Monday, November 22, 2010

An explanation of the problem with "The Kolob Theorem"

[Update 2/13/11: I have significantly rewritten my critique of The Kolob Theorem. My first review of the book was perhaps a little too harsh and short on details. Hopefully my second post will be better at informing anyone who reads this of the fundamental problems with The Kolob Theorem.]

[Update 9/10/12: I answer some general questions about this review and also common comments that I have read about The Kolob Theorem in a new post "Revisiting the Kolob Theorem".]

[Update 9/10/13: Because people have asked I made a post that deals with specific scientific problems. I only managed to get through the first 9 pages before I gave up. There were way to many problems. Read that post by following this link.]

Previously I had written a post entitled The Problem with "The Kolob Theorem", and in revisiting the topic I thought that I should expound on why I think The Kolob Theorem to be problematic. This post is intended to replace my previous review of The Kolob Theorem, but I will leave the other post up for anyone who cares to read it, but I will say that I wrote it in one of my less charitable moments. This post will hopefully be a little less harsh, but more instructive of why The Kolob Theorem presents a problem in LDS theology. For reference, I have recently been reading the book Science, Religion, and Mormon Cosmology by Erich Robert Paul, which has prompted me to recast my critique of The Kolob Theorem in a different light.

The first time I encountered The Kolob Theorem I was at my wife's grandparents house. Someone had loaned my wife's grandmother the book and I saw it sitting on a table and was intrigued by the title and wanted to know what it was about. I only took a quick glance through the book but it was enough to make my skin crawl. There were in fact two reasons for my seemingly severe negative reaction to the book. The first was that there were critical scientific errors in the book that effectively invalidated the whole argument, and the second was that I realized that most people would be unaware of these critical errors and thereby base their understanding of scripture on a foundation of incorrect science.

What made this second reason so problematic was that as an astronomer I would most likely be asked about it (and I was) and I would have to very carefully and politely explain that while the science was extremely off base the religious aspect of the book was not. In other words, I realized that whenever I would be asked about this book I would be faced with the dilemma of having to state quite clearly that the book was wrong, and do so without destroying someone's faith in the scriptures or causing the person to also reject all of science in the process. Essentially the dilemma is that on the one hand I want to emphasize the problems and misconceptions that went into the theorem, without causing people to react and go to the other extreme of rejecting everything that went into the theorem including both the science in general and the specifics of the revelations. This dilemma is much more difficult to deal with than people realize, and it also comes up more frequently than most people are aware of. Perhaps I am just a little more sensitive to this problem due to my being an astronomer, and therefore I become the local "go-to guy" to resolve these issues and thus I have to deal with things like this on a semi-frequent basis.

The Kolob Theorem is part of group of theological writings that are called natural theology. Strictly speaking, natural theology denotes a fundamental approach to theology as opposed to a specific theology. Thus natural theology is not confined to any one religion or church. The main trust of natural theology is to verify one's religion using arguments from the prevailing scientific theories and observations of the day. It is in effect an attempt to argue that one's religion is true based on the latest and greatest theories in science. This is problematic because if the latest and greatest theories are shown to be wrong then that automatically calls into question the theology and religion of the natural theologian.

Dr. Hilton's book is a prime example of the process, and problems, of natural theology. Starting with some basic astronomy, he moves on to make a theological argument about where God lives and where the three degrees of glory are located. As Erich Robert Paul pointed out in his book on Mormon cosmology, Joseph Smith never attempted to reconcile the knowledge of astronomy from the Book of Abraham, or the three degrees of glory with any contemporary astronomical observations. Thus Dr. Hilton is attempting what Joseph Smith never attempted. This may be very commendable and courageous, or more likely it may prove to be premature and problematic. To consider why this is problematic we need to consider other failed attempts at natural theology.

In the middle ages there was a type of world map called a T-O map that was common in the religious books at the time.
A reconstruction of a T-O map. Image from Wikipedia. Usually the map is represented with Asia (east) on top.
The purpose of the T-O map is to show the general layout of the world and how it reflects Christian theology. These maps were made to show how certain Christian doctrines are symbolically part of the world. The world is laid out in such a way that the cross of Christ is evident, with Jerusalem at the center (the cross being formed by the Mediterranean Sea, the Nile and the Don rivers). There was more symbolism in the O of the ocean surrounding the land (the complete, eternal circle of God, and water from the water and the blood). While the map may have been useful to teach certain religious doctrines, it is not very accurate when compared to an actual map of the world.
The T-O map superimposed on a modern map. Image from Wikipedia.
The way Dr. Hilton attempts to show the location and structure of the three degrees of glory only makes sense when using a very simplified map of the galaxy. Much in the same way that the T-O map of the world is only theologically useful when you assume a very simplified structure to the world. While the T-O map may be theologically instructive, it is rather useless as an actual map that may be used to get from point A to point B.

