Modern physics may help explain visions warning of future disasters which could be prevented.
Probably each of us has had a dream or other premonition warning us of some future danger. Sometimes we have ignored such warnings and suffered the consequence and other times we have heeded and been allowed to see just how close we came to calamity. Because we obeyed the warning, we apparently changed our future, perhaps to having a long life rather than an untimely death. In turn, that change could affect many others whom we would influence, perhaps including our yet unborn children. Let us consider in this article just how “real” the future was which did not occur.
Visions of the Future
We have been told that the Lord knows the end from the beginning (Abr. 2:8). He knows exactly what will happen in the future. If he didn’t, his plans could be frustrated, and he has told us always to remember that his plans are never frustrated, but only those of men (D&C 3:1-3). In fact, in the time of Moses, he commanded that if any man made a prediction in the name of the Lord which failed, that he should be executed as a fraud (Deut. 18:20-22). So we have the assurance that God knows the future, which he has repeatedly demonstrated.
With God having such an impeccable record at prediction, there is a tendency for us to think that every vision had by every prophet must necessarily come to pass. But is that true? Consider Jonah.
The ancient prophet Jonah was called on a mission to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. That was highly unusual for an Israelite prophet because Assyria was not part of Abraham’s descendants. Nineveh was located in modern day Iraq, one or two hundred miles upstream on the Tigris River from modern Baghdad. It would have been a lot like a modern day Israelite being called to preach repentance to Saddam Hussein. It didn’t sound very promising and Jonah was free to decline the call, so he fled in the opposite direction. Of course God is also free to act to fulfill his purposes, so he prepared a dark, secluded location and gave Jonah some time to reconsider (Jonah 1:17). Sure enough, Jonah repented and accepted the call when it came again (Jonah 3:2-3).
Jonah preached a strong sermon, saying “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). In the Biblical account, the usual “… unless you repent” clause is not explicitly stated, but the king repented in sackcloth and ashes and commanded all to do likewise, which sounds as if Jonah mentioned something about repentance. It is clear, however, that Jonah did not expect them to repent, and that he was hoping for this enemy of Israel to be eradicated: “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry” (Jonah 4:1). He then left the city and set up a booth hoping to see the city destroyed, but was disappointed. The prophecy had been conditional upon repentance, and the united actions of the majority of inhabitants prevented the foreseen disaster from occurring. Here we have a classic example of what is very common in the scriptures: a warning prophecy intended to induce people to repent to avoid coming calamity.
Now let us turn to the question of whether or not Jonah might have had an actual vision of what did not occur, but what would have occurred had they not heeded the prophetic voice of warning. In other words, if Nephi had a vision of what would occur in the future, might it be possible for a prophet to have a vision of what might occur in the future, but doesn’t necessarily have to occur? Is it possible that a prophet can have a vision from God of a future that is every bit as real as the one Nephi saw, but which never happens? It was hard to find an example in scripture because the Lord usually has the prophets only publish the visions which he knows will definitely come to pass, unless they explicitly include the “unless you repent” clause. Otherwise, his prophets would have been executed as frauds. Let us consider at least one example of a prophet’s true vision which was never fulfilled.
Wilford Woodruff’s Vision
Shortly after the October Conference in 1890, at which the Manifesto ending the practice of polygamy was adopted, Pres. Woodruff explained:
The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. If we had not stopped it, you would have had no use for…any of the men in this temple at Logan; for all ordinances would be stopped throughout the land of Zion. Confusion would reign throughout Israel, and many men would be made prisoners. This trouble would have come upon the whole church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice. Now, the question is, whether it should be stopped in this manner, or in the way the Lord has manifested to us … (D&C Official Declaration 1).
