A Truth-Seeker’s Guide to the Bloggernacle and Beyond

February 10, 2009
By

Several months ago I received a telephone call from Armand Mauss, who is a member of my Stake. He was calling on official Church business, but I couldn’t help taking the opportunity to pepper him with questions and pick his brain for about an hour. At one point in our discussion, he lamented the proliferation of Mormon blogs where, on any given day, one can find hundreds of people speculating and opining about numerous issues of which they actually know very little, and yet somehow hold unshakably strong and certain conclusions about them.

In that context, Brother Mauss related a story about John Dehlin calling and asking him to do an interview. Brother Mauss said he responded to John with a tone of half-lightheartedness, half-exasperation, by exclaiming: “Doesn’t anybody read anything in a book anymore?!” Brother Mauss’ point was that, as the author of two books and dozens of essays and articles, he’d already said everything that he has to say in print, where he can feel confident that his words were well-chosen, and more importantly, that his observations and conclusions were well-researched.

With a bit of frustration and bewilderment in his voice, Brother Mauss went on to observe that young LDS bloggers struggle to reinvent the wheel daily by speculating and debating about the same old issues that have already been carefully researched and written about over several decades in scholarly LDS-themed journals such as Dialogue. I told Brother Mauss that it seemed every new generation needed to struggle with the same fundamental questions, and that the Internet was simply the medium of choice for today’s generation because it was far more interactive than books or journals. I told him I thought today’s generation prefers the Internet because it allows for real-time discussions to occur, whereas with scholarly journals, the closest you come to a “discussion” are the letters to the editor that are published the next quarter or so.

Brother Mauss agreed that the Internet certainly allows for more discussion, but lamented that the discussions taking place are largely uninformed discussions because the blog format is simply not capable of being used to provide thorough, methodical, peer-reviewed research on any issue. Brother Mauss’ point was that although these uninformed blog discussions certainly hold an entertainment value for their participants, they cannot be considered seriously as sources of reliable information.

As I’ve observed the world of Mormon blogging since my conversation with Brother Mauss several months ago, I have to admit he makes a good point. So often we see in the Bloggernacle the same alarming trends that abound on the Internet discussion boards and in society at large. In a media-rich world awash with information and, all too often, misinformation, it’s so easy to be seriously misled without even knowing it. And with our ever-diminishing attention spans and an ever-accelerating Information Highway, it seems we just don’t have the patience to take the time to critically examine whether what we’re hearing, reading, and repeating to hundreds and thousands of others is, in fact, reliable information.

Although I certainly cannot claim to be an expert in Truth Detection, my profession as an attorney does require me to apply several time-tested rules to determine whether evidence is reliable. And I’m amazed at how often I see people quickly form passionate opinions, or readily abandon long-held beliefs, upon encountering new “information” that wouldn’t come close to being considered reliable evidence in a court of law. Everywhere we see people mentally convicting others of being liars, villains, and criminals, or adoring others as saints, heroes, and saviors, all based on “evidence” that wouldn’t even see the light of day in a court of law.

With that in mind, I’d like to set forth a few rules of thumb for sifting the informational wheat from the chaff both here in the Bloggernacle and beyond. Whenever we come across a significant assertion of fact, particularly one that we might base major life decisions upon, we’d do well to evaluate its reliability by asking the following questions:

1. Does the speaker cite any source(s) to substantiate his claim? If not, it is unreliable. For example, in a recent post on this website, an author posted a list of alleged similarities between the stories of Horus and Jesus that was copied from another website. On that list, a number of the alleged similarities were not accompanied by a citation to any source at all. Accordingly, they should be dismissed as unreliable assertions unless and until a source supporting those assertions is identified.

