Podcast: Download (10.0MB)
FAIR Questions features a question that was submitted to FAIR volunteers through the FAIR website at fairlds.org. The answer in each episode is compiled from the various responses provided by the volunteers.
And now for the question:
How do I find a way to not only discern the Spirit from emotion, but how can I become convinced that the Spirit is actually real? How can I come to know that spiritual experience is not just a product of chemical processes in the brain? I mean, I’ve prayed about the truth of the Book of Mormon and the gospel and I have gotten answers to my prayers, but how can I come to know whether or not this is from God, and not just either a part of my subconscious or a delusion.
And now for the answer:
John taught us that there are a variety of influences, or “spirits,” that can be mistaken for revelation. He taught us that we should put these various influences to the test to see if they are of God. (1 John 4:1.) Similarly, Paul taught us to “Prove all things.” (1 Thess. 5:21.) Christ Himself warned, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matt. 7:15.)
In order to put the various voices we hear to the test, it is first important to learn how the Spirit communicates with us. The Spirit can manifest itself in a number of ways. In the account of the two disciples who met the resurrected Savior on the way to Emmaus, one of the believers said, “Did not our heart burn within us?” (Luke 24:32.) We are all familiar with the counsel given to Oliver Cowdery as he attempted to translate the Book of Mormon. He was told that, after he studied it out in his mind, and prayed about it, he would experience a “burning in the bosom” if he was right, but a stupor of thought if not. (D&C 9:7–9.)
On another occasion, Oliver was told that, if he needed further confirmation regarding the truth of the work in which he was engaged, he needed to simply remember the peace he experienced in his mind that came to him when he had earlier prayed about it. (D&C 6:23.)
Christ called the Holy Ghost “the Comforter.” (John 14:26.) Paul also taught that the Spirit brings peace. It can also fill one with love, joy, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. (Gal. 5:22-23.) The Spirit may sometimes give us a sense of constraint so that we will feel that we should do something, or not do something that is contrary to our natural inclinations. (See, e.g., 1 Ne. 4:10; Alma 14:11.)
The spiritual experience of the Nephites following King Benjamin’s famous speech teaches us how the spirit actually softens our heart, makes us willing to covenant with God, and diminishes our disposition to do evil. (See Mosiah 5:1-5.) This is a wonderful yardstick to use. If you feel no desire to do evil, but to do good continually, and your heart is softened so that you are willing to make covenants with God, then you can rest assured that it is the Spirit that is working upon you.
While the Spirit often communicates in the language of emotion, people have reported hearing an audible voice, or at least words that pop into their minds. Enos reported that while he was “struggling in the spirit, . . . the voice of the Lord came into [his] mind.” (Enos 1:10.) The Spirit has been described as a “still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12.) As it speaks to our minds, as well as our hearts, it may bring things to our remembrance. (John 14:26.) Joseph Smith, before receiving revelation on baptism for the dead, reported that the subject seemed “to occupy [his] mind, and press itself upon [his] feelings the strongest.” (D&C 128:1.) The Lord told Oliver Cowdery, “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.” (D&C 8:2.) Alma taught that as the Spirit helps a person to recognize the truth of God’s word, that person will notice that God’s word “beginneth to enlarge [his] soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten [his] understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to [him].” (Alma 32:28.) Joseph Smith explained that “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon.” (TPJS, p. 151.) As the Lord promised, “I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy.” (D&C 11:13. See also D&C 6:15.)
So, how are we to know if those feelings, thoughts or words are from God? John taught us that “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.” (1 John 4:2-3.) After warning us of false prophets, Christ gave us the way in which they may be tested: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matt. 7:16. Compare Alma 32:27-43.)
In answer to the question, “How do we recognize the promptings of the Spirit?” President Hinckley read in Moroni chapter 7, and then said: “That’s the test, when all is said and done. Does it persuade one to do good, to rise, to stand tall, to do the right thing, to be kind, to be generous? Then it is of the Spirit of God. . . .
“If it invites to do good, it is of God. If it inviteth to do evil, it is of the devil. . . . And if you are doing the right thing and if you are living the right way, you will know in your heart what the Spirit is saying to you.
“You recognize the promptings of the Spirit by the fruits of the Spirit—that which enlighteneth, that which buildeth up, that which is positive and affirmative and uplifting and leads us to better thoughts and better words and better deeds is of the Spirit of God” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 260–61, referencing Moroni 7:13, 16-17.) Similarly, Hyrum Smith was taught that the Spirit leads us to “do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously.” (D&C 11:12.)
It is important to note that it will be difficult to recognize the voice of the spirit if our actions are not conducive to spirituality. The Savior taught, “If any man will do his will, he will know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17.) The Spirit often accompanies activities such as prayer, scripture study, fasting, the performing of ordinances, worship through song, instruction, meditation, and temple attendance, expressions of love and service. It is more difficult for the Spirit to communicate with one who is engaged in activities of lust, anger, or greed, or even simple noise and confusion.
Furthermore, God’s house is a house of order. (D&C 132:8.) God will not inspire His leaders to give certain instructions, and then inspire His children to disobey those instructions. Therefore, one of the ways to verify the voice of the Lord is to test the inspiration one received for consistency with the words God has already spoken through his leaders in the scriptures, at General Conference, or in a private meeting with a bishop.
We can also know that a prompting is not of God when we feel to direct the affairs of another person over whom we have no authority. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks has taught, “only the President of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. Only the stake president receives revelation for the special guidance of the stake. The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop. … When one person purports to receive revelation for another person outside his or her own area of responsibility … you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord” (“Revelation,” New Era, Sept. 1982, 46).
Of course, God has His own timeline, and His ways are not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8.) We cannot force the hand of God either in immediately providing revelation or in sending us revelation that simply conforms to our own preconceived notions or desires. We should be careful in following feelings that simply confirm our own biases. In contrast, if we are feeling prompted to do something that challenges us to grow, and something we may not have otherwise chosen for ourselves, this may be an indication of authenticity. In short, a humble and submissive soul is more susceptible to the whisperings of the Spirit. We should follow the example of Christ who asked that he might be spared from drinking from the cup of the atonement, but afterward said “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39)
Could it all just be brain chemicals? We should be careful not to confuse the effects of the Spirit with the Spirit itself. As the Spirit brings peace, joy, motivation to do good, etc., these will be experienced in the brain like any other thought or emotion. However, just as an event that brings us joy is not joy itself, the fact that the Spirit can bring us joy does not mean that the Spirit is a mere emotional effect or process of the brain. It takes more effort to believe in the Spirit than in something we can sense with touch or sight, but that does not make the Spirit less real. While we cannot see gravity, we can observe its effects. Similarly, we can seek true revelations and observe their effects.
Like any other talent, discerning the voice of the Spirit takes practice. It also involves a process of trial and error. One member of FAIR reported that he went through a couple months in his teenage years where he thought he was receiving all kinds of revelations on all kinds of topics. As time went on, and many of the impressions turned out to be false, he learned valuable lessons on how to tell the difference between the Spirit, and other influences. As he has gained experience, he says that he has more confidence in sorting out his feelings.
Learning what the Spirit is and how to respond is one of life’s most important lessons. As you follow the impressions you have, don’t be discouraged when you find that they are not from God. Just learn from your experience. As you act on true revelation from God, you will come to better recognize the voice of the Spirit. As you follow the Spirit, its voice will become clearer and revelation will become more frequent.
