Early Mormon philosopher Orson Pratt reasoned that an individual could not exercise faith without the existence of convincing evidence:
“Faith…is not an abstract principle, separate and distinct from the mind, but it is a certain condition or state of the mind itself. When the mind believes or has confidence in any subject, or statement, or proposition, whether correct or incorrect, it is then in possession of faith…
“Faith or belief is the result of evidence presented to the mind. Without evidence, the mind cannot have faith in anything. We believe that a stone will fall, when unsupported, on the evidence of past observation…we believe that day and night will continue on the evidence of past experience in regard to the uniformity of nature’s laws. We believe that space is boundless, and duration endless, on the evidence, presented to the mind itself…We believe in all self-evident truths, on the evidence that all opposite propositions to these truths are absurd. We believe in all the great truths of science, either on the evidences of our own investigations, or on the researches of others. We believe historical fact on the evidence of the historian….without evidence, faith can have no existence….
“…As evidence precedes faith, the latter should be weak or strong in proportion to the weakness or strength of the evidence. Where the evidence is accompanied by circumstances of a doubtful nature; or where it relates to things which are, in some degree, improbable in themselves; or where there is opposing evidence of nearly the same influence or weight; or where there is only circumstantial evidence--faith should be weak….
“The weakness or strength of faith will, therefore, in all cases, be in proportion to the weakness or strength of the impressions, produced upon the mind by evidence…
“Man, through the influence of sophistry, or popularity, or surrounding circumstances, or tradition, or many causes combined, may be biased in his judgment, partial in his investigations, and swayed from that searching analysis--which is sometimes requisite in order to discover the truth or error of the subject, statement or proposition under consideration. Even his own sense, uncorrected by his judgment, often led him astray….[For instance] all the inhabitants of our globe were, for many centuries, deceived in regard to the apparent motions of heavenly bodies. They believed that the sun, moon, planets, and stars, revolved around the earth until Copernius undeceived them, by proving that the appearances were the result of the simple diurnal rotation of the earth…
“…When faith, either true or false, is significantly powerful to lead to action, it produces effects characteristic of the cause…
“…Faith alone will not save men; neither will faith and works save them, unless they are of the right kind.” (Orson Pratt, "The True Faith")
1. What is the relationship of faith (or believing) to objective evidence?
2. Often in traditional religions, faith is presented as a virtue in and of itself. But Pratt wrote of “Correct Faith” and “Incorrect Faith.” How does this concept strike you? What determines whether one’s faith is “Correct” or “Incorrect?” What type of evidence is required to make that determination?
3. In your own experiences, how have your prejudices, your emotions, your upbringing or religious training effected your judgments regarding the evidence of certain ideas?
4. With regard to Mormon history, Mormons in many other denominations have criticized the works of historians that are not “faith promoting.” What do they mean by the phrase “faith promoting” or “testimony building” history?
5. In the end, can an historian truly promote “Correct Faith” by ignoring or denying certain facts, or by taking them out of context? Why or why not?
6. In your own life, what has been the result of those times when you acted in faith upon ideas or principles for which there was insufficient evidence?
REFORM MORMON THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
Faith (or belief) can promote and foster an individual’s Progression only when it is based upon the objective fact, and when the individual chooses to shed his or her prejudices and preconceived notions enough to honestly examine the evidence given.
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