Over the years, here are some questions asked of me as a member of the Church.
*Are the basic theological beliefs presented in the Book of Mormon rational? Or are they irrational? (Mostly, this question from professorially friends in philosophy and theology.)
*Does Book of Mormon theology deny reason to make room for revelation?
*Is Book of Mormon anti-intellectual, or is the Book hostile or chilling’ to inquiry of the Book’s claims?
In my own experience, these questions have been honest, even collegial.
But in contrast to my experiences of friendly questions, as Mormons we still have opportunity to love our enemies; that’s a back-handed way of saying secular anti-Mormons do really exist, and that not every inquiry about the rationality of our witness of Christ as our Savior are friendly. So as attacks on the Book of Mormon as continue now as they did in 1830, here is a quick overview of why I know my testimony of the Book of Mormon is rational. The summary points below defending our rationality as Mormons are a serious matter.
Seven Summary Insights into the Theological Rationality of the Book of Mormon
(I alone am responsible for the use made of the genius of these two thinkers.)
1.On Having Good Reasons.
What is rational is not limited to what we can prove. For example, take the question of life after death.
For such a question proof simply does not enter into the analysis.
Why? Because even short of a scientific proof, one can have good and sound reasons for a belief in life after death.
It was an error of Enlightenment critique to suggest that what is rational needs to be our own self-discovery to be authentic knowledge.
In fact, no one in living out their life ever comes close to the ideal principle of thinking everything up for ourselves.
“Knowledge is a social product, and rationality is not tied to a foundationalist epistemology which begins by dispensing with vicarious information,” states a well-regarded philosopher.
3.Rationality once captive to only natural science has been liberated from its confinement.
“Reason is omnivorous; it does not pasture exclusively in scientific fields.'”
Thank heaven for science, and for its procedures for advancing knowledge! (It would be irrational to restrict reason only to science, however persuasive the results of science truly are.)
But even in science’s successes, as the work of Paul Feyerabend pointed out repeatedly from the history of science, it is the case that very often no scientific method has been back of scientific results. Accidental discoveries have been just as important.
4.Reasons Differ Between Types of Inquiry.
Once we free rationality from its scientific captivity, a related point fairly leaps out: “What is appropriate in physics is not necessarily so in theology,” it has been noted.
What is rationally fitting or elegant in one field of inquiry versus in another field of inquiry involves our rational reflections. What reasons are there for preferring what will likely work best given the type of inquiry: prayer or a test tube?
An attack on the rationality of Scripture misses this insight that the nature of our inquiry which will provide us reasons for a more not less methodology. My witness relative to the rationality of Book of Mormon theology derived from a method of careful notes on arguments of the Book supported by reasons, reasons which often were established upon evidence and evidence which included being surprised in my Book study by joy, from the witness of the Holy Spirit.
5.“[T]he notion of a rational belief’ is ambiguous.”
There is as if an arc of meanings that might be intended when speaking of a “rational belief.”
One example of a rational belief can mean the belief is justified or it can mean the belief is justifiable. Or it may mean a belief is intrinsically reasonable.
For example, if I am Abraham faced with a soul-wrenching command for obedience, but have had a personal acquaintance of God’s love and trustworthiness throughout the entirety of my earthly existence, then it is rational to say that I know God’s character to be dependably loving and trustworthy – for I have accumulated a lifetime of reasons to love the Lord, and in loving Him, to trust Him. So I shall trust Him even now, despite His commandment to slay my beloved son, in whom so many hopes are carried.
Rationality is many things and not just one thing.
Again, in our secular society, rationality competes against dislocated blocks of Enlightenment beliefs now disconnectedly floating around Hollywood and pundit media. These blocks once made sense before they were fractured by secularism. But detached from the whole frameworks in which their ideas were held, if ever rational now they are not.
Another of these “secularities” is the notion that rationality is uniform.
To sum-up so far: It is not. Rationality is many and not one.
7.“Christian faith is based on revelation.”
As Karl Barth has pointed out:
“Whether a theological belief is rational requires putting revelation first into place, to seek to test the religious reasons for something being proposed to us.”
Accordingly, theology ought not to “lean on other disciplines outside it, for it is rooted in God’s revelation in history and the Word.”[i]