There are 20 thoughts on “Research and More Research”.

  1. Coming so late to this comment section, perhaps I should forbear to say anything at all. However, none of the comments (including Dan’s editorial piece) actually got at the basic problem of the limitations of well-intentioned research.

    The main problem is not that most research results are tentative or forever relative and inconclusive. Nor is it that real research may drive a wedge into a close family relationship.

    Instead, the main point to be made is that even the most well-meaning effort to research a controversial subject is normally so poorly informed that one is unlikely to find anything like the truth. Getting accurate and useful research results is dependent upon formal training in critical thinking along with professional training in the field of inquiry being applied.

    This can mean that only those trained variously in anthropology, linguistics, history, theology/philosophy, and the like, can hope to address the hard, academic questions about faith and religion. Better to leave that to the professionals, and to make one’s own non-professional approach a matter of faith and prayer.

    Most young marrieds with children simply do not have time to become professional religious scholars, and they never will find that necessary or opportune in any case.

    What they ought to understand instead is that there is a place for actual scholarship. For “the vindication that will come to the Prophet and to this work of the Restoration will come by scholars who are committed to the Kingdom, who are unequivocally devoted to it.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Interpreter, 7 (2013):xiii.

  2. President Oaks’ talk is so relevant to our lives in the digital era when we have discovered that every scientific study is tentative and every “fact” is just a click away from becoming a factoid. 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day and 90% of stored data was created in just the last 2 years. Knowing what is really usable knowledge is critical in the era of our information Tsunami. Pondering your discussion prompted me to revisit TS Elliot’s famous poem the Rock which I have heard from many in Information Technology. President Oaks was not the first to ponder this matter.
    TS Elliot’s The Rock
    The endless cycle of idea and action,
    Endless invention, endless experiment,
    Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
    Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
    Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
    All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
    All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
    But nearness to death no nearer to God .
    Where is the Life we have lost in living?
    Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
    Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
    The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
    Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

  3. David Bennett: “Saying there are questions about history, there are debated ideas of what happened, is an obvious, goes without saying, point.”

    Some of us, I suppose, are simply doomed to remain on the level of the obvious.

    But the obviousness of my point is an indicator of its correctness. I stand by my position as not only true, but, if it’s correctly understood, beyond reasonable dispute.

    DB: “Oaks says, ‘you should not research those issues’. . . . Don’t research. Just don’t research.'”

    I don’t see him saying “You should not research those issues. . . . ”

    I see him saying “Research is not the answer.” Or, as the abstract to my article phrases it, “more research is OFTEN not the way to approach these concerns” (emphasis added). Or, as the abstract also says, “Research can never completely replace true faith, only supplement it.”

    DB: “I think it’s bad advice. I think it’s a horrible perspective.”

    I agree that your version of President Oaks’s position is a horrible perspective and that it would be bad advice. But I don’t believe that it’s his advice or his perspective.

    DB: “If your ultimate point here is to say ‘well the Church, it’s history and teachings can very well raise many great questions and issues for people, but in some cases there are not answers; therefore, a believing spouse should not research the troubling items the skeptical spouse is dealing with.’ then you’re in league with Oaks’ point and I’ll reiterate. It’s a bad one.”

    That’s neither my ultimate point, nor my proximate point, nor any point of mine at all — and I don’t believe that it’s President Oaks’s point, either.

    • Bottom line is if a believing spouse has a skeptical spouse. If that skeptical spouse brings up questions and concerns about the Church, even requesting the believer help and look into the questions and concerns. it’s bad advice to tell the believer that researching those issues is not something he/she should do.
      It was bad advice. simply put. Your piece took this little hypothetical and ran in a different direction, missing the point of the hypothetical.

      I imagine if a skeptical spouse came with those questions and concerns (again these are not questions that are in the “where did we come from” vein) and the believer responded with, “no no…we dont’ want to talk about these. We need to get you to strengthen your faith in Christ and the Church. I’ll continue to pray for you.” The skeptic would feel ignored. A wall would be built between the two and problems could possibly at that point, only exacerbate. Terrible advice.

