Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Faking It

This news report covers another instance of an individual faking data in a widely-publicized study designed to advance a particular narrative. The lead author on the study, Columbia University Political Scientist Donald Green, has done the honorable thing upon finding that his co-author faked his data, and retracted the study. A full report can be found at Retraction Watch.

The upshot is that the individual who allegedly faked the data, Michael LaCour, has allegedly been hired as "an Assistant Professor of Politics and Public Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the Department of Politics at Princeton University."

The anthropologist Jonathan Marks makes some apposite remarks:
Incompetence is not a defense, and the end does not justify the means. . . . After all, once you have established that your colleague's work is not reliable, it really doesn't matter why. If some scientists don't do good research, it is difficult to maintain that they should nevertheless still be employed and receiving grants, much less that you want to continue collaborating with them!

The problem with the "incompetence defense," then, is that it implicitly raises a question about the rest of their work and about your own judgment in standing by incompetent work. To say someone is a sloppy researcher whose work is riddled with mistakes is not a compliment, and it immediately raises the questions of why you are associated with such a person, how competent the rest of their research has been, and why they should remain at work. I can think of no other profession in which that would be tolerated.

(Jonathan Marks, Why I am Not a Scientist (Berkeley: University of Californian Press, 2009), 189.)
Kudos to Professor Green for doing the right thing and to UC Berkeley graduate students, David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, and Yale professor, Peter Aronow, for bringing this fraudulence to light. As Marks notes: "it is not in anyone's interests to find fraud, and they will go to odd lengths to avoid it." (ibid.)

Monday, May 11, 2015

What Mothers Do

Mother's Day was yesterday, and although I was going to post this yesterday, I simply have not had time to get it written.

Ancient literature tends not to mention much about some facets of daily life, like what women do. Occasionally, one finds references to it scattered about in treatments of other things. This is a mother's description of motherhood in the middle of a war narrative:
υἱέ ἐλέησόν με τὴν ἐν γαστρὶ περιενέγκασάν σε μῆνας ἐννέα καὶ θηλάσασάν σε ἔτη τρία καὶ ἐκθρέψασάν σε καὶ ἀγαγοῦσαν εἰς τὴν ἡλικίαν ταύτην

Son, have mercy on me, who bore you in the womb for nine months, and nursed you for three years, and raised you, and brought you to this age (2 Maccabees 7:27)
It appears that motherhood was a lot of work back then too.

Friday, April 24, 2015

BYU's 2015 Commencement

Robert P. George delivered these remarks at the BYU Commencement yesterday. They are a good diagnosis of the situation facing religious institutions of higher education today. I am glad that he delivered them at BYU. They deserve to be read and pondered.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Becoming More Catholic?

In his recent book on Catholic higher education, Christian Smith praises the mission statement of Notre Dame, where he now teaches. He notes that at Notre Dame the ideal is to
seek to combine excellence in undergraduate education with maintaining a serious Catholic identity, character, and mission . . . [and] to engage in the highest quality original research, scholarship, and publishing in the sciences and humanities in an attempt to become a great research university.
(Christian Smith and John C. Cavadini, Building Catholic Higher Education [Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2014], xv.)
Smith notes that, "Realizing these three goals together is nearly impossible, though I refuse to say absolutely hopeless." (ibid.) Why? Smith explains:
Strong, almost irresistible sociological forces cause most religious colleges and universities to either (a) secularize on matters of faith (and prioritize research achievements--not that that necessarily leads to impressive results, as often it leads to mediocrity) or (b) become religiously sectarian (and sacrifice research achievements). Notre Dame can look to no successful existing models for realizing its combined goals in research, undergraduate education, and Catholic character.
(Smith and Cavadini, Building Catholic Higher Education, 39-40)
Smith thinks that this can only be done "by growing the Catholicism of both its academic programs and its faculty" (ibid., 28).

Smith garners hope from Notre Dame's recent(?) mission statement (ibid., 1-37). I wish Notre Dame the best and hope that Smith succeeds in his aspirations. There is reason to be somewhat dubious about the prospects though.

James T. Burtchaell in his impressive survey of seventeen representative Christian colleges that abandoned their faiths noted the following:
Almost without exception a rhetoric of concern began on these campuses just as the critical turn had been made. When the covenants and statements of purpose and conferences on the church relationship were produced, they served as a distraction from the fact that the turn had already passed the point of no return. It was common for educators and church executives to express their concern that their college could, or might, follow others into secularity, a decade or so after such misgivings had become useless. From another point of view they were not quite useless, because their real function was to provide cover and time for the new commitment to take hold. Also, these vision statements and preambles to bylaws invariably addressed outcomes instead of causes. For instance, they easily spoke of the college persevering in its offer of Christian values, but never of hiring those who could and would do the offering. While working on the menu they declined to hire a cook.
(James Tunstead Burtchaell, The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from their Christian Churches [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998], 833-34.)
I wish Notre Dame the best in keeping their university Catholic. Notre Dame deserves neither mediocrity nor secularism.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Some Thoughts from Some Authorities

The following counsel is older and most comes from a time when the "New Mormon History" was the intellectual fad of the day. The name of the fad may have changed but the sagacity of the counsel has not.

