The Faith Convictions of Muslims

Before the tragic attack on the World Trade Center, I had a grudging respect for the Muslim faithful. They seemed the most spiritual and religiously conservative group on the planet, untouched by the Western immorality and atheism. There was the accusation that was only because of the lack of educational opportunities, but even those who went to Western and U.S. schools went back home without losing religious convictions. There was something about Islam that a person who had their own strong faith convictions had to admire.

When the infamous 9-11 attack happened, there was hope that citizens of the United States could learn something about themselves out of the deadly chaos. Perhaps the Christian nation as a whole would re-evaluate the moral direction it had taken. They would take notice of Muslims and look within to question how they had lost their spiritual way. Certainly they could contrast the strength of conviction and moral cohesion of such a large group of people and come away determined to change. For one brief week it seemed possible.

That illusion was quickly shattered. It didn’t take very long for people to continue going about their business like always. Each generation seeming more intent than the next to rid themselves of religious and moral guidance. Meanwhile, the extremist Islamist leaders ended up sharing the anti-Christian, anti-Israel, and anti-United States stances of Western liberals. That wasn’t a surprise, but how they played off each other was. They ended up doing the your enemy is my enemy dance. The terrorists came off not as moral crusaders, but political despots eager for attention with the blood of the dead. Still, the question stands how Muslims remain faithful stalwarts in such large numbers while Christianity, and Mormonism included, continues to stumble. Continue reading

The Problem of History – First a Fake Example

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

The Biology of Irrationality

In my previous post, I discussed my introduction to the science behind the rationality problems all humans suffer from. I later found another book, this one called Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend, that introduced me to the biology behind our emotional – and sometimes irrational — thinking.

This time, I’m going to mostly just go with quotes from the book, as they say it all:

The Limbic System’s Role in “Emotional Thinking”

The role of emotion in shaping “rational” thinking is tremendously underrated. Strong evidence shows that human behavior is the product of both the rational deliberation that takes place in the front areas of the cerebral cortex and the “emote control” — emotional reasoning – that originates in the limbic system. …As Princeton sociologist Douglass Massey writes: ‘Emotionality clearly preceded rationality in evolutionary sequence, and as rationality developed it did not replace emotionality as a basis for human interaction. Rather, rational abilities were gradually added to preexisting and simultaneously developing emotional capacities….’

Human behavior…is not under the sole control of either affect or deliberation but results from the interaction of these two qualitatively different processes… Emote control is fast but is largely limited to operating according to evolved patterns. Deliberation is far more flexible… but is comparatively slow and laborious.  (p. 187) Continue reading

History as Narrative Fallacy aka What Type of Apologist Are You?

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. [1]

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:

  1. History is a collection of facts demanding interpretation before we can process them.
  2. 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

A One Cent Coin From Nauvoo

[Cross posted from Sixteen Small Stones]

A couple of weeks ago we were helping my parents move a lot of their stuff into storage.   In the last decade, they have moved at least ten times, and, as I’m sure you know if you have moved frequently, there are some boxes that just get shuffled from one home to the next without ever getting unpacked or sorted.  As we were sorting stuff and stacking boxes, I ran across a box of apparently random stuff.  In it there was a small metallic container. I picked it out and opened it up to see what it held. Inside there were two old plastic bags, one containing some kind of white stuff and the other a yellow substance, and tucked in with them was an old coin.

My father said that he believed that the white and yellow stuffs were frankincense and myrrh that some friends had brought them back from the Middle East.   The coin I vaguely remembered from a family vacation we had taken many years before.  It was a road trip from Utah to New York and Washington D. C. and back, stopping along the way to visit sites from U. S. and LDS Church history.

Continue reading