Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Friday, February 01, 2013

"Eye Hath Not Seen": Understanding the LDS Testimony


For those who want to understand the things of God and eternity only through the lenses attached to their own eyeballs, who can only believe what they can see, I would like to ask them how they can be so confident of the conclusions they might reach through this means. Science has recently determined that what we can see and measure is only a tiny fraction of the unseen materials and forces that shape the universe. As recently discussed here, mysterious dark matter and dark energy dominate the universe, comprising about 96% of the matter-energy out there. All our glorious instruments, eyes and hands included, are incapable of detecting most of what surrounds us in the cosmos.

Apart from that stunning and recent fact, we stand on one tiny speck of a vast galaxy within a cosmos on millions upon millions of galaxies. Even if your eyes are very sharp, what you see, even if you could see dark matter and dark energy, is a vanishingly small fraction of the scope of the universe. And even for our own domain, in your own town or apartment or wherever you are, what you see even with the sharpest of eyes is limited to photons having a wavelength between about 390 nanometers and 700 nanometers. You can’t see ultraviolet or infrared. You can’t see microwaves or radiowaves or gamma radiation or x-rays. The spectrum of electromagnetic radiation—light—that places a non-trivial role in the physical world extends far below and above the range of visible light by many orders of magnitude. What we can see represents a tiny sliver of the electromagnetic reality right in front of our noses. Are you so sure you’ve got the full picture, even if you’ve got 20/20 vision? (And I haven’t even mentioned optical illusions. Another fun topic.)

Here is a representation of the electromagnetic spectrum, courtesy of Wikipedia’s article on that topic:



There is vastly more to the universe and to life than meets the physical eye, and some of the most important information that we need will be missed if we don’t realize there is a spiritual dimension to life. Light and truth, spiritual information, can be conveyed through the Spirit to supplement the pittance of physical data we obtain with our senses.

Yes, the testimony thing Mormons talk about isn’t easy and can be confusing. But to trivialize the possibility of gaining information from the Spirit is far more serious than just ignoring 96% of reality or nearly all of the spectrum. When it comes to the things of God and His beautiful plans for us, this is one area where we don’t want to be blind. 

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, let's think for a moment about ways of inferring the unseen from the seen. Science claims to be able to do that, and so does religion. Have they done so with equal rigor, replicability, and success? Not at all.

Astronomers of all faiths (and no faith at all) agree that there is a Neptune-size planet in orbit around the star Gliese 436. No one can see this planet, but all can see the evidence for it. All can follow the logic by which its existence is inferred. Not so with Kolob, whose existence is "seen," on the basis of neither evidence nor logic, only by Mormons.

To see what's fallacious about Jeff's argument in this post, just ponder the differences between the cases of Gliese 436 b and Kolob.

-- Eveningsun

Anonymous said...

At least we can see more or less the same thing in the physical world. In this "spiritual" lense you see your own religion through, there's so much diversity in belief that science, which is basically the conclusions reached through repeated observation, is vastly more reliable than you're giving it credit for.

When two different observations conflict in science, then the two sides are researched until a conclusion is reached--with one or both viewpoints being dropped/a significant change in pretext. Can't think of a better example than the recent Higgs bison findings. If the Higgs bosom didn't exist, there would've been a revolutionary change in physics.

What do you do when two spiritually-driven beliefs conflict? Tell the other person he's wrong? There's no basis for even discussing the conflict, what kind of method is this?

-Openiminded (can't login on my cell phone, sorry!)

Jeff Lindsay said...

Such faith in the power of science.

The unanimity of science implied by your example isn't there. Some things in science can be straightforward, when standard methods evolve and are applied in standard ways. Using a stud detector to detect wooden studs behind a wall (works sometimes, anyway), or a metal detector to find a buried pipe, or Doppler spectroscopy to detect a distant planet, are all cool feats, but in quite a different category than the complexities we face in dealing with bigger issues and greater uncertainty.

