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Thoughts on Addressing a Struggle with, or Loss of, Faith


smac97

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In response to @Robert F. Smith and @smac97, what you need are religious orders that focus on a specific type of spirituality. The intense scholar who wants to defend the faith can become a Jesuit (the bane of Protestants everywhere, muah!). The person who wants to focus on simplicity and helping the poor can become a Franciscan. The contemplative can sign up with the Benedictines. And on, and on. It's probably just an issue of size that there are not such things yet in the LDS faith, but I think it helps to have areas of religious focus that are institutional, not just personal. Sure, an individual LDS can focus their attention on whatever interests them in their faith, or whatever part they feel most called to, but there is something strong about being a part of a formal organized community with the same interests and goals (and with history and tradition and ritual) within the larger religious community.

This gives a formal, church sanctioned spot for everyone, scholar and hayseed.

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2 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Sure.  But that's not what Spencer is saying.

Perhaps.  In my view, one of the most important things we must learn in this life is how much we don't know in order to prevent ourselves from making judgments we are not ready to make.  In order to get at least an idea of where we stand in our knowledge to what we need to know to reasonably judge, we need to study enough to see our limits imo.  Or as an alternative, develop a spiritual humbleness that keeps us open to the Spirit.  Not sure which is harder.  Probably depends on the person.

Edited by Calm
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2 hours ago, smac97 said:

Never in the history of the world has John Q been so well-situated to give the Church's claims a "fair hearing."  The Church's website is a treasure trove of information.  The Maxwell Institute has huge amounts of content.  The Intepreter Foundation.  FAIR.  FARMS.  Book of Mormon Central.  Pearl of Great Price Central.  Jeff Lindsay.  Daniel Peterson.  John Welch.  Hugh Nibley.  Matthew Roper.  Matthew Brown.  Brant Gardner.  Terryl Givens.  Richard Bushman.  Don Bradley.  John Tvedtnes.  Lou Midgley.  Bill Hamblin.  John Gee.  Kerry Muehlstein.  Armand Mauss.  Royal Skousen.  Richard Turley.  Michael Ash.  Kevin Barney.  Barry Bickmore. S. Kent Brown.  Brian Hales.   Dozens, even hundreds, of books exploring the doctrines and history of the Church.

And yet stuff like Jeremy Runnells' copied-and-pasted Gish Gallop (the CES Letter) is somehow more informed and substantive?  I really don't think so....

Your fixation on Jeremy Runnells and Jeff Lindsay's theory about "big lists" is really missing the mark here. As a chess analogy, I'm not a very good chess player. At all. But if you put me in the middle of a game with a strong enough position, I could beat any Grand Master or chess supercomputer. The Grand Masters could write hundreds of books about chess, but that wouldn't change the fact that if the pieces are arranged in such a way that even a dimwit like me can see the endgame, I will win.

As an example of what I mean, our own consiglieri is an extremely well-read ex-apologist now critic. He has a very articulate and accessible podcast called "Radio Free Mormon". A recent episode is called "The Amazingly Subversive Terryl Givens," which goes through Givens's latest book and shows how it is subversive in the sense that it contains dozens of concessions of anti-Mormon claims that you'd find on a "big list." Givens thinks the end result is beautiful and expresses it all from a perspective of admiration in erudite language, but if you have the patience and intellect to read what he is actually saying and compare it to what the church teaches in manuals and in conference, then one inescapably comes to the conclusion that Givens is admitting it isn't true--it is a fraud. A beautiful inspiring fraud for Givens, but a fraud nonetheless. Listen to the podcast. 

Of course the opinion of some of these other scholars you cite completely contradict the points that Givens make (or more often, completely ignores them). But the point is that regardless of how intelligent and sophisticated these scholars are, the fundamental problems of the religion's basic truth claims are still there.

For an analysis of why this is the case, consider the article Why Smart People Aren't Better at Transcending their Biased Views by Tauriq Moosa.

Edited by Analytics
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I wonder if part of the issue, too, is that LDS church meetings present themselves as primarily instruction, so maybe church members feel that they are receiving the instruction they need on Sundays and thus are not as likely to seek it out on their own? I've been to LDS church a handful of times and my experience was 2 50 minute classes and 1 meeting with 30-45 minutes of preaching. That's a lot of instruction!

At Mass, we have 3 scripture readings (just the readings, no commentary) and then a sermon/homily, which lasts about 15 minutes. The rest is ceremony. Now, the ceremony is definitely doctrinal instruction, it just is non-verbal and symbolic.

People don't think of Mass as the place to go to learn about Catholic history and doctrines, because it isn't. It is the place to go to take part in Catholic ritual: to receive the Eucharist.

But, in my VERY limited experience in attending LDS services, it definitely had the feel of the place to go to learn history and doctrines because out of the 3 hours, probably 2 hours 15 minutes was devoted to instruction on history and doctrine.

Could there be anything to my observation?

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2 hours ago, smac97 said:

I'm not so sure.  Much of the "burden" is well within our capacity to bear. 

Most of us have plenty of free time, at least some of which can and should be utilized in studying the Restoration. 

Most of us have access to the Internet, and hence have access to huge amounts of freely available scholarship and commentary about the Church.

In an ideal world, sure.  But what happens when "ordinary members" encounter a "Big List" compilation that is designed to instill doubt, fear, mistrust, anger, etc.?

I have acquaintances who have left the Church, and who have left it because they were not equipped or prepared to respond to challenges to their beliefs.  To be sure, this is often a key feature of exit narratives ("Why didn't I know this?  Why didn't the Church teach me this", etc.).

Broadly speaking, I think the answer is "yes."  We need to prepare ourselves.  We need to have a strong and grounded perspective on the Restored Gospel.  We need to educate ourselves.

Jack Welch addressed this topic quite well here: Toward Becoming a Gospel Scholar.  Some excerpts:

He goes on at some length, and does a good job of suggesting some starting points (though since he wrote this in 1998, parts of it need to be updated).

Thanks,

-Smac

There are many lists that point many to scrutinize the church. Why couldn't your acquaintances just be right, what if they are right and you're wrong? A lot of what ifs...but all you and others have is that you have faith that it's true, right? Atleast that's what I've been told.

