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Archive for August 2007
Given that we don’t all value exactly the same things and don’t all order our values in exactly the same way, morality is always underdetermined and contestable. Given that we value (disvalue, fear, etc.) a lot of the same things, morality and social life are possible.
Russell Blackford at Metamagician and the Hellfire Club has written an excellent post about what he calls naturalistic moral pluralism. His thoughts reflect my current views very closely. He just says it better than I do.
I saw a very popular bumper sticker this morning. You’ve probably seen it a thousand times yourself. It read “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven”. Isn’t this an acknowledgment that Christianity’s only benefit is that your invisible father isn’t pissed at you anymore?
Religion is superfluous. At best it encourages us to express our natural compassion. Most of the time, it just gets in the way.
If you believe that we should keep religion around, your challenge is to name a single, measurable benefit that religion provides that can’t also be provided by a suitable secular organization.
Update: I forgot to credit Christopher Hitchens’ challenge. Mine is just a variation on his theme.
There was one time when I was a Mormon missionary that the Jehovah’s Witnesses started to canvas the same street we were on. Lucky for them they backed down. I’d hate for things to get ugly.
Dear Brother Dastrup,
On several occasions you’ve expressed a desire to speak with me. I’ve refused your offers because I don’t recognize the authority of your position as bishop in the LDS church and because I don’t see any good that could come from it. I understand your purpose is to help me see the error of my ways, but any discussion on this point could only end in continued disagreement, if the tenor of your public remarks are a true indication of your thoughts on the matter.
Your public remarks last Sunday are the occasion for this letter. Given my situation, I think you’ll understand why I feel that your remarks were directed partially to me, or at least to my situation. It is your job to warn your congregation against heresy, so I shouldn’t feel singled out, yet I do. Perhaps you have reasonably given up on me and this is just a sign of my self-absorption, but I feel like you’re still trying to have your say despite my refusal to meet with you.
You used your bully pulpit to preach against my beliefs, so I will use my modest platform to respond. I realize that you are aware of this blog, but I don’t know if you read it. I would be surprised if you did, but I write this letter so that if you ever feel the desire to speak with me on this subject, I can point to this post and you’ll have a taste of what that discussion would be like.
Please excuse me if I didn’t hear all of your remarks. I was busy single-handedly keeping my girls from typical childhood mischief during a long meeting. Even the fact that their mother was speaking didn’t distract them for long.
When the speakers concluded their talks about the importance of education, you felt the need to fill a little of the extra time by warning against an education untempered by faith in Mormon doctrine. I’m sure you would have preferred for someone to quote 2 Nephi 9:29: “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.”
The first point of your remarks that stood out to me was your use of the phrase “educated idiot” to paraphrase Paul’s warning to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:7 against those who are “[ever] learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Your phrase, educated idiot, is nothing more than an ad hominem attack to distract and amuse the congregation. It confers no true understanding. I merely serves to circle the wagons by insulting anyone who doesn’t believe in Mormonism. Your congregation’s pride in Mormonism was increased while you taught them nothing. I wish I was surprised by such reactive anti-intellectualism, but am not. It has infected all levels of the church.
Perhaps there is one thing to be learned from your use of the phrase. I can infer that you feel that anyone who disagrees with your beliefs must be lacking in intelligence or character. Life teaches us that good, honest, intelligent people disagree with each other. The fact that I or anyone else who is intimately familiar with Mormonism would reject it does not mean that we are evil, dishonest, or stupid. It means that we see the world differently. Humility and civility dictate that we acknowledge that disagreements will happen, and that we can be wrong on occasion. I did not hear any evidence of this humility in your remarks.
On the other hand, on your side you have Paul who identifies the people you call educated idiots with people who are “lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures…” and who “creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,…” (2 Timothy 3:2–4, 6) Do you truly think this of me?
Let’s leave the schoolyard insults to the children.
The second point that stood out to me was your use of the 747 argument, that old chestnut, to defend creationism. I presume you did this to demonstrate how education can go awry. You wanted to show how the educated conclusion (i.e. belief in the theory of evolution) is nonsensical. You wanted to foster the congregation’s dependence on the church for truth (i.e. creationism). There are a number of problems with this.
