I honestly don't understand why some Mormons continue to think there is a conflict between Mormonism and evolution. I wrote about this a few days ago, even providing links to clear evidence of evolution. Clearly given the official church statement there is no conflict. However even beyond that statement, there is the typical appeal to Genesis to argue against evolution. While that make sense for Protestant Biblical literalists, it makes no sense for a Mormon. Why? Because the Joseph Smith "translation" of the Bible clearly adds a lot to the creation account of Genesis which render such a use of Genesis 1 impossible. Consider Moses 2:2-5
And I, God, blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it I had rested from all my work which I, God, had created and made. And I rested on the seventh day from all my work, and all things which I had made were finished, and I, God, saw that they were good.
And I God, blessed the seventh day and sanctified it; because that in it I had rested from all my work which I, God, had created and made. And now, behold, I say unto you, that these are the generations of the heaven and of the earth, when they were created, in the day that I, the Lord God, made the heaven and the earth, and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. For I, the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the face of the earth. And I, the Lord God, had created all of the children of men, and not yet a man to till the ground. For in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air.
Now Mormons can interpret this in many ways. However it clearly precludes reading Genesis 1 the way conservative Protestants read it. The text clearly says that this has nothing to do with what is transpiring on the earth. Nothing yet has been done on the earth. The creation is a spiritual creation in heaven. Whether that is an organization or the creation of pre-mortal spirits is perhaps a matter of debate. Even the creation account of Genesis 2 isn't necessarily a creation account of the whole planet. It talks only of what transpired in the Garden of Eden. Yet we are not told of the creation of the Garden of Eden and certainly not of the creation of what is outside of Eden. We are told only that "out of the ground made I, the Lord God, to grow every tree naturally..." ( Moses 3:9) We aren't told what "naturally" means. However one might suspect that it entails the natural process of evolution.
Over at the ever interesting Times and Seasons there was a very interesting discussion about agency. The aim of the discussion was to look at the political implications of Mormon notions of agency. To me discussing the LDS notion of agency in terms of politics is putting the cart before the horse.
To me the key factor in discussions of agency is the "what" and "where" of the discussion. Yet this notion of what is the "self" of the discussion is often lost. Why is this important? Well, let's first look at the basic working definition of agency in LDS thought.
...they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not be acted upon... (2 Ne 2:26-27)
While clearly there is more to the discussion there, we have a basic concept of agency dependent on a "boundary" between the self and the others. To have agency is to be able to act and not be acted upon. This is basically the idea that within some region there is action independent of what is outside that region. In addition there has to be knowledge of what is outside with that knowledge involving a recognition of differences. Now even here this boundary is not absolute. As the verse continues to explain this boundary of freedom from action breaks down when there is the "punishment of the law at the great and last day. In other words this "sphere" of freedom is imposed by God. It is not, within the scripture, ontological. (Which is not, we hasten to add, denying the possibility of ontological freedom)
I use the term "sphere" for a reason. There is a common imagery within the scriptures of agency being a "sphere" or "space" in which we cat. For instance Alma 12:24 speaks of a "space granted unto man in which he might repend, therefore this life became a probationary state..." Alma 42 uses the same imagery.
...our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will. [...] ...this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state." (Alma 42:10,13)
Now the Book of Mormon in particular adds in a lot of other issues both about the implications of this "space" as well as how it was brought about. I don't want to get into those. I do want to pursue this metaphor further though. Consider a few other scriptures on the same theme.
All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. ( D&C 93:30)
And it became a living soul. For it was spiritual in the day that I created it; for it remaineth in the sphere in which I, God, created it... ( Mose 3:9)
...to represent the glory of the classes of beings in their destined order or sphere of creation... ( D&C 77:3)
Now hopefully a few things should pop out. First off we see that the rhetoric of D&C 93 isn't quite as new as we sometimes think it. It is very close to very similar imagery throughout the Book of Mormon. Second I think we see that this "sphere" is much more general in usage than simply a human existence. It could represent this world. It could represent a class of being. It could presumably represent a human being. Perhaps it even could represent human being in worlds. We should also point out that the space is not purely a "mental" space. It might represent a space of time in which a people are protected from "being acted upon." This notion of spacing appears over and over in the Book of Mormon and I think is actually one of the more common images. The second point is that these spheres are not described as absolute.
