Innumerable blog posts and not a few books have been written in the last few years about faith crises and doubt as the Church and our Secular Age collide. The Church understands that facts on the ground are changing and that–in order to accomplish eternal objectives–tactics need to shift to accommodate the new reality. The clearest example of this is Elder Ballard’s address: The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century.
In the piece, Elder Ballard extols use of the Church’s new Gospel Topics essays–which cover sensitive and difficult topics like race and the priesthood and Heavenly Mother–and makes crystal clear that things have changed.
As Church education moves forward in the 21st century, each of you needs to consider any changes you should make in the way you prepare to teach, how you teach, and what you teach if you are to build unwavering faith in the lives of our precious youth.
Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and a teacher responded, “Don’t worry about it!” Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue. Gone are the days when students were protected from people who attacked the Church.
Elder Ballard could not be more clear that some of our old tactics are no longer serving current needs.
It is important for us to acknowledge that, on the journey of faith, we’re all at different stages. It’s a good thing to make room in our Church culture for “I believe” to be an equally valid testimony as “I know,” since both gifts–personal knowledge and belief / reliance on those who have that gift of knowledge–are explicitly endorsed in scripture.
11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.
13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
Since the absence of absolute certainty entails the presence of some doubt, it is impossible to make room for the validity of belief without making room for the validity of doubt. And this is where the controversy starts.
On the one hand, there are those for whom doubt becomes an end in itself. For them, any straightforward profession of faith can be improved by adding innumerable caveats, qualifications, and–best of all!–nuance. Taken to its logical and absurd conclusion, it becomes impossible to profess anything at all, because by the time you’re done adding on the laundry list of disclaimers the initial point has become completely obscured. From this position, simple declamations–whether they begin with “I know that…” or “I believe that…”–are swept away.
And then on the other hand, there are those who object viscerally to the notion that doubt could be tolerated in any context or for any reason. Intentionally or not, the folks who take this line are in effect rejecting D&C 46 and stating that belief–which always implies doubt–is not acceptable to the Lord. Of course, this argument is not stated logically, but rather on the basis of scriptures like Mormon 9:27 (“Doubt not, but be believing”) and the numerous other exhortations against doubt. Pretty cut and dry, right?
Well, no, of course it’s not. Let me give a counterexample to lay the groundwork for some real talk. We are all familiar with the equally clear scriptural injunction to become as little children, right? Jesus himself said that “except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Seems pretty unambiguous, right?
And yet when Paul wrote to the Galatians, he seemed to have a much dimmer view of childhood, writing “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:” Well, which is it? Does being like children mean that we’re ready for the Kingdom of God, or does it mean that we’re “in bondage under the elements of the world”?
That’s not the only example, by the way. When Paul wrote to the Ephesians he was even clearer:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
Or was he? One chapter later he wrote (in the same letter!) explaining that we have prophets and apostles to help us avoid being like children, he then urged his audience to do exactly the opposite and “be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children.”
We are not really bothered by the contradiction here. We’ve all dealt with it in talks or Sunday school lessons, often by relying on terms like “child-like” (good) vs. “childish” (bad). We understand what Paul meant when he told us to be like children, and we also understand what Paul meant when he told us not to be like children. Whether or not we invent terminology to justify it (e.g. childish and childlike) we get the point. We understand that being like children is good or bad depending on the context, and because of that we’re not perplexed when Paul tells us not to do what Jesus told us we have to do, nor even when Paul apparently contradicts himself.
Why should it be any different with doubt?
There are no scriptures that encourage doubt, and I’m not encouraging it either. Anyone who tells you that doubt is an end in itself or something to strive for has no scriptural support and is, at best, confused. But at the same time, anyone who tells you that doubt is intrinsically wrong is also contradicting the scriptures. Because, to repeat myself, if you believe (rather than know) it means that you have less than complete certainty. That gap–the distance between your belief and perfect knowledge–can reasonably be called “doubt”. And doubt–in that sense of the word–is something we all have. It’s something we all live with . It’s not great. It’s not something we should be complacent about or simply accept without any hope of improvement, but it’s also not evidence that we’ve done something wrong or are unfaithful. It’s not a sin, it’s an imperfection, and none of us are perfect. None of us are going to be perfect in this lifetime.
