Tuesday, September 30, 2008

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.

Part 3

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 1

If you've ever talked to Mormon missionaries or if you've ever even breathed the air around Mormons, you've probably caught wind of something about their epistemology. Maybe you've heard about their "burning in the bosom," or how their feelings cause them to believe that the LDS church is the true church of Christ. Well, personally I've been hearing a lot of different things lately. I haven't got it all sorted out just yet, but I wanted to share with you the wide variety of things I've been hearing on the subject from Mormons and from their scriptures.

The most common thing that comes up is Moroni 10:4. Moroni was supposedly the last living Nephite after the Lamanites exterminated the rest of them (except for the three disciples Jesus promised would never die). The book of Moroni contains some of Moroni's last words before burying the golden plates that Joseph Smith found and that supposedly the Book of Mormon was translated from. Chapter 10 of Moroni is the last chapter of the Book of Mormon. Moroni was writing about the Book of Mormon itself, and he said:
And when ye shall receive these things [i.e. the BOM], I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
If you look carefully, all this passage says is that if you ask God whether the BOM is true, he will let you know. It doesn't say anything about feelings or burnings in the bosom. It doesn't say anything about how God will let you know it's true, only that he will. Maybe he does it through feelings, burnings in the bosom, audible voices, exposing you to convincing evidence, or directly zapping your brain with belief.

So where does the idea come from that God reveals truths to people by way of feelings or burnings in their bosoms? I spent some time this morning looking for references in the index of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine of Covenants and came up with a few references. I'm going to bring some of them up, but keep in mind that I don't know for sure that Mormons use all of these to justify their views. I'm only bringing up the ones I think they might use.
1 Nephi 17:45
Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.
In this passage, Nephi is speaking to his unbelieving brothers. I'm not sure what it means to feel words. I get the impression that since they heard the words but did not feel them, it probably just means to believe them or take them to heart.
2 Nephi 4:12
And it came to pass after my father, Lehi, had spoken unto all his household, according to the feelings of his heart and the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, he waxed old. And it came to pass that he died, and was buried.
This passage uses two phrases--"feelings of his heart" and "Spirit of the Lord"--to describe the sources from which Lehi spoke. It could be that these are two ways of saying the same thing. It is the Spirit of the Lord who speaks to Lehi through the feelings of his heart. That's one way to look at it. Another possibility is that they are distinct, and the author is saying that some of the things Lehi spoke, he spoke because of the feelings he had for his household, and some of the things Lehi spoke, he spoke because the Spirit of the Lord commanded him to.
3 Nephi 11:3
And it came to pass that while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard; and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn.
This is the first reference I found to anything like a burning in the bosom. In this case, though, it isn't the burning in their hearts that communicated information from God. They already heard the voice. They just didn't understand it. And the heartburn didn't cause them to understand it either. It was simply the result of hearing it. I suppose you could say that since voices from God cause your heart to burn, then you can tell from your heartburn that a voice is from God. The argument would look like this:

If God speaks, then your heart will burn.
My heart burns.
Therefore, God is speaking.

But this argument commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent. A person's heart can burn for a variety of reasons--something you ate, how you feel about what is being said (e.g. fear, excitement, enthusiasm, etc.), or the conviction you feel because of what is being said. The burning in the bosom, by itself, doesn't give you any information.
D&C 9:8-9
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
This is a prophecy given through Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdry concerning Cowdry's ability to translate or write for Joseph Smith. The burning in the bosom is how Cowdry was supposed to be able to tell whether a message or translation was coming from God or not, but notice it also says he should first study it out in his mind. I don't know whether you can universalize this passage so that it applies, not just to Cowdry, but to everybody. And I don't know whether you can universalize it so that it applies, not just to translating, but to any kind of message from God.

If I were a Mormon, I'd be reluctant to universalize it because of how Smith tells Cowdry how he can know something is not from God. It says he will forget the thing that is wrong. If that were universalized, Mormons would not be able to remember what other Christians teach or believe, or what they've read in Christian literature about Christian doctrine.

