Sometime around 13.7 billion years ago, there was nothing. Not just empty space. Not just a hole. But literally and absolutely nothing. Everything in the universe then appeared, compressed in an infinitesimally small space of tremendous pressure and temperature, smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. Things rapidly expanded and cooled down. After a few minutes, some of the protons combined with neutrons to form deterium and helium nuclei. It took almost 400,000 years for things to cool down enough for electrons to combine with the bare nuclei to form atoms. In this mass of “stuff”, there were small fluctuations which are the equivalent of sound waves – forming the “sound of the Big Bang“. These pressure waves formed some areas that were slightly more dense than other areas, which eventually led to stars and galaxies and other objects in the universe. As clouds of gas condensed under the influence of gravity, the rotational momentum lead to rotating stars and orbiting planets. And here we are, on a hunk of rock which rotates around its axis approximately every 24 hours accounting for the apparent rising and setting of the sun. The name coined for this process is the Big Bang.
As we talked about in a prior post, the Big Bang is a scientific theory. We obviously weren’t there billions of years ago, so how do we know what happened? The theory started around 100 years ago. As astronomers studied galaxies, they noted that they were “red-shifted”. This is the same principle that makes the sound of a siren get lower in pitch as an ambulance races by. A galaxy that is heading away from us will have its light “stretched out” which will make it trend more toward the red-end of the spectrum. As scientists looked around, they noted that ALL galaxies were red-shifted in every direction they looked. They also noted that the further away galaxies were, the more red-shifted they were. This lead to the theory that the entire universe was expanding – that EVERY part was getting further away from every other part. And this isn’t just the galaxies moving away from each other, but the space itself actually expanding. So, if things are expanding as we go into the future, running things backwards suggests that at some finite point in the past, it was all at one place.
The Big Bang theory lead to several predictions. And according to the scientific method, in time, many of these predictions could be tested. It’s beyond the scope of this paper, but one prediction was that there should be a “left-over” glow from the Big Bang called the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMB). This was discovered accidentally in 1964 and it matched the predictions nearly exactly. There was also predicted “lumpiness” to the CMB, which was also recently confirmed. The Big Bang model predicted the relative abundances of hydrogen and helium, which has been found to be correct. Another prediction concerns “evolution” of galaxies, with younger galaxies being different than older galaxies. Because looking further away also looks back in time, we can now see galaxies as they appeared 10-12 billion years ago. These also agree with predictions.
There are many additional questions still unanswered, and many things left to learn, but at this point, the Big Bang theory provides the best explanation for the universe. The theory has made predictions which were ultimately confirmed. It explains what we see in the skies and world around us. So, when the Primary leader suggested that some people believed in a “big explosion” she was right. Millions of people, including me, believe in the Big Bang.
How does this fit with religion? There are a number of philosophical arguments which we can discuss in the comments, but at a basic level, what does the LDS Church teach about God? Joseph Smith taught “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!………..It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God……..yea, that God himself, the father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible…” The scriptures also teach us that God is God of the entire universe. This leads to several conclusions:
- We are taught that God is God of the entire universe
- We are also taught that at some point, God was a man
- Therefore, at some point, when God was a man, this universe didn’t exist
- Therefore, this universe necessarily had a beginning
If this is true, according to LDS theology, what is wrong with a Big Bang? There is necessarily a beginning to the universe. Science can’t tell us how or why the Big Bang started, just that it happened. But having a starting point is essential if we accept Joseph Smith’s teachings that God was once a man. LDS theology is somewhat different from other theologies, which suggests that God is Eternal. We consider God to be Eternal, meaning that during ALL periods of time in this universe He has been God, but some people teach that He has always been God (ie. never a mortal man). This is a bit harder to reconcile with the Big Bang, but still possible. There are also a number of other creation stories / myths from other faiths, but space is limited here to go into all of them.
Another interesting correlation relates to the “sound of the Big Bang”. In Hinduism, the universe is described as coming into being by the sacred sound “Aum/Om” radiating from God, suggesting that through sound, God influenced the formation of everything. Hints of this are in the New Testament as well. “In the beginning was the Word… Through (the Word) all things were created…” Words can been seen as vibrations containing information, so perhaps this is a similar concept – that God influenced the formation of the universe through sound. Multiple religious traditions, therefore, teach that sound was somehow instrumental in the formation of the universe as we know it.
Overall, while there are many details that will be worked out in coming years, and despite the comments made by the Primary leader, the Big Bang is the best explanation we have of the universe. It also fits with our basic theology that “As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may become.” Maybe someday we will will each start our own universe. Maybe someday we will each start a “Big Bang” and “sing” a universe into existence.
- Do you personally agree with the principles of the Big Bang theory? Or do think it is misguided and the universe is actually much younger than 13.7 billion years old?
- Do you accept the premise that God was once a man? When asked about the statement that “God the Father was once a man like we are”, President Hinckley replied, “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.” Following the logic of the 12-Points, does this change what we think about God not being God at some point?
- Is God the God of the entire universe, requiring that the universe didn’t exist before He became God? Or is God the God over just a portion of the observable universe?
- If God existed before the universe, does He have a physical presence IN this universe or not?
- Could God perhaps have influenced the formation of the universe by the “sound” that resonated through the thick “soup” that existed for the first 400,000 years of the universe?
- How would you have handled the lesson in Primary? Would you have said anything to her (I didn’t)?
Personally, I believe our father-god is god of this galaxy, and each galaxy in the universe is the creation and domain of another god. I think there’s only one universe, which has always existed; obviously, infinite space itself had to always have existed.
This galaxy alone is large enough to contain more stars than a human could count one by one. Experts agree that this galaxy alone could contain millions of technologically advanced planets.
I also personally believe that our God dwells in the center of this galaxy, which is veiled from us by a physical barrier (some kind of dust or asteroid veil or something).
My main source for these beliefs that I’ve adopted is chiefly an excellent, mind-blowing book called “Earth in the Beginning” by Eric N. Skousen.
