A Faith Based in History

This is a guest post provided by Eric.

Despite significant and perhaps irreconcilable differences in the way we understand the Bible, evangelicals and Mormons generally share an appreciation not only for its teachings, but also for its historicity. We see our faiths grounded not in what is merely a collection of goodness-promoting stories, but in a God who directly intervened in history in a series of miraculous events culminating in an actual, physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this way, we share an outlook that is not shared by all who consider themselves Christians.

For most of us who wear the LDS or evangelical label, this historicity is a key aspect of our faiths. We agree with Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians that if is isn’t true that God raised Jesus from the dead then our faith is useless. But our belief in what the Bible teaches as history goes beyond that: Generally, if the Bible teaches that something is historical — whether it’s the raising of Lazarus or the feeding of the thousands — we tend to believe it actually happened. That isn’t the case with the Bible’s skeptics, nor is it the case among many leaders in mainline Protestant denominations such as the United Church of Christ (I’m not picking on my UCC friends here, just mentioning a denomination that has become particularly liberal in its interpretive outlook).

Certainly, accepting the Bible as literal truth isn’t the only way of understanding it. In fact, some parts of the Bible are clearly intended to be allegory: You’ll find almost no evangelical pastor nor LDS bishop advising the parishioner who got caught shoplifting to chop off his or her hands. Most likely, that pastor or bishop would suggest that the parishioner find a way to remove the source of temptation, and also to apply that principle not just to thievery but also in dealing with other temptations as well where that principle may help.

But what about other aspects of the Biblical narrative? A century ago, you would have found few Bible-believing Christians, whether Protestant or LDS, who believed that the Earth was many millions of years old. But today, that is no longer the case. Many of us, whether evangelical or LDS, have come up with ways of reconciling, at least to some degree, what the Bible teachers and what science teaches. Perhaps the six days weren’t meant to be understood literally (possibly, in LDS lingo, they’re six “creative periods”), that the creation accounts of Genesis were meant to be allegorical or figurative in some way. And, at least according to what I’ve observed, many evangelicals and Mormons don’t spend a lot of time defending as literal history some of the more seemingly outlandish events of the Old Testament, such as Joshua’s making the sun stand still.

But all this raises some ultimate questions: How much of the Bible is real history? How much is figurative or allegorical? Did Jesus perform amazing miracles? Does it matter? Are Adam and Eve to be understood as actual, historical characters, or are they an allegory designed to teach us about the state of humanity? Was Jonah really swallowed by a big fish? Or is that merely a fun, humorous story designed to teach us lessons about sharing the gospel?

More importantly, does it matter if these events weren’t real in a historical sense? And if we say it’s unimportant whether the story of Jonah is true in a historical sense, what about the ultimate miracle, the Resurrection of Christ? Do these mean anything as historical events, or are they merely allegories designed to teach us eternal truths?

This essay was prompted by a recent Mormon Expressions interview with a Mormon bishop who has become skeptical of much of the Church’s historical narrative. It’s a fascinating interview, and it raises questions not just for Mormons, but for all Christians who believe in a God who intervened in history.

Of course, the broader question is a bigger one for Mormons than it is for evangelicals — for Mormonism’s legacy is based not only on the Bible but also on a series of events where we believe God intervened in the 19th century and since then. But I don’t really care to dwell on specifically LDS beliefs here; there are plenty of places in this blog and elsewhere on the web where those issues are discussed (as they should be). I’d like us to look at those extraordinary events that are part of our common heritage. Specifically, here are some questions for discussion:

  • How do we determine which parts of the Bible should be accepted as literal truth and which as figurative or allegorical in nature?
  • How important is it to believe in a literal Resurrection?
  • If you were the person in charge, would you accept into church membership someone who openly denied a literal Resurrection? If so, would you allow such a person to teach Sunday school? Preach a Sunday sermon?
  • The same questions can be asked of Biblical teachings that would seem to be foundational to some degree: Were there a literal Adam and Eve? Is Satan for real? Will there be a Second Coming?
  • Or how about the lesser fantastic events of the Bible? Did Jesus turn water into wine? Did he heal the sick? Is Job a historical character? Were there a David and Goliath? A worldwide flood? Does it matter? And how do you decide whether it matters?
  • Finally, if some or all of the events above are allegorical in nature, how does that affect your faith?
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73 thoughts on “A Faith Based in History

  1. While there may be some factual errors in the Biblical text, the totality of the Biblical narrative is true.

    We don’t have to have an inerrant book as the Moslems do.

    If you have that, then one doesn’t even need faith.

    We do, however, have an inerrant Word.

    I’d allow heretics to join my church, but I would not allow them to teach or to spread their heresies. If they hung around for a while, the Word just might grab a hold of them and they might learn Christian orthodoxy.

    The Bible is like any other tool that God uses for His purposes. It is fully a product of man and of God. Just as the Sacraments are, and just as the poor words that eminate from the preacher are, and just as our Lord Jesus was himself.

  2. Good questions. Interesting that, for me, even answering them doesn’t answer the larger question. Still, here’s my shot:

    “which parts of the Bible should be accepted as literal truthhistory and which as figurative?”

    Most of it doesn’t matter. At all. What is taught—i.e., the truths taught—is what matters. (Hence my little change to the wording of your question.) I think it’s easier to say what doesn’t need to be real (e.g., Job) than it is to say what is essential. Take the Exodus as an example: it’s tempting to say that that story must be real, but then there is little archaeological evidence for much of it and the story still reads well as a creation myth (a la the Garden of Eden).

    I’m inclined to view stories as allegorical when there is evidence today suggesting so. For example, I reject a universal Flood because there is absolutely zero evidence that any such thing occurred and there is evidence that it did not occur. It’s not that I doubt God’s ability to cause a massive flood, it’s that if he did it he would also have had to do a bunch of miracles to hide that fact. The text doesn’t say anything about such “cover up” miracles, so I see no reason to believe such.

    “How important is it to believe in a literal Resurrection?”

    Essential. It’s still not totally clear to me why Evangelicals care, but as a Mormon it is fundamental.

    “If you were the person in charge…?”

    I’d ask them to keep it to themselves. If they didn’t, then I’d excuse them from teaching, speaking, etc. Yes, I recognize that drawing such a line opens the line of questioning “Okay, what about…?”.

  3. Instead of focusing on specific stories or books, I think it is better to focus on questions like the following to see if faith and history conflict:

    Does the story read like history? If the answer is no, then there is no conflict between faith and history because there is probably no history there. Believe it if you want, don’t if you don’t. I think Job is the best example for this question of something that just doesn’t read like history.

    Was the story meant to be read as history, in our sense of the term? This one can be tricky to apply and involves knowing the genres of ancient literature. The two best candidates for this category are the creation and flood accounts. While a modern reader might read them as history, I don’t think that was the ultimate intention of the author(s) of those stories. John Walton’s book “The Lost World of Genesis One” covers some reasons why for the creation account.

    Is the story univocal? Often times multiple versions of the same story are included in the canon. If they differ, it seems pretty clear that the ancient authors differed as to what happened, so it lessens the burden/need of a modern reader to consider it historical. A good candidate for this would be the settlement of Canaan as recorded in Joshua and then re-recorded in the first couple chapters of Judges. The Bible seems to contest itself here. This space of time is also, perhaps not ironically, a hotly contested arena of modern archaeology.

    Is there any archaeological or outside textual evidence? The stories of David and Solomon seem to satisfy all the previous questions. However, the archaeological evidence for them is slim. I mean slim in the case of this being an “absence of evidence” type situation, not a case of directly contradictory evidence. This is also a hotly contested area of modern archaeology and the data could go either way at this point. A believer seems warranted to affirm or reject historicity, with the most prudent option being an optimistic “not decided yet.”

