Why You Can’t Agree With R. Gary

April 22, 2012    By: Jeff G @ 1:02 am   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Truth

(Love ya, Gary!)

It’s not terribly difficult to guess ahead of time which bloggernacle threads Gary (of NDBF fame) will comment in and roughly what his position will be therein.  This is due to a number of factors:  his overall consistency, the forthright, no-nonsense articulation of his views and (most of all) his staunch adherence to positions which tend to drive intellectuals crazy.  Gary is by no means alone in proudly flaunting these traits as a badge of honor but to me he serves as the perfect poster-boy for all Iron-Rodders if only because he is one of the most patient and likeable of the bunch.

First, I’ll give a little history regarding our interactions in the ‘nacle.  Those who have known me for a while are well aware that I take science fairly seriously and have always had a particular interest in Darwinian evolution.  I’m sure you are also well aware that Gary has always been quite unimpressed by both, to put it mildly.  After many frustrating exchanges between us in which I frequently allowed sarcasm and mockery to take the place of patience and charity I finally thought that I had figured out what Gary’s core argument really was. 

In a nutshell, I concluded that Gary had no interest in debating the merits of Darwinism or whether the Brethren could authoritatively speak on such matters.  Such things were simply, although frustratingly beside the point he was really trying to make, namely that the Brethren did in fact urge us to reject Darwinism.  It may well be that the church has taken no “official” position on the matter, but if one simply looks at the direction to which the Brethren consistently point there really shouldn’t be any doubt on the matter.  The Brethren’s job is to bring people to Christ, and coming out as being officially for or against Darwinism would probably hinder more than help in this objective.  Besides, what in the world do faithful members of the church need an “official” declaration on this matter for anyways?

If this is in fact Gary’s argument, then I actually agree with him.  Having reached this understanding, I excitedly sent him an email asking if he also felt that I had finally gotten him right.  His response, to paraphrase a bit, was: Exactly! … Kind of.  Naturally, but somewhat unfortunately, I focused more on the first part than I did the second.  But the truth is that I didn’t really get Gary’s intent as well as I thought I had.  Furthermore, I’m guessing you don’t either.  Let’s see if we can’t fix that a bit.

In my last post, I briefly described a fundamental difference which exists between Religion and Science, broadly construed.  More specifically, each one takes truth to be something quite different than the other, a difference which infects essentially every disagreement between the two.

For Religion, truth is a path which is to be followed to some destination.  If some belief or claim leads you to this destination, it is true and if it leads you astray, it is false.  Thus, there is a kind of consistency built into this notion of truth, but it is not the logical consistency with empirical data or other well confirmed claims.  This is why it makes sense for Jesus to say that he is the truth and for people to say that the church is “true”.  Truth is a path.

For Science, on the other hand, truth is more like a picture of the world or a Sudoku puzzle.  There is a certain amount of observed data in the world (the “given” numbers) which scientists can combine with logical and mathematical analyses to discover the unique solution as to how the rest of the unobserved spaces must be filled in.  The solution will then be a complete and totally consistent picture of how the world actually is.  The idea that a person or a church could be “true” simply makes no sense in this view.  Truth is a picture.

Of course the relationship between these two is not a mutually exclusive, all or nothing affair.  Religious people frequently use the rules of Science and the other way around.  Rather, the question is one of priority: are the rules of science to trump those of religion or the other way around?  Both sides agree that the truth ought to be believed, but when the truth of Science conflicts with the truth of Religion, which are we “truly” supposed to believe?  Most important of all, as well as most difficult to wrap one’s head around, since truth just is the outcome of these rules, there can be no independent way to decide which set of rules “truly” has priority over the other.  One cannot ask if truth is truly a picture or truly a path without entirely begging the question at hand.

As a side note and test case, this is actually what was at stake in Galileo’s famous clash with Religion.  The Catholic Church didn’t much care what the empirical, mathematical and logical data were for or against Galileo’s particular hypothesis.  Painting an accurate and logically consistent picture of reality was simply not what truth was about.  Truth, for them, was that which consistently pointed people to God and the application of those other rules were largely beside the point.  By their lights, it wasn’t the Copernican theory which was false as much as the idea that the rules of science were true *even if they did not point God*.  To them, such a suggestion was contrary to the very definition of truth.

I’m guessing my misunderstanding of Gary is fairly predictable by now.  I took him to be offering logical arguments in favor of a particular picture of how the world is (what the Brethren “truly” wanted us to believe).  But I was wrong.  Gary was not trying to paint a picture of reality or solve any such puzzle.  That is not what truth is for Gary, and any argument to the contrary simply begs the question.  Instead, Gary was consistently and forthrightly pointing people the way of Truth.  


  1. Love you too, Jeff! You are a “true” friend.

    Comment by R. Gary — April 22, 2012 @ 4:23 am

  2. You are kinder to Gary than he is to many people he disagrees with. I find him to be highly authoritarian, a religious legalist, someone less inclined to point the way of truth than the way of authority.

    Comment by James — April 22, 2012 @ 5:19 am

  3. James, I see no difference between the two as we only can know the truth by way of authority. The only real question is whose authority do you trust?

    Comment by Jettboy — April 22, 2012 @ 7:19 am

  4. You also can’t disagree with him (at NDBF) because your comment will go to moderation purgatory.

    Comment by Cogs — April 22, 2012 @ 8:26 am

  5. Poppycock, jettboy. In both realms individuals have tools for evaluating others’ claims and to create their own novel hypotheses.

    Comment by Owen — April 22, 2012 @ 9:00 am

  6. I think one flaw in this post, and with R. Gary’s hobbyhorse approach, is the seeming assumption that at heart religion and science are largely mutually exclusive enterprises. Thus we are faced with stark either/or options. Further, it seems there is an assumption that either science is not itself invested with ethical or moral considerations, or that it is fundamentally opposed to such considerations. If you’ve identified R. Gary’s underlying logic I think it does not provide us with a fruitful model of engagement. I tend to think he’s simply a bibilical literalist and a prophet inerrantist, which is problematic given the non-univocal nature of scripture over time. More later.

    Comment by BHodges — April 22, 2012 @ 9:11 am

  7. I think James defined R. Gary very well and Cogs explained his method of censoring to control his environment and the discussion.

    Also I think the OP approaches explaining how iron rod belief might work. I think maintaining true iron rod belief requires closed minded impermeable thought, the unwillingness to see and accept both the old woman and the young woman in the optical illusion instead clinging to only one out of fear of encountering vertigo and letting go of the rod. Contrast this rigid method with the fluid experience of being guided by and learning from the Spirit. The Spirit’s lessons are customized begining where one is and uses one’s own frame of reference to efficiently advance learning, never mind that later lessons might contradict earlier lessons as one’s knowledge increases. But iron Rodgers seem to follow the prophet(s) instead of the Spirit and therefore must adapt lessons given to prophets to use as their own as they attempt to make consistent literal sense of them.

    Comment by Howard — April 22, 2012 @ 9:15 am

  8. Guys, I think you missed the fundamental point. Jettboy is exactly right, for if truth is a path rather than a picture, then humility in the face of those who know the way is all we really have to go on. For Religion, there is no difference between truth and authority. The idea of forming our own hypotheses and evaluating them without any recourse to authoritative or traditional sources is the heart and soul of Science, not Religion.

    I was going to make another post for this, but this is the fundamental tension between Religion and Science when it comes to criticizing the brethren. If truth is a logically consistent picture, then criticism of logical inconsistencies, no matter what their source, is justified. If truth is a path, then criticizing the authorities which point the way is false almost by very definition.

    This is why Gary puts so many comments in moderation. He is more than willing to debate the particulars of which way the brethren are actually pointing. But, he is totally unwilling to debate the question of whether the brethren are qualified to point the way on this or any matter. Since truth just is a path for him, that question is pretty much settled by very definition.

    All your complaints about authoritarianism and the like are the very criticisms which Science brought against Religion during the Enlightenment. But they are NOT arguments at all, just insults which entirely beg the question. This is why Gary does not budge. This is why we get so frustrated with him.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 22, 2012 @ 9:52 am

  9. Howard, I think Gary would be perfectly willing to accept someone’s claim that the spirit guided them to accept evolution. The Lord works in mysterious ways. What he would not be willing to accept is somebody trying to convince others that evolution is true since this would be to point people in a direction contrary to the direction which prophets point.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 22, 2012 @ 10:03 am

  10. Okay well you can follow Gary then but I’m going to follow the Spirit.

    Comment by Howard — April 22, 2012 @ 10:09 am

  11. Okay, truth is a path. Someone may forthrightly and consistently point to a path. But is the path he points to truth?

