Though the heaven and earth perish, the Lord who created them will endure forever.
The Separation of the Earth from the Waters by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel
by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson August 22-28; Psalms 102–103; 110; 116–119; 127–128; 135–139; 146–150
The following is from my book, The Infinite Creation: Unifying Science and Latter-day Saint Theology, Chapter 1.
Those who read this book and are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should understand most of the background concepts presented herein. For them, this chapter may be largely unnecessary. However, for those who read this book and are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an explanation of our beliefs – my beliefs – are probably necessary in order for much of the remaining material in the book to be rendered comprehensible. Of necessity, this chapter will be very succinct. If the reader wishes additional information, he or she may visit the website: ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
First of all, I “…believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” (Pearl of Great Price: Articles of Faith 1) I also believe, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit...” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22) I believe that Jesus Christ was literally resurrected and that he invited his disciples to, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” (Luke 24:39) “And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them.” (Luke 24:41-43) These latter verses suggest that Christ ate the fish and honeycomb as a demonstration that he could eat, because we may assume that God commanded Jesus to demonstrate his ability to consume food, for Jesus said, “…I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me...for I do always those things that please him.” (John 8:28-29)
The proposition that the resurrected Jesus Christ could consume food insinuates that his resurrected body could also digest food. The digestion of food by the resurrected Christ suggests that his resurrected body could metabolize that food and, therefore, that His body was a cellular body. Christ demonstrated to his disciples that his body was the same body that had been crucified. He invited them to behold and touch the nail prints in his hands and thrust their hands into His side. (John 20:25-27; see also 3 Nephi 11:14-15) Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb and, re-united with His Spirit, He exhibited that same resurrected body to His disciples. Apparently, His resurrected body could do everything that the mortal body had done – right down to consuming food. The only apparent difference was that Jesus no longer required an open door to enter a room. (John 20:19)
Earlier in His mission, Christ told His disciples, “…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father…” (John 14:9) This passage of scripture often has been misinterpreted down through the centuries to suggest that God the Father and Jesus Christ are physically the same being. They are not. Christ is the “spitting image” of His Father, but they are two separate individuals. God and Jesus are one in purpose, not one in body or substance. However, if Christ said that He looked like the Father, and Christ had a physical, cellular body, it is logical to assume that God the Father also has a physical, cellular body.
I believe that, literally, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, did indeed, “…see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56) I also believe that revelation, miracles, and divine visitation did not end with the death of the apostles. There was, apparently, for whatever reason, a significant hiatus for some eighteen hundred years during which time God and Christ did not personally visit the earth. None-the-less, miracles did continue – see for example the life of Francis of Assize. Then, in the early spring of 1820, God and Jesus Christ, as two separate beings, just as Stephen saw them, appeared to a fourteen-year-old boy named Joseph Smith, Jr. (Pearl of Great Price: Joseph Smith History) Later in his life, Joseph Smith would state, “I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit; and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.”1
I believe that heavenly messengers continued to visit Joseph Smith during his life, first revealing an ancient record that outlined, as a second witness to Christ’s resurrection, the visit by the resurrected Christ to the American continent. (3 Nephi chapters 8-30)2 The resulting book, entitled the Book of Mormon, was published in 1830, just before Christ’s original Church was restored in the form of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During the process of this restoration, and during many subsequent years, modern revelation was also received by Joseph Smith and other modern prophets, some of which was published in two other books, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. These additional scriptures provide further information about God and Jesus Christ, as well as about the creation and the fall. I consider these three books, hand-in-hand with the Bible, to constitute a library of sacred scripture. (Ezekiel 37:16-17)
As revealed in this more complete set of scriptures, I believe that Jesus Christ existed for all eternity before the foundations of the earth. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) I do not believe, as apparently others interpret, this verse as saying that God and Jesus are one and the same physical being. I do believe that this verse is confirming that Jesus, “the Word,” was, in the beginning, with God, and that Jesus, himself was also a God. Why, if Jesus was the only God in that verse, would we be told that Jesus was “with” God? During the creation, “…God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...” (Genesis 1:26) Furthermore, during the Fall, God said of Adam, “…Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil…” (Genesis 3:22) The terms “us” and “our” in those verses suggest that more than one God was involved in the Creation and Fall.
