This is an archived copy of a post written by Conflict Of Justice (conflictofjustice.com). Used with permission: Conflict Of Justice may not agree with any alterations made.
|Can fiction help build a testimony? Sure. Books of fiction can teach truth and provide enlightenment, such as Victor Hugo’s book Les Misérables. It isn’t cool to tell a fictional story and pass it off as true, but mythology is important to help us understand truth. When it comes to important gospel events like Joseph Smith’s First Vision and the atonement of Jesus Christ, knowledge of historical events are dependant on enlightening truths that we learn from the Spirit.|
If we repent and are atoned for our sins, then we know Jesus truly died on the cross, because repentence couldn’t have happened otherwise. But when it comes to some guy’s baseball stories, there is no manifestation of the Spirit that makes us know whether they actually happened or not.
CES Letter claims: “Unfortunately, Dunn was later caught lying about all his war and baseball stories.” Dunn admitted to exaggering some of his stories, but they were not totally fabricated or false. He was simply an old man telling some war stories, embellishing bits in order to make a point. When your grandpa tells you some embellished stories, do you accuse him of being false or fabricating? Do you learn nothing from Grandpa’s stories?
It was inappropriate for Dunn to tell Grandpa stories in a church setting, definitely, and that is why he apologized for it and stepped down as General Authority. But this doesn’t make him some sort of conman. The Spirit does not bear testimony that the baseball or war stories of an old man are true, but confirms moral principles and spiritual realities.
|See also:||Do Mormons Deny Science & Logic?|
I find it interesting that CES Letter attacks Mormons for believing Dunn’s war stories yet cling to dubious quotes they found on the internet to debunk Mormonism. How can we truly be certain of someone’s war stories? History is whatever the historians write. Isn’t that the saying? It is interesting that the skeptics who love to appeal to science claim we are denying historical “facts.” What is a historical “fact?” Isn’t history, by definition, something that we can’t know for a fact? You weren’t around to see what happened in the 1800’s, so you assume based on the best evidence you can find. Like everyone else, Mormons gather the best evidence we could find and make reasonable, logical conclusions. But it is unreasonable, for example, to throw out everything in the Book of Mormon and label it a fraud because of some cherry picked evidence. There is plentiful evidence that the Book of Mormon is authentic.
Mormons follow a method for finding truth, both seen and unseen. Alma 32 says we gain knowledge beginning with hope and by testing a hypothesis. This is a long, gradual process where one proves every claim through testing cause and effect.
“Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words… And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good… for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand. O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good.”
This is similar to Plato’s allegory of the cave. In his parable, Plato said knowledge starts with mere allusion to truth like a puppet show casting shadows upon a cave wall. This is the “hope” Alma speaks of. Then, a person turns around and sees the fire projecting the shadows. This is when a person gains a rhetorical belief or conviction of the source behind allusions. Next, they walk out the door of the cave they are in and see how the same principle of light and shadow operates all around us. When Plato calls this a “mathematical” or discursive understanding, he means this is a person understanding the nature of operation. As Joseph Smith put it, this is understanding the character of God and a knowledge that your own character is in alignment with it. Finally, a person fully understands that the sun is the source of all visible objects. This is the use of reason with which we approach divinity. Mormonism is different from Platonism in that the visible realm overlaps the invisible realm. The allusionary puppets that we started out with are not tossed aside as we exit the cave, but are kept as fundamental seeds of knowledge.
It is totally ignorant to think Mormons just “believe.” The claim “I just knew” sounds like a certain dehumanizing Book of Mormon musical that ridicules Mormons: “Mormons just believe.” Anti-Mormons say this about us because we use spirituality as the starting-point for our testimonies while superstitious skeptics use spirituality as the ending point. We start with the hypothesis that the Bible and Book of Mormon are true, and the principles inside are eternal truth. Superstitious people start with the physical reality as they perceive it and try to piece together a spiritual explanation–and atheists do this to even if they don’t admit it.
What about parts of the scriptures that are not necessary for gospel truths? If it turns out Nephi maybe exaggerated some parts of his story, does that make the entire Book of Mormon false? This is a difficult question for both Mormons and anti-Mormons. I don’t think strict historical accuracy is the point of scripture. Many scholars say the Book of Job in the bible was an allegory and not a record of true events. Does it really matter? I mean, whether Job lived or not does not affect my ability to repent or receive authoritative saving ordinances. Other parts of the bible, such as the record of Jesus’ life and the Genesis creation, are more important.
God could come down from the sky right now and tell everybody what the truth is. The point is not to have knowledge of truth. The purpose is be tested and see if we will believe in God, follow commandments, and seek after truth even if God’s existence is not plainly obvious.
