Why I am Not An Intellectual

The American philosopher Richard Rorty recollected that when he was a teenager he dreamed of being able to read all the great works in his local library and arrive at some grand synthesis of truth from all the wisdom contained therein (for all truth to be circumscribed into one great whole, as it were). and later in his career he (arguably) became something of an apostate from philosophy as he increasingly challenged its ability to do what it claimed to be able to do.  

At the risk of being presumptuous, as an undergraduate I fell in love with Rorty in large part because my own journey started tracking his. The big difference, of course, is that as an orthodox Latter-day Saint I do believe in what he would call the “writing in the sky” of absolute truth, but like him I believed that the wisdom of the ages had something to contribute to this grand understanding of capital T Truth, but also like him I later realized that it actually doesn’t do that as much as it claims to. I do intellectual things. I read a lot, I go to a local book club, I enjoy discussions, but as an identity and a structure for life intellectualism is pretty hollow.

During my halcyon undergraduate days my educational philosophy was summed up in the Brigham Young quote (which I still love) “if an Elder shall give us a lecture upon astronomy, chemistry, or geology, our religion embraces it all. … The truth that is in all the arts and sciences forms part of our religion. Faith is no more a part of it than any other true principle of philosophy.” As an undergraduate I spent a significant amount of time taking a variety of classes from different disciplines under the idea that if I read the gospel and synthesized that with great works from other disciplines and eras, then I could really start to draw closer to the mind of God. 

Like a lot of faith crises, I can’t pinpoint a moment when I started to “lose my testimony,” as it were, of intellectualism and its ability to respond to my desire for growth and wisdom any more than just living a life structured with basic gospel principles would. Like traditional religion exit narratives, some of the disappointments are from expectations that sophisticated true believers would argue I shouldn’t have had in the first place. Similarly, I can’t say there was one big item that “broke my shelf,” but rather multiple unresolved issues that gradually became more problematic as I became older and more experienced with life. 

My gospel testimony shelf is still sturdy. Like Brigham Young, however, I will never say that I will never apostatize, but if I do leave the Church I’m pretty sure that my sense of purpose won’t be based out of anything intellectual or the culture/community of people in the US who identify as intellectual; that shelf collapsed a long time ago for multiple reasons: 

1. By their fruits ye shall know them 

Like the deacon who sees a failing of his bishop for the first time, a lot of maturing that happens in this life comes down to realizing that everyone is human. Pedestals are useful in certain stages of life, but they all come down eventually, and intellectualism is no exception. As a freshman I thought my ivy-league educated professors were intellectual Gods. Of course, like courting lovers who eventually move in together, as you get closer the cracks in the veneer start to show, and by the time I had my own ivy-league education it was patently obvious that having some fancy letters after your name doesn’t make you an uber-human with wide-ranging wisdom about everything. 

Of course, this is one of those expectations that in hindsight was quite silly, and I’m sure my professors, especially my secular ones, would be amused at the idea that I saw them as some kind of high priests and priestesses of capital T Truth (although I noticed among the BYU professors there was a little more of the Dead Poets Society fantasy, probably because of the drive in the Church to connect all truth together; unfortunately, such approaches usually involved professors simply proof-texting restoration scriptures to support the political/social flavor of the month that they picked up in grad school). 

However, while both church leaders and academic leaders came off their pedestals, despite their failings I still felt that church leaders had more capital W Wisdom than the average person down the street (in general; I too have the stories when they didn’t…); however, I couldn’t say the same for academics. The English professor made just as many blunders in his personal life as the welder living next to him (if not more). As much as some sectors of the humanities like to extol the idea that reading Shakespeare or the Greek texts in their original language will unlock some deep secret to understanding the human relations or the human condition, I gradually realized I wasn’t seeing much of a correlation between how people were turning out in terms of personal development and whether they knew anything about Kant (and the fact that giants of literature have a tendency to do things like lock themselves in a house for decades at a time doesn’t exactly help the case that they had some special insight into life and meaning). 

These are my purely anecdotal observations, so take that as you will, but it affected my belief that intellectualism could be useful for the things that matter in life. Some imply that “great works” studying can serve a similar function as scripture study, but I’ve seen the fruits of scripture study in terms of the spiritual grounding and depth, and while I can only speak for myself, I just didn’t see the same for people who read Foucault, sorry. For every Death of a Salesman real life character showing the hollowness of capitalistic ambition, there’s a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, Middlemarch, or Great Divorce real life character that demonstrates the pointlessness of intellectual ambition. 

Again, I don’t get the sense that in their in-group discussions humanities academics (or any academic) claim to be providing Wisdom, Truth, or guidance about how to live the good life, but they hint at being able to provide these things whenever they have to defend the value of a humanities degree (now that it’s clear that it is almost useless in terms of financial value beyond its role as a generic “I have a college degree” credential). 

2. Intellectualism does not make you generically competent

Gradually I came to realize that specializing in an area just means that you are really knowledgeable in that area. The research on “transfer of learning” is highly debatable, but my reading is that learning a skill in one area does not help your generic abilities as much as one might think. I gradually realized that the mathematics genius doesn’t necessarily have more sophisticated political opinions. (As can be seen in the interesting history of very smart people with very cooky ideas).

Of course, it is wonderful that we have specialists, but being an intellectual in one area doesn’t tap you into a generalizable divine-like wisdom for multiple areas. If you want to be an “intellectual,” that does not give you a right to speak authoritatively on anything that you haven’t actually studied, whether it’s politics, ethics, or social issues; it doesn’t make you some wise uber-human. 

3. Intellectualism does not respond to the Big Questions

Saul Bellow famously wrote that “what this country needs is a good five-cent synthesis.” Religion is metaphysically comfortable because we have a five-cent synthesis; for Latter-day Saints the reason for it all can be written on a 3 x 5 card, and I gradually realized that, while libraries are filled with tomes presuming to get us closer to the resolution of the Big Questions and the grand synthesis, that there’s a pretty significant dropoff once you get beyond that 3 x 5 card.

Additionally, it was only as I got into the nitty gritty of academic research that I realized that more often than not the problems at the cutting edge were atomistic, and had been almost completely severed from the foundational Big Questions. As the bumbling intellectual oncologist in the excellent play/movie Wit recognizes, “the problem takes over,” As I interacted with more and more researchers it gradually dawned on me that for many their investigations were essentially Rubik’s cubes. They enjoyed doing the research and solving the problem, but they couldn’t articulate why they enjoyed it, they just got a personal buzz out of solving the puzzle. Rubick’s cubes are fine, but they don’t have any more inherent worth than, say, Tetris or a first-person shooter, and your mastery of that skillset should not give you any more of a sense of superiority than any other innocent game that gives you temporary enjoyment. 

