For those jumping here from the sidebar, the post all of this is in connection to was a discussion of Alan Goff's claims about positivism at Signature. While I'm sympathetic to many of his elements, I think Goff is perhaps conflating naturalism with positivism. It also appears that he is pushing the "everything is apologetics" position a tad too far. Even if, as I agree, everything is apologetics in one sense. I think as a pragmatic matter we separate them out by degree.
This has become the thread that never dies. Although it is an interesting enough topic with the key actors in the debate contributing, so I certainly am not complaining in the least. Even so, I've added a few extra pages of comments. If you post a comment here it will go to the last page.
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Just to get the second page of comments started, let me repost my comments from the first page.
Alan, surely while everyone is an apologist for an ideology, there is a difference between that and what we more normally think of as apologetics. Apologetics proper, especially religious apologetics, is more concerned with showing that one can rationally be a believer. It seems that for whatever flaws it has, traditional history is concerned with showing what is probable given public information. When we limit ourselves to public information, clearly the Mormon view is improbable. However one can still be a believing Mormon and be rational. Yet there is little the Mormon apologist can offer an unbeliever which would make him become a Mormon, other than spiritual experiences.
I don't think that a bad thing, mind you. Indeed I think that if there is lacking the kind of evidence for the Book of Mormon a more disinterested historian would need to convince them, that it is most certainly intended that way. The Book of Mormon, even back in the days of Joseph Smith, was primarily a tool for conversion. Meaning that it forced people to pray and potentially have a spiritual experience they could build off.
I'm sure you don't disagree with that. Yet to say that everyone is equally an apologist seems to overlook that point. While one can be an apologist for the naturalistic position, I think the vast majority of naturalistic writings aren't strongly apologetics at all. I can't speak for Vogel, as I only have two or three of his writings. I'll confess that I didn't see what I perceive to be positiivism in them. A thoroughgoing skepticism and naturalism, yes. A defense of his model, yes. But not as much apologetics as I think of them as you suggest. Some, I'll agree.
As I said though I've not read the texts in question, so I can't comment to those.
Others will get their chances. I'll be attending a conference for the next few days and don't plan to take my laptop with me to Boulder. Dan, yours is a curious rhetorical device, to merely dismiss my argument as motivated by anger. I mentioned nothing angry nor about my faith; you raised those issues. You are apparently able to read deeply into people's unexpressed psychology. I discussed philosophical and metaphysical ideas, applying them to specific people who write history. Why in a knee-jerk way attribute those responses to personal sources? Putting me on the couch is probably a natural response if I claim that your positions is uncritical; perhaps I should have been more diplomatic. I am sorry if I offended you. I thought I agreed with you that naturalism and positivism are distinct issues that, though often related, ought to be kept distinct. I don't think you are a positivist because you are committed to naturalism. I think you are a positivist because you call others apologists while you think you are free of the same charge; the second word in your first response is, after all, apologists. The issue isn't one about naturalism, it's about whether or not you are an apologist for an ideology. I see anger on this bulletin board; I don't see it in my previous response. People who disagree with you don't necessarily do it because they are angry with you. Yours is a highly emotional reponse to an exchange of ideas; threats are even more extreme responses. I am, quite frankly, astonished at your rage.
I completely agree with Clark's final thought. Whatever merits postmodernism has for criticizing western foundations, I simply don't see how Mormon historians take up that vein in any way whatsoever. I mostly agree with everything else he said, but I'm not sure about his claim that postmodernism never seeks to "break from the modern." I think that's probably true for poststructuralists generally, maybe phenomenologists, but for many of the "theorists" I think it might be a different story. Even though I think they've probably failed. Though that's kind of off topic.
I don't think postmodernism criticizes modernism (or modern philosophy) in the almost straightforward way Alan seems to me to be suggesting. I don't see postmodernism as a simple exercise of taking modernist reduction to the next level. And I think the problems with "knowledge and truth" found in modernism, are understood better by critiques outside of the pomo tradition, especially if one is interested in how these problems might be relevant to something like the FARMS/Signature battles.
Dan Vogal said,
"Strictly speaking, I do not say the supernatural does not exist, for it is impossible to prove a negative; I only assert that there is no proof for the supernatural. So I'm a naturalist until the supernatural is proven."
What do you mean by "proving negatives?" Usually it isn't clear what's meant when someone uses this terminology. I think it's pretty obvious that a "negative" can be proven. I don't think we can talk about evidence for the supernatural since it would seem that would amount to simply saying what's in question is a part of nature. It's really saying no more than restating the problem of induction with respect to anything, supernatural or otherwise.
One problem I have with Alan G's position is its evident lack of content, another is its partisanship. He appears to be arguing that the postmodern critique undermines in some general way the entire historical research enterprise. But the extent to which this is the case is not made clear. For example:
"It is true that we aren't left with just ideology. We still have the protocols of reason and protocols of the discipline to guide us in deciding which historical interpretations are to preferred over others; we still have archival, eyewitness, and other kinds of evidence to guide our interpretations and preclude some possibilities. But these protocols and evidence are almost always equivocal; the application of a different perspective or ideology to the same evidence will yield different conclusions. Not criteria free of ideology are available to mediate these interpretations. Positivists think that resort to the evidence is sufficient to settle arguments, but postmodern historiography and some frankly modern deny this."
Consider the last sentence. Is Goff suggesting that disputes about events in the past can never be settled by considering evidence? Is he saying that, once freed of positivist blinders we will recognize that there is no way to judge, ever, between strong and weak historical inferences, competing or otherwise? If so, then he's making a purely metaphysical point that is also, practically speaking, not a very interesting one. It is uninteresting insofar as it mandates an equally skeptical conclusion about all human reconstructions of past events. (That skepticism would apply equally, note, to the similar, sometimes identical reconstructive activities that go on in courtrooms and other tribunals every day.)
In any event, that leveling metaphysical argument undermines equally the work of a Bushman or a Vogel, or anyone else. In this radical form, the problem can't be "cured" by a historian merely disclosing his or her own methodology, assumptions and ideology. But if so, then why single out Vogel and those "revisionists" of Mormon history Goff criticizes? That skeptical argument obviously can't be used in a partisan way.
Goff also says:
"When Dan finally admits he is an apologist for an ideology (that he presents evidence in ways advantageous to that ideology and doesn't include opposing evidence sometimes willfully but also at times because his ideology blinds him to its import), we will have made some progress toward leaving positivism behind us."
Let's leave aside the claim, btw, which I think is baselss, that Vogel denies having any biases or that he does not acknowledge approaching the evidence from a naturalistic viewpoint, or that he believes in something like Objective History.
If the parenthetical is supposed to summarize what it means for any historian to have an ideology, and all historians do, then this selective invitation to "Come to Alan" (cf. Come to Jesus) and confess is more rhetorical partisanship. What Goff doesn't say is that (presumably) all historians should approach and make the same humble confession.
Actually, though, it's worse than that. If we think for a moment, we can see that, in the critical dialogue among those who do not accept postmodernism, most all of what Goff asks Vogel to "confess" is already the subject of scrutiny and argument. That is, it is commonplace for crtics to point out examples of the very defects Goff identifies. That is, arguments that Vogel's or someone else's work is defective because he sometimes presents evidence "in ways favorable to his ideology," and "doesn't include opposing evidence sometimes willfully" are already grist in the critical mill. Why must Vogel "confess" in some generalized manner to alleged defects that are already individually the subject of critical scrutiny and argument?
There's another possibility, of course. That what Goff really means is that Vogel and all other historians (because all have an ideology) do not just sometimes present evidence favorable to their ideology, and only sometimes exclude unfavorable evidence, but that they do it all the time; they are helpless to avoid it. Thus Goff also says that Vogel is "blind" to the import of evidence because of his ideology. This sounds like Goff's way of re-stating in behavioral terms the radical skeptical conclusion noted above. If so, it suffers from the same problem.
Finally, if Goff is taking a position less radical and skeptical than the position I summarized above, then as I've said before, in order to assess the practical significance (if any) of what he's claiming, he needs to sort out, distinguish between, the conduct of historians that his philosophical position undermines or rejects and those it does not. Otherwise, he's not saying anything clear enough to either agree or disagree with.
In that regard, may I suggest Todd Compton's book. It has already been reviewed and criticized, but not from a postmodern position, so far as I know. From your position, then, Alan, what would a critique of his book look like? Would it undermine or endorse everything, nothing, or something in between?
Note I just tested blockquotes and they appear to be working. I'm not sure what happened in your post. I put the quotes back into your prior posting for you. Also sorry about the posts going to the wrong page initially. What had happened is I'd set up the stuff for the second page, but you had on your browser the older version of the html. It was a quick hack so some key logic was in the html rather than the cgi.
Alan, if you want to disown your anger and portray yourself as dispassionate, then go ahead. But who is the positivist now?
You might regard this as a cheap trick, but is this not what you are doing to me when I deny that I'm a positivist? Where have I ever said that I was free from ideology and bias? So let me reword your response to my situation: "Alan, yours is a curious rhetorical device, to merely dismiss my argument as positivism. I mentioned nothing about being ideology-free; you raised this issue. You are apparently able to read deeply into people's unexpressed thoughts." I think you understand what I'm saying.
I'm not hiding either my ideology or my anger. Alan, people tend to get angry when you ignore what they say and do not deal directly and honestly with the issues they raise. It's no wonder you accuse your opponents of "wilfully" suppressing evidence.
Now, let's look at one of your tricks. In your 23 September statement, you said: "We can admire a few Mormon revisionists (Sterling McMurrin and Dan Vogel) who quite proudly and frankly say "I am a positivist'"? Of course, neither McMurrin nor I made that statement. Perhaps everyone understood that you made the quote up for rhetorical effect (of course, you have given yourself permission to be rhetorical because, after all, everyone does it; here we need to distinguish between the inescapable use of rhetoric and mere rhetorical devices used as substitutions for evidence). Nevertheless, no one questioned your attributions. McMurrin said, "my personal views incline toward naturalistic humanism with some flavor of positivism" (Dialogue 1 [Summer 1966]: 136). That statement is a odds with your description of "proudly and frankly"; neither does it support your contrived quote of an unequivocal declaration of belief in positivism.
As for me, I have never said I was a positivist as you unequivocally assert. The other readers would have taken your word had I not intervened. As it turns out, your only evidence comes from my 2002 reply to Kevin Christensen's 1990 review of my 1986 book Indian Origins (which happens to be published in the same issue of FARMS Review as your essay on positivism). Obviously your operating under the influence of Christensen's misreading of what I wrote. To give context, I will quote a little more of my words than either you or Christensen did: "One is therefore not surprised to find Christensen referencing [Thomas] Kuhn in a manner not unlike supporters of New Age religion. ... Neither is one surprised when Christensen attacks the naturalistic assumptions (i.e., positivism/empiricism) of Book of Mormon critics."Obviously I'm describing what Christensen thinks he is doing when he uses Kuhn's work to attack naturalistic assumptions; I'm not describing my beliefs. This is clear by my use of the plural "critics"rather than saying "my naturalistic assumptions."Moreover, much like you, it was Christensen who made the connection between naturalism and positivism--I'm merely reflecting his position without correcting it. When you went to quote me, you perhaps sensed Christensen's mishandling, because you no longer state Vogel admits to being a positivist but rather "Vogel himself equates naturalism and positivism."That's significantly different that what you originally claimed, but still wrong.
In your second response, after apologizing for offending me, you state: "I thought I agreed with you that naturalism and positivism are distinct issues that, though often related, ought to be kept distinct."In fact, you did not make that concession in your previous response. Rather, as I stated above, you tried to claim that I had linked naturalism and positivism. Nevertheless, I welcome this concession. You further concede, "I don't think you are a positivist because you are committed to naturalism. I think you are a positivist because you call others apologists while you think you are free of the same charge."I call these statements concessions because in your FARMS essay you very definitely referred to my naturalistic explanations of visions (hallucinations) as "positivistic rhetoric." Nevertheless, I'll consider these concessions progress and move to the second part about apologists.
I believe Clark handled this issue well enough, but here is my response. In your FARMS essay you mention that Metcalfe and I use "apologist or defender"six times in the introduction to American Apocrypha then fallaciously argue: "This vocabulary assumes that it is possible not to be an apologist for an ideology."You repeat this non-sequitur in your first response when you state: "Vogel's main and repeated positivistic assertion is that people who disagree with him are apologists while he and his ideological allies are not apologists for an ideology."Is everyone who uses the term "apologist"a positivist? Does the mere use of that term imply that all who use it are necessarily denying they have an ideology? Alan, this seems to me to be a grossly unfair assumption, if not mind-reading. You seem to know what I'm thinking when you say "you think you are free [of ideology] ..."How you can make such a statement is beyond me given the fact that I had just clearly stated that I was "basically a post-positive ontological naturalist."Does that sound like I "think"I'm assumption-free or bias-free? By the way, the notion that a historian can be free of all bias, assumptions, etc., is called the Baconian fallacy.
In your 28 September post, you say Mormon revisionists "don't see the circularity in their own arguments because they still invest in a simplistic positivism. The most effective tool for [attacking] ... reason ... is postmodernism."While I'm not a positivist, I'm also not a postmodern relativist. Another incoherent statement you make is: "This relativism [only] looks like relativism from ... a positivistic perspective."This is not a valid argument because all you said was relativism only seems like relativism from a non-relativist perspective. Needless to say postmodernism is incoherent for the same reason that positivism is. They are both self-refuting and circuitous. Of course, the implication that only positivists are anti-relativists, or worse that all anti-relativists are positivists, is wrong. And it is here, perhaps, where your own definition of positivism comes from.
Now, this is all irrelevant since it distracts from the fact that we all have to deal with the evidence. Who has the best interpretation of the evidence? That's what we should be discussing. Rather than dealing with the evidence, Alan wants to force all his opponents into a certain category and then dismiss that category as outdated. Life ain't that easy. Well, I think I have said enough.
Gadianton, by "proving a negative"I mean you can't conclusively prove something does not exist (e.g., God doesn't exist). This touches on the problem of falsification generally and properly places the burden of proof on those who assert the affirmative. I'm not sure what you mean in the second part of your question. Theoretically it is possible to prove things like precognition, clairvoyance, telekinesis, and telepathy. On the other hand, you can't escape nature; these things are going to be a part of nature we do not understand, or delusion, or fraud. But that is precisely the point naturalism is making.
I'd like to expand a bit on a point I addressed above.
As noted, one of Goff's criticisms of Vogel is that "he presents evidence in ways advantageous to [his] ideology and doesn't include opposing evidence sometimes willfully but also at times ...his ideology blinds him to its import."
The only way Goff can make this asserion is because (presumably)he can identify individual examples where Vogel's "ideology" causes him to include, exclude or overlook relevant evidence, instances where these choices are made As I pointed out, Goff isn't the only person to have made such a charge; such contentions are commonplace in critical reviews of Vogel and others.
If Goff is able to do this, then of course Vogel's "ideology" is sufficiently transparent, evident, to allow Goff to descibe how it functions in a particular account by Vogel. If this is so, then the way to test and assess the merits of what Goff is saying is for him to take a piece of Vogel's work and identify what evidence was mistakenly included, excluded, or misunderstood by Vogel because of his ideology. Then perhaps we could assess the merits of this generalized attack by Goff. As it stands, however, it is a mere assertion which Goff nevertheless expects Vogel simply to "admit," in an act of suggested catharsis, as it were, putting "positivism," like the adversary, behind him.
My response to Goff is: have at it. Join other critics and put a specific argument together. Without it, we can't judge whether you're saying something intelligent and incisive, or something conclusory and perhaps even silly.
But if that specific critical enterprise is possible, attacking Vogel's allegedly ideology-driven account on its merits, and in the context of specific historical information and evidence, then what more does Goff have to say? (In the absence of actually doing that,I mean.) So far as I can tell, very little. The "something more" Goff offers is a metaphysical argument which, the idea is, permits him to attack any and all of Vogel's accounts and arguments (not specifically and on their merits but) by undermining and devaluing the ability of any historian to offer an account of past events that is better, more accurate as a reconstruction and interpretation of them, than any proffered competing account would be. This is what I referred to above as the radically skeptical position.
If there were something to it, the genius of the radically skeptical position is that it would allow folks like Goff to "meet" every single critical account of Joseph Smith or events in Mormon history with the same simple rejoinder: all accounts of past events are equally suspect and there are no rational grounds for preferring one over another.
I'll pause there, since Goff may deny that he holds that position.