The Mormon fellow I mentioned in my previous blog entries told me that he thinks it applies to us as well. He also told me that "We should use our hearts and our minds to learn truth. One with out the other can (as history shows us) often leads men astray."

There are also a few Biblical passages Mormons use to justify their epistemology.
Acts 2:37
Now when they heard this [Peter's speech], they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?"
This passage doesn't really say they were pierced to the heart and therefore believed what Peter had just told them. My impression is that it's the other way around. They were pierced to the heart (i.e. convicted) as a result of believing what Peter was saying. So the belief came before the piercing.
Luke 24:32
And they said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking to us on the road, while he was explaining the Scriptures to us?"
This comes from the passage in Luke where Jesus was walking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and he explained the Scriptures to them. Again, the passage doesn't tell us whether they believed because their hearts burned or whether their hearts burned because they believed. I get the impression that their hearts burned because they believed. After all, it says that Jesus "explained to them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures" (v.27). It's the explanation that clarified things for them, not the heartburn. The heartburn was a result of having it explained. They had just explained to Jesus (who they didn't recognize at the time) how they had high hopes that Jesus would be the one who would redeem Israel, and how they had been disappointed. By explaining the Scriptures to them, Jesus was restoring their hopes. Of course their hearts would burn!

There are many sciptures Mormons use to justify their heart/feeling epistemology. They aren't unique, either. Many evangelicals use the same scriptures to make the same points. Rather than go into detail about all of them, I just want to recommend Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen and J. Robin Maxson. Or, if you don't want to read all of that, get Greg Koukl's MP3's or CD's on Decision-Making and the Will of God.

There's one last scripture I want to mention because the Mormon fellow I've been talking about brought it up.
James 1:5
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
I wrote kind of a lengthy response, so I'm going to save my comments for a future blog entry.

Part 2

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

An argument against Mormonism from their concept of eternal marriage

In my last entry on Mormonism, I listed three questions that have to be answered in the affirmative if Mormonism is to be true:

1. Was Joseph Smith a prophet of God?
2. Was the Book of Mormon really written by ancient prophets (...and is it true)?
3. Was Christ's church lost from the earth and then restored through Joseph Smith?

The person who sent me these three questions said if they are all true, then several other things are also true:

- The LDS church is the one and only true church on the earth. While others might do good and teach some truth, only one is authorized by God and lead by Jesus Christ.
- There is a prophet of the Lord that speaks to us just as Moses, Abraham, and Isaac of Old.
- God has a plan for us and it has been revealed to us
- We can better understand the Bible through modern prophets and additional scripture, all of which help us to better understand the Lord and his plan for us.
- Marriages, when performed in the Temple, can be, not just only for this life, but for all eternity.
- We have additional understanding of life after death.
- Members of the church can hold the priesthood of God and can act in his name to bless, heal, baptize, etc.
- You can receive the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost to help and aid you in your life.

Today, I want to share a thought that I think it not only applicable here, but is applicable in many other areas of thinking. In any deductive argument, the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. It isn't possible for the conclusion to be false if both of the premises are true and if the conclusion follows logically from the premises. So, if it turns out that the conclusion is false, then that necessarily entails that at least one of the premises that led to the conclusion is also false.

Not so with inductive arguments. If a conclusion becomes more probable when the premises are true, and if the conclusion turns out to be false, that only makes the premises less probable, but not impossible.

It could be that some Mormons would disagree with the fellow who sent me this email, but the fellow who sent me this email seemed to think all of the things that followed from a "yes" answer to the three questions above followed deductively. He said, "If those three things are in fact true, then the rest that is built upon it is also true."

If that is, in fact, the case, then the entire Mormon religion can be shown to be false just by showing that one of those points is false. It just takes one! One could argue like so:

-If 1, 2, and 3 are true, then x is true.
-X is not true.
-Therefore, 1, 2 and 3 are not true.

