Ep 462 – Seven Deadly Heresies: The Smackdown, Part 1


Posted March 11th, 2018

How deadly can a heresy be?  Listen in as Glenn, John, Bob, and Randy smack down some Bruce R. McConkie and figure it all out.  So that you don’t have to.

The BYU Speeches (highly amended) transcript is here:

The un-amended audio can be found here:

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  • Brenton Swenson

    That comparison between the actual talk and the text was fantastic. I still get a kick about that kind of thing, how much twisting is done, even when Bruce R is very clear about it being a heresy.

    Bob’s comment about Lord of the Rings god, made me imagine Bruce R. as the comic book guy with his pointless corrections. “No, Batman is not a superhero because he doesn’t have any supernatural ability, but only uses gadgets.” “No, God is not progressing in knowledge, this is a heresy.”

  • Swaggy

    They knew what McConkie said and either the Brethren or the academics at BYU were embarrassed any way you cut it.

  • Martha Griffiths

    Can I get a pocket Hamer?

  • Gottfried TheHirsute

    Hey Infants, being a bit older than even Glenn (!), I’ll like to add a bit of perspective to the Eternal Progression/Infinite Regress discussion.

    Back in the 1970’s, the concept of the Big Bang was new and relatively unknown to the general populace. My first astronomy book from 1968 has no mention of it! Although the idea of the earth having an age was becoming accepted, the idea of the universe having a ‘starting point’ was considered almost ludicrous. The universe existed and had always existed – there was no evidence to the contrary (in most people’s minds).

    So when you place the “as man is, God once was” scenario in this universe, there’s no contradiction. Intelligences have always been becoming spirits, which have always been becoming humans, which have always been becoming gods, which have always been becoming whatever the next level above ‘god’ is (excluding of course those who fail to keep “their estate” and halt their own progression at some stage of the process).

    When my wife and I were married in the temple, there was a point in the ceremony where we stood between the mirrors on opposite walls of the sealing room and were told to look at our reflections not only extending as far as we could perceive ahead of us, but also to turn and look at our reflections going back behind us as well. This, we were told, was to give us an idea of what ‘eternity’ was like. No beginning, no end. Always have been, always will be.

    And that was in 1989 – nine years AFTER McConkie’s talk. Old doctrines die hard.

    It’s fascinating (and a bit sad) to be of an age where I can now see doctrine changing within my own lifetime, not just historically. I grew up with Eternal Progression, Walking Back to Missouri, Heavenly Mother(s), and My Own Planet – all whitewashed away now, along with the Lectures on Faith, the Adam-God Theory, the United Order, etc.

    Of course, ALL the doctrines of Mormonism have been washed from my own mind now, so I’m free to fondly remember the Church of my youth instead of the soul-crushing institution it has become.

    PS: Loved this episode! Really looking forward to the next installments!

    • windy_way8192

      For infinite regression, I think it can be tidied up quite nicely with co-eternality.

      It might even work with the Big Bang. Say that whatever element preceded it, we were there with God, co-eternal, all intelligences. Perhaps the universe or whatever was, was very small, but God was still the infinite God of it. As the universe expands, so does God. An actual progressing universe could allow for an omnipotent, yet progressing God, because God is always as powerful as powerful can be, right in line with Hamer’s resolution for omnipotent.

      I suppose that is how X can equal X but not equal X at the same time.

      • Love the creativity here in squaring the circle… 😉 It’s a cool idea even if, to Gottfried’s point, it’s something that is just too complicated for the institutionalized correlation in place now.

        • windy_way8192

          Kinda wistful about this topic today, with the passing of Hawking. He was one cool cosmologizing dude.

      • This is still the difference between a biggest thing and infinity — between plenipotence (almighty in the context of a particular finite universe) and omnipotence (infinite power). Additionally, since the Mormon god was once a man, that god’s plenipotence in regards to this universe had a beginning. At one point that potence did not exist and is thus not infinite, and therefore not true omnipotence, but is merely plenipotence. The Mormon god is therefore correctly described with a small “g.”

        • Glenn

          Plenipotence. I like it.

