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Faith and Logic as taught in the Book of Ether

I love the Book of Ether. While I’ve often viewed it as a chore to get through, there’s nevertheless something profoundly spiritual about this section near the end of the Book of Mormon. I love the story of the Brother of Jared and Moroni’s insights on faith. This time through, I was really impressed by the doctrine of enlightenment. For the Brother of Jared, Abraham, Moses, Nephi, Moroni, John the Beloved, and surely many others, there was a point when their faith turned into knowledge, and they saw beyond the veil of mortality. And when this happened, they all seemed to have a similar vision. They saw everything. They comprehended the world’s history, the world’s future, and the cosmic designs and glories of God. It evidences that Plato may have been more correct than Aristotle after all, that this world is, in fact, a simulation, and a brief glance into the great beyond will enlighten us beyond any scope we could have before imagined. The paradox is that the only way to achieve this state of enlightenment is to, as Moroni put it, “doubt not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” In other words, we can’t reach this point through logic, only faith.

But why should we put our faith in something we can’t logically support? What’s wrong with doubting what we don’t see? Shouldn’t we start with a “witness” before we put our faith in something? To me this is the great mystery of the Gospel. How can I logically explain faith? I can’t. Notwithstanding, it seems  that the Gospel has everything to do with this mysterious doctrine of faith. The Book of Mormon is a perfect example. Its very existence is the antithesis of Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation for it is that Joseph Smith fabricated it. To believe the fantastic story of its origins, the fantastic stories contained within it, and to take every word of it at face value, when in so many ways it seems like a nineteenth century book, is an incredible leap in logic. And yet I believe in it. Very much so. I like to think I have many logical defenses for it, but when I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that my faith precedes my logic. And there you have it. I don’t know why it works this way, but I know that it does work this way, and I know that, for whatever reason, God wants it to be this way. He gave us the Book of Mormon in the most scientifically unsupportable way imaginable. And yet with supporting evidence from Hebrew writing styles, to horse bones, to DNA, I’m confident that it can’t be proven false either.

I think the whole world is this way. Until the veil is parted, we’ll never prove (or disprove) the existence of God. Supposing someone were to hack into the source code of this simulation and discover the truth, surely God could stop the system, reboot, clear the record, and leave this person to second guess his findings. Perhaps this sort of thing happens all the time, forcing us, the citizens of earth, to choose between logic and faith. And why is God so sold on this system of schooling? Again, I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll never be able to explain why. But I choose to believe, because it feels right, and the consequences fill my life with light and intelligence. And if not in my brain, at least in my heart, this method of obtaining truth makes a world of sense. I truly believe that those who choose a life of faith, rather than basing their life’s choices solely on empirical evidence, will have their minds expanded and, like the Brother of Jared, will eventually come to comprehend all things. This is my goal. It should be the goal of all Latter-day Saints. It is the essence of the Gospel.

4 thoughts on “Faith and Logic as taught in the Book of Ether

  1. Empirical evidence shows that if we are not true to what we believe we are less happy and successful.Why would we go against what we “feel” is right?