    Is this an area for which archaeological or other textual evidence could exist? It’s easier to find outside evidence concerning large number of people over long periods of time. Stories that happen over short periods of time and to small groups of people are not likely to leave much behind in the written or archaeological records. Thus archaeology and history can put Jesus in context, but it’s unlikely that either can tell us much about him specifically.

    The real problems for believers come when the text reads like history, is meant to be history, is univocal, is the type of event for which archaeological/historical data is or should be readily available, and finally there is either directly contradictory evidence or an egregious lack of evidence.

    On those criteria it seems to me that the most problematic stories for a believer in the Bible are the cycle of stories that begin with Joseph in Egypt and lead up through the conquest of Canaan. The Bible seems to be saying “Yes, this happened” while the external evidence seems to be saying just the opposite. For this reason, and to be consistent with my rejection of the Book of Mormon as a historical record, I have to conclude that these stories are not historical.

    I think that my criteria are pretty reasonable, but they are not perfect. If someone else has better criteria, I’m willing to listen.

  4. I feel like too many people in the world say “here’s what I believe. Let’s see what facts I can find to support it.” What they should be saying it “here are the facts. Let’s see what they support.” If you want to find the truth, you need to start at the foundation and build up, not start at the conclusion and build down.

    What does the evidence absolutely prove and what does it just suggest? If we are willing to be honest with ourselves, we should ask if a reasonably well informed person can have a different opinion. If so then we shouldn’t be so quick to declare our beliefs to be the truth. Our goal should be to test everything.

    Too many people say “I’ve had this wonderful religious experience. That proves I’m right about my faith” ignoring the fact that others have also had religious experiences too and we don’t automatically accept their faith.

  5. BrianJ — I agree with much of what you say (although to me it’s perfectly obvious why evangelicals care about the Resurrection). Where do you think you are in relation to the LDS mainstream? I’d think most LDS are more literal-minded than that.

    David Clark — Using your criteria (which aren’t unreasonable), you say that the Exodus (and some surrounding events) is the most problematic. How do the Virgin Birth and Resurrection fit in there? Are they less problematic because they’re events that happened on a more isolated scale and thus were likely to leave little to no physical evidence? Or are they more problematic because a more fantastic event demands more vigorous evidence? Just curious what you think.

    Rollingforest — If you’re looking for evidence that absolutely proves something happened, you’ll never find it. I for one couldn’t live that way.

  6. I think anything intended to be literal should be viewed literally and anything metaphorical should be viewed metaphorically. Distorting either gets you into trouble.

    I don’t think you should view something as metaphorical because the evidence is against it. In that case it’s inaccurate. Instead, you should view things as metaphorical because you have evidence that it was intended to be a metaphor. Jesus’s parables are a clear example. No one needs evidence of a historical prodigal son or the murder of a vineyard owner’s son to justify their belief in Jesus.

    I think Job, Jonah and Genesis 1 are all examples of literature that was always intended to be viewed as a metaphor. I think each has evidence in its writing style that tells us it’s not a literal story. If there was evidence that they actually happened the way they are described I’d have no problem with their fantastical claims.

    The resurrection, Paul’s conversion, the Kingdom of Israel, King Benjamin’s Speech, the First Vision and the golden plates are all things I think were clearly intended to be viewed as actual events.

    I know most LDS view the elements of their temple ceremony as purely symbolic, but I think there is some evidence that they were also intended to be literal.

  7. Eric,

    I take it as irrational for anyone to dismiss empirical evidence. When there is no empirical evidence, your worldview defines what it means to be rational, not evidence.

    This is something that atheists conflate all the time. On their worldview dead people don’t resurrect and virgins don’t conceive. Thus they want to make the assertion that it’s irrational to believe in either. However, there’s no physical evidence, beyond witness testimony, so the assertion they make is based on the fact that their worldview dictates the conclusion that neither happened. Thus people who don’t share their presuppositions can rationally make different deductions.

    Thus there’s nothing to preclude dead people resurrecting and virgins conceiving in the worldview of a theist. So, since the witness testimony comes from persons that we are inclined to trust, it’s rational for a theist to believe in the resurrection and in a virgin birth. Different presuppositions lead to different conclusions.

  8. Very interesting. All well thought out posts and very logically explained. A few comments.

    There are books in the Bible, or stories, that are written in a more literary style than one might expect to find in a historical document (Like Job) but that is not proof that they do not tell real events. Consider that in another 2000 years the only record of Pearl Harbor was the movie. Using this idea it would be easy for people to dismiss the event as just a metaphorical story and not real history, but the truth is that it happened.
    To use Job as an example, the Book is written in the style of a dramatic play. It most likely twists a few facts, omits a few things, and even adds a few. However, this is not sufficient evidence to say that Job was not a real person and that he did not have these experiences.
    I would classify the Creation and the flood as similar stories. The accounts we have may not be fully accurate, and may have been written with a more literary style, but that does not mean the basic concepts and events are not real history.

    Also, speaking of archeology, it is always a dangerous thing to base any real belief on this science, as it is the most inexact science in existence. I like the story one man told: Consider in 2000 years what the archeologists will say concerning the United States. They did around and find a pair of giant golden arches. They find similar arches in every major ruins around the continent. Their conclusion: These buildings were places of worship where people would frequently gather. The truth: McDonald’s was a successful business that spanned the country.
    Archeology is based on the subjective interpretation that people a person gives to a given area and object. Very little of what is claimed is proven without actual written documents to support it (which is the study of history, not archeology). Without these documents it is all a guessing game, and while some people may be more logical in their guesses, it is still not a sound basis for any belief, especially one that holds a possible eternal salvation in the outcome.

    Me personally, I think the vast majority of the Bible is actual history and true events. I do believe that creation happened, that there was a world wide flood, that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were all real men and that they all talked with God. The only books that I would say do not contain actual history are those that never make this claim (such as psalms and proverbs), though even these books give glimpses into history (such as the author).

  9. Tim said:

    I think anything intended to be literal should be viewed literally and anything metaphorical should be viewed metaphorically. … I think Job, Jonah and Genesis 1 are all examples of literature that was always intended to be viewed as a metaphor. … The resurrection, Paul’s conversion, the Kingdom of Israel … are all things I think were clearly intended to be viewed as actual events.

    I pretty much agree with that. The stories of Job, the Creation and, slightly less clearly so, Jonah are all written in a fashion that suggests they aren’t historical in the sense we use the word today. I’d say the same about Genesis 2-3, which is theologically a bit more problematic because of how Adam is referred to in later scripture.

    Of course, it isn’t always clear what was intended as allegory. The story of Noah and the ark, for example, has some elements that suggest allegory, but it also has some specific details (e.g., the size of the ship) that suggest historicity. I have to agree with BrianJ that all the physical evidence runs contrary to the historicity of a worldwide flood, and that’s something I can’t ignore when taking into account how I understand the story.

    And I have to agree with D.C. that accepting the historicity of “the cycle of stories that begin with Joseph in Egypt and lead up through the conquest of Canaan,” to use his words, isn’t without its difficulties. I accept them at face value, though, as kind of a default position, although, to be honest, I would be happy to find out that the tales of divinely endorsed genocide aren’t what they appear to be. Some of these things are in an area that I still don’t know to think (and probably won’t until I can ask questions to my heart’s delight in the afterlife).

    David Clark said:

    Thus there’s nothing to preclude dead people resurrecting and virgins conceiving in the worldview of a theist. So, since the witness testimony comes from persons that we are inclined to trust, it’s rational for a theist to believe in the resurrection and in a virgin birth. Different presuppositions lead to different conclusions.

    Well said.

