Exploring Mormon Thought: God As Limit?

April 11, 2012 | 36 comments
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It seems hard to deny that some kind of structure, however fragile or unstable, organizes human experience. And it seems hard to deny that a major aspect—if not the determining characteristic—of the structure of experience is time.

Let’s grant all that for the purposes of this week’s discussion.

If we take as paradigmatic the structure of a formal system, it turns out that there are two possibilities when it comes to a structure, as the early twentieth century’s greatest mathematical minds taught us: if a structure is consistent, it is incomplete; if a structure is complete, it is inconsistent. More strictly, every structure robust enough to be worthy of the name as it were produces an undecidable element—an element that cannot determinately be said either to belong or not to belong to the structure in question; if it is decided, in the name of achieving systemic completeness, that this element belongs to the structure, inconsistency results; but if it is decided, in the name of maintaining systemic consistency, that this element doesn’t belong to the structure, incompleteness results. Thus, completeness and consistency are mutually exclusive when it comes to structures. (Note that this result is easiest to demonstrate when it comes to formal systems, but it equally holds for non-formal systems, as so much work in the so-called soft sciences has shown in the past century.)

Coming up against an undecidable, we have a decision to make. (Note that, paradoxical as it might sound, every decision is a decision on the undecidable. If one isn’t deciding on an undecidable, then one isn’t actually deciding, because the decision is made for one.) As I’ve laid it out so far, the decision can be said to be a decision about whether structural consistency is to be preferred over structural completeness—let’s call this the mathematical option—or, vice versa, structural completeness is to be preferred over structural consistency—let’s call this the poetic option. A third option—let’s call it the Kantian option—is available as well: one can decide against deciding the undecidable, taking the undecidable to be the limit or threshold or vanishing point of the structure.

How are we to think about the undecidable element of the largely (entirely?) temporal structure of human experience?

The classical theological gesture here is the one Ostler recounts—and heavily critiques—in chapter 11 of The Attributes of God. Assuming the temporal consistency of human experience and not at all afraid of asserting the incompleteness of human experience, theologians classically decide that the undecidable of human experience—God, classically defined—doesn’t belong. In a word, theologians classically decide that God is outside of time. Of course, this decision is difficult to square with scriptural, pre-theological understandings of God. But as the tradition has shown with remarkable consistency for thousands of years, scripture isn’t much of a roadblock for a theologian armed with reason.

There’s no mystery about the fact that Mormonism, at least as Joseph Smith conceived of it by the end of his life, contests this classical theological decision. To claim that God has a body “as tangible as man’s,” that in seeing God one would see him “in all the person, image, and very form of man,” that God sits in council with the ancient patriarchs in order to push forward with his plan for humankind—all of that puts the axe to the root of the classical theological tree.

What, however, does Mormonism plant in the ground thus cleared? That is a much more difficult matter.

I’ve already set up a kind of symmetry between the mathematical and the poetic options—between opting for consistency and opting for completeness. The classical theological gesture is, in the terms I’m employing here, a mathematical one. Does Mormonism then make the symmetrical gesture, a poetic one? Does Mormonism, in other words, simply decide that the undecidable of the temporal structure of human experience actually belongs to it? It might seem that way at first glance. After all, Mormons give a picture of God as being human-like, corporeal, even, on most accounts, temporal. Doesn’t that straightforwardly imply that the Mormon picture is simply the simple negative of the mathematical picture of classical theology?

Things are much, much more complex.

As it turns out, Ostler’s bet is on the Kantian option. I’ll come to that in a minute. First, I want to lay out the non-Ostlerian ways of making sense of Joseph Smith’s gesture, just to make clear how much more difficult this theological situation is than it seems at first.

First, can Joseph Smith’s basic theological gesture be understood to be another form of the mathematical option? I think it can.

What might be called the naïve interpretation of Joseph’s vision—what has become the naïve interpretation thanks first to Brigham Young’s stamping out the dragon seed of Prattian thought and second to the early twentieth century’s flattening out of Brigham’s subsequently established conception—doesn’t assert that God as classically defined belongs to the structure of human experience; instead, it asserts that God isn’t what he is classically defined to be precisely because he experiences the world from within the same structure as human beings. There’s no decision in this everyday Mormon conception of things for inconsistency. Indeed, one could easily make the argument that most Latter-day Saints, like the classical theological tradition before them, don’t question the consistency of human experience and have no problem with asserting the incompleteness of human experience. They just claim, if they’re familiar with and relatively thoughtful about what Joseph Smith had to say about God, that God experiences the world in something like the way humans do. And frankly, few Latter-day Saints bother with reflection on all that, being happy just to claim that Joseph Smith finally gave us to see that God has a body.

This everyday view naturally has problems. Really, it just displaces the problem of the undecidable. In itself, it is neither mathematical nor poetic—it doesn’t decide the undecidable. But it isn’t therefore Kantian, since it fails to decide not to decide. The result is that, generally, when Latter-day Saints begin to reflect in a theological vein on God, they focus on the question of whether God created all laws or whether God is subject to certain laws that are, in whatever sense, “higher” than him. This classically Mormon question is ultimately the question of whether the naïve view of Joseph Smith’s statements about God should be understood (1) to leave God in the position outside the structure of human experience assigned to him by classical theology (though with the minimal clarification that he has a body), or (2) to revise the definition of God so that something else can be identified as the undecidable of human experience while God is recognized to be human enough to be oriented to the same newly assigned undecidable.

