Thursday, November 30, 2006

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on Pascal's Wager

William Lane Craig's Moral Argument for Theism

Steve Davis replies to Exapologist

Steve Davis responds to the argument from the delay of the Parousia. Assuming that Christ invested the Church with an immanent expectation of the Parousia, was that impression just plain false. Think about it. Everyone who dies experiences a personal "Parousia" in which they meet God face to face. Most of us presuppose, wrongly, that we will go on and on for a long time, especially if we are young. Are we guaranteed a 70+ year life span, or can we be taken at any time? Jesus explicitly says, right in the same paragraph as the infamous "this generaation statement," not only that WE don't know the day or they hour, but also that He doesn't, only the Father does. So how could Christ be deceiving us when he himself said he didn't know? Christ gave us an immanent expectation, not a statute of limitations.

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.


Why do Christians argue against Mormonism

A few posts back Jeff G, who is an atheist but someone with some real sympathy with the Mormon Church, wanted to know why Christians sometimes argue against, and in some ways vehemently oppose, Mormonism. Now one answer to all of this might be that Christians care, and care very much, whether or not their beliefs are true. This, of course might explain why Christians are motivated to argue against Calvinism or Arminianism, or Protestantism against Catholicism, or whatever way they disagree about religion.

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.

Robin Collins' fine-tuning argument for theism

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

And this is Frank Walton's Christian response

With a similar disclaimer about the tone.

The Mark Smith anti-Craig site

To provide a background as to how Mormonism is being used against WLC, see this. Of course, it's full of over the top rhetoric that I unrecommend.

Let's be FAIR and balanced on the DNA issue

Dennis Monokroussos on the DNA challenge to Mormonism

As soon as I find it, I will also post a link to the FAIR response to this argument.

Craig's response to the Mormon Objection

The most significant objection to such a religious epistemology, as several respondents observe, arises from the diversity of the religious claims supported by religious experience. Since these claims are logically incompatible in many cases, the experiences cannot ground them all as properly basic with respect to warrant (assuming that truth is not pluralistic and person-relative, but is one and objective). Either at least some of the experiences are non-veridical or else veridical experiences of the divine have been conceptualized in false propositional claims. For example, while the Christian theist may claim to know the great truths of the Gospel through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, the Mormon polytheist will claim to know the truth of the Book of Mormon through the 'burning in the bosom' he experiences as he reads it. Does not the presence of the confident claim of the Mormon to know the truth of LDS doctrine based on religious experience serve to undercut the claim of the Christian to know the Gospel truth via a similar religious experience?

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

On critiquing Mormonism

Where I live Mormons are vastly more numerous than atheists, and I get Mormon students quite often in my classes. So understanding why the believe what they do, and why they seem uninterested in the evidential issues surrounding the book of Mormon has been something I want very much to understand.

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

Steve Cannon's Essay on Mormonism

My thanks to Stephen F. Cannon for his permission to reproduce this essay here, which originally appeared in the Quarterly Journal. Please note his account of encountering the Testimony, and also note the passages from Boyd Packer. Steve has been teaching the SS class at my church, and we spent two weeks on Mormonism.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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

Mormonism and the Falsification Challenge

Clark (repeatedly): I don't think though that one can simply neglect facts. Far, far from it.

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

The Last Days According to Jesus

R. C. Sproul wrote a book responding to the "false prophet" charge, defending a "partial preterist" understanding of eschatology.

Was Jesus a false prophet?

Since this topic came up on the Mormonism and falsification thread, I am setting up this thread to talk about that issue, reserving the Mormonism thread for the Mormonism issue.

And who were they thanking?

This is an article from the Arizona Republic. Apparently schools today are supposed to portray Thanksgiving in a historically accurate way. But you'll notice that the article says nary a word about who the Pilgrims were thanking. If anything, it looks like they were thanking the Indians. In fact, I've seen a fifth grade textbook that says exactly that. I'm afraid this is political correctness run amok. If we want accuracy, then we should at the very least tell the kids that the Pilgrims were devout Christians who were thanking, um, um, you know....God.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Mormon epistemology, DNA, and falsification

Let’s try to put the pieces together of a discussion that I started about LDS beliefs. I live in a part of the country where the LDS church is very prevalent, and I get a fair number of LDS students in my classes. When students write papers about Mormonism, I find that often they don’t really want to argue that Mormonism is true, or criticize arguments against it.

