True Doctrine

I just noticed a Facebook post that I made a couple of years ago on this topic. I still like it but would like to modify it slightly so I am restating it below, slightly updated.

A word respecting official LDS doctrine. There is no official church doctrine, only an official source of doctrine – the standard works – scripture. And even that is an oversimplification as it isn’t even scripture per se but the revelation that comes when seriously contemplating scripture. True doctrine is received by revelation, which “distills upon our souls as the dews from heaven” (DC 121), as we contemplate scripture. True doctrine revealed as part of a process that includes scripture. The role of scripture is not to recite or contain true doctrine but to facilitate the revelation of true doctrine.

Some, unfortunately, consider attempts to articulate the results of such contemplation “idle speculation”. But there is nothing idle about the process – neither is it merely speculative, necessarily. It is intellectually challenging and the quality of the result, and ensuing satisfaction derived therefrom, is commensurate with the effort. Ironically those who oppose such “idle speculation” are idolaters. Their intent is to preserve the purity of the doctrine they mistakenly believe the scriptures to contain. But instead they raise the uncontemplated words themselves to the level of a false idol. “A Bible! A Bible!” (2 Nephi 29).

Or, just as unfortunate, they point to someone else and accept their articulation of doctrine as authoritative. “If so and so says it, it must be true.” This raises “so and so” to the level of mediator between the slothful servant and God. Any attempt to articulate truth must fail, at least in some measure, due to the inherent imperfection, or imprecision, or inadequacy, of words, being mere symbols. Our unarticulated concepts are far from perfect representations of reality but their accuracy is diminished further when they are articulated.

All this is really to say that the old advice that if you want the truth you ought to seek it in the horse’s mouth applies. As we contemplate the word of God, not only written in scripture but also as written in nature, we can glimpse the truth in its purest form. Then we start fitting it into our flawed concepts and some of that purity is lost. Then we try to articulate it and the glass darkens further.

That’s not to say our contemplation can’t be improved by including the relevant views others have articulated. But these absolutely must be taken as an aid to our own contemplation and not as a substitute for it.

Never cease to contemplate (not just read) the articulated word of God because, if you look beyond the words themselves, the Spirit will reveal the truth. “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10).

The Truth about Truth

A member of our church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) once objected to what he perceived to be the impossible level of certainty expressed by others:

“I don’t like it when people stand in testimony meetings and say, ‘I know.’ You can’t know stuff like that. You can believe or have faith, but you can’t know!”

But in John 8:32 we read that Jesus said
“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”.

And again in John 17:3 Jesus asserts:
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”

These statements by Jesus made it clear that:
it is possible to know things
to know God is eternal life, so its pretty important that we do know things

But doesn’t the member I quoted make a valid point? We can’t really know anything for sure, right?

Consider how we come to know the things we say we know. The everyday things. We might say that we know that the sun is in the sky. Why? Because we can look up and see it. It’s right there. But what’s really happening?

Deep inside the sun physical processes create a tiny package of information called a photon that makes its way to the surface and then flies to earth at the speed of light where, eight minutes after it leaves the sun, it pierces your cornea and slams into your retina at the back of your eye. That excites your optic nerve which sends an electrical signal all the way to the back of your brain where your brain cells interpret the signal as a flash of light.

But one photon isn’t enough to register with our conscious mind. It takes many of these photons slamming into our retina before our brain discerns a familiar pattern, a circle, a circle of light. That pattern, coupled with the pattern of impulses that our brain recognizes as meaning that our head is raised and we are looking up into the sky, is interpreted as meaning we are looking up at the sun.

But notice that we don’t experience the sun directly. We only experience the photons, the little packages of information, directly. It’s our repeated experience of interacting with similar photons in similar ways that our brains interpret as seeing the sun. Repeatedly experiencing patterns like this is how we come to know things.

But are the things we experience in this way really there? Do we know these things with a perfect knowledge just because we say we see them?

