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?
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.
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
“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
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
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
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”
“…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.
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
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
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
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.
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.