By Study and Faith is happy to present David Turley as a new blogger at this site. David is a new young mormon historian in the making and excited to share his experiences in the world of collecting Latter-day Saint history. His posts will be dedicated to sharing items of historical interest, sharing his current research, and expressing his love for and testimony of Jesus Christ.
Over time, he will supplement this blog with items and stories from other collectors, dealers, and historians. Furthermore, we will be pleased to learn about a new item from his collection that will be highlighted weekly. He will also write on Gospel and historical topics. If you have an item or story you'd like to share, please feel free to contact him and he'd be glad to post it here! With that, let's give a nice welcome to David. God bless!
The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
What will your verse be?
--Dead Poet's Society
In this post I will argue that it is possible to create something that is objectively real and true, but that transcends scientific reducibility. (The concept of strong emergence) I will further suggest that it is therefore possible to create real and bona-fide manifestations of the Divine making us co-creators of "the heavenly" with God Himself.
Strong Emergence and Art:
As an analogy to make this more clear, lets take art. When an artist makes a breathtaking painting, is the beauty of the painting fully reducible in terms of the particles of the paint, or does the beauty have a realness that transcends the mere scientific properties of the materials on the canvas? If the latter is true, then beauty is called strongly emergent. Beauty exists and emerges from the paint, but it's essence can never be fully reduced in terms of the paint.
Two objections might be given at this point with my art analogy. First, someone could deny that beauty is real. Second, someone can claim it's real but that if we were smart enough we could show that it's true essence is reducible to the paint and therefore no strong emergence.
Though I admit it is possible that my art analogy can fail in these ways, we do have a famous example that is undeniable (in that it is a mathematical fact): Gödel's incompleteness theorem.
Strong Emergence and Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem:
Gödel's incompleteness theorems are perhaps the most remarkable mathematical statements of all time given their philosophical implications. This is a formal statement of the first theorem:
Any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete. In particular, for any consistent, effectively generated formal theory that proves certain basic arithmetic truths, there is an arithmetical statement that is true, but not provable in the theory (Kleene 1967, p. 250).
In other words, if you bring together a collection of mathematical axioms at least complex enough to allow for basic arithmetic, two types of mathematical statements will emerge from this collection:
- Statements that are true, and can be proven from the axioms. There are entire textbooks and courses devoted to studying these statements that can be proven from underlying axioms.
- Statements that are true, but cannot be proven from the axioms. These statements are thus strongly emergent. They emerge from the axioms but their truth cannot be reduced via proof from the axioms.
Thus from these theorems we have a mathematically precise example of strong emergence. And the #2 statements do not fall victim to the two objections above that could be raised for art. These statements are true and they cannot be reduced to the axioms via mathematical proof no matter how smart we become. (Since Gödel proved both points)
Strong Emergence and Joseph Smith:
One of the common tactics used in criticizing Joseph Smith is to try and deny the Divinity of what he brought forth by attempting to reduce the final product to the underlying constituents which they suggest are not Divine. However, this approach denies the possibility that majesty of what Joseph brought forth is strongly emergent. Perhaps the Divinity is not scientifically reducible to the divinity or non-divinity of the fundamental constituents.
For example, perhaps reducing the endowment to masonry is misguided. Perhaps the real prophetic nature of Joseph was in his ability to make a bona-fide manifestation of the Divine for all those who partake in this ritual. Perhaps reducing the Book of Abraham to an Egyptian funerary text is misguided. Perhaps the real inspiration was in Joseph's ability to make a bona-fide manifestation of the Divine for all those who read the Book.
Strong Emergence and being Co-Creators with God:
As Mormons we have a specific sense in how God creates. He takes of raw materials and from them creates something that fulfills some "higher" purpose. Like art, I believe that (at least) a higher Divine level of meaning and beauty come from such a creation. Thus there is a hint that when God creates, strong emergence happens.
But from the examples of above with earthly artists, Gödel and Joseph Smith, I think we have reason to believe that we also are called to create a strongly emergent Divine. That we too can join with God in becoming co-creators by taking raw materials and producing a beauty and wonder that transcend scientific reducibility. And that like the real artist with his/her empty canvas, there may be before us open possibilities for how we will choose to create such heavenly manifestations.