In the April 1989 General Conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks mapped the terrain of those who spoke about Mormon things:
My remarks will refer to those voices that speak of God, of his commandments, and of the doctrines, ordinances, and practices of his church. Some of those who speak on these subjects have been called and given divine authority to do so. Others, whom I choose to call alternate voices, speak on these subjects without calling or authority.

In the five years since I was called as a General Authority, I have seen many instances where Church leaders and members have been troubled by things said by these alternate voices. I am convinced that some members are confused about the Church’s relationship to the alternate voices. As a result, members can be misled in their personal choices, and the work of the Lord can suffer.

Some alternate voices are those of well-motivated men and women who are merely trying to serve their brothers and sisters and further the cause of Zion. Their efforts fit within the Lord’s teaching that his servants should not have to be commanded in all things, but “should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (D&C 58:27.)

Other alternate voices are pursuing selfish personal interests, such as property, pride, prominence, or power. Other voices are the bleatings of lost souls who cannot hear the voice of the Shepherd and trot about trying to find their way without his guidance. Some of these voices call out guidance for others—the lost leading the lost.

Some alternate voices are of those whose avowed or secret object is to deceive and devour the flock. The Good Shepherd warned, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matt. 7:15; see also 3 Ne. 14:15.) In both the Bible and the Book of Mormon the Savior charged his shepherds to watch over and protect the flock from such wolves. (See Acts 20:28–29; Alma 5:59.)

There have always been alternate voices whose purpose or effect is to deceive. Their existence is part of the Plan. The prophet Lehi taught that there “must needs be … an opposition in all things.” (2 Ne. 2:11; italics added.) And there have always been other alternate voices whose purpose or effect is unselfish and wholesome.
(Dallin H. Oaks, "Alternate Voices," Ensign [May 1989] .)

Some eight year earlier, in August of 1981, Elder Boyd K. Packer addressed the Church Education Symposium:
I have come to believe that it is the tendency for many members of the Church who spend a great deal of time in academic research to begin to judge the Church, its doctrine, organization, and leadership, present and past, by the principles of their own profession. Ofttimes this is done unwittingly, and some of it, perhaps, is not harmful.

It is an easy thing for a man with extensive academic training to measure the Church using the principles he has been taught in his professional training as his standard. In my mind it ought to be the other way around. A member of the Church ought always, particularly if he is pursuing extensive academic studies, to judge the professions of man against the revealed word of the Lord.

Many disciplines are subject to this danger. Over the years I have seen many members of the church lose their testimonies and yield their faith as the price for academic achievement. Many others have been sorely tested.
(Boyd K. Packer, "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," BYU Studies 21/3 [Summer 1981]: 259.)
Elder Oaks seconded this:
I have seen some persons attempt to understand or undertake to criticize the gospel or the Church by the method of reason alone, unaccompanied by the use or recognition of revelation. When reason is adopted as the only—or even the principal—method of judging the gospel, the outcome is predetermined. One cannot find God or understand his doctrines and ordinances by closing the door on the means He has prescribed for receiving the truths of his gospel. That is why gospel truths have been corrupted and gospel ordinances have been lost when left to the interpretation and sponsorship of scholars who lack the authority and reject the revelations of God.
(Dallin H. Oaks, "Alternate Voices.")
Elder Packer told the story of the struggle one young Latter-day Saint scholar had getting a doctorate and doing a dissertation on a Mormon topic, whose non-Mormon professors insisted could not address the topic taking into account the Latter-day Saint point of view.
I must not be too critical of those professors. They do not know of the things of the Spirit. One can understand their position. It is another thing, however, when we consider members of the Church, particularly those who hold the priesthood and have made covenants in the temple. Many . . . capitulate, cross over the line, and forsake the things of the Spirit. Thereafter they judge the Church, the doctrine, and the leadership by the standards of their academic profession.

This problem has affected some of those who have taught and have written about the history of the Church. These professors say of themselves that religious faith has little influence on Mormon scholars. They say this because, obviously, they are not simply Latter-day Saints but are also intellectuals trained, for the most part, in secular institutions. They would that some historians who are Latter-day Saints write history as they were taught in graduate school, rather than as Mormons.