Practically specialization is quite useful, and whether they are aware of the why or not researchers (in some fields), are doing society a great service. However, I don’t get the sense that those on the cutting edge of research tend to associate their research with a higher, grand purpose. The latter group are usually quite measured and careful about what their research does and does not speak to; it’s the difference between an actual historian of religion and the exmormon Reddit version of what historians of religion do. Ultimately, the Big Questions about life, meaning, and purpose are for the most part not amenable to scientific (or, as Rorty and I would agree, philosophical) investigations; intellectuals should not claim to be experts in these domains, and for the most part taking upon one’s self the trappings of intellectualism will not get you any closer to higher, transcendent truth. 

Even the few scholars who have tried to approach God through the intellectual often eventually put their eggs in the revelation basket. Thomas Aquinas famously quit writing once he had received a very personal numinous experience about God, proclaiming that his attempts to intellectualize theology “was all straw” compared to the vision he had. (Joseph Smith stated that “could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject,” I’d like to think that after spending decades searching for God through the intellect God gave Aquinas his five minutes). 

Similarly, after discovering the aptly named “transcendent” numbers, (numbers larger than infinity), religious German mathematician Georg Cantor threw himself into a particular problem only to eventually state that God revealed the answer to him. (Although he also went insane, so I’m not necessarily bearing my testimony of the continuum hypothesis here). 

Finally and perhaps most prominently, a mathematician in the running for smartest human ever, Srinivasa Ramanujan, would befuddle his positivist, classically atheist British colleagues by mentioning that he received his ideas through his hometown’s local Hindu Goddess, stating that an equation “has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God.”

These examples do show that at least some aspects of the intellectual venture can move beyond the Rubik’s cube or didactic squabbles and tap into the divine and transcendent. While in this life that is quite rare, my undergraduate fantasy still exists in a way, but now it is set in the hereafter.

 Mathematician Paul Erdos, probably the most productive mathematician of all time, would often refer to “The Book,” a book kept by God that had all the most elegant mathematical proofs. I’ve often fantasized of a grand celestial library containing all the great works of all the worlds and all the children of God (along with “The Book”), and wondered what it would be like to read all of them. Joseph Smith wrote that “it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned [the principles of exaltation]. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave”; I can’t help but think that in some corner of the vast celestial library is Rorty, Aquinas, Ramanujan, Cantor, and Erdos are picking up where they left off. 


54 comments for “Why I am Not An Intellectual

  1. Truman Madsen, not to mention Harold Bloom, disagrees. You have confused “intellect” with “hubris.”

  2. Cantor and the math mayhem confusion he created proves to me that intellectualism can reach beyond reality into the world of fantasy and delusion. It’s no wonder he went crazy. I like when I read in Scripture about God’s creations. Phrases like “worlds without number” evoke a type of infinity to us but in reality it just means so many that our feeble means to see and calculate it is not possible. The phrase “and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.” from Moses in the PoGP is a classic of mine that says a lot about God. God isn’t saying that he has an infinite set of creations, he just has so many that our technology can’t possibly see and account for all of them. The phrase “all things are numbered unto me” says a lot not only about God but also about the logic of math. God is stating factually that only finite sets can be known and counted and that only finite things can exist and be known.

    So, for God, whose intellect is above all others, he is limited in reality and that reality is that all things, ever to be known, understood, discovered, etc, is just a finite and real number. It may be ever increasing on a continual line moving forward forever, but will always and forever be a growing countable finite set at any given moment.

    Was Cantor wrong about infinite sets and sizes of infinity? Well, according to God’s intellect, yes he was or is definitely wrong. Numbers, by themselves, are an abstract that do not actually exist in the real physical world. They are merely a symbol- a means to apply towards objects we can count. In God’s pure language every word has a finite actual assignment to an actual real thing or event, feeling, thought, etc, and all those things are numbered unto God in a finite set.

    In Moses God is trying to teach us some great knowledge and wisdom. He is teaching us that we will always only know a finite set of things even though that set can forever increase. And, only the finite is knowable. There is no word in God’s pure language that means “infinite” because it isn’t knowable and doesn’t exist. God uses words and phrases like “never ending” to speak of the quality of something but it is always in the sense of counting a finite set of things. Eternal life thus doesn’t equate to infinite life but rather life that never ends and always and forever, at any point within that will and only can be a finite distance from all other points already lived or known.

    One truly must understand God to understand true intellect. Cantor was off because he truly didn’t know the mind of God.

  3. As someone with a firm but never easy testimony, I am always looking for honest, thoughtful answers as to how others deal with hard questions. I am frequently discouraged with how hard they are to find. Too many apologetics work around the edges of the questions without ever touching the core issues. Too often apologetics strike down problems few people actually seem to be working on. People performing apologetics seem to choose to respond to things they can refute rather than issues questioners actually struggle with. They posit easy answers that don’t generally address the totality of the questions. And while you are obviously correct that expertise in one area does not automatically translate into expertise in all areas, apologetics seldom meaningfully address issues as laid out by those who truly have extensive knowledge and expertise in specific areas.

    I’m not sure what your goal was in writing this post. However, I don’t think it would persuade anyone who didn’t already agree with your positions.

  4. Agree PWS. This kind of anti-intellectualism has permeated the institution to the pt that rank&file thinks the thinking’s been done in SLC so now they have time to concentrate on more worthy endeavors like Making America Great Again. If that’s not a wake-up call I don’t know what is.

  5. Oh I think specialists (including apologetics specialists) can be important for very specific issues, but the space that their expertise is important for is very narrow (and the fields that sometimes hint at being able to provide very broad-based wisdom from their methods or training really can’t).

    In terms of the general picture, my point isn’t that “the thinking has already been done,” but rather that anybody can do the supplementary thinking, we aren’t beholden to the intellectual class to provide another layer of analysis between us and the prophets, with the very rare exception of when what they say deals directly with something properly testable with rigorously established scientific/historical tools that said intellectual is trained in.

  6. The way I’ve expressed this to myself is: Poetry won’t save you. It won’t necessarily make you a better person. You can write great poetry to support terrible things.

    A humanities degree can be good preparation for dealing with particular kinds of intellectual problems that are occasionally important. There’s an element of craftsmanship in humanities work that’s easy to overlook. What people see are the sweeping generalizations and striking conclusions, but the important (and maybe more generalizable) skills are more mundane: bibliography and the basics of linguistics and similarly unexciting stuff.

    Apart from that, I think the world was a better place when all one needed to do was signal the possession of a college education, instead of limiting entrance to jobs in Widgets to those with four years of coursework, an internship and a professional certification in Widget Studies. (There are a few fields where that makes sense; there are a lot more where it doesn’t.)

    I know that the prospects of general competence or transferabiltiy of skill are looking pretty dim these days, but at the same time, we always have to evaluate problems outside our narrow areas of expertise based on what we’ve learned in them. I don’t think we have any alternative. Hopefully our own fields have taught us humility.

    I’m not sure whether to laugh or weep in response to Rob opining about Cantor after reading the D&C, or to p opining about the church after not reading the Book of Mormon since 1986. Intellectualism, for all its faults, at least has a tradition of asking people to question how much they don’t know.