Also, maybe the Lord/God wants members to not just believe, but come to a knowledge. Or what if God/Jesus wanted progress to go far enough that it enables people to find descrepancies in history so as to get to the truth or facts. How do members that believe, know that it is the spirit, and not just amazing feelings, that when a lot of them were young they were told their warm feelings, meant the spirit?

Same with Christians everywhere. What if a lot of the Bible isn't true? Should we just believe to believe? 

These are questions coming from someone, me, that still doesn't know what to believe, is the church true, is the LDS God I've come to know real? I guess it's everyone's journey out there. I know that the church produces exceptionally good people. But other faiths and even Atheists are also exceptionally good.

The accessibility of the internet is changing the world, and affecting people's beliefs now. I don't know what is going to happen. I see it all around me. My sons, I have three, say their LDS friends are hiding their disbelief. I worry like has been mentioned in a quoted quote by one of the leaders. That non-belief in the church will cause non-belief in God, because the way it's structed in the church, and how the church is the only way, so if it's false nothing is true? 

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1 hour ago, Analytics said:

As an example of what I mean, our own consiglieri is an extremely well-read ex-apologist now critic. He has a very articulate and accessible podcast called "Radio Free Mormon". A recent episode is called "The Amazingly Subversive Terryl Givens," which goes through Givens's latest book and shows how it is subversive in the sense that it contains dozens of concessions of anti-Mormon claims that you'd find on a "big list."

Funny. I’m in the middle of Teryl Givens’ book on the P of GP, and I find it very inspiring. It has strengthened my faith and understanding of the Restoration.

After I was halfway through the book I heard about the RFM podcast and downloaded it. I got through most of it before turning it off. I found it very boring … and consiglieri's conclusions specious. Bro. Givens’ speaks in the language of a scholar because he is a scholar. It is the same with Richard Bushman. I suppose if Bro. Givens were teaching a Gospel Doctrine class he would modify his language accordingly, but it would boil down to the same thing: the Restoration is real, it happened, and Joseph Smith was the prophet the Lord used to bring it about.

“We see things not as they are, but as we are,” the cliche says.

The RFM podcast tells me a lot about consiglieri, but nothing about Bro. Given's book or his actual views on Joseph Smith and the Restoration.

Edited by bdouglas
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1 hour ago, Analytics said:

Your fixation on Jeremy Runnells and Jeff Lindsay's theory about "big lists" is really missing the mark here. ....................................

As an example of what I mean, our own consiglieri is an extremely well-read ex-apologist now critic. He has a very articulate and accessible podcast called "Radio Free Mormon". A recent episode is called "The Amazingly Subversive Terryl Givens," which goes through Givens's latest book and shows how it is subversive in the sense that it contains dozens of concessions of anti-Mormon claims that you'd find on a "big list." Givens thinks the end result is beautiful and expresses it all from a perspective of admiration in erudite language, but if you have the patience and intellect to read what he is actually saying and compare it to what the church teaches in manuals and in conference, then one inescapably comes to the conclusion that Givens is admitting it isn't true--it is a fraud. A beautiful inspiring fraud for Givens, but a fraud nonetheless. Listen to the podcast. 

I always liked our old consiglieri and wish him well.  However, the problem for the consiglieri is that, if Givens is correct in any substantial respect, that leads to the undoing of the beliefs about Mormonism which consiglieri has always adhered to.  And he is not alone.  Mark Bukowski and I frequently discover on this board false notions about Mormonism masquerading as the real thing -- only because it is claimed that the Church as an institution has been teaching those normative concepts.  Naturally, Jeremy Runnells and the consiglieri find it very discomfiting to have those false beliefs challenged -- challenges are something smart people need to have every day.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

Of course the opinion of some of these other scholars you cite completely contradict the points that Givens make (or more often, completely ignores them). But the point is that regardless of how intelligent and sophisticated these scholars are, the fundamental problems of the religion's basic truth claims are still there.

I have heard some LDS intellectuals grouse about this or that view of Terryl or Fiona Givens, but your own self-assurance that "the fundamental problems of the religion's basic truth claims are still there" may be subject to substantive review.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

For an analysis of why this is the case, consider the article Why Smart People Aren't Better at Transcending their Biased Views by Tauriq Moosa.

Aside from being solipsistic, Moosa does make a valid point about the importance of having a conversation and being open to challenges.  Smart people are actually the ones who most likely understand the nature of truth as a project-in-common.  We cannot find truth on our own.  Scholarship is always a group effort, and it must involve those both in and out of our small circle of aficionados.

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16 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

I always liked our old consiglieri and wish him well.  However, the problem for the consiglieri is that, if Givens is correct in any substantial respect, that leads to the undoing of the beliefs about Mormonism which consiglieri has always adhered to.  And he is not alone.  Mark Bukowski and I frequently discover on this board false notions about Mormonism masquerading as the real thing -- only because it is claimed that the Church as an institution has been teaching those normative concepts.  Naturally, Jeremy Runnells and the consiglieri find it very discomfiting to have those false beliefs challenged -- challenges are something smart people need to have every day.

I have heard some LDS intellectuals grouse about this or that view of Terryl or Fiona Givens, but your own self-assurance that "the fundamental problems of the religion's basic truth claims are still there" may be subject to substantive review.

Perhaps. With this sophisticated audience, I'm not going to pretend to know what the actual truth claims are, much less make a statement about whether they are "true."

16 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Aside from being solipsistic, Moosa does make a valid point about the importance of having a conversation and being open to challenges.  Smart people are actually the ones who most likely understand the nature of truth as a project-in-common.  We cannot find truth on our own.  Scholarship is always a group effort, and it must involve those both in and out of our small circle of aficionados.

I think you are missing the point here. Over the last few decades cognitive psychology has done a great job of figuring out how people go about making decisions in ways that are both irrational and predictable, i.e. we have cognitive biases. If we want to get at the truth, we need to figure out how to get past our own cognitive biases and evaluate things in a way that is truly based on reason. Moosa's point is that people who are highly intelligent very frequently use their intellect not to see past their cognitive biases, but rather to rationalize them.

