08 October 2007

A Thoelogical Offering

I am currently reading a fascinating book called, Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. It is a long book, and I have finally broken the 600-page mark.

Anyway, the book starts out by referring to the Musical Offering that Bach composed based on a theme from Frederick II of Prussia. I have entitled this post, and the succeeding work implied by it, A Theological Offering for two reasons.

First, I refer myself to the following condition of English and its ability to make logical statements of truth or falsehood. Consider the statement "This statement is false." Is it true or false? From a logical sense, it is a paradox because, if it is true, then it is false, if it is false, then it speaks the truth. Somehow, our minds don't break though, because they operate on a higher plane that just language.

I showed this to a co-worker of mine, Chris, and he said that he felt that this wasn't a problem because you could just create a rule (thinking in the logical world again) that one could no use self-reference in logic. Ah ha! So, I proposed the sentence to him "This statement has five words." Is it true or false? Indeed, we recognize it as true; however, without self-reference it is a truth that our logical system can neither prove nor disprove.

I came to better understand two principles of formal systems that day. First, due to the richness of a number of our formal systems, there exist statements that are neither true nor false, but are instead, paradoxes. Second, regardless of how we refine it, there will always be truths that, while the system can express it, it cannot prove or disprove it.

Enter the Scientific Method. I am a very scientific, analytical person, and yet I realize that the Scientific Method is a system, just like any other, that is beholden to these two principles. This method has taken us to great and wonderful vistas as large as 10 billion light years and as small as quarks and leptons. We understand so much about life and how to preserve and improve it. While the potential of the Scientific Method, and science in general, seems limitless to me, I recognize that there exist unreachable truths for the Scientific Method, just like any other formal system. Again, an unreachable truth meaning something that is true that cannot be proven nor dis-proven.

What about the statement of truth that "Faith is the power of God to work miracles" or even simpler "God exists"? What about "If you seek a relationship with God and follow His commandments, you will return to live with Him again after death"? I have been told in the past that Intelligent Design is not scientific because it cannot be verified through the Scientific Method. For now, I agree with this. I also understand that there are truths in our world that cannot be reached by the Scientific Method simply due to what I have stated above. Are spiritual truths a set of principles that cannot be proven by the Scientific Method but are nevertheless true? I believe so.

Much like Hofstadter in his book, G.E.B., I wish to make a Theological Offering of spiritual truths that I have verified for myself using the Spiritual Method, which I will explain now.

Over the past dozen or so years, I have been a Seminary teacher, a Sunday School teacher, a youth leader, and a missionary. I have come to love the gospel of Jesus Christ, and, particularly the books of "spiritual theorems" that He has authored through His servants, the prophets, namely, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. That list is nowhere near inclusive, but it includes the major works that have changed my life. Aside from coming to love the spiritual theorems put forward in these books, I have come to love teaching them to others and helping them see how their lives can be improved 100-fold by following them in their lives.

Thus, I would like to make my own offering to all readers. (The word "offering" makes whatever I say after this sound "definitive" or, at least, "elitist," but it is not my intent. I mean it in the humble sense that Bach did.) Over the next many years, I am going to write up a highly-collaborative, shared commentary on the standard works listed above, and hopefully expand it to many other spiritual works of prophets both living and dead. I'm going to start with the Book of Mormon since I believe it to be the most important, and then I'll go from there.

I'm going to use Diigo to do it. I'm doing this so that other people may participate, if they wish, making it highly-collaborative. Diigo is a social bookmarking system that allows for annotations to be placed on the page that you are bookmarking. These annotations, for my purposes, will be people's commentary. You will be able to, and soon as I verify copyright laws, find the notes at scriptures.lds.org.

If you wish to contribute, I've created a Diigo group called "Theological Offering" where you can add your commentary to various scriptures. I'm adding people to the group by invitation. Please feel free to provide a few of your proposed annotations to me, and I would be happy to add you to the group.

My underlying goal is for people to be able to collaborate and share their scriptural insights, life experiences, etc. in a way that makes reading the scriptures a much richer experience. Indeed, reading 1 Nephi 3:7 is inspiring, but to read a dozen testimonies of how people have found the principle in this scripture to be true would, I think, be fantastic.

****Now for the disclaimer:****

I must emphasize that these are my own opinions (and the opinions of any contributors), taken from the sum-total of my testimony and my life experiences. Please do not consider any of the comments as the official position of the Church. I am in no position whatsoever in the Church to be able to make any "official" claims. What this turns into basically is a plea that you a) don't interpret something that it said in these comments as something that is doctrine for everyone to follow unless the Church has taught the same thing elsewhere (like during General Conference, in the Ensign, or in the scriptures) and b) don't take the writer's opinion over anything taught by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The apostles are the Lord's ordained leaders in this dispensation and they have the stewardship for establishing doctrine and principles, not me.

****End disclaimer****