Sunday, December 31, 2006
Saturday, December 30, 2006
A link to my article:
And, an article from my friend, Episcopal Monk Brother Karekin Yarian:
Saddam Is Dead
Today we executed a near 70 year old man. A man, once of great power, whom we captured cowering in his underwear in a hole in the ground. A man who, without a doubt, was committed to evil and performed great sins against humankind...
And yet a man who had been neutralized. A man who could have spent his life imprisoned for his crimes.
Today, we executed a near 70 year old man...
For crimes committed by countless others whom we continue to support and keep in power because it is expedient to our wishes. We executed him, like we execute so many others in our own country because we do not believe in God, despite our protestations to the contrary.
No... we do not believe in God.
We believe in vengeance and retaliation.
Or that, if he did, he did so only for a privileged few that doesn't include Muslims. Especially near 70 year old Muslims caught cowering in their underwear in a hole in the ground because he realized that the gig was up and vengeance was at hand.
Saddam went to the gallows with a copy of the Quran in his hands. I wonder if the executioner did the same... carried to the gallows whatever holy book gives him comfort and strength.
I wonder if our Christian president bothered to take up his Bible and pray at all yesterday while awaiting news of the death his machinations had wrought against a near 70 year old man.
Today I got a note from a friend wondering if we ought to pray for Saddam in church this weekend.
Pray for your enemies and those who persecute you.
But what do we care. The biggest fear we have when it comes to executing a near 70 year old man is whether his death will lead to more violence against us. Or whether, in an age of lies and deceit, we dare show a video of the execution to the world for fear people won't believe he's really dead. How graphic should the news dare to be?
It really is, after all, just a question of taste.
An evil man has died on the gallows, but a man nonetheless.
Our own petty tyrant is more convincing than the petty tyrant just dispatched.
We will hear about our savage victim over the next several days:
How afraid he was.
Friday, December 29, 2006
If you look at even secular philosophers like Nagel who take the toolshed distinction seriously, we find that they push the limits of what is acceptable as physicalism. Nagel seems to have broken out of physicalism even if he hasn't found his way to theism (neither did Lewis when he accepted the argument), and while Searle tries to be a materialist, I think most people on both sides of the materialist debate think he fails to do so. The strongest physicalists like Dennett, Churchland, and company, including ordinary functionalists like the early Putnam try their best to explain the distinction away.
Materialism is an attempt to say that the world as analyzed by the senses and the method of science is the ultimate reality, and that everything else is a byproduct. Insofar as they are consistent materialists, they have to try to undercut Lewis's looking at-looking along distinction. you can't press it into the service of physicalism without begging the question.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Saturday, December 23, 2006
I usually don’t agree with Hiero5ant, but I think his comment based on what he heard Pat Churchland say is pretty significant. He said that Pat said that she would probably not call her position eliminativism if she were developing it today.
The point I am making here is that the Churchlands do propose to replace propositional attitude psychology with successor concepts, and that those concepts are intentional concepts. In fact, those successor concepts have play a role in propositional knowledge. Scientific knowledge is knowledge that f=ma, that humans evolved from primate ancestors, etc. Eliminativists think that they know that eliminativism is true. The challenge is to see how these successor concepts can really replace propositonal attitudes without being propositional attitudes.
The Churchlands wrote an essay entitled “Intertheoretic Reduction: A Neuroscientist’s Field Guide,” in On the Contrary: Critical Essays 1987-1997 (Cambridge, MIT Press, 1988) in which they distinguish three types of intertheoretic reductions: conservative, reforming, and eliminiative. The reduction of temperature in a gas to the mean kinetic energy of the gas’s molecules was a conservative reduction, in that it doesn’t require us to reconceive temperature in any radical way in order to view it as the MKE of the molecules. The secondary qualities of temperature, how it feels, are not denied, they are simply pronounced to be the way we react to temperature rather than something in temperature itself. If the concept of temperature was essential to the meaning of our lives, this type of reduction would not threaten us in any way.
The second type is a reforming reduction, which shows that an earlier theory had significantly misconceived the phenomena it covered. Newtonian mass is replaced in relativity theory with mass relative to a frame of reference, but we were not just dead wrong when we used the concept of mass.
The most radical is an eliminative reduction. In this, the old idea is so wide of the mark that it is simply deleted by the new theory. No single has does the work of phlogiston, but phlogiston is replaced by a theory that distinguishes between oxygen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide.
Now, what I have trouble understanding is what sense it makes to say that any reduction of mental states is can possibly be eliminative, because whatever the replacement theory is going to do, it is going to have to do the work that propositional attitudes do in any account of propositional knowledge. Second, are there any hard and fast rules for determining whether a reduction is eliminative or reforming? Bill Ramsey, a former student of Stich who last I heard taught at Notre Dame, while willing to defend eliminativism against my self-refutationist attacks in an exchange in Inquiry in 1990-91, nevertheless doesn’t really embrace eliminativism himself because of this problem. Isn’t the term eliminativism here just misleading?
Hasker maintains that functionalism is quasi-eliminiativism, in the sense that it removes important parts of what we ordinarily understand our mental lives to consist in.
Apparently renouncing or deny Christ (or even the Holy Spirit) was not sufficient to remove them from the possibility of receiving God's grace, according to the Church at that time.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Really, some atheists just need to grow up.
More seriously, any reflections on the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" passage in Scripture.
HT: Eric Thomsen (ADA Blue Devil Knight).
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Let us begin with a modest proposal: there are intentinal conscious experiences. There are, that is to say, such episodes as a person wondering whether it is going to rain, or believing that this has been an unusually cold winter, or deciding to let the credit card balance ride for another month. In typical cases such as these the intentional content of the experience, what the experience is about, is something distinct from the experience itself, something that could exist or obtain (or fail to exist or obtain) regardless of whether or not the experience occurred. These episodes are consciously experiened; when we have them we are aware of having them, and there is "something it is like" to be having them.
Of course eliminative materialists think that none of this is true, but I think functionalists really are less than complete literalists about this as well. There is a good case to be made, in fact, for the claim that functionalism is really eliminative materialism disguised, and that there is a case to be made for taking one's eliminativism "straight" if you are going to take it at all.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
[Epiphenomenalism] exploits a flaw in the standard regularity theory of cause. We know on other grounds that the theory must be corrected to discriminate between genuine causes and the spurious causes which are their epiphenomenal correlates. (The “power on” light does not cause the motor to go on, even if it is a lawfully perfect correlate of the electric current that really causes the motor to go.) Given a satisfactory correction, the nonphysical correlate will be evicted from its spurious causal role and thereby lose its status [...].
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Must it? Obviously not, and I suspect that it happens pretty rarely. But I suspect it’s like drinking alcohol, trying cigarettes when young and smoking pot. Sometimes those activities lead to horrible outcomes – becoming an alcoholic, a smoker and a user of more serious drugs – but usually not. In those cases, the worry is serious enough that we try to steer kids clear of those dangers in various ways. Is there a difference that makes the website’s concern ludicrous? Is it that the link is more tenuous? That the Christian-ish aspects of the Narnia works are more likely to predominate?
I’m not really trying to defend that site, I don’t think there’s any causal link between CSL’s and JRRT’s work and the occult, and I think that on balance their works are far more likely to lead to positive effects than negatives ones. It’s also a mistake to proscribe good things because they could lead to bad results. I’m just suggesting that their concern isn’t either goofy or necessarily even trivial.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Hurd: Looking to man and not God, the optimism of modernism has proven itself ill-founded. The response has been postmodernism. The best Christian book on postmodernism that I have found is A Primer on Postmodernism by Stanley J. Grenz. In this article, however, I will have to describe postmodernism more briefly, which I will do by looking at five presuppositions inherent in the postmodern worldview:
(1) The quest for truth is a lost cause. It is a search for a "holy grail" that doesn't exist and never did. Postmodernists argue that objective, universal, knowable truth is mythical; all we have ever found in our agonized search for Truth are "truths" that were compelling only in their own time and culture, but true Truth has never been ours. Furthermore, if we make the mistake of claiming to know the Truth, we are deluded at best and dangerous at worst.