Take, for example, global warming. Is the temperature of the earth increasing as the models have predicted? Has it been going up or down in this past decade? Or these past 5 years? Are we in warming trend for the next decade plus? Forever? And as a result of these predictions, should we spend trillions to reduce the rate of warming a little? The real science is not nearly as clearcut as politicians and naves would have us believe. For a new perspective, at least look over the arguments presented in this article at Forbes.com. There isn't a simple, standard, single measurement to address the issue, and as a result, there are dozens of different answers. I don't know the answer, but I know some important questions aren't being asked by too many people. What to do?

Or, for a less overwhelming but also very important issue, does the fascinating bitter melon that I've tried a few times here in China actually increase longevity and ward off diabetes, cancer, etc. as some suspect? Or will it make things worse? It's not clear, though I think there is evidence that it may do good stuff. But will it really have an impact? It took science decades to sift through data on tobacco and conclude that it caused cancer. We may never get the funding needed to really understand my beloved bitter melon. Shame. No simple measurement. No easy stud or pipe or planet to detect. Complicated.

We do have some standard tests, though, in Mormonism. Read the Book of Mormon, ponder, pray, and seek to know if it's from God. Complicated process with many individual factors, yet I would say it's far more reproducible than some of the scientific work on global warming or cancer cures. Give it a try. It's complicated, agreed, and subjective factors are unavoidable, but there is a God and real truth that we can find.

Jeff Lindsay said...

And whoever told you that the planet is named Gliese 436 b doesn't know what they are talking about. That's a name that sounds like it's straight from science fiction. I have it on good authority from, um, a scientist friend of mine, that the planet is named K-Pax. There is life there, FYI, with vegetation, but nothing very tasty.

Anonymous said...

Sure, science has its flaws. It's about trying to understand the observable world, and we don't understand the more complex questions satisfyingly just yet.

But why is your method of spirituality any better? You give lip-service to it, but you failed to address the part where this method of discerning "knowledge" fails even more so than science does:
What do you do when two spiritually-driven beliefs conflict? Tell the other person he's wrong? There's no basis for even discussing the conflict, what kind of method is this?

-om

Anonymous said...

So, you're willing to see the unseen. Because, chances are we don't see 96 percent of what's really going on around us. But you're not willing to see the seen. --The plain truth of what's playing out right before your eyes. I'm referring to the long list of reasons why the LDS church is obviously a farce. I will meet you half way, however. All that is unseen probably contains the miracles and a kind of God you could never imagine. A human brain can't comprehend it, can't draw a picture of it, and cannot see it.

Anonymous Bosch said...

Jeff,

If you're arguing that we should rely on the Spirit because science is imperfect, you're committing a logical fallacy. One doesn't follow from the other. As Eveningsun and Openminded have both ably pointed out, relying on the Spirit can be just as misleading. I know a great many people who have made business decisions, for example, based on spiritual feelings. I don't need to tell you how that worked out.

I agree that there is a spiritual dimension to life that shouldn't be overlooked, but it shouldn't be conflated with the quest for empirical, descriptive knowledge about the universe that science is best suited for. Your overall philosophy presupposes that spiritual truth and scientific truth overlap. I strongly disagree.

Anonymous said...

Here's what appears to be the basic logical structure of Jeff's post (and of many, many similar apologetic efforts):

1. Science cannot answer every question we have.

2. Therefore, there exists a spiritual realm of spiritual truths.

3. Therefore, the LDS Church has the most reliable method for ascertaining spiritual truths.

Stripped down in this way, it's easy to see the faulty logic. Fortunately for the apologeticist, the faulty logic is obscured when the argument is larded up with scientific facts (e.g., about the electromagnetic spectrum), scientific controversies (e.g., over the causes and curing of cancer), and outright irrelevancies (such as whether global warming justifies preventative action, which is not a scientific question at all but an ethics question).

This post is just poor quality apologetics, Jeff. Sorry.

-- Eveningsun

Anonymous said...

I would have been more inclined to put it this way:

1a. Science cannot answer every question we have.

1b. Science cannot answer very many questions at all.

1c. The percentage of questions that science can answer is pretty much indistinguishable from zero.