If we are not careful, very careful, and if we are not wise, very wise, we first leave out of our professional study the things of the Spirit. The next step soon follows: we leave the spiritual things out of our lives.
(Packer, "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," 261.)
As a result he gave this piece of advice:
If we do not keep this constantly in mind--that the Lord directs this Church--we may lose our way in the world of intellectual and scholarly research.
(Packer, "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," 261.)
Elder Packer warned that the problems were more prevalent in some disciplines than in others:
Those of us who are extensively engaged in researching the wisdom of man, including those who write and those who teach Church history, are not immune from these dangers. I have walked that road of scholarly research and study and know something of the dangers. If anything, we are more vulnerable than those in some of the other disciplines. Church history can be so interesting and so inspiring as to be a very powerful tool indeed for building faith. If not properly written or properly taught it may be a faith destroyer.
 (Packer, "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," 261-62.)
There is always a temptation to write for a worldly audience.
If we who research, write, and teach the history of the Church ignore the spiritual on the pretext that the world may not understand it, our work will not be objective. And if, for the same reason, we keep it quite secular, we will produce a history that is not accurate and not scholarly--this, in spite of the extent of research or the nature of the individual statements or the incidents which are included as part of it, and notwithstanding the training or scholarly reputation of the one who writes or teaches it. We would end up with a history with the one most essential ingredient left out.
Those who have the spirit can recognize very quickly whether something is missing in a written Church history--this in spite of the fact that the author may be a highly trained historian and the reader is not.
 (Packer, "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," 263.)
But what about addressing an audience of scholars?
Some historians write and speak as though the only ones to read or listen are mature, experienced historians. They write and speak to a very narrow audience. Unfortunately, many of the things they tell one another are not uplifting, go far beyond the audience they may have intended, and destroy faith.
(Packer, "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," 263.)
Elder Packer gives this warning:
A destroyer of faith--particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith--places himself in great spiritual jeopardy. He is serving the wrong master, and unless he repents, he will not be among the faithful in the eternities.
One who chooses to follow the tenets of his profession, regardless of how they may injure the Church or destroy the faith of those not ready for "advanced history," is himself in spiritual jeopardy. If that one is a member of the Church he has broken his covenants and will be accountable.
(Packer, "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," 266.)
Can't we be neutral?
The idea that we must be neutral and argue quite as much in favor of the adversary as we do in favor of righteousness is neither reasonable nor safe.
In the Church we are not neutral. We are one-sided. There is a war going on and we are engaged in it. It is the war between good and evil, and we are belligerents defending the good. We are therefore obliged to give preference to and protect all that is represented in the gospel of Jesus Christ and we have made covenants to do it.
Some of our scholars establish for themselves a posture of neutrality. They call it "sympathetic detachment." Historians are particularly wont to do that. If they make a complimentary statement about the Church, they seem to have to counter it with something that is uncomplimentary.
Some of them, since they are members of the Church, are quite embarrassed with the thought that they might be accused of being partial. They care very much what the world thinks and are very careful to include in their writings criticism of the Church leaders of the past.
They particularly strive to be acclaimed as historians as measured by the worlds standard.
. . .
And I want to say in all seriousness that there is a limit to the patience of the Lord with respect to those who are under covenant to bless and protect His Church and kingdom upon the earth but do not do it.
Particularly are we in danger if we are out to make a name for ourselves.
(Packer, "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," 267-68.)
In a 1993 talk to the BYU faculty, Elder Maxwell reminded the faculty that,
There will be no puffed vitas circulating in the next world. They stay here—in the files.
(Neal A. Maxwell, "Out of the Best Faculty")

There are those who are interested in the Mormon things that are not Mormons. So what do we do about those of other faiths? Elder Maxwell answers that question:
What, however, of our responsibilities to those beyond our communities of Saints? Church members should be good neighbors to all, cooperating with others regarding shared concerns in larger communities. This can be done, if we are thoughtful, without subordinating gospel principles or our spiritual integrity.
(Neal A. Maxwell, If Thou Endure It Well, )
So we cooperate if there are shared concerns. These might be issues of religious freedom, morality, the integrity of the family, and many others. In another talk, he illustrated these concerns:
Teaching about history’s major apostasies has long been one of the restored gospel’s “givens,” but it is not always given much attention. My aim, therefore, is internal instruction, not external persuasion, since we fully understand that certain of our beliefs are not shared by others and vice versa. But goodwill can still prevail. In fact, with you, brothers and sisters, I rejoice in the good works and the voices of faith of many in other religions. For instance, recent papal pronouncements on chastity are both appropriate and courageous, and I applaud them. So many honorable individuals in the world do so much without what we, as members, call gospel fulness, while some of us, unfortunately, do so little with so much!
(‎Neal A. Maxwell, “From the Beginning,” Ensign [November 1993])

