Mormonism

This tag is associated with 10 posts

Really Recommended Posts 11/29/13- Mormonism, Stewardship, Creationism, and MORE!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneHere, we have a very diverse array of topics from stewardship to Mormonism, from inerrancy to creationism. Check out the posts. As always, let me know what you thought about them! Leave a comment, leave a link to tell me about a post you recommend (and why!). Enjoy the posts, friends!

some thoughts on Stewardship- The question of “stewardship”–what are we to do with the gifts we’ve been given?–is one of the toughest questions, I think, for the Christian to tackle. Here, Beth Wartick tackles the question in a thought-provoking way which also may serve as a call to action. Check it out.

Evidence from science, philosophy, and history against Mormonism- The Mormon faith makes a number of claims which may be investigated scientifically, historically, and/or philosophically. I have explored some of these issues myself, and here Wintery Knight provides a number of evidences against the claims of Mormonism.

Young Earth Creation Science Argument Index- A quick list of young earth creationist arguments explained alongside rebuttals? Sign me up! Check this out. I think it’s a great resource.

Review: History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed (Episode I: Lost in Translation)- The History Channel has gone way downhill from when it first launched, in my opinion. I remember when they had–wonder of wonders–historians and archaeologists on every show to talk about major findings and/or various moments in history. Now it seems they continually release shows that sensationalize everything and veer far off-course from the interesting study of history they used to provide. Anyway, “Bible Secrets Revealed” is yet another example of this sensationalist turn for the History Channel. Check out this look at the first episode and the errors it spreads. [H/T Tim McGrew].

Is this the Best of All Possible Worlds? (Alvin Plantinga) [VIDEO]- Here, the analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga tackles the question of whether this is the best of all possible worlds. I agree very much with his assessment of the topic.

5 Views on Biblical Inerrancy (A Live Discussion from ETS)- A pretty interesting blog article summarizing 5 positions on biblical inerrancy as discussed at the recent Evangelical Theological Society conference. Read it from bottom to top, because it was really written live!

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Really Recommended Posts 9/13/13- Mormonism, Creationism, and Nothing!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneThe internet is a big place, friends. I have made it smaller for you by finding a number of posts worth your time. Check them out. We have Mormonism, prayer, intelligent design, creationism, and a universe from nothing on display today.

A Compilation of Professors Responding to Mormon Claims- A user over on Reddit (not usually a site I recommend for thoughtful discussion) wanted to do some research into the claims made in the Book of Mormon. They emailed a number of professors in Egyptology and Mesoamerican studies with a survey of those claims asking about their credence. Check out the compilation of responses they got.

A gigantic royalty check from nothing- Edward Feser is a Thomistic philosopher who is quite erudite in his thinking. Here, he analyzes Lawrence Krauss’ view that the universe could come from nothing.

Prayer- A great little web comic which shows how awesome prayer is, if you just think about it for a minute.

Michael Behe and Keith Fox debate theistic evolution vs intelligent design- Winter Knight has up a “VERY SNARKY” review of the debate between ID advocate Michael Behe and theistic evolutionist Keith Fox. The link also has the audio of the debate, which is well worth listening to.

In the Beginning Symposium, Part One: Fossils- Over at Spiritual Meanderings, there is an interesting series going on analyzing a symposium by City Bible Forum on creation.

Really Recommended Posts: 6/7/13- Mormonism, The Ice Age, and more!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneDear Reader, it is now that time to once more share with you my own wanderings across the internet. I have brought to you a random mix of posts which interested me. Given that you still choose to read my site, you probably have some random interests which match my own. Thus, I’ve done your work for you. For free. No problem. Just check out the posts! This week, we have the Ice Age and Creationism, Mormonism, Papal Infallibility,Constantine, the need for apologetics, and an archaeological mystery for you to solve. Leave a comment. Let me know what you liked. Have a post you think need to read? Well, pass it along!

Mormonism and Christianity: which one is supported by the evidence?- Do you like evidence to go along with your beliefs? I sure do. Wintery Knight investigates the claims of Mormonism and Christianity to discern which one has better evidential support. Read this… you will not be disappointed.

The Pleistocene is Not in the Bible- “Pleistocene” is basically a fancy name for “Ice Age.” Check out this post, which investigates one major young earth creationist claim about the Ice Age and the Bible.

Before “Infallibility” Was a Twinkling in a Pope’s Eye- I found this post very interesting because I have a major love for historical theology and the interplay between history and theology. The author explores the historical development of Papal Infallibility.

It Should Never have Come to That Point- I found this a powerful call for churches to engage in apologetics. I think apologetics is a vital educational tool and anyone who says we don’t need it needs to think again. Check out my own post as a call to apologetics.