Of course there are other meanings of the word “doubt” and not all of them are benign. Doubting can also refer to an actively cynical worldview, and in that sense of the word doubt is dangerous. So we have one word that spans multiple concepts. Big deal. Children are humble and trusting and full of love. They’re also psychotic poop-flinging monsters. Be like the first kind. Not like the second.
The problem with worshiping doubt is obvious. It precludes further progress and abets complacency. It can even undermine the faith of those around the person who celebrates doubt, the way the jeers from the great and spacious building caused some of those who had pressed through the mists of confusion to second-guess what they had achieved. Worshiping doubt is corrosive.
The problem with denying doubt all the time in every sense of the word might not be as obvious, but it’s just as real. Since none of us have perfect knowledge of all important things (even though some of us are blessed to have perfect knowledge of some things), there’s no way to deny doubt without falsely claiming certainty we don’t actually have. There’s a word for that, and the word is: arrogance. Or, in scriptural terms: pride.
The scriptures do not endorse doubt as such, but they do endorse humility. There is no reason to exclude intellectual humility. And that means being humble about we know–accepting that we don’t know it all, that we’re not always certain, that sometimes we’re confused or unsure–is not a violation of scriptural injunctions to “doubt not”, it is obedience to scriptural commands to be humble. And even, one could reasonably argue, to be like a little child who is willing to admit that sometimes they just don’t know.
Good OP. I think it is generally important to be open-minded. There are a couple things you could add.
1) Suppose you lived in an environment where people were frequently forcing into relevance the ideas of reincarnation, psychics, Bigfoot, and other paranormal phenomena that most believing LDS folks might be prone to dismiss as untrue. Might you find yourself frequently doubting these ideas? Might you be a rather constant doubter. I say this because I have many family members who constantly push insane conspiracy theories, anti-vaxxerism, and homeopathic voodoo. I find myself constantly at odds with their ideas and in a stateof perpetual doubt. Many see Mormonism as falling under the same category.
2) In my many interactions with the conspiracy theory world, I frequently hear appeals to what I like to call the logical fallacy of we-don’t-knowism. It is a claim not to know something that is not generated out of sincere lack of certainty about some proposition and willingness to try to objectively ascertain knowledge about a particular topic; rather it is a claim not to know with the aim of placing the burden of proof on skeptics. For instance, I frequently hear 9/11 truthers claim that we really don’t what happened on 9/11 to non-truths all the while claiming absolute certainty that it was Mossad and Bush behind the attacks to other truthers. The claim not to know places the burden of proof on the person who accepts the official explanation and allows the truther to point out anomalies in the official explanation without taking responsibility for putting together a hypothesis for who was behind the attacks. We-don’t-knowism is nothing more than a cover of fake open-mindedness cloaking an unbudging mound of uncompromising absolutism. Sometimes I get this sense from some LDS apologists who to believing LDS audiences claim absolute knowledge of a historical BOM, while to secular academic audiences and doubting ex-Mormon audiences insincerely claim that we simply don’t know enough to really say anything about the BOM, let alone express the idea that it is a 19th-century text, thus relieving themselves of any burden of proving ancient origins.
It is interesting that those who know the church is true often can’t recognise the difference between their opinion and scientific fact. They feel they are entitled to equal time and value as a climate scientist, or a medical scientist re vaxinations, and are offended when that respect is not given. Hence lefty journals
I am not sure that knowing something that can’t be known isnt a dangerous self delusion that leads to over confidence in our judgement v scientific truth.
You make the point that there is not a gospel principle called doubt, I would point out there is also not one called obedience.
I agree that doubt is just the lack of certainty.
The scriptures tell us to have faith, rarely do they tell us to have knowledge. Is the difference between faith and knowledge doubt? In which case doubt is approved.