    A captain may be ultimately responsible for everything that happens on his ship, but nobody anywhere genuinely believes that the captain is aware of and personally endorses every slight action taken during the cruise by every engineer, steward and deckhand. But Gary grants prophetic status to every word published editorially in a church magazine or by the unknown drafters of lesson manuals or the anonymous compilers of study aids and handbooks. He writes as though President Monson has personally considered, prayed over, and received positive revelation concerning every last word and punctuation mark on every last page in every last publication bearing the imprimatur of the Church.

    That’s nutty. That’s why I can’t agree with R. Gary.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 22, 2012 @ 10:50 am

  12. Guys, the title of the post isn’t “why Gary is right”. I’m just trying to clarify where discussions with him go astray.

    “But is the path he points to truth?”

    That is exactly the wrong question. Exactly wrong. You are trying to paint a picture of the destination, but that is to totally misunderstand Gary. Truth is a consequence of the path, not a precondition. You cannot ask if the truth is true. This makes no sense.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 22, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

  13. Is this an appropriate place to post some arguments I’ve been having elsewhere on evolution – since that seems to be the subtextual point of contention?

    Comment by Log — April 22, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

  14. Log,

    The point I’m trying to make in this post is so difficult to get your head around I would prefer to limit the distractions. If you jump in on any of the old evolution threads, I’d be happy to discuss it.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 22, 2012 @ 1:18 pm

  15. Neither does Gary. You’re right — I don’t understand him, and never will.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 22, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

  16. I had hoped the obvious insult was unintended. However, my hope dwindles.

    Comment by Log — April 22, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

  17. We need an official declaration for exactly the reason that you state, that historically all of the statements point in one direction: that we should reject evolution. Which is something I cannot accept. Our leaders need to man up and tell us it’s fine to believe in evolution. It would be even better if they told us that evolution is how God created us, but I’m not going to get my hopes up.

    Comment by Larrin — April 22, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

  18. “It would be even better if they told us that evolution is how God created us, but I’m not going to get my hopes up.”

    That is the point Larrin that I, and more directly Gary, is trying to make. The only reason anyone knows what to believe in Mormonism (and Religion in general) is the words spoken of by those who hold Authority. As the Scriptures say, how can you believe save there are words preached first? The truth and evidence or not of Evolution is besides the point. What Prophets and Apostles have said regarding the subject are rather large and consistent; anti-Evolution is nearly unanimous. There are a few outliers, but not one of those statements were in a General Conference where it matters the most.

    Comment by Jettboy — April 22, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

  19. I don’t think it’s between Science and Religion so much as between competing epistemologies, combined with various misunderstandings (e.g. people misreading Genesis, people not understanding the various aspects of evolution, etc.)

    Good post.

    Comment by Ben S — April 22, 2012 @ 2:59 pm

  20. Jeff,

    I don’t know if I follow you exactly, but I’ll give my perspective–having had an equally long history of interactions with Gary. (What is this, a funeral?)

    My sense is that Gary highly values aligning his views to what he perceives as the consensus of Church leaders. As God’s representatives, they mark the path (to use your analogy). Whether that path aligns with historical or scientific reality or not is irrelevant to him because of his faith that it will get him to the destination. He may be dreadfully wrong on the merits of an issue, but he is still ultimately in the right.

    Comment by Jared* — April 22, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

  21. Wow, thanks for pointing me to R. Gary’s site. I love his way of thinking and will be a regular reader.

    Comment by Kris — April 22, 2012 @ 4:35 pm

  22. Log,

    I certainly had no intention of insulting anybody. The point I’m trying to make is very difficult for myself to wrap my head around and nearly all the comments so far make me feel like I’m in good company. Before moving on, let me try to make my point clearer.

    1: truth for Iron Rodders is like a path.
    2: truth for intellectuals is like a picture.
    3: it makes no sense whatsoever to ask which of these truth is “really” like.

    Thus, Iron Rodders are not “crazy” just because they are not coming from the same place as us. Using evidence and valid argumentation to convince Gary is like trying to hit a home run to beat the 49ers.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 22, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

  23. Ardis, the only person keeping you from understanding Gary is yourself. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.

    Larrin, why does the church need to “man up”? They are under the obligation to speak the truth and evolution does not lead to Christ.

    Ben, I think you are completely right about competing or differing epistemologies. That is exactly what I’m trying to say. The whole idea of evidence and valid argumentation simply makes no sense if truth is a path rather than a picture/puzzle.

    Jared, I think you are having a hard time imagining that truth might be anything other than an accurate picture of how things are. Gary isn’t arguing that his picture will be more accurate than anybody else’s because truth simply isn’t a picture at all. Evidence and argument are not valid to the extent that they are logical (which plainly begs the question) but to the extent that they lead to Christ.

    Again, it is very difficult for well-educated people to imagine that rules of logic and evidence might not have that much to do with truth for anybody. The idea that there can be no non-question begging answer to the question “what is truth?” is really tough to imagine, let alone accept.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 22, 2012 @ 6:58 pm

  24. I should mention, for those who are unaware, I am anything but an iron rodder. I’m as strong of a believer in Darwin as they come. However, I share Gary’s suspicions about intellectuals’ utter inability to imagine that they don’t have a monopoly on the rules of truth.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 22, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

  25. Jeff,

    You may have misunderstood me. I don’t think that Gary thinks his picture will be more accurate then anybody else’s, I think that he thinks that what really counts, in the final analysis, is what path you followed. Sort of like the statement attributed to Heber J. Grant that if the prophet gives a wrong command, follow him anyway and you’ll be blessed for it.

    Comment by Jared* — April 22, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

  26. Hmm, I’m actually pretty uncomfortable with attributing any kind of beleif in infallibility to Gary. That’s one of the motives for my post. Rather, I want to ask “‘when the prophet is wrong’ according to who?”. I assumed that you were saying “when the prophet says something plainly false…” but I want to ask how we can know that they’re plainly false on any particular point? The only thing we can do is point to some rules which have been broken, but the prophets never said they were playing by those rules in the first place. The fact that prophets contradict each other across time and space is a problem only if we take them to be painting a picture, but not if they are simply giving directions from different starting points.

    I hope I’m getting closer to your point. :p

    Comment by Jeff G — April 22, 2012 @ 7:38 pm

  27. I think many who accept evolution have taken the Francis Collins route and found a way for it to point to God. Thus rather than compartmentalizing their belief, they have synergized it. Sometimes, this is a mistake, but regardless, this new and clearer path makes them want to share it. Gary’s underlying argument to me is that it is hard to discern the one path when we have 50,000 options. So he picks out what to him is the most vocally spoken of path and calls it the one, because it points to Christ.

    My concern is that by taking a firm stand we point others away from Christ. By saying there is one way and one way only, we send people away who want to come to Christ, but cannot, because their rationality can not penetrate the deep.

    I do think we need order, but I just disagree on where the lines are drawn. Hopefully I disagree in a friendly way.

    Comment by Matt W. — April 22, 2012 @ 7:47 pm

  28. Jeff G.,

    Ok, the insult was unintended. Thanks.

    I posted, under “anon,” the following in the P/R/S post:

    Adopt each position. For that position, what problems arise?

    Now, decide which of the three sets of problems is more important for you to have solved. That’s where you stop in the cycle.

    If convincing others that you’re correct is part of that set of problems, then you’re emotionally justified in convincing others. After all, emotion is what motivates us to move.

    It seems this is directly relevant to the conflict between R. Gary and yourself.

    Which problem is more important to have solved?

    1. The creation of an internal model / explanation for the current state of affairs consistent with scientific naturalism and its proponents.

    2. The creation of an internal model / explanation for the current state of affairs consistent with the teachings of the prophets, including those in scriptures.

    It appears to me you’ve picked problem 1 to solve, while R. Gary picked problem 2 to solve.

