Friday, November 20, 2020
Sunday, November 8, 2020
Under the direction of the stake presidency, I have been asked to speak about experiences I have had gathering Israel on both sides of the veil, though what I discuss will be lessons proper rather than experiences in particular. I hope that what I have to say is of use to some member of this audience and if so this talk will have been a success. I could raise the bar as the late Elder L. Tom Perry was fond of saying by hoping that I will keep you all awake for the duration of this address, but I think such an attempt would be, as my hero David Hume would say, a miracle.
May I preface my remarks by saying that gathering Israel is perhaps the second most important thing we do as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (After marrying the right person in the right place by the right authority.) It is not something that we should treat lightly, nor is it something that is reserved for one portion of our lives and then is completed. “Every member a missionary” is a calling from which we will not be released until after our final judgment, and perhaps not even then. When the Savior asked St. Peter three times if he loved him (with St. Peter answering in the affirmative all three times), the Savior responded to his chief apostle that he was to “feed his sheep”. A part of this mission, which is extended to all of us, is to find and gather Israel wherever we are. Doing so is in part a fulfillment of the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves; just as we desire and strive towards salvation and exaltation, so we should help others achieve these blessings. It is, as the saying goes, what Jesus would do.
I will now share two lessons I have learned while helping to gather scattered Israel, one in reference to my service as a full-time missionary, the other in reference to my time as an ordinance worker in the Salt Lake Temple. When I served as a full-time missionary in the Alabam Birmingham Mission under the direction of then-President Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, I was in a dark place in my life, though I did not fully see it at the time. I did not want to go on a mission and had only reluctantly gone only because several people had told me that no woman worth marrying would want to marry a non-returned missionary. (Ironically, my wife told me during our first encounter that she did not care if a man had served a mission or not; shows how much they know.) In addition to this, I had joined the church only a year prior to serving and had been alienated from my family for doing so. While I did not think it would weigh on me much at the time, it turns out that I had only repressed my feelings and these feelings would reveal themselves later on. However, as I served with all of my might, I learned how to forgive. And not just certain family members in that particular situation, but others in my past and I have never looked back. What does that have to do with gathering Israel? The person you first have to gather before anyone else is yourself. If you are merely going through the motions and are not developing what Preach my Gospel calls Christlike attributes, you are closer to the group of people in Lehi’s vision who are on the path to being lost rather than holding onto the iron rod and not being ashamed.
Now allow me to talk about my service in the Salt Lake Temple. Unlike my mission experience, I did want to be an ordinance worker and was lucky enough to be one in the Salt Lake Temple where the temple endowment is done with live actors. I am currently being trained to become a professional philosopher and neuroscientist, and one of the prolific problems in philosophy is known as the problem of evil. While many volumes have been written on this complicated problem, at root the issue is how can a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good allow evil to occur. If God were all-powerful, he could stop the evil; if God were all-knowing, then he would know that evil occurs and could stop it; and if God were perfectly good then he would not permit evil to occur. Yet as we are gathered here today in masks with over 200,000 people dead from COVID-19, we are acutely aware that evil and suffering are very concrete problems rather than abstract ones. For some philosophers, this is enough to show that God does not exist or that he cannot be the kind of being he is generally attributed to be. As the philosopher, David Hume said in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil? (Hume 1990: 108-109). If Hume is right, it would seem that the type of God we worship could not be what we originally thought; I highly doubt anyone in this room would worship a being who is either impotent, malevolent, or simply indifferent to suffering.
The temple is an answer to the problem of evil, and it is part of why the problem of evil has never particularly bothered me. In the temple, I learned (and we learn) that prior to coming to this planet we agreed to be tested and tried. Nothing in the contract said anything about a lack of suffering or about being comfortable in happy; in fact, we are told that we will suffer and that such will be to our benefit, while some suffering will be just for suffering’s sake. But even through all of this, the temple itself is a manifestation of God’s love and care. While God will allow us all to suffer, he still plans to save us all in the end. And if we choose he will exalt us all as well, though that part is up to us. Suffice it to say, as I have worked on gathering Israel on the other side of the veil, I am reminded that God will eventually conquer evil and that we have a part to play in its banishment.
In closing, there are many other experiences I can share about gathering Israel. But perhaps the biggest lesson in gathering Israel no matter what side of the veil you are working on is that the world is not all about you. Do not mistake this to mean that you are not important; very much to the contrary you are of infinite worth. Had you been the only person who ever lived, it is my conviction that Jesus of Nazareth would still have suffered the pains of Gethsemane to pay the penalty that you deserved. You are loved that much and are that important. But the world is not all about you, and at various times in life, we lose sight of that. Gathering Israel on both sides of the veil is a reminder that we have no time to be caught in ourselves as Elder Uchtdorf has mentioned. We need to roll up our sleeves and go to work. How we do that may change in the current pandemic, but there is more than enough to do. May we continue to gather Israel on both sides and continue to fulfill the great commission and the great commandment. In the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.
Friday, October 30, 2020
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
26) Aesthetic experience: pleasure, sui generis, or perception?
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
PhilPapers, a website that philosophers use to post papers and meet each other, recently did a survey asking 50 philosophical questions of all people on the network. I took it, and thought that I would share the results here. The questions had the following answers available: Accept, lean towards, reject, lean towards rejecting, question is not clear, no fact of the matter, insufficiently familiar with the issue, agnostic/undecided, and other where you were allowed to make your own answer. I will go through the first 25 questions in part one and give my answers in some detail, as well as explaining what is meant by the question (or at least what I took the question to mean). I will answer the other 25 questions in a second post. Let's get started. Questions will be in bold, my answers will be in this font.
1) Footbridge (pushing man off bridge will save five on track below, what ought one do?): push or don't push?
2) Properties: classes, transcendent universals, nonexistent, tropes, or immanent universals?
3) Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes or no?
4) Aesthetic value: objective or subjective?
5) A priori knowledge: no or yes?
6) Theory of reference: deflationary, descriptive, or causal?
7) Aim of philosophy (which is most important?): truth/knowledge, wisdom, understanding, happiness, or goodness/justice?
8) Moral principles: moral generalism or moral particularism?
9) Knowledge: rationalism or empiricism?
10) Mental content: externalism or internalism?
11) Kant (what is his view?): two worlds or one world?
12) Moral motivation: externalism or internalism?
13) Truth: deflationary, correspondence, or epistemic?
14) Mind: non-physicalism or physicalism?
15) Epistemic justification: externalism or internalism?
16) Semantic content (which expressions are context-dependent?): minimalism (no more than a few), radical contextualism (most or all) , or moderate contextualism (intermediate)?
17) External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?
18) Knowledge claims: relativism, contextualism, or invariantism?
19) Science: scientific anti-realism or scientific realism?
20) Free will: no free will, compatibilism, or libertarianism?
21) Laws of nature: non-Humean or Humean?
22) Personal identity: further-fact view, psychological view, or biological view?
23) God: atheism or theism?
24) Gender: psychological, biological, unreal, or social?
25) Capital punishment: permissible or impermissible?
Friday, October 16, 2020
In the United States, many people do not believe in nor do they understand the theory of evolution, though it is one of the most established theories in modern science and affects many other areas of life, especially medicine. Given that many people do not know the basic facts of evolution, for this week's traditio I have decided to use this talk by biologist Jerry Coyne where he discusses his amazing book Why Evolution is True.