John, it’s not a logical fallacy to know two things that appear contradictory and not know how they are reconciled. The example I frequently use is quantum mechanics and general relativity which can’t be fully integrated with each other. I can know the Book of Mormon is historical (I’m not sure what “absolute certainty” means) without being able to explain certain odd features of the text – primarily metallurgical issues. You’re certainly correct that among conspiracy theorists will believe weird unlikely things without good reason. The issue with many LDS believers is that they think they have experiences that justify belief that you disagree with or doubt they actually had. However typically if the experiences were real that justifies the belief.
It’s of course completely fine to doubt people’s experiences, but depending upon the nature of their experience they might not be able to doubt them.
Geoff, I think that an unfair generalization. Doubt is more than a lack of certainty I think but it’s a broad term that can have different nuances depending upon how one uses it. As to the scriptures, they actually emphasize knowledge a lot. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” That’s not to deny that we also have lots of things we don’t know.
One must be careful to not confuse uncertainty and doubt, they are wholly different concepts and have strikingly different attributes and affects. To be uncertain while still pushing forward in faith does not express doubt. One can still push forward in faith. To doubt means that one thinks it possible for their faith to be in vain, that it could really be false. And that is the spirit of the wicked one. Doubt is always born ofof t spirit of evil. We are speaking of the gospel here. To doubt the gospel means to not have faith it is true that it could be false. That is a seed that bears fruit at some point. Uncertainty is different in that it has the connotation of perseverance in the face of outside doubters. Faith is opposite of doubt.
Contrast you assertion here with a basic check from a dictionary:
a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction
This is a problem I see with conservative-leaning folks very frequently. They want ordinary English to have a clarity that it just doesn’t have. “Doubt” is not a word that has one and only one meaning. It has multiple meanings. And so the assertion that you can draw a big, bright, straight line between “uncertainty” and “doubt” is simply wishful thinking. Similarly, you can’t say that “faith is the opposite of doubt” for the same reason.
By the way, here’s a further definition of doubt:
fear; be afraid.
Now, if you want to say the sense of doubt that is equivalent to fear is the opposite of faith, then I think you have a good point. But that’s not the only definition of the word. The primary meaning of the word doubt (especially when used as a noun) is just: the absence of certainty. In other words: uncertainty. So, one sense of the word “doubt” is just “uncertainty” and is not opposed to faith (in fact, is an integral part of it). And another sense of the word “doubt” is “fear” and is opposed to faith.
We just have to learn to live with the language that we have. And it’s a language that has a lot of overloaded terms. Words mean more than one thing. Sometimes the same word means opposite things! (Here is a list of 25 English words that mean their own opposite, including: sanction, oversight, left, dust, cleave, etc.)
So it shouldn’t surprise anybody that “doubt” happens to be a word with divergent meanings. Some of those meanings are compatible with faith. Some are not.
Trying to pretend otherwise is a waste of time. It gets us nowhere and it serves no purpose. Just like artificial distinctions between “childish” and “childlike”.
Thank you, Robert, for telling us what “doubt” must mean, rather than telling us what it sometimes means or what it means when you use it. Kinda makes me wonder who put you in charge of all possible meanings of the word. I thought Humpty Dumpty was the master:
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’?” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’?”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
L. Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass
The fact is “doubt” sometimes means something different than what you say. Another fact is that certainty (in some usages) is as much the opposite of faith (in some usages) as is doubt (in some usages). And doubt (in some usages) is not “always born ofof t spirit of evil.” Pontificating does not further communication. My pontificating about pontificating probably doesn’t either — and here I’ve broken my personal rule not to bother responding to your pontificating. My only excuse is the passing, and probably erroneous idea, that the appropriation of Humpty Dumpty’s approach should be acknowledged as such.
Geoff – AUS
There’s a solid case to be made (Hume has made it) that we can’t really know anything. So where does that leave us?
It’s reasonable to embrace a set of propositions as true even if we know very well that we can’t actually be certain. If you take Hume seriously (I do), we have no other choice. Especially since beliefs are revealed in actions more than in words. Which is to say that even if you try (sincerely!) to reject any proposition that you can’t prove with certainty, your day-to-day life is going to give away the fact that–implicitly–you do, in fact, operate on a whole suite of assumptions that you can’t hope to prove.
