Junior Ganymede
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Public Apologies

February 26th, 2010 by Bruce Nielson

We just had a very fruitful discussion (in my opinion anyhow) about many subjects near and dear to my heart that address certain deep concerns I hold.

I really appreciate everyone that participated and, amazingly, I don’t feel any of the frequent posters in that thread lost control or did anything but add productively to the conversation.

I was just reading Popper in Myth of the Framework that it’s a fallacy that you have to hold the same framework to have a fruitful discussion. But what really impressed me was his thoughts that the “Myth of the Framework” came into existence because people misunderstood the difference between “pleasant” and “fruitful.” True fruitful discussions are never pleasant. They are an attempt to bridge gaps between frameworks that seems unbridgeable at first, and may never be fully bridgeable, but can be substantially bridged for those that try.

I learned numerous extremely important things in the discussion and I want to underscore one of them.

I am going to again publicly apologize to John Dehlin for mischaracterizing his stance on the Church.

This was a mistake made in good faith, but as I tell my kids, even mistakes must be apologized for.

I was perplex at first, because I have recollections of what was said and they didn’t, at first, seem to match what John was saying in his post. But that got me thinking and I realized something: John’s recollection is right and mine is wrong.

The reason this must be true is because I didn’t, prior to John’s post, understand the difference between “minimally invested” and “not believing.”

Now that I know there is a difference and that difference matters to John, I’m beginning to see the real beauty, power, and usefulness of this difference.

That is not say that there isn’t responsibility that comes with this power, but I’ll address that in a future post. For now, I’m extremely convinced that John gave me a more nuanced answer and that I am remembering it wrong because I didn’t fully understand the difference between the connotations of “not believing” vs. “minimally invested.”

I also want to publicly apologize to Todd Compton. Once he showed up and explained himself, it is clear that my original concerns with him were only half correct and that I had jumped to conclusions prematurely.

Specifically, I now believe Todd was probably quoted out of context somewhat (though I believe it was done in good faith by Greg) and so I am adjusting my point of view based on further clarification. (You can read the full discussion if you want to understand the full nuance, including what I am still concerned over in this case. Todd has graciously offered to explain himself fully in private to me, which I’m going to take him up on.)

Let’s not make this a continuation of the previous thread. For those that want to continue that discussion, there will be future opportunities, I promise.

Update: As suggested, I did email Todd and talk to him. He was unwilling to answer any questions about his beliefs about the LDS Church’s truth claims. He initially said that the reason why was because they are complicated and he didn’t have time. I then asked him to simply tell me if he honestly believed that the people in the Book of Mormon were real people or if they were not real people. This is, obviously, not a time consuming question to answer. He declined to give an answer.

Comments (11)
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February 26th, 2010 12:03:05

February 26, 2010

I confess I have a strong preference for discussions that are pleasant, even if they are not very fruitful.

I think this reflects my temperament, which is strongly introverted. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that I am instinctively terrified of other human beings, and am able to function in society only by dint of long practice at suppressing my fear long enough to exchange satisfactory trust queues. I suspect part of my introversion is that I am not especially gifted at exchanging such cues.

This isn’t necessarily tied to faith and religion. One of my favorite Internet haunts is a discussion board dominated by agnostic and atheistic libertarians. They are, however, as fond of pleasant discussion as I am, and we have negotiated a satisfactory truce on those things we disagree on. Is this good? Depends on what you want out of the Internet, I suppose.

Are echo chambers so bad? I have so rarely had fruitful discussions with folks with whom I did not share at least some framework relative to the topic that I wonder.

If my sister suggests that the aunt in the attic is crazy, I’m going to hear her out with a lot more sympathy than if the grouchy neighbor next door suggests that the aunt in the attic is crazy. In less metaphorical terms, if Arnold Kling explores some of the limitations of the free market with me, I’m going to be a lot more inclined to hear him out than if Paul Krugman explores some of the limitations of the free market with me. That’s because Klingman as a libertarian-leaning economist shares a lot more framework with me than Krugman as a liberal economist.

Taking the analogy one step further — and hopefully not dragging it in a direction Bruce wanted to avoid — I’m going to give a more sympathetic hearing to Eugene England discussing the eternal significance of polygamy than to Sandra Tanner discussing the eternal significance of polygamy, because I share quite a bit of common framework with England that I do not share with Tanner. I appreciate that both are up-front about their framework and do not try to hit me with false trust cues, but I still prefer to listen to England.

