A reprint from Mormon Matters.
Prepare for the ultimate philosophical smack down between a David and a Goliath! In one corner we have our champ Craig L. Blomberg who I have been told is one of the foremost New Testament scholars in the world. Simply put, he’s brilliant.
Our contender is my former missionary companion who was never anything but a junior companion.
Craig Blomberg comes out of his corner swinging, in How Wide the Divide? His upper-cut is the logical impossibility of the Mormon concept of becoming divine and having more than one Omnipotent “being.” He says,
Even simple logic should suggest that it is contradictory to have more than one omnipotent being; otherwise, for example, not only would God be able to judge me but I would be able to judge God. Both of us could theoretically destroy each other, and then there would be no eternally existing God. (How Wide the Divide? p. 212)
Well, spectators at home, Mormonism has taken a blow. It starts to fall and swoon. Blomberg may have just disproven Mormonism altogether using “simple logic.” So everyone on this website, please close up shop and go home, this show is over.
But wait, here comes my poor little companion out of his corner with a one-two punch response to Blomberg – and years before Blomberg ever tried his upper cut!
In passing my companion once mentioned to me that the Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt to disprove other Christians with the very same argument Blomberg uses. It seems the Jehovah’s Witnesses are fond of saying, “How can there be three Almighties? That’s a contradiction! All of Christianity is wrong, including Craig Blomberg’s form of it! [Note: okay, I admit I added that part.] Jehovah is the only Almighty and Jesus is not an Almighty! “My Father is Greater than I.” This is simple logic! All of Christendom should convert to the religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses because we are the only ones being logical!”
“But Elder Nielson,” he said to me, “They are wrong. This isn’t logical. If multiple beings have the same purpose and will — if they never come into conflict over what they want — you can logically have an infinite number of Almighties.”
So there we have it: my former companion’s inadvertent response to Craig Blomberg’s “simple logic.” It would appear our Goliath is down for the count, logically speaking. He never made it past round 1.
The Aftermath: One Moral Will Theology
My former companion’s brief comment resulted into my additional scriptural studies on this topic. This proved a profitable approach to scripture study, particularly with the Book of Mormon.
I have named this doctrine: “One Moral Will Theology.”
At the same time my companion clarified for me the profound importance of Jesus’ teaching that He and the Father were one (John 10:30) and that He desired His disciples to be one with Him in the same way He is one with the Father. (John 17:11, 21) It turns out Jesus didn’t just want us to “be one” (D&C 38:27) because it’s unseemly when we don’t behave ourselves.
And it came to pass that I realized that in Mormon theology the Trinity Doctrine and Plurality of Gods Doctrine are really one and the same doctrine.
Logic and Reason: Are Human Beings Capable of Using Them Evenly?
All these years later, I am still dumbfounded at the ease with which my companion shunted aside such a logically “sounding” surface argument. It has made me question the purpose of even having logic/reason discussions such as this. If this is the best a massively brilliant person like Blomberg can do, how well am I doing?
But what really amazes me are the following three take aways from this match up:
Point #1: Even Really Smart People Are Incapable of Using Reason If It Goes Against Their Beliefs
How could someone as smart as Craig Blomberg not figure out that the Mormon view of Deity suffers no “simple logic” problem like he asserts? It’s certainly not a lack of familiarity with Mormon theology on this subject; his grasp of Mormon theology through out the book proves this.
And how could he not see that his “simple logic” could be – is — used against him just as easily and would mean little more?
Once we realize that to everyone in the world — save creedal Christians only — that “being” and “person” are synonyms, consider a slight rewording of Blomberg’s quote:
“Even simple logic should suggest that it is contradictory to have more than one omnipotent person; otherwise, for example, not only would the Father be able to judge Jesus but Jesus would be able to judge Father. Both of them could theoretically destroy each other, and then there would be no eternally existing God.”
Do you think Blomberg would still feel this is good logic? Is he ready to go join the Jehovah’s Witnesses now?
Point #2: We Don’t Differentiate Between “Logic” and “Assumption”
Perhaps more uncomfortable is the realization that Blomberg’s logic is actually sound; it’s just based on assumptions Mormons don’t hold. I will grant that his unspoken assumption plays to our intuition: the fact that no two persons on earth ever completely share one moral will and purpose. That is to say, we have no direct experience with people that share the same purpose and will so it’s hard for us to conceive. Blomberg’s “logic” is only “logic” if we start with the assumption that such a thing is impossible.
