Saturday, January 30, 2010

Repetition: a helpful signal to avert contention

I need to do better at avoiding contention. Though argument and reasoning is of inestimable utility in making better choices and developing superior opinions, the risk of devolution into contention is frequently nigh. My predilections lean toward passion and advocacy and competition, so I must carefully avoid the temptation to contend and/or yield to anger:
29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of acontention is not of me, but is of the bdevil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. (3 N 11)

In addition to becoming "of the devil," I've found that my reasoning and persuasive powers diminish when I have the spirit of contention. Example 1: during a conversation with an ex when I felt offended, I counter-attacked and shared a perception likely to be hurtful to her. This results in my interlocutor being less open-minded to my arguments and position (therefore lost persuasive power). Example 2: after talking about ethics and a medical case involving a 13 year-old boy with Hodgkin's lymphoma who preferred not to undergo chemotherapy, my friend transitioned to a related topic and started making blanket condemnations of lengthy legislation, claiming that any bill over 900 pages reflected a lack of understanding of the problem. I stated that I disagree and quickly ended the conversation, but felt contentious. I was anxious to prove him wrong- however, though my criticism was well-supported, I went too far in disagreeing with him because I didn't have enough evidence to show that he was conclusively wrong. Instead, I should have limited my attack to the sufficiency of his evidence, i.e. the evidence he relied on was too shallow to support his conclusion. (e.g. what if the bill regulated several areas of law, and was essentially 20 or 30 bills combined in one? What if the bill would be ineffective if not sufficiently long and detailed, since previous nationwide laws it would have to modify were themselves convoluted and complicated? What if a bill that was too brief reinforced the status quo because it didn't have enough teeth to enact the change it was designed for? Had he ever read through an entire bill himself? Shouldn't he educate himself on the issue to a greater extent before condemning the lengthiness of proposed legislation? Aren't many parts of the bill merely making small adjustments to other relevant portions of the US Code where the subordination or trumping effect of the present bill to competing statutes calls for clarification? Wouldn't simpler bills be frequently struck down as "void for vagueness?" Don't these types of circumstances make many lengthy bills appropriate? Etc.) Instead I went too far the other way, defending the length of the bills- which I may or may not be right about. Because I don't have much more evidence than he does, the only supportable conclusion is that neither of us are sufficiently informed to substantiate a strong position on the lengthiness issue either way (this example evidences forfeited reasoning powers- see also my mini-blog from November, "(INSUFFICIENT DATA) does not =(support the counterclaim)")

Anyway. So, I noticed in both of the examples above that my interlocutor began to repeat him or herself. (I've observed this behavior trend in other comparable conversing settings as well). In both instances, the partner made essentially the same statement twice or more. Some people become angry when a point is repeated by B, because it can imply that the listener, A, is stupid for not understanding it the first time. If that's the case, B should try to explain in a different way, introduce more evidence/an additional argument, or abandon the attempt. It seems that a repeated point indicates that the partner has run out of supporting arguments and has begun beating a dead horse, which is an additional anger trigger for some. Therefore, I think I'll use the repeated point as a signal for me to, instead of continuing the debate, either: 1) change the topic, 2) transition into listening rather than debating mode (using reflective listening techniques such as "you feel..." statements), since the person at that point probably prefers the soapbox to the "seeking to understand" chair, in which case my arguments will not likely be persuasive regardless of their strength, or 3) ask why the person is repeating him or herself, and if no compelling response or fresh argument forthcomes, go with the presumption and end the conversation. I have an obligation to avoid or mitigate the effects of triggers so I can "choose how to respond" to situations like these rather than permitting them to act on me: "When we believe or say we have been offended, we usually mean we feel insulted, mistreated, snubbed, or disrespected. And certainly clumsy, embarrassing, unprincipled, and mean-spirited things do occur in our interactions with other people that would allow us to take offense. However, it ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.

In the grand division of all of God's creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:13–14). As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of moral agency, the capacity for independent action and choice. Endowed with agency, you and I are agents, and we primarily are to act and not just be acted upon. To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation." And Nothing Shall Offend Them Elder David A. Bednar

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Playing God, Slippery Slopes, and the Fallacy of Naturalism

This week I sat in the front row of a class and started chatting with the student next to me. We got along pretty well and engaged in a bit of small talk before and during the class. Toward the end we got to talking about some bioethics issues, and he said, "you can't control life and death." At first I thought, "why bother," and considered not saying anything that might risk the amiability of a new acquaintance. Then my second thought (which I went with): "of course you can. I could kill you, which clearly shows I can control death." I might also have pointed out a number of germane examples, including that in the case of human life, we routinely control the creation of that life by having sex. The question of ability (can or can't) is thereby quickly and clearly resolved. What he probably meant to say was that one doesn't have the right, or perhaps shouldn't, control life or death- but that is a separate question. Clearly, we can and do routinely control life and death, not only of plants (when's the last time you ate ground up wheat babies for breakfast?) and animals and bacteria (you hand-washing murderer!) but also of people.

If, indeed, he intended to make a statement as to classes of activity that humans should not experiment with, he might have drawn on a phrase that you and I have likely heard numerous times: that it is morally wrong for parents, doctors, and scientists to "play God." (my friend, joking that Mormons believe in apotheosis/exaltation [the idea that man can become like God is], said, "Why not? We have to practice, don't we?) Condemning an act because one classifies it as "playing God" is, to say the least, a problematic claim.

