FAIR Conference – Day 1

I attended part of the FAIR Conference today, and it was definitely fascinating. It’s my first time going to the conference, and it is better than I expected.

The first presentation was from John Clark, speaking on the Book of Mormon and archeology. This isn’t really a topic that interests me, so my notes were sparse, but I still found it to be an interesting presentation. He took a very rational approach, stating that any archeological or historical evidence is for the interest and support of believers; it will never convince non-believers. He also stated that the archeological support for the Book of Mormon was to the same degree and for the same things as for the Bible. He discussed interesting parallels between what is in the Book of Mormon and what we know of Mesoamerica.

The next presentation was from Wendy Ulrich, speaking on “Faith, Cognitive Dissonance, and the Psychology of Religious Experience”. Her presentation was my favorite, but only by a bit (for the other speakers were also excellent). She said that we are Israel not only in blood, but in name. In other words, we wrestle with God until his promises are fulfilled. Also, learning the language of the Spirit takes experience and practice; meanwhile (or even after), we struggle with questions such as, can I trust myself to discern accurately? Can I weather disappointments. In addition, it is good to be disillusioned – we want to be rid of our illusions and know the truth. Thus, we do not need to be afraid to search for the answers to the hard questions. A tolerance for ambiguity and paradox are a sign of maturity.

A fun quote: “In the Catholic church, the pope is infallible, but no one believes it. In the Mormon church, the prophet is fallible, but no one believes it.”

She then spoke on the stages of committed relationships, whether they be between husband and wife, parent and child, or us and God.

Step 1: Honeymoon – At this stage there is a lot enthusiasm with the new relationship, with incredible optimism. We think we finally know everything and have everything.

Step 2: Power struggle – We begin to wrestle for control. We want our partner in the relationship (spouse, child, or God) to change to what we think they should be. God, however, wants us to change.

Step 3: Withdrawal – We give up. We may leave, but we may stay. We resign ourselves to not getting what we want. We feel betrayed. However, this gives us independence, and we may start to work on changing ourselves since we can’t change our partner.

Step 4: Renewal – This is not a return to the honeymoon stage. This is a mature acceptance of what is. We accept that there is not perfection, and that’s okay. We have learned that hurt can be survived and it is worth taking the chance. We recognize that we can be hurt by betrayal or hurt by not trusting, but not hurting is not an option.

The next presentation was from Darius Gray, speaking on Blacks in Bible. This was very interesting and something I had never thought of before. I’m afraid that when genealogies begin to be listed in the Bible, my eyes glaze over and my mind wanders to something more interesting, like laundry. Also, being an ethnocentric, pasty, pale person, it had simply never even dawned on me to look for such things. So this was all new to me. He followed the genealogies, and who married who, and who produced offspring with who, and presented who was black, likely black, and possibly black. It was enlightening, and I’m happy to now be a bit less ignorant.

The final speaker I heard was Greg Kearney, who spoke on Masonry and Mormonism. He spoke on some of what was same and what was different and what had nothing to do with either of them. Ultimately, his theme was that, yes, there are definite similarities. So what. The endowment is revealed information and has never changed. It is the message. The messenger is the ritual, and that has changed. Joseph Smith, in his involvement with the Masons, would have seen how the repetition of ritual was a wonderful teaching tool to educate people on difficult, complex ideas. He thus incorporated ritual into the endowment as a teaching tool. In the 1800s, this ritual would have been familiar to the early Saints. However, we are no longer in a world seeped with ritual. As ritual has faded from our culture, the ritual part of the endowment has taking prominence in our minds.

There were two more presentations after that but, frustratingly, I had to be somewhere else. However, I look forward to listening to all of tomorrow’s presentations.

16 thoughts on “FAIR Conference – Day 1

  1. The prophet and the pope quote is an excellent and pithy insight. You could write a whole book on that idea. I have always enjoyed reading Wendy Ulrich’s articles – she is a great thinker. Looking forward to day two coverage.

  2. Sounds like you learned that a) the archaeological record doesn’t support Book of Mormon claims, b) we have to get comfortable with our own cognitive dissonance about our beliefs, c) prohibiting blacks from the priesthood might have had a historical rationale, and d) Mormon ritual is just like Masonry ritual, but nevermind.

    Glad you had a nice faith-promoting experience.

  3. Randy,

    It is commonly understood in science that one can either provide proof for a proposition, provide proof against, or not be able to do either. To say that the record “doesn’t support” the Book of Mormon is to mangle the second and third cases. Presumably, Clark is arguing for 3- because that is pretty much where we stand.

  4. I’ve just gotten involved on FAIR’s website. I love going there – what an interestng place. I wish I could have attended the conference too. I’m looking forward to hearing more about what goes on. Thanks for updating.

  5. Randy (#3): Your summary is grossly inaccurate.

    All: I’ve also been at the conference and have enjoyed the presentations as much as Tanya. I cannot recommend Wendy Ulrich’s presentation enough — when it’s available on the FAIR site (in print, audio, or video), get it.

    The remaining two speakers were Blake Ostler (“The Fallacy of Fundamentalist Assumptions”) and Richard Bushman (“A Joseph Smith Miscellany”).

