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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Maybe Science is More Like Religion Than You Realized

You grew up thinking that it gave you absolute, dependable answers that you could trust. It made you feel secure, like you could make sense of the world through its power. Then you gradually learned it didn't have all the answers, that it's most beloved leaders sometimes were just plain wrong, that their biases had occasionally distorted their teachings and doctrines, that there were even serious errors in the writings and teachings you once felt were sure standards of truth. Their errors might be understandable in retrospect and could be steadily corrected over time, but it left you doubting, at least sometimes. You came to realize that human error and uncertainty was everywhere, and that many teachings and paradigms required a question mark over them because so much ultimately was tentative and could one day be revised, even reversed. The world was no more so snug and secure, and you could no longer put your full faith, at least not blind faith, in that system you once trusted so much.

Sadly, you could no longer could you put all your faith in science.

Some of us religious folks can relate to that.

Whether it's science or religion, anything that has to go through human hands and minds is subject to errors in expression, transmission, understanding, interpretation, and even basic printing and translation. Whether it's Mormon history, understanding the scriptures, interpreting the world around us, making sense of the teachings of leaders or the workings of the Spirit as we pray, there is always uncertainty and the possibility of error. There will be disappointments. And yet, in spite of the uncertainty, there are great gems of truth that we have discovered that bring bright new light to our view. From the First Law of Thermodynamics to the foundations of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, there are grand principles that we may not fully understand, but which serve as precious foundations for further knowledge.

Yes, there are questions and errors and embarrassing moments, but this is mortality, the time when we see through a glass darkly, knowing that there is more light and understanding to come in a more perfect day. We plod forward with faith, conducting our experiments in mortality the best we can with our limited labs and failing equipment, taking some steps in light and some in faith, being confused in some areas but seeing patterns of truth unfold in others. It's a difficult journey, but whining is no help and the uncertainty is no excuse for retreating in ignorance or giving up.

There is truth, there is a God, there is a Christ, and there are abundant evidences to confirm that and more. Yet we are left on our own so much of the time, needing to seek and remember and relearn many basic truths, one experiment after another. It's mortality. Let's get used to it and move forward in faith and knowledge.

84 comments:

Openminded said...

I almost thought you were going to present a new article disproving evolution--until I read the middle part.

As for the title, I agree that, being agnostic, I put faith in scientific evidence that has stunning predictive power, explains a wide variety of natural phenomenon, and is much unlike literalism which can't undergo significant adaptations to more information that, say, completely overturns everything we used to know (not as much room for metaphors?).

But let's face it, we all run off faith here. I have faith in natural evidence, you guys have faith in spiritual experiences as evidence. They both like to pit themselves against the other it seems, though sometimes one of these likes the credibility offered by the other.

Of course, spiritual evidence utterly fails at providing a single answer for the questions presented to it.

How anyone can think the concept of spiritual evidence makes sense reminds me of how I used to think the Trinity made sense.

Dan said...

Jeff,

You cannot compare the laws of thermodynamics with the atonement of Jesus Christ. There are no ways we humans can accurately test the atonement of Jesus Christ, because its most important aspect occurs AFTER we die! We cannot test its validity because we don't have the evidence of what occurs in the future. We believe in the atonement of Jesus Christ because it makes sense, it is simple, and its payoff is great. We look forward to that end. But it cannot be compared with a testable, workable law of physics. In fact, making that kind of comparison diminishes the power and importance of the atonement of Jesus Christ, and frankly I don't think that works well for anyone.

Quantumleap42 said...

Dan,

"You cannot compare the laws of thermodynamics with the atonement of Jesus Christ." -- Every single natural theologian would disagree with you on this one. There are many theologians (and even some atheists) who would consider the laws of God, including the atonement, and all the moral laws that go with it, as a form of natural law on the same level as the laws of physics. President Kimball has said as much (you can find audio of the speech here). And I think that is one of the great strengths of the restored gospel.

"There are no ways we humans can accurately test the atonement of Jesus Christ, because its most important aspect occurs AFTER we die!" -- But it is still testable, even if we have to die to personally experience it. Fortunately there is another way to test this without personally experiencing it. From my own observations and experiments I find the atonement to be perfectly testable, and it can give very positive results. Just because we can't get all the results now and test every implication of the atonement, does not mean that no part of it is testable and devoid of evidence.

Quantumleap42 said...

Openminded,

"They both like to pit themselves against the other it seems, though sometimes one of these likes the credibility offered by the other." -- This apparent disparity between the two methods is more likely a result of the history of Western Philosophy than a fundamental disagreement between the two. You noted the evidence of this yourself when you said, "sometimes one of these likes the credibility offered by the other". This occasional acceptance of the credibility offered by the other is an indication that the distinction is rather arbitrary.

Quantumleap42 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

well-written; thank you--

Anonymous said...

What happened to the more recent entry that explains how poor people shouldn't get addicted to food and medical care while the church, in its wisdom and compassion, just gets richer and richer?

Pops said...

You cannot compare the laws of thermodynamics with the atonement of Jesus Christ. There are no ways we humans can accurately test the atonement of Jesus Christ, because its most important aspect occurs AFTER we die! We cannot test its validity because we don't have the evidence of what occurs in the future.

I disagree. My personal experience is that the blessings of the atonement can be felt here and now.

I also disagree with the idea that religion and science are somehow diametrically opposed. Religion supports the experimental method just fine. The difference is that in religion you are the instrument.

Pops said...

How anyone can think the concept of spiritual evidence makes sense reminds me of how I used to think the Trinity made sense.

The Israelites also thought Moses was stupid to say that looking at a brazen serpent would heal them Harrumph!

Of course they paid dearly for that opinion. Likewise will we pay if we do not give heed to the messages God has given us, to the witnesses he has sent, and refuse to try the experiment of faith to see what it might yield. Nobody can do it for you because you are the instrument.

Cindy said...

Faith is faith because we can't prove it, isn't it? We all have faith in something or we would never take any actions or make any decisions.

So it seems that our decisions demonstrate the truth about that in which we have faith. For example, if I have faith in christ's sacrifice for the forgiveness of my sins I will live in ways that represent my confidence in that forgiveness, but if not I will do additional things on my own to assure forgiveness.

ecep said...

"There is truth, there is a God, there is a Christ, and there are abundant evidences to confirm that and more."

Such as?

Anonymous said...

@ Pops: Likewise will we pay if we do not give heed to the messages God has given us.

I disagree. Personally, I don't see that I've paid any price at all for rejecting the LDS version of the gospel. (Of course, I might be scheduled to pay in some postmortal future about which I currently have no, um, evidence.)

The problem here is that the Muslim could present us with essentially the same sort of claim that Pops has presented us, and, from my perspective, at least, we have absolutely no way to judge the truth of their respective claims on the basis of evidence. On the basis of faith, testimony, etc., yes. On the basis of evidence, no.

Those who insist we can judge these sorts of spiritual claims on the basis of evidence generally do so by factoring into their thinking the very kinds of "evidence" that science, as science, tries to factor out -- namely, the subjective stuff.

Here's the kicker: one's fundamental metaphysical assumptions are not made on the basis of evidence, because those assumptions determine what counts as "evidence" in the first place. (This is partly what we mean when we call the assumptions "fundamental" and "metaphysical" in the first place.)

The metaphysics of science rejects as evidence certain kinds of experience that the metaphysics of religion accepts as evidence.

I gess I should add that 1.) what happens in the lab, in the plain view of the entire scientific community, and 2.) what happens only in the secret recesses of the human heart, are both forms of human experience. But science will count only one as evidence. (Anyone who's really interested in this stuff should read William James's Varieties of Religious Experience and then Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions.)

Jeff is certainly right to say that science, like religion, depends on certain metaphysical assumptions. In that sense, yes, "science is more like religion" than many might think.

On the other hand, the metaphysical assumptions we're talking about (those undergirding science and those undergirding religion) are very different, in very important ways.

Should one stress the similarities (such as the fact that both science and religion are only possible if one first makes certain assumptions)? Or should one stress the differences (such as the fact that only one offers us moral precepts)?

This is kind of like asking, Should one stress the similarities between Methodism and Mormonism (such as their shared focus on Christ), or should one stress the differences between them (such as their disagreements over the nature of scripture and revelation)?