    Now, it is curious to me that in each instance where scripture makes historical claims, if those claims are contradicted by the claims of scientists, then those who choose problem 1 as more important to be solved uniformly negate the scriptures by allegorizing, metaphorizing, or spiritualizing the scriptures in question. This is to say, it is always the scriptures which yield to the claims of science – which indicates that the allegorizer understands that both science and the scriptures are speaking of the same subject.

    This is because both S and R hold truth to be both a path and a picture, a journey and a destination; they are talking about the same thing when they speak of truth – the way things were, the way things are, and the way things shall be – the picture, or model of reality, as well as the way we come to know those things – the path.

    S is commonly, and tendentiously (in my view), held to preclude certain pictures from being accepted, even if they are produced by the accepted method by which pictures in S are painted.

    R, on the other hand, circumscribes the non-tendentious rendition of S, both picture and path, and incorporates more methods by which pictures may be painted.

    As it is said: all truth – pictures and paths – can be circumscribed into one great whole. No set of true scientific propositions and true religious propositions will contradict each other. The assumptions by which these propositions are interpreted, however, can and do contradict each other. It is the tendentious philosophical baggage that is currently incorporated into the S side that produces the conflict. I believe Father planned it this way so that neither side can have a complete picture sans revelation.

    Anyhow, I dumped my evolution post in the Eden As Allegory thread. As I said, I view its content has having application, in principle, to the discussion in this thread.

    Comment by Log — April 22, 2012 @ 8:23 pm

  29. And, if I may add one more statement to hint at my true thoughts concerning S and R and the Brethren taking precedence over fossils: “This I want you to understand, for it is a doctrine of the Gospel of Salvation to all the descendants of Adam and Eve, that if you know anything, you obtain that knowledge by experience.” – Brigham Young

    Suppose someday we take our religion seriously. Suppose someday we take the temple, and the endowments, literally. Suppose that in this life we exert our whole soul in supplication and prayer in the effort to come into the presence of God, to behold Him on His throne, to see as Joseph, Moses, Enoch, Nephi, Lehi, and any number of other prophets both ancient and modern, the creation of the earth and all things that dwell thereon – and we are shown the reality behind the presentation of the Endowment. Will we then be qualified to speak on the truth of evolution?

    Comment by Log — April 22, 2012 @ 8:32 pm

  30. Very charitable post Jeff. However I think you are probably looking beyond the mark.

    The problem with your “Gary sees Truth as a path” claim is that it is probably not accurate. If you ask Gary he will probably tell you that prophets claim there was really a time when there was no death on this planet and he surely believes the reason they said that is because it is a historical fact. He wouldn’t say “I don’t know if any of that stuff literally happened because that doesn’t matter to me”.

    So basically I think BHodges has it more right than you on this. Gary is a hyper-literalist. When deciding what it real in the universe now and historically he chooses to take the virtually all words of prophets as literal and historical facts.

    To me the interesting question with hyper-literalists is where do they draw their line between literalism and allegory? For instance does Gary think Eve was literally created from a rib taken out of Adam or does he think that is figurative?

    Seems to me every believer has a literal/figurative line. Even the hyper-literalists. That line is just in different places for different folks.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 22, 2012 @ 11:20 pm

  31. Matt, I think I like your comment most of all. It’s true, that when you see truth as a path, you can’t help but see all other paths as “false”. In fact, I would guess that this is the exact problem which inspired the truth as picture as developed by the enlightenment.

    What I like most about your comment is that it disagrees with Iron Rodders, but on their own terms. You don’t try to force evidence and argument upon them when it really doesn’t mean all that much to them. Instead, you speak to them in terms of pointing the path, a shared set of aims and rules.

    Log, I think you and I have very different interpretations of my post. Basically what I’m saying is that truth is simply the morality of belief and that Religion and Science prioritize rules for what one ought to (dis)believe very differently. Thinking of truth as pointing a path or as putting together a puzzle only helps to make sense of the structure of these rules for belief. Furthermore, there is no mutually agreed upon rule(s) by which these rules for belief can be prioritized the “one, true” way. Any appeal to any such rule(s) would beg the question altogether for that is exactly what we are trying to explain. Of course there will always be a whole slew of in between cases, but sometimes focusing on the extremes helps to better understand those cases better.

    It is my contention that if one thinks of truth as a path, then suddenly the scriptures make a lot more sense. A lot more. Suddenly all the contradictions and exaggerations don’t seem to be all that bad.

    Geoff, I’m a little hesitant to bring the literal/figurative distinction into the discussion. Not only does it suggest that the default definition of truth is that of Science, but it’s not at all clear to me that the distinction has much of a place in Religion.

    What I’m talking about is what we ought to believe, not what we ought to keep in mind or what we ought to pretend is real even though we all know better. For Gary, believing in NDBF is what points you to God, full stop. He simply has no need or use for all those nifty little distinctions by which we try to “clear things up” and side step apparent contradictions.

    As for Gary’s view on my post, you bring up a good point. Clearly I am trying to paint a picture of the misunderstandings between Science and Religion. Inasmuch as my picture points to God, Gary would probably accept it. But this should not be confused with Gary accepting it “because it is accurate”. Accuracy is a virtue which is clearly prioritized higher in Science than it is in Religion. Gary would judge my post by its fruits, not by its accuracy.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 12:19 am

  32. Jeff,

    Again the problem is hyper-literalist don’t make the distinctions you are making. They believe in no death before the fall because the think that is was really happened in history. Any suggestion that it is “truth” only because it points them to God is offensive heresy to them.

    Accuracy is a virtue which is clearly prioritized higher in Science than it is in Religion.

    This is the kind of statement that is deemed as condescending and highly offensive to religious believers. Certainly Gary would vehemently disagree with any claim that NDBF is not historically accurate. I am pretty sure he believes it because he is confident it is historically accurate, not regardless of that question.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2012 @ 12:44 am

  33. Hmmm… I see how what I said could easily and quite naturally be read as “condescending and highly offensive”. I assure you that this was not my intent. It must be kept in mind that this post is aimed at knocking Science off of it’s pedestal, not Religion.

    That said, I’m going to have to disagree with you, Geoff. I think that the only religious people who would find my comments about accuracy offensive are those who are saturated with the rules of science which would certainly include all those who would do “theology”. (Sorry!)

    As I see it, if one takes truth to be a path, then inaccuracy, equivocation, yada-yada really are not all that offensive. The whole point of my post was that Gary simply doesn’t have much need or use for these things which really make up the heart of Science. I simply see no reason why Religion should have to live up to the standards of Science or feel offended when it is pointed out that it doesn’t. Science doesn’t live up to the standards of Religion any better. I think that pretty much sums up the Iron Rod position.

    So of course Gary would draw no such line between historical accuracy and the truth. All those intellectual bells and whistles just get in the way of the path he is trying to point us toward.

    Let me try and approach my point from a different angle. In order to understand Gary, it is probably better for the intellectual to erase a few of the distinctions he has drawn and loosen up on a few of the “necessary” rules which come so naturally to him. Bringing in is/ought or literal/figurative distinctions is like trying to shovel the snow out of your driveway with a scalpel. Whether Religion is as concerned with “accuracy” or not, I think it’s clear that Science is certainly more “fine grained” than Religion is. It is for this very reason that Religion is able to criticize it’s inability to paint any kind of big picture worth caring about.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 1:23 am

  34. Heheh. Don’t worry — I wasn’t the one who got offended Jeff. I was just predicting that Gary would be if you implied historical accuracy was not a key to his beliefs.

    The reason I think you are overshooting your mark is that I think Gary wants it both ways: He wants to claim historical accuracy to his beliefs a la the Science way, while at the same time believing his views of truth are a path to God. The frustrating part is that he basically is like a conspiracy theorists who insists that the scientific truth and history of the earth is as he sees it despite any and all evidence to the contrary. But unlike other conspiracy theorist he believes there a supernatural being (The Deceiver) working hard to trick all the rest of us.

    So like most conspiracy theorists there is no reasoning with him. If contrary evidence doesn’t come directly from the mouth a prophet it is rejected.

    I appreciate your charitable attempt here but I think really what we are dealing with is a person who wants his cake and to eat it too. He wants the religious path of truth but he wants scientific reality to completely agree with his views as well (despite all scientific evidence to the contrary).

