Why do we care if we know rather than merely believe? Both in religion and life in general? I think that typically we appeal to an ethics. There are several ways this occurs.
The first is that we have a community notion that knowledge entails beliefs that are true and have a certain degree of justification. If I go into an employer and say I know how to program in C++ and Python and I’ve never programmed in my life then we recognize that is a lie and that it is wrong to tell that sort of lie. In a sense we recognize that in most cases to say we know when we don’t know is deceptive. This doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong to believe something we don’t have good reasons for or even to believe when we have reasons not to believe. It just means that when we claim knowledge we’re making a specific claim and we have a duty to make sure we’re being truthful about what we say. Given that it’s fair to ask when we actually do know something.
Most people think we have more of a duty beyond just being honest about how we use words though. It is better to know what is real than to merely believe based upon poor reasons. That is there is an intellectual duty to become informed. The reasons for this duty might vary. It may be based upon pragmatic reasoning –- an informed educated populace leads to a better society. (Certainly few of us would want to live in the ignorance of past cultures) It might be due to a duty we have towards others – either as a duty as citizens or a basic ethical duty towards our interactions with others which demands we become informed about them and our interactions with them. We could numerate numerous reasons. Ultimately though very few people think we are better ignorant than knowledgeable.
Continue reading “Knowing: Why Care?”
Years ago I got a call from someone from one of the major LDS book publishers. (It’s been so long I can’t remember which – although it definitely wasn’t Deseret Books) They were planning on publishing a kind of Mormon dictionary that addressed many of the topics within Mormonism using short scholarly entries. The main emphasis was less the summation than to have a pretty thorough bibliography for each entry. They were calling me because several people had suggested that I was the best source for the topic of Mormon epistemology. Now I have to confess this never made much sense to me as I know there were many people better qualified. (It had already been years since I’d been in academia) I loved the idea of the project though so I agreed.
I spent several days at the library going through every book on Mormonism and all the articles from journals like Dialog, Sunstone, BYU Studies and others. Quite to my surprise there was a paucity of articles to select from. What was available (books like McMurrin’s The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion) were in my view pretty poor.
The project ended up coming to nothing but ever since then I’ve wondered why there was so little carefully written about Mormon ways of knowing. Now in recent years there has been a real blossoming of LDS Studies with theological and philosophy journals like Element not to mention interesting studies in other sources. Still despite a few papers (such as Dennis Potter’s work on reformed epistemology and LDS or Alexander Struk’s “The Hermeneutics of Testimony”) the question of Mormon ways of knowing hasn’t received the attention I think it deserves. (There are undoubtedly recent papers I’ve not read — I’ve been so busy I’ve not made it to the library in a few years to check sources I don’t read regularly)
Continue reading “Mormon Ways of Knowing”
This post is extremely long. Consider yourself warned, and skim through quotations if you want. Or just read the final section.
Here I will reconcile three seemingly paradoxical points:
I love the doctrine of Atonement.
I have difficulty believing in it literally.
My (dis)belief does not remove the power of the Atonement from my life.
Continue reading “Jesus: Savior or Symbol”
Narratives wield a power measured not in historical accuracy but in effect on the reader. In many cases, the values expressed in a narrative, and especially the way that narrative moves us to thought and action, outranks the relationship of that narrative to history. In fiction, truths such as love, loyalty, following principles and defending freedoms shine even more clearly as they are unencumbered by the complexities of reality. But when we are reading Lord of the Rings, we know that we are reading fiction. We don’t expect the accounts to match up to history. What about scriptural accounts, where in many cases the accounts did not literally happen, were not intended as historical truth, but where readers are deeply invested in current literal interpretation?
Continue reading “The Hierarchy of Truth”