Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mormons and Revelation

In this commentary, Mormonism and Transhumanism, I found much to agree with, in its' critique of an apparently uninformed or largely mistaken commentary about Mormonism by a well-known literary critic.

Some of the comments drifted into the topic of revelation from God and following the prophet.

I feel these concerns can be relevant to the topic of religion and science because sometimes those who reject religion have a false idea of what religion and communication from God means even to those with a strong faith in God.

Here's one disgruntled Mormon commenter:
Mistakes by men can be excused but not while they claim to be the one and only mouthpiece of God on the earth. Mormons believe that their "Prophet" has a special room in the Temple where he speaks face to face with God, that he has meetings in the Temple with Jesus Christ sitting at the head of the table conducting the affairs of the church. They believe via scripture that the prophets and apostles are perfect in that they can not be deceived. How then is it that there are so many examples of them being so very incorrect?

And my thoughts:

I'm a practicing Mormon who have studied Church teachings for many years.  You have a very different understanding of Mormon beliefs about revelation and God's communication to us and to our prophets than I or my Mormon family and friends.

Prophets, anciently, or in recent history, have not claimed to be perfect, nor are they required to be perfect in order to accomplish God's work.  Biblical examples of this abound.  Remember Jonah?  Peter?  Their mistakes are even documented in scripture.

Here's one outline of eight ways God speaks to us, given by Dallin H. Oaks, one of the Church Apostles.

Another talk Gives quotes from several former Mormon prophets, including Joseph Smith, describing the most common ways they receive revelation from God:
"sudden strokes of ideas" --Joseph Smith
"a sudden thought that comes to your mind"  --Harold B. Lee
"These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels more than one hears. . .
"The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all. …
“Occasionally it will press just firmly enough for us to pay heed. But most of the time, if we do not heed the gentle feeling, the Spirit will withdraw and wait until we come seeking and listening.”
            --Boyd K. Packer

So, even prophets primarily get their revelation very similar to the way the rest of us can--and they, including Joseph Smith, encourage us to get our own answers and revelations from God.  These answers can come through heavenly visitations, but those are extremely rare, even for prophets.

Here's Brigham Young's advice on following the prophet:
“I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.” (In Journal of Discourses, 9:150.)
Having had some experience with the way the Church makes decisions about practical and structural matters for church organization, I know that scientific research, statistical analysis, pilot testing, and various other methods are often used.  I believe these "scientific methods" are one of the ways of finding truth and sometimes the revelation might just be the "sudden strokes of ideas" of how to property design the pilot project or the statistical survey analysis to obtain the proper answers about truth.  

And I'm fine with calling even that scientific discovery and practical experimentation process being a part of revelation from God.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mormons Embrace Artificial Intelligence, Science

I haven't posted much to this blog anymore, mostly because I feel like I've already covered the key issues,and don't have much more to add.

However, on occasion, something crops up that seems to relate to this discussion.

One concept that transhumanists like is the idea that computers will develop human-like capabilities.

Recently, at LDS Church-funded and owned Brigham Young University, came this article: Student turning computers into composers.  We're still a ways off of a computer Beethoven in terms of the quality and creativity, but it's still pretty interesting for artificial intelligence.

Also, BYU students beat teams from Harvard and Duke to advance to world finals at the U.S. International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Regional Jamboree sponsored by MIT.  In this competition:
"Teams participating in iGEM are given a kit of biological parts at the beginning of the summer. Then they use those and new parts that they design themselves to build biological systems and operate them in living cells."

Other BYU scientific research awards include an electric vehicle land speed record, and an award for computer hacking.

These efforts are not just created by people who happen to be members of the Church, they are officially funded by LDS Church tithing dollars, then promoted as public examples of excellent work.

When I read things like this, I struggle to see any elements of Church culture or practices that oppose the development and adoption of new technologies.  Yet, encouragement to embrace technology seems to underscore the need for "Mormon Transhumanism."

Mormons already love and proactively support technology, biotech, artificial intelligence, curing  disease, etc.