1d. We don't really know if any of the answers science provides are correct. Some of them seem okay so far, but what will we find tomorrow or next year?

2. Why would anyone conclude that science ought to displace religion on the basis that it can answer a very few questions?

Anonymous said...

You all might have noticed that God doesn't play the science game. He knows how science works. He plays the witness game instead. He's given us plenty of witnesses who have seen him and conversed with him. We ignore him at our own peril.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Eveningsun, your summary doesn't come close to what I was trying to express. I hope your unflattering caricature is because you simply misread my words or chose to twist them a bit, but since I'm worried that the real problem might be that I was unclear, allow me to clarify. In fact, I'll add a new post to make it a little more clear.

I am not saying that the gaps in science somehow show that the LDS approach is the most reliable. I can't see how you get that. I am responding to those who attack the LDS notion of personal revelation and testimony, and who say that we should just rely on human knowledge and our senses. I wish to point out that this common attack on the LDS approach is not all that sound because of the enormous gaps in human knowledge. Please note that criticizing an argument against our faith is NOT the same as providing evidence that our faith is correct or superior to anything else. This is an important point that I've tried to make before, but which critics don't seem to get or want to get. To clarify, let me repeat another way: Weakening an objection against a concept is not the same as providing conclusive evidence in favor of it. It's not meant to be.

Most of us apologists get that. In fact, most of what we do is not vainly trying to PROVE our religion, as our critics allege over and over, but instead we are seeking to offer responses to objections. We are not trying to convince people with logic and evidence people to believe in our faith, but rather working to remove some of the obstacles for those who wish to or are trying to believe, hoping that it will allow them to take the Gospel seriously enough to read, ponder, pray, and be converted by God, not by an amateur website with a rather bad color scheme.

Apologetics is about offering responses, often incomplete and tentative, to help people with faith deal with objections rather than creating faith through evidence and logic.

Back to your summary: You got Point 1 right. Science can't answer all our questions. Do you think it can? But I feel that I never made your Points 2 and 3. Yes, there are spiritual truths, but it's not a "therefore" that follows from Point 1. And while I like the LDS approach, any advantages it has over other approaches does not follow from Point 2 or from the existence of spiritual truths or anything spiritual. I encourage people to pray and seek those truths, but the superiority of that method does not follow from granting the existence of the spiritual. The existence of any God or supernatural realm and the efficacy of prayer or any form of religious act does not follow from gaps in science or granting the existence of the spiritual. Did you really think I said that?

What I actually spoke about was not evidence for our superiority, but a warning to those who "trivialize the possibility of gaining information from the Spirit" based on science. Again, there's a difference. Hope you can see the point I'm trying very hard to make.

Anonymous said...

OK, Jeff, I see the point you're trying to make. Sorry if I overreacted. Let me say, however, that part of the difficulty in responding to you is that you tend to be slipppery, as when you write things like this (about your spiritual "method" for discovering truth):

"Complicated process with many individual factors, yet I would say it's far more reproducible than some of the scientific work on global warming or cancer cures. Give it a try. It's complicated, agreed, and subjective factors are unavoidable, but there is a God and real truth that we can find."

There's so much hedging here it's tough to rebut. From a tactical-argumentative point of view, it makes sense for you to so much less than you really believe. Of course, it just so happens that we all know you believe not just generally in the work of spirit, but specifically in LDS doctrine, and that you believe quite specifically that the truth of this doctrine can be validated through prayer, etc. Yet all you say in statements like the above is that some science is in some ways less settled than some theology, so therefore, O Believer, you shouldn't worry about those smarty-pants skeptics.

Pretty thin gruel, but even if that's all you're serving up, it's still bogus. Even if your apologetics has been reduced to undermining the popular authority of science, even if you've truly abandoned the idea of offering positive rationales for your faith and limited yourself to the denigration of science, your efforts are still tendentious. Consider the claim that your spiritual method is "far more reproducible than some of the scientific work on global warming or cancer cures." This is simply not true. Any appearance of truth here is at best an artifact of your self-servingly sloppy logic. In this case, the problem is that you're comparing apples to oranges. You're comparing the level of consensus in the entire scientific community to that found in a single religious sect. The LDS Church is a self-selecting community defined from the get-go by its shared beliefs, so it's pretty natural to find a high level of consensus there. But of course the LDS Church is not the only group that uses spiritual methods of validating truth. So do Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and so on. And there's not much consensus at all concerning the "truths" thereby discovered.

