The Plan for Tonight

Seth sent me this link about some Evangelical missionaries spreading the word on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Evangelicals Aglow with Their Faith .

Just to make sure the scales are balanced, Salt Lake City has been sending missionaries my way.  Several weeks ago some LDS sister missionaries approached my wife in a grocery store parking lot.  We were finally able to host them for dinner about a week ago with the caveat that we not discuss our faiths, but just get to know each other personally.  Knowing that they are on a limited budget, we let them raid our toiletry stockpile and invited them to use our phone for long distance calls any time they wanted. Tonight, we’re inviting them back for more religious discussion.

Last night as we prepared for bed my wife and I discussed what “the plan” for tonight would be.  We think we’ll ask the young women to share with us how they came to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon and in turn share some of our experiences with the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

Then (time permitting) we’ll most likely make it clear that we’ve thoroughly investigated Mormonism and do not find it credible.  We’re happy to have the young women back if they’d like to learn more about our faith.  We’re also willing to share our reservations about Mormonism with them if they’d like to attempt to answer our objections.  We’d probably be more than happy to have them back for dinner and light discussion if they’d like.

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91 thoughts on “The Plan for Tonight

  1. You know that when you tell them that you’ve thoroughly investigated Mormonism and don’t buy it, that they probably won’t really believe you; they’ll think that there is some little thing you missed and they will testify of it and your wall will just crumble. At least, that’s how I was as a missionary. (And, to some degree, I think we are all that way when we accept something that others reject: it’s hard to really understand why others don’t see things the way we do.)

    It reminds me of my father’s friend, whose surname is Dickensheets. Often when he introduces himself to someone, the new person will get a wry smile and start to say some kind of joke related to Dickensheets’ name. Dickensheets quickly stops them and says, “C’mon, I grew up with this name. You have to realize that I’ve heard all the jokes before, so unless you are certain that yours is original, you should just save it.” Ninety-nine percent of the time, the “jokester” goes ahead with the joke—and 100% of the time it’s one that Dickensheets already heard.

  2. I’m glad to hear of your kindness toward the LDS missionaries. I think that is the same way Christ would approach the situation. I really do hope that the missionaries will try to address your concerns about Mormonism. I think you probably already know they will most likely have not heard about many of the details you will share with them. They will probably try to present you with some of the superficial LDS apologetics. I’d be interested to know if they are aware that Joseph Smith had many wives and that some of them were married to men at the same time. I was not aware of this until a couple of years ago (and I’m a life long member of 30+ years). I know there are explanations for this (from an LDS apologist perspective) but it is truly one of the main things that confuses me the most and makes me doubt the LDS Church. It would be interesting to know if they are even aware of it. If they are anything like me they will be aware that polygamy was practiced in the early Church but have absolutely no idea about the details.

  3. I have no idea how someone could be a lifelong member of the Church and not know about polygamy. Willful ignorance is all I can think of.

    Seriously, they teach it in seminary. It’s in the D&C. It gets talked about in institute classes. It gets discussed in Sunday School (Gospel Doctrine) every four years when D&C is on the menu. And probably it gets mentioned at least once during Old Testament and Book of Mormon.

  4. Oh, we know about polygamy Kullervo. It’s just a lot of us tend to make it purely a Brigham Young thing and try not to mentally associate it with Joseph.

    BrianJ wrote:

    “that they probably won’t really believe you; they’ll think that there is some little thing you missed and they will testify of it and your wall will just crumble.”

    Such is the prerogative of youthful optimism. I don’t fault them for it. It will probably be a refreshing change from jaded bloggers. And who knows? Is anything impossible for God?

  5. Oh, we know about polygamy Kullervo. It’s just a lot of us tend to make it purely a Brigham Young thing and try not to mentally associate it with Joseph.

    Really? I’m just saying, I remember pretty clearly learning about it in seminary.

  6. It was news the last set of missionaries in my home. They insisted it wasn’t true that it started with Joseph Smith. I told them to go look it up and they came back apologizing for not having it right. I had to correct so many Mormon folklore apologetics they believed were correct.

  7. That baffles me. I have no idea how someone can grow up in the church and be so clueless. I mean, I know plenty of whitewashing goes on, but it’s not like it’s a secret you have to uncover or anything.

  8. Problem is that so much in this area depends on what local leadership and teachers are willing to bring up with our teenagers.

    If you go by what’s in the official Church manuals and study guides – no mention of Joseph Smith’s WIVES whatsoever. Just Emma. Over and out. And if it’s not in the approved materials, a lot of local lay leadership just doesn’t feel comfortable “going there.”

  9. While I know some will disagree with your “methods,” while others applaud… I will say this. My brother is serving an LDS mission in the Minneappolis Minnesota area and would be lucky to encounter and individual such as yourself.

    While I personally have made an effort to distance myself from LDS beliefs, most of my family still subscribes to them. My brother is obviously one of them. You would be like a shining light in a sea of obcene and cruel people that he has encountered while prosthelyzing. Even if you were not a “likely convert,” I don’t see how any missionary (of any faith) would not be glad to encounter a friendly soul – especially one who is kind and giving.

    I appreciate that.

  10. I befriended a mid twenty-something woman while serving a mission in Japan. She was one of those “eternal investigators” who mostly just liked hanging out with the missionaries and church members, and learning at our free English classes. Nice person, but going nowhere from a proselyting perspective. Other missionaries had written her off when that became apparent to them. I was aware of this, but decided to persist anyway.

    We had some good discussions, but she was a committed “all roads lead to Rome” sort of person and wouldn’t budge.

    It was disappointing, yeah. But it was still worth it, and I’m glad we were able to touch each other’s lives. Life’s not just for successes. The failures are precious too.

    I ended up working with a lot of people like her on my mission. Guess I have a soft spot for the “hopeless cases.”

  11. Seth, you and I served very different missions. I served in Brazil, where we had far more people wanting to hear from us than time to teach. Because of that, it was difficult to justify spending time with people who showed no interest of joining the church. When those situations arose, I simply explained my dilemma to our “pseudo-investigators”; in every case they understood my point of view.

  12. In Germany we spent a lot of time with eternal investigators, because the alternative was knocking on doors or street contacting. One day I knocked on doors for ten straight hours without having one single gospel conversation. It built character, but it also kind of sucked.

  13. Seth, I wouldn’t consider your experience with the lady in Japan to be a failure. Speaking as someone who is also something of an “eternal investigator” when it comes to the LDS church, I guarantee you that this lady remembers you, and thinks of you from time to time. I remember every Mormon missionary I ever talked to.

  14. Kullervo said:

    That baffles me. I have no idea how someone can grow up in the church and be so clueless.

    It happens, and on a variety of subjects.

    When teaching high school students a few years ago, I had a couple of them try to tell me that the wine Jesus drank (and made) wasn’t fermented. I shudder to think that by now they could be on a mission telling some investigators the same nonsense.

    Seth R. said:

    Guess I have a soft spot for the “hopeless cases.”

