Emergent Mormon Perspectives on Kurzweilian Epochs of Evolution

(Image sources: Observable Universe Logarithmic Scale, Carina Nebula, Moroni Statue, Atomic Symbol)

In my previous post on the Fractal Lineage of Gods, I briefly mentioned that Mormonism is capable of projecting through models like Kardashev scales or Ray Kurzweil's epochs of evolution. Here I wanted to expand on that idea. If you are new to Kurzweil's epochs of evolution here's a quick video Jason Silva did summarizing it (BTW, I've talked to other members of the Mormon Transhumanist Association who are also big fans of his).

Note that his phrase at the end "having created the Gods, we can turn into them" has a similar sense of self-referentiality as the phrase by the Mormon prophet Lorenzo Snow who summarized the foundational truth taught by Joseph Smith, "As man is God once was, and as God is man may become” (1). Mormonism deviates from the notion of merely "inventing" Gods by taking a religious perspective not dissimilar from Max Plank when he described science and religion:

"Both religion and science require a belief in God. For believers, God is in the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations… To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view." (2)

Mormonism has strongly naturalistic divnization doctrines which can be interpreted as the co-invention, co-evolution of gods with God through Christ; which need not exclude technology. This is not the invention of the God we worship now, but rather the the invention of gods that mankind can evolve into in the future; quite possibly involving science and processes like these epochs of evolution. And I believe that Mormonism with its strong emphasis on naturally emergent views on cosmology, ontology, and theology can provide a novel and robust way to syncretize these different world-views; something which may become increasingly essential for religion to find relevant expression.


Personally, I am biased towards an emergentism world-view which colors the possibilities I see here in these epochs. Emergentism sees reductionistic explanations as important to understanding the world, but ultimately points out how they are incomplete explanations in understanding how traits arise and where life is headed. From Ursula Goodenough and Terrence W. Deacon's essay titled “The Sacred Emergence of Nature”:

"Whereas reductionism has yielded splendid results in science, there is an important sense in which it is artificial, and in this sense false. By starting from wholes and moving ‘down’ into parts, one is moving in the opposite direction from the way matters arise. To grasp how matters arise, one must run the muscle movie backwards, from the sub-atom to the atom to the amino acid to the protein to the polymer to the cell to the muscle to the contraction. To make such a movie, it is essential to begin with reductionist understandings—otherwise, there is no way to know what to put in the movie. But once the cast of characters is identified—once it is understood how proteins fold and myosin hydrolyses ATP and so on—it is possible to narrate such understandings in the correct temporal and spatial sequence, moving ‘upwards’ from one level to the next." (3)

Ray Kurzweil's epochs of evolution do an excellent job of moving 'upwards' in this way. And I feel it provides a foundation on which reductionistic understanding provided by science and emergent or sublime aesthetics provided by religion come together to explore topics of past origins and future possibilities. I'll be quoting frequently from the Goodenough and Deacon's essay as I clarify the the emergentism world-view.

Here are some ways I feel Emergent Mormon beliefs can project through an understanding of these epochs.

Epoch 1: Traits & Information in atomic/chemical structures

Timescale: several billions of years

Primary driving engines: galaxies, stars, planets

Culminates in: ecosystems and DNA

Feedback loops: generations of stars

An important principle of emergentism is illustrated here at this atomic level:

"The key concept: if one starts with something like a water molecule, it is nothing but two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, but each molecule has properties that cannot be ascribed to hydrogen alone nor to oxygen alone. The interaction between the three atoms entails a reconfiguration of electron orbitals and generates a trapezoid-shaped entity that is more electrically positive on one facet and more negative on the opposite facet. Compared with hydrogen and oxygen atoms, a water molecule has unprecedented attributes, because the joining of these atoms has distorted the shapes of each and produced a composite shape with its own intrinsic properties. In chemistry, shape matters."

