Return to About Mormons home
by David M. Grant
By the end of the eighteenth century, modern scientific methods had begun to provide new insights into the fundamental nature of matter, and these negated the Greek philosophical position of form over matter. This change in scientific thinking was contemporary with the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith in the theological realm. His teachings returned theology to the intimate relationship between God and mankind of early Judeo-Christian writings. These concepts were in contrast to the position that deity is an embodiment of principles and philosophical ideals that transcend in importance the physical realities of matter. Furthermore, the view that matter was created from nothing (ex nihilo), a concept dominating theological and scientific thought for many centuries and still widespread in nineteenth-century thought, lost the support of modern science and was opposed by the gospel restored by Joseph Smith. Modern scientific theories of matter, from Antoine Lavoisier's (1743-1794) to Erwin Schrödinger's (1887-1961), maintain the permanence of matter.
In the twentieth century, atomic theory has embodied a number of fundamental nuclear particles and powerful mathematical theories. Some, falling outside human intuition, account for properties of matter newly discovered in this century. Concepts have led to the development of unified quantum mechanical and quantum dynamic theories for both matter and light. The conservation law of Lavoisier has been extended to include all equivalent forms of matter and energy and still constitutes one of the primary pillars of modern science.
It is significant that the teachings of the restored gospel on the eternal nature of physical matter, along with a parallel in the spiritual realm, embody these conservation principles. These are key statements: "The elements are eternal" (D&C 93:33). "The spirit of man is not a created being; it existed from eternity, and will exist to eternity. Anything created cannot be eternal; and earth, water, etc., had their existence in an elementary state, from eternity" (Joseph Smith, in HC 3:387).
Addressing the issue of creation ex nihilo, Joseph Smith asserted in one of his final sermons: "Now, the word create does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaoschaotic matter, which is element . Element had an existence from the time [God] had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and reorganized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end" (HC 6:308-309).
Extending the concept of the eternal nature of matter to the substance of spirit, Joseph Smith revealed, "There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; we cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter" (D&C 131:7-8).
Parley P. Pratt, an apostle and close associate of Joseph Smith, wrote, "Matter and spirit are the two great principles of all existence. Everything animate and inanimate is composed of one or the other, or both of these eternal principles . Matter and spirit are of equal duration; both are self-existent, they never began to exist, and they never can be annihilated . Matter as well as spirit is eternal, uncreated, self existing. However infinite the variety of its changes, forms and shapes; eternity is inscribed in indelible characters on every particle" (HC 4:55).
In strict analogy to principles governing physical matter, the revelations to Joseph Smith stress that eternity for spirits also derives from the eternal existence of spiritual matter or elements. The preeminent manifestation of the eternal nature of both physical and spiritual matter is found in the eternal existence of God and ultimately his human children as discrete, indestructible entities. In this unique LDS doctrine, matter in all of its many forms, instead of occupying a subordinate role relative to philosophical paradigms, assumes a sovereign position, along with the principles and laws governing its properties and characteristics.
(See Basic Beliefs home page; Doctrines of the Gospel home page; The Creation home page)
Pratt, Parley P. "Eternal Duration of Matter." HC 4:55.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
All About Mormons