A Brief Conversation About Belief

Sir Poach-a-Lot: Is belief objective, or subjective?

SuperGenius: This is age-old Fideism we’re talking about. Luther said: “All the articles of our Christian faith, which God has revealed to us in His Word, are in presence of reason sheerly impossible, absurd, and false.”

Sir P: Sometimes the scriptures act like belief should be objective. Such as Alma to Korihor: “look at the evidence, bonehead.” It implies an objective view. If it were wholly subjective, why refer to evidence? Just say, “Believe”!

SG: You can’t deny objective evidence. The fact that Korihor denies means that it’s not objective.

Sir P: Why use evidence at all, then? Why FARMS?

SG: Excellent question. Mormonism makes certain truth claims. For some members, the religion relies on those for validity. But, like I said at BCC — if all someone can do is dwell on the confusing aspects of Church history, it’s no wonder some people aren’t happy. Doubt and confusion will likely plague you in these matters until you die.

Sir P: For some people, the semblance of objective belief is what they need to build a subjective belief.

SG: Yes.

Sir P: But at the core, it’s all subjective.

76 comments for “A Brief Conversation About Belief

  1. Ray
    September 17, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    “You can’t deny objective evidence. The fact that Korihor denies means that it’s not objective.”

    Kaimi, that is one of the most brilliant statements, in one of the most brilliant posts, I have read in a long time.

  2. Bob
    September 17, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    #1: Boy Ray, that doesn’t say much for the other posts! I thought Kaimi had another one that was a little better. and I read one of your’s I thought top it!

  3. Bob
    September 17, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    I am going to try a Kaimi-like post: A man with a watch always knows what time it is, a man with two watches is never sure.

  4. Mike
    September 17, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/matt/16/15-17#15. Clearly, there is a place for reason, but I agree that in the end we can only know the truth through revelation.

  5. Kaimi Wenger
    September 17, 2007 at 10:20 pm

    Thanks, Ray. I’m glad you appreciated it. (Though don’t you think that Sir P had a few worthwhile statements, too?)

    Both of these characters are based on real bloggernacle figures. The conversation may or may not have actually taken place, via instant message. It all depends on whether your viewpoint is objective or subjective . . .

  6. Bob
    September 17, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    #4: All truth comes though revelation(?) If four people believe (honestly), in four different things, do we just accept that, or do we look for some ‘objectivity’ in ‘reason’ or ‘facts’?

  7. Ray
    September 17, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    Sorry, Kaimi, I have been distracted watching Bob’s literalism bang heads with this post. I tried to reconcile #6 as a critique of #4 – but, I admit, it wasn’t nearly as fun as reading the original post three or four times in rapid succession, so I reverted back to that. They both tie my brain into knots, but I actually enjoy having it tied in knots by your post — Monty Python-esque.

    Perhaps Sir P’s statements are worthwhile, but I laugh so hard every time I read “You can’t deny objective evidence. The fact that Korihor denies means that it’s not objective” that I just can’t give Sir P the credit I’m sure he deserves. Intensely dense humor does that to me – and feel free, Bob, to misinterpret that adjective if you so desire.

  8. Ray
    September 17, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    Kaimi, just to make sure, is plagiarism on that other blog a serious offense on this one?

  9. Bob
    September 17, 2007 at 11:01 pm

    #7 & others: Sorry I missed the inside joke between between the two of you. I am not a Monty Phthon guy. I must catch up.

  10. September 17, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    Folks deny objective evidence all the time. I’m surprised you’d say that if it is objective it can’t be denied. There’s a big difference between objective and indubitable. Unless you’re adopting a very Cartesian approach to belief.

  11. Sarah
    September 17, 2007 at 11:19 pm

    Please tell me I’m not the only one for whom more than half of that conversation made no sense.

  12. Ray
    September 17, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    Sarah, I think it’s safe to say that. *Please, please, please* don’t take any offense at this, since I mean absolutely no disrespect whatsoever, but when I read #11 I laughed so hard I cried for about 10 minutes.

  13. Kaimi Wenger
    September 17, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    Well, Sarah, let me try.

    Mr. Evans and I were discussing the nature of faith and belief. Is belief objective? That is, is it equally applicable to everyone the same way? Suppose that Steve gains faith in God by analyzing five logical claims in a sequence. If we can show that everyone who looks at that logic chain gains faith — or reasonably should gain faith — then we have an objective way of gaining belief.

    On the other hand, what if we have very different ways of gaining faith? Perhaps Steve gains faith by looking at a magical amulet. But I gain faith by dancing a ritual dance. Steve will not gain faith from the dance, and I will not gain it from the amulet. Each method of gaining faith is highly personal. In that case, faith-gaining would be a subjective event — highly specific to each individual.