"Now we can consider what happens when water molecules interact with one another. Here we encounter the interesting fact that it depends. Ice forms when the kinetic energy of the average molecule is low and the molecules' stickiness (capacity to form hydrogen bonds) overcomes their movement; liquid water forms when their movement is just sufficient to overcome the stickiness and allow them to slip over one another, forming hydrogen bonds with picosecond lifetimes; and steam forms when their relative velocities are high enough that collisions seldom allow sticking. The formation of each phase, and the transitions between phases, are generated by thermodynamics and shape, and the emergent outcomes are numerous. Thus ice displays buoyancy, crystalline organization, and hardness; water displays surface tension and viscosity. None of these properties is displayed by individual water molecules; what matters are the dynamical regularities in the ways in which large numbers of these molecules interact with one another." (3)

Emergent properties such as buoyancy, crystalline structure, viscosity, surface tension, etc. come together to create a biological substrate.

An interesting idea in Mormonism is that matter is eternal and with consciousness being co-eternal with God (cannot be created) (4). Like a gardener, a Creator could establish these early epochs and tend them as they grow to provide an environment or substrate out of which this co-eternal consciousness can emerge in later stages —the fruit of creation. Perhaps a Creator optimizing for authentic, co-eternal diversity cannot force intelligence to emerge arbitrarily just as we cannot force plants to fruit arbitrarily even though we understand their workings. The fruit must naturally emerge if it is to be authentic.

Epoch 2: Traits & Information in biological structures

Timescale: many hundreds of millions of years

Primary driving engines: biological evolution

Culminates in: neural biology capable of self-aware consciousness

Feedback loops: DNA replication and evolution

In addition to information still being expressed in atoms and chemicals, information here can now be encoded and evolved in DNA. An important pattern begins to appear from an emergentism perspective:

"Perhaps the most familiar phrase for stating this understanding is to say that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. A second phrasing is to say that as one moves ‘up’ in levels of scale, one encounters ‘something more from nothing but’ or, less euphoniously but more accurately, ‘something else from nothing but’—since the point is not that one encounters something greater or something more, but that one encounters something else altogether. Importantly, this something else can, in turn, participate in generating a new something else at a different level of organization. That is, today's something else may be tomorrow's nothing but. The now widely adopted term to describe such dynamics is emergence." (3)

So while biological structures are reducible to atomic structures, they are also capable of expressing and producing something very different from mere atoms or chemicals. This pattern continues between each epoch where the sum or culmination of the parts of one epoch generate something else entirely different.

This perspective avoids the aesthetically sterile attitudes than can come from genetic-reductionism:

"One way to read this account—a misreading, we will argue, but a common one—is that the genes are driving the system, that genes are ‘selfish’, that genes rule. Not only is this misreading inherently depressing, and religiously sterile; it also misses the point. Genomes are in fact the handmaidens of emergent properties, not the other way around."

"... a successful life outcome is to promote the transmission of information conducive to maintaining the emergent dynamical logic that gives it its meaning— that is, to promote the production of emergent outcomes (called traits in biology) that collectively make their own continuation more likely. It is traits that rule; genes follow in their wake. Traits common to all organisms include such non-depressing and religiously fertile capacities as end-directedness and identity maintenance; traits common to all animals include awareness and the capacity for pleasure and suffering; traits common to social beings include co-operation and meaning making; traits common to birds and mammals include bonding and nurturance; traits common to humans include language and its capacity to share subjective experiences, and thus to know love. Transmission of genomes is the steady background drumbeat; emergence is the music." (3)

From a Mormon perspective, this can be seen as culminating in the neural-biological substrate out of which our present mind or consciousness emerges. A creative God's goal here is to have a substrate arise in which moral and intellectual traits capable of a human expression, including religious expression, can emerge. A creative God is looking for the emergence of a mind capable of imbibing a godly image.

Epoch 3: Traits & Information in brains

Timescale: hundreds of thousands of years

Primary driving engines: culture, music, language, and religion

Culminates in: technological revolution

Feedback loops: memetic lifecycles

Here information can now be stored in neural patterns in a human substrate and communicated between brains. If DNA provided a large leap forward in providing a substrate out of which greater expression of traits could emerge, neural organs jump light years past that.

