Saturday, July 29, 2006

Beard Principle

Kevin at The Baron of Deseret put up a really insightful post a couple of months ago. It is really worth a read, especially if you have any responsibilities for trying to help youth understand the standards of the church. It is called the Beard Principle. (No, it doesn't have anything to do with BYU.)

Kevin illustrates the problem with standards that try to distinguish between a "little bit" of something and "too much" of something. Often, the distinctions that we'd create are arbitrary and have no logical moral basis. When a limit or boundary is arbitrary, it will always shift.

Essentially, Kevin is making the case for an absolute prohibition on certain things as opposed to trying to set some standard for "how much is too much."

While I don't agree with all of Kevin's conclusions or arguments (in that he leaves little room for appropriate places for arbitrary boundaries that are generally accepted such as a minimum marriage ages, etc.) I highly recommend the post.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Does God Hate Amputees?

I stumbled upon an online book a few month ago after finding a link to it in a discussion on Slashdot. The commenter who linked to the book attributed it to Marshall Brain, the founder of the site HowStuffWorks.com. The actual book itself contained no attribution of authorship. The title of the book is "Why Won't God Heal Amputees?" The original title of the work was "Why Does God Hate Amputees?" but that was apparently deemed too insulting to amputees.

I started reading through the book and noted several large holes in the arguments being made. At the time I considered writing a post or two rebutting some of the major flaws in the arguments in the book, but laziness won the day and I never did it.

Recently I decided to do another search on iTunes for "mormon" podcasts. I found one called "Mormon Musings" and the most recent episode was about Brain's book. Apparently, Marshall Brain is a neighbor to the "disaffected Mormon" in Mormon Musings, Steve Zimmerman. So the podcast is a discussion between Marshall Brain, Zimmerman, and another atheist friend, Bruce.

In this post I want to address some of the things that were said in the podcast. If time and inclination permit, I will address some other points from the book in a future post.

The most common flaw is the false dichotomy. To paraphrase Brain's argument: "If God could heal amputees, he would. If he doesn't, then he must not exist. I don't know about any amuputees that have been healed, so God is fake." This assumes that we know the mind of God and why he would or would not do something. As a pure logical argument, this is empty. And the main premise of the book hinges on this assertion. By analogy, we might say, "If Bill Gates could afford to single-handedly finance PBS, he would surely do so. If he doesn't, he must not really exist. PBS is doing another fund drive which proves that Bill Gates is imaginary." The logic is identical. In both cases a third option is available. God/Bill Gates is able to do the thing but, for whatever reason, doesn't do it. Brain's argument is vacuous even if we don't know what God's other reason might be.

The next argument that comes up is the multiplicity of religions. Since there are so many religions, the argument goes, then we can be sure none of them are true or else presumably they would have coalesced around the truth by now. Pointing out that there is disagreement is hardly an argument. Just because all people don't properly recognize truths doesn't mean those truths don't exist.

Next comes Brain's attack on the Bible. His argument is essentially that because there are parts of the Bible that don't match our culture then it must be rejected in its entirety. He cites rules about slavery in the Old Testament. If God says slavery is okay in any context, then he must not really exist. How can an atheist make that argument? If there is no external controlling moral authority (like God) then how could they claim anything is wrong or right? If survival (and comfort) of the fittest if the only value, as I imagine it must be in a Godless universe, then why would you believe that others must be bound by your version of morality? Brain doesn't like the morality in the Bible, so there can't be a God that would advocate it. What hubris! Again, we don't even need to explain the slavery passages in the Bible (troubling as those might be) to discount Brain's argument.

Bruce then makes the argument that feeling the Spirit or having a religious experience is purely a brain-chemical event. I guess he is making this argument to show that spiritual experiences are just inside your head. If you believe, as Mormons do, that humans are a combination of spirit and physical body, then it seems logical that there must be some communication interface between the two. The spirit must have some physiological effect for the body to become aware of it. Indeed, noting that spiritual experiences include a component of brain chemistry doesn't say anything pro or con about the origin of that experience. If a brain surgeon can stimulate a patient's brain in such a way that they artificially feel joy or fear, it doesn't imply that those emotions don't have legitimate causes in some cases.

