Episode 113: Belief and Alma 32

88 comments on “Episode 113: Belief and Alma 32”

  1. Pingback: The Land of “Make Belief” and Alma 32 | Wheat and Tares

  2. Tim Reply

    Great discussion. I’d like to contrast this with the orthodox Christian understanding of faith. There is indeed a difference between blind faith and knowledgeable faith.

    We exert faith in all kinds of things every day. When you sit in a chair or cross a bridge you are putting faith in that object that it will hold you up. You can investigate and study the object all you want. Your increased knowledge may help you come to faith, but until you actually sit down you do not exert faith. Because “faith” has come to mean “blind faith” (partly because of Kirkegaard) we might be better off using the words “active trust” when we speak of “faith”.

    We can have faith with little or great understanding and knowledge. Knowledge and doubt are not the opposite of faith. Trust can be given despite knowledge and doubt. Trust can even be withheld with perfect belief; Satan knows that God exists and has accurate knowledge of him but does exhibit faith in him.

  3. Tim Reply

    Great discussion. I’d like to contrast this with the orthodox Christian understanding of faith. There is indeed a difference between blind faith and knowledgeable faith.

    We exert faith in all kinds of things every day. When you sit in a chair or cross a bridge you are putting faith in that object that it will hold you up. You can investigate and study the object all you want. Your increased knowledge may help you come to faith, but until you actually sit down you do not exert faith. Because “faith” has come to mean “blind faith” (partly because of Kirkegaard) we might be better off using the words “active trust” when we speak of “faith”.

    We can have faith with little or great understanding and knowledge. Knowledge and doubt are not the opposite of faith. Trust can be given despite knowledge and doubt. Trust can even be withheld with perfect belief; Satan knows that God exists and has accurate knowledge of him but does exhibit faith in him.

    • Rich Rasmussen Reply

      “Knowledge and doubt are not the opposite of faith.” I like this, but then, what IS the opposite of faith? Or, are you saying it isn’t definable, and thus, its opposite cannot be defined?

      • Glenn Reply

        Rich, I’m not sure that there is an opposite of faith. I have stated this unconvicingly to others before, but I don’t really see faith as being much different than hope or belief — they all feel like synonyms to me, with some varying nuanced pseudo-certitude that we can get all symmantic about depending on which authorities we site to clarify our terminology. But when applied in real-life situations I don’t know that there is much of a difference in these things — at least there hasn’t been in my experience. So to me, the only opposite of “faith” is faith in something else.

        • G Reiersen Reply

          Faith, hope and belief seem like synomyms to me as well–especially faith and belief. In fact, some languages (like Danish and Norwegian, with which I have some familiarity) don’t even have seperate words for faith and belief. There is only the word “tro”, which means both at the same time. It can be quite amusing to witness the frustration of translator trying to translate into Danish a talk by an English speaking, visiting GA expounding upon the important distinction between faith and belief.

          • Anonymous

            Absolutely true. I can’t see any difference at all between faith and belief. It puzzles me how the church tries differentiate the two. The Scandinavians got it right! 😉

          • G Reiersen

            That question would make no sense whatsoever if you tried to ask it using a Skandinavian language. It would be equivalent to asking, “so do you think Satan believes in God just because he believes in Him?”

      • Hermes Reply

        Faith exists on a spectrum. (As there is no opposite of color, so there is no opposite of faith, just different varieties of it.)

        • Hermes Reply

          From my perspective, distrust is faith, since I cannot ever arrive at a point where I know all that matters. Every moment I am making decisions based on information as that information becomes coherent and actionable to me. I evaluate information using criteria that are (1) intuitive and/or (2) evaluative. Since my intuition is often wrong (as revealed by past experience) and my evaluation is too (more lessons from history), I am reduced to taking a gamble every time I make a decision (whether consciously or not). I run some calculations, utter a prayer, and pull the trigger, hopeing for another miracle (I survive without doing horrible damage to myself or anyone else). Voila faith! Acting with chronically incomplete information, information whose completeness I will always doubt, I am forced into the twilight between (dead) extremes of certainty and uncertainty that I know as faith. Thus, for me, faith is doubt and distrust.

    • Kevin Reply

      I see religious belief as a product of faith. Its opposite is, of course, unbelief.

      I think it’s important to distinguish between belief (as that term is used in discussions of religion) and knowledge. The difference is more than symantic.

      Belief is the acceptance of truth claims on the basis of factors that cannot be demonstrated in an objective, scientific way. For example, belief can be based on revelation, intuition, inspiration, tradition, or inference from, say, the beauty and order of nature, or from the fact that the belief is widely shared. On the other hand, knowledge is the acceptance of truth claims on the basis of things that can be openly demonstrated. In other words, we can know that a particular passage of scripture says something because we can see the text, but we must use some other basis for the belief that the scripture comes from God.

      Knowledge is objective, and applies generally. Belief is personal and, to that extent, conditional or even tentative.

      This is why I’m a little creeped out when I hear Mormons say “I know this church is true.” If they really know, then they are really obligated to do whatever the church says. If Brigham Young says that you can love your neighbor by shedding his blood, then it doesn’t matter whether your neighbor disagrees.

  4. Tim Reply

    Great discussion. I’d like to contrast this with the orthodox Christian understanding of faith. There is indeed a difference between blind faith and knowledgeable faith.

    We exert faith in all kinds of things every day. When you sit in a chair or cross a bridge you are putting faith in that object that it will hold you up. You can investigate and study the object all you want. Your increased knowledge may help you come to faith, but until you actually sit down you do not exert faith. Because “faith” has come to mean “blind faith” (partly because of Kirkegaard) we might be better off using the words “active trust” when we speak of “faith”.

    We can have faith with little or great understanding and knowledge. Knowledge and doubt are not the opposite of faith. Trust can be given despite knowledge and doubt. Trust can even be withheld with perfect belief; Satan knows that God exists and has accurate knowledge of him but does exhibit faith in him.

  5. don't know mo Reply

    Wonderful podcast! One aspect I was really hoping you guys would discuss is the Temple Recommend interview and faith. In other words, is there a minimum threshold required along the “hope, belief, faith, knowledge” continuum in order to be worthy to hold a TR? Things I thought I understood, and had a testimony of, (church history stuff) turned out to be untrue.
    So does or should my foundering faith disqualify me for a TR considering the interview questions ask “do you have a testimony of…”

  6. Anonymous Reply

    Fave Glenn quote: “I got a little distracted on Facebook looking at Lauren’s wife.”

  7. Tgt Reply

    The Primary song wouldn’t be “wrong” if it wasn’t referenced Alma 32, but rather Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed, in which the seed does in fact represent faith.

    • Andrew S Reply

      i actually agree. I should’ve said something like, people interpret the the primary song for the wrong scripture. (from the guy who made the mistake in the podcast.)

  8. Tgt Reply

    The Primary song wouldn’t be “wrong” if it wasn’t referenced Alma 32, but rather Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed, in which the seed does in fact represent faith.

  9. Paul Reply

    I was a little disappointed in this one. It is because Alma 33 usually gets short shrift when Alma 32 is discussed. Alma 33 basically says that the Word is Jesus. The topics addressed are: is worship church activity or is it personal prayer? Is anyone listening (existence of a caring God)? Are my sins really covered? Can I be healed of spiritual malaise? Is there something after death? Will God evaluate me fairly and does he really understand me and love me?
    I think the typical Mormon reading is so far from the text of Alma 33 that Alma 32 just doesn’t make sense. Alma 32 isn’t grounded without the next chapter. These chapters are about general, unchurched Christianity and aren’t about the truth claims of modern Mormonism.

    • Steve Reply

      Thanks, Paul. I got on to make the same observation. I liked this podcast and thought it was interesting. My only criticism would be that there is this guy named Jesus who was conspicuously missing from the conversation. This is par for the course in most Mormon talks and Sunday school lessons as well it seems. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. And I think focus on Jesus is increasing in general in the church.

      The biggest error in Zoramite worship was their denial of Christ. Their rote prayer on the Rameumptom included the claim, “…we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.” (Alma 31:17)

      And, as you mentioned, Alma is explicitly referring to a specific word to be planted in the heart: The supernatural powers of Jesus Christ. Not just his teachings or his example, but the literalness of his atonement. “…cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works. And now, my brethren, I desire that you shall plant this word in your hearts…” (Alma 33:22-23)

      I personally don’t believe in the atonement or the afterlife or the resurrection or any of that stuff. I’m just saying that Alma isn’t pussy footing around with his metaphor here.