With that open possibility in mind: What will your verse be?
Like most Christians, Mormons believe that we are the children of a Heavenly Father. Unlike Christians, Mormons believe this implies that we can one day grow to become like our Heavenly Father. If my own children can grow up to be like me, perhaps by analogy we can grow up to be like Him.
Transhumanism: Transhumanists have the unique prospective where the progression humanity has experienced from the stone age to today, and from today to the advances of tomorrow, are all part of an essential progression leading to Godhood. That one day, society will be inspired to reign in the millennial zion, cure all sickness, alleviate poverty, become immortal, perfectly benevolent, Lords of the universe, resurrect the dead, etc... (With Mormon transhumanists believing this is only possible through Christ and secular ones believing man can just do this himself.)
An example quote by a prophet with transhuman-esque characteristics is that by Brigham Young quoted in Givens:
When the elements melt with fervent heat, the Lord Almighty will send forth his angels, who are well instructed in chemistry, and they will separate the elements and make new combinations thereof.
This quote suggests that the same advances in chemistry that society slowly discovers today are the very ones by which angels perform their work. In other words, perhaps all "miracles" the religious are familiar with, from melting elements to even the resurrection, involve the same principles that society is slowly learning line upon line.
They without us and we without them cannot be saved: With this in mind, let's turn to a versus from the Doctrine and Covenants:
They without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without [them] be made perfect.
The common interpretation of this verse is that salvation is impossible unless sacred ordinances link all generations of humanity together. That the ordinances provide a special fusion that, for whatever reason, is necessary for mankind to be saved. And I am sure this interpretation is right.
However, I think if the transhumanist narrative is correct, this verse takes on perhaps an additional interpretation. Surely humanity would have never progressed to this point had not our stone age ancestors put forth the hard work to take us to the bronze age. And then next to the iron age. And then next to... today. If there is a Celestial Zion at the end of the transhumanism narrative, it could not have come to pass without the existence and perseverance of the ancestors of that society. They without those who had gone before could not have been perfected.
Likewise, if the transhumanism narrative is correct, our ancestors will have to wait for the inspiration of future generations to end poverty and disease, create the conditions of immortality, become perfectly zion-like and eventually perform resurrections. (Again, somehow through Christ in ways I do not understand.) If our ancestors desire to live in such an immortal zion-like glory, their salvation depends on those who come after. Hence the without us, and especially some further us, they likewise cannot be perfected.
So with this in mind, if there are any transhumanists reading this post, I encourage them to hold a special appreciation for both past and future generations. For salvation may in fact depend on the entire chain with each generation's contributions along the way. With the greatest contribution, the one that is most essential, being the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Disclaimer: None of this is official LDS doctrine, especially transhumanism. But given there is a transhumanist interpretation that may fit Mormonism in the ways suggested, I wanted to make a post that would perhaps give new meaning to D&C 128:15 for such people.
The Planck Satellite team has just released new full sky images of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) showing the first primordial photons (light particles) released just after the big bang. (Let there be light? :)) From these light particles, we literally uncover what happened during the first moments of our universe.
Elder Nelson and the Atonement: When I looked at these new images and thought of the big bang, I was reminded of what Elder Nelson said about the atonement:
A loving Creator blessed them with healing power by which the life and function of precious physical bodies could be preserved. For example, bones, if broken, could become solid again. Lacerations of the flesh could heal themselves. And miraculously, leaks in the circulation could be sealed off by components activated from the very blood being lost.
Think of the wonder of that power to heal! If you could create anything that could repair itself, you would have created life in perpetuity.
Elder Nelson marvels that the bodies God has endowed us with have self-healing properties. "Leaks in the circulation could be sealed off by components activated from the very blood being lost", etc... And of course Elder Nelson ties this concept back to the atonement.
Now going back to the big bang, the universe itself seems to be endowed with the very self-healing properties needed to repair itself from the infamous heat death. Properties that have the effect of "[creating] life in perpetuity" that one would expect from one eternal round. And of course I find this fascinating.
