Doubting Your Doubts

In an October 2013 talk called “Come, Join With Us” Pres. Uchtdorf welcomed everyone to be a part of the church, even if they have doubts.  He famously said:

 First doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.

It’s a great line.[1]  Some have taken it to mean that Pres. Uchtdorf is saying that there is no room for doubt, that only the faithless doubt, that doubting your faith should never ever happen.  Given the rest of the talk, that seems like an unlikely interpretation.  He speaks with empathy toward those who have doubts and invites everyone to join and participate in church regardless of their doubts.

In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth.

Let’s take a closer look at what the word “before” might mean.  As a non-native English speaker, Pres. Uchtdorf’s word choice is likely to be more precise and deliberate than our colloquial, casual word choices usually are.  There are three possible ways the word “before” can be interpreted, and each one changes the meaning of his statement.

Alternative

When the word “before” is used between two alternate options, it often means “instead of” in lazy or casual speech.  For example:  “Talk to someone before you commit suicide.”  Clearly the speaker’s intent is not that you have a conversation with a person and then proceed to kill yourself.  In this sentence it simply means not to do the thing you are considering, but to do something that is deemed a better alternative instead.

For those who find doubt highly objectionable, it is easy to interpret Pres. Uchtdorf as saying “Instead of doubting your faith, doubt your doubts.”  And yet, that’s not what he said.  This is also a very colloquial use of the word “before,” one that is a very imprecise way of speaking.  “Before you eat that poison, read the warning label!”  Again, if he is simply saying “Don’t do that ill-advised thing!  Do something else instead!” using the word “before” isn’t a clear or accurate way to convey that meaning, and I refuse to believe that someone so handsome and multi-lingual would make such a rookie grammatical error.

Sequential

The preposition “before” is also used to place activities in a sequence.  This interpretation is supported by his beginning the phrase with “First,” as in “First add the vanilla before you fold in the egg whites.”  In this example, the speaker obviously wants you to add both the vanilla and the egg whites but to do so in a specific order.

If the phrase intends a sequential process, it would mean that step one is that you doubt your doubts, and then once you’ve done that correctly, you can proceed to step two, doubting your faith. If you do it in the wrong order something in the recipe won’t work properly.  Changing the sequence changes the results.

Priority

Similar to the sequential meaning of “before,” the word can be used to indicate priority.  Rather than pointing to the order in which activities should occur, this contrasts two things in terms of importance, as in the phrase “Bros before hos,” indicating that male friends are more important to the speaker than female lovers.

Interpreting Pres. Uchtdorf’s quotation in this light would mean that while both doubting one’s doubts and doubting one’s faith are worthwhile, it’s more important or a higher priority to doubt one’s doubts.

This is similar to the idea of being an optimist rather than a pessimist when it comes to faith or erring on the side of faith rather than doubt.  When weighing both doubt and faith on the scales, perhaps he is suggesting to let your finger weigh the faith side a little bit more.  Give your faith the benefit of the doubt rather than the other way around.  He could also simply mean to spend more time doubting your doubts and less time doubting your faith.

The Window and the Mirror

His advice reminds me of the famous description Jim Collins uses in his best selling book on business Good to Great.  Collins refers to leaders looking out a window to see external causes or looking in a mirror to see their own shortcomings.  He says that when times are tough, most leaders and companies have a tendency to look out the window to find external causes (market failures, unpredictability, competitors) to blame for the failure, and when times are good they tend to look in the mirror, assuming the majority of the credit for their success.

By contrast, Collins says that great leaders humbly look out the window to find the sources of their success – market factors, timeliness, and sheer luck–and they look in the mirror during tough times, asking themselves how they might have contributed to the problems and how they might make personal changes to solve those problems.  Thus the differentiator between good leaders and great ones is personal humility and willingness to be self-critical.

First Things First

If Pres. Uchtdorf’s advice is that both doubting your faith and doubting your doubts are potentially useful activities, but that you should first (in either sequence or priority) doubt your doubts, why give precedence to doubting one’s doubts?

First of all, what does it mean to doubt your doubts?  It’s not as simplistic as it sounds.  Of course, some have taken it to mean “don’t doubt at all” or “doubt all doubting,” but that isn’t what he said.  He said to doubt your doubts.  Doubting is a qualitative evaluation process to avoid error and logical fallacies.  He is suggesting we should apply skepticism inwardly toward our doubts, not just outwardly toward our faith.[2]

A recent article points out the mistakes atheists often make in assuming they are past logical fallacies.  All personal beliefs, whether scientific or religious, are founded on assumptions, philosophies and past experiences.  From the article:

If we hold beliefs that we come to recognize are misguided or unsupported, we shouldn’t be hesitant to engage with the ideas and revise our position. If we are forced to change our strategy in argumentation, or perhaps our entire worldview, then for the sake of reason and truth, let it be.

Any seeker of truth will see the value in this approach.

We should consider:

  • What exactly are your doubts?  Can you clearly articulate them or list them?  Are they based in part on assumptions, expectations, faulty premises or other subjective elements?
  • Why are they yours?  Why are these doubts the ones that you find compelling (vs. other doubts)?
  • How do you figure in to these doubts?  What personal qualities are contributing to your being doubtful?  How do your feelings, behaviors, personal stories, and family relationships relate to your specific doubts?
  • What emotions fuel your doubts?  Do you have pet peeves or a personal stake in these doubts? If you had amnesia and were presented with the same information would you feel the same about these doubts?
  • Are you avoiding logical fallacies?
  • Are you too stupid to see the logical fallacies you aren’t avoiding?
  • Are your doubts precise and informed or are there heuristics (mental shortcuts) at play?

Some of the specific examples of doubting one’s doubts that Pres. Uchtdorf includes are:

Allowing for missing context when evaluating the past.

Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.

Realizing that all leaders (and everyone else) are fallible and are hypocrites.

And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.

If you define hypocrite as someone who fails to live up perfectly to what he or she believes, then we are all hypocrites. None of us is quite as Christlike as we know we should be. But we earnestly desire to overcome our faults and the tendency to sin.

Clarifying that different people interpret “facts” differently.

Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the “facts” really mean. A question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others.

Once you have given fair weight to evaluating and articulating what your doubts are and why you have those specific doubts, which can admittedly be a lifetime endeavor, you can then doubt your faith using many of the same evaluative techniques.  You will have at least gotten some good practice in.

