The sandy soil of reason and logic

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From the July 2008 issue of the Ensign, I found something interesting (emphasis mine):

We come to know the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ not simply by the exercise of intellect or the process of logic but by acting on what we learn. Through faith and obedience, the validity of gospel doctrine can be etched upon our hearts.

If our faith is rooted in the sandy soil of reason and logic, it will be swept away by a rising tide driven by the escalating winds of opposition. A faith founded in Jesus Christ and on the rock of revelation will endure through the fiercest storms of life (see Helaman 5:12).

Now, forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the definition of reason and logic that it does not shift like sandy soil? Perhaps he meant, false reason and false logic—but that’s not what he said. What do you think?

37 thoughts on “The sandy soil of reason and logic

  1. Formal logic, as I understand it, is a framework for analyzing a problem–but that framework must be erected on a foundation of proper postulates or assumptions. You can have technically flawless logic lead you to a spectacularly erroneous conclusion, if you’ve made the wrong assumptions at the outset.

    And naturally, if underlying assumptions (e.g. about medicine; about economics; about religion; about human nature; about morality) change, the same logic–though still technically correct–can, and often will, lead to a very different result.

  2. I think this is a clear case of painting logic in a bad light and propping up faith.

    I have yet to converse with anyone that can convince me that the world would be a better place if we were all less rational.

  3. This post shows why relying upon others for answers can never give someone the faith needed to endure serious trials. In addition, analyzing phrases and words of an eternal nature without prayer and relying upon man or our own logic for answers will paralyze our ability to see and learn truth through the power of the Holy Ghost. The formula for salvation is simple. You must live the commandments, seek guidance from the Holy Ghost through prayer, act righteously upon that guidance and endure to the end. The early apostles had a hard time doing this when Christ was on the earth. They did not “seek guidance from the Holy Ghost through prayer.” They asked Christ and He taught them. While these words from Christ almost always pricked their hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost, it didn’t come with the power it could have if they took the steps necessary to diligently seek answers out for themselves through prayer. Christ taught His apostles this in 3rd Nephi 12 verse 2 when He states that people are “more blessed” if they believed in the words of the apostles without seeing Christ himself and believing (see end of verse 1). If we get answers directly, without any work on our part (Prayer / Fasting), it is almost like cheating on a test. You never really learn for yourself as you completely relied upon others or your own logic to give it to you. If you live by expecting truth to fall on your lap without paying the price for it, you will surely being living in “sandy soil.”

  4. Rick

    I am not saying, nor was JimD, that logic is bad. Obviously it has much merit, but it isn’t infallible. Are you suggesting it is?

  5. I am saying that I can’t think of a single thing that has improved the day-to-day life of most humans more than the science of logic and rationality.

    Good logic is always going to be right.
    Good or bad, faith has done very little for me or for anyone else that I can verify.

    If improving our world was simply a matter of surrendering to a higher force, I might be a bit more inclined to do so. Thus far, the results of those sorts of endeavors fall far, far short of the results of those people relying on logic, rationality and the scientific method.

    I will take the shortcomings of logic, the few that there are, over the numerous shortcomings of faith most days.

    Given the history of the LDS church changing its’ practices so many times since its’ inception, I’m surprised that any church member would point out the ‘shifting’ nature of reason and logic. It would seem that reason and logic, much of which was formalized during the 6th century, would be a rock hard, immovable object when compared with the faith of the saints since their inception.

  6. The church may have changed practices, but has never changed the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the importance of the ordinances or the fact that we worship God and Jesus Christ. The way of going about certain things doesn’t change the fact of faith and testimony, and relying on those obviously fallible reasons for staying in, or leaving the church would show really, how rocky a testimony would be, if that is what it took to ‘keep someone in the church’.

    No, relying on humans to stick to only their own understanding hasn’t done the world much good either. Mankind has certainly made a hash of this important stewardship and keep going downhill all the time. But that is what happens when we think we have all the answers and can fix it or do it all by ourselves.

  7. “relying on humans to stick to only their own understanding hasn’t done the world much good either.”

    So treated, potable water, septic systems, abolition of disease, domestication of animals, development of international treaties, creation of a world wide web; these things are all part of the ‘not done much’, huh?

    “we think we have all the answers and can fix it or do it all by ourselves”

    If not we, then who? I have yet to see a single technological innovation attributable to a divine creature.