I don’t know that we teach exaltation… No, I don’t know that we teach that…
I always love these kind of questions, although my own theology is closer to the “mainstream Christian” one, not the “God became God” view. The big bang represents a singularity in the equations of general relativity where the equations themselves break down, and we need a better theory, still being sought, that incorporates relativity and quantum mechanics into a unified framework. Lots of those candidates permit the universe to evolve THROUGH the big banf, or even for big bangs to be happening all the time in a structure in which our “universe” is itself a trivial part.
I’m pretty sure that galaxies aren’t the realms of separate gods. There are galaxies all over the universe (look at my avatar) interacting violently with each other. I would hope there is no suggestion that Heavenly Father might be on the losing side someday. 😀
Re: losing side – as long as the Lords of Kobol don’t win, I’m okay.
Eh, I don’t have much problem imagining that one god could be over numerous galaxies, I suppose… Maybe there are galaxy clusters with one ruling galaxy at the center.
a) We are taught that God is God of the entire universe
b) We are also taught that at some point, God was a man
c) Therefore, at some point, when God was a man, this universe didn’t exist
d) Therefore, this universe necessarily had a beginning.
I agree that the first two ideas are what we are taught and generally teach our kids, but think (a) is a gross underestimation that’s limited by our contemporary perspectives. Starting with (c), however, wouldn’t it be equally plausible to take an hierarchy of gods view and apply it to (c), which would necessarily change the conclusion you wrote in (d)?
For example, if God once was a man, then it’s likely that he had a God above him, as well as a Savior. At least if we can consider these things comparable, which might be a bit of a stretch. Correct? Or, is it safer to assume that the entity we now refer to as “God” lived in a world that was both godless and saviorless? Assuming the answer to the first question is correct (i.e. that there was indeed an entity known as “God” then), then it’s possible that there is a hierarchy of Gods, and that hierarchy may be endless. In that case, perhaps it’s reasonable to assume that the word “God” is more a title than anything else.
And, if that is the case, I don’t see a reason to think that there necessarily was a “beginning” or a “Big bang” or something else. Though, honestly, my finite mind has a hard time conjuring up something that never started and will never end.
“Do you accept the premise that God was once a man?”
Not in this universe, He wasn’t. Joseph’s uncanonized speculations in the months before he was martyred (“removed out of his place”?) are very hard to square with the repeated statements in canonized scripture — latter-day as well as biblical — that God has always been God.
But of course “always” is a function of time, and the very concepts of time and physical space start breaking down at the frontiers of physics. So I’m not sure whether the scriptural declarations that there is only one God, who has always been God, necessarily rules out the possibility of other persons of Deity existing outside this universe.
Once you’ve allowed that maybe God can have three persons and still be One, there’s no real reason why three trillion Persons can’t constitute one God. At that point, as the old saying goes, you’re just haggling over the price. 🙂
“Experts agree that this galaxy alone could contain millions of technologically advanced planets.”
Once you get this speculative, “experts” don’t seem to agree about much of anything. But the consensus is growing that advanced civilizations are pretty rare.
I would mention to the Primary president that the narrow creationist view should not be taught as exclusive doctrine at church. The big bang theory is certainly not incompatible with the most updated correlated version of the creation story (as told in the temple).
Also, it was less than 100 years ago that the scientific community resolved the difference between what is now known as the Milky Way galaxy (ours) and the entire universe. Any statements before that time are certainly not definitive given the distinction made in our modern astronomical understanding.
Maybe this is a good question for the next GA Q&A someone attends. Not trying to stump them, but see if they have discussed this or thought deeply upon this subject.
I would start with questions 1 or 3 with a GA.
#1 Christopher: I have read that book and there are certainly a number of interesting things in it. Just commenting on that book could take pages and pages. I’ll limit myself to points you brought up.
You mention “infinite space” which has always existed. In the book (pg 16), he actually talks about an “organized universe” expanding into an “unorganized universe”. He also claims that the “unorganized universe” is so devoid that not even the Spirit of the Lord exists anywhere in it. The organized universe is expanding, yet if it is expanding, what happens if you go backwards? Does it go down to a single point? And if so, isn’t this essentially the Big Bang?
He also claims that the expanding “organized universe”, which includes ALL that is possible to see, is expanding into the “unorganized universe”, which is a repository of building blocks. This would add more and more mass and intelligence into the universe. I’m not sure what this means.
I agree with the premise that this galaxy could contain millions of planets. To claim that the galaxy contains more stars than a human could count one by one seems a bit odd. We have a national debt measured in the trillions. We can count much higher than that with our computers. To suggest that our counting is limited by what we can physically tick off, one by one, is a bit of a strawman argument.
God shrouded by dust in the middle of the Milky Way seemed good at the time the book was written. But we have now seen the center of the galaxy with infrared telescopes that can see through the dust. There is a massive black hole at the center of the galaxy. There is a star, S2, orbiting the central black hole with a period of 15.56 years which we have seen make one complete orbit so far (for comparison, it takes the sun 226 million years to make one orbit around teh galactic center).
There are also significant philosophical problems with a physical God that is physically present in the universe when it comes to informational capacity, etc. As per pg 228, this thought comes from “The Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar” by JS – which is a somewhat shaky source upon which to base such a profound thought.
Many, many more things in the book are questionable. Much of the book is based on the premise that the earth was created near Kolob, then transported to its current location around the Sun AFTER the fall of Adam. As per page 47, for example, much of this is based upon Brigham Young speeches in the Journal of Discourses. This is the same source where BY talks about the inhabitants of the moon and what they will look like when we send missionaries there. Again, a shaky premise upon which to base an entire philosophy.
Overall, the book is interesting, but it is a perfect example of an Inside-Out Paradigm as per post #5 in this series. A few statements of early Church leaders were taken, sometimes out of context. Entire books have been written trying to shoehorn science into a preconceived notion based on these statements. This is level 4 evidence (as per post #4), statements of a single Church leader, non-canonized and never officially supported.