  10. I think anything intended to be literal should be viewed literally and anything metaphorical should be viewed metaphorically. Distorting either gets you into trouble.

    The problem is that the categorical distinction between the two is a relatively modern framework.

  11. And that’s why it always important to ask how was it intended to be viewed by people originally. If they were comfortable mixing the two, we should take that into account.

  12. And that’s why it always important to ask how was it intended to be viewed by people originally. If they were comfortable mixing the two, we should take that into account.

    Does this mean that we have to adopt the worldview and mindset of ancient people in order to understand the religion we have handed down from them? Or can real truths be reflected despite changing worldviews?

    What I’m getting at here is the question of whether the ancient Israelites’ (or ancient Greeks or Vikings–this is also an extremely relevant question in modern paganism) worldview and mindset was the correct worldview and mindset, or merely the worldview and mindset they happened to have at the time?

    Are we talking about eternal truths that are now understood darkly through a lens of worldview/culture/mindset just as much as thousands of years ago they were understood darkly through the ancients’ different but no less dark lens of worldview/culture/mindset?

    Or did the worldview/culture/mindset of the ancients really allow them to see eternal truths clearer than ours?

  13. Kullervo,

    Those are good questions.

    Do we have to understand the ancient mindset to understand the religion as they practice it? Absolutely, yes.

    Did they have some privileged position for understanding eternal truth, i.e. does God for some reason prefer to speak in ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek? Absolutely not.

    Those who practice a religion with ancient roots should allow their practices to inform ours, not dictate them. In other words, trying to set up a church or synagogue just like they had in ancient times is a fool’s errand, but how they did things can have a very enlightening impact on how we do things now.

    I think this is one of the real strengths of orthodox Christianity and Judaism, they are traditions that have constantly been re-interpreted and re-read to stay relevant for each new generation. This is an invaluable resource for Jews and Christians in seeing how traditions can be both preserved and changed depending on the times. Of course this sets up a constant tension between unchanging truths and contemporary relevance, but I think that tension is unavoidable for any religion that wants to last beyond a generation or two.

    I also think this is one of the big problems for Mormonism, certain strands of Protestantism, and modern paganism. There is not a continuous tradition to connect you with the past (not in just an ontological sense, but in an epistemological sense), thus you lose all kinds of tools that are available in continuous traditions.

    Take just one example, Mormons really have no idea what to do with the Song of Solomon. They reject all traditions that had reinterpreted the book, so they are left coming up with something on their own. Couple that with a heavy dose of literalism and puritanism and the book has been all but decanonized. Had Mormons had a connection with medieval and ancient commentaries on the book, they might make better use of it.

    That’s a fundamental problem with a restoration or “back to basics” church. You are pretty much forced to go back to the originals, which is good. But then you have no intervening tradition to inform what that means in a contemporary context, which is bad.

  14. That’s a fundamental problem with a restoration or “back to basics” church. You are pretty much forced to go back to the originals, which is good. But then you have no intervening tradition to inform what that means in a contemporary context, which is bad.

    Well-said.

    What’s the answer then, for restorationist/reconstructionist churches? “Quit and join religion that has maintained its traditions for a long time” doesn’t seem fair.

    I’m inclined to think that restorationist/reconstructionist churches need to balance going back to the originals with learning from comparable or at least analogous traditions with continuous roots.

    For Mormons and primitive Protestants, that means swallowing a bit of pride and being willing to take an honest look at how the continuing traditions of Christianity have handled things and why. That might not happen, because the apostasy-rhetoric may simply be too big of a bar.

    For modern pagans, I think it means maintaining dialogue with living, surviving polytheist traditions. I think, for example, that dialogue with modern Hinduism is as important or more important for Hellenic polytheists as a copy of Burkert’s Greek Religion.

  15. I have noticed a common theme running throughout all these posts, and to me it is truly a thing to be lamented.

    The emphasis has been placed on what man has learned, and what we can learn form other men.

    This idea is very prominent in David Clark’s last post. The idea that a restorationist church has the fundamental problem of not having man made traditions to fall back on shows this idea very clearly.
    To use his own example of the Song of Solomon: I agree that there is a lot of tradition in regards to this book that the LDS church rejects. To him this is a problem. The question is, do these traditions hold the truth concerning this book, or is the book just simply a love letter written to one of Solomon’s many wives and thus not scripture?

    My point is that tradition is fie, but only if based on actual truth. Was the Song of Solomon originally meant to be scripture? If not than a mistake was made in canonizing it in the first place, which would have given rise to many false traditions concerning it.
    The same thing can be said of any tradition. If the original intent was made in error than any traditions stemming from it will also be false.

    Going back to my original point, we should not base belief and religion on anything that man has devised (whether tradition or science). But it seems that most people here are making the argument that that is the best thing to base it on.

  16. Going back to my original point, we should not base belief and religion on anything that man has devised (whether tradition or science). But it seems that most people here are making the argument that that is the best thing to base it on.

    At the end of the day, it’s the only thing there is.

  17. Or, put another way: of course what we’re all really looking for is the truth, but let’s not kid ourselve. The truth is complex and elusive, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

    It would be great if everyone just constantly experienced the immediate, unmitigated presence of the divine, but clearly that doesn’t happen. Despite unfounded claims to the contrary, that kind of mystical experience is unpredictable. It doesn’t come when we want it. There’s not a faucet of the immediate, unmitigated presence of the divine that we can just turn on and off at will. Those who make claims that there is pretty much always re-define the immediate, unmitigated presence of the divine so as to drop the bar far enough for their claims to be tautological.

    So we have to work out the truth form other sources sometimes, and that includes grapling with how other people have thought about god, known god, and dealt with god in the past (and in the present!).

    Ignoring the level of how we think about god is just accepting our own biases and assumptions unquestioningly. I’ll tell you right now: that’s definitely not a way to get at any kind of truth.

  18. My point is that tradition is fie, but only if based on actual truth. Was the Song of Solomon originally meant to be scripture?

    Go ahead and toss out most of the New Testament then. Paul knew he was writing authoritatively but I don’t know that we can claim that he always knew his letters were going to be canonized for every Christian.

    I’m quite alright with SoS first and foremost being a love song from Solomon to his wife. If you don’t understand its origin and its original purpose you’re inevitably going to screw up its meaning.

  19. @Eric: True, you can’t absolutely prove that something is true. For example the statement “all crows are black”, to prove it true, you’d have to search the universe to find every single crow and even then you couldn’t be sure because they might be hiding somewhere. But you can prove your theory false. All you’d need is one white crow.

    So to test something, you need to set it up so it is falsifiable if false. For example, the theory “gravity, in the absense of other forces, pulls matter toward other matter” can be tested by dropping a rock. If you continue to drop it and it falls to the ground, then you know your theory has support. But if your rock ever flies upwards without any other force acting on it, then you know that your theory of gravity is false.

    If we can do tests like these for everyday things, why not for our political and religious beliefs as well?

  20. @David Clark: You mention how theists and atheists view past events (such as people rising from the dead or virgin births) as more or less likely depending on a person’s world view. That would seem to lead to a type of agnosticism on the topic. How do we escape our world view and come up with something objective? I can think of two ways. The best is to find some sort of remnant of the event which can’t be faked. To make up an example, if a religion believed that it’s founder had been to the moon and back a thousand years ago, finding a moon rock that was buried within the burial chamber from a thousand years ago would be good support for that religious belief. There is pretty much no way that they could have gotten the moon rock otherwise.

