Wednesday, December 30, 2009

We evolved the mechanisms of magical thinking

Psychology Today has a great article on magical thinking that I think most skeptics would enjoy. Have a look: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200802/magical-thinking

Magical thinking springs up everywhere. Some irrational beliefs (Santa Claus?) are passed on to us. But others we find on our own. Survival requires recognizing patterns—night follows day, berries that color will make you ill. And because missing the obvious often hurts more than seeing the imaginary, our skills at inferring connections are overtuned. No one told Wade Boggs that eating chicken before every single game would help his batting average; he decided that on his own, and no one can argue with his success. We look for patterns because we hate surprises and because we love being in control.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Man's search for meaning

It wasn't long after I came to believe the Church wasn't true, that I came to believe that in all likelihood, there isn't a god either. The cosmos then lacked the ability to give purpose or meaning. It did not create all that existed for a reason nor with intent. Creation came about by mindless matter/energy simply carrying out the soulless laws of nature.

At first blush, that makes the universe a rather emotionally cold and scary place because no powerful essence is looking out for you. You face the raw elements alone and if something tragic happens no Thing will notice, care, or rescue. The awareness of this and bold confrontation of this is what constitutes existential angst. Many people are so uncomfortable with the thought, that they will not allow their minds to accept or even entertain it. "There must be universal meaning," they protest with nothing to support their declaration other than their own discomfort.

But, why this discomfort? Why this angst? Must it have come from a god; a creator to persuade us He is there? If not, then why or how did nature put it there through evolution? Why does it seem that most animals and young human children never have to confront this angst? Why is it only the burden of adult homo sapiens? Why can't why be as blissfully unaware or unconcerned with the meaning of life? Maybe we need to become unconcerned with it and simply live as others do.

Is this dissatisfaction with meaning a mere side effect of other mental abilities which gave our ancestors an evolutionary advantage? I think so. One of our great abilities is to problem solve. When we solve problems trace back the steps to determine cause and effect of how the problem situation happened. Then as we attempt to come up with solutions, we play out in our minds how what we do might start a chain reaction to our desired end result according to what we know about how things work. We sense a disparity between what is and what we want. Then we give purpose to actions we take and tools we use. Their purpose is to make contributions to help us reach our desired goal. For example, we give a twig purpose when we use it as a tool to get to the termites in a stump. The twig has meaning for us as a termite getting tool.

I believe we humans began to see all things around us as potential tools to help us reach our desired ends. Even other people began to have meaning in our lives when we saw that they could help us get what we want. And then thanks to an ability that does not fully mature until our teen years, we are able to reflect on our selves and see ourselves as objects in the world. Once we can do that, we begin to wonder what purpose we serve and to whom are we a tool. That leads us to the next question, is all of creation a tool in the eyes of a being that could manipulate us all.

Now, organisms have a desire to conserve energy. It gives us an evolutionary advantage as it traditionally took a lot of calories to catch and consume calories, so it is best if you hold onto your calories until you need them to gather additional calories. So, we are lazy. If there is not a purpose behind an action (i.e., shelter, food, sex, etc), then our bodies slow us down and demotivate us. One why our bodies get us to slow down and be demotivated is through depression. When depressed our bodies are telling us whatever we are doing is not working, slow down, think it through, and come up with a better approach or regoal, but you have been wasting energy going down that path. We have learned to look for a purpose for doing something before you do it. If we can't find a purpose, we say, "What's the point?" and then don't bother.

So, let's put it all together. We aquired the ability through evolution to give meaning and purpose to things. We also aquired the ability to see ourselves as objects and wonder whether someone or something might have meaning or purpose for us. We need a reason to act, or else we want to conserve energy. Although we can see the functional reasons were do many survival tasks, we may start to wonder whether survival itself is worth the effort. What's the point?

(I have run out of time to finish. I'll post more later.)

My acceptance of no life after death

Bonogold wrote:

Well, as my belief in TSCC disintegrated, so did my belief in God. Now there's nothing for me to fall back on when I need comfort from the terrible things I see in the world. I've suddenly become overly emotional, even crying at stupid little things - almost like some kind of separation anxiety. Then a colleague/friend died unexpectedly this week, and I don't know how to cope with all of this. Life seems cruel and pointless. It's one thing to never have believed in God, but it's quite another thing to have one view of existence/the universe for your whole life and turn it upside down all at once. Has anyone else experienced this? Any advice? My life isn't in shambles. I'm actually much happier now in all areas except this one. I don't spend most of my time thinking about these things. It's just that when they do come up, I can't find the comfort I used to find - and I really, really miss that. It's the only reason I ever wish I could believe again.

I think I can relate. I felt the way you did when I first lost belief in the church and god over 3 years ago. Frankly, I've just come to accept it (kind of like accepting the death of a loved one). Time dulls the pain of the injustice of having no day of reckoning. I believe the scales of justice are never balanced and that is just the way it is. I don't believe in karma or an afterlife.

Olivia Newton-John was a guest judge on American Idol a few years ago and she wore a shirt that had a slogan which has since become a favorite of mine. The shirt said, "It is what it is". I try to simply accept what is most likely reality. In a lot of ways I have given up the concept of justice and instead focus on consequences that foster pro-social changes in behavior. I reject the notion that "the scales" can really be balanced anyway regardless of what any judge - human or divine - could do to the offender. The important thing is to try to reduce the likelihood of the offending behavior happening again through consequences, therapy, social skills training, etc. Natural death serves a purpose in that it ultimately prevents a person from ever doing harm again even if the person never has to account for their wrongdoing.

Basically, I am ok with things being what they are. Most of us during childhood came to accept that life isn't fair. Accepting that there in all likelihood is no final day of reckoning is just one step beyond that. I think we can learn to accept that, too.

Importance of Informed Consent in Rituals

I was part of the "Order of the Arrow" in Scouts growing up and also went through the Mormon temple without knowing in advance what would happen.

I don't like uninformed consent. It is disorienting and scary to not know what is going on or what will happen next or what limits there are to the experience. It puts participants in a psychologically vulnerable state in which they feel pressured to go along and do things they probably would not had they been informed ahead of time. Sure, any participant is free to leave or opt out, just like during a Mormon endowment, but the participant feels intense psychological pressure to conform (and none of the people in charge even have to make a threat). The experience just takes advantage of normal social pressure to conform.

But, after a person does conform, cognitive dissonance kicks in and their minds make them believe that they actually wanted to do it because that is the only reason they can think of for why they did it.Had they been threatened, then they would have that excuse for why they complied, but in the absence of threats, they can't understand why they wouldparticipate in such a humiliating ritual, and so their mind assumes then that they did it because they wanted to. And the more uncomfortable it was, the more they convince themselves they really like it. This is classic cognitive dissonance theory.

These are prime manipulation techniques whether the members putting on the ceremony consciously understand that or not.

Now, as a side note, people go into haunted houses not knowing what to expect, but they do expect the experience will be kept within certain boundaries. They expect to be startled and see gruesome things, but they expect that no real violence will occur. With secret rituals, the initiate has no idea what boundaries exist for the experience. Participants in psychological experiments know that some review board not affiliated with the researchers had to approve the protocol. But, there is no oversight of secret rituals.

Existential Angst

Existential angst, even reaching to the level of depression, is common among deep thinkers. So, common, that there is even a great literary movement that goes by the name of existentialism with authors like Camus, and works like "Waiting for Godot" and "Rosencrats and Guildenstern are Dead". Perhaps it may give consolation to some that they are not alone in walking this path, for many have struggled with these same issues before them.

Sometimes it is useful to catergorize depression into two types: organic and situational. Organic depression would be caused by severe neuro-chemical implances and often result in psychomotor retardation, loss of energy nearly everyday for an extended period of time, and multiple depressive episodes throughout one's life. Situational depression, on the other hand, may only occur a few times within a person's lifetime, and usually accompany a series of life events (e.g., failures in an important life domain, repeated rejection and loneliness, a seemingly insurmountable problem, etc). Situational depression serves a purpose, it is to inform us that whatever we have been doing isn't working for us, and that we should slow down and re-prioritize our life and re-orient ourselves. Unlike frustration, which simply suggests that we should find another route to our goal; depression suggests that we perhaps give up on that goal and find another way to meet the underlying need our old goal was supposed to meet.

For example, I once knew a man who believed the only way he could feel successful and competent was to be a great salesman. The only problem was, he sucked at being a salesman. His failures led to frustruation and discouragement, but he was able to avoid depression as long as he could come up with a new pathway to use to approach his goal of being a great salesman. New pathways included: reading self-help books, attending seminars, talking to successful salesmen for advice, selling different products, trying new ways to attract customers, etc. But, when he had finally exhausted all the pathways he could think of and still experienced failure, he fell into a deep depression. The thing that finally freed him of his depression was realizing that he did not have to be a great salesman (goal) to feel successful and competent (underlying need). He could feel successful and competent by being a great employee and providing for his family with a steady paycheck. So, he re-goaled and found a new way to meet his underlying needs.

Philsopher King: Your brother had the goal to one day have an eternal family and become a god, etc. His principle pathway to that goal was to be a good Mormon and do all the things good Mormons do. That goal is no longer attainable now that he knows it doesn't exist. There are no more pathways to that goal, so he naturally has become depressed. If he were my client, I'd have him first search for his underlying emotional needs. What does he most crave? To feel: wanted, appreciated, valued, understood, needed, cared for, cared about, important, competent, safe, prepared, worthy, etc? Once he has identified that, I'd help him brainstorm ways to get that need satisfied. All of our emotional needs can be satisfied by either ourselves or by other people. And if it is by other people, there are things we can do to elicit the responses we need from other people.

I'll end by sharing how I found my way out of existential angst. I realized that although my existence has no eternal or cosmic meaning or significance, my existence could have meaning and significance locally, in space and time to the people around me whose lives I touch and influence. My life matters to my wife and kids. If I committed suicide, it would deeply sadden them and disadvantage them in their lives. And I choose to care about their feelings. And although, they, like me, are nothing more than a contained chemical reaction and all the feelings they have are nothing more than a chemical reaction playing itself out, I am a homo sapien and I am content to do what homo sapiens do, care about the feelings of other homo sapiens, even while knowing my "caring" is just a chemical reaction itself. My wife and kids give my life meaning, locally in space and time, no matter how ephemeral. The human mind is the only thing capable of giving meaning and it is also the only thing that craves it. So, I get my need for meaning fulfilled bythe only humans I'll ever know (my contemporaries). It would be convienient to be like the deer who have no need for meaning and blissfully live their lives without it. But, I am a human, so I will do what humans do: live my life, satisfy my needs, experience my emotions, and enjoy my fellow humans.

Did I consider the possibility Holland might be right?

Someone asked,
Did any of you stop to consider that maybe Jeffery Holland was right and we are among those "who just wished to exit the church" who have to spend the rest of our lives "crawling around, over, or under the Book of Mormon" because it is something that even us apostates can't deny is true?



We're all just being decieved by Satan and we've given up our eternal exaltation and turned our backs on the truth and the faith of our Fathers, for what?


Holland is right that we don't know how the Book of Mormon was written. There is no clear consensus on the most likely scenario as to how the Book of Mormon was likely created. And there are many failed theories.



But, for me it does not matter who or how the book was written. It is enough for me to know that it could not be of ancient American origin. And if it is not ancient American in origin as it claims and as it has to be for the Church to be true, nothing else matters. It doesn't matter if it was written by Spalding and Rigdon or Smith.



I can't answer why Hyrum quoted from the Book of Mormon before his death or why Joseph testified of it to the guards. I have my theories, but I don't know. But, me not knowing the motivations of Joseph and Hyrum should not in itself negate what I already know through hard physical evidence.



The Book of Abraham was the smoking gun for me. It proves Joseph was a fraud and that he was deceitful while producing so-called scripture. The Book of Mormon has so many challenges to its authenticity, there is no question that it was written around the early 1800's in America, not 600BC to 400AD.



In short knowing the mind of Joseph is not necessary in determining whether the Book of Mormon is a fraud.

Happiness is no longer my goal

I have been having a number of conversations with friends and co-workers lately which have helped me articulate my present views.



As Mormons we were taught that "Men are that they might have joy" and that happiness was the end of our existence and the purpose for which we were created. Since leaving Mormonism and belief in god altogether, I have familiarized myself with a fair number of philosophies of life that are out there.



One great objective in Budhism is to give up attachment and desire, for by so doing one can eliminate suffering. I believe that that works (if one gives up attachment, one will eliminate the personal experience of suffering), but I fundamentally reject the notion that getting rid of personal suffering is good or should be a goal. I don't want to give up desire or attachment, because they are the only way I can feel true closeness and intimacy. I will gladly suffer the risk of pain and loss so that I can enjoy interpersonal warmth and love. Suffering is not all that bad. I have no phobia for pain. It is not that I want more pain in my life, but I accept it as part of life and am willing to experience it if it leaves me open to truly live.



I also find no appeal in the waves of new age movements that have lately come along such as "The Secret" and the works of Tolle. Tolle could be right in his fundamental approach; there is certainly no way to know for sure (I think there is some benefit in at least occasionally attempting to give up one's sense of self), but fundamentally I believe we are biological creatures, and our mental functions and experiences are born of the hardware of our neural circuits and the "software" we pick up from the environment."The Secret" I find just wrong on the face of it. Thinking good thoughts doesn't metaphysically make things happen.



There are a whole host of other religions and philosophies that tell us that we should make more of ourselves - that we should through meditation transcend ourselves and be more/better than the typical human. There is this emphasis that we should be doing more, accomplishing more, growing more, there is so much personal development that we need to get done before we die, we must prepare for whatever comes after death, etc. UGGGHHH & ICCCKKK!



A co-worker asked me the other day how I might live my life differently if I knew I only had two years left to live. He said that would put an urgency in him and rattled off a number of things he would do or attempt to accomplish and how he would spend his time. I thought for a moment and realized I wouldn't do anything different. I am living exactly how I want to at the present time. My immediate family is my main reason for living and I am spending time with them, and if I die, I die. So what? I don't feel that there is anything for me to accomplish, anything I must do or expectation that I must meet.



As far as the Universe is concerned, nothing is expected of me. In a few hundred years my existence will be completely forgotten (if not before then), and in a few billion years, nothing will be left of the organisms that once inhabited the planet earth. The universe really doesn't care if we exist or not, and certainly doesn't care what we do with our lives.



I am content to be a human being, a homo sapien. I do what homo sapiens do. Birch trees do what birch trees do; robins do what robins do; and I do what homo sapiens do. Nothing at the cosmic level is expected of the birch, the robin, and nothing is expected of me. I don't have to be anything or become anything; and I don't have to be happy or reach some meditative state of being (which I think is just a psychological trick anyway - it is not like we are really transcending our brains - our brains are making the experience).



For me, it is relieving to not have anything I have to strive for at the cosmic level. Now, I know I do have expectations for me locally in space and time. My contemporaries expect me to behave a certain way (pro-socially) and provide for myself and family (physically, emotionally, socially, etc). As a human I have needs and wants that I desire to have fulfilled and I work towards satisfying them. I have dreams and goals, but they are my dreams and goals that come with no external pressure to measure up. They weren't goals that were given to me by a deity, pretentious prophet, cosmic entity, or some new age guru who has a misguided confidence that they have THE powerful answer to the purpose of life.



I don't need to be happy; I am content to just be what I am - a human being. I am happy sometimes. I have given myself permission to feel a wide range of emotions, so sometimes I feel angry, sometimes I feel peace, sometimes I feel discouraged, sometimes I feel hopeful, sometimes I feel frustrated, sometimes I experience flow, and on and on.



Now for a tangent. I think emotions are a natural and normal part of being a homo sapien. I don't feel that it is bad or evil or that one is sinning if one experiences a negative emotion. I believe each of the various emotions serve a purpose and gave our ancestors an evolutionary advantage. Most serve to draw our attention to something that needs to be addressed for our well-being. Sometimes, we get stuck in an emotion (like depression or anger) or experience an emotion when the situation doesn't really call for it (an intense phobia of germs). In these cases the emotions may be causing us problems in our lives, and we need psychological help to work through what needs to be taken care of or retrain our emotions to respond differently. I am a masters level psychologist and I do that kind of work.



The FLDS have a saying that they tell the women and girls among them - "Stay sweet" - meaning keep a smile on your face and a cheery disposition and stuff all negative emotions. To most of us that is obviously unhealthy. But, many religions and movements to a lesser extent promote that same message: happiness is the goal and if you are not happy you are not as developed, matured, strong as, good as, enlightened as, accomplished as you should or could be. The message is you need to become like the Buddha, the saints, the gurus, the masters, the transcendent ones, etc. They say, "these people have reached a level of peace, a spiritual plane, an enlightenment that you need to obtain. They have set the example for all to follow." I reject that. Sure it is enjoyable to reach those altered states, as I have done before and do on occasion. But, those states are just another part of the human experience and do not need to be the standard by which everything else is judged.



Look, I acknowledge that for some people, living their lives with those aspirations works for them. I celebrate their humanity and as a good friend support them. I am just saying that for me, I no longer feel expectations from the cosmos or a god. I no longer use happiness as a milestone to mark whether I am measuring up anymore, or being all that I could or should be. I don't look up to transcendental states of consciousness with any special awe or high regard.

I am sometimes asked are Mormons Christian?

I've heard arguments both for the position that Mormons are Christian and for the position that Mormons aren't Christian. I've read the quotes by Hinckley and others that usually get trotted out in such discussions.



The question really only seems relevant to two groups of people: 1) those who believe Christianity is the only true religion so it really matters if one is a ChristianTM or not; and 2) Mormons who don't want to be thought of as "less than" because they are not thought of as part of the Christian majority. The question might also be relevant to anthropologists/socialogists.



To the anthropologist, when considering all of the different religions that have and do exist (Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, etc), Mormonism clearly is a product of and fits in the camp of Christianity. Mormonism considers the Bible holy scripture and the word of God and features Christ as a god to be worshipped. Clearly, Mormonism has some unique theology and rituals and as such should not be catergorized within the Roman Catholics, or the Protestants, or the Armenians, Coptic Church, or Eastern Orthodox movements.But, Mormonism still fits in the larger umbrella of Christianity nonetheless.



Now, to many Protestants, those differences in theology in Mormonism are all so important. Since Mormonism doesn't fit into their rather overly strict definition of what a Christian must believe, many Protestants don't consider Mormons Christian. But, many people reject the Protestant definition of Christianity as THE definition of Christianity.



Some Mormon leaders, who wanted to emphasize that Mormonism is different/better than the predominant form of Christianity, have said things that one could interpret as them claiming they are not part of what they believe is the corrupt and apostacized Christian movement. But, most, if not all, would claim that they are the true followers of Christ and therefore the true Christians.



Many modern Mormons consider themselves Christian as they look to Christ as their Savior, Lord, and as the Son of God.



Personally, in a lot of ways, I just don't care. I don't believe either Mormonism or Christianity is true (or any other religion). To me, it is like arguing whether the Pharoah Amenhotep's brand of theology (monotheism) can be classified as part of the ancient Egyptian religion which believed in many gods, or not.



I sometimes think we get too caught up in trying to categorize things as opposed to just appreciating the differences and the similarities for what they are.

Would I have had a crises of faith had I not been Mormon?

I have often said that I am glad I grew up Mormon, else I might never have figured out that Christianity and the theology in the Bible is not true.



I don't know that I would have investigated the true history of Biblical theology if I had not first had to investigate the true history of the Book of Abraham.



I don't know that I would have ever questioned what I believed were promptings from God or that I communicated with God in my prayers, if I had not first had to question the "promptings I had received from God" that Mormonism was true.



I might have never questioned divine miracles, if I had not had to question priesthood healings.



I might have never had second thoughts about the intense love I felt from God, if I had not learned that those same feelings indicate nothing and are almost certainly created by our own brains.



Mormonism has proven to be a great stepping stone to teach me to investigate thoroughly and critically religion. I am happy with where I am now, and I am not sure I would have gotten here had I not been raised Mormon.

How I stopped thinking about god

Someone who no longer believes in god wrote this:

In my logical brain I just can't accept a higher power. But when I'm not sitting here thinking about it, random thoughts will come to me subconsciencely about God. Then I have to stop and remind myself that I don't believe in that anymore.

How can I start getting my subconscience to think the way my logic brain does?


I responded by saying: I think it was time more than anything else. I was a habitual pray-er when I believed. So, after I stopped believing, I would occasionally catch myself kneeling before my bed at night or folding my arms and bowing my head before meals. I would remind myself that I don't believe in that anymore. It has been years since I have even thought about praying. In fact, it is so natural not to pray now, I often start eating at my in-laws house when the food is served before the prayer (not intentionally, I would wait out of respect for them but I forget).

Do souls exist?

A friend of mine named peter_mary had this to say when someone asked if we thought souls exist. Below is what he said and then how I responded.

peter_mary:

I tend to think I don't have a soul (this comes as HUGE suprise to everyone I've offended on my way to Outer Darkness...)

But then, I suppose it's how you define "soul." If we define "soul" as that sense of "self" that allows us to diferentiate ourselves from our surroundings, and that makes us truly unique in the spectrum of human beings, and that retains that sense of unique "selfness" (selfiness?) throughout the course of our lives, then yeah--I have a soul.

But in no way do I consider that soul to be differentiated from ME. In other words, there is no distinction between my body (the fleshy stuff) and my soul (the "selfy stuff). I believe that my sense of self resides in my brain, and that were my brain to be damaged (contrary to popular belief, it has NOT been damaged to date....that I know of) my sense of self could change radially and unalterably.

Furthermore, when I exhale my last breath, and the electrochemical processes in my body shut down, I believe that sense of self will simply cease. I see it as an emergent phenomenon of the manner in which the brain functions, serving us well (as evidenced by the ridiculous degree to which humans have moved into virtually every niche known to mother nature.) Subsequently, when the brain ceases to produce the electrochemical impulses, so, too, do all the associated emergent phenomenon cease.

Strangely, that doesn't bother me in the least.

By the way, I think "selfiness" is a most excellent made-up word.

Ditto! I could not have expressed my opinion on this subject better than peter mary just did for me. Thank you!

I believed in a soul before I delved into graduate studies in psychology. Every "function" we imagine a soul to do is done by the biological brain, from personality, to intelligence, to sense of self, to memory, to processing sensatory input, to whatever. The most convincing evidence of that is the loss ofspecific mental functions due tolocalized brain damage. If we do have a soul, it seems incapable of compensating for the loss of function from brain damage.