First, one must distinguish between two classes of activity: behavior which does not usurp God's role and that which is, in fact, playing God. How does one distinguish these two classes? Add up the yes's and no's you would answer to these questions.

Which of the following is playing God?
Executing a death row inmate.
Killing a chicken.
Giving an injured soldier a blood transfusion.
Administering an influenza vaccine.
Having sex where pregnancy might result.
Breeding guppies.
Providing in vitro fertilization.
Withdrawing life support.
Injecting antibiotics.
Giving your child glasses while believing God sent her into the world with poor eyesight.
Using PGD (fertilize a bunch of embryos, then only implant one that doesn't have genetic defects such as cystic fibrosis and Down's syndrome
Refusing to administer CPR to an elderly patient who is very close to death and who has expressed the preference to not be revived the next time his heart fails.
Refusing to administer CPR to an elderly patient who is very close to death and who has expressed no preference about being revived the next time his heart fails.
Administering CPR to an elderly patient who is very close to death and who has expressed the preference to not be revived the next time his heart fails.
Choosing not to feed a child.
Choosing the gender of your child (through PGD-
Allocating limited therapeutic resources at a clinic for the severely disabled.
Deciding to grant a health insurance claim for a possibly life-saving 13 million dollar treatment.
Deciding to refuse a health insurance claim for a possibly life-saving 13 million dollar treatment.
Transplanting a kidney.
Infanticide 2 hours after birth.
Infanticide 2 hours before birth.
Feticide at 30 weeks.
Feticide at 10 weeks.
Embrycide at 1 day.
Embrycide at 1 minute.
Oocyte destruction 1 minute before fertilization.
Using a spermicide.
Using a condom.
Making a DNA strand in the lab.

Now remember, the question isn't which of the above acts is right or wrong; the question is which acts usurp God's role and which ones don't. How many yes's and how many no's did you come up with? As this exercise illustrates, discerning between what is and isn't playing God is a very difficult business. It seems that in order to answer the is/is not playing God question, one must first decide whether the act is right or wrong. If that is the case, then the concept of "playing God" is of no help at all in deciding what to do, since you had to decide what is right first in order to categorize the act second.

Second. Even if one does provide a usable principle for discerning playing God and not playing God, unless one class is categorically morally right and one morally wrong, one still has to discern whether an act that falls into one or the other category is right or wrong. Once again, the "playing God" concept fails to provide any usefulness in determining right and wrong.

[I could also successfully make this argument by inserting "it's natural" into the place of "playing God." E.g. some say homosexuality is wrong because it isn't natural. What is and isn't natural? If 5% of people are homosexual, is it natural? How about 15%? 55%? What if homosexuality is observed in non-human species (which it abundantly is, especially among sea mammals and primates- or a relevant video)? Is it "natural" to administer antibiotics? If antibiotic administration is unnatural, is it therefore wrong? How about a kidney transplant? How about helping couples to conceive using in-vitro fertilization? Once again, these behaviors may or may not be wrong, but discerning their natural/non-natural category won't advance the ball in determining their rightness/wrongness. See also,, and]

Okay, so I've now shot down "playing God" and "it isn't natural" as justifications for judging the morality of an act. I will now posit five scenarios and ask if they're right or wrong, and upon what foundation that judgment rests. After, I will explain why using a "slippery slope" argument is a slippery slope. :)

1) Manufacturing DNA strands, the blueprint of life, in the lab from the building blocks A, T, G, and C.

2) Synthesizing viruses in the lab. (related wowza-,8599,1706552,00.html)

3) Synthesizing reproductively capable cells from scratch in the lab. (ribosomes, one more step toward this end -

4) Taking drugs to get taller
["Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" Matt. 6: 27
Well, besides the simple answer that there are growth hormone therapists that do exactly that for short children (see e.g. page 182 of ON MEDICINE, CULTURE, AND CHILDREN’S BASIC INTERESTS: A REPLY TO THREE CRITICS by Richard B. Miller), this verse appears to run into the same problem as the "God of the Gaps" post of last week- the elevated status of God depends on the fallible foundation of information asymmetry: i.e. God has an incentive to hide truth from you in order to maintain your faith in Him. This, as I claimed earlier, is a mistaken form of faith. God is not threatened by the advance of science or our increased understanding of truth- in fact, He is both the source and committed to our receipt, of light, truth, and intelligence.]

5) Choosing your child's gender ("Would you choose your child's gender?"

Now for the slippery slopes. (remember- a world without friction would be... dangerous 2:00-2:25). The case I'll use to illustrate is euthanasia. Many people support the limited category of mercy killings by passive voluntary euthanasia (euthanasia basics: However, opponents argue that once you accept one form of euthanasia, because other forms will differ, albeit progressively, in only miniscule increments (i.e. picture a euthanasia machine where there's only a 50% chance of death, or where both the doctor and patient must act for it to function instead of one or the other, etc.), it is better to oppose all forms of euthanasia. This is the slippery slope argument, and you see it in many other contexts as well (e.g. the fourth amendment right of privacy - is it okay for the government to look over the neighbor's fence? What if it's a short fence? Is it okay to fly over his house at 10,000 feet? How about 100? What if you look down with binoculars? How about a sensitive heat-sensing device? What about planting video cameras in their bedroom? What about pretending to be a salesman to get inside to observe? When has the right to privacy been violated? more on this later). Back to our euthanasia case. An ethicist might argue that passive voluntary euthanasia should be banned not because it is wrong, but because there is no barrier along the slippery slope, and to embrace one form of euthanasia is to necessarily accept them all. Because some types are morally wrong, one must therefore ban all types.

