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Friday, August 28, 2009

The Knowable Vs. the Unknowable

I am a BIG fan of informational TV. I love watching Discovery, Nat. Geo., Animal Planet, Military Channel, Science Channel, History--you name it! This stuff is so cool! And yet I'm surprised at times how much science gets their conclusions absolutely wrong. Additionally, I'm frequently impressed how much that Prophets of modern times have gotten it right.

Many Latter-day Saints don't even know how much our modern prophets have taught us about the nature of the universe. The most fundamental facts are there, and it's a very, very sad thing that modern scientists cannot (or WILL not) utilize such info when formulating their theories. But it's also fascinating how modern science has vindicated so many of the complex theological ideas that were first introduced by Latter-day prophets more than a hundred and fifty years ago!

For example, Brigham Young taught:

“God never did make a world out of nothing; He never will, He never can! There is no such principle in existence. Worlds are made of crude element which floats, without bounds in the eternities—in the immensity of space; an eternity of matter—no limits to it, in its natural crude state and the power of the Almighty has this influence and wisdom—when He speaks He is obeyed, and matter comes together and is organized.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 13:248)

The profoundness of such statements will not escape those with any comprehension of quantum mechanics. I listened to a long debate recently on the Science Channel wherein there was a heated discussion about quarks and photons and the fact that such things seem to entirely disappear to an "unmeasurable state" under certain conditions. Where do they go? Well, the best they could come up with was "a parallel universe." But they have absolutely no idea what the nature of such a universe might be. One guy was even convinced he could make photons RE-appear at an entirely different location. In other words, he believed in teleportation or as Scotty put it, "beaming someone up."

Modern Prophets—especially in the 1800s—understood much about the dynamics of the vast universe not much discussed today. Curiously, much of this conversation diminished with the last of the prophets who were contemporaries of Joseph Smith. Joseph had an understanding of space and time that rivaled Abraham, Enoch, Moses, and any other human being who ever walked the earth. He taught this knowledge to his closest associates, who echoed his insights for a generation after his death.

Brigham Young further declared:

“There is an eternity of mystery to be unfolded to us; and when we have lived millions of years in the presence of Gods and angels, and have associated with heavenly beings, shall we then cease learning? No, or eternity ceases. There is no end. We go from grace to grace, from light to light, from truth to truth.” (JD 6:344)

One of the most fundamental "truths" to be understood about the nature of the universe is that we can never fully understand its nature without the power of the Holy Ghost. In the vision of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon known as the 76th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, we are taught:

But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion;

Which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter;

Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him;
(D&C 176:114-116)

We can better understand this principle as we consider that only a portion of the matter in our universe is even visible. We call this “temporal matter,” or “mortal matter.” But there is also vast amounts of matter which temporal beings cannot detect. The first of these is “spiritual matter.” We know that all things are created spiritually before they are created physically. (Moses 3:7) This includes people, animals, plants, rocks, the earth, planets, etc. But we cannot see such matter in its spiritual state, and we likely never will. Even our most advanced scientific instruments cannot detect it (see D&C 131:7-8). There is also “resurrected matter,” or elements permanently unified in a glorified (or unglorified) state (see 1 Cor. 15:41, D&C 76: 43-112 and 88: 15-24). Another type of matter is “translated matter” wherein the processes of aging and decay are temporarily suspended (see 3 Ne 28:7-8).

Yet it is only temporal matter (and sometimes translated matter) that are observable with our natural eyes. This means that much of our universe is always invisible and undetectable while we remain in mortality. Brigham Young emphasized this when he said:

“The Lord Almighty . . . presides over the worlds on worlds that illuminate this little planet, and millions on millions of worlds that we cannot see . . .” (JD: 1:39-40).