The end result is that the theological argument gets based on a very simplified, and very inaccurate, map of the world. The same happens with The Kolob Theorem. Dr. Hilton uses an excessively over simplified "map" of a galaxy to make a theological argument. The end effect of the theorem is to place the veracity of the revealed word, the scriptures, on a specific scientific theory or observation. To a natural theologian this is the desired result, but this has the unintended result of making revelation depend on something that may not be true, or that may change as our understanding changes. This is precisely the problem that plagues The Kolob Theorem.

For example, Dr. Hilton includes a quote from a famous astronomer, Fred Hoyle, to back up part of his theorem. The quote, found on page 25 of the book, comes from 1955 and at the time it expressed the current understanding of how stars formed in galaxies. But our understanding of astronomy has changed since then and parts of the view as expressed in Fred Hoyle's quote no longer reflects our understanding of star formation.

By basing part of his argument on a specific scientific theory, or insight, Dr. Hilton does himself a disservice because he places the interpretation and veracity of revealed scripture on something that can and will most likely change as we gain greater understanding of how the universe works. He is in effect setting himself up, and setting up his faith and by extension, the faith of others, to be disproven when the next largest telescope gets built and we find out more about the universe. That is, for me, a very problematic result to his theory. I would not want members of the Church to base their faith, testimony, or understanding of the scriptures on something that is already demonstratively false and will become more so as we gain new insights into the universe though our astronomical observations.

So in his attempt to make the latest and greatest astronomical observations into something "faith promoting", Dr. Hilton enters the realm of natural theology which "opens up a whole new can of worms" which may be more troublesome than Dr. Hilton realizes. Because the current astronomical observations are just that, current, they will grow old and become yesterday's observations and then last century's observations, and all the theories that they produced will have changed. This does not mean that we should reject all astronomical observations and untrue, unimportant or insignificant, but rather we should resist the temptation to base our faith on something that has proven throughout history to change. There should be a better foundation to our faith than the latest and greatest theories of science.

Also as a final note, I realize that many people are impressed with this book mostly because they have never considered the implications of what is written in the Book of Abraham and in the Doctrine and Covenants. Many of the positive comments posted on about the book are from people that say that the book "opened their eyes" or "made them think about their religion in a different way" and how it made "the plan of salvation more real". While I can't argue with their own personal feelings (and if the book did prompt them to investigate the scriptures more, then good I'm all for that), I do wish to temper their enthusiasm with the realization that to base our theology, faith and religion on something like The Kolob Theorem will ultimately result in a challenge to our faith and will not be "faith promoting" in the end. The truth of God is more amazing than anything that you will find in The Kolob Theorem.

[Want to read some more? Try the comments below and also my new post "Revisiting the Kolob Theorem".]


Hermes G. Ordozgoiti said...

Why don't you give some specific examples about the scientific mistakes? You could have explained perhaps about the structure of our galaxy. I'm agree with the infantile explanation of the glory degrees but considering each galaxy as a unit it really sounds true that each one as a mini universe could be governed by a god. Sorry for my english.

Joe Jerde said...

@ Hermes, you are arguing from assumption and from a lack of evidence. This is typical in Mormon doctrine, and common as well. Mormons will say that because the universe is so big that there must be other worlds like ours and gods that govern those worlds. Even though this is arguing from the negative and lack of evidence, it is needed to justify the Mormon doctrine that man will eventually become god and govern their own worlds, and that our god was once man before he created our world. There are MANY issues with this doctrine.

First, in Isaiah 43:10, God specifically tells us that there are no other gods...

"that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I [am] he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. "

The word for God used there is the Hebrew word "El" which denotes any type of god. If our God did have a God of his own at one time as the Mormons claim, then it contradicts what God says to us in Isaiah 43. This is the entire purpose of Monotheism and the Bible, that there is only one God, not many. The Mormon doctrine violates our first commandment from God and the creedal 'shema' of Israel.

Another point I would like to make is that the Mormons believe that God the Father's name is Elohim. This is false. While Elohim is applied to God in Genesis during the creation week, it is not his name. Elohim is a title which is also given to pagan gods, human judges, Moses, a city, ect. Joseph Smith didn't understand the Hebrew and commonly misrepresented it when he wrote his Mormon scriptures. Elohim can mean mighty, greatness, overwhelming power. And while Elohim is a plural word, given the plural ending ('im'), it is not used this way to God in Genesis. We know this because in the Hebrew, the title Elohim is defined by singular grammer. In the Hebrew we read, "Elohim bara - God created"(masc., singular). This is the case throughout the Genesis account. It would have fit Joseph Smith a bit more to study the Hebrew before he wrote the B.O.M.

Quantumleap42 said...

-Hermes, sorry I have not been able to respond to your comment. I do have my previous post that I have written on the subject. The general thrust of the my point is that the things that are wrong with The Kolob Theorem are so subtle that very few people would recognize what was wrong. There are also some things that while they represent the current general understanding of how galaxies work, these ideas will definitely change in the future. I have a rather unique point of view since my area of research happens to be galaxies, and I understand all of the assumptions and approximations that go into our current understanding of the universe.

