Thursday, July 03, 2008

beliefs, teachings, policy, doctrine, and a correspondence theory of truth

need your help here. i'm working on a paper dealing with 'doctrine' and truth, and i just want to verify that i'm observing things correctly.

first of all, i feel pretty sure that most mormons and church leaders prescribe to a correspondence theory of truth when they want to say something is true. in its most generalized form, a correspondence theory says that a certain claim is true if it corresponds to the objective reality or facts of the world.

for example the claim that "salt lake city is the capital of utah" is true if and only if it is a fact of the world that salt lake city is the capital of utah.

similary, the religious claim that "anybody who lived past the age of 8 must be baptized by immersion in order to received salvation" is only true if that is the case.

my interest for this paper is not whether a 'doctrine' is actually true, but whether or not it is believed to be true. for example a person may believe and teach that all dinosaurs were cold-blooded and believe that to be true (the person believes that dinosaurs were cold-blooded) when however it may be discovered that some (or all) dinosaurs were in fact warm blooded.

furthermore, i am going to make a distinction between beliefs, teachings, policies, and doctrines that are at times distinct and at other times interchangeable. a belief is something held by some, most or all mormons, but not necessarily taught in church; a teaching is something (officially) taught in church, though may still be considered opinion; a policy is something (officially) taught as a regulatory procedure, but is contingent to circumstance; and a doctrine is something (officially) taught and should be taken as true.

with that all in mind, i want to know your thoughts on the following sentences and whether or not they make sense in ordinary mormon discourse. 'x' is any belief, teaching, etc that one may hold.

1a. i/we believe 'x' but it is not true.
1b. i/we believe 'x' but it may not be true.
1c. i/we believe 'x' but i/we do not know if it is true.

2a. we teach 'x' but it is not true.
2b. we teach 'x' but it may not be true.
2c. we teach 'x' but we do not know if it is true.

3a. 'x' is a policy but it is not right.
3b. 'x' is a policy but it may not be right.
3c. 'x' but we do not know if it is right.

4a. 'x' is a doctrine but it is not true.
4b. 'x' is a doctrine but it may not be true.
4c. 'x' is a doctrine but we do not know if it is true.

or does ordinary mormon discourse hold that everything that is believed, taught, made into policy, or considered doctrine is true and corresponds to the factual reality of the world?


  1. Bet this might help:,5232,23-1-851-10,00.html

    (Especially the opening)

  2. You might also clarify the "we" - does that mean the official Church position, scriptural interpretation, or just the social norms in your average ward?

  3. 1a - no sense for most "ordinary discourse"
    1b - no sense
    1c - some sense .... this might be floated, say in GD class, or late at night while drinking milk and cookies (very late...).

    2 series same

    3 series same

    4 series same

    the problem is the language, teach, believe, policy, doctrine...

    it would be difficult, I think, in ordinary mormon speech, to say, we believe this, but it isn't true, even though one might come to such a conclusion in ordinary speech. But I think such "logical expressions" would kick in a "belief" structure that responds to such language in the most publicly safe way possible. Private discourse would differ. That make sense?


  4. Now are these questions that you're actually going to ask in some type of a survey? Because if that's the case you'll be hard pressed to find many who will answer in any way other than general acceptance of truth of everything they've ever heard or been taught. Even those who are capable of differentiating beliefs from truths will probably not answer truthfully or thoughtfully any of your questions without feeling some type of guilt.

    I guess this would be my answer to your question. The questions DO make sense, but not in ordinary Mormon discourse. In that setting, your likely to find people who are offended at the questions rather than answering them honestly.

    Hope that helps.

  5. The thing I hate, is that most people (which includes Mormons) are boneheaded about the things they believe. I'm positive that most Mormons would knee-jerk reject all those sentences at face value, but could be persuaded to accept all of them wholeheartedly by using examples from the scriptures.

  6. I don't think most people think about what you are talking about. They don't think that intensely nor do they care all that much about whether or not something is "true" (we've talked before about the meaning of truth). Any's unlikely in any organized religion that people spend a lot of time analyzing specific doctrine. I think they are persuaded by leaders and accept what "feels" right to them. Most people report that they are more likely to attend a specific church for social reasons more than doctrinal reasons. I think most people would be confused by your questions and not understand the purpose of asking them since faith isn't something that can be proven and they are living by faith. "If there existed only a single sense for the words of scripture, then the first commentator who came along would discover it, and other hearers would experience neither the labor of searching, nor the joy of finding." Ephrem the Syrian.

