introduction to mormonism

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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,|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.

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