Does the Internet Damage Testimonies?

Here is a wonderful talk about doubts and how to resolve them by President James E. Faust. Ironically, I found the link on an an anti-Mormon site. Reading this talk, I have been asking myself if the Internet is a threat to the testimony of believing Latter-day Saints. What do you think? If so, what is the solution? Pondering this, I wrote the following to my Zion email discussion list:

If A is true and B contradicts A, then B must be false. There is no other way. The gospel as taught by the Church is true. That is a given if one has an inspired testimony based upon genuine, personal revelation. Therefore, anything that contradicts it must be false regardless of the evidence. Evidence isn’t always what it seems. Didn’t we learn something about that from Mark Hoffman?What seems to be a fact isn’t always a fact. Even facts are in the eye of the beholder. That is the problem with science. Among scientists, too much is made of facts and the observation of physical “facts.” If there is any fact that can be verified, it is that the perception of a fact varies from observer to observer. Why do the innocent occasionally get convicted of a crime that they did not commit even when there are multiple eye witnesses? Why do multiple eye witnesses of the same event often make conflicting reports? Why do my wife and I have completely different memories of things we both experienced together, including things we experienced recently? Human perception is simply not reliable, not for anyone.

And if this is so, then how can there be any such thing as an “historical fact?” A report that is less than perfectly reliable at the time of an event never becomes more reliable because of the passage of time. Nor does it become more reliable because it is published in a book. Nor does it become more reliable because the book is peer reviewed. The fact can never be more reliable than when it was first recorded. Does a fact become more certain because everybody believes it? What does the truth have to do with popularity? Is it impossible for everyone to be wrong together? Joseph asked “Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together?” If it is possible for all parties to be wrong together in the field of religion, isn’t it possible in other fields of human understanding too? Can scientists be “all wrong together?” The history of science certainly seems to indicate that such is possible. And if scientists can be all wrong together, what about historians?

Consider the art of deception. Professional magicians make their living by creating false impressions. Can they actually saw a woman in half and then put her back together? Can they actually levitate an assistant and then pass her through a hoop? Can they create something out of nothing by making a rabbit appear from an empty hat? No. They cannot. What they can do is effectively manipulate the perceptions of the audience. They can make an audience actually see with their own eyes something that never happened. Are professional magicians the only ones who can do this? No. The devil is a master of deception. And so are his mortal followers. Are there, or have their ever been, dishonest historians? How about dishonest scientists? Dishonest journalists? And once a dishonest or deceptive report is generated, is it not possible to build a whole system upon a dishonest report so that over time a misperception becomes a fact in the minds of many?

How does one sort through all of this without becoming confused? When playing chess, have you ever tried to anticipate the next move of your opponent? What about your own counter to his next move? How about his counter to that one? Can you anticipate his move ten moves ahead? What about a hundred? I think you will admit that the human ability to sort through data is finite rather than infinite. That means that faced with a large enough data set, anyone can become confused.

When I become confused, and it happens often. I always retreat to basics. I _choose_ what I will accept as foundational truth, ie. facts. And for me the most foundational fact of all is this: There is a God. I can’t prove it to anyone else. I can’t even prove it to myself. But I choose to believe it. Why? It is because I have had clear, personal revelation of that fact; and I cannot deny it. I don’t want to deny it. And upon that First Fact I build the rest of my world view.

Let’s go back to basics. If A is true, and B contradicts A, then B must be false. Hence, any so-called “evidence” that Joseph Smith was a false prophet must be false. Any so-called “facts” that indicate that there is no God must not indicate any such thing. Any alleged “proof” that the Church is a hoax, must be false. I may not be able to “prove” that it is false, but I may safely assume that it is false.

If there is surely a God, then the devil is surely a liar. And if the devil is surely a liar, then so are those who follow him. And who follows the devil? Why those who claim that there is no God, of course. By this same reasoning I may also be certain that those who claim the Church is a hoax are also liars. They may be unwitting liars, but they are liars nevertheless. They make and promote a lie.

This may not persuade others, but it represents the way I think about the matter. How do you handle the abundant “evidence” available on the Internet that tends to “prove” that the Church is false, that Joseph Smith was a false prophet, or that there is no God?

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3 Responses to Does the Internet Damage Testimonies?

  1. Adam, while all my opinions are tentative pending further data, some of them are less tentative than others. Those opinions that I am most sure of are those that I have formed after receiving personal revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost. In other words, I have a testimony. I state them as incontrovertible facts as a challenge to all comers. If they can show me where my opinion is inconsistent with the teachings of the modern prophets, or if they can show me where my opinion contradicts the scripture, then I will inquire of the Lord whether or not I have misunderstood the personal revelation that he has given me. This is the way that I learn new truth. It is just the way that my mind works. Future truth must be consistent with past truth, otherwise I have to discard one or the other. I usually cling to truth I have already received unless it is swept aside by overwhelming physical evidence confirmed by spiritual evidence. I never trust physical evidence alone. My senses are too easily deceived, and my logic and reasoning become too easily confused.

  2. Adam says:

    You’re absolutely correct that our knowledge is provisional- that’s what good science and the law is about- provisional fact-finding. What I’m curious about is why you choose to take the position that your personal religious beliefs are the exception to this rule even though you admit you can’t prove their truth to yourself. Why do you just simply declare that they are true and everything else is false no matter what just because you “don’t want to deny it?”

  3. J. Stapley says:

    Interesting post. I don’t read any of the anti-Mormon crap for a number of reasons, so I am not sure what your getting at. That said, I don’t know that it is all that important. One thing I see as a problem with your reasoning is that sometimes A and B contradict each other only because our perception is limited. Often times, when we change our perspectives, that which is contradictory becomes harmonious.

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