Research and More Research

  • Article Formats:
  • MP3 audio
  • PDF
  • MOBI
  • ePub
  • Kindle store
  • NOOK store
  • Order Print Copy

Abstract: Young members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have grown up with a plethora of information available to answer the questions they may have about the Gospel. This, in turn, has allowed discordant information to cause concern in many members, ultimately drawing some away from the Gospel. In a recent address to young, married members of the Church in Chicago, President Dallin H. Oaks advised that more research is often not the way to approach these concerns, but rather that members should rely on their faith in Jesus Christ. While many may not agree with this advice, when it comes to questions that will never have a provable answer, particularly of a religious nature, President Oaks’s words are correct. Research can never completely replace true faith, only supplement it.



In our current day when the use of handheld, GPS-enabled devices has virtually supplanted the use of paper maps, it is possible that the following excerpt by Lewis Carroll may be lost on some. The message, though, is important.

“What a useful thing a pocket-map is!” I remarked.

“That’s another thing we’ve learned from your Nation,” said Mein Herr, “map-making. But we’ve carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?”

“About six inches to the mile.”

“Only six inches!” exclaimed Mein Herr. “We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!”

“Have you used it much?” I enquired.

[Page viii]“It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr: “the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.”1

Young, married Latter-day Saints in Chicago had a notable opportunity on 2 February 2019, when President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints, passed through the city as a visitor. There was some special meaning in his visit because he had lived in Chicago for a number of years, originally as a student at the highly-ranked law school of the University of Chicago and then, among other things, as a member of that law school’s faculty.

Subsequently, an article appeared in the Church News about his remarks, and I found a couple of passages from his speech, as reported in the article, of particular interest: 

“Your generation has grown up with an avalanche of information about the history of the Church that is new to many and concerning to some,” he said. “The time-honored principles of relying on and trusting the Lord and His servants are questioned by some.” … He acknowledged that some Latter-Saint couples face conflicts over important values and priorities. Matters of Church history and doctrinal issues have led some spouses to inactivity. Some spouses wonder how to best go about researching and responding to such issues. “I suggest that research is not the answer,” he said. The Church does offer answers to many familiar questions through its Gospel Topics Essays found at lds.org. “But the best answer to any question that threatens faith is to work to increase faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “Conversion to the Lord precedes conversion to the Church. And conversion to the Lord comes through prayer and study and service, furthered by loving patience on the part of spouse and other concerned family members.”2

“Research is not the answer”? Really?

[Page ix]Some might expect me to disagree with President Oaks’s statement. After all, I was deeply involved for many years with the old Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and its successor, the pre-2012 Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. And now I’m deeply involved with The Interpreter Foundation. These organizations have focused on fostering faithful research into the scriptures and claims of the Restoration and on publishing the results of that research as widely as possible.

If I didn’t believe Gospel-related research and scholarship to be important, I certainly wouldn’t have devoted so much of my time and effort to FARMS and Interpreter. And if others didn’t believe such scholarship and research to be of great value, those organizations wouldn’t have been launched in the first place.

Moreover, I believe that scholarship supplies many reasons to accept and sustain Latter-day Saint faith.

Nevertheless, in the last analysis, I agree with President Oaks. Apart from the most simple and noncontroversial topics, research and scholarly argument will almost always be tentative, inconclusive, reaching probable conclusions and arguing for positions that invite qualifications and counterarguments. What caused the fall of Rome? Who wrote the Odyssey and the Iliad? What are the roles of nature and nurture in human personality? What is the ultimate origin of morality? These and thousands of other such questions have been and continue to be disputed — to say nothing of such far deeper and more essential questions as whether there is a God, whether Jesus really rose from the dead, or whether Joseph Smith was divinely inspired.

And yet, in matters of ultimate concern — religious questions, really, whether one answers them “religiously” or not — decisions must be made. Such decisions are inescapable. Not to decide is, itself, to decide. Moreover, they must be made in the absence of definitive, objective, publicly demonstrable “proof.”

We can research forever. And I think that we should do so. In the meanwhile, though, we must live — and life is ticking inescapably away. Moreover, the life of a disciple requires commitment. It’s not a never- ending PhD program supported by an inexhaustible scholarship fund. Covenants need to be made or not made, kept or abandoned. Children need to be reared, in faith or without it. Infinite postponement is impossible.

Consider the case of the calling of the ancient apostles Peter, James, John, and Andrew, as it is described in the gospel of Matthew:

[Page x]And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway (εὐθέως) left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately (εὐθέως) left the ship and their father, and followed him.3

Please note the terms straightway (4:20) and immediately (4:22). Both of them render the same underlying Greek word (εὐθέως). The New International Version of the Bible translates them, respectively, as at once and immediately. J. B. Phillips gives them both as at once.

The sense is pretty clear. Neither Simon Peter nor Andrew nor James nor John pursued graduate studies in a theological school before responding to Jesus’s call. None of them did any library research. They didn’t even take the missionary discussions. They heard the call and felt impelled to accept it. εὐθέως. Immediately.

And at what a cost! Their acceptance of the divine call ripped these provincial Galilean fishermen out of the small rural lives they would otherwise have lived and made them figures of international historical importance — but not, necessarily, of international affection. The New Testament itself records that James (or Jacob), the brother of John and a son of Zebedee, was martyred by the sword in Jerusalem around AD 44, at the order of Herod Agrippa.4 According to ancient tradition, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, died by crucifixion in Achaea, a region of today’s Greece. Somewhere around AD 64, Simon Peter was crucified upside down in Rome. John, the brother of James, disappears from history not long after his exile on the island of Patmos, off the coast of modern Turkey.

Shouldn’t they have engaged in extensive and rigorous research before making so momentous a choice?

I recently read a book by the always-stimulating Swiss journalist, philosopher, and novelist Dr. Rolf Dobelli that might shed some interesting light on such questions. It’s entitled Die Kunst des klugen Handelns: 52 Irrwege, die Sie besser anderen überlassen— roughly, in English, The Art of Smart Action: 52 Wrong Paths that Would Be Better [Page xi]Left to Others.5 Among the brief chapters of his book is one called “Hast du einen Feind, gib ihm Information” (“If you have an enemy, give him information”).

Dobelli’s brief chapter begins with an allusion to an even briefer 1946 short story by the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, which appears in the form of an invented fragmentary literary forgery. (It may have been inspired by the above passage from Lewis Carroll.) Titled “Del Rigor en la Ciencia” (“On Rigor in Science”), the Borges story, in its entirety, reads as follows:

En aquel Imperio, el Arte de la Cartografía logró tal Perfección que el mapa de una sola Provincia ocupaba toda una Ciudad, y el mapa del Imperio, toda una Provincia. Con el tiempo, estos Mapas Desmesurados no satisficieron y los Colegios de Cartógrafos levantaron un Mapa del Imperio, que tenía el tamaño del Imperio y coincidía puntualmente con él.

Menos Adictas al Estudio de la Cartografía, las Generaciones Siguientes entendieron que ese dilatado Mapa era Inútil y no sin Impiedad lo entregaron a las Inclemencias del Sol y los Inviernos. En los desiertos del Oeste perduran despedazadas Ruinas del Mapa, habitadas por Animales y por Mendigos; en todo el País no hay otra reliquia de las Disciplinas Geográficas.

Suárez Miranda, Viajes de Varones Prudentes, Libro Cuarto, Cap. XLV, Lérida, 1658.6

Here is an English translation:

In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of one Province alone took up the whole of a City, and the map of the empire, the whole of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps did not satisfy and the College of Cartographers set up a Map of the Empire which had the size of the Empire itself and coincided with it point by point. Less Addicted to the Study of Cartography, Succeeding Generations understood that this Widespread Map was Useless and not without Impiety they abandoned it to the Inclemencies of the Sun [Page xii]and the Winters. In the deserts of the West some mangled Ruins of the Map lasted on, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in the whole Country there are other relics of the Disciplines of Geography.

Suárez Miranda, Viajes de Varones Prudentes, Book Four, Chapter XLV, Lérida, 1658.7

Dobelli cites the Borges story to illustrate his point: “Borges’s map represents an extreme case of a mistake in reasoning called ‘Information Bias’: The false belief that more information leads automatically to better decisions.”8

He illustrates his point, also, with a personal story about searching for a hotel in Berlin. Having looked through a selection of possibilities, he chose one of them on an impression. But then, not trusting his “gut reaction” (Bauchgefühl), he did more research. He read dozens of comments, evaluations, and blog entries for a wide range of hotels and clicked through uncounted photos and videos. After two hours of intensive study, he decided on … the same hotel he had chosen at the very start.