(2) A person's sense of identity is a composite constructed by the forces of the surrounding culture. Individual consciousness--a vague, "decentered" collection of unconscious and conscious beliefs, knowledge, and intuitions about oneself and the world--is malleable and arrived at through interaction with the surrounding culture. Postmodernism then, in stark contrast to modernism, is about the dissolving of the self. From the postmodernist perspective, we should not think of ourselves as unique, unified, self-conscious, autonomous persons.
(3) The languages of our culture (the verbal and visual signs we use to represent the world to ourselves) literally "construct" what we think of as "real" in our everyday existence. In this sense, reality is a "text" or "composite" of texts, and these texts (rather than the God-created reality) are the only reality we can know. Our sense of self--who we are, how we think of ourselves, as well as how we see and interpret the world and give ourselves meaning in it--is subjectively constructed through language.
(4) "Reality" is created by those who have power. One of postmodernism's preeminent theorists, Michel Foucault, combines the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's ideas about how those in power shape the world with a theory of how language is the primary tool for making culture. Foucault argues that whoever dominates or controls the "official" use of language in a society holds the key to social and political power. (Think, for example, of how official political "spin" control of specific words and phrases can alter the public perception of political decisions, policies, and events.) Put simply, Nietzsche said all reality is someone's willful, powerful construction; Foucault says language is the primary tool in that construction.
(5) We should neutralize the political power inherent in language by "deconstructing" it. Another leading postmodernist, Jacques Derrida, theorizes that the language we use when we make statements always creates a set of opposite beliefs, a "binary," one of which is "privileged" and the other of which is "marginalized," and the privileged belief is always favored. For example, if one says "Honey is better for you than white sugar," this statement of opinion has "privileged" honey over white sugar. In the arena of morals one might say "Sex should only happen in marriage," in which case the experience of sex in marriage is "privileged" and sex out of wedlock is "marginalized." Derrida argues that all language is made up of these binaries, and they are always socially and politically loaded. "Deconstruction" is the practice of identifying these power-loaded binaries and restructuring them so that the marginalized or "unprivileged" end of the binary can be consciously focused upon and favored.
VR: It seems to me that these theses of postmodernism are as opposed to Christianity as atheism. The difference, what really makes it dangerous, is that the postmodern can talk the talk of Christianity and walk the walk of postmodernism. That is, one can say all sort of things that sound very Christian, speaking a longuage of faith, all the while "deconstructing" their own conversation in such a way that it means nothing. That some Christians are buying in on postmodernism is, quite frankly scary.
In the public debate that I show to my World Religion classes it is Keith Parsons, the atheist in the debate, appeals to Paul's words that if Christ has not been raised, the gospel is null and void.
1 Corinthians 15:17-20: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
And while William Lane Craig disagrees with Parsons on a lot of things, the two of them, very importantly, agree on this critical matter. Both of them assume that Christianity is a claim that can be either true or false, and that if the resurrection really happened then it's true, and if it didn't then it's false.
Postmodernists will say that they each have their own "truth" and there is no reason to have a debate. Sometimes when I show this debate to students they react the way Rodney King did to the Los Angeles riots: Can't we all just get along?
I stand 100% with Craig and Parsons, and against the postmodernists. Christianity makes claims. They are either true or they are not. If they are, they determine for us the purpose of our existence. If they are false, then those who live on the basis of Christianity are misguided. Let's not be seduced into "getting along" in the wrong way.
One further point. Is postmodernism really a new idea, or is it really as old as the hills, or perhaps even as old as the devil. Way back in ancient Greece Protagoras, and the Sophists who followed him, said "Man is the measure of all things, of those that are, that they are, of those that are not, that they are not.
William Lawhead, in his introductory text on philosophy, claims that there were two main themes of Sophist philosophy: skepticism and success. Knowledge of the truth, they said, was unattainable. The second theme was success. He writes:
The second theme of the Sophists was that achieving success is the goal in life. Of knowledge is impossible, then it is useless to seek for what you can't find. Instead, you should just try to get along. The Sophists taught that you should not ask of an idea, "Is it true?" Instead, you should ask "Will advocating this idea help me." Don't ask of an action "Is it right?", Instead, you should ask "Will performing this action be advantageous to me." To the success-driven young people of Athens, the search for truth gave way to the marketing of one's opinions. The search for moral correctness gave way to promoting one's interests. Accordingly, the Sophists taught the skillls of rhetoric, debate, public speaking, and persuasion.
VR: The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Monday, December 11, 2006
1. A contingent being exists.
2. This contingent being has a cause of its existence.
3. The cause of its existence is something other than itself.
4. What causes this contingent being to exist must be a set that contains either only contingent beings or a set that contains at least one noncontingent (necessary) being.
5. A set that contains only contingent beings cannot cause this contingent being to exist.
6. Therefore, what causes this contingent being must be a set that contains at least one necessary being.
7. Therefore, a necessary being exists.
If you accept this argument, how could the conclusion be falsified
The model I’d like to use to discuss this is one using Bayes’ Theorem. I had trouble showing BT on my blog, so I am expressing it here.
P(B) x P(A|B)
Let’s take B to be the thesis that the founding of Christianity involved action by God or some other powerful supernatural agent. Not-B, on the other hand, would be the view that Christianity was founded without the aid of any beings of superhuman power, that ordinary natural causation produced all the events which resulted in the spread of Christianity on earth. A would be the various pieces of historical evidence which can be brought forward to bear on this issue.
P(B) in this theorem would be the initial probability that the founding of Christianity was miraculous, before we examine the specific historical evidence. The problem here is that I know of no way to objectively measure the antecedent probability of anything. In fact, I am pretty much a subjectivist Bayesian. I think that people have personal prior probabilities and they ought to alter those initial probabilities as evidence comes in , but I don’t know of any way to actually prove that one set of initial probabilities is correct and another is not. Some people have maintained that it is possible to go from how frequently an event has occurred in the past to how antecedently likely it is to occur now, but the problem is that every singe event falls under a range of classes. Hume didn’t use Bayes’ theorem, but if he did he would have said that miracles are event-types that occur so infrequently in experience that the prior probability for them so low as to make belief unreasonable no matter what the other figures are. C. S. Lewis’s book Miracles was a book called Miracles: A Preliminary Study, meaning that his argument was designed to show that the antecedent probability for the miraculous should not be vanishingly low. I am going to presuppose that different people will have different priors for miracles.
P(A/B) is the likelihood that the pieces of evidence should exist on the assumption that God was involved in the founding of Christianity. If God were miraculously involved in, say the resurrection of Jesus, should we expect to find a new movement arising based on the claim, would it make sense of a Jewish group arising that changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, etc.
P(A) is how likely it is that these event should have occurred whether or not there was any miraculous involvement. Is what happened in the life of Jesus and the founding of Christianity likely to have happened. Perhaps human gullibility and fallibility is such that people would have come up with something like this anyway, even without divine intervention.
I’m going to set aside the issue of prior probabilities and ask the question of whether P (A/B) is signiicantly greater that P/A. If it is, then there is a confirming argument for Christianity to be found in history, even if, according to many people’s credence function, it is insufficient to secure acceptance for Christianity. If it is not significantly greater, then there is no confirming argument for Christianity to he had from history.
This is a link to my Infidels essay on miracles, which should help understand the basic concepts.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Part of what is behind some of Clark's arguments are the ambiguities in understanding a text. I don't know if he would subscribe to Nietzsche's dictum, "There are no facts, only the interpretations of facts." To which I would have said, had I been able to answer Nietzsche, "Is that a fact?"
But I would like to ask under what circumstances religious experience might fail to establish a claim. Under what circumstances might I want to say "Yeah, my feelings tell me p, but I really need to accept not-p." I'd have to scroll through a bunch of stuff to find it, but I thought Clark said that someone couldn't use religious experience to confirm a conviction that YEC is true, given the weight of the evidence against it. Of course one can, if necessary, accept all the scientific evidence for evolution and be a creationist, by accepting a version of Gosse's Omphalos. (God created the world in six days with fake evidence for evolution built in). So where are the limits on appeal to experience. I didn't think I saw anyone come in from that angle, so maybe that's a place for me to start.
