Correlation: An Uncorrelated History (Part 7 — Theological Excursus)

Read the first six parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6. You can download and read Daymon’s dissertation here.

*****Also, a bit of news: Daymon has made his dissertation available for purchase in bound form here. All of the proceeds will go to the Utah Food Bank.

Brad: So those of our readers who have suffered the indignity of plodding through the numerous conversations thus far are probably wondering, “when are these guys going to actually start talking about Correlation?” And the answer is, today. At least sort of… As the conversation moves forward it will become even more clear why we’ve had to lay the historical groundwork we have up to this point.

Daymon: What we’ve been talking about so far, just to recap, is really what makes something like Correlation possible, as a formal term that describes this administrative realignment in the 1960s. We can only get there via this very long history that describes how the Mind became real enough that now you can begin to organize a religious revitalization around the Mind, rather than around bodies and interactions and relationships. In some sense, Fundamentalism had taken social organization grounded in the body and bodies out of the Church. They do it in a kind of caricatured way, ultimately, where it eventually becomes about things like, what kind of dress do you wear, how long is your hair, etc. These kinds of disciplines of the body weren’t really a prominent part of 19th-century Mormonism because there was this nice sort of check between the body and the spirit, or between mind and body, which, by the time Fundamentalists are removed from the Church, both mind and body become in some sense exaggerated.

Brad: So with that theoretical framing in place, we’re going to start with something a bit different today. Whereas our conversations to this point have tracked along a nicely historical narrative, I want to give Daymon a chance right now to introduce and outline an argument he makes in a couple of chapters in the dissertation, a kind of theological excursion. It’s still grounded in the historical narrative, because he’s effectively canvassing changes that took place in theological discourse from the 19th to the 20th Century, and how those changes typify precisely the kinds of conceptual issues you’ve been outlining here.

Daymon: This is something that, initially at least, seems to have very little bearing on Correlation, but in fact this is a very important line of development that will eventually permit Correlation to come about. In very brief terms—and, again, in the dissertation this is a much more detailed and fine-grained, even boring argument that goes through roughly 100 pages, a kind of history of Mormon theological speculation—this is an answer to the question of what happened to the speculative tradition in Mormon theology.

Brad: Brigham Young was a mighty speculator.

Daymon: Maybe in both senses of the word. But if you look at Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, at a lot of what was said and written from, say, 1850 to roughly 1890 you find that there really was a very rich speculative tradition. And the metaphorical base from which such speculations were typically drawn was the body. So they might, for example, talk about God, but rather than talk about how God feels, or what God wants, these kinds of mental, quasi-emotional speculations, they’ll talk about God or the gods, like, traveling from one planet to another—how long does it take God to get from Kolob to another planet? The kinds of speculative calculations that are very much physical and material. They might talk about how gods procreate—what kind of body do you need to produce a spirit child instead of a natural child?

Brad: There was a strangely naturalist discourse in which conversations about creation and the Fall were grounded. What were, for example, the mechanisms by which seeds were transmitted from one location to another, or what was the impact that eating fruit had on the physiology of Adam and Eve?

Daymon: So they drew from the arena of their own personal experience in order to draw speculations all the way up the line into the heavens, and not your emotional or mental experience but the more practical stuff: we moved out into the desert and that’s like what the gods do. They have to go out and colonize these worlds, well they have to bring seeds, right? Where else are plants going to come from? What about the animals? They must have transported them too.

Brad: Lehi and his family brought seeds and animals.

Daymon: So they would view the gods as not really that different from us. The question then becomes—and these are issues that have to do with language, and grammar, and syntax, etc.—

Brad: …And it should be noted that you’re making an argument that this kind of thing is a common cultural norm during the pioneer period of our history, not necessarily because it’s formally encouraged or even not discouraged—it’s not about rules or prohibitions; it’s about language.

Daymon: Because language is a shared resource, that everyone can draw from, you could find these kinds of speculations going on everywhere. It wasn’t that there were just a few people who had weird ideas like Orson Pratt or Brigham Young; this is a basic resource and a privilege that all these folks seem to really enjoy. But by the time you get to Talmage, and eventually to John Widtsoe, this trend starts to get, let’s say, bent downward, or maybe upward. But all of this, all the speculative possibilities and the changes and shifts, it’s all grounded in the notion of intelligence/intelligences. The way this seemed to be conceived in 19th-century writing was very much based upon anthropomorphic reasoning, so an intelligence had more or less all the same traits as a human, minus the organization of the body.

Brad: It had a spiritual body/form, with spirit being a refined form of matter, but the difference between an intelligence and a human is more quantitative than qualitative. They’re on a continuum.

Daymon: The doctrine of intelligences is what grounds the close relationship between the realm of the spirit and the realm of the flesh, the realm of the mind and the realm of the body. Once this doctrine starts to shift linguistic ground, which by the 1930s will become increasingly read in much more abstract terms, with “Intelligence” more closely resembling intelligence as used colloquially, like a mental trait, rather than resembling a human being—once that happens, this connection between spirit and flesh, mind and body, and also between speculations about God as being something like a man, this whole speculative and analogic apparatus starts to fragment and crumble. The speculative structure that Joseph Smith had organized, particularly in Nauvoo, and which got very, very elaborate under Brigham Young and Orson Pratt, the whole thing starts to crumble. And it goes back to this notion of an intelligence. What is “an intelligence” versus what is “intelligence”?

Brad: And Pratt actually sows the seeds for the crumbling of the speculative structure, despite his own very impressive and highly materialist brand of speculation. He distinguishes himself, among other things, from Brigham Young on the level of grammar. This all comes back to a single letter, really, which carries massive syntactic weight.

Daymon: Right. Is “intelligence” something you can put the pluralizing “s” on? Can you talk about “intelligences” rather than just “intelligence”?

Brad: Is it a count-noun or is it an abstract noun?

Daymon: If you can’t pluralize it, then the analogies through which speculation can be shaped shift toward things like water, electricity, air. And, increasingly, they get pushed farther into the realm of abstraction, to the point where “intelligence” as opposed to “intelligences” becomes more analogizable to things like “truth,” “mind,” “love,” things which formerly had been far less central to this materialist and anthropomorphic style of reasoning and speculation.

Brad: This isn’t about semantics or semantic relationships—about “intelligence” meaning something similar to “water” or “fire” or “mind.” It’s about grammatical categories and how they capacitate speculative reasoning.

Daymon: And so what you see in the Mormon speculative tradition is a movement toward this realm of highly abstract notions, which is to say categories of nouns that refer to things that we do not have tangible access to and through which we can draw inferences.

Brad: Whereas if you have something like “intelligences” pluralized, it can fit in the slot of a sentence where you’d put a noun like “cornfield” or “rock” or “body”.

Daymon: Which serves as the linguistic and analogic foundation for talking about an animated, intelligent, communicating, moving agent. And this becomes Pratt’s foundation for talking about the idea that agency and will have always existed, that God could not possibly give agency to something because it’s a contradiction: how could the thing receive agency if it didn’t already have the agency to receive it? But by the early 20th Century, when Roberts is trying to make sense of some of these questions and create a coherent set of Mormon doctrines, he has some success in discussing both “intelligence” and “intelligences”, and compares it to the distinction between “the Holy Spirit” and “the Holy Ghost” and “the Spirit”—these are all different words that function grammatically to open up our imagination to speculate, to draw inferences and conclusions.

Brad: But you can analogize from personal experience when the nouns in question can be placed in the slots of sentences where normal, everyday, encounterable objects go—tangible things. “Intelligence”, when pluralizable, is a tangible thing so, through analogic projection, you can infer what kind of thing it might or might not be and your analogy and reasoning can be grounded in personal experience rather than in the categories and assumptions of abstract philosophy.

Daymon: Rather than some dry, obscure Aristotelian map of logical categories. But by the time you get to, say, Joseph Fielding Smith’s Answers to Gospel Questions, as well as McConkie’s work, they will tell you that these things are basically just mysteries. And we should stay away from the mysteries. We don’t know what “an intelligence” is or what “intelligence” is. So by the 1950s the speculative tradition had been broken and lost. My question, as I wrote these chapters, was, what happened to it? And the conclusion that I eventually reached was that there were, first, a couple of accidents in terms of the grammatical placing of these things. Whether you’re talking about “intelligences” or just “intelligence” makes a great deal of difference, over the decades from the 1890s to the 1930s.

