Scripture Fights and Bible Bashing

One of the fun things about watching people try to argue religion *from an outside perspective* is that you can see the low blows people will make without feeling personally hurt anymore. Non-Mormon Christians will often point to the doubtful historicity of the Book of Mormon and then say, “Aha!” as if it means anything. You can shake it off and then look at a more interesting phenomenon: how Mormon apologists respond…Mormon apologists, instead of defending a tenuous historicity…will point out that the history may not be there…but that it doesn’t *have* to be there.

For example, this is a short little skirmish on the issue.

So…the way to justify Mormonism is to show that…Christianity and the Bible too have holes in historicity?

I wrote earlier at my blog, Irresistible (Dis)Grace, about this phenomenon of Mormons not only leaving the church but dropping out of Christianity as a whole. Is it a wonder? Do people wonder how others get to the point where they say, as a friend of our own Chanson has said: “If the (Mormon) Church isn’t true, then none of them are?” (Actually, you can see an interesting effect, I think, even though I’ve not done any statistical research on it…are Mormons more sympathetic to the Catholic church? Or how about the Orthodox church, which precedes even the Catholics? Because if Mormonism is not true, then it could be that there was no apostasy…meaning the source…Catholicism or Orthodoxy…still has the priesthood.)

Consider…the church spends an awful lot of time promoting this idea that it is the only restored fulness of the Gospel. Even if they don’t say it explicitly now (if they don’t), there’s definitely this idea of Apostasy…a losing of the way, etc., that requires everyone else to be wrong. Mormonism patches the holes that were perverted by the development of mainstream Christianity, so to speak. So if Mormonism is wrong, then really, that just means there’s a hole in the straight and narrow path that has not been patched!

But beyond that…now, we have warfare against the religions. This is something I have detested when I was actively involved, because I was on the battlefield, but now that I’m off the battlefield, it’s fascinating to watch.

If you notice, it’s not just different sects of Christianity either. All religions seem to do it to each other. So…it’s like, in each of their own special ways, they try to prove the other false (I’ve seen some curious Muslim criticisms of the Trinity, for example, or for the necessity of Christ’s actual sacrifice — which essentially is seen as human sacrifice — as a saving measure.) but no religion is proven correct because they cannot defend themselves from the other criticisms.

I guess I have to go back to the beginning. It’s not fair to say that churches *only* spend time discrediting the others. Churches also spend time trying to show how their doctrines somehow hold up against criticism. People have remarked throughout historicity (err, history) about taking an all-or-nothing approach: The Book of Mormon must be the greatest book ever or it must be the worst deception ever. Joseph Smith must be a true Prophet of the restoration or he is an abject fraud. And obviously, the GAs are rooting for truthfulness. It’s their job.

But then you have this new problem…apologetics. This is another smorgasbord of fun for outside viewers, because you can see how people squirm around the documents. But this, too, happens for all religions, so it’s nothing special. Isn’t it interesting, though, how apologetics can make things more convoluted? When I read certain apologist works, the logical acrobatics the particular apologist must go through makes me dizzy…it makes me wonder if they actually have a grasp on things. Are they trying to show a connection that desperately does not exist?

In the end, I feel liberated when I don’t try to force the issues. If I don’t believe, there’s no need to jump around and try to make myself. If things make sense, then I can adopt those things. I do not belittle those whose faith makes sense for them, but I point out that it doesn’t convince me, so I shouldn’t be marginalized as “evil” or “doomed.”

Views: 2220
0saves

24 Comments

  1. 1
    Kullervo says:

    Well the thing you have to remember is that all of this is the nature of apologetics. If religion could somehow be demonstrated to be true through some kind of generally accepted method of affirmative proof (like the scientific method, or sound logical reasoning), then it would move out of the realm of faith entirely.

    Apologists are actually correct when they insist that lack of proof is not the same thing as disproof. Lack of proof may be a sufficiently compelling reason to disbelieve religion, but it’s not proof that religion is false. All religion needs, as a matter of faith, is the possibility of veracity.

    Apologetics does exactly that. Rather than trying to positively affirm religion, apologists are attempt to show why their religion is not impossible. For religion, that’s all you need. If a religion is actually impossible, then it’s completely foolish. If is is possible that it is true, however unlikely, then the believer can fill in the rest with faith.

