Mormonism's spirit children, visions, agnosticism, linguistic agnostic, and other definitional nightmares

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The most recent messages can be found here.

received 3/26/99
I am a 38 years old brasilian and I apreciate very much your site and have visited it many times since June last year, when I found it as I surfed at the first time in Internet. I like especially your book recommendations, and I have already bought several books because of your opinions. Thank you very much! My suggestion is this: How don't you read and comment the books of the great north american Robert Green Ingersoll? There are many of his quotes at Internet Infidels and at the Library of Secular Web.

I have many quotes from him on my site too.

Your question is a good one. I try to put emphasis on 'in print' titles as they tend to be more widely available. There isn't much use recommending or reviewing titles that few can get their hands on. My reason for not having specific reviews of Ingersoll titles is that the only book of his that is still in print (that I know of at least) is "Some Mistakes of Moses" and I'm no longer interested in reading critiques of the Bible. Once I realized what the Bible really is, I lost all interest in reading additional criticisms. No need to continue to beat a dead horse, right? ;)

received 3/12/99
I am very interested in finding a listing of Isaac Asimov's books for elementary age children----grades 1-8. Thank you in advance for your assistance.

I haven't read any specific titles as my kids aren't in school yet, but these titles may be some of those you are looking for: "The Complete Science Fair Handbook : For Teachers and Parents of Students in Grades 4-8", "Christopher Columbus : Navigator to the New World", "Where Does Garbage Go? (Ask Isaac Asimov)", "Fantastic Reading: Stories and Activities for Grade 5-8", "How Did We Find Out About Lasers?".

You may also want to check out the similar titles for this age group by other authors here.

received 3/7/99
After looking up "Ishmael" on HotBot, I came up with
your page--being a big fan of Quinn, I was wondering what exactly are the errors that you find with Ishmael? I would like to see some negative criticism of Quinn since I seem only to find praise and positive feedback. If you have any knowledge of other webistes that publish anything that criticize Quinn's work please let me know.

For starters, Quinn overgeneralizes. People can't be easily lumped into 'leaver' and 'taker' categories. Nor can leavers necessarily be called 'good' and takers necessarily be called 'bad'. He makes things sound very black and white which is good to do if you are starting a cult--but not so good to do if you are relying on scientific methodology.

One of his main assertions, if I remember correctly, is that increasing food supplies increase populations. While it is true that fewer people may starve to death with more food and people who would otherwise produce many kids may produce fewer or no kids if they die of starvation, it isn't really a good cause-effect relationship. I hope people don't sit around and say "I have extra food in my pantry. Therefore, I need to have more kids." The cause-effect relationship is essentially reversed from what Quinn thinks it is (when you are talking about an intelligent species). It is the ever growing population that is fueling the very damaging increase in the production of food--not the other way around. I hope Quinn advocates birth control rather than the killing of those already alive via starvation.

He also omits references to claims he makes, and, as near as I can tell, ignores any evidence that doesn't fit his theory.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the book and found it very thought-provoking. It isn't perfect though.

Note that it has been a couple years since I read "Ishmael" so my comments are less than perfect and less than complete due to my fading memory. I should have written a more detailed critique when the contents were fresh in my mind.

received 2/26/99
You run a wonderful site. These books are history, political science and economics texts from a somewhat libertarian standpoint. I think you may appreciate them, especially given that you like
Ayn Rand.

All The Trouble In The World, by P.J. O'Rourke

P.J. O'Rourke is a hard-drinking humorist who travels about the world, writing about tough topics in an understandable way. All The Trouble In The World, subtitled "The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Hatred, Plague, and Poverty" searches for the real causes of these problems, and shows how many of the fears are unfounded, or exaggerated. Of particular interest to readers of this site may be the chapter on overpopulation (Just Enough of Me, Way Too Much of You), where he has specific criticisms of Paul Ehrlich, among others.