But how about some science? Some real data? Dobelli mentions a study by a researcher named Jonathan Baron. In it, Baron posed the following question to a group of physicians:

A patient is suffering from symptoms that point, with a likelihood of 80%, to Illness A. However, if the patient’s disease isn’t Illness A, it is either Illness X or Y. Unfortunately, each of these diseases must be treated in a different way. Each of the three is roughly equally serious, and each potential treatment has similar side effects. As a physician, which of the treatments would you prescribe? Logically, you would bet on Illness A and, accordingly, order up Therapy A.

But now suppose that there is a diagnostic test that will give a positive result in the case of Illness X and a negative result in the case of Illness Y. If, however, the disease in question really is Illness A, half of the test results will come out positive and half will come out negative. Would you, as a physician, recommend that the patient undergo this diagnostic test?

[Page xiii]In fact, most of the physicians surveyed by Jonathan Baron, the researcher running the study, recommended the diagnostic test be administered to the patient. And they did so, remarks Dobelli,

even though the information derived thereby is irrelevant. Suppose that the test result is positive. In that case, the probability of Illness A is still much greater than for Illness X. The supplemental information delivered by the test is completely useless for the decision.9

In cases where the decisive facts are already on the table, Dobelli argues, “More information is not merely superfluous, it can also be detrimental.”10 To illustrate this contention, he cites a little experiment conducted by the psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer, of the Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung in Berlin.

Gigerenzer asked a simple question of students at both the University of Chicago and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (i.e., the University of Munich, in Germany): “Which city has more residents, San Diego or San Antonio?”

Of the American students, 62% gave the right answer, “San Diego.” But fully 100% of the German students were able to answer the question correctly. Why? Because German students are so much better than American students, even at the elite University of Chicago? No. Because the German students knew less than the American students did:

All of the German students had at least heard of San Diego, whereas only a few had heard of San Antonio. So they chose the more familiar name. Both cities, however, were known to the Americans. They had more information, and for precisely that reason often chose incorrectly.11

Dobelli closes his chapter with a brief allusion to the Great Recession of 2008. Scores of thousands of government, academic, and private economists — armed with mathematical models and research reports, commentaries and terabytes of data — failed to foresee the financial crisis. When certain knowledge is beyond the reach of human reason, more data and more research isn’t going to give it to us.

[Page xiv]Another of Dobelli’s chapters is worthy of note in this context. It’s entitled “Wann Sie Ihren Kopf ausschalten sollen” (“When you should turn your head off”).

There was once, he says, a highly intelligent millipede. It looked from the edge of one table over to another table, where a grain of sugar lay. It began to ponder whether it should descend the right or the left leg of the table on which it sat, and, whether it should ascend the other table by the right leg or the left leg. And should it begin the journey with its own left leg? Or with its right leg? And then, in which order should it move its other legs? The millipede was a skilled mathematician, so it worked its way through all the possible variants. Finally, it decided on the best course — and died of hunger in the very same spot where it had done all its calculations.12

And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. (Hamlet, 3.1.92–96)

Dobelli tells an interesting story about preferences in strawberry jam. In the 1980s, it seems, Consumer Reports had 45 different types of strawberry jam rated by expert “tasters.” Some years later, a psychologist by the name of Timothy Wilson did exactly the same thing with his students, and the results were very nearly identical: The students preferred the same varieties of strawberry jam as the experts had.

But that was just the first part of Wilson’s experiment. He repeated it with a second group of students. However, this time he had the students fill out a form on which they were to justify their evaluations of the jams in some detail. And, this time, the rankings were completely turned around: Some of the very best types of jam were given the very worst rankings.13

“If one thinks too much,” concludes Dobelli,

one cuts the head off from the wisdom of the feelings, … [which] are simply a different way of processing information than is rational thinking — a more primitive way, but not necessarily a worse one. In fact, often a better one. … Thinking might needlessly sabotage intuitive solutions. The same thing is true for decisions that already confronted our Stone Age [Page xv]ancestors: the evaluation of foods, the choice of friends, or the question of who can be trusted.14

None of what I’m saying here, I hasten to add, is intended to argue against the value of knowledge or the importance and interest of research. It is, however, intended to suggest that, in matters where ultimate answers are unavailable to human reason — e.g., whether there is a God, whether life has meaning, whether there is a real distinction between good and evil, whether there is a purpose behind the cosmos — additional research really cannot deliver the answers we seek. Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? No quantity of scientific data and no amount of immersion in the library stacks will settle those questions beyond doubt.

