December 10, 2010


In humankind's search for the truth, there are several tests we put to possible explanations of phenomena. Often, we must use indirect methods of measuring those that are not easily quantifiable otherwise. For example, when a person desires to know how many trees grow in a year, he can physically count each tree. But if a person wants to know the difference in temperature between a boiling pot and a refrigerator, he will need something that can measure temperatures: a thermometer. An adequate measure requires a minimum of two characteristics: validity and reliability. If a measure is valid it assesses the phenomenon it was meant to (e.g., a scale is valid if it actually assesses weight). A measure is reliable if the result is consistent throughout trials (e.g., a bathroom scale is reliable if it measures same object at 20 lbs. today, tomorrow, and a week from now). Both of these characteristics are required simultaneously of an accurate measure. A valid, but unreliable, bathroom scale would assess weight, but today it may show that I am 130 lbs., while tomorrow it may show that I am 240 lbs. In contrast, a reliable, but invalid, measure would be similar to me stepping on a bathroom scale to read my temperature - it would give me essentially the same result whenever I stepped on it, but the information would not be that I sought.

With the two required characteristics of an adequate measure in mind, let us examine the LDS church's ultimate measure of truth: an emotional experience.

Firstly, is an emotional experience reliable? I submit that it is sometimes reliable. Similar stimuli often trigger similar emotions. When I watch a scary movie, I usually feel something I would describe as fear. Thus, a fear response might reliably happen every time I watch a scary movie. However, feelings are very often less than reliable. For example, the same piece of music may evoke a feeling of peace or excitement at the first few hearings, but another time may cause feelings of urgency or jealousy. After dozens of hearings, the same song may even become a nuisance. Even further, the same song may cause one to feel bliss and another to feel nausea. Regarding the LDS church, while reading the Book of Mormon may evoke peace and hope at one time, it may also cause boredom, confusion, or feelings of inadequacy at others. Certainly then, an emotional experience is not very reliable.

Secondly, is an emotional experience valid? Again, I submit that it is sometimes valid. For example, if I feel valued, it is likely a result of people around me who treat me like I am important and wanted. But if I feel lucky, it does not necessarily mean that I am likely to win the lottery. If I feel peace and hope after a Sunday School lesson, it may mean that the message was full of good, hopeful things. It usually does not mean that everyone felt the same way, however. But many feel nothing, confusion, or disgust after praying about Joseph Smith's purported vision, while others report peace, comfort, joy, etc. So again, emotions are sometimes valid.

If both reliability and validity are required of an accurate measure of the truth, it seems that an emotional response is far from adequate. Just as one would not use a barometer to time a baking cake, or trust a speedometer that never rises above 5 mph., one should not base a judgment of the organization of the universe and path to eternal salvation on something as unreliable and often invalid as an emotion.