Mormonism

This tag is associated with 13 posts

“The Book of Mormon” (The Musical) and Reconstructing Faith

I recently saw the musical “The Book of Mormon” in person for the first time. Going in, I knew very little about the Broadway show, just that it featured Latter-Day Saints (LDS) as major characters and the Book of Mormon itself in a critical light. I wasn’t really prepared for just how over the top and wild it would be. For those interested, a good plot summary can be found on Wikipedia.

CONTENT WARNING: my reflection will discuss violence, explicit language, sexual violence, and other sensitive topics the musical talks about.

One major thought I had throughout the whole production is that it is almost entirely mocking of the faith of LDS believers. Satire is often useful, but at some point it definitely becomes mean-spirited. And I’m almost positive that is at least some of the intent behind the show. It starts to feel like beating a dead horse after a while.

One also wonders about the application writ large behind a lot of the musical. The point is ridicule of beliefs that are presented as absurd. And that is done in order to bring laughter, yes, but also to shift viewers’ minds about the subject matter. If we’re laughing at the beliefs of another worldview, it is much easier to dismiss the claims without any kind of argument or evidence. The scenes going back to “early America” with Jesus visiting New York and the burying and discovery of the Book of Mormon itself make this even more explicit. Here, the curtain is occasionally totally drawn back to reveal the point being made, with interjections like “or something” or “just because” [I don’t remember the exact phrases] added amidst the truncated telling of some of the history of the Book of Mormon and LDS history.

The type of argument isn’t subtle. Ridicule as dismissal of opposing views has a long history in not just public discourse but in philosophy. Any study of ancient rhetoric or readers of debates like the deistic controversies in England would easily find examples of the same. But when one wields the hammer of satirical mockery against beliefs with which one disagrees, any and every belief can start to look like a nail. After all, if it is hilariously ridiculous to believe that one is going to inherit one’s own planet to populate for oneself, is it all that much less ridiculous to believe that one man could die and take on the guilt/sin/etc. of all other humans past, present, and future? Or isn’t it absurd to think the universe oscillates between expansion and contraction, going from a Big Bang to a Big Crunch and back again into the infinite past and future? Or that all the matter and energy in the universe was once smashed into a teensy, infinitesimal point before it exploded to make everything we see now? Or… or… Eventually, any belief system could be subjected to the same satirical ridicule. One’s simply happening to believe the thing that is being mocked is largely what determines one’s reaction to that ridicule. It goes quickly from laughter to “Hey, it’s actually pretty reasonable to think that…”

But there are also plenty of things to reflect on with the musical aside from this point. First is the extremely explicit cursing at God found among the villagers of the fictional place the LDS missionaries went to in Uganda. A whole song is dedicated to singing “F you, God,” much to the horror of the newly arrived missionaries. While the explicit nature of the song and its totally in-your-face style is probably meant to needle audience members and make many uncomfortable, I was wondering personally about the imprecatory Psalms. In those Psalms, the writers cry out to God for justice in the midst of the horrors they’re witnessing on Earth. And “The Book of Mormon” makes clear some of those horrors. In this fictional village, the people live in terror of a local warlord who has threatened to come and forcibly circumcise all the women in the village. The villagers nearly all have AIDs (interesting to note that Uganda has been effectively working to reduce the spread of AIDs: see here). Others deal with other diseases. Poverty, hunger, drought, and more afflict the village, such that life is depicted as an attempt to survive every single day both physically and mentally.

The above situations highlight another aspect of the musical which challenges concepts from Christianity. When missionaries come to tell the people of Uganda about Jesus–they have other things on their mind. The immediate problems already discussed seem far more important than the possibility of an afterlife with no suffering. One character misinterprets the everlasting hope the missionaries intended to provide with a real here and now hope found in a mystical Salt Lake City where the missionaries can bring the people away from their troubles. Another of the missionaries embellishes the stories from the Book of Mormon with concepts from Star Trek, Star Wars, and other fantastical settings. In doing so, he makes a kind of new Book that answers the questions of the people in their real world situations. Later, we find that most of the people saw the words of the Book as metaphorical, giving some ambiguity to their beliefs.

Mission work though, one supposes, must encounter much of the same. What kind of real hope is being offered to people if their current problems aren’t addressed? And what kind of contextualization takes things beyond the text? And what kind of help is missionary work doing? I don’t know the answers to these and many related questions that come up, but the musical forcefully raises them.

“The Book of Mormon” pokes and prods at just about any religious bone in anyone’s body. I’ve noted some problems with it, but I think that it also can force people like me to think on some of the harder topics in ways we may not have before.