      • Hmmm. I wonder if I researched David Bennett’s anti-Elder Oaks position — addressing every one of his arguments — I could bring him ’round to my pro-Elder Oaks point of view? Chances are I couldn’t help him, but if I did “convince” him … this Bennett convinced against his will is of the same position still. Better not to indulge him.

      • DB: “it’s bad advice to tell the believer that researching those issues is not something he/she should do.”

        President Oaks gave no such advice.

        DB: “It was bad advice. simply put. . . . Terrible advice.”

        It would have been, had President Oaks given it. But he didn’t.

        Simply put.

  4. I am very familiar with three relevant cases that support President Oaks’ counsel.

    In two of the cases the believing spouse and the doubting spouse (in each case wife and husband, respectively) continued to express their affection for one another. In both cases the husband agreed to support her and the family’s continued activity in the Church. In one case the husband, a university professor, remained active, supportive and engaged even amidst his unbelief. Over the years his testimony was rekindled and he ultimately served as a beloved Stake President. In the other case, the husband was actually a non-Church member who refused baptism shortly into the marriage, much to the surprise and disappointment of the wife. While he rarely attended church with her, he made sure to not interfere with the wife and children’s scheduled church activities. When it came time to support missionary sons, he did so even if reluctantly at first. Ultimately all of their children were married in the temple with grandchildren serving full-time missions and looking to temple marriages of their own. He was much beloved by his children and grandchildren for his support. His 60+ year marriage to his faithful wife was recently interrupted by his passing.

    In the third case, well-meaning friends and family tried to address the doubting husband’s concerns, but this only served to entrench him in his negative opinions. He adopted an anti-religion world view and became active in anti-Mormon criticism. His wife resisted for a couple of years, but after his constant prodding, relented and agreed to accept him on his terms. Today the couple leads a lifestyle that very few – even the non-religious – would think is wise, and to the detriment of those close to them. Many family and friends are watching their situation closely, knowing they’ll likely have to intervene at some point when things ultimately fall apart.

    As I contemplate these three cases, the approach of the first two was clearly the best. The believing spouse stayed anchored to the gospel and asked the non-believing or disillusioned spouse to support her without criticizing or debating him. The love of the non-believing spouse – the desire to keep their marriage covenant the best they could given their current faith situation – allowed these two marriages to succeed marvelously. In the third case you had a few people try to directly address the husband’s expressed concerns, but this backfired and made things worse. And it should also be noted that, contrary to the first two cases, the non-believing spouse demanded his wife accept him on his terms only.

    I make no judgement on the specifics of anyone else’s situation based on these 3 cases. I provide them only to illustrate that I think President Oaks gave wise and inspired counsel to the young married couples in Chicago.


  5. Delightful. In Borges’ story the last line of the translation has a small error. Should read “there are NO other relics . . .” That makes Bro Dan’s point even better. All our learning in more and more arcane knowledge will blow away like the 1:1 map and nothing will be left except our broken hearts and contrite spirits.

    Borges was fully fluent in both Spanish and English so I wonder if he had read the Lewis Carroll piece and adapted it for his Castellano readers.

    Dan Peterson is always such a joy to read. All thanks.

  6. I wanted to yell bravo from the mere reading of the abstract of this illustrious article. Dan’s piece gives me peace.

    It calls to mind Robert Millet’s book, What Ever Happened to Faith? As a new convert in my college years in the 1970’s at California State University Long Beach, I was a History major. My anti-Latter-day Saint mother fed me with a slingshot some of the best saint killers — Fawn Brodie, Ann Eliza Young, and the Tanners. On my own I bought Walter Martin, Floyd McElveen, and other Evangelical ‘tell the truth in love’ propagandists that lied about my Faith and deliberately distorted its teachings and history. Worse actually, I inhaled much of the mustard gas in Sunstone and Dialogue.

    To this day I am grateful that God gave me a believing heart. Leading up to my baptism, I had had a spiritual experience and I decided to trust in it. Faith really is a decision. Upon reading a handful of primary source documents on the Adam-God theory, I felt “So President Young was spouting off about something weird. So what?” I still think it’s so-what. Same with the blood atonement issue. And other matters of chatter. Not to worry, Glen, we are promised our faith will be tried; go figure. And no need to whine about it or go sympathy-seeking at Liberal tea parties where you will be soul-buttered by pseudo-faithful failure-in-the-Faith sophisticates. Instead, stay rooted—stay anchored.

