In re: 5 Reasons Anti-Mormon Arguments Are Totally Unconvincing
This is my response to a post on happiness-seekers.com I stumbled upon recently, it’s really long, sorry in advance. This particular post seemed to fit perfectly into a conversation I was having recently with a family member. Though this is specifically about Mormon stuff and our conversation wasn’t, I think the ideas are similar enough to apply to a broader topic. I will direct comments to this person using the single letter J.
Though I will be quoting much of the post, I urge you to read it without my commentary first. Perhaps you have comments about what they wrote or even what I will write, share it!
“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”
-J. Reuben Clark
Consider the following reasons that anti-Mormon arguments are
not as convincing as they appear to be:
1. Negative Evidence Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be
Many intellectuals argue that “negative evidence” is supreme. To understand what they mean by this, consider the hypothesis that “all swans are white.” According to these intellectuals, it doesn’t matter how many white swans you find, you never really prove that “all” swans are white. However, as soon as you find one black swan, you have disproved the theory that “all swans are white.”
Except for the obvious
sarcasm vitriol in the above quote, I agree with this explanation of ‘negative evidence’; I actually don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t.
In the face of unsettling information, they disregard all of the positive evidence because they think that a few points of negative evidence is sufficient to end the discussion. And given how logical the above reasoning seems to be, it is no wonder why.
Perhaps not enough to end the discussion, but surely enough to change the viewpoint of said discussion. We found a black swan so clearly and evidently the claim that ‘all swans are white’ is wrong.
J – I don’t know if you remember specifically when I talked about this very thing in our conversation. My quote: “Disproving a claim is more about providing enough evidence to make someone doubt the claim.”
The author continues by explaining that Uranus caused doubt in Newton’s laws of physics. I think in giving this example the author actually hurt themselves unwittingly. See, the fact that it caused even a ripple in the scientific community is confirmation that negative evidence is worthwhile when investigating a claim. If the scientific community hadn’t acknowledged the problem and kept investigating, first, we wouldn’t have found more planets so quickly, and second, we wouldn’t have discovered that Newton was correct.
So, as it turned out, it wasn’t that Newton’s laws of physics didn’t work. It was that they didn’t seem to work. And that’s because the astronomers simply didn’t have all the relevant information and context.
Yes, but if the orbit of Uranus had been that ‘black swan’ it would have called for massive changes in how we think about the laws of physics. Cosmologists didn’t explain Uranus away, as many LDS attempt to do with the problems with Joseph Smith or Noah’s Flood, they acknowledged the problematic evidence and discovered why it seemed problematic. They didn’t disregard the negative evidence, they faced it and it just so happened that it was still a good theory. Just because it turned out to not be the ‘black swan’ doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have doubted.
This example shows very clearly why negative evidence is far from supreme. You can dig up all sorts of facts about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, but you will never know if you really have access to all the relevant context and perspectives.
If you think I would argue that the scientific community is always right and couldn’t be proved wrong, just look to Einstein’s theory of a static universe (there are many other theories that were proven untrue). Evidence to the contrary made the community change their “mind” about the theory. Negative evidence need only plant a seed of doubt, if the original claim can’t hold up then it needs to be abandoned.
I could give you a list of examples a mile long of incredibly disconcerting and persuasive arguments that have been made against the Church since its founding but have since been invalidated by new information.
Actual claims? YAY.
How many accounts against the Prophet turned out to be forgeries?
I don’t know, how many? hmm… The author doesn’t provide anything to back this up except a link to the church website about the forged documents of Mark Hofman.
This is a really, really bad example for the author to have used. Bruce R. McConkie said “There is no perfect operation of the power of discernment without revelation. Thereby even ‘the thoughts and intents of the heart’ are made known.” The church accepted the Hofman forgeries as true, their ‘discernment’ didn’t happen.
