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Hmm. I think I'll still stick with the position that McMurrin's book is a horrible one. What we need is something like Blake's book (but with more variety of theological views) and written as a more introductory text.

Clark, you devoted several posts at MM to the book in 2004, so I'm surprised you'd call it horrible.

I am an idiot when it comes to this kind of stuff, but I would like to improve. McMurrins's book is one that I was planning on getting. Are opinions on this book really that varied, from must read to horrible?

An interesting side note is that McMurrin gives credit to the finitist approach to the problem of evil to B. H. Robert's book
"The Truth, The Way, The Life". McMurrin wrote one of the forwards in the book.

Dave, most of those posts were me going through why it was horrible.

What do you mean Clark?

Horribly written?
Horribly cited?
Poorly thought-out?
Or just plain evil philosophy?


I very much enjoyed McMurrin's book. I almost let Clark scare me out of reading it too but I'm glad I didn't -- I think it is extremely instructive to those of us with little background in Mormon philosophy and theology. McMurrin lays out the various issues and explains where he thinks Mormonism generally stood on the subjects at the time (1965 I believe.) See my beginning of a series on the book here. (I linked to Dave's and Clark's reviews there too).

What Geoff J said.

But maybe I should check out Clark's stuff and see why it's so awful.

Aaron B

Thanks for reminding me of my old posts on McMurrin's book, Geoff. I actually forgot I had posted anything on it earlier!

Seth, all of the above. (grin) It's amazingly dated and, I think, misleading.

Just to add, I really think anyone interested would find Blake's book better (and his second one is out) Yes it is a bit more involved and, of course, longer. And it admittedly does have the flaw of not addressing the range of potential views. But it really is heads and shoulders above McMurrin. You'd definitely learn a lot more from Blake. I suspect people reading McMurrin will come away with erroneous ideas outside of some fairly vague general points. (i.e. Mormon finitism is a good solution to the problem of evil)

Clark, I skimmed the tables of contents for the two Ostler volumes. He obviously deals with a bunch of interesting topics and does so at much greater length than McMurrin. But I didn't see anywhere where Ostler tackled the "problem of evil" (a well defined problem in theology) head-on, although there were several chapters on related topics. Not having read Ostler's books yet, I can't really compare his discussions to McMurrin's.

Well, maybe I should read both? Would it make sense to read one before the other? I would need something pretty basic to start with. I never took any philosophy classes. So what I need is Philosophy 101 for mormons. Or Philosophy for Mormon dummies.

No offense to Blake (he may read this after all), I have never met him of course, but he always seems so confrontational and sure of himself. Kinda ratta-tat-tat this is how it is. Am I misreading him because of the debate style of discourse? Is his book this way?

By dated, I think Clark means that it basically assumes an enlightenment view of human knowledge, and in the 20th century, this means it falls loosely into the category of positivism (the quasi-official verdict on positivism is that it can be rejected without discussion). I haven't read McMurrin's book or Blake's, but, I've argued with Blake about whether positivism had a shred of validity on Clark's thread on positivism; I was as unimpressed with him as he seems to have been with me. In any case, I'll probably will read all these books at some point.

But the problem evil is a pretty straight forward one, and in the excerpts you site here, McMurrin's re-iterates it with admirable succinctness.

Comparing the McMurrin and Ostler books is like comparing an apple to a watermellon. I loved both books. Blake covers a few subjects (mostly the attributes of God in book 1) in great detail and McMurrin covers a lot of topics shallowly. I think Clark is just wrong about the value and quality of McMurrin's book. I think it is an excellent primer. I plan to continue my series on it until I get all the way through the book.

I have a copy of Blake's new book and already read the first chapter. I will probably start a series on it tonight. It too is excellent.

Eric - Yes you should read both (all three actually). McMurrin's is a better place to start I suspect though.


Blake said he has reevaluated his position on positivism as a result of blog discussions (see this comment). I have to assume your comments helped him see the subject in a new light.

Interesting comment, Geoff. It seems that I should have been more impressed with Blake.

By dated DKL, I mean philosophy has progressed a lot the last 50 years. For instance all of Plantinga's work on the problem of evil obviously can't be addressed by McMurrin. Whether you agree with Plantinga or not, clearly it is very important to the topic.

Also, by the time McMurrin is writing positivism's days were already largely over. Yet even though it is from the 60's it does feel like it was written much earlier (IMO). However McMurrin doesn't really embrace positivism in the least. He just touches on various points, often with only a handful of major philosophers, many getting only a sentence or two. If he at least adopted a positivist approach but did it in depth then I probably wouldn't mind as much. The problem is that McMurrin just gets so many things wrong and then the rest is very, very superficial or presupposes already familiarity with the figures.

BTW - I sure hope you aren't impressed with someone based upon whether they are a positivist or not. (grin)

A short aside in defense of McMurrin: the book was (according to McMurrin's own Foreword) "based on a series of lectures delivered at the University of Utah in January and February of 1965," which were in turn based on a single paper read to a scholarly audience in 1959. He stated, "It is not my purpose here to present a systematic treatment of Mormon doctrine" but only to "differentiate Mormon doctrine from the classical Christian theology as that is set forth by the major theologians or expressed in certain of the historic symbols of the Christian faith." In light of that modest goal, the book is a gem.

As an exercise, try thinking of any Mormon Studies books published in that general era (help me out here, Justin) that have worn as well as McMurrin's book. I came up with (in no particular order) the following candidates: Brooks' Mountain Meadows Massacre (1963), O'Dea's The Mormons (1957), Nibley's An Approach to the Book of Mormon (1964), Arrington's Great Basin Kingdom (1958), and Brodie's No Man Knows My History (1945). These too, I think, have been in some sense displaced by more recent scholarship, but each is still well worth reading (although I confess I just could not manage to drag myself through Great Basin Kingdom despite my best efforts). For an older book, I think the proper measure for being an enduring classic is whether it opened new and fruitful lines of inquiry, not whether its factual observations and detailed argument remain valid fifty years later. (Clark, I know you're just making a good case for Blake's more detailed and up-to-date volumes, and you have probably convinced us all to go out and buy them, so consider your quest a success.)

Eric, I don't think you'll find a Mormon Philosophy 101. Your best bet is to read a good intro to philosophy (try the ones by Blackburn and by Solomon but not the one by Scruton, in my General Books list on the left sidebar), then a good intro to Christian theology (try the one by Olson in my Religious Books list). I found each of those in my local public library, by the way. Then you'll be ready to tackle either McMurrin or Ostler profitably.

True, Dave, there's no Mormon Philosophy 101, but I took Mormon Philosophy 415 at BYU. :)

We read B.R. Roberts "Mormon Doctrine of Diety" which I thought was a good beginning text on some of the issues.

Speaking of which, that reminded me that I wrote a paper on the problem of evil for said philosophy class (actually 215) that I have online in case anyone is particularly bored. It is here.

Thanks for clarifying, Clark. My impression of your take on the book was apparently overly-influenced by your "never ending thread on positivism."

Clark: BTW - I sure hope you aren't impressed with someone based upon whether they are a positivist or not. (grin)

No. I seriously dislike Wittgenstein--early, middle, and late. Also, positivists outside of philosophy tend to irritate me, because they have an overly simplistic view of science. In fact, I think that the dominant misconception of positivism derives from it's overly simplistic interpretation by non-philosophers (otherwise, why would the counter-arguments be so simplistic?). That, and the fact that continental philosophy has made it chic to discuss difficult topics without even a token attempt at achieving clarity.

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