Thursday, December 15, 2016

Review of "Temple Worship: 20 Truths That Will Bless Your Life"

Prior to going to the temple a little over 7 years ago to receive my own temple endowment, I remember that during that time that I was very excited and anxious to claim my own temple blessings, but that there was not much information out there to prepare me to go. I took the temple preparation class offered by the Sunday School board and read Boyd K. Packer's The Holy Temple, both the book and the pamphlet. However, I felt as though more could be said. Also, I was unaware at the time what the blessings of the temple were, many members often said how much they loved being there but did not go into any specifics. All of this was further complicated by a friend telling me that when she went to the temple she felt like she did not learn anything. I admit I was a bit confused by the whole process, and I imagine that many pre-temple Latter-day Saints are as well.

I had been thinking lot about the temple lately, the best way to prepare and the best way to keep it a fresh experience each time I go, and at work I ran across Andrew C. Skinner's book Temple Worship: 20 Truths That Will Bless Your Life. I remembered that I owned the book, but had not finished it when I started reading it. So, I picked up again and read it cover to cover, and I am very grateful that I did.

Temple Worship is a simple, enriching book, that is just under 200 pages, so it can be read fairly quickly. There is something about the title itself that is a lesson. We often use the term "temple work" in the LDS Church, and there is a sense of course in which it is work. However, temple worship is the term we should use, because all the work that we do within the walls of the sanctuary points to our adoration, relation, and worship of out Father in Heaven and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The book itself is a mixture of theology, history, and personal testimony. One historical vignette that struck me was his retelling of what the saints in Nauvoo went through in order to receive there temple blessings prior to departing west. The temple was open all hours of the day with the brethren administering the ordinances of exaltation to nearly 6,000 men and women . For this reason and others, I believe that these saints had the power to endure all that they went through in their trek westward. The lesson for us in this is that these saints had but one temple and had to live without temples for years. Most members of the church, according to a recent church report, live within 200 miles of a temple. For those who live in the western United States, the journey is much closer. I, for instance live within an hour of 9 temples. We who live so close should understand the blessing we have that other saints did not, and diligently be in the Lord's house on a regular basis.

It has been said by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the ordinances of the temple are borrowed from freemasonry. While numerous books have countered these claims or shown how they have not taken everything in context (Matthew Brown's book for example), Skinner shows the connection between modern temple worship and ancient Christian rituals, which the Prophet Joseph Smith knew nothing about. This is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, not a 14 year olds imagination at work, and the evidence agrees with that.

Skinner covers, as I mentioned earlier a variety of temple related subjects, including worthiness, exaltation, and the protection offered by temple covenants and the temple garment. His closing words I think are also very relevant :
"The world is bad and getting worse. Soon it may be that the only sure refuge will be found in three holy places, and three only:in the Lord's temples, in the stakes of Zion, and in our homes. Those places are three pillars of the celestial kingdom, In each, the will of the Lord can be manifested to us". (Temple Worship, pg 205)
I would go even further. The temple is a place that reminds us the Lord does not just await us in the afterlife; he has promised that he will visit us personally in mortality. The temple endowment reminds us that we may converse with him and know him here and now. To quote the Prophet Joseph Smith "When any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend to him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 150). While I have not had that experience myself, I do believe the Prophet was sincere about what he was saying there and that it is possible to see the Lord here and now.

Any person going to the temple for the first time, or even long time goers, should have Temple Worship as a part of their library. It's simple teachings will focus your mind on the temple and the blessings that await you there. 5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Always in Control: A Response to Joshua Valentine (Part Four)

In his fourth installment about how Mormonism prepares its members for atheism, Joshua Valentine makes his strongest case yet about why those who now accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be lead to eschew religion after leaving. He states :
The realization of being manipulated, being put through so much, and losing so much of their lives for a lie, is understandably infuriating.  The necessary and reasonable thing to do, when ready and rested, is to reevaluate one’s beliefs.  Often this includes a period of studying the LDS Church even more.  Whether before leaving or after, many Mormons feel embarrassed by all the things they did and believed, which they now see as so obviously untrue or even silly.  They understandably never want to be manipulated, or to allow their lives to be controlled by anyone else again.
This last, control, is a strong motivation toward atheism.  While in many ways the atheistic worldview can be bleak, in that there is no longer someone watching out for you, there is also a strong sense of self-determination, of your decisions being wholly your own, under your own control.  Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have relinquished leadership and control of so much of their lives for so long, and upon learning the truth, realized that so much of it was a waste and harmful, that any sense of letting go of their new found control, of submitting themselves to anything — an organization or even a belief — is simply unacceptable.  Ex-Mormon atheists speak of the difficulty of getting atheists to come together and embrace a long-term vision and goal (there is a Mormon Expression podcast, toward the end of his time hosting it, in which John Larsen mentions this issue).  While there may be something about an atheist worldview that inhibits this activity, the victim of Joseph Smith and the LDS Church has all the motivation to keep all control and not relinquish it to anyone or anything, a group, a movement, an ideal, or even the actual God.
This argument is centered on three things: 1) Members feel manipulated by the Church 2) Members have no control while they have Church membership 3) Atheism means complete control

While I have had friends who feel manipulated when they are told additional facts about their faith (seer stones, polygamy, mountain meadows massacre, etc), the fact of the matter is that these things are not new, and have been discussed by Church historians and academics for generations. I, as a convert, was aware prior to my baptism that Joseph Smith was a polygamist and used seer stones to translate the Book of Mormon. None of this led to believe that Joseph Smith was not a prophet, because these facts do not disqualify him from being one. I hate to be blunt, but if you are not aware of Church history and doctrine because of your own intellectual sluggishness, the problem lies with you, not the Church. Nothing in the new Church essays is new information; BYU Studies and Dialogue have covered these issues for decades.

I am a little confused at the idea that Church members feel that they are not free, which is more of a question of metaphysics than anything else. It is true the Church, like any other organization, has standards. But members have freedom just as much as anyone else. No one forces you to pay tithing, attend church meetings, serve a mission, accept callings, or anything else for that matter. As Section 121 makes clear, you are not to lead by compulsory means; even God himself will not do that. It is true that some members thrust their views of certain things upon other members, but you have the freedom to ignore them and go on with your life.

As far as atheism and control, this is a little misleading. Atheism is not about control; it is believing that there is no such thing as God, or believing that statements such as "God exists" are false propositions. If one leaves the Church, you may not be bound to obey the Church's directions, but you cannot escape the consequences of disobeying them either. And while atheists do not submit themselves to Church authority, they probably submit themselves to government or another authority. You will always be subject to some authority, imaginary or otherwise.

For the fourth time, we have seen that Mr. Valentine's arguments are ill-founded. Perhaps he saved the best for last. I doubt it...

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mormonism as a Big Tent: A Response to Josh Valentine (Part Three)

In his third installment about how the LDS Church prepares it members for atheism, Josh Valentine focuses on the exclusive claims of Mormonism; how the Mormon faith claims that it alone is in full possesion of the Christianity preached by Jesus of Nazareth. Valentine writes:
"Mormonism teaches against any traditional form of Christianity with every unique teaching and claim it presents as superior to Christian teachings and claims. LDS authority, teachings, ordinances, organization, gospel, and Holy Spirit are, at best, supplemental to Christian ignorance or, worse, restoration of things lost in traditional Christianity. Or, worse still, the LDS Church is the only truth among corrupted Christianity. Christianity claims its teachings are true and other religions are false.  However, Mormonism does not just claim that it is true and Christianity is false, but that, as it is the restoration of Christianity, Christianity is not just false but corrupted."
Close quote. On one hand Valentine is right, Mormonism does claim that it alone holds the authority to act in the name of God (the priesthood), that it in possession of the pure doctrines of Christ, and that Jesus of Nazareth approves of the Church as his bride and representative (D&C 1:30). On the other hand, this is a short-sighted view. The LDS Church, while believing that it has the truth, does no condemn non-believers to hell. Rather, as Section 76 states, everyone will be rewarded according to the acts they have done and will be happy about it in the end.