Both the similarities and the differences are very real; this is not a question of misrepresentation but merely of emphasis. Where one chooses to place this emphasis depends on one's purpose. I suspect Jeff's purpose is to minimize the perceived conflict between faith and science, partly because science, rightly or wrongly, has turned many a believer into an atheist, and partly because Jeff personally loves his science as well as his faith. Perhaps he wishes to minimize the difference between the two in order to reduce the sense of inner conflict that can haunt the believer. I remember struggling with that conflict myself, decades ago (and, if you must know, emerging victorious).

NathanS said...

@Cindy
"if I have faith in christ's sacrifice for the forgiveness of my sins I will live in ways that represent my confidence in that forgiveness, but if not I will do additional things on my own to assure forgiveness."

What are the additional things?

God gives us the atonement. Another that rescues tosses an endangered mountain climber a rope. If we do nothing with the atonement because we are confident of its saving power, we are like the climber that does nothing with the rope because (s)he is confident of its saving power.

If we do nothing for salvation because we have faith in our Savior we are like the climber that does nothing with the rope because of his or her faith in the one who threw the rope. Why would the thrower throw if saving the climber was not the purpose? Is not the throwing of the rope sufficient evidence of an intention to save? Should not the climber have as much faith in the rope thrower for salvation from the cliff as we for salvation from our Savior? Jesus threw us a rope in the atonement. Isn't that why we have faith in his salvific intent? Doing something more than saying "Thanks" for that rope is not an "extra" that shows lack of faith. And to tie that rope around us so Christ can lift us is not how we say "Thanks." It is how we show a faith that is not dead.

NathanS said...

@Anon
"Jeff personally loves his science as well as his faith. Perhaps he wishes to minimize the difference between the two in order to reduce the sense of inner conflict that can haunt the believer. I remember struggling with that conflict myself, decades ago (and, if you must know, emerging victorious)."

I hope you are sincere, Anonymous, and trying to disabuse us believers from the "haunt" that you speak of instead of attempting something more sinister or simply entertaining yourself. God will kindly reward you if your intentions are kind but know that you will be rewarded whether kindly or not. Most likely it will be kindly but our concern is in hope that it will only be kindly because while there are rewards for all the kindly intentions, there are also potential sufferings that may come beforehand. So if you choose to believe in an imaginary conflict between the LDS faith and science, I invite you to assure yourself consistently good rewards in the hereafter for consistently kind motives and honest means.

However, Jeff need not minimize conflicts between an LDS faith and science. There are none to minimize. There are conflicts between some assumptions of some in the faith community and some of the assumptions (and yes, even hypotheses) of some in the scientific community but conflicts between such assumptions and hypotheses are not conflicts between faith and science.

Science often conflicts with scientific hypotheses. When it does so, it furthers the cause of science rather than conflicting with it. Hence, science is not conflicting with science when it conflicts with assumptions and hypotheses that are founded in the scientific community. Faith is no less right to correctly and truthfully conflict with assumptions and hypotheses without conflicting with science than science has.

Furthermore, faith does not demand an acceptance of every faith-based assumption any more than science demands the acceptance of every science-based hypothesis. You know that. So for the sake of accuracy, I invite you to reconsider the way you address the "faith and science" issue as though it were a faith "vs." science issue.

BTW Anon, if I'm behind on replies on other threads, I'm behind on my reading. I might get to them yet.

Cindy said...

Nathan, I'm not saying we don't do anything as a result of Christ's atonement. We are called to obey the commandments He gives us to love God and others. But if we trust completely in His work for our salvation then cant we be assured that anything we do is not for our salvation but for a witness of His work on our behalf?

Anonymous said...

A question for NathanS: You presumably know the LDS faith is true. Do you know that in the same way, or perhaps better, for the same reasons, or perhaps even better, as a result of the same kind of procedures, that you know the truths of science?

I'm saying that the ways in which we apprehend and are convinced of spiritual truths are different from the ways in which we apprehend and are convinced of scientific truths.

Think for a moment of the fact that scientists of many different faiths, people who will probably never be convinced by material evidence to agree to the truth of other religions, nonetheless do, on the basis of scientific method, find themselves brought into agreement on scientific truths.

Eric Herman said...

Well stated, as usual, Jeff.

I recall while watching the Universe series on cable a few years ago how often the people on there said something to the effect that what they know now about the way [some aspect of the universe] works is vastly different than what they understood just 10-20 years prior. And I'm sure the same will be said 10-20 years from now.

Similarly, our understanding of spiritual things can evolve and become both simpler and more complex over time.

I believe that true science and true religion are in harmony and have always been. Perhaps someday we will appreciate them both together, but I think we're still quite far from understanding either well enough to recognize that harmony in its fullness.

NathanS said...

"...if we trust completely in His work for our salvation then cant we be assured that anything we do is not for our salvation but for a witness of His work on our behalf?"

If we tie the rope around ourselves and leave the ledge so one who throws us the rope can pull us up, isn't that indication that "we trust completely in [the rope thrower's] work for our salvation"?

Must trust in the rope thrower require rebellion?

Jesus never gave us a license to do as we wish while trusting in his works - he never equated believing in him with anything other than doing what he said to do - comparing those who do his sayings with those who build on a solid foundation while those who do not keep his saying with those who build on sand.

Would honest, open mindedness lead people to greater agreement with each other? But people have been warned not to be open to the meaning of Christ's words because they teach "another gospel" than the one that these warning people teach. One can have admirable honesty but with such a warning, it can be too scary to open one's mind to "another gospel" - one that Christ's words teach.

Scary or not, I invite you to come unto Christ, to read in a red letter edition of the Holy Bible the words in red. All of them. And understand them in such a way that they harmonize with each other instead of contradict - without fear of believing in a different gospel than the one mortals have explained to you. Fear not but be believing. Believe in Christ. Believe in his own words. Tie his own words around you so with them he can lift you. His words are unto life eternal.

Mortals that have given you your understanding do not compare. Let them and their gospel go. Focus on Christ. He is your God, Savior, and King. If you continue in his word, discontinuing in others', then are you his disciple in deed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. But if instead of continuing in his word and being his disciple in deed, you choose to continue in others' words and end up as his disciple words rather than in deed, you have no promise of knowing the truth or that the truth will set you free.

It is your choice.

NathanS said...

"I'm saying that the ways in which we apprehend and are convinced of spiritual truths are different from the ways in which we apprehend and are convinced of scientific truths."

I'm not at all sure that such is usually the case. Evidence, critical thinking, and honesty forced my acceptance of the Book of Mormon and of much of what goes along with it.

Pops said...

Those who insist we can judge these sorts of spiritual claims on the basis of evidence generally do so by factoring into their thinking the very kinds of "evidence" that science, as science, tries to factor out -- namely, the subjective stuff.

True - but other aspects of the method are still the same: look at evidence, formulate a hypothesis, design and perform an experiment, see whether it confirms or contradicts the hypothesis. It takes brutal honesty, soul-searching, and introspection because the person evaluating the evidence and performing the experiment is also the instrument doing the measuring - it's very subjective. But that doesn't mean it's impossible, nor does it mean it isn't worth attempting.

I think God set things up that way intentionally. He isn't interested in our intellect so much as he is interested in our hearts.

Pops said...

It should not be left unstated that there is a plethora of objective evidence available for seekers of truth. One very obvious evidence is the Book of Mormon. There's nothing subjective about its existence. It has a well-known history. Multiple eyewitness accounts and sworn statements have been given concerning its provenance. It's either a fraud or precisely what it represents itself to be. There is no middle ground.

It also gives us a choice in where we may choose to place our faith: in God, or in archeological, historical, and stylistic speculations that in some mysterious way are opined to be objective.

Quantumleap42 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cindy said...

Nathan, I am not suggesting that we do nothing in response to the blood of Christ given for our salvation. I dedicate my life to Christ as my Savior (the One who saves me from the Holy justice of the Father) and I will do whatever He asks of me.

But if my salvation (eternal life/celestial kingdom) is dependent upon whatever He asks of me then He really didn't save me in the first place, right?

I can trust in completely in Christ for my eternal position with God AND do all He asks of me as long as I am assured that it is Christ's righteousness that sanctifies me and not my own. Then my works are simply a witness of the degree to which I trust in Him. (Romans 10:11-As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.") They don't have to be perfect, they do not affect my standing with Him, and I don't have to spend all my time worrying about whether or not I do them well enough. They are simply a grateful response to the love He offers a poor sinner...me...

Anonymous said...

It's either a fraud or precisely what it represents itself to be. There is no middle ground.

I disagree. Between fraudulence and authenticity there are plenty of other possibilities, so that statement is a false dichotomy.

