Infinite: You and the Substance of the Universe

Dear Joseph,

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the origins of the universe—namely, the creation story of traditional Judeo-Christian doctrine versus the “organization” taught by the LDS church versus the Big Bang theory. One common argument in apologetics proposes that the universe cannot be infinitely old because the big bang had to have occurred in a specific moment. If there were an infinite number of moments preceding that one, that moment could never have been reached. The fact that this paradox seems to reveal a lack of understanding regarding the concept of infinity notwithstanding, the same erroneous logic could be applied to creation anyway. God is supposed to have existed infinitely and He had to have chosen a given moment during His existence to initiate the creation or organization of the universe in which we live. But, if an infinite number of moments of awareness had to pass before He arrived at that one moment, then He could never have arrived at it. So, either the logic is flawed and applies no more to the Big Bang than it does to Creation/Organization, or the logic is viable and applies to both God and Science.

But, the real hang-up for me is this: if we can’t accept that the universe simply exists and had to have had a beginning, how is the dilemma solved by proposing a source for the universe that itself has no beginning? LDS teaches that God was once like us, if I remember my missionaries’ conversations correctly. So, who created him? But then, who created that one? And who created that one? And… well, you get the point. What is accomplished in dismissing infinity as impossible only to explain the alternative with a different set of infinities? Occam’s razor says the simplest answer is usually the correct one. If the universe can’t have existed without SOMETHING having been around for an infinite amount of time, then the simplest explanation is that the universe itself is the thing that’s been around infinitely. It follows that if the universe has been around an infinite amount of time, it wasn’t created or organized by anyone. But then that opens up a rabbit hole of doubt; if the creation story isn’t true, didn’t happen, was just made up by a primitive people to explain something they didn’t understand with magic, what else was just made up? God Himself?

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

It is good to hear from you, friend. It’s reassuring to discover that time and the everday-ness of this life have not drained the depth of your wonderings. It’s a healthy sign; the mind that no longer questions is surely dead to the essence of being made in the image of the Gods and has become a drone of acceptance, a mere pawn in the hands of spiritual oppression, which is ignorance. You exemplify the fact that we are to act rather than be acted upon—to be actors instead of stage props, resourceful instead of resources, builders instead of buildings.

I have taken to the figurative pen to respond to your most recent missive time and time again, but I feared that I had often taken too verbose a path to transmit understanding clearly in my past attempts. So today, being a new day, I am undertaking a new approach, and in so doing, it is my prayer that the light of true knowledge will dawn upon our minds (or at least that we will pry the sleeping eyes of our minds open a little further this day!). Remember this paragraph; I will refer to it again later.

Let me begin by quoting from your letter:

One common argument in apologetics proposes that the universe cannot be infinitely old because the big bang had to have occurred in a specific moment. If there were an infinite number of moments preceding that one, that moment could never have been reached…. This paradox seems to reveal a lack of understanding regarding the concept of infinity….

Yes! You seem to have intuitively struck upon an argument that doesn’t feel quite right, that doesn’t fit. Is there really a paradox between infinite time and the existence of a moment? Christian apologists may rely heavily upon such a notion because their beliefs rest upon the man-made precept of creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”). Since, to them, there must be a beginning to all things, they have to explain away alternative arguments—those that square much more nicely with reality, in this case—by introducing paradoxes where, in fact, there are none. (The LDS do not believe in creatio ex nihilo, by the way.)

Let me give you the quick answer before moving on: time is an abstraction and not a reified dimension; the moment we call “now” is simply the product of a degree of awareness of infinite existence. Forms, even physical memories, appear to come and go, but that is relative to existence, which is eternal. The memory of the infinite spirit that animates the temporary form of your physical body is merely kept from you by the veil that is, ironically, your flesh.

Okay, more on that later. Back to your next idea:

If the universe can’t have existed without SOMETHING having been around for an infinite amount of time, then the simplest explanation is that the universe itself is the thing that’s been around infinitely.

Yes, yes, yes!

It follows that if the universe has been around an infinite amount of time, it wasn’t created or organized by anyone. But then that opens up a rabbit hole of doubt….

The universe exists. We have to begin our investigation of thought with that given quantity because to deny that would be to deny your own existence as well. Since that point—that the universe exists—cannot be disputed, the nature of its current form cannot inspire doubt in the question of its having been authored or not—form is obviously the product of force outside entropy. The only question that remains is: who? Who is the author? Who is the agent of its creation? Who is the actor? The resourceful? The builder? (Is it a sentient being at all?)