Was Constantine a Christian or Pagan?- Constantine has a pretty bad reputation in many circles. Here, Max Andrews addresses some of the more pressing questions about Constantine’s life. I think that in places the case is overstated, but he brings to light many interesting issues to discuss. Look forward to a post from me on Constantine sometime in the (fairly distant) future.

Massive submerged structure stumps Israeli archaeologists- I found this an interesting little piece of archaeological mystery. What was this thing? I’ll be taking your submissions in the comments here.

As always, note that my linking to a post does not entail my endorsement of all of its content.

Really Recommended Posts 2/1/13

postThinking About ‘Future Things,’ Part 1- One area I will admit I have very little knowledge about in relation to Christian theology is eschatology. This series by Reasons to Believe provides an introductions to many aspects of eschatology and provides a fairly balanced view. I enjoyed it greatly and came away feeling much better informed. I recommend checking out the whole series.

Wukong’s Dilemma- An interesting look at Buddhist philosophy and the dilemma of a works-based religious system. I found this a very fascinating post.

Lance Armstrong, Thor and Ideal Heroism- A comparison of ‘real life heroes’ to the idealized heroes we construct. I found this post very insightful. I highly recommend it.

Christianity and High Beauty (With Pictures!)- A simply excellent post on the relation of the Christian worldview to beauty. There is much to be said about the importance of aesthetics in reality. This post hints at many of these themes.

Tim Keller, Women, and Ignoring your own rules- I found this post really excellent. It evaluates some of the Gospel Coalition’s stance on women in light of the rules that one of its adherents, Tim Keller, holds regarding discussion with other people. The problem is that they make many claims about egalitarians which simply are not true.

Critiquing Mormon Theology: An Innovative Approach- A presuppositional apologist examines various doctrines of Mormonism and offers a critique. It’s an interesting look into how the presuppositional approach can be integrated into a broad apologetic.

The Cross and the Stars- This is a fascinating look at some Roman Catholic science fiction authors. Readers of this site know I love science fiction and write about it frequently under popular books.

Really Recommended Posts 3/25/12

The recommended posts this week feature some extremely important topics. I can’t emphasize how much I recommend each one. As always, check out my brief description, browse as you want. Let me know of any other great links! Topics this week feature atheistic hermeneutics, after-birth abortions, the Reason Rally, Harold Camping’s admission of sin, Mormon scriptures, and apologetic methods. Like I said, a great array!

What Happens When Atheists Don’t Care About Hermeneutics?- A really excellent post highlighting the importance of intellectual honesty and humility in dialog.

“If there is no difference between a fetus in the womb and a new born baby, it should follow that neither should be killed.  But, granting the scientific evidence demonstrating the continuity of life, some “ethicists” and pro-abortion fanatics are coming to a different conclusions:  Since we can abort fetuses, we should also be able to “abort” new-born infants.  So says an article in one of the most influential journals in medical ethics…” Check out the article and a brief evaluation here.

Atheistic fundamentalism? Is it a contradiction? No, not at all. The Reason Rally is full of it.

Harold Camping, who infamously failed in a number of doomsday predictions has confessed his sin. I’m honestly quite touched by this level of academic honesty and what seems like a sincere confession and repentance from another Christian brother.

Often, Mormons will tell you that if you just read the Book of Mormon and pray you’ll know it’s true. I’ve done so and not been convinced, but so have others. Sean McDowell points out some of the difficulties he found in the Mormon scriptures.

Holly Ordway has a simply fantastic series on effective communication in apologetics. Check out the first post here.

Finally, I couldn’t resist a plug for my favorite band. Check out this interview with the Christian Metal band, Demon Hunter.

Mormonism and God: A Philosophical Challenge to Mormonism

Central to discussions about God is the very concept of God itself. What does one mean when they refer to “God”? Suppose one is debating about the existence of God and in the course of that debate, one finds out that the other, when using the term “God” is thinking of a contingent, powerful but limited, and embodied deity; yet the other person has been trying to argue for the God of classical theism–infinite in power, wisdom, love, etc., omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, transcendent, and the like. Clearly, there is a difference over who “God” is. Now talk about God can be meaningful between these two because they can choose to use “God” as a title, similar to that of “King” (this is suggested by Paul Moser in The Evidence for God, 22ff).

That said, for this post I will not assume that “God” refers exclusively to the God of classical theism. Rather, I’m going to turn to the Mormon concept of God and examine its coherence. If Mormonism’s concept of God is incoherent, then Mormonism faces a serious philosophical challenge. (As has been argued elsewhere, coherence is a central test of a religion’s truth claims.)

It is important to note that there is no single “Mormon concept of God.” As with Christianity, there is an array of beliefs about specific attributes of God. Thus, for this post, I’ll focus on just two concepts of deity within Mormonism.