Health insurance is the next whipping boy of the rationalists. They can't understand why any Christian would have health insurance. If God wants you healed, he can do it without doctors, goes the argument. If he doesn't want you healed, then what is the point of bothering to see a doctor? Steve, our disaffected Mormon, points out the commonly held religious belief that we are expected to help ourselves as much as possible before we ask God to step in and intervene. Marshall and Bruce just laugh and point out that this is just another way of saying that there is no God. I don't even know how to respond to that flow of "logic" it is so lame. They again insist on the bogus false dichotomy.

To be fair, in the book these men are discussing, Brain does bring up some difficult challenges for people of faith. There are some really tricky issues about God and about mortality that we don't have good answers to. But the main issues they choose to highlight in their online conversation are so absurd that they certainly cast doubt on the strength of any other points they might have waiting in the wings.

In short, our failure to understand a thing isn't evidence of the absense of the thing. See my previous post for the testimony of a living prophet.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Retort to "Sorry, but my children bore me to death"

I found this article by Helen Kirwan-Taylor in the Daily Mail of London from a link on the Drudge Report. At first I didn’t know what to make of it. Here is the title:

Sorry, but my children bore me to death!
My first thought, even before I read the article, was “I hope her kids never read this!”
…The lies started when my eldest son was less than ten months old.

Invitations to attend a child's birthday party or, worse, a singalong session were met with the same refrain: 'I would love to but I just can't spare the time.'

The nanny was dispatched in my place, and almost always returned complaining that my son had been singled out for pitiful stares by the other mothers.

I confess that I was probably ogling the merchandise at Harvey Nichols or having my highlights done instead. Of course I love my children as much as any mother, but the truth is I found such events so boring that I made up any excuse.


Kids are supposed to be fulfilling, life-changing, life-enhancing fun: why was my attitude towards them so different?

While all my girlfriends were dropping important careers and occupying their afternoons with cake baking, I was begging the nanny to stay on, at least until she had read my two a bedtime story. What kind of mother hates reading bedtime stories? A bad mother, that's who, and a mother who is bored rigid by her children.


Am I a lazy, superficial person because I don't enjoy packing up their sports kit, or making their lunch, or sitting through coffee mornings with other mothers discussing how Mr Science (I can't remember most of the teachers' names) said such and such to Little Johnny and should we all complain to the headmaster.

At this point in the conversation, my mind drifts to thoughts of my own lunch and which shoes I plan to wear with what skirt.

The other mothers tease me for my inability to know anything about school life. But since when did masterminding 20 school runs a week become an accomplishment? Getting a First at college was an accomplishment.

After reading these paragraphs--especially the last one--my primary emotion was pity. Oh, that woman’s life seems awfully self-centered and superficial. Just a thought exercise, but I wonder what would happen if she ran into financial reversals that made it impossible for her to employ a nanny, or to go to lunch and get her hair done, or to buy the perfect shoes to wear with that darling skirt? What if she lost her job? From these paragraphs, it seems that her life revolves around these things to make her happy.

Something else caught my eye. The author mentions her nanny a couple of times. I wonder what she thinks about her nanny’s accomplishments. It certainly seems that she places her work (journalism) far above that what her nanny does (raising children).

Ms. Kirwan-Taylor then attempts to justify her philosophy of child-raising by discussing parents who give into their children’s every whim.

All us bored mothers can take comfort from the fact that our children may yet turn out to be more balanced than those who are love-bombed from the day they are born.

Research increasingly shows that child-centred parenting is creating a generation of narcissistic children who cannot function independently.

'Their demand for external support is enormous,' says Kati St Clair. 'They enter the real world totally ill-prepared. You damage a child just as much by giving them extreme attention as you do by ignoring them altogether. Both are forms of abuse.'

