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False choice on faith

November 13, 2008

I’ve gotten into a lot of discussions that have fallen apart…or simply not been able to continue…because of a critical difference seen in the nature of people. Free will as opposed to determinism sounds like this huge philosophical divide, but it represents a common argumentative chasm that cannot easily be crossed.

When people believe certain things are chosen…when they are not…or people believe certain things are not chosen…when they are…this is problematic.

A good example is homosexuality  (“same gender attraction” or “same sex attraction” in LDS political correct-ese). A chosen aspect is the actual doing. The actual actions. You know. The dating. The sex. Whatever. But the unchosen aspect…and this is something that the Church (and people in general) have been so slow to come to grips with…is the actual attraction.

So the two things work in tandem. But clearly, these issues don’t exist in a vacuum. Why might someone want to indulge in their SSA? Hmm…perhaps it’s because of that SSA! If heterosexuals were not attracted to the opposite sex, then would they have such motivation to seek out relationships and sex?

What am I saying…This isn’t even a gay post. So, really, what I wanted to talk about was this rather old (by internet standards) By Common Consent post on losing faith:

I disagree fundamentally.

I can see two sides of this, but from the most important side, I must disagree with the author. I don’t choose faith, and I don’t think anyone else does either. It’s as preposterous as thinking that one can choose to like men or like women…and then thinking it will actually happen.

After reading all of the responses, I came to a softening of opinion…after all, there are some actions one can choose relating to faith or lack of faith. One can stay in the church. One can continue to live according to all the standards and guidelines and all that jazz. One can become a cafeteria Mormon and pick and choose. One can leave. But if one has a spiritual experience, if one has confirmation and knowledge, one cannot un-have that. If one never has a spiritual experience, one cannot force it.

I don’t think that these options exist in a vacuum. They are informed by non-choice aspects. I think it is unfortunate that at one time, the church — whether officially or just *culturally* — encouraged gay men to marry women.

Back on topic: If I have no faith (which is recognized to be unchosen…even going by LDS rhetoric, these are allegedly “gifts” that one might not have), then it seems abhorrent to follow an Alma 32:27 kind of life.

If I have no faith in Santa Claus, is it acceptable to simply desire to believe in Santa Claus? Is it acceptable to hinge my life on a perpetual skepticism/doubt/nonfaith or flat-out disbelief in Santa simply because I have a desire to believe in him?

This is a clever scripture for the Church, I believe. I believe the Church — and most religions — have such clever scriptures that provide easy sidesteps like this. Santa has little clout and could not pull off cleverness like this, but the church has clout. So it’s easier to say, “It must be *my fault* that I can’t have faith! It must be *my deficiency* that it seems so out-of-whack. But surely, the church is true even if I happen not to receive confirmation…or if I feel a disconfirmation.” But that’s my personal conspiracy theory, tee hee.

Really, it seems to me that forcing a desire that I don’t naturally have to believe something I don’t naturally believe is intellectually dishonest. Saying “I believe the church is true because I want to believe it’s true” reeks of denial. Even if I want to believe, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. If I want to believe in Santa, that doesn’t mean I can *truly* believe in him. That doesn’t mean he exists.

Scientists, for example, do not say, “I want this outcome to be true, so I’m willing to “endure to the end” in faith until I find this outcome.” And we are ever so thankful they do not say this.


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  1. I think you have a nice post here. But I disagree with your last paragraph. Scientists do this all the time. It is called making an hypothesis. I think science does this every bit as much as religion does. Evolution by natural selection as an example – it must be true because any alternative is unthinkable. We can fill in the facts later.

  2. Also, the idea of brain plasticity fits in nicely here as well.

  3. I think there is a *considerable* difference between hypotheses and proper cycle of faith.

    A hypothesis is an educated guess as to the outcome of an experiment. If I do this, then I believe this may happen. The meaningful difference is that if a scientist *does* find alternative evidence, then he will not say, “oh wow, this doesn’t fit my hypothesis. This evidence must be bad.” He might repeat the experiment for statistical purposes, but if he keeps on getting similar results, then what actually happens is he adjusts his hypothesis.

    Let’s dissect evolution by natural selection. It’s true because 1) we have an overwhelming amount of evidence for it and 2) regardless of if you believe in it or not, or if you desire to believe in it or not, the evidence or it is still overwhelming. It’s not that “any alternative is unthinkable.” Far from it; people *easily* think and desire other alternatives. It’s just that 1) no alternatives consistently fit with the evidence (e.g., modern biology makes no sense and gets a bunch of holes in it if we don’t have evolution, BUT if we do have evolution, it actually *does* make a whole lot of things about modern biology work), 2) no alternatives may be testable (e.g., Creationism or Intelligent Design), or 3) the alternatives we do have actually fit perfectly with evolution by national selection so we include them in evolution as a whole…like an adjustment of hypotheses like I was saying (for example, evolution also works by mechanism of genetic drift, etc., Natural selection is just one mechanism of evolution. This doesn’t falsify natural selection, however).

    I mean, really, the facts are that there is this phenomenon happening. We observe this phenomenon and describe it with this idea called evolution, by mechanism of natural selection, genetic drift, etc., So, it’s not that we have a hypothesis, ignore evidence and say the facts come later. It’s that we have some facts *now* — there *is* this natural phenomenon — and we don’t know how to describe it best. Evolution is a way that has so far described it. We may not have all the kinks out of it, but so far, what we have has allowed us to get pretty far in all of the biological sciences. It has consistently built upon itself and as we are illuminated with more data, we find compelling arguments in favor of evolution.

    This is not quite the case with faith. See, I actually like a Calvinist concept because it doesn’t try to put the onus on an individual — one is saved, and if he is, it is irresistible — or one is not. That sounds too terrible for someone raised in a free agency kind of church, though.

    Here’s what I liked. You have Moroni 10:4 — Book of Mormon challenge. Now, this is close to a hypothesis -> testing -> evidence kind of thing, so that’s why I liked it. The hypothesis is “These things are true,” and you are testing this hypothesis by asking God, “Are these things not true?” and it will be manifest unto you. So, you get this nice kinda deal…we already know that things can be manifest or rejected to someone by burning in bosom or stupor of thought and things like that…but this gives an interesting test of falsifiability for the BoM challenge (and falsifiability is really what we look for when determining if something can even be tested in a scientific manner). One could have a stupor of thought…as a result of the BoM challenge!

    But here’s where the church so cleverly bypasses scientific procedure and bypasses such a terrible occurrence. Alma 32:27.

    Even if you don’t believe, even if you don’t get confirmation (which should be evidence of the manifest truthfulness which is girding your faith)…even if you don’t have these…you should have a desire to believe…even until you can REALLY REALLY believe. What *might* have been a falsifier for the church really should be discounted. If you don’t get a manifestation of the church’s truthfulness, then…just wait on it.

    This works great for a church, because if you can have even the faith of a mustard seed to accept the church as having some kind of spiritual clout, then you can go along with this kind of idea and stay along. Obviously though, this kind of advice would not work anywhere else. You can’t say, “So, you can’t just find it in your heart to believe in Santa? Well, you can CHOOSE to desire to believe in Santa, and then ONE DAY you may really really believe!” You can’t say, “You can CHOOSE to desire to have your SSA lifted off of you and to desire women, and then ONE DAY it will really happen.”

  4. sorry for that previous wall of text.

    I looked into your blog on brain plasticity and then on the wikipedia article on brain plasticity.

    I don’t think it necessarily wrecks my train of thought. We have experiences and learning. We do not choose how we will react to these experiences and learning…yet our brain is plastic all of its own. So, this is not a chosen thing…brain plasticity.

    The real question is…1) can certain experiences reliably cause a shift to plasticity in a certain direction for everyone and 2) is it ethical to elicit and engineer such plastic shifts?

    For example, if we say that SSA is due to some way you grow up, I don’t think it passes 1. We don’t have certain experiences of any kind that causes a shift to or away of SSA. When you have SSA, you have it. When you don’t, you don’t. You don’t choose to have it, and you don’t choose not to have it.

    And let’s say we found there were some experiences that could *lead* to SSA arising plastically. Do we have experiences that can make it subside? We have tried finding such things…but we really don’t. We do have experiences that can traumatize people…we are in fact very good at finding experiences that plastically adjust the brain to traumatize people, to make them feel bad about themselves, etc.,

    I will grant, for example, that the church’s cleverness and BoM and D+C’s cleverness (I use it as a compliment) is that in some way, they really have capitalized on some kind of brain plasticity. I just think that it may have some unintended (or perhaps wholly intended side effects). If immersion in the gospel cannot make one actually truly believe, it actually *can* still have a reliable plastic effect of making someone feel BROKEN because they don’t believe. But I don’t think that’s the kind of plasticity Alma 32 wants.

  5. Eric from Paris permalink

    Yep, and when you decide to buy a product after seing an advertisment, the add has noooothing to do w/ ur choice, it’s a predetermined knowledge. You know for sure that the new product u gonna buy is the one you need, even if you didn’t try it first.

    Missionnaries are not salesmen at all … and you don’t “choose” a faith, you “have it” in you allready, yep … even if you don’t know about its existence.
    hum ? impossible to know something u don’t know ? yeah right, so someone told you about this or that organisation, and then you approached it, and then you get the faith. but it wasn’t choosen, yeah, u’re right.

