In this podcast, Brother Scarisbrick illustrates the various stages of life and how our choices determine what we receive in the life to come from an LDS perspective. From our entrance into the world of spirits when we pass from this life into the next, to the final judgment at the last day, Brother Scarisbrick uses common sense answers in a conversational style that makes this topic easy to understand.
Archives for March 2013
What is the Anthon transcript? Can we rely on what Martin Harris said about his encounter with Proffessor Charles Anthon? How long did it take Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon? In this episode of Religion Today, which originally aired on KSL Radio on July 15, 2012, Martin Tanner discusses these issues.
This recording was used by permission of KSL Radio and does not necessarily represent the views of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of FAIR. (Listeners will note that the first part of this recording is missing.)
The 4th Watch is a new series of podcasts based on the 14th chapter of Matthew in which the Savior meets the apostles by walking on the water. Brother Ned Scarisbrick talks about how he received his testimony while serving in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam.
Brother Scarisbrick also reviews an article written by Vicky Gilpin on the anti-Mormon website called “Mormonism Investigated UK,” regarding Chapter 3 of the Lorenzo Snow Manual, “Lifelong Conversion: Continuing to Advance in the Principles of Truth.” Brother Scarsbrick’s discussion reveals a common set of misunderstandings and false assumptions regarding what we teach. He uses a simple question and answer format to allow us to draw our own conclusions on what is being taught in this lesson.
Y0UR M1ND 15 R34D1NG 7H15 4U70M471C4LLY W17H0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17
How is our mind able to accurately decode the above sentence when many of the words are made up of more numbers than letters? Cognitive scientists tell us that our brains typically and quickly assemble clues from the environment to paint a picture of what’s around us while filling in the necessary assumptions.
“For emaxlpe, it deson’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod aepapr, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm.”[i]
What does this have to do with challenges to an LDS testimony? I’ll get to that in a moment.
In order for the brain to make assumptions (generally based on past experiences) there needs to be some sort of context—such as the shapes of numbers or the first and last letters of a word. Concurrent words or scenarios also can provide context which can “prime” the brain into filling in the blanks with what is expected. In the following two-word combinations, for example, what is likely the second word? “Wash. So_p.” Most people will fill in the blank with an “a” thereby creating the word “soap”. If instead, however, I gave you this two-word combination: “Eat. So_p.” You would likely fill in the blank with a “u” for the word “soup.”
Dr. Daniel Kahneman (a non-LDS Israeli-American psychologist and Nobel Prize winner) argues that people—depending on the situation—either think “fast” (what he metaphorically refers to as “System 1” thinking) or “slow” (“System 2” thinking).[ii]
System 1 is our intuitive system that makes quick decisions (like reading the garbled words in the sentences above), while System 2 takes over when we have tougher puzzles such as complex math problems or other challenges that require more brain power. System 2 is lazy and avoids work unless it is forced to act. System 1 is always on and helps us navigate through our daily lives. Virtually all of us rely heavily on System 1 and we need the intuitive answers it provides. Without System 1 we couldn’t make quick enough decisions to walk, drive, or carry on a conversation.
When it comes to practically all beliefs (not just religious beliefs), it appears that a large part of our thinking depends on System 1 as well. While we may have a spiritual experience that taps into System 2 to tell us that Jesus is the Christ or that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God, System 1 takes over to fill in the blanks. When we read things in the scriptures, for example, most of us “recontextualize” or envision what we read in the context of the world around us.
This System 1 approach to scripture, Church history, and words from the Brethren, is fine when we draw on those resources in our quest for spiritual strength and enlightenment, but may fail us when we are confronted with challenging questions.
Research has shown that people who put their sole reliance on System 1 typically have a relatively high need for simplicity and absolute answers. Such persons are also generally more rigid and closed-minded and less likely to tolerate ambiguity.[iii] In other words, placing too much reliance on System 1 can lead to dogmatic or inflexible black and white thinking. This can set us up for big problems when we find that some of the issues associated with the Church are more complex than we might assume.
I should first note two important points:
1) The uneasiness that comes from discovering conflicting information is not unique to Mormonism or even religion, but plays a factor in all of those things in which we believe. The angst of discovering religion-critical complexities, however, is generally greater because religion can be a very important part of their lives. The greater the personal investment, the greater the distress.