If there is an issue that you have been wondering about, you can often find the latest answers at the FAIR wiki, found at fairmormon.org. If you can’t find your answer there, feel free to pose your question to the FAIR apologists by visiting the FAIR contact page. Occasionally, such a question will be featured on FAIR Questions. Before questions are used for this podcast, permission is obtained from the questioner.
Questions or comments about this episode can be sent to [email protected], or join the conversation at fairblog.org.
Tell your friends about us and help increase the popularity of this podcast by subscribing in iTunes and by writing a review.
Music for this episode was provided courtesy of Lawrence Green.
The opinions expressed in this podcast are not necessarily the views of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of FAIR.
I believe the single most important thing we can do to listen to the Spirit is to be obedient to the truth that we have already been given. A big part of that is to study the scriptures with a thankful and prayerful heart, taking notes of impressions and keeping them sacred (normally personal revelation is meant to be personal), thanking God when light does come and being willing to submit to all things. When we do those things, the question just kind of melts away. We become familiar with His voice to the point that there is no mistaking it. I highly recommend reading or listening to a BYU speech by Steven R Covey entitled “An Educated Conscience”.
Oh jezus maria i have never read anything so weird,another broadway play should be based on this! What a scam what a fraud this lds bs.
Typical response from someone who isn’t willing to step outside of his own limited experience. Shame really. Willem thinks that by mocking things we hold sacred, that somehow that lessens the reality of it. In fact, all it does is to further darken his own mind.
Great comments Don. (On both occasions.)
Another great talk that is very similar to this is Elder Gerald Lund’s talk at a BYU devotional in 1997. http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=2640
That’s an excellent talk. The only thing I’d add is that those who are struggling with compulsive tendencies should be careful not to think that they are doomed to do the difficult at every turn. OCD types like me have often mistaken anxiety for exuberance — and therefore have fallen prey to a destructive over-zealousness. Often we require of ourselves a complete self-annihilation rather than the sweet on-going conversion that comes by trying to live the gospel.
If you feel anything compulsive as if it were coming from God my advice would be to give it a very long second thought before acting on it.
I should’ve said that’s a great OP instead talk…
Correct me if I’m wrong, but the article seems to have a bootstrapping issue which is solved through circular reasoning (though not explicitly of course), or the application of a non-sequitor.
How does one know god exists? Through revelation.
How does one know that revelation is actually revelation? Because the scriptures and prophets tell us how to identify a revelatory experience.
How does one know that the scriptures and prophets are correct in describing revelation? Through revelation!
Hopefully, anyone concerned with having beliefs that are not based on circular reasoning will not fall prey to it here.
George Bernard Shaw begins to identify the non-sequitor of some of the above reasoning with the following quote.
“The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”
The emotional results of an action have little to do with veracity of a proposed description of reality.
This is further supported by many, varied, and contradictory belief systems yielding happiness, or as the article refers to as well, the desire to do good or be better.
Lacking a belief in god, that I know of, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are some of the most charitable individuals on the planet. Without the threat of a temple recommend in the balance (a topic for another time as it is not my main point here, but simply ancillary).
Muslims could claim the same method of determining the truth of Islam. Does Islam lead you to be better, to do good. It, from some views of Islam, would be difficult to argue that it does not also have similar evidences of its fruit as the LDS church has.
And that is key. This approach could make almost any belief system that teaches kindness and charity true. A test to determine truth, that can yield a positive result for hypotheses that are directly contradictory cannot be considered to be a good test.
Hence the non-sequitor. It does not logically follow that because good comes from a proposed belief system and actions based on it, that therefore the belief system is true.
The article said “While we cannot see gravity, we can observe its effects. Similarly, we can seek true revelations and observe their effects.”
And when gravity is observed it is constant (we can discuss the mathematical and evidential basis for gravity changing if you want, but it is still overwhelmingly conclusive). Revelation, when considered in the entirety of the human experience and history, has not had anywhere near the consistency of results returned by gravity, and worse, has returned many, varied, and contradictory results.
If as the author suggests and we should compare revelation to gravity because they are both forces we cannot see, then it should be obvious that gravity should be accepted based on overwhelming consistency and no contradictory results, and revelation rejected for having no consistency when all of human experience is taken into account, as well as producing many, varied, and contradictory results.
Your arguments have some merit but there are 2 holes I need to point out.
“How does one know that revelation is actually revelation?”
I liken this statement to “how do I know I heard what I heard?” or “how do I know I felt what I felt?” You can doubt yourself but there’s no real discussion until we accept certain foundational postulates. If we can’t get even as far as Descartes, there really isn’t much to discuss.
The second hole in your reasoning is …. your reasoning. Once we take out the “How does one know that revelation is actually revelation?” the rest of your argument is simply trying to reason your way to an understanding of the unreasonable.
We can’t ‘discover’ God. To know God, one must be ‘enlightened’. Now we’re back to Revelation and “how do I know I heard what I heard?”
I disagree with the suggestion that perceiving revelation is a circular process. The gist of that argument goes like this:
(1) We know God exists because of revelation.
(2) We know revelation is real because prophets tell us.
(3) We know that prophets are correct because of personal revelation.
(4) We know revelation is real because prophets tell us…
And so, allegedly, steps 2-4 keep repeating themselves.
The problem with that is in step (2). While prophets can give pointers and suggestions for how to recognize the Holy Spirit, they are not the primary source of our belief in revelation. Instead, the primary source for our belief in the reality of revelation is the revelation itself.
When an individual receives a revelation it is a direct experience with God. It is a self-authenticating witness. Within the revelatory experience, the individual experiences it as coming from God. It does not require an exterior validation or 3rd party ruling in order to conclude that the spiritual experience came from God.
That is one way to think about it.
Fortunately for us, at least imo, we live in an age where we have identified sound and can demonstrate the existence of sound waves as the origin of what we hear. Such cannot be said for the experience of god or spirituality.
The things that humans experience, as pointed out above, in this day and age, have external, verifiable, repeatable, corrobaratable evidence to support the origin of the human experience of it. Again, such cannot be said for god.
The other issue I see with asking this question, is that it potentially, and maybe even likely has you committing special pleading. What are your thoughts on those you sincerely claim that leprechauns exist because they had an experience of leprechauns being real, whether through a revelatory experience, or a sensory perception? If you do not accept the existence of leprechauns, why god? Both are being experienced by some humans, and being claimed to actually exist.
Of course I could make the same argument using UFOs, alien abductions, invisible friends, other contradictory gods, ghosts etc etc ad nauseum. It would seem a fair assumption that you do not accept any of these claims or believe them yourself. Such admittance exposes the hypocrisy (term not intended in a derogatory way)of the believers position. Only one among many, many competing claims based on personal experience is accepted. The others rejected with no explanation. Thus, special pleading.
I recommend the following 10 minute video discussing this subject. This video was key to my losing belief in revelation. Any ability to weaken its claims would be appreciated.
In particular, I would love things to read in relation to the ‘psychological intrusions’ the creator references.
Your argument would justify beliefs in aliens, UFOs, ghosts, unicorns, etc etc. It can also be used to justify competing, diametrically opposed beliefs about god.
‘I am correct about god because I experienced god and he revealed he is this way’
‘No, I am correct about god because I experienced god and he is not how you say, but how I say, because he revealed himself to me’
How would you suggest to reconcile these competing truth claims based on your methodology? If you have no system to reconcile competing truth claims should any sincere truth seeker rely on your methodologies?
James, your argument is reminiscent of Ostler. Has Ostler played an influence in this argument for you?
Ostler has not addressed, that I know of, why he does not accept the experiences of schizophrenics, or why a schizophrenic is not justified in accepting some of their own experiences.