      • Paul Reply

        Hi Steve,
        I like to think of Alma 32 as a metaphor for how to start and nurture and be faithful in a relationship, rather then a lecture on epistemology.

        I am a believer in God and the atonement. I especially like Zenos’s segment. It is very effective rhetoric and poetic in the way it sets one up psychologically before the final twist. But I have never met anyone else that likes it.

        I think this chapter and the next one really is about the things Glenn would like the church to be like, i.e. more about Christ, more about the atonement, more about humility, more about a very personal and individual relationship with God. Advance apologies to Glenn if I have misunderstood his statements.

        • Glenn Reply

          Thanks guys — this is exactly why “the discussion continues…” I’ll take a look at 33. But for this discussion, I was more focused on the ideas of desire and belief and faith, and really wanting to hear what Lorin, Andrew, and Brandt had to say. But we certainly aren’t the definitive word at all. So thanks again for the comments.

      • Anonymous Reply

        Steve, I kind of see what you mean about Christ being left out. It might have been interesting to hear discussion of various interpretations of those verses you cite. Personally, I am glad they didn’t go in that direction and would have preferred looking at Alma’s recipe in a broader view (it was attempted by Glenn but didn’t take off).

  10. G Reiersen Reply

    Alma 32 is one of the parts to the BOM that least impressed me and started my own doubts about it and the LDS Church. Verse 27 in particular was very problematic for me. It is not that I had no desire to believe–I wanted very much to believe. What bothered me (and still bothers me) was the implication that an initial desire to believe was a necessary prerequisite to acquiring a belief in what the BOM and the Church espouses. There are a lot of unpleasant realities that I don’t particularly want to believe, yet are undeniably true. Nothing is clearer to me than the fact that an initial desire to believe makes one vulnerable to self-delusion, and the stronger that initial desire, the greater is the potential for succumbing to such delusion. Obviously, the most successful and most destructive charlatans and con artists are those who are masters at creating and exploiting their victims’ desire to believe what they are trying to promote.

    • G Reiersen Reply

      In other words, if something is really true, it should be possible to demonstrate a convincing case for it even to any honest skeptic who is initially antagonistic towards it.

    • Jt4131 Reply

      Good point G. As Lorin mentioned, Alma 32 has all the marks of a sales pitch. See my analysis above if you are interested.

      • G Reiersen Reply

        I read your analysis and liked it very much. Include me among those who are grateful to you for having taken the time to write it!

      • G Reiersen Reply

        I read your analysis and liked it very much. Include me among those who are grateful to you for having taken the time to write it!

      • G Reiersen Reply

        I read your analysis and liked it very much. Include me among those who are grateful to you for having taken the time to write it!

  11. Pingback: Reasons why cultural Mormonism doesn’t exist…at Wheat & Tares « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  12. Jt4131 Reply

    Terrific discussion – thanks to all.

    Three points jumped out at me after my first listen, a rereading of Alma 32, and then my second listen.

    The first was the issue of the psychological underpinnings of belief, including the role of choice (or non-choice) as Andrew discussed and Brandt’s quotation from Jan Stout’s article, The Spectrum of Belief: The Development of Religious Behavior in the Mormon Community (https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/054-18-21.pdf)

    I’ll add that the research in social psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience has come a long way since Stout stated: “the ‘core religious experience” is perhaps, beyond the ultimate understanding of any psychological theory.” Of relevance to belief formation are the modern theories of high-level unconscious cognition. I recommend the book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious by UVa professor Timothy D. Wilson as a starting point. Two other areas worthy of reference are Terror Management Theory (Thomas Pyszczynski, Sheldon Solomon, and Jeff Greenberg), Attachment Theory of Religion (Lee Kirkpatrick), and the Evolutionary Psychology of Religion (John Teehan’s In the Name of God and Todd Tremlin’s Minds and Gods)

    After many years of introspection and discussion on these matters I now see that arguments that ignore the science will fall short. The research is making its way into the general audience literature. Ignoring it will soon be seen as willful ignorance.

    Second, Lauren’s insight about how apologists seek to create a “razor’s edge” with respect to deciding the Book of Mormon’s authenticity was astute. Indeed, the apologists’ strategy is to maintain the appearance of a “gold-plates-of the-gap” argument. They are successful to the degree that they can carve out gaps large enough to preserve the faith of believers by preserving their self-esteem. Lauren’s point that they do this with the untestable (unfalsifiable) limited geography theory was spot on.

    The further point I’ll add is that Book of Mormon apologetics has striking parallels to Creationism. In both cases the evidence for the naturalistic counter-theory (Evolution/Book of Mormon as a 19th century creation) much stronger, particularly because it is drawn from many complementary lines. And, in both cases the apologist must create the illusion of a serious debate that could go either way. Also, just because we can’t see the naturalistic theory at work (natural selection/borrowed manuscripts) does not make the supernatural theory more plausible.

    The final point that struck me was Lauren’s observation that Alma 32 is a sales pitch. He said this without elaboration, but I would like to. A deconstruction of the entire chapter reveals the pitch strategy. This is a bit jaded perhaps, but here it goes.

    • V 2-4, 6: The pool of potentially ripe converts is identified as the mistreated underclass.

    • V 5, 9-11: The point is made that the poor are under the misapprehension that they can’t worship independent of the established religion

    It dawned on me here that Alma is Joseph Smith’s alter ego. Smith is looking at his own poor potential converts and devising this sales pitch for them. He needs to prepare the ground for convincing them that they don’t need the Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians.

    • V 12: Alma flatters his customers by pointing out that leaving of their religious tradition will make wisdom available to them. More preparing of the ground.

    • V 13: Here Alma makes the unflattering charge that the poor in spirit are compelled to be humble. This is not what the poor want to hear! But wait. Alma has a strategy to play out.

    • V 15-17: Alma says how much more blessed are those that are humble without being compelled or needing of signs.

    At this point the poor might still not be feeling so good about themselves … but hold on! Things are about to turn around for them.

    • V 18-22. Vague and confusing stuff about faith, knowledge, and belief. Don’t let this be too much of a distraction. The strategy is about to unfold… Here it is:

    • V 24 & 25: “- For I do not mean that ye all of you have been compelled to humble yourselves; for I verily believe that there are some among you who would humble themselves, let them be in whatsoever circumstances they might.

    Ahhh! One can imagine the poor thinking: “Indeed! I am not one of the compelled. I am one who would be humble no matter what. I’m an exception! I’m special! I like Alma!

    • V 26: A reasonable entre is offered: Simple faith first – but with the implication of better to come.

    • V 27: And all it takes is a desire to believe.

    This is the bait. A low entry cost with no mention of what it will cost later (see below). The point is it does not matter whether things do not work for everybody. The point is not truth. The point is that it will work from some people. One needs to take the group-perspective here. As BYU Professor Robert Millet has said, “We are in the religion making business.”

    • V 28: The metaphor of the growing seed (word of god). This is the heart of the sales pitch – the grand narrative. However:

    It’s one-sided. Seed = good, nourish = good, etc. Everything else is bad.

    The vagueness and implicitness of metaphor gives it its power. It pushes everything into the realm of feeling. No practical specifics need be spelled out. I noticed Glenn asked for this at one point. He was sensing it. It is critical to not let the convert know the full implications of what they are getting into.

    Notice the clever shift in language to the first person: “ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good.” Alma is employing the power of suggestion – he is getting the person to think his thoughts are his own. This is a standard hypnosis technique.

    • V 29&30: Here is the standard promise of things getting better and better, “swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow.” Again, it is vague and decontextualized to produce feeling with out examination.

    Couldeth it geteth bettereth than thiseth?

    Also, again, Alma again invokes the power of suggestion by telling the convert what they will say and think: “for ye will say I know that this is a good seed…”

    • V 31: Alma shifts to a language of certainty – “And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? I say unto you, Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness.”

    Notice how ambiguous and circular this last statement is.

    • V 32: Alma asserts if the seed is good it will grow, if not it will be cast away. This says is that if it all ends up working for the person they can tell themselves it must be good. Not a bad strategy.