    Well, to be honest, sometimes apologists do try to affirmatively prove their religion, but they pretty much always fail. Whether this is a bug o a feature of religion is debatable.

       0 likes

  2. 2
    Andrew S says:

    Good comment, Kullervo. It actually reminds me of a post on Mormon Matters (I assume no one will freak out at me for linking to a faithful blog entry).

    Although Bruce is speaking from a faithful position, he says some of the same things you have:

    I believe this is why there are “good” apologists and “bad” apologists. The good apologists will realize the non-rationality of their beliefs (not irrationality, just non-rationality – that their beliefs are not a proven fact) and admit it up front. They will identify their biases clearly to those they address because their goal isn’t to prove. And they will take only a defensive stance (i.e. “you don’t have proof that my beliefs are wrong.”) not an offensive attack. They will never try to prove their beliefs using “reason” – which is really just a series of narrative fallacies – because they will realize there is no proof one way or the others and that rational verification is beyond our reach.

    On the other hand, what you and Bruce have both addressed kinda leaves a bad taste in my mouth (not because I disagree, but because of what kind of consequences it could lead to). As you say, “All religion needs, as a matter of faith, is the possibility of veracity.”

    I have literally had people justify their faith in Young Earth Creationism by positing that an omnipotent god could create and earth that appears older than it actually is — and that God did just that when he created the earth 6000 years ago.

    I accept the *possibility* of this. but…even though this makes belief possible, that wouldn’t engender me to someone who actually believed in that way.

    But this is, as Bruce discusses earlier, possibly just a bias on my part…my engaging in narrative fallacy makes me more inclined to disbelieve a claim. A believer’s narrative fallacy would make him more inclined to believe a claim. In the end, what’s troubling is not whether I am right or the believer is right…but that we all are inclined to believe or disbelieve beyond our control, and we then think that our thinking is chosen and controlled.

       0 likes

  3. 3

    Between what can be positively demonstrated or refuted, there are various degrees of plausibility. The plausibility that any given creation myth, for example, is literally true has decreased as naturalistic explanations have displaced the myths.

    In my experience, apologists completely ignore any distinction in plausibility. Any possibility that their pet beliefs are true is sufficient to justify it to themselves, no matter how implausible. By that standard (ignoring the spectrum of plausibility), the creation myths of all world religions are equally worthy of belief. The only reason someone chooses one over the other is personal bias. The same applies to most religious ideas.

    This removes religious ideas from any attempt at an objective basis; religion is justified to each adherent by purely subjective reasons. This means that apologists are not working to objectively evaluate the situation. They’re only trying to shore up subjective biases.

    All of which is a round-about way of stating the obvious.

       0 likes

  4. 4
    Kullervo says:

    Well, I think plausibility analysis really properly belongs in the development of faith. When deciding what, if anything, to have faith in, one of the questions that should come up is ho much faith is required. The more plausible the belief, the closer the gap that has to be covered by faith. The less plausible the belief, the further you have to stretch faith, and the more likely (as a matter of definition, really), that you are putting your faith in something that is false.

    From the apologist’s perspective, while little is to be gained arguing that your religion is provably true (because you will always fail), a great deal is to be gained by arguing that your beliefs are plausible.

    Because that’s the thing: plausibility is not somehow self-evident. There’s not a plausibility scale carved into the foundation of the universe or anything. Plausibility is always going to be a relatively subjective determination based on available ideas, standards, and measures. An objective measure of plausibility is just not going to be available, so people evaluate plausibility based on whatever schema they’re wrking with.

       0 likes

  5. 5
    Kullervo says:

    This removes religious ideas from any attempt at an objective basis; religion is justified to each adherent by purely subjective reasons. This means that apologists are not working to objectively evaluate the situation. They’re only trying to shore up subjective biases.

    Of course, I’m not always so sure that we ever can really be objective about anything.

       0 likes

  6. 6
    Andrew S says:

    Jonathan, I can agree with you on various levels of plausibility and on trying to distinguish between objective and subjective, but I think the question a good apologist would actually be asking is: what’s wrong with shoring up subjective biases?