Nor has he addressed hallucinogens that I know of. Does the fact that one experienced something while hallucinating, that seems self-verifying mean that it actually exists? Or, is the conclusion that it was the result of the brain and mind and something else interacting with them a better conclusion?
If alien abductions, UFOs, ghosts and other experiences are experienced as coming from external entities and are rejected, why does the argument hold for god?
Hi Celestialbound. Very quickly, without having seen your video yet or going into too much detail, I don’t reject out of hand the experiences that other people have of UFOs, ghosts, unicorns (although I don’t think that falls into this category) etc. I simply place them on the shelf for now.
When it comes to determining the truth of things that are outside of our current ability to observe via the scientific method, we have to recognize that we can’t use the scientific method. It then falls into the realm of the subjective. I trust my own experiences, though I keep an eye out for being deceived.
I don’t propose a way to reconcile competing truth claims based on subjective experiences. I don’t know how it can be done. These are not scientifically falsifiable claims, and so we are simply left with the quandary you describe.
The glorious thing about Mormonism, though, is that men are allowed to live their lives with whatever degree of truth they posses (and the untruths as well) but they will be judged based on what they do with that truth. Joseph Smith taught:
“I never hear of a man being damned for believing too much; but they are damned for unbelief.”
It is possible, just possible, that I am a brain in vat. Perhaps this entire world is a figment of my imagination. But I can’t live my life constantly scared that that is the case. At some point I have to trust my instinct and my senses, including my spiritual sense.
“Fortunately for us, at least imo, we live in an age where we have identified sound and can demonstrate the existence of sound waves as the origin of what we hear. Such cannot be said for the experience of god or spirituality.”
Sound, sound waves, and other realities in this world can be identified, tested and verified with physical means because they have physical properties.
Things of the Spirit of God cannot be tested using physical means because they are not physical. Should we expect to substantiate things of the Spirit using physical means? No! Of course not.
The apostle Paul taught that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14).
Millions of LDS and many others stand with Paul as witnesses of this truth. The fact that none of us have ever been able to verbalize the experience is admittedly frustrating to me, but should not be unexpected.
Skeptics and cynics will not be satisfied with this approach, I understand that. But it is a verifiable approach to truth on an individual basis. And although a meter does not exist to measure the intensity, the fact is that the effects can indeed be measured in many ways.
I recommend that if you are sincere in looking for the truth about this matter that you set aside your predjudices and consider a better way.
If you will read and consider the above article more closely, I think you will find that the issues you raise are addressed therein. However, you seem to be more intent on proving that revelation does not exist than in seeking to understand the perspective of believers. I therefore do not expect you to admit this.
For some reason, you appear to want to believe there is no God. You have therefore set up a standard that you know God will not meet: empirical proof (which is, of course, only one of many epistemologies). God is not going to prove his existence to you in a way that you, in turn, can physically demonstrate what you have learned to others. Although He could do so, if He did, one of the primary purposes of this life would be undermined: the testing of our faith. In order for us to demonstrate the true desires of our hearts, it is necessary that God not use compulsion. Thus, although God will reveal Himself to us, there must be room for doubt. You have identified various reasons that could be used to justify doubt. However, a person who wants to believe in God will rather chose to believe and to follow God. In this way, the true desires of our hearts will be made manifest and on this basis we will receive our reward. (See D&C 137:9; Alma 29:4-5; Alma 41:3-5.)
Your arguments are not new. Neither is the problem you pose new. The fact that the methods of materialism cannot be used to fully understand or explain God was acknowledged by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:14 when he said “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” If you chose to utterly reject revelation as a source of knowledge, you will forever remain unconvinced of spiritual truths. In contrast, those who follow the guidelines set forth in the article above (and the scriptures cited therein) will be convinced that God lives, and that he communicates with us through the Holy Spirit and will come to know God.
S Goodman says
I fear that this post might be taken as a personal attack. I assure you in advance that it isn’t intended that way.
I submit that your belief system is as flawed as mine (at least, as flawed as that which you ascribe to me). I have in my dossier superlative expert testimony to attest to the truth of my beliefs. I’m referring to my personal experiences with the Holy Ghost. These are irrefutable in that they happened to me and I accept them. I just can’t force anyone else to accept them to that same degree.
You, on the other hand, have chosen to believe a host of less reputable and less convincing authorities. I assume you aren’t a PHD in Archeology, Linguistics, Philosophy, Ancient Cultures, and Astrophysics? If not, then you are relying on the word of subject matter experts whom you haven’t even met; with whom you’ve never even spoken.
No matter what the topic, spiritual or physical, unless you have done the actual original research yourself you are relying on the testimony of others to form your opinions. It is my testimony that God lives, that the Book of Mormon is an ancient record and of divine inspiration and that the Church is all it claims to be. Feel free to give my testimony whatever weight you like when measuring it against your choice of alternatives.
James, Don, SteveDensleyJr, S Goodman,
Thank you all for your responses. I will be getting to them. I have recently moved cities to attend another year of law school. Getting set up takes time of course. I hope we will still be able to engage on this, perhaps, most important of topics.
Spencer Shellman says
“One member of FAIR reported that he went through a couple months in his teenage years where he thought he was receiving all kinds of revelations on all kinds of topics. As time went on, and many of the impressions turned out to be false, he learned valuable lessons on how to tell the difference between the Spirit, and other influences.”
So what, then? Did you simply conclude that the voice telling you “Mormonism is true” was the voice of the Spirit, and that the other voices were wrong? Is that what your “infallible witness of the Holy Ghost” is based on?
“As you follow the impressions you have, don’t be discouraged when you find that they are not from God.”
What, are you suggesting that I follow whatever impressions I receive, in the hopes that they come from God, but if it turns out that they’re not, it’s no big deal? “I felt prompted to give all my money to the Church of Scientology, but later I realized it wasn’t a revelation from God…hey, no biggie!”
If it’s really so easy to mistake other kinds of promptings for “the Spirit”, then “the Spirit” is useless as a source of guidance. I’ll rely on the arm of flesh, thank you very much.
James said “I don’t propose a way to reconcile competing truth claims based on subjective experiences. I don’t know how it can be done. These are not scientifically falsifiable claims, and so we are simply left with the quandary you describe.”
Is not the better conclusion then ‘I don’t know’, rather than conclusions with no supporting evidence other than the kind of evidence that can support any kind of belief?
James said “It is possible, just possible, that I am a brain in vat. Perhaps this entire world is a figment of my imagination. But I can’t live my life constantly scared that that is the case. At some point I have to trust my instinct and my senses, including my spiritual sense.”
Two thoughts here.
One, there are those who do and have killed there children based on this exact line of reasoning. How far does one/should one trust this spiritual sense? To murder? To murder of one’s own children? To the massive efforts to deny equality in society (see prop 8)? This becomes a dangerous argument. And if you agree, or make argument that one should be very careful about revelations of such nature, you argue to strengthen my point that revelation is an entirely unsure way to ‘know’ something.
Two, you assume a spiritual sense. Can you demonstrate empirically this spiritual sense? All the other senses can be demonstrated empirically. If you can’t it would appear that you would be reduced to circular reasoning to justify a spiritual sense. Is it not a better conclusion, given what we know in modern psychology and neuroscience to conclude such experiences as prodcuts of the brain/mind, with no external source? If you answer no, what evidence or reasoning would you use, other than the circular argument that it just feels like it?
killers use that excuse, assumption of spiritual sense
Don said “Sound, sound waves, and other realities in this world can be identified, tested and verified with physical means because they have physical properties.”