Jonathan Haidt spoke of an elephant and a rider to explain why we believe the things we believe. Our beliefs and actions are like the elephant, and our explanations of why we did what we did and why we believe what we believe are like the rider.  The elephant goes where it goes, and the rider simply works as PR, explaining why the elephant went where it went.  But the reasons, like most PR statements, are made up.  The rider has no true insight into the elephant’s thinking.  The explanations follow the elephant’s actions, but they don’t predict or control the actions.

If you simply doubt your faith without questioning your own motives, emotions, and assumptions, you may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  You may be looking out the window to assign blame when a part of the reason for your doubts is always in the mirror, hidden within.  The real purpose of the gospel is self-knowledge and improvement.  Doubting your doubts leads to self-knowledge whereas doubting your faith without self-knowledge and humility generally leads to justification and rationalization.

You may accidentally replace an unfounded faith with an unfounded doubt.

If you first doubt your doubts, there are two immediate benefits:  1) better self-knowledge and 2) better doubting skills; practice makes perfect.  Then when you doubt your faith, you will be less prone to error.

This is prophetic counsel indeed.

_______________________________

[1] I know; it’s been Pinterested to death.

[2] The use of the word “faith” is also enigmatic.  There’s a double meaning implied.  One’s faith can either mean one’s own beliefs and personal spiritual experiences, or it can mean the religion to which we belong.  In the former meaning, doubting our faith is akin to self-doubt; it is questioning the validity and accuracy of our spiritual experiences.  In the latter meaning, doubting our faith is akin to looking out the window at flaws in the church, its history and leaders.  Most of his examples suggest this latter perspective, but both are sources of doubt that seem to be common to church members.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the clarifying post. I agree that Elder Uchtdorf was not necessarily saying that we shouldn’t ever doubt our faith. He was saying that we should prioritize skepticism towards criticisms and critiques of the LDS truth claims over skepticism towards the truth claims themselves. It should be noted here, however, that flaws and falsehoods in some critics’ assessments of the LDS church’s truth claims should not in and of themselves be considered solid evidence of the truth claims, as some LDS believers appear eager to accept.

    “A recent article points out the mistakes atheists often make in assuming they are past logical fallacies. All personal beliefs, whether scientific or religious, are founded on assumptions, philosophies and past experiences.”

    Yes, that’s very true. Thomas Kuhn pointed this out masterfully in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Yet, 1) this does not mean that truth is in the eye of the beholder. Some LDS people when defending the LDS church’s truth claims appear to appeal to that notion, not realizing that such a notion actually hurts the LDS church’s claim to the be one and only organization that has a fullness of the truth. If truth is in the eye of the beholder, that would bring all other truth claims on par with those of the LDS church thus making Joseph Smith’s claims about truth no more or less valid than those of Muhammad.

    2) This also does not make science another form of religion. While the ideas of thinkers in the scientific communities are based on assumptions (many of which the thinkers are unaware of or fail to acknowledge), these assumptions are fewer in number and less in magnitude than those embedded within the truth claims of religions. Scientific communities appear more willing to let go of old ideas propounded by the most revered scientific thinkers of the past (and present) in the face of new research and evidence. Furthermore, those in the scientific community are more willing to challenge each other’s ideas (while maintaining some degree of mutual respect). Religious communities throughout the world in general are much more given to traditional dogma, tribalism, groupthink, and authority figures, and much, much less prone to reason and logic when they evaluate the merit of their traditional beliefs (if they even do so at all).

  2. Your bullet points seem a useful guide to productive religious skepticism. Perhaps this comic illustrates Pres. Uchtdorf’s point:

    http://existentialcomics.com/comic/93

    Doubt is useful, but it can be paralyzing. At some point, one must leap (or, in the case of Montaigne in the comic, walk through the door).

  3. Angela, I concede that self-knowledge and humility are virtues all doubters should embrace prior to questioning their faith. But those who boldly (blindly?) embrace every truth claim espoused by the church would do well to examine their own motives and the manner by which they arrived at their convictions. For, if our history has taught us nothing else, the doubters are sometimes right.

  4. Brad L: Very valid points, although many believers are unwilling to concede them.

    Jason K: Great cartoon. This tendency of doubt to paralyze action seems to be the main objection of many church leaders. We are such an orthopraxic religion.

    FarSide: Exactly! Ironically, it seems to be on these grounds that Pres. Uchtodorf’s counsel was primarily misunderstood.

  5. Any seeker of truth will see the value in this approach….[bullet pointed question list]

    To some extent. What someone defines as their doubts is very much informed by the issues that people around them are pushing into relevance. I have never heard an LDS person say that they are struggling with doubt about the idea of reincarnation, in spite of the fact that throughout the world, one of the common religious ideas is that we reincarnate. Many people who discontinue participation in the LDS church because of belief- and truth-related issues are forced into a position of doubt and are labeled doubters by virtue of their environment.

    What emotions fuel your doubts?

    While I don’t doubt that emotion can and does fuel doubt, must it? Could it be that someone is simply bothered by the seeming unreasonableness and evidencelessness of ideas that are strongly promoted around them, and feel the need to counter these ideas by pointing out logical flaws and defending a counterclaim? I’ve felt this with a former roommate who was a hardcore 9/11 truther. While I tried to generally avoid talking about 9/11 with him, I made sure to keep well-informed about the latest claims of the truthers and learned to be quick to point out logical flaws in the truther narrative just in case he brought up the issue.

    Are you too stupid to see the logical fallacies you aren’t avoiding?

    How would one know? We all have different IQ levels (which we cannot voluntarily increase). Furthermore, we humans are highly prone to self-deception and it is a very difficult process to weed out the logical inconsistencies and contradictions in our thought process.

    Are your doubts precise and informed or are there heuristics (mental shortcuts) at play?

    At some point we have to ask, does someone doubting a proposition bear the burden of proof? For there are all sorts of objectively unverifiable claims that people make about nature, history, and reality in general, and we shouldn’t have to concede that they are right simply because we cannot immediately disprove them. Those making the assertions about reality should be asked to provide the evidence.

  6. Just a reminder that the oft-memed “doubt your doubts” line did not originate with Pres. Uchtdorf. He references the book “Christ the Healer” (1924) by F.F. Bosworth. Sorry, pinterest folks.

  7. Love the original post. I’ve found that as I looked deeper into the faith I grew up with, I found lots of problems. However, as I’ve been looking even deeper than that, my doubts have slowly been eroding. (The Book of Abraham comes to mind. On the surface, Joseph got the facsimiles all wrong. But by researching more, I’ve seen he got the deeper meanings meanings of the symbols right.) I’ve still got things I don’t know about, but the trend has been a good one lately.