  8. I didn’t say everything Rick. I have said many things haven’t’. You think we have great rulers helping their people worldwide? Or is genocide just another way of ‘cleaning up the world’ How about the clear cutting of the Amazon forests? That’s a good thing? I can add BC to that as every time we go back and I see more of my beloved province being shorn of her natural beauty I shake my head even further at what mankind is doing to this world. This isn’t even the tip of the policies and catastrophes that are perpetuated by men. The Iraq war? That’s a good thing? Men and women are the ones who keep doing this. And what about residential schools? I can’t even begin to touch the tip of the things humans have done, when they think they have all the answers without relying on the spirit.

    Of course there is much good, but I, unlike you believe God had a hand in inspiring people for the good things they do. As far as the bad things, we are pretty good at making them up on our own.

    You can’t see what you don’t have faith to see. And I am not being dismissive of your beliefs. You are entirely entitled to them. You just don’t believe it, so you won’t see it. I do believe it, so I do. We will see who was right in the long run.

    I believe that God inspires and helps to do good, but He allows us to choose for ourselves and often those choices as we see over and over turn out bad.

  9. If you believe God has a hand in our good accomplishments, then you must at least concede that he allows the bad.

    Short of agreement on that, you’re just cherry picking God’s attributes.

  10. I know He allows the bad. He is bound by the laws of nature as much as we are, and He doesn’t force us to do things, nor does He force nature. He could, but He respects natural law.

    I never cherry pick His attributes. I believe in His omnipotence, but also know that giving us agency, He doesn’t take that away. It may seem skewed sometimes, but then again, we aren’t God, so we don’t have His wide knowledge and understanding.

  11. Technically speaking, “good”, or sound logic, has two parts. 1) True or correct assumptions, 2) Valid reasoning. Valid reasoning means that you don’t start from true assumptions and reach false conclusions. For logic to be sound, the assumptions have to be true as well, but their truth has to be either simply assumed, or determined by some other means than logic.
    Mathematicans started learning about a century and a half ago that different assumptions could give vastly different geometries and other mathematical systems, and shortly thereafter discovered how easy it is for unconscious assumptions to slip into an argument that’s supposed to be rigorously logical. I’m not sure the rest of philosophy has quite grasped this lesson.

  12. Back to the original post, when we remove the flowery language used it does indeed seem an odd statement to make.

    “If our faith is rooted in reason and logic, it will be swept away by opposition.”

    Which basically says that faith can not stand up to the scrutiny of logic and reason. This is a weird statement.

  13. Obviously there is nothing wrong with logic and reason so long as you don’t base everything on it. An example of this was the process of obtaining funds for Christopher Columbus’ voyage. The logic and reason of the time stated vague claims about the circumference of the earth leading to insecurities in the government of Portugal and others to fund Christopher’s voyage. Christopher had to convince the committees beyond reasonable doubt that his plan was sound. Believing other countries would capitalize on his plan, the King and Queen of Spain agreed to fund the project despite the logic and reason of that time and the voice of their committees. They believed in something they could not see yet and trusted in Columbus. That is faith. Faith in this instance overshadowed the logic and reason of that time to cast reasonable doubt on it. People had to uproot themselves from the theories of that time to perhaps believe in something that could be true and put it to the test despite the cost.

    So the quote, “If our faith is rooted in the sandy soil of reason and logic, it will be swept away by a rising tide driven by the escalating winds of opposition.”, means that if Christopher took the words of his opposers as truth, despite his doubts, his plans would have never come to pass. They would have been swept away in the dimness of time.

  14. “logic and reason of the time”

    This phrase makes no sense.
    Logic is not mutable like that.

    If you meant the common opinion of the time I could agree with you, but that’s not the topic of the thread.

    The fact that he got funding was a case of faulty assumptions, not bad logic.

  15. “The fact that he got funding was a case of faulty assumptions, not bad logic.”

    How do you figure that? It was the faulty assumptions, as you put it, that held him back from funding. It was the faith of the King and Queen to put their good name on the line to fund this guy based solely upon his word and plan that he presented despite the ruling of their own committees. They believed in something they could not see but felt was true. They had faith in Columbus.

    Logic and reason change over time individually and collectively as a populace. Just taking a look back in time and comparing it to now proves that the way humans study and observe things change over time. Logic is abstract and abstraction can change without effecting the objects it represents.

