Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Cosmic Gospel: A Cosmic Relationship

Previous: A Cosmic Savior

A Cosmic Relationship

25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?

27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? 

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,

And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

Luke 10:25-29, 33-34, 36-37

This parable and the exchange between Christ and the lawyer contain a profound and universal truth. One of the most empowering aspects of the cosmic relationship made possible through the Atonement is the fact that God not only seeks to have a relationship with us, but that He invites us to cultivate eternal relationships with all those around us.

27 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.

James 1:27

Christ exemplified this principle during His ministry. After going through many towns and villages healing the sick, Christ challenges His disciples to labor with Him in this work:

35 And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.

36 But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.

37 Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;

38 Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.

Another example is Christ's parable of sheep and goats:

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

"Visit[ing] the fatherless and widow[ed]", "preaching the gospel", "healing every sickness and every disease", "[feeding the] hungry", "[taking in] a stranger", "[clothing the] naked", "[visiting the] sick" or "[prisoner]". These are anti-entropic acts. They restore both body and Mind to higher states of order and function. They bind us to each other, to God, and they allow us to become fellow "labourers" in God's "work" and "glory".

In The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the family is highlighted as one of the central organizations for God's plan for mankind:

...the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children... We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.

Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.

The family's role is to create physical bodies for, and cultivate Minds/Intelligences--the thing most precious to God in the universe. What could be more important than that?

In a poem by a 13th century Sufi poet named Rumi, some of these same eternal perspectives on God and family are echoed. 

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

so He loves also the bow that is stable.

-'On Children' by Rumi

By understanding man's relationship to Mind, matter, God, family, and eternity, we begin to see the true identity of others as fellow eternal Minds which are likewise God's greatest "work" and "glory" that He invites us to uplift, heal, teach, and learn from.

This goal, to be an anti-entropic force in the lives of all of those around us, becomes the challenge of a lifetime. This lifestyle makes each of us participants in the "tender mercies" of the Lord, fellow "labourers" with God in His "work" and "glory", and binds each of us to our families, communities, and the world through the Atonement of Christ.

The hymn "Have I Done Any Good?", written by Wil L. Thompson, wonderfully expresses this sentiment of seeking to be an anti-entropic force both physically and spiritually in the lives of those around us:

Will L. Thompson
Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.
Has anyone's burden been lighter today
Because I was willing to share?
Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way?
When they needed my help was I there?

There are chances for work all around just now,
Opportunities right in our way.
Do not let them pass by, saying, "Sometime I'll try,"
But go and do something today.
'Tis noble of man to work and to give;
Love's labor has merit alone.
Only he who does something helps others to live.
To God each good work will be known.

Then wake up and do something more
Than dream of your mansion above.
Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure,
A blessing of duty and love.


Viewing Blaise Pascal's original question "For in fact what is man in nature?" from a religious perspective, we can see that when compared with God man is nothing; but to God man is everything. This importance is born out of God's love for the Mind and body of man and His desire to overcome the entropic forces which threaten them. Because this is "[His] work and [His] glory", He provides a universal and all-encompassing relationship through the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ. That Atonement provides the anti-entropic forces necessary for us to know God and become like Him--and for Him to comprehend and know us. But one of the greatest blessings and opportunities of this cosmic relationship between man and God is that man can be a fellow "labourer" with God. The souls of men, you and I, are not merely God's "work" and "glory", but can also be a means through which He can accomplish His work in the Atonement of Christ.

A Cosmic Gospel : A Cosmic Savior

Previous: A Cosmic Mind

A Cosmic Savior

The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy, a measurement of disorder or chaos, in a system ultimately increases. In other words, matter tends towards disorganization (more entropy). Matter decays, stars burn out (taking with them any ecosystems of their planets), black holes evaporate, and galaxies eventually cool. Isaac Asimov's favorite personal work was 'The Last Question', in which he imagines mandkind's struggle against the increasing entropy of the universe playing out over trillions of years. Indeed, anyone who has owned a home or a car is intimately aware of this cosmic principle. Despite our best efforts, windshields crack, wood rots, tires run bare, furniture breaks, etc--often at the worst possible time. We expend great time and resources to repair these fits of entropy only to be doomed to inevitably do it again in the near future often on the very thing we previously repaired.