This notion of absolute boundaries to the spheres is quite important. Clearly most of these spaces are temporary and are externally imposed. For instance the probationary space is temporally limited after which law becomes imposed. Periods of peace are also limited, terminated by outside violence. If we consider violence not just as war but this general phenomena of "being acted upon" then we can consider agency simply as the withholding of violence. Yet are these boundaries truly absolute even within the space imposed? I'll leave that question of the "absolute" nature of these boundaries - and thereby the notion of an absolute self - for an other day.
I've been thinking more on my earlier comments about agency and the "sphere" or "circle" metaphor employed rhetorically by many scriptures. Someone who made some kindly comments about my post brought up the notion of the flood. In a sense this same image can be found there. We have the idea that a clearing is made from the wicked. This clearing could be the flood of Noah or the related discussion among the Jaredites in Ether 2:8-13. The idea is that this promised land is a place prepared where all others are removed and "whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage..." Once again we have the connection between freedom and the sphere - in this case a spatial and temporal sphere of influence.
I don't want to push this too far. I think that a lot of this common imagery occurs because the Book of Mormon in particular discusses in terms of archetypes which are applied to many different kinds of narratives. It is a common type of argument. Especially Nephi's style of rhetoric where common types from Isaiah are applied to many different kinds of discourse.
I suspect though that if all of these discussions of freedom are tied to a common set of types, then the distinction between political freedom and "ontological" freedom must be blurred. Indeed the only difference is the "size" of the sphere of influence.
As I thought about all this I couldn't help but think to Heidegger's collection of lectures on Nietzsche, famously published as a four volume work. In particular his anlysis of Nietzsche's "Grand Politics." There is a sense of seeing a nation or even the Continent as a kind of canvas for art. It becomes a grand style in which politics itself is the brush. On the one hand there seems to be a certain kinship between this "grand style" of agency in the Book of Mormon and Nietzsche's conception. On the other one can't help but cringe at Heidegger's conception especially as it relates to Nazism and their attempt to rework Europe. Nazism seems the exact antithesis of freedom and Heidegger's work is very problematic for those very same reasons.
Having said that though, one also can't help but note a somewhat similar motif in Heidegger to our notion of the sphere of freedom. For instance D&C 93:29-32 speaks of a sphere in which truth is independent (free) which "is" the agency of man. This is then tied to receiving light. I don't want to analyze this too far, but one can't help but see a parallel to Heidegger's notion of the clearing in which Being shines forth.
The point I wish to get at is that Heidegger's notion of the clearing or sphere is also brought to bear on larger canvases, much like I think the Book of Mormon does. The crucial question, philosophically, is where they differ. One must also hasten to add that Heidegger's imagery is hardly original to him. It is a very common neoPlatonic imagery that Heidegger likely appropriated from earlier philosophers and mystics.
I'll be discussing more on this theme over the next few days. For those not as familiar with Heidegger, you might find the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry interesting.
Apologies for not having time to write for a while. Perils of our first pregnancy.
I wanted to continue on in what I might call my meditation on agency. I've discussed the use of a "sphere" or "circle" metaphor in the Book of Mormon, suggested some ties to Heidegger and suggested that the "sphere" could be a political sphere as well as what one might term "the self." I want to take a slight detour towards what I think might be the foundational form for this metaphor.
One of the most interesting books on what we might term the "basic idea of Israelite religion" is Jon Levinson's award winning Creation and the Persistence of Evil. It is one of the few books I'd consider a "must read" for both religion and Mormon philosophy. It isn't written by or about Mormons, but I think few Mormons could read it without noticing a strong parallel between what Levinson describes as ancient Israelite religion and certain tendencies in Mormon thought. Part of the book involves a critique of the very notion of creation ex nihilo. But if the "beginning" of Genesis 1:1 isn't an absolute start to existence, what is it? He argues for a "primordial" existence not only of chaos, but of other divine beings.
One of the images Levinson sees in both Babylonian as well as Israelite religion is the constant conflict between God and aquatic forces. This can be see in YHWH's battles with sea monsters as well as the very story of the flood. The idea is that creation is a creation of an "opening" or "space" in the midst of chaos. The flood is God, for a moment, no longer holding back these forces of chaos. While the chaos is defeated, it is defeated only in the sense that their foces are held at bay with boundaries across which they can not pass.
