Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Electricity and the Priesthood

I guess I'm an example of why Mormons shouldn't cast their pearls before swine like me.

The weekly activity announcement from the YM's president ended with the following quote from Boyd Packer:
"Some think that unless a power is visible it cannot be real. I think I can convince you otherwise. Do you remember when you foolishly put your finger in that light socket? While you did not see exactly what happened, surely you felt it! No one has ever seen electricity, not even a scientist with the finest instruments. However, like you they have felt it. And we can see the results of it. We can measure it, control it, and produce light, and heat, and power. No one questions that it is real simply because he cannot see it. Although you cannot see the power of the priesthood, you can feel it, and you can see the results of it. The priesthood can be a guiding and protecting power in your life."

Elder Boyd K. Packer "The Aaronic Priesthood," Ensign, Nov. 1981, 30
I foolishly couldn't resist hitting the reply button. Here is my reply:
Sorry, can't resist here.

So, you're telling me that if I did a scientific study of, for example, priesthood blessings for the sick that I'd be able to statistically measure the effectiveness of priesthood blessings? This is an absurd quote because all studies that I'm aware of show exactly the opposite. They show no effect. He starts out by making a false statement, that scientists "feel" electricity and then draws a false parallel to emotional feelings such as in religious experience. The "feelings" of the scientists are not subjective feelings. They are repeatable measurements used to confirm or falsify theories that are in turn based on the results of many other experiments. Unlike scientific experiments which result in repeatable, falsifiable results, religion relies on subjective feelings that are not repeatable and usually not falsifiable. I can't say that I've ever seen the results of priesthood blessings, although I've certainly had strong feelings surrounding them. But the results are open to interpretation to confirm whatever belief you happen to have.
His reply included a dictionary definition of objective and subjective, some anecodotal experiences that confirm his belief, and some scriptural quotes explaining the principles that govern using priesthood power such as righteousness. His experiences are objective to him and he closed by stating, "It is real. I know it."

My parting shot:
I respect your beliefs. I'll remain skeptical until I see proof beyond anecdotes that can't be confirmed or reproduced. The example you give would have made world news and been published in medical journals if it had happened that could be indepently confirmed. The seemingly miraculous using has a natural rather than supernatural explanation. The natural world is full of surprises.

I'm well aware of the doctrines surrounding the priesthood. My personal experiences have been the opposite. I've never seen priesthood blessings result in anything miraculous despite all of the prerequisites you mention being met. For example, a sister received a blessing from an apostle (Faust) to be healed from a malady and despite the presumed worthiness of the apostle in question and the sister in question and faith on both parts nothing happened. Perhaps it wasn't the Lord's will? The problem with this world view is that your position can never be falsified. If it works, even if it's a one in a million occurrence then it confirms your belief. If it doesn't then it is God's will. You can't lose. This is called confirmation bias: noting what confirms your belief while ignoring everything that contradicts it. This is the problem with anecdote as well. If you try enough, eventually you'll get the desired result. If you are wrong, there is absolutely no way to prove it. This is also known as a position that cannot be falsified. You basically believe it because you believe it and nothing can possibly convince you that it is wrong.

And. You BELIEVE it. I'll accept that you find your beliefs compelling to you. But even scientists don't claim knowledge of the most basic fundamental laws of nature. Everything is provisional and all contrary evidence is considered.

Still, there is a very fundamental difference between the science of electricity and the power of the priesthood. By the definitions you quote, one can be objectively studied. The other is open to subjective interpretation, can't be falsified, and hence can't be objectively studied.

Sorry for the reply. Sometimes I just can't shut up. I don't mean to trivialize or minimize your experiences. I understand that to you they are very real. I just get concerned about the influence that these kinds of quotes have on youth when accepted uncritically and the lack of understanding of science that they betray.
Sigh. I'm ashamed to admit that I used to think like that. I'd never have accepted such sloppy thinking at work, but I regularly used it to justify my beliefs and convince myself that I had the "truth". The fact that it was highly improbably just made it all the more miraculous in my mind.


Cynthia E. Bagley said...

LOL.. well I don't know about you, but when I see lightning, I see wild electricity.

Are there wild priesthood blessings too? Or are they just tamed? Or am I confused?

La said...

Yeah and when you stick your finger in that light socket? That spark that reaches out to your finger before it ever makes connection with a receptor? What are we "seeing" if not electricity?

Ay caramba. I'm with you...how could I have ever... geez.


Joseph's Left One said...

Sloppy thinking, indeed. I wouldn't feel bad about your response. What do they expect when they send such silliness to you?