An Outline for a Possible SMPT Paper

There is a call for papers for the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology annual meetings that MattW announced here.  When I saw that the theme was “The Measure of Their Creation—Theological Anthropology”, and that one of the suggested topics was spirit birth, I got a bit excited.  Spirit birth was among my favorite blogging topics, and several of my posts on this topic can be read here.

I have never submitted a paper to anything like this before, and I readily admit that I am likely not up to the task of putting together a paper that will meet the appropriate standards.  But since this is a topic that interests me, and because I have been wanting to piece together the ideas and thoughts of all the posts and comments on this topic – I think I am going to make a go of it.

I thought I might spit out a possible outline for such a paper in this post, and solicit advice from any who care to give it.  I might organize such a paper thus:

Establish that literal spirit birth is a legitimate idea in Mormonism

– Key scriptures (Heb 12, Rom 8 etc.)
– Proclamation, TTTF
– BH Roberts, Truman Madsen, Brigham Young, John Widtsoe quotes

Discuss theological Implications

– Necessity of a tripartite model
– Relationship between God and Man
– Christ as Elder Brother
– Eternal families and Exaltation

Common Objections

– Sexual relations and viviparous birth for Heavenly parents
– Billions + of spirit offspring
– Resurrected being giving birth to spirit bodies
– Why did it take so long?
– Fixed/finite number of intelligences

Alternative View

– Spirit adoption
– Advantages/disadvantages



So, feel free to mock me, give me encouragement and advice, ignore me.  Whatever you want.

19 Responses to “An Outline for a Possible SMPT Paper”

  1. 1 J. Stapley September 24, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    I very much encourage you to pull a paper together. I would recomend carving out something more specific, i.e., just a section of your outline or perhaps just a look comparing the spirit birth views of BY and Orson Pratt and their potential ramifications. 3,500 words isn’t that much really.

  2. 2 Geoff J September 24, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    – Necessity of a tripartite model

    Not necessarily. Brigham Young and Orson Pratt believed in viviparous spirit birth but neither preached the tripartite model. OP went for an intelligent particles model and BY seemed to go for some kind of emergent mind model.

  3. 3 Eric Nielson September 24, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Thanks J! It may be a good learning experience for me if nothing else.

    Do you have some specific sorces to recommend? (I haven’t even read anything substantial by Pratt).

  4. 4 Eric Nielson September 24, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    Good point GeoffJ. You guys are doing well at pointing out my deficiencies.

    I think a strong point of an eternal something about us (intelligences/spirits/whatever) is important. I think it would be a mistake to suggest creatio ex nihilo one step back. So, adding some other versions of what we were pre-spirit birth is a good idea.

  5. 5 Eric Nielson September 24, 2009 at 10:54 pm


    I think I am just now understanding you comment. I have been thinking of a paper that would be very broad, but an inch deep. You seem to be suggesting something much less broad with more depth.

    That isn’t exactly ‘me’ but may be a very good idea.

  6. 6 Matt W. September 24, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    Eric: I’d love to see you put this through. I don’t know that I agree with J. I wouldn’t take the focus off of spirit birth to focus on one piece of historical detail between Young and Pratt, I would perhaps go with defining spirit birth and it’s alternatives, then set forth the unique theological problems that spirit birth would resolve and perhaps review some of the common objections there to. But I do think it would be good to point out what advantage if any spirit birth would have over other models of thought. (creation, adoption, formation, etc.)

  7. 7 SmallAxe September 24, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    I would form a clear thesis (although truth be told, sometimes this doesn’t emerge until you’re well into the process of writing, and presenting on the topic may only be one step in this process). What is it that you want to argue? As it stands it sounds like an overview of varying opinions. A good paper will consider all of this information, but present a solid thesis and only muster the information necessary to substantiate it.

  8. 8 Eric Nielson September 24, 2009 at 11:52 pm


    I am a bit torn about suggesting alternative theories. Ordinarily I probably wouldn’t, but I know there are alternatives and should probably at least present them. But J. is right about the 3,500 words.


    I take spirit birth quite literally, and at this point could only push that view with any sincerity. your advice is good.

  9. 9 Blake September 25, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Eric: I think that you need to deal with some more arguments. Deal with the arguments that JS didn’t teach literal spirit birth (or of a MinHeaven), it isn’t mentioned anywhere in scripture, it conflicts with what JS did teach about spirits being eternal and the notion of a resurrected being giving birth to spirits seems to be an ontological category mistake.