"When one absorbs the fact that a mature mammalian brain may contain 100 billion neurons, each in synaptic communication with some 1,000 other neurons, all put together under the watch of a genome with some 20,000 genes, one comes to understand why it is so inaccurate to speak of a gene as being ‘for’ a particular mental capacity."

"Deacon offers a bold emergentist claim in his book The Symbolic Species (1998): ‘Biologically we are just another ape; mentally we are a whole new phylum of organism.’ Our ‘whole new’ traits -- symbolic languages, cultural transmission of ideas via languages, and generation of an autobiographical self—are of central importance to our lives and our religious lives, and much remains to be understood about how they operate from a reductionist perspective. At this juncture, however, the concept to take in is that these human-specific traits are quintessentially emergent: they are constructed bottom-up and then deeply influenced by environmental contexts; they make use of ancient protein families that are deployed in novel patterns and sequences... from our perspective, the understanding that human-specific traits are emergent—something else popping through from all that has gone on before and continues to surround us—is fully consonant with what we now know about the course of natural history, and a deeply satisfying way to think about who we are."

"What is particularly interesting about the course of human evolution is that it has entailed the co-evolution of three emergent modalities—brain, symbolic language, and culture—each feeding into and responding to the other two and hence generating particularly complex patterns and outcomes (Deacon 1998)."

"... analysing all the pieces is just the first step, not the final explanation. Making sense of brains will also entail an elaborate reconstruction to discern their emergent dynamics and what they entail. Importantly, when the details become available, they will in fact have no impact on our experience of being self-aware beings, any more than our understanding of oxytocin's participation in romantic attachment impacts on our experience of being in love. Reductionist understandings of how minds work are fascinating, but they are also irrelevant to what it's like to be minded." (3)

Douglas R. Hofstadter, in his book 'I Am a Strange Loop', puts it this way:

"Saying that studying the brain is limited to the study of physical entities would be like saying that literary criticism must focus on paper and bookbinding, ink and its chemistry, page sizes and margin widths, typefaces and paragraph lengths, and so forth." (5)

From a Mormon narrative, the persons Adam and Eve with the recorded history of mankind enters the picture late in this epoch. And it's here that language about mankind is given the status of having the "image of God" (6). Mankind is made of the "dust of the earth" (7) and exists in the context of biological and atomic expressions (from previous epochs), but is an entirely new creature of God that shares traits with God. Important, and often glossed-over, scriptural language is relevant here. In the Biblical creation account, God gives the commandment to "subdue" (8) the earth. In the context of epochs of evolution, this is a commandment and challenge to move from this third, primitive epoch into the epochs that follow. This commandment to "subdue" is a mandate for human flourishing and scientific progress; to no longer be entirely at the mercy of environmental pressures and natural selection, but to transcend it and become creators of our own environments (hence the "image" or traits of God). A creative God looks for the traits of novel creativity -- creativity is a symbol of Eternity.

Epoch 4: Traits & Information extends to tools and technology

Timescale: a few thousand years

Primary driving engines: philosophy, science, agriculture, economics, and government

Culminates in: merger of biology & technology

Feedback loops: tools used to create further sophisticated tools

This is the epoch we are in today (or are just now exiting). Our species develops technology that can store/process information independent of the brain. We imprint our minds onto the tools and environments we create, and those tools and environments return the favor.

An important pause here is to reflect on what it is to be human in this age:

"Human consciousness is not merely an emergent phenomenon; it epitomizes the logic of emergence in its very form. Human minds, deeply entangled in symbolic culture, have an effective causal locus that extends across continents and millennia, growing out of the experiences of countless individuals. Consciousness emerges as an incessant creation of something from nothing, a process continually transcending itself. To be human is to know what it feels like to be evolution happening." (3)

Again, the primary drivers here don't replace the drivers in the previous epoch. Things such as culture, music, language, and religion still play a powerful role in what it is to be human (as do biological and atomic processes). But this epoch is where technology becomes a very powerful driver in effecting us as a species, the traits that emerge, and the environments we create.

