Thursday, August 26, 2010

Stars and planets in perfect order

Years ago I met a retired nuclear physicist. We became friends. Although he has since passed on, I still remember how he explained singularity as "a time just before the beginning of the big bang when the universe was compressed into an infinitely high density and an infinitely small space."

In other words, he said: "in the beginning there was a singularity."

I'm still trying to reconcile that with: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."

Today, I thought I'd try. Here is a very short story.

As he lit the fuse and ran, he thought, "Never has so much depended on so little." Then fourteen BILLION years later, a prophet named Alma wrote:

"All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator" (Alma 30:44).

This year all adult Mormons are studying the manual originally written for new Mormons and investigators. It says:

"We can look up at the sky at night and have an idea of what Alma meant. There are millions of stars and planets, all in perfect order. They did not get there by chance."

Perhaps God packed that singularity using immeasurable care, incalculable planning, and incredible foresight. Or maybe Elder Russell M. Nelson was right when he said:

"To me, such theories are unbelievable!"


Anonymous Jeff G said...

Or maybe all the stars and planets which *weren't* in their perfect order were destroyed in the last billion years?

8/26/2010 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Like in a carnival shooting gallery?

I suppose that makes as much sense as any of the rest.

8/26/2010 01:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Does "lit the fuse and run" mean you are endorsing a pro-evolution point of view? Or have I misunderstood your analogy?

8/26/2010 01:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The big bang is unexplainable in LDS thought and doctrine. The fatal question for evolutionists is thus- If God did create and formulate the big bang, then he obviously created and formulated his own self into the big bang, now how can that be? Where was God standing, in what planetary system, when he formulated the universe from nothing?

.just doesn't figure.

rob osborn

8/26/2010 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger Jared* said...

The guys over at The Eternal Universe say that the singularity is actually a misconception. If you look in the comments you'll see that it was news to me.

8/26/2010 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Jared*, I looked in the comments like you said and I think you hit the nail on the head! Scientists ARE always changing their minds.

Unchanging truth isn't found on this blog. And it isn't found over at The Eternal Universe. Unchanging truth comes only from Him who is "the same, yesterday, today, and forever." It is found in "the scriptures and the words of modern prophets" (Spencer W. Kimball). "And if it were in perfect agreement with the science of today, it would surely be out of line with the science of tomorrow" (Hugh Nibley).

8/26/2010 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger Jared* said...

Zing! Well that will teach me to make sarcastic comments....Darn!

8/26/2010 05:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know how the cosmos was created but I don't stay up at night worrying about it. That said, to say that a scientific theory is unbelievable, while it may be a beautiful statement of faith, is not an empirical argument against that theory. Empirical evidence, as we know, is not the same thing as faith. I find it silly and unproductive to pit one against the other. As one great scientist said, knowledge is an island in a sea of mystery.

8/26/2010 06:18:00 PM  
Blogger Steven Montgomery said...

Here's why the "stars and planets [are] in perfect order." http://ldsliberty.org/god-author-of-law/

8/26/2010 09:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a little puzzled by the claim that the "stars and planets are in perfect order".

The heavens are not remotely static. Stars explode into supernovas. Black holes gobble surrounding stars. Galaxies collide.

Lots of complexity, chaos --- but utter magnificence. But, order??

8/26/2010 10:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a bit surprised that you can tease out with any degree of certainty, from the scriptural statement that God "created" something, the methods which he quite obviously didn't use to do it.

What does the word "created" mean, in the context you (and the scriptures) are using it? I'm reading you as equating "God created" with "God did something that, though it wasn't a 'Big Bang', resulted in the creation of stars and planets".

Is this a correct reading of your point of view?

8/27/2010 12:20:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

The LDS Church does not align itself with big bang cosmology or any other scientific theory about the creation of the universe. The "perfect order" that we see in the universe has been described this way:

-------------- quote --------------
"As we look at the universe, we do not see unexplained chaos or cosmic churn. Instead, the faithful see God 'moving in His majesty and power' (D&C 88:47). It is like viewing a divinely choreographed, cosmic ballet — spectacular, subduing, and reassuring!" (Neal A. Maxwell)
-------------- end quote --------------

8/27/2010 03:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm the "tease out" Anonymous, different from the "puzzled by the claim" Anonymous... will go by "TO" in this thread for clarity.

