Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Accounting For The Book of Mormon

Jeffrey R. Holland's recent sermon and testimony has put a spotlight back on the Book of Mormon. It was a powerful and moving address. Three great commentaries on the talk can be found here at Mormanity, Dave's Mormon Inquiry, and Life on Gold Plates.

While his primary audience obviously consisted of believers in the truthfulness of Book of Mormon, it once again piqued my curiosity about how non-believers account for the Book of Mormon. I've been curious enough to try and step into others' shoes to see how they account for it. And while I often find myself being able to empathize with their position, I also repeatedly find their explanations frustratingly insufficient. Perhaps that sentiment goes both ways.

Nevertheless, for those who do not believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God, explaining it away presents a serious and difficult challenge. Most do not step up to the challenge at all, and dismiss it far too easily. Those who so quickly dismiss it never seem to convincingly articulate why, or at least how they do account for it. It's one thing to question various pieces of a puzzle, but to dismiss this puzzle without examining so many significant and important pieces seems reckless and irresponsible.

After examining any and all of these alternative explanations, it's still more improbable for me to believe that Joseph Smith, and those witnesses who saw and felt the plates, were lying the whole time. Not that people don't lie; people lie all the time. But in this case, look at what was at stake! And what would have been the motive for even attempting to pass off a "19th century hoax" as a sacred record and ancient witness of Jesus Christ? These are not unreasonable questions. And I think they demand good and reasonable answers, especially if I were to be persuaded to change my mind regarding the Book of Mormon--that it truly is what it purports to be.

I most certainly would need someone to do much better in making a case than regurgitating the same explanations that have already been brought forward. That Joseph thought it would be fun to get involved with magic, produce a hoax, and then live the unrelenting and persecuted life he lived in defending that lie--even eventually giving his life for it--just doesn't work for me.

As Elder Holland recently pointed out, why would Joseph and Hyrum turn to a fabricated hoax for spiritual strength and comfort right before they were killed? Meanwhile, there still cannot be found a reasonable and good explanation for how it was fabricated in the first place. Either Joseph was a genius who wrote it himself or he improbably got help from some other ghostwriter(s). And if the best someone can do is connect a few verses of Alma 40 with similarities from the 32nd chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, or say that Joseph just copied from some other manuscript, then an explanation has been attempted for only a small portion of the book. But how was the rest of it written? What of the rest of Alma, or Mosiah, or the vast majority of the rest of the Book of Mormon? Certainly there are many other complicated books which have single authors (J. R. R. Tolkien comes to mind), but what of the Book of Mormon's powerful, moving, and convincing witness of the divinity of Christ, our Redeemer? After all, Christ is the central character and focus in the Book of Mormon from beginning to end. Was Joseph Smith really capable of that?

So far the "best" explanation I've been given by a thoughtful critic of the Book of Mormon is that it's simply a "hodge podge of various common 18th century themes, sources, and religious controversies combined into an imaginative and compelling story." But even this explanation doesn't give the entirety of the Book of Mormon and all it represents the amount of thought that it demands. And besides, didn't Alexander Campbell already say essentially the same thing while calling Joseph an impostor back in 1831? Such a flippant explanation does indeed seem a little pathetic for someone familiar with the totality of the Book of Mormon, let alone the abilities of Joseph Smith or the unbelievable help (aka: vast conspiracy) Joseph would have needed to pull off such an amazing scam.

It's actually harder for me to believe these alternative explanations than to simply believe that God and angels were involved. And as crazy as that can sound to a non-believer, it shouldn't be that crazy for any believer in the Bible, which also describes angelic visitations. Knowing what I know, it would require a greater "jump of reason" for me to conclude that the Book of Mormon wasn't brought forth by the "gift and power of God".

The Book of Mormon continues to be a marvel to me. I continue to be amazed at its relevance in my life today, as well as the great wisdom and power I find in its pages. And while I'm open minded about the actual translation process and even the presence of seeming anachronisms, those points all seem to miss the point. The Book is of God. I feel similar to Blake Ostler, who recently wrote on another blog: "The Book of Mormon is like breath to me. I love its teachings and passages so much that they are like a part of my soul."

And even I fail at fully accounting for all that it has meant for me.

141 comments:

Papa D said...

CC, fwiw, I think so much time and focus is put on what essentially is unknowable given the actual record (like where it took place, what the DNA would have been, etc.) that perhaps the best evidence for it (1 Nephi - especially the first half) is overlooked commpletely. That portion is verifiable to a MUCH greater extent / degree than the rest, and it simply is astounding in many ways.

Personally, I believe the lost 116 pages and the subsequent "rewrite" of the beginning of the book was to provide evidence that simply can't exist for the rest of it - and if the first section can't be dismissed and actually is rock solid, the rest can't be dismissed out-of-hand or by any of the theories that are used currently. Period.

Clean Cut said...

I'm not sure I understand your second paragraph, Papa D, but I agree completely with the first paragraph. Excellent point.

Clean Cut said...

Ah, I just re-read it and "got" the meaning in the second paragraph. Although, perhaps the lost 116 pages/"Book of Lehi" would also have included the same verifiable evidence we find in the 1st book of Nephi, at least in terms of geography and their travels down the Arabian peninsula. Who knows? But I think you may have a point.

I agree that much more time should be spent on those things/evidences we DO have for the Book of Mormon rather than only on some of the things we don't know.

For example, it is eye opening to read through some of the "Book of Mormon Evidences" on Jeff Lindsey's website. I find the examples of Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon alone to be absolutely phenomenal. The example in Alma 36 is a complete marvel to me, and not just for its Chiasmus, but for the fact that it centers on the Atonement of Christ.

But it takes time to read through and analyze these kinds of things in order to actually appreciate it for what it is. Alas, most people simply do not take the time.

Anonymous said...

I don't quite understand what it about the BOM that unbelievers/critics are supposed to "account" for.

Could I have written the BOM? No. Is it a remarkable book in many ways? Yes. But many remarkable books have been written over the years by remarkable people. Likewise, remarkable paintings have been produced, remarkable symphonies composed, remarkable mathematical theorems proved, etc. I don't quite understand how anyone does any of these things. Yet somebody did them.

So yes the BOM is remarkable. But it reads like it largely repackages material straight from the Bible, mixed with some fragments of theology that seem utterly modern in conception. There are many novel story features, but others seem like they are adapted straight from the bible. When I read it, it just does not strike me at all as an ancient work, remarkable though it may be in many ways.

So what is it that I have to account for?

As far as Joseph's motivation, he started as a poor and obscure but ambitious farm boy. His religious ministry made him wealthy and famous, revered by his followers, with a good sized city and small army under his command, and a covey of secret wives (albiet with many bumps in the road along the way.) I'm not saying his motivations were entirely venal, but why would it be hard to explain his motivations?

- a skeptic

Clean Cut said...

Thanks, Skeptic. I appreciate hearing your current perspective. So to be clear, I'm asking how you account for the whole "package", if you don't believe Joseph translated it "by the gift and power of God". I suppose I'm wondering: Is it your position that Joseph wrote it himself? How do you account for the witnesses to the Book of Mormon? Is it your position that they were all lying? And your position on their motivation is that they did this for wealth and fame?

Also, have you thought through how that explanation all holds up when weighed against the full life's work, words, and actions of these men?

Jettboy said...

Clean Cut, I don't think you understand. Basically, as anonymous said, they don't have to account for it. For them the Book of Mormon is just so many words on paper. They don't have the sense of spirit or the vested interest in its teachings. Besides, as Fawn Brodie and other critics have stated, there is no such thing as Angels and Gold Plates. Therefore, they believe there is nothing to account for as the very idea of its existence is foolish.

The fact they can come up with ideas, any ideas, is enough for them. Details that bring their own conclusions into question are meaningless. Just read the whole "His religious ministry made him wealthy and famous, revered by his followers, with a good sized city and small army under his command, and a covey of secret wives" sentence again. Its a whole hog-podge of grab bag possibilities accounting for the whole of Joseph Smith's life. Some of them, like the whole rich thing because he never had money and was always in debt, is simply not true. It doesn't answer the question of why the Book of Mormon unless he really did have the power of revelation knowing what it would bring (and actually often didn't). All they need is just enough credible possibilities (much as they claim for believers) to dismiss the whole.

If you haven't read "By the Hand of Mormon" yet, you should. It talks about this very thing.

Anonymous said...

I think it's possible that JS wrote it himself. It's also possible that he had some kind of help. I don't see why a non-believer would be required to take any strong position on these questions. (I'm not sure I understand Jettboy's point at all.)

As for the witnesses, note that all they did was sign a paper written by someone else. The statements that appear in the BOM are not their own words. If you look around the world you can find much stronger "witnesses" for all
sorts of seemingly crazy things.

Clean Cut said...

Well, I was hoping to prod you a bit further. Such a weak stand wouldn't really cut it for me. The possibilities you suggest are more incredible to me than Joseph being inspired to translate it.

If I were in your shoes, I would need a better explanation--one that can at least be better corroborated. After all, we're not talking about a great symphony, painting, or mathematical theorem. We'd be talking about someone trying to pass their work off as something completely and utterly different--and of redeeming value. Certainly you would at least acknowledge a fraud of dazzling proportions.

Did you read or listen to Elder Holland's talk? Here is one of his main points:

"In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?"

"Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be 'houseless, friendless and homeless' and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the Church which espouses it to be true. Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon."

Such a passive explanation as you seem content to give just wouldn't be sufficient for me. If I were you, I wouldn't rest until I could come up with a much better explanation. Granted, if I were you, I probably wouldn't take the "do or die" view that Elder Holland suggests, but I'd need a stronger and lengthier treatment to explain it away.

Elder Holland's wrote a book about the message of Christ in the Book of Mormon, and at the end he explains why people ought to take a strong stand, whether believer or not:

"I am suggesting that one has to take something of a do-or-die stand regarding the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. Reason and righteousness require it. Joseph Smith must be accepted either as a prophet of God or else as a charlatan of the first order, but no one should tolerate any ludicrous, even laughable middle ground about the wonderful contours of a young boy’s imagination or his remarkable facility for turning a literary phrase. That is an unacceptable position to take—morally, literarily, historically, or theologically."

Clean Cut said...

As for the witnesses, they weren't just signing a piece of paper about whether they had read the book and were giving it two thumbs up! They were giving their names to the world as a witness an angel had actually come down from heaven, and that they saw and felt the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. These were reputable men. And they never denied their witness, even though they would at some point become estranged from Joseph Smith.

Clean Cut said...

By the way, I'm really not trying to take an apologetic tone here. I'm just trying to step into a non-believers shoes and see how others try to make sense of this. So far I'm not content with what I've encountered.

Saying that it's possible Joseph Smith wrote the book himself (or that its possible he got help) is fine and dandy if that's what you really think, but it goes about as far in trying to account for the actual existence and content of the Book of Mormon as if I were to say that it's possible Joseph didn't produce the book that way. And that's what is frustratingly insufficient.

James said...

Here's a moral objection to the B of M: In 3rd Nephi the Savior whose coming is foretold throughout the B of M finally arrives. The self-proclaimed “light and life of the world”. But before he comes, he destorys 15 cities and 'the inhabitants thereof'. Let’s count them, Zarahemla, that great city Moroni, Moronihah, Gilgal, Onihah, Mocum, Gadiandi, Gadiomnah, Jacob, Gimgimno, that great city Jacobugath, Laman, and the city of Josh, and the city of Gad, and the city of Kishkumen. Men, women, and children burned, drowned, and buried in rubble. He kills all these people -- including the children! -- “because of their wickedness in casting out the prophets, and stoning those whom I did send to declare unto them concerning their wickedness and their abominations” -- and then he preaches his sermon on the mount of their dead and decaying flesh. A mount of his own creating. Imagine the stink! Preaching “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you”.

A doctor comes to heal the people, but before he arrives, he kills all the sick. No thanks.

Papa D said...

James, I assume you're not Christian, then - right?

James said...

If to be Christian means to worship and adore -- and wish to emulate -- the Christ described in the B of M, then no, I am not a Christian.

Papa D said...

James, it was a sincere question. It wasn't sarcastic, so please don't respond sarcastically.

Are you a Christian? How do you feel about the Bible?

Papa D said...

I just want to reiterate, James, that I am not trying to pick a fight. I really do want to know.

James said...

I thought I was being simple and honest. I had no desire to be sarcastic. What do I think of the Bible? The Bible doesn't really bother me (parts do, of course), it's how people believe in it. And what they use it for. Same goes for the B of M, the Koran, the Tao Te Ching, etc. I believe in wisdom and goodness, I do not believe in revelation and obedience in an LDS sense. Too exclusionary, too mind/soul-numbing.

Clean Cut said...

James, I'm likewise left wondering if you then are a believer in and read the Bible.

For what it's worth, this post isn't about why you object to the Book of Mormon. It's not even a post about whether it "seems" like an ancient record or 19th century document. It's about how you ACCOUNT for it. How do you explain its existence and content? You don't have to like it, but I don't need to hear about why you don't like it. I'm curious about how you account for how it came about, etc.

Clean Cut said...

Whoops, we must have posted at the same time...

James said...

Let me make it clear, I have no wish to pick fights here. Or offend anyone. But I will speak my mind. How do I account for the B of M? As someone wrote above, I don't feel I have to. It has never struck me as inspired in any sense. Nor as constituting a history in any sense. Not because you and I could not take a trip to Central America to view the ruins of Bountiful together, or visit the libraries and study the manuscripts and stone inscriptions in reformed Egyptian. Entirely apart from that is for me the matter of the text itself. We could go thru the early chapters of 3rd Nephi, for example, line-by-line, and I could point out to you statements of so-called fact where my experience of the world tells me "things just don't happen/people just don't behave like that". At anytime, in any place. So if I ask myself -- as B.H. Roberts asks the reader repeatedly in his studies of the B of M -- does that sound like a depiction of real events and peoples, or the imaginings of a young man, I can only choose the latter. For me the experience of reading a man like B.H. Roberts as he tackles the phenomenon of the B of M with his keen, inquisitive, brave mind is exhilarating for the very reason that it is a mind operating unfettered by fear or by adherence to any doctrine. He just marshals the facts as best he can find them, then puts his mind to making sense of them, lead him wherever they may. That for me is the road to truth and away from error.

Clean Cut said...

You won't find a fight here, James. And I'm not offended. On the contrary, I appreciate you sharing your perspective. So to answer my curiosity, you account for the (uninspiring) Book of Mormon by chalking it up to the "imaginings of a young man". Is that right?

James said...

As to how I account for it, Joseph Smith wrote it, plain and simple. Nothing at all remarkable there. I'll send a simple quote from B.H. Roberts as soon as I can find it.

