Holy Ghost/ Latter-day Saint Epistemology

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Latter-day Saint Epistemology

Summary: This series of articles defines epistemology broadly and how to approach and define Latter-day Saint Epistemology


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Question: What is epistemology?

Epistemology is defined as:

the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity[1]

For thousands of years, knowledge was defined as epistemologists as a justified, true belief. Knowledge is only knowledge if and only if P (a proposition) is true, S (a subject) believes that P, and P is justified. Justification simply refers the evidence that we give to verify a true belief. For instance, I can be inside a room with no windows and a single, opaque door to the outside. I can receive a call from a friend inviting me to go for a walk in the park and I can think to myself "With my luck, it will be raining right now." Now, it could be raining outside, therefore the proposition may be true. But I don't know that the proposition is true because I can't justifiy it. The JTB model came under question in 1963 when philosopher Edward Gettier proposed the "Gettier Problem" that showed that we can have justified, true belief and not have knowledge. The nature of justification came under significant question. Many theories were proposed in order refine the JTB model because of Gettier's paper. These either added a fourth condition to JTB or sought to redefine knowledge acquisition entirely. These included models such as infalliblism, indefeasibility, causalism, reliablism, tracking theories, and so on. Each of these theories had certain "Gettier Cases" proposed for them. It led certain philosophers to abandon any endeavor of seeking to define what constitutes knowledge and to see epistemology simply as a study of normative study instead of a descriptive one. This is now called "virtue epistemology".

The author of the articles in this series asserts generally justified true belief being knowledge since the proposed Gettier cases for each model can be implausible. It is the way that most humans work. It's one of the reasons that we developed terms such as "explanatory power" since certain explanations define phenomenon better than others and we rely on the explanation that is evidenced by past experience or other evidence being evaluated at any given time.

This video explains JTB in an easy way and the Gettier Problem. Readers should see the whole series on YouTube for more easy-to-learn information on Epistemology.


Question: What is the best way to define Latter-day Saint epistemology?

Latter-day Saints take no uniform approach to epistemology. Belief is found at a confluence of reason and revelation

There are several schools of epistemology—each defining the best and most important sources of knowledge. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no uniform position on defining epistemology—only to understand that it is the result of reason and revelation. Latter-day Saints highly value the proposition of a good education and the primacy of reason. But they also seek to understand things by faith. Several scriptures in the Latter-day Saint canon affirm the primacy of reason and of learning through the Spirit--used interchangeably with "faith"--because there are times where one needs to strengthen the other:

10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Noted is how this short passage begins by emphasizing a moment of pondering and reflection before seeking revelation.

2 Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

9 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.
40 For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.

77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.

78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—

Noted in this passage is its instruction to seek learning from all disciplines so that we can be better instructed in how to think about and live out our faith. Thus, we gain revelation from a prophet, but understanding how God communicated to that prophet, understanding what the intention is behind certain scriptures, and finding the blessings from following commandments comes largely from our own independent research and reason. We attempt to approach the scriptures contextually and holistically to understand their full significance and our role in God's plan.

118 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.

Noted here is that secular learning and devotional learning are commanded for increasing the faith of those who struggle

36 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth

18 Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.

19 And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.

Our form of epistemology does stress the importance of the Spirit more frequently than we do reason and that is because of a general perception of the fleetingness of reason, scholarship, and science in a certain regard. Obtaining and listening to the spirit is central to conversion to the Church since we are given the opportunity to seek answers from God himself. An assurance from the Spirit is used as a means of coping with uncertainties that we might have at various times of our development in the Church and our convictions. This assurance gives us the belief that, like the apostle Paul stated, that the Lord will "bring to light the hidden things of darkness" so that one day every one may have a praise of God (1 Cor 4:5).This should not, however, be understood to mean that Latter-day Saint testimonies rely solely on feelings. Spiritual understanding for Latter-day Saints is arrived at the confluence of reason and revelation, with a stress on revelation.

Reason is obviously only an intellectual exercise (primarily of the mind), while revelation is an effort that requires all of our faculties

We can obtain knowledge and truth through many sources. But one reason we stress the importance of revelation is that it appeals to our whole body for verification. It involves “our faculties” (Alma 32: 27). Latter-day Saint doctrine also affirms that the body and spirit make the soul (D&C 88:15).[2] Thus, spiritual experiences and coming to spiritual understanding for Latter-day Saints involve much more than simply good feelings as some have criticized us for, but for seeking to “study [something] out in our mind” and then asking for confirmation of it (D&C 9:7-9). We also teach that when the Spirit does touch our souls, that it is an experience that should feed both mind and heart (D&C 8:2). There are times when we have to rely solely upon revelation given to us in our hearts (1 Nephi 4:6), there are other times when we need both revelation and reason (D&C 8:2), and there are other times when we simply need to do something based only upon reason and what we know is good (D&C 58:26-29).


Question: How do members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints view the concepts of spiritual experience and the obtainment of testimony?

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Introduction

As part of their epistemology, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that commitment and belief in the Church and/or its doctrines may be established through spiritual experience. This is known as having with an experience with the Holy Ghost or "Holy Spirit" (Moroni 10:3-5).

This article introduces how Latter-day Saints conceptualize the Holy Spirit as it relates to experiencing it and how Latter-day Saints conceptualize the obtainment of testimony.

The Latter-day Saint Conception of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is considered the third member of the Godhead (referred to in mainline Christianity as the Trinity). The Father and the Son have a body of flesh and bone but the Holy Spirit does not. He can, however, appear in the form of a man (Luke 3:16-17; 1 Nephi 11:11; Doctrine and Covenants 130:22). The Holy Ghost works through something called the Light of Christ. Since God is considered corporeal and thus has matter, he is widely considered to exist within space and time. This has brought up questions as to how he can be omnipresent (present everywhere at once). This is accomplished through the The Light of Christ. It is understood to be the indwelling presence that God holds with all things because it lives in all things (Doctrine and Covenants 88:6-13). Through the Light of Christ, the Holy Ghost and angels of God (both in unity with the intents of God and Christ: 2 Nephi 31:21; Alma 11:44;) communicate to mankind (2 Nephi 32: 1-2; Doctrine and Covenants 84:46).

Conversion by the Power of the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost is central to conversion in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[3]

President M. Russell Ballard, an apostle and president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, wrote:

True conversion comes through the power of the Spirit. When the Spirit touches the heart, hearts are changed. When individuals … feel the Spirit working with them, or when they see the evidence of the Lord’s love and mercy in their lives, they are edified and strengthened spiritually and their faith in Him increases. These experiences with the Spirit follow naturally when a person is willing to experiment upon the word. This is how we come to feel the gospel is true[4]

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Moroni teaches that one may come to learn of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon by reading the book, pondering its message in our minds, and praying about the book with a sincere heart, real intent, and having faith in Jesus Christ:

3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Praying about the Book of Mormon thus brings one a testimony or conviction of the Church since the Book of Mormon encompasses several propositions relating to the truthfulness of the Church including God being sovereign over the whole earth (1 Nephi 11:6), God creating the earth (2 Nephi 2:13), God having a body of flesh and bone (3 Nephi 28:10; D&C 93:33-35), the prophecy from the Book of Mormon of Joseph Smith being the one to bring it forth implying his prophethood and calling from God (2 Nephi 3:14-15),[5]and the existence of the priesthood and its necessity in knowing how to find salvation in Christ through ordinances (Alma 13). Thus when one "knows" that the Book of Mormon is true, one "knows" that Joseph Smith is a prophet since he claimed to translate the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. If Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, this strongly implies that God exists. If God exists and he called Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon, then it follows that the priesthood is real since the Book of Mormon is true and that that priesthood is on the earth today. That priesthood (the power and authority to act in God's name with his authorization) is claimed to reside only in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This "knowing" is not a type of "knowing" in the philosophically empirical sense but rather a deep, perhaps intuitive sense of the higher truth present in the Book of Mormon.

Latter-day Saint philosopher and theologian Blake T. Ostler explained:

There is a vast difference between the way the Hebrews felt we come to knowledge of truth and the way the Greeks thought of it. Whereas the Hebrews and early Christian writers of scripture constantly refer to the heart as an instrument of knowledge and choice, the philosophers rarely, if ever, do. The Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament regard the heart as the source of knowledge and authentic being. For the Greeks, the head is the place of knowing everything we know.

[. . .]

The head is a piece of complex flesh that knows only a beginning and ending. By "head" I mean that complex system that includes our brain and central nervous system, which translates sense experience and gives rise to the categories of logic, language, and thought. It knows only what can be learned through the sense of our bodies and categories of reason. The head is the source of the ego—or the categories by which we judge ourselves and create or self image.

In contrast, the heart is the home of our eternal identity. It can be opened or shut, hard or soft...The heart must be "penetrated" (D&C 1:2), "pricked" (Acts 2:37), "melted" (Josh. 2:11), or "softened" (D&C 121:4) so that truth is known, pretense is given up and humility in God's presence can be manifested.[6]

Once one receives this witness of the Holy Ghost, one is motivated to make covenants with God to progress towards salvation and exaltation. Ordinances such as baptism and confirmation are signs of the covenants that one has made with God.

It is understood that one does not receive the witness of the Spirit confirming the truth of the Book of Mormon unless they walk up to the requirements as specified in Moroni 10:3-5 quoted above and become clean through repentance so that they can receive the Holy Ghost. It is understood that the Holy Ghost does not manifest itself to people who deliberately sin or go against what they believe God has commanded ( Alma 7:21; Helaman 4:24). Emphasis on deliberately go against what they believe God has commanded. If a person does not know what God has commanded then they remain without sin (Alma 29:5). This emphasis on repentance, along with the reception of the Holy Ghost for illumination, is central to conversion (Moroni 6:1-2).

The Latter-day Saint Conception of the Soul

It is important to understand how these sensations/revelations given by the Spirit are felt. Latter-day Saints believe that the body and spirit are connected as one in a form of substance monism. This union between body and spirit is denominated the soul (D&C 88:15). The body is a separate entity from the spirit, as the spirit can live independently of the body (Ether 3:16); yet when the spirit and body are connected, they are intimately and intricately intertwined and can act upon one another.[7] Thus, whenever we do something with our bodies, it affects our spirits. Whenever something occurs in our spirit, it can affect our bodies. It may be said that, at times (perhaps when the Spirit moves upon us), they can react to each other.

All spiritual entities are known to be material instead of immaterial (D&C 131:7). Thus they're able to interact with material objects such as our bodies.

This is in contrast to the rest of mainstream Christianity that sees the spirit as immaterial and the body as material—the spirit being the life and intelligence of the body in what is known as mind-body dualism.

The Latter-day Saint Conception of the Holy Ghost, False Spirits, and Light

Latter-day Saint theology teaches that there is a spectrum of light (synonymous with "truth" in this context) that one can receive in this life that comes from God. This light is known in Latter-day Saint vernacular as “The Light of Christ” (Moroni 7:16[8]; D&C 84:46). When one receives more of God’s truth, one receives more light (D&C 50:24; D&C 84:45). When one rejects light, is persuaded towards rejecting the truth that one has already received, or one deliberately chooses to remain without the light that God has revealed, one stays away or moves away from light.[9] This is seen as sinful. The Holy Ghost is seen as the one that moves God’s children further and further into the light (D&C 84:47). The Holy Ghost works through the Light of Christ given to all people (Moroni 7:16; D&C 84:45-46). Since the Light of Christ is understood to give life and life to all things (D&C 88: 11-13), it follows that the Spirit can work on our spirit and/or our body through that Light in order to produce sensations. The Holy Ghost works in unity with God, whom Latter-day Saints believe to be of their same species—a corporeal human being with a glorified body (3 Nephi 28:10; D&C 130:22). Satan, and many false spirits and false angels under his control (Moroni 7:17; Doctrine and Covenants 50:1-3), are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the darkness. As one receives more light, one is more receptive to receiving additional light and is seen as more sensitive to the Holy Ghost and the truth that God has revealed through prophets. As one moves away from the light, they are less and less able to perceive light. The ability to perceive light can ultimately be quenched (1 Nephi 17:45). As Elder David A. Bednar, an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has taught:

As we yield to that influence, to do good and become good, then the Light of Christ increases within us. As we disobey, light is decreased and can ultimately be diminished within us.[10]

Thus these spirits are acting on both our body and our spirit, connected together intimately (called the “soul” in Latter-day Saint theology), to persuade us to accept, reject, or stay indifferent to light and truth. Since God is assumed to be the same species as humans, it follows that he will know how to stimulate our beings in such a way as to produce a spiritual reaction. When these spirits act on us, they produce physically felt sensations. Latter-day Saints believe that all human beings have the ability to perceive that which is of God from that which is of the devil (Moroni 7:14; see also D&C 8:2) through the same power given by the Light of Christ. It is generally believed that what God has revealed to prophets is good and will inspire one to love God and serve him (Moroni 7:20-25; Joseph Smith – Matthew 1:37).

Stewardship in Latter-day Saint Epistemology

Establishment of Official Doctrine

Latter-day Saints believe that the President of the Church is a prophet, seer, and revelator. As part of the calling as President, only that president may receive revelation on behalf of the entire Church. This is a doctrine laid out in the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of revelations of the Presidents of the Church that forms part of the Church's official canon (Doctrine and Covenants 28:2). The Prophet of the Church, if he receives a revelation that he believes is on behalf of the entire church, will have to approve of that revelation with the other members of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (Doctrine and Covenants 107:27). The President of the Church, along with the other members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, will present that revelation to the general body of the Church for ratification (Doctrine and Covenants 28:13). These revelations are usually canonized but sometimes aren't. These revelations govern the Church (Doctrine and Covenants 42:56-59).

Personal Revelation

Latter-day Saints are promised that personal revelation may accompany their reception of new doctrines.

President Brigham Young taught:

Some may say, "Brethren, you who lead the Church, we have all confidence in you, we are not in the least afraid but what everything will go right under your superintendence; all the business matters will be transacted right; and if brother Brigham is satisfied with it, I am." I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves, for this would strengthen the faith that is within them. Suppose that the people were heedless, that they manifested no concern with regard to the things of the kingdom of God, but threw the whole burden upon the leaders of the people, saying, "If the brethren who take charge of matters are satisfied, we are," this is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord.

Every man and woman in this kingdom ought to be satisfied with what we do, but they never should be satisfied without asking the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, whether what we do is right.​[11]

This does not mean that Latter-day Saints must simply follow their own revelation when dealing with the prophets words. Latter-day Saints are commanded to follow the prophet as they believe he receives revelation from God and Jesus Christ to guide the affairs of the Church and the lives of the entire human family on the earth (Doctrine and Covenants 1:37; 112:10;)

As mentioned before, the Holy Spirit is generally thought to confirm those things that the prophet teaches (Moroni 7:20-25; Joseph Smith – Matthew 1:37).

Revelation and Stewardship

These concepts apply to other callings of the Church. It is understood that no one will receive revelation outside of their own stewardship (Doctrine and Covenants 70: 1-10). This means that a person called as a Primary leader will not receive revelation as to how the calling of bishop should be performed. Claims of reception of revelation outside of one's stewardship are regarded as the influence of false spirits, angels, and/or the devil, the wishful thinking of the person claiming to receive it, or the confusion of emotion for the revelation of the Spirit. Since Latter-day Saints consider the spirit and body to be connected intimately and intricately as the soul, it is easy for them to understand that a heart murmur or just warmth can be over-interpreted as the influence of the Holy Ghost.

Personal Revelation

Revelation to Guide One's Life

As a part of a person's being part of the Church, they will frequently hear the encouragement of Church leaders to receive personal revelation to guide their own lives.

President Russell M. Nelson, the current president of the Church taught:

I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation, for the Lord has promised that “if thou shalt [seek], thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.”[12]

Oh, there is so much more that your Father in Heaven wants you to know. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “To those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is clear that the Father and the Son are giving away the secrets of the universe!”[13]

Nothing opens the heavens quite like the combination of increased purity, exact obedience, earnest seeking, daily feasting on the words of Christ in the Book of Mormon,[14] and regular time committed to temple and family history work.

To be sure, there may be times when you feel as though the heavens are closed. But I promise that as you continue to be obedient, expressing gratitude for every blessing the Lord gives you, and as you patiently honor the Lord’s timetable, you will be given the knowledge and understanding you seek. Every blessing the Lord has for you—even miracles—will follow. That is what personal revelation will do for you.[15]

Doctrine and Covenants 121:33 teaches:

33 How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints. (emphasis added)

The understanding given by revelation may come little by little. Or, as Latter-day Saints like to refer to it, "line upon line, precept upon precept. Here a little and there a little (Isaiah 28:10, 13; 2 Nephi 28:30; Doctrine and Covenants 128:21).

Process for Receiving Personal Revelation

The process for receiving personal revelation is described in scripture.

Process to Undertake Before Receiving Personal Revelation

To receive personal revelation, a person is supposed to make themselves clean through repentance first as explained above. This so that the person can have greater potential access to God's power and limit influence by false spirits.

Top Down and Bottom Up Revelation

Latter-day Saint scripture affirms the reception of spiritual experiences as revelation in two different ways:

  • Top Down Revelation is personal revelation that comes from God to us. However, in this instance, it is God who corrects our mental frame of mind to bring us certain knowledge. Examples of this are impressions that Latter-day Saints might report to keep them from danger, the revelation of special details that Latter-day Saints report during the giving of priesthood blessings, and so forth. These are instances where God is doing most of the work in the revelation.
  • Bottom Up Revelation is revelation in which the agent seeking revelation studies an issue out in their mind first and then brings it to God for confirmation (Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9). This is a type of personal revelation where the agent seeking it has to do most of the work. God confirms the validity of what they have concluded and the person proceeds according to the impression that is given to him as a confirmation of his reasoning.

Effects of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is known to affect people in different ways. Preach My Gospel, the Church's instruction manual for prospective missionaries, lists many of these supposed effects. The chart produced there will be reproduced here a long with other effects of the Spirit noted by the author from his own study of the Latter-day Saint canon.

