One more thing to do before we frame an evolutionary interpretation of the Fall—we must destroy absolutes. Absolutes seem antithetical to much of Mormon theology. Ideas such as embodiment, temporality, gendered deities, the agential nature of existence, the implications of emergence, and a god who weeps seem to be antithetical to the God of classic monothesism. Much of the neoplatonism upon which much of Christianity rests, relies on a set of absolutes that misdirect our Mormony gaze in ways that have allowed things like arguments from creation ex nihilo that structure many current creationist leanings to have crept into our creation narratives. Modern creationism seems to fly in the face of what we have discovered about the universe.
In fact, within philosophy of science there is a strong move to do away with the idea of “Laws” of the universe and focus instead on tendencies and capacities. So, as an experiment lets do away with absolutes and consider a different set of possibilities contained within Mormon Scripture, prophetic utterances, and the unfolding of science. So what if omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence really are not aspects of God? What if we make no claims to any of the usual absolutes?
So how do we abandon absolutes? Quentin Meillassoux has done all the work for us. Meillassoux was a student of Badiau and in his essay An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, he makes a rigorous defense of the idea of abandoning all absolutes, except the absolute necessity of abandoning all absolutes as traditionally construed. He writes:
The absolute is the absolute impossibility of a necessary being. We are no longer upholding a variant of the principle of sufficient reason, according to which there is a necessary reason why everything is the way it is rather than otherwise, but rather the absolute truth of a principle of unreason. There is no reason for anything to be or to remain the way it is; everything must, without reason, be able not to be and/or be able to be other than it is. After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (Kindle Locations 893-896). Kindle Edition.
This allows the idea of agency and freedom in ways not contained in strictly determinist universe. Also, contingency is the sine qua non of all evolutionary biology (which is nice because modern physics is committed quantum mechanics which also suggests that it is randomness that undergirds the universe). It is the structure upon which the theory of evolution rests. It appears strongly that contingency is what structures life on Earth and any account of ontology must, I suggest, provide for its possibility. Meillassoux again:
By way of contrast, speculation proceeds by accentuating thought’s relinquishment of the principle of reason to the point where this relinquishment is converted into a principle, which alone allows us to grasp the fact that there is absolutely no ultimate Reason, whether thinkable or unthinkable. There is nothing beneath or beyond the manifest gratuitousness of the given – nothing but the limitless and lawless power of its destruction, emergence, or persistence. Quentin Meillassoux. After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (Kindle Locations 936-939). Kindle Edition.
Destruction, emergence, or persistence the very components necessary for an evolutionary construction. It’s important to remember that evolution is not a law, or any kind of nomic force. Evolution by natural selection is an a priori principle according to Christian Illies. As given, it requires no empirical content, neither is it a particular law in a given universe. Philosopher Daniel Dennett calls it a sorting algorithm, but it always holds under the following conditions:
(1) Variation in traits
(2) Selection on trait differences
(3) Trait attributes are to some extent inherited by ‘offspring’ from ‘parents’
This works whether these are chemicals, digital computer programs, or beans in a jar—anything. This a priori description of evolution by natural selection is not really in dispute (try it at home with playing cards if you like). It is obviously just a sorting algorithm that sorts things based on some selection criteria, usually determined by some environment where the traits vary on how well they fare in that environment.
Upon the backs of contingency and evolution rest the idea of novelty entering the universe. If it appears that contingency, stochasticity, and randomness are all part of the deep fabric of the universe, then what do we gain by making it a metaphysical backdrop? Much. Most theologies of which I’m familiar try to either claim that it is not real, or that it masks a deeper determinism controlled by an absolute conception of God. I think either approach misses a deeper possibility: contingency is real and is the reality with which God, with other beings such as ourselves, are embedded. Notice I did not use the term ‘absolute beings’ as gets often put because we interpret co-eternal with God as having always existed. This is often based on the scripture:
Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. D&C 93:29
However, it quickly becomes apparent that this beginning need not have been unconditioned, or that it is not itself some sort of Baudiouean ‘event.’ As the scriptures that follow make it clear that intelligence, is a kind of truth bearing substance and not necessarily agential. The only thing we have as a guarantee is that element is eternal:
For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fullness of joy; D&C 93:33
So if there are no absolutes, if contingency rules the nature of reality, what sort of theology is it possible to construct?