Sunday, October 30, 2016

Is Materialism Incompatible With Theism?: A Response to Joshua Valentine (Part One)

Back when I was investigating the Roman Catholic Church, my friend and teacher Scott Dodge recommended a blog to me entitled Mormon Coffee. On it, various bloggers addressed differences between Mormonism and Christianity, in a somewhat concise and respectful manner. The blog was recently discontinued, but because it has a huge archive there is plenty of information on it.

One of the bloggers, Joshua Valentine, wrote a five part series in which he argued that Mormonism leads its members to atheism. I will be responding to all 5 of his posts.

In his first post, Valentine states:
"In fact, it is Mormon doctrine that actually provides much of the content of an atheist worldview. Mormonism is the most materialistic worldview next to atheism. In Mormon doctrine, it is not the Mormon God or Gods, but Matter, itself, which is truly eternal, having existed from everlasting to everlasting.  With Matter are Eternal Laws or Principles as well. These exist before and independently of the Mormon God. In fact, the Mormon God, like all Gods before him, is himself made up of this eternal matter and subject to these eternal laws or principles.  Joseph Smith taught that spirit was actually matter, just a more “fine” form of it. God, according to Mormonism, had to obey these Eternal Principles in order to progress from eternal fine matter, or “intelligence,” to a god. This is in stark contrast to many religions that assume that independence from, and being the source of, all creation is definitive of what it means to be “God” or the “Ultimate.” However, in LDS cosmology, Matter and Eternal Law are the true Ultimate, not God."
So, Valentine is making 4 claims here: 1) Mormonism is materialistic, and atheism is materialistic 2) God is subject to law 3) God progressed 4) God is not the ultimate reality

First, it is true that Mormonism is materialistic, but why does that set up Mormons for an atheistic conversion? Atheism is not necessarily materialistic, an atheist can be a Platonist for example. And I see nothing wrong with Mormonism being materialistic; the opening passages of the book of Genesis state that God used materials to create the world rather than ex nihilo as the Christian Creeds state (Genesis 1:2). Mormons are materialists, but so is the God of the Old and New Testament.

As Valentine points out, God is subject to law rather than the creator of it; he is the greatest possible scientist. But, I see no reason to think that this would make a Mormon become an atheist. Christianity also affirms that there are certain things that God cannot do, for instance he cannot lie ( 1 Samuel 15: 29), nor as Thomas Aquinas points out in the Summa Theologica, God cannot do the logically impossible (he cannot make a round square or a married bachelor). So, if the God of Mormonism is subject to law and the God of Christianity is subject to law, wouldn't Christianity lead to atheism as well?

One of the greatest blessings of the restored Gospel is that we know that God came to be God and that we can become like him, as the Prophet Joseph Smith taught in his King Follett Discourse. However, this teaching is not unique to the Prophet. Origen, a pre-Nicene Church Father stated
"If the Word became flesh, then flesh can become God."

Origen, Ante-Nicene Father

Christianity affirms that Jesus of Nazareth was fully human and fully God, and that he was resurrected and is still embodied today. So, corporeality and Godhood are not incompatible. It is incompatible with the creeds that reject early Christian ideas like Socianism and Arianism, but not the Bible.

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies what is called "prime reality" or "what is ultimately there." Valentine is right that Creedal Christianity and other religions believe that God is transcendent (outside) of creation, But, how does a belief in a God who is immanent lead to atheism? Baruch Spinoza, one of my favorite philosophers, was a pantheist (belief that God and nature are the same). The Homeric Greeks believed in Gods who were immanent and lived on Olympus. So, there is no reason to believe that because the God of Mormonism (who came into existence at a point in the infinite past) is not the prime reality that Mormons are on their way to atheism.

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