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Tal Bachman On Lds Epistemology


cksalmon

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Mr. Bachman:

Lose the condescension. It's not as cute as you seem to think it is.

-- Argos, Moderator

Just wondering, is this standard going to be applied also to prominent LDS posters? Or is moderatorial reproving betimes with sharpness reserved solely for nonbelievers?

Don Bradley

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Just wondering, is this standard going to be applied also to prominent LDS posters? Or is moderatorial reproving betimes with sharpness reserved solely for nonbelievers?

Don Bradley

I seem to recall the mods reproving many believers.

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This challenge has been brought to my attention for response.

Bachman is very fortunate that the so-called "Recovery" board doesn't maintain a full archive of past posts. Only the past two or three weeks are available. Accordingly, his description of me as a "sociopath" is lost to posterity (unless, as is his wont, he repeats it sometime), as are numerous other insults that he has directed at me and others. I've collected a few gems from among his many smug dismissals, but have been anything but systematic about it. Moreover, to be perfectly candid, I realized too late the fascination of his prose, and thus missed the chance to have preserved any of his early achievements.

Nonetheless, I remember very clearly Bachman's repeated claim a year or two back that both Louis Midgley and I had somehow signaled to him in conversation our lack of interest in the question of whether or not Mormonism is true, and he has quite frequently connected us (and other Latter-day Saint scholars, notably Davis Bitton) with anti-realism, postmodernism, Heideggerianism, and his own zany vision of Immanuel Kant in order to depict us, quite falsely and demagogically, as indifferent to "Reality." (He likes to capitalize "Reality.") I have a few of those items on file.

It's really quite surreal to see Bachman affecting injured innocence here.

While you might not be able to find these posts on the so called "Recovery" board, I do remember us having a discussion on this some time in the past on the Fair board. Could their be archives of this somewhere? Of course, even if there are Im not sure it would be worth the time to look through the archives.

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Which of the prominent sharp-tongued (sharp-fingered?) LDS posters have received such public rebuke?

Don

I have, quite recently. And they dropped the hammer on Hammer just today. Do either of us count?

I look upon the mods as the equivalent of rugby referees. It's their job to control the game, and sometimes that means blowing the whistle and awarding a foul. Or a yellow card, or (in extreme cases) a red card. If everyone was happy about their decisions all the time, they probably wouldn't be referreeing very effectively.

But moaning and whining about their decisions is just poor sportsmanship. Mister Bachman may have a little cult following in some disreputable circles, but that shouldn't cause him to expect VIP treatment here.

Regards,

Pahoran

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Sure. And, if I say that this disconfirming experience has happened to me, is my disbelief in revelation as justified as someone else's belief in it?

Sure. As I keep saying, only you and God get to decide on this issue. I can't peek inside yours, and you can't in mine.

I think this borders on circular reasoning, because you have to use the epistemology in question to determine whether or not the Being that is inerrant, is omnipotent, and always has your best interests at heart exists (and has these attributes) in the first place. Also, I can make cousin Geoffrey epistemology just like spiritual epistemology if Geoffrey claims that he's infallible and omnipotent.

A fair concern. That's why each person has to decide their own "threshold" for what will convince them. Why do I trust my wife? Why do I trust anyone? Usually, on the basis of experience--I trust my wife because of our history. Ditto with God. (And, as I said before, if God doesn't have my interests at heart, then I'm in deep trouble, since the power I've encountered could crush or compel me if it wanted to.)

Yes, and that's exactly the pertinent thing here, that there ARE many people who don't think that your revelation does this [gives valuable information].

So, why do what those people think get to trump what I think in my own political actions and choices? If I want to vote or advocate my conscience on religious grounds, it seems to me that this is the whole point of the First Amendment.

I'm honestly befuddled that you don't think political decisions have to be made on common evidential ground.

I mis-explained, or you misunderstood. I apologize, and clarify:

Well, of course they have to be made that way ultimately--i.e., if all I've got is my personal conviction, and can't muster anything else, that isn't going to persuade many people, and in a democracy you need a majority of the people (simplifying, of course, but you get that) to agree with you to pass the law.

But, if a large group of us have similar convictions, then we get to act on those. As I've said, I don't think anyone is going to have _only_ a personal epistemologic commitment to something, since there is little easier than to come up with other reasons to support what we want to support.

You wrote, later on:

You can advocate whatever you like, but don't expect it to become law unless you provide justification for it that others can agree to.

Ah, see, I thought you were denying me the right to advocate for the law to be changed. Of course I gotta convince other people. We're closer than I thought.

So, what if I make my case solely on "moral" or "religious" grounds--that abortion is morally wrong? What if I persuade enough people, to (say) pass a constitutional amendment and get it ratified.

Is this kosher? It would seem to me that it is. No one gets to quiz people when they go into the voting booth on whether an advocated policy is being voted for on "ideologic" or "practical/secular" grounds.

If we don't adopt that requirement as a general rule, then all sorts of things would be permissible. Suppose that a large majority of your fellow citizens come to the conclusion, based on a personal epistemology, that the world would be a better place if every religion but Catholicism were made illegal. How could you possibly defend yourself if you maintain that personal epistemology is an acceptable way to formulate policy? It would be frighteningly easy to take away the rights that you and your loved ones enjoy.

Exactly. Which is why we have the 1st Amendment, which says you don't get to do that. The Founders realized the dangers of personal epistemology run amok when linked to state power--state Churches, religious tests for governmental positions, government taxation going direct to certain churches and not othres, etc. Thus, the genius of the American set-up, I think, is that it permits all those personal epistemologies to check and balance each other.