(I don’t want this to become a discussion on polygamy. I believe the topic is how to have fruitful discussions.)

Bruce Nielson
February 26, 2010


As always, you have raised some excellent points.

I think Popper wouldn’t disagree with you on your Sandra Tanner and Eugene England example. I don’t think “fruitful” equates to “convincing” from Popper’s point of view.

What I think Popper would say is that a conversation with Sandra Tanner would probably help introduce you to ideas (that would, to some degree modify your point of view, if only slightly) that a discussion with England would not.

Therefore, your encounter with both of them can be fruitful but in different ways. For example, with England it might productively lead you to believe in non-eternal polygamy but with Tanner it might productively help you understand the Tanners as human beings.

The real point being that you can only “learn something new” in the areas where you don’t already agree. Therefore, this implies at least to some degree different frameworks as a prerequisite to fruitfulness.

Bruce Nielson
February 26, 2010

“It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that I am instinctively terrified of other human beings”

I already knew you feared muppets, your Dark Lordness, but now this?!? 😉

February 26, 2010

One must know terror to generate it.

February 26, 2010

” True fruitful discussions are never pleasant.”

I’m going to disagree. I think they’re only often unpleasant. I’m going to disagree pleasantly I hope, perhaps fruitfully.

Your “very fruitful discussion” link, btw, links back to this blog in general (how preening and fanciful of you). I thought it was going to link to Popper on the net somewhere, but perhaps you only intended to link a previous post.

The fruit is probably more obvious when you have to work through something with someone from positions of significantly different assumptions or frameworks. The fruit, in fact, is probably prized, because without it the unpleasant discussion is also a mocking waste of time.

Frex, when we interviewed architects about what we could do with our house, no one in the room had the same framework, but it was very fascinating, even fruitful, to see the possibilities in terms we hadn’t thought of.

Of course, maybe those discussions were only fruitful for us, the potential clients, and the particular architect we went on to hire.

Some of the ideas I resisted vigorously in the interviews I’ve since come around to seeing the point of.

Like Vader, I’d rather engage with England (through his writing; I’m not sure Vader knows that Eugene England died young of brain cancer) than with Tanners. Though I’ve done both. And here’s why. Engaging with the writings of the Englands has been more fruitful for me because of important shared paradigms. I can have discoveries about important things that matter, to a level of nuance. From the Tanners, I might get some datapoint of history that all their document-collecting published (unlikely to shatter anything for me, and I’ve gotten new datapoints from England too), or I might come to appreciate how intensely sincere they were, but those fruits are not terribly interesting. Not as relevant or useful or fruitful in my life.

Brush with fame: before I met my husband, he faced Eugene England in debate. My husband wore his ROTC uniform to the occasion.

February 26, 2010

I was aware of England’s death. Which only means that his present views would be more interesting than ever.

Bruce Nielson
February 26, 2010

“I might come to appreciate how intensely sincere they were”

This is how I read Popper. He gave the example of getting two groups together, one that ate their dead and one didn’t. This gives you an idea of the context of what he means by “fruitful”. It’s about understanding others.

By the way, I fixed the link to go to the last discussion. Dang cut and paste!

Johnna, I appreciated your input in the last discussion. I read through it carefully and tried to understand where you are coming from.

Bruce Nielson
February 26, 2010

Please, both of you, give me the names and phone numbers for your bishops so that I can turn you in for witchcraft and séances.

Oh, and remember to invite me over once you make contact with the dead. 😉

February 26, 2010

Yes, more interesting than ever. Again I have underestimated you Vader, but that must be a common experience for you.

Bruce, that’s an understanding of “fruitful” that jives with my odd optimism about our government. I drive my friends crazy because I’m so sure the product of the negotiations is superior than the product we’d get if one party ruled.

I read you carefully too, and I only get aspects of where you’re coming from. So far.

Some dead people aren’t really so great at dinner parties. Be happy for the books.

Bruce Nielson
February 26, 2010

“I read you carefully too, and I only get aspects of where you’re coming from. So far.”

Oh, unless Adam decides to shut me off at some point, there is a lot more to come. 😉

February 26, 2010

“Some dead people aren’t really so great at dinner parties.”

I’m rather awkward at dinner parties myself nowadays.

But back in the day, I rather enjoyed some dead animals at my dinner parties.

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