          I am curious to explore the idea of the beginning or starting point of plenipotence — especially when that is superimposed onto an eternally existing being who has always existed in one form or another, but not always with that plenipotence.

          Specificially, where is the line (or lines?) that divide(s) “potential” from “potent?” (of either the omni- or the pleni- variety)

          The little g god of Mormonism is doctrinally an eternally existing energy/being/personality/
          intelligence/consciousness/whatever with no beginning and no end.

          Doctrinally, all “intelligences” (including us, according to LDS doctrine) are eternal and have within them (us) the potential to become plenipotent.

          Because what you are saying here, John, is that the potency (the power) has a beginning. But before that power was realized, there was potential for that power to be realized by an infinite eternally existing intelligence.

          And the more I think about this, the more I wonder why the LDS cosmology is being framed in a finite lens. It doesn’t frame itself as finite. Does it?

          • LDS cosmology doesn’t frame itself as “finite,” it uses all the right words: infinite, omnipotent, etc. However, it clearly describes its god as having at one time in the past a finite condition. Humans are finite and we are told that “as man is, god once was.” Therefore, god in the LDS conception was once finite. Infinity never was finite and what was finite, still is finite. Therefore LDS uses of terms like omnipotent and omniscient are misuses. And it should not surprise us that the theology here is self-contradictory, because the basis is not a coherent logical system, rather the collection of ideas arose by making random pronouncements of Joseph Smith authoritative or doctrinal. When these different pronouncements are considered systematically and logically, it is no surprise that they are found to be self-contradictory.

        • windy_way8192

          Are you saying that omnipotence cannot exist if the universe is finite?

          • No. The standard understanding is that the universe is a finite creation. The standard idea is that God is the infinite that exists beyond the universe, which is merely a finite creation of God.

          • windy_way8192

            To be clear I’m not trying to scaffold up the Mormon g/God.

            On the podcast, you said that God not being capable of creating a rock God cannot lift does not mean God is really god. I thought you were saying that God cannot be expected to do what cannot be done.

          • Yes, this is a common misunderstanding about the idea of “omnipotence.” People assume that it means that “with God all things are possible,” but this is an error. Only possible things are possible even for an omnipotent, infinite God.

          • windy_way8192

            How does that square with God necessarily being outside of or independent of the universe? What if the universe is finite, God having infinite power within it, but not beyond since there’s no beyond? Would that mean little g god?

          • Glenn

            How do you square that we are finite mortal beings with finite mortal brains composed of infinite immortal sub-atomic energy?

          • windy_way8192

            I don’t know, am I trying to do that? The question I posed to Hamer wasn’t rhetorical. I’m open to questioning finity and infinity of just about everything.

    • There still is a contradiction insomuch as you and your wife were not married before you were married, looking into mirrors suggesting otherwise… similarly, just because there was no beginning of the universe in the 1970’s (love it), doesn’t mean that couplet is contradiction free. That is, how is big G God actually eternally God if, you know, he wasn’t previously God at some point when he was like man?

      Also, bonus musings from Bob I didn’t get to in the podcast, but super convenient that big G God is only one hop up from us, right? I mean, presumably, when we are little g gods, will our humans have sacred texts that pretend that we are big G God because, you know, how real is it being a god to your humans otherwise if you have to admit that it’s grandpa who’s the real deal?

      • Glenn

        As if I could avoid responding to this, Bob. 😉

        What if a big G God existed “eternally” as indestructible intelligent energy that evolved from a point of less complexity (pre-godhood, but still existing) to the point of highest complexity — of becoming a “big G God” (whatever that means — let’s just call it the highest superlative — but really actually highest because there is only one highest state of progression— but multiple “big G Gods” — or multiple evolved energetic “intelligences” who have reached that cosmic (aka “celestial”) finish line that isn’t actually a finish line in this case — form of evolved conscious energy).

        And that highly evolved complex energy is not conveniently one hop away from human existence, but is one possible end result in a series of MMP incarnations and other forms of existence and “progression” that we can even conceive of.