    Now, people raising from the dead or virgins conceiving doesn’t leave that kind of evidence. For that, you could move to a second, less exact, but still useful tool. Can we show that similar miracles happen today? This shouldn’t be so hard to test when you think about it. Most Christians, and in fact most religious people, believe that miracles happen all of the time. So a good way to show that these kind of events happened in the past is to show beyond a doubt that they happen these days. For example, we have heard of many very sick people who have been miraculously cured. This kind of event should be easy to test. Using modern medical techniques, you should be able to show that a certain healing could not have occurred under the laws of physics in normal circumstances. If you can show these test results to the scientists of the world and repeat your experiment several times (on different sick patients obviously) and the scientists are unable to show anything wrong with your tests, then you have proven a miracle. If you do that then you can show that similar miracles may have happened back in ancient days.

  21. @David Clark: You mention how theists and atheists view past events (such as people rising from the dead or virgin births) as more or less likely depending on a person’s world view. That would seem to lead to a type of agnosticism on the topic. How do we escape our world view and come up with something objective? I can think of two ways. The best is to find some sort of remnant of the event which can’t be faked. To make up an example, if a religion believed that it’s founder had been to the moon and back a thousand years ago, finding a moon rock that was buried within the burial chamber from a thousand years ago would be good support for that religious belief. There is pretty much no way that they could have gotten the moon rock otherwise.

    Rollingforest, your nervous system is a brain-in-a-jar, relying on your sensory apparatus to feed it information and then relying on its own cognitive analytical processes to make sense out of the data. In no way ever do you directly experience the universe.

    In other words, while objective reality may very well exist, you will never be able to experience it. Absolutely everything you will ever sense or perceive is filtered through sensory apparatus and cognitive processes, which you have no way of evaluating how trustworthy they are, because you have nothing to judge them against.

    What you are calling “objective” is just a worldview you are more comfortable with.

    I’m not saying all worldviews are equally valid. Despite the non-quantifiable amount of uncertainty undermining everything you see, do, or think, you can reasonably decide to trust the processes that feed you data and interpret the data for you (reasonably because you have no other choice: there’s not really another way to get data). And with that in mind, some worldviews may appear to yield more internally consistent results for you than others. “Internally consistent results” is, in most peoples’ experience, more practically useful than internally inconsistent results. So it’s a reasonable rubric for evaluating a worldview.

    But don’t kid yourself. Science and logic may be a good, practical, and internally consistent worldview, but they’re still a worldview.

  22. @RollingForest:

    With regards to your first objection, you asked this question:

    How do we escape our world view and come up with something objective?

    That’s two questions. As to how you escape your world view, the only way I know is to practice thinking as if something else were your world view. This takes a lot of time and patience, but it does work. However, you can only ever switch world views, you can never achieve a “God’s eye view” or a “view from nowhere.” Because of this the second part of your question, how do we come up with something objective, is difficult to achieve. I might also add that I think Christians realize this and thus say that faith, not objective knowledge, is the proper epistemological position to take.

    Also, most of your suggestions for achieving an objective view involve some kind of scientific testing. Of course this is not always possible, and even if it is, it is not a guarantee of objective truth. Science itself is fallible and is a specific take on the world, not a view from nowhere. See Thomas Kuhn for one take on why this is the case.

    Because of this, your second suggestion is a non-starter. Let’s suppose that we have a purported miracle. So, we bring in a naturalistic atheist to try and scientifically test if a miracle happened. The naturalistic atheist will never find that a miracle had taken place. Even if the naturalistic atheist can find no causal reason for the miraculous event, it still will not be found to be a miracle, because the naturalistic atheist’s world view does not allow for calling something a miracle. It will be ascribed to something vague such as the placebo effect, random variation, measurement error, it was all psycho-somatic, etc. Notice that those explanations explain virtually nothing, but they are naturalistic. Or, he/she may invoke an “atheist of the gaps” explanation, the phenomenon is not within the bounds of our current understanding, but it will be some day. My point is that data does not contain within itself the power to cause a particular conclusion. All data must be interpreted, and the atheist will interpret that data according to their own presuppositions.

  23. Kullervo,

    Responding to your earlier comment where you said:

    What’s the answer then, for restorationist/reconstructionist churches? “Quit and join religion that has maintained its traditions for a long time” doesn’t seem fair.

    No it doesn’t seem fair. As you said, one option is for them to swallow a lot of pride and take a long hard look at how other traditions have done it. I think there are two other options.

    Option #1: Allow your own traditions to organically grow over time. I think this is what has allowed Anabaptist groups like the Amish and the Hutterites to keep on chugging after many hundreds of years. There is little hierarchy and everything is community based. Because of this each community has developed its own traditions, practices, and each generation can specialize or adapt. But there is still a very recognizable Amish or Hutterite culture. They have developed their own tradition, which is now itself pretty old.

    Option #2: Theocracy. Keep the hierarchy and insist that this is the kingdom of God on earth. This was the Mormon response. It failed three times (Kirtland, Missouri, and Nauvoo) before it worked (Utah). Once in Utah, the church was the only game in town for at least 40 years. That’s enough time to forge a people and power structure that can survive for a long time. Instead of adapting to life, the Mormons quite literally created their own life, apart from everyone else.

  24. Option #1: Allow your own traditions to organically grow over time. I think this is what has allowed Anabaptist groups like the Amish and the Hutterites to keep on chugging after many hundreds of years. There is little hierarchy and everything is community based. Because of this each community has developed its own traditions, practices, and each generation can specialize or adapt. But there is still a very recognizable Amish or Hutterite culture. They have developed their own tradition, which is now itself pretty old.

    Option #2: Theocracy. Keep the hierarchy and insist that this is the kingdom of God on earth. This was the Mormon response. It failed three times (Kirtland, Missouri, and Nauvoo) before it worked (Utah). Once in Utah, the church was the only game in town for at least 40 years. That’s enough time to forge a people and power structure that can survive for a long time. Instead of adapting to life, the Mormons quite literally created their own life, apart from everyone else.

    Eh, I don’t think development over time and hierarchy are mutually exclusive. See the Roman Catholic Church. There may be a tension between tradition and change, but that’s hardly news.

  25. KULLERVO

    I get you very clearly. Let me explain my point a little clearer.

    I am not saying we should reject how others think about God just because it is different than how we do. Nor am I saying that we should simply reject all scientific evidence as a foundation for truth.

    You are right that contact with the divine is generally unpredictable (at least at first) or at least hard to recognize, but my point is that once we have had that contact on a given point we should not reject that in favor of what man has reasoned for themselves.

    An example, again using the Song of Solomon: We have many traditions concerning it, and if that is all you have to work with than fine, use it as it is the best their is. But if God does tell you (or reveals) that those traditions are wrong and that the book should not have been canonized then there is no need to return to those traditions.

    My objection to what I called the common thread, though I agree I was not very clear about it, is that it seems God has been taken completely out of the picture.

    DAVID

    I think I understand you a little better now. I would agree with what you say.

  26. TIM

    My point was that the supposed problem for restorationists is not valid, as they believe that God has given them the original truth.
    If a person truly believed that God and told them that the Pauline epistles were not scripture then they should reject them, regardless of what man says.

    Speaking of the Song of Solomon, my point is that if it was never inspired by God and is thus not scripture why is there a problem in rejected it as such, as has been suggested?

  27. Eh, I don’t think development over time and hierarchy are mutually exclusive. See the Roman Catholic Church. There may be a tension between tradition and change, but that’s hardly news.

    I tried to respond, but I have to confess I don’t see your point.

  28. An example, again using the Song of Solomon: We have many traditions concerning it, and if that is all you have to work with than fine, use it as it is the best their is. But if God does tell you (or reveals) that those traditions are wrong and that the book should not have been canonized then there is no need to return to those traditions.

    Sure, but God has revealed no such thing to you.

  29. shem, I understand your question better.