Eat the Rich, by P.J. O'Rourke

Eat the Rich is a good introduction to the principles of economics, for those who find the subject to be dull. Even people with knowledge of the subject will enjoy this terribly funny book. Economics is the prime mover in the world, and it's shocking how little the average person knows about it. As Mr. O'Rourke writes, "Humans seems to have an innate inability to pay attention to economic principles." You'll have no trouble paying attention to this book, as he travels to Wall Street, Albania, Sweden, Cuba, Russia, Tanzania, Hong Kong, and Shanghai in order to answer, "Why do some places prosper and thrive, while others just suck?"

Intellectuals, by Paul Johnson

Here's Paul Johnson at his ad hominem best. Intellectuals is a book of biographical sketches of prominent public thinkers, from Rousseau to Chomsky. The final chapter is titled "The Flight of Reason", and the book does a good job of showing the irrational, religious nature of Marxism, Existentialism, and other fad philosophies. Johnson is a conservative British Christian, and his bias sometimes seeps out, but it's a great book nevertheless.

A History of the American People, by Paul Johnson

Many modern historians try to rewrite America's place in history, casting a far too negative light on the whole affair, and demonizing Americans as oppressive and racist. In fact, the demons of our past our hardly unique, and we're the only nation to /free/ a large population of slaves. In this book, Paul Johnson is the anti-Howard Zinn. While he's a tad too religious and conservative for my taste, it's refreshing to read a thoughtful book of American history from his standpoint. Mr. Johnson's narrative is absolutely compelling--never before have I read a 1,000 page history book so quickly.

I'm having a hard time imagining how overpopulation, famine, etc. have 'lighter sides', but thanks for the recommendations anyway. I'll give them a look.

received 2/10/99
Hi, I am an LDS woman. Wife and mother of four, soon to be five in July. I am not writing to criticize your page, or to try and convert you. I do find it interesting that a lot of the things that you are saying cannot be done if you are a person of faith, are exactly the things the LDS faith stands on. Freedom of thought and expression, freedom to explore and question. LDS doctrine has also supported the betterment of mankind in this life through study, art and other things as well. I am in control of my life now. For many years I was not.

While I was raised in the church, I was also raised in an abusive family... [Snipped lengthy portion of the message that details childhood circumstances and recent illnesses.] Before the birth of my forth child, I was praying one night to find out if I was supposed to have another child. I had been getting a gnawing feeling of urgency that I needed to. I did not want to, child birth scared me, and I had just gotten used to not changing diapers all the time. This particular night I prayed and decided that whatever answer I got, that is what I was going to go with. I was on the Internet, not even thinking about this prayer or this predicament when the answer came. It was around 3:00 am and I was the only one up. The only sound was the clicking of the key board. I felt a presence with me, and I heard a voice that was loud enough that I had to turn around to make sure I was alone. This voice told me that there were children, and I emphasize that, waiting to come to my family, and my time for having them was running out. I told my husband and the very next week I had my IUD taken out. I need to tell you now that during all this time of fighting these feelings of needing to have another child, I had been having miscarriages. One year, to the day that the miscarriages started, I got pregnant.

I believe that was a miracle, and I am sure that a lot of people can write it off as coincidence or what not. But what I know in my heart cannot be challenged or taken from me. I know it, and God knows that I do, and He has blessed me for having faith to put myself in His hands.

Anyway, as I was saying before, I was told I had this disease and it could only be treated with birth control pills. Not only could it only be treated with birth control pills, but I would have to take them for the rest of my life. My chances for having another child were reduced by that prospect. But I also found out that this disease makes a woman incapable of producing an egg to be fertilized. If I wanted to have another child, I would have to go on fertility treatment, and that was not very successful, resulting in only about 2 pregnancies out of 10 women who use it. I was shattered. I didn't know what to do, I felt like I was only half a woman. I talked to a friend of mine and she suggested that my home teachers come over and give me a blessing. That very evening they came over and gave me a blessing of healing and of comfort. I was told that this was given to me as a trial to make me stronger. That by pulling me down God could lift me up. I just needed to put my faith in Him. I was also told that I would have more children, that God knew more then doctors and if it was His will, it would be so... [Snipped another lengthy portion of the message that details more of the recent illnesses and how pregnancy was finally achieved.] I know in my heart this was an answer to the blessing I received. It was supposed to be medically impossible for me to get pregnant simply because I was not producing mature fertilizable eggs, they were not being released from my ovaries (which is what causes the cysts on the ovaries) and even if they did happen to release, they were immature, and poor quality and not able to produce an embryo. God gave me a miracle because I put my faith in Him.