And the scripture that identifies all spirit as matter?
Don said “Millions of LDS and many others stand with Paul as witnesses of this truth.”
And millions and billions of others stand for directly contradictory claimed truths based on the same method. Who should one believe? And why?
Don said “it is a verifiable approach to truth on an individual basis.”
When the truth claimed relates to an objective reality or metaphysics, there is no such thing as individual truth.
Don said “the fact is that the effects can indeed be measured in many ways.”
As pointed out above, the measurable effects include many, varied, and blatantly contradictory truths. If this point cannot be resolved, no truth seeker should see this as a reliable method for determining truth. No?
Don said “I recommend that if you are sincere in looking for the truth about this matter that you set aside your predjudices and consider a better way.”
Would the better way be to lessen my skepticism to your claims? To just accept on assumption? What predjudices do you see me carrying?
Steve said “If you will read and consider the above article more closely, I think you will find that the issues you raise are addressed therein.”
Of course they are addressed therein. The question is whether or not the way they are addressed is sufficient to justify believe in revelation. I have laid out some of my argument for why they are not and given argument as to why your points do not withstand scrutiny. I am still waiting for a response to my points. I hope one is forth coming. I will adress this more below.
Steve said “you seem to be more intent on proving that revelation does not exist than in seeking to understand the perspective of believers.”
This, and the tone of your message, seem to suggest that you take offense to you beliefs being challenged. Might I remind you of the counsel of Hugh B. Brown that the gospel must meet, fight, and stand victorious in the market place of ideas.
I am intent on proving that there is no good reason to believe that there is revelation. There is an entirely different argument. I still do not understand why believers so often strawman the opposing side into gnostic positions that misrepresent their agnostic position.
Steve said “For some reason, you appear to want to believe there is no God.”
Steve, is this how you treat all people who hold a different conclusion from you. To just attribute their conclusion to a desire to not want to believe as you. Of course, this accusation is just as easily reversed, though I decline to do so.
The question about empirical proof becomes that of can god be just if he does not provide such level of proof? If he cannot, then he cannot be god as the LDS claim him to be, for the LDS god is claimed to be perfectly just. Perhaps this discussion is better had at another time as this already grows lengthy.
It would not undermine the purpose of this life, to test us, to have empirical evidence. Think of Cain, who had empirical evidence of god’s existence. Cain still chose wrong. This refutes the LDS position that one would always chose god if one had as close to sure knowledge as a human could have that god exists. And if it does not ruin the test to have a more sure knowledge, as Cain did, then there is no reason for god not to provide it. And he would be unjust if he did not with so much hanging in the balance (aka horrendous suffering as Christ did for the non-repentant; D&C 19:15-19, and rewards varying in sizes by magnitudes of thousands, all on at best a highly deabatable unsure proposition, which you concede when you admit it is a trial and error process).
Steve said “Your arguments are not new. Neither is the problem you pose new.”
Then refute them? Which you attempt to do in what follows that sentence; to which I will argue does not succeed.
You quote Paul, and suggest that the natural man cannot know the things of god, and that they can only be known spiritually. The problem is that you just assume the spiritual realm. What evidence do you have for it? Other than personal experience?
If you only have personal experience for it, Ockham’s Razor comes down strongly in favor against the spiritual as the source of revelation, and strongly in favor of the material, with no outside source.
Do you just assume or presuppose the spiritual? Do you know of a way to justify the spiritual realm as existing without ciruclar reasoning?
Do you care about your beliefs being non-fallacious?
The scriptures cited in your article lead to circular reasoning.
I am more than willing to accept the spirit as a way to determine god’s existence if a spiritual realm can be shown to exist. Do you know of a way to demonstrate the spiritual realm?
PS – Apologies for rambling a bit and repeating myself. Not enough time to properly edit. Please feel free to address my points that are repeated only once (obviously).
“And the scripture that identifies all spirit as matter?”
There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;
We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter. (D&C 131:7-8)
“And millions and billions of others stand for directly contradictory claimed truths based on the same method. Who should one believe? And why?”
Where are there millions or billions who claim to have received personal revelation on a matter in contradiction to that which LDS claim? I’m not talking about anyones self developed beliefs. Furthermore, one tenant of the LDS faith is that all religious traditions contain elements of truth. We agree with most religions/faiths on many or most of their tenants. Where there is conflict, the Spirit will not testify.
“When the truth claimed relates to an objective reality or metaphysics, there is no such thing as individual truth.”
What I said was that “it is a verifiable approach to truth on an individual basis.” What I meant was that the revelatory experience occurs individually. I said nothing about “individual truth”. Truth is truth.
“As pointed out above, the measurable effects include many, varied, and blatantly contradictory truths.”
No, perceptions are sometimes in error, but since revelation occurs on an individual level, and since it has prerequisites that must be met, individuals can misunderstand if they are not in tune. Think of it like a radio transmitter and receiver. If we are not tuned in on the right frequency, we may get static or something else unintended. But that does not mean that the transmission did not occur. There is a reason the scriptures call it a “still, small voice”.
“Would the better way be to lessen my skepticism to your claims? To just accept on assumption? What predjudices do you see me carrying?”
Of course I don’t want you to simply accept on assumption. I invite you to consider that you are here with preconceived notions of what this is all about. Then put the promise of Moroni to the test, sincerely studying the Book of Mormon, thinking about what you are studying, asking God the Father to manifest to you whether or not it is true . That’s what I invite you to do.
Your argument has one major problem. If push came to shove, I could demonstrate the actual existence of scientists and others (within the basic, minimum epistimology required to make the PoS coherent anyways). You, unless you can show otherwise, would not be able to demonstrate the basic existence of you authority figure.
I will take my less reputable, less convincing, demonstrably existent authorities any day over a more reputable, more convincing, not demonstrably existent, leading to many, varied, and contradictory ‘truths’ any day of the week.
PS – I definitely did not take your comment as a personal attack. Though I appreciate the sentiment. I hope you will feel the same way about my posts, as I also fear coming of in a negative manner when all that is intended is honest critique.
Don said “Where are there millions or billions who claim to have received personal revelation on a matter in contradiction to that which LDS claim?”
Islam’s non-divine Christ. Those who have recieved revelation that the Bhagvad Gita is true for another, aka polytheism.
If the revelatory method reveals many,varied, and contradictory truths, how can it be considered a verifiable approach to truth by the intellectually honest?
Don said “No, perceptions are sometimes in error, but since revelation occurs on an individual level, and since it has prerequisites that must be met, individuals can misunderstand if they are not in tune. Think of it like a radio transmitter and receiver. If we are not tuned in on the right frequency, we may get static or something else unintended. But that does not mean that the transmission did not occur.”
This sounds suspiciously like ad hoc reasoning in the face of other sincere truth claims. As well as potentially invoking a derivation of the No True Scotsman fallacy. ‘No one TRULY in tune with the spirit gets a revelation not in line with LDS theology’.
Can god be just if the method for determining the most important thing in this life is as you say, easy to misunderstand and hard to hear? Especially with such horrific suffering and rewards thousands of magnitude in disparity in the balance?
What are your thoughts on Moroni’s promise being demonstrably methodologically flawed? As blatantly taking advantage of documented psychology in the human experience. Further, what if the answer is no? You can’t agree that such a thing is possible without large amounts of mental gymnastics. If a no answer is not possible, Moroni’s promise is set perfectly to invoke the No True Scotsman fallacy. ‘You weren’t SINCERE ENOUGH’ etc etc
Is the answer to pray again, with more effort to believe it is true? Give such advice on any proposition at that level of metaphysics, and any given number of people will eventually interpret some experience in relation to that prayer as an answer in the positive.