  8. Truthatallcost says:

    Daniel, you seem a bit off with this deeper invented meaning of yours regarding the symbols. JS made it up but it doesn’t mean that you can’t find something good where you are. You don’t need to create imaginary meaning to have a good experience.

  9. Truthatallcost, you seem a bit off with your certainty about the layers of symbolism possible in documents created thousands of years ago. That modern Egyptologists have one interpretation of a set of symbols does not mean that those symbols could not plausibly have been used in different ways over time. Religious symbolism often evolves and is recycled.

    Daniel, don’t listen to this anonymous, unimaginative person. The content of the BofA is far too glorious to have been created by a fraud, which should give one pause before rejecting that content based on these trifling details.

  10. Truthatallcost says:

    Owen, there is always a possibility of some super secret meaning to things. There is still a higher probability that those like our friend daniel are inventing meaning as a reaction to cognitive dissonance. I’m sure it’s shocking to find out the Egyptian papyri don’t say a thing about Abraham or that JS used magic rocks to get revelation, etc. However, one needs to face reality. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t good people at the Mormon church. Quite the contrary. Nevertheless, we need to transition from the fantastical to the more concrete. It’ll be better for all as soon as this happens.

  11. “For those who find doubt highly objectionable, it is easy to interpret Pres. Uchtdorf as saying “Instead of doubting your faith, doubt your doubts.” And yet, that’s not what he said.”

    Okay, but there are plenty of scriptures where even Jesus Himself says exactly that – even at the risk of outright (or not so subtly insinuated) damnation. The scriptures make it clear that belief is commandment and doubt is a sin. Were it not for the Protestant Revolution the West would have never thought otherwise.

  12. Deeper meanings of Boa facsimiles? Really? Please share.

  13. Such a great post! “Doubt your doubts” is such a quotable quote but not everyone has really sat down to think about what it actually means. I think it’s absolutely important that we apply at least as much skepticism to our doubts as we do to our faith when our faith is shaken. Is this doubt really what’s bothering me, or is just an excuse? Is this doubt relevant/important to my faith? Does this doubt really negate the things I know to be true in other areas? Is it possible that I’m having this doubt because I’m missing some information (or getting wrong information?) I think Elder Uchtdorf is trying to suggest that we don’t let an unexamined doubt destroy our faith. Religious people are often criticized for blindly accepting their religious beliefs, but I think it’s just as bad to blindly embrace doubts without ever critically examining them.

  14. Josh Smith says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful post, Angela. I think I personally would benefit from sitting down with the bullet points you listed above, and, in a quiet moment, think about some of the answers to these questions. Thank you.

    Recently I’ve been wrestling with what to do with uncertainty and doubt, emotionally. Should I try and use it as motivation? Something that shakes me sufficiently within to move me to reach after truth? Or, should I try and embrace it? Accept it? Just accept doubt as part of life and see if I can come to terms with it?

    That’s my current wrestle. What to do with doubt?

    Thank you for the thoughtful post. It has me thinking.

  15. Truthatallcost & Silfo: I’m not “making up” deeper meanings to the symbols used in the facsimiles. I’m looking at the deeper meanings that egyptologists have verified. I’ll give some examples that are on the top of my head.

    In Facsimile 1, Joseph labels the crocodile at the bottom as the “idolatrous god of Pharaoh”. Not exactly a normal conclusion to come to for a farm boy. Yet, the crocodile and Pharaoh had become essentially synonymous during the time of Abraham. Also, the water that the crocodile is swimming in Joseph labels as “the heavens” even though it is at the bottom of the picture. The Egyptians called the sky a “heavenly ocean”. To label water as sky is not something that would make intuitive sense to someone in the 1800’s, but it is correct in this case.

    In Facsimile 2, figure 5 (the upside down cow) is labeled by Joseph as “the Sun”. -Again, a weird conclusion for anyone to come to. But, this cow actually represents an Egyptian goddess that was on the underside of the world and would give birth to the Sun each morning and then swallow it again each evening. So, yeah, Joseph didn’t say it was “a cow goddess that births the sun”, but he got the meaning that perhaps a semite would give to an Egyptian document if redacting it to fit a semitic story. Abraham (and the other patriarchs) actually show up quite a bit in old Egyptian documents, so it would make sense that an Egyptian (or a semite living in Egypt) could redact some burial illustrations to fit the story of Abraham since both the Abrahamic story and “The Book of Breathings” have to do with the afterlife.

    Figure 6 in Facsimile 2 is said by Joseph to “represent this earth and its four quarters”. Egyptologists say it represents the four sons of Horus. Dang. But, if you look “deeper”, the four sons of Horus are always assigned the four cardinal directions.

    Figure 1 in Facsimile 2 is said by Joseph to be “Kolob, signifying the first creation, nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God”. To Egyptologists, this figure with the ram’s head represents Khnum. Khnum was one of the oldest Egyptian deities. He was “the potter god”. He is the one who molded from clay all human babies and put them in their mothers’ wombs. He is also the one who molded the other deities. Essentially, he is the first creator. Joseph said it represented the first creation.

    Likewise with Kolob, the ancient semitic root “QLB” (can be pronounced as Kolob and it’s variants) means “heart, center, middle” and “to be near”. Kolob is the first creation, imaginably near the center of creation according to Abraham, and was “nearest to the celestial”.

    There are several other examples. Along with these and all of the ancient world parallels (and previously unknown, but correct place names) found in the Book of Abraham — it becomes increasingly difficult to throw away Joseph’s interpretations as simply “fantastical”.

  16. The scriptures make it clear that belief is commandment and doubt is a sin. Were it not for the Protestant Revolution the West would have never thought otherwise.

    What are you talking about? It is simply human nature to doubt the religious propositions of others. The Protestants weren’t the first in Christiandom to doubt the authority of the . Nestorius doubted other religious authorities’ interpretations of Christ and split from them in 431. Jesus doubted the religious authority of the Pharisees and Saducees.

