Person B: "God revealed to me that religion Y is the only religion that He is well pleased with."
Thus, it seems likely that the veracity of revelation received/reported by persons A, B, or both is flawed. Duo non possunt in dolido unam rem possidere "two cannot possess one thing each in entirety." It would be inconsistent for God to affirm two mutually exclusive claims. ("In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for, and against the same thing at the same time." - Abraham Lincoln) This is how I would summarize the "diversity problem" in religion. (see also religious pluralism, exclusivism, inclusivism, and the same sex marriage study I referenced in my post about homosexuality). Especially look at my homosexuality post to see reasons for epistemic humility on religious matters (and page 43 of Bradshaw's paper: "I would like to suggest that it is appropriate for members of the Church to withhold judgement about the implications of some religious principles in humble recognition of the uncertainty that accompanies our relative ignorance").
From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on religious diversity, I quote:
"Individuals who apparently have access to the same information and are equally interested in the truth affirm incompatible perspectives on, for instance, significant social, political, and economic issues. Such diversity of opinion, though, is nowhere more evident than in the area of religious thought. On almost every religious issue, honest, knowledgeable people hold significantly diverse, often incompatible beliefs." It seems that only four explanations are tenable: 1) all the people are wrong, 2) one of the groups is right and the remainder are wrong, 3) all the people are right (religious relativism) or 4) there is no right or wrong and thus all the people are neither right nor wrong. Below I try to determine which of these four explanations is most tenable.
3 seems weak because contradictory affirmations can't both be simultaneously true (a classic syllogistic fallacy). 1, 2, and 4 are all consistent with a realist theory (there is a truth to the matter). Which of these three is most likely? (To use terms common in the literature, 1 is religious non-exclusivism, 2 religious exclusivism, and 4 religious pluralism.) Let's see.
(P.S. epistemology answers the question of "How can I come to possess knowledge about the world?")
The LDS church stereotypically maintains #2 (religious exclusivist) stance in that it claims to be the "only true and living church upon the face of the earth which with I, the Lord am well pleased, speaking to the church collectively and not individually." What is testimony? "A testimony is what we know to be true in our minds and in our hearts by the witness of the Holy Ghost;" (see also "the formula for a "proper" testimony includes a personal witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ or the truthfulness of the Church, Joseph Smith or of the Book of Mormon"). Proper testimony centers around the First Vision ("I must join none of them, for they were all awrong... all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those bprofessors were all ccorrupt;), the exclusive possession of authority to act in God's name, the transferral of exclusive priesthood keys to Joseph Smith and his successors, and their current possession by the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency today. As predicted, the LDS church as an exclusivist faith "rather tend[s] to proselytize followers of other religions, than seek an open-ended dialogue with them."
The types of truth claims made by the LDS church are not unique. "The Prophet is God's inspired, authorized mouthpiece with priesthood traced to Christ." Some Catholics: "The Pope is God's inspired, authorized mouthpiece with priesthood traced to Christ."
Or, "The Book of Mormon is so internally consistent, detailed, and elegant. No man could have written it unaided in so short a time. No imitator could write even a chapter." Some Muslims: "The Qur'an is so internally consistent, complicated, and elegant. No man could have written it unaided in so short a time. No imitator could write even a surah." LDS: "Joseph Smith was obviously God's prophet. Look at his prophecies, what he revealed, how popular and persistent has been the religious movement he began." Muslims: "Mohammed was obviously God's prophet. Look at his prophecies, what he revealed, how popular and persistent has been the religious movement he began."
The revelation-based testimonies of many faithful followers of Islam and Mormonism center on these types of truth claims. Since Muslims and Mormons are equally situated before God (i.e. they are absolutely equal in their child-parent relationship to Him), what rationally explains why the equally sincere truth seekers claim with equal conviction to receive revelation which clearly is not compatible? There is no reason for an outside observer to categorically find either the claimed revelation of either the Muslims or the Mormons superior to the other (any criticism of the Muslims' revelation, for instance, will necessarily upset confidence in Mormons' revelation by that same token): thus the failure of resolving the contradiction by an appeal to professed revelation. Perhaps one could look to the number of testifying individuals and conclude the more popular religions (Islam and Catholicism by far) have more witnesses and therefore win- but this outcome 1) is not likely to be favored by much of this post's audience and 2) could be explained away (e.g. by pointing out that the larger group is older and thus as one would expect merely has more inquirers).