The same holds true for Mind as well. Left without hope, light, knowledge, or guidance, Mind/Intelligence falls into sin. Sin can be seen as a spiritual form of entropy; it leads to chaos, disorder, degeneration, destruction, and separation from God. A child, left to their own devices and without any parental or mentorship guidance, will become emotionally and physically maladjusted. Their behavior becomes irrational, disorganized, and chaotic. Societies which allow hate and intolerance to rule quickly find social disorder, chaos, war, and destruction. Marriages strained by unchecked spiritual entropy dissolve into divorce, often tearing the family apart.

This is why the Atonement of Christ must have a dual nature. It must provide an anti-entropic power to overcome both the degeneration of body and Mind. And it's this anti-entropic power that becomes the means for God to accomplish His "work" and "glory".

Jacob, in the Book of Mormon, explains how the Atonement is an anti-entropic force for the body of man:

4 For I know that ye have searched much, many of you, to know of things to come; wherefore I know that ye know that our flesh must waste away and die; nevertheless, in our bodies we shall see God.

5 Yea, I know that ye know that in the body he shall show himself unto those at Jerusalem, from whence we came; for it is expedient that it should be among them; for it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him.

6 For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord.

7 Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more.

2 Nephi 9:4-7

Peter also taught of the incorruptible nature of the Atonement:

18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;

19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:

23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

24 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:

25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

1 Peter 1:18-19,22-25

Alma, in the Book of Mormon, explains how the Atonement provides a spiritual anti-entropic power through an infinitely intimate comprehension of the Minds of man:

10 And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.

11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.

Alma 7:10-13

A "power of resurrection", "being born again, not of corruptible seed", "[enduring] forever", overcoming "death", "afflictions", "temptations", "sicknesses", "infirmities" all become anti-entropic powers realized through the Atonement of Christ. And this is done both for Mind/Intelligence as well as the physical/body:

"the Spirit knoweth all things (Mind); nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh (body)".

Is it of any wonder then that much of Christ's focus during his earthly ministry was exercising this anti-entropic power through preaching righteousness to the Minds/souls of man as well as healing the sick?

35 And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.
Matthew 9:35

God is not just the God of the physical universe, He is the God of individuals, the God of Souls and Minds. God has an eternal desire to connect with, cultivate, and comprehend each and every one. And to realize that desire, He provides a way for the soul, Mind and body, to escape these entropic deaths. He provides a Savior through which an Atonement is made bringing with it the blessings of restitution, rejuvenation, and reunion. As is often noted, the very meaning of the word 'atonement' is to repair, restore, or put back into its original, undamaged state. Mind and body then are not doomed to disorganization, but instead are given life eternal.

11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;

12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:

13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:

14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins

1 Colossians 1:11-14

23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 6:23

This brings up an often overlooked aspect of the nature of the Atonement. Not only is the Atonement a way to reconcile man with God, but it provides a way for God to know man, a way for God to realize His greatest desire:

5 Which glory is that of the church of the Firstborn, even of God, the holiest of all, through Jesus Christ his Son—

6 He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;

7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.

8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made;

9 As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made;

10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.

D&C 88:5-10

40 For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.

41 He comprehendeth 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.

D&C 88:40-41

The Atonement becomes a bridge between man and God. Through it, the soul of man (body and Mind/Intelligence) can overcome the tides of entropy and become like God: eternal and incorruptible. And through the Atonement, God is able to "comprehend" and "succor" the souls and Mind of man to "dwell" with them. It is the bridge through which both parties are able to know one another. The Atonement is the great cosmic relationship.

Next: A Cosmic Relationship

A Cosmic Gospel: A Cosmic Mind

Previous: A Cosmic God

A Cosmic Mind


In Arthur C. Clarke's "3001 The Final Odyssey", the prolog opens with a description of the explorations of the "First Born"--the first species to explore space-time:
... [since] in all the Galaxy, they had found nothing more precious than Mind, they encouraged its dawning everywhere. They became farmers in the fields of stars
While this line is from science fiction, this idea (that Mind is the most precious thing in the universe) resonates with the declaration in Moses 1:39. In the Mormon faith, this notion of Mind described here aligns well with the doctrine of Intelligences which are seen as co-eternal with God.

