An Open Letter to Trent Horn

Hi Trent!

I heard you on the radio last Monday talking about Mormonism. I tried calling in but the lines were busy. I tweeted you on Tuesday asking to talk about it, but you haven’t responded yet–maybe you’re busy?

At any rate, I thought this post might be a good way to open a dialogue, if you’re OK with that. Feel free to respond to any and all of the items I discuss here, or proceed as you see fit. I look forward to a friendly and respectful, but candid and productive discussion!

I didn’t hear the entire program, as I was driving around and running errands at the time, but I think I got the gist of it; certainly, I heard enough to be able to address what I think your major points were.

First, I want to offer some general observations, in the form of questions, about what I heard you say on the radio. (I’d love to hear your actual answers to these questions, please–they’re not meant to be merely hypothetical!) Then I’ll cover a few of the biggest specific issues you raised.

10 questions regarding general observations

1. You invited Mormons to call in and discuss your teachings, and this leads me to wonder: have you engaged many Latter-day Saints in conversation about your claims regarding us? Have any of them had the equivalent education and training in their religion that you’ve had in yours? Do you feel you have a solid understanding of what LDS answers to your objections are?

What have their responses been? Have you found any of those responses compelling at all?

If not, doesn’t it strike you as odd that a religion with so many adherents should be incapable of adequately explaining *any* of your claims? Might that seem to indicate the presence of confirmation bias on your part?

Do you ever address these responses in your presentations on Mormonism? If not, why not?

2. If you have not sought out responses from qualified Latter-day Saints, why not? Shouldn’t someone who professionally teaches about the perceived negatives of another group seek out responses and even rebuttals from that group as assiduously as possible as part of their own preparation? Wouldn’t that bolster your credibility and, frankly, be the most civil thing to do?

3. What have been the primary sources of your education about Latter-day Saints? What would say are your top five sources?

4. Are any of those sources actually published by the LDS Church, or even affiliated with it? How many sources like that have you studied?

5. If your primary sources of information are critical or hostile to Mormons, don’t you think that not only damages your credibility but hinders your knowledge on the subject? Don’t you think LDS sources could have *anything* of value to add to what you know about us?

6. Are you aware of any accusations that have ever been made about LDS belief or practice that were distorted or inaccurate?

If not, again, might that not indicate a deficiency in your knowledge of Mormonism?

If so, has that led you to be more skeptical of other critical claims about Mormonism? (After all, I’ll gladly and immediately concede that many people, LDS and otherwise, have made erroneous assumptions about Catholics. Shouldn’t accuracy about each other be a high priority here?)

7. Your tone on the program seemed to indicate that “debunking” Mormonism was easy and that it is a simple open-and-shut case. Forgive me if I’m putting words in your mouth there, but if that’s more or less what you think, then how do you account for the LDS Church not simply collapsing by now?

Critics such as you have been around since our church started, and their accusations have been widely broadcast and celebrated (even on Broadway!). If the falsity of our beliefs is so obvious, why are there any Latter-day Saints at all, much less so many?

How do you account for so many of us being well informed about both our doctrine and the kinds of claims that critics like you make? (Many of us, myself included, probably know more difficult facts about our church than you do, and yet are convinced of its truth.)

8. Some of your criticisms about LDS doctrine and belief seemed primarily motivated by finding them strange or unappealing, such as comments I heard you make about the phrase “and it came to pass” in the Book of Mormon.  However, can we agree that, ultimately, whether or not anyone finds something odd or distasteful is irrelevant?

Would you agree that the real concern in this discussion should be what’s true or not true, and not what’s so novel that it can be made to appear shocking to those who are unfamiliar with it?

You wouldn’t want your own faith judged on a presentation of its most idiosyncratic elements in an irreverent forum, instead of on its merits, right?

9. Some of the major claims you make about LDS doctrine and belief (such as the issue about God once being “as man is,” which I’ll discuss in more detail below) are very minor aspects of our religion, or even speculative. Isn’t the fact that you’ve had to dig into such obscure and trivial parts of our religion a tacit admission that the vast majority of Mormonism is innocuous, if not actually positive?

If the LDS Church is as easy to dismiss as you appear to suggest, then shouldn’t it be possible to do so by using the most common, ordinary, important parts of the religion? If that’s true, then why don’t you do so? Doesn’t the need to resort to the kinds of digging and speculation you use perhaps indicate that the LDS church may actually be true?

10. Certainly, in your studies or conversations, you’ve come across at least some of the evidences that Latter-day Saints offer in support of the Book of Mormon and, therefore, the veracity of the claims of their religion. Have you found any of these to have any merit at all?

If not, why not? Doesn’t it strike you as odd if you think this faith has absolutely no reasonable evidence at all?

If so, do you have authoritative responses to these evidences?  Do you ever address these evidences in your presentations on Mormonism? If not, why not?

(For a quick and illustrated summary of such evidences, please allow me to offer my own video on the subject.)

Responses to three specific issues I heard you raise on the radio

1. Knowledge gained by spiritual witness.

You sounded dismissive of the idea that faith–knowledge of spiritual truths–can be gained by a witness from the Holy Ghost. (I presume this topic was inspired by the promise in Moroni 10:3-5 about such a witness being given to those who study and pray about the Book of Mormon.) I recall that you labeled such an experience as “subjective.”

But isn’t this a true Biblical principle? Doesn’t Luke 24:32 teach that “our heart burn[s] within us” when we’re blessed with recognizing truth from God?

I’m sure you’re familiar with James 1:5 prompting Joseph Smith to seek knowledge of truth from God in the first place. Was he wrong to do so? Is anyone ever wrong to seek knowledge from God? Doesn’t He want us to do so, as Jesus taught in Matthew 7:7-8?

Aren’t there a host of Biblical instances of prophets–and the Savior Himself–teaching that the Holy Ghost testifies of the truth to our hearts?

You might question the validity of someone’s feeling that the Book of Mormon is true, but surely we agree that God can speak to us by such feelings, and that they therefore shouldn’t be dismissed outright, yes?

How do you account for the millions of people who have felt the power of the Holy Ghost testifying to them the truth of the Book of Mormon and the restored gospel? Can such a wide variety of people, over centuries and around the world, be deceiving themselves in such a consistent way? If it’s wishful thinking, when else has wishful thinking led to lives of compassionate charity and devotion fueled by sacrifice and self-denial?

In fact, if the Book of Mormon isn’t true, and someone prays about it, wouldn’t God clearly answer, “No! Get away from those lies and back to the Bible alone!” Why *wouldn’t* God answer a prayer like that?

Conversely, if someone prayed to know the truth of the Bible and its teachings, wouldn’t it make sense to both of us that God would answer in the affirmative? In fact, I’ll share with you that I have had such a spiritual witness about the literal truth of the records and doctrines of the Bible.  I know the Bible is true and I love it.

2. Becoming like God.

Boy, it sounded like this one got on your nerves! So much so that I feel, first, compelled to remind you that finding something odd or even offensive is no automatic indicator of its truth or not, so let’s look at this one.

Most of what you said on the subject seemed to come from this quote from 19th century Mormon church president Lorenzo Snow’s couplet:

As man now is, God once was:

As God now is, man may be.

You had something of a field day letting your imagination run with extrapolations of this teaching, but such extravagant suppositions beg the question: on precisely which official LDS sources do you base the many extensions of this teaching that you cited?

I ask because there really are none for the first half of the couplet, which is what most of your words were about.  If there are any actual teachings from church leaders that expand upon that first line in anywhere near the fashion you did, please share your sources.

As for the second half, there are some existing explanations for it, but none that live up to the sensationalist exaggerations that critics often like to publish.

What Latter-day Saints believe is simply this: as literal spirit children of God, our Heavenly Father (as Jesus addressed Him in the Lord’s Prayer), we are here to grow. Throughout the eternities of the next life, we can continue growing until we grow up to become like our Father. We know that that’s His will for us.

