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Spirit and matter
Answers to questions

Reponses to claims on this site. Not official statements of church doctrine!

See also: Proof of God | Aliens | Can prophets make mistakes?

Caution
Introduction
"How did church members interpret the 'spirit' and 'light' scriptures before Einstein?"
"Are you claiming that early Mormon views agreed with modern science?"
"What are you trying to prove?"
"Links between science and Mormonism are only clear in hindsight. Hindsight is a dangerous thing."
"You can interpret revelation favorably in hindsight? So can astrologers."
"There is no clear statement from Brigham Young that E=mc2, or anything like it"
"Brigham Young taught that matter cannot be annihilated."
What is "refined matter"?
In conclusion, what is it all about? What was Brigham Young trying to say?

Caution

As with so much of this web site, this represents my own understanding of official church statements. I could be mistaken - judge for yourself.

Introduction

Joseph Smith received a number of revelations that he may or may not have fully understood. They state that:

If it was not for the statements linking spirit and matter, we could interpret all of this as just symbolism. But as it stands, Church members have always interpreted this in a physical sense.

The main difference between this approach and conventional science is that science is still trying to wrestle with the links between waves and particles. But God is way beyond that stage. He is only concerned with matter and radiation from the point of view of its organizational ability. He deals directly with the stuff of life.

Defining terms

Most of these quotations come from the nineteenth century, when words like "energy" and "matter" were not used as they are today. Church leaders seem to have generally used these words as follows:

"How did church members interpret the 'spirit' and 'light' scriptures before Einstein?"

Spirit as light and also as knowledge

Times and Seasons, vol.6, p.900 (1840s)
"'Intelligence, or the light of truth never was created, neither indeed can be.' [DC 93:29] Truth is light light is spirit -- spirit is life. Truth, light, spirit, is the law of life and motion, by which all things are governed, and by which they move and have a being."

Sounds crazy? No more crazy than quantum physics, where the only way to understand reality is in terms of mathematics: the guiding "force" seems to be pure information.

Spirit as intelligence

History of the Church, vol.6, Introduction, p.311
"Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or make, neither indeed can be." (D. & C. Sec. 93.) Footnote 2: "It is clear in this statement that the terms "intelligence" and "spirit" are used synonymously and that the intelligent uncreated entity, spoken of as intelligence is meant."

Spirit is a form of matter - the key scripture:

Doctrine and Covenants 131:7-8
"There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter."

The limits to our understanding

JD, vol.17, p.326, Orson Pratt [1875]
"We are told that the same light which shines from the sun, from the moon, and from the stars, is the same light that quickens the understandings of the children of men. But who is there in this congregation, or upon the face of the earth, that can tell how that light operates in quickening the understandings of men? It is the same light by which you are enabled to see each other, and surrounding nature. The light that proceeds forth from all these heavenly luminaries, with very great velocity, is the same light that quickens the understanding. Do you know how that is done? I do not; yet this is what God has revealed.

"He is the light that is in all things. Do you or I comprehend how that light is connected with all things? No. These are lessons which we have got to learn in the future..."

Electricity is a crude form of "spirit"

JD, vol.1, p.7, Parley P. Pratt (1853)
"But what are they [spirits], if they are not flesh and bones? What are they, if they are not tangible to our gross organs of sense? Of what are they composed, that we can neither see, hear, nor handle them, except we are quickened, or our organs touched by the principles of vision, clairvoyance, or spiritual sight? What are they? Why, they are organized intelligences. What are they made of? They are made of the element which we call spirit, which is as much an element of material existence, as earth, air, electricity, or any other tangible substance recognized by man; but so subtle, so refined is its nature, that it is not tangible to our gross organs. It is invisible to us, unless we are quickened by a portion of the same element; and, like electricity, and several other substances, it is only known or made manifest to our senses by its effects. For instance, electricity is not always visible to us, but its existence is made manifest by its operations upon the wire, or upon the nerves. We cannot see the air, but we feel its effects, and without it we cannot breathe.

"If a wire were extended in connection with the equatorial line of our globe in one entire circle of 25,000 miles in extent, the electric fluid would convey a token from one intelligence to another, the length of the entire circle, in a very small portion of a second, or, we will say in the twinkling of an eye. This, then, proves that the spiritual fluid or element called electricity is an actual, physical, and tangible power, and is as much a real and tangible substance, as the ponderous rocks which were laid on yesterday in the foundation of our contemplated Temple.