There are two main counters to the slippery slope: the "spectrum" approach and the "bright-line rule" method. The spectrum approach says that a behavior's morality isn't binary (right or wrong); rather, an act falls somewhere on a spectrum from right to wrong. To illustrate, let's take an example using the related concept of justice. Josh, unprovoked, punches Kyle in the face with 10 N of force.
1) Kyle does nothing in return.
2) Kyle punches him back with 5 N.
3) Kyle punches him back with 10 N.
4) Kyle punches him back with 15 N.
5) Kyle slays Josh.

First, take the standard binary approach. 1, 2, 4, and 5 are "unjust." Only 3 is just. "Just" and "unjust" are your only two categories.

The spectrum approach, however, shows that 5 is less just than 4, and that 2 is more just that 1. Thus, justice is a matter of degree. The spectrum approach claims that morality is a matter of degree. This means that the slippery slope isn't all that slippery because the small increments make a small moral difference (there's your friction, Bill Nye!). Thus, X) barely less voluntary euthanasia is more wrong (or less right, take your pick depending on where you would draw the binary line) than the Y) more voluntary form that preceded it, even if X and Y are both in the "wrong" category under a binary paradigm.

That's the spectrum approach. The "bright line" method is often used in the law and in parenting, and consists of clearly defining what is right and wrong even though the line's placement on the slippery slope is arbitrary. Using the example of the fourth amendment right to privacy, a court might say that it's fine to fly over someone's house and look down, but if you use any kind of vision enhancement beyond the power of contacts and eyeglasses that are standard at the time the court made the decision, then you've breached the right of privacy. They might also proscribe the use of any deception or devices inside the physical boundaries of the property, but permit the government to walk to the border of the property, etc. until it is exceptionally clear what does and does not violate a privacy interest. Now, of course, these clear limits are just made up to provide a clear rule so the government doesn't have to guess when they've violated the privacy interest of the ringleader of a suspected child pornography operation when trying to garner evidence against him. There's no special reason for drawing the line at vision enhancing binoculars; you might just as easily have said "don't look down" or "don't use any binoculars more powerful than 10x." The point is that the "precise drawing of the line is arbitrary; but it is not arbitrary that a line is drawn" (see credits). It makes sense to draw precise lines even though the underlying morality changes more gradually.

To act in ignorance of the two counters of "spectrum" and "bright line" is to head down a slippery slope. :)

Credits: "A tool-box for reasoning," Tony Hope, Medical Ethics: a very short introduction

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thank you, Heavenly Father

Without the constraint of the not-yet-explained (see God of the Gaps post) to limit the phenomena attributable to God, I credit Him with the following. 

Blessings/Tender Mercies I Am Grateful For:

Palm pilot
Growing up in Meridian, Idaho
Growing up in the church
Growing up in a free democratic republic
The internet
Practically never having to worry about having enough to eat
Jolynne (my sister)
All my family members, immediate and extended
Roommates Joel, Josh, Taylor, Nathaniel, and James
Academia, that so many journals and original research are so breathtakingly accessible
Educational opportunity
Safe-ish roads (they could be in a lot worse condition)
A legal system which generally outlaws person A harming person B
A level of law enforcement close to the optimal level between overly intrusive/powerful and ineffective
Each of the standard works
Joseph Smith's fidelity to God and truth
The tradition of birthdays- it's a great opportunity to help people feel special and recognized
Being able to repent and change and experience true new beginnings. When I sin, because of the Atonement, I really can be restored and start anew.
One of my favorite songs: I Feel My Savior's Love (
Sports! Tennis and frisbee and soccer and basketball and innertube water polo and wallyball and running and triathlons and swimming, oh my! I love sports.
Writing and speaking and language and communication. Wow!
The universe, stars, and galaxies- the only wonder to compare with them is the nature around us.
Love (agape)
A whole host of efficient systems (e.g. markets, natural selection, email, discussion boards, google docs, dropbox, backpacks, libraries, and prayer)
Man-sized furniture that's not two inches off the ground
The fossil record
The advance of rational inquiry as evidenced by the organized common sense called "science"
Relative abundance of possessions, shelter, and health care in America
Longer life spans and lower infant mortality world wide
Rain forests
Cell phones
Indoor plumbing, heating, and AC
My windshield wiper fluid ejectors working suddenly when I needed them on a dangerous winter drive even though they'd been broken for months

Okay, that's it for the short list.

The tagging of these phenomena as blessings from God is arbitrary inasmuch as other phenomena, including
those conventionally considered negative, are from my perspective equally likely to be caused by God. 
Exceptions to arbitrary selection include tender mercies I detect not by their improbability or unexplainability, 
but rather because I claim that such blessings were revealed to me as interventions of God.  My purpose here
is to point out some phenomena I consider "good" and attribute at least that set to God's direct and/or 
indirect action.

