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In my last post, I discussed Michael Ash’s book Shaken Faith Syndrome and his assertion that “The onus is upon us to determine when [Church leaders] speak for the Lord.”

I think everyone has their own mechanism for processing Church teachings; for some of us, the mechanism is very simple (“a Church authority said it, and therefore it’s Gospel…”), which often demands turning a blind eye to contradictory statements by other Church authorities. At the other extreme, a personal process for determining the soundness of a teaching can get so complex, weighing teachings against so many epistemological models and critical theories, that it becomes next to impossible to commit one’s heart to any given teaching.
In this post, with a nod to a couple of my favorite treatments of our approach to doctrine from Nate Oman and J. Nelson-Seawright, I’ll outline my model. This is a process I do subconsciously whenever I hear or read teachings from Church leaders or members, and when I gave it some thought a few nights ago, I realized that this process is more or less a weighted scoring system that translates neatly into a spreadsheet.

A weighted scoring system is where you define some criteria to be scored, attach a value, or “weight,” to the criteria, and combine the scores (mine are out of a possible ten points) with the weight of the criteria (totaling 100) to create a “weighted score” that reflects each criterion’s value in relation to the others.
My criteria for evaluating a doctrinal teaching are as follows, in order of value from high to low:

1. Has not been disavowed or downplayed by the Church. If the Church has sought to distance itself from a teaching, the teaching will score low here.
2. Given in official forum/media (Conference, Ensign, etc.)
3. Current (past 20 years) or repeated recently in official media
4. Is not plainly refuted by science Most miraculous stories have no basis in science, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the traditional story of Noah’s Ark, the she-bears in 2 Kings 2, or a 6,000 year existence of planet Earth.
5. Does not dehumanize others Does a teaching recognize that people are children of God, or does it give supreme weight to other of their characteristics? Does it portray some categories of people as animals, or meat to be slaughtered?
6. Scriptural This one is tricky, given that we believe the scriptures have problems in transmission and interpretation.
7. Does not conflict with other sound teachings
8. Does not have any gaping logical or historical holes Much of the Gospel is not logical and that is why I have given this criterion less weight. Good examples for this criterion would be the she-bears mentioned in #4, or the Mormon Da Vinci Code.

I have to stress that I don’t believe Microsoft Excel is a substitute for personal revelation, but I do think personal revelation carries with it an obligation for us to study issues out in our minds, and a weighted scoring table best reflects my mental process for studying doctrinal issues as they arise. Here are some examples of Church teachings that I have run through this process; your own criteria or weighting will likely differ from mine.

The First Vision
Weight Score Weighted Score Possible %
Has not been disavowed or downplayed by the Church 25 10 250 250 100
Given in official forum/media (Conference, Ensign, etc.) 20 10 200 200 100
Current (past 30 years) or repeated recently 15 10 150 150 100
Is not plainly refuted by science 15 10 150 150 100
Recognizes the humanity of others 12 10 120 120 100
Scriptural 5 10 50 50 100
Does not conflict with other reliable teachings 5 10 50 50 100
Does not have any gaping logical or historical holes 3 5 15 30 50
Totals 100 985 1000 98.5%

I feel with 98.5% certainty that the story of the First Vision, as currently taught in the Church, is doctrinally sound (and personal revelation makes me feel comfortable in saying “I know” on this one). The only criterion where it does not score 10 is the final criterion, which includes historical consistency. The First Vision’s multiple varying accounts contributed to a lower score there.

Now, at the other end of the spectrum, let’s score the Adam-God Theory:

The Adam-God Theory
Weight Score Weighted Score Possible %
Has not been disavowed or downplayed by the Church 25 0 0 250 0%
Given in official forum/media (Conference, Ensign, etc.) 20 2 40 200 20%
Current (past 20 years) or repeated recently 15 0 0 150 0%
Is not plainly refuted by science 15 10 150 150 100%
Recognizes the humanity of others 12 10 120 120 100%
Scriptural 5 0 0 50 0%
Does not conflict with other reliable teachings 5 0 0 50 0%
Does not have any gaping logical or historical holes 3 0 0 30 0%
Totals 100 310 1000 31%

A score of 31% does not indicate the Adam-God theory is categorically false, but it indicates I have very little reason to take it seriously as a Church teaching.

Now let’s try a really tough one- everyone’s favorite issue, polygamy:

Polygamy
Weight Score Weighted Score Possible %
Has not been disavowed or downplayed by the Church 25 2 50 250 20%
Given in official forum/media (Conference, Ensign, etc.) 20 10 200 200 100%
Current (past 20 years) or repeated recently 15 10 150 150 100%
Is not plainly refuted by science 15 10 150 150 100%
Recognizes the humanity of others 12 5 60 120 50%
Scriptural 5 10 50 50 100%
Does not conflict with other reliable teachings 5 5 25 50 50%
Does not have any gaping logical or historical holes 3 10 30 30 100%
Totals 100 715 1000 71.5%

A 7.15% score for polygamy tells me the teaching is firmly doctrinal, but problematic. Looking at the scoring from polygamy, it’s easy to see the paradoxes inherent in this teaching- we practice it and defend it, and yet we downplay it and distance ourselves from it. The numerical score here reflects the ambiguity that surrounds this teaching.

Finally, given the sheer volume of things I have been taught in Church since I was a kid, here is the most interesting and spreadsheet-defying statement of doctrine I have ever read (emphasis mine):

3 Nephi 11:
35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
36 And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.
37 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.