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The case against Mormonism

I’m going to try something a little different and see how people like it. A little while ago I was approached by a self-described Christian apologist with a request that I write my best case against Christianity, up to 2,000 words, for presentation on his blog, so that he could respond to it. I declined, but I made him a counter offer: write a similar rebuttal of Mormonism, written in terms that would be convincing to a skeptic, and I would publish it on my blog, and make a similar argument against Christianity. I frankly told him that I would use his material to illustrate the extent to which a priori beliefs influence the believer’s perception of an argument’s validity and impact, but he’s still game, and sent me his arguments against Mormonism.

I’ve included his article below, unedited (though slightly reformatted to fit the blog format better). Does he convince you? Would he convince a Mormon apologist? Do his arguments apply equally well to Christianity if you make the appropriate substitutions?

[Begin article]

The Case Against Mormonism

I am a Christian Apologist who has studied the Latter Day Saints
extensively for many years.  In this guest post I have been asked to
present both a concise and comprehensive case against the Mormon faith.  Any
Mormon will tell you that Mormonism rises and falls on whether or not
Joseph Smith was in-fact who he said he was, a Prophet of God. Therefore
this article will center on that topic.

Historical Testimony

Let’s begin by looking at the historical testimony surrounding Joseph Smith
and his “revelation” the Book of Mormon (BOM). Smith obviously had his
story about its divine origins, but that’s not how everybody remembers it.  One
of the most telling of these testimonies is that of Peter Ingersol. A
neighbor and friend of Joseph Smith.

In a signed affidavit sworn out by Peter Ingersall before Judge Baldwin of
Wayne County Court in New York in December, 1833.  He recounts what Joseph
told him:

“As I was passing, yesterday, across the woods, after a heavy shower of
rain, I found, in a hollow, some beautiful white sand, that had been washed
up by the water. I took off my frock, and tied up several quarts of it, and
then went home. On my entering the house, I found the family at the table
eating dinner. They were all anxious to know the contents of my frock. At
that moment, I happened to think of what I had heard about a history found
in Canada, called the golden Bible; so I very gravely told them it was the
golden Bible.

To my surprise, they were credulous enough to believe what I said.
Accordingly I told them that I had received a commandment to let no one see
it, for, says I, no man can see it with the naked eye and live. However, I
offered to take out the book and show it to them, but they refuse to see
it, and left the room.” Now, said Jo, “I have got the damned fools fixed,
and will carry out the fun.” Notwithstanding, he told me he had no such
book, and believed there never was any such book, yet, he told me that he
actually went to Willard Chase, to get him to make a chest, in which he
might deposit his golden Bible. But, as Chase would not do it, he made a
box himself, of clap-boards, and put it into a pillow case, and allowed
people only to lift it, and feel of it through the case.”

A surprisingly large number of Smith’s testified sworn affidavits regarding
the fraud they themselves witnessed. For similar testimonies, click
here<http://www.truthnet.org/mormon/mormonismunveiled/17Isaachale.htm>.

“The Translator”

Smith claimed that the original text of the BOM was given to him in a
language called “Reformed Egyptian” engraved on golden plates by an angel.
Smith who could not read “Reformed Egyptian” (nor can anyone else since
there is no evidence that the language actually existed) claims that he was
able to translate the plates spiritually – through God’s power. According
to the testimony of his scribes he did this by placing two “peep stones” in
a hat and God would “reveal” the message to him – often without even having
the plates in the same room!

The Legitimacy of his ability to translate is important to establish
because it certainly goes to whether or his words are of divine origin.

There are several points that raise concerns about whether Smith’s ability
to translate was divine, or for that matter, was able to translate anything
at all.

Book of Abraham

One of the more notable gaffs in translation centers on “The Book of
Abraham”. Again claiming the ability to translate by divine power Smith
purchased an ancient Egyptian papyrus and “divinely translated” another
Mormon Scripture known as the “Book of Abraham” that can be found in the
Pearl of Great Price.

However, years after this papyrus was supposedly translated by Smith to
mean all kinds of Mormon Theology it was reexamined by legitimate
Egyptologist who know how to read and translate such things and were able
to translate it as nothing more than a common Egyptian burial ritual.

The Kinderhook Plates

Another great example of Smith’s “divine translations” can be found in the
“Kinderhook Plates”. They were a series of six bell shaped plates engraved
by 3 men in Kinderhook, Ill with the intention of testing whether Smith was
a fraud.  They buried the plates, then made a big deal about how they
“discovered” them and sent for Smith to translate them. Then he “did”
claiming:

“…they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he
was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and
that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth.”

Though this great embarrassment can be found in the LDS’s own records, they
deny it ever happened.

What about the original?

That does still leave us with the question, was he able to translate the
supposed original Golden Plates accurately?

In most cases we would need to have the original manuscripts in our
possession to actually know whether the translation was done properly or
not, however in the case of the BOM there are many things that tell us
whether or not it actually was an original writing or a translation.

KJV plagiarism

One of the most notable indicators in its translation failure/original
authorship is it’s plagiarism or more than 25 chapters of the King James
Bible. This plagiarism has offered us an “original manuscript” by which to
measure his “translation” against in some manner. The claim by Mormons is
that God revealed the same scripture to the people of the BOM that he did
to the people of the Bible so these passages were repeated – not
plagiarized. There are a few inherent problems here however.

First in his plagiarism Smith included all of the parenthetical words in
the KJV. These words are in parenthesis because they are not actually in
the original languages but rather implied by them. (conjuctions, etc… that
don’t occur in latin but are necessary for our grammar) These words are not
absolute and could easily be replaced by synonyms which is why they are in
parenthesis. The KJV is translated from Latin, while modern translations
are mostly drawn from the original languages contributing the different
translations we see today (as well as the evolution of modern language).
Certainly if the BOM was translated from language no one has ever heard of  it
would not render the exact parenthetical wording of the Latin translation.

Second, there are many instances of Smith carrying over errors in
translation in the KJV which certainly would have been cleared up through a
God’s divine translation provided to Smith. One example comes from Isaiah
4:5 which uses the word “defence” in the KJV where it should use “canopy”.
It was incorrectly translated from the word “chuppah”. The BOM repeats this
II Nephi 14:5.

Those are just a two short, simple examples of Smith’s translation failures
in the BOM itself for a much more exhaustive list you can click
here<http://packham.n4m.org/linguist.htm>.

Did it even exist?

One of the biggest questions of course is did the BOM’s Golden Plates ever
exist? Smith claimed that as soon as he was finished with them they were
taken back up to heaven for safe keeping. Mormons are satisfied with this
because there are 11 witnesses who signed affidavits testifying to the fact
that they saw the plates themselves. But did they?

An early interview of  the witnesses revealed: “He [Martin Harriss] also
indicated that Joseph had prepared an affidavit beforehand and asked the
witnesses to sign it, but because they had not seen a physical object, only
a vision of them, some hesitated to sign; but were finally persuaded by
Joseph. David Whitmer also told Zenas Gurley Jr. on January 14, 1885 when
asked if the witnesses actually touched “the real metal,” “We did not.” The
witnesses handled “the plates” in a vision only, according to Whitmer.”
(Grant Palmer, *An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins)*

The “8 Witnesses” seem to have the same credibility problem:

Joseph’s brother William Smith testified about the 8 witnesses that they
were not permitted to actually see the plates saying:

“I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while
wrapped in a tow frock and judged them to have weighed about sixty pounds.
… Father and my brother Samuel saw them as I did while in the frock. So
did Hyrum and others of the family.” When the interviewer asked if he
didn’t want to remove the cloth and see the bare plates, William replied,
“No, for father had just asked if he might not be permitted to do so, and
Joseph, putting his hand on them said; ‘No, I am instructed not to show
them to anyone. If I do, I will transgress and lose them again.’ Besides,
we did not care to have him break the commandment and suffer as he did
before.”

John Whitmer also testified “I now say, I handled those plates; there were
fine engravings on both sides…they were shown to me by a supernatural
power”. The only reason to be shown something supernaturally is if you
haven’t seen it physically.

The only evidence that Mormons have for the existence of the BOM is their
blind faith in Joseph Smith and the word of 11 men who were coerced into
saying they saw something they didn’t see.

Smith’s Non-Prophet Status

True “prophethood” seems easy enough to measure by anyone’s estimation. God
even says in Deuteronomy that you will know a true prophet if what they say
actually happens. So if we disregard everything else and simply deal with
the question “Was Joseph Smith a Prophet?”
that is a question we can answer. Joseph Smith made a lot of prophecies; it
is easy enough to see if they came true:

D&C 132:6 says Polygamy would be an everlasting covenant, but it ended 50
years later

D&C 84:114 Says that Albany, Boston, & NY would accept Mormonism or be
destroyed. None of these cities widely accepted the faith, all of them have
continued to prosper to this day.