Clean Cut said...

Thanks for the clarification.

About B.H. Roberts, I'm going to do a copy and paste job from Blair Hodges in a recent strand I recently participated in on his blog "Life on Gold Plates" (the one I linked to above) when someone tried to claim that Roberts privately disbelieved the Book of Mormon:

"Some have used some of Roberts's writings to indicate Roberts had doubts about the authenticity of the BoM and so forth. I've done a significant amount of primary source digging on Roberts and am unconvinced by the theory that in private he didn't believe in BoM historicity. I went into it trying to get the best view possible, not to vindicate the BoM using Roberts. Had I found significant evidence to show Roberts struggled privately I would not mind allowing him that struggle. His own opinions don't vindicate or repudiate the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. I tend to believe Roberts wanted better responses to criticisms and that he tried to state as plainly and explicitly as possible the problems he discovered.

"Perhaps more interesting to me is the fact that Roberts may be the last actual believer in the Book of Mormon whom critics will appeal to regarding BoM scholarship.

"Why is this so? Especially when Roberts's analysis is badly dated? Perhaps some people are not interested in the best or most up to date scholarship, only the best scholarship that provides them justification to dismiss the book as a "pious fraud" or even a forgery. But since Roberts's time a lot of work has been done, a lot of additional information has been discovered. Many of the problems which drew Elder Roberts's attention in his studies on the Book of Mormon have now been adequately accounted for as more information about the ancient world has become available. But this is just what Roberts himself expected.

"'We who accept [the Book of Mormon] as a revelation from God have every reason to believe that it will endure every test; and the more thoroughly it is investigated, the greater shall be its ultimate triumph' (Roberts, "The Translation of the Book of Mormon," Improvement Era (April 1906): 435-436)."

Clean Cut said...

By the way, can you fill me in a little bit about your background and experience with Mormonism, or specifically, the Book of Mormon?

James said...

Here's the quote. It's only partial, I loaned the book to my brother, who is LDS, so I had to look online. But read the pages in the section of the B.H. Roberts book from which these quotes are taken and you will see how thoroughly he backs up the thesis that Joseph Smith certainly could have been the author. Here's the (only partial) quote:

“One other subject remains to be considered in this division... viz. – was Joseph Smith possessed of a sufficiently vivid and creative imagination as to produce such a work as the Book of Mormon from such materials as have been indicated in the preceeding chapters... That such power of imagination would have to be of a high order is conceded; that Joseph Smith possessed such a gift of mind there can be no question....
“In light of this evidence, there can be no doubt as to the possession of a vividly strong, creative imagination by Joseph Smith, the Prophet, an imagination, it could with reason be urged, which, given the suggestions that are found in the ‘common knowledge’ of accepted American antiquities of the times, supplemented by such a work as Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews [published in Palmyra in 1825], it would make it possible for him to create a book such as the Book of Mormon is.”

-    Studies of the Book of Mormon, B.H. Roberts, p. 243, 250

Clean Cut said...

Just remember to balance that out with the full story:

http://www.fairlds.org/Book_of_Mormon/Did_BH_Roberts_Abandon_His_Faith_in_the_Book_of_Mormon.html

http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_BMProblems.shtml#roberts

http://www.lightplanet.com/mormons/response/qa/roberts.htm

http://mi.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=9&num=1&id=248

Quietvilla said...

My quote from Roberts has nothing to do with his private beliefs regarding the B of M, nor do I mean to quote him as an authority (where he's wrong, he's wrong, just like you and me). The one point the quote makes -- and the entire section [indeed, book] from which it is taken -- is that, as Roberts says, "it could with reason be urged" that Joseph Smith authored the B of M. That means that a person can reject the claims made for the B of M based simply on a good faith look at the evidence. No need to be anti-Mormon, just looking for truth and not finding it at this particular spring. As to the
Blair Hodges article, the comments are too general. Robert's research has to be addressed in specifics. Roberts begins, as I remember, with a detailed examination of the problem of linguistics. How, given the B of M timeframe, can the many different Native American languages have arisen? I would love to read current scholarship on this point, but it would have to be as thorough and all-embracing as Roberts' outdated scholarship.

Quietvilla said...

James and Quietvilla are one and the same person. Don't know how the change occurred.

Andrew S said...

How do unbelievers in the Quran account for the Quran. How do unbelievers in the Pearl Curran/Patience Worth case account for Patience Worth?

Actually, again, in both of these cases, the onus isn't on the unbelievers to account. It's for the person making the positive claim to account...if the person making a positive claim does not persuade the unbeliever, then the positive claim fails with respect to that particular unbeliever. The unbeliever has no further obligation.

Mormon Heretic said...

I think Andrew makes an excellent point. If I were an unbeliever, I'd think Joseph just made it up, and wouldn't give it much thought.

I'm not trying to sidetrack the issue here, but Jesus of 3rd Nephi sounds strikingly similar to the God of the Old Testament who destroys Sodom and Gomorrah by fire, the earth by flood, and the wicked during the (future) Apocalypse. I don't see the destruction at the time of Jesus crucifixion as any different than the Bible.

Mark D. said...

I don't think a prototypical non-believer in the BOM has or needs to give the question much thought.

A better question is what does a person who believes that the Bible is inspired, and who has made a serious study of the Book of Mormon, think about the latter?

There are historical questions and doctrinal questions. I suspect that most would pass over the historical questions with hardly a second thought. The doctrinal questions are much more interesting, and relevant, to anyone who believes the Bible is inspired.

The fundamental issue here, is even in circumstances where the history is legendary or even manufactured, can God avoid inspiring someone who is trying to teach correct principles?

In other words, I think it is impossible for any serious, religiously inclined outsider to deny that inspiration is present in many of the teachings of the BOM. To deny that they would also have to deny that there is any inspiration present in any of the teachings of the Bible. And what kind of theist does that?

Clean Cut said...

I'm presupposing some degree of familiarity with the Book of Mormon, here. Those who are interested in the Book of Mormon, for whatever reason, but are unconvinced that it is inspired. Obviously, a vast majority of people haven't even looked at the book, let alone given it a second thought. I doubt expect them to have much of an accounting at all.

Mark D.--that is a good question.

Andrew S said...

Clean Cut, even those with familiarity with the Book of Mormon do not have to account for it in such a way.

For example, this is what happens.

Someone reads the Book of Mormon. Or perhaps they grow up in the church. They realize that it does not reach out to them. They pray about it. No confirmation. In fact, they may receive a stupor of thought or distinctly receive an impression that it is incorrect. So Moroni's challenge fails.

They do not need to account for what the Book of Mormon is, since all that is relevant to them is that -- for them -- it is not inspired. All that is relevant to them is that -- for them -- it is not what it says it is (The book says that if you do challenges like Moroni's challenge or the Alma 32 exercise then if certain things happen, that's how you know the truthfulness...but if these things don't happen, then you don't know the truthfulness and don't have to assume it.)

This is actually embedded in Elder Holland's message:

If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages—especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers—if that is the case, then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived;

You have focused on the literary and Semitic complexity, the origin of the pages...but also important is to realize that Elder Holland expects that someone who is familiar with the BoM would have a powerful witness of Jesus Christ from it.

If one doesn't, they don't really need to account for anything else. Elder Holland's basic assumption is incorrect.

Meanwhile, just because the book has led to profound spiritual impact on tens and millions of others of readers does not mean that one *personally* must account. There are tens of hundreds of thousands of religious traditions that hve had spiritual impact on tens and millions of others (and some which have had spiritual impact on billions). And yet, still, we do not honestly account for Catholicism, Islam, etc., (we might *say* we do...but our claim of a "great apostasy" would appear to protestants and Catholics to be "frankly pathetic" just as Holland declares all nonbelieving accounts of the BoM to be "frankly pathetic."

Andrew S said...

This should really make sense, especially if you are a convert.

Did you honestly account for your old religion, even as you doubted it? How could you account for your "powerful witness of Jesus Christ (supposing you came from a different Christian background)" and the profound spiritual impact the religion had on tens of millions of others? How could you account for the complexity of that tradition by saying, "Eh...it apostasized" or "Eh...it only has a fraction of the truth, but Mormonism is more true."

Did you have to stumble over, under, or around your old religious tradition to come to Mormonism? Were there certain teachings over there that were a stone of stumbling, a rock of offense to you? And that's why you searched for something that reached out to you more?

Really, you had no obligation to account for your old faith tradition (if you're a convert...I'm sorry that I don't know your history). What matters is if you were/are compelled to believe it is true. If you are not, you don't have to account for why...really, the church has to account for why you should still believe...why you should still be compelled. They have to provide not just any evidence, but evidence that is personally persuasive to you. Otherwise, you should be free to find some place where you do find personally persuasive evidence.

Clean Cut said...

Andrew, I don't think Elder Holland is saying that they too must receive the same witness as a believer, but simply account for the fact that page after page is focussed on Jesus Christ. In other words, it's not just a matter of writing a great literary work like Les Miserables, etc. It's about taking into account the crux of scripture.

I do think you bring up a good point, though, about how some people simply aren't spiritually moved by the book in the way that Moroni 10 or Alma 32 describe. One person can claim that God confirmed to them that the Book of Mormon is true. Another can claim that God did not confirm that it is true (or that He confirmed that it is not true). It seems to me that we essentially arrive at a standstill.

While partisans can try to explain definitively why this can happen, I'm ultimately unsatisfied with most of those answers. Who am I to question the various experiences people have one way or another? All I can speak to is my own experience.

Andrew S said...

Oh, I see what you're saying, CC...I was misinterpreting the antecedents of the pronouns.

But actually, in my studies, this raises more questions of the Book of Mormon. It seems incredibly unrealistic that these people should even be writing about Christ in the way they do...the vast majority of the Book of Mormon text are about a pre-Christian Jewish society who travels across half the world and seems to magically become surprisingly protestant and not (as would be expected,) Jewish.

This causes me to scrutinize the nature of the narrative even further...so uncertainties do seem stranger. Sociological implausibilities do jump out. My default position isn't to believe that a pre-Christ society could suddenly pop up with surprisingly *developed* Christian doctrines.

But I understand that mileage may vary. In the end, you're exactly right: we come to a standstill because our experience is relevant for *us*...it isn't universal and objective.

David Clark said...

Mormon Heretic,

You just stumbled onto how many unbelievers account for the Book of Mormon when you said, I don't see the destruction at the time of Jesus crucifixion as any different than the Bible.

That's how many unbelievers account for the Bible, they say, "I don't see the (insert BofM passage here) as any different than the Bible.

David Clark said...

Clean Cut,

How do you account for the Quran? If you want to see how unbelievers account for the Book of Mormon, don't try and put yourself in their shoes, you can't escape natural human biases. Answer the question, "How do I account for the Quran?" If you can answer that you will either 1) Become a Muslim or 2) Have a really good idea of the strategies and thought processes unbelievers use to account for the Book of Mormon.

For whatever reason you have avoided this issue when it has brought up. Perhaps you will say that you don't have the time or inclination to account for it. Well, if that's the case, you just stumbled upon some of the reasons that unbelievers really don't care to account for the Book of Mormon.

Clean Cut said...

Read more carefully, David Clark. I'm presupposing familiarity with the Book of Mormon. I'm curious about those who have read and studied the Book of Mormon and yet do not believe.

I haven't studied the Qu'ran.

David Clark said...

Think more critically, Clean Cut. You are asking how people familiar with the Book or Mormon account for it. Well, a simple test would be to become familiar with the Qu'ran and then formulate a rational account for it. That's what you want from unbelievers who are familiar with the Book of Mormon isn't it?

You seem to be conflating two questions here. One is, "How can people familiar with the Book of Mormon not believe a certain way?" That's a question of belief and there is no answer to that. If your question is, "What rational moves does one make to account for a book of scripture he/she does not believe in?" then the only way to do that is for you to engage in an equivalent process with a book of scripture in which you don't believe, but are familiar with.

If you are interested in the first question, this blog post was pointless. People believe all kinds of things for crazy reasons that you can't account for. The second question is the answerable one, and if you take up that challenge you will get insight into how people account for the Book of Mormon presupposing both familiarity with and unbelief in the Book of Mormon.

Clean Cut said...

David, nothing about the Qu'ran will tell me about how the Book of Mormon was written. I'm not asking why or how rational people can believe or not believe. I'm asking a very basic question. What's your explanation for how it came about?

Care to share your thoughts on that?

Clean Cut said...

"Your" thoughts, David. Have you personally made up your mind on who wrote it, how to explain how it was written, and how it fits into chronology, etc.?

David Clark said...

Yes Clean Cut, Joseph Smith wrote it. As for the reasons why, please read all of the books I provided as links.

Clean Cut said...

Please, fill me in. Why do "you" think Joseph Smith wrote it?

David Clark said...

Clean Cut,

Sorry, I don't play the game of filling people in on information that they can easily get elsewhere. I don't have the time or inclination. That's why I provided the links. They are either in your spam trap or you have deleted them. Read those books and you'll have a reasonable idea of why I think what I think.

Also, I really don't understand why you have much of on issue with this. You seem to be a big booster of Ostler's expansion theory which asserts that part of the Book of Mormon is straight out of the mind/inspiration of Joseph Smith, and has no ancient source. Your position is that he wrote part of it, so why are you so surprised that some people expand that to he wrote all of it.

So there's another reason, parsimony. I agree with Ostler that there are certain aspects of the Book of Mormon that have undeniable 19th century provenance. Throw in evangelical revival style speeches, copying of Isaiah, Malachi, Matthew and 1 Corinthians, protestant theology, and a few other things and you have accounted for a big chunk of the Book of Mormon. Throw in a little Ostler style expansion and you have accounted for most of the book. At which point you have to ask, "What's left to be ancient?"

Clean Cut said...

David, I'm not asking you to play a game. I was asking for your personal opinion, not Dan Vogel's, Grant Palmer's, or even Sterling McMurrin's. Each is entitled to their own opinion, and I thought it was only fair to expect that you are the expert on your own. Should I just assume you take everything any critic writes as your opinion as well?

Lastly, you might not have the time for this, but I am curious what "issue" you think I have?

Andrew S said...

The comments between David and Clean Cut have made me think about the implications of my answer.

I notice that CC asks David: "what are your thoughts on the origin of the BoM?"

And I think there are two ways to approach this...one is in a negative way and the other is in a positive way.

A negative answer simply negates some positive assertion. "I do not believe/think it is an ancient document." This negative statement is immensely open...it does not assert...it simply does not accept an assertion.

If one makes this negative answer...then they do not have to account positively. They don't have to commit to a particular assertion that makes the document non-ancient.