Brad: Before then, you had Brigham Young almost exclusively using “intelligence” as a count-noun that can be easily pluralized, whereas Orson Pratt uses it primarily as a more abstract, non-countable noun.

Daymon: But even Pratt’s more abstract grammatical category is still going to yield analogies from water or electricity or even weather, something classified as having some kind of animacy—we talk about water and electricity as running or flowing—and some kind of material existence. This provides a lot of infilling for the meaning of this term that Joseph Smith, in the Book of Abraham, first introduced. It doesn’t necessarily explain what it is, but it gives you rules for how to think about it. The rules are mapped grammatically, because nouns in similar grammatical categories tend to share certain incidental properties. So we have important words, we don’t know exactly what they mean, and in the 19th Century they would just speculate on what it could mean based upon analogic projections drawn from their own tangible experiences with and in their own bodies in the world. And the foundation for the speculation was the doctrine of Intelligence(s).

Brad: And that foundation is situated on these grammatical categories, because you can speculate differently—the possibilities of what “intelligence” can mean are different if the word can be pluralized versus if it can’t.

Daymon: If it is pluralizable, it is reluctant to shift upward into the realm of wholly abstract nouns, like truth, beauty, love, faith, these kinds of things which, at one point, were the foundations of the Lectures on Faith, which is radically different as a speculative and speculation-capacitating text than, say, Orson Pratt’s The Seer, which is built more on Joseph’s later thinking than what was going on in the early to mid-1830s. And the key difference is that the anthropomorphism is possible only after Joseph introduces this notion that men can become gods.

Brad: And that spirit and matter aren’t ontologically different, but exist along a continuum, that they are quantitatively but not qualitatively different.

Daymon: This all opens up the door for radically new kinds of anthropomorphic reasoning and analogizing. But by the turn of the 20th Century, Talmage is asked to write a theological treatise, in which he talks about the difference between The Spirit, The Holy Spirit, and The Holy Ghost. And he draws his analogies quite differently, in a much more abstract, intellectual, philosophical, almost Aristotelian way than, say, even B. H. Roberts would have done. But, of course, his book is published far and wide, it receives the approval of the first presidency.

Brad: And this falls on the heels of something we discussed before, that in the decades leading up to its publication—and it should be noted that Talmage was a monogamist—Mormonism has in some sense had its Mind severed from its Body judicially.

Daymon: So even going back to the 1879 ruling, this is where the trouble starts, but it still takes a couple of decades before it crystallizes formally into theology and everyday practices and rituals, etc. So today, for example, when people speculate on the meaning of the endowment they tend to do so in terms of mental states—it is about symbolism and remembrance, rather than about making covenants which are literally going to bind different worlds together or utilizing keys and forms that can literally call down heavenly messengers into our presence. Of course we do still talk about covenants, but the dominant strain for speaking about rituals today is in terms of remembrance, states of mind having become the realm to which we have retreated, as a result, in no small part, of this 1879 ruling which takes almost a full century before it becomes fully written into the bodies and minds of Mormons.

Brad: And it’s this ruling that forces what once was the essential grounding practice of pioneer Mormonism—plural marriage, the organizing principle for bodies, individual bodies and social bodies—that ends up being forced by the law into the realm of the mind.

Daymon: Polygamy here is not just a strange or quaint kind of practice, or just a policy which you can just formally set aside with no consequences, so by the time plural marriage is rejected, that requires a complete restructuring of Mormon social relationships, of ritual, and this in turn reorganizes the way we think about and speculate on these ideas, these mysteries—“mysteries” in the modern sense, rather than in the old sense of “rituals” or “performances”—the Mysteries of God. By the time Talmage comes along, he’s very much a modern Mormon and really does write a basic Protestant Christianity into our theology, into the very origins of man. So whereas Orson Pratt says that intelligence has always existed, and that your personality, in some sense, has always been here, or Brigham Young saying very similar things, with a different angle on intelligence(s)—and Pratt is even going to take the stance that God himself had to organize as a god—but Talmage organizes a very different positioning within the public sphere of this speculative tradition. And he really makes his default position very basic Protestant notions of the Holy Spirit being the Mind of God, just like it once was in the Lectures on Faith. He’s the one who really revives the Lectures, as a sort of preeminent theological text.

Brad: And none of this stuff takes place in a vacuum. The First Presidency doesn’t ask Talmage to work on clarifying these questions because of a simple curiosity. These kinds of speculations, from Young and Pratt, that draw analogies from basic day-to-day interactions, from bodies, from the concrete and material aspects of our daily lives—these speculative teachings lead to, well, problems. At least what we would today call problems. And what people, within a decade or so of Young’s death, began to consider as problems. Brigham took his speculative work, beginning with Joseph Smith’s teachings, down a road that eventually led him to articulate his now famous teachings about the nature of the relationship between Adam and God, our Father.

Daymon: So Adam-God becomes this fulcrum that grounds the heavens in your very being, in your body, your genealogy. You are literally a son of god, and this opens up all kinds of possibilities for speculation, it makes it possible for you now to know the person of God, not just the mind and emotions and will of God.

Of course, it wasn’t that the first presidency was just confused about what the Holy Spirit was so they went to Talmage because he understood geology, that wouldn’t really make sense. They went to Talmage because he had some credentials which added real credibility. Why were they looking for cover? Well, you’ve got all kinds of problems with B. H. Roberts running for congress, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious to the American public that the Mormons are not keeping their contract they made to abandon polygamy. And Smoot will make things even worse. We’ve already talked about some of these things. The confusion, in other words, that dominated in terms of “what is our doctrine of celestial marriage?” and “how can we know what this is really about?”—this confusion opens up a space for these public documents to circulate, which are very traditionally Christian. This is also the time that Adam-God gets completely erased from the temple. It’s very difficult to completely recover how most of these things actually worked themselves out, but the turn of the century becomes a turning point of the Church toward exploring and focusing on the realm of mind.

Brad: A kind of Protestantization of Mormon social reality.

Daymon: Brigham Young would talk about faith as the ability to raise your arm and call down the assistance of an angel, by the time you get to Bruce R. McConkie he’s going to say that faith is basically the same thing as belief.

Brad: And this is so important because faith is essential to salvation, and if faith = belief then under McConkie’s rendering correct beliefs are essential to salvation. And this is where you have an almost comical bringing of the story full circle, because when Brigham Young and Orson Pratt are going at each other, fighting it out theologically in public—they’ve worked through the analogic, speculative process in slightly different ways which originate in the grammatical-categorical question of the pluralizability of the term “intelligence” but lead them eventually to different views of the nature of God. Conflicting conclusions. Pratt’s God, on the one hand, becomes almost impersonal, a kind of amalgamation of limitless and numberless personalities.

Daymon: Pratt’s God becomes a reflection of the collectivity of all people. Pratt is arguing that once you achieve a certain level of progression you stop. But you all share in this level of progression, so in a certain sense he’s drawing the metaphor from the sociality of the quorum of the twelve. They’re all equals and together they collectively hold all the keys. Whereas Brigham Young is saying, no, no, there’s one God who’s the head of everybody.

Brad: It’s endlessly hierarchical.

Daymon: Right, which fits very well with how Brigham Young saw the world and with his own position vis a vis the Twelve.

Brad: And one of the practical implications is that Pratt ends up arguing that God, in his highest mode of being, is not capable of progression in knowledge, is not capable of learning. His knowledge does not progress. And Brigham vigorously and publicly denounces this as heresy.

Daymon: And the irony, of course, is that a very stripped down version of what Pratt is saying is the one that gets picked up by Roberts, who’s also trying organize it around and square it with some of what Young had done, but by the time Widtsoe comes around, he goes back to Orson Pratt’s stuff, but he doesn’t have the same understanding to read it. This is really what I wanted to get at in terms of what Correlation does. It changes and seeks to control the way we interpret words. Which seems like a very silly thing, I mean you could just open up a dictionary and look it up, right? But it’s not that simple. And we’ll see that, for example, “priesthood”—whether you’re talking about “priesthood” without the definite article “the”, or “the Priesthood” or “priesthoods” or “the priesthoods”—these things generate entirely different images and understandings in our mind.

Brad: Grounded in syntax and in grammatical categories.

Daymon: But this is very, sort of, obscure and technical stuff that I talk about at some length in the dissertation, but I think that’s probably about as far as we can really take it at this point in this conversation.