  7. I look forward to the day when “prophet” is more honorific than job description. Their tragic bumbling re homosexuality, and their continued & utter cluelessness regarding the female of the species are in exhibit A categories; and does anyone really believe that Blacks would have the priesthood today w/o intense social pressure? In the meantime a large majority of the Saints have fallen under the spell of an obscene megalomaniac. A good third of my ward is unvaccinated & refuse to wear masks because they believe the right-wing websites. Gee I wonder if ETB had anything to do w/ that?! (slap to my forehead). Houston we have a problem. Own it!

  8. Forgive me for being a bit forward but I don’t think you are being fully honest here. I am an actual specialist on the New Testament and publish my research in the highest venues of that field. I know what I’m talking about and I can demonstrate it to specialist and motivated non-specialist alike. I gather evidence, weight it, and draw conclusions. That’s what I do day in and day out. But much of what I have to say wouldn’t cohere with what you take to be settled by your current thinking and by your deference to church authorities and tradition. Unless I am reading you wrong, you would dismiss my evidence and arguments because many of them them would seriously inconvenience you. Plus, as you point out above, you always have an all-trumping ace card to play.

    Whether the president of the church himself or you, when your car needs repair you take it to the best trained mechanic you can find. Same for health issues and medical experts. You literally trust both mechanic and physician alike with your life. But neither you nor church leaders take your biblical questions to the friendly HB or NT specialist. Why is that? It is an undeniable inconsistency in your thinking and I am genuinely curious how you explain it. Not looking for a fight, but for understanding about why you and others trust experts in one field but not another.

  9. @ Jonathan

    I absolutely agree re the humanities. Well done art and literature can certainly enrich life and can help connect one to the divine (whether the formal institutions of humanities departments meaningfully contribute to that venture is another question), and there are technical (if more mundane) skills that the humanities teach that are useful.

    In terms of alternatives for training, I think that kind of generalizable flexibility is developed much more readily in an actual work environment than some hypothetical critical thinking benefit from analyzing a Shakespearean sonnet.

    I’m biased because I trained as an academic but now work in the private sector (having hired my first employee last week), but we essentially have developed a situation where students are being trained for a future in the for-profit/government/NGO space by people who largely have zero substantive experience in those areas. This makes no sense, and I suspect the chickens are going to start to come home to roost as employers realize that actual work experience, a three month coding bootcamp, or a design portfolio is a much better signal for employee usefulness than a 4-year credential based around a career path (academia) that in many cases only has a conjectural connection to other fields.

    Anyway, I’ve veered a bit off topic, but just my two cents.

    @ Anonymous

    That’s wonderful that you’ve had success in your scholarly endeavors. The devil is in the details, of course. If a church leader tries to make a point about an alternative translation or Greek verb that he just gets wrong, then of course that is within your orbit. Of course, they rarely do that nowadays.

    While some religious studies folks (not necessarily you, I don’t know you), seem to bristle at the fact that they’re not on President Nelson’s speed dial, or that the General Conference pulpit hasn’t been turned over to them, according to the internal logic of Latter-day Saint belief, only a fraction of its theology is germane to whatever formal skills you honed in formal New Testament studies.

    Those details would be more relevant if we operated off of a protestant paradigm, but we simply don’t. Technically speaking Elder Bednar has just as much authority as Paul, and certainly more than the writers pretending to be Paul. Joseph Smith taught that the Song of Solomon wasn’t inspired scripture, so what? He still quoted it in the Kirtland Temple dedication prayer, so in his prophetic mouth portions of it did in fact become scripture. Same thing with the General Authorities. The Book of Revelation as we now have it probably wasn’t written by John; but even if a member of the Quorum of the 12 thinks that it is the broader doctrinal point he makes that uses words from Revelations is still valid, so in summary I think the kind of details you’re alluding to about what may or may not have been written by whom under which contexts and purpose is less relevant to the Latter-day Saint paradigm, since that isn’t the ultimate source of authority for us like it is for Protestants.

    If you’re going further and implying that New Testament studies naturally leads you to some Bart Ehrman-esque end point that is deeply skeptical about basic Christian beliefs, then that’s a deeper discussion about Type I versus Type II errors and epistemological presuppositions, so again another post for another day.

  10. Only in American Christian circles is being not a seeker of truth worn as a badge of honor. We should all be intellectuals. Full stop. We should all be seeking further light and knowledge.

    I am willing to engage with all sorts of prophets, be it Brene Brown, Maya Angelou, Richard Rohr, Eckhart Tolle, the pope, the Dalai Lama, or Russell Nelson. If their message resonates, I engage it. If it doesn’t, then I don’t.

    For me personally, over the last several years, I haven’t found much of what the Mormon prophets have to offer help me be better. Messages like kindness is my religion, or when you know better you do better, have helped me be better, while messages about a certain word being a victory for Satan has not. YMMV.

  11. Excellent post, Stephen–and a fun read.

    I think Nephi is a great example of one who places his intellectual abilities in the service of the Kingdom. When he’s faced with the challenge of having to slay Laban he doesn’t go through a long processes of reasoning as to why he should *not* obey. Throughout the entire mental ordeal he uses his intellectual powers to process the reasons as to why he *should* obey–not why he shouldn’t.

    This may seem a bit simplistic–but (IMO) when we put the Kingdom first it helps as to align everything else properly, including whatever intellectual gifts one might possess. We become more whole–or complete–and the thoughts of our hearts along with those of our brains combine to yield greater wisdom than we would otherwise possess by relying solely on the intellect.

  12. The anti-intellectualism that has overtaken the Church since the deaths of Apostles Widtsoe and Merrill is very discouraging. The ideas put forth by Presidents JFS, ETB, and BKP live on today in biblical literalism, anti-evolution, anti-masking, anti-vaxxing, global warming skepticism, LGBTQ misinformation, ridiculous conspiracy theories, etc. Fortunately because of intrepid historians and the Internet, Church is now being forced to deal with historical facts rather than inspirational rumors. Much of what I taught as a missionary in the 1960s was half truths. One result of this anti-intellectualism is membership support for Trump.

    Ironically, Christ message was very simple: love God, and love God by loving your neighbor. Joseph Smith added another important idea: the gospel incorporates all truth. There is nothing anti-intellectual in these two ideas. Wendy Nelson summarized the state of affairs in the Church when she encouraged members to put an exclamation point point after what modern-day prophets say. And a question mark after what others (experts?) say.

    Modern-day prophets aren’t always accurate. The vast majority of GC talks are decidedly underwhelming. A well-rounded education is the best antidote against ignorance. And there’s more to an education than job preparation.

  13. Quite often when watching TV my wife and I will comment to each other that there is another world we have not experienced. Like drinking wine or in this case discussing intelectualism.

    My education was destroyed by moving house every 18 to 24 months, my father being on a building mission for the church. Then being told don’t worry about education, get married and don’t use birth control. So no university.

    I am a practical person. I think about more efficient and cost effective ways to build houses. I built the first house in Australia made of bondor cool room panels. We built it from slab to lock up in 6 weeks and it cost half a conventionny constructed house did. We have helped two of our children build houses of cool room panels and they still live in them. They value the same as conventional houses.