Monday, December 04, 2006
P. S I corrected the link. Thanks, Jeff.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
1. If you believe in God and God exists, then you get infinte joy forever in heaven.
2. If you believe but you got it wrong, then you become worm food.
3. But if you don't believe and got get it right, resisting all the evangelistic efforts of all those believers, you ...... become worm food.
4. If you don't believe in God and God does exist, then you spend eternity in hell.
Given the fact that they payoffs are the way they are, the smart person will surely bet of believing in God regardless of the evidence. Even if you there is a tiny chance that there is a God, you should nevertheless make a believer out of yourself so that you can have a shot at the brass ring, eternal life, or at least avoid eternal punishment. I mean, what do you give up by believing in God? Premarital sex? Pornography? 10% of your income? Whatever it is, it has to be a flea bite compared to the eternal salvation or eternal punishment. Right???
Thursday, November 30, 2006
SD: Hi Victor, I could not read all of it--just the initial brief essay. I am basically with Tom Wright. There is no doubt that the earliest Christians thought that Jesus' return was imminent, indeed, that itwould occur in their lifetimes. And there are things that Jesus says in the Gospels that can be interpreted along those lines. But I think even in Jesus own teachings that idea is muted somewhat. For example, I think the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is a cautionary tale that is all about the delay of the parousia. Keep in mind that we know from Scripture that Jesus was not omniscient. When asked about the date ofthe end time, he said "I do not know, the angels do not know, only the Father knows." But I think Wright is correct that much of what Jesus wastalking about when he spoke of the coming kingdom did indeed occur atthe crucifixion/resurrection/Pentecost event. By the way, I think the church must always hold that Jesus' return is imminent. We must hold to that even if he waits another twenty centuries.
But is is true that, for example, I am disinclined to get into a Catholic vs. Protestand debate. I considered Catholicism in my early twenties and decided not to become one; however at least with respect to the Catholics I know I was sure that what I agreed with them on was far, far, more important than our disagreements. Given the fact that debating that issue strained some of my closest friendships, I don't feel terribly comfortable getting into the pros and cons of Rome with Catholics. Though I suppose a really easygoing exchange of ideas about Catholicism might be interesting. I subscribe to a C. S. Lewis discussion group that occasionally gets into C v. P issues, which are called the Creed Wars, ,but I've never posted on the subject there.
With Calvinism, I'm a little more motivated, because I really do think that Calvinism undermines confidence in the goodness of God. But I would not want to put Calvinism outside the pale of Christian orthodoxy. I also might show my teeth when religious relativism is brought into Christianity.
With Mormonism, the Mormons present themselves as followers of Christ, but then so did the Gnostics in the early days of Christianity. But when I am told that what man is,God once was, and what God is, man may become, I can't help concluding that what Christians and Mormons are talking about when they are talking about God and Christ are two different things. That would mean that there can be, and no doubt will be more than one god, if there is not more than one already. And to be saved is not to be brought into a right creaturely relationship to God, it is to become a god oneself.
Also IF (and I emphasize if) they are saying that if they have a certain kind of feeling, that the fact do not matter, then that is a cause of concern for me.
Sometimes orthodox Christians say Mormonism is a cult. I'm not sure that phrase means anything anymore. What I will say is that I don't sense the kind of common Christian ground with Mormonism that I have with Calvinists, despite having a strong antipathy toward the doctrine of predestination.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
This is far from obvious. It is clear, I think, that false claims to an experience of God do absolutely nothing to undermine the veridicality of a genuine experience of the Spirit's witness, any more than the insistence of a colourblind person that there is no difference in colour between a red object and a green object undermines my veridical perception of their difference in colour. Even if I were utterly at a loss to show him that his faculties are not functioning properly or that mine are, that inability in no way affects the veridicality of my experience. So what the detractor of religious experience owes us here is what Plantinga calls a de jure objection to theistic belief: an objection, in this case, to the rationality or warrantedness of theistic belief even given the veridicality of my religious experience. (William Lane Craig and Antony Flew, Does God Exist: The Craig-Flew Debate, Stan N. Wallace(ed.), Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2003. P. 180.)
Monday, November 27, 2006
I also did say that, in some contexts, a "feeling in the heart" might provide a reason for belief. I specifically indicated several contexts in which some kind of intuitive appeal might be used to defend one's religious beliefs. I even talked about the "outgunned" believer who is confronting a better informed opponent but doesn't give up his or her faith on that account. Such a person, I argued, can be rational. Christians do believe in the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit.
The question is what the limits and parameters are on the use of this "testimony." Could we tell a perplexed high school student who comes home from school having been given evidence for evolution to "take the first chapter of Genesis, read it, pray over it, and if God gives you a conviction that it's literally true, then you can know that world was created in 6 days 6000 years ago, in spite of what your hell-bound blasphemin' science teacher says."
Clark says no, that would be an abuse of the appeal to religious experience, and I agree. Where I differ with him is in the fact that in my view the weight of the evidence against the Book of Mormon, at least in my mind, is about as strong as the evidence against YEC. Yes, there is the defensive Mormon apologetics from groups like FAIR, but there is also the Answers in Genesis defense of YEC.
Second, it looks like the people in the Mormon hierarchy, including apostles like Oaks and Packer, think that the testimony supports the Mormon religion regardless of the facts.
I am also going to be considering a criticism of William Lane Craig in which he has been criticized for saying that the "inner witness of the Spirit" constitutes sufficient reason for believing in Christianity even if all the other arguments turned out bad. His claim has been compared unfavorably to the position of Mormon epistemologists. I actually think there is some justice in these criticisms, and I am going to be considering them in a subsequent post.
Finally, I think that there is a substantial case to be made for the Christian miracles. I don't think it's sufficient to prove the irrationality of the skeptical position, but I do think it creates problems for the skeptic in ways that the Mormon case does not. I think most people who reject Mormonism can pretty substantially agree on how Mormonism got started without divine intervention. Where the founding of Christianity is concerned, I think that if we ask the question "If Christianity isn't true, then how DID it get founded, and then try to go through all the theories of what might have happened instead of what Christians say happened, we find that no theory looks very good. (Hallucination, theft, swoon, wrong tomb, legend, etc.). I realize that you can disbelieve in a miracle without knowing how the miracle report was caused, and how it came to be believed so widely. But I think the skeptic is left with a conundrum here that I have not seen adequately resolved.
I do think that Mormons are caught up in a set of false beliefs and that the falsity of their beliefs is such as to do them harm.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
DON’T CONFUSE ME WITH THE FACTS...
“I HAVE A TESTIMONY!”
by Stephen F. Cannon
As a young man in Bible College, in the early 1970s, I became fascinated with the subject of comparative religion. At that time, I began to read everything I could get my hands on about the subject of other religions, world religions, as well as those that had their origin in the United States. As I read books like The Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin and The Four Major Cults by Anthony Hoekema, my interest was piqued by the Mormon religion.
I decided very early that if I were to get a good grasp of the beliefs of these people, I would have to do a great deal of research into their records and documents. I then began to haunt the libraries around the Atlanta area and spent more and more time at the Emory University (Candler School of Theology) library. As my knowledge of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) began to grow, I found myself thrust into situations of witnessing and talking to members of the LDS church as they proselytized members of my own church and others. This, of course, led me into further research and began a pattern of debate and counter-debate that led to even deeper research. My fascination with the history, doctrines, and psychology of that church grew exponentially.
The first barrier that I had to overcome in my dialogues with LDS officials and missionaries was that of term redefinition. I addressed this problem in a recent issue of The Quarterly Journal in an article that I wrote challenging the historicity and authenticity of The Book of Mormon. In that article I mentioned the frustration that many have when trying to dialogue with Latter-day Saints about spiritual matters.