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2012 @ 1:44 am

  35. I see. It could be, then, that I just haven’t seen that other side of Gary that you speak of. In my experience, he doesn’t care about textual, historical or scientific analysis per se. All he’s ever cared about, in my experience, is the direction that church leaders point us. From what I’ve seen, he doesn’t argue that the prophets paint a more accurate picture of reality than scientists do so much as that prophets will lead us down a better, more sure path than scientists will.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 1:55 am

  36. Well maybe Gary is different that most every other hyper-literalist I have ever met. But I would be shocked if he ever said he didn’t care if NDBF were literally and historically accurate or not.

    As the hyper-literalist in this conversation, Log, just said in that “Eden as Allegory” thread: “Do lies get people into heaven?” He said that in reference to the idea that the NDBF type stories may not be historically accurate but might lead people to God anyway. I think this is the standard view of literalists, including Gary.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2012 @ 2:00 am

  37. It occurs to me that the supposed opposite of the “iron rod” persona, the “liahona”, is also a path pointing device. In other words, my account of Religion should not be construed as a kind of conservative pulpit pounding.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 2:29 am

  38. Brilliant post, Jeff. I’m afraid you’re going to have a hard time explaining what you mean, though. The dichotomy of perception you describe is very, very old. Most of the world used to spin that way, but the spread of Greek thought via the Roman Empire changed things.

    The word you are looking for is “mysticism,” not “religion.” Both mysticism and science are religions in the sense of being sets of creeds structured to make sense of our existence.

    You might be interested in reading up on the disappearance of Celtic mythology. Interestingly, Christian conquest was as much about the invasion of scientific thought as it was about Christ. That’s what Arthurian legend is all about.

    Comment by SilverRain — April 23, 2012 @ 3:57 am

  39. And yes, the Liahona vs. Iron Rod concept is total garbage, in my opinion. Just another label used to marginalize people who aren’t as different from us as we’d like to think.

    Comment by SilverRain — April 23, 2012 @ 4:03 am

  40. Jeff, you apparently *do* intend to insult, or else you’re so clumsy that you can’t avoid it.

    I would like to understand you, but you don’t help much when you simply repeat “for one truth is a picture, for the other truth is a path.” If that metaphor failed to communicate the first time, it won’t help to repeat it.

    You seem to be saying — although your writing is so muddy that it is impossible to be sure — that whether truth is a path or a picture, whatever the hell you mean by either of those, that truth is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether the picture represents truth, or whether the path leads to truth. Somehow it’s just peachy keen to behold the picture or follow the path.

    Rather than insulting me for not understanding balderdash nonsense like that, could you try again, please, to explain, in plain English, for idiot dunderheads like me, what you’re trying to say? And if you’re not trying to communicate, but only to hear yourself talk, please state that as well.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 23, 2012 @ 8:10 am

  41. SilverRain why does an analogy get labeled “total garbage” simply because falls short of perfection? Richard Poll coined the term to be inclusive of a traditionally marginalized group; if someone’s using it to marginalize, that’s no fault of the term itself. I think it’s pretty useful, actually.

    Comment by Trevor — April 23, 2012 @ 8:11 am

  42. Because in my experience, a navigator needs both a map and a compass.

    Arguing about which is better is plain silly.

    Ardis, maybe I can take a stab at this, having done some limited study of mysticism. It’s kind of that old saying that the point is the journey, not the destination.

    Truth is defined as that which brings us closer to God. So, depending on where God wants you at a particular time, and what His will is concerning you, you might be closer to truth by, say, chopping off the head of Laban, than someone else might be by perfectly keeping all the Ten Commandments. It doesn’t mean the Ten Commandments aren’t from God. It sounds like relativism, but it isn’t because it is all about how well you are conforming to God’s will.

    So, rather than “truth” being some set of rules that everyone can look at and make themselves conform to, it is about where you are in relation to God.

    If that doesn’t help, I have another analogy that might clarify a little more.

    Comment by SilverRain — April 23, 2012 @ 8:51 am

  43. for if truth is a path rather than a picture, then humility in the face of those who know the way is all we really have to go on. While I agree it is a path I’m not convinced the brethren know the way or that it’s all we really have to go on. Christ advanced the path as did Joseph. Who else advanced the path? Sure we have D&C 138, OD1 & 2, and perhaps the family proclamation although it isn’t canon but two thirds of the plates remained sealed. Without personal inspiration and revelation we are simply marching in place, marking time while those who are born and converted catch up to us at our rest stop. What does Gary make of; study it out in you mind and ask if it’s right?

    Comment by Howard — April 23, 2012 @ 9:22 am

  44. All your complaints about authoritarianism and the like are the very criticisms which Science brought against Religion during the Enlightenment. But they are NOT arguments at all, just insults which entirely beg the question. This is why Gary does not budge. This is why we get so frustrated with him.

    Actually, as I see it the problem is that R. Gary (and other fundamentalists, be they scientists or religious folk or both) buy into such an untenable either/or picture which, as you note, is an echo of the Enlightenment. R. Gary is buying into a false view of “Science” and pitting a skewed interpretation of “Religion” against it. Your post does the same thing.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 9:32 am

  45. Totally disagree with SilverRain on the “total garbage” comment. It’s been quite helpful to me, as well as to some close family members and friends, in helping us understand and appreciate one another better.

    Comment by Clean Cut — April 23, 2012 @ 9:33 am

  46. Moreover, you say

    If truth is a logically consistent picture, then criticism of logical inconsistencies, no matter what their source, is justified. If truth is a path, then criticizing the authorities which point the way is false almost by very definition.

    Note the shift you make here from criticizing logical inconsistencies to criticizing authorities. This is not the same thing. I can completely disagree with Elder Nelson’s strange remarks about the Big Bang, for example, and even criticize them, without saying Elder Nelson lacks apostolic authority, and while still sustaining him in his appointed role.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 9:35 am

  47. Thank you, SilverRain!!!! I think we’re all starting to feel like we’re taking crazy pills here, and it’s nice to clearly know that somebody really got my point. Whatever this other analogy is, I’m all ears!

    Ardis, If I have to choose between insulting and clumsy, I certainly choose the latter. I’m honestly not trying to put anybody off in the least. Rather, I’m trying to help those who take Science seriously understand those who don’t, because they understand us far better than we understand them. After all, Gary doesn’t call any of us insane, etc. even though he disagrees with us as much as we do with him.

    While I think those metaphors are helpful, let’s see if I can do without them. Suppose you say to Gary “Any claim which is logically inconsistent with observed experience or with other well supported truth must, without exception, be false.” Suppose, then, that Gary disagrees with you. How in the world are you going to argue that you are right and he is wrong? You can’t appeal to observed experience or logical consistency because those are the very things which you are trying to convince him of because he does not accept them. It is at this point that we are tempted to call him crazy, but why should that be? Just because he isn’t playing by the same rules as us? We make a mistake in assuming that just because he isn’t playing by our rules then he must not be playing by any rules at all.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 9:35 am

  48. Guys, the title of the post isn’t “why Gary is right”. I’m just trying to clarify where discussions with him go astray.

    You could sum it up much quicker just by saying R. Gary is a fundamentalist with assumptions of inerrancy and thus clashes with others who are not. Consider Jettboy’s comment:

    The only reason anyone knows what to believe in Mormonism (and Religion in general) is the words spoken of by those who hold Authority. As the Scriptures say, how can you believe save there are words preached first?

    So long, personal revelation and meaningful agency.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 9:39 am

  49. anti-Evolution is nearly unanimous. There are a few outliers, but not one of those statements were in a General Conference where it matters the most.

    This is largely the result of a very few General Authorities who ignored or acted counter to the direction of earlier prophets (who told GAs to leave the matter alone) whose publications drown out other authorities who found nothing objectionable about evolution per se but whom sought to abide the council so as not to cause further division.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 9:41 am

  50. Bhodges (48)- Personal revelation is simply encapsulated within validating the teachings of authoority.Meaningful Agency is given clarity by giving right and wrong a simple dichotomy.

    What I see Jeff doing here isn’t very far from what Elder Uchtdorf did on sunday morning during general conference. I may never agree with Gary Shapiro, and I am certain Jeff doesn’t either, but I think my paradigm can allow for his perspective to exist, even if I think it’s wrong. And I think you do to Blair, so I am surprised by your comment. Do I misunderstand you here?

