June 11, 2009

Occam's Razor

One of the more basic principles of finding truth that is generally accepted is called Occam's razor. It states that "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity", or in very simplified terms, "the simplest explanation is probably the correct one."

Regarding the topic of this blog, the truthfulness of the LDS church, if we were to apply Occam's razor, we might boil all of the debate down to any one of several very simple questions that essentially ask whether or not the LDS church is, indeed, led by Christ. The answers should be simple and will reflect the answer to the overall question. We should not need excessive qualifiers. Here are a few examples I propose:

1. Would God threaten a teenager with death and damnation if she refused to marry a man three times her age whom she did not love?

2. Would God change the DNA structure of Native American ancestors so that they would not be linked to Israel after He cursed them with dark skin?

3. Would God command plural marriage that would contradict his commandment to follow the laws of the land?

4. Would the most perfect book on Earth find support of its claims in science and archaeology? If not, why were we given brains?

5. Would a man of God propose marriage to married women without their first husbands' knowledge or consent? If so, for what reasonable purpose?

6. Is a man of God required to live by the conditions he sets forth (i.e., Joseph Smith did not follow any of the conditions of polygamy set forth in D&C 132:61 or Jacob 2:30.)?

7. Is it mere coincidence that the Book of Mormon's content so closely matches that of another book that was published almost a decade before in the neighboring county?

8. If Joseph Smith's translations were correct, would the best minds of today find some support of that?

9. Would the most important prophet of the last days lie to his wife and followers for years about the existence/true nature of his extramonogamous marriages?

10. Did God once believe that skin color was a curse, but now He does not?

If the reasonable answer to any one of these would contradict what the Church insists to be true, then the conclusion, according to the razor, is that the Church has it wrong. Faithful believers have explanations/justifications for each of these. One can stretch his or her imagination enough to say that these aren't contradictions, or that there is an explanation that we just don't have yet, but I have always felt that the truth should not need so much explaining. The truth should feel intuitive and make sense.

Does it make sense that God contradicts Himself where he sees fit, changes His most fundamental doctrines when politically unavoidable, cannot support His claims with anything other than feelings, commands His prophets to do unspeakable acts of dishonesty, intolerance, and impropriety? Or does it make more sense that all of these things were the acts of men?

I find that LDS defenders answer each of these questions with hundreds of "if"s and "but"s. The razor proposes that the answer is either "yes" or "no" and should not need any qualifiers.

If you feel that Occam's razor has any application, it seems to me that the answer is obvious. Rather than saying, "I felt good about Joseph Smith before I knew he was sleeping with other men's wives, so I have to make myself feel good about that now too to make sure the first feeling wasn't a mistake" could one reasonably say, "Sleeping with other men's wives is not godly, so Joseph Smith must not have been what he claimed"?

Each must ask himself whether that fact is a reasonable trial of faith, or a red flag that Joseph Smith was a mere man.

And my final question is, "Would a just God condemn someone for finding these things troubling?"

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