        I think those are maybe kinda sorta possibly ways to view the concept of some kind of eternal progression to “godhood” that avoids the problem of infinite regression.

        This “big G God” wouldn’t be a human-looking penis-using (cuz I get how important that is for you) monotheistic Creator of everything. It would rather be the highest form of evolved intelligent conscious energy.

        What am I missing?

        Woo woo!!! 😉

        • That is a weak sauce “big G God.” 😉

          I feel like you are trying to split the baby with jiu-jitsu post-Mormon TBM whisper mental gymnastics. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I think it can be fun trying to find the retrofit even if I’m still here to have fun swatting down these pretzel explanations, lol.

          Parsing out your explanation reveals two main tactics: 1) “big G God” is actually “medium almost big G God” because we still need Him to be way more than little g’s (cuz, world, we Mormons are Christian, promise!) but then if so much explanation is needed to dampen what is really meant by “big G,” then it ain’t so big anymore and booo, we’re actually pretty different than Christians there after all.

          And then tactic number two is what I’m gonna call semantic obfuscation, which makes it seem like no “progression” (gasp! bad word!) is happening (or ever did happen) with God even though spectrums of “complexity” mixed with “intelligent energy” is just a cover up for, uh, “progressing God.”

          But my larger point is that most of this is you arguing that orcs could beat stormtroopers because their exoskeletons are thick enough to make lasers not that effective whereas I think stormtroopers can beat orcs because even if it takes more lasers to get them down (the orcs), the stormtroopers can do it from a distance before the orcs can get close enough to do damage.

          And then the rest of world is like, wait, who’s arguing for what and why? Lol.

          • Glenn

            I guess I am rejecting the big G God concept, just as you are, so there’s no real value in distinguishing differences between big G or little g. I’m trying to retrofit a concept of a very different kind of “god” that would not violate the infinite regression thing. But it’s not to save anything about Mormonism, and I’m not whispering any TBMs on this one. I’m just using my imagination to build a thought experiment cuz I enjoy thinking about these kind of things.

            So try to discuss it with me without using absurd straw man reductions like stormtroopers and orcs that have no actual connection to anything I actually said, cuz I’m basing my acknowledged fiction on things I thought about while watching Brian Greene’s “Fabric of the Cosmos” Nova videos. Not from Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.

          • Sorry, Glenn, I was just having fun. I didn’t realize your acknowledged fiction, as you put it, was meant to be taken more seriously than the Mormon fiction or my acknowledged sci-fi / fantasy fiction. But there’s no straw man here. If you make up something, and then I say that, to me, what you’ve made up doesn’t explain the universe any more or less than two other made up things… that’s the connection.

            Anyway, I didn’t mean to rain on your parade. I like your thought experiments.

          • Glenn

            A fictional thought experiment to explore the concept of infinite regression. But whatever.

          • windy_way8192

            But isn’t it like stormtroopers vs orcs when you use “highest superlative,” or “most evolved?” The underlying assumption is that a highest or most can exist. I think you’d have to come up with a weighting system in order to compare the highest known X with the highest known Y. Sounds a lot like stormtroopers vs orcs, or maybe I’m missing something.

            Going meta a bit, this reminds me of a reference in a movie to Dr Frankenstein, who famously assumed that if you put a body’s fully-formed components together into a whole and shock it, you can create a new living creature, as if everything in the world can be taken apart like a machine, and if we think hard enough and are clever enough, can be put back together again.

          • Glenn

            Let me rephrase what I am going for then as a question:

            Is “infinite regression” a problem generally for any type of cosmology about how the universe/god works? Or is it just a problem in the case of the LDS concept of god?

            I am new to the idea of “infinite regression” and I’m trying to understand it better. Using stormtroopers vs. orcs would only be relevant (or appreciated) if it helped to further my understanding of infinite regression. If all it is doing is saying “it’s not important because it’s just made up” then it is dismissive and refusing to engage in the thought experiment (and also refusing to explain why).