The one that jumps out most to me is the one about eternal marriage.
Marriages, when performed in the Temple, can be, not just only for this life, but for all eternity.
Jesus addressed this issue explicitly in Matthew 22:23-33. Jesus taught that there would be a resurrection of the dead, but the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. So they confronted Jesus about it.

In this confrontation, the Sadducees made what is called a reductio ad absurdum argument. That's where you take a person's point of view to its logical conclusion. If the logical conclusion of a person's point of view is absurd, then the premises that led to it are also absurd. The Sadducees assumed, for the sake of argument, that resurrection was true. Then they constructed a scenario under that assumption and asked Jesus about it. In the scenario, a woman married several brothers, one after the other as each died, and the Sadducees asked Jesus, "In the resurrection therefore whose wife of the seven shall she be? For they all had her."

In asking this question, they hoped to expose the absurdity of resurrection. Either this woman would be married to all of the men, which is absurd, or she would be married to only one of them. But there is no way to determine which of them she would be married to, so there's no way for Jesus to answer the question.

Jesus responded by rejecting the hidden assumption in their question, which is that she would be married to any of them. He said, "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." In other words, the woman would not be married to any of the seven brothers at the resurrection. She would be like the angels--single.

After Jesus removed the objection the Sadducees had to resurrection, he went on to show them, from the Torah, that resurrection is true.

I suppose a Mormon could say, "Well, yes, it's true that in the resurrection, people will not get married, but those who have already gotten married will remain so." If that's what Jesus was saying, then he didn't rebut the Sudducees' argument after all. In fact, he said something that was completely irrelevent to the question they asked. It seems perfectly clear to me that Jesus intended to convey to the Sadducees that nobody will be married at the resurrection. Marriage is for this mortal life only.

Now we can make the following argument:

-If Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, and the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets, and Christ's church was lost from the earth and restored through Joseph Smith, then marriages, when performed in the Temple, can be, not just only for this life, but for all eternity.
-Marriage is not for all eternity.
-Therefore, Joseph Smith is not a prophet of God, the Book of Mormon was not written by ancient prophets, and Christ's church was not lost from earth and restored through Joseph Smith.

So Mormonism is not true.

Somebody on Yahoo Answers asked a similar question as the Sadducees asked Jesus, only instead of a woman marrying several men, they asked about whether a man could be sealed for eternity with another woman in case his wife died. The Mormons answered that yes, he could. At the resurrection, he would be married to every woman he had married in the Temple and had his marriage sealed for eternity. So there will be polygamy in heaven.

That made me wonder whether it worked the other way around, so I posted a question on Yahoo Answers. Could a woman have her marriage sealed to more than one man in case her first husband died? The concensus from the Mormons was that she could not. So, in heaven, a man can have several wives, but a woman cannot have several husbands.

I suppose a Mormon might answer my argument by saying that Jesus was only dealing with a woman who had several husbands. It was an obvious absurdity to suggest that a woman could have more than one husband at the resurrection, but if the Sadducees had asked him about a man who had had several wives, Jesus could've easily answered by saying they would all be his wives at the resurrection, and that would not have been absurd. But that argument would fail because the woman could have been married to at least one of the men at the resurrection, but Jesus answered by saying she wouldn't be married to any of them.

A Mormon might also answer my argument by saying that the Sadducees were talking about ordinary marriage, not about Temple marriages that are sealed for eternity. I think that is a very weak argument for several reasons.

First, because the concept of eternal marriage is completely foreign to the Bible.

Second, marriages were never performed in temples, neither in Judaism nor in Christianity.

Third, if the Mormon concept of eternal marriages being sealed in Temples was a view that Jesus held, the conversation with the Sadducees would've looked much different, I think. It would've looked something like this:

Sadducees: If a woman married and her husband died without having children, and she married his brother who also died without having children, etc., whose wife would she be at the resurrection?

Jesus: She wouldn't be married to any of them unless her marriage was sealed for eternity in the Temple.

Sadducees: Okay, so suppose her marriages were sealed for eternity to all of them.

Jesus: That can't happen. She can only be sealed to one of them. At the resurrection, she would be married to whichever one she had been sealed to, if any.