But, refusing me the right to use my own personal convictions in my own personal advocacy of policy in the political is akin to deciding that only scientism, or secular humanism, or whatever is permitted. You've decided, by your personal epistemology, that the nation or world would be a better place if religious epistemologies were excluded from the public arena. I reject that.

Things get a bit muddled sometimes, like this:

This is fine. I don't disagree that people should be able to voice their opinions, even if those opinions state that personal beliefs should dictate public policy decisions. I'm only saying that personal beliefs shouldn't actually be the justification for political measures.

And, how can one stop this, short of advocating for other policies? It seems to me that the virtue of a free and secret ballot is people are free to vote on whatever epistemologic basis they like, and no one can say anything about it.

You can do what you like, but outside of the political sphere.

So, you can do anything you like, except actually effect change. Gotcha. :P

They should have pointed out that the justifications for slavery were unsupported. (I assume that there was never compelling evidence that some races are inferior.)

There was a great deal of evidence which many bright (and, I think, sincere) people adduced for racial inequality. See Stephen J. Gould's The Mismeasure of Man. Part of this is because racial inequality was an assumed part of their world-view, so when the science 'supporting' that came out, they weren't surprised or careful enough.

In medicine, or science, it is practically a truism to point out that we only "see" what we're looking for. As the old medical pearl has it, "If you don't think of it, you can't diagnose it." Diagnoses, in medicine, do not jump out at us, or impose themselves on us. Rather, we go looking for them.

I don't think that what I advocate suffers a blow in this regard. What you're stumping for, though, appears to run into a problem in the following hypothetical: if a large majority of the population today opposes the freedom of African-Americans on "moral" grounds, should we adopt slavery as national policy? I don't think you'd be able to protest that very convincingly.

Well, ultimately, people choose what kind of a system they are going to live and function under. (The irony of excluding slaves from the rights advocated so eloquently by the whole American experience has been noted many times, though I don't know that it was soluable in the generation of the Founders. It became one of those historically contingent things that required great upheaval to get rid of.)

It would seem to me that the system under which we (well, I'm Canadian, but let's keep this Yankee for now) are operating is the US Constitution, which presupposes a number of rights and guarantees which cannot be suppressed, even by majority vote, . (As noted, I think the accomodation of slavery was the elephent in the room throughout.)

But, the initial arguments against slavery in, say, the British Empire, were not scientific or economic or sociologic (indeed those arguments were firmly against ending slavery and human servitude). The opposition was, it seems, overwhelmingly religious and moral--I can elaborate on that more after I finish a book I just bought, Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves.

This would seem to exclude all people of faith from taking meaningful public action, except the secularists, who have merely by fiat decided that only their biases are acceptable bases for public policy since all can share them?

No. Religious people are still allowed to form associations and the like. I don't think you're correct in implying that a liberal system of governance is merely an 'atheistocracy', either; surely some non-religious people have non-publically justifiable beliefs, but these, too, are inadequate grounds for making policy decisions.

But, those people are apparently justified in advocating for policy where the religious are not--but don't worry, they can have associations, they just can't try to change the political climate in which they live? Fortunately, British abolitionists were under no such restriction.

What is the point of political conversations if not to contribute, in some way, to political decision-making?

Just because people should be allowed to say some things doesn't mean that they should be able to follow through on those words. It's proper for a government to allow someone to say "Jews should have no rights", but it isn't proper to allow a person to deprive a Jew of his rights.

Amen. Hence the Constitution and Bill of Rights--those are the ground rules everyone agrees to play by, if only out of enlightened self-interest. But, there is are miles of ground between the (false) dichotomy of denying Jews their rights, and disallowing as dangerous or illegitimate all religiously-based advocacy of public policy.

If you mean that non-public knowledge shouldn't be the EXCLUSIVE reason for a public policy decision, I'd be comfortable with that

I think that the proposed policy should be able to stand up on its own without religious justifications. Religion can be a prime motivator of policy so long as the policy is publically justifiable anyway. Maybe we actually agree here?

More or less, I think, if only on the basis of practicality--in a pluralistic society, a stritctly religious approach likely wouldn't get very far (and, I think that is a good thing). You do need other reasons--though strictly 'religious' reasons may be adequate in some cases (many/most religions could easily be mobilized against slavery, for example).

a) what is the point of prophets, for example, if they cannot sometimes tell us things that we really couldn't know any other way?

I'll answer this question with another: if they can only tell us things that we can't know any other way, how would we know if they were wrong?

Certainly by the potential negative outcome if their advice is not followed. Don't keep the Word of Wisdom in 1900, and you could still die of heart disease, lung cancer, COPD, etc.

the data which confirms revelation may arrive too late to be helpful--if in 1840 I decided to wait for scientific proof that cigarettes cause cancer before I obey the Word of Wisdom, I would be out of luck. :-)

Revelation can be behind the times, too. The 1978 pronouncement on race came 15-20 years after the Civil Rights movement, for example.

You've evaded my point--the 1800's stance on tobacco was unjustifiable at the time by any epistemology save the prophetic. Decisions must be made NOW, and even doing "nothing yet" is a decision with consequences. Place your bets.

And, I don't think the 1978 priesthood issue has much to do with civil rights. If the priesthood exists, then surely God can dispose of it how He wills--who are we to tell God what to do with it? If the priesthood as understood by the LDS does not exist, then blacks were being denied a chimera, something of no value, and something actually insidious--the pretension to speak and act in the name of God. They would be better off without it.