While all things are possible with God, I don’t know that this is the best way to go about determining truth.
A bit later on in the series, we are going to touch on string theory. As you mention, this is an attempt to reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics. There are actually some great things having to do with spirits in this area.
As you mention, there are also solutions that allow for progression THROUGH the Big Bang which we might discover. There are solutions that permit expansion and contraction, almost like a universal rebirth with renewal, which is suggested in some Eastern religions.
I agree that galaxies are NOT the realms of DIFFERENT Gods. There are collisions, spin-offs, etc. This is illogical and not consistent.
My own personal philosophy that we are part of an infinite multiverse. This universe is a minute bubble of that which represents God’s universe. Other universes are spawned off that as needed. We may ultimately spawn off other universes WITHIN this universe given the apparent hierarchal nature of God/Gods.
This is all according to the LDS teaching that God has a Father, and so on. If there is only one single God, and if we do NOT have the potential to also become Gods, then the need for a multiverse is eliminated.
#4: AdamF: A Battlestar Galactica fan – a series created by a Mormon…
Yeah, maybe on the Big Bang the way you describe it via Skousen. Or maybe not. How does eternal matter play into it? Chunks of it must always have been floating around in the unorganized part of the universe. Or maybe it was indeed all compacted somehow in some beginning and then released via a big bang.
On the counting issue, Moses or Abraham or whoever received that revelation did not have computers or anything like that, possibly couldn’t even conceive of the concept of a billion or trillion or higher (sorry, I don’t know my math history). And even though today we can talk about such amounts, most human minds can’t really conceive them.
On God shrouded by dust in the middle of the Milky Way, we may have seen through it to some degree, but we certainly don’t know all that lies within the galaxy’s center, including billions of stars within the dust shroud. And what looks like a black hole to us may be something completely inconceivable to the human mind; it may be a two-way portal through which unorganized matter is drawn into God’s workshop to be formed into planets and/or through which excess matter is ejected, like a garbage disposal. Or maybe what looks like a black hole to us is actually some kind of protective cloak to shield us from God’s full glory. Or maybe it is a portal through which he himself enters and leaves this galaxy.
I like the idea of earth being formed near Kolob and then transported here through some kind of wormhole or whatever after the fall. I’ll keep that as my placeholder belief until I hear something better, perhaps not until the afterlife. And Brigham Young may have misinterpreted a heavenly body he was shown as the “moon”; who knows.
Personally, I don’t put as much stock in human science as many do. Carbon dating, for instance, may have huge blind spots. Perhaps some terrific godly force or power acted upon organic matter in a way that we can’t even comprehend now, but carbon dating makes us think we know exactly what happened and when.
One big question I have is, what is the purpose of the other planets in our solar system? I imagine part of their role is to protect the earth in its orbit, but I bet there is lots of additional interesting stuff to learn about them, why God made them, how he uses them.
I recently read an article on science. I thought of your series.
I would be interested to know what you think of this article. If you have the time and interest, I hope you will make a comment.
Here is the link:
Tom and Thomas:
I agree that it is hard to envision God as a man IN this universe, yet still be a God OF the entire universe. The only way to resolve that is to:
a) Suggest that God was a man IN this universe, but is currently only a God of part of the universe (ie. the galaxy model), or
b) Suggest that God was a man OUTSIDE this universe, and therefore IS the God of this entire universe, from eternity, or from the time that THIS universe begins.
I am inclined to think that part (b) is the better resolution to this. Otherwise, we are limiting the scope of God.
The more traditional Christian, yet non-LDS view, is that God was never a mortal man. This is another way to resolve the apparent paradox. God is God of the entire universe, and fills the entire universe with his Spirit.
#8 Thomas (quoting Christopher)
I understand the Drake equation, but think it has many assumptions. The biggest question in my mind is that if there are so many advanced civilizations, and if they are so far ahead of us, why haven’t they ever visited us? Maybe they have, as UFOs. Maybe we are the first sufficiently advanced civilization. Maybe civilizations destroy themselves. Maybe God “ends” civilizations after a certain point to keep this from happening (ie. the Millennium)
There are a great number of statements made more than 100 years ago upon which people base entire ways of thinking. For examples, see the Creationist museum referenced in post #5 in this series, or else the book referenced in comment #1 in this post. The whole point of this series is to point out that this is perhaps a non-robust way of looking at things, and that we should perhaps let science guide us a bit more.
I also doubt that any GA will answer any of these questions – and rightfully so. GA’s have been wrong so many times before when they venture into areas outside their realm of expertise that they generally stick to the basics of the gospel. So I don’t think you’ll ever find any “official” answer. We can’t even get an “official” answer as to whether tithing is on gross or net or increase or ???
Eternal matter: Matter that has always existed in the universe. If the universe started in a Big Bang, the matter has always existed. Primordial soup became organized into nebulous clouds. Clouds condensed into stars, etc. “Eternal matter” is not a problem with the Big Bang. And “eternal matter” became “organized matter” as the Big Bang progressed.
Large numbers: The Yajur Veda includes powers of ten up to a trillion (1400 BC). In the Mahabharata (which includes the beautiful Bhagavad Gita), a cosmic time span of over 4 billion years is described (est 800 BC). In one sutra, the Buddha named powers of 10 up to 10^53. So to say that the ancients could not conceive of millions, billions or trillions is wrong. For more information about this, a great resource is The Universal History of Numbers, by Georges Ifrah (a nearly 600 page book that will prove that you, too, are a geek)
Black holes: I like where you’re going with this. See upcoming post on Black holes and Kolob…
Earth transported here: No scientific evidence whatsoever to support this. A lot of evidence to contradict this. This invokes the miraculous, which by definition is outside the realm of science. Certainly possible, but based on the random musings of a man who was shown to be wrong about other things.