    • V 33&34: here is an appeal to the idea of an experiment (an anachronism?) in which subjective experience provides the basis for what “must needs know[ing] that the seed is good.”

    I’m not sure what this actually is, but it ain’t no experiment. Rather, it seems to be some kind of “boot-strapping” toward a feeling of knowing. And while it is limited to “that [one] thing” the implication is that it is a proven strategy that will continue to work. A person who makes it this far is in so deep the objective truth won’t matter anymore. They will have no need for it.

    • V 35: At this point Alma has carried the potential convert right up to the imaginary state of knowledge and reinforce it with nonsensical assertion: “O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is alight; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good…”

    • V 38 & 39. Here is Alma’s finishing touch. He invokes the power of loss aversion.

    “…if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root… because your aground is barren.”

    So, by the end, Alma has the convert coming and going. He paints a vaguely attractive image of the convert’s future (delicious fruit), offers it at a low initial cost (mere desire), gives no particulars of later costs, and if things go wrong, it will be their fault and the church will bear no responsibility.

    • Anonymous Reply

      Excellent analysis JT. Thank you for taking the time to write it up.

      I was bothered by this podcast, as I will elaborate on in a separate comment. Your take on it is IMO spot on and much more what I was hoping to hear discussed in the podcast. Alas it was hardly a part of the discussion. Glenn and Lorin were both a bit distracted it seems or not fully in the game for this one.

      Imagine the church is false… Would people on the fence (with no biases) be likely to find out it is false if they follow the steps given in Alma 32? Or would they be more likely to end up believing? I disagree with the notion that people would only believe if it turns out to be true. How can they find out it is false if they go in with the attitude of “wanting to believe” (what’s wrong with simply wanting to learn the truth, either way?) and then follow the standard seminary answers: Pay, pray, obey? Where is the room for doubt or for an objective look at the claims? When are they allowed to let go and decide it isn’t true? It seems from Andrew’s view, any contrary answer is the seeker’s fault and unless they “hold out till the end” they can’t really say they gave it a fair shake!

      So there is never an acceptable time to come to any kind of conclusion, other than.. “it’s all true”, or “I’m not sure yet so I’ll keep trying”? WTF?

      • Andrew S Reply

        What does it mean for a person to have “no biases”? People are not tabula rasa. Even if they have no official experience with Mormonism in particular, to get a person “on the fence” would not be to have someone neutral because they have no thoughts at all, but to have someone neutral because they have as many good thoughts as bad. E.g., “Hmm…I suppose personal revelation is possible” matches up against, “Hmm…I don’t know about steel in the Americas.”

        “It seems from Andrew’s view, any contrary answer is the seeker’s fault and unless they “hold out till the end” they can’t really say they gave it a fair shake!”

        Just to clarify, I don’t want it to sound like this is just my view. This is, I think, standard operating procedure for the church itself.

        “So there is never an acceptable time to come to any kind of conclusion, other than.. “it’s all true”, or “I’m not sure yet so I’ll keep trying”? WTF?”

        That’s right. Because don’t you know: THE CHURCH IS TRUE! Tadaa~

        It’s like this.

        There are some unintuitive mathematical and statistical truths that expose the fact that human brains (and human intuition) definitely have their blindspots. Look up the “Monty Hall problem” for one.

        In the Monty Hall one, we KNOW for a FACT that switching is “better.” This is objective.

        And yet, from a first glance at the problem, it doesn’t seem that way.

        In this mathematical case, there is NEVER an acceptable time to come to any kind of conclusion, other than, “It’s all true,” or “I’m not sure yet so I’ll keep trying.”

        The problem is: unintuitive mathematical truths are backed up by theorems and proofs. Unintuitive theological truths are backed up by…I can’t tell you, because I haven’t seen it.

        • Anonymous Reply

          Nice!

          I especially like: “That’s right. Because don’t you know: THE CHURCH IS TRUE! Tadaa~”

          Seriously made me laugh out loud. 🙂

          The reason Alma 32 is purely propaganda is because following the logic will make any religion true. (Islam is true! Tadaa!) Anything is true if one applies the sales pitch. And I guess this is what I was hoping could have been pursued more in the podcast. I noticed Glenn gave it a couple attempts. Maybe next time…

          • Andrew S

            Right on!

            I probably didn’t get to mention it this time (I usually make that one of my first points), but it is exactly as you say: you can make ANY religion true by following Alma 32 logic.

    • Andrew S Reply

      wow; get this guy a mic!

      I would’ve loved the read Jan Stout’s article prior to the podcast — and discussed Brandt’s quotation in more depth…because I had a few thoughts about it…but I didn’t get a chance to cover it nearly as well as I would have liked, because I didn’t have a lot of context.

      At the risk of exposing myself to be an illiterate faker…I guess…I would be interested in any detailed, detailed summaries of the books you present. I like in-depth articles…but don’t get around to fully-fledged books as often. It’s a terrible thing, I know.

      I will gladly admit that the extended point about creating a “razor’s edge” is one that I really fumbled to address well.

      But I’d ask a couple of things. You say:

      “Also, just because we can’t see the naturalistic theory at work (natural selection/borrowed manuscripts) does not make the supernatural theory more plausible.”

      The first thing is: is “more plausible” meant in an objective sense? If so, is there an internal, “subjective” plausibility scale (however flawed and biased it may be), and could it differ? I obviously think it would, because “wedge” arguments are ridiculously successful — so my ultimate question would be: do you think believers just “choose” to believe in wedge arguments and nonbelievers just “choose” not to be persuaded by them? Or does even the “razor’s edge” depend on a set of scales weighing perceptions for against perceptions against that is unchosen and un-calibrated by the conscious mind?

      NightAvatar wants people from the podcast to respond to your comment here, but it seems to me that your excellent analogy of the salesman pitch (that is, if NightAvatar doesn’t deem it “manipulative” and “manufactured 😉 ) should be Lorin’s domain.

      The interesting part is the claim that Alma is Joseph Smith’s ego…I’d be interested in seeing how well that aligns with other stories from Alma, or other BoM characters.

      • JT Reply

        Andrew,

        WRT your request: “in-depth articles…”

        and

        WRT to your questions:

        1. Do you think believers just “choose” to …?
        2. Or does even the “razor’s edge” depend on …?

        I’ll get back to you … got a get home for my “distraction.”

        JT

        P.S. Please don’t take me semi-rant about Temples and Bloomingdales personally … I was flying off the cuff and am usually a bit more sympathetic and circumspect – at least I try.

      • JT Reply

        Andrew,

        Here’s my take on choice and belief – without the scientific citations that stand behind it, and recognizing that there are still many open questions. I haven’t forgotten about putting together some articles – that will have to wait.

        First, the human brain is incredibly complex and the bulk its processing occurs “beneath” our conscious awareness. Timothy D. Wilson in Strangers to Ourselves writes:

        “[We] do not have access to many of the higher order mental processes by which we select, interpret, and evaluate incoming information and set goals in motion … Our brain processes about 11,000,000 bits of information per second received through our five senses. We consciously process about 40 bits per second.”

        I liken the relationship between our unconscious and conscious to a dance between a grown man and his toddler daughter whose stands on his shuffling feet. The toddler provides little input despite what she may think.

        Of course, this points to beliefs arising largely from unconscious processing that integrates our experiences and assigns them value according to our innate dispositions and evolved needs as biological and social beings. The physiology and neurochemistry of the brain’s valuation mechanisms are understood (e.g. the dopamine neuron system). They are very powerful.

        The unconscious does “toss up” ideas for our conscious awareness to inspect and reflect on. It tags these with emotions that serve as proxies for its valuations. Indeed, every thought has an emotional tag that motivates a response – a choice – either repelling or attracting. Damage to brain structures associated with emotional “tagging” results in chronic indecision despite no impairment in logical reasoning.

        So, apparently, beliefs are not consciously chosen. They are unconsciously constructed and tenaciously preserved by biases that include the diminished capacity to even perceive and process contrary information. I’d say these emotional tags create a plausibility/implausibility salience – or the “subjective plausibility scale” you mentioned. And the only place one can find standards for objective plausibility is within a community of peer-reviewing scientists who are rewarded as much for knocking down bad theories as for coming up with good ones -and are kicked out for not abiding the ethic of full disclosure and honesty. I recommend the TVO Big Ideas podcast lecture: Episode 154 “Lee Smolin on Why Science Works” – http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/big-ideas-video/id336356622).