The question may be likened to your having found a very old book with the author’s name being “Anonymous.” You would not handle the book, flip through its pages, and then question whether someone wrote it at all. The anonymous author is someone, and the product of their labor—the book—is the evidence of that fact. Perhaps then, reading the book can offer the best clues in discovering the characteristics and attributes of this mystery writer.

Fig. 1 Supernova Captured Outside Galactic Disc
By NASA/ESA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=407520

The universe has existed infinitely in substance but not in form. That matter, that stuff, of which it is composed has passed from form to form, going from states and regions of organization to disorganization and back again. We see this in the cosmos: stars with planet systems grow old and explode and their fragments, scattered among nebulae, become the building blocks of future systems—coalescing into proto stars and circumstellar discs where future worlds are rolled into shape. We see similar actions taking place on the vastly larger galactic scale as well, and in them the scale of the building blocks is quite a bit different (entire star systems!). In all of this, we are seeing the writing of a mysterious author.

The world we live on too is a thing of beauty. Oft my heart is stirred seemingly beyond my mortal frame when looking out upon any number of scenes in nature. It is as a perfectly harmonious orchestra whose music is objectively beautiful. Nature, when left to itself, produces such beauty and harmony. In the case of the performing arts, would the hearer of a symphony doubt the existence of its composer? When notes clash or music is not in sync to the tempo, it is the fault of human error in the musicians attempting to “play” the music. This is not different to the discord, chaos, strife, and disharmony that so often intrudes upon our view in this life, causing us to doubt the existence of a rational writer behind it all. Let us not forget that man and his systems are the cause of his own misery and perceived misfortunes. Were God to take agency from man to affect an end to such suffering and dissonance, He would make of Himself an imposing general whose commands force obedience. But the writing on the pages reveals someone much different.

Our mysterious writer has taken to great pains to exhort his readers to follow his counsel and promises an otherworldly reward to those who trust His prescribed course. But he cannot force his readers to do His will as He could the characters in his book. Then you realize it: you are not in the book; you are reading the book.

This is a crucial point. With the 26 letters of the English alphabet, an infinite number of books, all different from one another, can be fashioned. With a stage, backdrops, and props, an actor can perform an infinite number of dramas. With an infinite supply of materials, a builder could build an infinite number and variety mansions. But there is one thing even God cannot create: the mind, the eternal part of us.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:

“As the Lord liveth, if [the spirit of man] had a beginning, it will have an end. All the fools and learned and wise men from the beginning of creation, who say that the spirit of man had a beginning, prove that it must have an end; and if that doctrine is true, then the doctrine of annihilation would be true…. God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself” (Joseph Smith, King Follet Discourse, Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 354.).

So we are not characters in the author’s book at His whim and disposal—written into existence in one chapter and then cast off in another. We are fellow spirits with Him as enduring and infinite as He is. We are not mere props on the stage; we are actors with God, our names listed on the playbill below His. And His invitation is this: “Do you want to write a book—have a lead in a play, build a mansion—do you want to do what I do and enjoy what I enjoy? Then come, follow me.”

Therefore, you have something in common with the substance of the universe: you too are infinite. Neither you (and by “you,” I do mean your mind or spirit) nor the universe had a beginning. Again, forms come and go inasmuch as a physical entity has a point of conception and a further point of dissolvement, but I am careful to call such “created” things merely forms, that which is shaped out of other things.

Take your immediate surroundings, for instance, and observe the wood of the computer desk that may be before you. Place your finger upon any point of that wood and begin a thought exercise tracing that particle beneath your finger to its creation, its first existence in the universe. Before being cut into planks for the desk, it was inside of a tree that was cut down; before it was cut down, the tree was tall and strong in a forest somewhere; before that, the tree grew from a small sapling, drawing up the nutrients of the moisture and soil to “build” its woody layers. That may be the point at which the wood beneath your finger took its present, recognizable form, but was it the beginning of that matter’s existence in the universe? No reasonable person would so conclude. Before being affixed as a hardened layer of a tree by the operations of the intelligent seed, the matter may have been a share of soil, before which time it may have been the dung of a passing coyote, before which time it may have been part of a fallen sparrow, before which time it may have been connective tissue in the bird’s wing, before which time it may have been the nutrients digested from a rotting apple, before which time it may have been part of an apple tree, before which time it was part of a tree, etc., (skipping back even further) before which time it was part of a proto planetary disk, before which time it was part of a nebula, before which time it was part of a super nova. AD INFINITUM.