  17. Although we do not expect Church leaders to be perfect, we expect them to hold the same level of honesty that we are expected to uphold to receive a temple recommend.
    Although I remain active and hold a temple recommend, I am concerned that:
    • Church leaders continue to share misinformation about polygamy and polyandry.
    • Some Church leaders continue to treat minorities and women as second-class members. This is unacceptable and must be addressed by our General Authorities.
    • Ecclesiastical abuse continues with too often no Church accountability for those in positions of authority who are perpetrators.
    • Church financial reports are not available for members to review. Those who are tithe payers should be able to review how their donations are spent.
    • Too often Church leaders adopt a doctrinal approach that assumes we must become “perfect” or “strictly obedient” by keeping all of the commandments, which is impossible. This creates a culture of shame and depression among many Latter-day Saints who do not feel worthy, valued, or loved.
    • When the doctrine of grace in the Church becomes subordinate to the doctrine of works, we ignore the full majesty and power of the Atonement. Our emphasis becomes rule-based rather than worship-based and we talk more about obedience than the Atonement. Too often we see lessons and talks in Church that include no reference to the Savior. As the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Christ should be our focus in our meetings, talk, and lessons. If we focus only on works, we ignore the very reason why obedience is important: It is a manifestation and a result of our love for God and for others.
    • To strengthen members and allow missionary work to progress, Church leaders must become more transparent, accountable, and forthright. Until they uphold the same standards that they require of their members, the Church will find it difficult to retain members and to recruit new ones.

  18. “What are you talking about? It is simply human nature to doubt the religious propositions of others. The Protestants weren’t the first in Christiandom to doubt the authority of the . Nestorius doubted other religious authorities’ interpretations of Christ and split from them in 431. Jesus doubted the religious authority of the Pharisees and Saducees.”

    And yet the scriptures still say that believing is a commandment and doubting is a sin.

  19. Josh Smith says:

    This conversation may move forward better if we have a clear definition of “doubt.”

    I think doubt is an emotion. Doubt is a feeling of uncertainty about the truth of something. As such, I think the elephant/rider metaphor Angela uses above is a good way to think about doubt. Emotion springs from a deep well of unconscious processes (elephant), and we can only articulate a bit of the direction those emotions take us (rider). I think we do best to talk about “doubt” just as we do other emotions.

    Is “belief” the alternative emotion to “doubt”? Is “belief” even an emotion?

    JeffG, I’m particularly interested in your view on this.

  20. Jeff G, in your comment you suggest that the West would have never thought that doubting is a sin had it not been for the Protestant Reformation. First of all, doubting what? Human claims to represent God or that Jesus Christ is God? Because it would seem that most of Christendom (there could be some currents that do not, depending upon how they define sin and doubt) would believe it to be a sin to doubt the divinity of Jesus. For that would exclude you from being part of Jesus’ people when he supposedly returns. However, your point doesn’t make sense if you mean that people in the West (France, England, Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland) never regarded it to be a sin to doubt human claims to represent God. People in Western Europe were doubting the Catholic pope’s claims to represent God and preach God’s true doctrine long before the Protestant Reformation. This holds true even you accept a sort of proto-Protestant Reformation to have technically begun with Peter Waldo in the 12th century.

    After Jesus’ death, Christianity became a grassroots movement, within which were a number of different interpretations of divinity and claims to proper authority. Before Constantine converted to Christianity in 312, Christianity was in existence in Western Europe in relatively small pockets. There is no evidence that these pockets of Christianity had the same doctrinal interpretations, and in fact it is highly likely that they integrated local traditional (i.e., pagan) beliefs with Christianity. We know for sure that preachers of Christianity differed in their concepts of divinity very early on. Arius and Athanasius were in strong disagreement over Jesus’ status vis-a-vis the Father, the former of whom claiming that Jesus was subordinate to the Father. After Constantine’s conversion in 312, Christianity spread rapidly in Western Europe. However, this did not mean that they all accepted the religious authority of the papacy at Rome. Arianism spread in Iberia in the 300s and in Germany between the 400s and 600s. So right there, we have evidence of Western Europeans doubting the authority of the Catholic pope, especially since the papacy clearly regarded Arianism to be a heresy. After the Muslims invaded Iberia in 711, lots of formerly Christian inhabitants converted to Islam, so there we have more evidence of Western Europeans doubting the authority of the pope. Paulicianism, deemed heretical by the pope, spread among Armenians in Anatolia between 650 and 872, and Bogomilism, which was a fusion of Armenian Paulicianism and beliefs of the Slavonic reform movement preached by Bogomil, emerged in Bulgaria and Macedonia in the 900s and spread throughout Western Europe (Italy, France, northern Iberia) between the 10th and 15th centuries.

    It is human nature to doubt religious authority of some type or another. Belief that doubt is a sin is not something that originated in the West with the Protestant Reformation.

  21. Brad,

    A major source of modern doubt goes back to Descartes who explicitly says he was responding to the religious wars in which he was a major participant. But then, this along with everything else you said is largely irrelevant to they point at hand. The scriptures still make themselves perfectly clear.

    Faith is juste as much a commandment as repentance and baptism. A quick scripture search for “doubt not” or “believeth not” leaves little doubt on the matter.

    The idea that doubt is intrinsically good or natural, not to mention the idea that “natural” means “morally permissible” does not come from the Lord or his prophets… Regardless of what we might be taught in school.

  22. Surely, one can doubt the infallibility of Church leaders without doubting that Jesus is the Christ. I wish Church leaders would make a distinction between the two.

  23. Jeff G, what do you mean by “modern doubt”? Atheism? Doubt in all claims to the divine? The NT passages on doubt specifically say that doubting the divinity and miraculous powers of Jesus is a sin. That’s it. Clearly Jesus doubted the Pharisees and their ideas about God’s law and how one should live his/her life. I assume that your religious beliefs are more or less in line with those of the LDS leaders. So I’m assuming that it is safe to say that you doubt the Hindu doctrines of reincarnation and moksha. We all doubt something or another. Doubting is simply a part of human nature. For the assertion of one belief implies doubting its opposite.

    You write that faith is a commandment. Yes, but you need to be more specific. It is faith in Jesus Christ as the savior and in his prophets that is the commandment.

  24. Josh Smith says:

    Just a couple thoughts …

    What about these three examples of doubt, outside of a religious context?

    1. Paradox. There a number of different kinds of paradox, but it’s essentially an expression that seems contradictory, but upon further reflection may prove true. That is, the expression triggers a feeling of doubt, but through reflection we’re able to overcome that initial doubt.

    2. Illusion. When we have reason to believe that our senses have been tricked. We have a feeling of uncertainty about our perception. We feel doubt.

    3. Distrust. There are certain physical expressions that induce a feeling of doubt about a speaker’s trustworthiness.

    In a religious context, I still think “doubt” is an emotion. We feel uncertain about an assertion. We feel deceived, or we feel manipulated. Maybe doubt can involve guilt or fear. It can involve some of our deepest insecurities. Essentially though, I think a conversation about doubt is about our psychology.

    Disbelief is different than doubt. Disbelief is an experience where one is unable or unwilling to believe something.