In this epoch, Mormonism has the notion of many dispensations (9): distinct periods of time/location where new modalities of religion are expressed and re-contextualized in the framework of prophecy, authority, temple/ritual aesthetic, scripture, and culture. Mormonism doesn't cast religion in static creeds. In fact, it calls for continuous revelation and the adaptation of religion to greater and greater understandings of reality.

Mormon scripture situates Mormonism itself in a final dispensation late in this epoch (parenthesis mine):

26 God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now;

27 Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory;

28 A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest.

29 All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have endured valiantly for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

30 And also, if there be bounds set to the heavens (cosmology) or to the seas (cartography/oceanography), or to the dry land (geology), or to the sun, moon, or stars— (astronomy)

31 All the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times (exo-planetary research) (10)

Mormonism doesn't merely see scientific progress as a part of this age, it sees scientific progress as a way prophecy can be fulfilled. Mormonism calls out for and celebrates scientific progress. I believe Mormonism provides an important perspective on the relationship between faith and proof: that we need both. Proof provides a foundation, floor, substrate, or environment out of which faith emerges. Faith then is used to develop and explore new, unproven possibilities (both in scientific and religious realms). These possibilities can then become a new reality and, more or less, are proven or tested. But faith doesn't stop, it simply develops in the new environment and begins the process all over again, this time exploring entirely new possibilities and outcomes now possible through that new foundation/floor/substrate/environment. Then as mankind further explores, new realities emerge. It's a feedback loop. This, I believe, is what the scriptures are talking about in "precept upon precept; line upon line" (11). It's a process and we need both in endless feedback loops. Faith needs proof to stand on as it reaches and proof cries out for faith to stand on it.

This attitude is summed up in the Mormon article of faith which states:

"We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." (12)

And was expounded upon by B.H. Roberts:

"I believe 'Mormonism' affords opportunity for disciples of the second sort [those who 'help to lead the thought that they accept to a truer expression' ... 'beyond its earlier and cruder stages of development']; nay, that its crying need is for such disciples. It calls for thoughtful disciples who will not be content with merely repeating some of its truths, but will develop its truths; and enlarge it by that development. Not half—not one-hundredth part —not a thousandth part of that which Joseph Smith revealed to the Church has yet been unfolded, either to the Church or to the world. The work of the expounder has scarcely begun. The Prophet planted by teaching the germ-truths of the great dispensation of the fulness of times. The watering and the weeding is going on, and God is giving the increase, and will give it more abundantly in the future as more intelligent discipleship shall obtain. The disciples of 'Mormonism,' growing discontented with the necessarily primitive methods which have hitherto prevailed in sustaining the doctrine, will yet take profounder and broader views of the great doctrines committed to the Church; and, departing from mere repetition, will cast them in new formulas; co-operating in the works of the Spirit, until they help to give to the truths received a more forceful expression, and carry it beyond the earlier and cruder stages of its development." (13)

Epoch 5: Traits & Information as mind and technology merge

Timescale: centuries?

Primary driving engines: biotechnology, virtual reality, life-extension, environmental rejuvenation

Culminates in: merger of biology & technology, post-humanity

Feedback loops: bio-hacking, augmented minds finding new methods of augmentation

Many believe we are on the cusp of entering (or have already entered) this epoch and this is where much of transhumanism focuses on. Cybernetics, life-extension, cryogenics, reanimation, disease eradication, resource liberation and abundance, environmental repair, etc. The promises of humanity harnessing biotechnology are huge (as are the risks). Will this follow the reduction in magnitude of timescale and only play out in mere centuries? Or will the exponential timescale acceleration taper off and this remain in the thousands of years?

From an emergentist perspective, the question to ask here is what traits will emerge? If transhumanism's goal is to intentionally transform humanity, then the question is, "Transform into what? And why?" These are not rhetorical, or platitudinous questions. How we approach these questions will ultimately determine our answer to them. And just as previous epochs built on the processes and traits that emerged from all previous epochs, figuring out how to bring the best of those traits with us into this new epoch is key.

