The Gospel Caught on Tape?

June 10, 2008
By

Trojan Horseby Joe Geisner, guest blogger

If one had a camcorder in Jesus’ day and had been at the feeding of the multitudes, would you have filmed Jesus feeding five to twelve thousand people with two fish and five loaves of bread until their bellies were full, with baskets of food left over? Later that night would you have captured on tape the disciples rowing on the Sea of Galilee in a storm and Jesus walking out to them on the water? In this miracle the disciples see Jesus, think he is a spirit, but Jesus calls out to them and tells them not to be afraid.  Peter calls back to Jesus asking if he can come to Jesus, Jesus says “yes” but Peter starts to sink because of fear. At this point Jesus grabs Peter’s hand and raises him out of the water and helps Peter back into the boat. On another day with your camcorder would you have filmed Jesus ordering the stone removed from the cave where Lazarus had been dead for four days and Jesus commanding Lazarus to rise and Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead?

If the camcorder did not capture these miracles as described in the gospels, then what would our film have looked like?

38 Responses to The Gospel Caught on Tape?

  1. Joseph
    June 10, 2008 at 10:13 am

    Personally, I don’t think I would have recorded any miracles. They’re cool and all, but that doesn’t do it for me. What I probably would have wanted to videotape would have been the teachings. I find them so much more interesting.

    Oh, and I would have videotaped Jesus’ wives and other stuff like that so that the guys at BYU would go nuts :D

  2. June 10, 2008 at 10:32 am

    I don’t think a video camera would have recorded the miracles you describe, Joe. I do think, however, that two thousand years later, believers would “reason” that Jesus had not only performed those miracles, but each time performed a simultaneous miracle, by which he ensured that the miracles would not be shown on tape, in order to “test” later viewers, make later viewers “rely on faith,” and “fool” the wicked into unbelief and condemnation.

    At least that’s how it works for everything else.

  3. Bruce Nielson
    June 10, 2008 at 10:40 am

    >>> …that Jesus had not only performed those miracles, but each time performed a simultaneous miracle, by which he ensured that the miracles would not be shown on tape, in order to “test” later viewers, make later viewers “rely on faith,” and “fool” the wicked into unbelief and condemnation… At least that’s how it works for everything else.

    Oh come on, Nick. :P You know no believing Mormon on the bloggernacle believes this or advocates this position. I won’t claim that there aren’t Mormons some where out there that believe such a thing, but this was a wild exaggeration at best.

    In the rare cases I do see this, I do have to admit I share your frustration, though. :)

  4. Ann
    June 10, 2008 at 10:43 am

    I am reminded of the bit in one of the books of the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy (maybe #5?) where Alternative Universe Trillian, who never went into space with Zaphod, is a newscaster and has always regretted her decision. Amazingly, she gets a second chance! She goes into space with aliens, and films the whole thing.

    The film is terrible. It looks exactly like a hack 1950′s SF film of aliens would look. She’s ruined. She can’t show the film, because it would ruin her career. And she can’t go back and pretend everything is normal, because she’s gone into space with aliens.

    Which is kind of what Nick said, only cooler. :)

  5. John Nilsson
    June 10, 2008 at 10:50 am

    Hmmm,

    This seems similar to my blog post on the nature of the First Vision.

    Of course, this post presumes each of these incidents occurred historically as reported in the gospels, and were not composites of two or more incidents.

    It is possible that we would see loaves and fish appearing from nowhere and every other miracle exactly as we have been conditioned to imagine it. It is also possible that just as with the First Vision, these were subjective experiences not witnessed by those outside the immediate circle of Jesus’s followers. Lazarus is a tricky one to explain naturalistically…

  6. Yet Another John
    June 10, 2008 at 10:56 am

    What I really think would have happened is that everyone would start getting out their iPhones and Blackberries and started texting and commenting and posting on the web even before the miracles or sermons were finished. People would pick the parts they liked and emphasize that part while violently disagreeing with the parts they didn’t like. This would continue until Jesus revealed more of His teachings at which point they would repeat the process.