    So it’s not that they reject the varying levels of plausibility, but that they feel that subjective biases can be valuable in determining plausibility. Of course, that would only apply to good apologists. Don’t know how many of those there are in relation to bad ones :) .

    I acknowledge that even if I personally don’t believe in a religion (because I don’t have a critical subjective bias called “faith”) and even if I believe a religion is factually incorrect…I’m not so concerned with someone who *does* believe in that religion because it gives him hope or his faith confirms it to him. I’d have more problems with such a person’s attempt to press his beliefs on me or others…but not on the actual belief (even if I might think it is utterly ridiculous). I recognize that the subjective bias of faith is incredibly important to that person, even if I don’t believe it says anything about the veracity of the religious claims.

    I’m somewhat likely to agree with Kullervo as of 5, but more on that in a separate comment…

       0 likes

  7. 7
    Andrew S says:

    To Kullervo (as of 4):

    I have one problem though…do we *decide* faith? I mean, yes, the church would like to say that you can have just the “desire to have faith” and that should be enough, but this acknowledges that for some, it’s not natural to believe.

    If faith is not chosen, then I think the gap that faith has to cover is not so relevant. Because someone with faith…for whom the religious claims ring true…they’d be able to forge the gap…until something monumental shakes that faith (which, monumental things tend not to be chosen either.)

    I like the idea of pointing out that plausibility may not be self-evident…and I think it’s really where apologetics does well. It’s not a satisfying answer (what kind of answer is it to say that there aren’t concrete answers?), but it’s one that probably matches reality.

    Another analogy of Bruce’s from Mormon Matters: Once upon a time, it seemed QUITE implausible for most people to believe that there was such a thing as a black swan. All the evidence they knew in Europe showed them just a bunch of white swans…but of course, if only they had been in another part of the world, they would know that of course, there are black swans.

    So, even when we *think* we know plausibility…it seems we might not.

    But that’s why I say our subjective biases are important…as you say, we evaluate things with whatever schema we’re working with.” My schema happens to align me with looking at “science” or “reason” or “logic” and being skeptical of things I find to be improbable, but this doesn’t necessarily mean I’m being objective — even if I feel that way.

       0 likes

  8. 8
    Kullervo says:

    I have one problem though…do we *decide* faith? I mean, yes, the church would like to say that you can have just the “desire to have faith” and that should be enough, but this acknowledges that for some, it’s not natural to believe.

    If faith is not chosen, then I think the gap that faith has to cover is not so relevant. Because someone with faith…for whom the religious claims ring true…they’d be able to forge the gap…until something monumental shakes that faith (which, monumental things tend not to be chosen either.)

    But all this means is that plausibility depends on the person’s schema. If you’re raised Muslim in a Muslim country dominated by Muslim culture, your schema is a lot more likely to think the Koran’s divine origin is plausible than if you were not.

    That is to say, that our schemas come to us from a lot of different sources, including culture, upbringing, socialization, and education. Mormonism always seemed extremely plausible to me because I was raised Mormon, and thus had a lot of Mormon cultural assumptions handed to me. In a lot of ways, coming out of Mormonism really is a process of rewriting–or probably just seriously adjusting–one’s schema. At least, that’s how it was for me. Mormonism started to fall apart when I started doing some spring cleaning in my schema, realizing what a lot of my assumptions were, and assessing whether I thought those assumptions were justified or not. Or at least, whether my schema was internally consistent (and I think most peoples’ schemas are not entirely internally consistent, but the greater the internal inconsistencies, the more cognitive dissonance).

       0 likes

  9. 9
    Andrew S says:

    Re: Kullervo @ 8

    Although *of course* socialization et al. make impacts on one’s schema…I don’t think it’s necessarily so predictable on what effect it will have.

    I grew up Mormon (I would think that’s a common thread for people at MSP, haha :D ). Many people grew up Mormon. And then they deconvert!…or they realize that they never believed, etc., (I’m in the latter group, so it’s interesting to me to read about actual deconversion — I’ll be the first to say I didn’t have much to deconvert from, so I dunno…maybe that makes me different.)

    But what’s the moral of these stories? It seems like all of that growing up/education didn’t work out as the brethren would’ve hoped.

