John Leslie’s afterlife

I don’t get a chance to update this much as whenever I sit down at the computer, which is most of the day, my present circumstances dictate that I should be working, not typing for pure entertainment. But, as this is my online journal, I wanted to record my brief notes on a portion of one of my favourite books by one of my favourite philosophers, Defending Immortality by John Leslie.

Leslie says we have reason to anticipate an afterlife in at least one of the following forms:

1. As Einstein proved, the universe has a four dimensional existence. The past and future is every bit as real as the present since time is relative and there is no way for distant observers to agree upon a single “now”. Therefore, one who, to us, has lived or will live, is living now from the point of view of some observers (potential or actual).

2. Leslie spends most of his efforts presenting his case for the origin of existence, suggesting it lies in the reality of a creatively effectual ethical requirement. I believe he argues his case successfully. The result is that the best way to conceive of the cosmos is as the thoughts of a “divine mind”. We then are the complex thoughts of God, who considers our lives worth thinking about in intricate detail. Leslie suggests that, having thought through our lives to our deaths, God may very well consider it equally worthwhile thinking about an afterlife for us.

3. Leslie’s third option is based on the premise of the existential unity of the cosmos. If we consider ourselves to be the same being over time, despite important changes to our physical and psychological makeup (the body replaces its cells, the psyche undergoes personality changes), then why can’t we think of surviving our death in that the container of our thought patterns, this cosmic existential unity, continues to exist?

While all his scenarios have merit, and are not mutually exclusive, I pick door #2. Now back to work.

Would brothers be

Sacrament Meeting talk delivered in New Glasgow on 21 November 2010.

A recent sociological study entitled American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us had some particularly interesting findings. I am going to quote a passage from the report of the study.

The study … reports that Mormons are among those most friendly toward those of other faiths. …While data suggest that Mormons are among those viewed least positively by many American religious groups, they themselves hold relatively positive views toward members of other faiths, including those outside of Christianity.

Of all American faiths, Mormons are most likely to affirm that there is a “true” faith. However, in what might seem a paradox to those unfamiliar with Mormonism, study data also indicate that while many Mormons believe that there is a “true” religion, Mormons are also the most convinced of any group that those outside their faith — including non-Christians — can “go to heaven” or gain salvation. While this belief is general among American believers, it is, according to the study, strongest among Latter-day Saints.

It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with our doctrine that we hold two superficially inconsistent beliefs. First, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the single true and living church upon the face of the earth; and second, that even those who die without sharing our faith may yet gain eternal salvation.

When we see, hear, touch, smell or taste something we believe that what we have thus perceived is real. Everyone is aware of illusions and other tricks which can fool us from time to time but by and large these are exceptions and, in the absence of reasons to doubt, we accept the evidence of our senses as positive proof. In other words, usually “seeing is believing”.

Now what about the time we do not see or hear for ourselves but only hear about something from someone else who claims to have witnessed it. This happens so often, and the information we obtain in this manner is so often, so valuable that it is entirely reasonable for us to accept the testimony of others and to act on the assumption that there testimony is true.

Again there are exceptions. When someone with a history of lying or exaggerating speaks we take it with a grain of salt. When someone with something to gain by persuading us speaks, prudence requires that we get a second opinion before taking action. However, when someone tells us something, even though it may cause him harm, we take it seriously. When that person has lead an exemplay life and sticks to his story to his dying breath, we have cause to believe the story is true.

Consider the ancient prophets. The books of the Old Testament are replete with accounts of their warnings, and how those who heeded their warnings were saved while those who rejected them perished. Noah and the flood; Abraham and Sodom and Gomorah; Jonah and Ninevah, Moses and the plagues, Jerimiah and the captivity – all these repeat the pattern of good men saying unpopular things which later came true. Those who believed them were saved and those who rejected them were lost.

Consider those whom Jesus called as his apostles. Many were fishermen. In that time fishing was a profitable business but one with a large initial capital requirement, i.e. the boat, nets and gear. At his call they left all this behind and became, as He put it, “fishers of men”. They spent the rest of their difficult lives as full time missionaries and eventually they were martyred. They had nothing to gain and much to lose from following Jesus – unless what they testified about him was true.