After writing this post and getting some feed back, I have realized (me di cuenta) that it would be very difficult to explain even a small problem that the The Kolob Theorem has. The reason for this is because the only reason I could immediately find the problems with the The Kolob Theorem is because I had spent years learning astronomy and physics, and reading research papers that include things that are not in text books.

Perhaps I can offer one possible problem. From our current understanding (current as in, this is stuff that the latest text books may or may not have, since the research backing it up is so new) galaxies are mostly formed through mergers. This means that two smaller galaxies (or one larger one and several smaller ones) will merge and form the galaxies we have today. Our Milky Way is most likely a bared spiral galaxy, that has experienced at least one merger in the last few hundred million (or billion) years. The only problem is we are not entirely sure where the other galactic remnant is. We think it may be the Large (and Small) Magellanic Cloud. But again, we are not sure.

Quantumleap42 said...

@ Joe:

I Really don't see how Hermes was "arguing from the negative and lack of evidence". If I think about it I might see what you mean (i.e. because we have not actually seen other worlds we cannot assume that they exist and that God (or a God) rules over them. This is part of the plurality of worlds debate and there are several books written on the subject that I can recommend. But it is not a stretch to think that there are other worlds with people living on them given the size, extent and number of stars, galaxies and planets in the universe.)

From my perspective Hermes is raising an interesting point (albeit one that is not well defined in LDS doctrine, and one that is still debated), that when we become perfect (as in Matt 5:48 perfect) then we will be like God. And many Mormons interpret this mean that we will be able to act in much the same way that our Father in Heaven now acts as God. As to how much we act like God (i.e. creating worlds, being "The God" for a world) is debatable. As soon as I get there and find out how it works I'll let you know, but I'm not about to reject the promises of God simply because it doesn't jive with what other people think.

This is a doctrine and a discussion that I really wasn't looking into having. In my article I specifically mentioned that was not commenting on the doctrine associated with The Kolob Theorem mostly because there is little that I want to discuss about it in a forum such as this.

As for the rest of your comment, here is a link to an excellent resource that address that question.

The short answer is, we think that the philosophical (Greek) idea of "Oneness" is not biblical and was never intended by the original authors, but instead they understood the "oneness" of God to be unity rather than a metaphysical sameness of substance. We believe in a God that is perfectly unified, and that those who are made perfect can become one with God even as the Son is one with God.

Also, the phrase "Elohim" is never used in the Book of Mormon, or in any other LDS scriptures. We tend to use it to refer to God the Father, much in the same way you explain it. As for JS "writing" B.O.M. ... sigh. This issue has been written on extensively (EXTENSIVELY).

GOCO said...

The concept of a theorem is fundamentally deductive, in contrast to the notion of a scientific theory, which is empirical.[2] (However, both theorems and theories are investigations. See Heath 1897 Introduction, The terminology of Archimedes, p. clxxxii:"theorem (θεὼρνμα) from θεωρεἳν to investigate").

Hypothesizes, theory and theorem are what they are: progressives stabs at truth. And should be held as such.

Logic suggests that a more recent theory progresses toward greater truth, but this is not always the case.

The studies you reference but do not cite maybe closer to the truth but without evidence who is to say. Even empirical data is only as reliable as the interpretation thereof. That is why revealed truth is necessary. Without it, we are forever wondering in the desert and never entering into the promised land of eternal truth..."things as they really are, and of things as they really will be". Jacob 4:13

Therefore, in my opinion, theory and theorem can not detract from Real Truth (revealed truth) they can only attempt to be reconciled to it. Nevertheless, in the hierarchy of truth-seeking methodology opinion may not even occupy the lowest rung.

Magila said...

Author. I appreciated your commentary. It makes me want to read the book, and see what pieces of truth it may or may not contain. I think it's worthwhile to always read pet theories with a grain of salt. Science is ever evolving.

@Joe. I am not certain this post was the correct forum for your comment, though comments are always welcome. If you'd like, I have a rather well written, lengthy commentary on the Plurality of Diety that existed in biblical teachings, and culture, from Old Testament times through the early Church Fathers. I was not the author. Further, I would suggest that you are referencing "cultural doctrine" and not "canonical doctrine." Dr. Terryl Givens has commented that what appears so disconcerting about Mormon Doctrine is not its zaniness, which is no more zany than the doctrine of other faiths, but the certainty with which Mormons process their beliefs - in particular those that are linked to the afterlife. (Please excuse my paraphrasing)

Quantumleap42 said...

GOCO and Magila thanks for your comments. For any future readers of this post and those who read this far into the comments, I would like to emphasize a few things. I am not saying that you should not read the book. If you want to read it go ahead, its just that it should be taken with a grain of salt. This book does not represent official (or even unofficial) doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you want to read this book then you may but as a reminder to both members of the Church and those who are not Mormons, this book does not reflect doctrine.