    Initial contact with difficult points in our history are like getting the wind knocked out of me — after a few brief moments I get my breath back and I’m fine. I seek answers. If those are lacking then seek Faithful Perspective. If that fails for the moment, then recall spiritual experiences and evidences that that I do have. God is smarter than bunk. That is, if I look to Him. Evidence is not always reliable. It is not always truth; there can be illusion in it.

    And you get what you want. God will provide it “because they desired it.” Those who crave pseudo-intelligence and the wordcraft of priestcraft will dance to the music in Liberal dance halls.

    Brother England, there never has been a conflict between faith and knowledge, belief and reason, obedience and ‘intellectual integrity.’ Conflict only comes with absence of faith, testimony, discipleship. Dissonance is a choice, not a thing that ambushes and victimizes.

    O, and ‘hobby’ is not discipleship.

  7. I agree with Pres. Oaks as well, but I don’t like Gigerenzer’s experiment and the conclusions drawn from it. For one thing, the Census Bureau now says San Antonio is more populous that San Diego, so if the question was administered again, would the less-informed-on-US-cities Germans be 100% correct?

    What if the question had instead included San Francisco and San Jose? Would knowing about San Francisco but not San Jose cause most to get the wrong answer — because San Jose is actually more populous?

    And in the case of city populations, more research is what would make one “able” to answer correctly. While the lack of information resulted in more Germans answering the question correctly (given the populations at that time, and in line with the way the question was given), I don’t think anyone would take from the results that the Germans were more “able” to provide the correct answer, even if they gave the right answer more often.

    However, at the most basic level, as Dr. Peterson states — as in whether there is even a God — such things will not be found out by more and more researching of what others think. Ultimately such knowledge rests in our own experience with God, and our testimonies of other facets of the restored gospel rest in our own experiences with the witness of the Holy Ghost.

  8. That was a weird piece–seems to have completely missed the point. Oaks recommended in marriages wherein one spouse has become inactive due to difficult issues, that the believing spouse not research the questions raised by the unbelieving/skeptical spouse in terms of trying to help the unbelieving spouse. it is true that there are questions with no answers. He’s not saying the research is not the answer because there are no answers to the questions. He’s saying research is not the answer to help an unbelieving spouse. To help an unbelieving spouse the believing spouse should work to increase his/her faith in Jesus, and pray that the unbeliever get fixed or get over it–essentially.

    It seems to me Oaks’ advice helps to create a wedge within a marriage rather than a help. It comes off as Oaks telling a believing spouse to not try and understand where the skeptical spouse is coming from. If you hear him/her out and research on your own, it isn’t going to help the situation. That’s a shame because spouses should be able to be open with each other. All too often a spouse who starts to question, and worries that his/her concerns present too many problems for adherence to the Church, that skeptical spouse gets shut down by the believing spouse. Walls are formed and there is no resolve. The believing spouse may well take his/her name to the temple, perhaps, or fast for his/her spiritual welfare. But it still leaves the skeptical spouse feeling as if he/she is being ignored, unappreciated, disliked, rejected etc.

    On the other hand if a skeptical spouse raises issues and concerns and the believer hears him/her and does some personal research into the issues, then at least the skeptical one gets heard, feels appreciated and listened to. I find Oaks’ advice objectionable…and your piece missed the whole point.

    • I believe that you misconstrue President Oaks’s advice, and that, therefore, you’re not in a position to accurately construe my comments on it.

      I don’t for a moment agree that President Oaks advocates that a believing spouse solely work to increase his or her own faith in Jesus while praying that an unbelieving spouse get fixed or get over it. Nor do I see him saying that research is never of any use at all.

      • In other words, it is my opinion that your opinion about Oak’s advice is wrong, therefore, in my opinion you have no right to have an opinion about my opinion about Oak’s advice.

        • Bradley, everyone is entitled to an opinion. Having an opinion doesn’t mean it is correct. Correctness also doesn’t determine whether anyone else has an opinion. In this case, Dr. Peterson has suggested that your opinion was incorrect–not that you couldn’t have one.