  2. Faith
    2012/07/22 BOM Gospel Doctrine Lesson 28: Alma 32–35
    The hook
    What do a flashlight, scissors and a screwdriver all have in common? The answer: This! [Hold up a multi-tool].
    This little tool comes in handy in a lot of circumstances. It’s the one you always have with you because you know it could be useful in a moment’s notice. There are scriptures that are like that for certain subjects (e.g. D&C 4 for missionary work, Alma 2 for agency, D&C 84 for priesthood, Alma 32 for faith).
    You can use these chapters as your go-to pocket tool for certain topics, and branch out from there.
    “[Members] need to know how to use the Book of Mormon to arouse mankind’s interest in studying it, and they need to show how it answers the great questions of the soul.” (Ezra Taft Benson, http://www.lds.org/ensign/2005/10/flooding-the-earth-with-the-book-of-mormon).
    Questions about faith (easy to hard, with potential answers)
    Let’s use our Superlight, Ultra-Portable Pocket Multi-Tool of Faith! to answer some “great questions…”
    What is faith?
    Alma 32:21: Hope for things which are not seen, which are true
    How do I get faith?
    Alma 32:27: Experiment, desire to believe
    Alma 32:33: Because the seed grows, you know it is good
    What am I asked to have faith in?
    That’s what the next chapter is for.
    Alma 33:1: How should we plant the seed?
    Alma 33:22–23: Believe in Christ; may your burdens be light through the joy of his Son
    If God wants us to believe, why doesn’t he just show himself to us?
    Alma 32:17–19: Belief from signs isn’t faith. Cursed if you know God’s will and don’t do it.
    People in the church say “I know” all the time. Is that being misguided or deceitful?
    Alma 32:34: You know that the word hath swelled your souls
    How is faith different from confirmation bias?
    If signs are promised to them that believe, and I believe, where are the signs like the ones I read about in the scriptures?
    Questions about prayer
    What is prayer?
    Who can pray?
    Why do we pray?
    To whom do we pray?
    When should we pray?
    What should we include in our prayers?
    How do we know we are getting answers from God?
    How do we pray with faith?
    Does praying alter God’s plan?
    I feel like I’m asking with faith. Why don’t I get an answer?
    12/02/12 Book of Mormon Lesson 45: Ether 1–6
    Purpose
    To learn what we must do to qualify ourselves to obtain the greatest revelations of God.
    Hand these out to the class
    Make a handout with the quotes and several of the scriptures to give to the class. Tell the class that there is no particular time that they need to share that thought and that I won’t ask them for it, but they should use it when they feel like it fits in with the lesson. Other items include:
    Share an experience of building faith through prayer.
    Share an experience of building faith through adversity.
    The Sealed Portion
    What specific records make up the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated?
    1) Small plates of Nephi; 2) Abridgment of Mormon from the large plates of Nephi; 3) Abridgment of 24 Jaredite Plates; 4) Sealed portion
    What is in the sealed portion?
    Ether 4:4–5: Moroni wrote what BOJ saw, sealed them up.
    How can we come to know the sealed portion?
    Ether 4:7: Exercise faith like BOJ.
    Ether 3:19: BOJ’s faith so strong he could not be kept within the veil.
    What did Jared do to have such great faith?
    Prayer
    Jared “Cries unto the Lord” (Ether 1:35, also God has mercy). Cries “this long time”, Ether 1:43.
    Repentance
    Ether 2:14–15: Chastened by the Lord for not calling upon the Lord; repents.
    Adversity
    BOJ travelled much, solved the problems of the barges (Ether 2:19)
    Elder Russell M. Nelson said that he has often heard President Gordon B. Hinckley say, “I don’t know how to get anything done except getting on my knees and pleading for help and then getting on my feet and going to work” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1997, 18; or Ensign, Nov. 1997, 16).
    What can we do to have faith as strong as Jared?
    Ether 4:11–12: These things are true for they persuade to do good; good is of Christ.
    Ether 4:14–15: Come unto Christ; rend the veil of unbelief and these things will be made known.
    “The brother of Jared may not have had great belief in himself, but his belief in God was unprecedented. In that there is hope for us all. His faith was without doubt or limit. … Once and for all it was declared that ordinary people with ordinary challenges could rend the veil of unbelief and enter the realms of eternity.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant [1997], 29)
    How can challenges in our lives help us?

    Random quote I found while studying for this lesson (from a good talk by James E. Talmage):
    “It is unsatisfying and not always reverent to answer questions as to how things came to be what they are by the easy statement that God made them so. With such an answer the scientific man has little patience. The fact that all created things are the works of God and that all processes of nature are due to Him as the administrator of law and order is to the scientific mind an axiom requiring neither argument nor demonstration…
    “In proportion as any one of these may learn of the ways of God he becomes wise. To be able to think as God thinks, to comprehend in any degree His purposes and methods, is to become in that measure like unto Him, and to that extent to be prepared for eventual companionship in His presence.” James E Talmage http://en.fairmormon.org/Primary_sources/Evolution/Earth_and_Man Response to blog post by Steve Gashler
    I agree with the post for the most part. I do, however, disagree that Occam’s razor would tell us that the Book of Mormon is fabricated because that’s the simplest explanation. If Occam’s razor were used to support simple statements then all sorts of simplistic drivel could be put forward as a substitute for complex and wonderful truth.

