I just fished a book called “The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth” by Jonathan Rauch. In it he talks about what makes something “true”, and lays out a sort of constitution of rules for deciding a “truth”
Similar to the US Constitution, his constitution has its own equivalents of checks and balances (peer review and replication), separation of powers (specialization), governing institutions (scientific societies and professional bodies), voting (citations and confirmations), and civic virtues (submit your beliefs for checking if you want to be taken seriously).
The book delves into how the former president of the US completely turned this “constitution” on its head. It was good reading. While not specifically talking about religion, there were some parts that jumped out at me as directly applying to religious thought, and specifically Mormon thought, belief and Truth (with the capital T)
From the book, it talks about “super-smart” people, like maybe former surgeons and supreme court justices.
……intelligence is no defense against false belief. To the contrary, it makes us even better at rationalizing. Super-smart people, as Haidt notes in The Righteous Mind, are more skilled than others at finding arguments to justify their own points of view. But when they are asked to find arguments on the opposite side of a question, they do no better than anyone else. Brainpower makes people better press secretaries, but not necessarily better at open-minded, self-critical thinking.The Constitution of Knowledge 
So Elder Ballard saying he was not a “dodo” and “having been to a pretty good school” is no help for him in deciding if something is true or not, and in fact will help him come up with better rationalizations for his beliefs.
This next part was a lightbulb moment for me. It made so much sense as related to the Mormon church and its truth claims.
You might think that perverse stubbornness would be maladaptive from an evolutionary point of view. The reason it is not goes back to Aristotle: humans are social animals. What matters most from an evolutionary perspective is not that a person forms beliefs which are true; it is that she forms beliefs which lead to social success. In effect, what matters most is not what I believe or what you believe but what we believe.
We can’t afford to be wrong about whether a bear is chasing us, but being wrong about climate change or gun control will impose no personal cost on us at all, especially when compared to the cost of challenging the sacred beliefs of our group. From an individual point of view, using our cognitive firepower to defend our cherished beliefs makes good sense, even if defending them makes us less accurate about reality—as it demonstrably does.
Think of it this way: humans are equipped with some of evolution’s finest mental circuitry to protect us from changing our minds when doing so might alienate us from our group. We have hundreds of thousands of years of practice at believing whatever will keep us in good standing with our tribe, even if that requires denying, discounting, rationalizing, misperceiving, and ignoring the evidence in front of our nose. We see this talent put to work every day by others, and by ourselves.The Constitution of Knowledge (highlights are mine)
Wow! It is not important what a Q15 member believes is the truth, it is only important that he believes what the other 14 believe. Same for the 70. I think this also applies to a degree with our families and neighbors, more so if you live in a highly Mormon population.
Where I live, none of my neighbors are LDS, none of my coworkers are LDS, so me having heterodox Mormon beliefs will only impact some family relationships, but will not affect my livelihood or social interaction with my friends. This would change if I lived in the Mormon Corridor . Having beliefs outside of my Mormon tribe would affect my social life, and could affect my work if I was employed by BYU, or even if I provided a service and had lots of LDS customers. Think of a dentist in Orem who 95% of her patients were LDS from her ward and stake.
Our minds have evolved to keep us safe and healthy, even it if means giving up our autonomy to believe our “truth”
It also affects how we learn.
“Our ability to successfully evaluate evidence and form true beliefs has as much to do with our social conditions as our individual psychology,” write the philosophers of science Cailin O’Connor and James Owen Weatherall in their 2019 book, The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread. Even when individuals try to keep their minds open and their thinking straight, the group can get trapped in a loop of mutual bias confirmation. Members believe they are checking with others and seeking good information, but actually they are repeating and amplifying each other’s misapprehensions. The whole community becomes an echo chamber. “Agents who learn from others in their social network can fail to form true beliefs about the world, even when more than adequate evidence is available,” O’Connor and Weatherall write. “The Constitution of Knowledge
How have you seen this in your life? Has it affected you, or someone you know in how they discern what is true? Now that we understand this, is their a way to overcome these evolutionary tendencies?
