The New York Times Thomas Monson Obituary and Fake News

The president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently died, and the obituary published in the New York Times focused a lot of attention on controversies over same-sex marriage and ordaining women.  This obituary provides an unfortunate, yet clear example, of what goes through my head when I consider the term fake news.

The obituary is not fake in terms of being just a pack of lies.  I do not dispute that these controversies happened during Monson’s term.  The obituary is fake in that it is in disguise.  What it is, is political activism masquerading as journalism.

It would have been quite easy to publish a straight-forward, neutral obituary.  Instead, they used the opportunity of the death of a beloved religious leader to forward their political agenda.  Thus, if you were expecting objective and unbiased media coverage, you are getting something that is fake.

I don’t really need the New York Times, or other media sources, to tell me what to believe, or how to behave.  I have chosen to follow who I believe to be prophets and apostles for that.  I lost a prophet recently, but in short order, another one will be called.  And I can tell you this much, I will be paying much more attention to him, than I will the New York Times.


Perfect College Football Playoff System: 2017 Version

Several years ago I published to the world the perfect college football playoff system.  Since that time the NCAA had been taking baby steps in this direction, but it seems that every year there are additional evidence that shows why this system is needed.  This past year is no exception.

As far as the little guys who deserve a better shot, this year the example is Central Florida.  They went undefeated this season with impressive wins over Maryland, and Memphis (twice!).  They finished ranked #10, but will have no chance at a national championship by definition.  This is inexcusable.

This year there is even a case for one of the most traditionally powerful programs in the country – Ohio State.  In spite of winning the Big 10 conference, they will be on the outside looking in, while Alabama – who did not even qualify for the SEC championship game – will get their shot based on reputation mostly.

Now if the NCAA would have listened to me, all this would simply go away, and things could be decided on the field.  To review the basics of my system:  All conference champs get in (10 teams), and top 6 ranked teams after champions are removed also get in.  Teams are seeded 1-16, with first round matchups following a 1 vs 16, 2 vs 15 format.  Higher rated teams will host the first round game.  A committee will make matchups after that at neutral sites.  This is the perfect system.  So for this year –

Troy vs. Clemson
Toledo vs. Oklahoma
Florida Atl vs. Georgia
Boise St. vs. Alabama
Washington vs. Ohio St
Miami vs Wisconsin
UCF vs. Auburn
Penn St. vs USC

So as you can see, the snubs of Ohio St. and Central Florida are taken care of, like you would expect from a perfect system.  And with some interest, UCF would play Auburn, which is what I believe their actual bowl game this year.

This system has addressed every controversy that has come up, and there really cannot be a credible complaint from any team left out.  This system should be implemented immediately.

Philosophy, Science and Religion: The Divine Hiddenness Argument

The fourth week of the Coursera course on Philosophy, Science and Religion focuses on the Divine Hiddenness Argument as presented by the man who developed the argument, John Schellenberg.  There are several ways to present this argument, but my simple restatement of this argument would be:

P1 – If God exists He would be perfectly loving.
P2 – A perfectly loving being would have an open relationship with mankind.
P3 – There are people who, through no fault of their own, do not have an open relationship with God.

C1:  God does not exist.

The discussion about this argument focused on whether or not there really are these non-resistant non-believers, and on if there were adequate reasons for God to be hidden.  For me, these challenges to the argument miss what should be the main objection – and that is, who is John Schellenberg (and those who agree with him) and what does he know about perfect love?  I might state my objection in the following arguments:

P1 – John Schellenberg thinks he knows what perfect love is
P2 – God does not meet John Schellenberg’s expectations.

C1 – God does not exist

This may seem a bit personal and crude, but I hope it gets the point across.  So many arguments against God end up not being arguments against any God, but arguments against certain expectations and definitions about God.  This argument is no exception.

Mormonism’s contributions of an eternal pre-mortal existance, and the idea of mortal life as a temporary time of testing and development, with merit based degrees of glory in the afterlife, provide helpful perspective when God seems to be hidden.

Philosophy, Science and Religion: Friendly Disagreement, Testimonial Knowledge, and the Importance of Fellowship

The third week of the Coursera course on Philosophy, Science and Religion addresses disagreement and friendly Atheism/Theism.  Professor John Greco lectures on a pattern of disagreement that we see far to often in our modern society.  He does this by presenting an example of the flawed atheist.

In this example the believer feels that the evidence for the existence of God is everywhere.  Everyone can witness this evidence, including the atheist.  Therefore, there must be some intellectual or moral flaw in the atheist.

One of the problems with this example is that it can be turned around.  You see, the atheist feels that the evidence for the non-existence of God is everywhere.  Everyone can witness this evidence, including the believer.  Therefore, there must be some intellectual or moral flaw in the believer.  Sound like a familiar pattern?

Professor Greco spends quite a bit of time on testimonial information as a source for knowledge, and as a path of understanding to a more civil and friendly discourse.  Greco rightly points out that a significant portion of our knowledge has come to us from testimonial sources.  Much of what we know, we know because someone has told us, or because we read it in a book.  This is true, regardless of the topic.  Most of us would not want to simply give up all the knowledge that we have gained from testimonial information – it is vitally important to us all.

When we receive some testimonial information, we have a decision to make – whether to accept this information as true, and count it as knowledge or not.  But what criteria should we use?

