Ep62-God and the Natural Universe: Mormon Finitism and Transhumanism (Pt 1) - Vol 4

Topics Discussed:
•  God’s Relation to Natural Regularities in the Tradition.
•  Prospects of a Natural Law Theodicy in the Tradition of Ex Nihilo Creation.
•  Mormon Finitism/Transhumanism

Show Notes:


Mormon thought allows at least three very different views of God’s relation to the “natural” universe. Prior to discussing live options of theodicy in Mormon thought, I want to lay a bit of groundwork regarding God’s relation to natural law and the eternal realities that are posited in Mormon scripture. Such a discussion is essential to grasp the nature of God’s providential action in the world.

A religious tradition is most satisfying and valuable when it provides a revelatory framework for making sense of and giving meaning to our experiences of the various types of evils that confront us. Any religion that leaves us clueless as to God’s goodness in light of our actual experience of the world or that fails to provide an optic to see God’s loving hand in the world’s events fails in its task as religion.

 God’s Relation to Natural Regularities in the Tradition.

By “natural law” I mean merely a constant regularity of the type water always freezes when it is 32 degrees F or the speed of light is C. Natural laws can be descriptions of these regularities or explanations for why they obtain. There are numerous theories of what natural laws are and how they are best conceived. For now, to avoid going too far afield into such important issues, I will leave the discussion with the simple notion of consistent regularities that in fact obtain in the world about us. It is indisputable that there are such natural regularities. For all in the tradition, God establishes and sustains these regularities and can suspend them at any time.

 For those in the “total divine control” traditions, God controls both what the natural regularities shall be and also what every human “freely” chooses and does. The “meticulous providence” views of Jacobus Arminius and Luis de Molina maintain that what creatures would do freely cannot be brought about by God. Thus, God may be stuck with a world that would be different than he would unilaterally create if he could control the fates... God uses his knowledge of what “free” persons would choose if created in a particular circumstance. Every event that occurs is an essential part of bringing about the best (or one of the best) results that are open to God to create out of nothing given the fates. Nevertheless, God still has unfettered control over the natural regularities that obtain and which God can suspend or revoke at any time.

 Open theists maintain that God doesn’t foreknow the free choices that will be made...So God’s power is “self-limiting.” Nevertheless, that also means that God can un-self-limit at any time. God could override the free decisions of evil humans any time he determined it would be best to do so.

In Process thought, in contrast, God does not and cannot bring about any state of affairs unilaterally. God does not create ex nihilo...God governs the world by giving this “initial aim” to actual occasions. However, God does not unilaterally control the extent to which such influence will be incorporated into the new momentary reality. God can only exercise persuasive power as a matter of metaphysical necessity.

 Prospects of a Natural Law Theodicy in the Tradition of Ex Nihilo Creation.

 Natural law- like regularities are important to the ability of persons to make choices with predictable outcomes and consequences for their actions. Such regularities seem to be an essential feature of any world that could support beings who are morally responsible for what they do... Explain why

But are the very natural laws that obtain really necessary for the goods of consistent regularity and free will and so forth? Why didn’t the omni-god arrange the world with more congenial natural laws that don’t naturally create viruses and earthquakes and tornadoes and tsunamies – and house flies? It is often argued by those in the tradition that God had a very narrow range of natural constants that he could adopt to govern a world that would sustain life as we know it.3 It appears that a few fundamental constants of nature are “balanced on a knife’s edge, within an extremely narrow range that is essential for the existence of life as we know it.”4 Those constants are: (a) the ratio of the strength of the electrical forces to the force of gravity; (b) the fraction of the mass of hydrogen that is converted to energy in the process of hydrogen fusion; (c) the ratio of the density of matter in the universe and the density that would lead to a flat universe; (d) the “cosmological constant” which balances gravity and caused the expansion of the universe to accelerate for an inflationary period; (e) a measure of irregularities of the otherwise uniform early universe; and (f) the number of spatial dimensions of our universe.

The God of the tradition which creates ex nihilo could have a world both characterized by natural regularities necessary to sustain life and moral responsibilities and also in which tornadoes don’t form, there are no earthquakes and tsunamis never occur.

Given the problem of natural evil, the only viable option open to the tradition is that the omni-god contrives these natural evils to serve some higher purpose that we cannot fathom.

