Death, the Fall, and Darwin: ‘That which is below is like that which is above’, Part 7 of 7

paintings_forest_artwork_fairytales_desktop_1920x1080_hd-wallpaper-781163In D&C 130 we learn:

2 And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.

Can we read that word ‘sociality’ a little more broadly? I would like to interpret it in an expansive way. A biological way. To look at levels of sociality matching the kinds of deep societies that make up every biological system—a  move that would make Hermes Trismegistus proud (the coiner of the aphorism, “Tis true without lying, certain & most true/That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below”). Sociality implies relationships among things, and in fact relationships among organisms and their environment is my area of study. We call it Ecology.

Ecologies are structured by evolution and that the relationships between entities in an ecology form societies of just the type I want to argue the structure the heavens. In this formulation evolution is not a tool used by God to create the Earth. It is an a priori principle that explains how complexity arises. Within our universe it is how life was structured. We know that matter is eternal, and that if selection acts, variation exists, and that traits can be inherited, then complexity increases. Is it far fetched that this is a principle that runs deep with in the history of all being, agents, and such in the big U universe?

In an ecological system, processes are arrayed in hierarchies of temporal and spatial scales. There are also functional hierarchies as well such as the way energy is passed around among predators and prey (and of course these often correlate with spatio/temporal scales). In the early 1980 ecologists, Allen and Starr constructed an idea called Hierarchy Theory that explored these sorts of relationships of nested hierarchies. They called them holons (which might be reconceived as Badiau’s count-as-one if one is so inclined). These are clusters of individuals bound by similarities of construction or process, but that have recognized hierarchal relationships as well.These are how societies of organism are formed and how human societies work as well. I think translating Joseph Smith’s revelatory statement fits this broader category nicely.

With this in mind, an evolutionary reading of a Mormon Theology might be best accomplished by:

1. Recognizing that evolution is an a priori principal.

2. That no absolutes including in our conception of deity.

3. Contingency is a part of the big U, universe.

4. That the Heavens are a kind of Ecological system.

5. Adam is best understood as the person in which agency first became operant in the world (the first person who was held accountable for his actions as a moral agent), who thereby brought sin, through grace into would and thus this kind of death.

6. That the future is open and that Faith, Hope, and Charity are all attributes of deity.

Glancing up to what the eternities bring in such a formulation we are struck by an open future. God is no longer an eternal program that repeats over and over. The view that one-eternal round convergences in kind of eternal recurrence where God, and we by implication, go through the same motion over and over, bringing souls to a state of endless joy? Wouldn’t heroin be more effective? Or some eternal equivalent?

In my novella, A Short Stay in Hell, I explore the implications of such an eternity. The most common word used to describe this work is ‘disturbing.’ And such an eternity really is. I think a conception of eternity that moves away from the Plotinian/Aquinian stiffness imposed by absolute Platonic categories which are borrowed from western philosophy is a nessecary adjustment for a truly Mormon based theology.

Furthermore, if God just used evolution, it appears a inexplicably cruel and sloppy way of creating, yet if it is how all complexity emerges including that of the heavens themselves it becomes a necessary thing that must be engaged with at all levels.

So what if we emerged from deep time (as Lewis might call it ‘Deep Magic’ beyond the dawn of time)? What if evolution was not just some method God used, but was the way in which emergence always bubbles forward into novel and unexpected realizations of what cannot be conceived?

Or as one of our beloved hymns ponder,

 If you could hie to Kolob In the twinkling of an eye,

And then continue onward With that same speed to fly,

Do you think that you could ever, Through all eternity,

Find out the generation Where Gods began to be?