Contrast this with a positive answer. "I believe/think it was made by Joseph" or "I think it is an ancient document." These claims are narrow particular. They commit to a particular assertion. So, let's say the book wasn't written by Joseph...the positive answer is defeated. This does not make the document ancient though...It could be that someone contemporary wrote it. Or any other number of assertions that we may have or have not even thought of.

If we had stuck with the negative position, that might give us more leeway. But then, negative positions aren't as bold either...

David Clark said...

Issue may have been a poor choice of words. You seem to assert that Joseph Smith could not have wrote the Book of Mormon. That's the issue I was referring to.

Yet, but supporting the expansion theory you do assert that very thing, at least partially. That's why I was wondering why you even cared why I thought Joseph Smith wrote it, since you seem to assert the same thing, at least partially.

Andrew S said...

For example, I can't speak for David, but...

David, I'm not asking you to play a game. I was asking for your personal opinion, not Dan Vogel's, Grant Palmer's, or even Sterling McMurrin's. Each is entitled to their own opinion, and I thought it was only fair to expect that you are the expert on your own. Should I just assume you take everything any critic writes as your opinion as well?

See, this is kinda my point. If someone does not believe the BoM is divine (note the wording here...this is a negative statement...they *do not believe* in an assertion...e.g., "Book of Mormon is divine")...then this is a very open statement. So, effectively, David does *not* have to commit to any particular opinion...he just doesn't buy explanations that conclude the BoM is divine. This doesn't mean he must be convinced and persuaded to a particular narrative of BoM non-divinity, or that if argument A of BoM nondivinity fails, then he should believe that the BoM is divine.

To be fair, this works for believers as well. You don't have to commit to one apologist or another...you don't have to commit to hemispheric geography or localized geography. Inspired fiction vs. historical document, and so on.

David Clark said...

Andrew,

You are right, that's why a good argument will lead with the evidence that the document is not ancient. To me, that's the convincing evidence. Proving the 19th century source is much more difficult, but it is largely irrelevant after one has shown the document to not be ancient. I choose "Joseph Smith wrote it" because it's the simplest explanation and it doesn't involve a conspiracy theory (like the Spaulding theory does).

I also like it because it actually takes a better view of Joseph Smith than some believers take, it takes a charitable view of Joseph Smith's abilities. So many believers in the ancient status of the Book of Mormon lead their arguments by proclaiming that Joseph was as dumb as a bag of hammers and had 3 minutes of schooling, ergo he couldn't have wrote the book. I like to give him more credit than that, because it's true, he was a pretty intelligent person with natural charisma and organizational abilities.

Clean Cut said...

I'm running out of time to participate here as I'm now in critical study mode for two upcoming midterms. But I did want to make a brief clarification. The expansion theory doesn't assert that Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon. It asserts that his vocabulary, cultural influences, etc. influenced the revealed message that was sparked from an actual set of plates.

Notwithstanding, I'm not a fan of dogmatic explanations about Joseph's abilities/education. One can lack a formal education and still be very, very gifted, as well as intelligent. Joseph was very much so. So I'm not making an assertion that Joseph was too stupid to write it. I'm just saying that it would be more incredible/miraculous to me to take the position that he was such a twisted prodigy, that he would sit down with a pen and write this thing, and then claim to be called of God to do so.

If this was all a figment of his imagination, I'd also be curious to ask how do you think he should be described? A nice but delusional boy? A charlatan of the first order?

I'm not saying that all reasonable people must believe that an angel came and showed him the plates and that he translated them under divine inspiration. But that's what I believe.

Clean Cut said...

Another thing I should add before I drop out of the conversation for now and get back to my studies. I also want to state that even though I'm a believer in the authenticity and divine inspiration behind the Book of Mormon, that doesn't mean that there are not legitimate concerns to be found or discussed concerning the content of the Book of Mormon.

I think any reasonable person will have plenty of questions, and that they should question things until they find a sufficient answer. Of course, the sufficiency of the answer will vary depending on whether one is a believer or a non-believer. But EVERYONE should recognize how massive it is that Book of Mormon prophets "write about Christ the way that they do", as Andrew S. put it above.

Evangelical scholar Craig Blomberg, in the book "How Wide the Divide?" picks up on this point as well. He calls out some apparent anachronistic evidence that made it "seem" to him that the Book of Mormon was a 19th century creation. (I can't recall if he ever tried to take the next natural step and account for how it was written and why). Naturally it "seemed" otherwise to Stephen Robinson. Robinson correctly assessed the heart of this very different paradigm:

"It seems to me that this boils down to whether Latter-day Saints (or Evangelicals) are wrong about pre-Christian prophets possibly knowing the Christian gospel. I believe that if those prophets were called of God, and God's all important message of salvation through the Messiah is truly universally important--that they did. The fact that few traces show up in our current Old Testament text only begs the question. For from the Latter-day Saints perspective it appears that many of these "plain and precious" truths were lost, and thus this knowledge needed to be restored."

It may always boil down to our perception of these issues, on whether it is plausible or not to believe in the Book of Mormon. In the meantime, I like how Richard Bushman put it, and I feel about the same way:

“I wish I could strike a responsive chord in Christians like you. Mormons wonder why all Christians don’t understand that we believe in the Book of Mormon on the basis of a spiritual witness. It is very hard for a Mormon to believe that Christians accept the Bible because of the scholarly evidence confirming the historical accuracy of the work. Surely there are uneducated believers whose convictions are not rooted in academic knowledge. Isn’t there some kind of human, existential truth that resonates with one’s desires for goodness and divinity? And isn’t that ultimately why we read the Bible as a devotional work?

“We don’t have to read the latest issues of the journals to find out if the book is still true. We stick with it because we find God in its pages—or inspiration, or comfort, or scope. That is what religion is about in my opinion, and it is why I believe the Book of Mormon. I can’t really evaluate all the scholarship all the time; while I am waiting for it to settle out, I have to go on living. I need some good to hold on to and to lift me up day by day. The Book of Mormon inspires me, and so I hold on.

“Reason is too frail to base a life on. You can be whipped about by all the authorities with no genuine basis for deciding for yourself. I think it is far better to go where goodness lies. I keep thinking other Christians are in a similar position, but they don’t agree. They keep insisting their beliefs are based on reason and evidence. I can’t buy that–the resurrection as rational fact? And so I am frankly as perplexed about Christian belief as you are about Mormons. Educated Christians claim to base their belief on reason when I thought faith was the teaching of the scriptures. You hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, and you follow it….I am a believer and I can’t help myself. I couldn’t possibly give it up; it is too delicious.”

Kelark said...

I cannot account for the Book of Mormon because of the shifting sands of a foundation that it is built upon.


It is a book translated from preserved metal plates plates that seem to be superfluous to the translation.

I find that the apolgetic gymnastics that are required to defend it are strained at best. Translation does not mean translation but some kind of interpretation of the source material that was at times was not even consulted or in close proximity to the translator. The specific tools that were preserved for translation also turned out to not be necessary for the task but rather a substitute mechanism was used.

I am not trying to rehash the problems I am only saying that it seems to me that in order to account for the book of Mormon as God breathed one must at times suspend logic. So I agree with some that say that Joseph Smith authored it. I am not convinced of his sources or all of his motives. Most of the prevailing theories and explanations fall short.

I have never heard a satisfactory or even reasonable explanation for the King James english, syntax and original translator errors being included in the BoM.

The countless anachronisms require twisted logic at best to explain away.

However, when I read about a person, place or thing in the Bible I take it for granted that they/it existed and for the most part the facts back that assumption up.


I as a Christian apologist must admit that I am at loss sometimes to explain the actions of my God. I accept them because I believe in him, I have faith in him. I do not understand all that he does because I do not understand him fully. My faith came by hearing, and hearing by the word of God and in his ability and history of keeping promises to me and my family.


When God said told Isreal to destroy every man woman and child when going into battle and then punished them for not doing it I believe it happened I just don't understand completely why.

If we feel that something is true it becomes easier to defend it even in the face of contrary evidence. I do not believe the BoM is true nor do I feel it is true. I cannot prove it's origin but from my investigation it appears to be an earthly work.

Jack Meyers said...

How do I as an unbeliever account for the Book of Mormon?

That's easy. I don't. It's one of numerous historical enigmas which I cannot fully account for. That does not bother me in the slightest, and I see that as an extremely weak proof for the book's claims to divinity.

I cannot account for how an illiterate nomad like Mohammad could have written the Qur'an. That doesn't mean I'm ready to start practicing Islam.

I cannot account for how an uneducated woman in the early 20th century who dropped out of high school at age 15 could have rapidly produced volumes of elegant poetry and prose using only terminology that was available in the 17th century. I can't explain how Pearl Curran accurately predicted her own unexpected death. That does not mean I'm ready to believe Pearl Curran was channeling a dead 17th century poet named Patience Worth with her Ouija board.

I can't even account for the 2006 Chicago O'Hare International Airport UFO sighting (Google it). There's no way in hell I believe that multiple airline pilots and staff at a major U. S. Airport were tricked by a cloud of gas or a weather balloon; airport staff know better than that. That doesn't mean I'm ready to acknowledge that little green men are visiting our planet.

I see the entire line of argument as a not-so-subtle attempt to shift the burden of proof from the one making the claim to the one examining the claim, and that's not how things work. If Latter-day Saints would like me to believe in the Book of Mormon as a historical record of ancient America, let's hear the evidence for it. And they're going to need more than the mere improbability of the book's existence to do that.

If Latter-day Saints would like me to believe in the theological truths presented in the Book of Mormon, now that sounds like something worth considering through non-scientific means---prayer, meditation, experimentation with the principles contained therein, etc.

But I'm not going to pray to ask God whether or not entire races known as Nephites and Lamanites existed in upstate New York 1600 years ago. Archaeology can tell us that. (And for the record, I'm aware of all the modern-day BoM geology theories out there. I simply think they fit poorly with the other details given to us by 19th century LDS leaders including Smith himself.)

For a thorough online critical treatment of the question which interacts with a lot of the arguments in use by LDS apologists, I recommend MormonThink: Could Joseph Smith Have Written the Book of Mormon? They also have a section on the witnesses. Bottom line, these phenomenon are not unique to Mormonism.

Jack Meyers said...

My second to last paragraph should read, "modern-day BoM geography theories."

Papa D said...

and I'm back to my very first comment. Some things really are an eternal round.

Andrew S said...

The lost 116 pages don't help the BoM's case though...1 Nephi isn't really a slam dunk....in fact, these things are greater sources for doubt and unclarity...

Mormon Heretic said...

Clean Cut, I loved the Richard Bushman quote. David, I'm not sure if you believe in the Bible or not. Perhaps you could clarify. As Bushman says, the resurrection if Jesus can never be proved by reason or archaeology.

Anyone who believes in the Bible believes in irrational things called miracles. It is a mystery to me that people can believe in the Bible by faith, excluding reason, and reject the BoM by reason, ignoring faith. That is the reason I drew the the parallel to the Bible. If you don't believe the Bible, then the parallel is kind of silly. There is no amount of evidence that will ever exist to prove Christ's resurrection--one must rely on faith. When viewing the BoM, faith must also be exercised.

As far as the Koran goes, it seems to me that Mohamed accepted many things of the Bible--Abraham, Ishmael, Gabriel--including irrational angelic appearances of which there is no evidence. So, Mohamed had faith in Biblical stories, just as a Muslim has faith in the Koran. One can't rule out faith in the equation.

Now, as Andrew says, if one follows Moroni's promise and fails to get an answer of the BoM's divinity, then I can accept their position that the BoM is not divine. I get a different answer. But when one tries to use reason to prove the BoM has anachronisms, or historical problems, well, the Bible fails by those methods as well.

Jack Meyers said...

Papa D ~ In honesty, I found your first comment incoherent. I agree with Andrew. I don't see how the lost 116 pages can possibly be construed as a evidence for the Book of Mormon.

And furthermore, we can know where the events in the Book of Mormon allegedly took place because Joseph Smith identified some of them himself.

Mormon Heretic ~ I don't know if your comments are directed at me or not, but the Book of Mormon does not merely have the same archaeological and historical problems as the Bible does. The Old Testament alone identifies 40 people whose existence has been verified by external historical sources from the time period. No ancient characters appearing in the Book of Mormon have been identified by external sources save the ones who appeared in the Bible.

I don't expect anyone to believe Jesus rose from the dead based on archaeological evidence. I don't even expect people to believe Abraham existed based on archaeological evidence. You're correct that those are matters of faith.

But they'd damn well better believe that the civilizations those stories are supposedly set in existed, because most of them have been verified by archaeology and other external historical sources. Likewise, I'm not asking archaeology to prove to me that Ammon existed. But I do expect it to prove to me that the Nephites roamed the plains of Illinois like Joseph Smith said.

Otherwise all you're asking me to pray about is whether or not the BoM is inspired fiction. And for the record, I am open to the possibility that the Book of Mormon is inspired (albeit fallible) fiction.

Anonymous said...

Clean cut, lets abstract away from the specific issue of the BOM for a moment, and let me see if I understand your reasoning.

As I understand it, you think that if a person produces a written text, and claims the text was given by God, and it is difficult to see how this person would have been able to produce the text by themselves, then we should accept this person's claims at face value, and accept the text as the word of God.

Is that right?

-skeptic

Kelark said...

Mormon Heretic,

"As Bushman says, the resurrection if Jesus can never be proved by reason or archaeology."

Yes archaeology probably will not prove the ressurection but the city where he rose from dead can be confirmed, the existance of Herod be confirmed, the Roman occupation can be confirmed,the method of capital punishment can be confirmed, the Apostles that witnessed his death and ressurection really existed and went to their own deaths this can also be confirmed by history.

There is even some good evidence of where the empty tomb is located.

Secular historians like Josephus even confirm the existance of the actual followers of Christ that believed the ressurection in years after he rose.

Paul records that there were still alive at the time of his writing those that saw the risen Christ. Basically he was saying if you don't believe me ask the eye witnesses that are still alive.

Here is reason.

Why would real people that are confirmed to have existed follow to their own peril something that they knew to be false?

Why would a real person (Paul) open himself up to scorn and derision by alluding to actual living eye witnesses(the remainder of the 500)if they did not exist.
Why would real people that are confirmed to have existed (the Apostles) die for a lie?

No the ressurection is not provable by archaeology it is believed by faith?

Not blind faith however because it is reasonable to assume it happened base upon real evidence and the actions of real people that claimed to witness it.

Jessica said...

Clean Cut,

The brief answer to your question is that I currently account for the BoM the same as I account for the BoA and I believe they are equal in their level of credibility.