Now, none of this should be taken to suggest that there is no room in Mormon theology for the poetic option—as if the mathematical option were the only viable one. I haven’t the space here to go into what the poetic option would look like in the first place (though I can gesture toward the work of Graham Priest as a place to start), let alone what it would look like in Mormonism, but I think it remains a real possibility, one worth exploring.

And then there’s the Kantian option, and it’s this that Ostler promotes—throughout the book to this point, but more explicitly and clearly here than previously. Ostler decides, it seems to me, against deciding between consistency and completeness, opting instead to keep the undecidable in its stark undecidability, hovering between inside and outside, marking the limit of the structure of human experience.

Ostler shares with the classical theological gesture the essential equation of the undecidable of the temporal structure of human experience with God. Where the naïve Mormon understanding of Joseph Smith outlined above breaks with the classical theological gesture principally in that it distinguishes God from the undecidable in reassigning God’s place in the structural picture, Ostler draws no such distinction, but answers the question of the undecidable differently. God is the undecidable, but it’s decided that God/the undecidable is the limit—rather than lies outside—of the structure of experience. Hence, rather than making God atemporal, as in the classical theological gesture, Ostler makes God omnitemporal. (Note that I’m constructively recasting, not summarizing. If you haven’t read the chapter in question, repent and read, and then re-read what I’ve said here.)

I’m intrigued. Intrigued, but unconvinced as yet. For the moment, the naïve Mormon conception, pushed toward sophistication and increased rigor, seems more appealing to me—perhaps simply because it’s more familiar, and perhaps because it makes for a little more straightforward reading of Abraham 3 than Ostler offers (in passing). I guess I’m intrigued, but I’ve not yet seen the reason to move in the direction Ostler does. Why not work out the philosophical bugs of the naïve conception? Can this approach be motivated a bit more?

I suspect it can be motivated, and convincingly so. In the meanwhile, I’ll reflect further on my own, perhaps too-wonted, naivete.

36 Responses to Exploring Mormon Thought: God As Limit?

  1. Michael on April 11, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Incredible summary. But I am going to ask a very, very simple question to the most complex questions you pose above – Why aren’t the Brethren pursuing and clarifying these questions for us? If they are the arbiters of our doctrine and theology, why do they not provide guidance and depth to these challenges?

    Am I expecting them to be more than they will ever be?

  2. joespencer on April 11, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    Michael,

    Simple answer: Yes, you’re expecting them to be more than they will ever be. Better put: you’re expecting them to be something other than they are or will be. While I don’t think it’s inappropriate to say that the Brethren have some kind of role as arbiters of our doctrine, I think it’s safe to say that they have no real role as arbiters of our theology (I want to assert a strong distinction between doctrine and theology here), and I think it’s worth saying also that much of our doctrine at any given time is determined by many non-Brethren factors.

    Beside the fact that being good doesn’t depend much on how we answer this question. :)

  3. Adam Miller on April 12, 2012 at 8:01 am

    With respect to Michael’s question, I wonder why would we want them to decide? I’m mostly grateful that they don’t. Plus, I agree with Joe.

  4. Michael on April 12, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Joe and Adam, thanks for the responses. My dissonance comes when they make declarative statements such as ‘gender is eternal’ (PoF) or ‘abortion is not murder’ (CHI) but provide no reasoning behind the statements which allow us to follow along and determine the truthfulness of the statements based upon scripture or natural law.

    As Elder Christofferson spoke about in his conference address (emphasizing what Elder McConkie stated years before) it is the prerogative of the Brethren to define and announce doctrine. He also told us it is the responsibility of members to determine on our own if the words spoken by the Brethren are true (I don’t understand that last part as I would think it would be the speaker’s responsibility to announce if his statements are opinion or truth). How do we determine the truth if we are not provided the reasoning behind the doctrine?

    It just becomes a maze of word games instead of a consistent and logical teaching of eternal truths.

  5. Blake on April 12, 2012 at 10:53 am

    Joe and Adam: In my fourth volume I develop three theodicies with decidedly different starting points in Mormon theology: (1) God simply grew up as a man within the natural universe and became “God” (whatever that means in this context); (2) a process view that is very closely aligned with B. H. Roberts and the Pratt Brothers writings; and (3) my theodicy which adopts the view of God that I develop in the prior 3 volumes which I call a Plan of Atonement theodicy.

    In my view, there was never a time before which each of the 3 persons of the Godhead were not joined in loving, indwelling unity and therefore never a time when they were not divine and not one God. I like the way that Joe put it — God is the limit but not beyond it. God represents the teleos of all existence. (Not exactly like de Chardin but I suppose something like that). While God’s “being” and the personal corporeal presence are clearly spatio-temporally located, the light that proceeds from God’s presence as the law which governs all things is precisely the basis of all order in the universe. Moreover, God’s knowledge extends to all realities immediately for the very same reasons. So what is at the limit, but not outside of temporal frameworks is God’s power as law inherent in all things and knowledge that arises from immediately being present to all things.

