Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Apologetics, Pizza and Philosophy

     I was twelve years old. Our Deacon’s Quorum adviser told us there was enough pizza for each of us to have four slices, including the boy who would be arriving late.
     Being overweight and not wanting to be accused of eating more than my share, I took only three pieces. My strategy was to very slowly pick at the pieces of pizza as we watched the video. And that’s what I did.
     When the late boy arrived, there was no pizza left. He was not too happy about that. Then one of the boys, with great indignation, said that he had seen me take 9 pieces of pizza – a whopping 9 pieces! He had been watching me, he said, and counting how much pizza I took.
     I knew I had only taken three pieces, but the evidence was stacked against me: I was known for eating a lot of food, the pizza was in fact gone, or missing, and to top it off there was an eyewitness who claimed to have seen me take it.
     I denied the charge, but to no avail. I wanted to get to the bottom of it, but before I could, the Quorum adviser chimed in and told us that we were not to say another word about it. Perhaps he thought he was doing me a favor. Perhaps he thought I had taken the pizza and he was sparing me embarrassment. But quite the opposite was true – I wanted justice, and I wasn’t getting it. The prosecution had its day and I was not allowed to cross-examine. I wasn’t allowed to clear my name.
     And thus the evidence of what really happened was hidden away.
     Now let’s say that in a hundred years from now someone decides to write a biography of my life. Somehow they dig up an old journal from one of the boys who had been at the pizza night with me, and the journal states as a fact that I took 9 pieces of pizza when I was only entitled to 4 pieces, that I had even been seen doing it and yet I turned around and lied about it.
     Now suppose the historical biographer factors that into a narrative of what I was like as a child. The biographer would perhaps be praised for conducting such exhaustive research into my early years, and he would probably be considered thorough and objective.
     But the historian would be wrong, and his narrative would be tainted.
     Rather than being the type of boy who would steal pizza and lie about it, I was a boy who took one slice less than he was entitled to and ate my pizza slowly over the course of two hours.
     The boy who accused me was not known to lie, and I’m not accusing him of lying, I’m accusing him of being wrong.
     But, you might ask, how could he be wrong about something so straight-forward as watching me take pizza out of a box and put it on my plate? Isn’t it just his word against mine?
     Well, let’s suppose I go to a magic show and afterwards I tell you that I saw a tiger turn into a house-cat. Are your only options to either believe me or to think I’m lying? Of course not. Most likely, what I actually saw is not what I thought I saw. I probably drew a false inference from what I saw, and I then claimed to have seen the thing which I had actually only inferred and not seen. For instance, I may have seen a tiger on stage and then seen the tiger momentarily covered up, then the cover was removed and I saw a housecat. I then inferred that the tiger turned into the housecat. Due to the imperfection of language, my statement that “I saw a tiger turn into a housecat” does not convey the factual substance of what I actually saw, but only conveys the conclusion I reached.
     Likewise, due to the imperfection of language, my accuser’s claim to have seen me take 9 pieces of pizza does not tell us what he actually saw. It tells us his conclusion rather than giving us factual evidence with which to reach our own conclusions.
     His inference hides evidence.
     This puts us in a position where if we are to believe his account we must not merely trust that he is honest but must also trust his judgment in place of our own.
     This hidden evidence prevents us from finding the truth.
     For instance, he may have seen me pull 3 pieces of pizza from the box and put them on my plate – something which I freely admit that I did. But then the lights went down and the video came on. He may have seen me stand up at some point and walk over to the table where the food and drinks were made available. I may have refilled my cup with soda then sat back down with the same 3 pieces of pizza on my plate, creating the illusion that I had taken a second helping of pizza. A while later, he may have glanced over at me and still seen 3 pieces - from which he inferred that I had gone back for thirds and a total of nine pieces.
     That’s a plausible explanation. I don’t know for certain that it transpired that way, but the burden of proof is on the accuser. That’s because he’s the one making a claim.
     Yes, I am also making a claim by saying that I had only 3 pieces, but neither side is disputing that I took those 3 pieces – the question is whether I took an additional six. The accuser says I did, and is therefore creating a burden of proof for himself.
     Yes, another thing I did was lay out for you a scenario whereby my accuser may have been tricked by an illusion and made a false assumption. But that scenario doesn’t need to be proven. The purpose of the scenario is to demonstrate that we don’t have enough data to decide whether or not his inference was valid. To serve its purpose, the scenario need only be plausible, which it is. But I don’t need to even present a scenario such as that in order for my point to be valid. The scenario only illustrates that evidence is hidden from our view, and this is denying us the ability to judge for ourselves.
     The larger issue here is that we need to differentiate between objective evidence and inferences drawn by others. We don’t have the luxury of cross-examining the witnesses of history or allowing the accused to speak in their own defense.
     Like a magician’s stage, the past has many secrets which are out of view. The best available data is not always enough to draw a conclusion, and can in fact be highly misleading. Our desire to know a detail of history is not sufficient cause for pretending that we do in fact know it. Sometimes the evidence is there, other times it is not.