The fact that the documents were forgeries isn’t the ‘black swan’ the fact that the ‘discernment’ of the church didn’t show them the truth is. On the church’s website at the link the author used the church states, “The announcements and texts of some of these documents were published in Church periodicals, and the documents have been used in good faith since 1980 in manuals and discussions by leaders, teachers, and members of the Church. The following documents and their fraudulent contents should not be used, even though they may have appeared in previous Church publications.”
How many Book of Mormon animals and crops were supposedly nonexistent before European settlement, but in recent years were discovered to have ancient American date?
Ooh, I love anachronisms. And again, no examples, just an unanswered question and an unsupported claim. I won’t reproduce it fully but click the link for a list of BoM problems.
I think my favorite anachronism that the LDS camp thinks they have explained away is the horse, possibly mentioned as the “animals” in the author’s post. No evidence of horses has been found in the Americas from the supposed timeline of the Book of Mormon. The church has offered, basically, two responses: 1-the evidence hasn’t been found YET, and 2-the “horse” in the BoM wasn’t really a horse, possibly a “deer or tapir”.
Ever hear about the Spaulding-Rigdon theory? Probably not. It used to be all the rage in the anti-Mormon community, but it’s now joined the long list of discredited claims against the Church.
Ooh, I actually liked this theory. A couple of things the author doesn’t mention is that it isn’t the only theory about the origination of the BoM and I really don’t think there is a “long list of discredited claims”, more a long list of claims the Church simply attempts to explain away, none of them very well I might add. The author doesn’t even link a single page to discredit this nor any other claim.
To be fair, there are certainly things about the Church and its history that continue to defy any honest attempt to explain.
Wow, I must say, I wouldn’t have expected someone to admit this. This is one of the reasons I chose to respond to this post. It is very honest. But then, he goes on to say:
But again, if we are sincere in our quest for truth, we will be very careful about how much weight we give negative evidences considering all the context we are potentially missing.
It is fallacious to keep a belief in light of contrary evidence simply because you assume more evidence will come to show your position to be true.
2. The Evidence in Favor of the Restoration Is Truly Extraordinary
Joseph Smith prophesied that he would be proven “a true prophet by circumstantial evidence.” Now, more than ever before, the evidence is mounting in Joseph’s favor.
Yeah, I really don’t think that’s true. There are more people leaving the Church now than ever before, at an ever-increasing rate even. One more thing, why “circumstantial evidence“? That isn’t the best kind of evidence as it can allow more than one explanation. I like to think that this is actually a sort of Freudian-slip. Direct evidence would be better as it doesn’t require support or inference.
And I don’t care if you think that the Book of Mormon was actually written by Oliver Cowdery or Sidney Rigdon or if you think that a 23 year old Joseph Smith was some kind of genius, you still can’t explain away what a feat the Book of Mormon would be if it truly was an invention.
Well, each of those could explain the BoM though I have any confidence in any of them. Don’t authors create new universes everyday? Aren’t universes expanded upon by new authors? Must we claim an author is a genius simply because they create a good piece of literature?
Authors create works of literature everyday. JK Rowling created the Harry Potter universe and as much as I like the universe I don’t think it took the efforts of a genius. Imagination and creativity abound when we are young and it’s not hard to see that people back then had an abundance of time that they couldn’t spend on tablets/computers/phones. It isn’t a far stretch to say that Joseph could have created the BoM whole cloth by himself, and it certainly doesn’t give him loads of credit.
The positive evidences may never “prove” that the Book of Mormon is true, but they can provide a strong justification to carefully and prayerfully study it.
Yes, as long as you poo-poo the negative evidence claims.
Since the evidences are so incredible and I want to do them a decent justice, I’ll have to take them up in a future article: The Surprising Evidences of the Book of Mormon.
As I don’t know what the author is going to specifically point to in the upcoming article, I’ll just have to wait for it to come out and then comment on it. But, wouldn’t this be more like the NdGT/B.O.B. flat-Earth argument if the evidences really were that “incredible”? Anyways, I won’t speculate at what these evidences may be so I’ll leave it open for another post too.