    People find what they are looking for in the scriptures, church, religion by looking in a specific direction. You seem to be asking them to look around in directions that require effort. How simple is faith?

  7. P.S. You are grouping mormons together as if they all believe someting is true, even if it can be shown to be otherwise. There are too many different people to lump their thought processes together. If you want to group Utah Mormons together, or something like that then you need to describe whom you are talking about. Converts in Africa are going to have their cultural traditions influencing their belief structure, and converts from other religions are going to address different doctrines differently. Are you talking about Mormons as a group in general, or are you talking about life-long Wasatch Front Mormons - third generation Mormons - Mormons actively attending Church for more than five years - etc. ? Tradition verses doctrine is more interesting to me than elusive standards of theoretical truth versus doctrine. That's just me...
    carry on

  8. I didn't read your entire post because it was long and boring, so here are my thoughts:

    Church leaders use what I call the 'Marshmallow theory' of truth.

    It's simple, because it comes from above. And by above I mean the attic of the temple.

    The Marshmallow theory of truth asserts the following validity claim of knowledge:

    Truth is like a Marshmallow; it tastes good. It smells good. And it can help get you friends.

    Who doesn't like Marshmallows?

    Likewise, when you're camping, you have to place truth, or marshmallows, in between two facts, one on the top, and one on the bottom, of course the facts are graham crackers of reason.

    Doing it this way, you have a 'smore' of veracity, which even Satan himself cannot undo.

    That's how people see truth. It's simple.

  9. P.S. You are grouping Mormons together as if they all believe someting is true, even if it can be shown to be otherwise. There are too many different people to lump their thought processes together. If you want to group Utah Mormons together, or something like that then you need to describe whom you are talking about. In other words, how are you defining the truth that is being accepted or not, and how are you distinguising between believers? If a person believes someting is true, then what is the most important question that can be asked of them regarding that truth?

    Converts in Africa are going to have their cultural traditions influencing their belief structure (understanding/conviction of what truth is and what it means to their everyday lives), and converts from other religions are going to address different doctrines differently. Are you talking about Mormons as a group in general, or are you talking about life-long Wasatch Front Mormons - third generation Mormons - Mormons actively attending Church for more than five years - etc. ? Tradition verses doctrine is more interesting to me than elusive standards of theoretical truth versus doctrine. That's just me...
    carry on

    P.S.S. my sunday school kids were telling me about a "doctrine" one of the YW leaders had taught them. I asked them to find it in the scriptures for me. They tried. The "doctrine" was close, but not entirely accurate or true. How do you isolate how people have been taught what they claim to believe? Where does the trust factor come in to play?

  10. Hey. Somebody posted the same time as my second post and it split mine and posted my comment twice. Weird. Do you believe I'm speaking the truth? If so, why?(As Maren would say, "haha".)
    What I know about computers may not include alot of facts, but what I believe happened is my truth.

  11. wow katy. you are actually getting to the point of my paper. in my paper i'm critiquing attempts by several people (robert millet, dallin h. oaks,, and a mormon philosopher) to provide criteria for establishing mormon 'doctrine.' part of my criticism is that these fail to acknowledge (or create problems with) what most mormons conceive of as truth as far as their beliefs are concerned. the first line in elder oaks' talk listed above i think pretty accurately exemplifies the notion of truth most mormons have.

    i think their criteria both excludes those who don't share their corresponding theory of truth and creates problems for those that do.

    i think the problem is not the theories of truth one may hold, but rather the attempt to define 'doctrine' in the first place - which, ironically, are often used as an excuse to exclude others.

  12. you're right bryant. i'm sorry mars.

  13. Loyd,

    I assume you meant that last comment as a response to the other post (since I haven't commented here yet). Sorry if I was a little harsh. I think it's clear in retrospect that you're trying not to get upset, while the other party in this dispute seems so eager to make you upset.

    Sorry about the situation. Thanks for trying to handle it well.

  14. d'oh!. you're right bryant. i was a bit bothered that mars kept his insults going after i tries to apologize. maybe this is why.

  15. Back to the post at hand, I found this a really interesting topic.

    First, I'll just admit that I didn't really understand the bit about theories of truth. The way you described the correspondence theory seemed to me to be the obvious definition of truth: a claim is true if and only if it describes an objective reality. If I've ever been exposed to alternative theories of truth then I don't think I was aware of it, so I'll just stick to that theory when answering your questions.