That’s one reason why families are so important to Mormons. We see the earthly family as a symbolic microcosm of our greater Heavenly family.

Like any good parent, we know that God wants to raise us and see us make the most of ourselves, enjoying the same great blessings that make Him God. We know that such an inheritance brings with it the ability to somehow, someday create spirit children of our own, to continue that family unit.

Scriptural sources for this belief can be found in the lists given here and here.

Like most Christians, we agree that we are here to worship God and serve Him, and that our goal should be to do so eternally. We only add to that the truth that’s been restored that our Father has even more to bless us with out of His love for us.

But that’s really all we know of the doctrine. Any other indulgences in guesswork–in how many humans ever have or will become exalted like God our Father, or in how spirit children are made, or about anything along these lines–is merely that: guesswork. It would only be speculation, and certainly not doctrinal.

Actually, there is one more thing we know on this subject: part of revelation to Joseph Smith recorded in a scripture called Doctrine and Covenants 76:58-62 teaches about those who receive this amazing gift. According to those verses, especially 59 and 62, it’s clear that their eternal condition will include always being with and subject to the authority of Jesus Christ and God the Father. What a blessing!

But that actually brings me to the third and final item that I heard you mention.

3. Nature and position of Jesus Christ in LDS belief.

I’ll come right out and say it: on this one, you were just flat out wrong. Not even a little right. Not at all. I believe you said that Mormons only see Jesus as their older brother and, therefore, not as God. You also talked about how we see God the Father and Jesus Christ as physically separate, so we can’t see Jesus as God–I’m paraphrasing there; if I haven’t done you justice, please correct me.

But anything close to that is just completely false.

Can I ask you, where in the world did you get the idea that Mormons don’t believe that Jesus is God? Do you have any authoritative sources that say anything like that?

To offer just one means of correction here, consider this: Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. (Did you know that?) I don’t know of any other church that teaches that not only is Jesus Christ truly God, but that His godhood is so pervasive throughout the Bible.

Even before He was born in the manger, He was fully God. This also makes Him the God of the Book of Mormon.

Mormons sometimes refer to Jesus as “God the Son” to distinguish Him from God the Father, to whom Jesus directed us to pray. Mormons also believe that, even though they each have their own glorified but physical body, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are absolutely united in all things, as both the Bible and Book of Mormon teach. Therefore, they are both God. How could anyone understand Mormon belief any other way?

Trent, I’ll close with a word of witness to you and any who may read this. As I discussed earlier, I have felt the wholly unique and powerful feeling of the Holy Ghost testifying to me of the truth of the Book of Mormon and the Bible, and of the divine and infinite atonement of our Lord and Redeemer, the divine Son of God, Jesus Christ, and in the restoration of His gospel and church in these last days.

Thanks for reading and considering this, Trent (or whoever else reads it!). I also encourage you to study the Book of Mormon and seek out God’s own verdict on its truth, and be willing to accept that and live by it, for that is the way He has given to bless us. I hope to hear from you, Trent (and yes, again, whoever else reads this), and I wish you the very best in all good things.


Jamie Huston

18 comments on “An Open Letter to Trent Horn

  1. I did a search on LDS.ORG on there are many articles about Members of LDS faith becoming Gods and it does not seem like it is an insignificant part of the LDS faith. This is in response to your point number 9

    “9. Some of the major claims you make about LDS doctrine and belief (such as the issue about God once being “as man is,” which I’ll discuss in more detail below) are very minor aspects of our religion, or even speculative. Isn’t the fact that you’ve had to dig into such obscure and trivial parts of our religion a tacit admission that the vast majority of Mormonism is innocuous, if not actually positive?

    If the LDS Church is as easy to dismiss as you appear to suggest, then shouldn’t it be possible to do so by using the most common, ordinary, important parts of the religion? If that’s true, then why don’t you do so? Doesn’t the need to resort to the kinds of digging and speculation you use perhaps indicate that the LDS church may actually be true?”

