Monday, September 5, 2011

Nibley on the Infinite Atonement, the Existence of Life, Temples, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

This post has maintained a steady stream of visitors on our old family blog and I'd rather move them to this more public one, so I'm moving the post to here. The text consists of excerpts from Nibley's article and, except for my [insertions] are only his words.

Hugh Nibley, "The Meaning of the Temple," Temple and Cosmos, Ch. 1:

One basic proposition receives particular attention ... the well-known second law of thermodynamics: everything runs down. ... Let us quote [Lyall] Watson, the biologist:

Left to itself, everything tends to become more and more disorderly, until the final and natural state of things is completely random distribution of matter. Any kind of order ... is unnatural and happens only by chance encounters. ... The further combination of molecules into anything as highly organized as a living organism is wildly improbable. Life is a rare and unreasonable thing ... infinitesimal.
There is no chance of us being here at all. ... The nuclear physicist P. T. Matthews asks:
Why is the proton stable... [with a lifespan of 50 minutes vs. 10 to the -8 seconds]? There is no obvious reason why it should not disintegrate into, say, a positive pion and neutrino... . By relentless operation of the Second Law, essentially every proton would by now have decayed into lighter particles. Clearly the opposite is the case, and there must be some very exact law which is preventing this from happening. ... A human being is at very best ... quite unimaginabl[y] improbabl[e].
So the physical scientists and the naturalists agree that if nature has anything to say about it, we wouldn't be here. This is the paradox which Professor Wald of Harvard says, "The spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. ..." [Matthews continues]
If, after seeing a room in chaos, it is subsequently found in good order, the sensible inference is not that time is running backwards, but that some intelligent person has been in to tidy up. If you find the letters of the alphabet ordered on a piece of paper to form a beautiful sonnet, you do not deduce that teams of monkeys have been kept for millions of years strumming on typewriters, but rather that Shakespeare has passed this way.
It was the evolutionist who seriously put forth the claim that an ape strumming on a typewriter for a long enough time could produce, by mere chance, all the books in the British Museum, but did any religionist ever express such boundless faith? I don't know any religious person who ever had greater faith than that. ...

We are beginning to realize ... that when we speak of everything, we must consider what we are not aware of, along with what we are aware of ... The Egyptian word for everything is ntt fwtt: everything I know and everything I don't. [He cites physicists, linguistics, computer scientists, and others discussing problems that are impossible for them to solve.]

Two things stand out in all this. First is the awareness of an organizing, ordering force in the universe that is very active and runs counter to all we know of the laws of science. The second is the awareness of great gaps in our knowledge that may account for our failure to discover the source of that force. This takes us directly to the subject of the temple - though you would never have guessed this from what I have said so far.
The idea of creation out of nothing was totally unkown to the Christian or the Jewish Doctors before the fourth century A.D. It had no place in their doctrines. It was always taught, as the Jews teach yet, that the world was organized out of matter that was already there. This Mormon teaching was greatly offensive to the standard Christian doctrine... . We Latter-day Saints don't quarrel with the first law of conservation of energy.

Surprisingly, we also accept the second law. In the course of nature, that law takes its relentless course. Jacob says, "This corruption [could not] put on incorruption" (2 Nephi 9:7; Mosiah 16:10). That is the second law of nature, but according to Jacob, it is the first to which nature is subjected... . It risese no more, curmbles, rot, and remains that way endlessly... .

This would spell an end to everything, were it not that another force works against it. "Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement" (2 Nephi 9:7). ... It can't be limited, it can't be provisional, it can't be a mere expediency; it is an infinite principle, just as much as the other principles is . ... We could not save ourselves from entropy. Someone else must be there to do it. Notice what the atonement means: reversal of the degradative process, a reutrning to its former state, being integrated or united again - "at one." ... "Atonement" brings particles back together again. Bringing anything back to its original state is at-one-ment. ...

As Lyall Watson says, "The normal state of matter is chaos." It always is and it always was. The normal state of matter is to be unorganized. There is unorganized matter; let us go down and organize it into a world. That mysterious somebody is at work, bringing order from chaos. It would be easy to say we were making up a story, if we didn't have a world to prove it.

[Nibley then goes on to describe the temple concept to the Egyptians; its place in maintaining order against chaos; the temple as "the great teaching institution of the human race"; describing our place and the world's in the cosmos; temple symbolism pointing our minds to what is important ...]

In the temple we are taught by symbols and examples, but that is not the fullness of the gospel. One very popular argument today says, "Look, you say the Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the gospel, but it doesn't contain any of the temple ordinances in it, does it?" Ordinances are not the fullness of the gospel. Going to the temple is like entering into a laboratory to confirm what you have already learned in the classroom and from the text. The fullness of the gospel is the understanding of what the plan is all about - the knowledge necessary to salvation. You know the whys and wherefores; for the fullness of the gospel you go to Nephi, to Alma, to Moroni. Then you will enter the lab, but not in total ignorance. The ordinances are mere forms. They do not exalt us; they merely prepare us to be ready in case we ever become eligible.

[He concludes by discussing the temple as the binding link (terrestrial) between heaven (celestial) and earth (telestial, with telos meaning initiation); Christ teaching the temple ordinances - the mysteries - to the apostles during the 40 days between resurrection and ascencion; the importance of the temple to ancient and modern societies; its centrality for Jewish identity; the meaning behind different temple architectures; two ancient Abrahamic texts about the temple; and testimony that God gives us what we ask for, to our blessing and curse.]

Is this stuff relevant to the modern world? My answer is no. It is relevant to the eternities. The modern world is as unstable as a decaying isotope, but the temple has always been the same.