All Dogs Go to Heaven

Keith Lane noted an interesting blog post at First Things about spiritual materialism. I’m not sure it’s quite as similar to Mormon thought as some do. (Especially check out the final paragraph) it does get at though the difference in views between western Christianity (following Aquinas) and eastern Christianity on the nature of spirits. As many have long noted Mormonism in many ways is much closer to eastern Christian theology than western. (And of course eastern Christian marriages are always a little shocking to Mormons familiar with Mormon marriages.)

Significance of Heterodoxy

Religion Private LanguageDennis Potter put up an other post at academia.edu, “The Significance of Heterodoxy.”1 This is related to several of his past articles and blog posts including the one I commented on last month on subjective evidence. This is basically an argument suggesting that heterodox belief within religion entails a kind of doubt. As in his blog post he focuses in on the private language argument. This is a somewhat more sophisticated take on that argument so I thought it would be useful to take it up.

Overall it’s a bit of an odd strategy to take. He more or less adopts a fairly controversial movement (pre-war logical positivism) and uses it to attack Mormon theology of religious experience.2

Now even on those grounds I don’t think it works because I’m far from convinced religious experience is not intersubjective. As I mentioned about his blog post on subjective evidence I think we have to distinguish between what is practically private and what is absolutely private. Dennis doesn’t make this distinction unfortunately. Further if there is a God interacting with us in our religious experiences then certainly they are inherently intersubjective.3 The Mormon position of materialism means we can’t even take Carnap’s views on physicalism to push the religious experience towards a private language. Mormons might be wrong about a physical God, but if we’re critiquing Mormonism I think we need to take its materialism seriously. It seems to me that Mormonism more so that most religions isn’t open to the theoretic positivist attack.

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  1.  This is a preprint and thus not really a finished paper. However he posted it on a public site so I assume he doesn’t mind people discussing it. Just be aware it’s not fair to judge it in this form.
  2. Even thought positivism is seeing a bit of a resurgence this is pretty odd from my view – especially taking a fairly esoteric view with positivism that if I recall Carnap and Neurath disagreed upon somewhat. Seems like there’s so much to unpack that by the time your done you have the set of people interested in positivism and the set of people interested in Mormonism. That’s just not a large set. Especially since a lot of people who like the positivists, like myself, often still think they’re quite wrong in many ways.
  3. The potential move of saying God is ontologically special and not a subject doesn’t really work well in a Mormon context due to how Mormons conceive of the personhood of God. Even those Mormons, like Blake Ostler, apt to play down or reject a theology of deification taken from the King Follet Discourse are likely to say that God is a person in this sense of intersubjectivity. For the majority of Mormons who more or less buy into the notions in the King Follet Discourse of course God is a person and our interactions with him are intersubjective.

Attitudes to Free Will

Interesting paper with a few psychological studies on why people believe in free will. I’m always a bit loath to put too much stock in these since there are the usual issues of small studies usually with university students for test subjects.1 Still it does have some interesting conclusions. 

People tend to believe in free will more after considering an immoral action than a neutral one along with an increased desire to punish others. People also believe in free will more if there is a cheater around. Also the amount of crime in a country predicts the level of free will belief.

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  1. Some of these studies were a little better, recruiting via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk group. However they still likely don’t represent a terribly representative cross section of the country, let alone humanity. Selection issues and sample sizes are traditionally problem with these sorts of studies. While there is replication, again there have been strong critiques of how replication is happening in psychological studies such as recent criticisms of priming studies. I’m not saying ignore these in the least. However I think they are perhaps best seen as early steps and that one should always be careful pushing the conclusions too far.

The Strange Case of Mormon Theology of Satan

Julie over at T&S had up an interesting post about Satan and the Mormon theology of a plan of salvation. The usual Mormon theology is that first we existed prior to our birth as spirits, that we had limits on our progression in our life there, that this earth life is necessary for our progression and development, and that the main part of that development hinged upon experiencing moral opposites and being able to choose. Typical for Mormon theology, and largely relying on an exegesis of Abraham 3 and 2 Nephi 2, comes the idea that Satan was necessary for this opposition. That is Mormons usually see the war in heaven from D&C 29:37, Rev 12:9, and Abr 3:24-28 as being necessary in some sense for our development. (This is developed further in what is taught to Mormons in our temple rituals) 

Interestingly this notion isn’t spelled out in Mormon scripture as being necessary. Scripture does say an opposition in all things is necessary (2 Ne 2:11) but not how Satan is necessary for this opposition. The usual assumption is that if we are enticed by the spirit and by the light of Christ that we must also be enticed by an equal and opposite spiritual force of some kind. Satan and the ⅓ fallen angels are usually marshaled for this job.