    Some things about the scriptures suggest something like an objective basis for faith. That is, Alma says to Korihor, in effect, “the planetary orbits tell me that God exists. They should tell you that God exists, too.” Alma is telling Korihor that Korihor should be able to obtain faith in the same way that Alma did — by looking at planetary orbits, and following the logic chain from there. Alma seems to be assuming an objective basis for faith. Follow the same steps, and you will get there.

    Similarly, some aspects of modern church dialog suggest an objective basis for faith. If you pray about the Book of Mormon, you’ll receive a witness. This works the same for everyone. It is objective.

    On the other hand, much about the process is subjective. The personal nature of the witness makes it hard to explain. We can say that we received a witness of the truth of the Book of Mormon. But can we say how? It ultimately comes down to feelings, which are themselves subjective. I can’t let Steve or Nate feel my feelings after prayer.

    Which raises the question. If faith is really subjective, then why do we have these nods towards an objective faith? If it’s all about personal, internal, intuitive experience, then why do we have FARMS scholars assembling articles that are basically evidences (physical, archeological) of the Book of Mormon or of other claims of Mormonism? Can they ever prove or demonstrate anything that matters? (If it’s all personal and subjective — how could they?)

    One answer that I suggest is that, for different people, the process of arriving at subjective faith — of receiving a personal and customized witness — is aided by different devices. And for some, it is aided by objective-seeming evidences. The evidences look like true objective evidences, the sort we would use to prove something objectively. But they’re not really evidences intended to prove objective faith. Instead, they’re another route that allows some people to arrive at their own subjective faith. This is because the subjective process varies so much. For me it may be a dance, for Steve an amulet, and maybe for Nate, the FARMS Review. The FARMS Review may have various “look at the cool chiasmus” or “look at old archeological sites” articles, that look like evidences in a logic chain. But they’re really just alternative touchstones, to facilitate the gaining of subjective faith, for people who approach subjective faith from that particular direction.

  14. Kaimi Wenger
    September 17, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    Steve’s comment — “The fact that Korihor denies means that it’s not objective” — is spot on.

    Alma suggests that Korihor should be able to simply follow the same logic chain. Planets, orbits, God. It all follows. Alma is telling Korihor that he should be able to acquire an objective faith, through the same steps.

    But weirdly, Korihor is right. You _can’t_ just follow the logic chain inexorably from planets to God. It _doesn’t_ necessarily follow. It _can_, yes — but it can also lead in other directions. (Just ask modern folks like Dawkins.)

    For Alma, the logic works. But that’s _not_ because it’s an objective and convincing chain of reasoning. It’s because Alma received a personal, spiritual confirmation. That confirmation happened to come to him through a logic chain. But without that confirmation, the logic chain itself is not really enough to establish faith.

  15. September 17, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    Clark, for purposes of this discussion I’d argue that something objective cannot reasonably be denied. Korihor might deny an objective fact, but he would be foolish to do so.

  16. Alan Jackson
    September 18, 2007 at 12:04 am

    “You can’t deny objective evidence.”

    I’d have to disagree. There aren’t enough books in the world to hold all of the examples of people ignoring or denying objective evidence.

  17. Ray
    September 18, 2007 at 12:12 am

    There are certain things that are relevant only to man. (e.g., “Time is measured only unto man.”) Other things, however, are relevant only to God – or at least are not “real” in this world. (e.g., “Objectivity lives only in the realm of God.”)

    Don’t get me wrong. Truth lives here in mortality right alongside error, but “objectivity” and “truth” are completely different concepts.

  18. Bob
    September 18, 2007 at 12:24 am

    #12: Well Ray, I can see how this post has you laughing so hard, and why Sarah is so lost. I will agree FARMS is useless in turning the Subjective into the Objective. And I guess better poster than I can/will speak to Objective Vs Subjective. I’m going back to CSI.

  19. Ivan Wolfe
    September 18, 2007 at 10:05 am

    I’m with Clark. People deny objective evidence all the time – especially when it doesn’t fit in with their preconceived political beliefs. People are foolish all the time. (I see people deny objective evidence everyday, merely because it might make Bush look good or bad, depending).

    We all like to pretend our political beliefs are based on the best evidence possible, but most of the time it ain’t true.

  20. Howard
    September 18, 2007 at 11:04 am

    Funny! Creative!
    Well done Kaimi.

  21. September 18, 2007 at 11:04 am

    That dialog between Korihor and Alma has always troubled me for precisely the reason Kaimi elaborates in #14. Alma’s argument always seemed extremely specious to me. This whole post has been very helpful in explaining why that chain of reasoning was so convincing to Alma but not to Korihor–or, gulp, me.

  22. Bob
    September 18, 2007 at 11:33 am

    #17 “Objectivity lives only in the realm of God.” To God only, Ray and Kaimi are Objectively here. To me they are only Subjective(?). I will therefore close my eyes and cover my ears, and they are gone!

  23. Frank McIntyre
    September 18, 2007 at 11:35 am

    Something can be false and still be objective, thus the ability to deny something does not make it subjective. People’s beliefs might fruitfully be considered subjective. Our views on the world may be subjective. That does not mean that truth is subjective.

    Bob: “A man with a watch always knows what time it is, a man with two watches is never sure.”

    I actually wrote about that saying on an old, old blog post.

  24. September 18, 2007 at 11:54 am

    I would have to agree with a few others here. People deny objective stuff all the time. People have impure motives, they lie, etc. I think we are giving Korihor to much credit.

    In fact, In Alma 30:52 Korihor admits that he always knew there was a God!!!!! Which is what they were arguing about all along. Korihor believed the lies Satan taught him (verse 53) and knowingly perpetuated the lie. Korihor always knew there was a God, but argued against it anyway.

  25. September 18, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    This is age-old Fideism we’re talking about.

    I just wanted to point out that I don’t think this conversation is really about fideism. As I understand it, fideism holds that faith and reason are basically opposites or at least that reason is completely irrelevant to religious faith. This conversation seems to be about objective (read publicly available and undeniable) evidence versus subjective (read deniable non-public) evidence for religious. But evidence is evidence. If I believe in God because he has spoken to me through the still small voice I believe based on powerful subjective evidence and my belief in God is indeed based on reason.

  26. Steve Evans
    September 18, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Geoff, I think your mistaken. The key is the conclusion that all evidence can ultimately be read as subjective — it shows that all ‘evidence’ is ultimately subject to interpretation and limited as a foundation for faith. In other words, the still small voice is NOT a reason-based basis for faith.

  27. Steve Evans
    September 18, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    arrrrrrrrrgh “you’re” not “your.”

  28. Sarah
    September 18, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    So… what you guys were basically saying is that you can’t “prove” (in a “stuff that gets dropped on Earth will fall to the ground” sort of way) things that are inherently not provable? “Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things”?

    Because if so, you could have said it in a much less obscure fashion. “Fideism,” and the rest.

  29. September 18, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Sarah, you are being unreasonable. And unobjective.

  30. Bob
    September 18, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Maybe I am misreading Kaimi and Ray. To me, they are saying Faith/Belief is ” at the core, it’s all subjective.”. Maybe. But it appears they go on to say any effort to back up their/any subjective feelings, with something objective is ‘ fool’s gold’. They are not denying a person can deny the objective, they are denying people the use of the objective in a support of any subjective feelings (?) Back to my #6.

  31. September 18, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    Speaking for mine and my brother-in-law’s family, after three boys you get the girl. But look out, because with number 5 it was back to the boys again.

    But the girl ends up being pretty tough and she will bring the drama, and you don’t want no drama!

  32. September 18, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    Steve: In other words, the still small voice is NOT a reason-based basis for faith.

    Sensory and personal experience has long been considered a valid source of evidence for rational belief. If someone experiences a waking vision from an angel through the “eyes of his/her understanding being opened” and no one else in the room sees it, are you still calling that fideism? By the broad definition you seem to be employing all belief in something we can’t see/touch/feel seems to be labeled fideism. Would a belief in the Big Bang be fideism in the definition you have in mind? If that is so, I’d say you are using an overly broad definition of the word. But I am wondering where you draw the lines on this.

  33. Matt W.
    September 18, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    all ‘evidence’ is ultimately subject to interpretation and limited

    This is true for everything, not just faith. If a person says “don’t move” you are limited and must use your reasoning to interpret whether the person is talking to you or to the person next to you etc. Ultimately, I think fideism is incorrect.

  34. Steve Evans
    September 18, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Geoff J, seeing an angel is irrelevant to the issue of fideism, because angels are not rational objects that we can approach and understand via logic. There is no rational thinking that leads us to believe in Moroni. Reason scoffs at those who believe in such things.

  35. September 18, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    Hehe. So Reason is now personified Steve?

    I think the problem is that you are conflating this private vs. public evidence issue with fideism. Both private and public evidence are reasonable bases for belief or faith. Fideism is basically the doctrine that reason and faith don’t or shouldn’t mix. I should add that most Mormons are not fideists.

