“The Word is in Christ unto Salvation” How many superstars of theology can we fit into a few chapters? Truth. Prayer. Atonement. These chapters contain some of the most memorable lessons and gems in the Book of Mormon. The “experiment upon the word” in Alma 32, Amulek’s powerful sermon on the Atonement and role of this life, as well as some overlooked treasures about prayer and mercy.
Highlights of the lesson will include:
- Detailed exploration of the idea of Alma’s “experiment upon the word”. What are reliable ways to know a principle is true? What does “true” mean in this instance?
- Discussion of prayer, worship, and mercy
- Engagement with Amulek’s sermon as we discuss human nature, the Atonement, and role of this life
One Time Donation:
Look forward to an engaging discussion with Kristine, Matthew, KC and Greg.
After you listen to the lesson and class discussion, please post your comments and questions here on the blog and continue the conversation!
You can access my Lesson Notes here.
Many thanks to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for the excellent post production work and to Rob Kent for further editorial input.
Matthew Russell says:
I know this is a little premature, but I was reading in Alma 32 and found something I’ve never noticed before.
Verse 27: “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea if ye can no more 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.”
I usually paid attention only to the “experiment” and “exercise a particle of faith” phrases. I mean, I’ve had this highlighted and annotated for years, but I never paid much attention to the last phrase.
even until ye believe in a MANNER that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
The word “manner” seems to give liberty for the application of what is being taught to the hearer of Alma’s words. For me, this also applies to Philippians 2:12 and Alma 34:37 about working out our own salvation. Even though we are given a direction through gospel instruction, we are to take it in a way that works for us individually. Now, this liberty can be abused by taking too much latitude, but they are responsible for the consequences.
Anyway, I just wanted to share that. Y’all enjoy.
Not premature at all; we are recording the discussion tomorrow and so now we can incorporate your comment into the podcast itself. 🙂
Something I would like to see touched upon specifically is Alma 32:34. I’ve often heard knowledge and faith discussed as mutually exclusive states (if you have knowledge then you don’t have faith), with an implied faith is better than knowledge. But in Alma 32:34 it doesn’t say when you have knowledge then faith ceases to exist, it says faith is dormant. What does that mean for faith to be there, but be dormant? Could it possibly lead to a possibility of God being faithful while omniscient?
From what I understamd, which isn’t much, faith is what we have before some physical or tangible manifestation of truth is presented. So, you don’t necessarily have to choose the right, so to speak, to have knowledge because Satan and his angels know that Jesus is the Christ, but have chosen not to apply Christ ‘s plan in their choices. The power of our faith is determined by our desire to believe truth when we hear it and apply it by living according to the guidance of our conscience and the spirit. Personally, I think those last two things are like a moral checks and balances, but I digress. Check out Lecrures on Faith for what Joseph had to say regarding Heavenly Father’s need to have faith.
Bruce Bogtrotter says:
I fear I am not in time for your recording, but here goes:
My question about Alma’s experiment: is based on a falsifiable hypothesis? Does it allow for a negative outcome?
One of the problems with Moroni’s promise is that it is often used in a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose fashion: a null answer means that the asker/experimenter doesn’t have enough faith, isn’t sincere, or that God has withheld a response for His own reasons. Applied thus, it isn’t a valid experiment because a negative answer is impossible.
How does Alma stack up against this?
Does his setup actually allow for differentiation between a seed that hasn’t grown because it was bad and a seed that hasn’t grown because it has been cast out by unbelief?
Matthew Russell says:
I think taken in context of the entire narrative between chapters 32-33, Alma is saying we shouldn’t just give in to our circumstances. To take a page from Victor Frankl’s discussion of looking beyond our circumstances, we must search for meaning beyond what lies before us. This is coming from a man who subjected to years of torture in Nazi concentration camps, and who became a great strength to his fellow prisoners, as the well as the guards. The book is called Man’s Search for Meaning. I think somewhere between faith, knowledge, and humility, we must mind our own personally profound meaning and purpose in our lives, despite our circumstances.
Bruce Bogtrotter says:
I’m glad that this podcast focussed on the issue of falsifiability and valid experimentation, but I think the scientific method was poorly represented in a few respects.