Worse yet, as per my reworded quote above, it would appear that Blomberg’s argument was based on an assumption that he does not himself hold to be true. What we have here is a double standard in his logic.
But this is only the beginning of my woes because:
Point #3: This Post is A Waste of All Our Time
Because either a) I think I’m being logical, but in reality I am just fooling myself to believe that I am because it’s convenient for my point of view (see point number 1); or b) I am being logical but it won’t matter because anyone that disagrees with me (including Blomberg if he were to read this) will fail to comprehend the logic presented because it’s convenient for their point of view.
Either way this post was pointless.
Bruce, I think this was your best-written post. Tight language, lively writing. Well done.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a more salient, thought-provoking piece that was entirely pointless (as you indicated). Well done.
I wouldn’t describe Blomberg as “massively brilliant.” Steven Robinson takes him apart in “How Wide the Divide.” But it’s not a fair playing field you have to admit. Mormonism is slightly more plausible than Evangelism. But only slightly. Belief in omnipotent beings, singular or plural, is an irrational belief. Appeals to logic will never bear fruit, and as you say, are completely pointless.
Blomberg is great because he is humble and generous. Humble enough to be true to his belief in the supremacy of the Bible, as irrational as that is, and generous enough to listen and talk to Mormons in a respectful way, as crazy and dangerous as their beliefs seem to him.
Sorry, you’re conclusion isn’t a very good one, and not because it goes against your beliefs, but because it relies upon bad logic.
You’ve presented a false dichotomy based on two sweeping generalizations. Let me paraphrase your argument.
Generalization 1 – No one–including smart people–is capable of using reasoning that goes against their beliefs (taken from heading of point 1). If that were true, then how do you explain scientific advancement? Do you honestly believe that people cannot change their beliefs through reasoning?
Generalization 2 – All logic comes down to assumptions (beliefs), therefore no one can logically persuade someone else to believe something new if one does not share the same assumptions (taken from point 2 and conclusion choice b). Seriously?
This is a false dichotomy.
As a side note, your companion’s logic also does not hold. It really is logically incoherent to have one being that has the quality of all power, and another being that has the quality of all power, existing at the same time. One would have to have the power to not be influenced by the other, making that one the more powerful of the two by definition.
Mormonism gets around this by defining omnipotent differently. And classical Christianity gets around this by the Trinity (contra the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ attack, and contra your manipulating the definitions of being and person to mean something different than what classical Christians mean by them). Blomberg holds no double standard, making his beliefs logically valid; just not logically sound.
First of all, you are taking a humor piece too seriously. Go read my posts on epistemology if you want my *actual* opinions on the subjects you bring up of use of logic and reason.I do, in fact, believe that we can make real rational progress through criticism as per Popperian epistemology.
To that end, my companion’s argument seems valid to me and I find your counter argument problematic at best. I simply do not see why the problem of multiple almighties can’t be solved by all of them having the same moral will. It is not logically impossible to imagine multiple persons with a single moral will that never come into conflict and you fall quite short of suggesting why this would be a problem. (Presumably due to lack of space in comments.)
And I do not believe Mormonism gets around “this problem” (which I am not convinced is a problem) by defining omnipotence differently. (Though perhaps they do, I don’t know. But I don’t see a connection here.)
I’m curious what you believe creedal Christianity believes about “persons” and “beings” as frankly those two are synonymous in normal use. I think you go too far when you claim that they mean something different by it as I have found asking for such definitions an exercise in garbled words rather then an actual ability to define these terms in some consistent way. (Bear in mind I also wrote this post years and years ago and have talked to people about this more since.)
Personally, I think they use the Trinity doctrine (including concepts like ‘person’ and ‘being’) as a sort of “null value” that is not equal to anything but can be changed at will. So I’m not convinced we do or don’t disagree with them. I’m not convinced they are saying anything meaningful at all — though perhaps they are and I just don’t understand yet.