President Oaks is right.



1. Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (London: Macmillian, 1893), 169.
2. Jason Swensen, “President Oaks’ advice to young married couples in Chicago on how to tackle faith-threatening questions,” Church News (February 4, 2019), https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2019-02-04/president-oaks-advice-to-young-married-couples-in-chicago-on-how-to-tackle-faith-threatening-questions-48930.
3. Matthew 4:18–22.
4. Acts 12:1–2.
5. Rolf Dobelli, Die Kunst des klugen Handelns: 52 Irrwege, die Sie besser anderen überlassen (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2014), 33–35. Translations from Dobelli’s book are mine.
6. Jorge Luis Borges, “Del Rigor en la Ciencia,” Ciudad Seva, accessed March 5, 2019, https://ciudadseva.com/texto/del-rigor-en-la-ciencia/.
7. Jorge Luis Borges, “On Rigor in Science,” in Dreamtigers, trans. Mildred Boyer and Harold Morland (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964), 90.
8. Dobelli, Die Kunst des klugen Handelns, 33.
9. Ibid., 34.
10. Ibid., 35.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid., 173.
13. Dobelli, Die Kunst des klugen Handelns, 174.
14. Ibid., 174–75.

Email This Page
Posted in Essay and tagged , , on . Bookmark the permalink.
mm

About Daniel C. Peterson

Daniel C. Peterson (Ph.D., University of California at Los Angeles) is a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University and is the founder of the University's Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, for which he served as editor-in-chief until mid-August 2013. He has published and spoken extensively on both Islamic and Mormon subjects. Formerly chairman of the board of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and an officer, editor, and author for its successor organization, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, his professional work as an Arabist focuses on the Qur’an and on Islamic philosophical theology. He is the author, among other things, of a biography entitled Muhammad: Prophet of God (Eerdmans, 2007).

19 thoughts on “Research and More Research

  1. That was a weird piece–seems to have completely missed the point. Oaks recommended in marriages wherein one spouse has become inactive due to difficult issues, that the believing spouse not research the questions raised by the unbelieving/skeptical spouse in terms of trying to help the unbelieving spouse. it is true that there are questions with no answers. He’s not saying the research is not the answer because there are no answers to the questions. He’s saying research is not the answer to help an unbelieving spouse. To help an unbelieving spouse the believing spouse should work to increase his/her faith in Jesus, and pray that the unbeliever get fixed or get over it–essentially.

    It seems to me Oaks’ advice helps to create a wedge within a marriage rather than a help. It comes off as Oaks telling a believing spouse to not try and understand where the skeptical spouse is coming from. If you hear him/her out and research on your own, it isn’t going to help the situation. That’s a shame because spouses should be able to be open with each other. All too often a spouse who starts to question, and worries that his/her concerns present too many problems for adherence to the Church, that skeptical spouse gets shut down by the believing spouse. Walls are formed and there is no resolve. The believing spouse may well take his/her name to the temple, perhaps, or fast for his/her spiritual welfare. But it still leaves the skeptical spouse feeling as if he/she is being ignored, unappreciated, disliked, rejected etc.

    On the other hand if a skeptical spouse raises issues and concerns and the believer hears him/her and does some personal research into the issues, then at least the skeptical one gets heard, feels appreciated and listened to. I find Oaks’ advice objectionable…and your piece missed the whole point.

    • I believe that you misconstrue President Oaks’s advice, and that, therefore, you’re not in a position to accurately construe my comments on it.

      I don’t for a moment agree that President Oaks advocates that a believing spouse solely work to increase his or her own faith in Jesus while praying that an unbelieving spouse get fixed or get over it. Nor do I see him saying that research is never of any use at all.

      • In other words, it is my opinion that your opinion about Oak’s advice is wrong, therefore, in my opinion you have no right to have an opinion about my opinion about Oak’s advice.

        • Bradley, everyone is entitled to an opinion. Having an opinion doesn’t mean it is correct. Correctness also doesn’t determine whether anyone else has an opinion. In this case, Dr. Peterson has suggested that your opinion was incorrect–not that you couldn’t have one.

          • You are welcome for your opinion about my opinion about your opinion about Dan’s opinion.