Child experts are increasingly begging parents to let their kids be.

'Parents think they can design their children by feeding them a diet of Mozart — well they can't,' says Dr Rosenfeld.

Sometimes, apparently, the best thing parents can do for their children is to let them be bored.


Because I have categorically said: 'I am not a waitress, a driver or a cleaner,' my children have learned to put away their plates and tidy up their rooms.

It is a great idea to raise self-sufficient children! And I don’t disagree with this research--I think that over-parenting can be terrible for children. But to use this to justify leaving your children to others to raise (to profess boredom even interacting with them)…that’s a little like justifying running red lights because other people shoplift.

Now, I’m not claiming to be a perfect mother (whoa, yeah. Far from it, but trying). Anyone who claims that “Candyland” is the most fascinating game ever is either five years old or lying. And there are times when we don’t go to the park because I am bored of pushing the swings or chasing my daughter away from the road. Any reasonable person is going to be occasionally bored or tired of explaining for the millionth time that we don’t push our baby sister down just because she walks by.

But there are so many moments of joy…when my daughter toddles up to me and lays her head on my lap, just for a second. When both of my children giggle hysterically at each other over nothing I can see. When my son taps his chest and says, with great emphasis, “I’m EZZZZ-Rah!” And a million others that erase the boredom and make it possible for me to go another day.

Ms. Kirwan-Taylor’s children are twelve and ten years old, both boys. I have no doubt that she loves them, in her way. But love is an active verb, in its most mature form. Serving, and being willing to sacrifice for others, is an example of love that I am afraid escapes her.

Ms. Kirwan-Taylor ends her piece with this subtly pathetic anecdote:

They stopped asking me to take them to the park (how tedious) years ago. But now when I try to entertain them and say: 'Why don't we get out the Monopoly board?' they simply look at me woefully and sigh: 'Don't bother, Mum, you'll just get bored.'

How right they are.

And how sad it is.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Personal Prayer Roll

"Can a mother forget her sucking child? Yea, she can forget..." (Isa. 49:15)

So often I encounter people that I want to pray for. And for a night or two I do. But then I forget. My daily contact removes me from the situation and I forget.

Maybe I should experiment with keeping a personal prayer roll like they do in the temple. Would that be creepy?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Prophet's Declaration of Belief

A group called The Jesus Seminar meets twice a year to hear papers and conduct votes to determine what Jesus really said. The group is composed of over 200 scholars interested in the historical Jesus.

The voting system they use to determine the authenticity of the words of Jesus as recorded in the Bible has been summarized by one member this way:
  • red: That's Jesus!
  • pink: Sure sounds like Jesus.
  • gray: Well, maybe.
  • black: There's been some mistake.

According to Luke Timothy Johnson (p. 14), this group concluded that all of the Gospel of John, save three lines, were NOT the real words of Jesus and deserved a "black" vote. The remaining three lines got a "gray" vote.

According to a 1998 poll of religious leaders, many of them don't believe in the physical resurrection of Christ. Here are the percentages for doubters among the clergy.
  • American Lutherans: 13%
  • Presbyterians: 30%
  • American Baptist: 33%
  • Episcopalians: 35%
  • Methodists: 51%
Here are the words of President Hinckley in this month's First Presidency Message.
I believe without equivocation or reservation in God the Eternal Father. He is my Father, the Father of my spirit, and the Father of the spirits of all men. He is the great Creator, the Ruler of the universe. He directed the Creation of this earth on which we live. In His image man was created. He is personal. He is real. He is individual. He has "a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's" (D&C 130:22).

I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the eternal, living God. I believe in Him as the Firstborn of the Father and the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. I believe in Him as an individual, separate and distinct from His Father. I believe in the declaration of John, who opened his gospel with this majestic utterance:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

"The same was in the beginning with God. . . . 

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John 1:1–2, 14).

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