The planets which move in their regular form

Do all things denote there is a God? Do the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form, witness that there is a Supreme Creator?

Or is the argument for Intelligent Design bunk?

Yes, the lede is deliberately provocative. The central premise of intelligent design is the same teleological argument used by Alma: the complexity and order of life and universe prove the existence of a Supreme Creator / Intelligent Designer. What are we to make of Alma’s claim? What seems especially striking about Korihor’s confrontation with Alma is that he seems to cement his demise by rejecting Alma’s testimony, and it doesn’t seem fair to have his eternal spiritual welfare hinge on his accepting a fallacious claim. It also seems hard to deny that Alma is inspired when he testifies on behalf of intelligent design, as he strikes Korihor dumb in God’s name moments later, leading even Korihor to acknowledge that “nothing save it were the power of God could bring this [curse] upon me.” Finally, Alma invokes the teleological argument as deducing God’s presence without relying solely on faith, suggesting that Korihor can only deny the soundness of the observable evidence of God’s existence by stubbornly and categorically refusing to acknowledge God.

I understand the arguments against the teleological argument (nature *is*, it has no purpose; infinite regression of designers), but I tend to think that God reveals his fingerprints in the plain-reading of his creation. He’s found and understood by children better than learned men who think they are wise. For that reason I wonder if our spirits, by nature, so to speak, recognize nature’s divine purpose and order, and wonder if we lose that capacity only through intense indoctrination in the theories of men, theories which lead most to imagine that the mysteries are punctured by scattered discoveries of proximate causes.

So getting back to the beginning, in a less-than-orderly fashion, does the motion of the earth and planets denote there is a God?

59 comments for “The planets which move in their regular form

  1. I believe, and feel, deeply in my soul and entire being, that yes, nature does indeed testify of God.

    It is one of the few, or maybe even ONLY, things, experiences, sights, wonders, what-have-you, that can, within half a minute or so, calm everything whirling about inside me.

    Now, if I only lived outside 24/7, then I guess my diagnoses wouldn’t be much of a problem! I need to go out more, I stay inside like a hermit too much!

    I love, love, LOVE the outdoors, nature, the splendor thereof, the FEELING in my heart, my bones, my SPIRIT; the feeling in the ESSENCE of who I am, that I feel God’s signature everywhere . . . .

    Even in places some might deem ugly, like the expanse of desert and dry, brown mountains and hills between St. George and Las Vegas; I feel Him there.

    A simple sit out on the front steps in the sunshine on a fall day, with the faintest tang of fall chill and scent in the air, and the tips of the leaves just teasing with a drop of color; the whisper of a breeze holding autumn’s promise, with the quiet warmth of the sun entering my soul . . . . . even this alone speaks to me of God’s marvels.

    The grandeur of the Tetons and Yellowstone country, to the sere dusty lakebeds along the desert drive to California, to the forests of the Hudson River Valley, to the spread of plain stretching beyond horizons in Kansas, I feel Him everywhere. My heart and soul beat in rythym with the waves upon the seashore, and the pounding rythyms of Niagara’s falls; He is glory, and these things testify to me of it.

    Thank you for this post. It has reminded me of the soulful peace and sensations that are but a step outside my door.

  2. Woops! I guess I didn’t really speak to the earth and planets thing, but DEFINITELY. Here is a post I wrote, that pulls together in one place some fantastic images from the spacecraft Cassini, of Saturn and it’s moons, with some unusual perspectives.

    To me, the motions of the planets, stars, and galaxies; the images of nebulae such as the one I posted about and included re: Christmas; to me, this dance of elegance, fury, and magnificence is also a testimony of our Creator. (Scroll up and down to get the top of the post to show; stupid template often screws up with photos).

  3. Does the complexity of creation prove that there is a god? No.

    Does it testify of God, and give one an opportunity to invite the Spirit into one’s heart, and know for certain through that proof? Yes.

  4. “…the complexity and order of life and universe prove the existence of a Supreme Creator / Intelligent Designer.”

    “Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.” —Charles Mingus

    So no, I don’t think a truly Supreme Creator would make anything complex. Maybe it just takes a bigger mind than yours or mine to comprehend the simplicity of the universe.

    But to answer the question at hand, does the universe prove the existence of a Supreme Creator? It could be that, or it could be the Big Bang. It’s hard to tell, but I’m pretty sure it’s one of the two.

  5. Matt,

    I think the problem with your provocation, and with the entire thrust of the I.D. argument, is that it insists a mutual exclusivity between “creation” and “proximate causes.” Would Alma have been crestfallen if someone had explained to him the “proximate causes” of heavenly motion — mechanics of gravity and orbits? Mormons, of all people, should be interested in “proximate causes,” believing, as we do, and as Jim F. so poignantly put it once, that “God exists in the world in something like the way we do.” We believe God’s creative power resides in him mastery and accumulation of “proximate causes,” not his transcendence of them. The thing that turns me off to the I.D. movement, even though nature certainly does denote to me that there is a God, is that it treats belief in God like a belief in Santa Claus: be careful, because if you think too hard about the mechanics, you’ll realize the implausibility. Evolution has no interest in disproving God, but, to the religious person, explaining his methods. It can accommodate a religious worldview without insisting upon it.

    Also, applying “I.D.” to astronomy has much different ramifications than it does in the realm of biological evolution, since, at least in the post-Galileo era, the hermeneutics of the heavens aren’t so religiously and politically volatile as the hermeneutics of Darwinianism. I think it’s a little disingenuous to recruit Alma to the current I.D. cause.

  6. I think the reason that I dislike ID (while, with Alma, essentially thinking it is true) is because ID is a trojan horse designed to sneak creationism into a place where it has been (rightfully) kicked out. Satan’s favorite trick is mixing truth and error, and here he’s done it in spades with ID by combining a basically true idea with a nasty, grasping, politically-motivated agenda. Those who accept ID’s agenda take their truth with a chaser of guile and those who reject it because of the guile often end up rejecting the truth it contains without consciously articulating why.