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.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A response to an inquiry on the meaningfulness of life

Mark Plus said...
I'd like for an apologist to clarity this "meaning of life" business for me. Does the christian theory offer "meaning" to life because you can go to heaven? Or does it offer "meaning" because you have to go somewhere other than into Epicurean oblivion after you die?

If the latter, that seems to imply that if you wind up going to hell, why, that gives your "meaning" too.

VR: When Christians claim that Christianity provides meaning to their lives, I think it is best interpreted as saying that if Christianity is true there is such a thing as a person's achieved the goal that is intended for that person, and that in achieving that goal one also achieves a goal that is good from the point of view of the person himself. This would not be satisfied if, for example, humans were simply being raised for food by extraterrestrials. If we were eaten, we would fulfil the goals set for us by the extraterrestrials, but we would not fulfil anything that could be recognized as our own good.

What God created us for, and what will fulfil us for an eternity is, according to Christianity, eternal fellowship with Himself. If atheism is true, that kind of satisfaction isn't in the cards for anybody.

That said, I think Christians make a mistake in saying that life has no meaning if Christianity isn't true. Christianity offers a meaningful life in this particular sense, but atheists can have a meaningful life an many over sense, which should not be denied by theists.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Jesus Seminar's list of reliable and probably reliable statements of Jesus

From the Wikipedia.

Man or Rabbit?

Thanks to Earth and All Stars for pointing out that Man or Rabbit is online. I think that, unlike people who somehow think that it isn't important or relevant, atheist critics of Christianity do take Christianity seriously in ways that a lot of people don't. You too Steven Carr.

Do Christian apologists and atheists agree on something important that much of the world denies?

On the Secular Outpost Jeff Lowder posted a letter by Keith Parsons in response to a letter from William Lane Craig about people who found Christianity irrelevant. I have always found the agreements between atheists and theists to be as interesting as their disagreements, but we don't talk about them as much.

I read the response of Charity's friends differently. I would have thought that it was one of the fundamental areas of agreement between atheists like Parsons and Christian apologists like Craig that the differences between Christian theism and atheism were matters of truth and not relevance, that it does matter whether Christianity is true or not, and that rational argument can at least possibly aid us in resolving the question of whether or not it is true. So I read Charity Craig's friends not as saying that they thought Christianity false (they would have said that if that is what they meant to say) but rather to have fallen into the same sort of postmodern trap that is as old as Protagoras and in fact is as dangerous to modern science as it is to Christianity. "Evolution is an interpretation, and creationism is an interpretation, and there really isn't any such thing as truth, so can't we all just get along, and accept whatever is relevant, and what is relevant to me is true for me, even if it is not true for you."

Craig does indulge in the rhetoric that life is meaningless without God, but at least one can say that if Christianity is true then those who deny it have gotten the wrong meaning out of life. But I must admit that unless Craig can get this argument beyond the stage of exchanging autobiographical reports (T: I found life meaningless without God A: I find life completely meaningful without God) this type of claim does nothing to provide a reason for the hope within.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The historical case for Christianity

1) The skeptic is not committed to viewing the NT authors as being stupid or ignorant at all. Indeed, I think Luke especially was a very impressive historian. Thus, the skeptic would expect his natural facts to be largely correct.

VR: Most skeptics historically, before the accurate detail was discovered, thought that Acts was a late document, perhaps even from the second century.

JG: I simply see no reason why the skeptic cannot allow that something unusual, but completely natural happened which later got exaggerated into supernatural claims. Under such a view, one would expect the "historical" transition between natural and supernatural to be fairly fluid.