In summary, I am proposing that evolution is not just a method of creation, but heart of the kinds of oppositional pairs Lehi envisioned. When we look at how life has emerged on Earth we are seeing hints of how Heavenly life emerges–that both we and God are contingent beings in a Universe (broadly construed) that is increasing in complexity. Toward what? And this brings an interesting observation. We spend a lot of time on Earth learning the importance of Faith, Hope, and Charity. It’s hard to imagine the first two being important in a being that sees the end from the beginning. However, if the universe is open. If we are taking a part in a grand emergence that is creating and bringing into existence ever more wondrous things then these three are necessary attributes of God as well.

Is it too much of a stretch that God is as made us partners in the greatest journey possible—the journey into an emerging universe? That we are peers in both risk and discovery?

I suggest the eternities are an evolving ecology just as life has always done on Earth. For more this see an earlier post of mine here).


  1. Thank you for the interesting series, Steve!

    If ecology is an eternal principle, what do you make of D&C 101:26–that the enmity of beasts and all flesh will cease?

  2. I love this idea of open and eternal evolution, but it raises a number of questions. If evolution on this planet, including human evolution, unfolded wholly subject to unguided selection, why should it produce anything that resembles God? If we are not already the same species, why should we expect to ever become like him? If we abandon all absolutes from our concept of deity (notably foreknowledge and arrival at some kind of evolutionary end state), and throw in an open universe, doesn’t that guarantee that at some point opposition wins and god loses? Also, since you brought it up, I thought your book was fantastic.

  3. Hi Jared*! I read D&C 101:26 the same way I read Mark 16:15 “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Not that we should baptize animals in the later case, but in both cases something big and universally important is under way. Similarly, in the D&C it’s speaking of an age of unparalleled peace.

    Thanks AaronM I’m glad you liked the book! The teleology problem isn’t as hard as it seems. As I point out in a blog post I did on teleological ends in evolution, (in parts III and IV), there can be events that allow evolution to converge to certain ends without those ends being anything but probabilistic outcomes. It just takes a big universe with lots of experiments going on (which given our universe’s size is not problem). We see amazing evolutionary convergences for example in fish, dolphins, and ichthyosaurs converging to very similar shapes given similar engineering solutions need in certain environments. All we need is a planet with similar earth ecologies and we might find very similar species emerge–even ours (So agrees Cambridge Biologist Simon Conway Morris).

    I can’t see how an open universe engineers God’s loss. I see it as full of a chance for amazing growth and opportunity as new niches open for exploitation. Look how the internet (a new niche for humans) has opened opportunities for growth for those who choose it (and destruction for those who choose it). It give place for greater agency.

  4. Good thoughts. I like the concept of emergence as an eternal principle that has purpose and place beyond mortal worlds. You may want to consider that these ideas need not be in conflict with a knowable future.

    “But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.” (D&C 130:7)

    “…even Jesus Christ…The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes” (D&C 38:1-2)

    The expansive visions of Moses and the Brother of Jared. “And when the Lord had said these words, he showed unto the brother of Jared all the inhabitants of the earth which had been, and also all that would be; and he withheld them not from his sight, even unto the ends of the earth” (Ether 3:25)

    “It’s hard to imagine the first two being important in a being that sees the end from the beginning.” I think you can imagine a situation where God’s knowledge is ever expanding backwards and forwards; the beginning and end getting ever wider apart. And I would imagine in such a scenario that faith and hope could be operative in this continuous learning. But within the bounds of the beginning and end, yes faith would be dormant, just like the Brother of Jared “had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting”, how much more God then?

  5. And I’ll throw in some wisdom from Elder Neil A. Maxwell, just because I think he says it so well:

    “A word about those who, in their own minds, will not let God be
    God. They would have Him possessed of only fragmentary,
    inferential foreknowledge by being unable to see the future, thus
    qualifying His omniscience. No wonder King Benjamin pleaded with
    us to believe `that man doth not comprehend all the things which
    the Lord can comprehend’ (Mosiah 4:9).” (Neal A. Maxwell, That Ye
    May Believe, p. 61.)