"It is true that this subtle fluid or spiritual element is endowed with the powers of locomotion in a far greater degree than the more gross or solid elements of nature; that its refined particles penetrate amid the other elements with greater ease, and meet with less resistance from the air or other substances, than would the more gross elements. Hence its speed, or superior powers of motion.

"Now let us apply this philosophy to all the degrees of spiritual element, from electricity, which may lie assumed to be one of the lowest or more gross elements of spiritual matter, up through all the gradations of the invisible fluids, till we arrive at a substance so holy, so pure, so endowed with intellectual attributes and sympathetic affections, that it may be said to be on a par, or level, in its attributes, with man.

"Let a given quantity of this element, thus endowed, or capacitated, be organized in the size and form of man, let every organ be developed, formed, and endowed, precisely after the pattern or model of man's outward or fleshly tabernacle--what would we call this individual, organized portion of the spiritual element?

"We would call it a spiritual body, an individual intelligence, an agent endowed with life, with a degree of independence, or inherent will, with the powers of motion, of thought, and with the attributes of moral, intellectual, and sympathetic affections and emotions."

From this and other quotations on this page we can construct a tentative hierarchy of types of matter, according to the understanding of the apostles in the 1850s:

Types of matter
Purity and organizational ability: Example: When science could examine it directly (almost)
Highest purity, capable of controlling other forms of matter: Advanced intelligence (e.g. God) Not yet
Probably unlimited potential, but many obstacles Medium intelligence (e.g.man) Not yet, but basic work on the brain is in progress
Able to control matter in a crude and simplistic way. Electromagnetism etc. Light: 1600s.
Electricity: 1830s
Other parts of the spectrum (and hints of other fundamental forces): 20th century
Lowest purity, only able to be controlled. Physical matter Atoms in general: ancient Greek times
Types of atom: 1600s (?)
Inside the atom: early 20th century

"Spirit" matter is able to control "physical" matter.

From God's viewpoint, the important difference between different classes of matter is not between "energy" and "matter" but between that which acts and that which is acted upon. When a spirit is given a body, it controls the intelligences that make up the particles of the body.

JD, vol.3, p.276 (1856)
"Death only separates the spirit and body, and a principle of life still operates in the untenanted tabernacle, but in a different way, and producing different effects from those observed while it was tenanted by the spirit. There is not a particle of element which is not filled with life, and all space is filled with element; there is no such thing as empty space, though some philosophers contend that there is."

JD, vol.8, p.216-217, Erastus Snow (1860)
"It is by mental improvement and spiritual advancement that we increase our happiness, and by the enlargement of our understanding we increase in light, virtue, and intelligence. we are informed in the revelations that God has given, that we were created and organized in the spirit-world, in the image and likeness of our Father in heaven, and consequently our physical tabernacles were formed for the benefit and in behalf of the spirit, and adapted to the use of the spirit prepared for its habitation and dwellingplace; not to be the master and controller of the spirit, to govern and dictate it, but, on the contrary, to be for the spirit, to be subject to it, under its control, dictation, and guidance in every sense of the word. And it is with this view and for this purpose that the Lord has revealed unto us that those spirits will be held accountable for the acts of the mortal tabernacle; for it is understood that the deeds done in and by the tabernacle are done by and with the consent of the spirit."

God himself is a being of light, and we can become like him

JD, vol.26, p.24 - 25, Charles W. Penrose (1884)
"Such a Being is our Father and our God, and we are following in His footsteps. He has attained to perfection. He has arisen to kingdoms of power. He comprehends all things, because in Him dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead, bodily. He is a perfect manifestation, expression and revelation of this eternal essence, this spirit of eternal, everlasting intelligence or light of truth. It is embodied in His spiritual personality or spiritual organism. This spirit cannot be fully comprehended in our finite state. It quickens all things. As we are told in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, it is:

"'The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God, who sitteth upon His throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.-- 88:13.'

"That spirit exists wherever there is a particle of material substance; that spirit is round about it, and in it, and through it; but that we may comprehend it, it must be manifested through organisms. The perfection of its manifestation is in the personality of a being called God. That is a person who has passed through all the gradations of being, and who contains within Himself the fullness, manifested and expressed, of this divine spirit which is called God."

