False Dilemmas and the Faltering of Faith

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_Kishkumen
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False Dilemmas and the Faltering of Faith

Post by _Kishkumen »

One of the wonderful things about the internet is the variety of viewpoints and voices out there. Oh, we know that some apologists dread the freedoms of the Internet, and some LDS Church leaders like to haul people in to excommunicate them for speaking off script, but it is a marvel and a wonder. One that I appreciate and hope continues.

Take this recent display of bad thinking: http://scripturalmormonism.blogspot.de/2015/05/tad-r-callister-vs-book-of-mormon-as.html

One Robert Boylan has concluded that an old anecdote about Willard Richards, as related in a book by the President of the Sunday School, precludes the possibility of a straw man called "the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction."

Robert Boylan wrote:In his recent book, Callister seems to preclude the silly idea that the Book of Mormon is "inspired fiction," something a lot of liberal Mormons are arguing for (see here and here as just two examples of how preposterous this concept truly is; I would also add it is heretical):


Yes, silly indeed! Buckle your seat belts, friends. You are about to take a wild ride through the perilous land of false dilemmas. So, either the Book of Mormon is exactly what someone like Bill Hamblin or Stevie Smoot says it is, or it is "inspired fiction", but it can't be the latter.

Are you keeping up with this?

Then we find out that, according to Willard Richards, speaking as a fellow who had read several pages of the Book of Mormon for the very first time....

Elder Callister wrote:Years ago my great-great grandfather Willard Richards picked up a copy of the Book of Mormon for the first time. He opened it to the center and read a few pages. He then declared: “That book was either written by God or the devil, and I am going to find out who wrote it.” He read it through twice in the next ten days and then declared: “The devil could not have written it—it must be from God.”

That is the genius of the Book of Mormon—there is no middle ground. It is either the word of God as professed or it is a total fraud.


So, here is how we set up people for a very nasty ride toward apostasy, a weird, tortured fundamentalism, or we can hope that they may just have a great talent or luck for avoiding the issue. Define the question based on the stunning evidence of one nineteenth-century man's reading of a few pages, and then insist that the answer must be divine in the form of whatever pet theory you are using to defend your position (LGT, absolute historicity, loose translation, whatever).

You know, I am fine with people believing what they want to believe. If you insist that your version of the ancient Book of Mormon is the only way, well, good for you. I wish you wouldn't push it on others as the only legitimate option, of course. Because, well, I think that's wrong. But what really gets my goat is when disastrously bad and, really, coercive tactics are used to shore up brittle positions. Enduring faith will never be built out of such stuff. This kind of bad thinking only sets people up for a nasty wake-up call at some point.

Now, I am not saying that the question of its divinity or non-divinity is out of bounds. What I am calling out as the problem here is the idea that Robert Boylan is propagating: my vision of the Book of Mormon is representative of its true divinity, whereas what I consider your position on the Book or Mormon is devilish and false.

THAT is the truly pernicious idea.
Last edited by Guest on Wed Jun 03, 2015 11:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Maksutov
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Re: False Dilemmas and the Faltering of Faith

Post by _Maksutov »

Reverend, I'm reminded of the arguments of C. S. Lewis and Josh McDowell and their "trilemma". Very convenient for Lewis and McDowell to limit possibilities to "Lord, Liar or Lunatic" while ignoring additional options, such as the Gospel records being incomplete, erroneous or invented. :wink:
"God" is the original deus ex machina. --Maksutov
_Kishkumen
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Re: False Dilemmas and the Faltering of Faith

Post by _Kishkumen »

Maksutov wrote:Reverend, I'm reminded of the arguments of C. S. Lewis and Josh McDowell and their "trilemma". Very convenient for Lewis and McDowell to limit possibilities to "Lord, Liar or Lunatic" while ignoring additional options, such as the Gospel records being incomplete, erroneous or invented. :wink:


Indeed. You have to frame the question the right way in order to get the answer you want!
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Everybody Wang Chung
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Re: False Dilemmas and the Faltering of Faith

Post by _Everybody Wang Chung »

Great opening post.

Apologists like the old FARMS guys, all the current FAIR guys, the entire religion dept. at BYU-Idaho, and DCP's genitals-latching fans on Sic et Non think in terms of "it must be either one or the other, all true or all false, and I will prove through proofs that it is all true."