I researched Near-death experiences and have become convinced that there is no evidence there of a soul. And I dismiss outright reincarnation stories.

It is not bad if a woman is sexy

Although a man, I consider myself a feminist. I am for women and for making opportunities for women to be who and what they want to be. I am also for men and for people of all races, and people of all sexual orientations and sexual identities. I am a humanist and want all humans to have opportunities to be who and what they want to be, provided they don't hurt others.

My morality is simple: it is not good to hurt others (sexually, physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, etc). Now, I have a few caveats to that which is not relevant in the current discussion.

I admire and value intelligent and accomplished women. I also admire beautiful and sexy women. I also admire nurturing and supportive women. I can find nothing fundamentally wrong or demeaning about being sexy and beautiful. Appreciating one or another attribute about a woman does not equate to objectifying them. When I recognize a woman as intelligent (or am even turned on by her intelligence), that does not mean I see that woman as nothing more than a brain built for the sole purpose of stimulating me. Similarly, when I recognize a woman as hot (or am even turned on by her hotness), that does not mean I see that woman as nothing more than a hot body built for the sole purpose of arousing me.

Now, I do have a big problem with those who truly objectify women as it gives them permission to invalidate the woman (her feelings, her personhood, her worth, etc). And I believe that is damaging to her.

But, I reject the notion that a woman flaunting her sexiness is by definition demeaning herself.She could be, but it does not necessarily follow that she is. It could be argued that there are women who demean themselves by flaunting their intelligence if they think they would be worthless if not for their intelligence.

The danger comes in thinking that this or that attribute is the only one of worth, and that we or others are worthless without it.

So, I'd suggest we lay off those who celebrate their sexiness. If we don't know them, we don't know whether or not they are demeaning themselves as it depends on what they think about themselves and the meaning they give to what they are doing. Furthermore, we should not think that a woman who flaunts her sexuality is demeaning other woman. It just does not follow. We need to spend more time battling ideas and beliefs than being critical just because we see a portrayl of someone being sexy. The ideas that we need to battle is objectification (that a woman is not a person, but exists only for us), that the only characteristic of worth is sexiness, that if you don't look hot you are worthless.

Integrity

My wife once told me that one of the things she admired about me most was my integrity. Years later, it was my integrity that led me to leave the church immediately after learning it was not true. And the wonderful thing was my wife was understanding because she knew I was acting on my integrity. She eventually researched the same stuff I did, and left the church with me.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

What the Hieroglyph that looks like Obama means

There are a bunch of kooks on the internet claiming that the Egyptians predicted the dark reign of Obama, and take the hieroglyph that looks like him as proof that he is the anti-Christ. Nonsense like that, which is made out of thin air, bugs the crap out of me. And some people just lap it up only because it is consistent with their biases.

I decided to post this here because due to our learning about the Book of Abraham, a fair number of us learned a bit about Egyptology and how to interpret the products of ancient Egypt.

The following is from here:

In case you all were wondering what the big-eared hieroglyph that Obama joked about today, saying that it looked like him means…It is pronounced like the word “hair” and is commonly spelled “her” by Egyptologists. The hieroglyph often means “because,” or ”on account of.” It’s a standard sign...

Friday, February 06, 2009

A recent correspondence about evidence

My wife and I left the church 3 years ago. When that happened my wife's brother and I wrote back and forth a little. Mostly me answering his questions about how I account for this or that thing if I no longer believe in God. It was very respectful convo. I wanted him to look at some of the evidence that challenges the validity of the Church, but he said he was too busy with work, grad school, and a young family. The issue dropped.

Fast forward three years. Now my wife's young sister who just started college just announced to the family that she left the Church because she doesn't believe in it. That same brother in law posted a message on his facebook page. You can read it below and my response. They are long, so read it if you want to, skip it if you don't. I didn't do a point by point refutation, because it would come across as a little too aggressive.

This note is prompted by a note posted recently by my sister about her religious choices. She's in college and is soul searching right now. Her decisions are hers to make, like they are for all of us. Her thoughts just prompted some of my own that I wanted to share for her and anyone else interested in thinking about it.

I believe in God. I believe in Christ. I believe He is my Savior. I believe these things because I believe there is more credible evidence to support them than to refute them. Let me warn you now, this is a long post, because it's a first draft. I'll probably try to refine it over time. Nonetheless I wanted to put something out here, even if it is more like a short story than a note.

The scriptures teach of a God who loves His children. Contrary to popular belief, the scriptures actually give us a history of a a God who on the whole, tells people what He wants but then lets them do what they want to do. It's hard to see that sometimes because most of the text in the scriptures are about the exceptions, when his interventions have been significant. However if one considers the number of people on the earth at various times and the amount of time that passes, along with the number of people involved in the events recorded, it seems that the majority of the general public that are discussed in the scriptures (not speaking of the prophets and those who wrote the books, now) had no more evidence than we have now to convince them to believe or disbelieve. There are exceptions, but people throughout scriptural times have found other ways to explain the creation and other things scriptures claim to explain. Their explanations range from their own sets of gods to acceptance of mysteries as unexplainable, to evolution, intelligent design, and other scientific pursuits.

But the scriptures have been here through it all. Did Moses part the Red Sea? Did Jesus walk on water? Did Christ come back from the dead? These books we have make some pretty tall claims. Some believe they are completely true, some believe they're partially true with exaggeration for good story telling, some think they're completely fictional.

The interesting thing about them, though, is that they teach about the spiritual life of a person. According to the scriptures, there is a spirit inside of us. Interestingly enough, this spirit only grows in certain ways. The scriptures teach that as we apply ourselves, and allow ourselves to believe, the spirit grows inside of us and we begin to learn more and grow more. Also interestingly, the scriptures teach that doubt destroys the spiritual growth.

That's a challenge I've always struggled with, because if you believe in something and don't allow yourself to doubt, pretty soon you convince yourself and you become very sure, even though you have no way of confirming that the thing you're sure about is accurate or not. The human mind is capable of a lot of things, and who's to say that those of us who choose to believe are not merely conditioning our minds to think in terms of God and faith, and by so doing, make other paradigms seem unacceptable?

So what if we do doubt? If we tend to think that the scriptures are stories that were made up for us, then what? We find other ways to account for the world around us. We rely on what we have to tell us what we need to know, and either develop an alternative faith and view of the world or become apathetic to the things we cannot see and understand. Many seek ways to achieve enlightenment, to achieve elevation or some other such things that gives extra meaning to life, as an answer to the spirituality offered by a religious faith.

Many thoughtful people have thought about this. Many philosophies have come out. Some claim their philosophies come from higher sources. Perhaps they do. But there's something I've found in my faith that I haven't found a parallel for in all other philosophies and creeds I've considered. There is a personal test.

Now, as stated before, when choosing faith, I think it's only honest to realize that the possibility exists that one is merely deceiving oneself. However, in my life, I've chosen faith because I feel that the scriptures make a solid case for the reality of the miracles they describe, and the preservation of the scriptures has been of utmost priority to a decent sized group of people throughout time--so although men are imperfect and capable of deception, the complete corruption of the scriptures would ultimately require collusion and conspiracy among such a wide range of individuals with such a wide range of motivations that it seems improbable that the miraculous stories contained in them would have been allowed to be lost.