  7. Matt – I do believe that God created the heavens and the earth and life upon the earth, etc. And I especially believe in Ariel’s statement. Perhaps, I am misinterpreting your comment, but it seems to me that you are equating the belief that God created the planets, stars, and life with the theory of Intelligent Design. If that is what you did, nothing could be further from the truth. I believe that the earth was designed intelligently by the Gods before the physical creation started, but I wholeheartedly reject the theory of Intelligent Design. If that seems incomprehensible to you, then I don’t think you are familiar enough with the theory of I.D.

    “Intelligent Design” has an intelligent Designer intervening / interfering with the natural process of evolution at several critical junctures. There are many reasons for people who believe that God is the Creator to reject I.D. Some may because they reject evolution entirely. Others may because they believe God used natural laws to start creation and then let it take its course without having to interfere. I feel that I.D. was cooked up by religious people who are trying to “steady the Ark”. God can fight his own battles, he does not need his believers to claim he created the world someway that he has not revealed. When I.D. is demonstrated to be incorrect it will make believers in God look like idiots needlessly because God never claimed he performed the creation the way the theory of ID puts it.

    It is fun to speculate how creation was done. I do it to. But, we need to remember to not confuse the theory of Intelligent Design with the belief that God created the heavens and the earth. And we need not consider Intelligent Design a science or teach it in a science class (you did not suggest that, but I live in Kansas and I am tired of the IDer’s forcing their theory into our state’s science curriculum). Here is a link to interesting attempts to reconcile LDS scriptures with scientific discoveries in the origin of life on earth:;f=4;t=000736

  8. I believe that all things testify of him (other scriptures make that point), but what is the content of that testimony?

    Interestingly, the Lectures on Faith say:

    “…it is necessary to go back and show the evidences which mankind has had, and the foundation on which these evidences are, or were, based since the creation, to believe in the existence of a God. We do not mean those evidences which are manifested by the works of creation which we daily behold with our natural eyes. We are sensible that after a revelation of Jesus Christ, the works of creation throughout their vast forms and varieties, clearly exhibit his eternal power and Godhead.” (Lecture II, emphasis added)

    This is different from how we usually think of it. But even in the confrontation between Alma and Korihor, Alma cites the testimony of the scriptures and the prophets before invoking “all things.”

  9. Manual trackback to this post, since Blogger lacks trackbacks. There are questions as to whether Alma’s argument is consistent with Joseph Smith’s mature views on the nature of God, and also with the ancient Hebrew worldview from which Nephite culture sprang.

  10. Thanks for everyone’s comments. I don’t have much time for blogging today, but wanted to quickly answer some questions.

    Ariel, I like your formulation. If the natural order does not prove but testifies of God’s existence, what is the nature of that gap separating them?

    Otto, I have a different perspective of ID. Rather than reassure believers that God’s work couldn’t be done by man, it warns non-believers not to foolishly think that their finding a few proximate causes means no one with “mastery and accumulation of proximate causes,” as you put it, is guiding the whole process. (By including his testimony that “all things upon the face of [the earth]” denote a God, I don’t think we can distance Alma from the biology-focused teleological argument ID rests upon.)

    Julie, is it Alma or Darwinians that “combin[es] a basically true idea with a nasty, grasping, politically-motivated agenda”? (Which combination appeals to those convinced the world would be better without religion?) I fail to see how Alma’s, or ID’s, insistence that the natural order testifies of a Supreme Creator or Intelligent Designer, is “nasty” or “grasping.”

    Enochville, Alma doesn’t say he “believes” God created the universe, he says that the nature of the universe, and life on earth, *denotes* *witnesses* and is a *sign* of God’s existence in the same way the scriptures and prophets do. One can reject the testimony of the scriptures, prophets and nature, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t speaking clearly.

    Jared, that’s an interesting quote. Can you post it in its entirety, because from this part it appears that the speaker and hearer assume there are “evidences” for God from natural observations. The sentence you emphasise seems to say that once one has a testimony of Christ and recognizes him as Creator, the variety of the natural world is evidence of his great power, and not that one needs a testimony to see evidence for God in nature. (Hopefully the entire quote will shed light on this distinction.) Regarding the ordering of Alma’s chain of testimony, I read him to be ending his argument with the evidence of earth as a way of emphasis, “Heck, you don’t even need to accept the human-based witnesses of prophets and scriptures, who can lie. *Even* earth and space, for crying out loud, say exactly the same thing.” (My reading is based on his introducing the clause with “even the earth . . . “)

  11. Matt,

    [I.D.] warns non-believers not to foolishly think that their finding a few proximate causes means no one with “mastery and accumulation of proximate causes,� as you put it, is guiding the whole process.

    I find it amusing that the advocates of ID have been trying so very hard to distance themselves from the rhetoric you’re using–i.e., the “foolshness” of “non-believers.” Non-believers in what? The I.D. folks won’t even say the G word, in order to come across as scientific and objective.

    By including his testimony that “all things upon the face of [the earth]� denote a God, I don’t think we can distance Alma from the biology-focused teleological argument ID rests upon.

    Fair enough. But if all things denote there is a God, it would seem that uncovering more “proximate causes” would result in more evidence of his existence. In other words, the hermeneutics of nature would do their testifying by themselves, without help from the I.D.ers, who take the opposite tack: pointing at the gaps in scientific knowledge as evidence of God.

    This strategy would seem to me to undermine God’s purposes and His work. If belief in God is too dependent on the mystery of his methods, that belief unravels when those methods become demystified. For example, if I believe that God, in some mysterious and unfathomable and unquantifiable way, keeps the earth in rotation around the sun, and my belief rests on the idea that only God can account for the mysterious, unfathomable, and unquantifiable, and that’s what makes him worth believing in, what happens when I learn about gravity and orbits, etc.? Seems to me that Creation’s power to testify comes from a sense of _aesthetic_ wonder, not from science’s (ever-decreasing) inability to provide explanations about methods — or, as you say, “proximate causes.”

    When the school board in Kansas recently reworded their science curriculum, they changed their fundamental definition of science. They removed the phrase describing science as “searching for natural explanations of observed phenomena.” Which, one can only assume, means that they want to leave the door open for “supernational explanations.” I.D. encourages sloppy science. That doesn’t do God any good. He doesn’t need that kind of help.