    I understand Occam’s razor this way: the explanation that introduces the fewest unproven assumptions is likely to be correct. In the case of the Book of Mormon and its origins, any explanation of its origins involves the introduction of many unproven assumptions. In fact, I think Occam’s razor actually supports the veracity of the Book of Mormon.

    If we take the story of its origins as stated, then recorded history is entirely in agreement. If experience with revelation and angels is part of one’s personal experience, then actually there is no new assumption that must be made. If one doubts such things, then it is a great assumption to overcome, but is really the only one.

    If you say the stated history is untrue, then you must offer an alternate explanation if you would use Occam’s razor to explain the facts. And here’s where things get messy. At the very minimum you would need to introduce the assumption that Joseph Smith was either very insane and believed what he was saying despite its falsehood or very fraudulent and knew he was lying. Either of these positions is more at variance with what is known of Joseph’s character than the position that he was an honest man.

    Once we examine the text itself, we find much that is in agreement with what is currently known of ancient cultures in which the the Book of Mormon. If you say the stated history was wrong, then you must continue to insert assumptions regarding how Joseph would have known enough to write the Book of Mormon. To be sure, critics have been putting forth explanations for a long time, and they are free to believe them, but those explanation require no more faith than to believe in the Book of Mormon because they also rely on assumptions that do not find proof in the historical record.

    Granted, there are many things that are difficult to explain using the perspective that the stated history is accurate. In my examination of the Book of Mormon and its history, I find that I need to introduce more unproven assumptions if I examine it from the perspective that the stated history is false. For this reason, I assert that Occam’s razor actually supports the stated history of the Book of Mormon.

    I understand this is a minor point of your article. As to the rest of it, I entirely agree that faith is the primary factor upon which the rest of your world-view is built. It’s simply a matter of what your faith is put in. You can adopt the world-view of Joseph-as-charlatan or you can adopt the world-view of Joseph-as-seer. Either perspective requires adopting unproven assumptions, and thus faith.

  3. Oops! I accidentally posted much too much. I copied this from a larger document. Begin where it says “I agree with this post for the most part.”

  4. Wonderful thoughts, Steve, it seems that you also agree with me that your faith in the veracity of Joseph Smith’s calling precedes your logical support of such. Were it the other way around, I’m sure we could draw similar conclusions about the Prophet Mohammed, that for him to be a charlatan would be inconsistent with his character, circumstances, etc. Or if not him, I’m sure we could find someone or something much more logical to believe in than Joseph Smith. What got me thinking about this topic was how Mormon quotes entire passages of Paul about charity. Whatever conclusions we can draw about Joseph Smith’s character, surely Occam’s Razor would still suggest that Joseph Smith copied a Bible in his living room before it would suggest that Mormon copied a book he couldn’t possibly have had access to in the exact language of the King James version, which didn’t yet exist. Surely God didn’t intend for the Book of Mormon to be scientifically provable. At least not yet. This is evidenced when Mormon is about to write the names of the three Nephites, but the Lord forbids him, saying, “I will try the faith of the Gentiles.” I’m guessing that knowing their names could somehow give us a scientifically significant clue. While I believe that evidence is there, and I believe the evidence, I also believe that were we to lose faith in the Book of Mormon, we could so quickly replace our logical defenses with logical attacks. As you said, both would be built on assumptions and require faith. Neither would be provable.

    “If experience with revelation and angels is part of one’s personal experience, then actually there is no new assumption that must be made. If one doubts such things, then it is a great assumption to overcome, but is really the only one.” Surely the vast majority of humanity has not had bona fide experience with revelation and angels (at least not in an empirical way), so this is a great leap indeed, enough of a leap to be at complete odds with our rational minds. I think it would defeat God’s purpose of placing us on this earth if most of us had such experiences.

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