I could go into many other examples of things God has done for my family, but I don't have the time and this is already long enough. What I am trying to say, and I don't know if I have, is that you don't have to not have faith in God and believe in deity to be happy and live a full productive life. My faith in God gives my life meaning and purpose, and gives me a reason to go on. If I hadn't had my faith and known that God was standing with me, I would not have survived my life to adulthood. I am not saying that God is my only reason for living, I am saying my faith in Him makes living life better, and makes my life more full then it otherwise would have been. I hope I have not bored you but I just needed to say this. I wish you well, I hope that you find your way back to God, but if you don't, I still hope you have a happy life. I hope that in the after life, we have the chance to meet. You would be a great person to talk with in person. I love intellectual conversation. Thank you for your time and God bless.

Thanks for the message. I don't have time to respond directly to all the points you make. I don't mean this to sound harsh, but have you wondered why your God would allow his 'spirit children' to continually die via miscarriages? Perhaps your God was sending you a message. Or maybe, just maybe, nature is the force at work rather than some supernatural forces.

Others have come to opposite conclusions than you have. See for instance the 3/5/98 message here.

Before you listen to voices in your head telling you to have children numbers six, seven, eight, etc. you may want to consider some of the thoughts here. (My Mormon sister, BTW, has had her last few kids based on voices and visions. They were supposed to be boys but since they came out girls they have to keep having the kids to fulfill the visions. This has forced them to sell some of their basic possessions (like transportation), give up adequate health care, and will not allow them to pay for their kids' college education.)

In response to the above message:
I appreciate your concern, but as long as God is going to bless me with His spirit children to care for, I am going to continue to be His willing servant. Every time I have followed His will and had another child, even if we didn't have the means to support it at the time I conceived, He has blessed us with the ability to support it either soon after or just before they have been born.There are no points of argument to persuade me otherwise because I know beyond any doubt what I know, and that is God lives and He loves me and wants the best for me in this life and in the life to come. I do not try to persuade you that you are wrong, so please don't try to persuade me that I am. Nothing anyone can say will ever convince me of that, and I will die for what I know to be truth if I am asked to do so. You may use all sorts of scientific evidence to try and prove your point, and I could use scientific evidence to support mine. The truth is, science is not as powerful as a witness of the Spirit of God. Once this witness has been given and accepted, it cannot be denied unless this faith is not nurtured. Faith cannot stand on it's own, faith needs knowledge to back it up. And it also works in reverse. Knowledge cannot stand on it's own, it needs faith to back it up as well. I give you this as my testimony of what I know, personally, to be true. You can believe it or not, but one thing you cannot do is take it away from me. I leave this with you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

I'd like to see your scientific evidence that having half a dozen kids or more is physically good for you, your kids, or anything else on this planet. Your children (and mine) aren't spirits. They are physical beings, with physical needs, and they directly impact the physical world around them.

In response to the above message:
There is scientific proof that shows when a woman exercises her reproductive organs her chances for developing cancer of those organs is greatly reduced. The same is true of breast feeding, it reduces a woman's chance of developing breast cancer. To me, this means that the more children I have the lower my chances are of getting a disease that could potentially kill me. As for being good for my children or anyone else, studies show that having people, or other living things, to love and be loved by makes us live longer and happier, and it decreases our chances of developing heart disease and other heart problems that could be life threatening, such as hyper tension. Since there are many types of cancer that run in my family, and I have a greater risk of developing some type of cancer due to my Polycystic ovary disease, and I also have a very high chance of developing heart disease, these studies have impressed me. Not only is it scientific evidence, but it makes sense from a spiritual stand point as well.

I know you don't believe that we are spiritual beings, and I don't expect you to. Inside our physical shell, we are spirits, this is what makes us who we are, and also what gives our physical bodies life. Even my own husband believes this and he is agnostic. He has said there must be something else after this life because matter cannot be destroyed. And science has shown that matter is missing from the physical body after death. It must go somewhere. I am not going to debate this science Vs. spirit anymore with you because it is a useless point. You will always believe what you do, and I will always believe what I do, therefore we are both wasting our time talking about it.

