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Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Faulty Comparison Between Mormonism and Orthodox, Mainstream Christianity















In an online debate not long ago, I was basically asked if I believe in the basic tenets of Christianity, then why not Mormonism. I basically followed up that question with the fact that none of the eyewitnesses to Christ's resurrection and post-mortem appearances ever recanted or changed their testimony and the same cannot be said for the earliest followers of Joseph Smith/Mormonism. If I had thought about it a little more, I would have added that there has been exactly ZERO evidence ever unearthed by archaeologists that supports the Book of Mormon's 'Ancient America' account.












Columnist Mark Shea however, over at the National Catholic Register does a masterful job of delineating where one can have a reasonable faith when it comes to Christianity and the claims made by Mormonism.










"As to the comparison with Mormonism, there are three problems:

First, Joseph Smith is the sole witness to the claims he makes. Everybody else is a true believer, but does not themselves claim to have seen Moroni or the rest of it. In the case of Christ, there are over five hundred eyewitnesses. That’s a lot of opportunity for somebody to crack under threat of torture or murder and spill the beans on how the whole thing was (as it had to be if false) a lie and a fraud. Nobody ever did.

Second, where is the St. Paul of Mormonism? He’s a very anomalous figure and hard to explain apart from an encounter with the Risen Christ.

Finally, the apostles didn’t just die martyr’s deaths, they lived martyr’s lives. Joseph Smith, in comparison, grew in wealth and power (not to mention that manly dream of multiple wives) right up until he went down (guns blazing) in a gunfight with the mob that came to get him. One looks in vain for the traces of the apostolic martyrs hacking away at their persecutors with swords. Indeed, the gospels actually record (again and again) the embarrassing vignette of Peter whacking off Malchus’ ear in order to make clear that this sort of thing was Conduct Unbecoming an Apostle.

It’s one thing to die as a sucker for a lie told by Joseph Smith (as some Mormons did). It’s quite another thing to die for a lie told by oneself (as the apostles did if the Resurrection is false). Joseph Smith, blasting away at his enemies, shows us how liars die. The apostles, going with dignity to a variety of awful deaths, show us how honest men die."








Check out his entire article if you have the time to do so, especially if you have an interest in apologetics. It's so wonderfully written and I didn't even get to quote the parts in it in which he demolishes many of the common arguments raised by the so-called 'New Atheists'.








(Above image: Deseret blue flag)









13 comments:

Vinny said...

Every copy of the book of Mormon contains the name of eleven people besides Joseph Smith who claim to have seen the Golden Plates and/or the Angel Moroni. The Mormons are also very big on the fact that these people never recanted despite the fact that several had ample motive to do so after having falling outs with Smith.

JD Curtis said...

One wonders how they explain away Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer

Vinny said...

I don't know. I have read a little about Mormon history, but I haven't bothered with Mormon apologetics. I'm sure they have some hair-splitting explanation which they combine with accusations of bias towards skeptics (just like Christian apologist use when they try to reconcile the different accounts of the resurrection). It doesn't sound like there is any solid evidence that anyone recanted even after falling out with Smith.

JD Curtis said...

Re: the different accounts of the resurrection, check out this 2 minute video if you have the chance vin.

Vinny said...

Essentially Craig is saying that we should focus on the issues upon which the gospels agree. If we do that, we will come to see that the inconsistencies are trivial and insignificant.

Although I haven't studied Mormon apologetics in detail, I have seen them use the same kind of strategies. They focus on the agreement between the various witnesses to the Angel Moroni and the Golden Plates. If they can get you to accept the validity of those accounts, all other questions can be sidestepped as trivial and insignificant.

JD Curtis said...

Actually Craig said that all of these differences can be explained.

If you had to pick the most slam-dunk descrepancy in the resurrection account, what would it be? I haven't read all of the explanations but I've read some of them.

It doesn't sound like there is any solid evidence that anyone recanted even after falling out with Smith

Then why would Cowdery join a Methodist church?

Why would Whitmer write 'God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to 'separate myself from among the Latter-day Saints''?


Did anyone else ever receive direct revelation from Maroni apart from Joseph Smith? I really don't know.

Vinny said...