    “Does God already know the outcome of that through which I am
    passing? Yes! And He has taken that outcome, foreknown to Him,
    into account along with all other outcomes. In the Prophet Joseph
    Smith’s words, God `has made ample provision,’ so that the
    purposes in His plan of salvation will be achieved–;including our
    part within that plan, if we are faithful. The inability to
    believe in the foreknowledge of the Father and Jesus and in their
    perfect love perhaps accounts for many failures of faith.” (Neal
    A. Maxwell, Lord Increase Our Faith, p. 40.)

    “Of course, the Father knew beforehand of all human wickedness. He
    knew beforehand of mankind’s need of a Savior. He knows the past,
    present, and future, since all their dimensions are continually
    before Him, said the Prophet Joseph Smith, constituting `one
    eternal “now”‘.” (Neal A. Maxwell, One More Strain of Praise, p.

  6. The laws of physics might yield optimal solutions that in turn serve as attractors for things like fin size, but a fish is still not a dolphin. I don’t even know if a fish would be inclined to worship a dolphin (at best an evil god, given its diet). Furthermore, most planets are not like the earth – does something like a human form even scale to significantly different gravitational acceleration? And if the “laws of physics” are not immutable, as you seemed to suggest earlier, then other corners of the universe should not even tend to the same optimal solutions. How much biodiversity are you ready to accept at the deity level?

  7. “How much biodiversity are you ready to accept at the deity level?” As much as necessary. I don’t think anyone knows the abundance of any earth-like planets so it’s an open question. I suspect if the laws of physics are changing they are changing in time as is argued by Smolin. But as I point out at the beginning I’m not arguing for particulars. I’m arguing for possibilities. Certainly all the things you point out are in the realm of stuff we don’t have answers too. If they fall out differently or the universe is unequivocally deterministic I’ll follow the data and reassess my views. But the universe I see before me is ecological, stochastic and deeply embedded in time. All of those I find very Mormon.

  8. Well SteveP this was great. A very very interesting series.

    I guess at the end of the day my only question is: why worship such a God and not something like evolution? Evolution becomes “the Creator” and is “he/it” who actual frames worlds without number in this scenario. Not God. God is just one more emergent creation of evolution. It is God who is contingent on evolution for life… not the other way around.

    So again I *really* have loved this series and think it has given me some of the deepest and most interesting things to think about lately. But my biggest question becomes: if evolution is the only actual eternal “a priori” (in your words) entity that is the framer of worlds without number, and God is just one more contingent being who owes His existence to evolution, why are we worshiping God and not evolution?

    But again great stuff!

  9. Thanks Joseph, I’ve enjoyed your comments too! You bring out something that I think is very important about Mormon thought. Mormonism is committed to an embodied God. That has always implied that there were laws that governed that body and its organization (A celestial biology if you will). God was the master of natural laws, not their creator (that’s why I believe we can have scriptures that say God would cease to be God if he acts in certain ways contrary to deeper laws). Because in evolution we have something that is prior even to law doesn’t imply that it should be worshiped as creator, but is something with which all existing beings must deal. Mormonism is clear that, as Aaron points out, we are the same species as God, and ours is the relationship not of Creature and Creator, but rather of Parent / Child especially clearly at the level of spirit. Therefore in Mormonism we have one of the very things that makes evolution work: inheritance. So it is not that God is transcendent that makes him worship worthy or that he sits above time (what in the world that could mean I cannot even imagine :-) ) or that he decided that pi would be 3.141 etc. What makes him worship worthy is that he loved us first, and continues to love us, and has the power to bring us to his level of power and understanding. From the Mormon point of view God is the organizer of stuff, not the creator of stuff. So while evolution is just a fact of the way that sorting works in a system with variation, selection, and inheritance. It is not any more sacred than putting integers in order; it will be 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. Evolution sorts things but in a way that enhances complexity. But God is Holy, he is worship worthy, and has sacrificed everything for us. And he is our Father. Heavenly Mother is our Mother. Love is what makes God Worthy of our adoration and love and faith and trust. He’s outlined how we can be like him. That’s the important stuff. And that’s why we joined him on this journey (or as we usually put it ‘decided to freely follow his plan’).