Religion and science are the same in this respect: having truth is not what is really important. What is important in science is usefulness, not truth. In science, a model is formed based on what consistantly works. We believe in gravity because that is the most useful and consistent explanation for why things fall down. The method for gaining spiritual knowledge likewise relies on a premise being testing and consistently giving a good or bad result. Faith is rewarded when we get a continually good result.
CES Letter Logical Fallacies
|Falsehood||CES Letter says Dunn was “caught lying about all his war and baseball stories.” But not all of his stories were exaggerated. I have not found any evidence of CES Letter‘s claim: “Many times, Dunn shared these stories in the presence of the prophet, apostles, and seventies.” When did that happen? I have not found any evidence of CES Letter‘s claim: “Members of the Church shared how they really felt the Spirit as they listened to Dunn’s testimony, and stories.” Who has said that? CES Letter incorrect claims Dunn was “forced” to apologize. Nobody forced him. CES Letter incorrectly claims Dunn was “removed” from public life.|
|Tu Quoque||It is ironic that CES Letter claims Dunn lied about all his stories when he only exaggerated a few. CES Letter is themselves exaggerating and lying about what happened.|
|Repetition||Redundant: “Fabricated and false.”|
|False Causation||Positive emotions can be caused by both the Spirit and cool war stories. Fiction can plant the seed of hope that leads a person’s mind to seek spiritual enlightenment, but that does not mean that the spiritual enlightenment itself is fiction. A fictional book can tell a story about delicious apples, but that does not mean apples are fiction or that people are wrong when they get hungry while reading this story and go eat an apple.|
Jesus spoke in parables. Did people reject his message because those stories were fiction. Was there some anti-Mormon in the back of the crowd who screamed, “That didn’t really happen”? No. Dunn was wrong to pass off his exaggerations as truth, but this is what old grandpas sometimes do to make a point.
Testimony of spiritual truth begins with faith in spiritual principles, not in some guy’s stories about baseball. CES Letter is setting up a strawman caricature of how the Mormon testimony works. The purpose of those stories, and all mythology, was to inspire people to seek spiritual truth and then receive enlightenment.
Mythology has an important place. As long as we place mythology in its proper place, it can be extremely useful for unifying as a society and learning moral truths. The best mythology we have now-a-days are comic book stories put to film, and they are pretty entertaining, but they are nowhere near as effective as the epic tales of ancient Greece or fairytales of Germany. It is unfortunate that atheists demonize mythology and we lose out on this essential, human device of communication.
CES Letter is setting the expectation that spiritual communication should be a magical oracle or genie that places a green checkmark next to anything “true.” But this does not help us to be tried and to develop. This places all responsibility in life on the Holy Ghost. Satan’s solution is to force people to make all the right choices, or at least make the right choice plainly obvious. If we have to get a perfect 100% score on our test, how can we possibly excel if we are not carried there by someone perfect? CES Letter‘s expectation perpetuates Satan’s solution where all our decisions are made for us and salvation is universal. The essence of Satan’s plan is universal salvation.
The essence of Satan’s inspiration is that we are fated to make choices. There is only one possible “correct” choice and if you don’t pick it you are a failure. This may sound counter-intuitive considering how skeptics so often talk about “shades of grey” and moral relativism. But just look at any of the social issues that Mormons get attacked for in the church, from racism, to sexism, to homophobia. Skeptics are always telling us there is one prescribed path to follow for all of these issues, while we recognize issues are complex and require individual tailored care. CES Letter talks about the “individual” in this argument, but paint a broad stroke that must cover every individual case. Mormons recognize that the gate is narrow and the path strait, but we don’t say that there is always one prescribed solution for everything to cover each individual. People are not robots that react the same to each condition. This is why God sends out invididual missionaries to talk to people one-on-one while Satan broadcassts programs on TV and messages in the media to millions of people at a time. It is the fate of machines to receive the same programming as if every other machine is built the same way. But we are not machines. We are men and women, and the Holy Ghost talks to us individually on a case by case basis, and most of the time there is not one single “correct” choice that we must make.
The godly decision is not to hand out the answer that God would choose but to help us improve ourselves so that we can excel as men and women. This is the process of repentence, and it should constantly be working when it comes to all personal issues, big and small. We work to change whatever inside ourselves is holding us back, and we get help and assurance that our mistakes are no longer remembered. The best thing the Holy Ghost can do is act as Comforter and tell us that we are children of God with a divine purpose and we deserve to love ourselves. We need that assurance to build confidence and take the leap of faith.
Faith precedes the miracle, and a demonstration of good behavior precedes the revelation, as tests make us more confident in our abilities. We can be sure of the Spirit’s witness of Mormon doctrine because it aligns with our good works, works that consistantly lead to final success, and it continues to enlighten and improve our lives.