Anonymous said...

Science makes a try, makes a mistake, and then self-corrects. Got that? It works. It works, it works. Religion, not so much. Try again.

Anonymous said...

President Hinckley said that Mormonism was authentic or a fraud.

Anonymous said...

Science makes a try, makes a mistake, and then self-corrects. Got that? It works. It works, it works. Religion, not so much. Try again.

What you say of science is true. But religion, too, engages in a certain amount of self-correction. I'd put it like this:

Religion makes a try (say, plural marriage), realizes it made a mistake, and then self-corrects. It works, kind of, though it works much more slowly and haphazardly than science.

LDS religion has made a certain amount of progress (not just on polygamy but on race as well); it's just slow, mainly because its "methodology" of continuing revelation is so inferior to the methodology of science.

Mateo said...

I know I've said to much but one last point.

I think the success of the scientific method is that if a theory is correct enough even it's deepest critics will eventually get behind it. The history of science has had many many times where a critic was vehemently opposed to the idea behind a certain theory but alas, if the results such a theory predict can be shown over and over again to be correct they're unable to deny it. They may strive to find some new principle that will tie the new theory in with the old one (think classical and relative physics or relativity and Quantum dynamics) but they're powerless to deny that the new theory must be taken seriously. We absolutely do not see this in religion. I can discuss the various reasons I think Christianity is false until I'm blue in the face and it will have zero impact on a devout Christian and the same goes for a devout Muslim or person of Jewish faith.

Mateo said...

@pops,
"True - but other aspects of the method are still the same: look at evidence, formulate a hypothesis, design and perform an experiment, see whether it confirms or contradicts the hypothesis. It takes brutal honesty, soul-searching, and introspection because the person evaluating the evidence and performing the experiment is also the instrument doing the measuring - it's very subjective. But that doesn't mean it's impossible, nor does it mean it isn't worth attempting."

A theory that rested on a single person's attempts at understanding it in this way would be little better then the way one goes about proving their own religion. The thing is that this is not how the scientific principles are founded. Certainly this may be how a theory starts and then it's peer reviewed and torn to shreds by its critics as they repeat and retry the things it stated happened. Some of those people will be very much against it's premise but ultimately after lots and lots of prodding and trying a general consensus starts to form and the theory is shown to either be a good working model of what we observe or it is found to be lacking.

Religion does not work this way at all. There is no way for me to repeat and retry the exact method you did to gain your testimony and gain the same results. There is no world wide consensus (not even a remote one) on what the nature of god is or what his plan for his children is. We have consensus amongst small groups (just as you do with very fringe or new theories in scientific fields do before that theory is honed and refined) but that seems to say a lot more about the way social groups form then it does about a particular concept having some universal truth that all people can find for themselves and is testable.

"I think God set things up that way intentionally. He isn't interested in our intellect so much as he is interested in our hearts."

This is a rather frustrating and putrid excuse for why religious ideas aren't nearly as satisfying as those based on things that are testable and falsifiable. The mere fact that people tend to bring up this argument of "well Science doesn't know everything either! Religion is just like science so see, you can believe it!" Seems to admit that on a rather basic level people can see the trustworthiness of the scientific method vs the method of religion. People don't need much convincing that the things which they interact with on a daily basis really truly do exist. I think it's out of a frustration with the delusional nature of religion that people tend to get wrapped up in these arguments. Maybe if they can undermine the obvious reality of the natural world it can help them feel less out of sorts for believing in lots of things that are just plain silly to those around them.

Mateo said...

@pops,
"True - but other aspects of the method are still the same: look at evidence, formulate a hypothesis, design and perform an experiment, see whether it confirms or contradicts the hypothesis. It takes brutal honesty, soul-searching, and introspection because the person evaluating the evidence and performing the experiment is also the instrument doing the measuring - it's very subjective. But that doesn't mean it's impossible, nor does it mean it isn't worth attempting."

A theory that rested on a single person's attempts at understanding it in this way would be little better then the way one goes about proving their own religion. The thing is that this is not how the scientific principles are founded. Certainly this may be how a theory starts and then it's peer reviewed and torn to shreds by its critics as they repeat and retry the things it stated happened. Some of those people will be very much against it's premise but ultimately after lots and lots of prodding and trying a general consensus starts to form and the theory is shown to either be a good working model of what we observe or it is found to be lacking.

Religion does not work this way at all. There is no way for me to repeat and retry the exact method you did to gain your testimony and gain the same results. There is no world wide consensus (not even a remote one) on what the nature of god is or what his plan for his children is. We have consensus amongst small groups (just as you do with very fringe or new theories in scientific fields do before that theory is honed and refined) but that seems to say a lot more about the way social groups form then it does about a particular concept having some universal truth that all people can find for themselves and is testable.
(I'm getting a very weird issue when posting where it shows it posted but then later is not there. Sorry if this is somehow creating double posts.)

Mateo said...

(continued)
"I think God set things up that way intentionally. He isn't interested in our intellect so much as he is interested in our hearts."

This is a rather frustrating and putrid excuse for why religious ideas aren't nearly as satisfying as those based on things that are testable and falsifiable. The mere fact that people tend to bring up this argument of "well Science doesn't know everything either! Religion is just like science so see, you can believe it!" Seems to admit that on a rather basic level people can see the trustworthiness of the scientific method vs the method of religion. People don't need much convincing that the things which they interact with on a daily basis really truly do exist. I think it's out of a frustration with the delusional nature of religion that people tend to get wrapped up in these arguments. Maybe if they can undermine the obvious reality of the natural world it can help them feel less out of sorts for believing in lots of things that are just plain silly to those around them.

Pops said...

There is no way for me to repeat and retry the exact method you did to gain your testimony and gain the same results.

Au contraire - there absolutely is. God guarantees it. Millions have done it.

Some of those people will be very much against it's premise but ultimately after lots and lots of prodding and trying a general consensus starts to form and the theory is shown to either be a good working model of what we observe or it is found to be lacking.

That's pretty much the way it is with religion. Of course it doesn't become nearly as universal because religious conversion is difficult - it requires the heart. Many religions stop short of seeking (and finding) absolute truth, I suppose because absolute truth is absolutely difficult. And there are many religions whose purpose is not to find truth, so they aren't going to be much help.

This is a rather frustrating and putrid excuse for why religious ideas aren't nearly as satisfying as those based on things that are testable and falsifiable.

I've found them to be far more satisfying, intellectually and spiritually, than science.

And if God isn't interested in our hearts, that leaves the alternative that he isn't interested in any aspect of us, or the alternative that he doesn't exist at all. Perhaps that's what you're comfortable with, in which case I can't understand why you would care so much about religion as to waste your time sparring on the subject. I'm sorry that so much of your life is consumed fighting against silly people who believe silly things.

Mateo said...

"Au contraire - there absolutely is. God guarantees it. Millions have done it."

If you mean that people can practice using confirmation bias as they relate anecdotal stories to one another then yes. Millions have done it. This is not remotely a real "test" though. Listen to people's testimonies (in any religion) and you'll find that they may follow similar patterns but it's not even remotely an exact response to an exact action. You and I have been over and back again on this subject in the other thread and like I said before there ARE people that are sincere in their quest for understanding whether god or his church exist and that ARE willing to follow it, yet don't receive an answer, despite their sincerity in asking. If it were on par with science then the results would be replicable. I don't see that being the case.

Mateo said...

"That's pretty much the way it is with religion. Of course it doesn't become nearly as universal because religious conversion is difficult - it requires the heart."

Nearly as universal? It's not remotely in the same ball park. Religion is one of the most volatile subjects a person can bring up with someone of a different faith. Even christians disagree rather heavily at times. Then look at a person that is of islamic faith from a christian stand point (or vice versa) and I don't see much consensus there.

If there is an exact way to live one's life that god wishes to have his children follow then the method for obtaining information about it is not very consistent or at least less consistent then what can get from even the soft sciences (like psychology or sociology.)

Mateo said...

"I've found them to be far more satisfying, intellectually and spiritually, than science."

