The Absolutism of Reality Versus the Absolutism of God

Christopher Hurtado —  March 16, 2010 — Leave a comment
The Absolutism of Reality Versus the Absolutism of God | Christopher Hurtado

Introduction

Brigham Young, who often spoke of philosophy, declared that we must believe correctly (metaphysics), think correctly (epistemology) and act correctly (ethics).[2] But what is to be the metaphysical foundation of correct belief with regard to God? Joseph Smith said, “it is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God.”[3] What is the character of God? Is He absolute, or is reality? Is He infinite or finite? Which has primacy in Mormon metaphysics, consciousness or existence? If God is infinite, then how does one account for the problem of evil? If God is finite, then how does one account for His, omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience? The answer, I will argue, is that reality is absolute; existence has primacy over consciousness, God (the person) is finite and the Holy Spirit (a divine substance) accounts for the omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience of God.

I. Axioms Are the Basis of Knowledge.

Axioms are the basis of knowledge. Any further knowledge necessarily rests upon this base. This is true whether one recognizes it or not. Any attempt to refute axiomatic principles will necessarily depend on the acceptance and use of the axioms themselves in the process.[4] Ayn Rand identified three axioms. The first axiom, existence exists, implies the other two; consciousness exists and existence is identity. Our knowledge is based on our consciousness of existence. To be conscious without anything to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. Existence without consciousness, on the other hand, cannot produce knowledge. Knowledge is the identification by a consciousness of existents. Existence is identity. To exist (i.e., to be) is to be something (as opposed to nothing) and to be something is to possess a certain set of characteristics. These three axioms are inescapable. They apply to all thought and action.[5] Joseph Smith identified the same three axioms in the Lectures on Faith. “Let us here observe, that three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God, unto life and salvation: First, the idea that he actually exists [the existence axiom]; second, a correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes [the identity axiom]; and third, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his [God’s] will [the consciousness axiom].”[6]

II. The Primacy of Existence Versus the Primacy of Consciousness

The most fundamental issue in metaphysics is the primacy of existence or the primacy of consciousness. The existence axiom implies the primacy of existence, i.e., that all that exists exists independent of consciousness. It further implies the axiom of identity, i.e., that all that exists exists as something – something with certain characteristics and not others – an identity. Consciousness, then, is the faculty that allows an existent identity to perceive and identify all other existents Man, therefore, gains knowledge by looking around him. Non-Objectivist and non-Mormon metaphysicians have rejected these axioms. They have postulated the primacy of consciousness, i.e., the idea that the universe is not self-existent, but the product of consciousness (whether it be human, divine, or a combination of the two). Their theory of knowledge is that knowledge is either intrinsic in one’s own consciousness, or received via revelation from a superior consciousness. They have failed, whether wittingly or unwittingly, to grasp the difference between consciousness (their own faculty of awareness) and existence (the identity possessing that faculty – themselves). They have conflated consciousness and existence. They have failed to make a fundamental metaphysical and epistemological distinction – a distinction that must be arrived at conceptually and held as absolute.[7]

III. Reality is Absolute and God (the Person) is Finite.

Judaism and mainstream Christianity affirm the absolutism of God. Judaic beliefs shifted from creatio ex materia to creatio ex nihilo beginning in the later part of the second temple period and ex nihilo creation subsequently became the interpretation of mainstream Christianity.[8] Catholic philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas affirmed that “Everything that in any way is, is from God … God is self-subsisting being itself … all beings other than God are not their own being, but are beings by participation … Nothing except God can be eternal … [for] … the will of God is the cause of things.”[9] Protestant reformer Martin Luther affirmed in concurrence with Aquinas that “nothing is superior or equal to God’s will, but [that] it is itself the rule of all things.”[10] Noted American evangelical theologian Donald G. Bloesch later affirmed in like manner, “[God] is not simply the ground or depth of being but the Lord of being and the Lord over being … There is no necessity or justice to which God must conform.”[11]

Mormonism refutes the absolutism of God. Sterling M. McMurrin points out that the ancient Greek philosophers accounted for the natural world without resorting to supernaturalism, simply assuming the world’s existence. He explains that Mormonism assumes this and God’s existence in the same way. It holds that, although God organized the world we inhabit, its component parts are coexistential with Him. There is more to reality than God and God is not the source of reality. Mormon theology, therefore, is non-absolutist.[12] In LDS thought, God is conditioned by and related to the world and a part of it. Since the world is ultimately not his creation, he does not have absolute dominion over it. God is a part of the universe, “the minds and selves which exist but are not identified with him, the principles under which reality is structured, and perhaps even the value absolutes which govern the divine will.” [13] According to Mormon theology, God is not the ultimate ground for being. He is a being among beings and therefore conditioned by being rather than being itself or the ground of being. “He is therefore finite, not absolute.”[14] Therefore, reality is absolute.