      • Oaks is replying to those who have spouses who have grown skeptical and concerned about the Church for various reasons. He tells the believing spouse research is not the answer, if such a believing spouse asks him how do these believing spouses approach researching the issues that are concerning the spouse.
        In conclusion in your piece you say “Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? No quantity of scientific data and no amount of immersion in the library stacks will settle those questions beyond doubt.” These are not the issues the skeptical spouses are dealing with. These are not the questions that the believing spouse would have to be researching.

        As I said, you are far afield from the issue you are trying to address.

        • Dear Mr. Bennett:

          You fault me on account of the list of questions with which I conclude my little piece:

          “Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? No quantity of scientific data and no amount of immersion in the library stacks will settle those questions beyond doubt.”

          “These,” you say, “are not the issues the skeptical spouses are dealing with. These are not the questions that the believing spouse would have to be researching.”

          In my experience, they often ARE. And, in the end, they almost ALWAYS are.

          But I cited such ultimate existential questions because they’re so manifestly not answerable in a way that is decisively and obviously clear to everybody, not because I was claiming that they’re the only or even the primary questions that arise in doubters’ minds.

          You seem to have overlooked my earlier list of questions, and my comment on it:

          “Apart from the most simple and noncontroversial topics,” I wrote, “research and scholarly argument will almost always be tentative, inconclusive, reaching probable conclusions and arguing for positions that invite qualifications and counterarguments. What caused the fall of Rome? Who wrote the Odyssey and the Iliad? What are the roles of nature and nurture in human personality? What is the ultimate origin of morality? These and thousands of other such questions have been and continue to be disputed — to say nothing of such far deeper and more essential questions as whether there is a God, whether Jesus really rose from the dead, or whether Joseph Smith was divinely inspired.”

          I happen, for example, to have been exposed to vigorous disagreements over the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Was Shakespeare a cover for the Earl of Oxford? This isn’t an issue that especially fascinates me and it’s certainly not a question of “ultimate concern,” but it strikes me as quite analogous to certain questions about LDS scripture.

          And there are, as I said, literally thousands of such questions that continue to be debated. That’s why there are still so many journals devoted to ancient history, American history, European history, Islamic history, classical archaeology, Mesoamerican archaeology, and a host of such fields.

          Except for such trivially simple issues as the date of the armistice that ended World War One or the identity of the president who led the Confederacy during the Civil War, history — to choose just one relevant field — is littered with debates and controversies.

          Just try — go ahead, try! — to secure unanimous agreement on even many of the most basic facts about the Arab/Israeli conflict!

          I stand by my position as not only true, but, if it’s correctly understood, beyond reasonable dispute.

          • Saying there are questions about history, there are debated ideas of what happened, is an obvious, goes without saying, point.
            I imagine a marriage. two people, as a hypothetical, because that’s how Oaks’ paints it. One faithfully committed to the Church. the other, after some studying/researching, and stumbling upon difficult “matters of Church history and doctrinal issues” finds him/herself left questioning and skeptical about the Church. So the skeptic brings some questions and ideas to the believer, “help me. Let’s talk about these troubling things”. The believer wonders what to do. Oaks says, “you should not research those issues”.
            “So I shouldn’t research? I shouldn’t look into these issues that my spouse brought to me? But that is exactly what he/she is asking me to do.”
            “No. You should strengthen your testimony of Jesus and of the Church. Praying, studying (the scriptures) and service will be your best approach. Don’t research. Just don’t research. just happily go forward and your loving patience will resolves your spouses concerns.”
            I think it’s bad advice. I think it’s a horrible perspective.
            If all you want to do is make the point that there are questions that people debate over and therefore research isn’t going to necessarily answer any one question, definitely. Fine. but again, that seems to take Oaks’ comment into a place that strips it of it’s context. If your ultimate point here is to say “well the Church, it’s history and teachings can very well raise many great questions and issues for people, but in some cases there are not answers; therefore, a believing spouse should not research the troubling items the skeptical spouse is dealing with.” then you’re in league with Oaks’ point and I’ll reiterate. It’s a bad one.

  2. I agree with Pres. Oaks as well, but I don’t like Gigerenzer’s experiment and the conclusions drawn from it. For one thing, the Census Bureau now says San Antonio is more populous that San Diego, so if the question was administered again, would the less-informed-on-US-cities Germans be 100% correct?

    What if the question had instead included San Francisco and San Jose? Would knowing about San Francisco but not San Jose cause most to get the wrong answer — because San Jose is actually more populous?