      • Oaks is replying to those who have spouses who have grown skeptical and concerned about the Church for various reasons. He tells the believing spouse research is not the answer, if such a believing spouse asks him how do these believing spouses approach researching the issues that are concerning the spouse.
        In conclusion in your piece you say “Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? No quantity of scientific data and no amount of immersion in the library stacks will settle those questions beyond doubt.” These are not the issues the skeptical spouses are dealing with. These are not the questions that the believing spouse would have to be researching.

        As I said, you are far afield from the issue you are trying to address.

        • Dear Mr. Bennett:

          You fault me on account of the list of questions with which I conclude my little piece:

          “Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? No quantity of scientific data and no amount of immersion in the library stacks will settle those questions beyond doubt.”

          “These,” you say, “are not the issues the skeptical spouses are dealing with. These are not the questions that the believing spouse would have to be researching.”

          In my experience, they often ARE. And, in the end, they almost ALWAYS are.

          But I cited such ultimate existential questions because they’re so manifestly not answerable in a way that is decisively and obviously clear to everybody, not because I was claiming that they’re the only or even the primary questions that arise in doubters’ minds.

          You seem to have overlooked my earlier list of questions, and my comment on it:

          “Apart from the most simple and noncontroversial topics,” I wrote, “research and scholarly argument will almost always be tentative, inconclusive, reaching probable conclusions and arguing for positions that invite qualifications and counterarguments. What caused the fall of Rome? Who wrote the Odyssey and the Iliad? What are the roles of nature and nurture in human personality? What is the ultimate origin of morality? These and thousands of other such questions have been and continue to be disputed — to say nothing of such far deeper and more essential questions as whether there is a God, whether Jesus really rose from the dead, or whether Joseph Smith was divinely inspired.”

          I happen, for example, to have been exposed to vigorous disagreements over the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Was Shakespeare a cover for the Earl of Oxford? This isn’t an issue that especially fascinates me and it’s certainly not a question of “ultimate concern,” but it strikes me as quite analogous to certain questions about LDS scripture.

          And there are, as I said, literally thousands of such questions that continue to be debated. That’s why there are still so many journals devoted to ancient history, American history, European history, Islamic history, classical archaeology, Mesoamerican archaeology, and a host of such fields.

          Except for such trivially simple issues as the date of the armistice that ended World War One or the identity of the president who led the Confederacy during the Civil War, history — to choose just one relevant field — is littered with debates and controversies.

          Just try — go ahead, try! — to secure unanimous agreement on even many of the most basic facts about the Arab/Israeli conflict!

          I stand by my position as not only true, but, if it’s correctly understood, beyond reasonable dispute.

          • Saying there are questions about history, there are debated ideas of what happened, is an obvious, goes without saying, point.
            I imagine a marriage. two people, as a hypothetical, because that’s how Oaks’ paints it. One faithfully committed to the Church. the other, after some studying/researching, and stumbling upon difficult “matters of Church history and doctrinal issues” finds him/herself left questioning and skeptical about the Church. So the skeptic brings some questions and ideas to the believer, “help me. Let’s talk about these troubling things”. The believer wonders what to do. Oaks says, “you should not research those issues”.
            “So I shouldn’t research? I shouldn’t look into these issues that my spouse brought to me? But that is exactly what he/she is asking me to do.”
            “No. You should strengthen your testimony of Jesus and of the Church. Praying, studying (the scriptures) and service will be your best approach. Don’t research. Just don’t research. just happily go forward and your loving patience will resolves your spouses concerns.”
            I think it’s bad advice. I think it’s a horrible perspective.
            If all you want to do is make the point that there are questions that people debate over and therefore research isn’t going to necessarily answer any one question, definitely. Fine. but again, that seems to take Oaks’ comment into a place that strips it of it’s context. If your ultimate point here is to say “well the Church, it’s history and teachings can very well raise many great questions and issues for people, but in some cases there are not answers; therefore, a believing spouse should not research the troubling items the skeptical spouse is dealing with.” then you’re in league with Oaks’ point and I’ll reiterate. It’s a bad one.

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