  36. Kaimi Wenger
    September 18, 2007 at 1:00 pm


    If Reason weren’t personified, it wouldn’t be able to stare.


    Could we have said this more simply? Sheesh. That goes against everything they taught me in law school.

  37. Ray
    September 18, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    Sarah, in both #11 and #28 you hit exactly why I laughed so hard at the original post – and why I laughed to hard when I read #11. Kaimi laid out the background conversation in more detail, but your brief summary (“more than half of that conversation made no sense”) was perhaps the best description of so many “discussions” I read on-line I have ever read. I don’t want to try to count how many times I have read dozens of comments on various blogs or (especially) following a Utah newspaper article and had that exact same thought – “more than half that conversation made no sense”.

    It is interesting to watch two people who have different perspectives going into a “conversation” when neither of them has any intention of “learning” from the activity – but, rather, are focused solely on convincing the other that they are right – that their view is objectively true – not realizing that a human view, by very definition, is subjective. “Conversion” – when dealing with matters of right vs. wrong and truth vs. error – is much more about changing one’s ability to view something in a different light – from a different angle – with a different attitude than it is about “teaching facts”. It’s not the facts that constitute one’s perspective and beliefs; it’s how one views the meaning of those facts that counts.

    For example, many people accept as fact that a man we call Jesus lived and that He did, in fact, die on the cross. Although accepted as factual, there are dozens (hundreds) of beliefs about who he was and what his life and death mean for those individuals. It’s not the “facts” that are key; it’s what His life and death mean personally that are the issue. One or more of the possible beliefs must be true – or at least closer to true than all of the others, but it doesn’t mean those who believe (understand) that truth reached it objectively. Their subjective conclusion just happened to be correct. That tends to mitigate, for me, the natural tendency to get arrogant about my claims to understand truth, since, even if I am correct in my assertions, I’m fortunate (blessed) in the end to have reached truth in my own subjective quest.

  38. Ray
    September 18, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    #22 – Bob, let me put it this way. You know me only through our “conversations” on-line, and the same is true for me knowing you. Therefore, what we “know” about each other is even more subjective than what we “know” about Jesus and Joseph Smith – since what we “know” about each other is based entirely – completely – 100% – wholly on what we choose to share with each other – and we have to trust that what we are representing about ourselves is accurate and honest and true. I’m sure we believe things about each other that aren’t “truth” based on our interaction, but I’m also sure, without stopping and actually considering the subjectivity of our conclusions, that it is easy to believe we “know” more about each other than we actually do. That’s just the way God created us – to take all of the input available to us, process it through whatever process we use, then reach conclusions that make sense to us and empower us to act – *regardless* of whether those conclusions really are “true” or not.

    FWIW, #30 is not my belief at all, but it is a logical conclusion based on the limited information I have provided in this thread. I understand why it might look like that, but it simply isn’t “true” – since it was reached subjectively based on limited information.

  39. Bob
    September 18, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    #26:”The still small voice is NOT a reason-based basis for faith.” Agree, for the individual, the still small voice, is Subjective. But if X million people say they ‘hear’ this voice, Reason would say “something could be happening”(?) If one guy say the $1 burger taste good, that’s subjective, If 100 million people say it taste good, it’s start to be objective. Or #23: Have you written on this? If you keep darning a green sock with red yarn, at what point does it become a red sock?

  40. Jacob M
    September 18, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    Sorry, Bob! The X millions served at McDonalds doesn’t convince me that they make good tasting hamburgers. It might get me to try it for myself, but that personal experience will trump whatever the X millions has to say, and that is that they are some nasty #@$%&^#s.

  41. Ray
    September 18, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Go Wendys and the concept of lettuce leaves over that shredded garbage.

    Oops, this thread isn’t about fast food? I guess I need to start reading the original posts and the comments before I open my mouth and preach a truth that isn’t particularly useful. *grin*

  42. Bob
    September 18, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    #40&41: Those are both good answers..they return us to the Subjective maybe ‘trumps’ Objective. Personally, I need each in support of the other, And I am glad to hear the line at McD’s is going to be short today.

  43. Bob
    September 18, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    #41:You are right, Subjective Sunsets are so much better ( and personally more useful) than the Objective fact the earth is going around the Sun. *Grin*

  44. Matt W.
    September 18, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    Reason is not equal to logic, from my perspective

    Reason is logic + experience + trial and error + intuition

  45. September 18, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    Clark, for purposes of this discussion I’d argue that something objective cannot reasonably be denied. Korihor might deny an objective fact, but he would be foolish to do so.

    It seems though that this is problematic. For instance much of science is objective as you describe it yet, primarily because of a lack of training and background in science most people can’t follow it rationally. For instance I could talk about some really weird stuff that happens in quantum mechanics and find you some people who’d deny it. Are they being unreasonable? Well, what about things like many aspects of global warming or evolution? Are those objective or not? Does the mere fact so many people are unconvinced entail that these aren’t objective facts?

    I just find the whole approach questionable.

    Now, getting back to the scriptural examples though, I have to confess that I don’t find most of Alma’s evidences particularly objective in even a loose sense. In that I the Korihor and what some portray as his empiricism quite right. However, in terms of what Alma apparently recorded Korihor did have objective evidence in a God. That is Korihor is portrayed as being directed by an angel primarily to correct false teachings about an “unknown God.” (Exactly how to take Korihor’s religious beliefs is a pretty interesting question, although obviously beyond the scope of this discussion)

    The point being that Korihor’s answer brings up a very interesting critique. “And I have taught his [the angel’s] words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.” (Alma 30:53) Now just prior to this Korihor says, “I always knew there was a God.” But how did he know this unless the evidence was objective?

    So doesn’t this undermine things? First off, the claim that the evidence can’t be objective because Korihor wasn’t convinced is false. He did believe. Yet Korihor seems to suggest that he could “withstand the truth.” That is he give the very clear explanation of propoganda and how someone can believe due to objective evidence yet through repetition of skeptical arguments come to doubt.

    What does this do with this whole line of reasoning? It seems to suggest that there is objective evidence (whether Alma had it or not) but that one can deny the objective.

  46. September 18, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    Just to simply that long comment. What do we mean by reasonable? Are we talking about reasoning by a single person as they are capable or are we talking about reasoning in a more “objective” sense. (Pun intended)

  47. Blake
    September 18, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    Kaimi: I’m just post-modern enough and Heideggerian enough to wonder just what you could possibly mean by “subjective” and “objective.” To me they are not merely vague categories, but worthless. Any suggestions that would actually pass muster in a discussion where the two don’t simply collapse into each other?

  48. Bob
    September 18, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    #47: (Not answering for Kaimi). I agree the above posts supports your charges of ‘vagueness’, and ‘likely collapse under too much weight’, for these terms. But, I believe your term ‘worthless’ is even weaker and less likely to lead us anywhere. I think the above showed effort to understand, and that’s not worthless.

  49. Kaimi Wenger
    September 18, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    Sure, Blake, but is your assessment (that these are worthless) an objective assessment, or is it subjective?

    Come on, you’re an attorney. Law deals with the objective/subjective divide all the time. It particularly comes up in the criminal law context.

    For instance, if I hit Steve without his consent, it’s battery. But if I hit him with his consent, it’s not. Battery is defined as contact without consent. If Steve consents, and I know this, I lack requisite intent to commit battery. But does my understanding of that consent objective, or is it subjective?

    Say Steve says to me, “I consent for you to hit me,” and I interpret that as consent. That meets an objective standard. Would a reasonable person view that as Steve giving consent? Sure.

    But perhaps, due to a weird character tic of mine, I have the mistaken impression that whistling is consent to battery. If Steve whistles, I will geniuinely believe that he is consenting to battery. That will be subjective. A reasonable person would not arrive at the same conclusion.

    Crim law theorists tie their heads in knots over this, because it creates weird wrinkles. If we apply a pure objective test, then we might punish someone who has no mens rea — no criminal intent. I.e., if the standard is objective, we punish me for hitting Steve after he whistles, even though I have no intent to commit battery.

    On the other hand, if the test is subjective, then we open up the possibility of not punishing folks who hold weird beliefs — weird and unreasonable subjective belief could shield someone from criminal prosecution.

  50. Ray
    September 18, 2007 at 10:37 pm

    I think I saw that episode of Law & Order.

  51. Ray
    September 18, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    Of course, I probably could say that about any hypothetical case ever imagined in the history of mankind.

  52. Jared
    September 18, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    Using Moroni 10:4-5 as criteria to be tested for objectivity or subjectivity–I think the answer to the question is different for each individual. Some people will be able to acquire a testimony from the Holy Ghost while other will not. The difference lies in the individual like talents/gifts. Talent/gifts varies from person to person.

    Shooting a basketball for example. Take a random group of people who have never seen a basketball and teach them all they need to know to shoot baskets from the foul line. Let them practice for a period of time then test them by some criteria shooting baskets. Their scores will vary anywhere from 0 to 100%.

    Now if you define objectivity as requiring all basketball shooters to hit 100% of their baskets then you had better use a class of different than basketball shooting. Try something with 0% possibility of failure like all participants who are high school graduates need to be able to count to 10.

  53. Lupita
    September 18, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    I just wanted to see the ritual dance. Does it involve feathers?

  54. Bob
    September 18, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    #49: Everybody will agree on this one: Go ahead and hit Steve. especially if he whistles at you!

  55. Jim F.
    September 18, 2007 at 11:04 pm

    I’m with Blake on this one: You haven’t figured out carefully enough what you mean by “objective” and “subjective” (and how about “intersubjective?). As a result, the discussion between you and Steve moves far too quickly and naively. For instance, that interpretation is not objective in the scientific sense (and there are several sense of the term) does not make it subjective in any sense I can think of. (Gadamer does the best job I know of arguing that. See Truth and Method if you have the time and inclination.)

  56. Ray
    September 18, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    From my very intelligent (and incisively hilarious) 12-year-old daughter, in response to something I posted on my and my wife’s personal blog: “u lost me at “…” then u went on with big words that made confusing sentences!!”

    At 12, she realizes that sometimes adults think too hard.

  57. Sarah
    September 18, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    I think sometimes adults like to go back to their sophomore year in college and speak merely to prove to other people how smart they are.

    Kaimi: your #49 reminds me of all those debates about hate crime laws, though there it’s more like “should we charge you for an extra (or worse) crime because you hate whistlers” rather than “should we not charge you because you think whistling is an indication that someone wants to get hit.”

    And I still don’t see what’s so hard about saying “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things,” though I’d also accept “humans can’t help but see things from their own perspective, so there’s no such thing as objective knowledge in this world, even if there are objective truths.”

  58. Bob
    September 19, 2007 at 1:16 am

    #57: I don’t know Sarah, I spend most of my day today cutting back roses. I think I have an objective knowledge, that they are now shorter. Now my wife thinks they are too short, that’s subjective.

  59. September 19, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    Sarah the whole “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge” is always interesting to me since we say faith is the power not only to draw on the power of heaven but the very power itself. There’s this interesting tension over this in the Lectures on Faith where it’s pretty clear that God works by faith. Yet simultaneously God has knowledge.

    Now admittedly the Lectures aren’t formal doctrine and there are many things in them that people have trouble with (esp. Lecture 5). But this tension between faith as no knowledge yet faith as working with knowledge is something that I’ve long mused on.

  60. NorthboundZax
    September 19, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    I think some of the difficulty in fulling grasping the implications of Kaimi’s excellent post is the subtle difference between objective and subjective truths and objective and subjective evidence for those truths. Bob’s rose example gives objective evidence for both objective and subjective truths (roses are shorter, and roses are too short). However, there is the more interesting case of a supposedly “objective” truths (e.g., God exists) that can, for most of us, only be achieved through subjective evidence. The Book of Mormon test is a subjective one, not unlike the magic amulet, ritual dance, or orbits of the planets examples that Kaimi gave. Even if the same warm feeling were given to everybody that tries the Book of Mormon test (i.e., fully reproducible and objective), the interpretation of what that feeling really means for truth claims would still be wholly subjective. That, I think, is where the real poignancy of the boundary of faith and reason lies.

  61. Andrew
    September 19, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Perhaps the question could be rephrased as: “Is a person’s subjective perception and interpretation of objective evidence an objective or subjective exercise?”

    The whole subjective/objective divide is an illusion; there is no such thing as pure objectivity because all “objective evidence” is inevitably filtered through a human being’s subjective lens. That is why scientists can fiercely disagree with each other and reach diametrically opposed conclusions after reviewing exactly the same “objective evidence”. Even if we can all agree a piece of objective evidence physically exists as it sits in front of us, we all see it differently and reach different conclusions about its significance.

  62. Ray
    September 19, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    An unspecified number of youth, with unspecified race, rob a store one night. 2 miles from that store, one hour later, three young Black men exchange money in an unlit parking lot. This is seen by three people – all of whom have heard about the robbery: A White woman who heard about the robbery on television 5 minutes prior to seeing the young men; a young Black man who lives in the neighborhood and is feuding with one of the young men who now is seeing his former girlfriend; and the former/current girlfriend – who knows each of them quite well. Can anyone be surprised if the police end up with three different accounts of what happened in that parking lot that night?

    Individual, isolated eye-witness testimony is incredibly unreliable, especially in instances where the witness tries to draw conclusions about the meaning of what she saw. The axiom, “People don’t believe what they see; they see what they believe,” is evident all around us every day. Biblical interpretation and religious beliefs are classic examples of that.

  63. Bob
    September 19, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    Another one that keeps me awake at nights: The leaves don’t chance colors in the fall. The sugar leaves them, the acid comes into them, causing a different light wave from them to hit the human eye. The eye now sees not green, but red or gold or yellow. (I have no way to know if this is true, just go with the tale)
    (Am I still on topic?)

  64. Bob
    September 19, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    #62: But Ray, Your first paragraph is full of objective facts. ( the parking lot is 2 miles from the store, one hour later three black men).
    Then individuals came to subjective conclusions.

  65. Jim F.
    September 19, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Bob, isn’t “reflecting a different wave length of light” what “change color” means?

  66. September 19, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    Andrew: (#61) The whole subjective/objective divide is an illusion; there is no such thing as pure objectivity because all “objective evidence” is inevitably filtered through a human being’s subjective lens. That is why scientists can fiercely disagree with each other and reach diametrically opposed conclusions after reviewing exactly the same “objective evidence

    I don’t think that’s the reason that phenomena happens in science. It’s more that evidence typically underdetermines answers. Often by quite a bit. When that happens there is more “play” in the potential answers so of course scientists disagree. When there is less play there is far, far less disagreement.

    While one can talk about the myth of pure objectivity I think the bigger thing is to simply acknowledge that our categories of objective and subjective are hold overs from a particular way of thinking ushered in by Descartes.

    Steve earlier (#15) comment was to apply a very loose view based upon deniability. I think that’s still very problematic, if only because people are so irrational. (As I think Korihor’s own answer I quoted demonstrates) Further the induibtibility approach ends up just being a return to Descartes by a differ route. Remember Descartes tries to deny everything possible and sees what is left as a kind of pure knowledge – but this is a problem because typically doubts are “paper doubts” (as C. S. Peirce likes to put it).

  67. Bob
    September 19, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    #65: Jim, get back to work..this is one of those “If a tree falls in a forest…..” moments for me! But you are right, I was only trying to Illustrate an objective tree thing, with a subjective eyeball. (Again, just go with the tale!)

  68. Jared
    September 19, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    #60 NorthboundZax said: “Even if the same warm feeling were given to everybody that tries the Book of Mormon test (i.e., fully reproducible and objective), the interpretation of what that feeling really means for truth claims would still be wholly subjective. That, I think, is where the real poignancy of the boundary of faith and reason lies.”

    I experienced this “warm feeling” and acquired my initial testimony of the Book of Mormon many years ago. Since that initial experience the Lord in His kindness has extended my experiences to include visions, dreams, gift of tongues as a missionary, ministering of angels (unseen), and other special kinds of experiences that are taught about in the Book of Mormon. I used to think that everyone had these kinds of experiences but just didn’t talk about it. I now know that is not the case. The gifts of the spirit are real and available to all but don’t appear to be as evident today as they once were. I think this is due to lack of interest.

    I share this with the readers of this blog just to make the point that a “warm feeling” is just the beginning of what is available. There is a lot more to be experienced to those who hunger and thirst.

  69. Ray
    September 19, 2007 at 11:01 pm

    Jared, I agree with you, except for the final conclusion in your second paragraph (that lacking some spiritual gifts is due to a lack of interest) – and the implication that not receiving all spiritual gifts is due to complacency caused by lack of sufficient hunger and thirst.

    I happen to believe that spiritual manifestations like you describe fit within various categories of spiritual gifts – and that some categories are given to some and not to others. FWIW, I have come to the conclusion that I, myself, would be an arrogant jerk if I were privy to dreams and visions (I have a large enough Don Quixote complex without the addition of such things.) – that the lack thereof is one of the things that makes me tolerable in my certitude and able to empathize with others who lack some of the gifts with which I have been blessed – and the ability to recognize their own unique gifts. I get uncomfortable whenever we start asserting reasons why we have some gifts that others do not – especially if those reasons might be interpreted by others in such a way as to add guilt or depression to their own failure to “achieve” those gifts. I have seen too many members, especially women, beat themselves up over their lack of gifts they see in others to like it when they are told they could receive them if they just were more interested – if they simply hungered and thirsted more.

  70. Jared
    September 19, 2007 at 11:46 pm

    Ray–thanks for your comments. I am trying to understand these same issues.

    You brought up the subject of quilt. The last thing I would want to do is increase someone’s feelings of quilt. I’ve had my own struggles with these feelings. I’m concerned why the Lord has not called me to those positions in his church where I might have greater influence: a Bishopric, Stake Presidency, High Council. Hasn’t happened and I’m getting old. I worry that when I stand before the Lord I will be found wanting because where much is given much is expected. So in the autumn of my years I’ve decided to find a way to take those things the Lord has given me and help others. After all, that is what it’s all about. So I’m trying to find a way using the medium of the internet to “increase faith”.

