Religion is something beyond simply a system of supernatural belief (Interview)
Titus Rivas (publicatiedatum: 17 April, 2013)
Interview with Tyler Scott Anderson, aspiring scientist and philosopher, and prominent Humanistic Mormon.
Religion is something beyond simply a system of supernatural belief: An interview with Tyler Scott Anderson
by Titus Rivas
For a new edition of the Dutch book Spiritualiteit, Vrijheid en Engagement (Spirituality, Freedom, and Engagement) by Bert Stoop and myself, I conducted an interview with my American Facebook friend Tyler Scott Anderson. The text of this interview was translated into Dutch in April 2013.
Please tell me a bit about your personal background (date of birth, family background, spiritual upbringing and development, education, intellectual development, and whatever you find relevant in this context)
I was born on January 11, 1992 in Longview, Washington in the United States. I grew up all around Salt Lake City, Utah. My family had to move a lot due to financial problems. My parents divorced when I was around two years old. My mother used to be Mormon but drifted away from it, though recently she has decided to go back to church to do some spiritual exploration. My Dad is a believing Mormon and is also a scholar on Mormon history and other aspects of American history. I also have a brother who is younger than me, and a sister who is a photographer. I was raised Mormon but became an atheist at the age of 12. My scientific and philosophical understanding made religion seem to be bankrupt and baseless. I was a hardcore atheist and skeptic of all manner of paranormal and pseudoscience for a number of years, until I really delved into the research of parapsychology. I found there was an effect there that need explaining. I became an agnostic about it with no concrete position, until eventually my acceptance of ESP and PK was solid. The evidence for it met scientific standards of acceptability. I also found that the data suggestive of survival was quite good, so I think that makes the idea of a creator of life or the universe more plausible. I’m open to that hypothesis, as well as the concept of an afterlife. I originally wanted to be a medical doctor with deep interest in health, nutrition, and medicine. I then read physics and got deeply immersed in that and decided I want to be a theoretical physicist. Biology came next. I have wide-ranging scientific interests in nearly all science, excluding geology and engineering. My interest in philosophy came at around age 17. I knew of the names of many classical philosophers and the history of skepticism. However, my interest in philosophy developed from my interest in the biggest of questions. I deeply wanted to understand the nature of mind and the great philosophical questions, which ultimately led to my interest in psychology. My interest in psychology and neuroscience came late, with my understanding of parapsychology research methods and also having read Phantoms in the Brain by Prof. V.S. Ramachandran. I decided I had to understand what the mind was all about. I had always been interested in the psychology of superstition, paranormal belief, and religion. My chief interest of the sciences has really been parapsychology. After finding that an anomaly had been demonstrated, I wanted to know all about the evidence from all different viewpoints. Including the skeptical viewpoint.
How would you define the terms "spirituality" and "religion"? Do you consider yourself spiritual and/or religious? If so, why?
I haven’t really thought much about how to define such concepts. I do think that religion is something beyond simply a system of supernatural belief. I think it’s one’s worldview on ultimate matters. I consider Humanistic Mormonism to be a religion. So yes, I do consider myself deeply religious and spiritual.
You're a prominent member of a group of Humanistic Mormons. Could you tell me a bit about this movement and your role within it?
The Society for Humanistic Mormonism and the Mormon Rationalist Association promotes reason, science, and compassion. Currently, I’m one of the twelve “Apostles” (of reason) in the organization. I’m also the Vice President of the Mormon Rationalist Association. What we really do is try to get people to try to be more rational and compassionate. Reason obviously forces us to be more compassionate, in our view. We also encourage good health and taking care of one’s body, staying healthy is a very rational thing to do.
What is so important about Mormonism that you wish to remain connected to the current? Why not, say, become a humanist without the specific Mormon aspect?
The chief reason is simply because I consider Mormons to be a people, somewhat like the Jews, and I want to therefore retain my commitment to my people and culture. I was raised in the church and have a strong interest in the religion, I remain connected to the religion, still going to church and interested in the theology and philosophy of it. I do have some respect for some of its moral teachings and so forth, but the real reason is because of my past and wanting to stay connected to my people.
Do you think Mormonism really allows for a liberal, humanistic interpretation? Why? What would the founding father of Mormonism think about this liberal development, in your view?
