Friday, August 29, 2008

2 Simple Questions (Okay, 3)

When discussing beliefs it is important to consider a couple of questions. The first question can be put a couple of different ways, but it is basically meant to evaluate whether the person is even willing to attempt to be objective and fair. The second is really meant to evaluate the sincerity of the answer to the first question and establish a framework for any discussion of the beliefs. Here are the questions.

1a) If what you believe is wrong, would you want to know?
1b) Can you consider that your beliefs might be wrong?

2) What could you convince you that your beliefs are wrong?

Now, why are these questions important?

First of all, if you yourself can't answer the first question with an unqualified "yes" then you need to do some soul searching. It suggests that you are not objective and are unwilling to consider the possibility that the other person might be right or even that you both might be wrong. It also suggests that you are not going to be listening to the other person or trying to understand where they are coming from or the logic behind their beliefs. Your intent is likely to show the other person they are wrong and as a result you won't be listening to them very well.

If the other person's answer to the first question is "no" then you are wasting your time talking to that person if you are trying to change their mind. Their mind is already made up and it is important for both people to understand that fact up front. If the answer is "no" then all you can really hope for is to try to understand each other's beliefs without any hope of changing them. It also helps to understand that their beliefs will color their interpretation of everything you tell them resulting in seemingly bizarre reactions from them. My next post will give a poignant example.

If the answer to the first question is "no" then the second question is by default, "nothing." However, if the answer to the first question is "yes" then perhaps there is hope. Depending on the answer you can focus on the issues that might persuade either of you to change your minds.

I've only had the opportunity to ask these questions 3 times that I recall.

The first time was during an email exchange with my TBM father.
Me: It's pretty simple in the end if you consider the simple possibility that Joseph Smith made the whole thing up.

Dad: I can consider that possibility and then reject is as utterly false. I and tens of thousands of others have had personal experience that is "evidence" that God lives - will you deny that? - that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior and redeemer of all - will you deny that? - by instituting the resurrection of all, good and wicked, and the resurrection was witnessed on both continents - will you deny the Bible as well as the Book of Mormon? and We have personal experience that the Book of Mormon is true and wholesome - and it is LUDICROUS to state or believe it was "made up" by a liar.
So, basically, he can consider he might be wrong, but then he can reject that as ludicrous because he has personal experience that God lives and that the Book of Mormon is true and wholesome. For him, personal experience is the ultimate evidence. After that I gave up. After all, I can't change his personal experiences and he is simply arguing from a standpoint of surety and that my position is LUDICROUS. After this I was regaled with the following nice assessment of my own objectivity.
You have reached a state of mind where you only allow witnesses in support of one side. How fair or logical is that? It is bizarre. You reject what I and others have, out of hand, with derisive and insulting and unsound language about how "less logical we are", not by refuting our evidence with stronger evidence.
If he were correct in his assessment he'd be justified in his outrage. But it's a more than a little frustrating when what he's saying pretty well describes what he does. However, I've spent more time, in retrospect, investigating both sides of the issues than what is justified by the evidence in support of the church.

The second case was a friend who was questioning his testimony. I'd learned from my experiences with my father and asked the first question. We talked for at least a couple of hours and I never got him to answer the question. It was a good discussion, but I tried to mostly listen to his concerns rather than give him any new evidence. After all, what's the point until he's willing to look at it critically and with a mindset that it might be wrong.

The most recent case was in the comments for I'm An Ignorat Dumbass. Here's his response.
1) If the church isn't true, would you want to know?

I favor intellectual honesty. This question, frankly, can seem offensive, which is why I assume your relatives etc. aren't fond of it. I've been asked these questions by many critics, it seems to be a popular sticking point, especially for those who lean towards agnosticism and atheism. The answer is "of course."

2) What evidence would you accept that would convince you that the church isn't true?

I would accept solid, incontrovertible, decisive, evidence.
I can understand that people can feel insulted that you are questioning their objectivity. But, for gosh sake, we're talking about religion. Religious people don't have a history of objectivity when it comes to their beliefs. The whole point of the question is to get that out in the open and dealt with.

I'll repost my comment on his answer to the second question.
The standard of "solid, incontrovertible, decisive, evidence" would seem to be an impossible standard for a belief system predicated on faith. I wouldn't even insist on that as proof that the church is true. But surely you see the problem. In the same way I can't provide that to you, you can't provide it to me either. The best that I've been able to find is systematic factual errors and deception on the part of the church and a large body of evidence that calls its fundamental claims into question.

Am I 100% sure the church is false? Nope. But my standard is more one of likelihood and preponderance of evidence. I haven't found any facts that can't be more reasonably explained in a naturalistic way than by the supernatural.
Naturally LifeOnAPlate disagrees and finds naturalistic explanations more problematic. On that we'll disagree. However, my burden of proof isn't that high.

In the meantime, realizing that I can't produce what would be needed to influence his beliefs I understand that I shouldn't waste any time trying to persuade him, even if I was so inclined. And that really was the point of the questions: to figure out whether or not it would be a waste of time to engage.

However, he has inspired me to post what I consider some of the most persuading evidence against the church's truthfulness.

BTW, I value these questions enough to have added them to my banner.

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