    Oh, wait. I think they did that anyway, sans the modern technology.

  7. Bill
    June 10, 2008 at 11:05 am

    #3–Nick doesn’t seem very far off the mark.

    -The book of Abraham doesn’t translate to anything remotely related to what Joseph Smith produced? No problem–Joseph was getting the spiritual version, the hidden meaning that modern scholars just don’t understand. Where’s the faith if we KNEW that Joseph could actually translate ancient records?
    -The book of Abraham manuscript really just talks about pagan burial rites–no problem, those rites were corrupted versions of what Abraham originally wrote. If there were manuscripts that actually backed up anything in Joseph Smiths version of the text, that would force people to believe for all the wrong reasons.
    -No scholar outside of BYU puts any value on the historical info in the book of mormon–no problem, we wouldn’t want proof that the book of mormon was true, that would destroy faith.

    Maybe they are not exactly like Nick stated, but the arguments in favor of a conservative, literal intrepretation of the flood, the tower of babel, adam and eve, the book of abraham, Lehi’s family populating the new world, temple/masonry connections etc. all sound rather silly. Of course not all mormons believe in each of these in a conservative/literal manner.

  8. June 10, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Yes, and it would ruin every presidential candidate who happened to be associated with Jesus!

  9. June 10, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    God potentially has three audiences with miracles: (1) He can perform a miracle that everyone on Earth could witness and know was a miracle, (2) He can perform miracles for a select few, and (3) He can perform miracles for no one at all.

    In addition, God has two general types of miracles: (A) unquestionable miracles and (B) dubious miracles. Making the sun stop in the sky (Joshua 10:13) is unquestionably a miracle, and falls under type A. Making fish appear and recording miracles on videotape are fall under type B, since they can both be easily faked as tricks. E.g., when Moses’s staff became a snake, it was a miracle, but when Pharoah’s priests’ staffs became snakes, it was just tricks (Exodus 7:11).

    Videotape of fish appearing for the entire world to see, means that God would be employing style 1B: dubious miracles for all. This is “fair,” in that it doesn’t favor some people and not others. On the other hand, as with all category B tricks, God would seem to be reaching out to His most credulous and easily duped children. Is that God’s plan?

    It would be very possible for God to employ style 1A. Christ could have proclaimed his ministry by announcing that every one in the world would now have twelve fingers and twelve toes, six on each hand and foot. Not only would this have affected everyone and proved God’s power to all at the time, it also could be confirmed for us today through the archeological record. Every human skeleton prior to 32 AD would have had ten fingers and every one after that moment would have twelve. End of story. The problem with style 1A, as Mormons know, is that this is Lucifer’s plan.

    Next we have styles 2A and 2B: God showing miracles (and tricks) to some of his children while withholding them from others. If you believe that God acts this way, you believe in a God who is fundamentally unfair and who plays favorites. You can rationalize that you don’t know God’s plan or how His justice will accommodate this practice, but if you believe He operates this way, you have to concede that God is stacking the deck in favor of some, and against others.

    Finally we have style 3: God performs no miracles, other than those which are in accord with the divine/natural laws of the universe. In this case, all reports of miracles and tricks, even by prophets, are in the minds of the beholders and have no place in reality or in God’s actual plan.

  10. Yet Another John
    June 10, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Another twist on the original question would be this: When the events of the second coming unfold, will they be recorded and broadcast live by mainstream media? And will the events be recognized as fulfillment of prophecy?

  11. Ray
    June 10, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    #4 – Ann, a cooler Nick. I like it! :)

  12. Ray
    June 10, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    The story of the Pentacost in Acts is instructive, I think. Lots of people witnessed the exact same event, but there are multiple reactions recorded as a result.

    Fwiw, I think I probably would have seen whatever I thought I should be seeing – and my camcorder would be used to prove what I thought I had seen.

    I think _________ would have seen mighty miracles; I think _________ would have seen a crackpot and a bunch of stupid people gullible enough to believe him.