    I think the problem restorationist might have (such as the LDS) is that they decided to accept some of the traditions of the other churches and affirm them, like the KJV canon for example. So it starts to call into question why they first accepted the traditions and by what authority are they now revoking their earlier affirmation.

  30. KULLERVO

    You have no idea what God has revealed to me. Only I can know that.

    The question isn’t whether or not I have, anyway, but whether or not such a revelation is sufficient to disregard the traditions concerning it. I think, from the way you phrase your response you would agree that such is sufficient.

    TIM

    I understand what you are saying, but I think this fails to consider the progressive nature of knowledge and understanding.
    Man accepts things based on the knowledge they have, but no man has all knowledge, and when knew knowledge is given he is forced to re-evaluate what he previously believed.
    So, speaking on the KJV and the LDS, it was all accepted as scripture because the amount of knowledge held by the people at that time lead to this conclusion. They were later given a little more information concerning it, and with this information they corrected errors in their previous understanding.

    It is very similar to a scientific theory being molded and shaped as new studies are conducted that give more knowledge on the subject. The difference is that instead of relying on man devised techniques to discover this knowledge religionists rely on the divine inspiration.

  31. You have no idea what God has revealed to me. Only I can know that.

    Nah, I think the odds are stacked pretty high in my favor on this one.

  32. Are you asserting that God has in fact personally revealed ot you that the Song of Solomon is not scripture?

    Because otherwise, while sure, God can say whatever God wants to whomever God wants, the chances of him having said one specific thing to one specific person are just, statistically shockingly slim. And given that across recorded human history we really do have a lot of consistent data on what kinds of mystical experiences people tend to have, and convenient, explicit instructions about particular books of the Bible don’t tend to be among them, I think that the chances of God having revealed that particular datum to any random person is just, staggeringly low. Especially since you have yet to assert that God has actually done so.

  33. @ Kullervo: I understand that our perception of the world is based on electrical signals interpreted by the brain. I could be a brain in a jar. I could be dreaming my entire life. I could be in the Matrix. But until Neo comes flying by, I don’t have any evidence that I’m in the matrix and I should go with Occum’s razor, which says that we should choose to accept the theory that requires the least assumptions. Sure, the world around me could be all a hoax. But that requires a lot of assumptions that I have no evidence for. Better to believe that the world is real, which requires only a few assumptions, than believe in conspiracy theories, that require a huge number of assumptions without evidence. (what you say about internally consistent results is crucial as well. A person’s theory must have this)

    @David Clark: the problem though is that faith does not automatically point to a specific belief. Protestants have faith in Protestantism. Catholics have faith in Catholicism. Mormons have faith in Mormonism. Muslims have faith in Islam. Hindus have faith in Hinduism. And on and on. So if someone says “I have faith” or “I know that it is true [because of faith]” that doesn’t automatically make them right, because then all religions would be right, which of course is impossible since they have conflicting teachings.

    From what I read about Thomas Kuhn, I think he has a point that science is sometimes done badly, but everything is sometimes done badly. Kuhn points out how a scientist’s personal bias can affect his perception, but it should be noted that by looking at the evidence, we should be able to see if that is the case. The problem isn’t the scientific method. The problem is people letting their personal biases get in the way of the scientific method. If we police each other to force ourselves to provide testable experiments for everything we believe (via peer reviewed journals, for example), that will greatly decrease personal bias.

    If you attempt to prove a miracle, perhaps you won’t be able to get an Atheist to admit to calling it a miracle, but that is a definitional debate. What you CAN do is get them to admit that there is no science that can explain a particular miracle. If you test these types of miracles enough times, the Atheist can not say that is random variation or measurement error caused the result. And if you do a double blind test (where neither the researcher or the test subject is aware which test group they are in until after the experiment) the Atheist can’t say that it was psychosomatic or the placebo effect. For example, if you wanted to test to see if praying for people actually heals them, have a prayer group pray for some patients but not the others. Neither the patients or the researchers are told which patients are being prayed for until after the experiment. If the group of patients that was secretly prayed for gets much better than the non-prayed for group, then that is good evidence that prayer works (this test has been done many times before). The atheist-of-the-gaps argument would be irrelevant since he would be forced to admit that prayer works if the experiment supported that claim. So in that particular claim (that prayer is just talking to yourself) the atheist would have to give up his beliefs if he wanted to be logically consistent.

    @shematwater: Each religion believes that God has told them that their religious literature is true. That’s why you have the big Evangelical/LDS debate about the Book of Mormon/whether the Bible is interpreted or translated correctly. They can’t both be right, but they both believe that God told them that they are right. Therefore it seems that one should be cautious before saying “I know that God told me this fact”.

  34. But until Neo comes flying by, I don’t have any evidence that I’m in the matrix and I should go with Occum’s razor, which says that we should choose to accept the theory that requires the least assumptions.

    That’s a lot of shoulds with nothing to back them up. You say them like they are self-evident.

    (what you say about internally consistent results is crucial as well. A person’s theory must have this)

    Must? Why?

    That’s beside the point though, because you’re seriously shifting the goal-post. The issue is not whether a logical-scientific worldview is a reasonable worldview. I gladly concede that it is. The issue is whether “science and logic” is a worldview, or whether it is objective/viewpoint-neutral.

  35. Rollingforest,

    Please read more Kuhn. Kuhn was not interested in personal bias. To say that people have a personal bias is a truism. Kuhn’s point was that science as whole has a bias towards what he calls “normal science” which is basically the status quo. But, this bias affects entire fields of science. Thus when you say things like:

    If we police each other to force ourselves to provide testable experiments for everything we believe (via peer reviewed journals, for example), that will greatly decrease personal bias.

    You are completely misunderstanding his point. Things like peer reviewed journals don’t reduce bias towards “normal science,” rather they are one of the main instruments in maintaining and reinforcing this bias. If you don’t understand why this is so, you don’t understand Kuhn. Also, there is no such thing as the “scientific method,” it’s a convenient lie we tell 6th graders so they think they know something.

    As for your idea that we should do double blind experiments for miracles, I’m afraid you don’t understand how double blind experiments work, nor have you grasped what the concept of a miracle is. In a double blind experiment you have to be able to manipulate the variable under study at will. A miracle is an utterly unpredictable occurrence. See the problem? You can’t manipulate something that is unpredictable. Further, the “experiment” on prayer says zero about miracles. It simply proves that if there are such things as miracles, you can’t force them or predict when they are going to happen. Well, I could have told you that just from the definition of the word “miracle” and saved you a lot of money in conducting the experiment.

    Further, experiments like that assume a very naive conception of God. It posits that God is a big vending machine in the sky, and if you put enough prayer or whatever in, out pops a treat (a miracle). It’s an utterly stupid conception of God, and I’m glad that science has debunked it.

  36. KULLERVO and JARED

    I very purposely did not state that God had revealed anything to me, because I was trying to keep this on a more intellectual level than a debate over who God is talking to.

    God is not the author of confusion, and I can, with just as must assurance and confidence as Jared, state that God has personally revealed to me that the Song of Solomon is not, nor was it ever intended to be taken as scripture. However, by introducing such a statement I effectively stop the conversation as it is something that cannot be proven or dis-proven, and thus the conversation becomes a pointless debate which neither side can win.

    As to the odds, tell me this: What are the odds that a specific person has spoken to any other specific person. Quite honestly, the odds for this are never very good, unless the two grew up in the same house. So, to play the odds on a question of who may have spoken to whom.

    But, back to my original point: If God did reveal that the Song of Solomon (or any other book) was not scripture, would this be sufficient to disregard the traditions of men concerning it?

  37. But, back to my original point: If God did reveal that the Song of Solomon (or any other book) was not scripture, would this be sufficient to disregard the traditions of men concerning it?