    My second thought, which you might be referring to with your last comment, is that I don't think there's a very clear distinction between doctrine and teaching as you've defined them. It kind of seems like you're drawing that line simply on whether or not it is true. If that is the distinction between the two, then that kind of makes the answer to some of these questions automatic. (BTW, I think it's smart that you've defined these terms in certain ways for your purposes.)

    I also think that Katy brings up a really good point about trust in her last comment. It may be that we treat some ideas as teachings when in fact they are beliefs. I'll assume that it's only a teaching if it is official at some global level of the Church, and not if it is represented as official despite coming from a local authority.

    Also, I think Katy's point is valid about there being different beliefs among individual members or even groups or demographics. However, I think you can still discuss whether any of your sentences hold or make sense in mormon discourse if they hold for any mormons.

    So, with all of those things as my understandings, here's what I think of your sentences:

    1a. Yes, I think mormons may hold beliefs that prove not to be true. For example, that there's no such thing as evolution.

    1b. Yes, that makes sense, too. Take the idea of Noah's flood being a global event. It might be true, but it probably isn't. That doesn't stop people from believing it. (Note that the only distinction I see between 1a and 1b is how conclusively the belief has been disproven.)

    1c. Yes, as Don points out, we have all kinds of ideas that we talk about mysteriously with our friends in private, with the complete knowledge that there is no way of knowing one way or the other.

    This makes me wonder about how you would classify some random idea that we have late at night while talking, even if no one actually holds to it. Also, what about something that a member believes despite it being contrary to official teachings? (The idea of soul mates, for instance.)

    2a. Yes, if I correctly understand the distinction between doctrine and teaching. A teaching that is not true is one that will have been later refuted by other teachings and/or doctrines. (For example, Adam-God, or the fence-sitter view of blacks.)

    2b. I think if 2a make sense then so must 2b, and the only distinction here is that 2b applies to teachings that haven't yet been refuted but that may be in the future.

    2c. Yes, this also makes sense, if we won't have a way refuting a teaching, neither by future teachings nor by any objective evidence. Maybe polygamy falls in this category: there probably won't be any future teaching to completely disagree with it and since it has been discontinued we probably won't see any teaching to confirm it, either. Current and future teachings will prefer to ignore it rather than clarify it.

    3a-3c. Blacks and the priesthood seems to be one that fits that category. I think that policy probably went through all of these stages. It was in 3c back in the day of Brigham Young when the policy was to deny the priesthood to blacks, despite there not being any revelation to say whether that was correct behavior or not. As time passed and the general maturity of the public increased, it probably moved to 3b, where the policy was in question, to 3a, such as in the time of Spencer Kimball, when it was undoubtedly wrong but was still a policy until the revelation changed it.

    4a-4c. No, it doesn't make sense, at least not the way that I understand your definitions. If these statements held or made sense, then the idea in question should be considered a teaching, not a doctrine.

    Sorry in advance if some of my answers are based on my misinterpretations. Feel free to clarify.

  16. PS: The Marshmallow theory is hilarious.

  17. PPS: I think Katy is also right that most people don't think about their beliefs this way. They have their own beliefs, and they may or may not consider how authoritative they are, and they may or may not even care how true those beliefs are. That of course doesn't mean that these sentences don't still apply, but rather that most people would have reservations about describing their own beliefs this way.

  18. I teach 16 year-olds in sunday school and have taught 16-18 year olds for at least 10 years. I think you would find it interesting to talk to adolescents about doctrine and then ask adults the same questions (sorry the sociologist is too curious). I have also taught adult classes. There is a difference. One interesting non-LDS authored study showed that LDS kids actually have a better understanding of their church doctrine when compared to youth from other denominations (seminary, I'm guessing). I have found that my students are particularly curious about the mysteries of possible doctrine. They definately perk up and ask more questions when it comes to the spirit world, millenium, angels, and so forth. One question today was, "What happens to the spirits of babies that die before they are born?" We have a generation of bright, curious, and faithful kids. Many of them are also gullible. One thing I know for certain: I always expect that they know more basic doctrine than they actually know when they come into my class.