Also, Valentine's first claim is false; there is overlap between traditional Christianity and Mormonism in several areas. Among them are the inspiration of the Bible, the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth (some Mormons, like myself do not believe in this), the atonement, and the resurrection. While it is true that Mormonism has a distinct way of teaching these doctrines, this is also true of Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. Even within these groups there is much division on things, such as whether or not Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist (communion).

Perhaps Valentine's best argument is this one:
"Here are two subtle dynamics in Mormonism that are related to the undermining of other theist options. First, the LDS Church does not give any reasons to believe in God outside of Mormonism.....Second, the prayer experience epistemology of Mormonism, its fideist basis for belief, like all fideism, implicitly denies that there is any good enough reason to believe in God."
Close quote. I wonder if Valentine has ever read the Book of Mormon, because if he had he would know that Alma confronts Korihor, an agnostic atheist, with arguments that appeal to natural theology (Alma 30). Second, prophets generally do not present arguments for God's existence; that is the job of philosophers and theologians. Prophets deliver messages from God, they presuppose that their audience believes in the being that that say spoke to them. Thirdly, how does praying to know about the Book of Mormon or to know that God exists undermine rational theism? I have both intellectual and spiritual reasons for believing as I do, and I am sure others do.
Thomas Aquinas, whose five ways work with Mormon theology

I would recommend that if anyone thinks that Mormons do not believe in arguments for the existence of God, that they consult the work of my friend and mentor Blake Ostler or his friend and mentor David Paulsen.

Well, we are through 3 posts of Valentine's and I am still a Mormon and a theist. Perhaps the good arguments come later....

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Fideism and Simplicity: Response to Joshua Valentine (Part Two)

In his second post about how Mormonism prepares its members to be atheists, Joshua Valentine moves from the realm of science to the realm of epistemology; the branch of philosophy that deals with how we obtain knowledge. He states:
"The LDS epistemology sets its members up to turn against faith and thus embrace atheistic rationalism.  While Mormonism is not strictly speaking a fideistic religion, it relies heavily upon some principles of fideism.  For members of the LDS Church, ultimate truth is not discovered, recognized, or even approached by study, evidence, logic, or history.  Moroni10 PrayerThese are only an optional means ultimately to lead a person to pray about the Book of Mormon and the current LDS prophet to learn that the LDS Church is true.  Once this testimony is gained by prayer, it is regarded as transcendent or invulnerable to any and all evidence against the object of faith – the LDS Church and its gospel.  LDS religious epistemology is fideistic in that this prayer-testimony experience, like faith received in fideism, is independent of the world as it actually is."

First of all, Mormonism does not have an official systematized epistemology, so the idea that it is fideistic rather than scientific or otherwise is an assertion without evidence. Also, there have been philosophers and theologians who have stressed that knowledge does not come just by faith in the LDS tradition (B.H. Roberts, Blake Ostler, James E. Talmage). However, it is true to say that Mormons believe that some truths can only come from God (knowledge of the Book of Mormon as a translated document, Joseph Smith being a prophet). Thus, the LDS tradition, like most religious traditions in the west, distinguish between truths of revelation and truths of reason. Revealed truth would be those talked about above, the latter would be truths like the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, the evidence of Jesus' existence, etc. As my friend Ron Poulton told me once, you need reason in your revelation and revelation in your reason. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Second, Valentine shows a very shallow awareness of how Mormons approach truth. In Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants it states:
"And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith."
So, it would appear based on their own scripture that Mormons do not believe that knowledge comes from faith alone. A person who looks at the temple ceremony would notice that it is a very logic-based ceremony with its teaching, repetition, and progression only after one is sure the former parts are understood.

On another note, and perhaps I should have mentioned this first, Valentine does not give a definition of faith, so how can he say that Mormonism is only faith-based when we have no way of checking whether his definition is correct? Many people think that faith is belief without evidence, but this is a very hollow and shallow definition. Faith is belief with evidence but not proof.

Valentine mentions that once a testimony is obtained, it cannot be attacked. Obviously that is not true, because he is doing that right now. But also, this sort of thing shows that religious experience, like the experience of sexual attraction, is subjective rather than objective. In the case of any counter evidence, why should a Mormon doubt their experience? Science can show us how things happen in the nervous system, but it cannot show us whether or not God was behind the experience. Valentine also fails to account that Christians, such as philosopher William Lane Craig, also state that it is the spiritual manifestation that will move a person to Christ, not just intellectual curiosity.

Valentine continues:
"Mormonism also shuns all mystery.  If a religious truth is mysterious, it is because of the ignorance of man.  If it is confusing, it is because it is of Satan.  Mormonism assumes that truth is simple and understandable to the mind of man."
Um, no.

There are many mysteries in Mormonism (is matter intelligent or does intelligence its own principle, how does Resurrection occur, how does God progress from one sphere to another). What Mormons do not believe however is what St. Augustine said about the divine "If you understand, that is not God." Mormons, unlike their Christian counterparts, do not believe that God is unknowable or beyond comprehension (which the Bible does not teach). So, while there are mysteries to be solved, the Trinity is not one of them. In fact, the Trinity is not a mystery; it is Platonism with a Christian face.

Valentine is taking on a very caricatured version of Mormonism, but most of his claims are fallacious in this post. Maybe he will do better next week.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Thank You President Barack Obama: From a Conservative

Next week we will participate in an election that it seems few are excited about but most agree is very important. Enough words have been said about the predicament we are in, so all I will say about it is research the candidates both local and national, and pick the person who would be the best out of what is available.

Today, however, I want to thank the man who will soon be leaving office and returning to private life: President Barack Obama. With all the pessimism that is going on in the current election, perhaps I can add a small dose of optimism (odd coming from a pessimist).
President Barack Obama

I was 17 and unable to vote when President Obama was elected November 4, 2008. That election was memorable for several reasons. While most of my friends were hoping that then Senator Obama would be elected, I was supporting Senator John McCain. Most of my black friends called me a disgrace to the black race for not supporting Senator Obama, even though I often pointed out that they had little knowledge of his policy proposals and had not done their homework. Further, even though I did not ideologically agree with most of what Senator Obama was proposing, I always remember being impressed with the good man he was and how he handled the press. He was always thoughtful and kind, even when he was not allowed to finish a sentence without being interrupted.

Finally November 4th came and while in church at Vine-Life Christian Fellowship, my former pastor Robert L. Wilks, Jr. announced to the congregation that Senator Obama was now President-elect. The congregation (entirely black) erupted with cheers as though Jesus of Nazareth had returned to Earth. I sat there and thought about what it all meant. Upon arriving home and watching President-elect Obama give his victory speech, I remember seeing the tears in my grandmother's eyes and being grateful that she and my grandfather who had lived through the Civil Rights movement were able to see this momentous occasion. Only four years earlier I had asked my grandfather if he thought the United States would ever have a black president. His response had been "Not in my lifetime." I am sure that he had never been so happy to have been wrong.