In 2015 The Dress became an Internet phenomena. It was a picture of a dress which some people saw as being white with gold trim and other people saw as being blue with black trim. People saw different things, even though they were looking at the very same picture.

In 2018 two brief audio clips became famous for similar reasons. Listening to one clip some people heard the name “Yanni” while other people heard the name “Laurel”. Their experience was different even though the sound itself was the same.

Another clip sounded like “brainstorm” to some and “green needle” to others. There was no trickery at play in any of these examples. So was the dress white and gold or blue and black? Neither. Different people perceived these phenomena differently because of subtle differences in the way their brains interpreted the input they were receiving.

The other day my wife mentioned that we had pecan pie and gestured to the pumpkin pie that was sitting on the kitchen counter. “What kind is it? I asked. “Pecan,” she replied. I raised an eyebrow. “Pumpkin pie was on sale so I bought one,” she explained. “But you said it was pecan,” I said. “No, I said it was pumpkin,” she responded.

Now the thing is, pecan pie is my favourite and I dislike pumpkin to the point that I won’t even eat it so the distinction was very important in my mind so I’m sure I was right. But we both were “sure” we were right, even though we couldn’t both be right.

My point is that sure, perfect or absolute knowledge is not a characteristic of human experience, regardless of how many times you may hear people lay claim to it. Neither the everyday things we say we know nor the more abstract truths discovered by careful study and thoughtful reflection can achieve the level of absolute certainty. There is always room for self-delusion or to be deluded by others. For our minds to play tricks on us

But that doesn’t mean that those of us who testify of eternal truths are mistaken when we say, ” I know that the gospel is true.” Repeatedly experiencing patterns of cause and effect can justify increasingly confident assertions. And that’s what these claims to knowledge really are – ways of expressing our high confidence that our declarations of truth are accurate.

Alma can help us understand what we mean when we claim to “know” the truth. Alma famously speaks of conducting an experiment. “Experiment upon my words,” he exhorts us in 32:27.

He says the experiment is like planting a seed and watching to see if it grows. It it grows, it is a good seed. If it doesn’t grow, it is a bad seed. All you need to have to begin the experiment is two things:

  1. A seed
  2. A desire to know if the seed is good – an inquiring mind open to accepting the truth

Now if you just don’t care about whether the seed is good or bad, you won’t even bother conducting this experiment. You’ll find something else to do. But if you do want to find out, you will plant the seed and watch and if it grows, then you will have as close to a perfect knowledge as its possible to have that this was indeed a good seed.

Now I’m not sure whether Alma was a farmer but I do know he was a missionary and that this experiment he spoke about wasn’t really about seeds. His invitation was to “experiment upon my words” as he taught gospel truths.

This experiment is not just for non-members who want to know whether the gospel as taught by our missionaries is true. It applies to all of us, regardless of how few or how many years we’ve been members of the Church. It applies to any bit of new information we want to know the truth about whether we hear it from someone, or read it somewhere, or it just pops into our mind.

So remember the two things we need to begin the experiment? The seed can represent any information. Our desire to know the truth is the other thing we need because without that desire, we will never find the time or energy to plant the seed.

What does it mean to plant the seed? How do we plant information? What soil do we plant it in? We plant it in the soil of our lives. We begin to live as if we already knew that the information was true and we see how it affects us.

Alma says that if the information is true, it will begin to:

  • “Enlarge your soul”
  • “Enlighten your understanding”
  • “Be delicious to you”

What can these things mean? What do they mean to you? To me they mean that truth leads to more truth. Truth helps me understand other truths more clearly, more deeply. Each Truth helps me see how all Truths fit together as pieces of a great puzzle – a puzzle I yearn to complete and help others complete.

Discovering truth is delicious. It makes me feel great, happy, that the little things that go wrong in life don’t matter because I know the truth and, as Jesus said, the truth sets me free from those little unimportant things.

I remember when I was little my father built a sandbox for us in our backyard. I would play in the sandbox with my friends, making roads and buildings. and pretending that what we were doing was important. Because that’s what kids do when they play. They practice being adults by pretending to do important adult things. They might seem silly to us but to kids play is serious business.

Once in a while I would catch a glimpse of my mother peeking at us from the window, just unobtrusively watching over us, but ready to intervene should we get carried away with our play and take it too seriously. Imagine, getting upset because someone ran his toy car into your little sand house. At that age it could start a fight but now it seems hilarious that we’d attach such importance to sand.

I often think of how my old sandbox story is analogous to our adult lives. We might think of ourselves as vastly more sophisticated than our children but to Heavenly Father we are all still children. Whenever I catch myself getting worried or upset about things I remember that, in truth, Heavenly Father is watching over us, ready to intervene if needed and that in reality we are still just little kids playing in the sandbox he built for us, pretending that what we do is important, when it is really only just practice for the important work of eternity. This truth sets me free.

We worship truth. We sometimes capitalize the word Truth because it is one of the names for Our Saviour who said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light. (John 14:6)

Oh say, what is truth? ‘Tis the fairest gem. Priceless in value. The brightest prize. An aim for the noblest desire. The pillar of truth will endure to the last for ’tis the last and the first and tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst, Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst, eternal, unchanged, evermore.”

All these words from that great hymn describe Truth and He who exemplifies Truth. We are by nature attracted to truth. DC 93:29 tells us that our essential nature consists of light and truth. So when we hear the truth, read the truth, plant the truth in our hearts or, in other words, live our lives in a manner consistent with the truth, we will feel it and know it to be truth. It will enlarge our souls, enlighten our understanding, and be delicious to us. The Savior taught that: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:17).

Notice that Alma says the truth will “begin” to feel this way to us. We needn’t think we will experience a sudden overwhelming awareness of truth. That may happen, but it is more likely that our appreciation for the truth will grow gradually – like a tree that emerges from a seed grows.

In vs 37-39 Alma tells us that as the tree begins to grow, or in other words, as we begin to feel the positive effects of living the truth, we need to carefully nourish the tree so it takes root and produces fruit. Because, if we don’t, it will not take root and the sun will wither it away. If that happens it won’t be because the seed was bad, but because we failed to nurture it.

And how do we nurture the truth in our lives? President Gordon B. Hinckley said that every member needs “a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with ‘the good word of God.'” Full participation in the Church will provide all of those things and be the means by which we constantly nourish our little tree of faith and ensure that it grows and bears much good fruit.

Brad Wilcox described the way we can obtain a knowledge of the truth in this way:

“We gain a testimony through experience as we participate in the Church and interact with other members. We attend classes and activities. We go to sacrament meeting, where we partake of the sacrament. We worship the Savior and learn of Him. We sing hymns, prepare and give talks, and participate in interviews. We know what it is like to live as Latter-day Saints because we have experienced it firsthand. And though we may not always recognize it, the Spirit is there, which helps us receive knowledge.”

It is often said that when we pray, we speak to God and when we read scripture, God speaks to us. But I say it is not by simply reading scripture that revelation comes. We need to nourish the seed of truth that we find in the scriptures by acting upon those truths. Doctrine & Covenants 121:45 promises that the doctrine of the priesthood will distill upon our souls as the dews from heaven as we live charitably and virtuously. We must learn, and then we must do, and only then will we know.

To seek and expect an absolute knowledge is to look beyond the mark. But we don’t need a philosopher’s standard of knowledge, we need a carpenter’s, or a farmer’s. We don’t need certainty. All we need is to experience the yield of good fruit from gospel living to experience the Spirit’s gift of overwhelming joy that accompanies and confirms the truth when we declare, “I know the Saviour lives.”

Can a god be bored?

Point 1: We can make computers that do more than one thing at a time (parallel process or multitask). God is omnipotent. Therefore, God can multitask.

Point 2: We get the most happiness by overcoming challenges. When we don’t have any, or when those we have are being particularly difficult to overcome, we invent some (games, sports, etc.) In these invented challenges we typically submit to rules which limit what we can do to achieve the goal.

Putting these two points together, when we, as gods, get bored, why won’t we use our ability to multitask to use a part of our consciousness to continue working (bringing to pass the immortality and eternal lives of our own spirit children) while using another part of our consciousness to overcome an invented challenge?

I imagine myself reliving particularly enjoyable experiences. Further, I imagine that I will restrict the access that part of my consciousness I assign to reliving the experience has to my memory so that as I relive the experience it will seem to me that I am not reliving it but experiencing it for the first time. Imagine experiencing your first date, your wedding day, the birth of a child, over again, as many times as you wish, but not merely as a memory but as if it were happening for the first time.

What about that game winning shot you made? That overtime goal? The day your business started to make a profit? That painting you finished? The book you wrote? We’ve all had so many experiences where we had that irreplaceable sense of accomplishment for having successfully overcome a significant challenge. Reliving them but as if for the first time could relieve an eternity’s worth of boredom.

What about tweaking those memories a bit to improve them? What if you missed that last second shot and lost the game? This time you make it. With part of your mind you simulate what the rest of your life would have been like had you made that shot while another part of your consciousness experiences that newly simulated life, or as much of it as you wished, as if it were real. (And why wouldn’t it seem just as real as your real life? And if it seems just as real, why wouldn’t it actually be just as real?)

Modern video games let you assume the role of a basketball star playing through an entire season or even an entire career. Couldn’t a god simulate the same thing only in perfect full immersion virtual reality down to the most exquisite detail? And if you enjoyed basketball in this life, and were now a god, and could multitask so you could do your work while simulating a basketball career, why wouldn’t you? The only reason not to would be because you had something even more enjoyable to do.

So, if reliving, as if for the first time, your most joyful experiences, or creating new joyful experiences for yourself and experiencing those, always as if for the first time, is the least fun you can have as a god, while concurrently being able to share this delightful mode of being with your spirit children, I conclude:

Conclusion 1: Gods don’t get bored.

Conclusion 2: Maybe you are already a god and this is exactly what you’re doing right now, in which case, you may be in for a very, very exciting day!

Truth is Truth

Just completed a survey about a BYU exhibit and wanted to record a couple of my answers.

Q. How do we gain knowledge of truth?

“Revelation and scientific discovery represent complementary approaches to learning truth. Although there are significant differences between them, there are also many similarities in the processes they follow. For example, the process of revelation starts with faith in God, but also requires study, action (i.e. “experimenting upon the word”), and prayer. Similarly, science often begins with a hypothesis, and then conducts experimentation to test it. Whether truth comes from a scientific laboratory or by revelation from the Lord, it is all compatible because God is the ultimate source of all truth.”

I don’t actually think that revelation and science represent different means of discovering truth. In both cases we gather evidence by observation, we form a hypothesis, and we test that hypothesis by establishing parameters, changing variables, and observing results. In both cases we receive what we suspect may be truth, we tentatively accept it as being truth so that we may act on it as if it were truth, and we assess the resulting changes we experience as a result. The first statement uses scientific terms and the second uses terms language more likely to be heard in church. They both describe the same process. Through Joseph Smith we learned that there is no such thing as immaterial matter (sounds pretty obvious). The Holy Ghost has a body of spirit that He may dwell within us. The heart is not an organ of sense or cognition. His touch is the touch of mind to mind. And that touch is sensory input like any other and subject to the same evaluation. Just as all truth may be circumscribed into one great whole, so may the process by which that truth becomes known.

Q. How can we make sense of evolution in light of the restored gospel?

The LDS Church has no official position on the theory of evolution. “Organic evolution, or changes to species’ inherited traits over time, is a matter for scientific study. Nothing has been revealed concerning evolution. Though the details of what happened on earth before Adam and Eve, including how their bodies were created, have not been revealed, our teachings regarding man’s origin are clear and come from revelation.” (New Era, October 2016).

Whether an individual accepts or rejects evolution has no bearing on the truth of the restored gospel nor an individual’s eternal salvation. Church members may hold a range of beliefs regarding evolution. There are many faithful positions that individuals may take to make sense of evolution in light of the restored gospel. Many LDS biologists accept evolution and have formed an integrated view of how it is compatible with revealed truth, while other members do not accept evolution.