The second thing I want to make clear is that my critique of the book does in no way touch on the validity of Church doctrines. My comments were solely confined to the astronomy. I did this because I am both qualified and competent to make this judgement (if this were a legal trial then I would be what is called an expert witness. This does not mean that I am the most competent or knowledgeable person that can speak on this subject it is just that my qualifications and knowledge are sufficient that if anyone more qualified than me reviewed the book then they would most likely come to the same conclusion. Anyway enough with the legal mumbo jumbo). My point is that I deliberately did not address doctrinal questions in my post, so it should not be taken as a commentary on the LDS doctrines mentioned in the book. My only purpose was to point out that Dr. Hilton was trying to establish an untrue correlation between LDS doctrine and an outdated or incorrect understanding of astronomy. The only fault I could find and the only one that I will point out is the problem with the astronomy.

This means that I am in no way intending my review to question any LDS doctrines. This also means that if there are specific criticisms of LDS doctrines, then this book cannot be used since it does not represent LDS doctrine. It is only the opinion of Dr. Hilton (who I hope to meet someday).

Ross said...

I just stumbled across this post, and while my knowledge is much more limited than most who seem to frequent, I found this beautiful:

The truth of God is more amazing than anything that you will find in The Kolob Theorem.

Quantumleap42 said...

Thanks Ross for your comment. From the very little that I actually know about the works of God the truth is much more amazing than we realize. It's something that I get glimpses of every once in a while when I am reading the scriptures or learning about how the world works. There is so much more than just what we know now. That is partially why I wrote this review, because The Kolob Theorem is trying to apply a very limited understanding (through no fault of Dr. Hilton) to something that is much more complex and amazing than we can can realize right now.

Alex Robinson said...

Though I grew up in the same neighborhood with Dr. Hilton's kidsI never read this book until this year.

First of all, Dr. Hilton calls his work a "theorem" which it is. It's too bad that Darwin didn't refer to his work as a "Theorem". Recent scientific findings show evolution to be on very shaky ground, yet it is taught as fact in our schools.

Dr. Hilton may or may not be right on the placement of the different kingdoms in Mormon theology. He may also be incorrect about this galaxy being God's. It may be Christ's.

Whether there are scientific or theological mistakes in the book or not does not detract from the value of the book or the Mormon religion.

As a theorem, Dr. Hilton put into writing that which I have been thinking for a long time. The book expanded my thinking and for that I am grateful.

As true science progresses, it will continue to prove that there is a God and that Joseph Smith was indeed his prophet in the latter days. The Pearl of Great Price is truly a remarkable work.

Quantumleap42 said...

Hi Alex, thanks for your comment.

The word "Theorem" or "Theory" is generally used to denote someone's (or a group of people's) idea. While it is true that just because something has attained the status of a theory it is not immediately true, but it should not be called into question because it is "just a theory". That is in my opinion a very lazy way of saying "I don't want to think about this so I'll call it a theory, and that somehow fixes everything."

The problem is that even if we insist that it is "just a theorem", critics of the Church will take it as "the gospel truth" (literally!). So the fact that it is a "theorem" offers no protection against possible attacks, or misuse in anti-Mormon literature. My main concern is that it will be used as a "Look at the crazy stuff that Mormons believe." attack. This is a very real concern for me because I have had to address things like "The Kolob Theorem" before (never the Kolob Theorem specifically, but things like it). And they were things that really shook people's testimonies. I had to explain that, "No the Church doesn't actually teach that, it was just the thoughts on one person, and it is a misrepresentation of our doctrine." It took them some time to resolve their doubts because of it.

As an astronomer I can positively say that we do not know enough to even begin to do what Dr. Hilton was trying to do. We do not have enough understanding of the universe, or of our own doctrine to begin to make direct connections. We can point at things and say, "Oh, well, now that is interesting." But beyond that we should be very hesitant to draw connections.

From my experience, I recommend that we wait, and let our scientific understanding grow before we try to make direct connections. We still have a long way to go (but we also know a WHOLE LOT so we shouldn't "Oh it's a theorem" away what we do know).

Lo said...

I love the article and the comments made thus far. I have not read the "the kolob theorem" entirely, but have had many verbal discussions regarding it and do find the "theories" or "thoughts" quite interesting. I too share similar fears of creating way for more "Look at what those crazy mormons believe" attacks, of which I have had many. My main fear, as agreed with quantumleap, is that many members may take such "theories" to be actual doctrine before studying things out in the mind and also by the Spirit, and base their beliefs upon evidences that may prove faulty, and also which are not required in our belief to be exalted. Whether or not scientific theorems support or deny any points of church doctrine, Anti-mormon attacks will continue to grow in and through numerous ways. This is why I strongly believe that sticking to the simple and true doctrines of the church should be considered sufficient to strengthening one's testimony. Those who feel that seeking and searching "deep doctrine", such as Kolob Theorem, is needed to strengthen their beliefs may find themselves in danger. Though I feel that many points of deep doctrine are interesting and even fun to consider, they should never come before a clear understanding of the basic principles of the Gospel, and approached as one should always approach things of a divine nature, and that is by the Spirit. I appreciate the article as it encourages members to be safeguarded and firm among "amazing" and "cool" theories or discoveries which may have the appearances of truth but instead detract.

Quantumleap42 said...

