by Steven B. Cowan –
Latter Day Saints (or Mormons) believe in a god that could not possibly exist. I say this not as an agnostic or atheistic skeptic who doubts the existence of any and all gods. I am a Christian. I believe that God-the God of the Bible-exists. The God of the Bible, who is omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, immutable, holy, and just, is a possible God. By this, I mean that there is nothing absurd or logically incoherent about the idea of the biblical, Christian view of God. However, the Mormon god is very different.1 He has attributes and characteristics that make it logically impossible that he exist s. The concept of the Mormon god is incoherent, like the concept of a square circle or a married bachelor.
In this article, I will show why the existence of the Mormon god is logically impossible. In so doing, I will provide the reader with powerful reasons to reject the Mormon religion.
SOME KEY CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MORMON GOD
In contrast to the biblical and Christian view of God, Mormons believe that God has the following characteristics:
- 1. He is one of many gods who were once men. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, once declared, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!”2 A later Mormon president, Lorenzo Snow, put it more poetically: “As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may become.3 Brigham Young emphatically stated, Gods exist, and we had better strive to be prepared to be one with them.”4
From these statements (and many more like them can be multiplied), it is clear that Mormonism is a polytheistic religion. Mormons believe that there is an innumerable number of gods. What is more, they believe that each of these gods began as a mere human being, and then progressed spiritually to achieve the exalted status of godhood. Also, according to their doctrine of eternal progression, they believe that this process of men becoming gods has been going on for all eternity. Human beings on this planet earth are a small segment of this eternal process, and if we live our lives in accordance with Mormon teaching, then we, too, may become gods.
So, the “God” who rules this planet is in no way unique, according to Mormonism. He is only one of many gods. Though people on earth are his spiritual offspring, faithful Mormons may look forward to the day in which they become gods who rule over and populate their own planets.
- He creates the world ex materia. Christians believe (and the Bible teaches) that God created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing). Mormons, however, believe that matter is eternal, and that God therefore did not create it. Rather, Mormons believe in creation ex materia (out of matter). That is, creation was a matter of God taking preexistent material and fashioning it into a desired pattern.
Joseph Smith taught this doctrine in his famous King Follet Discourse: “God has materials to organize the world out of chaos-chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. . . . The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; and they may be organized and reorganized, but not destroyed. They had not beginning, and can have no end.”5 James Talmage echoed this teaching when he said, “Matter and energy are eternal realities”, and “By Him [i.e., God] matter has been organized and energy directed.”6
- He has a corporeal body. The Bible clearly teaches that God is a spirit (John 4:24) who, in his eternal essence, does not have a physical body.
Mormons believe, though, that God is necessarily corporeal-that he has (and always has had) a material, physical body. Joseph Smith declared, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s. . .”7 S peaking of all the gods, Parley Pratt said, “Each of these gods, including Jesus Christ and His Father, [are] in possession of not merely an organized spirit, but a glorious immortal body of flesh and bones. . .”8 Clearly, then, Mormons believe that God is a physical being, located in space and time. It follows, then, as well that God (and the gods) does not transcend the material universe (as orthodox Christian theology teaches), but he is entirely immanent within the universe.
- He is subject to laws and processes more fundamental than he. This point follows logically from the previous point, but it is helpful to note that Mormon authorities actually teach this. Joseph Smith taught, “The elements are eternal”, and that there exist “eternal and self-existent principles that govern matter.”9 Since these principles govern matter, they also govern God since God (as we have seen) is a material being. Parley Pratt made this clear: Each of these Gods, including Jesus Christ and His Father, being in possession of not merely an organized spirit, but a glorious immortal body of flesh and bones, is subject to the laws which govern, of necessity, even the most refined order of physical existence .10
These are some of the basic attributes of the Mormon god. In the remainder of this article, we will see several problems that such a view of god has; problems that make this “god” a logical impossibility.
THE LOGICAL ABSURDITY OF THE MORMON GOD
There are actually several deep philosophical problems with the Mormon god that Christian scholars have pointed out. In what follows, I will outline two such problems.
- It is impossible that the Mormon “god” be God. Even if we granted for the sake of argument that the being whom Mormons worship actually exist s, we would have no reason whatever to believe that he deserves the title “God.” The problem is this: the Mormon god is utterly unworthy of worship. The reason he does not deserve worship is because he is finite. Think about it. What is it about him that calls for my devotion and worship? Keep in mind that this god has almost none of the attributes that Christians traditionally ascribe to God. The Mormon god is not eternally god. He was once a man, then he became a god. He is simply one of us, an exalted man. Why should I worship him? Because he is my father? Maybe he deserves some admiration and respect, but it is hard to see why he deserves worship (i.e., absolute, unquestioning devotion and obedience).
Moreover, the Mormon god is not immutable. He changes. He is not self-existent. He depends for his existence upon matter and the laws by which matter operates. Also, he is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent. Of course, many Mormon scholars will say that God is omnipotent and omnipresent, but they don’t mean by those terms what Christians have traditionally meant. For Mormons, Gods power is limited by the limitations of matter and energy-remember that the Mormon god does not and cannot create ex nihilo and is himself composed of matter. And because God has a physical body, it follows by definition that he cannot be omnipresent. A physical body is by necessity confined to one location at a time. So, the Mormon god is limited and finite in several significant ways.
