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Posts Tagged ‘apologetics’

I think this is one of the best Book of Mormon videos on YouTube–certainly, it gives the most information in the shortest time, and with great visual aids.  Yes, this is a greatly improved version of a video I did in June.  Please enjoy and share!

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Does the Book of Mormon make sense as a hoax?  Compare it to the 1969 moon landing.

I just saw about the billionth joke on TV about the moon landing being a hoax.  This old conspiracy theory is usually referenced as a crackpot belief these days, and rightfully so.

Consider all the logical problems with the moon landing being a hoax:

  • Motive.  Beating the Soviets in the space race?  Couldn’t it have been achieved with far less effort and risk in many other ways?
  • Benefits.  What did we really get out of this?  A brief bump in pride and some cool photos?  Again, these could have been achieved in far easier ways.
  • Costs.  Absolutely staggering amounts of money were sunk into building and executing this project over many years.  Not sensible if it was fake.
  • Means.  Did we really have the ability to pull off this scam?  It would have required tons of complicit agents, sets and props, bribes, image effects, and a host of lying witnesses, to say the least.  The whole scheme seems very implausible.
  • Secrecy.  With all that would have been involved, nobody blew the lid on this hoax, ever?  Even when there would have been huge financial rewards for doing so?
  • Odds.  What are the chances that all this worked out, if wasn’t real?  History shows that such attempts fall apart.  The singular legacy of this project attests to its reality.
  • Repetition.  Where else has our government pulled off a hoax on this scale?  If they were able to do it once, they would have done so again.

Of course, each of these seven things also testifies of the reality of the Book of Mormon as an ancient document, divinely delivered to and translated for the modern world, and not as a 19th century hoax by Joseph Smith: (more…)

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NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day, March 11, 2013: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap130311.html

NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, March 11, 2013: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap130311.html

And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth.  3 Nephi 8:17, the Book of Mormon

The huge, destructive storm described in 3 Nephi 8 has long been mysterious to some and derided by others, but in recent years, some scholars have shown that the features described there (wind, earthquakes, darkness, and lightning) fit a volcanic eruption.  (See here and here, for example.)

Certainly, Joseph Smith knew nothing about volcanism.  The existence of this storm narrative makes far more sense as a summary written by those who experienced it.

The photo above, one of NASA’s Astronomy Pictures of the Day from last week, dramatically illustrates the plausability of that story.  Volcanic eruptions do produce lightning.  Pretty cool lightning at that!

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The New Republic just published a long article which includes a summary of LDS history.  While repeating many expected errors (why is Mormonism apparently so hard to research and fact-check?), one passage about the Book of Mormon especially stood out to me:

 By the 1820s, the jeremiad had long been a pervasive rhetorical form among American Puritans and their republican descendants. Nor was that the only connection between this supposedly timeless text and its early American context. There were references to debates over infant baptism, church government, and revivalism, allusions to fears of secret societies, and other evidence that marked the book as a product of its historical moment. 

This flavor of brusque dismissal has been around since the book was published: if some fraction of the text can be interpreted as similar to some elements of the environment at the time of publication, then it must have been written at that time.

Such a myopic approach leaves out the majority of the text, evidences in its favor, and alternate explanations.  It’s a desperate attempt to come up with an easy origin for the book—any explanation other than Joseph Smith’s will do—and then forget that the whole issue ever existed.

It’s ultimately a lazy and disingenuous endeavor, one completely divorced from intellectual honesty.

I’ll illustrate.

Imagine that after Jonathan Swift wrote his satirical masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels in the early 1720s, he took it to the American colonies and buried it instead of publishing it.  (more…)

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I’ve lost track of how many articles lately, and how very many comments on articles,  claim to reveal to the world the secret, sinister beliefs of the LDS Church.  Their attempts at scandalous revelations tend to revolve around the same few topics, and they’ve all been squarely addressed (I covered the whole “Mormons want to become gods who rule their own planets” trope last summer), so I don’t want to analyze them one by one here.

What most strikes me about these alleged controversies, though, is how deep into obscure arcana the critics have to dig in order to find objectionable stuff.    If the worst dirt you can find on an organization is based on a handful of rumors, gossip, and secondhand quotes from 19th century figures, how bad can the organization really be?

Imagine a make and model of a car that someone wants to take down.  So they write some snarky blurbs about it online that show the world the truth: the company logo on the rear end is kind of derivative.  And the antenna is a bit hard to unscrew.  And don’t even get me started on the horrors of the rubber coating under the front passenger floor mat.

“Trust me,” says our automotive Internet muckraker, “I know all about the dark, seedy underbelly of this scam.”