Your method, as used by believers of one sort or another around the globe, tells us that there is one God and many gods, that polygamy is evil and that it's God's will, that terrorism is evil and that it's God's will, that there are just wars and that all killing is forbidden, that we should not eat cows, that eating cows is OK but eating pigs is not, that we can become gods after we die and that we don't, etc., etc.

So I have to insist here that you are using poor logic to wildly overstate the case for the efficacy of your "method." It's a method that leads to no consensus whatsoever on even the most basic points. The religious are still disagreeing over whether there are many gods or just one; it's as if scientists were still arguing over Copernicus.

-- Eveningsun

Anonymous said...

...the level of consensus in the entire scientific community...

Argumentum ad verecundiam

Science is pretty thin gruel, if you ask me. To suppose that the human soul might arise through random collisions of molecules is beyond absurd.

Religion is about the salvation of the human soul. It occurs one soul at a time. And yet some object that religious experiences tend to be private and subjective. Of course they are. Why should anyone expect anything different?

God addresses the issue of subjectivity by providing witnesses. Ignore them if you will, but one day God will ask, "Did I not provide witnesses?" And it will not be a collective question, but rather an individual question in a one-on-one interview. So be prepared with an answer.

Why are there so many different religions and so many different types of religious experiences? I suppose it's for the same reason the six blind men experienced the elephant in six vastly different ways. Isn't it rather obvious? What ought to be asked is, "Since some form of religious experience is universal among all cultures and races, is there something to religion? Is there a God?" Science can't answer that question, so the appeal to science is rather much a distraction and irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

[O]ne day God will ask, "Did I not provide witnesses?"

Just as likely, Allah will ask, "Did I not provide witnesses?" How then will you explain your rejection of Islam?

Rusty Southwick said...

Jeff, you've made a reasonable assertion that since we realize there's much, much more to existence than what we can perceive through our senses, it's patently silly to put our trust in those senses alone. For anyone to assume that our physical experience encapsulates the whole of reality, they are relying on very limited resources. Such people are using much more faith than religious people are.

The idea that there's got to be more to life than what meets the eye is a scary one to materialists. It means to them that they would have to admit the limitations of the natural sciences, a loss of control. They are more comfortable in thinking that things in life are black and white, that everything can be measured with a certain degree of precision. When even Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hutchins reduce their arguments when pressed to "I don't know and neither do you," we realize how many unanswered questions there are.

The religious method is to seek within our own souls for whisperings from the universe, to recognize love as the most powerful force anywhere and therefore derive clues from it. This is in stark contrast to a purely materialistic approach, which is to try to outfox the gods via the laboratory.

Isn't it peculiar that atheists are not interested in incorporating the most profound question of the universe (does God exist?) into their scientific inquiries. It's almost as if they have a bias against exploring certain types of knowledge. How curious indeed!

Anonymous said...

Who says I rejected Islam?

Anonymous said...

If you're Mormon, you definitely rejected the part where they deny Jesus being the savior.

Anonymous said...

I am curious about your assertion that Islam provided witnesses to the truthfulness of the religion.

Steve

fairflight said...

Jeff, I so appreciate your insights to science and religion. I am a member of the LDS Church and have come to realize over the years that it is impossible to help souls understand things that are not seen. Relying on science is at best a gamble. It changes as mans understanding of his surroundings change. Science is simply the small discoveries of man in the realms God created. Hence, it is, at best, like a child playing with blocks and believing he has grasped the knowledge of engineering. It is embryonic compared to the unknown truths. On the other hand, revelation is absolute knowledge, from God of absolute truths. But the crux is, first one must want it and pursue it (ask and it shall be given, etc.) and then will he/she receive it. Second, it is personal. It is a confirmation of truth that cannot be shared. This is the way it was designed by God. He is not concerned about proof because he knows all. He simply offers/invites each individual to discover the mysteries as they desire to and then he reveals to each, personally. The parable of the Ten Virgins and many others point to this truth. I get what you say because I sought it out and experienced it. God Bless you for all of your thoughts and I will continue to read your blog because I feel your writing abilities are charming and intelligent.