    The “naturalistic” alternative view, that was championed by Sterling McMurrin (and which Joe would like to see further developed), seems very difficult to square with the scriptures and even more difficult to make sense of how God (the unity of the divine persons) could possibly be the law that gives rise to order or have knowledge. Indeed, it is difficult to see how God’s unity of divine persons could be more than a unity of agreement and purpose like a team of football players rather than interpenetrating unity taught in D&C 88 and 93. How could such a team of persons ever have access to the universe to be present to and in all and through all things? The only way that I believe is plausible is through some technology or invention that allowed them to access remote regions and somehow control them. But that requires violating the natural laws that we are aware of like the laws of relativity and thermodynamics. So I’d be interested to see how you develop this view in a plausible way that expresses itself with something more than mere poetic metaphor.

  6. Adam Miller on April 12, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Blake, you seem to accept Joe’s characterization of your project in terms of God as limit. But I don’t see how the rest of your description (which I think I follow) fits with what Joe outlined.

    You seem to view the real as a single system that has at least one common operator for every term (God). God is related to every element and his relation to every element of the system is immediate and direct.

    In other words, on your view, the system of the real is both consistent and complete? Is that correct?

  7. Blake on April 12, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Adam: What do you mean by “the system of the real”? I believe that what is actual is, from God’s perspective, consistent and complete. How could it be otherwise?

  8. chris on April 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    In response to #1′s question, I’d just chime in that some “doctrines” we aren’t prepared for yet. Before the doctrines of the priesthood can fully distill upon our soul we first must master charity and virtue. I don’t know anyone who fully embodies the pure love of Christ, so it makes sense we wouldn’t have a fulness of knowledge regarding certain “doctrines”.

  9. Mark D. on April 12, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Blake, if God exists, then everything necessary for Him to exist and to have the properties He has necessarily also exists, right? It is difficult to make a claim about putative violations of relativity and thermodynamics from a position that commits at least equal offenses against those physical theories, no?

    The difference between natural and supernatural is largely, if not entirely, in the eye of the beholder. On what principled basis are we to make a distinction?

    Is quantum mechanics natural or supernatural, for example? It is a first class violation of relativity. No one understands why, but it does not work on any other basis. What about free will? No one really understands that either. Or consciousness, sensation, perception, creativity, and so on. The claim that divinity is supernatural is essentially content free. If there is anything that is supernatural, we just redefine nature to include it, and voila.

  10. Blake on April 12, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    Mark: if God is the basis of material order then he cannot be the result of it. Thus, God is logically prior to existence of such an order QED. Moreover, I haven’t used the loaded term “supernatural” — you’re the one injecting it into the conversation. The “natural” order as I referred to it is simply the order that arises from God’s light being in and through all things as D&C 88 teaches. God’s light is the “law” and order by which all material things move according to that revelation. If God depends on that order to become God in the first place, then God cannot also be the one who orders it. Is God a creator by organizing the material universe or not?

  11. Adam Miller on April 13, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Blake says: “What do you mean by “the system of the real”? I believe that what is actual is, from God’s perspective, consistent and complete. How could it be otherwise?”

    This is really helpful and helps clarify a lot about your position. (I think Joe will agree.) I think the upshot of Joe’s post, though, turns the question around.

    You ask, how could the real be other than both consistent and complete?

    Joe’s question is: given the last 100 years of work in both the analytic and continental traditions, how is it possible to still begin with the assumption that the real could be both consistent and complete?

    Your position assumes a starting point that I (and, I think, Joe) don’t think is self-evident.

    If you want to get a better handle on where we’re coming from, you might try Paul Livingston’s new book with Routledge, The Politics of Logic.

  12. Blake on April 13, 2012 at 10:42 am

    Adam: Yeah, I’m familiar with Livington’s Wittgesteinian and somewhat antagonistic to Badiou approach. In the analytic tradition, this kind of approach regarding God is largely seen as a confusion of ontological, epistemological and semantic issues. The fact that I cannot know know or elucidate what the complete and consistent description doesn’t suggest that reality isn’t complete and consistent. The ontological (what is), semantic (what we can say about it) and epistemological (what we can know about it) are distinct and different issues and to conflate them is a logical category mistake. The limitations he points to arise from structuring language within political communities in formal thought. To the extent he addresses ontology, I believe he makes a logical category mistake that conflates issues of epistemology, semantics, forms of life and ontology that cannot be consistently conflated.

    However, this is instructive. It explains why you don’t see addressing whether God’s knowledge is both complete and consistent is a viable option. However, when the scriptures say that God is all-knowing, it seems to me that they mean more than that God resides trapped within a particular and limited political community of discourse that he cannot transcend. That is the primary mistake with such an approach from my view.

  13. Blake on April 13, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Adam: Perhaps I can get at this issue this way. Do you agree that whatever happens to exists in terms of all that there is must: (1) be consistent or it wouldn’t be able to exist at all; and (2) be complete or it wouldn’t be all that there is at all? I am not suggesting that this completeness is not ever changing in terms of how it is organized and dynamic in the sense that it is growing. I am not Parmenides’ disciple after all.