Applying this to Mormonism, the question is how do cognitive biases relate to deciding whether or not to believe? Does reading the Book of Mormon, praying about it with a sincere heart with faith that if you are truly sincere God will tell you it is true, regularly attending testimony meetings so that you can feel the spirit as your friends and loved ones share their testimonies, etc. a set of methods to cut through cognitive biases and make a rational evaluation of the truth, or is it a way to exploit cognitive biases in order to foster belief? When intellects say the whole test was set up so that we have to make our decision about whether nor not to believe based upon faith, is that a rational evaluation of what is going on, or an example of intellects rationalizing their dependency on cognitive biases by claiming that's how God wants us to make decisions in this case? When apologists say anything else, are they rationalizing decisions made via cognitive biases, or are they helping us cut through them and evaluate things based in a truly rational way?

I would suggest that when people come to the conclusion that revelation isn't a trustworthy way of figuring out the real truth of things, they will tend to agree very quickly that Mormonism makes the most sense when seen as yet another false religion, not that much different than all the rest.

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1 hour ago, Analytics said:

........................

I think you are missing the point here. Over the last few decades cognitive psychology has done a great job of figuring out how people go about making decisions in ways that are both irrational and predictable, i.e. we have cognitive biases. If we want to get at the truth, we need to figure out how to get past our own cognitive biases and evaluate things in a way that is truly based on reason. Moosa's point is that people who are highly intelligent very frequently use their intellect not to see past their cognitive biases, but rather to rationalize them.

Moosa doesn't even realize that he is preaching to the choir, and misses the point entirely that all scholarship is a group effort -- something you missed when I first mentioned it to you in this thread.  Moosa needs rather to turn the searchlight inward (as Bapuji advised us all to do) and ask hard questions about his own cognitive dissonance.  Weaponizing cognitive psychology for polemic purposes might not be the best application of it.  We need first to understand the issues the way they are understood in the broader secular intellectual community.  What issues?  History, archeology, theology, philosophy, fallacy, and the like.  Smart people describe rather than prescribe.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

Applying this to Mormonism, the question is how do cognitive biases relate to deciding whether or not to believe? Does reading the Book of Mormon, praying about it with a sincere heart with faith that if you are truly sincere God will tell you it is true, regularly attending testimony meetings so that you can feel the spirit as your friends and loved ones share their testimonies, etc. a set of methods to cut through cognitive biases and make a rational evaluation of the truth, or is it a way to exploit cognitive biases in order to foster belief? When intellects say the whole test was set up so that we have to make our decision about whether nor not to believe based upon faith, is that a rational evaluation of what is going on, or an example of intellects rationalizing their dependency on cognitive biases by claiming that's how God wants us to make decisions in this case? When apologists say anything else, are they rationalizing decisions made via cognitive biases, or are they helping us cut through them and evaluate things based in a truly rational way?

Your mistaken focus here on those horrid "apologists" is your Achilles heel.  We should have no problem whatsoever with scholarly, rational evaluation, while at the same time being respectful of those who seek truth via spiritual means.  In any case, it should be beneath you to attack the defenseless, non-intellectual Mormon, who is unaware of your attack in any case.  No self-respecting intellectual should be fearful of engaging in strict scholarly, rational evaluation of any aspect of Mormonism.

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I would suggest that when people come to the conclusion that revelation isn't a trustworthy way of figuring out the real truth of things, they will tend to agree very quickly that Mormonism makes the most sense when seen as yet another false religion, not that much different than all the rest.

Rather than looking down our collective noses at Mormons who depend on revelation and the Holy Spirit as a test of truth, we might want to take a social anthropological view of the broader Mormon culture -- the way Thomas F. O'Dea did over 60 years ago in his The Mormons (Univ of Chicago, 1957).  It is astonishing how little has actually changed in Mormon culture in the interim.  His even-handed appraisal never once included the phrase "false religion."  Truly smart people seldom engage in that sort of judgmental self-indulgence.

 

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18 hours ago, Tacenda said:

My ah-ha moment was when I learned Joseph had many wives. If it had stopped at that, I would probably have gotten over it. But when going on Fair and other sites, I found so many things I hadn't known beforehand. Like the masonry similarities in the temple, or the mountain meadows massacre or..too many to list. I guess it is the rabbit hole everyone speaks of, that is so difficult. Surely, the pistol wasn't the only reason your previous neighbor left the church.

In the situation with my neighbor, it had to be something other than just the pistol of course.  She had found a prominent anti-Mormon support group in our area and had joined up with them, and that's where I started losing sympathy for her situation (I'm working on trying to improve my attitude).  She brought anti-Mormon literature to my house and left it with my children at the front door, and it wasn't until I talked with her later that she brought up her experience with finding out about Joseph Smith using the pistol.  But she also repeated a lot of what I would call really lame anti-Mormon arguments to me.  She even used the Book of Mormon "adieu" argument on me (yeah, it was that bad).  It was obviously stuff she picked up from the anti-Mormon group, and some of it was downright deceitful about the church.   I'm pretty sure this was all just her way of dealing with some other real reason(s) for leaving.  But that's why I always wonder about the real reasons people leave.

Knowing some of the things I have learned through the years, I am even reluctant to characterize some of the anti-Mormon arguments I hear as "lame" like I did above (but I won't back down on "adieu", sorry! :)), because I know that people process and understand things differently, and I don't want to minimize the feelings or experiences that other people have had with their faith, and I want to try to be loving and respectful.  

I don't remember ever having any doubts about the church myself.  I had questions, lots of questions, and I certainly had questions about some things I encountered in old sermons like in the Journal of Discourses.  But I don't remember it ever making my faith waiver: I just had to figure out how what I found fit in with things I already knew, and I restructured my understanding.  But that's just the way I think, that's the way I process things, and I have to keep reminding myself that not everyone is like me (my wife reminds me of that all the time).  But I'm trying to learn, so I really appreciate your help on this too.  I am trying to understand. 

