[Read more…] about Who Won The Decade in Apologetics: Church Division
A Guide to the First Century Apostasy
As my contribution to your home centered study of 1 and 2 Thessalonians this week, I theorize about what happened to early Christianity after the death of the apostles. As leadership in the early Church transitioned from apostles to local bishops, the priesthood keys bestowed on Peter(Matthew 16:19) and the apostles (Matthew 18:18) were lost. The primary evidence of the apostasy is modern revelation. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery claimed to have received visits from heavenly messengers and we are challenged to prayerfully seek after their own spiritual witness of claims regarding authority. An examination of ancient history can at best demonstrate plausibility and not proof of the apostasy. Those expecting the latter-day church is a carbon copy of an ancient church organization will be disappointed.
Here are 10 thematic variations exploring the loss of priesthood keys. [Read more…] about A Guide to the First Century Apostasy
FairMormon Questions: Having unsettling feelings before receiving my endowment
FairMormon has a service where questions can be submitted and they are answered by volunteers. If you have a question, you can submit it at http://www.fairmormon.org/contact. We will occasionally publish answers here for questions that are commonly asked, or are on topics that are receiving a lot of attention. This particular question has three answers below.
I’m not endowed, but I hear details about special clothing and secretiveness that I am unsettled by. If something is so holy, then why does it feel wrong?
ANSWER FROM FAIRMORMON VOLUNTEER RENE KRYWULT:
I am Rene Krywult from Vienna, Austria, Europe, and I am one of those at FairMormon who answer questions. I am not a spokesperson for Fairmormon, and also not for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thus, I only speak for myself. What I say should not be misunderstood as being authoritative doctrine of the Church. My mother tongue is German, not English.
Dear Brother, I can certainly understand your unease. In Christianity, the way sacred ordinances and church services are done are called “liturgies.” So, sacrament meeting is a liturgy, baptism is a liturgy, anointing and blessing is a liturgy and so on. [Read more…] about FairMormon Questions: Having unsettling feelings before receiving my endowment
Great Initiatives in Church History: Seminary
“For too long Mormon women’s voices have been ignored. We, as a people, have suffered because of it.” Elder Steven E. Snow, Church Historian, June 2017 MHA Conference (Hat Tip Juvenile Instructor)
Inspired by my calling as a ward self-reliance specialist, I have started collecting stories about other educational initiatives undertaken in Latter-day Saint history. A story that highlights the contribution of a Mormon woman seem especially apropos in light of the upcoming celebration of Mormon Women’s history:
This story comes from Casey Griffiths’s article “A Century of Seminary” who writes:
Many complex historical forces led to the creation of the seminary program. But in the simplest sense, the program began in the inauspicious setting of a family home evening. Joseph F. Merrill, a newly called member of the Granite Utah Stake presidency, sat listening to his wife, Annie, tell stories from the Bible and the Book of Mormon to their children before they went to bed. “Her list of these stories were so long that her husband often marveled at their number, and frequently sat as spellbound as were the children as she skillfully related them.” When Brother Merrill later asked his wife where she had learned all of the stories, she replied that she had learned most of them in a theology class conducted by Brother James E. Talmage at the Salt Lake Academy, a Church-owned school she had attended as a young girl. Deeply moved by his wife’s effectiveness as a teacher, Brother Merrill immediately began contemplating how other children attending public schools could receive the same kind of spiritual training as his wife. He became obsessed with the idea of providing students with a religious experience as part of the school day, regardless of what kind of school they attended. A few weeks later he presented the rough idea for a new religious education program to the stake presidency.
Of course, while this simple experience captures some of the revelatory forces leading to the creation of seminary, it must be acknowledged that the seminary program was not created in a vacuum.
While some might think that protest and public shaming are the most effective way to change the world or even the Church, this example captures the importance of personal inspiration and innovation in the home. President Nelson once stated that “The home is the laboratory of love and in it resides the most important unit of the Church and of society—the family ” I like how Annie Merrill demonstrated that teenagers could be taught by adapting the best church scholarship of the day in an engaging manner. I am grateful that her stake leaders were able to see the merits of generalizing her success across a larger setting. I give major props the Seminary program for continuing this tradition and being so quick to integrate the Gospel Topics Essays into the curriculum and training instructors how to find the best resources to answer questions.
