Who is God?

With this post I’m returning to a theme I started nearly a year ago, which is, can the Bible’s account of the creation of the earth be reconciled with modern physics. Through a series of posts I’ve postulated that as humans we have one of three choices: It’s all an accident, the result of immensely large numbers and the laws of probability; there is a higher intellect directing things but that higher intellect might be a pimply seventh grader doing a science project and we’re living in Farmville; or there is a God, a Supreme Being who created the universe and the earth. For me, I choose to believe the latter option. But face it, science can’t prove or disprove any of the three so in the end it still comes down to a matter of faith.

Having staked out my territory I now want to discuss who is God? I’ll confine my comments to notions common to Christianity.  I do this not as one trained in divinity any more than I claim training in physics.

First I want to address a belief that sets Mormonism apart from most other Christian religions. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are three separate beings. Most Christian religions, especially those most concerned with being known as “Christians” find such doctrine to be heresy. An example is the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. Their mission is to examine many movements and organizations, such as abortion, atheism, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam and others and compare them to standards set out in the Bible to determine whether any of these can legitimately claim to be Christian. One of the main differences that CARM finds between Christianity and Mormonism is this belief of three separate beings. CARM (and many Christian religions) cite several passages from the New Testament which they asset prove that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are different manifestations of the same God. An example is Ephesians 4:4-7, which says “. . . One God and father of all.”

What this and other similar scriptures overlook is the words of Jesus himself. The first words we have record of that were spoken by Jesus are “wist [know] ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” in Luke 2:49. In the Garden of Gethsemane, while performing the Atonement, Jesus pleaded with God, asking “if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” Luke 22:42. On the cross Jesus pronounced the work finished, saying “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit;” Luke 23:46. After His resurrection he appeared to Mary but forbade her to touch Him, saying “I am not yet ascended to my Father . . . I ascend to my Father and to your Father and to my God and your God.” John 20:17.  Additionally when Jesus was baptized Mark reports that as He came up out of the water “the Spirit [Holy Ghost] like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven saying Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Mark 1:10-11.

These are strange verses if Jesus, God and the Holy Ghost are one and the same. About whom was Jesus speaking when He said He must be about His father’s business? To whom was He speaking in the garden and on the cross? To whom did He have to ascend when He spoke with Mary? And if Jesus is God, who was speaking from heaven when Jesus came up out of the water?

Although this doesn’t definitively answer the question, Who is God, it does show that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are not separate manifestations of the same being.

Ordain Women?

LDS (“Mormon”) General Conference is this weekend. A group of women who tried to gain admission to the Priesthood Session held on Saturday night at the October, 2013, General Conference are planning to try again. These women, members of a group called Ordain Women are asking The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) to change its stance on allowing women to hold the priesthood.

The LDS Church is a lay church. Except at the very top levels no one receives any pay for his or her work on behalf of the Church. All males are eligible to hold the priesthood at age 12. Depending on the office held, this allows the priesthood holder to baptize and confirm new members, bless babies, give priesthood blessings and preside in various offices.

Ordain Women believes that the male-only policy marginalizes women and excludes them from the full blessings of membership in the church. Their website has several profiles of members who profess to love the church but feel women are second-class members because they lack the priesthood. In reading these profiles one gets the sense that these people (some are men) are earnest in their belief. However in reading some of the reasoning behind their position, one also gets the sense that in one way or another they have lost sight of what the church is about.

One woman uses the examples of Peter being told in a dream that he can kill and eat animals that hitherto had been forbidden under the Mosaic law; Samuel answering the Lord’s call in the Old Testament and even Joseph Smith in having the audacity to begin a new religion. Each of these, this woman argues, went against the well-established norm but resulted in sea changes.

What these examples overlook is that in none of the cases did the person involved actively seek what was given. Peter did not ask the Lord if it was now permissible to eat previously forbidden meat. Samuel did not ask the Lord to be called. Joseph Smith did not go to the sacred grove asking for permission to start a new church. All of them were attempting to act within the status quo. Another example is Nephi when he killed Laban. Nephi did not go to the Lord with the idea of justifying murder; in fact, when he first was told to slay Laban he was repulsed.

The other thing that this approach overlooks is the nature of the church. To be a member requires a belief that God and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. If you can’t believe that then the whole church falls apart. If God and Jesus Christ didn’t appear to Joseph Smith then the whole thing is a sham, one of the biggest frauds ever perpetrated on humanity. But if they did appear then you have to believe that Jesus Christ leads the church. There is no way to claim you are a faithful member and simultaneously deny that Jesus Christ, not Thomas Monson, leads this church. And if you do believe Jesus Christ is at the head, then by protesting the priesthood policy you are claiming to know better than the Lord what’s best for His church.