Effect of Spirit Scriptural examples
Gives feelings of love, joy, peace, patience, meekness, gentleness, faith, and hope. Doctrine and Covenants 6:23; 11:12–14; Romans 15:13; Galatians 5:22–23
Softens one's heart to the idea of the God, Christ, and/or the Restoration Alma 16:16-17
Inspires one to love and serve God 2 Nephi 31:18; Moroni 7:13; Doctrine and Covenants 20:27; Doctrine and Covenants 84:47; John 16:14
Inspires one to believe in Christ 2 Nephi 31:18; Moroni 7:13; Doctrine and Covenants 20:27; Doctrine and Covenants 84:47; John 16:14
Gives ideas in the mind, feelings in the heart. Doctrine and Covenants 8:2–3
Occupies the mind and presses on the feelings. Doctrine and Covenants 128:1
Helps scriptures have strong effect. Joseph Smith—History 1:11–12
Gives good feelings to teach if something is true. Doctrine and Covenants 9:8–9
Enlightens the mind. Alma 32:28; Doctrine and Covenants 6:14–15; 1 Corinthians 2:9–11
Replaces darkness with light. Alma 19:6
Strengthens the desire to avoid evil and obey the commandments. Mosiah 5:2–5
Teaches truth and brings it to remembrance. John 14:26
Gives feelings of peace and comfort. John 14:27
Guides to truth and shows things to come. John 16:13
Reveals truth. Moroni 10:5
Guides and protects from deception. Doctrine and Covenants 45:57
Guides the words of humble teachers Doctrine and Covenants 42:16; 84:85; 100:5–8; Luke 12:11–12
Recognizes and corrects sin. John 16:8
Gives gifts of the Spirit. Moroni 10:8–17; Doctrine and Covenants 46:8–26; 1 Corinthians 12
Helps to perceive or discern the thoughts of others. Alma 10:17; 12:3; 18:16, 20, 32, 35; Doctrine and Covenants 63:41
Tells what to pray for Doctrine and Covenants 46:30; 50:29–30
Tells what to do. 2 Nephi 32:1–5; Doctrine and Covenants 28:15
Helps the righteous speak with power and authority. 1 Nephi 10:22; Alma 18:35
Testifies of truth Doctrine and Covenants 21:9; 100:8; John 15:26
Sanctifies and brings remission of sins. 2 Nephi 31:17; Alma 13:12; 3 Nephi 27:20
Carries truth to the heart of the listener 1 Nephi 2:16–17; 2 Nephi 33:1; Alma 24:8
Enhances skills and abilities 1 Nephi 1:1–3; Exodus 31:3–5
Constrains (impels forward) or restrains (holds back). 1 Nephi 7:15; 2 Nephi 28:1; 32:7; Alma 14:11; Mormon 3:16; Ether 12:2
Edifies both teacher and students Doctrine and Covenants 50:13–22
Gives comfort. Doctrine and Covenants 88:3; John 14:26

Effects of False Spirits, False Angels, and the Devil.

As mentioned, there also exist false spirits, false angels, and experiences of the Devil.

False Spirits and Angels

The Latter-day Saint scriptures consistently see false spirits and false angels simply as those entities that move you away from the Light of Christ. There really is no distinction between the feelings that one is supposed to experience when under the influence of a false spirit or angel. There is only a specification as to what effect a false spirit or angel has. They are consistently associated with moving into darkness (Moroni 7:17; Doctrine and Covenants 50:1-3). Once one moves into the "darkness" Yet the Lord supposedly provides equal blessings to his children no matter where they are in their mortal journey.

The Devil

The Devil is also known in Latter-day Saint scripture to influence men and women. He usually shows up at important moments within both the scope of the entire Plan of Salvation and also crucial moments in people's progression towards exaltation. There are two ways in which he is described as as an influence:

  1. The Devil is understood to be able to appear to people as in the form of angel (Alma 30:53) and more particularly an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Latter-day Saint scripture gives a procedure for such an encounter (Doctrine and Covenants 129:8).
  2. The Devil can cause the tongue to bind and powers of great darkness to gather around people as was the experience of Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the Church (Joseph Smith—History 1:15-17).

Dynamic Influence verses Passive Influence

Latter-day Saints do not claim magnificent experiences from spirits, angels, or the devils always. There are times when the influence felt is more passive than dynamic. This to mean that sometimes a Latter-day Saint can be claiming to feel the Spirit as if it were revealing something important to them (dynamic influence). At other times, a Latter-day Saint can be claiming to feel the Spirit as if it were just assuring them that they are doing what is acceptable before the eyes of God, or just giving them peace of mind, etc (passive influence). As part of the covenant made at baptism, Latter-day Saints promise before baptism to humble themselves before God, desire to be baptized, come forth with broken hearts and contrite Spirits, and witness before the Church that they have truly repented of their sins. They are shown willing to take upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins (Doctrine and Covenants 20:37). They promise to bear the burdens of their fellowmen, mourn with those who mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that they may be in until death (Mosiah 18:8-9). Since Latter-day Saints can't keep this covenant perfectly, they renew this covenant each week by partaking of something known as the Sacrament. As part of the Sacrament prayer, Latter-day Saints are promised to always have the Spirit to be with them (Moroni 4:3; Moroni 5:2). This Spirit is obviously not a revelatory influence but a passive influence that lets Latter-day Saints know that they are in good standing before God. Latter-day Saints may also feel this passive influence while in the presence of uplifting things. Latter-day Saints are given the injunction to seek after all "virtuous, lovely, good report, or praiseworthy" things (Articles of Faith 1:13). It is also understood that all things that inspire to love God and serve him are of him and that, in general, all good things come from God (Moroni 7:12-14). Thus, when Latter-day Saints are in the presence of uplifting and inspiring things they may feel this more passive influence instead of the more dynamic influence experienced by revelation.

The Holy Ghost in Relation to Other Faiths in Latter-day Saint Thought

Some might wonder how Latter-day Saints view spiritual experiences outside of their own faith tradition. This has been discussed on another article on this wiki.


Question: Is Latter-day Saint epistemology a valid form of epistemology?

The verification of certain propositions in religious epistemology can come through both rational and empirical means. This is absolutely valid and Latter-day Saint scholars and lay members seek to validate these types of propositions every day

Gratefully for many religions, epistemology isn't simply a matter of subjectivism alone. Many propositions in the Latter-day Saint tradition require that one study them out in their own mind. This is manifested a lot in the scriptures. For instance, the Savior apparently used empiricism to prove himself to the apostles (Acts 1:3). Latter-day Saints also cherish the intellectual study of the scriptures and other disciplines in order to defend them and validate their truthfulness (D&C 88:77-79). Latter-day Saint scripture also shows that God values the mind and rational decision making (D&C 9:7-9; D&C 50:12; and D&C 58:26-28). Jesus taught his followers to keep the commandments he gave them to know if they were from God (John 7:17). Thus, there is no truly official approach to epistemology in this regard from Latter-day Saints. We simply cherish all the education we can get on any facet of life and the Gospel before we believe we will be resurrected (D&C 130:18).

The witness of the Holy Ghost is more closely scrutinized and to validate this part of our epistemology, we have to make more inquiries into the nature of justification and answer criticisms against it.

Near the end of the Book of Mormon the prophet Moroni, the last to write in the book, gives a promise that those who ask God about the truthfulness of the book with real intent, having faith in Christ, and a sincere heart may have the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon revealed to them by the power of the Holy Ghost (Moroni 10:3-5). This proposition includes all Moroni's promise encompasses all other propositions compiled and abridged by Mormon as is the best interpretation of “these records” in Moroni 10:2 and “these things” in 10:3. These propositions would include God being sovereign over the whole earth (1 Nephi 11:6), God creating the earth (2 Nephi 2:13), God having a body of flesh and bone (3 Nephi 28:10; D&C 93:33-35), the prophecy from the Book of Mormon of Joseph Smith being the one to bring it forth implying his prophethood and calling from God (2 Nephi 3:14-15),[16]and the existence of the priesthood and its necessity in knowing how to find salvation in Christ through ordinances (Alma 13)—among the foundational claims of the Church. When Moroni says “these things”, he is referring to the words that he is speaking to the future Lamanites that receive them per verse 1. He is also referring to the record as a whole.

As Brant Gardner, preeminent Latter-day Saint scholar of the Book of Mormon has observed about Moroni 10:2-3:

"In “seal[ing] up these records,” Moroni is not referring to any physical process that will bind the plates together, but rather to a spiritual sealing—an anointing to their divinely ordained purpose. This is the context for Moroni’s title page:

“Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed.”

The sealing is so that “they might not be destroyed.” It is a protective sealing not a preventative sealing such as was plated on the vision of the brother of Jared. (See commentary accompanying Ether 5:1)


[Gardner here quotes of Moroni 10:3]


Moroni speaks directly to his future reader. While he wrote to future Lamanites, he certainly understood that the Book of Mormon would come to the Gentiles as well [1 Nephi 10:11]. It is appropriate for us to consider ourselves included in this direct address. [17]

Thus, Latter-day Saints believe that the reception of the Holy Ghost following Moroni's promise is a valid way of knowing the truth of the Restored Gospel and the Church that espouses it since the proposition includes knowing the truth of all other propositions contained in the Book of Mormon. This does not mean that we believe that the propositions are then loaded to our memories. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to explore the scriptures, learn their principles, and search them out. The Holy Ghost may witness to us that the Book of Mormon is true, but it will generally not force us to treasure up its propositions in our minds nor live them (Alma 32:33-37).

At the center of the Latter-day Saint noetic structure lies this central hinge of the witness of the Holy Ghost. It is this witness that Latter-day Saints use to justify their testimony as something from God that can demonstrate the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and thus the Church.

But is this a valid form of epistemology? For Latter-day Saint philosophers and theologians the answer would be both "yes" and "no". Can we prove through external empiricism that our spiritual experience comes from God? No. But we can, at the very least, provide evidence that spiritual epistemology is a valid way of gaining knowledge and answer criticisms against it. Thus we let the door open for people to believe in the Spirit's influence, act on the promises of the Book of Mormon and other scripture, and then choose for themselves to follow those spiritual promptings as the dying Lehi told his sons (2 Nephi 2: 27-28). Some people may believe that that is a weakness of Latter-day Saint epistemology or religious epistemology in general. However, this is not a bug but a feature--especially when agency is such a fundamental part of Latter-day Saint doctrine pertaining to the Plan of Salvation (Moses 4:1-3). If we were able to prove that these experiences came from God, then would we truly be able to have agency? Wouldn't he be compelling us to believe in him? But then what is a spiritual experience meant to provide? It is meant to provide that sliver of God's power that he wants all of us to experience as we continuously seek him. God is found as we apply all of our faculties and seek him through various forms of epistemology. We can seek him through rationalism/philosophy. We can seek him empirically through ancient history that provides evidence for the Book of Mormon. We can seek him experientially by the Spirit and witnessing miracles. Those categories aren't mutually exclusive but they are used to demonstrate a point--that God is reaching to us through various forms of epistemology. However, he leaves just enough space for us to choose for ourselves to believe in him. As Hebrews expresses, faith is the substance of things hoped for.

Now, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ we still need to answer criticisms against the Spirit. Both believers and non-believers have asked questions regarding the justification of this belief in the validity of a spiritual experience. They can be roughly divided into four categories: the question of diversity, the question of neuroscience, the question of reliability, and the question of circularity. Below are our responses to different critical arguments against justification. Before readers proceed to those articles, it is wise to understand how Latter-day Saints understand the conception of the Holy Ghost and the obtainment of testimony. As additional reading, one might read the material that we have written on the conception of prophetic revelation.

Question of Diversity

Question of Neuroscience

Question of Reliability

Question of Circularity

Latter-day Saints testify to remarkable aspects of epistemology with sacred experiences

Two of the most extraordinary aspects of Latter-day Saint epistemology are these:

  1. The ability to receive a "no" to a question that the questioner wanted to receive a "yes" to in prayer.
  2. The ability to receive miraculous knowledge through miraculous experience including everything mentioned as gifts of the Spirit, warnings about eminent danger, revelation about specific people given during priesthood blessings, and other phenomena.

These events can properly be described as "top-down" revelation in Latter-day Saint epistemology as this is God correcting the mental framework of the person occupying it and giving us specific knowledge. This is distinguished from "bottom up" revelation where the subject has to correct their own state of mind before seeking revelation. Requirements for this include that Latter-day Saints and other individuals interested in receiving revelation become worthy of the Spirit's influence including trusting in God enough so that they believe that he will answer (Matthew 14:21; Mosiah 2:37; Alma 7:21; Mormon 9:27; D&C 6:36D&C 97:17), that they study something out in their mind (Moroni 10:3; D&C 9:7-9), and that they then ask God for inspiration.

Latter-day Saints and other individuals struggling with questions of epistemology should remember/seek out these two extraordinary aspects of it and the times that they have/will personally experience(d) it in their life/investigation process.

Further Video/Listening Content

The following discuss themes of epistemology and objections to the use of spiritual experience in Latter-day Saint epistemology in more depth:


Question: How can Latter-day Saints reconcile having other people receive spiritual experiences that motivate them to believe in and become part of other religions?

Introduction to Criticism

As a part of their epistemology, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that commitment and/or belief may be established by spiritual experience. This experience is known as having an experience with the Holy Ghost or "Holy Spirit."[18] As part of the experience of feeling the Spirit, members will frequently report (among other sensations and phenomena) feelings such as swelling motions in their chest, warmth in the chest, clarity of mind, and revelation of knowledge.

Primarily secularist critics of the Church and other Christian critics of the Church have charged that this mode of receiving knowledge is challenged by the existence of competing religious claims or spiritual experiences had by those adherents of other faiths.[19] If they are to receive spiritual experiences motivating them to believe in the truthfulness of their sacred texts, religious structures, and so forth, what makes the Latter-day Saint claim to knowledge unique? What is the basis for claiming that one "knows" that the Book of Mormon is from God and/or that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s “only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” today?[20]

For example, consider this video, often shared by former members of the Church, with people describing their spiritual experiences that have motivated them to become part of other religions.


So we have all of these people claiming spiritual experiences that suggest to them the truthfulness of what they're believing. How can Latter-day Saints therefore claim to be special with their religious knowledge?

This argument, mutatis mutandis, is the argument from inconsistent revelations in the philosophy of religion for Latter-day Saints. Thus this article can be viewed as a solution to that problem from a Latter-day Saint perspective.

This article seeks to respond to this criticism in depth. We’re going to need to respond well since this is a question that, according to some research, may be one of the major reasons that people withdraw membership from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[21] It is the belief of the author that Latter-day Saints have a full theology that addresses this criticism and it may reveal some special insights regarding religious epistemology and morality. We’re going to need to outline all of that theology in depth to respond adequately to this argument. Some may argue that we’re guilty of not following Occam’s Razor for how many assumptions we introduce into this response; but it should be kept in mind that Occam’s Razor is not a logical law but an application of preference in deciding between two equally valid causal explanations for the same phenomena.

This video explains this in more detail:

Additionally, it will be argued that there are not equally valid explanations for spiritual experiences outside of the Latter-day Saint framework.

So, yes, we are going to introduce a lot of material to explain our point of view on this argument; but responding with Occam's Razor will do nothing to hurt our rebuttal.

Another argument in response to this article might be that it engages in “mental gymnastics.” This is when a person engages in long and convoluted reasoning in order to defend the allegedly indefensible. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that, if a longer explanation is needed to understand an argument or rebuttal, that the person making the explanation is trying to defend the indefensible. People sometimes deploy this accusation when they simply don’t want to exert the mental effort to understand something complex. Be assured that the author believes they have a rational response laid out for this problem in this article.

We hope that you'll choose our side. In the words of Father Lehi, “[we] would that ye should…choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit[.]”[22]

Don't let the ease of simplicity in one solution take you away from the greater light and truth of one with some added complexity as demonstrated in this cartoon.

SimpleComplexCartoon.png

Prior work on this issue has tended to not care for defending a more orthodox Latter-day Saint perspective on this issue.[23] Thus, the author hopes to add something new to this conversation that adheres more closely to traditional paradigms.

With that, let’s get to our rebuttal of the criticism.

The Tautology

The immediate conclusion that the secularist critics want us to draw from the reality of others having spiritual experiences is that spiritual experiences can be the function of anything including neurochemical reactions in the brain. Humans are simply religious animals, they'll say. We should set up the rest of our response by focusing on this assumption.

We can begin to address this by constructing a tautology. A tautology is a statement that is always true. So “It is either raining outside or it is not raining outside” is a statement that, no matter the circumstances, is always true. Here’s our tautology to address the assumption made by critics:

Claimed spiritual experiences motivating people to become part of different religious faiths are the function of either brain chemistry, a bevy of material spiritual beings corresponding to Latter-day Saint theology that are fighting for control over human hearts, a bevy of material spiritual beings that do not correspond to Latter-day Saint theology, an immaterial, omnipotent, omnibenevolent god like the one worshipped by mainstream Christians, Jews, and Muslims, or an evil god just trying to cause confusion.

That is a statement that is always true, no matter the circumstances.

One of these spiritual experiences can be the right one to have and the others wrong. There could be material spiritual beings that interact with material humans to try and get them to not become part of the true religion. That is what Latter-day Saint theology teaches. Let’s lay out what all those spiritual beings look like and what they are trying to get people to do and not do since we need to make this a legitimate, plausible, logical option for understanding spiritual experience in contrast to the critics’ option.

The Latter-day Saint Conceptions of God, the Devil, the Holy Ghost, False Spirits, Good Angels, Bad Angels, and Light

Latter-day Saint theology teaches that there is a spectrum of light, understood to be synonymous with "truth" by faithful adherents,[24] that one can receive in this life that comes from God. This light is known in Latter-day Saint vernacular as “The Light of Christ.” All people are given the Light of Christ as their material spirits connect with their material bodies--presumably sometime after conception and before birth.[25] When one receives more of God’s truth, one thus receives more Light.[26] When one rejects Light, is persuaded towards rejecting the truth and Light that one has already received, or one deliberately chooses to remain without the Light that God has revealed, one stays away or moves away from Light.[27] This is seen as sinful.

The Holy Ghost and many righteous angels are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the Light.[28] The Holy Ghost works through the Light of Christ.[29] The Light of Christ is understood to give a spiritual energy and life to all things.[30] Since it gives this life to all things, it follows that the Holy Ghost, working through this Light, can work on our spirit and/or our body in order to produce sensations in the heart and bring revelation to the mind.[31] The Holy Ghost works in unity with God's purposes.

Satan, false angels, and many false spirits are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the darkness.[32]

All spiritual beings—including the Holy Spirit, false spirits, good angels, bad angels, and Satan—are claimed to be made of matter.[33]

Latter-day Saints claim to have the fullness of Light that one can receive in this life, thus being on the (say) far right of the spectrum.[34] The darkest part of the spectrum is perhaps the intentional disobedience of all of God’s commandments and worshiping Satan.