    And that’s where I think I.D. fails in general, and fails Mormons in particular. As poeple who profess a belief that God is embodied and that spirit is a refined kind of matter, we don’t really have a place for the “supernatural” in our theology, but rather a place for the “yet-to-be-explained.” And the concensus, from the brethren (not to mention from the science faculty at BYU, who have lobbied strongly agains I.D. to the Utah legislature), seems to be to step back and let the scientists work on the explaining. There’s no reason that has to interfere with people finding the divine through the microscope or telescope, after the manner of Alma. And the idea of taking a teleological argument (i.e., the universe was designed by a Designer with a Purpose) and turning that into the teleological methodology of I.D. (i.e., science should be designed to give God due credit for Creation) threatens to weaken the scientific enterprise. Steadying the ark indeed.

  12. You’re mixing apples and kumquats. The so-called “Intelligent Design” theory is a counter-attack on biological evolutionary theory which argues that there are aspects of life so complex that they could not have risen from natural selection alone. Alma’s argument does not really mention the complexity of life which is the focus of the evolution vs. ID debate. He is going to a deeper level — his point is that that there is life at all denotes that there is a God (“ALL things that are upon the face of [the earth]”). The idea that God got life started and then let evolution run its course would be compatible with Alma’s argument but not with modern ID theory. Alma then turns to astronomical phenomena, which also goes beyond the scope of modern anti-evolution ID theory.

    Interestingly, modern cosmology has discovered a large number of fundamental physical constants in the universe. The values of these constants seem to be quite arbitrary, they do not follow necessarily from any understanding we have of physics. However, if these constants varied by even minute degrees, our life-bearing universe would be impossible. For example, if the balance between the force of gravity and the electromagnetic force were to vary by even one part in a million neither atoms or galaxies could exist, let alone life. Nor would “all the planets … move in their regular form.” One can not say that these PROVE that there is a deistic influence in the universe’s creation, but they certainly make the cosmological argument credible as one WITNESS of God’s prescence in the universe, which is how Alma uses the cosmological argument. Many scientists acknlowledge the wonder of this apparent “fine tuning” of the universe necessary to the appearance of life (e.g. Stephen Hawking) who wouldn’t give a half second’s notice to the pseudo-scientific phumpherings of the ID opponents of biological evolution. Alma (and we) are in a much stronger and more sophisticated position in opposing modern korihorism than the Intelligent Design lobbyists.

  13. A few thoughts–I hope not too tangential:
    I reject ID because it is attempting to prove a Designer–prove God…which to me is a violation of the faith premise for the test of mortality.
    I appreciate Jared’s quote–I tend to agree. For most of science–true believers see the wonder of it all and feel more at one with God. Non-believers marvel at the complexity, but are more in awe of man’s ability to figure it out rather than it testifying of some supreme being. For the so-called believers, evolution is an exception to this for much of sectarian Christianity–but there are those who are not in any fundamental conflict over it. For LDS members, it’s maybe easier–I appreciate the comment that we will learn things that “no man had supposed” during the Millenium. Maybe evolution will be shown to be false, or maybe it will be devestatingly, disturbingly correct to an extent that shakes us. I’m sure I will be surprised about the actual answer, regardless.
    As for me, the wondrous complexity does testify of a supreme being, without adding explicit proof. And man’s ability to figure it out is both a testimony of Divine Provenance and the fact that we are the offspring of God.

  14. (hat-tip to Jeff Gilliam, who pointed out this quote to me.)

    I took the text from here.

    [Lec 2:1] Having shown in our previous lecture “faith itself – what it is,” we shall proceed to show secondly the object on which it rests.
    [Lec 2:2a] We here observe that God is the only supreme governor and independent being in whom all fullness and perfection dwells;
    [Lec 2:2b] who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient;
    [Lec 2:2c] without beginning of days or end of life;
    [Lec 2:2d] and that in him every good gift, and every good principle dwells;
    [Lec 2:2e] and that he is the Father of lights.
    [Lec 2:2f] In him the principle of faith dwells independently;
    [Lec 2:2g] and he is the object in whom the faith of all other rational and accountable beings centers for life and salvation.

    [Lec 2:3a] In order to present this part of the subject in a clear and conspicuous point of light, it is necessary to go back and show the evidences which mankind has had,
    [Lec 2:3b] and the foundation on which these evidences are, or were, based since the creation, to believe in the existence of a God.
    [Lec 2:4a] We do not mean those evidences which are manifested by the works of creation which we daily behold with our natural eyes.
    [Lec 2:4b] We are sensible that after a revelation of Jesus Christ, the works of creation throughout their vast forms and varieties, clearly exhibit his eternal power and Godhead.
    [Lec 2:4c] Romans 1:20, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.”
    [Lec 2:4d] But we mean those evidences by which the first thoughts were suggested to the minds of men that there was a God who created all things.

    The lecture goes on to establish that it was God’s interaction with Adam and the transmitting of that knowledge from parent to child that gave man a knowledge of God. I think it could be read a couple of ways–I tend to agree with your first suggestion. It is not as strong as “you can’t see evidence of God in nature until you have a testimony,” but it sure does not put nature first in regard to the initial idea that God exists. But ID proponents make just that argument–that in the absence of any idea that a designer exists, his/her/its existence can be inferred by examining certain aspects of nature.

  15. JWL: I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for introducing me to the word “phumphering.”

    Todd: I agree with your comment except for the phrase “Non-believers marvel at the complexity, but are more in awe of man’s ability to figure it out rather than it testifying of some supreme being.” The non-believer scientists I know aren’t “more in awe of man’s ability to figure it out”–they truly wonder at nature, in a way I think not entirely unlike Alma. I detect in their wonder at creation something vaguely religious and spiritual, although they might not call it that. The difference is that their awe simply doesn’t translate into a desire to assign credit to someone–neither to God, for creating, nor to man, for deciphering. To be sure, there’s professional admiration, just like in any field, but I don’t think the epiphany of a non-believer squinting through a telescope has anything to do with that.

