Monday, November 1, 2010

The Law of Gravity

...The Mormon church seems obsessed with gravity.
The recent talk by Elder Packer that has gained so much attention by way of its blatant homophobia included one of these weird references.  In fact, I wasn't even phased, to be honest, by the anti-gay sentiments; it's what I expect.  But when he talked about "a law against nature would be possible to enforce," I immediately thought, "That is the worst metaphor I've heard in a while."
What is there to enforce in a law that permits something?  And if people want to marry people of the same gender, how is that in any way impossible?  The nullification of gravity is impossible (so far as we know), but it seems like the comparison doesn't hold at all when it is held up next to a law allowing people to do something that is completely defined by words and contracts and other arbitrary things.

So, I was reading in Mormon Doctrine the other day (I still read my daily scriptures in case anyone finds out I am a closet atheist, because then they have nothing to berate me with).  Elder McConkie states in the section on "Law" that,

Once a law has been ordained, it thereafter operates automatically; that is, whenever there is compliance with its terms and conditions, the promised results accrue.  The law of gravitation is an obvious example.  Similarly, compliance with the law of faith always brings the gifts of the spirit.

Now, as much as I love this passage solely for the selection of the word "accrue," I couldn't help but notice that the monstrous bad-gravity-metaphor has once again reared its ugly head.  Are you telling me that when I comply with the conditions of gravity, the promised results accrue?  I didn't even know I had a choice!
Okay, so maybe he was going for something like "if you walk off a cliff, the promised results accrue. *SPLAT*"  But it sure doesn't allude to this effect very directly.  I would think something like, I don't know, a vending machine or maybe a light switch or something that has an obvious options->choice->results relationship might better convey his meaning.  Gravity is pretty much G*m1*m2/r^2, no matter what you decide.

Anyway, I decided to go to and investigate: are there more of these references to gravity used to attempt to convince us not to sin?

Here is one that wants to convince you that faith is like believing in gravity through experience as a little child.  You can't see it, but it's there!  Just like the spirit!  (Why do people keep using this same silly argument?)

And here we read that, "The law of gravity is an absolute truth. It never varies. Greater laws can overcome lesser ones, but that does not change their undeniable truth."  So gravity is a good example of a law that can't be violated, except of course whenever some "greater" law overcomes it.  Apparently this "absolute" law is subject to every whim and caprice of god, so what is the point of mentioning it as an example in the first place?

In this one, we are admonished to understand the importance of law.  After all, imagine what would happen if the law of gravity were suspended!  We would all die!  I guess I can't argue with that, although I might point out that in a universe where such suspension occasionally occurred, any intelligent species might likely find itself well-adapted to survive such upsets.  Once again, over-extended as an analogy, but this time it at least makes some sense.

Here we read that "Physical laws, such as the law of gravity, never change; but we change our definitions of them as the scientific community learns more about their operation. Spiritual laws also never change, and we orchestrate our lives according to where we are in our understanding of those truths."  One might wonder why god chooses to let us sporadically work out the truth on some fronts (like gravity) but insists that whatever is said by religion has always been taught.  (Despite the fact that the things said by even a single religion change with great rapidity, resulting in a terribly high incidence of retcon.)
I digress, but again I ask: why the hell use gravity for your metaphor when you have to take such pains to make it fit?

And last but not least, we have an article by Elder Packer written some 18 years ago where he apparently originally used the whole "do you think a vote to repeal the law of gravity would do any good?"  My first reaction was that I see, here is a doddering old man who reused a well-written metaphor from years ago, but not so nimbly this time.  I was ready to give him this particular benefit of the doubt until I started reading what he wrote in the article.  It is just the same thing, trying to use a physical law to justify his declaration of his particular moral beliefs are irrevocable for all eternity.  The article even slightly contradicts itself in giving examples of sure, we could pass a law that does this, but we can't make it right.  So... we can pass these "laws against nature," as well as enforce them, except that we can never redefine morality?  Okay, I guess, but I haven't really been convinced of anything, here.  The acceptance of this doctrine is dependent on the reader already accepting eternal, universal, divinely-inspired law of the packerlicious flavor.

So.  The law of gravity has been gratuitously co-opted by the Mormons to poorly demonstrate the importance of the particular "god's eternal immutable laws" of the time.  One wonders why they leave out the strong and weak nuclear forces, and for that matter the electromagnetic force?  There are literally infinite terrible metaphors that can be constructed by appeal to the physical laws, and I see a lot of unexploited territory here, Elder Packer.

1 comment:

  1. That is too funny!!

    When I first heard the talk, my first reaction was to point out that he’s conflating the (civil) laws of the land with scientific principles — merely because (in English) both are sometimes called with the word “law”. But they’re not the same thing at all.

    But that’s not the worst of it.

    When it comes to civil laws and scientific “laws” neither one of them is decided by your local cleric! One of them is determined by the consent of the governed (often through vote), and the other is discovered through the scientific method.

    However, I didn't realize how overused this idiotic metaphor is! Smells like a good guest-post for Main Street Plaza. ;)