The 1978 revelation never denied anyone the right to vote, or drink from a water fountain, or the like. And, unlike most of Protestantism, LDS congregations were never segregated.

If you believe (as I do) that the 1978 ban had a great deal to do with the weaknesses of WHITE members, then the Civil Rights movement may well have been a pre-requisite to revelation. (We rarely get answers to questions we don't ask. But, this is wide divergent, if fascinating, discussion.)

In any case, opposition to slavery was well entrenched from Joseph Smith onward. You will recall, for example, that the Mormons were driven from Missouri partly because they were opposed to slavery. Joseph's presidential campaign called for the abolition of slavery through a far less costly means than the ultimate option chosen.

People can try all they want, but it doesn't always work well. The whole idea of science is that it slowly pares away bias from truth.

It doesn't ALWAYS work well, but it happens far more than people would like--as any look at the history of science can tell. Our biases affect what kinds of questions we ask, what kinds of evidence we find persuasive, etc.

At any rate, there are many questions of public policy which do not lend themselves well to scientific experimentation. (Though I hasten to add I think a great deal MORE attention to science would be a good thing for public policy generally!)

I disagree. By showing that the cell lines we have aren't adequate, we can force him to come up with another justification. If he can't come up with one that works, then we've uncovered the fact that he has ulterior motives.

But, those motives would not be ulterior if baldly stated. My option cuts to the heart of the matter. :-)

I have too much experience in the scientific field (I practice medicine) of people finding multiple reasons to dispense with data with which they don't agree to believe that people cannot find another justification for any stance they wish to take, especially one on religious grounds.

If the pseudo-reasons are justifiable, then no harm, no foul. If they aren't, it won't be very hard to expose them. "Permissible surrogates" can run, but they can't hide very well.

I wonder if this is true. Given the relatively poorly-informed state of (say) the American electorate, I think the surrogates can and do hide very well. (I mean, 50% of surveyed US citizens believe the sun orbits the earth. A clear majority supported the war in Iraq and believed that Saddam had something to do with 9-11: we know differently now, but the decision for war has been made already.)

That's partly why I'd like to see the "real reasons" out in the open.

Kind regards,

Greg

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Sure. As I keep saying, only you and God get to decide on this issue. I can't peek inside yours, and you can't in mine.

A fair concern. That's why each person has to decide their own "threshold" for what will convince them.

<_<
So, why do what those people think get to trump what I think in my own political actions and choices? If I want to vote or advocate my conscience on religious grounds, it seems to me that this is the whole point of the First Amendment.
I think I understand what you're getting at, but your choice of example confuses me; I think you put yourself in a bit of an awkward position here. By choosing the constitutionality of abortion to make your point (which you do later in your post), you imply that religion can legitimately operate at the level where decisions about basic rules of society -- decisions about rights -- are made. If you say that, though, then you seemingly have no reason to say that First Amendment rights wouldn't be similarly up for grabs. Why is one sacrosanct but not the other? It seems to me that you'd have to appeal to a broad liberalism to support First Amendment rights, but to do so would undermine your more general point.
Well, of course they have to be made that way ultimately--i.e., if all I've got is my personal conviction, and can't muster anything else, that isn't going to persuade many people, and in a democracy you need a majority of the people (simplifying, of course, but you get that) to agree with you to pass the law.

But, if a large group of us have similar convictions, then we get to act on those. As I've said, I don't think anyone is going to have _only_ a personal epistemologic commitment to something, since there is little easier than to come up with other reasons to support what we want to support.

Ah, see, I thought you were denying me the right to advocate for the law to be changed. Of course I gotta convince other people. We're closer than I thought.

This is exactly what I'm afraid of, though. A scenario is easily imaginable in which a majority of people share private beliefs which they use to browbeat the rights of a minority. Just because something has enough popularity to win support in a democracy doesn't mean it's permissible. Anti-miscegenation laws leap to mind here.
So, what if I make my case solely on "moral" or "religious" grounds--that abortion is morally wrong? What if I persuade enough people, to (say) pass a constitutional amendment and get it ratified.

Is this kosher? It would seem to me that it is. No one gets to quiz people when they go into the voting booth on whether an advocated policy is being voted for on "ideologic" or "practical/secular" grounds.

Exactly. Which is why we have the 1st Amendment, which says you don't get to do that. The Founders realized the dangers of personal epistemology run amok when linked to state power--state Churches, religious tests for governmental positions, government taxation going direct to certain churches and not othres, etc. Thus, the genius of the American set-up, I think, is that it permits all those personal epistemologies to check and balance each other.

No; not if the First Amendment itself is in grave danger of being usurped. As I wrote earlier, I believe that this danger is very real if we say that constitutionality is allowed to be (at least partially) determined by non-public reasoning.
But, refusing me the right to use my own personal convictions in my own personal advocacy of policy in the political is akin to deciding that only scientism, or secular humanism, or whatever is permitted. You've decided, by your personal epistemology, that the nation or world would be a better place if religious epistemologies were excluded from the public arena. I reject that.
Well, I would have hoped that you would agree that liberalism is the best way to go, because allowing religious justifications to run free on issues of constitutionality would (clearly, it seems to me) pose significant problems for your rights (specifically, those that fall under the First Amendment). (This depends, though, on what you think about what I wrote a few paragraphs earlier, so this point it just tentative.)
And, how can one stop this, short of advocating for other policies? It seems to me that the virtue of a free and secret ballot is people are free to vote on whatever epistemologic basis they like, and no one can say anything about it.
That leaves open the possibility that people could legitimately dismantle the First Amendment, though. I can't give my support to such an anarchic position.

