Philosophical problems with the Mormon concept of God

Introduction

In the article entitled “Philosophical Problems with the Mormon Concept of God” published by The Christian Research Institute, three philosophical problems are presented:

The Problem of an Infinite Number of Past Events

The Problem of Eternal Progression with an Infinite Past

The Problem of Achieving Omniscience by Eternal Progression 1

David L. Paulsen notes the difficulty from the outset of such a task:

While Mormons recognise four ‘standard works’… as scripture and believe in a resumption of prophetic revelation (via Joseph Smith and his successors), they have no creeds or even creedal-like formulation of their understanding of God… And while Mormons do share many doctrinal beliefs… they have nothing like clear consensus, let alone an official Church position, on most of the views attributed to them. 2

The three arguments will be reviewed below. In summary, the conclusion in each of the three arguments does not follow due to false premises.

1. The Problem of an Infinite Number of Past Events

The argument is presented as follows:

P1. If the Mormon universe is true, then an infinite number (or distance) has been traversed.

P2. It is impossible to traverse an infinite number (or distance).

C. Therefore, the Mormon universe is not true. 3

Premise 1 is true in Mormon thought and the conclusion follows from the premises if P2 is also true. However as has been argued by others, it is not impossible to traverse an infinite past (the type of infinite discussed here).

In his paper: Moreland on the Impossibility of Traversing the Infinite: A Critique, Felipe Leon said:

Moreland’s unique arguments against beginningless traversals depend upon one or more of the following dubious assumptions: that all traversals require a start or a first member; that any series formed by successive addition is (at least initially) a potential infinite; that traversing a beginningless past must involve the transformation of a potential infinite into an actual infinite; and that it’s just as easy or hard to traverse a sequence in one direction as it is to traverse it in the other.

…by the very nature of the case, a beginningless series has no beginning point from which it “got started”. For if such a past is possible — which is the very issue under dispute — then it has always been going, in the sense that for every event, there is another event that preceded it. 4

Blake Ostler has said:

Just what does it mean to “traverse” an infinite time or to “arrive” at the present? If “traverse” means to “pass through” or “complete” a temporal series beginning with an event and ending with an event – as I believe the term implies – then the infinite past cannot be traversed in this sense. However, the argument then would not apply to the infinite past since the infinite past has no beginning term. 5

Having rejected P2, the conclusion does not follow.​

2. The Problem of Eternal Progression with an Infinite Past

The paraphrased argument is as follows:

P1. If the Mormon universe is true, then an infinite time has already passed

P2. If an infinite time has already passed, then we should have already reached our final state by now. 

P3. We have not reached our final state. 

C. Therefore the past series of events in time cannot be infinite

P1 and P3 are true and the conclusion follows from the premises if P2 is also true, however P2 commits an error in modal logic.

Blake Ostler has said:

It is a fairly common modal error in logic to assume that, given infinite time, all possibilities must be realized. However, one of the possibilities that could be realized is that not all possibilities will be realized. It simply doesn’t follow that if there is an eternity of time, then the intelligence must already be perfectly good or there is an inherent defect that cannot be overcome. What follows is only that they could be exalted; not that necessarily they must be…It may be that we will resist God for all eternity, though fabulously unlikely given that God is the most persuasive being in the universe and has all eternity to work on it. It is nevertheless possible because we are always free to say “no” to the relationship of exalting grace that he freely offers to us. 6

Richard R. Hopkins has said:

A man who has been sitting around wasting his time for an infinite period of time may well ask for an-other infinite period of time in which to make some progress in preparing for the judgment. Whether a man has reached his final state by now depends on what he has been doing with the infinite period of time in question.

(Beckwith) has assumed first that all individuals are progressing toward their goal at a measurable rate and second that they all started measurable progress at approximately the same moment. Neither of these assumptions can be made in any real system involving independent beings. One person could spend an infinity not progressing at all before he even begins to make real progress toward his eternal goal, while another may progress at a much faster rate. The universe is exactly as Mormon theology envisions it a vast array of beings, all at different levels of progression. This includes, no doubt, an infinite number who have not begun to progress toward their ultimate goal as well as an infinite number who have reached that goal. 7

Having rejected P2, the conclusion does not follow.

