In my previous post I discussed my general impressions of Matt Slick and CARM. (Incidentally, if you would like to read an “insiders” perspective on the goings-on at CARM, read here and here.) Within the context of that discussion I briefly mentioned the CARM discussion forums. These forums are heavily moderated and cover a wide range of topics including atheism, evolution, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, etc…
The forum to discuss Mormonism is filed under the “Cults/Groups” section and, as does every message board, has a common group of posters who rant about the evils of Mormonism. One such poster goes by the name Theo1689 – which I suppose is a reference to the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. According to his board profile, Theo is 46, lives in Toronto, and is a teacher by trade. He’s also very nasty to Mormons who attempt to defend their faith on CARM.
I have had a long-standing interest in Mormon apologetics which began when I was a teenager. Many of my friends were devout evangelical Christians who, on more than one occasion, “witnessed” to me about the error of Mormon beliefs. Given that at the time I was also quite zealous, such conversations generally involved long discussions on Biblical interpretation. For the most part, these conversations were very friendly. However, on rare occassions I would run into an evangelical Christian who was so adamantly opposed to Mormon belief that they ended up saying something rather stupid over the course of our conversations. Perhaps the most poignant example of this kind of silliness happened during my Senior year of high school when I was told, by someone who I had long-considered to be a friend, that we Mormons should not be allowed to come to the school’s baccalaureate because we weren’t really Christians.
Is demonstrable experience more “valid” or genuine than non-demonstrable experience? In short, no. However, in order to fully explore this question we must examine how and when such experiences begin to motivate action and application – both internal and external to the mind. For example, when designing a jet engine, I must be able to translate my internal experiences and ideas into language that can be consumed and understood by others. If I do so successfully, my design can be translated into specific actions: the production of a jet engine. Thus, it is easy to see how demonstrable experience brings much to bear on practical matters. Indeed, demonstrable experience is necessary to cultivate collective human achievement. Indeed, the advent of writing demonstrates this point quite well. In order for human beings to move beyond a nomadic lifestyle, it was necessary for them to be able to transmit complex ideas through writing in order to coordinate the complexities of government, the beginnings of engineering, and basic commerce. Thus, it is plain to see that demonstrable experience is vital to a functional society because it facilitates both human coordination and communication.
A key property of demonstrable experience is that it allows us to form and maintain a consensus of mutual understanding. Through the demonstration of ideas we can identify, or at least approximate, both cause and effect: If I touch a lighted match to gasoline, the gasoline will burn. Of course, by demonstrating this fact I have done nothing to answer why such a cause and effect exist, only that they do, in fact, exist. Yet, in many cases the answer to why is of no practical importance. Whether this cause and effect exist due to a complex chemical reaction or because invisible magic fairies transfer from the lit match to the gasoline in an act of spontaneous celebration, does not change the fact that a lit match will cause gasoline to burn. An understanding of why is not requisite to appreciate first the existence, and potential implications of a causal relationship. More importantly, this causal relationship exists regardless of the answer to why. Fairies or no fairies, it is best that I keep a safe distance when a lit match is applied to gasoline.
This is not to suggest that the question of why is unimportant. Under certain conditions it may be of incredible importance. However, it must be understood that why is often a function of purely internal experience contextualizing what is observed in a causal relationship. In most cases, it has absolutely no bearing on the relationship itself.