I'm going to do something that I should have done much earlier in the thread. I should have distinguished between constitutional law and everything else. Maybe you could make a case for the legimitimacy of using religious epistemology in a more circumscribed legislative setting... maybe. When it comes to rights, though? I just don't see it.

So, you can do anything you like, except actually effect change. Gotcha. :ph34r:
You don't think that, because churches are distinct from government, that they have no independent power to shape their environment? You don't think that NPOs affect things? I (partially) barred religious epistemology from only one forum for action -- the governmental one -- because government carries a monopoly of legitimized compulsion, not because governmental action is the only kind.
There was a great deal of evidence which many bright (and, I think, sincere) people adduced for racial inequality. See Stephen J. Gould's The Mismeasure of Man. Part of this is because racial inequality was an assumed part of their world-view, so when the science 'supporting' that came out, they weren't surprised or careful enough.

In medicine, or science, it is practically a truism to point out that we only "see" what we're looking for. As the old medical pearl has it, "If you don't think of it, you can't diagnose it." Diagnoses, in medicine, do not jump out at us, or impose themselves on us. Rather, we go looking for them.

Well, ultimately, people choose what kind of a system they are going to live and function under. (The irony of excluding slaves from the rights advocated so eloquently by the whole American experience has been noted many times, though I don't know that it was soluable in the generation of the Founders. It became one of those historically contingent things that required great upheaval to get rid of.)

I basically agree here, but I fail to see how allowing religious epistemology to influence what we do and don't deem to be "rights" improves the situation.
It would seem to me that the system under which we (well, I'm Canadian, but let's keep this Yankee for now) are operating is the US Constitution, which presupposes a number of rights and guarantees which cannot be suppressed, even by majority vote, . (As noted, I think the accomodation of slavery was the elephent in the room throughout.)
Well, this is kind of a technicality, but the U.S. Constitution can be changed by supermajority votes. I know next to nothing about Canadian law, though, so I can't comment on that (do you guys even have a Constitution, or are you more in the British tradition?). http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Article5
But, the initial arguments against slavery in, say, the British Empire, were not scientific or economic or sociologic (indeed those arguments were firmly against ending slavery and human servitude). The opposition was, it seems, overwhelmingly religious and moral--I can elaborate on that more after I finish a book I just bought, Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves.
This would be consistent with what I see as the appropriate role of religion in decision-making. It seems that religious sentiments challenged presuppositions of the prevailing scientific thinkers, and informed -- but did not dictate -- national policy (i.e., British jurists didn't say, "This should be illegal because the Bible says so," or whatever). That sounds about right to me.

But, those people are apparently justified in advocating for policy where the religious are not--but don't worry, they can have associations, they just can't try to change the political climate in which they live?

Wrong. They can advocate for policy, but can't enact policy on an illegitimate basis. Furthermore, they're free to do whatever they want in the associational sphere (which is very powerful -- but, importantly, has no power of compulsion). I don't really understand why you're painting this as an instance of atheists/agnostics foisting their opinions on other people, because a.) non-atheists/agnostics share those assumptions, and b.) atheists/agnostics similarly have private opinions that would not be available as evidence in political deliberations.

"Just because people should be allowed to say some things doesn't mean that they should be able to follow through on those words. It's proper for a government to allow someone to say 'Jews should have no rights', but it isn't proper to allow a person to deprive a Jew of his rights."

Amen. Hence the Constitution and Bill of Rights--those are the ground rules everyone agrees to play by, if only out of enlightened self-interest. But, there is are miles of ground between the (false) dichotomy of denying Jews their rights, and disallowing as dangerous or illegitimate all religiously-based advocacy of public policy.

Maybe I haven't been communicating clearly enough. I'm not saying that advocacy of public policy can't be based on religion; I'm saying that public policy itself (or at least those parts of it that are closely related to rights) can't be predicated on religion. It's exactly the same separation that you "Amen"ed up there. Hopefully my position is clearer now.

Certainly by the potential negative outcome if their advice is not followed. Don't keep the Word of Wisdom in 1900, and you could still die of heart disease, lung cancer, COPD, etc.

Keep the Word of Wisdom, and deny yourself the benefits of moderate wine consumption. You're letting modern science vindicate revelation but not falsify it. You shouldn't be able to have your cake and eat it too.

And, I don't think the 1978 priesthood issue has much to do with civil rights. If the priesthood exists, then surely God can dispose of it how He wills--who are we to tell God what to do with it? If the priesthood as understood by the LDS does not exist, then blacks were being denied a chimera, something of no value, and something actually insidious--the pretension to speak and act in the name of God. They would be better off without it.

The 1978 revelation never denied anyone the right to vote, or drink from a water fountain, or the like. And, unlike most of Protestantism, LDS congregations were never segregated.

If you believe (as I do) that the 1978 ban had a great deal to do with the weaknesses of WHITE members, then the Civil Rights movement may well have been a pre-requisite to revelation. (We rarely get answers to questions we don't ask. But, this is wide divergent, if fascinating, discussion.)

In any case, opposition to slavery was well entrenched from Joseph Smith onward. You will recall, for example, that the Mormons were driven from Missouri partly because they were opposed to slavery. Joseph's presidential campaign called for the abolition of slavery through a far less costly means than the ultimate option chosen.