Carbon dating: Stay tuned for an upcoming post on Scientific Correlation…
Other planets: Not enough space to go into orbital dynamics. Basically, Jupiter protects us. Other planets, who knows? Maybe left over junk. We have lots of left over junk in our bodies
Thanks for the link. I like a lot of what Dan Peterson has written. I’ve read his book Abraham Divided which helps us understand the Middle East from an LDS perspective. There is also a great book, Mormons & Muslims, in which he has the lead-off article in a group of articles on that topic. In these areas, I would absolutely defer to him and I’ve learned a great deal from what he’s written.
Regarding this article, there are lots of ways of looking at it. I’ve seen these same numbers quoted a bunch of times in both LDS-based articles, as well as more Evangelical sources. They essentially try to prove that the universe is so extremely finely tuned that there “must” be a God behind it. While this is certainly a possibility (and the only acceptable possibility for a member of FARMS and someone on the Gospel Docrine committee) there are other equally plausible possibilities.
It requires much more space to do it justice, but imagine a multiverse where universes pop into being with random combinations of the number described in the article. For most combinations, it is unstable and the universe merely goes away into the quantum soup. Occasionally, however, the combination is just right to form a stable universe where stars and planets can form, where life can evolve, and where intelligent life can look up at the cosmos and ask the question: Why are all of these numbers tuned “just right”? (see, for example, The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, or The Cosmic Landscape by Leonard Susskind for much more in depth explanations of this concept).
So, the fact that these numbers happen to be what they are in a universe in which we exist does NOT prove the existence of God. At the same time, the presence of alternate theories does NOT prove that God does NOT exist either.
Mike S. wrote:
Occasionally, however, the combination is just right to form a stable universe where stars and planets can form, where life can evolve, and where intelligent life can look up at the cosmos and ask the question: Why are all of these numbers tuned “just right”?
This is the same as the monkey and the typewriter approach to this sort of evidence. With enough time random keystrokes on a typewriter would produce the unabridged dictionary.
Thank you for responding.
Mike S, one more little push back on counting: It’s one thing to estimate the number of stars or grains of sand or whatever and another thing to actually count and know their exact number, which is impossible for a human. Perhaps another reason why God’s creations are innumerable is that they are always changing, with planets and stars continually forming and dying, etc. It would be impossible for a human to ever pin down the exact number at any given moment, but God knows it at all times.
I guess what I’m saying is that “innumerable” and “infinite” are not the same thing. God’s creations are infinite in that he forever creates, but his creations are numerable to him at any given time (“innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them”). Even just here in the Milky Way, God’s creations are functionally innumerable for humans, although we might be able to estimate ballpark figures. Even here on earth, the various forms of particles (sand, cells, molecules) are innumerable to us, even if scientists and mathematicians can conceive of numbers that high in the abstract.
I agree that there is a difference between a “countable infinity” vs an “uncountable infinity”, which seems to be what you are alluding to. A countable infinity includes things which can be counted one at a time, although it may never end. An example of this is the series of natural numbers: 0,1,2,3,… An uncountable infinity CANNOT be counted one by one. An example of this is the irrational numbers. Take the numbers between 0 and 1. Pick the halfway point 0.5. Then pick another point 0.25. There will ALWAYS be a between any two given point (ie. between 0.00000002 and 0.00000003 might be 0.000000023) and so on. This is also an infinite series that is NOT countable.
So when you say that God “knows” all of his creations at any given time, this also becomes a ballpark, just like we humans do. Does He know just the positions of stars? Does He know the positions of planets around stars? How about the trillions of lifeforms on a planet? How about the cells that make up my body? How about the atoms that make up a cell? At what point does God stop knowing/counting each individual item and accept a “ballpark” number?
If you claim that God knows each and every atom in the universe, this becomes another problem if God is a physical being IN the universe. Each particle has a specific amount of information. Suppose that this bit of information took a finite amount of space to store (ie. in a neuron, a computer memory chip, etc). Storing this information would vastly exceed the size of a human brain, and would in fact fill the entire universe.
My own personal thought is that God works like us. He also works in ballparks (although I don’t know the level).
I think Chris’ statement is a good indicator of what separates the two worldviews:
To some, everything must have a purpose, a reason, be placed there to serve a particular function, or is otherwise part of a master plan. I think this is a very natural human tendency. We view ourselves through rose-colored lenses, both personally, and cosmically. Our lives must have meaning, and significance. How do we make sense of it otherwise?
To others, everything is where it is for a reason, but that reason is natural. The planets are there because that’s the way physical forces pushed them. Earth rotates because some force started it spinning and objects tend to stay in motion until acted upon (though the earth is slowing down due to gravitational forces between the earth, moon, sun, other planets, etc.). We are here because somehow, sometime, a cell came into existence (perhaps via ID, I dunno) and eventually, over billions of years complex biological entities evolved. In this scenario, meaning is found on a personal (rather than cosmic) level, as we evaluate our impact on our community.
One view requires the grand watchmaker and accompanying explanations, the other does not presume the existence or non-existence of the watchmaker, but finds natural reasons for why things are the way they are.
If one has studied physical systems, one knows that physical systems tend toward stable equilibria. Perhaps this is by some cosmic design…but perhaps not. Either way, MOST of what we observe in nature, in ourselves, in our universe, can be explained via natural phenomena.
I need not wonder why God put this window in my office because I know that some builder did. I need not wonder why God causes a ball to fall to the ground when I release it from some height above it because I know that gravity causes this to occur. I presume that those with the first worldview do not wonder about things as silly as this. Extending this further, one realizes that the difference, then, between the two worldviews can be summed up as some threshold for which natural explanations (or explanations that have YET to be discovered) are adequate for explaining observed phenomena. Because we did not see Jupiter being formed, and were unable to observe the forces involved, we may be reasonably skeptical about whether or not we can really know what happened. But nobody wonders how the door opens when they place their hand on the doorknob, turn it, and apply force.
