Dallin Oaks tries to remain relevant

Apologetics Law Science Theology Truth

For some reason someone thought it would be a good idea to invite Dallin Oaks to Harvard to talk to students. First mistake.

Dallin Oaks went. Second mistake.

Dallin Oaks said something. Third mistake.

Quick summary of what Oaks said: People in the US, generally, are ignorant about religion. He says that’s bad. Oaks then blames higher education for this, claiming that higher education has lost its focus now that it actually spends its time teaching students things like science, medicine, and engineering instead of theology. (Makes me think of Mencken on theology, “Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.” H L Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy, “Sententi: Arcana Coelestia” (1949).) I’m sure we’d have the technology we have today if all we did in college is just talk about the unknowable. Yep, this is genius. What a great idea, former law professor Oaks! (I wonder if he followed his own advice when he was a law professor; talk about worthless law school classes.)

Not having made a big enough fool out of himself, Oaks tries harder by claiming he knows ‘The Truth’ and is going to tell the students ‘The Truth.’ Though, apparently, ‘The Truth’ is really 3 ‘The Truths’:

  • The nature of God, including the role of the three members of the Godhead, and the corollary truth that there are moral absolutes.
  • The purpose of life.
  • The three-fold sources of truth about man and the universe: science, the scriptures and continuing revelation, and how we can know them.

Maybe I’m just a jaded secularist, but it sure seems like: #1 is heavily debated and certainly not knowable; #2 has as many “truths” as there are people on the planet; and #3 is an oxymoron.

So, what have we gained from this? Oaks thinks all universities should teach just Mormon theology. I bet we could learn more if I simply put my 9 month old son in front of everyone and we all watched him for an hour; at the very least he’d be more entertaining.

23 thoughts on “Dallin Oaks tries to remain relevant

  1. “tries to remain relevant…” That’s such a sad title. It makes me sad for some reason.

    Are you saying #3 is an oxymoron because science disclaims the scriptures? It’s interesting that Oaks used the order of “science, scripture, revelation,” when the reverse is considered the order of importance. I’d be more interested in a description of how the three are said to interact in Mormonism given that they obviously compete.

  2. I spent a good 10 minutes just thinking about what I should title the post. “tries to remain relevant” was the best one I could come up with that didn’t call Oaks ignorant outright (though I really wanted to) but illustrated the marginalization [rightly deserved, IMO] he is decrying. I like it! 😉

    I went with oxymoron because science and the scriptures clearly contradict each other (not to mention “revelation” doesn’t exist, but that’s a different issue). To say that they are the 3 sources to truth is to state something that is absolutely not true. This, of course, also means this claim is definitely not a big ‘T’ truth.

  3. @ Chandelle–I think this is an event that the Harvard chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society organizes each year.

    As cringe-worthy as Oaks’ public speeches usually are, I must commend him for quoting Conan O’Brien. I think it might be the first time he has ever shown an ounce of levity.

  4. I don’t think the Apostles speak to diverse audiences very often. Oaks’ tone was self-righteous and condescending. Like so many other Mormons, I don’t think Oaks knows how to have an interaction with a non-Mormon without trying to turn it into a “missionary experience.”

  5. Im not much of an Oaks fan from his saying BYU students were only visitors when I attended (I quoted that to some poor BYU student calling for a donation once, and said the school had some nerve asking for a donation from a visitor. But she was so upset, I felt awful and ended up giving), to his premature endorsement of the Salamander Letter as confirming the founding stories of Mormonism, to his criticizing BKP to Steve Benson and then making brown nosing BKP the trademark of his apostleship. I also often find his talks off the mark.

    All that said, his legal academic credentials and his LDS Apostleship are more than enough to get him an enthusiastic invitation to any law or divinity school anywhere anytime.

  6. The problem with Elder Oaks’s claim is, of course, that Mormon prophets are contradicting themselves and each other.

    The problem is so severe that people have been threatened with excommunication for apostasy just because they cited Brigham Young.

    The reality is that Oaks is confusing his feelings for knowledge, which might bolster his status but comes at the expense of his followers and their neighbors.

  7. Hi Tod,

    What, exactly, did you enjoy? I’m not challenging you, just wondering what the appeal is in what he had to say.