After his inauguration, I wondered if President Obama would be as idealistic as when he had been a candidate. To my surprise and relief, he was far more pragmatic than idealistic. Two incidents point out to me that President Obama is more center-right than the socialist ideologue that the right (and myself at times) had portrayed him as. First, his views on healthcare. I had thought that if elected he would try to enact a single-payer system. Instead, he enacted Bob Dole's healthcare bill from the 90's, which is a market-based system. Second, I had thought that it was impractical to withdraw all troops from Iraq. President Obama rethought this and kept a significant number of troops there as he moved more troops into Afghanistan. In fact, if there is one theme that has characterized his presidency, it has been pragmatism over idealism, a trait those on the right highly value (or we used to anyway).

Do not get the impression that I am with President Obama on all of his ideas because that is not the case. I am highly disappointed in his continued use of torture, and in his reckless spending and constitutional overreach (such as trying to executive order amnesty). His calling conservatives his enemies has also annoyed me, considering that I have wished him nothing but the best during his time in office. And finally, his lack of admitting mistakes or lying about them has also been disheartening (Benghazi). However, overall I would give him a B for his time in office.

As citizens of the United States, we often underestimate what a burden the commander in chief bears on their shoulders. This job is a mostly thankless one, your side of the aisle often thinks you are not doing enough, the other side wishes that you did not exist. When anything bad happens, you are responsible, even if there was nothing you could do about it. Working with Congress is often difficult if not impossible. In addition to all this, President Obama has had to deal with an unprecedented amount of disrespect because he happens to be black. Some may say he hasn't, but what other president has been interrupted as much as he has in interviews, had governors literally get in his face pointing their fingers, been called a non-Christian, while also being called the most radical president in history when their is no evidence to support that claim? In spite of all of this, President Obama has remained calm, cheerful, and approached the job with vigor and vision. If no one on the right will say it, this man has done a good job during these eight years.

From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank President Obama for the service he has given these past 8 years, and given the options we have next Tuesday it is a shame that a third term is not an option. More important than being a good president, President Obama is a good man. I wish him all the best as he finishes his term and then returns to private life. Well done, Mr. President.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Is Materialism Incompatible With Theism?: A Response to Joshua Valentine (Part One)

Back when I was investigating the Roman Catholic Church, my friend and teacher Scott Dodge recommended a blog to me entitled Mormon Coffee. On it, various bloggers addressed differences between Mormonism and Christianity, in a somewhat concise and respectful manner. The blog was recently discontinued, but because it has a huge archive there is plenty of information on it.

One of the bloggers, Joshua Valentine, wrote a five part series in which he argued that Mormonism leads its members to atheism. I will be responding to all 5 of his posts.

In his first post, Valentine states:
"In fact, it is Mormon doctrine that actually provides much of the content of an atheist worldview. Mormonism is the most materialistic worldview next to atheism. In Mormon doctrine, it is not the Mormon God or Gods, but Matter, itself, which is truly eternal, having existed from everlasting to everlasting.  With Matter are Eternal Laws or Principles as well. These exist before and independently of the Mormon God. In fact, the Mormon God, like all Gods before him, is himself made up of this eternal matter and subject to these eternal laws or principles.  Joseph Smith taught that spirit was actually matter, just a more “fine” form of it. God, according to Mormonism, had to obey these Eternal Principles in order to progress from eternal fine matter, or “intelligence,” to a god. This is in stark contrast to many religions that assume that independence from, and being the source of, all creation is definitive of what it means to be “God” or the “Ultimate.” However, in LDS cosmology, Matter and Eternal Law are the true Ultimate, not God."
So, Valentine is making 4 claims here: 1) Mormonism is materialistic, and atheism is materialistic 2) God is subject to law 3) God progressed 4) God is not the ultimate reality

First, it is true that Mormonism is materialistic, but why does that set up Mormons for an atheistic conversion? Atheism is not necessarily materialistic, an atheist can be a Platonist for example. And I see nothing wrong with Mormonism being materialistic; the opening passages of the book of Genesis state that God used materials to create the world rather than ex nihilo as the Christian Creeds state (Genesis 1:2). Mormons are materialists, but so is the God of the Old and New Testament.

As Valentine points out, God is subject to law rather than the creator of it; he is the greatest possible scientist. But, I see no reason to think that this would make a Mormon become an atheist. Christianity also affirms that there are certain things that God cannot do, for instance he cannot lie ( 1 Samuel 15: 29), nor as Thomas Aquinas points out in the Summa Theologica, God cannot do the logically impossible (he cannot make a round square or a married bachelor). So, if the God of Mormonism is subject to law and the God of Christianity is subject to law, wouldn't Christianity lead to atheism as well?

One of the greatest blessings of the restored Gospel is that we know that God came to be God and that we can become like him, as the Prophet Joseph Smith taught in his King Follett Discourse. However, this teaching is not unique to the Prophet. Origen, a pre-Nicene Church Father stated
"If the Word became flesh, then flesh can become God."

Origen, Ante-Nicene Father

Christianity affirms that Jesus of Nazareth was fully human and fully God, and that he was resurrected and is still embodied today. So, corporeality and Godhood are not incompatible. It is incompatible with the creeds that reject early Christian ideas like Socianism and Arianism, but not the Bible.

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies what is called "prime reality" or "what is ultimately there." Valentine is right that Creedal Christianity and other religions believe that God is transcendent (outside) of creation, But, how does a belief in a God who is immanent lead to atheism? Baruch Spinoza, one of my favorite philosophers, was a pantheist (belief that God and nature are the same). The Homeric Greeks believed in Gods who were immanent and lived on Olympus. So, there is no reason to believe that because the God of Mormonism (who came into existence at a point in the infinite past) is not the prime reality that Mormons are on their way to atheism.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Dating Done Right: Making Dating a Rational Enterprise

A week or so ago, after having a brief exchange with a potential date, I posted the following on Facebook:
"Me: Want to go a date?
Girl: Yes! I would love to.
Me: Is this going to progress into a relationship?
Girl: I don't know.
Me: Offer withdrawn, thanks for your time."
After putting that out as a way to vent, I wished that Facebook had a way of preventing people from commenting because I got at least 30 comments (all of which I deleted) which either said what I did wasn't fair, or that it was unreasonable for me to expect a girl to know whether or not a relationship would occur before a date took place. I was not in the mood to argue with people then (very out of character for me), but said I would talk about the issue in blog form.

I am always a bit surprised when talking to my intellectual friends that they believe that dating is not a rational thing. It is not surprising that they believe this (people believe in the unproveable metaphysical idea of  "chemistry"), but that they believe this with no reason to believe it. I recently talked to my friend who is a professor of philosophy, saying that before a date you should know if there is a potential for a relationship before the date happens. She responded this puts too much pressure on the girl.

While I can understand how it may come across that way at first, the truth is if you know where you stand with someone before a date this actually relieves pressure. How so? Because you don't have to spend the entire date wondering if the other person is interested, you already know they are. You are then free to be yourself and if the other person and you like each other after that, things can progress nicely.

At issue here is the meta-philosophy of dating; meaning the purpose or aim of dating. From an LDS perspective, the aim is to find a spouse. While some people may believe that marriage is always happy and care free based on their married friends pictures on Facebook, any married person will tell you that marriage is not easy. It requires patience, compromise, deep thinking, commitment, and trust. Dating, which is the precursor to marriage, requires the same attributes.

So, if dating is the precursor to marriage, how can dating be made rational? Simple, use the principle of verification, which I have argued for here. In short, if you don't think there is a 70 or more percent chance (this is a very low percentage, a C-) that a relationship will come out of a particular date, decline it. I refuse to believe that you do not know if that is possible before a first date. You can tell whether you are attracted to the person, what you think of their personality, intelligence, and character before a date occurs. This may make dating a bit more difficult in the beginning, but since you will need the trait of patience for marriage, you might as well use it in dating.