  16. Christian,

    Thanks for your extended comment at your site. Quickly, I don’t think there’s need to argue that Alma’s statement is another Book of Mormon anachronism. (From your argument that Joseph was speaking and not Alma, I assume that you don’t believe the BoM is a historical record and is a narrative expressing Joseph’s ideas, or God’s ideas through Joseph? (Though if you think Alma’s statement is incorrect and represents Joseph’s immature thinking, that rules out Joseph’s introducing God’s ideas into the story.))

    More importantly, I believe it’s wrong to assume that the Mormon doctrine positing God’s being subject to laws to mean that he’s subject to the laws of *our* universe. I believe he used laws from his sphere to create the laws in ours.

  17. I was an anthropology undergrad at BYU, and managed to get through my entire experience there, including a class on human evolution, as a non-believer in evolution. However, after getting out of school, I wanted to look at evolution in more depth. I read a lot. I dug up dinosaurs and worked in the Smithsonian. I enrolled in some post-bach classes in evolution, genetics, and ecology at another school. Then I went to grad school. Through all this close evaluation of the evidence, I finally got what I didn’t get in Sunday School–a clear and overwhealming vision of how the earth came to be. I find attacks on evolutionary theory to be sad, and wish everyone would take a couple years to study evolution before attacking it. It is as amazing as the starry skies that inspired Alma.

    For me, I find that all things help confirm that there is a God. That means quantum physics, astrophysics, evolutionary ecology, etc. They don’t prove to me that there is a God–I take personal and modern-day revelations as my evidence for that. But they do help me get closer to God and to appreciate the nature of the world that He has set up for us to participate in. I still have lots of unanswered questions, but I have no trouble affirming a belief in God and an appreciation for an ancient earth and long lines of family history that include non-human ancestors.

    I think that we Mormons are in a great position to reconcile belief in God with modern scientific understanding. I’m glad we have more evidence for how the earth came to be than did the ancient biblical writers, and more info on other dimensions of reality than some modern scientific researchers. I cringe whenever I hear someone in Sunday School say we didn’t come from no monkeys, just as I’d cringe if I ever heard one getting caught up in the ID debate. As Hugh Nibley liked to point out, we have much more info and are in a much better position in regards to evolution and creation than our more Evangelical neighbors.

    I have seen the entire universe in a baby turtle’s eye…including the hand of the Almighty.

  18. Otto (Comment 13), the understood object of the common words “believer” and “non-believer” is God, no one’s trying to pretend otherwise! And it’s undeniable that many people who have concluded that their ability to learned evolutionary theory means they are wise enough to reject God’s counsels, and that is, indeed, foolishness.

    I don’t believe there’s a difference between our “yet-to-be-explained” and the common use of “miracles” or “supernatural.” Mormons don’t believe science can discover the ways of God, and I don’t believe any Mormon scientist claims that his methods could someday explain how God hears and answers prayers. Nor do I believe any evangelicals believe that God’s ways could never be explained, even by God. They believe God’s power has reasons for it’s being, even if we don’t yet understand them.

    JWL, I’m more interested in the teleological argument, which Alma makes, than I am in its incarnation as ID. I don’t know much about ID, and don’t really have any interest defending it. I do know enough, however, to know that is rooted in the teleological argument, and I’d bet dollars-to-donuts that ID advocates welcome arguments like yours from cosmology. (And I don’t understand why you find compelling a God of the gaps in cosmology but not biology. What difference does it make what branch of science we’re studying when we attribute the unexplainable to God?)

    Jared, thanks for the providing the whole quote. (It seems Christian’s attack on Alma 30 applies here, given that it describes God as an “omnipotent” and “independent being” — ideas incompatible with Christian’s conception of Joseph’s refined views of a God constrained by laws.)

  19. Rob,

    Just to clarify, I believe and accept evolution generally. What I’m most interested in here is whether Alma was right to argue that all things denote their is a God, i.e., have you really seen the hand of God in the eye of a turtle, or were you just projecting your religious worldview onto something that simply *is*.

  20. Matt,
    I’m not sure that this question is answerable. Surely, for the believer, all things denote that there is a God. For the nonbeliever, there be no such evidence. For me, I sense that there are aspects and dimensions to reality that I can’t easily see, taste, hear, or smell. The revealed gospel helps me sense these, and I sense additional confirmation through my experience with the natural world. Without the revelations, without the revelation of Christ mentioned in the Lectures on Faith, I might not have the same experience.

  21. BTW, I got a program for my Palm a couple months ago that plots the planets and all the stars of the night sky for any place and time. I’ve also studied Ancient Mayan cosmology, in which the regular movement of the planets were very, very important to their understanding of the universe. Like sarebare (#1 and 2), I wonder if our modern inside-all-day-and-night lives are distancing us from God. I love reading the anthropological works that give insight into how other people experience nature and spirit. In my own limited way I hope to live Brigham Young’s injunction to seek out all the knowledge of the world and bring it back to its foundation in the gospel of Christ. Without that foundation, that revelation, it is just interesting information. With it, all things find their proper place, and denote that there is a God.

    For us LDS, God is a material reality that we can interact with. Just as it may take hundreds of millions of dollars to create a super collider to enable us to interact with the traces of subatomic particles, it may take a similar high price in personal righteousness to be able to interact meaningfully with God. But just as we can interact with everything made up of subatomic particles without knowing they are there or building a super collider, we can interact with the world God created, and knowing He is there, come to a greater understanding of the universe and our place in it.

  22. the understood object of the common words “believer� and “non-believer� is God, no one’s trying to pretend otherwise!

    I’m sorry, Matt, but the ID movement goes to great lengths to pretend otherwise, and that’s one of the reasons I find it so disingenuous. It has a collusion of plausible deniability going on with the Christian far-right. ID assumes the role of pointing out a gap in modern science, but claims to do so under the guide of “objectivity” not faith. It uses the rhetoric of “design detection,” but tries to maintain science cred by avoiding speculation on who/what the Designer might be. It then turns its back and whistles innocently while the evangelicals in Kansas and elsewhere jump in and fill the gap with God.