  14. Adam Miller on April 13, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Thanks, Blake. There are a lot of really interesting things going on here.

    An initial thought. I think you’ve hit it right on the nose when you see Livingston as conflating ontological and semantic and epistemological categories. But I don’t think it’s a kind of confusion (at least not a naive one). The conflation is a central and intentional part of the project.

    It’s motivated in part by the deep problems with skepticism and relativism that result when these things are treated as distinct issues. When we treat epistemological problems as distinct from ontological ones, we end up trapped in a representational box, never knowing whether our representation ever “reach” the real world. This is a classic problem endemic to that methodological division.

    Postmodern skepticism and relativism, for instance, result directly from the attempt to enforce this division of labor.

    At some point, we have to address the degree to which our experience of the structure of the universe is real. Livingston’s approach asserts that there is no fundamental gap between how the universe is structured and how the universe shows up for us. It’s a strong kind of ontological realism. But it also asserts that the structure of the real that shows up is itself dynamic, fragmented, and incomplete.

    God’s work is to put things together. Not back together.

    This is related to my earlier comment about Derrida: that differance should be understood as an ontological operator and not just a semiological or phenomenological one.

  15. Joe Spencer on April 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    I need more time.

    In the meanwhile, I’ll just say that Adam is currently saying all I’d be saying—and doing so much better—in response to you, Blake. Particularly important, I think, is his nice summary of the philosophical motivation for “confusing” epistemology, semantics, and ontology….

  16. KLS on April 14, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Of course you need more time, Joe. Time is, after all, the defining characteristic of the structure of the experience of this conversation.

  17. KLS on April 14, 2012 at 9:18 am

    If God depends on that order to become God in the first place, then God cannot also be the one who orders it.

    Why can’t a being become divine by evolving according to the laws of a divine order, thereby incorporating it, and thereby becoming a source of it?

  18. clark on April 14, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Blake: (5) The “naturalistic” alternative view, that was championed by Sterling McMurrin (and which Joe would like to see further developed), seems very difficult to square with the scriptures and even more difficult to make sense of how God (the unity of the divine persons) could possibly be the law that gives rise to order or have knowledge.

    I’m not sure how to take McMurrin’s views – I’m not a fan of his book on Mormon theology at all. That said if the natural view is merely to take God as inside a pre-existence “universe” he didn’t create then I don’t see a problem with that. The easiest way to deal with this scripturally is to merely distinguish this universe as a particular creation from what for lack of a better term we’d call the multiverse constituted of all creations.

    In my fourth volume I develop three theodicies with decidedly different starting points in Mormon theology: (1) God simply grew up as a man within the natural universe and became “God” (whatever that means in this context); (2) a process view that is very closely aligned with B. H. Roberts and the Pratt Brothers writings; and (3) my theodicy which adopts the view of God that I develop in the prior 3 volumes which I call a Plan of Atonement theodicy.

    However Pratt explicitly does have a view of God tied to the traditional reading of the King Follet Discourse. If anything his book The Seer pushes it quite far. On these points Pratt and Young are actually quite close. It’s the question of the ousia which Pratt has a weird fluid view for and which Young appears to think not worth talking about that we see a difference.

    seems very difficult to square with the scriptures and even more difficult to make sense of how God (the unity of the divine persons) could possibly be the law that gives rise to order or have knowledge.

    If there are multiple creations as per Pratt and Young I think this is actually quite easy to understand and explain.

    I don’t have time to say much else at this time. I just think the traditional view of multiple creations (universes) resolves most of the problems you point towards.

  19. Blake on April 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Clark: Where does God stand in relation to the creation of the: (a) mutiverse; (b) pocket universe? If God stands inside a pocket universe as your view requires, then he didn’t organize it and he could be the basis of organization or law as taught by D&C 88 because he relied on an organized universe to become God. If he stands outside each pocket universe and relates to the multiverse then your view just won’t work because God pre-exists all pocket universes.

    “And that is all that I have to say about that.” Forrest Gump

  20. Blake on April 14, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Adam and Joe: Yeah, I’m really pretty sure that confusing political totalities with logical and physical totalities is a logical mess.

  21. Blake on April 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    KLS #17: “Why can’t a being become divine by evolving according to the laws of a divine order, thereby incorporating it, and thereby becoming a source of it?”

    For the reason that if God is the one who organizes the cosmos he cannot also be the one who relies on the order of the cosmos in order to become God. Look if at t1 God is not divine and exists within an ordered cosmos, then when God becomes “God” at t2 the cosmos is already organized before God got there. Think of order the way that D&C 88 presents it — as he basis of the law by which all things move in an ordered fashion. God cannot be the source of the ordering law and also depend on it to become God. That is a really vicious logical circularity.

    Now if there is only a part of a cosmos that is organized and God flies out to some part that the senior gods just haven’t quite gotten to yet to organize it, then no problem with a circularity — the problem then is that God will not be the creator by organization of the cosmos but only a demi-god of part of it. That just isn’t the deity revealed in D&C 88 that says that God’s spirit and light that governs all things as the basis of the law that organizes them is in and through all things — not just some things.