Science/empiricism offers a different approach to approximating/reaching truth than does revelation. Ideally, science is open minded- any theory is given its "day in court:" facultas probationum non est angustanda "the right of offering proof is not to be narrowed." However, not all theories are equally meritorious, and therefore theories are rewarded according to perceived merit (its a discriminatory system appropriate appellated a "meritocracy"- see for comparison the Republic of Singapore). Three example scientific theories to illustrate: a) germ theory, b) a roughly spherical theory of earth, and c) flat earth theory. The predictions made by germ theory, though initially disbelieved, turned out to be overwhelmingly right ("Although highly controversial when first proposed, it is now a cornerstone of modern medicine and clinical microbiology, leading to such vitally important innovations as antibiotics and hygienic practices." The spherical theory of earth would predict that when you send out an astronaut and he looks back he'll see a roughly spherical earth. The prediction bore out: one point for the theory. The predictions made by the flat-earth theory usually fail (e.g. you'll find an edge if you walk far enough: strike one!). Thus, some theories suck at making predictions; others rock at it. (Kenneth Miller similarly juxtaposed contemporary evolutionary theory with intelligent design along these lines in his recent book, Only a Theory). Those theories which rock at predicting I define as meritorious. This epistemological approach is very different from religion, whose truth discerning turns on communication from God rather than testing the rational soundness of claims.
On the one hand, summa ratio est quae pro religione facit- "the highest reason is that which makes for religion." On the other hand, mistaken revelation is a weak foundation on which to build faith or religion: debile fundamentum fallit opus "where there is a weak foundation, the work falls."
The slice of the knowledge pie that is moral knowledge is prescribed for man to know by experience. Adam and Eve: "by their own experience to know the good from the evil." That experience is not only the revelatory kind- it's also if not exclusively the internalist kind, I'd wager.
"Religion should not be a scaffold to maintain the privilege of being right so much as it should be a ladder that prompts us in doing and becoming good." - George Handley, The Environmental Ethics of Mormon Belief, BYU Studies, 206.
"LDS teaching affirms the supreme authority of divine revelation. However, revelation is not understood as an impediment to rational inquiry but as the framework within which the natural human desire to know can most vigorously and fruitfully be exercised." - Ralph Hancock, Reason and Revelation
Lex plus laudatur quando ratione probatur "the law is the more praised when it is supported by reason."
“Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord reason with you that you may understand”(DC 50:12, italics added).
Yesterday I read an interesting article- "Restored Epistemology: A Communicative Pluralist Answer to Religious Diversity" by Dennis Potter in Element, the journal of the Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology. The author briefly describes the epistemological impact of the diversity problem. He concludes (as I have) that the existence of diverse testimony (testimony is affirmation of revealed truth and eschatology, such as that borne by the millions of adherents to a book I've read known as the Qur'an) vitiates confidence in one's own personal revelation. It it I found satisfying discussion of the author's proposed resolution to the diversity problem:
- The current LDS answer to the problem of diversity is through propositional and practical exclusivism (i.e. there is more truth expressed by LDS scripture, leaders, and members that expressed by any other religious tradition is the propositional exclusivism; the claim that the most appropriate life for a human being is an LDS one is the practical exclusivism claim). I agree- that's why I as a missionary invited all to come unto Christ by being baptized into his church. I assert that each's life would be better in that out of His church.
- People more often act based on non-doxastic bodily and mental effects than they do based on theoretical postulates about the world (for more on doxastic systems and causation see "The Epistemic Basing Relation.") Our beliefs more often result from affect than from propositions That makes sense- the predominance of human behavior and belief is much more heavily influenced by culture and non-revelatory factors such as upbringing, peer pressure, incentives, and affect than it is by theoretical postulates and religious claims, whose effects on behavior are more often indirect, compound, and/or minimal by comparison.
- "The central problem with propositional exclusivism is its epistemological hubris." Yes, we don't communicate as LDS with other religions on a peer basis because we assume a privileged position as the only revealed, authorized religion. Here's the epistemological crux: the justification for knowledge to an internalist is limited to events within the conscious access of the subject (e.g. earth's creation would not be a candidate justification for knowledge, but the observation of a tree would). From an internalist standpoint, the LDS faith is nothing special (not in a "position of epistemic privilege"). The epistemic privilege for the LDS faith from an externalist perspective, however, might be that "the Holy Ghost is indeed the origin of their experience." The external/internal distinction is essentially the Platonic/Aristotelian empirical/theoretical distinction familiar to philosophers. It's okay to not know how you know something (e.g. you can have a revelation without understanding its mechanics), which is called first-order knowledge (see "Appendix B: Orders of Ignorance" in Armour's book, The laws of software process). But when another testifies of a different truth, the epistemological conflict of "who is right" is significant enough to merit attention and resolution. "An externalist can give no answer; but the exclusivist must." I agree- a claim bold enough to assert that I'm the only right religion brings the obligation to prove it- otherwise, you'd have to backpedal and say "I think I'm right but you could be too, or we might both be wrong." There's no room for discussion from the epistemologically privileged pedestal- you must come down from it to engage in true peer-peer religious discussion with a contrarily-witnessing member of, say, the Judaic, Moslem, or Buddhist tradition.
