“It’s been scientifically proven…”

I remember an argument I had with an acquaintance in high school. I don’t remember the topic anymore (capital punishment? abortion? gay marriage? I’m sure it must have been one of those perennial high school kid debates). A friend had recently told me something that bolstered my side of the argument. I knew the information was correct, because he told me that “it had been scientifically proven.”

So I went confidently into the argument, and when the climax came I pulled out my trump card with a, “And it’s a scientifically proven fact!” Yet somehow my opponent failed to see the genius of my argument, responding with, “Yeah? Show me.” Suddenly I was left empty handed and defeated. I’d based my whole argument on my friend’s claim and never sought to understand it myself. Fortunately, however, the debate woke the spark of critical inquiry in me. I learned that authority is useless unless founded on substance.

The church equivalent of “it’s been scientifically proven” is “the prophets/scriptures say”. The scriptures say a lot of things, and the combined Journal of Discourses and archive of conference addresses say a lot more. “The scriptures say” is often shorthand for “my seminary teacher told me”. It can also mean, “I’m so confident that what I’m saying is true that I’m sure the scriptures validate it. I may not be able to point at a specific verse or anything, but I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.” (Incidentally, I remember one of my youth leaders teaching us that the Book of Mormon says that aliens will never come to earth. What?!)

Fortunately, a recently discovered passage of scripture (trust me — it’s been scientifically proven legit!) provides some guidance for handling situations where a person provides you with new information that you don’t know how to respond to:

1There are two kinds of beings in aheaven, namely: bAngels, who are cresurrected personages, having dbodies of flesh and bones—
2For instance, Jesus said: Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not aflesh and bones, as ye see me have.
3Secondly: the aspirits of bjust men made cperfect, they who are not resurrected, but inherit the same glory.
4When a messenger comes saying he has a message from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you.
5If he be an angel he will do so, and you will feel his hand.
6If he be the spirit of a just man made perfect he will come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear—
7Ask him to shake hands with you, but he will not move, because it is contrary to the aorder of heaven for a just man to bdeceive; but he will still deliver his message.
8If it be the adevil as an angel of light, when you ask him to shake hands he will offer you his hand, and you will not bfeel anything; you may therefore detect him.
9These are three grand akeys whereby you may know whether any administration is from God.

D&C 129½

1 There are two kinds of beings in earth, namely: people who know what they’re talking about and people who just pass crap along—

2 When a messenger comes saying he has a message, offer him your questions and request him to respond.

3 If he has a clue, he will do so, and you will feel to say, “Woah, that’s cool.”

4 If it be a crap passer appearing as one who has a clue, when you inquire he or she will get all defensive and say, “Why you gotta be like that?”, and you will not feel anything; you may therefore detect him or her.

5 These are two grand keys whereby you may know whether any administration is full of crap.

21 comments for ““It’s been scientifically proven…”

  1. I don’t believe someone is full of crap if he can’t prove a statement to you on the spot. Nor do I believe someone is not full of crap if he gives you scriptures right on the spot.
    ( But I do agree, a lot of what we are told is crap, but can’t prove it at this moment).

  2. Bob’s got a good point. What we mostly do in our everyday argumentation is to use rhetorical devices that we know help us posture in the debate – which include all kinds of “backup” and support that probably satisfy the demands of D&C 129.5:2-3. And we do this at our higher-faluting (sp?) levels too. Don’t take me wrong – I’m not leveling all debate to rhetoric and posturing. Arguments really do get legitimately destroyed and defended, but the overall positions, not so much. Often because they’re tied to an overall ethic – something much more difficult to either assail or propound. Persons who genuinely know what they’re talking about (and are honest) are really good at showing why given arguments and approaches fail, but are much more reticent and cautious when it comes to overall positions, and will usually present a solid case for why – despite the lack (or perhaps impossibility) of any “scientific proof” – we ought to adopt a given position.

  3. James, good point. By the grand keys given here, it’s possible that two people might be defending the same position and one is shown to have a clue while the other is shown to be full of crap. Obviously that doesn’t make sense, since the position itself won’t be true for one of them and false for the other — the position is true or false independent of the arguments used to defend it. My point is that, since none of us can view a position directly (in some absolute Lacanian sense), we do the best we can by approaching individuals who claim to have better insights into that position than we have, and then we judge the position based on the arguments presented by those individuals. It’s not a perfect system, but I think it’s the best we’ve got.

  4. Bob, I don’t expect people to have their sources ready at any moment. What I expect is that they person might say, “Yeah, I read that in [publication],” or, “I heard that from [so-and-so],” or, “Yeah, I don’t remember where I learned that,” or, if they’re feeling particularly interested in the point, “Let me check on that and I’ll get back to you.” Any of those responses sheds some useful light for the person trying to figure out how to receive the message.