Evolution and creation need not be seen as mutually exclusive ideas. Through the restored gospel, we understand that God created and prepared the earth for a specific purpose: to provide the conditions where His children could receive a physical body, learn and grow through mortal experiences, and ultimately progress to become like Him. Pairing this knowledge with what we know through science about the history of life on earth can help us more fully appreciate and reverence our God for the incredible care and the love that went into the preparation of the Earth for mankind.

There is much general talk about the fact that human evolution can be reconciled with a literal Adam and Eve but little by way of specifics. I believe that is because if anyone ever got into how they may be reconciled they would be quickly shut down by a creationist or a teacher wanting to avoid contention. In the meantime, the lack of specifics about how to accomplish this reconciliation can leave some faithful evolutionists with an unnecessary crisis of faith. There is nothing speculative about this topic and there is no “deep doctrine” to avoid. It is simply a necessary part of the search for truth to participate in a discussion that aims to reconcile allegedly conflicting facts.

Do gods reason?

This speculative piece assumes that our omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God did not merely create pets, but children, and intends to raise his children up to be just like Him, so long as His children do not reject His efforts on our behalf.

An argument goes, since gods are omniscient, there is nothing left for them to figure out. Reason is redundant since they already know everything, they only need recall it. Even recalling it is unnecessary since all would be continually before them. I think the capacity to reason essentially defines us. If we stop reasoning, we cease to exist as the type of being that would make me think that our being is truly eternal. If you say to a rather intelligent dog, “you will live forever, but you will do so as a cat,” I believe the dog is justified in thinking his days are numbered. But I think we can have our cake and eat it too.

Consider what we do when we find ourselves with a moment of free time, free of the cares and concerns of work, etc. Typically we devise another problem to solve. Maybe its engaging in a discussion on the nature of God. Maybe its to play a video game or a sport. We’re not happy unless we are overcoming yet another challenge. It is more than what we do, it is what we are.

Consider what a sport is. It is an artificial contest, either with another or others or even with ourselves, to achieve a goal within a set of rules which place restrictions on our ability to achieve the goal. That last point is my main one. If the only objective was to get the ball over the goal line it is easy to accomplish. I could do it against an all star team of professionals. I’d just drive the ball down the field in my car. But that’s no fun. The fun is in the challenge of restricting the ways you can accomplish the objective and still accomplishing it. The fun is in the challenge of voluntarily limiting your capacity.

I’ll skip right to my conclusion. I think that, as gods, we can and do employ 100% of the necessary power, knowledge and concern to the task of raising another generation of gods. And that we do it repeatedly, perhaps even multiple generations at once. However, with at least virtually all power and knowledge, surely we would have the ability to be simultaneously engaged in other pursuits. Unlike mortals, as gods we can multitask. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can devote 100% of the necessary attention to the prayers, concerns and activities of each one of billions of spirit children and still be able to devote 100% of the necessary attention to spending time with our own generation of gods – our eternal families, friends, etc.

And what would we do with our fellow gods? I suspect we would do the godlike equivalent of writing poetry. Consider what a poem is. It is the means of communicating more than dictionary defined meaning but also emotions by placing artificial restrictions on the way you assemble words. It is similar to a game. Watching ballet is like watching poetry in motion. Watching a running back elude tackle after tackle as he desperately hurls himself toward the goal line is also like poetry in motion. Watching a poor but determined individual lift himself out of the gutter to become a successful businessman is laden with the same emotional impact despite the challenges overcome being somewhat less artificial.

The poetry, the beauty, is in overcoming the challenge. Are gods no longer capable of beauty because there are no challenges left? Or do they, like we, invent challenges by artificially restricting their abilities in order to create such challenges? Even when nothing needs to be overcome, does the need to create beauty go away? If the need, does the desire? The appreciation?