And for the record, I am open to the possibility that the Book of Mormon is inspired (albeit fallible) fiction.

Jack, is this a change in your position? I distinctly remember you telling me that you were not open to the possibility that the BoM was inspired by God.

For the record, I cannot understand the "inspired fiction" theory at all. It makes less sense to me than the position that the book is a true history (which I cannot accept for the reasons you have stated as well as many others). But why would God inspire a record of events that is not true but claims to be a true history of a people? Isn't this charging that God is being deceptive and is at the source of the current division between Christians and Latter Day Saints?

Andrew S said...

Jessica, just a few comments down, Jack clarifies what possibilities it could be (by answering a comment from Katie L).

For example:

3)–It’s inspired in the sense that Joseph had some level of connection to God when he wrote/crafted it, but it is not scripture.

Clean Cut said...

I really appreciate these comments, folks. It really has helped me in my personal quest, here, to step outside of myself and see things from another perspective.

Kelark, I appreciate you weighing in here with your perspective. Perhaps when I finish my (all-consuming) studying for my midterms, I'll have more time to share more of a personal response. Because from my perspective, the Book of Mormon has a more solid foundation than you seem to suggest, and the plates were not "superfluous" to translation at all.

I'm not familiar any specific "strained" apologetic arguments you may be referring to, but I don't think one has to buy each apologetic argument for the Book of Mormon. I too would be skeptical of any such arguments which require mental gymnastics or turning off all logic and reason. Sometimes I actually feel frustrated in this way when I ask (relatively) thought provoking questions of fellow Latter-day Saints only to be given answers which I feel are (relatively) inadequate as well. I simply disregard those and keep searching until I can get better answers. And, of course, I try to make sure to be charitable about it. Because so often people who question are either perceived as, or really are, complete jerks. (On that note, I appreciate your tone, as well. Thanks for your charitable approach!)

Jack, thank you as well for sharing your perspective. I think I can finally begin to feel relatively satisfied now if I were to step into your shoes and try to account for it as a non-believer. I simply wouldn't be able to either. And I agree with you that that is not necessarily proof of the its divinity, either. Nevertheless, I would have a healthy sense of respect for such an enigma, as you put it. That seems to be precisely what this is. And I, like you, would be okay with that. I've learned to be content with being puzzled more often than not, anyway!

Anonymous Skeptic, for the record, I really did not make this post to prove anything. I don't see myself as an apologist nor was I trying to prove a point. So that's actually not my reasoning at all. I'm just trying to lay out the understanding I now have and then ask questions in order to gain additional understanding for how others can see view this. I apologize for not being entirely satisfied with what I was being given. Because I am sincere, it can be a frustrating struggle, at times, for understanding.

Some of these later comments are helping me to gain a healthy understanding from "the other" perspective. I see myself on a quest for truth and mutual understanding, and it really does demand respect and patient consideration from both sides. For me, this isn't about having a debate where there is a winner and a loser.

Jack and Andrew S, I don't think Papa D is referring to the lost 116 pages as evidence. I think he's saying that the pages that ended up replacing the lost pages actually provide some pretty good verifiable evidence of historical accuracy for specific places and information during Lehi and Nephi, et al's (8 year?) journey down and across the Arabian peninsula.

Nevertheless, I really don't care too much about "evidence". That's not why I read, enjoy, and take pleasure in the word of God as found in scripture anyway. It doesn't change my experience as I read the Book of Mormon. It doesn't change the Spirit and the inspiration I receive as heaven's light shines down on me. Thus, I don't read the Book of Mormon as if it's on trial. For me, it's already been tried and tested, and found to be good. I read it because I "find God in its pages", just as Richard Bushman said--"inspiration, comfort, scope". THAT's what really means something to me, and I don't really care to convince anyone otherwise. Thus, the Richard Bushman quote above, and some of these later comments, provide a very nice dissonance, which I can appreciate. For me, it's a personal experience. Thus, the various historical arguments and geography theories out there are peripheral--and THOSE are what seem superfluous to me.

Clean Cut said...

Kelark, also don't forget that Christian apologetics have essentially had 2,000 years to corroborate “evidence” for the critics, much of which has only been done recently. Would your faith have been insufficient without the scholarship? Latter-day Saints, on the other hand, have had less than 200 years to work up to where we are today, barely scratching the surface in corroborating empirical evidences for the Book of Mormon. Yet you don’t find Latter-day Saints saying that our faith is insufficient or that the book itself does not have great value and thus cannot be confirmed as “true”.

Why is this? Because Latter-day Saints believe that “spiritual realities are investigated and confirmed first and foremost in a spiritual way, that, as the Apostle Paul wrote, the things of God are known only in and through the power of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:11-14)…While there must be an actual physical referent upon which faith is built (a moment in real time, an event such as the resurrection of Jesus, or a set of golden plates), to exercise faith is to believe in the reality of the unseen and to accept as evidence the hope in that which cannot, for the time being, be proven empirically.” (Millet, “Claiming Christ”, p. 131).

Jack Meyers said...

Jessica ~ I think that Andrew has caught the nuances of my position. When you initially asked me if it's inspired by God, I assumed you meant inspired as in binding scripture.

As far as Katie's options go, I still remain open to 3-5, but I'm leaning toward 5. The BoM seems to be a Christianized version of an enigma along the lines of what happened with Pearl Curran.

Jessica said...

Thanks for clarifying that, Jack. Makes more sense to me now. The Pearl Curran story reminds me of the psychic healer Pachita in The Beautiful Side of Evil. She performed all kinds of bizarre psychic surgeries on people. I would put these kinds of things in Katie's category #6. The use of the Ouija Board kind of seals the deal for me.

Clean Cut said...

I just re-read the comments and this line by Kelark stood out to me:

"Why would real people that are confirmed to have existed follow to their own peril something that they knew to be false?"

I think it's a good question and it applies equally well to Joseph and Hyrum Smith. That is essentially the point Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was trying to make.

Papa D said...

It is obvious that people misunderstood what I meant when I mentioned the lost 116 pages. Let me try to be more direct:

There is MUCH in 1 Nephi that can be analyzed, because we know much more about the land and culture in which it was set - and because there are very clear directional statements in it. The inclusion of that particular record, which, according to the BofM itself, was quite different than Lehi's record (that included the original 116 pages, if Joseph is to be believed) gives us something that can be critiqued - and not dismissed as easily as the rest of the book, imo.

If that portion stands up, as I believe it does, to a very careful study that shows the detail in it is consistent with that region - and if that detail could not have been known to Joseph or any other person who critics claim might have had a hand in writing it, then the rest of the book can't be dismissed.

That's all I meant, and I believe it is a valid point. Critics and apologists tend to focus on what essentially is unverifiable and tend to ignore what is much more concrete.

Papa D said...

Kelark, I agree with Clean Cut. It's interesting that you used the EXACT same defense of Paul as Elder Holland used of Joseph - and, really, that is almost the only defense Elder Holland really used (the power of the book on those who believe it - that their stated belief is not fraudulent or the result of "cunning genius").

Kelark said...

CC and Papa D,

You could say the same thing for anybody that follow what they believe remember I phrased it as a question.

Why would people dress in black put on Nike tennis shoes kill themselves and wait for the mother ship if they did not believe it?

Those guys believed it they had adequate proof for them to act even to the point of death.

What is missing is the coroborating evidence independant of their experience.


I see why you think my post was similar to what Holland says but that was a small portion of my point. My post was in regard to the ressurection. For that to be equivalent you would say

"look Kelark the three witnesses believed it they saw plates and here are the plates they saw." Nephi lived and we believe it just like we believe that Paul existed and here is etxra Book of Mormon documentation of his existance."

King Benjamin lived just like King David here is an inscription that says "King Benjamin" in the new world" "See their faith was justified".


The witnesses to the veracity of the BoM can only say that they saw plates and that they believe that story of JS of the origin of those plates. What they cannot do is confirm any person, place or thing written in the BoM excluding biblical figures.

I guess I am saying that we all can be convinced by something that what we belive is true. At some point it is about faith. I do not think that faith requires us to abandon reason. Our expectaion should be that if our holy book asserts a truth it should be true whether it is spitiual or physical.

At best I would accept that people "saw" plates that they did not know the origin of. These plates referenced non historical events, places and things.

I am not saying don't belive the witnesses or the BoM I am saying belief in it is in no way similar to believing the ressurection of Christ happened when, where and how it did as described in the Bible.

Jesus told Thomas that he was blessed because he saw and believed he then said blessed are those that belive without seeing. That is faith. However I know for a certainty that Thomas existed, Jesus existed the city where that was said existed the witness to that exchange existed. I believe by faith and my faith is also confirmed by the facts.

Papa D said...

Serious quesiton, Kerlark:

The belief in the resurrection is assured by what facts?

Papa D said...

Sorry for the name typo.

kelark said...

The belief in the resurrection is by faith as Jesus told Thomas.

His crucifiction happened where, when and by the method the Bible said it happened historically.
At very least ther was a real man named Jesus, there is and was a Jerusalem, there were Passover celebrations and the was a method of capital punishment known as crucufication.

Witnesses to the resurrection truly existed. Paul, Peter, Thomas all of the apostles. They gave there testimony and even challenged those alive at the time they wrote to ask the eye witnesses of the truth of what they said.

The resurrection happened in a real place the players were real there really was a Herod and a Ceasar, and Pontius Pilate etcetera.

Like I said I can accept the fact that Joseph Smith had witnesses to attest that they saw the plates. There is so far as I can tell no one to attest to the vericty of the contents of the plates.

Forgive my simplicity in this but imagine if a crime took place and there is a witnesses.

The first witness says officer I saw the whole thing I was at mt house across the street at 5674 Adams Street. I just got off work I work at Costco. Here is my ID badge. I opened my garage and there is a direct line of site from there to here see officer.

I looked over and saw the defendant break the window of his next door neighbor. He hid the bat under the stoop. Go look for yourself.

So the officer checks on the material facts and they all appear to be how the witness said they happened. The witness testimony is credible. The officer believes the story after checking out the facts. He has faith that the witness is truthful. He knows that it does not prove that is how it happened but he pursues that as a viable possibility.

Now lets imagine that the witness tells the officer I did not see it but a guy was walking by here and he handed me this written statement to give to you.

The officer reads the statement and it says that "I was walking down Jacko Street (hmm the officer thinks that is weird this is Adams Street and as a matter of fact there is no Jacko Street in this town.) it was about 12:30 PM 10-18 (again the officer notices that it is still earlier than that) When I saw a group of Eskimos throw harpoons at the window.

Where did you say you got this the officer ask the man. From a guy he looked truthful.

OK thanks a lot sir.

After checking out the scene and comparing it to the details the officer thinks that the witness may have been making it up or lying or crazy or deluded or just trying to be helpful but not having the truth creates his own version.

The officer does not believe the written statement so he keeps searching for reliable clues.

Papa D said...

So we are back to my first comment - again, the eternal round. People really do see what they believe, not believe what they see.

Jack Meyers said...

Papa D ~ If that portion stands up, as I believe it does, to a very careful study that shows the detail in it is consistent with that region - and if that detail could not have been known to Joseph or any other person who critics claim might have had a hand in writing it, then the rest of the book can't be dismissed.

Where has a study of this portion of the Book of Mormon been published? Has it been published in a peer-reviewed journal where it can be scrutinized by other scholars in the field, as opposed to being published in BYU Studies, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies or FARMS Review?

Andrew S said...

Papa D's point is that this first part has been "overlooked completely." Instead, people focus "on what essentially is unknowable."

Clean Cut said...

For what it's worth, Hugh Nibley's book "Lehi in the Desert" is just one source I've read portions of years ago that addresses corroborative evidences for 1st Nephi.

Also, in "Updating the Expansion Theory", Blake Ostler wrote: "It has now been 18 years since the expansion theory was first published and to date not a single critic of the Book of Mormon has attempted to explain the presence of convicing evidence of antitiquity that I cited in my 1987 article: viz., ancient prophetic call forms, ancient Israelite covenant renewal rituals and forms and formal Hebrew legal procedures. In my view, the presence of these forms is fairly clear in the text of the BofM and they are very difficult to explain on the assumption that it was written by anyone in the 19th century. To date, the only theory that accounts for these ancient forms and the presence of modern expansions that are fairly evidenced is the expansion theory."

So clearly one cannot ignore the "evidences of antiquity" even if some 19th century influence is conceded. It only makes sense to allow for some such influence when dealing with such an unconventional (and I would add "inspired") "translation" process.

I also love the chiasmus in the examples I linked to in the third comment above. All in all, if Joseph Smith made this all up, he would have displayed an uncanny ability to get so much right.

Clean Cut said...

Just stumbled upon, and got a kick out of, Daniel Peterson's "'In the Hope That Something Will Stick': Changing Explanations for the Book of Mormon". It's from one of his FARMS Review "Editor's Introductions" and deals directly with the topic from the original post.

Darrell said...

I am obviously very late to this discussion, but have spent some time reading through all of the comments. I appreciate each one of them as there were some very good ideas shared.

Being former LDS, now traditional Christian, I tend to approach the BOM from a little bit different perspective from many. First and foremost, to be clear there is a big difference between explaining that something is false/true versus explaining how something did/did not come about. Jeffrey R. Holland's comments in many ways seem to conflate these.

As an example, I might not know how the sun produces its heat, but I certainly know that it is true that it does produce heat. I don't necessarily need to know how to demonstrate that it is true.

In many ways, the same can be said for the BOM. While I may not be able to prove how JS brought it about (although, I have my strong opinions in this area), I can certainly prove (IMO) that it is not true. These are two different things.

Proving that something is/is not true is done via an argument. Demonstrating how is done via an explanation. You don't necessarily need the explanation (how) to prove/disprove the argument (that).

Someone mentioned the Koran earlier, and it applies directly to this. I might not be able to prove how the Koran was written, but, just like the BOM, I can demonstrate IMO that it is not from God.

Darrell

Clean Cut said...

How do you demonstrate that the Qu'ran is not from God?

Darrell said...

CC,

Good question. First, I am presupposing that The Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God (this is an entirely separate argument/discussion and is not a presupposition I make without merit**). Given this we can compare what the Koran teaches about God with what The Bible teaches about God. The Muslim God and the Christian God are quite different. They contradict one another and cannot both be true at one and the same time. The Bible teaches that God is perfect, does not change, and does not contradict Himself... as a result, we can know with certainty that writings which contradict its teachings about God are false. Therefore, we can rule the Koran out.

**A great book to check out in this regard is I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist by Norm Geisler and Frank Turek. They start from nothing and build the case that The Christian God is the only true God and The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, Word of God. They do this with no presuppositions about The Bible.