I don't think we can make the claim that all accounts are "equally suspect." That's a kind of relativism I suspect no one at FARMS would support and typically isn't entailed by most Continental philosophers either. I do think we can speak, however, of narratives that do account for the data as well as taking note of what they exclude from the interpretive process. As Dave said though, beyond admitting ones biases, I'm not sure there's much to criticize though beyond the fact Mormons will look askew at arguments that from the beginning exclude the divine. However merely excluding the divine is not necessarily positivism or even scientism. (Recall that in the early 20th century scientism was fairly openly embraced by many Mormon theologians like John Widstoe - although he did back off from that position)
I do think that Kuhn is somewhat helpful here, although I tend to agree that Kuhn gets appealed to rather sloppily at times. However when you have two paradigms that can account for the data on about equal terms there is that question of what to pick. However Kuhn isn't totally appropriate since in this case the Mormon position tends to include private phenomena and thus it isn't an equal playing ground. Unlike, for instance, the debate between Ptolomy and Copernicus based astronomy. In all of the cases Kuhn investigates both sides share the same evidence. In the Signature / FARMS debate frequently it is the evidence itself that is not agreed upon.
Why I find the whole war rather silly is that I think both sides agree on that point. Signature is fairly forthright that they aren't buying into the supernatural and are looking for naturalistic explanations. FARMS is very forthright that they are conducting analysis from a position of faith. So why the back and forth over what seems to be the one place both sides actually agree?
It seems to me that relying on Kuhn in the way Goff has is a two-edged sword that entails a type of historical skepticism that the Saint are well served to avoid. That said, isn't it obvious how Vogel skews the "evidence"? If a person sees with "spiritual eyes" it quickly becomes equivalent to delusion or imagination. This type of erroneous linking of concepts is evident in his discussions of the experiences of the three and eight witnesses. It is a value judgment about the nature of the experience that is not present in the data and cannot be derived from the data. The difference is not really involved in the data but in the value judgments about the data. Vogel doesn't appear to believe that it is possible to see real things with merely "spiritual" eyes. Thus, he assumes that the explanation given by believers must be deluded or the result of a confidence game because their belief system is not one that is a live option for him. As for clairvoyance and telekinesis -- it seems to me that Dan has poven that such things actually occur given the amount of mind-reading and psychologizing that he does to explain how the Book of Mormon is actually a reflection of Joseph Smith's life and psyche. -- grin --
Blake, I agree that Kuhn, postmodernism, or any version of relativism is problematical for believers in religious truth. Be assured, however, if there is any skewing of evidence it is unintentional, not "willful"as Goff asserts. I'm willing to change my interpretation if someone comes up with a more probable one.
You say, "If a person sees with "spiritual eyes' it quickly becomes equivalent to delusion or imagination."Of course, when we talk about "delusion"we mean "hallucination."Do I understand you to deny the possibility that the three and eight witnesses hallucinated? More generally, do you deny that hallucination, even group hallucination, occurs as a phenomenon? If you do not deny the reality of hallucination, please explain the criteria you use to distinguish between theoretically "real"visions and those that do have naturalistic explanations.
You say, "It is a value judgment about the nature of the experience that is not present in the data and cannot be derived from the data. The difference is not really involved in the data but in the value judgments about the data."Of course, the witnesses didn't think they were hallucinating--but isn't that the meaning of delusion? You do believe some people, even otherwise normal people (meaning without organic or psychological impairment), are capable of delusion, don't you? If so, why not the Book of Mormon witnesses? Regardless, both of us are making value judgements about the sources. At this point, I'm wondering why Goff isn't taking to you about positivism. You seem to be operating under the naive notion that historians simply present the facts that they have gathered. Let me revisit something I mentioned earlier. "The Baconian fallacy," according to historian David Hackett Fischer, "consists in the idea that a historian can operate without the aid of preconceived questions, hypotheses, ideas, assumptions, theories, paradigms, postulates, prejudices, presumptions, or general presuppositions of any kind"(Historians' Fallacies, 4). The issue is not who is the most "objective" or "value-free,"its whose interpretation is the most defensible.
Lest Blake mislead some readers into assuming that my case rests completely on an interpretation of David Whitmer's and Martin Harris's use of the phrase "spiritual eyes". In my essay on the Book of Mormon witnesses in AMERICAN APOCRYPHA, I not only discussed the cultural context of the phrase "spiritual eyes,"how it was used by Mormons and non-Mormons for visionary experience, but I also quote the statements of Whitmer and Harris. James Henry Moyle's 1885 interview with Whitmer is striking. He noted in his journal: "Mr D. Whitmer Sen did not handle the plates. Only saw them. ... Says he did see them and the angel and heard him speak. But that it was indiscribable that it was through the power of God. ... he then spoke of Paul hearing and seeing Christ but his associates did not. Because it is only seen in the Spirit." Moyle "asked if the atmosphere about them was normal." In other words, did the angel appear in normal surroundings or had the vision entirely obscured the natural world? According to Whitmer, "[I]t was indescribable, but the light was bright and clear, yet apparently a different kind of light, something of a soft haze." Moyle, a Mormon and recent law school graduate, noted his disappointment: "I was not fully satisfied with the explanation. It was more spiritual than I anticipated" (James Henry Moyle, Diary, 28 June 1885, LDS archives).
According to Stephen Burnett, Harris told an Ohio congregation in 1838 that "he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination," adding that the witnesses had seen the plates "spiritually or in vision with their eyes shut" (S. Burnett to L. E. Johnson, 15 Apr. 1838, JS Letterbook, 2:64, 65 [EMD 2:291, 292-93]). Reuben P. Harmon, a neighbor of Harris in Kirtland, Ohio, said that Harris "never claimed to have seen [the plates] with his natural eyes, only spiritual vision" (Naked Truths About Mormonism 1 [Apr. 1888]: 1 [EMD 2:385]). While living in Utah, Harris told Anthony Metcalf that he saw the angel and the plates in a "visionary or entranced state" (Ten Years before the Mast, 70 [EMD 2:346]).
This is just a sampling of what I presented, but the point of it was, as I explained, to show that the subsequent statements of Whitmer and Harris make it clear that their experiences with the angel and plates were more subjective than their published statement implied. Of course, I can't prove Harris and Whitmer hallucinated, but evidence such as this and the fact that they had this type of experience both before and after their June 1829 vision makes it highly probable that they did. A related question Blake needs to answer is deals with his apparent inconsistency in accepting Whitmer's Book of Mormon testimony while at the same time rejecting his subsequent revelations he received challenging Mormon authorities and establishing his own church.
You say, "Vogel doesn't appear to believe that it is possible to see real things with merely "spiritual' eyes." Why would you need "spiritual eyes"to see "real"things? Real things are seen with real eyes, aren't they. Don't you mean you need "spiritual eyes"to see "spiritual things"? This statement seems incoherent to me. I think what you want to say is, "Vogel denies the existence of spiritual things." If that's the case, you are quite correct. After all, I'm an admitted naturalist. You are free to believe in spirits if you like--it's quite popular--but in my opinion you can't claim a rational basis for doing so. If history teaches us anything, it teaches us not to be overly confident about visionary and ecstatic religious experience. Given the structure of the human brain and the arbitrariness of visionary experiences, it is unwise to put undue weight on such testimony.
You say, "he ... assumes that the explanation given by believers must to deluded or the result of a confidence game ..."I only say that it is most likely the case. Of the 10-15 percent of the population that will see an apparition, most closely following the recent death of a loved one, the most likely interpretation is that it was a hallucination brought on by grief. Why do most hallucinations occur under highly emotional circumstances if there is no connection? Are you saying that it's impossible that delusion or deception was involved in the case of the witnesses?
I understand that your were trying to be ironic in the last sentence where you accuse me of "mind-reading."This didn't work for me since I know the difference between "clairvoyance and telekinesis"(you mean "telepathy"; telekinesis is "the movement of objects by scientifically inexplicable means") and analyzing a text or a historical situation from a psychological perspective. One is supposedly a gift of discerning other people's thoughts without aid of the senses, the other is an analysis of the sources from a psychological perspective, which might consider such things as the logic of the situation or the psychological implications of a text. Also, I must ask: are you reducing all psychology to mind-reading? Do you hold some naive notion that historiography is a science? I'm not implying that "anything goes"as some postmodernists say. Nor should one assume Blake and I are talking about Freudian psychoanalysis or psychohistory. I read the Book of Mormon as if Joseph Smith is telling me what he believes the nature of reality is; I look for the emotional content and psychological implications. I don't claim infallibility; some of it I'm unsure about myself; other parts I'm quite convinced. Blake, you might disagree with this procedure, but to compare it with telepathy or clairvoyance is somewhat of a false analogy.
I don't think Kuhn entails historical skepticism of the sort some take him as asserting. Indeed, as I read him, he is asserting that we pay close attention to history whereas up to that point history of science and philosophy of science were fairly separated. I agree that some Mormons have uncritically applied Kuhn in that regard. However where I think Kuhn fits is in showing how different ground assumptions can affect ones conclusions and how further, you can't really critique different ground assumptions by other ground assumptions. (So long as both are able to explain the evidence) What ends up happening is more complex. Yet we clearly can and do judge between paradigms. (No one thinks the earth is the center of the universe anymore) So we critique them, just not the way some suggest.
If there is a problem with Kuhn, it is that I don't think we pay enough attention to both theory and history. I think that values arise out of historical situations. So I don't think values can be taken to be "arbitrary" the way some sloppily apply Kuhn.
Dan, I don't think one can or ought take postmodernism as implying relativism. Indeed most of the classic postmodernists are quite far from relativism.
I'd also say that if you read, "the Book of Mormon as if Joseph Smith is telling me what he believes the nature of reality is; I look for the emotional content and psychological implications," I find that problematic. Clearly it isn't history and I think few would think we ought to judge authors by their fictional books. If you find the Book of Mormon fiction, then I'm at loss to how you can discount the "voice" in the text as being sensible only within the text and instead attribute it to Joseph Smith's reflections on his actual reality.
Dan: Your comments only demonstrate what I asserted. You state that "real things" cannot be seen with "spiritual eyes" -- and that is a distinction no believer would accept. However, it is not a distinction based on evidence or argument for a competing world-view on your part, but based on sheer suppositon. Such arguments can be given -- but you certainly haven't done so. You rule out as a possibility of the very truth of the experience of those who accept religious experiences. It is a controlling assumption and not something based on evidence or arguemnt. The witnesses would not accept that statement either. How do you prove that spiritual experiences cannot be the basis for experiencing "real" things? Your assumption becomes your proof -- and I think that that is what Alan is really saying (and why I think what he says has merit to that extent). For example, where is the evidence that the experiences of visions recently after death don't involve "real" visitations -- and how could anyone know that who is doing the research? You yourself assert that "you cannot prove a negative" -- but you seem to miss the fact that affirmative evidence of a negative is equally difficult. All we can comment about is the absence of evidence. Your statement of the probabilities of delusion is nonsensical to me -- but it shows your unsupported bias. You adopt a naturalistic assumption that controls your view of the data. You simply assume it -- and it becomes a substitution for real evidence and real analysis. Real plates can be seen with spiritual eyes according the witnesses. I am well aware of the spate of second hand statments that you give regarding the witnesses. Their first-hand statements say that they handled the plates. You cite hearsay, most of which comes from those who are motivated to explain away the experience -- like you.
Thus, let me ask: are you open to the possibility that the wintesses saw (and handled) real plates in a vision with spiritual eyes? Can spiritual experiences involve the real world that is not merely a point of view or delusion?
What I mean by your psychohistoric approach to the BofM is that you go way beyond what competent evidence and analysis can support. My comments about telekinesis and clairvoyance were obviously tongue-in-cheek. The fact that you begin to analyze what the terms mean shows that you didn't get that.
Moreover, why should I have the burden of explaining why or how David Whitmer could have genuine religious experiences that are revolutionary given his world-view and then afterward purport to have revelations that merely restate his world-view and already fixed prejudices? Isn't such a distinction fairly obvious? And isn't it the same blidness of which I now complain in your own writings?
Finally, I don't claim that it is impossible for persons to be deluded. Who would? I just claim that it is not necessarily the case that they are deluded if they have spiritual experiences that are real -- and you deny that. Your assumptions are a controlling paradigm that result in your using your world-view as a basis for discounting another world-view without dealing with the merits of the various world-views. For that reason, your arguments should be given very little weight by those who accept the possiblity that spiritual experiences can be "real". Your arguments are appropriately charged with being world-view dependent and thus can be dismissed by those who reject your world view. Now, if you want to talk about the merits of your naturalistic assumptions, that is a different conversation -- and one I would be delighted to have with you.
Dan et al. I should clarify that what I mean by "real" is "mind-independent existence."
Blake, I think you misunderstand (or are at least misdescribing) the logical structure of Dan's argument in his article.
You apparently want to devalue the argument by characterizing it as a mere expression of preference for a naturalistic worldview. In order to do that, you suggest that it's (really) an argument about what is possible and what is not.
Hence you say: "Finally, I don't claim that it is impossible for persons to be deluded. Who would? I just claim that it is not necessarily the case that they are deluded if they have spiritual experiences that are real -- and you deny that."
Given your definition of real, that is, experiencing things that exist independently of the experiencer's mind, your last assertion is true by definition, so it would be silly for Dan or anyone else to deny it. Further, if we delete the words "that are real" from the assertion, we have another example of your misdescription of the logic of what's happening. Again, the claim is not that all spiritual sight is delusional, so the article is not a rejoinder to your claim that it is possible that some instances of "spiritual seeing" are not delusional. Again, you're mistaking the logical mode of the argument. No one is trying to prove what is (merely) possible or what is "necessary" about claimed instances of spiritual seeing.
Similarly, you say: "Your assumptions are a controlling paradigm that result in your using your world-view as a basis for discounting another world-view without dealing with the merits of the various world-views. For that reason, your arguments should be given very little weight by those who accept the possiblity that spiritual experiences can be "real"."
The same modal mistake, illustrated again. Note your last sentence. The arguments in the article are not attempting to prove whether it is either possible or impossible that certain instances of claimed spiritual seeing are encounters with "real" things. Your repeated suggestions to the contrary are perhaps rhetorically useful for you, but they amount only to a repetition of the same mistake. Misdescribing the logical nature of the arguments in that manner helps you create the impression that the article is merely an assumption of the naturalistic worldview. Yes, it would be rather pointless for Dan or anyone else to go about "proving" the assertion that all instances of spiritual seeing are of necessity encounters with objects that are not "real" (in the sense we're using it) simply because that is their status under naturalistic assumptions.
The point of the arguments in the article is not to demonstrate or even argue for what is necessary or possible about the witnesses' experience. Rather, their logic addresses what is probable or not, what is more or less likely.
It should be a truism (taking one example) that the circumstances surrounding a claimed supernatural event can be relevant to assessing its nature, what it is. If, for example, the three witnesses had reported that for four days before the experience they had gone without food, during which they had committed to memory and then chanted in unison the details of what they had been assured they would see, this would count as evidence in favor of the inference that the experience was psychologically induced. The details about the circumstances of the event, and what led up to it, provided in the article by no means create such a strong inference. But the point is that they are offered for the same purpose.
The only logical "assumption" being made for the argument is that the circumstances surrounding a claimed supernatural event can be relevant to an assessment of whether it can be explained as a natural, e.g., psychologically-induced event. The strength of the resulting inference regarding causation is of course another matter.
To be sure, for anyone who denies that such historical circumstances can ever (in principle) be relevant, then for them -- but only for them -- would it be fair to say that the disagreement or dispute over that particular argument is actually about assumptions or uhm, "worldviews."
While I can't speak for Blake, I believe he was primarily referring to Dan's above comments and not his article. (I've not read the article in question, so I can't really say much) I'd note that when Dan spoke about "spiritual eyes" and the like in the above he certainly sounded surprisingly positivistic. However I agree with how Blake cast the "psycho-history" complaint. The problem is going well beyond what one ought reasonably infer from evidence. I believe it is frequently taught that one ought not psycho-analyze people from literature not written in their voice. People do all the time, of course. But it is almost always fallacious reasoning.
Reminds me of a reading I had to do for a class. In it we had to do an analysis of John Donne's The Flea. I read up on a bunch of history of Donne and his rather stormy relationship. I then read the poem in light of that history, in effect doing just the kind of psycho-history that Dan appears to be saying he is advocating. Needless to say the professor took me to task for that.
An interesting book related to this is Umberto Eco's Interpretation and Overinterpretation. In it Umberto Eco attempts to limit interpretations of his book Foucault's Pendulum. (i.e. is he secretly or unconsciously making reference to the modern French philosopher, Michel Foucault? This question of the limits of interpretation is an important one that often gets overlooked in these sorts of matters.