Further Reading Links:
Register for Women’s Day at FairMormon Conference
Help Doubting Students Choose to “Be Believing,” Elder Renlund Tells Seminary and Institute Teachers (June 2018)
Answering Difficult Questions with Supplemental Resources, Chad H. Webb (July 2017)
The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century, Elder M. Russell Ballard (Feb. 2016)
Guest post by Paul Brooks from The Reasonable Mormon
Not guilty vs innocent
Since the organization of the Church in 1830, some form of the question “Is the Church true?” has been prevalent among proponents and detractors alike. While much can be said to directly answer the question, much can also be said about nature of the question itself. This post demonstrates why believing the Church is “not true,” or not believing the Church is “true,” does not necessarily mean believing the Church is “false” or worthy of abandoning faith.
Imagine the following fictional conversation between two critics of the Church we shall call Simon and Peter:
Simon: I’ve just been speaking with a friend who asked me to provide a good argument that the LDS Church is false.
Peter: Oh right, how did you get on?
Simon: I couldn’t do it. Everything I raised was contended with good counter evidence, many that I hadn’t heard before.
Peter: OK, so what now?
Simon: Well there isn’t one reason to think it’s false so I guess it’s true. I’m going to start attending each week.
Now this doesn’t usually happen and it’s obvious that something is wrong. Just because Simon couldn’t demonstrate the LDS Church was false, it doesn’t necessarily mean he should believe that the Church is true. We would rightfully expect Simon to be troubled by his experience but not to start attending Sunday services.
But look what happens when we flip this on its head, now imagine two believing members of the Church in a similar conversation:
Simon: I’ve just been speaking with a friend who asked me to provide a good argument that the LDS Church is true.
Peter: Oh right, how did you get on?
Simon: I couldn’t do it. Everything I raised, was contended with good counter evidence, many that I hadn’t heard before.
Peter: OK, so what now?
Simon: Well there isn’t one reason to think it’s true so I guess it’s false. I’m going to stop attending each week.
Again, something is wrong but we do see this in our own experience. Sadly this is an argument from ignorance, which is a logical fallacy and occurs when something is believed to be false simply because it has not been shown to be true (or vice versa).
So let’s explore a little more why this is a problem.
In everyday language we use the words “not true” and “false” interchangeably, but they are actually distinct. Usually the distinction doesn’t get us into trouble, but in this situation it may prove highly problematic. Imagine risking eternal salvation based on an error in logic!
The key point to remember is that something that is “not true,” is not necessarily “false.” This would constitute a false dichotomy, meaning that only two options are presented but in reality there are more than two options available. The condition “not true” is a negation of “true,” but also encompasses other conditions in addition to “false.”
To put it another way:
- Something “true” is clearly “not false”, but something that is “not true” is not necessarily “false” – for example it may be unknown or nonsensical
- Something “false” is clearly “not true”, but something that is “not false” is not necessarily “true” – for example again, it may be unknown or nonsensical
This principle is demonstrated in a courtroom, where a case is presented to the judge and the jury for them to evaluate whether the person accused is “guilty” or “not guilty.” This is done by setting a threshold for guilt, such as “beyond reasonable doubt.” In the context of a courtroom, it is important to note:
- The judge and jury are not deciding between “guilty” and “innocent.” They are looking to see if there is enough evidence to consider them “guilty,” or else consider them “not guilty.”
- If the person is found to be “not guilty” they are not found to be “innocent,” they were already presumed innocent as a matter of principle before the hearing. It would require another case to evaluate the evidence as to whether the person is actually “innocent” or “not innocent.”
- A person could theoretically be found “not guilty” and then found “not innocent!”
Usually faithful members of the Church when called upon to give reasons or an argument that the Church is true, in addition to a spiritual witness, might include things such as:
- The visions of Joseph Smith
- The hundreds of statements by the Book of Mormon witnesses
- The complexity and beauty of the Book of Mormon
However after reading material that challenges these reasons, members may feel they are left without any compelling reason or argument and potentially doubt their own experience of the Spirit. Even if they previously had many reasons for belief, if each one fails then a problem arises. As atheist-turned-deist Anthony Flew once said:
“If one leaky bucket will not hold water there is no reason to think that ten can” (1)
So what should be remembered if you no longer feel you have a compelling or sufficient reason to believe that the Church is true?
