August 7, 2008

Panel: Philosophy and Mormonism

A panel comprised of Blake Ostler, James Faulconer, and Brian Birch discussing Mormonism and Philosophy.

Blake Ostler: "The philosophies of man mingled with scripture"
"The philosophies of man mingled with scripture" sets the tone for much of LDS thought on philosophy. Thus, many Mormons believe that if you play with philosophy you will get burned eventually. Ostler points out that the minute we begin actually thinking about revelation from heaven we tarnish it in some way. Mormons do not believe that revelation is perfect in the ultimate sense. In studying by faith, you can come to knowledge. Ostler, then, said that we think about things and do the best we can do. 

He had a teacher who preached about the evils of philosophy. Finally, after the class he approached Ostler, a philosophy major, and asked: "What do you think about that, Brother Ostler?" Blake responded "Well, it's an interesting philosophy."

Ostler next delves into the concept of theodicy, or the problem of evil. Evil can't exist because God is all good, or God doesn't exist because if He did, there would be no evil. The breaking of the Gordian knot comes from knowing that God allows evil for a higher purpose. The upside to philosophy is that it can help answer questions and etc.

The trouble with the analytical approach is that it can be too tedious, too close, it can take the life out of what we are examining. Faith, then, can become dead on the table, so to speak.

Ostler discussed next the influence of language. There is a language game that people play, wherein we have common understanding or agreement on the meaning of words. The word "baptism" is an example of this. When LDS say so-and-so is getting baptized the common understanding is that there is a method, authority, etc. involved.

There is no single philosophy I know of that can embody the gospel of Jesus Christ. But when he uses that term "gospel" he realizes it, too, is very ambiguous. In talking with others, then, people must have charity in trying to understand the way others see the world. Ask oneself when talking to others, "what is it about this point of view that people find appealing or inspiring or true?" In doing this, Blake has been inspired by the thoughts of Aquinas and others.

James Faulconer: "How wide the divide" between philosophy and religion
F believes the gap between philosophy and religion is much smaller than many may suppose. In the case of philosophy, F pursues wisdom, which doesn't differentiate it from religion, which is where he seeks wisdom as well. It melds together, then. Prov. 4:7, the most important thing. Philosophy and religion were competitive about explaining the nature of values and ethics in life. The competition between philosophy and religion dealt with different explanations on the nature of life, rather than one being related to enlightenment and the other superstition. Rational society revolves around reason as has always been there. In religion, when one is converted, or born again, one must rely on an inner necessity, an inner experience of individuality. Christianity introduces the necessity of faith. The faith of a newborn and the reason associated with the experienced past. The problem is between the inner necessity of faith and the outer necessity of public experience. But that is not all, because Christianity (and religion) continues to be a field of enlightenment that affects the lives of many. Christianity shows us how to have life more fully and abundantly. Alma 32 demonstrates that this comes from within rather than by some external rule, but it is not limited to interior relation, either. It relates one to God and the world.

If our faith cannot exteriorize itself, it is not faith. One because it must result in charitable acts, but also because it must be communicated to others. This is not only limited to explaining to convert, or to combat criticism, it is part of charity itself, and part of "sanctifying God" in our hearts.

Hope- Something inside and personal, "hope that is within you." But something we can also share with others. I have something in common with those I live near, because finding myself among others I must apologize, or explain my presence among them. Reason is an appeal to the other person; hoping they understand you, hoping they understand what you gather around you. Reason, then, is required by community. The apology, according to another view, isn't for oneself, but for their hope. Another way is to apologize through testimony, another way is to apologize by providing answers for criticism. Another way is through philosophy, which discusses our inner hope and then making a case for it. It is, as Ostler said, "a kind of disease." Some have the disease, and if you have it, it is not easy to cure. There is no royal road to philosophy. The object of it is wisdom. Those who want to join the road should be welcomed and encouraged whether or not they join the ranks of those in school, or those who do it on their own.

Brian Birch: Philosophical musings on Mormon apologetics
A broader level of engagement will be good for the Church. Though not involved in apologetics, and sometimes critical of apologetics, Brian wants to say he has enjoyed many articles from FAIR, etc. [Here Birch seems to be using apologetics in the sense of defending the Church from criticism.] Gr. Apologia, a speech made in defense. Origins in Greek legal system, the argument of the accused in defense of themselves, such as in the Apology of Socrates, by Plato. The term was then used by Christians who defended Christianity from critics. In the modern Church it is usually understood to be the defense by argument against criticism, etc. So what separates the wheat from the chaff? Good apologetics is humble and charitable. The dismissiveness would give way to forbearance and patience. In trying to understand the other, good apologetics attempts to do justice to the view of the other. Understanding is the fountainhead from which mutual appreciation can flow. This can also highlight differences, however. A spirit of respect and love must be reflected.

Bad apologetics:
is excessive exultation, an attitude of superiority, self congratulation blind.

Logical fallacies included. Ad hominem fallacy is committed when one attacks the person making the argument rather than the actual strength of the position itself. Bad people can make good arguments, and good people can make bad ones.

Straw man: When someone attacks a position not actually held by an opponent, or attacking a weak explanation of an opponents view in order to show a stronger position. [We do well to explain as fairly as possible the position of the other.] This can happen to play to the home crowd. John Stackhouse in Humble Apologetics says that one must be able to explain the other's position to that person's satisfaction is a crucial part of apologetics.