Dating, like many things in life, requires luck. You have to find someone who wants what you want when you want it, not an easy task. But, being upfront places the relationship on the foundation of honesty, and if you are being honest with each other, you are off to a great start.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Review of "Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?"

As a philosopher myself, and particularly one who is interested in the philosophy of religion, I am always delighted to read top-level philosophers engaged in the topic. In the book Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at Tufts University, represented the atheistic side and the view that science and religion were not compatible. Alvin Plantiga, professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, represented the theistic side.

The book itself is a reprinting of a debate that Dennett and Plantiga had at a philosophy conference years ago, but it has been updated with a few things they have said since then. Usually, when there are debates about this topic, there is a lot of sarcasm and snark from both sides. I am happy to report that both sides are polite and respectful of one another, even if they disagree and tease each other a little at certain points.

While both of these men are imminent in their field, one thing this book shows from cover to cover is how specialized philosophy has become. It used to be that philosophers were well schooled in all areas of philosophy but specialized in one area. This is no longer the case and it shows. Dennett, being a philosopher of science, knew science very well, but he did not seem to understand the classical arguments for the existence of God or the metaphysics that undergird religion. Plantiga on the other hand seemed to get his scientific ideas from the Discovery Institute, since all he did was quote Michael Behe when making scientific statements. But, he did know the classical arguments and metaphysics of religion quite well.

Plantiga starts the conversation off by saying that science and religion are not incompatible because Christians (he uses the term Christian rather than theist throughout the debate) believe that God has created the natural world and it is very possible that God did so using the evolutionary process. Plantiga goes on to say that the real problem is not between science and religion; it is between science and naturalism. Plantiga defines naturalism as belief that there is no God or anything like God (which would be atheism, not naturalism), and says that if naturalism is true there is no reason to believe that our cognitive faculties cannot be trustworthy because evolution cares about keeping traits that contribute to survival rather than truth.

Dennett you would think would disagree being on the other side of the debate. But, he opens up by stating that there is no inherent conflict between religion and science, and that one can believe in both and be logically consistent. Where Dennett disagrees is that there is any reason to think that there is a God or that religion works just because it is logically compatible with science. He uses Superman as an example and gives him the traits usually associated with God in classical theism (omniscience, omnipotence, and so on) and says that "Supermanism" is also compatible with evolution, but he sees no reason to believe in either.

Plantiga responded by repeating his argument about naturalism and evolution both being true being a low possibility; Dennett struck back by saying that just because Plantiga could not imagine something did not mean that something wasn't true. This is ultimately where the debate stopped because in the end both sides agreed: Science and Religion do not have an inherent conflict. I found it odd that two people would write a book about something where they were in agreement.

The book itself is only 77 pages, so it can be read in one sitting, and it is not overly technical; both the trained philosopher and the novice can enjoy and learn from it. Also, Dennett and Plantiga are colorful people, so you will laugh at times (or you should at least).

While the book is a match between two heavyweights in the field of philosophy, do not expect Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman here. There is more agreement than disagreement, but overall it is still enjoyable. 3 out of 5 stars.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Can Donald Trump save conservatism? Maybe.....

To all my conservative friends and allies who have not already come to this conclusion: Hillary Rodham Clinton will win the United States presidential election on November 8, 2016 and will be sworn in to succeed President Barack Obama on January 20, 2017. If this was not clear to you before the final presidential debate, it ought to be clear now. Our nominee, Donald J. Trump, has no business being a presidential nominee, yet 14 million of us voted for him in the primaries because he is not "part of the system", whatever that means. I ask you to be honest for a moment: Can we, as a people, trust Mr. Trump with the power of submarines that can annihilate continents (we have at least 14 such machines, he could essentially blow up the world twice), or talk to foreign leaders responsibly? Better yet, does this man even know what the word "responsibility" means? Based on his business deals and lack of empathy to fallen soldiers families, I am skeptical of that.

But, don't resort to nihilism comrades. We will likely retain control of the United States House of Representatives, thus retaining the power of the purse. We may or may not keep the Senate, but even with the loss of this chamber it is highly unlikely that the Democrats will gain 60 members, which would enable them to prevent filibusters (please stop overdoing those Senator Paul and Senator Cruz). More importantly though, Donald Trump can actually be what he seems to think he is, namely a savior of sorts. And he is right, he can save something, namely conservatism. But not with his election to office, but with his loss.

With the election of Hillary Clinton to the presidency, that will be three straight losses that conservatives have suffered trying to take control of the executive branch of government; that is not a coincidence, we are doing something wrong. And it is not that we did not nominate someone not conservative enough in John McCain or Mitt Romney, or that we nominated a narcissist who would make Narcissus himself look the other direction in Donald Trump. It is that we have abandoned what conservatism really is.

Ask a conservative or a liberal what conservatism means, and you will likely hear some of these phrases : religious, gun-lovers, anti-abortion, anti-gay, disbelievers in climate change, etc. While this is what popular culture has linked to conservatism, these are not the principles that give it a foundation. Perhaps the best definition of conservatism was given by conservative political philosopher Michael Oakeshott in his essay On Being Conservative:
"To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to Utopian bliss"
Close quote. To put this into simpler terms, conservative philosopher John Kekes states that conservatism is built upon four pillars: Traditionalism (keeping what works), Skepticism (caution about radical change without knowing the outcome), Pluralism (belief that there is no one correct way to do things), and Pessimism (you call this realism, the belief that things are never going to be perfect). In the United States at least, we have done decently well at traditionalism (in some sense anyway), but that is about it. We have abandoned our skepticism for fanaticism, our pluralism for fundamentalism, and pessimism for the belief that capitalism will eventually bring about a utopia and solve all of out problems. Think I am over exaggerating? Allow me to explain.

The principle of skepticism is practiced at its best in the field of natural sciences. While some people think that science has solved all the problems, this is far from the case. As philosopher of science Michael Ruse said in a recent lecture: ""Good science begins with a problem in the morning, solves the problem by lunch, and then goes to supper with two new problems" In short, there are many debates in the scientific community, such as whether or not there is one single universe or a multiverse, or whether or not evolution is gene-centered; in short scientific skepticism will rule out absolutism about things unless there is sufficient evidence. So when scientists nearly unanimously agree on an issue, you better take note.

On the issue of climate change, climate scientists are in complete agreement: climate change is happening and human activity contributes to it; how much that is the case and how long we have before things are damaged beyond repair is disputed. In addition, the National Academy of Sciences recently released these graphs showing the temperatures of our planet in the past and in the future. To put it frankly, we are in serious trouble. Yet, conservatives in this country almost universally reject climate change as an article of faith; our nominee routinely calls it a complete hoax, and Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, when confronted with the evidence simply said "God is still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous." He followed it up with his 2012 book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. There is room for skepticism of utopia, but not of facts.

If there is one thing that annoys me in politics, it is when politicians or citizens say "America is a Christian nation." While it is true that 70 percent or more of Americans identify as Christians according to polls, the first amendment of the United States Constitution says:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances"
How can America be a Christian country when it's constitution maintains pluralism? If conservatives want to argue for strict construction of the constitution, they should probably read it first. It forbids the sort of fundamentalism that they are proposing. It would also interest them to know that the Constitution in many of the founding fathers (Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton for example) were not Christians but were deists. If America was built as a Christian country, why would these founders lock themselves out of it? Pluralism is a key of conservatism, and it is about time we reclaimed it.

"Ayn Rand taught me what my values are" House Speaker Paul Ryan once said (he has since distanced himself from that). However, it is true that many conservatives in this country think capitalism is the most legitimate way to succeed and care little for others suffering; in short they think capitalism will bring about a utopia. However, the father of capitalism Adam Smith in his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments pointed out that unrestrained capitalism would be immoral because some would not benefit, and that we have a moral duty to help the less fortunate. While conservatives are right that some abuse welfare programs, this does not mean we can't have a safety net for those who don't help themselves (Hayek also argued for this). We should be pessimists about Thomas More's Utopia just as much as Ayn Rand's version.

