Gene Expression

Over at Ross Douthat’s blog, a giggle-inducing comment:

It seems to me that Mormonism is indeed a lot more illogical than mainstream Christianity. It suffers from logical contradictions that Christianity does not- for example, how can someone be retroactively baptized? Why would God say that polygamy was OK for Brigham Young but then not OK anymore after Utah became a state? How do the Gods of multiple universes interact? Most importantly, how is it even logically possible for man to become God? This last bit, about man becoming God, is not just highly offensive to me, it’s also logically incoherent- if God and man are not inherently of unfathomably different kind, then the term ‘God’ has no meaning.


I’ve hit this topic a few times. My general attitude as an atheist in regards to Mormonism, Christianity, etc., is this: Mormonism suffers from being both exotic and familiar. That is, its doctrines are not peculiarities to which we are habituated, and the fact that Mormonism is a religion of recent history is problematic since that history offers many non-supernatural explanations for the development of the nature of Mormon theology and institutions. That being said, I also think it is important to remember that the Mormon aversion toward excessive philosophical obscurantism, in short, a rejection of the Hellenic intellectual legacy in Christianity, makes it a more intelligible religion to our common sense. And that in some ways is part of the problem: what is not a mystery seems laughable and fallacious on the face of it to those outside the faith. Note that the commentator above is offended that the Mormon god is fathomable!

In any case, I won’t bother to “fisk” the above comment. It is a classic “Village non-Mormon” reaction to the absurdities of the Mormon religion, and a sentiment I can empathize with. But, my own take is I suspect a bit more global than the individual who is making the argument above.

Comments

  1. #1 PixelFish
    October 29, 2007

    As an ex-Mormon (whee! professional heretic!) I roll my eyes when I see such statements. When you grow up with something, it makes a lot more sense than if you’re brought to it second hand. (For example, why wouldn’t the children of God, as Mormons believe themselves to be, grow up to be Gods if they survive the spiritual tests of God? All other known species grow up to be just like just like their parents.)

    As for Christianity being logical…puhleeze. A grown man gets nailed to a cross, dies, and comes back again three days later? You can eat little wafers and they become the body of Christ inside you? Yeah, Christianity makes so much logical sense comparatively.

    BTW, I obviously don’t agree with Mormon doctrine, but when it was explained to me as a child, it made about as much sense as Christ being resurrected after three days. Certainly Mormonism is absurd, but no more so than most other religions. (I only say Most Other instead of All, because I haven’t yet studied all religions to the same depths as I have the LDS. But so far the score for absurdities isn’t looking good on all fronts.)

  2. #2 Troff
    October 29, 2007

    … why not fisk the above entry? Why not get Mr Dauphin-Gloire to explain why specific elements of his position aren’t equally – erm, how shall I put this politely – unlikely?

    Or, like, quote the bits of his bible in Genesis which specifically answer his [your] bold-marked question? Or the bit about the laws on polygamy changing being quite comprehensible seeing as Jesus turning up was meant to be a changing of the rules from Old to New Testaments anyway?

    … Is there any hope that the pointing out of absurdities might force people to reconsider their own beliefs, even just a little bit?

  3. #3 razib
    October 29, 2007

    … Is there any hope that the pointing out of absurdities might force people to reconsider their own beliefs, even just a little bit?

    i have no such vain faith ;-) the data argues against it in fact.

  4. #4 Troff
    October 29, 2007

    On the one hand, razib, you’re probably right. Hope springs eternal, though.

    … in fact, once I read the rest of the post, I couldn’t stop myself from responding on the very same forum (yes, even under the same name). Except for one tiny little screwup with a blockquote tag, I’d like to think I made a nice job of it… oh well. This is what I get for procrastinating instead of working on a research proposal.

    … actually, the Mormons I’ve known have all defined Mormonism as a subset of Christianity. And as far as I recall, all you need to REALLY be called a Christian is to subscribe to the belief that Jesus is your saviour and the direct descendant of God and all that jazz.

    After that, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in the magic glasses (and I’m still not sure about the underwear, even if the Mormons I’ve known were cute young blondes), but Mormonism has to inherit all the same logics and absurdities as Christianity if it IS a form of Christianity, doesn’t it?

  5. #5 razib
    October 29, 2007

    but Mormonism has to inherit all the same logics and absurdities as Christianity if it IS a form of Christianity, doesn’t it?

    this is a pedantic point, but no, not really. we’re not talking evolutionary biology here where there are ancestral and derived traits. mormons actually believe that other christian churches are fallen and corrupted and that they are the restoration of the original church. which, as it so happens, ejects many of the later greco-roman accretions or consenses overlain atop primitive xtianity. ergo, mormons reject the trinitarian theology. they reject an incorporeal divinity. they reject in character of many of the sacraments in mainstream christianity. this means they tend to not be subject to the same arguments against theism as other christians. for example, mormons do not believe that the god of this universe is outside of, or can contradict, logical consistency.