Lo, thanks for the comment. I definitely agree that things like this should not be the foundation of someone's belief. In approaching this subject we must remember that a humble approach is more important that anything else. There is so much for us to learn before we can confidently draw conclusions and state, "There! There is the final answer!" I know this because I have been there, and when I "arrived" at the final answer I was shown that there is so, so much more. It is not the "deep doctrines" that lead us to more understanding, but rather the simple ones, such as faith, humility, kindness, charity and so forth. If we are based on these simple doctrines, the "deep", "hard" doctrines are actually quite plane and easy to know. That is where we should start in our understanding.

Quantumleap42 said...

I have also noticed that this review currently shows up second in Google search results for "Kolob Theorem" (and third in Bing), even above Dr. Hilton's own website that hosts the book. Wow.

If you read this review, and make it all the way to the end of the comments, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

(If you just want to send me a thought but not have the comment published for all the world to see you can either email me directly or leave a comment and state at the beginning of the comment that you don't want it published. I moderate all comments before they are published.)

Chris said...

I would add my own emphasis as an undergrad in Astrophysics: we don't know enough about the nature of the post-mortal world or our universe to make any certain connections in matters like those discussed in "The Kolob Therom."

We should focus our efforts on increasing our faith in Jesus Christ and other "basic" doctrine. If one daily studies the scriptures, voices one's prayers, serves one's neighbors, attends the temple, et cetera then let that person add to their efforts a study of the deeper things if the Lord gives sufficient time. If something has not been revealed, leave it alone until the Lord reveals it through His prophets.

Lee said...

In support of Dr. Lynn Hilton and his work, "The Kolob Therom". Sleuth Lee, June 21, 2012.

My compliments go to Quantumleap42 for writing his challenge to "The Kolob Theorem" because it has encouraged a dialog within and without the LDS Community. And although I am neither an astronomer nor an academic of any particular persuasion, I am an experienced Mormon and I like to think that I am also a thinker with an open mind. I am 78 years old. I have read the scriptures many times. I have read some of the books by early members of the Church who were acquainted with Joseph Smith and wrote their own opinions of the possibilities of the eternities along the lines of metaphysics (as defined by laymen to be speculation beyond the physical realm of knowledge), and revelation, which I will define as sparks of pure intelligence coming from Spiritual experiences. Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, W. W. Phelps, and Eliza R. Snow are some who come to mind that have left their personal opinions in this regard after having heard Joseph Smith speak concerning his knowledge that he received by revelation.

Although I don't argue with the point of contention that Quantumleap42 has with Dr. Hilton's reference to the creation of stars in galaxies as explained by Fred Hoyle in 1955, which "made his skin crawl", I do disagree with his dismissal of the Kolob theorem on that one point alone. Dr. Hilton is not an astronomer and therefor left the finer points of that discipline to his advisors. His spark of inspiration opened his eyes to far more than a few details of astrophysics. He got a glimpse of the eternities with reference to the scriptures, the writings of Joseph Smith, the writings of Joseph Smith's contemporaries, his own thoughts based on those writings, and his gospel experience in a lifetime of studying and pondering the "mysteries of God". His ideas are not doctrine and are especially not revelations to the Church. But I believe his ideas are inspiration. Just as artists, musicians and authors are inspired to create, he was inspired by an impression or idea that came to him when he saw the photograph of the galaxy Andromeda. Then he checked that idea against what information the Church has that relate to his idea. He came up with some doctrinal facts from scripture and some supporting information from Joseph Smith's contemporaries that explain our Church's position with reference to science as it has progressed up to our time. He is not ignorant and uneducated so he used terms that may be used in the scientific method to explain his thoughts, even though he has no "empirical data" to support his arguments. He may have used "an excessively simplified map" of a galaxy as you put it, to put across his idea. So what? It is obvious that knowledge of the universe has been lost to us on earth since God revealed it to Abraham and as he taught it to the Egyptians. We don't need to know these "scientific" details to be saved in God's Kingdom. So it is not necessary for our prophets to tell us about these scientific details. But should advanced ideas be withheld until empirical proof is available? Leonardo daVinci was hundreds of years before his time in his thoughts about implements of war, flight and other scientific marvels. Should he have been stifled? Certainly not. Science fiction is very popular and has been all of my life since Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury penned their first masterpieces.

Lee said...

Forward thinkers have a place in our culture and are respected today as is Thomas L. Friedman and his book, "The World Is Flat", published in 2005, that detailed many aspects of today's economy based on the directions that history was following at that time in production of goods and services, education and the availability of help in a global marketplace. Eight years later we are seeing the result of his predictions in a most distressing economy. At the same time our prophets have been warning us of this eventuality for many years, not with specific details, maps and graphs, but with practical methods to assure that we are prepared to take care of our families.