Brad: The sort of punchline I was alluding to earlier is that, whereas you have in the 1870s you have Brigham Young using the pages of the Deseret News to publicly flog Orson Pratt for daring to preach the heresy that God is incapable of learning or progressing in knowledge, you then have, a century later, in the 1970s, Bruce R. McConkie essentially making Pratt’s argument on this question, in another very public venue, this time at the university named for Brigham Young, arguing only that God is not progressing in knowledge, that He’s perfect in knowledge and not capable of learning anything new, but the labeling Brigham Young’s argument heretical. And not just any kind of heretical, but a deadly heresy, a kind of heresy that will jeopardize one’s salvation.

Daymon: It is one of these things that’s tragic and ironic in a number of ways, but it’s something that only becomes possible because the body had become so separated from the mind in Mormon ontology. McConkie would have, in some sense, not been possible in the 19th Century. His ideas wouldn’t have even made sense, really. Whereas someone like Orson Pratt doesn’t make much sense to most of the Mormons today who read him. We go back and try to read Pratt, or Brigham Young talking about Adam, and unless we really spend a lot of time working on this stuff, it’s inscrutable. If we try and go back and do, like, a topical guide search for “intelligence” with a computerized aggregator, that’s not going to be adequate to give us a proper reading of what these guys mean by the term. Such an approach simply cannot reveal to us the historical transitions in terms of how this word is filled in. So Pratt might have said something like “intelligence is to spirit as the spirit is to the body.” So it’s something which animates it, which gives it the capabilities of motion, and communication, etc., and this analogy was productive in that it could potentially lead through analogic projection to a speculative understanding of, say, what the gods eat in the celestial kingdom. So all these questions were connected, were a part of the same fundamental reality. But McConkie’s not even willing to take the chance of attempting to define something like “intelligence” because he can’t—the speculative structure that earlier permitted well-grounded inferences about how these things worked has completely crumbled.

Brad: He can no longer analogize from everyday experience because it’s all retreated into the realm of absolute abstraction, which renders it completely impervious to speculative reasoning and inference. It’s inaccessible and, as a result, becomes a mystery.

Daymon: An equivalent expression might be, “well, intelligence is to truth as spirit is to faith.” It doesn’t make any sense. These are just purely abstract words. They’re not grounded grammatically in anything that has tangible, encounterable properties, by which we could fill in with our practical knowledge.

Brad: The point of analogy is to be able to use one mode of reckoning to fill in the other.

Daymon: But by the time McConkie is addressing these questions, these things are not really even possible to think anymore. He doesn’t create this problem, but he kind of exemplifies it.

Brad: These words are no longer susceptible to analogy in the same way they were a century earlier.

Daymon: But what this means is that when they go back and they read Orson Pratt, they read him through the lens they have developed as modern Mormons, which is to say they misread Orson Pratt.

Brad: So when Pratt uses the word intelligence, what he means is the same thing that we mean when we use it—completely abstract, totally severed from material reality, a mystery.

Daymon: Because the word is the same, so the meaning must be. And this is where Correlation does its work, and what makes its work possible. What Correlation really does is it tries to reorganize Mormonism around the static eternal categories of abstract nouns.

Next time—back to history.


  1. Would it not seem both logical and necessary to make any of these changes, especially the killing off of plural wives, to duplicate the heavenly trio who gave John Taylor the emphatic no decades earlier?

  2. Kristine says:

    “What Correlation really does is it tries to reorganize Mormonism around the static eternal categories of abstract nouns.”

    Brilliant. It’s Montaigne–“Most of the grounds of the world’s troubles are matters of grammar.”

  3. Stephanie says:

    This is just so interesting. On the one hand, I love speculation. On the other hand, I can see why it is so problematic for church leaders to publicly speculate. This post definitely helps put into perspective so many past quotes by church leaders. This whole series has actually strengthened my testimony of prophets, correlation, even the temple. Heck, if the Adam-God theory was part of the temple at one point, then there are likely things in there today that I feel okay ignoring for now.

    Oh, and it makes perfect sense that the Fundamentalists would keep the Adam-God theory since it supports the idea of polygamy in heaven. Fascinating stuff.

  4. Well, I’ll be danged! My forays into post-structuralist literary theory are coming in handy after all.

  5. Very interesting, Daymon. When you say “they misread Orson Pratt,” I take it by “they” you mean people who aren’t willing to read Orson Pratt in his own terms. Or perhaps people who reject the idea that Orson Pratt (or any other 19th-century LDS author) might need to be read in their own terms and categories rather than using the terms and concepts of post-Correlation Mormonism. So we really don’t have any problem reading Orson Pratt as long as (1) we realize he is using terms differently or employing different concepts, and (2) we can figure out the differences.

    As for the speculative tradition, how about a comment on Truman Madsen’s Eternal Man? That book was well received, didn’t cause any problems, but embraced (at least for the purposes of discussion) a lot of what you refer to as the Mormon speculative tradition.

  6. For some reason I find a lot of the speculation (not by the writers here – but by early authorities) not very readable. I’m just not interested enough in the subject of how spirit bodies are created.

    I am dying of curiosity though to learn more about why Harold B. Lee was so important to modern Mormonism … I’m not doubting his importance – just want to read more about why …

    I’m referring here to one of the last lines of the last post:

    Next time we’ll pick up with Lee’s rise as arguably the most important and powerful Mormon of several decades, well predating his tenure as Church President.

  7. Dave,
    I think your first paragraph is accurate. And while I can’t speak for Daymon, I think that EM was Madsen’s most interesting and compelling book.

    Patience, danithew…

  8. I’ll be patient! I’ve been enjoying this series – lots of interesting material. Thanks for putting this all together.

  9. Kristine says:

    Unlike Brad and Dave, I guess, I take Daymon to be saying that in fact, we _can’t_ read Pratt “on his own terms” because his terms have become categories of thought that are simply unavailable to us. We can, perhaps, attempt translation, but we’ll never speak, or think, or dream early Mormonism as native to us.

  10. Kristine,
    That’s also correct. :)

  11. In other words, Dave is basically correct in his assessment of what’s at stake, but his comment might underestimate the difficulty inherent to the tast — a difficulty which Kristine’s comment captures almost perfectly. danithew’s far from being alone in finding Pratt basically unreadable. It has the tendency today to reduce Pratt and Young to scorn, as icons of Mormon craziness. Such an assessment, I think, is as inaccurate as it is uncharitable (and I myself have been guilty of it at times).

  12. danithew,
    the reason HBL was so important is obvious to those with eyes to see: he was (basically) from Preston, Idaho.

  13. Mark Brown says:

    The sort of punchline I was alluding to earlier is that, whereas you have in the 1870s you have Brigham Young using the pages of the Deseret News to publicly flog Orson Pratt for daring to preach the heresy that God is incapable of learning or progressing in knowledge, you then have, a century later, in the 1970s, Bruce R. McConkie essentially making Pratt’s argument on this question, in another very public venue, this time at the university named for Brigham Young…

    Brad, awesome.

    This entire series is really excellent work.

  14. Ron Madson says:

    thank you Brad and Daymon! Very enlightening. I had just returned from my mission and my first BYU BOM class was with Margaret Pope. I did not know at the time she was Elder McConkie’s sister. I had since childhood a book called “Joseph Smith as a Scientist” by Widstoe. The quote by Widstoe that “God’s intelligence is organic and must of necessity continue to grow” stuck with me. I decided to write my required class paper on the nature of God’s “intelligence.” I found out to my surprise the inconsistent positions on this issue and wrote about it and came down on the side of BY and Widstoe. She informed me and the class that anyone who thought that God’s was still learning was guilty of heresy. I had to look up the word “heresy”. I responded to her charge in class what Widstoe had said. She said that she relied on a living “apostle”–Elder McConkie. I responded, “well we will just have to wait until Elder McConkie dies”…it did not go over well. Then just a month later Elder McConkie came to BYU and gave his Seven Deadly Heresy speech. I always felt I might have contributed to triggering that gem.
    Next religion class I pointed out other inconsistencies from past prophets/etc. The teacher held me after one class and asked where I served my mission (France) and he begun what I would consider a sort of temple recommend interview suggesting not so subtly that questioning was a sign of unworthiness and apostasy…..
    So the salvation is found in having the right views? The right answers?
    These posts help explain how we got to where we are…look forward to entire dissertation.

