Category Archives: Philosophy

Infallibility

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The prophet Wilford Woodruff taught,

I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so he will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.

This doctrine says that the prophet will always lead the church correctly. A different, and equally accepted, doctrine maintains that prophets are just people that can make mistakes. I recently heard a story retold about the fallibility of divine revelation:

Simonds Ryder was converted to the Church in 1831. Later he received a letter signed by the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon, informing him that it was the Lord’s will, made manifest by the Spirit, that he preach the gospel. Both in the letter he received and in the official commission to preach, his name was spelled Rider instead of Ryder. Simonds Ryder “thought if the ‘Spirit’ through which he had been called to preach could err in the matter of spelling his name, it might have erred in calling him to the ministry as well; or, in other words, he was led to doubt if he were called at all by the Spirit of God, because of the error in spelling his name!” (History of the Church, 1:261). Simonds Ryder later apostatized from the Church.

For many believers there is tension between God’s perfection and the apparent mistakes in some of his earthly messages. Ironically, only someone who achieved complete confidence in a prophet could be surprised by as small an error as a spelling mistake. After a short digression, I’ll explain my way of reconciling these two doctrines. Continue reading

Dualism

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Dualism is a traditional belief that we are all made up of a physical body and a spiritual body. We believe that the spirit inhabits the body until death.

Teachers routinely use the analogy about a hand in a glove:

Explain that in this example the glove represents the physical body and the hand represents the spirit. When the spirit enters the body, the body can live, work, and act.

This analogy implies that the spirit is responsible for controlling the movements of the body. But nobody really has a good explanation for how the spirit interacts with the physical body. In order to affect physical muscles or even physical neurons, physical energy must be applied. And if physical energy is present, then it can be measured by scientific instruments just like any other physical events. But we usually think of the spirit as something that can’t be measured. In fact, any part of the spirit that can be observed physically should not be considered to be spiritual, by definition.

There is a different analogy that I like better, of a masterpiece painting. The painting is physically made up of oils and a canvas. But people looking at the painting can feel something deeper in it. The painting can have a spiritual presence. I think you could say that the painting wouldn’t be alive without that spirit. As another example, we recognize sacred places by the spiritual qualities attached to them.

Likewise, I think that it is our spirits that give our lives deeper meaning. Our physical bodies are just the machines, where pain is sensed and muscles are flexed. Our spirits inhabit the machinery, without interfering with it. Nothing from the spiritual realm ever enters the physical realm, nor does it need to. Even our power to make decisions is seated solely in our physical brains. This belief is called epiphenomenalism, an unpopular version of dualism. Continue reading