Recently a friend of mine (Travis) sent me a podcast that featured an interview with Edward Feser, an American Philosopher. In the podcast he discussed modern day thought behind a few arguments for the existence of God. As I listened to Aristotle’s Cosmological argument for the existence of God, a scripture in the Book of Mormon came to mind, Jacob 4:13 “for the spirit… speaketh of things as they really are and of things as they really will be.” I text Travis back about the connection I found; a rather exhilarating conversation followed. My understanding of God’s omnipresence or “everywhereness” grew as did my appreciation and love for the grand Plan of Happiness.
Paraphrased argument for the existence of God:
To begin, I will give a paraphrased account of Aristotle’s Cosmological Proof for the existence of God, as explained by Edward Feser in the Podcast. I will attach a link to the podcast episode and I will also include timestamps of when his explanation of the argument begins and ends, incase you want to hear it all. This is a powerful and moving subject to contemplate. I hope you enjoy!
(Start time 6:25) Change occurs all around us. Water in a cup that was cold is now lukewarm, and moving your hand through space are both examples of change. Change always involves the actualization of a potential. The water is potentially lukewarm, now it actually is lukewarm; my hand is potentially over there, now it actually is over there. The only way this is possible (according to the argument), for something to go from potential to actual, is if something was already in existence that was actual. So, if my hand was potentially to the left, the only way for it to become actually to the left is because of something in place that already is actual, for example the firing of nerves which causes the muscles to flex…and the only way for that to happen is if there are other nerves firing and that’s only possible if the nervous system exists and so on down the line of already actual things. Now, if there were not something at the bottom level that actualizes everything else without having to be actualized itself then there would be a vicious regression to nothing actual, to nothing at all. Crucial to this idea is that there must be a series of these so-called chang-ers, or causes, that extend not backward in time, into the past, but downward here and now. So my hand moves here and now because the motor neurons are firing here and now and those motor neurons are firing here and now because other neurons are firing here and now and that’s only possible because the nervous system is held together by its molecular structure. One level of reality actualized here and now by another actualized by another. You would have a vicious regress if there were not something at the bottom level HERE and NOW that actualizes everything else without having to be actualized itself. So this bottom level actualizer is purely actual and therefore moving other things or changing other things without itself being moved or changed; it’s a purely actualized actualizer or unmoved mover or unchanging changer. So if there were not something like this operating here and now, not just something that knocks down the first domino back at the big bang but something that is operating here and now, then there wouldn’t be change going on here and now. The basis of the argument is that the bottom level unchanging changer, or unmoved mover, or a purely actual actualizer must be God. Feser goes on to explain what this God must be like:
- This unchanging changer can not change and all things that are changeable require time and space, so this being who is not susceptible to change must be outside the realm of time and space.
- Material things are also all changeable in theory as they are made up of parts and can therefore, be changed or rearranged. So this unchangeable changer must be immaterial (1).
- All things that manifest power in this world, power to pick up a drinking glass or power in an earthquake that causes boulder to roll down a mountain, are the result of a potential being actualized (change), so working back to something that actualizes every potential without being actualized then the source of every power activity in this world must be all powerful.
- From these characteristics already listed you would then go on to argue that this being would have some sort of intellect or thought or will.
So we have some characteristics of the God described by Aristotle’s proof, all of which stem from the assumption that he is unchanging: outside the realm of time and space, immaterial, all powerful and possesses intellect. (End time 11:30) (2)
God Exists: Change is all around us
Before we dive into the scriptures I wanted to reference a couple scientific laws that will turn the mind in the right direction to contemplate some of the connections that will follow.
-The Law of Conservation of Energy is a physical law that states energy cannot be created or destroyed but may be changed from one form to another (3).
-The Law of Entropy says, “if you have a system that is isolated, any natural process in that system progresses in the direction of increasing disorder, or entropy, of the system” (4). Therefore, we can conclude that within a closed system, we will say our universe, change is all around us and always occurring in some form or another.