Intelligent philosophers like Givens, Miller, Hodges, Luke, Huntsman, Bokovoy, Hauglid, Sam Brown, Dan Wotherspoon, and many others think in terms of "It isn't all true and it isn't all false, it isn't all historical and it isn't all fiction, it isn't all divine and it isn't all human, it isn't all exalted and it isn't all depraved. It is what we have, and we are grateful for it until we have something even better."
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_Kishkumen
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Re: False Dilemmas and the Faltering of Faith

Post by _Kishkumen »

Everybody Wang Chung wrote:Great opening post.

Apologists like the old FARMS guys, all the current FAIR guys, the entire religion dept. at BYU-Idaho, and DCP's genitals-latching fans on Sic et Non think in terms of "it must be either one or the other, all true or all false, and I will prove through proofs that it is all true."

Intelligent philosophers like Givens, Miller, Hodges, Luke, Huntsman, Bokovoy, Hauglid, Sam Brown, Dan Wotherspoon, and many others think in terms of "It isn't all true and it isn't all false, it isn't all historical and it isn't all fiction, it isn't all divine and it isn't all human, it isn't all exalted and it isn't all depraved. It is what we have, and we are grateful for it until we have something even better."


Thanks, Everybody Wang Chung. It is unfortunate that some of the top leaders of the Church have made such binary statements regarding the LDS Church and the Book of Mormon. At least, as you point out, a number of thoughtful scholars have articulated more realistic possibilities that reflect existing complexities and different perspectives.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Symmachus
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Re: False Dilemmas and the Faltering of Faith

Post by _Symmachus »

Kishkumen wrote:
Everybody Wang Chung wrote:Intelligent philosophers like Givens, Miller, Hodges, Luke, Huntsman, Bokovoy, Hauglid, Sam Brown, Dan Wotherspoon, and many others think in terms of "It isn't all true and it isn't all false, it isn't all historical and it isn't all fiction, it isn't all divine and it isn't all human, it isn't all exalted and it isn't all depraved. It is what we have, and we are grateful for it until we have something even better."


Thanks, Everybody Wang Chung. It is unfortunate that some of the top leaders of the Church have made such binary statements regarding the LDS Church and the Book of Mormon. At least, as you point out, a number of thoughtful scholars have articulated more realistic possibilities that reflect existing complexities and different perspectives.


They certainly do have different perspectives from the old FARMSian guard, but who of these is at all more "realistic" than they are?

I know I am supposed to be impressed by Givens and Miller, but I don't see why. Givens actually does believe it's all true: it's ok that you doubt, but choosing to ignore the doubt and jump down the rabbit hole (the phrase he used in his Mormon Stories interview) is an act of faith; his only virtue among many vices is that he admits that this leap is unpleasant and difficult. Adam Miller, at least in "Letters to a Young Mormon" and what I could stand to read in the Rube Goldberg book is more solipsistic than anything else; what do we learn from him that we can't learn from telling ourselves whatever we want to hear anyway? Miller, and like him Wotherspoon, seem to relish the process of theologizing more than any end result of a coherent theological system intelligible to other people (I'm sure they would say, in their Zen-like way, that that's the point: more solipsism).

Huntsman (I assume we mean Eric) is more intellectually honest, and that is why (or because) he stays in the safe territory with his work: daily life in Palestine, and comforting (perhaps too comforting) interpretations of the Gospels. But notice he hasn't published on the Book of Mormon, which is the very dilemma in question. As a former student of his, however, I don't see how anyone would think he had some kind of liberal view of the Book of Mormon. His views may have changed, but as far as I know he hasn't published anything stating views any different from the very traditional ones he expounded in his Book of Mormon sections.

Hauglid: also more intellectually honest, but again that's because he stays in safe territory where traditional faith commitments won't come under any analysis or scrutiny. Publishing a history of the text of the Book of Abraham or an anthology of medieval traditions about Abraham are never going to force him to deal with the fundamental problems of the Book of Abraham in its own claims, the Church's assertions, or the widespread belief of the Church's adherents.

(an exercise: go look have a look at some of the faculty of conservative religious schools; notice all those PhDs from Chicago, but then notice how their dissertations and published work are largely in linguistics—usually synchronic rather than diachronic—a subfield that rarely presents a challenge to fundamentalist belief. The runner up is text criticism, but usually of non-Greek traditions).

Sam Brown: again, if he seems enlightened in his views of the Book of Mormon it's only because he doesn't accept/address/approach the question of its claims; he just accepts it, like Miller, as a source for his theological perspectives (but then, so did Bruce R. McConkie). Does that mean it's a more realistic approach?