I don’t see objectivity as an un-reachable ideal. We overcome biases and attain objectivity in proportion to the extent to which we apply the scientific method. Both a lack of objectivity and the presence of experimenter bias lead to the sorts of trials and studies that, by way of example, conclude that homeopathy has a medicinal effect beyond placebo, or that psi abilities such as pre-cognition or telekinesis are detectable. Once we tighten the controls on these experiments, we find that the purported phenomena diminish. With fully rigorous methodology such as proper blinding, randomisation, correct statistical analysis, etc., these experiments show null effect. We get the most accurate picture of reality by eliminating the all the biases through which we filter our perspective on the world, and that’s what the scientific method is for.
Perhaps I am misconstruing the points raised, but I struggle with the analogy that “different chemicals” or “plants” will respond differently to the same set of experiment controls and that by implication the scientific method can’t create an objective picture of reality based on the results. Christine states that plants grow “unpredictably” and that therefore this “completely undoes the methodical linear progression of the experiment”. I would argue that experiments CAN control for unpredictable variation (the fields of chemistry and biology exist precisely to explain the way different chemicals and plants behave under different circumstances). So maybe in this light the validity of Alma’s experiment falls apart on the grounds that it doesn’t place useful controls.
To suggest that any particular experiment (on humans or otherwise) is valid but the scientific method is in some way inadequate to apply to it seems like special-pleading. To return to the example above, it is reminiscent of the special-pleading that the homoeopathists and para-psychologists use to justify holding on to their beliefs in the face of contradicting experimental data (i.e. homeopathy treats the patient, not the disease, so clinic trials can’t assess it because everyone is different, or telepathic powers won’t work in the presence of a skeptic).
Jared Anderson says:
Love this level of engagement. I will respond when I get a chance!
Matthew Nokleby says:
Hi Bruce, thanks for engaging. I would have loved to dig in a little deeper than we managed in the podcast, but there simply wasn’t time and I wanted to avoid geeking out with too much jargon. But, given the opportunity to do so here, I’m not above a good geek-out.
The short answer to your objection–that better methodology brings (something closer to) objectivity–is that the very judgement of what *is* good methodology is itself dependent on assumptions that we bring to the table. We can’t make observations without an appeal to an interpretive framework, either perceptual (i.e. one’s visual cortex) or theoretical. In the philosophy of science this is referred to as the ‘theory-ladenness of observation’. (Quine and Kuhn are usually cited in relation to this idea if you want to dig further.) Quine’s response to theory-ladenness is ‘holism’, which insists that hypotheses can only be tested in bundles. Kuhn’s is the now-famous ‘paradigm’, which argues that science operates under prevailing frameworks and that scientists are typically committed to upholding those frameworks.
This doesn’t mean that science is purely subjective or that one person’s quackery is as good as laboratory experiment. But it does mean that science is a human endeavor. We have to account for sociological, psychological factors, etc. if we’re going to understand why science has been so successful at describing the observed world. (Indeed, for Kuhn the human elements are crucial; if scientists reexamined the paradigm every time a conflicting experiment came along, for example, science would achieve very little.)
Applying this to Alma 32, the main theory with which we are laden is that a spiritual/emotional response to the word is indicative of its goodness or godliness. One can challenge that assumption — I certainly do — but *within its framework* the test prescribed in Alma 32 is falsifiable. Alma lays out a hypothesis (the word is good), prescribes an experiment, and describes how the results might show the hypothesis to be false.
Now, the tightness of the experiment, the presence of controls, etc. is another matter. We didn’t really address that, and I agree that the text fails to lay out a rigorous methodology, which shouldn’t surprise anyone given the length of the text. But certainly when you start aggregating trials of the experiment, taking into consideration controls and particularly statistical significance, the wildly divergent results become problematic. It doesn’t just falsify Alma’s hypothesis, except possibly for those for whom the experiment comes back negative. It calls into question its assumptive framework, suggesting the need for a new paradigm.
Jared Anderson says:
This comment is so fantastic. I love it in an equally geeky way. 🙂
Matthew Russell says:
I think I responded to the wrong comment. Sorry.
Michael McAlpine says:
I can’t tell if I have missed the recording of the podcast, but perhaps being in New Zealand and so a day ahead may give me a last opportunity.