- The Reformed Epistemology of Christianity's externalism does avoid the pitfall of internalism, namely that internal states can exist independent from and different than external realities- thus, the overly difficult task of producing knowledge is averted. However, by privatizing the task of producing knowledge, the epistemological burden is carried by the Holy Ghost rather than you or me. "if the Holy Ghost is in fact the reason for our experiences then we do know what we think we know." However, our epistemological status is no longer up to us, but to the Holy Ghost, who is not in our direct control. Yes, it makes sense that if the veracity of truth depends not on my production of knowledge but upon the Holy Ghost, then if I am right it is only because I am lucky, and not because of any effort or evidence I can offer that I know what I know. If the revelation was false (e.g. came from Satan) or my interpretation incorrect, I have no immediate epistemic claim to discerning the fact.
- "I can have nothing to say to someone who insists that God talks to them and not to me... ultimately, those of other faiths must become one of us or must remain one of them. On the exclusivist and externalist view, there is no true public square of faith discourse: there is dialogue on our terms or none at all." "Exclusivism... is more than the claim that we are right and they are wrong. It is the claim that we have a privileged and transcendent epistemic status, not open to any tool of public investigation... I have the memory that the car is parked in section C and you have the memory that it's in section D, we can submit these claims to the public square of verification. Externalism says we can't do this with religious belief." Good call.
- The principle of continuing revelation inevitably results in fallibilism. Yes, because a new revelation could correct an erroneous interpretation of a past revelation, it is possible that our current interpretation could be mistaken, and thus since we could be off, those who disagree with us might be right. The author argues that this recognition enables true dialogue with others, i.e that we really entertain the possibility that they are correct on some point. His argument seems sound. There's certainly a great deal of uncertainty regarding the application of doctrines in the church (e.g. does God progress in knowledge? Is tithing on gross or net? What will Celestial life be like day-to-day?) - thus, perhaps there are grounds for buying into a #1 explanation (all the people are wrong- and thus perhaps we can get closer to the right through dialogue and testing claims).
- The author then says we should use the empirical method of proving contraries (the scientific approach I described above- try to prove and refute doctrines to test their truth).
- The author tries to resolve the traditional epistemological problem of "infinite regress" by noting that a belief could be challenged before being grounded. Good call. He says our religion is conducive to communicative pluralism (which at first blush seems contrary to the exclusivism of the LDS faith).
- The author points out that under the exclusivist LDS orientation most people are damned because they're not smart enough, if indeed correct beliefs about theological reality are necessary for salvation. Joseph Smith taught: “a man cannot be saved any faster than he gains intelligence,” and "it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” Correct knowledge and intelligence both appear requisite Additionally, in Moroni 8 it seems clear that failing to correct an incorrect or incomplete about baptism (namely, that infants need it) is sufficient to land you in hell: "he that supposeth that little children need baptism... should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell." Most will fail the final exam because they are either not Mormon or are LDS but weren't part of the subgroup that had correct views on doctrines such as atonement, faith, repentance, baptism, and priesthood authority (i.e. there is diverse and often conflicting beliefs about these doctrines within the church and thus if any small group is right, the rest are wrong). Of course, this wrinkle applies to Christianity as a whole too as precise doctrines advocated in varying creeds increasingly proliferate. Maximus magister erroris populus est - The people are the greatest master of error.
- A position of institutional authority is not necessarily a position of epistemic privilege. But we believe certain positions entitle the holder to special revelation for his stewardship- e.g. bishop or Prophet, which does give them additional revelatory privileges and a higher status. Religious authorities and those without a privileged position cite doctrines to bolster broader power struggles. The author then applies his communicative pluralism or "epistemic democracy" to intra-religious as well as inter-religious dialogue. My agreement with this conclusion that LDS members individually merit no more than a modest epistemological status underlies the openness of religious-relevant issues on this blog. My epistemological claims are humble: therefore, I invite others to dialogue with me in an internalist way in an effort to grow my collection of truth. "It is thus appropriate to seek and prepare for revelation by the effort of reason: 'You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right' (D&C 9:8)." Also, "the things of God are of deep import, and time and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out (History of the Church, 3:295). We are to search, ponder, and think. After all the revelations in 1 Nephi (1st Nephi 11:1) and DC 138 (DC 138:1) came not in response to formal prayer, but in response to righteous pondering." (Seth Melling's Learning in Zion: His Truth, His Ways, His Purposes). An example excerpt from another blog post of mine to further support this claim:
“There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger [a piece of corn bread] for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle [a wooden mallet]. Even the Saints are slow to understand.“I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen... Why be so certain that you comprehend the things of God, when all things with you are so uncertain?... Some people say I am a fallen Prophet, because I do not bring forth more of the word of the Lord. Why do I not do it? Are we able to receive it? No! not one in this room.” - Joseph Smith (emphasis added)
- The "hierarchical epistemic competition within Mormonism is detrimental to community. This is why inter-religious dialogue is absolutely essential for the production of the community." Both inter and intra -religious dialogues are subject to the same democratic epistemic ethos. I concur here, too. It's probably a bad idea to follow the worldly tradition of exalting the positionally powerful (e.g. by giving area seventies the front rows at the Conference Center). James and John wanted the positional privilege of sitting next to Jesus (one on the right and one on the left- see Mark 10). Jesus taught: " Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be agreat among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the achiefest, shall be servant of all" (italics added). "Our pluralism is based on commitments... that should be developed in the direction of epistemological humility." The principle of uncoerced love also supports this egalitarian orientation as a superior replacement to the current hierarchical tension in LDS practice.