    This is just one of the many articles I found on the subject by searching

    On the other hand, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that we are the spirit offspring of God with inherited spiritual traits that give us the divine potential to become like our parent, God the Father. As to this identity, President Packer has written:

    You are a child of God. He is the father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it. However many generations in your mortal ancestry, no matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God!

  2. FR, the part of our religion which I identified as “obscure and trivial” is the teaching that “As man now is, God once was,” about which we know nothing, but which Trent was inflating with speculation. The twin teaching about our own divine origin and destiny, which you mention here and which I also document in my posts, is solidly understood–indeed, citations could go on for pages. Hope this clears it up.

  3. This is also from

    Since that sermon, known as the King Follett discourse, the doctrine that humans can progress to exaltation and godliness has been taught within the Church. Lorenzo Snow, the Church’s fifth President, coined a well-known couplet: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.”

    The article specifically says well-known couplet, the one you say is obscure. I will say that having grown up in Salt Lake City as a non-Mormon I had heard, but then again I think I am older than you. Salt Lake City was much more predominately LDS when I was growing up here than it is now

    From the same article

    Human nature was at its core divine. God “was once as one of us” and “all the spirits that God ever sent into the world” were likewise “susceptible of enlargement.” Joseph Smith

    I would say at that end that all the information I have found has been gleaned from a simple search of I was originally made aware from other sources but I think for the context of this discussion it is important that my only source be or a site that links to. Thanks for answering and I appreciate the conversation. I may not always agree with Trent Horn’s method but his research is impeccable. I was also wondering if you grew up in a predominately LDS community because if you had not it might explain why you are not familiar with these LDS church teachings. The article is linked below.

  4. Um, FR, this just repeats what we’ve both been saying so far. Yes, I know this belief; yes, it’s openly taught. I quoted Snow’s couplet in the OP. We have no disagreement here. :) It’s the *1st half* of Snow’s couplet about which we know nothing and therefore have nothing in our Church to teach.

  5. I am having a hard time following you. The 1st part of the couplet is part of the couplet that is well known according to Also the 1st part of the couplet is reinforced by Joseph Smith’s own words from

    Let me just put the 1st part of the couplet next to Joseph Smith’s own words.

    As man now is, God once was

    God “was once as one of us”

    To me, these seem synonymous

    Again these are both from one article on

    I would also like to quote from your response

    “As man now is, God once was,” about which we know nothing,

    and then again from the article

    well-known couplet: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.”

    it seems to me that we know nothing and well-known couplet contradict each other. The article did not say the second half of the couplet is not well-known, it said the couplet is well-known.

    Also thanks for having a civil conversation about these topics, in Salt Lake City when I try and get answers to these questions I usually get people just lashing out with personal insults or bringing up that Priests have molested children, which they have but it is usually not relevant to the conversation.

    I do have quite a few LDS friends though, in Utah if you don’t have LDS friends you don’t have a lot of people to choose from. One of my friends was the interior designer of the Bountiful LDS temple and took me and my wife on a personal guided tour. Beautiful building and he even showed me how they clean the chandelier in the Celestial room. I am pretty sure it was an attempt to convert me but I hold no grudges, he follows his faith. I have also always wanted to know how they clean Chandeliers in general very sweet man.

  6. FR, you’re welcome–always love a good conversation.

    Maybe this will help with where we’re going here: you’ve found a lot of material explicating the 2nd half of the couplet–naturally, as it’s a clear and well documented belief. How much is there, though, about the 1st half–about God once being a man? You’ll find mentions of it, but no deep details, like we know of our own relationship to Him and potential to become like Him. It’s just not something that’s been explained much. See?

  7. I think that it might be a difference of location. I asked four of my LDS friends about whether they had been taught that God was once a man and three out of the four had been taught that God was once a man and that our hope here on is earth is to emulate him and become like him. I will say the three that knew this were around my age and the one that did not was younger so I think we must chalk this up to a difference of time. That around the time I grew up, at least in the Salt Lake area, it was common knowledge. I knew it as a non-Mormon and my Mormon friends were taught it as well. I can say that I do not doubt that it was not explained much in your experience, but here, at least in people my age, it was commonly explained when they were taught about becoming Gods.