(Dang, sorry, this is turning into a post)
This, then, also explains Dan Peterson’s referenced article. He seeks to appeal to our incredulity by indicating the unlikelihood of events happening and hence, concluding the grand watchmaker is responsible. But to those who know probability, what is the probability of ANY specific event? It’s always 0. Yet no one considers it a proof of God’s existence that I just happened to walk through my office door at an exact time, in an exact location, applying an exact sequence of forces to the door to open it, even though the likelihood of that event occurring is exactly 0.
“So when you say that God “knows” all of his creations at any given time, this also becomes a ballpark, just like we humans do. Does He know just the positions of stars? Does He know the positions of planets around stars?”
A thought for another post Mike: If God knows the positions, does that mean he doesn’t know the momentum very well? Does God obey the uncertainty principle?
“One big question I have is, what is the purpose of the other planets in our solar system?”
A bigger question I have is, what is the purpose of the Coxsackie virus that laid my whole household miserably low last month, and (thanks to a killer sore throat) limited my Thanksgiving dinner to Jello.
Many things exist, just because they can. That is, even if you presume that the purpose of the universe is to serve God’s central purpose of bringing about the immortality and eternal life of man, it’s possible that setting up those laws that allow physical human bodies to come into existence, have the side effect of allowing big balls of dust and gas to coalesce into more or less useless planets, and allowing proteins to organize themselves into frickin’ annoying viruses and other things that I can never quite conceive of God intentionally creating.
“Personally, I don’t put as much stock in human science as many do.”
And yet here we are tapping out posts on a system that’s the fruit of multiple disciplines of human science, many of whom grew out of initial theories that Biblical religion once condemned.
Maybe it’s better to say that some of us are cafeteria science-trusters, picking and choosing which scientific insights to accept and reject based on how they fit in with or existing beliefs.
Great comment. I actually think the uncertainty principle underlies mortality at a very deep level.
There is a set of posts coming up on the uncertainty principle/free agency, multidimensionality and the location of God, strings and spirits, etc. that all interrelate. It’s kind of dense so I’ll try to make it somewhat intelligible for the readers here.
I agree that some things are just the result of a “messy” creation. We read in Abraham that the Gods did x, then saw that they were obeyed. To me, this suggests that they started a process going knowing the underlying rules of the universe, then let things run until they were “close enough” for their purposes.
In the case of planets, I don’t know that there is really any role for them specifically. We do know from orbital mechanics that a large planet like Jupiter is needed to “protect” a planet like Earth from cataclysmic impacts for a long enough period for life to “evolve”/be created. Why the other ones? Who knows? I do think it’s cool, though, when we see pictures from them.
And speaking of viruses, that is another messy area. In examining the human genome (ie. the DNA that makes us what we are), around 8% is actually VIRAL DNA that has been inserted over time. And once inserted, this has passed down. We’ll have a lot to talk about with this down the road in future posts. But making humans was “messy” too.
Goo d job of explaining the anthropological principle. In an infinite multiverse, everything happens, and happens an infinite number of times.
I should point out that, while it doesn’t prove that there is a God, it does suggest that any God who IS, really, really, really likes variety. (And that may be threatening to the idea that God has a special preference for humans over other forms He has created.)
I know that we will not get an official answer from any GA, but I think several have thought deeply about such subjects. A lower level GA with scientific training is the most likely to potentially engage this type of question. This may be especially true around here (the Bible belt) where they want to draw clear distinctions between dogmatic creationist thinking and what is acceptable for a TBM.
To answer your posed questions:
Yes to the Big Bang.
I personally tend to lean towards yes on God once being a man, but I don’t think it matters either way (at least not for us now).
Yes to God being the God of the universe.
No to physical presence in this universe.
I doubt God influenced the formation of the physical universe.
I would have interrupted the primary lesson. I don’t advocate my views in church, but I don’t tolerate others pushing their non-approved church views either, especially not to the children and the youth.
I like to interpret “κοσμοσ” in John 3:16 as universe, but that’s probably partly because Russian is my 2nd language, and that what it is in Russian (in chinese it translates to space-time). I also haven’t found any rationalizations for how the 2nd law of thermodynamics co-exists and persists in a universe with anything “Celestial” (in the Mormon sense of the word) that satisfy me. I pretty much always defer on seeming conflicts between religion and science to scientific evidence. Religion tends to be flexible enough to always accommodate science.
Also, I don’t think I’d enjoy the Skousen book. Reason one: it was written by a Skousen. 😉 Reason two: Infinite space? Unorganized Universe into which and Organized one is expanding? Wow, obviously not being written by someone who actually understands the physics behind cosmology. Best case scenario he does but proceeds with absolutely wild speculation anyhow.
I used to love the speculation of harmonizing science and religion. I’m not a big fan now because as my understanding of religion and science have increased, I realize that it is very much like describe the taste of a cake while you are still adding the ingredients. Unless you’re the cook, it’s pointless until it’s done. As science continues to progress and we as individuals move line upon line in spiritual understanding trying to connect the dots now is a largely pointless activity.
While a lower level GA with the appropriate background might have thought more about these topics than someone else, they are even LESS likely to talk about it. Their goal is not to make waves and to support the hierarchy above them. Any revelation for the Church will necessarily come from above.
I also think that General Authorities are wary of getting “pinned down” on many specifics any more, much like the Hinckley quote above. This actually seems reasonable. Brigham Young’s opinions and musings have been turned into books 150 years later that are accepted, even in areas which contradict what we see in the world around us.
It sounds like we agree with many things. I also didn’t really like the Skousen book. I bought and read it anyway, mostly to see what thoughts are out there and if there are perhaps a few nuggets of things that make sense. It is a classic example of Inside-Out thinking – taking a few non-cannonical statements made by an isolated Church leader, making a world-view based on this, and then looking at the world around with this view, rejecting any evidence that the preconceived notion is wrong.
This is actually the reason for this series of posts. I do agree that things will likely NOT be reconciled given our limited understanding. But I still think it is important to at least address the issues at this point. If all we had out there were stories like the Primary leader and books like Skousen’s, things will continue down the same path.
