How many of you remember this post where I talked about “the problem of history“? In that post I gave a fake example of how in history, especially religious history, we often build informationless narrative fallacies that, due to the way human beings think, seem like rational arguments but in fact are not.
Now compare that to this post from John Nilsson back from my Mormon Matters days. I found it an interesting example of how difficult it is for us to remove our biases when dealing with religious history. (Or probably with any sort of history we care about.)
When I turned this rudimentary training [in history] on the sources describing the stories above [about angelic ordination of the priesthood], I found the records to be vague and contradictory, more so than in the case of Joseph’s different accounts of the First Vision. This is partly because Joseph had a co-participant, Oliver Cowdery, who left his own account of these experiences, and that many other early Church members wrote as if they did not hear of these ordinations until 1834 or 1835. Cowdery’s account is especially interesting, as he mentions only one occasion of priesthood bestowal, only one priesthood, only one angel visiting, and declines to name the angel as either John the Baptist or Peter, James, and John. (Note that the Church has added an “s” to “holy angel(s) in the link to the Oliver Cowdery account above to soften the ambiguity, under the guise of correcting “spelling, grammar, and punctuation”.
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In a post near the beginning of this series I summarized Armstong’s views of Jesus Christ and Christianity. Go back and read that post if you need to. In this post I’m going to touch about my concerns with her presentation here.
One Sided Unknowning is Actually A Special Case of Knowing
First, I note that for someone whose whole religious practice is built on “unknowing” that there doesn’t seem to be the slightest bit of “unknowing” when it comes to Jesus Christ. She is completely certain that He only taught that he was a non-unique son of God in the same sense that we all are. She is completely certain that He was not ‘bodily resurrected’ but that rather people just saw visions of Him. She is completely certain that He would have been in favor of self-emptying and her apophatic method. No other possibility is considered or discussed at all.
This ‘certainty’ that Armstrong easily asserts when necessary brings up a larger issues: Theological Liberals of the Armstrong variety seem to only believe in their beliefs when it’s convenient. Unknowing is only exalted right up to the point that it encourages their own beliefs. If it ever doesn’t, then ‘certainty’ becomes okay after all. Likewise, ‘not having the final word about God’ is only true if you mean everyone else but Armstrong-like Liberals. They really do have the final word on several subjects, namely all the ones they care about and that their religious beliefs are anchored on. So in this sense, they aren’t really different from their ‘conservative’ counterparts. Armstrong really does act as if she believes she gets the ‘final say’ when it comes to Jesus Christ. Continue reading →
Another reprint from Mormon Matters. I never did finish this series on history and narrative fallacy.
In my past posts I discussed the impossibility of knowing what really happened in history as well as the problem that, believe or disbelieve, we all have much riding on how Mormon history is interpreted. Either way, it’s your personal religion at stake.
The problem with me saying that is that, well, we all know it’s true — for other people. But due to the narrative fallacy, we think we’re the exception not the rule.
To prove that, at times, we’re all the rule, I am forced to start with a fake example because it is the only way to not derail the conversation immediately. Continue reading →
Another reprint from Mormon Matters. I confess I’ve partially changed my mind on one small part of this, namely the use of the word “defective” when refering to our minds. More on that at a later date. But it still gets the point across.
History is opaque. You see what comes out, not the script that produces events, the generator of history. There is a fundamental incompleteness in your grasp of such events, since you do not see what’s inside the box, how the mechanisms work. …the minds of the gods cannot be read just by witnessing their deeds. You are very likely to be fooled about their intentions. (The Black Swan, P. 8 )
In a previous post I discussed the realities of The Black Swan, those improbable events that rule our lives but we pretend don’t and can’t happen. I also discussed how in actuality “randomness” is really just incomplete information. And finally I discussed how we feel the need to reverse engineer explanation for historical events — even though it’s impossible — and how, once we do, we have a really hard time realizing that there is more than one viable explanation for the same event. 
Which brings me to how this all directly relates to the LDS Church and specifically to the intolerance we show each other on the Bloggernacle at times. It is all directly related to two facts:
- History is a collection of facts demanding interpretation before we can process them.
- Thus all history is mostly narrative fallacy.
This means that two people can and will interpret it differently and both will have been fooled by their brains to believe that theirs is the one best way to explain those facts and only an idiot or liar would think otherwise. Continue reading →
The Man from Earth is the final story written by the famous science fiction author Jerome Bixby. Probably best known for his episodes of the original Star Trek – though that is by no means his best work – he was truly one of the luminaries of the science fiction field. 
I have mixed feelings about his final story, which was filmed as a movie and is available on NetFlix as a streaming movie. Be warned, this ‘review’ is an analysis and will contain major spoilers. Stop reading and go watch the movie first if you have interest in seeing it without having the plot ruined.
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