The heat death, and how the universe may overcome it: One aspect of our universe's future that many people like to speculate about is the heat death. The story goes like this: right now the conditions of the universe are ripe for life. However, one day the stars will all run out of fuel and die and the entropy will grow until nothing is left but complete disorder. This final state is known as the heat death and is a very unhappy thought for many.
However, the universe seems to have a very miraculous trick up it's sleeve: cosmic inflation. To explain this story, I will use this paper by Sean Carroll as our guide. Carroll shows that, no matter what configuration our universe is in, it will eventually become what is known as de-Sitter space. (Or what people think of as the heat death). Further, it turns out that de-Sitter space is unstable and will lead to cosmic inflation creating a new, fresh universe just like our own. One in which new life like our own can both be created and thrive.
Or in Carroll's own words, they have shown:
1. Generic initial states empty out and approach de Sitter space.
2. In the presence of an inflaton field, the de Sitter vacuum will be unstable to the onset of eternal inflation. Once eternal inflation starts, the entropy of the universe can grow without bound, never reaching thermal equilibrium.
3. In the process of increasing the entropy, eternal inflation creates large regions of space similar to our observable universe.
So just to repeat with my own paraphrasing: 1.) No matter how the universe begins, every region eventually approaches de-Sitter space also known as the heat death state. 2.) Once the universe reaches this heat death state, quantum instabilities will cause a region of the universe to re-inflate akin to own own cosmic inflation. (A new big bang is born!) 3.) Lastly, this inflation will create a new universe with fresh new stars and galaxies ready to be inhabited just like our own.
Thus, the universe should experience something akin to one eternal round. For all we know this has been going on for eons. And for all we know, it will continue for eons more. Or in the words of our beloved hymn:
The works of God continue,
And worlds and lives abound;
Improvement and progression
Have one eternal round.
There is no end to matter;
There is no end to space
Conclusion: For those who worry about about the heat death... don't. The universe, like our bodies, seem to be seeded with the very mechanisms necessary to "heal itself" from this calamity. And the very processes that brought about our own big bang should do the trick. Furthermore, like Elder Nelson in his atonement talk, I think this shows the incredible majesty and genius of the Creator. To me it is an absolute miracle the universe has just such a "healing mechanism" solution in place for this terrible calamity.
The Joseph Smith papers project has released it's first volume of a new series called "Documents". Unlike the other series cataloging only journal entries or revelations, this series will publish "all the early historical documents associated with the Restoration of the Church" in chronological order and therefore will be a much larger and more extensive series than the others.
As the short video above by the assistant church historian Richard Turley Jr. discusses, this series enable you to sit down in front of all pertinent documents relating to Joseph Smith and the restoration without any filter from a biographer. This series will certainly open doors to newer and better scholarship.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) has a large and extensive welfare and humanitarian aid effort. This effort has been praised by many notable organizations such as the Red Cross, with one journalist calling it "the most comprehensive and effective social welfare system in the country... maybe in the world." In this post I hope to present some interesting videos and articles detailing some of their efforts.
General overview and statement by the Red Cross: The video above was recently released by the church and gives a general overview. The church provides relief to many countries across the world. This relief comes in the form of food, clothing, clean water, disaster relief, medical treatment such as free immunizations and more. This relief is given to people of all religions, not just members of the church. The President of the Red Cross praised the LDS Church's efforts saying:
Our partnership with the LDS church is absolutely essential for the Red Cross to fulfill it's mission every day. With us, the church has been there in so many different parts of the world in large numbers...
The most critical thing in disaster response is moving large groups of people to the site of the disaster. There is no one who can mobilize groups of people better than the LDS Church... They have helped us by providing feet on the ground to help us to do this...
Hurricane Sandy example: The video below shows a real world demonstration of how accurate this quote is. It shows how the church responded to the devastated areas of Hurricane Sandy. It is a testament to how well the church can indeed quickly move "large groups of people to the site of the disaster... providing feet on the ground". It might even make you cry.
Bloomberg on it's effectiveness: Bloomberg recently featured an article discussing various issues surrounding inequality. The article noted that studies have shown Utah, and especially Salt Lake City, as having the highest economic upward mobility in the country. The article suggested that the church's welfare system is a main driving force behind these numbers. Furthermore, the author suggests the LDS welfare system may be the most comprehensive and effective such welfare system the country and perhaps the world:
The highest income mobility in the country, it turns out, is found in Salt Lake City -- almost three times higher than the rate in Atlanta, the lowest-ranked city...
And yet it’s highly mobile, presumably because of the influence of the Mormon Church, which essentially runs the most comprehensive and effective social welfare system in the country...maybe in the world. There’s money and other help to tide you over in bad times, but arguably more importantly, there’s all the efforts of your ward to get you back on your feet. Churches do this sort of thing everywhere, of course, but in few places is it so comprehensive and organized. And unlike the government system, it’s combined with intense social support, and a community whose norms about things like work, marriage and family (and drinking and drug abuse) encourage what you might call a prosperous lifestyle.
Amount of money spent: Sometimes people would like to see the total dollars spent on these efforts. Though this is hard, we can at least take a stab at a lower bound using this article from the Economist. In 2002, the economist reported the church gave each congregation "$50,000 to spend a year, which buys a lot of soup kitchens". There has been some inflation since 2002 however I will still assume this number. As of September 2013 there are 29,014 wards making the approximate welfare budget for wards alone to be ~1.45 billion dollars. Furthermore, the church spends a lot more money on humanitarian aid and welfare than just ward budgets as discussed in the videos above. The church gives aid to more than just ward members, especially in disaster situations, and the infrastructure alone underlying these efforts is costly. Therefore, this ~1.45 billion should really be thought of as a lower bound.
In conclusion: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a very large, expensive, comprehensive and effective humanitarian aid and welfare system. It has an uncanny ability to put feet on the ground and go to work. It has earned the respect of many reputable organizations and media outlets. As NBC News observed during the recent Japanese tsunami crisis:
The only thing that rivals the Mormon church’s ability to spread the word is its ability to cope with emergencies.
And so it is.
Benjamin Cain has recently turned an interesting philosophical argument by Ray Brassier for nihilism on it's head to show that by a slight re-interpretation we should instead live our lives as if the world is filled with value, purpose and meaning.
Brassier argues that if we take science seriously, and adopt the idea that science is the only reliable method for obtaining truth, we must accept that we are meaningless creatures in a meaningless world. Furthermore, his main philosophical conclusion is that man should be viewed as having no more or less meaning than we will have in our end state: none! Man will eventually receive a meaningless extinction about which the universe is completely indifferent. However, Cain argues two things. First, there are serious problems with such a scientistic worldview as these conclusions are merely forced upon you by the shortcomings of science. Second Cain shows, by a parallel argument, that if one takes an optimistic view of the future of man, one where instead man obtains his full potential as a Lord of the universe, we instead should view the cosmos as being filled with meaning, purpose and eternal grander surrounding mankind.
Brassier’s extinction argument: Cain begins his post discussing Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction by Ray Brassier. Brassier takes a very scientistic stance toward reality. He believes the only reliable truth we can believe in is that which can be demonstrated by science. One problem: science only presents us with material objects devoid of any meaning. This leads to us to nihilism where nothing of meaning has any truth to it and is no more than an illusion:
Only lifeless objects are real, because science presents us only with objects, with material, finite and contingent things, and science alone tells us the truth. Philosophy’s task, then, is to help reconcile us with horrible reality, to help us live as the nihilists we ought to be...
Brassier then insists we should therefore recognize that we are meaningless creatures in a universe who could care less about us. We are just one more species who will eventually go extinct inside an indifferent reality. Moreover, we ought to live by fully owning up to this.
Furthermore, his main philosophical conclusion is that man must be viewed as having no more or less meaning than his end state which for Brassier, is an extinction for wich the universe is completely indifferent. Hence, we should view ourselves as having no meaning at all:
We ought to think of ourselves in terms of how nature treats us: we are nothing now because we’re sure to become nothing.
None of the other quadrillions upon quadrillions of objects in the universe cares about us, so neither should we care about ourselves or each other. Likewise, none of these other objects has a purpose, so neither does human life. In short, because reality is made up of objects, as science shows, there are no subjects; that is, there are no people, nor spirits, souls, or anything else that lives up to our humanizing self-image.