3. The Problem of Achieving Omniscience by Eternal Progression

The argument is presented as follows:

P1. A being of limited knowledge gaining in knowledge entails the increasing of a finite number.

P2. Starting from a finite number, it is impossible to count to infinity.

P3. The Mormon view of eternal progression entails a being of limited knowledge gaining in knowledge until his knowledge is infinite (remember, the Mormon universe contains an infinite number of things).

C1/P4. Therefore, the Mormon view cannot be true, for it is impossible — given premises 1, 2, and 3 — for eternal progression to entail that a being of limited knowledge gains knowledge until his knowledge is infinite.

P5. The Mormon doctrine of eternal progression is entailed by the Mormon concept of God.

C2. Therefore, the Mormon concept of God is incoherent. 8

The key premise here is P3. The doctrine that God’s knowledge is “infinite” seems far from Mormon doctrine and Mormons are open to God’s knowledge being “maximal”. For every quote from one general authority on the topic, there will be another to the contrary.

James E. Faulconer said:

A series of congruent statements by individual general authorities over time may even suggest that a particular belief is true as well as commonly believed and it may give an indication of unfolding doctrine however by themselves references to the writings of particular general authorities do not necessarily tell us what is doctrinal they do not tell us in so many words what is binding in terms of belief on those who claim to be latter day saints 9

Specifically related to God’s knowledge, Blake Ostler has said:

God need not be the greatest conceivable being; he must, however, be the minimally sufficient ground of faith.Thus, if God possesses those properties relevant to religious faith in a sufficient degree to insure that his righteous purposes will be realized and cannot be frustrated by anything or anyone else, then he is the adequate object of faith…Instead of referring to “perfection” as absolute completion in all respects, I think that the more adequate view is that God’s perfection is “maximal”. 10

Having rejected P3, the conclusion does not follow.

Given that none of the three arguments presented are sound, no good reason has been presented here to believe that philosophically the Mormon concept of God is “irredeemably flawed”.

  1.  Francis J. Beckwith. 2016. Philosophical Problems with the Mormon Concept of God. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.equip.org/article/philosophical-problems-with-the-mormon-concept-of-god/. [Accessed 8 August 2016].[]
  2. Paulsen, David L., and Ostler Blake T. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 35.2 (1994): 118-20. Web.[]
  3. Francis J. Beckwith. 2016. Philosophical Problems with the Mormon Concept of God. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.equip.org/article/philosophical-problems-with-the-mormon-concept-of-god/. [Accessed 8 August 2016].[]
  4. Felipe Leon. 2011. Moreland on the Impossibility of Traversing the Infinite: A Critique. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.academia.edu/1163168/_Moreland_on_the_Impossibility_of_Traversing_the_Infinite_A_Critique_. [Accessed 7 August 2016].[]
  5. Blake Ostler. 2016. Do Kalam Infinity Arguments Apply to the Infinite Past?. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.fairmormon.org/reviews_of_the_new-mormon-challenge/do-kalam-infinity-arguments-apply-to-the-infinite-past. [Accessed 7 August 2016].[]
  6. Blake Ostler. 2016. A God Who is Morally Praiseworthy. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.blakeostler.com/docs/morallypraiseworthy.pdf. [Accessed 17 July 2016].[]
  7.  Richard R. Hopkins. 2000. Counterfeiting the Mormon Concept of God. [ONLINE] Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1427&context=msr. [Accessed 7 February 2017].[]
  8. Francis J. Beckwith. 2016. Philosophical Problems with the Mormon Concept of God. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.equip.org/article/philosophical-problems-with-the-mormon-concept-of-god/. [Accessed 8 August 2016].[]
  9. James E. Faulconer. 2016. FRANCIS J BECKWITH and STEPHEN E PARRISH The Mormon Concept of God. Reviewed by James E Faulconer. [ONLINE] Available at:https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/mormon-concept-god-philosophical-analysis. [Accessed 8 August 2016].[]
  10. Blake T. Ostler, 2001. Exploring Mormon Thought: The Attributes of God (vol. 1). 1st Edition. Greg Kofford Books Inc.[]