If you're referring to feeling more at ease and safe in our universe then I could see this. As far as having a sound satisfying understanding of how something works and why then religion can't come anywhere close to what a scientific understanding can. I can take an air conditioner apart and learn all the principles of why it's various parts do what they do and how they work in concert and be assured that what I'm learning is just as applicable for me as it will be for any other person that wishes to do so. I don't see that at all in religion, it lacks that certainty, clarity and level of confidence that says, "this is how it works" While some people will be very "certain" of a particular principle they will encounter others that are just as "certain" that their particular principle is incorrect. These two disagreeing combatants will be at a loss to show how their opinion is any more valid then the other person's. You wouldn't see that sort of thing with the air conditioning unit because they can show each other where the other has gone awry and come to a consensus (despite their initial feelings on the matter.)

Mateo said...

As far as god being interested in our hearts... I really have no idea what that statement means. For me personally I can't say that there certainly is not a god, but I'd say that any descriptions that I've heard so far seem fatally flawed in the way they approach things.

As far as sparring on the subject... it's an interesting subject. It's not like it keeps me up at night or makes me angry. Most of my friends and family are members of the LDS church and it was a large part of my life for over 28 years so I'm familiar with it. Had that been the case with the Jehovah's witness religion or scientology I'd be on one of their apologetics sites probing and prodding. :)

Openminded said...

"There is no way for me to repeat and retry the exact method you did to gain your testimony and gain the same results.

Au contraire - there absolutely is. God guarantees it. Millions have done it."

Even the people in your own religion don't reach a testimony the same way. But of all the different ways, what makes you think the billions upon billions of other religious followers across the ages haven't reached a far different conclusion using the same method(s)? It's profoundly straightforward that people reach highly different conclusions using the same spiritual methods as everyone else, experiencing spiritual feelings like everyone else, becoming better people like everyone else, etc. But not in the name of Christ or Mormonism or even the same amount of gods.

How can you give any credibility to such an unreliable method?

Anonymous said...

@ Openminded: How can you give any credibility to such an unreliable method?

Because it immerses me in a caring community, eases my anxiety about death, gives me hope for the future, etc.

Accepting the tenets of my faith makes me feel good. Rejecting them would make me feel bad. Life is short; why not spend it feeling happy?

That's pretty much it. Let's not overthink it.

Openminded said...

Anon,
So you realize your faith is based on essentially nothing, but pretend it is true and that you "know" so just because it makes life better for you?

Anonymous said...

@ Openminded: All that, but in the past tense. I realized my faith was based on essentially nothing, but pretended it was true and that I "knew" so just because it made life better for me.

Now I'm an atheist, parodying the thinking of the theist.

Pops said...

As far as having a sound satisfying understanding of how something works and why then religion can't come anywhere close to what a scientific understanding can.

Well, that's pretty funny. Take archeology - we're always one discovery away from discarding everything we know on any given subject. Take nutrition - the "truth" changes more often than the weather. Take climate "science" - please, just take it. Why do airplanes fly? Is the Bernoulli effect? Angle of attack? The Coanda effect? Why don't solar flares obey the laws of physics?

We do OK in science, all things considered. But when you consider our limitations in size, location, and time, we're pretty much nothing and always will be. Some day the sun will go nova on us and "poof!" nothing we have ever done will have ever mattered. That's pretty satisfying. Or not.

Or maybe there's more to life than meets the eye.

Anonymous said...

So, science has limitations, and there's a lot we don't know, ergo my religious beliefs are justified. And believing that this material world is all there is, and that someday our little pretensions will all go "Poof!"--well, that makes me just too sad, so there must be something more, because after all, the Great Truths clearly must subserve my emotions. Thank you, Pops, for the clarification.

As for you, Openminded, just you wait. Someday the astronomers will locate Kolob, right there next to the celestial throne, where a day is as a thousand years, and what will you say then, eh?

Mateo said...

@pops,
Science and human understanding definitely has it's limitations. It's not all knowing. I agree. What's your point though? The methods involved with our observations of the natural world are the best way to learn about that world. I don't see any evidence so far that convinces me that there are things beyond that.
Is it comforting to know that someday I'll be dead and gone? No not really. It's not comforting for me to know that children starve to death in 3rd world countries.
Life is both a beautiful and terrifying mixture, with huge peaks and horrible lulls.
Here's pretty great clip of Richard Feynman explaining why not having answers is preferable to him over having overly confident answers.

Mateo said...

this one is also really good. :)

Mateo said...

That second clip is the full discussion including the previous clip at the end. Sorry if it feels redundant.

Pops said...

What's your point though?

The point is that we choose our beliefs, whether we're speaking of the natural world or things spiritual. There is far less to compel our beliefs in the world around us than scientism might suggest.

And when I say, "choose our beliefs", I don't mean it in the sense that we flip a coin and there we go. It means we consider evidence, we try things and see how they turn out. In the personal domain, that applies equally to the natural and the spiritual.

So, science has limitations, and there's a lot we don't know, ergo my religious beliefs are justified.

That's your inference, not my implication. The key point in that statement is that there's a lot we don't know. What that justifies is not one's specific beliefs, but a curiosity that opens the mind to possibilities. Are you suggesting that ignorance is justification for declining to seek knowledge?

Mateo said...

I'd agree that we choose which types of evidence we find useful. My main frustration with religious ideals is that most of the people that I've met that are religious are not applying to religion the same amount of critical thinking that they do with everything else. If I came to you with a business proposition I have little doubt that the types of evidence and proofs you would require before investing would be the sorts of standards that find religion quite lacking.

Keep in mind that the idea of "well we don't know everything about science so we believe what we choose to believe is fine to hold if you want, but also keep in mind that by such an outlook, people that claim that Zeus looks down from mount Olympus have equal footing for claiming that their view is correct. You and I could find all sorts of evidence to suggest that lightning bolts are not hurled down from the sky by an angered Zeus, or that Tsunamais are not the result of Posiedon's wrath, but the same sorts of apologetics that you use to defend your own belief in god could be used to defend the existence of the greek gods. Sure we can show that tsunamais are the result of earth quakes but what caused the earth quake? What caused the tectonic movement that created it? Eventually if you dig deep enough you arrive at the fringes of human understanding and a person can neatly fit their own supernatural explanation into that space.

The thing that Openminded pointed out earlier though is that you have no reliable means for determining whether your supernatural explanation is really the correct one. For every LDS member that is convinced that their interpretation of the universe is correct there is a jewish person, a muslim, or a southern baptist member that is equally convinced (and using similar logic to explain their certainty) that they have it right.

I still feel like you're trying to say that religion and Science are about as reliable as one another and I have yet to see how you would remotely justify such a position. If you want to point at the realms of science that are less known then so be it, but the scientific method has proven over and over again to be a better way of understanding reality then the religious tactics do. Could it all be an illusion? Sure. That's not the most plausible explanation though.

I disbelieve religion, not because I see any proof that it is incorrect or that I see proof that the physical world is all that there is. I disbelieve it because I have yet to encounter anything remotely compelling in the claims that it makes. It could still be accurate but until I see something that I can recognize as accurate evidence pointing in it's favor then I'm afraid I cannot believe in it.

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting that ignorance is justification for declining to seek knowledge?

No, I'm suggesting that "testimony" and the like are not reliable places to find knowledge.

What that justifies is not one's specific beliefs, but a curiosity that opens the mind to possibilities.

Fine, we're both open to new possibilities. But so what? I suppose you're open to the possibility that LDS theology is false and Hinduism is true. So for you, Hinduism is not automatically off the table. Yet despite your putative curiosity, you don't believe in Hinduism. Why not?

The question is not whether our curiosity is justified, but whether our beliefs are justified. The way you go about justifying your beliefs strikes me as no different than the way the Hindu justifies his. Testimony, revelation, tradition -- they all strike me as inferior to the scientific method.

Pops said...

Testimony, revelation, tradition -- they all strike me as inferior to the scientific method.

I think that sums up scientism.

Except that you have not applied the scientific method to the things you believe. Most of what we hold as "facts" and "truth" we take on authority. We have not conducted the experiments, we have not collected and analyzed the data, we have not calibrated the equipment, we have not designed the experiments, we have not worked through the math, more than in tiny bits and pieces. Some small and useful facts we learn by experience - jumping out of trees breaks arms and legs, etc. But, in the end, we have faith in the results produced by others, and we feel confident that we could repeat the experiments because others have done so. Now it's starting to sound like religion again.

If you want to know if a religious credo is "true", you have to try it, because the point of religion is not to measure something or come up with a mathematical description of some aspect of our world; it is to produce some effect within one's self. You have to live it to find out what it does to you. You can only analyze it to a certain point, then you have to try it. All the discussion in the world will never produce religious knowledge.