The "zombification" of using reason alone: All the above shows is that reason (scientific reason that is) alone strips reality of any meaning. But is this because reality has no meaning, or does this observation point to a deep failure of naked scientific reason? Or in Cain's words:
Reason finds no meaning in the world, whether that’s because the real world is indifferent and worthless or because reason objectifies and thus zombifies whatever it touches... [perhaps] science is capable of uncovering only part of reality, leaving the possibility that a normative aspect of things is beyond reason’s purview.
Perhaps the universe is full of true and valid meaning. However, if you take a scientific-reason-alone approach to reality, you have forced upon yourself a world that must be intrinsically worthless. But why should you trust a conclusion that is forced upon you by an instrument (scientism) that is incapable of allowing you to conclude anything else? Nihilism being guaranteed from scientism says more about the shortcomings of science than about the validity of meaning or purpose in the universe.
Herein lies the true problem with a science-only worldview: if the universe contains any purpose, value or meaning, a science-only approach compels you to be blind to all of it. So you are not necessarily concluding there is no meaning because there is none, you are concluding there is no meaning because science-only worldviews tie your hands and prevent you from seeing it.
Cain also presents an interesting argument that asks "if there’s such a thing as the semantic property of truth, why aren’t there also the normative and aesthetic properties of rightness, purpose, and beauty?". In other words, Brassier's own theory relies on non-scientific assumptions about reality. (As do all scientistic worldviews at the end of the day, making them self-defeating by their own criteria.) But if Brassier actually believes there is any truth behind these non-scientific attributes, why isn't he open to other non-objective truths like purpose and beauty?
Turning the extinction argument on it's head, or endowing ourselves with eternal grandeur: By Brassier's same line of reasoning one must seriously ask: what if our true end is not extinction? What if at the end of humanity, we find ourselves as Lords of the universe? If this is so, perhaps we should view ourselves filled with this ultimate end purpose and meaning? Or in Cain's words:
I think Brassier’s extinction argument can likewise be paralleled. Brassier says we should think of organisms as if they were already extinct, since their extinction is inevitable... Now, we could just as easily project our minds forward and imagine a different future, one in which intelligent life throughout the universe eventually transforms much of the wilderness, much as we’ve done on Earth. Perhaps some species will achieve godhood status... in which case the sky’s the limit when we ponder the future ratio between meaningless physicality and meaningful artificiality...
Thus, just as we can imagine ourselves as already being lifeless, because our star will explode, so too we can imagine much of the universe as already being invested with cultural meaning, because of the plausibility of assuming that such meaning will actually be created in time.
I really like his conclusion. If Brassier's conclusion is philosophically correct, that we ought to view man as no more or less than his end state, then perhaps we should look around and view each other as having the potential for being Lords of the universe. Perhaps we should view the world around us as having right now all the meaning and potential that may finally be achieved. If this is true, sky is the limit for the value, meaning and purpose we should be placing on the world around us.
Conclusions: First, as the title of this blog suggests, never divorce reason from faith. If you only believe in what science can demonstrate, the day might come when you find yourself entertaining a nihilism that isn't necessarily true, but instead forced upon you by the shortcomings of science. Second, perhaps we should always endow our fellow man around us with the eternal potential, value and meaning they may in fact carry. Or in the words of Elder Maxwell "You have never seen an immortal star; they finally expire. But seated by you tonight are immortal individuals".
I thought this new video compiles a great list of clips showing modern prophets and apostles bearing special witness of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we forget just how matter of fact their testimonies can be. It's a wonderful video.
In my last post I discussed that the idea of our universe being eternal is problematic. Furthermore, all serious attempts to circumvent the latest theorems on the subject seem to fail. What follows is extremely speculative and is offered merely as an approach, not a coherent theory. But it is the best I can do.
