A few weeks ago, I posted a video on Facebook with a few short sentences relating how I thought the argument for the existence of God based on creation ex nihilo was lacking, and how it exacerbates the philosophical problem of evil. I’d like to follow up on that.
This answer didn’t blow me away.
The ancient Greeks saw corruptibility of the body and the carnal state of man as wholly incompatible with any conception of the divine. The fact that the material world must inevitably corrode and die was viewed as the antipathy of all things eternal. Modern arguments essentially state the same: that any being who wants to be “eternal” must exist outside the systems of the material world in which the laws nature rule and entropy ensures deterioration. God is a kind of magician staring into the crystal ball of our universe but is essentially unaffected by it, and he created the ball in the first place. This answer was a very Greek way of looking at things.
The Early Christian Fathers, prior to the large influence of Greek philosophies about the corruptibility of the body, had different views than post-Nicene thinkers. The doctrine of theosis – of man becoming like God – was far more widely discussed. Along with this idea, the ideas of the exaltation of the body as divine in and of itself and that God was in possession of such a divine body were also more common.
Creation from Nothing Means the Creation of Evil
Modern physics describes a universe in which matter is neither created nor destroyed, but is converted to different forms with accompanying energy production or use. Even the Big Bang theory asserts that all matter was infinitesimally compressed at one point in the past.
Joseph Smith’s metaphysics not only follow modern physics, but also the traditions of the Early Christian Fathers. Joseph Smith taught that spirit itself is of a more pure, unobservable (to the mortal eye) form of matter, and that there is no such thing as immaterial matter. He describes spirit as an incorruptible material, and of the perfected body as the ultimate vehicle of happiness. He also makes the claim that matter and energy are not destroyed, nor created, but that they are preserved.
Joseph Smith describes a God who is, in his physical reality, in time, space, and matter, but who, by mastering all natural laws, transcends time, space, and matter. Just as we transcend the law of gravity through the mastery of higher mathematics and physics, God transcends laws of the universe by his perfect mastery of all its properties. Such mastery allows him to insert himself in time, view potential outcomes, and communicate with us through extraordinary means via the Holy Ghost, or even through what Joseph described as “intelligence.”
The main problem with a God who creates the universe out of nothing, as is described in this video, is that it sets God’s physicality, as described by early Christians, as a problem. Anything in the physical world must be corruptible, so if God created it all from nothing, he did so with the exact specifications of the current universe in mind as part of his grand plan, including the cataclysmic events resulting from the organization of our planet and solar systems. Indeed, every natural disaster could be viewed as “an act of God” in that he designed the system to be unstable.
In regards to human beings, if God created us from nothing, he must have created our spirits as they are–endowed with our personalities, including our ability to do evil, and our weaknesses that make evil action possible. He must have designed us, like the universe, with fundamental flaws of reason and passion that would set us on a course to do the very evil he commands against in scripture. That pins our sins on God because he created us with evil in our hearts, to eventually sin and fall short. In essence, he created evil by creating us out of nothing (as evil didn’t exist before), then offered Christ to suffer for us because of his decision to create us this way, and then takes the glory to himself. This is a brief version of the “philosophical problem of evil” that plagues most of Christianity.
Anthony Flew said it this way in 1955:
“We cannot say that [God] would like to help but cannot: God is omnipotent. We cannot say that he would help if he only knew: God is omniscient. We cannot say that he is not responsible for the wickedness of others: God creates those others. Indeed an omnipotent, omniscient God must be an accessory before (and during) the fact to every human misdeed; as well as being responsible for every non-moral defect in the universe.”
Creatio ex materia
Hebrews 11:3: “… we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”
This gives way to Joseph Smith’s direction that
“The word create came from the [Hebrew] word baurau, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize–the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos–chaotic matter.”
This is an essential point and one that sets LDS theology apart in a way that allows us to find peace amidst the philosophical problem of evil.
The Lord says in Doctrine and Covenants 93 that we were in the beginning with God–that is, there is an eternal part of us that also transcends time, space, and matter–called intelligence–and that we have always had personalities independent of God’s will, and so our agency is perfectly ours. Evil is a naturally occurring phenomenon, just as gravity and chaos are naturally occurring. Evil presents us with the opportunity for moral agency.
God’s omnipotence is bounded by the natural laws he follows and has mastered. God, therefore, organized the universe as we know it, transcends the laws of time, space, and matter, organized our spirits out of already existing eternal personality coupled with pure matter, and makes it possible for us to overcome any evil we encounter in the universe that we imbibe within us or weakness of personality by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ so that we, too, may transcend these laws and enjoy the same state of perfection that he enjoys. Just as God creates order from chaos, so too does he create growth, sophistication, and perfection of form and existence to primitive beings like us.
Joseph Smith’s explanation of creation, in short, solves the philosophical problem of evil while maintaining a God who is not subject to the constraints of our understanding of the physical universe.
In the same section, Christ tells us that he is sharing this information so that we may know “what you worship.” In other words, so that we can understand the God we worship, he’s telling us these things.
In responding to the question “Where did God come from?”, this response in the video answers the initial question in a way that brings up a worse question.
The LDS response to “Where did God come from?” is that the question is analogous to asking where the beginning of a circle is. Once a circle is closed, there is no tractable beginning, because we have entered dimensionality in which the question is no longer suitable. God’s existence in the physical universe is one in which he can be inserted into any dimensional point at any time. Once that is achieved, how does a linear conception of time reconcile the origins of a non-linear actor in time? The answer is a question.
For a more detailed treatment of the history of this philosophical problem of evil and how people have struggled with it, I recommend David Paulsen’s excellent piece on it: