Latter-day Saints are equipped to confront atheism

From the Deseret News story in 2017 by Hyrum Lewis.

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In recent decades, anti-religion books have become best-sellers, the culture has become increasingly secular, and religious affiliation has declined among the population. There are many reasons for this rise in atheism, but it is not because atheists have advanced good arguments. They haven’t.

The basic atheist objection to belief in God is that we don’t see him, but this assumes — for no reason at all — that knowledge comes exclusively through sight. Most religious people believe that revelation — scriptures, personal inspiration or living prophets — can give knowledge just as sight, sound or touch can. Many Latter-day Saints believe in God not necessarily because they have seen him, but because they know through spiritual witness that he is real.

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Atheists don’t take such spiritual experiences at face value, but instead dismiss them as mere illusions — tricks played on us by the brain. The mind evolved to believe nonsense, says the atheist, so we can just discard spiritual experiences accordingly.

But notice that by saying our brains are powerful deception machines, atheists have undercut the validity of the science that forms the very basis of their worldview. If we can dismiss spiritual experiences (such as “feeling the Holy Ghost”) by appealing to brain chemistry, we can also dismiss sensory experiences in the same way and for the same reasons. If our brains are built to trick us, why should we trust anything they tell us, including the evidence for evolution, relativity or any other scientific theory? When it comes to spiritual experiences, the atheist refers to the brain as an all-powerful deception machine; when it comes to science, the atheist refers to the brain as an all-powerful truth machine.

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The atheist claim that “we don’t see God” is also false. The scriptures and LDS traditions are full of accounts of people who have seen, heard or even touched God. Why are atheists willing to accept sensory evidence when it comes to science, but not when it comes to religion? It would appear that, for the atheist, the “seeing is believing” rule only counts when it supports their worldview.

Also note that atheists themselves believe in many things they can’t see. Atheists generally believe in moral principles, but when has anyone ever seen these entities called “good” and “evil”? If our experiences of God are “just feelings” that we can ignore, then why aren’t our experiences of right and wrong also “just feelings” that we can likewise ignore? “Moral” is simply a name we give to certain behaviors we prefer, but isn’t our preference for them, like our belief in God, just a product of evolution that we can now disregard?

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Science works on the principle of falsifiability, but no scientist is willing to falsify morals in the face of new evidence. It’s inconceivable that a scientist would look into a microscope and declare, “I’ve just falsified the theory that murder is wrong.” Since no atheists are willing to falsify their morals, this is evidence that they do exactly what they charge religious people with doing: believing in things for which there is no empirical scientific evidence.

Another common atheist argument says that God can’t exist because he would not allow the suffering and wickedness that are so prevalent in the world. While other Christian denominations teach that God created us from nothing, Latter-day Saints believe that our intelligence and agency are co-eternal with God. This means that God respects our free will. We played a role in coming to earth, with all the risks that entailed.

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We also have the ability to choose, even if we abuse it. If we choose greed, we reap the unhappiness of materialism; if we choose selfishness, we reap the unhappiness of loneliness; if we choose substance abuse, we reap the unhappiness of addiction; if we choose indolence, we reap the unhappiness of poverty. God could not stop this suffering without depriving us of our agency. Human choices explain much (perhaps most) of the suffering in the world.

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Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must remember that everyone, atheists included, have faith. Humans are wired for worship and we all seek out dogmas that give our lives direction. Our choice is not whether to worship, but what to worship.

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Notice, for instance, that nearly all atheists who ridicule the idea of faith, themselves gravitate to secular faiths such as Marxism, progressivism, humanism, postmodernism, scientism, libertarianism or other such “isms.” Each is based on dogmas that require leaps of faith.

While atheism has grown in America over the past generation, this is not because it has solid arguments behind it. Latter-day Saints are equipped with religious truths that can help them refute even the strongest atheist claims.

How the West Really Lost God

I’ll share a few videos about demographics and the interrelationships between faith and family. No faith often results in no marriage and no children. No marriage often results in no faith. The 2 — marriage and faith — rise and fall together.

Mary reports that Scandinavia — the most secular region in the world — has both little faith and few families. 40-50% of homes have a single occupant. And these are not all widows and widowers. Few are marrying.

Faith and family formation seems to go hand in hand.

Mary disputes the notion of believers vs unbelievers. All believers are people of some faith. Just what do they put their faith in?

This video is a more recent speech by Mary Eberstadt. She discusses the competition paganism — a rival faith — feels toward religion.

Faith, Reason, and Spiritual Experience

Wonderful perspectives with Blake Ostler.

Topics Discussed:

• Epistemology of Religious Experience
• The Distinctive Mormon Epistemic Practices
• Faith, Evidence and Reason

Among many other ideas, Blake makes the point that we should trust our spiritual experiences just as we would trust our senses. He states that we’re hard wired to be spiritual. That God has implanted within us a spiritual compass we can follow when we’re faithful.

Bruce and Marie Hafen: Understanding and Navigating Stages of Faith, Pt. 1

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Awesome podcast.

They discuss the class — Religious Problems — they took at BYU decades ago.  The format was that each student would introduce a topic about a “controversial” topic.

Topics included church history, Joseph’s polygamy, race and priesthood, living one’s religion, having the spirit, etc.

We should be able to discuss these things — doubt, faith, questions — in the open.  And learn from these topics.

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The Hafens gave a topic at BYU-Hawaii:  “Faith is Not Blind” and wrote a book with the same title.

 

 

Scientism: the (irrational) Faith of Many Atheists

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I recently completed my Google Slides presentation here.

Science isn’t in conflict with religion.  Instead, the problem is with Scientism: the irrational believe that Science is the only source of truth.

Scientism (and not Science) conflicts with religion and many other fields.

Jim Bennett Responds (again) to the CES Letter

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Jim Bennett, son of late US Senator from Utah, wrote a reply to the CES Letter in 2016.
Jim is an incredibly witty, entertaining, and talented writer. Not only were the answers helpful, but it was a joy to read, given Jim’s wonderful style.
 
Many of us know Latter-day Saints who have recently struggled with their faith, especially when unprepared and facing down a huge list of criticisms and unfamiliar context. 
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Drinking from a critic’s fire hose isn’t a good idea.  It’s best to get help and to see a line-by-line response to critics’ claims.  Jim provides helpful answers and insights for those sincerely seeking answers.
 
Jim updated his response here to this anti-Mormon PDF and released the update today.
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To review other scholars’ responses click here.   The answers to LDS critics are scholarly, fair, exonerating, and voluminous.

Is Faith Compatible with Reason?

Great podcast!  Faith is reasonable.  And is a choice.

Abstract: In this article I argue that faith is not only rationally justifiable but also inescapable simply because our decisions regarding ultimate questions must necessarily be made under conditions of objective uncertainty. I review remarks by several prominent thinkers on the subject — both avowed atheists and several writers who have addressed the challenge implicit in issues related to faith and reason. I end my discussion by citing William James, who articulated clearly the choices we must make in addressing these “ultimate questions.”

Is Faith Compatible with Reason?

Peterson likely used notes from this talk in this debate with Michael Shermer.  Many of his points and some stories appear identical:

Reason and Revelation

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Super talk by Noel B. Reynolds.  You can read or listen to it here.

Subtopics:

– INFLUENCE OF THE SPIRIT

SENTIMENTALISM VS. SPIRIT

– DISCERNMENT IMPORTANT

– LIGHT OF CHRIST

– USEFULNESS OF REASON

– THE ROLE OF SIN

– CONFIDENCE IN THE LORD

– GUIDELINES TO KEEP FAITH

– INTELLECT AND FAITH

A wonderful quote:

“Too much of the literature used, seen, and quoted in the Church today is just sentimental trash which is designed to pull our heartstrings or moisten our eyes, but it is not born of true spiritual experience. The tendency of our youth to use sentimental stories in Church talks creates a culture of spiritual misunderstanding in which thinking and learning are discouraged.”

Partisan, Uninformed Zeal vs. Balance, Reason, and Prudent Use of Data

Do you always believe everything negative about Hillary?  What about the bad news about Trump?  Immediately believe such news?

You shouldn’t.  Everyone is wrong and makes mistakes.  Trump makes lots.  So does Hillary.  Some policies each proposes are bad.  All aren’t good.  We should use balance, reason, and prudence to discern what is good and what is bad — not parrot like an uninformed, zealous partisan.

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We find people debating every social, religious, and political issue every day.   On Facebook.  On blogs.  On TV.  At work.  Those in these debates can usually be placed on a continuum of reason vs. blind faith.  On a continuum of information and data vs. data-free emotion.

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Atheists may have blind faith in their positions with no basis in fact.  Theist also may have blind faith with no basis in fact.  Your co-worker may be entirely emotional and not study any issues.  A neighbor may never be emotional and have every fact in the Universe memorized.  Everyone relies on some amount of faith and then an individual amount of facts.

We don’t know everything, so we gotta have faith in many areas of life.  But to rely solely on emotion or blind faith isn’t a good approach, in my view.  Instead, to we should gather all available data to make the most-informed decision possible.

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I’ve noticed that many LDS critics fall into this category — partisan, uniformed zealots — on many topics.  They rush to judgment when an LDS official is accused of wrongdoing, for example (this has occurred recently online).  Indeed, in my experience zealous LDS critics often assume the worst when the topic involves Joseph Smith or current leaders.  More data or context isn’t needed.  No way!  They “know” the truth, and their mind’s made up.

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This tendency — to assume the worst without evidence — is indicative of a problem.  A lack of balance and sense of proportion.  A willingness to be ignorant.  Perhaps lacking understanding that they’re, in fact, ignorant.  But being ignorant, nevertheless.

A commitment to a cause — be it Trump, Hillary, the LDS Church, etc — that is not based in reality.  But in large amounts of emotion.

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Critics of the Church (or any organization that is being unfairly maligned) often withhold exculpatory information.  This means, information that would exonerate or free of wrongdoing is intentionally withheld.  This is dishonest.

Remember the Duke Lacrosse case?  The lacrosse players hired a stripper.  Bad idea. But they didn’t rape her, as she later claimed.  The District Attorney assigned to the case stretched out the case longer than he should of, and used it as a way to get reelected.

It turned out, the DA also withheld evidence that would have freed the boys and avoided ruining their reputations (and lives for a few years).  That is, he buried exculpatory evidence.  He was disbarred (lost his law license) for this action.

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These kinds of practices are dishonest, unethical, and a form of misrepresentation.  Fair-minded people need to weigh the evidence.  They should see the often weak claims — especially in light of more data and context — as undermining of a critic’s position.  Waiting and researching prevents quick, rash, overreactions.

Of course, Mormons can also be immensely defensive and not follow the facts.  They shouldn’t.  Latter-day Saints should follow the evidence and increase their testimony.  After all, we embrace all truth!

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Mormon leaders have not and never will be perfect.  Neither have biblical leaders or leaders of any organization now or in history been perfect.  But, as unfamiliar issues and controversies arise, let’s gather all the possible associated data before we throw out the baby with the proverbial bathwater.

If you’re too quick at either activity — to defend or to accuse —  rather than gather the evidence fully, you might fall into the zealot camp.  An overzealous and uninformed fan with lacks proportion, balance, and all the context.

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So, if you’re an absolute, fully committed, all-in Trump, Hillary die hard, LDS critic, or uninformed partisan for the LDS faith you might want to evaluate your positions and look at more data before you jump to the defense of your candidate or annihilation of your opponent.

My experience is that the vast, vast majority of Latter-day Saints don’t rob, steal, or assault sexually (or otherwise).  However, some do.  And our past leaders were good men.  And our religious practices took place in a real, historical context that takes time to appreciate.  So, as we learn, let’s hear all sides, allow for due process, and not rush to judgment.

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And when questions arise relative to items in LDS history, please take the time to do the research.  You shouldn’t immediately trust LDS critics, nor should you exclusively trust what your Uncle Bob might say about our own history (even if he’s an active member).  Study things on your own.  Weigh the evidence.  And strive for balance and prudent understanding.

The best route is to follow the advise given in this podcast:  always consider the best in other faiths and groups.  Don’t knock down their weakest point.  Appreciate their strongest point!

Episode 32: Balancing Religious Tensions – Mauro Properzi

As we learn, we should consider a few ideas in the below video (start at 16:30 mark to avoid long introduction and personal anecdotes):