Think of it this way: you reject others' descriptions of their religious experiences in the same manner that a blind person might reject a description of "orange", or perhaps even a description of sight itself.

Most of us who claim testimonies have knowledge that derives largely from the experience that comes from living in a certain way, from experiencing the natural consequences of that way of living. Sure, there are spiritual manifestations, but they aren't the bedrock. The bedrock is the transformation of self, the enlightening of the mind, the peace, joy, and yes, blessings, that come from religious practices and the religious life.

You cannot know if religion is true or false until you are willing to try it.

Mateo said...

"we have not designed the experiments, we have not worked through the math, more than in tiny bits and pieces."

Yet a person can if they choose to. If I choose to recreate some mathematical formula I'm welcome to try and disprove it. If it's a sound theory then it's going to be impossible in the end to deny it because the truth is right there in front of you. It's something that CAN be recreated if one chooses. The tenets of most religions are not this way. I can follow the same formula that Jeff followed to gain a testimony and my experience won't be the same, I could follow your recipe and it's doubtful that I would get the same.

You seem to enjoy that idea that those who don't believe in your religious outlook are in that position because they have not put in the effort. While this is certainly true, it's also true of Hinduism. How can you know that you wouldn't find a more fulfilling life in that style of living then you do in your own? Well of course you don't. You're satisfied with your own style of belief and that's totally fine. To say that your your way of gaining beliefs is equally valid as a scientific pursuit is absolute hogwash though. You have to be able to see that on at least some level. Again, if the types of conclusions that relgion comes to were given in a different venue you'd be entirely skeptical.

If I promise you that giving me $100,000 will make you rich beyond your wildest dreams but that I can't give you any concrete details (only vague ideas) about how I plan to do this I would hope that you wouldn't take, "well look you need to just do it and as you do it you'll realize why it's a good idea." with much of a serious consideration.

Granted there are things that we're going to choose to do in life without knowing the outcome. We "bet" on many things in life. I don't know that I'm going to come out ahead by owning insurance. I may end up spending more money then I ever get out of it.

It just seems like your thesis is, "nothing can be known with certainty, so who are you to tell me that my beliefs aren't just as valid as these "scientific" ideas you claim to put stock in."

In the realm of what a person can "know" very little (if anything) can fit into the category of "I'm completely certain of this thing". There are however sliding scales of probability of a particular thing. Some things are relatively certain like the idea that tomorrow morning the sun will raise over the eastern horizon. Other ideas are much less substantiated (but still possible) like the idea that there is an omnipotent being that put our planet into rotation and guides it's movements. At some point people tend to draw a line in the sand (for the sake of pragmatism) and say, "things on this side are things that I am doubtful of and do not know. Things on this side are well enough understood that I can say I know them." I think what is frustrating for Annon and myself is that oftentimes in the realm of religion people that normally have a sensible line drawn in the sand go and make a circle in the "nobody knows territory" and claim that everything in that circle is known and just as justified as the rest of the things they "know."

Perhaps I'm wrong in all of these assumptions though. Feel free to correct me.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Pops. So, for Muslims who have tried Islam, and lived Islam, and been personally transformed by Islam -- for them, Islam is true?

But for you, who have tried the Mormon gospel, and lived the Mormon gospel, and been personally transformed by the Mormon gospel -- for you, the Mormon gospel is true?

OK, fine -- as long as you're willing to admit that your definition of "truth" is pretty severely relativistic! You have basically reduced "truth" to "whatever works" for someone personally. This strikes me as unorthodox, to say the least.

I would add that your definition of "truth" is totally at odds with the definition used by one Joseph Smith, Jr. When Smith was told in his vision that none of the then-existing religions was "true," that term could not possibly have been meant in the sense you're using it.

I'm not LDS, but at least I have enough respect for your prophet not to disregard the meaning of his core language, as you are doing in so blatantly relativizing the notion of truth.

Mateo said...

To be fair to Pops, one could venture that all religions have some form of truth (and this is where their respective followers draw their life changing perspective from) and this would not certainly curtail the possibility that his view is correct.

I remember seeing a Nova special a while back talking about the evolution of birds. There's controversy over whether reptiles were their closest ancestors or whether it was dinosaurs. The nova spcial focused on the fossilized remains of the an archaeopterix like creature that is believed by many to be the oldest found fossil of an early bird. Two opposing groups got into quite the slugfest over whether this animal had upright forward and backward swinging legs (like the modern dinosaur) or whether it had the splayed legs indicitive of most extant reptiles. Going off the fossil they both created elaborate explanations on why the animal was one way or the other. They both had really good points and had quite the battle and it was ultimately inconclusive. Now it could be that one of them was right, but that doesn't remove the sound logic that was in place for the guys that were wrong. Some of their assumptions may have been astute and based on reality but were missing key components.

So basically it's possible that Pops is correct in his religion and the rest are getting good vibrations off of portions of their respective religions that have elements of truth to them. It'a also possible that The flying spaghetti monster is our creator and that all the positive, life changing affirmations of the various religions are riffing off the ultimate truth that comes to us via his ethereal noodley appendages. With the current toolset it's rather impossible to be certain.

Mateo said...

It is definitely true though that the idea that one can know if a religion is the one true religion, the one that god has ordained, can be ascertained by having a lifestyle metamorphisis while following it's precepts. Were this the case we'd need to throw in the ring that the band, "The Grateful Dead" may in fact be god's true prophets because look at the people that have completely upended their lived to follow the band. Not too horribly unlike the followers of Christ at his invitation to, "come follow me." ;)

Mateo said...

excuse the phrase "it's definitely true" and replace it with "it's seems quite plausible that" It's very easy to fall into that sort of certain language. :P

Anonymous said...

One could venture that all religions have some form of truth.

Sure. Absolutely. But if one is LDS, one probably thinks that some religions have rather a larger share of truth than others, and that what they all have a greater or lesser share of is the religious truth, and that the religious truth is that which was revealed to Joseph Smith and is still being revealed to the living prophets of the LDS Church.

Or are we no longer to believe in the plain meaning of Joseph Smith's vision?

I appreciate your attempt to make peace here, Mateo, and in a way I even appreciate Pops's attempt at a kind of squishy ecumenism (even if I doubt he truly believes what he's saying). But the fact is that the Church holds its religious truth-claims to be universal in a way Pops is trying to deny. As one of this blog's true believers told me awhile back, God will punish me for my apostasy whether I believe it will happen or not. This stalwart believer was saying that I could disbelieve if it made sense to me to disbelieve, but I would still, judged against a universal standard, just be wrong--and we all know that's the orthodox Mormon way.

Mateo said...

Yes I agree, that the orthodox LDS view would be that the church holds the most truth of any church and has the TRUE ordinances of the gospel. I think an LDS member could still in all honesty take the position that while the LDS church holds the MOST truth that it does not hold ALL truth. Most of the apostles are pretty forthcoming about this, that there are plenty of details that even the prophet does not know.

I think if one wished to (and I'm not sure if pops sees this as the case or if it's just how I took what he was saying) they could choose a view that says basically, "on a scale of one to a hunderd the LDS church holds 20 units of truth and that's 10 higher then any other religion on the planet. While it holds more it still joins the world's religions in not having a clue about the other 80% theological questions."

At least that's the standpoint that I tried to hold onto for awhile in my life. Eventually the frustration with realizing that I still didn't really have much better grounds (if any) for saying that the LDS church doctrine was the most correct, (or even that the basic claims that god exists were very well substantiated) began to bug me more and more. There simply isn't a reliable litmus test with this subject to assure oneself that they're experiencing anything more then a confirmation bias. Or well that's the conclusion I've arrived at anyways. :P

Mateo said...

I'm wondering what the opinion is of those that are faithful followers of the LDS church feel. Is it possible for an important tenet of god's gospel to be received by someone outside of his established church if that tenet is not part of the LDS church doctrine? Most LDS members don't claim that the church has a monopoly on truth, but does it an apostate belief to hold the idea that there could be other religions that have some portion of the gospel more right then the LDS church? More correct then the understanding of any of the expired or extant prophets have been?

Pops said...

OK, fine -- as long as you're willing to admit that your definition of "truth" is pretty severely relativistic! You have basically reduced "truth" to "whatever works" for someone personally. This strikes me as unorthodox, to say the least.

I think it's safe to say that all religions contain some degree of truth. That's been stated quite explicitly from the pulpit at LDS General Conference, so I don't see how my view is in any way unorthodox or illogical. You might wish to elaborate.

