Monday, December 15, 2008

How I make arrows.

This video started off being an hour and six minutes long. I edited stuff out until I got it down to ten minutes, so it's a bit choppy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The argument from incoherence

It is widely thought that it is impossible to disprove a universal negative. For example, you could never prove that unicorns do not exist. The only way to know for certainty that unicorns do not exists is to be practically all-knowing. After all, unicorns may exist on some remote planet in some distant galaxy that we will never be able to explore.

But it turns out that there are some universal negatives that can be disproved. For example, you can disprove the notion that married bachelors exist just by demonstrating that "married bachelor" is a contradiction in terms. One cannot be both married and a bachelor.

The argument against God from incoherence is an attempt to disprove the existence of the Christian God by demonstrating that the essential attributes of God are contradictory in some way. If the Christian God is necessarily all powerful, all knowing, and perfectly good, and if being all powerful somehow contradicts being all knowing, then it's impossible for the Christian God to exist.

I'm not going to go through all the various attempts to demonstrate an incoherence in the concept of the Christian God. I just want to talk about one way that I've seen because it comes up a lot. It's one of those street objections you hear.

Can God create a rock too heavy for him to lift?

That's usually the way it happens. But lemme unpack that a little. Remember, the Christian concept of God entails that God is all-powerful, which supposedly means he can do anything. Well, this question reveals an incoherence in the concept of being "all powerful." If God is able to create the rock, then he would not be able to lift it, which means he is not all powerful since there is something he can't do. But if God is not able to create the rock, then he is not all powerful because, again, there's something he can't do. So whether you answer "yes" or "no" to the question, you find out that there's something God can't do, which means God cannot be all powerful. "All powerful," is self-contradictory, and can't be instantiated in any possible world, which means it's impossible for the Christian God to exist.

Christians usually answer this objection by saying that being all powerful doesn't mean God can do anything whatsoever, no matter how incoherent or irrational. They just mean that God can do all things logically possible. It is not possible for God to create square circles, married bachelors, or to exist and not exist at the same time and in the same sense.

A similar point might be made about God's being all knowing, though I never heard it brought up that much. One might ask, "Can God know something he doesn't know?" Well, if he knows it, then he's not all knowing, because there's something he doesn't know. But the only way he could know it is if there actually was something he didn't know, which would entail that he is not all knowing. So either way, it's impossible for God or anybody to be all knowing.

But hopefully it's obvious that you can't know something that isn't true. Knowing something entails that it is true. God can't know that the earth is flat, for example, because the earth is not flat. So it is no strike against his omniscience if God happens to not know that the earth is flat.

In the same way, it is no strike against God's power if he is unable to perform an incoherent act, such as creating a rock too heavy for an all powerful God to lift.

But suppose you've run into an atheist who is a little more sophisticated than the atheist-on-the-street, and he insists that the problem isn't that the notion of God creating such a rock is incoherent, but that the notion of being all powerful is incoherent. He objects to the Christian response by insisting that "all powerful" must mean God can do all things whatsoever, and not simply all things logically possible. And since doing "all things whatsoever" is incoherent, the Christian God cannot exist in reality.

There are two ways to respond to that.

First, let's just assume, for the sake of argument, that being all powerful does mean that God can not only do the logically possible, but he can also do the logically impossible. God can do all things whatsoever. In that case, all objections to God go away. If it turns out that we find an incoherence in God, that does nothing to prove his non-existence since we've already stipulated that he can do incoherent things. If we say that, yes, God can create a rock too heavy for him to lift, we can then go on and say that God is all powerful anyway. Being all powerful allows God to engage in logical absurdities such as being all powerful even though there are things he can't do. God can do what he can't do, he can know what he can't know, and he can even be all good and all evil at the same time. If by being all powerful, Christians mean that God can do all things whatsoever, then it would be impossible to ever disprove the Christian God.

Second, what should not escape your notice is that an atheist who insists that "all powerful" must mean God can do all things whatsoever, and not simply all things logically possible, he's merely quibbling over words. He isn't really objecting to the Christian notion of God; he's only objecting to the term, "all powerful." Maybe we could simply say that, okay, God is not all powerful by that definition. So let's just use a different word so that we can more accurately convey what we mean in regards to God's abilities. Let's say, instead, that God is all mighty which means that God can do all things logically possible. Or we could use any term we want. The important thing is what we mean, and we mean that God can do all things logically possible. Of course there is no incoherence in that.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Can atheists be moral?

A lot of atheists are offended when Christians bring out the moral argument for God because they misconstrue the premise that "If there is no God, then there are no objective moral values" to mean, "If you don't believe in God, then you can't be moral." And then they'll point out that atheist are often more moral than Christians. And then the Christian will say, "Oh no, you've misunderstood me! I agree that atheists can be moral. In fact, I know atheists who are more moral than some Christians I know. That wasn't my point at all! I'm just saying that nobody can be moral if there are no objective moral standards at all, and there can be no objective moral standards if there's no God to ground them in. It has nothing to do with whether you believe in God or not."

Recently somebody took a poll asking people to list their religion (or lack thereof) and their position on abortion. Almost straight down the line, the Christians were prolife and the atheists were prochoice. It made me think that, by golly, maybe Christians are more moral than atheists after all! :-)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 11

I'm not going to post all of the emails George and I exchanged. I just posted those last few because I'm lazy and didn't want to rewrite all that stuff. Now I'm going to post one paragraph of another email I wrote George.

I was just thinking earlier today about the whole notion of feelings/impression/etc. giving people knowledge, answering questions, etc. The notion seems odd to me, but I was having a hard time putting my finger on why. And then it occurred to me. It's because a feeling is a feeling; a feeling is not a proposition. Feelings don't have propositional content. They're just feelings. So a feeling cannot correspond to reality in the same way that a statement or a claim can correspond to reality. "Warm fuzzy" is not true or false; rather, you either feel it or you don't. The only way a feeling can confirm a truth is if you already somehow know that certain feelings are to be associated with certain answers. That's how language works. Words like "car" and "chalk," refer to things in the real world, so we associate these words with the objects they represent. In the same way, we'd have to have some way of associated feelings with propositions. A burning in the bosom might mean "yes," or a shiver in the liver might mean "no." (I can't remember where I got that phrase "shiver in the liver," but I heard it somewhere and thought it was funny.) But how do we come to associate feelings with propositions? How do we know that a burning in the bosom (or what have you) doesn't mean "no" instead of "yes"? I'm just very skeptical of the view that God communicates with people through feelings and impressions. I tend to think that people find the confirmation they are looking for. People believe what they want to believe. They feel good about the things they like, and therefore think they are true.
There ye have it!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Obama on stem cell research

I just read an article saying that Obama wants to reverse Bush's orders on stem cell research and drilling. There's a lot of misinformation out there about this issue, and I'm a little reluctant to say anything about it because there's also a lot of people out there pointing out this misinformation. I don't have anything new to add. But I figure maybe somebody will read this who didn't read what somebody else said.

First, Bush did not put any ban on embryonic stem cell research. What he stopped was federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Second, we pro-lifers are generally not against all stem cell research. We are specifically opposed to embryonic stem cell research for the same reason that we are pro-life. It's because it takes the life of an innocent human being without proper justification. It's impossible to harvest stem cells from embryos without killing them in the process. But it is not impossible to harvest stem cells from adults without killing them. So I'm all for stem cell research as long as it doesn't involve killing people to get them.

So why should we pro-lifers be up in arms over Obama's desire to reverse Bush's orders? Anything that is federally funded is something that we the people are paying for. If there is federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, then we the people will be paying to have embryos killed.

If you think about it, though, all of us are going to have some disagreement over how federal money gets spent. So at one point or another, each of us is going to financially support something we disagree with.

I find it troubling that somebody who claims it is above his paygrade to say when life begins seems to be all for allowing people complete freedom to end what he must at least consider possible life. There doesn't seem to be any reluctance or hesitation on his part concerning abortion and embryonic stem cell research. I haven't confirmed it, but I have read that he also was against the ban on partial birth abortion. He wants women to have complete liberty to destroy what he thinks might be an innocent human being. It seems to me that if there really is some doubt in his mind about whether the unborn are human beings, then there ought to be a corresponding hesitation on his part to be pro-choice. But there isn't. He's radically pro choice. Most pro choice people are at least opposed to partial birth abortion, and many of the pro choice people I've talked to think abortion ought to be proscribed at some point during the pregnancy. The point of viability seems to be the most popular cut-off point, and some say the third trimester.

There is no discernible distinction between a baby inside the womb and a baby outside the womb at 7 to 9 months that has any moral significance. Partial birth abortion is barbaric. I don't see how anybody who knows anything about the procedure and has a conscience can say this is a right women have that ought to be protected.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 10

This is an email I wrote to George:

If I were talking to an atheist or a Muslim about Christianity, I would ignore the issue of the authority of the Bible altogether initially. Remember the four points I thought were essential to Christianity? The authority of the Bible wasn't one of them. And the authority of the Bible doesn't even show up in the ancient creeds--neither the Nicaean creed, the apostles creed, nor the Athanasian creed. It is important, of course, but it's not definitional to Christianity. I think a person can discover that Christianity is true without ever addressing the question of whether the Bible is the authoritative word of God. These things can be based on philosophical and historical arguments, and there is plenty of literature out there on arguments for and against God, the historical Jesus, the resurrection, etc. If I were talking to an atheist or a Muslim, I would talk about the evidence for my beliefs without addressing the issue of the authority of the Bible. A few books that have been influential to me regarding the historical Jesus and the resurrection include N.T. Wright's series on "Christian Origins and the Question of God." So far, he's published three volumes, and there are at least two more coming. They include:

