April 5, 2011

Rebecca Matchup

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:27 am

Emily Matchup

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Sam Matchup

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:24 am

June 29, 2010

At last!

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:19 am

I have found the perfect tatoo:

June 28, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 2:44 pm

For the last two years, the ever-reliable has claimed that my house has been steadily and significantly going up in value, while Saint Louis as a whole was going down. While some of that spread can be attributed to the neighborhood (which is quite nice), I attribute most of it to a bad model. When I checked today, I noticed that the valuation has gone down quite a bit. I’m not very surprised, as I don’t think the house was ever worth what they thought it was, but I find myself strangely unmoved.
We’ve owned the house for 2.5 years (17.5 to go!). Just recently, it crossed the point where the amount we were receiving in rent was greater than the interest and fees. Therefore, we are converting cash into equity at an efficiency of 1.0 or greater (presuming the value of the home doesn’t drop wildly of course).
Through the beauty of math, this house is now basically an auto-debiting, long-term, low-interest savings plan which will likely result in a place to live when I retire on my fat pension. A flawless real estate plan, since housing never drops in value =)

June 23, 2010

don’t go boom

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:21 pm

Looks like the folks I blogged about before are finally going to jail:

I find it gratifying that justice is being done, and a perfect example of cognitive dissonance that the Iraqi powers that be are still trying to claim that dowsing rods can detect explosives.

June 21, 2010

This is why…

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 6:58 am

…I could never conquer proof by induction in CS school. My brother in law did though…

June 10, 2010

Why does this comic have to be so awesome?

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:54 am

June 9, 2010

At least something…

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:00 pm

I have such good intentions of posting, really I do… It just doesn’t get done.

In an effort to turn that trend around, I present you with what you have always wanted: data!

This is the garmin data from my run last night:

(Click to view at anything like a meaningful resolution)

May 30, 2010

Markets in everything…

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 4:57 pm

MA has offered to play Warcraft with me, in exchange for me giving up Rugby.  I find this an interesting offer, for several reasons, not the least of which being I’m not sure how I would tell that story later on…

I was such a weenie, I gave up Rugby to play a videogame.


The big kicker of  course, is that it is playing a videogame with MA, which would be highly awesome.

Any thoughts on if I should take up her generous offer, and how I could explain that choice without sounding like (being) a looser?

May 24, 2010

I have a found a new webcomic, and it is funny

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:56 pm

May 20, 2010

Hunh, that’s not so bad

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 6:25 am

One of the things I find electrifying about this podcast idea is the notion of stepping into uncertainty. There are credible reasons to not try this, and credible reasons to conclude it will succeed. I don’t have marketing experience, or podcasting experience either, so branching out into those new areas is something fun.

Taking on something like this will also require me to give something else up. I think I will either kill my public blog, or merge it into the new website. I’m still refining how much of my personal life I want to merge in.

Central to that question is whether or not I should use my real name. What do you folks think? Pseudonym or authenticity?

May 19, 2010

Ok, I’m going to go for it

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 5:09 pm

I’ve decided to take my chances and start up a podcast for fathers. I’m planning to have our first episode up in two weeks. I’ve got the basic site, facebook group/page, and so forth underway. I’ve learned more about Audacity in the last week than I ever thought I would, but I’m pleased with the intro music. Now to plan the advertising…

May 14, 2010

Cause men think women spy on them

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:03 pm

Aside from the obvious narcissistic overtones, men generally think that women like to check in on them from time to time.  I’ve been contemplating this effect lately as I am considering starting a podcast on fatherhood related issues.  Trouble is, I’m having trouble understanding the potential audience.  Obviously, the people I want to reach are guys 25-40, engaged, committed, and/or with kids.

However, the market for motherhood related stuff is much larger.  Also, there is possibly a significant cross-over recommendation effect that I might be able to exploit.  Kinda like the notion that men’s cologne is bought by women for men, etc. etc.

If I set my iTunes keywords, ad buys and marketing plan to integrate a heavy component of gender neutral (or mom-related content), I think I will get a lot more traffic, and increase the chance I will hit my target audience.  That’s the theory anyway.

What do you think, should I go wide and try to hit the ‘Honey, you should listen to this’ effect?

May 11, 2010

I am doomed to look stupid

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:50 pm

As music has been shown to increase athletic performance, and is just plain enjoyable, I usually have my iProduct with me when I go running.  Unfortunately, I am a sweat factory, which causes certain problems.  Among them, ruining my headphones.  It has taken me quite some time to find a product that was reasonably rugged, would stay in place and had good sound quality.  Behold the winners:

I’m quite fond of them, and they generally work out very well.  Unfortunately, due to the shape of my head, haircut or whatnot, once my hair reaches a certain sweat saturation, the moisture wicks off somehow and gets channeled into my ears.  An earful of sweat does not do much for acoustic response, not that I would be able to hear it anyway.

Thus, I end up spending way more time on sweatflow management than I want to.  From a utilitarian perspective, wearing a sweatband works extremely well, although it ends up needing to be washed after each use.  Unfortunately, it also looks very mockable.

I’ve been wondering if another solution would be getting a buzz cut to change the sweat percolation pattern.  Unfortunately, the first image to come up when I search for this hair cut was:

Automatically, I am prejudiced against it.  In addition, my hair is, shall we say… not of universal thickness?  There is a good chance that a buzz cut could backfire horribly.

Since we have a family visit to the US coming up, if I do it now, it will most likely be relatively grown back in by the time anyone would want to take a picture of me…  Maybe now is the time.

May 7, 2010

That kind of gym

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:20 pm

Looks like I’ve developed a body parts theme recently…   This puts me in mind of a confrontation I had a few weeks ago at the Gym.  While I acknowledge that I tend to go to the gym at off-peak times, and the thing has to be cleaned sometime or another, I had some conflict with the cleaning staff.  I have noticed several occasions when female cleaning staff have walked right in to the men’s changing area. 

In most of these cases, it has been the same person.  One morning, I was using the changing area for its intended purpose, when I saw her walk in.  As it happened, I was clothed enough at that particular moment not to qualify as a unicyclist, but that was a matter of timing more than anything else.  I decided to confront her, but the language barrier proved to be too much.

Probably in a desire to resolve the problem, she met me at the front desk and asked the attendant there to translate.  This was quite a long-shot because she didn’t speak much English either.  In a rather animated fashion (I was a smidge upset) I explained what was going on.  The clerk claimed to understanding and started to relay it to the cleaning lady.  I was already headed out the door, when I heard her ask in a startled tone: “Why?”

Since I don’t really know what message made it through that weird game of communications barriers, I have no idea what the dispute was, but it is consistent with her behavior.  Still, I wonder why she would think it was OK to decide to clean the men’s locker room while it was being used, and why objecting to that should be a mystery to her.

I don’t have any objection to a clothing option gym in principle, but that wasn’t what I signed up for, and I’m not entirely sure that I would.  What are your thoughts?  Was my objection warranted, or should I be an enlightened FKK practitioner?

May 6, 2010

National Geographic

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:31 am

As some of you may already know, I’ve been trying to develop some artistic skills lately.  My goal is to be able to execute facepainting designs for kids.  In some of my research on the subject I turned to wikipedia, but was a bit surprised by the first illustration on this page:

Aside from being a slightly unusual portrayal, I’m kind of curious to know what this guy was thinking.  Did it go something like this:

You know what would make my unicycle even cooler?  Juggling!  Still not enough though…  I need a court jester costume, but that is so last week…  I know! I’ll go with a partial body painted jester suit… But where can I find the kind of hippies who won’t object to that?  The summer solstice festival!  Perfect!

I’ll say one thing for him, he is definitely a confident risk taker.  The chance of falling injury here seems unpleasant enough to avoid this particular fashion statement.

May 4, 2010

Holy nipple chafing from hell

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:30 am

In my constant effort to cram more stuff into my life, I’ve reluctantly accepted the reality that I need to go to the gym in the morning.  Unfortunately, since I also walk to work, this involves way to much clothing packing complexity for my enjoyment.  My first approach was to wear a microfiber shirt to the gym, and then get this shirt wet in the shower (less stinkage) and wear it on the walk to work.

Given that I live in a rather hot climate, this seemed like a great idea.  Pre-cooled, and it evaporates on the way, reducing how much sweat my body would normally produce (I’m a big sweater).  This genius idea did work fairly well on those counts, but I had not bargained for the reality that long distance runners had figured out a long time ago.

There is a huge difference between the abrasive quality of wet and dry microfiber.  That idea is now right out the window.  The usual methods for dealing with this aren’t likely to be a good idea, because I need something I can use 5 days a week.  I’m not sure what the perfect solution is, but I’ve got to back to the drawing board.

April 29, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:49 am

A while ago I posted on things I used to believe, but have since discarded.  I intended to follow-up the next day with things I did believe.  However, I got a bit derailed because my concept of what it means to accept something as true has changed so much, the things I have replaced those postulates with are not even of the same nature.  Without going on a long-winded  exercise of describing and justifying that, I’ll just toss out some of my current beliefs and call it good.

Interdependent arising sounds compelling.

Paradox is unavoidable.

Descartes was right, but accept the external world anyway.

I am highly impacted by cognitive dissonance.

There is such a breadth to humanity, we don’t even agree on what the big questions are, much less the answers.

Hedonic adaptation is a big deal.

I am very bad at predicting which of the things I want will actually promote my own happiness.

Index funds are a really good idea (at least for me).

April 27, 2010

They don’t know who they are

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warning shot

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 5:39 am

For the last several years, I have shifted away from traditional web browsing, and become increasingly reliant on RSS feeds to bring me the content I want.  As an aside, from the visitor tracking software available, people who access my content tend to use RSS readers over direct surfing by nearly 5 to 1.  Looks like I’m not alone in my RSS-iness.

My preferred reader has been bloglines.  I’ve been quite happy with them for a long time.  However, this weekend, they had a catastrophic outage which made even my subscriptions unavailable for days.  A bit of web research shows that they are in a bit of trouble as a product line.  Therefore, despite my deep and abiding aversion to google products, I have temporarily moved over to Google reader for my RSS needs.  I’m just not willing to risk loosing all my subscriptions because someone pulls the plug without warning…

April 25, 2010

Fortunately, it wasn’t the right answer

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:17 pm

As is well known, I have a darker skin tone than my wife.  This comes up from time to time because of the cultural implications, but I was a bit suprised by the following exchange:

Daughter #2:  I spy with my little eye, something brown.

Daughter #1: Ummm, Daddy’s skin?


April 21, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:57 pm

Over the Christmas break, life demands required that I drop rugby from my schedule line-up.  Since that time, I have had a rolling battle with sickness and so forth, but have really missed it.  Now that things are settling down a bit, I’ve been planning a return to the sport.  However, I recently read this update on my team (the only option for Beirutis):

For those of you who might not want to click through, they basically got cranky with the ref, and so decided to leave the field at the 67th minute.

This is absolutely ridiculous, shameful behavior, and a disaterous strategy for the team.  One of the thigns rugby prides itself on is the absolute respect for referees.  They are treated with respect (no matter how bad they are), and their decisions are final (no matter how much you might disagree).  To storm off the field in protest is. not. done.

Why would this ever be a winning strategy?  If the ref was really that bad everyone will know it.  If they aren’t that bad, then it is a matter of opinion, and you just need to deal with it.  Referees are a field condition.  Sometimes you get a bad one.  Deal with it.

Given that this team somehow felt comfortable breaking this rugby convention, I’m not all that sure I want to join in with them…


April 20, 2010

That’s really old news…

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 5:00 pm

Recently my gym added a piece of equipment that has proved quite popular:

This confuses me, because these devices have been known to be useless for what? 20 years at least?  I don’t get why people use them.  I understand the whole ‘get something for as little as possible’ thing, but this has zero chance of being helpful.  It also comes are very little cost.  Still, you give up a little, for absolutely nothing.  To me, this is the economic equivalent of the drunk guy asking if you can spare any change.

I also wonder about some the folks I meet at the gym.  Obviously it’s none of my business, but there is a certain group of people who are just never going to achieve anything in the gym.  As there have been times when I was also highly ineffective (because I didn’t understand what real effort was), I wonder if it would be doing them a favor to encourage them, etc. etc.

Yes, that makes me the obnoxious guy at the gym, so I’ve never actually done this.  I just sort of quietly wonder in my head if they think they are really exercising but aren’t seeing results because ‘insert excuse here’.

April 14, 2010

There is meaning

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 5:24 pm

The gods of the Internet presented me with this screen today.  There is a message here, I just need to find it.

April 13, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:45 am

My sister asked me to look for a certain photo in my archives.  While I didn’t find that, I did come upon this gem.

April 6, 2010

A bit of a list

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:57 am

Despite the fact that the vulgarities of life have forced me to pursue an actually marketable career, I maintain an interest in more humanistic areas such as social psychology.  As such, I have become somewhat obsessed with the field of cognitive bias.  Learning to understand the pitfalls of human cognition has helped me in a wide variety of ways.  While much has been written about whether or not we can ever achieve an unbiased rationality, I am convinced there are great benefits to trying.  One sign that you are doing it right is the number of beliefs you previously accepted, but now understand to be false.

Un-learning is an important indicator of meta-cognitive ability.

To wit, I have taken a moment to tick off a few of the things I once believed, but now know to be false:

  1. Acupuncture
  2. Pure supply-side economics (Milton Friedman style)
  3. The idea that:  If it doesn’t matter to me, it isn’t important to me.
  4. Most people have an accurate view of themselves.
  5. The world is getting worse. (Depends on how you look at it.  In many ways it is getting much better.)
  6. That America is the best country in the whole world.  (It might be, depending on how you judge ‘best’, but there are plenty of reasonable measurement systems in which the USA is not #1)
  7. That I was a good dancer.
  8. That if I was very confident about something, I was probably right.
  9. If the people around me thought I was right, I probably was.
  10. That there should be (Christian) prayer in (all) schools.
  11. That if I treated others the way I wanted to be treated, they would reciprocate.

Later, I’ll do an update on things I have learned.

April 1, 2010

Mix it up

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:38 am

In contrast to the previous post, I’m going to go with something more frivolous.  I present you:

Tyrothus, my World of Warcraft Paladin!

I think he needs bigger shoulders.

This character is my main WoW figment, and is highly awesome.  He is a healer and has saved many a group from inglorious death.

Thus far, I have played three of the four different healing classes in Warcraft, and I have to say the Paladin is my favorite.  Durable, mana efficient, and powerful.  The thing about Paladins though, is that if you don’t really understand the mechanics of the game, you end up being very inefficient and falling behind the competitors, such as druids and priests.  I think this effect is responsible for their somewhat lackluster reputation among the community.

Editors note:  One purpose of this post is to raise my mockability quotient so high, that Cris will find it irresistible.  Unfortunately, this material is so easy, she may find it beneath her.  We shall see.

March 30, 2010

Health of a nation and women’s preference for masculine men

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:54 pm

As a review, the authors of this study purport to show that women from less healthy nations prefer masculine appearing men, while women from healthier nations prefer feminine appearing men.

There are at least five major flaws with the research, and several more with the summary written by Jena Pincott.  They are as follows:

#1)  The respondents self-declared their gender and ethnicity on a web form. The researchers did not have the capacity to verify if the people claiming to be women actually were (or any other aspect of collected demographics for that matter).  I was particularly amused to see their justification for this:

Many studies of masculinity preferences have been conducted using similar web-based methods and have demonstrated that online and laboratory studies of variation in masculinity preferences produce equivalent patterns of results (e.g. Jones et al. 2005, 2007; Little et al. 2007b; Welling et al. 2008).

Hmm, those names look familiar.  Would those be the exact same people as the ones who wrote this study?  Why yes, they are!

If these folks have really established that online surveys are just as accurate as lab results, there are a whole lot of social psychologists wasting a whole lot of money on lab research.  This is particularly problematic when trying to do online surveys in nations with disparate rates of PC and Internet subscription rates.  Those who can answer your online survey are less likely to be representative of the population as a whole.

I’m calling shenanigans on this data.

It is vanishingly unlikely that their results are not polluted by misrepresented data.  They can’t even prove that the people who filled out their survey were even women!

#2) They invented their own ranking system for nation health. Creating a composite indicator for something as complex as the health of a nation is an extremely complex undertaking.  These folks picked just a few indicators and ran with them.  Their selected method for distilling a nation’s health down to a single number does not reflect an understanding of the basic aspects that are needed to create such an indicator.

Their inclusion of neonatal mortality as an indicator strongly suggests they are not familiar with the issues surrounding statistically ranking health systems.  This particular indicator is an excellent example of how transnational health statistics are difficult to pull off.

Many countries, including the United States, Sweden or Germany, count an infant exhibiting any sign of life as alive, no matter the month of gestation or the size, but according to United States Centers for Disease Control researchers,[6] some other countries differ in these practices. All of the countries named adopted the WHO definitions in the late 1980s or early 1990s,[7] which are used throughout the European Union.[8] However, in 2009, the US CDC issued a report which stated that the American rates of infant mortality were affected by the United States’ high rates of premature babies compared to European countries and which outlines the differences in reporting requirements between the United States and Europe, noting that France, the Czech Republic, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Poland do not report all live births of babies under 500 g and/or 22 weeks of gestation.[6][9][10] However, the report also concludes that the differences in reporting are unlikely to be the primary explanation for the United States’ relatively low international ranking.[10]

This indicator is problematic.  To include it in a basket of eight total indicators to asses nation health in a single number is very risky indeed and suggests they were not familiar with the nuances of this data.

In my opinion, they basically cherry-picked limited data and came up with their own composite index number.  For example, their data doesn’t come from the same years, doesn’t weight the individual factors, and doesn’t distinguish causes of death (with some exception for examining years of life lost to communicable diseases).  This is problematic because most of the deaths in the US come from non-communicable lifestyle issues, not presence of pathogens.

#3)  In seeking to prove that the relationship between masculinity preference and national health is not entangled with other indicators, such as national wealth, the authors make the absolutely elementary mistake of using Gross National Product per capita. This is such an elementary mistake, I can’t believe they did this.  It reflects a very poor understanding of economics to fall into this trap.

These types of breakdowns are particularly bad for transnational comparisons because it doesn’t take into consideration how much the items in that nation cost.  An elementary solution would have been to use purchasing power parity adjusted numbers, which compare how much a basket of products cost in the context of GDP.   This approach would have been simple, easy and more accurate, yet the authors didn’t use it.  I’m not going to do their work for them and run those numbers, but I suspect their data relationships would shift.

Amusingly, the authors admit that other ways of ranking wellbeing, such as the Human Development Index show that all their examined nations were reasonably equivalent.  Hmm, data didn’t show what you wanted, so you went elsewhere?


#4) I question the ethnic representation in their data. The authors are trying to establish that their results apply to humans in general, and not a specific  cultural context (they use the code words: cross-cultural a lot).  When they set up their experiment they tried to control for difficulties in trans-racial assessments by only including data from women (if they even were women) who self-reported their ethnicity as white (unverified).  They then used these responses as representative of women from that country.  Upon reviewing their data, I find a concern.  They include Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey.  How likely do you think it is that women from those nations would self-declare to be white?

I don’t think that is likely to be representative.

#5) They have a serious problem with data sparsity. While they had 4,794 respondents, nearly all of those came from the US, UK, Germany and France.  Yet the other 26 nations are still tossed into the pot.  In fact, their cut-off for data is 10 women.  10 women can represent the whole country!  Fully a third of their nations have less than 30 respondents.  That is very sparse data indeed.

This is particular problematic because several of their outlier points which are used to establish their trend line (the dots on the right) are from nations with very low response rates.

The authors try a bit of a trick in claiming that they did a weighted least square analysis to account for data sparsity.  Unfortunately, this is a mis-attribution.  WLS is useful for adjusting data quality issues, not quantity.  If you have biased results from a small sample set, that isn’t going to help.  It can be used to assess the relationship between the data and your comparator – the invented national health ranking, but not between the data and the unknown reality.

If this was the case, there again, a whole lot of people are wasting a whole lot of money have surveys with more than 30 people.

Why not pick 30 people from every nation, slap WLS on it, and extrapolate? WLS can’t create accurate data from sparsity.


They can’t prove their respondents were actually women.

They created a highly dubious national health ranking system.

They used imprecise economic data to exclude other factors as causes of the correlation.

Their data was very sparse for establishing their trend.




March 29, 2010

Not true thing of the day

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:31 pm

MA and I have been discussing some recently publicized pop-research on masculinity.  Published in no less than the Wall Street Journal (who knew bankers cared?), the article is titled: Why Women Don’t Want Macho Men.

This article, and the study it references are chock full of absolutely horrible scholarship.  Would my dear readers like me to take this apart on my blog, or would you all find that boring?

Subject matter?

View Results

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Open your wallet

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:08 am

This weekend I went to get the car washed with one of the kiddos.  As would often be found in such places in the US, there was a small box for charitable donations on the counter next to the cash register.

I suspect that RainbowNarrows would not be particularly inclined to donate generously to this cause. =)

March 25, 2010

Through iTunesU, I shall eventually prevail

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:18 pm

March 24, 2010

Too late…

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:32 pm

Had I known about this valuable service when my sister’s dog died, I could have presented her with a thoughtful gift.

Not true thing of the day

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:38 pm

Under inspiration from Joe, I shall turn my attention a bit to untrue things of a different sort.

Here in Beirut, people are very concerned about bombs for some strange reason.  After about 2005, security guards, the Army, and all sorts of folks started using portable bomb detectors.  I’ve always thought they were a bit odd, and had several conversations with the security guards who rely on them.   They claim that the antenna physically responds to the ‘magnetic profile’ of explosives.

Anyone who has passed a basic course in physical science should have their ears perk up at that testable assertion.  How can a non-magnetic  element induce physical movement in such an antenna, particularly when the detection device must be operating at very lower power?

Turns out, my desire to call shenanigans was spot on.

Tests show bomb scanner ineffective, Thailand says

“We’ve done a double-blind test where the equipment was only successful in discovering in 20 percent of the cases, when just a random choice would give you 25 percent — so there’s no statistical significance to having the equipment,” Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told CNN.

A similar device got it’s manufacturer arrested in England.


Not to worry, the Assistant Deputy Minister General Tareq al-Asl (who’s department bought $85million dollars worth of these things) says:

“The reason the director of the company was arrested was not because the device doesn’t work, but because he refused to divulge the secret of how it works to the British authorities, and the Americans before them,” the general was quoted as saying.

“I have tested it in practice and it works effectively and 100% reliably.”


Another official claimed:

[it] had detected 16,000 bombs, including 700 car bombs.

Oh really?  Hmm, let’s take a look at that:

Explosives expert Sidney Alford took apart the “black box” of the GT200, which is supposed to receive signals from the detection cards.

He was surprised at what he found.

“Speaking as a professional, I would say that is an empty plastic case,” he told us.

Someday, I hope to have the chance to say:

“Speaking as a professional, I would say that is an empty plastic case,”

Also, the device has no electronic components, and is powered by static electricity from the user….

Not to worry, the company has a perfectly valid explanation:

Gary Bolton from Global Technical told the BBC that the lack of electronic parts “does not mean it does not operate to the specification”.

What would that specification be exactly, and how many other empty plastic cases might meet it?

Fortunately, if the bomb detection market doesn’t work out, the miraculous device has many other uses:

The devices have also surfaced in Kenya where comedian and broadcaster Stephen Fry saw them in use by rangers when he was filming for the BBC series, Last Chance to See. Mr Fry told the BBC that he thought it was “cynical, cruel and monstrous” that rangers – who were trying to track down poachers – had been told they could detect ivory at vast distances.

“I was horrified. They had spent a vast sum of money on a modern equivalent of a hazel twig divining rod. There was no possibility that such a thing could work.”

Yeah, I’m calling shenanigans.


March 23, 2010

We’ll see

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 2:06 pm

On the inspiration of RainbowNarrows, I think I shall return to the notion of using this blog space for things I wouldn’t necessarily want to post on my public blog, such as potentially personally identifying data.  I’m not sure if I have the gumption to maintain two blogs, but we’ll see.

In that regard, I do have a tidbit that I haven’t mentioned yet.  MA and I decided to take a latin dance class together.  I thought it worked out fairly well for the first while.  In the end, we decided to drop it, because the instructor wasn’t so much interested in showing us how to do these dances as he was in showing us all what a wonderful dancer he was.

First of all, I’m not really thrilled with learning latin dance from a guy with Johnny Bravo hair and black stretch pants.  Second, I certainly don’t want to spend my time as a captive audience for his ego preening.  Therefore, I fired him.  MA did not object.

If anyone knows of a good Latin dance instructor in Beirut, please let me know.

March 20, 2010

Not True Thing of the Day #7 – repaired

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 5:54 am

I’m not sure if you folks are enjoying this series or not.  I’ll keep going a bit, and see what you think.  Please let me know if these are valuable to you in the poll below (update:  the poll module is broken.  Please use the comments section).

Assertion: Joseph Smith correctly translated the scriptures through the power of God.

Reality: To determine the truth of this statement, Mormons would exclusively rely in the feelings they get in answer to prayer.  As discussed previously, I believe God expects us to use intuition in combination with reason and scholarship to get at truth which is less likely to be biased by our own dissonance.

Therefore, I will present a scholarly evaluation of this statement, and show what intuitive truth would be consistent with it.

Evaluating Joseph Smith’s translations from a scholarly perspective is difficult, because the source material is missing.  However, this is not universally true.  In three cases, we have both the source, and Joseph’s translation. These sources are the illustrations from what Mormons believe to be the Book of Abraham.  In this example, I will speak only of the Third Facsimile.  The image is below.

In this case, Joseph provided the following translation:

#2 King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head.

#4 Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as written above the hand.

#5 Shulem, one of the king’s principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand.

Here we have a testable assertion of fact.  Do the characters above his head contain that information?  Unfortunately, no, they do not.

#2 “Label for Isis (text to the right of figure 2 of facsimile 3): Isis the great, the god’s mother.

#4 Label for Maat (text to the left of figure 4 of facsimile 3): Maat, mistress of the gods.

#5 Label for Hor the deceased (text in front of figure 5 of facsimile 3): The Osiris Hor, justified forever.

What Mormons say about this:

Not much really.  The closest treatment of this issue if the theory by Hugh Nibley that Abraham was re-purposing illustrations which would have been available in other sources (the Egyptian Book of the Dead) in order to tell his story.  Fair enough, that is theoretically possible.  However, if that is the case, then it would be improper to say that the text says something it does not.  This theory is inconsistent with the translation because it does not explain why a specific, incorrect translation is given of written text.  It would have been theoretically consistent to say:  This figure represents X, instead of these characters say this figure actually is X.

Therefore, this explanation cannot account for the disparity between the characters, and what Joseph Smith says they mean.

There are several other Mormon defenses to the idea of a mistranslation, which I will deal with if people care to hear my view.  Otherwise, I’ll go on to my theory on how this can be made compatible.

My Idea:

Instead of viewing the translation process as something which produces literally true representation from one language to another, we can view this as close enough to suit God’s purposes.  This is a much messier view of translation than most Mormons would be comfortable with, because it doesn’t fit the notion of a God who makes sure his mouthpiece is free from error when speaking context as a prophet.  It also leaves behind the idea of the scriptures as something which are literally true.  Presently, Mormonism is highly resistant to doing this.  Many Mormons think I am obsessed with details when I raise objections like this, because the name of the guy in the picture is not very doctrinally significant.  True enough, but that’s not the issue.

The issue is the reliability of the person who claims to be speaking for God.  In this case, Joseph Smith claims he is accurately translating under the power of God.  This is the core issue, not the merits of the translated text itself.

Amusingly, a prominent Mormon Egyptologist is now trying to claim that the truthfulness of the Book of Abraham is not relevant to the truthfulness of the LDS Church.  Clearly, I am not persuaded by his argument, because the reliability of the prophets is key to the basic doctrines of the LDS Church.

Therefore, it raises the question of whether or not God would use a mouthpiece who sometimes gets it wrong, even when acting as a prophet (something Mormons are very loath to accept).

In my opinion, yes, God could still deal with such a mouthpiece.

As a side-effect, it would create a system in which individual hearers of the prophet would independently evaluate, and possibly rightly reject, some things that prophet (while speaking officially as a prophet) claims to come from God.

I’m fine with that, but most Mormons are not.

I give the idea that Joseph Smith’s translation was correct (at least in a linguistic sense) 4 grimacing Calvins of dissonance.

March 17, 2010

Mission: Whatever

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:43 am

I’m not really sure what to do with this blog.  My original intent was to use this forum to access well-educated, true believing Mormons (and similar folks of other viewpoints) in the hope that a dialog would help highlight issues I had not previously considered.  In the best case, this would help me figure out some kind of conclusion to my religious ponderings.  As a possible secondary benefit, it might help my TBM friends/relatives to understand what concerns had caused me to decide I could no longer be a practicing Mormon.

I knew that by spending time writing my doubts and concerns, that this would activate a common neurological bias.  The cognitive science is quite clear that writing a given position down (even if you are not persuaded by it) it will tend to induce you in that direction.  Therefore, developing content for this site is highly likely to induce anti-Mormon cognitive bias in my judgment; something I do not want.

I am very grateful to all those of you who have read, participated and commented!  However, thus far, the response from the TBMs to this blog has been either silence, or to crank the definition of Mormon doctrine down so narrowly, it could not possibly support the current church.

TBM caught on film.

Therefore, the primary benefit I sought has not materialized, but the primary risk has.  I am now more convinced than ever that the probability that the LDS church is actually God’s true church is very low indeed.  The secondary benefit of explaining my views to the TBMs in my life may be happening, but I suspect not very effectively.

That being said, actions almost always have unintended consequences.  Perhaps this blog theme is good for something else that I had not originally intended.  I suspect it has succeeded in providing some amusement for Cris, which cannot be overvalued.  =)

Although this sounds like the strategy of a 13 year old girl, I turn the question to any interested party.  Please use the comments section (anonymously if you wish) to explain what you would like to see this blog accomplish.  If it is something I am also interested in, we might well have a deal!

Hail Xenu

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:33 am

ooh, ooh. That’s a question I’ve always wondered about (whenever it fits into your arc, Matt).  Why are there so many things that are supposed to be kept secret from us heathens until we agree to join?

This is an interesting question.  Mormons believe there are aspects of their doctrine and practice that are so sacred, that they can only be taught to believers.  Generally, they use Old Testament temple ordinances to justify this practice.

I think this is specious because in the Old Testament the ordinances were reserved for certain categories of people, but the ordinances were known.  In Mormonism, there are several things you covenant not to disclose at all.  This represents a level of sacredness/secrecy that is not found in any commonly accepted scripture I am aware of.

Why was that one episode of Big Love in the temple supposed to be such a big deal?

Want to know what happens inside? Google and 10 seconds will tell you.

I didn’t actually see it, but I think the controversy was more around the idea that the Church is entitled to only discuss those parts of itself which are faith-promoting.  Most Mormon temple ceremonies appear very weird to non-Mormons.  Particularly because Mormons think these ceremonies are sacred, they don’t want to lose control of the discourse.  This is commonly referred to as the milk-before-meat principle.  Generally, this tends to look cultish to non-Mormons.  Mormons generally don’t tend to understand why that is.  That episode might have included some of the secret/sacred stuff.  I don’t know, and I can’t actually look up video from my bandwidth constrained location.

It used to freak Mormons out when I would quote dialog from the LDS temple film outside the temple (even though we don’t covenant to keep that part secret).  I found it odd that they felt the need to keep 100% of the temple secret (sacred?) even though the part you covenant not to disclose is very small <5%.  I think people felt the need to be extra safe in not accidently disclosing the secret stuff that they over-reacted.

Of course, the LDS temple ordinances contained severe penalties for disclosure (evisceration, decapitation, etc.) up until rather recently, so it is somewhat understandable why folks were inclined to be super-cautious.  That stuff was taken out before my time.

Especially now that we can all Google for stories about the temple from ex-Mormons?

This is an extremely good point.  Back in my day, it was very hard to get your hands on accurate material outside the temple.  At this point, any yokel with Google and 10 seconds can have the whole LDS temple ceremony in perfect detail, plus older versions, editorial on what it seems related to and so forth.

I would argue that Mormonism has been unprepared for this, as well as unprepared to lose control of the historical discourse around Mormonism.  Again, back when I was a kiddo, anti-Mormon stuff was of low quality and high screech factor.  These days, there is enough impartial scholarship on what Mormon doctrine and history is really like that there is credible counter-weight to the ‘only faith promoting stuff will be discussed’ attitude of the Mormon church.

I think this can been seen pretty clearly in the attitude of the Mormon church toward its own history starting with the 70s.  More and more realism (warts and all) is creeping in to the Mormon church’s discourse about itself.

I think an interesting question is, ‘Why do people think dangling undisclosed doctrine will induce people to join?’

The answer is:  Because they don’t understand non-believers.  These faithful folks are very steeped in their own religious practice, and already take its truthfulness as a given.  Because things like the temple are related to that devotion, they reinforce the rightness of their faith.  When it comes to sharing their faith, they want to express how much those secret bonus thingies have enriched their lives to motivate someone who does not already accept their truthfulness as a given.

In nearly every case, this makes the devout look creepy and cultish.  ‘Here come commit yourself to this church which has secret practices you don’t get to know about when you commit.’  Who in their right mind would do such a thing?  For someone exploring the truthfulness of a religion, that will have the opposite reaction.  What almost always ends up happening is that the person will become curious, and find the secret/sacred things through Google in very little time.  Thus Xenu and the endowment ceremony can be known by any 13 year old in a few seconds today, whereas it would have been tightly controlled by the relevant religion in the past.

You just can’t simultaneously maintain religious secrecy and also try to be mainstream.  Your secrets will be posted to the web.

March 16, 2010

Not true thing of the day #6

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:00 am

The votes and hit rates are clear, you folks want to move on to a new topic.  I’ve decided to take a bit of a risk with my next: ‘Not true thing of the day’.  I want to make it clear to all, that at least in my mind, this is not an anti-Mormon post.  I hope you also see it that way, but I recognize that some people may react very aggressively to this post.  Please know that I have tried to make this as palatable to a TBM (True Believing Mormon) as I can and still remain true to my moral center.

‘If you only knew all the things I want to say and don’t’ =)

Assertion: Brigham Young was a good person.

Reality: While I admit making a categorical judgment about Brigham Young is a very complicated endeavor, I submit the following excerpt from a speech Brigham Young made to the Utah government assembly:

Governor Brigham Young, Speach – Joint Session of the Legeslature, February, 5 1852

In the preisthood I will tell you what it will do. Where the children of God to mingle there seed with the seed of Cain it would not only bring the curse of being deprived of the power of the preisthood upon themselves but they entail it upon their children after them, and they cannot get rid of it. If a man in an ungaurded moment should commit such a transgression, if he would walk up and say cut off my head, and kill man woman and child it would do a great deal towards atoneing for the sin. Would this be to curse them? no it would be a blessing to them.— it would do them good that they might be saved with their Bren. A man would shuder should they here us talk about killing folk, but it is one of the greatest blessings to some to kill them, allthough the true principles of it are not understood.

(Typescript by H. Michael Marquardt, Brigham Young Addresses, Ms d 1234, Box 48, folder 3, dated Feb. 5, 1852, located in the LDS Church Historical Department, Salt Lake City, Utah)  (The entire speech can easily be found on line if you want extra context)

Yes, please count me among those who don’t understand the truth of that principle.

In case there is some doubt about the veracity of this record, we were lucky enough to have Wilford Woodruff’s (future Mormon prophet) version of events:

Wilford Woodruff’s Account, of Governor Brigham Young’s address, before the Legislative assembly of the Territory of Utah upon slavery

Let me consent to day to mingle my seed with the seed of Cane. It would Bring the same curse upon me And it would upon any man. And if any man mingles his seed with the seed of Cane the ownly way he Could get rid of it or have salvation would be to Come forward & have his head Cut off & spill his Blood upon the ground. It would also take the life of his Children.


I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that anyone who advocates killing a child because its mother was black and the father was a white Mormon is a bad person.  I know some folks might think I am being harsh here, but I believe killing children because of their parents is bad.  So bad in fact, that if you think that is what should happen, I will go ahead and round you off to a bad person.

For Cris, and other non-Mormons who are looking for a bit of fun with the LDS Missionaries, go ahead and ask for their views on the quotes above.  I find it morbidly hilarious that 100% of the TBMs I have seen presented with this idea will react as:  “Well, that’s OK because of X.”  Values of X tend to include:

  • You have to consider the local culture at the time.
  • We don’t know everything Brigham Young thought, maybe there is something that could make that statement OK.

I find it very illustrative of the TBM mindset that they would prefer to think that killing mixed race children is a more acceptable thought than that Brigham Young was a bad person, or even that he was a good person who said something wrong.

I’m rather curious to see if any of the readers of this blog would think that I am being too harsh to call Brigham Young a bad person for this.  If so, I would really be interested to hear your views on what other factors could exist, simultaneous with an acceptable view on killing children which would make that person NOT a bad person….

What do the Mormons say for themselves:

Further down the hilarity rabbit hole, I particularly enjoy this link.

From an apologetics site which seeks to explain Brigham’s views.  I’ll take a snip here:

Brigham Young’s comments were a condemnation of abuse and rape of helpless black women, and not an overtly racist statement condemning interracial marriage.

In 1863, couplings between black women and white men would virtually always be a relationship of a staggering power imbalance, with few rights for the woman, who was often forced into sexual activity. Her children would have been automatic slaves if she was a slave, and the men under no legal responsibility to provide for her or the children. (This failure to provide for offspring was a common Mormon criticism of Gentile non-marriage relationships when contrasted with plural marriage.)