First, creationism isn’t an official doctrine of the LDS church. There was some controversy on the issue over the years, but the church has no official doctrine against evolution. The BYU Packet mentioned in the Deseret News article contains a few official statements showing that the church’s position is neutral.
So you should feel no compulsion by the requirements of your religion to abandon the evidence of science and reason. The First Presidency in their Christmas message of 1910 said:
Diversity of opinion does not necessitate intolerance of spirit, nor should it embitter or set rational beings against each other. The Christ taught kindness, patience, and charity.
Our religion is not hostile to real science. That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy; but vain philosophy, human theory and mere speculations of men, we do not accept nor do we adopt anything contrary to divine revelation or to good common sense. But everything that tends to right conduct, that harmonizes with sound morality and increases faith in Deity, finds favor with us no matter where it may be found.
Many faithful members of your church believe the theory of evolution to be the truth, especially among those most familiar with the evidence.
Second, the 747 argument is based on a misunderstanding of how the evolution of species works. The basic argument is that assembling something as complex as a human being from raw materials by random chance is as unlikely as a tornado blowing through a junkyard and assembling a fully operational Boeing 747. We obviously don’t expect this to ever happen, so evolution can likewise not explain the origin of man. Or so the argument goes.
Unfortunately for this analogy, evolution isn’t a purely random process. It doesn’t create complexity randomly. It gradually fosters greater complexity through random mutation only if that mutation is conducive to enhanced survival and reproduction. Randomness may be evolution’s fuel, but the engine of natural selection is brutally non-random. The synthesis of the two builds up complexity over time producing a result which is not purely random.
For illustration, imagine dipping a jar into a muddy river and scooping out the water. Inside that water are many small particles randomly distributed. In the absence of gravity, those particles would remain randomly scattered within the water. On Earth, where there is gravity, if you leave the jar undisturbed and wait long enough, the sand and silt will settle to the bottom. Gravity acting on the random distribution and random movements of particles leads to a non-random result: water and sand in separate layers. Biological evolution similarly confers order on a random process.
Third, we could turn this argument on its head. Imagine walking to the junkyard, seeing a Boeing 747, asking the junkyard owner “Where did that come from?” Imagine your confusion when he answers “That has always been here. Since before the beginning of time it has been there.” You would probably doubt this man’s sanity.
Yet you ask me to believe that God—an entity much more complex than a 747 or even a human being—has existed for all eternity. You might counter that God hasn’t always been there, that he was once a man. (Are you sure that’s still official doctrine?) That only delays the problem. It simply replaces an eternal personal God with an eternal procession of Gods. Appealing to God or Gods to explain the complexity of the world doesn’t answer the question. It just leads to more complexity that still requires an explanation.
If you still want to discuss how the all things denote that there is a God, you can read how I imagine our conversation might proceed.
If you want to bear your testimony to me, I have also imagined how that conversation might go.
The message of the your remarks seems to be “Learn all you can, but remain ignorant of anything that contradicts what I, Brother Dastrup, personally believe.” In contrast, Elder Hugh B. Brown said:
Be unafraid of new ideas for they are the stepping stones to progress. But you will respect, of course, the opinions of others [but be unafraid to dissent if you are informed.]â€¦ Now I mention the freedom to express your thoughts, but I caution you that your thoughts and expressions must meet competition in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth must emerge triumphant. Only error needs to fear freedom of expression. Seek truth in all fields, and in that searching youâ€™re going to need at least three virtues: courage, zest, and modesty. The ancients put that thought in [the] form of [a] prayer. They said, â€œFrom the cowardice that shrinks from new truth, from the laziness that is content with half truth, from the arrogance that thinks it has all the truthâ€”O God of truth, deliver us.â€
(Man and What He May Become, BYU Speeches of the Year, 29 March 1958)
This blog is an open air marketplace of the truth. Anyone can peddle their wares here as long as they are respectful. I invite you to engage in the conversation here, in the light of day, where the truth can have a chance to emerge triumphant. Show me where I am in error, and I will try to show you where you stray from the truth, in the spirit of brotherly love.