Addictio: You claim that I make a modal mistake because I think that Dan is arguing that the spiritual experiences are not possible when in reality he is arguing that they are merely improbable. You miss my point completely. First, just what model or theory of probability applies to such claims? It seems to me just wrong-headed to assert that we can provide a probability of assessing whether an experience of a recently departed, for instance, is truly mind-independent or merely a delusion. How would you even begin to test that? So until you could suggest a methodology to assess probability, it seems to me that the argument is nothing but an unsupported value judgment driven by one's assumptions. In Dan's case, he starts from the conviction that what the three witnesses say they experienced they could not have experienced because such experiences are not "real," not really independent of their own mental creations. Given that assumption, the probability that the three witnesses are deluded is always 1 on a frequency scale of probability. Thus, I am claiming that the facade of pretending to assess probabilities is precisely the fact that such arguments are not available in this kind area. It really is a matter of shared faith or shared spiritual experience it seems to me. So I respectfully suggest that you have misunderstood the nature and import of what I argue. Moreover, if you really believe that Dan's argument is a probability argument, then I ask you to lay out the inductive structure of the argument so that we can see where the probability assertions lie.
So far as I can see, his assertions of probability are based on precisely the assumptions that make the outcome of his position inevitable. For example:
(1) The three witnesses said that they saw an angel and gold plates in vision.
(2) The visions were "subjective" in the sense that they only involved the operations of their own minds.
(3) Subjective visons are evidence of delusion.
(4) Therefore, it is highly probable that the three witnesses were deluded, by which mean that the visions were subjective.
This seems to me to be the structure of the argument, and as you can see, it plainly begs the question because premise two assumes the conclusion even as an inductive argument.
Or perhaps we could cobble together a better argunent from Dan's e-mail post here:
(D1) The three witnesses said that they saw an angel and gold plates in vision.
(D2)Of the 10-15 percent of the population that will see an apparition, most closely following the recent death of a loved one, the most likely interpretation is that it was a hallucination brought on by grief. Why do most hallucinations occur under highly emotional circumstances if there is no connection?
(D3) These experiences are relevantly similar to the experiences of the three witnesses to provide a comparison for probability (unstated implicit assumption)
(D4) the subsequent statements of Whitmer and Harris make it clear that their experiences with the angel and plates were more subjective than their published statement implied. Of course, I can't prove Harris and Whitmer hallucinated, but evidence such as this and the fact that they had this type of experience both before and after their June 1829 vision makes it highly probable that they did
(D5) Therefore, it is probable that the eperiences of the three witnesses were just an illusion.
If you think this is a probability argument, then Vogel has hoodwinked you. First, premise D2 is just hogwash. No one could assess the truth value of this statement to ascertain that such experiences were merely delusions. The naturalistic assumption is all that is being asserted in this premise. Second, D3 is hogwash -- Vogel has not shown that the experiences have anythng in common except his assumption that they are both delusional experiences. Third, D4 is false. Vogel has skewed the statements and ignored not only later statements that are clearly to the contrary and that far outnumber the types of "subjective" statements that the witnesses make -- and worse, he ignores the fact that first hand statements are always more reliable than any second hand assessment (especially something like Moyle's observations where he comes in with pre-conceived notions of what Whitmer should say and then gives his value judgment instead of quoting Whitmer directly). Finally, D5 doesn't inductively follow because it is not an inductive argument -- rather, it is assumed that if the experiences are "subjective" (which is just another word Vogel uses for "spiritual") then they are not mind-indpendent when in fact that is precisely the question to be answered, i.e., can such experiences be mind-independent?
So I challenge you to turn what Vogel argues into a valid inductive argument that doesn't merely beg the question in favor of naturalism.
This has been a busy discussion board since I went to Boulder to attend the RMMLA conference. I presented a paper on historiographic metafiction. Someday I may show the relevance of that concept for this discussion on Mormon history. The comments here have been abundant and I haven't even had the time to read all of them. Give me some time and I will respond to some of them, some of the earlier ones I will answer today.
Dan claims to be able to know what is in my mind better than I do, so I think this is a pretty good test of his historical method. If Vogel can't accurately pyschoanalyze my thoughts of last week, how might he perform when the task is much more difficult for people a century-and-a-half ago? Here I am responding to Additio who invites me to show how Vogel's ideology carries him away where solid evidence wouldn't.
This would all be much easier, by the way, if we all shared the same understanding and readings. Two recent books have been published that cover much the same ground we are covering, but without the focus on Mormon issues. What is likely to happen is that questions will emerge that are already answered in the historiographical literature, but I will have to cover that ground again to show how these questions about postmodernism have withstood scrutiny in the past. The first one is Ernst Breisach's On the Future of History: The Postmodernist Challenge and Its Aftermath. The second one, the one I prefer, is History, Theory, Text: Historians and the Linguistic Turn by Elizabeth Clark. These two books are merely introductory; ideally a reader wouldn't consider him or herself competent or informed about issues historiographical without having read most of the sources listed in these books so they know the background arguments from historiography, literary theory, and philosophy.
Vogel has accused me of being "angry with [him] for questioning [my] faith." I naturally ask for evidence of that charge. I argue with Vogel; I don't think that is the same thingas being angry. Vogel has accused me now of dishonesty, but I haven't done the same to him. Vogel ought to provide evidence of my anger. Most the offenses Vogel accuses me of, he commits himself. Can Vogel provide evidence of my mental state last week when he accused me of being angry for his questioning my religion? Did I say anything angry in my posts of last week? Have I said anything angry in my other writings? All we have is textual evidence (no eyewitness evidence, no court testimony, no recordings of my thoughts, but then postmodernists would insist that those forms of evidence are textual also).
Vogel is angry with me. He has admitted it. That is one form of evidence. He lacks such an admission from me; it is quite frankly false to assert that I was angry last week when I wrote those comments. So he must ascertain my psychological state some other way. Is the evidence about anger rather than just disagreement? By assuming that he knows my psychological state better than I do, Vogel might use psychological notions such as I am in denial, or I am suffering from cognitive dissonance, or I am lying. One question would be to ask if Vogel is competent to be making such judgments? Perhaps Vogel has gone through undergraduate or graduate training in psychology? Perhaps he has practiced as a psychologist. Perhaps Vogel has put me on the couch to ask the types of questions pscychologists would answer to get to underlying but conceals motivations. This really isn't my field, so I don't feel competent to intrude very far into it. As a side note, Vogel seems obsessively concerned to ensure everybody believes the differences between the two of us are personal. Couldn't the source more plausibly be disagreement about fundamental epistemologies and ontologies? about metaphysics? Vogel believes this is about my "underestimat[ing]and disrespect[ing]" him. Now, he has made some pretty serious charges about me, especially that I am a liar. Why do we have to assume these personal charges as a first resort? Might it not be that I have just misunderstood him? That I have made an honest mistake? Perhaps I have. I do all the time. He has misunderstood me, especially my motivations; but then he asserts he knows my motives better than I do.
Vogel accuses me of having a "formulaic monologue with [my]self." I take this to mean that I have just applied some formula about positivism that I or someone else has raised in another context and apply it to him. Yet Vogel does make an argument in his comments last week that has prefabricated in the way he accuses me of being formulaic. In his introduction to the Joseph Smith biography, Vogel says: "Arguing that skeptics like me are victims of their own 'naturalistic assumptions' diverts attention from the fact that there is simply no reliable proof for the existence of the supernatural. Naturalism is part of our everyday experience; supernaturalism is not" (xv-xvi). In his posted comments from 9/28/04 Vogel says: "Stricly, speaking, I do not say the supernatural does not exist, for it is impossible to prove a negative; I only assert that there is no proof for the supernatural. So I'm a naturalist until the supernatural is proven." I don't assume Vogel wrote that introduction responding to me, so Vogel is "guilty" of engaging in formulaic monologue with himself, as he puts it. Frankly, I don't see why the formlaic material should be excluded if it is relevant. So Vogel is angry, and he is formulaic, two accusations he brings against me.
Vogel accuses me of lacking charity. By using his psychologial method to redescribe my motives, I think Vogel is guilty of the same charge. I think I have been pretty charitable to Vogel. I didn't accuse him of being angry he questioned motives and threatened me (I take those to be evidence of anger), I haven't accused him of being liar, I think too much of this questioning of motives goes on in Mormon circles by both believers and critics. I think the evidence should be powerfully convincing before this accusation is resorted to. I believe Vogel is honestly trying to contrue the past to best of his ability and doing it with integrity. I think Vogel's vague threat ("you underestimate and disrespect me if you think you can get away with what you wrote above")is unseemly and violates the protocols of scholarship.
Through his psychological method, Vogel is writing a narrative, one that he hopes is taken as historical. In his characterization of me he recasts my motives in ways more amenable to his ideology but violates recent history. My copy of Vogel's biography was delivered just the day before he made those charges against me (if Vogel believes I lie, he could check the evidence; USPS probably has some documentary evidence regarding the delivery date and I ordered the book through Amazon.com). I haven't had time to read more of teh book than the introduction. My guess is that Vogel there uses his psychological approach to fill in the gaps in the historical record, to go beyond what the evidence explicitly states. There is nothing wrong with that approach in general terms. All historians must do it. The question is "how much of the interpretation is driven by ideology?" In my case, it is all ideology and no evidence when Vogel asserts he knows my mental state better than I do. I have always thought such psychological approaches to history open too wide a gap to be filled by ideology. Vogel wants to take control of the story he is creating, to define the motives of the characters in his fiction.
Let me quote F. R. Ankersmit, one of those philosopically informed historiographers I mentioned earlier. Ankersmit notes that philosophically ignorant historians often respond to theoretical critique they can't answer in appropriate philosophical terms in quite an understandable way: "it is only natural that historians tend to project their own frustrations about the uncertainties of their discipline onto theorists. In short, historical theorists are historians's obvious target if they wish to work off their all too understandable professional inferiority complexes" (quoted in the Clark book I referred to above, page 27). There, I have turned the tables and psychologized Vogel. Have I gone too far in saying that he is philosophically innocent and his historical interpretations suffer from it? Is this evidence of anger? No, turn to that Clark book and you'll see sophisticated historians saying much harsher things about positivistic historians. One must have more evidence than none. If you accepted what Vogel takes to be evidence of anger, then you would read Clark's book and conclude that historiographers are one angry lot.
We are far past the time when historians (or self-selected historians) can brandish their philosophical incompetence as their primary qualification for discussing historiography. One needs to have read the background material before launching these charges because what I am trying to do is to philosophize, theorize, Mormon history to bring it to a higher level of self-understanding. Vogel translates that theorizing into personal terms about anger and smarts, but if the ideologue doesn't understand the philosophical debate, he is likely to translate it into terms he does understand and experience.
This is a long response, and I am tired after having just flown in from Denver then playing kickball and watching Star Warswith my kids when I returned (no small accomplishment when we still have 95 degree weather here in Phoenix). I am only going to proofread this posting lightly before going to bed. What I want to point out (getting back to the postmodernism theme that should be the subject of this discussion board rather than personal attacks) is what I have and haven't said. I believe ideology is inescapable, but not all historical interpretations have the same ideological content. I believe Vogel's interpretations are saturated with ideology. Most interpretations have vastly smaller ideological content; sometimes it takes ideology critique to uncover it. This also means that some interpretations are quite simply wrong. Those incorrect ones are the easy cases. The hard cases come when several historical interpretations originating from differing ideological positions and assumptions both epistemological and ontological are plausible. I don't think we have a case like the latter here.
Blake, your statement that "[my] comments only demonstrate what I asserted"implies that there was something I had denied and that you were in need of evidence to prove otherwise when, in fact, I have been quite open about my naturalistic assumptions.
You do the same thing with respect to our discussion about "spiritual eyes."In an awkwardly-worded statement, you had asserted that I do not "believe that it is possible to see real things with merely "spiritual' eyes."The wording confused me, and because you had not defined "real"and I assumed based on word order you meant material. Apparently you meant to say: "Vogel believes things seen with "spiritual eyes' are not real,"which is to say I do not believe in the supernatural. Again, I have not denied this in the sense that there is no compelling evidence to do so. However, in your current discussion you further confuse the issue when you state: "Real plates can be seen with spiritual eyes according to the witnesses ... [who] say that they handled the plates."This seems incoherent to me. Remember, me asking: "Why would you need "spiritual eyes' to see "real' things [plates]? Real things [plates] are seen with real eyes, aren't they."
Your definition of "real"as "mind-independent existence" also seems incoherent to me. I assume by this definition "spiritual things"become real because they are separate from the mind (which remains to be proven). Nevertheless, "existence"seems to assert some notion of "objective reality."Do you mean to say that spirits "exist"in the sense of occupying time and space? If so, what is your evidence for believing so? Additionally, are you saying that things like math and metaphysics are not "real"because they are not mind-independent? Or that the mind is not "real" because it's not independent of itself? Or that your definition "real"is not "real"because it has no existence outside Blake Ostler's mind?
It is my contention that no one besides Joseph Smith saw the plates uncovered in a non-visionary setting. There was good reason Smith prohibited visual inspection of the plates but nevertheless allowed various people, including his family, to handle them in a cloth covering or box. His excuse that he had been commanded by God not to show them is dubious. If you are going to show them to some people eventually, why not more people and in a straightforward manner and make it truly convincing? It reminds me of the excuses of spirit mediums who said the spirits could operate only in the dark. This kind of thing is known as evidence from unwarranted design. If the magician can truly saw the lady in half, why does she need to be in a box? The more likely explanation is that Smith had made a set of plates out of tin, which would be consistent with the reported weight of between 40 and 60 pounds, that could not pass visual inspection.
Mormons have been led to believe that the eight witnesses saw the plates uncovered in a non-visionary setting. I don't believe that is the best interpretation of the evidence. John Whitmer reportedly said to Theodore Turley in April 1839: "I handled those plates. ... [T]hey were shown to me by a supernatural power ("Memoranda," 1845, LDS archives; cf. DHC 3:307-8; EMD 5:241). In a letter dated Kirtland, Ohio, 15 April 1838, Stephen Burnett told former apostle Lyman E. Johnson that Martin Harris had declared in a public meeting that he "never saw the plates with his natural eyes," and that "the eight witnesses [also] never saw them [with their natural eyes] & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it." Upon hearing Harris's statement, Burnett concluded: "[I]f the witnesses whose names are attached to the Book of Mormon never saw the plates as Martin [Harris] admits, [then] there can be nothing brought to prove that any such thing ever existed"(EMD 2:291).
Burnett's account is supported by Warren Parrish, who reported in August 1838 that "Harris, one of the subscribing witnesses, has come out at last, and says he never saw the plates, from which the book [of Mormon] purports to have been translated, except in vision, and he further says that any man who says he has seen them in any other way is a liar, Joseph [Smith] not excepted" (Evangelist [Carthage, OH] 6 [1 Oct. 1838]: 226; cf. D&C 17:5). The fact that Harris's disclosure hurt his own position on the Book of Mormon argues strongly in favor of its truth, at least in Harris's mind. His account is secondhand, but it cannot be dismissed for that reason alone. Harris was on intimate terms with the eight witnesses and therefore was in a position to know the details of their experience. Six of the eight were still alive at the time Harris made his statement (Christian Whitmer and Peter Whitmer Jr. had died in 1835 and 1836), and none of them contradicted him.
The problem is how does one handle the plates and see them "by a supernatural power"? While it is entirely possible for a vision to contain both visual and tactile components, there is another possibility. Before Harris had his vision of the plates and angel in June 1829, he had another kind of vision of the plates that might explain what the eight witnesses experienced. Harris told one resident of Palmyra in 1828 that he saw the plates "with the eye of faith ... just as distinctly as I see any thing around me,--though at the time they were covered over with a cloth" (John A. Clark to Dear Brethren, 31 Aug. 1840, 99 [EMD 2:270]). He also told Stephen Burnett and others in 1838 that "he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box [or] with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain" (Burnett to Johnson, 15 Apr. 1838 [EMD 2:292]). Thus, I think it quite likely that the testimony of the eight witnesses is based on an experience similar to what Harris described.
While Blake remains unconvinced, largely because of his lack of familiarity with the sources and historical methodology, I think he should at least concede that the old assumptions about the eight witnesses could be wrong and can no longer be unequivocally asserted as they once were. Historians do not automatically dismiss "hearsay"or "second-hand" testimony like courts of law, especially when there is support from other sources. Turley and Harris were not "motivated to explain away the experience"of the witnesses. It is one thing to accuse Burnett of having motivations, and quite another to prove that he misrepresented Harris. Burnett is supported by Parrish and potentially could be exposed by a whole congregation of witnesses, not to mention Harris himself. If anything, there is more evidence to demonstrate that it is you who are highly motivated to explain away Burnett's account.
