Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Is our specific situation in life (time, place, class, race, family etc.) a random allocation?

December 09th, 2017 by Bruce Charlton

(Note, this is cross-posted from my ‘Notions’ blog – it is aimed mainly at non-Mormon Christians; but it may also be of interest here… As you probably already know; I am continually astonished and fascinated by the way in which Mormon Christianity is based on such a radically different set of metaphysical assumptions concerning the basic nature of reality.)


We are incarnated into this mortal life – and each person finds himself or herself in a different situation: different times in history; different places on the planet; different sex, class, race; different parents…

There seems to be only two basic possibilities:

1. That the allocation of souls to bodies is a random process. We are equally likely to end up anywhere.

2. God ‘places’ us into some specific situation.

The first ‘random’ possibility implies that our situation and sex is a matter of indifference to God and to our-selves – one situation is as good as another. This choice is pretty much entailed by the mainstream Christian belief that each soul is created some time between conception and birth – each soul starts out identical, so there is no point or purpose in placing a specific soul in one place rather than other.

The second ‘placing’ idea implies that we have different needs in mortal life – and this implies that souls are different at the point of incarnation, which also implies that we have a pre-incarnation existence. This doctrine of pre-existence has been non-mainstream for Christians since about the time of Augustine of Hippo – but is held by Mormons among others.

This is a good example of the way that metaphysical assumptions affect theology. Mainstream Christians are pretty-much compelled to assume that our situation in life is random, and meaningless – in now way is our actual life-situation ‘tailored’ to our spiritual needs.

Whereas Mormons, and others who believe in pre-existence, are compelled to assume that God must have placed us into our specific life-situation with at least some regard for what situation will benefit us; and potentially this placing would be highly-exact (although human free will or agency will surely make it impossible for the placing to be fully-exact – since any niche would be changed by the choices of the people around it).

Aside: the question of sexual identity – man or woman – is another point of disagreement between mainstream and Mormon. The mainstream view sees the human soul as newly-created from-nothing – and sexual identity therefore as secondary, and in principle it might be male, female of something-else, or nothing. This links with God being neither man nor women, but containing both.

But for Mormons it is doctrine that every person is either man or woman – nothing else is possible in a deep and ultimate sense (whatever the effects of disease or environment), and this identity goes all the way down and back to eternity. Furthermore God is a dyad of Man and Woman: Heavenly Father and Mother; Jesus was a man; angels are either men or women etc…

It can be seen that Mainstream and Mormon Christianity, while both being genuinely Christian, are based upon distinct metaphysical assumptions.

And these basic assumptions lead to big differences in how we personally regard our specific situation in life: for Mormons our situation is meaningful because designed for our needs; whereas for mainstream Christians our situation (and indeed our sex) is random.

Comments (8)
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December 09th, 2017 04:30:28

December 9, 2017

Very well and thought out. I would like to make one amendment to what you have said being that the angels in our theology that have been identified have been identified as previous prophets and so forth, making them distinctly engendered.

December 9, 2017

All angels are sexed. ‘Cuz they’re us, sons and daughters of God, either in a pre-mortal state, or one of various post-mortal states — disembodied, resurrected, or translated.

Pre-mortal spirits still have a spirit -body- enveloping their intelligence, so they have a sex/gender.

This is right out of scripture, and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

I have not found anything to indicate whether an intelligence has a sex/gender before it is clothed in a human spirit body. My guess is that it does.

December 9, 2017

I’d be interest to hear what Agellius thinks about this.

December 10, 2017

As he is a fan of CS Lewis, I’m sure BC is familiar with this quote:

“But in Friendship, being free of all that, we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting—any of these chances might have kept us apart.

But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing.”

? C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

December 12, 2017


And so you shall. : )

If I recall correctly, Bruce has made the argument in the past that the traditional concept of God makes God responsible for evil, whereas the Mormon idea of God lets him off the hook, due to the fact that he lacks the “omnis”: omnipotence, omniscience, infinity, etc. If he’s not “omni” then he can’t control everything that happens, and therefore isn’t responsible for the existence of evil.

But if he can’t control everything that happens, doesn’t that imply that there must be more randomness in his creation? Whereas an infinite, all-powerful God could conceivably plan everything down to the last hair on our heads and the last falling sparrow. I have indeed arrived at a belief in evolution with the idea that God fine-tuned the universe, not only such that it could come into existence at the Big Bang without collapsing in on itself and so forth, not only such that life *could* arise, but so fine-tuned it that the evolution of life was inevitable. In other words, evolution is true but life didn’t arise by chance. Although in another sense it did.

There is no contradiction between saying that life arose purely as a result of natural forces, and saying that God caused life to arise — since God is the cause of the natural forces that caused life to arise, which in fact he knew would cause it to arise.

It seems to me much more likely that an omnipotent God who is the cause of all that exists, and holds all things in existence from moment to moment, could tailor our specific situation in life to meet a specific purpose of his own, and therefore less reason to believe that the situation of any individual is either random or meaningless, than if God were not omnipotent.

Bruce’s argument seems to be that there can’t be any reason for having someone be born in a particular time and place, if that person doesn’t already exist. You must know the person first, before you can know where he needs to be placed, right? And to know him, he’s got to exist already. But in traditional theology God knows each of us from eternity, before we ever come into existence. He had us in mind already when he created the cosmos. Possibly he didn’t wait to see how the cosmos would develop before deciding where to place us, but created everything and everyone as an integrated whole, already knowing where we would end up.

I agree with Bruce that the different metaphysical assumptions “lead to big differences in how we personally regard our specific situation in life.”

December 12, 2017

Thank you! The debates is beyond my capacity, and I think you are in a very unique position as someone who is not prejudiced against Mormons, also reads Dr. Charlton, and has an understanding of traditional theology.

Unfortunately Dr. Charlton is not widely read, Mormons beliefs are generally completely misunderstood, and most Catholics don’t understand their own theology (…)

Bruce Charlton
December 13, 2017

@Ag – I suppose the main constraint on God, for all Christians, is free will/ agency. Since the Mormon God cannot and the Catholic God will-not interfere with free will.

For Mormons Time is a constraint – and this plus free will means that God’s control of our circumstances is inexact; whereas for Classical Theology God is all times/ outside of time – such that we are each known before we are incarnated and the results of incarnation are also known – including the outcome of our life circumstances on our experiences and choices…

I get a bit lost in all this omniscience!

To me it seems to place all responsibility on God for creating us as we are, and creating our niche, in full knowledge of how it all works-out in the end. As I have said before, it seems to leave no place for free will to operate…

– which is why I believe that Mormon theology is more understandably and obviously Christian (since free will is non-negotiable for Christians – at least if Christianity is not to be reducible to Islam – which, in practice, I think it sometimes has been)!

But I think you are correct that a non-Omni God living in Time necessarily lacks full knowledge and control – nonetheless, the influence is powerful and gets there in the end.

December 14, 2017

Yes, free will is another topic, which we could discuss some time.

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