Friday, November 2, 2007

On Truth and Conspiracy Theories of Ignorance

Recently, I’ve been reading Karl Popper’s “Conjectures and Refutations”. I’ve read a couple of his books before and like the other ones, this one is written clearly and concisely. An interesting point that he raises makes me realize that for all the back and forth that occurs, Mormons and ex-Mormons are cut from the same silk. They may disagree about the truthfulness of the church, but they do fall prey to what Popper describes as the “truth is manifest” doctrine. The idea states that when a person encounters the truth, it is manifestly true, that is to say, any person who encounters the truth, by virtue of their humanity, is able to tell that they have encountered the truth. Popper terms this an optimistic epistemology. And it’s easy to see how it influences both Mormons and ex-Mormons.

Mormons believe that when one hears the gospel, that person recognizes the truth and joins. Ex-Mormons believe that when someone encounters the arguments against the truthfulness of the church, they can’t help but admit that the church is not true. Nothing strange here.

But the strangeness comes out when people don’t respond in the way you would expect them to when faced with the manifest truth. In order to explain this dissonance, people invent conspiracy theories. This idea is especially prevalent among ex-Mormons, who I gather don’t seem to realize that a lot of their ideas are conspiracy theories, with little basis in fact or logic. Take Lyndon Lambert, an excommunicant, who informs us of his particular conspiracy theory on the Book of Mormon. The original quote can be found here.

12. Did you at one time believe in the literal historicity of events and characters in the Bible and Book of Mormon? What are your feelings on those subjects now? Yes, I totally believed. Now I think that people that still believe in the historicity of the book fall into one of three categories:

a. They have not examined the evidence.

b. They are incapable, intellectually, to grasp the conclusivity of the evidence. It is truly overwhelming.

c. They cannot be objective while examining the evidence. Ironically, it is a combination of fear and false pride (and perhaps mind control) that blocks the neural receptors and prevents normal objective evaluation of the data.

Everyone of these categories is a conspiracy theory of ignorance:

1) They haven’t examined the evidence. Because the evidence is manifestly true, anyone who did so, unless they fell into the latter two categories, would be convinced by the ‘conclusivity of the evidence’

2) People believe because they are idiots. Only an idiot could see all the evidence and not know that it is manifestly true;

3) They are falling prey to their emotions and ominous rumblings of mind control. (Plus, Mr. Lamborn's theory of emotions blocking neural receptors preventing objective evaluation is novel. He seems to know an awful lot about neurobiology, even though he's an aeronautical engineer, when the links between emotions and the brain are still the subject of intense debate and study. I wonder which scientific studies he is relying on that allow him to so confidently state why Mormons can't see the manifest truth?)

It doesn’t seem to cross his mind that the truth isn’t as apparent as he thinks it is and that the evidence isn’t quite as cut and dried.

A lot of ex-Mormons talk about the how the church conceals the evidence or forces the members not to view it. Why do they think this? Because a lot of people aren’t leaving the church, at least, not in the numbers the ex-Mormons would expect if the members had access to the same information that they had. So they have to invent a conspiracy theory to explain their (wrong) idea that the falseness of the truth is manifest. The answer: the church is concealing the information from its members or warning them against using the Internet to look for it. Why would the church do this? Obviously, because its truth claims are manifestly false, anyone with access to it would leave the church. The conspiracy theorists take it a step further. They say, "The GAs talk about Internet pornography now, but it’s only a matter of time until they start decrying other things on the Internet." (Regardless of the fact that the church has consistently spoke out against pornography for years and years prior to the advent of the Internet). But this is hardly true. Anyone with a computer has access to any information, no matter how unfriendly to the church, and the church has no way to monitor it. The church can excommunicate the speaker, but they can’t silence her and they can't deafen the hearer.