    Comment by Matt W. — April 23, 2012 @ 9:49 am

  51. Howard, I think Gary warmly welcomes everything you just said. He doesn’t seem to have any problem with personal revelation leading people to accept revelation. However, when people start saying to other people on their blogs that the brethren do not teach things which they clearly do teach, he takes issue.

    BHodge, I would love to hear more about why my post is so wrong. I’m probably being a little over-defensive when I think that most comment have simply not liked the implications of my post more than anything. Of course, the real kernel of my post is the problems of self-reference when it comes to truth. How can we ask what the truth is about truth without completely begging the question? More importantly, what is to prevent two mutually incompatible answers from being equally self-consistent?

    Clean Cut, Yeah, I kinda like the Liahona/Iron Rod distinction too. I just think that my post applies equally well to both.

    BHodges again, Gary doesn’t allow for the distinction which you make. If there is some guy that is pointing out all the mistakes that Moses is making in the wilderness, then he just is undermining Moses’ authority.

    Once again, everyone, I draw nearly all of these same distinctions that you guys do. I agree with you guys far more than I do with Gary. I’m not trying to say that he is right, only that he isn’t crazy.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 9:49 am

  52. Geoff J.’s #30 nails it. R. Gary isn’t a philosopher-king promulgating noble lies in order to help the benighted populace accept the truth of the gospel. (“I’ll tell them evolution is false even though it isn’t, because it will more likely lead them to Jesus!”)

    If there is any accuracy to your overall post it seems that Gary, like Joseph Fielding Smith and a few other apostles, don’t actually understand what organic evolution is, but they interpret it to be a doctrine which makes Christ superfluous, and thus, evolution is not only false but damnable. So yes, it seems R. Gary is probably more concerned about the outcome of the belief (evolution leads one to reject Christ) than the specific truth content of the belief. But the two aren’t entirely separable, IMO, for R. Gary or for JFeS. It’s the Bruce R. McConkie “deadly heresy” perspective whereby inaccurate beliefs cause one to be damned. I don’t see R. Gary separating the facts about evolution from his perceived outcome of belief in organic evolution.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 9:55 am

  53. I never thought Gary was crazy just unusually closed minded to the point that he censors opposing views rather than engage them. Also I find it very odd that he isn’t speaking for himself in this thread.

    Comment by Howard — April 23, 2012 @ 9:56 am

  54. Geoff, I’m a little hesitant to bring the literal/figurative distinction into the discussion. Not only does it suggest that the default definition of truth is that of Science, but it’s not at all clear to me that the distinction has much of a place in Religion

    Again, R. Gary himself buys into that very proposition by insisting that the substantiation of the organic evolution would mean there was no Fall, Christ, or Atonement. R. Gary is still allowing the default definition of truth to be mediated by science. That’s why he so vehemently opposes evolution (well, technically he does because select LDS authorities have, and he follows whatever they say and ignores other LDS authorities who said otherwise).

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 9:58 am

  55. Howard, it doesn’t surprise me at all. If I am right, then the arguments and distinctions that I am defending are probably fairly foreign to Gary’s way of thinking. This entire discussion has been according to the rules of Science. It’s not that he doesn’t understand those rules, just that he doesn’t have the loyalty to them that we do.

    BHodges, of course Gary is not separating the truth of a belief from the destination to which it points, because as far as he’s concerned there is no difference. You keep assuming that there is only one possible conception of truth and that it is yours. This is exactly the assumption that my post is trying to undermine.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 10:11 am

  56. Here’s some fun: The “iron rod/Liahona” distinction can be quite useful or quite destructive depending upon the way in which we employ it. Like a scalpel it can be used to perform a delicate needed surgery in the hands of the able surgeon, but it can also be used to slit a throat as well.

    Of course, this gets at what SilverRain did so well at describing: that a particular idea or action can at one time be beneficial and at another time be harmful, depending on the circumstances. And this is what Jeff is trying to get at in the original post. I simply disagree that this is actually what R. Gary is doing.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 10:11 am

  57. You keep assuming that there is only one possible conception of truth and that it is yours. This is exactly the assumption that my post is trying to undermine.

    No. If this is what you think I’m saying then you haven’t understood what I’m saying at all.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 10:12 am

  58. Rather, I’m trying to help those who take Science seriously understand those who don’t, because they understand us far better than we understand them.

    Broad blanket claims like this are useful in the “completely not factual, but reaffirms a particular stereotype” sort of way.

    Listen, if R. Gary actually believed the way you think he believed he would have said to me long ago “BHodges, I see that you have faith in Christ, and I see that you accept organic evolution and even believe it provides some interesting ways to think about your relationship to God’s overall ongoing creation. I’m happy to know that such things have actually aided you in your developing testimony.”

    Instead, he basically says I fail to follow the prophet and have been blinded by Satanic heresies which will likely result in my failure to eternally progress. So again, you’re simply wrong that R. Gary is privileging the general outcome of particular beliefs (judged by the proximity to Christ resulting from a particular belief). Instead, he is assuming and asserting unequivocally that belief in evolution means rejecting Jesus Christ. And this because a few select LDS leaders have said so.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 10:18 am

  59. If I recall correctly Gary is a programmer who wrote a program that spit out a list of words found in the Triple Combination showing the passage they appear in. This was made into a reference book in the 70s. Maybe Gary is just a one trick pony who simply sorts prophet speak and presents it as the answer to every question.

    Comment by Howard — April 23, 2012 @ 10:29 am

  60. Jeff, I will warn you that this perspective is threatening to people who have been raised on the power of factually-based truth, and so it is natural that people will be resistant to it, just as it is when the common world views were reversed. Wars have been fought, and genocide has been completed over the ideas you are describing. Which is why I find it laudable that you have come to understand it and accept it as non-threatening.

    My analogy is somewhat awkward and unpolished, so be warned.

    Basically, it is as if we were all dropped off at different points in the wilderness with a map and a compass. Somewhere in the wilderness, clearly marked on the map, is a beautiful palace to which we have all been invited.

    Some people’s map and compass tell them to go right, others left. Because of obstacles in the way, some people even have to travel in a direction that seems completely opposite to the direction of the palace. Sometimes, people may even be first guided in the wrong direction so they might be able to move with assurance in the right one, when the time comes.

    It is useful for the people to share notes about how to find the palace (maybe via radio?) but in the end, each person has to find out for themselves which direction they must move in.

    Of course, in the analogy, there are also various guides to help along the path, some false and some true, but each person must determine for themselves how to get there.

    The truth (the palace) is the same for everyone, but how to get there differs. Science trains us to describe the palace down to the minutest detail, all of which is useful when it comes to recognizing the actual palace, but it doesn’t necessarily help us get there. And mysticism is all about figuring out how to get there, relying on the ability to discern the actual palace once it’s in view.

    In my opinion, both are useful approaches at different times.

    Comment by SilverRain — April 23, 2012 @ 10:29 am

  61. Jeff G and Silverrain (#42),

    The problem I see with this particular strain of “truth is a path” thinking is that it is veering right into the territory of Divine Command Theory of ethics. As in, goodness/truth is whatever God says it is at any given moment. But that theory is so rife with holes I am guessing you are not intentionally going there.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2012 @ 10:29 am

  62. For what it’s worth “total garbage” was deliberate hyperbole. So many people accept the Liahona/Rod dichotomy as a useful analogy, but I have seen it cause more damage than good. It’s not that it CAN’T be good or useful. But garbage was all good and useful, too, until it wasn’t. That’s why it’s garbage.

    Most labels are beneficially limited, and they almost all come to the point where they divide more than clarify. This is the point to which that analogy has come, in my opinion. Note that I don’t think the PEOPLE who espouse it are garbage, which is how some of you seem to be taking it.

    Comment by SilverRain — April 23, 2012 @ 10:30 am

  63. Geoff, hopefully my analogy helps explain the difference between the Divine Command Theory as you explain it and what I’m actually driving at.