 I read this as an e-book, so there was no consistent page number I could reference, it changed every time I opened it depended on which reader I was using.
 I learned from my mistakes! Spelled corridor correctly this time!
Elder Holland, not Elder Ballard, deserves credit for not being a dodo. Although I’m sure every member of the Twelve would make that claim.
I haven’t read the book, but it sure seems like the authors are discounting what you might call “the social utility of truth” more than is warranted. There are tens of millions of Americans embracing demonstrably false claims about Covid — and they are dying at a higher rate than their more reality-based peers. The Republican Party has embraced a variety of kooky ideas about politics and recent history — and they lost the Presidency and the two key runoff elections in Georgia. To many people (including former Republicans), “Republican” is now almost synonymous with “idiot.” Republican lawmakers, as a group, are now regarded as spineless cowards who either believe stupid things or, worse, disbelieve them but publicly embrace them for political gain. I just don’t see how to read this as a winning scenario for misinformation.
Maybe the book’s main idea works better in other contexts. Free press versus state control and propaganda deserves a discussion here. But I’m thinking just the general idea of groupthink, which has been around awhile, has more relevance. But groupthink is not a long-term winning strategy either, or even a medium-term strategy. Reality intrudes and things fall apart at some point, generally sooner rather than later.
Bishop Bill is absolutely wrong about false beliefs coming from study and intelligence. False beliefs come from ignorance and sloth.
It is not the educated who have fallen for false political ideas, it is the ignorant. Study after study has confirmed that it is those who dropped out of high school or stopped their education at high school graduation who are falling for nonsensical political mantras.
As for religion, false beliefs are primarily growing among those who fail to really immerse themselves in the scriptures and other scholarly works. There is no substitute for putting in the time and effort required to truly learn.
There is clearly an epidemic of false belief sweeping every aspect of culture from politics to religion to general understanding of risk. But this is not an epidemic among those with advanced degrees who are just trying to fit in, it is an epidemic among those who cast books aside and only fill their minds with ideas gleaned from YouTube and TikTok.
Verisimilitude is not the pt, JCS. The giant f-ing cave bear doesn’t care what you believe, only if you’ve got 20 other tribesmen behind you w/ sharpened sticks.
Living in the heart of the Mormon Corridor, this makes a lot of sense to me from the social perspective. I know a person who had no desire for herself to belong to the church but living in Utah Valley, she and her husband did not want their children to be isolated or excluded. So they participated very loosely and at a surface level in the church. It provided just enough connection and familiarity with other children and neighbors that it gave them social benefits, even while they privately taught their kids to ignore much of LDS doctrine and things they deemed “silly rules.” My sense is the parents actually benefitted more than the kids from those social connections. The kids were all inactive and done participating in the church by teenage years.
One of the best explanations I have heard for why God appears to be so angry or unloving in one episode or so loving and involved in another, depending on the scripture or story, is the idea that scriptures are not a record of God’s actual reality or personality, rather, the scriptures are a record of mankind’s attempt to understand God and see him according to their personal or social needs at that particular time and place. We fashion our idea of God into what benefits us personally and as a group.
So yes, intelligent people get excited about establishing Zion, or the mysteries of God. They cannot resist levels of authority and the resulting praise or obedience. They get power, control, security, etc. by belonging and leading in such groups. We are all subject to these trappings because as the OP notes, we are social animals and this is how it’s done, particularly in an industrialized, tech nation where our economy and livelihoods are forever intertwined with the group.
Maybe the real Dodos are the one who fail to take advantage of the system by navigating their way through life engaging or sampling as best gives them access to things that they want? In that sense, our Church leaders and many in government, business, entertainment, or who otherwise have succeeded within their field are, if nothing else, really socially intelligent.. But not to be seen as blessed directly from God, possessing capital T “truth,” or to be obeyed/followed without conscious analysis.
