All Spirit is Matter—Could It be “Dark Matter?”: Post #6 April 26, 2015

In my last post, I discussed the principle of the conservation of matter, that matter cannot be created or destroyed. This principle was clearly stated by the Prophet Joseph Smith long before science stated it explicitly.

It is obvious that our physical bodies are matter.  However, it is a unique (as far as I know) teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that our spirits are also physical, they have matter—they are composed of real substance.  Or as a techie guy like me (i.e., a person who has studied too much chemistry and physics) would say, spirits have mass. Our spirits are physical and real in a strictly scientific and literal sense.  Again…a spirit is something real—it is not an “idea” or a concept or a theory.  Presumably we could weigh spirits if our instruments were sensitive enough and we could get enough of spirits to sit still on a scale for us.  🙂

By the way, in Dan Brown’s recent novel The Lost Symbol, he has his heroine, a scientist named Dr. Katherine Solomon, measure the mass (“weight”) of the spirit of a dying man as he dies—in order to prove the existence of the soul.  (A confession: I read all kinds of books—strictly for their intellectual content, you understand.  :))

I had the idea for Dr. Solomon’s experiment a long time ago, but never carried it out.  My proposed experiment was more humane and useful, I think, and perhaps even more informative. I was going to measure the weight a few hundred thousand cockroaches as I gassed them, thereby ending their little buggy lives and liberating their buggy spirits from their buggy bodies.  “Mormonism” teaches that all creatures have spirits, so I should be able to detect the mass of a cockroach’s spirit, if my scale was sensitive enough.  That experiment would provide evidence that all life, even the “lowest” forms have spirits, and the cockroaches would have gone to a better world.  So, everyone wins, including the cockroaches.  🙂

OK, so much for that digression into Dan Brown’s novels—which I enjoy even if he lets his imagination run wild. I have no problem with imaginations running wild. My own imagination runs wilder than about anyone else’s that I know of.  🙂

In the Protestant church in which I was raised, I could never get a satisfactory answer about the nature of our spirits from my well-meaning Sunday School teachers (we called spirits “souls” in that church). Bless the patient hearts of those teachers, I am afraid I pestered them with a lot of questions to which they simply didn’t have the answers.  I think they dreaded seeing me show up on Sunday morning.  That sober, skinny Dale kid with a big nose, crooked teeth, glasses… and a ton of inconvenient questions.

But when I became a Mormon, I found many of the answers I was looking for…buckets of answers.

Here is one of the crucial answers for me.  We are two part beings. We have a spirit and that spirit is real and physical. We also have bodies, and they are obviously real and physical.  If both the spirit and body were not both “real”, that is, physical, they could not interact. Two things that do not have something in common can never interact.  Death separates the spirit from the body, but the resurrection joins them back together, never again to be separated. The spirit of the person is the real person, the authentic person, with all of his or her own experiences, knowledge and abilities.

I am going to come back the pre-existent nature of our spirits in another post, and revisit some other reasons why the fact that we are all eternal beings is so important to me, but I want to focus on one interesting question about the nature of spirits in this post.

Here is the question: if spirits are real, why can’t we see them?  Once again, the Prophet Joseph Smith gives a clear, unambiguous response “All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure and can only be discerned by purer eyes.  We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.” (Doctrine and Covenants 131: 7-8).

So, is there any evidence that there is matter that we cannot see with our eyes (or instruments?).

Yes. Absolutely yes!  In fact, over 90% of the mass of the universe is composed of matter-energy that cannot be seen nor detected by our instruments.  It does not emit electromagnetic radiation on any wavelength that we have yet monitored. (Remember that matter and energy are equivalent, according to Dr. Al….Einstein, that is).  Scientists call this invisible stuff “dark matter” (not to be confused with antimatter).

This Wiki link is a good discussion of the evidence for dark matter. You can Google “dark matter” for more information.

There is lots and lots of evidence for dark matter. Dark matter is not a wild speculation of a couple of lunatic fringe physicists.

By the way, some of the most powerful evidence for dark matter is based on galaxy rotation curves. That evidence was collected by a great scientist, Dr. Vera Rubin.  Rubin’s work was neglected for decades because she was a woman. Princeton University wouldn’t even send her a catalog for graduate study, because she was a woman. I think she deserves the Nobel Prize for this and her other work.  But the Prize is handed out by a committee…mostly of old white men.