(more…)

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In short, it seems that a bureaucrat at BYU has railroaded out a whole generation of scholars from their formerly-fine Book of Mormon studies publications.  The era of faithful apologetics at BYU may be over, replaced by some vague desire to go in an as-yet undefined direction.

Daniel Peterson, a great advocate of the Book of Mormon, has been unceremoniously given the boot, apparently along with a host of other scholars. I don’t want to rehash the whole sordid affair here, but here’s a brief intro from a longer and excellent summary:

(more…)

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A new article up at First Things recounts a Catholic professor’s experience reading the Book of Mormon.  Although he does not have a spiritual experience with it, he finds much to praise in its insistent focus on Christ, and some to criticize in its drabness.  I rejoice whenever anyone recognizes the former, and frankly have no argument with the latter.  Though any Mormon would quibble with a few things in the piece, he brings up some terrific points–I especially like the whole “grandfather’s funeral” analogy–and the whole thing is definitely worth reading.  The money quote:

Mormonism is obsessed with Christ, and everything that it teaches is meant to awaken, encourage, and expand faith in him. It adds to the plural but coherent portrait of Jesus that emerges from the four gospels in a way, I am convinced, that does not significantly damage or deface that portrait.

I came to this conclusion when I read through the Book of Mormon for the first time. I already knew the basic outline: that it recounts the journey of a people God led from Jerusalem to the Americas six hundred years before the birth of Christ. In America, they split into two groups, the good guys (the Nephites) and the bad guys (the Lamanites), who battled each other until there were no good guys left—except for Moroni (Mormon’s son), who buried the chronicles of their wars and then, in 1823, told a farm boy from upstate New York where to find them.

When I actually read this book, however, I was utterly surprised. I was not moved, mind you. The Book of Mormon has to be one of the most lackluster of all the great works of literature that have inspired enduring religious movements. Yet it is dull precisely because it is all about Jesus. (more…)

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Critics of the Book of Mormon often deride it for its apparent lack of archaeological corroboration.  Indeed, most of the evidence that bears on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon is “internal,” meaning evidence derived from the text of the book itself.  Those given to rejecting an ancient origin for the Book of Mormon often denigrate the value of internal evidence, perhaps considering anything not in the purview of Indiana Jones to not be “real” evidence.  For some, it seems, physical remains are all that counts.

As someone whose interests are primarily linguistic, and as someone who loves and believes in the Book of Mormon, I find this intellectually and spiritually disingenuous.  Frankly, ignoring the importance of linguistic evidence in a study is unscientific. 

Consider the study of the Indo-European language family, and its prehistoric origins among groups of people who spoke a language that we call Proto-Indo-European. 

(more…)

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As our society’s “Mormon moment” continues, with the award-winning Book of Mormon musical selling out shows and a second Latter-day Saint announcing a run for the presidency, I think we’ll see more attempts by some to “expose” what they see as embarrassing or bizarre aspects of the church.  Perhaps chief among their targets will be our doctrine of exaltation.  But the descriptions given of this belief will likely be grossly warped, as they usually are.

Case in point: not only was exaltation mocked as a weird, scary secret in an anti-Mormon CNN blog post a couple of weeks ago, but an article in The American Conservative this week garnered two consecutive comments that depicted exaltation in an erroneous light:

They believe that their destiny is to become a god on another planet.

and then:

Furthermore, they claim that we are all potential gods (if we are good little Mormons) with our own universes to rule one day.

Neither of these remarks is accurate.  My goal here is to define what Mormons do and don’t believe about exaltation, as best as I can.

(more…)

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“Show me the brass plates!” sounds an awful lot to me like “Show me the birth certificate!”  In each case, whether it’s someone looking for hard evidence of where the Book of Mormon or the president comes from, there’s the tacit implication that they would be convinced of authenticity by the presentation of such an artifact.

But it doesn’t work.  When President Obama released his birth certificate, there were plenty of people who automatically assumed it was forged, or that he was still ineligible for office for some other reason.  Whatever anyone might think of the president, it seems obvious that some of those who criticize him for issues relating to his birth certificate are being disingenuous. 

So also with critics of the Book of Mormon, who suggest that if they could just see the ancient plates from which it was translated, they’d believe.  Does anyone think this is serious?  As if they’d look at these plates sitting on a table, which the Church told them they’d convinced God to return for a bit just to disprove skeptics, and then scratch their heads and say, “Well, shucks, I guess that’s that.  When’s my baptism?” 

(more…)

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There’s one big question that I haven’t heard yet about an anti-Mormon author’s twisted article on a CNN blog about the LDS Church.  She says that she disbelieved in the religion at least since the time she was nine years old, yet she was married in an LDS temple, which would require a long period of prior faithfulness: was she lying about not believing in the religion throughout her childhood, or did she lie to the Church so she could get married in the temple? 