    Go to Do a page search for “God.” You won’t find him. To quote from the page: “ID proponents believe science should be conducted objectively, without regard to the implications of its findings.” In other words, it sneaks religion into science by saying that it’s anti-God ideology that has sullied science’s objectivity (as part of their effort to bend science with pro-God ideology), and it’s “objective” science that points up the inexplicable gaps.

    Mormons don’t believe science can discover the ways of God.

    Maybe not all of them. But if we don’t believe science can discover _some_ of the ways of God, what is it exactly that we think scientists do discover? To whom do we (as Mormons) attribute the things science reveals? Have you read Eric Robert Paul’s _Science, Religion, and Mormon Cosmology_? The book suggests that for Mormons science is inherently a spiritual undertaking (and the implication that I take from that is that for many if not most Mormon scientists, that inherent spiritual content obviates the need to dress science in religious rhetoric or bend it to religious ends). The frontispiece of the book says it all. It reads “And God said…” followed by a page’s worth of mathematical formula, ending with “And there was light.”

    If, as you said to JWL, you’re more interested in “the teleological argument” than defending I.D., this thread could go in an entirely different direction. But by aligning yourself and Mormon scripture with I.D. in the original post you’ve assumed a lot of very problematic baggage from the I.D. movement.

    The problem with the ID “God in the Gaps”

  23. woops…

    As I was saying… the problem with “God in the Gaps” is twofold: 1) it carries an inherent injunction to avoid filling in the gaps — otherwise where will God go?; and 2) it suggests that the only place God can inhabit is the gaps in science — rather than Creation as a whole, humanly fathomed or otherwise. It relies, essentially, on the idea of an unembodied God — flexible and immaterial enough to serve as the mortar in the tesselations of terrestrial science.

    Alma didn’t see God in the heavenly motions because he was at a loss to explain them otherwise, Alma saw God there because they’re beautiful.

  24. Otto, I think it’s pretty likely that Alma was at a loss to explain them otherwise, since:

    A) He offered them as evidence of God
    B) There was no other explanation available back then

  25. Matt,

    I think we need to remember that Korihor, after he was struck dumb, did acknowledge that he always knew there was a God. This seems to indicate (to me) that the knowledge of God was not forced upon him by Alma’s appeal to “ID,” or what have you. The simple truth was that Korihor was a liar. Alma knew that Korihor had been instructed in the ways of God and, therefore, in some measure, possessed an understanding similar to his own regarding the creation.

  26. I don’t really know what the theory of I.D. entails, but for myself, I believe that God uses natural processes to accomplish his works; nature itself is in harmony with the purposes of God. It serves to glorify Him, as well, I believe, and it does so in part because it works as it “naturally” does. And that the very nature of Nature, is, I think, well, words just failed me know. Concepts, even. And heck, the hubris of my even trying to sum up the nature of Nature, and how it relates to God, in one sentence.

    Well, perhaps not hubris, but one little ant trying to “see” the whole of a canteloupe. Just couldn’t do it.

    Hrm. Now I feel REALLY, really small. Lol!

    I think Nature works with God (not how an artist works with clay, but rather, how a system, a network, works with those whom directed its assembly, its purpose, its focus. The world around us works to the dictates of Nature, and Nature is the conductor of the symphony. God is the patron of the Nature symphony; he provides the funding, he gets the ball rolling, and the ball, or Nature, works according to its own nature, which is in harmony with the purposes with which God has in mind for it, because I feel the very definition of any tool or process that or of which God uses and chooses to use, means that it is perfectly suited to His need and use. The purposes for which Nature works to its own ends, it thus works to God’s ends. God works with Nature, and Nature works with God, but God is the source, the benefactor, the contributing funder, the beginner of all things.

    I’m not necessarily saying that he just said, “Begin”, and left it at that, but at the same time there is a certain beauty in Him knowing that the processes were suited to what He required of them . . . . it is, of course, for Him to do however and whatever He sees fit; and I have no problem with the idea that He might stir the pot from time to time, or add a dash of this or that. Or bring the “this or that” together, so that they would then combine in the ways that Nature does.

    Anyway, I don’t know if this makes any sense to y’all. I’ve never really crystallized my thinking on this (these) issue(s) before! Interesting discussion.

  27. “I don’t believe any Mormon scientist claims that his methods could someday explain how God hears and answers prayers”

    I will say this: Having communication tools such as cell phones and the internet and their associated technologies certainly makes the answer to whether he possibly could hear and answer prayers much less of a faith based proposition (at least for me anyway) than it would have been 200 years ago. Perhaps this little parcel may serve as a micro-example of our current comprehensive knowledges of the cosmos and the hand of God in such.

  28. Here is the quote we are discussing: “all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator (Alma 30:44).

    I believe that all things denote that there is a God to those who have faith to see it. To those who don’t have faith, they denote nothing to them one way or the other. However, since the earth and the planets were in reality created by God, they will always stand as a witness of God. But, since alternative explanations can be created for their existence, their witness is not conclusive.

  29. I agree, enochville.

    Heck, even if an angel came down and told people, it wouldn’t convince some. Look at Laman and Lemuel, when they saw an angel. Didn’t affect them much, lol!

  30. Otto: Point taken, I was think more like a research engineer (which I just about am) and less like a natural scientist. I stand in awe at nature but also at the ingeniousness of solving a complex problem.

    Matt (w/Otto’s comments): “Mormons don’t believe science can discover the ways of God.”
    I think many Mormons do secretly hope that, or possibly that they can find proof of God….but my reading of the doctrine is that God does not desire to be discovered via methods of normal scientific inquiry… e.g. hypothesis, logic, repeatable experiments. There is no “God Particle”…to borrow a book’s title.

    That said, I think there’s a pretty good scientific case for deducing that the most plausible scenario for the origins of the Book of Mormon are exactly what Joseph Smith says it was. Occham’s razor…when all the facts we know today are taken into account, Joseph’s is actually the simplest. And that is an interesting anomaly…a mind puzzle of sorts.