  15. I appreciated WVS’s approach to BH Roberts and Talmage. JFS is an interesting character, having been intimate with Young and yet deeply uncomfortable with what he taught on occasion. He anticipated the Adoption revelation and then was a leader in rejecting things like the King Follet sermon. His approach to “doctrine” was apparently much closer to Talmage in the end than Young.

    Instead of the 1879 legislation, I tend to view the 1894 adoption revelation as the big shift in theological openness. Before the revelation, you couldn’t be sealed to any ancestors not in the church (sometimes parents, but definitely nothing beyond that). The sacerdotal bonds were essential to salvation and exaltation and you didn’t want to take a chance. Woodruff’s revelation essentially created a shift that said 1) we can rely on our ancestors to do the right thing and 2) if we can’t, God is just and will work things out. This later concept introduced a tremendous flexibility that we are still feeling in changes today.

    Brad: Before then, you had Brigham Young almost exclusively using “intelligence” as a count-noun that can be easily pluralized, whereas Orson Pratt uses it primarily as a more abstract, non-countable noun.

    I’m not sure that this is accurate.

  16. “We can, perhaps, attempt translation, but we’ll never speak, or think, or dream early Mormonism as native to us.”

    It’s hard to be wistful for something that one has never known, but I think this says a lot to me about the track Mormon letters takes alongside Correlation.

    I also wonder if this offers some explanation for the eruption of speculative fiction within Mormon letters. Orson Scott Card and co. as the re-enactment (in tamer form) of the speculative tradition of Mormon theology.

  17. That’s a fascinating thought, Wm.

  18. Correlation issues aside, I don’t think one can legitimately reject a theological concept solely on the basis that it is not a deductive conclusion from canonized scripture.

    In the long run inspiration is there to verify that such concepts have any real basis. And even if they are not accurate, they may very well serve as part of a process that leads to correct conclusions on other matters.

    Everything about science is the same way, if usually to a lesser degree. We have an electromagnetic field. Certainly the electromagnetic field corresponds to _something_. But despite the fact that no one would claim any more that the classical representation of the EM field is entirely accurate, as a model it has a close enough correspondence to reality that it leads to accurate conclusions across an enormous domain of application.

    This idea that all theological concepts have to be the absolute truth in the here and now shoots the theological, if not doctrinal, and canonical formation process in the foot. If we adopted the standard of perfect accuracy, there probably isn’t a verse in scripture that we couldn’t toss out. The fallibility of language and understanding is much too great for that, revelation, inspiration, or otherwise.

    That is why I take exception at the “we are smarter than those guys” attitude. On that basis, one could simply decide not to believe in anything. David Stove called it “the GEM” – the idea that because we can’t know anything perfectly, we can’t know anything at all.

  19. Well, I’ve always chalked it up to:

    1. The fact that Mormon youth (esp. those who grew up as part of the out migration) tend towards nerdery/geekiness (or their pre-80s equivalent terms) in, perhaps, a slightly higher percentage for a variety of reasons (high levels of education by parents; it’s a safer space than jock-dom for living LDS values; Mormon males are often rather domesticated, etc.).

    2. The fact that speculative fiction is a space where religion is a rather prolific, heady strand of discussion across works (as opposed to say, mystey/thrillers or literary fiction). And where the cultural background of Mormons can actually be deployed and then valued (see, for example, the role the Book of Mormon plays in works by David Farland, Orson Scott Card, and Brandon Sanderson).

    3. The ability to actually make a living writing genre works (first sci-fi and then gradual switch of dominance to fantasy).

    But the mystical post-modern + cultural studies geek in me also now wonders if this is another dimension. Especially for those who grew up in the shadow of JFS and McConkie and the rise in management theory as priesthood administration (and vice versa), the space for Mormons with speculative tendencies to express themselves as Mormons is literature and especially speculative fiction.

  20. Just wanted to chime in and say that I love this series. When are you going to publish this as a book, Daymon?

  21. How can someone say that we cannot read Pratt on his own terms without presuming to be able to do so himself? To say to someone “You aren’t reading that in its original terms” is to say “I know what the original terms are, and you’re not right about them.”

    In spite of my objection to that point, this has been a very enjoyable series. Thanks.

  22. Great post although, like J. Stapley, I’m not sure I agree with some of the characterizations of Pratt. Particularly portraying him as nominalistic as say McConkie was. Like Jim, I also think the comment about reading Pratt on his own terms might be a bit too much hyperbole. Of course there is a sense where we can never read anyone on their own terms.

    I wish I had time to get into a discussion on Pratt’s own views. I’m sure you guys have read more of his texts than I. But I just don’t get quite the same picture you do. As I said in the spirit birth thread, one has to start with the Pratt brothers idea of us being literally made out of God’s spirit. This then gets radically transformed with the move to materialism. I think both Pratt and Young end up having fairly similar starting points in a quasi-idealist system. But they take it in very different ways. Exactly how much either was influenced by Joseph is unclear, considering how often they were outside of Nauvoo. While we can speculate I think one should conservatively keep in mind a gap between Nauvoo theology and either of their theologies: although I also think one can exaggerate the size of the gap.

    Wish I had time to say more. Maybe in a few weeks I’ll return to the topic at my blog.

  23. Regarding concerns about reading texts on their own terms, I think we can get close to how folks might have interpreted Pratt, for example, upon hearing a sermon (hence the variety of interpretations). I don’t think we can think like Pratt, or recover his ideas, from a text. In part, because there’s no single thing to recover; in part because he is veiled from our understanding (see: “time” and “body”). So we can reconstruct the possible, and even likeliest, interpretations in a group, according to some semi-arbitrary time-span, but any more and we run from empiricism into mysticism, of a sort.
    The concern to get at what so-and-so thought, based on what was said, is a very modern concern, and one I believe that fits squarely inside the historiographic methods of Correlation. I’m trying to provide a history of historiography in this vein, and had to devise new ways to read texts as texts (with linguistic structure, interpretations), and then to put these texts together.

  24. Brad,

    Can you comment on this brief summary of a portion of this series?

    It seems from my reading of this series that one of the driving factors of correlation was the result of the fundie vs mainstream split in the early 1900’s. The church lacked a central control-policy over doctrine, practices, ordinations etc that allowed the Fund. to exist for 20-30 years almost in plain sight. The bretheren that helped form the idea behind correlation remembered this period and it helped motivate them to put together correlation.

    I see in this post that we are now discussing all the public doctrinal speculation that went on from say 1850-1900. Correlation may be a response to this as well? In an effort Keep this type of speculation out of mainstream manuals, GC talks etc.

  25. Jim F,
    I do agree that the politics of “my reading is original” can be a problem, but I also think we can provide evidence that so-and-so’s texts were interpreted in a certain way, and then try to arrive at hypotheses that account for those interpretations. This is what I tried to do with the readings of the Manifesto, to devise a cultural history that accounted for the variations, and did so in a non-arbitrary manner.

    J.Fielding Smith and McKonkie also provide interpretions of ealier work, and the goal for me is not to say they have an incorrect reading, but rather to understand why their interpretations bend the ways they do. Hence, the role of grammar.

    This is a rather new way to approach these sorts of texts, and the method I use can be easily confused with efforts to get at what so-and-so thought, whether he was logical, correct, consistent with authorities, and so on.

  26. bbell,
    I think you are correct about the responses to fundies.
    Lee was a stake president in Salt Lake where fundamentalists thrived. But the other question is, what makes something like “Correlation” possible, as a massive cultural change? In part, my answer is that a sort of foundation for mass speculation was lost around 1900, and this created a sense of chaos in the doctrines, a sense that no one knows, and that authorities (e.g., the [new] Priesthood) need to step up and control the production of texts = Correlation. But that’s getting a little ahead of the story.

  27. I agree with the 1900 time frame on the end of massive doctrinal speculation. Right after this we start to see the texts by Talmage, The FP Godhead statement etc. Then shortly after this we see the rise of Correlation led by men who saw both.

    Where does the 1930’s poly crackdown by Clark play in this?

  28. Brad, As far as I know, the term “correlation” with regard to the doctrinal activities of the Church did not come into use until the 1950s at the earliest, and was not adopted in earnest until 1970 or thereabouts.

