Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Book of Mormon 14/18

There are a few passages in the BOM that basically say that faith and knowledge are mutually exclusive. You can only have faith as long as you don't have knowledge, and once you know something, you can no longer exercise faith in it.
Alma 32:17-18 "Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe. Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it."
I thought this was an interesting passage because the New Testament seems to teach that faith is necessary for salvation. But Alma 32:17-18 says that if you have signs, then you have knowledge, and if you have knowledge, then you cannot have faith; it follows that if you have signs, then you cannot have faith. But Jesus performed many signs for his apostles, including rising from the dead. It would seem to follow that the apostles did not have faith. And also the Nephites saw many signs in the sky indicating that Jesus had been born, and then had died, and then he even appeared to them. I went to Yahoo Answers and asked, "Did this nullify their faith, and if so, did it ruin their salvation? Or is faith not necessary for salvation?" Unfortunately, I didn't get any straight answers. One person said it required faith in the first place to recognize the signs, and that the signs didn't nullify their faith; they only strengthened their faith.

That brings us to the next passage:
Alma 32:26-34 "Now, as I said concerning faith--that it was not a perfect knowledge--even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in your, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves--It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? I say unto you, Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness. Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away. And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good. And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand."
Let me summarize that for people who don't want to read the whole thing. Basically, it's saying that you can do an experiment where you entertain an idea, either exercising a small degree of faith or at least wanting it to be true. If the object of your faith is good or true, then your faith will grow. It will get stronger and stronger. Eventually, you will reach certainty, at which point you no longer have faith or belief; rather, you have knowledge. So knowledge is epistemological certainty.

When I talked to the Bishop, he read this whole passage to me. Before he got to the end, I was on the edge of my seat, and I said, "That's one of the passages I wanted to ask you about!" Remember, I didn't know I was going to meet with the Bishop that day, so I didn't have my notes with me. Earlier in the conversation, I had asked the Bishop whether he believed Joseph Smith was a prophet, the Book of Mormon was an ancient document translated by Joseph Smith, and the LDS Church was the true church of Christ restored by Joseph Smith. He said, "I don't believe it; I know it." So I questioned him on what he meant by saying he knew it. What did he mean by "know"?

We went back and forth because he wasn't really giving me straight answers, but after a little frustration, we finally arrived at his definition of knowledge. He simply equates knowledge with epistemological certainty. To believe something means to have some degree of doubt, but to know something means to have no doubt at all.

Words are defined by their use, so I suppose I can't quibble with the way the BOM uses the word, "knowledge," but I don't think that is what people usually mean by the word. After all, it's possible to be absolutely certain about something and still be wrong. And it hardly seems possible to know something that isn't true. You can't know that the earth is flat if the earth is not really flat. It seems to me that before you can know something, it has to at least be true.

And to believe something means to think it's true. You'd be contradicting yourself if you said, "I believe my cat is pregnant, but I know she is not." So before you can know something, it has to be true, and you have to think it's true.

But it's possible for something to be true, for you to think it's true, and you still don't know it. A person might think they will win the lottery, and maybe they will win the lottery, but that doesn't mean they knew it. They are just an optimistic person who made a lucky guess. It's not really knowledge unless you have some sort of reason or justification for thinking it's true. Justification is what connects the belief inside your mind with the reality outside your mind. Without that connection, any correspondence between your mental states and the external world is merely a coincidence.

So knowledge is justified true belief. I think that's how most people use the word, whether they've thought about what they mean by it or not. Since knowledge is justified true belief, knowledge and belief cannot be mutually exclusive. Belief is necessary for knowledge.

Here is one last passage from the BOM about faith and knowledge:
Ether 3:18-19 "And he ministered unto him even as he ministered unto the Nephites; and all this, that this man might know that he was God, because of the many great works which the Lord had showed unto him. And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting."
I think this is a good example of why you have to be careful to define your terms when you're talking with people. Any Christian might say they know the gospel is true, but when Mormons say they know it's true, they mean they have absolute certainty.

Since I had that discussion with the Bishop, I have noticed that a lot of Mormons will say they know their religion is true, rather than merely believing it to be true. The next time a Mormon tells me that, I think I'll question them on the issue of faith and say, "Does that mean you don't have any faith?"

Part 15


At 8/04/2009 2:51 AM , Blogger Carl said...

I have to question some of you word use and definitions, so I looked some up:

(2a): firm belief in something for which there is no proof.

3: conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence.

(2a): the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association
(4a): the sum of what is known

So when we differentiate belief as believing in something and faith as believing in something with no proof of it, then the scriptures mean something quite different.

I believe the world is round, that requires no faith on my part because it is a known fact. I believe the sun will rise in the morning and have faith that it will, because I know enough about the natural world to know that it should rise, but that there are a few events that could prevent the sum rising for me, but I don't give it much thought.

Despite the countless prophesy and signs that Jesus was the messiah, the people most familiar with the teachings of the prophets, those who most had the knowledge concerning his coming, failed to have faith and recognize him as such.

The Lord delivered miracle after miracle witnessed by the people of Israel, manna from heaven, flaming bushes, water running from stone, PARTED THE RED SEA! yet these people still spent 40 years in the wilderness because they lacked faith. Every time Moses turned his back they were throwing up false idols and complaining about how the Lord had abandoned them.

Adam and Eve! In the Garden of Eden, walking and talking with God! Seeing him on a regular basis, surely they knew better than to eat the fruit. Yet here we are.

So knowing something is useless unless you have faith in it first. And it is possible to stretch it to say you can have both faith and knowledge, I don't see the two as being mutually exclusive. But it's pretty hard to exercise faith in something you know, because when you act, it will be because you know it, not because you have faith that it's true.