Monarchotheism (Also Known as Henotheism)

Explication

Stephen Parrish and Carl Mosser take Mormon teaching to expound the concept of God known as Monarchotheism, “the theory that there is more than one God, but one God is clearly preeminent among the gods; in effect, he is the monarch or ruler of all the gods” (Parrish and Mosser, 195, cited below). This concept of God is embodied (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith cited in P+M, 201). Furthermore, this God is contingent, the organizer of a world that was originally chaos, and one of many gods (Ibid, 201). Furthermore, Joseph Smith himself taught that this “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…” (TPJS 345, cited in P+M, 202).

Critique

There are many difficulties with this Mormon concept of God. Perhaps most crucial is the inclusion of contingency in the concept of God. If God is contingent, then it does indeed beg the question “Who Made God?” Consider this against classical theism, which holds that God exists necessarily. Classical theists can respond to this question by simply saying, “No one made God, because God, as necessarily existent, never came into being.” Yet Mormons who hold God is contingent must answer this question.

That’s not the only difficulty with God as contingent either, for holding that God is contingent removes several of the reasons to believe that such a deity exists. Consider one of the classical arguments for the existence of God: that contingent things have all come into being, so there must be something which has always existed in order to terminate the infinite regress. Of course, if this deity which terminates the regress is, itself, contingent, then one must continue the regress to the next step. Thus, this Mormon concept of God provides no grounding for the universe itself.

Further, this Mormon concept of deity has no way to ground objective morals. While Mormons tend to hold that God is all good/omnibenevolent, they have no way to ground this goodness in God Himself. Rather, because God is contingent, there must exist some measure by which God is judged, and so one is left with all the difficulties of grounding morality without God. If, instead, morality is still to be based upon God, then it could only really be some form of extreme occamism/voluntarism–whereby things are moral just because God says so. The difficulties with such a view are extreme.

Of course, once more classical theism can explicate objective morality by grounding them in the nature of God. Because God is necessarily the greatest possible being, God is necessarily the source of all goodness, and therefore the grounds of morality are found in God.

Finally, there is the question of the problem of evil. Classical theism has a number of answers to this problem, but none of them are effective upon a monarchotheistic view of God. First, because there can be no grounding for objective morality on Mormonism, there remains the difficulty of explaining how actions could truly be evil to begin with (Parrish and Mosser, 215, see similar difficulties with naturalism here). Second, because evil is part of the universe and God himself is part of the eternal universe, evil can be seen as a natural part of the order of the cosmos (ibid, 215). Third, and most poignantly, because God is contingent and part of the universe, it seems that there is great difficulty with the notion that God would one day overcome evil. Because evil is part of the universe, and has therefore existed eternally rather than as a corruption of the goodness of nature, it seems that there is no way to finally overcome evil. Thus, the problem of evil is exacerbated exponentially on Mormonism (ibid, 216).

So, to sum up, monarchotheism appears to be one plausible interpretation of the Mormon concept of God. This concept is expounded by Joseph Smith in his Teachings and is also found in various theological works of Mormons (cf. McMurrin, Theological Foundations; Ostler, “Mormon Concept of God”; Paulsen, “Comparative Coherency”–these are noted in P+M, 457). However, this concept has been shown to be riddled with difficulties. It cannot explain many of the central features of our world, such as the existence of objective morality. Furthermore, it undermines reasons to believe in the existence of a God. Finally, this Mormon concept of God fails to even explain the existence of the universe itself. Thus, it seems to me this concept of deity is incoherence.

Polytheism

So much for Monarchotheism. But what about other Mormon concepts of God? There is one other concept which is attested in Brigham Young’s writings along with other Mormon writers. This view can fairly be referred to as polytheism.

Explication

Once more we find that the eternal existence of the universe is central to this view of Mormonism. Matter is eternal. God the Father organized the universe, but at least some laws of nature are outside of god’s control (see the discussion in  Francis Beckwith and Stephen Parrish, See the Gods Fall, 99ff, cited fully below).

Furthermore, the notion that there are innumerable contingent “primal intelligences” is central to this Mormon concept of god (P+M, 201; Beckwith and Parrish, 101). That there is more than one god is attested in the Pearl of Great Price, particularly Abraham 4-5. This Mormon concept has the gods positioned to move “primal intelligences along the path to godhood” (Beckwith and Parrish, 114). Among these gods are other gods which were once humans, including God the Father. Brigham Young wrote, “our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father, and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on…” (Brigham Young, The Seer, 132, quoted in Beckwith and Parrish, 106).

The rest of this concept is similar to the Monarchotheistic view, although rather than God the Father being a “monarch” over the others, he is more like one of many. As already stated, he is just one of a string of “Fathers.”