To sum up my thoughts about your blog, I disagree with your approach to denigrate the work of Dr. Hilton as simplistic, uneducated and irrelevant and placing labels such as natural theology to his ideas. I hope that when the time comes for you to write your dissertation that you will be more tolerant and understanding about humanity. A few years ago my grandson, who was about twelve years old at the time, asked, "Grandpa, why does it take so long for you to answer a question?" I responded by saying that I had a lot of knowledge to sort through before I came to the answer that I thought was best for the question with respect to its context and that in his situation, he didn't know very much, so he could answer much quicker. He thought for a couple of seconds and then said, "Oh." :-)

I don't think that there is much danger of anti-Mormon crackpots using The Kolob Theorem as fodder for their attacks against the Church. They would have to have an extensive background in our history in order to even formulate an opinion, and to make an attack based on today's scientific knowledge one would need to be educated in astronomy and astrophysics like you. What is the percentage of galaxy specialist in the discipline of astronomy and how many astronomers are in the world today compared to the seven billion people on earth. What are the chances of either of those conditions in our present world? I would guess there are few who would see that as a threat.

The one thing I agree with you and your blog about is that you are getting get more people interested in our doctrine so they will investigate on their own, and either accept "Mormonism" and become baptized, or reject it as fantasy and file it away for future reference. There is a rule of thumb in publishing that each response to a printed article represents about a thousand who read it and do not respond. Of the fifteen who have read your blog and made comments, your comments are included, so those would have to be subtracted. So maybe your blog is not as significant as I thought when I first started writing my comments.

Lee said...

I read "The Kolob Theorem" because one of my associates in my high priest group saw my computer's wallpaper, a copy of the Hubble telescope's photo of Andromeda galaxy that my Apple MacBook Pro uses for its Lion operating system, and asked if I was giving a lesson on the Kolob Thereom. I had not heard of it before. Then a few weeks later, my stake president mentioned the book in a stake priesthood meeting and recommended it as good reading. I read the book for what it professed to be, a theory with supporting doctrinal comments. It got me thinking. I don't believe in evolution as taught in our educational system but there are some aspects of it that seem plausible such as natural selection. It is not insignificant to me that the Lord revealed Korihor and his philosophy in the Book of Mormon years before Darwin and Karl Marx were even born. See Deseret News, Mormon Times Thursday, June 21, 2012, "Korihor and Social Darwinism" by Daniel Peterson.

These are my thoughts of today and I may change my mind when more information becomes available. Just like you predict that Fred Hoyle's theory has been superseded and the present theory will be superseded when science makes more progress with new discoveries. See Elder Richard G. Scott's address in general conference, October 2007, "Truth Is the Foundation of Correct Decisions", In that talk Elder Scott compares the scientific approach to the revealed truth approach. I will take the revealed truth approach when it is available. When it is not, I will favor ideas that are plausible based on my experience and my faith. I like to read and get new ideas to ponder. I am close to the time that many things will be revealed to me when this mortal existence terminates. Although I am still very active in my retiring years and able to keep up with those twenty years younger, I don't fear death and would actually welcome it in order to get more knowledge, if it is TRUTH.

terryodea said...

Like Lee Iagree there is much good in Hilton's ''Kolob Theorem' for intelligent and thorough thinking - truth seeking Mormon and non-Mormon thinkers.

Much inspired theological insight is brought together with astronomical knowledge of the time of publishing, albeit some out dated providing a much needed attempt to develop our understanding in this manner to create a truer cosmological picture than standard model astronomers produce for us minus God's role in the whole phenomena that they just happen to be studying!

We should encourage further and refined study around this best prophet informed theological model factoring in the very insights that professional LDS galactic and cosmology astronomers can bring to this wonderful research project. I believe this is the sort of enquiry our Father in a heaven encourages us to pursue within the clear perspective that the doctrines witnessed by the 15 Apostles of the Church are the ones we fundamentally live by - that Jesus is the Christ and the author of our salvation from the Fall through the Atonement and restoration of the fullness of the gospel and the Priesthood authority to administer the saving ordinances, all dependent on our faith, humility, obedience, love etc.

We have more opportunity to create a true cosmological model to steer research programmes when we combine our theology with modern astronomy than any other group! How exciting is this!

Quantumleap42 said...

[Blog Author's note: This comment was left on another post about the Kolob Theorem. I am putting it here to try and collect all comments into one place.]

From Glenn Hickman:

"none of what you say makes sense. you didn't try to prove his theory incorrect. This was not productive nor was it insightful and was in essence a very eloquent way of saying nothing."

Quantumleap42 said...


I don't know what your definition of "proof" is but I was not trying to give a scholarly break down of all the arguments in the Kolob Theorem. I was only giving my expert opinion that the theory can't even begin to hold water scientifically. If this were something published 50 or 60 years ago it would have been more significant, but astronomy has progressed a lot since then.

The point I was trying to make in my post is that if you take our current scientific understanding of the world or the universe and try to apply it to theological topics then you will always end up with a gross oversimplification of the truth. There may be some connections to make but it is something that needs to be done carefully since scientific understanding changes so much. If we try to base our faith and testimonies on a current scientific understanding (or in the case of The Kolob Theorem, outdated scientific understanding) then we will find that eventually our faith is eroded away.

There are somethings from science that can confirm our faith, but we should be hesitant to connect too much things that we do not understand.