Bokovoy: Ok, I grant this one. Bokovoy is the only who tackles the central problem of Mormon scripture, namely that its authority comes from its very questionable claim to a specific kind of historicity. He has I think a very subtle approach albeit one whose method is actually classic FARMS: all scripture is historically rooted and by definitions interpretations change over time, whatever the originary claims, and since we (at least most of us) have little problem in accepting that as regards the Bible, then there is no serious reason that we can't accept it as regards Mormon scripture (ergo, we don't have to take its originary claims as seriously as we used to).

So, ironically, the most realistic one here, in my view, turns out to be the one whose methodology (analogy with biblical texts) is in fact the most traditional.
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_Kishkumen
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Re: False Dilemmas and the Faltering of Faith

Post by _Kishkumen »

Greetings, consul:

First, let me say that it is a delight to interact with you. I appreciate your incisive posts and candor. I will respond to your various points after the pertinent quotes.

Symmachus wrote:They certainly do have different perspectives from the old FARMSian guard, but who of these is at all more "realistic" than they are?

I know I am supposed to be impressed by Givens and Miller, but I don't see why. Givens actually does believe it's all true: it's ok that you doubt, but choosing to ignore the doubt and jump down the rabbit hole (the phrase he used in his Mormon Stories interview) is an act of faith; his only virtue among many vices is that he admits that this leap is unpleasant and difficult. Adam Miller, at least in "Letters to a Young Mormon" and what I could stand to read in the Rube Goldberg book is more solipsistic than anything else; what do we learn from him that we can't learn from telling ourselves whatever we want to hear anyway? Miller, and like him Wotherspoon, seem to relish the process of theologizing more than any end result of a coherent theological system intelligible to other people (I'm sure they would say, in their Zen-like way, that that's the point: more solipsism).


I have to confess that I have only skimmed an excerpt of Miller's Letters, so I can't say all that much about him. I know that many liberal intellectual Mormons are raving about how great Miller's work is. To be honest, I thought Miller was a reference to our own George Miller, who is an expert on Mormonism and Freemasonry. Boy is my face red.

As far as Givens goes, I concede that he is a straightforward believing Mormon. By the Hand of Mormon unfortunately creates the impression that FARMS work is a lot better and more persuasive than it actually is. Maybe Professor Givens finds it persuasive. I do not.

That said, I think there is something to be said for the way he contextualizes LDS ideas within the Western tradition in the popular book, The God Who Weeps. Whatever is intended by this, and on the surface it may appear to be a sophisticated "trailing clouds of glory" gesture, I think it does succeed in suggesting that Mormonism belongs within its historical context; it is not as though it plopped down on the landscape as an alien object.

Huntsman (I assume we mean Eric) is more intellectually honest, and that is why (or because) he stays in the safe territory with his work: daily life in Palestine, and comforting (perhaps too comforting) interpretations of the Gospels. But notice he hasn't published on the Book of Mormon, which is the very dilemma in question. As a former student of his, however, I don't see how anyone would think he had some kind of liberal view of the Book of Mormon. His views may have changed, but as far as I know he hasn't published anything stating views any different from the very traditional ones he expounded in his Book of Mormon sections.


It was my understanding he accepts that some Pauline epistles were not actually written by Paul. That may not be much, but it is an improvement.

Hauglid: also more intellectually honest, but again that's because he stays in safe territory where traditional faith commitments won't come under any analysis or scrutiny. Publishing a history of the text of the Book of Abraham or an anthology of medieval traditions about Abraham are never going to force him to deal with the fundamental problems of the Book of Abraham in its own claims, the Church's assertions, or the widespread belief of the Church's adherents.


Hauglid deserves huge props for publishing non-LDS scholarship on the Book of Mormon at BYU. The fact that he would give Paul Owen a forum at BYU was astounding. Can you imagine the old FARMS crew ever doing that? In fact, the old FARMS crew had a veritable meltdown over it.

Sam Brown: again, if he seems enlightened in his views of the Book of Mormon it's only because he doesn't accept/address/approach the question of its claims; he just accepts it, like Miller, as a source for his theological perspectives (but then, so did Bruce R. McConkie). Does that mean it's a more realistic approach?


Sam Brown was the first faithful LDS person to acknowledge the esoteric background to Joseph Smith's interest in Egyptian. He did so when most people were completely misconstruing its significance. In a classic-FARMS world where John Gee tells CaliforniaKid and everyone else not to apply to the discussion of the Book of Abraham without holding a PhD in Egyptology, Brown broke important new ground for a faithful Mormon.

Bokovoy: Ok, I grant this one.