They key isn’t to restrict ourselves to only believing what we can prove. That is impossible. The key is to be aware of the fact that we’re operating on assumptions that we can’t (and haven’t) proven.
(Not sure if this is agreeing with your or disagreeing, to be honest!)
Nathaniel, I’m rather sympathetic to Rob’s point here. Look at the first dictionary use. It offers two senses which it ties together but which have very, very different connotations.
One is the feeling of uncertainty which presumably is that sense of trustworthiness. I feel uncertain about many things – perhaps most “theoretical” things including most of what I learn in science. Of course that’s what science is supposed to be like. Yet simultaneously I feel no uncertainty about being in my office typing on my keyboard. (Despite knowing all the thought experiments that attempt to undermine that certainty) Yet I can doubt in the sense of think up reasons it might not be true. So we have to distinguish between what I’d call real doubt which is that feeling and paper doubt which is a more intellectual consideration of alternatives.
The second sense is a lack of conviction. But conviction is tied to actions and not that feeling. Now it’s true that if you have a feeling of uncertainty you’ll often also lack conviction, which is likely why the author of that entry tied them together. However the whole notion of faith is that you have conviction despite having that feeling of uncertainty. That is you act as if it were true while lacking a feeling that it is true.
I’d add in that these are also matters of degree. Some things I feel more confident of than others. And I think confidence is perhaps a better description than feeling of uncertainty since we’re used to talking about degrees of confidence.
Anyway, I think there’s a lot of nuance here – particularly in the kinds of doubts we have and those issues of degree.
Clark, As to scriptures emphasizing knowledge a lot, you might find less ambiguous examples than ““And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” I’m not at all sure that the kind of knowing referred to there is the kind of knowledge under consideration in the OP and comments. It may be (and I think the Greek may allow) that it means knowing God and Christ as one knows another person, not knowing the truth of any propositions about either of them. Similarly, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” I haven’t as yet explored even to my own satisfaction the understanding I suggest here, but I’m certainly (one of small set of things I’m “certain” about) leaning that direction.
I would like to clarify my comments a bit. In the issue of the gospel and “belief” if one speaks of “doubt” its done so in a negative light or one in which one is lacking faith. For instance- if one were to say “I doubt the Book of Mormon is historical” it does not mean they are just uncertain. Its a little nuance but it has a lot of meaning. A statement such as that means their mind is pretty much made up that they believe it to be nonhistorical. In this sense, this is the correct definition- “an inclination not to believe or accept”.
Thus, if we have the spirit of doubt it means that we have the spirit and inclination to not believe or accept.
Clark, we-don’t-knowism is person A feigning uncertainty in a commonly accepted claim to appear open-minded and in order to cast a different, yet less extraordinary, claim as rooted in certainty and the person making that claim (person B) as closed-minded, when the guiding force behind the appeal to “we-don’t-know” is unvoiced certainty behind a more extraordinary claim.
9/11 truthers commonly express certainty among themselves that the official explanation defies the laws of physics and that it had to have been a false flag attack perpetrated by the US government. However, when talking to others many mask their certainty of the false flag narrative behind appeals of we-don’t-know to appear more open-minded. It could be that some people have sincere misgivings about the official explanation and are seeking more answers before speaking conclusively about 19 Arab hijackers being behind the attacks. But for many truthers, they spend little time questioning claims that the government was behind 9/11 and are overly eager to accept those ideas while excessively questioning and doubting of the official story. This is not open-minded thinking. It is conclusive thinking.