Orson Pratt (speculation): spirit is a kind of energy field

Elder Pratt went further than most in explaining his understanding of these things. Brigham Young criticized him for saying this publically, but added:

"There are great and important truths connected with the eternities of our God and with man's existence past, present and future, which the Almighty, in his wisdom, sees fit to conceal from the children of men. The latter are evidently unprepared to receive them, and there could be no possible benefit accrue to them, at present, from their revelation. It is in this light that we view the points of doctrine which we have quoted. If they were true, we would think it unwise to have them made public as these have been."

Elder Pratt described spirit as being a kind of organized energy or field:

"We can form some conception of the extreme minuteness of these all-powerful and all-wise atoms of substance, when we reflect that they are capable of being in and through all things. Now there are many solids so dense, that many millions of millions of particles are collected in a space not larger than a grain of mustard seed; now the pores between these particles must be still more minute than the particles themselves; therefore, the particles of that all-wise substance, which is in and through all things, must be sufficiently minute to enter these extremely small pores, surrounding every atom, and pervading the whole mass, governing and controlling it according to fixed and definite laws."

"On this occasion [the day of Pentecost,] portions of this Holy Fluid assumed the form of `Cloven Tongues like as of Fire.' It is very doubtful whether a permanent personal spirit would dissolve its personality, and transform its parts into one hundred and twenty tongues, having the appearance of fire. But a living, self-moving fluid substance might transform itself into any shape it pleased, and render itself visible in the form of tongues, or in the form of a dove, or in a personal form, resembling the image of man."

"This boundless ocean of spirit possesses in every part, however minute, a will, a self-moving power, knowledge, wisdom, love, goodness, holiness, justice, mercy, and every intellectual and moral attribute possessed by the Father and the Son. Each particle of this Holy Spirit knows, every instant, how to act upon the other materials of nature with which it is immediately associated: it knows how to vary the gravitating tendency of a particle of matter, every moment, precisely in the inverse ratio of the square of its distance from every other particle in the universe. Where an infinite number of particles of matter are in motion, and every instant changing their relative distances from each other, it must require an overwhelming amount of discernment and knowledge, for each particle of the spirit to perceive every motion of every other particle, and every instant to know the relative positions and distances of every particle in the universe. And yet without such knowledge, the gravitating intensity could not be varied according to the strict law which is known to exist. For the Holy Spirit to move all the materials of nature, according to this one law, requires a wisdom and knowledge incomprehensible to mortal man."

- Messages of the First Presidency, Vol.2, p.237

"Are you claiming that early Mormon views agreed with modern science?"

No. The church does not claim to be based on science. It is non-science, which in many ways makes it more important.

I do, however, claim that the revelations received by Joseph Smith, insofar as they touched on scientific discoveries, are far in advance of current science. See the next point.

"What are you trying to prove?"

Nothing to a non-member. So much of this is based on other LDS concepts, it must look crazy or incomprehensible to an outsider. The most I can ever hope to prove is that:

  1. Revelation is consistent with scientific discovery, and
  2. As the years go by, scientific theories tend to get closer to revelation.

I accept that this is not enough to "prove the church is true." I offer my proof regarding God here, and proof regarding the church here. These pages on "spirit" and "matter" are of secondary interest.

"Links between science and Mormonism are only clear in hindsight. Hindsight is a dangerous thing."

This is the unavoidable nature of history - which is why so many historians disagree with eachother. Often we see things that the people at the time did not. For example, it is now generally accepted that the Vikings discovered America. But the Vikings did not see it that way. They certainly never used the name America, and they did not open up a new world in the way that later generations did. Even Columbus did not do anything more than discover India - it is only in hindsight that we realize the significance of his discovery.

This is especially true of revelation. The prophet often does not understand what he is told, but reports it faithfully, perhaps adding his own interpretation. For example, apocalyptic literature often contains the command "seal this up - future generations will understand it."

"But the Vikings didn't just leave [words] behind, they left rocks and bones and things."

What kinds of rocks and bones do we expect? And are we to believe that rocks and bones are NOT open to speculation, ambiguity, or disagreement?

