Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Light That Has Been Given

I have been doing a great deal more reading than writing in the sphere of LDS blogs, lately. Primarily, I have not had time to write, or even to post as much as I would like. Also, however, I have lost the desire to contribute comments to posts. I don't feel that my comments really matter. People seem to be pretty cemented in their views, and quite hostile if you disagree with them.

One such view that has recently struck me is an overall tenet or argument against belief. Those using this argument have repeatedly suggested that no one can claim a knowledge of the truth because someone else could claim knowledge of a truth that is different or opposite to the original claim. Not only is this argument disingenuous, it is a religious belief disguised as reason used by many agnostics and atheists.

First, to examine a claim to knowledge of the truth. From a secular standpoint, knowledge is the act of knowing something. Know, by the word's very nature, indicates an understanding of something through reason or experience. If one is to claim that it is impossible to know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for example, is true, one would have to claim that it is impossible to know anything. Though true in its most basic sense, that conclusion is useless, leaving one in a state where learning is meaningless, since one can never know if they are learning absolute Truth. Since we are imperfect beings in an imperfect world (something even atheists can probably agree with) we are bound by that imperfection, and must learn to function within its bounds. If we are to reject all learning and knowledge on the basis that it may not be true, we stagnate in a state of self-satisfaction and voluntary ignorance. Therefore, the claim that someone cannot know the truth of anything is a useless statement. I find it interesting that those who summon this relativistic reasoning are almost always blind to the correlation that they cannot know that the other person doesn't know!

Secondly, let us look at the faults in the supposition that a seeker of truth must take others' answers into account. Let's say, for example, that I have sought for truth by seeking out a true religion. I have found a church, studied its tenets, earnestly prayed for confirmation from God and have received my answer that it is true. With some variation, this is the method religious texts have submitted to find truth over thousands of years. Many have claimed to find truth through this method.

Now, let's suppose another person does the same thing and receives an answer that the same church is not true. The argument would claim that the first person's confirmation of truth is invalid because the second person had the opposite experience. I would first ask myself why the first person should be expected to doubt his experiences based on the experiences of a second? The first person can't judge the sincerity of the second truth-seeker. The first person can't know God's motives in giving the second person their negative answer, assuming that the second person really did receive that answer from God. Most importantly, the second person's answer is not the answer the first person received. That may seem obvious, but think about the implications. Those claiming that truth cannot be known would seem to be telling the first person that they should believe another's answer over their own. When examined this way, it seems obvious that this is nothing but a ploy to cast doubt on an individual's own ability to seek and understand truth.

We are all human, with the same ability and responsibility to seek light, knowledge and truth. We have the same potential to receive spiritual confirmation. We have the same "chances" of finding the truth. In the end, we will be judged on the answers we have sought and received from the Lord, not on another's. In other words, If it seems stupid to you to claim a knowledge of a truth, if it seems necessary to believe that you can never know what is true and what is not, do what you will, but as for me, I choose to seek the light by the methods I know to be right.


  1. I haven't had a chance to read all of this yet as I realized that I do not have the concentration level for something quite so in depth at the moment. I do hope that you will comment in places where your views are well-received such as blogger of jared. That place builds community. If you are trying to change someone, you are right that chances are that you are lucky if you can even shift their thinking. Having your own blog, is a great place to express your views. I generally just try to avoid blogs that I don't think are good for me to read. I think that is best. For some, it may serve a purpose. I don't think it would be good for me. Did I ever mention that I am wordy. I can talk a lot even when I don't have much concentration.

  2. I read it now. I agree that one should not abandon a confirmation of truth that they have received on the basis of another's claim of the opposite. As you pointed out, you do not know that person's sincerity. I look at it this way. If we are to find the truth, God would have to provide a way for us to find the truth of anything required to return to him. If knowing Jesus Christ is our Lord who died for our sins is necessary for our salvation, God would need to provide away for those who were not there to put their hands in the wholes of his hands. While Jesus was still in his Earthly ministry, Peter professed a testimony of Jesus. Jesus told him that God revealed this truth. If it is necessary to have saving ordinaces such as baptism by those in authority, God would have a way for us to know what Church holds that authority to seal on Earth what has been sealed in heaven. I should say that is how I feel God would work in order to be a just and fair God. I am grateful for the times when I have received a confirmation of the truths of the Restored Gospel.

  3. I'm working through this very thing, and I'm glad you've written your view.

  4. I wouldn't say it's a wast of time to comment on blogs just because people are set in their beliefs and unlikely to change their minds. One can gain insights by discussing and exchanging ideas even if none of the participants in the discussion ends up changing his/her fundamental position.

    I disagree with the suggestion that "no one can claim a knowledge of the truth because someone else could claim knowledge of a truth that is different or opposite to the original claim" represents the atheist's position. It's a little more nuanced than that: I'd say that I don't think prayer and spiritual witness are a good means of determining facts about objective reality because spiritual witness doesn't lead people to the same (or even compatible) conclusions.