Friday, January 22, 2010

God of the Gaps

A few years ago I went home to Meridian for the funeral of my friend, Brad Morse. He was my same age and, outside my family, I'd probably spent more time playing tennis with him than anyone (which is saying something). He'd been murdered in cold blood by a shot to the head from a stranger who stole his car.

I remember his father speaking at the funeral about the claims of many that it was "his time" and that God had "called him back," and basically crediting his son's demise to God. The father pushed back and said it wasn't "his time" and that the murder was wrong. My bias is that I agree with him.

I think a lot of people believe in a God of the Gaps (AGOG, I'll call him).

In ages past and in some cultures today, AGOG gets the credit for everything not yet explained. Bad harvest? Must've offended AGOG. You got pregnant? AGOG smiled on you. You won in war? AGOG must be on your side. There's a wondrous diversity of life, and all creatures are adapted to their habitat? Must be AGOG's work. Your mom died? Must be AGOG's doing. Especially on the life and death front, AGOG gets the credit. The less explainable the phenomenon, the more AGOG gets credited with its occurrence.

Then materialism happens (the idea that there's a natural explanation for everything). You push a ball and it rolls across the floor? Everyone can explain that- it's momentum. Let go of a pen and it falls to the floor? Gravity. Marvelous wonders in the sky? Phases of stars. Poor harvest? Insufficient soil nitrogen. Won a war? Your guns were bigger. Someone is sick? Germ theory. You got pregnant? Fertile womb and high sperm count. Who needs AGOG when science can explain all these phenomenon?

A miracle is nothing more than a phenomenon you don't understand- yet. Consider these lyrics:
"I was sitting on a southbound plane,
I was buried in a magazine
When the man in the next seat over
Wanted to talk to me
He talked about the universe,
He talked about Saturn's rings
He said, "I might be an atheist,
Except for just one thing:

"It passes all my understanding
How it all worked out just right
The distance that we live from the sun,
The stars that shine at night
We may prove that it was just an accident
But how did it begin?
It passes all my understanding"

This lovely song talks about the development of this man's faith. However, his faith is in AGOG- as soon as he figures out a reasonable explanation for how it began, he's back to his atheism. The question isn't whether the not-yet-explained is likely to be satisfactorily explained by scientific advancement in the near future or not- the question is the more close-to-home-hitting question of the nature of your faith and belief in God. Is God or your faith in Him diminished by the advancement of scientific understanding? It shouldn't be. Otherwise, that god and/or your faith will expand or contract as a consequence of the explainability of phenomena you observe. There are many mysteries still, such as how to resurrect, and what exactly life and death are, and how to create a spirit from intelligence, or how to breathe life into Adam- but there are answers to these questions- natural ones. "All difficulties are but easy when they are known." (Act 4, scene 2, Shakespeare's Measure for Measure) If you knew the secret and had the skill, there's little doubt but that you could restore life to someone or create Adam from the dust of the earth. (see Spencer W. Kimball, “Our Great Potential,” Ensign, May 1977, 49, paragraph 3- other examples include producing a spirit and organizing matter.) These answers' discovery does not and cannot diminish God. Were it not so, He would be a God of darkness, one whose necessary incentive would be to hide truth from you and to hold back the revelation of mysteries in order to preserve the information asymmetry requisite to his power advantage. Ours is a god who, on the other hand, seeks to edify and enlighten and perfect and exalt and teach us to become like him and share in his light. It is better to base one's belief in God on revelation and other more sure principles than substantively on the not-yet-explained.  I like Lincoln Cannon's description: "Arrogance is not in attempting the good old fashioned work that leads to desired results. Rather, arrogance is in the passive thought that your God will save you despite your efforts.
The God in which I put my faith would have us share in that glory (Romans 8: 17), speaks according to our language (D&C 1: 24-28), reasons among us according to our understanding (D&C 50: 10-12), withholds no knowledge (D&C 121: 26-33), and invites us to greater works (John 14: 12)."

As a sidenote, I'd say the true god works by natural means somewhere between 99 and 100% of the time- and more likely the latter. Sorry, AGOG- I don't endorse you.

Credit goes to Kenneth Miller in "Finding Darwin's God" for dawning this idea in my mind. 

Postlude on AGOG's brother, AGOTI (A God Of The Improbable)
Oftentimes I observe improbable events ascribed to God.  Three examples:
1) "The motorcycle slid right underneath the semi-truck: two feet more and I would have been crushed. God saved me." -Trevor
2)  "I was desperate that day and stopped at the Cougareat. I've sat there a hundred times and no one's ever sat by me. Jennifer sat by me and listened to me and told me to call the BYU Continuing Ed. department- and now I finally have a job- thank you, God." - Sarah
3)   "Genesis 30: 22 ¶ And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.
  23 And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach."