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Trib on Messy LDS History

Peggy Stack at the Salt Lake Tribune has an article up on how the Church is attempting to deal with controversial aspects of history through articles on its website. This is a very positive step that the Church has been taking the past few years. We can perhaps critique some of the articles or how the Church promotes the articles to regular members. I’m loath to be critical though as it’s a difficult balancing act for the Church. I think one thing that is helpful is to simply see that many of us familiar with the history aren’t bothered by it at all. Honestly the history in the Bible seems far more controversial in many ways than LDS history – even at its most controversial. I think the difference is that because Biblical history is at least 2000 years old it seems distant in a way that the 19th century doesn’t. Put an other way, dealing with controversy in history seems more an issue of the oddities of human psychology rather than necessarily an academic problem.

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Public vs. Experts on the End of the World

I’ve long said that there’s a huge disconnect between how people view the world and how it is. The public, by and large, sees things always as getting worse. In most cases the world’s actually getting better. Often significantly so. Related to this is an interesting blog post by Dan Drezner on the disconnect between how experts and the public see the apocalypse. Now don’t get me wrong. Things can change quickly. I definitely fear how Russia has been developing the past 5 years or so. But it’s still nothing like the period during the end of the Cold War when I grew up. Then people really did fear the apocalypse as a real possibility any day. And with just cause.

Why do I think things are getting better?1 We have people becoming better educated, healthier, freer, and safer. Crime is down significantly. Around the world poverty and child mortality are dropping significantly. The homeless population is tripping. Even the things that seem bad are likely to be overcome. None of this is to say things might not change. But as of right now I’d rather live now than at any other time in the past.2

  1. Vox did a nice list a few months back. Max Roser did a real nice discussion as well. Even in terms of global environment issues things are much better than most think, as this New Scientist article shows.
  2. Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to be 20 again – only in my current circumstances. Hitting middle age and discovering your body can’t do as much isn’t fun. But that’s not the world. And even that is probably far, far better than what people in their 40’s experienced in the past due to better health, nutrition and exercise.

Decarceration and Violent Offenders

There’s an interesting argument about crime and decarcerationfrom John Pfaff. He’s changed my view a fair bit. I had been under the assumption that the war on drugs was more responsible for our high incarceration rates. But “between 1990 and 2010, increased drug incarcerations contribute a mere 14% to prison growth, compared to 60% for violent incarcerations. All told, between 1980 and 2010, slightly more than 50% of the net increase in prisoners is due to locking up more violent criminals (with drugs and property both in the low-20%s).” That rather surprised me when I first read it some time ago.

This means that if we release prisoners to decrease our prison population we’ll necessarily be releasing violent offenders. 

 

Don’t Forget the Other Ebookstores

Adam Miller announced his new book this week, Grace is Not God’s Backup Plan. I’ve not had time to read it yet. I’m behind on everything and am still working on Joseph’s book For Zion which has also been the topic of a lot of blogging. I did mention in the comments that I hope people publish to several of the eBook publishers and not just Amazon.

There are several reasons for this.

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How to Be a Stoic

Massimo Pigliucci, of Scientia Salon fame, has a new blog up: How to Be a Stoic. He’s been talking stoicism for a while including a recent NYT editorial and then a Bloggingheads on the topic last fall. I’ve always been a sucker for the Stoics. While I probably couldn’t call myself a Stoic they have influenced me a great deal. 

I’ve discussed Stoicism a fair bit way back when I was analyzing Orson Pratt’s odd philosophical take on Mormon theology in the 19th century. I had quite a few posts on the subject at the old blog. A key difference there of course was Pratt had adopted an atomism of Priestly by way of Leibniz. Other than his belief in atoms though his views were very much Stoic in nature though. They were rather extreme and a little kooky at times but exerted a rather pronounced influence on Mormon thought that persists to this day.

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Scientists and Religion

I’d somehow missed this last year. There was a study, “Religious Communities, Science, Scientists, and Perceptions” about the religious beliefs of scientists. It was quite interesting and had a few surprising results.

The difficulty in studies like this is of course deciding what you count as a scientist and figuring out how to poll those people. In this case they polled a huge number of people (over 10,000) and then reduced that down based upon whether they could be considered tied to science. They go through their methods in detail on page 3. They ended up with about 574 who were considered scientists. Of those only 72 were in “life, physical or social sciences.” Now that’s a fairly small amount in terms of drawing out too many implications. So we have to be careful. I’d call this less an analysis of scientists than of professions like computer science, medicine or engineering related to science. 

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Musings on Science, Religion, Phenomenology and More