I believe that God the Father placed Jesus Christ in charge of the creation of this earth. We are told by the apostle Paul in Ephesians, for example, that, “…God… created all things by Jesus Christ:” (Ephesians 3:9) John tells us concerning “the Word,” Christ, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3) And, further, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” (John 1:10) Then, Paul told the Hebrews,
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (Hebrews 1:1-4)
I believe that God and Jesus are infinite and eternal in existence, power, and knowledge. The Psalmist has said, “Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.” (Psalm 147:5) Paul explained to the Romans, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:” (Romans 1:20)
I also believe that, through Jesus Christ, we may be inheritors of eternal salvation. “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.” (Hebrews 5:9-10) “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” (Hebrews 9:15)
Furthermore, I believe that not only can we have eternal salvation, but that we are inherently infinite beings ourselves. We also existed before the foundation of the earth as the spirit children of God the Father. Paul said to the men of Athens, as they stood on Mars’ hill, “For in him [God] we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” (Acts 17:28-29) Paul also wrote to the Hebrews, “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Hebrews 12:9) God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
I believe that the “intelligences” from which our spirits were made are immortal and eternal. They – we – have always existed and always will exist. “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29-30) I believe, therefore, that our intelligences, our spirit beings, while living within this created, temporary universe, are not confined to this universe but exist in the realms beyond its confines.
It is the belief system outlined above that allows me to have faith in the verities of both science and religion. As a friend of mine once quipped, “The universe may have been made by a bunch of old men in funny hats and bow ties.” I don’t know about the bow ties, but my belief in real, tangible humanoid Gods and Creators, is the foundation of my beliefs. Another friend and colleague of mine once said to me, “I didn’t know a scientist could be religious.”
For me, only belief in a real, physical, tangible God and separate, tangible Jesus Christ, as opposed to some mystical fusion between God and Jesus3 allows science and religion to come together in any meaningful way. We are no longer the highly intelligent but extremely naïve church scholars of the first through fourth century, and we should employ our greater understanding of the human body toward a greater understanding of sacred concepts and not throw out the baby of true religion with the bathwater of human fables.
I pointed out to my friend who didn’t know that scientists could be religious that the visible universe only accounts for 4.7% of the total universe and that, therefore, there is a huge portion of reality (95.3%) that we are currently unable even to detect – except indirectly and hypothetically. I believe that many of the interfaces between the “natural world” and the “supernatural world” can only be understood by applying concepts such as those from the enigmatic fields of quantum physics, entanglement, and the study of dark matter – and probably other, yet undiscovered, scientific specialties.
In a speech delivered at Caltech in April 2013, Stephen Hawking stated, “The missing link in cosmology is the nature of dark matter and dark energy.” He further noted that, “normal matter is only 5 percent of the energy density of the known universe; 27 percent is dark matter, 68 percent is dark energy.”4
Estimates of the ratios between normal matter, dark matter, and dark energy tend to vary from year to year, and person to person. Kevin Pimbblet presented a pie chart in a November 2017 review showing that normal matter accounts for less than 4% of the total, dark matter 23%, and dark energy 73%.5 Furthermore, Pimbblet broke down normal matter into free hydrogen and helium (3%), stars (0.5%), neutrinos (0.3%), and everything else in the universe, including our earth and everything on it (0.03%). Therefore, what we can actually see of the universe, including the stars and planets, accounts for only 0.53% of the total universe.
During the last few years of his life, Stephen Hawking was, famously, one of the most vocal scientists arguing that God had no place in the creation of the universe. He stated, for example, “The role played by time at the beginning of the universe is, I believe, the final key to removing the need for a grand designer and revealing how the universe created itself.”6 In a number of similar statements, Hawking made it quite clear that in his mind, time trumps everything, even God. So was Hawking right? Was he the official spokesperson for all scientists?
Hawking,6 in my opinion, correctly, pointed out that time and space began at the Big Bang and did not exist before that event. However, physics tells us that what was created at the Big Bang was what Hawking called “normal matter.”4 We cannot, however, say the same for dark matter or dark energy – the other 95+ percent of the universe. Hawking would have us believe that God is limited by E=mc2, but that equation only describes “normal matter,” which is defined by what we can see or detect because of light (the electromagnetic spectrum; time, space and light are expressed as c in Einstein’s famous equation).