It’s been my experience that people who are inactive, or no longer members, in the LDS Church, hate being asked about when they did have faith, and how that changed.  They’ll often give sketchy answers, if any at all, and quickly change the subject.  Fair enough—private business is private business—but if you want to be taken seriously as a public opponent of something, don’t you owe the public an explanation that establishes credibility better than this? 

This author seems to base her credibility on the fact that her she was raised in a Mormon family (as if being raised by Darwin would automatically qualify you as a scientist), and the fact that she can quote distorted versions of some doctrines and out-of-context materials from the temple endowment ceremony.  So she can use Google.  Big whoop. 

You know how sometimes a reporter will try to play “gotcha” with a politician by asking him or her an incredibly simple question, like the number of amendments to the Constitution or the name of a foreign head of state?  (more…)

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A lot of wise things have been said of this runaway Broadway hit, but this review is by far the best:

The main thrust of its claims about Mormonism is that Joseph Smith made it all up, and that his message does not apply to the modern world. It portrays Mormons as naïve and simplistic. Of course, Mormons are also a cheerful, polite, and well-meaning bunch, and as such, are basically harmless. But the only way for them to truly do good in the modern world is to change their story so it applies to current problems, which should be fine since their scriptures were made up in the first place. This is all very appealing to the audience and to theater critics. They are made to feel superior to the delusional Mormons, while at the same time, feel good about themselves for acknowledging that it is important to help relieve suffering in the world. They don’t have to feel bad about lampooning the Mormons since the show acknowledges that Mormons are nice people, and since it is just satire, after all.

The creators of the show are welcome to their opinion, and even to advertise it in a propagandistic play (for what else is the play’s value?), but such lazy cultural tropes, in a better world, would at least be honest about the basis of their approach: an immediate rejection that the Book of Mormon, and religious beliefs in general, might have any grounding in historical fact.  Certainly, again, anyone is free to conclude that such is not the case after they have considered and investigated it, but until they’ve done so, how are they honestly qualified to assert so boldly that it isn’t true? 

Nobody would care a lick for a random layman’s scathing indictment of particle physics or macroeconomics.  Why is it OK, even encouraged, in our society to simply spew hot air about religion?  Why is so much respect accorded to the mockers of faith, especially when they present mere prejudice as entertainment? 

Far more offensive than any possible content to the show is that those who participate in it, including the audience, are so satisfied of their superiority, despite a massive ignorance of what they claim to definitively scorn.

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SATIRE

Stake President: Welcome, Brother X, thank you, please come in.

Brother X: Thanks, president.  OK, let’s get this over with.  How does this thing go?

Stake (“steak”?  Better try “carrot”) President: Brother X, we need to meet in order to discuss some things you’ve been publicly advocating that are contrary to the established doctrine of the church.

Bro. X: Fine.  I’ve got nothing to hide or be ashamed of.  My ideas are just as valid as yours, and I believe this church is big enough to fit all the ideas in it that anybody wants. 

Stake Carrot President: But Brother X, this is the Church of Latter-day Vegetarians, and you insist on teaching people that they should eat meat instead of vegetables!

Bro. X: Of course!  Look, I totally have a testimony of the whole vegetable thing, I just also feel strongly that you can eat meat and still be a faithful, active vegetarian.  I don’t see the problem here.

(more…)

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Presented here for your convenience, for the first time ever and after countless hours of painstaking research by eavesdropping on actual cafe conversations and Internet chat rooms, are the top ten reasons I overheard secular Americans give for dismissing faith.

Well, not really, but it sounds about right.

 

10. “If there truly is an infinitely powerful and all-knowing God, then why can’t I easily understand him right away? He may well be an omnipotent and eternal deity ruling over a universe larger and more complicated than the mortal mind could ever possibly envision, much less comprehend… but I do read The New York Times, you know.”

 

9. “Why are all Christians such closed-minded morons? Their attitude towards atheism is marked by perpetuating generalized misconceptions about honest seekers of truth like me… often in the form of pitifully sterile insults. They should celebrate those whose opinions differ from their own, like we do. Stupid Christians.”

 

8. “Completely unlike us, Christians never demand any more evidence for the validity of their belief than bandwagon appeals to common knowledge. Everybody knows this is true. How could anybody even entertain conclusions drawn about an opposing point of view from such ridiculous ignorance? Hypocrites!”

 

7. “And what about the Bible? If there is a God, reason dictates that the Bible should have compelling, dynamic theological and ethical innovations unlikely to be conceived by human beings alone. It should also offer strong circumstantial support for divine inspiration. Of course it does not. I know this because I heard somebody quote a verse from it once.”