2) The basic tenets of the Gospel are simple—they are not complex. We are told that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our fellow man (Matthew 22:26-40). Joseph Smith likewise said:
“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.”[iv]
Non-doctrinal issues, however—those topics that deal with the historical and scientific aspects in which important religious events took place—are often more complex than some people have presumed.
And unfortunately, too many people—both members and non-members—seem to think that topics such as the breadth and depth of Noah’s flood, or the DNA make-up of ancient New World inhabitants, or the connection between the Joseph Smith Papyri and the Book of Abraham, are equal (or near equal) to doctrine. They are not.
When a member takes a rigid, dogmatic, and black and white approach to these non-doctrinal issues, they set themselves up for some major intellectual heartburn when they discover that their assumptions don’t hold water. Feeling foolish for putting their faith in such things (which are ancillary to real Gospel teachings), they often express feelings of betrayal and anguish to the point where they lose their faith in primary Gospel teachings as well.
From my experience the vast majority of members who leave because of “intellectual” difficulties with the church are those who take a black and white, rigid approach to the following issues: (1) How they assume scriptures and prophets should behave, compared to how they actually behave; (2) What they assume early LDS history should look like, compared to how it actually looks; or (3) What they assume science should be able to tell us about ancient Book of Mormon peoples, versus what science can actually ascertain.
System-1-conditioned people are not stupid or intellectually lazy, System 1 is the natural mode of thinking upon which we all rely for many of the decisions we make or beliefs we value. Learning how to think outside of System 1’s intuitive box may be part of the process of “putting off the natural man” (Mosiah 3:19) and can help us inoculate our testimony against any damage caused by challenging issues.
In the next several issues I hope to engage some of those things that seem to attract a fundamentalist, black and white approach of thinking in the hopes of showing that we can change our worldviews about non-doctrinal issues without sacrificing our spiritual testimonies of those things that really matter.
[i] Both of these examples can be found in “Breaking the Code: Why Yuor Barin Can Raed Tihs,” (10 February 2012) Discovery News (accessed 14 March 2013).
[ii] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011).
[iii] Hal W. Hendrick, “Cognitive and Organizational Complexity and Behavior: Implications for Organizational Design and Leadership,” Information and Communication Technologies, Society and Human Beings: Theory and Framework, eds. Darek M. Haftor and Anita Mirijamdotter (Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference [IGI Global], 2011), 149.
This article also appeared in Meridian Magazine.
How can we help family members or friends who are struggling with their faith in the gospel? What should someone do who experiences a crisis of faith? In this episode of Religion Today, which originally aired on KSL Radio on March 17, 2013, Martin Tanner talks with Michael R. Ash, author of Shaken Faith Syndrome. The second edition of this important book can be purchased at the FAIR Bookstore, here.
This recording was used by permission of KSL Radio and does not necessarily represent the views of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of FAIR. (Listeners will note that the first part of this recording is missing.)
The Interpreter Foundation, for those who may not yet be aware, produces a journal dealing primarily with Latter-day Saint scripture and history, and many of the articles are relevant to the defense of the faith while also being interesting and enlightening in their own right. (See here for there mission statement). They release a new article promptly every Friday for those who want to keep abreast of some of the latest developments on Mormon topics.
This Friday’s article, linked here is a review of the recent book Exploring the First Vision, edited by Samuel Alonzo Dodge and Steven C. Harper. Review author Neal Rappleye discusses the various articles and highlights a few particular points made: The available historical record is supportive of the prophet’s claims. The milieu of unusual religious excitement in the years leading up to the First Vision is very much as the prophet described in the canonized account. The several accounts of the First Vision harmonize well
with both the available historical information and with one another. Lastly, many of those who have spent the most time scrutinizing the accounts of the First Vision have found that doing so helped them to gain a deeper conviction of this foundational event.
Also recently arrived from Interpreter is a two-part article by Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and David J. Larsen entitled “Ancient Affinities within the LDS Book of Enoch”. The two parts of this article linked here and here discuss correspondences between Joseph Smith’s revealed accounts of Enoch as contained in Moses chapters six and seven and extracanonical pseudopigrapha dealing with Enoch and his people. A number of interesting connections between Joseph’s Enoch and the Enoch of Old Testament pseudopigrapha are brought to the fore including Enoch’s enigmatic title of “lad” and other titles, turning of a river from its course, the names Mahijah and Mahujah, the importance of warfare and secret combinations in these narratives, and also certain particular events such as the roaring of beast out of the wilderness in Moses 7:13. He also discusses some connections between Enoch-related documents in the Joseph Smith papers and ancient sources. Taken together, this paper by Bradshaw and Larsen demonstrates the fruitfulness of the two-pronged approach of “[seeking] learning, even by study, and also by faith” (D&C 88:118).