  13. Bruce Nielson
    June 10, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Would walking on water be a 2A miracle? It might be a 2B today due to improved technology, but if someone went back in time and recorded Jesus walking on water, I think that would be pretty dang convincing to the person working the camera. But then it would be dubious to anyone watching it later on the camera because there is no way to verify it wasn’t faked.

  14. Joe Geisner
    June 10, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    John,

    You are right, the two posts are similar. Though I have to admit that I came about this question or idea from a completely different source. I have been studying the New Testament from people who are not Mormon and who have a completely different take than we do. In one of the books I have been reading this question is asked. Because of this I wanted to see what Mormon’s think of this issue, how do we deal with these miracles from a historical point of view. I think the two issues are different enough because this is a much larger issue for all Christianity and the records to study this issue is completely different than Joseph Smith’s accounts.

    I know Talmage came from a scientist perspective, though he depended on very conservative and dated New Testament writers and scholars. When I read Messiah series almost thirty years ago I believe McConkie wrote from the stand point the he would have taped the miracles. I really am curious what the modern Mormon thinks of this. Do we believe as Talmage and McConkie or have do we see with different eyes? I am curious if Mormons have gone out side the faith to study these issues or is there someone with in our faith that has tackled these issues from a scholarly or historical perspective?

    I think Nick and Ann have brought up one perspective and I appreciate what they are saying. I think it is a valid perspective but unfortunately it cannot be tested or really even debated. I am not suggesting that either of you believe this perspective, I am just saying it is a valid perspective for one who has it.

  15. June 10, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    #3:
    Bruce, I wasn’t just talking about LDS members. Many so-called “creationists,” explain away the fossil record as deity’s way of testing believers and fooling the wicked. As for LDS, it’s rather common, even in the bloggernacle, for people to suggest that deity performs miracles with the specific intent of requiring mankind to operate on faith, rather than scientific evidence. This response has been used in the bloggernacle with regard to DNA controversies, in particular.

    #5:
    It is possible that we would see loaves and fish appearing from nowhere…

    It’s also possible…make that likely…that such images would be challenged by unbelievers as “camera tricks” and special effects. :-)

  16. June 10, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    As I think more about this, consider a more “modern” miracle claim, such as the alleged August 1844 “transfiguration” of Brigham Young to look and sound exactly like Joseph Smith. To my knowledge, LDS historians have yet to discover a single contemporaneous account of this supposed miracle, yet it pops up in many journals and diaries long after 1844.

  17. Joe Geisner
    June 10, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Re: #9 & #13

    The author of the book I am reading gives some common answers and then his comment to those answers. I will give an extract. First the problem: We know Jesus was subject to gravity and the properties of water since he was baptized (completely immersed) in water. So maybe Jesus was fully human at the beginning of his ministry but then as time went on he became ethereal until he was finally able to float up to heaven. The one big problem with this is Jesus is no longer human at his suffering and death, and this has been a heresy pretty much from the end of the first century. The other idea is Jesus could have suspended gravity. But most scholars have a problem with this since he was human and would follow the laws of gravity and there is also the Peter problem. Peter is not divine and yet he also walks on water. As the author of the book writes “until I see you zipping through the air” I don’t believe this way (of suspending gravity) is possible.

  18. Bruce Nielson
    June 10, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    >>> As for LDS, it’s rather common, even in the bloggernacle, for people to suggest that deity performs miracles with the specific intent of requiring mankind to operate on faith, rather than scientific evidence. This response has been used in the bloggernacle with regard to DNA controversies, in particular

    Nick, you have a point, but let me explain myself a bit further, if that’s okay.

    Let me point you to an excellent post made by a very intelligent poster here on Mormon Matters that already explained the difference between not having evidence so you have to believe on faith and planting counter evidence as a test of faith. :P

    In post #2 you originally used an example of God planting counter evidence and held that up as if it was normal for believers to believe. I.e. “At least that’s how it works for everything else.”

    But in #15 you used an example of lack of evidence and belief on faith with DNA. But the usual explanation there is that the modern Hebrew DNA used wouldn’t be expected to match ancient Hebrew DNA (so the test was no valid), or that the group was limited in size and genetical overwhelmed (so the test was not valid). Neither of these are the same as the example you used in #2 as they are not God specifically planting counter evidence. They are just a lack of evidence.

