Some implications of God’s having a physical body

Some people believe God the Father has a physical body, specifically the body of a man. Today I was thinking of some of the things that this implies.

First, it seems to imply that God is not the designer of the human body.

Second, it seems to imply that the human body is not the product of evolution on this earth, since it existed, in God at least, before the earth was created.

If God didn’t design it, and it didn’t evolve, how did it get its form?

One possibility is that it evolved on another planet, long before this one was created. But that still seems to exclude the possibility that it evolved on this planet. Or did it evolve on two separate planets yet still manage to arrive at the identical form on both? If so, that seems to require that evolution on this planet was guided. The odds of it evolving identically and by chance in two different places and times, surely are prohibitively high.

Thus, I would think that anyone who believes God has the physical body of a man, must necessarily believe that God did not design the human body, and that it did not evolve on earth, or at least not by chance. I would be interested to know whether anyone who believes God has such a body, does not believe either of these things, and if not, how they avoid these implications.

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5 thoughts on “Some implications of God’s having a physical body

  1. 1. Design: if you say that God has always had a body (not just in the temporal sense but as as inherent part of his being) then, no, He didn’t design it, any more than He designed anything else about himself. But the alternate explanation would be that at some point (speaking either temporally or causationally) God did not have a body, in which case you could argue that God the Father has a body now but still designed it.

    2. Evolution: ‘evolution was guided’ is one possibility. But anyone advancing the proposition that the Father is currently embodied has other alternatives. You could argue that evolution has a teleology, that there are factors we don’t know about that draw it into certain paths to produce something like homo sap. If you say that God did not always have a body (in a causational sense) then you could say that he caused his body to come into being knowing what evolution would produce. Or you could say that God’s flesh is all possible bodies of intelligent creatures, i.e., God has more than one body. Or you could say that God creates a vast universe and lets natural processes play out until it creates acceptable bodies for his children somewhere. Those are just the ones I can think of off hand. I don’t agree with all of them and some kind of creep me out.

    Obviously, with rare exceptions, its pretty much only Mormons who believe that the Father is embodied. So how would Mormons answer your question? I can’t say for sure, but I’ll take a stab at it. Its not official doctrine, but most Mormons accept the idea of an infinity of Gods, with no ultimate divine first cause. So on the design question they’d probably agree that God didn’t design the human body at some level of generality, and in fact nobody did, its just always been that way. Others who take very literally the statement by Christ that he only does what he has seen his father do would argue that the Father got his body the same way Christ did, by being incarnated. This view could be compatible with evolution just happening and randomly producing humans, whose form the deity then assumes, or it could be fit in with the infinity of Gods view too. Others who take the Father to be more the originator in the more classical sense (who would therefore dispute the existence of any God the Grandfather) would probably say that the human form is part of God’s self-existent being, therefore not designed, but I can’t be sure. Finally, some Mormons take the Father to be the originator, but say that he started out as a man, the product of evolution somewhere, and progressed to Godhood through his own awesomeness of being, something like that, so inherent in their view would be that God’s material form was not designed and was even accidental.

    Many Mormons reject evolution altogether, at least when it comes to mankind. Those who don’t would probably feel comfortable with the idea that evolution was ‘guided’ or that it had a teleology, but wouldn’t be strongly committed to any particular position.

    I wonder how Stephen Webb, who I believe is Roman Catholic, would answer your questions. Perhaps he already has in his book:

    http://books.google.com/books/about/Jesus_Christ_Eternal_God.html?id=C6gdEqy6ICwC

  2. There may also be a mystical approach. One could take quite literally the scriptural saying that Jesus Christ was “slain from the foundation of the world,” and say that in the same way Christ (and the Father) had always been embodied. This would probably let you deny that evolution had to be guided. Dunno what you’d say about design.

  3. Adam!

    I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

    Regarding your paragraph 1, this makes logical sense. However I’m curious how it would fit into Mormon theology. My understanding is that we all existed as spirits before being incarnated in our bodies. Also, I understand that we don’t become gods until after we are incarnated, and pass on to the afterlife. My assumption was that if we are of the same nature as the Father, then he would have gone through the same process when he was incarnated and became God. So I don’t see how he could have designed his own body before being incarnated, since he wasn’t God yet.

    Also, since our bodies are of the same nature as the Father’s, I would have assumed that his is of the same as his father, and so forth. Therefore, not designed by him.

    I don’t mean to argue doctrine with you. I understand that it’s hard to know what “official” doctrine is in the first place with any certainty, absent a personal revelation or spiritual confirmation (which I think may even differ from person to person?). So for all I know, it could be the case that God was already God before he became embodied.

