tossed too and fro in the winds of scientific discovery.

    Whether or not the Big Bang happened doesn’t have to affect either of our theologies. After all, it was believed that the universe was eternal by many Christians over the centuries and that wasn’t a problem- God is still the the ultimate ground of Being, whether He supports existence in an eternal sense or not.

    I find it ironic that a Mormon would claim that the infinite, immutable, eternal God is ‘too small’ since He is the greatest thing possible to imagine by definition. He is also filled with the most perfect love as He Himself became incarnate in Christ. There is no smallness in any of that.

  6. Seth R. said

    “Whether or not the Big Bang happened doesn’t have to affect either of our theologies.”

    Oh, I completely agree. But you brought it up… so…

  7. nebula0 said

    No I did, that’s true enough. When I saw your response I realized that the topic was going to lead us from discussing the nature of God and argue about the merits of the Big Bang I realized I should’ve stayed more focused.

  8. Erutsdug said

    i am gonna show this to my friend, man

  9. Geoff J said

    nebula0: The rules by which the cosmos operate were in existence before God became God.

    I actually think this is mistaken. While there may be some Mormon thinkers who would argue for this, the majority would argue that there was never a time when God did not rule and manage the universe. (Now the who God is might vary with some arguing for an infinite regress of Gods, others arguing that the Father of Jesus has never not been God; and other variations on these ideas floating around too.)

    but it does stand to reason that if I am going to bother positing that God exists that His existence will be grand enough, infinite enough, to explain the existence of everything else

    Well it doesn’t really stand to reason. Rather it reveals your personal preference and nothing more.

    And so here I am, now an ex Mormon, believer in God.

    Hmmm… As of earlier today it looks like you have shifted more into the agnostic category (at least that is what you said in comment #42 of the Trinity post). I don’t begrudge you changing opinions but I am a little surprised considering you wrote this post two months ago.

  10. nebula0 said

    Geoff,

    I’m confused as to how I would have given you the impression that I’m agnostic simply because I am uncertain as to how to approach the Bible. Since when does believe in God necessarily entail belief in the Bible?

    My statements about the Mormon position on God come straight from the Gospel Principles manual from which I was taught as a new member .

  11. Geoff J said

    Apparently there was miscommunication on that thread.

    I said: “for some reason I thought you were a theist and an Christian. If that is not true it is my mistake.”

    You responded: “I’m still deciding on where to go with my theism.”

    That sounded to me like you weren’t certain you planned to stick with your theism. Apparently you meant you are still a believer in God but not sure what to do about it.

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