Monday, September 12, 2016

What the Numbers Suggest about Premortal Spirit Birth and Postmortal Polygamy

I have an article coming out in the next issue of Dialogue based on three installments of the series I posted last fall on authority (look in September 2015 for the beginning of it). For those who remember that series, this article will include the two segments on the doctrine of premortality and the one on the source of God’s authority. Something I only briefly referred to in those posts, but which I will provide in the appendixes to the Dialogue article, is a rather detailed estimate I have made of just how many of God’s children will have been born on this earth by the end of the Millennium. There are a lot of unknowns, of course, (like when the Millennium might actually begin) so I have had to make quite a few assumptions. It’s a rather involved process, but in the end it produced, I believe, a rather conservative estimate.
The assumptions I used include a combination of orthodox Mormon beliefs (Adam and Eve start it all at about 4000 BC, a thousand-year Millennium where no one dies until age 100, etc.) and some population statistics from the Population Reference Bureau, Pew Research, and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (Population Division). I used the PRB’s birthrate figures over the past 6,000 years, which seemed reasonable. But when I got to the Millennium, I had to adjust. Our current birthrate is about 23 births per 1,000 population. If you assume that terrestrial bodies might be more fertile than our current telestial models, things get way out of control. For instance, a birthrate of just 25 per 1,000 yields a total population by the end of the Millennium of 15 quadrillion. This is infeasible, of course, since it leaves every earth resident with a whopping 1/3 square foot of space (and that’s with no oceans). You see the problem. At 20 births per 1,000, you still end up with 138 trillion people. With everyone living to 100 years, population grows exponentially at any rate higher than 10, which turns out to be the Goldilocks rate. At 10 births per 1,000, you have as many births as deaths. So I just built in a population cap of 10 billion, about half again as many as we have now, assuming that a terrestrialized earth could easily support that many people. This is one of the reasons why I say my estimate is probably very conservative.
Anyway, after lots of math, I arrived at a figure just north of 211 billion earth births. So, what does this suggest about spirit birth, a doctrine that evolved after Joseph Smith died and is now firmly entrenched in Mormon dogma? Well, first, this figure is only two-thirds of the story. If we believe that Lucifer coopted a full third of the heavenly host, then we have to add another 106 billion spirits to the total, which gives us a premortal population, just for this earth, of over 317 billion. In case you’re not a math person, that’s a lot of kids.
So, what are the implications? On its face, at least in my mind, the sheer size of this number pretty well rules out the possibility of a single Heavenly Mother who gave birth to all of us. Even polygyny on a galactic scale would struggle to produce this many offspring from one father. So maybe we need to rethink the parallel we assume between mortal conception, gestation, and birth and the creation of spirit bodies.
The other question I’ve always had about this whole notion is just how two celestial bodies could combine cells to produce spirit bodies. One of the most logical facts of creation is that all forms of life tend to reproduce after their kind. Wouldn’t it make more sense for two celestial parents to produce celestial, physical offspring rather than spirit bodies?
All of this convinces me that Joseph Smith was onto something later in his career when he taught repeatedly that spirits cannot be created, that they are as eternal as God. For these reasons, I am convinced that our spirits were not “born” of heavenly parents in any manner similar to mortal birth. The idea that we already existed and that God “adopted” us as his children makes a lot more sense to me.
Yes, I realize that I don’t know diddly-squat about the actual logistics of the hereafter. I’ve even written a bit about the idea of three-dimensional time, which might make a lot of things possible that don’t add up right now. But even with that, 317 billion spirit pregnancies is a staggering thought. And that’s just for our earth.
Of course the other idea hidden in these numbers is that they sort of poke a hole in our quaint little Mormon cultural assumption that we “lived with God” in the premortal existence. The way we talk about it, you get the idea that we all grew up in the heavenly mansion, ate dinner together, and probably had Family Home Evening every Monday. Yup, all 300 billion of us. Obviously, we didn’t have much face time with Heavenly Father. And, again, these numbers are for just one world, of the “numberless” worlds he has created. I’ve written an essay that will appear in the next issue of Sunstone that tackles some of the implications of these numbers and what they suggest about our probable relationship with Heavenly Father, so I won’t spill those particular beans here.
But what about polygamy in the hereafter? I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard (and read a review) about Carol Lynn Pearson’s new book, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men. Apparently the idea that we’ll be practicing polygamy in the hereafter is creating a terrible mental and spiritual burden for some of us, especially Mormon women. Personally, I just don’t see it happening. Worldwide, there are about 107 boys born for every 100 girls. So, there are apparently slightly more males than females. This doesn’t bode well for men having more than one wife in the hereafter. Sure, some might argue that women are innately more spiritual than men (and I wouldn’t argue this), so more women will make it to the celestial kingdom. But that theory neglects another numerical fact. Boys are more likely to die before age one than girls. Research has shown that boys were 10 percent more likely to die in 1750, but that gap widened to over 30 percent in 1970. Since then the gap has closed to 20 percent. But if we believe that children who die before the age of accountability go straight to the celestial kingdom, then there are apparently going to be a lot more males than females in the celestial world. If anything, this suggests polyandry in the hereafter, not polygyny. But I’m not betting on either. Which also shoots the notion of the aforementioned “polygamy on a galactic scale” out of the water.
Won’t it be fun to have the veil removed and finally get to remember all the details we puzzle over now?


  1. I;m mostly with you on the pre-mortal numbers and creation of spirits thing. On the other hand, if time doesn't have any real meaning, so what if it takes 9 celestial months to create 315 billion spirits? (I think spirits were "organized" whatever that means.) Far more interesting to me is the state of things in the spirit world, and the numbers that would tend to indicate we would roughly be one to one. So you get sealed in mortality, and after 40 years of marriage your spouse dies. After a couple of years you remarry (either sealed to someone not previously sealed or civilly). In other words, you've "moved on" as the saying goes. Who's to say your deceased spouse in the spirit world hasn't found a new romantic interest and "moved on," also? How many widows and widowers will struggle with the question of remarriage in mortality, only to hit the next life greeted by their deceased spouse and his/her new significant other to whom they'll be sealed during the millennium. Yes, it will be fun to have the veil removed.

  2. If you have an eternity (ie. infinite time), then giving birth to finite number of spirit babies is no issue.

    1. LDS theology, such as it is, is divided on the issue of time. There are indications that there is no time after this life, but there are also indications that time still prevails. Although I've floated the idea of three-dimensional time, I don't see the Church taking any sort of stand on the issue. Joseph's later teachings about our relationship to God suggests that we were not born but found and adopted.