How often we watch someone perform some amazing feat and exclaim, “Wow, I would love to be able to do that.” As gods, I suspect we will. We will create the challenge by place restrictions on that part of our consciousness which we devote to meeting the challenge. The beauty, the satisfaction, of using our rational capacity to overcome challenges will be how we, as gods, retain our essential natures.

Why fewer people attend church

I read an interesting article called “The Missing Elements of Modern Worship” which my brother shared on Facebook. I was hoping for further insight into what can account for the epidemic downturn in church attendance. I used the author’s points to take inventory of our own services and I believe we have 100% of these every week. (Excepting only that there is no separated scripture reading but there is typically heavy use of scripture throughout the 40 minutes during which 2-3 speakers “preach expositionally”. So I don’t think anything here can account for the downturn.

I think it’s parenting. Parents should insist that children maximally participate in relevant church programs. Nothing, not friends, sports, school, and especially not part time work, should be permitted to interfere with church-sponsored activities. The Church must be the chief focal point of the child’s life, outside of the family. This is the only way the Lord, through the church, can speak as persuasively as the noisy distractions of modern life.

I am a technophile but I can still appreciate that technology can make it easier for children (and adults) to be distracted from important things. Technology itself is not the problem. Considering it so is a cop out for parental incompetence. So is “teaching my child the value of work” when that work takes place on Sunday or interferes with full participation in church programs.

There are Christians in Syria and Iraq who choose torture and death by ISIS rather than renounce their faith. But here many neglectful parents deny their children the necessities of a spiritual life by placing the false goods of modern culture on a higher pedestal than Christ. We allow the weeds of work, institutional secular education, and the lure of a secular peer group to choke off the plant which could become a tree of spiritual life for their children before it has a chance to take firm root. It is insidious and each generation of parents is guiltier than the one before. To renounce one’s faith or to deny your child the opportunity to develop his/her faith, what’s the difference? And so many do the latter under the most meager pressure.

If you allow your child to place a part time jobs, sports, or parties to take precedence over full participation in church youth activities or worse, over Sunday worship, then you, neglectful parent, are the reason why your grown children will mostly likely stop going to church. You, by your negligence, will have renounced their faith before they even knew they had it. We who can see this and say nothing about it, will be just as negligent.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6.)

“And again, inasmuch as parents have children … that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the Living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost … the sin be upon the heads of the parents.” (D&C 68:25.)

Women and the priesthood

Before I became aware of the movement for ordaining women, I predicted that we would see the day when women were ordained. Since then, after reflecting on the subject, I have come to the view that ordaining women would be counterproductive. Men and women are equal but different with different needs. Men need the responsibility of priesthood authority to realize their divine potential whereas women do not. Remember that Brigham Young once taught that women could bestow a blessing of healing on their sick children. Does anyone seriously contend that Heavenly Father pays less heed to a mother’s prayer on behalf of her sick child than to a father’s priesthood blessing? The difference is that the outwardness, the formality, of the ordinance, and the other outward vestiges of priesthood power, being the responsibility of the man, increases the likelihood that he will be engaged in the work. Women do not seem to need this extra help. The man who merely “holds” the priesthood is damned. He must “bear” the priesthood, support the work of God, for his priesthood ordination to be a saving ordinance for him. Remember that a man must be ordained before he is qualified for temple blessings. There is no such requirement on a woman. The unimproved, natural man can not realize his divine potential. He is not his partner’s equal. It is by accepting and magnifying his priesthood responsibility that he becomes meet help for his companion.

If this view is an indictment of a man’s character per se then so be it. I have had 35 years to contrast the relatively diligent service of Relief Society sisters to the comparatively reluctant, but ultimately willing, and often equally stalwart service of priesthood bearers. But I fear that without the added responsibility that the scriptures routinely remind the priesthood holder that he has accepted, most men would be inclined to take a back seat and watch the sisters do all the work. Because of Eve (a savior in every sense), Adam was not left a lone man in the garden. By sustaining her husband’s priesthood responsibility, a woman helps ensure that he is not left a lone man in a lesser kingdom. This is not to suggest we ought to look down on men as weaker creatures. A righteous priesthood bearer is a powerful servant of God. But I do believe the priesthood responsibility ought to be seen more as remedial than prestigious. Whatever is good and noble and enabling and blessed about bearing the priesthood, women already have. Sisters, even single sisters, not yet sealed (to the priesthood), can perform priesthood ordinances in the temple without receiving any quasi-ordination.