    You’re in good company. So does Jesus.

  15. When teaching high school students a few years ago, I had a couple of them try to tell me that the wine Jesus drank (and made) wasn’t fermented. I shudder to think that by now they could be on a mission telling some investigators the same nonsense.

    That’s a pretty common Mormon folklore assertion. It’s not even in the same category as not knowing about polygamy.

  16. Everything went as planned. My wife made them cry as she shared her own testimony (my wife is good at making other women cry). One part of “the plan” I forgot to mention was to offer to attend a ward meeting with them if they visited our church with us. They said they were no longer allowed to attend other churches (despite the fact that we had a Saturday night service).

    I made it abundantly clear it was their choice to hear our objections or not. They assumed that we had already heard all of the LDS answers to our objections, so they weren’t interested in hearing what we had to say there.

    They said that they would stop in in the future to say “hi”, gave us their email addresses for future contact and one of them said that after her mission she wanted to come back to give us a hug. She ended up leaving her scriptures on our couch, so I’m sure we’ll see her soon.

    One other thing my wife and discussed after they left was how weak we have found Mormon testimonies to be. We always hear from Mormons that they could never leave Mormonism because of the powerful spiritual experiences they have had. When we ask them to share those experiences with us, they’ve always been vague and uninspiring.

    Of course everyone’s testimony is personal. I’m sure that there are some with awe inspiring experiences, but we haven’t heard them yet. The skeptical side of me wants to say it’s the emperors-new-clothes phenomenon.

  17. Tim said:

    One other thing my wife and discussed after they left was how weak we have found Mormon testimonies to be. We always hear from Mormons that they could never leave Mormonism because of the powerful spiritual experiences they have had. When we ask them to share those experiences with us, they’ve always been vague and uninspiring.

    I’ve heard strong Mormon testimonies, and I’ve heard weak ones. The same is true for evangelicals.

    Tim said:

    Of course everyone’s testimony is personal. I’m sure that there are some with awe inspiring experiences, but we haven’t heard them yet.

    Do you think that others who hear your testimony, or that of your wife, would find it awe-inspiring? Just curious.

    Tim said:

    The skeptical side of me wants to say it’s the emperors-new-clothes phenomenon.

    Oh, I certainly think there can be some social pressure to say that “I know” the church is true, and some might feel somehow inadequate if they can’t make such a claim. I still prefer (and say) “I believe,” although that sounds too Protestant for some LDS tastes. But I’d rather be honest than to claim an experience I’ve never had.

  18. “One other thing my wife and discussed after they left was how weak we have found Mormon testimonies to be. We always hear from Mormons that they could never leave Mormonism because of the powerful spiritual experiences they have had. When we ask them to share those experiences with us, they’ve always been vague and uninspiring.”

    What grounds do you have to say this Tim?

  19. And if it comes to that, I’m not even sure I get what you mean by “weak” or “powerful.”

    You posted an audio feed on the Song of Solomon with a young lady “bearing her testimony” of what God had done for her.

    You think I haven’t heard dozens of testimonies just as heartfelt as hers from Mormons? Or was hers just as “vague” and “weak” according to you? What makes hers more powerful than the witnesses I’ve heard at church? Because she happened to be attached to a Biblical view you agree with?

    What experiences have you had with God that you can guarantee won’t come off “vague” or “uninspiring?” And what makes them so different? I’ve heard evangelical testimonials before. I find them indistinguishable from LDS testimonials, by and large.

    Is “weak” just your synonym for “doctrinally incorrect?”

    Because we have done the rounds on that score, and you have not made the case yet.

  20. Is “weak” just your synonym for “doctrinally incorrect?”

    No, not at all. I’ll respond more in depth later but this goes to a key epistimological difference between Mormons and Evangelicals.

  21. You’re not going to make the case that Mormons are “emotional” and Evangelicals are “rational” again, are you?

    Because we’ve already covered that ground before.

  22. I think a lot of Mormon testimonies are “weak,” and here’s why:

    A testimony is supposed to be a firm conviction (or knowledge if you want) of the truth of Mormon doctrine that’s based on mystical experience, i.e. personal revelation, the witness of the holy ghost, etc.

    The problem is that Mormonism 1) promises that mystical experience is available, and 2) teaches that it is the only legitimate basis for testimony–or at least it’s the strongly preferred basis (I’m not going to argue that one, for the record; I don’t care what D&C verse you can quote, the practical reality is that a true believing Mormon is _supposed_ to have a mystical witness and they know it).

    The problem comes in when that promise and doctrine are juxtaposed against a reality where mystical experience really isn’t as available as all that. Mysticism happens, but it certainly isn’t just on tap. God’s not a vending machine for powerful spiritual experiences.

    So, take someone who believes the Church’s teachings, and they are faced with 1) Mormonism’s de facto requirement that they get a mystical experience, 2) Mormonism’s promise that mystical experiences are ready for the asking, and 3) the fact that for most people, they really aren’t.

    The result is that the bar for revelation gets lowered. You get people who tell you “I think you _do_ have a testimony; you just don’t realize it,” or “I think the Holy Ghost _already_ has witnessed the truth to you; you just haven’t recognized it.”

    This person believes that they must have gotten this promised revelation, so they retroactively insert it. Being vaguely satisfied with their own cultural worldview (who isn’t?) gets read as “a witness from the Holy Ghost.” Bring an emotional reaction to something churchy into the picture at any point, and you’ve suddenly got “a sure witness from the Holy Ghost of the truth of the Gospel.”

    When God doesn’t deliver what Mormonism promises, true belivers retroactively interpet their lives to convince themselves that God did deliver, thereby avoiding the unpalatable conclusion that Mormonism’s whole system is deeply flawed and the Church isn’t actually True.

    It’s so incredibly circular: you want a spiritual witness, you believe that one is forthcoming, and voila! You get one, even if it means bending and twisting your real experiences and building up in your mind to make them be what you need them to be.

    Now, not everyone has this kind of testimony, I grant you. Some people really do have (or claim to have–and it’s not so uncommon as to be suspect) legitimate mystical experiences. But I think a whole lot of Mormons have just convinced themselves that their general level of satisfaction with their religion–bred from cultural comfort, and from the meaning and direction it gives their lives–is really Revelation from God.

  23. Not at all.

    Of course there’s a really wide variety of spiritual experience out there, and many ways of interpreting spiritual experience.

    But I really do think Mormonism’s claims about spiritual experiences lead believers to inadvertently fabricate the mystical out of the decidedly mundane.

  24. “I have no idea how someone could be a lifelong member of the Church and not know about polygamy. Willful ignorance is all I can think of.”

    I’ve had many Mormon friends from high school through law school. Mainly because the local Mormon church hosted lots of dances, and it was a great place to meet some very attractive young ladies. But I digress. Of about a dozen or so close Mormon friends, two looked at me with a straight face and said Mormonism never embrace polygamy. One of them was a friend from law school. I had suggested he write an article on the Constitutionality of the United States forcing the territory of Utah to get rid of polygamous marriage as a prerequisite to state hood. He looked me dead in the eyes and said “Mormons have never been polygamists.” I was dumb founded and didn’t know what to say. I figured it was better to let the issue drop.