What were Jesus' last words? How did Judas die? Were the first appearances in Galilee or Jerusalem? I don't know that those are the most slam dunk, but I know that I have never seen any explanations that I found terribly persuasive.

I have no idea why Cowdery joined a Methodist church, but it is hard for me to imagine that it is any harder to come up with a plausible explanation for that than for any of the questions I asked.

I'm not sure whether anyone else got direct revelations from Moroni, but now that you mention it, I'm not sure that Smith said that his revelations came from Moroni either. Moroni showed him where the Golden Plates were buried, but I'm not sure that he was the conduit for all the other revelations that Smith claimed to get.

JD Curtis said...

What were Jesus' last words? How did Judas die? Were the first appearances in Galilee or Jerusalem? I don't know that those are the most slam dunk, but I know that I have never seen any explanations that I found terribly persuasive.

Vinny, I'll repeat my question. 'If you had to pick the most slam-dunk descrepancy in the resurrection account, what would it be? I haven't read all of the explanations but I've read some of them.'

This would imply that I'm asking you for 'the most slam-dunk descrepancy in the resurrection account', rather than a list of them. This is because I like to address these sort of things one at a time and it helps keep a conversation from becoming bogged down in numerous points.

If you had to chooose which one you think is most challenging to you, what would it be?

I have no idea why Cowdery joined a Methodist church, but it is hard for me to imagine that it is any harder to come up with a plausible explanation for that than for any of the questions I asked

So you have no plausible explanation at all why someone who was supposedly an original witness concerning the foundation of a particular religion would then leave that religion.

Fair enough. Would you mind giving me your best theory as to why you think would be the most likely reason (in your opinion) as to why he would leave Mormonism? For comparison, we both agree that there is absolutely NO record that any of the apostles ever even once changed their testimony and recanted. Correct?

We both agree that there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever to confirm the existance of 'Ancient America' whereas the Bible is rife with archaeological evidence, some of which was first known only through the Bible, correct?

I'm not aware of a single other person ever receiving revelation from 'Maroni', yet you mentioned that (in relation to Mormon apologetics) that 'They [Mormon apologists] focus on the agreement between the various witnesses to the Angel Moroni'. Who else received such revelation?

If Smith was the only person to receive such 'revelation', would that bolster the case for the reliability of his testimony (in your opinion)?

Vinny said...

JD Curtis,

--You can repeat your question all you like, but I have never attempted to rank the discrepancies in resurrection accounts and I don't know how I would go about doing it.

--It is my understanding that Cowdery was kicked out of the Mormon religion as a result of a conflict with Smith. As Mormons think of themselves as Christians, I don't see anything odd about Cowdery joining what he would have thought of as a different Christian church even as he hoped to be restored to Mormonism.

The trouble with comparing Cowdery or Harris or Whitmer to the apostles is that our sources of information are greatly inferior when it comes to the latter. Most of what we know about the apostles' post-resurrection activities comes from traditions which are often not recorded until centuries after the fact. On the other hand, we have contemporaneous accounts of the activities of the Mormons.

Even more significant is the fact that when it comes to the apostles, we only have the traditions that were preserved by the church while for the Mormons we have the contemporaneous accounts of outsiders. If we only had the Mormon version of events, I doubt that we could make a convincing case that Smith was a charlatan no matter how silly his stories sounded to us.

As far as I know, there is no archeological evidence for the existence of the Nephites or the Lamanites in North America. There is certainly much more archeological corroboration for the Bible, although my understanding is that there are still some pretty significant gaps, such as the lack of archeological evidence for the Exodus. However, it is not a topic that I have examined closely.

--I would draw a distinction between revelations and appearances. Smith claimed that Moroni appeared to him and showed him where the Golden Plates were buried. Smith also claimed to receive various revelations such as the directive that Mormons practice polygamy. I don't recall anything about Moroni being involved in those revelations, but I'm not sure that I have seen the question specifically addressed.

Cowdery, Harris, and Whitmer claimed that the Angel Moroni appeared to them and showed them the Golden Plates. Their attestation is printed in the Book of Mormon. Apparently they also claimed other revelations of the type that Smith claimed, but I'm not sure whether the Mormon Church recognizes the validity of any of those since some of those revelations seem to have been about mistakes that Smith and the Church made.

JD Curtis said...

You can repeat your question all you like, but I have never attempted to rank the discrepancies in resurrection accounts and I don't know how I would go about doing it



Vinny,



I most clearly did not in any way, shape or form ask you to perform a top to bottom ranking of alleged discepencies in the resurrection accounts at all, ever. I merely asked you to focus on simply one perceived discrepency in order that we may streamline the discussion. I don't mind examining my beliefs at all, yet it's becoming increasingly evident that you seem to have a problem with examining yours.



If you were truly intrerested in having an open and honest discussion and yet suffer from some rare form of internet-Dependent Personality Disorder, then you could have framed your response akin to I don't know which alleged discrepency is the strongest argument, but one that has always been of particular interest to me is [example X].



You see Vin, I've been debating internet bigots, God-hating atheists and armchair snarky cynics for quite some time now, and they all seem to share a common thread. When you ask them to channel their skepticism towards one specific example for close examination, they MUCH more often than not resort to the Bury Them With Bullshit Method of Argumentation and instead insist upon offering up multiple examples for discussion rather than one, even when clearly and specifically first asked to name just one. I often find that such faulty reasoning is usually the result of a desire on their part to defend a closely held intellectual position rather than any sort of desire to engage in open, honest and frank discussion. That being said, I have not entirely ruled out Asperger's Syndrome as a possible factor either.

JD Curtis said...

As Mormons think of themselves as Christians, I don't see anything odd about Cowdery joining what he would have thought of as a different Christian church even as he hoped to be restored to Mormonism



Do you have any evidence to support your 'hope to restore to Mormonism' hypothesis?



Most of what we know about the apostles' post-resurrection activities comes from traditions which are often not recorded until centuries after the fact



And yet I am of the opinion that the entire New Testament was written by the close of the 1st century. You wouldn't mind explaining how I am wrong in that assertion, would you?



Even more significant is the fact that when it comes to the apostles, we only have the traditions that were preserved by the church while for the Mormons we have the contemporaneous accounts of outsiders



Interesting. So then, is it your belief that we have no independent sources outside of the Bible to confirm the writings of the New Testament? Additionally, what about the New Testament books themselves makes them less than desirable sources?



As far as I know, there is no archeological evidence for the existence of the Nephites or the Lamanites in North America



As far as you know, has there ever been any archaeological evidence whatsoever uncovered that supports ANY distinctive claims made by Mormons conscerning 'Ancient America" at all?

Vinny said...

JD Curtis,

--I gave you three examples of discrepancies for which I have found the apologists’ explanations unpersuasive. If you want to take them one at a time, then go ahead and pick whichever one you like. I don’t mind. I’m not sure how I would go about ranking just those three or those three in relation to any others.

--My understanding is that Cowdery eventually rejoined the Mormon Church, from which I would infer that he hoped to do so.

--I have no doubt that your assertions about the opinions you hold on the dating of the books of the New Testament are absolutely true and accurate. Whether those dates are true and accurate is another question. Nevertheless, the New Testament doesn’t tell us much about what most of the apostles did with the rest of their lives. What did Thomas do? What did Andrew do? What did Matthew do? Those stories are a matter of church tradition which for the most part was recorded much later.

--I am uncertain whether we have independent sources outside the New Testament. Josephus and Tacitus might simply have been relying on the stories that Christians told about the origins of their beliefs.

The problem with the books of the New Testament is that they were all written by fervent believers. I know from looking at the stories that Mormons tell about Joseph Smith that fervent believers are not always the most reliable source of information about the origins of their religious beliefs.

--As far as I know, there has never been any archaeological evidence whatsoever uncovered that supports any distinctive claims made by Mormons concerning Ancient America.

JD Curtis said...

--I gave you three examples of discrepancies for which I have found the apologists’ explanations unpersuasive. If you want to take them one at a time, then go ahead and pick whichever one you like. I don’t mind

That's quite magnanimous of you Vinny, I appreciate that.

But you see, there is yet another reason that I asked that YOU pick one topic and we discuss it.

I don't want to be accussed of picking an 'easy one' after I obliterate your example.

I only wish, that after multiple attempts on my part, that you would have finally picked ONE topic and we could have discussed.

I wish you luck in your quest for truth, but if the current state of your blog is any indication, then I doubt you will ever find it.