If we now recognize, as Hawking acknowledged, that there apparently are distinct components of the universe (at least dark matter and dark energy) that we, at present, cannot detect, no matter how hard we’ve tried, then how can we be so arrogantly confident that there are not yet other parts of the universe we can’t detect? In the face of such overwhelming numbers for the known unknown, how can we be so arrogantly confident that God is confined to the, at most, 5% of the universe that we can detect?
In his 2017 review, Pimbblet asked, as have others, is there an alternative to proposing dark matter and dark energy? After all, “Scientists only proposed dark matter to explain how galaxies and galaxy clusters move due to a gravitational pull.” Pimbblet speculated, “Suppose for a moment that both dark energy and dark matter are too strange a pill to swallow. What would the alternatives be? One way out would be to suppose that our understanding of the universe is at fault. Perhaps gravity and general relativity do not work in quite the way that we think they do.” Pimbblet stated that André Maeder, has proposed a concept called “scale invariance,” which suggests that the scaled invariance of the universe itself may account for galactic motion, without the need to invoke dark matter. Some preliminary tests appear to agree with this proposal. Pimbblet cautions, “However, there are many more tests that need to be run, Maeder has only investigated two galaxy clusters. And let’s not forget the huge body of work suggesting that dark matter and dark energy do exist.”5
In this book, I have attempted to explain how the creation of the universe, as sketched out in the scriptures, may be compatible with the more complete story that is unfolding through scientific investigation. This is not a book about intelligent design. I find the arguments for intelligent design to be interesting but unconvincing, lacking as they are, almost entirely, in relevant data. This book, rather, is an attempt to understand scriptural accounts, which are often very brief, possibly misinterpreted during translation, and usually quite vague and lacking in details; in light of modern scientific data.
Paul stated, very accurately, for glass made when the last ancient scriptures were being written in the first century AD, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) Today, we see through glass almost perfectly, with little or no color or prismatic aberrations. Likewise, science was a complete mystery to first-century scholars and for nearly two millennia thereafter – during the critical time when the ancient scriptures were being translated and compiled. Physicians didn’t even know what human beings looked like on the inside – as anatomy was a taboo practice. They had no idea concerning the function of the brain. Instead, they possessed a vague notion that the mind, or the soul, somehow, was associated with the heart, liver, and spleen. They had absolutely no concept of human reproduction, involving two microscopic cells: a sperm and an egg. They had no idea that artificial insemination was possible. Furthermore, they and other scientists of the time had no concept of the more than thirty trillion cells comprising each human body, the forty-six chromosomes in nearly every human cell, the 20,000 or so genes associated with those chromosomes, or the billions of atoms forming the stuff of each cell.
Origen described the lack of knowledge in his day (c. AD 185-254), “…of the whole number of miracles and marvels attributed to [Christ], there is one which…the weakness of mortal understanding can find no way to grasp or to compass. I mean the fact that…the very Logos [Word] of the Father…in whom all things visible and invisible were created…must be believed to have entered a woman’s womb, to have been born as a small child, and to have squalled in the manner of crying children.”7
However, despite all the knowledge deficiencies and the complications of bringing sacred writ to light in the early Christian era, it is my belief, and faith, that much ancient scriptural content, especially when enhanced by modern scripture, conveys true religion, vital to our eternal lives – even if that religious truth is only a tiny fraction of the full extent of a complete religion.
Trent Dee Stephens, PhD
1. Smith, Joseph, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, p. 41-42, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2007
2. These chapters are in the Book of Mormon; this book and all other citations referencing to additional scriptures, as well as books written and talks given by leaders and other scholars in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be found at lds.org/scriptures or lds.org in general
3. Wikipedia, Reference to The Family Bible Encyclopedia, Curtis Books, Inc, p. 3790, 1972
4. Smith, Brett, Dark Matter at Caltech Speech, redOrbit.com, 18 April 2013
5. Pimbblet, Kevin, Study finds dark matter and dark energy may not exist, here’s what to make of it, theconversation.com, 30 November 2017
6. Hawking, Stephen, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Bantam, New York, 2018
7. Origen, On First Principles, 2.6.2; as quoted in Underwood, Grant, Condescension and Fullness, LDS Christology in Conversation with Historic Christianity, In, Eric D. Huntsman, Lincoln H. Blumell, and Tyler J. Griffin, eds, Thou Art the Christ, the Son of the Living God, The Person and Work of Jesus in the New Testament; The 47th Annual Brigham Young University Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah