|Science and knowledge||WhyProphets.com|
|Proof of God||Science and non-science||Science and pseudo-science||Nibley and Popper|
Science and the spirit world
Faith and Knowledge.
|For a similar argument,
in more detail, from a more
experienced thinker, see
"Thoughts on the Nature
and Reality of God"
Why this page was created
As I develop this website, I sometimes get messages from people who disagree with one point or another. This is good! I want more criticism! Often, this helps me to change something that was either wrong or misleading. But sometimes it just leads to a weary game of "scriptural ping-pong" as one correspondent called it. They quote a scripture. I quote another scripture. They quote another scripture. And so on. Apart from demonstrating that we need someone with authority (e.g. a prophet), this usually gets nowhere.
I have noticed that really effective missionaries do not spend much time answering questions. Instead, they start at the very beginning and take it nice and slow. Then everything makes sense and most questions do not arise. What a good idea!
This page is based loosely on "the first discussion" - the things that full time missionaries like to share first. But there is one difference. Full time missionaries start from the fact that "most people believe in a supreme being," and move on from there. But some people do not believe in a supreme being. And those who do believe in a supreme being often disagree on the nature of that being.
The first principle of the gospel is faith in Jesus Christ. Before faith we must hear the word of God. But before that, we need to accept the possibility that the word of God could be valid. That is the subject of this page. It is about the fundamentals on which the fundamentals rest.
The simplest way to know for sure is to have God tell you. If you have problems with that, then this page is for you.
This page is very basic. It aims at finding a common point of agreement by avoiding religious terminology. It is abstract and generalized. Please do not think that Mormons normally speak this way! I can already foresee emails saying "this proves that Mormons worship a race of sci-fi space aliens!" No. This is simply abstract speculation, based on current ideas of reality. This is not official LDS doctrine. It is not based on revelation. It is simply my own understanding. I take responsibility for any errors.
|The logic of a supreme being|
1. There is always something greater
There are few (if any) limits to scale in this universe. Whatever you think of there is always something smaller, or bigger, or stronger, or weaker, or nearer, or further. Whenever someone says "this is all there is," it is a safe bet that they will ultimately be proven wrong. So, it is probably arrogant foolishness to assume that the humans we see are the most intelligent and powerful beings in the universe or beyond.
The numbers in cosmology and metaphysics are mind-boggling. If there is one superior race, then given all the billions of planets in each of the endless galaxies, in endless history and infinite possible universes, there must be vast numbers of such races.
1a. There must be vastly superior beings
So, it is reasonable to assume that there are more intelligent beings than us somewhere. How much more intelligent? Well, just look at the present acceleration of progress in our technology. If a task is sufficiently important, how long does it take to find a solution? A year? A hundred years? A thousand? One obvious task is "overcoming death." Like time travel, if only a single intelligent race solves this one, the potential for accelerated development is fantastic. Another obvious task is "increasing intelligence." Somewhere in the infinite possibilities of reality, this has almost certainly happened. If we see "the big bang" as the boundary of time and space, then another obvious task is to somehow overcome that as well.
1b. Can a superior being progress?
A suspicious reader may be saying "this is approaching blasphemy - he is going to say that God is an evolved and evolving (i.e. limited) being." No. I am not. I am simply saying at this stage that there must be vastly superior beings. No more, no less.
But there is the question of "What do you do if you can do anything?" Some people might take this as an argument for pessimism - that life must be ultimately pointless. But that is not a rational conclusion. Just as (from our perspective) there is always some greater intelligence, so there is always some greater purpose. Supreme beings would have their own view on what was needed.
1c. What is meant by progress?
Does progress in this context mean "getting better" or "doing more things"? The idea of a superior being "getting better" is plainly false (see the next point). But the idea of progress as "achieving more and more things" is unavoidable. Intelligence, by its definition, means making things better. And this is probably the clue. A supreme being cannot make himself or herself better. But they can make inferior beings better.
2. They are infinite and eternal
Do vastly superior and deathless equate to infinite and eternal? Yes:
- To all intents and purposes, how could we tell the difference? For us to worry over a vastly superior being is illogical - our mental concepts just cannot cope. Whenever you double your intelligence, you radically change how you see things. Imagine doubling your intelligence a thousand times. For you or I to judge such a being is foolish in the extreme.
- The very idea of limited intelligence is probably a bi-product of our own limited intelligence. This is a big topic, so I will just leave it at that.
- If someone's development is accelerating continually, it is absurd to speak of them in terms of limitations. Compare intelligence to velocity. Once you approach the velocity of light, all the normal assumptions either break down or become irrelevant. To say a vastly superior being could make a mistake is like saying that someone traveling at the speed of light might be overtaken by someone else. They won't.
2a. What is intelligence?
Up to now, I have not defined intelligence. I will now do so. (Note to LDS readers: I mean "intelligence" as an attribute of living things, not as life itself.)
Intelligence means the efficient use of resources...
...where "efficient use" means resources can be used for more - to go further, create more, obey our will more closely, or whatever.
...and "resources" mean pretty much anything that can be used - objects, knowledge, or whatever.
If two people have the same information, the more intelligent one makes better use of it. So, for example, where you or I see random chaos, a more intelligent being sees a pattern and can predict its future behaviour. Where you or I can make flour and eggs and sugar into a nice cake, a more intelligent person can make the most delicious thing you have ever imagined, or use it to attract and develop a wild bird colony, or treat it chemically to create a life saving drug, or rocket fuel, or whatever.
2b. One supreme being or many?
At this point we should maybe stop using the plural. The most intelligent beings will of course work together in perfect harmony (because conflict is inefficient). Also, an intelligent being will not have two leaders where one will do (because duplication is inefficient). So, from our point of view, we need only refer to one supreme being.
N.B. Those brought up in a market economy may answer that conflict and duplication are essential to competition, and competition is essential to progress. But a little thought will show that competition is only a useful strategy where knowledge (and hence choices, desires, etc.) is limited. This is another big topic, so I will leave it for now.
2c. A white male supreme being?
This level of detail is irrelevant to the big issues, and cannot be predicted purely from logic. If a supreme being chooses to reveal his or her presence as male, female, white, black, or blue with three heads, that does not change their nature as supreme. It is tempting to say that "a supreme being is beyond such things, even if they choose to reveal themselves as human that does not mean they really are." But that position is not logical. There is no rational reason for believing that an abstract force is somehow superior to a being with a fixed form. If a supreme being chooses to reveal himselves as a certain form, then by definition that is the intelligent thing to believe. If a supreme being does not reveal such details, that is the end of the matter.
3. The supreme being has a plan for us.
We cannot say exactly what a vastly superior being would do, because we do not see things as they do. But we can draw some general conclusions.
- First, destroying is far easier than creating (and has less potential), so it is fair to assume that superior beings would tend to create rather than destroy.
- Second, manipulating lifeless forces is no big deal. To achieve even more (e.g. to be more intelligent) they must work with other intelligent beings.
- Third, if being intelligent is itself intelligent, then so is making others become more intelligent.
So, supreme beings probably create, they deal with other intelligent beings, and they help these others to become more intelligent.
But are they interested in us? Of course. By definition, an intelligent being does not waste resources. Humans have potential and are therefore a resource.
4. The supreme being loves us.
Given that a supreme being could choose to do anything, they must enjoy what they do. And they choose to help us to become intelligent like them. Think about that. They are happy. They want us to be happy. They are very interested in us. Making us happy makes them happy. Sounds like a good definition of love.
|The logic of a savior
see also - reasons for the atonement of Christ
1. We are subject to error and death
This is self evident. We all die. We all do things that are destructive and do not achieve good things. Given our limited intelligence, there is not much we can do about this. Errors are particularly problematic. Errors are not just abstract. Wrong decisions, by definition, have bad results. Who picks up the pieces?
2. How can a supreme being communicate with us?
It is all very well recognizing there is a supreme being, but how does such a being communicate? If they just appeared in a flash of light, there would be no development of intelligence. There is no intellectual stretching when we just do what is blindingly obvious (e.g. whatever the supreme being says). Even if they left us with freedom, we would likely be too scared to take any chances.
So, does the supreme being leave intellectual clues? Maybe, but that's not the whole story. Our intelligence is currently limited, so it is quite likely that we would make a mess of this. Any intellectual test has a threshold that some well-meaning mortals will not pass.
The only practical way to teach us is to send another human who does it right. The intelligent ones will recognize this to some extent (or at least have the tolerance not to condemn this teacher for some illogical reasoning).
3. A supreme human example
What would this ideal teacher do? The only practical way to show that death can be overcome is to do it. The only practical way to show that perfection is possible is to be perfect.
It is no good sending a teacher who is just "pretty good." They have to be perfect. Otherwise, we may see the good, and (in our ignorance) copy their faults.
4. Hope and evidence
Being intelligent means making the best use of what we have (see above). In other words, we do not wait until things are handed to us - we are hungry for truth. This means taking chances, but not too many chances. It means balancing the evidence (which we may misunderstand) with our hopes that it means what we think (which hopes may be unfounded).
Intelligence means balancing hope and evidence. That (in my opinion) is the most useful definition of faith.
|The logic of prophets|
1. How to tell people about the supreme example
If there is one perfect example, how can people find out? Well, one way would be to have a perfect person in every village. But: (a) this would be inefficient duplication of effort, and also (b) this would risk everyone else living by blind obedience.
The most efficient solution would be to ensure that enough other people could point others in the direction of the supreme example. E.g. prophets for the savior. The prophets would not need to be perfect, they would just need to pass on a message. It would of course help that prophets were seen to be at least trying to live what they preach.
2. How the message could get across
How could this message be passed on? The usual ways - first hand, in books, etc. For the sake of efficiency (e.g. intelligence) this implies some kind of organization to publish, arrange public meetings, send out missionaries, etc.
If the message was any good, there would be a tendency to want a short cut to the savior. In other words, false prophets. So the organization would have to claim some kind of exclusive authority, to avoid the message getting confused.
3. But how would you spot a true prophet?
The simplest way to know if a prophet is telling the truth is for the supreme being to tell you personally. But how? This has risks as noted above. Is there a way for a supreme being to tell you sufficiently without making it blindingly obvious? Of course! By definition, a supreme being would be able to contact you in a way that means something to you personally, and provides just enough evidence but no more. It would make sense to speak directly to your feelings, though of course there could be other ways.
The important thing is just enough evidence and no more, and the need to leave space for hope. The whole purpose of the supreme being-mortal relationship, remember, is to develop your sensitivity to subtle truth (i.e. intelligence).
4. Then what?
The purpose of this relationship (supreme being and man) is to help us become like them. Some attributes cannot be gained simply by seeing, but by doing. By experience. This is where obedience comes in.
And so it goes on. The whole gospel - faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, obedience - is entirely reasonable and rational.
If it doesn't make sense to you, please email me and tell me how I can improve this page.
If this does make sense to you, then you are ready to learn about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!
Classical arguments for the existence of God do more harm than good. First, they are so weak that they just provide ammunition for atheists. Second, they avoid the only real source of proof- direct revelation.
In contrast, the approach outlined on this page has the following advantages over the classical arguments:
- This makes sense, and they do not.
- It leads directly to personal revelation (pray and find out for yourself), the only way to really know for sure.
- This is based on common observations, not abstract tricks. Although this proof is only as strong as those assumptions, the alternative is to talk of theoretically perfect and infinite concepts. I see no evidence that any of us really understands the concepts of "perfect" or "infinite," hence the errors in previous "proofs." In contrast, if we are certain of anything, we are certain that, for example, there is always something bigger.
Augustine's attempt at a logical proof
Eternal truths (e.g. geometry) can only be understood by illumination from God. Therefore there is a God.
Unfortunately, it is possible to arrive at some eternal truths (e.g. that 1 + 1 = 2) without any apparent inspiration, but simply by counting. Now I personally believe that inspiration (of some kind) is essential, but I do not see that Augustine has demonstrated that. I doubt that it could be demonstrated in a simple yet also watertight fashion.
Anselm's attempt at a logical proof
There must be an absolute, final, greatest, self-existent thing.
This depends on two basic premises: (1) a person can conceive of something perfect, and (2) physical is more perfect than conceptual. Perhaps both are true but I think there is plenty of room for doubt.
Aquinas' attempts at a logical proof
There has to be a prime mover - an ultimate cause.
Even if this could be logically demonstrated, it does not do much good, as it pushes God so far back in time that he becomes irrelevant.
The universe is so well organized that it must have had a creator.
This has some appeal, but was never a very good proof. If we compare the universe to an animal (which is also well designed), we can imagine that another universe could have given birth to it, and so the original creator could be an exceedingly long way away.
Scotus' attempt at a logical proof
He suggested a complex variation on the "prime mover" idea, placing secondary causes between us and God.
But the more stages there are to a proof, the more likely that one of them is mistaken, and the less useful it is to the ordinary person. Scotus' proof (though I have not studied it in depth) seems too similar to those that have gone before.
Descartes' attempts at a logical proof
We can conceive of perfect being, and we must have got the idea from somewhere.
I am not convinced of the premise. Do we really conceive of a perfect being? Or just a being who appears perfect to us?
A reliance on logical proofs can prove only one thing: that these great theologians did not have much confidence in God's ability to reveal himself directly. They are evidence that the church of their day was in apostasy, and did not have the gifts of the spirit.
The bottom line
The gospel of Jesus Christ is rational. Indeed, when looked at logically, it seems almost inevitable.