VR: We're talking about, among other things, a resurrection from the dead. What "natural" event could have happened that could have morphed into a resurrection claim?

JG: 2. The testaments are clearly NOT cases of multiple and independent attestation. First of all, because the author did not witness anything at all themselves. Second, and more importantly, they are shared sources amongst themselves.

VR: Luke in several places speaks in the first person plural, and these passages are amongst those where the historical accuracy kicks in. I think the evidence that Luke was present as a companion of Paul is quite strong here. As for sharing, these people were leaders in the same Church, so this shouldn't be too surprising.

Sometimes I get the feeling from skeptics that it's heads I win tails you lose. If they say the same thing, they are colluding. If they say different things, they contradict each other.

JG: An unbiased report would be a report which the reporter gains nothing it the report turns out to be true. When the reporter reports something which actually goes against their own interests, that is good historical evidence that some claim is reliable.

VR: Peter, for example put his life at risk by getting out in front of the gate and telling the people who had crucified Jesus that he had been resurrected and vindicated. After all, the people who got rid of Jesus had the power to get rid of him as well. That was why he had been sneaking out the back door making denials before the cock crowed.

JG: What I'm looking for is some person who saw Jesus perform any of his miracles, didn't believe him and then testified of it himself. Considering how many purported accounts of miracles which we have in the NT, this shouldn't be asking too much. Or we could ask to Paul or James' record which they wrote before their conversion.

VR: You expect all sorts of people having their reflections recorded? I mean we could expect to have some letter from C. S. Lewis saying rejecting God and Christianity, but Paul and James?

In any event, I think that the evidence for Christ's resurrection, for various reasons, is substantial. However, other factors decide whether or not it is sufficient, such as the antecedent plausibility of theism and the antecedent plausibility of Christianity. I also maintain that nothing like this historical case can be found on behalf of either Islam or Mormonism, which was the point I was making. I find it sufficient myself, but probably would not find it sufficient if my background beliefs were different.

Two Questions for Clark

Two questions about Mormon epistemology for Clark. First, just to clarify, my objection to the appeal to religious experience is not to say that religious experience claims are always unjustified, or to object to the terms ("burning in the bosom") in which it is expressed. The objection is to the idea that you can deflect criticisms of the Nielsen Hayden variety by saying "None of that really matters. Just take the book of Mormon home and pray over it, and if God gives you a feeling that it is true, then become a Mormon." Is this an appropriate response? It sounds like "Don't Confuse me With the Facts, I have a Testimony." (the title of an article by Steve Cannon on Mormonism). I wouldn't consider that to be an adequate response to questons about the defensibility of Genesis, for example. Some Christians are going to try to defend a literal reading of Genesis, and some will attempt to escape difficulties by backing away from strict literalism, and there is a gamut of ways of dealing with the problems with Genesis. But an appeal to religious experience in this context would be a complete non sequitur.

Second, is it open to the Mormon to accept a non-literalist move in response to NH criticisms which is similar to the nonliteralist move that Christians often make with respect to Genesis?

Response to Jeff G

Jeff G: First of all I should point out that I'm not the one who believes that any supernatural claim are supported by history. Nevertheless, here are a couple of standard criteria:

1) Multiple and independent attestation.
2) Reported by unbiased witnesses

The two criteria of
3) Internally consistency
4) External consistency

are what Vic is focusing on. But my point is that these last two are not criteria for supporting supernatural claims at all, but are instead criteria for disconfirming supernatural claims only. While this may sound a little Popperian, I find it appropriate when we are dealing with historical claims which we expect to be mostly consistent whether they are true or not.

VR: If you look at a lot of the works focused around supernatural claims, it seems as if you do not find the kind of fine-grained accuracy with respect to the non-miraculous detail that you find in the NT. I think this is something a skeptic should not expect to find. Getting all the governmental details right is pretty significant and places Luke close to the events. It renders unlikely the idea that the book of Acts is thr product of extensive legendary development.