  25. Seth R. said:

    I’ve heard evangelical testimonials before. I find them indistinguishable from LDS testimonials, by and large.

    That pretty much what I was trying to say earlier. When I’ve heard Mormons talk about what God has done for them in their lives recently (say, for example, in dealing with an illness), and I’ve heard evangelicals do the same, they sound very, very similar similar, almost identical.

    The same goes for many of the more dramatic conversion stories I’ve heard. A common scenario is that the person was leading an aimless life, perhaps mixed up with drugs or promiscuity, and then has a life-changing experience that involves being touched by God and going through an experience of surrender to God’s will. Both converts to evangelical Christianity and converts to LDS Christianity talk about a personal peace they experience and that sort of thing. While Mormons may have some unique language (such as “burning in the bosom,” and I’m not even sure what that means), the experiences people have in conversion sound uncannily similar.

    Similarly, I’ve heard evangelicals talk about dealing with temptation, and I’ve heard Mormons talk about dealing with temptation. Although some details may differ (a Mormon may ask for a priesthood blessing, for example, while a Protestant may start reading the Bible), their experiences and concerns sound remarkably alike. The differences to me seem to be more a matter of style (which can vary within evangelicalism between Southern Baptists and charismatics, for example) and of language used than of substance.

    At least that’s my observation after spending parts of my life in both camps and having family in both camps.

  26. Do you think that others who hear your testimony, or that of your wife, would find it awe-inspiring? Just curious.

    Hopefully I can answer both of Seth and Eric’s questions here.

    First off, let me be clear, I’m not trying to play the game “whose testimony is better?”. That’s not what I was getting at in the least.

    There are a whole range of spiritual experiences that both Evangelicals and Mormons have encountered. There are Evangelicals with vague and weak testimonials as there are Mormons with vague and weak testimonials.

    Overwhelming I hear from Mormons that the only way to know that the Book of Mormon is true is to take Moroni’s word for it, pray and ask God and then receive a mystical confirmation that it is true. Similarly, I hear Mormons consistently say that it doesn’t matter what any historical fact might have to say, their spiritual experiences (their testimony) are the only things that will convince them to have faith or not in the Book of Mormon.

    Some acknowledge that all the secular facts are pointing away from the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s prophetic status. But they can not deny their personal mystical experience that says otherwise.
    So that being said I expect to hear Mormons talk about something profound when they share their testimony since it has the power to overcome all other data. Instead I hear things like “I was able to (merely) finish reading the Book of Mormon” or “I was raised in the church”. Hardly bosom burning stories.

    Now as I’ve stated, Evangelicals similarly share some rather mundane experiences in describing their own faith journey. But Evangelicals do not hold their own experience up as THE thing that compels them to believe. It is certainly a strong motivator for many but we don’t keep all of our marbles in that pouch. As the latest book about Mother Teresa expresses; sometimes we hear nothing from God.

    We have two different definitions for the word “testimony”. For Evangelicals it means a story of God’s work in their life. For Mormons it means their reason for belief. Whether or not my story was better than the missionaries’ is not my point.

    Kullervo, I think your thoughts on this topic were excellently expressed.

  27. “But Evangelicals do not hold their own experience up as THE thing that compels them to believe. It is certainly a strong motivator for many but we don’t keep all of our marbles in that pouch.”

    Then what do you base your belief on? I have frequent experiences with God and those are what make me believe. If I had never had any experience with God, what could I base my personal belief on? Look at it this way: I don’t care at all whether Peter, James, and 500 other people saw and spoke with Jesus if Jesus isn’t interested in making some kind of connection with me. My experiences matter. (I suppose I would think differently if I didn’t see Jesus as a personal Savior, but then that’s the whole claim of Chrisitianity.)

  28. And, yes, I’m using “experiences” vaguely so as to encompass many different kinds of experiences, and not just the “burning in the bosom” that Tim seems to so often pooh-pooh Mormons about.

  29. Then what do you base your belief on? I have frequent experiences with God and those are what make me believe.

    I base my belief on those things too. But that’s not all. I believe George Washington crossed the Delaware, but Washington has yet to make an appearance before me. Our faiths are based on some historical events that we don’t need a spiritual experience to confirm.

    And by a “personal” savior I don’t just think that means that I personally hear from him. More significantly it means that he saves my person individually and that I have to personally make a decision to follow him.

  30. Good point Brian. This has come up before, but I think that God is only worth following if the person internally needs and wants Him. If God is a some sort of reprehensible monster, He’s not worth worshiping, and I don’t give two straws if you can prove Jesus rose from the tomb and ascended into heaven. So he’s got powers. So what? So does Superman.

    I follow Jesus and God the Father because internally, what they say speaks to me. The reason the words speak to me are due to a combination of personal and evidentiary reasons. But the main reason is that these doctrines in Mormonism expand the soul, they are delicious to me and they resonate with me.

    I more or less reject Tim’s earlier stated notion that it doesn’t matter what I think or what I want – it only matters what is true. If God cannot appeal to the person directly and intimately, it just doesn’t matter for that individual, and no amount of intellectual gas will move them otherwise.

  31. Seth R. said:

    I follow Jesus and God the Father because internally, what they say speaks to me. The reason the words speak to me are due to a combination of personal and evidentiary reasons. But the main reason is that these doctrines in Mormonism expand the soul, they are delicious to me and they resonate with me.

    Amen. Extremely well said. I’d say very much the same thing about why I ultimately chose LDS Christianity over the Christianity I grew up with. The teachings of the Church — and the LDS understanding of what Jesus taught, who God is and who we are — spoke to me and speak to me in a way that evangelicalism couldn’t and doesn’t.

    I wouldn’t use the word “mystical” to describe that, although I suppose some might, and I certainly don’t see myself as holding some strange belief that runs completely contrary to the evidence, which I have studied carefully.

    But whether you believe in the truth of evangelicalism or the truth of Mormonism, you can’t get there based on objective evidence alone. It can’t be done. The objective proof just isn’t there. Ultimately, a leap of faith is involved. And I am far from convinced that evangelicals make less of a leap than Mormons do.

  32. Tim, I was afraid that we’d be back to the history-based testimony. I’m still not swayed by that argument. Oh well.

  33. This has come up before, but I think that God is only worth following if the person internally needs and wants Him.

    I’m sorry, this just doesn’t line up with anything in the Bible (or Mormon scripture as far as I can tell). God’s glory and honor is only found in the worshiper?!?!? If the created things don’t feel they need the creator, then he is due no awe or respect? No way. God’s glory exist whether he creates smug, self-important flecks of dust or not. If we will not worship him, then the rocks and the trees will do it for us.

    So he’s got powers. So what? So does Superman.