Blake, you ask me if I'm "open to the possibility that the witnesses saw (and handled) real plates in a vision?"Of course, I do. But, in the absence of evidence, that is only a logical possibility. Given the fact that the Book of Mormon is not history, and there were no Nephites and Lamanites, it is probable that the witnesses hallucinated. It's also logically possible that Big Foot exists, that there is a lost continent of Atlantis, that aliens visit the earth and abduct humans for experimental purposes, but not very probable. The Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham would have been good evidences for Joseph Smith's supernatural claims, but (like so many other attempts that has not materialized, so to speak.
You state, "What I mean by your psychohistorical approach to the BofM is that you go way beyond what competent evidence and analysis can support."Sometimes I do, I'm sure. It's a big book and no one is perfect. However, I don't think of it in terms of competence/incompetence, but rather in varying degrees of persuasiveness. I think in the main I present a compelling and provocative interpretation that the BofM reflects both the nineteenth century and Smith family dynamics. Sometimes I offer speculation, which may or may not be persuasive, but intriguing and provocative nonetheless. Keep in mind that I'm not using this kind of analysis to prove the BofM is Joseph Smith's composition; I have already concluded that elsewhere. What I'm trying to do is to discover the implications of that realization and to explain the how and why. A what does it all mean kind of thing. So, in attempting to uncover Smith's hidden agenda and motivation, I gave myself some latitude.
To my challenge that Blake explain why he accepts Whitmer's BofM testimony as real while at the same time rejecting his subsequent revelations, Blake glibly states: "why should I have the burden of explaining why or how David Whitmer could have genuine religious experiences that are revolutionary given his world-view and then afterward purport to have revelations that merely restate his world-view and already fixed prejudices?"Are you saying first visions are necessarily real because they are free of prejudices? By what criteria are you assessing Whitmer's "fixed prejudices" during his estrangement from the church? There mere fact that they were competitive to your own authority claims? Now, who is the one with "fixed prejudices"? How do you handle Cowdery? He received a revelation the same month that he became a BofM witness that, according to Ezra Booth, Smith said was inspired by the devil. Obviously these men are the kind of visionaries who are unable to distinguish between true and false revelation without the help of Smith or Ostler.
You state, "I just claim that it is not necessarily the case that they [the witnesses] are deluded if they have spiritual experiences that are real."It might be sloppy composition, but your statement is tautological. Of course, if the witnesses' experiences were "real"it follows that they were not "deluded."But you have just conceded that at least in some instances they are deluded. Moreover, you have yet to establish that there two legitimate categories to choose from. Nor have you established some criteria by which one can distinguish between the two.
You say, "Your assumptions are a controlling paradigm that result in your using your world-view as a basis for discounting another world-view without dealing with the merits of the various world-views."What we're talking about is a naturalistic world-view vs. a supernaturalistic world-view (or rather, "the-other-world"-view). Naturalism is not what is at issue here, supernaturalism is. The burden of proof is yours. You have to convince me (or whoever) that supernaturalism is a better explanation for certain phenomena than naturalism. You can't say, "I'm going to believe in the supernatural (or that the Nephites existed) until it is proven false."If you think this, you have created a closed system that is incapable of being falsified and you might as well believe in anything as to believe in Mormonism.
Generally, only when naturalistic explanations fail to account for the facts should one resort to supernatural explanations. If the naturalistic explanation can account for all the facts, the supernatural explanation becomes an unnecessary hypothesis. Because there is no criteria to distinguish between theoretically "real"supernatural experiences and those that have naturalistic explanations (which everyone must agree occurs in at least some of the cases), the most defensible position is to regard all spiritual experiences as psychological in origin. To paraphrase what Carl Sagan said in another situation: "Are we to imagine two different groups of visionaries -- one that sees imaginary spirits and the other that sees genuine spirits? Isn't it more reasonable that both groups are seeing, or hallucinating, the same thing?"Blake, isn't it an extraordinary coincidence that our brains have the capacity to mimic visions and revelations with such precision that it is impossible to distinguish between the two? Indeed, it is an unfortunate design that God chose to create our brains? Was it not an act of supreme cruelty for him to design us in such a way as to be unable to distinguish between true and false revelation and then to make us accountable for it?
You assert that spiritual experiences are "mind-independent."Again, that is an assertion that you are obligated to prove before we can take you seriously. You can't try to get either me or Addictio to do your work. That these experiences are occurring at least in the brain is not at dispute. The issue is, is there a non-material source outside the brain responsible for them. You suggest that there is no way to assess the probability that apparitions are hallucinations or real. Isn't it more reasonable to assume that they are all hallucinations until you have evidence that they are not? It is not sufficient for you to argue for the logical possibility that spirits are real -- lots of things are logically possible that aren't real.
It's unreasonable for you to expect naturalists to abandon a system of thought that works very well. It is you that must show probability in any given situation that the supernatural explanation is better than the natural. If you say the supernatural can't be proven, then I ask upon what grounds do you believe it and justify criticism of those who reject such explanations?
Naturalistic explanations of hallucination, on the other hand, can be studied. In his 1990 book, Hallucinations in Clinical Psychiatry, Dr. Ghazi Asaad discusses more than fifty causes of hallucination in normal people, including grief reaction, fatigue, sensory, sleep and food deprivation, and hypnotism or strong suggestion. To suggest that in such a vast sea of delusion you can find the real visions, that you are not mistaken, when in fact there is no way for either you or the visionaries to know the difference, is quite extraordinary. Put it this way, given this situation, even if one concedes the "possibility"that spiritual experiences are real, the odds are much higher for you being wrong. Even those who experience religious phenomena need to have skepticism and not assert too much about them. Simply put, the idea that spiritual experiences somehow trump reason and evidence, or provide a more certain avenue to historical truth, is preposterous. The fact that many apparitional situations occur following the death of a loved one, stress, and other psychological triggers means that there is a statistical correlation and an implied degree of probability. Certainly you already know this.
Dan: Your comments demonstrate that your position is in fact incoherent and world-view dependent. First, you say that for the witnesses see things that are mind-independent with spiritual eyes is incoherent -- I suppose because you take it that by definition merely spiritual things must be merely mind-dependent delusion. And then you turn around and say that you can accept the possibility that what the three witnesses saw was real in the sense that it is mind-independent. That is an outright contradiction. If something is incoherent it cannot possibly be real or mind-indepdent because it is logially impossible. So you both assert and deny that spiritual experiences are possibly real. That is as clear a contradiction as one will ever get in a dialogue like this.
Moreover, after reading your response, I am convinced that in fact and practice you are a positivist and not merely one who employs naturalistic assumptions as a matter of method and position of judgment and analysis. When you begin to ask me to prove those things that I assert are not open to proof by inductive methods, I take it that you assert that there must be some method of proof or such things cannot be "real" in my sense -- and that just is positivism. So I'm becoming more convinced that Alan's original criticisms of your view as world-view dependent extends also the the criticism that you maintain an indefensible criteria of meaning and proof.
You assert that I admit that the witnesses were deluded in some instances. I have not conceded that they were deluded in their shared vision of the plates. I am convinced that Whitmer was deluded into thinking he had received revelations that merely re-state his view of the world (and implicitly I asserted that one criteria for assessing revelation is that it is not merely a platform for one's fixed world-view -- I would add that same criteria to genuine scholarship so take careful note).
With respect to "super-naturalism," your own world-view suffers from a false dichotomy because I would never describe my world view as "supernaturalism" the way you do. You are now obligated, however, to tell me what you mean by "naturalism" and "supernaturalism" because you appear to equivocate. Your view of "naturalism" often appears to mean that the fact must be publicly verifiable in a strong posivistic sense. However, when you assert that a naturalistic view is always preferred to a supernaturalistic view unless the naturalistic view fails, I am not sure what you assert. It seems to me that if you accept a positivistic sense then the naturalistic view always fails of logical necessity because such a criteria is self-defeating since the criteria itself cannot be scrutinized by publicly observable means. Your criteria, like positivism, is internally incoherent.
Finally, Dan, when you assert that I must prove that spiritual experiences can be mind-independent you speak non-sense. No I don't since I have only asserted that it is possible that they are real, not that they can be verified to be real -- remember, you are the positivist here and I am not. You are asking me to prove what I have asserted is in princiiple non-verifiable. But that doesn't bother me because it assumes that something must be verifiable in order to be worthy of belief - - but that is precisely what I object to in your world view as non-sense. Your own criteria of proof couldn't survive the same criteria of proof that you demand. Your response also shows that you are just not getting what I and others are saying and your demand for proof shows it.
So we are talking past each other and I therefore conclude that further dialogue with you on this issue is fruitless. You are entrenched in an indefensible world-view that is not merely naturalistic but positivistic. It turns out that you have proven to me that Alan was more on the mark than I gave him credit for.
However, if you think you have shown that I must believe that "spiritual experiences somehow trump reason and experience," I can only respond that I would never accept such a false dichotomy. There is a vibrant discussion in the analytic philosophy of religion regarding what warrant is necessary to justify one in maintaining belief. However, it is clear to me that you are not aware of that discussion and the issues involved and so I have not brought it up. However, the very fact that you compare the clinical study of psychologically-induced hallucinations as being on par with spiritual experiences in high-functioning individuals shows me that you haven't read the literature.
More importantly, you assert that: "To suggest that in such a vast sea of delusion you can find the real visions, that you are not mistaken, when in fact there is no way for either you or the visionaries to know the difference, is quite extraordinary. Put it this way, given this situation, even if one concedes the "possibility"that spiritual experiences are real, the odds are much higher for you being wrong." So Dan, give me a methodolgy where you can tell the difference between real spiritual experiences and those that aren't -- since now you have conceded (and simultaneously denied) that it is possible that spiritual experiences are possibly real. You see, the crux of the entire discussion rests upon this distinction. Your real reasoning is now evident.
(1)There are many delusional spiritual experiences.
(2) There is no way to tell the difference between real (mind-independent) and deluded spiritual experiences.
(3) Therefore, it is very probable that all spiritual experiences are delusions.
I don't suppose that you care enough about "reason and experience" to notice that this argument, like your other arguments, is a non-sequitur. If (2) is true, (3) doesn't follow. If (1) is accepted, nothing follows except that some people are deluded. It is pellucidly clear that (3) doesn't follow as you seem to think. Moreover, there is no way to assess the probablity claim that you make. Just what probablity theory are you assuming or using? Please explain it to me. Show me how you arrive at the probability (and mathematical probabliity tables would be a great assistance since you cannot assess probability without them). Your argument is logically fallacious and your world-view is self-defeating. I suggest that you begin an honest search for something different that works better.
Dan: You raised an issue that I think has merit (unlike the others you raise) and so I wanted to address it separetely. You ask: "Your definition of "real"as "mind-independent existence"also seems incoherent to me. I assume by this definition "spiritual things"become real because they are separate from the mind (which remains to be proven). Nevertheless, "existence"seems to assert some notion of "objective reality."Do you mean to say that spirits "exist" in the sense of occupying time and space? If so, what is your evidence for believing so? " This raises a deep philosophical issue as to the difference between realism, empiricism, and Platonism, conceptualism and nominalism. I am a conceptualist. My view therefore is that mathematical matters are mind-independent in the sense that they are universally necessary structure for thought for all minds and thus not dependent on some particular mind. However, they are not mind-independent in the sense that there would be mathematics if there were no minds. Mathematics exists as concepts in minds but in a way that is universal among all minds. However, delusions are dependent on a particular mind. For example, if you hallucinate pink elephants, there is nothing universal in this structure of thought such that I must also see pink elephants. So when I say that real spiritual experiences are mind-independent, I mean that they are not dependent on the operations of but one person's mind -- it is also true for others. That is why the experience of the three and eight are important, in part, because there were many people and not just one. The very structure of the experience is designed to boost its credibility by showing that it is not mind-dependent or unreal as I have defined it. Many people experienced it and so it is not mind-depenent in my sense to the extent they truthfully reported their shared experience.
Now I am well aware that there are many group-vision experiences at Fatima of mother Mary and so forth. I tend to believe that these experiences are in fact mass hysteria (when we get 100s having such experiences mass hysteria becomes a common phenomenon, but with just a few it is rare indeed). However, I admit that by my criterion I must remain open to the possiblity that these experiences may be real. In fact, I am open to that possibility.
Not much to add to Blake's comments. I'd probably suggest though, since it is a fairly significant issue in this debate, that the Stanford Online Encyclopedia entry on Realism might be helpful. I think Dan, you might have some confusion over how the term is used in philosophy.
I'd also agree with Blake that as you've explained your position I'm moving more and more into Goff's camp. At first I thought the issue was mainly underdetermination of evidence. Yet you really do speak like a positivist.
Alan, you really must stop over-analyzing everything. When I said, "I understand that you're angry with me for questioning your faith."Perhaps I should have said "you're probably angry"or "If you are angry with me ..."I certainly didn't offer it as a serious diagnosis. What made me think that you might be angry, perhaps incorrectly, was your association with FARMS, whose writings tend to be vitriolic and abusive, together with the fact that your recent essay on positivism spent five pages on me when you were supposed to be review Metcalfe, Firmage, and Staker. To me, you seemed highly motivated to go out of your way to criticize me. I don't think I'm being overly sensitive because others have pointed this out to me as well. Whatever emotion it was that motivated you to defend your faith, associate with FARMS, and single me out for rebuke, know that I'm not questioning your "faith,"only reason and evidence. If you want to take a leap of faith, go right ahead, but then don't tell me there's good reason and compelling evidence for doing so.
Needless to say, when you jumped on my use of "angry,"I was surprised how long you went on about it when a simple denial would have sufficed. I must confess that I thought to myself, "Goff doth protest too much."Besides, I also noticed that you never directly denied that you were angry with me. Instead, you only denied that it was impossible to derive that information from what you had written. So I decided to play around with angry thing a little to make a point. Perhaps I went a bit too far, but I think some good came out of it. Let me review so you might understand why I got angry.
As you recall, in my statement I had (1) distinguished naturalism from positivism; (2) admitted that I was a naturalist; (3) said that I had no commitment to "objectivity"(as understood by positivists); (4) I do not demand positive proof but accept interpretations that carry various degrees of probability; (5) that I'm not an anti-supernaturalist, but rather a non-supernaturalist; (6) the burden of proof rests with those asserting the affirmative; (7) that there are criteria for assessing the validity of historical interpretation; and (8) the interpretation that is the most economical is probably the correct one, or at least the one that is the most defensible.
Of these eight statements, you addressed only the first, stating that naturalism is but one of many definitions. You apparently rejected my distinction and argued that I have myself linked naturalism and positivism in another place (which turned out to be not true). But note that you chose to ignore my clear declaration for one that seemed to make an implied connection. By this means you failed to seriously consider the merit of the distinction I was making (although others on the board did).
After saying positivism is complex and has many definitions, you make this revealing statement: "positivism ... is largely used as a polemical term, one you apply to your opponents but rarely to yourself or allies even when appropriate."Does this hint at the rhetorical usefulness that "positivism"has for some at FARMS? Does it at the same time hint that you are aware that someone who defends a church that makes exclusive claims to truth and authority are themselves ideological positivists?
You then move to another definition of positivism: those who believe they "don't have an ideology but are objective, free of ideology, bias, presuppositions."At this point, I began to wonder if you read my statement, because it is directly contradicts 2 and 3.
Then you state: "When Dan finally admits he is an apologist for an ideology ..."I do not deny that I have ideologies since it is impossible to be truly neutral; however, I question the use of "apologist"because, whether correctly or incorrectly, that word has religious connotations that do not apply to critics and revisionists. Apparently in your mind an apologist, among other things, is a polemicist who "willfully"suppress evidence. So, under that definition I especially do not want you to call me an apologist. All I can say is that I try to be fair and balanced in my approach. Reviewers of my works have generally noted this in their reviews, even Mormon reviewers. When you say you will think about dropping the positivist polemic when I admit I willfully suppress evidence, you purposely set it up so that you won't ever have to change while at the same time blaming the unchanged circumstances on me. The motivation to skew or suppress evidence is much higher for believers than it is for critics, unless the critics happen to be also religious. Religion, especially one that bases belief on an emotional/spiritual experience, is more than an ideology.
Three of my statements dealt with the rejection of objectivity and the nature of evidence, which you seem to question with the quote about Novick's book and "objectivity."Thomas Alexander, I believe, adequately addressed this issue long ago: "Perhaps the weakest portion of David Bohn's critique of the New Mormon History is his discussion of objectivity. The position he defends is crucial for his argument, since, in order to establish that historians are positivists, he must show that they believe in objectivity as defined by the positivistic natural sciences. It is this requirement, I believe, that produced his unsupported assertion that historians believe they can stand "beyond time and space in some fourth dimension from which ... [they] can gaze upon the past objectively'"(Dialogue 19 [Fall 1983]: 36-37).