2. Is the cited source a primary source? A primary source is the original document, and a secondary source quotes, summarizes, interprets, or otherwise comments about the original document. In other words, a primary source is what someone said, and a secondary source is what someone says someone else said. Of course, these days there are an abundance of tertiary, quaternary, and quinary sources out there as well, where you can read something that someone says someone else said that someone else said that someone else said that someone else said. For example, Grant Palmer’s book Insider’s View of Mormon Origins purports to summarize the conclusions of a number of other writers’ research regarding the Book of Mormon, such as B.H. Roberts’ research on alleged similarities between the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews. In that situation, Insider’s View would be a tertiary source, and B.H. Robert’s Studies on the Book of Mormon would be a secondary source, and the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews would be primary sources. For obvious reasons, it’s most reliable to “get it from the horse’s mouth” by reviewing the primary sources yourself rather than relying on what someone said someone else said about what something else said.

3. Does the source contain someone’s first-hand observations or does it merely memorialize speculation or rumors? Even when we get to the primary source, we need to examine the reliability of the statements it contains because a person’s statements don’t become true merely because they’ve been written down. Whenever we read a historical document we should ask: how do we know the author knew what he was talking about when he wrote it down? For example, if Jane Doe wrote in her diary 170 years ago that Joseph Smith was a horse thief, how do we know she knew what she was talking about? In a court of law, one of the first questions to determine the reliability of a witness’ testimony is whether the witness claims to have “first-hand knowledge,” i.e., that he saw or heard something with his own eyes and ears. If the “witness” has merely written down her own speculation or is repeating rumors she’s heard from others, the evidence will be thrown out as unreliable. So even when we go to the primary sources, we need to examine whether the authors of those documents are claiming to be reporting their personal observations, as opposed to speculation and rumor.

4. How much time has passed between the time when someone purportedly observed something and the time when that person wrote about it? Even when we have a primary source where someone is claiming to have personally seen or heard something, we need to examine how much time has passed from the time that person observed the event to the time he or she wrote about it. For example, one piece of “documented historical evidence” that is used to support the idea that the Book of Mormon was plagiarized from the Solomon Spaulding manuscript is the affidavit of Spaulding’s only child, who claimed that when she read the Book of Mormon, she recognized names like Nephi as having come from a manuscript her father had read to her as a child. So here we have a primary source (i.e., an affidavit by Spaulding’s daughter), and stating what the speaker claims to be something she personally heard (i.e., what her father read to her). It seems pretty convincing until you look a little more closely and realize she waited until her 70′s to finally record these “recollections,” and that she was 6 years old when her father supposedly read his manuscript to her. Although such an affidavit would be admissible in a court of law, the reliability of the speaker’s recollections would be challenged on the grounds that too much time passed (i.e., more than 64 years) between when the alleged events occurred and when they were later recorded. Moreover, the accuracy of her memory would be questioned because of her old age.

5. If the source contains statements of an alleged “expert”, what makes that person an “expert”? One day one of my college professors asked us to look around the class at our fellow students. Then he said, “Right now, you don’t feel obligated to accept your classmates’ opinions or conclusions at face value. You challenge and scrutinize them, as well you should. But a few of the students in here will decide to go on and pay for another couple years’ worth of tuition, and when they graduate some of them will obtain employment in their fields. And when that happens, they’ll be called ‘experts’ and ‘scholars.’ But I want you to remember the only difference between them and you is that they paid for a couple more years of school, and that doesn’t mean they don’t have biases, don’t do sloppy research, and don’t reach faulty conclusions. Don’t accept others’ opinions and conclusions at face value, even if they’re coming from so-called ‘experts’ and ‘scholars’.” I think my professor’s words are as wise now as they were then.