This is not to say that Brigham did not share some ideas about the desirability of keeping races separate; virtually everyone of his era did. American ethnologists taught that whites and blacks were separately created races, the mixture of which would corrupt both.[11]

But, when in the same speech Brigham Young condemns the whites for their treatment of blacks, and threatens punishment for white men who have what is likely forced intercourse with black women, it is not fair to portray him as a ravening racist with no concern for the downtrodden. His fire and brimstone is all for the aggressor; his sympathy is for those who were mistreated.

See, he’s really just being a nice guy!  Out to protect the downtrodden! Plus, lots of people thought things like this back then, so it’s OK!

My response to the apologist:

So, explain to me again why the children should be killed?  Wouldn’t the children fall in the mistreated camp?  If your explanation holds, why kill the kids?  For that matter, why kill the woman?  If this is supposed to protect the downtrodden, portraying the woman as essentially a rape victim, why kill her too?

Also, I’d like to hear your views on how a free black woman in the north of the US could not possibly have had sufficient capacity to be able to consent to a relationship with a white man.  If you could please, explain to me how your views support the idea that a black woman couldn’t possibly consent to marry, but could also vote, hold property or anything other aspect of adulthood.

This apologist attempt clearly doesn’t hold water.

If this family lived in Brigham Young's time, he thinks they should all be killed.

Other possible defenses:

I would tend to think that folks would want to excuse Brigham’s pro-child killing stance with other instances in the Old Testament where God seemed to order the killing of children.  Without commenting on those scriptures themselves, I’ll just point out a key difference.  In those OT stories, people believed God was telling them to kill children.  In this case, the argument is that Brigham Young himself thinks children should be killed.  That is a key distinction.  Unless of course, someone is going to argue that Brigham’s view actually did represent the will of God and was doctrine…

Editorial: I don’t think God ever wants people to kill children, but this post is not about my views on the Old Testament.

Disclaimers and wind-up:

I want to make it clear I am not claiming this quote to be official Mormon doctrine.  I do claim it is illuminating to the soul and mind of Brigham Young, and the other folks assembled there.

This raises useful questions about what it means to be a ‘true prophet’, if one can simultaneously hold a pro-child killing position and be the worthy leader of God’s true church.

Further, it is useful to understand the views of the people around Brigham Young.  Did no one raise their hand and say:  “Sorry, Governor Young, but I am not on board with the child killing as such.”?

On top of that, I’m amazed that Brigham didn’t think killing all these people was enough!  I’m flabbergasted by his line: ‘it would do a great deal towards atoneing for the sin’

Not all the way mind you, but a really good start…

Are you kidding me!?

Also, what does this say about the prophetic relationship with God?  If God is in regular communication with Brigham Young on the running of his one true church, are we to understand God never said:

‘Hey Brigham, nice job you’re doing down there, but not so much with the child killing.  You’re not quite singing with the choir on that one.  I’d like you to lay off that…’

Are we to understand God didn’t think this important enough to raise with with his official mouthpiece?  Was it OK with God that his official mouthpiece held and taught views such as this?

I think not.

Am I saying he was absolutely, definitely not a true prophet?

I’m going weasel out of that a bit, because there are so many messed up prophets in the scriptures, I can sort of see how someone could make an argument that he could be a prophet and simultaneously a deeply flawed individual.  Because of my views on the reliability of the scriptures, I’m reluctant to accept that as conclusive.  For now, I will say I am highly disinclined to believe he was a true prophet, but I can’t prove he wasn’t.


Before commenting on this post, please hold in your mind that Brigham Young believed children should be killed for the following reasons:

  • Father priesthood holding white
  • Mother black
  • Children were born
  • The father wants to atone, and therefore decides the whole family is to be killed.
  • Desire of the mother and children to be killed is not relevant.  If the father says yes, it’s all over.

Yes, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I think that makes Brigham Young a bad person.

I award the notion that Brigham Young was a good person the maximum 6 grimacing Calvins of dissonance.





What do you think?

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March 15, 2010

To make it more clear….

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:10 pm

A scientifically minded reader (and active Mormon) of this blog has suggested I offer the following as examples of what human genetic diversity would look like, if the population of the species had dropped to the levels described in scripture:

Wisent, also called European bison, faced extinction in the early 20th century. The animals living today are all descended from 12 individuals and they have extremely low genetic variation, which may be beginning to affect the reproductive ability of bulls (Luenser et al., 2005). The population of American Bison fell due to overhunting, nearly leading to extinction around the year 1890 and has since begun to recover (see table).

A classic example of a population bottleneck is that of the Northern Elephant Seals, whose population fell to about 30 in the 1890s although it now numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Another example are Cheetahs, which are so closely related to each other that skin grafts from one cheetah to another do not provoke immune responses,[citation needed] thus suggesting an extreme population bottleneck in the past. Another largely bottlenecked species is the Golden Hamster, of which the vast majority are descended from a single litter found in the Syrian desert around 1930.

Cuter than my usual graphics, no?


Listen to your mother

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:58 am

In some recent conversations with readers of this blog, it became clear that additional resources are needed to understand how to related Genetics to questions of religion.

Therefore, I will post a few, very brief illustrations of the conflict.  First, the science:

Most of our genes represent a blending between the mother and father.  There are two exceptions.  All of our mitochondrial DNA comes directly from the mother, and all our Y chromosomal DNA comes directly through the father.  There is spontaneous mutation to these genes, which allows us to track how the population as a whole formed.

Mitochondrial Eve is defined as the woman who is the matrilineal most recent common ancestor for all living humans. Passed down from mother to offspring, all mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in every living person is directly descended from hers. Mitochondrial Eve is the female counterpart of Y-chromosomal Adam, the patrilineal most recent common ancestor, although they lived thousands of years apart.

Here is a graphic representing how a single woman can be mitochondrial eve.

Right off the bat, we have a huge problem here.  Mormon doctrine holds that Adam and Eve were real people, and that we (all people) are their descendents.  According to this postulate, not only should we all be her descendents, there shouldn’t be ANY other mtDNA *AT ALL*.  The only genetic variation would be mutation to her original mtDNA.  Those mutated descendents could interbreed, etc. but mtDNA Eve could have no peers, and no competing descendents.  In other words, the whole graph above should start out blue.

Unfortunately, the evidence is not remotely consistent with the assertion that all humans descended from a single female (scriptural Eve) or from four females (max possible mtDNA types on Noah’s ark).

One of the misconceptions of mitochondrial Eve is that since all women alive today descended in a direct unbroken female line from her that she was the only woman alive at the time.[9][10] However nuclear DNA studies indicate that the size of the ancient human population never dropped below some tens of thousands;[9] there were many other women around at Eve’s time with descendants alive today, but somewhere in all their lines of descent there is at least one man, who could not pass on his mother’s mitochondral DNA to his children. By contrast Eve’s lines of descent to each person alive today includes at least one line of descent to each person which is purely matrilineal. (emphasis added)

Therefore, because I believe God intended our eyes and brains to help us tune whether or not our inspiration is correct, I submit:

If you believe God has told you that all humans descended from a single pair, God is trying to show you through your eyes and your brain that you didn’t quite hear him correctly in your heart.

Is this clear?

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March 12, 2010

A unique Mormon problem with Noah’s Flood, but the Catholics seem OK

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:57 am

For all the non-Mormons out there, the LDS church believes that there are translational errors in the Bible, and that our scriptures, and modern prophets were sent by God to firm up areas where the Bible was incorrectly translated or unclear.

I will attempt to show that in at least one case, the added Mormon scripture actually creates unique and severe problems for Mormonism.

The case in point is the idea of Noah’s flood being global.

From what I can tell, my Catholic colleagues are not particularly concerned about the idea that Noah’s flood may have been a local event:

Neither Sacred Scripture nor universal ecclesiastical tradition, nor again scientific considerations, render it advisable to adhere to the opinion that the Flood covered the whole surface of the earth.

OK, fair enough, I don’t have a problem with that.

While research into the idea of a global flood provides all kinds of fun quotes such as:

Flood geology is associated with Young Earth creationists, who regard the biblical flood narrative in Genesis 6-9 as a historically accurate record. The evidence they have presented has been evaluated, refuted and unequivocally dismissed by the scientific community, which considers the subject to be pseudoscience. Flood geology contradicts scientific consensus in disciplines such as geology, physics, chemistry, molecular genetics, evolutionary biology, archaeology, and paleontology.

This post is not about a global flood directly.  While Mormon sources do in fact teach that a global flood did occur, I predict a 99.9% chance that would just devolve into a ‘that’s not doctrine’ swamp like what has happened with death on the earth before Adam.  Fortunately, in this case, someone did most of my work for me.  In this case, our topic is:

Who are Noah’s kids?

Moses Chapter 8:3

3 And it came to pass that Methuselah aprophesied that from his loins should spring all the kingdoms of the earth (through Noah), and he took glory unto himself.

As anyone with a pulse can see from a mile away, I’m going to stomp on that testable assertion like a bug.

First, it’s flatly not even remotely possible that all living males descended from an identical Y Chromosome which could possibly be consistent with Noah.  The end, that’s it.

Second, there is a desire to interpret Biblical references to ‘the earth’ to refer to a limited geographical area.  Therefore, Mormons would like to use that idea as well, to claim that would be the case in this scripture too.

Well, to say nothing about a vagary of translation argument for someone who was supposedly translating with direct instruction from God….

Unfortunately, limited geography is not going to work either.  In order for even that interpretation to be correct, there would have to be some subset of more than one kingdom in either North America (suggested by Mormonism) or the Middle-East (less so) which all descended from a single Y chromosome.  Mind you, he also says ‘…from his loins would spring…’, which clearly rules out the notion that the given population could validly have mixing with other loin-springing.  My daughters sprang from my loins, the neighbors and hypothetical adopted kids did not.

We know very well how our genetic distinctiveness propagated and it isn’t remotely consistent with Methuselah’s prophecy in Moses chapter 8.  Any such location (containing at least two kingdoms) must have the founder effect in spades.

That is not even remotely the case.  This is testable, clearly defined and absolutely false.

Catholics don’t have this problem with the flood story because they don’t have this particular prophecy.

This doctrine is also unique to Mormonism.  We still have outstanding debates on whether or not massive piles of identical teachings from Mormon prophets, apostles and official curriculum can be considered doctrine, so I will not bore the reader by including the pages and pages of such material which support my statements above.  Please either accept my assertion, click here, or feel free to go to and check them out for yourself.

Note that I am not even talking about the other side of the Noah story: the women.  If a global flood is true, there would have to be no more than three possible distinct maternal mitochondrial genotypes in circulation. That’s obviously false. There simply could not have been a global flood and the levels of genetic diversity in modern humanity.

While I don’t have research at hand to address a limited geography implementation, I think we can intuitively agree that any possible interpretations of ‘all kingdoms’ in a defined limited geography model must have a very small possible diversity of maternal mitochondria.  That is very unlikely to be the case for any of the candidate geographies.


As an aside, I really wonder about promises from God if ‘all kingdoms’ really means just a few and ‘the earth’ means a teeny tiny area.  I’ve heard of fine print in my time, but holy smokes!

Shall we apply that definition to this from Genesis:

28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be afruitful, and bmultiply, and creplenish the dearth, and subdue it: and have edominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

If we are going to redefine, we have to be consistent.  Our dominion should only apply to an area small enough to also not contradict the genetic validation.


By either a global or limited geography theory, the postulate that ‘all nations’ descended from a single Y Chromosome is provably false.


Uniquely Mormon scripture contains at least one provably false factual postulate (which is also a prophecy).

Have we established false doctrine yet?

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Did the fall bring death into the world?

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:45 am

Because this has become a core matter of dispute in my first false-doctrine proof, I shall dedicate more screen space to the issue of whether or not the fall brought death to the whole world.  At present, while there is no commonly accepted standard of doctrine for the readers of this blog, there is a general agreement that whatever that standard will be, it must include at least the scriptures.  I shall therefore focus on those references first.

While I realize that my earlier citations were not accepted by some as sufficiently proving my point the first time I used them, we didn’t have a discussion about their meaning because there was simply so much on the table.  I want to revisit and focus on these scriptures in the hope that there can be a consensus on their meaning.  I will make reference to sources which can be seen as authoritative but perhaps not independently doctrinal to help shed light on which scriptural interpretations are more likely to be correct.  Please let me know if we should have a thread on whether sources which are not independently doctrinal can be used even for that.

As an aside, the fact that reasonable people can disagree on the interpretation of the scripture illustrates how they are insufficient to establish doctrine on their own.  Perhaps a Mormon would say that reasonable people who have the spirit would agree, and the fact that I don’t agree, shows I don’t have the spirit.  If that is the case, it would seem likely that interpretations which are consistent with known spirit holders (prophets and apostles) are more likely to be consistent with the spirit.

First Reference:

2nd Nephi chapter 2:22

22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

Both the things inside the Garden of Eden and outside the Garden of Eden were created.

Because this scripture sets a context of ‘…all things which were created…’ clearly it is referring to the entire earth rather than the more narrow, things which were created in the garden. If I refer to objects having the attribute of “created” that includes inside and outside the garden.  It should be noted that some authoritative but not official sources have taught that the garden covered the whole earth.

In fact, the only location-limiting context in this verse is the notion that Adam was in the Garden, and would have remained there.

Second Reference:

Again, Moses 6:48

48 And he said unto them: Because that Adam afell, we are; and by his fall came bdeath; and we are made partakers of misery and woe.

Here again, there is no locational information supplied that would limit this scripture to a specific place.  To do so is to add meaning.  It clearly says, “…by his fall came death’.

I’ll stop there with the scriptural references, to give those who would like to dispute these points easy hooks with which to do so.

I will go on to look at the statements of prophets, apostles and church curriculum to see which scriptural interpretation is more consistent with LDS teachings:

While I believe it incomplete, the following standard has been promoted:

“…But the voice of the First Presidency and the united voice of those others who hold with them the keys of the kingdom shall always guide the Saints and the world in those paths where the Lord wants them to be.”

Here we have the prophet of the church in a first presidency message (implying quorum):

President Benson (Prophet of the Church) First Presidency message, “Because I live, Y Shall Live Also”, 1993

Here we have other Apostles saying the same thing:

“Even before the fall of Adam, which ushered death into this world,…”

Jeffrey R. Holland (Current Apostle), “The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Liahona, Mar 2008, 32–38 ()

“The Atonement of Jesus Christ was indispensable because of the separating transgression, or Fall, of Adam, which brought two kinds of death into the world…(physical and spiritual)”

Plus the McConkie quotes I used last time

They were all published in official church publications.

Meanwhile, we have no Apostles or other church authorities disagreeing with what President Benson (in the official First Presidency Message) said above.  The only discord I can find is when people try to connect the neutral position of the LDS Church on evolution to the subject of death on the planet.  This issue might need a post of its own. …

This appears to meet even the suggested competing standard for establishing doctrine…

The Church Study Aids:


The Fall of Adam brought physical death into the world (see Moses 6:48)

Chapter 10: Jesus Christ Redeems All Mankind from Temporal Death,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 86,

Adam’s Fall brought death into the world.

Lesson 4: “Because of My Transgression My Eyes Are Opened”, Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, 12

The Fall of Adam and Eve brought physical and spiritual death into the world.

True to the Faith, A GOSPEL REFERENCE, 2004

Physical death is the separation of the spirit from the mortal body. The Fall of Adam brought physical death into the world (see Moses 6:48).

Answers to Gospel Questions: What do we know about the location of the Garden of Eden?

“We must remember that the whole earth was paradisiacal before the Fall. The Garden of Eden was a center place. After the Fall, there was no Garden of Eden or paradisiacal status on earth.”

“Chapter 12: The Atonement,” Gospel Principles, 71

The fall of Adam brought two kinds of death into the world: physical death and spiritual death.

“Chapter 44: The Millennium,” Gospel Principles, 282

The earth will again be as it was when Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden (see Articles of Faith 1:10). The whole earth will be a delightful garden. There will not be different continents as we have now, but the land will be gathered in one place as it was in the beginning (see D&C 133:23–24).

Misc tangent:  Ok, seriously here folks, this is getting ridiculous.  Go to and search for: ‘fall death world’ and you will get pages and pages of this stuff.  Even writing this post, I was getting lost going through all the masses of references and trying to remember if I had already used it.  There is such an enormous body of material out there in favor of this idea, that it either really is doctrine, or a mistake of such colossal proportions as to raise serious concerns about the Church’s capacity to reliably teach its own doctrine.  Rock or hard place, pick one.


My interpretation of scripture does not require the addition of inferred content to the scripture, and is consistent with statements by previous prophets (in the first presidency message, which implies quorum), current and past apostles, and the current and past official church curriculum.

The alternative interpretation requires us to add meaning to the scriptural text, and to reject all of the prophetic, apostolic and curricular sources cited above.  Further, I could not find any non-scriptural sources which support the interpretation that the earth as a whole was initially created in a non-paradisiacal state.


It is more likely to be official Mormon doctrine that death came into the world as a whole through the fall of Adam than that it is not.

The search for doctrine on the mortality

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Response to Jason

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 6:42 am

This arc is not about Mormon cultural practice, it is about doctrine.  Previously, I had addressed some points which were cultural to try and create a hospitable tone.  I hope that has not been confusing.  You and I both appear to find serious flaws in Mormon culture, and to agree that this is not necessarily directly relevant to whether or not the doctrine is true.  Are you trying to raise a new theme with your comments on cultural practice, or do you think I am speaking of culture and not doctrine?

In this arc, I’m not talking about the weirdo 80 year old high priest who sits in the back and spouts his own theories as if they were doctrine.  I’m talking about the Church’s own curriculum, its own website, and its own apostles and prophets, all of which have made unambiguous statements about this issue.

With regard to your explanation of why you have faith in Mormonism, I do plan on addressing this issue, but I think it deserves at least a week’s worth of attention, so I should defer it to the near future.  I hope that is ok.

Apologies to the readers

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 6:35 am

I’ve been trying to progress very methodically in order to keep things clear.  However, this is leading to the side-effects of things dragging out, and not addressing the points raised in comments.  Therefore, I am going to make a series of quick, smallish posts, to try and move things along and reduce the backlog.  This may in turn create a corpus of posts of such size that folks don’t feel comfortable commenting, or fracture the thread of the blog.

I’ve decided to chose the devil I don’t know and see if we can make better progress moving more quickly.

Also, why is it that I get Mormon commentors or non-Mormon commentors, but never both?

March 11, 2010

What is doctrine?

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:46 am

Thanks to all who contributed their views on my previous post.  There are a lot of interesting ideas in there, which I wish to address.  While I am tempted to make a mega-post, I’m going to try responding in bits and see if that is more effective.  As the previous arc relies on establishing a principle as doctrine before showing it to be false, Art has rightly identified this as a key point.  As he is now proposing something official , unless informed otherwise, I will consider this the resolution of his earlier request for more time to ponder.

To evaluate the suggested threshold for Mormon doctrine, let us consider the following:

The clearest reference to where doctrine comes from that I know of is from Joseph Fielding Smith, when he was the president of the Church, speaking in the priesthood session of general conference in the spring of 1972:

“An individual may fall by the wayside, or have views, or give counsel which falls short of what the Lord intends. But the voice of the First Presidency and the united voice of those others who hold with them the keys of the kingdom shall always guide the Saints and the world in those paths where the Lord wants them to be.” (July Ensign, 1972, p. 87.)