Now, here Are a few scriptures in the standard works that relate to the ideas presented in the argument. Hopefully a few dots will connect that expands our understanding of our loving Heavenly Father and His perfect Plan for us.
We know, based upon Aristotle’s cosmological argument, God is the unchanging changer who is at the bottom level of all changeableness around us and the source of all power activity in the universe. From studying this topic I found it interesting to consider God’s description of Himself as characteristics of not only Him but of our existence here upon this Earth. His characteristics make up the building blocks of our existence.
The first connection I found was from the ancient prophet Jacob found in the Book of Jacob, chapter 4 verse 13:
Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls. But behold, we are not witnesses alone in these things; for God also spake them unto prophets of old.
I saw “truth” as the unchanging changer, holding all things “as they are” (actualized) and therefore can determine “how things will be” (potential). Travis raised a question about the relationship between the spirit and truth and God: if the spirit speaks truth then where does truth come from, or does truth come from God making him the unchanging changer? A scripture relating to Travis’s question suggests an intimate relationship between four interrelated principles, “For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (D&C 84:45). So, the Word of God = Truth and Truth = Light and Light = Spirit, even the spirit of Jesus Christ (5). Elder Uchtdorf in the October 2017 general conference referenced this same scripture as he taught the following doctrine, “The Light of Christ enlightens and saturates the souls of all who hearken to the voice of the Spirit. The Light of Christ fills the universe. It fills the Earth. And it can fill every heart” (Bearers of Heavenly Light). Another definition of truth is found in D&C 93:24 and it reads, “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were and as they are to come.” Truth is a “knowledge of things”; it is not just “things as they are…”; therefore, truth must have a knower in order for truth to exist. I am proposing that maybe truth does not nor can not exist outside of God. In summation, a possible answer to Travis’s question is that truth comes from God which is His word which fills the universe through the capacitating agent of light which comes into contact with all God’s children though the spirit or Light of Christ found within each of us.
To look a little further into the relationship pointed out by Elder Uchtdorf, let’s look at the relationship between these four things mentioned in D&C 84 from the perspective of Christ.
Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)
Jesus says “I am the law and the light” (3 Nephi 15:9)
Jesus says “I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He received a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth” (D&C 93:26)
Christ is the truth, He is the law (God’s word D&C 132:12 ), He is the light and He is the spirit (6). Christ is therefore “in all and through all things” (D&C 88:6). In connection with this, we know from the ancient prophet Alma that, “all things denote there is a God” (Alma 30:44). Aristotle’s argument illuminates how we can see Christ in all things; all things have the potential to change, or to go from potential to actual. We then should be able to find Christ in all things as Christ is unchangeable and therefore the source of all change (Mormon 9:19, D&C 20:17) (7).
At this point in the conversation Travis pointed out one take away from this: So whenever we are a witness to eternal truth the spirit is present because the two are the same! This is a powerful concept because it advocates for the importance of continual learning as a way to draw upon God and our relationship with Him. When we choose to study the scriptures and learn from them everyday we are choosing the spirit and therefore, God is present. When we choose to educate ourselves and to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith,” we are choosing the spirit (D&C 88:118). Travis went on to point out, “Basically Alma [the prophet] is saying, how can you believe there isn’t a God when there are truths that can’t be denied all around us…He is in every eternal truth”.
An important principle flowing from the idea of God’s everywhereness signaled by truths is that when we choose to disobey God’s word we are choosing to distance ourselves from Him; literally we are becoming less Godlike because we lose light and truth (2 Nep 28:30, D&C 93:39.) and therefore distance ourselves from Him. Think of it this way, not only are we losing spiritual connectivity to God but we also lose actual divinity or the spiritual substance of light and truth (8). So how does this relate to Aristotle’s argument? We, God’s children, are loaded with potential and are here on Earth to change. We are here to become more like our Father in Heaven or to become more actualized, more complete, which comes by increasing in light and truth until we are, “glorified in truth and knoweth all things” (D&C 93:28). We are here to be changed by the ultimate enabler, the grace of our Savior Jesus Christ, made possible through His atonement.