Anonymous said...

It's a bit more of a gamble to accept any of God's mixed personal messages, but it seems just as impossible to get that point across to someone whose entire religion depends on the spirit as it is for you to convince anyone else that your personal spiritual experiences verify anything.

As much as you guys toss around the word knowledge, it sounds more so like faith.

-Openminded

fairflight said...

Openminded, It is knowledge. Knowledge that begins with faith. Knowledge that is bestowed upon an individual by the Holy Ghost, when one searches and asks. It cannot be transfered and it cannot explained to anyone that has not experienced it. There is no way to prove the truth of it to one who has never experienced it. It is the exchange of knowledge and confirmation of truth, spirit to spirit. It cannot be measured, or seen, only felt and understood. Like love. How does one prove they feel love?

Anonymous said...

How does one prove they feel love?

I get that. I get the whole area of human experience that is emotion over facts. and back when I was deeply Christian, I felt spiritual feelings. For the longest time, they were what kept me into Christianity. They were so powerful and real. and yes, when I dropped my beliefs, that level of feeling from deeply worshiping God didn't come back (but of course, because where else is there a story of love so powerful? aside from the love of others; but the others didn't "die for my sins" and "listen to my prayers" like I told myself God did. and they certainly didn't "have my back" when it came to every hardship I've ever had to face on my own).

So how do you prove you feel love? It's a personal thing, much like all of our feelings. You can show love, but proving it isn't possible (unless you think observing brain hormones and etc is enough, but neither of us even know where to begin with that, do we?).

So why are spiritual feelings any different? Because spiritual feelings set out to prove things that are external to us. I can prove to myself that I feel love all day long--I feel it, and no one knows my personal feelings at any given time better than I do.

But spiritual feelings say "this Book of Mormon is true." Or at least, the book you're trying to prove with spiritual feelings say that those spiritual feelings confirm the book. It's circular logic, but that's not the point.

The point is this: What do you do when two spiritually-proven beliefs conflict? Tell the other person he/she's wrong? And why would they be wrong, but not you? Because they aren't attuned to the spirit?

Well, what if you aren't attuned to the spirit? You would have no way of knowing, because your only way of knowing so is through the spirit. But who's feeling the right spirit is what's in question. How do you do that without the spirit? And just as importantly, how do you do that without using the "knowledge" that the spirit has given you? That knowledge was based on the spirit, and, just to reiterate, the question is: who feels the right spirit when two spiritually-proven beliefs directly contradict each other?


-Openiminded

Anonymous said...

Well, guess what, Openminded? You know all that science "knowledge" you claim to have? It isn't knowledge - it's faith. You take everything you know about science on authority, you don't "know" it. You can't prove that gravity will work tomorrow the same way it did today. You can't prove that what your eyes saw is really there. You can't prove you're not just a brain in a jar connected to a computer running a simulation and all the rest of the universe is not real. You are not compelled to believe anything about anything - you choose what to believe.

Anonymous said...

Sure. I mean science is a bit more about the physical reality (you can thank science that we're having a discussion over the internet right now in so many ways), but let's go where you want to take this.

I can't prove that what I see is real. But then what makes the spirit any better? Because even still, feelings are personal things--just like sight. And you and me share the same reality with sight. Right now, we're both able to read the words on this webpage. We can agree to that, easily.

But when it comes to the spirit, and let's just take for granted that people outside of Mormonism feel spirituality, because they do, you wouldn't even know which person felt the right spirit.