  22. Blake on April 14, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Adam & Joe: Could you please explain how the notion of a paradox resulting from a set of sets ontology (which I certainly don’t endorse) has to do with God’s relation to time? One of the things that drives me crazy (and most analytic tradition philosophers that I have read addressing the Continental/analytic divide) is that every conversation gets reduced to some skeptical limitation. We can never talk about the subject matter because we never get beyond talking about what it means to talk.

    And BTW, I disagree, I believe that God puts things together and also back together.

  23. Mark D. on April 14, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Blake (#10), The problem here is that if there are no natural laws or contraints (conceived in the broadest possible terms) then the following consequences immediately follow:

    1. The universe is susceptible of ceasing to exist at any moment
    2. Morality is whatever God says it is
    3. God can break his promises and no one can have any reason to complain
    4. There is no need for a suffering at-one-ment.
    5. All pain and suffering is gratuitously unnecessary
    6. Nothing has a nature, including God
    7. Divine embodiment is purely incidental to divine character and power
    8. God can discard his body at any time without any consequences
    9. There is no need for anyone to be resurrected to receive a fulness of joy
    10. There are no necessary truths outside of logic and mathematics

    And so on. If you reject any of those propositions, you accept the existence of natural laws, and then this simply reduces to a debate of how many and what the character of those constraints actually are.

  24. Blake on April 14, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Mark D.: Your post has several non-sequiturs and logical mistakes:

    1. Not so. What remains is chaos. Remember that all of the laws of nature break down at the Planck constant, but it doesn’t mean that everything ceases to exist. But what has this got to do with what I say? I’m not arguing that God is the entire source of natural laws, only that his light/spirit is a necessary condition to the natural realities abiding by a law or manifesting law-like behavior as I believe D&C 88 teaches.
    2. This conflates natural and moral law and is a logical category mistake. Ought does not equal is.
    3. Same category mistake conflating natural and moral laws.
    4. Same mistake.
    5. Same mistake.
    6. False, I have elucidated a view where eternal realities have a nature but which requires sharing God’s light to express it.
    7. What sense of embodiment? Are you suggesting that God’s eternal resurrected body is necessary for God to exist as a divine person(s)? That is certainly false. Are you suggesting that spiritual bodies are subject to the same natural laws that corporeal bodies are? How do you know and what is the basis of your belief?
    8. What sense of body are you talking about?
    9. Non-sequitur. A resurrected body adds to our glory.
    10. That is true. So what?

  25. jax on April 14, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    Here is my question. I’ve followed along pretty well, but admit I can’t add much. Humor me anyway and please answer this… If we can become equal to God and assume Godship (as I assume we all believe) then will our created children be having this same argument about us? Will they say that nothing could have existed before we did or else we wouldn’t be GOD?

  26. Mark D. on April 14, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Blake,

    1. If laws of nature “broke down” below a certain scale there wouldn’t be any.

    2. You are the one making the category mistake here. If morality is real it is natural. The ‘ought’ vs. ‘is’ distinction is irrelevant.

    6. How do you suppose God has any power over anything unless he naturally has either that power or the potential to have that power? Without nature God is impotent. It is laws of nature that God cannot change that are the only reason why He has any definite properties at all. Nothing can have a property except in relation to something else.

    7. “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” – Philip. 3:21

  27. clark on April 14, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Remember that all of the laws of nature break down at the Planck constant, but it doesn’t mean that everything ceases to exist.

    This isn’t correct. What happens is that in terms of the “laws” we apply we have to switch to the proper one. If one is postulating some grand unified theory then those laws are always at work but above the plank scale their effects are small enough to generally be able to neglect.

    Where does God stand in relation to the creation of the: (a) mutiverse; (b) pocket universe? If God stands inside a pocket universe as your view requires, then he didn’t organize it and he could be the basis of organization or law as taught by D&C 88 because he relied on an organized universe to become God.

    The traditional view of this is simply that D&C 88 (and most other scriptures) apply just to this universe. Once again both Young and Pratt among others are pretty explicit on this. The universe God was in when he created this universe was created by his father and so forth on back.

    It’s fine to reject this of course as you reject the standard reading of the KFD. But if you’re going to attack a fairly dominant position through most of the history of the Church I think it important to state it correctly.

  28. Blake on April 14, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    Mark D.: ” If morality is real it is natural.”

    Yeah, I don’t know anyone who believes this except evolutionary psychologists — who really don’t adopt an ethic but a provisional psychological tendency toward pro-social behavior that results in greater likelihood of survival. But I for one have a very difficult time as recognizing that as morality at all. I see it as simple sociobiology.

    What do you mean by this statement: “if morality is real then it is natural”? That morality reduces to laws of physics? No one I know believes that and for good reason. What I ought to do cannot be derived from what simply is. The “ought does not equal is” precisely the principal that your view of “naturalistic morality” violates so not only is it relevant, it shows why the view is flawed.

    Moreover, if God is limited to laws of nature, then if those laws dictate that God cannot control black holes and the like (as they certainly do because everything eventually succumbs to gravity) then “god” is doomed along with the rest of us.