I have no problem with people wanting change. My point is that bringing publicity to the issue to force change isn’t appropriate in this situation. The church is not a democracy. Public opinion won’t change policy the way the Civil Rights or Gay Rights movements have changed policy in the United States. So the only justification for publicly demonstrating like Ordain Women plans to do is to justify their own egos or bring shame on the church.  If they want true change, they need to pray and fast in secret and their Father in Heaven will reward them openly. If they ask openly for these things “that they may be seen of men [and women],” they have their reward. Matt.6:5.

Looking at the profiles of the people, most are far too young to know of, let alone remember, Sonia Johnson. She, too, began as a faithful member.

What Does It Mean?

It’s worth taking a pause right now to consider where we’ve come. We started with a brief biography of physics, moving from the earth-centered view of things to a vast universe that might be just one of virtually infinite universes. This view is called the multiverse.  We’ve seen that the Big Bang Theory is currently the predominant theory on how the universe came into being. It is now almost universally (no pun intended) recognized as the accepted theory because it and it alone explains what we observe.

By running the Big Bang backwards we are led to an inescapable conclusion: that everything was all together in one place at one time. That instant in time is the Big Bang itself, the instant when immeasurable energy exploded. Both space and time began at that instant. We’ve speculated on what caused the Big Bang and we’ve run into a knotty problem that occupies physicists today. How do we reconcile General Relativity and String Theory? Is there one unifying theory? This unifying theory is given the name of the Grand Unifying Theory, inelegantly known as GUT. Too bad scientists have fallen prey to the seemingly insatiable desire to create an acronym for everything.  But science is no different than anyone else. We have reduced the Supreme Court of the United States to SCOTUS, which looks an awful lot like scrotum. But I digress.

We have seen that there are three possibilities for why the universe is the way it is. The first is that it is a random event. After the Big Bang there were almost infinite possibilities for how the universe could turn out and it turned out this way. In other words, we won the cosmic lottery; otherwise we wouldn’t be here to ask such questions. The second possibility is that of the 10500 universes that exist in the String Theory-predicted multiverse, the odds are that at least one of them would be like ours, that is, capable of sustaining life. The final possibility is that, given how exquisitely fine-tuned our universe is, it must be the product of intelligent design.

We purposely chose this last postulate because it gives us much more room to let our imaginations run wild as to what form this intelligent design takes, is this a Supreme Being in the classical sense of God, does time exist for God, what was God doing before he created the universe and what is He doing now. Along the way we rejected two other possibilities, one suggested by Isaac Asimov that this universe is the creation of a super-computer created by another civilization; and the String Theory variant of that that we are all simulations in a highly evolved Farmville game being run by a seventh-grader somewhere.

So, where we are is with the proposition that a Supreme Being, God, created this universe. The Big Bang is consistent with Genesis. What does that mean for us?

First of all, it gives real problems to the evolutionists. Evolution takes a similar tack as String Theory. Over time, given so many variants in organisms, we evolved. Evolution has no need for God, just as LaPlace had no need in his theory. But if God created this universe for us, doesn’t it make sense that He also placed animals, plants, microbes and all other forms of life here as well? If evolution is going to stand on the proposition that God isn’t necessary for life to have developed on Earth then it better explain the existence of the universe in the first place.

With the almost certainty of further offending anyone other than a physicist, I’ll close this post with one of my favorite quotations

on science. This is from Ernest Rutherford:   File:Ernest Rutherford cropped.jpg

                       All science is either physics or stamp collecting.

By this he meant that every other science is simply concerned with categorizing information.

Does Time Exist for God?

We’ve touched on this issue when we asked, what was God doing before He made the universe? We answered this in part by postulating that God exists outside of time, where things are constantly present before Him. But does that mean time doesn’t exist to God?

In the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), section 130, verse 4, the question is asked “Is not the reckoning of God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time according to the planet on which they reside?” In verse 5 the answer is given, “Yes. But there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it.” There are many concepts expressed in these verses, among them that, as we saw in a previous post, God has created many worlds, though He gives an account only of this world, and those worlds apparently have angels that minister to those worlds. We’ll discuss this later. For our purposes today, these verses make it clear that time is measured differently to God and to man.  Verse 7 appears to address our postulate that God exists in a state where things are constantly present before Him. That verse says “But they [the angels appointed to this earth] reside on a globe like a sea of glass where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present and future, and are continually before the Lord.”

Note this doesn’t say that angels reside on a globe of glass. It says that it is like a sea of glass. With modern technology it’s easy to imagine a much more advanced version of the computerized table top where information is projected onto a giant touch screen. But it does support the proposition, first made by St. Augustine, that God exists outside of man’s time and that all things are constantly present before Him.

Are there other scriptures to support this?

