The Problem of Korihor

Standard

In a time of relative peace, a man called Korihor went among the Nephites in the land of Zarahemla. He started preaching against Christ and the prophecies of the prophets and thus was called Anti-Christ. His being anti-Christ was not just because he preached against Christ and God but also because he did so dishonestly (I’ll expound on this later).

The Nephites were living in a time with considerable political freedom. Instead of kings, the Nephites were ruled by judges who were not appointed with lifetime tenures. They served for a time and then retired. The judges received compensation for their time but it is likely that at least a substantial portion of them worked other jobs (including running their farms) to have the necessary resources for survival. In other words, at this point the judges did not receive outlandish amounts of money for their time. This will be an important point later.

In this society with considerable political freedom, there was the freedom for people to believe and worship what they wanted to. A person was only punished for immoral and otherwise wicked behavior and crimes: “But if he murdered he was punished unto death; and if he robbed he was also punished; and if he stole he was also punished; and if he committed adultery he was also punished; yea, for all this wickedness they were punished. For there was a law that men should be judged according to their crimes. Nevertheless, there was no law against a man’s belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done; therefore all men were on equal grounds.” (Alma 30:10-11). However, with the freedom of this society came the potential for great abuse. Having the freedom to believe and do wrong gives us the greater responsibility to believe and do right.

Now that we have context, let’s move on to Korihor. I’m going to take Korihor’s arguments and counter them, poking holes in his logic; this is not something that any of the judges to whom Korihor was taken did (and is not usually recommend in similar situations – it can just lead to arguing), although Alma corrected Korihor on one point; Alma responded to everything else by bearing his testimony to Korihor.

Korihor said, “O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope, why do ye yoke yourselves with such foolish things? Why do ye look for a Christ? For no man can know of anything which is to come.” (Alma 30:13). What’s wrong with this? First, Korihor commits the informal logical fallacy of begging the question when he assumes that hoping for Christ is “foolish”, “vain”, and a “yoke.” He offers no proof that such a hope (faith) is vain, foolish, and a burden. What is worse is that Korihor makes the following statement a foundation of his arguments, “no man can know of anything which is to come.” If this statement is true, the Nephites could not know if Christ would later come but more importantly, Korihor could not state that Christ will not come because that means that he (Korihor) knows of something to come (i.e., that Christ will not come to earth). He destroys his argument himself.

Korihor goes on to attack the prophecies in the scriptures, calling them “foolish traditions” (verse 14). This is not a new argument, just a continuation and restating of his previous one.

His next argument is one of the foundational philosophies of modern science (I’m not attacking science; I am a scientist): “ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ.” (Alma 30:15). This is materialism – if we can’t see (or measure) something, it cannot exist. What about the other senses? They are implied in his statement but not stated. Even so, his statement is still untrue. There are many things we cannot see that still exist (e.g., gravity, atoms, sounds, smells – not all these were known in Korihor’s day but his argument still is not valid). Korihor also makes the assumption that we cannot see Christ (something that we know is not true – we all did see Him before our mortal lives and many people have seen Him at various times). Even if we do not believe that people have seen Christ (or ever will see Him), Korihor’s logic is, at best, incomplete (and that’s being generous).

Next Korihor gives what is a common argument – that faith and religion (seeking for a remission of sins) are nothing but the “effect of a frenzied mind” or the result of the “derangement of your minds” (Alma 30:16). This is a viewpoint that I read frequently in online discussions where religion comes up. Sigmund Freud put it this way, “Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities. […] If one attempts to assign to religion its place in man’s evolution, it seems not so much to be a lasting acquisition, as a parallel to the neurosis which the civilized individual must pass through on his way from childhood to maturity.” (Source). In other words, religion is an infantile neurosis that hopefully people will outgrow. Freud believed that if people only understood the world (science, naturalism, and materialism) then they would give up on using religion to explain things they do not understand. Korihor essentially made the same argument – religious beliefs are nothing but a “frenzied mind” – a neurosis. Religious people are therefore deranged. The problem with this argument is that labeling someone as crazy or neurotic or suffering from unresolved psychological problems just because you do not agree with their beliefs does not make your beliefs about others correct. What is worse is that I’ve already shown that the foundation of Korihor’s argument up to this point is fatally flawed so at best he is condemning others for using faulty logic that is different from the faulty logic he uses (although matters of faith do not always rely on logic; I have to add that that being said, I’ve yet to find anything as logically consistent and complete as the gospel of Jesus Christ as found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