    I will qualify and say that growing up LDS gives me a different schema than someone who converted, and being cultural/disaffected/ex/whatever gives me a particularly unique (and rather lonely, I think) schema. I don’t disagree with the church for the same reason that nonmembers who never were a part of it disagree with it. And particularly, some arguments will turn me apologetic in a heartbeat…

    And that’s just one side of the story. Many people *don’t* grow up Mormon, yet they convert. And I don’t see anything about Islam that would make it different (as far as people converting to or deconverting away).

       0 likes

  10. 10

    Perhaps what I’m getting at by mentioning plausibility is that the unstated mission of an apologist is to open enough room for confirmation bias to kick in. Someone learns about some of the problems with the Book of Abraham and freaks out. The apologist soothes the believer by creating an aura of plausibility. The believer’s confirmation bias does the rest of the work by overestimating the strength of the argument. (Of course this applies to every belief system.)

    If I had to guess, I think most people who change their religious affiliation don’t do it because of apologetics.

       0 likes

  11. 11
    Kullervo says:

    Andrew, but no means did I mean to say that you inherit your schema entirely, and that it never changes. I was merely trying to point out why what seems plausible to one person might be laughable to another person: they’re dealing with a different set of assumptions about life, the universe, and everything, and those assumptions come from a pretty wide variety of sources, but a major source of them is the culture they were raised in.

       0 likes

  12. 12
    Andrew S says:

    Re: 10

    That’s certainly true. But it seems that what is the room for confirmation bias also ends up being the places of doubt for skeptics and nonbelievers. I guess both sides need the other, in the end.

    Re: 11

    Then I can certainly agree with that.

       0 likes

  13. 13
    chanson says:

    Of course, I’m not always so sure that we ever can really be objective about anything.

    True, but, here’s what really rankles me about this argument whenever it comes up in duscussions about belief:

    It would be one thing if the point were “We’re all biased, nobody’s really objective, so I will make an effort to understand my own bias and make a good-faith effort to compensate for it in order to get at the right answer.” Unfortunately, the implied follow-up point is almost always “We’re all biased, nobody’s really objective, so I can believe whatever I feel like, and it’s just as valid as any other belief since they’re all biased too!”

    The former is the position of the scientist, the latter, of the apologist. You can probably guess which one in my (biased! ;) ) opinion I consider to be more honest.

    I harkens back to Jonathan’s “distinctions in plausibility” point, which I agree with. People will say “You can’t completely prove anything,” and imagine that that implies that believing something that is contrary to the physical evidence is somehow just as reasonable as believing something which agrees with the evidence.

    See also my post A couple of parables about belief.

       0 likes

  14. 14
    Andrew S says:

    Chanson…do you really think that apologists are just saying “I can believe whatever I feel like, and it’s just as valid as any other belief?”

    I think that the faithful would reel at such a characterization. No, they would say they understand a bias (natural man) and make a good-faith effort to compensate for it (faith, spiritual man). They would definitely not say, “any belief is valid as any other belief.” This in facts like something they would charge their opponents, regrettably.

    So, the question becomes…if we are biased, how do we compensate for our bias without getting caught back up in the bias?

    Because I think the faithful person’s metagame goes one step in the past. BEFORE a faithful person can believe he is biased to be “naturally sinful,” he must FIRST be biased to feel this natural sinfulness is a problem to be fixed. This bias would go undetected, so he’d go throughout his life compensating with faith which completes and improves him — or so he believes.

    …am I making any sense?

    The apologist doesn’t think he’s believing “whatever” and it’s “just as valid as anything else.” He thinks he’s believing established gospel principles and these are the cornerstone of the universe.

    (I am so clever that I split this comment in two to make it appear like there are more comments on this thread and to maintain optimal comment size (━(゚∀゚)━!!)