Proving me wrong on this should be simple. Just define “Person” vs. “Being” to me (as Creedal Christians would define it differently from me) clearly and precisely and we’ll see if you’re right or not. If you can, then I’ll admit that I misunderstood their definitions (which is something very different then ‘manipulating’ since I was sincere in my misuderstanding.)
But I am not willing to take your word for this and I shouldn’t. You are not someone I recognize as an authority on this topic and frankly, even if you were (Blomberg is) that wouldn’t mean I should take your word for it either. It’s up to you to explain how the two words are used in special usage by creedal Trinitarians such that they are no longer synonyms. The burden of proof is yours, not mine.
Oh, by the way DavidF (since this didn’t come across in my resonse) all your comments were very good thoughts and all thoughts worth pursuing (which is why I’m pursuing them.)
I would appreciate it if you started with the assumption that I’m stupid rather than malicious, however. I think you’ll waste your time if you keep insisting that I’m being manipulative. I have to *actually understand* the Trinity doctrine to be manipulative about it. And I don’t. What I find to be in quesiton is whether it makes coherent sense at all in the first place, or if it’s just a “null value” that creedal Trinitarians pour contradictory meanings into.
Again, please assume I’m stupid rather than dishonest. I honestly do not believe the Trinity doctrine (or the use of persons or beings) ia a coherent point of view. Thus my hesitancy to pretend that it is. However, I admit I might be wrong about that. The easy way to change my mind would be to give me a rationally coherent set of definitions that I can work with and draw conclusions from.
I realise I’m a rank amateur in this discussion, but let me try to put my oar in (I don’t want to intrude in anyone’s territory and I hope I’m not doing it):
I just simply cannot figure out why “simple logic” shows that there cannot be more than one Omnipotent. Perhaps because they’ve always been told so?
An admittedly stilted analogy permitted, perhaps? We have five adult children (“we” being the missus and I). As they are adults I do all I can to defer to them as mature, responsible (more or less) persons, unless my advise is sought. They behave the same way towards me. So far, no pissing contests between us. Even our sons behave quite maturely, at least when I’m around. 🙂
Another thing I’d like to point out is the idea of “Omnipotence”. Where did it come from in the first place in the sense of God having created the Universe Ex Nihilo in a blink of an eye? Does it have to mean a judgemental relationship? And even if there is a risk of that, how about a slightly gradated hierarchy so that we wouldn’t step on each others’ toes?
I admit a bit of me is being a little impertinent. But why should a flawed theology be giving us advice about our doctrine? I know the context, but still it sounds a bit silly when the very concept of us being “Christian” is in question with them mainly because of the Trinity. Which again is based on non-scriptural ideas.
I see Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm of Malmberg/Canterbury/Laon (somehow I remember a good many Anselms) and so forth and so on. Mainstream Christianity developed those ideas over fifteen centuries to arrive where this argument comes from. Anselm of Canterbury’s Ontological Argument is always enlightening in that respect. And I think to God all that is about as meaningful as the running verbal battles about caffeine on Mormon chat/message spaces. (Alluding to the 1st Presidency statement about caffeine last week or the week before.)
I immediately thought of Kurt Gödel when I was reading the argument against the existence of more than one Omnipotent. Gödel realised, that if integers are an infinite continuum, between each integer there is an infinity of real numbers, and imaginary ones. Which Infinity is bigger? Both are infinite, but can one compare them? Perfect beings are, I guess, infinite beings?
In this vein, maybe there is a hierarchy of Gods like Joseph Smith seems to suggest vaguely in King Follett? Arguing that this is impossible is like arguing that one can not have an infinity of real and imaginary numbers between each integer.
Okay. I thought it was a serious post throughout. I haven’t been around long enough to catch people’s humor here. I’ll catch on.
Here is the problem with your companion’s logic, as best I can articulate it. The problem isn’t with whether two beings can share the equivalent amount of power, and be extremely powerful, the problem is definitional. What does it mean to be all-powerful? It means being able to do anything that is thinkable. Anything is possible. But if two beings can do anything that is possible, they could cancel each other out, which means that neither of them can do anything that is possible since they limit each other in some way. Even if they never actually limit each other, the fact that they can possibly limit each other means that neither of them have the ability to actually do anything. Either we have to change what we mean by all-powerful, or we have to say only one being has this attribute.