  8. Still, someone want to take a stab at Oaks’ statement of “science, the scriptures and revelation” and “how we can know them” as if there is a specific way that the truthiness of science is understood as actual truth? I’d be interested in the “Mormon process of science,” considering Dean Byrd, Hafen, and others are interested in “science and sexual orientation.”

  9. D.H.O’s talk was so incoherent, it’s got the Bloggernacle agreeing with ProfXM.

    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2010/02/oaks-harvard-and-religion/

    During the Q & A, D.H.O. offered this advice: “If you want to know, go to the ultimate source. The answer … can only come from God himself.”

    If Mormonism had a theology, maybe that’s what Oaks would be asking Harvard to help promulgate. But since it doesn’t, isn’t Oaks really just complaining that higher education should be encouraging more students to seek a revelation from God concerning the LDS gospel?

    If so, Oaks has apparently grown tired of the Apostle gig. Or maybe he’s just trying to deflect attention away from the mounting evidence that he’s made a hash of his calling. How else to explain his grumpy scolding of Harvard for not doing his job for him? What a WATB that guy is.

    ETA: This latest from Oaks also reminded me of this David Brooks column about Romney’s speech from two years ago: Faith vs. the Faithless . Excerpts:

    When this country was founded, James Madison envisioned a noisy public square with different religious denominations arguing, competing and balancing each others passions. But now the landscape of religious life has changed. Now its most prominent feature is the supposed war between the faithful and the faithless … In rallying the armies of faith against their supposed enemies, Romney waved away any theological distinctions among them with the brush of his hand. In this calculus, the faithful become a tribe, marked by ethnic pride, a shared sense of victimization and all the other markers of identity politics … He wants God in the public square, but then insists that theological differences are anodyne and politically irrelevant … He also asked people to submerge their religious convictions for the sake of solidarity in a culture war without end.

  10. Let it be noted that BYU doesn’t even HAVE a theology department. If Oaks want to be taken seriously as entering real religious dialogue with mainstream religious America, he can’t just forever resort to gut-feelings and fleeting ideas (i.e., promptings). Anyone can try to argue their position by emotion, and it doesn’t accomplish anything – other than making the person speaking look illogical and nonsensical and one with whom you can’t have an intelligent conversation.

  11. BYU doesn’t have a theology department largely because Mormonism doesn’t have a coherent theology. Insteadn, they have a collection of “doctrines” that have a habit of changing from time to time, depending on who is speaking, what point they are trying to make, and to whom the speaker is speaking.

    Also, I suspect that when Oaks said that people in the US are generally ignorant about religion, he really meant that people in the US are generally ignorant about Mormonism. One would think Oaks would be fine with that, considering that most of the non-Mormons I know who do know anything of substance about Mormonism either think it’s a big joke or that it is a cult.

    Elaine

  12. Wow. I can’t believe the amount of blind hatred that abounds on this blog. It really is sickening. Here’s my thoughts on a couple of the ridiculous comments you have made:

    Mormons are arrogant

    Yet, you people have no problem calling a man “ignorant” who graduated at the top of his class at Chicago Law; has published law review articles that thirty years after they were written are still considered the most persuasive authority; clerked for the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of the United States, a job that is given to the very best law student in the country that dares to apply; has worked as BYU’s President; and still works on Utah’s Supreme Court.

    Which one of you haters will post your resume to outdo Dallin H. Oaks? Who is really arrogant here? I dare any of you to post your credentials and argue for why you have impacted more people positively than Oaks. Better yet, post your beliefs. It is easy to criticize.

    “Maybe Im just a jaded secularist, but it sure seems like: #1 is heavily debated and certainly not knowable”

    Not knowable to people who are faithless and spiritually asleep.

    “If Oaks want to be taken seriously as entering real religious dialogue with mainstream religious America, he cant just forever resort to gut-feelings and fleeting ideas (i.e., promptings). Anyone can try to argue their position by emotion, and it doesnt accomplish anything other than making the person speaking look illogical and nonsensical and one with whom you cant have an intelligent conversation.”

    First of all, to call Oaks illogical is ridiculous.

    Second, you should have actually listened to his speech. He is talking about the existence of a knowledge that can only be communicated through the spirit, which is what Christ was talking about when he said, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).