In it I opined that, “When discussing doctrinal or historical points with Mormons, one must be careful to define terms. Mormons use the same terms as Orthodox Christians, but define them differently.”1
This can be amply demonstrated by looking at how differently evangelicals and LDS define the word “Scripture.” In historic orthodox biblical Christianity, the term “Scripture” (Greek: graphe) has come to mean that body of writings incorporated from the Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) inspired writings known today as the Bible. Latter-day Saints, however, have added three other volumes to the canon of Holy Writ and thus greatly expanded the meaning of the term “Scripture.” Along with the Bible, they recognize The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.
Thus, when engaging in dialogue with Latter-day Saints, Christians have to be aware when the LDS person quotes Scripture to prove a point or define the term, of exactly which Scripture are they quoting: the Bible, The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants or the Pearl of Great Price. It is often difficult to tell because the other three volumes in their canon have been produced using King James English, so that they sound like the Bible.
Another key word that bears discussion and clarification is the word “Gospel.” Christians committed to the sufficiency of the Bible allow this Scripture to define what the word Gospel means (Greek: euaggelion = good news). According to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, this “good news” is that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and that on the third day was resurrected, all according to the Scriptures (the Bible). Therefore, the good news, the gospel, is the atoning work of Jesus Christ!
However, just as they expanded the Scripture, the Mormons also expand the meaning of the word “Gospel.” The late Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, stated in his work Mormon Doctrine:
“The gospel of Jesus Christ is the plan of salvation. It embraces all of the laws, principals, doctrines, rites, ordinances, acts, powers, authorities, and keys necessary to save and exalt men in the highest heaven hereafter. It is the covenant of salvation which the Lord makes with men on earth.”2
A key element of this expanded definition (that would fall under the term “authorities” above) is the recognition of Joseph Smith as “the Prophet of the restoration.” We will see, in Mormon thought, that faith in the good news of Jesus Christ alone is not sufficient to secure one’s salvation. To the devout Latter-day Saint, it is Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith, and then the rest of the above definition.
These are only a couple of the many theological terms and words that the LDS people redefine. When entering into any meaningful dialogue with them, it is necessary at the outset of the dialogue to agree on just what you mean when you use a word. Though it may seem a little bit tedious at first, term definition is absolutely essential in order to keep everyone straight on what is being discussed.
HEAD FIRST INTO A BRICK WALL
Once I understood that term definition was essential, I began to see the dialogue sessions take on new depths. Although the missionaries or LDS friends rarely agreed with my definitions, at least when I spoke they knew the context in which I was speaking. Major hurdle No. 1 was cleared and I started picking up a little more speed in the discussions.
At that time I began serious research into the history of the Mormon church. I was reading the LDS’ seven-volume History of the Church, selected volumes of the Journal of Discourses, and contrasting them with Mormon historian Fawn Brodie’s penetrating biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, and Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s Mormonism - Shadow or Reality? I then obtained photocopies of the first editions of the standard works of the LDS church and started documenting the many changes that had been made to these “revelations” through the years. Suddenly, it seemed that the dialogue sessions had reached a new level. I began to notice a new level of discomfort in those with whom I was talking. This was especially true with a couple of sets of missionaries with whom I had been meeting regularly on opposite sides of the city. It actually began to look as though I was making some headway with one of these young men in particular.
I remember, that in the next-to-last session with one duo, I had been pointing out the discrepancies in the several different versions of Joseph Smith’s first vision. I documented these differing versions with some photostats sent to me by a friend who had left the Mormon church. The young elders admitted that this was the first they had heard on the subject. One of them seemed particularly interested/troubled by the information. They wanted to take the documentation back to their mission president, discuss it with him, and have a final session the following week.
At that follow-up meeting, the missionary that seemed to be most interested did not return. He was replaced by an older missionary who from the outset became the spokesman for the duo. When I asked what they had found out about the differing versions of the first vision, “Elder Spokesman” countered with a question of his own, and the conversation took a completely new direction. The dialogue went something like this:
Elder: Mr. Cannon, have you ever read The Book of Mormon?
SC: Well, yes. I’ve read it all the way through once and read certain portions several times.
Elder: Then you are familiar with the challenge of Moroni 10?
SC: I think so. But let’s look it up together just to make sure I’m thinking about the correct passage.
Other Elder (reading aloud): Moroni 10:3 — “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down unto the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.” Verse 4 — “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” And verse 5 — “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”
SC: Okay. Yes, I am familiar with those passages.
Elder: Have you ever accepted that challenge? Have you ever prayed and asked Heavenly Father if these things are true?
SC: By “these things,” do you mean the first vision or The Book of Mormon? If you mean The Book of Mormon, then yes, I have prayed and asked God if the things therein are true. I have not prayed specifically about the first vision.
Elder: And did you receive a witness of the Holy Ghost that The Book of Mormon is true?
SC: No, I did not receive such a witness.
Elder: Well, I’d like to tell you that I too took the challenge of Moroni 10. I asked my Heavenly Father if those things were true and it was revealed to me through the power of the Holy Ghost that they are true. I can honestly say to you tonight that I know that God hears and answers my prayers. I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only True and Living Church on the earth. This I testify to you in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
SC: I find that very interesting. You say that you know these things to be true.
Elder: Yes, that’s right.
SC: You know that these things are true because you prayed about them and somehow God answered you. How did He do this, did you hear an audible voice or was it an impression in your mind or what?
Elder: It’s a little hard to describe, but when I asked Heavenly Father if these things were true, there was a feeling that welled up inside me and a heat that went through me and from then on, I knew that it was the truth.
SC: So, your basis for confirming truth from that time forward is based on a feeling? I find that a little thin, but let me ask you, have you ever prayed about all the different versions of the First Vision? Do you have a feeling as to which version is correct?
Elder: Well, let me just say quickly, before we have to go to another appointment, that despite the fact that you have shown us some pretty interesting historical documentation, and I would have to study much deeper into the whole issue, that despite all this [holding documentation] I know that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God, and that God and Jesus Christ did appear to him in the woods that day to begin the restoration of the True and Living Church. You have to understand that the Church has many enemies and many false things have been said and written about the Church, but I can tell you honestly that I know that this is His Church.
SC: And you know this because of a feeling? Despite whatever evidence exists to the contrary?
Elder: I know this because I have a witness of the Holy Ghost. You could show me a thousand books and papers or call up a thousand disgruntled people who have left the Church and despite all of that, I still know that this Church is true. I know this through the revelation and power of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
I had just run full tilt into the brick wall of The Testimony. I later would learn only too well the full ramifications of encountering this cleverly orchestrated device of psychological warfare used very ably by the power structure of the LDS church to recruit new and maintain existing members. It is with this subjective mystical “feeling,” that those who ordinarily govern their day-to-day life by the rules of logic, reason, and evidence, are able to suspend those rules and “sustain” all manner of incredible and conflicting beliefs.
THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH
As postmodernism gains increasing popularity in our culture, it may sound passé to talk about objective truth, but the foundation of the Christian religion is rooted in articulating and establishing claims of universal objective truth. The work of prophets, apostles and ultimately Jesus Christ Himself (as God Incarnate) was to reveal certain objective principles that were right (good) over against other objective principles that were wrong (evil). This was accomplished by articulating basic truths and establishing those truths by reason, logic, and the rules of evidence.
God in His infinite wisdom chose not only to work out His plan of reconciliation with His fallen creation in space-time history (the Mormons call this “mortality”), but also to provide means of verification of that plan in the same realm. He did not leave us at the mercy of subjective inner impressions (mysticism) for reasons to believe.
Jesus was continually appealing to objective history (not myth or fable) for reasons to believe. There was never any appeal by Him to listen to my words, pray and ask God if they are true, and you will get a feeling that they are true, even if there is objective evidence that demonstrates the opposite.
True, there were supernatural signs to demonstrate the power of the Savior and His disciples, but these were always pointed to as fulfillment of prophecy. The only supernatural sign (miracle) that was pointed to as the reason to believe was “the sign of the prophet Jonah”:
“But He answered and said unto them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’” (Matthew 12:39-40).