    Comment by SilverRain — April 23, 2012 @ 10:31 am

  64. In short: for R. Gary, the practical outcome and the initial belief (the path and the destination) are not separable. Belief in LDS prophets and Jesus Christ means you reject evolution because prophets said so, full stop. There is no way around it. You’re trying to paint R. Gary as a doctrinal utilitarian and he simply ain’t one. The particular beliefs (like fall and atonement) falsify other claims (like organic evolution) and acceptance of one entails rejection of the other (which again, is him falling into that Enlightenment either/or science-and-history-as-the-ruler paradigm).

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 10:32 am

  65. BHodges, It could be that you are right, but I’ve never seen him say anything like that. In all of my experience his beef has not been with anybody believing in evolution. Rather, his beef is with people who think the church is completely neutral regarding evolution when it clearly isn’t completely neutral.

    You are probably right that I haven’t understood you though. My understanding of your position is that Gary thinks that we should believe some things which by all appearance just aren’t true for the greater good. This, to me, is simply a failure to get sufficiently outside of one’s own perspective, because Gary would never see himself in this way.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 10:35 am

  66. My understanding of your position is that Gary thinks that we should believe some things which by all appearance just aren’t true for the greater good. This, to me, is simply a failure to get sufficiently outside of one’s own perspective, because Gary would never see himself in this way.

    No, that isn’t and has never been my position. I don’t believe R. Gary would even be able to say evolution is true “by all appearance” to begin with on the grounds of knowing little about it. He rejects it because prophets said so, full stop. Read my 58 and 64 again and see if you can make out what I’m getting at.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 10:41 am

  67. Moreover, my overall objection to you is that you are accounting for R. Gary’s positions in a way that R. Gary himself would never formulate or accept. Or as you put it, “because Gary would never see himself in this way.”

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 10:42 am

  68. Geoff, I’m not sure whether my depiction amounts to Divine Command Theory or not. However, I am uncomfortable with you claim that such a theory is full of holes. Full of holes according to who’s set of rules? No doubt philosophers can poke holes in it, but they are the ones who pretty much invented the rules of Science. It’s as if they were criticizing Lebron James for not having a decent curve ball.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 10:43 am

  69. BHodges, I fully agree that Gary wouldn’t describe him in this way. In fact, my theory essentially predicts as much.

    Gary has never been one to wage battle on Science’s own turf. He doesn’t have any interest in discussing what the evidence is or isn’t. Those are all just distractions. And once we understand that these are all just distractions, we can see that Gary isn’t a Bible-thumping fundamentalists, totally unwilling to consider that he or the brethren might be wrong no matter what the evidence is against them. It’s because we see him as resisting such a huge amount of evidence that we are tempted to think this. But he isn’t resisting it at all because it’s almost totally beside the point altogether.

    Furthermore, I don’t think that Gary is all that worried about people disagreeing with the prophets for their own individual reasons, be they considerations of evidence or personal revelation. Gary isn’t worried about us not following the prophets so much as misrepresenting the prophets. That is something he is not willing to tolerate.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 10:53 am

  70. It’s because we see him as resisting such a huge amount of evidence that we are tempted to think this. But he isn’t resisting it at all because it’s almost totally beside the point altogether.

    Who’s the “we” here? I see him as not even paying attention to it on the sole grounds that various leaders have said evolution is damnable.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 10:56 am

  71. Well I mostly meant that Divine Command theory is incompatible with Mormonism. Any theory that claims at God’s whim he could say that for the next week only raping and murdering children is good and refraining to do so is evil is clearly not compatible with Mormonism on several fronts.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2012 @ 10:57 am

  72. SilverRain I like you #60 mysticism analogy. Imagine the palace emits a radio signal that can be used for guidance like a AM radio signal can be used for aircraft navigation. Now imagine you are on water so there are no physical obstacles to navigate around. No map required. This is how I and others imagine Liahona to have worked and why I like the Liahona/Rod imagery for contrasting and comparing.

    Comment by Howard — April 23, 2012 @ 10:59 am

  73. Jeff (#69),

    I think you are probably wrong on this. I think Gary probably really is “a Bible-thumping fundamentalists, totally unwilling to consider that he or the brethren might be wrong no matter what the evidence is against them”.

    Again, the flaw in your theory is he and guys like Log don’t see the scientific facts as beside the point. They simply think any scientific facts that contradict their position must be false or misinterpreted. You can bet that they would be all over any scientific facts they viewed as supporting their position.

    Yes, I agree that Gary spends a lot of time trying to keep prevent prophets from being misrepresented too. But that is in addition to the things I mentioned above, not in place of it.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2012 @ 11:05 am

  74. Agreed, Geoff, agreed.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 11:19 am

  75. Geoff,

    “They simply think any scientific facts that contradict their position must be false or misinterpreted.”

    You might be right. However, I would like to offer a competing hypothesis. It also might be that Gary doesn’t believe evidence to be so tightly connected with truth as we believe it to be. In other words, Gary might be very close to accepting that the evidence isn’t misinterpreted or anything like that, it’s just false anyways because evidence doesn’t have that much to do with truth. THAT is what I think is so very difficult for so many of us (especially me!) to get our heads around. Gary might be using the word “truth” in a way totally different than we are, and since it is “truth” which is the very point of contention we have no neutral way of arbitrating the disagreement. However, we can still learn how he uses the word, thereby coming to understand him better and opening new lines of communication with him.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 11:22 am

  76. I highly doubt Gary goes through any of the philosophical gymnastics you are attributing to him Jeff. (See my #73) But it is a nice and charitable thought.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2012 @ 11:29 am

  77. #23: “Larrin, why does the church need to “man up”? They are under the obligation to speak the truth and evolution does not lead to Christ.”

    Certainly a valid argument, if there weren’t already lots of statements from general authorities that many members think they are required to believe. If there weren’t anti-evolution statements from general authorities it wouldn’t be necessary. If people decide that evolution cannot be false but that they cannot be Mormon if it is, then that would be an impediment for being led to Christ. The only thing that would change people’s minds would be an official statement clearly stating that believing in evolution is in harmony with our religion. And that’s without any disclaimers about man being an exception.

    Comment by Larrin — April 23, 2012 @ 11:43 am

  78. Jeff, as I said, it seems to me R. Gary is simply making the “Evolution = death before fall = no fall = no Christ = no atonement = no salvation” logical connection as espoused by Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie. Evolution is opposed on the grounds that it would literally invalidate the story of the plan of salvation. It is understood as a competing and mutually exclusive story. I disagree with that view, of course.

    I don’t have difficulty getting my head around what you’re saying regarding truth and respective approaches to truth. I just think you’re not accurately representing R. Gary’s position or the reasons he holds them.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 11:45 am

  79. The above should read, “…but they cannot be Mormon if the theory of evolution is accurate…”

    Comment by Larrin — April 23, 2012 @ 11:46 am

  80. Again: R. Gary opposes evolution because if it is truth it would invalidate the plan of salvation as R. Gary understands it. Thus, he is still buying into the very epistemology you are trying to say doesn’t matter to him.

    The reason he spends so much time making sure people know what respective General Authorities have said on evolution is precisely because according to his perspective, what a prophet says = truth. This, if he can demonstrate that LDS prophets have taught evolution is false then good Mormons must assent, based on his view of properly following the teachings of the prophets.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 11:48 am

  81. Geoff, of course he doesn’t do any of these philosophical gymnastics. I’m trying to teach science speakers how to speak “Gary-ese”, while he just does it. It requires zero effort on his part to keep evidence and truth at a distance from each other, because for him they were never that close to begin with. On the other hand, for us who see evidence and truth as being very closely related it requires an immense amount of mental energy to pull the two apart.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 11:56 am

  82. SilverRain, I was actually planning on using that very analogy in a future post. As a side note, I’m not sure if we’ve directly interacted in the ‘nacle before, but the originality and insight in your comments has always deeply impressed me.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 11:59 am

  83. Doesn’t D&C 21:5 suggest that we receive the prophet’s words as if from God’s own mouth? And doesn’t D&C 84:44 suggest that we should live by EVERY word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God?
    By heeding the words of living prophets we receive Christ into our lives: “For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me.”

    For that reason, I try to receive the prophet’s words as if from God’s own mouth without judging those words and I truly desire to live by EVERY word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God even if the prophet’s words turn out to be mistaken, because I believe that doing so brings the promised blessing.