        Now, conscious cognitions do tweak the unconscious with feedback derived from cognitive skills acquired by deliberate practice (reading, writing, and speaking). But have you ever noticed how reading, writing and speaking divide between the unconscious (automatic) and the conscious (deliberative)? I seem to discover what I think only as I speak (or write). It’s this dance I spoke of. Consciousness seems a mere personal assistant.

        But getting back to belief one more time. Over the last few minutes my unconscious has been throwing up this feeling that I don’t precisely know what I mean by the word belief. Perhaps there are many different kinds and those associated with supernatural propositions deserve a separate category. Perhaps I need to jam some philosophical writings on the subject down into my unconscious where it can work on it for a while. That might generate a feeling of understanding that my conscious can help put into words.

        Cheers.

        JT

        P.S. The following three examples from neuroscience relate to the issue of belief formation. All must be qualified by the fact that they involve forms of psychopathology. But scientists can learn a how something works by what happens when it breaks. Let me remind you that there are many other lines of evidence that I will try to put together. Fortunately they all have associated YouTube clips.

        1. Capgras Delusion (see V. S. Ramachandran’s book The Tell Tale Brain or the YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqBGzkz1oDU&feature=related)

        Capras Delusion is a condition in which a person can look at his mother, consciously recognize her as looking exactly like his mother, but will insist she is an imposter.

        The syndrome is caused by brain damage that prevents a perception from connecting to its deeply learned emotional “tag.” This forces a dissonance so deep that conscious reasoning from the contrary evidence will not override the imposture delusion.

        This theory is supported by the anatomy of visual processing. Visual information about faces is first sent to the fusiform gyras where discriminations are made. From there the signal is relayed along a few separate paths for further processing. One of these paths (“pathway 3”) takes the signal to the amygdala, which performs “emotional surveillance” of all sensory input. For Capras Syndrome patients, this single pathway is damaged.

        It seems our intuition of “rightness” is governed by unconscious factors that can insulate us from contrary evidence. When coupled with a “chronic accessibility” to strongly indoctrinated explanatory concepts, it’s easy to see how blind spots and biases arise. This may be an extreme example – but may not be far from the emotional associations that preserve belief in the Book of Mormon.

        2. Split Brain Confabulations (see Michael Gazzaniga’s book Human or the YouTube video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ntnua6TRue4&feature=related)

        Gazzaniga performed some amazing experiments on patients whose left and right brain hemispheres were surgically separated by cutting the corpus callosum. The experiments suggest humans have an innate (unconscious) tendency to confabulate (invent explanations for experiences and choices) without realizing it (self-deception)

        3. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy Revelations

        Reference: V. J. Ramachandran’s documentary Secrets of the Mind or the Youtube segment from it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epFNydMp03U)

        V. J. Ramachandran profiles a young man with temporal lobe epilepsy that generates deep religious experiences. Ramachandran states:

        “Why do these patients have intense religious experiences when the have these seizures? … Perhaps this has to do with how the temporal lobes are wired to deal with the world emotionally. As we interact with the world we need some way of determining what is important … What is critical is the connections between the sensory areas in the temporal lobes and the amygdala, the gateway to the emotional centers of the brain… In a seizure you have an indiscriminate strengthening of all these pathways – he finds everything deeply salient – even a piece of driftwood – it all becomes imbued with deep significance.

        The point is that humans unconsciously seek to make sense of their experiences and will cast about for explanations rather than settle for uncertainty. And, they WILL find them within the framework of their current belief system using chronically available concepts. What they don’t know, and what they don’t know they don’t know, doesn’t stop them from attributing their experience to what they feel they know.

        • Andrew S Reply

          Great comment!

          I actually agree with basically everything you have said, but it’s so good to have scientific backing now. (Haha, I guess in 20 years all of this stuff will be thrown out and there will be a new scientific theory on the block).

          I am actually familiar with Ramachandran’s examples, so that made reviewing the videos a quicker process.

          I am intrigued by these lines though:

          “But getting back to belief one more time. Over the last few minutes my unconscious has been throwing up this feeling that I don’t precisely know what I mean by the word belief. Perhaps there are many different kinds and those associated with supernatural propositions deserve a separate category.”

          That is certainly a possibility.

          • JT

            Andrew,

            Here’s an opening excerpt of a blog post by Dr. Robert Burton, a neurologist and author of the book On Being Certain. You can also find a podcast interview with Dr. Burton on the “Brain Science Podcast”

            http://www.brainsciencepodcast.com/bsp/2008/8/8/on-being-certain-interview-with-robert-burton-md-bsp-43.html

            Blog post:http://www.salon.com/life/mind_reader/2008/02/29/certainty/index.html

            “But why [are people so certain]? Is this simply a matter of stubbornness, arrogance or misguided thinking, or is the problem more deeply rooted in brain biology? Since my early days in neurology training, I have been puzzled by this most basic of cognitive problems: What does it mean to be convinced? This question might sound foolish. You study the evidence, weigh the pros and cons, and make a decision. If the evidence is strong enough, you are convinced there is no other reasonable answer. Your resulting sense of certainty feels like the only logical and justifiable conclusion to a conscious and deliberate line of reasoning.

            But modern biology is pointing in a different direction. It is telling us that despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” arise out of primary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of rationality or reason. Feeling correct or certain isn’t a deliberate conclusion or conscious choice. It is a mental sensation that happens to us.

            The importance of being aware that certainty has involuntary neurological roots cannot be overstated. If science can shame us into questioning the nature of conviction, we might develop some degree of tolerance and an increased willingness to consider alternative ideas — from opposing religious or scientific views to contrary opinions at the dinner table.”

  13. Jt4131 Reply

    Lorin,

    Please excuse my mispelling your name. I forgot to check it before I clicked “Post as…” Sorry

    JT

  14. Jt4131 Reply

    I was struck by the following quick exchange.

    Glenn: What does it mean in the real world to nurture the seed?

    Andrew: Standard seminary answer: Read the scriptures, go to church, magnify your calling, fast, tithe, pray, … [going to the Temple]

    I am not sure of spirit in which Andrew gave this answer – perhaps it was tinged with implicit criticism.

    But never-the-less, it is the standard seminary answer. So I ask: Is this a problem? It sounds awfully parochial and prosaic. It sounds like a prescription for keeping an institution plodding along rather than transforming lives through compassionate outreach.

    The Mormon Church seems to set such low standards for its members in terms of being a force for good in the world. Imagine the impact of the Church spending $3 billion dollars on humanitarian relief rather than on a shopping mall. Imagine them turning all missions into humanitarian service missions. They’d probably find more people flocking to be baptized than they can imagine.

    Perhaps this why the Church is just puttering along. It suffers from a failure of imagination and a failure to express compassion for the needy and suffering in the world. It suffers from corporate myopia where small things like sexual preference and balance sheets gets more scrutiny than human suffering.

    • Andrew S Reply

      Th standard seminary answer wouldn’t be a problem…if it worked. And with the confidence with which the answer is given, it seems like it ought to. It seems like that is one thing the church has a LOCK on.

      but people’s mileage varies.

      • Anonymous Reply

        What exactly are you saying? Does it work or doesn’t it?

        Since the answer is ALWAYS the same (read, pray, attend church, pay tithing, home teach, serve in your ward/branch..) shouldn’t it work? If it only works for some, why is it always the standard answer? And the biggest question is: Why doesn’t it work for everybody?

        • Andrew S Reply

          What am I saying? I’m saying people have different experience — their mileage varies.

          The answer is the standard answer because of the clever traps — “endure to the end,” and “do not cast out by your unbelief.” If reading, praying, attending church, paying tithes, etc., DON’T work for you, then it’s *your* fault.

          I’d suggest alternatively that the reason these things don’t work for everyone is because beliefs aren’t chosen.

          • Anonymous

            Are you serious or just showing how pretentious the church is?

            Telling me it’s *my* fault for not believing in the church is a bit harsh. But I agree, that’s what Alma 32 says. I just think you should know better.

          • Andrew S

            just showing how pretentious the church is.

            To be completely clear: I don’t agree with Alma 32. I don’t think it works for everyone, and the reason I don’t think it works for everyone is because I don’t think beliefs are chosen.