The New Testament and the People of God
Jesus and the Victory of God
The Resurrection of the Son of God

When I first started studying the Bible, I used to pray that God would reveal the truth to me. I knew there were many denominations and many beliefs out there. I didn't have much faith that God would answer my prayer because I figured there were lots of people who had prayed that same prayer, and yet people still disagreed with each other. I used to be quite a bit discouraged about it. But as I studied, my anxieties began to fade as I began to realize there were good arguments and bad arguments, well-justified views, and unjustified views. The more I learned, the more I began forming opinions. And I came to a point where I decided absolute certainty wasn't necessary. Reasonableness was enough. So I'm no longer anxious about the mere possibility that I could be wrong about some things. I'm sure I'm AM wrong about some things. By I try to proportion my beliefs to the strength of their supporting arguments. That is, I believe strongly in what I think is well-justified, and I hold my beliefs lightly when they are speculative. I wrote a blog about the subject of authoritative interpreters, if you're interested. I think the notion creates problems of its own. [I also wrote a blog] about how I deal with the issue of "whose interpretation is right?."

Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to address the evidences you brought up to support the BOM. I plan to get into that eventually, ... but at the moment, I'm still learning the basics. All I know is from secondary literature, and from what I've read, secular archaeologists and historians aren't very impressed with the evidences that Mormons bring up. You mentioned bias on the part of these archaeologists as an explanation for their reluctance to yield to these evidences, but it seems to me that knife cuts both ways. As I pointed out in my last email, the difference between the BOM and the Bible is that while all people--those who believe in the Bible and those who don't--agree that the Bible is rooted in history, but when it comes to the BOM, it seems that only Mormons think it is rooted in history. So I don't think bias is the deciding factor. If it was, then you'd have the same thing with the Bible as you do with the BOM--only Christians saying it is rooted in history. Since both secular and Christian scholars agree that the Bible is rooted in history, but only Mormons think the BOM is rooted in history, if bias is a deciding factor, I'm inclined to think the bias is on the part of Mormon scholars, not secular or Christian scholars.

[Editing some stuff out...]

You said that Jesus' statement that we could ask anything we want was unqualified, but do you really believe there are no qualifications at all? What if I prayed and asked God to send a worldwide flood to remove wickedness from the world? Well, we know that would be praying amiss because the Bible already tells us that God won't do that again. It seems to me that Jesus' statement IS qualified in a few places in the New Testament. We must pray according to God's will (1 John 5:14), and I think much of God's will is revealed in the Bible. The only way people can have whatever they want is if God has no purpose in the world. If God has specific plans and purposes, then I don't think those plans and purposes are going to be thwarted just because people make requests of God that are inconsistent with those plans and purposes. Qualification to Jesus' statement about prayer seem to permeate the Bible when you look at it like that.
And that's the end of my email to George.

Part 11

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 9

The rest of George's email...

I do believe that God answers sincere, honest, and faithful prayers. If you read the Koran and ask God "is this your word and is this true" I think he'll reveal to you that it is not, assuming you're sincere in your efforts and not just testing him.

I know the experiences that I've had. I don't know the experiences that you've had. I think the question to ask yourself is "Did God answer your prayer"? Is it possible that you moved on before any answer was given by God? I believe God loves all of us. I also believe that God may have a plan for each and everyone of us. Perhaps you weren't ready at the time and so no answer was given then. I can't interpret your revelation for you.....but I do believe that God does reveal things to us.

As for your question to me, I believe that if you prayed to God and sincerely asked "Is the Pope a Prophet of God" that God would reveal to you that he was not. In the event that Joseph Smith wasn't a prophet, I believe God would steer honest seekers of truth away from a false prophet and false scripture.

D&C 9:8-9 reads: But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.

Now, keep in mind, this is advice given regarding the process of translation. I think the "burning in the bosom" happens very rarely. I've only had one experience that I could describe like that and it was regarding a serious life decision. I have experienced the "stupor of thought" however as I've been steered away from other things.

More often, I believe revelation comes in this way as described in D&C 85 "Yea, thus saith the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things". For me it's most often a thought that is accompanied by feelings of joy or peace. If I'm unsure, I'll often pray and say "Father, this is what I THINK you're telling me, is that right".
That's the end of George's email.

Part 10

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Some evidences for the Book of Mormon

More of George's email to me...

As far as the geography of the Book of Mormon vs the Bible you can't compare them straight across. There are close to two Billion people who are either some for of Christian, Jew, or Muslim. For the past 2000 years this large group of people has been trying to prove their faith through archeology. About 18% of biblical sites are known. Another 18% may be known, but not with surety or without controversy.

We know the Book of Mormon took place someplace in the Americas. I personally believe it was in southern Mexico and Guatemala, but that's my opinion and not LDS doctrine. When the pre-colombian mesoamerican ruins were found, they were uninhabited and buried in the jungle. There were no people. No language. No names of cities. We still have only basic understanding of Mayan and almost no understanding of Olmec writings. Contrast that to Jerusalem which was continuously occupied. Imagine if we had the text of the Bible, but had no idea where on Asia, Africa, or Europe it occurred because the names of places were all different.

It's also difficult to compare the artifacts and writings. The jungles of Guatemala leave very little besides stone and pottery. The Spanish conquistadors burned entire libraries and purposefully destroyed languages, icons, religion, and history to make the people easier to conquer. The largest city that we know of in Meso America is El Mirador. Ever heard of it? Most haven't. It is very difficult to get to, and has hardly been studied or excavated. Imagine all the things we WOULDN'T know about Rome if we knew of the roman empire, but had yet to discover the ancient city of Rome.

I think it's an interesting topic. Keep in mind, Joseph Smith had about a 3rd grade education. He lived in rural New York. He had no access to significant Universities and Libraries. His time is fairly well documented while he was "translating" the Book of Mormon. It was written in less than 90 days.

He would read the text aloud and a scribe would write what he was saying. He would never ask "where was I" or "what was the last thing I said". He would start in the middle of a sentence in the morning or after a break.

At the time there are a number of things that were believed to be true by the scholars. A few of these include that ancient native Americans did: Not know how to use cement. Did not have large civilizations. Did not build highways. Did not know what horses were. Did not have barley. So, if Joseph Smith was so smart, wouldn't he be consistent with the knowledge of the day? He was mocked for all of these things.....until one by one they started to show up.

Less than 20 years ago it was taught that the Maya were peaceful, neighborly, and generally agrarian. The Book of Mormon describes a people at about 400 AD (contemporary with the Maya) who were salvages, warlike, blood-thirsty, and practiced widespread human sacrifice. We now know that that is a good description of the Maya of that time.

There have been a number of names that show up in ancient Israel or the Arabian peninsula that are also found in the Book of Mormon. Laban, Lehi, Nahom, are a few that I know off the top of my head.

The Book of Mormon describes cities that sunk into the sea. Joseph Smith was mocked on this point. When we started to fly and dive we began to find them. There's one in lake Atitlan. Others off the coast of Belize and Cuba. Lucky guess?

The Mayan text "The Title of the Lords of Totonicapan" indicates that their forefathers were "descendants of Abraham, fair skinned, and that they traveled across the sea".

Semetic and Egyptian style writings have been authenticated in the Americas. This has researchers stumped. One such sample was of the 10 commandments.

The legend of the "White God" appears all over the Americas. Kulkulcan to the Maya, Quetzalcoatl to the Aztec. The Inca knew him by another name. This God allegedly descended to their ancestors, taught them, commanded them to write what was said, and ascended to heaven....but not before promising to return one day. We can read this account in the Book of Mormon.

There are many elaborate chiasmuses in the Book of Mormon. They are perfect and precise. Joseph Smith never talked of them. No one did. That form of ancient poetry wasn't yet known and understood. They are found throughout the book.

The Book of Mormon has been determined to have multiple authors by it's varying writing styles. None of them were Joseph Smith based on his own writing style.

I could go on, but I'll leave it at that for now. Books have been written on the subject. A better question to ponder is as to why these things have been completely ignore, disregarded, and marginalized by scholars who claim to be unbiased?

Whether you believe the Book of Mormon is true or not, it can't simply be disregarded as a work of fiction or something that was plagiarized. No book existed that could have been plagiarized as the knowledge didn't exist in the world at that time. The chances of him going against what was known then, only to be accurate 150 years later is highly improbable.

to be continued...

Part 9

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 8

George's response to my email about epistemology.

Let me start with a question. Suppose an Atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu began studying Christianity. How could he discover that the Bible is the word of God and not simply a historical fiction maintained over the years? How would he know that Christ actually rose from the dead? Afterall, 2000 years ago it would have been easy to write that down and claim it happened even if it didn't. What if this person asked for proof that Christ rose from the dead? We could make similar arguments for may of the spectacular stories of the Bible. Afterall, most cultures in the world have embellished legends of some sort. Here in America we have Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and Davy Crockett. There are statues built of them, stories written of them, and even some elements of truth to their tale. Suppose this person argued that the Bible was simply a book of Good advice, rooted in ancient history, geography, and culture that took real people and created legends of them through embellishment and fiction?

The next question he might ask could be "who is the authority to interpret the Bible". What happens if you get 5 religious scholars who all seem to be well-meaning and all know the Bible extensively, yet they all interpret something in 5 different ways? Which one is right and how would this person (who is new to Christianity) KNOW which one was right?

Many of the Jewish people studied the words of the ancient prophets. The Sadducee's and the Pharisees studied extensively....yet they were still unable to identify their Messiah face to face. So how is it that they were so far off, when they studied the "Bible" (what they had of it) and knew it so well? Shouldn't their studying of it have made them more able to identify their Messiah? In fact the vast majority of Jewish people failed to recognize their Messiah. The Christians were a small minority in ancient Israel. How is it that the majority was so far off? What went wrong?

I am interested in your opinion on that. Mine is that we need to do both. I think you're splitting hairs when you say that James "meant this" but "didn't mean that". We'd have to look at the language in the original text to get any idea of what he might have really meant. Additionally Matthew said:
(21:22) "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."

Again, I don't see any disclaimers in there or exceptions. There are quite a few scriptures that are similar to this that I could continue to bring up. I believe that both are important. One biblical story that comes to mind is when the resurrected Lord walked with the two men, and after words (Luke 24:32) they said: "Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" He taught them from the scriptures and the holy ghost testified to their hearts that what was being taught was true. In the Doctrine & Covenants 8:2 we read "Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart." This is referring specifically to the process of translation for them, but I believe it is true to us as well. We should use our hearts and our minds to learn truth. One with out the other can (as history shows us) often leads men astray.

I agree with you that this is not a simple process. It's not as easy as just casually asking once and then having God speak right to you. However, I believe God does answer the prayers of those who have honest and sincere desires and are seeking truth or answers. It may not be when or how they like, however, the revelation will eventually come.

[Editing some stuff out...]

I think it's interesting to apply your logic on identifying false prophets to the Jews that Christ interacted with. Afterall, Christ was teaching a "new gospel". It contradicted the Old Testament in many ways (at least it's easy to interpret it that way). Using your logic, would the Jews have been able to identify their Messiah? Afterall, Christ taught that the Old Testament was true, and they believed it was true. So weren't they just "playing it safe" by just sticking to the Old Testament and only accepting that, as everyone agreed that it at least was true? I'm clearly playing Devil's Advocate and not trying to be sinister.

to be continued...

Some evidences for the Book of Mormon

Part 9

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 7

The rest of the story...

A long time ago when I first talked to some Mormon missionaries and went through their presentation, I did pray about it, asking God whether it was true. I prayed that prayer because at the time I thought it was at least possible that it could be true, and I figured it couldn't hurt to pray about it. But I didn't get any warm fuzzy, and I had no inclination whatsoever to think that it was true. In fact, I felt just the opposite. What does a Mormon say in response to that? Was it because I was insincere? Or was it because I was wicked? If a feeling of acceptance confirms that it is true, why doesn't a feeling of rejection confirm that it is false?

Well, I had not read the BOM at that time except for the few passages the missionaries recommended for me, but now I have. And having read it, I'm even more convinced than I was before that it is not an ancient document and that it is definitely not the word of God. I don't think it's possible for me to pray that prayer with any sincerity. It would be like you praying to ask God whether it's okay for you to commit murder as if you didn't already know [I'm indebted to James R. White from Alpha and Omega Ministries for this point]. It would be dishonest for you to pray such a prayer to God, and it would be dishonest of me to pray to God to ask him whether the BOM is true when I think God has already revealed that to me.

Nevertheless, I do think it's at least possible--remote as that possibility may be--that the Book of Mormon is true. But just because something is possible doesn't mean it's reasonable to believe. I also think it's possible that we're plugged into the Matrix and that our perception of the external world is just generated by a computer plugged into our brains. The mere possibility doesn't create any serious doubt in my mind, though. I'm pretty confident, just based on the use of the cognitive faculties and resources God has already given me that the external world exists, that it is pretty much the way it appears to be, and that the Book of Mormon is not the word of God.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that I'm just as sure that the BOM is false as I am that the external world exists. I'm much more confident that the external world exists than that the BOM is false. I'm just making the point that mere possibility is not enough to entertain serious doubt or belief about something. And unless I had serious doubt or belief, I don't think I could go to God with a sincere question. God would know I was lying if I ever went to prayer asking him whether the external world exists or is just an illusion.

Well, this is longer than I meant to write. Sorry about that. I have one question for you, though. If, hypothetically, Joseph Smith is not a true prophet, and the Book of Mormon is not true, how could a person know it? It seems like the only test Mormons employ is prayer and a subjective experience. But anybody who prays that prayer and does not get a confirmation that it's true, you can say that they are insincere or wicked. How, then, could anybody tell that it is not true if it's not true?

