Son of “Can there be any valid criticisms of the Church?”

 

Very beautiful sky
I’m hoping that at least some readers will take a breath, calm down, read carefully, and, in certain cases, entertain the hypothesis that I may not be a malevolent, irrational, bigoted fool.  (Wikimedia Commons)

 

A short while ago, I posted a blog entry titled “Can there be any valid criticisms of the Church?”

 

It’s generated quite a storm of indignant criticism in certain quarters over the past hour or two, none of which seems to me to have much merit, since it’s based on a fundamental misunderstanding of my point.

 

Why?  Because my point was and is a simple, modest, and, properly understood, uncontroversial one.

 

Perhaps, of course, I’m just incompetent, a poor communicator.  (More than a few of my many anti-fans will readily grant that, and even enthusiastically insist on it.)  Or perhaps some, out of adversarial hostility or over-hastiness or pre-existing judgments or because of some other factor or factors, misread what I wrote.  Or some combination of the two.  (I used the term ex hypothesi in my previous post, for instance, and I think that many of the critics of the post either failed to notice it or, perhaps, didn’t know what it means.)

 

Whatever.  It hardly matters.

 

Let me try again, this time syllogistically:

 

Premise 1:  True propositions cannot be genuinely falsified.

Premise 2:  X is a true proposition.

Conclusion:  Therefore, X is not genuinely falsifiable.

 

This seems manifestly, obviously, sound to me.  You can easily apply it to a multitude of different situations.  For example,

 

Premise 1:  True propositions cannot be genuinely falsified.

Premise 2:  Modus ponens  (“If p, then q.  p.  Therefore q.”)  is a true proposition.

Conclusion:  Therefore, modus ponens  is not genuinely falsifiable.

 

Or

 

Premise 1:  True propositions cannot be genuinely falsified.

Premise 2:  Socrates was a man  is a true proposition.

Conclusion:  Therefore, that Socrates was a man is not genuinely falsifiable.

 

But, of course, Premise 2 in the syllogism might actually be false.  Perhaps Socrates was an alien, a shape-shifting reptilian intruder from the planet Zarkon.  And, if Premise 2 is false, the Conclusion will not have been soundly derived and will, in fact, be false.

 

Now permit me to apply that reasoning to the specific case of my view of Mormonism:

 

I’m sometimes asked whether, from my point of view as a convinced believer in Mormonism, there can ever be genuine evidence against Mormonism.

 

My answer to this is that No, there cannot be genuine evidence against Mormonism from my point of view as a convinced believer in Mormonism.

 

Why?

 

Ex hypothesi — remember, I’m responding to a question that’s asked of me as as a convinced believer in Mormonism — Mormonism is true.  Let’s reformulate that (rather crudely, I admit) as “Mormonism is a true proposition.”

 

On that assumption, I offer a rephrasing of the syllogism above:

 

Premise 1:  True propositions cannot be genuinely falsified.

Premise 2:  Mormonism is a true proposition.

Conclusion:  Therefore, Mormonism is not genuinely falsifiable.

 

This seems such an obvious logical entailment that I genuinely cannot see any problem with it, nor any controversy that should attend it.

 

Does it mean that no evidence can ever seem to count against the claims of Mormonism?  No.  Not at all.

 

Does it mean that no decisive argument or cluster of arguments could ever conceivably be mounted against Premise 2, above (“Mormonism is a true proposition”)?    No, it doesn’t.  I don’t anticipate seeing such an argument or cluster of arguments — certainly, in my judgment, no such decisive or conclusive arguments have yet been offered — but they’re easily conceivable.  (It’s conceivable, though improbable, that a letter might be found and authenticated beyond any reasonable doubt in which Joseph Smith says “Stupid suckers!  I made it all up!”)

 

Does it mean that I am, or that others ought to be, uninterested in evidence?  Not even remotely.

 

What it means is that, to borrow the useful terminology of Thomas Kuhn, from within the paradigm of a convinced Latter-day Saint, no evidence will ultimately prove paradigm-defeating.  The same would be true, and logically should be true, of a convinced evolutionist, a convinced a believer in the Big Bang, a convinced adherent of the Stratfordian position on Shakespearean authorship, or any number of other positions.

 

If a paradigm-defeating piece of evidence is admitted to be such, the person recognizing it as a defeater of his or her paradigm will have no rational alternative but to abandon that paradigm — to cease, in other words, to be a Mormon, or an evolutionist, or a believer in the Big Bang, or a Stratfordian.

 

So, in answering the question put to me whether, as a convinced believer in Mormonism, I recognize the existence or even the real-world possibility of an ultimately valid disproof of Mormonism, my response must necessarily be No.  Should I encounter such a decisive disproof, in recognizing it as such I would instantly and by that very act cease to be a believer in Mormonism.

 

In other words, what I was saying was tautological, and thus should be uncontroversial.  But I don’t think it quite trivial — as, obviously, those who’ve repeatedly put the question to me over the years have also not regarded it as trivial.

 

Once again, though, I don’t deny, even as a firmly convinced Latter-day Saint, that there are serious-appearing arguments and evidences that a reasonable observer could regard as defeaters of the Mormon paradigm.  I don’t even deny that there are arguments and evidences regarding which a reasonable observer (possibly I myself) might judge that believers don’t yet have a fully satisfactory reply.   I simply say that, as a firmly convinced Latter-day Saint, I don’t believe that such arguments and evidences are actual defeaters.

 

Moreover, evidence — even seemingly negative evidence — can be very helpful in polishing and refining a paradigm.  And, in that respect, arguments against Mormonism or elements of Mormonism, even if they aren’t granted the status of paradigm-defeaters, can and sometimes do have real value.

 

A young child’s view of prophets and apostles probably won’t fully survive encounters with evidence of human frailty among the leadership of the Church.  I don’t think that it should.  But evidence of human frailty, while it can be (and has been) a defeater for some, need not be viewed as a definitive defeater of the Mormon paradigm.  It can humanize and deepen our story, but needn’t upend it completely.

 

Maybe this will help.  My resigned guess, though, is that — for some, at least — it won’t.

 

(I briefly discussed a related theme in a 2012 newspaper column titled “The Restoration stands up to history.”)

 

 

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