As one receives more Light, one is more receptive to receiving additional Light and is seen as being able to recognize the Holy Ghost and the truth that God has revealed through prophets easier. As one moves away from the Light, they are less and less able to perceive Light. If a person has gained Light but subsequently lost it through sin or being persuaded by a false spirit to accept darkness, it is seen as more difficult to regain it. It can become progressively more difficult to regain the Light depending on how much Light one receives and how much they give up when moving into the darkness.[35] The amount of Light one has and the ability to perceive it can ultimately be diminished entirely.[36] As Elder David A. Bednar, an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has taught:

As we yield to that influence, to do good and become good, then the Light of Christ increases within us. As we disobey, Light is decreased and can ultimately be diminished.[37]

Thus these spirits are acting on both our body and our spirit, connected together intimately (called the “soul” in Latter-day Saint theology), to persuade us to accept, reject, or stay indifferent to Light and truth. When these spirits act on us, they produce physically felt sensations accompanied most often by revelation to the mind. Latter-day Saints believe that all human beings have the ability to perceive that which is of God from that which is of the devil through the same power given by the Light of Christ.[38] It is generally believed that what God has revealed to prophets and has had them record in scripture, taken cumulatively, is the fulness of light and goodness one can achieve.[39]

Eliminating the Other Possibilities: The Disjunctive Syllogism

Now we can begin to address the tautology. To do it, we will construct a disjunctive syllogism. A disjunctive syllogism is a form of argument that takes several possibilities as potential causal explanations for a given phenomenon (or set of phenomena) and eliminates each one until only one explanation is left. A syllogism usually comes in two premises and a conclusion. A disjunctive syllogism would thus look something like this:

P1) Either A, B, C, or D
P2) Not A, C, or D
C Therefore, B.

So what is our disjunctive syllogism?

P1) Spiritual experiences motivating people to become part of other religious faiths are the function of either brain chemistry, a bevy of material spiritual beings that are fighting for control over human hearts that correspond to Latter-day Saint theology (this is our desired option), a bevy of material spiritual beings that do not correspond to Latter-day Saint theology, an immaterial, omnipotent, omnibenevolent god like the one worshipped by mainstream Christians, Jews, and Muslims, or an evil god just trying to cause confusion
P2) Spiritual experiences motivating people to become part of other religious faiths are not the function of brain chemistry, an immaterial, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent god like the one worshipped by mainstream Christians, Jews, and Muslims, an evil god just trying to cause confusion, nor a bevy of material spiritual beings not corresponding to Latter-day Saint theology.
C) Therefore, spiritual experiences motivating people to become part of other religious faiths are the function of a bevy of material spiritual beings that are fighting for control over human hearts that correspond to Latter-day Saint theology.

We will try to prove premise two over the course of the rest of this response.

Not Just Neurochemistry: The First Modus Ponens

We'll first focus on neurochemistry. Our next step in refuting the notion that spiritual experiences are just a product of brain chemistry is to construct a modus ponens argument.

A modus ponens argument is an argument with two premises and a conclusion. One of the premises is an if/then statement like “If it is raining, then the streets are wet.” The second premise is an affirmation of the if portion of the if/then statement. The conclusion is the affirmation of the then portion of the if/then statement. Thus a modus ponens argument would go:

P1) If it is raining, then the streets are wet
P2) It is raining
C) Therefore, the streets are wet.

So let’s construct our modus ponens argument:

P1) If it is likely that spiritual experiences are the result of material spirits working on material humans, then it is likely that spiritual experiences are not the result of merely neurochemical reactions.
P2) It is likely that spiritual experiences are the result of material spirits working on material humans
C) Therefore, it is likely that spiritual experiences are not the result of mere neurochemical reactions.

The author says “likely” since

  1. We can’t see the Holy Ghost nor false spirits since, again, they're made out of incredibly refined matter and can only be seen with refined spiritual sight according to Latter-day Saint scripture.[40] Thus we can't know empirically that they are working on us. We might infer very rationally that believing in a bevy of material spiritual beings is the best explanation for what we have experienced. But, without seeing them, we cannot demonstrate it conclusively. Thus
  2. Spiritual experiences are a form of experiential knowledge. You can't share experiential knowledge with anyone. How do you describe the taste of salt? The color green? The feelings you had when you lost your first loved one to death? You can't share these things with others. They can only be known by you.

Thus the argument that follows that helps establish that spiritual experiences come from outside of us can only be evaluated by those that actually seek spiritual experiences and obtain them. It will only be helpful for those that experiment with prayer to ask God for these experiences and actually have them.

With all that established, let’s isolate our second premise in the modus ponens and see if we can give good evidence that it is true.

It is likely that spiritual experiences are the result of material spirits working on material humans

There are four lines of argument that we can elucidate that give evidence that spiritual experiences are not merely a function of brain chemistry.

  1. When you feel something touch you that is foreign to you, you can recognize that that thing is foreign to you. Place your hand on your chest. Don’t look at your chest while you place your hand on there. You know that there is something on your chest that isn’t your chest. It’s something additional to it. You don’t see it, but you feel its influence and know that it is foreign to your chest. In a similar way, the Holy Ghost and other material spiritual beings can affect us. It is unlikely that our brain could just randomly produce this type of sensation. This is what the author will call The Feeling of Foreign Influence Argument. Some may argue, based in knowledge of the human Agent Detection Bias, that these experiences might just be humans assuming that a spiritual agent has caused these experiences when there really was no agent. These critics would argue that "we think we feel 'presences' all the time." But it seems that whether or not an agent has actually contacted you is best evaluated by you. Subjective experience is one of our most reliable ways of forming beliefs about reality. Indeed, there are even things that can only be known subjectively. The taste of salt, seeing the color green and knowing what it is, and the feeling of a warm towel as it comes out of a dryer are things that can only be known by subjective experience. Objectors will still come up with other ways to make us doubt our senses. They'll bring up things like the possibility of being deceived by Descartes' Demon, being in The Matrix, being a brain in a vat, or being in The Truman Show. These are all possible, but they're merely assertions.They have no evidence. We don't need to believe in these propositions until we have any evidence that they are true and no solid evidence has been forthcoming.
  2. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members often claim to receive knowledge that they wouldn’t otherwise have. For instance, Blake Ostler relates how when he was a sophomore in high school, he was given a spiritual impression to tell a girl he knew to stop thinking about killing herself. Experiences similar to these are reported all the time in the Church. This is what the author will call the Knowledge You Wouldn’t Otherwise Have Argument.
  3. Theist philosopher of religion Richard Swinburne has argued that, as a basic principle of rationality, we should assume that things as they appear are things as they really are until we have compelling evidence to disbelieve in the existence of God. This is what he calls the Principle of Credulity. Latter-day Saints have simple yet effective solutions to all arguments from atheists.

FAIR has also produced a long article on all of the other claimed neurological counter explanations for spiritual experience. Be sure to check that out if interested.

These explanations not only provide evidence that spiritual experience is not merely the function of brain chemistry, but that one can receive veridical spiritual experiences: ones that actually give someone knowledge of something.

Having thus substantiated the second premise in the modus ponens, we can therefore rationally conclude that spiritual experiences are likely the function of material spiritual beings that are fighting for control over human hearts.

Not An Immaterial God: The Second Modus Ponens

We'll construct another modus ponens against the possibility of an immaterial God causing these spiritual experiences. To fully appreciate this argument, it is suggested but not necessary that one be familiar with the mind-body problem and solutions to it in the philosophy of mind.

There is no evidence of a totally unembodied, totally immaterial mind that can cause things to happen in the material world. If the immaterial can cause things to happen in the material world, it must either emerge from the material (emegentism) or be a property in tandem with the material body (property dualism). Mainstream theistic philosophers will want to deny this since they believe that a completely unembodied, immaterial God created the universe ex nihilo, but Latter-day Saint philosopher Blake T. Ostler, adapting arguments from philosophers such as Graham Oppy, has shown that the arguments in favor of creatio ex nihilo do not hold up.[41] So, if you have a spiritual experience, it's much more likely that your experience was caused by a spirit having matter rather than a totally immaterial one. The author is careful to say that there is no evidence of such rather than saying that it is impossible.Our modus ponens then proceeds as follows:

P1) If I have had a spiritual experience, then it is more likely that my experience was caused by a material rather than immaterial spirit since things that feel foreign to me are most likely material interacting with my material being.
P2) I have had a spiritual experience
C) Therefore, it is more likely that my experience was caused by a material rather than immaterial spirit since things that feel foreign to me are almost always material interacting with my material being.[42]

Not an Evil God: Moving Forward

This is perhaps the most difficult of the possibilities to eliminate since it seems at least equally plausible as the Latter-day Saint possibility to the author. Along with eliminating the possibility of an evil material God causing the confusion, we need to provide evidence that the material spiritual beings correspond to our theology: the Latter-day Saint conception of angels, spirits, and so forth.

Perhaps as we illuminate the rest of our response, the ordered system that scripture presents about how to interpret and react to the spiritual experiences of people from other faiths will provide some evidence that there is a good God who is a God of order and that there are material spiritual beings (that correspond with conception of them provided by Latter-day Saint scripture) working on us. Furthermore, as Latter-day Saint scholars continue to give good evidence for the authenticity of Latter-day Saint scripture, we will cumulatively provide good evidence that there is indeed a good God and material spiritual beings (that match the Latter-day Saint conception) working on us.

What is that system? What is that line of evidence substantiating the authenticity of Latter-day Saint scripture more and more? Let's keep moving forward with our response and outlining it.

The Interpretive Matrix: Latter-day Saint Theology of Spiritual Beings in Practice

So now we’ve established that there are good reasons to believe that material spirits exist and that they are acting on us to bring us either further into Light or away from it. But now the question arises of how we should react to all of these different spiritual experiences of people from other faiths. How should we make sense of them within Latter-day Saint theology?

First, we should establish that Latter-day Saints believe that God’s truth has been given to all nations through various religions. Many official texts establish this. The Prophet Alma in the Book of Mormon taught that “the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true.”[43] The prophet Nephi taught that God has inspired the production of many religious books.[44] Another scripture clearly states that "we believe religion is instituted of God[.]"[45] Other biblical scriptures clearly indicate that God inspires other groups outside of his covenant group with truth, light, and miracles.[46] A 1978 official statement from the First Presidency of the Church states that "[t]he great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals."[47] This makes it so that Latter-day Saints believe that truth can be found in many religions and that people can be converted to it. It should be remembered that not all religions confirm the truthfulness of their beliefs by spiritual experience. That said, Latter-day Saint scripture is open to other religions receiving inspiration and revelation from God and their adherents having spiritual experiences that convert them to those religions.

Second, for Latter-day Saints (and, indeed, even our critics), there is a difference between the actual experience we have and how we should react to or interpret that experience.

Moroni in the Book of Mormon wrote

14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

Our critics react to all spiritual experience by saying that it’s all just a function of neurochemical reactions in the brain, an immaterial God, or just an evil God. How do Latter-day Saints react to different spiritual experiences?

Latter-day Saint scripture offers four different types of experiences that are seen as positive:

  1. A Softening of Heart to the idea of a God, a Christ, the Restored Gospel or an idea from it, or a Religion in General (Alma 16:16-17). It's interesting to note here that Latter-day Saints do not believe that a spiritual experience must commit you to a proposition that they believe is true. Spiritual experiences can just be given to soften your heart to the idea of God, Christ, the Restored Gospel, or religion in general.
  2. A Conversion to God (Moroni 7:13; Doctrine and Covenants 84:46-47).
  3. A Conversion to Christ (Moroni 7:16).
  4. A Conversion to the Restored Gospel (Moroni 10:3-5).
  5. A Conversion to a true proposition from the Restored Gospel (Moroni 10:5). These are recorded in Latter-day Saint scripture, the only source of official doctrine of the Church. This scripture can be updated by revelation given by God through the President of the Church (and only him).[48]

And there are five experiences that Latter-day Saint scripture views as negative:

  1. Intentionally Lying About the Reality of an Experience (Alma 30:60). These people are who the Latter-day Saint scriptures might describe as those that "pervert" the Gospel.
  2. Experiences Caused by the Devil (Alma 30:53; Moroni 7:17).
  3. Experiences Caused by False Spirits (1 John 4:1-2; 2 Nephi 9:9; Moroni 7:17-18; D&C 50:1-3; D&C 50:31-33; D&C 52:15-19).
  4. Being persuaded by False Christs (Matt 24: 5, 24-28; Mark 13:22-29; Words of Mormon 1:15).
  5. Being Persuaded by False Prophets (Matthew 7:15; 3 Nephi 14:15).

We can then summarize these experiences into eight discrete interpretive formulas that help us decide if we or another has been influenced by a false spirit or the Holy Spirit.

  1. The experience softens your heart to the idea of God, Christ, the Restoration, or a true proposition given by the true Latter-day Saint Church = Holy Spirit
  2. The experience converts you to a God, a version of Christ, a sect of the Restoration, and/or a true proposition given by the true Latter-day Saint Church = Holy Spirit
  3. The experience leaves you stagnant in progress towards converting to the true God, the true Christ, the true Latter-day Saint Church, and/or a true proposition given by the true Latter-day Saint Church = Holy Spirit
  4. The experience converts you away from the true God, true Christ, true Latter-day Saint Church, and/or a true proposition given by the true Latter-day Saint Church after you had previously had an experience that converted you to one or more of them = false Spirits
  5. The experience suggests to you that you shouldn’t establish commitment to the true God, true Christ, and or true Restoration when you intend on receiving an experience that does motivate you to establish that commitment = false spirit
  6. The experience converts you to worshipping Satan = false spirit
  7. No experience = no spirit
  8. Unsure of provenance of experience (whether just emotions or an actual visitation from what feels like a material spiritual being) = Continue seeking a more dynamic confirmation.

These eight formulas cover the whole range of experiences an individual may potentially have. They are faithful to Latter-day Saint scripture. This is how Latter-day Saint scripture asks us to interpret the reported experiences of those from other faiths. Again, we can't experience what other people feel so we need a way to react to their reports and this is how scripture asks us to do it. Keep in mind that attached to the right side of the equals sign of any of these formulas can be delusion or wishful thinking. Thus, for any experience, Latter-day Saints believe that the experience comes from true spirits, false spirits, delusion, or wishful thinking. These formulas do not have to be the definitive account of how to interpret different experiences. If another feels that these formulas can be added to or slightly modified, then they are welcome to devise their own formulas provided that those formulas adhere closely to scripture.

Now, another question arises: How is it that people are supposed to recognize that there is more light to be had and seek out different spiritual experiences? How are they supposed to abandon what they believed prior spiritual experiences seem to have told them?

The Savior gave us this counsel for avoiding false prophets in the Bible

15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Thus it is by the fruits of these different religious systems that we are supposed to judge them by. What are these fruits? Perhaps the intellectual soundness of these religious systems. Indeed, this is likely why Joseph Smith told that Saints that we should “[bring] to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them[:]” because “there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it[.]”[49]

It will be helpful to now discuss briefly how this will all work out in the afterlife according to Latter-day Saint theology since it may be the case that not everyone will have a fair opportunity to have an experience from God that converts them to our faith.

How God Judges People in the Next Life: Soteriological Inclusivism

Understanding how Latter-day Saint scripture talks about the afterlife will be important. We want to know how people will be judged by God in the next life if they do not accept the truth by that time.

After a person dies and before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, Latter-day Saints believe that a conscious, living spirit will be separated from our mortal body and be transported to something called the Spirit World. The Spirit World is merely a place where the spirits of the dead await the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to the earth. The Spirit World is divided into two realms: Spirit Paradise and Spirit Prison. After resurrection, Jesus will make his second coming to the earth and usher in a period of time known as the Millennium. After the Millennium, all the spirits of mankind will be judged by God and placed into one of three kingdoms of glory (levels of heaven, so to speak): the Celestial Kingdom, the Terrestrial Kingdom, or the Telestial Kingdom.[50]

Latter-day Saints gain most of their knowledge about the Celestial Kingdom from a vision experienced by Joseph Smith and his associate Sidney Rigdon in February 1832 that is now recounted in Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph and Sidney report here that they saw each of the Kingdoms and that it was revealed to them what qualifications someone must meet in order to enter the Celestial Kingdom.

When reading the requirements for the Celestial Kingdom and the Terrestrial Kingdom, the revelation seems to stipulate only that someone must receive a testimony of Jesus Christ being the Savior of the World and be valiant in that testimony in this life as a minimum requirement.[51] Thus, Latter-day Saints espouse a form of soteriological inclusivism: belief that people of other religious faiths can make it to heaven without necessarily having to accept the true religion in this life. Thus, the goal is likely to get as many people as possible converted to Christianity in this life by getting them to listen to true spirits to the point that they accept him. All else will be sorted out by vicarious ordinances done by Latter-day Saints in temples or by the vicarious work done in the Millennium by both angels and mortals. Latter-day Saints would thus do well to help Christian scholars and apologists in defending their faith while also expressing the important differences between mainstream Christianity and the Restored Gospel.

God and the Historical Plausibility of Scripture: Supporting our Interpretive Formulas and Vision of the Afterlife

These interpretive formulas and this vision of the afterlife have been derived from Latter-day Saint scripture. Latter-day Saint scripture claims to have been given by revelation and inspiration from God. In order to have been given by revelation and inspiration from God, we would need to assume (at the very least) the following:

  1. That there is one God, the Latter-day Saint God (our spiritual father with a body of flesh and bone), that exists and that he has a way of communicating with his children by the Spirit.
  2. That there has been a line of men called prophets whom God has authorized by priesthood beginning with Adam and stretching all the way to the current President of the Church to reveal his word including the revelations upon which we have built those interpretive formulas.

Both of these assumptions can be substantiated by establishing the historical plausibility of scripture (since proving of scripture historicity in many cases is impossible) and making sure that the priesthood can be passed to all the people we need it to be passed to.[52]

Giving Evidence for Latter-day Saint Possession of the Priesthood

We have an entire article that we have written giving evidence for the Latter-day Saint possession of God's priesthood. We encourage readers to see it and evaluate the article for themselves.

Giving Evidence for the Historicity of Latter-day Saint Scripture

Latter-day Saint scholars and apologists have been making a well-reasoned, well-documented case for the historical authenticity of Latter-day Saint scripture for many years now. Readers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with this evidence. Scholars are encouraged to continue to research the Book of Mormon, Book of Moses, Book of Abraham, and Joseph Smith Translation in order to substantiate this claim. Further reading included in the citation.[53] Readers are encouraged to get familiar with this scholarship. Scholars are encouraged to continue to provide this scholarship to help give further evidence to establish this vital premise in our solution to this issue.

Perhaps it could be the case that each piece of evidence could be used in Bayesian style to weigh the probability that these books of scripture are authentic and ancient. Such analysis has been begun by author Kyler Rassmussen and readers may be persuaded by his conclusions.[54]

It is encouraged that readers do not make scriptural scholarship their idol i.e. basing their entire testimony on whether or not there is good empirical evidence. As Blake Ostler has observed, this is not what is most basic in Mormonism.[55] What is most basic about Latter-day Saint commitment and belief is that we have had an experience where we individually have opened our hearts to the influence of God's spirit and received God's spirit as we have prayed about the Book of Mormon, the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, and/or the prophetic calling of the current President of the Church. Our eternal being[56] has connected with God's eternal being: the Holy Ghost. That is what we hold most dear; at our center. Everything else that we add on to our testimony like scriptural scholarship and other evidence is merely trying to provide a "reason for the hope that is within us"[57] and "to seek learning, even by study and also by faith" for those that do not yet have faith.[58] Some might say “but why should we trust an experience?” It’s a good question. Perhaps it might be said that you can trust your experience just like you trust that you’re not in the Matrix or the Truman Show: it’s what you have experienced. You’re as certain as you can be that that experience told you that the Book of Mormon is true. You’re as certain as you can be that you’re not in the Matrix or the Truman Show because your immediate experience feels really, really real and suggests strongly—as strongly as it can suggest—that you’re not.