To better understand what God sees in Mind or Intelligences, it is necessary to dive into what the essence of Mind is. From the Seventy's Course in Theology vol. 4 'Intelligence, Intelligences' the following descriptions of attributes are used to define Intelligence (or Mind):


[Intelligence is] conscious of self and of not-self; of the me and the not me. "Intelligence is that which sees itself, or is at once both subject and object." It knows itself as thinking, that is, as a subject; thinking of its self, it knows itself as an object of thought—of its own thought. And it knows itself as distinct from a vast universe of things which are not self; itself the while remaining constant as a distinct individuality amid the great universe of things not self.  It is an awareness of the mind. By reason of it an Intelligence... knows itself as seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching; also as searching, and finding; as inquiring and answering; as active or at rest; as loving or hating; as contented or restless; as advancing or receding; as gaining or loosing, and so following in all the activities in which Intelligences, as men, engage.



Intelligence (mind) can perceive... something that cannot be taken in by sense perception; that is to say, Intelligence can generalize. Sense can get at the individual, concrete thing only: "this triangle," "this orange," "that triangle," "those oranges," etc. By the consideration of the individual, concrete object, however, the mind can form an idea, a concept, a general notion—"triangle," "orange"—which does not specify this or that individual object, but "fits to any individual triangle or orange past, present, or future, and even the possible oranges that never shall be grown. In other words Intelligence can rise from consideration of the particular to the general.

Perception of a priori Principles

There are a priori principles, which the mind can perceive to be incontrovertible and of universal application, by mere reflection upon the signification of the principles and without going into the applications (e.g. 1+1=2, a triangle has 3 sides, etc.) The objects here are mental objects. Their relations are perceptually obvious at a glance, and no sense-verification is necessary. Moreover, once true, always true, of those same mental objects. Truth here has an 'eternal' character. If you can find a concrete thing... then your principles will everlastingly apply to it. It is but a case of ascertaining the kind, and then applying the law of its kind to the particular object.


By a mind-power known as imagination, or imaginative memory, Intelligences… can hold before consciousness, in picture, what has been perceived by an outward sense, and this even when the outward sense has been shut off from the outward world of matter. This power of imagination, is also constructive. Intelligences can put before themselves in mental picture, combinations which are fashioned from the varied stores of memory. But by the mere act of [its] will, [it has] the power to project [itself] in thought to any part of the world. Instantly [it] can be in the crowded streets of the world's metropolis, walk through its well remembered thoroughfares, hear the rush and roar of its busy multitudes, fragments of conversation, broken strains of music, etc.—all this the mind may do


The mind (Intelligence) can combine various general principles or individual facts and principles; and in the combination and comparison of them, it can perceive other facts and principles. In other words, Intelligence is capable of reasoning; of building up conclusions from the data of its knowledge. It has the power of deliberation and of judgment; by which it may determine that this state or condition is better than another state or condition. That this, tending to good, should be encouraged; and that, tending to evil, should be discouraged, or, if possible, destroyed.

Power of Volition

Intelligence, as embodied in man, is also conscious of the power, within certain limitations, to will, and to perform what he wills to do: To rise up, to sit down; to raise his arm, to let it fall; to walk, to run, to stand... to control largely his actions, physical and moral; he can be sober or drunken; chaste, or a libertine; benevolent or selfish; honest or a rogue. Having deliberated upon this and that and having formed a judgment that one thing is better than another, or that one condition is better than another, he has power to choose between them and can determine to give his aid to this and withhold it from that. So that volition, within certain limitations at least, seems also to be a quality of Intelligence


These attributes--consciousness, generalization, comprehension of principles/truths, imagination, reason, and the ability to act or choose its own behavior--are all necessary in order for something to be capable of comprehending what God is and for it to be able progress to become like Him.