      • Jt4131 Reply

        Andrew,

        I am not sure what “work” means to you. For me it must be defined within moral context.

        I agree that praying, scripture reading and magnifying in-group callings can help an individual-cum-group member. Indeed, there are plenty of LDS who struggle with destructive behaviors, economic hardship, illness, etc. So following the seminary prescription can help promote their well-being within the group.

        But tensions exist at the boundary of the moral circle the Church (and similar institutions) construct. The massive suffering in the world makes the “suburban” hardships that pre-occupy most church members seem trivial.

        Furthermore, the Mormon Church appears content to signal to its members that the path to exaltation can include crossing the street from the Temple to Bloomingdales as long as scriptures get read, tithes get paid, and lessons don’t stray from the manual.

        We see in the modern Church the emergence of a powerful group agent that acts like a terribly selfish organism. The roles it prescribes its members seem first and foremost to serve its own perpetuation. It seems keenly aware just how much it can ask of its members before they start losing them. Jesus and other great humanists weren’t so calculating in their expectations and vision.

        I can imagine the justifications for the Church investing surplus cash in shopping malls and hedge funds. But I would challenge the morality of spending billions of dollars and millions of member-hours on temples and temple rituals. Who is this really serving? What is this really securing? There are ostensibly 60 billion dead people lined up for endowments. Can’t a few million wait for starving children?

        Again, can you imagine the outpouring of love and good will that would stem from this “true church” devoting its resources to the poor and afflicted? Wouldn’t this stir hearts more than blood-kin exaltation promises? The latter just seems so narcissistic by comparison.

        Now I stand indicted by my own moral idealism – I freely admit – but no longer by my affiliation with the Mormon Church or the like. I’ve got to figure out how to make my life work for others on my own.

      • Jt4131 Reply

        Andrew,

        I am not sure what “work” means to you. For me it must be defined within moral context.

        I agree that praying, scripture reading and magnifying in-group callings can help an individual-cum-group member. Indeed, there are plenty of LDS who struggle with destructive behaviors, economic hardship, illness, etc. So following the seminary prescription can help promote their well-being within the group.

        But tensions exist at the boundary of the moral circle the Church (and similar institutions) construct. The massive suffering in the world makes the “suburban” hardships that pre-occupy most church members seem trivial.

        Furthermore, the Mormon Church appears content to signal to its members that the path to exaltation can include crossing the street from the Temple to Bloomingdales as long as scriptures get read, tithes get paid, and lessons don’t stray from the manual.

        We see in the modern Church the emergence of a powerful group agent that acts like a terribly selfish organism. The roles it prescribes its members seem first and foremost to serve its own perpetuation. It seems keenly aware just how much it can ask of its members before they start losing them. Jesus and other great humanists weren’t so calculating in their expectations and vision.

        I can imagine the justifications for the Church investing surplus cash in shopping malls and hedge funds. But I would challenge the morality of spending billions of dollars and millions of member-hours on temples and temple rituals. Who is this really serving? What is this really securing? There are ostensibly 60 billion dead people lined up for endowments. Can’t a few million wait for starving children?

        Again, can you imagine the outpouring of love and good will that would stem from this “true church” devoting its resources to the poor and afflicted? Wouldn’t this stir hearts more than blood-kin exaltation promises? The latter just seems so narcissistic by comparison.

        Now I stand indicted by my own moral idealism – I freely admit – but no longer by my affiliation with the Mormon Church or the like. I’ve got to figure out how to make my life work for others on my own.

      • Jt4131 Reply

        Andrew,

        I am not sure what “work” means to you. For me it must be defined within moral context.

        I agree that praying, scripture reading and magnifying in-group callings can help an individual-cum-group member. Indeed, there are plenty of LDS who struggle with destructive behaviors, economic hardship, illness, etc. So following the seminary prescription can help promote their well-being within the group.

        But tensions exist at the boundary of the moral circle the Church (and similar institutions) construct. The massive suffering in the world makes the “suburban” hardships that pre-occupy most church members seem trivial.

        Furthermore, the Mormon Church appears content to signal to its members that the path to exaltation can include crossing the street from the Temple to Bloomingdales as long as scriptures get read, tithes get paid, and lessons don’t stray from the manual.

        We see in the modern Church the emergence of a powerful group agent that acts like a terribly selfish organism. The roles it prescribes its members seem first and foremost to serve its own perpetuation. It seems keenly aware just how much it can ask of its members before they start losing them. Jesus and other great humanists weren’t so calculating in their expectations and vision.

        I can imagine the justifications for the Church investing surplus cash in shopping malls and hedge funds. But I would challenge the morality of spending billions of dollars and millions of member-hours on temples and temple rituals. Who is this really serving? What is this really securing? There are ostensibly 60 billion dead people lined up for endowments. Can’t a few million wait for starving children?

        Again, can you imagine the outpouring of love and good will that would stem from this “true church” devoting its resources to the poor and afflicted? Wouldn’t this stir hearts more than blood-kin exaltation promises? The latter just seems so narcissistic by comparison.

        Now I stand indicted by my own moral idealism – I freely admit – but no longer by my affiliation with the Mormon Church or the like. I’ve got to figure out how to make my life work for others on my own.

      • Jt4131 Reply

        Andrew,

        I am not sure what “work” means to you. For me it must be defined within moral context.

        I agree that praying, scripture reading and magnifying in-group callings can help an individual-cum-group member. Indeed, there are plenty of LDS who struggle with destructive behaviors, economic hardship, illness, etc. So following the seminary prescription can help promote their well-being within the group.

        But tensions exist at the boundary of the moral circle the Church (and similar institutions) construct. The massive suffering in the world makes the “suburban” hardships that pre-occupy most church members seem trivial.

        Furthermore, the Mormon Church appears content to signal to its members that the path to exaltation can include crossing the street from the Temple to Bloomingdales as long as scriptures get read, tithes get paid, and lessons don’t stray from the manual.

        We see in the modern Church the emergence of a powerful group agent that acts like a terribly selfish organism. The roles it prescribes its members seem first and foremost to serve its own perpetuation. It seems keenly aware just how much it can ask of its members before they start losing them. Jesus and other great humanists weren’t so calculating in their expectations and vision.

        I can imagine the justifications for the Church investing surplus cash in shopping malls and hedge funds. But I would challenge the morality of spending billions of dollars and millions of member-hours on temples and temple rituals. Who is this really serving? What is this really securing? There are ostensibly 60 billion dead people lined up for endowments. Can’t a few million wait for starving children?

        Again, can you imagine the outpouring of love and good will that would stem from this “true church” devoting its resources to the poor and afflicted? Wouldn’t this stir hearts more than blood-kin exaltation promises? The latter just seems so narcissistic by comparison.

        Now I stand indicted by my own moral idealism – I freely admit – but no longer by my affiliation with the Mormon Church or the like. I’ve got to figure out how to make my life work for others on my own.

        • Andrew S Reply

          “work” = swell in heart, become delicious to me, expand, etc.,

          Things to help me realize the seed (e.g., the word, Jesus) is good.

          But it’s not true for everyone that if you do x, y, and z (read, pray, fast, etc.,) that the truth of the BoM (or the goodness of its precepts) will manifest.

        • Andrew S Reply

          “work” = swell in heart, become delicious to me, expand, etc.,

          Things to help me realize the seed (e.g., the word, Jesus) is good.

          But it’s not true for everyone that if you do x, y, and z (read, pray, fast, etc.,) that the truth of the BoM (or the goodness of its precepts) will manifest.

    • G Reiersen Reply

      “Imagine them turning all missions into humanitarian service missions. They’d probably find more people flocking to be baptized than they can imagine.”

      Indeed! I’m sure that if the Church hierarchy ever really implemented that as a policy, they would find it to be the smartest thing the Church ever did. I understand that it already has some humanitarian service missions. IMHO that should be overwhelmingly the main focus of their missionary program–not promoting faith or belief in religious and historical claims that are becoming increasingly difficult to credibly defend as the overwhelming evidence against them continues to pile up and become more readily available thanks to the internet.

  15. Jt4131 Reply

    I was struck by the following quick exchange.

    Glenn: What does it mean in the real world to nurture the seed?

    Andrew: Standard seminary answer: Read the scriptures, go to church, magnify your calling, fast, tithe, pray, … [going to the Temple]

    I am not sure of spirit in which Andrew gave this answer – perhaps it was tinged with implicit criticism.