Regarding your statement, "The LDS Church does not align itself with big bang cosmology or any other scientific theory about the creation of the universe" - I believe that, but neither does the church disallow the possibility that God did, in fact, create the universe in exactly this way. He obviously did it somehow, and there is evidence of how He did it (unless He's trying to trick me by putting false evidence out there - in which case, I don't think He's a God worth believing in) which people, in good faith, attempt to explain.

It seems to me like you're trying to reconcile two statements vaguely akin to these:
(a) my wife made me a birthday cake this morning;
(b) cakes are made by baking a mixture of sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla, etc. in the oven for a certain amount of time.

Cosmology is like looking at the kitchen and seeing that there are eggshells in the trash and that flour is spilled on the floor and drawing inferences from the data; religion is more like thanking your wife for the cake.

(Some context for Elder Nelson's "simply unbelievable" remark would be helpful... one can find the spontaneous appearance of a cake in an uninhabited kitchen "simply unbelievable" without discounting the possibility that cakes can, in fact, be made.)


8/27/2010 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

TeaseOut: First, you are correct. There are no official Church statements that specifically disallow big bang cosmology. But that still leaves this problem: A current high ranking apostle has said such theories are unbelievable and after more than twenty years his statement still has not been disputed by any Church official in any Church media. Are you saying he was out of line? His talk was published in the Oct 1987 New Era magazine and the Jan 1988 Ensign magazine. Both of these magazines are freely available at LDS.org (the Church web site). Make your case.

Second, based on the evidence you've reported (eggshells in the trash and flour spilled on the floor), the inference that your wife made you a birthday cake seems reasonable. But the same inference will probably seem ridiculous after you (1) listen to a voice message left that day by your son reminding his mother of her promise to bring a batch of his favorite cookies to school for sharing time, and (2) find a credit card payment dated that same day to Cakes Unusual.

You see, the problem isn't false evidence, it's incomplete evidence. Neither you nor anyone else can be sure today's science has all the evidence. And by the way, your wife obviously wasn't trying to trick anyone.

8/27/2010 03:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Certainly there are alternate explanations for the quasi-religious piece, rather than the quasi-scientific piece, of my admittedly contrived example. Nevertheless, cakes are made somehow :-) and that is more along the lines of the point I was trying to make. I concur with you on the matter of potentially insufficient evidence, but even in common matters (which of your kids upended the milk jug while you were out of the room, for instance) there's often enough evidence left behind to draw tentative conclusions about what one didn't directly see... more complicated matters, too, perhaps, if one knows what to look for, and doesn't forget the "tentative" part.

In reading Elder Nelson's remarks from the Ensign, it seems to me that in the context he addresses the matter, it's not specific cosmological theories he's uncomfortable with, so much as it is the idea that the universe took shape without a Creator. (Or, in the cake analogy, he's not finding any theory about how the cake was made "unbelievable", so much as he finds the notion that the cake spontaneously appeared without a cake-maker "unbelievable". Otherwise, his immediate follow-up remark - on the absurdity of an explosion in a printing shop producing a dictionary - makes little contextual sense; we don't find it at all "unbelievable" that somebody might, someday, figure out the details of how a printing press works.)

So, in short - sure, a godless universe is pretty unbelievable, but for me, or Elder Nelson, to say so tells me nothing about how God might have actually created the universe (which is really the question I'm interested in). I'm uncomfortable with the notion that it's the science itself that's being tagged as unbelievable, when it may, in fact, be a pretty good description of how God actually does His work.


8/27/2010 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

TeaseOut: The problem isn't science. The problem is Mormon scientists who claim to know better than Mormon apostles and prophets how to interpret Mormon scripture.

8/28/2010 05:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still don't get the claim of "perfect order". I just attended an exhibit at the Idaho Falls Temple visitor's center.

It shows images from the Hubble Telescope.

Almost every one of them shows tremendous violence: Galaxies being ripped apart, stars exploding, remnants of past explosions, etc.

The universe is anything but orderly.

8/28/2010 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


PerfectOrder: I have quoted a current and widely used study manual published by the Church that says "There are millions of stars and planets, all in perfect order." I believe and accept that statement. You might want to submit your question to Curriculum Development, 50 East North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150-0024. E-mail: cur-development @ ldschurch.org. They ask that you list your name, address, ward, and stake. The book is "Gospel Principles" and the statement is on p.5.


