Mormon epistemology, part 2
Before I share the email I wrote about James 1:5, I want to share a few things I've heard from Mormons themselves about how they came to be Mormons.
They all rely on a subjective experience to substantiate their beliefs, but they don't all describe the subjective experience in the same way. Some describe it solely in terms of their subjective experience, and some say it is a combination of their subjective experience and the evidence for the Book of Mormon.
Most Mormons who have explained their subjective experience to me explain it in terms of some sort of feeling or emotion. A Mormon friend of mine has tried to explain it to me a few times. The last time, I had a chance to ask her questions about it. She would explain something, and I'd say, "So you basically base it on your feelings?" And then she would explain some more, and I'd ask the same question. She didn't dispute that it was based on her feelings. She just seemed to think I wasn't getting it and needed more explanation. But she did explicitly use the word "feelings" to describe her experience then and in previous conversations. She did tell me in one of our conversations (or email; I don't remember) that it's something I would have to experience for myself before I could understand it.
Just last Friday, a Mormon explained to me how she came to be a Mormon. She said she grew up in the LDS church, and around the age of 12, she began to have doubts. After struggling with the doubts and praying about it, she had a profound experience that caused her to believe. While trying to explain her experience she said that it was not a feeling. She just said that when she reads Paul, she can't help but love him, and she has the same experience when she reads the Book of Mormon.
Later in the conversation, she started giving me objective reasons to believe the Book of Mormon was true. She pointed out the Hebrew chiasmus poetry found in the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith could not have known about. And she pointed to Smith's lack of education in comparison to his prolific writing as evidence that the Spirit was teaching him. She didn't say whether these things had any bearing on her belief. She may have just been trying to give me reasons to believe. After all, the reasons we believe things are not always the reasons we give other people to believe. One might use an alibi to prove their innocence, but the alibi is not why the person believes in their own innocence.
The first Mormon missionaries I talked to over ten years ago wanted me to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it, and they told me God would reveal the truth of it to me. I didn't read the whole Book of Mormon back then, but I did pray about it. I had a rather negative feeling about it at the time. Recently, I have read the whole Book of Mormon and no longer feel the need to pray about it. I'll say more about that in a future blog entry.
I talked to some Mormon missionaries about a year ago, and we talked for at least an hour just about epistemology. They based their beliefs entirely on their subjective experience. I asked them what they thought about FARMS, which is a Mormon apologetics organization that attempts to defend the Book of Mormon using objective evidence. One of them told me they thought FARMS was misguided, because their beliefs were not supposed to be based on objective evidence, but on the witness of the Holy Ghost. He even went so far as to say that no evidence or argument could overturn his belief. If I could show him from the Bible that Mormonism was false, that would just cause him to have doubts about the Bible. I am not kidding.
Lastly, as I've mentioned before, the Mormon fellow I had the email exchange with told me that his beliefs are based on a combination of his subjective experiences and the objective evidence. He said that one, by itself, could lead a person astray.