       0 likes

  15. 15
    Andrew S says:

    I’m playing devil’s advocate now, so it sounds rather awkward for me to say, but to associate science/rationalism/logic with “an effort to understand one’s own bias and make a good-faith effort to compensate” is mired in bias. It’s a bias *against* so-called spiritual experience, a bias *against* the unproven but hoped for, a bias for empirical evidence, etc.,

    And as much as I dislike calling rationalism or scientific thinking their own kinds of bias, I recognize I only cringe because of my own bias

    I find it funny, but my father told me he doesn’t understand how anyone can be atheist (so he thinks that I’m in a “phase” — his view of this is so precious!) but the reason why he says so is intriguing: he claims that whatever priesthood power is…is evidenced throughout history, cultures, etc., (he doesn’t take well to the One-and-Only-Truth idea…) To call it coincidence would be an error, he says (of course, I think this just points out a confirmation bias that he cannot see, but let’s just go with it!) So he *does* theorize that we could, as scientists, eventually come to explain this force through natural means, but just because we can’t now and it appears that these things are “paranormal” doesn’t mean we should believe these things are “chance” or “fraud.”

    My dad is trying to compensate for biases in an honest way, but that doesn’t stop him from being mired in biases.

       0 likes

  16. 16

    The apologist doesn’t think he’s believing “whatever” and it’s “just as valid as anything else.” He thinks he’s believing established gospel principles and these are the cornerstone of the universe.

    The apologist is the first victim of the apologist’s work. :)

    I think the first step in overcoming bias is becoming aware of the myriad ways that we can be biased. Add in a little introspection and we can form a habit of noticing our own biases. I catch myself in confirmation bias more and more all the time. Once we notice that we’re being biased, it seems that our mind tries to cancel out the bias. Conscious awareness is the key.

    We will never completely overcome our biases, but it seems worth the effort.

       0 likes

  17. 17
    chanson says:

    do you really think that apologists are just saying “I can believe whatever I feel like, and it’s just as valid as any other belief?”

    I think that the faithful would reel at such a characterization.

    The whole discussion up until this point has been about how the apologist’s job is merely to prove their position “not impossible” — not to prove it reasonable or accurate. And then they throw in “Hey, you’re biased too!” to justify why that’s good enough. If they reel at what they’re really saying, then so much the worse for them.

    And as much as I dislike calling rationalism or scientific thinking their own kinds of bias, I recognize I only cringe because of my own bias

    Let’s take an example, that is commonly found in creationist literature to disprove evolution: Piltdown Man. This was discovered to be a hoax, and is obviously no longer part of any evolutionary theory. Now it no longer appears in science books, except as a historical point, to discuss how to avoid such errors in the future. By contrast, let’s consider another point that modern, thinking humans have (more or less universally) found to be wrong: slavery. Has this error in the Bible (the moral guide!) been fixed? Nope, slavery still condoned (even encouraged) in this year’s edition.

    The entire point to the scientific method is to try to focus on objective measures of evidence in order to compensate for human bias and move towards the best approximation of reality that we humans can find. Are you seriously claiming that trusting in the scientific method as a good way to eliminate bias is just itself some sort of bias, no different than any other biased thinking?

    I’m completely down with trying to understand other people’s perspectives, but there comes a time to cut the B.S. and recognize that some arguments really are more reasonable, more valid, and more evidence-based than others.

       0 likes

  18. 18
    aerin says:

    I just read the wikipedia article about piltdown man. Fascinating stuff! Another great reason why it’s important that hypothesis can be experimented upon, be independently reviewed – and that people have access to the first person documents/artifacts.

    I do think it’s important that we talk about what’s really being referred to in “spiritual” experiences. If we’re talking about things that can’t be explained, that may need to be further researched (through the scientific method) – I think that there are scientists who will look into those things.

    I’ll give an example – someone is diagnosed with terminal cancer. They undergo treatment – perhaps trying some experimental treatment – but somehow, the cancer lessens or disappears. Could this be some sort of miracle? A person could view it that way. Could it be due to all sorts of other factors that can’t be explained? Yes.

    As far as religions claiming that each one is “true” – many mainstream christian religions accept the baptisms from other religions. For example, if you are a methodist, and you decide to start attending the presbyterian church, they don’t make you get rebaptized (unlike the mormons).

       0 likes

  19. 19
    aerin says:

    I think I meant the plural of hypothesis – whatever that is. Hypotheses?

       0 likes

  20. 20
    Andrew S says:

    re: 16 Jonathan:

    I dunno. I guess I just don’t put so much faith in the ability of people to consciously monitor their biases and mitigate them. It seems similar, in part to those who say, “Oh, I’m just not going to be mad. I will recognize when I’m mad and then just choose not to be mad.”