The point isn't that the Church actively discriminated against blacks. The point is that the Church maintained a doctrine -- "Curse of Cain" -- that could easily have been used to justify segregation-type policies without issuing a clear anti-discrimination pronouncement. By remaining silent, revelation was derelict in its duties, and woefully behind the times. Besides, the revelatory epistemology that would have been more important for the civil rights issue would have been that of mainline churches in the South, and those were undeniably hostile to minority rights (for the most part).

It doesn't ALWAYS work well, but it happens far more than people would like--as any look at the history of science can tell. Our biases affect what kinds of questions we ask, what kinds of evidence we find persuasive, etc.

Why wouldn't this apply to revelatory epistemology as well?

At any rate, there are many questions of public policy which do not lend themselves well to scientific experimentation. (Though I hasten to add I think a great deal MORE attention to science would be a good thing for public policy generally!)

That's what philosophy is for. :P:unsure:

But, those motives would not be ulterior if baldly stated. My option cuts to the heart of the matter. :-)

I have too much experience in the scientific field (I practice medicine) of people finding multiple reasons to dispense with data with which they don't agree to believe that people cannot find another justification for any stance they wish to take, especially one on religious grounds.

They can, but can they do it well? Can they convince other people? If the justification is convincing to other people, then there's no compulsion, and you'll get no objection from me.

I wonder if this is true. Given the relatively poorly-informed state of (say) the American electorate, I think the surrogates can and do hide very well. (I mean, 50% of surveyed US citizens believe the sun orbits the earth. A clear majority supported the war in Iraq and believed that Saddam had something to do with 9-11: we know differently now, but the decision for war has been made already.)

And the other people buy their reasoning? No; they call them out for being wrong, show them why they're wrong, and demand arguments that aren't wrong, which is exactly what I think should happen.

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for which I received one of the harshest rebukes I've seen.

PacMan

I believe you if you say so, but I don't see how you are, typically, worthy of censure. In other words, your posts tend to be fairly balanced. Kudos for that.

Best.

CKS

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:unsure:

I think I understand what you're getting at, but your choice of example confuses me; I think you put yourself in a bit of an awkward position here. By choosing the constitutionality of abortion to make your point (which you do later in your post), you imply that religion can legitimately operate at the level where decisions about basic rules of society -- decisions about rights -- are made.

I'll refrain from rehashing your whole post, because I think I have (finally!) gotten where you're coming from, and I think we essentially agree.

Yes, I readily concur that issues of "rights" or "constitutionality" in the sense of the Bill of Rights ought to be inviolable. (As you say later, there is a difference between 'constitutional law' and 'other kinds of law.')

Mormon epistemology explicitly grants this, since the Constitutional law of the land is endorsed in the D&C, and the Book of Mormon values both religious freedom (including the freedom not to practice ANY religion) and to be morally responsible for one's choices.

<begin digression>

I was forgetting, with the abortion example, the fact that this was decided in the US on appeals to a 'right to privacy' and the like.

It is a tricky case, because it requires the application of rights between two parties (potentially). Ironically, just as the fetus is seen as 'less' of a person weighing less in the calculus of rights as a pregnant mother, similar arguments were made about black Africans being worth less than whites.

A large part of the disagreement is the degree to which the foetus is eligible for constitutional protection.

This is a topic about which I think reasonable people can honestly disagree; that just highlights the fact that non-objective criteria may well play into the question of how we answer the question of what rights a foetus has...

</end digression>

That leaves open the possibility that people could legitimately dismantle the First Amendment, though. I can't give my support to such an anarchic position.

Nor I, and I apologize for not clarifying constitutional issues vs. others.

I basically agree here, but I fail to see how allowing religious epistemology to influence what we do and don't deem to be "rights" improves the situation.

Well, sometimes (as in the British slavery example) the extension of those rights to people rested first upon a conviction that such

I know next to nothing about Canadian law, though, so I can't comment on that (do you guys even have a Constitution, or are you more in the British tradition?).

Canada has a constitution, but its political tradition rests heavily on the British tradition. The Canadian constitution contains a "notwithstanding clause" which basically allows the government to write a bill which says,

"Notwithstanding the fact that this might violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms [equivalent of the Bill of Rights], I'm still passing this law." (In the US, if you wanted to (say) ban handguns, you'd just pass a law saying, "notwithstanding that this might violate the 2nd amendment, we're doing it anyway). No supermajority required.

Thus, the Cannuck Constiution is not the final "ground" of Canadian law, since the Notwithstanding clause can circumvent it. (There would be political consequences to doing so, but those might be minimal if targeted against a hated group. It exists partly to keep Quebec happy, so they could be assured that--if pressed--they could pass language laws that violated the Charter.)

This is one reason I admire the American model more than the Canadian, were I designing a system from scratch.

This would be consistent with what I see as the appropriate role of religion in decision-making. It seems that religious sentiments challenged presuppositions of the prevailing scientific thinkers, and informed -- but did not dictate -- national policy (i.e., British jurists didn't say, "This should be illegal because the Bible says so," or whatever). That sounds about right to me.

Well, then I think we agree (whew!) This is what I thought you were opposing.

Actually the British abolitionist movement had very little to do with 'science' per se. (Indeed, the scientific racism persisted well into the Victorian era, and of course bore its worst fruit in the Nazi era.) The initial opponents were largely Quaker, and all were very religious men. (Women came late to the party, through no fault of their own.)

Most seem to have had a visceral reaction against the practice, and seemed to feel that if they could lay out the 'facts' of slavery to the public, people would understand on the basis of moral principals that it was wrong. It's arguably the first modern public opinion mobilization in the west; people who didn't have the vote eventually compelled their Parliament to act anyway.

