« The 9/11 Report | Main | What Did Joseph Know . . . »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Dave: A Couple of points.

1. There have been a fair number of religious materialists, even anciently, e.g. the Stoics.

2. I think that McMurrin's discussion of Mormon materialism misses the point. He wants to make links between materialism and a kind of mechanistic causal naturalism. I take it that there is something similar in your puzzlement about the usefulness of Mormon materialistic concepts of spirit when the spirits end up "acting the same." The implicit assumption is that materialism is a useful concept in so far as it allows us to come up with materialistic explanations, e.g. ones that are mechanistically causal. However, it seems to me that the point of classifying spirit as matter is that it places spirits in a particular ontological class vis-a-vis God, namely the class of uncreated and self-existent being. This is odd precisely because ontological issues are ignored by the materialism of scientific naturalism, and materialism has very different ontological conotations in traditional theology. Hence, not only does McMurrin's run through the philosophical classifications and pigeon holing of Mormonism not illuminate much (Clark's point), I think it positively obfuscates things.

Dave, I think naturalism, as you point out, tends to be a tad problematic a term due to confusion. I think McMurrin is, given the context, talking about metaphysical naturalism. i.e. the claim that all possible entities are natural entities as opposed to the supernatural. As usually taken this means that there are no entities not bound by the laws of the universe. The FARMS use is more the claim that there are not any entities radically unlike what we encounter in science at this time. Or, the related claim, that we should only accept them when justified by science. (To deal with things like new particles discovered by physics) In practice there is some overlap as it typically just means excluding God, angels, demons and so forth.

I think McMurrin is partially right to say Mormons are naturalists, in that we may traditional supernatural beings beings like regular entities with perhaps only a few interesting features. I'd note though that the denial of the supernatural isn't universal among Mormons. But it certainly is a strong tendency and seems a prima facie view given the KFD and the embodiment of God.

The problem is one of metaphysics versus perhaps "common sense experience." In terms of metaphysics I think a strong case can be made for Mormons as naturalists. (Although I admit I don't favor it being taken too far) In terms of "common sense" Mormons do accept traditional supernatural entities and phenomena. However Mormons tend to assume that these phenomena, like your mentioned "translation" can be explained as advanced technology/skills and thus by the full end of science.

(Sorry for being so long -- I probably should have answered as a separate entry in my blog)

"Joseph's descriptions of angels and the Mormon belief in spirits, a preexistent spirit world, and our spiritual continuation after death sure sound like standard dualism to me."
"Again, since I've never seen a comprehensible account of how Mormon spirits, which act just like Christian spirits, are actually "matter" rather than "spirit," I think the Mormon view is as dualist as the Christian view."

I probably should write up an entry over on my blog explaining the difference.

First note that dualism as discussed is metaphysical dualism. As such it may not make any difference at the phenomena level but would at the metaphysical level.

For traditional Christianity spirits are not objects you can see, interact with or so forth in any normal sense. They aren't even temporal. (i.e. they don't experience change) Most Christians believe that a spirit can become embodied at which time it becomes temporal and so forth. Thus angels can appear taking the form of a person. But you simply can't see a spirit as a spirit nor can spirits as spirits progress or change or have experiences. They can only do so as embodied spirits.

Subtle difference, but important from the perspective of the metaphysics.

The simple way to explain it is that for Mormons spirits are simply a different body. Many Mormon views of intelligence are what non-Mormon Christians think spirits are.

Very interesting. First, in reader response mode, I liked McMurrin's view of Mormon doctrine as having a strong naturalist component as reflected in the rather postive Mormon view of the body, science, etc. One doesn't see many commentators (1) characterizing the LDS position as embracing naturalism, or (2) seeing naturalism as contributing positively to the LDS view of things.

Following Clark, metaphysical naturalism in a nutshell is "all matter obeys natural law, and everything that exists is matter." Along these lines, then, a clearer statement of the FARMS critique of methodological naturalism would be: Historians are justified in limiting themselves to naturalistic explanations. However, historians don't appreciate that spiritual or "supernatural" entities and processes exist as refined matter, still subject to natural law although in a way we do not fully understand, and the historians thereby produce faulty accounts and critiques of LDS history.

That makes the FARMS critique more comprehensible but still less than complete--how is a historian supposed to incorporate refined but undefined spiritual matter, following hypothesized natural laws not yet amendable to discovery by science, into a historical explanation? I'll go page through Faithful History to see if any of the essays touch on this issue.

Nate--Yes, it's clear to me now that philosophers view materialism as simplifying the causality question, whereas the LDS use of materialism is to make human spirits eternal like God rather than creatures of a Creator as in the Christian view.

What then strikes me as worth further inquiry is that the Mormon materialist view ought to consider the deterministic causality consequences of materialism in view of the LDS assumption of human free will and rampant divine interposition in history (what a Christian would call general and special revelation). I think you'll end up with matter matter (subject to deterministic causality) and with spirit matter (where personal will and divine will determine events and actions).

How is God having a "material" body "theoretical"? I can see how one can label "more refined matter" as simply another way to say spirit, yet...historical christianity uses this as a critical dichotomy between two separate worlds of existence & being...which LDS folks simply don't buy. At least Brigham Young seemed to think the gap between these two "material" words was exceedingly...nil.

Dave: I think that the dicotomy you set up between determinism and free will is too sharp. There is a huge philosophical literature on this that Mormons (including McMurrin) ignore. Blake Ostler argues pretty strenuously for libertarian free will, which would set up the kind of dualism you envision. However, there are lots of LDS folks who have read up on this that strongly disagree with Ostler and adopt a compatibilist view. As far as I know Rex Seares is the only person who has actually published anything that uses Mormon theology to attack libertarian free will (there is a dialogue article from a while back as I remember). Also, his Ph.D dissertation also endorses some sort of campatibilist view as I recall. (I glanced through it once on one of my forays to the Harvard Div School library. I miss Cambridge.)

Dave, I think we ought to keep the methadological issue separate from the philosophical ones. The historical issue between FARMS and Signature is basically whether only publically established entities are allowed in explanations. Since God, angels and so forth aren't public phenomena they ought to be excluded. The philosophical issue is that if they are real phenomena, how are we to consider them. In a way they are fairly unrelated topics.

BTW - I'd probably quibble over saying naturalism entails that everything is matter simply because it tends to imply a view of the universe that went out with modern physics. (i.e. what exactly is matter in modern physics? If everything is matter, what are we to make of electromagnetic fields?)

Just to expand on Nate's comments about determinism, one can be a materialist without being a determinist. Quantum indeterminacy as a real feature of the universe (i.e. not as a limit to our knowledge) is non-deterministic, but doesn't necessarily embrace the notion of free will as being sensical. (The reasons get complex and end up dealing with how we view information)

The idea that the difference between the two mattes is that one is passive and operates lawlike and the other is active and operates with free will has a long history going way back to Greece. Orson Pratt appears to me to have vacilated between thinking all matter was intelligent to thinking only some matter was intelligent. However that's not the only way to think about the passage on spirit matter. An other source, that via Quinn, may have influenced Joseph was Renaissance neoPlatonism or even Kabbalism. (Although as in so much in his book, Quinn doesn't really deal with it) However that is *really* difficult to explain clearly so I'll not even try.

Lyle, it might well be that our resurrected bodies are made of spirit matter and not regular matter like we see now. i.e. every hair of our heads may be restored, but its properties may be somewhat different. If spirit matter is different in kind in some way from the regular matter we experience, then it is merely a theory that God's body is the same as our body.

Certainly Brigham Young tended to see the difference bewteen the realms as negligible. Yet at other times he describes the properties of spiritual beings in such a way that their material seems quite unlike regular matter. The problem is that Brigham was very pragmatic and didn't really think most philosophical questions were worthwhile. (In a certain way I agree) What counted to Brigham was the phenomena and not the sorts of things that get worried about a lot in philosophy.

I should add that this is one big problem with McMurrin's book in that it tends to think through Mormon philosophy in terms of traditional (i.e. 17th - 19th century) philosophical approaches. Despite some mention of process philosophy, he really doesn't address the fairly different way philosophy has been conducted the past 50 years. I think there are reasons for this and I may touch upon them in a future reading.

Does "there is no such thing as immaterial matter" necessarily imply that "all is matter"? I don't think that's necessarily the case. Is "red" or "redness" matter? Similarly, is "intelligent" or "intelligence" matter? I don't think this is clear in Mormonism.

Also, if we consider agency as a spectrum, rather than a bare binary property, then it seems possible to me that at some levels matter with a modicum of agency behaves in pretty much deterministic ways, while matter with greater agency doesn't always (though I consider myself to have significant free will and recognize that I behave deterministically in many respects, (in)compatibilism aside).

I think my recent entry on McMurrin addresses this in the discussion of universals. There are, I think, two ways of taking this. One is to say that redness is a particular *relation* between red things and people who see red things as red. Thus it isn't matter alone, but matter refined through relationships. (See the parallel?)

However is that what refined means in D&C 131? Or does it mean something like "ultimate constituent?" i.e. matter refined are the quarks and leptons (electrons, neutrinos, muons, etc.) that make up the matter we experience. This is the approach Orson Pratt took with his intelligent atoms.

The other view might be that spirit is simply matter that is rational. Pratt took this view at times as well. Thus spirit is simply matter that is intelligent. That need not, as with Pratt, imply some individual intelligent atom. It might simply mean matter that is active. (i.e. more in line with what evolution might produce out of passive matter)

The point is that there seems no necessary way to interpret the passage.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Now Reading

General Books 09-12

General Books 06-08

General Books 04-05

About This Site

Mormon Books 2015-16

Mormon Books 2013-14

Science Books

Bible Books

Mormon Books 2012

Mormon Books 2009-11

Mormon Books 2008

Mormon Books 2007

Mormon Books 2006

Mormon Books 2005

Religion Books 09-12

Religion Books 2008

Religion Books 2004-07

DMI on Facebook

Blog powered by Typepad