Conservatism in the United States is at a time where it needs to define itself. The way ahead is not the egoism and selfishness exhibited in philosophy of "conservatism" offered by people such as Barry Goldwater. Rather, we should return to the conservatism of thinkers such as David Hume, Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, and Michael Oakeshott. Conservatism, which has a foundation of pluralism, is a big tent type of philosophy; there is room for more than we currently have.

Donald Trump often admits in interviews that he does not read much, and his desk only has magazines on which his face graces the cover (seriously, this guy is our nominee?) But, too often it is the case that we as conservatives our not well read on the thinkers who have founded and influenced our political philosophy and theory. So, I would like to end with a list of suggested reading materials, and remind those conservatives who are feeling blue about this election (pun intended) that we can recapture the ideas that make conservatism far preferable to liberalism. Donald Trump may lead to our third loss at the presidency, but he can certainly save conservatism by having us remember who we are and allowing us to reshape our identity.

Reading list: The Conservative Soul by Andrew Sullivan, The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk, A Case for Conservatism by John Kekes, Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth  by David Hume, On Being Conservative by Michael Oakeshott, Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Is Daniel Dennett a New Atheist?

Over the last several years since returning home from my mission, I have payed close attention to the so called "New Atheist" movement, which began officially in 2004 with the release of Sam Harris' book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, and continued to pick up steam with the 2006 release of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, and the 2007 release of the late Christopher Hitchens' book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. For those unfamiliar with the term "New Atheism", in short it is a movement that advocates atheism and humanism, and wishes for the destruction of all religion and religious belief in favor of science and reason. The only thing that is "new" about the New Atheism is its fervor however; one will not find very convincing arguments in either of these three books, this is not the sophisticated atheism of Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, or Antony Flew (before his conversion to deism in 2004). This is not my opinion as much as the opinion of other secular thinkers (for instance, read these reviews of Dawkin's book here, and here).
Daniel C. Dennett

I was however shocked that Daniel C. Dennett, professor of philosophy at Tufts University and my favorite living philosopher, is included in this movement. Not only is he included, he is considered a member of the "Four Horsemen" of the movement (Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens being the others). Why so? Because in 2007 these four gentlemen sat at a round-table and discussed religion, and since the release of the video (which can be viewed here) the name Four Horsemen has stuck. Dennett, like the others, released a book about religion entitled Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon in 2006.

Earlier this week, I posted a quote from Dennett about free will and determinism (Dennett is a classical compatibilist on free will, as I am), and my friend who is pursuing a PhD in evolutionary biology commented on the post saying that Dennett was a proponent of Intelligent Design Theory (a thought that would cause Dennett to have a heart attack). After telling him that he was thinking of William Dembski, my friend admitted his error, but asked if Dennett was very anti-religious. This post is basically in response to that comment.

Dennett, like Harris, Dawkins, and the late Hitchens, is an atheist and a secularist. He is also a strong advocate of the "Brights" movement (a movement that encourage atheists to call themselves Brights and be proud of their atheism). In spite of this, it is incorrect I think to label Dennett a New Atheist for at least two reasons.

First, while Dennett is not religious himself, he is not anti-religious. In an interview with Dennis Prager, when asked what the central thesis of his book was he said:
"The thesis of my book is that religion can be studied as a natural phenomenon, just like music, or baseball, or money or anything else that is in the natural world, and that we jolly well should do it because it is too important a phenomenon to remain so ignorant about. So we should study it with the full set of tools that science gives us."
Close quote. That is the biggest difference between the Dennett and his fellow horsemen; one thinks that religion should be studied, the others think religion should be destroyed. Also, later in the interview, when asked if he was concerned that if religion were destroyed morality would erode, Dennett admitted that he was, which Harris and Dawkins would certainly reject. This does not mean that Dennett thinks that morality is tied to religion; he rejects that notion in the interview. But, he does see religion ultimately as a source for good and wishes that to continue.

Second, the New Atheism is characterized by not taking religion seriously and not debating with serious religious thinkers. Dawkins' book, when talking about Thomas Aquinas' arguments for God's existence, simply caricatures them rather than engaging them, which is a fine example of how throughout his book he shows over and over again he doesn't know what he is talking about. Also, Dawkins refuses to debate serious Christian thinkers like William Lane Craig or Richard Swinburne, and when asked why he says because Craig approves of genocide, which Craig does not, and even if he did would not excuse Dawkins from debating him, a classic example of a red herring. Harris has debated Craig, but he did nothing during the debate to show that he even understood what the debate was about; the debate about whether the grounds for morality were natural or supernatural, Harris never talked about that and instead attacked Christianity throughout the debate (which can be watched here).

Dennett, being a philosopher and knowing the relevant information, does none of these things. He is very respectful of religion and religious people. While he mentions a few religious arguments in his book and counter-argues them, he never demurs of those who presented the argument he is countering. Also, in contrast to Dawkins, Dennett has debated with noted religious thinkers such as Oxford theology professor Alister McGrath, and he stayed on topic the entire time (debate can be viewed here). In addition, Dennett has debated with Christian philosopher Alvin Plantiga about whether science and religion are compatible, and also co-authored a book with Plantiga about it (which I am currently reading).

In neither temperament or practice is Daniel Dennett a New Atheist; he is an example of what atheists should be as they argue with theists about their beliefs and how we can collectively share the world and make it a better place. If I were ever to become an atheist, I hope to be the kind that Dennett is.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Review of "How to Read Hume"

When doing an introduction to a subject, authors often struggle with either putting too much in or leaving out too much. Since the subject of this review is the thought of David Hume, take two instances of philosophers who have written introductions to his thought: logical positivist A.J. Ayer and current NYU professor Don Garrett who wrote Hume: A Very Short Introduction and Hume (The Routledge Philosophers) respectively. Ayer's book (as the title entails) is very short, but to some extent there is no real content. You learn very little of Hume's doctrines from reading the book, just commentary on a few things that people would generally know about Hume. Garrett's book on the other hand is as long as Hume's Treatise of Human Nature and is more geared for people who are taking a graduate course on Hume rather than just getting introduced to his thought. What is needed in an introduction is balance, clarity, and brevity, and for all their accomplishments neither Ayer or Garrett's book achieve this.

Enter Simon Blackburn, moral philosopher and former Professor of Philosophy at both Cambridge University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Where Ayer and Garrett cannot strike all three cords with their books, Blackburn does so with his book How to Read Hume. While his book is only 106 pages from cover to cover (Ayer's is 117 and Garrett's is 348), Blackburn manages to cover adequately Hume's views on epistemology, causation, natural religion, aesthetics, personal identity, and moral theory. Even more impressive, one does not need to take a class in philosophy to understand what Blackburn is saying, because he simplifies things down to the understanding of a novice while still remaining able to keep things interesting for the person who is well read in Humean thought.

There are some problems with Blackburn's book, however. The main problem is that Blackburn makes no point to remain objective; he declares from beginning to end that he is a fan of Hume and his thought (which is unnecessary considering anyone who has ever read Blackburn knows that Hume is his idol. Take these two quotes for instance from the very beginning of the book and the very end of the book:
"Hume is the greatest British philosopher. But he is also the most misunderstood. In this short book I hope to help the reader to understand how both these things can be true, for it is only when we work through the things that make Hume perplexing that we discover the things that make him great."
"On all the topics that we have considered, he is either the most profound thinker of the modern world, or if not, then at least occupies the very front rank."
While it may be true that Hume is one of the greatest philosophers of all time (very few philosophers, especially in the western analytic tradition would disagree), this is something that the reader should find out for themselves rather than having it thrust upon them. Blackburn's personal biases also come through when he talks about Hume and natural religion, which may be unsurprising considering that Blackburn is a former vice president of the British Humanist Association.