I really liked some of the things said by Geret Giles and Steve Densley, Jr. in their 2018 FairMormon presentation:  Barriers to Belief: Mental Distress and Disaffection from the Church, about how those in the church sometimes view those who leave, and how those who leave sometimes view those who stay, and how we need to get over that and start trying to be more loving and helpful (video here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3irFCZPfCnc  transcript here:  https://www.fairmormon.org/conference/august-2018/barriers-to-belief😞

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Unfortunately, believers can sometimes be dismissive of the doubter’s pain. For every person who identifies one particular issue that led to their exit, there are many others who have encountered the same issue and have decided to stay. Church apologists who are familiar with the arguments against the Church and the responses to those arguments are sometimes guilty of exclaiming “They left because of that! That’s just silly!” Every member of the Church has encountered difficult doctrinal or historical issues. Every member has been offended or felt like they did not fit in. And every member has sinned. (Rom. 3:23) So when those of us who stay hear that someone left because of one particular issue, we may find it hard to understand unless it is an issue with which we have personally struggled. And even then, we may conclude that we stayed, so they should too.

Of course, some who have left the Church find it difficult to understand how we can stay. They often assume that if we just knew what they knew, if we just watched this movie, or read that letter, we wouldn’t stay either. They are surprised to learn that many of us know everything that they know, but choose to stay anyway. And just as there are a variety of reasons people leave, there are a variety of reasons that we stay. We hope that the reasons we stay may help others to see how they too can stay. However, as we are always ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us, we should do so with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15). We should not trivialize, demonize, or dismiss those who leave. We don’t embrace the apostasy, of course, but we should seek to understand and love the lost sheep, and where we can, offer comfort, care and compassion.

 

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8 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Moosa doesn't even realize that he is preaching to the choir, and misses the point entirely that all scholarship is a group effort -- something you missed when I first mentioned it to you in this thread.  Moosa needs rather to turn the searchlight inward...

I think you are misunderstanding my point and reading too much into what I said. The scientific method works because it helps scientists  cut through their own cognitive biases. Moosa understands this.

My point here, though, is a lot narrower. For the record, if Mormonism (or any other religion or non religion) works for somebody spiritually, emotionally, and/or socially, then more power to him. I don't think the end-all-be-all of life is overcoming all cognitive bias. 

I'm responding to Smac97's misguided view that apologists have the intellectual high ground and that if somebody's spiritual journey happens to lead away from the church, it is probably because they weren't intelectual enough and didn't give the religion they had lived for their entire lives a "fair hearing" by reading enough Jeff Lindsay et.al.

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It also turns out that the Biblical recommendations for seeing truth helps those who follow them helps people cut through their cognitive bias.

https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Biblical_Keys_for_Discerning_True_and_False_Prophets/Seeing_the_truth

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Carl Sagan wrote a book called The Demon Haunted World, in which he offered the "teddy bear theory" of religion, that is, believers invent a teddy bear to hold at night because we are afraid of the dark.  He did not bother to examine why believers actually believe, but rather, uses his theory to justify ignoring the experiences and evidences that believers live by.  Ian Barbour point to a range of information and experience.

https://www.religion-online.org/book/myths-models-and-paradigms-a-comparative-study-in-science-and-religion/

And Alma 32 turns out to have anticipated the epistemology described in Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1253&context=msr

If it turns out that a person dismisses Jeff Lindsay's case on ideological grounds (such as, "apologist and therefore a victim of cognitive bias"), rather than addressing whether Lindsay (a working scientist) offers a better argument, where the designation of "better" relies on criteria that are not ideologically dependent, then it turns out we can assess which argument is better.

FWIW

Kevin Christensen

Canonsburg, PA

Edited by Kevin Christensen
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15 hours ago, Tacenda said:
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I have acquaintances who have left the Church, and who have left it because they were not equipped or prepared to respond to challenges to their beliefs.  To be sure, this is often a key feature of exit narratives ("Why didn't I know this?  Why didn't the Church teach me this", etc.).

There are many lists that point many to scrutinize the church. Why couldn't your acquaintances just be right, what if they are right and you're wrong?

Well, I am certainly open to that possibility.  This board has been helpful in providing an impetus for me to re-examine, on a regular basis, what I believe and why.

That said, for me, almost all of the grounds stated in Why-I-Left narratives do not resonate with me.  These do not retroactively affect the reality of the First Vision and other theophanies of Joseph Smith, the translation of the Gold Plates, the restoration of the priesthood, and so on.  Either these things happened, or they did not.  Either the Plates existed, or they did not.  Either the Plates were authentically ancient, or they were not.  Either the Witnesses were telling the truth, or they were not. 

For me, after-the-fact problems, mistakes, controversies, etc. are not determinative in ansering these questions.

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A lot of what ifs...but all you and others have is that you have faith that it's true, right? At least that's what I've been told.

I have faith because I have examined the evidence and received spiritual promptings confirming the divinity of the Restoration.  For me, the ultimate source of knowledge is the Spirit, but the catalyst through which that source is made manifest is the Book of Mormon.  It has to be accounted for.  The statements of the witnesses have to be accounted for.  

The text of The Book of Mormon exists.  The LDS Church has presented an explanation as to how that text came to exist.  Just ask any missionary. 

In contrast, critics and dissidents have presented alternative explanations as to the origins of the text.  That is certainly their prerogative.  But at that point they are the ones making a claim.  They are the ones asserting that the Church's teachings about the origins of the book are factually false.  They are the ones making assertions about naturalistic or quasi-religious-but-still-rejecting-the-Church's-position explanations for The Book of Mormon.  The "Inspired Fiction" theory is an example of such countervailing explanations for the existence and content of the text, as is the Spaulding-Rigdon Theory (and other "multiple author" theories), the "Joseph Smith as the sole author" theory, the "View of the Hebrews" theory, Grant Palmer's "The Golden Pot" theory,  "The Late War" theory, and so on.

So the problem arises when critics and dissidents A) reject the LDS Church's explanation for the Book of Mormon (their prerogative, but bear with me...), B) present an alternative naturalistic (or the oh-so-weird hybrid of fraudulent and inspired) explanation, C) fail to substantiate or provide evidence for such alternative explanations, and D) complain about being mistreated when they are called on their poor reasoning, lack of evidence, etc.

I have found these countervailing theories to be very flawed in, to the extent such things exist, their reasoning, their assessment of relevant evidence, and so on.  Conjecture and evidence-free speculation predominate.  For example, some of the "Inspired Fiction" folks positively twist themselves up in knots trying to explain how Joseph Smith was a "pious fraud" who was inspired by God to write the plates, but who also fabricated a fake set of plates, who lied to or colluded with the Witnesses about presenting false testimonies about these plates, who spent the rest of his life lying about the plates and the origins of The Book of Mormon, and also about how Joseph Smith was alternatively insane or profoundly mentally ill when he did all of these things (hence the "pious fraud" moniker), and also about how all the prophets and apostles from Joseph Smith to now have either been complicit in perpetuating this massive fraud or else have been collectively and uniformly duped and deceived by it, and that God is somehow the author and instigator of this massive web of lies and deceit.

So yes, when the Church presents claims about The Book of Mormon, then the Church has duty to substantiate its position on that issue.  In this I think the Church and its members have done a rather good job of A) focusing on having "the Spirit" be the primary means of conversion, while also B) marshaling some quantum of secondary, non-dispositive "evidence" (the Witness statements about the Plates, textual evidences, Skousen's work, etc.).

Likewise, when critics and dissidents present alternative claims about The Book of Mormon, then it is their duty to substantiate their positions on that issue.  In this I think they have . . . not done very well at all.

Again, the text of The Book of Mormon exists.  It should be accounted for.  In 2004 Daniel Peterson wrote an excellent article on this issue: "'In the Hope that Something Will Stick': Changing Explanations for The Book of Mormon".  It's worth a read.  Essentially, he posits that the Church's position is that The Book of Mormon is a translation, through divine means, of an ancient historical text.  He further posits that the critics' position is that The Book of Mormon is a fraud, that it is not a translation of an ancient historical text.  

Well, if that's their position, then I think they need to defend it.  I think they have done a poor job of this so far.

Of course, the critics/opponents of the Church are not obligated to provide a coherent counter-explanation for The Book of Mormon.  But the point is, they have not been able to.  We're coming up on nearly 200 years since the original publication of the text, and yet when the chips are down, and when a well-informed person like Daniel Peterson (or Ryan Dahle) argues for the plausibility of the LDS position, we don't get reasoned responses and rebuttals.  We get glib sarcasm.  We get curt dismissals.  We get anything but an engagement of the evidence.

This is part of why Daniel Peterson "can't manage to disbelieve," and why he suggests to critics (correctly, in my view) that "it’s intellectually incumbent upon people like that to, come on, give us an answer to this. Otherwise it’s like guerrilla warfare. You attack and attack and attack, you always withdraw, you never defend territory. You never have to stake out your own explanation, which then will be subject to criticism and attack."

This is likely why Ryan Dahle seems to be suggesting, in the absence of a coherent counter-explanation re: historicity, "the evidences in favor of faith are collectively better than the current competing arguments."

This is likely why Daniel Peterson's trenchant assessment of the various competing (and contradictory) naturalistic explanations for The Book of Mormon merits some real consideration:

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The recent American Apocrypha further illustrates the apparent inability of Book of Mormon critics to agree on much of anything except that the Book of Mormon is false. Only a few months ago, in fact, one of the editors of American Apocrypha explicitly, huffily, and repeatedly refused to answer a simple question as to whether Joseph Smith believed that he possessed metal plates or knew that he did not-which seems the kind of question that any skeptic’s fundamental theory of Book of Mormon origins must answer very early on. He would not, he said, lower himself to thinking in such simple-minded categories.
...
But then we read Scott Dunn’s essay, according to which Joseph Smith created the Book of Mormon by a process of automatic writing. It just flowed out of him. Joseph was dissociative but sincere, and Dunn vigorously denies that “conscious fraud” was involved. In fact, the dictation process was probably scarcely “conscious” at all, in any normal sense of the word.

If Dunn is right, Firmage and Vogel are wrong. Mutually contradictory accounts are not mutually reinforcing. Quite the contrary. They weaken each other.

Imagine a murder case in which one witness for the prosecution definitively states that he clearly saw the defendant, Mr. John Jones, who was wearing his characteristic Stetson cowboy hat, empty a six-shooter into the head of the victim, Miss Roberta Smith, at point-blank range, as she stood by the hot dog stand on the beach. A second prosecution witness declares that he saw the defendant, Mrs. Joanna Jones, striding briskly out of the twenty-seventh floor restaurant where the murder took place, with a fashionable black beret on her head. The prosecution’s forensic pathologist, meanwhile, announces his expert verdict that, from the marks on Mr. Robert Smith’s throat, the victim died of strangulation.

With evidence of that character, the prosecution wouldn’t even bother to seek an indictment, and could never even in its remotest fantasies dream of conviction.

See also here (also by Dr. Peterson).  See also this link for some additional thoughts I have posted previously.

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Also, maybe the Lord/God wants members to not just believe, but come to a knowledge.

The former being the pathway to the latter,  yes.

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Or what if God/Jesus wanted progress to go far enough that it enables people to find descrepancies in history so as to get to the truth or facts.

I'm not sure what you mean here.  What "discrepancies in history?"

I am persuaded that God works through flawed servant, and nevertheless expects - requires, even - us to listen to them and generally follow their counsel.  That God allows us to know of the flaws of His servants is, I think, a mercy.  For example, we have Mormon 9:31: "Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been."

He makes such things known to us not so that we rise up and condemn these servants, and not so that we reject the entirety of their message, but so that we can learn and grow.  So that we can understand that if God can do a great work through flawed persons like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, He can likewise work with and through each of us.

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How do members that believe, know that it is the spirit, and not just amazing feelings, that when a lot of them were young they were told their warm feelings, meant the spirit?

Ah, that's a good question.  I have some thoughts on that, perhaps too much to share here.  Happy to do so via PM.

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Same with Christians everywhere. What if a lot of the Bible isn't true? Should we just believe to believe? 

Pascal's Wager, you mean?  