Abraham had a similar revelatory experience to that of Moses' (described previously). In Abraham's account, further insight was given on God's relationship to intelligences:

21 I dwell in the midst of them all; I now, therefore, have come down unto thee to declare unto thee the works which my hands have made, wherein my wisdom excelleth them all, for I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence, over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen from the beginning; I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen.

 22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;

 23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.

Abraham 3:21-23

And Joseph Smith further declared the eternal nature of Intelligences:

 29 Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.

D&C 93:29

God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them.

Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith - p. 354

So here we have Minds/Intelligences which are co-eternal with God. And it is these Minds that God sees as "good" with His desire being to "dwell in the midst of them all". This begins to unlock the paradox. Man is physically insignificant compared to God's creations, but the Mind combined with the body of man is that which is most precious to God and to which He devotes his "work" and "glory".

A wonderfully poetic expression of this truth is from the song "My Soul" by Peter Mayer:

That is a profound truth. You and I, our emotions, our thoughts, our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our loves, our imaginations, our reasoning; this life, with our Minds and bodies, is the most valuable thing in the universe to which God devotes His energy. But why would God, who created the universe, has seen countless stars, black holes, precious metals, wisps of nebulae, etc. an infinity of physical matter and energy, also see great importance in the salvation of man?

A clue is found in a word: entropy.

Next: A Cosmic Savior

A Cosmic Gospel: A Cosmic God

Previous: Introduction

A Cosmic God


As mentioned in the introductory post, a paradox emerges when we incorporate the belief in a universal Creator with knowledge of the immensity of space. That when compared with God man is nothing; but to God man is everything. The scriptures and feelings of awe and wonder about the universe give some insight into how this paradox has been explored.

In the Pearl of Great Price we have a wonderful account of a vision given to Moses which indicates that Moses was able to explore these infinities with God Himself.

10 And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.

31 And behold, the glory of the Lord was upon Moses, so that Moses stood in the presence of God, and talked with him face to face. And the Lord God said unto Moses: For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me.

32 And by the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth.

33 And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.

35 But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.

37 And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine

38 And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.

Moses 1:10, 31-33, 35-38

Here Moses feels completely swallowed up in the infinity of God's creations. Which is why the verse that follows is so profound:

39 For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

Moses 1:39

Think of that. God, as the creator of the universe, has seen billions, perhaps trillions, of civilizations come and go and guided them towards progressing to become like Him. How many bronze ages has he seen play out on other worlds? How many worlds experienced an apostasy like ours? How many industrial revolutions? How many wars and genocides? How many enlightenments? How many cultures, languages, religions? How many dispensations? How many discovered electron/silicon-based computing? How many mastered quantum computing? How many biotech? Nanotech? Space travel? Etc. Etc. Etc. As the Creator of the universe, it's fair to say that God has seen it all in any sense of the phrase. So when He says that "man" is his "work" and "glory", that's not just a banal platitude; it's an authoritative statement from God, Himself. A Universal Truth.

This feeling of awe, wonder, astonishment, the numinous, is not unique to just religion; it is felt by anyone seeking to honestly understand the physical universe and our place in it. Neil deGrasse Tyson poetically explains what he calls "The most astounding fact" about the universe:

Now, Neil deGrasse Tyson is not religious. But his observation is shared here merely to indicate that the feelings one has when exploring this paradox from most any angle creates a shared experience of wonderment, a common ground of awe and reverence. This strength, to draw upon the shared insights and awe from science, breathes new life into what can sometimes become an obtuse belief in a Creator as noted by Carl Sagan:

How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.

The insights of science and the LDS account of God revealing the grandeur of His creations to Moses should cause LDS adherents to stand with Carl Sagan in wonderment and awe as we understand more and more about those creations.

This connection with the universe, that we are drowned in its immensity but that part of the universe is drowned in us, eloquently restates the original observation by Blaise Pascal:

For in fact what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything.

Despite this insight of man being intimately connected with the universe, God's declaration that we are His "work" and "glory" forces us to face the paradox of man's relationship with a Creator and the universe head on and ask, "How can the physical nothingness of man be reconciled with his prime spiritual importance?"

A possible answer can be found in an oft debated topic: Mind.

