Among the recent attempts at reconciling our eternal nature with the concept of spirit birth and eternal progression has been a resurgence of spiritual atomism. This concept was first championed by Orson Pratt who outlined the concept in The Seer. There are many problems with this position, not least of which is a lack of evidence and reason for its veracity. Orson Pratt also disavowed the work which stands as a foundation for the theory.
From pages 102 and 103 of The Seer we have Pratt’s outline of what could be considered, spiritual atomism, spiritual evolution and spirit birth (sorry for the length of the quote, but I believe it is important):
The Question is, whence originated these elementary qualities of the mind? We answer, they are eternal. The capacities of all spiritual substance are eternal as the substance to which they belong. There is no substance in the universe which feels and thinks now, but what has eternally possessed that capacity. These capacities may be suspended for a season, but never can be annihilated. A substance which has not these capacities now, must eternally remain without them. The amount of matter in space can never be increased nor diminished, neither can there be a new elementary capacity added to this matter. For the arguments sustaining the eternity of matter and its capacities, see our treatise referred to in the preceding paragraph. Admitting the entity of the capacities, then the materials of which our spirits are composed, must have been capable of thinking, moving, willing, &c., before they were organized in the womb of the celestial female. Proceeding that period there was an endless duration, and each particle of our spirits had an eternal existence, and was in possession of eternal capacities. Now can it be supposed that these particles were inactive and dormant from all eternity until the received their organization in the form of the infant spirit? Can we suppose that particles possessed of the power to move themselves, would not have exerted that power during the endless duration preceding their organization? If they were once organized in the vegetable kingdom, and then disorganized by becoming food of celestial animal, and then again re-organized in the form of the spirits of animals, which is a higher sphere or being, then, is it unreasonable to suppose that the particles have, from all eternity, being passed through an endless chain of unions and disunions, organizations and disorganizations, until at length they are permitted to enter into the highest and most exalted sphere of organization in the image and likeness of God? A transmigration of the same particles of spirits from a lower to a higher organization, is demonstrated from the fact the same particles exist in a diffused, scattered state mingled with other matter; next, they exist in a united form, growing out of the earth in the shape of grass, herbs, and trees; and after this, these vegetables become food for celestial animals, and these same particle are organized into their offspring, and thus form the spirits of animals. There, then, is apparently a transmigration of the same particles of spirit, from an inferior to a superior organization, wherein their condition is improved, and their sphere of action enlarged. Who shall set any bounds to this upward tendency of spirit? Who shall prescribe the limits to its progression? If it abide the laws and conditions of its several states of existence, who shall say that it will not progress until it shall gain the very summit of perfection, and exist in all the glorious beauty of the image of God?
85. When therefore, the infant spirit is first born in the heavenly world, that is not a commencement of its capacities. Each particle eternally existed prior to the organization; each was enabled to perceive its own existence; each had the power of self-motion; each was an intelligent, living being of itself, having no knowledge of the particular thoughts, feelings, and emotions of other particles with which it never had been in union. Each particle was as independent of every other particle as on individual person is of another.
Orson’s conjectures did not resonate well with Brigham Young, in particular, and several of his publications were essentially banned by the church:
Proclamation of the First Presidency and Twelve, October 21, 1865
But the Seer, The Great First Cause, the article in the Millennial Star of October 15th, and November 1, 1850, on the Holy Spirit, and the first half of the tract, also on the Holy Spirit, contain doctrines which we cannot sanction, and which we have felt impressed to disown, so that the Saints who now live, and who may live hereafter, may not be misled by our silence, or be left to misinterpret it. Where these objectionable works, or parts of works, are bound in volumes, or otherwise, they should be cut out and destroyed; with proper care this can be done without much, if any, injury to the volumes.
Pratt added a sustaining note to the action of the First Presidency:
DEAR BRETHREN,-Permit me to draw your attention to the proclamation of the First Presidency and Twelve, published in the DESERT NEWS, and copied into the MILLENNIAL STAR of the 21st inst., in which several publications that have issued from my pen are considered objectionable. I, therefore, embrace the present opportunity of publicly expressing my most sincere regret, that I have ever published the least thing which meets with the disapprobation of the highest authorities of the Church; and I do most cordially join with them in the request, that you should make such dispositions of the publications alluded to, as counselled in their proclamation.
London, Oct. 25, 1865 ORSON PRATT, Sen.
Beyond the institutional censure, Pratt’s atomism is not sustainable by measures of reason or scripture. What reason have we to support this spiritual atomism? By Pratt’s reasoning, my physical body is eternal and intelligent because I am made up of atoms which have existed as animals and vegetation. The only difference is that my physical atoms are not self-moving…but why would spiritual atoms be different?
Another consequence of Pratt’s spiritual evolution is that minds and identities are consumed. If the spirit of a fish can be consumed and assimilated into my spirit, why therefore can my spirit not be consumed and assimilated into a higher spiritual predator?