What an opportunity for Jesus to instruct the Sadducees on the Mormon concept of eternal marriage! A Mormon might say that Jesus' silence on the matter was due to the fact that eternal marriage was normative in Judaism, and the Sadducees already knew about it. But if that was the case, then you'd expect the Sadducees to make a better argument and include the concept of eternal marriage in there.

A Mormon might say that the knowledge of eternal marriage is implicit in the argument of the Sadducees, since they were assuming she had to be married to somebody at the resurrection. But that's the very assumption the Sadducees rejected! They could not have believed in eternal marriage for the simple reason that they did not believe in eternal life! They did not believe in a resurrection. They seemed to think that eternal marriage followed from the doctrine of resurrection, and they were mistaken about that, as Jesus showed them. Mormons are mistaken about it, too.

It seems to me that the one argument a Mormon could make is that the Bible has been tampered with. We don't really have an accurate version of this passage. We'll save that for another blog entry.

I am not trying to be condescending when I bring up these hypothetical things a Mormon might say. I want to make a disclaimer about that since there may be Mormons reading this who might be offended that I'm insulting their intelligence. I have never heard a Mormon actually raise these objections that I'm bringing up, and I don't know whether they actually would or not. So why am I bringing them up? I'm doing it because I'm simply trying to anticipate any possible rejoinders that I can think of. I'm trying to cover all my bases. If there are other rejoinders that I didn't think of, then I'd like to hear them.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Some general comments on Mormonism

I've been learning as much as I can lately about Mormonism, and I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on it in a few blog entries. Mormons are extremely sensative about being misrepresented. Since I don't know a whole lot about the LDS church, I'm sure I have some misunderstandings, but I'm going to try to be accurate and fair. One of the things I've learned lately is that LDS theology is not nearly as well-defined as I thought it was. There is far more diversity of belief within the LDS church than I used to think. Some of their peculiar beliefs that I used to think were official doctrine turn out to be just some people's opinions. Or at least that's what I've been told.

For me, there are really two major questions to concern myself with about Mormonism, or any other worldview. First, what is it? Second, is it true? The question of epistemology always comes up when delving into the second question, and I plan on spending a lot of time on it.

According to a conversation I had recently with some Mormons, it isn't necessary to fully answer the first question before answering the second. In an email I got from a Mormon fellow I met on Yahoo Answers, there are three things I ought to focus on to determine whether Mormonism is true:

1. Was Joseph Smith a prophet of God?
2. Was the Book of Mormon really written by ancient prophets (...and is it true)?
3. Was Christ's church lost from the earth and then restored through Joseph Smith?

If these things are true, then all the peculiarities of the LDS church are also true, and he listed several of them. If a person answered "yes" to all of the above questions, I suppose they could conclude that Mormonism is true and they could convert without knowing all of the things that follow from those three points. I'm sure they'd have to know some of them; just not all.

It seems to me that these three questions are interrelated. If it turns out that the Book of Mormon was not really written by ancient prophets, then Joseph Smith is not a prophet of God. And if Joseph Smith is not a prophet of God, then Christ's church was not restored through Joseph Smith. So it seems like if you could answer "no" to any one of these questions, you'd have to answer "no" to the rest of them. But does it work the other way around if you answered "yes" to any one of them?

I don't think so. If Joseph Smith is a prophet, or if Joseph Smith restored Christ's church, then I think the others would follow. But if it turns out that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets, I don't think that necessarily entails a "yes" answer to the other questions.

Lemme explain. If the Book of Mormon really is an accurate translation of ancient American writings, then I think it's safe to say that Joseph Smith translated those writings through some kind of supernatural power. But does that necessarily make him a true prophet of God? No, it doesn't. In Deteronomy 13:1-5, it says that if a prophet or a dreamer of dreams gives a sign or a wonder, and if it turns out to be true or comes to pass, that doesn't necessarily mean he's a prophet of God. That prophet may go on to encourage people to go after other gods, in which case he is to be rejected.