    Note carefully that on my view what the laws shall be is dictated by the properties of the eternal elements (basic constituents) but the potential for such law-like activity is dependent on God’s cooperative power in terms of divine light. It is a somewhat Aristotelian view of natural law.

    I am not sure where you are getting that I somehow deny that organized chaos is governed by lawlike behavior. However, you haven’t addressed the basic problem: if God is the creator of an organized chaos, he cannot also become god after having created the ordered cosmos based on the laws that derive from organization of the cosmos. It is a vicious logical circularity. I still haven’t seen a response to that.

    Clark #27: “What happens is that in terms of the “laws” we apply we have to switch to the proper one. If one is postulating some grand unified theory then those laws are always at work but above the plank scale their effects are small enough to generally be able to neglect.”

    You might want to read what you stated again. First, there are no laws that can be discerned below the Planck constant. Every ability to predict and generate any law-like behavior collapses literally in the equation. Second, who is postulating a grand unified theory? If you are suggesting that there is an infinite possibility of laws based on undefined initial constants below the Planck scale and that we cannot discern any of them at or above the Planck scale when the initial constants dictate the laws that will result, then I believe that you have misunderstood the relation between initial constants that govern natural laws and their relation to the Planck constant.

    I presume that by “this universe” you mean our own pocket universe (since the word universe means “the single reality that comprises all that there is”). Neither Pratt nor BY is “explicit” about this since they didn’t even have a concept of a multiverse or pocket universe. So if you’re going to discuss their views, I suggest not reading into them an anachronistic cosmology. What they taught is that within the entirety of what exists there are pockets of order and large areas that the gods haven’t quite got to yet to organize. Thus, “god” is not the god of the entire universe but only a small corner of it.

    I reject their view because it is contra-scriptural. You say that the standard reading of D&C 88 is BY’s or Pratt’s, but I don’t believe that they base their cosmology on D&C 88. Do you have a cite suggesting that they do?

  29. Mark D. on April 15, 2012 at 1:31 am

    Blake, I don’t know how you justify such awkward semantics for the word natural. There is no general distinction to be drawn between natural and supernatural, nor between physics and metaphysics. At best any difference is a linguistic artifact useful only in limited circumstances.

    Dropping those content free distinctions, the nature of X is simply defined as the character or properties of X which are objectively real. Every question about the objectivity of morality, or moral realism, is a question about nature, or some kind of natural law, conceived in the broadest possible terms, i.e. not the bereft sense of nature adopted by garden variety physical scientists, but rather expanded to include everything spiritually and metaphysically necessary as well.

    The general sense of natural law is anything that is physically, metaphysically, morally, or spiritually non-contingent. If God is a necessary being, that is a natural law. If God has any properties whatsoever that are not purely a function of his own will, those are natural properties. There is a name for things that are a function of the will of God – namely divine ordinances.

    Now if there literally is no such thing as a natural law of any kind, all constancy outside of the rarefied realm of logic and mathematics isn’t natural at all but rather divinely ordained. There is a basic problem with that proposition, and that is that if everything constant is divinely ordained, then nothing is necessary of God as God at all. Not His love, nor His power, nor His fidelity, nor even His very existence. A God that nothing is necessary of as God is either imaginary or a living terror.

  30. joespencer on April 15, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Blake,

    The great analytic philosophers—from Frege, Russell, and Wittgenstein through Tarski, Carnap, and Quine to Sellars, McDowell, and Davidson—all talk only about what it means to talk. The project of analytic philosophy as a whole has been to figure out what it means to talk so that we can finally get on to talking, but the project hasn’t been completed yet. There are those who have been trained in the analytic tradition, of course, who, for their own philosophical purposes, take the basic question of what it means to talk to be solved by this or that great analytic thinker, and so they move on to talking. And this is what most workaday analytic philosophers are doing—taking up specific questions within the framework of a presupposed position on what it means to talk.

    But this is hardly true only of analytic philosophers. The great continental thinkers—from Nietzsche, Husserl, and Heidegger through Gadamer, Foucault, and Ricoeur to Derrida, Badiou, and Deleuze—all talk only about what it means to talk. But there are many who have been trained in continental thought who take one of the proposed answers to the question of what it means to talk and get to the work of talking. Indeed, this makes up the majority of what goes on in continental thought, just as its parallel makes up the majority of what goes on in analytic thought.

    It shouldn’t be much of a surprise, though, that when analytics and continentals try to talk to one another about particular issues, it quickly becomes necessary to talk about frameworks and presuppositions. If someone speaking French and someone speaking Japanese try to communicate with one another about something, they will, unless one of them can speak the other’s language fluently, have to begin talking about language so that they can begin to communicate. And when they discover that their very experience of the thing in question has been profoundly influenced by their respective languages, their discussion will likely dwell on frameworks and presuppositions. And that’s not a bad thing, I should think.

    One of the most unfortunate things that’s happened in philosophy in the past century or two is that the possibility of universal philosophical discussion has been largely hampered by the idea that we’ve got to come to a scientifically valid answer in a relatively short time. Why can’t philosophical discussion remain, when it needs to, at the broadest level? Why can’t we revel in the joy of discussion even when we’re not getting immediate answers to our questions?