    I have spent the last month building a lift in my present house because in our 70s it is soon going to become a problem to walk up the steps from the garage level to living level especially carrying the groceries.

    My hobby is cars. I buy salvage vehicles and repair them. I like european brands as they are better designed, and there is more money to be made. I just sold a mercedes gle making $20,000, and am working on another one which we intend keeping, to replace a jaguar.

    I view the world differently. I do remember when we used to, claim that all truth was part of the gospel. The church has moved so far away from valuing truth that 80% of members over 40 can vote for trump, which I find truly disturbing. But then we also claimed birth control was the devil undermining “multiply and replenish the earth”. Truth beginning to be replaced by ideology.

  14. For decades, the institution sailed the congregation into rough waters by adopting anti-intellectualist postures in academia. It could be said that LDS apologetics has largely served itself: publishers, donors, the monied Establishment. Even today, the Church Educational System (paid clergy of Pharisees) has no obligation to the congregation–it serves the institution. In some cases, tithing money subsidizes the conversion of sweet doctrine into unpalatable dogma. In other cases, PR and outreach resembles indoctrination: gimmicky staged sets, self-help speeches, and prosperity evangelism. The CES can’t sustain itself, if half of our youth reject the institution because of its gimmicky indoctrination or because of its inability to draw meaning and value from ordinance. Consider this irony as a measure of institutional hypocrisy: that the Gospel Topics essays (anti-intellectual apologetics) have driven as many families away as the CES Letter.

    The Restored Church can be rescued if intellectualism is allowed to intervene by breaking down belief and the belief systems that pollute the sanctuary. Because the institution serves itself more than it serves the congregation, dramatic compromise, decentralization, and judgment will have to pass through and transform the Establishment. Recent publications, such as the Joseph Smith Papers, and the Studies in the Book of Abraham Series, represent a foundation of intellectualism, transparency, and textual integrity (something that had been lacking). I interpret these publications as a sign of new intellectualism, and of good things to come.

  15. I was just recently bemoaning to my wife that it seems “the glory of God is intelligence” is a motto that we don’t even culturally aspire to anymore, and I share some of the concerns and dissatisfaction expressed in some of the comments. However, I didn’t interpret the post to be anti-intellectual per se, but rather an acknowledgment that there is more to life than intellectualism. Intellectual pursuits can bring their share of joy, but there’s also a lot of joy to be had outside of them as well. And as much as we might like to think that logic is our primary motivator, we fool ourselves if we don’t recognize the primacy of deeper feelings, desires, and emotions. We are humans, not computers. Still, although intellectualism alone does not provide a balanced character and life, surely neither does a life devoid of intellectual improvement.

  16. Stephen, I don’t know why everyone’s intent on misreading you. I’m not sure how anyone can get out of grad school without noticing the hard limits on what you can do with intellectual inquiry. Pointing out those limits isn’t the same as embracing ignorance, just like rejecting scientism doesn’t make one anti-science.

  17. I like this from Neal A. Maxwell:

    “It is my impression, looking about the world, that there are comparatively more knees bent in reverence to God than there are minds bent in reverence to Him. That human stubbornness tends to show up in terms of our unwillingness to submit our minds to Him.”

    It’s almost as if the world has made intellectualism so sacred that it we feel compelled to worship it rather than sacrifice it.

  18. Interesting post and comments. While I acknowledge the limits of an overly intellectual approach to faith and life, and relying on experts can be problematic, I have two observations to contribute to the fray:

    1. I share Roger D. Hansen’s dismay at current anti-intellectual trends in the Church. Somehow, we have regressed from the scientific, data-based conclusions derived by Widtsoe and Talmage, to the dogmatic a priori assumptions of McConkie and JFS. (Often wrong, never in doubt.) If you quote DC 93 in Church (the glory of God is intelligence), there are many who fear you are treading on dangerous ground. A Stake President interviewing a prospective missionary used to examine his or her scriptural knowledge; now, the SP provides a box of Kleenex. I read a lot, and that has bothered many of my Church family. The Church can be intellectually stimulating, but that is now out of fashion.

    2. Experts are vitally necessary. They need also to be watched with a leery eye. Right now, we need experts as we go through the pandemic, and not rely on junk science as many in the Church do. But when experts on any subject get too cocky, then they can become dangerous. I prefer experts who have experience to accompany their expertise, and who also humbly
    realize what they do not know. Then they are invaluable.

  19. Some folks have been referencing Section 93 as if it were a mandate to get learning. But that’s not what it’s about, IMO. The intelligence spoken of is far more precious than an informed intellect. It is the stuff of which our primal consciousness is made. God is the Father of lights. And as such he increases in glory when our “lights” — or minds (which includes the thoughts of our hearts and brains) — are aligned with his.

  20. Nobody’s misreading him, Jonathan. We’re appalled by the BKP redux. McMurriin described parts of that particular lecture (“The Mantle Is Far Far Greater Than The Intellect”) as “odious and reprehensible.” Those descriptors fit here, too.

  21. In charitable fairness to Stephen C, I don’t think when he’s necessarily advocating for an anti-intellectualism as opposed to intellectualism, as though those were the online two options. (Of course, rejecting false binary thinking is also something I learned in grad school, so maybe Mr C would be suspicious of that, too).

    Nevertheless, it’s still a really weird argument to make; if I were to write an essay about how, say, I used to idolize pro athletes as a child, only to later learn how sleazy some of them are, and that being physically fit is no more likely to make you a good person than being a welder, you all might nod along. But if I then entitled the essay “Why I’m Not an Athlete,” I wouldn’t fool anyone for a second. Just because, say, some gym rats are jerks, it does not follow that I should not exercise. Working out will not inherently make me a better person; but it will make me a healthier one. At a certain point, I’m just looking for excuses not to exercise.

    “The glory of God is intelligence.” “Seek ye out the best books.” “Study it out in your mind.” The First Presidency features two PhDs and a JD, and Joseph Smith studied Hebrew in his downtime. The Lord does not expect us all to be college professors, but he does expect us to exercise our God-given intellects.

  22. @ JLB

    This is one of those scattershot essays that touches on a dozen different points and trades off definitional precision for breadth, so to be more clear re your athlete example. Being in shape is a (positive) characteristic of the athlete category. Similarly, there are positive characteristics of the intellectual category. However, people don’t see The Athlete as a special recipient of higher truth in the way that they do with The Intellectual. Adopting the label “intellectual” implicitly says “I’m a generally erudite, sophisticated, wise person,” and my point is that technical training makes you those things only for a very limited space, and that any claims beyond that are pretentious. If the label “intellectual” were to have as much gravitas as, say, “technical specialist,” I would be more okay with adopting it.

    “The Lord does not expect us all to be college professors, but he does expect us to exercise our God-given intellects.”