In testimony meetings or otherwise, it is the improbability of the event that evidences God's work. I see a few problems with using the improbability as God's signature. 1) Low probability events happen normally, though at a low level- thus, each year, though small, there are a certain quantity of motorcyclists who are saved in a collision by sliding underneath the semi.  Is there a way to distinguish the normal from the intervention?  2) When low probability events fail to happen, do they indicate God's failure to intervene?  Say Trevor's motorcyclist buddy was killed in the same crash because he missed the narrow safe zone under the semi- is this higher probability event evidence of the absence of God's intervention?  3) Is God prohibited from blessing people on a large scale?  If an event because popularly accessible, is it no longer Him because it's no longer improbable?  Fertility doctors can fairly routinely "open wombs" now, making infertility reversal much more common than it was in Rachel's day.  Presuming the general mercy and goodness of infertility reversal, why not attribute the skill of fertility doctors/drugs to God despite how common the "miracle" now is?  4) Are improbable events always evidence of God?  Sarah's department was the only one on campus in 10 years to fire a new hire a week after intake.  Nathan comes across an obscure website with a rarely read anti-Mormon article, which leads him to lose his testimony.  Was that improbable event God's doing?

Thus, it seems most likely that God's hand is in all things, both probable and improbable, and He is responsible for all good things, whereas the devil or men are responsible for the bad things.  (D&C 59:21, Moroni 7: 15-19)  God's signature is better evidenced by the test described in Moroni 7 than the improbability of an occurrence.  Go join your bro, AGOTI. 

Divine Command Theory

A couple hours ago my bioethics discussion section finished watching "Who Watches the Watchers," a Star Trek episode where the native hut-dwellers start to believe in a God they call "the Picard." ( In the episode, the people, aware of The Picard's marvelous powers, start trying to guess what he wants them to do. They interpret unseasonable lightning as a sign of his displeasure, and wonder if they should punish a captive for the escape of a stranger they found in order to please The Picard. They seek to know what pleases and displeases The Picard so they can obey him in exchange for favors and punishment forbearance.

After the film one of the students, *Matt, noted how grateful he was that in our religion we do have revelation and a clear understanding of God's will so we're not subject to the vagaries of such primitive superstition. I was reminded of an email conversation I had with a non-member friend of mine:

Me: Thanks for sharing your conversion story with me! It looks like we have a lot of similar beliefs- for instance, salvation through Christ, the reality of Christ's birth and life on earth, and the consequences of sin. You've had powerful spiritual experiences in your life, and it sounds like you are converted!

Friend: A lot in common? Well, it seems like we are saying two different things you and I. Jesus Christ? Ok! Who do you believe Jesus Is? Did your Jesus created the Heaven and the Earth and all that in them is? Including the angels and Lucifer? Is your Jesus the God of the Old Testament? What was Jesus mission on the Earth?
Can two people have a different testimony of the same person from the same Spirit?

Can two people have a different testimony of the same person from the same Spirit? It seems unlikely. I don't think Matt's claim about personal/continuing revelation is unique to the LDS religion (examples below), and when member of faith A claims to receive revelation which contradicts revelation claimed by member of faith B (say, both claim their's is the only true religion God endorses), it's reasonable to conclude that the principle of revelation or the claims of one or both persons is flawed. This contradiction also shows that person C cannot with impunity rely on the claimed revelation of A or B, but must obtain revelation, if it is necessary, for him or herself.

Therefore, if it truly is difficult to know what "The Picard" wants, it seems to make more sense to decision make using more handy ethical tools, like rational utilitarianism or at the least Kantian deontology. Otherwise you run into difficulties like obeying when one receives seemingly unGodlike commands such as "Abraham, kill your innocent son" or "Nephi, kill that defenseless man lying over there." Absent clear revelation, it's be better to evaluate those choices using deontological tools such as "I have a duty not to kill defenseless people and children" or teleological ones like "if I slay the defenseless man, I might more easily obtain the record... but on the other hand, the law will be after me... on the other hand..." etc. Deliberate practice in using these ethical approaches seems more likely to construct a skilled, advanced ethical decision maker than does a divine command theorist working off a spotty and unreliable revelation principle. (will revelation to guide me in this particular circumstance come, and if so will it be clear?) It seems that Nephi and Abraham had no trouble receiving and identifying clear, abundant, and situation-specific revelation: this condition seems much different from most of the "groping-in-the-dark" decision making I'm familiar with. So is the superior objective to get good at 1) short-cutting (skillfully getting the omniscient God to tell you the answer to all the hard problems) or 2) developing independent powers of ethical reasoning?
"In the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), continuing revelation comes from the Inner light or the light within. This light has traditionally been identified as the Spirit of Christ or Christ within, although not all Friends associate the Inner Light with Christ. It is understood as the presence of God which provides illumination and guidance to the individual and through individuals to the group."

"This dissertation entitled �€˜Knowledge, Belief .and Faith: A Comparative Study of Christian and Islamic Epistemologies�€™ is focused on an inquiry into the epistemic structure and cognitive validity of religious faith and belief. The aim of this dissertation is to compare and contrast Christian and Islamic pictures of the Divine and to investigate the conditions under which an understanding and knowledge of God occurs. The concerned questions are: How revelation, religious experience, and knowledge on testimony and trust are relevant to epistemology? How religious knowledge-claims are explained in terms of their relation to rational belief?"

"In the Western monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, revelation is the basis of religious knowledge."

Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians generally believe that Christians, especially "Spirit-filled" Christians can receive revelations from God in the form of dreams, visions, and audible or inaudible voices. They also believe that certain individuals are able to transmit revelations from God in the form of prophecy, words of knowledge, and speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues.

"Different gods in the Daoist pantheon are designated for temples which have to go through the rigour of acceptance before the contents are recognized as authorized communiques from heaven."