    There is a “Correlation Committee” and it is pretty much dedicated to reviewing the various drafts of Church publications so that they reflect the official doctrine of the Church. I am a little puzzled about this post, because the Church has not really had even a semi-official doctrine on these particular points since the time of Brigham Young.

    Did the Church ever endorse the position of B.H. Roberts or Bruce R. McConkie on this issue? Have there been any conference talks related thereto since Brigham Young? Were there any other commentators whose position on this particular question made it into any of the official publications of the Church? As far as I can tell, this issue is entirely irrelevant to Correlation at all, with the exception of the position not to have a position.

    It is curious of course that BRM and BY had opposite opinions on any number of subjects, but I don’t see a talk by the former at BYU having anything to do with the correlation process of the Church, whatsoever. It was just his very strongly expressed opinion. His prerogative as an apostle, so to speak.

  29. Daymon and Brad,

    This ties in to what I remember Jan Shipps talking about in terms of what she called “boundary maintenance”. In Utah prior to these changes, she claims, the real evidences of fidelity to the Mormon faith were irrigation ditches and canals, and other physical and community manifestations; whereas now those boundaries are more internal and individual, ie obedience to the WOW, adherence to basic gospel principles, paying a full tithe, etc. These seem to parallel the mind/body – analogy/abstraction divide you are describing.

    This continues to be absolutely fascinating. Can’t wait for the next part.

  30. Great point Kevin.

  31. “There is a ‘Correlation Committee’ and it is pretty much dedicated to reviewing the various drafts of Church publications so that they reflect the official doctrine of the Church.” As noted here or in the dissertation, and also noted elsewhere, that was part of the original charge, but correlation restructured the entire Church. I used to think of it as a coup d’etat of the male priesthood. I think of it now as a centralization of power in the 12–i.e., instead of the auxiliaries reporting only to the FP, now everything goes through the 12.

  32. Before then, you had Brigham Young almost exclusively using “intelligence” as a count-noun that can be easily pluralized, whereas Orson Pratt uses it primarily as a more abstract, non-countable noun.

    Brad, why do you think this is BY’s use. I have a collection of a bunch of his sermons in a single file and I just don’t see this. I think an at least equally defensible reading is that BY doesn’t distinguish between intelligence as “soul” from intelligence as “capacity.” I just did a quick search and I just don’t see what you suggest. But one example:

    I believe in the eternities of worlds, saints, angels, kingdoms, and Gods in eternity without beginning. I believe the Gods never had a beginning, neither the formation of matter, and it is without end; it will endure in one eternal round, swimming in space, basking, living, and moving in the
    midst of eternity. All the creations are in the midst of eternity, and that is one eternity, so they move in one eternal round. consequently, when you hear philosophers argue the point how the first God came, how intelligence came, how worlds came, and how angels came, they are talking about that which is beyond their conception, about that which never was, and never will be, worlds without end. It manifests their folly.

    (This also exemplifies his fairly anti-philosophical stance which probably arose at least partially in reaction to Pratt)

    It is worth noting that I can’t find “intelligences” anywhere in my file.

  33. Oh, sorry. The reference for that quote is 8 October 1854 HDC, Ms d 1234, Box 48 fd 12. I should also, for strength of argument note that the files are about 2 M in size and are pure text files. So this is not a small collection.

  34. David O. McKay sat on a “correlation committee” in 1920, to make recommendations about editing manuals (the same limited charge given Lee in 1960).

    Correlation is directly relevant to the theological disputes of the 1930s to the 1950s, as some commenters have guessed. But what “correlation” means then and now has, of course, changed.

  35. There is a “Correlation Committee” and it is pretty much dedicated to reviewing the various drafts of Church publications so that they reflect the official doctrine of the Church.

    Before I started reading this series, the above quote was my understanding of what Correlation meant within the LDS Church. Which is why I often found so many comments about Correlation confusing.

    Although this series is far from over, I now understand that Correlation, within the LDS Church, is an effort to make sure everything relates to everything else in an organised way. Priesthood ordinances, teachings, manuals, auxiliaries, quorums, etc are all correlated.

    I don’t know if that is a totally accurate description, but I hope that it is at least more accurate than “correlation is making sure manuals are correct”.

  36. Daymon, Brad,

    From my earlier comment, DID any of those who established the “correlation” that you are speaking of, claim divine, in person guidance as John Taylor had? And if not, what possible Heavenly intervention could trump those three individuals showing up personally? Nouns, grammar, Pratt and BRM aside, can we simply lay that type of vision aside without a command in type to the contrary?

  37. Pemble, probably not the best place to argue this, but I’m confused at the logic. It’s akin to saying if I tell you something in person something I can’t tell you something related on the phone. Isn’t the issue whether the revelation is divine and not the particular kind of manifestation?

  38. Also, there is the question of reliability when it comes to Taylor’s “visitors.” The story grew wonderfully in the telling. The short written revelation of 1886 echoed similar previous items. Taylor’s view of putting it out there, let them do their worst, wasn’t shared by everybody. Woodruff and co. saw it a bit differently.

  39. Mark D (#28),
    We’re getting a bit ahead of things here, but suffice it to say that it is not an argument that BRM is a product of Correlation. In fact, BRM was quite (if quietly) contemptful toward Priesthood Correlation as a management enterprise, taking serious umbrage at the notion that an oversight committee should have editorial power over general authorities and apostles. The argument here, rather, is that JFS/BRM and Correlation are both the discursive products of an earlier discursive realignment, a cultural-linguistic transformation, described throughout this series, that made both possible.

    You’re both right, RE Young. It’s a mis-statement (and a correct transcription thereof) on my part. Young spoke of “intelligence” as a mass noun, non-countable, whereas Pratt spoke typically of “intelligences” in more atomistic terms. A key point here is that that for neither BY or OP is the term fully or exclusively abstract. So unlike something like “faith” which is restricted grammatically to environments and processes associated with minds and mind-like categories, there is much more analogic freedom in both basically materialist renderings. The grammatical difference, though, carries much weight in pushing them toward different speculative conclusions.

    Here’s a relevant quote from Daymon’s dissertation:

    Pratt’s cosmos was complicated, however, by an attempt to reconcile biblical theology with Joseph Smith’s teachings. God is Love and God was once a man, which was it? A resolution came by way of introducing other qualities, like truth and light, which as Orson Pratt theorized, are not like substances at all. These attributes became purely abstract, unrelated to the rest of the cosmos. Thus Orson Pratt distinguished between god as a PERSONAL noun and God as an AGENTIVE noun akin to weather, a force of some kind. The logical conclusion was the One Grand Intelligence: God. Here he departs from the course set by Brigham Young. These nouns, however, remained as material as the rest of the cosmos, but as abstractions (negations) from ordinary substance, they could be spread throughout the cosmos without diminishing their quantity, nor changing quality. (Note that Pratt never developed a theory of attributes beyond basic affinity and sympathetic capacity: they were too abstract, too sundered from human life to be thinkable beyond movement and attraction, standard principles of natural philosophy during his time.)

    Anchored as the rest of the cosmos was to anthropomorphic Gods, reading attributes as independent, abstract nouns resulted in a dualism that Orson Pratt did not resolve. There were abstract attributes and substances, and the latter was filled by the former. These abstractions became divine, and Pratt replicated a form-substance dualism throughout the cosmos, with the form of Truth worshiped rather than the tabernacle-substance that housed it, the One God that filled the gods. Though dualistic, Pratt’s cosmology was rendered materialistic, and given motion by way of analogy from PERSONAL noun categorization. Again theology and grammar combined, though here one found a decidedly more robust speculative framework than appears in the Lectures (pp. 271-72).

  40. I don’t want to distract from the main points, but I think Pratt’s view is a tad more complex. As I suggested in a previous thread, I think Pratt basically takes an emanation theory ala the neoPlatonists (manifest in America in figures like Emerson) and then tweaks it when the revelation on materialism appears. Effectively it is the Stoic view of interpenetrating fields. The Aether, as understood in the physics of the time as the medium of light, is transformed into the Stoic God or interpenetrating field of intelligent fire. In Pratt this fluid is, like all matter conceived in that era, made up of atoms. However it is spread through the universe and is the communication medium. It’s literally the Stoic and neoPlatonic world-mind. (Hegel, of course, has a similar view which by the 19th century had come to have more metaphysical conceptions apart from the more humanist reading Hegel probably gave it)

    The problematic (and perhaps inconsistent) place for Pratt is that he thinks of “minds” as basically substances all unified in a particular disposition. Thus a human being in a given disposition is totally in that disposition. We don’t say the brain is angry, we say the person is angry. That idea of unities once again has echo in earlier movements such as the Stoics. (For the record I’ve never found any evidence Pratt read on Stoicism – his main influences were Scottish Common Sense Realism) This isn’t a problem for his conception of the gods though. That is because the Father qua God is unified with the same disposition with all other divine beings and this spiritual fluid. It is by unity with the fluid that this shared divine mind is possible. This is why I said one shouldn’t see Pratt quite as nominalistic as McConkie. With McConkie the shared world-mind becomes purely individuals who happen to share beliefs. However it’s a little more broad for Pratt and verges upon a kind of realism for universals due to this fluid.

