Wednesday, March 16, 2011
It is difficult for many people to conceive of a religion that does not embrace Creationism—that is: the doctrine that our universe was created.
The central premise of all monotheistic faiths is that, first and foremost,God is the Creator of all that exists; that God spoke and by the power of His word, everything, from nothingness, was called into being.
The Mormon Theological Paradigm, as constructed by Joseph Smith, rejects Creationism outright.
The physical elements themselves are eternal. Existence itself is primary—not God. This is the basis of Classical Mormon Theology and Philosophy. This is what sets Mormonism apart from all other religions. This is also what makes Mormon thought more compatible with the ever unfolding understanding of the universe given to us by modern science.
Mormon theology rejects the Orthodox Christian doctrine of “creatio ex nihilo”—the Latin phrase meaning “creation out of nothing.”
In the funeral sermon for Elder King Folliet, Joseph Smith—The First Mormon—asked:
“Now I ask all who hear me, why the learned men who are preaching salvation, say that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing? ….they account it blasphemy in any one to contradict their idea. If you tell them that God made the world out of something, they will call you a fool…
“You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing; and they will answer, ‘Doesn't the Bible say He created the world?’ And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the [Hebrew word] ‘baurau” which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship.5 Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end.”
Mormon theology begins with the idea of “creatio ex materia”—meaning (in Latin) creation out of some pre-existent, eternal matter.
The Biblical creation story as found in Genesis, is something to which Joseph returned time and time again throughout the course of his career. He rewrote the opening chapters of Genesis several times.
In 1830, within months of publishing “The Book of Mormon,” he began dictating a new version of the opening chapters of Genesis—narrated in the voice of the character of Moses, and later published “The Book of Moses.”
Five years later, in 1835, Joseph dictated yet another version of the opening chapters of Genesis—this time narrated in the voice of the Biblical patriarch, Abraham, whom Joseph envisioned as an ancient priest and astronomer influenced by the culture, polytheistic religion and knowledge of the ancient Egyptians. This creation account was later published under the title “The Book of Abraham,” and it established Mormonism break not only with orthodox Christianity, but with monotheistic religion itself.
By the time he began working on “The Book of Abraham,” Joseph Smith had furthered his education somewhat, having studied at the School of the Prophets—a seminary and school for adults established by the Mormon community at Kirtland, Ohio.
Knowledge of Newton’s theories on gravity and physics were becoming more accessible to Americans during those years; also religious doctrines which had gone unchallenged for thousands of years were being called into question by the emergence of modern scientific theories regarding the origin and makeup of the natural world. It is evident that these things also greatly influenced Joseph’s personal religious views as laid out in “The Book of Abraham.”
(Above: Interior of the School of the Prophets in Kirtland,Ohio)
While the tendency among the majority orthodox Christian clergy was to resist emerging scientific theories, Mormon leaders attempted to incorporate contemporary scientific theories with Biblical narratives. The Mormons believed that “all truth [defined as ‘the knowledge of things as they are’] can be circumscribed into one great whole.” Their approach was to accept all truth regardless of where it was found—be it in religion, science or secular philosophy. As a result of this, Mormon theology evolved very quickly and changed greatly during the 1830’s. The Mormon theology that emerged by the end of the decade was not a new school of Christian theology, but a new and distinct religion—a completely new religious paradigm.
In “The Book of Abraham” the word “created” is thrown out altogether—replaced by the word “organized.” Thus the heavens and the earth are not “created” as they are in Genesis, chapter one, verse one. Instead the heavens and the earth are “organized” from the pre-existing, uncreated, eternal elements.
Stars, moons, planets and all things on them—living and non-living—are organized out of pre-existing matter/elements. In time, these things may die or decay, but the elements/matter from which they are organized remains, merely changing forms.
As a result of this were a Reform Mormon and a Christian to have a discussion on the origin of the universe, the conversation might go something like this:
CHRISTIAN: Do you believe that God created the universe?
REFORM MORMON: No.
CHRISTIAN: Who do you think created it then?
REFORM MORMON: No one created it. The elements from which all things are organized are eternal; they have no beginning or end.
CHRISTIAN: But everything has a beginning.
REFORM MORMON: Where do you believe God came from?
CHRISTIAN: God has always existed.
REFORM MORMON: So you believe that God has no beginning?
CHRISTIAN: That’s right. God has no beginning.
REFORM MORMON: But that contradicts your other belief—that ‘everything has a beginning.’
CHRISTIAN: That doesn’t apply to God.
REFORM MORMON: If it doesn’t apply to God, why shouldn’t it apply to the universe in general?
CHRISTIAN: I don’t know. It just doesn’t. It’s a mystery.
REFORM MORMON: But you’re accepting as true two ideas that are mutually exclusive. On the one hand you’re saying that everything which exists has a beginning, but on the other hand you’re saying that God, who also exists, has no beginning.
The Mormon doctrine on the uncreated, eternal nature of the elements, and its doctrine of “Organization” rather than “Creationism” are in harmony with First Law of Thermodynamics as found in physics:
“In its simplest form, the First Law of Thermodynamics states that neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed. The amount of energy in the universe is constant – energy can be changed, moved, controlled, stored, or dissipated. However, this energy cannot be created from nothing or reduced to nothing. Every natural process transforms energy and moves energy, but cannot create or eliminate it….The First Law of Thermodynamics is one of the absolute physical laws of the universe. Everything in the entire universe is affected by this law, as much as time or gravity… A burning log in the fireplace seems to violate the principles of conservation of matter/energy. Burning the log appears to create energy and destroy matter. In reality, the energy and matter are only changing place and forms; they are not being created or destroyed. The wood in the log has chemical potential energy, which is released when it is burned. This released energy appears in the form of heat and light. The matter of the log is changed into smoke particles, ash, and soot. The log’s total energy and mass before burning are the same as the mass and energy of the soot, ash, smoke, heat and light afterwards.”
In conclusion, the first principles of the Mormon Paradigm can be summed up in this way:
The concept of “eternity” is most accurately symbolized by a circle or a ring. A circle and ring have no beginning and no end. Something which is eternal has no beginning and no end.
The elements are eternal. They are uncreated—without beginning or end.
All things that exist are composed of these uncreated, eternal elements; therefore existence is also eternal. It has no beginning or end. Existence itself is primary.
The universe—galaxies, stars, moons, planets and all things in them—were organized from the eternal uncreated elements.
Things in the universe may die, decay or become disorganized, but the elements from which they are organized, remain. They are eternal, without beginning or end.
Our next lesson: “Worlds Without End.”