Similarly I hear many LDS people express “we-don’t-know” about the age of dinosaurs and entertain ideas that dinosaurs came from other planets and criticize those who claim common knowledge of dinosaurs being millions of years old as closed-minded, when the likely motivating factors behind the idea that dinosaurs came from other planets is an unbending certainty that the earth’s age is what is described in the Bible and that death didn’t takeplace before Adam. This is not open-mindedness and it is wrong to criticize the claim that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago (common knowledge) as closed-minded and people who refuse to entertain the far more extraordinary idea that dinosaurs bones came from other planets that God took from when creating the earth as closed-minded. Before someone bandies about the idea of dinosaurs coming from other planets (or co-existing with humans, as many Pentecostals and Biblical inerrantists claim) they should present strong evidence of such.
I agree whole heartedly with your clarification.
Doesn’t everyone have the “spirit of doubt” just depending on the context of discussions? I’m fairly confident that if anyone around the commenters and posters on this blog tried to force into relevance the issue of the truthfulness of Christopher Nemelka’s claimed miraculous translation of the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon (https://www.mormonmatters.org/have-you-read-the-sealed-portion-of-the-book-of-mormon-yet/), that all here would express open doubt about it being true and wouldn’t be too willing to entertain different ways that believers in it might try to justify its truthfulness. Would that be a closed-minded thing to do? No, not at all. Nemelka’s claim to be the reincarnation of Hyrum Smith come to reveal the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon is very extraordinary.
There are two types of doubt:
1) Doubt in oneself and one’s worth, as in “I doubt I’ll ever find a new job” after being fired. This is the bad kind of doubt that we should work to overcome.
2) Doubt in a proposition about reality, as in I doubt that vaccinations cause autism. We all have these doubts about some proposition or another, particularly extraordinary ones without much seeming evidence. There is nothing inherently wrong about them. In fact, they are a fact of life. We can’t just believe everything we hear. Plus, basic decision-making and interactions with people around us require us to full-on doubt many propositions. It is unwise, if not irresponsible, to keep our minds so open that we just remain in a constant state of entertaining the possible truthfulness of any and all propositions and never draw conclusions.
The problem is that I often see LDS believers conflating the first kind of doubt with the second kind. I often hear concern about people being in deep despair because they doubt the veracity of the Book of Abraham, etc. I simply don’t see the connection. I doubt that the Qur’an is the word of God, but feel no despair or self-doubt because of this.
We have to realize that the LDS truth claims are highly extraordinary, and that there really isn’t much evidence (at least not evidence that would be accepted as valid evidence across a wider spectrum of intellectuals, academics, experts, etc.) to back them. Doubting the veracity of many of these claims seems perfectly reasonable, nor should it necessarily lead to self-doubt. We shouldn’t feel the need to criticize people who openly doubt the veracity of LDS truth claims, even if they once believed them, to be inherently closed-minded and ignorant. Many of these doubters are quite smart and open to many ideas. They simply view things differently. Their doubts, of course, don’t mean that we have to doubt LDS truth claims. Plus, we shouldn’t try to claim, as I see many believing bloggers doing, that doubters are jumping to conclusions and are expressing too much certainty in them, while posing as more open-minded. Don’t you guys have some degree of certainty that you are not willing to compromise about LDS truth claims? Doesn’t this certainty guide what you write and say to some degree?
When it comes to the gospel and claims of truth and validity the “doubters” are not disciples of Jesus Christ. Pretty simple stuff.
Rob, Christopher Nemelka is doubting the truth and validity of the current LDS church leaders, but is not claiming to doubt Jesus Christ, but restore truth that was lost. Is he a doubter? Joseph Smith doubted the veracity of what many of the Protestant sects taught, but claimed to restore the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Is he a doubter? What about Denver Snuffer? What about you Do you doubt that Nemelka is the reincarnation of Hyrum Smith and translated the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon?
Come on, my point is that we are all doubters of some religious truth claims or another.
So, Humpty, when it comes to the gospel of Christ and all the conflicting claims of ca. 2000 years of history as to what it is and which of those claims are true or valid, one who doubts any of the conflicting claims is not a disciple of Christ? Pretty simple-minded stuff.
And here I was encouraged by your earlier clarification to think that you might learn to abandon pontificating and negative judgment in favor of communication and charity!
