“THE GREAT PLAN OF HAPPINESS”
Click here to listen to Jared Anderson’s Sunday School lesson on Alma 40-42
ALMA2 TEACHES ABOUT DEATH AND THE RESURRECTION: ALMA 40:1-26
40:8 “…all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men.” This makes it sound as if God exists outside time, and I would argue that also necessarily means, out of space. I will be doing a post in a few months that deals with this time/space issue and God. It is a variation of the cosmological argument for God’s existence called the Kalam Cosmological argument.
40:9 “…But behold, my son, the resurrection is not yet…” This is an odd statement. Is there any indication in the text that Corianton believed the resurrection had already occurred? Why would this even possibly be a concern of Corianton?
40:11, 12, 13 If “the spirits of all men…are taken home to that God who gave them life,” how is this when later Alma says, “the righteous are received into ‘paradise” and and the “wicked…they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord…and shall be cast out into outer darkness”?
“No doctrine of the Christian Faith is so vehemently and so obstinately opposed as the doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh” (St. Augustine,In Ps. lxxxviii, sermo ii, n. 5).
40:16 compare to Mosiah 15:21-26
40:20 “..I give it as my opinion…” Are we then theologically bound to what Alma says since it is just opinion?
40:26 “…and no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God…”
This phrasing is found in both First Corinthians and Galatians. In the Book of Mormon the expression occurs nine times, six of which are spoken by Alma (the two other occurrences – within a single sentence – are in the words of his missionary companion Amulek). What is striking about this characteristic speech patterns is that it is central to Alma’s conversion story. The nonrandom appearance of this phrase in the Book of Mormon is an indication of how deeply Alma was affected by this experience; he spent the rest of his days urging his people to remember the spiritual transformation that he had undergone. Mormon highlights the coherence of Alma’s life’s work by providing the documents that allow us to correlate his message with the story of his conversion, at least in the version that Mormon originally narrated at the end of the Book of Mosiah. (see Mosiah 27:26; Alma 5:51; 7:14; 9:12; 11:37 (2X, Amulek); 39:9; 40:26; 3 Nephi 11:38 (Jesus); 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 15:50; Galatians 5:21) (Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, A Reader’s Guide, 135-137).
Alma2 Explains the Plan of Restoration: Alma 41:1-15
41:1 “…some have wrested the scriptures…”
- to twist or turn; pull, jerk, or force by a violent twist.
- to take away by force: to wrest a knife from a child.
- to get by effort: to wrest a living from the soil.
- to twist or turn from the proper course, application, use, meaning, or the like; wrench.
41:13-14 Here we get another chiasmus.
Alma2 Explains the Justice of God and the Probation of Man: Alma 42: 1-28
42:13, 25 “…if so, God would cease to be God…” I would argue that most Mormons see God as needing to obey certain laws because he is subservient to those laws. If this is true, this presents a huge philosophical and theological problem. I would argue against the accepted Mormon idea that God must obey certain laws because he is subservient to them. I believe what has been called “the Euthyphro Dilema” best outlines my view of God in the context of these verses:
In Plato’s Dialogue, Plato records a conversation between Socrates and an attorney by the name of Euthyphro. During this conversation, Socrates asks Euthyphro the following question:
Socrates: “ We shall know better, my good friend, in a little while. The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods?” (Written 380 B.C.E, Translated by Benjamin Jowett, Scene: The Porch of the King Archon)
What Socrates is presenting is a two pointed horn. What is being asked is, are morally good acts willed by God because they are morally good (the standard Mormon view), or are they morally good because they are willed by God (a view I have heard expressed by Muslims)?
If the answer is in the affirmative to the former, God is subservient to the morally good and we should then worship that which is greatest; in this case it would be the morally good. If the answer is in the affirmative to the latter, God is arbitrary. And how are we to figure out what God’s will is?
When one appeals to an authority that is higher than God, you are arguing that good acts are willed by God because they are morally good. When one states, “If God creates moral laws instead of being subject to them, God can also change them.”- the latter part of the Euthyphro Dilemma is being argued. That is, that God is being arbitrary because the morally good is morally good because they are willed by God. So, according to this logic, God could command that the raping of children is good, instead of being evil.