For any who may prefer listening to reading, audio versions of Interpreter’s articles are available via free podcast from the Itunes store so that you can listen and learn on the go. For those who enjoy a print book more than a computer screen, they also have print on demand available for their completed volumes. Whether in print or podcast, the Interpreter Foundation is making some impressive research available for those interested in deepening their understanding of Latter-day Saint history and scripture. Don’t be the last one to find out about it.
The 4th Watch is a new series of podcasts based on the 14th chapter of Matthew when the Savior meets the apostles by walking on the water. Brother Ned Scarisbrick is a convert to the Church and uses his unique style to bring us closer to our Savior by keeping our focus where it belongs. On the Lord Jesus Christ and his abilities to see us through the winds and waves of life. Brother Scarisbrick has been a member of the Church since 1970 when he was baptised in Vietnam while serving in the US Navy. He has been involved in apologetic work for over thirty years and looks forward to addressing listeners with a practical approach to gospel issues by offering a question and answer format for the average Church member and those who desire to understand the basic gospel truths.
In this episode of Religion Today, which originally aired on KSL Radio on November 11, 2012, Martin Tanner discusses FAIR and the Interpreter Foundation and the way in which they help to defend the Church and strengthen the faith of its members. This recording was used by permission of KSL Radio and does not necessarily represent the views of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of FAIR.
“Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops,” Richard Dawkins.[i]
For atheists like Dawkins, religion is for the weak-minded who believe in fairy tales—not only in the absence of evidence, but in spite of evidence. Likewise, most anti-LDS pundits (even sectarian LDS-critics who themselves accept God, Jesus, and the Bible) claim that Latter-day Saints believe in a fictional Book of Mormon which is not only unsupported by evidence, but makes claims that are contrary to known historical and scientific evidences.
As I launch this new column for Meridian Magazine (original article here) I’d like to explain the direction I hope to take.
Despite the fact that Christianity is the largest religion in Europe and has been practiced in Europe since the first century,[ii] studies show that atheism is showing rapid signs of growth—especially in Western Europe.[iii]
While the atheistic movement is not yet as strong in the United Sates, polls indicate that one out of five Americans failed to indicate a religious identity.[iv] There are also a growing number of vocal atheists in the media, the news, and even groups on college campuses,[v] and several books which denounce religion have held strong spots on the best seller’s lists.
Not surprisingly, with the increase in atheistic popularity in many developed countries, we’ve also seen an increase in anti-LDS activity and prevalence. Much of this anti-religion and anti-Mormon material has sprung from the growth of the Internet. This combination has caused more than one Latter-day Saint testimony to stumble.
At a recent Utah State University question and answer session with Elder Marlin K. Jensen, for instance, Elder Jensen said that “…maybe since Kirtland, we never have had a period of, I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having right now; largely over these issues. …we are suffering a loss…”[vi] While critics exaggerated the extent of LDS membership losses,[vii] it is undeniable that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is experiencing member losses because of hostile Internet sites.
In this column I plan to address testimony damage, the cause of testimony damage, how we can prevent such damage, and how we can actually strengthen our testimonies because of modern scholarship and evidence.
Atheism and anti-Mormonism are not the only religious-related categories that have seen growth in the past few decades. LDS scholarship, based on the wider scholarship of academia (including disciplines such as history, archaeology, anthropology, Egyptology, molecular biology, and various other areas of science), have increased our understanding and appreciation for what Joseph Smith brought forth through revelation. This increased understanding brings new evidences for what Latter-day Saints believe.
Some members may think that faith is enough, that our intellects need not, or should not factor into a testimony. For some members, faith might be all that’s needed, but for other members, intellectual support for belief is not only helpful but necessary.
When Oliver Cowdery made his failed attempt at translating the plates the Lord told him: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-8).
Moroni (Moroni 10:3) and other prophets (2 Nephi 32:1) have counseled us to ponder things in our hearts—which sounds like an emotional rather than intellectual approach. Most people in ancient times, however, generally didn’t understand that the brain was the source for thoughts and reasoning. They typically believed that the heart was home for both the soul as well as the origination of thoughts.