6. Is an “expert opinion” even necessary? When a party wants to introduce expert testimony in a court of law, the court will first consider whether the issue about which the expert will opine is an issue that even requires expert testimony, or is instead something that ordinary people are perfectly capable of figuring out for themselves. This rule exists because judges want to avoid the situation where jurors are “wowed” by an “expert’s” title and just adopt whatever views he espouses even though the jurors are perfectly capable of determining those issues for themselves.  For example, I recently read a blog comment where someone stated that some experts at Stanford concluded that the Book of Mormon was likely copied in part from the Solomon Spaulding manuscript. I asked myself: “Is the question of whether the Book of Mormon is similar to the Spaulding manuscript really something we need ‘experts’ to tell us? Aren’t we just as capable of reading the Book of Mormon and Spaulding manuscript for ourselves and reaching our own conclusions about their similarities or lack thereof?” It’s amazing to see people abdicate their own reasoning to other people they’ve never met, merely because they’re called “scholars” or “experts.” For example, if you previously believed everything that General Authorities said without question, and you’ve now decided to rely on “scholars” and “experts” instead, you haven’t gone from being blindly obedient to thinking for yourself. You’ve just changed the group of people you’ve selected to do your thinking for you.

7. Are you certain you’ve heard the whole story? Even when we find a reliable statement in a primary souce from someone with first-hand knowledge, we still need to recognize that person’s perspective is just one of possibly dozens of others, and that we’ve therefore only heard a fragment of the whole story. In my profession, I’m frequently exposed to half-stories that sound completely convincing when standing alone. A plaintiff can take the witness stand and cry out a sob story that would even melt Stalin’s heart and make your blood boil with rage at the defendant. At least, until you hear the defendant’s side of the story, at which point everything changes. And you realize that even though the plaintiff was honest and sincere in what he said, records produced by the defendant reveal that the plaintiff was simply mistaken about a crucial detail. After seeing this sort of thing play out dozens of times, I constantly have to remind myself to reserve judgment until I’m certain I’ve heard the whole story.

8. Have you given equal time to researching all sides of the issue? If you surround yourself with books by Noam Chomsky and NPR broadcasts, don’t be surprised if you tend to always think the liberals are right. Likewise, if you surround yourself with books by Sean Hannity and Fox News broadcasts, don’t be surprised if you tend to always think the conservatives are right. We should never underestimate how our reading and listening choices color the lens through which we view the world. If we aren’t careful, our lop-sided decisions to immerse ourselves almost exclusively in a particular ideology can blind us to the merits of competing ideologies, and the flaws of our own.

9. Have you genuinely striven to find the merits in your opponent’s position? In law school, the professors I admired the most were the ones who I knew were either staunchly conservative or extremely liberal, and yet were capable of arguing their ideological opponents’ position so passionately and persuasively that, for a minute, you thought they had actually changed their ideological stripes. It’s sad to peruse blog comments in which people summarily dismiss opposing viewpoints by saying they have no merit at all. Usually every viewpoint has at least some kernel of truth, so if you can’t find any merit in your opponent’s position, you probably aren’t trying hard enough to see it.

10. Do you really have enough information to draw a definite conclusion that you can feel certain is right? Perhaps the most common and egregious thought crime committed by all of us is forming strong opinions, or taking strident positions of certainty, when in reality we haven’t come close to performing the sort of exhaustive research and reliability check that such strong and certain positions require. For millenia, the world’s great thinkers have acknowledged that the more they have learned, the more they have realized they don’t know. This doesn’t mean we should all wander around opinion-free, but it does mean we should be flexible in our understandings. Rather than forming inflexible views that we refuse to question or challenge, we should form flexible “working hypotheses,” i.e., flexible, tentative views that we continue to challenge, re-examine, and refine as we encounter new evidence. We’d all do well to recognize that “the jury’s still out” on so many major issues and questions in life, and possibly always will be.

  • James

    Great points ! I have read my first article recently from

    Armand L. Mauss
    http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/2003_LDS_Church_and_the_Race_Issue.html

    “Brother Mauss went on to observe that young LDS bloggers struggle to reinvent the wheel daily by speculating and debating about the same old issues that have already been carefully researched and written about over several decades in scholarly LDS-themed journals such as Dialogue.”