    Blithely, without any other context? Maybe not. What kind of revelation are we talking about? How specific and clear was it? How trustworthy is the person claiming the revelation? What are the ramifications?

    Nothing is an absolute trump card against anything else because its impossible to know anything with absolute certainty. Of course you are always going to be evaluating and weighing things like intution, reason, personal experience, and tradition against each other. And sometimes the weight of personal mystical experience outweighs tradition, and sometimes it doesn’t. Not all personal mystical experience is equal.

  38. KULLERVO

    For example:
    Q. What kind of revelation are we talking about?
    A. God’s voice from heaven declaring this to be true.

    Q. How specific and clear was it?
    A. It states directly “The Song of Solomon was not inspired by me, and was not, nor should it ever be considered scripture.

    Q. How trustworthy is the person claiming the revelation?
    A. God is speaking to you directly.

    Q. What are the ramifications?
    A. By rejecting the revelation you reject God and are cast out of his Kingdom.

    This is a little exaggerated, and none of this would ever likely apply to the Song of Solomon, but you get my point.
    I grant you that everything must be weigh through personal experience and all that. But there must come a point when God trumps all else, which is my point. If this were not the case then there would be no reason to worship him, as he would not be the supreme being.

  39. Was it actually audible? Are you certain it was not a hallucination? How do you know its the voice of God and not some other entity? What are the ramifications if you are wrong?

    My point is, nothing is ever a trump card. Trump cards mean bad decisionmaking. Weigh everything, always. Some things may in fact outweigh others, massively even, but nothing is ever categorically an absolute trump. Especially with personal revelation, as the stakes canbe extremely high, but at the same time you can never actually be sure you had personal revelation.

    “God’s edict” might outweigh everything in the universe, but you can never be 100% sure you have directly apprehended God’s edict. And the less reliable and clear the revelation, the less you can be certain that it outweighs other relatively reliable things.

    What if you hear God’s voice from heaven clearly and directly stating, “I command you to round up and cruelly rape, torture and murder all of the students of the nearest junior high school, or you will be cast out of the kingdom?”

    Tell me, is that also a point where “God trumps all else?”

  40. PS, if you are claiming that you heard God’s audible voice from heaven stating clearly and directly that “The Song of Solomon was not inspired by me, and was not, nor should it ever be considered scripture,” then you are a liar.

  41. God is not the author of confusion, and I can, with just as must assurance and confidence as Jared, state that God has personally revealed to me that the Song of Solomon is not, nor was it ever intended to be taken as scripture.

    No, he didn’t.

  42. Shemawater, I don’t think you have any idea how much assurance and confidence I have on this point. 😉

    Plus, I think its self evident that you are wrong:

    Her: Awake, north wind,
    and come, south wind!
    Blow on my garden,
    that its fragrance may spread everywhere.
    Let my beloved come into his garden
    and taste its choice fruits.

    Him: How beautiful your sandaled feet,
    O prince’s daughter!
    Your graceful legs are like jewels,
    the work of an artist’s hands.
    Your navel is a rounded goblet
    that never lacks blended wine.
    Your waist is a mound of wheat
    encircled by lilies.
    Your breasts are like two fawns,
    like twin fawns of a gazelle.
    . . .
    How beautiful you are and how pleasing,
    my love, with your delights!
    Your stature is like that of the palm,
    and your breasts like clusters of fruit.
    I said, “I will climb the palm tree;
    I will take hold of its fruit.”
    May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine,
    the fragrance of your breath like apples,
    and your mouth like the best wine.

    If that aint inspired, I don’t know what is. . . .

  43. Wait, hang on!

    1) She has breast cancer.
    2) She is featured in the scriptures.
    3) She is a dying leader, prophesied to lead the twelve tribes to the promised land.
    4) There are robots in it.

    ZOMG ALL OF THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE AND ALL OF THIS WILL HAPPEN AGAIN

  44. @Kullervo: But the point is that occum’s razor provides for fewer assumptions than just believing whatever you want. Fact based reasoning works well in our world. If you just believed whatever you wanted, you’d eventually hit a snag and then you’d just have to make up something new, unless you made your beliefs entirely untestable and then what’s the point? If they don’t help you in the observable world, then how do you know they are really of any use at all? Sure you could believe whatever conspiracy theory you want, but then you are going to end up like that guy who shot congresswoman Giffords. He believed every “the government’s out to get me” conspiracy theory on the books, from “Sept 11th was planned by the US Government” to “the US ended to gold standard to keep us down” to “the world around me isn’t really real.” Now look at him. He’s killed six people, injured the lives of many more, and will now spend the rest of his life (how ever long the justice system allows that to be) in jail. If you believe things not proven by the world around you, there is a good chance you will act in ways that hurt yourself and others.

    @David Clark: I’m a firm believer that if an idea is truly good, it can be explained by others besides the original author. You shouldn’t have to read Adam Smith or Karl Marx to understand Capitalism or Communism. If the idea is well received, you should be able to talk to a number of people and have them explain it well.

    I disagree with Kuhn (that’s right. I disagreed with a famous philosopher. Fame doesn’t make him right) that peer reviewed journals enforce “normal science”. Peer reviewed journals put the experimental method out there for everyone to see. Those who accept “normal science” and those who accept minority theories can all read it. But instead of anyone saying “That’s just what I believe” (a phrase I HATE) each person is given a chance to try and poke holes in the argument. Since the rules of logic are used and since each claim has to be backed up with evidence, even someone who is the only person who believes in a theory can bring down “normal science” by pointing out flaws in it. That’s what Einstein did with the Theory of Relativity. Everyone thought he was crazy until he showed proof for his claims. Then everyone, including those who believed in “normal science” were forced to change their views to accommodate the Theory of Relativity.

    True, the scientific method isn’t a rigid list that needs to be followed specifically like they say in 6th grade, but the basic parts of it are needed to be scientifically valid. You need to test only one variable at a time. You need to have a control that you don’t change. You need to do the experiment several times. You need to have others look at the experiment to see if they can catch anything that you did wrong. All good science has these basic parts to it.

    If a miracle is really unpredictable (meaning you don’t know what the result of the miracle would be even if you knew a miracle was happening) and if you truly can’t test a miracle, then you can’t tell the difference between a miracle and chance. Then how do you know it was really a miracle? You can’t just believe whatever you want. Either you can prove something or you need to say “I don’t know”. Anything else is irresponsible guesswork.

    Whenever something bad happens, people will say “well this is all part of God’s plan and it will work out in the end” or “this bad thing happened because of Satan!” (despite the fact that those theories are opposites unless you believe that God wants Satan to hurt us) when in reality they have no idea what caused it in many cases. Or they do know what caused it, but they are just feeling blindly for a deeper meaning. When we have a situation where someone guesses that Radical Islam is the truth and that flying planes into buildings to punish others for not believing the same thing, then we have a problem.

    No more guessing. Whenever someone makes a claim, you should think to yourself “can they prove it?” Is their claim the one that requires the least assumptions? Because if you don’t do that, you open the door for any belief at all, absolutely anything, no matter how twisted.

    @shematwater, Kullervo, Jack: See, Kullervo just got done telling shematwater that he can’t be sure that his revelation was true and then Kullervo and Jack both said that they were sure that shematwater’s revelation wasn’t true. If shematwater can’t know whether he’s right, then how the heck do Kullervo and Jack know that he isn’t? Everyone is so sure that their religious experiences are true and that everyone else’s are wrong. That’s why Al Qaeda exists. That’s why the Catholics and Protestants butchered each other in the 17th century. That’s why people were killed in the Salem witch trials. And until we require proof for all of our declarations, it will never end.