  31. Matt, I hope this doesn’t become a threadjack, but by way of answering your direct question in #18: I’m not settled about the historicity of the Book of Mormon. I think there are some nontrivial questions. From Jed Woodworth’s interview of Bushman at M*, it seems that not even Bushman thinks it a settled issue. As for the implications, I will say I don’t think an inspired fiction model in which the Book of Mormon is historically fictional—while still being inspired by God—would be viable. I tend to think it either must have a real historical basis, or be a purely human production.

  32. Then it must be historical because, as much as I would like to let myself off the mormon the hook, I just can’t seem to attribute the writing of the BoM solely to the creative genius of mere mortals.

  33. Will said:

    Otto, I think it’s pretty likely that Alma was at a loss to explain them otherwise, since:

    A) He offered them as evidence of God
    B) There was no other explanation available back then

    You missed my point. I wasn’t asserting that Alma did have scientific explanations, I was suggesting that it would be erroneous to consider that lack of explanation synonymous with Alma’s reverence for Creation.

    After all, there were probably some pretty horrible things that Alma encountered in his life that he didn’t have rational explanations for–things that he probably wouldn’t attribute to God or see as evidences of God’s goodness.

    Again, I think Alma’s wonder had more to do with aesthetics than with scientific befuddlement. Standing in awe at the beauty of a painting is much different than standing in awe at the skill of a painter. When a painter A learns how painter B created a particular effect with a particular brush stroke or color combination, that demystification of process doesn’t lessen A’s esteem for B. Appreciation isn’t dependent on mystery.

    I think at the heart of the I.D. movement is a crisis of relevance that, ironically, betrays a fundamental lack of faith: a worry that Nietzsche was right, that God’s power is inversely proportional to the understanding of his methods, and that the expansion of scientific knowledge entails a colonization of the heavens rather than an understanding of the heavens.

    Mormonism, it would seem to me, would be resistant to this crisis: in our cosmology God’s power isn’t diminished by our understanding of his methods; in fact, in the eternal scheme of things, it’s His goal to teach us those methods, not to leave us forever mystified about them.

  34. Otto,

    Like I said earlier, I don’t know much about ID, but I don’t believe you’re characterizing it fairly. For example, fundamentalists aren’t any different from Mormons in their appraisal of scientific progress, believing, like us, that scientists discover laws of God’s creation. (What else would they be discovering?) You write as though there are evangelical scientists or ID advocates who dispute the veracity of e=mc^2 because it marginalizes God, fearing that we’re losing God to science. They know, like we know, that God isn’t going anywhere. The concern is that many people are deceived by their learning, foolishly coming to believe that by identifying proximate causes, like organic evolution, they have solved the mysteries of God, when all they’ve really done is move the ball of mystery. I don’t think evangelical scientists warrant your negative apprisal, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a single one of them who doesn’t share the Mormon belief that God could express his power as a scientific equation. They too know that God’s mysteries aren’t mysterious to Him.

  35. Is there really a difference between Alma’s experience and that of anyone today who will give a little thought to the cosmos–that is, if we’re talking strictly about aesthetics? No matter how deep we dig there will always be something to wonder at. The problem is that it’s been difficult for us (collectively speaking) to let our religious texts take a back seat to the book of nature when dealing with things created–which is an unfortunate dilema caused by the polarization of science and religion (which polarization is the real root of the problem!). Religious texts need not lose their importance because science is able to cast a knew light on creation. In fact, it ought to enhance our understanding of the scriptures by causing us to think differently about them.

  36. Matt, I still think your admitted lack of in-depth knowledge about the I.D. movement leads you to be generous in your assessment of their goals and claims. I think fundamentalists _do_ think about scientific progress differently than Mormons do. If it’s any indication, the fundamentalist scientists who support I.D. think quite differently than do the Mormon scientists at BYU who oppose the I.D. movement. And I think that there are many scientists who would say that the fundamentalists’ problems with Darwinian evolution aren’t categorically different than a rejection of e=mc^2. And in everyday discussions by lay people, in LDS meetings and elsewhere, the “losing God to science” rhetoric is certainly present.

    I think you’d be hard pressed to find a single one of them who doesn’t share the Mormon belief that God could express his power as a scientific equation.

    If God were to express his power as an equation, presumably it would be sound enough that there wouldn’t be a “God constant” somewhere in there, which would be the equivalent of the “gap” that I.D.ers put God in. Thus, if he can express his power in an equation that doesn’t include his own mysterious self in there somewhere, Creation is ultimately, if dauntingly, quantifable. Why, then, should science seek to put him there instead of undertaking the work of deciphering His methods? Likewise, why should we expect all scientists to see God in nature in the way Alma does, unless they arrive at that belief through other, spiritual means first? I.D. relies on the idea that some things in nature are just too complex to ever explain scientifically. That’s why the Kansas school board took out the “seeking natural explanations” wording.

    If the real concern is that people are “deceived by their learning,” that simply means that preachers need to start preaching differently, not that scientists need to start sciencing differently. It’s simply not the scientists’ job to predict how people will react to their findings and frame their results in order to shape the outcome. If society heads in the direction that the IDers want to push the country, the discovery of new “proximate causes” will be more likely to shake a believer’s faith because that faith will rely on mystification. If, on the other hand, religion is more embracing of scientific endeavor, more people of faith will be moved by “proximate causes” to marvel at nature, like Alma.

  37. Re: #34: oh my, that was VERY Funny! (sides hurt from laughing . . . .)

    # 40: “not that scientists need to start sciencing differently”

    sciencing! That’s the coolest new made-up word I’ve heard in awhile. (And I make up new versions of words all the time, in this manner, because it suits the need.)

  38. Otto, is there anything to the claim that along with “sciencing” you often get preaching as vigorous as dogmatic as that of the evangelicals, but from a godless point of view?

  39. Kingsley,

    I don’t think there is much to that claim, frankly. I suppose there are a very few outspoken public intellectuals who who preach the doctrine of atheism and cite science in their sermons, but I don’t think “often” would be a fair characterization. Most scientists who oppose I.D. do so not because they think people should stop believing in God, but because they think scientists work better when they don’t impose upon science religiously-derived preconditions and presumptions. So, I suppose, in that sense, it is “godless” — but of course there are many devoutly religious scientists who think science should remain “godless” as far as methodology and theory go, even if they personally see science within a broader hermenuetic of godly cosmology.