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These are questions coming from someone, me, that still doesn't know what to believe, is the church true, is the LDS God I've come to know real? 

I believe it is.  You'll have to make that decision for yourself.

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I guess it's everyone's journey out there. I know that the church produces exceptionally good people. But other faiths and even Atheists are also exceptionally good.

Yes.

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The accessibility of the internet is changing the world, and affecting people's beliefs now. I don't know what is going to happen. I see it all around me. My sons, I have three, say their LDS friends are hiding their disbelief.

Yes, this sort of secrecy is troubling.  I addressed it to some extent in the OP.

It is not necessary.  I would even go so far as to say it is often an impediment to seeking and discerning truth.

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I worry like has been mentioned in a quoted quote by one of the leaders. That non-belief in the church will cause non-belief in God, because the way it's structed in the church, and how the church is the only way, so if it's false nothing is true? 

I assume you are referencing this statement from Elder Callister:

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In truth, this Church ruins its members for any other church, because, like this missionary, they know too much. If people leave this Church, they will usually end up traveling down one of two paths — either they will become a church unto themselves (because they will never find another church that has more truth than they already have) or they will head down the road of agnosticism.

It's an interesting observation, and generally jibes with my anecdotal observations (those that leave the Church mostly end up agnostic/atheistic, or else create their own bespoke set of beliefs based on their personal preferences ("become a church unto themselves").

The Church does not have a monopoly on truth or goodness (though it does have a monopoly on some vital things).  I think everyone would be far, far better off in staying in the Church as opposed to leaving it.  But if they leave, they take a lot of the goodness of it - and themselves - with them.

As for the "if it's false nothing is true" question, I don't know quite how to answer that.  If God does not exist, then this is all for naught.  The attendant nihilism/utilitarianism that afflicts this worldview is pretty bleak, so adherents to it end up - ironically - crafting rules for themselves and others that almost always end up looking like pale copies of what we already have in the Gospel.

If, on the other hand, God does exist, then we ought to find ways to discern that.  There are a lot of competing ideas out there about the nature and character of God, our relationship with Him, our purpose in this life, etc.  These competing ideas have varying degrees of, and proximity to, truth.  I believe the Church has exclusivistic claims, mostly pertaining to authority, and that these claims are vital.  That said, I do not believe the Church is the sole receptacle of light and knowledge from God.  I recognize there is much truth and goodness outside of the Church.

Thanks,

-Smac

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2 hours ago, Analytics said:

I think you are misunderstanding my point and reading too much into what I said. The scientific method works because it helps scientists  cut through their own cognitive biases. Moosa understands this.

My point here, though, is a lot narrower. For the record, if Mormonism (or any other religion or non religion) works for somebody spiritually, emotionally, and/or socially, then more power to him. I don't think the end-all-be-all of life is overcoming all cognitive bias.

Correct on both counts, good buddy.  Unfortunately Moosa doesn't really say that, and he doesn't distinguish between the two completely different modes of thought characterizing science and religion.  I think that we are in full agreement that, if religious experience works for you, fine -- in line with William James on such experience -- which has nothing to do with the points I have been making.

2 hours ago, Analytics said:

I'm responding to Smac97's misguided view that apologists have the intellectual high ground and that if somebody's spiritual journey happens to lead away from the church, it is probably because they weren't intelectual enough and didn't give the religion they had lived for their entire lives a "fair hearing" by reading enough Jeff Lindsay et.al.

If Spencer feels that those hated "apologists" have the intellectual high ground, the only real reply is an intellectual one, using the full panoply of science and logic to test it.  One is not free to engage in an obvious non sequitur.  My main objection to Spencer's call to master all that is that it requires an almost monastic commitment to learning which is not practical for everyone.  Most people simply don't have the time or inclination to become experts in linguistics, history, and archeology.

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As you all know I am a non-member who attends a ward. Ever since I first attended I have been surprised by the lack of the teaching of hermeneutics to the LDS layperson in the pew. Now that we are finishing up the teaching of the Bible I am more concerned about this than ever. Hermeneutics is the study of how to "rightly divide the word of truth." II Timothy 2:15. It teaches us guidelines for interpreting different scriptures and helps us to realize that folks interpret the same scriptures in different ways. The idea of hermeneutics is that scriptural context is important, style of writing (allegorical, poetry, etc) is important, literal interpretation where possible is important, local context for the folks receiving the original words is important, etc etc. Someone in Sunday School this week asked the teacher about the white stone prophecy in Rev 2 to the church at Pergamum. We really don't know to what it refers, but it is important to consider what it would have meant to the folks at Pergamum. That would be the likely plain meaning to them and the correct interpretation. The teacher shook his head, said he didn't know and we moved on.  

I am looking forward to the study of the Book of Mormon that begins in a few weeks. Are there hermeneutical principles for the interpretation of the Book of Mormon that we will be taught? Are there some aspects of the historicity of the Book of Mormon that were intended to be allegorical? Coming from outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and acknowledging that I majored in in Bible and history in college and studied five more years of the same in graduate school, I regret not seeing more teaching in the ward. The conference talks reveal simple truths. Nothing wrong with that, but I miss the meat of expository teaching. Will the study of the Book of Mormon be four verses in a book and done, like it has been in the Bible? Is there a reason why there seems like such a lack of teaching of scripture? Does that have anything to do with folks falling away when they find things out? It is a common testimony for someone to testify that they believe the Book of Mormon is true. Can't the right interpretation of the passages contained therein reinforce that truth, even without every verse having to be taken literally? Something being allegorical or a parable or even a myth doesn't make it not true in its spiritual significance or truth, does it?  Certainly I think I see poetry in the Book of Mormon. That doesn't have to be interpreted literally does it? Kind of like the trees clapping their hands in Isaiah 55? Just my opinion, but I think the Saints in the pew could benefit from some deeper teaching about scriptural interpretation. Maybe that would help.  

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10 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

If Spencer feels that those hated "apologists" have the intellectual high ground, the only real reply is an intellectual one, using the full panoply of science and logic to test it.  One is not free to engage in an obvious non sequitur.  My main objection to Spencer's call to master all that is that it requires an almost monastic commitment to learning which is not practical for everyone.  Most people simply don't have the time or inclination to become experts in linguistics, history, and archeology.

