April 25, 2010

If, Then

There is usually a logical flow from evidence to conclusion in most things. For example, if it is snowing outside, then I can reasonably conclude that it is also cold; if my car runs, it is reasonable to conclude that there is also gas in the tank.

Truth tends to work in this direction. We observe evidence, and are led to the appropriate conclusion of that evidence. To get to the next step, the next piece of evidence must be found.

In the LDS world, however, I have noticed a pattern of misapplying certain evidences to reach unwarranted conclusions. For example, these follow a logical flow:
  • If the Book of Mormon gives one a lot of strength in life, then it is reasonable to conclude it is a book that can lift one up.
  • If the Book of Mormon teaches one to have more faith, then it is a wonderful book on faith.
  • If it helps a mother to love her children, then it is an excellent guide on parenting.
However, even if all of the above things are true, it is not reasonable to use any of them to conclude that the Book of Mormon is an historical document, translated from plates of gold. Evidence that would support that theory might be found in archaeology, linguistic studies, DNA research on the claims of the book, and so on. Unfortunately, virtually all such research has failed to support the book as anything more than a product of a religious-minded young man living in a region full of spiritual debate during the 19th Century.

To read the Book of Mormon and like the themes, and even to feel good about the content, does not mean that it was divinely inspired. On the same note, jumping to conclusions about Joseph Smith based on unrelated evidence can be misguided.
  • If Joseph Smith inspired millions, then he was a charismatic leader.
  • If he converted thousands with his words, then he was a powerful orator.
  • If he stood up against threats against his life and suffered through prison, then he was a very brave (or at least motivated) man.
  • But it is problematic to use any of the above evidences to go beyond their corresponding conclusions and decide that they point to Joseph Smith as a prophet of God. Every chance that might have supported the latter claim has proven damaging to it; his purported translations, his private life, inaccurate prophecies, his unChristlike actions, etc.
We would not jump to erroneous conclusions in other areas. One does not propose to a woman simply because she says she likes kids. One does not purchase a house simply because it has a large garage. One does not purchase a car simply because it has a balloon tied to the mirror. One does not invest in stock simply because it has a catchy name. In each of these cases, one should do more investigation until the evidence leads to the appropriate action. Just as one would not fall to his or her knees and worship a television magician after a card trick, one should not conclude that Joseph Smith was a prophet or that the Book of Mormon is an historical record after feeling good about them. There are vital pieces missing in between.

2 comments:

Merry Mary said...

If I am reading your blog, then you must have found time to write again! Good to have you back Eli.

The Girl With... said...

I agree with you, but somehow "personal witness" trumps anything else for members of the church. Once you have a "personal witness" that the church is true no investigation is necessary and no information can change your mind. At least this is what I have noticed with family and friends who are praying fervently that I will receive a "personal witness" so I can just go back to church and forget all the nonsense that doesn't really matter. ugh!