  23. Just one more thought to add:

    For so many years, people like Boyd Packer were afraid of anyone saying anything that might damage the testimony of an “average” Church member—say, a 75 year-old grandmother or a 17 year-old youth whom church leaders wanted to serve a mission. Then the internet age pretty much caught the Church flat-footed, and it was unprepared to deal with uncomfortable questions that members could access on the internet. So the Church is trying to play catch-up ball, and we thankfully have Russell Ballard telling Seminary teachers to confront issues head-on. Young people are leaving the Church in droves, as Marlin Jensen admitted. But I personally believe that the Church culture is embracing this new approach very slowly. However, I do think that in some ways, the Church is trying to be more intellectually Credible.

  24. Stephen, the athlete example deserves a second look. The Olympics are underway, after all, and a lot of the coverage won’t be about how Jane Smith is now the fastest cross country skier in the world, but about Her Story and how it Tells Us Something. Several athletes have in fact been able to turn athletic stardom into political office or cultural status, which leads me to think that quite a few people attribute something more than just physical talent and long training to exceptional athletes. But, to respond to JLB, the training that goes into an outstanding athletic performance doesn’t actually make you any healthier than a hobbyist, and it may in fact make you a less good person overall; people at all levels of sport can come to identify themselves as athletes in ways that aren’t actually beneficial. So someone could in fact write an essay that said: I’m an athlete, but that’s not my identity, and athletic training hasn’t made me any better at anything outside of a narrow range of athletic activity.

    I think Stephen’s saying that intellectual activity is good and useful, but intellectual identity is often useless, which leads to people getting mad at him for saying that intellectual activity is bad. I see lots of interesting intellectual going on in lots of places, but also lots of useless intellectuals, so I tend to think Stephen is on to something.

  25. Re Rob’s 5feb comment (@11:37am) about Cantorianism vs. the most simplistic models of the Big Bang, etc: Note, for example, this arguement /observation about Joseph Smith’s teaching according to Bushman (_Rough Stone Rolling_, p. 454): “Alexandre Koyre in his seminal study _From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe_ posed another problem. ‘An infinite and eternal world…can hardly admit creation. It does not need it; it exists by virtue of this very infinity.’ If the universe is endless in time and space, what need for a God? Rather than struggle against the universe’s infinity, Joseph [Smith]’s revelations accepted it. All matter was as eternal as God, he taught.”

  26. Hmmmm. Interestingly (to me, in any case), Rob comments: “that reality is that all things, ever to be known, understood, discovered, etc, is just a finite and real number. It may be ever increasing on a continual line moving forward forever, but will always and forever be a growing countable finite set at any given moment.”

    Perhaps similarly, the beginning of a random science-news webpage (hosted at pr.Princeton-dot-edu) reads:


    “April 25, 2002

    “New Theory Provides Alternative to Big Bang

    “A new theory of the universe suggests that space and time may not have begun in a big bang, but may have always existed in an endless cycle of expansion and rebirth.

    “Princeton physicist Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok of Cambridge University described their proposed theory in an article published April 25 in an online edition of Science.

    “The theory proposes that, in each cycle, the universe refills with hot, dense matter and radiation, which begins a period of expansion and cooling like the one of the standard big bang picture. … … … “

  27. @ Kaigh all and Rob: I’ll be addressing scientific hypotheses about the beginning and end of the universe and what it means for LDS cosmology in a future post, so let’s hold off on that subject until then.

  28. I am an intellectual. I have a PhD and work at a large private company doing “science.” Ok. I go to meeting and answer a lot of email, but still. Just declaring my biases at the front. I don’t know why we would be afraid or not want people to be experts in their field, which is what an intellectual is for scientific or academic fields. If the church truth claims don’t hold up to scrutiny by scientists , historians, and other intellectual then the church has a problem.

  29. Brian G,
    To be learned is good if one applies wisdom and logic, especially in light of God’s word. The problem I see too often is that the more education someone has the more they sway towards atheism and the rejection of all things godly. The well established intellectual fields of science and math pretty much have already chalked up God’s word as mythical. They want a particularly secular godless answer for our existence and purpose. None of the established intellectual sciences recognizes the very tenants of our core, fundamental religious beliefs. If everything God says is true regarding the creation, fall, resurrection and eternal life, then the intellectual sciences are completely wrong where it matters most. That can even be applied to things like the Book of Mormon. If the BOM really is what it purports to be then not only are the intellects of American history wrong, they are completely wrong.

    Holding up to the scrutiny of these intellects means nothing to me because their very premise for judgment is based on atheism and the outright refutation of God and all His works, at all costs, including lies and censorship of the truth.

  30. “If the church truth claims don’t hold up to scrutiny by scientists , historians, and other intellectual then the church has a problem.”

    I think this is where to OP cuts to the quick. The academically trained do not have a monopoly on all things epistemological. I’ll take the words of the prophets vis-a-vis the foundational teachings of the church any day over the dissenting opinions of intellectuals. The entire academy may combine to prove that the resurrection is pure fantasy–but the testimony of one apostle trumps everything the world might bring to bear on the argument.

  31. @Brian: I always thought the most cutting-edge, interesting work was being done by scientists in the private sector. 

    The OP is clearly not dismissing expertise or the need for specialists, nor is it dismissing the right of such specialists to speak to the very specific problems that they have training in, but I don’t see the Church’s truth claims as being falsifiable using the particular tools specialists pick up in their training. 

  32. Perhaps what’s needing to be realized is the very “tools” specialists in their fields use may in fact be flawed. It reminds me of helping fond a puzzle piece to a jigsaw puzzle last night. We looked and looked and looked, seemingly tried every piece and determined it was not there, that it didn’t exist. Then, at the very last, we found it and it changed everything we had previously thought or supposed.

    Suppose for example that we find that certain sequences of sound coming from the voicebox have actual intelligently coded commands that when done right have physical, seemingly miraculous powers- powers to move mountains and rivers, raise the dead, etc. It changes everything we know about the principles and properties of matter. This reality will actually come to pass, it’s a reality. Just because we haven’t thought of everything doesn’t mean we can rule out everything else not presently understood. That is the #1 flaw of intellectualism, they know not the mind of God (true metaphysics).

  33. To Jack’s comment, I think Stephen is saying something more along the line of Farrar’s frequently quoted idea: “Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.” That’s really important.

    Personal example: I’m a lay seminary teacher, with a group of 30 kids. They ask really good questions, and I’ve developed a kind of “epistemic framework” that I use with them. When it’s a literary or historical, I have a range of commentaries I have loaded on my computer, by scholars like Gordon Wenham, Victor Hamilton, Joseph Blenkinsopp, John Walton, and Kenneth Matthews (who run the gamut of POVs). This is their wheelhouse, and I’ve drawn from them to handle questions on Noah cursing Ham or the Tower of Babel. And it’s fun, because there are really, REALLY considered answers in those places, answers that are (in most cases) way better than anything in our manuals. And when it’s a scientific question, about the material history of the universe, I acknowledge the science (and I’m decently well read there). And when it’s a doctrinal question, or something about the the Plan of Salvation, or about an application to life, I try to draw from the wider canon and the prophets alongside the commentaries, because I believe the Prophets there and that’s their lane. (Plus, you know, the Spirit.)