The question isn't whether we bring art, music, literature, philosophy, religion, love, technology, science, etc with us. The question is what aspects of those will we bring with us, and why. What will drive the emergence of traits in our future? Our greed, suspicion, inequality, creedalism, or competition? Or will it be driven by our compassion, trust, equanimity, inclusiveness, and cooperation? An important note here is how the instrumental effects of religion and how those affect (or even effect) these traits. In Mormonism the instrumental and sublime effects of the atonement of Christ powerfully orient us towards these latter attitudes of compassion, trust, equanimity, inclusiveness, and cooperation (14). Things like philosophy and religion won't simply go away any more than biological or atomic expression will go away as they find new expressions and traits in the new modalities and substrates we choose to build on. The intentional evolutions we face in our future can often be much more of a moral/ethical question than a technical question.

Mormonism doesn't stop at epoch four. In fact, it projects and orients itself towards future epochs in it's notions of millenarianism, resurrection, salvation, and godhood. John A. Widtsoe, a Mormon apostle, described the process of divinization as being coupled to evolution:

"Under the law of evolution, man’s organization will become more and more complex. That is, he will increase in his power of using intelligence until in time, he will develop so far that, in comparison with his present state, he will be a God." (15)

In Mormonism resurrection is physical, embodied (16). Much of the emerging technologies and systems in this age (if applied compassionately and with equanimity) can be seen as tools towards that goal. With Mormonism's core tenant of temple ritual and aesthetics folding notions of salvation and resurrection back onto genealogies and families (17), an interesting thought here is that if one had the ability to "resurrect" someone who lived in the past, a map that could be used would precisely be the genealogies Mormonism places so much emphasis on. Scientific progress here provides the how; and sublime, strenuous, filial attitudes provide the who and the why.

Another important thread that's woven throughout Kurzweilian epochs or evolution in general is adaptation. Atoms find function in molecules. Molecules find function in biology. Biology finds function in complex neural structures. Neural structures find function in culture, art, music, religion, etc. Culture, music, religion find function in technology. Technology finds function in merging with biology. Etc.

A key feature necessary for religion to express its function in a future with augmented or changed biologies is adaptability. This adaptability need not make religious expression meaningless any more than technological advancement would make artistic or cultural expression meaningless. Religion can and will continue to orient intelligence and life towards faith and trust in possibilities and truths in feedback loops of faith and proof. But religions which lack adaptability or which have dogma or cultures which see change as necessarily evil will struggle and perhaps be unable to find meaningful expression in coming epochs of evolution.

Mormonism, I believe, at its core is strongly adaptable even if some of the subcultural expressions that surround it can be stubborn. Joseph Smith founded Mormonism on a framework of radical adaptability:

"The most prominent point of difference in sentiment between the Latter Day Saints & sectarians was, that the latter were all circu[m]scribed by some peculiar creed, which deprived its members the privilege of believing any thing not contained therein; whereas the L. D. Saints had no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time." (18)

And in another Article of Faith:

"...We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." (12)

It's this desire to believe and incorporate all true principles, including principles originating from outside a religious world-view, that will graduate religious expression into this epoch and beyond. Religions which cannot perform this function will struggle as notions of mind, body, consciousness, and reality bend and stretch into future epochs.

Epoch 6: Traits & Information as mind and creation merge

Source (included without modification) - License

Timescale: does time even make sense?

Primary driving engines: nanotechnology, created environments, infinite emergence of intelligences

Culminates in: gods

Feedback loops: created environments out of which new intelligence emerges and merges

Here, post-humanity begins to wield the universe at the atomic scale and essentially becomes one with it or transcends it all together. Consciousness begins to blur here as a level of inter-personal intimacy and unity previously unimaginable becomes possible. Unified minds wielding the universe (or universes) in unencumbered flourishing of creative environments becomes a key driver of the traits that emerge -- creative godhood. Naturally, thoughts can turn back towards post-humanity's own emergent evolutionary past -- perhaps even towards their ancestral past (us) in what could be called resurrection.

Creating environments out of which infinitely diverse and entirely novel intelligences can emerge as co-eternal, independent minds becomes the final, inexhaustible frontier. But this time, being Gods of these environments allows post-human creators to experience that emergence on an entirely new level. Creators can even enter/descend into these environments, experiencing and guiding these newly emergent minds through their own stages of evolution and emergence -- perhaps requiring meaningful godly sacrifice optimizing for genuine emergent diversity.