You go on to speak of "protocols of reason and protocols of the discipline"without acknowledging that I had said nearly the same thing. The only difference between our views is that you are more cynical about the value of research and the scholarly method. This is mostly because the kind of evidence you have is not very persuasive in the world of academics and you want to be. On the other hand, I think there is very clear evidence that scientific evidence has forced Mormon apologists to change their interpretations and world-views. So I thin I have some reason to be optimistic about the future.
You end by calling my historical and textual interpretations "simplistic"because they are based on a "faith commitment" to positivism. Several of my statements about the interpretation of evidence were nearly the same as what you said and can hardly be described as "simplistic."One does not have to be a metaphysician to understand the intricacies and problems with interpreting evidence. Many historians who have read my works disagree with you. Even those who disagree with my interpretations would not describe my interpretations as simplistic.
To summarize: I got angry because you did not respond to what I had written. I know we all do not respond to everything everybody says, but you barely responded to one out of eight statements, and then in a polemical and uncharitable fashion. Then, in direct contradiction to two of my statements, you accused me of denying that I had an ideology. Then you demanded that I admit that I "willfully" suppress evidence. Finally, you concluded that I was simple-minded.
What's astonishing is that could not understand why I got angry at this tactic. When I called your response a "formulaic monologue,"I did not mean that you were repeating yourself from some previous work or conversation. We all repeat ourselves, as my wife often reminds me. The point is that you were not responding to me, nor the issues I raised. When you ignore what I said in my first statement about being a naturalist, and then plug your discussion about revisionists denying their ideology from your FARMS essay, it's only natural to conclude you aren't listening and that you're determined to stick to your formula.
My demand for "more thoughtful analysis"was beneficial. However, I had not dismissed you argument as "motivated by anger,"as you characterized it. But you did characterize your discussion as emotion-free and dispassionate. What's the difference between a positivist who thinks he/she is objective and without ideology and your belief that what you write is dispassionate and free of emotion? Nevertheless, I got from you a clear statement that you didn't think I was a positivist because of my naturalism.
Even if you still think I'm a positivist, although I don't understand why, it will be dishonest if you say "Dan Vogel ... quite proudly and frankly [says] "I am a positivist.'"
You propose that we test my ability to "psychoanalyze" Joseph Smith by testing my ability last week to "psychoanalyze"your thoughts. Well know, isn't it convenient for you to have all the power and we all the trust in this test. Nevertheless, what you propose is ill conceived since (1) I never "claimed"I know what's in your head better than you do; (2) I don't "psychoanalyze"Joseph Smith in the way you apparently think; (3) I wasn't trying to "psychoanalyze"you; (4) psychoanalysis is not mind-reading (at most you might say I'm not clairvoyant, and I would agree).
Nevertheless, let's pretend and conduct Goff's test. Some might point out that Dan's assumption might be wrong but it's not unreasonable. Indeed, such an assumption seems supported by commonplace experience: people do generally get angry when discussing religion--that's why it's one of the three things people do not like to discuss in public. Given the fact that Goff is associated with FARMS and actively defends his religion against simple-minded, self-selected, philosophically-incompetent "positivists"who fill their books with "simplistic ... historical and textual interpretations"and "positivistic rhetoric,"it is reasonable to assume he doesn't like critics in some degree. Then there is the inordinate attention Goff has paid to denying the accusation without really denying it. No unequivocal denial of having been angry. In his first denial on 29 September, he said:
D-1: "I mentioned nothing angry ..."
D-2: "I see anger on this bulletin board; I don't see it in my previous response."
D-3: "People who disagree with you don't necessarily do it because they are angry with you."
I ask, why no unequivocal denial? Why not say, "Dan, you have misread me. I'm not angry with you"? In his most recent post, Goff denies that there is evidence of his anger seven more times, then concludes: "it is [therefore] quite frankly false to assert that I was angry last week when I wrote those comments."This reads more like the conclusion to the foregoing analysis, meaning it is "false to assert"rather than "false"that he was angry. He seems to be avoiding a clear denial and a situation that would obligate him to take moral responsibility for his denial. "But I say unto, That whosoever is angry with his brother with a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire"(Matt. 5:22). Now, that's motivation both to deny anger to yourself and to avoid admitting it around fellow believers. The suppression of anger, especially in religious families is a well-known principal to family therapists. But then again I could be wrong, only you know ... maybe.
Just rereading the whole exchange on this page, and I have a few thoughts. First lets leave out of the discussion making guesses regarding each other's various mental states. (i.e. are you angry or not) I think it would make the discussion far better and keep us from the dangerous valley of ad homens.
Secondly, I honestly don't have trouble when Dan sticks to what he calls probable. (Recognizing that is most likely meant in a very loose sense - let us say the sorts of things he finds most believable.) However it does seem that Dan adopts two positions. The first is naturalism. Yet clearly he believes more than this since I think many Mormons are naturalists as well and simply claim angels, revelation and so forth occur within the natural world. Not all do, of course. B. H. Roberts thought intelligences are Cartesian minds, for instance. But many do. (I have tendencies in that way myself, although my view of nature is perhaps more expansive than most)
When we speak of the "supernatural", we really shouldn't contrast it with naturalism. Rather we ought contrast it with scientism. Dan, as I read you, you assert via your comments on verification and burden of proof, that we shouldn't accept any entities not already accepted by science. You might allow for the potential of new unknown entities, but disagree with the way Mormons claim to know. Since science hasn't discovered "spirits" nor any sense in the brain akin to "spiritual eyes" we ought to discount it until a positive verification is made. While I'm not sure, I suspect you mean by "verification" less what we find among positivists than a more loose sense of "established as acceptable to scientists." I think your appeal to verification keeps throwing us, as that was why I tended to see you as moving towards positivism. After all as normally used, verification simply means "immediately perceivable."
Some of your quotes seem oriented towards undermining that sense of "immediately perceivable" as they orient one to recognize that were someone else present when the vision took place, they'd not see anything. However if that is the sense you mean it in, then that really is positivism. As I said above though, sometimes you don't speak in that fashion and seem more inclined towards the class of entities.
Don't get me wrong, I have no trouble with skepticism of spiritual events. More power to you. As I mentioned, of the naturalist critics of Mormonism, I probably enjoy reading your stuff more than others. (Although I've not read your most recent book) I do think though that you sort of fluctuate between simply adopting a subjective "stance" of critical naturalism to a more positivistic stance. I speak here, only of what you've written in the above. As I said, I can't make claims one way or the other regarding your book.
BTW - regarding the witnesses, while I agree most assume that the eight witnesses saw something physical, I don't think it would ultimately bother too many people if it was more visionary. Further, even Mormons tend to believe the witnesses, it isn't simply because of their claims, but because of individual experiences each Mormon likely has had. i.e. while your evidence is very convincing to the person who disbelieves, going in, spiritual experiences, it won't be to people who, for whatever reason, do believe in such matters. Of course merely believing in the possibility of such phenomena is no reason to necessarily believe that every individual experienced such a phenomena. But it will distinctly affect what is "most probable." But of course no Mormon believes in the Book of Mormon because of the witnesses. At best that is history there to at least get people to inquire on their own about the text.
I am curious as to what the phrase "historical methodology" refers to.
For example, if someone says "microeconomic methodology" I know what they are talking about. I assume that you are talking about the explanation of social events on the basis of a rational actor model (which entails assumptions about the completeness and transitivity of preferences) and the maximization of some utility function which can be expressed mathematically. Most of the interesting debates are going to occur over issues of incomplete information and transaction costs. If someone says "macroeconomic methodology" I understand that they are probably going to be talking about the interactions between aggregate demand, aggregate supply, inflation, and interest rates first articulated by Kaynes. The differences are going to hinge on things like the speed with which supply and demand curves shift and the nature of the interaction between inflation and interest rates.
I really don't know what "historical methodology" refers to. I freely admit that this is probably largely a result of my ignorance. On the other hand, I don't see any rigorously worked out set of methodological assumptions in the history that I read. Certainly, there is nothing like the carefully worked out assumptions of the rational actor model. I have frequently heard or read the analogy to legal fact finding, namely the sifting through of contradictory accounts, the weighing of the reliability of competing sources, attempts to control for bias, and the like. The sad truth, of course, is that there really isn't any legal methodology for fact finding. In legal disputes one generally solves factual issues by throwing all of the evidence in the lap of the jury and asking them to answer a few simple questions. The jury however is a black box. It does not articulate the basis of its factual findings and -- except in rare cases -- its factual findings cannot be subsequently questioned. In other words, legal fact finding is militantly a-methodological. Legal methodology all comes into play either in the application of law to facts, or in the exclusion of evidence under rules that are generally NOT linked to issues of reliability and probativeness per se. I always have the nagging suspicion that historical methodology is rather like the jury -- it is a black box into which one inserts rather mundane and easily made arguments about bias, reliability, and the like and out of which one gets conclusions. Hence when historians refer to a "historical methodology" that is obscure to the uninitiated and that mysteriously justifies one's conclusions, I get suspicious.
Mind you, my skepticism on this point really has nothing to do with issues of post-modernism, postivism, naturalism, or even necessarily Mormon history. To be sure, "historical methodology" gets batted around in the various battles of the Mormon-history wars, but my skepticism is actually born of battles about the application of various social sciences to the study of law. Hence, my target is as much Lawrence Friedman and Morton Horwitz and Dan Vogel or Brent Metcalfe.
Nate, welcome to the thread that never ends. Who ever said history was dull? I think history is much broader than economics--you can have a history of anything--so "historical methodology" is likely to be a more general construct than its economic counterpart. One simply doesn't see historical models of the same ambitious precision as economic models unless one is reading an economic historian. But as far as selection of facts goes, "economic methodology" has little to offer. Economists use the glib phrase "sylized fact" to describe what we might call a speculative generalization, the term "counterfactual" to describe a broad hypothetical, and theorists generally function in a world pleasantly insulated from any factual data.
Historians at least have a sense that historical sources are the foundation of good history, and reject a priori theorizing that comes in under the heading "philosophy of history." Historical methodology, as I've encountered the term, goes primarily to the process of drawing out reasonable inferences from the stock of historical facts (based on historical sources). It's the process of inference that challenges the historian. In most fields, there is general agreement about most facts but warm disputes over interpretation (or the meaningful story one can tell and defend as a reasonable inference from the data based on some model of individual or collective behavior).
However, in Mormon history there are bitter disputes over the simplest of facts and the majority of sources. Such disputes are in a sense "pre-methodological." Historians have rules of thumb about what sources are reliable as opposed to questionable (as do courts and journalists other than CBS) but I don't see much discussion of "historical rules of evidence" in the history books I read, so they must generally be applied, if at all, in the mind of the practicing historian. Can any practitioner in any field avoid the temptation to accept evidence favorable to one's desired conclusion while doubting or simpling ignoring contrary evidence? Probably not, but the problem seems especially prominent in Mormon history. Would that all practitioners might be as dispassionate and methodical as your recent examination of the antebellum vocabulary of "secret combinations"!
Dave: Thanks for your kind comments about my article. I have no idea whether or not it employed the proper historical methodology. Here is my problem, I guess:
1. I don't think that it makes sense to say that the absence of a priori assumptions counts as a methodology. First, I don't think that anyone has a true absence of a priori assumptions. Second, I don't think that their supposed presence or absence matters all that much. At the end of the day, regardless of where one begins, one will state conclusions and offer arguments for or against them. At that point, we can simply look at the strength of the arguments, identify the implicit assumptions (all arguments have these), etc. Whether one starts with a set of biases or preconcepts is rather beside the point. We can just look at what gets produced and access its value. Hence, I find most of the discussion of who does or does not have preconceptions, etc. to be rather pointless. Everyone has preconceptions. Duh! The delightful thing about stating reasons for one's conclusions is that one can access the validity of the conclusions without getting into arguments about the virtue of their genesis. Furthermore, once the reasons are on the table, one can present arguments as to how this or that reason rests on this or that assumption and make further arguments about the validity of those assumptions. All this talk of bias, etc. seems rather beside the point.
2. In the philosophy of social science one frequently runs across the idea of "folk psychology." This refers to the basic intuitions and ideas that everyone has about how the world works and how people behave. I have a sneaking suspicion that "historical methodology" amounts to little more than folk psychology. In social science, things become interesting when one moves beyond folk psychology, either by mathematically formalizing it a la microeconomics, or suggesting radically different explanations based on concepts that are not widely held, e.g. meme theory, dialectical materialism, etc. Obviously, one could apply these sorts of social theories to the study of past events. However, this doesn't seem to be what people are referring to when they talk about the "historical method." Rather, they seem to use the phrase as though it refers to some set of technocratic skills that give one a unique way of establishing historical facts. At this point, I always get this sneaking suspicion that there is no there there.
My time is fragmented right now. I haven't even looked at this board between my last posting late Saturday night (although the time stamp on the discussion board inexplicably shows me posting that comment early Sunday morning for some reason, about four hours earlier than my time here; is that payback for Arizonans because they don't go daylight savings time? are the posts set on Eastern time?). I would like to make several comments, but I will spread them out over several postings so they don't go on forever, and I don't have to write them all now. We are in the last two weeks of class, so I am devoting so much time to grading papers.
Regarding what is historical methodology, the concept has to do with historical sources. Richard Evans's In Defense of History distinguishes between theory and method (Evans is one of the most able defenders of traditional history against the postmodernists). A theory is something like Marxism or feminism. "Historical methodis based on the rules of verification laid down by Ranke and elaborated in numerous ways since his time"(109), which has to do with sifting the facts from historical sources. This concept has been brought into question by postmodern thinkers who would turn archival sources (and even other sources) into texts, always already interpreted texts. Traditional historians believe they get closest to the truth the closer the sources are to the historical actors in the event, that archives contain brute, uninterpreted facts (in the most crude form of positivistic history, since some versions are more sophisticated).
I also picked up John Tosh's The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods & New Directions in the Study of Modern History from my shelf. This is a primer (from a traditional perspective) intended to instruct history undergraduates in their first class which tells them what history is. When you look up "historical method,"the index says, " see source criticism." The chapter on the subject discusses how to filter out false from authentic documents.
Postmodernist historians (keep in mind that there is no postmodernism, just postmodernisms) generally textualize the historian's sources, sometimes insisting the most important source in some historical accounts is the historian's ideology. Here is what Keith Jenkins says in On "What is History?" (citing Hayden White): "There is no such thing as a distinctively "historical' method by which to study this "history'"(34). Traditional, positivistic, history looks to the "records"stored usually in archives, which "are taken as transparent meditations between the past and the present. Textuality, writing, discourse, terms that poststructuralists have made into indications of a problematic, did not intercede between the historian and the representation of the past"(Mark Poster, Cultural History and Postmodernity, 5). Hans Kellner (in Language and Historical Representation, vii) has asserted that one can't get the story straight just by going to the archives. He wants historians to examine the more important sources for historical interpretations: "discourse and rhetoric. In other words this is a book about historical sources."
I have to admit after reading hundreds of books and articles on historiography, this archival and documentary fetish is still a bit puzzling to me. I am a literary critic, so I don't have the acculturation that historians have. If someone has edited a perfectly good edition of Winston Churchill's letters, why would you feel the need to fly to London to inspect the originals? But that is the way historians are trained to think. I have given the answer from both sides of the great divide from within historiography today. It is a longish answer when I could have just said "source analysis is what historians usually mean by historical method,"but I wanted to connect the answer to some of the issues we have been discussing on this board.
The longer Dan discusses what counts as evidence, the more he has convinced Blake and Clark that he is a positivist after all. This can't be surprising; he has recapitulated the argument here that he published in his article on the Book of Mormon witnesses from the American Apocrypha volume-- essentially that Joseph Smith deceived when he tried to produce empirical evidence for the Book of Mormon, that the witnesses' experience didn't have anything to do with the empirical world but was a visionary or subjective experience. The subjective doesn't count as evidence, so no proper evidence exists that there were gold plates. When positivism gives you a certain rhetorical advantage over your opponents, it is hard to surrender that leverage.