On the other hand, maybe you meant “simple” as “of very low intelligence” (Oxford living dictionary, definition 4) and wrote satirically about your own first sentence in response to John W. I’ll try to become less judgmental of your expressions — or to pay no attention to them at all.
I would really question anyone claiming to know the truth who doubts the validity of church leadership. Their “doubt” is exactly as I have defined it- “an inclination not to believe or accept”. And in this case it’s in the general sense of doubting, or not accepting, the legitimacy of the church.
It’s one thing to not know of certainty an aspect of the gospel. I too have my own opinions concerning heaven and hell, but it’s a completely different thing to doubt church leadership, or Jesus Christ, or BoM historicity, etc.
JR, familial knowledge is arguably among the strongest type of knowledge and certainly that’s the knowledge we should be seeking. Further such familial knowledge entails trust which entails knowledge for most of the rest. Admittedly that familial knowledge takes time and most of us won’t achieve it in this life, but I actually think it an excellent example of what we should be seeking after. But there are of course other types of knowledge including abstract knowledge and places where the scriptures present the prophets encouraging the people to come to know in more practical ways. (And I’d argue Alma 32 ends up being an example of that)
Rob, I agree that when the scriptures talk about doubt, it’s usually tied to action and ones inclinations. Intellectual doubt in the sense of uncertainty seems different.
John, we all of course have doubts in all the senses i outlined. Even at times to directives from God that really are directives from God. My point is more that we have to be careful in how we valorize doubt. While some LDS claims have less public evidence than others, some actually have pretty strong evidence. And I’d say many of the rest can have strong evidence but it’ll be more private evidence. What we have to acknowledge though is that not everyone has that evidence.
Robert Osborn: I think John W. is just applying the outsider test for faith. If you are presented with two people bringing forward two ideas where both could not be true (and possibly both are false) and then adding to their argument that, “Doubt is always born ofof t spirit of evil.” And the tool set given to the outsider to obtain the truth in either idea is the same. What is an outsider to the two viewpoints supposed to do to ascertain the truthfulness of either idea? (The outsider could have their own tool set to attempt to ascertain the truth also, but we all like to help people out by given them our tools.)
I believe that we all have to have humility even in our most fundamental faith positions. It seems to me that the bravery we ask of someone from a different faith to question that faith and then learn of the truth of our own we should in return mimic that bravery and delve into our own fundamentals occasionally when presented with more information, other viewpoints, etc. I don’t think we have to constantly question our foundation, but an occasional test would probably be good. Otherwise, how would we ever know we were wrong.
Rob, you wrote, “Doubt is always born of the spirit of evil.” What you meant to say is that doubt of the LDS leaders and only the LDS leaders is wrong. It is OK to doubt the teachings of Paul Elden Kingston, leader of the offshoot Kingston clan, an offshoot of the LDS Church, right? It is OK to doubt teachings about reincarnation, right? You need to qualify what you say. I feel like what I am writing is fairly obvious, but many believers get carried away with how it is wrong to ever doubt, either because they conflate self-doubt with truth claim-doubt, or because they are mostly surrounded or at least preoccupied with other LDS faithfuls and don’t take into consideration that in different contexts they doubt the truth claims of other religions just as much as outsiders and ex-Mormons doubt the truth claims of Mormonism.
Clark, note how I qualified evidence with “at least not evidence that would be accepted as valid evidence across a wider spectrum of intellectuals, academics, experts, etc.” There is no such evidence, otherwise more non-Mormon experts would accept the truth claims of Mormonism and articles and books backing such claims would pass peer review. You can’t tell me that academic believers and LDS Church leaders wouldn’t be all over the publication of a per reviewed study in a highly reputable academic journal that verified some of its key truth claims.
We should have humility, I’d just perhaps point out for those confident in their religion it’s quite similar to those confident in science. While we should have a degree of skepticism and inquiry, we look somewhat askance at those who constantly question established scientific truths. I think that sometimes there’s a double standard towards those who are confident in religious truths.