    Superman does not exist and thus has no powers. (and by the way, no coincidence that God and Christ themes run throughout Superman comics and movies)

    I more or less reject Tim’s earlier stated notion that it doesn’t matter what I think or what I want – it only matters what is true. If God cannot appeal to the person directly and intimately, it just doesn’t matter for that individual, and no amount of intellectual gas will move them otherwise.

    The Bible has a running theme of God pursuing people and being rejected because of man’s own pride. Some how truth always has a way of catching up with people whether they accept or reject it.

    But the main reason is that these doctrines in Mormonism expand the soul, they are delicious to me and they resonate with me.

    You’re basically (but eloquently) saying “I believe because I like it.” That offers no justification for convincing anyone to reject one path and accepting another. If Mormonism is nothing more than a preference, you spent two years of your life telling people that chocolate is better than vanilla.

  34. Just reading along your blog and enjoying the discussion. Question: If two people have religious experience that both validate their beliefs, and those two belief systems are contradictory, how can you discern the truth? One has to be false. Experiential knowledge cannot be the deciding factor. True?

    So if Tim has experiential knowledge that Christianity is true and Seth has experiential knowledge that leads him to believe in Mormonism, where can we go from there if not to historical, objective, truth claims?

  35. Tim, I don’t think you and I define “personal Savior” differently. If Jesus were unwilling to “save your person individually” then it would make no sense for you to “personally make a decision to follow him.” Why would you follow?

    It’s not just that Jesus makes personal contact with me, it’s that that personal contact serves to confirm that he is willing to save me personally.

    (I think this is basically what Seth meant in the second part of his first paragraph (#34); I too disagree with what he wrote in the first part.)

  36. Oh, and I’ll just say that I am very, very skeptical that anyone has good historical (i.e., objective, scientific) evidence that there was a resurrection. I’ll look at what you linked to in the other post though.

  37. Josh, there is another possibility: Seth and Tim are both wrong. There is also the possibility that neither of them have any empirical evidence to support their claims, which leaves you with no where to go to break the tie.

  38. One problem you may face when talking to a Mormon about their mystical experiences is that a great number of them take Jesus’ mandate to “tell no man” about their profound experiences very seriously. So they’ll allude to things generally, and many times have no idea what to say other than “I know that it’s true” [with the bracketed unspoken “because of experiences too sacred to tell you about”].

    This has been my experience anyway. Most Mormons I know hold their most profound encounters with God close to their hearts and only share them with those closest to them.

  39. BrianJ. True. Thanks for keeping me from presenting a false dichotomy.

    So if two contradictory beliefs both are validated by subjective experiential knowledge, then (a) we must be agnostic, or (b) we must look for objective validation.

    If there is objective empirical evidence for, say Seth’s view, then ought Tim to give up his view and assume that his subjective experience was invalid?

  40. Josh, I’m reluctant to respond because a) this is getting into philosophy, which I am not even a novice in, and b) it’s feeding the threadjack (not that you started it).

    That said, my answer to “If there is objective empirical evidence … give up his view and assume that his subjective experience was invalid?” is “No.” I think what Tim is left with (in your scenario) is competing information: he has some reasons to believe one thing, and other reasons to believe another. He has to decide which reasons are most compelling, most trustworthy, etc. Paul wrote about God’s ways seeming foolish in the eyes of the world; I think that is relevant here.

    There is also the philosophical question of whether subjective (personal) and objective (empirical) data can even be compared at all.

  41. holdinator, I think this kind of hint/suggestion happens in Mormonism quite a bit, and honestly I think it is dishonest and manipulative.

    When you imply to a believing Mormon that you’ve had an experience too sacred to talk about, the believing Mormon (who honestly believes in visions, personal appearances of Jesus, etc.) is prone to imagine your experience is of a much higher caliber than it probably really was.

    I saw this on my mission all the time: my butthole first mission president would always hint and imply, and tons of Elders ate it up with a spoon and thought he was Lehi, Joseph Smith, and Isaiah all mixed together. And I think he allowed us to think that.

    I don’t in general think that the leaders of the Church are evil or sinister, but I think they are pretty much all guilty of this particular dishonesty. Maybe there’s a really intense, difficult-to-explain mystical experience or two in there somewhere, but I think it’s way more likely that we’re talking about a lot of burnings-in-the-bosom. And I’m not making fun of burnings-in-the-bosom–they can be part of experiences that are intensely personal and meaningful. But I think when details aren’t offered, Mormons who believe in miracles, visions, and modern prophets as a matter of theology assume–not unreasonably, given their beliefs–that somehitng of an entirely different character is actually happening.

    And no, seth, I’m not saying that all Mormons are stupid and gullible. But I think a lot of them allow themselves to be misled because gullibility is built into the system. And I know there are plenty of Mormons who don’t think that their stake president is conversing with the physical manifestation of Jesus Christ in his office every Sunday, but I think that there are plenty who do (maybe not their stake president, but certainly the seventies and up).

    And I think it’s manipulative and dishonest of Church leaders to not be more frank about their personal spirituakl experiences. They “know or should know” that not putting it all on the table is going to result in a lot of misunderstanding.

  42. BrianJ,
    Thanks. I noticed that there are some other threads that do delve into this subject. I’m new here.

    So I guess my main question comes down to this then: is there any time when subjective experience should be questioned or rejected? It seems that in your mind it is no.

    For example, if the Bible says that adultery is wrong and yet I have a personal experience where I feel God is telling me to have an affair, should I doubt my personal experience?

  43. “Superman does not exist and thus has no powers.”

    Irrelevant.

    If Superman did exist, would I be obligated to worship him?

    No I would not.

    The mere fact (assuming it is proven fact) that Jesus rose from the dead and claimed to be the Son of God does not obligate me to worship him either.

    Your historicity argument does not hold up as sufficient for faith.

  44. Kullervo said:

    And I know there are plenty of Mormons who don’t think that their stake president is conversing with the physical manifestation of Jesus Christ in his office every Sunday, but I think that there are plenty who do (maybe not their stake president, but certainly the seventies and up).

    In my decade-plus of being an active and involved member of the church, I have never heard any member, leader or otherwise, suggest that his/her spiritual experiences were too sacred to talk about (with the possible exception that many won’t describe experiences in the temple, spiritual or not), much less use them as a means of manipulation.

    In fact, what I have heard is almost the opposite. I have come to personally know two stake presidents, and I am struck by how ordinary of persons they were/are. I don’t have the impression they are more “spiritual” than I am. They merely have a different position in the Church, that’s all.

    And even going higher up the ladder, so to speak, I remember hearing President Hinckley talking once about how he receives revelation. His description of a “still small voice” wasn’t all that much difference from what I (and perhaps even Tim, for that matter) have experienced. There wasn’t anything dramatic about it at all.

    Kullervo, I’m not saying that what you describe doesn’t happen. I’m just saying I haven’t experienced it. And if I consistently saw the sort of stuff happen that you say you’ve experienced, I’d be questioning my involvement in the church as well.