    And as a starting point, that’s worked really well. It requires me to think about the limits of each one—and I think even prophetic knowledge has limits. I don’t like pulling “Well, the scriptures say this, therefore this science MUST be wrong.” I like to acknowledge that, hey, some people think this isn’t a conflict because X story is this genre; others hold it to be this genre.” or “Some people hold X scientific belief, which seems right, but package it with Y metaphysical belief in the absence of God, which is dumb, because science can’t say that.”

    And the kids have responded well! I hope, at the end of the day, the kids see a mature epistemology being modeled. It’s not anti-intellectualism, but a balanced intellectualism. Which I think is what the OP is getting at.

  34. And Rob, there’s a lot of “maybe’s” going on in your last comment. Sure, the science of gravity or evolution or quantum physics could be overturned by new evidence. And… that’s precisely what science, at its best, is. “Just because we haven’t thought of everything doesn’t mean we can rule out everything else not presently understood” is the MANTRA of science.

    In addition, “the more education someone has the more they sway towards atheism and the rejection of all things godly.” Sure, yeah, maybe. But it doesn’t have to. I believe in the literal resurrection of Christ, and in the evolution of life (guided by God), and in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and that much of Genesis 1-11 is myth or protohistory while simultaneously being “true” in the key points it reveals about God and our relationship with Him, and that when I die I’ll return to live with God and be resurrected, etc. Properly understood, none of these are dominoes: they’re separate issues, to be considered in light of prophetic knowledge but also science, scholarship, philosophy, etc. You, me, Stephen: we need to acknowledge that these realms of knowledge can coexist.

  35. Brian,
    I have an older brother that firmly believes public education is wrecked and forever will be because they took the bible and God out of schools. I think in large part, or in principle, he is correct. When we build knowledge it should first be based off of the word of God and His knowledge and intelligence, wisdom, etc. For example, let’s take evolution- the intellectual study of evolution is done entirely void, and intentionally so, of an intelligent design that caused life to appear and evolve. In fact, the science heads behind this discipline maintain that any inference to God, an intelligent designer or intelligent cause must be dismissed. Why? Because they cannot acknowledge that there is an intelligent purpose or cause to our existence. You see, intellectualism is firmly tied to atheism or ideas that are atheistically entrenched.

    We will never ultimately find the truth without God at the very foundations. God is fundamentally central to all that is true, especially in the philosophy of metaphysics. When properly viewed, with God at the very center, all things truly do denote there is a God, there must be a God, and our very existence points to the veracity of the written word.

    We firmly believe in miracles, in God, in priesthood power, in the resurrection and immortality, the Book of Mormon and bible. None of those realities are recognized by the intellectual sciences but instead are refuted by them as myths.

  36. Bryan S,

    That sounds about right to me. The one thing I’d add — and maybe you’re already doing this with your students — is a sense that the gospel embraces all truth, regardless of where it comes from. And so, even though there may be different ways of investigating truth, whether we’re talking about science, philosophy, art, or religion, ultimately it can all be circumscribed under one great umbrella–the gospel.

    Also, it seems to me that even though it may be wise to yield to certain disciplines when investigating certain truth claims we must acknowledge a hierarchy of truth when studying the gospel. I like the way Dallin H. Oaks puts it (in so many words): we should let have reason of have the first word and revelation the last. Often, good information–the first word–will give us the answer we need without the intervention of revelation. But when revelation comes we must be willing to let it have the last word–even if it differs from the first word. And so, when were dealing with a question such as the literalness of the resurrection we must yield to the words of the prophets — who have spoken clearly on the subject — regardless of what folks from other disciplines might have to say about it to the contrary.

  37. For just one more comment about Cantor, what follows is (per Thomas-Bolduc, 2016) a couple of random quotes from him where he speaks of what he believes to be a nexus between the developments in number theory he was working out and what he held to be the divine.

    From 1908 (if post his mid- “Gilded” Eighties breakdown, if this matters): “I have never assumed a ‘Genus Supremum’ of the actual infinite. Quite on the contrary I have rigorously proved that there can be no such ‘Genus Supremum’ of the actual infinite. What lies beyond all that is finite and transfinite is not a ‘Genus’; it is the unique, completely individual unity, in which everything is, which contains everything, the ‘Absolute’, unfathomable for human intelligence, thus not subject to mathematics, unmeasurable, the ‘ens simplicissimum,’ the ‘Actus purissimus,’ which is by many called ‘God.’”

    And, from early on, Cantor, like so many creative thinkers, ascribed the nubs & gists of his mathematical inspirations as having arisen from an “unknown, secret voice.” … “[T]here are transfinite cardinal numbers and transfinite ordinal numbers, which possess a mathematical regularity as definite and as humanly researchable as the finite numbers and forms. All these particular modes of the transfinite exist from eternity as ideas in the divine intellect.”

  38. And yet, infinity isn’t a number, it’s a concept that means without a limit. It’s an oxymoron to infer an “infinite set” as a set is defined as something finite or having a limit or bounds. Set theory, especially in dealing with infinities is the greatest catastrophe of math theory to ever exist.

  39. Rob, I don’t know math–but it seems to me that compartmentalizing infinity can help us visualize how numbers might cut through eternity in different directions or through different means.

  40. Rob, the famous experiments conducted by German-American physicist Michelson & American chemist Morley during in the Gilded Eighties measured the thought “drag” of the earth through the imagined luminiferous aether — but, alas, none was detected. Then, in 1905, Einstein claimed (it’s sort of confusing, but I’ll try to follow it) that, whereas no known, uniform, ethereal substance seemed to exist within a void, nonetheless there can transverse it photons definitionally of zero mass & travelling constantly & uniformly at the “speed of light.” That said, to theoretically bring an particle that does possess mass to the speed of light would require it to possess supposedly mathematically-infinite mass. Is Einstein’s construct hoowie, in some parts? Even if so, it’s been able to accurately predict certain measurements taken of phenomena in reality, so it possesses quire a bit of usefulness. Of course, there was also the Britisher named Gunter who showed how the slide rule could accurately plot mathematical calculations in 1620. Gunter realized that any segment possesses a Platonic “infinity” of zero-space-occupying-yet-positionally-precise points, as plotted along a log scale (with the “whole” of the rule marked so as to coincide with its plotting of numeric “1”). Perhaps for a real-world corollary: Consider a lone string on a bass fiddle. This full-length of string vibrates at a base frequency we’ll plot at numerical “1.” Stopping the string, however, against the fingerboard half way up its length produces a sound an octave higher, where it vibrates at twice the frequency of that at the string’s base frequency, which we’ll mark at numeral “2.” Half way up the remaining distance, in the manner of Zeno’s paradox, we mark the fingerboard again at yet another octave up, which we’ll mark at numerical “4.” Which we continue doing (Platonically speaking) FOREVER (or, that is, until what physical constraints are involved inhibit our ability or practicality to continue plotting such of these precisely appointed points). In any case, the very endpoint of the bass-fiddle’s string is likewise plotted precisely at mathematical infinity (inasmuch one-over-mathematical infinity is equal to zero).

