Monthly Archives: December 2009

“Mormon Scholars Testify”

Recently, a website was created to facilitate Testimony sharing for LDS scholars and scientists:

Mormon Scholars Testify

The Church has its own website where Prophets and Apostles have published countless testimonies, each of them fervent and heartfelt.  So why would a separate website be needed for the LDS intelligentsia?

It would seem that sometimes “scholarly” issues appear to attack the Church, presenting a situation where a Church member might feel like they have to choose one or the other.  A website like that can be helpful in showing that it’s possible to pursue academic or scientific knowledge while maintaining a testimony of the Gospel (and the Church).

Of course, a broader view shows us many situations where very smart people believe very false things (for example, almost every false religion could probably create a similar site with notable scholars sharing their testimonies in a similar fashion).

So this would raise the question, is it possible for a very smart person to have a testimony of something that is very false?

If the answer is “Yes”, then one theory on the matter has been put forth by Michael Shermer.  He suggests that it is possible for very smart people to believe false things because frequently the smart people formed certain convictions before they were “smart” (i.e. as young children, or before they had studied certain issues or fields of knowledge), and then they use their “smarts” to defend their false belief instead of analyzing it and questioning it.  As he puts it:

Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons.

Rarely do any of us sit down before a table of facts, weigh them pro and con, and choose the most logical and rational explanation, regardless of what we previously believed. Most of us, most of the time, come to our beliefs for a variety of reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning. Rather, such variables as genetic predisposition, parental predilection, sibling influence, peer pressure, educational experience and life impressions all shape the personality preferences that, in conjunction with numerous social and cultural influences, lead us to our beliefs. We then sort through the body of data and select those that most confirm what we already believe, and ignore or rationalize away those that do not.

All of us do this, of course, but smart people are better at it through both talent and training. Some beliefs really are more logical, rational, and supported by the evidence than others, of course, but it is not my purpose here to judge the validity of beliefs; rather, I am interested in the question of how we came to them in the first place, and how we hold on to them in the face of either no evidence or contradictory evidence.

If that is true, than we would expect “smart” people to be found in every religion and belief system, even the false ones.  So, a website such as the one under discussion might show that it is possible for scholars and scientists to maintain belief in LDS Doctrines (which I suspect is the point, although I don’t know anyone who argues otherwise), but it wouldn’t speak to the overall truthfulness of those Doctrines.

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