So if you think scientists are god-like creatures without prejudices, think again. If you think that scientists immediately change their views based only on the evidence presented to them, think again. It isn’t always so.  The great scientist Max Planck once quipped that science advances one funeral at time. By this he meant that scientific progress does not occur by winning over people to new ideas, but only when the defenders of the status quo die off and are replaced by younger people who have already been exposed to the new ideas.  Planck is exaggerating…but not by much.

Back to the subject: the fact that we can’t see or detect most of the mass of the universe ought to make us a bit more humble about what we know and what we don’t know.  The correct attitude for any scientist (or anyone taking science seriously) is humility.  We have no cause for arrogance when we cannot see most of the matter that actually is.

Good call, Joseph!  There is a lot of matter out there in the universe that we simply cannot see, just as you stated, although we can detect the presence of dark matter from other evidence.  Oh, you clever kid.  You, clever, clever kid.

I likewise believe in a God that I cannot see today, but whom I hope to see someday when I am purer.  In the meantime, I have faith that He is there.

As the Apostle Paul teaches us, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…just like dark matter.

The Elements are Eternal: Post #5 April 5, 2015

The Scriptures are not books of science. Science can sometimes tell us “how” but it can never answer the question “why”.  In the Scriptures we find answers to the great “whys” of our existence, wonderful answers about our pre-mortal, mortal and post-mortal lives. These constitute the three act play of our eternal existence.

Nonetheless, some great scientific truths are revealed and/or confirmed in the Scriptures, often almost casually. This blog post is about one such truth: matter is eternal.  In a revelation given to Joseph Smith and recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 93 verse 33 we find the remarkable truth “the elements are eternal”, given almost casually as part of a much larger revelation dealing with the eternal nature of humankind, intelligence, light, spirit and truth.  More about those related issues in a later post.

In God’s dealings with us, He uses language that we can understand, appropriate for our own time, culture and idiom.  He does not deliberately speak over our heads (although we often refuse to use our heads to try to understand what He is saying). So these four words mean exactly what they say, in the language of that time. The revelation in Section 93 was given May 6, 1833.  What did the words “elements” and “eternal” mean in American English in 1833?

I believe God inspired Noah Webster to compile his famous dictionary of American English in 1828 so that there could be no doubt about what God’s revelations meant at that particular time in history. The first English edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1830 and the vast majority of the revelations given to us by God for our day and time were revealed in American English within a decade or two of Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.  His dictionary is available on-line.  I will be using it from time to time in these blogs as well as the Oxford English dictionary.

From this on-line dictionary, here is what “element” and “eternal” meant in 1833 in American English:


EL’EMENT, noun [Latin elementus.]

  1. The first or constituent principle or minutest part or any thing; as the elements of earth, water, salt, or wood; the elements of the world; the elements of animal or vegetable bodies. So letters are called the elements of language.
  2. An ingredient; a constituent part of any composition.
  3. In a chimical sense, an atom; the minutest particle of a substance; that which cannot be divided by chimical analysis, and therefore considered as a simple substance, as oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, etc.

An element is strictly the last result of chimical analysis; that which cannot be decomposed by any means now employed.

An atom is the last result of mechanical division; that which cannot be any farther divided, without decomposition; hence there may be both elementary and compound atoms.

  1. In the plural, the first rules or principles of an art or science; rudiments; as the elements of geometry; the elements of music; the elements of painting; the elements of a theory.
  2. In popular language, fire, air, earth and water, are called the four elements, as formerly it was supposed that these are simple bodies, of which the world is composed. Later discoveries prove air, earth and water to be compound bodies, and fire to be only the extrication of light and heat during combustion.
  3. element in the singular, is sometimes used for the air.
  4. The substance which forms the natural or most suitable habitation of an animal. Water is the proper element of fishes; air, of man. Hence,
  5. The proper state or sphere of any thing; the state of things suited to one’s temper or habits. Faction is the element of a demagogue.
  6. The matter or substances which compose the world.

The elements shall melt with fervent heat. 2 Peter 3:10.

  1. The outline or sketch; as the elements of a plan.
  2. Moving cause or principle; that which excites action.


And here is what “eternal” meant:

ETER’NAL, adjective [Latin oeternus, composed of oevum and ternus, oeviternus, Varro. The origin of the last component part of the word is not obvious. It occurs in diuturnus, and seems to denote continuance.]