Again I should point out that Dr. Hilton is not an astronomer, and no LDS astronomer attempted to write this book. I think there is a reason why LDS astronomers have not written a book like this and that is because they (we) recognize that we do not know enough either about astronomy or our own religion to do it.

Anonymous said...

Mormon theology also teaches the doctrine of the spiritual and natural. Kolob is a spiritual place and there is no way in hell we can locate it through natural observation - all we can do is make theoretical claims. Only those who have attain a high degree of spirituality, and in accordance with God's will, can they receive the sure knowledge of Kolob.

Quantumleap42 said...


I disagree. Every indication from our scriptures points towards Kolob being a real physical place. It is as much a part of the material world as we and God are. I think it is one of the wonderful insights of LDS theology that God has a physical body, and he lives on a physical world. He does have a spirit, but as we learn from D&C, all spirit is matter.

S said...

Thanks for the review and all the comments that followed. I have read Dr. Hilton's book and found it enlightening. I too felt it was over simplified in some respects. All in all, I'm glad I read it and I'm glad I read your explanation. Keep posting your insights on this fascinating topic.

Jack Thursby said...

Interesting read but a moot point in that the Book of Abraham is a complete fraud. Joesph Smith, totally and completely mistranslated what he thought was ancient scripture when in fact the papyri turned out to be nothing more than your average Egyptian funeral scroll. Ergo, no such planet or star named Kolob.

Quantumleap42 said...


Characterizing the Book of Abraham as a "complete fraud" fails to acknowledge any of the complex discussions about the book that have taken place ever since it was published, let alone address the complex nature of the book itself.

In my opinion there is not enough evidence from an academic stand point to conclusively "prove" the Book of Abraham to be either a true translation or a fraudulent book. Mostly this is due to the fact that the original scrolls used in the translation were all destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871. We have parts of what would be facsimiles 1 and 2 but we don't know how much those were part of the translation or if they were used more as a basis for an inspired "translation" (we would call it more of a revelatory experience).

Quantumleap42 said...

For comments I don't allow links to anti-Mormon sites. It's my blog so my choice.

Original comment (minus link, and off topic stuff.):

"You're using typical Mormon apologetics, aka: a lame explanation, when you say that 'an inspired "translation" ' may have been what Joesph Smith received.

*Regarding Facsimile One:Joesph Smith described the scene as showing the attempted human sacrifice of Abraham by the idolatrous priest of Elkenah. Egyptologists, however, say that it actually depicts the resurrection of Osiris.
The papyri used by Joseph Smith to produce the Book of Abraham were thought to be lost (in the Chicago fire of 1871) until some of them were discovered in the archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1966.
With the discovery and deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, ancient Egyptian texts can now be accurately translated by Egyptologists. They have translated the extant papyri and identified all of the remains as parts of the Egyptian funerary texts, the Book of the Dead and the Book of Breathings.
The most common Mormon response to this is to allege that the writings of Abraham and Joseph of Egypt were contained in the papyri that are now lost. They insist that without the remaining papyri, there is not enough evidence in the extant papyri to discredit Joseph Smith's translation. Another Mormon theory attempts to explain away the use of the Egyptian funerary texts in Joseph Smith's translation efforts. Known as the Semitic Adaptation theory, it posits that the Egyptian funerary texts were adopted by an ancient Jewish redactor to illustrate the Book of Abraham story. And yet another prominent Mormon theory avoids the extant papyri altogether, suggesting that the Book of Abraham must be a true ancient text based on parallels that its authors have identified with other so-called ancient texts.
While we don't have all the papyri that was at Joseph Smith's disposal, we do have enough evidence to discredit these theories and to conclude with certainty that Joseph Smith was a fraud."

Quantumleap42 said...

We really don't know how Joseph Smith did his translation. From all eye witness accounts of the translation of the Book of Mormon it was not what we would typically call a "translation" but rather a revelatory process. That is, Joseph Smith did not look at the characters on the gold plates figure out what each one meant and then determined how to state the same thing in English. This is what we typically think of when we say "translation" but that's not what Joseph Smith did.

By all indications he used a similar process when translating the Book of Abraham. Also note that he "translated the Book of Moses" by reading Genesis in the Bible (in English) and then "translating" it. If I had lived at the time of Joseph Smith I probably would have sauntered an over to his house and politely said, "You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means. Perhaps you should say you received a revelation of the original book, or offered an "inspired reading" but I don't think "translation" is quite the right word."

This is a real possibility since after Joseph Smith "translated" the Book of Abraham they then spent the next few years trying to look at the papyri and match up the characters on the scrolls with what Joseph Smith gave as the translation. That is, after Joseph Smith "translated" the Book of Abraham they (JS and other church leaders) spent a few years trying to work out a reverse translation of the scrolls. They even attempted to make an Egyptian to English lexicon.