    One thing I’m sure about, Nick, is that you are very thoughtful and try to be fair. Would you feel comfortable with someone making an equivalent broad brush stroke of all agnostics or ex-Mormons and holding up the worst examples as normal for the whole?

  19. Bruce Nielson
    June 10, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    >>> To my knowledge, LDS historians have yet to discover a single contemporaneous account of this supposed miracle

    As an open vision, I’d agree.

    But as people hearing or feeling like BY was Joseph Smith, there are several contempary accounts that Wagner (no friend of the LDS Church) cites in a paper I read of his meant to debunk the whole incident. That’s the weird part; Wagner’s article mean to convince me that no miracle occured convinced me that a miracle had occured due to the early recollections cited. (I had lost faith in the incident prior to reading his article.) I now believe there is ample evidence that a miracle did occurred but that it got better with memory and later retellings. Which is what we’d expect, right?

    Granted this is not the type of miracle Joe’s post was about. It apparently wouldn’t show up on video camera other than some people getting excited that BY seems like Joseph and falls into John Hamers 3 category that it’s not a miracle that violated any laws of physics but was spiritual in nature. But the physical end result was overwhelming.

    But it still happened basically as people remember it minus the open vision: no one knew who to follow and the LDS church was about to be pulled apart at the seams. Then BY spoke and everyone felt that he seemed like Joseph and followed him in huge numbers, ending a succession crisis that could have ended the LDS church all together.

  20. Will Bagley
    June 10, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    I tried to track down the quote–from Voltaire or Ernest Renan?–that in essence says, “Take away the miracles and everyone would believe in Jesus.”

  21. June 10, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    #18:
    You are correct, Bruce, in identifying additional arguments used by believing LDS in response to DNA evidence. It was never my intention to suggest that the “deity must have miraculously changed their DNA” claim was a universal LDS response. I apologize if that was unclear.

  22. June 10, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    #19:
    Then BY spoke and everyone felt that he seemed like Joseph and followed him in huge numbers, ending a succession crisis that could have ended the LDS church all together.

    Brigham had a reputation as “an excellent mimic,” and he demanded that Emma Smith allow him to borrow Joseph’s horse on the occasion. With perhaps a little more evidence, one could get the idea that Brigham intentionally made himself appear as “Joseph-like” as possible that day.

    I don’t know that I would consider Brigham’s speech an “end to the succession crisis” in itself. Substantial numbers of early Mormons followed other paths, most notably those who accepted the claims of James J. Strang. (Of course, I still love Heber C. Kimball’s alleged statement, that Strangism wasn’t “worth the skin of a fart!”)

  23. John Nilsson
    June 10, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    John H,

    “Finally we have style 3: God performs no miracles, other than those which are in accord with the divine/natural laws of the universe. In this case, all reports of miracles and tricks, even by prophets, are in the minds of the beholders and have no place in reality or in God’s actual plan.”

    For some of us, “minds of the beholders” may be an integral part of God’s actual plan. Just a possibility, although it’s not traditional.

    Nick,

    The same can be said of the Utah seagulls eating the crickets of 1848. Historians have shown that if it happened, no one at the time was writing about it in their journals, so it really wasn’t as remarkable as it’s made out to be. The seagull monument still stands on Temple Square, though.

    I wonder what tour guides say about it, now that even BYU historians have debunked the story?

  24. Bruce Nielson
    June 10, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    >>> With perhaps a little more evidence, one could get the idea that Brigham intentionally made himself appear as “Joseph-like” as possible that day.

    This is the RLDS claim.

  25. June 10, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Ahhh, well…there are a lot of RLDS claims, aren’t there? ;-)

  26. Bruce Nielson
    June 10, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    >>> You are correct, Bruce, in identifying additional arguments used by believing LDS in response to DNA evidence

    You put “additional” in italics. Does that mean you are comfortable with the broad brush stereotype/depiction of LDS people believing God would plant counter evidence to try their faith as a way of ignoring evidence? Does this also mean you are equally comfortable when people do similar broad brushes/stereotypes of agnostics or ex-Mormons? (For example, assuming ex-Mormon are generally ex-Mormons due to sin.)