Vogel is not going to yield an inch to admit something unseemly in calling people who believe apologists but not applying the same terminology to those critical of the Mormon tradition. Some arguments work by implication, and what is being implied here is a distinction. Those apologists are distinctive from the critics because they are committed to an ideology that predetermines their conclusions. I have just explicitly articulated what is implied in this epithet. When Robert Rees in a Sunstone Symposium criticized Mark Thomas and Ed Ashment for using this same terminology ("Above the American Renaissance?" SL 00 #232), Mark Thomas in his comments had the grace to admit that the criticism is proper (Thomas in his book also opposed apologists associated with FARMS against "critical scholarship", page 3). He said he should have admitted that all the people involved in the argument over the Book of Mormon are apologists. This is the appropriate response, not an entrenchment. I have the word positivist written in the margin of Thomas's book where he uses that terminology, but I haven't called him a positivist over it because he has retracted the claim publically. The rhetoric of this name-calling, when it is applied so exclusively, is that one group is ideologically motivated but the other isn't. Mark Thomas admits that he wasn't clear in his book when he implied this notion. If one has made printed positivistic claims in the past, one must retract them in print or continue to be called a positist (I am waiting for Thomas to drop this shoe, though a Sunstone Symposium is a pretty public forum), and I will longer hold that positivistic claim against that researcher. I may raise the issue, but only as a past concern the researcher has repented of.
Alan, surely that isn't something new brought up by postmodern thinkers. Facts were always open to multiple interpretations. Archaeology was always plagued by underdetermination. Even facts themselves were always open to revision. Indeed as I recall, Nietzsche got his start in philology in the 19th century which was the early textual criticism of texts. So if anything historical consideration of "original facts" helped produce postmodernism and not vice versa.
Just to add to a theme that Dave has brought up repeatability, I'm not sure we ought to consider positivism quite the boogeyman some do. I have come to think that Dan, in his presentation at least, is inconsistently a positivist, or has leanings in that direction. But I don't think that is quite the pejorative term some do, any more than I think postmodernists ought to be bemused or hurt when an Analytic philosopher uses the term as a put down. I think positivism is false because it can't establish its own grounds. But there are certain taking up of problems that I think positivists did which, while ultimately unsuccessful, certainly weren't inherently bad in attempt.
As I mentioned, I was fairly positivistic early on myself. As others mentioned, the difference between say a Husserl and a Russell aren't quite as great as some might imagine. Where I think the problem is that the positivists tended to cut off discussion and investigation. And perhaps, here, that is also the problem. Certainly if we stick purely to what we can positively say via public evidence we are cutting off a lot of what we encounter and depend upon. And doing so isn't "objective" as Dan himself points out. Embracing the subjective and limited nature of positivism might still have positivistic trends, but at least it is a positivism far more honest than what was once done. It is just now that we talk about "probable" without realizing what a loaded (and unjustified) term that is. But to acknowledge the very subjective stance one takes when one claims "probable" in these sorts of discussions isn't that bad.
I think that sometimes "probable" becomes "objective" with only the word as different with a few qualifications at the beginning and end of texts. But so what?
I guess that still is the point and is what I started this whole discussion with. Certainly I'm sympathetic to what Alan points out. But so what? In terms of argument, what new do we know? We already knew many Signature folks rejected most of the premises Mormons adopt. We already knew that would significantly affect the arguments. Do we really need this to be continually pointed out? Shouldn't we move on? At a certain point ought we not focus in on the rest of the debate?
Clark points out that the postmodern critique isn't necessarily new. This is true; modernity has always had within it doubts about the possibility of obtaining certainty, or objectivity, or whatever its goal was. Early in the twentieth century historians such as (Carl?) Becker pointed out how fragile human knowledge of the past was. They were called relativists as a consequence. Every tradition has impulses that resist the movement toward certified or mechanistic knowledge claims. But those objections tend to be tributaries, creeks, compared to the main currents in rushing rivers of disciplines. I agree that historicism (the tendency to see human experience as inevitably historically conditioned) is indeed one of the main sources of postmodern thought. That is why I think postmodernism is so closely related to modernity. Modernity happens when thinkers apply the tools of criticism and history to traditions (religious, cultural, social); postmodernism occurs when those tools are finally applied to modernity. A major difference between modernity and postmodernism is the self-reflexivity imperative.
This conversation seems to be winding down. Let me at least make a few points. I was not angry. I never was angry with Dan. I thought I had made that point clearly, but apparently I hadn't. When I was younger, I used to be tougher on people with whom I disagreed, but I have mellowed.
Dan has accused me of being dishonest (Dan says I do not "deal directly and honestly with the issues they raise"), so I want to address that issue. Dan also claims I "made up that quote for rhetorical effect"when I asserted Sterling McMurrin and Dan had admitted being positivists. I have reread Dan's response to Kevin Christensen; I misunderstood Dan, I made a mistake. On this point I was wrong. This is what happens when ideology gets too far out in front of evidence. Dan then cites McMurrin from a Dialogue article where the latter says "my personal views incline toward naturalistic humanism with some flavor of positivism." Dan comments on this quotation, "That statement is at odds with your description of "proudly and frankly'; neither does it support your contrived quote of an unequivocal declaration of belief in positivism."
The initial problem emerges from Dan's overconfidence that he knows what is going on in people's minds. Dan seems to believe that McMurrin addressed the issue of his relationship to positivism only once. I did have that Dialogue article in mind, but not just that article. In his book Reason, Religion, and Truth, McMurrin names the important philosophical influences on him. He notes that he wanted to be an idealist, but his "dissertation designed to refute the logical positivists came dangerously close to converting me to positivism. Carl Hempel, the most brilliant in-house critic of logical positivism, convinced me of both the strengths and weaknesses of the positivistic position." But note that Hempel is an in-house critic, a positivist (on pages 15-17 of the same book McMurrin expresses partial agreement with positivism's critique of belief).
By themselves, these passages may not be definitive enough to call McMurrin a positivist. By the way, I am glad Dan sent me back to reread McMurrin this week so I didn't have to operate from memory in this response. Though I think he is often wrong, McMurrin is always a pleasure to read, and he demonstrates such wide knowledge about issues religious and philosophical. I think he would have wondered what the fuss is; he wouldn't have seen the charge of being a positivist as anything to run from.
In his Lectures on Religion and Culture, McMurrin articulates the positivist criteria of meaning (the claim "there is a God"is "meaningless. It is neither true nor false; it has no cognitive meaning. It may have some kind of artistic meaning, or emotive meaning, or something of the kind, but it has no cognitive meaning, no knowledge value whatsoever"because it is empirically unverifiable 112). After noting that "there are serious problems in the logic of the positivists"which the positivists themselves pointed out (113), McMurrin cites Russell and Wittgenstein, both influential over positivism, as two thinkers who didn't think in theory it is impossible to make cognitively meaningful statements about metaphysics.
Russell, who was an agnostic, held that it is not impossible to fashion a conception of God that can function in a cognitively meaningful proposition. I personally agree with this position, though I am of the opinion that most theological pronouncements have provided no knowledge whatsoever about God. But they have given us plenty of information about theologians.
McMurrin adheres to the positivistic criterion of meaningfulness and admits his agreement with it. Later, McMurrin expresses the positivistic position about religious belief when he says concerning issues of free will and determinism, "I personally don't take seriously the opinions of either prophets or theologians on this matter, . . . because they are not based on any kind of verifiable knowledge but are pious speculations"(121). I think the case that McMurrin was a positivist, and that he gladly embraced the philosophical position, is fairly straightforward. So when Vogel charges me with dishonesty, with fabricating quotations, he is simply wrong; he just hasn't read the material I was alluding to; he has rushed to fill in a knowledge gap with ideology and personal villification. When McMurrin states that his position is "flavored"by positivism, he is a positivist who also adheres to a number of other philosophical positions. Dan's claim that I am dishonest is what happens when ideology gets too far in advance of evidence. These kinds of ad hominem attacks should not be made in ignorance of what the opponent is thinking.
Alan, I think I'd definitely agree with regards to McMurrin. I think he was a positivist and firm believer in the humanist tradition. I personally think this tended to blind him to Mormon theological positions, as I assert quite often in my "readings" of him.
I think, however, that you've still avoiding the primary issue that several of us have brought up. The "so what" question. Why should FARMS keep harping on latent postiivisms or more commonly naturalisms or physicalisms in Signature writings? It seems discussed a lot. At a certain point doesn't it become redundant?
Several reasons seem prominent. For one, it gives us a rhetorical advantage to put Mormon revisionists on the defensive by calling them positivists. Because they are positivists, defending themselves against the charge is intellectually difficult to do (you end up with totally incoherent definitions such as the one advanced by Marvin Hill in his Mormon History Association presidential address). It occupies their time. Keep in mind that positivism was so dominant in all disciplines from the beginning of the twentieth century through the 1970s that it has become the commonsense, the domain assumption, of history, sociology, psychology, political science, and almost every other discipline. But people with philosophical sophistication in each discipline have turned the charge of positivism into a term of opprobium. Outside 13 sociologists, nobody freely admits to being a positivist today; self-identification is no way to tell who is and isn't a positivist. But for the all of positivism's being discredited, it still is the dominant way practitioners in history think of their field. Incredible at the philosophical and historiographical level, it still dominates numerically in the minds of historians. We ought to do our part to euthanize it in the areas we have influence.
My first reason is pragmatic. We ought also to be principled. If positivism is a bad way to approach research about the past, we ought to care that it is untrue. I often use postmodern approaches, but I don't consider myself a postmodern and the old-fashioned use of a word such as truth should indicate that. We ought to care if people are going around making various claims to being objective when the objectivity ideology is more realistically advancing an ideological agenda.
I think Alan, that this response gets to the heart of the matter. Who is your audience? It is almost as if you feel your audience is Signature and that you are engaged in an on going debate with the focus "winning." The audience of members who may be in crisis of faith seems often overlooked or forgotten. The focus is Signature.
I think that is what many of us find somewhat distressing. It truly seems like the original aims of FARMS have been forgotten.
BTW - I don't think postmodernism is opposed, in the least, to a notion of truth. What the movement typically objects to is a reified truth or a truth that is made essentially "present" and "complete."
Clark is right that reasonable versions of postmodernism don't do away with notions of truth. Postmodernisms-as-commonly-conceived often do away with notions of truth at the same time they throw out Truth.
I don't consider myself a FARMS person as both Dan and Clark have implied. I sometimes publish with FARMS and sometimes elsewhere. A perception exists that people associated with FARMS have some kind of monolithic ideological tendency. People there write about what they are interested in, then they see if a FARMS outlet wants to publish it. Some people who publish with FARMS are positivists (I have written in the margins of essays by Stephen Robinson the word positivist because he uses concepts of objectivity in just the way Brent Metcalfe or Ed Ashment might, just applied to different people).
If you think some of us talk too much about positivism, then you will be excused from buying my book on the subject when it is published; the tentative title is What, If Anything, Is a Positivist?. By the way, it isn't being reviewed by FARMS for publication but by another publisher. But your question assumes we can't address several audiences at the same time. In addition to the book on positivism, I also have two other books under consideration by two other publishers about Book of Mormon exegesis. One analyzes allusions in the book to the Bible, showing the dense network of intertextuality between the two texts. The other shows allusions internal to the Book of Mormon demonstrating a complex network of allusion that unifies the text. Those two books will take up the task you request of addressing a more general Mormon audience. But we can't neglect the theoretical concerns about interpretation and ideology because that also has an impact on the ability to believe in the Mormon tradition. I have a former college roommate who has dropped out of church activity and belief because of these historical criticisms of the Mormon tradition. They have an impact and a more intellectual foundation must be built to support Mormon belief in order to maintain belief by intellectuals in Mormonism.
A period existed from the 1960s through the 1980s where doubters were virtually unresponded to; though back then Sunstone and Dialogue were more balanced in not overwhelming publishing essays negative about the Mormon tradition. Even though the doubtful position was, well, doubtful, those who don't go into intellectual history but just read Dialogue or Sunstone went through a generation without a sufficient alternative. It is a waste of souls to let those with intellectual inclinations but lacking a thorough knowledge of philosophy or historiography believe no alternative based on religious faith exists.
I don't believe you can just do work filling out Mormon history as the Smith Institute does (although that is necessary and useful work) without also engaging the philosophical issues. And undermining regnant worldviews is part of that philosopical work. How, on a site named Mormon Metaphysics, can doing metaphysical work be viewed as a negative thing? I am more than willing to stop talking about positivism; I don't think that can be done as long as people are using it as an ideological lever to support their interpretations of history. If positivistic claims give nonbelievers an advantage in the marketplace of ideas, then those ideas must be engaged. As long as positivism is used to provide illegitimate intellectual support for intepretations of Mormon history, some engagement of those ideas is necessary.
Look, I am a literary critic. I should be writing studies on Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, and I keep putting other projects ahead of writing my book on historiographic metafiction. I also have a project in intellectual history (about modernity and postmodernism) that I would like to get to. I have other projects I would rather do. Unlike Dan Peterson and Lou Midgley, I don't relish confrontation. I think it is necessary work bring philosophical concepts into the discussion about the Mormom past. Since positivists are committed to excluding philosophical reflection, someone must bring that analysis to bear. I also happen to have a unique combination of skills that prepares me for this discussion about Mormon history. I can do sophisticated analysis of the Book of Mormon that opens the text, demonstrating it as a sophisticated literary work. I also have a philosophical background (an M.A. in political philosophy and a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies that include literary theory and philosophy). A decade-and-a-half ago I also decided to read through the historiographic and biblical critical literatures so I would know them better than those critics of Mormonism who often borrow (frequently inaccurately) from these traditions. I feel God requires this work of me, though I feel conscripted. When these three books are published, my tour of duty is up. From that point I will only be in the reserves (think of the reserves thirty years ago, not the reserves today).
Clark, you have brought forward a discussion of philosophy and applied it Mormon things by using this new technology; that is a good thing, and I praise it. But you will reach only a small percentage of Mormons, those interested in metaphysics (only a dozen people have gotten involved in this discussion and who knows, a few dozen more have lurked in the room without speaking up). My books on the Book of Mormon will reach thousands more people, and those studies will revolutionize (a small revolution) the way we read the book; my book on positivism will probably be read by a few hundred. I am addressing that audience experiencing a "crisis of faith." The approach I am taking takes at least a couple decades to unfold; the work must be multi-layered. It is useful at the same time to place my readings of the book side-by-side with those who attack the scripture to bring out the ideology underpinning both. That comparison requires a philosophical approach.
Alan, I'm sorry our exchange was so acrimonious. Sometimes such things are necessary in order to move on to the next level of mutual respect and understanding. I hope that such movement is possible. I believe you are probably a nice guy and sincere in your beliefs. When I said that you were not dealing with the issues "directly and honestly,"I was not making a character assessment. But it's interesting that you interpreted it that way.
Thanks for admitting you were "wrong"about the quote from Christensen. I only hope Christensen will be as frank. However, I do not see mind-reading in my discussion of McMurrin. At most, there is judgment based on incomplete information. But you admit that the passages you examined were not "definitive enough to call McMurrin a positivist." At most, you have shown that McMurrin vacillated on the issue of Positivism, which fits with his self-description of having a "flavor."It is your ideological stance that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, or a little poison poisons the whole well. Regardless, this does that justify your statement that he "boldly and proudly"declared himself a positivist. You then proceed to make a most baffling statement: "he would have wondered what the fuss is; he wouldn't have seen the charge of being a positivist as anything to run from."This might be true, although the statements you quoted sound like he was hedging. Interesting, though, that you should attempt to know what would be in McMurrin's mind if he were alive. Now, you're intruding on my territory. I have to wonder how serious you are when you criticize my attempts?
Despite the weaknesses in the scientific method, postmodernism will never match its success. Once you begin talking about scholarly protocols and ways of assessing the relative strength and weakness of evidence, you imply that there is a hierarchy of knowledge, which leads me to adapt to this situation something Alan Sokal and Jean Brickmont said in their book Fashionable Nonsense about Kuhn's philosophy: "As long as one believes there is criteria for judging evidence, this hierarchy implies that there is no conceivable argument based on metaphysics that could give succor to those philosophers who wish to challenge, in a blanket way, the reliability of scientific results"(78). Ultimately, with regard to BofM and book of Abraham historicity, anti-positivism is not going to free you from the responsibility of dealing "directly and honestly"with that evidence or lack thereof.
Blake, responding to your first post of 3 October, where you begin by claiming my position is "incoherent and world-view dependent."Of course, we both know that all world-views are self-referential and therefore incoherent in that respect. The question is: which world-view works better. Naturalism is not a world-view in need of proof. I also think it's a mistake to call naturalism an "assumption"as if there is another reasonable alternative. Rather naturalism is a "hypothesis"or "working hypothesis"with emphasis on "working"since it has been tested and repeatedly corroborated. This brings me to the question of your world-view, because until your second post of 3 October I was confused as to what exactly it was. Not that I completely understand your position, but I now believe that your inappropriate use of metaphysical language in a discussion about "spiritual experiences"is responsible for my confusion and the reason, as you say, for our speaking past one another. So, let me examine the content of your last post before returning to the issues raised in your first post (which I will do in a second post), because your later statement informs all previous statements.