By choosing faith, the scriptures tell me I'll be blessed, and I find that when I read the scriptures or engage in religious discussions, I feel a sense of peace and calm that comes to me distinctly, a sensation that I can separate from other sensations I feel during other activities. As various events occur, the intensity of the sensation varies. Sometimes the sensations I experience trigger thoughts in my mind. When I act on those thoughts, the sensations I feel seem to grow stronger. When I ignore them they fade and go away. I've been around long enough to feel this come and go again and again. I didn't begin to feel these distinct sensations until after I had made an honest, deep, sincere commitment. That commitment was made through many hours of prayer, with many hours of fasting and pleading, as the scriptures describe, seeking to find forgiveness and understanding.

It took me a lot ... I mean a LOT of effort to reach a point where I felt I was not being dishonest to say I really felt this. But now I do. I feel it regularly, and often. It is undeniable to me. Am I deceiving myself? Perhaps. But to me it's impossible to tell because I feel the influence come often before I become consciously aware of a stimulus that according to what I've learned from the scriptures, should cause it. These sensations always become intense and strong when I explore spiritual matters based on the scriptures I've come to accept as being true. They've also come when learning about various principles from various other sources, and I therefore believe that I've found truth in those sources as well. I don't feel it all the time, but I do know it is real, and I believe sincerely that although my actions influence how I feel it, I do not control the sensation myself.

In conjunction with these sensations, I have actually experienced miracles like those described in the scriptures. I've seen a guy who couldn't walk on his leg without toppling receive a blessing, stand up and walk as though nothing were wrong. I've seen weather change in response to prayers. I haven't seen mountains move or people walk on water, but I believe it could happen if necessary. The more I've allowed myself to believe, the more I understand what I read in the scriptures, and the more I relate to the things I read. I feel as though this sensation I experience gives me a new dimension of life to explore, one beyond what I see, hear, taste, smell, touch, or even feel with my emotions. And I feel the scriptures act as a guide book to help me understand this dimension.

This dimension of my life brings me great joy and comfort. It confirms for me the scriptures are reliable. I know and recognize that academically, one can find perceived inconsistencies in the scriptures. However, I also know that academically, one cannot understand the full context in which the scriptures are written. One can try, but without a spiritual dimension of analysis on what is written in the scriptures, I've become convinced that we cannot possibly hope to understand the true meaning of what is contained within those scriptures. For the people who wrote them, I believe, had achieved a certain level of mastery of this spiritual plain of which I speak. As they have written, they were forced to try to put into imperfect words the ideas and concepts they wished to communicate. But just as a picture can be worth 1,000 words, a spiritual idea cannot always be conveyed effectively even with a million words.

Am I deceiving myself? Is this a sense of elevation or enlightenment induced by my own self-delusion based on expectations I have built for myself? Maybe ... But how many people who believe that have themselves harnessed the capability to utilize their 'elevation' to heal a man? Some may say they're out there, but I have yet to see it. Having experienced some tastes of what the Spirit can do for me in my life, I've left doubt behind.

Now I have put a lot of time into studying various forms of history. I have sought out and read a lot of church history and a lot of philosophy, along with many other books and materials. I intend to continue to do so. I've investigated many claims that claimed to debunk the roots of the scriptures that have lead me to experience the spiritual enlightenment. I've not investigated every claim I've come across. But I have investigated many, and as of yet, I still have not found a single one that claims, with any believable basis, that the claims it makes are from God himself. Instead, they are all things written by humankind. They range from scientific studies to journal logs, to direct challenges based on thoroughly documented historical sources. But they all are written by people, and quote sources written by people.

People are imperfect. That is a fact. I am imperfect. I make mistakes. I make terrible mistakes. Sometimes even the people we admire most make significant mistakes. Some who have claimed to be the most divinely inspired of God have made huge, imperfect mistakes. I don't question that. Even if people claim that their writings they claim to come from God are pirated from other sources, and they can quote the sources, it still does not sway me if I feel that sense of spiritual confirmation while studying those things. It's illogical academically, especially if one as an undeniable academic case. But it's just that. An academic case. How can one say that the evidence is not flawed? How can one determine that the claimed original source, in the example given, was not in fact written after the revelation, then given a false publishing date so as to appear to have been the first occurrence of the text? One can call upon testimony of humans, only--humans who have agendas, who are imperfect in their own understandings, humans who may have every good intention but simply are mistaken. They are still human.

So do I put more stock in uncertain philosophies that are in fact claimed to have been conceived by imperfect academic humans who claim to be enlightened? Or do I put more stock in philosophies that are claimed to have been conceived by God, for which I can obtain my own sense and witness, and in fact an incredible life experience while embracing? I carefully choose the latter, while choosing also to remain conscious and aware of disagreeing philosophies, as I do find value in understanding them despite whatever fundamental disagreements I may have with them.

I know many may think me foolish. We have our scientists who tell us how the world and life on it came to be, and claim to discredit the scriptural accounts and evidences of God based on the world itself. But I think it foolish for scientists to pretend to be able to make the claims they do about our history. We have an entire convoluted legal system set up, much of which is centered around trying to understand the recent past. The most reliable sources for telling what happened at a crime scene are records that came from the event -- videos, tapes and memories (witnesses). While forensic science has come a long way in determining what *probably* happened, based solely on evidence (skid marks, DNA samples, etc.), the true sequences of events identified by forensics are still merely a best guess as to what actually happened. Short of more conclusive evidence (such as videos), the claims scientists make with forensics often cannot be proven absolutely. Even in recent times, DNA evidence, which has become considered to be iron-clad evidence, has shown to be completely unreliable in a few cases where human beings are found to have more than one type of DNA in their body.

What ?! But DNA doesn't lie! Well, that statement is based on an *assumption* that has been observed and widely accepted in the scientific world, that each body has a consistent type of DNA throughout their body. That assumption is now being challenged.

Science naturally evolves and changes as new discoveries are made. To believe exclusively in science as truth is to ignore the reality that future discoveries are to be made. Science is good, but it is merely a tool to be used to view the world--and in my opinion, is not reliable enough to become the sole source of information about the world.

I believe there are things science has yet to discover. I believe one major assumption that scientists rely upon is the consistent behavior of matter over time. Radioactive decay is used to estimate ages of objects based on this assumption. But is it a reliable assumption? How can we have any way of determining with any level of certainty that a certain radioactive isotope behaved the same way 1,000 years ago as it does today? Surely the academic mind will say that to question this is absurd. But is it? How can we know? We have no way to test a radioactive isotope IN THAT TIME FRAME. We can speculate, but that's it.

I think scientists have made a lot of unprovable assumptions that they consider absurd for anyone to question. And many embrace their assertions as evidence of truth. And often these same individuals are the ones who will say my faith is delusional and unfounded, who will say I'm ignoring reality. I'm not. I'm simply open to new ways of perceiving reality, and will not deny myself the opportunity to embrace my humanity through a source that claims to have all truth.

We have a source that claims to help us acquire all knowledge and understanding. I think it silly to ignore such a source, especially when the evidence I've experienced confirms it. Why should I choose to ignore Him because a bunch of arrogant humans think it's silly?

With that said, I do value science still, and would gladly lend my expertise to further the investigation of scientists' theories even if they seem to prove philosophies with which I simply don't agree. That's because I support the pursuit of understanding, and that pursuit is valuable in all its forms so long as one doesn't begin to take one's self too seriously.

But when it comes to my life, and my children, I have to make a commitment, a decision. Trust God? Trust man? Well, the evidence I see right now makes me choose God.

I could go on to detail why I've chosen God in the context I have (i.e. in Mormonism) but that's another subject and I've written way more than enough already on this note.