This notion of holding back is key, for Levinson, to understanding the Israelite mindset. Indeed Isaiah 54:7-10 uses this same imagery relative to the needs of Israel. It is explicitly tied to the covenant with Noah in verse 9. Thus this clearing of the waters of choas is tied to other senses of chaos, whether they be war, suffering, or merely wondering where God is. Atonement is, in a certain metaphoric way, this ever ongoing battle with chaos.
I don't want to push this too far. I'll return to the themes of Genesis later. I wish to suggest though that the very foundational archetype is the creation within chaos of a promised land for the Lord's people.
The culmination of Levinson's argument is surprisingly contrary to traditional liberal notions of freedom. Without going through the arguments for this as found in the Old Testament, let me summarize his position. He feels that because God is responsible for this space where freedom is possible, that justice entails man submitting to God. True "freedom" in the classical liberal sense of the Enlightment isn't part of this worldview. Rather it is the idea that freedom is simply to submit to God or oppose him. If we consider liberal political philosophy as the view where what is fundamental is human rights or inherent freedoms rather than duties or responsibilities then we can't consider this liberalism, no matter how often people read it into the text. In Levinson's words, "Israel will live only if she freely makes the right choice." (142) Even in the covenant through Moses, it is on the basis of God already preparing a "clearing" for their freedom. "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to me." (Ex 19:4) Even the freeing wasn't due to some hatred of slavery by God, but because Israel was already his chosen people.
The points I wish to bring out of this is how this clearing or opening for freedom is found throughout the Biblical text - often in a political sense. Further this freedom always is seen as something granted by God through his act of creation. Yet the freedom created is not a freedom in the Enlightenment sense of the term. I don't think we can even say within the forms of the narrative that it is libertarian freedom. Rather it is the opening (or holding at bay forces acting upon a people) so that they can choose. But their only real choice is to choose to obey the one who created the opening. If they disobey then that support is withheld. The forces of chaos enter in and freedom is lost until the act of creation is repeated in some new sense.
The "sphere" of creation then can be seen on numerous levels. While we tend to think of it, thanks to Descartes and the Enlightenment, in terms of a kind of mind or soul, we can also think of it as the very world-horizon in which we find ourselves placed. The typology is thus a typology that can apply to numerous narratives. Indeed, I'd argue that it is the underlying typology of the Book of Mormon and its conception of agency.
Just a few ruminations today. First off I have been thinking a lot concerning the kind of typology that I think Levinson brings out of the Old Testament. It is very interesting relative to the Book of Mormon. For one I think it helps explain 2 Nephi 2 quite a bit. Consider for instance verses 26 - 27. There we become free from the law (not be acted upon) until the end of this time. Yet our only choices are to choose liberty through the Messiah or choose captivity through the devil. As in Levinson's analysis of the typology of Genesis 1 in the notion of freedom of Israel, the choice is merely to retain ones freedom or not. I think that if we read through the Book of Mormon it is this notion of freedom as acceptance or rejectance of the sphere of agency itself through its maintainer that is what constitutes freedom. In particular the Lehi's notion of freedom as the ability to act and not be acted upon is only possible if there is some other agent preventing other action. As I discussed earlier I believe that D&C 93 also retains this notion, although I'm open to it expanding it to the ontological arena. What is important to keep in mind is that the narrative is quite different from the narratives we typically have in post-Enlightenment philosophy about liberty and freedom. That's not to say we can't discuss those notions, merely that we must be very cautious about reading them into the scriptural texts.
Now I want to get to the Greek texts. I think Mormons often denegrate Greek thought a tad too much. We see Greek philosophy as the cause of the apostasy. I'm not sure that is fair. Certainly the equating of the Hebrew God with the God of the Greek philosophers was a mistake. Yet I think that both the Jews and the Christians did this. Developing the notion of creation ex nihilo wasn't enough to avoid the problems inherent in this move. But that equation need not mean that there is nothing useful in Greek thought. But Greek thought has its own examples of the "sphere." I personally think that the Greek notions can be rather helpful. I don't want to discuss in depth Greek notions of will or self at this time, merely the notion of a clearing.