One has to pick one or the other, not both – for they are exclusive from each other.
The Divine Command Theory avoids both horns. It argues that morally good acts are neither willed by God because they are morally good, nor are they morally good because they are willed by God. It argues that the good is a necessary attribute of God. Just like there are certain attributes that are essential/necessary to make a cat a cat. If an animal were without those attributes, it would not be considered a cat. God like wise has certain attributes that are necessary/essential to Him. He could not exist without those attributes.
As such, God is the locus of good, justice, mercy, love, etc. As St. Anselm said, “God is by definition ,the greatest conceivable being and therefore the highest Good.” Since moral goodness is a great-making property, the greatest conceivable being must be morally perfect, just, merciful (as well as have other superlative properties).
What I am arguing (and I believe Alma is too) is that God is necessarily just and merciful. He cannot be God and not posses these two attributes. If so, he would cease to be God; not because he is subservient to some greater law such as mercy or justice, but because they are necessary attributes of Him. It is only through the atonement that God can actually contain these two apparently opposite and contradictory attributes – mercy and justice (see Alma 42:15). Thus it becomes necessary for “God himself ” (see vs. 15) to atone for our sins so that these two necessary attributes (mercy and justice) can exist within the same being. That is what Alma is teaching. I believe this is one of the great and unique contributions that the Book of Mormon brings to Christian thought. There are no indications that the Euthyphro Dilemma was part of mainstream Protestant thought during Joseph Smith’s time.
Alma2‘s Counsel to Corianton: Alma 42:29-31
In a talk by bishop gave some time ago, he pointed out that Alma’s counsel to Corianton must have brought about the change he was hoping for – for we see him appearing later in the Book of Mormon as a righteous man (see Alma 43:1; 48:18; 49:30; 63:10)
[End of Alma2‘s Words to Corianton: Alma 39:1-42:31]
[End of Alma2‘s Testimony to His Sons: Alma 35:15-42:31]
Great post. One thing I wonder is why was the atonement necessary if God already possess those attribues?
Good question. I think without the atonement he would have only been just. I admit that you might say that my argument is committing the logical fallacy of begging the question – since God knew from the beginning that the atonement would take place.
Michael, I think instead of the Divine Command Theory you mean the False Dilemma Response. Your comments really got me thinking so I went to wikipedia to learn more about the Euthyphro Dilemma. The first horn of the dilemma is known by intellectualism and rationlism (where God is subservient to certain moral standards) and the second horn where God chooses what is moral is known as the Divine Command Theory.
It is a very thought provoking dilemma and argument for sure. I agree that Alma is siding with the false dilemma response. I find many times that when I am struggling to understand whether the solution is “A” or “B”, there is actually a “C” none of the above solution. How cool to think that as we bicker back and forth over the first horn or the second horn, that there is an alternate solution. Thank you for the great post again. This, as many of your posts, will again help me as I teach my gospel doctrine class today.
I am in Fast n’Testimony meeting right now. So my response won’t be super long; typing with thumbs. Thanks for your response. “False Dilemma Theory/Response” isn’t something that is used exclusively regarding the Euthyphro dilemma. It is one of the many logical fallacies used in argumentation. Others would include: begging the question, red herring argument, the genetic fallacy, etc. The fallacy of a false dilemma is the argument that there are only two possibilities when there are actually more.
Below is a link the to the on-line “Philosophy Encyclopedia” where it discusses a little more The Divine Command Theory. I copied and pasted the pertinent part.
Philosophers both past and present have sought to defend theories of ethics that are grounded in a theistic framework. Roughly, Divine Command Theory is the view that morality is somehow dependent upon God, and that moral obligation consists in obedience to God’s commands. Divine Command Theory includes the claim that morality is ultimately based on the commands or character of God, and that the morally right action is the one that God commands or requires. The specific content of these divine commands varies according to the particular religion and the particular views of the individual divine command theorist, but all versions of the theory hold in common the claim that morality and moral obligations ultimately depend on God.