And at the end of the day, you can call out my reliance on authority (which sure, I especially do for things like evolution. I appeal to the authority of science for that, I haven't done any of my own research). But you can't answer the one question that completely reveals how unreliable your very own spiritual feelings are:
who feels the right spirit when two spiritually-proven beliefs directly contradict each other? Tell the other person he/she's wrong? And why would they be wrong, but not you? Because they aren't attuned to the spirit?

But they have the same question as you: are you actually attuned to the spirit? How exactly would you know?

-Openminded

Anonymous said...

But you can't answer the one question that completely reveals how unreliable your very own spiritual feelings are:
who feels the right spirit when two spiritually-proven beliefs directly contradict each other? Tell the other person he/she's wrong? And why would they be wrong, but not you? Because they aren't attuned to the spirit?


You're staring the heart of religion in the face and running away from it. Religion is a personal responsibility, not a collective responsibility. When my spiritual feelings contradict the spiritual feelings of someone else, it's my obligation to resolve it for my own benefit - meaning that I need to discover for myself whether I'm right or wrong. I've really got no business telling someone else that they are wrong, but have no problem sharing my perspective of things so that we all might come to a greater understanding.

But they have the same question as you: are you actually attuned to the spirit? How exactly would you know?

That's exactly the right question to be asking. But instead of seeking an answer, you're running away again. The spirit (that is, your spirit) is a very sensitive instrument. It is easily overwhelmed by noise. Self-deception is particularly insidious. But it is real. A large part of the purpose of our existence is to cloak our spirits in "noisy" flesh to see if we can learn to assert our spirit over the flesh, to connect with an unseen (for now) universe that is just as real as the one we see. Many have done so. That all have not done so is not proof that it cannot be done. That there exist contradictory opinions on it does not mean there is not a single truth about it.

The quest is real, but it is personal.

Your expectation of uniformity of spiritual experience is to a degree irrational. Even in science, there is great diversity of opinion on even fundamental things. Yet somehow we shield ourselves from that diversity. We teach scientific dogma that may or may not be true, but it's the teaching of the dogma that gives the appearance of universality. As you say, you haven't done any of the experiments - you take it on authority. Such was the spiritual condition of the western world when Catholicism ruled with an iron fist.

Anonymous said...

Science doesn't "rule" and isn't an authority like the Catholic Church. It's a methodology that works well when things are tested again and again.

But alright, your answer is to continue to search for the answer. You give a lot of speculation after that (I mean seriously, why should any part of what you just said about spirit over flesh be taken as truth?). And then you attempt to explain why spirituality shouldn't be uniformly guiding people in the right direction, but you immediately jump into why you think science is such and such. You don't really explain why the Holy Ghost would guide people in the wrong direction.

And as much as I "gave up" on trying to answer the attuned to the spirit question, I didn't so much give up on finding an answer as realized that people will say whatever they want to about it. That its a personal thing, that its strictly a Mormon thing, that its all that matters.

It's clear that what's "known" about is guesswork, and what it means when you feel the spirit is guided by whatever religious culture you're brought into.

So I didn't give up, I just realized it's irrational to expect the spirit to give uniform answers because its just not a God-driven process.

God wouldn't confuse everyone like that.

-Openminded

Anonymous said...

Science doesn't "rule" and isn't an authority like the Catholic Church.

I guess one could go either way on this one. But try getting a research grant if you don't toe the line with the current fashionable theory.

So I didn't give up, I just realized it's irrational to expect the spirit to give uniform answers because its just not a God-driven process.

God gave you answers that weren't uniform? That's weird, you know. I wouldn't believe them, either.

Anonymous said...

God gave you answers that weren't uniform? That's weird, you know. I wouldn't believe them, either.

Good point. Wouldn't want to hold God up to the standard of a God. We should keep Him at the level of most man-made concepts and ideas. Why, if we thought of God as a scientist, just searching for the answers like all of us are, it begins to make sense! All of His various messages to the people of Earth, just tests to see what works.

Just because the spirit produces all the variety of the thoughts of man doesn't mean the "spirit" is just another way of man to approach thinking.

No, the spirit produces the same results, but its still from God. God just likes to reflect the variety of human thought out there, even though He's God and knows what the truth is.

-Openminded