Darrell

Aaron said...

I have a question: If I was to write a religious blog post that inspired millions of followers, and I testified it was revealed by God to me and translated from ancient records...how would you determine if I was telling the truth or not?

Assume you have just read my blog post, found it inspirational and are investigating my new religion – what course of action would you take to determine for yourself if I were telling the truth?

Clean Cut said...

Aaron, to whom are you addressing your question?

Kelark said...

That is a great question Aaron.

As a Christian I would look at it like this.
Rick Warren wrote a book that inspired millions. For the sake of argument lets say he did not contradict the scriptures or claim that his message was new. Then I would compare his teachings/writings with those of the Bible. If they were enlightening and illuminating I would say that maybe he is a gifted teacher. One of the gifts that the Spirit of God he gives to the body is teaching. So this would be in accord with the scriptures

On the contary if he claimed that this was new revelation I would not even consider it because
as Hebrews says,
" God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;"

So it seems to me that a truly inspired person would confirm the scripture not write new scripture.

The Bible Starts in the beginning and finishes with our eternal destination in the presence of God. Nothing that God wanted us to know has been left out. All that he wants us to know will be revealed when he that is perfect is come.

Aaron said...

I am just throwing it out there for anybody to answer. Other than prayer, is there anything else that is important in deciding what is or is not the truth?

Clean Cut said...

It's tough to pretend that a hypothetical situation could be true, but I'll take a stab at it. I'd certainly want to read it and evaluate its message and purpose--paying particular attention to the impressions I receive while reading it. I'd want to compare it and its message to other writings I believe to be true to make sure it doesn't contradict, but that it is confirmatory. I'd certainly want to interview the person making the claim, if possible. I'd like to know more about purpose and motivation. I'd also like to know if there are any witnesses. Are there other witnesses to establish the truth of such a claim?

And of course, "God moves in a mysterious way" and surly nothing is impossible for God. But ultimately, I believe He confirms truth through his Spirit on an individual basis. That confirmation would need to be confirmed in both my mind AND heart.

Clean Cut said...

Kelark:
"It seems to me that a truly inspired person would confirm the scripture not write new scripture."

Tell that to Moses. Or Joshua and Jeremiah who followed him. Or tell that to all the New Testament writers, who wrote new scripture after the Old Testament writers.

"The fact of the matter is that virtually every prophet of the Old and New Testament has added scripture to that received by his predecessors. If the Old Testament words of Moses were sufficient, as some could have mistakenly thought them to be, then why, for example, the subsequent prophecies of Isaiah or of Jeremiah, who follows him? To say nothing of Ezekiel and Daniel, of Joel, Amos, and all the rest. If one revelation to one prophet in one moment of time is sufficient for all time, what justifies these many others? What justifies them was made clear by Jehovah Himself when He said to Moses, “My works are without end, and … my words … never cease." --Jeffrey R. Holland (“My Words … Never Cease”)

Aaron said...

Part of the point I am trying to make CC ties back to what you said in your post. "I also repeatedly find their [non believers] explanations frustratingly insufficient.” This is true for skeptics of the Book of Mormon as well.

The Book of Mormon’s explanation – it’s evidence of truth—is the testimony of Joseph Smith and a group of witnesses. Most of us who have tried to determine the truth of the Book of Mormon have used Moroni’s promise as a guide. I do not doubt that God can reveal truth to us, but I do doubt human nature – our own ability to discern when God is telling us something vs. when we are making ourselves believe in something, acting out of emotion, behaving irrationally, etc.

One of the things that has bothered me lately is whenever I talk to fellow members about a particular historical issue –say polygamy, seeing stones, whatever – the facts are dismissed as useless information. Which brings me back to my question. If I was the founder of a new religion and you were investigating my writing and my claims: Would that gut feeling be enough? Wouldn’t it be important to know about my family? Activities that I was engaged in that might show that I am not an honest and trustworthy person? Or is all that put aside and ignored because what I wrote makes you feel good and coincides with the teachings of the Bible according to your interpretation?

And finally, a more important question: is it the Beavers or the Longhorns?

Andrew S said...

On the other hand, Aaron, I think that including the things you have listed doesn't really change much except the gut feeling:

Which brings me back to my question. If I was the founder of a new religion and you were investigating my writing and my claims: Would that gut feeling be enough? Wouldn’t it be important to know about my family? Activities that I was engaged in that might show that I am not an honest and trustworthy person? Or is all that put aside and ignored because what I wrote makes you feel good and coincides with the teachings of the Bible according to your interpretation?

The gist is that "knowing about my family" or "activities that I was engaged in" -- according to you -- should *affect* the outcome of the analysis. So, you have "good feelings" on one hand, and then you have all these events that you propose *should* counteract these good feelings (e.g., finding out you engaged in certain unsavory activities.

But none of these say anything about the objective nature of what you're teaching. Rather, they say about our subjective evaluation of it.

Aaron said...

I can see what you are saying. You’re right, my message and my character are different things. But to me the message and the messenger are equally important in order to discern if there is truth. To evaluate one but ignore the other is unwise in my opinion.

By mentioning family, previous activities, etc. I was of course alluding to the importance of viewing Joseph Smith in full context. His family was superstitious, practiced divination, and likely practiced astrology according to Richard Bushman. Furthermore, he used the same stone and method to translate the Book of Mormon that he used to find buried treasure, and his treasure seeking activities occurred during the period he was supposed to be making himself worthy to receive the plates from Moroni.

Clean Cut said...

Great comment, Andrew S.

Aaron, your last comment reminded me of another important point: Context is critical.

PS: Since I grew up in Eugene going to Autzen Stadium on Saturday afternoons--it's the Ducks.
And since I moved to Texas, I've also become a Longhorns fan. :)

Aaron said...

Idaho has some pride this year with Boise State 7-0.

Clean Cut said...

Please don't remind me. :)

Andrew S said...

re Aaron:

I can see what you are saying. You’re right, my message and my character are different things. But to me the message and the messenger are equally important in order to discern if there is truth. To evaluate one but ignore the other is unwise in my opinion.

But as your language betrays, this is EXACTLY subjective. "But to me..." "in my opinion..."

That you subjectively perceive the message and the messenger to be equally important does not mean that they objectively are equally important. They could or could not be...but your subjective perception of that doesn't make it so.

re Clean Cut:

but members are not off the hook either. This really defeats Moroni Challenge or Alma 32 kinds of logic. Just because reading the BoM gives you a subjective good feeling (burning in bosom, sense of answered prayer, "enlarging of soul," etc.,) doesn't mean the BoM or the church is objectively true.

Aaron said...

That would be an interesting separate discussion: how to discern truth.

What do you think Andrew? Almost anything could be subject to interpretation, so what should or shouldn't be included in discerning truth? What things are strictly objective vs. subjective?

Andrew S said...

eh, I've kinda stayed out of this "truth" discussion because I believe it ends up being increasingly weird and inconsequential...

Even a discussion on objectivity vs. subjectivity ends up becoming increasingly weird and inconsequential.

I would say this: things that depend on the perception or interpretation of a being are subjective, and things that do not are objective.

This does not mean that one is "superior" to the other, but that they *are* different. For example, no matter what the perception or interpretation, there are chemicals that, when they interact, make people feel "in love."

From this, we can actually separate these into two phenomena. The chemicals are objective. I can look at the chemicals; you can look at the chemicals; we all can look at and evaluate the chemicals; they are there objectively.

BUT...in this case, the chemicals aren't what matters. What matters is the subjective reaction -- to the person who is under the "spell" of this chemical and hormonal storm, they feel "in love." This is something they can't "give" to someone else. It is personal and subjective, and it actually matters more than the objective cause of things.

The issue here is that we want to talk about a subjective interpretation (say, a burning in the bosom...or faith...or belief)...but we want to talk about it in objective terms that we are unqualified to handle (namely: we want to say that a burning in the bosom comes from God and is indicative of an objectively existing God. But we don't know that. We want to say that a burning in the bosom is indicative of an objective proof of the truthfulness of the BoM. But we don't know that.)

We wouldn't have a problem if we stuck with humble terms of these subjective experiences. For example, "I feel," "I believe," "I have faith."

But often, we don't want to do this. We want to establish that we *know* God exists...when we say this, we aren't saying, "God exists to me." No...we are trying to say, "Regardless of who you are, God objectively exists."

I think the mismatch is problematic. If we have subjective experiences, we should recognize our conclusions are subjective. We shouldn't try to use subjective experiences to "dictate" objective conclusions.

Aaron said...

Insert Keanu Reeves voice: "Whoa" That is some deep stuff.

So do you think context and objective facts are different and should be considered separately?

Andrew S said...

Aaron,

Re context and objective facts: umm...this is tricky. Yes and no. For example, when we talk about Newtonian mechanism vs. quantum mechanics, we are talking about *descriptions* and *explanations* of objective facts. In evaluating how well these descriptions and explanations align with the facts, we do need some context. For example, Newtonian mechanics does properly describe reality in a certain context. HOWEVER, when you get into a context of "really really really really small things" (e.g., quantum), it doesn't perform so well. Or when you get into a context of "really really really fast things" (relativity, speed of light), then Newtonian mechanics also don't perform so well.

HOWEVER, this is a different kind of context than what you might be thinking of.

When we talk about the context of general relativity, we are not thinking about the context of Einstein's life. Because Einstein is really unimportant. Einstein simply was the person who got his name attached to an objective description. But because the description *is* an attempt at objectivity, one particular person shouldn't be required. Relativity -- if the explanation is correct -- should be correct regardless of what you think about it, or who's doing what. (Things get REALLY REALLY hairy though...especially with quantum mechanics...because even mere observation can change the results!)

In the Book of Mormon/Joseph Smith case, I think that yes, contexts should be separated. If Joseph Smith is truly a prophet and the BoM is true, then this is regardless of who Joseph Smith was. Joseph Smith was just the guy who got his name onto it. But just as well, if the BoM is true, then this is regardless of who *we* are. We cannot depend on burnings in *our* bosom to tell us about anything other than *our subjective feelings*.

The problem is we don't have the tools or the data to evaluate the Book of Mormon as we do with something like, say, protons. We try to *aim* at things like archaeology, DNA, linguistic trends, but we have no clue.

Aaron said...

So then on an issue like polygamy for example. Do we separate the "revelation" commanding polygamy and ignore the fact that Joseph denied it in public but practiced it in secret? Ignore that he hid it from his wife until she accepted it? Ignore that he re-married girls that he had already secretly married so Emma wouldn't know he had already married them? Even though contextual facts may be subjective, aren't they just as important as those that are strictly objective?

Andrew S said...

I don't think you quite get the difference between subjective and objective in this case.

It isn't that the context is subjective and other things are objective. Events that truly have happened are objective. (Really, the issue is if our history accurately describes the objective reality.) We have two problems in a situation like the polygamy one.

1) Our history actually *doesn't* accurately describe the objective reality in the way we need it to. Even if it describes objective reality, it is in a field too far removed. Namely, let's say we establish that Joseph Smith lied in public and deceived Emma (i.e., our history correctly describes objective facts regarding what events actually occurred). The problem here is that this information says nothing about another question of objective fact: did God reveal polygamy to Joseph or not? Ultimately, our history is ill-equipped to answer this question.

2) Not only is objective data far removed from what we need, but we muddy the waters with subjective interpretations. That Joseph lied says NOTHING about whether polygamy is true revelation (objective fact about Joseph lying =/= objective fact about God not giving revelation to Joseph). The problem is that since we can't/don't know about the objective reality, instead, we must subjectively evaluate if we are persuaded (are we persuaded to the idea that God gave revelation on this matter to Joseph?). When we find out that Joseph lied, we subjectively evaluate this information as being incriminating data...so we have cognitive dissonance and have to do *something* with it.

So, I'd have to answer you in two parts, just as I have split the concerns into two parts.

1) Of course, the context must be separated from the reality. Objective facts about what actually happened (even if we may not have perfect descriptions of them...) are distinct and disparate. Even if we allow for the contextual fact, "Joseph lied," it has no bearing on the objective status of, "Polygamy is a revelation from God."

2) With subjectivity, context is EXTREMELY important. Even if we cannot be sure about the objective facts (our history is inadequate to address them, as discussed in point 1), we *can* be sure about what interpretation of the facts we are subjectively persuaded by. In this instant, context (such as hearing that Joseph lied...or feeling the burning in our bosom) is INCREDIBLY important for determining whether we are persuaded by the proposition: "Joseph was an inspired prophet of God." What we should realize, however, is that our subjective experience also has NO bearing whatsoever on the truth or falseness of the proposition.

Kelark said...

CC,
"Tell that to Moses. Or Joshua and Jeremiah who followed him. Or tell that to all the New Testament writers, who wrote new scripture after the Old Testament writers."

" God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;"

Darrell said...

Andrew,

I appreciate your comments as you have obviously thought through your position fairly well.

One of the things I think we need to be careful of, however, is placing feelings (pain, love, etc.) in the category of subjective truth; for they are, in fact, objective truth. Let me explain.

If I feel hunger/love/hate at noon eastern time today, this is an objective truth. It is objectively true for everyone, everywhere, at all times that I felt hunger/love/hate at noon eastern time on Saturday October 31, 2009.

The same can be said of the person who feels a "burning in the bosom". If Joe George really feels a burning in the bosom after reading the BOM, then it is objectively true for everyone, everywhere, at all times, that Joe George
felt this.

Where the subjectivity comes in is in the interpretation of what exactly this burning in the bosom means. And this interpretation will be dependent upon the perspective of the individual doing the interpreting. Is it due to their own pre-conceived feeling and thoughts about the BOM? Is it an answer to prayer from God? Are Satan and his demons trying to fool this person?

As a result, this experiential approach to determing truth is seriously lacking. An experience (i.e. burning in the bosom) is merely a condition of a person, whereas truth is a characteristic of a proposition. The only truth proven by the burning in the bosom is the truth of the proposition that they did in fact have a burning in the bosom. This truth says nothing about the characteristic of the proposition in question of whether the BOM is true or not.

Darrell

Andrew S said...

Darrell:

Actually, pain and love are the epitome of subjectivity.

Let's present a few definitions of objective, for example:

5. not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased: an objective opinion.

6. intent upon or dealing with things external to the mind rather than with thoughts or feelings, as a person or a book.

7. being the object of perception or thought; belonging to the object of thought rather than to the thinking subject (opposed to subjective ).

8. of or pertaining to something that can be known, or to something that is an object or a part of an object; existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality.


And a definition of subjective:

1. existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought (opposed to objective ).