I guess I’m confused. You said “The Divine Command Theory avoids both horns. ” From what I’ve read, the second horn IS the divine command theory. I see the way to avoid both horns as the false dilemma theory. It reminds me of when the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus. They presented him with two impossible options: pay tribute to Caesar or God. His response was neither. With this argument of the Euthyphro dilemma, I see the solution as neither.
Perhaps a better verb would have been “can”. Divine Command Theory “can” avoid both horns. Divine Command Theory, in its broadest sense, means that something is wrong or right because God says it is wrong or right. There are different ways that this will manifest itself depending on the religion. I got into a debate with a Muslim friend that told me that whatever God commands is right – that in another universe, God could command the rape of children and we would be morally obligated to do so; most Christian philosophers would argue that does not represent The Divine Command Theory. Divine Command Theory can also include what I am arguing and that is, that God’s commands are based upon his morally good, necessary character.
Now, the false dilemma theory, is one of many logical fallacies. Here is a link to a list of different logical fallacies: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ (number 24 is the false dilemma fallacy; my favorite it the genetic fallacy). A fallacy is incorrect argumentation in logic and rhetoric resulting in a lack of validity, or more generally, a lack of soundness. Fallacies are either formal fallacies or informal fallacies.
The fallacy of a false dilemma which is presented in the wikipedia article you are citing, is that there are only two answers – God is either capricious, or submits to the morally good, But, there is a third possibility that is included in the Divine Command Theory, and that is the morally good is a necessary attribute of God which he then expresses through his divine commands.
The wikipedia article you cited, did’t do a very good job of explaining Divine Command Theory; it only gave part of it. Here is the link to the wikipedia article for Divine Command Theory; it’s a little better than the one that examines the Euthyphro dilemma. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_command_theory
I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I still think that you are mistaken. The Divine Command Theory, everywhere I have looked is the second horn and states that morality is arbitrary and that God decides (commands) what is moral. The Divine Command Theory is very problematic in that morality depends on the whims of God. And how can we worship a God we don’t understand? In the Lectures on Faith Joseph Smith stated the importance of understanding the nature of God. By adhering to the Divine Command theory, we are dramatically limiting our potential for worshiping and understanding God. What you are explaining though sounds more like a false dilemma.
It sounds to me like you are explaining the false dilemma that many christian sites describe as the one I linked. The explanation is that good is based on God’s character. I actually now think there are two possible answers to this dilemma, and to me one is a different variation of the first horn, and the other as I mentioned is a false dilemma.
In mormonism, through modern revelation, we know that truths are eternal. Now, you could look at that definition two ways. One is the false dilemma explanation that I linked and that you seem to be describing. Eternal means God like. Therefore all truths are God like.
The other is in line with what Mormons tend to believe (and is related to the first horn), and that morality is not subjective, but is eternal and has existed forever. By acknowledging this we aren’t necessarily then bound to worship morality over God. We worship God partly because he has been able to master all morally good characteristics. As the embodiment of all we aspire to become we reverence and adore him.
Dead horse meat is tasty I have heard. I am glad you are pushing back against me, for this allows me to clarify my stance. So, hear we go:
You are correct in saying that “Divine Command Theory” is, that commands come from God as opposed to coming from some Platonic “moral good”. Classically this has been problematic for theists for it makes God out to be arbitrary. One, version, if you will, of the Divine Command Theory (whicbrought up in an earlier response) is “voluntarism”.
Voluntarism is a view, defended by a few theologians, according to which moral values and duties are based entirely on God’s sovereign will. There is no further explanation behind God’s choice of moral values. He arbitrarily chooses what will be good and what evil.
The vast majority of Christian thinkers have not been voluntarists. I think voluntarism is more naturally at home in Islam than Christianity, for on the Muslim conception of God His power trumps everything, even His own character. By contrast Christian theologians believe God to have certain essential virtues, such as love, fairness, impartiality, compassion, and so on. These are as essential to God as having three angles is to a triangle.