JCS, nowhere did I say “false beliefs coming from study and intelligence” But I do agree “False beliefs come from ignorance and sloth.” The false belief that false beliefs come from study and intelligence is the perfect example.
JCS, if only that were true. I got my bachelors degree at BYU with a good deal of effort but without applying much critical thinking at all. I learned my trade skills and regurgitated information on test after test but was never asked to challenge any of my assumptions or pursue any undiscovered truths. I spent the two years of my mission studying the scriptures as deeply as I knew how, day after day, all the while deliberately ignoring their inconsistencies, weirdness, and morally reprehensible bits.
When I did my masters program far, far away from BYU, I had a professor challenge me for the first time to try to discover the truth instead of bolstering my own assumptions. It was jarring and it was one of the first steps towards faith crisis for me.
Think of all the pseudo-intellectuals pumping out apologetic literature. I don’t mean to be uncharitable but that’s what we’re talking about here. One can devote an entire life to studying something without ever questioning it. And that doesn’t lead to truth, just more rationalization, just like the OP says.
I was socially rewarded in my undergrad, my mission, in my family, and in my UT bubble for thinking like a press secretary. When I dared to question the narrative, I damaged family relationships and lost out on job opportunities. I have to wonder, though, if I could have done it if the social order hadn’t already been cracking under today’s political division. When you lean left, you trade social capital in one group for social capital in another. When you leave the church, you lose social capital in your ward, sure, but the rest of the world is gonna give you a less intense side-eye from now on. So I have to concede the possibility my beliefs and actions are still socially-driven and I’m not as much of a free thinker as I’d like to believe.
BB’s point is perfectly illustrated when it comes to mask mandates. The actual studies are all over the map, but wearing masks has become the new way of “virtue signaling “ where people can claim that they are “smarter” and “more compassionate “ than others. It is the new social way of showing that one fits in.
JCS was right. Bill did say “intelligence is no defense against false belief. To the contrary, it makes us even better at rationalizing.” Bill is wrong about being smart=being wrong.
There is a lot of truth about members showing up for social reasons. Perhaps the greatest damage to the church in the last two years is that the pandemic has destroyed the social connections that previously existed. The shutdown that kept people apart has led to a real distancing among members of wards.
In essence, it has caused many to say that they were perfectly happy being on their own on Sundays and they didn’t need the congregation. It will be really interesting to see how many come back if things ever open up again.
Wayne, I never said Intelligence is the source of the false belief as JCS inferred. The false belief comes from other sources, and bring smart makes it easer to accept that false belief if it keeps you in your tribe and safe from rejection. But as I type this I see where you are coming from. If my intelligence makes it easier to rationalize a false belief which I hold and not reject it, then I guess you could infer what JCS is saying, though in typical JCS fashion he took it to a whole new level. Thanks for the feedback and making me think deeper on this whole thing.
Wayne, perhaps the point is that intelligence can help or hinder one’s alignment with reality, depending on the level of one’s epistemic humility.
I know this is true because I’m smart and I’ve never been wrong.
All of us know individuals who appear very intelligent and who are very accomplished who openly testify that “the Church is true” / “President Nelson is a prophet of God” / “Joseph Smith was a prophet of God” / “The Book of Mormon is the word of God”. They have every right to believe these things. I certainly used to. But in my experience, virtually every individual whom I know who can claim these four statements as truth are not the kind of people who are reading and researching and analyzing using outside sources (unapproved) of information. I’ve asked and usually the response is something like “I’m not going to expose myself to anti-Mormon garbage”.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying an intelligent person can’t be a TBM or that no TBMs are intelligent. But I can say with a high level of certainty that most TBMs are not challenging their beliefs with critical analysis. You can be extremely intelligent but not necessarily informed. And who knows, maybe I’ve been fooled by Satan and his sources but at least I’m not afraid to look.
Dave B: Correct that the church cannot survive much longer if it relies only on “groupthink.”
JCS: Correct that Bill does imply that it is the educated folks who are making the mistakes.
