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.

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