I want to carry on from a comment I made last time that I think applies to the content of this week’s reading equally. I see that the God described, in very limited detail in the Book of Mormon, is the wrathful God who distributes retributive justice based on deserts that we see in the Justification by Faith model of salvation (Alma 32.20 and 33.22 for example). Secondly, we continue to see references to concepts such as the atonement, but no development of the doctrine. Alma is speaking to a crowd who know nothing of the atonement and after he is done, know little more, but we as the reader are assumed to know and supply our own knowledge and experience as we read to fill in the blanks. The salvation model described in the BOM compares well to the JF model.
Something new this week that pops out at me is the allusion to belief voluntarism or Doxastic Voluntarism (Alma 32.27). We can achieve a belief in God by our will as opposed to a prior gift of fatih from God. Taking the whole experiment described in chapter 32 we are encouraged to will a belief, something we cannot do (Hume). However, in the case of God on the basis of the evidence we have about his existence, we probably do have some choice to believe or not to believe. There is no guarantee that our choice will be rewarded in the order that Alma suggests as the model he proposes is based on our own will. How will we really know that we are rewarded? What is the nature of the experience that we have and how do we know that it is true? What do I compare it to so that I might know that I have not willed the belief, but that my belief has truly been rewarded with faith?
Bruce Bogtrotter says:
@Christine quoting David McKay:
“The confirmation I had sought in my youth came as the natural sequence of performing my duty”
In other words, act as if something that you would like to be true is true and eventually, you’ll know it is true?
Have I misrepresented the principle you are conveying – because if not, this seems a very unhealthy way to think and behave.
Bruce, yes, I think that’s (a slightly oversimplified version of) what DOM was saying. And I think it’s exactly how we all behave about most things, most of the time.
Bruce Bogtrotter says:
Suppose I advance the hypothesis that I have unlimited disposable income and that I am not required to obey traffic laws. I would very much like these two concepts to be true, and acting as if they were true would eventually give me a fairly accurate picture of just how true they are (i.e. not at all), but this case, acting as if they are true because I would like them to be true would be not only irrational, but also immoral (give the likelihood of financial and physical damage to myself and those around me). I know that this example is reductio ad absurdum, but I maintain that the approach is harmful even in less morally-obvious situations.
Furthermore, it is very well established that when you invest in a concept or behaviour, you become predisposed towards accepting information in favour of it, while tending to reject dis-confirming evidence. The more you invest in something, the more you act as if it were true, the further you inhibit your ability to objectively determine its truth.
The ideas that we would most like to be true are those that we should be most critical of, that should require the greatest skepticism and the highest standard of evidence.
Matthew Russell says:
Personally, I found living by principles (love, respect, integrity) more helpful to live by than details (whether the people in the book of Mormon existed, is the Church “true”, if God exists). A lot details that we seek answers to are unknowable. And would knowing the answer to any one of these details cause you to live your life different than living by the positive influence of principles? Seeking knowledge through study is not an end unto itself. Satisfying or enjoyable, yes. I find some good in studying religion and philosophy and will apply the good to me and life. But when there is bad stuff, I take out my machete and discard it. Is the term “cafeteria mormon” or “apostate”? I guess it depends on General Authority.
Kevin Merrell says:
Thank you for the passion and insights of these podcasts. I’ll be teaching lesson 28 this Sunday and it will be a better experience for me having listened to the episode several times. One of the great challenges of Gospel Doctrine is deciding what to pursue in a relatively limited time frame. It’s like the overabundance of great food on a cruise ship!
reed russell says:
Jared – and everyone – this was such an enriching discussion to listen to/think about. Everyone’s input was first rate. Thanks, Jared, for all the great work you’ve put into this so far – and extra recognition for sprinting ahead as you have for the past couple of weeks.
I appreciated Kristine bringing up “And as all have not faith.” And it got me to thinking – are we limited by our vocabulary in expressing these fuzzy areas between desire and faith/not faith and belief and knowledge? Is there a good word for “And as all have not faith” kind of like the way Germans have the word Schadenfreude to express something not able to be expressed in one word in our language? It certainly wouldn’t be “doubt” – it would have to be something far more Schadenfreude-ish.