As knowledge shines forth in the Last Days, the Lord lights my path of faith with His Spirit.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Second Nephi Six Taken in Context

This is a great guest post from Andy Norman:

2nd Nephi 6 is a great example of how you can miss deeper meaning by not looking at the context.

Taken at face value it’s about the prophecy and explanation of the great help that the gentiles will betothe House of Israel in restoring them to their native lands.

On second look, in context, it actually doesn’t make sense that Nephi desired Jacob to speak about this passage.

One could sit and argue with the fact that it was written for our generation, I would argue that there’s many times Nephi writes just to us. In this case Jacob is talking to the Nephites.

Consider the following when thinking about why Nephi would ask Jacob to expound on this passage:

1) Nephi knows that he’s in his land of promise

2) The people he’s speaking to will not be assisted by the gentiles in returning home

3) He knows that the generation he’s speaking to will all live and die in the land they’re in (see 2nd Nephi 1:5)

Let’s take a step back and take a second look at the audience to whom Jacob is speaking.

Brant Gardner points out that 2nd Nephi 5:6, Nephi recounts all who went with him and identifies literally every person that has been pointed out to us previously in 1st Nephi except Laman, Lemuel, and the Sons of Ishmael. He then adds, "...and all those who would go with me"

Also we know that Sherem said "Brother Jacob, I have sought much opportunity that I might speak unto you;" If we assume that the Nephites were just Nephi’s brothers and Zoram, then Sherem would have been Jacob’s nephew and his line about seeking much opportunity seems overly rhetorical and silly.

If instead, we look at the Nephites as a mix of 1) Nephi’s immediate family and 2) the indigenous population, then the picture changes.

While we can’t say for certain, it would make sense that Nephites might have considered themselves superior to the indigenous population since they were the House of Israel and the locals were gentiles. My suspicion is also based on the fact that the Mulekites were explicitly mentioned later on, while these locals were only implicitly mentioned. Additionally, the Judaic view of the Samaritans also sheds light onhow those who mixed with the local population would have been viewed by those who "stayed pure."

So now in context, Jacob’s audience would be actually two bodies of people who very realistically may not have been mixing well since the second group were gentiles.

Suddenly the passage he reads and expounds on has a different spin.

1) Had we stuck around Jerusalem, we still would have been scattered among the gentiles anyways.

2) Being of the House of Israel does not mean you’re righteous. Those Israelites that did return were hard hearted and killed their god.

3) Killing their god will cause them to get scattered again and severely humbled at which point it’s the righteous gentiles who will gather and foster the House of Israel

4) The righteous gentiles will be saved

With this background, we see that this a great way for Jacob to show both groups that they are equally important in the sight of God and while they may have different promises, in the end they both need each other.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Parallel Books of Nephi

Andrew Norman shared with me a very interesting observation he made, and he has granted me permission to post his thoughts here on my blog, and I appreciate the opportunity to do so.  