  10. “What makes him worship worthy is that he loved us first, and continues to love us, and has the power to bring us to his level of power and understanding.”

    Okay, thank you. This would be a good reason.

  11. Leonard R. says:

    Great series, and a marvelous ending. Connecting this vision of the Fall to the vision of Mormonism writ large is just beautiful, and food for much thought. Still chewing, so nothing else for now, other than a thank you.

  12. Daveonline says:

    Great article. Maybe you covered this in previous segments, but I see a distinction between what I would term physcial world evolution vs. spirritual being evolution (we are spiritual beings having an evolutionary experience). These “a priori” principles would include at least:
    1. Spirtual growth requires my death, both literal and spirititual. This might also be called the Obi Wan Kanobi principle who willingly dies in facing Darth Vadar so that he can become better able to aid others. I suspect this is another way of saying that for us to acheive greater levels of interdependency (complexity/intimacy) we must die from our current level. This is in contrast to the physical only sense of strife occurrring to live/dominate over others to get a bigger piece of pie. I appreciate that systems create a balance yin/yang of these competing interests, but that is different than me as an “agent being” choosing to find my own balance.
    2. Understanding that agency is its own schoolmaster. Meaning there are only two outcomes that emerge from our use of it. An increased focus on ego, control, power (our natural course) which leads for most of us to a realization of the isolation, pain and damage it causes to us and to others when we ignore and do not respect their agency. As mormons we believe it will be the rare situation for someone to continue in their own imagened world of power and control. Christ showed us that the self centeredness of power and/or guilt and shame can be replaced by the enjoyment of others unique agency and character. It allows us out of the trap of self centeredness and thinking of our being as in compettion with all other beings. This does allow God to know the end from the beginning for his creating conditions for us to exercise greater agency.
    Again, thanks for posting this.

  13. I think a conception of eternity that moves away from the Plotinian/Aquinian stiffness imposed by absolute Platonic categories which are borrowed from western philosophy is a nessecary adjustment for a truly Mormon based theology.

    This sentence, for me, culminates this entire series! Thanks for all of these great ideas — this series is one for further reflection and for filing away for future (frequent) recourse.

  14. But the universe I see before me is ecological, stochastic and deeply embedded in time. All of those I find very Mormon.

    Great comment as well.

  15. I am still partial to a concept of God that stands apart from time (and his condescension to us was his act of stepping through the veil into time in the incarnation). So I think that I agree with where Daveonline is leaning though not necessarily endorsing all his details as fragmentary and tentative as they are.

  16. Terrific series, with much to think about and ponder.

  17. Thanks john and kevin, f. And John I’ll keep trying to convince you that a timeless God makes no sense, but then I could be wrong and just be suffering from a lack of imagination.

  18. After having read “A Short Stay in Hell,” and your Gilda Trillim series, lack of imagination does not seem to be a problem, Steve.

  19. Great series. SteveP, could you comment on how you see the Mormon notion of “spirit” (thinking not in terms of intelligence or “spirit children,” not just ultra-fine matter) fitting into this theology? If “death” is really the emergence of agency, could we say that our “spirits” emerge from agency as well?

  20. something big and universally important is under way

    Ah, yes. Prophetic hyperbole. B.H. Roberts said to watch out for it.

  21. I love so much of this. I agree completely that we need to see God as a part, bound by time as much as by His body. All kinds of necessary qualifications follow. As much as I love Elder Maxwell, I believe he is simply wrong. It isn’t necessary to believe that God knows all time to believe that He knows enough to save. It isn’t necessary to believe that God is omni-conscious to believe that He can peer into the human heart. Etc.

