Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Was The Universe Created Or Has It Always Existed?

Mormonism teaches that the building blocks out of which all created objects in the universe were created are eternal and have always existed, and were not themselves created by God. They are coeternal with God, and have been around for as long as God has been around (or longer). These building blocks are two things: they are referred to in modern revelation as “the elements” and “intelligence”:

D&C 93:

28 He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.
29 Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.
30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.
31 Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.
32 And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation.
33 For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;
34 And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.
35 The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God, even temples; and whatsoever temple is defiled, God shall destroy that temple.
36 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.
37 Light and truth forsake that evil one.

The nature of these two substances (“elements” and “intelligence”) are not clearly explained, and we don’t know precisely what they are; although some of the properties they possess can be surmised from the descriptions given above. So when Mormons use the word “create,” they don’t mean making something out of “nothing,” but making something out of those pre-existent materials; and that is the sense in which I will use this term in this discussion.

In a discussion of this kind it is important that we define our terms clearly so that we don’t talk at cross-purposes, and both sides understand the same things from the same words. So when I say “create,” I don’t mean creating something out of nothing. I mean creating things out of those two building blocks out of which, according to the above revelation, all things were initially created by God.

The question I would like to address in this post is whether created objects have always existed (into the infinite past), or whether there was a time when no created objects ever existed. By “created objects” I mean things we normally associate with “creation,” such as birds and beasts and fishes and other animate life forms, as well as planets and stars and solar systems and galaxies. Have these things, in their organized or created forms, always existed, going back infinitely into the past; or if we go back far enough in time, there was a moment when they never existed—neither in this world nor in any other world in the universe? Was there a time when “creation” never existed? Brigham Young seemed to believe there wasnt! He has famously said:

How many Gods there are, I do not know. But there never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds, and when men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through. That course has been from all eternity, and it is and will be to all eternity. You cannot comprehend this; but when you can, it will be to you a matter of great consolation. (Journal of Discourses, 7:333).

This implies that there was never a time (into the infinite past) when created objects of such description never existed; and there are some LDS gospel scholars who still adhere to this view. In my opinion, however, this theological position contains an inherent logical inconsistency. To say that something is both created and has always existed is a logically contradictory position to hold; because to say that something is created necessarily implies that before it was created it did not exist. The building blocks out of which it was created may have always existed, but the created object itself could not have always existed. If I built a house out of bricks, mortar, and stone, that house before it was built never existed. The bricks and mortar out of which it was built may have existed; but that is not the same thing as saying that the house itself has always existed. The house clearly didn’t exist before it was built. A sparrow isn’t any different. Before that sparrow was created (I mean the first of its kind, wherever and whenever that may have been), it couldn’t have existed. The building blocks out of which it was created—the carbon, hydrogen, and other atoms that compose its body; as well as the “intelligence” with which it was endowed—may have always existed; but that is not the same thing as saying that the sparrow itself has always existed. The timing of the creation is not the issue here. The first sparrow may have been created a billion a years ago, or a trillion years ago in a different part of the universe. But before the first sparrow was created—wherever or whenever that might have been—it could not have existed. To say that something is both created and has always existed is a logically inconsistent position to hold.

If such scholars maintained the view that such objects were never created at all, that is a different position that has to be argued over separately. But that is not the position that they seem to maintain. They are not saying that such objects were never created at all. What they seem to be saying is that such objects were both created and has always existed, which is an illogical and contradictory position to hold. It is like saying that something can be both black and white at the same time, or dead and alive at the same time, or existent and non-existent at the same time. I don’t know how in their minds they are able to bridge this logical divide, and they don’t seem to be very good at explaining it!


To summarize the above argument, something can have either been “created” or have “always existed”. To maintain that it is both created and has always existed is a logically inconsistent and impossible position to hold. The LDS scholars who maintain that view need to explain to the rest of us how in their minds they are able bridge the logical divide between something having been created, and having always existed at the same time.