Do not get the impression that I do not like Blackburn's book, because that is not the case. I merely am pointing out that the biases can get it the way of what he is trying to accomplish, which is getting readers introduced to Hume's thought, not Blackburn's interpretation of Hume's thought, no matter how brilliant and well written it may be.

The brightest part of the book is probably Blackburn's treatment of Hume's moral theory, showing how morality, while subjective, can still be studied and put into a program that is liveable for all human beings. Also, his "Science of Man" chapter is also well done, and is of the upmost importance because that was the totality of Hume's project, whether he was talking about causality or taste; Hume strove to understand human nature in a way that would make all other disciplines make sense, and he did a very good job of it.

If one is looking for a brief introduction to Hume's thought before tackling the Treatise, I highly recommend Blackburn's book to you. It can be read in a few hours, has good depth, is well written, and will prepare a person (whether expert or novice) to tackle Hume's thought head on.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Review of "The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith"

I had wanted to read The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith by Terryl and Fiona Givens for some time, especially since I was so impressed with Terryl's earlier book By the Hand of Mormon (which I reviewed here). Also, considering that Terryl co-authored the book with his wife (who is a convert from Roman Catholicism), I was especially intrigued. However, since the book itself is less than 150 pages, I was a little surprised that they could tackle such a broad issue like doubt in so few pages.

As it turns out, my surprise was warranted because the book has little to do with the subject of doubt and skepticism as much as it has to do with asking the right kind of question and believing for its own sake at times. The book does start out strong, showing that some of peoples doubts come from asking the wrong kind of question or making false assumptions. For instance, the Givens use the example of B.H. Roberts, one of Mormonism's premier philosophers and theologians, and how he was once asked how the tribes of North America, who the Book of Mormon taught were descendants or a remnant of the Nephites/Lamanites, could have so diverse languages and they shared a common ancestry of just 2,000 years. Roberts, who was usually quick to answer critics, was never able to answer this question during his lifetime.

However, the premise of the question was flawed; the Book of Mormon does not teach that all inhabitants of North America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus were descendants of the family of Lehi. Rather that is something that certain members chose to believe, and they read their belief into the text. So, there was really no conflict after all.

One of the best chapters in the book is titled "Mormons and Monopolies: Holy Persons You Know Not Of", where the Givens tackle the issue of religious pluralism, which is the subject of whether one religion is true, or whether all are true in some way. While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be the Church that has priesthood keys, there is truth in other religions, and their sacrifice and worship is acceptable to God as well. Also, a key element of this chapter that might be overlooked is that often times members of the Church tell an incorrect narrative of the Restoration. The common message is that the Church established by Jesus of Nazareth in the first century was lost and taken from the earth not long after that, but that is not the case. Rather, it retreated and was held from view for a time, but it was still there.

Also in this chapter, the theme of judging religions at their best is repeated, one that was first enunciated by Krister Stendahl, former Bishop of Stockholm in the Lutheran Church. Often we judge a religious tradition at its worst (such is the case with the so called "New Atheists") rather than at its best. A duty of anyone making judgement on the value of a tradition must judge it at its best.

Most of the book in some is not written to those who doubt whether or not God exists or have troubles with certain matters of Church history (blacks and the priesthood, polygamy, etc). In fact, the book is not really about doubt as much as it is about paradigms, or ways of looking at things. However, the last chapter does address those with serious doubts.

On this subject of doubt, the Givens offer the example of Pascal's wager (although they don't mention Pascal by name), that it is better to believe for beliefs sake and possibly be wrong because in the end what you gained will be better than what you lost. I disagree. You should believe what you have evidence or warrant to believe, not because something makes you happy or not happy. If you find life miserable because there is no God, do what Alex Rosenberg suggests in his book The Atheist's Guide to Reality: take Prozac. If a person cannot bring themselves to believe, and the Doctrine and Covenants state that to some it is given to believe and to some it is not, then a loving God who weeps at our pain will accept the honest persons unbelief and skepticism more readily than a person who believed only to get gain.

However, the Givens do make a great point in the epilogue:
"Not once, but twice the Lord prefaced His commandment that we strengthen each other with this explanation: "As all have not faith." He thus acknowledged that even among His modern disciples, there would be-and must be-room for those who live in doubt."
In the modern Church where many Mormons do not know much about their history and theology and then squirm when they hear it the first time, the reaction cannot be to judge and dismiss them or to say that they do not have a testimony; the reaction should be to help them, weep with them, and shoulder their burden. After all, that is what Jesus of Nazareth would do if he were present with them. Can his disciples do any less?

Whether or not one is impressed with the arguments (or lack thereof) presented in this book, the Givens are splendid writers, and a joy to read for their own sake. If you have a friend who is doubting, or if you doubt yourself, this book is for you. Even if you don't doubt, there is something in this book for you as well. 4 out of 5 stars.

Ways to make the best of General Conference

On October 1, 2016 through October 2, 2016 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will gather, whether in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah or their own living rooms, to watch the 186th semi-annual General Conference. When doing so, they will have the opportunity to sustain their leaders and receive counsel from them.

Because conference is a regular occurrence, it has the possibility to become boring, redundant, or not as inspiring as it should be. While not every speaker at Conference will be as inspiring as Winston Churchill, members should if nothing else leave the last session with their spirits raised and their vision a little brighter. Allow me to share 3 brief thoughts about how to do this, though there are many others.

1. Prepare

The late President Boyd K. Packer (who was my favorite conference speaker for years) many years ago when he was a member of the now discontinued Assistants to the Quorum of the Twelve said this of General Conference:
"What we say in Conference will not matter as much as the preparation that you make for our message.
When things become regular, we sometimes look beyond the mark and think that we don't have a duty in the matter. General Conference, like scripture study, temple worship, and prayer, is an opportunity to receive revelation. But, revelation cannot come if we are not prepared to receive it. In order to prepare, it would be wise to have a prayerful attitude, as well as questions that need answering, and listening to the speakers as though they were an oracle, because they are.

2. Understanding

General Conference is not simply a time that we can consume information, it also a time of commitment and re-commitment. This is one of 4 times during the year (ward conferences being the other) that we will be able to sustain President Thomas S. Monson, the other general authorities, and general officers of the Church. If you have been doing this your whole life you may shrug and say "Yeah, so what?" Keep in mind that sustaining means to hold or lift another up; it is not primarily about you. These men and women, whether you always agree with their decisions, work countless hours to see the Lord's work succeed and your raised hands make all the difference in the world to them.

A word of caution for those who choose not to sustain. That is your privilege, but if you are in the Conference Center, simply raise your hand when asked if you do not support a motion; there is no reason to classless and tacky.

3. Remember

Elder Jeffery R. Holland in a recent message reminded us that not every message in General Conference will be directly applicable to us. I will go a little further. It may be the case that most of General Conference may not be for you, but keep in mind that what these men and women say may be useful to you later. As Elder David A. Bednar often says, "Scriptures do not change, but we do." My friend the late Joseph F. McConkie said in his book Answers: Straightforward Answers to Tough Gospel Questions that while not every word that is uttered in Conference can be counted as scripture, much of it can. Reverence these talks as sacred, even if they don't matter much to you... yet.

