Guest Post From Jeff G: Why I Was Wrong

December 19, 2011    By: Guest @ 11:00 am   Category: Apologetics,Happiness,Personal Revelation,Theology

Editor Note: This guest post was submitted by one of our oldest friends here at New Cool Thang, Jeff G.

For the past few months, I have been struggling with some issues which are very close and dear to my heart. Put bluntly, my faith has been called into question. I find myself overwhelmed with suspicion and doubt, unable to trust so many of the values and beliefs which have become almost second nature to me. I also bear a peculiar mix of pity and resentment for those who have led me astray. While I have concluded that many of the pursuits which I have dedicated myself to most passionately have largely been a waste of time, my feelings are not entirely negative. I do recognize that I will forever treasure the experiences and relationships I have cultivated within the fold from which I now wish to distance myself. More than anything, however, I now face the unknown future with an optimism unlike anything I’ve experienced before, an optimism born of knowing that I am making the right choice.

For those few bloggers who have been interacting with me for the better part of a decade now, this song should sound somewhat familiar to you. You see, this is not the first time that I have abandoned my faith. Roughly 6 years ago, I stunned my friends, family and (at the time) wife by announcing that I no longer believed in God and would no longer continue as a believing Mormon. Various considerations which I will lump together under the banner of “Liberal Science” had persuaded me that the religion of my upbringing was not true and, therefore, must be rejected.

Let me pause briefly to unpack what I mean by “Liberal Science”. Liberal Science is a set of rules which consists of, but is not exhausted by the following rules: If a claim is logically inconsistent with empirical data, it is false. If two claims are logically inconsistent with each other, at least one of them is false. If a claim is true, we ought to believe it. If a claim is false, we ought to reject it. Accordingly, Liberal Science holds that there is one and only one set of claims which are both consistent with each other and with the observed world, the set of all true claims which we ought to believe.  My first apostasy consisted in my coming to believe that the central claims of Mormonism were not a part of this set. My second apostasy consists in my coming to reject the rules of Liberal Science, the very rules which defined my first apostasy.

At this point, my first paragraph will likely seem a bit of a melodramatic stretch at best, for it is not at all obvious that Liberal Science is a faith from which one can apostatize. I disagree. Liberal Science or Reason (which a capital “R”) is not something which stands in a contrasting relationship of any kind to faith. Rather, Liberal Science is a set of mental tools in which many people trust, or have faith while navigating the world around them, the same as every religion or tradition. Faith, then, is simply the trust which we place in the beliefs or rules which we live by.

Explicit faith claims within Liberal Science are really not that difficult to find once one knows what to look for. Consider the problem of induction wherein we are unable to justify our projecting past experience into the future without appealing to the very principle we are trying to justify. A similar problem arises when we ask how we can be absolutely sure whether a valid conclusion really and truly follows from its premises. Perhaps the easiest way to isolate many such faith claims is to search for the largely unacknowledged bridges between “is” and “ought”. We find no better example of such a bridge than in the rules of logic themselves: If A is true, B is true and C logically follows from A and B, why is it that we ought to believe C? Where did this “ought” come from? What reason do we have for believing this article of faith (for that is exactly what it is)?

The answer is that such articles of faith, along with the many others which we also accept, are really good things to believe in. People who believe such things tend to be overwhelmingly better adapted to the world in which they find themselves than those who do not. Such beliefs are extremely valuable in the sense of being nearly indispensable tools for living any life worth living. Put succinctly, you show me a man with no faith and I will show you a man not long for this world.

Now we come to the heart of my most recent apostasy. I do not believe that the rules of Liberal Science are the best tools for navigating every environment in which I find myself, nor do I believe that Liberal Science is justified in passing final and asymmetric judgment upon all the good beliefs by which I live. No doubt, the rules of Liberal Science have certainly proven their worth in contexts such as academia, but I firmly reject the idea that the rules and values which define a scholar’s work should also define the entire life of each person in every context.