The first thing to remember is that your threshold for truth is naturally subjective. Regarding levels of confidence, John Welch has observed:
How much evidence do we need in order to draw a certain conclusion? Answering this question is another choice that combines and bridges faith and evidence.
…a survey conducted in the Eastern District of New York among ten federal judges determined that the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt” ranged from 76 percent to 95 percent certainty (although most were on the high end of this range). “Clear and convincing evidence” covered from 60 percent to 75 percent. Obviously, a degree of subjectivity is again involved in deciding what level of certitude should be required or has been achieved in a given case.
…In a religious setting, no arbiter prescribes or defines the level of evidence that will sustain a healthy faith. All individuals must set for themselves the levels of proof that they will require… Few people realize how much rides on their personal choice in these matters and that their answer necessarily originates in the domain of faith. (2)
The second thing to remember is that two people can fully agree on the evidence but come to different conclusions based on their assumptions and expectations of what a true Church would look like. From a Church historian’s perspective, Davis Bitton has said:
What’s potentially damaging or challenging to faith depends entirely, I think, on one’s expectations, and not necessarily history. Any kind of experience can be shattering to faith if the expectation is such that one is not prepared for the experience.
…One moves into the land of history, so to speak, and finds shattering incongruities which can be devastating to faith. But the problem is with the expectation, not with the history (3).
The third and most important thing to remember is that irrespective of your level of confidence and your expectations, no longer believing the Church is true is not the same as believing the Church is false (remember the courtroom analogy of “not guilty” and “innocent”). Flip the question around and see if you believe that the Church is false. To say that the Church is false, is a positive statement that carries a rather heavy burden of proof.
If you believe the Church is false, then this would most likely include the Book of Mormon too. You would need to believe there is a good explanation for:
- How Joseph obtained physical gold plates that weighed around 60 pounds, with the appearance of gold and engravings on both sides
- How Joseph was able to dictate the complex narrative of the Book of Mormon while looking into a hat without any divine intervention
- How the Book of Mormon contains different specialist areas (horticulture, seasons of warfare, Bedouin poetry etc) without being an actual ancient record
- Why the book is full of hebraisms that were not even realized or noticed when it was written
- How there are multiple writing styles implying multiple authors, which were only noticed by computer power
- Why none of the witnesses ever recanted their testimonies
With the above in mind, it would be difficult to honestly conclude the Book of Mormon is false. Dan Peterson at the FairMormon conference in 2016 said that:
…the alternative explanations just don’t work and they get more and more complex and it’s just too much for me, and so I’ve said sometimes that I simply don’t have the faith to disbelieve Joseph Smith’s story. I just can’t get there. I can’t do it. And I’ve tried. I’ve really tried… (4).
Again, from Church historian Davis Bitton:
Let’s get one thing clear. There is nothing in church history that leads inevitably to the conclusion that the church is false. There is nothing that requires the conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fraud. How can I say this with such confidence? For the simple reason that the Latter-day Saint historians who know the most about our church history have been and are faithful, committed members of the church. More precisely, there are faithful Latter-day Saint historians who know as much about this subject as any anti-Mormon or anyone who writes on the subject from an outside perspective. In fact, with few exceptions, they know much, much more. They have not been blown away. They have not gnashed their teeth and abandoned their faith. To repeat, they have found nothing that forces the extreme conclusion our enemies like to promote (5).
This consideration could very likely put the person in a limbo period, and in terms of the courtroom analogy, somewhere between “not guilty” and “not innocent.”
As shown above, no longer believing the Church is true, is not concluding the Church is false or necessarily worthy of abandoning faith. In the same way a critic would still need a positive reason to believe the Church is true, a member should still need a positive reason to believe the Church is false.
In many cases, potential reasons for believing the Church is false are based on our own expectations of God or the Church, such as “A true Church would not allow (or be permitted to allow) XYZ to happen, but XYZ did happen.” When we examine our assumptions and expectations, we may see that some are quite questionable. Even our opinion of sufficient conditions for the Church being false may be questionable.
In summary, if there are things you have come across which challenge your testimony, it is likely that there are still things to come across which would strengthen your testimony, such as over 200 KnoWhys from Book of Mormon Central or 80 evidences supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith from Michael R. Ash.