Entering Into Genuinely Loving Relationships: The Why for Revelatory Epistemology

To close out this article, it may be enlightening to discuss the question of why we have to deal with an epistemology that favors revelatory spiritual experiences in the first place.

Latter-day Saint theology teaches that all men and women had a personal pre-existence as spirits before coming to this earth. Latter-day Saint scripture teaches that in premortal realms, a counsel was convened between God and his spirit children (us) where he taught us his plan to send us here to earth to gain a body, learn the difference between good and evil, and do what is good.[59] In the Book of Moses where this counsel is portrayed in the most detail, God strongly emphasizes the importance of human agency.[60] This agency gave humans the ability to enter into relationship with God freely. Part of the definition of love is to freely enter into a relationship.

As Blake Ostler has explained:

To have a genuine relationship, it was necessary for persons to leave God's presence and enter into a situation [mortal life] where His existence, glory, and power were not obvious to make room for both moral and religious faith--a situation where persons could freely enter into a genuine relationship without being coerced to do so by the obviousness of His overwhelming power and glory. Thus, God has set us at a cognitive distance from Him out of respect for our freedom. Because such distance is necessary to permit faith, God's existence must be ambiguous. The world must be capable of appearing as if there were no God precisely to make room for us to come to a genuine relationship with him.[61]

Thus, we need freedom in order to enter into genuine relationships with God. And that freedom would be coerced if we had an empirical proof of his existence. That can make mortal life a bit scary. Indeed, we live in a world that is dark and dreary as represented in Lehi’s dream.[62] We don't know with 100% certainty that we are on the right path back to God's presence. But it is the Spirit that gives Light in that darkness and it is the best mechanism by which we can commune with God without being coerced into entering into a relationship with him. Spiritual experiences sit in this nice little space between the rational and the empirically provable. We can rationally believe that God has communicated to us, by his Spirit, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. But we can't prove such empirically. It further elucidates just how much exaltation is a matter that must be worked out by each individual.[63] Yes, there are those in the scriptural record who have experienced theophanies, christophanies, and angelophanies. God knows that these provide people with greater assurance of his existence. But, as the Doctrine and Covenants testifies, with greater light, there is a greater condemnation when we turn away from that light.[64] God won't give us those types of manifestations out of loving, tender mercy. So, we work with spiritual experiences and we move forward with faith. Consider how the Book of Mormon prophet Alma frames our coming to knowledge of the Lord. He says that we have a spiritual experience and by it know that what we have experienced is just good. He then says that a series of these experiences will grow into a firmer and firmer testimony that will preserve a place for our souls in heaven.[65] Latter-day Saints truly believe in a different, more sacred form of knowing than other people. Spiritual experiences connect the gods and eternities to you and you to the gods and eternities. They illuminate your heart: what we as Latter-day Saints know through the scriptures as the source of authentic identity and being.

God has a means by which we can judge good from evil, and that is the word of God as revealed to the prophets and recorded in scripture.[66] Indeed, the iron rod of Lehi and Nephi's dream that leads us to salvation is the Word of God: scripture.[67] God's word provided by prophets gives us the means by which we can discern the spirits whether they be false or true and work our way back to God's presence in the Celestial Kingdom.

Prophets teach us how we are going to enter into a relationship "of one heart and one mind" with God, the human family, and the rest of God's creation. They are instructing us in the fullness of the principle of love. The Spirit will guide people to the prophets so that they can do that. Indeed, getting total unity of the human family requires that we direct all of them to the same source of knowledge so that we can all live by the same morality.

Conclusion

This article will illuminate the directions that Latter-day Saint scholarship needs to go in order to continue to have a persuasive answer to this criticism. In the author's view, it will also illuminate the beauty of the Latter-day Saint understanding of God's plan for humanity and the care that he has taken to preserve our ability to freely come into loving relationships with him and thus take on his nature of love.[68] We thus learn something important about epistemology and morality while following what Latter-day Saint scripture teaches us about our purpose as humans on earth and the heavenly awards that await us as we patiently follow God.


Question: Is the Latter-day Saint conception of testimony from the Holy Ghost threatened by neuroscience or psychology?

Review of the Criticism

As a part of their epistemology, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that commitment and/or belief may be established by spiritual experience. This experience is known as having an experience with the “Holy Ghost” aka the "Holy Spirit."[69] As part of the experience of feeling the Spirit, members will frequently report (among other sensations and phenomena) feelings such as swelling motions in their chest, warmth in the chest, clarity of mind, and revelation of knowledge.

Secularist critics of the Church charge that these experiences may be the result of something else and raise a number of naturalistic counter explanations, stemming from neurological and/or psychological study, that supposedly eliminate the possibility of the experiences being caused by a spiritual being or force that is external to humans. Potential counterexplanations cited include the Backfire Effect (cf. "Belief Perserverance"),[70] Cognitive Dissonance,[71] Confirmation Bias,[72] the Elevation Emotion,[73] Frisson,[74] and the Illusory Truth Effect.[75] Comparisons are also drawn between the feelings associated with the Latter-day Saint understanding of the Spirit and the effects of the God Helmet.[76]

Honest and faithful Latter-day Saints frequently ask themselves: "What if the Spirit is just coming from me?"

This article will review each of the proposed counter explanations for spiritual experiences and seek to reconcile such claims within the epistemic framework provided by the official scriptures of the Church. To begin, the relevant portions of the Latter-day Saint theological conception of spiritual experience will be introduced and then a discussion of the proposed counter explanations will follow.

The Latter-day Saint Conception of the Soul

Latter-day Saints believe that what one might call the “body” and “spirit” are connected as one. This combination of body and spirit is called the soul.[77] In contrast to creedal Christianity that sees the soul as an immaterial essence separate from a material body, Latter-day Saints see the matter that makes up body and spirit as a unified entity of material substance. A spirit can exist independently of the body in a perhaps pseudo-isomorphic form;[78] yet when the spirit and body are connected, they are intimately and intricately intertwined in a continuum from more flesh to more spiritual.[79] Thus, whenever we do something with our bodies, it may or may not affect our spirits. Whenever something occurs in our spirit, it may or may not affect our bodies. It may potentially be said that, at times (perhaps when the Spirit moves upon us), the body and spirit can act upon and react to each other.

All spiritual entities/personages are believed to be material instead of immaterial.[80] Thus, we can feel the affect of spiritual personages and forces in/on material objects such as our bodies and/or the spirit matter that is connected to them.

Spiritual Experiences Bring Not Just Feelings But Knowledge

It is of paramount importance to understand in this discussion that spiritual revelation for Latter-day Saints is not just a feeling or stimuli. It is a matter that involves both heart and mind. Spiritual experiences don't just produce feelings but also knowledge. In the Church's official scriptures we read this about spiritual experience:

2 Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.[81]

Thus, spiritual experience cannot simply be reduced to just a feeling ever. It must always take into account that there is revelation of knowledge provided by the experience. Sometimes this is knowledge that we wouldn't otherwise have. There are experiences of members of the Church who report the revelation that helped them to save a person's life (or otherwise help them) in the hour of need or who report that they received knowledge about a person during a priesthood blessing that they couldn't have known about the person because the person didn't tell the blessing giver of such things.

The Latter-day Saint Conception of God, the Devil, the Holy Ghost, False Spirits, Good Angels, Bad Angels, and Light

Latter-day Saint theology teaches that there is a spectrum of light, understood to be synonymous with "truth" by faithful adherents,[82] that one can receive in this life that comes from God. This light is known in Latter-day Saint vernacular as “The Light of Christ.” All people are given the Light of Christ as their spirits connect with their bodies--presumably sometime after conception and before birth.[83] When one receives more of God’s truth, one thus receives more Light.[84] When one rejects Light, is persuaded towards rejecting the truth and Light that one has already received, or one deliberately chooses to remain without the Light that God has revealed, one stays away or moves away from Light.[85] This is seen as sinful.

The Holy Ghost and many righteous angels are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the Light.[86] The Holy Ghost works through the Light of Christ.[87] The Light of Christ is understood to give a spiritual energy and life to all things.[88] Since it gives this life to all things, it follows that the Holy Ghost, working through this Light, can work on our spirit and/or our body in order to produce sensations in the heart and bring revelation to the mind.[89] The Holy Ghost works in unity with God's purposes.

Satan, false angels, and many false spirits are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the darkness.[90]

Latter-day Saints claim to have the fullness of Light that one can receive in this life, thus being on the (say) far right of the spectrum.[91] The darkest part of the spectrum is perhaps the intentional disobedience of all of God’s commandments and worshiping Satan.

As one receives more Light, one is more receptive to receiving additional Light and is seen as being able to recognize the Holy Ghost and the truth that God has revealed through prophets easier. As one moves away from the Light, they are less and less able to perceive Light. If a person has gained Light but subsequently lost it through sin or being persuaded by a false spirit to accept darkness, it is seen as difficult to regain it. It can become progressively more difficult to regain the Light depending on how much Light one receives and how much they give up when moving into the darkness.[92] The amount of Light one has and the ability to perceive it can ultimately be diminished entirely.[93] As Elder David A. Bednar, an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has taught:

As we yield to that influence, to do good and become good, then the Light of Christ increases within us. As we disobey, light is decreased and can ultimately be diminished.[94]

Thus these spirits are acting on both our body and our spirit, connected together intimately (called the “soul” in Latter-day Saint theology), to persuade us to accept, reject, or stay indifferent to Light and truth. When these spirits act on us, they produce physically felt sensations accompanied most often by revelation to the mind. Latter-day Saints believe that all human beings have the ability to perceive that which is of God from that which is of the devil through the same power given by the Light of Christ.[95] It is generally believed that what God has revealed to prophets is good and will inspire one to love God and serve him.[96]

Short Answer to Criticism

Material Objects Interacting with Each Other Will Produce Physical Reactions

Perhaps there are some that here might want to get a short answer to this criticism instead of reading the rest of this article. With this Latter-day Saint framework of souls being material bodies and spirits combined and the Holy Spirit being material, we can give such a short answer. Material spiritual beings interacting with each other can create material reactions. God can use our bodies and brains to produce spiritual experiences in such a way that they give us knowledge. Simple.

We can imagine a bowler at a bowling alley. What critics are looking at are the material interactions of the ball (representing something happening in the brain) with the pins (representing some effect that it has on our body). What they are failing to see is that the ball was still thrown by the person bowling (which might represent God).

Certain Things Can Only be Known By Us

Being able to discern exactly what is occuring in our bodies and what revelation we might be feeling is something that can only be verified by each individual person. Noone knows exactly what we're feeling besides us. As we pay attention to our hearts, we will easily recognize when we are feeling something that does not come from us.

Take your hand and place it on your chest. Don't look down at your hand. Just feel your hand on your chest. You can easily know that something is on your chest that isn't your chest. You don't see it though. You just feel it's influence and know that it's not coming from you. In a similar way, you can know when the Spirit is working on you and when it might just be your emotions.

For the longer answer, read on.

A Review of The Different Counterexplanations for Spiritual Experience

With these important parts of the Latter-day Saint conception of spiritual experience and its purpose laid as a groundwork, a more responsible and comprehensible discussion of the criticism is now possible. The different neurological/psychological phenomena can be viewed from within this framework. It is believed by the author that the study of these phenomena does not diminish the Latter-day Saint conception of the Spirit or testimony (conviction of truth) in anyway; but rather that it informs, enlightens, and even strengthens it.[97]

The general premise of this examination is to demonstrate that—since Latter-day Saints commit themselves to slightly more materialist conception of the universe, and a corporeal (meaning "with body"), anthropomorphic God—that no scientific study will be able to demonstrate nor falsify the validity of the use of spiritual experiences in Latter-day Saint epistemology. It may be said that each of the supposed psychological/neurological phenomena may occur through a causal chain of events begun by spiritual force provided by God (who would know how the human body could react to spiritual stimuli being a man according to Latter-day Saint theology) and/or the Holy Spirit or Satan and/or false spirits whether they desire or don't desire, through whatever power of self-determination they possess, to act on humans. This cannot be conclusively demonstrated nor conclusively falsified since spirit matter, according to Latter-day Saint doctrine, can’t be seen unless one has refined spiritual sight.[98] Alternatively, the body or spirit may experience something without outside spiritual impetus.[99]

What follows is an introduction to each of the claims and a very brief exploration of them through the lens of this epistemic framework provided by Latter-day Saint scripture.

The Backfire Effect (Compare "Belief Perseverance")

The Backfire Effect “describe[s] how some individuals when confronted with evidence that conflicts with their beliefs come to hold their original position even more strongly.”[100] This is used to explain why Latter-day Saints frequently report feeling a stronger conviction of the truth claims of the Church even after reviewing critical literature.

The Backfire Effect hasn’t had a stable understanding of its physiological profile established and experiments have failed to replicate the same findings that the researchers who first introduced the idea of the Backfire Effect first produced.[101]

The Backfire Effect is contrasted with "Belief Perserverance" which is merely the ability to maintain a belief (without that belief being strengthened necessarily) even in the face of solid disconfirming evidence. Belief Perseverance is a well-established psychological phenomenon and is manifested in all people no matter what the belief being contradicted. For Latter-day Saints, this might be something that involves the simple and natural function of our brains with no additional spiritual impetus behind it. But there may be additional ways to view this.

When concerning information arises for Latter-day Saints, there are generally three reactions to it: 1) The information is rejected as invalid and thus disregarded in consideration of conviction and testimony, 2) The information is regarded as valid but the framework through which they gathered data is reformulated to accommodate the new data, or 3) The information is regarded as valid and the framework is not adjusted thus causing diminished or sometimes even lost faith.

Sometimes the first approach is used and may even be valid. The Apostle Paul wrote to “judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”[102] This conviction may come from the Spirit which tells them to remain patient for the time being while more data comes to light. Adherents with this conviction will simply need to make sure that they have received revelation on the matter and that that revelation is consistent with their scriptures and the teachings of the prophets and apostles of the tradition. Latter-day Saints believe in continuing revelation and that more is yet to be revealed by God to the world through revelation and science.[103]

However there may be times when new information is unlikely to come forth and Latter-day Saints will need to refashion frameworks that will accommodate the new information. In other words, they will need to reform their expectations for the data in a more informed way so that their testimony can return to normal or become stronger.

Thus, there's no one universal approach to this and Latter-day Saints should simply seek to accomplish what they discern is best for the circumstances that they find themselves in.

∗       ∗       ∗


It should be mentioned that when Latter-day Saints report a stronger conviction of the truth after reviewing critical literature, it is, more often than not, the result of enduring study and prayer which they have used to search for answers to the questions of critics. It is not simply the result of wishful thinking or willful ignorance. To suggest otherwise seems ironically ignorant. Surely this may be the case with some; but the vast majority of Latter-day Saints take their scripture and history seriously since (in contrast to creedal Christianity and other religions) their theology is tied to their history. Diligent efforts have been and are made by the Church to provide helpful resources to members so they can learn their history including controversial topics within a framework suited to their learning, emotional, cultural, and practical needs. FAIR and other Latter-day Saint academic organizations such as the Interpreter Foundation, Book of Mormon Central, Pearl of Great Price Central, The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, the BYU Religious Studies Center, and BYU Studies exist as entities in part to try to push back rationally on those who might believe that solid disconfirming evidence is available for the beliefs of Latter-day Saints.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance is commonly understood as the discomfort that one feels when one encounters new information that contradicts a currently-held belief.

Cognitive Dissonance occurs in all people whenever they encounter information that contradicts their currently-held belief. Though critics take this argument a little further when speaking about Latter-day Saints. Critics claim that when Latter-day Saints witness another person doing something that goes against what they believe God has commanded, that what they may describe as the Spirit telling them that such thing is wrong may instead be simply Cognitive Dissonance. Similarly, it is also used to explain how a Latter-day Saint might feel uncomfortable in the presence of critics when the critics share information that is supposedly damaging to the faith of the member they’re interacting with. Thus when Latter-day Saints report that the Spirit does not want them to be in a particular situation (such as being publicly confronted by critics and/or critical information), critics assert that adherents are simply under the influence of this effect.

Cognitive Dissonance is certainly something that occurs within the brain, which is obviously part of our bodies. However, given the Latter-day Saint conception of the soul, this doesn't negate the possibility of dissonance being caused by a spiritual source. Latter-day Saints will generally report additional discomfort that is manifested on a deep, spiritual level when they encounter situations such as this. Latter-day Saint doctrine holds that the Spirit can press thoughts on our minds,[104] that it can recognize and correct sin,[105] and that it can constrain someone to do something or restrain them from doing it.[106] The Holy Spirit may provide the idea that one adheres to and the individual can experience dissonance as a result of not wanting to let go of a proposition believed to have been revealed by God. Alternatively, the Spirit may simply cause the dissonance partially or fully without any knowledge content revealed before such an encounter. Finally, it may be possible that there is no influence from the Holy Spirit and instead, Latter-day Saints may simply be experiencing intense stress manifested in both body and spirit. Or perhaps some other combination of the preceding. Latter-day Saints will simply have to experience such dissonance for themselves, pay very close attention to their experience, and then take proactive steps to resolve the dissonance in a way consistent with their beliefs by study and/or faith.[107]

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias is understood as the tendency that all people have to seek for, learn, and recall information in a way that confirms their already-held beliefs.

There are several ways that critics apply criticism based on this information.

The most common way that critics use this information is by arguing that when Latter-day Saints or anyone else prays, they are only seeking to confirm their already held beliefs about how their prayers should be answered. People will get "answers," the critics argue, that confirm whatever they want to believe.

This criticism has a few weaknesses:

  • Spiritual experience often doesn’t confirm what Latter-day Saints want. Many Latter-day Saints report that, as part of their individual religious experience, that they're given a distinct “no” to the prayers that they wish to receive a “yes” for or where they're simply given a contrary answer to a particular piece of inspiration they wish to receive from the Spirit.
  • The criticism assumes that all knowledge for Latter-day Saints comes from their immediately sensed experience i.e. what they pray about is first observed with their natural senses such as sight and sense of hearing and then brought to deity in prayer. While that is at the very least partially true,[108] there are other times where Latter-day Saints claim to receive knowledge that they wouldn’t otherwise have. This often comes during priesthood blessings but can also come as warnings of immediate danger, sudden impressions to go help someone, etc.
  • Spiritual experience has often been seen to not be able to be produced at will. This is the reason that many Latter-day Saints have gone through a crisis of faith because, for whatever reason, they have felt like God stopped answering their prayers.[109] Consider the experience of famous Latter-day Saint musician Michael McClean and how he resolved this type of predicament.