"Seek learning by study and also by faith." The appeal to this scripture alone doesn't answer how these should be engaged in relation to each other. The Church has been all over the map, see John Widstoe vs. Joseph Fielding Smith [possibly JF McConkie, here. I'll check the mp3]. This gives us the spirit of the method, but doesn't define it all. See Oaks's essay on "Reason and Faith," which is helpful describing the widely-held views in the Church.

The "problem of the incorrigible conclusion" is that despite the effectiveness of an argument, should one allow weak arguments slide because they do build faith? What is the answer? Birch forgos.

Much of the publications from FAIR, FARMS, etc. is good. But to treat it as good because of publisher is to hinder good. Does "good scholarship" mean scholarship that comes to the right conclusion, according to you? Or does it mean one is responsible in their methods, etc.

Many LDS can fall back on an appeal to the Holy Ghost, which can cause trouble if both sides of an argument fall back on such. Grant Underwood discussed a testimony as being internal and private, unshakable if of God. Doesn't this, then, change our conception of the argument at hand? This is acceptable, as long as the arguments don't function as they traditionally do; in other words the premise and conclusion are in flux or they are not in flux.

One Evangelical states that one can know their spiritual confirmation is true despite the spiritual claims of Mormons. So what? Both sides end up bearing testimonies and walking away, though most conversations do not end this way. How far can rational arguments go in inter-faith discourse. Some argue that these arguments are only effective in neutralizing criticisms rather than providing a truth; ie: negative apologetics. [Such as my approach on plural marriage and the Bible vs. Joseph Smith.]



Q- "Many who immerse themselves in philosophy lose faith. Why? 
-Faulconer said this question is a false premise, that many philosophers maintain faith indeed.

-Ostler said a paradigm shift has occurred in philosophy where the demonstration through empirical means is not all-determining now makes all the difference. Faith can be destroyed by teachers, Ostler believes, and he doesn't like that.

-Birch then asserted that to him Philosophy is the occasion for the doubting rather than the cause itself. A cause/effect relationship between exposure to ideas and doubt etc. can't be determined in each case.

Q-Regarding science and philosophy, does philosophy have intrinsic value like science in solutions?
-Ostler said science is merely another applied philosophy.He also said the greatest challenge to religious faith comes from the assumption that science gives absolute truths. Empirical view, etc. The fact is, philosophy is freeing because it makes it easy to see how what seems to be an established truth over a long period of time can be turned on its head. It helps illuminate the fluidity of knowledge, rather than grasping a positivist view. Unquestioning faith in science, just like unquestioning faith in God, is a faulty approach.

-Birch said the question itself is a part of philosophy so in asking it are we answering it? Philosophy is about thinking, perhaps not always finding solid answers.

-Faulconer said that there is a view of science as knowledge of what objects are, etc. and that reality must be represented that way, ie empirical terms, or that everything that is known must be "known" through the same methods or in the same way. Example, what does it mean to "love" children, etc? The asking of the questions or thinking about them can help deepen the love even if it doesn't give the "certainty" of science.

Q- Comment on the hymn "Oh, say, what is truth?"
-Faulconer said it is a way of expressing our faith about the truth of the gospel.

-Ostler said "you'll notice that the title is a question.

-Birch- nothing to add.

Q- Truman Madsen said D&C 93 is a comprehensive philosophical view like Plato's Timaeus. etc. 
-Faulconer said that he thinks Madsen is wrong about saying Plato's treatise on Timaeus is Plato's greatest  philosophical treatise. Faulconer said he isn't sure he fully understands the section in D&C.

-Ostler said it is well worth the time to look at, but doesn't see it as a philosophical treatise, that it is not intended to be an argument, but merely asserts, JS couldn't have invented it. It is one of the most profound statements on our relationship to deity in all scripture.

-Birch said it is among the greatest in terms of its influence on religious tradition in that it is used to support theological points.

Q- Does one's internal monologue create external looking, or does external looking create internal dialog?
-Faulconer said he doesn't see his internal experience as a monologue. Internally it has little meaning until he expresses it. He believes his participation in the external is modified by an internal experience guiding him, or whatever term would work the best. IE there is an internal experience taking part in the external dialogue.

-Ostler said in apologetics are we looking for the trith or are we looking to merely defend the truth no matter what the views already held? Am I open to learn from those with whom I dialog? Do we look to learn from the experience? Until we are willing to learn from eacj other how can we really claim to be talking to each other in a way that is in love? By seeking the worldview of the other who argues against JS or gospel, we will usually find some individual issue about caring deeply about something that motivates the rejection.

Q- Truth is discovered, not constructed?
-Faulconer- yes it is to both.

-Ostler- there is a good answer, but no time to give it!

-Birch- This is the most hotly contested thing in philosophy because of post-modern philosophy trying to break the monopoly of empirical or positivist views.


Mark IV said...

Blair, these really are fantastic summaries, I almost feel like I am there!

Thank you for taking the trouble to make such good notes, and making them available to all us yokels out in the sticks.

SmallAxe said...

Great! Thank you for passing it along.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Sorry for all the typos!

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