Thus, he states that he was shown in a vision exactly what would occur if the Church did not stop the practice of polygamy. We know that the vision was never fulfilled because the Church obeyed the Lord’s command to end the practice. The question which concerns us in this article is, was that vision any different from Nephi’s vision? That is, was this vision of the future that would not happen, but which would have happened, any less real than a vision of the future that would occur? Now that we are delving into mysterious topics, it is time to consider what bizarre contributions modern physics has to offer.
Perhaps the most startling result of modern physics comes from the area of quantum mechanics. At the beginning of the last century, many physicists believed that the laws of physics were deterministic. That means that if the position and velocity of every particle in the universe were known, then the entire future could be accurately predicted from calculations using physical laws. It was believed there could only be one future, and that it was already determined. We only lacked a supercomputer to calculate just what it would be.
That arrogant dream was shattered by about 1930 with the advent of “quantum mechanics.” It was discovered that even in principle we cannot know the exact position and velocity of even one particle, let alone all the particles in the universe. What could, however, be known very accurately is the probability of the outcome of certain experiments. Since then, experiments based on the laws of quantum mechanics, which was developed to calculate those probabilities, have been so successful that it would be difficult to find a serious scientist who questions what they predict.
The pendulum has now swung to the other extreme in the prevailing scientific view from a totally deterministic universe to one in which nothing is determined. Probability has been enthroned as the new king. In modern physics, “free will” now has ample room to modify the future, if it can modify probabilities.
While scientists agree on the results of quantum mechanical experiments, there is a wide diversity of just how they are to be understood. Without going into details here, let us simply note that there are two popular interpretations, but we must caution that the results of quantum mechanics are so bizarre than neither of the interpretations is really believed by a majority of scientists.
This paradox led to another interpretation proposed in 1957, called the “Many Worlds,” or better, the “Parallel Universes” interpretation. In this view, multiple universes all occur simultaneously, which are all equally real. In the cat experiment, at each instance when the quantum event has some probability of happening, a universe splits off in which the cat dies at that time. The good news is that now the scientist opening the box has been removed from the equation. That bad news is that now we have what most scientists find even more ridiculous, that zillions of equally valid universes are all really happening simultaneously. In this universe you are reading this article, but another version of you in a different universe is not. That’s pretty hard to take seriously.
Okay, so now you are glad that you’ve never studied quantum mechanics because it all sounds absurd. The lead article in Discover for September, 2001, was entitled “Quantum Shmantum.” It included Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg’s summary of the parallel universes idea, paraphrasing Winston Churchill’s quip about democracy: “It’s a miserable idea except for all the other ideas.” Scientists clearly have a long way to go before they even come to a consensus, much less actually hit on what really is happening. But hopefully science is making progress toward understanding what is going on.
The Parallel Universe interpretation may indeed help us to understand visions of futures which don’t occur, at least in our realm. What if there really are many possible different futures for us, and for the world? Without going all the way to the Parallel Universe interpretation in which there are an infinite number of different futures, and presents, and pasts, let us restrict our thinking for now just to the future. What if there is only one past for us (that which happened), and one present for us (now), but many possible futures? Some of those futures are more probable than others, but what if they are all equally “real” in the sense that someone in the spirit world to go to visit different possible futures and “see” what would happen? What if we really have the possibility of choosing which future we will have among the options presented to us? Everyone’s individual future would merge into what would be the most probable future for the planet. Certain key people or groups of people could perhaps sway the entire course of a nation or of the world to change an improbable future into the one which will happen. Of course, God with his infinitely better vantage point, can just look and “see” which is the future which will really happen, and thus his prophets are always right. But remember that he is not forcing us to do anything. We have the ability to choose our course as best we can, but God will make sure that his purposes are fulfilled. He sometimes intervenes and gives us a vision, or maybe just a feeling, that we are on a dangerous course. Or he might just remove someone by death who has chosen poorly and has become an obstacle to God’s designs. Thus we are free, and so is God. This is what appears to me at this time to be the most likely “correct” interpretation, but I reserve the right to change my mind at any time on this complicated issue.