Or consider the experience of Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who did not immediately get a confirmatory spiritual experience that witnessed the truthfulness of the Restoration when he prayed even with great sincerity and for a long time. He didn't get the sort of spiritual witness he was looking for until 6 weeks after he prayed.


In short and at the very least, it must be said that the vast majority of claims that base their criticism in knowledge of Confirmation Bias do not begin to take into full account the intricate ways in which Latter-day Saints would understand their own experience. Thus this creates a strawman.

The Elevation Emotion

The Elevation Emotion is a sensation that researchers have been investigating since (it seems) the year 2000. Jonathan Haidt—American social psychologist, author, and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business— seems to be the first to work on this with his interest in human transcendence.[110] It is defined as the “emotion elicited by witnessing virtuous acts of remarkable moral goodness.”[111] The nature of the emotion is described as “a distinct feeling of warmth and expansion that is accompanied by appreciation and affection for the individual whose exceptional conduct is being observed.“[112]

Critics claim that since this is so close to the “burning in the bosom” that Latter-day Saints describe when reportedly feeling the Spirit, that this is a plausible naturalistic explanation for what Latter-day Saints and other religious persons might be feeling, with their bodies producing this emotion whenever something good and virtuous is witnessed.

However, Elevation hasn’t had a stable physiological profile established for it. Researchers have yet to understand exactly what the body does that supposedly will produce the warmth and expansion. That said, video clips shown to test subjects during experimentation may suggest that situations that induce Elevation decrease vagal parasympathetic impact on the heart.[113] Thus perhaps it may be said that the Spirit simply acts on these areas of the body and/or the spirit matter that makes up the rest of the soul that are connected to these parts of the body to produce the sensation.

Alternatively, those that have felt Elevation have reported that they sense a "warm tingling sensation in their chest.” The sensation produced by Elevation may simply be the Holy Spirit’s physical effect manifested on/in the chest and/or the spirit matter that makes up the rest of the soul that are connected to the chest to produce the sensation.

Elevation is said to be made manifest upon someone’s witnessing of “acts of remarkable moral goodness.” In the Book of Mormon we learn that when one is in the service of their fellowmen, that one is in the service of God.[114] Could this sensation be considered as God confirming the truth of this and motivating an individual to continue to seek out opportunities for altruism? The Book of Mormon expects that as many people as possible will have spiritual experiences that soften their heart and bring them closer to God.[115] Could Elevation simply be the Spirit reaching out to people for that purpose? All that said, the experiences shouldn't be reduced to just a feeling. These experiences are meant to provide revelation as well as a feeling that can be recognized as the Spirit.[116]

Frisson

Frisson is a "psychophysiological response to rewarding auditory and/or visual stimuli that often induces a pleasurable or otherwise positively-valenced affective state and transient paresthesia (skin tingling or chills), sometimes along with piloerection (goose bumps) and mydriasis (pupil dilation)."[117]

The Spirit is not typically associated with this feeling for Latter-day Saints and therefore little commentary needs to be offered. Perhaps what can be said is that this experience may still be accompanied by revelation of knowledge. If accompanied by revelation, then the experience cannot be reduced to a mere chemical reaction. The author would invite those who make this association to listen more closely to how Latter-day Saints would describe their own experiences. Such may reveal more about what is happening when they claim the Spirit has touched them.

The God Helmet

In 1990, researchers Lesley Ruttan, Michael Persinger and Stanley Koren produced a helmet to study creativity, effects of mild, electrical stimulation to the temporal lobes of the brain, and religious experience.[118] This helmet, when worn, reportedly produced the sensation of a "presence" with experimental participants. This gained widespread public attention and was nicknamed The God Helmet. Some have asked the natural question, "If the feelings associated with the Spirit by Latter-day Saints can be reported from people who wear a helmet that can produce the sensation through electrical stimulation, what does this say about the supposed reality of a spiritual entity that causes them?"

First noted is that the experimental results from Persinger and Koren have failed to replicate in a reliable way.[119] Some scholars have used the same helmet and generated no feelings in participants.[120] Others have used the same helmet and not turned it on and yet achieved the same report of "presence."[121] Some scholars have used fake helmets instead of the original “God helmet" that have produced the same feelings in test subjects.[122] Today it is generally felt by researchers that personality differences in participants ultimately determined if one felt this "presence" or not. The experiments showed that religious people were generally those that reported a "presence" while atheists and skeptics generally did not report such a feeling.

A few more notes regarding spiritual experience in relation to this:

  • Some may be tempted to claim that since the religious people were the ones that were most open to feeling something and perhaps wanted to experience a presence, that this may be evidence of a deterministic nature of spiritual experience i.e. if you want a spiritual experience, you can will it to pass. This is contradicted by the lived experience of Latter-day Saints as has already been pointed out. Latter-day Saints often make distinction between the way they experience the Holy Ghost when seeking revelation and the way they experience the Holy Ghost when simply in the presence of something good. Another article on this site labels the two sides of the distinction as the dynamic and passive influence of the Holy Ghost. For Latter-day Saints, they may respond that a person may be able to determine whether they are willing or not to experience the Holy Spirit in a passive way (such as feeling at peace while taking the Sacrament). They may also be able to resist feeling the Holy Ghost in a dynamic, personally revelatory way. However, in Latter-day Saint thought, they won't be able to force the Holy Spirit to interact with them in that dynamic way. Conversely, they may be able to will false spirits to interact with them if invited.[123]
  • The Latter-day Saint understanding of the soul should yet again be remembered. It would likely not be surprising for Latter-day Saints to see that some manipulation of the brain or body could produce experiences that could be described as "religious." This particular experiment doesn’t seem to be a reliable way to claim that, but it is at least possible that something like this device that is perhaps more efficacious could be produced in the future. Latter-day Saints should not be afraid of such study because, again, the theology welcomes scientific disciplines to help them be better instructed in it.[124]

The ability even to reproduce the sensations reported by Latter-day Saints through electrical or other mechanical manipulation would yield effectively no reason to abandon the possibility of a spiritual entity being able to produce those same sensations. It would simply mean that there are both spiritual and mechanical means by which a reaction might be able to be produced. Again, spiritual matter cannot be verified as real except by those—according to Latter-day Saint scripture—that have refined spiritual sight (see above). The fact that a naturalistic means of producing "spiritual" sensations exists does not negate the possibility of a spiritual impetus beginning the same chain of causal events that provide the same sensation. It is unlikely, in the author's view, that such will be produced in the future given the uniqueness of the experience. The experience is by its nature indescribable except to those that have actually experienced it and the thought of the experience being reproduced by such means indeed appears outlandish to faithful adherents of the tradition. What's more, Latter-day Saints would be quick to point out, as mentioned above, that spiritual impressions are not simply feelings or sensations. They are phenomena that are linked to sensations in the heart and knowledge revealed to the mind.[125]

In sum, the God Helmet wasn't what it claimed to be, it's very unlikely that something will be produced like it in the future, and even if something could potentially be produced, it wouldn't come close to capturing the experiences of Latter-day Saints when encountering the Spirit. Thus a responsible treatment of the relation between the God Helmet and the Latter-day Saint understanding of the Spirit would do well to acknowledge that these claims need, at the very least, a more complex and more nuanced expression that many aren't interested in identifying or, ideally, to be discarded entirely. Without such, claims made by critics will continue to be a gross misrepresentation of the sacral epistemic praxis of the tradition.

Illusory Truth Effect

The Illusory Truth Effect is understood as the effect that a certain data set can have on a person’s ability to think rationally as they are exposed to that same data set over and over. It has been observed since 1977 that if a person is repeatedly exposed to the same information over and over, that they will begin to believe that information no matter how irrational.[126] As one is exposed to the information repeatedly, they increase in something called processing fluency which is known as “the relative ease with which one processes information.” Criticism is applied to Latter-day Saints, based in this knowledge, in a couple of ways:

  • Some critics claim that Latter-day Saints only believe what they believe because they have grown up with it and the information they have learned has simply become “second nature” as it were.
  • Some critics point to certain statements from General Authorities from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and criticize them for the manner in which they suggest a testimony might be obtained.
For instance, the now late Elder Boyd K. Packer, another apostle of the Church, once wrote:
It is not unusual to have a missionary say, “How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?” Oh, if I could teach you this one principle. A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it! Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that “leap of faith,” as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two. “The spirit of man,” is as the scripture says, indeed “is the candle of the Lord.” (Prov. 20:27)[127]
Another apostle, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, has expressed similar sentiments about the obtainment of a testimony before.[128] Elder Gary E. Stevenson, another apostle, quoted Elder Oaks’ sentiments favorably in a magazine article he authored.[129]
Critics have also taken issue with a statement by Elder Neil L. Andersen, another apostle, who has counseled those seeking conviction of the truthfulness of Joseph Smith's claims to "[c]onsider recording the testimony of Joseph Smith in your own voice, listening to it regularly, and sharing it with friends. Listening to the Prophet’s testimony in your own voice will help bring the witness you seek."[130]
In the critics' point of view, these General Authorities are encouraging people to simply think and pray about the Church being true until they finally believe that it is.
  • Finally, Latter-day Saints are known to encourage those within their circle of influence including family and other loved ones to seek a testimony of the Gospel by the Spirit. Since the Spirit is so central to conversion in Latter-day Saint theology, it makes sense that faithful Latter-day Saints will try their best to explicate how one can obtain a testimony and invite people frequently and sincerely to try the same process out for themselves to gain that testimony. The problem is that many people have sought a testimony for many years through spiritual experience and have not received a witness. Thus, with every time that Latter-day Saints invite someone to convert, the criticism supposedly becomes more and more valid as duped individuals seek repeatedly from that invitation to accept and convert to the Church.

The criticisms have a few weaknesses.

  • The first is the double standard applied by critics. This criticism assumes that critics are not under the same effect and/or that the only direction that one should or can travel in their understanding after having been made aware of supposedly more truthful information is away from the faith.
  • The second weakness is that it doesn’t adequately account for the many Latter-day Saints who used rational processes as a supplementary means to arrive at their conversion. It neglects those that converted to the Gospel even when they were critics to it before. It neglects the many Latter-day Saints who remained serious students of the faith for a long time before having received their converting experience from the Holy Ghost. It mistakenly portrays convert Latter-day Saints as mindless automatons that simply followed peer-pressure or cultural moors to gain their testimony. It does not capture the lived experience of millions of members.
  • The third weakness of the argument is that it is often used in overly reductionist ways and doesn’t account for the deeply personal, spiritual, and intimate experiences that Latter-day Saints have as they build/have built their testimonies. It reduces the experiences' sacredness to mere biological processes when it is almost never described as such by Latter-day Saints and indeed never can be under the Latter-day Saint understanding of the soul as described above. Indeed, Latter-day Saints are generally apt to say when something is the result of simply wishful thinking or a more special impression. Latter-day Saints understand that some need to be invited to pray about the Gospel more than once and follow the instructions in Moroni 10:3-5 closely. Namely, to first ponder the mercies of God, pray with real intent (meaning that one intends on acting on the answer), with faith in Christ, believing that God can reveal the truth of the Book of Mormon to any and all of God’s children. But Latter-day Saints also know that a testimony of the Gospel sometimes needs to be built over time—that the Light can grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day as people continue in it.[131] The Spirit could be a converter to a person's heart and mind over time and with enduring effort. Thus instead of proving or disproving the reality of this Spirit, it could be that we're just speaking about the same thing from the lenses of two or more different metaphysical worldviews—Latter-day Saints from their own brand of religious materialism and critics from a naturalistic lens or at least an exclusivist religious lens that denies religious experience as a valid means of knowing truth and/or would seek to diminish the significance of the experiences and the credibility of those Latter-day Saints that claimed them.
That said, Latter-day Saints may need to be reminded that not all people will receive a testimony of the Gospel through the Holy Ghost. Some people can have the spiritual gift to believe on other people’s words who claim to have received the Spirit so that they can inherit eternal life.[132] Others don’t have faith and will simply need to continue to seek learning by study and faith.[133] It is even possible for Latter-day Saints to believe that some won’t need to convert to the faith in this life.[134] They may be converted to the faith in the next. Elder Orson F. Whitney, another apostle of the Church active at the beginning of the 20th century, stated the following:
Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. … Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted...the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people...We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense.[135]
  • For Latter-day Saints, the quotes from the General Authorities above do not represent an attempt to simply lull them into submission to the claims of the Church, but an invitation to act on faith by asking God, through petitionary prayer, to help them gain a spiritual conviction of what is claimed to be true. Latter-day Saints can testify that such a "step into the darkness" has helped many of them to gain that spiritual conviction they've been invited to seek. They theologize about how God might reward them if they do make a leap of faith in seeking a testimony. Many hold the conviction that such invitations were instrumental for their conversion and/or deepened conversion to the claims of the Church and invite others to act on those same invitations that were extended to them.

If anything, it may be said that this criticism is valid for teaching Latter-day Saints that they should indeed prove all things and hold fast to that which is good.[136] However, this criticism doesn’t seem to have any sort of deep impact on Latter-day Saint ideas of finding Light, obtaining testimony, or feeling the Spirit.

Conclusion

We see that the Latter-day Saint conception of testimony and spiritual experience does not have to be affected by knowledge of neuroscience and psychology. We have used official teachings from Church leaders and the official scriptures to dispel the misunderstandings of the use of spiritual experiences in Latter-day Saint epistemology and demonstrated that there are meaningful ways to view this information without discounting the sacred experiences that Latter-day Saints have sought after and hold dear to their hearts.

Readers are encouraged to study this issue out for themselves with the Latter-day Saint conceptions of the soul, Holy Spirit, Light of Christ, angels (both good and bad), false spirits, the Devil, and God in mind and develop their own thinking relative to this subject.

Others may find more potential neuroscientific counter-explanations for feelings associated with the Latter-day Saint understanding of the Spirit. These will be added to this article as the editors become aware of the criticism.

This will certainly become an interesting and important topic of discussion for Latter-day Saint believers, leaders, theologians, and philosophers as the Church moves into its third century of existence and it will be important to have many perspectives to count on for elucidation of these important matters.[137] This is meant to act as perhaps a base for that discussion moving forward. The larger point to be made is that the claims made by critics of the Church in regard to the conception of the Holy Spirit do not affect Latter-day Saint epistemology in any negative way given the unique base of doctrinal propositions Latter-day Saints espouse with regard to the nature of the soul, the various and distinct spiritual beings that are claimed to exist, and the roles that those beings play in bringing us further from or closer to God.


Question: How can one address arguments from reliability against the use of spiritual experiences in Latter-day Saint epistemology?

Introduction to the Criticism

As part of their epistemology, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that commitment and belief in the Church and/or its doctrines may be established through spiritual experience. This is known as having with an experience with the Holy Ghost or "Holy Spirit" (Moroni 10:3-5).

Critics of the Church have questioned the use of spiritual experiences to establish commitment and belief—citing instances in which spiritual experience was used to establish belief in something and the belief turned out to be empirically invalid. Among these examples used by critics are the supposed inability of being able to discern between revelation from God and revelation from the Devil,[138] reports of members who supposedly felt the spirit during fabricated stories of Elder Paul H. Dunn, a General Authority in the Church from the 1970s to early 1990s,[139]the report of feeling the Spirit while watching or reading works of fiction,[140] the failure of spiritual experiences to provide the empirical fruit that was supposedly promised to the believer at the time of having the experience,[141] and others.

This article will provide a collection of responses to these claims for those that would like to explore these criticisms from an apologetic perspective. The Latter-day Saint understanding and framework through which spiritual experience is processed will first be explained. A brief introduction to the various criticisms with links to responses follows.

The Latter-day Saint Conception of the Soul

The Latter-day Saint conception of spiritual experience starts with the soul. Latter-day Saints believe that the body and spirit are connected as one in a form of substance monism. This union between body and spirit is denominated the soul (D&C 88:15). The body is a separate entity from the spirit, as the spirit can live independently of the body (Ether 3:16); yet when the spirit and body are connected, they are intimately and intricately intertwined and can act upon one another.[142] Thus, whenever we do something with our bodies, it affects our spirits. Whenever something occurs in our spirit, it can affect our bodies. It may be said that, at times (perhaps when the Spirit moves upon us), they can react to each other.

The Latter-day Saint Conception of the Holy Ghost, False Spirits, and Light

Latter-day Saint theology teaches that there is a spectrum of light (synonymous with "truth" in this context) that one can receive in this life that comes from God. This light is known in Latter-day Saint vernacular as “The Light of Christ” (Moroni 7:16[143]; D&C 84:46). When one receives more of God’s truth, one receives more light (D&C 50:24; D&C 84:45). When one rejects light, is persuaded towards rejecting the truth that one has already received, or one deliberately chooses to remain without the light that God has revealed, one stays away or moves away from light.[144] This is seen as sinful. The Holy Ghost is seen as the one that moves God’s children further and further into the light (D&C 84:47). The Holy Ghost works through the Light of Christ given to all people (Moroni 7:16; D&C 84:45-46). Since the Light of Christ is understood to give life and life to all things (D&C 88: 11-13), it follows that it can work on our spirit and/or our body in order to produce sensations. The Holy Ghost works in unity with God, whom Latter-day Saints believe to be of their same species—a corporeal human being with a glorified body (3 Nephi 28:10; D&C 130:22). Satan and many false spirits are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the darkness (D&C 50:2-3). All of these spiritual beings are known to be material instead of immaterial (D&C 131:7). As one receives more light, one is more receptive to receiving additional light and is seen as more sensitive to the Holy Ghost and the truth that God has revealed through prophets. As one moves away from the light, they are less and less able to perceive light. The ability to perceive light can ultimately be diminished (1 Nephi 17:45). As Elder David A. Bednar, an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has taught:

As we yield to that influence, to do good and become good, then the Light of Christ increases within us. As we disobey, light is decreased and can ultimately be diminished within us.[145]

Thus these spirits are acting on both our body and our spirit, connected together intimately (called the “soul” in Latter-day Saint theology), to persuade us to accept, reject, or stay indifferent to light and truth. Since God is assumed to be the same species as humans, it follows that he will know how to stimulate our beings in such a way as to produce a spiritual reaction. When these spirits act on us, they produce physically felt sensations. Latter-day Saints believe that all human beings have the ability to perceive that which is of God from that which is of the devil (Moroni 7:14; see also D&C 8:2) through the same power given by the Light of Christ. It is generally believed that what God has revealed to prophets is good and will inspire one to love God and serve him (Moroni 7:20-25; Joseph Smith – Matthew 1:37).