Yes, as a CES employee, Bokovoy has the scholarly integrity and courage to call the Book of Abraham a "prophetic Madras." In other words, it does not date to antiquity. So, yeah, he deserves big props.
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_grindael
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Re: False Dilemmas and the Faltering of Faith

Post by _grindael »

I appreciate the thoughts Kish, you are always provoking in your commentary, but really, that argument (That it is either all true or all false) was what the original Church was founded upon. Joseph Smith taught that, "I never told you I was perfect, but there are NO ERRORS in the revelations that I have taught."

In the course of the work of translation, we ascertained that three special witnesses1 were to be provided by the Lord, to whom He would grant that they should see the plates from which this work (the Book of Mormon) should be translated; and that these witnesses should bear record of the same, as will be found recorded, Book of Mormon, page 581 [Book of Ether, chapter 5, verses 2, 3 and 4, p. 487, edition 1920], also page 86 [II Nephi, chapter 11, verse 3, p. 73, edition 1920].

"And behold, ye may be privileged that ye may show the plates unto those who shall assist to bring forth this work; and unto three shall they be shown by the power of God; wherefore they shall know of a surety that these things are true. History of the Church, Vol. 1, p.53


We say that God is true; that the Constitution of the United States is true; that the Bible is true; that the Book of Mormon is true; that the Book of Covenants is true; that Christ is true; that the ministering angels sent forth from God are true, and that we know that we have an house not made with hands eternal in the heavens, whose builder and maker is God; a consolation which our oppressors cannot [p.305] feel, when fortune, or fate, shall lay its iron hand on them as it has on us. Now, we ask, what is many Remember, brethren. that time and chance happen to all men. Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 3, p.305


This interesting tidbit is from 1843, at a Conference in New York City attended by many of the 12:

In the afternoon, after Elder John E. Page had addressed the meeting, Elder George T. Leach was appointed to preside over the Church in New York, in place of Elder L. R. Foster, who was about to remove to Nauvoo. After which several children were blessed, and the meeting adjourned until evening; at which time Elder Orson Pratt addressed the people in an edifying manner concerning the Book of Mormon, its history. what it was, &c.; that it was a history of nearly one-half of the globe, and the people that inhabited it; that it gave a history and names of cities that have been of late discovered by Catherwood and Stephens; that it spoke or the establishing of our government; and what is more highly interesting, it reveals its final fate and destiny; so that, by reading the Book of Mormon, you can clearly see what will befall this nation, and what will be its final end.4

[p.553] In that book you will find recorded the pure principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as taught by Himself on the continent of America, so plain that no two persons could disagree as to the points of doctrine set forth. He then bore testimony of the truth of Joseph Smith being a prophet of God, and that the Book of Mormon was true; also that the Church of the Latter-day Saints was the Church of God. He spoke about two hours; and after he closed five children were blessed, and then the people were dismissed. Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 5, p.553


Here is BH Roberts note to that,

BH Roberts wrote:4. This statement of Elder Orson Pratt's views is doubtless faulty. The Book of Mormon does not predict what will befall our nation, the United States, nor "its final end." But it contains a conditional prophecy in relation to the two American continents. These continents are a promised land. They are given, according to the Book of Mormon, primarily to the descendants of the Patriarch Joseph, son of Jacob, as an inheritance, but the Gentile races are also given an inheritance in them with the descendants of Joseph. The whole land, however, is dedicated to righteousness and liberty and the people who possess it, whether of the house of Israel or Gentile must be a righteous people and worship "the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ." In that event God stands pledged to preserve the land and the people thereof, free from bondage of all other nations, and to bless them with very great and peculiar bressings, guaranteeing to them freedom and peaceful possession of the land forever. If the Gentile races shall observe these conditions they and their children are to share in the blessings of the land in connection with the descendants of the Patriarch Joseph. But if they depart from justice, reject righteousness and Jesus Christ, then judgments of destruction decreed in the Book of Mormon, will overtake them until they are wasted away. This is the decree of God respecting the western hemispbere, and is one of the important messages that the Book of Mormon has to deliver to the present generation. See Book of Mormon II Nephi 1: 5-12; also Ether. 1: 42; III Nephi 20: 14-20; III Nephi 20: 27, 28; III Nephi 21: 11-25; also "New Witness for God Vol. III, pp. 314-323. But it will be seen that these prophecies are conditional, and therefore cannot be held to be predictions of what the final end of our nation, the United States and other nations of the American continents, will be, since it yet remains to be demonstrated whether they will abide or violate the conditions upon which they may possess the continents perpetually.