    But never-the-less, it is the standard seminary answer. So I ask: Is this a problem? It sounds awfully parochial and prosaic. It sounds like a prescription for keeping an institution plodding along rather than transforming lives through compassionate outreach.

    The Mormon Church seems to set such low standards for its members in terms of being a force for good in the world. Imagine the impact of the Church spending $3 billion dollars on humanitarian relief rather than on a shopping mall. Imagine them turning all missions into humanitarian service missions. They’d probably find more people flocking to be baptized than they can imagine.

    Perhaps this why the Church is just puttering along. It suffers from a failure of imagination and a failure to express compassion for the needy and suffering in the world. It suffers from corporate myopia where small things like sexual preference and balance sheets gets more scrutiny than human suffering.

  16. Anonymous Reply

    I love the title of this podcast. And the premise. And I was excited to discover who was involved in the discussion.

    Andrew S is infamous (in my book) for his excellent debate skills, his zeal and passion for his beliefs (or for a good discussion) and his manipulation, through a mastery of the English language and a high level of intelligence.

    Lorin is equally intelligent, and most importantly: good at maintaining a level of balance in a discussion even when he sides with one particular view. His podcast with Seth about science was my M.E. cherry-breaker (my introduction to Mormon Expression) and I still consider it one of the – if not THE – very best podcasts to date.

    Glenn has a knack for humor and challenging people in a non-condescending manner. And he always has some great questions and insight on topics I’m interested in. He is a master diplomat with an amiable congeniality that really shines.

    I wasn’t formerly familiar with Brandt, and was excited to hear a “new” voice, and perhaps a fresh take on an interesting topic.

    Then I listened to the podcast.

    No offense (please, I mean it) but I was very disappointed with how this discussion went.

    I have listened three times now – even more to some parts – and can’t for the life of me figure out how things could have gone so wrong. Maybe it was Lorin’s wife who was distracting both him and Glenn? (If so, please share a picture!) 😉

    The conversation felt very one-sided to me and way too much like a Sunday school lesson. I was hoping for a more open discussion with more criticism from at least some of the team. Andrew S dominated the discussion and wasn’t challenged enough.

    I hope the four who participated in the podcast can truly continue the discussion (as the podcast’s standard closing remarks imply) and respond to some of the criticisms or ideas here in the comments.

    Hopefully I can find time later, to post a few specific details about where I feel the conversation fell apart. Until then, I refer to Jt4131’s excellent comment of 9 hours ago (the longest one on this page so far).

    I guess the main problem is that Andrew wasn’t challenged enough (am I repeating myself?). He was given too much latitude and allowed to side-step Glenn’s questions far too often. His analogy of the unenlightened non-farmer planting a real seed felt very manufactured and manipulative. It wasn’t in the least bit realistic or even relevant in the way he presented it to be.

    One positive note: I really liked what Brandt said about wanting to feel his faith challenged. He made some great remarks which mirrored some of my own experiences when I started on my journey – trying to make sense of the many holes in the church’s teachings and historical claims.

    Kudos to Brandt and to his wife for sitting in and allowing him to take part in the podcast. I wish you both the best of luck on your journey. My unsolicited advice: Be open to the possibility that everything you know may be wrong. Starting the journey with a predetermined conclusion, looking for ways that historical or scientific evidence can be twisted to support the church’s truth claims, is not a very subjective starting point. Allow the facts to lead the way.

    • Andrew S Reply

      oh gosh — I ruined the podcast. IT IS AS I PREDICTED!

      …But really…the non-farmer analogy felt “very manufactured and manipulative”??? That was what you picked at???

      What?

      Considering that the farm analogy is EXACTLY the same one the scriptures themselves use and all I was doing was putting it in a modern context (e.g., cutting out the “ye” and “thees”), I don’t see how it could be manufactured, manipulative, unrealistic, or irrelevant UNLESS the scriptures themselves are these things.

      I mean, there are certainly parts I feel that I was getting too long-winded — being long-winded is my character flaw both in writing and in speaking — but I don’t see how I was “allowed to side-step Glenn’s questions “far too often”” (as if this was a pervasive pattern rather than a one- or two-time exception.

      • Anonymous Reply

        Good point, it was only two or three or maybe four times. The problem was probably not your fault but rather Glenn’s for not arresting you for it, or taking you back to the question. To his credit it must be hard to follow up such long-winded remarks as yours, and to even remember what his original question was at times.

        The reason your farming analogy doesn’t work is because if a non-farmer received instructions to plant a tomato seed, it would have included the steps required for the plant to grow successfully, including an explanation of soils, seasons, etc. Any non-farmer can successfully grow a tomato plant, if they follow the instructions. It will work 100% of the time. That is absolutely not the case with Alma’s recipe for faith. And again, you blame the customer rather than the product. Shame on you sir.

        • Andrew S Reply

          Two or three times are STILL too many though. Trust me, the few times it happened, I CRINGED. I really DID think I had ruined the podcast. Which is why I was so defensive.

          I concede your point on the farming analogy, with this qualification.

          The idea behind Alma 32 is that Alma (or whoever wrote this) DOES think he is providing the steps required for the plant to grow successfully. In fact, other scriptures (such as in the new testament) describe the “soils” conducive or not conducive to growing a testimony.

          The idea is that any non-spiritual person can successfully gain a testimony as well, if they follow the instructions. For many Mormons, Alma 32 CAN work 100% of the time, and any time it doesn’t work, it is user error — just like with farming.

          That was my point.

          The fact that it DOES NOT actually work with Alma’s recipe for faith is not exactly a problem with my analogy, but a problem with the church’s “sales pitch.”

          Please remember (I will actually address this in another comment): *I* do not agree with the church that beliefs are chosen. *I* do not agree with the church that getting a belief is like planting a seed, so *I* do not blame the customer. I guess that wasn’t clear since I was trying to explain what I thought the church position was. Remit all shame to the Church Office Building.

          • Anonymous

            Excellent post.

            Sorry to accuse you or put words in your mouth. Looks like we agree more than I initially thought. Consider all shame remitted to C.O.B. 😉

        • Andrew S Reply

          Two or three times are STILL too many though. Trust me, the few times it happened, I CRINGED. I really DID think I had ruined the podcast. Which is why I was so defensive.

          I concede your point on the farming analogy, with this qualification.

          The idea behind Alma 32 is that Alma (or whoever wrote this) DOES think he is providing the steps required for the plant to grow successfully. In fact, other scriptures (such as in the new testament) describe the “soils” conducive or not conducive to growing a testimony.

          The idea is that any non-spiritual person can successfully gain a testimony as well, if they follow the instructions. For many Mormons, Alma 32 CAN work 100% of the time, and any time it doesn’t work, it is user error — just like with farming.

          That was my point.

          The fact that it DOES NOT actually work with Alma’s recipe for faith is not exactly a problem with my analogy, but a problem with the church’s “sales pitch.”

          Please remember (I will actually address this in another comment): *I* do not agree with the church that beliefs are chosen. *I* do not agree with the church that getting a belief is like planting a seed, so *I* do not blame the customer. I guess that wasn’t clear since I was trying to explain what I thought the church position was. Remit all shame to the Church Office Building.

      • Anonymous Reply

        By the way, you don’t need to be so defensive. I did in fact open my remarks by giving you a host of compliments – which I meant and you deserve. You’re a very smart dude and excellent at debating. Much better than I by far.

    • brandt Reply

      Thanks for the kind words. I know my wife didn’t like me calling her out while she was sitting right there (and then having her listen to the entire podcast a bit later, and to see the look on her face when I told her “And now, there are a lot of people on the interwebz who can hear your voice!”

      I think the hardest part about this podcast was the fact that there were so many roads I think Glenn, Andrew, Lorin and myself wanted to go down, but we were constrained by one hour. Belief, faith, Glenn’s mention of my favorite topic (Utah Mormons), “truth,” testing the word, the whole context of the sermon, Chapter 33, etc, etc. I gotta admit, I felt woefully inadequate compared to Andrew and Lorin’s philisophical and educational levels, but again, that’s the problem with going for 1 hour.

      Who knows, maybe if we were to do it over again, we would do something along the lines of having listeners submit questions where we could debate and spar over it. It’s all a learning process.