  6. #6 Yilmaz Kaya
    October 29, 2007

    If we talk scientifically belief in God is nonsense since we can not use our five senses to be able to prove it. It is spiritul or somehow emotional “fact.”

    No religion will make sense. I believe and support science and science and relgion cannot co-exist together, but we can put them in different folders in the library of life.

    I believe in God but that doesn’t make a blind follower of Him. All power to science and research.

    Yilmaz

    PS> I don’t know why Mormonism is here. I used to live in Utah and attended the Mormon university (BYU.)

  7. #7 John Emerson
    October 29, 2007

    I’ve argued this here before, but for anyone who cares about questions of doctrine at all, the Mormons are definitely outside the Christian consensus. They are theologically about as far from other Christians as Muslims are, though they are culturally completely American. (Muslims also recognize Jesus and also claim to believe in Christ’s true message.)

    They’re only one of many XVIIIc-XIXc American sects to deny or revise fundamental tenets of Christianity by going back to the “true Bible”. (Even the Unitarians and Deists — e.g. Thomas Jefferson — were “originalists”). Other such groups surviving today include the Adventists and Jehovah Witnesses (Saturday worship, unitarianism) and Christian Science (anti-materialism, faith healing). Quakers are earlier and are not very theologically unorthodox, just unorthodox in practice.

    The really weird thing is that fundamentalism also traces back to the XIXc. They also went to the Bible and found the original meaning, rejecting centuries of tradition. One of the forms of fundamentalism, dispensationalism. — the rapture / Armageddon Christians. Fundamentalists claim to read the Bible literally, but dispensationalists work from an originally-Catholic occult symbolic reading of the apocalyptic books of the Bible (Revelation, Daniel, and a large number of books excluded from most Protestant Bibles). The “literalism” of fundamentalists really is just their rejection of rationalizing, modernizing, liberal Christianity in favor of strong affirmation of extreme, anti-modern readings of the Bible; their claim that the Bible trumps all other sources of knowledge (especially science); and the violence of their rejection of secularity, liberal Christianity, etc.

    In sum, America produced its own Christianities which “went back to the basics”, unitarianism/ liberal Christianity and fundamentalism were two new forms of Christianity which did that, and these two new American forms of Christianity are bitter enemies.

    (NOTE: neither dispensationalism nor unitarianism is unique to the U.S, but both are outside the traditional mainstream (Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and most other Protestants) and both developed indigenous forms in the U.S.

  8. #8 John Emerson
    October 29, 2007

    Edit:

    Fundamentalists claim to read the Bible literally rather than symbolically, but the very influential dispensationalist fundamentalists — the work from an originally-Catholic occult symbolic reading of the apocalyptic books of the Bible (Revelation, Daniel, and a large number of books excluded from most Protestant Bibles).

  9. #9 Alan Kellogg
    October 29, 2007

    I like this from the comment just below.

    So the biblical scholars mis-translated the Hebrew word for “young woman” into the Greek word for “virgin,” which was a pretty easy mistake to make, since there is only a subtle difference in the spelling. But back then it was the “virgin” that caught people’s attention. It’s not every day a virgin conceives and bears a son. So you keep that for a couple of hundred years, and the nexy thing you know, you have the Roman Catholic church.

  10. #10 j mct
    October 30, 2007

    I think this is the result of some people tossing around words like ‘logical’ and ‘reason’ without knowing waht they mean.

    What does a man do when he ‘reasons’. He finds ‘reasons’ or ’causes’ for contingent facts or things, things that are a certain way but don’t need to be that way. Thus there is a reason or cause for the redness of a fire engine but not for 2+2 being 4. Gee, where does ‘taking reason seriously’ lead.

    Most people use the word ‘reasonable’ to mean ‘doesn’t violate my sense of the normal’ and the reason (cause) of their doing that is that they generally do so by induction, if everytime I see one billiard ball hit another the other moves, so I atrribute causation, and since induction affects the ‘sense of the normal’ that is why people toss the word around that way, though if they aspire to being a ‘Deep Thinker’ while doing so, they’ve failed to attain their aspirations.

    Logical and illogical are about violating the rule of the extended middle, that A && (‘A) is the null set, or having conflicting predicates like a square circle. I don’t know all there is to know about Mormonism, but I’m pretty sure it does require belief in such things. As far as I know, Christianity doesn’t posit any things that violate the law of the extended middle.

    Christianity most assuredly requires belief in things that violate the sense of the normal, but if that were all that is necessary to violate a hard ‘test of truth’, General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics would have to go to.