    Isn’t Dialogue subscription only – if so that’s maybe why the bloggernacle don’t read it. “Were all to cheap”

    Excellent point’s on evaluating reliability by asking the questions you highlighted – sadly though most of us will forget to refer to them when we evaluate or respond. ME INCLUDED!!

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com C.L. Hanson

    That’s a very good outline of things to keep in mind when critically assessing things you read on the Internet.

    Personally, I think your article here points to one of the big strengths of the Internet — it encourages you to learn how to assess your sources critically. And not just because there’s so much misinformation out there, but because you so often see a selection of related items linked together (from different sources), some of which conflict with each other. So you constantly get the exercise of asking yourself: which is more trustworthy? and why?

    One of the problems with print discussion (as you mentioned) is that there’s no opportunity for feedback or to correct/question errors and misinformation in real time. I agree there’s no substitute for serious academic peer-review, but unfortunately people can get lulled into an attitude of “if it has footnotes, it’s academic, hence accurate” — which isn’t always true. A lot of stuff that looks academic and has footnotes isn’t even close to peer-reviewed. On the web, it’s generally very easy to trace things back to their sources, and (as with your Horus/Jesus example) delve deeper (to analyze the sources yourself) in just a few clicks. The same procedure can range from time-consuming to impossible with some books.

    Additionally, the fact that people are encouraged to respond, encourages them to think rather than just absorb.

    Now, despite all of that, it’s undoubtedly true that a lot of Bloggernacle discussions are re-inventing the wheel on subjects that have been already covered better in journals such as Dialogue. But a lot of journals have their archives on line — and I think Dialogue is among them. If you’re reading along in a discussion and you think “This was covered better in Dialogue” then comment and link to the article. A lot of people who are reading the Bloggernacle for fun may well end up reading some serious, scholarly papers that they never would have thought to read otherwise.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com Nitsav
  • http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com Ray

    Excellent, as always, Andrew. #9 is my personal favorite.

  • Benjamin O

    While I may never fully admire the ability to play devil’s advocate as fully as you do (#9 on your list is essentially that), I recognize the importance of being able to see the view from the other side, so to speak.

    I actually try to convince others of this quite often when dealing with interpersonal issues. Whenever people come to me for advice (despite my many disclaimers of not being a clinical psychologist, I still get many requests for advice–even though I am NOT particularly a great people-person) the one thing I tend to repeat ad nauseam is that when dealing with people’s feelings about a situation, it really is their perception that matters most, not the actual facts–because how they remember the situation has almost nothing to do with what actually happened.

    Which is germane to this discussion because, as Andrew will attest, eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable precisely because of the way human memory works. I can talk about that a lot, but essentially the problem is that eyewitness testimony is highly unreliable. Which is why you always want multiple independent witnesses who have NOT had a chance to confer telling you the same thing without being prompted. It is, unfortunately, fairly rare even in very public crimes. Why? Because people don’t have a video camera memory.

    Oh well. Great list. Now where’s your source?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com John C.

    I systematically reject everyone of your points. Trust me, folks, don’t listen to Andrew. He crazy. Your old friend John, an expert in these matters, wouldn’t lead you astray. Ask any of my foll…any of these randomly chosen people I’ve selected and they’ll tell you the same thing.

  • http://mormonmatters.org Jen

    It would be nice if priesthood leaders (bishops, stake presidents, etc.) would take these principles to heart (particulary #7). I have watched a close friend suffer greatly because a bishop didn’t listen to both sides of the story but made judgments based on one side only (the sobbing, weeping one). That story was far from the truth but was just assumed to be “the whole truth and nothing but” by the priesthood leader. We are taught to follow our priesthood leaders counsel but what if they aren’t open to listening to the whole story? Are we just to assume that they are entitled to revelation and therefore cannot be mistaken? I used to think this was the case but have come to realize bishops are just human too and they can and do make mistakes. The problem is members don’t stand a chance when they are being falsely accused because if it is between a bishop and a member of his ward, the member will lose everytime.