P: Wrong in the incessant attacks and blasphemous language.
Counselor: correct that many folks on the Wasatch front are in the church for social and professional advancement.
Bill: Wrong in claiming JCS’s interpretation of the OP is wrong.
Kirkstall: Correct that too many folks in the church merely do what they are told, rather than giving things independent thought.
Ivy: Although everyone should be vaccinated for sure, Ivy is correct that many folks are wearing masks just to make it look like they are better than others
Wayne: Correct in quoting exact language of the OP.
Rudi: Correct that many like myself have learned from the shutdown that we are happier being with our families on Sunday instead of spending the entire day in meetings.
Bill: Correct acknowledge the direct quote.
Robert: Ignores the fact that ignorant folks are causing the problems in the US.
Josh H: Correct that too few are examining their beliefs and instead, are simply moving on in ignorance.
Exhibit A: Nephites are not real. They never were.
– Some very smart people in the church believe Nephites are real. They excel in their various professions. They can write well. They can solve complex problems. They can effectively manage large organizations. But, in this and other areas, they are demonstrably disconnected from reality
– Entire libraries of material are written about why Nephites are real
– You can study Nephites your whole life without discovering they’re not real
– Believing Nephites are real gives you social capital in the church
– Therefore, the upper echelons of the church are filled with people who are, by some measures, very smart and, by other measures, totally disconnected from reality
– Therefore, being smart is no safeguard against becoming disconnected from reality
You bring an interesting framework within which to view member behavior, BB. I think there is merit in examining why many are more comfortable fitting with their group, finding the mean and staying with a standard deviation of it.
I can’t productively drop into a discussion about the merits or dangers of being smart or not (feels like a field of inquiry that is filled with thorns), but I will argue that critical thinking skills form a more reliable foundation upon which we can most effectively evaluate mediated messages, those who make cultural assertions, and those who present well formed argument. We can make rational decisions on what social capital to seek or spend, or choose to be a moral hero and speak out against the majority, social consequences be damned.
Here is a possible example. I can be a highly skilled dentist (smart), but if I haven’t learned critical thinking skills I may not be as effective at seeing the merits or fallacies of an argument or any kind of information that makes some kind of a claim–I won’t be as effective at determining the path I choose and why. My choices won’t be as efficacious, despite my being a killer DDS. I have a close friend who is a dentist and believes the election was stolen. It’s really absurd until I step back and look at his family, most of his associations and his clientele. I have also concluded he can really explain why he believes the election was stolen, and I don’t see evidence of critical thinking skills. He is a skilled healthcare professional but one without a understanding of the value of systematic doubt.
A problem is that we don’t welcome critical thinking within our religious tradition or culture. Those who tried (Roberts, Widtsoe, Talmage, Brown, maybe Uchtdorf?) have not shaped us enough in that direction. By contrast, the forces of Fielding Smith, Ruben Clark, McConkie had far more success at entrenching anti-rationalism in favor of Mormonism’s own kind of evangelical populism. Rationalism can be at odds with church priorities and it creates tension. As a church culture we avoid tension. In fact, we view tension, contention, conflict as being so dangerous that we avoid it all costs. Maybe this is the kind of evolutionary force you describe. Applying critical thinking is disruptive, but paradoxically, I think it leads us to a stronger place religiously. In that regard I would much more align with B.H. Roberts, et al. I would argue it is a harder road to trod, but a better one. I think it would make us as a church stronger precisely because it forces us to confront our desire for conformity. Could it be that the evolutionary forces you speak of is the natural man? Is it our challenge, to shake that off and find a way to greater clarity when determining what is truth?