I think the point of the scriptures you've pointed out, and any other scripture that contrasts knowledge with faith is that having unquestionable signs that something is true, means that people will have faith in it.

At 8/10/2009 3:45 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Carl, the definition you gave of faith is the popular definition, and maybe it’s also the Mormon definition, but it is not how the Bible uses the word. I wrote about that here. I also wrote about it in September and October of 2005.

Your definition of belief is the same as mine. I don’t see any difference between having a “conviction of the truth of some statement” and “thinking that some statement is true.”

The definition of knowledge I gave is more precise than the one you gave. The definition I gave is the one most philosophers have adopted, and it’s what most people mean when they say they know something. Defining “knowledge” by using the word “knowing” isn’t very helpful.

And it is possible to stretch it to say you can have both faith and knowledge, I don't see the two as being mutually exclusive.

I agree with you, but the BOM indicates otherwise, as I showed in my post.

At 8/11/2009 2:40 PM , Blogger MacLouie said...

I found your article very interesting read.

If faith is necessary for salvation does that mean you can't be saved if you know something?

Is salvation something that happens after death? If so, and for those that are saved, wont their faith be replaced with knowledge and then does that mean they are no longer saved?

I mean, after I die and if I see Christ then I will KNOW Christ and then I wont be saved. Right?

I think the reality is, no one knows everything and whatever we don't know we must rely on our faith.

For those people that do know everything (or know more than the next person), then they wont be saved? Give me a break.

Isn't it more accurate that those who have faith and/or knowledge will be saved? Does the scriptures really say knowledge is a deterrent towards salvation?

I think the teaching is that faith is sufficient to be saved and knowledge isn't a bad think.

If you want to get really deep, everyone's knowledge is limited to their senses. How do I know I am alive? How do I know anything? No matter how you look at it, us humans may not be capable of knowing anything. So, it boils down to word definitions and belief.

At 8/12/2009 1:22 PM , Blogger Sam said...

It’s plainly evident from the New Testament that faith and knowledge are not mutually exclusive. One does not nullify the other. It’s evident by the fact that the New Testament emphasizes that faith is necessarily for salvation while, at the same time, saying that we should all grow in knowledge. Ephesians 4:11-13 says that God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers so that we could all reach “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” The scriptures do not make knowledge out to be a deterrent to salvation. On the contrary, Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

If you want to get really deep, everyone's knowledge is limited to their senses.

Our senses couldn’t tell us anything unless we first knew that they were reliable. There are plenty of things we know that do not depend on our senses. I know what I’m thinking just because I’m thinking it, for example.

No matter how you look at it, us humans may not be capable of knowing anything.

If that’s true, then we couldn’t know it. But of course there are plenty of things we know.

At 10/22/2011 3:49 PM , Blogger Richard W 4Christ said...

This is a very interesting blog and it's so easy to mix up the 3 ideas of faith,belief,and knowledge,but let me see if I can tackle this: For example,I got a needle at the doctor yesterday and I have to get one today. So here's the situation >I KNOW that the needle is going to hurt because I took it yesterday and it was painful. For me to say that I BELIEVE that it's going to hurt means that I have not had the needle at all and I'm going off from what I have heard from someone else's experience or I've actually seen the person who took it was crying in pain,but I personally have not experienced it. Now yesterday I experience the actual pain of what that person felt so now I KNOW. Having FAITH would probably mean that I hope it's not going to hurt or somebody tells me that I have to relax and that it's nothing to worry about,and I ACTUALLY go to great lengths to relax myself because this will help me to approach taking the needle without fear of any kind. Is that FAITH in the context of popular definition or of the Scriptures? Or is that even faith at all? Let's look from another angle; okay,because I BELIEVE that the needle is going to hurt,I'm afraid. So I do need some FAITH to actually take the needle which would be the ASSURANCE and hope that everything will go all right and that I'll be able to get through that situation even though it has not happened yet. Whereas,if I had taken the needle yesterday or at some prior point,I wouldn't be obsessed with a belief that the needle is going to hurt because I would already know. So then the question of FAITH would then be,"Will I be able to get through this again if this were to happen down the road?" or "I'm hoping that I can remain confident when I take my next needle even though I KNOW it's going to hurt again" or I would take the BELIEF route again and I say,"I BELIEVE that the next time I take the needle, I'll be fine because now I KNOW what to expect,but I HOPE that this ASSURANCE helps me to overcome my next visit". You get it? But that's how I would make sense of the 3 ideas. In the Scriptures,we believe even though we don't see like when Jesus said to doubting Thomas,"You believe because you see,but blessed are they who do not see yet believe". So,like I've been saying,we believe based on the experience of the other person or people who have gone through the situation. For example, people had to listen to Peter and the rest,hear their experience to consider BELIEVING on the Lord Jesus. The people didn't have a resurrected Christ to SEE or look upon as evidence or proof of the apostles' experience, but they had to dig deeper into hearing and understanding the speaking of the different tongues and their various languages being uttered by them who were not even of their culture praising God. These were SIGNS. They would believe, then know that it was Christ and have that FAITH that everything was going to go as planned.

At 10/22/2011 6:21 PM , Blogger Richard W 4Christ said...

I was just here meditating on this passage Romans 10:9-17,

"If you shall confess the Lord Jesus with your mouth and shall BELIEVE IN YOUR HEART that God has raised Him from the dead,you shall be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness;and with the mouth,confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says,'Whosoever believes on Him shall not be ashamed...How shall they call on Him in whom they have NOT BELIEVED? And how shall they BELIEVE in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?...So then,FAITH comes by HEARING, and HEARING by the word of God". So between FAITH and BELIEF in this case, which one happens first?


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