Critique

The logic of the Mormon polytheistic concept of God entails that there is an infinite number of gods. To see this, it must be noted that each god him/herself was helped on the path to godhood by another god. There is, therefore, an infinite regress of gods, each aided on his/her path to godhood by a previous god. There is no termination in this series. Now because this entails an actually infinite collection of gods, the Mormon polytheistic concept of deity must deal with all the paradoxes which come with actually existing infinities (for some problems with the actual infinite search “infinite” and check out the problems Craig points out in his Q+A’s section).

Now, polytheistic Mormonism would also seem to have to deal with all the difficulties of Monarchotheism, for this concept also carries with it the contingency of deity and eternity of the world.

Finally, it seems polytheistic Mormonism has a difficulty at its heart–namely the infinite regress of deity. While on Monarchotheism, the infinite regress was merely hinted at (and still extremely problematic), polytheistic Mormonism has infinite regress at its heart and soul. Each god relies upon a former god, which itself relies upon a former god, forever. Certainly, this is an incoherence at the core of this concept of deity, for it provides no explanation for the existence of the gods, nor does it explain the existence of the universe. Polytheistic Mormonism, it seems, fares even worse than its Monarchotheistic counterpart.

Addendum: The “Standard Works” and Classical Theism

It is worth noting that those who wish to adhere to a strict “Standard Works only” approach to Mormonism may object to the critiques I’ve given above. The reason being that in the Standard Works, it seems like a view much closer to classical theism is expounded. For example, God is referred to as “Lord God Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:5 [and "Lord Omnipotent" in 3:17-18]; Mosiah 5:2). Further, God’s infinite goodness and mercy are affirmed (Mosiah 28:4, Moroni 8:3, 2 Nephi 1:10).

It is indeed the case that were one to only operate from this explication, one might come to believe in a God very similar to classical theism. There are three responses I would offer: first, I’d be very happy to welcome any others who do affirm mere classical theism. In that case, I’d like to discuss the finer points of differences between Christianity and Mormonism.

However, I think it is the case that many who object by showing a Standard Works reading of Mormonism do not themselves hold to a “Standard Works only” belief. Any who holds that, for example, humans can be exalted to godhood must accept the implication that God the Father would therefore be contingent, and would then most likely fall into one of the categories listed above. Second, I already noted how in Abraham 4 and 5 it seems quite apparent there are many “Gods” (any who disagree, feel free to simply read the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 4… literally any verse between 5-31; it explicitly states “the ‘Gods'”). Because classical theism holds that there is only one who can occupy the title “God,” this places even the Standard Works alone reading outside the realm of orthodoxy regarding classical theism.

Finally, I’ve already quoted Brigham Young and Joseph Smith in other writings outside the “Standard Works” both affirming that God the Father is an exalted man and that God the Father was preceded by another Father. If Mormonism is to be conceived in a form akin to classical theism, Mormons must reject these writings, and with it discredit their prophets.

Conclusions

Central to the Mormon faith is God, just as God is central to any theistic religion. Yet, as has been seen, two of the major explications of the Mormon concept of deity fall victim to insurmountable philosophical problems.   The third, closer to classical theism, must contend with the fact that other Mormon writings (and indeed, even the Pearl of Great Price) are contrary to their position. The fact that Momonism’s concept of God is incoherent strikes a major blow to the truth claims of the Mormon faith. Without coherence in that which is central to the religion: God, the entire theological system falls apart.

Links/Sources

Check out other posts in my series on Mormonism:

The Book of Mormon: Introduction and Importance- This post is pretty self descriptive.

Genetic Evidence and the Book of Mormon: Did any Native Americans come from the Middle East?- Argues that the Native Americans are not Middle Eastern in ancestry. Because the Book of Mormon claims they are, the Book of Mormon is false.

Sources

Stephen Parrish with Carl Mosser, “A Tale of Two Theisms” in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement ed. Beckwith et. al, 193-218 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002).

Francis Beckwith and Stephen Parrish, See the Gods Fall: Four Rivals to Christianity (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997).

[I have edited this post to put back in several references to Mormon scriptures that I initially omitted for length. Further, I modified it to make more clear the difference between "finite" in mathematical terms and "contingent" in philosophical meaning.]

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Genetic Evidence and the Book of Mormon: Did any Native Americans come from the Middle East?

The Book of Mormon’s veracity hinges on the claim that the lost tribes of Israel came to America, settled there, and wrote their history on gold plates which Joseph Smith later translated. Such claims at the time of Joseph Smith seemed irrefutable; they simply couldn’t conceive of technology which could test these propositions. Today, however, such technology is available. Unfortunately for Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church, the evidence runs contrary to what the Book of Mormon claims.