  41. Keigh,
    There’s a difference between having a potential infinite amount of points in something and what would call an “infinite set” of numbers. I think we can all agree that there are infinite points on a line as far as the concept of there being endless possibilities. The problem is when you try to quantify somerhing that is endless. It’s impossible, it’s not a number. Here’s a godly analogy to my point, we will use a line.

    Suppose we label a precise moment in time on a line. Let’s say we mark a point on my 50th birthday. Now, eternally speaking, and measuring from that point forward, I will go on to live for eyernity- forever, and end up being a part of an endless succession of points in time one after another forever. But, never at any one of those points will I reach an infinite amount of points. In fact, I am no closer to reaching an infinite point now than I will be in a 100 billion years from now. Infinity, as a presumed actual set isn’t reachable, it doesn’t exist. Numbers, as applied to infinity is not possible. Our counting system is a self repeating measurement of 10 over and over again without end. It doesn’t exist as a “set” of things. It’s a system of counting things and it has the capacity to count everything possible forever and ever because it’s principle is self repeating to 10, making a mark and repeat, over and over.

    So, will we exist for infinity? Thats not really proper in light of set theory as infinity as an actual complete set isn’t possible, it doesn’t end, it has no limit. It’s better to say we will exist forever, but that increasing number is always, at any moment or point, a finite number and thus countable.

  42. Rob: Two questions, tangentially related to each other, if that (with apologies to the OP for thread jacking). (1) What quantitity of time, however _time_ might be precisely defined, has transpired while all of matter has “existed”?* (2) How much matter has ever (thus) existed? Assuming the answer to Q #1 to be infinite, this of course doesn’t imply that that to Q #2 must be, too. But that the first “time”-span is “infinite” at least breaks the ice, so to speak, for some conceptualization that the latter quantity might be, too, at least IMO. Peoples having conceptualized such thoughts since Adam and/or from time immemorial, many of them have resorted to a representation of such concepts by the figure of the _World as a Dragon who’s eating its own tail_ (the Uroboros. Or…nowadays, simply a lying-down-sideways oblong twisted into a figure eight….)

    * Per LDS Scriptures, such “elements” (_lex_.?) as light, matter, so-called “spirit” matter, & “intelligence” are eternal, their co-existing with God, ablel to be “organized and reorganized” but “not destroyed,” having “not beginning” and “no end.”

  43. Kaigh,
    I have always looked at time in the eternal (Godly view) nature of sequential events- first a cause and then the effect, and so on an on. Now, as to our existence, matter etc-
    It can be strongly argued, philosophically speaking, that from a purely LDS perspective the matter that makes us up has always existed. But, in saying that, we had to have had some sort of self recognized beginning (birth) at some point in the past. So, speaking of time itself, we had a beginning or birth at some distant point in the past. But, this birth is in reality just an effect that succeeded the cause. So, we van thus start adding cause and effect backwards through eternity. The point of interest though is that all cause and effect must be connected. So, no matter how far or fast we can count these cause and effects (time) backwards, it’s just an ever increasing finite amount of cause and effects(time) from where I am right now. No matter how far I keep tracing my past origins it’s always just a finite set of cause and effects. It could count as fast as it is possible, which is unlimited but always those connections to my past just increase in finite amounts forever and ever. The point is that “infinity” as an actual attainable set or number does not exist, it’s not a numerical concept or actual number.

    Now, as to matter and distance. It’s also strongly argued that the universe could literally go on forever distance wise and that matter within the universe could go on forever. But, here is the paradox of it all- it cannot be known or all be comprehended. Why? It’s the same practical logic. So let’s say we exist at a certain point, we will just say for argument sake it’s the middle. Now, let’s start counting distance and matter as we go away in any direction from us. Because all matter and distance must also be connected with time, cause and effect. Now, no matter how far we go, how fast we count and measure we will never reach a point where we have counted an infinite amount of things or measured an infinite distance. Nope, we will always just add finite numbers to an ever increasing finite count.

    Now, the paradox from God’s perspective- God can be all knowing but not have a knowledge of all things because the reality of “all things” is unlimited, it goes on forever. God can only ever know a strict finite amount of things even though he can increase that knowledge forever and ever always adding to it. For example- as God causes worlds to roll forth and he people’s them we can thus say or call that a unique experience for God. So, God can continue to do this forever and ever and thus increase his knowledge of things and events that actually happen. So, he doesn’t really “know” all things because all things are yet to happen and always and forever will be that way. God having “no end” to his works doesn’t mean the works he has already completed go on forever into the past but really just mean that his works moving forward will not end- he will never dissolve and stop doing works.

    All things are numbered to God. So much wisdom in that statement. You can only number finite things. And, you can only know a finite amount of things at any given time because all things are connected and have a finite spatial relation to each other in both sequence (time) and space.

  44. Rob (apologizing in advance for my blather): It’s pretty hard to escape infinity. Let’s take a theoretical ray of light (or perception or whatever such a ray is made of) and send it out into the universe from where ever we are standing. For this ray NOT to circle back, its trajectory of course must be INFINITELY straight, for even the slightest curvature will eventually make its arc close upon itself. But, alas, even to come back to its origin, it also much continue on with exactly the same, precise curvature, INFINITELY precise in this regard — otherwise it will spiral. Which might mean it would never comes back to its original position & would always occupy some space that was new.

    Analogously, maybe some infinite (& string-theory like?) “scroll” of the past of Creation might be envisioned as its continually unfolding. (If such a scroll had any heft whatsoever, since it’s infinite, it itself would occupy all of space. Which seems problematic to me. Hence the beauty of having such things be without mass. Or, I suppose, simply for us to conceive of the past as possessing no heft, simply due to the fact that it’s in the past; or, to say that there’s some nominal heft to the more-so present portions of the scroll, but way in the past, it’s become incrementally & exponentially less hefty; or, a host of other fixes.)

    O boy, but wouldn’t any requirement that we, like Google’s search engine, scroll through the entire catechism of every possible point of cause & effect within the past, even before our addressing any question in the present, cause us to over use our source of energy’s bandwidth, so to speak? Or might such a process take such an investment of time so as to overwrite whatever it is that we’d be up to, within our current life & musings? In fact, it’d be impossible, because unlike Google, we’d be approaching a cause-&-effect chain which we’ve now speculated will be INFINITE, after all. So any such “search engine” would have to be instantaneous, for us to even to think that such a thing would be able to work. Or else, if some bits of time & effort _would_ need to be extended in this regard, there’d have to come into play some kind of “as needed” winnowing device, throughout the course of available information.