3. Anti-Mormon Arguments Are Like Conspiracy Theories
Before I get into what the author writes I simply will say that calling something a conspiracy theory doesn’t immediately invalidate it’s point, see theories that weren’t just conspiracy. We have to be careful to interpret these because we are talking about it in the past tense. Use your imagination or even your memory, if you’re old enough, to put yourself in the theory’s current time, think about it as the people from the present would have thought about it.
Also, it is a very good tactic to call those who don’t believe your claim conspiracy theorists in an attempt to throw them in a bad light. Yes, most theories are unfounded or at least very shaky. The evidences we are talking about against the claims of the Mormon church are much more solid, if they weren’t it would be more like the flat earth theory. You may not even be aware that there are people out there that say the Earth is flat, there are. The thing is that it isn’t even thought about as counter-evidence except by the most out-there people and certainly not debated daily.
Whatever proof or context the government provides to exonerate itself is simply dismissed because “of course, they’d say that” or “it’s just a government cover-up.” Most conspiracy theorists don’t recognize the problem with this, but imagine that you are accused of a crime and when you go to trial you aren’t allowed to defend yourself or bring witnesses in your defense.
Anti-Mormons get to present the facts (and half-truths and outright lies) in whatever manner they please, but when the Church releases context or LDS scholars present alternative views, anti-Mormons paint these attempts as worthy of dismissal since they come from “biased” sources.
This is true, the problem lies in the description of the ‘black swan’ from earlier. You can bring as much evidence to support your claim as you want but the evidence contrary to your claim must be weighted higher than supportive evidence. Saying you’ve found only white swans for 75 years is great evidence for your side, but a single contrary claim of a black swan one single time destroys your defense.
The thing that must be clear is that the black swan actually exists. Simply saying that I once saw a swan that wasn’t white isn’t enough to debase the claim, it should provide some doubt and lead to investigation, but more evidence would be required.
And doing so means that they are assuming their conclusion is true without actually caring about proving it to be true.
This is not true. Simple as that. I’ve explained why negative evidence is more important that positive so I won’t go at it again. Also, this very sentiment is used on the anti-mormon side about apologists calling any counter evidence “biased” and unworthy of belief.
Anti-Mormons attempt to undermine the credibility of Joseph Smith, the 11 witnesses, modern apostles etc., all so that it seems only natural to distrust the Church as a source.
Undermining the credibility of Joseph, the witnesses, the apostles, and the church is the reason there is negative evidence against the claims of the Mormon church.
“Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground.”
-Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith
Joseph was said to use a technique to “translate” the golden plates, he used the same technique, and possibly the same stone, to search for buried treasure and take people’s money and make money for himself. The witnesses never actually saw the supposed golden plates with their “natural eyes”. The supposed witnesses weren’t actually witnesses at all. It seems so strange to me that there seems to be a direct negative correlation between the amount of miracles/revelation that happen and the amount of technology there is to document and investigate such. There hasn’t been any revelation by the modern apostles since the time of Joseph and Brigham Young. The church has only recently sought to face some of the claims against them in their essays. Many members of the church weren’t, and probably may not still be, aware that Joseph had as many wives as he did, or that he married a girl that was only 14. Some very prominent pieces of LDS art show Joseph seemingly reading and translating the golden plates while his own accounts say that he placed his head in a hat with a stone to have the translation revealed to him. While these may not be actively hidden or covered up facts, the church hasn’t been very open with these points.
“‘Inhabitants of the Moon are more of a uniform size than the inhabitants of the Earth, being about 6 feet in height. They dress very much like the Quaker Style & are quite general in Style, or the one fashion of dress. They live to be very old; comeing [sic] generally, near a thousand years.’ This is the description of them as given by Joseph the Seer, and he could ‘See’ whatever he asked the Father in the name of Jesus to see.”
-Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., in Journal of O.B. Huntington
“Who can tell us of the inhabitants of this little planet that shines of an evening, called the moon?… When you inquire about the inhabitants of that sphere you find that the most learned are as ignorant in regard to them as the ignorant of their fellows. So it is in regard to the inhabitants of the sun. Do you think it is inhabited? I rather think it is. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it; it was not made in vain.”
-Prophet Brigham Young
“We will never get a man into space. This Earth is man’s sphere and it was never intended that he should get away from it … The mood is a superior planet to the Earth and it was never intended that man should go there. You can write it down in your books that this will never happen.”
-Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith
The credibility of “revelation” to these so called prophets should be called into question after quotes like these.
If you want to see claims that are an awful lot like anti-Mormon arguments, look at this list of debunked claims that the Moon landing is really a hoax. The claims all seem to be very convincing, but when you dig a little deeper and talk to the people who actually know something about science, space, and NASA, you realize very quickly that the claims don’t hold much water.
The claims [of the LDS church] all seem to be very convincing, but when you dig a little deeper and talk to the people who actually know something about science, DNA, anthropology, archaeology, history, literature, and cult tactics, you realize very quickly that the claims don’t hold much water.
Wouldn’t an astronaut or film crew worker have spilled the truth by now?” are a lot like “Why did none of the 11 witnesses ever deny their testimony of seeing the gold plates, particularly when several of them became disaffected?”
There is some evidence that some of the witnesses recounted it as a hoax, particularly Oliver Cowdery, but I understand that those sources are concrete. Beyond that, there are many, MANY, people that we could talk to today that can tell a very realistic story of alien abuduction. The fact that they think it was a real experience doesn’t mean it actually was real. There are many people who believe something that no one else can corroborate and we put them away in asylums. I am okay with a group of early settlers agreeing that they “saw” some golden plates with their “spiritual eyes”, that doesn’t give their claim any more credit than Chris Namelka’s claim of translating the sealed portion of the BoM.
4. Anti-Mormon Literature Uses Deceptive Presentation Tricks
You see, the Church focuses on teaching the Gospel and the things that matter, while historical items that are unimportant, unedifying, or difficult to understand are often brushed over in the process.
Not presenting a part of your history that is directly connected to what you are talking about, simply because it doesn’t agree with or is contrary to what you are presenting is sneaky to say the least.
Why do some Mormons not know about Joseph Smith’s polygamy? Why does the church think that Smith’s polygamy is unimportant? Why don’t believers know that Joseph practiced polygamy in secret before and after the it was taught by the church? Yes, that information is unedifying but it is true and needs to be known. Joseph blackmailing a family into giving him permission to marry their 14 year old daughter isn’t “difficult to understand”, it’s damning information that the church wanted to keep covered up. What is difficult to understand is why there are so many accounts of the first vision.
The Church has responded to this by demonstrating that they have nothing to hide. They have released article after article discussing the biggest controversies, but placing them in context and providing a faithful perspective.
So, they’ve provided a bit more information that they hadn’t before but they still only share the parts that are ‘important’ or ‘edifying’, yeah that’s still sneaky.
Of course, you’ll never get the relevant context from John Dehlin and others.
That sounds a lot like something I read earlier…
…anti-Mormons paint these attempts as worthy of dismissal since they come from “biased” sources.
Dismissing information simply because it comes from a certain source is wrong on BOTH sides of an argument.
That makes no sense. And doing so means that they are assuming their conclusion is true without actually caring about proving it to be true.
This is kind of like the Trump v. Trump debate on Steven Colbert’s show recently.
What people have to understand is that while anti-Mormon literature is filled with many historical facts, they are often presented in a sinister light
Facts are facts. If there is something wrong with what happened it’s because there is something wrong with what happened, not with the presentation of the event. Just because something doesn’t mesh with what you believe doesn’t mean that thing is wrong, perhaps your belief is wrong.
An example of this is the way that some anti-Mormons will surprise their audience by revealing that Joseph Smith translated much of the Book of Mormon through means of a seer stone, instead of mainly translating through the urim and thummim as most members imagine.