The Parallel Books of Nephi
By Andrew Norman

What's a bifid structure?
In order to understand a bifid structure you have to understand parallelisms in Hebrew.
Hebrew will use two statements in order to convey more meaning or a different meaning than what each statement alone would mean.
Consider the following:
Mosiah 3:25-26
therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls. 
Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God
Some Hebrew prophets would take this even further by writing their book and then halfway though writing a second half that mirrors ideas and concepts in the first half.
Consider the Book of Ezekiel
Chapters 1-23
The Vengeance of the Lord against his People 
The name of Ezekiel 1:3 
His commission 3:25-27 
Devine glory forsakes the temple 8-11
Chapters 24-48
The vindication of the Lord through his People 
The name of Ezekiel 24:24 
His commission 33:1-9 
Release from Dumbness 
Divine glory returns to sanctify the land 43:1-5
(RK Harrison Introduction to the Old Testament 848-49)
Here is an example of why Nephi would use this style of writing. Compare 1 Nephi 21 with 2 Nephi 30.
In 1 Nephi 21, Nephi is quoting Isaiah who uses powerful imagery of people imprisoned in the dark and then being liberated. By writing a parallel chapter in 2 Nephi 30, he's able to build off Isaiah's imagery when describing the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and it's helping the Gentiles and House of Israel being restored.
A final note before getting started is that Nephi does a great job using mile markers of two verses that use almost identical words or themes to help you keep pace between the two books.
Below is the pairing of theme in First Nephi (1N) coupled with the matching theme in Second Nephi (2N).
In some cases I use the notation with verses using a .5 e.g. 1N1:19.5 which is used to indicate that it's in the second half of the verse.
Nephi's Bifid Structure:
1N1:1 Nephi highly favored of the Lord, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God
2N1:1 Rehearsed unto them, how great things the Lord had done for them in bringing them out of the land of Jerusalem.

1N1:6-18 Lehi’s Vision and Destruction of Jerusalem
2N1:4 Lehi’s Vision of destruction of Jerusalem

1N1:19 Testified of Wickedness and Abominations (repent)
2N1:13-32 Tells sons to Repent

1N1:19.5 Expounded of the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.
2N2 Explanation of the need for Christ

1N2:1 Lehi commanded to depart
2N3 Joseph taken to Egypt and blessed by Lord

1N2:16, Nephi Prays and heart softened
2N12:12 Lehi spoken according to the feelings of his heart and spirit of the Lord

1N2:18.5-20 Brothers anger Nephi, Prays and is given blessings of the lord
2N4:13-35 Brother angry at Nephi, psalm of Nephi

1N2:21-24 Brothers will be cut off for not keeping commandments
2N5:6 Nephites leave and take all religious artifacts

1N3 Goes to get Brass Plates & Sword of Laban
2N5:10, 14 Teaches from Law of Moses from Brass plates and makes Swords from Sword of Laban
1N6 Describes whats on his plates
2N5:30 Makes new plates

1N7:13-15 Jerusalem will be destroyed and why
2N6:1-15 Jacob tells of Jewish history and Babylonian exile.

1N7:16-18 Nephi bound and released
2N6:16 Lawful Captive delivered

1N8 Lehi’s dream
2N7:10-11 Walk in darkness (because of pride)
2N8 Isaiah talking about leaving sins behind and turning to God and being clothed in glory and enthroned

1N9:3 Small plates for the ministering unto the people
2N9:1 Jacobs speech to the Nephites

1N10:3 Jews taken captive and brought back
4 Jesus
7-10 John the Baptist and Baptism
11 Resurrection and purpose of Gentiles (12 Olive Tree Branches)
13 scattering
14 Gathering of Israel/ Grafting
2N9:2 Jews restored
5 Jesus
23 Baptism
10:3 Crucifixion
8 Gentiles gathered and counted with House of Israel

1N10:17 Nephi desires to see
11:2 Nephi Sees

I went in depth on comparing 1N11 with 2N12 because the number of parallels was so striking.
1N 11
  • (a) 1n11:1 High Mountain
  • (b)Tree of Life (Asherah found in Ephriamite temples) is love of Christ (could imply an equivalence of the temple with the love of Christ)
  • (c) 24 People worship of Christ
  • (d) 25 Iron Rod
  • (e) 26 Condescension of God
  • 27 Bapt by John
  • (f) 28 Ministers to people
  • (g) and I beheld that they cast him out from among them.
  • Twelve Followers
  • Angels administering to men
  • (h) People afflicted with Devils and disease being healed by Christ
  • 32: Christ judged by man
  • 33 Crucified (could this be because you sacrifice humans to idols?)
  • 34: Fight against the apostles
  • (i) 35: Large and Spacious building Wisdom
  • (i) 36:  And it came to pass that I saw and bear record, that the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
2N 12
  • 2N12:2 (a)High Mountain
  • (b)Lord’s House
  • (c) 3:And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…
  • (d) and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law
Law = Scriptures
  • (e) and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem

John 1:1 … and the word was God (The implication here is that the scriptures from Zion/America and that Christ is from Jerusalem
  • (f) 4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people and [Swords to plowshares or peace]
  •  (g) 5 O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord; yea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways
  • (h) 6:Turning to false gods
  • 7-8:Idolitry
  • (i) 9-22 Vanity-Humbling by Lord
1N12:2 Wars and slaughter
2N3&4 War torn and remnants left behind

1N12:3 Numerous Cities
2N15:8 Wo to join house to house (huge cities)

1N12:5 Destruction of the land
2N5 Destruction of Vineyard but vs 24 and 25 mention destruction of the people
1N12:10 The twelve are cleansed through Christ and sent out
2N16 Isaiah ritually cleansed and sent out

1N12:11-12 The four generations after Christ and then destructions
2N7 Ahaz is told his kingdom would be safe but destruction would come (see vv 18-25) which was four kings from sign of the virgin birth

1N12:19 Nephites destroyed by not relying on Lord
2N18 Rely on the Lord to be safe. Ephraim wiped out.

1N13 Start of the Gentiles Kingdoms and church
2N9:11-12 Lord raises up Syria and Philistines ready to devour Israel

1N13 Gentiles to new world, scatter the Lamanites
2N10 Assyrian Conquests

1N13:12-36 Gentiles Humble Themselves, Mercy to Gentiles, BoM with Bible
2N11 Sprig of Jesse, peace, Righteous Ruler

1N13:33-37, Zion Blessed
2N12 Song of the return to Zion

1N14:3 Pit filled with those that dug it
2N14:15 Lucifer put in the pit

1N14:1-2 Gentiles numbered with House of Israel, blessed in promised land forever, no more to be confounded
2N13:3 Sanctified and Mighty called out before destruction of Babylon.

1N14:16 Wars and Rumors of Wars
2N14:29 More war with Palestine

1N15:2 Brothers can’t understand Lehi’s revelations
2N25:1 Nephi’s people can’t understand Isaiah

1N15:12 Lehi compared Israel to Olive tree by Spirt of the Lord
2N25:11 Nephi: And now I speak because of the Spirit which is in me

1N15:12 House of Israel Restored by Gentiles, Wicked rejected (VV 7 olive tree branch)
2N25:12 And notwithstanding they have been carried away they shall return again, and possess the land of Jerusalem; wherefore, they shall be restored again to the land of their inheritance.

1N15:13 Lehites dwindle in unbelief
2N25:12.5 Reject Christ because of hard hearts

1N15:13.5 -20 Lehites receive gospel from Gentiles and Jews restored
2N25: 17 And the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men.
& 2N25: 18 Wherefore, he shall bring forth his words unto them, which words shall judge them at the last day, for they shall be given them for the purpose of convincing them of the true Messiah
Note: I cant find parallels in the text in order that allows the following two examples in 1Nephi so I paired them with what I could find that seemed logical and was before the mention of Moses and the serpents since that was a direct mile marker for me:
1N16 Travel through wilderness and call to build boat
2N25:9 God warns before destruction

1N17:23-40 Recalls Gods power with Exodus
2N25:10-19 Exiled, Christ, Scatter Restored

1N17:41 Moses and Serpents
2N25:20 Moses and Serpents

1N17: 45 Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder
2N25: 28 And now behold, my people, ye are a stiffnecked people; wherefore, I have spoken plainly unto you, that ye cannot misunderstand. And the words which I have spoken shall stand as a testimony against you; for they are sufficient to teach any man the right way; for the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not; for by denying him ye also deny the prophets and the law.

1N17:  55 And now, they said: We know of a surety that the Lord is with thee, for we know that it is the power of the Lord that has shaken us. And they fell down before me, and were about to worship me, but I would not suffer them…
2N25:29.5 wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.

1N17:55.5 and honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God shall give thee.
2N25: 30 And, inasmuch as it shall be expedient, ye must keep the performances and ordinances of God until the law shall be fulfilled which was given unto Moses.

1N17:42 And they did harden their hearts from time to time, and they did revile against Moses, and also against God; nevertheless, ye know that they were led forth by his matchless power into the land of promise.
1N25:24-26 Moses points us to Christ who gives us a remission of our sins.