    Hence, in the meanwhile, I’ll ask the following:

    What sort of logical mess does a fusion of the ontological and the logical get us into? And why would that be a self-evidently bad thing?

    Also, this question: What guarantees that your interpretation of D&C 88 is the true one? Note that I’m not saying it’s a bad interpretation; indeed, I find it fascinating and, moreover, compelling to a certain extent. But what makes it the best reading?

  31. Blake on April 15, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Joe: First question — your question is interesting because instead of answering my question and what this issue has to do with God’s relation to time an immediacy, you focus on questions related to a Continental issues. The focus itself is what I find interesting. It is also interesting because Adam’s focus, if I have understood him, is on the equation of political (and therefore issues of power and persuasion) totalities with logical and ontological issues.

    Here is why confusing political, ontological and logical categories leads to a logical mess. Ontology is much broader than logic. For instance, a thing can be ontologically necessary in many different ways and not just logically. If God exists of factual ontological necessity, then we can say that God exists, will always exist and there is nothing that can cause God to cease to exist. God just happens to exist and it is his nature to do so. The way that Mark D. conceives of natural law in this sense of ontological necessity (though I do not think of natural laws in this way since I believe that they are contingent in one sense and ontologically necessary in another sense).

    However, if God exists of logical necessity, then depending on which formal logical semantics we adopt, there is a precise sense of what it means to say that God exists of logical necessity. In logical system S5, working in first order logic, to say that “God exists of logical necessity” is to say that there is contradiction in first order terms if we assert “God does not exist.” In terms of possible world semantics, it is to say that “God exists in all possible worlds.” Logic is formalizeable, using formal systems of modal logic, predicate logic, propositional logic, ordinal logic and so forth. Ontology cannot be formalized in the same way.

    Livingston’s primary gaffe in my view is equating totalities of logic, physics, mathematics (primarily Cantor’s ordinal infinities) and political communities. Political communities are so ill-defined in the first place that they don’t admit of the kind of logical precision imputed to them by Livingston. Moreover, “political communities” have indeterminate properties and are dynamic in the sense of living things that relate in a never-determinate sense that does not admit of logical treatment in the same way as sets of things to which he compares them. Thus, it is a category mistake to treat a community of people and how they use persuasion as if it could be quantified like a set of numbers in set theory. The formal trouble can be seen from the fact that the set of all self identified Democrats in the US isn’t anything at all like the set of all ordinal numbers. Every ordinal number has the property of being a number. It is essential that for a thing to be an ordinal number it must a rational number. However, every self-identified Democrat does not have the property of adopting the “essence of political ideas that make the Democratic party what it is” largely because there is no such essence. Thus, it is comparing things that have well-defined and determinate properties with collections that do not.

    Now, how does God’s relation to what happens to exist in a temporal ordering relate to these issues?

    Next question: How do I know that my interpretation of D&C 88 is the correct one? Well, I suggest that there is no one correct view. D&C 88 is too fecund for that kind of reduction. What I suggest is that this approach is the most natural reading (at least to me) and one that makes sense of the terms used in the most comprehensive and illuminating way.

    “He comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth . . . he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made [the same with the moon and stars] . . . And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space — the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.”

    The light is the basis of God’s knowledge because it is in and through all things. It is the basis of God’s power because it is the law by which all things are governed. God is so related that he is in and through these things as the basis of the truth of the law that governs them as the things that they are. Since the light of God is his power by which the sun, moon and stars were made and the law by which they are governed, it seems to me that it is logically necessary that his power is logically prior to their existence and his power is logically prior to the law which governs them. If that is so, then his knowledge and power as God is logically prior to creation and not dependent on it. If god grows up in an ordered universe and follows laws in order to learn how to become god, then he is logically subsequent and dependent on this order and law and not its source and origin.

    However, the real issue in our discussion is God’s immediacy to his creations and the laws by which they are governed, and it seems to me that D&C 88 teaches such immediacy:

    “He acomprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever. And . . . he hath given a law unto all things, by which they move in their times and their seasons.”

    So D&C 88 teaches that God is actually in “all” these things as the basis of the law which governs them. On the view propounded by Brigham Young, God is not the source of the law that governs all things, but of growing within an already established natural order on which he depends for his growth toward god. Question: is the “all things” used in D&C 88 really “all” or is it merely some mere part or subset of all that is?

  32. Joe Spencer on April 16, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Blake,

    Well, the simple answer to your question was one you’d contest in the name of your concern about conflating the ontological and the logical, because my answer would have been: Because I assume God’s experience is structured—or, at least, I have no reason to assume that God’s experience isn’t structured. Since I could anticipate what your response to that would be, I thought I’d go straight to that response. My apologies if it sounded like I was sidestepping.