They testified of what they saw and heard. They saw Jesus perform many great miracles. They heard him teach uplifting precepts full of love and hope and saw him live those precepts. They heard him testify of His Father and of His plan of happiness for all his children. They heard Jesus declare himself to be the Son of God and promise that if we follow him there would be a way in which we could be joint heirs with him to all that the Father has. They saw Jesus suffer and die but miraculously rise again and promise to go and prepare a place with the Father for all those who believe in him.

The apostles saw and heard all this first hand. They lived and died true to their testimony.

Consider a latter-day prophet. A boy who was confused about which church he should join. Having faith in God and in the Bible he put James 1:5 to the test:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

When he asked God which church he should join it became clear that God had a great work for him to do. Joseph Smith became the first modern prophet. Like his ancient predecessors he too was persecuted for declaring what God had told him and eventually paid for it with his life. Just days prior to his assassination he said:

I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I SHALL DIE INNOCENT, AND IT SHALL YET BE SAID OF ME—HE WAS MURDERED IN COLD BLOOD.

Like the prophets and apostles of old, with nothing to gain and everything to lose he testified to what he heard and saw and gave us reason to believe.

Among that which God revealled through Joseph were the writings of ancient South American prophets, including the prophets named Alma and Moroni. Alma taught that there was a way for us to discover for ourselves whether the testimony of the prophets and apostles were true.

But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, … and ye will begin to say . . . the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

I suggest that Alma’s “experiment” can be broken down into the following steps:

1. Pay serious and careful attention to the testimony. Read it. Study it.

2. Decide whether it would be desirable if the testimony were true.

3. Start acting as if the testimony were indeed true.

4. Consider how this makes you feel.

Here again is how Alma describes how you should expect to feel if the words are true:

  • It begins to enlarge your soul
  • It begins to enlighten your understanding
  • It begins to be delicious to you

Does it make you feel as if you are a part of something great? Do you have a better understanding of the purpose of your life? Do more things make sense to you? Do you feel happy? Content? Peaceful? Even when trouble comes, do you feel a comforting feeling that things will be all right as long as you live true to these words.

Moroni taught a similar principle. Speaking of the testimony of the prophets and apostles he said,

… when ye shall receive these things, … ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Just as Alma tells us to awake and arouse our faculties, Moroni tells us to ask with a sincere heart and real intent. And to ask in faith, but remember that Alma told us that the mere desire is the beginning of faith. So if we truely want to know if the words of a prophet are true, and we hope they are, the Holy Ghost will give us the feelings that Almoa spoke about and we will know for ourselves that their testimony is true.

In 1820 a 14 year old farm boy wanted to know if the words of the apostles were true. He hoped they were, he read them, he pondered them and he acted upon them. He asked God if they were true and found out for himself. He said:

I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. . . . When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

Joseph Smith’s prayer was answered. He discovered that the testimony of the ancient prophets and apostles were true but that the full truth, and the authority to teach it, was lost and had to be restored to earth, and that he would be the instrument by which the full truth would be restored.

Since then millions and millions around the world have heard the testimony of Joseph and have put his words to the same test and received the same answer – that they are true. That God lives and that he has once again established his church, with the full truth as well as his divine authority to teach it. That is why we declare the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint to be the only true and living church upon the face of the earth.

But what is the purpose of this church? Is it only to save the several millions who belong to it and to cast away the countless billions who do not. The Lord has declared his work, and the work of the church, to be to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, all men, and women. To that end we are engaged in a great missionary effort, in literal fulfillment of ancient prophecy that in the last days the Lord would gather Israel from out of all parts of the earth. To that end as well we are engaged in another great work, the geneoligical record extration program by which all those of God’s children who died without the gospel are identified and for whom saving ordinances such as baptism can be done performed.

Church members collect the records of deceased ancestors and thake those records to holy temples where they act as proxies and are baptised for their ancestors. Jesus taught that baptism was essential for all those who would enter the kingdom of heaven and so we are baptised for all those who did not have that ordinance performed in life. They are then free to accept or reject that work but modern prophets have declared that there are very few who do not accept it.

Joseph Smith said, “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead.” The church employs modern technology to help us fulfill this responsibility. Members as well as non-members are encouraged to register on new.familysearch.org where the largest geneological database in the world is freely available to all. There we can discover family members we were not aware of and we can also add new information that the database may grow.