  41. As I’m sure you can imagine, Clark, the pages spent on Pratt in the dissertation are also a tad more complex than the 2 paragraphs I pasted. :)

  42. Clark,
    I cannot see how your fine rendering of a supposed background for Pratt’s thought contradicts what I’ve outlined about Pratt’s sermons. I’m simply indicating that there is a reason Pratt works by the metaphors he does, and these metaphors are the same metaphors of Neoplatonism; that there is an intellectual ‘history’ here is less certain than that they draw the same metaphors from grammatically identical terms (count nouns without a directly tangible referent). To speak of influences on Pratt is fine, but entirely speculative without a record of Pratt’s studies, his notes, his working papers. A sort of secular mysticism. Fine, but not explanatory. To draw the conclusion that metaphysical speculation runs on the engines of grammar is, I believe, demonstrable.
    The intellectual history is fine, but doesn’t speak to the transitions I’m tracking from 1850 to 1950. There is a shift in the speculative engines, and no amount of intellectual history can account for that shift, though it might well document said shift. To offer an explanation, empirical in its own way, is entirely different than offering a hypothetical intellectual history.

  43. Kristine says:

    Still, though, Clark, getting neo-Platonism, Stoicism, Scottish Commonsense Realism, nominalism, Hegel, and McConkie into two paragraphs is impressive!

  44. My concern is more about how to account for the sudden vacuum of speculation, that by 1950 our rich tradition slows dramatically, and so many divergent readings of Pratt/Young/Smith appear, and cause contention (see: Blogs about theology), that a few leaders washed their hands of it. Lots of words are tossed around: society, culture, politics, as somehow explaining the shift. I prefer a simpler, more empirical explanation that involves the way we draw metaphors to understand the non-tangible realm, and the way we do is by reference to grammatical categories. a count noun can be compared to other count nouns; mass to mass. Time is but a river, and so on. The shift, however, involves a loss of the body as a ground for the speculative leaps that characterized the 19th c., due in no small part to the invocation of “belief” as sufficient to save; and instead non-tangible nouns were seen as having as their referents an ‘abstract’ realm, which became something akin, drawing their waters by the bucket of metaphor, to ‘the mind’: timeless, intangible, singular, and yet also, poor metaphysical ground if one hopes to cultivate speculations in Mormon theology. Division between Mind and Body, Church and State, Spirit and Flesh all work together. The loss of that ground of the body, which we all have and can draw from, as a way to under the realm of the spirit(s), prepares the field, as it were, for Correlation (by The Priesthood, which had to draw its own metaphors of the body/head/church). As we will see.
    This is NOT standard intellectual history, but rather a sort of history of discourse.

  45. Daymon, I certainly don’t mean to distract from the main points. I confess I’m pretty skeptical about the general relationship between grammar/language and metaphysics. But as I’m sure you know that is, in the broader sense, a long ongoing philosophical dispute. I confess that while I think language affects our thought, it just doesn’t affect it as much as some think. That said I’m quite sympathetic to some aspects.

    I’d have to go track down old notes, but I don’t think the influence issue is that controversial. Beck’s biography has Pratt reading Priestly and company. The Stoic and Leibniz/Spinoza stuff I didn’t present as an influence, although the parallels really are uncanny (with some important differences of course).

    Getting back to your point about embodiment metaphors, I’m actually quite sympathetic. I think that the last 10 years or so have had a major school of cognitive science recognizing the importance of foundational bodily metaphors. (Raymond Gibb’s Embodiment and Cognitive Science has been pretty influential on my thought here)

    I’m eager to see how you tie it all together as my own bias is to see the move from the 19th century to the mid 20th century as a move towards more and more nominalism. However I think this is because it reflects a larger move in American intellectual thought. Everyone was becoming nominalistic. It was characteristic to how science was conceived. With the “death” of idealism as a major force in American intellectualism by WWII it’s hardly surprising we see the same effects in the Church. So I’m not so much disagreeing with you as seeing this as a larger societal change. If anything, Mormons simply held out (perhaps due to isolation) to an earlier milieu of American thought. But I’d be the first to admit that I’ve just not engaged with all this with sufficient rigor. That’s why I’ve really enjoyed this series. If only to help arrange my own thoughts.

  46. Daymon and Brad,
    Firstly,–I love this series. Great work
    Secondly, given that language is playing such a huge role here (language being a reflection of how a people think)–does correlation translate well into other languages? If we talk about intelligence(s) in other languages-could the same discussion even happen that existed at the time of OP and BY?
    Would that explain some of the problems with understanding “how things work” and doctrines posited by correlation in other countries?

  47. Clark, #37
    I guess (tongue in cheek) it boils down to just how “divine” something is or that perhaps some things are more divine than others. We learned then taught that the First Vision was so important that those two Individuals did not delegate the assignment. No other story, regardless of the version is more repeated in the Church. So, just me, but I think who shows up makes a difference to the majority and I still ask the question if they showed up again to rescind their previous action.

    WVS #38,

    If Tommy, Hank and Diet (meant affectionately) in a few weeks “put something out there and let them do their worst” should their comments be viewed with suspicion as were the words of the Prophet by Wilford Woodruff?

    Anyway, Daymon and Brad, your illumination of history has been to me, brilliant. If you have time to answer my original query, that would be wonderful. If not, thanks for the posts and keep them coming.

  48. Clark: With McConkie the shared world-mind becomes purely individuals who happen to share beliefs.

    I am a loss to understand how you came to such a conclusion. Everything I have read by Elder McConkie requires considerable reverse engineering to understand how or why he adopts any position, let alone something so fundamental and abstract.

    As Pratt goes, I believe he concluded once that the ONE TRUE GOD was divine attributes, and that he got in deep water with Brigham Young precisely because this highest God was _not_ a personal one at all. BY said he wouldn’t worship such a God.

  49. Mark (#48), I didn’t intend much by that statement. All I meant is that McConkie limits the unity of divine beings to shared beliefs, intents, desires and so forth. Earlier figures like Pratt clearly saw the unity as more than that.

    You’re completely right about Pratt, although his position was a little more subtle. I’d note that this comes partially out of the Lectures on Faith 5 where the Spirit is the Mind of God. Effectively Pratt is doing something akin to the old Trinity belief where you distinguish between God in his unity (the ousia) and God in his person (the hypostasis). The Spirit (Pratt’s Aether) becomes a material form of the Trinitarian ousia – the material cause of divine attributes.

    Of course I must confess I’m much, much more sympathetic to Young in the whole debate.

    Pemble (#47), I guess I still don’t see the issue. A revelation is just as divine as an appearance. It seems like you are suggesting it is less divine. I can see someone making an epistemological argument based upon evidence for a position. So that an appearance provides more evidence than say a voice. But that doesn’t appear to be the line of thought you are taking.

  50. Clark,
    I think you’re right (and, if his dissertation is an indicator, Daymon seems to more or less agree) RE: Pratt’s (Or Pratts’) partial dependence on some of the LoF materials. Pratt seems less willing to part with some traditionally Christian renderings than Young, including the Lectures. In some ways Pratt’s thinking is what you get when you try to reconcile the monistic materialism of Nauvoo with 1830s theologies.

  51. The other possible counter to Pemble’s case is that at the time of John Taylor, the identities of the visitors in the first vision were hardly a point of emphasis, to the extent that when most Mormons describe Joseph’s “vision” they just talk about an angel.