In the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 5:13, Abraham writes “Now I, Abraham, saw that it was after the Lord’s time . . . for as yet the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning.” This occurred before Eve was created. Apparently even after man was created time had not begun in the sense that we now measure it (Adam’s reckoning had not yet been appointed or created). This should answer the argument raised in the play Inherit the Wind where Henry Drummond asks Matthew Brady whether Genesis’ account of the creation is literal in the sense of taking only seven days. Although Frederick March’s Brady stands by the literal creation in seven days despite being made to look the fool by Spencer Tracy’s Henry Drummond, it should be clear that the use of the word “day” in Genesis is intended simply as a designation of a period during which certain things were accomplished. During the first “day” unorganized matter was gathered together and formed into a world similar to worlds previously formed. During other indeterminate periods of time other portions of creation took place.

None of this is contrary to what we have seen from the Big Bang theory. After the initial explosion energy spewed into newly created space, energy transformed into matter, matter coalesced to form stars and galaxies which were born, lived and died millions of times over before this earth was created.  It’s interesting that science can speak of the passage of billions of years (13.7 approximately) since the Big Bang despite the fact that our sun, by which we measure those years, is a fairly recent addition to the cosmos. Since science is comfortable with this seeming non sequitur, science should also be able to accept Genesis’ account of a creation in seven days without getting its collective panties in a wad over whether those were 24-hour days or not.

There’s no way to prove that time exists for God but neither can science disprove such a notion.

Back to Creation vs. Science

So the whole novel thing didn’t work out so well. I was taking part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and my last post (from November!) was the first chapter of my erstwhile novel. But November 30 came and went and I didn’t finish. Then the holidays came along and . . .  well we all know what the holidays will do to a routine. So since the whole novel gig didn’t work so well so I think I’ll go back to discussing religion.

The last post on the subject of the beginning of the universe looked at how the account of the creation in Genesis fits with what we know about the Big Bang and what it looked like. Science postulates that there was no “before the Big Bang,” that time and space began at that instant. Yet we’ve considered that God might be outside of the universe since, if He created it, where was He at that time? He couldn’t have been in the universe because it hadn’t been created yet.

Because string theory postulates an enormous number of possible universes, maybe an infinite number, we can speculate that God exists in another universe and that it was from there that this universe was created. Neither science nor scripture sheds any light on what these exo-universes might contain, so rather than engage in rank speculation, let’s limit our discussion to how this creation came about.

Genesis doesn’t offer a lot of detail other than to say God said “let there be light.” However, scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) have a more detailed description, though by no means complete. In the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham writes that God appeared to him and showed him “those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof.” From this we can infer that the creation described in Genesis was not just of this earth but involved the entire universe, just as predicted by the Big Bang theory.

This inference is supported by an account given by Moses, also found in the Pearl of Great Price in the Book of Moses. Moses prayed to God and asked “why these things [the world and creation] are so.”  In Moses, Chapter 1:33-38, God responded to Moses in this way:

Worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is my Only Begotten.

                But only an account of this earth and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.

                And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.

                And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.

These scriptures also align nicely, as does Genesis, with the Big Bang theory. “Worlds without number” as observed by Moses or Abraham, could well refer to the innumerable galaxies, stars and planets in the universe. Moses is told that “many worlds have passed away.” We know from physics that stars and galaxies have been created, lived and died. Stars burn out and become cold. We know that eventually the earth will fall into the sun and be burned to a cinder, thereby ceasing to exist, or passing away, in the words of Moses.

In the Beginning

Genesis Chapter 1 begins “In the beginning.” What beginning is Genesis (Moses, if we accept the common view that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible) speaking of? Is it the beginning of everything or the beginning of the world or the beginning of this universe?

Book of Genesis 1580
Book of Genesis 1580 (Photo credit: Frank DeFreitas)

It seems that Genesis refers to the beginning of the universe, as it goes through the creation of the firmament and the Earth:

And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said Let there be light: and there was light.

We have seen how the Big Bang created a sea of light. We have seen that the universe was empty (void) and without form for millions of years while it cooled and hydrogen and helium and eventually heavier elements formed. On its face, Genesis 1:1-3 appears to be a fairly accurate, if somewhat abbreviated, description of the Big Bang.

We have argued that one view of the string theory leads to a conclusion that there is a God and that He exists outside of this universe. Does scripture provide any support for this conclusion?

The word “heaven” or “heavens” has more than one meaning in the Bible. In one sense it means the earth and the universe around it. It is in this sense that Genesis speaks of God creating the heavens and the earth. In another sense it means the place where God lives. Consider, for example, Isaiah 66:1: “The heaven is my throne.” Acts 7:49 says the same thing, that God’s throne is in heaven. If God created this universe then this heaven must refer to some place outside of the universe, for how could God be in the heavens (this universe) before He created it?

The Revelation of John uses “heaven” in this latter sense. In Revelation 12:7-8, John sees a vision about a war in heaven:

And there was war in heaven: Michael [the archangel] and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels;

And prevailed not; neither was there place found any more in heaven.