          • windy_way8192

            My 7-year-old just asked that question this morning, like his older brother did a few years ago, “If God created us, then who created God, and if that God created God, who created that God?” It was my impression that theists have grappled with the nature of God in this way and many have settled on an uncreated God as a resolution. So an uncreated God model avoids the problem of infinite regression.

            Since it’s risky to pin your hopes on an authority you don’t know, infinite regression is a problem. I used to go with the “God must be just” model to avoid that, assuming that any God who is God must check off all the good trustworthy boxes or they wouldn’t be God. My faith in principles were stronger than faith in might, I guess. But for others, that would be insufficient.

          • Glenn

            So, if I understand you windy_way, the problem with “infinite regression” isn’t so much about the existence of a god that has always (with no beginning or no end) existed in some form or another — it is more about how people can use the idea of a god (and whatever characteristics they assign to that god) as a means to establish authority and control over others. So in this case then, “infinite regression” is simply a way of defining one of those characteristics of god (like being trustworthy, etc) rather than being a general rule of thumb that places limits (a beginning and an end) on a cosmological worldview. Am I reading you right?

          • windy_way8192

            I think that I don’t separate the two. As Joseph Smith said, one must know the character of God (if such a being exists) to know the Gospel, or, in my own words, correct cosmology. For a believer, the metaphysical is just as real as anything else, even more real. It’s a matter of figuring out God because such knowledge is intrinsically valuable.

          • Glenn

            I’m still not understanding the problem with infinite regression, I guess.

          • Gottfried TheHirsute

            Hey Glenn, the problem of Infinite Regression is general to all cosmology, and stems from the fact that we, as finite mortal beings, perceive the passage of time through ’cause and effect”: one thing causes another, which in turn causes another, and so on. The ancient Greeks were wrestling with this issue 2500 years ago. Even in a “Clockmaker Universe”, where God creates the mechanism of existence, sets it in motion and never intervenes again, he still has to set it in motion (I myself prefer a “Mousetrap Game” universe.) That’s the origin of the concept of the Prime Mover– the first thing to make something move; the First Cause.

            As said finite mortal beings, it’s extremely difficult for us to conceive of a non-static universe that never had an origin – even more so since we detected the Cosmic Microwave Background (the residual radiation from the Big Bang) in 1964 – we know our universe had a starting point. And yet, physicists are still trying to determine what CAUSED the Big Bang – what happened BEFORE. It’s just too hard for us humans to accept the idea of a Singularity in non-Spacetime with literally Nothing before it.

            The point of all this is that Infinite Regression runs counter to our fundamental perception of existence, and as such, is often used as a criterium by which cosmological arguments are invalidated; if you propose a cosmological hypothesis, such as Eternal Progression, and you encounter Infinite Regression, such as windy_way’s son did – “and who created that God?” – then the hypothesis breaks down. (similar to the old Atari game when E.T. would fall into a pit– Game Over!)

            However, infinite Regression is not NECESSARILY an invalidating criterium (sorry for the All Caps – I wanted italics). if you live in a Steady State universe, the lack of an origin – a ‘bottom turtle’, so to speak – isn’t a problem and doesn’t invalidate your argument. Likewise, in a universe where the mechanics of time aren’t driven by Cause and Effect, the lack of a First Cause/Prime Mover isn’t a problem either.

            But unfortunately, neither of those scenarios are our reality, so that’s why Infinite Regression is a problem when making theological, philosophical or cosmological arguments.

            Alles klar, Herr Kommissar? (80’s Pop Song Reference)

      • Gottfried TheHirsute

        Hey Bob, my point wasn’t that there wasn’t a contradiction within Eternal Progression prior to awareness of the Big Bang, of course there was. We just didn’t usually encounter it because of the then-current concept of the universe, in the same way that theological issues arising from heliocentrism weren’t often discussed prior to Copernicus – even though the earth was, in reality, orbiting the sun.