  25. I think part of the issue is that faith is not a belief. Beliefs are the reasons we have faith, but faith is bigger and more general than a belief. Many beliefs are really just opinions of individuals as to why they have faith. Questioning beliefs (in this light) is not the same thing as questioning faith itself. We should question our reasons for believing (since everyone’s reasons differ). Whether we should question our faith or just our explanations of our faith is up for grabs – but most church leaders would discourage anything that leads an individual to inaction or analysis paralysis. Better to take Pascal’s wager and live as if it is all correct.

    But doubt the accuracy of our reasons for believing? That seems wise.

  26. “Surely, one can doubt the infallibility of Church leaders without doubting that Jesus is the Christ. ”

    The scriptures don’t make such a clean distinction at all. The commandment to believe is very much aimed at those people who the Apostles were sent to preach to with dire warnings for those who did not accept them. D&C builds upon this in several places.

    With that in mind, at no place do we find the kind of “critical thinking” or principled doubt that stands in judgment of the Lord’s anointed praised anywhere within the scriptures. (Of course our natural reaction is to think that this leaves nothing but “blind obedience”, but this again is modern ideology at work.)

    “But doubt the accuracy of our reasons for believing? That seems wise.”

    This “wisdom” does not come from the Lord’s prophets, but from Descartes and his modern disciples.

  27. Angela C, your last comment is great. Some might believe in faith promoting rumors that are not true, and they base too much of their faith on them (instead of building on the rock of Christ – Hel. 5:12). When they find out that the rumors are false, their faith gets shaken far too dramatically. I think it’s healthy to scrutinize our reasons for believing and be willing to realign with newfound truth.

  28. Well put, Josh Smith. The term disbelief may characterize many less actives’ thoughts about LDS assertions about history and nature better than doubt.

  29. Clark Goble says:

    Jeff, I agree it’s not taught clearly in scripture. At best we have things presented where one should disbelieve without addressing the question of why we believe or don’t. The closest we have is Alma 32 but again that’s focused on believing something the text takes as true rather than wrestling with skepticism.

    That said, I’m not sure we shouldn’t still be skeptical. It’s interesting that when presenting false prophets of whatever sort the scriptures don’t typically get at how we know they’re false. In some cases its a competition (say Elijah where he gets God to create fire but the false prophets can’t) and in other cases the strengthening of hierarchal power such as Hiram Page in D&C 28.

    This gets at the issue of our long dispute though which we probably shouldn’t rehash here. i.e. whether the President speaking offers up a burden of proof or a trump.

    In any case I’m skeptical we can directly control our doubt. So condemning our doubt is condemning something over which we don’t have direct control. At best we can point people to inquiry.

  30. Clark,

    It’s not that I think what you or anybody else has said here is false, per se, it’s just I see them as somewhat desperate attempts to replace what the scriptures clearly say with what “seems reasonable” to our modern minds.

    Whatever argument we put forward – be it our inability to control doubt, our preference for avoiding “logical fallacies”, our fear of blind obedience, the supposed naturalness of doubting, the mincing of words about doubting our doubts “first” or “at all”, historical examples of other Christians who have doubted, drawing distinctions that the scriptures themselves never draw between disbelief/doubt/unfaithfulness, etc. – absolutely none of these things come from authoritative sources. They are distractions. The scriptures, by contrast, remain perfectly clear: believing the words of the Lord’s anointed is a commandment and disbelief is a sin. Indeed, questions regarding belief and doubt are parts of our worthiness interview… and not just our belief in the words of non-mortal beings.

    If, however, one wants to follow an approach taken by Steve Evans in prior posts in simply saying “I don’t believe those parts of the scriptures” then there really isn’t much for me to say. What bugs me is when we try to say “this is what the scriptures must really mean, because otherwise they’d be unreasonable… I mean, listen to all these arguments!”. Nowhere is it promised that the commandments given to us must be reasonable and the commandments surrounding belief and doubt are a perfect example.

  31. Wait what?

  32. Steve,

    Your “I don’t believe those parts,” response was with regards to some other issue – I think it was about blaming or punishing those who had no choice. Sorry I didn’t make that clearer.

  33. Surely, one can doubt the infallibility of Church leaders without doubting that Jesus is the Christ.

    The church leaders don’t claim to be infallible. They claim to be delivering God’s words to us, but they acknowledge imperfection and weakness (albeit without many details as to what these imperfections might be). Joseph Smith himself wrote in his journal on February 8, 1843:

    This morning, I read German, and visited with a
    brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that “a prophet is always a
    prophet;” but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was
    acting as such.
    (http://www.boap.org/LDS/History/History_of_the_Church/Vol_V)

    There is no formula laid out for how we know when leaders are speaking as men or when they are speaking as prophets. So provided that one believe that these men can actual act as prophets and deliver God’s words, they have nothing but their own reasoning to fall back on in order to figure out when they are speaking as mere mortal men who are prone to err and when they are speaking as prophets.

    In 2012, Elder Neil A. Anderson said in general conference: The leaders of the Church are honest but imperfect men.

    Hence doubting the infallibility of the Church leaders is perfectly consistent with their teachings. It would logically follow, then, that doubting their words to be God’s words would also be consistent with the leaders’ teachings. And Jeff G, I simply can’t see how the alternative isn’t blind obedience or belief in the infallibility of leaders. In fact, based on the fact that you responded to the quote above by saying that there isn’t a clean distinction between Jesus and the church leaders suggests that you believe the leaders to be infallible (at least in word), or at least treated as if they were infallible, which is pretty much the same thing as believing them to be infallible. It would appear that in so doing that you are using your own reasoning to arrive at a position that is inconsistent with the teachings of the leaders (that they are fallible). I don’t see how that is different from what John Dehlin or Kate Kelly were doing. Sort of ironic, don’t you think?

  34. Brad, on the other hand, aren’t they entitled to at least a presumption of being correct?

  35. The scriptures, by contrast, remain perfectly clear

    Nonsense. The scriptures are a heaping mass of contradictions.

    believing the words of the Lord’s anointed is a commandment and disbelief is a sin

    What words? Disbelief in what? There are contradictions within the words of the Lord’s supposedly anointed. Is God’s love conditional or unconditional, I ask you? It depends on who you ask and when. And that’s just one of many examples.

    Your masked preaching of prophetic infallibility over the years, Jeff G, is pure incoherence. In spite of your long-winded babbling criticisms of critical thinking and reasoning, you rely on reasoning and critical thinking just as much as those whom you criticize to arrive at your points. So stop pretending that you somehow your thinking is a more pure representation of what the scriptures have to say.

