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Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

Mormonism and God

Posted by nebula0 on July 15, 2011


To be perfectly honest I haven’t given Mormonism much thought lately. I did present at the Salt Lake City Sunstone Symposium last August for the second time and enjoyed that, and the thought that I put into that paper was the last time I gave the religion serious thought.

I have been giving the concept of God a lot of attention however. As I have been learning more about philosophy I have been taken aback by the sheer force of many of the arguments for God’s existence. I was of the mindset that modernity, culminating with Kant, had done away with Aquinas’ arguments. I was wrong, they are alive and well, thriving even.

My current favorite is the various forms of the Leibnizian cosmological argument (argument from contingency). There are several ways to approach this one, but it goes something like this:

There is a possible explanation for every contingent thing. [a contingent thing is one which could have conceivably not existed]

The aggregate of all contingent things is a contingent thing, call it C.

There is a possible explanation for C. [via the premise]

Any contingent thing posed as an explanation for C will be a member of C [by definition].

Therefore, there possibly exists some necessary thing to explain C. [a necessary thing is one which must exist in every possible world]

If it is to stand in an explanatory relationship with C it will be a concrete thing. [a concrete thing as opposed to an abstract, can effect things in the world]

Therefore, a necessary concrete object exists [via S5, a rule in modal logic which states that a possible necessary is necessary]

There is a stage 2 of this argument which explicates what sorts of properties this necessary concrete object must have analytically. Stage 2 ends up arguing for an agent with unbounded power and knowledge. There are of course rejoinders to consider, but in general if one accepts some form of the Principle of Sufficient Reason and possibly mereological universalism the argument seems to run.

I will pose this question, does Mormonism fulfill the requirements of these sorts of arguments? Historically obviously not, philosophy has been looked upon with suspicion and the corporal, finite nature of God the Father embraced as a positive distinctive element in the religion. But is there some room in Mormonism to integrate into it the insights that these kinds of arguments? After all, intelligence is the glory of God.

I have no immediate answers to this. It is clear that like any religious group Mormonism is changing, and as a young one is still defining itself. My hope is that as a group Mormons embrace all that reason reveals. Even if Mormonism as a theological system rejects what natural theology has to offer by engaging it it can only grow richer and deeper for its adherents.

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Philosophies of Men in Mormon Theology

Posted by nebula0 on March 24, 2009


I wouldn’t take delight in pointing out striking similarities between Platonic and Mormon thought it if weren’t for the fact that a persistent tactic in Mormon apologetics is to accuse orthodox Christianity of being nearly hopelessly infused with these ‘philosophies of men’ corrupting the purity of the gospel.  As that is the case, I want to point out a couple of places in which Mormonism fits better with Platonic philosophy than does orthodox Christianity (see Plato’s Timaeus). 

First of all: creation ex nihilo.  In orthodox Christianity, God creates the cosmos out of nothing and according to his own rules, this is creation ex nihilo.  According to Mormonism God created the universe out of pre-existent materials and according to pre-existent laws of the cosmos, the creation was more of an organization or building.  Now your immediate inclination may be to suppose that the Mormon view is closer to an authentic ancient Hebrew belief and that the orthodox Christian creation is a Greek notion- and that would be wrong.  According to Platonism, the  universe was created by a being called the demiurge who created it out of pre-existing materials and according to pre-existing rules.  Sound familiar? 

Another thing that I would point out is the Platonic notion that as the universe was being put together, there was a sort of life force or soul present in the things created, that this life-ness was present in the things put together before they were materialized.  Now if you know Mormon theology, you know that God formed all things spiritually before they were formed physically.  Compare that to the Platonic concept I just described and now compare that to the orthodox Christian notion that God infused life into the world in a single instant after physical creation.

I’m just saying, maybe the pot shouldn’t call the kettle black too quickly here…

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Mormon Epistemology and Faith

Posted by nebula0 on November 29, 2008


Anyone who has encountered Mormon missionaries for any length of time is familiar with Mormon epistemology, that is, the Mormon way of knowing.  In one sense it is an advanced epistemology comparative to the conservative Christian world.  The core of it is simply this: it is not possible to prove empirically or analytically “spiritual truths” (theological claims), these can only be known by a witness through the Spirit and they can be known, not just believed.  One of the first things that Mormon missionaries are likely to do will be to attempt to teach you how to recognize the Spirit witnessing a truth to you.  This is accomplished by linking together a theological claim that they make to some kind of feeling of peace of comfort on your part.  Likewise, if you happen to feel unease they may teach you that Lucifer is active in the world and trying to keep you from the truth.