So while I appreciate the sentiment in your invitation, I must decline for intellecutal honesty reasons until such time as the invitations methodological issues can be solved.
Unless of course you don’t think there are methodological issues; which would be an argument I would be very interested to hear.
Spencer Shellman says
Don said: “Furthermore, one tenant of the LDS faith is that all religious traditions contain elements of truth.”
Actually, that’s NOT a “tenant” of the LDS faith. It’s something Mormons made up to explain why their religion and other religions have so many similarities.
“We agree with most religions/faiths on many or most of their tenants.”
“Where there is conflict, the Spirit will not testify.”
Are you saying that when people in other churches hear something that agrees with Mormonism, the Spirit testifies, but when they hear something that disagrees with Mormonism, the Spirit doesn’t testify? Why can’t the Spirit simply tell them, “That’s wrong”? Otherwise it would only reinforce their beliefs in their own religions.
“Then put the promise of Moroni to the test, sincerely studying the Book of Mormon, thinking about what you are studying, asking God the Father to manifest to you whether or not it is true.”
Why bother? From the way you make it sound, I can get just as much of “the Spirit”, or almost as much, in any other religion.
You’re right. I won’t bother.
What exactly is Moroni’s methodology, as you understand it?
Thanks for your question. I have delayed answering as I did not want to start the conversation in another direction until the others participating in the thread had a chance to respond to my responses to theirs. I’ll hold off another day or two, and then hopefully address your question. Though it would save time imo if you were to present it. It is easy, and would appear right to be suspicious of my interpretation of it, given my status and stance on it. And if we could agree on your definition, or work towards a common one, then we might be able to have a meaningful discussion on it. Or our inability to come to a consensus on it could be telling from both our perspectives and meaningful in itself.
Till later then.
I just wanted to let you know that I haven’t forgotten about you. I’m super swamped right now with my masters thesis (trying to wrap it up), and once I manage to find some time I’ll still have the challenge of putting together a decent response. Thanks for your patience.
Celestialbound said ” Islam’s non-divine Christ. Those who have recieved revelation that the Bhagvad Gita is true for another, aka polytheism.
If the revelatory method reveals many,varied, and contradictory truths, how can it be considered a verifiable approach to truth by the intellectually honest?”
Well first of all I have a question for you, supposed that in fact, an angel appears to you, how then would you prove that you were not hallucinating??
I am a Mormon, because because God has me in this church, and I am not concern for the experiences of other people. If people from other faiths, have other experiences, well that’s very nice to know, good for them, but I have faith in my church because God has me here.
“Further, what if the answer is no?”
If people do not receive an answer that the Book of Mormon is true, they are not required to join the church, its just that simple.
“Sound, sound waves, and other realities in this world can be identified, tested and verified with physical means because they have physical properties.”
I suggest that you take spiritual experiences as a possibility. Science can’t tell us if ALL reality has a natural explanation. Science can’t even well explain the four percent of the universe, and science has not explain anything with a completely natural explanation, because science does not answer where the laws of nature came from. The laws of nature don’t have to apply before the plank time, and they don’t have to apply to other universes. Science can’t answer why the laws of nature exist.
If you believe that ALL reality has a natural explanation, you are assuming without evidence. If you are in a Forrest, it doesn’t mean that everything on earth is natural, you got cars in the city for example. So you will have a lot of faith, if you believe that all reality has a natural explanation.
Personal evidence is the way, in which God lets people know that he exist, but its also the way, that he won’t prove his existence to the world.
If you think that my personal evidence is an illusion, then the universe is an illusion (its equally silly). Why is the universe not an illusion?? Why are we not all living under the same illusion??? Wait, even better, what if you are the only one living an illusion, and you are in a laboratory sleeping, and a evil scientist is making you think that you are living a reality. So if you think that all this is silly, well so do I think that the claim that personal evidence is an illusion, is also silly. I take personal evidence to be real, just as I take that the universe is not an illusion.
I believe in my personal evidence, I am convinced, if other are convinced, then good for them. I also think that I am a rational person. When some people use their religion to do bad things, the problem is not religion itself, the real problem is lack of education, and being irrational. But it is possible to be a rational person and belief in God.
Please see the following video
bytheway, I studied both sides, and I still have the same conclusion, I still believe in the lds church.
Moroni 10 sets forth a method by which the Lamanites (and presumably others) can know the truth of the Book of Mormon:
1. Read the book (verse 3).
2. Remember that the Lord has been merciful toward mankind (v. 3).
3. Ponder the mercy of the Lord (v. 3).
4. Ask the God the Father in the name of Christ “if these things are not true.” (v 4)
5. If one asks with a sincere heart, pure intent, and faith in Christ, God will manifest the truth by the power of the Holy Ghost (v. 4).
6. By the power of the Holy Ghost one may know the truth of all things (v. 5), including that Christ exists (v. 7).
Note the wording of Step 4: Asking if X is not true implies that one believes that X is probably true.
Also note that Steps 5 and 6 do not specify in what form the manifestation of the truth will take, only that it will come by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Moroni provides an additional test when he states that nothing that is good denies Christ (v. 6). He also warns against denying the power and gifts of God (which he discusses in vv. 8 through 19).
Is that an adequate summary of Moroni’s method as you interpret it?
That looks to be accurate. The part I would suggest that you are missing is the zietgeist taught and built up around what to do when the challenge yields no answer, or an answer of no.
However, what is here is sufficient to demonstrate my point, that this system, ask having faith and sincerity, while having many sublte pre-suppositions in the manner of asking, and an answer that can take many forms, especially common human emotion can, and sometimes is, used to justify completely contradictory truth claims.
I love your note about step 4.
How would you defend against the claim that this process could just as easily be applied to other faith claims with similar results?
Against the charge that an undefined answer that can then be defined and manipulated to fit almost any given situation to make almost any response conform to a yes answer, makes the test, to the intellectually honest, basically worthless?
Lastly, how would you respond to the charge that how the HG is experienced, aka subjectively, is not a good method for determining reality?
I more than understand. I get very busy with school as well.
Spencer Shellman says
I notice that hardly anyone has bothered to respond to the issues I brought up. Is it because you have no answers? Is it because you’ve already written me off as a son of perdition?
Chill out Spencer. When someone doesn’t answer as quickly as we would like them to, the temptation is to assume that you’ve somehow “bested” them in the conversation and that they’ve turned tail.
That is a bad assumption.
It is an equally bad assumption (and obnoxious) to suggest that Latter-day Saints ignore people because they are “a son of perdition” (whatever that means to you).
We just don’t have as much as we’d like to dedicate to every discussion. See my last response to CelestialBound. I’m still very interested in this discussion, I just can’t afford to delve deeply into it at this particular moment in time, and I likely can’t for another few weeks. This is one of the busiest times of my life for various reasons.
Another idea to consider is that some have simply lost interest in the discussion. Not everyone is interested in every topic.
So please have patience, and if you are really itching for an immediate discussion feel free to submit a question to FAIR through the website.
Spencer Shellman wrote,
” Are you saying that when people in other churches hear something that agrees with Mormonism, the Spirit testifies, but when they hear something that disagrees with Mormonism, the Spirit doesn’t testify? Why can’t the Spirit simply tell them, “That’s wrong”? Otherwise it would only reinforce their beliefs in their own religions.”