Introduction to Manner in Which Latter-day Saint Philosophers, Scholars, and Apologists Respond to Claims Against the Use of Spiritual Experiences in Latter-day Saint Epistemology

With the Latter-day Saint conception of spiritual experience and the obtainment of testimony in place, a more comprehensible learning of how believing Latter-day Saints might respond to these claims against the use of spiritual experience will naturally follow.

Ultimately, it is believed by the author that the way that one chooses to interpret these supposed instances of reliability will ultimately determine which side of the debate they reside on. Take for instance this classic optical illusion:

Old woman young woman.png

Ask yourself—which being do you see in this image, a young woman or an old hag? Is there a point that you're able to see both? What makes it so that you can see it one way or the other? The answer is that you choose how to interpret the same data in a way that you prefer. Sometimes, the data that you interpret suggests one interpretation over others. If we darkened in the eyes of the old hag more, we could make it look like it was connected to the young woman's hair and thus one interpretation of the data may be compelled. The same principle might be applied to spiritual experience. The experiences themselves are inherently self-determinable, self-verifiable, and interpreted by one's self. One can choose how to interpret spiritual experience

Consider the words of the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni (Moroni 7:14-25):

14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is aevil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the alight by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the alight of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?
21 And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.
22 For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.
23 And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come.
24 And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.
25 Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.

Do you see what he's saying? He tells the future reader of the record that they should lay hold upon every good thing, to be sure to interpret that which is good from that which is of God correctly, and to do it through the Light of Christ. But how do we do that? We pay attention to the framework provided to us "by the mouth of God through holy prophets"! When we have developed the framework through which Latter-day Saint revelation views a particular spiritual experience in a particular situation, we can carefully discern and weigh what that spiritual experience might be telling us through the framework of revelation from God to prophets. It is believed by the author that the epistemic framework provided by revelation is robust enough to the point that one will be able to choose how one interprets and believes in spiritual experience (Joshua 24:15).

Collection of Responses to Various Criticisms

Contradictory Pieces of Information to Same Question

Some wonder why it is that sometimes people claim to receive answers to prayers that are contradictory yet predicated on the same question.

Revelation from God or Satan?

Some have asked how we can tell whether a revelation is from God or Satan.

Feeling the Spirit While Listening to Exit Narratives of Former Members

One critic of the Church has asserted that he felt the Spirit while listening to the exit narratives of former members of the Church. How is this possible?

Feeling the Spirit While Watching or Reading Works of Fiction

Some critics have pointed to how a Latter-day Saint who has felt the Spirit can also feel the Spirit while watching movies such as the Lion King, Forrest Gump, or Saving Private Ryan or reading fictional books such as Les Misérables. If a person can feel the Spirit while watching fictional movies or reading fictional books, what does that say about the Spirit's ability to confirm truth?

In the case of R-rated movies such as Saving Private Ryan, Latter-day Saints have received counsel to not watch them. If a Latter-day Saint goes against this counsel and watches it anyway, why would the Spirit be present while that person went against prophetic counsel and watched it anyway?

Sometimes, members of the Church have deliberately prayed about the truthfulness of other books to a receive a similar witness that they received about the Book of Mormon's truthfulness in an attempt to prove spiritual experience an unreliable method of determining truth.

Spirit Telling People to Leave the Church

Some have asserted that they have had spiritual experiences that tell them to resign membership and/or leave The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. How might a faithful Latter-day Saint make sense of this?

Elder Paul H. Dunn

Elder Paul H. Dunn was a general authority in the Church during the 1970s up to the early 1990s. He told many fantastical stories of his time in war and playing baseball. Primarily former members of the Church have tried to point out instances in which faithful members felt the Spirit during the telling of these stories. If the Spirit was felt during a fabricated story, then what does that say about its ability to confirm truth? What is the Spirit?

Canada Copyright Revelation

Joseph Smith and two others traveled to Canada to sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon to replenish funds depleted during the book's publication in 1830. It is claimed by critics, basing their criticism in comments made by David Whitmer, that Joseph Smith (founder of the Church) reported that revelation may come from God or the Devil. Since Joseph received the revelation, and was supposedly confident it came from God but may not have, how are we supposed to know which revelations come God and which come from the Devil?

No Self-Authenticating Experience?

Some have said that all spiritual experiences are manufactured or conditioned by prior interpretive frameworks given to them by their environment. This might threaten Latter-day Saint theology since we might never then be said to be having genuine experiences that come from God. This article addresses the criticism.

False Positives

Many members of the Church have had a spiritual experience in their lives that supposedly confirmed to them that they were supposed to do something and by doing that thing, receive some sort of promised blessing. When these impressions have failed to bring the promised fruit of the endeavor, they and other critics of the Church have wondered what use the use of spiritual experiences is when they can be misleading. The answer to this question lies within the theology of the Church as recorded in the official scriptures.

Revelation that Contradicts the Prophet's

Many members of the Church have claimed (even since the Church's founding: Doctrine and Covenants 28) to have received personal revelation that contradicts the revelation that the President of the Church (who Latter-day Saints believe to be a prophet) has received on behalf of the entire Church organization.

Prophecies of Jesus Christ in Members' Patriarchal Blessings

Some claim that patriarchal blessings given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prophesy of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ within the recipient's lifetime.

Unfulfilled Promises in Patriarchal Blessings

Some have perceived that the promises given to them in patriarchal blessings have remained unfulfilled. How can one reconcile such phenomena?

Unfulfilled Prophecies of Prophets

Some allege that there are unfulfilled prophecies given by the presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This article, although focused on Joseph Smith, explores things to consider when examining such claims:

Prophetic Fallibility

Latter-day Saints do not subscribe to the doctrine of scriptural or prophetic inerrancy or infallibility. Some prophets have taught things which the Church repudiates today. Some critics ask "If the Prophet can be sure that he is right about something by dint of him receiving it from the Holy Spirit and turn out wrong, what does this say about the Spirit?"

Praying and Not Receiving A Spiritual Confirmation that the Book of Mormon is True

Latter-day Saints believe that if one prays about the Book of Mormon with real intent, having a sincere heart, and having faith in Jesus Christ, God will reveal the truth of the Book of Mormon to the agent seeking revelation.

Some critics point out that, for many people, they never receive this witness of the Book of Mormon and thus it is asked what use the Spirit is if it doesn't confirm the truth of the Book of Mormon to the heart of the person seeking revelation.

Deciding Whether or Not to Feel the Holy Ghost

Latter-day Saints often describe influences of the Holy Ghost— one dynamic and the other passive.

Some critics believe that one can simply choose when feel and when they do not feel the Holy Ghost. This is used as grounds to say that spiritual experiences are deterministic in nature.

The Argument from Diversity

In Philosophy of Religion, there is a common problem cited against the existence of God. This problem is known as the problem of diversity. It is claimed that the existence of multiple competing religious traditions is evidence that a sovereign, self-disclosing God does not exist. If God does exist, why would he (she/they/it) inspire many different, contradicting, religious truth claims?

This problem has been asked of Latter-day Saint believers in relation to the use of spiritual experiences in their epistemology. If people can use spiritual experiences to establish their commitment to other religious traditions, what does this say about your use of spiritual experience to establish your belief?

This question is a part of the big three asked about the use of spiritual experiences in Latter-day Saint epistemology: diversity (which the cited article addresses), neuroscience, and reliability (which this article is addressing).

Circularity of the Use of Spiritual Experiences

Primarily secularist critics of the Church point out that the use of spiritual experiences, and more particularly the claim that the spiritual experiences come from God, is circular reasoning. Additionally, it is usually claimed that the way that Latter-day Saints interpret competing spiritual influences is circular. Latter-day Saints hold to a particular epistemic framework when interpreting the experiences of others in other faiths and competing spiritual experiences within the faith such as revelation that contradicts the prophet as described above. This article examines the charge of circularity.

Conclusion

Latter-day Saints and others investigating the claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will benefit from learning about the robust religious epistemology held by the Church. They will be able to choose for themselves whether or not to believe in God. These articles and the articles responding to questions about diversity and neuroscience will hopefully prove that.


Question: Is the Latter-day Saint way of understanding spiritual experience guilty of circular reasoning?

Introduction to Criticism

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members believe that commitment and belief to any doctrine of the Church (primarily to commitment to and belief in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as a divine record) may be established through spiritual experience. This is known as having an experience with the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit.

Critics of the Church, particularly of a secularist persuasion, claim that to affirm that this experience gives one knowledge of any thing that is supposedly meta-truth is circular reasoning, given that one cannot prove that the experience comes from a divine source.

Members of the the Church also affirm the existence of other types of spirits and angels that perform either good or bad tasks on behalf of the divine or the devil. They also affirm the existence of a soul that is composed of the intricate and intimate union between body and spirit and the existence of God and the Devil. The assumed existence of these personages and entities informs a variety of core theological propositions relating to Latter-day Saint epistemology. For example, they inform the interpretation of the religious experience of those people belonging to different faith traditions. They are also used to counter criticism stemming from neuroscience. Finally, they inform responses to criticism of the supposed unreliability of spiritual experience to establish truth. Latter-day Saints also believe in the existence of a the divine authority of God to establish themselves as "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth" known as the priesthood.[146] Since these entities cannot be proven to exist empirically, critics assert that Latter-day Saint epistemology doesn't rest on firm grounds.

The charges of circularity are usually accompanied by criticism stemming from diversity, neuroscience, and reliability to strengthen the argument that the experiences do not come from a divine source. Responses to these criticisms can be found at the internally hyper-linked sources (light blue).

The Fallacious Latter-day Saint Understanding of this Argument

Latter-day Saints have generally formed an argument in their mind that supposedly proves the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. The argument usually takes the following form:

P1) The Book of Mormon presents a way to know that it is true--by receiving revelation from the Holy Ghost that it is true. The Book of Mormon and the Bible present a few ways to recognize the influence of the Holy Ghost.[147]

P2) I have prayed about the Book of Mormon and received what it and the other scriptures describe as the Holy Ghost.

C) Therefore, the Book of Mormon is true.

This argument, as framed currently, is not inherently circular since we have independent verification of a particular proposition. But this argument is fallacious once recognized that we can't empirically prove that the Spirit exists. What if the "Spirit" was just the reaction of chemicals within our bodies? Thus the claimed circularity.

Thus, we still haven't really answered the charge. How can we prove that the witness actually comes from an outside influence such as God? Latter-day Saints will hopefully recognize that the first argument is fallacious and that we need to provide a more robust response to the criticism.

This charge of circularity is what Latter-day Saint philosopher and theologian Blake T. Ostler has termed the “Veridicality Objection.”[148]

This article reviews that criticism and provides some avenues of response in discussions of the validity of the use of spiritual experiences in Latter-day Saint epistemology.

Review of Criticism

With an introduction to the criticism in place, we can now survey different elements of response. These elements can combine to give us a robust answer against the charge.

Recognition of the Charge as Valid

It is true that we cannot prove that spiritual experience comes from God. The recognition of the charge that it is impossible to prove empirically that spiritual experience comes from the divine is (almost paradoxically) an essential step to answering the charge.

The Logical Necessity of God at a Cognitive Distance

President Ezra Taft Benson, thirteenth President of the Church taught that "[every] man eventually is backed up to the wall of faith, and there he must make his stand."[149].

Latter-day Saint theology teaches that agency, the ability to choose between two or more options freely, is central to the human experience. Latter-day Saint scripture teaches that in premortal realms, a counsel was convened between God and his spirit children (us). In the Book of Moses where this counsel is portrayed in the most detail, God strongly emphasizes the importance of human agency.[150] This agency gave humans the ability to choose eternal life according to the power of the Christ or captivity according to the power of the Devil.[151] If there were an empirical nexus to the divine, would this not compel humans to believe in the existence of God, thus violating the agency that he supposedly granted them? This cognitive distance between us and God is actually essential to Latter-day Saint epistemology and may thus paradoxically become an evidence for its validity.

Blake T. Ostler:

To have a genuine relationship, it was necessary for persons to leave God's presence and enter into a situation where His existence, glory, and power were not obvious to make room for both moral and religious faith--a situation where persons could freely enter into a genuine relationship without being coerced to do so by the obviousness of His overwhelming power and glory. Thus, God has set us at a cognitive distance from Him out of respect for our freedom. Because such distance is necessary to permit faith, God's existence must be ambiguous. The world must be capable of appearing as if there were no God precisely to make room for us to come to a genuine relationship with him.[152]

The Logical Necessity of Subjectivity as the means of Effectuating Personal Salvation

Closely related to the preceding point is the necessity of subjectivity as a means of effectuating personal salvation. Since each individual is seeking to enter into a loving relationship with God to thereby gain salvation and exaltation, it follows that the means by which a person must be motivated to accept God with his ambiguous existence and enter into that relationship must be inextricably personal and subjective. Since we are all seeking salvation individually (as well as collectively as families), the means by which we are motivated to believe in heavenly structures, entities, laws, authorities, and so forth that give rise to the possibility of achieving salvation and knowing of its reality must be subjective and personal.

Thus it is obvious that when Latter-day Saints speak of "knowing" they don't mean it in a philosophically empirical sense, but this may be a way of "knowing" that approaches something more meaningful and align more closely with those who wrote scripture.

The Ancient Conception of "Knowledge"

The conception of "knowing" for the ancient authors of scripture was very different than the way that modern philosophers might conceptualize "knowing".

Blake T. Ostler explained:

There is a vast difference between the way the Hebrews felt we come to knowledge of truth and the way the Greeks thought of it. Whereas the Hebrews and early Christian writers of scripture constantly refer to the heart as an instrument of knowledge and choice, the philosophers rarely, if ever, do. The Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament regard the heart as the source of knowledge and authentic being. For the Greeks, the head is the place of knowing everything we know.

[. . .]

The head is a piece of complex flesh that knows only a beginning and ending. By "head" I mean that complex system that includes our brain and central nervous system, which translates sense experience and gives rise to the categories of logic, language, and thought. It knows only what can be learned through the sense of our bodies and categories of reason. The head is the source of the ego—or the categories by which we judge ourselves and create our self image.

In contrast, the heart is the home of our eternal identity. It can be opened or shut, hard or soft...The heart must be "penetrated" (D&C 1:2), "pricked" (Acts 2:37), "melted" (Josh. 2:11), or "softened" (D&C 121:4) so that truth is known, pretense is given up, and humility in God's presence can be manifested.[153]

Perhaps the Latter-day Saint understanding of knowledge should be closer to the Hebrew understanding of knowledge instead of the Greeks since they affirm the historical authenticity of their sacred texts. Since the Book of Mormon reflects this understanding of the ancient Hebrews and early Christians, it may be used as an evidence of its truthfulness and a means to provide an answer to the Greek mind which seeks to understand everything with the head.

Latter-day Saints should focus on maintaining the understanding of knowledge provided by the Hebrews and early Christians while preparing a defense for those that think like the Greeks. That seems to be the message of many scriptures[154]

The Principles of Testimony and Credulity

Christian philosophers have sought to defend the validity of religious experience as a valid means of knowing truth and especially that God exists. One in particular, Richard Swinburne, developed two principles of rationality to defend religious experience as a valid means of knowing that God exists. The first of these is known as the Principle of Credulity. The principle basically states that if a religious experience suggests to a person that a particular X is so, then so is X (Principle of Testimony). Another important part of the argument is that if we have no reason to believe that a person didn't experience something genuine, then we should accept the experience as a valid means of knowing truth. The second, known as the Principle of Credulity, stated that "those who do not have an experience of a certain type ought to believe others who say that they do in the absence of evidence of deceit or delusion and thus, although if you have a strong reason to disbelieve in the existence of God you will discount these experiences, in other cases such evidence should count towards the existence of God."[155]

Challenges have obviously arisen to the arguments such as what is known as the Argument from Inconsistent Revelations or the "Avoiding the Wrong Hell Problem".

Latter-day Saints have a robust answer to the Argument from Inconsistent Revelations outlined in this article. With an answer to that, Swinburne's original argument gains strength and Latter-day Saint epistemology gains strength.

Exhausting Other Potential Defeaters

As previously mentioned, accompanying the charge of circularity of spiritual experience are usually arguments of diversity, from neuroscience, and from unreliability against the Spirit. If we can answer all of these charges, can we logically conclude that the experience may yet still come from a divine/outside source?

We've already linked to the article responding to the Argument from Inconsistent Revelations. Below we link to articles responding to Arguments from Neuroscience and the Question of Reliability.

Top-Down Revelation

Latter-day Saints often approach deity with questions in their hearts and minds that they wish to seek answers for and believe they will receive answers for through prayer.

Additionally, Latter-day Saints often provide priesthood blessings of counsel and comfort to those that may want or need them. Two of the most extraordinary aspects of Latter-day Saint epistemology are the ability to receive a "no" to a question that the questioner wanted to receive a "yes" to in prayer and the ability to receive miraculous knowledge through miraculous experience including everything mentioned as gifts of the Spirit, warnings about eminent danger, revelation about specific people given during priesthood blessings, and other phenomena. These events can properly be described as "top-down" revelation in Latter-day Saint epistemology as this is God correcting the mental framework of the person occupying it and giving them specific knowledge that they would not otherwise have. This is distinguished from "bottom up" revelation where the subject has to correct their own state of mind before seeking revelation.[156] Requirements for this include that Latter-day Saints and other individuals interested in receiving revelation become worthy of the Spirit's influence including trusting in God enough so that they believe that he will answer,[157] and that they then ask God for inspiration. Top-down revelation is what Latter-day Saints testify to every fast and testimony meeting. We are providing evidence for the reality of the Spirit's influence as people live worthy of it and seek its whisperings.

Empirical Evidence for Restoration Scripture as Grounding Spiritual Epistemology

Another evidence that might help ground our spiritual epistemology and pneumatology comes from the rational and empirical case made by Latter-day Saint scholars and apologists over the years for the veracity of both ancient and modern revelation. If we can demonstrate evidence of the authenticity of the revelations themselves, then this could provide evidence for the framework through which Latter-day Saints understand and interpret spiritual experience.[158]

The Prophet Moroni in the Book of Mormon seems to have responded to the argument the same way—testifying that angels had visited the prophets to give them revelation about how to come unto God. God himself declared "by his own mouth" that Christ should come.[159] Obviously a certain amount of empiricism is important to ground our epistemology. If all of it were mere subjectivism, we'd have a harder problem to solve. But luckily, such is not the case for our faith.

Blake Ostler's Kantian Argument

One last potential evidence for the validity of the epistemology came from Blake Ostler at the 2007 FairMormon Conference in Utah. Ostler, basing himself in the Kantian distinction and conceptualization of noumena and phenomena, made this argument:

Now I ask again, can humans really know anything? Does the experience come from God, or do we merely interpret it to be experienced as coming from God? I’m going to deal with the strongest arguments that I know.