First, a pro forma problem.  This statement itself cannot be considered doctrine, because it does not reach the standard it seeks to define.  It is a classic liar’s paradox.  Unless the definition includes things like: ‘stuff the prophet says on his own in the priesthood session of General Conference’, or this is a restatement of something that was already issued in the manner he is describing and then repeating here, then his description of the doctrinal process is itself not doctrine (and can therefore be rejected).

While it is very likely that the statement is true, it is very unlikely to be complete.  For example, in the LDS Church, you cannot be baptized, receive the priesthood and attend the temple if you are drinking coffee.  As was made clear in the article I linked to earlier, this prohibition did not come about in the manner described above.  At least two consequences derive from this:

#1)  This statement is at least incomplete, and there are other valid methods of establishing doctrine.


#2)  The LDS Church is denying saving ordinances to people based on non-doctrinal reasons.

In the case of #2, I would consider it vanishingly improbable that a church would be actively lead by God and simultaneously be denying saving ordinances to folks based on an errant policy.  I can’t imagine a circumstance in which God would look at a misapplication of doctrine of such magnitude and say – Meh…

Therefore, I conclude that it is overwhelming likely that there are other valid methods of establishing doctrine which are not included in the statement above.

Therefore, any proposed standard of doctrine must be capable of establishing this prohibition of coffee as doctrine, or reconcile the denial of saving ordinances based on a non-doctrinal issue.

I’m trying to keep things focused for brevity, but there are actually several items that would fall into this category.  I’m leaving them out for now.

Let's hear from the jury...

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March 10, 2010

Other options, and my preferred resolution to the question

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:56 am

This post has been particularly difficult to form, because I find myself drawn to address the mechanisms which LDS-ers use to handle these issues.  Drawing a progressively smaller circle of doctrine, claiming that it must be true but we just don’t have all the evidence, etc. etc.  However, I should probably stick to how I view this.  As usual, the best thing you can do is take me on and prove me wrong.

  1. If there is a God who created the universe, it is likely that God knows how he did that.
  2. If people claim to speak for God, but have incorrectly articulated a principle God would know, then their reliability rate at speaking for God is less than 100% (unless God is lying, which seems unlikely).
  3. Declaring doctrine is the same as speaking for God.
  4. Mormon doctrine is that the earth went from space gravel, to a global paradise, to a fallen earth.
  5. This is clearly not factual.
  6. There is a non-zero amount of false doctrine in Mormonism.
  7. Further, as we discussed in ‘Does God Want You to Check the Math’, feelings of inspiration that this aspect of Mormon doctrine is true can be rightly contradicted by knowledge obtained through observation.


Does the presence of a non-zero amount of false doctrine mean ‘the LDS Church is not true’?

I’m not so sure.  I’ve already come to terms with the reality that some things can never be proven but are still true (incompleteness theorems).  I think it is reasonable that if God had a true Church, it might not bother him that it contained an amount of error.

Therefore, the presence of a non-zero amount of paradox or falsity does not necessarily then mean ‘the Church isn’t true’.

I’ve basically performed a Kobyashi Maru here and changed the rules for a game that wasn’t going very well.   But, not by much.  I do think that validating the testable assertions of our faith by observation (Scientific Method) is the way God would want us to validate whether or not our inspiration is well-tuned.

So, where do you draw the line?  At what point has the paradox and falsity level hit a critical density to show that in fact, your inspiration is wrong?  I have no idea.  I have no mechanism to suggest how much error is too much error.

Conclusion:  The Mormon Church might still be true, but for a different definition of true than most Mormons think.

That’s my view.

I’ll be here all week, don’t forget to tip your waitress.

Raise your voice to the heavens!

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March 9, 2010

Why the alien dinosaur theory was appealing

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 5:34 pm

As per the agenda, item 3 should be the topic for the day.  However, I will dispense with proving it here.  I believe it is reasonable to accept that there was in fact loads of death happening on the Earth before the fall of Adam.  But, if this idea is still in dispute, please let me know in the comments.

Therefore, I shall proceed to item #4, which is much more interesting.  I’ve tried writing this post without using sweeping generalities, but it became awkward.  I’ll go ahead and refer to Mormons as a single group.  If you are an exception, you know who you are.

I think the best way to illustrate the alien dinosaur issue is with the following quote:

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

Mormons believe it is impossible that doctrine is untrue, whatever remains, however improbable, must therefore be true.  Perhaps this is the reason theories that would fail to persuade a neutral person are seen as credible to some Mormons.  Yes, this is the very definition of cognitive dissonance.  An illustrative example can be seen here.

This may be related to how Mormons decide to be Mormon.  The LDS Church teaches that people should be taught certain basic principles, and then they should pray to have God confirm to them if ‘the Church  is true.’  Because Mormons believe that God has in fact told them it is true, anything which does not confirm this conclusion is seen as suspect or simply false.  Cognitive dissonance fills in the gaps between an individual’s belief that the Church is true and conflicting postulates.

“Because God told me this Church is true, and it is obvious that these fossils predate Adam, then it is reasonable that they came from a different planet, or some other such idea.”

To illustrate, consider this quote from Thomas S. Monson (Thomas S. Monson was first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this devotional address was given on 13 November 2007)

Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.

Should doubt knock at your doorway, just say to those skeptical, disturbing, rebellious thoughts: “I propose to stay with my faith, with the faith of my people. I know that happiness and contentment are there, and I forbid you agnostic, doubting thoughts to destroy the house of my faith. I acknowledge that I do not understand the processes of creation, but I accept the fact of it. I grant that I cannot explain the miracles of the Bible, and I do not attempt to do so, but I accept God’s word. I wasn’t with Joseph, but I believe him. My faith did not come to me through science, and I will not permit so-called science to destroy it.”

I find this quote, together with the emphasized passages from to be deeply disturbing.  However, I think many Mormons would find them beautiful and insightful.  It is difficult for me to address these topics.

As the number of graphics has recently fallen to a severe low-point, I’m going to repost a previously used graphic that I find relevant here.

I think I’m just going to end here, because I don’t know how to address these issues in a better way.

In my next post I will finish the agenda with “… Other options, and my preferred resolution to the question”

You are next in line for a customer care representative

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:09 am

@RainbowNarrows – Hey there!  I didn’t know you were reading this blog.  Nice to have you around.  On becoming Catholic, one thing is for sure, it would be a lot easier to figure out what the doctrine actually *is*. =)

@Art-  Glad to hear we are pretty much on the same page.  I couldn’t  decide whether or not to plave my response to your comment on the last post or page to itself.  In the end, I couldn’t get any beautiful formatting in the comments section, so I went with this.

First, Even though some doctrines may be more important for salvation than others, I don’t believe it is OK for the less important ones to be false, because (as you say) they are just as important in establishing the validity of doctrine, itself.

Yipee!  We agree.

However, if a “minor” doctrine appears false, my response is to consider everything I believe and conclude that there are things I don’t understand yet, rather than reject the whole.

Yes, I haven’t really touched yet on what the consequences would be of a non-zero amount of false doctrine.  I will get to that, but haven’t done so yet.

So it is with the case at hand. From my viewpoint I believe the Fall brought death into the world and I also believe that the creation process took a long, long time, and that death needed to logically be a part of that. I had honestly never thought of the two being in conflict before. So, rather than reject one or the other I try and bring them into harmony. One possible route is to say that the Fall was restricted to the Garden, but, as you point out, that is somewhat problematic because the universality of the Fall bringing death into the world is so widely taught, and appears to be doctrine.

In my mind, the other way of bringing these into harmony is to consider the time differences between the world and the Garden. I was alluding to this and the two creation stories before. I believe it is in harmony with the scriptures that the Garden was a special enclave that was on God’s time, or timeless, while the rest of the earth was on our (normal) time.

Just as a side point, this is very close to the plot of an episode of Stargate: SG1.  Doesn’t make it an invalid theory, just somewhat amusing for those of us who occasionally watch cheezy scifi.

In this way, the Fall would have taken place in a timeless realm, and just like God or angels are not bound by time or space, neither would the effects of the Fall. In this timeless state, the Fall could then bring death to the earth at any point God wanted it to. This point could have been before the development of life on earth, and might have been the event that triggered it.

Yes, if we reject all the non-scriptural sources as not doctrinal, I think there are a lot more options for coming up with an interpretation that would be more consistent with observed data.

I’m not saying this is right. Nor to I wish to say that I fully understand what I am talking about. I simply mean to point out that much more study and thought (at least on my part) is required before I conclude there is a conflict between the LDS Doctrine of the Fall and coal deposits.

Fair enough.  Certainly, everyone should have room to fully explore their views before taking a position.  Could I ask that as you are doing that would you please include some thoughts on the following?

1)  When  you have established your views, what epistemological process would make them doctrine?  Or, in the alternative, are you clearing the slate and saying your view is not doctrine, and neither is anything else that isn’t clearly and explicitly stated in the scriptures?

2) Please contextualize your position in view of the following excerpt from

Before we can even begin to understand the temporal creation of all things, we must know how these three eternal truths—the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement—are inseparably woven together. No one of them stands alone; each of them ties into the other two; and without a knowledge of all of them, it is not possible to know the truth about any one of them.

The Fall was made possible because an infinite Creator made the earth and man and all forms of life in such a state that they could fall. This fall involved a change of status. All things were so created that they could fall or change, and thus was introduced the kind of existence needed to put into operation all of the terms of the Father’s eternal plan of salvation.

The first temporal creation of all things was paradisiacal in nature. In the Edenic day all forms of life lived in a higher and different state than now prevails. The coming fall would take them downward and forward and onward. Death and procreation had yet to enter the world. Death would be Adam’s gift to man, and the gift of God would be eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Knowing that the Creation is the father of the Fall, and that the Fall made possible the Atonement, and that salvation itself comes because of the Atonement, we are in a position to put the revealed knowledge about the Creation in a proper perspective.

“When the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things,” our latter-day revelations tell us—“Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:32–33). Pending the Millennium, it is our responsibility to believe and accept that portion of the truth about the Creation that has been dispensed to us. (emphasis added).

March 8, 2010

Your call is important to us…

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:24 pm

Looks like Art is going to be otherwise engaged for some time, so I shall attempt to integrate the issues he raised into our regular programming.  I’ve been thinking about how best to do this, but I have yet to figure out a beneficial way.  I’ll just have to take my best shot.  He has raised at least two significant ideas.  First, that the creation process went from space gravel to paradise to a fallen state as a planetary whole is not doctrine.

If Art is right, and the principle is not doctrine, we have at least two questions to consider.  First, why is the LDS Church teaching this if it isn’t doctrine?  Second, if this isn’t doctrine, what is the correct mechanism for identifying doctrine? I will post on these points later.

Second, he raises a distinction between important an unimportant doctrine.  I’m not sure if he intends to reference the commonly-held interpretation of that idea, but in the absence of further comment, I will presume he does. I’ll address that one now.

If this idea is valid, then we must accept that some percentage of official LDS church doctrine is false.  Because virtually all the Mormons I know wish to advance that 100% of LDS Church’s doctrine is true, this is a significant move indeed.

Some LDS-ers take the view that doctrine can be sorted into groups.  At the most general level, these groups would be important and unimportant doctrine.  The clearest Church statement I am aware of on this point comes from the press release I cited as ‘doctrine mechanism #2’ in my earlier post.  The relevant point is here:

Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. For example, the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. The mistake that public commentators often make is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at the very center. This is especially common among reporters or researchers who rely on how other Christians interpret Latter-day Saint doctrine.

Based on the scriptures, Joseph Smith declared: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”

Amusingly enough, this statement of Joseph Smith’s itself does not appear to rise to the level of doctrine, but let’s skip over that for a moment.

I can certainly understand a core/non-core grouping, particularly in the context of accurately describing LDS beliefs to someone who has never heard them before.  Certainly, it would be more responsible to start with core doctrines and it would be irresponsible to represent a non-core belief as thought it were core.

Does it then follow that it is more OK for a non-core belief to be false?


If a peripheral doctrinal principle is false, at the very least, it illustrates that the doctrinal system is capable of making mistakes.  That’s a pretty big issue.


Disclaimer: I think I should at least acknowledge that TBMs would want to say there is a difference between a doctrine being false, and appearing false.  Some of the TBMs I talk to  wish to advance that Church doctrine is actually 100% true, but there are some issues that they ‘…will wait for God to explain…”  I think that should be addressed in a dedicated post, but I’ll at least mention it here.


Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:57 pm

March 7, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:27 pm

I had planned to use this weekend to finish up the doctrine arc, but I think Art’s comment raises a number of important points.  As he is unavailable on important family business, I have decided to take the weekend off.

Mind you, this would have been more effective as an announcement had it been made at the beginning of the weekend, but hey, you didn’t know I was planning to blog, so backing out can’t really be a surprise, now can it?

At any rate, our regularly scheduled programming with resume in the next day or two.

And by regularly scheduled, I mean fully exploring ideas that were not scheduled.

March 5, 2010

The next step

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:38 am

As promised in the agenda, the next step is to establish why the ideas in the last post are important.  To address this, I have decided to forgo my usual witty dialog and steal:

The Atonement, by Elder Russell M. Nelson, Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, From October 1996 General Conference

Humbly I join the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob, who asked, “Why not speak of the atonement of Christ?”(1) This topic comprises our Third Article of Faith: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.”

Before we can comprehend the atonement of Christ, however, we must first understand the fall of Adam. And before we can understand the fall of Adam, we must first understand the Creation. These three crucial components of the plan of salvation relate to each other.(2)


Scripture teaches that “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”(7) The fall of Adam and Eve constituted the mortal creation and brought about required changes in their bodies


That brings us to the Atonement. Paul said, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”(14) The atonement of Jesus Christ became the immortal creation. He volunteered to answer the ends of a law previously transgressed.(15) And by the shedding of His blood, His(16) … and our physical bodies could become perfected

Clearly, the atonement of Christ is as core a doctrine for Mormonism as you can get.  If any of you still believe that the entrance of death into the world is too corollary to core doctrines to be relevant, please take it up with Elder Nelson.  Or, leave your views in the comments. =)

Time to establish some doctrine

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:58 am

After illustrating how difficult it is to establish Mormon doctrine, it is time to do just that.  The doctrine in question is that:

Adam’s fall brought death into the world.

Mormon thought makes a distinction between spiritual death (separation from God) and physical death (separation of the spirit from the body).  Physical death is the theme of this investigation.

I’m going to take it as a given that the earth was created as a paradise. This is so clear in scripture that it should need no exposition.  Please let me know if you wish to dispute that the earth was created as a paradise and then proceeded to the fall, to be renewed as a paradise in the end (thanks the to the atonement, et al).

On to the first question:

Is this doctrine?

<begin literature review>

Let’s start with the sources most likely to be doctrine, the scriptures:

Moses chapter 6:48

48 And he said unto them: Because that Adam afell, we are; and by his fall came bdeath; and we are made partakers of misery and woe.

2nd Nephi chapter 2:22

22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

Corollary but somewhat off point:

Article of Faith #10

10 We believe *snip* that the earth will be erenewed and receive its fparadisiacal gglory.

Note: Mormon teaching (I would say doctrine) is that earth was created as a paradise before the fall of Adam.  In paradise, there is no death of anything.

Note: On 2nd Nephi 2:22, the original state of the garden was immortal, so failure to remain in that state is clearly mortality (mortality = death).

For those of you who want full context, please feel free to read the whole chapters if you like.

Let’s continue with sources slightly less likely to be doctrine:

Footnotes published with the scriptures

It should be noted that footnote b on Moses 6:48 referers to death and mortality.

Official teachings of the church curriculum:

Thus, in the Fall, Adam and Eve became the first beings upon the earth who were mortal flesh, or subject to death.

Moses 3:7. “The First Man Also”

In 1909 the First Presidency stated: “It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was ‘the first man of all men’ (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race” (“The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, 80).

MOSES 3:8-17


Moses 3:8. Where Was the Garden of Eden?

President Brigham Young taught: “In the beginning, after this earth was prepared for man, the Lord commenced his work upon what is now called the American continent, where the Garden of Eden was made” (Discourses of Brigham Young, 102).

President Heber C. Kimball, who was a counselor in the First Presidency, said: “The spot chosen for the garden of Eden was Jackson County, in the State of Missouri, where [the city of] Independence now stands; it was occupied in the morn of creation by Adam” (in Journal of Discourses, 10:235).

Moses 3:9. The Trees Became Living Souls

Moses 3:9 indicates that “every tree . . . became also a living soul.” Man, animals, and birds “were also living souls” (see Moses 3:7, 19). Doctrine and Covenants 88:15 teaches that a soul is a spirit and a body combined. On the subject of living things having souls, President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “The idea prevails in general, I believe, in the religious world where the gospel truth is misunderstood, that man is the only being on the earth that has what is called a soul or a spirit. We know this is not the case, for the Lord has said that not only has man a spirit, and is thereby a living soul, but likewise the beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea have spirits, and hence are living souls” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:63).

Hmm, animals have souls? (ah, let’s not get distracted…)

Next, let’s look at statements of church leaders published in official church sources:

The Caravan Moves On, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1984)

True believers know that this earth and man and all forms of life were created in an Edenic, or paradisiacal, state in which there was no mortality, no procreation, no death.

Christ and the Creation, By Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Of the Quorum of the Twelve (1982)

The Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ is the heart and core and center of revealed religion. It ransoms men from the temporal and spiritual death brought into the world by the Fall of Adam.


At this point we must insert a statement from our tenth article of faith: “We believe … that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.”[A of F 1:10] That is to say, when the earth was first created it was in a paradisiacal state, an Edenic state, a state in which there was no death.

For brevity, I am going to truncate this section.

Now let’s take a look at one of the official church websites:


The first temporal creation of all things was paradisiacal in nature. In the Edenic day all forms of life lived in a higher and different state than now prevails. The coming fall would take them downward and forward and onward. Death and procreation had yet to enter the world. Death would be Adam’s gift to man, and the gift of God would be eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Lastly, illustrative sources that are known to be authoritative but not official:

The bible dictionary (published by the church along with the scriptures, but not official doctrine)

Latter-day revelation teaches that there was no death on this earth for any forms of life before the fall of Adam. Indeed, death entered the world as a direct result of the fall (2 Ne. 2: 22; Moses 6: 48).

</end literature review>

Conclusion: Taken together, the evidence is overwhelming that the officially doctrinal scripture, supplemented by apostolic and prophetic teaching, supplemented by the official curriculum indicates, supplemented by Church published study aids, that there was no physical death on planet earth before the fall of Adam.

While I maintain that the standard of official doctrine is very hard to understand, whatever that standard might be, it would be mighty hard to consider this amount of evidence to be insufficient.  If such a threshold did indeed exist, and this doesn’t meet it, I should wonder what possibly would.

Did I make my case?

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If you chose a poll option containing an “X”, please elaborate in the comments.

