The Mormon Doctrine of God
I’ve engaged in some leisurely study about Mormonism and have engaged with missionaries on a few occasions. Personally, my favourite topic is the Doctrine of God. It has so many implications and has usually dominated my discussions. Mormonism denies the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and instead postulates that there are three beings: one God the Father, his son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. These three are in agreement with one another and are ‘one God’ in the sense that they share a united purpose. Moreover, God the Father, the creator of the universe, is a material being. There are two major problems with this perspective of God: (1) it is, at root, tri-theism (the belief in three gods) which is contrary to Christianity and (2) the Mormon god does not have the attributes necessary to be the creator of the universe.
God as one being
Mormon doctrine claims that God is three ‘beings’ rather than three ‘persons’ (the Trinitarian formulation). This may seem like a fine point of minutia, however, it is immensely important. God is claimed to be a subset of the category of ‘being’. Thus, if there are three ‘beings’, each with the attributes of God, then there are three Gods. The Mormon doctrine is actually claiming a logical contradiction: three Gods are one God. This may seem hard to grasp so here’s a somewhat similar example. ‘God’ is in the category of ‘being’ in the same way ‘dog’ is in the category of ‘animal’. If I were to claim that there are three ‘animals’ each with the attributes of ‘dog’, then, the correct inference would be to conclude there are three ‘dogs’. Saying three ‘beings’ are one ‘God’ is as contradictory as saying three ‘animals’ are one ‘dog’. It’s important to note that the doctrine of the Trinity does not make this error. To recap, the doctrine of the Trinity states there is one God who is one being which is tri-personal. The Mormon doctrine states there is one God who is three beings.
God as transcendent creator
Mormon doctrine claims that God the Father is both a material being and the creator of the universe. I’ve found the cosmological arguments from natural theology to be useful as they argue specifically for a transcendent, immaterial cause of the universe, the Leibnizian formulation in particular. One difficulty of positing a material cause of the universe is the fact that as the inflation of the universe is traced backwards to the moment of the Big Bang, a singularity is reached wherein not even subatomic particles could exist. If this is true, then there is no way for God to be both material and the cause of the universe. At this point, the conversation can go one of three ways: the Latter Day Saint will punt to mystery, say they don’t know, or will bring up the creation chain.
It’s not a problem to punt to mystery sometimes. God can never be fully known so, there will be times when we can say God is just mysterious. The question, however, is discerning when it’s appropriate to defer to mystery and when it isn’t. For topics like omniscience (e.g. ‘How does God know counterfactuals?’), I think it is apropos to say that it’s mysterious. However, for topics like material causes of the universe, I think deferring to mystery is a copout and inappropriate.
‘I don’t know’
This is perfectly acceptable! I don’t know everything so there are times when I have to admit that ‘I don’t know’. Affording the opportunity to others seems like common sense. Hopefully, they will investigate the issue further. This is usually a natural termination point for the conversation.
The Mormon description of creation is that God the Father lived in his own universe and then created our universe. God’s universe was created by his own God the Father whose universe was created by his own God the Father whose universe was created by his own God the Father whose universe was created by his own God the Father and on and on to eternity past. Most Latter Day Saints are probably not aware of this bit of Mormonism but some are. As the Mormon creation chain posits an infinite number of universes, the arguments used by al Ghazali against an actual infinite number of things would be highly relevant here as well as Hume’s concern that an infinitely long chain of explanations does nothing to explain why the chain is there in the first place. Aside from the major philosophical concerns of postulating an actually infinite number of things, the Mormon creation chain contradicts Mormonism itself! If there are an infinite number of universes, each created by their own God the Father, it follows that there must be an infinite number of God the Fathers! Even if the missionary gets all the way through the Doctrine of God to this point claiming that she isn’t a tri-theist, there simply isn’t a way to escape from being an infinite-theist.
In summary, the Mormon doctrine holds that there is one, material God which is three beings. First, this was demonstrated to be self referentially incoherent on the definition of ‘being’. Second, God’s being material excludes him as the cause of the universe. Third, an infinite number of universes is physically impossible and would imply an infinite number of Gods. Thus, the Mormon doctrine of God is contradictory to itself and to the Christian doctrine of God.
Note: The views that I ascribe to Mormonism I have gotten first hand from seven separate missionaries and one bishop which may not be representative of all Latter Day Saints.
Disagree with me? Let’s talk about it!