Do you think it's possible for somebody to get a strong feeling, a conviction, a burning in the bosom, etc. about something if that thing is untrue?

It seems to me that this test in the BOM only works one way. It can verify something, but it can't falsify something. It's interesting. The Bible gives us several methods of falsifying a prophet, but not many to verify a prophet. But the BOM gives one test to verify a prophet, but nothing to falsify a prophet.
...and that's the end of my email to George. Next, I will post some of his response.

Part 8

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 6

Part three of the email...

When the Bereans searched the scriptures to see if what Paul was saying was true, they couldn't have been searching the new testament since it hadn't been written yet. Later revelation is always tested by earlier revelation. But that raises an interesting question. Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon claim to be ancient documents that, with the exception of everything written before 600 BCE, were written independently of each other and close to the same time period. So, do we test the Bible in light of the Book of Mormon, or do we test the Book of Mormon in light of the Bible?

Well, I think we should test the Book of Mormon in light of the Bible for at least three reasons. First, because we have ancient fragments and manuscripts of the Bible, and we KNOW that it's an ancient document, but we have nothing but Joseph Smith's word that the Book of Mormon is an ancient document. There are no ancient manuscripts of the Book of Mormon whatsoever, and the only one we know to have existed was supposedly taken away by an angel so that nobody can examine it. So there's doubt about whether the Book of Mormon is even an ancient document.

Second, because it is well-established that the Bible is rooted in history, but it is not well-established that the Book of Mormon is rooted in history. Even people who completely reject the Bible, Judaism, Christianity, and God acknowledge that the Bible is rooted in history. It refers to real people and real places and real events. But it seems like the only people who think the Book of Mormon has any connection to history are Mormons themselves. But even among Mormons, they are not all in agreement that archeology supports the BOM. And even among those who think archeology DOES support the BOM, the evidence they present pales in comparison to the archeology supporting the Bible.

Third, because the BOM itself testifies to the truth of the Bible (I remember reading that several times in the BOM, but I can't find in my notes where I wrote it down), but the Bible does not testify to the truth of the BOM. That means that if the BOM is true, then the Bible is also true. But if the Bible is true, that doesn't necessarily mean the BOM is true. So either way you look at it, the Bible is true, but the BOM is not necessarily true.

Since I think we can be confident that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and since there is some doubt about whether the BOM is the inspired word of God, I think we should test the BOM in light of the Bible rather than vice versa.

Now, I understand that Mormons don't think there is any contradiction between the Bible and the BOM--at least not insofar as the Bible is translated correctly. But that's another subject, and too broad to go into now.

Unfortunately, my friend has read the entire Book of Mormon, but she hasn't even read half of the Bible. When she converted to Mormonism, she was in no position to test whether the BOM was true or not. She had nothing but her subjective experience to go on. From reading her testimony, I got the impression that she already believed it before she said her prayer. It's no shock that her feelings would confirm it for her since she not only already believed it, but she wanted it to be true. Jeremiah tells us that "The heart is more deceitful than all else," (Jeremiah 17:9), and Solomon says that "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool"
(Proverbs 28:26).

to be continued...

Part 7

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 5

In my last entry, I started to post an email I wrote about why I don't think asking God for a subjective experience is the best way to determine whether somebody is a true prophet or not, or whether a book contains his revelation or not, but I didn't post the whole thing. Here's some more of it:

The Bible also gives us criteria for examining prophets and prophecies. I'm sure you're aware of these--Deuteronomy 18:20-22 says that whatever a prophet says in the name of YHWH has to come about or be true, but that is a negative test. It tells you how to recognize a false prophet, but not how to recognize a true prophet. In Deuteronomy 13:1-5, the author considers the case of a false prophet who gives true prophecies or produces signs and wonders. A true prophecy is not enough to establish that somebody is a true prophet. It says,
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, "Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them," you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams.
I know there are a lot of misconceptions about Mormons out there, and that I probably have some myself, but from what I understand, I think the Mormon concept of God is so radically different than the Jewish and Christian concept of God that they are not the same God.

Matthew 7:15-20 tells us we can test prophets by their fruit. A lot of people take this to simply mean we can tell a true prophet from a false prophet by how moral their lives are or how many converts they win. But those two criteria alone are not enough because there are plenty of false prophets and teachers who could produce such fruit. After all, the servants of Satan disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). I think the fruit must also include their teachings, and that is consistent with Deuteronomy 13:1-5. They cannot teach false doctrine, a false gospel, a false Jesus, or anything contrary to what has already been revealed and established. But we have to know the scriptures in order to recognize what is contrary to what has already been revealed.