Next: A Cosmic Mind

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Cosmic Gospel


In a faith which claims God as the creator or architect of the universe, one grand idea to lose yourself in is to reconcile that faith with the amazing truths mankind has discovered about those creations. This exercise was eloquently described by Blaise Pascal in the 17th century and resonates even more powerfully today:

Pensees by Blaise Pascal
Let him lose himself in wonders as amazing in their littleness as the others in their vastness. For who will not be astounded at the fact that our body, which [is] imperceptible in the universe, itself imperceptible in the bosom of the whole, is now a colossus, a world, or rather a whole, in respect of the nothingness which we cannot reach...

For in fact what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything.

This paradox is also echoed in religion: That when compared with God man is nothing; but to God man is everything. In an attempt to explore this paradox, interesting perspectives are gained on our relationship with God, the role of the atonement, and the eternal nature of family.

This blog series considers this paradox from several different perspectives:

  1. A Cosmic God - What insights are gained via a belief in a universal Creator?
  2. A Cosmic Mind - What do our mental/spiritual capabilities mean in our relationship with God?
  3. A Cosmic Savior - Why is a universal and infinite Savior necessary?
  4. A Cosmic Relationship - What does the above mean for our relationships with God, our fellow man, and family?

Next: A Cosmic God

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Faith is the act of an educated person and full of moral significance. Without it you have absurdity.

Francis Bacon, a noted philosopher of and famous advocate for the scientific method, wisely said:
A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.
Despite his advocacy for science Bacon realized, as did Nietzsche of my last post, that only with a return to faith can one to make sense of the world. (Nietzsche of course never made that return and so died worrying that "being deceived [is] one of the conditions of life.")

In this post I hope to do a few things. First, suggest that the rise and fall of scientism or logical positivism in the twentieth century is a microcosm demonstrating Bacon's quote is just as true as ever. Second, use the sentiments of David Foster Wallace to emphasize that faith above anything else is the hallmark of a free and truly educated person. Lastly, I want to end with Terryl Givens's feelings surrounding the idea that only by faith can our decisions have moral significance.

Faith-less worldviews are self-defeating:
The collapse of positivism and its attendant verification principle of meaning was undoubtedly the most important philosophical event of the twentieth century. Their demise heralded a resurgence of metaphysics, along with other traditional problems of philosophy that verificationism had suppressed.  - The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology
Critics of Bacon's above quote will often quip that, given he lived so long ago, surly his beliefs are no longer applicable. However, the rise and fall of scientism or logical positivism in the twentieth century is a microcosm showing his quote is just as true today as it ever was.

Scientism or more generally positivism is the idea that all things that are true can be known by some type of objective verification.  In other words, it is a philosophical worldview where faith is not required because we can verify all things that are true. In fact, one of its foremost advocates, Bertrand Russell, along with his colleague Whitehead set out to prove this was at least true in mathematics. However, as we discussed in our last post, Gödel's theorems unleashed a bombshell making their endeavor forever hopeless.

Interestingly, scientism and positivism fail for an even deeper reason lampooned in the comic above: All worldviews that require the verification of all things are self-defeating. Such wolrdviews state that only claims that can be tested and verified in some objective sense should be believed. However, this claim itself cannot be verified objectively (and it is not empirically testable) so by such advocates' own criteria the worldview should not be believed!

Or as stated on the Wikipedia a little more formally:
Critics of logical positivism [showed] that its fundamental tenets could not themselves be formulated consistently. The verifiability criterion of meaning did not seem verifiable; but neither was it simply a logical tautology, since it had implications for the practice of science and the empirical truth of other statements. This presented severe problems for the logical consistency of the theory... 
Wittgenstein's principle of verifiability posed fairly obvious problems in any scientific context. No universal generalization can ever be verified... . It is also unclear what the status of the principle itself is, that is, whether it is meaningful by its own criterion of meaningfulness... Thus began the program of the "liberalization of empiricism."
In other words, it was quickly shown that worldviews that demanded objective verification of all truth suffered from three giant problems:
  1. As discussed in our linked post above, Gödel's theorems showed such a worldview is mathematically impossible.
  2. Even if you ignored #1, philosophers quickly realized such worldviews are self-defeating. One should reject them by their own criteria!
  3. Science, and specifically empiricism, would become abandoned if such a worldview is taken seriously as it is impossible to objectively verify science. Hence, the move to the "liberalization of empiricism" discussed in the quote.
Unfortunately, #2-3 above did lead a lot of people to quickly take the exact opposite worldview that states we can't know anything is objectively true. This outlook gave rise to post-modernism where all "truth" is merely opinion and can be quickly deconstructed.  Of course, if the post-modernist takes his claims seriously he will have to admit his own belief in post-modernism must also not be objectively correct rendering his own worldview just as self-defeating as scientism or positivism.