    Parenthetically, here’s an R. Gary explanation which bears on what Jeff is trying to get at, I believe. It seems to me R. Gary is saying:

    1) God calls prophets and tells them what to say.
    2) What they say is the “word of God.”
    3) We are commanded to live by “every word” of God.
    4) We are commanded to live by every word the LDS leadership says.
    5) Such words may turn out to be mistaken but we are not supposed to point that out, or even think of it ourselves, and if we simply do whatever they say we will be given “the promised blessing,” which is also unarticulated.

    And if you point out any holes in this line of reasoning it is because you are relying on the arm of flesh, not that R. Gary is selectively and creatively fashioning his own understanding of what a prophet is and what our relationship to a prophet ought to be.


    He also admits that somewhere between General Conference and advice on home decor things “get fuzzy.”


    So in the end, whether a prophet’s teachings or advice is truth, correct, accurate, whatever you wish to call it, we are to obey it without question in order to receive some unspecified blessing.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

  84. Gary has entered the fray at NDBF. Hopefully it’s okay to copy/paste here, but I doubt his good faith in having a real discussion on his own blog (cf #4):

    “It isn’t about fallibility, it’s about authority: Christ’s authority. As Church members, we follow the apostles because Christ, not we ourselves, called them to serve. They are Christ’s representatives, not ours. They will be judged for the way they use their authority, but they will not be judged by us. Christ gives the authority to judge and condemn His apostles only to the First Presidency, not to the members of His Church. And so we follow them, with a conviction born of the Holy Ghost that they are indeed Christ’s apostles, but without regard to their fallibility or infallibility.”

    I actually agree with that insofar as we’re dealing with moral or behavioral issues – the dos and do nots, and even on issues where I disagree with the church’s position (such as gay marriage) I have to deal with Gary’s arguments.

    What I fail to comprehend, even with all the discussion in this thread, is how that belief reconciles authoritative but factually incorrect beliefs about empirical matters, like death before the fall. To me it’s just undeniable that death has existed since life has, period, and so it’s no problem to accept evolution and all that. In spite of my pomo-influenced mistrust of Science as a truthmaking institution, I can’t help but fall back on old-fashioned rationalism here. That’s just how things ARE, dangit.

    In response I think the common approaches are 1. Reconcile or renegotiate your faith to accept the facts (which most believers do, I think, to varying degrees), 2. Cherry-pick from the facts or invent new ones to allow your narrative to fit in the “real” world (like young earth creationists, and even though I tend to mock this approach it’s at least understandable as a way of attempting to reconcile faith with reality), or 3. Stick your head in the sand and refuse to admit the validity or relevance of the facts.

    Gary is the #3 dialed up to 11, and that’s why he’s often frustrating to deal with. In spite of the idea of different Truth paradigms (which I agree with insofar as it applies), I just don’t see a way around this. It’s like dealing with the Black Knight of doctrine – “You haven’t got any arms!” “Yes I have!”

    Comment by Cogs — April 23, 2012 @ 12:02 pm

  85. BHodges, I disagree, but maybe you are right. In that case, my post might be a suggestion for Gary to dropped the philosophy and wisdom of men (aka science) altogether.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

  86. By the way, I can’t decide whether this would be an excruciatingly easy way to be religious (just rubber stamp whatever someone else says) or excruciatingly difficult (because it would require all my mental energy not to discern and ponder, but precisely to resist discernment and pondering).

    And you have to wonder how R. Gary knows the prophets are reliable enough to grant full control in this way to begin with. Is it because they simply said so? That is why I said personal revelation, in this view, is rather meaningless.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

  87. Incidentally, with the font this site uses “pomo” looks a lot like a very different word on first glance.

    Comment by Cogs — April 23, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

  88. I am of the conviction that all such arguments are basically intellectual peripheral epiphenomena for Gary. I think the core of Gary’s position is not essentially based in any kind of logical inconsistencies between evolution and NDBF.

    As you can probably tell, I will go to extreme measures not to call him crazy. That is nothing but a conversation stopper and a refusal to learn, an attitude which seems inappropriate for those who would fault Gary for not being willing to learn *their* perspective.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

  89. Cogs: the Black Knight of doctrine


    Jeff: I will go to extreme measures not to call him crazy

    As you know, he doesn’t have to be crazy to be wrong.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

  90. I don’t think R. Gary’s crazy. I avoid calling him crazy by simply saying I think his view is wrong, and is not required of Mormonism, and is not a fruitful or healthy way of conceiving of Mormonism, and that it generally reflects a potentially dangerous fundamentalism inimical to reconciling or even dialoging about individual and communal perspectives on religious and scientific matters alike.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

  91. BHodges, I actually agree with you. I would only add that if you frame your objections in terms of leading people to Christ instead of clear facts about the way the world is, I think you would have better conversations with Gary.

    Cog, “I can’t help but fall back on old-fashioned rationalism here. That’s just how things ARE, dangit.” That is exactly how I feel and that is the only reason why I deep insisting that it’s a tough idea to get ones head around. Even if it’s easy for some people in this thread, it’s not easy for me.

    And that Black Knight doctrine really is gold!

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 1:23 pm

  92. Here’s a sort of “what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander”, I think is at the heart of the discussion. We get bent out of shape when Gary obeys the prophets because the prophets say so, but how is this any different than our following the rules of logic because the alternative is “inconsistent” or “irrational”? Whenever a prophet criticizes science, we feel free to criticize them according to the rules of science and thus show which side of our bread is buttered. Then we get all twisted when Gary rejects scientific criticisms of religion according to the rules of religion.

    “Gary isn’t crazy, but he’s wrong.”. Well, that all depends on who’s keeping score, doesn’t it?

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

  93. You do realize you’re talking about a guy who literally criticized me for pointing out dates in the footnotes of the present RS/PH manual.

    It isn’t merely that he rejects scientific criticism. It’s that his irrationality doesn’t tend toward things like charity, good works, which would actually be laudable, but rather tends to dogmatic anti-intellectualism and strange self-contradiction with little Christian payoff.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

  94. Thank you, Jeff. You’re too kind. :)

    Comment by SilverRain — April 23, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

  95. If the First Presidency came out with a statement tomorrow endorsing evolution, Gary would support it and change his views. He has expressed a partiality for creationist publications, but it seems clear to me that that is only because it seems to support his understanding of the consensus view of Church leaders.

    Gary is certainly capable of independent thought, but it is overridden by his desire to conform his views to theirs. So although I largely agree with Bhodges, I think it is questionable when he says, Gary equates X with Y, etc. To all appearances, all Gary cares about is whether Church leaders equate X with Y. What he thinks is irrelevant. Is the Big Bang a reasonable method of creation? Well, Elder Nelson doesn’t think so, nobody of equal standing has contradicted him, so no it’s not.

    I don’t think it’s that complicated. Gary is a company man, so to speak, and ‘stick with the Brethren’ is his motto. Which is why if you disagree with him, he mostly strings together quotes from Church leaders or Church-approved publications.

    I should add, though, that as frustrated as I’ve been with him at times, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the sense that he sits in judgment of my righteousness. He has repeatedly said that belief in evolution does not disqualify one from any aspect of full membership, and that such belief is probably less harmful than his own ingestion of cola drinks (which he believes to be contrary to the counsel of the Brethren.)

    Comment by Jared* — April 23, 2012 @ 3:03 pm

  96. Well said Jared.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

  97. BHodges,
    You might be right about Gary as a person, but I guess that’s not really what my post was about. Rather, I was trying to offer a way of interpreting all those Iron-Rodders such that their otherwise perplexing comments suddenly make sense and seem quite rational and level-headed.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 3:15 pm

  98. Jared,
    I think your take on how Gary views other people’s beliefs is spot on.

    What I can’t help but notice is that we all seem to have our own theories about the nature or logic of Gary’s thought process. I’m not convinced that any of them describe the “actual” thoughts he thinks, but that doesn’t make such reconstructions useless. The question is to what end we mean to put such reconstructions. Are we trying to open communication or close it? Does our account make him look good or bad? Does it help us understand and respect his views or not? We might add: is it an accurate account of him? He might add: does your account of him get you closer to God?