Put another way, I refuse to believe that each claim which is true (according to Liberal Science) is also good or that each claim which is false is also bad. Such beliefs seem like clear examples of mental tools which are maladapted to the complex world in which we live.  Again, I cannot accept that the beliefs which I take to be most precious and valuable in my life are under any obligation whatsoever to be counted among that unique set of true statements, as defined by Liberal Science.

I wish to illustrate the short-comings of Liberal Science by discussing the conflict between it and the doctrine of personal revelation which is so central to the Mormon tradition. Mormons are frequently and strongly encouraged to pray for personal guidance in their day to day lives. Furthermore, they are also discouraged from imposing, or even sharing such personal revelations with others. The primary reason for this, I suggest, is that such experiences simply do not obey the rules of Liberal Science. One person’s revelations are frequently inconsistent (logically speaking) with those of another, and the Liberal Scientist finds this deeply unsettling.

The proper Mormon response to this problem is “So what?” Personal revelation is under no obligation to be true, as defined by Liberal Science, nor are Mormons under any obligation to follow such rules in all situations and at all costs.  Liberal Science simply is not the only set of tools whereby the faithful Mormon navigates the world. In particular, they also have access to the tool of personal revelation, a tool which lets them know “what they need to know” at some particular point in each of their own individual lives, regardless of whether it is logically consistent with anything else.

In closing, I wish to share a Book of Mormon passage which has recently taken on a new meaning for me; a passage which I hope will bring a small measure of peace to the reader who finds him or herself conflicted at times between their faith in God and their faith in Liberal Science:

“When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not.”

32 Comments »

  1. Good stuff Jeff. I think you are right that in the end we place faith in something. The question is how worthy of our faith is that something.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 19, 2011 @ 11:44 am

  2. This makes me happy. Thanks for sharing this part of your journey.

    Comment by C Jones — December 19, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

  3. Very nice. At the core of my ‘testimony’ is subjective, internal, personal experience. And that is really all it is. I might try to make sense of it, but that core is still what it is. I find myself wanting to ask – what now? (for you). I wish you the best in whatever that is.

    I still thing there is something … I don’t know … suspicious about the whole Geoff J and Jeff G thing. It is so symmetrical. I’m certain I am not the first to notice.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — December 19, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

  4. Jeff changed his handle just to freak people out with that symmetry I think.

    I wish I were talented enough to fake a character as smart as Jeff though.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 19, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

  5. Has it really been 6 years?

    Comment by KLC — December 19, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

  6. As a Liberal Scientist and fervent believer, I salute you.

    Comment by Smb — December 19, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

  7. Jeff G: Your intellectual honesty still stuns me.

    I am not sure how else to respond, except to reflect on my own weakness and to resolve again to increase patience in my life.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 19, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

  8. Good to see you around, Jeff.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 19, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

  9. Yeah, Geoff, I am not accusing anyone of anything. It is just such a coincidence. It would be like someone posting Neil Erickson comments on my blog.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — December 19, 2011 @ 2:10 pm

  10. Good to see you Jeff. Thanks for your intellectual and spiritual honesty and humility.

    Comment by DavidH — December 19, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

  11. Wow, what an about face! I was once accused of being Aaron Cox by that character’s actual creator and now I get to be someone else’s creation! How cool would it have been if Geoff created Jeff who in turn created Aaron? Chris Nolan, eat your heart out.

    Thank you all for the kind comments.

    To answer Eric’s question, I probably won’t be blogging too much anymore. Blogging with you guys was always a way for me to sort through so many of the questions which contiually haunted me, but now I feel like I’ve finally come to peace with so many of those issues. The thought of tirelessly hammering out arguments which get at the truth just doesn’t do it for me anymore.

    I am tempted to write in a little more detail what my thought process was that led me to this point, but I would only want to do so to the extent that such posts would be uplifting or helpful to the readers.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 19, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

  12. Thank you. I like this all the more because I’m married to a scientist. I appreciate it when people take the time to clearly articulate how faith in God and a passion for science can co-exist.