        That being said, I did encounter the inherent contradiction when trying to work out the actual steps of eternal progression: If Jesus was Jehovah, then the Old Testament was evidence of his ‘learning’ how to become ‘fully God’, the final step of which was to come down as a mortal and atone for the sins of the humans who were his spirit brothers and sisters. But did that mean that Elohim had done the same thing on another planet earlier? And would I have to do the same eventually? But wasn’t Jesus’ atonement eternal and universal? Was his atonement not valid on other planets? But I thought that Jesus had to come to this particular planet because we were the most wicked planet with the only people who would kill their God… the whole thing breaks down rather rapidly. Try to add in Brigham’s ‘Adam-God Theory’ and and the King Follett Sermon and you’ll end up in a straitjacket!

        But I’ll admit I was an unusual case. The average rank-and-file member never tried to work out the mechanics – they just accepted ‘eternal progression’ as a principle (and hymn lyric) and went on with their lives (“Next week’s lesson: “Why We Shouldn’t Intellectualize the Gospel”)*

        *acknowledgement: Pat Bagley, “Treasures of Half-Truth”

        • Interesting, Gottfried, I think you may be giving stronger correlation between the lack of the Big Bang in the 60’s and 70’s and the theoretically less problematic intellectual issues with Eternal Progression as a result. But that’s just my anecdotal experience as a counter-point to yours, so who knows. For me, as someone who grew in Mormonism in the 80’s and 90’s, the Big Bang was rarely in the picture as I grappled with the concept of Eternal Progression. That is to say that I’m not sure you were that unusual, or if you were, I was the same kind of unusual as you a decade or two later!

          It wasn’t until the mid-2000’s that I finally had to admit to myself just how convenient, narcissistic, and egocentric Mormon Doctrine is. I mean, seriously, planets without number, only one God (sort of), but we’re on the wickedness planet where Jesus had to come, so we’re super bad… but are we? I mean, someone has to be the worst so the other planets of infinite souls can have a path to salvation/exaltation.

          Never mind thinking about how their scriptures must be about a dude named Jesus who had to be crucified on another planet. Think about it, for as many people as have lived on Earth, the narrative of unlimited planets suggests that the atonement for 99.9999% of God’s children was fulfilled by space Jesus somewhere else. How crazy is that? (I thought to myself sometimes with the Big Bang having nothing to do with it.)

          • Gottfried TheHirsute

            I agree that I’m overgeneralizing a bit to make my point easier to understand. And I agree that most often, people aren’t even considering scientific factors when ponderizing theological questions. 😉 But the fact of the matter is that before the concept of an origin point for our universe had become a ‘given’ for the vast majority of people, the only invalidating factor for Eternal Progression was its inherent contradictions, as we’ve both described. Since then, we have a second invalidating factor in that Infinite Regression can’t exist in a finite universe. Two strikes – it’s out.

            And for me, the idea of people on other planets reading scriptures about and worshiping a Jesus on another planet hundreds of light-years away isn’t any more far-fetched than that of Nephites reading scriptures about and worshiping a Jesus on another continent 600 years in the future. 😀

          • Ha! So you want to talk about far-fetched? That comparison cuts both ways, right? Because that story involved Jesus showing up on a different continent. So, yeah sure, we’ve already got a Mormon version of one people reading about their Savior on another continent, but… he still showed up at the second place! And, if you’re super Mormon nerdy, you’re pretty sure he showed up at the third place too (lost ten tribes).

            So my light-years-away Space Jesus point is still pretty bizarre (or, at least, it was to me as a believer, and no one wanted to talk about it) either direction you go with your assumptions. Either Space Jesus showed up everywhere following the earthly pattern (that’s a lot of planets to make an appearance on, let alone all their different continents, lol) OR he showed up nowhere else other than this planet. The latter is the Bob Space Jesus weirdness story of 99.9999% of humanity having Jesus on another planet who’s never showed up. I’ll let you decide which version is weirder. 😉

            And what of the Garden of Eden story? Or, Christ (pun intended), the Old Testament Jehovah stuff (that you touched on)? Again, we are talking about how 99.9999% of God’s children go through the Plan of Salvation. You’d think that’d be part of the modern revelation that infers this in the first place, right?