      • Anonymous Reply

        Tell your wife she has a sexy (southern-ish?) voice.

        Her “No, I’m good.” Was really a perfect ending to the podcast. 🙂

        • brandt Reply

          hahahahahahahahahaha

          I’ll pass that along.

          I played it back to her, and she said “OH MY GOSH I SOUND LIKE I’M 12 YEARS OLD!!!!!!!!!!!!”

          oh that girl….

    • Glenn Reply

      FYI — I didn’t feel like Andrew side-stepped any questions or dominated or ruined any discussion at all. These are big topics. Alma 32 was really just an outline to work from and there is always more that could be said. But if we were able to stimulate some thoughts along the way, then I see it as a success. And just going by the thoughtful discussions I am seeing here and elsewhere, I have very few regrets with this one.

    • Glenn Reply

      FYI — I didn’t feel like Andrew side-stepped any questions or dominated or ruined any discussion at all. These are big topics. Alma 32 was really just an outline to work from and there is always more that could be said. But if we were able to stimulate some thoughts along the way, then I see it as a success. And just going by the thoughtful discussions I am seeing here and elsewhere, I have very few regrets with this one.

    • Glenn Reply

      FYI — I didn’t feel like Andrew side-stepped any questions or dominated or ruined any discussion at all. These are big topics. Alma 32 was really just an outline to work from and there is always more that could be said. But if we were able to stimulate some thoughts along the way, then I see it as a success. And just going by the thoughtful discussions I am seeing here and elsewhere, I have very few regrets with this one.

    • Glenn Reply

      FYI — I didn’t feel like Andrew side-stepped any questions or dominated or ruined any discussion at all. These are big topics. Alma 32 was really just an outline to work from and there is always more that could be said. But if we were able to stimulate some thoughts along the way, then I see it as a success. And just going by the thoughtful discussions I am seeing here and elsewhere, I have very few regrets with this one.

  17. Dave Sonntag Reply

    What kind of seed did Paul H. Dunn plant? How about the Lamanite Generation? As a young boy, they both gave me hope in things I couldn’t see, and at the time thought were true. Whoops. Those go into the same drawer of not so useful church history.

  18. Seth Leigh Reply

    One thing I’d hoped to hear in the podcast, which I didn’t really hear, is a criticism of Alma 32 on the basis that it can’t discriminate between, say, true and non-true churches.

    Here’s what I mean by this. The Jehovah’s Witnesses pick up many thousands of new converts per year, and they do very much the same thing as Alma 32. If a person who is “ready” to receive teaching from someone pays attention to the Jehovah’s Witness teachers, reads the Bible, attends the local Kingdom Hall, and in every other way puts the Jehovah’s Witnesses to practice in their life, they will probably be converted, and all of the signs of conversion and recognition of “truth” described in Alma 32 will probably happen.

    This is why there are so many permanently-converted, will-never-stop-believing JWs around. By following the so-called “seminary” answers of pray, read the scriptures, attend church, fulfill one’s callings, etc. within the context of JWism, a JW convert will see their faith and conviction of JWism grow into a “sure” knowledge, leading to perfect confidence in the teachings. This absolutely happens.

    And it happens with many other religions too.

    As has been said, the techniques described, including the modern Mormon interpretations of Alma 32, are more just ways of holding an institution together, and build “faith” in the institution, and bond people under a common purpose, than it is a way of descriminating truth from non-truth.

    Or is anyone going to argue with me and nitpick and say that JWs aren’t really following Alma 32-like behaviors as they become converted, and reinforced, in JW beliefs?

    • Andrew S Reply

      Seth, this is a point I usually bring up pretty quickly on, but I guess I didn’t.

      Whenever I go through the Alma 32 routine in my mind, i think, “Why don’t I try this with Islam? with Scientology? with xxx?”

      It seems that going through an Alma 32 process gives me no reason to privilege Mormonism above any other religion other than the fact that the *Mormon* missionaries are now at my door explaining this process to me…(or alternatively, the fact that I grew up in a *Mormon* family and so am most familiar with it.)

      I wouldn’t argue with you on the general idea you’ve presented.

      I’d nitpick and say that following Alma 32-like behaviors aren’t going to necessarily lead to belief/faith/conviction/conversion. It could be that one practices Alma 32-like behavior and never feels the swelling or the growth of the seed.

      HOWEVER, following Alma 32-like behaviors reinforce one practicing Alma 32-like behaviors. Belief isn’t necessary. If you don’t yet believe the seed is good, then just keep at it! Keep enduring to the end! Don’t cast out by your unbelief!

      So, it is very possible that there are unbelieving JWs who still “practice” JWism because of an Alma 32 kind of cycle.

      • Seth Leigh Reply

        Andrew, I’m not going to argue that everyone who follows Alma 32-like behaviors is going to be be converted to whatever they are looking into. That’s obvious not true – some people even fail to be converted to Mormonism and the Book of Mormon after trying it.

        But I would argue that over time, members in pretty much any church will have selected, after a lot of experience and institutional memory, those behaviors and practices to recommend to those they seek to convert, which experience has shown are effective at converting people. Thus, JWs will recommend the kinds of things that have been successful at convincing people of JWism, Mormons will recommend things that have proven successful at convincing people of Mormonism, and so forth. Call those things, whatever they are, Alma 32-like practices, and voila!

        My main point is that one could examine these practices, interpret them within the context of what Alma 32 says, and then ask a Mormon whether it should work with non-LDS churches. If the answer isn’t “NO!” then the method is useless as a way of discriminating truth from non-truth.

        A truly viable epistemology should not be subject to false positives – at least not where the understanding that underpins the epistemology is that the knowledge is coming from an infallible source. Science doesn’t claim that the Creator of the Universe is whispering stuff to their minds, so science isn’t expected to get it right the first time, every time. But science doesn’t need that, since it’s got evidence, reason, logic, etc. Revealed religion, however, just has revelation. If the revelation is not trustable, you’re pretty much sunk as an epistemology.

        So, LDS readers out there, what should we expect if someone were to put Alma 32-like practices to the test in the context of being taught by JW teachers, “investigating” JWism, etc.? Should such a seed grow and swell their breast, leading to conversion? What it if does? How does one explain the success of the JWs in converting many thousands of people every year using their scripture study and meeting attendance, fellowshipping, etc.?

        • Anonymous Reply

          I’ll go put it to the test for all the religions and I’ll return and report. 😉

        • Anonymous Reply

          I’ll go put it to the test for all the religions and I’ll return and report. 😉

        • Anonymous Reply

          I’ll go put it to the test for all the religions and I’ll return and report. 😉

  19. Seth Leigh Reply

    Also, with that quote “faith is a hope in things which are not seen, which are true”, that last part always kind of gave me the willies too. It’s really putting the cart before the horse, because you think you’re having “faith” in something, but you can never, according to this definition, know whether your faith really was faith, or whether it was whatever “hope in something not seen” is called if it turns out not to be true, until you are able to prove it one way or another. And then if you’ve proven it, it’s no longer “hope in things not seen”, it’s rather a sure knowledge.

    It kind of sounds to me like according to this definition, one simply cannot have faith, or at least one cannot know that one has faith, except retrospectively after the object of one’s faith has been proven true.

    So, all those Mormons out there (and every other religionist too, really) who claims they are exercising faith, really isn’t, or at least can have no basis for so claiming. Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

    So I too would always read that, and then mentally chop off that last clause. It was the only way “faith” could remain even remotely “faithlike” in my mind.

    But let’s get back to faith. How many Mormons have had faith in the Flood of Noah? How many hearts have swollen, and minds been enlightened, and spirits soared or whatever, whilst contemplating that particular myth in the belief that it really happened? What does it mean that the person had good, productive faith according to Alma 32, and yet the object of their faith turns out to be myth, not fact?

    What about Mormons who contemplated Joseph Smith “translating” the Book of Mormon by wearing that silly silver frame with crystals in it as described or even depicted in Mormon art, not knowing about the head in the hat? What if their “faith” included an understanding that Joseph actually looked, with his physical eyes, at Egyptian characters inscribed on the Golden Plates, as shown in LDS artwork, and then labored in his mind over what it could possibly mean? The person gains a “testimony” that Joseph Smith really did this, and it turns out he had his face shoved in a hat supposedly reading the translation off ethereal parchment that appeared magically on the magic rock sitting at the bottom of the hat. What does that mean about their faith. Did the Lord confirm just the part of their beliefs that involved the final, finished product of Joseph’s work, and yet the members mistook that as confirmation of their beliefs regarding the whole process? Were the members exercising true “faith” if it turns out what they thought happened wasn’t really true? What about the testimonies that are based on that false faith?