And this sign was shortly to become an objective historical event, verifiable by the rules of evidence. When among His Jewish brethren, Jesus appealed to the extant Scriptures (Old Testament) to establish his mission:
“And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up: and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.’ And He closed the book, and He gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on Him. And He began to say unto them, ‘This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears’” (Luke 4:16-21).
When He was among His apostles, His appeal to the truth of His mission was to the Scriptures:
“And He said unto them, ‘These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.’ Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45).
When the Apostle Paul preached his Gospel sermon to the Bereans, he didn’t suggest that they “pray about what I say” and “get a witness of the Spirit that these things are true.” Nor did they by their own initiative retreat to their prayer closets seeking divine confirmation via the agency of a burning feeling in the chest.
“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few” (Acts 17:10-12).
Even former Mormon Prophet, Seer, and Revelator David O. McKay recognized the importance of the above passage and stated in his book Ancient Apostles:
“Persecution and suffering could no more stop these inspired workers from preaching the Gospel than it could stop them from breathing; so as soon as they arrived at Berea, ‘they went into the synagogue of the Jews.’ The Jews here were more noble than those in Thessalonica, and would reason from the scripture, which was the Old Testament, kept in sacred rolls in the synagogue. So we conclude that the Bereans, not only listened attentively to what the missionaries told them but searched the scriptures to see if what they said was in harmony with the Law. When they found that it was, many believed, ‘also of honorable women who were Greeks, and of men not a few.’”3
No, Paul was a firm believer in the efficacy of the Scripture to establish the truth claims of the Gospel. It was to them that believers should appeal and in them that believers have hope.
“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
Clearly, God our Heavenly Father, the creator of the universe, could have chosen to reveal everything about Himself (that He wants known) supernaturally to every individual. He could have imprinted directly on our spirits every fact couched in Scripture, so that we would have no need of a printed record. It is just as clear that He chose not to order His creation that way. And since God is sovereign of the universe and does nothing in a haphazard or capricious fashion, His choosing not to proceed that way was the correct choice. The Apostle John soberly warns believers:
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
But just how do we test these spirits? Do we do it with feelings gained supernaturally (personal revelation)? To do so would be testing the thing we want tested by the thing we want tested! If a person prays about The Book of Mormon and gets a personal revelation (a feeling) that it is true but is not sure that the spiritual communication is from God, does he then pray to get a feeling that the feeling is true? Or did our Heavenly Father give us something by which we can benchmark personal revelations? The answer to that is a resounding yes! He gave us a written communication that is outside ourselves that gives us the principles by which to try those spirits.
It is the Law and the testimony of the Prophets (Hebrew Scriptures) and then the Gospels and Epistles of the Apostles (Greek Scriptures). We know this as the Bible. This is the Scripture by which we judge all other supposed communications from God, both supernatural and natural. Paul tells us:
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Moreover, God is consistent. He is not a changeable being.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
He does not say something one day and then contradict Himself the next. If a revelation is truly from God it will be consistent with what he has already told us. If he has already spoken on a matter, then we don’t have to pray about that particular matter to see if it is true. God has told us in the Bible that it is wrong to murder. If a person gets a feeling that God wants him to murder someone in cold blood (as did Son of Sam, for example) then I know that feeling is wrong, it is not from God. A person’s feeling on the matter may be very strong, but there is an objective written communication from God against which we can test that feeling. We don’t have to rely on faulty intuition.
The discussion of whether or not the Bible has been tampered with (added to or subtracted from) or whether or not the canon has been closed will have to be discussed in another venue. Suffice to say, that if God is the omnipotent being that He claims to be, He is well able to preserve a body of written revelations against which all supernatural experiences are to be measured.
YOU, TOO, CAN HAVE A TESTIMONY
Just exactly what is this testimony? We’ll let the LDS authorities define it:
“Testimony is a generic term among Latter-day Saints for the assurance of the reality, truth, and goodness of God, of the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, and of the divine calling of latter-day prophets. It is the core of LDS religious experience. It reaches beyond secondhand assent, notional conviction, or strong belief. It is knowledge buttressed by divine personal confirmation by the Holy Ghost and is interrelated with authentic faith and trust in God as demonstrated by dedication and discipleship. Fundamental in the Church is the doctrine that ‘no man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has the testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy. Whenever salvation has been administered, it has been by testimony.’”4
“You can be one, as well as I can be one, who declares the generation of Jesus Christ, who gives his genealogy, who comes to know in his heart by a power that is beyond intellectuality, by a power that comes from revelation and revelation only.”5
“Everyone of you who has a testimony and bears it is telling about a personal revelation from God. It is nothing less, or it isn’t a testimony, because the Holy Ghost revealed it to you. If you have a testimony, it is a revelation.”7
So we see that a testimony is an “assurance of reality,” it goes beyond second hand assent, notional conviction, strong belief or intellectuality, and it is in fact “knowledge,” but not just of the everyday variety. It is the “highest type of knowledge” and it comes from “revelation and revelation only.”
It is revealed to each “by the Holy Ghost.”
Well, then, how does one gain this revelation of the Holy Ghost? According to one LDS church leader, one must be in the proper frame of mind:
“Like the people in the world, you, the youth of the church, must put forth a similar effort to receive a witness from the Holy Ghost of the reality of the restoration of the gospel. For you, the testimony is not an automatic process; it comes only after you have ‘hungered and thirsted’ for it. This means you must have a desire much more intense than just a passive wanting.”8
To recap, the Mormon testimony then is a revelation of the Holy Ghost. It goes beyond the intellect, reason or logic and is the highest form of knowledge. It is the only way to know for certain the truth of the Mormon gospel and all that it entails. One can have a working knowledge of gospel principles, but cannot know of their truth without this higher knowledge. In order for one to obtain this sure knowledge, one must desire it above all else, pray, and then receive the revelation.
How then, does one know when he has received this revelation? Is there an audible voice from God? Handwriting on the wall? A burning bush? No, there is a burning in the bosom.
In the spring of 1829, Oliver Cowdery was taking dictation as Joseph Smith was “translating” The Book of Mormon. Cowdery wanted to do some translating on his own, but God had other plans. In a “revelation” given to Smith in April of that year, God tells Cowdery that there would be no translating for him, for that was Smith’s calling. During this communication a rule for establishing truth was given:
“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me” (D&C 9:8-9).
In a glossary from The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, we read:
“Burning in the bosom — A metaphorical description of the feeling that sometimes attends the enveloping Spirit of the Lord, particularly when one understands God’s words through the influence of the Holy Ghost (Luke 24:32; D&C 9:3-8).”
Notice that the biblical proof text given is Luke 24:32 which says: “And they said one to another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?’” Of course, without the additional new revelations, the Luke passage can in no way be construed to teach an inner “testimony” of a burning feeling being a yardstick for truth.
One commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants expands on the above passage and says:
“Now, I tell you that you can make every decision in your life correctly if you can learn to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This you can do if you will discipline yourself to yield your own feelings to the promptings of the Spirit. Study your problems and prayerfully make a decision. Then take that decision and say to him, in a simple, honest supplication, ‘Father, I want to make the right decision. I want to do the right thing. This is what I think I should do; let me know if it is the right course.’ Doing this, you can get the burning in your bosom, if your decision is right. If you do not get the burning, then change your decision and submit a new one. When you learn to walk by the Spirit, you never need to make a mistake. I know what it is to have this burning witness. (CR, October 1961, pp. 60-61).”9
Notice that this “revealing feeling” goes far beyond the scope of spiritual truths to encompass every decision in your life. Lest we mistake the intention of these writers:
“You do not know what to do today to solve your financial problems, what to plant, whether to buy or sell cattle, sheep or other things. It is your privilege to study it out: counsel together with the best wisdom and judgment the Lord shall give you, reach your conclusions, and then go to the Lord with it, tell him what you have planned to do. If the thing you have planned to do is for your good and your blessing, and you are determined to serve the Lord, pay your tithes and your offerings and keep his commandments, I promise you that he will fulfill that promise upon your head, and your bosom shall burn within you if the thing you have planned to do is right, and you shall know by the whisperings of the Spirit that it is right. But if it is not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought, and you will be turned away from that thing.”10
So the faithful Mormon who has gained a testimony can have this feeling of a burning in the bosom to guide him into not only religious truth, but also the mundane things in life as to what to plant, or how to make investments. The implications of this philosophy are enormous.