This presents a problem for classical Christianity. God has to be all-powerful because He created everything, but He also shares the attribute of Godhood with two others. All of them must be all-powerful, but none of them can be by definition. Hence the Trinity. But since we are talking about something non-existent in nature, we have to use a specialized vocabulary to make it intelligible. “Being” and “person” are recycled as technical terms in this vocabulary. Being, is in a sense “God-substance” which all three members of the Godhood share. They all are the same God-substance. But they also can act, think, and speak separately. There are things that are true about the Father that are not true about the Son, and so they are also different from each other. They are three persons, but one being. This solves the problem of having three all-powerful figures in classical Christianity.
In Mormonism, though, we don’t believe God can do everything. God doesn’t create matter. He doesn’t create intelligence. He can’t let mercy rob justice. When we say God is omnipotent, we mean He can do everything that he actually can do, although He is in fact limited by reality. And so when a good member dies and becomes a god, He becomes a powerful being, perhaps as powerful as God, but he can’t do anything more than what God can do. The point is, we just mean somethind different by God, so we don’t have to worry about this definitional paradox of “all-powerful.”
I hope that makes sense.
By the way, I’ve gone back and read several of your earlier posts. I think you are a great thinker. You clearly know a lot of things I don’t. I was very interested in your thoughts on utilitarianism, and am glad you are willing to post your ideas here for the rest of us to read. If I come across as crass, its because I’m studying for the LSAT, and I have to let my aggression out somewhere. I try to keep it reasonable, though.
I agree with the junior companion — mostly. Yes there can be an infinite number of beings involved. *But* they, together, own the one and only title on omnipotence. God is that generous. He allows all who are one with him to be full partners in his power.
The glory of the sun is one, not many. Therefore there is no rivalry because there are no competing omnipotent beings. They all share (for lack of a better way of putting it) one omnipotence.
DavidF says: “What does it mean to be all-powerful? It means being able to do anything that is thinkable.”
Yes, I think you have explained yourself well. Let me now interact by channelling my Jr. Companion. I think he’d say something like this (or at least *I* would). I think to be all-powerful is to be able to accomplish whatever you wish, but, of course within the bounds of what is logically possible. (i.e. no perfectly round squares or lifting a rock that God can’t lift.)
I believe that your argument actually boils down to a logical contradiction equivalent to a perfectly round square. Let me explain why I feel that way.
We can ask “what if Jesus and the Father wanted to do something that the other did not?” But, in fact, that question is nonsensical to a Mormon because they have one moral will. They would not be one God in the first place but for the fact that that question is nonsensical. Or so that is what I believe Mormon doctrine implies.
As for the creedal Trinity doctrine’s response to this question. Let me quote you here again:
This is, I think (or at least in my experience), exactly the “correct” answer from a creedal Trinity viewpoint. So I congratulate you for being able to put other people’s thoughts into words.
What I can’t figure out is how in any sense it solves the problem!
After all they “also can act, think, and speak separately”. So the question “what if Jesus and the Father wanted to do something that the other did not?” is as valid or invalid for the creedal Trinity as it is for the Mormon Trinity, isn’t it?
My point being that if we decide (for the sake of argument) that that question is valid for Mormonism and thus Jesus and the Father aren’t actually omnipotent, then it seems to me that the question must of necessity be equally valid for Creedal Trinity as well, thus we actually solved nothing via the Creedal Trinity.
On the other hand, if you buy my argument that the question wasn’t valid because Jesus and the Father by definition do not have differing moral wills, then it seems to me that the only aspect of the Creedal Trinity doctrine that was required to solve the problem was the One Moral Will theology that is *hidden in the Creedal Trinity in a lot of words* but can be extracted out and the rest can be shunted aside. I do not see how the idea that there is a “God-substance” or even the idea of some technical definition of “Person” and “Being” helps at all in solving or not solving the problem. So long at they are “Person” in the sense of being able to do different things, none of that matters. It seems to me that they are all just fancy and vague concepts that hide the actual underlying solution: that they are three person that never want conflicting things due to having one moral will. But you don’t need any God-subtances to get to that solution.
That is my honest (current) opinion, anyhow. Subject to change upon having someone explain to me anything I don’t currently understand that changes my mind.