  36. Brad, on the other hand, aren’t they entitled to at least a presumption of being correct?

    Sure, if you’re a believing LDS person. But this doesn’t mean that we are wrong to critically analyze what they have to say and have a disagreement with them here or there. Heck, Elder Christofferson said in an interview that members who are free to disagree with the brethren on the point of gay marriage, even on social media (http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/2301174-155/mormons-free-to-back-gay-marriage).

  37. Brad,

    “The scriptures are a heaping mass of contradictions.”

    Not on this topic. The total lack of scriptural support in both OP and your comments makes that pretty obvious. At no point do the scriptures say that the critical reasoning of men can legitimately correct the Lord’s anointed.

    “masked preaching of prophetic infallibility”

    Who ever said anything about “infallibility”? I sure don’t advocate any such thing. I fully accept that they are fallible and imperfect. But by what assumptions do you go from “apostles are imperfect” (something we all agree on) to “we ought to critically evaluate apostles” (something we do not agree on) and where are those assumptions found in gospel teachings? My claim is that they are found in the Greek tradition around which academia has been built, rather than any prophetic teaching.

    “In spite of your long-winded babbling criticisms of critical thinking and reasoning, you rely on reasoning and critical thinking just as much as those whom you criticize to arrive at your points.”

    And? I’m not anti-reason – only anti-reason-trumping-prophetic-authority. There’s a huge difference between using it against other bloggers and those same bloggers who are using it against the Lord’s anointed. Remember, it is good to be a learned, critical thinker inasmuch as you hearken to the Lord and His servants when you do so. The position you advocate, by contrast, is that it is good to hearken to the Lord and His anointed inasmuch as you are a learned, critical thinker when you do so. With regard to these two, mutually exclusive positions, the scriptures are crystal clear.

  38. Clark Goble says:

    Jeff, depending upon how you read Ether 12 that’s not entirely clear. Also while it isn’t quite the same thing as you are promoting the idea that there are errors in the scriptures is a pretty important doctrine of the restoration.

    I’d also say you are more than merely “anti-reason-trumping-prophetic-authority.” The issue isn’t trump but burden of proof. However that’s not a tangent I’ll take Steve down. (Grin)

    Brad, I’m all for reason but I think we have to ask what data we reason from. Often that is the real big dispute. With all apologies to Jeff, while I appreciate his views, I don’t think they are persuasive to many.

  39. Clark, that is wise!

  40. Don’t worry, Clark. I harbor no illusions that that many people agree with me. Indeed, I think there is an especially strong incentive for the more educated to disagree with me. Of course we would all love it if the values of critical inquiry and Christian faith were one and the same – or at least pretty close to each other. Unfortunately, if you just look at what intellectual virtues and vices are actually found in the scriptures, I can’t help but think that we are trying to cram a square peg into a round hole. The two value systems simply do not line up with each other.

    Of course, the fact that we have such an incentive to downplay or obfuscate such anti-intellectualism within the gospel makes me more than a little suspicious of ideological infiltration. Emotional responses and moralistic demonizing seem to confirm my suspicions. Look at how frustrated Brad is getting, for example: In an attempt to defend the importance of critical reasoning, he actually sidelined my argument precisely because it was a case of critical reasoning! While I am picking on him a bit here, I do not think his reaction is unique by any means and I have no doubt that I often do worse. Instead, I think that we college educated westerners have internalized the ideology and values of critical thinking to such an extent that we simply can’t help but see any form of anti-intellectualism as a personal attack of sorts on who we are – very similar to how we all felt the first time we came across anti-Mormon literature in the mission field.

  41. Jeff, I think part of the objections to your approach here is that you come off very strongly as being authoritative in your reading of scripture. Rhetorically you’ve set this up as Jeff’s view = Scriptural, Everyone else = Anti-faith. I don’t agree with the strategy.

  42. I guess I can see that.

    I don’t necessarily think that I’ve got any exact answers nailed down and I definitely don’t want anybody to take me as an authority. What I do object to, however, is the ambivalence mongering by which we are able to dissolve or at least pluralize any position that we do not agree with in the scriptures such that they come to mean almost nothing since they mean almost anything.

    In the case at hand, I do not think that those who disagree are anti-faith in the least. Indeed, it is precisely because they value their faith so highly that they want to artificially harmonize it with their critical reasoning. It’s not that they are anti-faith, but that they are a little too pro-reason. When a person is too pro-reason is can either erode their faith (as it did in my own case) or it can lead you to unintentionally transform and pollute both faith and that of those who listen to them (as it did in the early church).

    I think both of these things are worth fighting against.

  43. Josh Smith says:

    JeffG might be right about a scriptural command to believe. I’m hardly an expert on the Bible, and I lack the mental energy to do any research right now, but I suspect that most religions must start with some kind of set of beliefs to unite the believers. “Believe thus!” I suspect JeffG is right on that one point.

    Not sure if that’s true for Buddhism. It’s my understanding that Buddhism relies less on a set of beliefs and more on a set of practices, meditation.

    One last thought and I’m going to numb my brain with the new “Dr. Who” episodes on Netflix …

    I have reservations about whether certainty about one’s beliefs is a morally good way to live. (JeffG, I’m completely uninterested in what your beliefs say about that.) As soon as one says “I believe _____,” you have a problem: Ninety-nine percent of the people sharing the planet likely do not believe thus. What do you do about the non-believer?

  44. Bycommondissent, I think you’re misunderstanding the the wording used in Moroni 10. Asking God, “Is this not true?” is an older way of saying, “Is this true?”. It is not equivalent to asking “Is this false?”. Personally, I’m naturally skeptical, but I asked if it was true after a serious reading and got a very strong answer in the affirmative. I trust the Holy Ghost more than myself.

  45. Clark Goble says:

    Josh, there’s even more variety within Buddhism than there is in Christianity. Some have lots of “other worldly” beings while others like Zen have minimal beliefs and more focus on practice. An interesting Buddhist text is the Lotus Sutra which forms the basis of several main strains of Buddhism. The third chapter is a parable which more or less justifies what in the western tradition we’d call the noble lie. A father uses various promises of toys to get his children out of a burning house. While how different types of Buddhism use this, among at least some it justifies telling stories about gods and demons to get people to an appropriate level of development.

    Regarding certainty, I think there’s an ambiguity in our use of the term in English. We have the sense of something we can’t doubt. However there’s also the stronger sense where it’s something we can’t doubt that is strongly justified such that reasoning is also strong or even indubitable from a third person perspective. Because of those ambiguities it’s not a word I like to use.