Also, keep in mind that while a majority of talks may not matter to you, they probably do for someone else. The Church has over 15 million members and have that many if not more problems; Conference combined is only around 12 hours. Not everyone will have their issue addressed, but that does not mean that we cannot learn from what these people are saying, regardless of whether or not it applies to us in that moment.

Hopefully these suggestions have been of some help to someone, and I hope that everyone enjoys the upcoming Conference. Can't wait to hear what the speakers will say, as well as see all the Conference memes on Facebook.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mason and Dehlin: Can it work?

On September 19, 2016 Salt Lake Tribune columnist Peggy Fletcher Stack alerted the public (or at least the public who did not already know), that John Dehlin and Patrick Q. Mason would be co-authoring a blog on Patheos dedicated to talking about problems in Mormonism. Dehlin is an ex-Mormon and founder of the Mormon Stories Podcast. Mason is a historian and chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, best known for his book Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (which I reviewed here).

Patrick Mason (left) John Dehlin (right)
After seeing the article, I shared it on Facebook with the caption "Mason buying into Dehlin's publicity stunts. Smh." This lead to over a hundred comments and arguments within the thread, and as often happens the arguments went in a far different direction than I what I had originally intended; such are the joys of social media.

My problem with the Mason/Dehlin project is twofold. First, these sort of conversations have been done before and are not usually fruitful. Take for example the book Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue where neuroscientist and atheist activist Sam Harris has a dialogue with former Islamist Maajid Nawaz. Harris and Nawaz try to have a productive dialogue, but it is doomed from the start because Harris wants to see Islam come to an end (as well as all other religions) while Nawaz says that Islam is for the most part not dangerous and is open to reform.

The DehlinMason project mirrors the Harris/Nawaz one in many respects. Dehlin believes that the LDS Church and religion do more harm than good, taunts believers who disagree with him, and his podcast would now more properly be called "Ex-Mormon Stories" because it now focuses on people who are transitioning out of Mormonism rather than on LDS scholars and intellectuals like it has in the past. In a recent interview, Dehlin also compared excommunication hearings to torture in the 15th century, which I find odd since Dehlin came out of his hearing untouched and in perfect health, and he had the option of not attending if he didn't want to. Simply put, Dehlin would delight and rejoice in seeing the LDS Church fail and be replaced with a secular humanism.

Mason's position is summed up well in the introduction to his book Planted:
"When it comes to Mormonism, I'm "all in,"to incongruously use the poker term, and have been my entire life. I like being in. I go to church every Sunday, and  (mostly) enjoy it. I know it is good for me. I know that I find redemption and satisfaction in the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through its prophets and members."
Close quote. So Mason, like Nawaz is a believer, but sees that there are problems within the LDS Church that need addressing, and he does a good job of laying the framework for addressing them in his book. But again, keep in mind that reform and destruction are not compatible. It is one thing to say that a house has a broken window, floors that need to be mopped, and light-bulbs that need to be replaced; it is another to say that the foundation has rotted, the walls are moldy, the roof is collapsing, and that it would be simpler to tear the house down and build something new that bears little resemblance to the former house. Mason sees the former as modern Mormonism, Dehlin sees the latter. These paradigms are so different that is extremely doubtful there will be much agreement and progress on issues that need to be addressed.

Secondly, it is not clear that Mason and Dehlin are qualified to have some of the discussions that they are having. In their second post titled How We Know What We Know, Dehlin and Mason discuss religious epistemology. Epistemology is one of the five main branches of philosophy, and deals with how a person can have knowledge, or what counts as knowledge versus belief. While their dialogue is interesting, keep in mind that neither Dehlin or Mason are philosophers, and therefore are not equipped to address this area. If Dehlin wanted to talk about epistemology and various issues in theology, he should have talked to Brian Birch or Blake Ostler, who are trained philosophers with extensive training in epistemology. The conversation concludes with a mention of the Book of Abraham, which leads me to believe that subject will be discussed by the duo in the near future. But since neither is a linguist or an egyptologist, the same problems that plagued their discussion of epistemology will come through again. If Dehlin wants to talk about various issues in blog form, he should address them with experts in the field. But even that would be doomed to failure, since Dehlin brings up red herrings and non sequiturs ad nauseam in his past podcasts with intellectuals (such as his four part interview with philosopher Adam S. Miller).

The title of this post is "Can it work?" In short, no it cannot, at least in the sense that it will resolve issues that plague Mormon and non-Mormon. Especially not with two people who are on the polar opposite side of the spectrum on just about everything related to Mormonism. While they will have some fun conversations that will be worth reading, don't expect any real problem-solving to come of this.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Review of "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design"

As a devout evolutionist and Darwinian, I have often struggled with friends who are enthusiasts about so called Intelligent Design Theory. Often I remind them that the theory is not science because it does not follow the scientific method and is more of a philosophical than a scientific argument. Second, it is abundantly evident that the so-called Intelligent Designers are basically just a bunch of Christians who want to get a form of creationism into the scientific curriculum. I have had the discussion enough that I thought I would eventually write a book about it. Luckily, I do not have too.

Historian of Science Michael Shermer in his book Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design masterfully and amusingly takes the Intelligent Design theorists to task and shows how, in large measure, the Intelligent Designers do not have a case and how religious people can both believe in God and also accept scientific evidence.

The book begins with Shermer and a colleague exploring the Galapagos Isles; the same Isle's that Charles Darwin explored before authoring On the Origin of Species. He notes that the Isle's are difficult to get around, and are very threatening to certain kinds of life, and that over time he saw how animals that were on the Isle's during Darwin's journey there had changed and adapted to be better suited to survive. As he puts it "There can be no doubt: evolution happened."

Shermer then goes on the defensive, showing that evolution is a historical science; you don't see it while it is occurring as much as you do after it has occurred. He also points out that not only biology gives us evidence of evolution, but paleontology, geology, anthropology, and so forth. So, we can have a strong conviction of evolution and it is because various sciences and studies converge to the exact same conclusion. If evolution did not happen, it would be very odd for people of many disciplines to all converge to the same general framework.

Next, Shermer gives the various reasons people don't believe in the theory, and shows they are ill founded or have been countered. In large measure, part of the problem is about words, which as an analytic philosopher I would say most problems come from. When people hear the word theory, generally they take that to mean that this is someones idea that their acceptance or non-acceptance of will be of little difference. In science, a theory is based on empirical evidence, and is used to interpret the evidence. So, evolution is a theory based on evidence, and is able to explain life and complexity more than satisfactorily. For this reason, it is universally accepted in the scientific community, but people outside of it do not understand the meaning of the term, so they feel that Darwin's theories are of no more importance than those of Mary Baker Eddy. Newsflash: Darwin was right and Eddy was... well I don't want to go there but you get my point.

After explaining Darwin's theory, Shermer gives the arguments from the Intelligent Design side. He points out that most of them are just asking a question rather than making an argument. For instance, Intelligent Design theorist Stephen C. Meyer points out that the Cambrian Explosion is incompatible with Darwinism because these animals just appeared rather than descending from prior known forms of life, and states that even Darwin himself was perplexed by this. Shermer then points out that the current fossil record shows that the Cambrian Explosion was not really an explosion and that it is explainable by natural selection and random mutation. I must say, for a Cambridge philosophy graduate, Meyer makes me ashamed to be a philosopher. Yikes!

Shermer concludes by talking about the conflict between science and religion (which is not a conflict at all as far as I am concerned), and invokes the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould's idea of non-overlapping magisteria; which is that science and religion are about two different things, the former is about the empirical world, and the other is about morals, values, and so on.