Archaeological evidence has long favored the hypothesis that Native Americans crossed into the Americas during the Ice Age from Siberia across a frozen Bering Strait.[1] The Book of Mormon, by contrast, asserts that “…Israelites accomplished at least two marathon oceanic voyages to the New World in approximately 600 B.C… By about AD 400, the descendants of these lost Israelites had multiplied into million-strong civilizations and spawned other migratory groups that went on to colonize additional territory in the Americas…”[2] The Latter Day Saints’ introduction to the Book of Mormon states that:

[t]he record [in the Book of Mormon] gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.[3]

These claims can now be analyzed utilizing DNA evidence. Contrary to the claims of the Book of Mormon, this evidence has shown that there are four major genetic lineages for the peoples of the Americas which are of Eastern Asiatic origin, along with a fifth that is possibly Caucasian.[4]

In order to support the claim that Israelites came to America, the DNA evidence would have to reflect their Israeli genetic lineage, which “resemble[s that] of Europeans.”[5] The only European genetic heritage in America, however, came with Columbus and the European settlers who followed him.[6] Furthermore, Mormons frequently assert that it was the Mayans and Olmecs who parallel the civilizations of Nephi and the Jaredites.[7] This evidence simply doesn’t match the genetic history, which demonstrates that traces of European (and therefore possibly Israelite) origins have been found in the North American peoples and not with the Mesoamerican Olmecs and Mayans—as would be necessary to support this Mormon theory.[8] The assertion that Native Americans descended from the lost tribes of Israel is groundless. The Smithsonian Institute wrote that “The physical type of the Native Americans is basically Mongoloid, being most closely related to that of the peoples of eastern, central and northeastern Asia.”[9] This evidence leads Simon Southerton to conclude that “The ancestors of Native Americans were Asians who unknowingly became the first Americans as they walked across Beringia over 14,000 years ago… Regardless of coincidental cultural, linguistic, or morphological parallels with the Old World, the peoples of the Pacific Rim who met Columbus and Cook were not Israelites.”[10] Native Americans descend from Asia, not Israel. Therefore, the Book of Mormon is strongly undercut by prevailing scientific evidence and genetic data.

Mormonism’s response to this DNA evidence has been threefold. The Mormon apologist counters by arguing that Christianity is undercut by scientific evidence,[11] that science can’t disprove the Book of Mormon anyway,[12] or that the conclusions drawn from the DNA evidence are stronger than such studies warrant.[13] There is little need to argue against the first rebuttal, as it amounts to little more than a tu quoque. It serves only to try to push the burden of proof off the Mormon apologist. Furthermore, it seems very strange, considering the lengths to which many have gone to argue that Mormons are Christians.[14] The second response also has little to recommend it. In an article curiously titled “BYU professor refutes Book of Mormon DNA Claims,”[15] Mark Nolte writes “[Michael] Whiting [a BYU scientist] said the Book of Mormon was not written as a scientific book, and therefore cannot be wholly proved or disproved using scientific methods… it is no surprise that DNA analysis could not find a genetic marker that links American Indians to a Middle-Eastern population.  [Whiting said,]‘I would be skeptical of someone standing up and saying, ‘I have DNA evidence that the Book of Mormon is true.’”[16] The assertion seems to be that the Book of Mormon is theology, not science, and therefore cannot be evaluated scientifically. Examining such claims fully is beyond the scope of this work, but it seems like this whole response is glaringly dismissive. The Book of Mormon does claim that the Native Americans are descendants of the Israelites, as Whiting acknowledges,[17] so evidence which demonstrates they are not disconfirms the Book of Mormon.

The third claim warrants further examination. Essentially, Mormon apologists argue that we simply can’t know enough to determine whether or not Israelite DNA is present in Native Americans.[18] The problem with this claim is that the evidence is not at all inconclusive. In fact, the evidence demonstrates that 99.6% of Native Americans are of Asian descent. The .4% of non-Asian Native American lineage is found in those genetic pools which interacted with the early colonizers.[19] Not only that, but even if the .4% of non-Asian genetic lineage could be Israelite (which it is not), the Book of Mormon claims that the Israelites in America were huge civilizations.[20] Why, then, would their genetic footprint be so small? Furthermore, the claims that such methodology is problematic or that we have limited data[21] is also demonstrably false. The genetic data is conclusive, and studies which utilize other methods for determining heritage (such as dental, osteological [study of bones], and molecular studies) confirm that the descent of the Native American is Asian, not Israelite.[22] According to Stephen Whittington, “Archaeologists and physical anthropologists have not found any evidence of Hebrew origins for the people of North, South and Central America.”[23] Genetic evidence therefore provides a strong defeater for the veracity of the Book of Mormon.

We have seen that the Book of Mormon is integral to the faith of Mormonism. If this book is factually incorrect, then there is no reason to suppose its theological message is true. Joseph Smith once said, “One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” I hope that Mormons will indeed receive the truths found in genetic and archaeological evidence.