    Adults, on the whole, are not necessarily that much more enlightened. I know this will sound judgmental, but here goes... There are still many comments made in adult classes that begin with, "I heard that..." It is much easier to hear and pass along info that is not entirely true doctrine than it is to study and find out if what a person has heard is actually the truth.

    Sorry, this is too long. This is a discussion my family has on a regular basis. In fact, I just got an e-mail from my brother along the lines of what you are talking about in relation to what people believe, how they come to those beliefs, and what is true doctrine. In other words, there are other people with the same kinds of questions that you have. (You're a philosopher writing about it and we're just pseudo-philosophers talking about it.) Good luck with your research.
    Also, I must say that I'm trying to teach my kids that the bible dictionary isn't scripture. That's tough because the info is very helpful and a good jumping off point, but they don't use it as a springboard. They tend to use it as a permanent resting place. I am refraining from launching into my "cut and paste" RS manual harangue. (you're welcome)

    The Dyars are here. You're missing out on the sticky popcorn fun.

  19. bryant,

    thanks. i don't think most mormons think about the ways they use these various categories. the problem that i hope to point out in my paper is that as certain lds philosophers and theologians, as they try to ascertain what is 'doctrine', do not take into account the ordinary usages of these terms and ultimately create even greater problems which they (i believe) know is there, but fail to recognize.


    i think your spot on about most being more willing to claim what they have heard. even more, i think most mormons have a better idea of what is not doctrine than what is. for example, i all too often here a member begin a sentence with "well this is not doctrine, but..." than a solid claim of what is doctrine (while when they do the latter, i normally find myself thinking 'no, that's not doctrine - but of course, i think the word ought to be thrown out anyways).

  20. Perhaps the word, doctrine, should be thrown out but I'm still considering the option. It is a fascinating topic for me to think about. People (especially religious people) quite like structure.

    I've had adults tell me after my lessons that they appreciated that I was able help them understand things they weren't able to understand before. I'm not saying this to compliment my teaching, but to express that many people honestly have a difficult time understanding, or associating, certain gospel topics (doctrine?). I remember hearing a talk in sacrament meeting that I thought was a good, and even interesting, explanation of sanctification and justification and having people say afterwords that they thought it was boring, or they "just didn't like it". I also had a friend tell me that she didn't need to question everything the way I did because she accepted what church leaders told her by faith (she wasn't being critical of me, just honest for both of us). In other words, there are several reasons why people don't groove on finding truth if they believe they already have it.

    In some ways it (your doctrine discussion) is very much like people deciding who or what to vote for (very often not voting because they don't know what to believe, etc.), but I'll leave that for another time.

    Basic doctrine and perhaps the only true doctrine of the gospel is this: repentance, faith in Jesus Christ, baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost.

    I have found it interesting that partaking of bread and wine/water in the name of Christ is not referred to in the scriptures as the sacrament. At least, I haven't come across it since I've questioned it. - Who started calling it the sacrament, when, and why? Do you know?

  21. katy,

    "Basic doctrine and perhaps the only true doctrine of the gospel is this: repentance, faith in Jesus Christ, baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost."

    as i will be discussing in my paper, even these so-called basic doctrines at their basic level are so vague and imprecise that to call them a doctrine is almost vacuous. for example, while i and most mormons may agree that "faith, repentance, baptism, and the reception of the holy ghost are necessary for salvation," it is probably most likely that what i believe faith, repentance, baptism, the reception of the holy ghost, salvation, and necessity to be are probably much different than what most other mormons would understand them to be. while we may be using the same words, we are employing a completely different usage of them. similarly, while most other christans would affirm these same doctrines, may of them argue that mormonism is wrong about them.

    i have no idea when the term 'sacrament' was used to describe it. i'm guessing that the early saints used 'communion' or 'lord's supper' to describe it like every other christian. i'm sure you are aware that 'sacrament' is used by traditional christianity to describe each of the religious rites (baptism, confirmation, communion, confession, ordination, blessings, and marriage). my guess is that along the way in lds discourse it somehow was mistakenly and then formally made into the name for the ritual. this is a common theme in mormon discourse and the root of a lot of confusion.

  22. Wow, these comments have piled up fast. You can always tell you have a good post subject when this happens.

  23. So, when I read this post I didn't really understand that you were trying to figure out the meanings we apply to these different terms, so all of my answers were basically me trying to fit your definitions to specific ideas in Mormonism. Sorry for derailing the discussion instead of adding to it.


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