This picture is not too far off from the future imagined by Arthur C. Clarke in "the first born", a society achieving this type of transcendence, in 3001: The Final Odyssey:

"... [since] in all the Galaxy, they had found nothing more precious than Mind, they encouraged its dawning everywhere. They became farmers in the fields of stars." (19)

Mormon narratives around God and salvation strongly orient towards this possibility. However, Mormonism doesn't see this epoch as only being in our future, it also sees it in our past as we are the beneficiaries of this type of environment created by Gods. The following are several quotes from prominent Mormons which paint a strongly emergent, naturalistic view of God.

Joseph Smith described cyclic origins of God(s) in our past:

"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!" (20)

These exalted gods become oriented towards creation:

"The head God called together the Gods and sat in grand council to bring forth the world. The grand councilors sat at the head in yonder heavens and contemplated the creation of the worlds which were created at the time." (20)

Which leads to the discovery (not invention) of our emergent intelligences which reminds them of their own humble origins:

"God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself." (20)

Thus, our potential is nothing short of progressing through epochs of evolution to likewise become gods:

"you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves... by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power." (20)

And Orson Pratt (as recounted by Wilford Woodruff) mused on the strongly emergent origins of divinity as being the direct result of the merger or unity of intelligences/consciousness:

"It may reasonably have been the case with the first being formed which may be called God. An eternity was filled as it were with particules of intelligences who had their agency, two of these particles in the process of time might have joined their interest together exchanged ideas & found by persueing this course that they gained double strength to what one particle of intelligence would have & afterwards were joined by other particles & continued untill they organized a combination or body through a long process & as they had power over other intelligences in consequence of their combination, organization & strength and in process of time this being- or God seeing the advantage of such an organization desired company or a companion and having some experience got to work & organized other beings by prevailing on intelligences to come together & may form something better than at the first and after trials of this kind & the most perfect way sought it was found to be the most expeditious & best way to recieve there formations or bodies either spiritual or temporal through the womb." (21)

The Mormon scientist, Henry Eyring, pointed to a naturally emergent God as a "natural expectation" or even a ubiquitous inevitability:

"It is natural for me to worship the Supreme Intelligence of the universe. This Supreme Intelligence necessarily exists since the world is full of unequally intelligent beings. [Citing probabilities of intelligent life emerging on planets], it is accordingly natural to conclude that the universe is flooded with intelligent beings and, presumably, always has been. Any unfolding of intelligences that may eventuate on this earth only repeats what has happened previously elsewhere. The biblical account of an all-wise Providence shaping human destiny is a natural expectation for me, and this belief is shared by a large fraction of mankind." (22)

Terryl Givens makes an interesting note that this Mormon view of God and cosmos lines up surprisingly well with Richard Dawkin's view of a type of god that could exist:

Mormons ironically find an unlikely (and surely unwilling) ally in the arch-atheist Richard Dawkins. In his controversial critique of religion, he wrote that: “Any creative intelligence of sufficient complexity to design anything comes into existence only at the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.” Elaborating this point, he said that: "you have to have a gradual slow incremental process [to explain an eye or a brain] and by the very same token, God would have to have the same kind of explanation. … God indeed can’t have just happened. If there are Gods in the universe, they must be the end product of slow incremental processes. If there are beings in the universe that we would treat as Gods, … that we would worship … as gods, then they must have come about by an incremental process, gradually." (23)

A key difference between modern skeptics and the naturalistic views in Mormonism seems to be the Epicurean attitudes/assumptions made by the former.

"The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: ‘For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.’ DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music." (24)

Philosophical and cosmological Mormonism goes along with modern skeptics right up until skeptics make this kind of nihilistic assumption that gods either don't exist or would ignore us, destroy us, or hide from us guided by their selfishness or indifference. Mormonism has faith in the opposite: that an emergent God exists and instead has a filial, benevolent, and revelatory attitude towards us guided by selflessness -- optimizing efforts so that "the rest could have a privilege to advance like [themselves]"(20). And since the assumptions we make in what would motivate post-human advanced beings will likely play a key role in what gods we might "turn into" in our evolutionary future, Mormonism seems to have much more functional power for emergent evolutionary outcomes than does Epicurean or nihilistic assumptions or world-views.