    Beyond that, no, I can’t think of a secular equivalent to Pat Robertson on the 700 Club calling down calamity upon the heathens of Dover, PA.

  40. I like your explanation in your last paragraph, Otto, and agree that this is the problem. I think that there is an agenda behind ID and it’s to put a dose of God into what they see as the hostile secular world of public education, and I don’t begrudge them that. There are millions of people, most of the western world, probably, that are convinced science has ended their need to accept the counsel of God, so I think religious leaders are right to fear they are losing this ideological battle. Just on this thread, several commenters (you may have been one of them, I don’t remember) have suggested that Alma wouldn’t have attributed the marvels of nature to God had he possessed their knowledge of astronomy, and that, it seems to me, is the crucial question. Why do people, even Mormons, think identifying a proximate cause ends the mystery?

    You may be right that I’m too generous in my assessment of ID, but I still have a hard time believing that “I.D. relies on the idea that some things in nature are just too complex to ever explain scientifically.” I thought they teach the more modest claim that some things are too complex to have been achieved through natural selection, and that therefore natural selection isn’t the sole mechanism.

  41. Matt,

    I don’t think I made that claim about Alma (and I don’t recall comments by others that make that claim). I certainly didn’t mean that. I think I asked, rhetorically, if Alma would have been less moved had he had a better grasp of science–but I meant to suggest that the answer to that rhetorical question was a resounding no. I was simply arguing that Alma’s wonder didn’t rely on mystification, even if his wonder was inevitably accompanied by a lack of sophisticated scientific knowledge. I firmly believe that Alma would have still seen God in the cosmos even if he were gazing at them from the console of a state-of-the-art observatory.

    I agree with you that there is an unfortunate perceived polarization between science and religion in America, but I think that’s religion’s fault as much as science’s. Frankly, churchgoers through the centuries don’t have a very good track record when it comes to dealing with scientific paradigm shifts, and it’s no wonder that the scientific community in the post-Scopes era feels threatened by the religious right. Throughout history, it seems to me, it’s been the religious folks that have felt threatened by the looming demystification of “proximate causes.” I also dispute your claim that “most of Europe and blue America” think “God has ended.” In a Zogby poll in Feb. 2004 64 percent of democrats said religion was “very important” in their daily lives, while only 10% it was “not at all important.” The numbers for Republicans weren’t that different: 70/7.

    I also think that polarity is due in part to the perception by the Christian right that removing God from the classroom is “hostile,” while scientists and others (including many religious people) feel that keeping God out of the classroom is just a matter of letting things operate in their appropriate spheres.

  42. I don’t think science leads people away from religion just because it explains the previously unexplainable. It leads them away when it offers explanations that *contradict* the explanations given by religion. For example, science contradicts the idea of a young earth, a global flood, etc. That’s why I don’t think Newton was seen as a threat to religion nearly as much as Darwin. Both explained new things, but only Darwin overturned religious dogma.

  43. Ed,

    Science… leads them away when it offers explanations that *contradict* the explanations given by religion.

    But if the explanations given by religion are based on faulty interpretation of scripture, we can hardly label the scientists godless heretics just for being loyal to truth as they observe it. That Galileo’s heliocentrism offended the Roman Church indicated fault on the part of the Church, not Galileo. Eventually, the Church had to change, not science. (We Mormons dont’ have to share the shame of that, however, since BoM astronomy is heliocentric). Darwin was hardly the only scientist ever to “overturn religious dogma” by honestly following the results of his science into realms religion was unequipped at the time to accommodate.

  44. Let’s go back to the text. First of all, natural phenomena are presented as the third of three items which show the existence of God, the other being scripture and the spiritual witness of one’s own contemporaries (“ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets”). Second, the word used regarding the natural phenomena in the BoM is “denotes.” What it might have been in the original Nephite we have no clue. From this I would suggest that:

    (1) Alma was not relying exclusively on natural phenomena to show the existence of God, rather that they were part of the mix with spiritual witnesses.

    (2) That word “denotes” could mean “suggest” as easily as it could mean “proves.” Both the teleological argument and ID theory present themselves as logical proofs of the existence of conscious design. I think Alma can be read as using the wonder of natural phenomena less strenuously — that the wonders of the natural world make it reasonable to incline one to accept the spiritual witnesses.

    (3) Some above have suggested that the natural world is faith-promoting largely in an aesthetic sense. This view is compatible with the understanding in #2 above.

    (4) However, if we take Alma’s point more rigorously, we have to make another distinction. We are dealing here with a brief phrase, a fragment of a phrase. As I suggested in #1 with respect to the word “denotes,” I think we have to cautious in reading modern science and philosophy into these few words. Is Alma really “testifying on behalf of intelligent design”? Your use of the term “intelligent design” carries a lot of later Western intellectual baggage that may have been meaningless to both Alma and Korihor. Other understandings are possible. One is the aesthetic. Another is that he is simply saying that that there is something rather than nothing is suggestive of some higher power without intending to go any deeper.

    (5) Obviously Alma’s few words are suggestive to the modern mind of the teleological argument and it is certainly legitimate to use them as a point of departure to discuss the position of that issue in the modern restored gospel. No one is suggesting that Alma understood cosmological arguments based on quantum mechanics, but if we are going to freight him with the philosophical baggage of the teleological argument, I think he should have the benefit of relevant modern scientific developments as well.

    (6) The “fine-tuning” arguments from cosmology are far more powerful than arguments from biology because the “gaps” in cosmology are orders of magnitude more profound and significant than in biology. There is no explanation for the values even suggested by modern physics, whereas contra the ID’ers some Darwinian explanation for any living phenomenon can be postulated. More importantly, the existence of these cosmological constants is really as fundamental as our science can go. Life on Earth is very much a micro-phenomenon in comparision. And even more importantly, even the most atheist cosmologists acknowledge that there is indeed a point where this science becomes irreducible — when you do have a theory of everything, why is that theory the way it is? Cosmology acknowledges that there is indeed a point where one may run out of proximate causes. At least based on our current understanding of the science, it is an unsupportable and premature judgement to call Alma’s statement a “fallacious claim.”