A. Creatio Ex Materia Versus Creatio Ex Nihilo

Mainstream Christianity affirms creatio ex nihilo. According to Bloesch, the church has affirmed creatio ex nihilo, which Bloesch interprets as “by divine fiat,. . . through the ages” on the basis of scripture. He further argues that God did not require preexistent or coeternal matter out of which to fashion the world.[15] Similarly, protestant philosopher Hermann Lotze asserts that the world “is completely dependent upon … [and] proceeds … only from the will and not from a special work of God.”[16]

Objectivism and Mormonism reject creatio ex nihilo. Rand argued that, “‘Creation’ does not (and metaphysically cannot) mean the power to bring something into existence out of nothing. ‘Creation’ means the power to bring into existence an arrangement (or combination or integration) of natural elements that had not existed before.”[17] Rand is in agreement with Joseph Smith, who argued against the “learned doctors” who propounded creatio ex nihilo on Biblical grounds. He pointed out that the Biblical word baurau means to organize, not to create out of nothing. This, Smith argued, inferred creatio ex materia. The elements out of which God organized the world could be “organized and re-organized, but not destroyed” and that “they had no beginning, and can have no end”[18] Referring to science’s “leading principles,” which he called eternal facts, Brigham Young pointed out that our theology, as distinguished from that of mainstream Christianity, “will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular.”[19]

B. Matter Can Neither Be Created Nor Destroyed

Objectivism and Mormonism affirm the indestructibility of matter. Ayn Rand argued that matter is indestructible, can change form, but cannot cease to exist[20] and that the universe as a whole cannot be created or annihilated, nor come into nor go out of existence and that to grasp this is to grasp the axiom of existence: existence exists.[21]  Joseph Smith taught the same truth: “that matter was indestructible; that it never had a beginning; that it never could have an end; that it might undergo chemical changes, but that it was indestructible, and that the elements of which the earth is composed were eternal—never had a beginning and never would have an end.”[22] Again in agreement with Rand, Brigham Young stated regarding annihilation, “there is no such principle as to put a thing which exists, entirely out of existence, so that it does not exist in any form, shape, or place whatever.”[23]

C. There Are Inalterable Eternal Laws

Mormonism affirms the inalterability of eternal laws.  According to John Taylor, “there are eternal laws that exist with the Gods in the eternal worlds, and from which they cannot depart, and to which they are bound in all their acts” (emphasis added)[24] and that the elements themselves are also governed by “certain inscrutable, eternal, unchangeable laws connected with them that cannot be departed from.”[25] Similarly, Brigham Young stated, “There is no being in all the eternities but what is governed by law.”[26]  In virtue of eternal laws, there are limitations to God’s power, such as “that which would be naturally impossible, or in opposition to the great, necessary, and fundamental truths of nature, which are eternally unalterable, and cannot be otherwise than they are.”[27] It is by abiding laws that God and all the hosts of heaven are exalted and glorified.[28] If God is bound by unalterable, eternal laws, then He is not absolute. Reality is absolute.

Objectivism and Mormonism assert the inviolability of the law of identity. According to Rand, whatever the basic constituent elements of the universe are, they are “not ruled by a consciousness or by will or by chance, but by the law of identity” and that “all the … elements within the universe – from a floating speck of dust to the formation of a galaxy to the emergence of life – are caused and determined by the identities of the elements involved.”[29] In concurrence, John Taylor affirmed “all beings, all things, from the Great Creator to the minutest form of life are governed by the law of their existence” (emphasis added).[30] Regarding those to whom God offered truth and intelligence, but would not have it, John Taylor said they are his children and he feels sorry to see them act the way they do, “but he cannot help it, he is governed by law, and those laws are inexorable and just and they cannot be departed from.”[31] Again, it is axiomatic that there exists nothing (no thing) that is not something (some thing), and which by virtue of being something (some thing) has certain characteristics (its identity) that govern its actions. Existents act according to their identity.

Mormonism asserts that intelligence is governed by the law of identity as well. Erastus Snow pointed out that mathematical truths apply to God and angels just as they apply to man.  Abiding the same truths that exalted the Father and all the Gods will also lead to our exaltation. What led Lucifer and his followers to death and perdition would also lead us in the same direction, and the atonement cannot alter eternal law any more than God can alter mathematical truths.[32]  God cannot alter truth, but submits perfectly to eternal laws.

Objectivism and Mormonism affirm the universality of the law of causality. According to Rand, inasmuch as all actions are caused by entities, the nature of actions is caused by the nature of the entities that act. Since nothing can act contrary to its nature, the law of causality is the law of identity applied to action.[33] The law of identity governs all action. Nothing occurs causelessly or by chance. This applies to volition as well. Volition is a type of causation.[34] Brigham Young affirmed the same principle: there is a cause for every effect.[35]  “All men must come to this very rational conclusion, that ‘Paul may plant, and Apollo may water, but it is God who gives the increase,’ … There are reasons for this, and causes produce their effects.”[36] Similarly, John Taylor argued that, according to reason, the law of the harvest is as applicable today as it was eighteen hundred years ago; whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap. Likewise, what was a horse then is a horse now, not a mule or a jackass; two and two still equals four and the gospel of Jesus Christ still produces the same results it did then, or it is not the Gospel.[37] The law of causality is universal.