    Anyway, again, the easiest fixes are to have our metaphysical “scroll” portions adjacent to us in the present to possess such characteristics as zero physical heft, and to have come to us by way of a consistently straight trajectory, and so forth. Well, at least overall & on average or when viewed from afar: this in analogy to how the surface of the earth appears to an observer on the moon or as far away as the sun & (in this latter case) looking through a telescope. One person might be pinging Google Earth from a precipice in Monument Valley & yet another from a glacier on Mt. Shasta, yet, from such a macro view, the shortest-possible arc drawn between such a person A & such a person B would be an arc of seemingly smooth regularity such as that of a ping pong ball: in fact, of that, precisely, of a perfect circle. (And, as mentioned, a circle is a circle only when its curvature doesn’t deviate this way or that from so circumscribing one. Geez, how does the Universe tend to manage that so regularly? Hence so many Greeks’ associating it with their concepts of perfection.)

  45. Physics-dot-Princeton-dot-edu (Steinhardt, 2004): “The new cyclic universe model, a model proposed with Neil Turok (Cambridge), turns the conventional picture topsy-turvy (5, 6). SPACE AND TIME EXIST FOREVER. The big bang is not the beginning of time. Rather, it is a bridge to a pre-existing contracting era. The universe undergoes an endless sequence of cycles in which it contracts in a big crunch and re-emerges in an expanding big bang, with trillions of years of evolution in between. The temperature and density of the universe DO NOT BECOME INFINITE at any point in the cycle. Indeed, they NEVER EXCEED A FINITE BOUND (about a trillion trillion degrees). No high energy inflation has taken place since the big bang. The CURRENT HOMOGENEITY AND FLATNESS WERE CREATED by events that occurred BEFORE THE most recent BIG BANG. The seeds for galaxy formation were created by instabilities arising as the universe was collapsing towards a big crunch, prior to our big bang.”

  46. (Fwiw, here’s more from the Steinhardt’s paper): “THE UNIVERSE IS INFINITE AND FLAT, rather than finite and closed. … In the cyclic model, the branes are drawn together by these interactions, and they collide and bounce at regular intervals. The model goes through the following stages. Each cycle begins with a `’bang,’ a collision between branes that creates matter and radiation.” … “After the matter and radiation have been thinned out, the universe begins a period of ‘contraction.’ But, … our three dimensions do not contract, so the temperature and density do not diverge. Rather, the extra dimension between the [mem-]branes contracts as the two branes approach one another and head towards collision. The contraction ends in a ‘crunch’ at which MATTER and radiation ARE CREATED. … The new matter and radiation are now the dominant form of energy in the universe, and their gravitation causes the branes to begin to stretch again (and, as a byproduct, slow down the motion of branes). The universe has returned to the same state as it was after the last bang and the cycle begins anew. … To a local observer, such as ourselves, each cycle of evolution appears to be identical, and so the ‘cyclic’ appellation seems appropriate. To a global observer, though, the universe appears to be evolving. More entropy is created each cycle and the net entropy increases from one cycle to the next. True, the entropy is diluted during the period of dark energy-induced accelerated expansion, so the entropy density returns to (nearly) zero at regular intervals. However, the total entropy steadily grows, setting a well-defined arrow of time. Yet another viewpoint is obtained by averaging over many cycles. Then, the cycles appear to be minor modulations on an otherwise steady state.”

  47. I think the big problem with the concept of infinity is that we want to quantify it as a really big number. But that is problematic. Let’s take distance for example- is a trillion light years distance closer to infinity than a 100 light years distance? It’s not computable. If the universe goes on forever, a 100 light years distance is no closer than the trillion light year distance to a proposed infinity.

    We also have to assume that God himself exists inside of the universe somewhere. A universe that cycles between death and rebirth is problematic for an eternal God living within this system.

  48. Trying to align off-the-beaten-path, secular theorists with one’s religious eschatology, while always something pretty much hit & miss, can also be kind of fun, I think. But, in response to your comment: Wouldn’t, to an Divine Entity beyond notions of time & space, how long a system exists in embryo, preparatory to the state wherein it could host human life, seem pretty much beside the point? Relatedly, perhaps (& per your second point): instead of conceptualizing His on-going existence WITHIN our own system, as subject to deaths of various kinds & levels, maybe we could, instead, of His more-so residing somehow or another in a way that intrinsically connected to our own & even instrumental over it, while remaining not thus subjected to such personal or overall cataclysms (which seems to be my sense of what the usual & general premises of the LDS who I know tends to be (I might not be absolulely correct about this, though).

  49. I envision God as a being much the same as us just more advanced and clothed in glory. I believe God still requires eating, resting, etc, like us. I also see God as living within the same laws of the universe as us.

    Speaking of “time”, God too is inside the linear sequence of time that the entire universe rolls along to. People say God is outside of time and/or space but that makes no logical sense. God has all things, in vision, before him- the past, as it literally happened, the present, as it happens instantly every moment, and the various potential futures in its myriads of different possibilities. And, God lives in a distinct location in the universe that he calls home.

    I also believe that God must have continual work and causation to maintain order and direction of parts of the universe.

    One thing also to consider is the paradox of the law of conservation of energy. God is constantly increasing in light and glory. But, where is it coming from, or being generated/transfered from? This is where a type of infinity or endless energy concept can come into play. Righteousness is glory and as we align more and more with truth and righteousness not only do we increase in light and energy but so does God’s glory. But mass itself isn’t being converted into energy, it’s just getting more aligned with perfection. As it goes from an unordered state to ordered it gains in energy, kind of like aligning magnets and focusing their fields better. It’s almost like dormant energy until it aligns. Now, if the universe does go on forever and it’s possible to ever increase alignment throughout or outward from any point, then energy fields are going to increase in energy forever. Now, we haven’t even tapped into matter going the other way or inwards on itself and it’s potential endless alignment with its own parts. The end result is the same matter in its own containment ever increasing in energy, becoming brighter and more powerful forever and ever. This explains why God is literally an atomic fusion generator and his appearance so bright and hot. The energy he gains is coming from dormant receptors from within in a continual alignment of his own matter and it’s endless individual subatomic particles.

  50. I really enjoyed that, Rob. It seems self-consistent, somehow, even if this or that aspect remains to be defined or incorporated into it. In my own musings, I wonder if many things within the secular world are part of the development of humankind toward such a state. For example (my selecting these entirely haphazardly): peaceful (& not…) applications of atomic physics; space exploration; invention of digital devices & interactions among them; genetic engineering; & so forth. Likewise, if course, older scientific discoveries & technological inventions. Also various manners & expressions of social organizations & regimes of morality & the like such as various (would-be or accepted) prophets — tribal wise people & judges. And, for what it’s worth: kings; the Vedas; Zoroastrian; Buddhism; Athens; Rome; the Qur’an. Plus Christianity, including, but not limited to, things such as the _Rule of St. Benedict_, _Pilgrim’s Progress_. And, in addition (if not especially?), the “Church of Jesus Christ” (as set in Kirtland, Jackson Co. Mo., Nauvoo and in the State of Deseret & in SLC, at present).

  51. I believe it’s “kooky,” not “cooky.” and “hooey,” not “hoowie.” These are my areas of expertise, and I expect them to be addressed correctly and respectfully.

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