I certainly do. I believe Mormonism is similar to Judaism in that Mormons are a people and culture. One can stay connected to that culture, but reject the supernaturalistic beliefs and revelations. I would not be surprised if, for example, Joseph Smith looked down upon us as pseudo-Mormons, if you will. We’re willing to take criticism and develop thicker skins.
Are there any other religious or spiritual currents you are interested in?
I’m interested in all major religions and have done extensive study of some of them, particularly Buddhism and Taoism. I aspire to do deep research into all religions and understand the common roots of them. I find religion to be deeply interesting from all perspectives, psychological, sociological, and historical.
Could you mention some issues on which liberal Mormons differ from orthodox or fundamentalist Mormons? How would you summarize the differences between the two streams? Is orthodox Mormonism the same as fundamentalist Mormonism?
There are several branches of Mormonism, such as Fundamentalist Mormons, Orthodox Mormons, (LDS Church), and Humanistic Mormons (the Society for Humanistic Mormonism). Humanistic Mormons do not believe the Book of Mormon is the literal word of God, whereas Orthodox and Fundamentalist Mormons do. The difference between Orthodox Mormons and Fundamentalist Mormons is the degree of literalness but they are both super-naturalists. Humanistic Mormons on the other hand are religious humanists or religious naturalists.
What is your view on traditional Mormon customs such as polygamy? Could you give some examples?
Humanistic Mormons perform some rituals similar to what other Mormons practice. But polygamy was ousted by the LDS church over a century ago and only the extreme Mormon fundamentalists practice it. I don’t really see anything wrong with polygamy, as long it’s over consent. I certainly don’t think it should be outlawed.
What do the values of freedom and liberty mean to you? Please explain.
As a former Libertarian [in terms of the American Libertarian Party], I really appreciate the values of freedom and liberty. As an American, I see these ideas as fundamental to our culture and society. Freedom is what makes us the people we are, we get to do what we want, within the constraints of reason.
Though some would argue that the constraints aren't always rational, and I would agree.
Do you have any ideas about the importance of reason, rational philosophy and science?
Ever since I got into scientific learning I realized that it was the most important road to truth. The most reliable form of knowledge there is, including mathematics. Of course, reason and logic are methods that both scientists and philosophers use, especially philosophers. I believe ethics, critical thinking, and logic should be taught in public schools. We need a society that is more critical and logical in its analysis of important issues in life. More people would be interested in becoming scientists and philosophers. More people would be able to think for themselves. It would be extremely beneficial for society. Philosophy needs to be appreciated for the practical applications of it to our lives. And the practical applications it’s had on society, like the development of the computer and of government.
What is your opinion about parapsychology and psychical research?
Having studied numerous psychical research articles, I know the evidence to a good extent and find it deeply compelling. The evidence for both ESP and PK seems strong and meets scientific standards of acceptability, like replication and significance. Macro-pk, which is controversial somewhat in parapsychology, is extremely convincing to me. Poltergeist and various physical mediumship cases convince me of it. Macro-PK is too much neglected in the field. Physical mediums have provided remarkable evidence for the phenomenon, as Dr. Stephen Braude has shown in his book The Limits of Influence. Poltergeist cases should be given more attention as well. I wonder how often psychical researchers have really tried to seek out modern cases of physical mediumship. The evidence for ESP and PK in the laboratory, is very impressive. There have been a number of meta-analyses done and published (often in prestigious scientific journals) and they reveal significant and replicable effects.
Do you believe in biological evolution? Please clarify.
I find the evidence for biological evolution to be overwhelming. There may be differing interpretations about mechanisms and so forth in evolution. But I think it definitely happened.
What is your political color? Do you think a spiritually oriented person should by definition be politically engaged? Why?
I haven’t studied politics in several years. I do try to keep up with some political events and I have some positions figured out for various issues. I remain undecided about my political party or beliefs in many respects. I definitely believe everybody should take some interest in politics as socially responsible citizens. If one wants to be truly spiritual and a truly moral person to the best of your ability, you must take interest in these matters.
– Spiritualiteit, vrijheid en engagement
For more information, visit:
– Tyler's Facebook page
– Mormon Rationalist Association
– Society for Humanistic Mormonism