I am not an expert in any of those fields.  Nor am I expecting the general membership of the Church to become so.

I am advocating for a "fair hearing" (which, I submit, is not happening in many instances).  I am suggesting that more study of the Restoration would be very helpful in that.

I am surprised these are controversial ideas.

Thanks,

-Smac

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2 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I am not an expert in any of those fields.  Nor am I expecting the general membership of the Church to become so.

I am advocating for a "fair hearing" (which, I submit, is not happening in many instances).  I am suggesting that more study of the Restoration would be very helpful in that.

I am surprised these are controversial ideas.................

I simply believe (and perhaps I am simple-minded to think so) that most members will remain uninformed at even a basic level for most of their lives, and that reading a book or two, attending seminary as a kid, faithfully attending Sunday School, and hearing Sacrament mtg talks just won't give them enough information or skill to cut through the nonsense that anti-Mormons purvey.  They will continue to believe a swath of traditional ideas which are not central to the Gospel, and can easily be shocked by information which they will later claim the Church did not tell them or hid from them.  They are babes in the woods.

Mormon culture is a way of life, not a theological system.  Real commitments are based on religious experience, not on intellectual attainments.  Indeed, those who merely toy with learning often learn just enough to be dangerous -- to themselves and to others.  They are well-intentioned but misguided.

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40 minutes ago, Navidad said:

As you all know I am a non-member who attends a ward. Ever since I first attended I have been surprised by the lack of the teaching of hermeneutics to the LDS layperson in the pew. Now that we are finishing up the teaching of the Bible I am more concerned about this than ever. Hermeneutics is the study of how to "rightly divide the word of truth." II Timothy 2:15. It teaches us guidelines for interpreting different scriptures and helps us to realize that folks interpret the same scriptures in different ways. The idea of hermeneutics is that scriptural context is important, style of writing (allegorical, poetry, etc) is important, literal interpretation where possible is important, local context for the folks receiving the original words is important, etc etc. Someone in Sunday School this week asked the teacher about the white stone prophecy in Rev 2 to the church at Pergamum. We really don't know to what it refers, but it is important to consider what it would have meant to the folks at Pergamum. That would be the likely plain meaning to them and the correct interpretation. The teacher shook his head, said he didn't know and we moved on.  ...................................

Note D&C 130:6-11, wherein not only does a white pebble or "stone" (cf. Rev 2:17, psephon leuken) become an "Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one," but God and his angels reside on a "great Urim and Thummim" -- "a globe like a sea of glass and fire" -- and that this earth will become a "crystal . . . Urim and Thummim" (in fact, tremendous mass and gravitation make stars crystalline).  Such imagery is familiar from biblical descriptions of the throne of God and the New Jerusalem (Ezk 1 & 10, Dan 7, Rev 4 - 5, 11, 15:2, 20:11, 21 - 22). 

Compare Joseph Smith's Inspired Revision of the Bible at John 1:42, "Cephas, which is, by interpretation, a seer, or a stone" (cf. Gen 49:24), with the early Coptic Gnostic Gospel According to Thomas, Logion 19, "If you become disciples to me and hear my words, these stones will minister to you" (Nag Hammadi Codex II Labib, 84:19-21 = II,2, 36:19-21), cognate with Aramaic kefa = NT Greek Cephas, "Stone," which of course is the name given by Jesus to Simon-Peter.

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2 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

I simply believe (and perhaps I am simple-minded to think so) that most members will remain uninformed at even a basic level for most of their lives, and that reading a book or two, attending seminary as a kid, faithfully attending Sunday School, and hearing Sacrament mtg talks just won't give them enough information or skill to cut through the nonsense that anti-Mormons purvey. 

My wife has previously been generally "uninformed" as to controversies pertaining to the doctrines and history of the Church.  She has known about many issues in broad parameters (the priesthood ban, polygamy, Joseph's polygamy, the translation of the Book of Abraham, etc.), but has not spent time sorting out the particulars and complexities.  She is quite well-versed in the scriptures, and she is really good at incorporating scriptural precepts into her behavior and worldview.  She is an eminently kind and gentle soul.  She loves everyone around her, and is loved in return.

Then we had some dear friends leave the Church.  This was disconcerting to her.  These friends shared some of the reasoning they used in their decision-making process.  This was disconcerting, too.  So she and I have started to talk about some of the issues raised by these friends.  I bought her a copy of the Hafens' book ("Faith is Not Blind").  I have read her parts of John Gee's An Introduction to the Book of Abraham.  I have pointed her to some articles at FAIR, some stuff written by Daniel Peterson, some by Jeff Lindsay, and a few others.

My wife is not now an "expert" in "linguistics, history, and archeology" in any meaningful sense of the word.  But she is more at more at ease now than she was a few months ago.  She feels more informed and educated about the issues raised by our friends.  She has found ways to account for and address those controversies.  She understands more how these things were "dealbreakers" for our friends, but she does not see them that way.  A big part of her formulating these thoughts was her taking time to learn more about these things.  Not to become an "expert," but to become more informed and better equipped.

I am also not an "expert" in "linguistics, history, and archeology."  At all.  I am simply a consumer of apologetic materials.  I have never written a book or article, nor have I given any presentation at FAIR or any other comparable gathering.  But I am familiar with quite a bit of the scholarly/apologetic material pertaining to the Church's history and doctrines.  I have studied them in detail.  I have given them a lot of thought.  I have reached conclusions about many of these issues.  I feel these conclusions are both fairly informed and "faithful."  I have found there is plenty of room for a person to be well-informed about the doctrines and history of the Church, including controversies pertaining to them, and still remain a faithful and observant Latter-day Saint.  In fact, I have found much to strengthen and expand my faith.

I think studying the Gospel more than we do would be helpful.  I think giving the Church's position a "fair hearing" would be helpful.  I think seeking information and wisdom from the "best books," as we are repeatedly exhorted to do in the Doctrine & Covenants, would be helpful.