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, which deceived the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

Satan on his way to bring about the downfall o...
Satan on his way to bring about the downfall of Adam. Gustave Doré’s illustration for Paradise Lost by John Milton. Paradise Lost Book III, lines 739-742 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If “heaven” in these verses refers to the universe, as it does in Genesis, how could Satan be “cast out into the earth,” since the earth is part of the universe? One cannot be cast out into the same place from which he is supposedly cast. “Heaven” as used in Revelation must mean heaven in the same sense as it does in Isaiah and Acts: the place, outside of the universe, where God lives.

Scripture is consistent with the notion that the universe is not everything there is. God was outside the universe when He created it.

What was God Doing before He Made the Universe?

If space and time began with the Big Bang, does it make sense to speak of what came before the Big Bang? Stephen Hawking and other physicists say emphatically “NO!”  Everything started with the Big Bang. To speak of what was before the Big Bang is as ludicrous as to ask what is north of the North Pole.

In the sense of cause and effect within the confines of this universe, science may be right. Scientists and lawyers are always looking for the cause of something. Science is concerned with grander things, like what caused the universe to come into being, while lawyers look at mundane events, like who caused the five car pile-up on the freeway. But both look for a prior event or events that conclude in a certain result. The lawyer might say that the cause of the accident was that the defendant was going too fast for conditions, which caused his car to spin out of control, which in turn caused it to crash into another car, which….. You get the picture. In order to reach this conclusion, the lawyer has to work backward in time from the result, the accident, and piece together a chain of events that are causally related to each other.

Science does the same thing most of the time. Working backwards in time involves a bit more than the lawyer’s task because the scientist has to cover billions of years instead of a few seconds. Furthermore, the journey takes the scientist to the beginning of time, the day without a yesterday. Because there was no yesterday at the time of the Big Bang nothing could have happened that would causally relate to the Big Bang. The Big Bang just happened without anything influencing it because not only was there no time before the Big Bang, there was no space in which anything could act.

This is sound logic as long as we accept the view that the universe is all there is. But string theory argues that there could be series or parallel universes, an infinite number of them if we accept the theory that every time an event occurs the universe splits in two, one for each possible outcome. The theory supposes that nothing in any of those other universes can affect what happens in our universe, but what if it ain’t necessarily so?

Imagine a play is the entire universe. The universe begins with the first notes of the overture and the universe ends when the curtain falls. What happens within the universe is unaffected by anything outside the universe. The audience can conceive of time before the universe began and time after the universe ends. The actors, while in their roles, have no concept of time or events outside of their universe. When the play ends the characters “die” and have no concept of anything because their universe has ended. Time is no more for them and space has ceased to exist.

Now put God in the role of the audience and this universe in the place of the stage. God has a conception of both time and space outside the confines of the universe, though we, the actors in the play, do not. In this context it does make sense to ask, what was God doing before He created the universe.

St. Augustine asked this same question in his Confessions, written in the Fourth Century A.D. It is an apocryphal story that this question was asked of Augustine, to which he replied “He was making Hell for people who ask such questions.” Instead, what Augustine wrote was “I answer not as one is said to have done merrily (eluding the pressure of the question) ‘He was preparing hell (saith he) for pryers into mysteries.’ It is one thing to answer enquiries; another to make sport of enquirers.”

Augustine went on to inquire about a time before the creation. If God was not doing anything for innumerable ages before He created earth, why did He stop doing nothing and start creating? Augustine  answered his own question by saying that there were not innumerable ages for God because He created time as well as the earth. God’s days do not proceed daily. In other words, there is no succession of days, one after the other, for God. Instead His days are today. Everything is present for God.

Return to the play. While the actors are living out their existence in their universe and while time passes for them in their roles, the audience is in its collective present. True, two or more hours of “real” time may pass for the audience but most people would consider themselves to be at the play “in the present” as opposed to in the past or in the future. Meanwhile, in a play like Les Miserables, decades pass for the actors, yet it all takes place in the audience’s present.

This explains how God can hear the prayers of millions of supplicants. When an airplane is crashing and a hundred souls offer up prayers to God, He has not just the few seconds before their lives are snuffed out to consider those prayers. Instead He has eternity. Another crude example may help. A writer has put his heroine in a predicament. She is hanging by her fingertips from a ledge, dangling 100 feet above a raging river. In fact the predicament is so good that neither the author nor his heroine has any idea how to get out of it. The author can leave her hanging there for hours, weeks, months while he does other things and when he comes back to extricate her, no time has passed in her world.

So the answer to the question what came before the Big Bang depends on the view of the questioner. If the question is posed by one who believes that this universe is all there ever was and all there ever will be, the question is nonsensical. But if the questioner accepts string theory and its conclusions, it follows that there can be something outside this universe and therefore we can answer the question.