Surely, a being deserves the title “God” only if he is worthy of our absolute devotion. But, the Mormon god suffers from the significant defect that he is not worthy of worship. Therefore, it is impossible that he be God in any meaningful sense of that term.
2. It is impossible that there be an eternal progression of “gods.” As we have seen, the Mormon view of God relies upon their doctrine of eternal progression by which human beings have, from all eternity, been in the process of achieving godhood. One man (along with his spirit wife) achieves exaltation, creates a planet of his own, and then procreates children to inhabit that planet. Then some of those children grow up to become gods and go of f to start their own planet, ad infinitum. This process is said to be without beginning; it is an eternal progression.
However, there are some strong argument s that show that such an eternal series of past event s is logically impossible.11 Here I will outline one such argument:
(1) If the universe had no beginning, then an actual infinite number of events would have occurred prior to the present moment.
(2) It is impossible that an actual infinite number of events occur prior to any moment.
(3) Therefore, the universe had a beginning.
Premise (1) of this argument is uncontroversial. If the universe literally had no beginning, then that logically entails that the set comprising all those past events prior to the present moment contains an actual infinite number of members. Put more simply, if the universe had no beginning (i.e., if the universe is eternal as Mormons believe), then prior to the present moment there would have occurred an actual infinite number of past events.
Premise (2) is the crucial premise here. William Lane Craig and others have shown that an infinite number of concrete entities, including historical events, cannot exist because it would lead to absurdities.12 For example, let us imagine a library which contains an actual infinite number of books. And let us suppose that half the books are colored red and half the books are colored blue. And let us further suppose that someone visit s the library and checks out all of the red books. How many books are left in the library? As unbelievable as it sounds, according to infinite set theory, the same number of books remains in the library as before the visitor arrived! But surely there could not really be such a library-a library in which half the books are checked out and yet the number of books in the library is not diminished! The idea that an actual infinite exist s in reality is logically absurd. For the same reason, there cannot really be an infinite number of past event s. Therefore, the universe must have had a beginning.
The second premise of our argument may be defended another way. If the set of past events has an actually infinite number of members, then that means that in order for history to have reached the present moment, an infinite number of past events would have to have been crossed or formed one-at-a-time, since history progresses linearly and is not given all at once.
But, here s the problem: by definition, an infinite number of events cannot be crossed one-at-a-time. A set with a number of members that can be traversed or completed, is by definition a finite set. It is just not possible to cross an actual infinite. To illustrate, Craig asks us to imagine a man who claims to have been counting down from infinity: . . . -3, -2, -1, 0. Why didn’t he finish yesterday? Or last year? Or a million years ago? For at any point in the past, he will have already crossed an infinite! That is, if the past has no beginning, then prior to any point in the past an actual infinite number of events will have
already transpired. As Craig explains,
Thus, at no point in the infinite past could we ever find the man finishing his countdown, for by that point he should already be done! In fact, no matter how far back into the past we go, we can never find the man counting at all, for at any point we reach he will already have finished. But if at no point in the past do we find him counting, this contradicts the hypothesis that he has been counting from eternity.13
So, the number of past event s must be finite, not infinite, and that means that the universe began to exist a finite time ago. The upshot of this conclusion for Mormonism is that it proves their concept of God to be incoherent. The Mormon view of God depends upon the doctrine of eternal progression. But, eternal progression is logically impossible. Therefore, the existence of the Mormon pantheon of gods (and by extension the so-called god of this planet) is logically impossible.
Steven B. Cowan is the Associate Director of the Apologetics Resource Center, and editor of Areopagus Journal.
1 There are some contemporary Mormon scholars who are defending a more traditional, Christian view of God. These scholars limit the official data for formulating the Mormon view of God to the so-called standard works (i.e., The Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants), ignoring or down-playing the other sermons and teachings of Mormon leaders. Be that as it may, the view of God that most Mormons have believed (and still believe) is the one described in this article. For that reason, I believe I am justified in calling this view the Mormon view of God.
2 Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Desert, 1976), 345-46.
3 Lorenzo Snow, The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Bookcraf t, 1984), 2.
4 Journal of Discourses, 7:238.
5 Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 351-52.
6James E. Talmage, A Study of the Articles of Faith, 51sted. (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1976), 34, 43.
7Joseph Smith, Doctrine and Covenants, 130:22.
8Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology (Liverpool: F.D. Richards, 1855), 23.
9Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith , 181.
10Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, 37 (emphasis mine).
11 For several such arguments, including a version of the one defended here, see Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, “Craftsman or Creator? An Examination of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation and a Defense of Creatio ex nihilo ,” in The New Mormon Challenge, eds. Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 127-50.
12 See ibid., 129-38. See also, J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 22-33; and Francis J. Beckwith, “Philosophical Problems with the Mormon Concept of God,” Christian Research Journal (Spring 1992): 24-29.
13 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), 99.