However, there is a way out that is as old and still true as Francis Bacon's above quote: Faith! Having a self-defeating worldview is only necessary for those who take a black and white approach to life that either all or no truth can be objectively verified. Consistency and sanity is only restored when one admits the only rational approach through life is one where faith is embraced along side methods of objective verification.  IE: to live by study and also by faith.

Exercising faith is the act of a free and well educated person:

Some more modern thinkers have had some great insight into the importance of faith. David Foster Wallace in his famous This is Water commencement speech made a couple of key observations. First, all the facts you know are perfectly consistent with several interpretations even if you can't see it. Hence it takes faith to interpret any situation. He tells this story:
There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God... And the atheist says: "Look, it's not like I don't have actual reasons for not believing in God. It's not like I haven't ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn't see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out 'Oh, God, if there is a God, I'm lost in this blizzard, and I'm gonna die if you don't help me.'" 
And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. "Well then you must believe now," he says, "After all, here you are, alive." The atheist just rolls his eyes. "No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.
Though Wallace gave a simple example, in reality nearly every string of facts has multiple interpretations. It is an act of faith by both sides in determining what interpretation best fits.

Second, the hallmark of an educated person is that they both realize the above and understand they are free to choose what has meaning and what doesn't:
There is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship... You get to decide what has meaning and what doesn't. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think.
There are no atheists in the "I don't need faith" sense.  Everybody takes strings of facts and decides for themselves what interpretations have the most meaning. However, the difference between one who is free versus who is not is the ability to see this. And it is the mark of a well-educated person how to wisely place faith and meaning when such a concept is understood.

The only real sheep/ignoramuses are those who, upon coming across a string of facts, insist there can only be one meaningful interpretation who in the words of Wallace:
[have] a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up.
Only a fool as mentally enslaved as this prisoner would conclude facts could remove faith from life. Facts do no such thing. Faith is what is required to make sense of life no matter what set of facts one uncovers. Fortunately, some are free enough to see this and wise enough to know that they "get to decide what has meaning and what doesn't... That is being educated, and understanding how to think."

More than anything, what you have faith in is full of moral significance. 

One last observation from Terryl Givens. Here Given's suggests that faith is required for our decisions to have moral significance:
The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true, and to have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing them to be true. I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice—and, therefore, the more deliberate and laden with personal vulnerability and investment... 
We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.
In other words, if God made everything that is true so obvious it is impossible to believe different, there would be no moral significance for believing or acting. You can't see what is really in a person's heart when they are compelled to believe or act a certain way.

However, as we have discussed before, we find ourselves in a position where all things related to moral significance require faith.  Thus those rational values and beliefs you are willing to put faith in in the midst of uncertainty is an ultimate measure of what is truly in your heart and thus is full of moral significance.

Conclusion: Bacon's wise observation that "A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion" is as true today as it was when it was penned hundreds of years ago. In fact the 20th century once again showed, with the rise and fall of scientism and positivism, that any attempt to remove faith from one's wordview consistently leads to logical absurdities like self-defeation. Faith therefore is in fact necessary to have a coherent worldview of reality.