Here I must disagree with Shermer and Gould. First, there is an overlap in some religions with science because some religions believe in miracles which are by definition "A violation of the laws of nature" as Scottish philosopher David Hume stated. Also, I am not sure that religion has its own magisteria to claim if it is solely about ethics; there are many moral philosophers, psychologists, and theorists who engage in these questions everyday, and some do it better than those who are religious. It would be better to say that religion is not interested in the same questions as science, and that there really is no conflict unless we make it into one.

I will close with this quote from Shermer's book, which sums up the whole debate and problem very beautifully:
"Darwin matters because evolution matters. Evolution matters because science matters. Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age, an epic saga about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going."
Because science matters and because many in America are uniformed about these matters, I strongly recommend that you pick up Shermer's book and educate yourself. If we are going to have a conversation that is constructive, we must be informed.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Answering My Critics : A Response to Dennis Walker and Robert Boylan

On September 6th, 2016, I celebrated 7 years of membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These seven years have not been easy for me, there has been anguish, frustration, pain, desperation, and thoughts of suicide at times. However, as the prophet Nephi said thousands of years ago "I know in whom I have trusted": the Lord Jesus Christ. He has allowed me to suffer pain and agony so that I can feel his healing power and loving kindness. While I have had difficulty as a member of the Church (and may have more in the future), I am thankful for the sustaining influence of the Lord in my life and would not trade my testimony of him and of his restored gospel for anything.

That being said, two weeks ago I published a post titled Are Mormon Christian? Not really..... and received different levels of response. Just this morning my mission president Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (who is a New Testament scholar at Brigham Young University) sent me an e-mail and said that while he considered my arguments good, he also said that it might be best to classify Mormons as "pre-creedal Christians." In addition to President Holzapfel, my friends Dennis Walker and theologian and apologist Robert Boylan responded to my post on their respective blogs, which can be read here and here. I will spend most of this blog responding to them, but before I do I would like to say that both of these gentlemen are my friends, are good people, and I will address the arguments they made rather than them as individuals.

Before I respond to them, a point deserves to be made in reference to President Holzapfel's point. Central to the truth claims of Mormonism is that soon after the death of Jesus of Nazareth the doctrines and church he established were lost, and remained lost until the time of Joseph Smith, Jr. So, by definition Mormons do not regard the creeds of Christendom (Nicene, Apostles, Athanasian, etc) as being reflective of true New Testament Christianity. However, this still makes my point rather than refutes it. If you say that you are not pre-creedal Christians, you are still admitting that you do not in fact worship the same God because these creeds define God and Christ as Christians define them today. If you do not worship the same God, you are not of the same faith, even if you use the same vocabulary. You are merely involved in what Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein called a "language game", and we need to move past that game in order to have a true interfaith dialogue. Christians and Mormons both believe in God, but there meaning of that word is fundamentally different enough that both Mormons and Christians cannot claim to be on the same side.

On to the points made by Dennis Walker. His fundamental argument against me was a straw-man; attacking what I didn't say instead of what I did say. His blog focused on the fact the Latter-day Saints accept Jesus as their Savior and live according to his teachings. I agree with this, and that was not the argument of my blog, which was never addressed by Dennis in his blog. My thesis was as follows:
"There is no greater question than knowing who God is." That is particularly true of the Mormon-Christian dialogue because neither Mormons or Christians are questioning (at least not as a whole) whether or not God exists; that question is already presupposed to be that he does in fact exist. The real question is what are the attributes and nature of this being. All other questions, such as the nature of the Church, priesthood, scriptural interpretation, ethics, etc, flow out of who and what God is.
So, my argument was not about whether or not Mormons believe in Jesus Christ; they have his name in the official name of their Church, it would be very strange for them to not believe in him. The argument was whether the nature and attributes of the being that we call God is shared with other Christians, and it is not. You cannot reconcile the idea of a materialistic, naturalistic God with the idea of the Platonic/Aristotelian God that is worshiped by Christians. That was the point of the discussion, and had nothing to do with how Mormons and Christians view Jesus of Nazareth, although that too is very different.

Dennis also engaged in ad hominem attack when he said:
"Tarik Lacour’s assumption that we must say we are the only Christian church and his call for us to separate ourselves and essential renounce our Christianity, or his other solution  contrast that with the claim that we are the only Christian Church, is absurd and heretical. His call is ironically accompanied by a statement that implies that the Church and its Saints are not honest.

Such actions with either appease the masses and discredit the entire work of the Lord, quite the opposite of Tarik’s assumption that it would accelerate and assist in the legitimacy of the work. He states that “In order to be honest, you must clearly state what you believe, and honesty is the best avenue to have fruitful interfaith dialogue. In order for this to happen, Mormons will need to be honest and say that they are a separate religion from Christians, be straightforward about their materialistic and polytheistic beliefs, and honest that they alone are the vehicle of salvation and exaltation, even if other faiths do much good. We cannot move forward unless we are strictly honest.”

Such a statement would make it clear that he feels there is no legitimacy to the work of the Lord in current time."

Close quote. First, as to whether or not we are the only Christian Church. If anyone can define what a Christian is and what Church is correct, it would be Jesus himself. In section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants, he states that the LDS Church is "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased." That is very absolutist language, but I believe it to be true, and I affirmed that in the closing points in my blog. So, Dennis should take his problem to Jesus or Joseph Smith, Jr., but not to me for pointing that out.

As far as having a conversation with other Christians, keep in mind that since we do not always recognize that we are playing a language game, many Christians think that Mormons believe pretty much what they believe, and many Mormons think that they are not very different from Christians. So, what I am suggesting is that when we use a word that is shared between us (such as God) we clearly define at the beginning what we mean by the term. As a convert I know this first hand; it wasn't until I read Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie that I discovered that Mormons and Christians have radically different conceptions of the divine. To avoid confusion, lets be clear and honest about what we believe so that no one can misunderstand what we are talking about, that is all I am suggesting.

On the last point, that I do not feel that the Lord's work is legitimate is as astonishing as it is false. I have joined the Church in spite of familial resistance, served a mission, accepted callings, paid tithing, and am an employee of the Church. If I am a dissenter, the evidence begs to differ. Also, Dennis mentioned in his blog that my approach was academic; of course that is the case. I am an academic philosopher, what other approach would I take? This done not mean in the slightest that I believe that discipleship is mere academic assent, it is a lifestyle approach and a commitment. I have shown my commitment to the Church many times, and I plan to continue to do so.

On to Robert Boylan and his concerns. First, I go by the name Tarik; David is my fathers name. Second, I am a philosopher who happens to have a blog and LDS theology and doctrine is not what my blog is dedicated to, so I am not an "LDS blogger". Third, to call a believing member of the Church as being in line with the likes of Sandra Tanner is both insulting and false; I have a strong commitment and testimony of the Restored Gospel and to attack a fellow servant in the vineyard is disgusting and contemptible.

Something else that disturbed me was his linking me with Thomas Aquinas, which caught me by surprise. First, I am not a Thomist, I am a Humean. Second, I mentioned Aquinas only once in my post and said that Mormon's conception of God was far different than his. While I do revere Aquinas and he has had an influence on me, his ideas are not central to the philosophy I defend.

Boylan's argument, like Dennis', results in being a straw-man because he is making the point the LDS version of Christianity is more in line with the New Testament than other Christians. That was not the point of my blog, so whether it is correct or not is irrelevant, although I agree with much of what Boylan said, in particular his reference of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. As pointed out earlier, the point of my blog was to discuss the conflicting natures of God in Mormonism and Christianity; not Thomas Aquinas' philosophy, the Ante-Nicene Fathers, or even which version of Christianity is right.

I would like to close by saying that I am thankful to these gentlemen for taking the time to read my blog, and further time to respond to it. But perhaps it would be best to understand what I was saying before issuing a response. I rest my case.