"Progressive revelation is a core teaching in the Bahá'í Faith that suggests that religious truth is revealed by God progressively and cyclically over time through a series of divineMessengers, and that the teachings are tailored to suit the needs of the time and place of their appearance.[3][4] "

"[Islam] shares with Judaism and Christianity the belief that the only and One God unveils himself through revelation and speaks through scriptures he has revealed to his prophets."

Authenticity and Criticism: cagefight

Story: An ex-girlfriend of mine and I had a DTR (discuss the relationship) chat a few weeks after the breakup. The ex shared her feelings of negative feelings of hurt, pointing to a number of my behaviors as triggers/causes. I, feeling defensive and criticized, shared a negative perception in return, and !voila! a criticism cycle was born. These cycles are very bad (see Leadership and Self-deception's treatment of collusion).

I believe in being transparent. It's one of my values, one that I think has value in a large number of contexts: parenting, law-making and law enforcement, relationships, transactions, and organizations are some examples. For example, in a dating context, there is usefulness in both partners being themselves rather than "acting," because 1) their experiences will be more genuine and 2) the eventual evaluation exchange will have an authentic foundation rather than a contrived one.

However, I've decided to make an exception to transparency in the area of human relations. I've decided to mostly conceal my critical views of the behaviors and attitudes of my friends.

This decision will result in attenuated authenticity, but I think the net consequence bundle is more positive than the alternatives. Generally, I think that being transparent about one's emotions is psychologically healthy. When I worked for a wilderness therapy company, the clients (in exchange for certain privileges) were required to "check in" at least three times a day. Example: "i feel frustrated. I feel this way when feeling tired on this hike. I feel this way because I think that after three months I should be able to hike just like everyone else in the group, without getting so worn out. My hope inside my control is that I will improve my fitness, and my hope outside my control is that the group will magically slow down." There was a structure, and it helped me realize how at-odds the practice of expressing authentic feelings is in our culture. Usually it's only appropriate to share one's true feelings occasionally, and then only with intimate friends. Yet, emotional experience is the substance of our lives, and we experience complex emotions at a frequency and magnitude far in excess of our expression and sharing of the same. Because I think we "figure out" our experiences more by expressing and working through them rather than bottling them up in side, I think that cultural norm causes a lot of unnecessary stultification. We should listen to and express emotions more.

However! When I listen to another's emotions when those emotions are negative and about me, I often fail to remain objective. I almost unerringly feel attacked and blamed, whether or not the blame was intended. Take the exgirlfriend story. She might have been blaming my behaviors for her hurt; she might have just been sharing the emotion of hurt. Whichever was the case, my emotions presumed the blaming scenario, which resulted in ugly feelings and behavior on my part. Presuming others experience these types of scenarios the same way I do leads me to conclude that I should usually forbear from sharing critical perceptions of others whether or not I'm actually criticizing or merely sharing emotions.

Humans can self-flagellate far beyond the bounds of justice. Example: Sarah perpetrates 10 units of thoughtlessness toward her friend Jeremy (say, she forgets he has a big test he's been studying for for weeks). She remembers the next day and is horrified and punishes herself with 10 units of guilt and shame. Then she remembers the day after than and experiences the shame, embarrassment, and guilt again- 9 units worth. The next week she recalls the situation- how could she? - another 11 units. Now she's suffered more than her crime would demand (30 units where justice demands only 10 -see Jeremy could have reminded Sarah of the fault in place of Sarah herself, with the same result. In the ex-girlfriend case, I felt that type of abuse was occurring- though I was at fault for x units, her choice to consistently react to and remind of my error caused me 5x units of punishment- for which I now feel 4x wronged that I want recompense for.

Because it is so difficult to not feel criticized when negative perceptions of you are shared by your friend, in the absence of the categories of 1) exceptional emotional safety and 2) festering resentment (in which case the experienced harm outweighs the likely harm caused by sharing the poison), I think I'll keep my negative perceptions of friends and family inside. I'll also try to remember that people say and do ugly things they wouldn't normally do when they're hurt. I'll try not to dwell on the faults and mistakes of my relational partners- it's useless to prove that they have them, because that's given. The best result from sharing them is that the partner agrees- "yeah, I guess you're right- I really do suck." That's not a conclusion you want to reinforce to your friends.

President Packer: "All of us carry excess baggage around from time to time, but the wisest ones among us don’t carry it for very long. They get rid of it.

Some of it you have to get rid of without really solving the problem. Some things that ought to be put in order are not put in order because you can’t control them.

Often, however, the things we carry are petty, even stupid. If you are still upset after all these years because Aunt Clara didn’t come to your wedding reception, why don’t you grow up? Forget it.

If you brood constantly over some past mistake, settle it—look ahead.

If the bishop didn’t call you right—or release you right—forget it.

If you resent someone for something he has done—or failed to do—forget it.

We call that forgiveness. It is powerful, spiritual medicine. The instructions for its use are found in the scriptures. "Boyd K. Packer, “The Balm of Gilead,” Ensign, Nov 1977, 59
"For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15). In our day the Lord similarly proclaimed, "My disciples . . . forgave not one another in their hearts; and . . . were afflicted and sorely chastened. Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin." (D&C 64:8-9). Forgiving others is absolutely necessary for us to receive a forgiveness of our sins."