The work of seeking our dead builds family ties that extend from this world to the next. Performing temple ordinances for those unable to do it themselves helps us become more like the Savior who did for us what we could not do for ourselves regardles of how much good work we do. Through this great work we strive to unite all of God’s children, living and dead, into one eternal family unit and give effect to the prayer of Robert Burns who wished that whether in good times or in hard we would remember,

That man to man the world o’er would brothers be for a’ that.

Today in Church I . . .

Today in church I got to:
1. speak about how the Reformation made it possible for people to have direct access to the scriptures and a personal relationship with God, rather than through a Priest and how the Restoration gave us even more scriptures and a better understanding of God;
2. lead a discussion of Hosea and the importance of worshiping the one true God and not false idols;
3. lead another discussion on the proper performance of priesthood ordinances such baptism, confirmation and bestowing the gift of the Holy Ghost;
4. receive reports on the home teaching program whereby every member of the Church is contacted each month to offer help and encourage faithfulness;
5. fast and donate the money from the missed meals to help the poor.
The old Chinese proverb says: tell me and I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand. I’m glad the Lord established a Church that so fully involves its members in his work. Some people say they don’t need to participate in a church. I say, where else can you get opportunities for personal growth like this? There is no guarantee that participating will make you good, but it will make you better.

Is Faith Reasonable?

There are some who subscribe to the view that faith and reason are diametrically opposed, mutually exclusive concepts. There is another view.

Paul defined faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I am not going to investigate the original Greek as it is this common English translation that many accept as the basis for their own understanding of faith. I am not concerned with what Paul actually thought about faith, or what those who have closed their minds to the subject think of faith, but whether there is a way of reconciling faith with reason persuasively. I think this quote is a good basis for such a discussion.

The terms “substance” and “evidence” should strike those of the initial view as properly associated with reason rather than faith. “Substance” very much implies the stuff of this world with which we interact in very familiar and ordinary ways. “Evidence” is a legalistic term that refers to a fact, the truth of which makes another fact more likely to be true. For example, the fact that I am married is evidence that I live with my wife. We could be separated but common experience suggests that most often married couples do live together and so, it is more reasonable to believe that since I am married, I live with my wife. It is a reputable presumption. If I have signed a separation agreement it becomes reasonable to suppose that I do not live with my wife.

Neither the fact that I am married, nor the fact that I have signed a separation agreement, will provide absolute proof that I live, or do not live, with my wife. Only if someone stakes out my house, or hires a private investigator, and applies the ensuing concrete observations to a criteria he establishes as constituting the condition “living with” will he be justified in concluding with reasonable certainty that we do, or do not live together. Any indirect evidence, circumstantial evidence, is only suggestive and not conclusive.

Paul’s wording refers to this. “The evidence of things not seen” could be rendered “facts which we perceive directly which suggest that other facts, which we do not perceive directly, are nonetheless true.” This is faith. We are driving along an unfamiliar highway winding through the mountains. We see a sign indicating that there is a sharp turn ahead with a reduced speed limit. What do we do?

One course of action would be to pull over, get out, carefully walk to the turn and look around to see if whoever erected the sign got it right, or even whether there is a road there at all rather than simply a cliff over which we would have driven to our doom. That is not reasonable. What is reasonable would be for us to act on faith. The sign, plus all we know about criminal negligence, personal injury claims, insurance premiums, etc., plus our previous driving experience, plus the previous driving experience of others, all give us ample evidence, albeit circumstantial, to reasonably conclude that the sign is correct and we can proceed safely to navigate the turn at the recommended speed (or even a little higher depending on our assessment of our own driving ability, the condition of our vehicle, the weather, etc.) We are not certain, based on our own personal knowledge, that it is safe to proceed but we proceed nonetheless. We have assessed the evidence of the unseen, made a reasonable judgment call to proceed, and hope that we are correct.

The point is that it would be ludicrous (i.e. incredibly unreasonable) for us to insist on direct personal knowledge of every relevant fact before making a decision. In other words, not to exercise faith, not to base decisions on the evidence of the unseen, would be unreasonable. Therefore, the exercise of faith is reasonable.

There do appear to be some who insist that if you have any reason whatsoever to believe something is true, you are not exercising faith. It is only baseless, unreasonable belief that satisfies them. I do not know what faith these people espouse but it is not that of Paul. If that is what those who take the view of which I initially spoke decry then let us all joint them. A faith that rejects reason is unreasonable. A view of rationality which rejects faith would produce psychosis.