Through this means a Mormon convert receives their testimony, that is, their grounding belief that Mormon theological claims are true.  From there, it is through experimentation with these beliefs that leads to knowledge through obedience to the obligations that these beliefs carry.  For example, Mormon converts are taught that they are to tithe (give 10% of their income) as a commandment and they must accept this as a precondition to baptism into the Mormon church.  They are told that if they are unsure about this move, to try it out a few times as God promises to rain blessings down on those who are faithful to it.  From here follows stories about those barely scraping by who nonetheless make the sacrifice to tithe and find unexpected checks in the mail.  These sort of blessing experiences combined with many experiences with the Spirit testifying of truths leads to Mormon testimonies that begin “I know this church is true”.

I started out this post with the claim that Mormon epistemology is more advanced than that of the conservative Christian way.  Conservative Christians often think that the existence of God can be proven, as an example, through well worn philosophical arguments such as the Argument from Design.  Most of these amateur apologists (and here I do speak specifically of the non professional) are not aware of the devastating counter arguments to this argument.  They may also be creationists and argue against evolution only for you to find out through the conversation that the Christian in question doesn’t really understand the theory of evolution at all (for instance, how many times have you run into someone who argues that if evolution were true there should be no monkeys?).  The problem is that these conservative Christians have a naive faith in the provability of a myriad of empirical claims that are on very shakey empirical grounds.

Mormons, on the other hand, for the most part have realized long ago that their empirical claims are highly problematic and so have fully retreated into a subjective epistemology because there are so very many empirical Mormon claims that have little to no empirical evidence as a support.  For instance, what solid undeniable evidence is there to support the Book of Mormon claims?  If all you have is an inscription in Yemen and chiasm you aren’t exactly on the warpath to converting thousands.  Similarly, sometimes the empirical evidence is directly contrary, as in the case of the Book of Abraham.

For most Mormons this stuff isn’t a problem because most aren’t aware of the problems in part because they accept Mormon epistemology so don’t bother with things that might possibly disturb their witness of the Spirit.  For those who are familiar and indeed engage in apologetics a dangerous game is entered into.  Such an individual needs to carefully craft apologetic answers in such a way to neutralize the immediate dangers quickly.  Personally, I never could.  To some extent I bought Mormon epistemology knowing as I did that the existence of God, for one thing, could never be thoroughly proven.  I cast the problem as an either or issue- either the matter could be conclusively proven or there was nothing.  It was only later that I realized that exiling my intellect in the matters of faith lead to a tepid and stinking sort of faith, a rot which prevented my whole will from embracing God.

Now I would recommend to all the following thoughts: It is true, theological claims cannot be conclusively proven, however, unless you demonstrate the basic reasonableness of such a claim your religion and therefore commitment to God will be a facade.  If God didn’t want us to use our intellects, obviously we wouldn’t have them and God wouldn’t try to reason with us through scriptures and spokespeople.  If you aren’t sure if a theological claim makes sense, suspend it and investigate the matter.  Receiving a feeling of peace is not an answer since it has no content to show the intellect.  Feelings, emotions have a place in the religious life, yes, but when they are all that you rely on you have put to sleep that part of you which is especially made in the image of God.

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A Look at Mormon Epistemology

Posted by nebula0 on October 14, 2008


In a way, this is The Discussion, because almost every debate I have gotten in here and elsewhere has come down to the question of epistemology (meaning, the way we come to claim we know anything).  It’s a fascinating experience for me, because I have realized these past few days that this is precisely what I used to do as a Mormon as well.  I feel as though I am debating with my past self. 

Here’s an example of what I mean.  You can start with any opening topic, it will always end up doing the same thing:

Me: Take the nature of deity.  Does it make sense to have an infinite regress of dependent beings such as classical Mormon theology teaches?

Mormon: The idea of an infinite, immutable God is a Platonic construct, therefore I don’t need to pay attention to it.  I will pay attention only to special revelation.

Me: Platonic or not, who cares?  If it’s a valid argument it’s a valid argument.  And how do you know what special revelation that you can trust as representing reality if you haven’t thought through what the nature of deity is like in the first place?

Mormon: None of those proofs are bulletproof so they are all really just mere speculation by the minds of men.  We have to learn to listen to the Spirit if we are going to learn truth, why not learn it right from the source?

Me: But how do you know what you are hearing is really the voice of the Spirit and not you- your own beliefs being encoded into an experience?

Mormon: If you can’t trust your experiences, and you can’t trust reasoning, what can you trust?