  52. Yeah – I completely agree that Pratt is trying to reconcile the earlier 1830’s theology with monistic materialism. Although I think even in the early 1830’s we have at least the indication of a parting from creation ex nihilo. (Certainly the Pratt brothers have rejected it as a practical matter)

    I should note that there is this tendency to treat matter as monism. Even Roberts, who is a dualist, still has that basic monism of matter. Yet for all the many problems in his book I think Quinn deserves credit for pointing out that even in the 1800’s there were other views of matter. He even points out that some of the language for spiritual matter comes out of the more neoPlatonic rhetoric where we have a gradation from pure matter to pure idea. It’s interesting that you never actually see that developed in Mormon thought though.

    What do you think of this formula:
    mysteries=mormon fundamantalism

    It seems that alot of the stuff we don’t take stances on they claim to have a ready answer for.

  54. btw, ready answers i disagree with ie ehy the priesthood ban etc.

  55. Someone sent me an email gently ribbing me that not everyone knows the terminology I’ve used. Just to clarify.

    Nominalism is the claim there are no abstract objects independent of particular people thinking about them. (See the SEP on nominalism) The easiest place to think of this is in mathematics. Do numbers exist independent of what we think about them? Or is mathematics just a kind of symbol manipulation? I brought this up relative to Pratt and McConkie because McConkie sees all divine attributes as just particular people acting in particular ways. So the Father and Son are unified just because they think similarly. Pratt’s fluid ends up meaning the thoughts aren’t just what finite minds think but that they are independent of what any person particularly thinks. Pratt is kind of a halfway point in that his objects aren’t immaterial. But even the laws of physics are just this fluid’s dispositions rather than what any particular mind thinks.

    I think one way (among many) to think about the change in LDS theology is this move from real abstractions to nominalism more characteristic of 20th century American thinking. How that relates to Daymon’s thesis about embodiment metaphors I can’t say. One might be able to tie them together or they may be competing theories or both may be in play as influences.

  56. Clark: McConkie sees all divine attributes as just particular people acting in particular ways. So the Father and Son are unified just because they think similarly.

    That could be characterized as either moderate realism or conceptualism, but probably not nominalism, from what I understand. If person A telling the truth as he understands it is an instance of honesty, one is a moderate realist about honesty. If the idea of person A telling the the truth as he understands it is real, one is a conceptualist about honesty. I don’t see how one can be a nominalist about honesty without denying both propositions, and I am skeptical that McConkie would have denied either.

    I am also skeptical of the idea that he would have denied that the members of the Godhead share some sort of interpenetrating spirit, or “glow”. If he would have denied that some sort of spiritual energy or communication was spatially present between and among persons sharing a spiritual experience, that would certainly make him a conceptualist at best about spirit, which would be very interesting if true.

  57. Mark, I’ll bring that topic up over at my blog. I think we’re getting too afield. I’m sure Daymon already thinks I’m hogging the themes. (grin)

  58. This post was so enlightening.

    I am in real trouble. In HP quorum last Sunday I said truth was a higher order infinity, higher than anything else. If truth is that high an order of infinity, then infinite beings can still be learning.

    In an infinite multiverse of infinite duration each full of an infinite number of beings, truth can not be but greater than all of that. Even an ocean wave breaking on the shore has a near infinity of truth.

    I have Widstoe’s book. It is a treasure. He says that as we mature we become more complex. There is no end to complexity.

    So I see correlation as the culmination of the process by which Mormons become Catholics. THEY control the doctrine and the Church is run by the priests (the real priesthood) and we are the lay folk who should just be good members. Salvation depends on doing what we are told.

  59. SVB, while I think transfinite sets are very tied into omniscience I think it dangerous to assume “infinite being” implies some particular cardinality. One has to be careful here. Especially since in the traditional discourse God as an infinite being meant the highest ordinality. You can actually see this in Cantor’s own views of God. Typically in theology infinite simply mean unbounded not a particular cardinality. God as the most unbounded being would have to logically have the highest cardinality.

  60. Steve Evans says:

    SVB, salvation has always depended upon doing what we are told.

  61. Clark,

    We believe in the multiplicity (infinity?) of gods of the higher order. How high a cardinality is that? We do not believe in the traditional Christian God, which Cantor must have been referring to. So if each of the Gods are highest ordinality, that means there is a higher ordinality. In my book this is truth.


    Salvation can be a gift. In my present understanding I believe it is more akin to enlightenment. Much of Joseph Smith’s discussion of salvation (exaltation) seems to point in that direction. Because of that, salvation consisting of doing what you are told is much too passive. You will never get there. Which is the direction that correlation is pushing. Which is where the lay Catholics are, mostly.

  62. Steve Evans says:

    SVB, God does not save people in their sins. Doing what you are told (i.e., repenting) has always been the way of things. I’m not referring to works as a means of salvation, but obedience to the eternal laws of repentance has always been required. Nothing specifically Catholic about that, really.

  63. The number of beings is actually more speculative than it first appears – although I agree that the standard reading of the KFD entails an infinity of beings and this was the main belief in the early Utah period. As for cardinality it appears to be Aleph0 and not a higher cardinality although I’m open to arguments for a higher cardinality.

    Cantor was, I believe, thinking of the Jewish view of God. I read a book on this years ago but honestly don’t recall the details. You’re right though that Mormons impose limits on God (embodiment if nothing else) so many of the arguments don’t work. My point was more about the various uses of the term “infinity” and to be careful about assumptions.

  64. Steve,

    How can I disagree? If we are ever going to know the mind of God we will have to know God and that means following and doing. It is the standard (and good) view that salvation is a funnel which opens on the other side. It is the opening which is enlightenment. Obedience will get you to the threshold but we do not want to be psychic members but pneumatic members.

  65. SVB,
    Is there really something to debate here? Let’s all move along now.

  66. John Mansfield says:

    Notions of infinity and what any may mean when they use them are tricky. Since mathematical concepts of cardinality are being invoked, however, it may be worth pointing out that there is no highest cardinality.

  67. Cantor recognized this and I think wrote this as Aleph^Aleph or something like that. (Sorry, as I said it’s been years since I studied this) C. S. Peirce had a similar conception of “highest” infinity and for the life of me I can’t recall his exact term. (I think it’s “true continuum” while the infinities roughly akin to Cantor’s Aleph1 on up were abnumerable multitudes.)

  68. If only I had thought to integrate Cantor and infinite sets into the discussion of Mormon theology, it might have been complete (actually, I included it Cantor in a sunday school class for 15 y.os, and had as much success as one might have here). To answer SVB’s concern with an obvious turn to the heavy pedantic, is to perform the worst of what he describes: scholasticism in response to lay concerns. Why not simply write your response in Latin?

  69. Peirce also spoke of an infinite heirarchy of gods, and had no problem imagining an endless gods-quorum; the problem happens when one imagines a line of gods like an administrative heirarchy. For fallen beings to suggest a limit to a non-fallen beings is again to perform just one reason we are fallen.

  70. Formal language has its problems, but it does lead to more precision in ones discussion. It’s not like discussions about infinities in Mormon thought lead to conclusive answers but it at least allows one to be more clear in what the positions actually are. The alternative is just to manipulate words without concern for what they mean.

  71. John Mansfield says:

    I wonder how that Aleph^Aleph was meant to square with Cantor’s Theorem that the cardinality of the power set of any set is greater than the cardinality of the set. Perhaps Aleph^Aleph was conceived as a cardinality beyond the cardinality of any set.

  72. I’m pretty skeptical you actually believe it when you say, “for fallen beings to suggest a limit to a non-fallen beings is again to perform just one reason we are fallen.” Maybe you do. But I think it safe to say that God has a body which imposes a logical limit against his being a disembodied immaterial being. As soon as you provide some predicate about God and say that claim is true you’ve limited God. True, they may not seem like significant limits, but I’d argue our conception of God’s essential embodiment is a huge limit. And most other Christians would tend to agree. Likewise the dominant view in LDS thought is that creation ex nihilo is incorrect which likewise imposes a huge limit on God.

  73. Clark, I’m quite sure that manipulating words without concern for what they mean is an apt description of the above RE infinities. Stop with the various infinities for a moment; what does it mean to associate “truth” with any of them? This is a question that I don’t think can be easily resolved — and without a resolution, it’s irrelevant which order of infinity we’re interested in.

  74. I, personally, am very interested in the limits which correlation has imposed on us. I started with the infinities to show what trouble I am in regarding correlation. I am definitely wandering into the mysteries, as we have conclusively demonstrated. This is not correlated, therefore in danger of heck fire.