    So maybe what I was really meant was, that people who believe what I understand to be the traditional Mormon account of the process of spirit birth, incarnation, afterlife and attaining to godhood, in an eternal progression both before our world and after, would have a hard time believing in materialistic (i.e. non-teleological) evolution. Do you agree?

    To be clear, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m not sure I believe in the origin of species through evolution at all (though I have less trouble with evolution within species). I just wondered if a believing Mormon, who believes in what I thought was the traditional doctrine of eternal progression, is thereby logically precluded from believing in materialistic evolution.

  4. My comment got eaten. Let me reconstruct.

    In the stereotypical traditional Mormon view of the progression of Gods, no, God probably isn’t the designer of his body. He’s a man because he was born a man, end of story. Although now that you’ve broached the subject, I’m curious to see if I can think of a variation on the stereotypical Mormon view that would be compatible with God (or any other god, for that matter) designing his body. Here goes. Suppose you had a Promethean or a heroic version of Mormon theology at which each man, when he reaches the point of deification, is some kind of protean being of power who designs his eternal form. But he always chooses to design it in the form of man for any number of reasons you could choose: as a gesture of respect and love to his own creator or his own past, because the manlike form is the ideal one for reasons that can only be known to a divine or near-divine intellect, or so on and so on.

    Putting aside the traditional Mormon view for a moment and going back to the idea of eternal God who nonetheless caused his own body in some sense– Mormons tend to believe that Jesus was God before his incarnation, so I suppose one could say that God was also God before he was incarnated. But then one has some tricky theological thinking to do to explain (1) why flesh is necessary for us to advance to Godhood and (2) why the Father took on the flesh even when it wasn’t apparently necessary to his Godhood. I think it could be done, if needed.

    I take your point that the stereotypical traditional Mormon view is probably incompatible with completely unguided and non-teological evolution, without introducing some of the funky theological elaborations I’m came up with above. Which I’d rather not, they are all a bit daft. The only non-daft way to reconcile the stereotypical traditional Mormon view with unguided materialistic evolution is a very strong version of convergence. Convergence is the idea that evolutionary processes tend to converge on certain forms because they are simply more efficient, more functional, a better over-all gestalt, or what have you. So evolutionists would argue that several types of features that are very similar in different species actually evolved independently. But its not coincidence that the features are so similar, its convergence. Its a natural and even inevitable way for that feature to evolve. So our Mormon evolution-believer could accept a very strong version of convergence where evolution will inevitably throw up humanoid intelligence, because that’s basically the only form in which intelligence can exist, for a variety of technical reasons that we don’t understand right now. The idea that the human form is in some sense the ideal or inevitable form would be very attractive to Mormonism, and not just as a way to make evolution ‘work.’ This strong version of convergence seems pretty unlikely to me in our current state of knowledge. But since we’re the only intelligent species we know, it can’t currently be ruled out.

    In the unlikely event that mankind ever discovers alien intelligence, Mormons will have a theological problem if the aliens aren’t manlike. Not an insoluble one, but the problem will exist for us in way it won’t for Catholics and other conventional Christians. On the other hand, if they are manlike, that won’t cause theological problems for Catholics and other conventional Christians, but it will be a big boost for Mormon christianity, because its an unlikely result that Mormonism would seem to predict.

    Your understanding of ‘official doctrine’ is confused, but that’s OK, since most Mormons explanation of it is also confused (they usually intuitively understand it better than they explain it). Think of Mormon doctrine as a spectrum. At one end you have doctrine that is found repeatedly and expressly in the scriptures, has been repeatedly and expressly preached by the prophets from Joseph Smith to the present, is a frequent subject of exhortation from the pulpit or in Sunday School classes and etc., is part of the mass of Mormons understanding of the gospel, and is an integral part of current lived Mormonism. Anything that meets all those criteria is clearly official doctrine by any standard. So, for example, there is no question that Jesus is the Christ, the savior of mankind, who died to save us from sin. Something that isn’t expressly stated in scripture, hasn’t been preached by any of the prophets, isn’t taught over the pulpit and etc., isn’t part of the sensus communis of the Mormon people, and isn’t an integral part of their lived experience, isn’t official doctrine by any standard. In between you have some grey area and have to exercise judgment. My own opinion is that what you call the traditional view (that God was once a man just like us, and his God was once a man just like us, and so on into infinity), isn’t quite official doctrine but is fairly close (I’m agnostic about the traditional view myself, which may influence my opinion, admittedly), while the doctrine that God the Father is embodied is officlal doctrine.

  5. That’s as straight an answer as I could ask for. That’s also the clearest explanation of “official doctrine” I’ve heard so far. Thanks for taking the time.

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