    But finally I don’t believe that God is emerging Himself. I believe that with Him becoming has culminated in being, and that there is nothing fragmentary about His personality. It is whole in that it is both flush and in that it coheres. That His course is one Eternal round, rather than emerging. I doubt that there is much that hasn’t become at some point in time and place, and that the wonder of divine experience is not in a perpetual newness but in a perpetually new experience of all that is.

  22. DLewis, I haven’t really thought much about how the spirit realm influences this (except that it brings a fullness of joy when matter and spirit come together). When we know more about it I think it will add an intriguing component!

    Thomas, I agree about NAM. He was one of my favorite speakers, but I think he got his theology about time from CS Lewis. You bring up an important point that leads me to believe that I haven’t really been clear about something. I’m not married to the idea that God, as a person, evolves. It looks like humans have gained enough to control that evolution is not the force it once was, it is easy for me to imagine that God could lock down that aspect of things. I suppose for me, what I’m pointing out that what is emergent may not be the individuals, but rather the large scale structures. We see over and over again with life on earth that individuals join to form societies: cells come together to form organisms, bacteria join to become mutual beneficial structures; Bees join to become colonies, as do Meerkeets and parakeets. These are larger emergent structures that have different behavior than the components that make them up. The internet is emerging into something so new and different what it will end up being is anyone’s guess. What does a society of Gods become? What does a society of societies of Gods become, is it just the sum of the parts or does something even more wondrous occur? These are open questions we have no access to. And the big question is does something novel enter into the big U universe? Where does it stop? Wild speculation indeed.

  23. The God Borg? Is that where this religion is headed?

  24. That said, the idea of continuing emergence of structures is both beautiful and motivating.

  25. After reading A Short Stay in Hell and attending astronomy lectures where the lecturer talked about what our galaxy will look like in 600 billion years (This present universe will still be spewing forth life for more than a trillion years!) , I have been trying to wrap my head around the whole eternity thing. The only conclusion I can come to is that it is very long.

    Life is the most complex part of this whole creation. If you are on a Star Trek mission, the geology and chemistry are interesting, as are the planetary physics, but the real interesting stuff is life. And I agree that God loves chaos, in the technical meaning: that the outcome cannot be predicted by any boundary conditions. In fact it appears that God treasures this chaos and works to further its effects. So heaven is full of life which is all different within certain bounds. The only way God can obtain this diversity is by the processes of natural selection and letting nature, and the roll of the dice, decide.

    I have decided that God’s purpose is to fill the darkness and infinities of time and space with life. He has said that in the PoGP. With eternity ahead of us who knows what we may become.

  26. So I have still been thinking a lot about this and will be rereading this series. One reason I have been slow to reject neo-platonism is they seem to be the *only* ones to admit the “laws of nature” may be contingent. I have a hard time believing anything that is contingent can be eternal. To me it doesn’t make sense that I can imagine more worlds where gravity either doesn’t exist or is very different then ours (could have gone millions of different ways) and so it seems to me this points at a deeper reason why gravity is this way and not another.

    So I really like your claim that the laws of nature can be contingent, and thus you have given me an alternative to neo-platonism to ease my mind. (And thus not eternally true in some metaphysical necessity sense)

    However, I am still cautious to reject all metaphysical necessity. For example, can there really be a possible world where the “empty set” doesn’t exist? Or even if I chose a bad example with the “empty set” somehow, is there really no concept like an empty set that exists in all possible worlds making it an example of something that has a necessary existence?

    So, I am basically still only meeting you half way but trying to see if I can go all the way. I am more than happy to admit the laws of nature are contingent as to me it makes no sense something that could have gone 10 million different ways went our way for no deeper reason. However, I am slow to believe *nothing* is metaphysically necessary like something like the empty set.

    Anyways, I will go back an reread and rethink now.

  27. What’s your take on the role of intelligence, truth and light, specifically the light of Christ in emergence? Darwin chose natural selection as his universally acting principle. But we know of another that keeps God in the equation and more specifically Christ as the Creator. D&C 88:7-13

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