Ultimately faith is a choice and we can choose to be faithful, or choose not to be faithful, to the light that we have been given, remembering the promise that:
…he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. (D&C 50:24)
I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church
Recommended reading – Positive evidence for Mormonism
1. Antony G. N. Flew, God and Philosophy (London, 1966), 63.
2. John Welch. 2016. The Power of Evidence in the Nurturing of Faith. [ONLINE] Available at:http://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1082&index=4. [Accessed 21 October 2016].
3. Davis Bitton. 2004. I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church. [ONLINE] Available at:http://publications.mi.byu.edu/publications/review/16/2/S00017-5176ad2f5804e17Bitton.pdf. [Accessed 24 October 2016].
4. Daniel Peterson. 2016. The Logic Tree of Life, or, Why I Can’t Manage to Disbelieve. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/2016-fairmormon-conference/logic-tree-life. [Accessed 19 October 2016].
5. Davis Bitton. 2004. I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church. [ONLINE] Available at:http://publications.mi.byu.edu/publications/review/16/2/S00017-5176ad2f5804e17Bitton.pdf. [Accessed 24 October 2016].
The Probability of Mormonism as Divine
FAIRMormon welcomes Paul Brooks as a guest blogger.
Paul is from the United Kingdom, runs the website reasonablemormon.com and volunteers at Book of Mormon Central. For a good example of the use of Bayesian analysis in apologetics see G. Bruce Schaalje.
The Probability of Mormonism as Divine
“The Probability of Mormonism as Divine” (authored by R. Keith Widdowson and published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform) uses the Bayesian probability theory to mathematically assess the hypothesis “Mormonism is divine.” The book concludes that the primary hypothesis has a 30% probability of being true.
The first thing to note is that this level of probability is described as not being worthy of abandoning belief:
According to my findings, given our current state of knowledge, it would be reasonable to be a Mormon believer (1).
Naturally when using Bayes’ Theorem, there is a huge amount of subjective scoring involved. Over the course of the methodology used in the book, over 400 individual scores/decisions are made which all contribute to the final probability.
The two-stage mathematical process used to arrive at the conclusion is well documented and the calculations are all correct, but unfortunately I found the final probability was made quite unreliable due to:
- The sub-hypotheses selected
- The scoring criteria selected
- The evidence selected and conclusions drawn
- The characteristics of God selected
Each of these will be discussed below. [Read more…] about The Probability of Mormonism as Divine
Signature Books Too Hasty?
Signature Books has recently issued a press release about an article that I co-authored along with Craig Foster and Gregory Smith. In the article we “strongly suggest[ed] that … the age of Joseph’s wives was well within the norm for their time and place on the nineteenth-century American frontier.” The public relations employees of Signature Books are certainly entitled to disagree like Todd Compton did in a contrasting essay in the same book, The Persistence of Polygamy. To be clear, I agree with my critics that it is entirely inappropriate,
not to mention illegal [thanks Last Lemming SteveDensley for correction], in today’s society to marry a 14 year old young woman. [Read more…] about Signature Books Too Hasty?
Mebaqqer and Bishop
In modern Mormonism, the office of Bishop straddles the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. On the Aaronic side, the ward Bishop presides over the local Aaronic priesthood quorums (the Aaronic priests’ quorum in particular) and manages temporal affairs (ward budgets and the collection and distribution of welfare assistance). The Presiding Bishop of the church does these things on a global scale. On the Melchizedek side, the Bishop oversees much of the spiritual activities of the local congregations. The dual nature of the office makes it somewhat of a puzzle in studying its origins in Early Christianity. Hugh Nibley primarily situated the ancient office on the Aaronic side and saw attempts to elevate it to a Melchizedek status as pretentious. Later LDS writers have been more willing to grant the early Christian office more of a tie in with the mysterious Melchizedek priesthood, especially with a recent upswing in scholarly interest in it. [Read more…] about Mebaqqer and Bishop
Timely Statistics Vindicate the Prophet
This paper was written as a draft of the author’s contribution to a recent publication. See Craig L. Foster, David Keller, and Gregory L. Smith, “The Age Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives in Social and Demographic Context,” in Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster eds., The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy, (Independence, John Whitmer Books Press 2010), 152-183.
Article Notes: Seixas, James, and the Rock
With my study of plural marriage demographics completed, I have returned to studying early Christian church leadership. I like to type in search terms in library subscription databases and skim the articles that pop up. I figure some might be interested in my research notes. I welcome any discussion about issues that are raised. [Read more…] about Article Notes: Seixas, James, and the Rock