In your last post, you expand on your definition of "real" as "mind-independent existence"and apply it to the BofM witnesses. You say, "when I say that real spiritual experiences are mind-independent, I mean that they are not dependent on the operations of but one person's mind."In other words, they are real by definition, not necessarily in fact. Apparently you think visions are "real"in the same sense that mathematics is "real."You say mathematics is both "mind-independent"and "not mind-independent," depending on how one looks at it. On the macro-level, mathematics is a "universally necessary structure for thought for all minds and thus not dependent on some particular mind."On the micro-level, it is "not mind-independent in the sense that there would be mathematics if there were no minds."Therefore, only on a linguistic level can mathematics be said to be "real"and to have "mind-independent existence."
Despite telling Addictio that no one can distinguish between delusional and real visions, the next day you contradicted yourself when you tried to do just that with your definitions. You explain that "delusions are dependent on a particular mind. ... So when I [Blake] say that real spiritual experiences are mind-independent, I mean that they are not dependent on the operations of but one person's mind. ... The very structure of the experience[s of the three and eight witnesses] is designed to boost its credibility by showing that it is not mind-dependent or unreal as I have defined it. Many people experienced it and so it is not mind-dependent in my sense to the extent they truthfully reported their shared experience[s]."You seem to say that "spiritual experiences"are "real"because they are "mind-independent"concepts, and they are "mind-independent" because they occur in "more than one mind."Thus, you seem to assert:
(1) (If) All universals are mind-independent entities (while simultaneously dependent on the existence of minds).
(2) (If) Mind-independent entities are real (in and of themselves, although still dependent on the mind for existence).
(3) (If) Spiritual experiences are (sort of) universal (truths).
(4) Therefore spiritual experiences are mind-independent and real.
Of course, we both know that syllogisms can still be valid even if the premises are false.
If all elephants are pink.
If Dumbo is an elephant.
Therefore Dumbo is pink.
So there is no magic about valid but untrue arguments. The premises must also be acceptable. The notion of entities is extremely controversial to say the least, and conceptualism might be a cleaver resolution to the nominalist/realist debate but outside of that issue is problematic. Moreover, I seriously question conceptualism's relevance to "spiritual" issues, generally, and the three witnesses, specifically (more on this below). The weakest premise is 3. You seem to have a definition of universal that at best is only SORT OF universal or not universal at all. Hence you speak as if you are talking about a universal when all you are talking about is more than one or many. You have only multiplied (not universalized) the mind-dependency of delusions/spiritual experiences and then arbitrarily labeled it as "mind-independent"in violation of your own definition. In what way are spiritual experiences universals? I understand the Platonic notion of universals, but your attempt to apply that concept to this situation seems forced. Certainly, spiritual experiences are not universal in the same sense as mathematics.
Despite all your torturous definitions, you end up saying nearly the same thing that I said, only that you have avoided discussion of external stimuli and invented a new definition of "real."A traditional Mormon, such as Richard Anderson, believes the vision was "real"because the angel and plates were "objectively"present in the woods. This is implied in the published testimony ("came down ... laid before our eyes"), which has led Anderson to describe it as a "natural super-natural"event. If I read you correctly (and it's not easy given your propensity to equivocate and use amphiboly), you try to avoid talking about "objective reality"by claiming that the vision was "real"because it occurred in many minds rather than one. Besides being contradicted by experience and your own admission about the hysterical hallucinators at Fatima, you have made a distinction without a difference since you have only described the operations of the "mind"with respect to both real and delusional visions. Because you refuse to discuss the possible sources for visions (external, psychological, or other), we are both saying visions occur in the mind. the only difference between our views is that you define some of them as "real."
Here, I will state that because you are attempting to avoid the issue of objectivity, your position is vulnerable to the incoherence/infinite regress dilemma. If "spiritual experiences are real"means "by my definition spiritual experiences are real,"either this last statement is an attempt at objective truth, or else we have "by my definition of my definition spiritual experiences are real." Then either THAT statement is objectively true or we have "by my definition of my definition of my definition spiritual experiences are real,"and so on ad infinitum.
Now, to the issue of the relevance of metaphysics to the subject at hand. You say my world-view suffers from a "false dichotomy,"between "naturalism"and "supernaturalism,"and that you "would never describe [your] world-view"with the latter term. Of course, I framed that dichotomy before I fully understood what your world-view was. Indeed, it's difficult to keep BLAKE THE MORMON separate from BLAKE THE METAPHYSICIAN; and I'm not sure you do either. And I get the impression that you are taking advantage of the fact that potential Mormon readers are going to supply the "objective reality"parts that you are trying to avoid so as not to be called a positivist. So you have me at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, the false dichotomy exists only when you try to hide the MORMON BLAKE behind the METAPHYSICAL BLAKE. Of course, there is only one Blake and he is both a MORMON SUPERNATURALIST and a metaphysician. To try and pretend that you are not a supernaturalist is intellectually dishonest, especially for one defending a religion founded on miracles. It's like a scientist who thinks he's objective and has no biases. Haven't I been honest with you about my biases, so why try to hide yours?
As per your request, the standard definition of the term "supernatural"from the dictionary will suffice: "unexplainable by natural laws or phenomena ... pertaining to, or characteristic of God ... relating to ghosts, goblins, or other unearthly beings ... behavior supposedly caused by the intervention of supernatural beings ... direct influence or action of a god on earthly affairs."Also pertinent to the discussion is supernatural power and supernatural realm of existence. Other words I would use are "paranormal"or "anomalous experience."
Here's some more definitions that will help keep our positions in the three worlds clear. Philosopher Stephen D. Schafersman describes these three worlds as: (1) the physical world nature (matter and energy); (2) immaterial world of nature (mind, ideas, values, logic); (3) transcendental or supernatural world (gods, spirits, souls). The materialist, he says, believes in the first two worlds but denies independence of the second. The naturalist also believes in the first two without necessary denial of the independence of the second. The supernaturalist believes in all three worlds. That would be you Blake, that is, if you are a real Mormon. Schafersman concludes, "I think [supernaturalists] are misinterpreting elements of a perfectly natural but non-material second world to sustain their mistaken belief in a supernatural third world."I agree. This naturalist, me, does not deny the value of all metaphysics. What I question is the validity of your application of it to questions about the witnesses when obviously they are completely different things. Metaphysics aside, I'm exploring the question of how reliable the testimonies of the BofM witnesses are within the context of the naturalist/supernaturalist debate. This is not a false dichotomy. Once you cross over into this debate, you cannot hide behind your metaphysics.
As to your charge that I'm a positivist. You say, "When you begin to ask me to prove those things that I assert are not open to proof by inductive methods, I take it that you assert that there must be some method of proof or such things cannot be "real' in my sense -- and that just is positivism."At the time I made this and other like statements, I did not understand that you were conflating spiritual and metaphysical world-views. When I ask you for proof, I'm not always asking for empirical evidence. I'm asking for logical proof or some persuasive argument as well. I might ask for empirical evidence when I think such kinds of evidence should reasonably be available if the statement or argument is true. At other times, I might ask for logical argument. In such cases, I do not believe I'm being positivistic. Otherwise, both you and Alan are positivists. When I make statements that deny the existence of spirits and spiritual things, this should be understood, in light of my more explicit statements, to mean that I deny them as being probably not real. Finally, Blake, when you say that your assertions "are not open to proof by inductive methods,"I take that as a concession that your assertion is merely an opinion or article of faith. When you say that you do not require "proof"before believing something is "real," I respond that your standard of reality is equal to your criteria of proof.
Blake, your notion that delusions are SUE GENERIS and that "real"spiritual experiences are UNIVERSAL is an invention not consistent with experience. I'm not even sure it's consistent with metaphysics. Your example of hallucinating a "pink elephant"gives the false impression that delusions are always bazaar, whereas this is seldom true. Only about 1 percent of the population experiences the bazaar-type of schizophrenic hallucination that you characterize. At the same time, one should not suppose that hallucinations resulting from a psychiatric condition such as schizotypal personality disorder would be obvious to others, nor would it otherwise distinguish that person from the general non-hallucinating population. Several psychometric studies conducted during the 1970s and 80s has resulted in a continuum model of hallucinations, which range from the extreme audio-visual disturbances of the schizophrenic to the benign and transitory hallucinations of ordinary, nonpsychiatric people. As Richard P. Bentall of the University of Manchester, England, observes: "For every person who receives a diagnosis of schizophrenia ... there are approximately 10 who experience hallucinations without receiving the diagnosis"("Hallucinatory Experiences,"in VARIETIES OF ANOMALOUS EXPERIENCE: EXAMINING THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE, Etzel Cardena, Steven Jay Lynn, and Stanley Krippner, eds. [Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2000], 95).
Hallucinations come in all varieties imaginable and do not fit easily into the artificial categories you have invented. They are as unique as the individuals who have them, although there are certain classes or species. Blake, you are mistaken when you assume that delusions cannot mimic cultural and religious expectations. How does your system of interpretation explain bazaar visions by otherwise normal people that contain universal religious symbols? Even schizophrenic hallucinations often contain religious symbolism. One study "compared the religious hallucinations of 23 psychiatric patients with descriptions of visions from the Middle Ages. The authors noted that there were many points of similarity between the two classes of phenomena and pointed out that none of the medieval visionaries had been identified as mentally ill. They suggested that cultural norms have a central role in determining the attribution of mental illness"(Ghazi Asaad, HALLUCINATIONS IN CLINICAL PSYCHIATRY, 105). Should not these examples qualify in your closed-system of definitions as both "real" (mind-independent) and "true"?
You state, "the very fact that you compare the clinical study of psychologically-induced hallucinations as being on par with spiritual experiences in high-functioning individuals shows me that you haven't read the literature." I don't know what you have been reading, but I have read some studies under the heading neuro-theology. Such studies distinguish between higher mystical states of union with the divine, lesser mystical states of the ecstatic variety, hallucinations, pseudo-hallucinations, and psychotic delusions. But they all have neurophysiological components and sometimes involve different areas of the brain. Religious and mystical states can be induced through prayer, meditation, dancing, fasting, chanting, etc. True, there is a difference between mystical states, and most of the fifty causes of hallucination I mentioned. But, as Addictio argued, there is some overlap. As it turns out, many of the methods mystics use to induce spiritual states also induce hallucination.
From my readings of this literature, the BofM witnesses do not qualify for the mystical-union state of higher-functioning people to which you allude. (By the way, many schizophrenic people are high-functioning.) Rather, they seem to describe a typical visionary experience on a par with the appearances of the Virgin Mary at Fatima that you mention. Briefly, there is an area of the brain that endows certain experiences with the feeling of realness. When a hallucination involve this area of the brain, the experiencer is unaware that he is hallucinating. When the hallucinator is aware of the unreality of the experience, that is called a pseudo-hallucination. So far as I can tell, the three witnesses fall into this second category because they were aware of the uniqueness and unreality of the experience, which they called seeing with the "spiritual eye."In other words, it was not like Richard Anderson asserted a "natural super-natural experience."While it seemed visually real, Whitmer was well aware that it was more like Paul's vision of Christ than it was like Jesus' appearance to doubting Thomas. Recall Moyle's recording in his journal that Whitmer "then spoke of Paul hearing and seeing Christ but his associates did not. Because it is only seen in the Spirit."This kind of experience is not like the experience of high-functioning mystical experience, which has a different psycho-physiological explanation.
Blake, group-hallucination is a real phenomenon and, although less frequent or even "rare"it may be, you cannot simply brush it aside as insignificant. What happened to the BofM witnesses is also "rare."It's certainly more rare than what happened to the believers at Fatima? There are, in fact, several group visions of Mary. However, Blake, your are quick to add that "by my criterion I must remain open to the possibility that these experiences may be real."By your criterion, they are real: you have no choice. But the fact that you are only "open"to the reality of the Fatima visions and that you prefer a naturalistic explanation (like mine) only shows that your metaphysics is inadequate to the task of describing the real world. Nevertheless, the frequency of the phenomena is irrelevant. I have cited the eight Shaker witnesses who saw an angel and scroll; some sightings of UFOs fall into this category as well. Hysteria is not the only mechanism for collective hallucination. In smaller groups it is simple suggestion and expectation and should be compared to hypnosis rather than hysteria, although the two are very similar.
Finally, Blake, you oversimplify the experiences three and eight witnesses and seem not to have read my essay carefully. I took great pains to show the experience of the three were not as unitary as implied by the published testimony. First, we do not have a statement or description from Cowdery, and for all we know his experience with the plates dates back to the dream-vision he had in 1828-29 prior to meeting Smith (as mentioned in Smith's 1832 history). Second, Whitmer's and Harris's experiences were separate, not simultaneous. Third, there is some evidence that the descriptions of the two men differed in details. So, when you say "the very structure of the experience is designed to boost its credibility by showing that it is not mind-dependent or unreal as I have defined it,"this does not match the facts as far as the three witnesses are concerned. With regard to the eight witnesses, we have no details of the manner in which they as a group experienced the plates. We have hints, and I have tried to reconstruct the event as best I can, but it is not possible to derive the degree of spiritual and metaphysical certitude that you seem to get from such meager sources. I think it's safe to say that the experiences of the eight were common enough that they could put their names to the written testimony, but that does not mean that if we had more information that differences would not appear. Indeed, further investigation of group hallucination does bring out differences. Sometimes there has even been instances of people who were playing along with what the crowd was experiencing so as not to be thought of as faithless. It's not as simple as you seems to think.
Blake, in this post, I will return to a few matters in your first post of 3 October; in the next, I will take up your attempts in putting my arguments into standard form.
Blake, you seem to take great glee in pointing out what you think is a contradiction in my position. However, you are quite wrong. There is nothing contradictory in saying that I do not believe in the supernatural but that your belief in the supernatural is at least "logically possible."I note that your juxtaposition of my two statements are taken out of context and reworded in such a way as to violate the rule of charity. My second statement was in response to your question if I was "open to the possibility ..."etc. My answer was, yes, "but, in the absence of evidence, that is only a logical possibility."I hope you know the difference between logical possibility and physical impossibility. The contradiction is only apparent because you have translated my statements into your metaphysical language, which as I said, I did not completely understand at the time. For your part, you should give place to skepticism (that's just as much a universal as yours) and be willing to concede that it's possible that the supernatural doesn't exist.
What you say about my psychological interpretation of the experiences of the three and eight witnesses can also be said about your conceptualism: "It is a value judgment about the nature of the experience that is not present in the data and cannot be derived from the data."Remember me saying, "Regardless, both of us are making value judgements about the sources. At this point, I'm wondering why Goff isn't taking to you about positivism. ... The issue is not who is the most "objective' or "value-free,' its whose interpretation is the most defensible."
Blake, you ask what I mean when I say that naturalistic explanations are preferred over supernatural ones, which I thought was stated clearly enough. If the naturalistic explanation is sufficient to explain a particular phenomenon, there is no need to resort to a supernatural explanation. The supernatural explanation is superfluous. David Hume said: "no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish."In other words, the lesser miracle is to be preferred. For example, while it's POSSIBLE that aliens or supernatural beings inhabit the Bermuda Triangle and are responsible for the disappearance of ships and planes, it is highly unlikely when compared with a naturalistic explanation that frequent tropical storms in the area are PROBABLY responsible. If I bring forward evidence that some ships and planes have been recovered from the area as evidence that they have not supernaturally disappeared or whisked away to another planet by aliens, the supernaturalist will hold on to their interpretation by dwelling on the unknown -- the still missing ships and planes. They will argue, AD IGNORANTUM, "we don't know, therefore it is POSSIBLE ..."Here, as I will later argue with hallucination, we have two categories of evidence: (1) the known, that some ships and planes have not disappeared; and (2) the unknown. Is it not reasonable to assume that it is PROBABLE that the still missing ships and planes met a similar fate?
It is probably impossible to falsify naturalism since, as Clark has already pointed out, it would involve part of nature. So in declaring that I'm a naturalist, I have not gone too far out on a limb, so to speak. But since I do not believe the supernatural exists, it is not my job to define it. I have given the dictionary definition, but defining it in philosophical terms is far more difficult. I'm still waiting for the supernaturalists to do that impossible task. On the other hand, naturalism can't be proven conclusively either. That would require me to prove the supernatural does not exist, which is not possible. The most that can be said is that there is no evidence, either empirically or logically, for the supernatural. As philosopher Stephen D. Schafersman, argues: "Such a lack of evidence and reason forces one to be agnostic about the existence of the supernatural and thus about the ultimate truth of naturalism. However, because of such lack of evidence and logical argument, it is more reasonable to disbelieve the supernatural and believe that naturalism is true" (http://www.freeinquiry.com/naturalism.html).