  16. The foundations of logic, reason, and the scientific method haven’t changed since the 6th and 7th century – I have no idea what changing things you are talking about.

    “They believed in something they could not see but felt was true.”

    No. They believed that for the little that they had to invest, they could turn a tidy profit from a shorter route to India.

    They didn’t have faith in Columbus, they just thought the investment was worth worth the risk since their own exposure was so low.

  17. How do you suppose the foundations of logic, reason, and the scientific method have not changed? Do you have a source on this?

    How could they believe in Columbus without faith? They had no other evidence his plan would work except that in which they could not see but felt was true.

  18. “How could they believe in Columbus without faith?”

    My point is that it did not matter to them if he succeeded or not – the risk was worth the payout if he was correct.

    They didn’t need faith, just the ability to take a risk on an investment.

    In regard to the foundations of logic.
    The study of propositional logic and the use of conditional statements were used and formalized centuries ago. These same system are used today.

    A quick Google search on the history of logic reveals several results which generally state something to the affect that the science of logic has undergone very few radical changes from the beginning of its history.

  19. To expand on JimD’s excellent comment: The issue isn’t whether logic is good or bad. The issue is how applicable it is in a given domain.

    For logic to work well, axioms need to be precise and universal (or precisely quantified). I know my religion pretty well, and I’ve read very little that can be described as universal and precise. Nearly everything is the opposite: contextual and approximate. Trying to use statements like that in a logical framework is just going to cause trouble. The more connectives separate your conclusions from your axioms, the less likely you are to be right.

    It’s really not surprising. Life is like that. Even science is like that. (See Newton vs. Einstein; also, all the experimentation.) To logic your way to universal truth in almost any domain is to build on a sandy foundation.

    The best exception I can think of is mathematics – but any decent mathematician will be the first to tell you that the domain is actually rather small (though rich), and that mathematical proof is predicated on assumptions arrived at via regular squishy human thinking; he will also be flabbergasted at its wide applicability until the day he dies.

    Logic is a fantastic tool for discovering truth, as long as you understand where and how quickly it breaks down in whatever domain it is you’re working. That’ll help you know when you need to experiment or experience rather than put blind trust in modus ponens. The natures and complexities of life, morality, revelation, translation, transmission, the lossy and noisy channels of human communication, human biases, etc., cause it to break down rather quickly. That’s what these seemingly anti-logic statements are getting at – though they don’t usually put it as precisely as that.

  20. Faith- is a belief in the trustworthiness of an idea. Formal usage of the word “faith” is usually reserved for concepts of religion, as in theology, where it almost universally refers to a trusting belief in a transcendent reality, or else in a Supreme Being and said being’s role in the order of transcendent, spiritual things.

    Logic- is the study of the principles of valid demonstration and inference.

  21. Modus ponens… exactly!

    If A then B.

    A, therefore B.

    But when leaders speak against reason and logic they are saying:

    If A then B.

    A but not B.

    Does anyone else see that this kind of thinking not only dangerous but it undermines the church?

    I thought Joseph Smith founded the church with progressive ideas about nature and the world in which we live. Apparently that line of thinking is under attack by statements such as the one quoted in my original post, and even more alarming, the majority of comments here seem to support that notion.

  22. Jeff,

    A = Rooting your faith in reason and logic
    B = It (Your faith) will be swept away by a rising tide driven by the escalating winds of opposition

    Is true simply because it wasn’t rooted by the Holy Ghost. This is the assumption given the context of the quote.


    If A then B.

    A, therefore B.

    Assuming your belief is correct based upon logic will always lead to B even if the belief is 100 percent correct because there is opposition in all things.

    The Holy Ghost is the only assurance we have in this life that the course we are taking is right. The Holy Ghost will always lead a person to Christ.

  23. “The Holy Ghost is the only assurance we have in this life that the course we are taking is right.”

    This is perhaps one of the least rational statements in the entire thread.

    We’re talking about logic and reason and you immediately trump it with the faith card.

    Once a thought terminating statement like that is uttered, we’re no longer having a rational discussion; we’re simply arguing interpretations of irrational beliefs.

  24. Jeff: The problem is that statements in scripture that read like “if A then B” usually mean, “if A then probably B” or “if A then generally B” or more likely “if A then B in this circumstance” where the circumstance isn’t precisely specified. As such, “A but not B” not only happens, but does so with regularity. The authors of scripture don’t usually concern themselves with the level of precision we would need to make precise inferences using logic without them eventually breaking down.

