Friday, June 11, 2010

The Elements

Mormon theology and philosophy is founded upon a particular concept of what it means for something to be eternal.

Joseph Smith—the First Mormon—taught that if something had a beginning, then it could have an end; if something was created from nothing, then it could potentially be annihilated—it could cease to exist.

Joseph used a ring—a circle—to illustrate his understanding of what makes a thing eternal. Like a circle, something which is eternal must be without beginning or end; it must simply exist; it must be self-existent, depending on no one or no thing for its existence.

Traditionally the religions of the world have taught that only God (whether envisioned as a personal being or an impersonal force) is without beginning or end. In this way, the religions of the world envision God as “the First Cause” of existence itself; God is that before which nothing existed, and without which nothing could exist. In short religions almost universally teach that the existence of all things depends upon the existence of God.

Joseph Smith broke with all known religions on this idea. While he did envision God as being eternal—without beginning or end—he taught that other things were eternal in the very same way.

Joseph Smith lived at the dawn of the modern scientific age. In the same decades in which Joseph brought forth his new theology, Charles Darwin was studying the various species of animal life, and developing the Theory of Evolution. Others were exploring the material world and nature of the elements from which all things are composed. The emerging scientific theories would challenge many of the faith-based ideas that mankind had unquestioningly accepted for thousands of years.

When Joseph laid out the foundations of his new theology, he did not begin by exploring the largest things imaginable; instead he began by dealing with the smallest things: the basic building blocks of all things which exist in the natural world: the elements.

Science has shown that all things known to exist are composed from some combination of 118 known naturally occurring elements. Each of the 118 elements is distinct in nature from the others. An element can not be broken down into something simpler. An element simply is what it is. Period.

The various religions of the world teach that God—being the only thing that is eternal, without beginning or end—created the elements, either from nothing, or from some other pre-existing substance or supernatural element. But there is not evidence that such an idea is true—and such a notion contradicts the essential facts about the elements: an element can not be broken down into something simpler; an element simply is what it is.

Joseph Smith sensed this contradiction, and so he taught as the doctrinal foundation of his theology a concept which no other religion has embraced:

“The elements are eternal.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:33)

This was—and still is—a revolutionary concept in religion. Joseph Smith was proclaiming that the known elements (the ones listed on the Periodic Table found in school science classes worldwide) are without beginning and without end. The elements themselves—the building blocks of all things which exist—have the very same nature that the world’s religions have ascribed only to God!

This new doctrine—astounding, if not heretical and blasphemous in light of traditional religious thought—when carried to its logical extreme, turns all traditional religious concepts of God, man and the nature of the universe on their heads.

Further astounding the religious world, Joseph Smith not only taught that God did not create the elements; he went so far as to teach that God COULD NOT create the elements.

If the elements are eternal—self-existing, without beginning and without end—then God could not be envisioned as the actual “Creator” or “The First Cause” of all existence.

If the elements are eternal, then existence itself is not dependent on God or some other force or entity. Existence itself simply is.

Our next lesson: "Organized--Not Created"