  5. “Incidentally, I remember one of my youth leaders teaching us that the Book of Mormon says that aliens will never come to earth. What?!”

    Though we don’t know much about the lost 116 pages, it is undisputed that Martin Harris’s wife stated that she read just this right before she individually ate each page of the manuscript. I know, because I heard this once from my brother-in-law, who heard it from his veterinarian’s bishop’s wife’s Muleluca representative. And that’s pretty well good enough for me.

  6. (Incidentally, I remember one of my youth leaders teaching us that the Book of Mormon says that aliens will never come to earth. What?!)

    Oddly enough, this one has some roots, although I don’t think the BoM is the reference (correct me if you can think of the bit he was referring to). I’ve seen people point to D&C 130:4-5, which says:

    In answer to the question—Is not the reckoning of God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time, according to the planet on which they reside? I answer, Yes. But there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it.

    IIRC this may be a scripture which Joseph Fielding Smith drew on in conjunction with his statements about man never walking on the moon. It would be interesting to look into JFeS’s reasoning on this. He was not a fan of B.H. Roberts’s theory of Adam and Eve being transplanted from another planet like ours to this one, and objected to that part of Roberts’s The Truth, The Way, The Life manuscript. Roberts’s theory was similar to Brigham Young’s, only Roberts’s couple were mortal and Young’s were immortal (gets into Adam-God territory).

  7. @ BHodge: ” only Roberts’s couple were mortal and Young’s were immortal (gets into Adam-God territory)”.
    I kinda lean toward the Black Obelisk in the movie 2001.

  8. You can also attempt to counter someone else’s “scientifically proven” fact by stating that you detect the “spirit of contention” (3 Ne. 11:29) and walk away, leaving them holding the bag. :-)

  9. @Mark: To dismiss someone when you don’t believe the same , and you feel they have the “spirit of contention”__is very condescending, and judgemental” I have lost family members that I loved over this issue.

  10. Thanks for the connection, BHodges. Every nightmare I had as a child involved aliens (well, except for the one that had The Greatest American Hero fighting a spider monster), so I took comfort in having been told that it was scripturally impossible :)

  11. A great reference for this topic generally
    is Harry G. Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit.” Anybody
    else ever read it?

  12. Can’t say I’m familiar with that one. First I need to figure out if my wife would let me put it on the bookshelf..

  13. Anyone who actually knows much science will recognize “It’s been scientifically proven” as a tipoff that the speaker does not know real science. In science, a good hypothesis is one that CAN be disproven, and can therefore be tested through experiment. One can definitively disprove something “scientifically”, but to “prove” something means that it has been tested repeatedly and intelligently and has not yet been disproven.

    Many of the most interesting questions in science, the ones that people make careers out of, are ones that are not in fact definitively “proven” but are interesting and significant enough to be repeatedly and cleverly tested.

    Admittedly even many scientists are sloppy in their casual conversation about this. But honest scientists will remember that being dogmatic about previously held conclusions is not scientifically justified. That even goes for concepts like Darwinian evolution by cumulative random mutation and natural selection. An article in this month’s Discover magazine is an interview with a scientist who argues that cumulative random mutation does not hold water as sufficiently creative to explain the origin of significant new features and new species. It does not explain the fact that normal genetic laws tend to preserve existing DNA rather than modify it into new specis. It does not explain th fossil record, which shows the “punctuated equilibrium” that Stephen Jay Gould theorized about, rather than the constant gradual change that Darwin asserted was the source of species diversity. She argues for the alternative that many of the major developments in the increased complexity of living things involve a literal merging of biological organisms, such as the one that is hypothesized to have placed mitochondria, with totally independent DNA that does not reproduce sexually, into the cells of multi-cellular organisms. She does not buy into the hypothesis that intelligent intervention is necessary to explain biological development, but she agrees with the critique of neo-Darwinism made by the Intelligent Design advocates, that Darwin’s creative mechanism is just not up to the task.

    So resort to the authority of “science” to prove an argument is nor more supportive of real intellectual dialogue than is a citation to “the Bible”. When someone cites “the Constitution” in general as an authority, without more specificity, it is a red flag that the speaker (like most americans) has no idea what is actually in the document or how it has been interpreted and applied over the last two centuries.

  14. Good point with the Constitution.

    “The problem is that most people have no idea what their rights really are, and just assume that anything they don’t like violates those rights.”
    – Shystershep

Comments are closed.