See my previous comment for response, and by this logic, we cannot trust anything that we experience ourselves. If we witness someone breaking the law, and leaves no evidence behind, then we can’t prove to ourselves that he did something wrong. Would lack of physical evidence be a good reason to trust him, and ignore what we witnessed??
By this logic, anything that we see for ourselves, we can’t trust.
“If it’s really so easy to mistake other kinds of promptings for “the Spirit”, then “the Spirit” is useless as a source of guidance”
Well, if someone claims to have had a vision, but he is not mentally healthy, then he has good reasons to suppose that he was hallucinating.
S Goodman says
Sorry for my absence.
You wrote “I could demonstrate the actual existence of scientists”.
Their existance is not at issue. We both know that they exist. You have chosen to believe them (not believe IN them). I would submit that there is ample reason to assume that they, collectively, are flawed, limited and an extremely unreliable source.
As a side note, I find it ironic that the same people who endlessly debate with me on the existance of God and the Holy Ghost are more than willing to believe in ghosts, fantoms and the paranormal. Human beings were never constrained to be consistant.
Sorry for not responding before now. I’ve been out of the country. (It may seem as though I’ve been active on this blog while away, but I set up podcasts for automatic posting before I left.)
First, you have observed that I seem to take offense at my beliefs being challenged. I’m sorry that I have given you that impression. I am not taking offense at your comments, but I am afraid that I am at times impatient. (I’m sorry for that as well.) It just seems to me that you already know the answers that I will give to the questions you ask. But for some reason, you want to fight. You admit that you are “intent on proving that there is no good reason to believe that there is revelation.” I therefore do not expect to convince you of anything and do not believe you are really interested in considering my viewpoint. Nevertheless, for the sake of others who may read these comments, I’ll offer the following thoughts.
Allow me to begin by noting that, although you have made a number of statements and posed a number of questions, you seem to raise essentially two main points. The first pertains to an argument that empirical proof of God’s existence would not undermine God’s plan. The other pertains to your contention that no evidence for the existence of the spiritual realm actually exists.
With respect to the issue of empirical proof, you state that “It would not undermine the purpose of this life, to test us, to have empirical evidence. Think of Cain, who had empirical evidence of god’s existence.” In response, I think we need to be clear on what is meant by “empirical.” Cain had knowledge of God’s existence on the basis of having heard the voice of the Lord, although the record does not seem clear on whether this was with his physical ears or whether he “heard” the Lords voice as an impression or ideas that came into his head. In any event, note that he could not, in turn, demonstrate to others that God existed. He could only testify of his experience with the voice of the Lord.
Of course, the scriptures provide many examples of eye witnesses. It appears that for some people, they reach a point when an experience with God that can be perceived physically does not undermine their testing. However, for most of us, we would not gain the necessary experience or experience the necessary testing if we all encountered God in a way that rose to the level of eye-witness evidence. God knows which people can be reliably tested in spite of a physical manifestation and which cannot. The fact that our testing and experience in this life is adjusted to our needs is evidence for God’s justice not evidence against it.
Of course, modern scripture teaches that we all had first-hand experience with God before we came here and one-third nevertheless chose to rebel against God and become sons of perdition. Those of us who have passed that first test must receive a body to continue our progress. For some of us, this life is only necessary insomuch as it affords us the opportunity to gain a body. (We are taught that infants who die will go to the Celestial Kingdom.) For others, our progress depends upon another test; one that requires us to walk by faith before we receive a full witness of the truth. (See Ether 12:6.)
In short, it seems correct to say that there is some testing that can be conducted in the light of personal eye-witness evidence of God’s existence. However, I think you would have to agree that there is another kind of testing that is accomplished when proceeding without personal eye-witness evidence. (A rough analogy might be an open book versus a closed book test.) Since we have already been subjected to the first test, there are other tests and experiences that remain in order for us to progress.
Turning to the issue of the reality of the spiritual realm, you ask: “What evidence do you have for it? Other than personal experience?” In addition to my own personal experiences of feeling the spirit and receiving mental impressions, (which I have found to be quite convincing), I also have the experience of seeing the results of following the spiritual inspiration. Aside from these personal experiences, I am also able to rely on the testimony of others who describe having had similar personal experiences. And, of course, there is the testimony of those who have had physical encounters with God who testify not only of their physical experiences with God, but further testify that God can manifest Himself to us in our hearts as well as before our eyes.
If the answer is No, then that is your answer. Act accordingly.
If you do not receive a clear answer, then perhaps more study, reflection, and prayer are required.
No defense is needed. As Moroni 10:5 states, by the power of the Holy Ghost, one may know the truth of all things. Presumably that would include “other faith claims.”
If you are saying that human beings can convince themselves of almost anything, I would have to agree. Of course, that would include those who convince themselves that science can somehow disprove the existence of God.
How do you define subjective?
Describe color to those who cannot see.
Describe music to those who cannot hear.
Describe flavor to those who cannot taste.
Describe fragrance to those who cannot smell.
None of them will be able to *comprehend* the experience by merely having it described to them. But that will never mean that the experience isn’t valid for those who do not share the same disability.
SteveDensleyJr said “It just seems to me that you already know the answers that I will give to the questions you ask. But for some reason, you want to fight.”
I do believe that I know the answers you will give, and I believe I can demonstrate why those reasons are insufficient. I do strive to remain open to answers I have not heard yet, and the potential that such answers could justify the propositions/assertions of the believer.
Fight? Not really imo; unless by fight you mean demonstrate flaws in logic and reasoning. And I generally expect and enjoy the same in return. What you said about presenting your views and beliefs for others to see, even knowing you are not likely to change my mind is the same reason I am here. It will be interesting to see the response to such an open assertion of intention. That said, I do believe in respect of individuals, and I hope you have not felt otherwise from me.
Steve, re-reading the two chapters on Cain it appears you are correct that the record is ambiguous as to the medium of the Lord’s communication to Cain. While I think it could be strongly argued that it was an in person communication given the way the dialogue progresses, I would rather present a simpler example; Laman and Lemuel. The sight of an angel, and still failing the test.
Your point about it not being empirical in the sense is an interesting one. And in one sense I agree. In another, however, I don’t. I particularly enjoy the statement by JS along the lines of ‘If I had not experienced it for myself, I would not have believed my own story.’ While not demonstrable to others, it is demonstrable that very few believers receive this kind of experience.
I would suggest that arguing that God knows who needs what and that we all get what we need for what ever experiences we need is suspiciously ad hoc, and more problematic, unfalsifiable. How could such an assertion be proven false?
I would strongly assert that to be required to walk by faith, with so much in the balance (horrendous suffering on the level of what Christ suffered, and rewards thousands of magnitudes apart), that any god who would only provide such easily debatable evidence, cannot be considered just.
Steve, how do you reconcile the competing claims of others who claim different, contradictory truths about god(s) based on the same type of source? Sure, some confirm your experience. Many more do not. This would appear to be almost as perfect an example of confirmation bias as possible.
Further, what of schizophrenics? How do you reconcile your experiences with theirs? They have experiences that are just as real to them as your experiences of god are to you. And yet, one is considered not mentally well, as their experiences do not correspond to reality, and the other, do to tradition, considered virtuous. Note, I am not saying the believer is schizophrenic or the like. But it appears to me, an important reconciliation for any believer to work through.
To be honest, I do not see how an intellectually honest person, aware of the research and findings of modern psychology about the power and capacity of the human mind to mis-represent reality, and the thousands upon thousands of contradictory truth claims, who also desires to not be fallacious, can maintain a belief in their experiences as true. It seems an almost perfect example of special pleading.
