Tuesday, August 14, 2012

CES talk on Doubts

I've wanted to post about several random topics since that last one, but nothing quite gets me motivated enough to do it.  I couldn't resist giving this followup to my last post though.  Elder Johnson spoke to CES personnel about the underlying subject of my that post, how to handle doubts by seminary students as their educator.  The following is actually an email I was sending to my wife, but decided to post it here and add a little more than I was going to send her.  She his my safe sounding board who always gives me well thought out and articulate responses.  If everyone had a spouse like her the world would be a much better place. :-)

This was my favorite part of Elder Johnson's talk and one the main idea I feel like I am constantly trying to get others to understand: 
"...some quotes are definitive on issues where there is no official answer. People who are more tentative on a subject that hasn't been revealed or resolved don't get quoted as much, but may be more in line with where our current knowledge is."
Best example of this is how Elder Talmage and BH Roberts firmly believed in evolution, as opposed to Joseph F. Smith who thought it totally false, yet the church had/has no official position.  All were asked not to publish their opinions because it would be construed to be the church's official stance due to their positions of authority.  Fortunately for them and unfortunately for us Talmage and Roberts did as asked, while JFS and McConkie didn't.  Thus all the unnecessary debate and creation of doubts over the non-issue of evolution.

I liked the whole talk, yet I am sure that many CES personnel skip the small, but very important IMO, part that says,
"We love the truth. As Latter-day Saints we seek for truth, and accept it when we find it.  In the scientific world the scientific method is used to learn truth and advance knowledge."  
In other words we are open to strong evidence if it contradicts what we may think religiously, especially if it counters what is just a cultural belief and not an actual canonized doctrine.  I think this article kind of misses completeness by not completely tackling this part of the issue.  I think there are two main areas that create doubts.  1-Things within the church like polygamy or blacks and the priesthood and 2- things from outside like difficulty of a baptism by immersion flood of the entire earth or plethora of evidence for evolution of species?  It only COMPLETELY tells you how to deal with the latter, put it on the shelf and focus on the spiritual confirmations you have received while not holding on too strong to overly black/white quotes about the subject.  

To directly discuss the first source of doubt it would have to say something about how the church has only few beliefs that are canonized doctrine and they rarely deal with anything scientific.  Most "beliefs" regarding scientific ideas are cultural and those have changed slowly over time as more accurate scientific evidence comes out.  It is OK for religious people to make assumptions of how scientific things work with their religious beliefs, but often those are incorrect and proven as such when more scientific evidence comes along later.  That doesn't mean doctrines on non-scientific things are equally fallible.  It is more likely that people often incorrectly stretch the few core doctrines we have to explain everything else.  To do so though, opens the door on fallibility of previous authority statements more widely than modern day Mormons feel comfortable doing.  

Overall, I'm very happy this subject is getting more discussion, especially within CES circles.  Hopefully, as a people we'll be able to iron out the wrinkles and create a culture that will promote faith without creating unnecessary pitfalls.