". Let us not dwell on the critical or the negative. "

"I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort. I am not asking that all criticism be silenced. Growth comes of correction. Strength comes of repentance. Wise is the man who can acknowledge mistakes pointed out by others and change his course. I am not suggesting that our conversation be all honey and blossoms. Clever expression that is sincere and honest is a skill to be sought and cultivated.

What I am suggesting and asking is that we turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good in the land and times in which we live, that we speak of one another's virtues more than we speak of one another's faults, that optimism replace pessimism, that our faith exceed our fears.

When I was a boy our father often said to us:

Cynics do not contribute.

Skeptics do not create.

Doubters do not achieve."

"Two students of this University came to see me awhile ago. Six months earlier they had been married. They had declared their love one for another. They had pledged their loyalty one to another for time and eternity. Now, the young man came first. He was disillusioned. He was bitter. He was heartbroken. His wife, he said, did this and did that--simple little things of small consequence, such as leaving the dishes undone when she left for school in the morning. And then came his wife, a beautiful girl of great talent. She spoke of her husband's faults. He was stingy. He did not pick up his clothes. He was careless. Each had his or her faults. Every one of those faults was easily correctable. The problem lay in the fact that there was a stronger inclination to emphasize the faults than there was to talk of the virtues. With a little discipline, each could have changed. With a little desire, each could have spoken with a different tone. But neither was willing. They had permitted a negative attitude to destroy the sweetest, richest association of life. They had thrown away with careless and sour words the hopes and dreams of eternity. With criticism and shouting, they had violated the sacred promises that might have taken them on to exaltation.

My dear young friends, don't partake of the spirit of our times. Look for the good and build on it. Don't be a "pickle sucker."

Recent and relevant BYU devo:
Example excerpt: "When our spouse does something that hurts our feelings, we need to let him or her know in order to give them the opportunity to apologize and repent. That doesn’t mean that we point out every tiny weakness and mistake; to do so would violate the fundamental requirement in marriage to nurture and lift each other. But if we find that something that our partner said or did creates negative feelings that start festering and won’t go away, then it is important that we speak with our spouse and then let them know that they did something that was hurtful.

The second major obstacle to repenting of our sins and mistakes in marriage is pride. Apologizing and repenting requires us to look inward, be humble, and take responsibility for our mistakes and weaknesses. Pride is the antithesis of these virtues."

It pays to be stupid/naive/ignorant

I claim that it pays to be stupid, naive, and/or ignorant- that there's something to the "ignorance is bliss" maxim. I don't claim that the net consequence bundle (adding up all the teleological costs and benefits) is positive, but I do claim the existence of significant benefits. Two illustrations:

Illustration one: missionary A and missionary B. A and B arrived in the same mission on the same day, and six months into their service served together for two transfers. Both are obligated to be obedient, as that duty accompanies the role of a missionary. A is very bright, perceptive, thoughtful, and wields an impressive memory. B is well below average in these same categories. Missionary A senses the importance and primacy of obeying his mission president, who pronounces throughout the missionaries' two years in the field countless dozens of 1) rules and 2) guiding principles to direct the missionaries' conduct 24/7. Missionary A, the intelligent one, invests in retaining in remembrance what the mission president teaches, listens carefully to him at all zone conferences, and makes a substantial and effective effort to live in harmony with the mission president's teachings. Missionary B remembers every few months something the mission president says, but hasn't figured out the whole "intentional" thing or setting and achieving goals and pretty much just goes with the flow. A substantial proportion of missionary A's conscious focus, energy, and time is spent on the burdensome task of obedience. (Mere compliance with the objective, unforgiving daily schedule every day is itself an Atlas-level task). He knows he will be judged *according to the light he has received (more on this below) and earnestly strives to live in harmony with the principles and rules his mission president and other church authorities teach. Missionary A's dedication (some would say, mistaken dedication) to obedience becomes a hindrance to his effectiveness, as he is too preoccupied and distracted with trying to maximize his obedience to feel and heed the gentle promptings of the Spirit and sense and respond to the subtle cues that would whisper the needs of investigators to him. Conscious of the gap between his feelings/conduct and the role-imposed expectations of the same (and aware of God's awareness of his every thought and decision), his "obedience burden" exceeds by far that felt by missionary B. Thus, it pays for missionary B to be stupid/naive/ignorant because 1) he is less distracted than A and 2) he is accountable for and experiences far less burden and pressure to perform than does missionary A.

Illustration two: Michael and Jennifer have been dating. In addition to the euphoric neurochemical highs they've been receiving in their romantic love phase (which usually lasts about six months and plays out in the currency of dopamine, vasopressin, and oxytocin, among other potent chemicals- see Fisher's "Why we love: the nature and chemistry of romantic love"), they're also receiving powerful positive reinforcement from their culture and society, which valorizes marriage-bound courtship. If Michael and Jennifer have yet to question their zeitgeist (culture of their place and time), proposals, ring exchanges, and wedding planning will bring additional highs from social approbation. If, however, Michael or Jennifer or both have questioned norms (such as purchasing at great expense a diamond engagement ring) and have found some of those norms arbitrary and merit-poor, the social rewards of cultural compliance are diminished. E.g. if Jennifer thinks it makes more sense for Michael to exercise his creativity in making a creative, personalized marriage proposal rather than dropping a couple grand during a time of financial stress (family, school, and housing burdens are either there or right around the corner) on a small rock in unimaginative imitation of what everyone else does, the utility of the engagement ring ritual nose dives.