[1] Simon Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature, 2004), 73.

[2] Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 117-118.

[3] The Mormon Church, “Introduction to the Book of Mormon”, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. http://lds.org/scriptures/bofm/introduction?lang=eng (accessed February 1, 2011).

[4] Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 89-90.

[5] Ibid, 129.

[6] Ibid, 129.

[7] Ibid, 83.

[8] Ibid, 129.

[9] Quoted in Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, 215 and  Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? 97.

[10] Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 130.

[11] David Stewart, “DNA and the Book of Mormon.” The Latter-Day Saints Foundation for Apologetics Information and Research. http://www.fairlds.org/Book_of_Mormon/DNA_and_the_Book_of_Mormon_2.html (accessed October 29, 2010.

[12] Mark Nolte, “BYU Professor refutes Book of Mormon DNA claims.” Brigham Young University. http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/41852/ (accessed October 29, 2010).

[13] Stewart, “DNA and the Book of Mormon”; see also, Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 184f.

[14] A simple search on google for “Are Mormons Christians” turns up 610,000 results (at the time of this writing), many of which argue the affirmative, from a Mormon perspective.

[15] Emphasis mine.

[16] Nolte, “BYU Professor…”

[17] Ibid.

[18] Stewart, “DNA and the Book of Mormon”; see also Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 188.

[19] Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 187, 192.

[20] Ibid, 117-118. For just one example within the Book of Mormon itself, see the Book of Alma [one of the books in the Book of Mormon] 51:27, which states “And thus had the Lamanites obtained, by the cunning of Amalickiah, so many cities, by their numberless hosts, all of which were strongly fortified after the manner of the fortifications of Moroni; all of which afforded strongholds for the Lamanites.” The language suggests huge civilizations: “many cities”; “numberless hosts”.

[21] Stewart, “DNA and the Book of Mormon.”

[22] Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 191.

[23] Quoted in Ibid, 191.

This post was derived from an essay I wrote for my graduate studies at Biola University. 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Can we evaluate worldviews? How to navigate the sea of ideas.

Think about it this way: worldviews are supposed to be reality. If a worldview does not match reality, how can it be reality?

I recently began a series on the truth claims of Mormonism. In that post, I asserted that there is positive evidence against the truth of the Book of Mormon. However, there is an important step to take before offering arguments against other religions. Namely, one must establish that evidence against the truth claims of a religion should rationally lead one to abandon that religion. (A related but similar point would be the positive evidence for religion leading to rational belief.)

Thus, before I continue to offer critiques of other religions, I offer some epistemic groundwork.

Truth Claims and Worldviews

First, it must be noted that worldviews are not mere matters of feeling, regardless of what the supporters of the varied views claim. For example, if one says “You can’t analyze what I believe, it’s just a matter of faith” they are making a claim about reality–that their faith cannot be analyzed. Similarly, if one claims “Israelites sailed to the Americas from the Middle East,” [Mormonism] or “There is no God” [atheism] they have made a claim about reality.

Such truth claims are capable of analysis, by definition. Statements are true or false. All worldviews make claims about reality, which are therefore true or false. Simply stating that one’s belief is “just faith” or “obvious” does not exclude it from making claims.


How Do We Evaluate The Claims of Worldviews?

One’s beliefs should conform to reality, if one seeks to be rational. Certainly, one could say “To heck with the evidence, I’m going to believe x, y, and z! I don’t care if I can’t support the belief and that there is strong evidence against x, y, and z.” But if one were to say this, one would abandon their reason. Their heart could believe, but their mind could not. Ultimately, all truth claims can and should be put to the test.

Testing the claims of varied worldviews is no easy task. There must be objective criteria, otherwise one view will be favored over another. One cannot simply make their own view the default and argue that only by filtering truth claims through their position can truth be attained. Atheism, by no means, provides a neutral basis for evaluating religions, as I’ve argued elsewhere. In fact, atheism must past the standards for truth claims, just as any religion must. If one remains an atheist despite positive evidence to the contrary (or despite reasons to disbelieve the claims of varied atheistic worldviews like materialism), one abandons reason just as if one clung to a false faith.

Testing Worldviews as Hypotheses

In his monumental work,Christian Apologetics, Douglas Groothuis argues that worldviews can be proposed as hypotheses. Worldviews present themselves as answers to explain the phenomena we experience (Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 49). Groothuis therefore presents criteria for evaluating worldviews as though they were hypotheses about the world. Kenneth Samples similarly draws out nine tests which can be used to determine whether the claims of a worldview are true in his book A World of Difference (page numbers from that text, citation below). From these proposed methods, we can derive tests to evaluate competing worldviews:

1) Coherence- if a religion is contradictory, it simply cannot be true. For example, if a religion claimed that “Person Z is god, and person Z is not god,” that religion would be incoherent (Samples, 33). Furthermore, “If a worldview’s essential propositions are coherent… it is more likely to be true than if its essential propositions are not related in this way” (Groothuis, 55).