Here was my reply:

I am happy for you that you have a set of beliefs that bring you joy. I used to share those same beliefs and remember exactly the joy I felt when I had those beliefs. I now have a new set of beliefs and continue to feel great joy. I am fine with us having different beliefs. Each person follows the dictates of their own conscience and judgment. What I say here, I say only to communicate my perspective in the spirit of increasing understanding, not to convince. I have stood in shoes very similar to yours. Much of what you have written here could have easily been written by me 4 years ago and before (in fact, I have made many similar statements in my previous writings that I could dig up if need be). I am very familiar with the worldview you present as I shared it up until almost three years ago.

Given what I was aware of at the time, I too felt that there was more credible evidence supporting Mormonism than refuting it, and I couldn't imagine that ever changing. I too felt that it was more important to trust God and his scriptures and the witness of his Spirit, than man and his evidence which could be flawed; and that is exactly what I thought I was doing as a believing Mormon.

I now have reason to feel differently. Does it at all interest you why? The last time we went through this, it was three years ago, both of us were still in grad school and you said that you were too busy to read what I (and Lilly) had read. Now there are three members of your family (who are just as familiar with the potential of human error and bias as you) and yet, even while considering all that you have said here, still are persuaded to feel differently about Mormonism than you.

I am sure that must be puzzling to you. If I (Hueff) know that human evidence might be faulty, why would I ever be persuaded by it to reject the things I thought I knew by the Spirit? Most people never ask me that question and unfortunately many people resolve their puzzlement with assumptions. I have heard that your mom thinks it is because I am prideful. Others of our LDS friends suppose I have committed some sin and denied my beliefs so I wouldn't have to confront my sin and repent. Others think I just got too caught up in my studies of science and forgot my spiritual witnesses or that Satan deceived me. Perhaps most painful to me is when people assume that I somehow duped or manipulated Lilly and I am responsible for stealing her salvation. And you know what the first question your mom asked when Jana told her she no longer believed? It was, "Have you been talking to Hueff and Lilly?" Again as if I am to blame whenever anyone in the family doesn't believe in Mormonism anymore. Lilly and Jana are smart and can think for themselves, and I am not some enemy in the flock picking off family members one by one so that I can destroy your eternal family. I wish people would not assume bad things about me, but ask if my decisions confuse them.

For the record, neither I nor Lilly had anything to do with Jana leaving the Church. Although we were the first ones she told, she did not tell anyone until after she was certain in her own mind because she did not want to be unduly influenced by anyone. And Lilly reached her own conclusions about the Church after her own research and now she knows some details about Joseph's polyandry and other things that I don't even know because she has had the interest and time to read some books that I haven't yet. And, for the record, I am not guilty of some great sin, nor have I forgotten my "spiritual witnesses", or "answered prayers", or "priesthood healings", or any of the scriptures I have memorized or doctrines I used to believe in. I confront them with as much honesty and integrity as I can. Perhaps I am a little prideful (I have always struggled with that), but that is not why I don't believe. And yes, I fully remember 2 Nephi 9:28-29; I now see it as a rather convenient way to dismiss and demonize those who don't believe in the Church anymore.

I'll tell you what I think separates me from my former believing self. I have just learned some things that I did not know before, and I have honestly confronted those things and accepted the implications of them. I don't think I was foolish for believing the way I did. I was just uninformed, and there is no shame in that. Now, there were times when I was still a believing member, when I thought I was informed. If one reads the entire FAIR LDS site, one will get the false sense that one knows all the dirt and still believes. And after talking with great defenders of the faith such as Daniel Peterson and Jeff Lindsey who one suspects knows even more and they still believe, one feels secure that there is nothing to fear from whatever evidence is out there as these men surely know it and still believe. And one will assume that surely the General Authorities know everything and still believe (they even claim to "know"), so all is well in Zion. Besides any evidence that is out there comes from human sources and we all know humans can make errors.

But, then one remembers that everything we have has first been filtered through human minds: the scriptures, the general conference talks, the church sanctioned church history including Joseph's reporting of the first vision, even the meaning and interpretation we give to the experiences we call spiritual were filtered through our own human mind (or at least might be). We can't be sure that anything has come directly from God. So, now the playing field is a little more level. We have things that came through humans that is claimed to be from god and things that came through humans who acknowledge it came through humans. We know that not everything that is claimed to have come from a god actually did, for they contradict each other. We have a human bias to suspect that it is always the other guy's prophet that is mistaken or a liar; it is worth considering that it might be ours. We can so easily point out the flaws and inconsistencies in the other guy's message because we are not forbidden from doubting his message, but we are not allowed to doubt our prophet's message because "faith doesn't work that way". In my opinion, truth is truth and should be able to stand on its own when scrutinized.

Faith is so dangerous because it opens the door to be deceived. How can anyone ever learn that they are on the wrong path unless they allow themselves to doubt? How can scientologists, fundamentalist Mormons, or Muslims begin to fairly consider their religion if they are discouraged from looking at the evidence that might challenge their religions validity? LDS missionaries encourage investigators to doubt whatever religion they are coming from so that they can accept Mormonism. (Mormons don't like to frame it that way, but that is what they are doing. Missionaries are hoping that their investigators will believe in Mormonism and Catholicism both equally and at the same time. They want them to disbelieve, doubt, and reject those parts of Catholicism that don't gel with Mormonism). Shouldn't we be willing to at least fairly examine our own religion and be open to doubting if the situation calls for it? Many Mormons think they have fairly examined their own religion before they have exposed themselves to all the evidence. If one only listens to the defense attorney's case (and only a few distorted rumors of the prosecutor's evidence) then of course one is going to conclude that the defense has the more credible case.

Since one can never know if one has heard all the evidence there is a critical necessity to continue to read info that is critical of whatever your current beliefs are at the time. That is the only way to discover that you are on the wrong course. So, even though I left the Church 3 years ago, I still read things in favor of the Church, just to make sure I didn't miss anything. Alvin may not remember, but he has been confused in the past why I keep GospeLink on my computer even though I don't believe anymore. That is one of the reasons why. Sure, we have to be skeptical of any source. If we are talking about a person's account of events, we have to consider the author's possible bias, faulty memory or perception, etc. But, we also have reasons to believe a person's account, if it is consistent with the accounts given by others who likely did not coordinate testimonies, if it is consistent with collaborating physical evidence, and other things. But, there are many types of evidence besides testimony. Sure, anyone has a chance of being faulty, but they also have a chance of being right and when the evidence mounts up and it begins to paint a consistent picture, you are more likely to be right trusting what that evidence is showing than picking the position that is the direct opposite.

Tony, you now have three family members who have looked at the evidence that I don't believe you have fully examined or become acquainted with, yet (correct me if I'm wrong). We all believe there really is something to it (even after making considerations for human error, etc). I have stood in shoes very similar to yours and believed very similarly to you before I examined this evidence. It might be worth taking a look at it and at least consider it for yourself. You may not come to the same conclusion, but you may at least want to know what is out there. If you stay in the Church, you are likely to hold many leadership callings and be placed in a situation in which you will need to counsel those who have confronted and wrestled with this evidence. You might want to be familiar with it if for no other reason than to be better able to counsel those people. Simply claiming that the evidence might be faulty and we should trust God instead of man isn't going to help much or answer the serious questions posed by what is out there.

If you decide to really investigate this, you will need to read some books written by non-believers to get the full picture. Be as skeptical as you want and run all of their cross references, but don't ignore them or you will never get exposed to all the evidence, because faith promoting sources and apologist sites don't talk about things they don't have a good response for. Just consider, a Scientologist might never learn of the challenging evidence against his religion if he would not read anything written by a non-believer.