I think most disagreements arise because I (and many others) have deliberately taken revelation beyond its intended scope. I do this because I think that physical intrepretations are always more useful than symbolic interpretations. And I also think it is wonderful that these old pronouncements fit so neatly into a 20th century physics world view. But Smith/Young never intended a neutral physical description of reality (is that even possible?). They never intended to pre-empt 20th century science. They saw revelation as being beyond all that. They did intend to give people a basis for understanding the world that was stronger than anything else available (e.g. it is intellectually satisfying, and allows religion and science to thrive together).

In these terms, I think the evidence is there for all to see: This intellectual framework has allowed the LDS church to be more science-friendly than just about any other group, which is pretty amazing considering that we believe in a literal Adam and Eve, etc., etc.

I agree that the statements are open to interpretation, but that is why I think the Viking analogy stands up so well. It took many years for the scientific community to come round to agreeing on a common interpretation for alleged Viking "rocks and bones." The process of interpreting ambiguous evidence is very respectable. We are seeing it right now with the debate over the earliest Americans (e.g concerning Caucasian remains, the state of Beringia, plus circumstantial evidence)

Finally, I think we all basically agree - this topic is relevant for understanding "Mormon revelation" in a scientific setting, but it is not the best topic to start on if we want unambiguous "proof."

"You can interpret revelation favorably in hindsight? So can astrologers."

There are at least three big differences:

"There is no clear statement from Brigham Young that E=mc2, or anything like it"

As noted elsewhere, the word "energy" was not used by the brethren back then in the sense that we use it today. The closest approximation is the description of "light." Brigham did accept that "light" and "matter" are the same kind of stuff:

This is what scientists teach today! For example, one scientist commenting on Paul Davies' work, wrote "Davies is known for doing work on quantum field theory in a curved-space background. What that means is that he's solving half the problem, by treating the matter fields that describe electrons, protons, neutrons, and photons (photons count as matter, in this context)"

JD, vol.9, p.150 (1862)
"The first death is the separation of the spirit from the body; the second death is, as I have stated, the dissolution of the organized particles which compose the spirit, and their return to their native element."

JD, vol.3, p.276 (1856)
"There is not a particle of element which is not filled with life, and all space is filled with element; there is no such thing as empty space, though some philosophers contend that there is. ... There is life in all matter, throughout the vast extent of all the eternities; it is in the rock, the sand, the dust, in water, air, the gases, and, in short, in every description and organization of matter, whether it be solid, liquid, or gaseous, particle operating with particle.

"I have heard some philosophers argue that because no body could move without displacing other matter, therefore there must be empty space. That reasoning is nonsense to me, because eternity is, was, and will continue to be full of matter and life. We put a ship in motion on the water, and have we created an empty space? No, we have only changed the position of matter. ... No, for all eternity is full of matter and life. ... Now let some of our philosophers tell us how much empty space there is, and where it is, in all the eternities that exist, or in other words, where life is not. The term death is often used to accommodate the understandings of the people but they are in darkness upon this subject."

But Brigham did not go any further regarding one changing into the other. There are two reasons for this:

Insofar as the nature of reality was important, Brigham focused on the need to either progress (and organize) or regress (and ultimately disintegrate). This was far more important to us as individuals. The following sums up a number of Brigham's sermons:

JD, Vol.1, p.116 (1853):
"The Lord Jesus Christ works upon a plan of eternal increase, of wisdom, intelligence, honor, excellence, power, glory, might, and dominion, and the attributes that fill eternity. What principle does the devil work upon? It is to destroy, dissolve, decompose, and tear in pieces. The principle of separation, or disorganization, is as much an eternal principle, as much a truth, as that of organization."

E=mc2 may sound impressive, but what does it mean? C2 is just a constant. In other words, E is directly proportional to m. But why? Simply because of the arbitrary units we choose. A more sensible system of units would be based on this relationship, and this equation would then read E=m. Energy and matter are the same thing, just as heat and work are the same thing. Current science is beginning to see a basis for this. Energy, in its simplest form, is just electromagnetic radiation. So is matter. God does not make a big deal of the difference, and neither will science, eventually.

What is far more significant is the principles on which this energy/matter stuff is organized - from the largest galazy to the cleverest human to the tiniest atom and beyond. That is the question that really matters, and science is still not able to ask it. Life, gravity, and any objective nature of matter are all still fundamental mysteries.

"Brigham Young taught that matter cannot be annihilated."

