Interpreting Scripture, History, Science, and Creation: A Free Course by Me!

Red brick store in Nauvoo, where the first endowments were done on May 4, 1842.

Edit: I’ve added this syllabus to the main menu at left, and simplified the url for easy access, to http://BenSpackman.com/syllabus

May 4th holds significance in LDS history: it’s the day Joseph Smith introduced temple ordinances in the upper room of the red brick store in 1842. The temple ties together a number of questions, like: Continue reading “Interpreting Scripture, History, Science, and Creation: A Free Course by Me!”

Literal Interpretation of the Scriptures: Why We Need MORE

Melvin Cook, famous chemist and ardent LDS young-earth creationist, thought scripture should be interpreted literally, e.g.

My analysis is intended to be strictly literalistic; in my view, intellectual honesty requires literalism in the interpretation of the scriptures.

President Joseph Fielding Smith also made repeated statements about the necessity of reading scripture literally.

I agree with them. But I’ll go one better and do something they never seem to have done: I’m going to define the term “literal.” Continue reading “Literal Interpretation of the Scriptures: Why We Need MORE”

Translation and Context: Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, Isaiah and Job at Ugarit

Communication involves not just words, but the context, culture, and worldview in which they are embedded. Simple translation of words alone, reading words alone, however “clear,” will fail to communicate the entire message, because this kind of information is tacit and unstated. Sometimes we can tell we’re missing an intangible something, but most often we can’t even tell that, illustrated extensively in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes.

Here are some modern examples. Continue reading “Translation and Context: Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, Isaiah and Job at Ugarit”

Science and History as Myth and Fiction: Exploring Some Common Labels

(Originally published in 2010 elsewhere) Most people know the genre of “parable” because they’re in the Gospels, but “myth” is poorly understood and the term carries a lot of negative baggage. Like “literal” you have to be very careful throwing around the term without defining it. One simple definition of myth is that myth is worldview in narrative form. That is, it’s a way of explaining one’s conception of how the world works in everyday language or story form. Continue reading “Science and History as Myth and Fiction: Exploring Some Common Labels”

Announcement: Two Firesides This Weekend in the DC Area

It’s been a remarkably good Monday morning. Chilly, but I scored a $72 long-sleeve Merino wool bike jersey for $18 recently, and so went out for a 24-mile ride in 40 degree weather.

Chilaquiles!

Made myself chilaquiles afterwards. Bit of a foodie here.

But more importantly, we’ve crossed our t’s and dotted our i’s, so… I will be in the Washington DC area this weekend, doing two firesides. I know this announcement is sudden; technically I’m coming out for a family funeral, but I’d talked to people before about doing this, and now I have opportunity. Continue reading “Announcement: Two Firesides This Weekend in the DC Area”

BYU Studies, Evolution, and Faith: Some Clarification (Updated!)

We recently put forth an open call for abstracts for a special issue of BYU Studies dedicated to biological evolution, LDS faith, and practice. I am the guest editor overseeing the non-scientific submissions and as such, would like to emphasize a few things from the call that seem to be getting overlooked. Update: Please note, we have extended the abstract submission deadline from February 1 to March 1Continue reading “BYU Studies, Evolution, and Faith: Some Clarification (Updated!)”

The 1950s: A Fundamentalist Shift

Several scholars have identified a LDS shift in the mid-20th-century towards a kind of fundamentalism. In 1980, for example, Leonard Arrington reflected in his journal on the

[emergence] at BYU in the 1950s…. particularly in the College of Religion [of] A sort of Mormon Fundamentalism like Protestant Fundamentalism [which] Emphasizes Biblical literalism, rejects the Higher Criticism [in biblical studies, and] the law of evolution… Continue reading “The 1950s: A Fundamentalist Shift”

A Paradoxical Preservation of Faith: LDS Creation Accounts and the Composite Nature of Revelation

Creation of the Sun, Sistine Chapel

My 2019 FAIRMormon Conference presentation is up now, here. There’s a lot in the footnotes as well.

The takeaway is this: Many LDS have unsustainably fundamentalist assumptions about the nature of revelation, prophets, and scripture. The conflict these cause sometimes leads to a loss of faith, instead of recognizing and reexamining the assumptions.

I draw on a variety of things to argue against these assumptions, to argue that revelation is composite, that is, always contains divine and human aspects, and we should expect those. It’s ok, though, because it’s a progressive, iterative process. As time goes on, the human progresses towards the divine until the categories overlap completely. But we’re not there yet and won’t be for a long time.

So I take Acts 15:28 as my paradigm for understanding Church leadership. “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.”

Paradoxically, it is by recognizing and understanding the presence of the human that my faith in the divine is preserved.

Give it a read.

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