Does my view make sense to you? It honestly seems to me that the only aspect of the Creedal Trinity that matters was the very aspect Mormons still believe in: One Moral Will. Therefore Mormon Trinity and Creedal Trinity actually agree upon how three persons can be one God, i.e. through the One Moral Will doctrine. Or so it seems to me.
By the way, good luck on the LSAT!!!
Jack, good point!
On a basic level, the question DavidF’s Creedal Christian omnipotence argument ignores is whether the Father and the Son have the ability to disagree or to limit each other and whether that implicates omnipotence. Clearly the Father could limit the Son, or influence the Son.
Similarly, we believe that the oneness experienced by omnipotent beings precludes disagreement. We don’t believe that omnipotent beings don’t disagree because they’re not powerful enough, but because being omnipotent and omniscient allows them to see everything. It is also based on the belief that there is a right answer to every question and God knows that answer—so of course every omnipotent being would agree.
HeLi, Another good point!
This starts to get into a fuzzy area for me, but here is how I think creedal Christians might defend their position.
Even though the Trinity represents three persons, they are all still one God. It’s a little different than your argument. We’re talking about whether a being can act out against himself v. whether one being can act out against another. It’s true, there are a few things that even the creedal notion of God cannot do. He could not do something to undermine himself, such as bind himself. That would, in a sense, make HIm less than omnipotent. So the Trinitarian Jesus could not bind the Father without also binding himself because they are both God (not Gods, but God), and God cannot do that.
This is a matter of impossibility, whereas the question of whether Jesus could bind the Father in Mormon thought is a matter of goodwill, or at least desire for unity. Perhaps His unity with the Father is a precondition of whether He can actually be God. That is, one cannot be God without expressing a united moral will. But creedal Christians, at least medieval ones, wouldn’t accept this as part of the definition of God. And since unity isn’t part of what it means to be God, then it is possible that He is not united with other all-powerful figures.
Of course, you could argue that a united moral will is part of what it means to be God. But creedal Christianity, in at least its medieval form, doesn’t allow for any specific moral principle to be part of God’s definition since God decides what is moral. In that case, the One Moral Will argument may be good for Mormonism, but I don’t think it fits with creedal Christianity.
[This may go over ground already covered in other comments, but I’ll go ahead and post it in my own words.]
You write, ‘“But Elder Nielson,” he said to me, “They are wrong. This isn’t logical. If multiple beings have the same purpose and will — if they never come into conflict over what they want — you can logically have an infinite number of Almighties.”’
I think this answer misses the point. The point is not whether multiple omnipotent beings ever *would* harm each other. The point is whether, according to the definition of “omnipotent”, they *could*. An omnipotent being is one that has power over everything; therefore he could destroy (or control in one way or another) anything if he chose to. If there are other beings whom he could not destroy (or control in whatever way) if he chose to, then he is not omnipotent. Whether he *would* ever choose to do those things is a separate question.
You write, ‘Once we realize that to everyone in the world — save creedal Christians only — that “being” and “person” are synonyms, consider a slight rewording of Blomberg’s quote: “Even simple logic should suggest that it is contradictory to have more than one omnipotent person; otherwise, for example, not only would the Father be able to judge Jesus but Jesus would be able to judge Father. Both of them could theoretically destroy each other, and then there would be no eternally existing God.” Do you think Blomberg would still feel this is good logic? Is he ready to go join the Jehovah’s Witnesses now?’
It’s fine logic given the premises. But obviously, he would reject the premises.
By the way, I’m curious: What is the nature of the force which prevents the multiple almighty gods posited by your companion from ever coming into a conflict of wills? Is it a voluntary thing, or is it something they are simply incapable of doing? If the latter, what makes them incapable? If this is too big a subject to get into, that’s fine. Just a passing curiosity.
Incapable, Agellius, because their wills are perfectly aligned, because they are perfectly good and perfectly knowledgeable, because an imperfect being could not be all-powerful.
I get that their wills are perfectly aligned. But why? Are you saying that logically, beings who are perfectly good and perfectly knowledgeable can never disagree on anything? or have differing, or even conflicting, desires?
Also, I get that they’re perfectly good. But what is the source of this perfect goodness? Are they perfectly good by nature? If not, then where does their perfect goodness come from? And by what standard is it measured?
