Bruce Charlton writes that “The solid is better than the spiritual”. I don’t think he means it absolutely, but is explaining that within the Mormon metaphysical system as he understands it, the solider the better. God has a body, and the devil and his minions don’t — presumably as a punishment. “Spiritual progress,” he writes, “entails getting a body; incarnation is better than pre-mortal spirit life; body is better than no body – evolution is from spirit-being to solidity.” Things just naturally move that way, he says. To go from less material to more material is to go from worse to better.
(I would point out that this is apparently Bruce’s speculation on the implications of Mormon metaphysics, as he sees it, based on his understanding of Mormon doctrine. As far as I know, there is no “official” Mormon metaphysics, therefore critiquing Bruce’s understanding of Mormon metaphysics is not intended as a critique of the Mormon religion per se.)
I grant that the solid seems better than the spiritual, for material beings who can only experience reality through their senses. To such beings, a being which can’t be sensed seems “less” than one that can: It weighs less, has less extension in terms of height, width and depth, can’t make noises by which to be heard. Indeed from the perspective of the physical, he’s nothing.
What is “solid”?
But what is the physical, ultimately? Is it as solid as it appears? We are told that “[i]f we could magnify the simplest hydrogen atom so that its nucleus (a proton) were the size of a basketball, then its lone electron would be found about 2 miles away. All of the space in between the electron and the basketball-size nucleus is empty!” [Source.]
The following is from a commenter who doesn’t like what some people infer from the fact of an atom being mostly empty space:
“The worst thing about this horrible application of popular science is the word ‘mostly’. Atoms are mostly empty space we are told- so what is the solid particle, the billiard ball, that exists within the atom? Is the neutron or electron or proton not defined by sub-sub-atomic forces and particles that render them mostly empty as well? Unless there is a basic impenetrable solid element of finite size we should instead say that atoms and everything else that atoms are completely empty, but that is so obviously wrong no one would be willing to sound like an idiot to say it.” [Source.]
In other words, if even sub-subatomic particles are themselves mostly empty, then there is nothing “solid” about atoms, or the matter which they compose (an idea which this person evidently finds disturbing).
To a being who is himself composed of matter, material things seem very solid and substantial by virtue of their matter. But how would a material thing appear to one who is pure spirit? Not limited by size, presumably he could see things down to the sub-subatomic level, and see that they were almost entirely — or indeed entirely — empty space. Then again, “see” is not really applicable to a being of pure spirit. He would simply understand that the being was mostly empty space. He would not be impressed by the “solidity” of the material thing as perceived by other material beings. I would say that he could pass right through it and therefore it would not appear solid to him — except that being pure spirit, he would not move from place to place, “place” and “movement” being spatio-temporal terms inapplicable to himself. He could understand how the material being is perceived by other material beings, but he would also know that the perceived solidity was something of an illusion, the perception being dependent on their being composed of matter themselves, and sensing other material beings through their material senses.
In other words, Bruce’s contention that “solid is better than spiritual” seems to depend on his assumption that materiality is the default perspective; basically, that God himself is material and therefore his perspective trumps any other. Further, that there is no purely spiritual perspective, there being no purely spiritual beings to enjoy such a perspective. Which is basically the assumption of materialism.
What is matter?
I have posted before about my speculation on what matter really is. I understand that on some level, matter and energy are the same thing. Further, matter and energy themselves are not “solid” things. Energy is not made up of particles.
I find energy defined as “the ability to do work”. But the ability of what? I have the ability to do work, and therefore possess energy. But it’s not really my energy, since the amount of energy in existence is constant, neither increasing nor lessening but only changing into different forms. It existed before I did, and will persist after I’m gone. Therefore energy is not someone’s or some thing’s “ability to do work”, but is “ability to do work” generally. The universe is full of matter and energy, that is, matter and “ability to do work”. Ability” being defined as “power or capacity”, the universe is full of power, and matter in turn is made of power. The universe, in fact, is made of power, ultimately — not of solid particles, but of empty space filled with power — albeit power which is arranged and which acts in ordered and predictable ways.
God as Christians have traditionally conceived him, is immaterial, yet all-powerful.
For an immaterial being to be the source and explanation of material things seems counter-intuitive. But isn’t that because we conceive of “immaterial” as “nothing”, due to our being utterly dependent on matter to be able to perceive and imagine things?
The alternative is that the power that fills the universe has a material cause and explanation. But this is clearly circular. If material things themselves are composed of power, how can they be the cause and explanation of that power? Therefore the cause and explanation of matter must itself be immaterial.
Thus I contend, contra Bruce, that the spiritual is “better” than the solid.
 “Better” in the sense of “higher, more powerful, and less limited”.
There was a discussion in the comments to Bruce’s post, in which I disputed Bruce’s contention that holding the spiritual to be higher entails a longing on the part of “traditional [non-Mormon] Christians” to be immaterial or disembodied, or a belief that we would be better off if we were.
I concede that I am inferior to God, and to the angels in terms of intellectual ability, as a result of being limited to perceiving and understanding the world through my senses. But I have no desire to be other than God made me. I’m not a Lucifer, refusing to accept an inferior status. My longing is to live in a resurrected body no longer subject to illness and fatigue, and freed from concupiscence, to adore God singleheartedly with my whole being. To use my capacities to the full, without hindrance, would be fulfillment enough. I have no wish to be more nor less than human, but only human to the full.