FEELINGS, NOTHING MORE THAN FEELINGS...
Who among us have not (as an adolescent or a teenager) felt the overwhelming feelings of puppy love generated almost instantaneously when one of our friends told us so-and-so really likes you a lot! That one who had perhaps been a nodding acquaintance had suddenly become the love of our lives; complete with elevated pulse, frequent sighs, and warm tinglings.
Or who hasn’t (at one time or another) wanted to believe a politician’s promise so much that we just know that this is the one that will make our lives and country better.
The point is, that if we want something fervently enough, all sorts of feelings can be generated. This seems to hold true especially with religious fervor. Because we are dealing with things non-corporeal, religious people (Mormon and non-Mormon), unfortunately, make their personal feelings the final arbiter of truth.
One example of this is the chorus of a popular evangelical hymn entitled “He Lives” which demonstrates fine music, but bad theology:
“He lives, He lives,
Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me,
along life’s narrow way...
You ask me how I know He lives:
He lives within my heart.”
Now, He very well may live within one’s heart. And if He does there are bound to be emotions. But whether anyone feels Him does not alter the fact that He lives! We know He lives because there are good and sufficient reasons for believing that He does. Reasons that can be corroborated in space-time history. There are historical reasons, there are archaeological reasons, there are textual reasons for faith and one’s feelings (emotions) are valid only when corroborated by these real-time events, just as doctrine is valid only if corroborated by the Bible.
To say that one knows something, just because one has a feeling relegates knowledge to the absurd. Arthur L. Johnson astutely observes:
“A quick look at what is implied by the term knowledge may help us here. Two aspects are important. First, to say that I know something is to say not only that I am aware of that something, but also that it is true. If, for example, I say that I know that the earth is flat, I am also saying (falsely) that it is true that the earth is flat, and that I am aware that this is so.”11
Using Johnson’s example, but adding a few words pertinent to our discussion, we could say, for example, that we know that The Book of Mormon is Scripture. We are saying that it is true that The Book of Mormon is Scripture, and that we are aware that this is so.
If we say the above, and there is no archaeological, historical, or textual evidence to corroborate the assertion of knowledge (there is, in fact, strong evidence to the contrary), then on what basis do we make the assertion? We make it based on a feeling, a “burning in the bosom” which is defined as a personal revelation that goes beyond strong belief, or intellectuality.
Once we make this move, then we have taken the search for truth into the irrational. Reason, logic, and the laws of evidence can be dispensed with if it is expedient to do so. If we choose to adopt this philosophy, we are able to compartmentalize our thought processes into two opposing categories: one having to do with spiritual, the other with the secular.
This is particularly evident in the lives of Mormon professionals. There are numerous LDS lawyers, doctors, and scientists. When they perform their daily tasks as professionals, they do so operating under the established codes of their professions. This writer has never heard of a defense attorney pleading his client innocent on the basis that he had a “burning in the bosom” that the person didn’t commit the alleged crime. Nor, has this writer ever heard of a doctor getting a “testimony,” that despite medical tests to the contrary, it should be this treatment rather than another performed. Yet, this writer has discussed religious matters with both LDS doctors and lawyers and had them testify that despite evidence to the contrary, they know that Joseph was a prophet, and so forth, based on that aforementioned feeling.
We have already observed that feelings can be generated. If someone wants something strongly enough, all sorts of internal emotional justification can be summoned. Also, it is evident that if one is in this yearning frame of mind, then one can be more easily manipulated by persons in authority. A perfect example of this (as it relates to Mormonism) can be seen in the story of Lucy Walker, one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives.
In the early 1840s, Smith was busy building his “theocratic kingdom” in Nauvoo, Ill. While publicly denouncing the practice of polygamy, he began to add privately a number of plural wives. In January 1843, 17-year-old Lucy Walker had come to live in the Smith household after the death of her mother. In the spring of that year, while Joseph’s first wife Emma was in Saint Louis on a shopping trip, Smith “proposed” to Lucy. Fawn Brodie records the details of the event:
“Joseph asked Lucy to become his wife. ‘I have no flattering words to offer,’ he told her after the usual preliminaries. ‘It is a command of God to you. I will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you.’ ... ‘Although you are a Prophet of God,’ she told him, ‘you could not induce me to take a step of so great importance, unless I knew that God approved my course. I would rather die.’ He walked across the room, returned, and stood before her with what she described as ‘the most beautiful expression of countenance,’ and said: ‘God Almighty bless you. You shall have a manifestation of the will of God concerning you; a testimony that you can never deny. I will tell you what it shall be. It shall be that joy and peace that you never knew.’ ‘Oh how earnestly I prayed for these words to be fulfilled.’ ... My soul was filled with a calm, sweet peace that ‘I never knew.’ Supreme happiness took possession of me, and I received a powerful and irresistible testimony of the truth of plural marriage.”12
The above account is a classic example of psychological manipulation. Cult watchers have seen this used many times by “religious” leaders. A vulnerable young girl is confronted by one whom they hold in spiritual awe. A “command” from God is issued to do something she normally would abhor. If there are initial negative reactions, then dire spiritual or physical consequences are predicted. An inner turmoil results. After all, this man speaks for God. Would he give me commandments that are not true? The leader pleads for the follower to “earnestly pray about it and if it is from God, you will get peace about it.” The veiled threat is, get peace about it or you will be cut off! More often than not, the follower falls into line and gets the justifying feelings. Just like Lucy Walker.
The problem is that feelings can be wrong. One can fervently feel that the liquid in the bottle on the table can cure a headache, but if the liquid is poison the results will be far different than the feelings indicate.
One can desire something so strongly that many psychological (and even sometimes physical) manifestations can be generated. This does not, however, “prove” the rightness or wrongness of a position. It only demonstrates the position-holder’s fervency.
FAITH FOUNDED ON FEELINGS
The foundation of the LDS church has been built on this “burning feeling.” It has been the church authorities, from Joseph Smith until the present prophet, who have encouraged, defined, and interpreted this feeling. There is no doubt that the “testimony” is regarded as the backbone of the church.
The current Mormon prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, stated:
“I would like to say to you, that is the strength of this cause, the individual testimony that lies in the hearts of the people. The strength of this church is not in its buildings, in its chapels, in its offices, in its schools; it is not in its programs or its publications. They are important, but they are only a means to an end, and that the end is the building of the testimony — a conviction that will weather every storm and stand up to every crisis in the hearts and lives of the membership.”13
Former LDS Apostle Stephen L. Richards taught:
“The restored Church of our Lord is built upon ... the individual testimonies of its members. Indeed no one is asked to come into the Church until he has personal assurance of the divine truth it teaches. At times it is something of a shock to applicants for admission into the Church to be advised that the evidences of their real conversion are not adequate. Such persons are not infrequently urged to further investigation and more supplication that they may know of a surety that it is the truth which they embrace. A young lawyer once told me that he would like to join our Church. ... I told him also that it was necessary to do something more than merely to indicate his desire for membership. I advised him that he should make careful study of the gospel, that the principles taught by the Church would seem reasonable and desirable to him but that that was not enough. I then told him that in his studies he would be expected to supplicate the Lord for a divine impression of the truth and divinity of the work, which we call a testimony.”14
And the late Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball said:
“I mention this so you do not think that testimony bearing is some little thing that is incidental to the mission only. This is the church program. It is powerful and mighty. Can you see how important the testimony is? It is the lifeblood of the organization of the Church.”15
So, we see that even by the authorities’ own teaching, the testimony is the true foundation of the LDS church.
And, this must be so!