I think your question should be answered by you first: What is the nature of the force which prevents the multiple almighty [persons] posited by [the creeds] from ever coming into a conflict of wills?
And more to the point, what the heck does the fact that they are one substance in any way related to the issue? Heck, I’m one substance (according to what you tell me) and I have a conflict of will with myself all the time. If I were multiple persons, so much more it would be a problem.
“Even though the Trinity represents three persons, they are all still one God.”
But that is also true for Mormonism under certain important — the most important — definitions of the word “God.” So I am not seeing the difference still.
“It’s a little different than your argument. We’re talking about whether a being can act out against himself v. whether one being can act out against another.”
Still not seeing the issue here. I sometimes act against myself because I’m made up of at least two or more moral wills, as a matter of fact, whereas Jesus and the Father have only one between the two of them in both Mormon Theology and the Creeds.
The only difference I see here is that from a creedal perspective, one can only have one moral will with another person if one happens to be of one God-substance. Mormons don’t know what a God-substance is and can’t think of any reason why it matters to the argument. It seems to me that that is the sole difference here.
“Goodness” or “Morality” (or any other synonym) is the word we use to describe how God or people behaving like God act. (i.e. out of love.)
DavidF says “This is a matter of impossibility, whereas the question of whether Jesus could bind the Father in Mormon thought is a matter of goodwill, or at least desire for unity”
Again, I don’t really see the difference here.
It’s like Creedal Trinitarians make up a language rule that if two persons happen to be one substance then their choice to not bind each other must, of necessity, be *not* because they love each other and have a shared moral will but because it’s impossible because they are one substance. Therefore (so goes the apparent argument) there is an important difference here because they are saying its impossible because they are one substance and Mormons are only say it’s impossible because they have a shared moral will.
I honest honestly don’t see any useful difference here. I get it why the medieval, given their science and best explanations back then would not have thought of the concept of one moral will and would have instead thought of the concept of substances.
And, to that, I’d like to suggest a possiblity that I’ve pushed before, but no one seems to like (Mormon or non-Mormon.) What if we decided (for the sake of argument) that the one moral will *is the one God-substance?*
I actually think this thought, right or wrong ultimately, is productively worth following.
You write, “I think your question should be answered by you first: What is the nature of the force which prevents the multiple almighty [persons] posited by [the creeds] from ever coming into a conflict of wills?”
If we were in “debate mode” then I might agree with you. : ) But I wasn’t debating, I was asking a question that arose out of something you said. I know what my answer would be, I’m interested in what yours is.
You write, ‘“Goodness” or “Morality” (or any other synonym) is the word we use to describe how God or people behaving like God act. (i.e. out of love.)’
I agree with you. But I’m not sure what it’s in response to since I didn’t ask for a definition of “goodness”.
“The only difference I see here is that from a creedal perspective, one can only have one moral will with another person if one happens to be of one God-substance. Mormons don’t know what a God-substance is and can’t think of any reason why it matters to the argument. It seems to me that that is the sole difference here.”
If you are looking at it practically, then you’re right, it doesn’t matter. Either way, the Father and the Son are unified. But how we get to that conclusion is important. They have to rely on different arguments than we do, in part because we believe different things about God.
“It’s like Creedal Trinitarians make up a language rule that if two persons happen to be one substance then their choice to not bind each other must, of necessity, be *not* because they love each other and have a shared moral will but because it’s impossible because they are one substance.”
I think the argument is a little bit stronger than that, but you have it in a crude form. Still, creedal Christians would acknowledge that the Father and the Son do love each other. There’s just no real alternative (which we also believe).
“And, to that, I’d like to suggest a possiblity that I’ve pushed before, but no one seems to like (Mormon or non-Mormon.) What if we decided (for the sake of argument) that the one moral will *is the one God-substance?*”
I’m not sure I follow. I don’t quite understand why either Mormons or non-Mormons would accept that. A moral will cannot be a substance, and creedal Chrstianity works on the grounds that God is this God-substance.
Agellius, I’ll answer the question after you do first.
And, actually, my answer about what you called “the definition of goodness” was the correct answer to your question. Think about to our conversation about Popper vs. Aristotle and it’s all there for you when you’re ready for it.
I wrote a long response and it got deleted before I could post it. Dang it all!