    I know the church has its flaky people, but then so do all churches. The difference is that in a church of lay leadership they’re more likely to get a platform than they might elsewhere.

  45. Fair enough; your experience may differ. But please don’t imply that my experience with the Church has been somehow too limited in scope to get an accurate picture of Mormonism. I’ve been a lifelong member of the Church, have lived in eight or nine different wards in vastly different parts of the country (not counting the six or seven I served in on my mission), have met and interacted with bishops, mission presidents (not just mine), temple presidents, stake presidents, and Area and General Authorities. My extended pioneer-stock family is scattered around the country and extremely active. I have uncles who have been bishops, and my grandfather has been a stake president, a mission president, and has served in a temple presidency. I graduated from seminary, and I took institute classes.

    I know that the Church is alrge and diverse, and I have met plenty of leaders–especially bishops–who are simply humble men of God doing the best they can. But I think the further up the chain you get, the more consistent the behavior gets and the more I think it is spiritually abusive.

  46. kullervo, I can pretty much agree with what you say in #45 (with the obvious caveats). Ambiguity can, at times, be dishonest—even if one does not realize that it is dishonest.

    Eric, there are many experiences I have had that I wouldn’t share with most people, and some that I might share in a public setting and then never share again. I try to be careful in how I “half-speak” of these things: I don’t, for example, use my secret experiences as a way to convince someone else to believe something; if I expect you to be swayed by my experience, then I feel you should get to see all the data. But if someone asks, “Why do you do ______?” I don’t mind replying, “Because of a mystical experience I had, but I’m not going to share the details with you.”

  47. Josh, “is there any time when subjective experience should be questioned or rejected? It seems that in your mind it is no.”

    I’m a scientist. I think everything should be questioned.

    “For example, if the Bible says that adultery is wrong and yet I have a personal experience where I feel God is telling me to have an affair, should I doubt my personal experience?”

    Welcome to the world of Adam, Eve, Abraham, and many, many others who were forced to choose. It’s a damn hard test our God has devised for us, isn’t it?

  48. kullervo, I can pretty much agree with what you say in #45 (with the obvious caveats). Ambiguity can, at times, be dishonest—even if one does not realize that it is dishonest.

    Well, one the one hand, I’d like to allow for the benefit of the doubt, and believe that Church leaders have no intent to deceive. I mean, it sounds pretty far-fetched when you couch it in language like “intentionally deceive by being ambiguous.”

    At the same time, I really doubt that they’re simply unaware that their ambiguity is misinterpreted. Which means they allow the misapprehension to go on uncorrected. And that’s pretty much still fraud.

  49. Kullervo said:

    Fair enough; your experience may differ. But please don’t imply that my experience with the Church has been somehow too limited in scope to get an accurate picture of Mormonism.

    No intent to imply such. People often have varying experiences, sometimes even in the same ward, depending on their backgrounds and their knowledge of what’s going on around them.

    And I wouldn’t say all my experiences with the church have been positive; I, too, have seen at least one example of something at at least approached spiritual abuse. I also saw plenty of spiritual abuse in the non-LDS church I grew up in. I know it happens, and I wouldn’t for a second suggest that you haven’t seen it or experienced it on the scale you say. I have attended very few wards, and it is possible that my current ward is much more tolerant than most (in fact, I suspect it is).

  50. Tim, I think you’ve made it abundantly clear that you don’t find testimonies of Latter-day Saints as concrete, powerful, or awe inspiring. In addition, it is clear that you think the testimony of Latter-day Saints that you have heard, function has a means to overcome evidence that Joseph Smith is a false prophet and that the Book of Mormon is fabrication. It is a means to suppress facts and evidence that the LDS Church is not what it claims to be, that if allowed to surface, could lead people out of the Church. In other words, you seem to suggest that the LDS testimony is a reason that people remain in the Church, not because it is a legitimate source of truth, but rather because it is the mechanism to suppress the truth that, if it could escape, would lead people out of Mormonism.

    Having said that, I think it would be useful to all if you might offer what you would find non-vague, powerful, and inspiring. In other words, what, if a Latter-day Saint told you and said to you, would you find powerful and inspiring? What would you consider to be a compelling testimony? It is clear you have never heard such a thing before, so I’m asking if you might use your imagination and consider what you would find compelling. In other words, what could a faithful Latter-day Saint say that to you that would make sense to you and that you could accept is built upon a valid foundation? Is there anything? Perhaps you might offer a few examples.

  51. I actually have heard ex-mormons give descriptions of their “burnings in the bosom” that made me understand what a difficult thing it was for them to look past as they evaluated the evidence.

    They described things such as pulsating sensations running through their body, an ecstatic ache glowing from their heart, a “rush” of peace and a sense of knowledge and warmth dripping off the top of their heads and running down to their feet.

    I’ve also found online Mormons describe miraculous healings they have seen. (all of the above I should point out I have experienced in worship or heard other Evangelicals give report of.).

    I believe all of these descriptions to be true. BUT the Mormons I’ve talked to in person about their spiritual experiences have always left me with a sense that there is no “there” there.

    I’ve gotten the sense that Mormons are expected to report such experiences (or feel pressured to). But for many, they have not had a fulfillment of Moroni’s promise like they have hoped to (and dare not let it be known).

    I think the same could be said of many (I couldn’t guess a percentage) in Charismatic denominations which required the gift of tongues as proof that a person has been baptized by the Holy Spirit. If you could get them by themselves and strip them of cultural pressure, you’d likely find that they are mimicing what they see others doing.

  52. Incidentally, one “witnessing to Mormons” technique I’ve heard is to share the spiritual experiences one has received in an Evangelical church. The thinking being that what the average Evangelical has experienced is likely to be far more dramatic than what the average Mormon has experienced.

    I have no way to know if that is true or not. Nor do I think that is necessarily proof of anything. A tantric Hindu or someone on psychedelic mushrooms might be more likely than both to have spiritual experiences.

  53. Incidentally, one “witnessing to Mormons” technique I’ve heard is to share the spiritual experiences one has received in an Evangelical church. The thinking being that what the average Evangelical has experienced is likely to be far more dramatic than what the average Mormon has experienced.

    I have no way to know if that is true or not. Nor do I think that is necessarily proof of anything. A tantric Hindu or someone on psychedelic mushrooms might be more likely than both to have spiritual experiences.

  54. “I’ve gotten the sense that Mormons are expected to report such experiences (or feel pressured to). But for many, they have not had a fulfillment of Moroni’s promise like they have hoped to (and dare not let it be known).”

    Sadly, I’m sure that is true.

  55. “I actually have heard ex-mormons give descriptions of their “burnings in the bosom” that made me understand what a difficult thing it was for them to look past as they evaluated the evidence.”

    That’s an artful dodge Tim. Are you going to answer Aquinas’s question or not?