PsychicsThere are many people, perhaps most people, who have some ability to predict the future at least at times. The basketball player who is in “the zone” just has a feeling that his long 3-point low percentage shot will go in. And it does! He might even break his coach’s rules of when it is prudent to try such a shot, and risk the tongue lashing he might get if he misses. Those who follow their spiritual impressions are often rewarded with success, even in temporal pursuits.
Those who can apparently predict the future are often scoffed at by scientists, but as quantum mechanics progresses, we might well see an acceptance of psychics into the formal scientific arena. Psychics usually only claim to see the “most probable” future, and hence prefer not to be executed if their prediction fails. Often people with this gift try to help others by warning them to avoid danger, such as not to take a certain plane which has a high probability of crashing. Somehow they can sense a future which is very real even though it has not yet occurred.
Unpublished Warning Revelations
One application of these principles is to acknowledge the possibility of true visions being given to true prophets which will never occur because they were warnings designed to lead to actions which prevent that future from happening. We have already seen one such revelation given to Wilford Woodruff. What if he had not ever published that revelation? What if it had been included in his journal, and was later discovered there? What if members of the Church passed around unofficial copies of a revelation attributed to Wilford Woodruff, which stated that all temple ordinances would be stopped and that many church leaders would be imprisoned? The point here is that even though a true revelation is given to a true prophet, we should remember that it may not be fulfilled. As far as I know, the only time we should really believe that a prophecy is certain to be fulfilled is when it is included in canonized scripture with no conditional “if” clauses, or when it appears over the signature of the First Presidency, being best when also attested to by the Quorum of the Twelve. Then we may be sure that the Lord is telling us just which of the probable futures will indeed occur. The scriptures are replete with such prophecies, and we are commanded to study them and to be looking for the signs of the times.
Unfortunately, many of the books which collect prophecies about the future do not distinguish between formal canonized scripture and other statements by General Authorities, or even second hand accounts or visions to Stake Presidents. Let us now consider just one such prophecy as an example, which has gained some popularity. It has all the earmarks of having been a warning prophecy, which describes a future which didn’t happen, partly because of actions taken by the prophet who received it.
The “Greek President” Prophecy
- It was a vision of another terrible war which would make World War II look like a “training exercise.”
- The Soviet Union would have military power dwarfing that of the U.S.
- The U.S. withdrew its missiles with atomic war heads from Europe, and then the war began.
- The U.S. had its missiles in deep holes which looked like grain silos.
- The U.S. President would be the first one to be of Greek extraction.
- People in the U.S. would have their weapons taken away.
- Russia would position thousands of tanks in big trucks.
- The worst time in the depression would look like a picnic in comparison.
I have not personally taken the time to verify the source of this so-called vision, but for the sake of this argument, I will entertain the possibility that it describes a true vision which Pres. Smith received and did indeed share with his family, and that it is being reported accurately. Does that mean we should all be looking for a Greek President? Should we postpone getting our food storage until we have a Greek President? Was this a vision of what would happen or of what could happen?
Why would President Smith be given such a vision? If it was a vision of what would happen, it might have been for him to begin to prepare. If it was a vision of warning, then we would expect him to have taken action which might help erase that future.
Statements he made in October Conference of 1946 support both the idea that the vision indeed occurred and that it was a warning revelation because the word “if” is always associated with it. He stated, “I fear that the time is coming … unless we can call the people of this world to repent of their sins and turn from the error of their ways, that the great war that has just passed will be an insignificant thing, as far as calamity is concerned, compared to that which is before us.”
The 1980 Which Wasn’t
Allow me now to venture into the realm of wild speculation, which seems permissible in an article about parallel universes. What if the vision of President Smith helped to change the course of the world in a way that prevented World War III from happening about 1980?