  45. RollingForest ~ It has little to do with my own spiritual experiences and more to do with over a year spent observing shematwater on blogs. Read his posting history (here, for example). He has no credibility with me to claim God told him this or that. He strikes me as exactly the sort of person who would manufacture spiritual experiences to support something he believes in for other reasons.

    The LDS church teaches that the SoS isn’t inspired, shematwater believes in the LDS church, ergo shematwater manufactures an encounter with God affirming what the church claims.

    Can I be 100% certain I’m right?

    No, but 99.999% is good enough for me.

    —-

    That is, of course, the problem with playing the “God told me this is true” card. The person making the claim generally has to have (a) credibility with his or her audience, and (b) a compelling account of how God revealed it to him/her.

  46. JARED

    You don’t know what level of assurance I have either.

    I have read the book, and based on this you might as well say that all good poetry is inspired. Just because something sounds good and poetic is not enough to base scripture on.

    SofS 4: 1-4
    Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.
    Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.
    Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.
    Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.

    Nothing sounds less like scripture to me.

  47. “Nothing sounds less like scripture to me.”

    And just what is scripture supposed to sound like? This:

    And every garment, and every skin, whereon is the seed of copulation, shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the even.

    or

    Then the tribe of Zebulun: and Eliab the son of Helon shall be captain of the children of Zebulun.

    or

    And the settle shall be fourteen cubits long and fourteen broad in the four squares thereof; and the border about it shall be half a cubit; and the bottom thereof shall be a cubit about; and his stairs shall look toward the east.

    Oooo, I feel so inspired now. /sarcasm

    Look, I don’t care whether or not SoS is scripture. Either way, I find it tedious and distracting. But if someone else wants to find value in it then that’s fine with me—just like if some other person really finds some soul-searching in the minutiae of Jewish temple construction.

    There’s such a wide range of what is in the scriptures that it’s simply absurd to argue about what “sounds like” scripture.

  48. BRIAN

    I couldn’t agree more, which was kind of my point.

    I also have no problem with what people want to believe concerning the SofS, and that was just an example that someone else mentioned first.
    My point is that I also have to problem with people who don’t feel like it is all that valuable.

    ROLLINGFOREST

    I am perfectly happy in declaring that, from a scientific perspective I can prove very little of my beliefs. I am also happy to admit that I can truly know nothing of the experiences of others.
    Of course, I never really claimed otherwise.

    MS. JACK

    I would like to know when I actually claimed a “spiritual experience” or communication from God about anything. I have not done so on this thread. I might have on the one you site, but I am not able to find it, so if you wouldn’t mind giving me the actual post number.
    Now, I will admit that I have not always been a very articulate person, and a few years ago I did not have a full understanding of many things (and still don’t) which caused me to make some ridiculous claims. But, unless you can honestly claim that you never made such a mistake isn’t it a little hypocritical to simply write someone else off for it.
    I do not like to use the claim of a spiritual experience online because I know it is unprovable and only used when attempting to shut down the conversation, as I explained earlier. To ridicule me for some I have not done?

  49. shematwater ~ I would like to know when I actually claimed a “spiritual experience” or communication from God about anything.

    How about on February 18, 2011 at 10:27 AM?

    I can, with just as must assurance and confidence as Jared, state that God has personally revealed to me that the Song of Solomon is not, nor was it ever intended to be taken as scripture.

    Since you seem to know that it’s a conversation stopper to claim God has your back on something, I’m not really sure why you brought it up in the first place.

    But, unless you can honestly claim that you never made such a mistake isn’t it a little hypocritical to simply write someone else off for it.

    Are you saying that you’ve reversed your position on any of the things we’ve discussed in the past year? Was calling me a sign-seeker for asking whether LDS apostles have stories of encounters with the risen Christ a “mistake”? Was teaching that men get to preside over their wives just because they’re men and worthiness has nothing to do with it a “mistake”? Was patronizingly telling me that I “lack understanding” a “mistake”?

    No, I don’t write people off just for making mistakes, but they may need to acknowledge where they messed up if they want to rectify the relationship.

    Regarding the Song of Solomon, I personally can’t say I’ve ever received any kind of personal revelation from God that it is or isn’t inspired. I believe it’s inspired because I believe the Bible is inspired and it’s part of the Bible, and I’ve yet to hear a good reason for why I shouldn’t think it’s inspired. The reasons rank-and-file Mormons usually give (“It’s about sex!!!1!1!” or “It doesn’t mention God directly”) are, quite frankly, terrible.

  50. “The reasons rank-and-file Mormons usually give (“It’s about sex!!!1!1!” or “It doesn’t mention God directly”) are, quite frankly, terrible.”

    Those are, almost invariably, post hoc reasons. The real reason is that they’ve heard that it was called uninspired, and now they’re trying to figure out how it earned that dishonor. (Not that you were saying otherwise.)

  51. Those are, almost invariably, post hoc reasons.

    /agree

    But, “Joseph Smith said so and Bruce McConkie put it in the official LDS KJV notes on the book” is an even less compelling justification to an outsider.

  52. /double agree.

    And I think that (you not taking JS or BRM’s word for it) is part of the reason Mormons try to come up with additional reasons.

  53. I have a personal testimony of the principles expounded in Song of Solomon.

    Every fiber of my being tells me that you can get close to God by following those principles.

    Model your behavior on that book and you will get better results than the word of wisdom.

  54. @Ms. Jack: Yeah, being somewhat of a new comer, I don’t know the past blogging history of everyone on this blog. I know this has happened before where I’ve commented without knowing what that person has done in the preceding months. So thanks for taking the time to fill me in.

    I’m not suggesting that you should believe shematwater. I’m saying that if someone truly received divine revelation, they should have some way of showing that they aren’t just making it up. Perhaps if they can heal someone in a way that modern science can not (this should be verified by several medical professionals, not just by the congregation). If a person claiming divine revelation says “trust me” it’s probably good that you don’t. Instead of making a clear claim about a person’s revelation either way, ask them to provide proof. If they can’t, they have no reason why anyone else should believe them. If God provided a revelation without providing anything to prove to others that it’s true, then He can’t be angry if no one else believes the person. If He was able to do it for Doubting Thomas, He can do it for us too.

    I didn’t know Mormons don’t believe the Song of Solomon is inspired. I find things like this interesting to learn, though as you say in “Denial is a River in Utah” it can be hard to pin down the beliefs.

    @shematwater: if you are going by what sounds like scripture, there are a lot of books that sound (to the believers) like they are from God, be it the Quran, Hindu Vedic Texts, the Talmud, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, ect. Similarly, there are many texts that don’t seem to provide much new revelation, such as the various histories in the books of different religions, or for example, the Psalms in the Old Testament which are mostly calls for God to harm their enemies and bless them, but little in the way of new information. Yet these books are considered revelation by their respective faiths. So “it feels to me as if this book isn’t scripture” or “this is the book we’ve always used in my church” isn’t good enough. We need a way of differentiating that isn’t so subjective.

    If, as you say, you have no scientific backing for your beliefs and you can’t know the experiences of others, then you can’t really be mad if anyone acts differently than you according to a different belief. But if we all believe different things, then how are we going work together in this world? If someone honestly believes that the punishment for not being Muslim should be death, then how is any non-Muslim supposed to live on the same planet with them? We shouldn’t just believe whatever we want. We need to have a way to verify it that any reasonable person would accept.

  55. MS. JACK

    Please read my post again. I did not say that I had received any kind of Revelation. What I said is that it was entirely in my power to declare that I had, and that I had the ability to back it up with just as much assurance as Jared does his statement. It is very different than declaring a revelation.