Also, as David Foster Wallace discusses, everyone must exercise faith to make sense of the world and "the only choice we get is what to [have faith in]... You get to decide what has meaning and what doesn't. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think." Those who both understand the necessity of faith and are wise enough to choose for themselves how to apply it are those who are truly free and know how to think. Furthermore, Terryl Givens astutely observed that it is only through faith that our actions and beliefs have any moral significance. It is how you employ faith that is the true measure of who you really are and what is in your heart.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Agency Equation

Agency is one of the foundational principles of the gospel similar to love, or obedience. Without agency, the plan of salvation would have no effect. Indeed, it was agency that was the dividing factor between those who chose to follow Satan and those who chose to follow God the Father. And since Satan continually “[seeks] to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3), a firm understanding of what agency is and what conditions are required for it is critical in understanding the plan of salvation and the purpose of this life.

Satan's War on Free Agency

One of the best books I've ever read on the topic of agency is Satan’s War on Free Agency by Greg Wright. In this book (also available from Deseret Book), Greg Wright dissects agency into its fundamental ingredients and clearly distinguishes it from other concepts which are often confused with it.

To anyone who wishes to better understand the principle of agency, I highly recommend this book. The following is a summary of some of the high-level concepts and the scriptural behind the principle of agency discussed in this book.



The Coin

Choice, freedom, and knowledge are required for agency
Throughout the book, the author uses a metaphor of choosing a coin from the palm, or palms, from someone's hands to describe the different aspects that make up agency.

Choice = Two or more options

If you place a coin in your hand, close your fist, present it to someone, and ask them to pick a hand, did they really have a choice? This seems a bit retorical, but it forms the basis for agency. If only one option exists, there is no choice.

Freedom = Choice + different consequences

If you place a coin in each hand, present them to someone, and ask them to choose, do they have have freedom? No, because no matter what they choose, the consequence of the choice is always the same (they always get a coin). Furthermore, they are making the choice blindly with no idea of the consequences. You need different consequences for different choices in order to have freedom.

Agency = Freedom + foreknowledge of the results

If you now place a coin in only one hand, close your fist around it, hold both fists in front of you, explain which hand the coin is in, then have them choose. Do they have agency? Now it seems the ingredients necessary for agency are there. Here we have multiple options, different consequences, and an understanding of the consequences of the different choices are. Agency requires knowledge of the results of different choices.

So, we have the following distilled equation:

Agency = two ore more options + different consequences from different choices + foreknowledge of the consequences of those choices

Discernment between choice, consequence, and action is fundamental to exercising agency in our lives. It's also important to note how the person choosing must trust you and exercise faith in your telling them which hand the coin is in.

Choice Explained

This above notion of choice is well supported in the scriptures:
  • 2 Ne 2:11–12
    11. For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
    12. Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.
  • Alma 30:8
    For thus saith the scripture: Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve.
  • Helaman 2:27
    Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
  • D&C 37:4
    Behold, here is wisdom, and let every man choose for himself until I come. Even so. Amen.

“I don’t have a choice.”

This phrase is often misleading. When we use this phrase we almost always have a choice. What we most often mean is we can’t control the outcome(s) (e.g. we don’t have freedom).

One example is someone trapped in a burning building on the 13th floor with no help in sight. This person may think they don’t have a choice, but they actually do. They can run into the fire, continue calling for help, or jump out the window. The problem is that all of these choices are likely to lead to the same result: death. So when we think this person has no choice what we actually mean is they have no freedom. It is important to separate our notions of choice and freedom. Claiming we have no choice is debilitating and undermines faith. But always being able to see the different choices available to us is enabling and faith promoting.

Freedom Explained

Freedom, itself, has different dynamics.


No Freedom without Law

  • D&C 88:36–38
    36. All kingdoms have a law given;
    37. And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.
    38. And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.

No Freedom without Consequences

Though this stands to reason simply by virtue of the fact that a law is not a law unless it is enforced and thus has a consequence, Satan has repeatedly tried, an succeeded, in telling the lie that either there are no laws or that their penalties do not exist or matter. The scriptures teach otherwise:
  • Alma 42:16–17,27
    16. Now, repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul.
    17. Now, how could a man repent except he should sin? How could he sin if there was no law? How could there be a law save there was a punishment?
    27. Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.
  • 2 Ne. 28:8, 22
    8 And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.
    22. And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.
  • Alma 1:3–4
    3. And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God, bearing down against the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people.
    4. And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.