Ultimately, the basic mode of argumentation was to lay out the reality of slavery, with the conviction that any moral person would see that it was wrong. But, the drivers behind the movement were all deeply Christian men.

They can advocate for policy, but can't enact policy on an illegitimate basis.

Just what would be such an illegitimate enactment of policy? Obviously, I don't think you get to grab a gun and overturn the Republic because "God Told Me To." But, if they're working within the established channels, what restrictions can/should there be (leaving the constitutional strictures untouched, of course)?

Furthermore, they're free to do whatever they want in the associational sphere (which is very powerful -- but, importantly, has no power of compulsion). I don't really understand why you're painting this as an instance of atheists/agnostics foisting their opinions on other people, because a.) non-atheists/agnostics share those assumptions, and b.) atheists/agnostics similarly have private opinions that would not be available as evidence in political deliberations.

Because I thought you were saying they couldn't do what you've now clarified they can do--advocate for policy change through the legitimate organs of the state and the standard political process.

I'm sure you can see how when I thought you were denying them that, it was privileging atheists/agnostics who would not be so restricted. I withdraw the comparison cheerfully.

Keep the Word of Wisdom, and deny yourself the benefits of moderate wine consumption. You're letting modern science vindicate revelation but not falsify it. You shouldn't be able to have your cake and eat it too.

Actually, it isn't the ALCOHOL in red wine that provides the cardiovascular benefits, so you can get those without the wine if you're determined. :-) Gotta use ALL the science.

But, given the genetic risks of alcoholism, I think if you're going to weigh group abstinence vs. group use for cardiovascular benefits in 'moderation', the numbers probably come down on the abstinence side.

(This, of course, presumes the WoW is only about physical health, which I don't buy for a minute....)

The point isn't that the Church actively discriminated against blacks. The point is that the Church maintained a doctrine -- "Curse of Cain" -- that could easily have been used to justify segregation-type policies without issuing a clear anti-discrimination pronouncement.

You have read the Church statements decrying discrimination, haven't you?

By remaining silent, revelation was derelict in its duties, and woefully behind the times.

You have read the Book of Mormon (1829 publication date) "All are alike unto God...black and white..." etc?

But, someone looking for a reason to be discriminatory can always find a reason.

It doesn't ALWAYS work well, but it happens far more than people would like--as any look at the history of science can tell. Our biases affect what kinds of questions we ask, what kinds of evidence we find persuasive, etc.

Why wouldn't this apply to revelatory epistemology as well?

It does, or at least could. It applies to every epistemology. As I keep saying, I can't peek in yours, or you in mine. I'm just saying I'm far more confident in science's ability to tell me if Drug A is better than Drug B, or Placebo C than I am in its ability to answer whether, say, a foetus has any rights, and to what degree those rights are outweighed in any degree (and if so, to what degree) as an adult female. :-)

That's what philosophy is for. <_<:ph34r:

Oy vey. I was a missionary in France, where every French high school student has to take philosophy courses. I got heartily sick of having people explain that they were atheists because they were--wait for it--Cartesian.

It is marvelous evidence of the Christian virtues that I was able to refrain from not once strangling them, and successfully resisted the temptation to point out that Descartes was a theist, and that his whole system required God. :P

I'm not saying I don't value such reasoning; I'm just saying that experience has not suggested to me that even when trained in it, society as a whole is particularly good at using it.

I have too much experience in the scientific field (I practice medicine) of people finding multiple reasons to dispense with data with which they don't agree to believe that people cannot find another justification for any stance they wish to take, especially one on religious grounds.

They can, but can they do it well? Can they convince other people? If the justification is convincing to other people, then there's no compulsion, and you'll get no objection from me.

Well, let me give you an example. Rates of vaccination have been dropping steadily over the last decade. Part of this is due, in no small part, to the rather bogus work of one Andrew Wakefield (who, it now turns out, was in the pay of lawyers looking to prosecute vaccine makers for harm supposedly caused by their products).

Wakefield's work at present has no scientific credibility, did not affect vaccine recommendations by any public health agency, most of his co-authors have recanted, and much larger studies have failed to find the links he claimed to find: but a great number of people have been persuaded by it, and cannot be persuaded by other data, mostly (in my experience) because they seem to value the proposition that 'natural' immunity is better than vaccine-generated immunity. The dropping MMR vaccination rates will affect those who do and don't vaccinate, and potentially lead to thousands of cases of disease, and probably hundreds of long-term complications/death.

(And, such risks are shared by those who do vaccinate, since vaccines are only about 95% effective at best, and depend on herd immunity to keep unvaccinated, the immune deficient, the very young, etc. protected. Drops in vaccination in the 1980s for pertussis in the UK and Japan over a similar 'scare' resulted in thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths, in both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Wakefield

And the other people buy their reasoning? No; they call them out for being wrong, show them why they're wrong, and demand arguments that aren't wrong, which is exactly what I think should happen.

Again, see above. My point is not that scientific reasoning has no value, but that large numbers of voters in Western society are not persuaded by such things; and vote based upon other, less tangible, factors (including religion).

Best,

Greg (who promses not to overthrow the guvmint)

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Greg (who promses not to overthrow the guvmint)

:unsure: I appreciate that, Greg.

I'll refrain from rehashing your whole post, because I think I have (finally!) gotten where you're coming from, and I think we essentially agree.

Sorry for being opaque. I honestly don't do it on purpose.
Yes, I readily concur that issues of "rights" or "constitutionality" in the sense of the Bill of Rights ought to be inviolable. (As you say later, there is a difference between 'constitutional law' and 'other kinds of law.')