The first argument is “The Argument from Interpretive Framework Inherent in all Human Experience,” and these are the premises. The first premise: all human experience involves interpretation, and I guarantee you that it does; that’s true. Two, the interpretation of the experience of burning in the bosom as coming from God is something we do as humans. And three, the interpretation is therefore a human contribution to the experience and all that we really know is that we have had an experience, that we experienced it as coming from God in the experiencing of it, and we cannot know more than that.

Well, is that a good argument? It is in a sense, but the argument proves too much. Maybe at this point it makes some sense to talk about and show the kind of interpretations to human experience we have – maybe we ought to see the “dots.” I want you to stare at the black cross in the middle and watch what happens. {pause} Has it disappeared yet? If you still see the purple dots on the outside, raise your hand. Have they disappeared for anybody? Keep looking. Has the ball turned red for anybody? Green. It should turn green actually, yeah. Well, for a person who is color blind like me, it’s red; all right.

Our minds add the experience of seeing a green ball and they take away the dots because they become irrelevant to our experience. You see, there’s really more there than we’re experiencing. We filter out of our experience literally 90% to 98% of all of the sense data that come into us. We don’t even bring it to consciousness. And so, what I am showing you is that our experience is in fact interpreted, at least when it comes through our senses. So is it the case that all we are really doing when we have a spiritual experience is interpreting it as coming from God, and it’s simply up for grabs as to whether the interpretation is true or not?

I suggest that there would be no possibility of new experiences that break out of the framework of existing paradigms and world-views or our prior interpretations if all experience were necessarily limited to our pre-interpretive framework of interpretation. Yet that is precisely what a conversion experience is–it reorients one’s entire view of the world and changes and alters the interpretive framework. Thus, it must be in some sense logically and experientially prior to interpretive experience.

You can turn the overhead projector off now, people are much more interested in that then they are in me. {laughter} Oh, maybe we ought to see “rabbit/duck,” just because anybody who has studied Ludwig Wittgenstein has to see this. You probably already have, actually. In a large way, the way that we see the world is up to us. What do you see? Do you see a duck? How many see a duck? How many see a rabbit? Okay, who is right? In fact, you can change at will, once you have learned how to see it, you can change at will the way you see this figure. And in a large way, the way that we can choose to see our experience is precisely like this. We can choose to organize our experience to see it in different ways. I suggest that in the experiencing of religious experience, this is often what is happening; we’re choosing to see different things and experience different things because of our pre-interpretive framework.

But I’m suggesting that that’s not all there is to experience, there’s more to experience than mere interpretation, and this argument isn’t any good unless all of our experience is simply interpretation. As I said, the spiritual experience must in some sense be logically and experientially prior to our interpretive experience because it reorients our experience. It gives us a new way of seeing. Moreover, if the experience rearranges and replaces the framework so that it is the framework or categories, then it is not interpreted experience, but interpretive, and the bases for all further experience as such.

Now this argument also assumes that the entirety of what is experienced is interpretive. But there is more than interpretation that gives content to our experience, and the experience of the burning in the heart and the inspiration as coming from God is, in fact, good reason to believe that it does in fact, come from God; because that’s how we experience it.

If all we ever did were to regurgitate our prior categories of thought or fixed framework of beliefs, then there could never be anything novel or creatively new things. No new scientific theories could emerge, new inventions would be impossible and new revelations could never happen because all we would do is regurgitate what we already know. But that’s not the way human life is, so I suggest that the argument isn’t valid.[160]

Ostler's argument makes a lot of sense in light of scriptures such as Doctrine and Covenants 8:2 in which God is said to speak to both our mind and our heart. If he can speak to both at the same time, then the experience of the Spirit likely must be a noumenon. If the experiences are noumena, then this can be used as good evidence for the validity of seeking spiritual knowledge and believing in its validity.

Conclusion

Taken together, these can combine to provide Latter-day Saints a robust answer to the Veridicality Objection and sustain this central part of their noetic structure for further conversion and retention efforts.


Source: K. Codell Carter: "Epistemology" in Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature and scope of knowledge. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no uniform position on the classical issues of epistemology, such as the relationship of the sources of knowledge, theories of truth, and modes of verification, but the superiority of knowing by revelation from God is commonly cited from the scriptures.

The word "knowledge" is used in different ways and has different meanings in different cultures. Different kinds of knowledge may be independent of each other.

The Western philosophical tradition, like Western thought generally, emphasizes knowledge in the sense of knowing facts. But this emphasis may not be appropriate, especially from a gospel perspective. Some scriptures teach that other kinds of knowledge may be more important. Thus, Jesus prays, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). This is knowledge by acquaintance more than "knowledge about" (cf. JST Matt. 7:32-33). There are also indications that factual knowledge alone is not sufficient for salvation: "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22). At the request of President Spencer W. Kimball, a prophet, the words in a LDS children's hymn were changed from "Teach me all that I must know" to "Teach me all that I must do," because it is not enough just to know; one must do the will of the Lord.

A related gospel theme is that knowing comes from doing. "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John 7:17). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, "We cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received" (TPJS, p. 256).

In formal philosophy, "knowing," in the sense of knowing facts, is often defined to mean true belief together with good reasons. In other words, a person knows some statement X if and only if that person believes X, and if X is true, and if the person has good reasons for believing X. The European-American philosophical tradition recognizes two kinds of reasons that support the claim to know: rational argument and empirical evidence. Within the Church these are tacitly accepted as sources of knowledge, sometimes even of religious knowledge. For example, after reviewing the traditional arguments for the existence of God, James E. Talmage observed that some were "at least strongly corroborative" of God's existence (AF, p. 29).

However, there is a continuing tradition, based on the scriptures and reinforced by modern Church leaders, that specifically religious knowledge requires a different and distinctively spiritual source. "We believe that no man can know that Jesus is the Christ, but by the Holy Ghost. We believe in [the gift of the Holy Ghost] in all its fulness, and power, and greatness, and glory" (TPJS, p. 243; D&C 76:114-116). It is widely accepted by Latter-day Saints that gospel knowledge must ultimately be obtained by spiritual rather than exclusively rational or empirical means (e.g., 1 Cor. 12:3). Thus, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is no clear counterpart to the Roman Catholic tradition of natural theology.

One of the most suggestive and frequently cited scriptures in LDS teaching makes the point: "And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things" (Moro. 10:4-5). This scripture is usually taken to apply to all knowledge. This suggests that both rational argument and empirical evidence, the two traditional approaches to knowledge, can be either supplanted by or encompassed within spiritual knowledge. Of course, the scripture does not say that knowledge comes only by the Holy Ghost. Yet, within the Church, it is often held that what might be thought of as secular learning, for example, modern scientific knowledge, is directly associated with the restoration of the gospel and is rooted in divine inspiration throughout the world.[161]


Encyclopedia of Mormonism (Ralph C. Hancock): "Reason and Revelation"

LDS teaching affirms the supreme authority of divine revelation. However, revelation is not understood as an impediment to rational inquiry but as the framework within which the natural human desire to know can most vigorously and fruitfully be exercised. In traditional Judaism and Islam, revelation is mainly seen as law, and the orthodox life of pious obedience is incompatible with the questioning spirit of philosophic life (see World Religions (Non-Christian) and Mormonism] and Mormonism, Mormons). The Christian view of religion as belief or faith and of revelation as teachings or doctrine has encouraged a perennial interest in reconciling the authority of revealed religion with that of reason. Thus, among revealed religions, Christianity has been the most open-and the most vulnerable-to the claims of reason.

The theological tradition of medieval Christianity viewed the Gospels as a supernatural fulfillment of the brilliant but partial insights of natural reason as represented by Greek philosophers, especially Plato and Aristotle. The Christian philosophers Augustine and Aquinas agreed with their pagan predecessors that reason is the noblest natural human faculty, but argued that it cannot reach God, its true end, without the aid of revelation. Thus, revelation was held to be superior, but even this superiority was to some extent defined by a view of the good inherited from pre-Christian philosophy.

The founders of the Protestant tradition attacked this alliance between classical philosophy and the gospel, and tended to limit reason to an instrumental status. So limited, however, the Protestants viewed the exercise of reason as redounding to the glory of God. In this way, the Reformation laid the foundation for the later alliance between faith and technological science.

The LDS understanding of this issue rests upon foundations equally distinct from Protestant and Catholic traditions. LDS doctrine emphasizes the continuity between the natural and the divine realms, a continuity founded in part on the eternal importance of human understanding. But Latter-day Saints do not see the dignity of the mind as the sole basis of this continuity. Rather, they look to the exaltation of the whole person-not only as a knower of truth but also as a servant of the Lord and a source of blessings to one's fellow beings and one's posterity. In contrast to other Christian and Jewish traditions, moreover, LDS teaching emphasizes the necessity of present and future revelation, both to the individual and to the Church, in the pursuit of all these ends.

Warnings against the arrogance of human reason are common and founded in scripture. Thus, the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob decries "the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God" (2 Ne. 9:28-29). He thus announces a theme-the goodness of learning-that is almost as prominent in LDS teaching as the necessity of revelation, especially in the Doctrine and Covenants, where the Saints are enjoined to pursue learning of all kinds by "study" as well as by "faith" (D&C 88:78-79, 118).

Though one purpose of rational inquiry is to enhance missionary work (D&C 88:80), the goodness of learning transcends any practical applications. Indeed, this intellectual goodness is linked directly and intrinsically with the exaltation of the individual, whose nature must conform to the "conditions" or "law" of the kingdom he or she attains: "For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light" (D&C 88:38-40). Such perfections also pertain to natural human faculties, directed and aided by general and personal revelation, for ultimately the light that "enlighteneth your eyes" and "quickeneth your understandings" is the "Light of Christ," the "light of truth…which is in all things" (D&C 88:6, 7, 11, 13; cf. Moro. 7:16-25).

Revealed light and natural light are not completely distinct categories. Revelation engages natural reason and indeed may build upon it. It is sometimes described in LDS teaching as "a still voice of perfect mildness" able to "pierce unto the very soul" (Hel. 5:21-31) or as a spirit that resonates with the mind to produce a feeling of "pure intelligence" or "sudden strokes of ideas" (TPJS, p. 151). It is thus appropriate to seek and prepare for revelation by the effort of reason: "You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right" (D&C 9:8).

LDS teaching encourages a distinct openness to the intrinsic as well as instrumental goodness of the life of the mind, an openness founded on the continuity between the human and divine realms. The full exercise of human reason under the direction of revelation holds a high place among the virtuous and praiseworthy ends to be sought by the Saints (A of F 13), for the scripture promises that "whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection," and the more "knowledge and intelligence" one gains through "diligence and obedience," the greater "the advantage in the world to come" (D&C 130:18-19). This emphasis on intellectual development in human progress toward godhood accords with the fundamental doctrine that is the official motto of Brigham Young University-namely, that "the glory of God is intelligence" (D&C 93:36).

Equated with "light and truth," such intelligence by nature "forsake[s] that evil one" (D&C 93:37). It cannot be simply identified with conventional measures of "intelligence" or with the Greek philosophic idea of a pure, immaterial, and self-directed intelligence, a concept that was very influential in medieval theology. For Latter-day Saints, the attainment of intelligence must be integrated with the labor of shaping the material world and binding together families and generations, for "the elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy" (D&C 93:33). To the doctrine that "the glory of God is intelligence," one must add God's statement to Moses that "this is my work and my glory-to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39).[162]

