Monday, November 13, 2006

Mormon epistemology

This, from a Mormon site, speaks for itself.


Anonymous said...

"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 until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts."

Yea, and verily if you should believe in thine hearts that God speaketh unto ye in such language as this, should thee not be found to be one ignorant of the primal elements of style of the English tongue?

Search the Scriptures that thou may behold what a genuine translation soundeth like.

Aquinas13 said...

Strikes me more as a case of self-hypnosis. If the evidence for Mormonism so clearly exists why is all this building of expectation and preparation needed to find what should be evident?

The truth is not hidden down some mine-shaft that we have to unearth in order to find it. Wherever there is good logic and an encounter with the divine Logos, you will find the truth. And not need a mountain of preparation to do it.

Error said...

I always tell Mormons that I have a knock-down argument against them.

They ask what it is.

I tell them, "well, I just feel like you're wrong."

They always tell me that this isn't good.

I say okay and let them share their message with me.

When their done I ask them how they really know it's true.

The mention the burning in the bosom.

At this point I remind them about what they said about my knock-down argument.

So, they can choose to accept my argument (which, honestly, one actually did just recently!), or they can deny their burning in the bosom.

Well, most usually tell me that my "feeling" is from Satan.

I tell them, "no, yours is from satan."

At this point it's over and I hope they catch my point when they lay their head on the pillow at night.

Clark Goble said...

It seems there's some misunderstanding going on here. First off the "burning in the bosom" while a common description is hardly all there is to it and how people have religious experiences will vary from person to person.

Criticizing language simply because it adopts a quasi-Elizabethan type language, which was ubiquitous for religious speaking in the early 19th century, seems a bit silly.

As for simply "disproving" a Mormon argument simply because you don't have the same experience also establishes nothing. While we can have evidence for something it doesn't follow that 2cd person evidence has the strength of first person evidence. Secondly a single experience obviously doesn't have the strength of continued experiences.

So I think you are unduly simplifying the Mormon epistemic position.

I'd add that if one rejects any form of evidentialism then one is left asking, why should someone believe the Bible? Unless one takes an irrational Kierkegaardian leap of faith. But if one does that for the Bible, why not Mormon approaches to the Bible?

So it seems to me that if a religious person rejects the LDS epistemology they aren't exactly left in a terribly compelling position themselves. One is best off if one turns to agnosticism or atheism.

Victor Reppert said...

The problem with "burning in the bosom" is that this is an issue that is born out of lots of people's experience in dealing with Mormons. Mormons are asked to defend their faith against objections of the sort that Nielsen Hayden presented. Some defense is offered, but it is as if when the Mormon gets in trouble he or she uses the "experience button" to deflect criticism. This may be occurring because Mormons, including missionaries, are poorly grounded in their faith (poorly informed or fideistic Christians will sometimes respond in the same way0 or it is because Mormonism suffers from a lack of grounding. In either case, the anti-Mormon is left in a frustrating impasse.

Are there good answers to Nielsen Hayden's objections? And is there any positive evidence that any of the events recorded in the Book of Mormon really occurred?

Clark Goble said...

An appeal to a religious experience will, of course, be what regular lay members will turn to. I don't think that just because they can't express in a sophisticated fashion what they are doing one should somehow take them as merely appealing to "a burning bosom." By that kind of reasoning all Christians believe in modalism since that's how most lay Christians express the doctrine of the Trinity.

The problem is how to describe a religious experience. The typical approach is to appeal to a common phraseology from ones community. In terms of inter-faith dialog though that is obviously not helpful for the reasons you point out. But one shouldn't confuse a person's limited description with the experience itself.

Clark Goble said...

BTW - I don't think it follows that Mormons are poorly grounded in their faith simply because they don't approach it the way you think they ought. Rather one should simply say that how they view grounding their faith is different from how you ground your faith.

Aquinas13 said...