Mormon epistemology explicitly grants this, since the Constitutional law of the land is endorsed in the D&C, and the Book of Mormon values both religious freedom (including the freedom not to practice ANY religion) and to be morally responsible for one's choices.

This brings up a couple of questions:

-On what basis should we predicate rights? I don't think there's much room in constitutional deliberations for axioms that we can't agree on. That's where I think the demarcation should lie.

-If the D&C endorses Constitutional law, what happens if the Supreme Court rules against the Church (let's say it grants marriage equality for gays and lesbians)? Is that a possibility? If the Court did do that, would we have incontrovertible evidence that the Church is false?

I was forgetting, with the abortion example, the fact that this was decided in the US on appeals to a 'right to privacy' and the like.

It is a tricky case, because it requires the application of rights between two parties (potentially). Ironically, just as the fetus is seen as 'less' of a person weighing less in the calculus of rights as a pregnant mother, similar arguments were made about black Africans being worth less than whites.

A large part of the disagreement is the degree to which the foetus is eligible for constitutional protection.

This is a topic about which I think reasonable people can honestly disagree; that just highlights the fact that non-objective criteria may well play into the question of how we answer the question of what rights a foetus has...

They do, but they shouldn't... at least on the political, constitutional level. If we allowed unagreed-upon premises in those deliberations, there would be much worse problems than the ones we have with regard to abortion. Abortion is controversial among reasonable people because questions that directly apply to it, like "when does organic matter become 'human'?" haven't been answered. Does this mean that we're then forced to introduce unagreed-upon premises into our arguments? No; we just have to account for our uncertainty. Maybe an axiom of maximum prudence would be best to apply here. Maybe we should agree that more tangible rights outweigh mere potentialities. (This is an interesting path for discussion, but pretty off-topic -- I think I've put the abortion debate in the arena in which is belongs, so I've argued my point, here.
Canada has a constitution, but its political tradition rests heavily on the British tradition. The Canadian constitution contains a "notwithstanding clause" which basically allows the government to write a bill which says,

"Notwithstanding the fact that this might violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms [equivalent of the Bill of Rights], I'm still passing this law." (In the US, if you wanted to (say) ban handguns, you'd just pass a law saying, "notwithstanding that this might violate the 2nd amendment, we're doing it anyway). No supermajority required.

Thus, the Cannuck Constiution is not the final "ground" of Canadian law, since the Notwithstanding clause can circumvent it. (There would be political consequences to doing so, but those might be minimal if targeted against a hated group. It exists partly to keep Quebec happy, so they could be assured that--if pressed--they could pass language laws that violated the Charter.)

This is one reason I admire the American model more than the Canadian, were I designing a system from scratch.

Interesting. Thanks for the information. :blink:
Actually the British abolitionist movement had very little to do with 'science' per se. (Indeed, the scientific racism persisted well into the Victorian era, and of course bore its worst fruit in the Nazi era.) The initial opponents were largely Quaker, and all were very religious men. (Women came late to the party, through no fault of their own.)

Most seem to have had a visceral reaction against the practice, and seemed to feel that if they could lay out the 'facts' of slavery to the public, people would understand on the basis of moral principals that it was wrong. It's arguably the first modern public opinion mobilization in the west; people who didn't have the vote eventually compelled their Parliament to act anyway.

Ultimately, the basic mode of argumentation was to lay out the reality of slavery, with the conviction that any moral person would see that it was wrong. But, the drivers behind the movement were all deeply Christian men.

I understand all this, and I see no reason why I would oppose it. It seems to meet all my requirements.
Just what would be such an illegitimate enactment of policy? Obviously, I don't think you get to grab a gun and overturn the Republic because "God Told Me To." But, if they're working within the established channels, what restrictions can/should there be (leaving the constitutional strictures untouched, of course)?
As long as constitutional rights are respected, and as long as constitutional rights aren't based on things that rights-enjoyers can agree on, they can do whatever.
Actually, it isn't the ALCOHOL in red wine that provides the cardiovascular benefits, so you can get those without the wine if you're determined. :-) Gotta use ALL the science.
Not to mention lurking variables -- wine drinkers tend to be richer, and there's a correlation between wealth and health that could skew things here. (I shouldn't have used that example; I'm sorry. <_<) The example of psilocybin as a treatment for cluster headaches is stronger, as would a hypothetical involving an elderly glaucoma patient using medicinal marijuana.

I suppose I should get into issues of your threshold of scientific certainty, but... I'm lazy. :ph34r:

You have read the Church statements decrying discrimination, haven't you?

They apparently weren't clear enough, or made early enough to convince all the General Authorities:

"In a broad general sense, caste systems have their root and origin in the gospel itself, and when they operate according to the divine decree, the resultant restrictions and segregation are right and proper and have the approval of the Lord. To illustrate: Cain, Ham, and the whole Negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not intermarry." -Ezra Taft Benson in Mormon Doctrine

It does, or at least could. It applies to every epistemology. As I keep saying, I can't peek in yours, or you in mine. I'm just saying I'm far more confident in science's ability to tell me if Drug A is better than Drug B, or Placebo C than I am in its ability to answer whether, say, a foetus has any rights, and to what degree those rights are outweighed in any degree (and if so, to what degree) as an adult female. :-)

I do, too, but that's not the comparison at issue. The comparison is between deciding rights on agreed-upon precepts and deciding them on anything else.

Oy vey. I was a missionary in France, where every French high school student has to take philosophy courses. I got heartily sick of having people explain that they were atheists because they were--wait for it--Cartesian.