I don't think you really *want* pain and hunger to be objective. The entire point is that they are feelings. That they are feelings with *extreme* prejudice. Your perception of pain or hunger or love are *clearly* in the mind...they belong to *you*, the thinking subject rather than the object of thought. They are clearly based on feelings and interpretations...that is the entire point. We wouldn't want it any other way.

But I'll tell you what is true...these subjective feelings arise as a result to an objective stimulus. The question is...what is that stimulus? For example, when you fall in love, you are *personally* and *subjectively* responding to a stimulus. It may be the "prettiest girl in the world" or the "most handsome guy in the world." But it's important to realize is that the girl or guy is the external, independent object, what is truly important to you is your personal feeling and reaction.

Similarly, when you are hungry, you are responding to a stimulus. Your stomach is empty, your brain notes that, and so it triggers a response in your mind. In this sense, we can say that your stomach and your brain (although it's funny to say this about your brain and its neurons) are "external" from the mind's feelings and reactions. The issue arises when your brain says you're "hungry," when actually, you've just eaten. Or perhaps you've taken some kind of medication that makes your brain send out those signal. Or, another problem is when your brain *never* sends out those signals -- when you have poor appetite.

I do agree that it's objectively true that at noon, you subjectively experienced hunger/love/hate. But then, we are getting into two things. One is personal experience. The second is history. Your personal experience is subjective. But history of that experience is objective. It's because when we talk about "personal experience," the observer is the subject...it is *your* personal experience. But when we talk about history, the observer need not be the subject. So, even though I don't feel your love/hunger/hate, I can discuss it from outside of you.

So, let's apply this to Joe George. If Joe *feels* a burning in his bosom, this is *subjective*. History telling us about this experience is *objective*. But of course, as you pointed out (and I fully agree), Joe George's interpretation (or in fact, anyone else's interpretation) of the event is subjective. We know *something happened* and *Joe George attributes this something as a burning bosom*, but we actually don't know where this subjective interpretation came from. What is it a reaction to? Love is an inner reaction (a personally perceived reaction) to an external object (the prettiest girl in the world).

So, the issue with Joe George is...what is the external object he is internally reacting too. Mormons would like to say the Holy Ghost. "Counter-cult" ministers would like to say Satan, or brainwaves. Secularists would like to say brainwaves. And so on.

I agree with your final paragraph. It is spot on.

Clean Cut said...

This strand is starting to remind me of our conversation about objective truth and our subjective response to it at What “Being Biblical” means to Mormons vs Evangelicals.

Kelark, am I to understand from your quoting of Hebrews 1 that you interpret that to mean that no prophets are to add to scripture after Jesus Christ's life? Because it's my understanding that practically the entire New Testament was written (and compiled) after the death of Jesus Christ. I don't really care WHEN it was written. Simply that all scripture points to Christ.

Darrell said...

Andrew said: "Actually, pain and love are the epitome of subjectivity."

I may not have made myself clear. Allow me to try again because I think after reading your comment we may actually be in agreement and just describing things differently.

When someone experiences a feeling (be it pain, hunger, love, etc.), that experience is a real historical event. As a result, it is an objective, absolute truth. It is objectively and absolutely true for everyone, everywhere, at all times and all places that this particular individual experienced this feeling.

How this feeling is interpreted and defined by this particular individual is based upon their own likes, dislikes, tendencies, etc. As a result their interpretation will be subjective, but the historical event is absolute.

It is interesting how in our post modern society many are trying bifurcate truth into objective/absolute vs. subjective. The irrational and self-defeating philosphies of Kant and Hume are still having their effect (more than ever unfortunately).

Many claim that truth is subjective unless we can empirically test its claim (thus, the favored mantra of many - "that might be true for you, but its not true for me). For example, the claim that "There is a blue car in my driveway right now" can be empirically tested, and, as such, they would gladly accept this as an absolute truth. However, anything that we cannot test empirically - for example, my claim that I was hungry at noon today - they would say it is not objective/absolute because they cannot test it.

I have heard this claim phrased this way: "The only way we can know if something is an objective/absolute truth is if we can empirically test it."

Here is the thing though... Is this statement claiming to be an absolute truth? Yes! Well then, it does not stand up to its own test because we cannot empirically test the statement itself! As such, it is self-defeating, illogical gibberish.

In reality, all truth is absolute. There is no such thing as subjective truth. Any truth that exists is true for everyone, everywhere, at all places, and at all times. Whether or not we can test it is beside the point. We may not have tests to determine if something is true/false; however, our lack of knowledge of whether something is true/false has no bearing on whether it is in fact, true or false.

Darrell

Andrew S said...

Darrell,

The thing is that when we talk about love, pain, hate, etc., we aren't focusing on the history. We are focusing on how the feeling is interpreted and defined. That is why ultimately, love/pain/hate/etc., are subjective. So, your "sidestep" to the history of these feelings comes out artificial. One sign of this: you always have to state your "objective truth" very carefully and it is very revealing: ("it is true for everyone, everywhere, etc., that I am hungry.")

You go through this elaborate attack against those who define "objective/absolute" as "what we can empirically test," but I'm wondering why you've gone through the trouble, because no one here has presented that.

Of course, emotions are empirically tested.

The issue is that emotions are empirical to the individual who perceives them. That is why you are so careful in describing love/hunger/pain. You say that "it is absolutely true that for everyone, everywhere, at all places, and times, that you were experiencing pain/hunger/love." (Pay attention: the "experiencing" verb I just used is how we know these experiences are empirical...empirical means relating to experience.)

Obviously, there is a difference between subjectivity and objectivity. Namely, subjectivity is particular to the individual perceiving it; objectivity is not. You do not escape this; you simply ambiguate it.

"There is a blue car in my driveway" is objective because it doesn't depend on anyone's perception. Independent of all of our perceptions, the blue car can either be or not be in our driveway. If it is there, it is there regardless of any of our perception of it. On the other hand, pain/love/hunger is inherently subjective. If you do not exist, there is no subject to perceive the pain. It does not "sit in the driveway."

I'll try to wrap things up. Let's say we went with your idea that all truth is objective truth. Then what would your "historical" attempt at objective truth about a subjective event tell us? All it tells us is "It is true for everyone, everywhere, at all times, in all places, that some person has experienced something." (For example, in your analogy, "It is true for everyone, everywhere, at all times, in all places, that you felt hungry at noon.)

This is a pretty limited conclusion to draw. When we want to establish the "objective truth" of, say, God's existence...then we don't want statements that say, "It is true for everyone, everywhere, at all times, in all places, that x person have experienced something that s/he interpreted as being God." We don't want a statement like this where the experience is intimately tied to the person (in the same way that hunger/love/pain is tied to a person and cannot "sit in the driveway.") No, what we generally want to say is something like the blue car statement. We want a God who can "sit in the driveway" (even if that driveway is outside of the universe). We want to say that, regardless of your perception or mine or anyone else's, there is something external -- objective -- that exists and should be respected as God. And I agree: if we could establish God objectively, then it wouldn't make sense to say, "God is a truth for me but not for you" in the same way "Your car being in your driveway is a truth for me but not for you" doesn't make sense. However, your "historical" objective truth doesn't quite get us to "Car in the driveway." It can only get us to recognize that you experienced something and then you called it God.

So, I think your "historical" objective truth doesn't pay the bills. It is not worthy of the truth we REALLY want to call objective and is simply a sidestep away from the fact that it describes a subjective truth that doesn't apply without a person perceiving it.

Darrell said...

Andrew,

I used the words "true for everyone, everywhere, at all times, and at all places" precisely to define what truth is: absolute. This applies to any and all truth, not just the situation of someone feeling an emotion. I wasn't using it to sidestep.

As you agreed with me earlier, truth is a characteristic of a propostion.

For example:

1) There was a blue car in my driveway yesterday at noon.

2) John Smith was killed in WWII on May 1, 1941.

3) I felt an emotion (pain, hunger, etc) yesterday at noon.

All of the above propositions have a characteristic of either being true or false, and these characterisitics apply to everyone, everywhere, at all times, and all places.

All propositions have their context. The emotion was experienced by me, the car was in my driveway, and John Smith was killed in WWII on May 1, 1941.

In addition, someone experiencing an emotion is just as much a historical event as a car being in my driveway or a man getting killed in WWII. You have to give the context of the proposition in order to be able to correctly give the characteristic of truth or falsity.

The reason I point all this out is because the false bifurcation and categorizing of truth occuring today has enabled some to define truth as only those things that can prove empirically. However, this all starts with an improper understanding of what truth itself is.

It is incorrect to define the characteristic of truth itself as either absolute/objective or subjective. The adjective subjective should not be tied to the truth itself, but should be tied to one's interpretation of whether the proposition carries the characteristic of true rather than false. The characteristic is not at all subjective; it is our personal interpretation that is subjective. Thus, to even use the word "subjective truth" is incorrect.

You said: "Of course, emotions are empirically tested."

I see what you are saying about the person who experiences the emotion having done so "empirically". However, that is not the way that those who cry out for "empirical evidence" define this. What they mean by being able to "empirically test" something is the ability to actually test it repeatedly and observe it. Given this strict definition not only can emotions not be empirically tested, neither can any other historical event: John Smith getting killed in WWII, the car being in my driveway at noon yesterday, etc.

Darrell

Andrew S said...

Your discussion of context limits the scope of the proposition that is true. It actually validates the "subjectivity." You just obscure it within context and focus on the historicity.

But I must admit I've been fatally imprecise by not scrutinizing your idea of the car being in "your" driveway from the beginning. "Your" driveway is a subjective projection of ownership on the driveway (that we then mark objectively as a historical fact). But "The car was in your driveway," isn't dependent on *you* in the same way "The emotion was experienced by *you*" is.

The hunger existed because of your perception of it. If you were not around, the hunger would not exist. The hunger is inseparable from you. So the context of this proposition -- which is required, as you said, to evaluate if a proposition is true -- is that the proposition describes a subjective event. You actually admit to the same, but you call it the context. The context for the proposition to be true is that "The emotion was experienced by me." This "by me" context PRECISELY is the subjective element!

Contrast with the car...But the car did not exist in your driveway necessarily because of you. If you were not around, the car could and would still exist and be in the driveway. (The part I have been foolishly imprecise on is that really, the issue is defining the driveway as "yours." Because you could always theoretically come back and say that without you, there would be no driveway that belongs to you. And yet, there still would be a driveway...If we assume it's your blue car, you might say the same for it.)

Getting on to empirical testing for emotions...emotions can be empirically tested. The question is what triggers them and who can observe it and what are people looking for when they bring up "empirical testing"? Emotions are not objectively testable because they cannot be observed by just anyone. They can only be observed by the person experiencing them. HOWEVER, the person who experiences them certainly can do certain things to trigger emotions repeatedly and reliably. He doesn't have a precise 1-to-1 cause/effect, but I think you will agree that you can "repeat" the feeling of pain by stabbing yourself with a knife repeatedly.

So, I think the people who you say are crying out for "empirical" evidence are actually crying out for "objectivity." For an objective history, they want objective context. But with emotions, the context (by me) will never be objective.

But then, I don't see why you should say this applies to historical events? Can *anyone* have observed the car in the driveway yesterday? yes, they could've. In fact, we can observe residual evidence now, whether the car is still there or not. The issue is that our residual evidence is much weaker and much more prone to error in connecting the dots. We have to make assumptions about records taken of John, conclusions made about residual evidence, and so forth.

Darrell said...

Andrew,

You said: "...I think the people who you say are crying out for "empirical" evidence are actually crying out for "objectivity." For an objective history, they want objective context. But with emotions, the context (by me) will never be objective. But then, I don't see why you should say this applies to historical events?"

You are kind of proving my point here. They are crying out for a way to objectively view history. The history itself is absolute. The subjectivity is in the interpretation (i.e. How we view/know if the car was in my driveway? How do we know/view Bob felt an emotion? How do we know John died in WWII? etc.). It is not in the truth of the proposition itself. The truth of the proposition is already a fact of history.

Darrell

Kelark said...

CC,
This a matter of perception. I believe that the last inspired "scripture" was produced by the Apostles of Christ or their close associates.

The word "inspired" in the new testement context can be translated as God breathed.

With this said I do not deny that other inspired writings have been produced since the writing of the new testament.

Amazing Grace seems to be inspired, Billy Graham sermons seem to be inspired, CS Lewis also.

But none of these rise to the level of truly Inspired scripture.

The above mentioned works may have been found their inspiration in the the Lord and may have been the product of the Spiriual gifts that are manifest in the Church but I do not clssifiy them as God Breathed.

Hypothetically id JS had written a fictional account that was meant to inspire and cause people to seek the the Lord much like the Narnia books I would not have a problem with them. I would even embrace it, but because of the claim that it is God breathed I cannot even consider it.
Kelark

Clean Cut said...

I agree that this is a matter of perception. And from my perception, God didn't run out of breath in the first century.

Andrew S said...

Darrell:

This makes things pretty weird (of course, I said that in a previous comment).

Let us say there is a matter of truth that cannot be objectively perceived, and when humans subjectively perceive it, they come up with vastly differing "answers" and explanations and so forth.

In this case, the truth of the proposition is irrelevant because it is inaccessible. The various "answers" and "explanations," regardless of their truth or falsity, become more important. Namely, our narratives of history are more important than the history itself if, as you say, we will always be subjective in our interpretation of things.

Darrell said...

Andrew,

Once one has accepted that all truth is absolute, you are correct: the question then becomes, "How does one approach discovering truth? Is truth unknowable? Are only certain truths knowable?" These questions are the right ones to ask, for the question is not whether truth itself is subjective. It is only whether we, as subjetive human beings prone to error and self-delusion can actually know any absolute truth.

You mentioned the possibility that perhaps some truths are unknowable. The extreme version of this is of course, agnosticism - the belief that all truth is unknowable. This methodology/belief is actually extremely self-contradictory and thus, should be abandoned. As a result, we are left with the fact that either 1) All truth is knowable or 2) Some truth is knowable.

Personally, I belive the only rational choice, and the only one that is not undeniable is 2. With our limited capacities I don't believe we can rightly say today that all truth is knowable. To say we can is well... ridiculous.

We are then left with finding the best methodology for approaching and learning truth. Which one will best help us to overcome our prejudices, pre-conceived notions, etc. Which approach is reasonable, logical, valid, sound, not self-contradictory, etc.

As we discussed earlier, to defer only to the empirical approach is self-contradictory. So it, and as a result, the scientific approach, can be helpful to learn some truth. But, they are not the only sources.

Darrell

Andrew S said...

Actually, we didn't determine that the empirical approach is self-contradictory. You determined that a strawman of the empirical approach is self-contradictory.

But anyway.