When Brigham spoke of "matter" he included what we today call energy (see above).

Brigham taught that this "matter" could be reduced to the simplest possible particles (modern science says the same, and it gives the simplest possible particles a name: quanta).

We need to remember that Brigham's concept of "annihilation" came from the false doctrine of creation "ex nihilo" (creation from literally nothing). "Literally nothing" does not mean energy, it means absolutely nothing in any form. This comes from the old Neoplatonic philosophies that underpinned traditional Christianity. The philosophers dealt with theoretical absolutes. So when they said "nothing" they really meant "nothing" - not matter, or light, or anything else. It is not the same as the modern physics definition of a sort of annihilation which leaves something (energy) behind.

JD, Vol.13, p.248 (1870)
"What does the philosophy of the Christian sects, or many of them, not all, teach? 'God made the word in six days, out of nothing!' This is very wrong; no child should be taught any such dogma. God never did make a world out of nothing; He never will, He never can! There is no such principle in existence. Worlds are made of crude element which floats, without bounds in the eternities--in the immensity of space; an eternity of matter--no limits to it, in its natural crude state, and the power of the Almighty has this influence and wisdom--when He speaks He is obeyed, and matter comes together and is organized."

Note that his description of matter - the crude element that fills the immensity of space without bounds - makes sense only if we include vacuums (e.g. what we now call energy and electromagnetic fields) in the category of "matter" (see above).

What is "refined matter"?

This is discussed on the page about consciousness and spirits.

In conclusion, what is it all about? What was Brigham Young trying to say?

JD, vol.14, p.116 (1871)
"We differ very much with Christendom in regard to the sciences of religion. Our religion embraces all truth and every fact in existence, no matter whether in heaven, earth, or hell. A fact is a fact, all truth issues forth from the Fountain of truth, and the sciences are facts as far as men have proved them. In talking to a gentleman not long ago, I said, 'The Lord is one of the most scientific men that ever lived; you have no idea of the knowledge that he has with regard to the sciences. If you did but know it, every truth that you and all men have acquired a knowledge of through study and research, has come from him--he is the fountain whence all truth and wisdom flow; he is the fountain of all knowledge, and of every true principle that exists in heaven or on earth.' The gentleman said that such ideas conflicted with his traditions; but said he, 'I' like to hear such talk and such principles taught, for we do know, from scientific research and investigation, that certain facts exist in nature which those called Christians discard or throw away; they do not want anything to do with them; they say this has nothing to do with religion; but you talk very different to this.'"

JD, vol.3, p.356 (1856)
"Mankind are organized of element designed to endure to all eternity; it never had a beginning and never can have an end. There never was a time when this matter, of which you and I are composed, was not in existence, and there never can be a time when it will pass out of existence; it cannot be annihilated.

It is brought together, organized, and capacitated to receive knowledge and intelligence, to be enthroned in glory, to be made angels, Gods--beings who will hold control over the elements, and have power by their word to command the creation and redemption of worlds, or to extinguish suns by their breath, and disorganize worlds, hurling them back into their chaotic state. This is what you and I are created for."

Joseph Smith on energy becoming matter

Perhaps the real difference bwteen the revelations and modern science is that modern science is more limited in scope. It only deals with the simplest definition of energy - energy possessed by dead objects. But Goed deals with energy in its most interesting form - in life. When we remember that energy is just a Greek term "en - ergon" or "in work," we can see that the revelations speak about energy all the time. According to the revelations, the whole point of existence is that God's light and his work allows spirits (made of pure matter) to enlarge. I will leave the last word to Joseph Smith, from the famous King Follett discourse. Times and Seasons, vol.5, p.614-615

"I am going to tell you how God came to be God. The word create [in Genesis 1:1] came from the word baurau; it does not mean so; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize a ship. 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 that can never be destroyed. They may be organized and re-organized; but not destroyed. ... Intelligence exists upon a self existent principle, it is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. All the spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement. The first principles of man are self existent with God; that God himself finds himself in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was greater, and because he saw proper to institute laws, whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself, that they might have one glory upon another, in all that knowledge, power, and glory, &c., in order to save the world of spirits."

The bottom line

Revelation is not like modern science. Modern science deals with simple systems, and the latest discoveries. Revelation deals with the most complex systems from an eternal perspective.

 

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