Now, some original sources you will not be able to get your hands on because they are locked up in the Church Archives which are now closed to the public. They used to be wide open to the public and BYU historians (such as D. Michael Quinn) used to love digging through them and researching, but once they started publishing their findings and their findings were not flattering of the Church, they started limiting access to them. But, many of the original sources are available, even online, through church approved venues or at least believing members' websites.

If you decide to start an investigation, I recommend starting with the FAIR LDS site. It is a pro-LDS apologetic site, so you will feel safe and comfortable there. They admit to a number of challenging things so you will at least know that the issues are legitimate, not just made up anti lies. Since they are an apologetic site, they of course give their spin on things to try to preserve the faith of those who are questioning. I am basically encouraging you to hear the defense's argument first. After you have read much of what is there (or whatever interests you) you might even feel stronger in your faith than before because you will think that you have now faced a lot of the difficult stuff with your faith in tact. But, don't stop there, for you have done nothing but hear the defense's argument. But, after you've done that (if you do it at all and no matter how long it takes) let me know and then I'll point you to some other things, if you want. Again, I am not trying to convince you, just expose you to some things so that you can begin to understand why Lilly and I don't believe in Mormonism anymore. (You'd have to ask Jana why she doesn't believe anymore if you want to understand her).

Your brother-in-law,

Hueff

Friday, January 30, 2009

Why the Issue of Blacks and the Priesthood Is Still Relevant

The following comes from a conversation on PostMo:
Daniel Defoe:

"The racism in the church lasted a really long time, from Brigham Youngs presidency through the early 1970's"

While it is quite true that early members, and even modern ones, were racist, the same thing could be said about the american founders. Are you going to leave america because the early leaders were more racist than Brigham Young (Thomas Jefferson had 175 human beings as property as he wrote 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness', by 1822 he owned 267 slaves).

Remember gab92 said:

I know it is in the past but it bothers me that they don't accept it as one of Brigham Young's many human mistakes and one of his prejudices.

And therein lies the problem. America has acknowledged that its racists laws were a mistake. The LDS Church has not. Racist doctrines are still in the Book of Mormon, which they claim is still the Word of God.

You see the Church tries to paint this picture that it is led by God and the practices of the Church are led by God. If they were to admit that the Church was wrong about denying blacks the priesthood and temple sealing ceremonies and everything else, they would undermine the idea that the policies they set in place are god's policies. That would free the members to think for themselves and question the Brethern.

How might that play out? Some might then say, "Hey they were wrong about blacks and the priesthood, so they might also be wrong about gays now." Every decision, policy and doctrine could then be questioned. The Church would be vastly different then. Some members question the Brethren now, but are seen as on the high road to apostacy, but if the Church admitted it was wrong, then it would not be out of line to think they might be wrong again.

So, this blacks and the priesthood issue that is supposedly "in the past" continues to impact the present in a very significant way, and that is why it matters.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Evolution

Yes, I believe in evolution. I am often surprised by how little my fellow Americans know about it. I mean they all had to take Biology in school, but apparently many were taught by teachers who themselves did not believe in evolution and so de-emphasized the material they were supposed to teach. Many people remain willfully ignorant and will not educate themselves. The evidence is all out there and the reasoning is so easy to follow, but people would rather listen to their religious leaders who hold fast to ancient views of the world. You know, humanity has learned a few things over the past 2,000 years, but you wouldn't know it by listening to the evangelicals.

Here are some links:

PBS site on Evolution

Understanding Evolution

Evolution Exhibit

Intelligent Designers want the public to think there is all this evidence that challenges the validity of evolution by natural selection (like irreducible complexity, for instance how could the eye develop when primitive forms of the eye would give the organism no survival advantage). But, it is simply not true, primitive eyes would give survival advantage, as has been demonstrated by many scientists since. IDer's misinformation is only persuasive to the uninformed.

I Really Did Truly Believe

I absolutely truly believed "with every fiber of my being". People often try to negate a person's "loss of testimony" by saying that "they never really had a testimony in the first place". They say this because it is less threatening to them. They think to themselves, "I could never fall like that person because my testimony is too strong".

Anyone who ever knew me before my apostasy would have to confess that I really did believe probably more than most members, so if I could come to believe it is all false now, then that should shake them that there really might be something to what I claim to have learned about the Church.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Skeptical of Near-Death-Experiences

There are hundreds of articles online illustrating problems with NDE's and alternative explanations for them. But, I wanted to highlight a copy, the first of which I always have the hardest time finding when I am looking for it and the information it contains is rather unique as far as I can tell:

You have to read this article: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/HNDEs.html

Even if we disregard the overwhelming evidence for the dependence of consciousness on the brain, there remains strong evidence from reports of near-death experiences themselves that NDEs are not glimpses of an afterlife. This evidence includes:

(1) discrepancies between what is seen in the out-of-body component of an NDE and what's actually happening in the physical world;

(2) bodily sensations incorporated into the NDE, either as they are or experienced as NDE imagery;

(3) encountering living persons during NDEs;

(4) the greater variety of differences than similarities between different NDEs, where specific details of NDEs generally conform to cultural expectation;

(5) the typical randomness or insignificance of the memories retrieved during those few NDEs that include a life review;

(6) NDEs where the experiencer makes a decision not to return to life by crossing a barrier or threshold viewed as a 'point of no return,' but is restored to life anyway;

(7) hallucinatory imagery in NDEs, including encounters with mythological creatures and fictional characters; and

(8) the failure of predictions in those instances in which experiencers report seeing future events during NDEs or gaining psychic abilities after them.

And here are two more good articles:

Near Death Experiences & the Medical Literature by Mark Crislip

NDEs Redux Skeptics need to reclaim, redefine & embrace Near Death Experiences by Sebastian Dieguez

OK, one last article on Out of Body Experiences

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Most Influential Factor That Led Me To Leave

The following came from a thread on PostMormon:

Hiram:

While we may disagree regarding some topics, I am interested to hear what the most influential factor was that led you to leave the church.

I'm not interested in changing your belief system or world view or arguing doctrines, I just want to respectfully hear the points of view of anybody willing to share them.


Hiram, your post makes me very happy. I rejoice whenever I see a person earnestly inviting others to share things that currently go against what that person believes. It is a hallmark of maturity and wisdom when we invite those kind of dialogues, for that is how we set the stage to learn. We listen and consider. It doesn't mean that we will necessarily give up our beliefs, but we will be better for at least having considered and weighed another's point of view. We might even find that we did not know as much as we thought we knew and in light of the new info must change our thinking on the matter. I once wrote a post on the critical necessity of reading articles critical of your current beliefs - it is as important for non-believing postMormons as it is for TBM's. I invite you to not make this post a one time thing, but continue to seek out opposing view.

Now, on to your question. Occasionally, polls are conducted on the forum to ascertain what the final straw was for each of us. Here is a link to one such poll. As you will notice, the Book of Abraham topped the list, followed by the Book of Mormon. The Book of Abraham was my personal coup de grace as well. First, let me tell you a little about myself. I once was an uber-TBM. I went to BYU, taught at the MTC for almost 3 years, was 2nd Counselor in two Bishoprics, and was an amateur apologist for the church resolving people's concerns with Mormonism both online and in person. Members looked up to me as someone very knowledgeable in the gospel and very spiritual. I knew most of the issues that can concern Mormons about their history and the standard apologetic responses, from Joseph's peep stone money digging to polyandry and Joseph's marrying his own teenage foster daughters to Masonic origins of temple signs and tokens, etc.