While the Egyptians experimented with brain surgery, for instance, they nevertheless believed that the heart—not the brain—was the source for thoughts. To “ponder things in our hearts” means to include our brains in our spiritual quest.
As Latter-day Saints who believe that the glory of God is intelligence (D&C 93:36), we are told to seek wisdom from the best books (D&C 88:118) and learn more than just what we hear in Sunday School. We are encouraged to learn about astronomy, geology, history, current and foreign events, and much more (D&C 88: 79).
“Each of us,” said President Boyd K. Packer, “must accommodate the mixture of reason and revelation in our lives. The gospel not only permits but requires it.”[viii]
In 2007, the church published a statement about LDS doctrine which read in part: “The church exhorts all people to approach the gospel not only intellectually but with the intellect and the spirit, a process in which reason and faith work together.”[ix]
Latter-day Saints (like most other people who believe in a spiritual realm) believe that some evidence—such as a spiritual witness—can only come through faith, but they also maintain that faith and reason are not typically in conflict and that evidence-based reason can support faith.
Studies even suggest that for Latter-day Saints, increased education strengthens testimony and that higher education contributes to the religiosity for Mormons. It is my hope that rational thinking will play an active role in magnifying our testimonies.
“Evidence” for belief, and evidence supporting defenses against anti-LDS claims, are, contrary to some atheists, a prominent part of much LDS scholarship. Some of the web resources which offer this intellectual support include:
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (formerly FARMS): (www.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/). While the direction of the Maxwell Institute is currently finding a modified course, the Institute offers vast amounts of information, articles, and books, on various LDS-scholarly topics.
The Interpreter (www.MormonInterpreter.com): This new on-line and print-on-demand journal was created by several of the original members of FARMS. In a short amount of time, they’ve been able to produce an impressive amount of material.
And, of course, there is FAIR—the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (www.fairlds.org)—an international organization of LDS volunteers who have produced a massive repository of responses to LDS-critical claims. FAIR hosts an annual Conference (the 2013 event is schedule for the August 1-2), as well as podcasts, videos, DVDs, and the most comprehensive wiki that engages challenging LDS issues.
Lastly, FAIR has produced my book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony In the Face of Criticism and Doubt. This book was initially published in 2008, and just this week a 2nd edition—revised and enlarged by nearly 20%– has come from the press (http://bookstore.fairlds.org/product.php?id_product=10).
The cure for shaky testimonies—as will be shown in the months to come—is often not to study less, but to study more.
[i] Richard Dawkins, “Is Science a Religion,” The Humanist (January/February 1997), 26-27.
[iii] Nigel Barber, “The Human Beast: Why We Do What We Do,” Psychology Today (18 May 2010) available at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201005/why-atheism-will-replace-religion.
[iv] Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, “American Religious Identity Survey [Aris 2008],” (Trinity College, March 2009), available at http://b27.cc.trincoll.edu/weblogs/AmericanReligionSurvey-ARIS/reports/ARIS_Report_2008.pdf
[v] Laurie Goodstein, “More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops,” The New York Times (16 April 2009), available at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/27/us/27atheist.html
[vii] Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Mormons Confront ‘Epidemic’ On Line Misinformation,” The Washington Post (1 February 2012) available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/mormons-confront-epidemic-on-online-misinformation/2012/02/01/gIQApULJiQ_story.html
[ix] “Approaching Mormon Doctrine,” (4 May 2007) available at http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine
Miraculous claims surrounding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon are an evidence of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. Critics intent on discrediting the Restoration point to DNA studies on indigenous American peoples in an attempt to expose Joseph, the Book of Mormon, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as frauds. Claiming that scientific evidence excludes any possibility that Middle Eastern or ancient Jewish travelers came to the Americas in antiquity, such critics attempt to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of Latter-day Saints and those of other faiths concerning the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient religious text.
Are these studies credible? Do the data actually show what the critics claim? Do they discredit the Book of Mormon, or is there biological and other scientific evidence that supports the claims that it is indeed an ancient record of a people that once inhabited the Americas?
The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) interviews scholars and scientists to answer these important questions and reveals the faith-affirming truth that not only are the critics’ conclusions and methods flawed, but that there is credible scientific evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon as an ancient religious text.