  • http://dialoguejournal.com Kristine

    For the curious: Dialogue’s archives are online, although not in a very user-friendly format. We’re working on it. In the meantime, the search function at the U of U archives is OK, but you get the articles one pdf page at a time, which is excruciating (http://content.lib.utah.edu/cdm4/browse.php?CISOROOT=/dialogue). Another good search tool is the index Jim Crooks did, which lives at http://www.dialoguejournal.com/new_index/.

    We’re in the process of creating a new website, so it’s an ideal time to submit feedback about the site–please describe your experience or the experience you wish you could have in e-mail to dialoguejournal@msn.com, which will be picked up by our Managing Director, Lori Levinson.

    /end shameless self-promotion/

  • SteveS

    Great job, Andrew. This post is basically a short summary of the most important skills you learn in graduate school.

    While I agree with Mauss that there are many unsubstantiated claims made by blog posters and commenters, and I realize that it sometimes feels as if the Bloggernacle keeps rehashing the same topics over and over again, I still feel like there are many occasions where I feel like the level of discussion transcends mere speculation, mud-flinging, accusations, unsubstantiated claims, and weak scholarship. Additionally, (warning: anecdotal evidence coming) I’ve noticed that even as blogs revisit topics every few weeks or months, the discussion has changed and evolved. The most vivid example I can think of is the evolving discussions on gender and sexuality in light of Proposition 8. I have a feeling that historical events aren’t the only factors influencing the discussion. The earlier discussions themselves are shaping and informing the dialogue, kind of like the proverb “You never step in the same river twice.” For me, there’s great value in participating in and observing this phenomenon.

    I would hope that Mauss can see the value in revisiting and reconsidering issues and topics. And hopefully, we can all take some initiative, build upon conversations already begun in previous blog postings and traditional scholarly publications, and bring those to the table for all to consider.

  • http://newcoolthang.com Matt W.

    I am going to ignore this post, as it doesn’t cite any sources to substaniate it’s claims.

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S

    I don’t have any thing serious to contribute yet, because I just read the first sentence or so so far…but I would like to ask:

    why the heck do you guys get all of these famous people in your wards? Where do you guys LIVE?

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S

    correction 10:

    err, stake is a bit larger, but still!

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S

    I’m not doing this right. When I wrote (comment 11), comment 10 hadn’t been written so my comment was 10…

    I meant to correct my first comment, not Matt W’s comment.

    So, back to business:

    while I can certain see Mauss’s point, (particularly about the low scholarship quality on the internet, which is particularly troubling because people address the same critical issues on the internet and often never read the good stuff about the issue,) it seems like there are conflicting ideas.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here…

    Let’s take point 6 that Andrew brought up. The internet, I think, exemplifies the idea that experts aren’t really needed. The conversational can be a personal flow of emotions and character evaluations, but it really does not need much scholarship to begin with. That is not that kind of medium. Blogs are generally not book clubs, so we don’t just take a well-researched and well-cited book and then say, “Now, make counterarguments using other well-researched and well-cited books.” Because really, we take it for granted that when it comes to our personal beliefs, we don’t need experts.

    Now of course, when it comes to our personal beliefs, we are terribly biased (as mentioned in other reasons in this post), but that’s another issue.

  • Andrew Ainsworth

    Benjamin O. and Matt W., hilarious, guys. If you read carefully, I’m giving these rules for evaluating assertions of fact, which require evidence for support, versus assertions of philosophical truth. For the latter, people rely on common sense, or in the case of the Founding Fathers, they believed they were just “self-evident” truths, such as the assertion that man has the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    However, to substantiate my claim that these rules (most of them anyway) are used in courts of law, I direct you to the nearest law school bookstore where you can pick up the Federal Rules of Evidence as well as a textbook on Evidence. For 8-10, I cite common sense or the Founders’ “self-evident” truth. :)

    Andrew S., I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. :)

  • Hawkgrrrl

    “he lamented the proliferation of Mormon blogs where, on any given day, one can find hundreds of people speculating and opining about numerous issues of which they actually know very little, and yet somehow hold unshakably strong and certain conclusions about them.” Hundreds of people? Or more like 50 and a chorus of sock puppets?