ApproachingDoctrine: Please read your full comment and my somewhat lengthy response here.

8/28/2010 03:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Do you have any idea what the perfect order comment refers to?

I'm just not getting the reference . .

--- Perfect Order

8/28/2010 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Look. If you want to know what the manual is talking about, you're gonna hafta ask the Church. Beyond that, I suppose you could consider the ordinary meaning of the words (which seems pretty clear to me).

8/28/2010 06:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The problem isn't science. The problem is Mormon scientists who claim to know better than Mormon apostles and prophets how to interpret Mormon scripture."

I concede that as a potential problem... "when they are learned, they think they are wise...", and all that. But it strikes me that equally troublesome issues arise when Mormonism gets implicitly associated with the idea that scientific curiosity, or belief in the plausibility of a scientific theory, is a Bad Thing. To lump a whole discipline under the "unbelievable" framework - which I don't believe Elder Nelson is actually doing; see my comments above - seems a bit of a slap in the face to people who, when looking at the problem in detail, find certain aspects of the evidence compelling/believable. (Put another way - if it were so obviously unbelievable, nobody would be studying it!) Granted, we may be drawing incorrect conclusions from the evidence available, but I don't think Elder Nelson means to say that we should scrap all the work that's been done in the field so far and start over, or that we should quit trying to figure it out.

I accept as true the principle that God "created" the earth, but that really tells me nothing except that (a) the earth as we know it, at some point, didn't exist; (b) God did something, and (c) thereafter, the earth, as we know it, existed. But I also believe it's true that (d) the "something" God did, whatever it was, can be explained; that (e) it doesn't reflect a lack of faith on my part to try and figure it out; that (f) God is not less worthy of my worship even if I happen to be able to figure out a few of his methods; that (g) church is not a place for expounding on whatever I happen to be studying at work as if it were gospel; and that (h) neither is church a place for creating straw-man versions of science and then kicking them to shreds in an effort to reassure ourselves that the gospel is a better way. (That does happen, and when it does I'm always glad I didn't bring a coworker that day.)


8/28/2010 10:28:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

"That does happen, and when it does I'm always glad I didn't bring a coworker that day."

Paradisiacal Creation

I hope the Church's web site isn't also an embarrassment to you. Its Gospel Topics article about "Creation" recommends Elder Nelson's April 2000 general conference talk in which he teaches that the creation was paradisiacal, without death:

"The creation of a paradisiacal planet came from God. Mortality and death came into the world through the Fall of Adam. ... Eventually, 'the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.' (A of F 1:10.) At the Second Coming of the Lord, the earth will be changed once again. It will be returned to its paradisiacal state and be made new." (Ensign, May 2000, 84-86.)

Let's examine Elder Nelson's words more closely.

1.    "The creation of a paradisiacal planet came from God."

To Latter-day Saints generally and to Elder Nelson specifically, "paradisiacal" means "terrestrial." Elder Nelson made this clear in the April 1990 General Conference when he said, "It is true that scriptures foretell the final days of the earth’s temporal existence as a telestial sphere. The earth will then be renewed and receive its paradisiacal, or terrestrial, glory. (See A of F 1:10.)" (Ensign, May, 1990, 17; italics added; see also D&C 77:6-7.)

2.    "Mortality and death came into the world through the Fall of Adam."

The earth itself was changed when mortality and death came to the previously paradisiacal planet through the Fall of Adam. What he clearly did NOT say was that the earth itself had already been mortal for millions or billions of years prior to the Fall of Adam.

3.    "At the Second Coming of the Lord, the earth will be changed once again."

The words "changed once again" refer back to earth's first change from a paradisiacal, or terrestrial, deathless state to its present temporal, or telestial, mortal state. Here he is clearly saying that earth will be changed back to its previous paradisiacal, or terrestrial, deathless state.

4.    "It will be returned to its paradisiacal state and be made new"

This refers to the return of something once present, but which has been taken away or lost. Before the Fall of Adam, the earth was paradisiacal and new. At some point in the near future, it will be returned to that state.

Bible Dictionary

Do you carry the standard works with you to Church? I hope you won't be embarrassed if your coworker looks closely at the Bible Dictionary. In the April 2001 general conference, Elder Nelson said, "I like to recommend ... short explanatory paragraphs in the Bible Dictionary, listed under ... 'Fall of Adam' (page 670, paragraphs 1–2)" (Ensign, May 2001, 32.)