I want to interject something Alma taught that counters what Korihor taught. Even though Alma was not responding to Korihor (he was dead at this point), his sermon that we have starting in Alma 32 seems like a general response to Korihor’s teachings. One thing he said is particularly pertinent at this point: “O then, is not this [faith and spiritual knowledge] real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?” (Alma 32:35). Alma directly counters Korihor’s belittling of faith; Alma states that faith is real and it is discernible. While we might not always see faith directly, we can understand it in a way that is at least as good as and usually better than sight.

Now back to Korihor. Korihor then moved into the realm of philosophy called humanism and its cousin relativism (not relativity): “And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men [again, what an interesting statement to make given that Korihor said that we cannot know the future], but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength [humanism]; and whatsoever a man did was no crime [relativism].” (Alma 30:17). While there is much to commend about humanism – it’s a philosophy that people can and should improve themselves – the problem of humanism is that there is no room for God in it. People do well because they do well on their own, not because they have a Father in Heaven who blesses them. Humanism is found in many other philosophies and fields – psychology, political science, sociology, literature, business. For example, a particularly extreme form of humanism is Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. The problem of humanism is that it is ultimately self-centered and selfish. Korihor also taught relativism (this could also be a form of moral nihilism) – that there is no sin, there are no set rights and wrongs – “whatsoever a man [or woman] did was no crime.” How common both these philosophies are today!

Then Korihor (who was particularly a hit with women – see verse 18) continued with his form of nihilism: “when a man was dead, that was the end thereof” (Alma 30:18). Korihor preached against morality and meaning in life. People were to live life however they wanted to and then die, which was the end of their existence. Korihor would have got along splendidly with some of the major philosophers of the 20th century.

We’ll skip ahead a bit. Korihor finds some successes in his preachings but he is taken before local judges in a couple of the lands (the Anti-Nephi-Lehis would have none of his teachings nor would most of the people in the land of Gideon). Then Korihor, before the judge Giddonah, just becomes confrontational, saying essentially, “You say this but I say this instead. You say you are free, I say you are in bondage” and so forth. He also shows his conceit: “Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true.” (Alma 30:24). He said, “You think you know this but you really don’t.” He had the audacity to tell Giddonah what he did or did not believe.

Korihor then goes back to one of his favorite arguments (it’s getting old by this point): “[You believe in] God—a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be.”(Alma 30:28). So much for not being able to know of things to come! That’s quite a prophecy that Korihor makes: “No one has ever or could ever see God and no one ever will. In fact, He doesn’t exist!” It’s impossible to defend a universal negative categorical proposition like that though. So Korihor demonstrated that at no point in the universe is there a being who exists who we refer to as God? Of course he didn’t! That’s one of the problems with universal negatives of that nature.

Eventually Korihor is taken before Alma because no one else knows what to do with him. Korihor starts getting angry, going on and on about how the judges and priests “glut themselves” upon the labors of the people; he basically says they are like the wicked king Noah (who really did that). But they are nothing like Noah, especially Alma. Korihor starts blaspheming and then verbally abusing Alma and the other political and religious leaders. This is where Alma directly refutes what Korihor is saying. Korihor says that Alma and the other religious leaders are becoming wealthy by living off the people. Further, those who are judges are also doing the same.

Alma replies: “Thou knowest that we do not glut ourselves upon the labors of this people; for behold I have labored even from the commencement of the reign of the judges until now, with mine own hands for my support, notwithstanding my many travels round about the land to declare the word of God unto my people. And notwithstanding the many labors which I have performed in the church, I have never received so much as even one senine for my labor; neither has any of my brethren, save it were in the judgment-seat; and then we have received only according to law for our time. And now, if we do not receive anything for our labors in the church, what doth it profit us to labor in the church save it were to declare the truth, that we may have rejoicings in the joy of our brethren? Then why sayest thou that we preach unto this people to get gain, when thou, of thyself, knowest that we receive no gain?” (Alma 30:32-35).