    I think that SMPT is more interested philosophical issues than historical arguments, but these are philosophical issues because the basis for such a belief seems to be tenuous and I can’t think of any good philosophical arguments to support it.

  10. 10 Clark September 25, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    How on earth is a resurrected being giving birth an ontological category mistake? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that argument.

    Like J. Stapley pointed out though I’d go for something rather narrow and try to draw out the philosophical points. I’d worry less about the exgesical argument at SMPT. (IMO)

    One I’d like to ask is what on earth the utility of sexual reproduction is for developing a spirit birth. That’s a question I’ve just never seen addressed adequately. Sexual birth in mortality obviously makes a ton of sense due to evolution, DNA and mixing up the genes for selection. What sense does it make for spirit birth since there isn’t anything like natural selection for eternal beings. (Maybe this was what Blake was getting at)

    While I think resurrected sexuality is an important strain in Mormon thought and quite defensible it’s unfortunate that the implications haven’t been thought through terribly well.

  11. 11 Jacob J September 25, 2009 at 7:39 pm


    Go for it! Given that it’s SMPT, I’d stay away from historical concerns and exegesis (definitely steer clear of Rom 8) and focus on the philosophical and theological issues. I brought up a few issues you didn’t mention above in this post, if you’re looking to remind yourself of other possible topics.

  12. 12 Jacob J September 25, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Darn you auto-emoticon generator. Darn you to heck.

  13. 13 C Jones September 25, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    I would like to see your thoughts all pulled together on this Eric. Literal spirit birth is something that I want to believe.

    In Elder Holland’s talk “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments” he says:

    . . .that sexual union is also, in its own profound way, a very real sacrament of the highest order, a union not only of a man and a woman but very much the union of that man and woman with God. Indeed, if our definition of sacrament is that act of claiming and sharing and exercising God’s own inestimable power, then I know of virtually no other divine privilege so routinely given to us all–women or men, ordained or unordained, Latter-day Saint or non-Latter-day Saint–than the miraculous and majestic power of transmitting life, the unspeakable, unfathomable, unbroken power of procreation.

    I know he is talking specifically about mortality, but I don’t see any reason why this “sacrament” couldn’t or shouldn’t extend into the next life. DNA and genetics may not play the same role they do in mortality as far as natural selection etc., but it would pass along something material that makes us literally God’s children. What’s not to like? 🙂

  14. 14 Blake September 26, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Clark: Yeah, what I mean by a category mistake is that the kinds of DNA that generate life here subject to natural selection and mutations and so forth don’t seem to be relevant to considerations of spirit birth — and how could one give birth to an uncreated spirit?

  15. 15 Jacob J September 26, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    and how could one give birth to an uncreated spirit?

    You could cloth that uncreated spirit with a spirit body. After all, how could a human woman give birth to a human baby with an uncreated spirit?

  16. 16 Eric Nielson September 27, 2009 at 8:44 pm


    I think this is the first time you have commented on anything here. Thanks.

    I think there are glimpses in the scriptures of spirit birth, and it all depends on how much of a literal spin you put on them. BH Roberts and Truman Madsen both seem to be in the spirit birth camp – so it cant just be ignorant people like me who buy the idea also.

    I am certain you know MUCH better than I do what SMPT is looking for, and I may lack the philosophical background to provide that.

  17. 17 Eric Nielson September 27, 2009 at 8:47 pm


    Thanks for the advice. You are bringing up issues that I don’t really know how to handle. You and Blake may talk me out of this yet. I may not have the chops for this.

  18. 18 Eric Nielson September 27, 2009 at 8:49 pm


    Thanks for the link and the encouragement.


    I agree with you C. Thank you so much.

  19. 19 Eric Nielson September 28, 2009 at 7:01 am

    Blake said he could not think of any good philosophical arguments to support literal spirit birth.

    It seems to me that a philosophical argument would be one that would bring about the greatest sense of love, happiness, motivation, etc. in the believer. What greater sense of love, happiness, and motivation could there be in a religious belief system than that of a literal parent/child relationship between God and man??

    Now I am not very sophisticated in philosophy, but this not only seems to provide a philosophical argument for supporting and defending such a belief, but the best possible philosophical argument.

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