I have become very focused on metaphysics in recent years; and one result has been to recognize that a lot of people imagine that they are providing evidence for their metaphysical views – when in fact they are instead demonstrating their metaphysics ‘in action’.

For example, Rupert Sheldrake is usually regarded as an unorthodox or fringe scientist; and his books are full of evidence (observations, experiments etc) which are apparently intended to lead the reader to conclude that Sheldrake’s ideas of Morphic Fields and Morphic Resonance are necessary to explain the findings.

In reality, Sheldrake is doing philosophy – specifically metaphysics – not science (not even unorthodox science), as I explain here:


Closer to home (as it were) I have seen it said that Joseph Smith’s first vision, or rather visitation, (in the Sacred Grove) is evidence for the fact that God the Father and Jesus Christ have bodies and are separate persons.

Certainly what Joseph saw is consistent with this characteristically Mormon interpretation; but it can equally and easily be explained from classical theology with God as a disembodied spirit, without bodies, parts or passions – because such a God can make Himself appear as he wishes.

Throughout his ministry, Joseph Smith was (whether he saw it this way or not – and I don’t think he did see it this way) creating a comprehensive new metaphysics for Christianity – keeping ‘the appearances’ almost unchanged (although with different emphasis) while explaining them from a very different set of fundamental assumptions.

When he thought he was providing evidence – he was in actuality providing worked-examples, demonstrations-in-action of how the new metaphysical theology ‘worked’.

According to Sterling McMurrin, the same applies to most Mormons through history – they are not necessarily aware of how deeply, fundamentally, structurally different their metaphysical theology is compared with mainstream Christianity; but instead see Mormonism as (‘merely’) having a different set of evidence (e.g. extra scriptures), and some distinctive doctrines and rules. (i.e. The perception is that Mormonism is ‘mainstream-Christianity-plus’. This is pretty much how Mormonism is described by religious sociologist Rodney Stark.)

This misled me for two or three years. But After reading McMurrin for the second time, the penny dropped. The essence of Mormonism is a different metaphysics. But so poorly is metaphysics understood, so often is it misunderstood, that the fact is unappreciated.

Indeed, when I sent my critique of Sheldrake to the author – redefining him from scientist to metaphysician – he implicitly agreed with me, e-mailing (13th October 2011): “I’m thankful for your interpretation of my work, emphasising the philosophy and metaphysics. This is something I rarely do myself because the very term metaphysics is so easily misunderstood. I’m glad you’re helping to rehabilitate it!”

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