Now the most famous notion can be found in Plato's allegory of the cave. There all humanity live in a cave into which light shines. He uses this to contrast reality with the realm of appearances (the shadows from the light) that we consider reality. This is a very important formulation and can be seen as setting a lot of the tone for all philosophy to come. There are other conceptions in Plato that also fit a similar view, including most famously his notion of khora or "receptical." The notion of khora in The Timaeus has been read in many ways, including as representing passive matter itself. We will definitely come back to that as I think it offers one of the most interesting places where Hebrew and Greek thought touch. But for now I wish to touch on more direct metaphors found in later neoPlatonic thought.
In thinking of the world, Plotinus suggests that we try to think of it as unified in our thought as a single entity of thought. This is, in a way, a kind of meditation technique. But the way Plotinus discusses it will be familiar to people reading D&C 77 and D&C 130.
So that whatever part of, for example, the outer sphere is shown forth, there immediately follows the image of the sun together with all of the other stars, and earth and sea and all sentient beings are seen, as if upon a transparent sphere. (Enneads, V.8.9.3 Armstrong tr. quoted in Reading NeoPlatonism, 79)
The sphere before the mind's eye is a space filled up with the entire universe as a whole. Importantly all are on the surface of the sphere - an equidistant from the center. Plotinus uses the imagery in numerous places to discuss consciousness. Sometimes this is a done as a macrocosm with the sphere being the heavens as a whole. Sometimes this is a microcosm with the sphere being a simple illuminated geometric sphere or even ones head. This imagery has a profound impact on philosophical history, perhaps even underlying Descartes' own approach to epistemology and ontology.
One of the reasons Plotinus adopts the imagery of the sphere is quite relevant to our own meditation of the past few days. It is to investigate the relationship of the sphere's maker, to poioun, and its content, ta mere.
If in thought [experiment] someone should gather all the elements, once they had come into being, into a single spherical shape, he could not then claim that many agents made the sphere in a piecemeal fashion, with [each agent] cutting off a different content for himself and isolating it for the purpose of production. Rather, [he should admit] that the cause of the sphere's production is single. (VI.5.9.1-3 quoted in Reading NeoPlatonism, 81)
This is interesting as the "single source" can be considered in many ways. Now for Plotinus, he wished to think of the One as this single source. Yet for "narrower spheres" we might consider it the continents/experiences of the mind or the political arena. Sticking with the narrowers sense, Sara Rappe discusses how this leads to the notion of a self through this sphere.
This text presents a thought experiment in which the objective world dissolves before the mind, leaving in its wake what might literally be described as a stream of consciousness. In our passage, individual substances are shown to consist in qualia, and these qualia in turn are simply modifications of consciousness, or nous, which, I take it, is the "single source" described in the text. In both of these experiments, Plotinus shows us how the soul constructs a contracted sense of self when it conceives the world as outside of the self; this notion of externality is a result of habitually identifying with the body. The thought experiments reveal a way of conceiving the world as not external to the self. Gradually the boundary that separates self and world is erased, when the demarcations of selfhood are no longer around the body, but around the totality of any given phenomenal presentation. (Sara Rappe, Reading NeoPlatonism, 84)
Rappe discusses this notion in several places in here excellent book. (I'd encourage anyone interested in neoPlatonism to get a copy, even though it only deals with a few narrow topics of non-discursive thought in neoPlatonism) One can't help but read these comments and think of Alma 32 and the metaphor of planting a seed within the heart. I think there are numerous parallels there, but I want to hold off on that discussion and deal with it in the context of Heidegger's notion of the clearing, which in turn is far closer to the earlier neoPlatonic notions than many might at first think.
I should urge some caution here. While I've been bringing up parallels, there clearly are numerous differences. I'm definitely not engaging in apologetics here. (NeoPlatonism was fairly well known at Joseph Smith's time and became popularized in the American transcendentalist movement) However I'm also not arguing for borrowing by Joseph from his intellectual environment. I'm interested in the philosophical issues. However before I can get to those I want to lay the fundamental perspectives on the table. Put simply, before we start jumping to conclusions we should try and understand the data we have as best as is possible. Then we can start to speculate, hypothesize, and so forth. I'm convinced that there are differences, but also similiarities. Further I think that in the 20th century there is a kind of merging of the Greek and Hebrew minds on these points that we can see in Heidegger, Derrida, Levinas and others. Because I think these same issues are far more key in Mormon thought as a kind of forgotten substrate, I am convinced these issues are very important to investigate.