I used to believe we would see a time when sisters would be ordained because there didn’t seem to me to be any harm in it. Now I see the harm. Priesthood is not something men have that women don’t. It is something that makes up for what women have that men lack. If women had the priesthood we would be no more help meets but unequally yoked. It seems to me this view is the only one consistent with the observations that men and women are equal in God’s sight and that only men are called to the priesthood. This is not like the issue of blacks and the priesthood which appears to have been mostly a function of the egregiously long time it took for the Church leadership to overcome unprincipled cultural bias.

We are not Sims.

Nowadays almost everyone who writes an explanatory book on physics for the masses has to address the simulation argument. In his excellent book, Hidden in Plain Sight: The simple link between relativity and quantum mechanics, Andrew Thomas says:

(T)hese theories consider the possibility tat our entire universe might be a simulated construct in a vast supercomputer run by an advanced civilization (as if we were simulated characters in the computer game The Sims.) The motivation behind such a simulation being just the same as why we enjoy playing games such as The Sims: for entertainment.

This statement, the one in bold, stretches the analogy too far. Have you played The Sims or any similar game? Are those game characters really like you? Hardly! I am not going to try to convince you otherwise, if you disagree, as in your case it may then be true. I address myself to those who realize that our capacity to think and feel make us of vastly greater worth than these superficial caricatures.

Have you ever made a model plane or a paper doll? If so, you more than likely did it for entertainment – your own or a child’s. Have you ever made a baby? Created a life? Raised him or her to think and feel and to enjoy the wonder of life? Was your motivation entertainment? Or were you motivated to share the joy of living with another who in some sense was, and in other ways would become, your equal, or even surpass you? To stretch the definition of “entertainment” to include such a motive is to divest the term of any utility. We create and nurture life out of love – a love of life and of life-sustaining and enhancing values.

So what would be the motive of a superiour intelligence that created “simulations” such as ourselves? Love. Any other motive necessarily ascribes an inferiour ethics to those we are required to acknowledge as having superiour technology. Give that superiour technology almost certainly entails superiour firepower – the ability to destroy (everything), it is reasonable to assume that ethical superiority is a necessary corollary. Writers who wring their hands about the possibility of discovering our technological superiours treating us as our ancestors (and ethical inferiors) treated the technologically inferiour civilizations they encountered are just being silly.

Even in these days of “Earth Days”, pleas to “Save the Whales”, and of carelessly ascribing make-believe “rights” to every beleaguered subset of humanity we can conceptualize, we are still ethically underdeveloped enough to remain at risk of blowing ourselves off the planet on about 15 minutes notice. It is unreasonable to suppose that an even more technologically powerful civilization has managed to wield such power without acquiring greater empathy, compassion and appreciation for their fellow creatures.

As bad as they are, Trump and Putin are a vast improvement over Hitler and Stalin. (I’m not sure the same is true of the Ayatollahs.) I would much more readily entrust our civilizations future to the ethics of a civilization advanced enough to create this world we experience as a “simulation” than with the cohort that leads our modern nation states.

It is not a logical necessity that advanced technology implies advanced ethics, but it is a reasonable assumption. A very reasonable one in my opinion. One I’d characterize as beyond reasonable doubt, achieving the level of scientific certainty (~95%) while allowing that it is no logical certainty (100%).

To dismiss the problem of evil arising from the notion of technology and ethically superiour creators all one need do is realize that evil is a necessary consequence of moral agency, which in tern is a prerequisite for moral development. Amoral evils (natural disasters and the like) offer challenges which, when met, further the advancement of our moral characters.