It is marvelous evidence of the Christian virtues that I was able to refrain from not once strangling them, and successfully resisted the temptation to point out that Descartes was a theist, and that his whole system required God. :P

Yeah... definitely some "sophy" missing there. :angry:
I'm not saying I don't value such reasoning; I'm just saying that experience has not suggested to me that even when trained in it, society as a whole is particularly good at using it.
I'm probably going to get grilled here, but I don't think that questions of constitutionality should necessarily be decided by most people. It's sort of a regrettable truism that not everyone is capable of engaging in political and legal philosophy. There's a reason constitutional issues fall under the purview of the Supreme Court.
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<_< I appreciate that, Greg.

Don't worry. I'll send you some free Militia Scrip 'just in case'....

This brings up a couple of questions:

-On what basis should we predicate rights? I don't think there's much room in constitutional deliberations for axioms that we can't agree on. That's where I think the demarcation should lie.

I can't claim to have read very widely in the philosophy of rights (if you have recommendations for articles or an anthology, I would find that very interesting.)

Personally, I rest it mostly on "self-evident" principles, which are grounded ultimately in my religious views about freedom of choice, accountability, etc. There's also a healthy measure of self-interest there, because Mormons of all people should know how easy it is for the unpopular to be abused, even in a constitutional democracy. So, there's a fair amount of Kant's categorical imperative in my own views, in that I won't threaten someone else's rights, because I treasure my own.

-If the D&C endorses Constitutional law, what happens if the Supreme Court rules against the Church (let's say it grants marriage equality for gays and lesbians)?

It's already happened--see the Supreme Court's decision on issues regarding the practice of plural marriage. Or, legalizing abortion.

Is that a possibility?

Sure, see above. If you care about my more in-depth musings on this subject, you can read my paper on the FAIR site: PDF here.

If the Court did do that, would we have incontrovertible evidence that the Church is false?

Of course not. :P I wouldn't make it that easy for you, would I?

John Taylor spoke to this very issue, actually:

It is said in the Doctrine and Covenants, that he that keepeth the laws of God, hath no need to break the laws of the land [58:21]. It is further explained in section 98, what is meant in relation to this… That is taking this nation as an example, all laws that are proper and correct, and all obligations entered into which are not violative of the constitution should be kept inviolate. But if they are violative of the constitution, then the compact between the rulers and the ruled is broken and the obligation ceases to be binding.

Doctrine and Covenants 98 spells out the specifics in greater detail, as President Taylor indicated:

4 And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them.

The first principle for the Church is to do what God commands them to do—that is the highest moral duty. The state may not demand that citizens place its demands higher than their own conscience.

5 And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.

6 Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land…

Thus, the constitutional law of the United States is endorsed by God, since central to such law is the protection of religious conscience and practice. God grants the sustaining of law; the law does not “grant” the right of obeying God, since this right is inalienable and the common possession of all mankind.

7 And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil…

Law which violates the higher moral duty of obeying God is evil, and not sanctioned by God. This has a deeply theological rationale, as a later section illustrates:

77 According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;

78 That every man may act in doctrine and principle

pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.

The goal of divinely sanctioned civil law is to allow the free exercise of conscience, so that men and women may be judged by their unfettered exercise of their moral agency—and thus the state may not arrogate to itself the place of that moral sense.

So, I suspect the LDS would have no problem beliving that constitutional principles could be abused or misused. Just declaring something 'constitutional' in the legal sense does not mean that the scriptural definition shifts--that definition was always clear: rights and protection, according to "just and holy principles" as taught by LDS scripture (ancient and modern).

Defining a "right" to marriage would hardly fit this definition. People surely have a right to cohabit, or to have adult sexual relationships that do not harm others. But, I'm not sure that translates in compeling the rest of society to legitimate those relationships, or to support them via tax benefits and the like. You don't have a "right" to my money unless I choose to make it so, any more than a polygamous family would have the "right" to welfare checks to each wife.

As long as constitutional rights are respected, and as long as constitutional rights aren't based on things that rights-enjoyers can agree on, they can do whatever.

I agree.

The example of psilocybin as a treatment for cluster headaches is stronger, as would a hypothetical involving an elderly glaucoma patient using medicinal marijuana.

Medicinal uses of forbidden substances is exempted from the Word of Wisdom. You can't mainline morphine; you can get it prescribed from your doctor. (The medical marijuana issue is held up, in Canada, partly because physicians don't want the responsibility of prescribing a poorly standardized, poorly researched drug and accepting the legal responsibility for informed consent. But, I prescribe marijuana derivatives to LDS and non-LDS patients with some frequency.)

They apparently weren't clear enough, or made early enough to convince all the General Authorities:... -Ezra Taft Benson in Mormon Doctrine

I think you'll find that Bruce R. McConkie wrote Mormon Doctrine. :-) Which has been repudiated by Church leaders as not being official, of course.

Besides, where is it written that members of the Church--even leaders--never make mistakes? Or aren't entitled to personal views? There's plenty of examples of that all through Church history. And, people only get the answers to questions they ask.

I'm probably going to get grilled here, but I don't think that questions of constitutionality should necessarily be decided by most people. It's sort of a regrettable truism that not everyone is capable of engaging in political and legal philosophy. There's a reason constitutional issues fall under the purview of the Supreme Court.

I'd agree. I'd no more want Joe Sixpack doing constitutional law than I would heart surgery. Besides, the Mormons saw what happened when the locals took such issue under their own purview in, say, Missouri.

Best,

Greg

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