Okay, let me try to summarize. But keep in mind that it made a lot more sense when I made it longer.
First, I do not doubt that neither Mormons and nor Creedal Christians will accept the idea that One Moral Will (Mormon) can be thought of as equivalent to One God-Substance (Creedal.) But that’s what I said. That no one agrees with me.
Does that mean we can’t explore it and mine it for possibilities? Maybe. That’s up to you. I’m not asserting a truth. I’m exploring a thought.
Further, I would not expect Mormons to agree with me. They care nothing for God-Substances other than “that’s what the otehr guys believe.”
And, as I stated before, I think that Creedal Christians rely upon the fact that the terms they use are (particularly modernly) quite vague and thus play a role like a mathematical “null value” i.e. a value that is not equal to anything by definition.
A God-Substance is, within a modern scientific world view, something quite vague, imprecise, and really not relevant any more with out current best theories. We don’t really generally accept (within our modern views) the necessity of the exitence of forms, for example. They simply have no real explanatory role for the most part. (Outside of some specific counter examples, such as math.)
If I am right that they use it as a “null value” (and I believe I probably am, though this is probably a concept very new to you, so I won’t blame you for rejecting it) then *of course* Creedal Christians will not accept the idea that a God-Substance is the same as the Mormon concept of One Moral Will. For One Moral Will is a far less vague, easy to understand concept. So it *must not be equal* to a God-substance.
So given that I’m admiting no one agrees with me, and giving that I have a pretty good reason for why I wouldn’t have expected many to agree with me. And given that I’m not even asserting what I am saying it true, only that it’s worth exploring, please consider the following parallel that I personally find interesting, though your mileage may vary:
It seems to me that we’ve not been talking for a while about how One Moral Will and God-Substances play a very similar role in our two respective theologies. In fact, so similar that you finally admited “If you are looking at it practically, then you’re right, it doesn’t matter.”
I want to suggest that the similarities are both real and significant. And, I want to suggest that they run even deeper then this — at least in one important aspect.
Take a thought experiment. Pretend like in Heaven the Son decides to go fishing one day and the Father decides to watch a play. There is no moral conflict here at all. The Father *wants* the Son to go enjoy Himself fishing and the Son *wants* the Father to go enjoy the play. So while they want different things, due to there being no moral conflict, there is no question of omnipotence to consider.
But later that day, Lucifer starts a rebellion and the Son and the Father (being omniscient) both instantly know about it. They must now make a moral decision about how to deal with the rebellion. Both know all the facts with perfection. Both are perfectly moral. So instantly (without any need to consult each other like we mortals) they both make the same identical decision. (i.e. Lucifer is to be cast out.)
In the first case, there were two non-moral wills in play. In the second case there is a single moral will in play. The fact that the Father and the Son both have distinct non-moral wills defines them as being two distinct persons. The fact that they have s single moral will defines them as a single “Godhead” or (as Creedal Christians might also put it) as a single “Being” (or “super person” as I prefer to say it)
In short, it seems to me that the concept of One Moral Will literally defines in what sense God is both three persons and one Godhead (or Being.)
Granted Mormons and Creedal Christians use differnent language (Mormons would probably avoid “Being” though their concept of “Godhead” is pretty close to the same thing.) But when you map it all out, the fact that both are explaining the same thing and that One Moral Will plays the same role in the explanation as One God-Substance is a striking point to me.
In fact, they seem to not only play the same role in the explanation. It seems to me that One Moral Will is an *explanation* of what a God-substance might be since it explains *how* three Persons can be One Being without there being any sort of contradiction. Further, it’s very difficult to me to imagine how you could define three persons as one being without eventually having to sneak One Moral Will into the equation somewhere (as Creedal Christians end up doing.)
Will Creedal Christains accept this explanation? Absolutely not! They will insist that a Moral Will is not the same as a Substance.
But honestly, does anyone have any thing but the vaguest notion of what a substance is supposed to be in real life? How, exactly, can they be sure that a substance can’t be a moral will if they can’t really define it in the first place?
Again, I think they modernly use substances (however it migth have originally been intended ancient) as a “null value” and therefore their objection isn’t really warranted until they are willing to define substances such that they are a precise well defined concept. (Which I believe to be impossible given what we now know about, say, evolution and atomism.)