Me: That’s precisely why reasoning is important.  Whether we like it or not, we have no unfettered direct access to reality through experience.  We have to take the chance and do the best we can at reasoning.

and so on…

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Trinity and the Mormon Godhead

Posted by nebula0 on October 11, 2008


I’ll never forget the day when, as a new member baptized maybe three months ago, missionaries showed up at my apartment to ask me what the different was between the godhead as spelled out by the Articles of Faith and the trinity as believed by orthodox Christianity.  Part of the reason it’s an episode burned into my mind is that I was so shocked that these poor missionaries who had gone through the Missionary Training Center, one who was on the tail end of his mission, did not understand basic Mormon theology.  For all you orthodox Christians out there who read this, let this be a lesson for you when you speak to Mormons before you accuse them of lying or being brainwashed.  The reality of the situation is that many Mormons, maybe the majority, do not understand basic Mormon theology anymore.  For you Mormons, you may argue that the doctrine of the trinity just doesn’t make sense, it’s a contradiction in terms, and that’s why there is confusion.

Let’s start with the trinity.  The grounding assumption of any formulation of the trinity starts with the assumption that there is but One God.  By God here I mean the immutable, infinite, eternal, necessary being labeled God.  There are two ways to come to this conclusion, through philosophy and through exegesis of the Bible.   Through philosophy you can come to suspect that the God I stated above exists through classic arguments such as the argument from contingency or the ontological argument.  It follows from such arguments that there would be only one such being, as a truly infinite, necessary, immutable being would be a true unity.  From the Bible verses from especially deutero Isaiah and the New Testament, when monotheism was firmly established in Israel, reaffirm the notion that there is but one God.

With that established, the next thing integrated into the notion of the trinity is usually the Son, Christ.  Again, there are two ways of approaching this problem, through philosophy and exegesis of the Bible.  Through philosophy you may come to some notion of a finite creation separated from its infinite Creator and the question as to how to close that gap between two qualitatively different types of beings.  The incarnation is one particularly appealing solution, and since it is testified to in the New Testament, appears to many Christians to be particularly powerful.  From statements in the New Testament, most powerfully from John 1, it is understood that Christ is the expressed Logos, or spoken Word/reason/mind of God somehow enfleshed.  It follows from the notion that there is but One God, that there must be some kind of profound unity between the creator God and this enfleshed Logos.  There are a couple ways to do this, the easiest way mentally is through modalism/oneness theology, which states that God expresses himself through different modes of being- the father first, the son second and the holy ghost third.  Hence, Jesus IS the father IS the holy ghost.  That melding of persons into one person doesn’t prove satisfactory to all however, since through exegesis most Christians argue that Christ was a bonafide separate person from the Father (i.e. who was Jesus praying to when praying to the Father?  It seems reasonable to assert it was a different person). 

This is where it getes tricky and the doctrine of the trinity loses many well meaning people.  How can you possibly assert that two separate persons are the same Being?  Because recall, it was already established that there is only One God.  The notion of personhood is a tricky enough one to begin with.  What does it mean that youare a person when you are not made up of the same ‘stuff’ one year to the next as your cells are created and destroyed?  Is there a difference between a person and a being?  Usually when we talk about personhood we mean a rational agent, and when we talk about being we describe qualities.  To be a human being is to be a person with a mortal, finite body.  To be a human being is to be a a person and a particular being in unity.  But, what if there was a type of being which was unlimited, infinite, is it possible that multiple persons could share the exact same nature?  Think about this for a second, part of being a human being is being finite and imperfect- separate, distinct.  But if a rational agent has an infinite, immutable being, what’s to say that another rational agent, another person, could not share that exact same being of infinity?  There can only be one such being- multiple, perfect infinites would actually overlap and become the exact same beings, they would overlay each other or become contradictions in terms- but why not have multiple persons be that being?  From there comes the inclusion of the Holy Spirit as a third person to be the being of God.  From what I can tell, the inclusion of the Holy Spirit is primarily due to exegesis from scripture.

Whether or not you agree with the above, I hope you realize that it isn’t just silly, impossible nonsense.  It’s reasonable enough.  Now how does that compare to the Mormon notion of the Godhead?  Simple.  The Mormon Godhead supposes that there are three beings which compose it, not just three persons in one being.  This is made possible because deity in Mormonism is not infinite in the absolute sense.  It is infinite only in a relative sense- in the same way that a large sheet might as well be infinite to a speck of dust.  Therefore it is not contradiction in terms to assume that there can be multiple relatively infinite beings, it is only a problem if you suppose that there is an absolutely infinite being in existence.

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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.

Posted in Controversial Topics, Reflections, Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | 11 Comments »