    Steve, while I rather vigorously disagree with Jeff here, I think he’s right that there’s no place in the scriptures pushing skepticism of a prophetic pronouncement. The closest you can find is Ether 12 which I already brought up. But weakness doesn’t necessarily mean error. However in the Book of Mormon at least there’s an interesting structural play with the distinction between writing and speech. Interestingly this opposition also pops up in 20th century philosophy where speech is seen as more trustworthy and writing is seen as parasitic. Structuralism gets attacked by poststructuralist who end up arguing speech is just a type of writing with the same sort of problems. I think though the reason speech is seen as superior is more because it allows communication to be a dialog rather than a one directional statement that has to be interpreted. It’s not clear if that’s what’s going on in Ether 12 let alone 1 Nephi 13-14 though. It is a plausible reading of the text though. (The other, more common one, is that it just relates to difficulty of writing and transmission)

  46. Clark Goble says:

    Whooops. That line about the Lotus Sutra should read, “while how different types of Buddhism use this varies, among at least some it…”

  47. Thank you, Clark. I’ll take a look at the Lotus Sutra. I know very little about Buddhism, but I’m curious.

    As to “certainty” …

    I’m open to another term. The concern I have is raised from my personal experiences in the world. I have met Seventh Day Adventists who were certain that their belief system correctly reflected reality. I’ve known Pentecostals and Catholics absolutely certain in their respective beliefs. I had a wonderful opportunity to live in Jordan and I met many, many completely certain Muslims. I enjoyed a couple different meals with generous people who tried to get me to say the Shahada after the meal. Zoinks! The idea never crossed their minds that someone might not follow their religious beliefs.

    Most recently I had a dreadful conversation with an “environmentalist.” I tend to be persuaded by arguments about caring for the world we share, so I’m very open to discussion on environmental issues. But, this particular person was so persuaded about her own correctness and others’ error that it was intolerable.

    I’ve never met a completely convinced Lutheran. Hmmm.

    Here’s my concern: conviction about the rightness of one’s beliefs without the possibility of mistake. What about the person who does not share your belief? What about the “other”? Ignorant, just haven’t been given the opportunity? Idiots, just can’t figure it out? Evil, malevolent and are trying to deceive? When one is certain, what about the “other’?

  48. “I think he’s right that there’s no place in the scriptures pushing skepticism of a prophetic pronouncement.” Given who was taking dictation in this process, I find it impossible to be surprised by this. Likewise, the church’s PR department doesn’t go rogue, so they keep telling us.

  49. Clark Goble says:

    Josh, I’m a fallibilist and thus am open to being wrong about anything. I think the idea of feeling extreme confidence in either a belief or reasoning is something significant though. Of course we can be wrong. But surely it counts as to why we feel the way we do even if we might have forgotten the reasoning to get there.

    To draw an analogy in a physics exam I remember the answer I got but, a week later, I might have forgotten the reasoning I used to get to the answer. Is my confidence misplaced? What if I meet someone else who got a different answer?

    The idea that somehow people having confidence in different views is only significant if we can work out why they feel the way they do.

    I think Mormons don’t like fallibilist language. But I think theologically we end up adopting a stance that is a very fallibilist one. The problem is that people equate the ability to present an argument persuasive to others (especially skeptics) as being equivalent to the person being justified in their belief themselves. I don’t think that follows.

    Many Mormons may well feel confidence for bad reasons. I don’t doubt that in the least. However I’m not sure I want to say we can discount them. While I’m not in the least an Alston styled reliabilist (an epistemological position where what counts is reliability of process but not our ability to know we know) I’m also far from convinced that we have to be able to present justifications on demand to really know. It may well be a process like giving mathematical answers where how good our know-how may justify our knowledge-that.

  50. Josh Smith says:

    Fallibilism. I gotta say I love that word. This is the first time I’ve seen it, and I’m in love. I almost don’t even care what it means. Fallibilist. Fallibilism. Wonderful.

    Let me see if I have a grasp on the concept. A fallibilist says, “I could be completely wrong about my most cherished beliefs, but those beliefs are nonetheless justified at present because of x, y, and z.” Something like that?

    I’ve met some wonderful Mormons over the years who seemed to live life by that mantra. However, they are the exception.

    I think any serious study of Mormon history or doctrine would lead one to conclude that at any given point in time, Mormons are mistaken about a cherished belief. Though, maybe the individuals who had those beliefs were justified. At the time.

    Clark, I must say I’m interested enough in this idea to play with it a bit. To be clear, I don’t think Mormonism naturally lends itself to fallibilism: “One true this, that, and the other.” “I know with every fiber of my being that …” No. Fallibilism is not a natural fit for Mormonism. But maybe a fallibilist could be a decent Mormon anyway? It’s given me something to think about. Thanks, Clark.

  51. If I understand it correctly, I think our fallibilistic tendency is due to our orthopraxy. IOW, it’s better to be seen doing the right things for the wrong reasons than doing the wrong things for the right reasons. This is why the majority (or at least a really vocal subset of Mormons) would say it’s right to follow the prophet even if the prophet is wrong on a matter. In Mormonism, conduct matters more than belief. Works (forgive me for saying it) matter more than grace. I am not speaking of what is doctrinal, just what is culturally observable.

  52. In contrast to Clark, I reject fallibility, seeing it as either 1) a total rejection of faith or 2) an unwarranted departure on Pierce’s part from the pragmatism that he inspired.

    Fallibility is not a objective characteristic that we are able to observe or otherwise read off of our (inappropriately reified) beliefs. Instead, “fallibility” denotes a complex set of rules and methods by which we (de)legitimize claims. To use Angela’s terms, there is none and never can be any important distinction between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

    “Fallibilism”, then, amounts to a moral prescription that is, as Angela rightly noted, at odds with Mormon practices and the prescriptions that structure them. Practically speaking, it says that it is *always* legitimate to call a belief into question in order to critically evaluate it. More provocatively: if faith is a morally binding commandment that can be summarized as “doubt not,” then fallibilism is its antithesis.

  53. Can we not have unwavering faith in Jesus Christ and still have wavering “faith” in our Church leaders being fallible? In reading President Uchtdorf’s talk, he talks about faith out of context. Paul was writing about faith in Jesus Christ whereas President Uchtdorf infers that Paul was writing about faith in the Church.

  54. correction: “church leaders being infallible”

  55. Angela, Thank you for introducing the idea of distinguishing between practice and belief. I think that’s an important distinction.