  27. Bruce Nielson
    June 10, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Incidently, B.H. Roberts Comprehensive History of the Church did have a contemporary account of BY *looking* like Joseph Smith in vision like fashion. But modern historians never quote that source. So I assume it’s been discounted for some reason, but I was never able to find out why. Wagner didn’t even mention it for the sake of explaining it away. Perhaps it got discounted so long ago that Wagner didn’t feel the need to even bring it up?

  28. June 10, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Bruce, perhaps you were refering to the account(s) of Brigham Young looking like Joseph Smith found in a rather unappreciated book imo : Opening The Heavens. Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820-=1844. by John Welch. It is entitled _The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham: One Hundred Twenty-one Testimonies of a Collective Spiritual Witness_ Granted, most if not all of these accounts were recorded after the fact mostly in reminiscences and may not be reliable as a contemporary “video record” of the occurrence. Not only does the book list the BY Mantle account but lists all accounts of the First Vision, The coming forth of the Book of Mormon, The Restoration of the Priesthood, The Kirtland Temple Experiences and more. It’s a great reference book.

    What I find interesting about these types ‘miracles’ and others, is did contemporaries view/accept them in the same context as we now do some hundreds or even thousands of years later, after they have been embellished and polished? For example, and I can’t find the source right now – one of the Journals: MHA, BYU Studies maybe Dialogue – someone had done a study of the 1848 cricket plague and resulting miracle. I believe that the article mentions that contemporary records did not view the seagulls as a Divine miracle, but that it evolved over a period of years and became the miracle that we now have.

  29. Joe Geisner
    June 10, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    I thought I would write some other thoughts on New Testament studies when it comes to studying the miracles. The New Testament has a long history of scholarly study, but it was not until the 1820′s, at the beginning of the Enlightened period, that scholars begin studying the miracles. Up until this point everyone saw the New Testament as supernatural history. In 1827 a scholar by the name Heinrich Paulus wrote a book called “The Life of Jesus”. In this book Paulus tries to explain the miracles from a natural point of view. When it comes to the loaves of bread and fish Paulus points out that Jesus has the disciples organize the congregation into small groups and also has the disciples get him the fish and loaves, when the people see this they realized it was time to eat and opened up their own baskets of food. By doing this there was plenty of food with baskets of food left over.

    For the walking on water Paulus writes that because of the storm and it being night it caused the disciples not to realize that they had not travel much off shore. Jesus really walked in ankle deep water and Peter didn’t realize that they were in such shallow water, he panicked and Jesus had to lift him up so that he could get his composure.

    The raising of the dead is much more complicated but he comes from a medical point of view for the time. What is interesting is Paulus also makes an argument for the rising of Jesus from the dead as being a explainable natural occurrence. There actually is accounts from antiquity of people surviving the crucifixion though the Romans thought they were dead.

  30. Rigel Hawthorne
    June 10, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    I wrote a post once about whether some events miracles or whether they are just “good odds”. When someone says that the success of the perpetual education fund is a miracle, is it explained by odds that many inspired individuals will contribute donations? If a camera was examining the miracle of the loaves and fishes, would the miracle catch previously uninspired individuals suddenly willing to share their previously cached loaves and fishes with the group?

    A video account of Lazarus may not be helpful if he was in a deep coma, but it would be helpful if it caught individuals in the act of perpetrating a fraud. If on camera, he did appear to be lifeless, the evidence would be incomplete without a cardiac monitor or an EEG to confirm heart/brain death. If it was not a fraud and his recovery from a near death condition occurred, it would still be an incredible coincidence that he got better exactly at the time he was beckoned forth.

    The video of Jesus walking on the water would be impressive, but would need to examine the feet closely. If you saw the movie ‘Ever After’ the DaVinci character invented wooden shoes that enabled him to walk on water. Carpentry skills could be helpful.