Links

Reconstructing Faith– Read other posts as I search for truth and navigate the messiness that is faith.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

Sunday Quote!- Mormonism and Breaking the Ninth Commandment

td-med

Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Mormonism and Breaking the Ninth Commandment

Talking Doctrine: Mormons & Evangelicals in Conversation is an intriguing collection of essays from evangelical and Mormon scholars (see my review). In one essay, Cory B. Willson briefly comments on something that an evangelical, Richard Mouw, said in an address at the Mormon Tabernacle in 2004:

The common habit of telling Mormons what they believe without bothering to ask them, Mouw noted, has often led to misrepresenting and even demonizing their beliefs and practices–a form of bearing false witness against our Latter-day Saint neighbors. (80, cited below)

Mouw’s point should be well-taken. Too often in interfaith dialogue there is a tendency to jump on assumed beliefs rather than getting to know the religious “other.” Instead, we should focus on what those religious “others” are actually telling us they believe, so that we do not give false testimony against them. I wrote a post about a vision for Christian apologetics to world religions that focuses more on this topic.

What do you think? How might we map ways forward in interfaith dialogue that does not misrepresent the other side? How could this be better applied to evangelical-Mormon discussions?

[Note: there are some different ways of numbering the commandments. The Commandment Referred to here is “Do not give false testimony against your neighbor” which is commonly known as the 8th or 9th Commandment, depending on how a tradition breaks them up. I stuck with it as the 9th commandment because that’s how the quote had them numbered.]

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Book Review: Talking Doctrine: Mormons and Evangelicals in Conversation edited by Mouw and Millet– I review the book from which this quote came.

Source

Talking Doctrine: Mormons and Evangelicals in Conversation edited Mouw and Millet (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

SDG.

Book Review: “Talking Doctrine: Mormons and Evangelicals in Conversation” edited by Richard Mouw and Robert Millet

td-med

Talking Doctrine: Mormons and Evangelicals in Conversation is a collection of essays from both Mormon and evangelical scholars about the areas of convergence and divergence in their beliefs.

The essays touch on a broad array of topics, though they are organized under two general headings: the nature of the dialogue and specific doctrinal discussions. Each grouping has a diverse set of essays, from a series of reflections on Mormon-evangelical dialogue to the exploration of sacred space under the “nature of the dialogue” to the question of the Trinity and the nature of authority under “specific doctrinal discussions.”

It is quite interesting to see how Mormon and evangelical thought has developed through this dialogue and what areas are left open to explore. Some essays hint at convergence of the belief systems (the nature and efficacy of grace, for example), while others show how wide the divide remains (specifically the discussions on the Trinity and issue of theological anthropology).

I appreciated the calls to honesty in the dialogue on both sides, as well as the tone of each essay which suggested mutual respect even amidst a struggle to understand each other.

One thing that I am really left wondering is how much the Mormon side in this dialogue represents the “Mormon on the street.” That is, would the average Mormon hold to similar beliefs as those writing the essays herein? Often, it seems that the Mormons do not sound all that far from evangelicalism on some issues, but on others the chasm is very wide indeed.

Several of the essays were, frankly, overly optimistic. Sarah Taylor, in “An Evangelical at Brigham Young University,” has a conversation with a Mormon friend in which the Mormon friend affirms the possibility that God the Father sinned, but argues that Christ’s atonement would have canceled out even that sin. Shockingly, Taylor’s conclusion is that the Mormon friend was “the same amount Christian” as she is (emphasis hers) despite the affirmation of God’s sinning. Other head-scratchers like this are found throughout, such as when Brian Birch in “Divine Investiture: Mormonism and the Concept of Trinity” concludes that because Mormonism is similar in some ways to Arianism(though radically dissimilar in others), it can be seen as akin to some form of the Christian tradition (but why should a condemned heresy be concluded to be part of the Christian tradition? how broadly are these scholars painting to be inclusive?).

However, each essay has several intriguing points to take away alongside various insights and challenges. Whether you are an evangelical looking to broaden your understanding of Mormonism or an apologist looking to see some of the most challenging contrasts to evangelicalism found in Mormon thought (or anywhere in between), this is a book that will benefit you.

Talking Doctrine is a fascinating book with many challenging essays and avenues to explore.  Frankly, if one is interested at all in apologetics and Mormonism, one should read this book. Whatever shortcomings it has are outweighed by the amount of information found herein. Just be aware of some of these shortcomings.

The Good

+Interesting set of essays
+Tackles some of the tough questions
+Great concern with accurate representation of “others'” beliefs
+Provides insight into both sides of the dialogue

The Bad

-Very minimal space given to each essay
-Some difficult topics seemed to be skirted around or ignored
-Downplays some rather major areas of disagreement

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not asked to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

Talking Doctrine: Mormons and Evangelicals in Conversation edited Mouw and Millet (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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.

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!

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.

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