    That’s not to say you shouldn’t try, but definitely know its limitations. Always be open to changing your mind about truth you discover that way.

    I think it’s damaging that we so often approach our doctrine as a propositional system. Adam-God came from that (President Young was tryng to work out how Adam and Eve were birthed), and we’re still dealing with the fallout. I’m convinced that we withheld the priesthood from those of African descent for so long because of the tales we logicked out to explain it. More subtly, treating the scriptures as a set of axioms leads to ignoring large portions of them (important things like themes and narrative structure go unnoticed), closing your mind to revelation (if you can logic it out, why appeal to God for truth?), and sticking to favorite analogies to the exclusion of other ways of understanding, among other things.

    I’ve recently stopped approaching the scriptures that way, and they’ve suddenly come alive to me.

    Joseph Smith said that we’re different from other faiths because we have no creeds, so we’re free to believe new things not contained in them. What’s a creed? An attempt to systematize theology – to put it on solid logical footing. We reject that notion entirely, and we have a very strong word for it: abomination.

  25. rick,

    This thread was about a quote of faith that started with “We come to know the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ”

    We are not talking about math here as your other posts suggest.

    Keep things in context and that quote might actually make since.

  26. rick: Not everything that’s not perfectly amenable to logic is irrational. A better word for it is “approximate”. We do it all the time, and not just in religion. Modeling reality would be completely intractible otherwise. I know this well: I’ve spent the last three years doing research in artificial intelligence.

    What you’re probably bugged about is other people treating spiritual witness as admissible evidence.

  27. The problem with the majority of this discussion is that the original question was about a spiritual assertion of faith and not many of you are talking about the spiritual aspects of this. We are not discussing a quote about math here. This was about leading a person to Christ through faith and only the Holy Ghost can do that as the quote suggests (revelation). I am not saying that only the Holy Ghost can teach a person that 2 2 = 4, nor is the quote we are discussing. I am saying that its only through the Holy Ghost that a person can learn of Christ in a manner that will lead to salvation.

  28. Let’s assume I’m making a faulty assumption.

    Someone please explain how,”If our faith is rooted in the sandy soil of reason and logic, it will be swept away by a rising tide driven by the escalating winds of opposition.” does not mean,”If you think about it too much you will lose your faith.”

  29. rick,

    A disciple of Christ is taught to “act” according to his beliefs in Christ before he comes to a perfect knowledge of a principle. An example would be by following Christ by being baptized. This is the underlining principle of faith. It is not to have a perfect knowledge, but to believe in something that is not seen, which is true and act upon that limited knowledge. You cannot have faith in something that you have a perfect knowledge of. God wants to see if we will follow Christ even though we do not have a perfect knowledge of his doctrines. We should follow Christ because we are commanded too. It is that simple. When Adam was asked why he offered sacrifice to the Lord he stated that he knew not save the Lord had commanded him. This is the essence of faith. If we claim to have faith in Christ by any other means (reason and logic) we will not be able to stand when the winds of opposition roar our way. Why? Because no-one on earth has a perfect knowledge of God and his doctrines. Only the portion necessary to live by faith was revealed. Without the whole gospel revealed, it does not make logical since to the opposition and it is easily put to shame.

  30. Losing faith in Christ is common among those who use reason and logic as their basis for truth. Just look at the Scribes and Pharisees of the New Testament. They approached Christ as if they knew the law. What they failed to understand was that Christ was the author of the law they claimed to know.

    Do I agree with this: “If you think about it too much you will lose your faith”??

    If your thinking is based upon reason and logic, then yes I agree that it will show that having faith is illogical. Most people will lose their faith because of the ever growing doubt that will build over time using this approach. To have faith is to understand that you will not know everything at once but that you must press onward with a steadfastness in Christ, keeping His commandments, having a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and all men. If you do this until the end, then the Father will give you all that He has and you will know all things. In that day His gospel (or way of life) will be logical and make perfect since and you will not need faith because you will know.

