Kalām, Mormonism, and Eternal Progression

I mentioned at the end of Friday’s post that I’m inclined to think that Mormonism fails the Kalām argument; I’d hoped to get to it later that day, but law school was more pressing, and I generally blog very little on Saturdays and rarely if ever on Sundays. Anyways, here’s how my thinking goes:

I. Crux of the Argument
The crux of my argument is that Mormonism, since it believes (a) that just as we will someday become gods of our own worlds, God Himself was once a mere man, with His own god; (b) that every soul is “eternally progressing,” getting better or worse (not just human souls, but God’s soul, and every other soul – there is no one Being who is the unchanging personification of Good); and (c) that your soul and mine were not created by God, but preexisted eternally, just as His did [there are claims which make this weirder, like the claim that Jesus is the “older brother” to Satan, despite them both being eternal, in this formulation], fails the Kalām argument.

Once again, that argument is that:

Premise 1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
Premise 2: The universe began to exist.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, the universe must have a cause.

It refutes the notion of a Causeless Beginning and the notion of an Infinite Series of Causes. Yet as seen above, Mormonism falls into both of these. Both (a) and (b) are an infinite chain of cause and effect; “eternal progression” is on face impossible – to suggest that we’ve always been getting better or worse is logically invalid. If we’re eternally progressing, what are we progressing from? That is, if we’re better than we used to be, what was our starting place? Of course, you can’t have a starting place if the process is infinite.

If you hear someone counting, “56, 57, 58,” and you ask them where they began, you can bet that the right answer isn’t “negative infinity.” There’s no way to begin there, and so there’s no way to get from negative infinity to 56. Likewise, there’s no way to get from “our souls at negative infinity years old” to our souls at age 56.

Likewise, the Kalām argument is based upon an Uncaused Causer. But Mormonism doesn’t believe in that. It believes in that God was Himself a created Creature, a Caused Causer. So it doesn’t explain the Kalām argument at all.

II. Support from LDS Doctrine: The Endless Series of Men-Turned-Gods
D&C 130:22 says that “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.” And in the famous King Follett Discourse, Joseph Smith, Jr., said:

I want you all to know God, to be familiar with him. And if I can bring you to him, all persecutions against me will cease; you will know that I am his servant, for I speak as one having authority. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear all ye ends of the earth; for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and I am going to tell you the designs of God for the human race and why he interferes with the affairs of man. First, God himself, who sits enthroned in yonder heaven, is a man like one of you. That is the great secret.

[…]

We have imagined that God was God from all eternity. [That he was not is an idea] incomprehensible to some. But it is the simple and first principle of the gospel-to know for a certainty the character of God, that we may converse with him as one man with another. 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.

So Joseph Smith, claiming to be speaking with authority, says that “in the beginning” God was a man. Catholics believe based on Genesis 1:1 that “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” In other words, the Creation of matter marks the beginning of time (which Big Bang scientists would agree with), and that in the beginning, God was already God. Even chapter 4 of the Mormon Book of Abraham a polytheist copy of Genesis 1, seems to contradict Smith’s statement about God “in the beginning.” Positing a beginning of God prior to the beginning of the material universe imagines time-before-time [since space-time is inseparable], which doesn’t make any sense.

Smith’s point is part of a broader point in Mormon theology, often referred to by the couplet, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become” (which I believe was said by Lorenzo Snow, but don’t hold me to that). What it means is that God was just a regular guy, and became the head God, and so you and I can also strive to become gods in the pantheon, called the Grand Council. Smith outlines this at some length in the Follett Discourse, so feel free to check it out [this link, from a Mormon site, organizes the speech nicely].

III. Support from LDS Doctrine: Eternal Progression
Both halves of the idea – that God was once not-God, and that we’re going to become gods – are obviously controversial. I’ll let Mormons try and argue that men becoming Gods in a pantheon, contrary to Isaiah 44:6, is just the same as theosis. That’s an argument for another day. But the idea that God was once a regular guy doesn’t make any sense.