One of the positive insights of voluntarism, I think, is that duties arise in response to an imperative. A command by a legitimate authority creates an obligation or prohibition for us. Good and bad alone is not sufficient for right and wrong because good and evil do not create obligations or prohibitions for us. Many things would be good for us to do, but that doesn’t imply that we’re obliged to do them because they may be mutually exclusive and so impossible to do. So voluntarism correctly locates the source of our moral duties in God’s commandments.
Where voluntarism goes wrong is in thinking these commands to be utterly arbitrary. They are not arbitrary but grounded in the nature of a just and loving God. Therefore, most divine command theorists are not voluntarists.
Now back to Divine Command. What I am defending is a version of the Divine Command Theory. God as the locus of good, justice, etc and He commands what is good because it is essential/necessary to His nature. So, instead of being arbitrary, as the Divine Command Theory can be in its broadest sense, the version I present is not. For there are objective moral duties and commands because they are a reflection, if you will, of God’s nature.
The theory does, ground moral values in God’s unchanging nature. God is the paradigm of goodness. But that is not to say that “because God is a certain way we ought to behave in certain ways.” No, our moral obligations and prohibitions arise as a result of God’s commands to us. God’s nature serves to establish values—goodness and badness—while God’s commands establish moral duties—what we ought or ought not to do. Grounding moral values in God no more derives an “ought” from an “is” than does Plato’s grounding values in the form of the Good (indeed, one of my critiques of moral platonism is precisely its failure to provide any basis for moral duty). The theist and Plato just have a different ontological ultimate.
So how does Divine Command Theory derive an “ought” from an “is”? Well, it says that we ought to do something because it is commanded by God. That is deriving an “ought” from an “is.” Someone might demand, “Why are we obligated to do something just because it is commanded by God?” The answer to that question comes, I think, by reflecting on the nature of moral duty. Duty arises in response to an imperative from a competent authority. For example, if some random person were to tell me to pull my car over, I would have absolutely no legal obligation to do so. But if a policeman were to issue such a command, I’d have a legal obligation to obey. The difference in the two cases lies in the persons who issued the commands: one is qualified to do so, while the other is not.
Now, similarly, in the case of moral obligations, these arise as a result of imperatives issued by a competent authority. And in virtue of being the Good, God is uniquely qualified to issues such commands as expressions of His nature. What is deficient in Plato’s theory is a person who can issue moral imperatives as an expression of the Good; but that want is supplied by theism. So it seems to me that Divine Command Theory’s derivation of an “ought” from an “is,” far from being objectionable, captures a central feature of moral duty and plausibly grounds it.
The Divine Command theorist does not define moral values or duties at all; rather he asks for their ontological foundation. We can accept the customary understanding of moral terms like “good, “right,” “wrong,” etc. with equanimity. We’re not making a semantic claim about the meaning of moral terms. Rather we are trying to explain their objective foundation. Similarly, the naturalist is not pressing a semantic claim about the definition of words but is offering a different foundation for values and duties than the theist. The question is, which moral theory is more plausible?
To see how this plays out in debates with atheists, go look at my posts on Objective Moral Values as evidence for God’s existence.
I was in Sunday School and the question of Alma 40: 11,12,13,14 came up as to why Alma contradicts himself regarding mankind entering into the presence of God and later saying that the evil will “have no part or portion of the Spirit of the Lord”. Being in the presence of the Lord does not necessarily have anything to do with having the Lord’s spirit. Remember that when Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden, they were in the presence of God but did not have His spirit with them yet. They would recieve that at a later time after they partook of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and were cast out of God’s presence. What Alma could be saying is that all mankind come back and meet God, but then are divided. Those who enter paradise recieve of God’s spirit and those who enter prison do not.
Thanks for coming on Ryan. These are interesting questions that only come when we do, what scholars call, “a close reading” of scripture.
I think your exegesis of the scripture is a bit problematic. It seems that there is an equivocation of the words “spirit”, “His spirit”, “spirit of the Lord.” and “the Lord’s spirit”, as you are using them. Please clarify what you mean when you use these words.
Looking forward to your response!