Mormonism asserts that cause and effect are applicable in both the spiritual and the temporal realms. According to Mormon theology, cause and effect, God, the Gospel, baptism and repentance and all other principles are unchanging.[38]  John Taylor explained that while now we only understand in part, when we see things as God does, we will understand the causes and effects and operations of God.[39] God uses his knowledge of cause and effect in his operations. Cause and effect are as applicable in spiritual as in temporal realms.

D. Supernaturalism Refuted

Objectivism and Mormonism refute supernatural explanations for miracles. Ayn Rand argues against the idea of the supernatural stating that miracles go against the law of causality.[40] In agreement with Rand’s assertion, Brigham Young affirmed that there is no such thing as a miracle to those who understand “the philosophy of all the phenomena that transpire.”[41]  “A miracle is supposed to be a result without a cause, but there is no such thing. There is a cause for every result we see … there is no miracle to those who understand.”[42] According to George Q. Cannon, our Father does not suspend law when he interposes himself on behalf of his children.[43] There was no suspension of law when the Savior gathered from the elements the bread and fishes necessary to feed the multitude, when he opened the eyes of the blind, or healed the sick. Neither was any law suspended when He ascended into heaven after His resurrection. Miracles are wrought by knowledge of a higher law, not by the suspension of law.[44] Miracles are wrought by natural principles and if we understood these principles thoroughly, we would understand how they are wrought.[45]

Mormon theology asserts that eternal laws govern all things. John Taylor taught, “There are laws which govern nature, and the principles of matter with which we are surrounded, with which many of us are familiar. These laws are as unchangeable as the revolution of the earth upon its axis, or as the rising and setting of the sun. These laws are perfectly reliable; they cannot be disregarded with impunity, for if disregarded, the results desired will not follow.”[46] Everything, the earth, the elements, the planetary system, “have certain inscrutable, eternal, unchangeable laws connected with them that can not be departed from,”[47] and all beings, everyone that exits, “are governed by the law of their existence.”[48] Wilford Woodruff said, “The God of heaven abides a law, all the hosts of heaven abide laws; they are exalted and glorified by law. All the creations of God are governed by law.” [49] Obedience to those laws is essential to the ability to control. Joseph F. Smith taught, “Without it [obedience] the elements could not be controlled. Without it neither the earth nor those who dwell upon it could be controlled. The angels in heaven would not be controlled without it, and in fact without obedience there could be no union or order, and chaos and confusion would prevail.”[50] Eternal laws govern all things. E. All Things Are Controlled by Obedience to Eternal Laws

Mormon theology asserts the territoriality of the universe. In the Doctrine and Covenants we learn that “All kingdoms have a law given; and there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom. And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.”[51] The universe is made up of a multitude of kingdoms, all ruled by obedience to eternal laws.

Mormon theology asserts that all organized existence is always either progressing or regressing. Brigham Young taught that all organized existence is either on a path to perfection, or to dissolution.[52] He stated that “the Lord Jesus Christ works upon a plan of eternal increase, of wisdom, intelligence, honor, excellence, power, glory, might, and dominion, and the attributes that fill eternity,” whereas the devil’s principle is “to destroy, dissolve, decompose, and tear in pieces. The principle of separation, or disorganization, is as much an eternal principle, as much a truth, as that of organization,” and these principles are coeternal.[53] Similarly, Joseph F. Smith asserted, “every step we take in the great journey of life, the great journey of eternity, is a step in advance or in retrogression.”[54] By obedience to law we progress. By disobedience, we regress.

Mormon theology asserts two powers in opposition, the one to build up and the other to tear down. John Taylor said that these two powers have been from the foundation of the world, “the principles of darkness and the principles of light, the principles of truth and the principles of error, the Spirit of God and the spirit of the Devil; —and there has been a mighty struggle between these two principles and powers.”[55]  Brigham Young asserted, “The difference between God and the devil is that God creates and organizes, while the whole study of the devil is to destroy.”[56] It takes little effort to destroy. Anyone can tear down but God’s efforts to organize, to create and build up takes time, labor, wisdom.[57]

Mormon theology asserts that right makes might. Brigham Young taught that God organized everything we have knowledge of or can conceive of and that all of it is his property in time and in eternity.[58] This gave God rights.[59] According to Brigham Young, when the saints knew the truth, they would know they have nothing to consecrate to the Lord as they have nothing to give him but what is already His.[60] As a result, “the kingdom of God is a righteous kingdom, all its laws are righteous, its government is a righteous government, and the king who governs and controls it does so upon righteous and eternal principles.”[61] Thus, Brigham Young proclaimed as revelation that to be great in the Kingdom of God one must be good, or in other words, “true to [one’s] integrity.”[62] When one is in the right, or obedient to the laws that govern the universe, one gains power or might.

Mormon theology maintains that God is the creator of heaven and earth. “Who made the earth?” asked John Taylor. “The same being that made the heavens.”[63] Brigham Young declared that God is “the Maker and upholder of all things in heaven and on earth” and  “the Supreme Controller of the universe.”[64] God governs worlds, regulates systems and gives them motion and revolution, preserving orbits by “unerring, unchangeable laws, as they traverse the immensity of space.”[65] God creates, maintains, and governs both the heavens and the earth by abiding by eternal laws.

According to Mormon theology, God created all things by the power of faith. God created all things from crude matter floating in the immensity of space through His power.[66] John Taylor taught that “God spake, chaos heard, and this world rolled into existence; and so did other worlds under the same divine impulse and power. And all those systems that revolve around us were made and are upheld by the mighty power of God, who governs in the heavens above, and upon the earth beneath, and among the worlds.”[67] The power by which the universe was formed is the power of God’s faith.[68] The source of God’s power is “his glory and intelligence rather than [the erroneous idea of] his having created everything out of nothing.”[69]

Mormon theology asserts that space is boundless and filled with matter. Brigham Young taught, “there is an eternity of matter, and it is all acted upon and filled with a portion of divinity. Matter is to exist; it cannot be annihilated. Eternity is without bounds, and is filled with matter; and there is no such place as empty space. And matter is capacitated to receive intelligence.”[70] No matter where we travel there will always be space “and also inexhaustible material.”[71] The elements, whether they be the ones we call physical or the ones we call spiritual, never had a beginning. “They have been organized in different shapes; the organism had a beginning but the elements or atoms of which it is composed never had.”[72]

IV. The Holy Spirit (a divine substance) Accounts for the Omnipresence, Omnipotence and Omniscience of God.

Existence exists. Consciousness exits. Existence is identity. According to Parley P. Pratt, “There has always existed a boundless infinitude of space.”[73] In other words, as Ayn Rand put it, existence exists. “Intermingled with this space there exist all the varieties of the elements, properties, or things of which intelligence takes cognizance, which elements or things taken altogether compose what is called the Universe.”[74] Or, as Ayn Rand’s put it, consciousness exists. “The elements of all these properties or things are eternal, uncreated, self-existing. Not one particle can be added to them by creative power; neither can one particle be diminished or annihilated.” These are “eternal, self-existing elements” which have within themselves “certain inherent properties or attributes, in a greater or lesser degree.”[75] Again, as Ayn Rand put it, existence is identity.

The separation of the elements by the philosophers into physical and spiritual divisions is a false dichotomy. Parley P. Pratt explained “to a mind matured, or quickened with a fulness of intelligence … there is no need for the distinction implied in such terms [physical and spiritual], because all things that do exist are eternal realities in their elementary existence.” However, in our mortal capacity, some elements are visible and tangible to us, while others are not. We call the visible and tangible elements physical and the more subtle and refined elements spiritual. Space, time, element and intelligence are not originated, but eternal.[76]

There is a divine substance, fluid or essence, called spirit, widely diffused among these eternal      elements. This spiritual substance is the most refined, subtle, and powerful element in the   universe. It is the light, life, power, and principle of all things. This divine element, or spirit, is     the immediate, active or controlling agent in all holy miraculous powers … By this Divine Spirit          all things were formed … and all in accordance with the laws of nature, it being perfectly        natural for the subordinate elements to obey the supreme, all-controlling, all-pervading element,    under the directing power of Deity.[77]

The great confusion in Christianity is the result of confounding the Holy Ghost, a divine being, with the Holy Spirit, a divine substance. The Holy Ghost and the Holy Spirit are not one and the same. The Holy Ghost is a divine personage and the third member of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit is a Divine Substance and the power by which the Godhead operates throughout the immensity of space. What is the difference between the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost? Joseph F. Smith acknowledged that we often speak of them as though they were one and the same. However, they are not. It is the Holy Spirit, not the Holy Ghost that gives light to all who live on earth. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God. It enlightens men by striving with them “until it brings them to a knowledge of the truth and the possession of the greater light and testimony of the Holy Ghost.”[78]

A. The Holy Ghost Versus the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost are not the same. The Holy Spirit, also known as the Spirit of god, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Christ, and the Light of Christ, is a divine substance. The Holy Ghost is a divine personage. According to Wilford Woodruff, “The Holy Ghost … is different from the common Spirit of God, which we are told lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”[79] The Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit is the power by which the Gods operate and all of nature is created and maintained.