The following year, Elder Nelson again wrote in the Ensign: "I recommend ... selected paragraphs under Fall of Adam (page 670, paragraphs 1–2) ... in the Bible Dictionary" (Ensign, Mar. 2002, 17.)

Here is what the Bible Dictionary says on page 670, paragraphs 1-2:

"Before the fall, Adam and Eve had physical bodies but no blood. There was no sin, no death, and no children among any of the earthly creations. With the eating of the ‘forbidden fruit,’ Adam and Eve became mortal, sin entered, blood formed in their bodies, and death became a part of life. Adam became the ‘first flesh’ upon the earth (Moses 3:7), meaning that he and Eve were the first to become mortal. After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal."

Can big bang cosmology explain the origin of a deathless, paradisiacal earth?

8/29/2010 04:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps not. But, it wasn't trying to do that, either - it was trying to explain, from how the universe looks, some of the methods that might have been used in its creation and some of the physical principles it obeys. Unless you can conclude from the actual data that there can't have been a God involved in the process, you're arguing against a straw-man view of what the science is actually saying. (It's sort of like when evangelical Christians try to tell us what Mormons believe without asking us if we actually believe it.)

The set of things that cosmological theory predicts includes items that (a) have no bearing whatever on the gospel (e.g., the universe appears to be expanding and we can measure the rate at which it does so), (b) seem plausible from the data we know at this point, and (c) nonetheless seem to be getting consigned to the "unbelievable" box under this argument. This strikes me as a significant problem for Mormonism if we're claiming to have a greater measure of truth than other folks do.


8/29/2010 09:20:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

My dear "tease out" friend,

Nobody can conclude from empirical data whether God was involved in anything. God is (by definition) excluded from scientific inquiry. And yet the scientist and religionist are both working on the same puzzle and neither one has an advance copy of the completed picture. Someday, when all of the pieces are finally on the table, we will see how they work together. I'm sure most of the science pieces will eventually fit even though right now I can't see how. The reverse is also true. The religion pieces, drawn from scripture and the prophets, are an important part of the puzzle and my approach is to fit pieces together outward from there. Sometimes I become a bit testy about keeping the religion pieces in play. But, in the meantime (borrowing the words of President Hinckley), "I stand in respect, almost reverence, for the men and women of science who have made life better for each of us."

I wish you and I could get to know each other better.

8/29/2010 12:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In that respect we are altogether in agreement. It'll be curious to see how the puzzle takes shape. (I do get a little tenacious, myself, trying to ensure that people whose professional work is in the top corner, far away from their personal work in the more meaningful parts of the gospel at the puzzle center, still feel welcome to work on both parts.)


8/29/2010 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger Cap said...

"Perhaps God packed that singularity using immeasurable care, incalculable planning, and incredible foresight"

That, to me, seems like it could be an argument for evolution. Could not God foresee that through one cell and millions and millions of years humans, worthy to carry a soul, would come about.

9/14/2010 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...



I've been thinking about your comment and I have a couple of thoughts.

    1. Ex nihilo is latin for "out of nothing." Some churches use the phrase to describe an instantaneous creation of heaven and earth. Most scientists reject that notion.

The Prophet Joseph Smith said this about creation from nothing:

"You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing; and they will answer, Doesn’t the Bible say He created the world? And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the [Hebrew] word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.350.)

    2. Your comment asks, "Could not God foresee that through one cell and millions and millions of years humans, worthy to carry a soul, would come about."

That sounds to me like a variation on creation ex nihilo — the only difference being one cell (very nearly nothing) and a longer period of time.

9/16/2010 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger Cap said...

R. Gary. Ex nihilo, I feel can refer to the universe's creation and still work with my earlier comment. God can create the universe out of (essentially) nothing, and set in motion events that will lead to the creation of this world and life. Cosmic evolution if you will. And sticking with what you said in the post, "Perhaps God packed that singularity using immeasurable care, incalculable planning, and incredible foresight." The planning and foresight indicate that he would know what would happen if he would create the universe and then world ex nihilo.

*Hopefully I am making sense in my argument and not being to repetitive.
*Also, sorry it too so long to comment back.

9/29/2010 09:23:00 AM  

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