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?

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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.

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