If we are simulations (better: “mathematical substructures”), as I believe we are, we are not castaway “Sims” but valued creations, offspring who can reasonably expect to be raised better than we raise our own.

“Render unto Caesar”

Give the state what belongs to the state, i.e. squat. The author of this article makes a great point. If Jesus wanted to advocate paying taxes he could have answered the question plainly. The Pharisees wanted and expected Jesus to counsel against paying tax so they could have him arrested. There was no need for Jesus to be “crafty” with his answer is the answer was “pay your taxes”. The craftiness was only required by His need to avoid compromising His principle of non-violence (which taxation necessarily violates) without giving his enemies the excuse they were looking for to arrest Him.

Belief

I liked this post discussing belief as choice and wanted to preserve it here with a few highlights and thoughts of my own.

I particularly like this quote from Dr. Teryl Givens as it is close to the same way I understand for why faith is so important. It is an excellent response to any questions regarding why God does not make it easier to believe, why he does not reveal himself to us more obviously.

“You are not free to believe or disbelieve the Law of Gravity. It’s there. The evidence is so abundant that you are compelled to accept it. So, as a result, there’s no virtue that attaches to your belief in that law. Similarly, if I were to offer you a million dollars to believe in the Easter Bunny, you wouldn’t be able to do it. So, in both of these cases, belief seems to operate outside of the moral sphere. We don’t have control that we can exercise to believe or to disbelieve.

But what I’m saying is that faith is what operates or what unfolds in a middle ground, between the compulsion to affirm and the compulsion to deny. And I believe that God has structured our lives here on this Earth in such a way that, when it comes to those issues of eternal import, we have to be free to affirm or to deny. And therefore, there has to be a balance of evidence, both for the veracity of the Gospel, and against it. It’s essential to God’s divine purposes, and to the flowering of freedom itself, I believe, that there have to be compelling reasons to reject the Book of Mormon, to reject Joseph as a prophet, to reject the existence of God Himself. But they have to exist alongside compelling reasons to affirm those things. Only in those circumstances can we call upon our will and choose to believe or not to believe. And I think in those moments, our choice reflects the most important things about us: our souls, what we love, what is it that we choose to affirm. And so that’s how I think faith operates.”

We are counseled that faith needs to supersede mere belief quickly or even such belief as we have will be lost. I think the process is: (1) we become informed of a proposition; (2) we find the proposition appealing (desire); (3) we hope the proposition is true; (4) we adopt an attitude toward the proposition that might loosely be called “belief” but which might be better characterized as the temporary suspension of disbelief (or at least lack of belief). In other words, a recognition that the proposition might be true and that the probability thereof, combined with its desirability, warrants a sincere search for more supportive evidence; (5) we act as if the proposition were true (exercise faith) which results in our obtaining further evidence supporting the proposition; (6) sufficient supporting evidence is amassed that our suspension of disbelief becomes real belief promoting real faith (belief-based behaviour).

(1) is the result of happenstance or divine planning. (2) and (3) come from who we are; who we have become through a lifetime of previous decisions. (4) is a choice because it is an attitude towards the proposition which we are free to adopt or not. (5) is obviously a choice, and a rational one in the full context. (6) is ultimately a gift from God (direct spirit to spirit communication which we are counselled to anticipate and to accept as such. That it happens is certainly some, I would say rather persuasive, evidence of the truth of the proposition.

Whether we are the type of being – whether we have developed (or at least are willing to develop) the quality of Christ-like character – in whom it is safe to entrust with the salvation of our own spiritual offspring, is the question which we must be free to answer by what we do when confronted with the proposition that the Gospel is true. Not only the outcome, but the process of reaching it and thereby further refining that character, is critical. Faith (freely chosen, belief-based behaviour) is the means by which we develop and display a character fit for exaltation.

From the scriptures we learn that we are the children of God. From the scripture we write with our life’s blood we learn whether we will become the parent of gods. What we write is up to us. But remember that He assures us that to live like Him is to experience an eternal fullness of joy.