    I’m thinking about opening up a site where the main emphasis is “testimony”. How to acquire, grow, and maintain a vibrant testimony. I’m in the very early stages of doing this.

    Once again, thanks for your thoughts.

  71. Ray
    September 19, 2007 at 11:56 pm

    From one old man to another, it’s all good. *grin*

  72. Howard
    September 20, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Jared makes a good point “…due to lack of interest.”

    Moroni says; “And all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally, according as he will.” (Moro. 10:17.)

    We are taught to seek after spiritual gifts and that they are predicated upon faith, obedience, and personal righteousness. JS taught that it requires time and circumstances to call these gifts into operation.

    Regarding revelation we are told to “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matt. 7:7.)

    Faith and action are required.

  73. NorthboundZax
    September 20, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Jared, thanks for your response. I think Ray hits it squarely on the head, but given Howard’s response, I think it might be good to follow up.

    The points I was trying to make weren’t that your warm feeling isn’t real and/or mean grand answers to important questions, but that 1) Moroni’s promise isn’t quite as reproducible as you are indicating (i.e., it is reproducible if you want it bad enough), because there is no clear measure of how hungry or thirsty a person has to be (just more??), so it is a far more subjective measure than we often make it out to be. And 2) (the more important point) is that even if the feelings of the spirit were completely reproducible (same feeling every time for everyone), the feelings themselves are subject to interpretation.

    Many of us interpret our feelings after trying Moroni’s promise as God’s answer that the Book of Mormon is true and the LDS church is God’s one true church on the earth, while someone else receiving the same warm feeling may interpret that as a reason to join the FLDS, a reason to include the Book of Mormon among other sacred texts such as the Koran and Bagvad Gita, or could possibly simply pass it off as an affinity for morality tales. As interpretation is completely subjective, it could mean many things to many people. That in no way invalidates a testimony for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and one’s attached implications, it simply means that the subjective nature of a testimony can only have objective meaning to that particular person.

  74. Bob
    September 20, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    #73: Well thought out and well said.

  75. Ray
    September 20, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    To follow-up on #73, I also think it also is important to understand the conditions set up in oft-quoted scriptural passages. For example, I am convinced that *very, very* few people take Moroni’s challenge up fully – in the way that he expressed it. We quote Moroni 10:4-5 all of the time, but v.3 sets the foundation for the challenge – establishes the proper parameters, if you will.

    Moroni says that, in order to be prepared for the experience he promises in v.4, it is necessary to “remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.” He says the reader must stop reading, cast his/her mind back to the examples of mercy available throughout recorded history, and then think deeply about that mercy (that the Lord really does bless people and hear and answer prayers in all ages and dispensations). In essence, he is saying that the reader must reach a condition where s/he recognizes that the Lord has, can and will answer the type of prayer Moroni is about to challenge the reader to undertake – even in this present day and age. The reader must, in effect, be in the right mood – truly open to the possibility – before asking for an answer.

    I recognize that even this type of preparation doesn’t always yield immediate results, but my experience has led me to conclude that following the actual experiment laid out for us (parsing happily away) is much more likely to produce the promised result than following only the second half of the experiment often does.

  76. Jared
    September 20, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    Regarding spiritual experience that have converting power:

    They come in all sizes and kinds. I can only comment about those that come by the power of the Holy Ghost. When an individual approaches God in true prayer asking to know if the Book of Mormon is true the answer they receive will come from a source that perfectly understands them and will provide an experience suited to them.

    What they do with that experience is their choice.

    When on a mission for the church I taught a man who was in the process of becoming a minister. He was well educated and I was teaching him in a language new to me. The spirit of the Lord was with us and he knew it. We had meant with him 3 or 4 times. He asked me some very difficult questions and I lacked the ability to answer him in his language. I knew the answer and tired to articulate it when suddenly I found myself–listening to myself teach him. This went on for over an hour. I was experiencing the gift of tongues. When I testified to him of the truthfulness of the message we carried the Holy Ghost carried it into his heart. I knew it and so did he. He told my companion and I that he wanted to be baptized but that he needed to break the news to his family. When he finally made contact a few weeks later he was hostile to us. I couldn’t believe it. I then understood what the Lord meant in D&C 93:39. It broke my heart, but I understood that there are people who resist the Holy Ghost because of the cares of the world. Amulek did so “many times” (Alma 10:6) before he finally was converted.

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