D & C 114, dated April 17, 1838, says, “Verily, thus saith the Lord: it is
wisdom in my servant, David W. Patten, that he may perform a mission unto
me next spring…” But Patten died October 15, 1838

D & C 124:56-60 says the “Nauvoo House” was to be built and belong to the
Smith family forever, and was to be a place of refreshment for visitors.
But the house never was completed; that area is now owned by the RLDS.

D&C 101:17-20 – Prophecy that Zion shall be in Missouri and “Shall not be
moved out of her place…Neither shall there be any other place appointed” 10
years later Utah was declared Zion.

D&C 104:1 – The United Order was supposed to be an everlasting order but it
failed in Missouri and it is no longer an LDS program.

These are but a few of more than a hundred prophecies (for more examples click
here <http://hismin.com/?q=content/53-false-prophecies-joseph-smith>) of
Joseph Smith which never came about. It is at this point that the thinking
man must conclude that Smith’s “revelations” were not of divine origin but
rather the work of an overactive imagination and part of an elaborate hoax.

Conclusion

In the end the question really comes down to whether Smith was in-fact a
Prophet of God. We have seen historical testimony from Peter Ingersol about
Smith’s confession of fraud from the beginning; we’ve examined Smith’s
inability to “divinely” translate scripture contrary to his claims
eliminating the very foundation of the faith itself; we’ve seen the truth
behind the eyewitness accounts of Smith’s closest friends and founding
fathers of the LDS; and examined Smith’s failures as a prophet. If
Mormonism does in-fact rise and fall on whether or not Smith was a Prophet
and the BOM is God’s word, then let the reader be the judge.

***Note: For brevity sake some quotations were paraphrased (those not in
quotation marks) and references to quotations were omitted. These quotes
can be provided in-full with reference upon request.

[End article]

 

Comments

  1. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Having read the Book of Mormon (described by Mark Twain as “chloroform in print”) and knowing something about the real world, I have no trouble believing Joseph Smith made the whole thing up. He pretended that not one but two groups of Middle Eastern Jews came to the Americas. Modern research has shown a total lack of genetic, linguistic, archeological and anthropological evidence to support this myth.

    Joseph Smith, a convicted con man, figured out he could make a good living by inventing a religion. Later on he also figured out that he could sleep with a bunch of women if he said “Heavenly Father wants us to have polygamy.” The only thing I find amazing is how Smith was able to hoodwink as many people as he did.

    • josh says

      That he hoodwinked as many as he did is explainable if you don’t first assume that people are gifted with the ability to think critically, but have to come by that knack through effort and education.

      In other words, some people be dumb.

    • sailor1031 says

      “Later on he also figured out that he could sleep with a bunch of women if he said “Heavenly Father wants us to have polygamy.” The only thing I find amazing is how Smith was able to hoodwink as many people as he did.”

      Sounds very much like Mohammed doesn’t it? Pure self-serving. I’ve never been able to understand how anyone could buy into Smith’s farrago of obvious utter nonsense for a second. But then I don’t understand belief in the bible, tibetan book of the dead, the koran, torah or all the other so-called scriptures either.

    • says

      TIs Himself said: Joseph Smith, a convicted con man, figured out he could make a good living by inventing a religion. Later on he also figured out that he could sleep with a bunch of women if he said “Heavenly Father wants us to have polygamy.” The only thing I find amazing is how Smith was able to hoodwink as many people as he did. 1 He was never convicted of being a con man. Need a source. Never was a rich man so inventing a religion for money is out. Sleep with a bunch of women. again there is no proof he slept with anyone but emma. Need sources again. Your overstating things that did not happen and doing a bit of mudslings on things you only know threw bad sources. Do some more homework. Hoodwinked.. Seems that would be you. Someone fed you some lies and you ate them with sour grapes.

  2. Matthew Hodson says

    “Historical Testimony” is a great place to start for the claims of Christianity. There are no reliable unbiased historical testimonies for the characters of Jesus, the disciples, Paul or any of the Marys depicted in the texts of the new testament, the apocrypha and non-canonical gospels.

  3. says

    So much of this translates perfectly well into a debunking of Christianity. For example, the logical and textual inconsistencies in the various versions of the creation myth or flood story, or the inconsistencies in the story of Jesus’ birth and resurrection. There are also the “failed prophecies”. Jesus himself supposedly said that he and his Kingdom would return to rule over Earth in a blaze of glory within the lifetimes of some of the people standing there listening to him. Oops…..

  4. d cwilson says

    The only thing I find amazing is how Smith was able to hoodwink as many people as he did.

    I don’t find that amazing at all. Kevin Trudeau’s lengthy criminal record (including a conviction for credit card fraud) is just one Google search away, but I still encounter people who swear that he is just fighting the good fight against “Big Pharma”. Smith had it even easier, as in his day, one could escape one’s criminal reputation just by moving to another town.

