As part of a discussion group, I have been reading Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God. My group isn’t anywhere near finished (the “heart” of the book focuses on the three major Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — yet we’ve only finished through the part on Judaism that sets the stage for Christianity), but as I blogged about on my personal blog, I already have concerns about the arguments that Wright presents.
Some of my comments, however, may not necessarily apply to Mormonism. For example, Wright seems to rely on this idea of a God that can evolve. The big issue is that many believers are constrained to believing that God is constant and thus ineligible for evolution. However, Mormons — through ideas like eternal progression — may not have that reservation (depending on whether or not eternal progression is “in” or “out” of the theology du jour.)
So, what does Wright say?
This isn’t anywhere near comprehensive for Wright’s position, but one thing that reached out to me (on page 214):
What might qualify as evidence of a larger purpose at work in the world? For one thing, a moral direction in history. If history naturally carries human consciousness toward moral enlightenment, however slowly and fitfully, that would be evidence that there’s some point to it all. At least, it would be more evidence than the alternative — if history showed no discernible direction, or if history showed a downward direction: humanity as a whole getting more morally obtuse, more vengeful and bigoted.
Or, to put the point back into the context at hand: To the extent that “god” grows, that is evidence — maybe not massive evidence, but some evidence — of higher purpose.
And also, on page 221, after Wright introduces the concept of the logos as a kind of “algorithm” for the universe from God:
…Some say Philo believed a kind of direct contact with God was somehow possible; others talk about a union with “the divine” that falls short of communion with God himself.
But, however direct the connection, the first step to making it was to try to understand God and God’s will. Thus deciphering the Logos could bring enlightenment not just intellectually but spiritually. “The logos was meant to guide the human soul to the realm of the divine,” writes the scholar Thomas Tobin.
And what we also know is that “Logos” as an idea later landed in a little book testifying about a guy named Jesus…”In the beginning was Logos, and Logos was with God, and Logos was God.”
Matt Evans at Times and Seasons wrote about eternal progression as a necessity for a benevolent theodicy a long time ago.
I guess there are several possible directions to go with this. Obviously, Wright’s full position may not go in the direction we need to fit it with eternal progression, and these snippets don’t even truly grab the essence of the position. But…going with Wright, for some reason, somehow, history shows a trend of things getting better. This is indicated through a number of things — our general prosperity (despite ‘hiccups’ like financial crises and wars, we have accumulated great wealth and great scientific advancement), or our general ability to get along with each other, for example (think about Europe. Hundreds of years ago, a union would have been laughable. Now, it is a reality.)
But even more interesting is the way that our ideas of God and morality evolve as the rest of our society does. So, Wright points out that we have moved from an idea of a vengeful god to a glorious understanding of on who is benevolent in novel ways (in Mormonism, our exaltation includes eternal progression). Additionally, whereas even a hundred or two hundred years ago, rights for certain minorities would not have been on the table, today we can and do have discussions on prospects of egalitarianism (even if we don’t feel we as a society are in an ideal point, the important point is that somehow, we have started to feel that there is an ideal point).
Wright argues that this may be sign of some higher purpose.
Now, I have countered that using such an analogy doesn’t necessarily go as far as Wright needs it to. For example, in biological evolution, things appear to get “better,” but really, there isn’t a “forward” or “best.” There isn’t a “best species” that everything is moving toward. Rather, there are adaptations that are more successful to the given environments and adaptations that are less successful. Adaptation toward a better fit to the environment doesn’t necessarily show a higher purpose.
But…with eternal progression, we might avoid that. As long as there is knowledge and experience, shouldn’t our “environment” always be flexible…and if this is the case, shouldn’t we be always able to adapt to this environment? So, we don’t need to imply a “best” to recognize that progress itself, successful adaptation itself is the focus. As Ray points out on his blog, with eternal life, we yet have opportunity to progress in post-mortal life. At some point, our progress will appear so advanced (to us non-advanced peons…probably not to us when we’ve gotten there) that we will be able to do seemingly novel things (like, say…create worlds beyond numbers? — remember, we don’t have to be constrained to “ex nihilo”).
But to progress, we must discover and seek the correct principles — as Ray highlights, and which compare well to Logos — and so these principles too call for our change in order for us to grow.