There is not much to say more than this. Korihor was lying about Alma (and other church leaders) – it was an obvious lie – so Alma countered Korihor on this point.

After this, Alma and Korihor go back and forth a bit. Korihor denies there is a God. Alma doubts his assertion and bears his testimony of God and Christ (which is the best thing to do in circumstances like this). Korihor remits a bit, stating that he will believe Alma if Alma shows him a sign. Alma states that God gives enough signs if only we take the time and effort to see them.

Now we start to see changes in Korihor. He goes from being atheist to agnostic (he’s still lying though, as we will discover): “Now Korihor said unto him: I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe.” (Alma 30:48).

So Alma consents; he’ll give Korihor a sign: “This will I give unto thee for a sign, that thou shalt be struck dumb, according to my words; and I say, that in the name of God, ye shall be struck dumb, that ye shall no more have utterance.” (Alma 30:49). It’s not usually wise to ask for a sign because you might just get one and you might not like it! Korihor was struck dumb, not being able to speak any more (thus also not being able to lead away more people in wickedness).

Now comes the great confession from Korihor – the confession that shows why he is called Anti-Christ. In writing or sign, Korihor admitted: “Yea, and I always knew that there was a God. But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.” (Alma 30:52-53). So Korihor always knew there was a God. He deliberately preached against this knowledge. He stood out in the light of the sun and denied its existence. That is why he was Anti-Christ. He preached against God and Christ. He saw Satan and listened to him, teaching what he said instead of what he knew was right. After teaching it enough, Korihor started believing it himself but he had gone against the light.

Korihor then begs the curse be taken from him. Alma refuses saying that he brought it upon himself and that Korihor had not repented. Korihor was cast out and went house to house begging for food. People took care of him until he wandered over to the land of the Zoramites, who it turns out had apostatized from the church. The righteous Nephites treated Korihor well; the wicked, not so much: “As [Korihor] went forth amongst them, behold, he was run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead. And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.” (Alma 30:59-60).

We can see the callousness of the Zoramites – they trampled him to death. Our faith in God is manifest in how we treat others – the Zoramites were wicked. But Korihor’s ignominious death at the feet of the Zoramites served as an object lesson of Satan’s character. He’ll have someone help him with his work and then will cut them off as soon as they are no longer useful. All he wants is for more people to be miserable with him. He will do whatever it takes to hurt others in the worst way possible – to get them to knowingly sin against God. Satan is a coward and without loyalty. He doesn’t even care that his arguments are often so full of holes that if they were buckets, we’d call them colanders. He only needs to get people to believe him as mindless followers (which is not what God wants – mindless followers; God wants faithful followers but not mindless). Korihor’s tragic death shows that Satan does not care for his supporters, all he cares about is how to do the most harm to the most people.

Thus ended Korihor! A long chapter is devoted to him, which might indicate its importance for us to understand. His teachings are alive and well in our day. We need to recognize the Korihors around us and not follow their insidious doctrines. We need to recognize these philosophies of men (and Satan) for what they are and listen to and heed the living prophets of God.

Philosophical Arguments and the Existence of God

Standard

I have a different post (different from my usual ones) that I’d like some reader feedback on (should you care to respond). I’d particularly like any critiques of my reasoning with this post. However, there is some background you need first. Read this post first to provide the context of my comments: Everyday Philosophy: Epistemological Realism vs. Epistemological Idealism.