2 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

They will continue to believe a swath of traditional ideas which are not central to the Gospel, and can easily be shocked by information which they will later claim the Church did not tell them or hid from them.  They are babes in the woods.

And they have tremendous value.  And I think they would not remain "babes in the woods" if they put forth more effort into studying the Gospel outside the two-hour block.

2 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Mormon culture is a way of life, not a theological system.  Real commitments are based on religious experience, not on intellectual attainments.  Indeed, those who merely toy with learning often learn just enough to be dangerous -- to themselves and to others.  They are well-intentioned but misguided.

You are describing Phase Two of the Hafens' tripartate model.  I am proposing that further study and effort would help many Latter-day Saints proceed to Phase Three (as opposed to either remaining less informed about the Gospel, or else letting critics and enemies of the Church create a hostile and distorted narrative aimed at -and, sadly, often succeeding in - dismantling the faith of our brothers and sisters).

My wife is, I think, much better off than she was some months ago.  Because she has devoted time and effort toward better understanding parts of the history and doctrine of the Church that have caused our friends to abandon their faith.  I think a lot of members would have similar experiences if they did the things she has done.  

Thanks,

-Smac

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43 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Correct on both counts, good buddy.  Unfortunately Moosa doesn't really say that, and he doesn't distinguish between the two completely different modes of thought characterizing science and religion.  I think that we are in full agreement that, if religious experience works for you, fine -- in line with William James on such experience -- which has nothing to do with the points I have been making.

If Spencer feels that those hated "apologists" have the intellectual high ground, the only real reply is an intellectual one, using the full panoply of science and logic to test it.  One is not free to engage in an obvious non sequitur.  My main objection to Spencer's call to master all that is that it requires an almost monastic commitment to learning which is not practical for everyone.  Most people simply don't have the time or inclination to become experts in linguistics, history, and archeology.

I totally agree with your last point above. I would add that if somebody doesn't have the psychological/spiritual compulsion to believe in the first place, a "monastic commitment" to studying apologetics isn't going to help anyway.

When pitting Jeremy Runnells against Smac's apologetic's dream team (i.e. Jeff Lindsay, Daniel Peterson, John Welch, Hugh Nibley, etc.),  it isn't enough to compare the average IQs of the respective groups or how much passion and detail and scholarship they've put into their respective projects. You also have to consider the issues articulated in the book, The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes. I'm not the person and this isn't the place to comprehensively make the case that cognitive science explains how Runnells could be right and these other guys could be wrong. I'm just trying to point out that there are other issues involved in why people believe.

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17 minutes ago, Analytics said:

I totally agree with your last point above. I would add that if somebody doesn't have the psychological/spiritual compulsion to believe in the first place, a "monastic commitment" to studying apologetics isn't going to help anyway.

I reject the characterization that I am advocating a "'monastic commitment' to studying apologetics," or anything close to it.

17 minutes ago, Analytics said:

When pitting Jeremy Runnells against Smac's apologetic's dream team (i.e. Jeff Lindsay, Daniel Peterson, John Welch, Hugh Nibley, etc.),  it isn't enough to compare the average IQs of the respective groups or how much passion and detail and scholarship they've put into their respective projects.

I agree.

17 minutes ago, Analytics said:

You also have to consider the issues articulated in the book, The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes.

Sounds interesting.  Thanks!

17 minutes ago, Analytics said:

I'm not the person and this isn't the place to comprehensively make the case that cognitive science explains how Runnells could be right and these other guys could be wrong.

I am not advocating a only-dumb/uninformed-people-leave-the-Church argument.

I have read Runnells letter.  Several times over.  I found it massively problematic.  Lazy.  Uninformed.  I have also reviewed many of the critiques of Runnells' letter, including most of these.

I am not persuaded that "cognitive science" is the go-to mechanism for determining whether Runnells is "right" and apologists are "wrong" (I'm not sure what "right" and "wrong" mean in this context).  Much of what I find problematic in the CES letter is factual and evidentiary.

Thanks,

-Smac

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38 minutes ago, Analytics said:

I totally agree with your last point above. I would add that if somebody doesn't have the psychological/spiritual compulsion to believe in the first place, a "monastic commitment" to studying apologetics isn't going to help anyway.

I had more in mind a commitment to real scholarship.  Merely memorizing talking points doesn't actually get it.  Apologetics and polemics are a dead end. 

38 minutes ago, Analytics said:

When pitting Jeremy Runnells against Smac's apologetic's dream team (i.e. Jeff Lindsay, Daniel Peterson, John Welch, Hugh Nibley, etc.),  it isn't enough to compare the average IQs of the respective groups or how much passion and detail and scholarship they've put into their respective projects. You also have to consider the issues articulated in the book, The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes. I'm not the person and this isn't the place to comprehensively make the case that cognitive science explains how Runnells could be right and these other guys could be wrong. I'm just trying to point out that there are other issues involved in why people believe.

Of course, Runnells could be right and his opponents wrong (they and Jeremy all prisoners of cognitive bias), but that misses the point entirely, which is that the modes of thought used in religion and science are wholly different.  I am not impressed by fact idiots nor with additive logic.  I am impressed with actual scholarship by both Mormon and non-Mormon experts who pool their knowledge, react to one another over time, and engage in valid peer review (both formal and informal).  Cognitive bias cannot be controlled with group think nor by apologetics, no matter how clever.  But the same applies to polemics.  If we opt for scholarship, instead of competing apologetics and polemics, we might make progress.  And indeed that is what we see when real scholarship is allowed to flourish.

Apologetics and polemics are a dead end.  That should be our main takeaway from all this.

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13 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I reject the characterization that I am advocating a "'monastic commitment' to studying apologetics," or anything close to it.

..............................

The phrase "monastic commitment" was mine.  He was reacting to my comment.

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59 minutes ago, smac97 said:

And I think they would not remain "babes in the woods" if they put forth more effort into studying the Gospel outside the two-hour block.

As has now been set up by the Church with its cutting down of hours and commitments and instruction on increasing personal and family study.  If members are intent on fulfilling leaders’ Instructions, they will now be engaging in studying outside the 2 hours. 

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