 

6. “The Bible has been proven many times through scholarly critical analysis to be nothing more than a biased collection of fairy tales written for the sole purpose of subjecting the superstitious masses under a code of moral liberty and civil enlightenment. This conspiracy is what allows monsters like Mother Teresa to rule as the despicable despots they are, breaking the spirits of proactive altruists everywhere.”

 

5. “Why is there any degree of disorder and injustice in the world? It’s not like a perfectly black and white world would make the existence of God obvious, thus removing our crucial need to develop faith in God and would reduce us to mindless automatons forced into conformity!”

 

4. “The complex worldview that Christianity posits suggests that humanity is an intricate tapestry of interdependence working towards a fundamentally greater collective good. That selfishness cannot distract us from the more neutral, objective conclusion that life is simply a series of random events, the inevitable result of a physical system that developed completely by chance and that ends in death, rendering life ultimately pointless and devoid of any obligation to improve ourselves or the world in general. I know how ennobling this sounds, but it is merely a fact, unadulterated by any ulterior motive.”

 

3. “‘By their fruits you will know them?’ So has anyone ever abandoned a materially abundant lifestyle or altered behavior inconsistent with their beliefs because of religious conviction? Nobody that I know of! This is because religion is only a selfish delusion of convenience, not a vigorous and vital dimension of life whose empirical validity empowers adherents to make vastly positive personal change. Their wanton mental self-indulgence is starkly revealed when placed in contrast with those of us who so stoically bear the Spartan torch of atheism.”

 

2. “I read this in the correspondence of a European philosopher and scientist to his brother in 1895: ‘If there were in existence some Supreme Being, why has he then withheld from his own children that most natural of blessings, automated wheeled transportation? For, as any fool can see, such a marvel absolutely must be commensurate with the existence of God. If not for this insurmountable flaw, however, I would gladly become a Christian.’ This perfectly logical query was never satisfactorily addressed, and he died a happy atheist in 1948.”

 

1. “Clearly, belief in God amounts to no more than wishful thinking. Simply put, while those of us who accept atheism only do so after the most stringent open-minded research into every possibility, and then often reluctantly, those who embrace any faith-based belief system always do so blindly. The more they explain their opinion, the more they reveal their fundamental ignorance.”

 

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I was raised Catholic but, by the time I was a teenager, I considered myself agnostic.  I felt like there was something out there, but I wasn’t sure what it was or where to find it.  Frankly, if I hadn’t ever studied the Book of Mormon, I’d probably be an atheist today.  So I actually have a lot of respect for agnostics (and to a slightly lesser degree, atheists); I applaud them for insisting that the rational mind not be held hostage to superstition and tradition (a view which is wholly compatible with the LDS Church).  In a way, these are my people, and I enjoy interacting with them.

Last December (ironically, right around the time that Elder Ballard first gave his now-landmark address about using the Internet to share the gospel), I tried to engage people on Richard Dawkins’ pro-atheist forum about evidences for the Book of Mormon (Dawkins, of course, is the world-famous author of The God Delusion).  As I explained in my first post, my goal wasn’t to convince any readers of the veracity of any of our church’s supernatural claims (though they are), but rather to introduce them to information about this important topic with which they probably hadn’t been familiar, and to ask them to rationally evaluate the arguments for and against the Book of Mormon, to see which theory for the text’s origin is best supported by artifacts and logic. 

I approached them this way not because I feel my faith is lacking or that bearing testimony is inappropriate (quite to the contrary), but only because I knew that those were the parameters of discussion on the Dawkins site, and I didn’t want to offend.  I do feel, though, that an examination of the physical evidence for such a text is a valuable part of developing a powerful witness of its truth, and an essential part of understanding it deeply and getting as much out of it as we can. 

The response to my post was overwhelming.  By the time the thread ran down about a month later (I had long since written–twice–everything pertinent that could be said), it had been viewed over 3,400 times.  It was in danger of being hijacked a few times by ex-members with an axe to grind, but I was most worried about novice readers being poisoned by the seemingly-simple answers of anti’s.  I did my best to explain the problems with these theories, while politely reiterating the facts behind my thesis–that the Book of Mormon is, according to an objective analysis of the available evidence, most likely authentic. 

To see the series of posts in my “Reason, Evidence, and the Book of Mormon” thread, please click here.  You might have to register on their site to make the connection, but it’s quick and free and, in my ever-so-very-humble opinion, worth it.  

Even if nobody ever becomes converted to Christ through that post (though it would be wonderful if they did!), I hope that some of the prejudice and disrespect which people often hold about the Book of Mormon is ameliorated because of it.  I only wish I had some way of knowing if it did that, or any good at all.

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