Your concerns are cultural, not doctrinal

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:19 am

I’d like to take a moment to explain why that might seem to be the case.  Within Mormonism (as in virtually every theism), there are certain lines that cannot be crossed.  While having private doubts is allowed, publicly speaking against church doctrine is considered an excommunicatable offense.   So far, I’ve been trying to steer clear of that threshold to avoid such complications.  Cris has kind of called shenanigans on my approach thus far, and she’s pretty much right.

I have a devil’s bargain in that if I stick to things I wouldn’t get excommunicated for speaking against, I appear to be concerned with fringe issues.  If I speak to core doctrines and teachings, I can get in serious trouble.

I’ve decided that on at least this issue, I am going to go ahead and discuss scripture, doctrine and teachings.  We’ll see what comes of that.

As mentioned earlier, I claim it can be very difficult to determine what official doctrine actually is.  Does this blog count as a public statement?  The audience is quite narrow, so I’m not sure about that. I wish the line was more clear.

Anyway, on with the show.

March 4, 2010

I must be, like, psychic or something…

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 5:14 pm

Imagine my surprise to see the seldom-updated site: (of which I am fond) post some material specifically on the subject of what is Mormon Doctrine.

An excerpt:

“One of the best-kept secrets in Mormondom is “What is Official Doctrine, and how is it established.”

The post is interesting (and much longer than mine).  As most resources on this topic do, it suffers from logical self-contradiction.  In this case, at least the author is aware of it.

“I have made every effort to be as accurate as possible to represent the teachings of the Church.  Nevertheless, I am presenting only my understanding. The official website for the Church is I encourage you to prayerfully search these things for yourself.”

Yeah, I would encourage that as well.  Anyone trying to answer this question on will find divine intervention very helpful.


Was that too snarky?

</end meta>

Seriously, was it?

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Hillarious stolen thought for Terra’s amusement

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:32 am

“Purely anecdotally, I would say that Jews are most tightly bound to the non-religious aspects of their identification (nation, culture, persecution complex), followed by Catholics (family, guilt, lack of enterprise). Jews become atheist, Catholics become agnostic, Mormons become shell-shocked and bitter, and go into therapy to become professional ex-Mormons, and Evangelicals become either Catholic or self-dealing narcissists. Muslims can never leave Islam. Lutherans seem happy staying Lutheran.”

What is Mormon Doctrine?

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:21 am

This is a really large issue.  I’m going to have to skip over a lot of debate to keep it manageable.  I propose for this analysis that we consider two main categories:  Authoritative teaching and official teaching.  Authoritative is defined as coming from one or more church leaders who hold significant responsibility in the church.  For now, I’ll keep that at the apostolic level.  Official teaching will be one better.  Something absolutely, unassailably doctrine.  Everything below authoritative, I am going to leave out for this arc.

One of my chief annoyances is the logical inconsistency of the authorizing mechanism.  I’ll start with two of the most popular statements on what constitutes doctrine.  First:

Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church, or change in any way the existing doctrines of the Church. He is God’s sole mouthpiece on earth for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the only true Church.

He alone may declare the mind and will of God to his people. No officer or any other church in the world has this high right and lofty prerogative. So when any other person, irrespective of who he is, undertakes to do any of these things, you may know he is not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” in so speaking unless he has special authorization from the President of the Church.

This statement comes from a talk given by Mr. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., who at the time was a member of the First Presidency of the church.  The talk was called “When Are the Writings and Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?”  He was a bit off topic when he said the above, but not by much.

My first concern is pro forma, but important.  Reducing his language to the simplest logical form, he is saying:

Only someone with attribute A can establish doctrine, unless he has received authorization from A.

Really?  OK… Do you have attribute A? (are you the prophet?)


Oh.  Do you have authorization from A?


I have found no authoritative evidence that Mr. Clark issued this statement with the authorization of the prophet.  There are some bloggers who claim (without citation) that he did, but nothing beyond that.

Same thing with statement #2:

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.

Here the same pro forma objection applies.  We are being told that the top quorums of the Church council together to establish doctrine that is then officially proclaimed.

OK. Let’s reduce that:

Only statements formed by process X are doctrine.

OK, was the above statement formed by process X?


Again, it is theoretically possible that the statement was formed through process X, but there is no clear sign of it.  This seems odd for a statement meant to add clarity.  Certainly the article in the church newsroom was not promulgated with the trappings of officiousness that examples in the statement itself received.

Therefore, both of these statements, on their face, fail to be taken as doctrine by the very standards they promote.  Ack

Am I being too nitpicky?  I don’t think so.  It would be very easy for the prophet to stand and say: I having property A, I postulate this method of establishing doctrine as doctrine.  It would be very easy for the initiators of process X to declare this as a standard through process X.

Have they done so already and these statements are only recaps?  I’d challenge anyone who thinks they can to utilize just the resources listed in statement #2 to establish this as the clear standard for what constitutes doctrine.  It should be noted we haven’t even talked about the myriad of things that are treated as though they are doctrine but don’t fit those precepts.

Furthermore, Mr. Clark’s standard for establishing doctrine is much narrower than that which appears on the church news website.  He makes no allowances for the participation of the quorums, only the prophet alone.  “He alone may declare the mind and will of God…” vs. “…First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine…”

In addition, if that is the standard for actual doctrine, then the doctrine of the church is very slim indeed.  One wonders at all the material folks quote from on Sundays that doesn’t meet this standard.  The church is veritably teeming with authoritatively taught non-doctrinal assertions by this standard.

It appears to me that what is really being practiced is:

Pay attention to the folks at the top for doctrine.  If they say something together it is doctrine.  If it is said by a lot of individuals a lot of times, it is probably doctrine (but not 100% of the time).  Of those examples, you have to use some other method to figure out if it is doctrine.

Uh, so what is the definition of a lot?  This may seem nitpicky now, but it will be very relevant later in the arc.

In addition to these, it is important to consider the application of example #2.  In my view this statement is very elastic.  As single statement appears to definitely be out, and a certain list of statements is definitely in.  What about the church curriculum?  What about ideas that ease into the consciousness (such as Heavenly Mother) rather than something that suddenly appears, all in the same year, in a multitude of Church ‘official publications’?  Are we to understand that things which appear in many official publications are there because the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 have already counseled together and endorsed them as doctrine?  If so, the next few posts are going to be a bumpy ride…

There is a lot more that could be said about this, but I think it best to leave off the expositing and move into the example of what I believe to be an official ‘not true’ teaching.  I think the discussion around those principles will help illustrate the difficulty in establishing doctrine.

Otherwise, I sincerely request any TBMs out there who think they have it better sorted out than I do to please explain that in the comments section.

To finish, there is also example #3, or what I call the hippie definition:

Anything you feel the Spirit on is doctrine for you.

Well, that one is at least internally consistent, provided you feel the Spirit on it =)  This one becomes quite problematic when you start feeling the Spirit that something that looks like doctrine isn’t true, or if something authoritatively taught isn’t doctrine.  Try telling an Apostle you don’t feel the spirit on one of his teachings and see what he does.

What say you?

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Bit of a pickle

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:16 am

I confess myself uncertain how to proceed.  There certainly is a clear answer to Cris’s question yesterday, but is this blog really the best place for that?  I’m starting to think perhaps not.  In any case, I will make the attempt and see where we go.  I may stop the experiment if it seems likely to lead to ultimately problematic results.

Because there are many postulates which fit together in this picture, I’m going to make a series of smaller posts.  I hope this will make it easier for people to respond to the specific issues atomically.

Here is the agenda:

  1. The difficulty of establishing what Mormon doctrine actually is
  2. LDS Teachings on the Fall of humanity and why this is a core issue
  3. Why these teachings are almost certainly not correct
  4. Why the alien dinosaur theory was appealing
  5. Other options, and my preferred resolution to the question

As an outcome to this arc, I hope to illustrate what it has felt like for me personally to work through those issues, and how it complicates the question of ‘having a testimony’.  As a corollary, I want to show the problems encountered by Mormons in connecting their feelings to an embodied postulate, what do when dissonance arises (by that postulate appearing false), and how this weaves in with current epistemological teachings.

March 3, 2010

Not True Thing of the Day #5

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:30 am

It was previously suggested that posts were not receiving much participation because they were coming out to frequently.  Hence, I lowered my rate last week.  However, this seems to have bored people, so I am going to toss out a few amusing entries in this series as an interlude to the more substantive arc.

Assertion:  The fossil record is the result of the materials making up the earth having been used before in other planets.

Reality:  Are you kidding me?  For folks who use the ‘hurricane in a junkyard assembles a jet’ example to speak against evolution must have broken irony meters when they advocate that fossils came from other planets.  Are you not aware of the forces involved in disassembling a planet?  Supernovas?  Massive asteroidal impacts?  How about reassembling it?  Coalescence of matter into a new orbital body?

On top of that, we find these other-earth relics layered in astonishingly chronological strata?  That anyone finds this idea the least bit credulous must surely be unaware of the basic tenants of physics.  I’m astounded that it was ever taught with a straight face.


Alien feather from another world (very strong)!


I award this three out of six grimacing Calvins.  I had thought to only give it two because it was so implausible, but it was advanced with such consistency and in response to such important questions about the world that I’m upping it by one.







March 2, 2010

This is a reward?

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:39 pm

In order to properly welcome the contribution of a first time commenter, I’m going to create a post on the issues he raised:

Yes – Mormons who say “with every fiber of my being” are wrong, yet in many cases feeble minded and don’t know any other way to express their “happiness”.

Well, that might be a bit strong.  I’m not sure what else to call it, because I’m not sure what it really is.  Do they not have better ways to express themselves?  Have they redefined what “know” means?  Do they feel pressured to claim they “know” when they really “believe”?  All of the above?  Is that the same as being feeble minded?

I would argue that you have juxtaposed two principals that do not contradict each other.

I certainly don’t want to give the impression that these principles are inherently contradictory.  Even the most devout atheist believes in things (yes I am conflating faith and belief here).  By highlighting issues of paradox, I was attempting to show cases in which faith and evidence are not incompatible.  There are cases in which they are compatible.

I do think the assertions of faith should be tested to determine if they produce the results they claim.  In some cases that will be very difficult (“Where do we go when we die?”)  In others, not so hard (“My faith makes me rich “(as in the ‘prosperity gospel’)).

What I want to focus on is what to do when faith-based assertions aren’t validated by downstream evidence.

Faith is required when evidence is not yet revealed/known,

I agree.

and evidence is not required to establish truth.

Not sure about this one.  Certainly, the truth exists if we are aware of it or not (Heidegger would disagree, but he’s dead and so can’t comment on this post).  Special relativity has been an active force since the beginning of this universe, but it wasn’t a theory until last century, and the theory wasn’t validated by evidence until later still.  It was always true anyway.

Evidence is required for us to be aware of the truth.  That evidence could well be a feeling (intuitive epistemology) or empirical measurement.  What you accept to be valid evidence is a bit of a different theme.  In this case, I’m trying to deal with what happens when one manner of establishing knowledge (faith/feelings/etc.) contradicts another (observation, logic, etc.).  That doesn’t always need to happen.

In fact, if you have faith in a principle which turns out to be true, one would expect both of these general approaches to interface beautifully.

Trying to find one correct method is far too simple…if it where only that easy.

I agree.  I think things tend to get really out of synch when either observation or faith are used alone as establishers of knowledge.  The failure of the Descartesian experiment proved that pure rationalism can’t establish much of any real use, and the rise of Scottish naturalism and Thomas Reid argued that we have to take certain basic assumptions as though they were true, even though they were unproved (such as the existence of the external world).  Gödel went one further by showing that it was actually impossible to prove every piece of a true system and nonetheless accept the whole as true.

Therefore, we can’t just use one system, unless we are comfortable with: ‘I think therefore I am’ for the rationalists, and fairies and alien abduction for the ‘I believe therefore it is true’ crowd…

The problem in this thread is what to do when a faith-based assertion doesn’t hold up under observation.  Since I have spoken to Daniel on the phone, I know his position on this, but I expect there are lots of folks who aren’t comfortable with what to do in that breakdown case.  Young earth creationists, global flood literalists and so forth are an example of this effect.

I don't get it...

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March 1, 2010

Clarify me #3

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:38 am

In my recent off-line chattings about material featured on this blog, I have become aware that some of my earlier points about what factors actually promote happiness may not have been clear.  Fair enough, I was mostly talking about what doesn’t correlate to happiness, so the inverse was left a bit vague.  Since I’m feeling a bit sickish, I’ve decided to address this by stealing someone else’s work, instead of writing things out on my own.  Behold a decent summary of what factors have been demonstrated to correlate to happiness at a national level:

1. For a person, money does buy a reasonable amount of happiness. But it is useful to
keep this in perspective. Very loosely, for the typical individual, a doubling of salary
makes a lot less difference than life events like marriage.

2. For a nation, things are different. Whole countries — at least in the West where
almost all the research has been done — do not seem to get happier as they get richer.

3. Happiness is U-shaped in age. Women report higher well-being than men. Two of
the biggest negatives in life are unemployment and divorce. Education is associated
with high reported levels of happiness even after controlling for income.

4. The structure of a happiness equation has the same general form in each
industrialized country (and possibly in developing nations, though only a small
amount of evidence has so far been collected). In other words, the broad statistical
patterns look the same in France, Britain and Australia.

5. There is some evidence that the same is true in panels of people, ie. in longitudinal
data. Particularly useful evidence comes from looking at windfalls, like lottery wins.

6. There is adaptation. Good and bad life events wear off — at least partially — as people
get used to them.

7. Relative things matter a great deal. First, in experiments, people care about how they
are treated compared to those who are like them, and in the laboratory will even pay
to hurt others to restore what they see as fairness. Second, in large statistical studies,
reported well-being depends on a person’s wage relative to an average or
‘comparison’ wage. Third, wage inequality depresses reported happiness in a region
or nation (controlling for many variables), but the effect is not large.

( Happiness and the Human Development Index: The Paradox of Australia, David G. Blanchflower, Andrew J. Oswald, Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit, Institute for the Study of Labor, May 2005)

Absent from this summary are factors more relevant to the individual level, such as genetics.  Hopefully, that clarifies the picture.  One reader was concerned that I had sought to promote the notion that happiness was not at all correlated to money.  As above, that is not the case.  It isn’t linear by any means, but there is a correlative relationship.

A good overview of what types of things do correlated to happiness can be found in “Is It Possible to Become Happier?
(And If So, How?), Kennon M. Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky”  Their research also appears in the book, The How of Happiness.

No comics or polls today.  I blame the germs.

February 24, 2010

Does God want you to check the math?

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:31 pm

For various child-induced reasons, I am extremely tired today which further muddles my already silt-like writing.  That being said, it is time to discuss some aspects of the establishment of knowledge (epistemology).  A while back, the more ardent anti-religion crowd came up with this particular graphic:

While I personally find it very funny, some religious folks have asserted that it is inaccurate.  They believe that they can be people of faith, and still integrate testable assertions and evidence into their religious practice.  I would like to think this is possible.  In an act of rank social speculation, I say that while these types of thinking don’t break cleanly down into a science/religion paradigm, they do tend to clump along those axes.  Generally speaking, we are all hampered by cognitive bias.  The scientific method tends to be the best mechanism for rooting this out that we have found so far.

This is why it is so important for us to express our claims in terms of testable hypotheses and expose them to data.  Otherwise, we have an unfalsifiable assertion.

While there are things that cannot be proven in this way it is important to be careful about what we call these assertions.  Can you know the truthfulness of something that cannot be tested?  From a scientific perspective, yes that is possible, even for the super-pure mathematicians.  Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems are a key example of the effect.

However, a scientist or mathematician operating in that realm is well aware of the limitations of the incompleteness theorems and doesn’t represent their assertions to be any more reliable than the limits of such an effect dictate.

By contrast, most of the religousers I am familiar with will scamper around with slogans like “Every fiber of my being” and “Beyond a shadow of a doubt” when their assertions are unprovable or outright false.  It is quite a misrepresentation to call claim that both of these levels of knowing are equally reliable, or even similar in nature.  Yet folks do this all the time (show up on the first Sunday of the month and take some notes).

The conversation we are having about the link between Mormonism and happiness is a key example of this.  Representations are made about the causational (not even correlation!) link between Mormonism and happiness without supporting data.  Some of the contributors to this blog have rightly pointed out that measuring happiness is very difficult (I agree).  However, if measuring happiness is so difficult, where is the evidence to back up these repeated claims?

If you are using an unmeasurability argument to escape the non-correlation presented by the data reviewed on this site, it is highly disingenuous to also claim that a causative/correlative relationship exists without providing data to back it up (and also explain the data that doesn’t).  You can’t claim it is unmeasurable, and also claim a result from measurement.  You might assert your faith that the relationship exists, but that is a very different thing.

Now, most of the contributors to this blog are not taking that approach. I’m speaking more to the hordes of Mormons who make these kinds of statements without evidence.  For those of you who have a TBM background, think back on how many times you have heard claims about the happiness promoting properties of Mormonism (both anecdotal and official) and cross-reference those statements with the data you have been provided.  How much data were you given?  I’ll bet 1,000 Lira that any referenced data was almost always an anecdotal extrapolation from an individual experience (if not other methodological flaws as well).

This is a complicated issue, so I think I will cut it off here and address the individual component issues as the commenting public wishes to highlight them.  Perhaps it will become the theme of the week.

Wake up! Time for the poll!

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February 22, 2010

Let’s have some fun

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:41 am

Hopefully without beating a dead horse, I want to play with the Mormonism/Happiness thing a bit more before moving on.  Judging by the declining amount of comments and voting, the viewing populace either agrees with me, is bored, or doesn’t want to get in to it.  Therefore, I shall chose to believe that you are persuaded and I can go on to having some fun with the assertions.

Seeing as Mormonism has invested so much brand identity in being the most effective happiness promoting mechamism out there (but doesn’t seem to actually be), they will be in the market for some new branding ideas.  Ever the helpful one, I am ready to combine google image search with Microsoft Paintbrush and rise to the occasion:


Do you like me? Circle one and put it in my locker.

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Not true thing of the day #4 – redux

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:54 am

@Jason – Art made a variety of interesting points regarding the inspiration behind callings in the Mormon church.  I would encourage those of you who might be interested to review his description of parts of the process.  To clarify, the point in the original post, the dispute at hand is whether or not the person issuing the calling is always aware of an active, affirmative inspiration before issuing every call.  I assert that Mormon doctrine allows (even predicts) that there may be cases when the person issuing the calling does not perceive an active, affirmative nudge of inspiration.  Reasons for this may include:  You were going to do the right thing anyway, God wants you to exercise your own judgment , etc. etc.

I have heard other Mormon theologians refer to this as the principle of least interference, meaning God will do just that which is necessary to direct the petitioner.  Further, as people become more mature in the gospel the level of perceived inspiration intensity may appear to go down, as the petitioner becomes wiser, needs less inspiration and becomes better at detecting and acting up inspiration, and making the best decision on their own.  This speaks to the issue of a church leader issuing a calling without an affirmative nudge of inspiration, because that action is already in accordance with the will of God and needs no correction or affirmation.  In essence, you don’t need to have affirmative inspiration to do the right thing.