I would rather go to the marriage to a 14 YEAR OLD GIRL, but to each his own, this is a good example too.
There’s really nothing more strange about using a seer stone to translate than ancient spectacles…
Another thing we agree on. They are both ridiculous.
…however, anti-Mormons describe the events in a way that makes Joseph sound like a lunatic peering into a hat. They also make it seem as though the Church is trying to keep this information secret (it’s actually on the Church website).
No, it’s usually described in a way that makes the church sound like a liar since they like to concentrate on the urim and thummim.
In addition to manipulating information that few members know about, anti-Mormons also talk about things that happened two hundred years ago that are difficult to understand from a modern perspective. Without putting ourselves in their shoes and understanding all of the facts of the day, things that aren’t really that big of a deal suddenly appear to be very important pieces of negative evidence.
I really wish the author had given a specific example of something that is misunderstood because “the times they are a changin'” but nothing. Maybe something like slavery in the Bible? We know it’s wrong now but back then they didn’t, even though they had rules set down by their deity to tell them how to live somehow ‘Thou shalt not own another human being as property’ didn’t make the cut.
5. A Spiritual Witness Is a Really Good Reason to “doubt your doubts”
The real reason that I believe in Christ and in the Restored Church is because of the spiritual experiences I have had. Human reason is limited. Pure and simple.
Personal experience is not a good thing to go by. UFO sightings, speaking to god, having magical powers, ESP, these are all things people claim to have by personal experience but that most people simply dismiss.
Whatever atheists tell you, they have to exercise faith too.
Another claim without backing information.
There are just so many things that are unknowable and that is why personal revelation is so important.
So, you know something that is unknowable?
So, when you experience personal revelation confirming the existence of God, Christ’s love for humankind, the Book of Mormon’s veracity, and Joseph Smith’s sacred calling, it only makes sense that this would be an overpowering piece of evidence. It may be evidence that no one else can understand, but it is evidence, and it is certainly logical to draw conclusions from it.
Thoughts, memories, emotions, senses, etc, can all be fooled. Our personal experiences should not be used as “overpowering” pieces of evidence for that simple fact. You could be wrong. That is why the scientific model is set up around confirmation by alternate sources and even alternate methods. A single scientist would never say his experiment is the most correct and claim all others were wrong if they gave a different answer.
We don’t believe someone who says they have magic powers because this one time they told the traffic light to change to green and it did. My daughter might believe that but that’s because she doesn’t know any better yet.
And after many weeks of effort, praying and studying for hours each day, I had experiences that witnessed to me the truth I had been seeking.
Isn’t that begging the question?
I challenge you to discover it. Just remember that half-hearted scripture study here and there doesn’t cut it. God expects more from us
Believe in god and in the Mormon scripture so you can study the scriptures and come to believe in god and in the Mormon scriptures….
Yep, that’s a circular argument.
Why You Should Consider Sharing This Article:
More people than you may be aware are struggling with the flood of information and arguments made against the Church. You used to have to seek it out, but now it finds itself in your pocket by virtue of social media and the internet more generally.
Consider sharing both of our articles to show that arguments made by the church and it’s apologists aren’t unapproachable. Looking at the evidence against the church doesn’t immediately make you biased. It doesn’t immediately mean you are completely and utterly against the church. It doesn’t mean that you can never agree with the church about anything, ever. It doesn’t mean that everything in church history is wrong.
I am against the church and its teachings but I hope I have conveyed impartiality in my providing links to both sides of the debate. J – if you made it this far, wow, -Dismissing the evidence provided simply because a source seems biased is wrong. The church has explanations for some events that I am okay with accepting but there are still more that they can’t explain away.
Also, I don’t have that many readers and would love some feedback about my writing.
Posted on February 6, 2016, in FreeThoughts, Mormon-isms and tagged atheism, atheist, book of mormon, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, evidence, free thought, LDS, Mormon. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.