    …But then again, I did watch a video (I really need to find that and link it sometime — it was like…an hour…but it was quite informative) that suggested that we *can* essentially break away from the grip of negative emotions.

    I guess, then, I have no further questions down this line of reasoning.

       0 likes

  21. 21
    Andrew S says:

    re: chanson at 17: haha, I’m stuck in a corner as devil’s advocate, because I already agree with you and can’t really put up any more arguments — even as hypothetical musing.

    I was about to ask…what about people who pick and choose? I mean, even if slavery is still in this year’s edition of the bible, there are those who would still say, “Well, that’s just a different era!” or “that was a different time.”

    But I won’t ask, because even I recognize one answer: religions *can’t* change and subject themselves to the same scrutiny as science (just in a different sphere, so apologists may describe)…because this would undermine claims of religions being the One And Only Truth…And even if they did, they’d soon start dropping the very things that made them “religions” because such things don’t hold up under scrutiny.

       0 likes

  22. 22
    Andrew S says:

    aerin:

    My answer to my father when he says things like, “There’s something that causes miracles and it can’t just be coincidence” is to always point out, “But if this miracle-making thing can eventually be pinpointed to rational cause-and-effect, then it’s not really a miracle anymore.”

    For example, if science could find that there was something about praying that healed cancer reliably and repeatably (although, so far, no research suggests that it does)…then no longer would prayer healing be miraculous, because it wouldn’t be supernatural. It would be natural and ho-hum. Now, we can do a lot of amazing things that are natural and ho-hum, but they aren’t miracles. Just because we don’t know the causes of a certain phenomenon and we might happen upon this phenomenon by chance doesn’t make it miraculous, even if people think so.

    P.S., yep, you’re right. The plural of hypothesis is hypotheses.

       0 likes

  23. 23
    chanson says:

    It seems similar, in part to those who say, “Oh, I’m just not going to be mad. I will recognize when I’m mad and then just choose not to be mad.”

    I agree that it’s impossible to completely eliminate your own bias. Your entire comprehension of the world around you is based on your own perspective (and experience).

    That said, I think people can make some non-trivial progress towards understanding their own biases and compensating for them. Some of the critical learning experiences of my life have centered around noticing assumptions I didn’t realize I’d had, and questioning them (and I’m not really talking about belief in God — that sort of thing is actually based on various assumptions/axioms that aren’t so hard to identify). This is something of a recurring theme on my blog — try googling terms like “perspective” and “bias” on my blog.

    But I think that recognizing we are all biased should be used as a motivation for introspection and self-questioning. It should never be used as an excuse or justification for not questioning one’s own beliefs. If someone deliberately searches only for evidence to bolster what he wants to believe and deliberately avoids counter evidence — then justifies it by saying that everyone is biased — well, that’s disingenuous to say the least.

    Regarding Piltdown Man: There’s a really interesting essay by Stephen Gay Gould about it here. (I remember it as being interesting, anyway — I read it back when I was a freshman at BYU. Now that I’ve found it again, I’ll re-read it when I get a minute…)

       0 likes

  24. 24
    chanson says:

    p.s. OK, I remembered the article wrong. The one I linked is also interesting — and I really did read that one as a freshman at BYU, and enjoyed the stuff about the creation myth of baseball (Abner Doubleday, etc.).

    But for Piltdown Man, I was thinking of some other article I read once that talked about some of the reasons why scientists were so quick to embrace Piltdown Man, namely it went along with their preconceived ideas (biases) about how humans should have evolved: a big brain with an apelike jaw. Later evidence surfaced which forced them to question (and then reject) that model.

       0 likes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  • Recent Comments

  • MSP TV

    Brother Jake Explains: Church Discipline!!
  • EXMO Radio

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Meta

  • Awards

    Lists of Brodie award winners:






    X-Mormon of the Year 2013: J. Seth Anderson and Michael Ferguson


    X-Mormon of the Year 2012: David Twede


    X-Mormon of the Year 2011: Joanna Brooks


    X-Mormon of the Year 2010: Monica Bielanko


    X-Mormon of the Year 2009: Walter Kirn