Logophile said “If the answer is No, then that is your answer. Act accordingly.”
Is such a response in line with the teachings from LDS missionaries and LDS leaders? What would it mean for a perfectly just god to give an answer of no to a sincere seeker of truth and then to potentially punish them with a suffering as horrendous as what Christ suffered (in proportion to their sins), and a reward thousands of times less than others?
Logophile said “If you do not receive a clear answer, then perhaps more study, reflection, and prayer are required.
Does this study and reflection include sources that are not blatantly pro-LDS? If not, why? Is honest skepticism not allowed? Why? In answering please be aware of the GC talk that says that the HG is driven away by skepticism (I’ll look it up if you want me to). If one is only to look at pro-LDS sources in this further study, any future yes answer would be heavily tainted as one only availed one’s self to information that supported one perspective. One would be surprised to see otherwise. Yes, no?
If Moroni 10:5 is accurate as you describe in revealing all truth, including other truth claims, how do you respond to the many, many who believe by revelation in things blatantly contradictory to LDS teaching? It seems to be a paradox. The HG reveals the truth of all things, but those who rely on revelation come to an incredibly varied and many times contradictory results.
Are you familiar with the distinction between weak and strong atheism. From a purely epistemic approach, it would be ludicrous to assert that one could disprove the existence of god. And only a strong atheist would make that claim. A weak atheist would assert there is no reason to believe, and would therefore, lack a belief. So, I am not claiming that god does not exist. But I am claiming that I see nothing that would meet the burden of proof of such a claim.
Definitions 1,4, and5 seem a decent place to start for defining subjective I think.
Jack said “Describe color to those who cannot see.
Describe music to those who cannot hear.
Describe flavor to those who cannot taste.
Describe fragrance to those who cannot smell.”
Jack, the problem with this line of reasoning is that color, or the what causes the experience of color for humans, can be empirically demonstrated.. The same for music. The same for flavor, and the same for fragance. The thing that originates the experience for the human can be empirically demonstrated to exist.
If you have any evidence for God on the level of evidence for color/light waves, sound/sound waves, food and taste buds, or that which causes smell, I would be very, very interested in such evidence.
S Goodman wrote “Their existance is not at issue. We both know that they exist. You have chosen to believe them (not believe IN them). I would submit that there is ample reason to assume that they, collectively, are flawed, limited and an extremely unreliable source.”
I would suggest you miss my point. You believe in information from a source that can’t be demonstrated to exist, aka the HG. While my source is potentially open to the critiques you bring against it (resolved by proper understanding of the scientific method to overcome those flaws you describe), my source can be demonstrated to exist, and is not open to the critique that it is all just in my mind (unless we want to start arguing solopsism).
So I would ask, what better source of information would you suggest than the scientific method for determining reality?
And if the answer is revelation, please be sure to address the many, varied, and contradictory results that arrive through that method of determining reality, as well as a method for reconciling competing truth claims over time.
All of the empirical evidence in the world cannot make the blind or deaf comprehend color or music. So it is with those who do not comprehend spiritual things. God may send floods and earthquakes, healings and visitations but none of these things will cause us to comprehend the Spirit unless we have faith.
But as to your expanded use of my analogy: I will counter by saying that there are some things that cannot be proven empirically that we take for granted every day. Can one’s love truly be proven, for example? We may see actions and hear words but can we know for certain that there are no other motives involved? You cannot “see” love — and yet, somehow, most, if not all, human beings can relate to the feeling of love. And it is because of that internal unquantifiable experience we have as individuals that we are able to take an intuitive leap and accept the words and actions of others as manifestations of love.
So it is with spiritual things. They are difficult measure in naturalistic terms. But as we open ourselves by faith to the Holy Ghost we will begin to have experiences that will cause our faith to grow which, in turn, will further expand our capacity to comprehend spiritual things.
I recommend this video,
If you think its silly to believe that the universe is just an illusion, I also think that the claim that personal evidence, is just an illusion, is silly.
By your logic, we can’t trust anything that we witness ourselves.
If you are alone, you can’t trust anything that you see around you.
I believe my answer is consistent with LDS scripture and common sense; I do not vouch for everything said by an LDS missionary or church leader.
Is there any teaching in Mormonism that suggests God would act in the way you have described?
By all means, study LDS, non-LDS and anti-LDS sources. And retain a healthy skepticism about claims made by others, including Latter-day Saints.
But note the qualifier: healthy skepticism. I have become somewhat skeptical about skepticism. The fact is, we all draw conclusions and make decisions based on beliefs that cannot be proven. To do otherwise—to maintain an extreme skepticism about everything—would make life impossible.
Did that traffic light turn green? Well, it may look green. But psychologists have shown that human beings cannot always trust their senses, so some other test is needed.
Perhaps we can rig up a colorimeter to check the light. And not just the light in our lane: we have to analyze the lights controlling the cross-traffic, to make sure that they really are red. (They may be malfunctioning!) Only then can we be sure it is safe to proceed through the intersection.
But wait! How can we be sure our colorimeter is working properly? We’ll have to calibrate it. Perhaps another instrument is needed as well. But how can we be sure the second device is working properly? (Oh drat, the light changed to red.)
Of course, my example is absurd: Persons demanding that level of “proof” would not be driving a car. They would have starved at an early age, being unable to distinguish with complete certainty between food and other items in their environment.
Sometimes the best we can do is to agree to disagree.
Do they? You have not cited any specific examples; but let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that you are right. Since human beings are themselves “incredibly varied,” why should we be surprised that they would experience and interpret spiritual manifestations differently?
Ultimately, I am responsible for what I think, say, and do. I am not responsible for the thoughts, speech, or actions of others.
You are making the same arguments again using different examples. I do not think it is worth the time for either of us to keep this up. I have not set out to persuade you or win a debate by using logical analysis and reasoning, but to simply explain my position as a believer in personal revelation. I do think that logic and empirical analysis are useful tools for helping us to understand reality. But they are not the only epistemologies available to us, and like other epistemologies, they have their shortcomings.
As a mere response to logical argument, to say that “God’s ways are not man’s ways” is probably an appeal to the logical fallacy of special pleading. However, it is not such a fallacy when based upon revelation. In other words, there are prophets of God who are witnesses to His divine glory who testify that His ways are not our ways, not as a frail response to logical argument, but as a simple observation of fact. I am sorry if you do not find the testimony of these witnesses to be persuasive. I do.
I suppose if my belief in God were based only on logic or empiricism, I would have lost my belief by now. The words of Wendy Ulrich, who spoke at the 2005 FAIR Conference, resonate with me in this regard: “When Christ asks the question of His remaining disciples, ‘will ye also go away?’ it seems to be in recognition that they may be feeling betrayed or disillusioned by His words and requirements, as others were. Their response is not brimming with irrational enthusiasm. They seem to say, somewhat wistfully, as if recognizing that perhaps leaving would be an easier choice, ‘to whom, Lord, shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.’ We do not leave because we are blind to the challenges or brainwashed into commitment, but because we will have more cognitive dissonance, more to explain to ourselves, if we leave. We have found here things that we hold dear, that support and enrich our lives. We, like the reluctant disciples of old, have found here words of eternal life, which is to say that we have found knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. These relationships, these pearls of great price, are worth the sacrifices and the disappointments and the askance looks of our friends who wonder what we could be thinking.”