  56. No, Seth. It would have been “artful” if it hadn’t been so blatant. “What would a Mormon have to say…?” “Well, I’ve heard ex-Mormons say…”

    I don’t think Aquinas’ question was fair, though. It’s a lot like asking, “What would it take to get you to renounce Christianity?” I wouldn’t entertain such a question.

    That said, I think that Tim’s remark was equally unfair, so he invited Aquinas’ question. Do two unfairs make a fair?

  57. “I don’t think Aquinas’ question was fair, though. It’s a lot like asking, “What would it take to get you to renounce Christianity?” I wouldn’t entertain such a question.”

    Tim has repeatedly asked this exact question of the Mormons here, so I think it’s very much a fair question. Whether it is really something Tim should answer is another story.

  58. Tim, you know where this conversation went south…. your post #18:

    “One other thing my wife and discussed after they left was how weak we have found Mormon testimonies to be.”

    You know Tim, that just sounded incredibly snotty.

    “My wife’s spiritual kung-fu is better than your spiritual kung-fu.”

    I mean, really. What does the relative strength or weakness of Mormon or Evangelical testimonies have to do with anything we’re trying to accomplish here? What’s next? My dad can beat up your dad?

    So sorry if I’ve been overly aggressive. But you had it coming.

  59. Tim said (without endorsing the viewpoint):

    Incidentally, one “witnessing to Mormons” technique I’ve heard is to share the spiritual experiences one has received in an Evangelical church. The thinking being that what the average Evangelical has experienced is likely to be far more dramatic than what the average Mormon has experienced.

    That sounds arrogant to me. For the record, though, I’ve heard much the same thing from Mormons who don’t think that anyone outside the Church has genuine spiritual experiences, so this sort of arrogance isn’t limited to one religion.

  60. I honestly wasn’t trying to dodge Aquinas’ question. Sorry if my response seemed evasive. I’ll reread it and try to directly respond.

    What would you consider to be a compelling testimony? It is clear you have never heard such a thing before, so I’m asking if you might use your imagination and consider what you would find compelling. In other words, what could a faithful Latter-day Saint say that to you that would make sense to you and that you could accept is built upon a valid foundation? Is there anything?

    In listing experiences I’ve heard ex-Mormons describe, I was attempting to name some details of a Mormon testimony that I find compelling. I think any of those things would make for a compelling Mormon testimony. In addition I believe someone talking about hearing the audible voice of God, being visited by an angel or experiencing Christ in a vision (not a dream) would be compelling.

    I do not think any of those things would be a valid reason in and of themselves to accept Mormonism. I think they would be emotionally hard to resist, but I do not believe that spiritual experience is a solid enough foundation to accept any faith (Mormonism, Evangelicalism, Hinduism, Scientology, etc.)

    I do not think spiritual experience is valid (by itself) because there are so many spiritual experiences that contradict one another. The basic law of non-contradiction invalidates them as reliable.

    If I’m still not answering the question, my apologies. Please restate it in a different way.

    “What would it take to get you to renounce Christianity?” I wouldn’t entertain such a question.

    I’m happy to answer that question as well. The discovery of the tomb of Christ would be one thing that would cause me to renounce my faith.

  61. Tim, you know where this conversation went south…. your post #18:

    “One other thing my wife and discussed after they left was how weak we have found Mormon testimonies to be.”

    You know Tim, that just sounded incredibly snotty.

    “My wife’s spiritual kung-fu is better than your spiritual kung-fu.”

    I mean, really. What does the relative strength or weakness of Mormon or Evangelical testimonies have to do with anything we’re trying to accomplish here? What’s next? My dad can beat up your dad?

    So sorry if I’ve been overly aggressive. But you had it coming.

    Yes, and I tried (or so I thought) to make it clear that I didn’t think one person’s kung-fu being better than someone else’s was the point. I don’t think good kung-fu necessarily proves anything for either side. I don’t care who has better kung-fu. I’m quite certain that we can find someone from a different faith who has better kung-fu than all of us.

    I can certainly see how that statement was offensive in #18 and I apologize. I could have found a more tactful way to enter into the discussion.

  62. I’m happy to answer that question as well. The discovery of the tomb of Christ would be one thing that would cause me to renounce my faith.

    I don’t believe you, because of the inherent problems with “proving” history. What amount of evidence would it take to convince you that the hypothetical tomb in question was actually Jesus’s, and the bones in it actually belonged to Jesus?

    I put it to you that you’d find a reason to disbelieve virtually any realistically obtainable degree of evidence, and thus the condition under which you would abandon your faith is, practically speaking, illusory.

  63. I don’t believe you, because of the inherent problems with “proving” history.

    Hoping to avoid a thread-jack here. But I wouldn’t say my “list” of things to deny my faith by is limited to the tomb of Christ. That was just a quick example.

    As to whether or not, you believe me, that’s your prerogative. But I don’t view my faith like Bob Millet and Terry Givens do, as something to be followed simply because I made a choice to long long ago.

  64. Tim, thanks for the response. I understand that you “do not believe that spiritual experience is a solid enough foundation to accept any faith.” However, am I correct to presume that you do accept that there are solid foundations to accept faith (i.e. Evangelical)? What are these solid foundations?

    Since you do not accept “spiritual experience” as a solid foundation “because there are so many spiritual experiences that contradict one another” and that “[t]he basic law of non-contradiction invalidates them as reliable,” then what are solid foundations to accept faith that are immune to contradiction, and are thus reliable foundations? What do these solid and reliable foundations look like?

  65. Aquinas makes an incredibly important point. I think it’s deluded to talk about “solid foundations” for belief. In the end, the question is whether your foundations for belief are sufficient, and whether they’re sufficient or not is going to ultimately be completely subjective, i.e., are they sufficient foundations for you to believe.

  66. I don’t really think so, because of the inherent problems with “reasonable.” I mean, we throw it around all the time, but take Torts your first year of law school and it will become incredibly plain that for a purportedly objective standard, it’s not really very objective at all.

    I chose “sufficient” very specifically. In the end, you’re the only one who can properly evaluate your own reasons for believing.

  67. Tim, I don’t think anything was addressed or resolved in the post “Six Ways to Choose a Faith” about these issues. Mittelberg added absolutely nothing novel or substantial to the way we know things. Essentially, Mittelberg says all six ways of knowing are good and valid and can lead to truth, unless you are Mormon, or Muslim, etc., then apparently these same six ways don’t lead to truth and are not valid (without any explanation as to how this is the case). If your position is that there are valid ways of knowing things, and solid foundations to accept faith that are immune to contradiction, all I’m asking is what this solid foundations look like.

  68. If your position is that there are valid ways of knowing things, and solid foundations to accept faith that are immune to contradiction, all I’m asking is what this solid foundations look like.

    I would say reason, rationale, fact, evidence, and truth are all much more solid foundations for placing faith into something than spiritual experience alone.