"The Grateful Dead" may in fact be god's true prophets...

You almost got that part right - where you went astray is the bit about God. In a sense, though, I suppose they've chosen their god. Do they have the same objective as religious people? That's the difference.

on a scale of one to a hundred the LDS church holds 20 units of truth and that's 10 higher then any other religion on the planet. While it holds more it still joins the world's religions in not having a clue about the other 80% theological questions.

The "20 units" part is a bit high. I'm sure it's a lot closer to 0 in comparison to all that can be known. The important concepts are these: the LDS Church is the only true AND living church on the face of the earth. In it resides the authority to act in God's name, and the keys to direct those actions. When there is something God wishes us to know, he will communicate it through his established chain of command.

One reason we struggle to communicate is perhaps because the LDS don't compartmentalize religion and science. There is only one objective reality. One objective we have is to understand that reality. If there is a God, then he is part of reality - and a pretty important part.

In considering whether there is a God, one question that should be asked is this: If God is what we say he is, omnipotent and omniscient and all that, is it reasonable to expect that we could outwit him in order to prove his existence if he doesn't wish to be so revealed?

There simply isn't a reliable litmus test with this subject to assure oneself that they're experiencing anything more then a confirmation bias.

That's really an important point - religion is difficult because one's own thoughts and desires can and often do interfere. That's the value of the occasional Pentecostal experience, when an external force - the Holy Ghost - intervenes and communicates the message, "You're doing the right things. Keep it up." That doesn't usually come, in my experience, until one has expended significant effort to align one's self with God.

Anonymous said...

In considering whether there is a God, one question that should be asked is this: If God is what we say he is, omnipotent and omniscient and all that, is it reasonable to expect that we could outwit him in order to prove his existence if he doesn't wish to be so revealed?

In considering whether there is a Matrix, one question that should be asked is this: If the Matrix is what we say it is, so cunningly designed and so flawlessly executed that we cannot distinguish its virtual simulation of reality from reality itself, is it reasonable to expect that we could ever escape it?

Of course not! But our putative inability to escape the Matrix flows from our definition of the Matrix. It's an artifact of our definition, not a demonstration of any fact about reality, and what's true of my little parody is true of Pops's tired apologetics. We might as well believe in Morpheus and the Matrix as in God and the afterlife.

Mateo said...

"One reason we struggle to communicate is perhaps because the LDS don't compartmentalize religion and science."

I can see that. That seems to be the case. Except on any cases where there seems to be an interference between the two. Then it's usually a, "well in some celestial classroom in the afterlife I'll be happy to learn how this bit works with established doctrine but until then I'll live with not knowing." Nothing wrong with this tactic but generally people will say that and then turn around and continue teaching the bit of doctrine that they think is right and neglect to mention any possible problems it has meshing with other ideas that have good evidence.

There also is an extreme difference in the way that people gather truth when they're in sunday school versus the way they do so on a daily basis. I have no need to pray and ask god if it's raining outside, or if gravitational force is still working as it did yesterday. I have no need to do these things because they're proven constantly via my direct experience of them. There is no need to express any faith in them because the moment they stop behaving that way is the moment that our understanding of them changes.

Basically one can state that they have a strong belief in the LDS church being the one true church, the source of his communication with man, but to try and state that their knowledge of this idea is on par with the most solid of scientific pusuits is a flat out lie. The two are leaps and bounds apart. One of them can be tested in a way that is satisfying to every person that tries the test and another is satisfying only to those that come away with a particular burning in the bosom (which is far from all of them.)

Mateo said...

"is it reasonable to expect that we could outwit him in order to prove his existence if he doesn't wish to be so revealed?"

So expecting the same sort of evidence we use for determining that everything else in life is a reality is a case of trying to "outwit" god? I'm not following here.

If he does wish to hide his existence from prying eyes then being a omnipotent and omniscient being he would certainly be able to do so. Why would he do so though? What purpose does that bring about. In the new testament one of the apostles (I forget which) needed to feel the wound in Jesus' side to know that he had in fact died and resurrected. He's chastised lightly for this but Jesus seemed to indicate that for some people believing in things with out being able to use the typical analytical tools that we use in life will never be sufficient. I don't see why god would punish those that put confidence in the tools he gave them for learning by denying them knowledge that they need for survival and that they need in order to correctly navigate the test he has given them.

Mateo said...

"You almost got that part right - where you went astray is the bit about God. In a sense, though, I suppose they've chosen their god. Do they have the same objective as religious people? That's the difference."

You're making the assumption here though that the majority of religious people have got it right. My point is that there's no real way to tell which group has it correct based on the the idea you laid out previously that if something is of god then the person will have a strong change of heart as they follow it's precepts and that it will cause a metamorphosis of their character. Some of those dead heads may have gained a huge appreciation for nature, and love. You must be using some other metric to determine that they're not following the true god and that people of your belief system are. Basing it just on whether it has a profound impact on a person's life tells us nothing about whether it came from god. People have had profound impacts from the experience of going to prison, seeing a beautiful sunset or having a teacher believe in them. These are not (how could they be) signs that these prospective circumstances are part of god's plans or that they are leading the person to him.

Mateo said...

I think the long and short of this discussion and the crux of it is that the types of evidence that science accepts as trustworthy vs the types of evidence that religion takes as trustworthy ARE at odds with one another. Science tries it's darndest (and never actually succeeds) in eliminating as much subjective analysis on a subject as possible. Think about the ideas that have been honed by science and the ones that are the most solid and helpful are the ones that are the easiest to look at objectively. Psychology... not as easy and as such it's conclusions aren't quite as solid as say classical mechanics.

I guess one could say that the nature of the supernatural makes it impossible to use the scientific method on it. This seems like a fairly true statement. If one admits that though then they really can't make a claim that "science is more like Religion then people realize" The very basic building blocks are different and one of them pushes for more acceptance of subjective annecdotal experience and the other pushes for a rejection of such types of "evidence".

Pops said...

...what's true of my little parody is true of Pops's tired apologetics. We might as well believe in Morpheus and the Matrix as in God and the afterlife.

There are significant differences. God has been seen and has spoken face to face with human beings. He has explained why he doesn't reveal himself to the public at large, and why it was necessary for us to be removed from his presence for a brief experience on the earth. He sent an angel to give us the Book of Mormon. He allowed more than just a few people to see the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. He sent Moses and Elijah to restore lost Priesthood keys. He called prophets to teach us the meaning and purpose of life so that we may know what to do and how to live to achieve happiness and ultimate freedom. He - the Father - sent his son - also God - on an assignment to join us in mortality, to descend below all things, to experience all pain and suffering, to carry the burden of all our crimes, so that he could empathize with us, comfort us, and ultimately save us if we are willing to be saved.

The people who in recent times were burdened with a sure knowledge of God, because they saw him and conversed with him, established something that has flourished. Joseph and Hyrum were willing ("I go as a lamb to the slaughter") to be murdered by an angry mob rather than recant what they had seen and knew to be true. What more should they have done? What more could they have done to convince us that what they experienced truly happened?

Pops said...

You're making the assumption here though that the majority of religious people have got it right.

I'm making the assumption that many religious people have got at least parts of it right. I'm not really in a position, however, to judge what's in their hearts and whether they've really gotten it right. That's between them and God.

You must be using some other metric to determine that they're not following the true god and that people of your belief system are. Basing it just on whether it has a profound impact on a person's life tells us nothing about whether it came from god.

What you're repeating here is perhaps a form of provincialism. But the real God is the God of everybody, not just those who belong to one particular religious sect. God's blessing are available to all those who obey the laws upon which those blessings are predicated regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof.

LDS doctrine is that everything that is good comes from God. If you're a Baptist and you experience the love of God and a transformation in your life, it's from God.

The point of having a "true" Church is not to deny blessings to those who don't subscribe to the beliefs of that Church. It is rather to provide a mechanism whereby more complete truth may be known, where that doctrine may be kept pure, and where Priesthood ordinances may be performed by authorized servants in a manner that is acceptable to God.

People have had profound impacts from the experience of going to prison, seeing a beautiful sunset or having a teacher believe in them. These are not (how could they be) signs that these prospective circumstances are part of god's plans or that they are leading the person to him.

I would disagree with the part about them not leading a person to God. God is the ultimate source of all good.

Pops said...

If he does wish to hide his existence from prying eyes then being a omnipotent and omniscient being he would certainly be able to do so. Why would he do so though? What purpose does that bring about.