On a different site that tends to be populated by rationalist commenters, a discussion of the existence of God occurred; I didn’t hesitate to jump in. Most of the comments were, of course, opposed to the existence of God. In response to someone I wrote the following:

[Two people not being able to have a fully rational discussion about God without both having experienced Him] might appear circular but it certainly is not solipsistic [which the commenter accused me of being]. I am a materialist [actually a monist but I’ll use the word materialist for ease of understanding even though philosophers would be horrified at my inaccuracy]; I believe that the external world exists and can be known (that’s one reason I’m a scientist). [As a side note, Mormons tend to be even stronger materialists [again, this is using “materialism” differently than what is typical] than many other people because we know that spirit is also matter, just finer than what we experience in this world. Matter matters because that’s what there is!] I also was not making an argument [in a formal logic sense with my previous comment, which is not included here because it is not relevant to this post], I was merely setting up the philosophical structure upon which a rational discussion of the existence or non-existence of God might be built.

In any case, let’s substitute pink unicorns [instead of God – the person to whom I was replying wanted to discount my statement because if you put in something fanciful like pink unicorns or fairies, on the surface, by comments then appear to be ludicrous. What I want to show is that my comments are completely rational even with something like pink unicorns put in instead of God].

Person X says, “I have seen a pink unicorn.” Can person Y, who has not seen a pink unicorn, say, “Pink unicorns do not exist”? Yes, person Y can say that but how does person Y know that? Has he omnipresently and omnisciently checked the entire universe and thus ruled out the existence of pink unicorns? No, he has not.

Now let’s say that person Z enters the picture. Person Z says, “I have seen a pink unicorn.” Person X says, “That’s great! The pink unicorn I saw looked like such and such.” Person Z says, “The pink unicorn I saw did not look like that.” Person X replies, “Oh, maybe you saw a different one or maybe you did not really see one.” Person Y chimes in, “You both were hallucinating.” Person Z states, “Maybe, but it was very convincing.” So who’s right now? Person X or person Z? Maybe they are both right or maybe they are both wrong. How can they figure it out? They could try and see the pink unicorn again. If their experiences keep not being congruent then maybe someone is wrong or maybe they really are seeing different unicorns. What if person Z had seen the pink unicorn and it matched what person X saw? Then both person X and person Z can talk about their experiences with each other in a way that persons X and Z cannot with person Y. This is because person Y, having not seen a pink unicorn, does not have the personal experience that is necessary for a fully effective discussion with those who have seen pink unicorns.

So who is right? Is the person who has not seen a pink unicorn right? Do pink unicorns not exist? Maybe but maybe not. Are the two people who have seen (or at least claimed to have seen) pink unicorns right? Maybe, maybe not.

Let’s say that there are now 80 billion people who have not seen a pink unicorn and 1 person who has (or, at least claimed to have seen one). Who is right? Are the 80 billion who have not seen correct? Maybe, maybe not. Is the 1 person wrong? Maybe, maybe not. Can the 1 person have a fully rational discussion with any of the 80 billion who have not seen a pink unicorn? Probably not. Does that make the 1 person irrational? Not necessarily.

I know that’s a lot of non-commital language but that’s the nature of empiricism (used in the broader, experimental sense and not necessarily in the sensory-based sense).

Now, what if the 80 billion people say to the 1 who saw a pink unicorn (again, at least claimed to see), “OK, we’re willing to believe you if you can prove its existence.” The 1 replies, “Good, here is how you do it. Go to the Ural Mountains, hike to the top of Mount Narodnaya, spin around 3.5 times, and you will see a pink unicorn.” Most of the 80 billion say, “You are crazy” and don’t do it. Some say, “Ok, we’ll try it” and then go and do it. They all come back and say, “We have seen a pink unicorn. The 1 was correct.” The rest of the 80 billion say, “There are no pink unicorns. We have done scientific experiments here and never have seen evidence of pink unicorns.” Those who have seen say, “You’re not doing the correct experiments; the 1 told you the process by which you can verify the truth of his claim but what you’ve been doing will not work. This does not mean that his claim is not true, it’s just that some of the methods you are trying are not suited to the question. A discussion of your claims of the non-existence – or, even if you want to remain agnostic about the matter – of pink unicorns and our claims of their existence, at least the existence of one of them, can really never be rational and fully productive until you try.”