In the words of Morpheus,  ‘Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize, just as I did, that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path


He would make a great Bishop!

As I understand Jason’s dispute, this was the material difference between the perspectives.  Jason wasn’t advocating that the issuing of the calling in the absence of affirmative inspiration was necessarily wrong, or that the person giving the calling was wrong to do so.  I understand him to be saying that the calling can be issued, and that be the right thing, in the absences of affirmative inspiration.

@Art – I believe Art has been seeking to address those who would look at the events *after* the calling is issued, and try to reverse engineer whether or not it was the will of God that it be issued in the first place.  As I read his scenarios, we see a list of areas where the issuing of the calling doesn’t necessarily result in what people would think of as ‘success’ and therefore seek to claim issuing the calling was the wrong decision.  I believe Art has well captured the complexity of trying to reverse engineer those case studies.  In the future, when I address the prayer concept, this will be big – so stay tuned =)

@Paul – Well, of course, that never happens =)  Speaking hypothetically, I think it likely a TBM Mormon would say that the individual exercised their free agency to mess things up after a valid call had been issued by the chosen mouthpiece of God.  A liberal Mormon would be more likely to accept the idea that the calling was a mistake.

In a slightly different case (which of course never happens) I have heard tell of times where pedophiles were called as scoutmasters because the local leaders didn’t notice the annotation on their church records.  In my judgment, it seems likely the local leaders made a mistake, particularly when the person goes on to offend again.  I think it is likely that the more conservative a Mormon is, the more likely they are to try and make the argument that God really did want that calling given, and the pedo just used their free agency, and God/Church leaders are off the hook for issuing a call to a known pedo to work with kids (and then reoffend).  Of course, as I said, this never happens.

February 20, 2010

Sock it to ’em!

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 4:37 pm

“…if He (God) should suffer him (Joseph Smith) to lead the people astray, it would be because they ought to be led astray…it would be because they deserved it…”

Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 4:297-298

Not true thing of the day #4

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:10 am

Taking inspiration from Jason’s recent comment, I’d like to address what might become a sub-series in the not true thing concept.  Jason’s acquaintance was saying:

Assertion: Every calling in the church is inspired by God

Reality: Some callings don’t need inspiration because of a wide variety of factors.  Having multiple options that are all basically just as good, you will make the right decision on your own, etc. etc.  I tend to see this asserted most often by people who are not actually personally involved with issuing callings.  Issuing the calling can still be in accordance with the will of God even if it wasn’t directly inspired by revelation.

I award this two grimacing Calvins.

Notes:  This view stems from what I call the micro-managing God theory.  Proponents of this idea are usually very conservative Mormons who often hold other beliefs I like to poke at.  In order for these folks to find meaning from life, they need to believe that God caused each thing to happen as a direct expression of his will.  Other camps tend to believe that some circumstances might be random, and meaning can be derived ex post facto.  This is closely related to concepts of determinism, ex nihlo creation and so forth.  They will be address later, but I will hold them out of scope this post.

Happiness Proof

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:08 am

Apparently, some of you would like to see data that more convincingly correlates to happiness. I think that might be out of scope for this blog, but we can give it a stab.  First, I’d like to clarify that I chose the data we looked at so far because Mormons themselves selected it to demonstrate the Mormonism = happiness relationship.  As demonstrated thus far, even if the data is held to correlate to happiness, it doesn’t show Mormonism as remotely related on any kind of regression analysis, even at the highest levels.

Alternative Happiness Data #1

Economic indicators which constitute the opposite of the Misery index. (

Pros:  The data is cheap and easy to get to, reasonably quantifiable and commonly accepted.

Cons:  Economics are a single factor in overall happiness, possibly not well correlated..

Results:  Utah is 26th, Idaho 44.  No correlation to Mormonism in the data.

Alternative Happiness Data #2

Self-reported data (Measuring Subjective Well-Being, Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-Being: Evidence from the U.S.A. Andrew J. Oswald and Stephen Wu (29 January 2010) Science 327 (5965), 576. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1180606])

Cons:  Self-reported data in general is often subject to voluntary and involuntary distortion.

Results:  Self-reported happiness data correlated very poorly to income.  I couldn’t get their actual scale of happy states without  paying money which I don’t feel like doing at this point.  Also, their results were elaborated on by:

Results:  Available citations suggest no correlation to Mormonism.

Alternative Happiness Data #3

Self-reported data from alternative #2, combined with an array of quantifiable measures. (Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-Being: Evidence from the U.S.A., Andrew J. Oswald, and Stephen Wu, Science 29 January 2010:
Vol. 327. no. 5965, pp. 576 – 579, )

Pros:  The researchers found objective measures which do correlate to self-reported happiness.

Cons:  The selected data does not necessarily show causation.  It is particularly useful to see how happiness indicators correlated to self-reported happiness levels.

Results:  Utah is 23rd, Idaho 14th.  No correlation to Mormonism in the data.

(pre-Katrina data)

1. Louisiana
2. Hawaii
3. Florida
4. Tennessee
5. Arizona
6. Mississippi
7. Montana
8. South Carolina
9. Alabama
10. Maine
11. Alaska
12. North Carolina
13. Wyoming
14. Idaho
15. South Dakota
16. Texas
17. Arkansas
18. Vermont
19. Georgia
20. Oklahoma
21. Colorado
22. Delaware
23. Utah

Survey results:

Data which does not demonstrate a correlation to Mormonism:

Well-being index
Economically based happiness indicators
Self-reported happiness
Self-reported happiness combined with objective indicators
Individual Indicators such as:
Divorce statistics
Suicide rates
Bankruptcy rates

Time to vote:

Does this make the case?

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February 19, 2010

Happiness theory

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 4:36 pm

“You can be wise and happy or stupid and miserable. The choice is yours”

— Gordon B. Hinckley

Clarify me #2

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:30 pm

Because I am obsessive and can’t let things drop (I do parties, call now!), I’m going to take a third attempt at the Mormon/happiness issue.  In addition to the clarification below, here is a map showing Mormon density in 2000 (likely to be similar today).  I’ve also selected the data set which most Mormons who blog (which makes it true!) believe validates the idea that Mormonism has a causal relationship to happiness (well being data).

List format of well-being ranks:

1. Utah: 69.2
2. Hawaii: 68.2
3. Wyoming: 68
4. Colorado: 67.3
5. Minnesota: 67.3
6. Maryland: 67.1
7. Washington: 67.1
8. Massachusetts: 67
9. California: 67
10. Arizona: 66.8
11. Idaho: 66.8

The general reaction to this data tended to be: ZOMG!!!!1!! this shows that Mormons are mega happy! =) =)  The Church is trooooh!!!!

This annoys and astonishes me because this data certainly does not do that.  To prove the association between the presence of Mormonism and happiness, the level of happiness would have to have be related to the level of Mormonism!  Clearly that is not the case.  To walk through that with clarity, let’s assume this isn’t about Mormonism at all.  Let’s substitute niffleberry polen for Mormonism, and the growth of Apples as happiness.

When we consider Utah, it is very dense in niffleberry pollen and Apples.  However, Minnesota, Maryland, Washington, Massachusetts and California have nearly no niffleberry pollen and are producing Apples at very near the rate of Utah.  Further, areas with somewhat high densities of niffleberry pollen are producing apples at lower levels than the states with very high niffleberry pollen (Utah = pollen and lots of Apples, Idaho= pollen and lower Apples).

Clearly, the presence of niffleberry pollen does not correlate to apple production.

Just to make it a tiny bit more complex (and more robust), let’s overlay with population densities.  This is needed because even though given areas are Mormon dense, they might not be people dense enough to make the population view at the aggregate, state-wide level meaningful (there might not be enough Mormons to weight the average (Colorado for example)).  Once that is done, I note that Idaho appears to have the largest number of both highly Mormon and highly populated areas.  When we look at the data we would expect to see Idaho quite high, if Mormonism predicted happiness.  That is not the case.  Idaho gets the pants beat off it by states that are not remotely Mormon at all.

If I had the actual data, as opposed to graphs, I could do a more robust job, but I think you folks are already getting tired of this…

What this data shows is that people in Utah are happy, and that people in Utah also tend to be Mormon, but being Mormon is not a predictor of happiness in the dataset at all.  I have not seen a single model which can correlate the presence of Mormonism to any known direct or proxy variable for happiness. I have seen many models which to a greater or lesser degree, show that the impact of Mormonism on happiness at the macro-social is completely eclipsed by other variables (education, money, sleep, genetics, etc. etc.).  In fact, the data is actually quite solid as to what variables promote happiness, and Mormonism isn’t one of them.

Did I make my case?

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Clarify me

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:41 am

I’m glad you folks are commenting more on some of my posts, because it gives me a second chance to try and clear up my obtuse expression.  To wit, I’m going to keep pulling snippets from comments into posts where needed to clear up my points.

I’m having a hard time understanding the importance you’re giving to happiness factoring into Mormonism.

Part of the Mormon self-concept is that being Mormon will make you happier in this life and the next than anything else you could do.  If this is the claim, then there should be evidence thereof (at least for the earth life part).

I thought most religions value delayed happiness over immediate happiness, so how much relevance does current happiness hold?

This is certainly true, and Mormonism is no exception.  I think there tends to be a retreat to rewards in unseen realms when expectations don’t pan out.  “You’ll get mansions in Heaven!”  In some cases, religious promises of payoff are primarily or exclusively in the next world.  I certainly acknowledge this.  As above, Mormonism asserts itself differently.  It promises higher happiness than its competitors here and now, as well as better returns in the future.

Experience of happiness and correlation to pleasant indicators is nearly always used by Mormons in testimony meeting to explain why they believe.  I’m so much happier… My life is so much better…  Once I became Mormon, X pleasant indicator increased… etc. etc.  Saying: “My life is pretty much just as pleasant as when I used to be Catholic” would not at all be welcomed.

I don’t think happiness is an adequate predictor of “true” faith.

Could well be.  The assertion I am trying to debunk is not that happiness is a valuable metric, but that Mormonism produces it.  Personally, if we start with the presumptions that God exists, and he wants us to be happy (presumably in the present as well as the future) and at least 1 religion existing that fulfills God’s desires, then the incapacity of a given religion to produce happiness would make it hard to show it was God’s one true way.  Could a religion exist which produces happiness but is still not God’s one true way?  Possibly, but this is not the problem at hand.

Feeling content in your faith doesn’t mean that your life might not be terrible. I know first-hand that it’s incredibly difficult to mathematically determine the link between happiness and ptsd symptoms or depression – particularly when using self reported data or divorce stats.

Sing it sister!  I know we both work with these complexities on a daily basis.  It is very hard to measure this stuff.  Is it time for the methodology discussion? =)  In my earlier post, I cited the happiness composite index first as it is arguably more meaningful than the depression/divorce numbers.  Just to clarify further, the test is:

Are Mormons detectably happier than the baseline population within a given community?

Test:  If this is the case, the expected result would be to have happiness associated indicators rise proportional to the presence of Mormons in the community.

Results:  There was no correlation between the density of Mormons and the selected indicators.

You are alleging that the selected data does not significantly illuminate the condition of happiness.  That may well be true.  I took that post out of the oven half-baked because there was a convenient headline.  The press thought they were correlated so that must make it true! =)

In any case, I do think it is relevant to illuminating what kind of payoff you get for being Mormon at the macro-social level.  Maybe Mormonism produces people who are more likely to be divorced, bankrupt, depressed, unhealthy and suicidal but still happier.  Doesn’t make a very snappy sales pitch =)  I would be curious to see if anyone could put together a plausible model that would explain the observed data elements and still validate the assertion that being Mormon makes you more happy in this life than the competition (relevant to the one true way argument).

While most of the TBMs who visit this site have unfortunately chosen to remain lurkers, I was originally concerned that my original post would unleash some ire from that camp because I had even attempted to show that Mormonism is not an above average happiness producing mechanism.  By the direct or proxy variable data I am aware of, Mormons don’t diverge from the scatter plot in such a way that would lead a neutral person to conclude that the theology produces disproportionally better results than its competitors.  I would guess that most TBMs would consider the conclusions I have promulgated to be heretical if not actively apostate.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize that the ability of Mormonism to produce happiness is important because it is actively part of the sales pitch.  Mormons very actively proselyte people of other faiths (as well as the unaffiliated) on the assertion that they will be happier if they are Mormon, both now and in the future.

February 18, 2010

Neither here nor there

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:33 pm

In an effort to be more amusing and less controversial, I shall now recount an funny experience from my mission.  Given the area of NY that we worked in, there was more than one industrial-sized housing project.  In some of these there is a central area with basketball courts and so forth.  The missionaries in question were walking through one such project on a hot summer’s day, when the courts were full and surrounded by a large number of spectators.  As sometimes happens, the missionaries were being yelled at by one of the folks hanging around.  In this case, it was a mid-twenties African-American woman.  She yelled out to them:

Yo!  White boys can’t jump!

Upon hearing this, the missionary stopped, turned around and yelled back:

Black girl can’t read!

I’d like to think that one caused a 4 alarm dispatch of emergency angelic protection.


Not true thing of the day #3

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:38 am

In order to try and make these vignettes more humorous, and toss out a few the TBMs would not mind laughing at, I offer the following.  It was taught by my mission president, to an assemblage of mission leadership (about 50 19-21 year olds) on the subject of the gathering of the lost tribes of Israel.  This is big news for LDS apocalypters because gathering said tribes is necessary for the 2nd coming, which they all want to hasten as quickly as possible.  Hence, missionaries should be sent wherever it is those lost tribes are so we can bring them back and have the apocalypse.

As an aside, it was once a popular notion that they were in Russia.  Once that didn’t work out so well, the theory was altered to put them in China.  Apparently lost Israelites enjoy hiding in communist countries…  Anyway, the mission president was going through all the theories of where these tribes were, and describing why they fell short.  At the end of his presentation, he capped off with this:

Assertion:  Prophet X taught, and we should serious consider, that the center of the Earth may actually be hollow, and the lost tribes are living there, waiting to come forth.

In an effort to be more jovial, I will now represent the cognitive dissonance impacts of these assertions on a scale of 1 to 6 grimacing Calvins.  I award this assertion 1 Calvin, because it is so stupid it could never create enough dissonance to cause me unpleasentness.  It was somewhat enlightening on my mission president’s views.

Reality:  Really?  Do I need to go into this?  If I do, let me know in the comments =)

Note:  I’m not going to fill in the value for Prophet X, because I don’t have any evidence that my mission president was accurately quoting him, and I don’t want to validate a miss-attribution.

A trifle

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:16 am

Cris’s questions about my views on my own missionary service and the attendant impact thereof reminded me of an amusing memory.  Often a controversial figure, I was sometimes referred to by my friends as Elder Vader (likely called that and worse behind my back by my not-so-friends).  Perhaps because of that, I find this comic particularly amusing.

February 17, 2010

A bit of cleanup #2

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:03 pm

@Cris –

– Not only were you taught these things, but you ostensibly taught them to others, also.

In most cases, I didn’t teach the principles I have listed so far.  Where I did teach provably false postulates, If I could, I would certainly correct those.

Were you successful at converting anyone during your mission?

Technically, Mormon missionaries are trained never to say they converted anyone.  We ‘participate’ in the conversion process.  In any case, my name was on the ‘white slips’ (paperwork sent in to record a baptism) of 83 people.  Not quite the 100 fold Jesus was talking about in the parable of the sower, but that just means I need to have 15 more kids to reach the threshold of being a highly profitable investment =)

/begin tangent

If I did feel the need to undo that, I would think I would want to do it completely.  When it comes to my Mormon footprint generally, that is a bit harder to quantify.  It would involve an un-doing of my Mormon resume, which would take some thinking.  I’ve ‘served in a wide variety of callings’ (that’s how we describe our church jobs (branch presidencies, young men’s leader, congregation mission leader)).  I’ve also held some uncommon callings which had the capacity to promulgate Mormonism and increase other people’s capacity to do the same (these tended to be executive office level callings during my missionary time (the specific calling is called Assistant to the President (there is about a 1 in 125 chance of holding this calling))).  If I was trying to undo all that, it would be very challenging.

/begin super-tangent

That particular phase of my footprint assessment is extra difficult, because when the mission president gave me the AP job (issued call from God to me) he said he was doing that because God told him that I (and one of my lurking readers) “were the APs for 300”.  Our mission had been trying to increase monthly baptisms from a historical 30-50 per month to 300+ per month.  Growth had stalled in the high 180s.  A month after I and this other fellow were called, the mission cleared over 300 baptisms.  Presumably, I had a non-zero impact in that.  What was it?  If I thought I should undo that, how would I?

/end super-tangent

/end tangent

It is also important to note that I have not yet decided if I should do that.  Can butterflies unflap their wings?

How do you feel knowing that you led others down a path that you’re realizing may be untrue?

I think there will need to be an epic post on this, perhaps more than one.  In any case, I shall address it more later.

I think there should be a form letter you send out to people you converted, saying that the person who led them to believe what they do currently does not believe it for himself.

If there is to  be such a form letter, I want to be able to pick the illustrations.

At what point do you think you’ll have identified enough untruths to consider yourself deMormoned?

This series of untruths is supposed to focus on things I was told were true, but weren’t.  In some cases, the assertions are arguably not part of Mormon doctrine.  This is to illustrate the difficult epistemology of ‘feeling the spirit’ and having that linked to things that are manifestly false, and the dissonance that results from it.

/begin tangent

For example, when you feel the spirit, that means accepting the notion that the Garden of Eden is in Missouri and the Lamanites are the principle ancestors of the modern American Indians.  That creates a lot of headaches and problems.  A TBM would want to argue that isn’t Mormon doctrine, and they may or may not be right.  It is mostly irrelevant.  The point is that is how Mormonism was pitched to me.  Little Matthew, you feel the spirit, it means you have to accept these assertions (which turn out to be false).  Later on, I intend to talk about that linkage and go into the details there.  At the least, it is entirely possible for me to have been fed a line of garbage, and the feeling the spirit part to still be true.  To an extent, this series is not actually relevant to the ultimate truthfulness of the church.  It is relevant to my experience in establishing knowledge about the church.

/end tangent

I don’t really have a coherent answer to your question.

It seems as though you’re focusing on things that are untrue about the Mormon church and haven’t yet talked more broadly about Christianity itself. Is that coming, too?

This is quite likely.

We hold these truths to be self-evident

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:27 am

From time to time, I hear people make comments that simply cannot possibly stand up as assertions.  One of the most common of these is:

You can’t prove an unrestricted negative.

The problem is this:  The statement itself is an unrestricted negative!

It is directly self-contradictory.  In order to be true that you couldn’t prove and unrestricted negative, the statement itself would have to be false!  Therefore, if the statement is false, the assertion that an unrestricted negative cannot be proven would also be false.

It is as good as saying:  I really haven’t thought this through, and will now save you time by contradicting myself.