1. The Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost is a divine being and the third member of Godhead.  The first article of faith, as written by Joseph Smith states: “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” Smith referred to the members of the Godhead, citing Abraham, as “God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the witness or Testator.”[80] The Holy Ghost is one of three members of a Trinity or Godhead that is neither one person in three, nor three persons in one, but rather one in essence in the sense that their hearts are united in all things. His office, according to Brigham Young, “is to administer to those of the human family who love the truth.”[81]

The Holy Ghost is a divine being and a spirit personage.  Joseph Smith always declared that God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct personages, that the Holy Ghost is a Spirit, and that each of these personages is a God.[82] According to the Doctrine and Covenants, while the Father and the Son have bodies of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s, the Holy Ghost does not, but is a personage of Spirit.”[83] Joseph Smith taught that the Holy Ghost is a [spirit] personage in the form of a [spirit] personage.[84] Parley P. Pratt also taught that the Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead and a personage of Spirit, without a body of flesh and bones.[85]

The gift of the Holy Ghost is a higher manifestation than the Light of Christ. Joseph F. Smith taught that while rain and sunshine descend upon the just and the unjust alike, the Holy Ghost descends only upon the righteous, and that “the rights of the Priesthood are conferred, and the doctrine of the Priesthood distills as the dews of heaven upon the souls of those only that receive it in God’s own appointed way.”[86] Lorenzo Snow described his experience with the Holy Ghost as follows, “I had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rushing of silken robes, and immediately enveloping my whole person, filling me from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet.”[87] He felt he had been immersed in a tangible element that brought with it the feeling of inexpressible joy.  “No language can describe the instantaneous transition from a dense cloud of mental and spiritual darkness into a refuge of light and knowledge, as it was at that time imparted to my understanding.” With that he “received a perfect knowledge that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and of the restoration of the Holy Priesthood, and of the fulness of the gospel.”[88]

Through the Holy Ghost we can experience a “baptism of fire.” Again, Lorenzo Snow described his experience with the Holy Ghost as “a complete baptism—a tangible immersion in the heavenly principle or element, the Holy Ghost; and even more real and physical in its effects upon every part of my system than the immersion of water.”[89] The effect of his experience with the Holy Ghost was to dispel forever, “all possibility of doubt or fear in relation to the fact handed down to us historically, that the ‘Babe of Bethlehem’ is truly the Son of God; also the fact that he is now being revealed to the children of men, and communicating know-ledge, the same as in the apostolic times.”[90]  Snow further described his experience as follows:

I cannot tell how long I remained in the full flow of this blissful enjoyment and divine enlightenment, but it was several minutes before the celestial element, which filled and surrounded me, began gradually to withdraw. On arising from my kneeling posture, with my heart swelling with gratitude to God beyond the power of expression, I felt—I knew that he had conferred on me what only an omnipotent Being can confer—that can bestow. That night, as I retired to rest, the same wonderful manifestations were repeated, and continued to be for several successive nights. [91]

2. The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is a divine substance. Parley P. Pratt taught that this substance was “the most refined, subtle, and powerful element in the universe,” and that it was widely diffused throughout it. He added that “it is the light, life, power and principle of all things” and that it is through this power that miracles are wrought and all things were formed. This was done, he said, according to the laws of nature, it being natural for the lesser elements to obey the “supreme, all-controlling, all-pervading element,” under God’s direction.[92] Pratt pointed out that the entire organized universe testifies of three facts: (1) the eternal existence of the elements that make up the universe, (2) the eternal existence of “the attributes of intelligence and wisdom to design,” and (3) the eternal existence of God’s power to control the elements that make up the universe in order to carry out his plans.[93] The Holy Spirit is the power of Godliness.

B. The Mormon Godhead Versus the Holy Trinity of Traditional Christianity

There are three Gods in one Godhead. B.H. Roberts taught that the declaration “I and my Father are one” refers to a perfect union of purpose and will, not of identity, substance or essence. He added that any other interpretation is absurd.[94] Joseph Smith stated that he had always declared God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost (a Spirit) to be distinct personages and Gods.[95] Conflating them leads to theological confusion.

Conflating the Godhead and the Holy Spirit forces theologians to attribute all of the attributes of the Holy Spirit to each of the three members of the Godhead making them one in substance. Thus they declared in the Nicene Creed in the early fourth century, “[We believe] … in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, [God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance [essence] with the Father; by whom all things were made.”[96]

God is a person, not a Spirit. Bruce R. McConkie declared that “the greatest truth known to man” is that our Heavenly Father is an exalted embodied person of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s and that believing in him and obeying his laws will lead us to the same exaltation.[97] “The greatest heresy found in Christendom is that God is a spirit essence that fills the immensity of space; that he is three beings in one; that he is uncreated, incorporeal, and incomprehensible; that he is without body, parts, or passions; that he is a spirit nothingness that is everywhere and nowhere in particular present.”[98] The first heresy, argued McConkie, was the father of all heresies and did away with the worship of the true God in early centuries of Christianity. This heresy relates to the nature and identity of God. What was in truth a personal embodied God became “an incomprehensible three-in-one spirit” filling the immensity of space. Thus began a universal apostasy.[99]