One doctrinal test, for example, comes from 1 John 4:1-3:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that is coming, and now is already in the world.
I think John was specifically addressing the docetists in this passage who believed that Jesus was only a spirit and that he only appeared to be in the flesh.

These methods for examining prophets and prophecies are fairly specific, but none of them include praying to God and asking whether those thing are true, as it says in Moroni 10:4-5.

In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul says to Timothy that "from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." So even if James did NOT specifically say that we can get wisdom from the scriptures, Paul clearly DID say that. He went on to say that "All Scripture is inspired by God [literally "theopneustos" which means "God-breathed"] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." If the scriptures are profitable for teaching, reproof, and correction, it would be negligent to rely merely on a subjective experience to determine whether something is true or not.

Have you noticed that most of the tests for prophets given in the Bible are negative tests? That is, they are useful for discovering a false prophet, but they aren't quite as useful for discovering a true prophet. It's only speculation on my part, but I think it might be because it is more dangerous to believe in a false prophet than it is to disbelieve in a true prophet. What we have in the old and new testament is adequate. It contains the gospel and all that we need to live righteously. It contains all that we need to know to be saved. Anything in addition to it may be helpful, but it isn't necessary. So if a true prophet comes along and reveals something we didn't know before, and we don't believe it, we aren't in danger of losing our salvation over it. That means we can chuck the whole Book of Mormon and all the writings, teachings, and prophecies of Joseph Smith and still be safe even if Joseph Smith is a true prophet and the Book of Mormon is God's word.

to be continued...

Part 6

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 4

This is my response to George when he asked me what I thought about James 1:5, and it's an explanation for why I don't think asking God for a subjective experience is the best way to determine whether somebody is a true prophet or not, or whether a book contains his revelation or not. Keep in mind that I'm not posting all of our emails. I'm editing some stuff out, and I'm doing a bit of formatting and italicizing. If I add anything, I'll put it in [brackets].

I don't think that "knowledge" and "wisdom" are the same thing. Knowledge is, for the most part, accurate information. Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge effectively, or you might say it's the ability to make good decisions. You have to have some knowledge already before you can apply wisdom. So I don't think James is telling us that if we want to know if something is true, we should ask God about it.

If simply praying to God to ask him for a bit of information was the best way to determine whether something was true, the majority of the scriptures would be superfluous. And even in our everyday lives, teaching, learning, investigating, and all the things we do on a daily basis to determine whether things are true or false would be superfluous.
Nor does it say "if any of you lack wisdom, read the Bible, and you'll find the answers there (although I believe that can be the case sometimes).
It does say that when Paul took the gospel message to the Bereans that "these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). Clearly, the author of Acts thought that examining the scriptures to determine whether somebody's message is true was a noble thing to do.

Mormons aren't unique in their epistemology. I see this sort of thing rampant among Evangelical Christians. The vast majority of them think they should pray to God to answer their questions, to determine God's will for their lives, and to make decisions. But the vast majority of them are Biblically illiterate, too. It has never made sense to me. Everybody wants to hear the voice of God, but few take an interest in what God has already revealed in the Scriptures. I think it's perfectly appropriate to pray for understanding when you're reading the Bible, but I think it's absurd to pray for God to reveal some truth to you that he has already revealed in the Scriptures when you won't even go to the effort of reading them. I don't imagine, for example, that you would pray to God to ask him whether you ought to steal or lie or something like that. You already know you shouldn't do those things.

In 2 Thessalonians 2, it talks about the coming of the "Man of Lawlessness," and how his coming will be "with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive a love of the truth so as to be saved" (v.9-10). You have to love the truth if you want to avoid being deceived. The passage goes on to say that "God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false..." If a person loves the truth, they will study the Bible as far as they are able to discover it. And in doing so, they are far less likely to fall for every wind of teaching floating around out there. I think Hosea 4:6 aptly applies to a lot of evangelicals today when it says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." [I'm indebted to Amy Hall from Stand to Reason for this point.]

We know different things in different ways. The Bible is specific about how we know whether a person is presenting a message from God or not. It doesn't say that we should pray about such things. It says, "Do not despise prophetic utterance, but examine everything carefully" (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). When it comes to prophecy, we are to examine it, not simply ask God if it's true. But how do we examine some new message if we have nothing to compare it to?

We have to know the scriptures if we are to effectively examine it. People fall for counterfeits when they don't know the genuine. That applies, not just to religious things, but to all things in life. For example, you couldn't recognize a counterfeit hundred dollar bill if you did not know what a real hundred dollar bill was like. Likewise, Paul said that "if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!" (Galatians 1:9). So we have to know the true gospel before we can recognize that something is a false gospel or a distortion of the true gospel.

to be continued...