That example might be severely flawed (there are some flaws: I could have expanded and added in that the pink unicorn might be invisible so you can’t see it, you have to experience it in other ways; that would lead on to another discussion about the nature of knowing, which is too long for now – philosophers have been debating this for 1000s of years). It might even seem completely fanciful, but I find this an extremely helpful argument [the one explained in the post I linked to at the beginning of this post] because it lays a groundwork of reproducibility. I claim X. I came to know X by doing Y. What does an experimentalist do? The experimentalist goes, “Ok, if I do Y, I can verify whether or not X is true.” So what if the experimentalist does Y and doesn’t find X? Does that rule out X? No, it doesn’t. Does it mean there is less evidence for X? Possibly, but it depends on if the experimentalist did Y correctly and if the experimentalist is honest. It’s also assuming that X is determined by Y, which is not the case when we are talking about God, which does not make a fully rational, experimental approach to this type of knowledge entirely possible. Not finding X does not make X false. Does finding X over and over make it true? Not necessarily but it’s easier to believe something based on X rather than base a categorical negative based on “not X”.

In another post, with someone continuing to ask for my evidence of the existence of God [while at the same time denying that I have any evidence], I responded:

What evidence would it take to convince you? Is there anything I could ever say on [here] that would convince you?

If you are anything like me then the answers to those questions are: Personal experience; no. Personally, I don’t find philosophical arguments for the existence of God helpful (yes, some are clever and thought-provoking but so is science and so are many other things). All are flawed in some manner – including the one I just proposed above. I like real evidence. However, the evidence I have cannot be conveyed to you, it’s based on a hypothesis you have to be willing to test yourself. Would it be nice to email you evidence? Yes, but unfortunately that’s not how it works (I know some of the counter arguments, which I’ve heard a number of times: yes, really convenient, isn’t it? It’s certainly a nice “out” from providing evidence, huh?). Does that mean that I have no evidence, as you say? Not at all. You cannot say I have no evidence just as I can’t say anything about you [I had no idea who the random person I was having an online discourse with actually is].

Could I send you evidence that I love my wife or children? No: pictures or lists of deeds or even their testimonies under sworn oath of “Yes, he loves us” will not work. I might tell them I love them or I might do things for them that they interpret as motivated by love but I could simply be misleading them. So where is the evidence of my love? Is it tied completely to my actions and words? Some people argue that but I find that insufficient because I know that people can be dishonest and that what they do is not always what they believe. I also find it problematic to completely operationalize things like emotions, which love is. Observable and measurable behavior is great (and important evidence) and it certainly supports the idea of my love but it’s not the entire picture; it’s necessary but not sufficient. But I do love my wife and kids. You don’t have to believe me but you also might not believe me even if I could produce evidence of it.

Furthering this discussion is useless [that’s not entirely true but it’s pretty close to the truth]. I would not believe the way I do without personal experience that verifies the truth of it. This is not knowledge I can convey to you but you could know for yourself whether what I know (or, believe I know) is true or whether I’m simply delusional, dishonest, or just misguided (or maybe all three). The scientific method will not work in this case (although some of the philosophical foundations of it apply); in order for you to find out whether or not I really am delusional you have to be willing to try a different method (one that involves faith, prayer, and a lot of work) but one with real results.

I’m not dodging your request for evidence; I just cannot transfer it to you. What I can do is tell you more about how you can verify what I claim I have as evidence yourself by having it yourself. That’s much better than me telling you. Yes, I could provide examples of some of what adds to my evidence but what is the real, strongest evidence is internal and no amount of other evidence that I can provide would work.

I think this is a fairer answer than you’d get from many other people because there’s no “trust me”; it’s all, “You can know for yourself”, you just have to be willing to do the experiments yourself.

So how do other people come to this same knowledge? Here is one other comment I made about the process.

Here is part of the method: “Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe. Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay… Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.” (Book of Mormon, Alma 32).

I’ve done that and have that experience. First you have to want to believe. Then you need to act on that belief. You have to have faith first if you want to know. As part of this process you also need to read the scriptures, which include the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and do this:

“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:3-5).