In my own dialogs with Mormons the "burning bussom" has always been posited as the decisive point or ace in the hole. This usually follows a discussion regarding the historical validity of the Book of Mormon along with discussion of various Mormon doctrines. While I don't have exhaustive knowledge of all Mormons, I would dare say the young lady's expression in the article would be considered as typical. When I turned the Beehive house in Salt Lake city the tour guides repeated spoke about how they felt and the feeling that the house gave each person. Such is the same line of argument as the burning busom.
In any case of dialectic if you can refute what is considered the strongest point by the other party the point is generally conceded. And the burning bussom was the issue at hand and what was being discussed and not a bunch of red herrings regarding linguistic expression.

Aquinas13 said...

"BTW - I don't think it follows that Mormons are poorly grounded in their faith simply because they don't approach it the way you think they ought. Rather one should simply say that how they view grounding their faith is different from how you ground your faith."

One's preference has nothing to do with the correctness or falsity of an approach or its validity. You are begging the question by assuming the position is correct and therefore simply just a different approach.

The point under discussion is not people's preference, but rather the validity of a belief system and the approach to it. This again is a red herring and it is beginning to smell of fish in here.

Clark Goble said...

I don't see how I'm begging the question since to me the point is that the people aren't communicating well their reasoning. i.e. you don't know their reasons and to critique it on the basis of poor communication is unwise.

Is it a common way of discussing it? Yes. I think it often counterproductive. But, to get more philosophical, I think it is descriptive in the sense of picking out a phenomena if one is experiencing it but poorly descriptive in the sense of allowing someone to understand the phenomena without experiencing the phenomena.

The point is that what grounds the belief is the phenomena and not merely what is described (the burning in the bosom)

I can also but point out that on my LDS mission they were quite explicit to make sure we didn't simply say "burning in the bosom" because some have slightly different expressions of the experience. (i.e. some people describe spiritual experiences in terms of a shiver up their back, others in different ways)

Part of the problem is the old problem often discussed in Christianity. How do you describe indescribable experiences? I suppose one could, as Aquinas did, simply remain silent and say one had an experience but not try to describe it.

I think the more common (in my experience) LDS approach is to point to say Gal 5:22 but then to add in the caveat that the spirit and the fruit of the spirit are not the same thing.

To draw an analogy I can describe my wife's love in terms of some of the feelings I have but I'd never mistake my feelings for the experience of love.

I think though one ought excuse poor lay Mormons without a background in philosophy who tend to use language a tad more laxly than some demand. Drawing philosophical implications from loose use of language is, as I said, rather unwise.

Aquinas13 said...

We seem to keep 'ploughing' the same acre of earth. The expression of religious experience is not what is being questioned. It's rather the belief in Mormon theology that precipitates and produces the experience that is in question.

St. Thomas was at pains to first provide a philosophical case long before attempting to consider any such experience in response to such truth. What I question is the Mormon reliance on a physical/emotional experience as a proof for the truth of their doctrine when their philosophical case is shown to be less than convincing.

This shows an over reliance on mystical states as a proof. Since such feelings or responses to them are extremely subjective they are among the weakest proofs one can offer regardless of the language one chooses to uses to express them.

If one embraces a belief that such mystical experiences constitute a final proof, then they are open to a counter claim that during a different mystical experience one received a strong witness that LDS beliefs are false.

To dwell on linguistic expressions rather than what is expressed is to be blinded to the forest by some large trees. If, as you say, the Mormon expression of their responses to their beliefs is as valid as another worldview's expression is to affirm the validity of all such expressions and beliefs they affirm. Yet, what is being disputed is the very first belief behind the expression. You are assuming that all such expressions of faith are valid. The dialog centers on questioning this belief. In this case Mormonism. So, you are assuming the validity of what is under dispute; i.e. Mormon belief.

Clark Goble said...

A few brief comments.

1. My focus was just on the description of the experience and not whether one has justification. I'll deal with that on my blog rather than in the comments here. So my intents here were much narrower: the criticism of the appeal to the "burning in the bosom."

2. I don't believe the philosophical preparation you point to is necessary. If it was then I can't see how any NT witnesses are worth the name.