I am often drawn to the idea that our creation- our earth in it’s solar system fell from God’s presence. This falling away from the other creations have caused the effect of the red shift- we are literally moving away from the other creations while they themselves are not moving away from us necessarily. Speaking of things being relative, we cannot be sure that it is not just us that is moving away from other creations. The universe itself may not be expanding, we may just be moving away from the other creations while they mostly remain fixed in their regions in the universe.
Here’s an article from yesterday’s NY Times that’s almost hilariously relevant to aspects of this discussion:
How Many Stars? Three Times as Many as We Thought, Report Says
If the universe remains “fixed in their regions” and the red shift is us “moving away from the other creations”, shouldn’t there be some directionality to that? If we are “red-shifted” in the direction FROM which we are moving, that should imply that we are “blue-shifted” in the direction TO which we are moving. In reality, the observable red-shift is in ALL directions.
Also, if the red-shift is caused by us moving, then ALL things around us should be red-shifted the same amount, as our relative speed is constant. If the red-shift is cause by the entire universe actually expanding, however, things further away/further back in time should be MORE red-shifted than things closer. This latter prediction is also what we see in the universe around us.
So, there is absolutely NO evidence in support of us “moving away” from any particular spot in the universe (other than “local” motion revolving around the center of the galaxy, or our galaxy moving locally with relation to other local galaxies). And there is a lot of evidence AGAINST this.
Again, perhaps the only “evidence” for this position is musings by BY, who also pondered what the inhabitants of the moon looked like and suggested that the sun was inhabited.
I read that article yesterday and thought it quite appropriate. I think it points out that our understanding is continually expanding. Not too long ago (relatively speaking), we thought that the earth was the center of the universe, or that the sun was a great ball of fire that worked by combustion, or that galaxies were just clouds of nebulae. I am continually amazed at the cool things we find in the universe around us.
The thing that attracts me to science is that it is able to accept observations like the one in the article, expand or modify theories, and keep looking forward. And as time passes, we get closer and closer to a true understanding of Creation.
I contrast this to views like the Skousen book, which was referenced. In this case, the viewpoint is predetermined and fixed. It doesn’t matter what observations we make of the world around us. And, according to the same logic, the only reason we should have sent man to the moon was to send up the missionaries to the people there.
Mike S, you keep bringing up Brigham Young’s observations on inhabitants of the moon and sun as if he is a buffoon, at least related to those statements. How do you know there are not SPIRITUAL beings inhabiting or visiting or otherwise using these spheres? Of course, human science could never detect or comprehend such a thing, but the spiritual realm or dimension is real nonetheless, and no doubt there are many aspects of it that will astound us. How do you know there are not translated beings on the sun who are not phased by its physical burnings, perhaps acting as sentries of some kind for this solar system? Perhaps the sun is God’s or the Savior’s hotel room when they physically visit this part of their domain? This is why human science bothers me: big, huge blind spots.
I agree with you – we do have huge blind spots in science. I have often thought the same thing – perhaps on a different plane there are spirits inhabiting the sun, etc. In a later post, we are going to talk about multi-dimensions, spirits, etc.
However, science is concerned with observable things. Any comments about non-observable things isn’t really a “blind spot”, it’s just not science.
But it does lead one to a very FUNDAMENTAL question: who gets to choose? Who gets to choose that BY talking about inhabitants of the sun is a “spiritual” thing, yet him talking about something else is a “physical” thing as proposed by Skousen? Do we just get to choose after the fact? Does someone’s role in the LDS hierarchy imply anything about that person’s understanding of science? Maybe, maybe not. My whole premise is that there are far too many unknowns in basing someone’s thinking on this Inside-Out view. Sometimes you may get lucky and be right, in which case we are the prophet/apostle was inspired. But when they’re wrong, we explain that away by saying that they’re still right and perhaps they meant x… which is something else.
I would still argue that the best method is following observations and then internalizing them.
Welcome back. You are so right. Our limited pea-brained existence is in for a rude awakening when we found out all the things we didn’t know and got wrong.
And then that expression “everything you know is wrong” will finally make sense.
My question is, how do you know where to end it? Let’s keep going with this speculation. How do we know there’s not a planet right next to us from which spiritual beings come to this planet to help us along the way? How do we know there isn’t an oasis on mars with a colony of human-like bipeds just waiting to be discovered? How do we know that God isn’t looking at this post right now shaking His head in disbelief? How do we know that we aren’t really in a matrix and this is all a computer simulation?…
The list goes on and on. Just because something is possible is no reason to believe in it.
Christopher, how do you decide where your speculation begins and ends? Do you have a set of rules, or guidelines? You do live in the real world, and you’re typing comments on this blog (and from your website I see you have books, and worry about real world issues), so where do you draw the line in science and begin your speculation? Do you go to the doctor when you’re sick? Would you if you had a heart attack? How do you know there’s not a blind spot in medical science right where you need it?
I believe it is morally preferable to believe the wrong thing as a result of honestly applying your best judgment, than to stumble into believing the right thing by dishonest processes — by consciously choosing to apply inferior reasoning, or refusing to acknowledge evidence that would convince you in another context.
It seems counterintuitive, but think of how we think about truth versus deceit. We distinguish between innocent error, versus deceit — the knowing statement of something not believed to be true, or something one has no justifiable grounds for believing true. The underlying accuracy of the thing believed, or stated, is less relevant to the moral analysis, than a person’s mental state, or motivation.
If you think you’re telling a lie — but unbeknownst to you, are telling the truth — morally, you have the mental state of a liar. And it’s imputed to you as wickedness. Just as accidentally stating something untrue doesn’t make you a liar, accidentally stating the truth — when your intent is to deceive — doesn’t make you honest. Accidents don’t determine morality.
T.S. Eliot’s line about doing the right thing for the wrong reason comes to mind.
Looking back at the comments, I am sorry if I made BY look like a “buffoon”. That is certainly NOT my intent. I do think he was a great organizer, a leader of people, and that he said many important things.