My point is this: Let's look for the truth and not rely on conspiracy theories to explain cognitive dissonance. It's been said that people could go to heaven if they used only half of the energy they use to go to hell. Maybe if people spent more time trying to understand the truth and less time inventing fanciful conspiracy theories, humankind might actually progress.

7 comments:

Beat Dad said...

Hi DPC,

It seems that a lot of exmo's (I have been on the RFM board a lot in the past couple of years) spend much of their time there trying to justify and defend their reasons for leaving.

What happens when they stop? Maybe they are afraid that they will end up back in the church.

The same applies to some TBM's fear of encountering "real" history or evidence that their beleifs are false. They are afraid that it would make them doubt the truth.

Isn't it part of the process of finding truth?

Thanks for the post DPC

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that what DPC says about believing Mormons and exMormons could as well be applied to believers and ex-believers from any faith community. I've seen apologetics and polemics debated from within and without several different groups. People can disagree honestly about what constitutes what manifest truth or falsehood is without resorting to conspiracy or ad hominem arguments. I'm not sure I agree with DPC's analysis of Lyndon Lamborn's argument, and I'm equally uncertain that I agree completely with Lamborn for reasons other than an alleged appeal to conspiracy.

Is it possible that people of good will might see the same evidence and come away with differing beliefs or interpretations? It seems to me that one can argue about the soundness or spuriousness of any evidence based on a variety of cognitive biases.

DPC said...

Anonymous,

I agree with you. Mormon and ex-Mormon alike make the same mistakes. I plan on writing a follow-up to this post criticizing the Mormons, but I haven't gotten around to it yet...

Aerin said...

Hi dpc.

I disagree that all exmormons feel they have found "the truth". I also respectfully disagree that when someone encounters the same information that they will come to the same conclusions about it. Again, this goes back to our postmoderism conversation - that there is such a thing as truth and fact.

I certainly don't feel that way. I think there are some brave members who do study LDS history and theory - and not just what is published or approved by SLC. And just because those members may understand the same information that I have (like Joseph Smith having other wives) won't fundamentally change their spiritual experiences or beliefs.

With that said, some members may question why these things are not published or emphasized, but I don't think they will always shake a person's faith. And why should they? Faith (in my opinion) is a very personal matter.

But the church leadership does encourage members not to look at some materials and writings.

M. Russell Ballard's talk in 1999 - see the quote from Joseph F.Smith “We can accept nothing as authoritative but that which comes directly through the appointed channel..."

I'm still looking for other examples.

I believe everyone should be able to examine all information and come to their own conclusions.

Astarte Moonsilver said...

It's a shame that leaving the Mormon church would cause any sort of heartache or pain for friends and family. This doesn't happen in other Christian denominations. (I feel I could switch from Lutheran to Methodist to Baptist quite easily, just following the dictates of my conscience).

Mormons are taught repeatedly to avoid sympathizing with apostates or apostate groups. It's part of the worthiness interview to receive a temple recommendation. Because of this one requirement, entire families are torn asunder when someone decides to follow the dictates of their own conscience and leave the church. Would you call this a conspiracy tactic to keep the faithful loyal to the church?

#11 of the Articles of Faith states that Mormons allow all men the same privilege of following their conscience and worshipping how, where, or what they may. But, in practice this is not really true, since there is a requirement to avoid anyone or anything that could lessen their testimony, in order to gain access to the sacred temple. Which, is also required to gain ultimate Celestial Glory.

There's the conspiracy, IMO.

Anonymous said...

DPC,

Dead on analysis. The funny thing is that, being human, we all fall prey to the idea that the truth is manifest and everyone that disagrees with us has something wrong with them. This isn't just a religious issue. Politics is rife with this problem. So is every field.

Bruce Nielson

DPC said...

Bruce:

Popper (every the anticommunist) used the example of factory workers who just wouldn't overthrow their bourgeoisie taskmasters the way that Marx had predicted. Communists thought that the bourgeoisie media and religion kept the workers in the dark about what was really going on.