Answering the “How” of change: How change is possible in our world.
Change occurs in humans as well in everything around us. How? First, change occurs in all things around us because everything around us operates within a set of natural laws. These laws are given by God and all things adhere to those laws set forth, which produces the change we see all around us. Change occurs in humans because of forces acting upon them and also because of our ability to choose change: change our habits, our minds, our desires, etc. What distinguishes the change in us from the change all around us is the gift of agency. As God’s children we have been given the ability to both obey God and disobey him. The prophet Lehi makes a strikingly similar argument to Aristotle’s argument for the existence of God; when you consider the relationship between God, law and change. Lehi’s argument is as follows:
“And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away” (2 Nephi 2:13).
Lehi says that if there was no law (the foundation for change) then there would be no God; Aristotle says that because there is change there is a God. Lehi says that if there was no law then all things would vanish away. Aristotle says something similar; if there was no fully actualized actualizer to stop the infinite regression then there would be nothing actual in the first place.
Earlier it was stated that Jesus Christ is the law, “I am the law and the light”. The presence of law suggests it can be either followed or not followed. Mother nature illustrates that physical laws are obeyed time and time again; if an anomaly is observed in nature that is not evidence of the law not being followed, instead it is evidence that some other unknown law is in affect. God, being all powerful and understanding all law, has developed a system which respects all its parts and ultimately honors Him, the law. This results in the change we see all around us. Closely associated with physical law, or mother nature, is spiritual law which is just as real and just as measurable (9). When God’s children choose to obey His laws, they grow in light and truth and therefore grow in discernibility (Alma 32:35). When God’s children choose to disobey law they lose that light and truth, distancing themselves from God and distancing themselves from actualization. This choosing is possible because of posed opposition to the law, “therefore the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other” (2 Nephi 2:16). Men and women have been, “instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men” (2 Nephi 2:5). The foundational grounding principle for choice to exist is law and opposition. Choice (agency) leads to change, either an increase in light and truth or a decrease in light and truth.
Someone may argue that you can’t link choice to change because there is change occurring all around us within inanimate objects, therefore change can’t be a product of choice. Maybe all things around us, that are not human, have forgone their agency by choosing to not partake in God’s gift of agency (10). I would like to further present the idea that choice is necessary for change to occur and evidence for this idea is found in the creation process recorded in the Book of Abraham, “And the Gods pronounced the dry land, Earth; and the gathering together of the waters, pronounced they, Great Waters; and the Gods saw that they were obeyed” (Abr 4:10,12). So how does and why does the land and water obey? Lehi also explains this idea of things being able to act, “And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the Earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon” (2Nep2:14).
Could it be possible that inanimate objects have exercised choice to obey law or in other words to obey Christ? Sounds like it! There have been talks and discourses on the subject but for the purpose of this article we will stick with what we know for sure, “unto every kingdom is given a law, and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions”. Christ is the law on this Earthly kingdom and has all power, even the power to move mountains, which power is wielded in perfect accordance with law and in perfect charity towards all men (D&C 88:40). During mortality, Christ is the law that we deal with, not justice (Alma 43:15). Because Christ stands “betwixt us and Justice” we are able to choose Him and receive His grace which enables us to change (Mosiah 15:9).
