Sunday, September 9, 2012

Principles in Finding Truth

Some of my suggestions for any seekers of truth out there.

1. Read widely

I see a lot of people on Facebook who seem to have simply absorbed the ideas that were around them as they grew up, and now believe those things to be absolute truth, without having been exposed to or seriously considered other beliefs. What they don’t seem to realize is that their real reason for their beliefs is that they were born in an area where those beliefs are common. This obviously isn’t a good way of determining what is true. The best antidote is reading widely. This is a good way of getting exposure to lots of different ideas, preferably by people who actually believe those ideas. If the only things you know about liberal political ideas are the criticisms you’ve heard from conservatives, then you haven’t given them a fair shot. Read a popular book by a liberal, and one by a conservative. Read a book by a theist, and an atheist. Give them both a chance.

2. Trust yourself

On some issues, you’ll be able to identify experts, and it’s okay to trust experts. However, on some basic issues like whether God exists, it’s not really possible to “be humble” or trust someone else on the matter, because you’d be the one choosing who you should trust, so you’re the one choosing what to believe either way. If you’re choosing to trust that person because you know them (even if he or she is also a very good and smart person), you’re falling into the same trap of believing something because it’s the local tradition. If you’re interested in truth, you can’t just rely on someone else. Find out for yourself by hearing out many different ideas.

3. Don’t be afraid of information

Growing up, I was sometimes be made to feel afraid of “anti-Mormon” literature. If you’re a real seeker of truth, you cannot choose your destination. You must follow the evidence, wherever it leads. If there’s information that can convince you of something, then maybe you should be convinced of that thing. Never be afraid of knowledge.

4. Assume as little as possible

If a creationist is determined to interpret all available information inside the framework of creationism, he will never be convinced that creationism is false. He will make up alternative explanations for fossils, DNA, and anatomical evidence. It’s like he’s wearing creationist-tinted glasses that he sees the world through. Similarly, if someone is determined to interpret all evidence according to a Mormon, Catholic, or Muslim framework of thought, no evidence will ever convince him or her that their perspective is false. If you assume that reading the Book of Mormon and praying will tell you whether it is true, you’re still wearing Mormon-tinted glasses. To find the truth, you must be as unbiased and objective as possible, and that means make as few assumptions as possible. It’s okay to assume that logic will lead you right, and that the world basically is as it appears to be. If those assumptions are false, then knowing the truth is impossible anyway. But assume as little else as possible.

5. It’s okay to be unsure

You don’t have to “take a stand” or “choose” your beliefs. If you are an altruistic seeker of truth, you have an obligation to help your fellow seekers by being honest about what you’ve discovered and how confident you are about it. Don’t claim to be more sure about your beliefs than you really are. Let the evidence guide you, and say it exactly as you see it. Be honest.

4 comments:

Rachel said...

Always interesting, Bennion. I liked what you said about fearing anti-mormon literature growing up. I've made the same observation of myself, I was so afraid of getting knowledge from the "wrong" sources. I find it funny that an organization that claims to have such a monopoly on the truth can feel so easily threatened by anything outside themselves...
I'm gradually learning to be open to knowledge from many perspectives, and feeling out what resonates with myself. I think my quest for knowledge has lead my down a less scientific path than yourself, but I'm enjoying my new process of discovering what I consider to be ethical and moral truths.

Bennion said...

Well thank you! There are many truths to be found in many different areas, I'm glad that you're adventurous enough to search. I think ethics and morality are very interesting; I'm hoping to write a bit on that later, and I'd love to hear your perspective too. Feel free to send me a personal message if you have some thoughts you'd like to share.

Brittany Stoker said...

I think a lot of people reading this have been exposed to other beliefs, and still believe the LDS Church has the most truth. You have been on a mission as well as many other people reading this, I'm assuming, so perhaps give those readers some credit. Maybe you didn't intend it to sound this way, but some of us (myself included) have been exposed to other beliefs, and have attended several other religious services. And yet, I'm still Mormon.

I have gone back and forth with my testimony, and still do pretty frequently, and I believe the Church to have the most truth that my limited experience has found. Although I may not have studied every piece of literature available, I feel in my heart that this gospel is the most true, and it makes sense to me.

One thing I will not do is tell someone that their beliefs are wrong for any reason. People believe what they believe and this frequently changes, as it has with you. You were married in the temple despite having told me previously that you didn’t believe it. I don't see what the big deal is. You're an atheist. I'm not. People's beliefs are unique as they are, so whether they believe it because they grew up around it or believe something else after years of study, what's it to you?

Also, I want to clarify that at least this Mormon does not feel that we have a monopoly on truth, as the comment above states. I believe that this is the truest Church and if when I die I can look back on my life, knowing I did the best I could with the knowledge I obtained, and grew up a good person having lived the standards of the gospel... well, I figure at that point it will really be irrelevant whether the church is true or not. I am a Mormon and I am no worse the wear for it.

And I’m just saying what I feel, not trying to pick a fight. :)

Bennion said...

Yeah, I'm trying to avoid picking fights too. I tend to be a lot more belligerent than I ought to be, so I'm trying hard to tone that down.

I do realize that many people stick with Mormonism even after significant exposure to many different ideas, and often after consideration of the very ideas that I find so convincing. So I'm definitely not saying that everyone who is Mormon hasn't done their research, I know many have. I'm just suggesting it's a necessary step for anyone who claims they are seeker of truth.

I hope that even for the people who read this and will never agree with me, they'll at least respect my beliefs as sincere, as I respect your beliefs as sincere. And there are many principles I've kept from Mormonism that I like, like your attitude of being non-judgmental, and an ethic of working hard and being productive.

I'm also glad that you live your life in such a way that you would be happy with how you lived it even if the gospel turned out not to be true. I certainly think that is very wise, and I hope others do that as well. I hope that I live my life in such a way that even if it turned out God existed, if He was just and caring, that He would approve of how I lived it.

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