It must be so because there is no independent objective evidence that corroborates the truth claims of that body. Not historical, not archaeological, not textual. When you examine the claims of Mormonism according to these three criteria, those claims begin quickly to unravel. This has been true from the beginning of the movement. This is why it has been necessary to concoct a test that is subjective, experience-oriented, and can be psychologically generated.
This fact has given momentum to the general authorities’ strategy of suppressing historical documentation, revising recorded history and early revelations, and attempting to intimidate honest LDS historians into silence.
An example can be found in portions of an address given by current acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Boyd K. Packer. This chilling talk was given to the Fifth Annual Church Educational System Religious Educators’ Symposium at Brigham Young University on Aug. 22, 1981. Titled “The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than The Intellect,” the address was in reaction to Mormon historians who tell the unvarnished truth about the history of their movement.
“I have come to believe that it is the tendency for many members of the Church who spend a great deal of time in academic research to begin to judge the Church, its doctrine, organization, and leadership, present and past, by the principles of their own profession. Oftentimes this is done unwittingly, and some of it, perhaps, is not harmful. A member of the Church ought always, particularly if he is pursuing extensive academic studies, to judge the professions of man against the revealed word of the Lord.”16
Boyd then issued these suppressive intimidations:
“Church history can be so interesting and so inspiring as to be a very powerful tool indeed for building faith. If not properly written or properly taught, it may be a faith destroyer.”17
“Some things that are true are not very useful.”18
“The writer or the teacher who has an exaggerated loyalty to the theory that everything must be told is laying a foundation for his own judgment.”19
“The Lord made it very clear that some things are to be taught selectively and some things are to be given only to those who are worthy. It matters very much not only what we are told but when we are told it. Be careful that you build faith rather than destroy it.”20
“That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith. A destroyer of faith — particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith — places himself in great spiritual jeopardy. He is serving the wrong master, and unless he repents, he will not be among the faithful in the eternities. One who chooses to follow the tenets of his profession, regardless of how they may injure the Church or destroy the faith of those not ready for ‘advanced history,’ is himself in spiritual jeopardy. If that one is a member of the Church, he has broken his covenants and will be accountable. After all of the tomorrows of mortality have been finished, he will not stand where he might have stood.”21
“I think you can see the point I am making. Those of you who are employed by the Church have a special responsibility to build faith, not destroy it. If you do not do that, but in fact accommodate the enemy, who is the destroyer of faith, you become in that sense a traitor to the cause you have made covenants to protect. Those who have carefully purged their work of any religious faith in the name of academic freedom or so-called honesty ought not expect to be accommodated in their researches or to be paid by the Church to do it.”22
Elder Packer is driving the notion that it is permissible to keep negative historical truths hidden in order to “promote the faith.” When someone does uncover the negatives, such as the one mentioned in the dialogue earlier in this article, then the testimony card can be played. The burning in the bosom can be appealed to, and the conflicting negative can be whisked off into the nether regions of psychological compartmentalization.
Thus the claim: “I know it’s true despite what you’ve shown me, because I have a confirming feeling that it’s true” in effect becomes the notary for truth.
CLIMBING THE WALL
So, people ask me, when you run head first into the brick wall of the Mormon testimony, what do you do? Just as you would with any impediment to progress, you recognize it for what it is, then you climb over it and go forward.
As has been demonstrated, the “testimony” is a complex set of feelings and emotions psychologically generated and defined by LDS Authorities as final spiritual confirmation of the truth of their religious beliefs. These feelings are generated by individuals who want to believe in the validity of that body so fervently, that they are willing to suspend rationality when it comes to religious matters.
The Mormon testimony, the burning in the bosom, is the final refuge for individuals bludgeoned by the lack of positive, objective historical evidence for the truth claims of their movement. It is the quintessential example of the old saw, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, I have my mind made up.”
1. See this author’s article, “Challenging The Book of Mormon,” The Quarterly Journal, July-September 1997, pg. 4.
2. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1976, pg. 331.
3. David O. McKay, Ancient Apostles. Salt Lake City: The Deseret Sunday School Union, 1918, pg. 190.
4. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (pg. 160) as cited in Daniel Ludlow, editor, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1992. Vol. 4. “Testimony”, (emphasis added).
5. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, BYU Studies, Vol. 16, No. 4, pg. 559, (emphasis added).
6. John A. Widtsoe, Improvement Era, (May 1945, pg. 273) as cited in Testimony compiled by H. Stephen Stoker & Joseph C. Muren, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1980, (emphasis added).
7. Spencer W. Kimball, Unpublished address, Church Historical Department, as cited in Testimony, op. cit., pg. 4, (emphasis added).
8. John H. Vandenberg, Improvement Era, (Dec. 1968, pg. 110) as cited in Testimony, op. cit., pg. 19, (emphasis added).
9. L.G. Otten and C.M. Caldwell, Sacred Truths of the Doctrine and Covenants. Springville, Utah: LEMB, 1982, Vol. 1, pg. 52, (emphasis added).
10. Conference Reports 1931, Apr.:37. As quoted in Rulon T. Burton, We Believe: Doctrines and Principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Tabernacle Books, 1994. Section: Revelation, Subsection 4, Topic: No. 680.
11. Arthur L. Johnson, Faith Misguided: Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism. Chicago: Moody Press, 1988, pp. 26-27.
12. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History. New York: Borzoi Books, Alfred A. Knopf Publisher, First Edition, 1945, pp. 337-338, (emphasis added).
13. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Area Conference Report,” August 1971, Manchester, England, pp. 160-161. As quoted in Testimony, op. cit., pp. 8-9.
14. Stephen L. Richards, Church News, Jan. 16, 1943, pg. 7. As quoted in Testimony, op. cit., pp. 11-12, (emphasis added).
15. Spencer W. Kimball, Unpublished address, Church Historical Department, Jan. 15, 1962, Berlin, Germany, pg. 3. As quoted in Testimony op. cit., pg. 145.
16. Boyd K. Packer, BYU Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, pg. 259.
17. Ibid., pg. 262.
18. Ibid., pg. 263.
19. Ibid., pg. 264.
20. Ibid., pg. 265.
21. Ibid., pg. 266.
22. Ibid., pg. 269. See also this author’s article, “Behind the Deseret Veil,” The Quarterly Journal, October-December 1994, pp. 5-9.
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Saturday, November 25, 2006
From Anderson's critique of Mormonism:
23. I think facts matter, and therefore cannot accept the following: "Our individual, personal testimonies are based on the witness of the Spirit, not on any combination or accumulation of historical facts. If we are so grounded, no alteration of historical facts can shake our testimonies." (Dallin H. Oaks, "1985 CES Doctrine and Covenants Symposium," Brigham Young University, Aug. 16, 1985, page 26). (italics mine).
I think there is a conflict between Clark's position and that of Oaks. Now I realize this raises some issues that you run into in dealing with, say, Catholicism. The hierarchy sometimes say things that the more thoughtful faithful would not accept.
I'd like to ask Clark (and the other Mormons) this question. What kind of historical or archaeological evidence would it take to falsify the Book of Mormon. HT: Tony Flew.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
There are several lines of thought that have to be distinguished. One claim I made was that one could generate a historical case for the New Testament miracles that you could not generate on behalf of the miracles in the Book of Mormon. I did not say that I thought that these miracles could be justified to the satisfaction of all reasonable persons, but just that there is a substantial amount of evidence supporting the historical reliability of the New Testament. The New Testament seems to be about real people living at a real place and time, the writers of the New Testament seem to have been intimately familiar with the various parts of the ancient world, as has been shown by archaeological evidence. Archaeological support for the Book of Mormon seems to be nonexistent. To make matters worse, there is apparent archaeological evidence suggesting that the events in the Book of Mormon could not have taken place as reported. To this I have gotten responses from atheists suggesting that the evidence for Mormon miracles is stronger than the evidence for NT miracles; the Mormon miracles they have in mind, though, are the Angel Moroni giving the Gold Plates to Joseph Smith (which is testified to my several signed witnesses). Portions of the New Testament, the atheists say, are supported by evidence, but what is supported is not the miraculous element in those accounts. One can, after all, write a fictional story about Phoenix, Arizona, making reference to Van Buren
Street, or Chase Field, or the America West Arena, and at the same time include fictional elements, either.