That notion is part of a somewhat broader concept known as eternal progression. Light Planet, a Mormon apologetics site co-run by a Mormon elder, explains eternal progression like this:

The principle of eternal progression cannot be precisely defined or comprehended, yet it is fundamental to the LDS worldview. The phrase “eternal progression” first occurs in the discourses of Brigham Young. It embodies many concepts taught by Joseph Smith, especially in his King Follett discourse. It is based on the proposition that “there is no such thing as principle, power, wisdom, knowledge, life, position, or anything that can be imagined, that remains stationary—they must increase or decrease” (Young, JD 1:350).

But to claim that a thing perpetually increases or decreases is like saying that a number forever grows larger or smaller; but to claim that it has always done so becomes nonsensical. I’ve explained that already above with the example of counting from negative infinity to 56. But there’s a related problem. If everything either increases or decreases, becomes better or worse, than there’s no stable Good which things become more or less like. That is, in Christianity, God is pure Good. To say that an individual has become more of a good person, we’re saying that their life is more harmonious with God’s Being: He’s Love, and that person has become a bit more loving, perhaps. But if God Himself is ever-changing, He can’t be the standard. And if God is improving, by what means is He improving? Who is He becoming more like that we could call it an increase?

The Kalām Argument proves that the material universe can’t be eternal, and that it requires a cause outside of itself: that is, that the Cause of the Universe must be immaterial, not flesh and blood, as D&C 130:22 claims. Obviously, there’s nothing preventing an omnipotent God from creating a Body for Himself and occupying physical space and time (see: the Incarnation), but physical space and time are dependent upon Him for existence, so His existence precedes (or more accurately, transcends) the existence of matter. So God can’t always have been material, or matter is eternal, and we already know that matter can’t be eternal from the Kalām Argument. So if there is a Starter god in Mormonism, he would be immaterial, and not the God described in the Book of Mormon, D&C, and the King Follet discourses.

IV. Finally, A New Complication: LDS PR
In coming to these conclusions, I’m operating based on LDS Mormonism-as-I-understand-it, and doing my best to investigate things from an LDS viewpoint, because I’m not as knowledgeable as I’d like. But one thing complicating getting a straight answer to what seems like a really obvious “Big Question” (Where do we all ultimately come from?) is that the hierarchy within Mormonism has been trying to reinvent itself. For example, the logo was changed in 1995 to make “JESUS CHRIST” much larger than the other letters. It’s part of an overall campaign to make the religion seem more like classical Christianity. Remember earlier, how the LDS apologetics site Light Planet described eternal progression as “fundamental to the LDS worldview”? Well,

In an interview with TIME, President Hinckley seemed intent on downplaying his faith’s distinctiveness. The church’s message, he explained, “is a message of Christ. Our church is Christ-centered. He’s our leader. He’s our head. His name is the name of our church.” At first, Hinckley seemed to qualify the idea that men could become gods, suggesting that “it’s of course an ideal. It’s a hope for a wishful thing,” but later affirmed that “yes, of course they can.” (He added that women could too, “as companions to their husbands. They can’t conceive a king without a queen.“) On whether his church still holds that God the Father was once a man, he sounded uncertain, “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it… I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it.”

So Gordon Hinckley, then-President and Prophet, isn’t sure that they teach eternal progression anymore. But Smith, the first President and Prophet, certainly believed in it, and he presented the subject by saying that he spoke “as one with authority.” That is, it wasn’t a private thought of his, but something that when the people heard it, would prove he was the Prophet. If Hinckley thinks the eternal progression of men to gods isn’t true, he’s undermining Smith’s claim to be Prophet (or, of course, his own). And if he thinks it is true, why not just give a straight answer to the question? Smith doesn’t leave the questioned unanswered, and claims that he’s speaking with authority. I understand that Mormonism believes that everyone changes, including God; but surely, this doctrine can’t just change over time, right? I mean, it’s a claim about the way things have been operating from eternity to eternity; surely, that can’t change over a century and a half?

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