It seems to me that you do have mulitple and independent attestation of the Christian miracle claims (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Paul, and others). But I'm not sure what a report by an unbiased witness would look like. There are reports of people becoming believers who had even been opponents or skeptics (Paul, James), but you're probably going ot argue that these people tainted themselves by becoming Christians. So what are we looking for? Someone who says "Yeah, I saw Jesus rise from the dead all right. But even though it looks like Jesus overcame death and said that I could receive eternal life if I followed him, I figured I had better things to do, so I didn't." Should we expect there to be anyone like that, and would someone like that write a biography of Jesus?"

My paper on miracles for Internet Infidels

Democrat ethical problems

Earlier I posted a link to a piece charging Nancy Pelosi with hypocrisy for marching in a Gay Pride parade with a man-boy love advocate while at the same time condemning the Republican response to the Foley scandal. Dennis Monokroussos wrote me to point out that there isn't adequate reason to believe that Pelosi knew about Mr. Hay's views. In any event, she did not occupy a supervisory position with respect to the parade in which she marched, while her opposite number, Dennis Hastert, had a supervisory role with respect to Mr. Foley's conduct. However, this is rather more serious.

Shandon's Guthrie's case for the resurrection

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The case against the stolen election charge

HT: Steve Hays.

Mormonism and the historical case for Christianity

I should make some clarifications about what I mean when I say that the New Testament has a substantial amount of historical verification that the Book of Mormon lacks. I do not mean to say that it isn’t logically possible that there should have been all those things happening in the Americas for which all of the circumstantial evidence is somehow lost. (Though the DNA disconnect between Jews and Native Americans is a problem I haven’t even discussed). It is also perfectly possible that in spite of the evidence that the authors of the NT were familiar with the details of governments in certain cities and had detailed knowledge of first-century sailing ships from that area, nevertheless the miracles they reported did not take place and that Christianity is false.

It isn’t just that the NT mentions places like Corinth and Malta. It’s the fact that archaeological evidence shows that Luke had detailed knowledge of exactly what kind of governmental systems each of these places had. And these places changed their governmental systems as time went on. This is pretty strong evidence to me that Luke was in pretty close contact with the major parties involved in the missionary journeys. Who would know, for example, the Maltese were headed up by a “First Man.” That is the point of the F. F. Bruce quotation quoted by Riss:

One of the most remarkable tokens of his accuracy is his sure familiarity with the proper titles of all the notable persons who are mentioned in his pages. This was by no means such an easy feat in his days as it is in ours, when it is so simple to consult convenient books of reference. The accuracy of Luke's use of the various titles in the Roman Empire has been compared to the easy and confident way in which an Oxford man in ordinary conversation will refer to the Heads of Oxford colleges by their proper titles--the Provost of Oriel, the Master of Balliol, the Rector of Exeter, the President of Magdalen, and so on. A non-Oxonian like the present writer never feels quite at home with the multiplicity of these Oxford titles. But Luke had a further difficulty in that the titles sometimes did not remain the same for any great length of time; a province might pass from senatorial government to administration by a direct representative of the emperor, and would then be governed no longer by a proconsul but by an imperial legate (legatus pro proetore).

Now, this kind of correct detail is of course compatible with nothing out of the ordinary happening, but it does undermine the idea that the Book of Acts is the product of extensive legendary development, which is what you would expect if the whole thing were made up. For this reason a late date for Acts seems out of the question. We are left wondering, if Christianity is not true and none of these things really happened, then what did? And none of the extant theories (theft theory, hallucination theory, wrong tomb theory, evil twin theory, etc.) is satisfactory enough even for all the skeptics to agree on what might have happened, much less to persuade believers. Now it may be rational for some persons to maintain their skepticism about these accounts based on some version of the Humean principle (something like "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence).

With the Book of Mormon, I seem to come pretty easily to the conclusion that the whold darn thing was made up, not even that it was something built on a factual foundation but embellished. There is a positive historical case to me made here, even if that case is overcome, in some minds, by a stronger reason to reject it.

Was the 2004 election stolen? I'd like to think this is wrong

I'm no fan of Bush, but I am a fan of the American system of government. So I'd just as soon see this refuted.