Mormonism sees mankind both as the beneficiaries of this kind of emergent God in our past and present; but continues with our becoming benefactors of this divine gift as mankind evolves and emerges into and merges with God in our future. The New God Argument lays out some of the logical underpinnings of this idea. And it's this kind of self-referential or cyclical pattern, capable of infinite diversity, that I previously explored as having fractal attributes. This, I agree, is a scientifically "intoxicating idea" similar to the emotion Jason Silva expressed. But I also see how it is an idea that is just as "intoxicating" in naturally emergent religious attitudes.


The inscription on the bell in Hayes Hall at the University of Buffalo poetically describes the potentiality of science and religion coming together for the evolution of mankind:

All truth is one.
In this light, may science and religion endeavor here
for the steady evolution of Mankind:
From darkness to light,
From narrowness to broadmindedness,
From prejudice to tolerance,
It is the voice of life that calls us
To come and learn. (25)

I think it is an important fact that Hayes Hall is home to the School of Architecture and Planning at that university. Disciplines such as architecture straddles both the scientific and religious by making the best use of science and technology of the day to create spaces and environments which awe and transform us. It is no coincidence that some of the most impactful architectures invoke religious tones and attitudes in the spaces they create. And as we look towards how science and religion can both strive for "the steady evolution of Mankind" by seeking traits such as light, broadmindedness, tolerance, life, and learning, both world-views can together build a scientifically enlightened and religiously enlightening future.

Much contention between faith and science centers around naturalistic and religious world-views. While some feel these are intractable differences, I believe that Mormonism -- with its strong emphasis on naturally emergent views on cosmology, ontology, and theology while still valuing religious truth -- provides a novel and robust way to approach syncretizing these different world-views which both offer so much for the evolution of mankind. Indeed, a religion's ability to flourish into future epochs which will continue to bring radical evolutionary change to the human condition may very well depend on its ability to find such syncretization. And my faith and awe in science, technology, emergent evolutionary patterns, and God finds a welcome home in Mormonism.


  1. Lorenzo Snow, "The Grand Destiny of Man", Deseret Evening News, July 20 1901
  2. "Religion and Natural Science" [lecture, 1937], Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. F. Gaynor [New York, 1949], 184
  3. Ursula Goodenough and Terrence W. Deacon, "The Sacred Emergence of Nature", The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science, April 2008
  4. D&C 131:7, D&C 93:33, and Joseph Smith (HC 3:387)
  5. Douglas Hofstadter, "I Am A Strange Loop", 2007
  6. Genesis 1:27
  7. Genesis 2:7
  8. Genesis 1:28
  9. LDS Bible Dictionary "Dispensations"
  10. D&C 121:26-31
  11. Isaiah 28:10
  12. Joseph Smith, Articles of Faith, 1842
  13. Improvement Era, July 1906
  14. Ben Blair, "Come Follow Me: The Instrumental Atonement", MTA Conference, April 2015
  15. John A. Widtsoe, "Joseph Smith as scientist : a contribution to Mormon philosophy", 1908
  16. D&C 88:28, Alma 11:43, Alma 40:23, D&C 130:22
  17. D&C 128:15, & Joseph Fielding Smith in Doctrines of Salvation, 2:122
  18. The Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star, Volume 20, 1858
  19. Arthur C. Clarke, "3001: The Final Odyssey" (prologue), 1997
  20. Joseph Smith, The King Follett Sermon, April 7 1844
  21. Wilford Woodruff, Journal, June 26, 1847
  22. Henry Eyring, "Faith of a Scientist", p. 97
  23. Terryl L. Givens (2014). Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity (p. 216).
  24. Richard Dawkins, "River out of Eden", (1995)  p.133
  25. As cited by Cliff Stoll in his TED talk "The Call to Learn", 2006