  31. You’ve got to talk rick’s language, DayAfter.

    rick said: ‘Someone please explain how,”If our faith is rooted in the sandy soil of reason and logic, it will be swept away by a rising tide driven by the escalating winds of opposition.” does not mean,”If you think about it too much you will lose your faith.”‘

    First, consider the word “trust” as a good replacement for “faith” to avoid faith’s common and unfortunate connotations with forced belief:

    “If our trust is rooted in the sandy soil of reason and logic, it will be swept away by a rising tide driven by the escalating winds of opposition.”

    The key word here “rooted,” which denotes someone’s cause for trusting God. Let’s enumerate some logic/reason-based causes.

    1. You might be an armchair philosopher and find Pascal’s wager compelling.

    2. You might be converted via the Word of Wisdom or some other principle you determine to be obviously inspired.

    3. You might determine that the fulfillment of prophecy is sure proof of God’s existence.

    (It’s going to appear for a while that I’m supporting your thesis, but just hold on for a bit.)

    Let’s take #1. There are obvious problems with Pascal’s wager. After thinking for a bit, you might decide that there’s no reason to believe in an infinite reward. Or you might decide that life without God can have meaning after observing that die-hard atheists can still find it. The wager will start to appear to be inconsistent with your observations.

    For #2, you might read up on historical background of temperance movements and find some striking similarities. Or decide that it’s entirely possible that the former “obviously inspired” principle was arrived at by chance. (There’s always a chance, right?) Maybe it was just the result of long experience and hard thinking.

    In #3, there are legions of ways to crumble. When was the prophecy recorded? Was it reinterpreted after the fact? How likely was it that someone else would come up with exactly the same thing?

    For any of these, if they are the cause of your trusting God, everything you built on top of them will be “swept away”.

    Now let’s move on to spiritual witness as a cause for trust. That is, you believe you have directly experienced God, and that it made your life better. Further, you continue to experience God when you do what you believe he’s asking, and it continues to make your life better.

    Let’s say you reason the same way as in #1, #2, and #3 above.

    1: Who cares? Whether the wager reflects truth has no bearing on your trusting God.

    2: You focus on the possibility that it really was inspired. (There’s always a chance, right?) I can show you through probability theory that it’s only rational to estimate the chance of inspiration higher if you believe that both it and your own experience come from the same source.

    3: Same as #2.

    You can always go another meta level, of course. But at the end of the day, you have what you feel is experience with the divine, and it makes your life better. Infinite regress of explanations or not, you have a model that works and you follow it. That’s trust. That’s faith – and it’s not getting “swept away” despite all your thinking.

    By the way, I keep using the anonymous “you” when I really mean “me”.

  32. I think that Right Trousers (comment 34) has shown that the belief that logic and reason can erode your faith is actually what the original paragraph meant to say. I hoped to be shown that the quote was just a mistake but I guess the irony is that it solidifies my confidence that religion is for the birds.

    If my faith could be solidified in logic and reason, I’d be much happier trying to give it a go. I don’t like the idea that one can pick and choose when rationality should be heeded.

  33. What do you think?

    How can faith in God be based in logic and reason?

    No, I am serious. my understanding of logic and reason on their basic levels is they require the demonstration to support ones premises.

    If one happened to reason God’s existence, how can one demonstrate with any accuracy that God does indeed exist? How could anyone validate such a premise at all?

    From a religious perspective, I think this is as it should be. If we are to conclude within ourselves that God exists through logic and reason, why bother coming to earth at all?

    My interpretation of the statement you quoted, Jeff, is that Kenneth Johnson was getting at the idea that belief in God should be rooted in faith. After all, if one could reason that God exists without being able to demonstrate it, one could easily reason that he does not exist.

  34. Jeff, I was showing that whether logic and reason can destroy your faith depends on what causes your faith in the first place. If it’s rooted in divine contact, you’ve got no problem.

    So, yeah. Basically what Kim said: “After all, if one could reason that God exists without being able to demonstrate it, one could easily reason that he does not exist.”

    You don’t need to turn off your brain to practice religion. I keep mine fully engaged, and I feel my faith is stronger for it. The reason this works is that my trust in God is based on direct experience with him. Reason and logic have changed my mind about a lot of things, but they can’t nullify that experience.

    As far as picking and choosing when to apply logic: done with selfish motives it’s obviously dishonest. What I’ve been talking about is discovering as honestly as you can what its limitations are in a given domain. That’s a serious exercise in reason in and of itself. Also, note that discovering limitations doesn’t mean you can’t use it; it just lowers your certainty in your conclusions.

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