  75. SVB,
    Whether you’re in danger of heck fire because you wander in mysteries or because you’re a sinner like everyone else, it is the same.

  76. Why do you think that J.? It seems to me it is precisely the opposite – trying to be clear about precisely what we are saying. Meaning and truth simply aren’t the same thing. I think that many statements are false but quite meaningful. If you are simply saying we should only speak about what we are sure is true and what is meaningful that is fine but there will be little able to be said. Worse, what happens is that people have assumptions that are hidden and affect their thinking but because they aren’t brought out into the light in a precise way they don’t realize how it is affecting their thinking.

    But I’ll drop that meta-discussion about language as it is definitely far afield from discussion. (Maybe at my blog)

  77. Yes, say, what is truth? ‘Tis the brightest prize
    To which mortals or Gods can aspire;
    Go search in the depths where it glittering lies
    Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies.
    ‘Tis an aim for the noblest desire.

    There. Beyond godhood.

  78. Clark, not at all — what I’m saying is that defining terms and explaining analogies are useful moves, and moves that seem to have been omitted for some reason in the infinities discussion.

  79. John Mansfield says:

    How relative orders of infinity connect us and our Heavenly Father I cannot say, but I would like it known that they have been very useful to me in understanding finite element methods, which are used for approximating solutions to physical problems like structural bending, electromagnetic radiation, and hydrodynamics (my field). The cardinality of Hilbert spaces, which are used in the functional analysis used to formulate finite element methods, is greater than the cardinality of the continuum. Having the concept of cardinality available has made the whole matter much easier to conceptualize, understand, and use. I can see how someone might be interested in using such concepts to explore his religious thoughts. I would also expect the rigor of such musings to be pretty low for most of us.

  80. John M., these concepts are indeed useful in a variety of domains! But in those domains, the connections between the mathematical ideas and the substantive issues are made clear and concrete — this is the first-order task. Starting with the math before doing that sort of conceptual groundwork is what I find perplexing.

  81. Thomas Parkin says:


    I’m with you most of the way. In any case, we are certainly NOT saved by doing what we are told. The foolish virgins are the ones who think they are saved _by_ doing what they are told. They turn up at the wedding, too. They are ‘where they’re supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing.’ They have avoided the appearance of evil. They are carrying their lamps, like everyone else. Problem is, at the very last minute, they discover got no oil. They showed up, did all the bits, paid their tithing, attended their meetings, sent their sons on missions, but something went missing. They’ve got no spirit, no truth, no word. They thought that being a good Mormon saves one. ~

  82. J., I think the discussion was fairly clear – a distinction between the discussion of infinities in math and the notion of existential limits. My point was that the kind of infinities one talks about effectively is tied to the kind of limits one sees to god.

    As for the main use of infinities in theology, it comes out of the mainstream reading of the KFD which sees endless Fathers and creations from the infinite past to the infinite future. This at a minimum means the cardinality of Fathers is at least Aleph0. Now of course this isn’t the only reading. There are readings that propose an absolute head God in a finite past.

    The other reading is that each Father has his own creation filled with infinite beings. While one has to be careful, many would see this as an example of cardinality Aleph1.

    The problem then pops up in conceptions of omniscience. Now some (such as Bruce R. McConkie) see omniscience primarily in terms of things known: i.e. propositions. The question then becomes what is the cardinality of the number of true propositions. That discussion gets tricky quickly, but it actually has significant implications and that was the issue I took SVB to be saying was excluded by correlation. (I should add I’m not sure that’s true – but then it’s also not a topic I think appropriate for Church)

    There are other places the concept of infinity can play a theological role.

  83. Clark, I’m not at all sure that either reading of the KFD requires an infinity other than Aleph0.

    Regarding the cardinality of the number of true propositions, before getting to the cardinality of infinity that is relevant, you’ve skipped the most important and interesting steps — this has been my complaint throughout. Specifically:

    1) What counts as a distinct proposition?

    2) What counts as true?

    3) Should “truth” be taken to be equivalent with “true proposition”?

    These are very difficult questions, and without an answer to at least the first one, the discussion is literally vapid.

  84. Just caught up with this whole series. I find this both interesting and mind blowing. Thanks for sharing.

  85. If there are an infinite number (Aleph0) of beings we can put a lower limit on the number of propositions. If each being can know an infinite number of things (since they are ontologically the same as God) then that gets us to Aleph1. Going above that gets trickier I admit.

    I don’t think one needs a particular theory of truth to enable the above analytic.

    The potential distinction between truth and “proposition x is true” seems not too relevant to this particular question – although I think that an excellent topic.

    But we’re getting a bit too afield from Daymon’s original topic so I’ll bow out.

  86. W. V. Smith says:

    Still at Aleph0 Clark. It’s hard to get to Aleph1.

  87. I’ll be the first to admit it’s been longer than I care to admit since college math, but I’m pretty sure the cardinality of the set of all countable ordinals is aleph1 which is surmised to be isomorphic to the set or reals.

  88. An infinite number of beings knowing an infinite number of things, assuming both “infinites” have the same cardinality, does not generate a higher cardinality. But maybe I misinterpret what you are saying. It’s very hard to get to aleph1 in any constructive way.

  89. John Mansfield says:

    Aleph1 is believed, though not proven, to be the cardinality of the continuum. All you need for that is a continuous set.

  90. Propositions be darned! There are truths of state, the state of all manner of things, of beaches and stars, of people and places. The state of the universe is also truth. There is the truth of history of all things, people, animals, even the microhistory of a grain of sand. If there are propositions, the interaction of all propositions are truth, which is the N! of propositions. There are all the propositions which are true but unprovable.

    If there are and infinity of infinite beings who look like God, their complexity is also truth.

    Truth is truly enormous.

  91. Clark, when you assume that God can know an “infinite number of things,” you’re tacitly adopting gigantic assumptions regarding the nature of truth. Is it true that there are an infinite number of things to know? How do you count knowledge? Philosophers that I read tend to want to ask questions about what such ideas mean, rather than simply assume them and rush headlong out into the woods or what have you.

  92. Note I’m not assuming that. I don’t think I’ve given my position. Rather I was referring to how someone would have to approach it given certain assumptions. Although for the record I do believe actual infinities are needed theologically if we take the KFD seriously (and it appears a reasonably common early Mormon belief).

    Certainly though it’s not a necessary belief for Mormons. If one adopts the position of Young or McConkie where spirits are made out of the elements and adds in the assumption that the elements aren’t atomistic ala Pratt then I think you can have a finite amount of stuff with a potential infinity for the future.

    If however you buy some sense of an eternal soul backwards and forwards in time and that there is no end to creation then you always need an actual infinity of souls always existing. It’s fairly trivial at that point to start drawing implications from that.

  93. Clark, you’re just swerving all over the place… One thing at a time, right?

  94. SVB – truth has lots of different meanings. I’m not convinced seeing it as merely the aggregate of true propositions is the best way to think of it.

    WVS – somehow my response never made it. I was thinking of power sets out of which you can generate aleph1 from aleph0.

    John – there are two ways of seeing the continuum. One is as a potential infinity (i.e. you could indefinitely divide it) while the other is as a set of points isomorphic to the Reals. If there is a real continuity in existence one could still take it either way. In the former you’d never have an aleph1 number of things.

    It’s interesting you bring this up though since it’s an obvious place where an infinite being could continue to increase in knowledge. (Logically speaking, even if it’s kind of trivial knowledge)

  95. By the way, Clark, I’m not at all objecting to the idea that there might be non-finite sets in Mormon theology. There can be such sets in all kinds of topics. My objection is simply that the logically prior issues seem to be of little interest here, rendering the mathematical talk empty.

  96. Whoa. I think someone just got called a Null set.

  97. Well it definitely was a tangent that took a life of its own. SVB introduced the topic suggesting that correlation wouldn’t let such topics be discussed. Whether that’s true or not I can’t say. It seems to me that correlation (wisely) keeps discussion in Church tied to what we’re reasonably sure of. I certainly wouldn’t want to talk about this in Church. And all High Priest meetings jokes aside, I doubt they would either.

  98. Carl Youngblood says:

    Jim #21, I agree but think it might be possible to at least have enough sense to detect misreadings while not yet being capable of correct ones. Just like when you hear somebody playing a song wrong and you say, I can’t remember the tune well enough to sing it for you but I know that’s NOT it.

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