At the same time, he said many other things which are perhaps “less than true”. Many of these things, including blood-atonement, Adam-God theory, etc. the Church itself has disavowed as BY’s opinion and NOT doctrine. He talked about people dying from interracial marriage and many other things that we perhaps disagree with today.
The reason I bring up the “moon” and “sun” quotes is because they are pertinent to the conversation. Skousen’s entire book is essentially his interpretation of selected quotes from BY and others. There is very little real basis in anything that scientists have discovered in the universe around us in the book. There are things in the book that are direct contradictions to what we have observed in the world around us. So the question is WHY pick some statements of a prophet as absolute truth, but feel free to ignore others?
And I agree with Jeff, science is off-base in many areas – we just don’t know which ones. But there is a big difference in approach: scientists will find a better theory that explains new data, and the theories will converge on “truth” over time. My mind has a hard time wrapping itself around like the Sun is God’s hotel room in another dimension that you’ll never be able to see, merely to hang on to one person’s interpretation of Brigham Young’s opinion.
Also, I don’t mean to attack Skousen directly – he’s just the example that was brought up. It’s more the method of approaching this. There are many other examples:
The Kolob Theorem, The Creation Museum, etc.
I will say one thing, at least scientists are trying, even if they get it wrong from time to time.
Scientists are allowed to speculate and even declare their speculation, without absolute proof, to be “fact.” Like man descending from apes. No real proof, yet some accept it as fact.
So religious speculation is not that far from that.
Whoa, easy Jeff. “Apes,” “without proof”? I don’t know any scientist that claims we descended from apes. They claim that we have a common ancestor with modern primates. And there is lots of evidence for this. Unless you’ve really looked hard at the evidence and theory, it’s not wise to mock it so willy-nilly. I accept it as a scientific theory, which is exactly what it is. Not fact, not speculation, not a hypothesis, but a scientific theory (please see here for a good understanding of this term).
I can disbelieve statements from Brigham Young and guys like Skousen fairly easily, if I choose, when it comes to nonessential stuff regarding history or even things I personally deem to be cultural rather than doctrinal. I’m not the kind of guy who feels prophets MUST be right in every utterance, especially in speculative areas. But I’m also not quick to abandon an interesting LDS-centric speculation just because human science hasn’t found any support or thinks it’s impossible; by those standards, you couldn’t believe in the Book of Mormon either. One of science’s key driving factors is human pride, after all, and reliance upon the arm of flesh, neither of which is likely to pay off in the long run.
So, jmb275, for me speculation like this is more fun than essential to my faith. If I hear a better idea than a Skousen idea, one that I like better, it’s easy for me to swap it out. In the meantime, I like having SOMETHING in the space. Of course I don’t discount human science entirely, especially in the areas of practical application where it indisputably improves our lives. But when science thinks it can completely or conclusively understand things about history and the cosmos, that just makes me laugh. Yeah, science is willing to adapt to new discoveries and make occasional statements of humility, but in the meantime it can be pretty damn arrogant about what it thinks it already knows, and so many secular-minded people take it as gospel.
Bottom line for me is, I love Mormonism’s affect on my imagination, including discussions like this. But speculations at this level are more a game to me than something I think will really lead to any conclusive answers for us mortals, although I do have faith that all mysteries will be revealed at some point in the afterlife.
“I accept it as a scientific theory, which is exactly what it is. Not fact, not speculation, not a hypothesis, but a scientific theory”
Ok, but how do you equate a scientific theory, which is based on the extrapolation of data, yet not proven, as any different that a theologically theory, which may be created the same way? Both, IMO, take some amount of faith to accept it.
The missing link between apes and man is yet to be found, but only speculated about.
Thanks for responding Christopher.
I suppose much of this is a perspective issue. Personally, I see your reliance on prophets, holy books, etc. to be “reliance upon the arm of flesh” (after all, God didn’t say/write any of those things). That’s not an insult to you, I just think we must use our own rational thinking, coupled with personal revelation to discern the truth.
I can understand this because this is exactly my approach to the church. Where it indisputably improves my life, I love it.
Likewise here. When the LDS church thinks it can completely or conclusively make absolute truth claims about history, or homosexuality, or Blacks, or…, it just makes me laugh. In my view, if any earthly organization, or group is arrogant about what it thinks it already knows, religions, the world over, take the cake! Incidentally, if I can be upfront with you a little, I don’t think science thinks it can completely or conclusively understand things about history and the cosmos, though I think it hopes to (much like Joseph Smith). Real scientists, at least the ones I interact with, are much more humble than that. I guess this is why I don’t understand the disdain for science. Science isn’t trying to overthrow religion here, it’s the neo-atheists who are trying to do that.
However, I do not dispute that many scientists are arrogant. Especially when you have the stigma of “the world” and “secular agenda” being thrown about so wildly (not unlike the unfair stigmas that follow religious individuals like “ignorant” and “gullible”).
We certainly agree on this.
The arm of flesh is what got us indoor plumbing, antibiotics, and any number of things that have paid off wonderfully.
The warnings against reliance on the arm of flesh have a profound meaning: It is indeed true that if you rely so completely on the arm of flesh as to lose sight of God entirely, the only thing you can expect, in the end, is to go the way of all flesh. The promise of eternity and the things of God add a richness and hope to life that the unaided arm of flesh simply can’t match.
On the other hand, those warnings have a long and ignoble history of being hauled miles out of context, in support of claims by religions to authority that may go well beyond their proper sphere. This typically happens when religion has staked out territory that’s threatened by scientific arguments it can’t rebut on the merits — and so the response is basically “shut up, he explained.” In logic, this is called the “appeal to authority,” and it’s not looked upon favorably. And in fact there is an extensive enough historical record of the objective fruits of reliance on authority versus consideration of ideas on their merits, that if a process is judged on its fruits, the religious-authority model’s fruits are mixed at best.
I like D&C 50:12 — “Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord, reason with you that you may understand.”