    So, Oaks is only irrelevant if you don’t believe in Christ, any scriptures, or that you have a spirit. But if that fits all of you, then why do you have such hatred towards Dallin H. Oaks? If you really don’t have any religious beliefs, then you would just say to each his own and engage your time elsewhere. The fact that you all so passionately dislike Dallin H.Oaks suggests that you have religious beliefs in churches that have taught you to hate Mormons or are offended Mormons yourselves.

    Either way, it cannot be good for you to harbor such hatred.

  13. So, Oaks is only irrelevant if you dont believe in Christ, any scriptures, or that you have a spirit.

    Damn! You’re on to me. 😉

    Not knowable to people who are faithless and spiritually asleep.

    I love the double-standard employed here. “You people are mean for insulting believers and Dallin Oaks. Now shut up, listen and take me seriously while I insult you.”

    Which one of you haters will post your resume to outdo Dallin H. Oaks?

    Which one of us “haters” criticized Oaks’s lawyer/judge credentials? Answer: None of us. In fact, most of us are actually quite sad that all Oaks could say was basically rather ridiculous claims about higher education leading people to be ignorant about non-existent Mormon theology.

    Also, FYI, this is an argument from authority, and a non sequitur to boot. You’re claiming that we should care what Oaks says because he was a legal authority. If he were speaking on legal matters, I might consider that. But, his legal bona fides do not translate to religion at all. Ergo, argument from authority + non sequitur = really bad logical fallacy.

    If you want us to take you as something other than a flamer, you’ll have to raise the level of your rhetoric, LDS Law Student.

  14. Profxm,
    “this is an argument from authority, and a non sequitur to boot”

    Actually, it is not an argument from authority. I didn’t say you have to believe in God because he does. I said stop insulting the man as an idiot. I’m asking you to show why you think you have the standing to call him ignorant. Are you a learned scholar of some sort? Why is he ignorant?

    You claim he is ignorant. How does it non sequit? It clearly follows. You claim ignorance; I showed evidence of intelligence and education. It’s great logic.

    “I love the double-standard employed here. You people are mean for insulting believers and Dallin Oaks. Now shut up, listen and take me seriously while I insult you.

    How is that an insult to you if you think religion is ridiculous? If you’re insulted it’s because you really do have deep religious beliefs. Unfortunately, you’ve decided to dedicate your efforts into hatefully criticizing the church you left instead of just being willing to live and let be.

  15. “If you want us to take you as something other than a flamer, youll have to raise the level of your rhetoric.”

    Wow. In one breath you wrongly denounce my logic. In another, I’m a flamer for not agreeing with you. Talk about non-sequitur.

  16. Appeal to authority is a fallacy of defective induction, where it is argued that a statement is correct because the statement is made by a person or source that is commonly regarded as authoritative. (from Wikipedia)

    Yet, you people have no problem calling a man ignorant who graduated at the top of his class at Chicago Law; has published law review articles that thirty years after they were written are still considered the most persuasive authority; clerked for the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of the United States, a job that is given to the very best law student in the country that dares to apply; has worked as BYUs President; and still works on Utahs Supreme Court. Which one of you haters will post your resume to outdo Dallin H. Oaks? Who is really arrogant here? I dare any of you to post your credentials and argue for why you have impacted more people positively than Oaks. Better yet, post your beliefs. It is easy to criticize.

    You claimed we should not criticize Oaks because he was a highly acclaimed lawyer (top of his class, publications, etc.). That is a classic example of an appeal to authority.

  17. Non sequitur, in formal logic, is an argument in which its conclusion does not follow from its premises.(from Wikipedia)

    You claim he is ignorant. How does it non sequit? It clearly follows. You claim ignorance; I showed evidence of intelligence and education. Its great logic.

    What I claimed is a non sequitur is that Oaks being a brilliant legal expert has no bearing on his ability to criticize higher education for keeping students ignorant about Mormon theology. Or, in more classic form:

    Q: What would qualify someone to criticize higher education for keeping people ignorant of Mormon theology?
    A (non sequitur): Having been a highly regarded lawyer.

    My point: Dallin Oaks’s legal credentials do not make him qualified to talk about Mormon theology. There is no correlation between the two. If there were, then Thomas Monson’s lack of legal credentials would make him unfit to talk about Mormon theology.

    Ergo, non sequitur.

  18. Wow. In one breath you wrongly denounce my logic. In another, Im a flamer for not agreeing with you. Talk about non-sequitur.

    Wrong and wrong, but nice attempt at playing the victim card.

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