Years ago I bought a book in an airport written by Carl Sagan, one of my favorite popularizers of science. I read The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark on my next two flights. The book is an exercise in classical enlightenment thought. Sagan boils down the essentials of systematic doubt, dubiousness, inductive fallacies, the scientific method (and takes a few shots at the epistemology of religion). I have since given it to many friends. One day I noticed my science-centered, then twelve-year-old son reading it. He enjoyed it too. He is very rational, and faithful. He is a good kid. And I am delighted when he uses principle of critical thinking at church. Nothing makes me happier than when he comes home from church, tells me about their SS lesson, pauses and says, “The teacher said this and that, and I know that is nonsense and I think she made it up.” I’m more comfortable with him being an engaged member of the church as a skilled skeptic than one who feels more comfortable at the cultural mean. He is better able to see more clearly things of real importance.
Everything @Kirkstall said. I think what was a little different for me is that I did develop some critical thinking skills in college and grad school but I put church in a different part of my brain. It was somehow just exempt. Only recently did I departition.
@bigsky, I just read that book. Felt like a prophesy of today (because Sagan was quite concerned about where we were headed). Except of course Sagan didn’t believe in prophesy.
Group cohesion, which greatly enhanced odds of individual survival, was THE evolutionary imperative. This end (cohesion) still justifies all means, including insisting that group members believe, or at least affirm they believe, Nephites actually existed. Maintenance of Member-in-Good-Standing status in both Trumpworld & Wokeworld involves identical and no less egregious gymnastics. This is a good portion of that famous Human Condition.
Within the next 50 years, all (or nearly all) of us reading and commenting here will be dead. Sometimes I wonder why I am even interested in what you all have to say. Should I be interested? To my knowledge, I’ve never met any of you. Why should I care about your beliefs or opinions? Why do I care to come here occasionally and read Bishop Bill’s and other author’s posts?
When I die, if I find out that my beliefs are “wrong”, but I can stand before whatever form of deity exists and exclaim that I tried to do the best with what I had, will that be sufficient? Will I be let into “heaven”?
I don’t know, I just read through these pretty blunt statements and claims by people here and everyone seems to think that their opinion is correct and that those who don’t agree are idiots. Well, maybe not everyone, but too many in my estimation.
“Mass hypnosis and the COVID cult
Posted on December 3, 2021 by Geoff B.
It can be frustrating trying to reach the people who have fallen for the propaganda and fear porn of the COVID cult. But each of us might know one or two people who can be reached and awakened from their deep sleep.”
The above is from the millenial star. I am forbidden from commenting there, but watch because a number of my ward go there. 100% mask wearing at church yesterday.
Yesterday in GD the teacher wrote on the board Declarations 1 2 3. He talked about the first 2 declarations then proceeded to claim the family proclamation was actually the same as the declarations. I strenuously objected that it was not in the scriptures because it did not claim to be revelation, and could not become revelation in retrospect.
The teacher sees anything the prophet says is direct from God so there is no difference. I did sugguest 3 could be when the priesthood was extended to all worthy members, and gay marriages could be sealed.
When the teacher was bishop he refused me a TR because I would not agree that obedience is the first law of heaven.
The OT is going to be fun? Or a disaster
It’s a rowdy group, bwbarnett, kind of Reddit for Mormons, and correct, we get a bit obnoxious. There’s a rotating schedule of idiots here, we all take turns, tho some of us show up in that column more frequently: guilty as charged:
“You can be extremely intelligent but not necessarily informed.“
To be fair, there is an information onslaught – exponentiated by the internet.
Multitudes of categories – multitudes of sub categories:
Music is a good example – I googled “musical genres”. Four lines showed, with a tab for 47 more.
Other subjects I’d like to be informed on:
Local and national current events
Local & national & world politics
Architecture & style
Health & fitness
Church – current happenings
There is just so much!
(Add in requirements for your job, some necessary, much not, and it turns up the pace on the treadmill to an 11.)
No one can know everything. That’s one reason it is good when top church leadership acknowledges that we don’t have complete truth.
I like this line of you post, it is very well said
“We can’t afford to be wrong about whether a bear is chasing us, but being wrong about climate change or gun control will impose no personal cost on us at all, especially when compared to the cost of challenging the sacred beliefs of our group.”
It is very true fact.