    “Brother Mauss’ point was that, as the author of two books and dozens of essays and articles, he’d already said everything that he has to say in print, where he can feel confident that his words were well-chosen, and more importantly, that his observations and conclusions were well-researched.” Well, like most authors of non-fiction, Br. Mauss needs to realize that print is dead. Long live Wikipedia!

    I applaud your list of 10 considerations all should make in evaluating information (and its step-cousins misinformation and disinformation). From your mouth to God’s ears!

  • Imperfection

    Great points for fostering critical thinking skills. In fact, I think they should be made into a missionary discussion since this is something new members should understand.

    I just can’t decide if it should be taught before or after the Joseph Smith discussion.

  • billb

    This is great advice, and it makes me wonder why someone wouldnt follow it PRIOR to committing to Mormonism and instead demand objectivity and expert analysis from those that are attempting to disprove the claims of mormonism after you have chosen to believe. You are demanding that people meet certain criteria in proving the church is false that you didnt demand in arriving at the conclusion that the church is “true” or else you would not be a member (or at least not continue to be a member) because there is really no way to prove objective and definitively that the church is true. You can claim spiritual experiences all day long but the fact remains that there are people out there who believe God told them the church is false and others believe that God told them that their churches are the only true churches – so, it seems, spiritual experiences are a poor indicator of objective “truth” as i can find tons of conflicting spiritual “truths”.

    I completely understand being skeptical of unsubstantiated and unsupported information, that is why i chose to leave the church rather than base my life on unprovable, unsubstantiated and conflicting teachings. The disturbing thing is that most mormons choose to live their lives according to all kinds of unsubstantiated, one sided stories presented by non-experts as “truth” (show me one non-lds “expert” that supports the BOM). The only reasonable choice, in my mind, is to examine problems and claims made by an organization before committing to it (or at least take a step back when confronted with conflicting information – why commit when you are unsure?). For some reason, people on sites like these, continue to fully support (and defend) an organization even though they openly admit that they dont have enough information to evaluate it properly. In other words, you guys will continue being fully active mormons until someone can, to your very elevated standards, fully prove that the whole thing is a sham. That would be like me committing my life to a Bigfoot cult until someone can absolutely disprove the existence of Bigfoot (which would be nearly impossible). I realize its more complicated than that with family involvement and what not, but it doesnt make a lot of sense to me as there are hundred of other organizations more worthy of that type of devotion.

    Should scientologists continue scaling the L Ron ladder to Xenu until someone can definitively prove that its a sham and xenu doesnt actually exist? If you say no (which you should), then how do you justify your continued involvement in Mormonism? Since the people in Jonestown couldnt definitively, objectively and expertly prove that Jim Jones wasnt really speaking for the Lord, was it ok for them to follow him and ultimately drink the kool-aid? I have seen many valid comparisons between mormonism and Jonestown and I wonder how far some mormons would go if the prophet commanded it. Since Mormons cant definitively show that they have any truth not contained in other churches, why do the LDS send missionaries out to tell people their religions are “abomination in His (Gods) sight”? Do you guys agree that the LDS missionary effort should be put on hold until the lessons missionaries teach meet the above criteria? My guess is no.

  • billb

    “to prove objective and definitively” = to prove objectively and definitively

  • http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com Ray

    Sometimes it’s easier to understand Bro. Mauss’ concern than at other times. The end of this comment thread is one of those times.