 Mormon Finitism

 One prominent trajectory of Mormon thought maintains that God is dependent on a logically and temporally prior universe already characterized by natural regularities before God ever becomes fully divine. This trajectory is represented prominently by John Widtsoe’s A Rational Theology and many current Mormon scientists and engineers.

 On this view, El became fully divine at some first moment by learning to master the natural regularities that govern the universe and the laws of divine relationship (law of love) and morality. If El “learned how” to be fully divine by mastering the natural laws, then the natural laws exist prior to and independently of El’s creative activity...It is not the case that the laws depend on El for their existence; rather, El is dependent on the natural laws for his status as God.

Given his trustworthiness and mastery of love, the council of gods assigned El a region of the local universe to organize and govern. In this region El is supreme and the sole God who is revealed and “with whom we have to do.”

On this view, any given individual exists of de re necessity – it is the nature of any given individual to exist and it is physically impossible that such a being could not exist. However, it is not El’s nature to exist as God – or in other words as a fully divine being. Further, there have always been fully divine beings on this view. Much of the order that exists in the natural universe is due to the organizing influence of the always temporally prior council of gods.

They have devised a plan to assist us to also become fully divine like them and through the same developmental process. It requires teaching us to master nature as a scientist and learn to be morally good to such a degree that we can share everything that they have learned – just as the gods before them did. Just as the gods did before us, we must learn from the moral and natural challenges that come our way to create a firm and virtuous character wholly committed to love and goodness.

One of the purposes of mortal life is to prove to God that we are worthy of the kind of ultimate trust implicit in sharing with us all the power and knowledge that he has. Indeed, it must be established very firmly that we will work cooperatively with God and each other for the good of all so that he can trust us with the fulness of his divine power. Sharing such knowledge with persons who are not proven to be trustworthy would entail a risk that is too great....I disagree. I think this view is that we learn to the kind being that God is. He can't grant god hood you grow into it. It is a way of being. He is more of a teacher and exemplar. God is not a genie.

The essence of every person’s personal identity is uncreated and has always existed. The eternal intelligences are essentially free and their choices are up to them; not God.

God’s power on this view is necessarily merely instrumental – that is, exercised through some means other than direct and immediate control of what occurs. God must act through instrumentalities if God interacts with the natural world the way a scientist would....I think you are conflating too many views here as one view. At this point you critique transhumanist views not what most LDS would naturally go to from your setup.

 There is an evolutionary argument for the existence of god in Mormon Finitism. Evolution is the process which governs the development of natural life and which even involves the evolution of more integrated and intelligent beings – including eventually divine beings. Given enough time, it is very likely that superlatively   intelligent beings would evolve somewhere in the universe who would learn to use technology to enhance their natural power, intelligence and knowledge to be vastly greater than we possess.

 El does not have sufficient technological means to exercise technological power at all places and prevent all evils. El does not have sufficient means to stop hurricanes and tornadoes in at least the instances they actually occur. He cannot stop all viruses immediately because it takes time to work out solutions and cures. As soon as god figures it out, he reveals it for the benefit of humankind. Unlike the god of the tradition, the God of Mormon finitism cannot specially tailor natural laws in just any logically possible configuration. God does not contrive any purposeless evils to somehow bring about a greater good on this view.

 Why pray to a being who can’t do better than we could do on our own? This objection seems decisive to me.

 my point is that if limitation in god’s power and knowledge are the sole explanation for his permission of evil, then the explanation still has a lot of explaining to do about other issues for faith. If God is really limited to the natural laws that obtain in such a way that he must figure out how to overcome ... then it seems to me that trust in such a being is greatly attenuated. Such a being may be a very advanced god-like being compared to us; but compared to the kind of being that can command our allegiance as a moral duty and organize the entire universe, this kind of finite uber-scientist is unlikely to win devotion.

The Mormon finitism model assumes that the physical universe is infinitely old – but at least our particular pocket universe appears to have had a beginning as a space-time manifold. There could not be an eternally old, physically complex being in such a local universe. Thus, El would have to “stand” outside of the physical space-time matrix that defines our own pocket universe. But then how does he get back into or communicate with it – let alone evolve to become a fully divine being within its space-time matrix? Same question though about eternally existing intelligences.

 More critically, this view seems inadequate to explain the assumption in Joseph Smith’s revelations that the creation and laws governing the regularities of the bodies in the natural world depend on God’s immanent power......but then they aren't regularities or 'natural' if they depend on God to be the way they are.

Other issues: communication, heat death of the universe

Maybe such tech is possible but then the problem of evil returns.


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