Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Range of plausibility; or, Does God keep the Church from appearing too true?

In conjunction with my last post, I have often heard it said that in order to test our faith, God has suppressed certain evidences of the truth of Mormonism.

No Nephite artifacts? If we had those, there would be no faith required. In fact, just about any concrete corroboration of the BoM seems to be regarded as a potentially faith-shattering event. If evidence was uncovered that a man stood on the walls of a Mesoamerican city and preached about the coming of Christ, apparently people would start signing up with the missionaries in droves. If we actually had golden plates with reformed Egyptian engravings, people would join the Church solely based on intellectual facts, not faith.

This scenario seems to have a couple problems to me. First of all, it is not at all clear to me that more people would join the Church if there was more concrete evidence of, say, the Urim and Thummim, or a close correspondence between BoM and archeological history. I guess we might get a few more converts, but Mormonism is a lifestyle, not just a historical world-view. Even if we had Laban's Sword sitting in a glass case in Temple Square and allowed it to be examined by metallurgists, people would not be chasing down the missionaries to get baptized (except maybe sword-freaks, like Ethesis).

So my question is, does the Lord really suppress favorable evidence just to make it harder to be a Mormon and thus increasing our requisite faith? Would the Lord allow some damaging, false information to come out, knowing that it would destroy the faith of some? It seems to me that hypothetically, if certain information is so damaging that it destroys the faith of some, that it is an involuntary response. Perhaps we can force ourselves to believe certain things simply through sheer will-power, but it doesn't strike me as a particularly good thing or Christ-like. Would we be blamed if we stopped believing?

Why would the Lord try to confuse us in this way? It is my contention (sure to be controversial) that if we allow certain troubling things to damage our testimony, that it isn't really our fault. Would we really blame Abraham if he stopped believing in God after he was told to kill Isaac? It seems like good sense to me that any God that required the murder of your son, probably wasn't the real God.

I wish it were easier to believe. I'm not entirely sure that it's my fault though.


jeff g said...

Such excuses, as opposed to doctrines, play right into the hands of the likes of Richard Dawkins who accuses religionists of making a virtue out of ignorance. The faith that is really a virtue, by his account of religion, is not only belief with a lack of evidence, but is belief in spite of evidence. What could make theists look more stupid than that actually being true, and their defending such definitions implicitly?

Frank McIntyre said...


I don't know what part of belief any given person is responsible for. Belief is a gift of God bestowed according to His plan, with some caveats that it comes through our asking for it and our obedience.

But I would rank the "veil of forgetfulness" as evidence number one that God does deliberately and actively hide information from us that would make it easier to believe. Given that, I see no reason why He would not do the same with some other physical or logical evidences as He saw fit.

NFlanders said...

Interesting point, Jeffrey. I'd have to agree that I don't see anything too great about believing against all evidence. It seems dangerous (and I think many Mormons would agree on this point).

Frank-- Interesting point. However, I would say that it presupposes that we somehow could retain our knowledge from the pre-existence, which I don't think is possible.

I think this is a challenge to all religions, not just Mormonism. If you really are the path to God, why hasn't he made it more clear? Some deal with this by saying there are many paths to God, you just have to find one of the many, but I don't see that in the future of Mormonism.

Jared* said...

Another argument is that the lack of conversion is the problem. Many people would not change in spite of the evidence--thus they would be under greater condemnation.

In multiple places the scriptures tell us that we are being tested. Believing against all evidence may be foolish, but it also depends on what counts as evidence.

will said...

Ned, I think this is one of those questions for which there is no tenable apologetic answer. Of course, that won't keep people from coming up with answers anyway.

RoastedTomatoes said...

Ned, this is a great question. It's really not about Mormonism in particular, of course, since it directly touches on all religious belief in general. God, after all, never shows up for worship service. Hence, we are led to conclude either that He doesn't exist at all or that He withholds some evidence from us for some reason.

Ann said...

Woo-hoo, I am on a roll tonight! Here is a great cartoon about how God reveals himself to humans:
Tom the Dancing Bug: God-Man in...His Mysterious Ways

Stephen said...

The real point is that God reveals himself all the time and people still don't believe.

Take 12-step programs. Much of what goes on is an appeal to God while trying not to necessarily acknowledge God.

The process is fascinating.

Hmm, I need to link to this blog if I'm going to keep visiting.

m said...

hi ned, long time no see...

i for one think that true belief is largely involuntary. it's something that happens to you, although i believe that one's hopes and desires can play into it. either you believe or you don't, but you don't really choose which way you lean.

for me ceasing to believe in mormonism was a pretty abrupt thing, it pretty much just happened. if it happens to be true i don't think that god would blame me for not believing anymore, there is so much out their to make the church seem implausible that disbelief is quite a rational reaction.

sure, perhaps god did hide any evidence of nephites/gold plates/a global flood around 5,000 years ago/jaredites/the adamic language being the only language up until the tower of babel/the garden of eden at adam-ondi-ahman/etc. just to test our faith. any maybe dinosaur bones are there just to test our faith as well. i suppose that it could be possible, but is it at all rational, or is it something that someone would say because they don't have any real answers to why there is no evidence for any of those things?

