Reviewing ‘Eternal Man’ Part 2 – Identity or Nothing

The second of a seven part series.  See 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Chapter two of ‘Eternal Man’ has to do with the our origins. Joseph Smith taught that man as a primal intelligence is eternal. The spirit-elements that compose man’s Divinely-sired spirit and the matter-elements that compose the body are also eternal. The destiny of these elements are to be inseparably connected throughout eternity.

 Some elements of these ideas are indeterminate, but Madsen provides four characterizations:

 Individuality – Man is never wholly identified with any other being, nor is he the product of nothing.
Autonomy – The self is free to act for itself.
Consciousness – There is no inanimate intelligence or unconscious mind.
Capacity – All minds and spirits are susceptible of enlargement.

Few of us realize how radical these ideas are. They are staggering. They challenge both established religious dogma and leading secular viewpoints. Madsen offers these implications:

The quantity of souls is fixed and infinite.
There is no beginning to us.
Mind has no birthday.
No one is older or younger than anyone else.
We have always been separate from, and coexistent with other intelligences.
Creation is never totally original.
Immortality is not conditional – it is inevitable and universal.
Death does not destroy the self.
Suicide is just a change of scenery.
No self can change completely into another thing.
No one will ever lose their mind or consciousness.
Nothing is something we never were and never will be.

Contrasting Views

 Orthodox Christendom

 In traditional Christianity man is derived from nothing and is completely contingent on creation ex nihilo by the fiat act of God. Everything except God is derived from total non-being. Hence, God is directly responsible for all that man is and does. Calvin faced this inevitable consequence squarely. He denied all freedom, asserting that all acts were the acts of God. Others have held that God created man (from nothing) for His own purposes, yet man is still (somehow) responsible for his salvation.

 Madsen summarizes that within orthodox Christianity:

Creation is the absolute and mysterious act of God
Free will is denied or foreshortened
Consciousness and enlargement opportunities are focused on mortality


 In existentialism, man is derived from nothing, is now almost nothing, and is destined to be nothing. Creation is a mystery of self-creation, freedom is absolute and within the limits of ‘being’. Consciousness is agony and enlargement is meaningless. In the ‘big picture’ life can be nothing but pessimistic. It is religion of much nothing and nothing much.


 In humanism man comes from something, and returns to something. This something is nothing more than dust which is almost nothing. Man is to the cosmos what a train whistle is to a train. The origins of man are explained by a blend of Darwin and microbiology. Mind is an accident and will soon return to matter. Creation is a shifting of molecules. Freedom is a term for our ignorance in the causes that determine us.


 If Mormonism is true, than the positions on the origins of man provided by orthodox Christianity, existentialists, and humanists are all false. The question is not ‘to be or not to be?’, because no one can choose to be or not to be. Everyone simply and eternally is – an individual, free, conscious, and enlargeable. ‘Nothing’ is not the source of, a threat to, or the destiny of man.

 The real question is ‘to become more or not to become more?’. This view presents the best and inescapable need for God and a Savior. Since what we become is largely the product of our own choices, and not the absolute creation of God, the need for a Savior is more clear.

 I agree with Madsen so far on all of this. I am not sure about the number of souls being both fixed and infinite, but I suppose that is one of the indeterminate aspects of this line of thought. But I really like the part about how this view supports a belief in free will/free agency, and presents the absolute need for a savior so clearly.


15 Responses to “Reviewing ‘Eternal Man’ Part 2 – Identity or Nothing”

  1. 1 Matt W. May 4, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    I heart Truman Madsen. Thanks for these.

  2. 2 Eric Nielson May 5, 2009 at 8:35 am

    The more I read him, the more I like him. Seems like everyone is in total agreement with him also….

    You’re welcome.

  3. 3 Matt W. May 5, 2009 at 8:50 am

    I do pause at the “fixed and infinite” idea. I’ll have to go crack open my copy of eternal man and see if there is anything more there on this. As it is, I just don’t know what he’s talking about.

  4. 4 Eric Nielson May 5, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Well, if we can not be created ultimately, then this leads to the number of intelligences being fixed. I think numbering them as fixed yet infinite is a way of dismissing the problems associated with a fixed number of spirits/intelligences.

    BH Roberts caught the same problem in ‘Immortality of Man’ and is stated as problem number 3 in that article. I believe he lumped this difficulty in with other problems that are not currently known because of a lack of knowledge and revelation.

  5. 5 Matt W. May 13, 2009 at 12:32 am

    your retention is much better than mine Eric. So the number is “fixed” at infinity. That is interesting.

  6. 6 Geoff J June 7, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    In this chapter Madsen buys wholeheartedly into the BH Roberts tripartite model simply asserts it is true without defending that assertion. I suppose this little book was not intended to be a robust defense of assumptions but a little effort might have been nice.

    I personally prefer the fixed and finite version of spirits/intelligences. I’ll post in that sometime.

    Madsen doesn’t mention the logistical problem associated with accepting the tripartite model and infinite intelligences. Namely that if we accept both of those then we must accept that there are an infinite number of pre-spirit intelligences that will have to wait an infinite amount of time before even getting the chance to get a spirit body. And of course for all eternity there will be an infinite number of intelligences just… waiting. This model portrays God as inefficient at best and perhaps even inept. That doesn’t work for me.

  7. 7 Eric Nielson June 7, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    So what do you propose in its place? Waiting for spirit birth would be the same as waiting for mortal birth right? As near as I can tell the only differnce is infinite intelligences verse finite intelligences right?

    I agree with the finite part, but I do not see the difference between waiting for spirit birth or waiting for mortal birth.

  8. 8 Geoff J June 7, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    I’ll have to post on an alternative. It is pretty radical but interesting.

  9. 9 Eric Nielson June 8, 2009 at 7:07 am

    Now that I think about it, if anyone believes that even God has an eternal past, then one could wonder about any salvation event, and why it took so long. I think that question would remain in any scenario with a God who has an eternal past.

  10. 10 WVS June 16, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Depends on whether there are countably many intelligences or uncountably many. If the number of intelligences is countably infinite, then every intelligence has already achieved embodiment or will at some finite time in the future. Assuming they want to of course.

  11. 11 Eric Nielson June 16, 2009 at 1:56 pm


    Thanks for your comment. It is an interesting issue for sure.

  12. 12 Ellen F January 31, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    Are not the heavens, and therefore the intelligences, numbered to God but not to us? Just because we cannot yet fathom it doesn’t mean it is impossible.

    Moses 1:37 And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The aheavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.
    38 And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no aend to my works, neither to my words.

  13. 13 Eric Nielson February 1, 2010 at 7:55 am


    This is a good point. Few of us are any good at the mathematics and logic of infinite numbers. I am not.

  1. 1 Reviewing ‘Eternal Man’ – Part 1 « Small and Simple Trackback on August 6, 2009 at 10:20 pm
  2. 2 Reviewing ‘Eternal Man’ Part 7 – Revelation and Self-Revelation « Small and Simple Trackback on August 11, 2009 at 8:48 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 363 other followers

The Author



  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

Blog Stats

  • 196,762 hits

%d bloggers like this: