Episode 108b: Seth and his father, Allen Part 2

Seth Leigh speaks with his father Allen Leigh about the Church and disbelief. Allen remains a believer while his son has left the Church.

Allen’s Website The Convergence of Science and Religion

Episode 108b

48 comments on “Episode 108b: Seth and his father, Allen Part 2”

    • Marty Reply

      I believe the original quote came from good Ol” Bruce R.
      “Obedience is the first law of heaven….There is nothing in all eternity more important than to keep the commandments of God.”
      Bruce R. McConkie, Promised Messiah, pg. 126

      • Allen Reply

        Many years ago I was a missionary in West Virginia. We began tracting in a neighborhood that contained a small congregation of the Reorganized Church. I didn’t know much about the Reorganized Church, and I began reading LDS history to understand more about that church. During my reading I discovered a statement by John Taylor who said that the LDS church shouldn’t be judged by the statement of any man. The church should be judged only by the standard works of the church. That counsel from Elder Taylor (maybe he was President Taylor, I don’t remember) became my guide in my religious studies, and it has served me well.

        I’ve heard quite a few LDS say that obedience is the first law of heaven, but I’ve never read that in the scriptures. The scriptures say that love is the first law of heaven. From Mark 12:

        30And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

        31And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

        Obedience that is not based on love is blind obedience. In having that type of obedience, we are in effect robots, obeying because we’re told to obey. Obedience that is based on love is obedience by choice, obedience because we love God and want to become like him.

        • Seth Leigh Reply

          How much do you want to bet that Boyd K. Packer isn’t about to espouse a revamping of all of the Church’s curriculum to eliminate the whole “Obedience is the First Law of Heaven” thing?

          I’d take that bet. I’d bet dollars to donuts even.

          The bottom line is that this teaching has been a common theme from the very earliest days of the church right up to the present.

          I haven’t had a chance yet to do the research to find where Joseph Smith said this. I have some hazy recollections of the context in which this came out, but I need to find a concrete reference for it. Be that as it may, it’s pretty clear that almost everyone since Joseph Smith has said it, and never stopped saying it, as that link to the current LDS Sunday School curriculum posted by Grant demonstrates.

          • Matt

            The podcast was great, both Allen and Seth should do more podcasts with each other or mixed in to the panel on there own. From what Allen has said it sounds like his beliefs are closer to a non denominational Christian (with a few bits of Mormon sprinkled in)

  1. Ozpoof Reply

    Great podcast Seth. I agree, most of what your father had to say was a cop out, but he has been taught to use such tactics when his faith is challenged. I felt sorry for him.

    I find the cop out “not pertinent to your salvation” one of the most frustrating. All questions that may disprove Mormonism or religion in general are very pertinent. Facts that prove Smith was untrustworthy are very pertinent. If the scriptures and prophets are not always truthful, and we can’t know for sure when they were truthful, nothing they say can be trusted. We shouldn’t make life decisions using the words of men who are on record as lying or at least making up wild stories before science could disprove them.

    Perhaps the exact origins of life in Earth is not a question that we need to know the answer to, but there are some questions that most definitely are pertinent to our salvation. For example, stem cell research. If using an embryo to help cure disease kills that potential human being, is that killing innocent life, and as such a sin that will destroy our chance for exaltation? Why don’t the prophets who “claim” to speak with Christ himself ask him to clarify the ethics of destroying embryos that will not be implanted in wombs in order to research cures for diseases that trouble millions? How is such a question not relevant to our salvation? Isn’t such a question something a true church should know the answer to, and be campaigning for or against? Forget the attack on same sex couples who are consenting, there are embryos being experimented on now. Are these people? Is this murder? Where the hell is the revelation and guidance?

  2. Michael Gonda Reply

    This was an interesting podcast. I think the nonbeliever will be rolling his/her eyes at the number of times that Seth’s father didn’t have a good response to the questions Seth was asking.

    At the same time, when I listen to Seth and try to be as sceptical of what he is saying as he is being of what his dad says, I don’t find a lot of satisfying answers in what Seth is trying to argue, either. I think arguing that religion is a waste because it doesn’t do any good or explain anything is just as unsatisfying to me as rejecting science when it does (and doesn’t) have good explanations for things.

    I think the stories in the bible and book of mormon can have some very useful purposes. They tell us how people interpreted the world at various times when they had so much less knowledge about science and progress as we understand them today. I don’t think Seth makes a very impressive point when he criticizes a story of the tower of babel because we don’t have proof that is is real, so there is no point in God having someone write it down. I don’t believe the tower of babel is a literal story that happened. That doesn’t mean it is a waste of time to have it in the scriptures. I guess this is sort of peripheral, but what are the chances that an individual may make up a story that has family value, that may not have happened, or may not have happened exactly the way someone tells the story?

    Contrasting scientific knowledge today with beliefs of ancient people is kind of a cop out as well. And even though on the one hand Seth’s father didn’t have a lot of satisfying answers, there are still questions that science can’t answer with any real concrete certainty, either. So the story of the fall seems to not jibe with our current understanding of evolution. Can you tell me how it happened, Seth? What was the process, specifically? Do you think science will ever answer exactly how it happened sometime in the future?

    I guess I just see faith having value in its own way, and science being very important, as well. You might not find any value in faith. Fine. But you sound like you would like to just do away with it all together. I think it is more reasonable to find the consonance between the two. If new science contradicts what we thought before, then what is the problem with altering faith so it is more in line with current knowledge.

    But I think we have faith to try and explain things that don’t really have a sure answer. It may seem stupid to you, but some people find comfort/meaning/assurance in trying to explain it some way. There are things that science can’t and probably will never be able to answer. That doesn’t mean science is a crock or not a worthwhile effort or pursuit. I still just see it as a complete lack of willingness to acknowledge that faith can serve a good role in people’s lives, just like some mormons refuse to admit that science plays a hugely important role in all of our lives.

    • brandt Reply

      Mike, I totally agree with you. While the back and forth was very interesting, debating religion (or non-religion) is like debating what type of food someone likes. I LOVE Korean food. I could eat it every single day. My wife LOVES Italian food. She could do the same.

      I could sit here and describe to her the richness of flavors and health benefits of my food. She could talk to me about the culture and delicoiusness of her food. But at the end of the day, for some reason, I like my Korean food more than Italian food, and she likes her Italian food more than my Korean food.

      Religion (or non-religion) is something that can’t be reasoned with. For every example of rationale that someone who doesn’t believe in religion will give me, I can give them something that can’t be explained, and it’s mostly in my life. But I will interpret things differently that someone else. It’s not as if someone is right or wrong, but it’s the differences that make us unique.

    • Seth Leigh Reply

      It’s important to understand that at its core, science is about a way of approaching knowledge and truth, more than it is a body of facts and knowledge. Science is a process, and a way of thinking, a disciplined, careful approach to discovering truths about the way our world works and operates. Sure, there are limits to what we can know, and it’s likely that the closest we’ll ever get to explaining abiogenesis are reasonable proposed scenarios of how it could have happened. We probably won’t ever know exactly what did happen. That’s OK.

      One of my favorite books of all time is Anathem, by Neal Stephenson. One thing I greatly admire about this book is the subtle social critique present in his descriptions, through the words of Fraa Erasmus, of the ways and doings of the people outside of the monastic life lived by the Avout of the planet Arbre, which closely resembles Earth in many ways. Did any of this really happen? No, of course not. Arbre doesn’t really exist, and the whole thing is a work of fiction. I’m 100% OK with that. But the social commentaries about our present-day Earth life, as interpreted from the descriptions of Fraa Erasmus of Arbre, are very clever, very inciteful, and amaze excite me.

      So, am I a hypocrite for loving a fictional work brimming with metaphor and social commentary and whatnot? I think not, and here’s the reason: everybody knows that Anathem is a work of fiction. Nobody is claiming that it contains “the Truth”, that it is really a truthful historical description of things that really happened, by people who really existed. Nobody is claiming that I need to use the teachings and pronouncements of Neal Stephenson, through Anathem, as a guide for my life, as a way of resolving real disputes, as a way of setting up rules for my life, and enforcing rules against everyone else whom I can compel to listen to me.

      And Neal Stephenson is just a man – a very clever man, gifted with words, but a man, who puts his pants on one leg at a time. Anathem is not the “Word of God”, and thus the Truth with a capital T, the end of all discussions on the subject, the absolute, incontrovertible truth.

      I distrust scripture not because it is fiction, but because it is fiction represented by people as fact. Even a fairly liberal person who accepts that the Bible contains a lot of metaphor, which is code for stuff the authors probably wrote as historical fact, but which has since been disproven, will find themselves referring to various verses in scripture to find authoritative answers to various questions that come up. This is the Word of God, after all, and what it says must, at some level, be viewed as binding on us all. That is the attitude which I reject.

      You want to study scripture as literature? Knock yourself out. But don’t tell me about all the metaphors and so forth on the one hand, then appeal to scripture as the views of the Creator of the Entire Universe, meant to serve as the ulimate, indisputable answer to whatever question is at hand, on the other.

      • Michael Gonda Reply

        Fair enough. So you reject the attitude that what is said in the bible should be binding on everyone. I just get the feeling that if you had your way, you would like to have your scientific views imposed upon everyone. If you would have your way, you would get rid of God all together because for you there is no use for God, so there is no reason for anyone to find any use for a belief in God.

        I respect you and I appreciate the podcast. You made a lot of good arguments and questions. I think my main issue was just your tone, which to me reflected a lot of disdain and ridicule for pretty much anything Allen said. I don’t know if there are winners and losers in these conversations, but for me the tone hurts whether you have the better argument or not.

        • Gale Reply

          The tone bothered me as well. I agree by and large with all the ideas that Seth was promoting, but the tone was more confrontational and argumentative than I would prefer… of course, I personally would love to engage with an active believing member with that degree of directness. I guess I need to find someone like Allen. How does one go about doing that?

          I was really hoping through the first half of the podcast that Seth would turn the conversation towards the ‘Why’s of Allen’s faith. Why have faith at all and why the specific faith of Mormonism? The interpretive turns taken as a result of that faith was definitely a worthy discussion subject, but I was still left wondering about the issues and justifications surrounding the building and sustaining of faith in the first place, especially contrasted against other faiths. I would love to hear a follow up centered on that subject.

          • Seth Leigh

            I can accept rebuke for my tone during at least parts of the discussion. I agree that there were times when I was a little confrontational. I am not sure how that can really be avoided, given that I am on the disagreeing side of the argument.

            All my Dad has to say is “I believe”, and he doesn’t really have to explain himself, or justify his beliefs, or back them up with any evidence, or even rational argumentation. He has explicitly disclaimed the need for any such things, in the name of “faith”. Ok, fine.

            You can see where this is going. This is a discussion about Mormonism between a believer and a non-believer, and I’m the non-believer. I can’t just invoke “faith” and rest my case, I actually have to say something, to make some points, to explain the aspects of Mormonism I disagree with, or my disagreements about faith, scriptures, prophets, etc. In any such discussion, it’s going to be very difficult for me to make such points without coming across as aggressive, or whatever.

            I agree that it would have been nice to talk more about the “whys” of my dad’s faith. I would have liked to have asked specifically “why Mormonism?”, if we assume he would claim it wasn’t just because he was born and raised Mormon. And if he wouldn’t claim it was other than just the way he was born and raised, then does he really, truly believe that Mormonism offers the “one and only” true religious view that exists? Did he, like every other believer on the face of the planet, just happen to “luck out” and be born in the really, truly, honest-to-god only true church on Earth, when ever other believer who thinks that about themselves is in fact wrong?

            Alas, this was more or less a free-form discussion, and as discussions will, it carved its own path out of the just over two hours we spent talking. I really had just a very small number of questions written down in advance, and didn’t even ask them all, as the discussion segued from topic to another unpredictably. Thanks for your comments!

        • Seth Leigh Reply

          If I had my way, I wouldn’t impose anything on people at all. But religion would be stripped of its protected status, where people are made to feel an obligation to show respect for religion that, quite frankly, it simply doesn’t deserve. Religious thinking is, by and large, bad thinking. What about bad thinking deserves my respect? Does belief in horoscopes deserve our respect? How respectful would you be if your Senator or Governor announced that they would be consulting an astrologer for advice on how to craft various legislation that would impact you? Would you “respect” that way of thinking about the world? I very much doubt it.

          I thoroughly reject the Mormon epistemology as bad thinking. I don’t mean “bad” as in “evil”, I mean “bad” as in “you’re doing it wrong!”. The idea that one can talk to oneself (pray), and then through the subjective evaluation of one’s emotional state determine what is cosmic Truth is, plain and simple, bad epistemology.

          I’m not for forcing anyone to believe in science, nor for the forcing of anyone not to believe in Mormonism or any other religion. What I am for is discussion of religion on its merits, with no holds barred. If religion can survive open, honest scrutiny, and hold its own in intellectually rigorous examination, then fine. If it can’t, then it deserves to be abandoned by people. I hope to encourage that through my participation in discussions like this.

          My dad is open-minded about almost everything. Unlike most Mormons I know, he’s willing to examine and think about just about any aspect of his belief system and how it is or is not contradicted by the reality of our world. I give him full credit for that. He has had conversations with me that I could not have with almost any other Mormon of my personal aquaintance. But in the end, my Dad is open-minded only up to a point, because he is unwilling to consider seriously that his faith and his belief system may be wrong,

          • Allen

            Seth is right. I am open-minded but only up to a point. I believe in evolution and in the scientific view of the creation. I believe the Genesis story of the creation is a wonderful metaphor of why God created the earth. I believe the flood-story concerned a local flood (if a flood did occur), and I believe the flood-story is a wonderful metaphor and teaching about faith in God and obedience to him.

            I was raised to be open-minded about things, but I also have gained a deep belief in God and in my faith. I thus interpret science, people, life in general within the context of my belief in God. I don’t question my belief in God. So far I’ve not found anything in science, history, or in my life that tells me there is no God.

          • Seth Leigh

            You just stated that you don’t question your belief in God. Is it any wonder that you’ve not found anything in science, history, or your life that would challenge your beliefs?

            What would valid contradictory evidence have to look like in order for you to be able to see it for what it is, rather than see it as your self-applied God-goggles make you perceive it?

            This is the fundamental problem with belief such as yours: Every Jehovah’s Witness could claim the same thing, and it would be impossible for them ever to change their mind and join the Mormon church, because they have already decided to judge everything by the light of their JW faith, and interpret everything in ways that support continued belief in JWism. And the same goes for every Muslim, Hindu, Roman Catholic, etc.

      • Eracolem Reply

        I like this comment as well. For some reason when someone makes an argument against what someone believes it always comes across as having a bad “tone.” I wouldn’t worry about this too much. No matter how much you try your “tone” will be called into question because you are challenging some deeply held beliefs. This is something that always comes up among skeptics.

        One thing I would like to reiterate is the importance of science as a method. The great thing about science is that we straightforwardly acknowledge that our knowledge is incomplete, and that what we understand about the world may well be proven false in the future. Scrutiny is the hallmark of scientific investigation and many people have made fine careers of fundamentally changing our understanding of the world.

        The problem with Mormonism is that it cannot accommodate this sort of change without admitting that (God-inspired) prophets were wrong. To get around this awkward dilemma, the church generally takes a “no official stance” position without ever explicitly refuting what past prophets have said, even if we are quite certain they were wrong (men actually did walk on the moon). The apologist argument goes further that prophets are fallible and only sometimes speak as a prophet, but this seems entirely at odds with the 14 fundamentals and what is actually preached.

        I would personally be much more sympathetic to religion in general if it worked in the way Michael Gonda says. Science discovers something and then religion adapts to this to incorporate the new data. However, at least in Mormonism, this does not happen. At best the church retreats to ambiguity and “we’ll never know.”

        Even in liberal religions, however, this is problematic. If you have simply a God-of-the-gaps argument then as our scientific understanding increases God is increasingly painted into smaller and smaller corners. The only saving grace is that God inhabits some sphere which science can never reach, but this argument is so tenuous, because we have no idea how science will advance, what instruments will be developed, etc.

        • Michael Gonda Reply

          I don’t think I completely agree with this. Overall I would say Mormon Expression is all about challenging commonly held beliefs in mormonism. I am fine with that. The reason why I listen is because they are able for the most part to make their arguments in a reasoned, respectful way. Does John or Nyal or (on the other side) Mike say something that sounds angry or off the wall sometimes? Of course. But overall the tone is appropriate for my tastes. In contrast, Seth’s tone seemed pretty negative throughout the whole discussion. And it is not always just the tone. When you laugh out loud after you have asked a question and are listening to the answer, or if you interrupt repeatedly, that says a lot about your respect and attitude towards the other person and their beliefs.

          I would also just add that religion is not always the only group(s) that have trouble adapting to new information. I am no expert on global warming, but it seems pretty clear that while the consensus is that global warming is happening, there will be little respect or acceptance for those who do scientific studies that challenge the accepted explanation. While I again tend to trust the science, I am still aware of the possibility that even if ice caps melt for the next 10 years, if the catastrophes that have been predicted do not end up happening and climate changes in a different direction, we may very well shrug our shoulders and say…. okay, maybe we put all our eggs in one basket there.

          What I like about science is it is inherently more humble than the average religion that thinks it has all the truth. That is the principle anyway. But I still get the impression that many people think current science is as infallible as any religion. I think history has shown that science gets many things wrong while getting a lot of things right. So there is really no place to put every bit of trust we have in science either, in my experience.

        • Michael Gonda Reply

          I don’t think I completely agree with this. Overall I would say Mormon Expression is all about challenging commonly held beliefs in mormonism. I am fine with that. The reason why I listen is because they are able for the most part to make their arguments in a reasoned, respectful way. Does John or Nyal or (on the other side) Mike say something that sounds angry or off the wall sometimes? Of course. But overall the tone is appropriate for my tastes. In contrast, Seth’s tone seemed pretty negative throughout the whole discussion. And it is not always just the tone. When you laugh out loud after you have asked a question and are listening to the answer, or if you interrupt repeatedly, that says a lot about your respect and attitude towards the other person and their beliefs.

          I would also just add that religion is not always the only group(s) that have trouble adapting to new information. I am no expert on global warming, but it seems pretty clear that while the consensus is that global warming is happening, there will be little respect or acceptance for those who do scientific studies that challenge the accepted explanation. While I again tend to trust the science, I am still aware of the possibility that even if ice caps melt for the next 10 years, if the catastrophes that have been predicted do not end up happening and climate changes in a different direction, we may very well shrug our shoulders and say…. okay, maybe we put all our eggs in one basket there.

          What I like about science is it is inherently more humble than the average religion that thinks it has all the truth. That is the principle anyway. But I still get the impression that many people think current science is as infallible as any religion. I think history has shown that science gets many things wrong while getting a lot of things right. So there is really no place to put every bit of trust we have in science either, in my experience.

          • Michael Gonda

            I will give Seth the benefit of the doubt, though. I recognize that it took me time to get used to some of the other voices on the podcast, and since his is not as commonly heard, I may just need to get used to hearing him like I have with others. It may just be my own personal bias creeping in.

          • Seth Leigh

            No, you’re probably right – I took liberties while discussing/arguing with my dad that I might not have taken with someone to whom I wasn’t so closely related.

            Keep in mind I grew up with him, and we’ve been on good terms for the whole 42 years of my existence so far. Discussing/arguing about things was almost a passtime in my family growing up, a fact which my wife was utterly unused to, so that earlier in our marriage she would panic when my brother and I, or my dad and I, would argue about something, thinking that we were fighting, when in fact it was just intellectual sparring or debate. My brother and I can have almost knock-down, eye-gouging arguments about something, then change the subject and talk like best friends about something totally different. That may seem odd to many people, but it’s the way I grew up.

            I’ve seen the various comments by people about my tone, and while holding out that paragraph above, I also submit to the judgment of the audience, and admit that I should probably have toned it down a notch or two.

          • Michael Gonda

            I am actually a little jealous. I think it is really cool that you have come to a place where you can have these types of conversations with your family. I can’t really do it with my dad, and it is frustrating for me sometimes.

          • Eracolem

            Science is introspective. The fact of the matter is that there is no credible scientific research challenging anthropogenic climate change. A 2004 Article by Oreskes in Science (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/306/5702/1686.full) reviewed nearly 1000 peer reviewed publications and not a single one disputed anthropomorphic climate change. The reason that science does not adapt to climate change skepticism is because there is virtually no scientifically credible skepticism.

            Science is slow moving when it comes to fundamental paradigm shifts (see Kuhn’s famous book), but such shifts do happen. For example, physics has largely dismissed Newtonian physics and replaced it with quantum physics, relativity, and field theory.

            As far as catastrophic predictions of climate change, you need to consider the weight of evidence. Where there is scientific consensus I am apt to put more weight on the evidence. Where there is little consensus, there is less weight. By all indications warming of 4-6 degrees would be needed for the catastrophic scenarios to materialize. This is unlikely to happen if we have some concerted effort to mitigate climate change, more likely to happen if we don’t.

            It’s all about the probabilities to me. What is the most probable thing to happen? Given this probability how should we respond? With religion, however, the assumed prior probability of some things (evolution) is zero and no amount of evidence is sufficient to update this probability to something different. What evidence do you think it would take to convince fundamentalists that evolution occurred/occurs? No amount of evidence is sufficient because they are not amenable at all to the possibility.

            With science, it would take a great deal of evidence to overturn the climate change consensus, because all of the accumulated evidence thus far points that way. If such evidence materialized, however, I believe science would be amenable to change.

        • Michael Gonda Reply

          I don’t think I completely agree with this. Overall I would say Mormon Expression is all about challenging commonly held beliefs in mormonism. I am fine with that. The reason why I listen is because they are able for the most part to make their arguments in a reasoned, respectful way. Does John or Nyal or (on the other side) Mike say something that sounds angry or off the wall sometimes? Of course. But overall the tone is appropriate for my tastes. In contrast, Seth’s tone seemed pretty negative throughout the whole discussion. And it is not always just the tone. When you laugh out loud after you have asked a question and are listening to the answer, or if you interrupt repeatedly, that says a lot about your respect and attitude towards the other person and their beliefs.

          I would also just add that religion is not always the only group(s) that have trouble adapting to new information. I am no expert on global warming, but it seems pretty clear that while the consensus is that global warming is happening, there will be little respect or acceptance for those who do scientific studies that challenge the accepted explanation. While I again tend to trust the science, I am still aware of the possibility that even if ice caps melt for the next 10 years, if the catastrophes that have been predicted do not end up happening and climate changes in a different direction, we may very well shrug our shoulders and say…. okay, maybe we put all our eggs in one basket there.

          What I like about science is it is inherently more humble than the average religion that thinks it has all the truth. That is the principle anyway. But I still get the impression that many people think current science is as infallible as any religion. I think history has shown that science gets many things wrong while getting a lot of things right. So there is really no place to put every bit of trust we have in science either, in my experience.

  3. Michael Gonda Reply

    This was an interesting podcast. I think the nonbeliever will be rolling his/her eyes at the number of times that Seth’s father didn’t have a good response to the questions Seth was asking.

    At the same time, when I listen to Seth and try to be as sceptical of what he is saying as he is being of what his dad says, I don’t find a lot of satisfying answers in what Seth is trying to argue, either. I think arguing that religion is a waste because it doesn’t do any good or explain anything is just as unsatisfying to me as rejecting science when it does (and doesn’t) have good explanations for things.

    I think the stories in the bible and book of mormon can have some very useful purposes. They tell us how people interpreted the world at various times when they had so much less knowledge about science and progress as we understand them today. I don’t think Seth makes a very impressive point when he criticizes a story of the tower of babel because we don’t have proof that is is real, so there is no point in God having someone write it down. I don’t believe the tower of babel is a literal story that happened. That doesn’t mean it is a waste of time to have it in the scriptures. I guess this is sort of peripheral, but what are the chances that an individual may make up a story that has family value, that may not have happened, or may not have happened exactly the way someone tells the story?

    Contrasting scientific knowledge today with beliefs of ancient people is kind of a cop out as well. And even though on the one hand Seth’s father didn’t have a lot of satisfying answers, there are still questions that science can’t answer with any real concrete certainty, either. So the story of the fall seems to not jibe with our current understanding of evolution. Can you tell me how it happened, Seth? What was the process, specifically? Do you think science will ever answer exactly how it happened sometime in the future?

    I guess I just see faith having value in its own way, and science being very important, as well. You might not find any value in faith. Fine. But you sound like you would like to just do away with it all together. I think it is more reasonable to find the consonance between the two. If new science contradicts what we thought before, then what is the problem with altering faith so it is more in line with current knowledge.

    But I think we have faith to try and explain things that don’t really have a sure answer. It may seem stupid to you, but some people find comfort/meaning/assurance in trying to explain it some way. There are things that science can’t and probably will never be able to answer. That doesn’t mean science is a crock or not a worthwhile effort or pursuit. I still just see it as a complete lack of willingness to acknowledge that faith can serve a good role in people’s lives, just like some mormons refuse to admit that science plays a hugely important role in all of our lives.

  4. Tim Reply

    Allen is extremely long-suffering.

    The quality that allows him to sit there and listen to Seth bloviate and rip apart his faith is the same quality that keeps him a faithful Mormon.

  5. Jesse A. Smith Reply

    Ok, so Allen basically wants to forget what past prophets have said and listen only to the brethren of today. Obvioulsy a huge, gigantic cop-out. It means the church is a) constantly changing to accommodate new secular knowledge/social norms and b) God must be very wishy-washy, and for some reason he changes his mind about things a generation or two behind the rest of society. An awful, horrible guide for the lives of people. Even such, I’m willing to accept the challenge, let’s scrap anything behind the last few years.

    In that case, God thinks proscriptions on multiple earings and sleepovers is more important than actually knowing the origin of humans.

    The GAs of today are sitting back while thousands of LDS families a year are torn apart over these issues. THAT is their legacy. They give talks about widows and pickles and airplanes and tell nice stories, all while there are BIG questions that people are hurting over – polyandry, evolution, the Book of Abraham, on and on and on. Yet the GAs are silent in their speech it comes to these issues.

    Instead, they repeat false LDS history, like Monson repeating the Thomas S. Marsh milk strippings story. They insist on the strict interpretation of scriptures as literal and historical – like Holland’s BoM talk (citing BoM as “teeming with literary and Semitic complexity” and flatly stating “there is no other answer [for what the BoM is] than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator”). They are literally lying to people by publishing books like the JS manual which gives a false impression of polygamy. This is lying by the church’s own definition of lying in the current Gospel Doctrine manual.

    These men continue to publish official, correlated books denouncing evolution as an evil conspiracy (see, eg, CES OT student manual). Evolution is a known scientific fact, yet even among educated church members belief in evolution is rare, and frankly heretical. If one “believes” in evolution you’d better not say it in church, and we all know that. I hold a doctorate and personally know many, many LDS PhDs, MDs and JDs who actively disbelieve and will vocally disagree with evolution. My MD bishop is one of them. It is mind-boggling. To insist that the church is staying out of science is BS. They are practicing PR for PR’s sake, not acting as prophets. If they know the truth then shout it from the rooftops.

    Like Packer, these “general authorities” continue to lie about homosexuality and its origins. This is a huge issue for me, a happily married heterosexual male. In high school I had multiple LDS friends who later came out as gay and left the church. Their stories are harrowing and unfortunately not uncommon. Their personal pain and suffering is a direct result of the incorrect and scientifically ignorant teachings of the LDS church. Kids (LDS and otherwise) are literally killing themselves over this, people get divorced, families are torn apart, all because the GAs claim special knowledge about scientific issues. If the GAs were inspired they would talk about real issues that the members are hurting for. The problem is the world has passed the church by too quickly for it to keep up. The GAs can’t admit they were wrong on so many things so quickly, so they just try to avoid saying anything.

    Allen, you repeatedly gave the example of the atonement being something that we could always trust the prophet’s advice on. What about blood atonement? I’m assuming you know and understand that BY taught doctrine which is now considered to be false, but for decades was taught over the pulpit, at the veil in the temple, and in official publications by the President of the church himself, claiming direct knowledge from God. Obviously this is an atonement related doctrine, it is right there in the name. What say ye?

    • Allen Reply

      “Ok, so Allen basically wants to forget what past prophets have said and listen only to the brethren of today.”

      Jesse, I’ve never said we should forget what past prophets have said and listen only to the brethren of today. What I have said is that prophets have their own opinions as well as receive revelations from God. If statements by LDS prophets are shown by science or by historians or by the scriptures to be wrong, I assume the GA are speaking their own mind and not the mind of God. LDS prophets are not infallible. If everything they said was taken as the word of God, we would be saying, in effect, that the prophets were infallible and could not make mistakes.

      “Evolution is a known scientific fact, yet even among educated church members belief in evolution is rare, and frankly heretical.”

      I agree with you that among church members belief in evolution is rare. Many GA do not believe in evolution, even though the church is neutral towards evolution. In my blog on science and religion, I have six pages explaining in detail why I believe in evolution. In addition, I have an essay that is linked from my blog that explains why I think evolution is compatible with the Fall of Adam.

      Concerning blood atonement being taught in the temple at the veil. I received my endowments in September 1957 and have attended the temple many times since then. I can’t say what was taught in the temple prior to September 1957, but I can say that during the 53 years since I received my endowments, I’ve never heard blood atonement taught at the veil or anywhere else in the temple.

      “If the GAs were inspired they would talk about real issues that the members are hurting for”

      It seems to me, Jesse, that you are being arrogant in saying what God should inspire his prophets to say. I think it is appropriate for you to say that you think the prophets should say this or that. I think it is appropriate for you to say you are disappointed because the prophets haven’t said this or that. But, I don’t think it appropriate for you or me to say what God should say or do.

      It is true that many GA in the past have considered homosexuality a sin, and I’m glad that President Hinckely said publicly that the sin is in homosexual sex not in the attraction to men or women of the same gender. The position of the church today is that people who are attracted to persons of the same gender are expected to live the same law of chastity that persons who are attracted to persons of the opposite gender are expected to live: no sexual activity before marriage, where marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman.

      • Seth Leigh Reply

        I think the prior poster confused blood atonement with the Adam/God theory. Blood atonement was taught in the Tabernacle and in the JOD and so forth. The Adam/God theory is what people think of as having been taught at the veil, but now is a defunct doctrine of the church.

        The whole “it is arrogant to tell God what he can and cannot do” apologetic is tired, worn out, and frankly ridiculous.

        God isn’t doing or saying a damned thing. Rather, he is, if the religionists can be believed, appearing to various people in secret and granting to them the right and power to stand up and tell the rest of us what to do. At least, that’s what 10,000 religious con-men down through the ages have claimed. With such a track record as, like I mentioned in the podcast, almost literally the oldest con in the book, it is nothing if not prudent for us to develop our own standards for what a truly credible such claimant would say if God actually existed and thought it reasonable to operate this way.

        As far as homosexuality goes, you are flat out wrong. You know full well that homosexuals are required by the church to accept a far higher, more onerous burden of chastity than heterosexuals are. They not only may not have sex with the people they are attracted to, they are not allowed to hug and kiss, and cuddle with them, or date them, either. Ever. As in, not now, not next year, not someday, not ever, for all eternity.

        Every heterosexual, however unlucky in finding a mate they may thus far have been, is at least permitted by the church to date members of the opposite sex, hold hands, attend ward functions with them as a date, cuddle, hug and kiss, and anticipate the day when they will finally be married and allowed to have sex with them.

        Or are you really claiming that it would be OK by the church for a gay dude to bring another gay dude to the ward dance, cuddle up with him, hold hands, and kiss him? You absolutely know as well as I do that this would never fly.

        In other words, you know as well as I do that the church’s attitude towards homosexuality is not limited strictly to homosexual sex acts alone. It is the very nature of their attraction which is despised and maligned, and forbidden – not just whether they actually come into contact with each others genitals.

        • Jesse A. Smith Reply

          @Seth – yes, you’re right, I confused Adam/God with blood atonement being taught at the veil. But the point remains, in fact, stronger – not only was the nature of the atonement completely bungled by the prophet, but the nature of God was also incorrectly taught. If a prophet can be wrong about the nature of God (and it is a logical certainty that at least 1 LDS prophet was dead wrong about it) then really what weight can we give to any of the prophet’s teachings?

      • Jesse A. Smith Reply

        @Allen – “If statements by LDS prophets are shown by science or by historians or by the scriptures to be wrong, I assume the GA are speaking their own mind and not the mind of God.” Why assume that? Why not assume the scientists are minions of Satan and out to trick you? Why don’t you assume the Pope is correct whenever he says something not in conflict with science? I don’t understand your epistemology at all. Why assume the prophets have anything revealed to them when they are so consistently incorrect? I have no illusions you will agree with me, but I find it amazing you can so easily severe the words of a prophet, spoken as a prophet, taught as doctrine, practiced and believed by millions, etc., and yet still believe in what is left over. Where does this end for you? Do you believe the scientific consensus that there were no elephants, horses, steel, etc in the America’s during BoM times? Do you just scribble those parts of the BoM out – but believe the rest – assuming that Alma, Moroni, and Nephi were all just “speaking their own mind” when they wrote those things in the scripture? Why don’t all the contradictions lead you to a conclusion?

        As for my comments regarding what God should or shouldn’t give revelation on as being “arrogant” – I’m starting from the assumption that if Mormonism is true then God loves us and speaks through prophets, tailoring the message for our day. As I understand your belief, it sounds like you agree. Keep in mind that due to the internet and electronic media NOW (or the last few years) is really the first time in history that God has had a direct mouthpiece through whom he can speak and reach the entire world. We have a free country, the church has lots of money, tens of thousands of missionaries going out every year, and thanks to modern agriculture we don’t have to spend our time weeding or foraging for food. People are much more literate and much better educated than any time in human history, and we’re living longer, better lives. This is really the perfect set up for God to knock one out of the park, give us some nice big truth and help us as members share it with the world.

        Yet God has either stopped talking to Mormon prophets or has decided that the number of earrings a woman wears is among the most important things he can say, more important than keeping people in the church. I don’t think that is arrogance, I think that is an observation given the lack of any revelation on numerous subjects that are shredding the church. (Including evolution btw) God doesn’t care. All he would have to do is whisper to Pres. Monson “tell everyone in GC that they shouldn’t leave an otherwise good marriage over a disbelieving spouse.” Is that so hard? Yet he doesn’t, and thousands of marriages a year are being affected, and lots of families are being torn apart. Mormon Expression wouldn’t even exist were it not for this lack of revelation. Is it arrogant to assume that God should care that families are being destroyed in his name? I don’t think so. But then again God literally burned and killed families in the scriptures for not believing in him and Jesus did tell us in Luke 12:53 that he was totally cool with dividing families so I guess I should expect that by now.

        How is it not infinitely more arrogant for the church to continue printing books like the current OT CES manual that claims evolution is false? You can’t simply say this is “a” prophet speaking his own mind because the church has ratified it and correlated it and reprinted it.

        The idea that the church is neutral towards evoltion – is probably the worst apologetic argument of all time. Even if true, which it isn’t, it would be

        It is laughable on two fronts. First, there are numerous ways, directly and indirectly, that the church teaches evolution is false. It directly and blatantly attacks evoltuion as false in the manual I referenced above, even naming Darwin himself, and stating that there is a gap between organic evolution and the truth of the gospel that cannot be bridged. It would be one thing if this were said by a prophet or a GC on a single occasion. But as the church defines doctrine it is the consistent message put out in officially printed materials. I was taught in a college level CES program, by a BYU PhD insitute director, that organic evolution is false. Keep in mind this was in a church building, in an official church course, taught by a man on church payroll, and teaching straight out of the manual that is produced by the church. I was also taught by GAs as that evolution was false, including Bruce R. McConkie and Boyd K Packer. I was taught by my parents that evolution was false in FHE lessons. The scriptures and the bible dictionary both teach there was no death before the fall, which precludes evoltion since humans had to have evolved from other life which would have died previously to our existence. It also makes no sense that we, hominids, would be made in God’s image and likeness if we evolved from other species on earth. Where did God’s identical hominid body come from? The contradictions with Mormonism run extremely deep. The fact that you’ve reconciled it in your own mind doesn’t mean anything for what the church’s position is on the subject.

        On the second front, let’s assume you are correct and the church is neutral on evolution – how can the church possibly be neutral on evolution? Isn’t this the explanation of human origins? To say the church is neutral on our own origins is to admit its failure as a religion. If, as you assert, the church is unwilling or incapable of even taking a position on whether or not we evolved then it has no value to me as a moral guide. Isn’t it discouraging to you, as a someone who knows evolution is true, to see this organization so reluctant to accept or admit the truth of it, and see so many members deny and ignore its truth? My own life has vastly improved because of a knowledge of evolution. I have a much better and healthier understanding of my body and proper diet after understanding evolution. For the church to be “neutral” on something as fundamental as our origins is totally unacceptable. I don’t understand how GAs can presume to know and teach specifics about what we should do – like whether men should get vasectomies – and yet be “neutral” toward something as basic as our origins. What a joke. Furthermore, it is the obligation of the church, as an organization that is supposedly dedicated to truth, to embrace truth wherever it finds it. Isn’t this what Hinckley taught, bring your truth to us? Isn’t it also what Joseph Smith taught, that at its core Mormonism was acceptance of truth in any form?

  6. don't know mo Reply

    Thank you Seth and Allen for this podcast. Obviously you are both bright and articulate men. Seth, I appreciate your ability to put into words the many things that trouble my heart and mind. Allen, I appreciate your willingness to engage lovingly with your son in this forum. In your own distinct way, each of you display something wonderful and honorable.

  7. OuterBrightness Reply

    Man, I wish I could talk to my parents about religion with the same amount of honesty Seth uses.

    Seth’s approach attempts to describe reality, which I wholly agree with. Even if Allen’s faith enriches his life and gives it meaning, it still says nothing about objective reality. Any time he was confronted with a hard question, he said he had faith. Allen’s approach answers the question about what works for Allen, but it says absolutely nothing about reality.

  8. chris almond Reply

    I had initially thought this was going to be a father and son talking about what it was like for the two of the them to negotiate the difficulties of having a son leave the church/leaving the church when your family stays active. I thought this was a very interesting idea and was excited about it. When I realized it was a father and son debating the truth value of certain church claims I was very disappointed and almost turned it off. After having been out of the church for several years, few things are less interesting to me than debating with a believer about church particulars. But after listening for a little bit, it turned out to be far better than I had feared. I would still like to hear what I originally thought it was, but was impressed that what could have possibly been such a boring topic. Seth didn’t get into boring historical points of the church such as the book of Abraham etc. but took on a much wider view of why would outdated science with little value as metaphor be what God most wants us to read. Seth did a wonderful job articulating his points. Seth comes across a bit heavy handed and perhaps arrogant with his father who was amazingly patient with his son, but definitely lost the intellectual battle and war. He sounded defeated and I felt kind of bad for him sometimes and wished Seth would lighten up, but it definitely made a good listen and wished i had conversations like this with my dad.

  9. chris almond Reply

    I had initially thought this was going to be a father and son talking about what it was like for the two of the them to negotiate the difficulties of having a son leave the church/leaving the church when your family stays active. I thought this was a very interesting idea and was excited about it. When I realized it was a father and son debating the truth value of certain church claims I was very disappointed and almost turned it off. After having been out of the church for several years, few things are less interesting to me than debating with a believer about church particulars. But after listening for a little bit, it turned out to be far better than I had feared. I would still like to hear what I originally thought it was, but was impressed that what could have possibly been such a boring topic. Seth didn’t get into boring historical points of the church such as the book of Abraham etc. but took on a much wider view of why would outdated science with little value as metaphor be what God most wants us to read. Seth did a wonderful job articulating his points. Seth comes across a bit heavy handed and perhaps arrogant with his father who was amazingly patient with his son, but definitely lost the intellectual battle and war. He sounded defeated and I felt kind of bad for him sometimes and wished Seth would lighten up, but it definitely made a good listen and wished i had conversations like this with my dad.

  10. Boob Lover Reply

    I just want everyone to know that I love boobs. My name is John Dehlin and I have a deep love for boobs of all shapes and sizes.

  11. boob lover Reply

    Why do my comments keep getting deleted? You guys are nazis! You are afraid the truth! The truth of boobs! The truth of me, John Dehlin, being a boob lover!

  12. Jason Reply

    I originally thought that this podcast was about a son having a crisis of faith and coming to terms with his father. I guess I got that sense from the description. Regardless, I was not disappointed. This debate was entertaining because I can experience a conversation that I’ve only imagined, but will never have with my TBM friends or parents.

    Others have mentioned the tone, and I have to agree. At one point, Seth implied that Allen sticks to his religions merely because he is a 75 year old man who has nothing else. I thought this comment disrespected a lifetime of spiritual experiences that, to Allen, are meaningful and significant. Keep in mind that Seth was speaking to his own father. At other times, it appeared as though Seth was just ranting (e.g. when Seth discussed at length how the brethren are frauds for insinuating that they see Christ). Allen had already made his point about choosing to believe, and, yet, Seth just kept going at him.

    The problem with this debate is that Allen does not represent a typical Mormon. In fact, he’s way out of line with the Brethren. Once Seth pointed out that Allen has pushed his belief system into non-falsifiable territory, there really was no more room for discussion. I appreciate Seth and Allen for coming on to the podcast, but I wonder how this debate may have turned out with a more literalistic believer, such as Mike or other apologists.

    Anyway, I was overall quite entertained by the debate. It wasn’t what I expected, but I was glad to have heard you guy!

    • Seth Leigh Reply

      I didn’t really explain my “Packer is a scumbag” comment very well during the podcast. What I really meant was that Packer knows, or should know, that a lot of Mormons believe that he and the other Apostles see Jesus Christ a lot, talk to him, hear him talking to them to give them direction, and so forth. Knowing this, he chooses his words carefully, in a way that doesn’t admit one way or the other whether he does in fact see Jesus Christ or Elohim, but which allows those who think he does to keep believing that, and also allows those who don’t think he does the wiggle-room to keep thinking that as well.

      He’s a scumbag for this because it’s not fundamentally honest. If he hasn’t seen God or Jesus, and I believe that he almost certainly has not, then I don’t think it’s right that he uses words calculated to let those who believe he does/has keep believing that, while providing himself plausible deniability. I think that is a huge con. He knows that his rock star status within the church is partially based on the idea in many if not most Mormons’ minds that he and the other Apostles have special access to Jesus and Elohim that they (the regular members) don’t have, and this lends them a mystique which he is not about to give up.

      In other words, I believe that Packer is a scumbag for intentionally letting people believe stuff about him which is not true, because it improves his personal status and power.

      One possible defense against this is that Packer may believe that some Mormons would have their testimonies shaken if he were more honest about this, so he makes the decision to sacrifice some integrity to save some weaker testimonies. This fits the general attitude that saving testimonies is the Prime Directive of the church, and everything, including honesty and integrity, may be sacrificed in furtherance of this goal. That’s a possible defense, but not for which I can muster any amount of respect at all.

  13. Randy Snyder Reply

    Hey Seth, enjoyed the podcast. It was fascinating. However, I have to say, even as a fellow atheist, you were a little heavy handed at times even though I agreed with just about everything you said. Your dad is also amazingly patient and I applaud his willingness to engage like this even though he didn’t have answers to your toughest questions and does not represent the typical chapel Mormon.

    Having said that, here’s my rub with many if not most believers, particularly Christians and Mormons. They assume that simply because they hold a belief cherished it deserves automatic respect. Well, the truth is, they will likely have zero respect for a wiccan’s beliefs for example. People deserve respect, ideas do not get respect automatically but Christianity in America wants a special privileged position where it is exempt from criticism. Then you get reactions like with Michael (who I know as a very thoughtful and respectful person) where he has an impression Seth wants to take religion away from people. Criticizing religious beliefs or ideas is not an attempt to take anything away or impose our will onto people, it’s simply criticizing that idea. What Christians like Huckabee and Palin want to do is silence free speech and maintain the privileged position their favorite faith has had for over 200 years in the US.

    So, what seems to happen, no matter how hard an atheist tries at being sensitive, if he criticizes a believer’s cherished idea, they will often project arrogance and hate onto that atheist. It’s happened to me.

  14. Rhoglund Reply

    Thank you Seth and Allen for doing this. I generally agree with seth’s point of view, and thought he put forth very strong compelling arguments. However I deeply respect how Allen in a very kind and humble way tried to respond, and that he wasn’t getting angry.

    You are truly lucky to have a father like that Seth. A very entertaining discussion indeed.

  15. Calebbaxter09 Reply
  16. Adam Reply

    I enjoyed the podcast. I would echo that Seth’s comments and tone were rude at times. I understand why though as I’m sure he and his dad have a certain comfort level with each other and Seth doesn’t really need to worry about offending him. Certainly non-believers have better arguments, as secularism is based solely on logic and reason therefore arguments based on logic and reason will be won by them.

    I have to say that I was very impressed with Allan. He is in a difficult position: trying to argue logically for belief which just doesn’t work. I was very impressed with his patience, kindness and yes “long-suffering”. Seth is very lucky to have a father like him.

    Great job guys

  17. Adam Reply

    I enjoyed the podcast. I would echo that Seth’s comments and tone were rude at times. I understand why though as I’m sure he and his dad have a certain comfort level with each other and Seth doesn’t really need to worry about offending him. Certainly non-believers have better arguments, as secularism is based solely on logic and reason therefore arguments based on logic and reason will be won by them.

    I have to say that I was very impressed with Allan. He is in a difficult position: trying to argue logically for belief which just doesn’t work. I was very impressed with his patience, kindness and yes “long-suffering”. Seth is very lucky to have a father like him.

    Great job guys

  18. G Reiersen Reply

    After listening to this discussion, I couldn’t help but feel a great deal of admiration for Allen for his forgiving, tolerant and loving attitude for his son, Seth, despite being so strongly committed to the the Church. I think they are both lucky to have each other, despite their strong differences of opinion. I wish all faithful, believing LDS could be that accepting and non-judgmental towards family members who have lost their faith in the validity of Mormon Doctrine.

  19. Carson N Reply

    Seth, I really like the way you think and I’m looking forward to hearing more from you. Allen, even though I disagree with you, I think your willingness to tolerate and hear the other point of view speaks volumes and puts you head and shoulders above other believers. I wish my dad was more like you.

  20. Scott Reply

    Fascinating discussion. I found myself almost cringing at times, waiting for Allen to lose patience and tell his son to take it down a notch, but I have to give credit to both participants. You kept the conversation going and didn’t resort to arguing about the tone of the conversation rather than the actual topics of interest (as seems to happen so frequently on discussion boards). I’m also an apostate son of believing parents, and I’m sure my dad shares many of the same ideas as Allen, but there’s no way we could have a discussion like this without seriously straining our relationship. We’ve pretty much just agreed not to talk about religion, at least not beyond the superficial “We heard a nice talk in church today” sort of thing. I too would love to have this kind of open dialog with my folks.

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