But it is hard, or impossible for us to know how well the translation matches with what was in the scrolls since almost all of the papyri were lost. Several witnesses describe seeing two scrolls 15-20 feet long along with several other loose sheets of hieroglyphics. The scrolls were lost in the Chicago fire and the only parts we have left are some of the loose sheets of hieroglyphics found by the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art, as you mentioned. So we don't have 95% of the possible source material for the Book of Abraham.

And the parts that we do have are not sufficiently clear to say that Joseph Smith was an outright fraud. Again, there are complex discussions about what we have on the existing papyri and the act of translating them from Egyptian is not always as clear cut as you make it out to be. There is just enough evidence that it can stay a matter of debate, but not enough to clearly rule it a true translation or a fraud.

Anonymous said...

When I read the Kolob Theorem I was overwhelmed to tears and filled with joy from the spirit of it's truthfulness. Do not be to quick to dilute it so, nor dismiss it. Pray and try again brother. God bless.

Quantumleap42 said...

Dear Anonymous,

In the 1998 animated film Prince of Egypt there is a scene where Moses lifts his staff over the Red Sea and then dramatically slams it down into the water. The sea parts, accompanied by the masterful music of Hans Zimmer, and makes a path for the children of Israel to escape the armies of pharaoh. It makes for an impressive, albeit physics defying, visual image. As a point of story telling it makes for a wonderful reconciliation scene for many major and minor characters (such as, Moses and Aaron, Aaron and a camel, an old lady and a young child, etc.).

As a part of story craft it is one of the better scenes ever put into a movie because it says so much with so few words. It is a moving and touching scene that has brought many tears to many eyes. I'm sure that there are many out there who would testify that while watching that scene the Spirit witnessed to them of the truthfulness of what happened.

Here's the thing. I could point out the physical impossibility of that scene as it is depicted, but I don't think anyone who has been significantly moved by it would be interested in a dry exposition on why the physics just doesn't work. Some would simply respond, "But it's a miracle and God can do whatever He wants!"

I'm sure that others would encourage me to not be "quick to dilute it so, nor dismiss it" and would further encourage me to "Pray and try again".

The problem is that the portrayal of the parting of the Red Sea in the Prince of Egypt not only defies physics but also is not in agreement with what is found in scripture. Furthermore if we hold to the parting of the sea as depicted in the Prince of Egypt then we actually miss an important insight into how God performs His work with and through His children.

In D&C 8:3 God states, "Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground."

Note, He did not say, "this is the spirit of suspending the laws of nature" or "this is the spirit of I can do whatever I want because I'm God!" He said that what brought the children of Israel through the sea was revelation to Moses, not a suspension of the laws of physics. In my younger years I remember many discussions in Seminary where LDS youth would read that passage in D&C and then try to reconcile it with their perception of how Moses parted the Red Sea. I remember some people wondering how an obvious display of magic (à la Prince of Egypt or Cecil B. DeMille) is an example of the spirit of revelation. In my time I heard many attempts to reconcile the two.

It was not until years later that I realized what the problem was. LDS youth were influenced by artistic portrayals of the Exodus story and were mistaking the art for the reality. With an incorrect concept of what happened it made it difficult to reconcile an important insight into the nature of prophets, revelation and miracles with what we thought had happened. The reconciliation and simple understanding of what Moses and God did in reality is limited by our perception of what happened. If we start with an incorrect assumption it makes it difficult to come to a previously unknown, but true and important, conclusion.

Quantumleap42 said...

[Continued from previous comment]

So how does this relate to The Kolob Theorem? The Kolob Theorem does to LDS cosmology what the Prince of Egypt does to Moses, only with significantly less art. There are some LDS authors who actually do explore concepts similar to those found in The Kolob Theorem, though they do it with significantly more craft and insight (for two examples see Brandon Sanderson and Howard Taylor), and with the added benefit of sympathetic characters with interesting stories. They may get some of the physics wrong, but that is OK because they are interested in telling a story and as an added benefit exploring important philosophical and cosmological concepts.

The Kolob Theorem, on the other hand, gets the physics and astronomy wrong, and has no redeeming artistic qualities to make up for the lack of correspondence to reality. My fear with the The Kolob Theorem is that members of the Church (or critics of the Church) will take it as the gospel truth and will be stuck in an intellectual cul-de-sac and be stymied in what God can reveal to them about how He lives and works in His universe.

Anonymous said...

I think it's tenuous to equate the laws of physics with scriptural accounts to confirm or deny if they really happened. While I don't agree with the timing, I take literally the account of the parting of the Red Sea as given in the scriptures.

The accounts of Christ walking on the water, the Star of Bethlehem, or the account of the day-night-day scenario as given in the Book of Mormon at the time of Christ's birth, may cause one to suspend what they know about the laws of physics in order to accept them.

Regarding the latter two, I've never read or heard a convincing astronomical explanation on how they occurred. Yet I believe they took place as given in the accounts.

How about prayer? According to known physical laws, prayer is not very timely since information can't travel faster than light. Is the concept of prayer therefore debunked? No. It simply means there are mechanisms and mediums we don't know about regarding the fabric of reality.

Anyone who studies physics comes to know that there's a whole lot that they don't know about...