What case can be made against this report, that came out in Rolling Stone Magazine last summer?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Historical evidence for Christianity

Can any other religion claim the kind of historical support that Christianity can claim? Or even come close? Even though it doesn't follow from the fact that some parts of the NT are confirmed by historical evidence that the miraculous part of the NT is so supported, nevetheless to me the historical support for the NT seems remarkable.

In particular, there's nothing like it for Mormonism, or for Scientology, or Islam. People who are trying to argue that Christianity is no better off than Mormonism have some things to think about.

Scientific evidence for supernaturalism?

From Charles Colson.

A criticism of Nancy Pelosi

We're fair and balanced here at Dangerous Idea, so here is a charge of hypocrisy against incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Mormon epistemology

This, from a Mormon site, speaks for itself.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden's critique of Mormonism

I thought I should put Teresa Nielsen Hayden's critique of the book of Mormon up on its own entry. I also linked to her blog.

So there's that venerable (150 years old now) book for you, reduced to a pureed caricature of itself for your easy consumption. But remember Joe Sheffer? We left him sitting in the Howard Johnson's in Tempe several pages ago, drinking coffee and waiting to deliver his clinching argument. Actually, all he said was that Lehi & Co. would have had to forget the use of the wheel somewhere on the voyage from the Middle East to America, since the invention was widely in use at the time of their departure from Jerusalem but was never used in the Americas until the European conquests. I thought about that for a moment. Joe was dead right, of course. Then I considered it for a couple of minutes more while I waited for the tremors to die down (no doubt the serpent at the foundations of the earth stirring), and then plunged into an orgy of dissection.

For instance, the book is written in very bad King James English that sounds like the language spoken in Mighty Thor comic books (I say thee, nope!). This is a little hard to swallow in a manuscript that was theoretically translated by an upstate New York farmboy in the nineteenth century; harder to swallow is the notion that God really talks like that. It reads as though someone very familiar with the Bible (in an unscholarly way) were trying to write in imitation of the King James Version's style--say, the son of a devout Protestant Fundamentalist family, where reading the Bible would have been the order of the day, where more sophisticated Biblical scholarship would have been unknown, and where the most commonly available version of the Bible would have been one in a distinct and peculiar style that included things like verse breaks.

Then there's the archaeological side of the question. In the nineteenth century the science hadn't really been invented yet; there was still the possibility that the Amerinds were the Ten Lost Tribes, or something equally fabulous. Of course, the truth (current version, who knows?) turned out to be just as strange, in a wildly different way, and I'd no more give up on Olmec heads, the Mound Builders of the eastern United States, and the trek across the Siberian land-bridge, than I would have given up on dinosaurs as a kid. Moreover, the Amerinds are manifestly not just dark-skinned Semites; there are some distinct physiological differences besides skin color, the blood type is all wrong, and the indigenous American languages, all God-knows-how-many-dozens of them, are nothing like any known Semitic language.

Another thing, a small thing that peculiarly caught my eye, is that in the Book of Mormon there are many large battles fought with swords. Now, there are two kinds of swords that could be used in these conflicts. They could have the all-metal one- or two-edged sort that comes in a hundred shapes and sizes in Old World literature, or they could be using the best New World equivalent, a sort of large club or paddle edged on both sides with inset rows of sharpened obsidian chunks--a fearsome weapon. Whichever; take your pick. Many men with swords go out to the field of combat and die there, their swords and armor decomposing somewhat more slowly than their bodies. Now, if they were using metal swords, there ought to be some trace of that much metal left--its rust in the ground in wetter climates, the artifacts themselves further west. (In some parts of the Southwest, corncobs and broken sandals are found in caves thousands of years after they were abandoned there, still in perfect shape.) In either case there'd be metalworking sites near sources of ore. There's nothing of the sort. So, okay, they were using the Aztec-style wooden paddle with obsidian edges. In that case there should be, around the old battle sites, innumerable shaped obsidian pieces lying where they came to rest after their wooden cores rotted out. These should occur frequently at sites extending from Old Mexico to New York. They don't, of course; there was a remarkably widespread trade in Central American obsidian across North America, but the stuff was used for things like ritual implements and jewelry.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Elections, Arrogance, and Accountability

Well, the elections are over, and the result, from the point of view of us Democrats, is something like Frodo Baggins completing the Ringbearer's quest and the fall of Mordor.