Clark Goble: Agreed, nothing should be off the table for an occasional deep dive. Though I should say my natural disposition eschews dogmatism so I don’t rankle at thinking my core beliefs not only might be wrong, but most likely are wrong. I thrill at learning that something that I’ve long believed was probably true is actually not. But I might just be weird like that.
My major was in mathematics, though I wasn’t the greatest at theoretical maths, I did love learning about its history. Something that is still ongoing is a style of maths that continually tests the foundations of mathematics and even toys with them to see what happens if certain axioms are twisted or taken away. I think many beliefs would do well at this style of thinking. Testing the outer edge of belief is important, but so is testing the foundations. It’s what humans do. It seems that many times it takes a stranger or outsider to shake us out of our stupor of thought or belief, these are sometimes called prophets, but we’d do well to be our own outsider. Be willing to test ourselves.
John W, I am speaking in the context of supposed believers who claim to be members but then doubt. A member who thus has doubts of the historical account of the Book of Mormon is an unbeliever and lacking faith.
Thanks for the clarification, Rob. What you write reflects what LDS believers are encouraged and taught to believe in the typical church setting. It stands as a reminder to participants in the LDS blogosphere that this is pure LDS belief and that what is promoted is a bit off, diluted, and misrepresentative. Thanks for your comments.
Right, let’s have humility and acknowledge we don’t know everything and that there is a lot to learn. But much of what is said on this blog is motivated by some degree of certainty (and certainty in extraordinary truth claims that is not built on widely accepted evidence) in a number of key LDS truth claims. Sometimes it seems that folks get so carried away emphasizing uncertainty that they forget to emphasize what they are actually certain about. Too much uncertainty and you have no solid foundation in Mormonism and no reason to accept is truth claims. I like a lot of what Rob Osborn has to say, because it is what you hear in a typical LDS chapel every week. He is not coy about claiming to know the LDS Church is God’s one true church. Too many of the bloggers seem to be in a race to see who can express the most uncertainty about LDS Church truth claims and yet still claim to believe them.
Let’s also acknowledge that science and religion are completely different and are not even comparable. Religion is not a cohesive concept or entity by any means, and I grow weary of Mormon bloggers’ treating it as if it is so. Let us not forget that every day tens of thousands of LDS missionaries at the direction of the LDS leaders tell people that their beliefs are dead wrong and that LDS beliefs are superior to theirs. In many ways religion is more in competition with other religions than it is with science and secularism. Secularism at least allows for this competition among religions to flourish without violence.
As for science, you have mainstream science which flourishes at the universities, which although not in agreement over propositions, appears to be more in agreement over method and what should be considered acceptable evidence. Unlike religion whose beliefs vary widely across different cultures, mainstream science has a lot of similarity across cultures (what is taught in science classes in Nigeria, for instance, isn’t much different from what is taught in Utah). On other hand there is pseudo-science with its belief in all sorts of woo and magic and superstition.
I heard Pete Enns say that if we replace the word “believe” with the word “trust” in the NT, we will be pretty close to what the writers intended. For me, the premise that belief comprehends a certain amount of doubt Is not useful, and I’m not sure it’s true. Maybe because it sends me down the rabbit hole of “What do I really know?” “How strong is my belief?” I liked reading this, but find it unsatisfying. It (the premise) misses the point about revelation. I have found that after the Spirit speaks to me, it is about 1) trust and 2) the ability to live with ambiguity – not understanding it all.
Lisa, from what I understand the Hebrew notion of truth and faith are wrapped up in ideas of trust and reliability. I wrote on that relative to how the Church is true in our rhetoric a while back. So for instance Alma 32 should be best seen as how we see prophetic words as reliable.
John W, while there are huge differences between science and religion, I’m not sure for Mormons that is as true. I’ve discussed that before and don’t want to derail this thread into a discussion of epistemology. I’d just say that one somewhat unique feature of Latter-day Saint thought is the emphasis on evidence. Often private evidence which is the big difference from science, but it’s still an evidentiary approach rather than what we find in most other faiths. What missionaries do is tell people they can find out and encourage them towards personal revelation.