Yet, in 1838, Parley P. Pratt taught the same thing,

Parley P. Pratt wrote: See also, page 526, where a sign is given, and the time clearly set for the restoration and gathering of Israel from their long dispersion, namely, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, should be the sign; and in the day this work should come forth, should this great event commence among all nations. Also, p. 527, where all who will not hearken to the Book of Mormon, shall be cut off from among the people; and that too, in the day it comes forth to the Gentiles and is rejected by them. And not only does this page set the time for the overthrow of our government and all other Gentile governments on the American continent, but the way and means of this utter destruction are clearly foretold, namely, the remnant of Jacob will go through among the Gentiles and tear them in pieces, like a lion among the flocks of sheep. Their hand shall be lifted up upon their adversaries, and all their enemies shall be cut off. This destruction includes an utter overthrow, and desolation of all our Cities, Forts, and Strong Holds—an entire annihilation of our race, except such as embrace the Covenant, and are numbered with Israel.

Now, Mr. Sunderland, you have something definite and tangible, the time, the manner, the means, the names, the dates; and I will state as a prophesy, that there will not be an unbelieving Gentile upon this continent 50 years hence; and if they are not greatly scourged, and in a great measure overthrown, within five or ten years from this date, then the Book of Mormon will have proved itself false. And furthermore, as Mr. La Roy Sunderland has lied concerning the truth of Heaven, the fullness of the Gospel, and has blasphemed against the word of God, except he speedily repent, and acknowledge his lying and wickedness, and obey the message of eternal truth, which God has sent for the salvation of his people. God will smite him dumb, that he can no longer speak great swelling words against the Lord; and a trembling shall seize his nerves, that he shall not be able to write; and Zion’s Watchman shall cease to be published abroad, and its lies shall no longer deceive the public; and he will wander a vagabond on the earth, until sudden destruction shall overtake him; and if Mr. La Roy Sunderland enquires, when shall these things be? I reply, it is nigh thee—even at thy doors; and I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen (Mormonism Unveiled, 1838, pages 13-14)


Roberts backpedaling is typical of how the early apostles (including Joseph Smith) were handled later, when their prophecies and teachings were proven to be false as borne out by historical events. This led us to where we are today, a divided Apologetic community with some sticking to the original tenets of the faith and others abandoning that in favor of something that doesn't make it look like a complete fraud.
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_DonBradley
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Re: False Dilemmas and the Faltering of Faith

Post by _DonBradley »

grindael wrote:I appreciate the thoughts Kish, you are always provoking in your commentary, but really, that argument (That it is either all true or all false) was what the original Church was founded upon. Joseph Smith taught that, "I never told you I was perfect, but there are NO ERRORS in the revelations that I have taught."


Sorry, Grindael, but this is a complete non-argument.

Suppose I say, "I never told you I was perfect, but there are no errors in the message board posts that I have made." Now, explain to me how this statement obligates anyone to accept my message board posts in their totality or reject them in their totality, rather than accepting what I've written selectively.

Ready. Set. Go...!

There's nothing there. It really doesn't matter who sets up the false dichotomy: it's still false. You could stack up quotes by the pope from here to the ceiling saying, "When I speak officially as pope, I am always right, and if I'm wrong, this shows I'm not the true pope," and this still wouldn't create a genuine dichotomy for the hearer unless the hearer happens to hold a prior belief in that same premise--that a true pope is necessarily always right.

I'm a little tired, so I may not get this out just right, but here's an analogy. People in the church often use the argument that the prophet can't ever lead the church astray because the prophets have said they can't ever lead us astray. As an argument for why the prophet can't lead us astray, that's pretty much the dumbest thing I've ever heard. It's like believing a book because the book says in it, "This book is true." Unless one already believes that, by definition, the prophet can't possibly be wrong, then the prophet's guarantee that he can never lead you astray is, itself, potentially wrong.

By parallel, even if the quote had Joseph Smith saying by revelation "My revelations are always right" (which it doesn't), it still wouldn't follow that a demonstrable error in his revelations would prove them all entirely wrong, unless one already holds an independent theological belief that a true prophet can never say anything wrong by revelation--a belief that any informed adherent to the Bible would have to reject, since the Bible is rife with such errors, and a belief that I and many others simply reject as a misunderstanding of what it means to be a prophet.

Don
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Re: False Dilemmas and the Faltering of Faith

Post by _Tobin »

Don,

As you pointed out, critics are just as guilty of setting up false dilemmas as Mormon apologists. It is when someone can't consider the likelihood that something may be valid or invalid that they develop a serious intellectual blind spot. I guess the people I believe are the most incorrect are those that are zealously convinced they must be right and that all other points of view are not.

Tobin
"You lack vision, but I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off, off and on all day, all night.... Tire salons, automobile dealerships and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see. My God, it'll be beautiful." -- Judge Doom
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