I have commonly been asked, in light of my defense of LDS doctrine, what proof I have that what I believe is true. Recently I have gone through an extended and extensive discussion with a fellow on this matter, which has clarified some thoughts for me, which I now present for your consideration. First, let’s define some terms so that we don’t end up in an argument that is merely about semantics.
- that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.
- something that makes plain or clear; an indication or sign: His flushed look was visible evidence of his fever.
- Law. data presented to a court or jury in proof of the facts in issue and which may include the testimony of witnesses, records, documents, or objects.
- evidence sufficient to establish a thing as true, or to produce belief in its truth.
- anything serving as such evidence: What proof do you have?
- the act of testing or making trial of anything; test; trial: to put a thing to the proof.
- the establishment of the truth of anything; demonstration.
- not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased: an objective opinion.
- intent upon or dealing with things external to the mind rather than with thoughts or feelings, as a person or a book.
- of or pertaining to something that can be known, or to something that is an object or a part of an object; existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality.
- existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought (opposed to objective).
- Philosophy. relating to or of the nature of an object as it is known in the mind as distinct from a thing in itself.
- relating to properties or specific conditions of the mind as distinguished from general or universal experience.
These are all definitions taken from a standard dictionary, but for the purpose of this discussion I must add some terms and the definitions I have attached to them.
Objective proof. Proof that has been given from one person to another, or that has been witnessed by more than one person. This is to be differentiated from proof that merely can be given from one person to another, or which can be witnessed by more than one person.
Subjective proof. Proof that, whether or not it can be given from one person to another or can be witnessed by more than one person, has not been.
To illustrate the differences between these types of proof, take the sun, for example. If I tell my friend “The sun has risen” and he says “What proof do you have?” I merely say “Go outside and look.” He looks, he sees, and he knows. This is objective proof.
However, let us suppose that my friend is blind, cannot feel temperature changes on his skin, and is completely devoid of any sense that would tell him the sun has risen. I tell him “The sun has risen” and he says “What proof do you have?” I cannot tell him to go outside and look, because he cannot see. He cannot feel the light of the sun upon his skin. There is no way for me to prove to him that the sun has risen. This is subjective proof.
Notice that the facts are the same one way or the other. The sun has indeed risen. The difference is in my ability or inability to demonstrate this proof to my friend. The proof becomes objective at the moment in which it is given or communicated to a second person, but this does not change the nature of the proof itself.
Note: Now, we could go into a more metaphysical discussion on whether in this example I even know the sun has risen. After all, scientists have been able to simulate certain feelings and perceptions in the human brain using electrical impulses, so perhaps the sun has not truly risen, and it’s all in my head. Perhaps we are all living in an artificial world similar to that shown in the movie The Matrix and what we perceive as reality is not reality at all. Perhaps even the concept that 2+2=4 is not reality, as some philosophers have postulated. But that is a different discussion, for the most part. For the purposes of our discussion, we will assume that 2+2=4, and that when we see the sun shining it really is shining not just within one’s head, but that this is a fact.
Alrighty, are we ready to get started?
The question is how do I know that God lives, that Jesus Christ is real, that the LDS Church is true, that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, etc.?
The simple, short answer is that God has told me so.
Why did God tell me so?
Because I followed the formula.
How do I know God has told me so?
There is a form of communication that results in the transfer of knowledge, not through oral or written communication, not through sound, site, smell/taste, or touch, but through another medium. This form of communication cannot be forged or falsified, because intrinsic to the form of communication is the ability to detect forgery. In other words, I am saying that God has communicated with me and has told me the truth and factual nature of the above items in a way that cannot be faked.
The reasonable scientist or skeptic at this point would naturally say “That’s all well and good for you, now prove it to me.”
To which my response is “I can’t.”
“Then why should I believe you?”
“You shouldn’t, not unless you want to.”
“Why would I want to believe you?”
“Because if the things I am claiming to be true are indeed true, you want to participate.”
“What if I don’t want to participate, I just want to know if what you’re saying is true because I want to know what is true generally?”
“Then you’re not following the formula, and it won’t work.”
Now, in the real world, this conversation might continue on with questions such as “Why is the formula set up that way?” or “Why doesn’t God just tell us he exists?” But these are different questions and not the purpose of this post. The point here is to illustrate in broad terms how God communicates with man, why Mormons believe what they do, and how they can claim to know that what they believe is true.
Where I have found that skeptics err is when they start making statements such as:
- There is no such form of communication.
- There is no such other sense with which to detect such communication.
- If you can’t prove it to me, then it doesn’t exist.
These are illogical statements. The person who makes them is attempting to prove a negative. They are saying definitively that something does not exist, when they have no proof that the something in question does not exist. All they have proof of is that they have no hard evidence to positively prove its existence, or in other words, they take a lack of evidence as hard proof of non-existence. In doing so, they are exercising much greater faith than any Mormon.
As evidence for their faith, Mormons can at least point to the word of trusted friends and family who say they know due to communication with an omniscient being, the existence of the Book of Mormon, and countless other reference points. None of these is proof, but they at least get one to the point of saying “If none of this is true, then why does all this stuff exist?” Those who claim Mormonism or a belief in God is false have no such evidence. True, they may have friends, family, and associates who believe as they do, but these people make no claim of communication with an omniscient being, since that would undermine their primary argument. There is no physical evidence to lend credence to their position. They are merely saying “I have never seen a black swan therefore there is no such thing” which again is illogical since their experience is subjective, and such a thing may exist without their knowing of it. Likewise, God may exist without their knowing of it. Any argument to the contrary seems to hinge on assumptions about God, such as “If God existed, he wouldn’t let children be tortured and killed.” But this is merely an assumption, and there is no proof that it is true.
What of the case of the individual who says “I also communicate with God, and he told me that Mormons are wrong.” For me, it doesn’t present a problem. I know what I know, and if someone else says they have evidence that conflicts with my knowledge, logically I must assume they are incorrect. For the person caught between a Mormon and someone of another faith claiming to have received divine communication, as Mormons, this might produce something more of a dilemma. Assuming the other person’s belief system also provide a formula for knowing whether it is true or not, then the logical thing to do, assuming the third person is interested in exploring both faiths, would be to test both of them, or try both formulas, and go with the one that yield the satisfactory result.
But what if they try both, and they end up deciding God has told them Mormonism is false? Again, this is no different than the situation with the first person. How can such a thing happen? The form of communication I referenced above does not allow for forgery, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t forged forms of communication. God’s communication can’t be forged, but a person could trick themselves into thinking they’ve received it when in fact they haven’t, or Satan could do the same.
“Ah-ha!” the skeptic says, “So how do you know you aren’t just tricking yourself?! How do you know you have received the true communication while the other person has received false communication?”
Because once you receive the true communication, then you know what it is. Only those who haven’t received this communication, or who haven’t learned how to identify it when they do, or who purposely fool themselves after having received it, or who get lazy and forget what the communication was like, or perhaps some other reasons (I’m getting a bit lazy here myself about writing this post at this point and I admit the possibility of other reasons beyond those I’ve mentioned), are subject to mistaking false communication for the real thing.
Now, although it’s not the point of this post, I’ll touch on the subject of why God would communicate this way.
- We are children of God, destined to become like him.
- Only those who want to live the life God lives can become like him.
- We can’t prove to God or ourselves what kind of life we want to live unless we have a chance to do so in a state of uncertain limbo, which this life is. If God were to give us knowledge prior to us proving ourselves, it would frustrate our ability to generate that proof. Thus we only receive knowledge after we prove ourselves by exercising faith.
- If the proof that comes by this form of communication with God were not subjective, but could be proven objectively by one person to another, then knowledge could be given by one man to another independent of God, and thus the second person could receive knowledge prior to proving themselves, which would hurt them rather than help them.
Thus, it makes sense that certain types of knowledge can only be given to man by God, so that God’s plan for man, to help him become like Him, remains under God’s perfect control, and does not become frustrated by the imperfections of man.
If I’ve made any errors in my thinking, I invite you to point them out, not because I think I can best you in an argument and have fun doing so, but because I believe I may have made some errors, and I would like to learn from them. I look forward to the discussion.