    I would again say that I do not think Trent Horn was bringing up something obscure in his mind and when dealing with apologetics the differences in beliefs are the important parts so maybe I did not accurately frame the debate, regardless of how well known or not well known it is, the LDS faith believes that God was once a man and that men can become Gods. The question I guess I ask you is, do you believe God was once a man and that you shall become a God, if you follow your LDS faith of course?

    The other thing I would ask you is are you familiar with other faiths that call themselves Christians? If so you would know that most are monotheistic, not henotheistic like the LDS faith? That is a big line for most Christian faiths to cross and if it is not taught anymore or widely, whichever the case maybe, why not? It seems like a huge point of differentiation from other faiths.

  8. One more thing I found and I know that going into Church History Volumes is obscure and I won’t deny that, but I found this after my last response and thought it was right on point even if it is not commonly taught.

    I will prove that the world is wrong, by showing what God is. I am going to inquire after God; for I want you all to know Him, and to be familiar with Him; and if I am bringing you to a knowledge of Him, all persecutions against me ought to cease. You will then know that I am His servant; for I speak as one having authority.

    God An Exalted Man

    I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of a being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man.

    God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another.

  9. I have found something that I think indicates that I was correct about the age difference. Below is a quote from New Era magazine from April 1971 and for those who made read this that are not aware New Era is a magazine published by the LDS Church and is widely read among members of the LDS Church.

    The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man. … he was once a man like us … God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth. …”

    Above is a link to the full article, I think this demonstrates it is generational. Which is why I was aware that God was once man was commonly taught by the LDS Church but you a younger person may not be aware it was commonly taught,

  10. FR, I’m not even sure what you’re trying to do any more. All I’ve claimed here is that we don’t know any substantial details about the teaching that God was once a man. In all of these quotes, you haven’t done anything to show that it *is* well understood in detail, like exaltation is.

  11. From the New Era article

    Brigham Young has said, “… there never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds, and men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through. That course has been from all eternity, and it is and will be to all eternity.”

    I don’t understand that if God has gone through the identical process to become an exalted man that we are going through now and earth and we understand exaltation in detail. Did the God of this Earth not pass through the same ordeals that the current members of the LDS Church are passing through now and if we understand exaltation in detail (you said above there was a detailed understanding of exaltation) what is there to not understand in about the God of this world being a man and that the process he went through to become exalted are the same processes currently understood?

    This is from your original blog post

    Some of the major claims you make about LDS doctrine and belief (such as the issue about God once being “as man is,” which I’ll discuss in more detail below) are very minor aspects of our religion, or even speculative. Isn’t the fact that you’ve had to dig into such obscure and trivial parts of our religion a tacit admission that the vast majority of Mormonism is innocuous, if not actually positive?

    What I have been questioning you on is this, is God once being as man is a very minor aspect or a speculative aspect of the LDS faith?

    I would put forth that I have demonstrated with all these quotes that is neither minor nor speculative.

  12. Thanks for trying to clear that up, but I still disagree with your basic assertions here.

    I agree that knowing the nature of God is important and possible, but this aspect of His nature has nothing to do with our understanding of saving doctrines or our way of life here as disciples of Christ. It’s not a theme in scripture, or prophetic teachings, or in any study materials; not because it’s hidden, but because there’s so very little known to say.

    All you’ve provided here is a link to a 46 year old magazine article, itself citing a single quote from a leader a hundred years before that, and you call that “understood in detail?”

    We understand the Atonement of Jesus Christ in detail, we understand the gospel in detail, we understand the plan of happiness in detail. There are whole books written about these things–they dominate lessons and sermons anywhere in the Church. These things are essential to know.

    If the best a motivated researcher can do is to find a random quote in an old magazine, and then extrapolate conclusions by drawing inferred analogies to our human condition, then yes, it’s minor and speculative.

