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084: Kevin Christensen: Discerning True Prophets


Today we sit down with LDS apologist Kevin Christensen. He is a Lifetime LDS member. Born and raised in Utah he served in the England-Leeds mission. His has made his living as a technical writer since 1984and resides Pittsburgh, PA.

Kevin shares this information about his faith and those works of his and others that have deep apologetic value.

“”””My testimony was cemented in 1973, during my third reading of the Book of Mormon, upon reading Ether 12:39. A reading of Hugh Nibley’s An Approach to the Book of Mormon while on my Mission turned me towards apologetics. I’ve published a dozen essays for FARMS, a dozen in the Meridian online magazine, a few articles and letters in Sunstone. I’ve published in Dialogue and, in collaboration with Margaret Barker, in Joseph Smith Jr., edited by Terryl Givens and Reid Nelson, published by Oxford University Press. I’ve written three reviews for the Interpreter, including “Sophic Box and Mantic Vista”.

I’ve published a couple of essays with FAIR, including a detailed study of “Biblical Keys for Discerning True and False Prophets” which demonstrates to me, at least, that Joseph Smith’s critics ignore the bulk of the keys, and often repeat the mistakes and arguments offered by Biblical critics of Biblical prophets.

I find Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions very helpful in understanding debates about things LDS. Several of my essays quote his work, and I’ve compared it to Alma 32. I also use Ian Barbour’s wonderful Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study of Science and Religion. See, for instance “Paradigms Crossed” here:

I give my orientation to spiritual experiences, both LDS and otherwise, in a Meridan essay called “A Model of Mormon Spiritual Experience.” Alas the Meridian links are broken now, but here is a new link to a pdf.

I often cite the Perry Scheme for Cognitive and Ethical Growth, to which I was introduced by this email from Veda Hale, back when I lived in Kansas, and participated on the AML List:

My best known essays are those which explore the Margaret Barker’s First Temple theology relative to the Book of Mormon.

I like Hugh Nibley’s comment that if we have answers to the Terrible Questions, (Where do we come from? Why are we here? Is this all there is? Is Jesus the Christ? What comes after? How can we know?), much of the rest is trivial in comparison.””””


2 thoughts on “084: Kevin Christensen: Discerning True Prophets”

  1. Thanks for this podcast. I thought your follow-up questions to Kevin were thoughtful and helpful.

    But I really wished you had pushed a little bit more on the topic of prophetic tests. You asked the question about how this really would work in reality and pointed out other mormon splinter groups and their prophets.

    Kevin has really put forward a propositiont that feals “unfalsifiable”. Meaning, whatever he believes is true no matter what.

    I would have liked him to show an example of what it would look like for a mormon prophet to not be a prophet. His model doesn’t allow for that. And if he thinks it does, it would have been nice for him to articulate that.

    Great conversation.

  2. I’m very late responding, since I just saw the comment from James. Concerning the notion that I have put forth a proposition that “feels unfalsifiable.” In practice, falsification turns out to have serious limits:

    “The empiricists had claimed that even though a theory cannot be verified by its agreement with data, it can be falsified by disagreement with data. But critics showed that discordant data alone have seldom been taken to falsify an accepted theory in the absence of an acceptable alternative; instead auxiliary assumptions have been modified, or the discrepancies have been set aside as anomalies.” (Barbour, 7)

    “Discordant data do not always falsify a theory. One can never test an individual hypothesis conclusively in a “crucial experiment”; for if a deduction is not confirmed experimentally, one cannot be sure which one, from among the many assumptions on which the deduction was based, was in error. A network of theories and observations is always tested together. Any particular hypothesis can be maintained by rejecting or adjusting other auxiliary hypotheses.” (Barbour, 99)

    “Every problem that normal science sees as a puzzle can be seen, from another viewpoint as a counterinstance, and thus, a source of crisis.” (Kuhn, 79)

    “Since no paradigm ever solves all the problems that it defines, and since no two paradigms leave all the same problems unsolved, paradigm debates always involve the question: Which problems are more significant to have solved?” (Kuhn, 110)

    Ian Barbour’s insightful little book, Myths, Models, and Paradigms points out that in practice, “Theories are neither verified, nor falsified, but assessed by a variety of criteria.” (Barbour, 116)

    In approaching Joseph Smith, or any other purported spiritual authority, I think it important to think seriously about the criteria involved. Hence, my searching out 28 Biblical Tests. And to pay attention to the observer. Hence, my exploration of Biblical methods for discerning truth. And to watch out for which mistakes to avoid. That is why I found it interesting that all of the Biblical arguments against true prophets amounted to saying, “It’s not what I think,” (for example, from John 6, “This is a hard saying. Who can hear it?” or “It’s not what I want.” Think of the rich young man, for example. Fear and Desire.

    It’s easy to come up with arguments against LDS prophets. But like the claims of a prophet, those arguments are open to examination and assessment as well. I’ve tested Joseph Smith in many different ways that Joseph Smith had no way of anticipating. Any falsification of Joseph Smith must be testable itself through a network of observations and assumptions, accurate in key predictions, comprehensive and coherent, fruitful in expected ways, simple beautiful, and promising.

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