Thus, I conclude that although "the diversity problem" should cause one to question his or her purported revelatory corpus, that questioning does not prove fatal. Additionally, I conclude that "1) all the people are wrong" seems the most tenable of the explanation alternatives expounded above.
A recent Google Buzz conversation with a friend:
> a comical representation of the dilemma from a South Park clip: [addressing the damned]
Hell Director: Hello, newcomers and welcome. Can everybody hear me? Hello?
Hell Director: Can everybody... ok. Um, I am the Hell Director. Uh, it looks like we have 8,615 of you newbies today. And for those of you who were little confused: uh, you are dead; and this is Hell. So abbandon all hope and yadda-yadda-yadda. Uh, we are now going to start the orientation PROcess which will last about...
Protestant: Hey, wait a minute. I shouldn't be here, I was a totally strick and devout Protestant. I thought we went to heaven.
Hell Director: Yes, well, I'm afraid you are wrong.
Soldier: I was a practicing Jehovah's Witness.
Hell Director: Uh, you picked the wrong religion as well.
Man from Crowd: Well who was right? Who gets in to Heaven?
Hell Director: I'm afraid it was the MORmons. Yes, the MORmons were the correct answer.
The Damned: Awwww...
>"A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God." (History of the Church, 5:588.) -Joseph Smith source
>"This book of the alaw shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt bmeditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein:" -Joshua 1:8
>" But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil [died] before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 348). source
>A fanciful and flowery and heated imagination beware of; because the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God. Joseph Fielding Smith (editor), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 137 source
>From "A Man for All Seasons" by Bolt:
MORE: There is no law against that.
ROPER: There is! God's law!
MORE: Then God can arrest him.
ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication!
MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know
what’s legal, not what's right. And I'll stick to what’s legal.
ROPER: Then you set Man’s law above God’s?
MORE: No, far below: but let me draw your attention to a fact — I’m
not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find
such plain-sailing, I can’t navigate, I’m no voyager. But in the
thickets of the law, oh, there I’m a forester. I doubt if there’s a man
alive who could follow me there, thank God . . . (He says this to
himself.). . .
ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law’s
MORE: (wearily): Oh, Roper, you’re a fool, God’s my god. . .
(Rather bitter.) But I find him rather too subtle . . . I
don’t know where he is nor what he wants.
> see my related post on Divine Command Theory
> Difficulties in Summarizing LDS Doctrine
>Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural:
"Lincoln's points, that God's purposes are not directly knowable to humans, represent a theme that Lincoln had expressed earlier. After Lincoln's death, his secretaries found among his papers an undated manuscript now generally known as the "Meditations on the Divine Will". In that manuscript, Lincoln wrote:
- The will of God prevails — In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for, and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is somewhat different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect this.
1. Steven Peck's Spring 2010 Dialogue article marrying Darwin and Mormonism:
"A difficulty that will make this project of bringing together
evolution and LDS theology tough slogging is that, within LDS
thinking, what we mean by a “physical universe” is often muddled.
Mormonism displays a kind of expansive physicalism suggesting
that the universe in toto is a farrago of matter of one kind or another
(D&C 131:7), that part of it (“spirit matter”) remains undetectable
by our perceptual apparatuses and instrumentation,
while we have phenomenological or manipulative access only to
the less “fine” or less “pure” part. This materiality includes Gods,
spirits, intelligences, etc., and may exist in extra-spatial and/or
temporal dimensions but does, presumably, still follow laws of
some kind. All matter is subject to God’s manipulation, thanks to
His greater knowledge and inf luence. This theological description
imposes a kind of dualism in which some aspects of the universe
are available to us and others are not. Lacking reliable
epistemic access to the “spirit matter” part of this world, it must
remain outside our scientific theories and practices, even though
it may play a role in a deeper physical reality.10Kent C. Condie, Premortal Spirits: Implications for Cloning,
Abortion, Evolution, and Extinction,@ Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 39 (Spring 2006): 35-56.
2. Internal Realism and the Problem of Religious Diversity
|0048-3893 (Print) 1574-9274 (Online)
|Volume 34, Number 3 / September, 2006