1N18:11 Nephi Bound
2N26:10 Destruction of Nephites by brothers

1N18:16 Nephi prays and is released
2N26:15 Prayers of the faithful are heard

1N18:23-1N:19 Land in promised land and makes plates
2N26:16,17 Restauration to Lamanites, Sealed book

1N19 Nephi commanded to build a book and put more important doctrine in it
2N27 Coming forth of the Book of Mormon and sealed portion

1N20 Apostasy
2N28 Conditions of churches in apostasy

1N21 Light to gentiles and House of Israel
2N30 Gentiles converted and counted with House of Israel

1N22:2 Manifest by Spirit
2N31 How to get Holy Ghost

1N22:29 for I durst not speak further
2N32:7 the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance

1N22:30-31 I would that ye should consider that the things which have been written upon the plates of brass are true; and they testify that a man must be obedient to the commandments of God.
2N33:11 And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Don't Be Overwhelmed By "Big List" Arguments

"For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things."
2 Nephi 2:11

"Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he 
was enticed by the one or the other."
2 Nephi 2:16

     So, we find ourselves on a spinning rock, racing through space around a giant, exploding ball of gas. And we try to figure out the meaning of it all. We debate, we philosophize, we observe, we hypothesize.

     Some of us believe that being on earth is part of a plan. We believe the earth was prepared for us to live on, and that we chose to come here. We believe that we came here to have experiences, some of which would be difficult, and also to make choices... some of which would likewise be difficult. And we believe that in order to truly make choices for ourselves, and to have an opportunity to choose the right, we need to be enticed to do things which are wrong and which we would not otherwise do.

     Fortunately, God entices us to have faith, hope, and charity. The opposition however entices us to doubt, to fear, and to look at other people as either objects to be used or as creatures of no importance, instead of looking at others with charity. 

     Sometimes opposition comes in the form of appetites. Sometimes it comes in the form of pride. Sometimes it comes in the form of intellectual puzzlement. 

     All of this opposition is to be expected. As a matter of doctrine. 

     Unfortunately, some people fall into the trap of feeling overwhelmed in the face of large aggregate opposition. And, once overwhelmed, people can lose sight of the divine concepts of faith, hope and charity. For instance, the fact that there is so much suffering in the world might cause some people to struggle with hope (see this post on the problem of evil). Or, the prevalence of loose moral standards in the world can cause confusion about how God wants us to view each other. 

     Of particular interest to this post however is the fact that the large aggregate number of "big list" concerns, or lengthy compiled lists of concerns regarding Church leaders and doctrines, can seem overwhelming, even when each individual concern has plausible answers which fit within a consistent paradigm. 

     The fallacy which makes such big lists seem overwhelming comes in not recognizing that the gospel requires opposition, and therefore the sheer number of arguments which critics have come up with neither proves nor disproves anything. 

     Here the critic may cry foul, claiming that I am dismissing the strength of the individual arguments on their lists. But clearly I am not doing that. Each argument should be taken on it's own merits, and their arguments usually do involve some inductive evidence, which they are welcome to try to connect to build a case, but their interpretation of that evidence usually relies on assumptions which are deductive in nature. In other words, the inductive evidence they present does not clearly point where they want it, so they typically make deductive assumptions. Keep in mind that the plausible answers put forth by apologists need not be proven in order to effectively counter critical deductive arguments (see the Apologetic Proof Paradox). 

     The fallacy typically manifests when a critic realizes a given argument on a big list is not as strong as they had thought, and then resorts to pointing out how big the aggregation of all critical arguments against the Church is, trying to use the number of arguments as a reason for invoking Occam's Razor, while supposing that if the Church were true then it wouldn't be possible for so many critical arguments to exist. Again, the fallacy is in not realizing that the existence of such opposition is expected and even required in the very gospel paradigm which they suppose the existence of the aggregation disproves.

     What this means is that God intentionally allowed history to unfold in such a way that enough uncertainty and confusion would exist to allow the adversary to formulate a wide variety of clever arguments against the Church. Were it not so, where would the opposition be? 

     The doctrine of opposition in all things is not an ad-hoc formulation or in any way spurious. It is integral to the plan of salvation and runs throughout all of scripture, from Lehi's dream to Joseph Smith in the Liberty Jail; from Adam exiting the Garden of Eden, to Pharisees contending with Jesus himself, and ultimately Christ's very atonement, crucifixion and overcoming of all things. 

     Pointing to the amount of opposition does not constitute a viable argument. Yet critics resort to this quite often.