  • Andrew Ainsworth

    billb,

    I think you raise valid questions, although I’d disagree with some of your assumptions and conclusions. Here’s my take personally:

    1. The very first issue is epistemology: how do I believe I can discern truth from error? Specifically, do I believe in the possibility of there being a “spiritual dimension” to reality and, if so, that I can receive a “spiritual witness” to help guide me in that process of truth discernment?
    2. Personally, I believe in a spiritual dimension of reality because of too many experiences to list or summarize. I acknowledge some of these “experiences” could be misinterpreted, imagined, etc., and that is reason for me to be skeptical and critically examine them. But at the end of that process, there are too many experiences that I am simply unable to explain away as mere imagination or coincidence. So after examining what I suspect have been spiritually-related experiences, I do believe I have sufficient reason for my mind to be open to the possibility that there is a spiritual dimension of reality, rather than dismissing the whole concept of a spiritual dimension of reality or “spiritual witness” altogether.
    3. As for the idea that a person’s perception and interpretation of a “spiritual witness” can be subjective and unreliable, that is certainly true. However, the fact that something can be done wrong doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that we should abandon it altogether. That’s like saying we shouldn’t do math because sometimes we make mistakes when we do the calculations.
    4. As for the point that people can believe crazy things, or they can “feel certain” about crazy things, I recognize that. However, I can’t abandon my belief in a spiritual dimension of reality just because some people believe crazy things. I think it is reasonable to depend on one’s own experiences, rather than depending on others’ experiences (or on others’ professed lack of experiences).
    5. Finally, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll recognize our “logic” and “reason” are just as capable of making mistakes, and that our own logic and reason are subjective as well. In short, we can’t escape the subjectivity of our own analysis. If you don’t believe that, just talk to the scientists who take objective measurements of the same thing and come up with completely different conclusions. Scientific examination consists of observation and then interpretation of what’s been observed. In the interpretation phase, there’s all sorts of wiggle room for subjective analysis and flaws in reasoning to an ultimately erroneous conclusion. Which is why you always have 4 out of 5 dentists agreeing, rather than all 5. :)
    6. I’d never advocate the abandonment of reason or logic. Nor would I abandon the possibility of there being a spiritual dimension of reality. That being the case, it makes sense to me to attempt to use both in seeking truth, critically examining both my attempts at spiritual discernment as well as my reasoning processes.
    7. Although I don’t have “objective proof” to definitively prove all of Joseph Smith’s claims, I do not believe that it necessary in order for me to decide to be an active Mormon. Even in the scientific arena, you have “experts” on both sides of the issues, which goes straight to the points made in Teacher’s quotes above. The world is such that there are sufficient reasons to believe if you want to, and to disbelieve if you don’t want to. Which is why we all believe differently. There are almost always good arguments on both sides, so we go along with those that seem to most closely harmonize with our own personal experiences.
    8. Which brings me to my conclusion: I believe I have seen enough objective and subjective evidences that there’s “something there” in Mormonism that I should pursue and continue to explore. Call it a working hypothesis that Mormonism works for me and my family. Again, I don’t feel like I need perfect and absolute objective proof of everything BEFORE committing myself to something (which simply isn’t possible anyway because of #5 and #7 above). Nor do I feel the need to have someone explain and prove to me exactly how everything in a car works before I decide to get in and drive it.

  • http://ethesis.blogspot.com/ Stephen M (Ethesis)

    And I’m amazed at how often I see people quickly form passionate opinions, or readily abandon long-held beliefs, upon encountering new “information” that wouldn’t come close to being considered reliable evidence in a court of law. Everywhere we see people mentally convicting others of being liars, villains, and criminals, or adoring others as saints, heroes, and saviors, all based on “evidence” that wouldn’t even see the light of day in a court of law.

    Amen.

    Logic and intelligence are tools that serve us, not masters. Too often they are cast aside for some sort of paisley inductive reasoning based on fluff.

    Really enjoyed your essay. Nick needs to write that post he never got around to about “source” documents and their misuse.