    (7) What is unsupportable is to claim that this is a conclusive proof of the existence of God. The most one can say is that it makes it at least statistically plausible that there is some deliberateness behind the “fine-tuned” constants as opposed to them arising by chance. One is then left to fall back on one’s underlying philosophical assumptions. If they are materialist, one can certainly propose non-theistic explanations. One of these is that there are multiple universes with different physical constants and we just happen to live in the universe where they came out right for us to exist. However, if one is willing to presuppose the possibility of some conscious control of the universe, these phenomena can make one more comfortable in accepting spiritual witnesses. More than that that one can not argue, which is why I prefer to read “denotes” as “suggest” or “are consonant with” rather than “irrefutably prove.”

  45. I’ve thought about this a fair bit too. I’ll admit to being somewhat taken by the book I am currently reading, which I have mentioned I believe in a prior post. It’s Elijah Lovejoy’s _Great Chain of Being_ a collection of lectures given in the 1930s and representing the standard treatment of a longstanding idea that there is a “chain” or “scale” of being which encompasses all created beings and fills all of empty space.

    It has occurred to me in reading the book and in reading this thread that there is another aspect to this discussion that we don’t talk much about. In a sense these debates about how to interpret the physical universe are more debates about how to interpret ourselves. We are the ones who are responding to the “immensity” of space, it is our sensuous and (ir)rational experience that denotes the universe as “simple” or “complex,” and we are the ones who determine whether something is beautiful or not.
    In many cases (not all), we are focusing on our sense experience, our pleasure, our sense of a place in creation or of stewardship over other created beings/things.

    The threat of Darwinism (social and biological) is not that the world isn’t glorious, beautiful, inspiring, or even that there is no God (only in a false dichotomy can you erase God if you believe in Darwinism). It is that we aren’t God’s special creations (or children/nurtured intelligences in Mormon parlance).

    In alternate phrasing evolution doesn’t dethrone God, it dethrones us.

    Lovejoy argues that this was inherent in the Great Chain of Being from the start, and that in this sense evolution was not a huge change, although that is not how we have in retrospect understood this philosophical shift.

    Though you would think I’m denigrating this anthropocentric view of the universe, I find it both comforting and liberating. It leaves me free to delight in the rich complexity of the universe and–because I believe in God for other reasons–to experience it as his kind gift to me. I don’t have to decide the ID debate or frankly take much interest in it. By focusing on my experience of beauty and vastness, I can, without too much philosophical dithering, love God and feel his love for me in a wide variety of natural environments.

  46. Otto, my exposure to the debate has come primarily from Time and CNN and so forth, where both sides seem cut from the same cloth. Thanks for the response.

  47. A separate idea hence a separate post.

    I think this also is about the interface between finitude and infinity. There’s a great line in Speak, Memory (Nabokov’s juggernaut of a memoir) that talks about the dizzy juxtaposition of a finite mind and the great infinity of a parent’s love for a child.

    This experience that Alma and others talk about, this sense that the vast, orderly complexity of the universe bespeaks the existence of God, in a large part is about our encounter with infinity. How wonderful and reassuring that instead of the nihilist’s abyss that great potential void is filled with an orderly creation of an infinite God.

    I think that’s why astronomic objects (I was going to say astrologic but worried the historical reference would be too obscure), mountains, weather, and the oceans are some of the most familiar tropes for this encounter. They are the times that we seem to be encountering objects of infinite vastness or infinite temporal expanse. They represent God’s infinity.

    That’s another reason I think we’re so taken with these arguments, and another reason that I am delighted to comprehend nature as an expression of God’s infinite love.

  48. Final isolated thought.

    Re: this idea that no one intelligent would make something complex

    a) I think that people are surprised that it seems to “work” whatever that means, and they anticipate that a perfect designer would be required to make a complex system “work.”
    b) there is an emphasis on the orderliness of everything, which does appear to be fairly simple.
    c) historically complexity was seen as an indication of God’s grace and power, specifically that he was capable of filling every possible miniscule nook both in physical space AND in taxonomic space with subtly graduated variations. People weren’t claiming that he was an uber-engineer, they were claiming that his power and goodness were so overwhelming that he gladly created every possible thing. (Lovejoy has a great summary of this)

  49. I envy you, sam brown. How I long to be delivered (for a moment, at least) from the precepts of academia when it comes to experiencing truth and beauty. My pure sensibilities have given way to a feverish dithering–a storm of mad girations on multiple axis bereft of any concept of zenith. Oh, to be a child again; to love what I love without the culturally imposed need for an acredited someone to tell me what I should love.

  50. I know this thread is trailing off a bit, but I thought this recent profile of Norman Tolk, a professor of physics at Vanderbilt University, might be of interest.

    One particularly pertinent paragraph:

    “If there is an apparent conflict between science and religion, it is simply because we either don’t understand enough about the science, or we don’t understand enough about the religion.� He gives an example of a colleague and fellow Mormon that he knew in New York. “I had a friend at Columbia who was a Mormon bishop at the time, and whose work should have won him the Nobel Prize. When he was leaving to study physics in college, he asked his father ‘What about religion?’ His father said ‘Son, you only have an obligation to believe that which is true.’ I’ve never forgotten that.�

  51. Otto, thanks for that quote. Going far enough in both science and religion to get past the most apparent descrepancies is not an easy task, and can lead down some lonely paths. But the views can be breathtaking!

  52. At least Mormonism allows for an infinite regression of designers. Others have a bigger problem here.

  53. I have heard a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that says that one can approach life in one of two ways: either believing that nothing is a miracle or believing that everything is. I don’t know if Einstein really said this, but I think it is accurate in the sense that understanding proximate causes isn’t the main issue. The main issue is our underlying assumptions, which may include or exclude God. Science as a way of knowing still occurs in the context of our underlying assumptions.

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