Notes

  1. Webster's Dictionary, "Epistemology" <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epistemology> (accessed 3 January 2019)
  2. This is essentially the view that biblical scholars recognize as being advocated in the Bible. Donald R. Potts, "Body" in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible ed., David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000) 194; Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., "Soul" Ibid., 1245; Alice Ogden Bellisb, "Spirit" Ibid., 1248.
  3. See The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Chapter 4: How do I recognize and understand the Spirit?" in Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004), 98.
  4. President M. Russell Ballard, "Now Is the Time,” Ensign (November 2000), 75
  5. Brant Gardner has brought up some valid issues about the specificity of this prophecy (especially the inclusion of the name of the prophet being the same as Joseph of Egypt) in translation of the plate text at this point of the Book of Mormon—attributing it to Joseph Smith. The verses surrounding v. 15 are enough however to establish that Lehi is looking towards the future and that he has a specific person in mind. There does not seem to be any other viable fulfillment of this prophecy than the translation of the Book of Mormon through the Prophet Joseph Smith. This gives us the proposition ready to be verified by revelation that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. See Brant Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon Vol 2. Second Nephi-Jacob (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 2:55-9.
  6. Blake T. Ostler, Fire on the Horizon: A Meditation on the Endowment and Love of Atonement (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 82-3, 84. ISBN: 9781589585539
  7. This is exactly the view that biblical scholars recognize as being advocated in the Bible. Donald R. Potts, "Body" in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible ed., David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000),194; Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., "Soul" Ibid., 1245; Alice Ogden Bellisb, "Spirit" Ibid., 1248. This is also the same understanding advocated in the Book of Mormon. Dennis A. Wright, “Soul” in Book of Mormon Reference Companion ed., Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company, 2003), 734; Noel B. Reynolds, "The Language of the Spirit in the Book of Mormon" Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 187-222 (193). off-site. The Doctrine and Covenants accords with this understanding. See Larry Evans Dahl, “Soul” in Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion eds., Dennis L. Largey and Larry E. Dahl (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company, 2012), 619. There is nothing in the Pearl of Great Price that contradicts this understanding. See Andrew C. Skinner, "Spirit(s)" in Pearl of Great Price Reference Companion ed., Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company, 2017), 280-1; Dennis L. Largey, “Soul” Ibid., 279-8. This understanding makes it so that the noumenon/phenomenon distinction disappears in Latter-day Saint theology. See Blake T. Ostler, "Ep71-Knowledge is Being (Pt 1) - Vol 5" Exploring Mormon Thought. January 17, 2019. <http://www.exploringmormonthought.com/2019/01/topics-discussed-a.html> Accessed October 16, 2019.
  8. Here the term used is “Spirit of Christ”. It is understood that this is synonymous with “Light of Christ”. See Alan L. Wilkins, “The Light of Christ” in Book of Mormon Reference Companion ed., Dennis L. Largey, 521.
  9. See “Darkness, Spiritual in the Scripture Index on churchofjesuschrist.org
  10. Elder David A. Bednar, “Patterns of Light: The Light of Christ” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. <https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/inspiration/latter-day-saints-channel/watch/series/mormon-messages/patterns-of-light-the-light-of-christ-1?lang=eng> Accessed October 5, 2019.
  11. Brigham Young, (6 October 1855) Journal of Discourses 3:45.
  12. Doctrine and Covenants 42:61.
  13. Neal A. Maxwell, “Meek and Lowly” (Brigham Young University devotional, Oct. 21, 1986), 9, speeches.byu.edu.
  14. See 2 Nephi 32:3.
  15. President Russell M. Nelson, "Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives," General Conference (April 2018).
  16. Brant Gardner has brought up some valid issues about the specificity of this prophecy (especially the inclusion of the name of the prophet being the same as Joseph of Egypt) in translation of the plate text at this point of the Book of Mormon—attributing it to Joseph Smith. The verses surrounding v. 15 are enough however to establish that Lehi is looking towards the future and that he has a specific person in mind. There does not seem to be any other viable fulfillment of this prophecy than the translation of the Book of Mormon through the Prophet Joseph Smith. This gives us the proposition ready to be verified by revelation that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. See Brant Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon Vol 2. Second Nephi-Jacob (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 2:55-9.
  17. Brant Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon; Vol. 6 4 Nephi – Moroni (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007) 6:407.
  18. Moroni 10:3-5.
  19. Grant H. Palmer, Insider’s View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 130–33; Jeremy T. Runnells, CES Letter: My Search for Answers to my Mormon Doubts (n.p.: CES Letter Foundation, 2017), 75.
  20. Doctrine and Covenants 1:30
  21. Jana Riess, The Next Mormons: How Millenials are Changing the LDS Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), 224–25. Reactions to Riess’ work have been mixed. For a positive review, see Armand L. Mauss, “The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church by Jana Riess,” Journal of Mormon History 45, no. 3 (July 2019): 133–42. For a slightly more critical review, see Stephen Cranney, “The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church,” BYU Studies 58, no. 2 (2019): 177–83.
  22. 2 Nephi 2:28
  23. Dennis Potter, “Restored Epistemology: A Communicative Pluralist Answer to Religious Diversity,” Element 1, no. 2 (Fall 2005): 85–95. Important exceptions exist: Blake Ostler and Corey Ostler, “EP70-FAITH, REASON, & SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE - VOL 5,” January 20, 2019, in Exploring Mormon Thought, podcast, MP3 audio, http://www.exploringmormonthought.com/2019/01/topics-discussed-of-religious.html?m=; “EP71-KNOWLEDGE IS BEING (PT 1) - VOL 5,” January 27, 2019, in Exploring Mormon Thought, podcast, MP3 audio, http://www.exploringmormonthought.com/2019/01/topics-discussed-a.html?m=1; “EP72-KNOWLEDGE IS BEING (PT 2) - VOL 5,” February 03, 2019, in Exploring Mormon Thought, podcast, MP3 audio, http://www.exploringmormonthought.com/2019/02/ep72-knowledge-is-being-pt-2-vol-5.html?m=1; “EP73-MORMONISM AND OTHER FAITHS - VOL 5,” February 17, 2019, in Exploring Mormon Thought, podcast, MP3 audio, http://www.exploringmormonthought.com/2019/02/ep73-mormonism-and-other-faiths-vol-5.html?m=1.
  24. Doctrine and Covenants 84:45
  25. Moroni 7:16. Here the term used is “Spirit of Christ." It is understood that this is synonymous with “Light of Christ.” See Alan L. Wilkins, “The Light of Christ,” in Book of Mormon Reference Companion, ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2003), 521. See also Doctrine and Covenants 84:46. On the materiality of spirit, see Doctrine and Covenants 131:7.
  26. Doctrine and Covenants 50:24
  27. See “Darkness, Spiritual in the Scripture Index on churchofjesuschrist.org
  28. 2 Nephi 32: 2-3; Doctrine and Covenants 84:47
  29. Moroni 7:16; Doctrine and Covenants 84:45-46
  30. Doctrine and Covenants 88: 11-13
  31. Doctrine and Covenants 8:2
  32. Moroni 7:17; Doctrine and Covenants 50:2-3
  33. Doctrine and Covenants 131:7
  34. Doctrine and Covenants 123:11-17
  35. Alma 24:30; Alma 47:36
  36. 1 Nephi 17:45; Jacob 6:8
  37. David A. Bednar, “Patterns of Light: The Light of Christ,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed October 5, 2019, video, 1:45, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/inspiration/latter-day-saints-channel/watch/series/mormon-messages/patterns-of-light-the-light-of-christ-1?lang=eng.
  38. Moroni 7:14
  39. Moroni 7:20-25; Joseph Smith – Matthew 1:37
  40. Doctrine and Covenants 131:7-8
  41. See Blake Ostler, "The Doctrine Of Creation Ex Nihilo Is A Big Fuss Over Nothing," FAIR Papers, accessed September 13, 2021, https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/archive/publications/reviews-of-the-new-mormon-challenge/the-doctrine-of-creation-ex-nihilo-is-a-big-fuss-over-nothing; "Part 3: Do Kalam Infinity Arguments Apply To The Infinite Past?," FAIR Papers, September 13, 2021, https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/archive/publications/reviews-of-the-new-mormon-challenge/the-doctrine-of-creation-ex-nihilo-do-kalam-infinity-arguments-apply-to-the-infinite-past. Young Latter-day Saint philosopher Joseph Lawal has also created a video on the subject. Joseph Lawal, “William Lane Craig's Attack on Latter-day Saint Cosmology (Part 1)," YouTube, August 20, 2020, video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uG2EUGsLh4k.
  42. One may notice here that this argument has been carefully crafted so as to not rule out a Latter-day Saint believing in emergentism in the philosophy of mind. The author and indeed other Latter-day Saint philosophers are attracted to the view as it preserves free will.
  43. Alma 29:8
  44. 2 Nephi 29:11-13
  45. Doctrine and Covenants 134:4
  46. Amos 9:7; Jonah 1; Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8. These four are affirmed to mean that God inspires other nations and people with light in James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 44. See also Luke 9:49-50.
  47. Statement of the First Presidency regarding God’s Love for All Mankind,” February 15, 1978.
  48. Joseph Smith left clear revelation that the canonized scriptures should govern the Church (Doctrine and Covenants 42:12–13, 56–60; 105:58–59).This since they have been revealed by the Lord's duly appointed prophet (the only one authorized to receive revelation on behalf of the entire Church) (Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5; Doctrine and Covenants 28:2), submitted to and approved by all members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve,(Doctrine and Covenants 107:27), and submitted to the general body of the Church for ratification (Doctrine and Covenants 26:2; 28:13). Scripture should be read contextually (that is, in the historical context of the people who would have first heard the revelation) and holistically (seeing everything scripture has to say on the topic at hand) to acquire accurate theological conceptions that members judge every person's doctrine against. This article explains in more detail how to read the scriptures.
  49. Doctrine and Covenants 123:12-13.
  50. Some Latter-day Saints believe there are multiple levels in the Celestial Kingdom but it has been persuasively demonstrated that this belief rests on a misreading of scripture. See Shannon Flynn, "Three sub-degrees in the Celestial Kingdom?" By Common Consent, April 18, 2018, https://bycommonconsent.com/2018/04/18/three-sub-degrees-in-the-celestial-kingdom/.
  51. Doctrine and Covenants 76:50-80
  52. On historical plausibility, see John Gee and Stephen D. Ricks, "Historical Plausibility: The Historicity of the Book of Abraham as a Case Study," in Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2001), 63–98.
  53. See Brant A. Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015); Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007); John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company; Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2013); John Welch, ed., Knowing Why: 137 Evidences that the Book of Mormon is True (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2017); Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997). For an overview of evidence for the Book of Abraham, see here. For evidence for the Book of Moses see Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, In God's Image and Likeness (Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Books, 2009); Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and David Larson, In God's Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel (Provo, UT: Interpreter Foundation, 2014). For the Joseph Smith Translation, see Robert J. Matthews, "A Plainer Translation" - Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1985).
  54. Kyler Rassmussen, “Estimating the Evidence Episode 0: On Quantifying Skepticism,” The Interpreter Foundation, June 30, 2021, https://interpreterfoundation.org/estimating-the-evidence-0/
  55. Blake T. Ostler, "Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment," (presentation, FAIR Conference, Provo, UT, 2007).
  56. Abraham 3:18
  57. 1 Peter 3:15
  58. Doctrine and Covenants 88:118
  59. Abraham 3:22-23
  60. Moses 4:1-3.
  61. Blake T. Ostler, Fire on the Horizon: A Meditation on the Endowment and Love of Atonement (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 17.
  62. 1 Nephi 4:7, 8
  63. Philippians 2:12
  64. Doctrine and Covenants 82:3
  65. Alma 32:28-43. Blake Ostler has characterized Alma’s approach to knowledge as a reliabilist and pragmatic form of epistemology. See his insightful analysis in Blake T. Ostler, “An Ingenious and Inspiring Literary Analysis of Alma 30–42,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 45 (2021): 127–29.
  66. 1 Nephi 11:25; 15:24; Moroni 7:20-25; Doctrine and Covenants 42:56-60
  67. 1 Nephi 11:25
  68. 1 John 4:8
  69. Moroni 10:3-5
  70. Bill Reel, "Cognitive Dissidents: 004: The Backfire Effect," Mormon Discussions, accessed July 21, 2019, https://mormondiscussionpodcast.org/2017/09/premium-cognitive-dissidents-004-backfire-effect/.
  71. Bob McCue, “Van Hale’s ‘Mormon Miscellaneous’ Radio Talk Show,” Version 3. September 20, 2004.
  72. Bill Reel, “Cognitive Dissidents: 002: Confirmation Bias,” Mormon Discussions, accessed October 9, 2019, https://mormondiscussionpodcast.org/2017/08/premium-cognitive-dissidents-002-confirmation-bias/.
  73. James K. Rogers, "How Can We Find Truth? Part 4," The Amateur Thinker, accessed July 21, 2019, http://www.theamateurthinker.com/2011/02/how-can-we-find-truth-part-4/.
  74. Michael Brown, "Testimony/Feeling the Spirit," Mormon Stories, accessed April 4, 2021, https://www.mormonstories.org/truth-claims/mormon-culture/testimony-feeling-the-spirit/.
  75. "Illusory Truth Effect," Stuff You Missed in Sunday School, accessed July 21, 2019, https://www.missedinsunday.com/memes/other/illusory-truth-effect/.
  76. Samantha Shelley, "Let's Talk about ‘The Spirit’," Zelph on the Shelf, accessed July 21, 2019, https://zelphontheshelf.com/lets-talk-about-the-spirit/.
  77. Doctrine and Covenants 88:15
  78. Ether 3:16
  79. This makes it so that the Latter-day Saint concept of the soul is much more consonant with the view scholars recognize as being advocated in the Bible. Donald R. Potts, "Body,” in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 194; Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., "Soul," Ibid., 1245; Alice Ogden Bellisb, "Spirit," Ibid., 1248. This is also the same understanding advocated in the Book of Mormon. Dennis A. Wright, “Soul,” in Book of Mormon Reference Companion, ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2003), 734; Noel B. Reynolds, "The Language of the Spirit in the Book of Mormon," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 193. The Doctrine and Covenants accords with this understanding. See Larry Evans Dahl, “Soul,” in Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, eds. Dennis L. Largey and Larry E. Dahl (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2012), 619. There is nothing in the Pearl of Great Price that contradicts this understanding. See Andrew C. Skinner, "Spirit(s)," in Pearl of Great Price Reference Companion, ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2017), 280–81; Dennis L. Largey, “Soul,” Ibid., 279–80. Additionally, it makes it so that Latter-day Saints can have a variety of unique and effective potential solutions to the "mind-body problem" in philosophy.
  80. Doctrine and Covenants 131:7
  81. Doctrine and Covenants 8:2
  82. Doctrine and Covenants 84:45
  83. Moroni 7:16. Here the term used is “Spirit of Christ." It is understood that this is synonymous with “Light of Christ.” See Alan L. Wilkins, “The Light of Christ,” Book of Mormon Reference Companion, 521. See also Doctrine and Covenants 84:46
  84. Doctrine and Covenants 50:24
  85. See “Darkness, Spiritual in the Scripture Index on churchofjesuschrist.org
  86. 2 Nephi 32: 2-3; Doctrine and Covenants 84:47
  87. Moroni 7:16; Doctrine and Covenants 84:45-46
  88. Doctrine and Covenants 88: 11-13
  89. Doctrine and Covenants 8:2
  90. Moroni 7:17; Doctrine and Covenants 50:2-3
  91. Doctrine and Covenants 123:11-17
  92. Alma 24:30; Alma 47:36
  93. 1 Nephi 17:45; Jacob 6:8
  94. David A. Bednar, “Patterns of Light: The Light of Christ,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed October 5, 2019, video, 1:45, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/inspiration/latter-day-saints-channel/watch/series/mormon-messages/patterns-of-light-the-light-of-christ-1?lang=eng.
  95. Moroni 7:14
  96. Moroni 7:20-25; Joseph Smith – Matthew 1:37
  97. Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-79
  98. Doctrine and Covenants 131:7-8
  99. As a potential example of the latter, consider the work done by scientists at the University of Utah that showed that the reward centers of the brain lit up when Latter-day Saints reported feeling the Spirit: Michael A. Ferguson, Jared A. Nielsen, Jace B. King, Li Dai, Danielle M. Giangrasso, Rachel Holman, Julie R. Korenberg & Jeffrey S. Anderson, "Reward, salience, and attentional networks are activated by religious experience in devout Mormons," Social Neuroscience 13, no. 1 (2018): 104–116. Other research appears to have built upon these conclusions to provide more solid neural correlates for spiritual experiences. Lisa Miller, Iris M Balodis, Clayton H McClintock, Jiansong Xu, Cheryl M Lacadie, Rajita Sinha, Marc N Potenza, "Neural Correlates of Personalized Spiritual Experiences," Cerebral Cortex 29, no. 6 (2019): 2331– 2338; Brick Johnstone and Daniel Cohen, "Universal Neuropsychological Model of Spiritual Transcendence," Neuroscience, Selflessness, and Spiritual Experience (Cambridge, MA: Academic Press, 2019), 131–143.
  100. Robert Todd Caroll, “Backfire Effect,” Skepdic, accessed October 7, 2019, http://www.skepdic.com/backfireeffect.html.
  101. Eileen Dombrowski, “Facts matter after all: rejecting the ‘backfire effect’,” Oxford Education Blog, accessed October 7, 2019, https://educationblog.oup.com/theory-of-knowledge/facts-matter-after-all-rejecting-the-backfire-effect.
  102. 1 Corinthians 4:5
  103. Articles of Faith 1:9; Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-79; Doctrine and Covenants 101:32-33
  104. Doctrine and Covenants 128:1
  105. John 16:8
  106. 1 Nephi 7:15; 2 Nephi 28:1; 32:7; Alma 14:11; Mormon 3:16; Ether 12:2
  107. Doctrine and Covenants 88:118
  108. Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9
  109. This relates to what philosophers of religion call the Problem of Divine Hiddenness. See Daniel Howard-Snyder and Adam Green, "Hiddenness of God," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed January 4, 2021, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/divine-hiddenness/.
  110. Jonathan Haidt, "The Positive Emotion of Elevation," Prevention & Treatment 3, no. 1 (March 2000).
  111. Karl Aquino, Brent McFerran, and Marjorie Laven, "Moral identity and the experience of moral elevation in response to acts of uncommon goodness," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 100, no. 4 (April 2011): 703–718.
  112. Ibid.
  113. Jennifer Silvers and Jonathan Haidt, "Moral Elevation Can Induce Nursing," Emotion 8, no. 2 (2008): 291–295.
  114. Mosiah 2:17
  115. Alma 16:16-17
  116. Doctrine and Covenants 8:2. This should be recognized whether the experience is "top down" or "bottom up" revelation.
  117. "Frisson," Wikipedia, accessed May 3, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frisson.
  118. Lesley Ruttan, Michael Persinger, and Stanley Koren, "Enhancement of Temporal Lobe-Related Experiences During Brief Exposures to MilliGauss Intensity Extremely Low Frequency Magnetic Fields," Journal of Bioelectricity 9, no. 1 (1990): 33–54.
  119. Roxanne Khamsi, "Electrical brainstorms busted as source of ghosts," Nature (December 2004).
  120. C.C. French et al., "The 'Haunt' project: An attempt to build a 'haunted' room by manipulating complex electromagnetic fields and infrasound," Cortex 45, no. 5 (2009): 619–629.
  121. M. Van Elk, "An EEG study on the effects of induced spiritual experiences on somatosensory processing and sensory suppression," Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion 2, no. 2 (2014): 121–57.
  122. Christine Simmonds-Moore et al., “Exceptional Experiences Following Exposure to a Sham 'God Helmet': Evidence for Placebo, Individual Difference, and Time of Day Influences,” Sage Journals 39, no. 1 (2019): 44–87.
  123. 2 Nephi 33:1-2. This has been the argument in response to another argument against the Spirit which can be found here.
  124. Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-79
  125. See again Doctrine and Covenants 8:2.
  126. Lynn Hasher, David Goldstien, and Thomas Toppino, "Frequency and the conference of referential validity," Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 16, no. 1 (1977): 107–112.
  127. Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord," Ensign 13, no. 1 (January 1983): 54; Boyd K. Packer, "The Quest for Spiritual Knowledge," New Era 36, no. 1 (January 2007): 6. Both sources cited are reprintings of a talk given at a seminar for new mission presidents on June 25, 1982. This talk was quoted in Jeremy T. Runnells, CES Letter: My Search for Answers to my Mormon Doubts (n.p.: CES Letter Foundation, 2017), 78. <https://cesletter.org/CES-Letter.pdf>
  128. Dallin H. Oaks, “Testimony,” Ensign 38, no. 5 (May 2008): 27. “We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it. Someone even suggested that some testimonies are better gained on the feet bearing them than on the knees praying for them.”
  129. Gary E. Stevenson, "Testimony: Sharing in Word and Deed," New Era 49, no. 3 (March 2019): 4.
  130. Neil L. Andersen, "Joseph Smith," Ensign 44, no. 11 (November 2014): 30. Quoted in Runnells, CES Letter, 78.
  131. Alma 32: 27-43; Doctrine and Covenants 50:24
  132. Doctrine and Covenants 46:13-14
  133. Doctrine and Covenants 88:118
  134. Matthew 7:14; Luke 9:49-50; 1 Nephi 8:20 (19-24); 3 Nephi 27:33; Doctrine and Covenants 22:4; (1-4); 43:7; 137:7-8.
  135. Orson F. Whitney, "Outside and Inside Auxiliaries," and "Israel and the Gentiles," Conference Report (April 1928): 59. This was cited in Ezra Taft Benson, "Civic Standards for Faithful Saints," General Conference (April 1972). He offered Thomas L. Kane and Alexander Doniphan as examples to support this same point.
  136. 1 Thessalonians 5:21
  137. Nathan B. Oman, “Welding Another Link in Wonder’s Chain: The Task of Latter-day Saint Intellectuals in the Church’s Third Century,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 32 (2019): 141–60.
  138. Jeremy T. Runnells, CES Letter: My Search for Answers to my Mormon Doubts, (American Fork, UT: CES Letter Foundation, 2017), 76. <https://cesletter.org/CES-Letter.pdf>
  139. Ibid., 77. This criticism is also sometimes applied to a situation with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle in the Church that is currently active in his service. See John Dehlin, "Testimony/Feeling the Spirit," <https://www.mormonstories.org/truth-claims/mormon-culture/testimony-feeling-the-spirit/> (25 October 2019).
  140. Runnells, CES Letter, 79.
  141. Ibid.
  142. This is exactly the view that biblical scholars recognize as being advocated in the Bible. Donald R. Potts, "Body," Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000),194; Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., "Soul," Ibid., 1245; Alice Ogden Bellisb, "Spirit," Ibid., 1248. This is also the same understanding advocated in the Book of Mormon. Dennis A. Wright, “Soul,” Book of Mormon Reference Companion (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2003), 734; Noel B. Reynolds, "The Language of the Spirit in the Book of Mormon" Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 187-222 (193). The Doctrine and Covenants accords with this understanding. See Larry Evans Dahl, “Soul,” Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2012), 619. There is nothing in the Pearl of Great Price that contradicts this understanding. See Andrew C. Skinner, "Spirit(s)," Pearl of Great Price Reference Companion (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2017), 280-1; Dennis L. Largey, “Soul,” Ibid., 279-80. This understanding makes it so that the noumenon/phenomenon distinction in Kantian philosophy (esp.) disappears in Latter-day Saint theology. See Blake T. Ostler, "Ep71-Knowledge is Being (Pt 1) - Vol 5," <http://www.exploringmormonthought.com/2019/01/topics-discussed-a.html> (16 October 2019).
  143. Here the term used is “Spirit of Christ”. It is understood that this is synonymous with “Light of Christ”. See Alan L. Wilkins, “The Light of Christ,” Book of Mormon Reference Companion, 521.
  144. See “Darkness, Spiritual in the Scripture Index on churchofjesuschrist.org
  145. Elder David A. Bednar, “Patterns of Light: The Light of Christ,” <https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/inspiration/latter-day-saints-channel/watch/series/mormon-messages/patterns-of-light-the-light-of-christ-1?lang=eng> (5 October 2019).
  146. (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30).
  147. See Preach My Gospel Chapter 4 "How Do I Recognize and Understand the Spirit?" under the personal and companionship activity in "Learn to Recognize the Promptings of the Spirit" <https://www.lds.org/study/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service/how-do-i-recognize-and-understand-the-spirit?lang=eng> (13 March 2019).
  148. Blake T. Ostler, "Ep 71 - Knowledge is being (Pt. 1) - Vol 5," <http://www.exploringmormonthought.com/2019/01/topics-discussed-a.html> (28 October 2019).
  149. Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon is the Word of God,” General Conference (April 1975).
  150. (Moses 4:1-3).
  151. (2 Nephi 2:27-28).
  152. Blake T. Ostler, Fire on the Horizon: A Meditation on the Endowment and Love of Atonement, (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 17.
  153. Blake T. Ostler, Fire on the Horizon, 82-3, 84.
  154. (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 1:3; D&C 71:7-9; D&C 88:118).
  155. Wikipedia, "Argument from Religious Experience," <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_religious_experience> (2 December 2019).
  156. (D&C 9:7-9).
  157. (Matthew 14:21; Mosiah 2:37; Alma 7:21; Mormon 9:27; D&C 6:36D&C 97:17).
  158. See Brant A. Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015); Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007); John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book Company, 2013); John Welch et al., Knowing Why: 137 Evidences that the Book of Mormon is True (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2017); Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997). For an overview of evidence for the Book of Abraham, see here. For evidence for the Book of Moses see Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, In God's Image and Likeness (Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Books, 2009); Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and David Larson, In God's Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel (Provo, UT: Interpreter Foundation, 2014).
  159. (Moroni 7:20-25).
  160. Blake T. Ostler, "Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Commitment and Belief," FAIR Conference 2007 (19 September 2019).
  161. K. Codell Carter, "Epistemology" in Encyclopedia of Mormonism (ed.) Daniel Ludlow (New York: Macmilllan Publishing Company, 1992; 2007) off-site
  162. Ralph C. Hancock, "Reason and Revelation" in Encyclopedia of Mormonism (ed.) Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1992; 2007) off-site