    I don’t think atheism is ridiculous, but people who claim to be deep thinkers tossing around the words ‘reasonable’ and ‘logical’ as ‘violates my sense of the normal’, i.e. like magic talismans they own given they obvioulsy don’t know what the words actually mean…. because they’re smart! seem pretty ridiculous, i.e. giggle inducing, to me.

  11. #11 j mct
    October 30, 2007

    Since we’re sharing what gives us the giggles, I think something else must be pointed out.

    I think what the commenter is objecting to is that in Mormonism God is a material thing, thus he is a creature and cannot be The Creator, like Zeus. This means he’s ‘fathomable’. I’d agree that means that this means he’s ‘fathomable by Richard Dawkins’, but equating ‘fathomable by Richard Dawkins’ with ‘fathomable’, I think earns a fine howl of derisive laughter too.

  12. #12 David B
    October 30, 2007

    I thought the ‘official’ Christian position was that Jesus himself was both Man and God. God became Man. So (logically) why can’t Man become God?

  13. #13 razib
    October 31, 2007

    As far as I know, Christianity doesn’t posit any things that violate the law of the extended middle.

    that’s just your opinion. there’s a large body of atheist literature which argues that xtian theology is incoherent in that it posits axioms which lead to contradiction. mormonism makes plenty of assertions that can be falsified empirically, but it isn’t really that illogical per se because it doesn’t seem to offer up ultimate truths; i.e., it lacks any sophisticated theology.

  14. #14 windy
    October 31, 2007

    Logical and illogical are about violating the rule of the extended middle

    Did you mean “the excluded middle”? And QM might violate that too. But there’s evidence for its claims…

    I don’t know all there is to know about Mormonism, but I’m pretty sure it does require belief in such things.

    This would have been a good place to offer some examples…

  15. #15 j mct
    November 1, 2007

    I suppose I if I might bother to read all that ‘atheist literature’ about axioms, and I think should find them in the religion section of the bookstore next to or interspersed with the books purporting to demonstrate that evolution cannot be true because of entropy. Which I also don’t think can be anything other that dismissable nonsense, and therefore am not going to bother with. Which is of course just my opinion I guess. :)

    I did mean excluded middle. Bad mistake to make in that context!

    The ‘quantum superimpostion’ state fixes QM as regards to the ‘excluded middle’ problem. Since people don’t like thinking of it in that way, is why they say QM might violate the ‘law’ here, because the don’t like the ‘solve’ for it. But could we ‘understand’ or make sense of it any other way, or must we shoehorn reality into one of our pre existing mental categories that doesn’t really fit in order to do anything with it at all. Maybe we are, maybe we aren’t. But how would one ever know it, not just about QM, but about anything? We might be doing that all the time, it’s just less obvious.

    My point about QM goes something like this story. I get into a time machine and have a chat with Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley, specifically about QM. I tell them, this is where physics is going to be in the next 100 years, and all of it will be experimentally confirmed, though we can’t do it now, since I didn’t bring any lab equipment with me and in Darwins time none of the lab equipment had been invented yet. What would they say? I think it would go like thios or it’s logical equivalent, “No way that’s true or going to happen, even Christianity is less preposterous than that!”.

  16. #16 razib
    November 1, 2007

    I suppose I if I might bother to read all that ‘atheist literature’ about axioms, and I think should find them in the religion section of the bookstore next to or interspersed with the books purporting to demonstrate that evolution cannot be true because of entropy.

    the analogy isn’t appropriate. evolution isn’t validated because it is a tautology derived from true axioms. evolution is supported because of a wealth of empirical data. the theoretical framework emerged in response to observation and experimentation.

    verbal logic isn’t precise enough to validate or invalidate religious claims. that’s an empirically true assessment. a substantial number of philosophers are aware of theistic proofs of god and reject them as unpersuasive of invalid. a substantial number of philosophers aware of atheist refutations of the logic for theism find them unpersuasive or invalid. all you have in the end is personal credulity because verbal logic is too fuzzy to extend across a large sequence of propositions. the same rationale explains why a priori austrian economics doesn’t persuade people.

    p.s. the analogy to entropy also doesn’t work because you won’t find many (probably on the order of tens or a hunred) ph.d. biologists who find that argument against evolution persuasive (this includes even many supporters of ID). on the other hand, a survey of philosophers in the analytic tradition would find many atheists (possibly the majority on the ph.d. level).

  17. #17 razib
    November 1, 2007

    also, re: QM. we believe despite its absurdity because there is a wealth of experimental data which validates QM’s operational utility. an analogy would be a consequentialist argument for the benefits of mormonism: despite its absurdity it yields massive social goods.

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