  6. If the summary above is an accurate recounting of John Clark’s presentation, I’m flabbergasted at his degree of intellectual irresponsibility. There is an immense difference between the current state of the evidence for the Bible and the evidence for the Book of Mormon. To be brief and laser-beam-like in focus, I will offer only two examples. In the Middle East, there are a lot of surviving ancient documents written in the language that the Bible text claims the people of Israel used; in Mesoamerica, there are either none or maybe 1-2 examples of pre-Colombian Hebrew or Egyptian text. In the Middle East, there are various surviving ancient partial manuscripts of the Bible text; in Mesoamerica, there are no fragmentary ancient Book of Mormon texts on record to date.

    Those two points alone are enough to make clear that Clark’s reported statement is just wildly irresponsible. And, I should point out, I’m a believing Mormon saying this.

  7. RT–

    You’re right in the concerns you express regarding the comparison of evidence for the BOM and the Bible, but I’d wait to read the actual transcript before getting too worked up. There is likely more nuance and qualification to Clark’s remarks than the brief summary here gives. I didn’t attend so I can’t really say, but it seems like you may be attacking a straw man.

  8. John Clark mentions the word, archeology. Scrolls dating back thru the centuries are only one part of archeology. Where do I go today to look at the ark of the covenant? The garden of eden and it’s four rivers? How about Moses’ burning bush? The rest of the tabernacle? The oxen from Solomon’s temple. The cedar from Lebanon? Even Noah’s ark on the top of the mount, has been debated for years. What Biblical archeology as is found, the scholars are osften at odds as to what it all means anyway. It is not hard to find numerous arguments regarding the Bible as history. Popular thought seems to suggest that the Bible has nice stories, but is totally inaccurate when it comes to reality in depicting the various times. How much would we know of Cleopatra if it were not for Elizabeth Taylor? To believe the Bible to be the word of God in a literal sense,including the historical aspects, makes LDS among a unique and select group. So if you don’t like what science is preaching today, wait a while and they will change it. Get some grade 7 science or social manuals from the 1950’s or 1960’s and you will soon see the difference. I think that there are many Christians who have as much problem with the historicity of the Bible as they do with historicity of the Book of Mormon. So while it is not incorrect what John Clark is talking about, it might have been more correct to use different words, but I doubt it. The idea that people ignorantly target the Book of Mormon will be the same.

  9. I suspect Clark is speaking of pre-Davidic archaeology. Although many scholars doubt the Solomon story and much pre-exilic history. But I don’t think anyone doubts there were semites, simply because the later evidence is clear. So RT is definitely right in that there isn’t even late evidence for Nephites let along Lehi and Nephi.

    So while we have more reason to believe that the OT history happened than BoM history, the actual objective artifacts for most of the OT are missing.

    Still even with my caveats defending Clark on this matter, I suspect there was a bit of hyperbole in it all.

  10. Clark made a similar claim at a BYU forum last May:

    “Archaeology and geography support the Book of Mormon to the same degree and for the same reasons that they support the Bible. Both books present the same challenges for empirical confirmation and both are in good shape. Many things have been verified for each but many have not. Anti-Mormon arguments specialize in listing things mentioned in the Book of Mormon that archaeology has not found. Rather than cry over missing evidence, I will tell you about evidence that has been found.”

  11. Thanks for the quote, John. At the very least, we now know that the summary of John Clark’s position is accurate. And, Clark, I agree that there are substantial debates about the historicity of a lot of different aspects of the Bible. That said, my complaint at this statement stands. While there may be debates about the historicity of different Bible episodes–and, of course, about the historicity of the exodus, the Egypt period and before–there’s overwhelming evidence of the existence of the basic civilization described in the Bible. By contrast, the evidence in the Book of Mormon case is best described as partial and contested.

    Ah, well. My shock has now officially subsided. But this kind of thing always diappoints me. I think intellectual life is best served by modest, defensible claims, rather than by overblown rhetoric.

  12. All, keep in mind that my notes are very incomplete and are colored by what I read into the speakers words. I found Clark’s presentation to not be the least bit irresponsible. (Thank you, John, for providing the full quote, thus easing traumatized minds.) If anything is alarming or, even better, very interesting, I highly recommend looking for the transcripts or other versions on the FAIR website (I don’t know when they will be available). I cannot do the speakers justice.

    RoastedTomatoes, you will likely find his full presentation interesting. He provides some fascinating support for his claims.

    Randy, though it is apparently difficult for you to believe, it was a very faith-affirming experience. Hard questions were not dodged. On the contrary, they were discussed openly, and – I know you likely don’t believe it – there really are excellent answers and ideas out there that do not require a person to discount the claims of Mormonism or live a life of cognitive dissonance. It’s true *gasp* – intelligent, well-thought people really do have good reasons to believe what they believe.

  13. Tanya, I’ll have to see on Clark’s presentation. I just re-listened to his presentation from the Joseph Smith conference, and in that instance at least, I think he gave the church and our community a bad name. It’s just not intellectually honest to provide an overview of an academic debate that disregards all perspectives in that debate but one–which is what he did at the Library of Congress. There are counterarguments and ambiguities on many of the points he claimed as evidence. I’m sure he knows about them. But he just didn’t mention them. Bad form!

  14. RT, I know nothing of archeaology (my realm is molecular biology, and I’ve never studied archeaology even a bit, and I don’t really plan to because it’s just something I have no interest in) so his contentions and arguments may indeed be debatable. Maybe you could take it up on the FAIR boards when his transcript is up.

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