An important application of this principle of choice and change is how it relates to receiving revelation. Obedience is central to our ability to receive revelation. As we obey we are promised light and truth which helps us to discern between what is good and evil. Light is the “law by which all things are governed” (D&C 88:11). As we choose to obey the law we receive light which is “good because it is discernible.” That which is discernible is considered good. So if we want to know what we should do, we should obey the law to receive light which allows us to discern. Individuals can receive personal inspiration which is personal law; law which if they obey they will be blessed (11). Therefore we must always be obedient to God’s commands so we can have the light necessary to receive more laws that will guide our individual lives. For example, the law is for men and women to seek an eternal companion and be married in the temple – as you do your best to obey that law you will receive light regarding who you are to keep that law with (personal law). If someone is being obedient and seeking guidance from the spirit and the message they are getting is not discernible then it is not of God and is not good. If it is discernible then it is of God (1 Corinthians 14:33). When we are unable to discern God’s will for us in a given situation we must obey the general law He has given until personal revelation (a personal commandment) is received. If a person does not receive further light and knowledge pertaining to the overarching law of marriage then they are to proceed forward in obeying the law to marry, using their best judgement, nonetheless still seeking and being open to divine personal law. Same goes with seeking revelation to know which career to pursue. One should obey the general law to provide for their family and to seek to serve God by helping him fulfill His mission “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). If further revelation is desired then one must ask God for direction and council with him until her receives inspiration or even personal commands to seek a specific occupation. In either case the Lord has commanded us to act, it’s up to us to choose how we will obey.
In closing, many ideas have been presented throughout this paper but perhaps the most important one is how Aristotle’s argument ties back to Christ and His infinite atonement. The first part of the paper laid out Aristotle’s argument for God’s existence; following that was scriptures and a few ideas around God’s character being the building blocks of our world and existence; lastly there were a few ideas presented about the practicality of how change is connected to choice and revelation. The whole intent of writing this paper was to convey some of the feelings and truths impressed upon myself and Travis while pondering and discussing this topic. The most powerful lesson I learned from the cosmological argument, and also the most difficult one to convey is that Christ’s atonement is a perfect expression of God’s love for each one of us. In some beautiful way His atonement has provided us with His grace which helps us to change, even the very worst of us, into beings who are “crowned with glory, even with the presence of the Father” (D&C 88:19).
Towards the end of our text conversation one thought that was shared was, “Having the same potential as God, one day we may find ourselves becoming the unmoved mover that two of our children are texting about while at work!” (12). So what will allow us to become actualized? Maybe it’s the grace of God made possible because of Christ’s atonement, and His atonement makes possible repentance which is change and therefore actualization of our potential. How would change be different without Christ’s atonement? Would Adam and Eve have been able to change if they had remained in the Garden of Eden? How does all of this tie back neatly into Aristotle’s argument? I am not totally sure yet.
- Latter-day Saint theology disagrees with this point that God is immaterial. We know Him to be of celestial substance having flesh and bone. Our limited understanding of matter in this physical world could allow for a substance that is seemingly immaterial but in actually has matter. D&C 131:7.
- This is discussed extensively by both Richard D Draper in his talk “Light, Truth, and Grace: Three Interrelated Principles” and Cleon Skousen in his address titled “The Meaning of the Atonement”.
- Spirit here is referring to Spirit of a Christ; not to be confused with the Holy Ghost who is a member of the Godhead.
- In this paper I do not focus on the clear distinctions between God the Father, God the Son (Christ) and the Holy Ghost. For more information on their oneness as well as their individual roles and our relationship with each please refer to Bruce R. McConkie’s talk titled “Our Relationship with the Lord”.
- D&C 131:7; also properties of Light are that of both waves and particles. This is significant because scientifically light has a substance to it. D&C 93:39 states that Satan takes away light and truth through our disobedience.
- The Pearl of Great Price: A History and Commentary, pp.97.
- Not in any way teaching this as doctrine. Just a thought to consider.
- Personal commandments are given to individuals. This is referenced by Stephen R Covey in His BYU Speech titled “An Educated Conscience” as well by Elder Bednar in his BYU Idaho talk titled “Teach Them to Understand”.
- Another name for the Celestial Kingdom is eternal life or eternal progression. By definition that means eternal changing. This would seem to contradict God’s unchangeableness but I have a feeling it doesn’t. Bruce R. McConkie lightly touches on this in his speech titled “The Seven Deadly Heresies”.