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

  99. I just can’t shake the feeling that much of the hostility and incomprehension directed toward Gary stems from a desire to ensure that he is not what a good, normal religious person is supposed to be. I want some principled way of building walls between some “us” and him.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 3:42 pm

  100. Jeff: my chief concern when it comes to people like R. Gary is that too many people lose their faith due to entirely unnecessary dogmatic anti-intellectualism in the church.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 3:59 pm

  101. I think some of the hostility toward Gary is a result of his method. Most believing Mormons also value following the Brethren, and Gary’s stringing together of quotes can make you feel like you are fighting against them, causing a bit of cognitive/spiritual dissonance. All of the sudden the topic switches from the merits of X to why I am not in disagreement with the Lord’s servants.

    And from an argumentation standpoint, it can be very frustrating to continually have to tip-toe around GA statements. It’s like you’re playing one of those games where you shoot the bad guys, but sometimes innocent people pop up. When you argue with Gary, not only are you seeking to press your point, but you must simultaneously take care not to accidentally shoot the Brethren that he pushes into your path, so to speak, because if you do, by Mormon culture rules you automatically lose the argument.

    I don’t pretend to actually know how Gary’s mind works. Often times we don’t even understand our own. I’m only speaking to generalities based on his Internet persona.

    Comment by Jared* — April 23, 2012 @ 4:10 pm

  102. After following this discussion for a day, I’ve decided that NDBF is merely an available and workable example of something bigger, and I’m just along for the ride. To be honest, I feel like a little school boy, sitting on a table in front of a university lecture hall full of people who are all there doing postgraduate work. Do I understand that I’m being analyzed? Yes. Do I think the discussion is, at its root, about me personally? No. Do I have any complaints? No. With only a few exceptions, you have all been respectful and considerate of the specimen (me). Jeff and Jared were my first blogging friends. My first blog post was a guest post on their blog Mormons and Evolution. For more than seven years now, I’ve had an undying respect for their opinions, even when mine are different. I guess my contribution to this discussion is the seven years of blogging that preceded it. Jeff, your patience with me (and with the others) is a model of Christian charity. Thank you!

    Comment by R. Gary — April 23, 2012 @ 4:10 pm

  103. I knew you weren’t trying to psycho-analyze him, Jared. That paragraph of mine was inspired by you, but aimed more at others.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 4:30 pm

  104. Glad to see you aren’t too mad about being the topic of the day Gary. Thanks for being a good sport about it all.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2012 @ 4:34 pm

  105. What Geoff said! The last thing I really wanted was a festivus airing of grievances.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

  106. Well, I hope we still get to do some feats of strength.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

  107. I find this post (and following discussion) to be one of the most interesting things I’ve read in ages. I am as perplexed by R. Gary as anyone could be and, Jeff, I love that you care enough to try to get to the bottom of his thought process. Not as a specimen, as he said playfully above, but because you truly care about communicating. This thread almost makes me want to get into an argument with him to test some of the hypotheses put forward above. My first impression when I read the post was in line with Geoff’s reaction, but you inspire me to keep an open mind and see if some of my inferences are really a misunderstanding of R. Gary because he is playing by a totally different set of rules (as you have put it).

    Comment by Jacob J — April 23, 2012 @ 11:10 pm

  108. Thanks Jacob!

    To be honest, I sort of wish we had focused a little more on discussing and clarifying the nature of truth rather than discussing and clarifying the nature of Gary, but the comments were very helpful all the same.

    I thought the different meanings in the phrase “the church is true” had some great potential. In particular, the fact that truth for Science is a match between some proposition and the world means that churches or people cannot be true even if what they say or teach might be. But if truth is a path, then we have no reason to assume that it must be propositional in nature. Churches, people, even music can be true.

    It’s tough to keep in mind that the extreme focus on propositional truth did not really emerge until the Enlightenment and therefore should not be read back into the Bible.

    Of particular interest is what this says about the nature of faith. Faith in something may have very little to do with facts as we think about them. Anyways, this probably deserves its own post.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 24, 2012 @ 12:05 am

  109. The question is to what end we mean to put such reconstructions. Are we trying to open communication or close it? Does our account make him look good or bad? Does it help us understand and respect his views or not?

    Respect, understanding and communication sound nice if you’re into that kind of thing, but I was under the impression that the point of R. Gary’s endeavor is about being right.

    Comment by Peter LLC — April 24, 2012 @ 4:30 am

  110. I am not an intellectual, and I am glad I am not. I raised a brilliant intellectual son and he wears me out. I like simplicity and what I have read about Gary here just resonates with me. We are all different and God loves us all.

    Comment by Kris — April 24, 2012 @ 2:16 pm

  111. Peter, The comment you quoted was asking what purpose we have in mind for ourselves when we attribute this belief or that motive to Gary.

    Kris, Thanks for stopping by! I’m curious what parts resonated most with you. Did you feel like my description of Gary was a fair portrayal of your own thought processes or was it more of a feeling that it’s nice to have somebody trying to stick up for non-intellectual’s? I would love a little feed back from some Iron-Rodders. :)

    Comment by Jeff G — April 24, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

  112. Jeff, I know. It just seems beside the point. Why would a guy who specializes in, say, throwing curve balls care about whether in your heart of hearts you want to play basketball?

    Comment by Peter LLC — April 25, 2012 @ 5:27 am

  113. Jeff, since you asked I will respond without feeling like a troll. I see some LDS intellectuals as being impressed with their own “smartness” who like to argue and try to best one another. To me the Gospel is very simple. I went to Gary’s site for the first time and what resonated was the solidness, for lack of a better word, of his thinking. The goal or path is to get back to God. If one holds to the iron rod and lives by the living Prophet’s words one will attain the goal. The other path as espoused by some of the commenters here just seems airy, insubstantial and a waste of time to me. It doesn’t matter if Adam was the first, really. Okay, I don’t want to insult, but that is what I meant by the resonance. You opened a fascinating discussion and I am impressed by the kindness you showed, your open mindedness and your trying to understand what seems to be an enigma to you. Thanks, Jeff.

    Comment by Kris — April 25, 2012 @ 10:01 am

  114. Thanks for the feedback,Kris.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 25, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

  115. “For monkeys to speak of truth is hubris of the highest degree. Where is it writ large that talking-monkeys should be able to model the cosmos? If a sea urchin or a racoon were to propose to you that it had a viable truth about the universe, the absurdity of that assertion would be self-evident, but in our case we make an exception.”

    – Terence McKenna

    Comment by Bradley — May 7, 2012 @ 8:07 pm

  116. I think this post was a great way to discuss an individual’s approach to things–by looking at them in a positive light, even when we strongly disagree with them.

    Unfortunately, R. Gary has recently gone off the deep end on his own blog and attacked a BYU professor he disagrees with. It’s unfortunate he failed to pick up on the excellent example set here.

    Comment by Tim — July 18, 2012 @ 8:12 am

  117. I am actually not familiar with R. Gary, so I’m fairly out of my depth here, but I think I understand Jeff’s analogy (let me know if I’ve misunderstood it, Jeff). Essentially, religious truth does not consist of factual statements about the way the world in reality works. It is not a picture of reality, unlike science. Rather, it is a set of instructions about how to achive exaltation and come closer to Christ.
    Evolution and other historical/scientific issues is one of those interesting places where these two forms of truth cross. R. Gary, firmly following the words of prophets in the unshakeable belief that they show the way to come closer to Christ, essentially follows all their instructions. Thus, when they say: “Do not believe in evolution”, he refuses to believe in evolution. The reason this is interesting is that this is one example where following the path of religious truth means disregarding the picture of reality painted he scientific world, in favour of the one promoted by those who know the way to Christ (ie apostles and prophets).
    So religion is like a path, while science is like a picture, but sometimes part of following that path is rejecting the picture.

    Comment by themormonbrit — September 19, 2012 @ 3:31 am

  118. That’s not bad. While I probably wouldn’t phrase it the exact same way in a couple of places, I’m pretty sure that you’ve got the basic jist.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 19, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

  119. My education continues.

    If bibliolatry is the worship of the Bible without obeying its precepts – a state many, if not all, of our cousins in the orthodox faiths are in – then what word covers worshipping the Brethren in the place of God (D&C 76:98-113)?

    Those who “follow the prophet” rank with the liars, sorcerors, adulterers, whoremongerers, and politicians in the sight of God.

    Comment by log — November 4, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

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