Can God be Comprehended?
A while back FireTag (a bloggernacle participant with the Community of Christ) recommended a physics book to me called The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch. I was electrified. I went on to read several more books out of it’s bibliography including Roger Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind, Douglas Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Frank Tipler’s The Physics of Immortality, and Karl Popper’s Myth of the Framework. In addition, I supplemented my science reading with Alice in Quantumland by Robert Gilmore and A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. I’m currently reading Roger Penrose’s The Road to Reality, which will likely be finished just before the day I die.
What all these books have convinced me is that physics is far more than trying to understand “the physical world.” It is really about comprehending reality altogether. Therefore physics is really about (or at least can be about) comprehending God.
If we do discover a complete theory… we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we are and the universe exists. …it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God. (A Brief History of Time, p. 175.)
…physics must be extended into theology. (The Physics of Immortality, p. 329)
Is that a laudable goal, to try to comprehend God? Is God even comprehensible? Please note, I do not mean to ask if God is comprehensible to current mortal man. No, I am asking if God is comprehensible at all.
What is Comprehension?
What does it mean to comprehend something? Try to define that for yourself for a moment to get a feel for the difficulty in doing so.
I would like to propose a fairly straight forward definition for your consideration.  I propose that “to comprehend” something is the ability to describe it in terms of the aximos and laws the govern it — to algorithmically compress it, if you will. If we comprehend how the world goes around the sun, this surely must mean we understand the laws of physics that cause it to do so. Therefore comprehensibility is equivalent to explanation and description. (At least under this definition.)
Can God Comprehend Himself?
An interesting question is if God can explain Himself and therefore comprehend Himself?  If He does comprehend Himself, then we have already deduced that He is describable via laws. This means that once we have an “ultimate set of laws of physics” they must also be able to describe God.
Theology and Science
This means that a fully revealed theology will be absorbed into some future theory of everything, just as Hawking and Tipler predicted. However, we should not expect our current Mormon theology, at it’s current level of imprecision, to entirely match our current understanding of physics any more than we expect our current quantum theory to match our current theory of general relativity. Indeed, it is well known that quantum and relativity theories are a contradiction to each other.
Unfortunately, however, these two theories are known to be inconsistent with each other – they cannot both be correct. (A Brief History of Time, p. 11-12)
This means that until all knowledge is revealed and theology is so precise that it’s converged into physics, we should not expect science and theology to always agree, though we should expect to find many significant touch points between them along the way.
In The Fabric of Reality, David Deutsch put it this way:
Arthur C. Clarke once remarked that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. This is true, but slightly misleading. It is stated from the point of view of a pre-scientific thinker, which is the wrong way round. The fact is that to anyone who understands what virtual reality is, even genuine magic would be indistinguishable from technology, for there is no room for magic in a comprehensible reality. Anything that seems incomprehensible is regarded by science merely as evidence that there is something we have not yet understood, be it a conjuring trick, advanced technology or a new law of physics. (The Fabric of Reality, p. 138)
But will our current understanding of the laws of physics have anything in common with this hypothetical “ultimate theory?” What is the relationship between our current laws and the ultimate laws? Are they like Newton’s compared to Einstein’s or are they like Aristotle’s compared to Einstein’s?
D&C 88 – A Comprehensible God
Regardless, this is all good news for Mormons and bad news for all other Christian religions, for in D&C 88, we are told to expect God Himself to be fully comprehensible.
D&C 88:49 The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not; nevertheless, the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, being quickened in him and by him.
Indeed, what is the Doctrine of Deification (I.e. The doctrine of becoming one with God or in other words “becoming gods.”) but a statement of the comprehensibility of God. If we can become gods, then we know God is, to the right level of intellect, comprehensible. Deification therefore must logically flows from any science world view that includes the concept of God.
Interestingly, God is defined in terms of His comprehension as well:
41 [God] comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever.
And, without missing a beat, comprehension is explicitly tied to the concept of “law.”