Our inability to observe all matter is a permanent limitation to science. If we accept this, we need not feel alarmed when such things as Darwinism or other scientific observations propose theories that seem to contradict what is revealed by God. If we accept these limitations, Darwinism becomes hopelessly flawed. For how can humankind draw sufficient conclusions about the evolution of living things without incorporating pre-mortal and post-mortal states of existence? For example, if a creature such as an Australopithecus caveman once existed in mortality, it also existed in pre-mortality, and still exists in a post-mortal state to “fill the measure of its creation.” By reminding ourselves that no single organism ever evolved into another organism (as so many animations in instructional media often misrepresent), but that each living thing forever exists independently, the most fundamental language and scientific conceptualizations change dramatically.

Despite the limitations of scientific observation, there is nothing that precludes us from striving to learn all that we can about the earth and the universe. I certainly exercise this passion almost daily (thanks to the internet and cable TV). In fact, we are commanded to study every field of human knowledge (D&C 130:18-19). However, it may be instructive to coordinate such learning with principles of faith, and keep humbling limitations set in place by God permanently in the backs of our minds.

There are many amazing things, for example, that we know about the Spirit World. But maybe I'll save that for a different post and a different day.

(c) Copyright 2009, Chris Heimerdinger


  1. This was a very interesting post. I often get into it with my brother about such things. (He is inactive.) It can become very heated sometimes. Your post really puts into words what is so hard to explain to someone who does not believe. One argument my sister holds to about evolution is if we came from apes why are there still apes around and why have we not evolved into anything greater than a human? It makes me laugh and then it makes you think a little more. My knowledge (once again) is so limited in this area and it was nice to read your thoughts and truths from our prophets.

  2. I love reading everything you write! I'm trying to write a book (Been working on it off and on for a decade) and years ago when I used to tell people of my idea, because it involves time travel, everyone would tell me to read the tennis shoes books but they're harder to come by here in Australia so i didn't get the chance and then I started writing my story (It originated as a bedtime story that had the opposite affect than sending my brother to sleep). Then when I met my husband he gave me Daniel and Nephi to read, Wow what an amazing book that is!! So it turned out that he had all the tennis shoes books to date and so I read them all within a few weeks. They're so inspiring and gave me a renewed desire to write my book, so thank you. And thank you for all your further insights too.

  3. You are welcome, Mormon Mummy. I noticed you are from Brisbane. I like to keep these posts about the topic of the blog in question, but I gotta ask...Do you know John Chambers and his wife? He's a long-time fan who visited my family many years ago when he came to America. Went on a mission to Italy. Neat guy.

  4. This post was so interesting to me. We always hear things like how the Spirit World is here on Earth, and there are all these dead people wandering around us, but we can't see them. It can be a little hard to understand, at least spatially, but it's very cool.

    It seems that the closer you get to our Father in Heaven, the more you study His words and those of His prophets, the more often tiny corners of the veil seem to be lifted. I think that if any mortal being on this planet would know about some of the mysteries of the universe, it'd be Joseph Smith. He was allowed to see so much that the rest of us just can't see yet.

  5. I only know a John Chambers from Adelaide, but I'll keep my eyes open, I'm pretty sure he had family around the country. Do you know what stake or anything? I think my mother in law has mentioned the name, she's really sweet and knows everyone =)

  6. PS. Is there anywhere on the blog (I'm new to the blogging world) to write general comments or questions?

  7. I think that John Chambers is the John Chambers I mean. Young man in his late 20s? And this is always a good place to post general comments. Or you can email me directly at cheimerdinger@gmail.com. I am going to make it possible for "Guest Posts" as well. These are thoughtful and well-written posts by followers of the blog that offer up an interesting subject. I have one now that I am preparing to post.

  8. I agree—science would be well-served by being more candid about its own limitations. Just because your hammer works great on nails, doesn't mean you should use it on screws, staples, and buttons. Just because science can be really useful in solving practical engineering or medical problems, doesn't mean it can answer metaphysical questions about the substance of reality.

    Science is based on premises that are assumed, and then used to interpret data. But a premise, by its nature, cannot be proven, only assumed. So we have to be really cautious about treating our assumed premises as though we'd proven them.