In 1980 Brezhnev was in power in Russia, having agressively expanded the Russian nuclear missile arsenal. We were going through a period of Russian appeasement by disarmament. There was much pressure to remove the Pershing 1 missiles, which had atomic warheads, from Europe. Our Minuteman missiles were in deep holes, which are indeed still called “silos.” Also, it has since been found that Russia had plans to strategically place tanks around Europe by transporting them in large trucks. Michael Dukakis, of Greek extraction, had been elected governor of Massachusetts in 1974, and would later run for President against George Bush in 1988 on a strong platform of gun control. Thus, many of the points of the prophecy were bulls-eyes.
Did President Smith do anything that might have helped to change world history? Since we are in the realm of speculation, here’s one possibility. After World War I, strong reparations were put on Germany to punish them and it caused a huge amount of resentment. In a very oversimplified analysis, that resentment fomented until it produced a Hitler who retaliated with World War II. The Allies might well have followed a similar course of action after World War II which could have resulted in the World War III in the vision. After the war ended in 1945, acting President Smith sent the apostle Ezra Taft Benson to Europe in early 1946 to reopen the missions and to head up a huge war relief effort, for members on both sides of the conflict. The LDS Church provided many needed supplies to the war victims. Elder Benson induced the devastated saints in victorious countries to donate needed supplies to their enemies who had so violently abused them. Thus, the Church set the example of forgiving ones enemies, which was nearly unheard of as a post war procedure. That example may have influenced the United States to follow suit with the Marshall Plan to reconstruct Europe in 1947. Under that European Recovery Plan, 13 billion dollars was given to 16 European countries, with the most going to Great Britain, France, Italy, and Germany. Clearly Elder Benson’s work was noticed nationally because he was called to be Pres. Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture from 1953-1960. Because Germany was not punished for the war, it is much more of a friend to us now. So it seems just possible that the vision of George Albert Smith might have led him to contribute, along with many others, to changing the course of history in a way that prevented that particular scenario for World War III. I believe the Dukakis was the Greek President who never was, and that it is now too late for that vision to be fulfilled. Of course, all the prophecies in scripture will still be fulfilled, and a different World War III is still very possible, but we would do well not to wait for a Greek President to be elected before obeying the living prophet’s counsel to obtain a year’s supply.
One interpretation of modern physics is that there are parallel universes in which not only our “real” future occurs, but also other futures which do not happen to us in our universe, but which are just as valid. The scriptures include accounts of prophets who have some visions of events which are fulfilled and also some visions of events which are not fulfilled. These latter are usually warning prophecies given to induce the prophet to take actions which will prevent that undesirable future from occurring. When we see any prophecy which appears to be legitimate, we should consider the possibility that it might be either a vision of a future or of the future. We should look first to see if it is scripture or an official proclamation endorsed by the First Presidency. Then we should look for “if” clauses, which usually offer us the hope of having a better outcome if we repent. And we can remember that we personally can usually change the future for the better, and that we will be judged for our thoughts, words, and actions accordingly.
- The nation of Assyria comprised descendants of Asshur, second son of Shem, whereas Abraham descended from Aphaxhad, his third son. See Pratt, J.P., “Genealogy from Adam to the Twelve Tribes,” at https://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/adam_gen/shem.html.
- Folger, Tim, “Quantum Shmantum,” Discover, vol. 22, no. 9 (September 2001). Another good summary is found in the cover article “Parallel Universes” in this month’s Scientific American, (May 2003), pp. 40-51. https://www.sciam.com
- This vision was summarized by David H. Horne is reprinted, for example, in R.K. Young, “..As a Thief in the Night” (Salt Lake City: LCG Publications, 1991), p. 56.
- Conference Report, Oct. 9, 1946, p. 149.
- See “Cruise and the Common,” https://www.megspace.com/politics/greenham/index_000006.htm.
- Babbel, Frederick W., On the Wings of Faith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1972) is an entire book documenting the many miracles occurring during this effort.
- A good summary of the Marshall plan is currently found at https://www.marshallfoundation.org/about_gcm/marshall_plan.htm
2002 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.