  13. Those are a lot of words and let me just clarify your assertion, you assert again that it is a minor and speculative doctrine that God was once a man? Not how well it is understood which if I may be blunt is a bit of strawman you keep bringing up, but that it is a minor and speculative doctrine that God was once a man? I am again not saying that LDS Church says it is well understood but that it is doctrine that God was once a man. If that is the case you and I will have to disagree about what is minor and speculative and I think you would find that most people would not consider that God was once a man.

    I would not say that I was a motivated researcher, I would say I Googled what I would like to know and there are many, many websites that have the information but since most of them are what you would consider anti-Mormon I like to find the same information the LDS or BYU websites. Sometimes the references are not specific and will just indicate and article which will force me to read the whole article which I must admit is not my favorite thing to do.

    Last but not least I think someone as well learned as yourself would recognize that most of the time when you respond you don’t defend your point, you instead ask me to prove a negative. Simply said if I have interpreted these casually Googled answers incorrectly and there are many, many websites that explain them as I have then would not the LDS Church have put out a statement clarifying for it’s members what is doctrine is and is not and what is not known. That is what the Catholic Church does, everything is either doctrine, not doctrine or not known and the Catholic Church makes it clear what its stance is on everything, is that not what the LDS Church does?

    In the Catholic Church we believe in something called willful ignorance and it allows for someone to enter Heaven through Purgatory if their ignorance of the truth of the Roman Catholic Church can not be overcome by any normal human means they may still have a way into Heaven. I think that is what I have encountered here, in secular terms I think it would be called cognitive dissonance.

    Depending on your response this will probably be my last response to you because I do not have any supernatural powers. If you would like to continue this discussion I would just like a quote from the LDS Church indicating that I am wrong about God once being a man being Church doctrine and it is either not known or specifically that it is not doctrine.

    Thanks again and just a note, you often seem to be critical of me and not the idea I have presented. It seems that you are condensing and goading me into exchanging personal insults with you, you say I am not offending you, but your words seem otherwise or is it a general writing style of yours that you condescend and belittle people you are in a dialogue with?

  14. Well, FR, we seem to be talking past each other here. I’m not even sure that we’ve really understood each other that well. I haven’t meant anything to be personally critical, and even though some of your comments can be taken the same way, I’m sure you didn’t mean that, either. Such is the charity of men of good faith! :)

  15. Correction it is invincible ignorance, not willful ignorance, a mistake on my part from frustration.

    The LDS doctrine does state that God was once a man.

    The LDS Church would refute the doctrine if was not correct, like the Adam Man doctrine taught by Brigham Young that is refuted as not being doctrine.

    The first rule of apologetics is to know your religion and be honest with yourself about the implications.

    I would put forth you have broken this rule and I would encourage you to stay out of apologetics. In apologetics, it does not matter what you have been taught or think but only what your Churchs official doctrine is.

    The second rule of apologetics is to not get frustrated.

    That is the rule I have broken here.

    It would have been great to have an apologetic debate with you, your mind is certainly keen, but that can not take place until there is honesty and clarity. I spent all these responses trying to get you to admit that the official doctrine of the LDS Church was that God was once a man. I knew this since I responded. I thought the great conversation to follow would be about henotheism opposed to monotheism and Mormon vs Catholic and when did the Mormons stop wearing crosses (they did in the past), why did the LDS Church call the Catholic Church an Antichrist, what about the Kinderhook plates? The thing is that when I come on strong LDS folks say I am anti-Mormon and if I come on soft they never answer the question.

    I will pray on this exchange and hope you do the same and look forward to the day when we are both Saints in Heaven and this is irrelevant. I would you encourage you to pray, I know it is a common thing the LDS faith, I have seen the Mormon Miracle Pageant many times and I am betting you have seen it as well. The scene where a young Joseph Smith goes from Church to Church looking for the right one and God answers his prayers and says none of them. I would encourage you to pray with a silent mind and in silence. It is something we do as Catholics, when we chant the same prayer over and over again we are making a quiet space for God to speak and if there a lot of kids around it can drown them out.

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