    The following quote is from a conference talk by Howard W. Hunter:

    “In the contemplation of miracles “we must of necessity recognize the operation of a power transcending our present human understanding,” wrote Dr. James E. Talmage, who, as both a scientist and an Apostle of the Lord, had uniquely strong qualifications for examining such phenomena. (See Jesus the Christ, 3d ed., Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1916, p. 149.) Science and the unaided human mind, he said, have not advanced far enough to analyze and explain these wonders. But, he cautioned, to deny the reality of miracles on the ground that the results and manifestations must be fictitious simply because we cannot comprehend the means by which they have happened is arrogant on the face of it. (Ibid.) Indeed, those who have been the beneficiaries of such miracles are the most compelling witnesses of all. It is hard to argue with results.” Howard W. Hunter, “The God That Doest Wonders,” Ensign, May 1989, 15

    Miracles in my life could be chalked up as good odds in many or most cases, but I keep my mind open to the possibility of a transcendent power being involved. I really like John Hamer’s post in number 9. As a boy, I wanted to have a Joseph Smith type experience, but felt that the experiences I did have with his testimonies overcame the deck-stacking, as subjective as that may be. I had one investigator once who complained that our theology stacked the deck against all those who lived beyond the age of accountability because those who die before that age are promised a Celestial Glory.

  31. June 10, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    It’d be just like in Carl Sagan’s Contact (the film version)–static, but 18 hours of it!

  32. Nick Literski
    June 10, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    #26:
    Good grief, Bruce. Surely you aren’t actually trying to misinterpret me, are you?

    Here we go, once more with feeling. There are several responses from LDS members, who attempt to reconcile DNA findings with the historical claims of The Book of Mormon. These several responses, none of which are ubiquitous, unanimous, or in any way monolithic, happen to include, but are in no way limited to the following:

    (1) claiming that the modern Hebrew DNA used wouldn’t be expected to match ancient Hebrew DNA (so the test was no [sic] valid), or
    (2) claiming that the group was limited in size and genetical overwhelmed (so the test was not valid), or
    (3) claiming that deity intentionally performed a miracle to alter the DNA of Lamanite and Nephite descendants, so that later believers would be forced to accept The Book of Mormon on faith, rather than on scientific evidence.

    Happy now, Bruce????

  33. Bruce Nielson
    June 10, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Nick,

    If I misinterpreted your language/answer, I deeply apologize. But it was done in good faith and I do think it was a pertinent question and completely appropriate for this form. What could be more appropriate then to challenge old stereotypes? I would expect no less of you if things were reversed. (And I’d applaud you for doing so.)

    Reading back over what you said in #2, even now that I have your explanation of what you meant in #32, I’m still not clear where I missed what you said to the point to justify the accusation of intentionally trying to misunderstand you. It really does seem like you are making a broad stereotype and applying it generally.

    But I am happy to take #32 as your definitive answer that I somehow misunderstand “At least that’s how it works for everything else” as being a stereotype. I fully recognize how difficult it is to communicate on the internet via typing. I can’t hear your tone of voice and it’s easy to lose the context of a statement. I’m sure something like that interfered with our communication.

    It seems likely that I read in the wrong tone of voice on your “additional” because you put it in italics. But that’s why I ask for clarification.

  34. Nick Literski
    June 10, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    Ahhh…now I understand better where you were coming from, Bruce. The “At least that’s how it works for everything else” was intended to be a comment on how religious people tend to rationalize away evidence which appears to conflict with their faith. Back in the 1960s or 1970s, an author infiltrated a “UFO cult,” the members of which were expecting to be picked up and taken to heaven in spaceships on a certain date. It didn’t happen, but they didn’t scrap their faith—they invented “reasons” why it was “delayed.”

    Yes, the italics were only to stress the word, not to suggest that every LDS member used the “testing faith” argument, and potentially “added” your suggested arguments.

  35. Bruce Nielson
    June 11, 2008 at 6:55 am

    Nick, thanks for the explanation. I understand what you meant now and I don’t disagree with you.