C. The Absolutism of Reality Versus the Absolutism of God

Mormonism understands God’s omnipotence in a non-absolutist sense. In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, David L. Paulsen explained that while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses the term “omnipotent” to describe the members of the Godhead, the Church does not in so doing subscribe to the traditional absolute sense of the word, but rejects on modern revelation creatio ex nihilo. The Mormon understanding of God’s omnipotence does not imply unlimited power, an internally self-contradictory view considering the reality of evil and suffering, which are irreconcilable with an absolutist interpretation of omnipotence.[100]

D. The Light of Christ

God is light to the exclusion of darkness. John Taylor taught that according to scripture and correct science, God is the light of the sun, the moon, and the stars and the power by which they were made. God is also the light of understanding and the source of visual and mental light.[101] According to Charles W. Penrose, God’s light is found in the heavens and on the earth and is the power by which they were made. He referred to visible light as grosser, but of the same Spirit that illuminates our minds as to the things of God.[102] Parley P. Pratt declared, “this is the true light which in some measure illuminates all men … It is … in its higher degrees, the intellectual light of our inward and spiritual organs, by which we reason, discern, judge, compare, comprehend, and remember the subjects without our reach. Its inspiration constitutes … reason in man.”[103]

E. The Metaphysically Given

Mormonism asserts the metaphysically given. Mormon doctrine teaches that space is boundless and filled with matter. There is no empty space.[104] The elements are eternal and indestructible. They are uncreated and have no beginning or end.[105] All things are material. There is no such thing as immaterial substance.[106] There are two kinds of things: things that act (intelligent, animate spirit matter) and things that are acted upon (non intelligent, inanimate, gross matter). According to the Doctrine and Covenants, spirit matter is the light and life within all things. It is the power of God that governs them.[107] Spirit is a material, tangible substance. It is different from what we see and touch, but material nonetheless.[108] Brigham Young declared that all matter is capacitated to receive intelligence. It can be organized and increase in intelligence.[109]

There is no immaterial substance and hence no mind/body dichotomy. “Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither can be … light and truth forsake that evil one.”[110] “Intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; light cleaveth unto light,”[111] creating a virtual sea of spirit matter that fills the immensity of space. Charles W. Penrose stated, “This spirit which pervades all things … is the light of truth; it is the spirit of intelligence.”[112] Spirit matter exists “in and through and round about all things … never had a beginning and will never have and end.”[113] Orson Pratt wrote that this spirit matter is the law by which all things in heaven, upon the earth and throughout the immensity of space are governed in connection with the Father and the Son.[114] The Spirit governs and keeps harmony and oneness in all of nature.[115] Without it, all things, both in heaven and on earth, would return to chaos.[116] According to Lorenzo Snow, the Holy Spirit proceeds from God, fills the immensity of space, and gives light and life to all things.[117]

Conclusion

God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence must be understood in the non-absolutist sense.  The Holy Spirit is the power by which God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  It is the “light, life, power, and principle of all things … the supreme, all-controlling, all-pervading element, under the directing power of Deity.”[118] The Holy Spirit accounts for God’s omniscience. His influence, or his intelligence and power, fills immensity – not his person, but this Spirit.[119] The Holy Spirit accounts for God’s omnipresence. God is not personally present everywhere, but his spirit (the Holy Spirit) is.[120] The Holy Spirit accounts for the unity and oneness of the Godhead. Brigham Young called it a curiosity – a curiosity that is true and “nothing more than a key-word to exaltation, glory, power, and excellency, by which principalities, kingdoms, dominions, and eternal lives will surround us.”[121] One eternal spirit (the Holy Spirit) dwells in an infinite number of gods. Orson Pratt taught that Jesus’ prayer that all his disciples be made one as he and the Father are one implies in one sense one God, and in another many personal Gods.  Thus, Reality is absolute; existence has primacy over consciousness, God (the person) is finite and the Holy Spirit (a divine substance) accounts for the omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience of God. This is what Brigham Young meant by believing correctly[122] and what Joseph Smith meant by knowing the character of God.[123]

Works Cited

Bloesch, Donald G. Essentials of Evangelical Theology, Volume 1: God, Authority, and Salvation. 1. New York: HarperOne, 1982. Print.
Bushman, Richard L. Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Vintage Books, 2007. Print.
Journal of Discourses. Salt Lake City: s.n.,1897. Print.
Crowther, Duane S. Life Everlasting. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967. Print.
Ludlow, Daniel H. “Omnipotence.” Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan, 1992. Print.
Luther, Martin. On the Bondage of the Will. Westwood, N.J.: Revell, 1957. Print.
McConkie, Bruce R. The Millenial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982. Print.
McConkie, Bruce. “The Seven Deadly Heresies – Bruce R. McConkie.” Speeches Website. Brigham Young Unversity, n.d. Web. 16 Apr 2010. <http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6770>.
McConkie, Bruce. “What Think Ye of Salvation by Grace? – Bruce R. McConkie.” Speeches Website. Brigham Young Unversity, n.d. Web. 16 Apr 2010. <http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6910>.
McMurrin Sterling. The Theological Foundations Of The Mormon Religion ; And, The Philosophical Foundations Of Mormon Theology. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2000. Print.
Pratt, Parley P. Key to the Science of Theology; A Voice of Warning. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978. Print.
Rand, Ayn, and Harry Binswanger. The Ayn Rand Lexicon. New York: New American Library, 1988. Print.
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Signet, 1996. Print.
Rand, Ayn. For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. New York: New American Library, 1961. Print.
Rand, Ayn. Philosophy, Who Needs It. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1982. Print.
Roberts, B.H. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1980. Print.
Roberts, B.H. Mormon Doctrine of Deity. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2000. Print.
Roberts, B.H. The Seventy’s Course in Theology. Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1931. Print.
Schaff, Philip. The Creeds of Christendom: With a History and Critical Notes. Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Books, 1996. Print.
Smith, Joseph. Lectures on Faith. American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, 2005. Print.
The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Print.
The Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1986. Print.
The Pearl of Great Price. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1986. Print.