Clark, my point was that the word science doesn’t refer to a bunch of organizations,cultures, and denominations that have mutually exclusive teachings about reality and even methods of inquiry and epistemology, and compete with each other for members and followers like the religion does.
This was in response to your claim that much like we should look askance at those who constantly question well-established scientific claims, we should look askance at those who constantly religious claims. This makes absolutely no sense, for there simply are no well-established religious truth claims. Even on the most basic questions, such as the nature of God, religions have extremely different and mutually exclusive answers. There is some semblance of uniformity in science, at least on many basic questions, such as the shape of the earth and the building blocks of matter are (well at least to the atomic level). And even when there is disagreement among mainstream scientists, there is agreement about a whole host of basic ideas. Religions have never established any commonly accepted knowledge. Plus Mormonism is built on a constant questioning of the teachings of other Protestant denominations. That was what Joseph Smith was all about.
We know words are powerful, in fact, they are the most powerful tool of man. I have run accross this many times through the years in discussions surrounding belief. Semantics and connotation have more to do with dialogue than we realize. For one, having “doubt” is more akin to not understanding while to another it resonates complete and utter disbelief in a negative sense. Our search is for truth, wherever it is found. Problematic to our religious culture, we tend to think we are the sole proprietor of it as it relates to the gospel. As such we think everything associated with our religion is 100% true. Of course this has proven incorrect on several occasions. Thus, because some things may not be true some have taken this as ammunition to spread doubt that perhaps much of it isnt true. Its at this juncture that I strongly object to. Its the slippery slope into the very pit of hell.
My own beliefs regarding heaven and hell highlight, in my mind, the point where truth and doctrine (what is taught) colide and not always do the two get along. But I dont for a second believe I have “doubt” regarding the gospel, nor in Joseph Smith, etc. Doubt is such a strong word when used in the context of the validity of a core belief. When I discuss heaven and hell for instance I dislike using the word doubt because I dont want others to think I am expressing doubt in who Joseph Smith was in his character. As applied to things such as the Book of Mormon validity I often hear fence sitters express their “doubts” in a way that on the surface it may appear sincere but in reality its more of an attack mode. You can almost always tell a persons true intentions by the words they use and the connotation of the context of their texts. In the science vs. religion debate you can see this all to often. Someone making an appeal to religion using a scientific approach and on the surface it appears honest inquiry. The underlying issue though is that the lens one looks through is oft corrupt and eventually is the very means of doubt arising later on. Everything we say and do are seeds- they will always bear fruit later on. We can thus choose to spread seeds of truth or seeds of doubt, it being a strict dichotomy.
Nathaniel, thanks for the OP. This helped me appreciate the other side of the issue.
Clark, I’m glad to see you clarified that you intended this troublesome statement—”we look somewhat askance at those who constantly question established scientific truths. I think that sometimes there’s a double standard towards those who are confident in religious truths.”—to only apply within the Mormon community. As a general statement regarding religious conviction, it would be nonsense as John W noted. Limited just to members, I can better see the posited equivalence between established scientific truths and religious truths, but the double standard claim seems to fall apart. My experience is that we tend to be more confident in our religious convictions than in scientific truths.
“My experience is that we tend to be more confident in our religious convictions than in scientific truths.”
Spot on observation, Ryan. And this is the way I view most of the LDS believing community: very certain, very convicted. Sometimes when I read many LDS blog posts talking about uncertainty and claiming “we don’t know, we don’t know”, it strikes me as lacking conviction and leaves me wondering what the bloggers do know and claim to strongly believe. The LDS experience seems to be about coming to full knowledge of certain truth claims and making that known on a regular basis.
I have heard many a member tout just how great it is that the LDS Church doesn’t change and that its truths remain the same while science is always updating its textbooks in the face of new evidence. It would seem that yes, the LDS religion is far more certain and certaintist than the leading experts in different fields of science.
I am willing to place a bet that much of what we base our beliefs on- the paradigm of our gospel understanding concerning salvation, will change rather substancially before its all said and done. Not that truth shifts, but rather our understanding shifts, just like in science, to be more aligned with truth.