So how do we proceed? If you watch the end of the video, you will find Vilenkin has come to the same conclusion as Hawking and Krauss: the universe as we know it really must have emerged from some form of "nothing". This "nothing" need not be an absolute "nothing", but it needs to be a state that is unable to be explained by science. At state where any kind of physical laws as we understand them do not exist. Lawrence Krauss recently said:
You [can't] call it a quantum vacuum... There may have been meta-laws that created it, but how you can call that universe that didn't exist "something" is beyond me... there wasn't any pre-existing quantum vacuum. That's a later stage...
Nothing is being used in a philosophical sense... In fact, most of the laws of nature didn't exist before the universe was created; they were created along with the universe, at least in the multiverse picture.
I believe this quote is the scenario Mormon intellectuals need to take seriously. One where the universe and it's laws are not eternal, but emerge from a regime beyond our capacity to describe with science. A "nothing" in the, not-a-thing describable by science, sense.
A couple quotes: With that being said, two quotes come to mind. First in the Lectures on Faith:
It was by faith that the worlds were framed - God spake, chaos heard, and worlds came into order, by reason of the faith there was in Him.
Chaos is the ultimate word for a state without any type of physical law so I think the quote fits. Second, from the King Follett Discourse:
God himself... because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself... He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with Himself.
One seriously needs to ask why God needs to be instituting law if they are all eternal. I think the more likely scenario, given both science and theology, is that in the beginning "the eternities" really were in a state beyond physical law, a true chaos, and God in some way Divinely changed the situation.
A shout out to SteveP: SteveP's recent series at BCC I believe may partly resemble this scenario. SteveP suggests that physical laws are not eternal, but have emerged somehow from a hyper-chaos. (Though he doesn't use that term, he espouses the philosophy of Quentin Meillassoux which postulates fundamental reality is a lawless hyper-chaos.) Furthermore, SteveP discusses how laws as we know them can come into being from an "act of grace" which he calls an "event". So far, I believe this description is consistant both with the science and religion I have espoused above and so I like it.
Where I differ from SteveP is he seems to suggest, like Quentin Meillassoux, that there are no eternal principles. Here I disagree. I believe, for example, this "faith" described above from which order is brought to chaos must be an eternal principle. I think the attributes of God are perhaps eternal. For example, I believe the principle of charity is an eternal principle. Call me neo-platonist, but it seems Mormon doctrine calls for the existence of at least some uncreated eternal principles from which order can be brought. Otherwise, it's like claiming to be a mathematician with theorems yet no axioms from which to ground them!
The hallmark of design: It is conceivable scientifically. Einstein once said:
The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.
which is to say: why should the universe obey law at all? Furthermore, why should these laws be rational and make perfect sense specifically to human minds from the smallest to largest scales? This is an incredible coincidence that the universe just conveniently has these properties.
But I don't think it was coincidence. I think the reason the laws as we currently understand them are so rational and fitted for human minds is that they were designed by a Being in whose image we are. That which is truly eternal, and therefore not designed by this Being, does not have the rational fingerprint of a rational designer and therefore cannot be described by scientific reasoning as discussed in the beginning. This eternal, unrational, uncreated chaos, is the state described by Lawrence Krauss that is beyond science.
But what has emerged from this chaos (the big bang and everything after) is rational with laws that seem to be comprehensible for human minds. Hence, this emerged structure I believe is created by a divine act of grace and it's rational structure is the ultimate fingerprint of the designer. This explains why gravity can be completely explained by math, but charity or faith cannot. If something is thought out and designed rationally it makes sense it would have a neat logical structure conforming to the mind of the designer. (Hence, since we are in God's image, human science can describe it's structure.)
However, if the laws of faith and charity were not created by any rational being, little wonder they do not boil down to the mathematical notions of men!
So in conclusion I believe God is the Creator and prior to the universe as we understand it. Though he may not have created some necessary "elemental" hyper-chaos of D&C 93:33, nor eternal principles like faith and charity, I believe by some Divine act of Grace hinted above He did create the current universe and it's laws as we know them. I postulate perhaps this explains why gravity has the fingerprints of "rationality to human minds" with a structure perfectly describable by science whereas charity does not. The latter being an eternal, uncreated principle and the former being a law instituted merely to assist us weaker intelligences thus having a rational structure being the fingerprints of a rational lawgiver.