On some issues, however, there are clear lines drawn:
I feel sorry for the few who seek to redefine the Book of Mormon in order to believe in it. But we do not invite these few to rewrite the Church’s curriculum.
(Neal A. Maxwell, "Out of the Best Faculty")
There are many good people of other faiths or no faith who are honest and fair-minded, but not all are so. Elder Packer spells out our obligations:
There is much in the scriptures and in our church literature to convince us that we are at war with the adversary. We are not obliged as a church, nor are we as members obliged, to accommodate the enemy in this battle.
(Packer, "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," 268.)
Elder Packer cites, as an analogy, an attorney hired to protect a business firm.
Can you imagine that attorney, under contract to protect the company having fixed in his mind that he must not really take sides, that he must be impartial.
. . .
Do you not recognize a breach of ethics, or integrity, or morality?
I think you can see the point I am making. Those of you who are employed by the church have a special responsibility to build faith, not destroy it. If you do not do that, but in fact accommodate the enemy, who is the destroyer of faith, you become in that sense a traitor to the cause you have made covenants to protect.
Those who have carefully purged their work of any religious faith in the name of academic freedom or so-called honesty ought not expect to be accommodated in their researches or to be paid by the Church to do it.
(Packer, "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," 269.)
Elder Packer is not the only one to view such matters in such a light. Hugh Nibley observed two decades before that:
When books and articles against the Church and its teachings have come out in the past, no matter how patently false and unfair they have been, none of the Church's army of professional scholars has shown any inclination to rush to the defense of the faith, though even a mercenary should show some measure of loyalty to his employer.
(Hugh Nibley, "Nobody to Blame," CWHN 17:131.)
Things may have improved slightly in the intervening half century, but proportionately they have not improved that much.

Elder Packer gives some practical advice:
I would not contribute to publications, nor would I belong to organizations that by spirit or inclination are faith destroying. There are plenty of scholars in the world determined to find all secular truth. There are so few of us, relatively speaking, striving to convey the spiritual truths, who are protecting the Church. We cannot safely be neutral.
(Packer, "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," 270.)
When it comes to publishing and publicizing the ideas of critics of the Church, Elder Packer was blunt:
Do not spread disease germs!
(Packer, "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," 271.)
Elder Oaks also noted where the Church stood on this:
Of course, the Church does have a responsibility to point out what is the voice of the Church and what is not. This is especially necessary when some alternate voice, deliberately or inadvertently, communicates a message in a way that implies Church sponsorship or acquiescence. . . .

Leaders must do all they can to avoid expressed or implied Church endorsement for teachings that are not orthodox or for teachers who will use their Church position or prominence to promote something other than gospel truth.

Scholarship that supports the Church may come at a price, and Elder Packer realized that:
It may be that you will lay your scholarly reputation and the acclaim of your colleagues in the world as a sacrifice upon the altar of service.
(Packer, "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," 275-76.)
Nevertheless, he counseled:
Do not yield your faith in payment for an advanced degree or for the recognition and acclaim of the world.
(Packer, "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," 275.)
There are hidden costs associated with hopping on the latest scholarly fad. Elder Maxwell pointed out that
A real university does not oscillate in response to all the political, social, and educational trends and fashions of a particular time. Six decades ago, though there were a few notable exceptions, German universities failed as providers of perspective. They were too concerned with becoming “politically correct.”

(Neal A. Maxwell, "Out of the Best Faculty")
Elder Oaks concluded his analysis with the following promise and warning:
In an inspired utterance, the Prophet Joseph Smith described the Lord’s “pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.” (D&C 121:33.) This will not happen for those whose “hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men.” (D&C 121:35.) Those who fail to learn and use “principles of righteousness” (D&C 121:36) will be left to themselves to kick against those in authority, “to persecute the saints, and to fight against God” (D&C 121:38).
(Dallin H. Oaks, "Alternate Voices," Ensign [May 1989] .)

I have been studying apostasy for at least thirty-five years and been able to watch it at close hand in academic settings for at least thirty years. I have seen first-hand over and over that everything these apostles have said is true. Their warnings should be strictly heeded.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

William W. Hallo (1928-2015)

I just learned (a day after the funeral) that William W. Hallo died last Friday.

I took Sumerian and Old Assyrian from Professor Hallo while at Yale. He sat in on my oral exams and was probably the kindest one there. Professor Hallo (his friends called him Bill but I always respected him too much to be on a first name basis with him) was a kind, gracious, and generous teacher. I considered (and still consider) it a great privilege to study under him, and I learned a great deal from him. He had an encyclopedic knowledge and was interested in a wide variety of things. He always encouraged me in Assyriology and it seemed to me that he wished I would have switched to that discipline. I was touched that at the end of my time at Yale, he consulted me on an Egyptological matter even though he could easily have consulted one of the more senior Egyptologists.

One of the things that most impressed me about Professor Hallo was his faith. He never talked about it explicitly but you never had any reason to question it. It was not a blind faith; he knew what the issues were and he tried to deal with them. He published a thoughtful and important article on the topic called "The Limits of Skepticism."

I feel blessed to have studied with Professor Hallo Z''L.