The real issue isn't that some truth is unknowable. It's that we are doubly blind in such areas -- not only may we not know certain things (whatever those things area), but we can't even know what we don't know (for example, we may be sure that we know something we really don't...and we may be unsure that we know something that we really do.) So your goal to "find the best methodology for approaching and finding truth" actually becomes a very tenuous journey...one that may be futile.

However, all isn't lost. The interesting thing is that even if we don't find truth (in other words, we only find falsities), this doesn't hinder our living. In actuality, we seem to be able to live quite ably regardless of knowledge of truths. So, what really matters more in these cases are our subjective interpretations...and not if they align with truth or not. (Which is scary).

Darrell said...

Andrew,

You said: "You determined that a strawman of the empirical approach is self-contradictory."

If you care to, I would love to discuss how and why you perceive my argument as a strawman.

You said: "...we may be sure that we know something we really don't...and we may be unsure that we know something that we really do."

I am not trying to be smart here, but the standard this statement is setting for futility of actually seeking truth if applied to itself, pretty much makes the statement itself pointless. For, if the statement itself is something that we may or may not be sure of, we may as well throw it in the trash.

You said: "The interesting thing is that even if we don't find truth (in other words, we only find falsities), this doesn't hinder our living. In actuality, we seem to be able to live quite ably regardless of knowledge of truths."

This really depends upon how one defines "living".

You said: "So, what really matters more in these cases are our subjective interpretations...and not if they align with truth or not."

Ahhh, maybe or maybe not. This depends on if knowing or not knowing the "truth" has consequences. Also, depends upon what time frame are you talking about. Are you talking about over the next year, 10 years, 20 years, eternity? Ask any man or woman who has discovered that their spouse has been cheating on them for 20 - 30 years of marriage if there were consequences for not having their opinions aligned with the truth, and I guarantee you they will tell you "yes"!

Darrell

Andrew S said...

Darrell:

We've already highlighted that when you talk about empiricism, you're not really talking about empiricism, but instead what "those who cry out for "empirical evidence" define" empiricism as. So, this is how you sidestepped my points on emotions being empirical and dropped that argument. Since you've already dropped the argument once, I take your admittance that you would love to discuss things as a friendly gesture, but one that is empty.

I am not trying to be smart here, but the standard this statement is setting for futility of actually seeking truth if applied to itself, pretty much makes the statement itself pointless. For, if the statement itself is something that we may or may not be sure of, we may as well throw it in the trash.

And you will find, Darrell, that we effectively *do* throw such statements in a trash. But, as you have gone at lengths to point out, the truth of a proposition is not in what we do with it (e.g., what we interpret and determine is subjectivity.)

Ahhh, maybe or maybe not. This depends on if knowing or not knowing the "truth" has consequences. (time frame). Ask any man or woman who has discovered that their spouse has been cheating on them for 20 - 30 years of marriage if there were consequences for not having their opinions aligned with the truth, and I guarantee you they will tell you "yes"!

And yet, any man or woman who does not discover that his spouse has been cheating on them (i.e., subjectively interpret the data and come to this conclusion) -- even though the cheating is truth and history -- would not be able to tell you the consequences. Regardless of whether knowing the truth has consequences (which it usually does), if we cannot access truth, these consequences are functionally irrelevant to us. What is more important are the consequences we perceive (even if they end up not being true).

For example, let's say that the truth is that when we die, we are tortured by statistics textbooks. Now, this is a ridiculous example...one that we wouldn't think of...one that (in this situation), we don't know, and we may not even know we don't know (most people don't take out insurance against torture-by-textbook). It certainly has consequences for us...and these are eternal consequences...but while we are ignorant, we can't really do anything about these consequences or this truth. Even as we try to seek truth, we really have no idea if we're getting anywhere. We may never see the statistics textbooks coming...

Oh well, but as you say...it doesn't even matter. The truth of the statistics textbooks doesn't even matter. Discard it. It is futile and defeats itself.

Darrell said...

Andrew,

You said: "Since you've already dropped the argument once, I take your admittance that you would love to discuss things as a friendly gesture, but one that is empty."

I didn't drop the argument, because it wasn't really an argument in the first place. Your point regarding empirical evidence of feelings had nothing to do with the point I was making about truth being absolute. Since it was irrelevant to my point, I didn't address it.

My gesture is not empty at all. I am genuinely curious as to your reason for thinking my argument a straw-man... not because I think you are right. But because I am curious as to your reasoning.

For your convenience, here is the argument again.

1) The only way we can know whether something is true or not is if we can empirically test it.
2) However, this very statement cannot be empirically tested.
3) Therefore, it is self-defeating, does not meet its own standard, and is utter gibberish.

Nevertheless, if you don't want to share, that is certainly fine.

You said: "And yet, any man or woman who does not discover that his spouse has been cheating on them (i.e., subjectively interpret the data and come to this conclusion) -- even though the cheating is truth and history -- would not be able to tell you the consequences. Regardless of whether knowing the truth has consequences (which it usually does), if we cannot access truth, these consequences are functionally irrelevant to us. What is more important are the consequences we perceive (even if they end up not being true)."

In this case, the consequences would lie in the opportunity cost (what she missed out on by living with an un-faithful liar for years. What "could have" been.) Lack of knowledge of consequences does not necessarily mean there are none.

The statement "What I don't know can't hurt me." is false. If you don't think so, next time you cross the street, don't bother to look both ways. Afterall, proper knowledge of whether a car is coming is really of no consequence, right? :-)

As to your text books example... it is only correct if you assume one cannot know whether or not they will be tortured by text books. We are back again to whether we can or can not know. You speak of this as if it has already been decided that we can't. I don't agree with you on this... so don't be surprised by me saying we can know whether or not we will be tortured by textbooks.

Darrell

Andrew S said...

1) The only way we can know whether something is true or not is if we can empirically test it.
2) However, this very statement cannot be empirically tested.
3) Therefore, it is self-defeating, does not meet its own standard, and is utter gibberish.


1 is the strawman point. Since you have brought up empiricism, always, you have pointed out that "many claim" or "you have heard" this point 1. And you refer to "those who cry out for empirical evidence" to introduce this idea that people think "the only way" we can know whether something is true is to empirically test it. You really wanting to push this idea of empiricism-alone so you can smack it down, when no one's brought it up and no one's biting at the bait. Since you have continued pursuing this when it's not really...appropos to anything...I don't know what to say.

In this case, the consequences would lie in the opportunity cost (what she missed out on by living with an un-faithful liar for years. What "could have" been.) Lack of knowledge of consequences does not necessarily mean there are none.

I most certainly agree. In my last posts, notice I haven't said consequences don't exist. But the opportunity costs become irrelevant when the person never discovers. The person doesn't perceive they are living with an un-faithful liar for years (even though they are), so they never come to recognize "what could have been".

Note: I'm not saying, "What I don't know can't hurt me." I'm saying, as long as I'm not hurt (and nothing disturbs my worldview,) the utter TRUTH that what I don't know *can* hurt me is irrelevant. My life is changed *only* when the speeding car comes and hits me. When I realize that I've been cheated on. When I realize my bank account has been wiped out. Or, when the statistics textbook starts torturing me.

As to your text books example... it is only correct if you assume one cannot know whether or not they will be tortured by text books. We are back again to whether we can or can not know. You speak of this as if it has already been decided that we can't. I don't agree with you on this... so don't be surprised by me saying we can know whether or not we will be tortured by textbooks.

I don't speak as if we cannot know whether or not we will. I don't speak as if that's been decided. I say, we may not be able to know, but what we can't know is whether or not we can know (e.g., one level back in knowledge; knowledge of knowledge.) Heck, I can't even know if I know that. You can certainly disagree, and I'm not surprised if you would take a different stance. But the issue is that people do the same for MANY, MANY, MANY things, with just as much confidence.

kelark said...

CC,
"I agree that this is a matter of perception. And from my perception, God didn't run out of breath in the first century."

These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. John 14:16-20, 23-28

CC wat other documents do you consider God Breathed and when was the last one produced that you aware aware of?

Darrell said...

Andrew,

I think you have mistakenly miscontrued my comment to mean that you or someone else on this post has taken the stance that "only empirical evidence can tell us the truth". If I gave that impression I apologize. Such was not my intent.

That being said, there are people who have held and continue to hold this position. If you have not read Hume or Ayer, I would recommend doing so. Hume was pretty much the father of modern day skepticism and his philosophies have probably had more influence on the modern day way of thinking that any other philosophy in history.

My purpose in bringing this "empirical only" position up was to demonstrate two things:

1) It is self-defeating

2) Some are not aware of it, but it is having a great influence on how they think.

Its influence is even coming through in some of your comments to me (which is actually another reason I brought it up). For while you say you do not hold to this position (and I believe you), your comments portray a type of skeptcism that can only be described as Hume like or Kant like. For example, you said:

I say, we may not be able to know, but what we can't know is whether or not we can know (e.g., one level back in knowledge; knowledge of knowledge.) Heck, I can't even know if I know that.

This comment demonstrates a high level of skepticism that appears to say that truth is unknowable. For, if one cannot even know if they have the truth, then they can not be sure of anything. Perhaps they don't even exist? Perhaps the computer which I am typing on is not real?

This type of skeptical thinking has contributed greatly to the modern day revere we, as a society, have for science. The idea that we can only be sure of something being true if science tells us so (i.e. As we have been discussing - the mistaken bifurcation between the truth that science gives us (absolute truth) and all other truth (subjective truth)).

You said: I'm saying, as long as I'm not hurt (and nothing disturbs my worldview,) the utter TRUTH that what I don't know *can* hurt me is irrelevant.

But if you can know a truth and there is the possibility that by not knowing it, it could hurt you, wouldn't you want to find it out? For example, when we were 3 years old we did not realize that an on-coming car could hit and kill us. Therefore, we did not bother to look both ways when we crossed the street. As we grew older, and our parents taught us better, we began to realize that the cars could hurt us. As a result, today we look both ways when we cross the street precisely because we know we can find the truth by doing so.

I don't know many people who would willingly cross the street without first seeking correct knowledge about on-coming traffic. Wouldn't it be wise of us to do so in other areas of our life as well, rather than resigning ourselves to hopeless skepticism?

Darrell

Andrew S said...

Darrell:

While at first I suspected it, no, I did not conclude that you meant to attribute that to anyone here.

...However...then I wondered why you were bringing it up since no one has taken this stance. It is irrelevant to the discussion.

But continuing...

If we can't be sure of anything, so what? If that is the truth, then that is the truth regardless of what we feel about it (a point that you raised. The truth of a proposition is independent of the subjective evaluation of that proposition having truth.) The key is that we do get around it. It's because even if our subjective interpretations do give us faulty conclusions (solipsism and philosophical skepticism at their finest...), the thing is that some faulty conclusions are consistent and persistent.

So it's not that science tells us what is true Rather, science is a way at going for what is consistent, persistent. let us say I don't exist or my computer I am typing on doesn't exist. The deception is consistent and persistent enough that the truth is irrelevant with regards to my (subjective) perception.

But if you can know a truth and there is the possibility that by not knowing it, it could hurt you, wouldn't you want to find it out?

Certainly. But the problem is I don't know if I can know a truth. It may be that I can...it may be that I cannot. We may have knowledge, but we don't have knowledge of knowledge.

I don't know many people who would willingly cross the street without first seeking correct knowledge about on-coming traffic. Wouldn't it be wise of us to do so in other areas of our life as well, rather than resigning ourselves to hopeless skepticism?

The thing is that if we did what you said, we would still be paralyzed. For example, we watch out for on-coming traffic because it's closest to us and most relevant to us...we know the interaction with cars. We typically do not watch for sharks on a day-to-day basis because it's a bit more distant (although, sharks are still something plausible.) While we are aware of fraud or of unfaithfulness in a relationship, we have even less incentive to find correct knowledge, because these are further away.

And what's furthest away? I don't know, but things that affect the afterlife are pretty darn far away. Shouldn't you first seek correct knowledge about the statistics textbooks that await you in the afterlife? Or maybe about Vishnu...Or Xenu? Even if we come to correct knowledge, we don't know we have come to correct knowledge. So really, what will affect us more is our perception (which IS subjective) of knowledge, not actually having it. In other words, you change your behavior because you perceive that you have sought correct knowledge...you could be very wrong. It is your perception of knowledge that you go by, since you don't know if you truly have knowledge or not.

Darrell said...

Andrew,

I am trying to fully understand your viewpoint. You said:

But the problem is I don't know if I can know a truth. It may be that I can...it may be that I cannot. We may have knowledge, but we don't have knowledge of knowledge.


Based on the above, would it be correct to say that your position is "Human logic and reason may or may not be applicable to reality"? Since you cannot know whether you know a truth, is that how you see it?

If not, would you mind expanding upon your reason for stating that you cannot know if you know a truth? Do you believe you can know for certain that anything is true (i.e. that you are looking at a computer screen right now), or are there only certain truths that you believe you cannot be certain you know? If so, what is the difference between the truths you can be sure you know and the truths you cannot be sure you know?

Blessings,

Darrell

Andrew S said...

Re: Darrell,

Based on the above, would it be correct to say that your position is "Human logic and reason may or may not be applicable to reality"? Since you cannot know whether you know a truth, is that how you see it?

As of now, I don't see any inaccuracies in restating my position as this. This should be controversial...since it actually covers all options.

For example, one option is "Human logic and reason are applicable to reality." The second option is, "Human logic and reason are not applicable to reality." (wouldn't you say that whatever logic/reason we used to come to that statement -- regardless of the truth of the proposition, would be self-defeating?) If we say, it "may or may not be," then we allow for both possibilities, if and when they occur.

Do you believe you can know for certain that anything is true (i.e. that you are looking at a computer screen right now), or are there only certain truths that you believe you cannot be certain you know?

Perceptions are things we can know...think of it as an extension, "I think, therefore I am." We may or may not know if we are, in reality, looking at a computer screen. For example, if we are floating minds and matter is an illusion...then the reality is that we are not looking at computer screens. However, in this case, reality and truth are disregarded. Regardless of reality, what you and I care is the fact that we perceive that we are looking at computer screens, and that the screens, our keyboards, our fingers, and so on, are consistent perceptions. So if they are a lie (in reality, they do not exist), if the sense data is a deception...that's fine...but it's a consistent deception. In this case, even if we are being pervasively deceived, it doesn't affect our daily lives, because we simply go with the persistent deceptions. You can be certain that you are experiencing certain perceptions because these persons are subjective and internal to you. You don't have to reference anything else.

...this gets us back to the idea of subjectivity vs. objectivity, where here, objectivity (or knowledge of objectivity) has taken a suicide bombing.