No Freedom without the Atonement

Since freedom requires different results it is important to realize that without the Atonement, the outcome of all of our lives would be the same. Thus it is Christ who makes us free:
  • 2 Ne. 2:26–27
    26. And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
    27. Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
  • 2 Ne. 9:7,10
    7. Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more.
    10. O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.
  • Mosiah 5:3
    And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.

Agency Explained

Agency has different dynamics within it as well:

No agency without knowledge

  • Moses 7:32
    The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
  • 2 Ne. 2:5
    And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.

Agency requires stewardship

Any definition of the word stewardship as it is used generally emphasizes things like duty, obligation, responsibility, etc. Christ used the concept of stewardship throughout His parables (Matt. 20:8; Luke 12:34; Luke 16:1–2). In modern days, Christ has reiterated the principle of stewardship as it pertains to our agency:
  • D&C 70:3–4, 9–11
    3. I, the Lord, have appointed them, and ordained them to be stewards over the revelations and commandments which I have given unto them, and which I shall hereafter give unto them;
    4. And an account of this stewardship will I require of them in the day of judgment.
    9. Behold, this is what the Lord requires of every man in his stewardship, even as I, the Lord, have appointed or shall hereafter appoint unto any man.
    10. And behold, none are exempt from this law who belong to the church of the living God;
  • D&C 51:19
    And whoso is found a faithful, a just, and a wise steward shall enter into the joy of his Lord, and shall inherit eternal life.
  • D&C 72:3–4
    3. And verily in this thing ye have done wisely, for it is required of the Lord, at the hand of every steward, to render an account of his stewardship, both in time and in eternity.
    4. For he who is faithful and wise in time is accounted worthy to inherit the mansions prepared for him of my Father.


Agency leads to Accountability

As responsibility is a crucial part of stewardship, agency naturally leads to accountability
  • D&C 104:11–13, 17
    11. It is wisdom in me; therefore, a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall organize yourselves and appoint every man his stewardship;
    12. That every man may give an account unto me of the stewardship which is appointed unto him.
    13. For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.
    17. For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
  • Helaman 14:30
    30. And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.
  • D&C 101:78
    That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.


Modern Day Prophets and Leaders on Agency

The principle that agency requires choice, freedom, and accountability has been repeated by modern day prophets and leaders as well.
  • Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
    All of the terms and conditions of the Lord’s eternal plan operate because man has his agency, and none of it would have efficacy, virtue, or force if there were no agency. Agency requires opposites; agency demands freedom of choice; agency decrees personal accountability for sin.
    A new Witness for the Articles of Faith, 1985
  • Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander of the Quorum of the Seventy:
    What is the agency of man but the right to make choices within a framework of opposition and the assumption of responsibility for those choices?
    The Path of Growth, Ensign Dec. 1999


Satan Seeks to Destroy Agency

Often when it is discussed how Satan “[seeks] to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3) the first, and sometimes only, response is that he wanted to force us to be good. Having a more intricate understanding of agency helps us see that forcing us is only one way Satan can destroy agency. To destroy agency, Satan would have to do any combination of the following:
  1. Force us to choose good by taking away choice (no options)
  2. Remove consequence from action (options but not different results)
  3. Remove accountability or responsibility for our actions (options and different results but no accountability)
It is interesting to see at what degrees Satan uses these different tactics. Personally, it seems to me that his most popular and enticing tactic would be the second or third one. How often do we see people, including ourselves, seeking to avoid responsibility for or the consequences of their actions?

Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander of the Quorum of the Seventy explained:
What is the agency of man but the right to make choices within a framework of opposition and the assumption of responsibility for those choices?
The Path of Growth, Ensign Dec. 1999

Also, in the 1999 Old Testiment Seminary Manual it states:
Most people thing that he [Satan] would have forced us to do right, but that is only one possibility. Certain conditions are necessary if we are to have agency…Satan might have destroyed our agency by eliminating any one of those [conitions] and he is still trying to destroy our agency using the same techniques of deception and lies.
1999 CES Teacher Resource Manual
By understanding the agency we have been bestowed by God, we can better understand how to be good stewards of that gift as we overcome the lies and deceptions Satan would have use believe concerning it.