    In response to your response to my first question:

    (1) Can you say more about ontological necessity? What would necessity look like as a non-logical category? (2) Why, again, can’t ontology be thought in terms of a formal system? I see an assertion here, but not an argument. Even if ontology can’t be (fully or appropriately) formalized, can we think what is in any other way than through a logic of some kind? (3) Livingston ultimately suggests that it’s dialethic logic that must be used to think the political, not the set theoretical. He attributes to Badiou the claim that the political is to be thought in terms of set theory, though I don’t think that’s technically right (Livingston and I have frequent arguments about the interpretation of Badiou).

    In response to your response to my second question:

    I want to think about all this a great deal more. I asked simply because your comments on this post have ultimately made your interpretation of D&C 88 do the heavy lifting on behalf of your approach. I don’t have any particular quibbles about your interpretation, but neither do I have any particular inclinations toward it at present. For my own part, if I take the several options on offer in Mormonism generally, the most beautiful and moving for me is Brigham’s Adam-God doctrine. (There’s probably a sense in which I practically affirm Brigham’s conception in the way I go about my humble work in the kingdom.) I don’t know how much my aesthetic inclinations drive the rest of my theological work, but I’m far more focused on what might loosely be called pastoral questions than on anything else—certain than on questions about God’s nature. But whether because I just enjoy Brigham’s conception so much, or whether because that aesthetic appreciation actually shapes my other theological work, I’m inclined to read D&C 88 in what might ultimately be unnatural ways. I haven’t anything like the time to spell out my own reading of D&C 88 (I won’t have the time, at least, until the semester ends for me in a few weeks), but I ought to share it at some point.

  33. Blake on April 17, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    You have made several interesting points and asked some very important questions. I need to think about it a bit more before responding — and your comments certainly deserve thought and a response. However, before going forward I think it serves (me at least) to know what you mean when you say that “God’s experience is structured”?

  34. joespencer on April 18, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Good question. At the very least, I mean that God’s experience isn’t a booming, buzzing confusion: it can be thought—though perhaps, of course, not by us….

  35. Blake on April 19, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Joe: Well, that isn’t very helpful. However, it is illuminating in this respect. I don’t believe that God’s “thoughts” and “consciousness” are like ours in the sense that there is an insuperable divide between phenomena and noumena. God’s knowledge isn’t merely a constructed whole from the categories of judgment in the Kantian sense. God’s knowledge embodies the realities in the sense that each event is immediately known to him without being mediated by something like human sense experience. Nor do I think that God has to think through things and come up with a logical conclusion based on inference — as if he could make a mistake in logical deductions or be mistaken about inferences. Such matters are immediately evident to him.

    Here is the challenge: If you think that God is limited to bodily sense experience as a basis of his empirical knowledge together with whatever instruments he can cobble together to enhance the range of his sense experience like we do, then God(s) is so limited that he isn’t anything at all like the God presented in scripture who knows all things by being in and through them as the basis of the law that describes their movements. If God must figure things out, then he is ignorant of a good many things at every moment he makes decisions. In other words, his ability to figure things out someday if he tried means he doesn’t yet have many things figured out so he acts in vast ignorance regarding every decision he makes. I just don’t think such notions mesh at all with the revelations God has given about himself as the one who knows all things. [This should all be read as "God" consisting of at least three divine individuals who each know all that the others know].

  36. joespencer on April 24, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    Sorry I didn’t see this until just now!

    “I don’t believe that God’s ‘thoughts’ and ‘consciousness’ are like ours in the sense that there is an insuperable divide between phenomena and noumena,” etc.

    I don’t think God’s thoughts are like that, but neither do I think that our thoughts are like that. I’m with Hegel against Kant on that sort of thing.

    “God’s knowledge embodies the realities in the sense that each event is immediately known to him without being mediated by something like human sense experience.”

    I could probably grant “something like human sense experience,” but I’m nervous about the claim that there is no other mediating element. I’m just not sure it’s possible to talk about knowledge without some kind of transcendental structure—more in the Kuhnian or Foucauldian sense than in the strictly Kantian. I need to read Whitehead more, but I’ll confess I just don’t know what “knowledge” can mean here.

    “Nor do I think that God has to think through things and come up with a logical conclusion based on inference — as if he could make a mistake in logical deductions or be mistaken about inferences. Such matters are immediately evident to him.”

    I could theoretically grant this as well, but I don’t know what it could mean. If something is immediately evident, is it evident in any meaningful sense?

    “If you think that God is limited to bodily sense experience as a basis of his empirical knowledge together with whatever instruments he can cobble together to enhance the range of his sense experience like we do, then God(s) is so limited that he isn’t anything at all like the God presented in scripture who knows all things by being in and through them as the basis of the law that describes their movements.”

    Sure, but I’m not claiming that God’s limited to bodily sense experience. And neither am I so limited. And again, it’s statements like this that make me wonder whether your interpretation of D&C 88 isn’t doing the heaviest lifting for you. If there is only one way of reading D&C 88, then what you’re saying here has unmistakable traction. But if there are other ways of reading the text….

    “If God must figure things out, then he is ignorant of a good many things at every moment he makes decisions. In other words, his ability to figure things out someday if he tried means he doesn’t yet have many things figured out so he acts in vast ignorance regarding every decision he makes.”

    This wouldn’t worry me that much, but I’m not invested in it either. In what sense does God, on your account, make decisions?

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