2) Balance- “A valid worldview will be ‘neither too simple nor too complex.’ All things being equal, the simplest worldview that does justice to all aspects of reality deserves preference (Samples, 33-34).

3) Explanatory Power and Scope- Does the worldview explain what we experience in enough detail? If a worldview does not explain our world, or it cannot account for certain phenomena, then it is lacks explanatory power (Samples, 34). Worldviews which make propositions which they cannot account for lose credibility (Groothuis, 53).

4) Correspondence- Does the worldview match the facts we know about the world to our experience of the world? If we know that the worldview in question promotes claims we know are false, it does not match reality (Samples, 34-35). Think about it this way: worldviews are supposed to be reality. If a worldview does not match reality, how can it be reality? We are able to test factual claims through empirical and scientific methods, so if a worldview continually is able to establish its essential claims by means of these methods, it is more likely to be true (Groothuis, 55).

5) Verification- Can this worldview be falsified? Worldviews which cannot be found to be false cannot be found to be true either.

6) Pragmatic Test- Can we live by this worldview? This test is less important, but still has credibility–we must be able to live out the worldview in question (Samples, 35-36). But worldviews should also be fruitful in the development of greater intellectual and cultural discoveries (Groothuis, 57).

7) Existential Test- Like the pragmatic test, this one is not as important as whether the view is factual, but it is still helpful. If worldviews do not account for inherent human needs, it is possible the view is false (Samples, 36). Again, this is not necessary for a worldview, but it helps measure a view’s completeness.

8 ) Cumulative Test- Does the worldview gain support from all the previous criteria? If a worldview is able to satisfy all the criteria, it gains credibility (Samples, 36-37).

9) Competitive Competence Test- If the worldview satisfies the previous criteria with more evidential power than other worldviews, it gains credibility over and against them (Samples, 37).

10) Radical ad hoc readjustment- Groothuis presents this as a negative test for worldviews. “When a worldview is faced with potentially defeating counterevidence, an adherent may readjust its core claims to accommodate the evidence against it. Various theories and worldviews can legitimately refine their beliefs over time, but radical ad hoc readjustment reveals a deep problem…” (Groothuis, 57). There is, as Groothuis pointed out, a line between refining belief and simply readjusting belief in an ad hoc way. If, for example, it were discovered that Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity would be false (more on that below). If, however, one simply adjusted Christianity to say “Jesus spiritually rose from the dead,” that would constitute a desperate, ad hoc measure to preserve the worldview and count as discrediting Christianity.

These tests present objective criteria for testing worldviews. If, for example, one wished to deny their worldview had to be coherent, they’d have to affirm that which they denied, for in denying that criterion, they were attempting to make their view more coherent. The testing of worldviews is a legitimate task, and indeed one in which people should engage. Some things, if falsely believed, are harmless (for example, if one believed it rained yesterday when it did not). Worldviews, however, if falsely believed, are damaging on any number of levels. If one believed God didn’t exist when, in fact, He did, then one would be doing a great evil by not acting upon the truth of God’s existence (and the contrary). Thus, the testing of worldviews is no task to be skimmed over, but one which should be approached with fear and trembling. The criteria outlined above allow people to engage in this task and evaluate the realm of ideas.

Christianity Encourages Exploration of Reality

What I find extremely interesting is that Christianity, unlike many world religions, doesn’t discourage the discovery of truth, nor does it evade evidence by claiming that it is merely a faith or feeling. Rather, the founders of Christianity explicitly stated that it is based upon certain truth claims, and that if those claims are false, then Christianity is worthless. Paul, for example, wrote “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). The truth of Christianity rests exactly upon a testable claim: Jesus rose from the dead. If He did not, Christianity is false. Christianity’s scope and explanatory power are superior- it can account for the existence of contingent objects, persons, consciousness, life, and the like. Christianity corresponds to reality, satisfies existential and pragmatic needs, is simpler than many other explanations, its coherent, and it matches all the criteria. Christianity expects its adherents–and outsiders–to test the faith and discover whether it is true. I have found, personally, that it pasts these tests over and over.

Conclusion

Whether one agrees or not, it is simply the case that religions make claims about reality. These claims are, in turn, true or false. Not only that, but they must match with reality in several important ways. Christianity not only adheres to these tests, but it encourages them. It also passes these tests. Does your worldview?

Sources

Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011).

Kenneth Samples, A World of Difference (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007).