*According to the light he has received:
Alma 12: 14 For our awords will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the bmountains to fall upon us to chide us from his presence.

LDS members and indeed, all of God's children, may be condemned for what Orwell's 1984 terms "thought crimes." There is in fact a thought police "whose job it is to uncover and punish thoughtcrime. The Thought Police use psychology and omnipresent surveillance to find and eliminate members of society who are capable of the mere thought of..." - and that thought police is apparently God, whose omnipresent surveillance ensures the accurate recording of every thought you have. There is absolutely no privacy of thought- in fact, it could be successfully argued that every being who attains to the level of omniscience like God has access to every thought, feeling, impulse, and decision you've ever done or felt.

Mosiah 4:30 But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not awatch yourselves, and your bthoughts, and your cwords, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and dcontinue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.
Those who find the world of Orwell's 1984 a true dystopia would likely agree that our world, in some ways, is very much that dystopia in that it shares some elements, such as a system of thought "crime and punishment." True, such a reality manifests a hellish hue- and, presuming the veracity of such a reality, the absence of that hue resulting from naïveté is one more argument for ignorance.
1 Corinthians 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the ahidden things of darkness, and will make bmanifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
"But I was surprised to find that one golden thread of singular importance ran through this study. It was the belief that one day each of us would have to account for our actions to the Lord. Many believed that “the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.” 12 - James E. Faust, “Who Do You Think You Are?,” New Era, Mar 2001, 4

D & C 93: 31 Behold, here is the aagency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is bplainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.

32 And every man whose spirit receiveth not the alight is under condemnation.

The light will illumine the gap between your progress and where you should be. Not just the unavoidable gap between you and perfection: rather, the gap between your present conduct and feelings in a given moment and the superior feelings and conduct you should be choosing in that moment. If your intellectual advancement allows you to circumscribe the construct, it's hard to argue the absence of a gap between most any choice you make and any one of the hundreds of superior uses of your time and focus and volition realistically within your reach in the context of a given choice.
D&C 82: 3 For of him unto whom amuch is bgiven much is crequired; and he who dsins against the greater elight shall freceive the greater gcondemnation.
Rom. 4: 15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no alaw is, there is no btransgression.
Rom. 5: 13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but asin is not imputed when there is no blaw.
2 Ne. 9: 25 Wherefore, he has given a alaw; and where there is bno claw given there is no dpunishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation; and where there is nocondemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him.
D&C 45: 54 And then shall the aheathen nations be bredeemed, and they that cknew no dlaw shall have part in the efirst fresurrection; and it shall be gtolerable for them.
But for the plain manifestation of light to every man and the resulting condemnation for failing to receive ("every man whose spirit receiveth not the alight is under condemnation"), according to these scriptures it'd be better to be ignorant of the law (live in a heathen nation) and thereby be redeemed without risk of condemnation.
Learning and Wisdom are more likely to prevent than facilitate salvation: 2 Nephi 9: 28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the cfoolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.

Moro. 8: 22 For behold that all little children are aalive in Christ, and also all they that are without the blaw. For the power of credemption cometh on all them that have dno law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing—
Rom. 2: 12 For as many as have sinned without alaw shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;

Children (who are unquestionably ignorant and naive) who die before 8 get 1) instant access to celestial glory, which I've heard is a pretty nice condition, and 2) lack of Satanic temptation, (which I've heard sucks): D & C 29: 46 But behold, I say unto you, that little achildren are bredeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten; 47 Wherefore, they cannot asin, for power is not given unto Satan to btempt little children, until they cbegin to become daccountable before me; . Also D&C 45: 58 And the aearth shall be given unto them for an binheritance; and they shall cmultiply and wax strong, and their dchildren shall egrow up without fsin unto gsalvation. Or D & C 137: 10 And I also beheld that all achildren who die before they arrive at the byears of accountability are csaved in the celestial kingdom of heaven.
And last, the poetry of the lost bliss of ignorance: Rom. 7: 8-9 ... For without the alaw sin was dead.

9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

Because concepts of culpability contain a heavy teleological component (a guilty or felonious mind, did you "mean" to do it, to what degree did you intend the harm, what were the motivations- malice, self-interest?).  Thus, the more apperceptive and intentional you are, the more condemnable you are when you sin.  For instance, you could commit the same physical act (say, ignoring the Holy Ghost's prompting to volunteer at a local nursing home) and be more guilty than another who committed the same omission because you calculated what other evil you could accomplish in that time and hoped that your lack of volunteering would result in the elderly residents' misery.  Second example: you're part of a sabbath-breaking culture.  You buy some needed food at the store just like most people, but because you are always very intentional with your acts, it is because you knew there were more productive uses of your last few hours Saturday night and purposefully put off until Sunday.  The less intentional person does the same thing, but wasn't intentional enough to put off the purchase Saturday night- she just didn't think of it then.  Thus, it seems choosing an intentional lifestyle exposes one to greater culpability than choosing a more thoughtless, go-with-the-flow approach. 

See also my intention/faith/net consequence bundles blog.

Search This Blog