Actually it reflected the population's frustration with the sheer stubbornness of the Bush administration with respect to its "Captain Ahab" policy in Iraq, the complete control of all branches of government by a single party, and corruption and hypocrisy on the part of people in the seats of power. You can have one party be predominant in government if it is constantly vigilant to hold its fellow party members accountable. As an Arizonan, I am proud of the moment when Barry Goldwater and John Rhodes were among the Republicans in Congress who went to the White House to tell Richard Nixon that they could no longer oppose impeachment, and the he would do well to resign. The public would have accepted the Foley scandal better if the party had held its own members accountable. They didn't. Corruption of the Democrat-controlled congress in 1994 (Rostenkowski et al) resulted the the "Contract with America" Republican congress, but that Congress failed to keep its promises and hold its own party accountable for its actions (not to mention its own members).

It's a little like the televangelist scandals of the late 1980s. Too much power and money in the hands of a few people resulted in those whose mission it is to preach the gospel falling into corruption. Christian leaders after those scandals broke concluded that accountability was the key. Anyone interested in the exercise of political power, Republican or Democrat, needs to learn that same lesson.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Tom Cruise on psychiatry

This is a redated post that I did a year ago when the Brooke Shields-Tom Cruise business was coming out. See the linked paper by Jeff Jacobsen.

I'm glad to see that Tom Cruise is so knowledgeable about the science of psychiatry and has just the right diagnosis for Brooke Shields. I'm looking forward to his comments when he weighs in on the Intelligent Design issue, or maybe his critical analysis of C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea.

Apparently this is not his first foray into this discussion.

The Church of Scientology seems to have a sweetheart relationship with certain Hollywood celebrities, but a far darker side in dealing with common folk like you and me.

Richard Carrier and Aristotle

Now that Richard Carrier is blogging, maybe this might be a good time to ask him to clear up that business of him comparing himself to Aristotle. I suspect he was misunderstood.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mormonism and history

I don't know if there are any Mormon apologists out there, but I'm going to raise some questions about their religious beliefs, using the following piece by ex-Mormon Teresa Nielsen Hayden here. In my course on world religions every semester we watch a video of a debate between evangelical Christian William Lane Craig and my former housemate and sometime philosophical sparring partner Keith Parsons. A good deal of the discussion in the debate surrounds Craig's claim that we have good reason to believe that Jesus' resurrection occurred, while Parsons maintains that in view of the antecedent improbability of the miraculous, the extraordinary claim of a resurrection a requires extraordinary evidence that cannot be provided by defenders of the resurrection. In view of this, Parsons maintains that it is more reasonable to accept the claim that the disciples resurrected the risen Jesus than to accept the claim that Jesus rose from the dead.

Without attempting to adjudicate this interesting debate, I would just argue that at the very least the Christian miracle stories are consistent with what we know historically. However, it appears to me that Mormonism does ask you to believe things that are contrary to what we know historically. The Israelites had wheels and the Native Americans did not, so how did they forget how to use the wheel? When did the wheels fall off? There are no linguistic similarities between Native languages and Hebrew, which we should expect if the descendants of the Hebrews lived in the America. Etc. Etc.

I once had a long discussion one evening with a Mormon missionary, who every time he was cornered in a discussion, said that regardless of the evidence, all I needed to do was take the book of Mormon home, pray over it, and see if I felt a "burning in the bosom" telling me that God wanted me to become a Mormon. But even if I tested positive for Mormonism, I would still be expected to accept a religion's claims when my best reasoning tells me that the weight of the evidence is against it. This is something I won't do, or more precisely, I cannot do.