This is pretty weird stuff here, so usually, people take one of two shortcuts. 1) They disregard the concept of reality and focus on perceptions and appearances (It doesn't matter if the computer screen exists or not...only the perception of the computer screen matters)...or 2) They insist that perceptions and appearances tell us information about reality. (The computer screen exists because you and I perceive the computer screen.)

Darrell said...

Andrew,

The second option is, "Human logic and reason are not applicable to reality." (wouldn't you say that whatever logic/reason we used to come to that statement -- regardless of the truth of the proposition, would be self-defeating?)

You are correct Sir! And, since it is self-defeating, it defies the law of non-contradiction and cannot be true.

If we say, it "may or may not be," then we allow for both possibilities, if and when they occur.

Here is where the problem occurs: this statement is still self-defeating. For you are making a logical statement about reality that allows for the possibility that logical statements don't apply to reality (i.e. it is self-defeating to say that a logical statement about reality applies to reality in the cases where you are saying that logic does not apply to reality). As a result your bifurcation of perception and reality (i.e. we can't know if we know our perceptions are in fact reality) does not work.

There is a third option that you did not mention, and in fact, it is the only option that is not self-defeating: Human logic is applicable to reality.

Darrell

Andrew S said...

You are correct Sir! And, since it is self-defeating, it defies the law of non-contradiction and cannot be true.

Not necessarily, because we have clear dialetheias which show that the law of non-contradiction does not necessarily hold. For example, "This sentence is not true." This statement shows that we can contradict...a statement can be both true and false. Instead, we are now relying on some paraconsistency to evaluate which statements are which.

...As a result your bifurcation of perception and reality (i.e. we can't know if we know our perceptions are in fact reality) does not work.

There is a third option that you did not mention, and in fact, it is the only option that is not self-defeating: Human logic is applicable to reality.


Let me try to raise a scenario and see what your answer to it is. Let us say that everything was created last Thursday. However, when the universe was created last Thursday (let's say there is a God who has done this in such a way, so that is how we can refer to an "absolute" time period and absolute "reality"), it was created with the appearance that it is much, much older than about a week old. With our perceptions, we can investigate details that we believe tell us about the universe. So, we evaluate that we have these memories of activities we participated in, so we think, "OK, I am xx years old. I am much older than ~a week old." We evaluate the earth, the stars, the universe, everything...and from the way that things appear to work (all observable laws of physics, etc.,), the universe, earth, etc., definitely appear to be greater than a week old.

Since all appearances and perceptions lead them to believe such, some people would claim that they *know* certain things from their perceptions. For example, they would claim to know that at the very least, the universe is as old as they are...because they are xx years old (not ~1 week old). And others would go further and say that based on all the observable evidence of the universe, the universe is billions of years old and we know it.

...the issue is...our perceptions, in this scenario, are incorrect. The universe was created ~1 week ago, so its true age is ~1 week.

The problem is...in this instance, we can't know if we know our perceptions are in fact reality. Those who "know" that the universe is very old most certainly don't know (because they are, in fact, incorrect.) Yet even those who believe that the universe was created ~1 week ago, because their perceptions are utterly disconnected from reality (which causes them to be unable to know if their perceptions are connected to reality or not), cannot say they 'know' the universe was created ~1 week ago.

This is a principle example I was trying to raise in the first place. Does it fit the idea, "human logic/reason may or may not be applicable to reality" or am I going at a different concept?

Darrell said...

For example, "This sentence is not true." This statement shows that we can contradict...a statement can be both true and false.

You have to distinguish between things that are stateable, but not logically or actually possible. There is a huge difference.

The statement "This sentence is not true" is stateable, but is not actually or logically possible because it falls within its own frame of reference and contradicts itself. For, if the sentence is true, then it is false. Yet, if it is false, then it is true. As a result, while we can say it, it is, in reality, nothing more than gibberish. It is illogical, contradictory, and has no grounding in reality.

There are numerous things we can say along the same lines. For example, "No sentence in english is longer than 5 words" is stateable, but not actually possible because it self-references and violates its own claim.

Things that are not logically possible, will never be actually possible. On the reverse, however, things that are logically possible may or may not be actually possible and may or may not be actually real. This leads me to your example.

Your example of a deceitful God creating a world that looks millions of years old so as to fool us into thinking it is when it is actually only a few days old is logically possible. There are no inherent contradictions in your statement so it is logical. As a result, it is actually possible that such a thing could be true (again, logic applies to reality). However, simply because it is logically and actually possible does not, on the other hand, make it actually real or probable.

Take, for example, the sentence "I can jump over the moon." This sentence is logically possible... there are no inherent contradictions in the statement. However, while I may be healthy and strong, it is not actually possible, probable, or real that I can jump over the moon.

We are dealing with multiple items here and it can sometimes get confusing. But it is important to distinguish between:

1) Logic (which when negated always rules out the actual but when affirmed does not always guarantee the actual)
2) Actual
3) Possible
4) Probable

There is another problem with your deceitful God scenario. It almost appears to be a form of a nothing but claim and therefore, necessitates more than knowledge which we don't have. I will have to touch on that later as I need to get back to work.

Blessings,

Darrell

Aaron said...

I'm having flashbacks from my philosophy class - aahhhhh make it stop...

Andrew S said...

You have to distinguish between things that are stateable, but not logically or actually possible. There is a huge difference.

No, we really do not have to distinguish. Because statements like these already imply actual possibility that can be evaluated. In this case, we actually *can* evaluate the actual possibility of this statement...and what we find is that the contradictory nature IS actually possible...and in fact, it does exist. The statement is proof of it.

In this case, it is *reality* that we have created a statement that is *both* true *and* false. So, yes, it is contradictory. No, it is not illogical. We have just shown that the law of noncontradiction is not necessary for logical statements (we use paraconsistency to avoid worse consequences).

There are numerous things we can say along the same lines. For example, "No sentence in english is longer than 5 words" is stateable, but not actually possible because it self-references and violates its own claim.

The problem is that this statement is simply false. But we figured that out because of what I just discussed in the last part...statements already imply the ability to actually evaluate their possibility. The statement before is both true and false. This one is simply false. This statement is clearly possible: it's just incorrect. Coming to the conclusion "there are sentences in English greater than 5 words long" doesn't express a contradiction where both are true.

Continuing with the last Thursday world...it seems then that I should never had gotten into a logic discussion. Because your answer to the Last Thursday world doesn't negate my main contention: that we cannot know if we know reality. Instead, we are going based on probabilities and either being really lazy with what "knowledge" entails or admitting that we don't know.

Darrell said...

In this case, we actually *can* evaluate the actual possibility of this statement...and what we find is that the contradictory nature IS actually possible...and in fact, it does exist. The statement is proof of it.

Actually, the sentence is not proof of anything other than the fact that a bunch of words can be grouped together into a meaningless statement. Kind of like the statement "I drove the blue car over the moon." It is entirely meaningless when it comes to reality.

While it might be fun to think about something being both true and false at the same time, it is not actually possible for it to be so.

Those who hold to Paraconsistent Logic (I am not one of them :) ) might not mind violating the laws of reality as well as the 2nd law of classic logic. However, when living in reality, it is better to stick with what is actually possible.

In fact, let's use an example from earlier in our conversation to test the law of non-contradiction in reality. Next time you are crossing the street go ahead and walk out in front of an on-coming car. When it hits you, you need to remember that it can be both true and false that you are in pain, have a broken back, arm, legs, etc. When the nurse trys to stop you from getting out of bed and tells you that it is true that your legs are broken, you just need to look back at her and tell her that it is not true, it is both true and false and that you are choosing to go the false route. That way you can get up and walk right out of the room. Think she will buy it? Heck, do you think your body will buy it?

Because your answer to the Last Thursday world doesn't negate my main contention: that we cannot know if we know reality.

I agree with you that it is logically possible that we are being deceived by an evil God. However, my point was the same one I am making above: the simple fact that a statement is logically possible does not mean it is actually possible, probable, or real.

For example, it is logically possible that there are unicorns on the dark side of the moon. It is logically possible that werewolves exist. It is logically possible that we are all living in The Matrix. It is logically possible that aliens seeded life on earth.

My contention all along has been that logic applies to reality (as we have already discussed, it is self contradictory to claim that it doesn't). However, we need to understand exactly how it applies. If something is not logically possible, it will not be actually possible. However, it being logically possible does not guarantee that it will be actually possible or actually real.

This is where looking at possibility, probability, and reality come in. In reality, that is how we tend to live most of our lives... based upon what is possible, probable, and real.

There are many, many things that we live our lives by everyday. Things we hold as truths when, in fact, we cannot empirically/scientifically demonstate them to be true. Instead, we use the process of induction to determine that they are true to a high degree of probablity... high enough in fact that we call them truth. So the real question is, what is more probable:

1) There is a God (whether evil as in your example or wholly loving)

2) There is no God

Blessings,

Darrell

Andrew S said...

Actually, the sentence is not proof of anything other than the fact that a bunch of words can be grouped together into a meaningless statement. Kind of like the statement "I drove the blue car over the moon." It is entirely meaningless when it comes to reality.

Except the statement is very meaningful. Even the blue car statement is meaningful...the issue is that it is in reality *false*, because the external object of a "blue cars" and the external object of the "moon" was not, in fact, interacted with. But "This statement is not true," isn't so ambitious. In this case, we find that the statement is meaningful, true, and false. This is the paradox.

While it might be fun to think about something being both true and false at the same time, it is not actually possible for it to be so.

Not only is it possible, but we have shown an instance where it happens.

Those who hold to Paraconsistent Logic (I am not one of them :) ) might not mind violating the laws of reality as well as the 2nd law of classic logic. However, when living in reality, it is better to stick with what is actually possible.

If you don't hold to paraconsistent logic, please note that your entire experiment with the law of non-contradiction in reality is disregardable. You're simply attacking a strawman of a trivialist philosophy that someone who accepts paraconsistent logic would clearly not buy. In this case, it does not follow from our one true contradiction that *everything* is true. We just note that arms, legs, etc., are paraconsistent.

The existence of one true contradiction does not mean that all contradictions are true.

I agree with you that it is logically possible that we are being deceived by an evil God. However, my point was the same one I am making above: the simple fact that a statement is logically possible does not mean it is actually possible, probable, or real.

And yet you don't know if you know if it is actually possible, probable, or real. You believe you know that true paradoxes don't exist. You could be right. Or the paradox of the lie could be real -- a true paradox.

I agree with you that in the end, we make shortcuts...based on what we perceive possibility, probability, and reality to be. Of course, if our perceptions are faulty with respect to reality (and we don't know it), then we will come to different conclusions. Even our "high probability" goes out the window, if we are determining high probability with respect to perceptions that do not match with reality.

Darrell said...

Andrew,

We are kind of going in circles here. Let me ask you a couple of questions to see if we can nail this down.

Your statement "This statement is not true." --- is it true that this statement is both true and false?

Your claim "We cannot know if we know reality" -- is that claim something you know about reality?

Blessings,

Darrell

Darrell said...

Andrew,

We are kind of going in circles here. Let me ask you a couple of questions to see if we can nail this down.

Your statement "This statement is not true." --- is it true that this statement is both true and false?

Your claim "We cannot know if we know reality" -- is that claim something you know about reality?

Blessings,

Darrell

Andrew S said...

Your statement "This statement is not true." --- is it true that this statement is both true and false?

It is both true and false that this statement is both true and false.

Your claim "We cannot know if we know reality" -- is that claim something you know about reality?

I don't know if I know this about reality. What's more important is that I perceive that I know it, however...not whether I actually do or do not. So, this claim is something I know about my perception. But does my perception align with reality? For this, we can go back to the Last Thursday problem. Does my perception of my life being older than a week (several years, in fact) align with reality? As you point out, we are stuck between possible, probable, and actual, and we may or may not know the difference.

Darrell said...

It is both true and false that this statement is both true and false.

In that case, is it true that "it is both true and false that this statement is both true and false"?

Also, your claim that you don't/can't know if reality aligns with your perception - is this something you know about reality?

Darrell

Darrell said...

Sorry, I should have asked another question. Since you claim that the statment is "both true and false", am I then free to say it is false?

Darrell

Andrew S said...

In that case, is it true that "it is both true and false that this statement is both true and false"?

Again, both true and false. You will go into another circle by this path.

Sorry, I should have asked another question. Since you claim that the statment is "both true and false", am I then free to say it is false?

Yes, you are as free to say it is false as you are free to say "The statement is not true" is false. The issue is that your statement is only partially correct.

Also, your claim that you don't/can't know if reality aligns with your perception - is this something you know about reality?

Again, this is something I know about my perception, but not something I know about reality. It's something I either may or may not know about reality. Again, if you deal with dialetheias, you don't just unentangle the dialetheia one "step" up. That is the pervading nature of paradox.

Darrell said...

Yes, you are as free to say it is false as you are free to say "The statement is not true" is false. The issue is that your statement is only partially correct.

Okay, here is the thing. Your contention is that if I am to be fully correct about the statement "This statement is false," I must say it is "both true and false". When I ask if it is "true or false" your answer is essentially "no, not fully". So, while denying either/or logic (which would mean there is a contradiction) you actually employ it in your claim that this statement is not true/false but it is both/and. You are saying that the statement is either "true/false" or "both true and false". You imply the very claim you are trying to deny. That there is a contradiction between "either/or" logic and "both/and" logic which your position claims does not exist. Once again, you defeat yourself.

Again, this is something I know about my perception, but not something I know about reality.

Yes, it is something you claim to know about reality. It is a claim about how your perception does/does not apply to reality. Making this claim necessitates knowledge about reality, namely, that you can't know if your perception of it is accurate.

You are commiting a fallacy attempting to make a "nothing but" claim which neccesitates "more than" knowledge which your very claim denies you have. Again, you defeat yourself.

God Bless,

Darrell

Andrew S said...

That there is a contradiction between "either/or" logic and "both/and" logic which your position claims does not exist. Once again, you defeat yourself.

Yet our claims are about (even though we are stepping up from the original claim) a true contradiction. So, the contradiction doesn't show much, because it is a true contradiction.

This relates similarly to your other comment.

Darrell said...

You can't have it both ways, Andrew. If you claim there is a contradiction (i.e. I am not fully right to say it is true or false, but must say it is both/and to be fully right), then you can't be arguing for no contradiction. You can't use the very item you are trying to deny in order to support your argument.

Your argument is imploding around you.

Darrell

Darrell said...

Yet our claims are about (even though we are stepping up from the original claim) a true contradiction.

In addition, you are begging the question here.

Darrell

Andrew S said...

Ok, wow, I get what you are saying. You're right.

Hmm...that's no good.