    Just to cut anyone off at the pass, I do not believe that we have to have 100% proof of anything to place our faith in a system of belief. It’s unlikely we can establish 100% proof in anything (the spoon may not be there). But I do think that we can have evidence which indicates that our faith is a reasonable thing to stake our life in. I do not believe “faith” is something you call a belief which you’ve got no good reason to justify.

  69. Tim, thank you for the response. I think it is important to consider the ways of knowing that you have offered: reason, rationale, fact, evidence and truth.

    First, seems to me that reason/rationale is the same thing, so I wouldn’t consider these two different methods (unless you can explain some significant distinction). Second, there is a problem here with “evidence” as a means to accepting belief. The problem is that you fail to appreciate that what one person considers “evidence” another person may not. You write, “I do think that we can have evidence which indicates that our faith is a reasonable thing to stake our life in.” That’s fine, and I would venture to say many people would agree this applies to them, but what you consider “evidence” may not be considered evidence by another person. It might not seem reasonable to consider one thing as evidence, but it might be reasonable for another to do so.

    Third, I do not think it is useful to say that we can base our beliefs on truth. If you say “I arrive at my beliefs because I base my beliefs on the truth” it merely begs the question of how you know it is true. How you arrive at the conclusion that something is true is the question. So, this isn’t a means or a way of knowing, it is the conclusion.

    Fourth, you write, “I do not believe ‘faith’ is something you call a belief which you’ve got no good reason to justify.” This is fine, but, this all depends on what counts as a “good reason.” This falls under the same problems as above. What you consider a “good” reason may not be considered one by another person.

    Would you agree with these four propositions?

    Also, I just want to make clear. Are you still using the criterion of the law of non-contradiction for valid means of knowing, or have you deleted this criterion?

  70. Yes, I recognize the problem with “evidence” and that people can disagree about what is and is not compelling evidence as I’ve witnessed the many celebrity trials that our country has produced. Regardless of whether or not people agree if the evidence is sufficient, the reality of the situation still exist, outside of the viewers and their perceptions. Evidence sheds light on that situation and the more evidence we have the clearer the picture becomes.

    I mentioned “truth” because some do not believe there is such a thing as knowable, objective truth (capital T). I think discerning what kind of truths stand outside of us help us discern which faith systems best reflect the reality around us. (and I recognize that there is some chicken and egg stuff going on with that).

    When I mentioned “reason” I was including all of the laws of logic, including the basic law of non-contradiction. Logic exist outside of us, whether we perceive it or not, and governs our lives.

  71. Tim, bracketing the issue of whether there is objective truth that we can know (because I don’t think its resolution is necessary to the immediate question at hand) what bars Latter-day Saints from using reason, logic, evidence, or facts as a foundation for their religious beliefs? I understand that you may believe Mormons only base their beliefs on “spiritual experience.” Latter-day Saints, like other human beings as well as other Christians or even other people of faith, base their beliefs on a variety of factors, including faith, reason, logic, experience, etc.

    I’m still not clear as to your view. Is it your position that somehow Latter-day Saints are unable or incapable of basing their beliefs on reason, logic, evidence, or facts? Is it your contention that they could, if they wanted to, but you simply haven’t met any Mormons who do? Or, is it your contention that somehow Mormons are simply unable or barred from using reason, logic, evidence, facts as a foundation for their religious beliefs? Or is your contention that if reason, logic, and an evaluation of evidence and facts result in Mormonism then those methods of knowing are not reliable?

  72. When I mentioned “reason” I was including all of the laws of logic, including the basic law of non-contradiction. Logic exist outside of us, whether we perceive it or not, and governs our lives.

    No it doesn’t. Humans made up the laws of logic to model the observable universe and to model abstract statements about the observable universe. But a model ain’t the real thing.

    The laws of logic have proven themseves practical, but that doesn’t mean they are actually the rules carved into the universe. At least it doesn;t necessarily mean that.

    Take non-contradiction, for example. How do we know that the law of non-contradiction is a law at all? Because we haven’t found many contradictory things in our pathetically limited sphere of experience? Or have we, and the law of non-contradiction makes us reinterpret things that are actually contradictory or paradoxical as non-contradictory alternates because we disbelieve what we’re actually faced with.

    And what about the trinity? What about fully God and fully man? What’s to say God’s not paradoxical and contradictory? The Bible certainly doesn’t address that kind of philosophical abstract very often. We can make inferences from the Bible, I suppose, but inferences are a siren song: the further removed our conclusions are from our premises, the more unreliable they get.

  73. Problem is Kullervo, if you’re willing to go that subjective on us, we don’t really have much basis for talking about anything at all.

  74. Not necessarily. We can use the laws of logic if we want to, but we have to keep in mind that everything we know is provisional. It’s uncomfortable, but that’s reality.

  75. what bars Latter-day Saints from using reason, logic, evidence, or facts as a foundation for their religious beliefs?

    Nothing. I think all people from all religions should use those things in discerning faith.

    Mormons consistently tell me that their spiritual testimony is the only thing that told them their faith is true and the only thing that would convince them otherwise. I certainly acknowledge that that may not be true of all Mormons.

  76. Tim, I seriously doubt that. Very few people interface with a religion solely on internal spiritual experience.

    I don’t. But it is a very important component of faith.

    You know, it’s quite possible we’re all really talking about the same approach to faith – it’s just that different components of that faith equation get varying degrees of emphasis among Mormons than among Evangelicals. Neither I, nor any Mormon I know would advocate jettisoning scientific and historical fact altogether. It’s just that we are careful to keep firmly in mind the limitations of that kind of knowledge and we prefer to keep internal spiritual witness front and center, with other things possibly orbiting around that center. As I’ve mentioned before, a careful read of the famous “Moroni’s Promise” (Moroni 10) – including the rest of the chapter and not just the famous verse – shows that he is NOT advocating merely a “gut check” on the Gospel. He advocates careful study of the entire book, and then a careful comparison of how that book stands up with the rest of God’s dealings with humanity. The prayer to know if it is true is supposed to be an informed prayer.

    Of course, a lot of young missionaries and a lot of lay LDS misuse this scripture and actually do fail to study as much as perhaps they should. Such is the plight of humanity. The world will never want for church leaders frustrated with the inadequacies of their flocks – in any denomination. But we can’t go around judging these religions solely on the basis of the weaknesses of the membership.

    But even these people are not just going off a “gut check.” They are going from the example set by their friends, family, and parents in living the religion. They are seeing how the moral principles taught in church serve in the real world. They are seeing their own internal progression in learning about God and exploring spirituality. They are cross referencing verses between the Book of Mormon and the Bible. They are reading doctrinal explanations and hearing it from their fellow members.

    This all combines to create a mixture that is so much more than “warm fuzzies” – even for the most uninformed of Mormons out there. Sure, Mormons are taught to focus on the direct spiritual witness and seek for it. But that doesn’t mean that’s all they are doing.

  77. Tim, thanks for the response. If a Latter-day Saint witnessed to you and they based their witness on reason, logic, evidence, and facts as a foundation for their religious beliefs, would this be a solid witness to you?