Come to think of it, that does save me time =)

If only people realized that is what it means when they use that phrase…

February 16, 2010

Not true thing of the day #2

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:01 pm

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to address this point so early in the series, but as it happens to be in the headlines these days I thought the timing was propitious.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, trying to quantify and rank something like happiness has methodological difficulties.  However, if we wait for the perfect data, we’re never going to get anything done…  If we need to have a discussion around the data I shall reference in the “reality” section, it is likely we will need to address methodology. In any case, on with the show:

Assertion:  Being Mormon will make you happy.

Note:  I think it is also a fair representation to say that the assertion also includes the notion that being Mormon will make you happier than other things you might do.  There will likely be an ongoing series on the difference between the Mormon self-perception and what data about Mormons actually shows.  I shall reuse some of my resources as we go through those points.

Reality:  Mormons are not happier than non-Mormons.

There is very little correlation between the density of Mormons and the likelihood that a given city will report high happiness levels.  Further, the trend shows cities with extremely low densities of Mormons reporting a higher comparative level of happiness than cities with high densities of Mormons.  Research has suggested abnormally high levels of anti-depressant use in Mormon-dense communities.  In addition, there are significantly higher levels of suicide rates in certain Mormon demographics.  The family values aren’t so hot either.  Atheists tend to get divorced less than Mormons, what with their wonderful family values and divine family home evenings and what not (oh wait, is that a misplaced modifier? (dear me)).  I assert these data points can be reasonably accepted as proxy values likely to correlate to happiness.

I was advised by a reader yesterday that my posts would be stronger if I provided more corroborating data.  To whit, I am linking this summary discussing what insight we can gain on Mormonism from demographics (primarily in Utah).  All of my factual assertions above are addressed in that link.

This website is a Mormon-friendly piece of the websphere.  In my judgment the speaker does a reasonable job approaching the data in a neutral manner.  Most of the original research is not well cited, but I doubt most of my readers want to go that deep anyway.  If you do, I think there are enough clues in the text to find the material.  He has concluded that the demographic data cannot prove or disprove the truthfulness of the church.  I do agree with that, but it can certainly illustrate if the people attempting to live the principles of that church are finding their labors closely correlated to happiness.  If they aren’t, and other people are getting happier, faster, then one questions the value add Mormonism would bring…  In any case it counter-points the assertion above, which is the issue at hand.

PS: I will give 1,000 Lebanese Lira to the first person to hold up Provo/Orem as an example of happy Mormonism.  Please, please, please go there!  Won’t you please go there?

That’s French Rugby

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:02 am

This image is part of an anti-anti-gay ad campaign.  On the one hand, I applaud Rugby for addressing the issue.  On the other hand, its a good thing this picture never fell into the hands of my colleagues at work, who enjoyed making snide comments about Rugby nearly as much as I enjoyed making snide comments about soccer.


February 15, 2010

Not true thing of the day #1

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:05 am

Given that 100% of the votes on the last post found the subject interesting to them, and it is also interesting to me (if for no other reason than to see how long the list will be), I have decided to make this a continuing theme.  I suspect there will be some overlap between the assertions.  Hopefully, that will not be boring.  I think it will be useful to get a better sense of the number and form of the propositions I was asked to accept as true because of the witness of the Spirit (until I wasn’t).  These posts will be interspersed with the main narrative arc of the blog as things progress.


Assertion:  Lehi’s family made landfall on the American continent in the area of Chile.

Reality:  This is not at all supported by archeological evidence.  At best, the most likely candidate in South America is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.  They sure had a long walk if they landed in Chile.  From what I can tell, the truth is that some Mormon authorities taught (perhaps deniable as official doctrine) that they landed in Chile.  Even though I was taught this as true, it probably isn’t, and it arguably isn’t actually even doctrine.

February 11, 2010

Wicked traditions of my fathers

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:20 am

I think the readers of this blog have basically figured out that I have a significant connection to Mormonism.  My current relationship with that church is rather difficult to label.  I shall attempt to explain my baseline state in hopes of being able to work through the more complicated layers which come later.

In the Book of Mormon, various villains are fond of criticizing the church by denouncing the teachings as wicked or foolish traditions of their fathers.  As I have learned more, I have come to be astounded by how very many of the things I was taught that were in fact utterly false.  The purpose of this blog post is to show that whether the Mormon Church is true or not (and what that might mean), many of the assertions I was taught and asked to have faith in under the concept that ‘the church is true’, are actually false.

Here is a sample:

Assertion:  The Kinderhook plates were proof that the Mormon view of a continent full of Lehi’s descendants really existed.

Reality:  The Kinderhook plates were a complete hoax and come dangerously close to proving Joseph Smith was a fraud.  This principle is no longer taught.

Assertion:  Quetzalcoatl was a symbol of Jesus Christ.  Also, the accounts of the conquistadors that they were welcomed by the Native Americans as Gods (Because they were white and had beards) show that the Book or Mormon account of Jesus visiting the Americas was a historical truth.

Reality:  The conquistadors made that up to legitimate their claim to the Americas.  It is an error of fact to attribute it to the Native Americans.  Quetzalcoatl is not regarded by Mesoamerican historians as at all likely to be a symbol for Christ.  These principles are no longer taught by the church.

Assertion:  The descendants of Lehi were the principle ancestors of the modern Native Americans.

Reality:  This is very unlikely to be true, so much so that the Mormon Church recently made a small but significant change to the introduction to the Book of Mormon to remove this claim.  Some think it is not an important change. To me this has high impact because it materially changes the assertion in which we are asked to have faith.  This item might need its own blog post.

Assertion:  The Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith looking at the golden plates through the Urim and Thummim.

Reality:  While no one can prove this never happened, it is now accepted that Joseph dictated most of the Book of  Mormon while looking at a seer stone in a hat, while the gold plates were hidden from view.  Much closer to what a regular person would consider revelation than translation.  While the artistic depictions hang around, this idea is no longer taught.

Assertion:  God cannot predict what you are going to do, because omniscience would fatally damage the Mormon concept of free will.

Reality:  I have concluded Mormon doctrine refutes this.  This is more an example of me being taught something wrong than Mormonism being wrong (although there is an argument for that).  Multiple Apostles have taught (authoritatively if not officially) that God knows everything you will ever do (by virtue of perceiving all time as one) and can predict what you would do (some people will be saved because God knows they would have accepted the truth if they had the chance to receive it (this is official doctrine)).

Assertion:  Prophets will not lead the church astray.

Reality:  This is a matter of definition.  Some Mormon prophets have authoritatively taught things that the church has dropped down the memory hole.  Some purists would say those inaccurate teachings were not official doctrine.  That might be true.  Arguably they were saying things, and people were following them.  An ex-officio model of leading?  Maybe, but the point is it makes it very difficult to discern what the official teaching is, what is true, and what the implications for the present would be.  What does it mean to lead the church astray?  How astray is astray?  I have come to conclude that the assertion is so poorly defined, it is practically useless.  Unfortunately, some folks use this as grounds to assert that we should mimic the dress, behavior and detailed lifestyle choices of church authorities.  Sigh…

Assertion:  The Garden of Eden was in Missouri.

Reality:  The Church has been de-emphasizing this revelation concurrent with the mounting pile of evidence against the claim.  Recently, official church sources have classified this as an un-important doctrine.  While it is clearly not very relevant to practical matters directly, it is profoundly related to the reliability of the folks claiming to be accurate mouthpieces for God.  The reliability of these representatives of God’s will is of paramount importance.  It raises troubling questions outside the scope of Adam and Eve’s mailing address.

This is not a complete list, but I put it out there to serve as examples that even though I have had a robust education in the Mormon church, with well-educated and well-meaning people, I was taught a large number of untrue things (I consider the number large (certainly large enough to be troubling to me)).   It is something that is very hard for me to deal with.


Update:  This list is actually such a small representation of the things I was taught that turned out to be false, I think I might make it a recurring blog theme to keep tossing these out.  Sort of a principle of the day kind of thing.  What do you think?

BTW, this post is my attempt to be sincere, non-threatening, and substantive.  I hope that is clear from the text.

Should I continue describing the ideas I have been taught, and asked to have faith in as part of the truth of the church, that turned out to be false?

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My trolling continues

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:26 am

In response to reader feedback that I need better blogs, I am stepping it up a bit.  I’ve chosen to address a data-centric topic, in hopes of interesting the other economic/data/psych people reading this screed.  My victim of the day is an economics professor, whom I generally agree with.

He purports that patent activity indicates a higher level of innovation in the US marketplace (the result  of US policies).  I disagree:

While your conclusion is intuitively likely, it should be acknowledged that patent activity is a proxy variable for innovation. Moreover, it is one that is most indicative in systems with a highly evolved structure of intellectual property protection. In comparison to economies similar to the US, that can be useful.

However, much innovation occurs in countries without such an advanced patent process. For example, recent research has endeavored to quantify innovation among the poorest in developing countries. The postulate being that they are innovating well, but outside a patent framework. In addition, one could speculate on the degree of macroeconomic impact and value add of the innovation in such and environment.

In my view the take away point from all this is that innovation is very hard to directly measure, and the available proxy metrics are not well adapted to measuring the actual innovation — only function of the mechanisms in the society for dealing with that innovation downstream.

Other objections to using these metrics to prove innovation include the observation that the US business climate tends to over-patent, as well as apply for spurious patents as compared to other similar economies.

February 9, 2010

Setting a tone

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 6:48 pm

It has been brought to my attention by a loyal reader that I have created a counter-productive environment.  I must admit I have been having trouble finding my voice on this blog, which has occasionally intermingled posts from a wide variety of topics (sometimes cute family pictures).  I have decided that this blog will be my space for exploring ideas, some of them painful.  This space is my attempt to understand truth.  The kindest thing you could do is disagree with me and set me straight.

I know there are many of you visiting this blog who do not agree with me, and who are not making comments (Technically, I know where my visitors live, and I know where people I know live, and I am assuming a correlation (you know how you are =) )).  I really hope you will feel comfortable participating in the discourse, but I can think of a number of reasons why you might not want to.  I hope I can maximize the chances that you will participate.

If you are coming to this blog in order to get pictures of the kids, stories of the family, and generally cheery content, you would do better to go to my public blog.  There will be regular content of that type posted there (certified to be controversy-lite).

In which I take a position Cris is less likely to disagree with =)

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:19 am

As is my wont, I am trawling the web looking for people to enlighten (my troll shirt is held up in customs).  Today’s theme:  Epistemic definitions

The target:

My response:

I’m pleased to see this topic being addressed. I find there is not nearly enough exploration of these notions. On reviewing your article, I am drawn to contemplate the epistemological differences between ‘knowledge that’ (propositional knowledge) and ‘knowledge how’ (performative knowledge). I am most accustomed to emotional knowledge being used to validate propositional knowledge. For example: I know that God exists (proposition) because I feel it in my heart.

In your example #2, a student of mathematics may well be able to read all about the truth of that statement, but understanding of the principle is ultimately performative knowledge (this is a generally accepted assertion, for which I acknowledge I am not providing any evidence). You third bullet point is a further example of that concept.

I would disagree with your assertion that proper walking is an example of emotional knowledge. It is certainly performative knowledge (can’t be obtained by reading a book in the absence of doing) but is it emotional knowledge? If I assert that I strongly feel that I can walk, does it mean that I can? I would think not.

I would like to hear your views on the concept that emotional knowledge is used as the justification of a propositional assertion, as opposed to performative knowledge.

Further, I think we need to be careful to distinguish between a profound understanding of a proposition, and the emotions that may result from that, with emotions used as a mechanism for establishing a piece of knowledge in the first place (emotions to discover a truth, and emotions as a result of that truth).

In my understanding of Buddhist epistemology, the transcendent grasping of the truth of a concept is not an emotional experience per se (although it is difficult to speak of the experience without using emotional language). Because Buddhism, particularly zazen, emphasizes understanding through ultimate stillness of mind (a discussion of the Buddhist concept of mind might be in order) it seems counter-intuitive to use this as an example of emotional knowledge.

Your forth bullet confuses me. It seems you are talking about what some authors have referred to as ‘cached thoughts’ ( Something we accept reflexively, generally by regurgitation of something previously evaluated. I know what country I live in by looking at maps, talking to other people, travel to other places. If I feel very strongly that I live in France, even though I live in America, do I live in France? Is there any sufficiently high level of intense emotion that would establish it as true that I live in France if you and I are neighbors in Kansas? It appears to me that in this bullet point your are speaking of reflexively retrieved propositional knowledge previously established by evaluation (into which emotion does not play). One may well have emotions *about* that propositional knowledge, but these are resultant, not precedent.

Thanks very much for your post on this topic, and I look forward to your thoughts.


If he doesn’t cave, I’m going to pull out the Vogons and the poetry of certain Roman emperors.

February 5, 2010

Gender roles

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:39 am

MA and I really try to focus on teaching the kids good gender messages, and providing positive role models.  Lately, there have been some complications in mixed messages they are getting from other people, as well as some advertising concepts I am not thrilled with.  On our recent trip to Byblos, we passed at least five instances of this billboard.  I couldn’t get a good picture of it for various reasons, but this will give you the general idea. 

While the red marks don’t show up in the picture, the idea is that these women are whipping Xs and 0s onto his back to play tic-tac-toe. 

 Ummmm, not the message I was looking for.  Technically, this might be marginally better than if the roles were reversed, but I think the world could get along just fine with an alternative method of advertising jeans.

February 3, 2010

In which I take a counter-intuitive approach

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:49 am

I may well regret chiming in on this subject, but I have decided to give it a try.  Over at they have had a recent cross-post of a news story regarding some barbaric jurisprudence out of Bangladesh.  The posted headline is:

Rape Victim Receives 101 Lashes for Becoming Pregnant

I have taken issue with this headline, and the cross-posted summary of the original article in the comments.  Probably best to read those first.  In addition, I have sent the following message to the site admin.  Amusingly, their feedback form contains the optional description tag:  “You’re going to hell and I’m going to tell you why”.  I couldn’t resist using it.  I wonder what will come of my observations.  In any case, I’d be curious to hear what you all think of my comments on the original post and the messge below:

Of course, I don’t believe in hell, so that option is problematic =)  Seriously though, I just chose that option because it was the closest thing I could find to something like: ‘You might want to reconsider what you posted’.  

I am writing in regards to your recent entry ‘Rape victim receives 101 lashes for becoming pregnant’.  I have posted two comments which I hope illustrate that the issue may well be more complicated than the referenced summary makes out.  In particular, I note that in the original article ( There is no mention whatsoever of the rapist being ‘pardoned’.  Only that he belonged to another village, which to my understanding (limited though it may be) means he is out of their jurisdiction and couldn’t be prosecuted even if they were convinced he was guilty, the evidence for which seems dodgy anyway.  I would urge you to read the original article critically, examine which claims are reasonably supported by fact and likely to be true, then compare it with the summary you linked.  Do you think it represents a fair recounting of the likely truth?  

In my opinion, a more accurate way of going about this would be: “Barbaric Punishment Meted out on a Minor” or some such thing.  

Personally, I would go so far as to conclude that the evidence provided in the original article does not make even a token effort to examine why the village elders decided the way they did.  As mentioned in my comments on the matter, I don’t think there is any justification for the punishment, but my ‘one-sided reporting and biased conclusion’ indicator is going off like mad on this article.  The punishment was barbaric, yes, but let’s not fall victim to cognitive distortions and further cloud the already difficult cultural, legal and moral gaps by perpetuating bias. Let’s denounce injustice and barbaric behavior by showing an example of honest evaluation and critical thinking.

If, after reviewing this message and my comments, you believe me to be wrong, I would appreciate it if you could spare some time to explain to me where you think my mistake is.  I tend to learn best from those who disagree with me.


February 2, 2010

The answer is…

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:29 pm

Real estate.

I have no idea what the connection is.

February 1, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:59 am

I will give 1,000 Lebanese Lira to the person who can correctly determine what this ad is for:



January 29, 2010

The benefits of mindfulness

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January 27, 2010

I might need to wait until summer to wear this

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January 26, 2010

Let’s go sideways

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:02 am

While my primary interest for this blog is to put my own take on life out there, I find I am often doing this by starting with something I disagree with.  So negative.

Therefore, I shall express more of my own thoughts, outside the context of negatively reacting to someone else.  I shall do this by stealing webcomics.

This illustrates a recent parenting theme I have been exploring with my kids.  While focusing on meditation, compassion, loving kindness, problem solving, interdependence etc. as the most important thing, there are times when you need to dislocate someone’s jaw with a well-placed hook.  Knowing the difference is the tricky part.

January 25, 2010

uhhh, thanks?

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:09 pm

Returning to Beirut has made it possible to reconnect with old friends.  This has generally been very positive.  In some cases, I’m not quite sure what to make of the commentary.  Keeping in mind that culturally appropriate greetings often don’t translate well, I’ve been left wondering about the intentions of the following folks:

Person A:  It’s so good to see you again.  You’ve lost so much weight, I didn’t even recognize you!


Person B:  You’ve lost a lot of weight, really!


Person C:  He looks like a proper rugby player; not like you…

For the record, I’ve 12 pounds (at most…  (technically, this is about 6% of my body weight)) .

January 22, 2010

Once more with feeling

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:32 pm

My last few epic posts have clearly illustrated I need to work on brevity.  Perhaps I should confine myself to thoughts that would fit in a haiku?  In any case, I’d like to take another stab at persuading you all on the happiness/pleasure issue.   Please post your thoughts on the following:

Which feeling is more pleasant:

A)     The sense of supreme happiness offered by the religion/ethics of your choice


B)      The competing pleasures which would prevent you from attaining that happiness

January 20, 2010

Filthy Hedonist

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:55 am

Why the Church Lady Has it Wrong

In my world view, I have come to expect folks who believe themselves to be religious/ethical to speak of the difference between pleasure and happiness.  Typically, the notions are constructed to illustrate that pleasure is inferior to happiness, and people who behaving differently than us are going the wrong way.  Often this is expressed as pleasure < happiness.  Sometimes they will go so far as to construct pleasure = bad.  Eating a piece of cheese cake would bring you pleasure but not happiness.  It doesn’t take long for this gap to be turned into a gulf.

I assert this perspective is a mistake.  To illustrate this, let’s cast the argument in terms of ultimate results and use a very basic case study. I could gather a much debt as possible, spend all my resources, and buy a new Ferrari, which I would find quite pleasurable. 

However, I understand that the end results of this action will ultimately be unpleasant.  I am convinced that saving prudently for retirement, managing my money well, and so forth, will ultimately bring about greater pleasure than purchasing the Ferrari.  Delayed gratification and prudence bring about a circumstance that I will enjoy more than instant gratification. 

Most folks will accept this.  Future pleasure > present pleasure.

Goes God Enjoy Being Happy?

The key distinction lies in the reality that happiness itself is pleasurable.  In fact, it is asserted (and I accept) that happiness brings about more pleasure than any other competing pleasure I can think of.

If happiness and pleasure are really the same thing (pleasant experiences) why do people think they are different?  In my view, this stems more from cultural bias in the Western.  Eastern world views tend not to separate these concepts. 

In the West, I think we get hung up on some pleasant experiences being labeled as bad (carnal pleasures) and some being labeled as good (pleasant feelings that arise when gazing on your baby).  The bifurcation of pleasure and happiness is a proxy of this separation. 