            And baptisms for the dead, and the Second Coming, and the literal use of this Earth in the context of the three degrees of glory juxtaposed with, again, 99.9999% of God’s children being elsewhere. I mean, presumably, when the Earth is transformed so that all, and I mean ALL can return again to live with Heavenly Father, wow, that’s gonna be one big Kingdom. Unless, sad face, the other children on the infinite number of other planets don’t actually get to live with Him again but instead live in neighboring other Kingdoms?

            This is why some of the best Mormon Doctrines are simply the silliest. And I understand why modern Mormonism doesn’t want to embrace much here. If you try to have it both ways, it’s the universe’s biggest coincidence. God is the God of infinite planets and has this whole plan that, strictly speaking, revolves solely around one planet which coincidentally is where I am… What are the odds?! Well, one out of infinity. Geez, and I thought it was problematic thinking of just my generation as the chosen generation. That’s small potatoes compared to the chosen-ness of all of us on this planet!

          • windy_way8192

            The silliness is a reproduction of the original silliness: “You out of all the billions of people on the planet, are right now reading or listening to the one guy who can tell you how it is.”

          • Gottfried TheHirsute

            Hey, I tried to make it all work by using higher-dimensional spacetime! I can ‘prove’ that in 5D spacetime (as opposed to the 4D universe of our perception), Elohim could physically impregnate the Virgin Mary without making her no longer a virgin – no supernatural event needed! The fact that the (then new) String Theory required 9 or 10 spatial dimensions only bolstered my hypothesis that all ‘miraculous’ or supernatural events depicted in the scriptures could occur without violating the laws of physics. Of course Jesus could appear in multiple places at multiple times – it’s easy when you exist in a 5D universe! I figured that was the meaning of being ‘translated’ – you were then able to exist in that ‘higher’ realm (I was SO looking forward to that!).

            But, getting back to the topic at hand, I agree – the odds are ridiculous. Either it’s the universe’s biggest coincidence, or it’s a theology written by a narcissist! 😉 Every religion/cult worth its salt sees itself as ‘chosen’, but only Mormonism seems to have scaled that up to a planetary level.

            And your generation can’t be the chosen generation, because MY generation was the Chosen generation! 😀

          • windy_way8192

            Mathematically, infinite regression can exist in a finite space, though.

          • Gottfried TheHirsute

            Well, sure, Zeno’s Paradox, limits in calculus, and all that, but that’s not really what we’re talking about here, is it.

          • windy_way8192

            Why not? If it can approach a finish but never quite get there, why couldn’t it approach a beginning, and never quite arrive, always arriving at a “smaller” and smaller event/entity, each one 100% the God of the existing universe?

          • Gottfried TheHirsute

            But that’s just dodging the issue of the Singularity. In reality, Achilles catches the Tortoise. QED.

          • windy_way8192

            Really? I’d say it’s embracing the singularity. But it also allows for something before it, if necessary.

            Infinite regression isn’t really a problem if you approach it dispassionately and without agenda, but people want meaning, they want something on which to stamp a big fat infinite god G, something solid and reverable. It’s when you start with that premise, that it becomes a problem.

            My son wasn’t grappling with infinity, he was grappling with the premise of divine authority.

          • windy_way8192

            And let God = the physical laws and conditions governing the universe at any given moment in time, and QED, you got God, regressing infinitely as the universe shrinks, continuing and changing the other way as it expands.

    • The question of whether the universe was finite or eternal has long been open, as you point out. Aristotle argued that the universe was eternal and Aquinas concluded that one couldn’t answer the question from natural philosophy alone. But an eternal universe where our intelligences are eternal in a temporal sense (as opposed to omniscient or omnipotent) and “Heavenly Father” was once just an intelligence that is, like us, co-eternal with the universe, leads to the conclusion that this particular being is not “God,” but is simply a god within an eternal system. This leads to theologies of pantheism or panentheism where the universe itself is what is truly divine, or perhaps that God = the Plan of Salvation, as opposed to a finite being within the universe that is subject to the Plan.

  • Swaggy

    The Incredible Shrinking Bruce R. McConkie.

  • Delaney Darco

    Yes! I love the noir with Will Arnett voice! Okay, still listening…