  • The Chorister

    Really cool post. As a (new) professor who traffics (or hopes to traffic) in peer-reviewed journals, however, I cringe at the comment that information is somehow less valid or less valuable if it’s not peer-reviewed. I’m not nearly as experienced with the bloggernacle as many here, but I think that a LOT of people participate in blogs because they are able. They are not able (or willing?) to participate in a blind, peer-reviewed process. That’s not what they’re in the game for. They’re in the game because it’s fun or because they feel like they have something to contribute or because they seek understanding.

    Who decides what makes something credible? Why would a person’s experience not be a credible source of information? We seem to have this romantic idea of “authorship” (meaning the printed, reviewed, published word). Sure, those kinds of forums have their place. But blogs are just another outlet that a lot more people have access to.

    Dialogue and other journals have a VERY limited readership and as such, their value is limited. I just attended a workshop on publishing academic research and the speaker said that most academic articles have a readership of 7. That’s right: SEVEN. Seven people might read an academic article.

    How many people might read a blog?? A heck of a lot more than that.

  • http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com Ray

    Yeah, it’s probably at least 20 for this blog. :)

  • Shannon

    “LDS bloggers struggle to reinvent the wheel daily by speculating and debating about the same old issues that have already been carefully researched and written about over several decades in scholarly LDS-themed journals such as Dialogue.”

    Yes people have probably researched everything already, but sometimes a person’s way of understanding an issue is to do their own research. This research process may be writing it out on their blog and getting feedback from others. So I really don’t think it’s bad to argue over the same topics if it helps somebody learn more about themselves and their testimony.

    The list is great. I think it is important to carefully analyze anything we read, blogs, research articles, etc.

  • http://millennialstar.org John Mansfield

    This seems like a variation of the Jorge Luis Borges quip, (paraphrasing from unsourced memory) “They tell me that newspapers are printed every day. I can’t imagine why.” It misses an important element of blogs, which is that they are largely a diversion for people who, due to their jobs, sit by computers all day. Complaining that they are nothing like scholarly journals seems a bit obtuse.

  • Kari

    James said:
    “Isn’t Dialogue subscription only – if so that’s maybe why the bloggernacle don’t read it. “Were all to cheap””

    Last time I checked, Dialogue was $37/year, or $9.25 an issue. I’d be willing to bet that everyone who reads this blog pays more than that per year on internet access, or movies, or cable TV, or bottled water.

    And for $50 you can get a DVD with every back issue in pdf format. Hopefully someday they’ll decrease costs by publishing in e-book format.

  • Banned Commenter

    Kari, you’d be wrong. I use a free email service, piggybacking on the wireless connection that bleeds over from a nearby business; I can’t remember the last movie I went to (Air Force 1, maybe? like 15 or 20 years ago?); I don’t have cable and haven’t had it since, well, ever; and the only bottled water I have ever bought is a couple of gallons for emergency storage.

    $37 is a lot to pay for a single slice of narrow viewpoint barely-Mormonism, so no, I don’t subscribe.

  • http://www.blandinthebasement.blogspot.com Amanda

    The challenges you lay out here with the information age reminded me of a book I read in a college English class. Interestingly enough, my professor was an extremely liberal Jewish woman who had an uncanny ability to strengthen my own conservative views. Why? Because she employed much of what you are suggesting in this post. To read, examine, discuss and attempt to understand more fully what you are facing…and then of course, write an essay about it. She was an incredible teacher!

    Anyway, the book we read that semester (among others) was ‘The Cult of Information: A Neo-Luddite Treatise on High Tech, Artificial Intelligence and the True Art of Thinking’…or the true art of run-on sentences…by Theodore Roszak. In all seriousness, this book is borderline prophetic (maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult at that time, circa 1994, to predict such things–still an impressive perspective).

    I highly recommend reading this book. Thanks for the post, it was an extremely relevant perspective.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com/ Geoff J

    Most of the decent blog discussions on matters of church history or doctrine I read don’t ignore the print research that already exists — the discussions at decent blog are usually trying to build on, or at least better understand, the implications of that prior research. Blog discussions are often like book club discussions when they are done right.

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