Spencer Shellman says
TheSkepticChristian said: “Well, if someone claims to have had a vision, but he is not mentally healthy, then he has good reasons to suppose that he was hallucinating.”
The problem is that many mentally ill people do not realize that they are mentally ill, or that their judgment is compromised in the least. Their “visions” and “relevations” may seem perfectly reasonable according to the faulty logic of their damaged minds. I believe that is what led Ron and Dan Lafferty to do what they did.
The notion set forth in the original article, that one must learn through a process of “trial and error” to recognize the promptings of the Spirit, is nothing less than insidious, and I will outline the reasons why.
1. The cost of an “error” can be very, very high. A friend of mine at BYU, motivated by what he felt sure was a “prompting”, quit his job at WordPerfect, moved to Washington (state), and became a janitor. My own father-in-law has received a number of “promptings” as to where he and his family should live, or what career he should pursue; he currently works as a carpet cleaner. Whether they were influenced by God, Satan, their brain chemistry, or even Leonardo de Caprio planting “inceptions”, I can’t really say. I think, however, that if God really has a purpose for us, then it’s more than merely to see how well we can follow the voices in our heads.
2. How do you tell if the prompting you just followed was really a divine one? If you feel prompted to marry a certain person, and you do, and you’re happy, that may convince you that the original prompting did indeed come from God. On the other hand, it may be that your significant other is merely one of many people you could have married and been happy with, and your “prompting” was merely feelings of affection (not that there’s anything wrong with acting on those). On the other hand, I, having been exposed to life in over-30 singles wards, have met many divorced Mormons who claimed they were prompted to marry certain people, who then cheated on them, or lost their spark of love, or proved to be impossible to live with for some other reason. On the other hand…oh, wait, I’m out of hands.
3. It encourages Mormons to place blind trust in people who allegedly have more experience recognizing promptings. “I have so little experience sorting the prompts of the Spirit from all the other noise, maybe I should just let the bishop make my decisions for me. He’s so spiritual, how can he ever lead me wrong?” I imagine most church leaders are too decent to take advantage of such a schnook, but there are MANY who would.
What’s wrong with being a janitor or carpet cleaner?
Spencer Shellman says
Logophile asked, “What’s wrong with being a janitor or carpet cleaner?”
If my original desire was to become a doctor, a research scientist, or a computer CEO, and I had the requisite talent, but by following my “promptings” I ended up as a janitor or carpet cleaner, then I am justified in suspecting that perhaps my “promptings” were rubbish. All other things being equal, what possible reason could God have to “prompt” someone into a life of menial grunt labor instead of a rewarding career?
Jett Thompson says
Who is to say what is meaningful or not? In 1 Samuel 16:7 it says: “for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
How can one look at a person and their titles and determine whether they are successful or not? If one were to look at a person like a Mother Theresa and say because she/he didn’t have a PHD or similar worldly title that they are any less successful in Lord’s eyes? I would dare say that mothers/fathers who choose to sacrifice careers or titles or worldly acclaim so that they can be better mothers/fathers is really more important to the Lord than whatever they accomplished from a world’s perspective.
I personally know someone who had the capacity and ability to accomplish great things in the business world, but instead chose to take a less visible career path so that they could be more available to their family and service to the Lord. This person then served as an father, church volunteer, LDS Bishop, early morning seminary teacher, community volunteer and other very committed and time-consuming pursuits. I would dare say this person has done more in the Lord’s eyes than the person who gave their all – including sacrificing their family – so that they could be very successful in the business world.
I know of a woman in our ward that could have been extremely successful in the business world. Instead she chose to focus on her family and service in the community. The amount of service this woman does in the community with foodbanks, schools, employment centers, hospitals, etc is astounding.
Success in the eyes of the world is not the same as success in the eyes of the Lord. There is nothing dishonorable about being a janitor or carpet cleaner. The important thing is whether that person is working to continue to improve himself, worship God and to serve his fellow men.
Lee Rhea says
I’ve been enjoying the discussion in this thread, and even though I lack the measure of philosophic or scriptural tools apparent in the respective comments, I’d like to toss in one of my own.
Concerning revelation and the promptings of the spirit, I was somewhat dismayed to hear President Hinkley describe in one of his (perhaps ill-advised) national TV interviews, that revelation is no longer received in the tradition of JS. He described what I’ve heard termed “backdoor revelation”.
He explained the manner revelation is now received to be that when an issue or question arises, the quorum has a round table discussion, pray for guidance collectively, then individually. Following that, something akin to a vote takes place, pray again, discuss and vote again, etc., until a consensus of opinion is reached. The Prophet then retires to (the upper chamber?) and presents their decision to the Lord. Then there’s a waiting period, and here’s my conundrum:
The Lord’s answer comes not in a spiritual promoting of YES, but in a lack of spiritual prompting that says NO. In other words, the answer comes not in the affirmative, but in the lack of divine dissent, thusly, a backdoor revelation. His explanation sorta turned my understanding upside down.
I thought I had heard/read all of President Hinkley’s national interviews, but your description does not sound familiar. Can you provide a link to this interview?
Hey Steve. It was either in a Larry King or Mike Wallace interview. Right now I can only find excerpts primarily directed to topics of polygamy and Blacks. I’ll keep looking. Now I’m on a mission to find that link!
S Goodman says
You wrote “You believe in information from a source that can’t be demonstrated to exist, aka the HG.” I noticed that we have many itterations of the same argument; that the Holy Ghost cannot be empirically proven. You have stated many times that evidence derived from the Holy Ghost must be discounted for that reason.
Your reasoning is flawed.
You hold that evidence derived from italian scientists, seventeenth century physicists, and modern astro-physicists to be reliable, more reliable than my evidence derived from the Holy Ghost. But you haven’t done the very first step. You haven’t made any effort to replicate their experiments to confirm. You took their findings on faith!
Were I you, I would immediately reply that it wasn’t necessary for me, personally, to replicate all those experiments. Others have done that for me. Ah, but I still have no first hand information. All I have is some very interesting reading off of the internet.
The Holy Ghost can be empirically proven…to one person at a time. You’ve (we have all) been invited to “experiment upon the word”. It shouldn’t bother you that the proof you recieve is non-transferable. It’s yours. Let the other guy find it for himself. The best you’ll be able to do for him (once you have it) is to tell him about it (testify) and invite him to find it, too.
Spencer Shellman says
“The Holy Ghost can be empirically proven…to one person at a time.”
The empirical evidence in my life strongly indicates that the Holy Ghost does NOT exist, or perhaps doesn’t realize that I exist.
S Goodman says
“The empirical evidence in my life strongly indicates that the Holy Ghost does NOT exist, or perhaps doesn’t realize that I exist.”
And yet you are more than willing to accept the existance of nuetrinos. It took over 40 years to demonstrate the existance of nuetrinos. Even today, you have absolutely no first hand evidence of them. you have only the word of experts reporting on studies and experiments you weren’t around to witness.
I’m not suggesting that nurtrinos don’t exist. That would be silly. I’m demonstrating that you are willing to exercise faith on far less provocation and on matters of far less importance… but not when it come the the Holy Ghost.
Only you can possibly know why that is.
I appreciate you sharing your belief. As you point out we do disagree. I respond in relation to your mention of Wendy Ulrich.
While I was in the process of questioning my faith, I ended up in communication with Wendy. I greatly appreciated her kindness and warmth, and reflect very positively on our interaction. For her to take time out of her busy schedule for me, a nobody in relation to her, meant a lot to me.
Just thought I would share. If you know Wendy, I would be pleased if you could relay these thoughts to her.