That particle we have traced did not begin its career as a tree, and it will not end its career as a desk for your computer; indeed, its origin cannot be traced, and so neither can its end. Therefore, forms are created and are destroyed, but not the stuff that formed it. That is the meaning of this scripture:

“Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:9).

The “dust” of all we see before us now is that infinite part of the universe, sometimes excited to a high vibration as light and at other times as still as the darkness of space, and in between all of that is the stage we interact with now. It never has a beginning but is like the letters of the alphabet to our mysterious author. He uses them to shape things into forms. And so, there are only two infinite roles: authors and letters; actors and props; builders and buildings; you and the substance of the universe. Put in scriptural terms they are spirit and element, respectively things to act and things to be acted upon (see D&C 93:33 and 2 Nephi 2:14).

So I accept infinity and dismiss claims of paradox. Yes, God was once as we are now, and, yes, we may become as He is. We are spirits alike with God, infinite; the difference between Him and us is that He has obtained more intelligence than we have. And He has laid out a plan for us to follow to obtain more intelligence, or truth and light, until we are glorified as He is. In the great pattern of things, He too is following a path laid out by those who have gone on from where He is. In the words of Joseph Smith:

“For we are to go from glory to glory and as one is raised to a higher, so the next under him may take his degree and so to take the exaltation through the regular channel. When we get to where Jesus is, he will be just as far ahead of us again in exaltation” (Joseph Smith, quoted by George Laub, April 7th 1844).

To return to that paragraph I wrote at the start, about today being a new day and with it I am undertaking a new approach, that wording is meant to reference the cyclical nature of time measurement. That is key to understanding infinite existence. The cycloid is a seemingly paradoxical phenomenon that demonstrates well the position we are (constantly) in: a wheel that turns upon a road is in constant motion relative to itself, all points along its circumference in rotation about the axle or hub of the wheel; yet, relative to the ground, each point along the circumference of the wheel eventually in its course comes into contact with the ground, stops, and then continues again (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 The Cycloid in Motion
By Zorgit – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4552689

From the perspective of the mortal, whose form is bound by birth and death, existence is perceptually linear with definite starting and stopping points along a road, and this by the inherent nature of its constraints; from the perspective of the spirit, that infinite actor within the bodily prop, however, existence is cyclical and continues everlastingly in an “eternal round” (1 Nephi 10:19; Alma 7:20; Alma 37:12; D&C 3:2; 35:1).

Each new day is a type of this eternal progression, yet you and I are only aware of a very small portion of it for the time being (more on that here); the sun never stops in its course through the sky and under the horizon, yet we reckon a definite moment for the start and stop of each day relative to our perspective. For all the professed incongruity these notions may pose to Christian apologists, who can find a son who does not have a father? Who can find a today without a yesterday?

I profess to you a universe of infinite duration whose substance had no beginning and will have no end, which is not explained away ‘with a different set of infinities,’ but is itself animated by infinite cycles happening all around us. Forms come and go, but the spirits that organize chaotic matter into ordered forms are constant. They are in a course of learning and teaching, reaching down to raise up other spirits as sons and daughters, simultaneously testing and teaching them grace for grace, precept upon precept. This is how we worship: progress, degree by cyclical degree. And the focus of that worship is Himself the exemplary embodiment of that progressive process (the same process you and I are in!). As the scripture says:

“The light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth, who came into the world, because the world was made by him…received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; and he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; and thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first….
“I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness” (D&C 93:9,12-14,19).

And that is the message in the book from our anonymous author. Look out at the world around you and observe the beauty of the forms—mankind, trees, rivers, the stars at night—you are leafing through the pages! Perhaps you have thought yourself a mere footnote on a page up until now. Awake, my friend, you are not in the book, you are holding it.

God, you, and I are in the midst of eternity together.

— Joseph

P.S.

A note on the creation story of Genesis: that story is not meant to convey a primitive understanding of how the world come to be; it is a profoundly complex allegory, rich in symbolism, of how you came to be, what you ought to be doing here, and where you are going. We ought to correspond on this subject soon.

P.P.S.

God sees man:
Mirroring, eternal spirits,
Cycling infinite forms.
He
Forms infinite cycling.
Spirits eternal:
Mirroring, man sees God.

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