One substance

The Athanasian Creed says:

“Now this is the catholic faith: We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being. . . .

What the Father is, the Son is, and so is the Holy Spirit. . . .

“For this is the true faith that we believe and confess: That our Lord Jesus Christ, God”s Son, is both God and man.

“He is God, begotten before all worlds from the being of the Father, and he is man, born in the world from the being of his mother — existing fully as God, and fully as man with a rational soul and a human body; equal to the Father in divinity, subordinate to the Father in humanity. . . .

“Although he is God and man, he is not divided, but is one Christ.

“He is united because God has taken humanity into himself; he does not transform deity into humanity.

“He is completely one in the unity of his person, without confusing his natures.

“For as the rational soul and body are one person, so the one Christ is God and man.

Wikipedia says:
“The ”Athanasian” Creed boldly uses the key Nicene term homoousios (”one substance”, ”one in Being”) not only with respect to the relation of the Son to the Father according to his divine nature, but that the Son is homoousios with his mother Mary, according to his human nature.

It might be foolish to even try to apply logic to this alphabet soup of self-contradiction but if Christ is one in being with God and Mary is one in being with Christ, then is not Mary one in being with God. Doesn’t this mean there ought to be a quaternity rather than a trinity?

A prophet

Brigham Young, August 24, 1872: Journal of Discourses

“How much matter do you suppose there is between here and some of the fixed stars which we can see? Enough to frame many, very many millions of such earths as this, yet it is now so diffused, clear and pure, that we look through it and behold the stars. Yet the matter is there. Can you form any conception of this? Can you form any idea of the minuteness of matter?”

Dark Matter“, Wikipedia

“The first to provide evidence and infer the existence of a phenomenon that has come to be called “dark matter” was Swiss astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky, of the California Institute of Technology in 1933. He . . . obtained evidence of unseen mass. . . . Assuming that the visible material makes up only a small part of the (galaxy) cluster is the most straightforward way of accounting for this (his findings). Galaxies show signs of being composed largely of a roughly spherically symmetric, centrally concentrated halo of dark matter with the visible matter concentrated in a disc at the center.

“… the Milky Way is believed to have roughly 10 times as much dark matter as ordinary matter.

“. . . In 2005, astronomers from Cardiff University claimed to discover a galaxy made almost entirely of dark matter, 50 million light years away in the Virgo Cluster, which . . . does not appear to contain any visible stars.”

Pie chart showing that the bulk (96%) of the mass (matter and energy) in the universe is invisible.

A true Father

It is impossible to believe God to be omnipotent, omniscient and all-loving and yet to have created nothing more than pets, forever unable to understand him let alone to become like him. We can, and must know him (John 17:3), become like him (Matt 5:48), and share everything he has (Rom 8:17) . Anyone who denies that we are literally his children abases Him by denying to Him at least one of those three characteristics of godhood – omnipotence, omniscience, and an all-loving nature. To think that there are some who think we diminish God by suggesting that we can become like him when the opposite is true. A god who would choose to create pets rather than children does not deserve the appellation “Father”.

“I am” or “I will be”

I just read the preface and introduction of The Physics of Immortality, by Frank Tipler. This is going to be an interesting book. He points out that where the Bible quotes God as referring to himself as “I am that I am” it is really a mistranslation of the Hebrew which actually uses the future tense and should be “I will be that I will be”. Interesting in light of LDS doctrine that eternal life = eternal progression. Even God is in the process of becoming.

Interesting to compare this with a literal and absolute characterization of God as “unchanging” and all that implies for his ability to experience, perceive and feel. It requires that every instance ascribing emotion to God be taken figuratively or that any temporal context be disposed of. The latter is not hard to accept. But God told Moses that it his work and his glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Does his glory not then increase as he accomplishes his work? Maybe he doesn’t change but his power increases.

That’s an interesting thought. Being omnipotent he can do as he will. But he chooses to restrict his power to allow us our freedom. We thus become a means by which his will/work is accomplished. As our efficacy increases so does his – albeit only due to this self-imposed limitation. So again, he remains unchanged though important characteristics/attributes such as his glory/power do change.