I really need to lay out what I think is the strongest way of laying out the historical case for Christianity, but I want to save that for another post. I will not say, however, that the case for Christianity can be justified by historical evidence alone, in a vacuum as it were. Clark seems to think that some kind of evidential argument for the Christian miracles is doomed to disaster, in that some kind of Humean objection can be brought against it. Miracles, by definition, are events in a very infrequent category; as such they have such a low prior probability that any testimonial evidence will be insufficient to justify them. Viewed from this perspective, both the Christian and the Mormon will be defeated by the religious skeptic. Only if religious experience is brought into view do can we perhaps see the possibility of a case made for these religions.
My own view of prior probabilities and miracles is that we cannot generate objective single-case prior probabilities on the basis of observed frequencies, and that therefore our own perspectives, however we might have come by them, have to figure into the way in which we evaluate miracle claims, or any other claims for that matter. Thus I’m not at all surprised that an atheist like Keith Parsons finds the evidence for Christ’s resurrection inadequate, and that William Lane Craig finds that the evidence more than suffices. This is laid out in the paper I wrote for Internet Infidels in 1998. My overall epistemology is what I would call Bayesian subjectivism. Antecedent probabilities are subjective, but must be calibrated in the light of fresh evidence. My claim is only that if we come to the evidence for the NT miracles without an overwhelming reason to disbelieve them prior to investigation, the case in their favor is reasonably strong, and ought to persuade many (though perhaps not all) open-minded inquirers. Those who are familiar with Stephen T. Davis’s work on the Resurrection of Jesus will recognize that my position more closely resembles his view than, say, that of Josh McDowell, who think that that case for Christ is so overwhelming that only someone refusing to face the truth can deny them.
Clark wants to distance himself from a kind of defense of Mormonism that maintains that, regardless of what evidence might be thrown against Mormonism, the Mormon can hold fast to his or her own experience of a “burning in the bosom” and thereby dismiss all objections.
We might consider four types of cases where a Mormon faces objections, to see how this appeal to experience might work.
1) A charge of lack of evidence. This isn’t a claim that there is evidence against Mormonism, this is a claim that we simply don’t have good reason to accept the Mormon claims. The charge is simply that there is no externally verifiable evidence. Here, the appeal to experience seems sensible.
2) A Mormon (or a Christian) is intellectually outgunned. How many people have been in the situation of dealing with an intellectual opponent who just knows more than you do, and who can out-argue you. Do you give up your beliefs forthwith when that happens. You come out of discussions with that person feeling sure that you must be right and that he, in spite of his superior knowledge, must be wrong, but you feel you lost the debate. When Keith Parsons and I lived in the same house I thought that in a number of discussions I scored some good points, but that his knowledge of philosophy and theology was somewhat greater than mine, and so I thought he won more arguments than I did. (He had already begun graduate studies in philosophy; I was still getting my M.div.) Someone in that situation might end up making a personal experience appeal to hold on to what seems most real to them. I have heard atheist philosophy professors complain, “I showed my students in class today that all the arguments for belief in God are bad, but they still believe. What’s wrong with them?” To which I am inclined to ask in reply “How can someone so well-educated in philosophy be so epistemologically naïve?”
3) Suppose some substantial counter-evidence is presented to a Mormon. I take it this is what Clark thinks is happening in the case of the Nielsen Hayden arguments that I alluded to. He says this about it:
For any claim there will be arguments for and against. Even in science there are often what science calls outlayers in the data. Typically the scientist will, if there is other evidence sufficiently strong, discount such data. Please note that this is not simply ignoring such data. If the data falsifies a claim then it simply can't be so discounted. (Thus, for example, I think scientific data overwhelmingly falsifies most literalist readings of the early chapters of Genesis) This is where Book of Mormon apologetics is valuable. Say what you will about the strength and persuasiveness of such arguments, but they don't rise to the level of falsifying the Book of Mormon.
So there is a distinction to be drawn between evidence that perhaps counts against the book of Mormon and that which falsifies it. Perhaps Mormon experience should be sufficient to beat back counter-evidence but not out-and-out falsification. Mormon apologetics is at least sufficient to undermine the kind of falsification that we find the case of, say, a YEC reading of early Genesis. The young earth just doesn’t fit the facts, and version of Christianity that rely on it have to be revised or abandoned. However, the criticisms of the BOM don’t reach that level of falsification, and so a reasonable person who has a Mormon experience can continue to be a Mormon even if they don’t know how to refute Nielsen Hayden exhaustively. However, this brings up a fourth category:
4) Falsification. Now I do think there is some evidence against the BOM which does meet that standard, and that is the argument from DNA. If Mormonism is true, we should expect a DNA similarity between people of Hebrew origin and Native Americans, whom Mormons call Lamanites. However, the DNA evidence does not support the Book of Mormon, the DNA evidence supports the Bering Strait theory that suggests that Native Americans came over the Bering Strait. From the Anderson critique we find this statement of the case:
When I was growing up in Southern California, I had direct contact with the Mormon Church's Lamanite Placement Program. The Lamanites in this program were Native American youth from Arizona, and New Mexico who, during the school year, moved off the reservation to live with white suburban Euro-American Mormon families. Since this program was run by the church under the direction of prophets, I understood Lamanites lived in Arizona and New Mexico.
Also, from reading the Doctrine & Covenants (one of the canonized Mormon scriptures), I understood from passages about teaching the Lamanites the Gospel, that Lamanites also lived in Missouri.
And I recall the photos in the introductory pages of the 1950s-1970s editions of the Book of Mormon of ancient ruins in Central America, and the Hill Cumorah in Upstate New York (where the Golden Plates were buried). From those, I inferred that, as the Book of Mormon claimed, the Native Americans' "principal ancestors" were the people of the Book of Mormon. Indeed, the people of the Book of Mormon must have been all over the North and Central American Continent like Joseph Smith wrote about the Jaredites (only one of the peoples described in the Book of Mormon):
"Jared and his brother came on to this continent from the confusion and the scattering at the Tower [Tower of Babel], and lived here more than a thousand years, and covered the whole continent from SEA TO SEA, WITH TOWNS AND CITIES..." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 267.)
I grew up understanding that temple dedicatory prayers were prophetic. Indeed, the prayer at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple was canonized in the Doctrine & Covenants. It's interesting that almost without exception in the past 75 years or so, every Mormon temple that has been dedicated in Central and South America, and the Islands of the Pacific, has, in its dedicatory prayer, been mentioned as a place that will bring the blessings of the Gospel to the Lamanites who presumably make of the principal population of that country.
Finally, as a missionary in Germany from 1981-83, I regularly showed the official Mormon Church produced filmstrip Ancient America Speaks. It presented what the rest of the world identifies as Inca and Mayan ruins, as ruins of the Book of Mormon peoples. The photos of the ruins in the filmstrip covered a wide geographical area.
So from all of those evidences I personally knew about or experienced, I believed the Book of Mormon people were spread all over the Western Hemisphere.
Imagine my surprise when DNA studies in recent decades conclusively revealed virtually no Hebrew DNA among Native Americans. On the contrary, the DNA findings revealed that the ancestors of the Native Americans came from Asia. How could that be if the Book of Mormon was about Jewish ancestors, and was about a civilization that "covered the whole continent" and indeed, according to prophetic utterances, the entire Western Hemisphere?
We always clearly understood the Book of Mormon to be the "keystone of our religion." As missionaries, we emphatically taught the principle that if the Book of Mormon is true, then the Mormon Church is true. Now that the Book of Mormon has been completely discredited, any member with a shred of intellectual honesty, who cares to remember their own past and life experiences, must conclude the entire religion is a hoax.
There is no other option.
Maybe I'm wrong, but this looks like scientific falsification to me, as serious as the kind that can be advanced against a YEC reading of Genesis.