34 And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.
37 And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.
38 And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.
39 All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified.
42 And again, verily I say unto you, he hath given a law unto all things, by which they move in their times and their seasons;
This Doctrine of the Comprehensibility of God explains a mystery around the assertion that spirits are in some sense “matter.”
There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; D&C 131:7
Outside of this D&C quote, we have no official doctrine on what “spirits” really are. But what does this scripture actually tell us? Well, not much. Does it mean spirits are energy? Many Mormons believe that since we now know matter and energy are really one and the same. But many of us are dubious of that since then we’d be able to easily detect spirits with modern technology.
Another theory I’ve heard is that spirits are really “matter” that relies on forces that don’t interact with our visible matter. Since matter is really just forces, if you have two forces that don’t interact at all, they are entirely undetectable from each other. You could, if you will, have two entirely different physical worlds overlapping each other but not interacting with each other.
The truth is that the word “matter” in D&C 131:7 just doesn’t tell us much. The only thing it really tells us is that we should expect “spirits” to be governed by some, perhaps yet to be discovered, law of physics. Therefore, we expect “spirits” to be just as comprehensible, at least in principle, through descriptions of these laws as the physical world we now inhabit is through our current understanding of the laws of physics. D&C 131 is best understood as a statement about the potential comprehensibility of spirit matter.
The significance of this requires a bit more explanation.
Undefined vs. Negatively Defined
I had a conversation with a Catholic friend recently where I claimed that the main difference between the Mormon and Catholic concept of “spirit”is that to Mormons it’s undefined and to non-Mormon Christians it’s negatively defined.
The easiest way to understand the difference between “undefined” and “negatively defined” is to imagine Michael the Archangel showing up in my bed room tomorrow and revealing to me the physical laws that govern the spirit world. If you don’t believe that mortals can comprehend such a thing (or you can’t imagine me comprehending it anyhow) then imagine Michael first increasing my intellect until I can and then taking several years to give me an advanced PhD in spiritual physics.
Then imagine me publishing a paper entitled “The Laws of Spirit Physics” whereby I describe the physical laws that explain what spirits are as given to me by this angel from God.
The Mormons in the world would shrug their shoulders and say “Eh, it might be right. Who knows?”
By comparison, I suspect the non-LDS Christians of the world would definitively state it to be incorrect because it would violate their belief that “immaterial spirits” are in any sense comprehensible. Therefore even “the truth” (as we are supposing is being published) would be openly denied.
In other words, non-LDS Christian beliefs in “immaterial spirits” (at least as far as I understand it) are really just a way of saying that spirits can’t be explained, even by God. For if God can explain them, then they are by definition “comprehensible” and thus by definition they are governed by some heretofore undiscovered theory of everything.
Fear Not Science
If God is comprehensible, then we should never fear scientific discoveries. Henry Eyring, the famous Mormon Scientist, recalled the advice his father gave him before he went off to college:
I’m convinced that the Lord used the Prophet Joseph Smith to restore His Church. For me, that is a reality. I haven’t any doubt about it. Now, there are a lot of other matters that are much less clear to me. But in this Church you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true. You go over to the University of Arizona and learn everything you can, and whatever is true is part of the gospel. The Lord is actually running the universe. (Reflections of a Scientist, p. 1)
 In proposing this definition for “comprehension” I am not suggesting there aren’t other possible valid definitions also. Wrestling over words is pointless. Try to understand the underlying concept instead.
 Some of the comments below suggested the possiblity that God might have some sort of extra form of epistemology (i.e. theory of knowledge) available to Him. Therefore, an infinite human-like intellect would be unable to comprehend or explain things that God can. This is an idea worthy of further criticism, perhaps in a future post. However, for the sake of this post, even if God has extra epistemological means available, this still means He can describe Himself via those means. He just wouldn’t be able to explain Himself to us. So the “ultimate set of laws of physics” would only be available to God and never will be to us. That strikes me as a rather bleak thought, and I see massive logical problems with that approach.
Update: Based on the comments below, I made minor changes to this post to reflect the suggested subtle difference between “comprehending” and “explaining” and I got rid of the word “physical.” The notes were added to clarify a few points.