One very important criteria all of us use is to consider the source of the information.  We all have certain groups that we are part of, and other groups that we are not part of.  Groups we are part of might include family, friends, coworkers, fellow believers, political parties, countries, and so forth.  From these groups we often have fairly low or easy standards information must pass to be accepted as truth and count as knowledge.  And groups that we are not part of – strangers, the other political party, atheists, other countries, etc., we will tend to have much higher and difficult standards that we will apply to accept their information as truth and count it as knowledge.

This understanding can give a dose of humility regarding our own grasp of knowledge, and can give us another option (rather than intellectual and moral flaws) when evaluating others’ beliefs.

This also adds some value to what we might call fellowship in some form of conversion process.  If we wish to convince someone of our point of view, perhaps one of the most effective ways is to help them feel included in our group.  This can remove unnecessary barriers to accepting our testimonial information as truth and counting it as knowledge.  I had never thought of social conversion in quite this way before.

Philosophy, Science and Religion: The Conflict Between Science and Religion

In the second week of the Coursera course on Philosophy, Science and Religion, professor John Evans gives a series of lectures on the conflict between science and religion.  He organizes his lectures based on three types of conflict – systematic, propositional, and moral.


Regarding systematic conflict, Dr. Evans rightly points out that at least in western cultures, there really is no significant systematic conflict between science and religion.  If this were the case, there would be a significant amount of people who reject science all together, and would not trust nor rely on anything that results from the scientific community.  But even the most fundamentalist of religious believers accept the vast majority of the products of science at face value.  And it is only a relatively small list of specific theories of science that religious believers reject or are skeptical of.   This brings us to the next type of conflict.


Propositional conflict would be conflict that is on a case-by-case basis and depends on just what is being claimed by science.  Thus religious believers for the most part are not blindly dismissing the claims of science all together, but only those claims that they are in specific conflict with.  The nature of this conflict will usually involve the interpretations of religious texts like the Bible, pitted against the conclusions drawn from scientific data.  And of course, both sides can have their own spin on the sources.  But Dr. Evans seems to feel that the most significant nature of the conflict between science and religion is moral in character.


The moral conflict also seems to me to be at the heart of much of the conflict between science and religion.  Where science may be concerned more with what we can do, religion is more concerned with what we should do.  And religious believers will often be concerned with the moral consequences of the claims of science.  One illustration given was called ‘The Evolution Tree’ by Elmendorf shown below:


I think this illustration is helpful in understanding the nature, and likely the motivation, of the religious conflict from the perspective of some believers on the topic of evolution.  The objection here has nothing to do with any sort of data or findings of science, but that the theory itself will lead too all sorts of societal ills including things like abortion, racism, and genetic engineering.  Religion desires to keep its’ place in society to help protect it from these negative consequences, and thus will not want to give up the contest easily.  And this is why the moral conflict is likely the most fundamental conflict between science and religion.


Philosophy, Science and Religion: The Mind and The Religious Experience

I am taking an online course through Coursera on Philosophy, Science and Religion.  In the first week, Dr. Sara Lane Richie gives a series of lectures on religious belief and embodiment, with a focus on recent studies in cognitive science.  This flows remarkable well, I think, from my previous post on Testimony and the Spiritual Experience.

In these lectures, Dr. Richie reviews studies which show that religious experiences are accompanied by repeatable and measurable brain activity in the subject.  And poses the question as to whether these studies disprove the claim of a spiritual experience.

While many atheists will likely claim that such studies do debunk claims of spiritual experiences, Dr. Richie rightly concludes that such studies merely show a correlation between brain activity and spiritual experiences, and do nothing to reveal the cause of such experiences.  Why shouldn’t spiritual experiences be accompanied by brain activity?  Would it not be even more surprising if there were no unique brain activity at all during such experiences?

And as a result, cognitive science will likely never be able to provide any insight into the source of the religious experience, nor be able to determine if spiritual experiences are “real”.

Testimony and the Spiritual Experience

I was raised in the religious tradition of my parents, which happens to be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Over the course of my life I have had several spiritual experiences associated with the church and my participation in it. Once I have had these experiences, I am left with a few options about what to make of these experiences.  I can attribute these experiences to emotions, psychological phenomena, or wishful thinking.  I can say that I do not know what these experiences are and remain uncommitted to them.  Or I can attribute these experiences to God and the spirit.

In my case, to simply deny that these experiences have occurred, would seem to be a self deception that I do not wish to pursue.  Because of this I have a desire to make some decision regarding these experiences.  I would hope that the people that know me well will recognize that I have clearly attributed my spiritual experiences to God, and this has lead to a lifetime of committed membership in the church.

Having these experiences makes the decision of what to do about God and religion more sharp.  The more profound the experience, the less likely ignoring or dismissing them will be.  Those that have had such experiences should understand the weight of the decisions that they have made regarding them.  Such decisions should not be taken lightly.

I cannot speak to the spiritual experiences of others.  I am unclear about why there appears to be a variety of such experiences (some appear to have not had them, others appear to have had them but associated with other traditions,, etc.).  It is difficult for me to relate to.  I really can only say that I have had such experiences associated with the church, I have chosen to attribute these to God, and this has resulted in what I often call testimony.



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