Because he wants us to figure out how to seek and find truth. We are the 20-something kids who have been kicked out of the house so we can find out that we can, in fact, fend for ourselves as we learn to do so.

Earth life was preceded by some amount of teaching and learning. Our growth reached a plateau that needed to be left behind, but further growth was impeded because of the intensity of God's love for us. In some ways, this is the final exam, we are now away from his presence to see how well we learned the lessons that were taught, and to also learn new and important things that have to be experienced to be truly learned.

I don't see why god would punish those that put confidence in the tools he gave them for learning by denying them knowledge that they need for survival and that they need in order to correctly navigate the test he has given them.

I sense the frustration. Two points: first, we have a lot of tools at our disposal, but we have to use the correct tool depending on what it is we are trying to accomplish. God apparently wants us to find him with our hearts, not our heads, and so the intellect plays a subordinate role in the search for God. Feelings become important. We ourselves are the instrumentation.

The second point is that God's primary objective is not to punish and deny. I think he would prefer to never punish or deny, but that is not the nature of the universe we inhabit - we ultimately either subject ourselves to the love of God or the hatred of Satan, it's our choice. If God were to inhibit our development by coddling and spoiling us, the end result would be that he would lose us to Satan.

Pops said...

The very basic building blocks are different and one of them pushes for more acceptance of subjective annecdotal experience and the other pushes for a rejection of such types of "evidence".

I will persist in my claim that the similarities outweigh the differences.

Those seeking to understand the behavior of subatomic particles will examine evidence, postulate theories, devise and conduct experiments, and evaluate the results to determine whether the hypotheses are contradicted or supported. Others who might have an interest in the subject have a couple of choices: they can take your word for it, or they can repeat the experiments themselves.

Those who seek to know God must follow precisely those same steps of observing evidence, etc.. One can tell others what one has found, and they can choose to either attempt to replicate the experiments or to take the claims on faith.

The difference between the two - they are not identical - is that in the world of particle physics, for example, you can take someone else to the particle accelerator and jointly observe the experiment and the collection of data, whereas in matters religious you are the particle accelerator, and nobody can look into your soul to see what results you have obtained, or whether you have followed the procedure correctly. There are outward manifestations, but no way to look into someone's heart to observe what has happened.

Mateo said...

"I would disagree with the part about them not leading a person to God. God is the ultimate source of all good."

This response is my primary frustration, mainly because the word "good" is subjective. Let's say I'm pedaling my way to work on my bicycle very downtrodden over some financial woe that I find myself in. I've been praying fervently that god would help me overcome my current predicament. As I'm pedaling I notice in the gutter a $100 bill. This just so happens to be the exact amount that I'm short. I rejoice in my good fortune and thank god for this very obvious miracle that has been bestowed on me. Little do I know that a single mother had been on the way to walking her children to school and not noticing that her 2 year old was perusing her purse she had hung on the handle had (as 2 year olds are sometimes want to do) pulled this 100 dollar bill from her wallet and tossed it outside the cart. To her horror later that day she realizes that the bill is missing and that she now has no way to pay her electric bill. For fun lets say that she also is a fervent believer in Jesus christ and has ALSO been praying that he would help her in her financial woes. Is the act of that bill showing up in the gutter a "good" event? Or an "bad" event. Can god cause something good to happen at the same time (with the same act) cause a negative thing to happen?

There are various apologetics responses I can think of here. Perhaps her losing the bill was really a blessing in disguise because it built her into a stronger woman. Perhaps he didn't cause either of these things and they take from it a meaning that wasn't really intended, but in such a case the man gains a testimony so the lord was able to make a good thing happen from a neutral or bad event. The trouble with such an outlook is that it is sufficiently vague enough to where it really says nothing and can be used to justify everything. In a scientific endeavor making a claim that is not falsifiable is pointless and will be thrown out because there is no use pursuing it. If I make the claim that pink unicorns exist in an alternate dimension and are the source of subatomic movements I'm welcome to believe so. It's not a remotely falsifiable claim though and as such it won't be taken seriously as it holds not scientific merit.

Could god exist the way you believe he does? Sure. To try and claim that your belief is as legitimate as any scientific principle though... I'm just not seeing it. It really seems to me that religion's survival as an idea has been thanks to the vagueness of it's tenets.

Mateo said...

"There are outward manifestations, but no way to look into someone's heart to observe what has happened."

I would agree completely with this. This is however why science and religion are different. Science does not claim to be the only way to find truth. What it claims is that using a prescribed method we can (in a perfect ideological vacuum) find out truth with it's methods. This is a fundamentally different method then what you find your religious "evidence" with. Religion is not backed up by the scientific method because at it's core the scientific method doesn't examine those things which are not empirically falsifiable. Religion is not empirically falsifiable so science has nothing to say about it and likewise science could not do what it does if it started accepting the sort of evidence that religion gives out.

One can certainly claim that there is some missing piece somewhere that will allow the same sort of methods we currently call the "scientific method" that when put into place answers all the questions and the apparent disagreements that these two forms of information gathering currently show vaporizes. I don't disagree with that at all.

My main problem with all of this though is that such an outlook doesn't only work for mormonism, it also works for Islamic teachings, the "gift of tongues" found in some pentecostal churches today, the field of palm reading and psychic reading, or any other number of claims that keep telling us loudly that they are based on truth and that any apparent non-meshing with the scientific field is due to some flaw or misunderstanding that we currently have (though they are usually more quick to assume that science has it wrong in some way on their part. Funny that.)

Essentially it comes down to this. I cannot say with any degree of certainty that you are lying or mistaken when you claim a spiritual experience lead you to know that the LDS church has god's authority on the earth. I can't say anything about it other then what my own personal experience is because as of yet (and it's possible this could change in the future) we are unable to map out what exactly is going on in the human mind, unable to tell which of is telling the truth and even if we could it would mean nothing to you. If I tell you that your brain patter is exactlsdy identical to that of another person's spritual experience (and the two of you were told in these two experiences two diametrically opposite things. For you that the BoM is true and for him that it is false. How much persuasive power would this have on you? None whatsoever. It's merely a testament to human ignorance and tells us nothing about the spiritual aspect of the thing (the part that is not physical and is therefore untestable and unfalsifiable.)

Basically for religion to be taken seriously by scientists it would need to submit testable, falsifiable results that can be clearly unearthed with a large number of observations. I don't really get why people would try and argue that religious pursuits are akin to scientific pursuits because doing so would remove any protections that religion currently has from the naturalists. As it is religion seems to play the "supernatural and non scientific" card when it works to it's benefit and then try to claim that it's teachings are just as credible as the scientific ones for convincing people of the truth of something in all the other cases. It can't have it both ways.

Mateo said...

" If God were to inhibit our development by coddling and spoiling us,"

How is it coddling and spoiling us to allow us to understand him with the most reliable senses we have? This is a perspective that has never made any sense to me. It's obvious to me that even for those that are deep believers and that keep harping on this "it's better to believe then see" business that they put more stock in things of a physical "seen and heard" nature then they do of other things. Had Joseph said, "I had a strong emotional feeling that I should create a church and that god was guiding me to do so" it would have significantly less impact then, "god appeared before me and spoke in a voice that I was able to hear."

I just don't get how speaking in a voice that people can easily understand is a negative thing, or how that inhibits our ability to choose. Did interacting with your parents on a daily basis inhibit your ability to make choices that were against their wishes? I can say for myself that it did not stop me. I've learned much more from my parents then I could ever have hoped to learn from god because if I ask them a question I get an answer, if I ask god I get silence. Years of experience have taught me to value one of them much more then the other.

Openminded said...

"Joseph and Hyrum were willing ("I go as a lamb to the slaughter") to be murdered by an angry mob rather than recant what they had seen and knew to be true."

You probably don't realize how many people out there would rather die than be "found out". Remember Mark Hoffman?

Pops said...

It really seems to me that religion's survival as an idea has been thanks to the vagueness of it's tenets.

Remarks like these make me wonder if you have any familiarity at all with science.

Religion is not backed up by the scientific method because at it's core the scientific method doesn't examine those things which are not empirically falsifiable.

Same comment as above.

Basically for religion to be taken seriously by scientists it would need to submit testable, falsifiable results that can be clearly unearthed with a large number of observations.

We're clearly talking about different things. What I'm saying is that for religion to be taken seriously by you - or by any person - they must personally examine evidence, postulate hypotheses, try experiments, and evaluate results.