    JeffG, and anyone else, I’m interested in how you analyze this situation:

    Abortion. My understanding of the Mormon teaching regarding abortion is that it’s very … it’s very pragmatic. Abortion is “permissible” (if that’s the right word) in cases of rape, incest, and when the pregnancy jeopardizes the health of the mother. That’s our practice. But what about our beliefs? Do we not believe that a fetus is a human life? Is it not our belief that taking the life of the fetus is murder? It seems if we genuinely believe taking the life of a fetus is murder, we probably shouldn’t have times when abortion is “permissible.”

    It seems to me that if Mormon practice lined up with Mormon belief, we would have a more principled approach–like a blanket prohibition on abortion. I like pragmatic approaches, so I’m not criticizing Mormon teachings on abortion. I’m just trying to point out that Mormon beliefs diverge from Mormon practices, on some substantial issues. At least part of this is recognizing that a belief is not always “right,” me thinks.

    I’m open to persuasion otherwise.

  56. it's a series of tubes says:

    Is it not our belief that taking the life of the fetus is murder?

    No, that overly broad blanket statement is not our belief.

    Besides, buckets of ink have already been spilled online on the closely related distinction between “killing” and “letting die”.

  57. Clark Goble says:

    Josh, I think the typical view is that the body is being prepared for the pre-existent spirit and that if done early enough in the pregnancy is more robbing someone of that body so they have to come later but isn’t murder which is robbing them of their mortality. Thus the differing conclusions from say Catholics or many Evangelicals for whom there’s an essential spirit-body connection from conception. Exactly when that connection is made for Mormons is unclear. Again typically stilbirths in the 3rd trimester are often (but not universally) given burials but rarely those in the 1st or 2cd trimesters.

    I think most Mormons simply don’t see 1st trimester abortion as being remotely in the same category as 3rd trimester abortion or infanticide. That doesn’t mean it’s not wrong of course. But it’s wrong for different reason and balancing ethical demands thus comes out differently.

    Jeff, it seems the scriptures and Joseph demand fallibilism. I thought your position was that there was fallibilism but that in terms of authority it doesn’t matter. Maybe you could clarify over at Thang? I should add that I think you’re wrong about pragmatism as well. Fallibilism is key to pragmatism.

  58. Josh,

    I don’t see why pragmatism doesn’t allow for all sorts of nuances, distinctions and qualifications…. just like any other perspective.

    Clark,

    Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time to post anything at the ‘Thang in a while. I’ve had to limit myself to the occasional thread. I figured you might disagree with my conception of pragmatism, but I’m pretty surprised that you think the scriptures demand fallibilism. I suppose there might be some watered down version that I would accept: that we are always open to having any belief corrected by God or some other duly authorized person.

    The form that I was attacking was the kind that focuses all attention on the beliefs themselves in order to obscure the identification of the individuals who are questioning them. Of course, this shift in emphasis is no accident since pretty much all post-Enlightenment thinkers have thought that 1) the identity of the questioner is irrelevant (this is the whole point of their subverting Catholic and other traditional authorities) or that 2) an individual is fully justified in challenging any of their own beliefs. I think the scriptures clearly reject the second claim in that doubting some beliefs is a sin. I also think they are opposed to the first claim, although I don’t expect many to agree with me on this one.

  59. Clark Goble says:

    Fallibilism is simply the idea that no belief can be supported by sufficient evidence such that it can’t be false. I don’t agree with your definition of fallibilism since typically the place and abilities of the believer are tied to why they can’t have absolute certainty. It’s odd you tie this to the enlightenment since the whole point of the pragmatists on this point was in opposition to Descartes and the typical treatment of epistemology in the enlightenment.

    There are I think lots of examples in the scriptures such as Jonah misunderstanding his own revelation or something similar in the Paul/Peter fight in the NT. I think Ether 12 is a big fallibilism push as well even if it’s quite possible to read it as the message getting through despite fallibilism.

    Outside of scripture Joseph’s “a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such” demands fallibilism.

    Fallibilism is a theory about people and not beliefs. I’m not aware of any pragmatists who reject fallibilism. Certainly it’s a key position of Peirce although he did waver in some ways such as fallibilism about mathematics. But it was also a position of William James and James Dewey. The later neopragmatists (primarily Putnam and Rorty) differ in important ways from classic pragmatists. So Putnam wants to talk warranted assertability but even he embraces forms of fallibilism. Rorty clearly accepts fallibilism although he thinks, contra the pragmatists, that this entails our goal in inquiry isn’t truth.

  60. Clark Goble says:

    Whoops. That final paragraph should read, “Fallibilism is thus a theory about people and not just independent beliefs.”

  61. Perhaps a better approach would be to point the fallibilistic dictum at the post-Enlightenment culture itself by asking what beliefs – moral beliefs in particular – we are not allowed to question today. This exercise is really easy when pointed at progressives who morally enforce political correctness such that a person is never justified in questioning the moral equality of races, genders, or persons.

    Libertarians like to think that they are free of such “dogmatisms”, but I disagree. They too insist that sovereignty and slavery are “prima facie” evil and all those who suppose differently are unjustified in doing so. The same could be pointed at the logical fallacies warned against in the OP. Other people in this very thread have insisted that it is morally wrong to question other people’s faith – but you would have to dance a pretty fancy jig to make these moral beliefs fully compatible with fallibilism.

    My point is not that these people are wrong. Rather, it is that once we ask about the sociolgocial implementations and implications of fallibilism, we realize that it is practically impossible. There just are some beliefs that we are never justified in questioning – we call these “truths” – and others that we are never justified in accepting – we call these “falsehoods”.

  62. Clark Goble says:

    Jeff we’re getting rather tangental to the original discussion so I’ll move the discussion over to my blog with a post.

  63. Agreed

  64. My only point in raising the example of LDS belief on abortion is simply to show that Mormonism can often be very pragmatic. By “pragmatic” I mean that a moral position is guided by practice rather than theology or principle.

    Submission to secular governments would be another area where we could find Mormon pragmatism.

    Much of life involves competing beliefs, conflicting values. Independent adults learn to question their own beliefs as part of the decision-making process: A child is gay, end of life decision-making for a parent, abortion, military service, Sabbath observance and career demands, and on and on and on. We regularly analyze our beliefs.

    Can someone engage in this process without doubt? Without the thought, “I may be mistaken about this belief.”

    And yes, I realize that the scriptures command us to believe. That’s what scriptures do. “Believe thus!” It should probably go without saying that a conversation about doubt isn’t going to be worthwhile if the believing side argues, “the holy book says to believe.” As my 12-year old likes to say, “Well der” [insert eye roll].