A good illustration of this can be seen in the typical reactions to Utilitarian ideas on what constitutes the definition of ‘good’ :  Promotion of pleasure and reduction of pain.

Hangovers are not pleasant

At that time, people viewed this as equating noble humans with base animals.  Folks reflexively thought Utilitarians were talking about rooting around in instantaneous gratification of physical desires.  In fact, this was a misunderstanding of the point.  The pleasantness of solving an extremely difficult math problem, composing a symphony, acting in an altruistic way, fulfilling duty, etc. all bring about superior pleasantness to the competing alternatives.  Even the most severe ascetic endures their suffering because they believe it is bringing about a superior result (enlightenment, atonement, eternal life with God, etc. etc.).

Does God Enjoying Being Happy More Than Satan Enjoys Being Whateverheis?

 This comparison is actually the more apt measure.  The virtue is not avoiding the pursuit of pleasure. 

The virtue is in undertaking actions which will lead to the greatest pleasure. 

Happiness is considered the superior goal because it is understood to be more pleasant than the competing pleasures being evaluated. 

Have I Got a Deal for You!

The same structure holds for many of the forms of sacrifice being promoted.  All these are represented as being actions which will bring about a more pleasant end.  Forsaking blah and blah will receive 100 fold in the kingdom, etc. etc. 

Assuming for a moment that we have already established that the offer is genuine, it is extremely rare (I can’t think of one example), in which parishioners are asked to undertake an unpleasant action for which there is not an attendant, profitable (in the sense of more pleasant than the sacrifice was unpleasant) reward promised.

For those religousers who might not be brought around yet, let’s consider another illustration.  Unlike some worldviews, Christians in particular don’t hold with the popular saying: 

Life’s a bitch and then you die.  The end. 

Instead, it is replaced with things like:  Do X and you will receive Y, which is superior to what you might already want to do.  Patiently push through A and you will get B which is better than the alternative. 

Particularly in Christian philosophy, suffering, sacrifice, etc. are almost always (I want to say always) couched in terms of ultimately receiving a reward which will be more pleasant than what you gave up to become eligible.

Being Christian is Ultimately More Pleasant (Supposedly)

Therefore, the idea that the pursuit of pleasure is inferior to the pursuit of happiness misses the reality that the same religions represent happiness to be the supreme pleasure.  It is an argument of which pleasure is best, not pleasure being inferior to (or different than) happiness in and of itself.

January 19, 2010

A bit of clean up

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:28 pm

The arc on the use of the term addiction has been a lot of fun for me, but doesn’t seem to have been as engaging for the rest of you as I thought it would be. That being the case, I’ll wrap up by addressing some of the excellent comments that were made. I believe Cris would be next with her assertion that converts would be more susceptible to such addictions.

That may well be true. Intuitively, I’m inclined to agree. That being said, the specific groups I’ve seen most obsessed by this subject tend to be the life-long members. Even if all the converts were legitimate porn addicts, it could not possibly account for the levels claimed by the religious leaders make their dire warnings.

In addition, we had the following from Terra:

From what I understand about addiction in regards to a chemical reaction, it is that when someone is addicted to a substance or in this case an activity there is a neurological reaction that results in a release of dopamine. I would say that in order for a behavior such as alcoholism or the viewing of pornography to qualify as an addiction first it would have to be ascertained whether or not dopamine was being released in quantity.

I’m a little reluctant to take a purely medical view of addiction as a mechanism. I think we are better off establishing what behavioral results should be considered an addiction and working back from there. You bring up a fascinating line of inquiry, but I think effectively discussing it would take a lot of space.

January 17, 2010

At the coast

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Fatherhood #2

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Kid looks at their parents to model relationships. It’s long known that the way the father treats the mother leads sets their context for their own expectations. With that in mind, I had to think quickly this morning when Star came to me all dressed up in scarves and other such things. She looked over at me, and with a fancified voice said:

Look at this stylish scarf, do I look like a teacher, or a mother?

Now, I presume that she considers looking stylish to be a good thing (although that is debatable as a message). I don’t want to send a message that being a teacher is somehow worse than being a mother, or that mothers/teachers would be more or less stylish. However, I think mothers tend to get a bad rap, particularly on these counts, so I smiled and answered: Like a mother, definitely!

I want her to realize that mothers can be stylish, but I don’t want her to think that non-stylish mothers are somehow not good mothers. Any suggestions on how that question could have been better answered in a way that a six-year old would understand?

January 16, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:41 pm

This morning while getting ready for school I had the following exchange:

Star (walking out the door, yelling back over her shoulder) :  Dad, when I get home, I want you to explain why some babies have penises and some have vaginas.

Me:  OK!


At least she is giving me fair warning =)

January 15, 2010

What a pleasant surprise

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:33 am

As happens from time to time, I got spam bombed by comment spam this morning. As I was going through the comment buffer, I noticed the comment on the previous post by Paul. I am going to combine this with the questions raised by Art, because I think the answers intertwine beautifully. I shall also pull segments from Paul’s comment to illustrate.

In this victim centered society we now live in I believe it is very easy for individuals to excuse sinful personal choices they have made to an “addiction.”

I profoundly agree with this. I have seen this effect personally, and enough qualified research that I feel comfortable asserting that the data is clear; people have a tendency to externalize their actions by categorizing it as an addiction. This directly relates to Art’s earlier question: “That aside, please clarify for me what the negative effect is in your view of misslabeling as addicted those that are not.”


This is the first problem arising from misuse of the term that I would like to illustrate. It actually reduces the capacity of the person to overcome their pathological behavior when the promulgation of the term “addiction” creates dissociation from the problem. Paul’s comment eloquently illustrates this.

To keep some logical consistency, I’m going to continue with some other negative side-effects of this mislabeling before returning to the main arc of Paul’s thought. My second concern with misuse of the term is counter-productivity. Social research has been very clear that when persuading people not to engage in a given behavior, casting it in terms of: “This is horrible, so many people are doing it, if we don’t change, the results will be really bad” actually results in an increased rate of the behavior.


Theorists have postulated that this effect is associated with the human tendency to align ourselves with our immediate group. From an anecdotal perspective, I’ve been in congregations where the speaker has said:

‘Look around you, if you are not struggling with pornography addiction, then the person sitting next to you is. You need to realize how prevalent this terrible thing is and avoid it.”

This is exactly the sort of argument that would produce the opposite effect the speaker was going for. Later on, I will address the probability that the addiction rate was really so high, but merely from a meta-discourse angle, this is a terrible way to go about encouraging the behavior you wish to promote.


I think my next argument will tend not be persuasive to the devout, but here it goes. Further to my thesis that the term addiction is being wildly misapplied in this community, I’ve seen frequent incidences where very occasional use of porn is labeled as an addiction. Something along the lines of looking at 1 playboy every 4 months makes you an addict. Now, there is no question that this particular community considers that a sin, and I have no interest at present in addressing that. I’ll stipulate it is a sin. The assertion that this level of porn use constitutes an addiction depends on a number of assertions. One of which is that the negative consequences of that this level of porn use qualifies as a pathology.

I would imagine nearly every Mormon reading this is nodding their heads vigorously and saying: Yep! Sure is!

I’d like to side-step from that to point out what the zero tolerance policy of Mormonism is based on (I’m probably leaving some out by accident).

  1. Any porn is spiritually destructive and incompatible with holding the priesthood
  2. Any Porn use can lead to worse things

#1 is an argument from faith. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but this is very different than the clinical definition of addiction. As Paul points out, visit an actual addiction center to level-set yourself. Virtually none of the folks in that congregation were at a level of clinical addiction. Many, maybe even half were struggling with behavior their religion calls sin (although I doubt it). If anything, this level of behavior is much more similar to what a clinician would call an impulse control disorder.

With regard to #2, that is certainly true, but this is true of many things. For example, some studies have shown that vigorous exercise can be as addictive as heroin. Personally, I think that scholarship is suspect, but I’m going to use it here because it suits my point, I find it funny, and I hope you will not question my sources. =)  The probability of infrequent porn use leading to pathologically bad, life-destroying addicition is my main point.  On a smell-test level, the data just isn’t there to support the culturally-held Mormon view on porn.

I also find it interesting that part of the meta-discourses of Mormonism is the adage ‘moderation in all things’. However, from an outside perspective, Mormonism tends to completely outlaw things that have even a small chance of being addictive. That’s a topic for another time.

 For now, I will stipulate that #2 is true by strict definition, but I would challenge the TBM audience to the following exercise. After the type of anti-porn lesson I am describing here, we will pass out a slip of paper to all the folks in the audience. We will then ask them to write down what they think the probability is that occasional porn use will lead to life-destroying effects. We will then take the statistical distribution of those answers and compare them to actual data. How many of you think the predicted median rate will match the actual observed rate by less than 1 standard deviation?

Improper ‘treatment’

The study and treatment of addiction has made a lot of progress in the last 100 years. There are much improved methods for dealing with these issues. 12 step programs are well-known (which include ample reference to higher powers). I think that this is an excellent illustration of Paul’s comment that addiction is often closely related to filling a spiritual void. Intuitively, I think he is right, but off hand, I don’t know of any research to back it. I suspect this audience will be willing to accept it as a given.

That being said, the speed with which untrained folks label their sins and/or impulse control issues to be an addiction is closely followed by a tendency to see the actual treatment for addiction (12 step programs for example) as the appropriate antidote for their sin. From my observation, Mormons tend to be dualistic here. They will keep going with their religious principles and try to bring in 12 step programs to supplement that. That’s probably a good move. However, sending 16 year old Johnny to a sex addicts 12 step progam because he looked at 2 playboys a year is much more likely to create a net worse situation than a net better situation.

These programs are for actual addictions, not sins with faith-based pathologies. Now, this argument will only gain traction with you if I have already convinced you the pathology level has been mis-identified. I suspect most LDSers are not persuaded. That being the case, I would again encourage folks who have yet clicked to go here to read a professional’s view on the harms of over-use of 12 step programs to treat non-addictions.

Loss of Credibility

I suspect that of all my arguments, the next one might be most persuasive to an LDSer. Folks just aren’t doing the math. In my experience, the villianization of porn leads folks to make some quite outlandish statements on the likely pathology of porn. As an aside, I have noticed a distinct trend from official church sources to avoid this in the last few years. More and more they are moving to a spiritually based argument rather than a pathologically based one. I think that is appropriate.

Anyway, back to my story telling. A typically anti-porn lesson will go something like this:

  • Porn is bad
  • Porn is terribly addictive
  • Huge numbers of LDSers are addicted of porn (hard numbers are rare, so let’s go with the 50% from earlier).
  • Porn will wreck your marriage, increase chances of becoming a child molester, etc. etc.

Again, this is taught less and less by authoritative LDS sources (in my opinion) but is widely promulgated in congregations (in my experience). My problem is that the math doesn’t add up. To illustrate this, I shall borrow from one of my favorite libertarian bloggers on similarly nutty assertions about crystal meth:

Here are their numbers, copied right from the site:

• 1 in 7 high school students will try meth.
• 99 percent of first-time meth users are hooked after just the first try.
• Only 5 percent of meth addicts are able to kick it and stay away.
• From the first hit to the last breath, the life expectancy of a habitual
meth user is only 5 years.

So 14.3% (1 in 7) try meth, 99% of those who try are hooked, and 95% of those hooked stay hooked, and all of those hooked die in five years. So .143 x .99 x .95 or 13.45% of all kids are dying on average by the age of 23. Wow. There must be a really huge conspiracy out there to cover up all these deaths. Given that there are about 17,000,000 high school age kids, that means that in the next 5 years or so nearly 2.3 million of them are going to die. And adults who run anti-drug programs wonder why kids don’t take their warnings seriously.

When a church leader gets up and says that porn use had increased to epidemic proportions, and that porn significantly increases divorce rates, the logic there should predict a detectibly elevated, and correlated, use of porn. Well, a quick look at the data shows that isn’t true. Divorce rates are not correlated to porn use rates. Porn use rates have gone way, way, way up for many years.  Divorce rates have not.  I’ll spare us linking the data here, but it should stand on its own. Divorce rates have not increased at anywhere remotely near the prevalence of porn use. This leads the audience to conclude:

  • My religious leader is misrepresenting the rate of porn use
  • Porn isn’t as bad as my religious leader is making it out to be

Neither of these is in the best interests of the religious leader.

At this point, I need to refine my argument. Some research has shown that Mormon temple marriages experience significantly lower divorce rates than other religions and statistical clusters.  One of the proposed explanations for that is the strict standard of behavior. Let’s go ahead and stipulate that is true,even though the research has some potential issues. If this were the case, we would expect to see the divorce rate for Mormons going through the roof as they violate these standards (which they are apparently doing left, right and center).  As an aside, some other research has shown Mormons having a slightly higher divorce rate than Atheists.   I’m not going to get into that because it is not relevant to my argument on the correlation gap within the stated assertions.

While divorce rates for most groups are going up (at varying speeds) that isn’t being seen in LDS populations at anywhere near the reported levels of porn addiction. Either LDS women are the most tolerant of addiction of any group on the planet (maybe, but I doubt it), or the LDS men are beating porn addictions at astounding rates (so much so that I would imagine we will run out of potential addicts very soon) or the rate of addictive porn use is wildly exaggerated (I think you know my view).

As a side point, I find the data behind divorce rates to be fascinating, particularly the notion that the external factor most closely correlated to divorce is the ease of the legal structure in obtaining a divorce. For example consider Italy (rife with what LDSers would consider porn addiction) has a divorce rate much lower than expected given its statistical profile. The causative factor is thought to be the 3 year waiting period for a divorce.

Bad Gender Roles

I have regularly heard Mormon leaders (not high level, I’m talking bishops, eq presidents, sometimes stake presidents, and the ever-amusing high priest group leaders) promulgate the idea that men are so vulnerable to porn, and porn is so bad, that their wives should sort the mail to remove all the catalogs that might contain pictures of ladies’ underwear or sportswear. This sets up a horrible disproportionality in a marriage that I think is highly destructive. It also illustrates the really wacky scale of what these Mormons consider to be porn.

If we ever come to the end of this thread, I’ll blather on a bit about why I think we end up in a place where an adult man needs to be insulated from underwear catalogs. For now, I will just say to the men: if you are really functioning on a level where you can’t handle exposure to that kind of thing without going round the twist, you do need help, but not because you are a porn addict. Man up. Sheesh.

Intermission summary

Anyway, back to the show. I suggest that the sensitivity to porn use, and the perceived negative impact on marriage in LDS circles is due to the fact that the religion, and the spouses involved, have a zero tolerance policy. Any time to you don’t meet your partner’s expectation (particularly when you swore you would) it is going to create a marital problem. The presence of a marital problem doesn’t indicate addiction by itself. I’m sure there are Mormons struggling with bona fide addictions. The significant majority either are not, or the addiction is not nearly as pathological as is represented.

I’ve well and truly trashed the three paragraph rule. I hope I still have some readers enduring through. In any case, I’ll arbitrarily stop here to pause for thoughts and comments.

January 13, 2010

What makes one addiction an illness and not another?

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:48 pm

To my understanding, this question really gets to some of the differences between clinical and popular views of these issues.  In our culture it is much more acceptable to have an illness (which we couldn’t control), than to have a behavioral disorder (which is our fault).  As we learn more about neurobiology and the science behind addiction, it is easier to point to observable biological breakdowns associated with addictions.  We like to call these illness.

As we have learned more about alcoholism, there has been a desire to refer to it as an illness.  This really isn’t a clinical term at all.  From what I have learned in the current arc of psychological analysis, there is more of an interest in referring to these types of behaviors as chemical dependencies than as an illness, or even the term we are currently addressing- addiction.

My understanding of the answer to that question is that alcoholism should not be given special status as an illness above other forms of chemical dependency.  For example, drug addiction would be an intuitive parallelism from a medical perspective.  Of course, I brought all this up because I think a subject that has a little more wiggle room is what constitutes an addiction.  Beyond that, I would be comfortable classifying all addictions as pathologies by definition.  Off hand, I think we would be safe to say all addictions are also illnesses.  I’m not sure what criteria we would use to say addiction X is an illness, but addiction Y is not.

That being said, I would circle back to my opening sentiment, that popular culture absolutely has a stack-rank of acceptable additions and which of those are considered social-accepted illnesses.  Alcoholism is near the top.  Bigorexia is not. =)

UPDATE:  Just to clarify, this post is to address Joe’s earlier comment.  Art is next.

January 8, 2010

Sin as sickness

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:40 am

I personally don’t like it when valuable new content gets stuck in the comments section of a blog post, so I shall respond to yesterday’s commentors with posts.  Technically, P was first, but got stuck in comment approval limbo for a while.  Given that none of the people who would be likely to agree with the Mormon tendency to label porn use as an addition have commented, we are missing a voice on the issue.  Hopefully, some of them will contribute.  If not I’ll do my best to represent their likely counterpoints at a later time (that should fill you will alarm, not provide a reason to sit back TBMs =) )

Anyway, I would like to add my voice to P’s, and the resources that I linked to, in making it clear that porn CAN be an addiction.  Ultimately, this subject will lead into Joe’s question, so we have a built in transition (thanks Joe!).  The key distinction is found in the nature of the harm experienced.  In clinical applications of the term, the harm experienced by the addictive behavior is obvious to a neutral observer.  Alcoholism, smoking, a wide range of drugs, etc.  In the case in which the term is often used in a Mormon context, the harm is the violation of a tenet of faith.

There is nothing wrong with tenets of faith.  Defining incidental porn use as sin is part of your faith.  While there might be arguments on whether that is a good idea, that isn’t really relevant here.  It is a tenet of Mormon faith.  The problem is when violating that tenet is raised to the level of a disease.  Persons who violate tenets of their faith are not addicts by definition, they are sinners.  Some sinners might also be addicts, most are not.  In Mormonism, nearly every occasional porn user is labeled an addict.

I assert that the misapplication of this term within Mormon cultural contexts is related to the degree of seriousness attached to the violation.  Porn is REALLY bad, therefore, if I am doing it, a REALLY bad label seems appropriate.  The popularization of self-diagnosis and the medicalization of behavioral issues are among the other factors that cause us to want to apply clinical terms to our sins. 

I am not sympathetic to interchanging sinner with addict.  In the case of porn, the TBMs might well argue that the person feels compelled; resisting the desire is painful.  That is certainly likely to be true, but is also applicable to wide range of sins which are not also labeled as addictions.  Gossip, pride and lying immediately spring to mind.  In those cases, the tenets of the faith do not ascribe the same severity of evil to the sin.  See my point in the above paragraph to illustrate that this thinking bolsters  the previous element of my argument.

By this point, I have well exceeded the three paragraph limit at which most readers will bail on a blog post.  I shall summarize with this:  You may feel compelled to engage in a sinful activity, that makes you a sinner, not an addict.  Some sins can be addictions, many are not.  The levels at which addiction is ascribed to the porn use rates by LDS folks are highly unlikely to meet the clinical definition of addiction.   

UPDATE:  In reflection on these posts, I think it is highly likely I have not persuaded any TBMs in the slightest.

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