Everything in your head that you claim is knowledge is something that you accept on faith, whether it's f = ma or some idea about the existence or non-existence of God. I'm talking about personal knowledge and how it's gained, not about community knowledge. The personal process bears a striking resemblance to the the scientific method.

How is it coddling and spoiling us to allow us to understand him with the most reliable senses we have?

So, is cold fusion real or not? How are your senses working there? How about the Big Bang, perhaps some string theory?

I just don't get how speaking in a voice that people can easily understand is a negative thing, or how that inhibits our ability to choose.

That goes back to the purpose of life. If God sat down and had a personal chat with you at the breakfast table, would you still be free to decide whether he exists or not?

God has taken your training wheels off and wants you to see if you can ride the bike.

Pops said...

You probably don't realize how many people out there would rather die than be "found out". Remember Mark Hoffman?

I don't follow how the mob was going to expose Joseph Smith as a fraud. Perhaps you could enlighten us.

Mateo said...

"I don't follow how the mob was going to expose Joseph Smith as a fraud. Perhaps you could enlighten us."

Pops... seriously man, sometimes it feels like you're just purposely playing dumb.

Earlier you stated: " to be murdered by an angry mob rather than recant what they had seen and knew to be true." To which this comment was in response saying basically that a person's willingness to die for what they say they are, does not mean that they are what they say they are.

Mateo said...

"So, is cold fusion real or not? How are your senses working there? How about the Big Bang, perhaps some string theory?"

Pops... I'm at a loss of how to explain this stuff to you better. I don't know if you get it and are refusing to accept it or if you really are just not getting it here.

Yes. There are theoretical parts of physics that are less then solid. They often have mathematics to back them up but sometimes not more then that. They are still based on empirical evidence and our interactions with things we can sense with our physical senses but some of them may be pretty difficult to prove. You'll also notice that there is less consensus in such areas and that they are seen as theoretical from the stand point of even the people in their field.

It's still much different then claiming that a spiritual claim is on even par with them.

Testable things that are in the LDS church would be things like, "Do I do better financially when paying tithing", "Does the word of wisdom help a person live a healthier life", "Do Mormons earn more money", "Do people that pray have an easier time dealing with stress" Those are all interesting questions. They are questions that ARE on par with scientific endeavors because they are verifiable, testable, repeatable and falsifiable. The problem is that knowing the answer to any of those questions tells you absolutely nothing about whether there is a god or if he is guiding things. Since he is a being whose existence and influence defies any methods we have for observation it makes it rather difficult to put that sort of an outlook in the same boat as a scientific arena.

Religion builds up, and places emphasis on, anecdotal and highly subjective experiences and plays them up as if they were empirical evidences. That simply is not something that flies for the scientific theory. Can you find scientists that have tried such things? Sure. Think of a sound theory, Gravitation, classical physics, thermodynamics, etc. you'll see fields that don't take anyone's word for it, and seeks to tear theories to pieces to find out if they actually work. They don't make claims that are untestable because such claims are irrelevant.

If some one wants to prove that purple gummy bears (that can't be observed directly or dwell outside of our observable universe) are causing the laws of physics to perform they automatically kick themselves out of the discussion just do to their definition.

Yes I will say it again, we don't know with absolute certainty that the laws of physics operate how we think they do, and there is plenty that we don't understand. Stating that our knowledge of such things is not perfect does not mean it's on a level playing field with your religious beliefs. It doesn't validate them anymore then it validates voodoo, or greek mythology.

On top of that I have a hard time ignoring what seems to be hypocrisy in what you're stating here. You keep going on and on about how science doesn't have perfect certainty about anything yet you keep invoking the scientific method "make a hypothesis, test it, refine it" in your own spiritual outlook. You obviously see on some level that this method holds a lot of clout.

Mateo said...

That last comment came off rather harsh. It's also possible that I'm simply not understanding what you're getting at here.

Mateo said...

I wanted to state really quickly that its highly possible that I've misunderstood what Jeff was going for with this post in the first place. If the point was to get across that, like science, religious believers need to come to terms with the fact that oftentimes they simply won't have the answers and that religion is a matter (like science) of doing the best you can with the bits you have, then I think that this statement seems more or less valid.

I think perhaps most people reacted a bit to the way the opening paragraph was worded mainly because it seems to make a straw man that Science claims to know all of the answers with some sort of certainty and exactness, yet this is not at all the case.

Perhaps Jeff was doing this purposely to expose how the initial glance at the field of science (when we were young) due to the way it's often portrayed in the media, or by a proponent of a particular theory, as being exact and perfectly known.

Openminded said...

Pops,
Alongside what Mateo said, I'll respond to your concern about where you think the analogy falls apart. I'll probably say the same thing as Mateo though.

You appealed to how Smith died with a testimony of the BoM and etc: Why would he die for a lie?

Hoffman would have rather died than be exposed. He wouldve died for a lie.

This is a part of the nature of, for lack of a less offensive term, a con artist. Though I'm sure we'd both agree that Hoffman was a con artist, I'm sure you're much less willing for Smith to bear the same title.

I'm just saying that dying for a lie is something that people will do. That Smith died rather than telling people it was false means absolutely nothing.

In fact, it's almost supporting evidence.

Mateo said...

to be fair (even though I tend to see this much easier from Openminded's position), if Joseph was as he said he was then dying as a martyr would also fit. That piece of data though does not lend any final say on whether he was a prophet by itself. If a person would rather die then recant what they have claimed it merely means that the thing they have claimed is more important to them then life itself. We've had lots of people do this throughout the ages some for causes that seemed very legitimate (Malcolm X seemed relatively sure that he would be assassinated by the members of his former religious sect, Abraham Lincoln theoretically could have seen the possibility that his political movements could be deadly for him, many others) What it shows us is that Smith seemed to care very deeply about the religion he had created. We can speculate as to whether he was doing so because god had commanded him to or whether it was for other less sublime reasons.

MuralMama said...

This whole line of discussion puts me in mind of a Stuart Chase quote that sums up everything quite nicely: “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible.”

What more is there to say?

Openminded said...

Sounds like someone who'd like to write off skeptics rather than come to terms with what's really going on.

Mateo said...

@muralmama,
This is precisely why some people are so skeptical of concepts that rely on "belief" and remain unfalsifiable.

This is why I don't put much stock in alien abduction stories, sightings of bigfoot, the Loch ness monster, Miracle cures, cold readings, southern faith healers, etc.

While many of these stories are interesting to listen to and anyone of them COULD be true, their lack of verifiable evidence and falsifiability makes it impossible to say with any certainty and with all the contradictory yet very passionately believed ideas in the world it seems very unlikely that these folks really have experienced the things they believe they experienced.

Mateo said...

Also, with regards to religion it's typically the religious that state that god works in mysterious ways, and that he evades the physical realm whenever questions arise. Yet you see the unbeliever as being the one for which "no proof can be sufficient."

I think generally people are more then willing to accept an idea if they have regular interaction with it and can see clearly that an idea has both real world application and no better more fitting explanation. Skeptics are not people that are seeing the same things as you and refusing to accept them as they are, but are people that are not seeing it the way you see it, and have not been given any reasonable, consistent evidence to show that your POV on the subject is any better then the next person's religion is.

James 5:15 said...

Jeff's post seems to be suggesting that since we don't give up on science when scientific authorities are shown to be wrong, we shouldn't give up on religion when religious authorities are shown to be wrong. This argument doesn't work on me because of some very important differences between science and religion. The success of science is attributable to the fact that it does not depend on faith in authority. Yes, in science, nonspecialists defer to specialists, a deference to authority, but specialists have to prove their case to other specialists by making their evidence available for public scrutiny. The ultimate source of truth in science is evidence that can be examined by anyone who becomes educated enough to deal with it. The ultimate source of truth in religion is revelation, and revelation must come through the proper authority. So discovering flaws in authoritative pronouncements poses more of a problem for religion than it does for science.

Some Mormons will respond to this argument by pointing out that anyone can know religious truth for himself through personal revelation, which they equate with public scrutiny of evidence, but this doesn't diminish their reliance on authority. In organized religion, personal revelation is only taken seriously by the body of believers when it agrees with authoritative revelation. When it disagrees, it doesn't count.

On a sidenote, Jeff's juxtaposition of the first law of thermodynamics and the atonement is interesting; both have to do with balance sheets. But I can't accept the idea of the atonement as it's currently understood by most Mormons because I can't believe that justice is served by punishing the guilty for the sins of the innocent.