The Mormon Understanding of Persons . . . and God
Unfortunately, 19th-century Mormon sermons about God that result from the first view of intelligence sometimes grab the attention of those seeking simply to attack us as well as those genuinely seeking to understand us. Also unfortunately, sometimes Mormons ourselves fail to recognize that belief in the eternality of intelligence doesn't require belief that God was brought into being as God. When talking about our understanding of intelligence informally or without having thought through the issues, many Mormons do not separate the two ways of understanding intelligence. We collapse parts of one way into the other.
For example, when Mormons talk about intelligence, they most commonly do so in terms of the second view. But in spite of that, they will also sometimes revert to talking about God's origin. I assume that is because we know that such a belief has been taught in the past, and we don't recognize that it was the consequence of a view of intelligence that most of us no longer hold. We talk about God having been a mortal because some of those who preceded us did, not because it is taught in scripture or implicit in our beliefs. We are not known for our abilities at systematic theology (nor do we want to be known for them).
In spite of the fact that we often collapse these two views, they are easily separable. The kind of finitism implied by the second view does not require the kind implied by the first because the second view does not require that God have some cause.
If we take contemporary Mormon beliefs to their core, there seem to be two coherent possibilities for understanding the doctrine of intelligence:
1) There is some eternal aspect of human personhood, but we don't claim to know more than that.
2) The individuality of persons is eternal, as explained in the second view.
In either case we can dispense with the 19th-century speculations about God's origin. Like other 19th-century over-beliefs, for most of us they should be left behind.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.