Image Credit

I took this picture at Waldo Canyon near Manitou Springs, Colorado on my honeymoon. Use of this image is subject to the terms stated at the bottom of this post. The other image is the book cover from Samples’ book.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Book of Mormon: Introduction and Importance

Mormonism is growing with great speed. There are few, however, who understand the limits of Mormonism’s truth claims. Mormon apologists have frequently made assertions which are either false or ungrounded. I have therefore decided to write a series of posts on the Book of Mormon, followed by a critique of Mormonism’s philosophical stances. This post will introduce the book of Mormon.

A man was born on December 23, 1805 in Vermont. He was known for digging for imagined buried treasure with his father and others.[1] He was also known for being a mystic,[2] for his conviction for disorderly conduct in a scam in which he tried to convince locals he had found treasure underground,[3] and for being the translator of golden plates: The Book of Mormon.[4] The man was Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Mormon faith, “The Prophet.”[5] The Book of Mormon, according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the official name of the Mormon Church), is “another witness that Jesus Christ… was and is God’s Son… It supports and verifies the Bible.”[6] If this is true, then the Book of Mormon is as much the Word of God as the Bible. However, the Book of Mormon’s validity as the Word of God is strongly undercut by scientific and historical evidence which contradicts its claims.

The Mormon Articles of Faith describe the Book of Mormon as “a volume of sacred scripture which, like the Bible, embodies the word of God.”[7] The Book of Mormon is supposed to record other prophecies about Jesus.[8] Perhaps the most striking enunciation of the contents of the Book of Mormon is found later in the Articles:

The Book of Mormon is a divinely inspired record, made by the prophets of the ancient peoples who inhabited the American continent for centuries before and after the time of Christ, which record has been translated in the present generation through the gift of God and by His special appointment. The authorized and inspired translator of these sacred scriptures… is Joseph Smith.[9]

Furthermore, the arguments for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon often parallel those arguments used to justify the Bible: it is said to be “internally consistent,”[10] prophetically fulfilled,[11] and supported by archaeology.[12] Yet there are also arguments unique to the Book: it was certified as genuine by three men who signed a statement confirming they witnessed the translation of the Book,[13] eight other witnesses claimed to have seen the gold plates from which the Book was purportedly translated,[14] and the ethnic background of Native Americans is said to be Israelite, which would demonstrate the Book’s truth.[15] It is clear that the Book of Mormon is the absolute bedrock of Mormon faith. If the evidences for the Book do not hold the evidential weight required to confirm its truth, then Mormon faith is undone.

The Book of Mormon’s veracity hinges on the claim that the lost tribes of Israel came to America, settled there, and wrote their history on gold plates which Joseph Smith later translated. Such claims at the time of Joseph Smith seemed irrefutable; they simply couldn’t conceive of technology which could test such ideas. Today, however, such technology is available. Unfortunately for Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church, the evidence runs contrary to what the Book of Mormon claims.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll investigate each of these claims in turn, while finding them wanting. The next post will demonstrate that the Book of Mormon cannot be true based upon a genetic analysis of Native Americans. Future posts will argue that the Book of Mormon does not reflect ancient near eastern writing and that the Mormon concept of God is philosophically untenable.

[1] Walter Martin. The Kingdom of the Cults (Bloomington, MN: Bethany, 2003), 197; Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? (Salt Lake City, UT: Modern Microfilm Company, 1972), 32.

[2] Martin, Kingdom, 197

[3] Wayne L. Cowdrey, Howard A. Davis, and Arthur Vanick, Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon: The Spalding Enigma (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 395f.

[4] Martin, Kingdom, 201.

[5] Ibid., 197f.

[6] The Mormon Church, “Frequently Asked Questions,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, http://www.mormon.org/faq/#Book+of+Mormon|question=/faq/what-is-book-of-mormon/ (accessed October 14, 2010).

[7] James Talmage. A Study of the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1976), 251.

[8] Talmage, Articles of Faith, 252.

[9] Talmage, Articles of Faith, 255.

[10] Ibid, 278-279.

[11] Ibid, 274-275.

[12] Ibid, 283-293.

[13] Ibid, 270.

[14] Ibid, 271.

[15] Ibid, 283.

Image Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Slc_mormon_tempel.jpg

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 10/15/11

Mexico City Proposes Temporary Marriages- Yeah, it’s crazy.

On Symbiosis- Paul Adams points out a simple, but important point. Check it out.

Is Intuition an Unjustifiable Reason for Faith?- Great post by Erik Manning on the use of of intuition and issues of faith.

What is True Christianty?(tm)- at Josiah Concept Ministries, a great discussion of what makes someone a Christian (or not).

Humorless Humanist Humor- At “No Apologies Allowed”–a great comic showing the bankruptcy of humanism.

Is Mormonism a Cult?- A phenomenal side-by-side comparison of Christianity and Mormonism.

Richard Swinburne on “A skeptical age.”

 

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