[1]   This paper is based on “Reality vs. God,” Part 5 of David M. Call’s series of lectures on Mormon philosophy and theology entitled, “Eternalism: The Philosophy of Heaven and Earth.” The slides accompanying his lecture can be downloaded at http://ldseternalism.com/ The sources I cite were all compiled by him and included in the slides for his presentation. However, the representation I give and the responsibility for any errors is mine alone.
[2]   Journal of Discourses, Vols. 13-15, p. 250
[3]   “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God. … He was once a man like us; … God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345-46).
[4]   Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 155
[5]   Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 124
[6]   Lecture 3:2-3:5a
[7]   “The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, 24
[8]   In God’s Image and Likeness, p. 94
[9]   McMurrin, Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, p. 20)
[10] “God is that Being, for whose will no cause or reason is to be assigned, as a rule or standard by which it acts; seeing that, nothing is superior or equal to it, but it is itself the rule of all things. For if it acted by any rule or standard, or from any cause or reason, it would be no longer the will of God. Wherefore, what God wills, is not therefore right, because He ought or ever was bound so to will; but on the contrary, what takes place is therefore right, because He so wills. A cause and reason are assigned for the will of the creature, but not for the will of the Creator; unless you set up, over Him, another Creator.” (Bondage of the Will, Section LXXXVIII, p. 90)
[11] “He is not simply the ground or depth of being but the Lord of being and the Lord over being … There is no necessity or justice to which God must conform. He is his own necessity, and he wills justice because it is his nature to do so … God’s will is conditioned and limited only by itself,” (Essentials of Evangelical Theology, Vol. 1, p 26-27).
[12] McMurrin, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, p. 1-2
[13] McMurrin, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, p. 29
[14]   McMurrin, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, p. 29
[15] Essentials of Evangelical Theology, p. 25
[16] McMurrin, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, p. 23
[17] Philosophy Who Needs It, p. 31
[18] Journal of Discourses 6:6
[19] Journal of Discourses 14: 116
[20] For the New Intellectual, 147
[21] Philosophy: Who Needs It, 30
[22] George Q. Cannon in Journal of Discourses 24:257
[23] Journal of Discourses 1:352
[24] Journal of Discourses 21:15
[25] Journal of Discourses 16:370
[26] Journal of Discourses 14:280
[27] Orson Pratt in Journal of Discourses 3:300
[28] Wilford Woodruff in Journal of Discourses 12:279
[29] Philosophy Who Needs It, 30
[30] Journal of Discourses 26:349-350)
[31] Journal of Discourses 20:116
[32] Journal of Discourses 7:354
[33] For the New Intellectual, p. 188
[34] Ayn Rand Lexicon, p. 64-65
[35] “A great many think there are results without causes; there is no such thing in existence; there is a cause for every result that ever was or ever will be, and they are all in the providences and in the work of the Lord,” (Journal of Discourses 13:33).
[36] Journal of Discourses 10: 188
[37] Journal of Discourses 13:17
[38] Heber C. Kimball in Journal of Discourses 10:45
[39] Journal of Discourses 10:117-118
[40] Atlas Shrugged, 188
[41] Journal of Discourses 13: 33
[42] Journal of Discourses 14:79
[43] Journal of Discourses 25:151
[44] George Q. Cannon in Journal of Discourses 25:150)
[45] Charles W. Penrose in Journal of Discourses 21:230)
[46] Journal of Discourses 16:196-197
[47] Journal of Discourses 16:370
[48] Journal of Discourses 26:349-350
[49] Journal of Discourses 12:279
[50] Journal of Discourses 16:247-248
[51] Doctrine & Covenants 88:36-38
[52] Journal of Discourses 1:349
[53] Journal of Discourses 1:116
[54] Journal of Discourses 25:250
[55] Journal of Discourses 6:23
[56] Brigham Young in Journal of Discourses 13:4
[57] George Q. Cannon stated, “The fact is this, and it is apparent to all of us, that there are certain men who can destroy much easier than they can build up … It takes men to build up, but children can burn down and destroy. It takes men to build a commonwealth, and lay the foundation of that which we see around us; it takes labor and years of experience and wisdom to accomplish such results; but any poor creature that is half-witted can destroy all these labors in a very short time … they would like to destroy, tear down, and reduce to chaos. That would suit them far better than it would to build up,” (Journal of Discourses 26:9).