    As to the reason I made this statement, if you care to read a few posts earlier where Jared attempted exactly what I said I was trying to avoid when he stated
    “Well, I think Kullervo wins this because God has told me that the Song of Solomon is inspired.”
    (February 17)
    My post was in response to this statement, and my point was that it doesn’t matter that he made such a statement, and it wouldn’t matter if I made such a statement.

    As to “reversing” my position, I can admit mistakes without reversing position. I still believe that only men should hold the priesthood, though I will admit that the arguments I made in the past were in error and it was a mistake on my part to try to argue the case with the little understanding I then had (and I am not going to argue it now).
    I will also admit that there were some things that I did say that I probably should not have. I do not remember specifics, and so I will leave it as a general apology. This I still do at times, though I am trying to correct that fault of mine.

    ROLLINGFOREST

    I am not going by “sounds” like scripture, and I never was. Jared is the one who brought this concept up when he quoted the SofS. My quotation and comment was in response to his, making the point that just because something “sounds” inspired does not mean that it is.

    As to proving that a person had a communication with God, if you refuse to believe until you have proof than it seems you have to reject all such accounts, as there is no proof for any of them.
    The only real proof of anything spiritual is personal experience, which cannot truly be shared. I can get all the proof I need to believe in something, but that will do no one else any good; a position I have always maintained.

    Now, I have never been upset with anyone for what they truly believed. That is their choice and I have nothing to do with it. This is another point that I have maintained.

  56. @Kullervo: But the point is that occum’s razor provides for fewer assumptions than just believing whatever you want. Fact based reasoning works well in our world. If you just believed whatever you wanted, you’d eventually hit a snag and then you’d just have to make up something new, unless you made your beliefs entirely untestable and then what’s the point? If they don’t help you in the observable world, then how do you know they are really of any use at all? Sure you could believe whatever conspiracy theory you want, but then you are going to end up like that guy who shot congresswoman Giffords. He believed every “the government’s out to get me” conspiracy theory on the books, from “Sept 11th was planned by the US Government” to “the US ended to gold standard to keep us down” to “the world around me isn’t really real.” Now look at him. He’s killed six people, injured the lives of many more, and will now spend the rest of his life (how ever long the justice system allows that to be) in jail. If you believe things not proven by the world around you, there is a good chance you will act in ways that hurt yourself and others.

    No, that’s the new point you’re making after you shifted the goalposts. Originally you were claiming that logic and the scientific method were objective and thus not a worldview. Now you are arguing that logic and the scientific method is merely the best worldview.

    Logic and the scientific method are definitely a worldview. Objectivity is practically impossible for human beings.

    Your new argument is just not one that I am interested in having. It is tedious.

  57. @shematwater: Okay, I think that you have a point. It is too bad that people like Bin Laden are not more understanding of others with different beliefs since it is clear that most people are trying to follow what they believe to be true. I guess the next question would be if God communicates in a way that only one person can truly experience, what would be the reason for that? If he is communicating to us each individually, then it isn’t working because there are thousands of different religions and they are mainly clumped around other people of the same faith. It seems that at least some of them must be false, because many directly contradict each other (if they are from different faiths and they claim different holy books as revealed for example) So what happens is that everyone assumes that they’re own revelations must be true because they are the ones’ who experienced it. But if other people can get their revelations wrong then so can you. So it is important to be careful about that.

    @Kullervo: Wow! I must have really hit a nerve if you’re lecturing me on spelling! I’ll try to do better, but remember this is an internet forum, not English class. The point is to get ideas across. We don’t all need to be grammar Nazis. We should be debating the issues rather than spending our time on irrelevant topics like spelling.

    I’ve known for many years that you can’t absolutely prove that there is no Loch Ness Monster or no big foot or no aliens in area 51. A true believer will just claim that they are all hiding where you can’t find them. My point is that if you believe anything that is possible, then you can pretty much believe anything that your imagination can come up with, whether that be fairies or werewolves or leprechauns. But if you believe anything you want, then it becomes impossible to make predictions about what will happen in the future, because you didn’t take the facts and evidence of the observable world into account. But if you say, “I’ll only believe in things I have evidence supporting and things that no evidence disproves” then that narrows down the options considerably and makes it much more likely that your world view is one that can help you predict what will happen in the future based on laws of nature that you’ve learned. You can debate as to whether that view is “true” but it is most successful at making useful predictions. And really “making useful predictions about the future” is the best definition of “true” you are really going to get when it comes to these philosophical debates. I really don’t think that’s shifting the goal posts, just explaining in a different way, but if you think it is, then consider this my correction post where I attempt to explain my ideas in a clearer fashion, which I should be allowed to do.

  58. Actually, phrase should be “I’ll only believe in things that I BOTH have evidence supporting and have no evidence disproving”

  59. ROLLINGFOREST

    I think I would agree with you in what you say, primarily. However, I would also say that whether evidence supports something or not, if that view makes no logical sense to my mind I will most likely reject it.
    I know it will likely cause a great deal of debate, but one reason I have remained LDS is because it is the only belief system (or world view) that is truly logical to my mind. It is the only one that I have ever been able to comprehend. For this reason it is the one that I believe to be true.

    Having the evidence is not enough, but one must be able to understand and make logical sense of the evidence before it should sway his beliefs.

  60. Wow! I must have really hit a nerve if you’re lecturing me on spelling!

    Don’t flatter yourself. It just looks stupid and that’s irritating. It’s not a typo, either. It’s just not knowing how to spell Occam.

  61. @shematwater: I sympathize with how you feel. The theory of relativity and the theory of quantum mechanics, as far as I understand them, don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. How can the speed of time change for someone who is going really fast (resulting in the situation where a twin would be younger than his twin brother if he came back from this trip)? How can light be both a particle and a wave? How can the pattern of a double slit experiment change based only on whether it is observed or not? All of these things seem crazy, but all of them have been verified by evidence. Unless I can find something wrong with the evidence, I am forced to believe in them and hope that I come to a better understanding later.

    @Kullervo: Yeah, but I have a feeling that if I agreed with you in this debate, you’d let slide the misspelling of one word. At least you are debating with me rather than using the asinine “haha you misspelled one word so I can ignore everything else you said” BS that people use against each other too often on the internet. But still, nitpicking over spelling seems to represent more your anger at me for saying something you disagreed with rather than that you actually cared about spelling. If you really cared about the spelling, you’d politely correct me and be done with it. That does not seem to be your goal in the above posts.

  62. ROLLINGFOREST

    To be honest, these things do make sense to me.

    Now, I am not trying to say I understand everything, or that all things make sense. There are those that make no sense to me and thus I reject them.
    A good example of this (which I don’t want to debate) is evolution. The idea, while it may be logically explained, does not make any sense. The probabilities of it are so outrageous that I cannot reason them in my mind to a satisfactory conclusion. As such I reject the theory.

    There are other ideas, both scientific and theologic that I reject for this same reason, even some that are taught by members (and even leaders) of the LDS church.

    Now, my point is not to simply reject something outright simply because you can’t understand it. If this was the case there would be little that I would ever believe in. No, my point is that you should not simply accept something because the evidence is there.

    To put it clearer: If there is evidence for something but we are unable to understand it we should simply say that, for the time being, we make no judgment of belief or agreement. If we cannot understand it we should simply say that we suspend judgment until we can.

    So, speaking of quantum physics, which I know very little about, I am not going to say that I think it is true or not, as I simply lack an understanding that would allow me to make such a statement.

  63. But still, nitpicking over spelling seems to represent more your anger at me for saying something you disagreed with rather than that you actually cared about spelling. If you really cared about the spelling, you’d politely correct me and be done with it. That does not seem to be your goal in the above posts.

    Whatever makes you feel good about yourself, RF.

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