I don’t think they’re any different at the end of the day. BUT, I do think the mechanism for obtaining those theories is different (not the “same way” as you suggest even though they’re both theories). And yes, of course they both take faith. Anything outside of hyperbolic doubt a la Descartes takes faith!! But is that really the only measure for comparing two theories – how much faith they take?
However, even having said that, I do not discount religious claims based solely on the method. Not even close. For example, for me, while I do have serious concerns about the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the best explanation (so far), in my book, really is Joseph’s story. As Holland said, the others don’t add up (not even close actually). But, Joseph’s doesn’t either (which is why I have concerns).
Having said all this, I think, as E Cook posited in the last conference, religious arguments ought to be judged on their merits alongside secular ones. For me, most scientific theories have better predicting power, are more parsimonious, make more “intuitive” sense, and are more reliable in real world applications than most religious theories.
Sure, and every time they find a candidate, it makes headlines. I read you on this one. On the other hand, continental drift was not observable for decades after the theory was used for predicting it. And believers were scorned and ridiculed. But here we are today, and I’m sure we’ll both admit it’s basically a fact. I think the case for us having a common ancestor with primates is pretty solid, but you’re right, not proven…yet.
Scientists DO get things wrong. However, there is a mechanism in place to fix this. Others can examine the data, can repeat the experiment, and can investigate the claimed theory. The experiments, if done correctly, should ALWAYS work. If not, the theory is wrong. Additionally, ANYONE can come up with a theory, try to prove or disprove a theory, etc., limited by resources.
There are several big difference in religion.
First, in the LDS Church, hierarchy strictly plays a role. I could come up with whatever theory I want about the universe, etc. but it doesn’t matter. Unless I was “high” in the hierarchy, it doesn’t have to be accepted by anyone, regardless of “proof”.
Also, religious truths are not necessarily reproducible. Even something as basic as Moroni’s promise varies widely. It works for some people. It doesn’t work for other people. Unlike science, there is no real way to reproduce one person’s belief in truth in someone else. Sometimes people think the same, but much of the time they don’t.
Regarding the “missing link” showing we descended from apes, that makes great copy. It’s not really what is claimed by anyone.
Later on we are going to get into evolution, carbon dating, archeology, paleobotany, genetics, etc. It will all become much more clear, although perhaps not accepted by all.
And I do love Mormonism’s affect on my imagination as well – in many areas. It is what I am and necessarily influences my thinking in all areas of life.
I’ve been thinking about what people have said over night, which I suppose is a sign of a good discussion. Here is a fundamental question for which I don’t have a good answer and hope someone might have some insight:
– In science, doing the same experiment different times should ultimately give the exact SAME result. Science is based on this reproducibility.
– In religion, doing the same experiment different times gives DIFFERENT results. There are LDS people absolutely convinced that this is the “one true Church” to the point that they say they “know it, beyond a shadow of a doubt” (whatever that means). But there are Muslims and Catholics and Hindus and others who are equally as convinced that God/Allah has told them that theirs s the correct path.
How do we explain this?
Re #56: Religious experimentation.
My take on why people are getting different answers lies in the fact that the experiment in religion is in my opinion NOT actually reproducible — even when I try the same thing over again. My motives, my feelings, my desires have changed over time, and so each time when I pray for an answer to remind me why I still go to church even if/when it frustrates me, the answer changes, and my interpretation of the answer changes too.
If I haven’t been able to do the same experiment twice, how can I possibly judge whether or not someone else is doing the exact same experiment as I am? They have their own life, their own feelings, motivations, desires, all of which change how they do the experiment. So of course, the answer is not repeatable.
For me, then, this means I will never judge another based on the answer they get. I can’t say to them that you’re doing it wrong, because I can’t know exactly what they did. I can only say this is what I did, and it works for me. If it doesn’t for you, then choose another path, or try again later, or whatever. But their answer won’t affect mine, and mine doesn’t have to affect theirs.
Just to comment on the post questions directly, Big Bang is not in any way contradictory to LDS doctrine. The Primary teacher was just doing what jmb cautioned against: “Unless you’ve really looked hard at the evidence and theory, it’s not wise to mock it so willy-nilly.” She was mocking something without understanding it. Evolution and big bang still don’t indicate whether there was any sort of intelligence behind these process or whether they happened without any sort of intelligent catalyst. For me, on that score, the jury’s out, but I totally thought that the teacher was going to say that God created the Big Bang, that the Big Bang was God’s way of starting the universe. For the teacher to basically dismiss the Big Bang as if it were chaotic and inherently atheist is jumping to conclusions the theory doesn’t include. Same thing with those who decry evolution, IMO.
As to the notion of God being an exalted man, that’s the most important unique doctrine of Mormonism for me, the only way I can comprehend the concept of God. In fact, I’m so invested in this notion that I sometimes have a hard time seeing God as infallible. The more we distance God from humanity, the less comprehensible s/he becomes IMO.
Probably a lot of people missed it but all this stuff was answered in a cartoon show called “Denver the last Dinosaur” that showed on T.V. around 1988-1989.
“As to the notion of God being an exalted man, that’s the most important unique doctrine of Mormonism for me, the only way I can comprehend the concept of God.”
Unfortunately it’s just the opposite for me. Imagining an exalted man that is over all of creation with the millions and billions of stars that have come as a result of the big bang is just incomprehensible to me. And saying that He can do it because He’s God just doesn’t settle the matter. Envisioning God as a white robed, white bearded, bare footed man as in the temple film just doesn’t make any sense.
In spite of President Hinckley’s famous public statement, the concept of God becoming God, and progressing from being like us (i.e., that we are the same species) has been taught publicly by every President of the Church (including President Hinckley). It is fundamental to the whole concept of exaltation. The book of Mormon teaches that if God did not obey eternal truth he would cease to be God.
The Big Bang is consistent with this view of God; something had to start the Big Bang and the final transformation of a man into a God would be a perfect reason to start a universe. At that point the man ceases to exist and a new God and universe begin. Time itself is limited to how long the universe existed so by definition God will have been God for all time.