  1. Without beginning or end of existence.

The eternal God is thy refuge. Deuteronomy 33:27.

  1. Without beginning of existence.

To know whether there is any real being, whose duration has been eternal

  1. Without end of existence or duration; everlasting; endless; immortal.

That they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 2 Timothy 2:10.

What shall I do, that I may have eternal life? Matthew 19:16.

Suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Jude 1:7.

  1. Perpetual; ceaseless; continued without intermission.

And fires eternal in thy temple shine.

  1. Unchangeable; existing at all times without change; as eternal truth.

ETER’NAL, noun An appellation of God.


I have highlighted in bold text above those definitions that seem to be the most appropriate for the context of the revelation in Section 93.  You are free to make other connections as you wish and as God gives you insight—this is all part of using our minds to glorify God.

Today we usually think of “elements” (if we think about the word at all) only in terms of the chemical elements of the periodic table, but the definition of “elements” was broader back in 1833.   The periodic table had not yet been fully developed. So in 1833 when Section 93 was received, a very plain and straightforward interpretation of that short phrase in verse 33, “the elements are eternal” would be “the matter or substances which compose the world are without beginning or end of existence”.

As far as scientists can determine from spectral emission telescopes, the matter or substances which compose our world are the same throughout the visible universe.   Throughout that universe, as far as I know, we do not see new matter spontaneously appearing anywhere nor do we see old matter spontaneously disappearing…with one exception. We do indirectly observe matter being converted into energy during nuclear fusion reactions in stars like our own sun (93 million miles is a good distance from which to observe nuclear fusion :)).  Einstein’s famous equation describing the equivalence of matter and energy (E = mC2) was first outlined in 1905, but that equation does not say that matter is destroyed, only that matter is transformed into energy, so that we are able speak of “matter-energy” as the same thing—which they appear to be.

We do observe disorganized matter becoming organized as planetismals and eventually planets form around large primary stars like our sun, and we do observe supernovas in which organized matter is disorganized by incredibly violent explosions and flung out into space, where, in time, that unorganized matter may be formed into yet more planetismals, planets and suns.  This is all consistent with the Mormon idea of “creation”, which consists of imposing form or order on unorganized matter.  More about “creation” in another post.

The current bedrock scientific principle that matter cannot be created nor destroyed was not clearly articulated in 1833, when God revealed it to Joseph Smith, almost in passing. I have been unable to find a clear expression of when the conservation of matter principle was actually formulated, although Antoine Lavoisier laid a good experimental basis for it in his famous 1789 Elementary Treatise on Chemistry, the first book on modern chemistry.

Lavoisier’s treatise was translated into English in 1790.  He used very careful measurements of the mass (“weight”) of reacting chemical species to show that different chemical elements are combined in chemical reactions without losing their identity.  But Lavoisier does not say that the elements cannot be destroyed, only that in the chemical reactions he observed, mass was conserved.  And Lavoisier incorrectly identified several substances (including “light” and “caloric”) as elements.  So it would have been very difficult for Joseph Smith to have generalized Lavoisier’s experiments into a general statement of the conservation of matter, even if you think that Joseph had time to study and understand chemical textbooks.

Did Joseph get this idea from the religions of his day, if not from science?  No, he did not.  The largest Christian denomination, then and now, has as its official doctrine creatio ex nihilo or “creation out of nothing”.

The Protestant denominations, then and now, generally appear to also believe in creation from nothing, following the logic of some but not all Greek philosophers. See, for example:

Interestingly, creation out of nothing is also apparently the belief of Islam but not of Eastern religions.

This concept of the eternal nature of matter is deeply interesting to me, and deeply comforting also. Why comforting? Because Mormonism is unique, as far as I know, in claiming that human beings are coeternal with God himself, and that the personal spirit that inhabits our bodies is also material, it has real substance, and it cannot be created nor destroyed.  I am uniquely my own person.  I am eternal and so are you and so is every human being that ever lived.

I will return to this idea of “Eternal Man” in another post, perhaps my next one, but for now I just want to point out that Joseph Smith correctly stated the great scientific principle of the conservation of matter almost as an afterthought. He was truly a prophet of God.