But in any case, whether or not a God-Substance and Moral Will are equivalent isn’t really my point. Presumably they are not the same at least in the fact that one is a well defined concept and the other isn’t.
But there are striking similarities between the two that get overlooked. Perhaps Mormons should stop running from wording like “three persons and one being” and just map those to our belief that God is three persons and one God.
Perhaps Mormons should stop running from things like God-substances and instead of rejecting them out of hand just say “well, I don’t know what a substance is, and I’m doubtful they exist at all or that even you can define them well. But since I don’t konw what they are, I can’t really tell you if the Godhead is one substance or not, so for all I know I do believe in one God-substance and I might actually agree with you, though I doubt it.”
It seems to me like that is the only possible correct answer to such a vaguely defined null value as a God-substance.
I’m probably dropping too many thoughts all at once here.
Look at the example. Tell me there isn’t a striking similarity between One Moral Will and God-substance in the example. At least see my point there. The rest is pretty negotiable to me. 🙂
I get that their wills are perfectly aligned. But why? Are you saying that logically, beings who are perfectly good and perfectly knowledgeable can never disagree on anything? or have differing, or even conflicting, desires?
I think you make a good point. I think there may be a little more to the difference between God-substance and One Moral Will, but I agree that your thought experiment shows how similar these two ideas are. What I mean is, the idea of a God-substance also answers other problems that plagued early Christianity which are beyond the scope of One Moral Will. But in the context of this argument, and even in a defense against Blomberg, they are fairly identitical.
Either way you get the notion of one God, and I think that really helps Mormons get around some uncomfortable scriptural ambiguities, especially Abinidai’s “one God speech” in Mosiah 15, which is a little uncomfortable for we Mormons who like to keep Jesus and the Father neat and separate. I can see myself using your thought experiment to help explain this passage in the future, because I think it is instructive.
It’s also an interesting point in the related question: Is Mormonism monotheistic or polytheistic, for which, I am confident, you will never find a group of more than 5 Latter-day Saints in agreement.
You write, “I’ll answer the question after you do first.”
Well, that’s disappointing. Would you mind telling me why your answer is dependent on mine? I would have assumed you had an answer that could stand on its own.
In any case, the question was actually directed at Adam, and he has already answered without requiring me to jump through hoops as a prerequisite.
You write, “And, actually, my answer about what you called “the definition of goodness” was the correct answer to your question. Think about to our conversation about Popper vs. Aristotle and it’s all there for you when you’re ready for it.”
Actually, it doesn’t answer my question at all. Far from asking for a definition of “goodness”, my question assumed one.
Adam writes, “[quoting me] ‘I get that their wills are perfectly aligned. But why? Are you saying that logically, beings who are perfectly good and perfectly knowledgeable can never disagree on anything? or have differing, or even conflicting, desires?’ Yes.”
Then I’m curious: Would they all have the same thoughts at all times? The same experiences (since each one has perfect knowledge of what each other one is experiencing)? If so, what makes them distinct beings? Obviously their bodies would distinguish them one from another. But is that all? Are they but one giant being manifesting itself in multiple bodies?
I hope you understand I’m not attacking. First of all, I’m sure you would say this is not official LDS doctrine, but speculation based on certain premises, so even if I were inclined to attack LDS beliefs, this isn’t one in any case, as far as I know. I’m just trying to take those premises to their logical conclusions, out of curiosity.
I will just throw out (because I love this stuff although I’m an ignorant hack), that technically, God is not considered a substance, in Thomist philosophy/theology. We speak of him as a substance, but only analogously to natural substances, in the sense that he is a single, unified being and not a composite, nor a part, of other beings.
I don’t know you, and this is off topic, but if you are really serious about law school, you owe it to yourself to read every single post (yes, EVERY SINGLE POST) on this blog by a University of Colorado law professor:
As an employed lawyer who feels like he ran a red light through a busy intersection but came out miraculously unscathed, I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Thanks MC. I have been forewarned that the job market is fairly bleak. It’s dicey for those outside of a top 14 school, and pretty much hopeless for those not in a top 50. I appreciate the link. I did some browsing and found several articles that put things in perspective. I’ll keep reading, and let you know if I have questions.
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