  20. brade Reply

    I haven’t read all the comments, so I apologize if I repeat some or all of what’s been said so far. Interestingly, I attended a little open forum last Friday night (just a group of LDS friends getting together to chat about this and that) and I raised the issue of religious epistemology, Alma 32, and faith. There were parallel lines of thought expressed in that meeting as were expressed in this podcast (none of us had listened to this, BTW).

    Anyway, on to some thoughts. First, at our little meeting on Friday night I raised the issue of truth being a condition of faith, and there was a significant amount of discussion on that issue. Alma seems to express this thought in verse 21. Now, this was touched on in the podcast, but I want to make clear two difficulties of the view that truth is a condition of faith. One criticism appeals to what I believe is a wide-spread intuition about faith, and the other criticism just seems to follow straightforwardly from what Alma says about faith.

    The first criticism was brought out by Glenn by way of his Indian Jones story. Interestingly, without having listened to the podcast, I brought out the same problem by way of a very similar story involving bridges. Though I do think Glenn’s Indiana Jones story introduces the problem well, I think that a more carefully crafted story is needed to clearly draw out the relevant points at issue. Here goes…

    Imagine a canyon. Now imagine a narrow wood bridge extending from one side to the other. Now, duplicate this scene so that you have apparently qualitatively identical scenes in your mind. I say “apparently qualitatively identical” because as it happens a critical piece of rope holding the second scene’s bridge together is frayed. This defect makes it the case that the bridge in the second scene is not sound. Unfortunately, the defect is sufficiently small and sufficiently far enough away from observation that no person with even exceptional observational abilities could detect it. Now imagine two qualitatively identical fellows – Dirk and Frank. Since they’re qualitatively identical in every respect they share all the same mental states (e.g. beliefs, hopes, and so on). Now imagine them both approaching the wood bridge. They’re each presented to identically (i.e. they see the same scene). They both see what appears to be a sound bridge, they both want to and need to cross the bridge, and they both form the hope that the bridge is sound. They both go on to step out onto the bridge and work their way across. Sadly, Dirk’s bridge, due to the defect I described earlier, snaps just as he’s about to complete his traverse. Frank, on the other hand, made it across. Did both Dirk and Frank exemplify faith?

    Think about this carefully. As the story goes the only difference between the scenarios is that in one case the bridge imperceptibly unsound. Other than that imperceptible unsoundness, the scenes were identical. Both bridges presented each qualitatively identical person with exactly the same visual stimulus and so on. Both people shared the same mental states in every respect, and they made the same physical effort. Now, if Alma’s right, then Dirk did not have faith, but Frank did have faith. And, if Alma’s right, Dirk’s lack of faith in this case has nothing to do whatever with anything about Dirk. This seems, I think, quite odd. What it seems we have is an externalist account of faith. And, as I said, this seems quite contrary to intuitions about faith. I challenge you to check your own intuitions on this. I take it that your intuition about faith is that it is internal and that both Dirk and Frank had genuine faith in stepping onto the bridge. But if truth is a condition of faith, then it seems that whether we have faith depends on whether the world happens to cooperate with our hopes, and, in a sense, whether we’re lucky enough to have the world so cooperate.

    This is leading into the second difficulty with Alma’s view. Faith, it seems to me, is the sort of thing that whether I exemplify it or not is entirely up to me. On Alma’s account, whether I exemplify faith or not is not entirely up to me – the universe has to be kind enough to play along, so to speak. Additionally, despite my best effort to do my epistemic duty, as it were, I might find that I never have had faith owing to the unlucky discovery that the objects of my hopes are false. We are, of course, commanded to have faith. But, since faith is not knowledge, I can’t know that the object of an acted-upon hope is true, and, thus, I can’t know that I’m following God’s command in having faith. After all, I might be acting upon a hope where the object of the hope is false. In that case, of course, I am not exemplifying faith according to the Alma account of faith. In short, if truth is a condition of faith, then nobody can know that they have faith during the time that they might have faith (i.e. when they’re acting on hopes). Everyone, from general authorities to ordinary members, frequently claims that they do have faith. If Alma is right, then even if they do have faith, there’s no way to know that they have faith; and, thus, such people don’t understand the true notion of faith and are unjustifiably claiming to know something which they don’t and can’t know. If everyone is right about their own self-declarations, then Alma is wrong. Just a quick note: It’s important to see a distinction between the claim “I have faith that P” and the claim “I had faith that P”. The former is inconsistent with Alma’s notion of faith. The latter is not.

    To further emphasize the problem here, notice what happens if we assume that Alma is right about faith and that you can know that you’re exemplifying faith. To see what happens, consider the case that Frank does know that he has faith that the bridge is sound (let ‘P’ stand for ‘the bridge is sound’). If, indeed, Frank does know that he has faith that P is true, then Frank knows that P is true. Right? Because truth is a condition of faith, and if I know that I have a case of faith, then I know that I have a case of truth. The contrapositive of the above conditional says that if Frank doesn’t know that he has faith that P is true, then Frank doesn’t know that P is true.

    1. If Frank knows that he has faith that P is true, then Frank has faith that P is true.
    If Frank has faith that P is true, then Frank does not know that P is true.
    If Frank does not know that P is true, then Frank does not know that he has faith that P is true.
    Thus, if Frank knows that he has faith that P is true, then Frank does not know that he has faith that P is true.

    Uh oh. What’s gone wrong here? Premise 1 seems innocuous and obvious. Premise 2 is set forth in what Alma says about faith and knowledge. Premise 3 looks a bit suspect, but, remember, it follows from the assumption that Alma is right about faith and truth, and that you can know that you have faith. Again, If truth is a condition of faith, why wouldn’t I know that the object of faith is true in the case that I know that I have faith? It seems to me that If truth is a condition of faith, and I know that I have faith, then I should have no trouble inferring that the object of my faith is true. But, then, according to the same person who posits that truth is a condition of faith, if I know that the object of my faith is true, then I don’t have faith; rather, I have knowledge. The point is this: either truth is a condition of faith and I can’t know that I have faith, or truth is not a condition of faith and I can know that I have faith.

    • Glenn Reply

      You know what I thought of as I read through this? I thought of all the times on my mission when I was tracting fruitlessly through an area passing out flyers for free english classes, and I wanted to stop because I just knew I wasn’t really going to find anyone. But I pressed onward because this little voice in my head told me that if I stopped now, chances were that the very next door would be the one with the golden investigator, and how awful would it be if I quit too soon and missed out on that one golden investigator — so I kept going and going and going.

      There has to be a connection. Faith is a thing hoped for but not seen but THAT ARE TRUE. You tack that last part on to the end of it and you get missionaries like me playing mind games with themselves flexing their faith muscles just waiting for the truth to be revealed.

      (plus, Indy has way bigger faith muscles than anyone named Frank or Dirk — do they even crack a whip or wear a fedora?)

  21. Douglas Hunter Reply

    I don’t think Alma 32 is about the instutional church and its truth claims at all. It may not even be about belief. I think what is missing is a question. How do we nourish the seed? And why is it our fault if it dies?

    The scripture gives a partial answer: faith, diligence and patience. But I don’t find this very helpful. I think a great help is provided by Rabbi Heschel when he writes “There are dead thoughts, and there are living thoughts. A dead thought has been compared to a stone which one may plant in the soil. Nothing will come out. A living thought is like a seed. In the process of thinking , an answer without a question is devoid of life. It may enter the mind, it will not penetrate the soul. It may become a part of one’s knowledge; it will not come forth as a creative force.”

    Putting a Heschelian twist on Alma 32 might consist of saying the we nuture the seed by asking questions. Not the questions that people rush to out of ignorance such as “is it true?” But creative questions, that may be unique to the individual. The point is to nuture the seed by discovering the questions for which the seed might be the answer. But understand that the seed is not an institution, or a fixed set of dogmas, or even commandments. This things might be part of our religious experiences, but they are not the same as the word.

  22. Pingback: Faith as the “Cultivation of Restraint” « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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