Blake, your next statement is shocking: "I asserted that one criteria for assessing revelation is that it is not merely a platform for one's fixed world-view -- I would add that same criteria to genuine scholarship so take careful note."Who are you to invent criteria arbitrarily and then demand that the world of scholarship conform to it in order to be considered by you "genuine scholarship."This is egotistical and narcissistic to say the least. Moreover, you say this as if you do not use scholarship for a "platform"for a "fixed world-view."That denial makes you a positivist. Isn't that correct, Alan?
Blake, I'm amazed at how blatantly you ignore the charity principle when you attempt to reconstruct your opponent's arguments into standard form. I want to examine your method closer, because you seem to think this form is a polemical device, rather than a way of examining arguments. Let's look at the first one you made for Addictio, which was intended to summarize the argument in my essay on the witnesses:
(1) "The three witnesses said they saw an angel and gold plates in vision."
(2) "The visions were "subjective' in the sense that they only involved the operations of their own minds."
(3) "Subjective visions are evidence of delusion."
(4) "Therefore, it is highly probable that the three witnesses were deluded, by which [you] mean that the visions were subjective."
Blake, these are so poorly worded that they constitute what is essentially a straw-man. So when you declare that the argument "begs the question,"it's only because you made it that way. In premise 3, you have me saying that I believe all visions are delusional, when I did not make any such argument in my essay. My purpose was simply to reverse the argument of Richard Anderson and others that the testimony of the witnesses provide compelling evidence that the BofM is true. Thus I concluded in my essay: "Given the fact that the three witnesses saw a vision and that the experience of the eight witnesses seems to have been similarly visionary, there is no compelling evidence that Joseph Smith actually possessed anciently constructed plates. ... The real question is not the trustworthiness of the witnesses but whether testimony resulting from visions or hallucinations is reliable. ... [B]y what criteria do we accept the Book of Mormon witnesses while at the same time rejecting non-Mormon testimony?"Mohammad's visions and revelations, for example. If believing readers come away with the impression that it could go either way, that it isn't the open-and-shut case that they had thought, then I think I have succeeded in making my point. This, I think, was what Addictio was trying to say. In this essay, I was only suggesting the possibility of hallucination and hypnotism. I hope in the future to offer a more compelling case, some of which you have seen here. But the AMERICAN APOCRYPHA essay was a good start.
I won't bother to restate the longer version where you try to "cobble together"my probability arguments from my e-mail posts. However, I will respond to objections you raised, then I will give my own standard form argument and you can try to pick that apart if you like.
You raise the issue of whether or not delusions can even be detected. Responding to my assertion that most of the 10-15 percent of the population that will see an apparition, most will follow the death of a loved one, which implies a strong possibility that there are psychological factors involved, Blake charges: "No one could assess the truth value of this statement [because it is impossible?] to ascertain that such experiences were merely delusions."That's what you might assume. The 10-15 percent comes from surveys, not clinical studies, but I think we can apply what we have learned from controlled studies to that figure. Clinical studies focus on statistical correlates of hallucination or conduct experiments designed to induce hallucination. There is a vast amount of literature on this subject, but a good summary can be found in Richard P. Bentall, "Hallucinatory Experiences,"in VARIETIES OF ANOMALOUS EXPERIENCE: EXAMINING THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE, Etzel Cardena, Steven Jay Lynn, and Stanley Krippner, eds. (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2000). Among the many causes of hallucination are:
Nonmorbid causes of hallucination: sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation and sleep cycle disturbances, food and water deprivation (hypoglycemia), severe fatigue, life-threatening stress, grief reaction, migraines, and oxygen deprivation.
Psychiatric causes of hallucination (not always detectable by laymen): major depression, schizoaffective disorders, schizphreniform disorders, personality disorders (borderline, schizotypal, schizoid), post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorders (hysteria, hysterical psychosis, multiple personality syndrome), mood disorders, and anxiety disorders.
Concerning grief reaction, Bentall reports: "Auditory and visual hallucinations are a commonly documented part of the grief reaction, with as many as 70% of recently bereaved people experiencing either illusions or hallucinations of the deceased"(99). In his 1996 book DEMON HAUNTED-WORLD, scientist Carl Sagan confessed his having hallucinated the voices of his deceased parents on more than one occasion (104).
The first survey of anomalous experience was the taking of THE INTERNATIONAL CENSUS OF WAKING HALLUCINATIONS in 1894, which excluded anyone with obvious mental or physical illness, interviewed more than 15,000 people. As summarized by Bentall, this survey found that "7.8% of men and 12% of women reported at least one vivid hallucinatory experience, the most common type being a visual hallucination of a living person who was not present at the time of the experience. ... [and] appeared to occur most commonly in people between 20 and 29 years of age, a period that approximately corresponds to the subsequent established high-risk period for psychotic illness"(94). Now, Blake, does the fact that the most common type of visual hallucination in this survey consisted "of a living person who was not present at the time of the experience"not point very clearly to delusion? This delusion is not SUI GENERIS but qualifies under your criteria as universal and therefore mind-independent and "real."So you are wrong about delusions being undetectable. Many people have vivid hallucinations associated with sleep paralysis; others have delusions of frequent visitation of evil spirits. Both respond to medication. Is it possible evil spirits respond to medication?
Now, that I have shown that delusion is detectable, I want to make an important inference. We can only talk about two categories of visionaries: (1) those that can be demonstrated to be delusional; and (2) those of unknown (untested) origin. Because both groups, despite your contorted definitions, are similar in kind, if not in fact, it is reasonable to infer from the known to the unknown. On the other hand, it is unreasonable to infer something that is not in evidence. Indeed, to argue that the unknown are "real"(non-delusional) is to commit the fallacy of ARGUMENTUM AD IGNORANTUM. Speaking to metaphysical Blake, I'm speaking of "real"here in the natural-world/supernatural-world sense, so don't try to slip out of what I'm saying by applying your metaphysical definition. We both know that your metaphysical definition-system is both incoherent and irrelevant in this discussion.
You also raise the issue of relevancy: "Vogel has not shown that the experience have anything in common except his assumption that they are both delusional experiences."How similar do these experiences have to be in order to be "relevantly similar"? This is largely a value-judgment. Nevertheless, you cannot escape the implications of the obvious. At a minimum, you need to admit that the brain has the capability to mimic spiritual experiences to the point that fooled even Whitmer and the hysterical hallucinators at Fatima. As I discussed in my essay, given Whitmer's description to Moyle, that a "different kind of light"and a "soft haze"replaced the natural environment, Whitmer's experience has a lot in common with what is called a "waking dream"variety of hallucination.
Blake, your theories and definitions are most vulnerable when it comes to contradictory religious experiences. While my theory does not require various subjective experiences to be harmonious, your theory requires that all "true"and "real"spiritual experiences be consistent and non-contradictory, especially if they come from the same person. When confronted with such contradiction, you resort to multiplying entities to save your theory. To avoid Occam's Razor, you would have to resort to a social constructionist position, which would be deadly to your major objective: to defend Mormonism's truth claims. So, instead, you offer more murky and indefensible definitions. Regarding Whitmer's contra-Mormon revelations, you admit: "I am convinced that Whitmer was deluded into thinking he had received revelations that merely re-state his view of the world."Even if true, you still have not resolved the issue of Whitmer's being unable to detect delusion. If he was deluded in the latter instance, why not the former? Because his June 1829 vision was contrary to his "world-view"but his later revelations conformed to his "his world-view and already fixed prejudices"? You seem to forget that a prerequisite condition for receiving his BoM vision was "faith"(D&C 17) and that he had already had visions dealing with the BofM before his "group-vision."As I have already shown, we have no evidence that Whitmer's BofM testimony was a shared experience and, even if it were, it does not necessarily mean that it was non-hallucinatory. I'm equally convinced that Whitmer's and the other witnesses' visions merely re-stated Joseph Smith's world-view as it was suggested to them.
Your accusation that I have "skewed"my reading of the statements of the witnesses and "ignored"numerous statements that contradict the "subjective"sources I have used is wholly without foundation. Remember, you're talking to the person who published all the documents, so it shouldn't be too difficult to prove that statement. I'm aware of some unreliable accounts that materialize Harris's and Whitmer's visions contrary to their more explicit denials, which I dealt with in the AMERICAN APOCTYPHA essay (88-89), and in EARLY MORMON DOCUMENTS in the introduction to the Harris collection (2:256-57) and in the footnotes accompanying the various related documents. So, you are wrong when you claim I have "ignored"the conflicting accounts.
Blake, I understand the reasons for excluding hearsay testimony in courts of law, but historiography has no such universal rule. It's nice to have firsthand testimony, if it's relevant. But that is not always possible with historical documents. You must take them as they come and handle them judiciously. I do not believe "first hand statements are always more reliable than any second hand assessment."Each case is judged on its own merits. A firsthand account can be deceptive, whereas a secondhand account can be truthful. For instance, a person might change their story, and a secondhand account might report the story as originally told. A firsthand account might be brief or fragmentary, whereas a secondhand account might be more detailed. A firsthand account might be recorded fifty years after the event, while a secondhand account might be written shortly after the event.
Blake, your attempt to overturn Moyle's account of his interview with Whitmer is itself motivated by "pre-conceived notions of what Whitmer should say"and therefore "world-view dependent."Your claim that Moyle "gives his value judgment instead of quoting Whitmer directly"is based on an unrealistic expectation that historical documents be written with legal precision before they are acceptable as evidence. Historiography does not work that way. Nevertheless, it is not likely that Moyle, a believer and trained in the law, would have been mistaken. He would have undoubtedly been careful about something he believed was "disappointing"to his faith. Without actually quoting Whitmer he is nevertheless attempting to give an accurate account of Whitmer's statement. Blake, besides not liking what Moyle reports, you have not given sufficient reason to overturn his testimony.
Now, to your third and last attempt at standard form:
(1) There are many delusional spiritual experiences.
(2) There is no way to tell the difference between real (mind-independent) and deluded spiritual experiences.
(3) Therefore, it is very probable that all spiritual experiences are delusions.
Blake, you imply that I'm not interested in reason, and then point out the obvious: the syllogism as you have framed it is a non-sequitur. Then you say you will not accept a probability argument unless I can assess the probability using "mathematical probability tables ... since you cannot assess probability without them."Since when does an inductive argument have to access probability with mathematical precision to be acceptable? Copi, in his INTRODUCTION TO LOGIC, gives the following example of a probability argument:
Socrates is a man and is mortal.
Plato is a man and is mortal.
Aristotle is a man and is mortal.
Therefore PROBABLY all men are mortal.
Now, all this brings me to the place where I can give a tentative formulation of my position as follows:
(1) The three witnesses said they saw an angel and gold plates in vision.
(2) There are only two kinds of spiritual experiences: those that can be shown to be delusional and those that are the unknown (not unexplainable but untestable for practical reasons).
(3) Therefore the witnesses probably were delusional.
A fuller conclusion would be: "Because the experiences of the witnesses were subjective, and because we know that some subjective experiences are delusional, and because we have no evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable to conclude that the experiences of the witnesses COULD BE (even from the point of view of the believer) and PROBABLY WERE (from the point of view of the skeptic) delusional."
Blake, in closing, when you say that your beliefs "are not open to proof by inductive methods,"have you not created a closed and impenetrable system to protect yourself from the outside world? Faith is one thing, but to close yourself off from reason and evidence is dangerous. Faith is not necessarily the absence of doubt; it is a wrestling with doubt. St. Augustine said: "Doubt is but another element of faith."Skepticism is healthy and a natural part of all of us. Skepticism protects us from being exploited or becoming victims of some con-man or flimflam artist. So, it is a dangerous thing when believers lose contact with skepticism. They move into an area of unreality and delusion. Delusion is when people behave as if they know certain things for sure when in fact it is only a hope or a wish. Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, deny their children blood transfusions based on an interpretation of scripture that may or may not be correct. Do you think the terrorists would have flown those planes into buildings if they had a proper dose of skepticism about their heavenly rewards? Personal faith can be different than institutional faith, which is used as a means of control. I hope we have not forgotten what the world was like when the religious were in a position of power to torment those not holding their brand of faith. Because without the power to persuade, the only thing left to insure that your faith does not die is coercion. In his book, THE SELFISH GENE, Richard Dawkins, professor of Zoology at Oxford University, describes what he calls the "faith meme."Memes behave like genes, only they are ideas that replicate by jumping from one mind to another:
"The story of Doubting Thomas is told, not so that we shall admire Thomas, but so that we can admire the other apostles in comparison. Thomas demanded evidence. Nothing is more lethal for certain kinds of meme than a tendency to look for evidence. The other apostles, whose faith was so strong that they did not need evidence, are held up to us as worthy of imitation. The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry"(198).
Blake, is there no way to question or falsify your beliefs? When you accused me of "blindness,"you said this as if you are to only one who can see. That's ideological positivism. All I can say is, I have not intentionally closed my eyes.
Clark, sorry I haven't responded to your posts. Alan and Blake have kept me quite busy. I hope that some of your questions were answered the process. Generally, I have appreciated your comments and found many of them helpful. Thanks. In truth, this exchange has helped me define my own position, which is confessedly still in flux. I see areas of further study and refinement. Your recent exchange with Alan is most interesting.
Here on out I may or may not respond. Don't think it's because I can't or don't want to, it's because I'm busy writing those books you love to hate (that's a joke, Alan).
I remain puzzled by Blake's response to my comments about Dan's article on the witnesses.
My criticism of Blake's reasoning was for a limited purpose. He appeared to be characterizing the dispute between Dan and him as a dispute about what is (logically) possible or not. This allowed him to suggest that Dan's arguments in his article are (and can be) nothing more than an assumption that all acts of spiritual seeing are delusional.
The counterfactual example I gave (about experiencers being instructed to memorize and chant together what they were about to witness in vision) was intended to illustrate how the circumstances surrounding the occurrence of a claimed supernatural event can be relevant to an assessment of its nature, including whether or not it was psychologically induced. That logical point is so obvious that I'd thought it would not be the subject of dispute.
In response, however, Blake focused on my use of the word "probable." He then appears to assume that the only way a naturalistic explanation of a reported spiritual vision can be supported is through use of a covering-law (Hempelian) model of historical explanation. (I used the word "probable," btw, not because I subscribe to a covering-law model, but only to distinguish historical arguments and inferences about matters of fact from assertions about logical possibility or necessity.)
Blake responded in part by claiming his real point was something else:
"Thus, I am claiming that the facade of pretending to assess probabilities is precisely the fact that such arguments are not available in this kind [of] area. It really is a matter of shared faith or shared spiritual experience it seems to me."
I can't tell exactly what Blake means by this. Presumably it's not that it is always imposssible to determine whether a naturalistic explanation of a particular claimed vision is more or less plausible, more or less likely as an explanation, based on the circumstances of its ocurrence and/or (for example) information about the behavior and conduct of the participants in other circumstances before and after the event. That would be an indefensible position, I think, so I'm reluctant to attribute it to Blake.
Instead, he appears to settle for the more modest (but in my view still mistaken) claim that the only way a naturalistic explanation can be advanced is through subsuming the event under a relative-frequncy statement about human behavior. Thus in a later post he remarks:
"Now I am well aware that there are many group-vision experiences at Fatima of mother Mary and so forth. I tend to believe that these experiences are in fact mass hysteria (when we get 100s having such experiences mass hysteria becomes a common phenomenon, but with just a few it is rare indeed)."
The idea, apparently, is that the phenomenon of "mass hysteria" is a sufficiently attested and explicable human phenomenon that scientific studies could yield the type of relative-frequency statement that could pass muster under a covering-law model of historical explanation. The problem is that the model itself is defective, whether it is used as a litmus test for judging the adequacy of explanations of past human behavior in general, or explanations of reported spiritual visions in particular.
That said, if Dan or anyone else were to argue that the witnesses' experience was probably/likely delusional solely because that is the most plausible or parsimonious explanation for all reported visionary events, then I would disagree. But it doesn't follow from the judgment that such an argument is weak or even entirely question-begging that all arguments advancing naturalistic explanations are equally weightless simply because they fail to satisfy the sort of covering-law model Blake invokes. Blake recognizes as much when he responds to Dan's argument about the significance of David Whitmer's statements about what God later revealed to him. He does so not by invoking the covering-law model, or arguing that the statement is in principle irrelevant, but by urging that Whitmer was reverting to a prior ideology or worldview, rather than using a later spiritual/subjective experience to change or clarify the meaning of his prior one.
My above comments were written before seeing Dan's last four posts, which magically appeared after I finished writing mine.
The comments were so popular on this particular entry that I started up a a few more pages. If you post a comment here it will go to the last page.
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