    More than that, they can complement each other.

    Comment by Michelle — December 19, 2011 @ 5:29 pm

  13. Jeff,
    A long time ago I realized one of the truths which you put so well. The church teaches something like:
    “Mormons are frequently and strongly encouraged to pray for personal guidance in their day to day lives. Furthermore, they are also discouraged from imposing, or even sharing such personal revelations with others. The primary reason for this, I suggest, is that such experiences simply do not obey the rules of Liberal Science. One person’s revelations are frequently inconsistent (logically speaking) with those of another, and the Liberal Scientist finds this deeply unsettling.”

    I remember thinking that “that person’s testimony is not built on anything close to a sure foundation”, but over time I realize that it is actually “that person’s testimony is not built on anything close to what mine is built upon.” Even as a missionary I would know that someone was feeling the spirit, yet what they believed or were taught was very different from what I believed or felt inspired. It can take years to begin to grasp this especially for those very rational beings like me.

    Comment by el oso — December 19, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

  14. Jeff, we hardly know each other but I have always liked you. You strike me as a guy I would really get along with if we knew each other in real life. I find this post fascinating, not least because I think you knew all this stuff 6 years ago. I would love to hear more of what led you to this epiphany. To the extent you’ve come to peace with long-standing questions and found a new optimism, I couldn’t be happier for you. Very cool.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 19, 2011 @ 7:20 pm

  15. I had a suspicion that you would write something like this one day. I’m glad to see it.

    “a tool which lets them know “what they need to know” at some particular point in each of their own individual lives, regardless of whether it is logically consistent with anything else.”

    That sounds almost post-modern, but I think I know what you mean. You have to live in your own skin.

    Comment by Jared* — December 19, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

  16. Jeff, I would really like more details on what ended up being turning points for you or moments of clarity. Terry Warner once told me that philosophical problems don’t get resolved, they dissolve. That seems to have been your experience from what you just wrote.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — December 19, 2011 @ 7:27 pm

  17. “Jeff, I would really like more details on what ended up being turning points for you or moments of clarity. ”

    I second this request.

    Comment by Michelle — December 19, 2011 @ 10:10 pm

  18. Well, maybe I’ll write something up. The only reason I hesitate is that the story involves a very strong dose of Darwin (my criticism of Dennett is that he’s not Darwinian enough!) which hardly makes for a very faith promoting read.

    Jared,

    I would be very uncomfortable with being lumped in with the French post-modernists, but I do see many similarities in MacIntyre. In my tale, the villian is the philosopher and the hero is the economist…. Kind of.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 19, 2011 @ 11:39 pm

  19. Jeff,
    Good stuff. Great to see you again. Cheers!

    Comment by Rusty — December 20, 2011 @ 8:26 am

  20. Six years, wow! Welcome back Jeff! Interesting post.

    Comment by Ben S — December 20, 2011 @ 10:06 am

  21. I’m not sure there’s a lot of difference between philosophers and economists except that economists delude themselves that they are primarily doing science.

    Comment by Clark — December 20, 2011 @ 10:20 am

  22. Life lesson: positivism sucks.

    Comment by The Clam — December 20, 2011 @ 11:59 am

  23. If A is true, B is true and C logically follows from A and B, why is it that we ought to believe C? Where did this “ought” come from? What reason do we have for believing this article of faith (for that is exactly what it is)?

    Great post Jeff G. Assuming that A and B are well formed, the answer is the law of non-contradiction, the axiom required for the idea of truth to be logically consistent.

    The fundamental presupposition, however, is not the law of contradiction, which is axiomatic, but rather the proposition that the world is real. That you have to believe. Reality is the only thing that makes (most) propositions true or false.

    Or as D&C 93 has it, “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come”. Truth is about reality. The reality of the world implicit here is an article of faith. Right?