  78. Tim, as we have discussed, and it would seem that you agree, what one person considers “solid evidence” another may not. So, it would seem that basically you are saying that whether a Mormon testimony is solid depends on whether you evaluate it as such.

    I also want to point out that your example of evidence in a courtroom is inapplicable in a religious context. In a United States courtroom, for example, evidence can be advanced to support claims for causes of action. However, this is all governed by the federal rules of evidence: a detailed list of rules which govern how evidence is entered into the courtroom, what can constitute evidence, what statements are allowed to be considered, etc. There are also jury instructions in which a judge instructs the jury what they may and may not consider as evidence. In contrast, there are no such comparable set of rules of evidence in the arena of religious experience. There is no judge arbitrating religious claims or handing out jury instructions for what statements may be considered as evidence and which may not.

    Having said that, it would be helpful if you could offer your own personal framework as to what counts as evidence of religious belief. You wrote earlier that for Evangelicals, a testimony is “a story of God’s work in their life.” How do you know that God is working in your life? In other words, what do you consider as “evidence” that God is working in your life?

  79. Yeah, but Aquinas, your courtroom analogy doesn’t really apply the way you’re trying to make it apply.

    Ultimately, in the courtroom, the trier of fact (judge or jury, depending on the trial) weighs the evidence and decides its credibility.

    The Rules of Evidence serve functions in the courtroom that don’t have a very good analogue in the real world outside the courtroom. In determining what’s true in reality, we’re not exactly concerned with maintaining the adversary system and making sure the accused gets a chance to be fairly tried. And there are not exactly any Constitutional concerns, either.

    So yeah, in “weighing the evidence,” Tim’s weighing it based on his own internal criteria. But that’s exactly what happens in the courtroom, Rules of Evidence or no.

  80. Kullervo, I agree with everything you wrote in your comment about the nature of the rules of evidence, and that is exactly why I don’t think the analogy works in the arena of religious experience.

    You don’t need a courtroom analogy to illustrate that in all of this discussion we are “weighing the evidence.” The point of a courtroom analogy, the essence of a courtroom analogy, is to suggest that we are all bound to the same system of weighing evidence, that there is some objective system we can appeal to and that we can indeed adjudicate religious claims in an objective court, in the exact same way as we can in a real court.

    The key difference is that if you and I go into a federal courtroom we must both adhere to the federal rules of evidence. I must do so, you must do so and the judge must do so. Now, if we engage in religious discussion here, you are completely correct that you have your internal criteria, and Tim has his, and I have mine (and so does every single participant on the thread.) We are using three different sets of rules of evidence. We have three different courtrooms playing in our minds so to speak. We are playing by three different sets of rules. That is not what happens in a real life courtroom. In real life, we all must enter the same courtroom. The defense counsel can’t draft their own FRE or tell the judge that they have decided unilaterally that they are using their own rules of evidence. This is the crucial point that the analogy breaks down, and this is why need to move from making appeals to analogies “that don’t have a very good analogue in the real world outside the courtroom.” From your previous posts (70, 72) you point out that this isn’t an objective process, and whether something is sufficient depends on if it meets your own criteria. This is precisely why I am asking Tim what he considers “evidence” that God is working in his life.

  81. But what I’m saying is that I don’t think you understand the role that the rules of evidence play. They actually don’t give a system for weighing evidence.

  82. Kullervo, I don’t disagree. If you read my original post at 85, I write, “However, this is all governed by the federal rules of evidence: a detailed list of rules which govern how evidence is entered into the courtroom, what can constitute evidence, what statements are allowed to be considered, etc.” Notice that in my description of the federal rules of evidence I don’t say the federal rules of evidence is “a system for weighing evidence.” At this point, there is no way one can get from post 85, that my understanding of the federal rules of evidence is that it is a system of weighing evidence.

    In your response (86), you write that the main point is that Tim is “weighing the evidence” (you introduced this phrase) and that “weighing the evidence” is “exactly what happens in the courtroom, Rules of Evidence or no.” In other words, evidence is weighed in a courtroom and in Tim’s mind. The subject has shifted from the rules of evidence to the courtroom and its function.

    In my reply (87), I write, following the progression of your comment and speaking not of the federal rules of evidence, but of the courtroom that we “don’t need a courtroom analogy to illustrate that in all of this discussion we are ‘weighing the evidence'” and that “The point of a courtroom analogy, the essence of a courtroom analogy, is to suggest that we are all bound to the same system of weighing evidence.” Notice that I’m not characterizing the federal rules of evidence as a system of weighing evidence but rather, the courtroom as a system where evidence is weighed and more importantly where parties must follow the rules of evidence (not in weighing evidence) but (as I explained in 85) as to “how evidence is entered into the courtroom, what can constitute evidence, what statements are allowed to be considered, etc.”

    How the court, either the judge as a trier of facts, or the jury consider the evidence before them is a different matter. However, the jury can’t consider evidence that has been excluded according to the rules of evidence in the first place.

  83. I think this exchange indicates why logic is an excellent tool. It gives us rules for evidence which are outside of us. The subject doesn’t get to make the rules.

    Having said that, it would be helpful if you could offer your own personal framework as to what counts as evidence of religious belief. You wrote earlier that for Evangelicals, a testimony is “a story of God’s work in their life.” How do you know that God is working in your life? In other words, what do you consider as “evidence” that God is working in your life?

    From my own life I think I’ve considered a number of things to be God’s work in my life. A number of them I’m sure have been vague and perhaps no more than coincidence. So that I can better discern what is from God I’ve begun to apply the concept of specified complexity to my spiritual life.

    Using specified complexity I’m able to evaluate if an answer to prayer or a word of wisdom is beyond the realm of coincidence. Similar to Gideon putting his fleece out more than once.

    Just recently for example: In one week my wife had two different people relate a verse from Joel to her as an encouragement. Neither she nor I had remembered ever reading the verse before (and we’ve both read the Bible more than once) and it was out of context to our situation. So we asked God to have at least one other person bring that verse to us within the next week. By the end of the week 2 more people had related that verse to our situation.

    The verse was too obscure (specified) and there were too many people repeating it (complex). So in good faith we concluded that this was something God wanted us to hear.

    That doesn’t mean that things which don’t meet the criteria for specified complexity aren’t from God, it just means we can’t be sure.

    https://ldstalk.wordpress.com/2007/06/02/how-to-know-your-prayers-are-answered/

  84. This sort of stuff happens a lot with Mormons too. Attend enough Fast and Testimony meetings, and you’ll be sure to hear several similar accounts.

    For myself, I consider my marriage to my wife to be something that God essentially did for me. A LOT of coincidental factors came together to bring the two of us together. And it was during a time of a lot of spiritual “growing up” on my part. I did absolutely nothing to seek out a spouse – I wasn’t even dating at the time. Essentially, God dropped my wife right in my lap and the amount of coincidences were simply too many to ignore.

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