The apologist actually has an easy job. His is not to prove the Church is true. All he needs to do is demonstrate that the critics' evidence is not sufficient to prove the Church is not true - that there is some possibility that the Church might be true despite all of this challenging evidence. If the possibility remains, then it falls on each individual to exercise faith in that possibility that the Church is true and receive a witness of the Spirit that it is true, etc. The apologist is not concerned with what is most likely to be true (probable), only with maintaining that the Church might still be true (possible). That approach works very well in maintaining one's faith. One can find all sorts of ways to twist and adjust one's understanding of what it means to be a prophet to make it work. We PostMormons call that mental gymnastics.

Then, I had a friend whose mother left the Church and had supposedly become "anti". That friend wanted to save her and show her the error of her ways. He began studying what she had read so that he could counter her arguments, but he ended up being convinced himself that the Church wasn't true. Well, as an amateur apologist, I felt that I had been around the block a few times because "I had heard it all before". I thought I might be able to show him why whatever he had read did not prove the Church wasn't true. We discussed many issues from Blood Atonement to Adam-God doctrine to Danites to Masons, etc. But, then we got to the Book of Abraham. Now, I thought I knew all about the Book of Abraham issues, that it wasn't an actual translation of the rediscovered papyri, etc. But, my friend did bring up some things I had not heard of before, like the penciled in drawing of a priest in facsimile #1 where Anubis was supposed to be. I didn't really understand the significance at the time, I let it go and "shelved the issue" as we say around here. I never made any progress with reconverting my friend and figured he was just hopelessly lost, having no faith.

Anyway, two years later, something someone said on one of the apologist websites renewed the issue of the Book of Abraham in my mind. This time I determined I would get to the bottom of it so that next time I came across someone with Book of Abraham concerns I could intelligently resolve them. This launched a six month long investigation. I read everything critical, apologetic, and original sources. I took no one's word for anything. If I read an article in which the author claimed anachronisms, I read books on Egyptology until I knew for myself that yes, the land of Egypt got its name from the Greeks, not from the character Egyptus as the Book of Abraham claims. I read the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, including Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, I read Ritner's actual translation of the recovered papyri, I have seen high quality copies of the papyri, read the writings of Hugh Nibley, Jeff Lindsey, Kerry Shirts, John Gee, Daniel Petersen, etc, John Larsen, Kevin Mathie, John Day, etc, I have learned a lot about the ancient Egyptian religion, including Breathing Permits, Anubis, Osiris, Book of the Dead, etc. My knowledge of this Book of Abraham issue approaches that of an expert.

I began with the eye of an apologist, looking for any interpretation I could find that would still leave the possibility open that Joseph was still a prophet, seer, revelator, and translator. I, of course, encountered numerous apologetic explanations, but I eventually had to reject them all, for they were unworkable, the evidence simply left no room for them. They only work if you are either ignorant of or ignore parts of the evidence. There is no hole for the apologist to exploit. The case against the Book of Abraham is air tight and bullet proof. There is no uncertainty for faith to work in; no doubt to give the benefit of. If one wants absolute proof of fraud within Mormonism, one need look no further than the Book of Abraham. I think that is one reason why it ranks so highly in the polls of what was the final blow to our faith in Mormonism.

I believed that the Spirit had told me the Book of Abraham was exactly what Joseph claimed it to be: a translation of papyri written by the hand of Abraham; and I now had evidence to prove that it was nothing of the sort. It could not even be a true revelation, despite the whole translation issue, because the text contains anachronisms and incorrect reconstructions of history. Oh, and lest you buy into that old line that the text has all these marvelous parallels to ancient traditions about the life of Abraham, I invite you to really take a look at it. Read John Gee's book and then critically evaluate it running through every reference. You see so very few apologists or TBM's put the time into this that they need to. They hear a good theory that maintains their faith, embrace it, and pass it on, without having researched it themselves. I am currently working on a paper that will be a more formal rebuttal of just this "parallels with ancient text" argument. You can read a preview here.

OK, so the "Spirit told me the BoA was true", and yet it absolutely could not be. And it was not just a personal failure to interpret the Spirit correctly, for all the latter-day prophets and apostles presumably also believe the Spirit has told them it is what Joseph claimed it to be. I mean, it was ratified as scripture as part of the Pearl of Great Price in general conference. Yet, they all were mistaken. It appears that no one can tell when the Spirit is telling them the truth or a lie. At minimum this means that the Spirit is an unreliable way to discern what is true from what is false. And now that the witness of the Spirit is suspect, what does that mean for the weight of the evidence against the church. One starts to get sick to one's stomach when they consider that Joseph's promiscuity was not sanctioned by God. He slept with girls as young as fourteen, as close in relationship as foster daughters, and he slept with other men's wives. How revolting? How disgusting? And Brigham Young's Blood Atonement and Mountain Meadows Massacre and the deeds of the Danites...how corrupt and evil? And the discrimination against blacks, and gays, and the subjugation of women...ohhh*puke*. Mormonism begins to look no different from any other cult.

Well, what about the good that is done and answered prayers and such? Doesn't that prove the Church is true? I have found that there is nothing that requires us to reject natural explanations for those things in favor of supernatural explanations. We could talk about this for hours. But, if you want to understand why I no longer believe in Mormonism, begin by investigating why the apologist explanations for the Book of Abraham don't work and why there is no room for any explanation to work that doesn't result in acknowledging that the Book of Abraham isn't what Joseph claimed it to be.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Origins of the Word of Wisdom

At dinner tonight, my non-believing wife was wondering why coffee and tea are prohibited by the Word of Wisdom. I said, "You know, Joseph didn't come up with that on his own; he borrowed it from the temperance movement (and the Cold Water Society) that was popular in the area at the time." She said she didn't know that, so I told her I would show her when we got back home.

True to my word I looked it up and showed her. So, I figured since I already looked it up I might as well share it with you, just in case some of you didn't know. The following is from the Tanner's book, "Changing World".

It has been suggested that the temperance movement led to Joseph Smith's "Word of Wisdom." Leonard J. Arrington, who has since become church historian, provides this enlightening information:

In recent years a number of scholars have contended that the revelation is an outgrowth of the temperance movement of the early nineteenth century. According to Dean D. McBrien .... the Word of Wisdom was a remarkable distillation of the prevailing thought of frontier America in the early 1830's. Each provision in the revelation, he claimed, pertained to an item which had formed the basis of widespread popular agitation in the early 1830's:

468


469

"A survey of the situation existing at Kirtland when the revelation came forth is a sufficient explanation for it. The temperance wave had for some time been engulfing the West.... In 1826 Marcus Morton had founded the American Temperance Society.... In June, 1830, the Millenial Harbinger quoted ... an article from the Philadelphia 'Journal of Health,'... which article most strongly condemned the use of alcohol, tobacco, the eating intemperately of meats.... Temperance Societies were organized in great numbers during the early thirties, six thousand being formed in one year... On October 6, 1830, the Kirtland Temperance Society was organized with two hundred thirty nine members.... This society at Kirtland was a most active one.... it revolutionized the social customs of the neighborhood."

McBrien then goes ahead to point out that the Temperance Society succeeded in eliminating a distillery in Kirtland on February 1, 1833, just twenty-seven days before the Latter-day Saint revelation counseling abstinence was announced, and that the distillery at Mentor, near Kirtland, was also closed at the same time (Brigham Young University Studies, Winter 1959, pp.39-40).

In his book The Burned-Over District, pages 211-12, Whitney R. Cross points out that "the temperance movement ... began much earlier... During the 1830's it attained national scope. ... Further, if alcohol was evil because it frustrated the Lord's design for the human body, other drugs like tea, coffee, and tobacco must be equally wrong ... Josiah Bissell.... had even before the 1831 revival 'got beyond Temperance to the Cold Water Society—no tea, coffee or any other slops.' "