    I think it's reasonable to believe (even know) things about objective reality through experiments where people have an objective measure of whether the initial conditions are fulfilled and the results can be consistently reproduced.

  5. Thank you, everyone, for commenting.

    Barb - I think it is good to self-analyze and determine whether or not a certain blog is helping or hurting you. I don't like how some people who do so verbalize specifics. In other words, they say "I don't go to {insert blog name here} because they are detrimental to my eternal salvation." I don't think it is necessary to say so, even if it is true.

    woundedhart - welcome! I'm glad you're reading and commenting here.

    C.L. Hansen - It's not that I expect people to change their views because of my comments, it is that I expect them to disagree respectfully. I also expect them to try their best to see different points of view rather than say "this is what I believe, you are wrong, neener-neener-neener," which is often the reaction on both sides of the political fence. It's hard to want to jump down from the fence when there are ravenous bulls on both sides!

    You are a very well-thought out and articulate atheist. I believe you do see the nuances you are explaining, though I feel that many atheists/agnostics do not. Many people believe there is no God, or believe the existence of God cannot be determined because that is the popular opinion or because they are too lazy to try to discover for themselves. I can respect atheism/agnosticism from a well-thought-out perspective. I cannot respect laziness or submission to popular opinion.

    That being said, I'll submit this thought for you to mull over. With the physical world, science is the means to discover truth. It is easy to see how the hard sciences relate to hard realities. However, with more complicated, varied things such as mental health and behavioral science, the methods are much more weighted towards probabilities and tendencies because we don't really understand how they work. I suggest that spiritual truth is one step further in the complication scale.

    Not only do we each have to find our way to God/truth in our own way, we are naturally spiritually blind as we are doing it. Perhaps if we compared it to quantum physics, what I am saying would make more sense. Quantum physics is the study of particles too small to see and almost too small to measure. We "see" them by looking at the effects they have on their environment. (This is hopefully not oversimplified.) Compare that to spiritual truth. We "see" the truths of the spirit by the effects they have on people.

    Now, let us hypothesize for reasons of illustration. Say there is a spiritual "particle" out there that can affect any person. As these particles hit us, they leave different paths depending on what sort of spiritual substance we are made of. For some, the spiritual particles may leave great swaths in our spirits. For others, they may leave hardly a dent.

    It would be wrong to say that because these spiritual particles affect some substances/environments (people) differently than others that we cannot study and measure them, that they are too inconsistent for us to study or know.

    I believe this is the case. When we study the answers various people receive to their questions, we are studying the effects of spiritual enlightenment, not the actual enlightenment itself. Unfortunately, unlike quantum physics, we have no good way of measuring the amount of spiritual influence or enlightenment a person has actually received. We can only measure that in ourselves because only we know what we truly feel and know.

    In LDS scripture, Alma gives us a method to test spiritual effects in our own spirits. With some exceptions, we cannot judge the sincerity of this process in another person, but that doesn't matter. All that really matters to us is what is in our own spiritual world. I am saying that although you can compare your answers to another's, you cannot judge the truth of yours on another's because there is no way for you to measure another person's truth.

    I believe that Truth - that God - is bigger than any of us can understand. He wasn't kidding when he said that his ways are not ours. He may actually give different people different answers depending on their current spiritual needs. We can't measure objective reality because we are not capable of really being objective while in a mortal state.

    I don't think that anyone can be responsible for the answer another receives any more than one person can follow the instructions given to another person to navigate from their own house to the store.

    If the Lord actually told (the general) you to go a certain direction or if you deceived yourself into believing that is the answer, is only for you to judge, not me. I can't see well enough to help you see.

  6. Silver Rain, what is good or bad for me may not have the same effect on others so I am careful not to name names or prejudice people against something that I do not like. I will often drop names of blogs that I like though. :)

  7. I agree with you on the point about being civil. Regarding your quantum physics analogy, on some level I feel like you're making this more complicated than necessary, and the fact that there's no objective measure in your system is a bit of a problem. Yet I'll grant that this is a new argument I haven't heard before (which you probably know is a high compliment in the debate over the existence/nonexistence of God ;^) ), so I will contemplate it.

  8. Barb - I try to do the same. I once had my sidebar mention all the blogs I visited, but I've narrowed it down to my favorites; the ones I can endorse.

    C.L. Hansen - Thanks, I think! :D

    It's true there is no objective measurement of spiritual effect, but I think that is by design. If one could prove, objectively, the accuracy of a spiritual experience, fewer people would have the experience of figuring out things on their own. I think it's supposed to be a journey more than a destination.

    Also, if you look at it a certain way, there isn't a purely objective observer in physics, either. The data is still open to the interpretation of the scientist. It is more objective, but is primarily an issue of degree.


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