3. The appeal to experience clearly does open the charge you point to. The problem then becomes how do we verify if an experience is actually a particular subclass of experiences. That is clearly the term "religious experience" is too broad to be helpful epistemologically. It simply covers too much phenomena. There is then the problem of what I'll call subjectivity. In science we can avoid that by having multiple people "look." In religion that is more limited by far. My solution, which I'll expand upon at my blog, is the Peircean one. Always continue inquiry but one has to rest upon the phenomena one encounters and the knowledge one has.

I think that deals with what you call the preparation as well as the nature of the phenomena itself.

Anonymous said...

If approached without reference to any particular doctrinal interpretation, Ian Barbour suggests that spiritual experiences can serve as a common ground for discussion, a place of solid footing, a point of little disputed reference from which to examine the varied interpretations and traditions. Those that Barbour discusses (in his Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study of Science and Religion) can be seen as generally framing a movement:

From responses to external impressions regarding:
* Order and creativity in the world,
*the Common mythic symbols and patterns underlying most religious traditions
* Key historical events that define separate traditions and bind individuals

Through the innermost experiences of the individual:

* Numinous awe and reverence
* Mystical union
* Moral obligation
* Reorientation and Reconciliation with respect to personal sin, guilt, and weakness, the existence of evil, suffering, and death, and tensions between science and faith.

Then returning to the external world as human action:
* Personal dialogue where you begin interpret external events as God speaking to you, and you answer through your own actions. (Martin Buber's I and Thou)

* Social and Ritual behavior

These matters cannot objectively prove the existence of a God (whether personal or impersonal), but, they do constitute the core of religious experience for believers. They provide the ground of experience on which reasoned and feeling assessments of the validity and worth of faith are based. They encompass the ways in which spirituality is manifest in history and symbol. When I see an honest effort to appreciate how LDS believers ground their beliefs through a broad range of experiences, I'll more ready to listen with the expectation that I'm encountering more than shadow boxing.

Reducing Mormon epistomology to "self hypnosis" and "burning of the bosom" may be good for one's ego, but does not demonstrate serious inquiry. Regarding LDS epistomology relative to these particulars of religious belief and action, we could adopt Thomas Kuhn's criteria for valuing one paradigm over another. He observes that the most important criteria, (that is those that actually have something to do with truth of observations) are accuracy of key predictions, comprehensiveness and coherence (that is, how much does an approach explain, and does it cohere both internally and in relation to other acce[ted approaches), fruitfulness (what do you find when you try it out from the inside, as in Jesus' "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free), and finally Future promise. I noticed many years ago that Alma 32 in the Book of Mormon, what should be a key chapter in any discussion of Mormon epistomology, invites the application of these same values. Presumably, this circumstance should not make Kuhn's observations on epistolomogy less valid.

Kuhn also observes how much is determined by the standard examples one selects to generalize from, to establish the paradigm. It one thing to tell a few anecdotes about about a few 19 year missionaries, or Beehive House tour guides. It is quite another thing to encounter someone as well grounded and thoughtful as Clark Gobel.

Kevin Christensen
Pittsburgh, PA

Aquinas13 said...

Hello Clark -

Responses to:
2. I mentioned Aquinas' appraoch to address your objection that he was silent about experience. If you think I am saying that for one to have a valid testimony one must have the same preparation as St. Thomas, you have misunderstood me or perhaps I wasn't clear. I believe St. Thomas' case is a much stronger one than one who relies on subjective experience.

3. Well I think we have closed ground on this point and probably differ less here than in other places.

I hope you have enjoyed this as much as I have, Clark. I'm sure our paths will cross again.

Peace be with you!

Anonymous said...

LDS Epistemology is irresponsible. We do not need to pray about things that Gos has already revealed to us.
One God- Isaiah 43:10, 44:6
One Gospel- 1st Corinth 15:1-4
Galatians 1:8
Jesus is God- John 8:58
We do not need Prophets today- Hebrews 1:1,2

No need to pray about it, Scripture is quite clear on these matters!
Ben Duarte