Anonymous said...

how's that thing go, you shall receive no witness until after a trial of your faith? And isn't a trial of faith just a damn good reason not to believe?

the angry m

rick said...

If God does indeed keep too much truth from being revealed, why do apologists continue to search for corroborating evidence of the book of mormon?

It would make no sense.
Have faith, or don't.
There's no point trying to explain someone into believing if this premise holds true.

mellancollyeyes said...

I agree with you Ned that evidence isn't enough to make a believer out of people. I mean, there are lots of things that there are proof for but people still refuse to believe it. However, if I look at it in a non-religious sense, I'd blame the person who didn't believe in the factual evidence as being stubborn. For example, the KKK to be extreme. There are still members of the KKK that believe that black people are less intelligent, unable to live with whites, etc, despite all sorts of evidence to the contrary. I just throw up my hands and think, "Morons." becuase some people refuse to believe even when the evidence is slapping them in the face. So, I would agree that evidence won't necessarily make believers come forth.

However, it's interesting when you look at the reverse to see the evidence that appears to contradict faithful members' beliefs. I am often confronted with things that rub me wrong in regards to the church. However, the more I look at the things that supposedly are from "God" the more I wonder if they are just silly, man-made, cultural things. For example, God apparently wants all women to be mothers and stay at home, according to the church. There is nothing more important that a woman can do other than pop out kids and God frowns on women who willingly choose to do otherwise, according to the chuch. So, apparently, God also doesn't like women voting (without the women who refused to have children or stay at home, the suffrage movement wouldn't have ever started), God disapproves of Mother Theresa's decision to become a nun, never marry or have children, and to devote herself to helping people, God doesn't like Madame Curie and her important work in the sciences, God doesn't want women in poliitcal roles, God doesn't want women CEOs or philanthropists. God doesn't really want women to do anything other than be a housewife, even if the woman would be miserable in that role.

This never sat very well with me. Why would God create women with such intelligence, skills, talents, ideas, and give them hopes and aspirations of being lawyers, doctors, politicians, etc, only to tell them, "Ok, forget the fact that you are an incredibly sharp political mind with the ability to create a working healthcare system that will make sure every man, woman, and child in America has adequate heatlh coverage--get your butt into the kitchen!"

Looking at prophet after prophet talk and the roles that women are expected to take on in the church, this is really what the Church would believe is the role of women and what God wants for women. We have proof that God wants this because His divinely inspired prophets tell us.

Um, no. I don't think so. Proof or not, we have to remember that this is a church that is run by men. Inspired men, yes. But men nonetheless. We DO NOT believe the prophet is infalliable. He can and does make mistakes. He's not Christ. He's going to screw up. He's going to get things wrong. The apostles are too, as well as every other church leader out there. Whether proof comes in or not to chip away at members' beliefs, I think it's important to remember that this is a church run by men. When things don't make sense, it doesn't always mean that that is what God wants or that our originally held belief was right.

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But that doesn't always mean we get the message right, yesterday, today, and forever, nor does it mean that we always interpret the messages and the proof correctly. I think a lot of the time, HF is up there, head in hand, shaking his head and thinking, "No, that's NOT what I meant at all!"

I think the trick is to look objectively at things, proof, opinions, etc, that are given to us through men and women that lead us. Not everything makes sense. That doesn't mean that the church is wrong, or that HF isn't real. It means that people run the church and people eff things up all the time.

There are many things which haven't sat well with me. I pray about them. I talk to people about them. I search out answers until I feel I've got some sort of response. Sometimes this takes awhile. But there have been things that I have not accepted into my schema of church doctrine, even when it seems like all the proof points otherwise. I don't have a conflict of faith because if it really doesn't feel right, I pray about it and seek out answers. It's not a quick response, by any means. But, I figure that whatever doesn't have a solid answer here will once I get to meet HF.

The best I can do now is use a reasonable filter to check what's being presented to me against what feels right. We're big on "feelings" in this church--burning bosoms and all. If it doesn't feel right, and I search out answers in a righteous manner, and it still doesn't feel right, I just skip over it.

Not everything that is presented as doctrine always is...

Stephen said...

Since Brigham Young we have had prophets teach that women make just as good of doctors, lawyers and accountants as men ....

Interestingly enough, in the Bible it talks about Noah's grandson who divided the land with the gentiles, after their languages, long before Babel. That struck me this time through, fitting the theory of a limited flood, and the Pearl of Great Price lands about how there were many lands, and each land was a world, and the history in the Bible is the history of this world (this land, meaning a very narrow area) only.

I think often that we hide what the scriptures are really saying from ourselves.

Noah's family ran into people who did not speak the same language as they did while he was still alive, and they divided the land with them (that is, they agreed on boundaries with them).