    Nick, let’s write offline sometime. I know this may come as a shock, but I really do appreciate your position. I would like to be friends with you even if we are “fighting friends” so to speak. But it doesn’t have to be personal if we like each other. If you were in Utah, I’d invite you over to my house for lunch or something.

    >>> It didn’t happen, but they didn’t scrap their faith—they invented “reasons” why it was “delayed.”

    Actually, this is only partially true. In the short run, they did make up excuses to hold on to their faith. But eventually they all abandonded it due to the overwhelming evidence against them.

    I fully realize people in the Church explain away counter evidence. I will not argue this. But what I would really like for people outside the Church to be able to admit is that they do too and in equal numbers.

    It shocks me that I can see it inside the Church and outside the Church but those outside can only see it inside the Church. We are all victims of confirmation bias and being able to admit that is like admitting your an alcoholic at an AA meeting: it’s the first step to a long recovery.

    On the other hand, and this may shock you too, but I’m not longer convinced overcoming confirmation bias is necessarily a good thing… or even possible. I suspect that the fall, evolution, and God (not necessarily in that order) gave us confirmation bias for a wise purpose.

  36. June 11, 2008 at 8:32 am

    You can feel free to e-mail me offsite anytime, Bruce! My personal e-mail is “abraxas underscore bear at comcast.net” (sorry, gotta fool those spambots!).

  37. June 11, 2008 at 8:49 am

    In the short run, they did make up excuses to hold on to their faith. But eventually they all abandonded it due to the overwhelming evidence against them.

    True enough, Bruce. Thanks for keeping me honest. :-)

    I fully realize people in the Church explain away counter evidence. I will not argue this. But what I would really like for people outside the Church to be able to admit is that they do too and in equal numbers.

    You bring up a valid point, although I’d suggest that the issue is complicated by competing definitions of evidence. For example, a believer may choose to pay their tithing, and then desperately pray for money to pay the electric bill before they lose their electricity. If something happens to either stall the electric company or provide the necessary cash in time, the believer sees this as evidence that their deity answers their prayers. The non-believer, on the other hand, sees this as a possible interpretation of the events, but not evidentiary of divine existence, let alone intervention. Either person could be correct in their interpretation of the events. After all, even if the believer’s deity does answer prayers, that deity may not have been the motivator or cause of whatever event resolved the crisis, and on the other hand, the resolution could have been purely a matter of chance.

    At some point, the non-believer can encounter a circumstance they can’t “explain it away.” At that point, the non-believer could begin to believe, or they could simply shrug their shoulders, admitting they don’t know the answer. In my own “journey of non-belief,” I think I shrug my shoulders far more than I explain things away. Others’ mileage may vary, of course.

    I’m not longer convinced overcoming confirmation bias is necessarily a good thing… or even possible. I suspect that the fall, evolution, and God (not necessarily in that order) gave us confirmation bias for a wise purpose.

    Well, we process things in terms of how they relate to what we have already concluded. We see a species of tree that we’ve never encountered, and because of our familiarity with a variety of other trees, we decide this new plant is a tree. In fact, it seems to me that we really can’t learn anything without being able to make it connect to our existing understanding. That being the case, it seems to me that we’re all quite naturally predisposed to confirmation bias. The challenge comes when we find the new plant really isn’t a tree, and we have to redefine a part of our world!

  38. June 11, 2008 at 8:59 am

    Bruce (#13) Yep. If you were Peter and Jesus is walking around with you on water holding your hand, that’s probably going to hit 2A. If you’re just watching it in the distance or on tape, it’s 2B.

    John (#23) I phrased that wrong. I meant what you said, i.e., miracles within the hearts of the faithful are the plan, not external physical divine interventions.

    The folklore concerning the transfiguration of Brigham Young that has arisen in the Utah period does not fit the historical record of 1844. Mormons in Nauvoo did not immediately begin to see Brigham as holding Joseph’s mantle. Instead they accepted what he said at the time, that there could be no successor and that the Twelve together would watch the flock for the time being. The transfiguration story does fit the later situation in Utah where Brigham was accepted as Joseph’s successor. And this is when accounts actually enter the historical record.

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