The method thus far is want to believe. Act on that belief, read the scriptures (including the Book of Mormon), remember the mercies of Jesus Christ, really think about them, then pray to God in the name of Christ with a sincere heart, real intent, with faith in Christ. Then you will feel the Holy Ghost (Spirit) and know that what you have read and what you are doing are true.

It’s simple but you have to be willing to do it just like that. That’s the method, or at least a portion of it. If it came across as preachy, that’s the way it is. I’ve done all that and have the evidence provided by God’s Spirit that it’s true. I’ve seen other things, miracles if you will, but [this site] really is not the forum for sharing those experiences. I’ve seen this process change people’s lives, all for the better. You might counter, so can therapy or X or Y or Z but just because those can result in positive changes doesn’t mean personal experiences with God are not real.

There are other experiments that can be done but the process I wrote is the start and then you can go from there. You might ask, where’s the knowledge – that all seems like belief. That’s the start. Our traditional sensory experience is not sufficient for knowledge. Jesus walked and talked with people, people saw Him perform miracles, people heard Him say He was the Son of God but they did not believe him. Some did but most didn’t. Hard, sensory evidence is never enough without the feelings and thoughts and witness of God’s Spirit (the Holy Ghost). That is the primary evidence; sensory evidence (which is real too) is secondary. I know people of other religions and faiths would tell you different ways that led to their beliefs/knowledge and many claim that because I am a Mormon that I’m delusional but we’re not apologetic for our teachings. That’s the way it is. Yes, it’s audacious and bold but it’s not something that you or anyone else has to take my word for. I outlined a method by which you can verify the veracity of my words. You can take it or leave it; most leave it. But there it is.

Okay, without having all the background to my comments (but with the background from The Eternal Universe post), where are the flaws?  Sorry, that’s not meant as a challenge (i.e., “try and find flaws if you can!”), I just haven’t had the opportunity to really think this through all the way and I’d like to hone my approach to the issue.

Truman Madsen’s Timless Questions, Gospel Insights – Notes Part 1

Standard

What follows is a transcript of my notes of Truman Madsen’s “last lectures” called Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights. He stated that if he could give one last series of lectures, these are the lectures he would give. These notes come from the first of the lectures. The notes are quite disjointed – they are nowhere near an exact transcript of Truman Madsen’s words; however and hopefully they still are interesting.

“What is matter? Never mind. What is mind? It doesn’t matter” said the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Some philosophers speak of man as tripartite – three parts – nous, psyche, and soma: reason, spirit, and body. These three parts constitute the “soul” of man. What is manhood? According to Plato, it goes beyond this world. Truth, beauty, and good are the basis of much of Greek philosophy. These philosophies led to a change in Christian and Hebrew theology. Hamlet’s famous musing: “To be or not to be” to a latter-day saint could be phrased “to become or not to become.” This describes our potential. God is the ultimate extension of intelligence. God cannot create or destroy this – or Himself. We are all eternally self-existent. “Joseph Smith said, “God never had the power to create the spirit of man, for all intelligence is spirit…” We are beginningless. Greek notion – time is non-temporality. Joseph Smith also said [this is Truman possibly paraphrasing], “God found himself in the midst of intelligence and glory and was infinitely more intelligent. He set laws wherewith these intelligences could become exalted like himself.” This is good doctrine; it tastes good and is sweet.

If there is no God [as some people claim], we have to go to the laws of chance to get everything. Start with mere atoms and get these remarkable selves [people]. This is a sad doctrine [in that] there is nothing to look forward to. This leads to existentialism – which is a philosophy formed around human existence. One branch of this is phenomenal logicalism. Sartre was part of this movement. He said that L’homme est une passion inutile – man is a useless passion. You create you from nothing – you are responsible to no one. Sartre also said, “Hell is other people” and he may be right. Existence precedes essence – you exist before you think. Then there is the threat of non-being; this is the ontological shock – we only exist as long as we project ourselves, our nature, on that around us.

We believe that we are stuck with ourselves forever. We must be a pleasant person to live with. You have a body forever. This is bad news if you are hard to live with; good news if you can live with yourselves.