Suffice it to say, I have faith in God as well as science, and I believe that God is driving the scientific world into the discoveries they make. God is a man of science, He has His own laws that He must abide by. He just has a better understanding of the nature of things then we do. I am sure that if we were given this understanding, we could do the things that He does as well. God will never grant us this same understanding in this life because we would do wrong with it, and it would just get us one step closer to the point you are at. I told you when I first wrote you that I was not trying to convert you. I can't do that, it can only be done by the Spirit of God. In all fairness, you cannot convert me for the simple reason that I have the Spirit of God with me. I know there is truth in what you say, you have just denied the power it came from. As before, I wish you well, and I hope for the best in everything you do.

I wish you well too. Just one quick last point from me. There is a difference between an isolated scientific fact and an overall scientific conclusion. To conclude that because there may be some benefits from having additional children (while ignoring all the detriments which far outweigh any possible benefit) one should have more kids is poor reasoning. No sane scientist or doctor will recommend that someone have additional children to become more healthy and make the planet more healthy. It would be akin (but not quite as drastic of course) to telling someone to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge or shoot heroin into their veins for the endorphins such behavior will release.

In response to a message in which the author identified himself as a 'linguistic agnostic' I asked, "what exactly is this?" Here is the reply:
Well, it's a 'habit' with a built-in reminder, more than anything else.

I have referred several of my ex JW friends along with a variety of christians at a couple of christian recruitment websites to your posited definition of an 'atheist' and 'theist', along with 'agnostic'. (Most of the christians btw were so constrained by their own use of language they could not comprehend what you were trying to say; that was a learning experience for me.)

By your definition I would be an atheist, or agnostic-atheist.

However, beyond that I've grown 'habituated' to referring to myself when talking to some version of a christian or theist as a linguistic agnostic. That reminds me that the person I am talking to is using his theistic term for 'god' in a reductionist sense when it never functions that way, and so I always deny that either I or he has any idea of what the 'thing' is to which he is referring. While theists generally use 'god' to refer to some invisible creator of everything, that is never what is entailed by the way they are determined to use the term, of course. There is always some covertly asserted 'infinite' series of propositions contained in their chosen use of the term varying from person-to-person and from use-to-use.

Yet the term is used as though it is reduced to a reference of a single 'thing' or, rather, a single proposition about a thing, when it never is. If I guide any subsequent conversation into exposing a few of the propositions covertly asserted that way, we get to a point where all terms of the 'nature' of 'god' become metaphysical, virtually undefinable or at least susceptible to infinite arbitrarily assigned 'definitions'. Then it's just a matter of pointing that out to this person, that all subsequent conversation reduces to a debate about definitions and semantics disguised as inquiries into matters of fact. Every debate about 'God' from the bible seeking 'facts' is a disguised contention over the definition of words. No 'fact' necessarily derives from any given definition, merely ones determination that a term be used in some particular way. And it is not asserted that the mere invention of a definition implies its existential necessity.

So I simply mean by linguistic agnostic that neither I or my theist acquaintance ever has a sufficiently precise knowledge of what he is asserting when he uses the term 'god' or its equivalent to justify the assertion that we 'know' what we are debating. He is deceived into thinking that because the conventions of language may allow for the construction of terms into a form that suggests some statement of fact, any such construction constitutes a statement of fact. I assert the term 'god', as it is actually used by true believers, to be virtually meaningless because it rises to a level of vagueness and ambiguity so as to render some object of reference as meaningless. The theist seems, to me, to spend his lifetime seeking a working definition of the term. I perceive this to be a product of his use of language rather than an inquiry into some matters of fact.

Well, I apologize for the length, inasmuch as I believe it likely you have already considered the above. Just wanted to be sure we were on the same wavelength.

Very good--insightful and well thought out. I haven't actually gone over the above 'problem' in as much detail of thought as you have although I have dealt with the definitional problems of several words at length. For an example see this message and the follow ups to it.

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