On a personal note, the Nielsen-Hayden piece mentions Joe Sheffer, a close personal friend of mine in the 70s and 80s who, in spite of a getting only a baccalaureate education, could stand up in a philosophical debate with the most brilliant philosophers I ever met. He was a great lover of C. S. Lewis and Thomas Aquinas, and I wish I could have his input on my Unmoved Mover discussion. He had an idea to employ Thomistic philosophy to solve fundamental problems in artificial intelligence, but his life was cut short by a heart attack in February of 1989 at the age of 36.

Monday, November 06, 2006

More dialogue with Loftus

JL: If the AFR is successful, it doesn't necessarily lead to the Christian God. This you'll grant me. Maybe the argument leads us to rethink materialism, as you've indicated. Maybe matter is much different and more bizzare then we think? After all, to my knowledge no one yet had found the smallest particle in the universe. It must exist, or does it?

VR: The argument from reason is an argument against naturalism defined by three theses. 1) The physical world at the basic level of analysis is mechanistic. It is free of purpose and meaning. 2) The physical world is causally closed, and 3) whatever else is real, in particular at the “mental” level, is determined by the state of the physical. Our ordinary conception of “matter” makes it mechanistic and purpose and meaning-free. If that basic level isn’t mechanistic, then in essence we aren’t really talking about matter anymore. There are other “mentalistic” world-views which are not traditional theism which would not be targeted by the AFR, including the world-view Lewis himself converted to when he accepted Owen Barfield’s AFR, namely, absolute idealism.

JL: Furthermore, you do realize that some, if not all of the same problems that we have accounting for rationality and consciousness if God does not exist(or a non-material spirit), applies in similar ways to God himself, if he does. Surely you've seen the essays out there questioning whether God can think, and questioning whether God is a metaphysically free being. I think these are the problems one has wherever the buck stops, correct? You press the Euthyphro dilemna against me, and I press it against you.

VR: I’m unimpressed by these arguments, and I am equally unimpressed by the Euthryphro argument.

JL: The whole issue of consciousness, rationality and the mind/brain problem hasn't been satisfactorily solved in my opinion, on either side of the fence. But one thing seems crystal clear to me: there can be no causation from body to soul or soul to body unless they share some "point of contact."

VR: The mind has a special relationship to the brain, of course. The mind, in the ordinary course of things, doesn’t move my hand without electrical impulses from the brain. But there are good dualist theories out there that deal with these matters, see especially Hasker.

JL: But the main problem I see here, is that we are biological human beings, not merely matter, if this distinction can be made, and I think it can. As biological systems we have developed the rationality to know how to survive in this world. For instance, as we observe the drinking patterns of a deer we can hunt it down while it is drinking. Human beings who didn't draw such connections didn't survive, based on the theory of evolution. We also had to deal with other human beings in social relationships, and so in order to do so we had to draw conclusions about human behavior and learn to argue our cases to get our way. VR: There isn’t supposed to be any different kind of causation going on in biological systems than there is in other physical systems. If there is, then this is a fact that cries out for explanation and can be used in a case for theism.

JL: Compare the standards of acceptable reasoning in the ancient world, especially in the Bible with how the NT writers used the OT, then you know we have developed stricter standards for the acceptance of arguments. Socrates, for instance, could not get away with saying that if we know the good, we'll do the good, nor could Plato get away with his statements on the soul, since we would ask him to define what he meant.

VR: Socrates was very good at asking people what they meant. People today get away with all sorts of BS today in the academic community. It’s important not to underestimate the intellectual skills of our ancestors. They were not stupid. There are different styles of reasoning with respect to interpreting the OT text which were accepted then but would not be accepted today.

Scare Tactics

A Democratic victory tomorrow will result in the end of civilization as we know it. We survived Hitler, Stalin, the Cold War, the Bubonic Plague, the Wars of Religion, the Dark Ages, etc. but this will bring down the house of family values, and hence civilization itself. At least that's what the Republican congressional committe is telling us.