    Then, let’s separate the faith and the material. According to most pple, most pple need to believe in something. Right, so you have instinctive faith. But then, how to “act” that faith ? well, there is several groups that will tell you their book or thought are the only right one. hum … isn’t that a choice ?
    So you don’t choose your faith, but you choose to have faith in this or that one.

    I have faith in Nature.

  6. Eric from Paris:

    when you see an advertisement, that advertisement can either appeal to you or not appeal to you. Whether it appeals to you or not is not chosen. This is what I mean. If an advertisement doesn’t appeal to you, for example, you can’t just choose to rewire yourself so that it will appeal to you. Certain subconscious or unconscious events may occur that warm you up the ad, but this, again, is not chosen.

    You can choose to act. I have never denied this. So, of course, you will choose to act whether to buy x product or y product. But whichever product you choose — x product or y product — depends on your subjective reaction to these products — and these, you did not choose.

    Say, multiple people each provide you their books…and they all say they are the right one. You don’t choose which one FEELS and SEEMS to you to be the right one (if any of them do feel right…they might all feel wrong). Rather, whatever you feel is based on your internal nature, preferences, likes, dislikes, etc.,

    • Eric from Paris permalink

      huhm … that makes sens.
      “advertisement can either appeal to you or not appeal to you. Whether it appeals to you or not is not chosen.”
      I guess that works for most pple. Even more when the add is particularly cleaverly based on your pointed feelings. Company such as Bonneville with their registered product Heartsell® (The patented and proven way to get the feelings you need when you need them most) dart you in your feelings which makes you “not choosing” what you “feel is right”

      Then, you have the
      “But whichever product you choose — x product or y product — depends on your subjective reaction to these products — and these, you did not choose.”
      Which I desagree with. If I had TV, I might be leaded towrd a product another by some add, but I would “test” the product, like for food I read the “nutrition” information on side of the box or for a driller I will read review and compare capabilities and capacities of the machinery.

      Here at home I have serveral books (Torah, Bible, Qu’ran, BOM) and make my way through comparison.

      “You don’t choose which one FEELS and SEEMS to you to be the right one. Rather, whatever you feel is based on your internal nature, preferences, likes, dislikes, etc.,”
      as a matter of fact, I do


  7. If I had TV, I might be leaded towrd a product another by some add, but I would “test” the product, like for food I read the “nutrition” information on side of the box or for a driller I will read review and compare capabilities and capacities of the machinery.

    Yes, you choose your ACTION. But when you test the product, you do NOT choose if you will be impressed, disgusted, unfazed, whatever. This is an emotional response that simply happens to you. You can choose an action like investigating and reading nutritional information, reviews, etc., but you can’t choose whether you will be wowed and persuaded by that information.

    “You don’t choose which one FEELS and SEEMS to you to be the right one. Rather, whatever you feel is based on your internal nature, preferences, likes, dislikes, etc.,”
    as a matter of fact, I do

    So, are you saying you can just choose what things you like, prefer, dislike, etc.,? So, why not choose to not dislike anything and be happy at all times no matter what you have? If you can choose these emotional reactions, why not choose happiness, liking, preferring over anything else?

  8. matthewslyman permalink

    …prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.—2 Peter 1:21

    Testimony would not be so convincing if it was somehow conjured up “by the will of man.”  My own original, special experience with the Holy Spirit was peculiarly convincing BECAUSE it came at a time when I wasn't expecting it.  I simply chose to prepare myself for the experience IF it was real, by keeping my thoughts as pure and virtuous as a teenage boy could; and then suddenly, when I was least expecting it, whilst getting engrossed in the Book of Mormon to the point of forgetting all about my quest for knowledge concerning its truthfulness… God told me in a way that I could not misunderstand.  It's the “non-choice aspects”, as you call them (quite apart from the magnitude of this private experience, this private audience with God), that made the experience so convincing for me.
    Keep up the good work…

  9. Thanks for the comment, Matthew…still trying to figure out how your new comment managed to show up *above* Eric from Paris’s comment, which is a lot older…

  10. Eric from Paris permalink

    Believing the BOM is not faith. That’s LDS way to sell it, but it’s not.
    You have faith in some devinity, and choose a material that fit your “needs”.

    Xtian churches may be boring, like dark, cold, silence, etc … hou hou ! LDS found the way: their meeting house are shiny, warm, there is pple in it, you have information, you don’t get silent on your own …
    LDS sees christian pple coming to them as “brithness seams to be light” and it’s easyer to pay for your salvation than “just being” a beleiver, that gives you the impression of doing something.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. How to Stay LDS: Review and Response, Part V « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  2. Do we consciously choose our beliefs? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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