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:



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