    And in the case of city populations, more research is what would make one “able” to answer correctly. While the lack of information resulted in more Germans answering the question correctly (given the populations at that time, and in line with the way the question was given), I don’t think anyone would take from the results that the Germans were more “able” to provide the correct answer, even if they gave the right answer more often.

    However, at the most basic level, as Dr. Peterson states — as in whether there is even a God — such things will not be found out by more and more researching of what others think. Ultimately such knowledge rests in our own experience with God, and our testimonies of other facets of the restored gospel rest in our own experiences with the witness of the Holy Ghost.

  3. I wanted to yell bravo from the mere reading of the abstract of this illustrious article. Dan’s piece gives me peace.

    It calls to mind Robert Millet’s book, What Ever Happened to Faith? As a new convert in my college years in the 1970’s at California State University Long Beach, I was a History major. My anti-Latter-day Saint mother fed me with a slingshot some of the best saint killers — Fawn Brodie, Ann Eliza Young, and the Tanners. On my own I bought Walter Martin, Floyd McElveen, and other Evangelical ‘tell the truth in love’ propagandists that lied about my Faith and deliberately distorted its teachings and history. Worse actually, I inhaled much of the mustard gas in Sunstone and Dialogue.

    To this day I am grateful that God gave me a believing heart. Leading up to my baptism, I had had a spiritual experience and I decided to trust in it. Faith really is a decision. Upon reading a handful of primary source documents on the Adam-God theory, I felt “So President Young was spouting off about something weird. So what?” I still think it’s so-what. Same with the blood atonement issue. And other matters of chatter. Not to worry, Glen, we are promised our faith will be tried; go figure. And no need to whine about it or go sympathy-seeking at Liberal tea parties where you will be soul-buttered by pseudo-faithful failure-in-the-Faith sophisticates. Instead, stay rooted—stay anchored.

    Initial contact with difficult points in our history are like getting the wind knocked out of me — after a few brief moments I get my breath back and I’m fine. I seek answers. If those are lacking then seek Faithful Perspective. If that fails for the moment, then recall spiritual experiences and evidences that that I do have. God is smarter than bunk. That is, if I look to Him. Evidence is not always reliable. It is not always truth; there can be illusion in it.

    And you get what you want. God will provide it “because they desired it.” Those who crave pseudo-intelligence and the wordcraft of priestcraft will dance to the music in Liberal dance halls.

    Brother England, there never has been a conflict between faith and knowledge, belief and reason, obedience and ‘intellectual integrity.’ Conflict only comes with absence of faith, testimony, discipleship. Dissonance is a choice, not a thing that ambushes and victimizes.

    O, and ‘hobby’ is not discipleship.

  4. Delightful. In Borges’ story the last line of the translation has a small error. Should read “there are NO other relics . . .” That makes Bro Dan’s point even better. All our learning in more and more arcane knowledge will blow away like the 1:1 map and nothing will be left except our broken hearts and contrite spirits.

    Borges was fully fluent in both Spanish and English so I wonder if he had read the Lewis Carroll piece and adapted it for his Castellano readers.

    Dan Peterson is always such a joy to read. All thanks.

  5. I am very familiar with three relevant cases that support President Oaks’ counsel.

    In two of the cases the believing spouse and the doubting spouse (in each case wife and husband, respectively) continued to express their affection for one another. In both cases the husband agreed to support her and the family’s continued activity in the Church. In one case the husband, a university professor, remained active, supportive and engaged even amidst his unbelief. Over the years his testimony was rekindled and he ultimately served as a beloved Stake President. In the other case, the husband was actually a non-Church member who refused baptism shortly into the marriage, much to the surprise and disappointment of the wife. While he rarely attended church with her, he made sure to not interfere with the wife and children’s scheduled church activities. When it came time to support missionary sons, he did so even if reluctantly at first. Ultimately all of their children were married in the temple with grandchildren serving full-time missions and looking to temple marriages of their own. He was much beloved by his children and grandchildren for his support. His 60+ year marriage to his faithful wife was recently interrupted by his passing.

    In the third case, well-meaning friends and family tried to address the doubting husband’s concerns, but this only served to entrench him in his negative opinions. He adopted an anti-religion world view and became active in anti-Mormon criticism. His wife resisted for a couple of years, but after his constant prodding, relented and agreed to accept him on his terms. Today the couple leads a lifestyle that very few – even the non-religious – would think is wise, and to the detriment of those close to them. Many family and friends are watching their situation closely, knowing they’ll likely have to intervene at some point when things ultimately fall apart.