[58] “No element that we see, no part of the earth, no part or portion of the starry heavens, or of the deep above or below, but what is God’s creation. He organized it. Do we realize this, that every element that now is in existence, that we have any knowledge of, that we can conceive of, is organized by our Father in heaven, and is his property? It is his in time and in eternity. The earth and its fulness are his, and the heavens are his; the height, the depth, the length, and the breadth, all are his,” (Journal of Discourses 8:340)
[59] Orson Hyde in Journal of Discourses 5:143
[60] Journal of Discourses 2:304
[61] Wilford Woodruff in Journal of Discourses 4:228
[62] Journal of Discourses 2:18
[63] Journal of Discourses 21:33
[64] Journal of Discourses 11:41
[65] John Taylor in Journal of Discourses 10:260
[66] Brigham Young in Journal of Discourses 11:120
[67] Journal of Discourses 24:128
[68] Charles W. Penrose in Journal of Discourses 21:230
[69] Rough Stone Rolling, p. 455-456
[70] Journal of Discourses 7:2
[71] Journal of Discourses 26:27
[72] Journal of Discourses 26:27
[73] Key to the Science of Theology, pp. 64, 67
[74] Key to the Science of Theology, pp. 64, 67
[75] Key to the Science of Theology, pp. 64, 67
[76] Key to the Science of Theology, pp. 64, 67
[77] Key to the Science of Theology, p. 64, 67
[78] “If, however, he receive that greater light, and then sin against it, the Spirit of God will cease to strive with him, and the Holy Ghost will wholly depart from him,” (B. H. Roberts, Mormon Doctrine of Deity, p. 288).
[79] Journal of Discourses 13:157
[80] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 190
[81] Journal of Discourses 6:95
[82] History of the Church, Vol. VI., p. 474
[83] Doctrine & Covenants 130:22
[84] History of the Church., Vol. V,  p. 261
[85] Key to the Science of Theology, p. 24
[86] Journal of Discourses 22:291; 24:176
[87] Life Everlasting, p. 417
[88] Life Everlasting, p. 417
[89] Life Everlasting, p. 417
[90] Life Everlasting, p. 417
[91] Life Everlasting, p. 417
[92] Key to the Science of Theology, p. 64, 67
[93] Key to the Science of Theology, p. 27
[94] Seventy’s Year Book, No. III, p, 215
[95] History of the Church, Vol. VI., p. 474
[96] Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, p. 58-89
[97] The Seven Deadly Heresies, BYU Fireside, June 1, 1980
[98] The Millennial Messiah, p. 77; The Seven Deadly Heresies, BYU Fireside, June 1, 1980
[99] What Think Ye of Salvation by Grace?
[100] Omnipotence, Encyclopedia of Mormonism
[101] Journal of Discourses 28:327
[102] Journal of Discourses 30:21-22
[103] Key to the Science of Theology, p. 327
[104] Charles W. Penrose, Brigham Young in Journal of Discourses 7:2-b
[105] Charles W. Penrose in Journal of Discourses 26:27-b
[106] Journal of Discourses 19:272-a
[107]  Doctrine & Covenants 88:13
[108]  Charles W. Penrose in Journal of Discourses 26:22-a
[109]  Brigham Young in Journal of Discourses 7:2-3
[110]  Doctrine & Covenants 93:29; 88:40
[111]  Doctrine & Covenants 88:40
[112]  Charles W. Penrose in Journal of Discourses 26:23
[113]  Charles W. Penrose in Journal of Discourses 26:27-28
[114]  Orson Pratt in Journal of Discourses 2: 340
[115]  Orson Pratt in Journal of Discourses 2:341
[116]  Orson Pratt in Journal of Discourses 2:340
[117]  Lorenzo Snow in Journal of Discourses 14:300-301
[118]  Parley P. Pratt in Key to the Science of Theology, pp. 64, 67
[119]  Brigham Young in Journal of Discourses 7:159
[120]  Charles W. Penrose in Journal of Discourses 26:23
[121]  Brigham Young in Journal of Discourses 1:272
[122]  Journal of Discourses, Vols. 13-15, p. 250
[123]  “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God. … He was once a man like us; … God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345-46).

Christopher Hurtado

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Christopher Hurtado is President and CEO of Linguistic Solutions and Adjunct Instructor of Philosophy and Political Science at Utah Valley University. He holds a BA in Middle East Studies/Arabic and Philosophy and an MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies. He coauthored Vacation Spanish: A Survival Guide for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central & South America. He is married to children’s book author and homeschool mom, Alysia Gonzalez. Together they have nine children. They are active in their church and in their community.

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