    Comment by Mark D. — December 21, 2011 @ 1:57 am

  24. I’m always I favor of hearing more from Jeff :)

    Comment by Trevor — December 21, 2011 @ 7:45 am

  25. *in favor

    Comment by Trevor — December 21, 2011 @ 7:45 am

  26. Well said. Sometimes it comes to a simple point, all in all.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — December 21, 2011 @ 9:11 am

  27. Thank you for writing this Jeff G. I have been trying to get to where you are now for some time. The question I keep coming back to, is something along the lines of, just how would Occam’s Razor fit into my theology? Meaning, if pretty much everything can be explained by natural selection, why cloud the issue with God?

    I have my own reasons for my faith, but I really would like to hear how you came to where you are now.

    Comment by CEF — December 22, 2011 @ 9:31 am

  28. Jeff G welcome back and thank you for sharing. It seems to me that spiritual knowledge comes down to a choice (yes, one that is free in a libertarian sense). It is the choice of what we will trust or what we will choose to have faith in. In this sense such knowledge is a matter of trusting faith. I trust my heart. I trust the sense of integrity of my soul when I align with my hearts impressions and feelings and the enlightenment of my mind that accompanies it. I could choose not to trust it and the knowledge would vanish in doubt.

    How does the “ought” of our behavior, conduct and choices fit into a strictly evolutionary scheme? Is evolution a matter solely of efficient bottom-up causal relations? If it is, then I don’t see any room for an “ought” because all that there is must in fact be exhausted by this causal explanation — and I cannot see any room for the moral dimension of oughtness about our world.

    Comment by Blake — December 22, 2011 @ 11:02 am

  29. CEF,

    What gives Ockham’s razor so much authority over how you live your life? Why should it trump all the other rules you live by?

    The point that I was trying to make, that most didn’t pick up on apparently, is that logic has no more authority over our lives than any other moral rule which admits of exceptions. We shouldn’t lie, steal or kill EXCEPT under such and such circumstances. Why should the rules for what we *ought* to believe be any different?

    Comment by Jeff G — December 22, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

  30. Jeff G, I am not so sure that I would say that Ockham’s idea would or even could trump any rule or logic that I live by, because I have found the exceptions, to be more profound/defining than what one would expect.

    For instance, I used to live by an eye for an eye, and then found grace several years ago. I have never really tried to think it through, but I would think the razor concept, would not shave enough away to leave only grace. Perhaps others might see this differently.

    I was thinking about evolution with regards to Ockham’s razor. I have not seen any real exceptions with evolution. Therefore, I have changed the way I see God’s role in the creation now, trying to fit it with what I understand about how things evoluved over millions of years. It has not been easy and not sure I have it all worked out correctly, but at least I have an idea that works for me.

    Comment by CEF — December 23, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

  31. I really think that we really underestimate the power of Faith. When i say We i really mean We all, not trying to hit anyone as I feel as lonely as you do. In my deed i take to be just as the scripture you shared of the bofm.

    I agree so much with Blake. Its down to our own trust, and what we choose to trust.

    One of my favorite quotes from J S summarizes all a i want to say on this.
    ” nobody knows my history,” he said once. “I cannot tell it: I shall never undertake it. I don’t blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I would not have believed it myself” (History of the Church, 6:317).

    Comment by Sergio — December 26, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

  32. The rules of Liberal Science have their limitations. If you wonder why this land isn’t swimming in milk and honey (surely there is the productive capacity for it) it’s because of a broken ideaology. By their fruits shall ye know them.

    OTOH, you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Liberal Science balances out faith-based ethics. The latter seems to be lacking these days. We need politicians who are worthy to receive personal revelation, rather than people who are easily led astray by the devil. As it turns out, the personal life of politicians has real, tangible effects on the life of the nation.

    How much of the natural world has Science uncovered and understood? We have barely scratched the surface, and like those who came before us, fancy ourselves masters of our universe.

    Comment by Bradley — December 31, 2011 @ 5:28 pm

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