    As I contemplate these three cases, the approach of the first two was clearly the best. The believing spouse stayed anchored to the gospel and asked the non-believing or disillusioned spouse to support her without criticizing or debating him. The love of the non-believing spouse – the desire to keep their marriage covenant the best they could given their current faith situation – allowed these two marriages to succeed marvelously. In the third case you had a few people try to directly address the husband’s expressed concerns, but this backfired and made things worse. And it should also be noted that, contrary to the first two cases, the non-believing spouse demanded his wife accept him on his terms only.

    I make no judgement on the specifics of anyone else’s situation based on these 3 cases. I provide them only to illustrate that I think President Oaks gave wise and inspired counsel to the young married couples in Chicago.

    Cheers.

  6. David Bennett: “Saying there are questions about history, there are debated ideas of what happened, is an obvious, goes without saying, point.”

    Some of us, I suppose, are simply doomed to remain on the level of the obvious.

    But the obviousness of my point is an indicator of its correctness. I stand by my position as not only true, but, if it’s correctly understood, beyond reasonable dispute.

    DB: “Oaks says, ‘you should not research those issues’. . . . Don’t research. Just don’t research.'”

    I don’t see him saying “You should not research those issues. . . . ”

    I see him saying “Research is not the answer.” Or, as the abstract to my article phrases it, “more research is OFTEN not the way to approach these concerns” (emphasis added). Or, as the abstract also says, “Research can never completely replace true faith, only supplement it.”

    DB: “I think it’s bad advice. I think it’s a horrible perspective.”

    I agree that your version of President Oaks’s position is a horrible perspective and that it would be bad advice. But I don’t believe that it’s his advice or his perspective.

    DB: “If your ultimate point here is to say ‘well the Church, it’s history and teachings can very well raise many great questions and issues for people, but in some cases there are not answers; therefore, a believing spouse should not research the troubling items the skeptical spouse is dealing with.’ then you’re in league with Oaks’ point and I’ll reiterate. It’s a bad one.”

    That’s neither my ultimate point, nor my proximate point, nor any point of mine at all — and I don’t believe that it’s President Oaks’s point, either.

    • Bottom line is if a believing spouse has a skeptical spouse. If that skeptical spouse brings up questions and concerns about the Church, even requesting the believer help and look into the questions and concerns. it’s bad advice to tell the believer that researching those issues is not something he/she should do.
      It was bad advice. simply put. Your piece took this little hypothetical and ran in a different direction, missing the point of the hypothetical.

      I imagine if a skeptical spouse came with those questions and concerns (again these are not questions that are in the “where did we come from” vein) and the believer responded with, “no no…we dont’ want to talk about these. We need to get you to strengthen your faith in Christ and the Church. I’ll continue to pray for you.” The skeptic would feel ignored. A wall would be built between the two and problems could possibly at that point, only exacerbate. Terrible advice.

      • Hmmm. I wonder if I researched David Bennett’s anti-Elder Oaks position — addressing every one of his arguments — I could bring him ’round to my pro-Elder Oaks point of view? Chances are I couldn’t help him, but if I did “convince” him … this Bennett convinced against his will is of the same position still. Better not to indulge him.

      • DB: “it’s bad advice to tell the believer that researching those issues is not something he/she should do.”

        President Oaks gave no such advice.

        DB: “It was bad advice. simply put. . . . Terrible advice.”

        It would have been, had President Oaks given it. But he didn’t.

        Simply put.

  7. President Oaks’ talk is so relevant to our lives in the digital era when we have discovered that every scientific study is tentative and every “fact” is just a click away from becoming a factoid. 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day and 90% of stored data was created in just the last 2 years. Knowing what is really usable knowledge is critical in the era of our information Tsunami. Pondering your discussion prompted me to revisit TS Elliot’s famous poem the Rock which I have heard from many in Information Technology. President Oaks was not the first to ponder this matter.
    TS Elliot’s The Rock
    The endless cycle of idea and action,
    Endless invention, endless experiment,
    Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
    Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
    Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
    All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
    All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
    But nearness to death no nearer to God .
    Where is the Life we have lost in living?
    Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
    Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
    The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
    Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available