    People will believe what they want to believe.

  5. Chrish says

    The only evidence that Mormons have for the existence of the BOM is their
    blind faith in Joseph Smith and the word of 11 men who were coerced into
    saying they saw something they didn’t see.

    This so easily could have said The only evidence that Christians have for the existence of God is their blind faith in the character of Jesus Christ and the word of his 12 disciples who were coerced into saying they saw something they didn’t.

    • Jer says

      their blind faith in the character of Jesus Christ and the word of his 12 disciples who were coerced into saying they saw something they didn’t.

      Worse actually, because none of those disciples actually left any writings purporting that they believed ANYTHING. We know that some folks later said there were 12 disciples who built their churches, but the number 12 is numerologically significant in so many ways that it should be treated more as a myth than taken at face value. And NONE of them left behind a witness of what went on in their own words.

      The witness that Christianity is built on, when it’s all said and done, are the letters of Paul. A man who did not know Jesus at all except via “divine revelation” – known to us in the modern world as either “a hallucination” or “a story I came up with on my own” (depending on how we want to interpret the words of the revelation – the ancients seem to have chalked up a lot of stuff to “revelation” that we would attribute directly to our own inspiration on a given topic – with no gods needing to get involved anymore since we’re more willing to take credit for our work).

      That’s it – all we really have to go on. Everything else came after the fact. And Paul flat out says that his teachings came to him in a “vision” and were NOT handed down to him by anyone on this earth.

  6. ImaginesABeach says

    He starts from an unproven assumption – that there is a god at all. Until he proves that assumption, the question of whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet of that god seems premature.

    • Nepenthe says

      Well, yes, but that doesn’t negate the argument. If we assume that a god exists and prove that Joseph Smith was a fraud and not a prophet of said god, then it disproves Mormonism just as well as proving that there is no god.

      Like… we don’t have to define the space that we’re in (hyperbolic, flat, spherical) to prove that a given polygon is not a square, we just have to measure the angles. But we could also prove that we’re in hyperbolic space, where squares are impossible.

    • Nemo says

      He says “God even says in Deuteronomy”, but this is just an aside. Nothing else in the piece, AFAICT, depends on the existence or non-existence of God. If Smith claims to be a prophet of God, and God doesn’t even exist, that still makes Smith a liar.

  7. says

    The dissonance is strong with this one. It pains me to have to reference anything to do with John Loftus but this is exactly the sort of thing for which the outsider’s test of faith was designed. It surprises me that anyone who believes in the divinity of Jesus can use failed prophecy as an argument against someone else without their head exploding. Using the reliability of source documents just takes it to a whole new level. Any Mormon can simply take a page from the standard apologetics playbook and make excuses for the failures, exactly what this apologist will try and do when you turn his arguments around on him. So sad.

    • Tony says

      Isn’t there something about dying and becoming gods on our own worlds too? I wonder if anyone has attempted an “outlandish beliefs of Christianity”* (I wanted to say “…of world religions”, but I think that would take a little time to accomplish).

      *My favorite is Scientology, with their spaceship/jumbo jet and detonating nukes around volcanoes millions of years ago. They get bonus points though, because Xenu is a much cooler name than Jesus.

    • David Hart says

      And they’re really defensive about them. As I’ve discovered, Mormons will claim these days that the temple garments are not ‘magic’ in any meaningful sense, but a constantly-worn tactile reminder of their commitment to their god and their family – not in principle very different from a non-Mormon Christian wearing a little cross on a chain inside their clothes.

      Of course, the idea that you need to be wearing underwear with special symbols on it in order to better revere your god or love your family is itself ridiculous, but they have at least managed to shave off the most egregious claims for their underwear.

    • Sathya says

      Ultimately Mormon rituals and beliefs are not inherently any stranger than mainline Christian rituals/beliefs.

      Most of us have been steeping in mainline Christianity for all our lives, and living in cultures that sprang up amongst Christianity, so the wacky rituals that non-Mormon Christians practice and the wacky beliefs don’t seem all that wacky. We’re used to them.

      The sort of things said by Christians about Mormons (you people are crazy, and are definitely not real Christians) were said during the Reformation. Give our culture 400 years and they’ll be just another flavor, their rituals won’t be so wacky to people growing up then…

      …but the rituals of some new flavor of Christian (did you hear they implant their eyeballs in the backs of their heads because that’s what their prophet did?) will seem bizarre and wacky to people then.

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