Part 5

Friday, October 03, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 3

In one of the emails from the Mormon fellow I've been talking about, he said, "I've received my answer from the Lord. However, I don't want you to believe me. I want you to take it to the Lord and get an answer from Him." He didn't say how the Lord answered him. I just assumed he was referring to some sort of subjective experience since that's what most Mormons say. So I wrote back and said, "I don't think asking God for a subjective experience is the best way to determine whether somebody is a true prophet or not, or whether a book contains his revelation or not."

That's when he brought up James 1:5:
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
Before I go on, lemme explain why I keep saying, "Mormon fellow" instead of saying, "Jim" or "Bob" or whoever he is. I asked him ahead of time if he'd be okay with me posting some of our dialogue on my blog. He didn't come right out and say "no," but at the same time, he didn't seem to feel entirely comfortable with it. He said that as long as I wasn't degrading that he didn't mind. So, I'm protecting his identity. Let's just call him George. I like that name, and I'm tired of saying "Mormon fellow."

Anyway, George said he'd be interested in knowing what I think about James 1:5. This is the rest of his email:
I don't see any disclaimers on that verse. Anything that says "you can ask anything BUT _____". Nor does it say "if any of you lack wisdom, read the Bible, and you'll find the answers there (although I believe that can be the case sometimes). God is our father, we are his children. I believe that this scripture is true. Most people in the world "lack wisdom" as to whether or not there is a true prophet of God on the earth today.

Lastly, I think it's interesting how many Christians feel that praying to God and asking him if Joseph Smith was a prophet and if the Book of Mormon is true is a terrible thing to do.....don't they believe God answers prayer? If it's false he'll tell them "'s not true". Shouldn't they confidently pray to God, and then if God reveals to them that it is true, shouldn't they be joyful that they've received light and truth from heavenly father?

Isn't this a truly biblical and Christian way to access truth? The LDS teachings do not contradict the Bible....we believe in both. They may conflict with certain interpretations of the Bible, but that does not mean that they conflict with the Bible.

Matthew 21:22 "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."
In my next blog entry, I'll post my response. I may break it up into parts, though, because it's long.

Part 4

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 2

Before I share the email I wrote about James 1:5, I want to share a few things I've heard from Mormons themselves about how they came to be Mormons.

They all rely on a subjective experience to substantiate their beliefs, but they don't all describe the subjective experience in the same way. Some describe it solely in terms of their subjective experience, and some say it is a combination of their subjective experience and the evidence for the Book of Mormon.

Most Mormons who have explained their subjective experience to me explain it in terms of some sort of feeling or emotion. A Mormon friend of mine has tried to explain it to me a few times. The last time, I had a chance to ask her questions about it. She would explain something, and I'd say, "So you basically base it on your feelings?" And then she would explain some more, and I'd ask the same question. She didn't dispute that it was based on her feelings. She just seemed to think I wasn't getting it and needed more explanation. But she did explicitly use the word "feelings" to describe her experience then and in previous conversations. She did tell me in one of our conversations (or email; I don't remember) that it's something I would have to experience for myself before I could understand it.

Just last Friday, a Mormon explained to me how she came to be a Mormon. She said she grew up in the LDS church, and around the age of 12, she began to have doubts. After struggling with the doubts and praying about it, she had a profound experience that caused her to believe. While trying to explain her experience she said that it was not a feeling. She just said that when she reads Paul, she can't help but love him, and she has the same experience when she reads the Book of Mormon.

Later in the conversation, she started giving me objective reasons to believe the Book of Mormon was true. She pointed out the Hebrew chiasmus poetry found in the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith could not have known about. And she pointed to Smith's lack of education in comparison to his prolific writing as evidence that the Spirit was teaching him. She didn't say whether these things had any bearing on her belief. She may have just been trying to give me reasons to believe. After all, the reasons we believe things are not always the reasons we give other people to believe. One might use an alibi to prove their innocence, but the alibi is not why the person believes in their own innocence.

The first Mormon missionaries I talked to over ten years ago wanted me to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it, and they told me God would reveal the truth of it to me. I didn't read the whole Book of Mormon back then, but I did pray about it. I had a rather negative feeling about it at the time. Recently, I have read the whole Book of Mormon and no longer feel the need to pray about it. I'll say more about that in a future blog entry.

I talked to some Mormon missionaries about a year ago, and we talked for at least an hour just about epistemology. They based their beliefs entirely on their subjective experience. I asked them what they thought about FARMS, which is a Mormon apologetics organization that attempts to defend the Book of Mormon using objective evidence. One of them told me they thought FARMS was misguided, because their beliefs were not supposed to be based on objective evidence, but on the witness of the Holy Ghost. He even went so far as to say that no evidence or argument could overturn his belief. If I could show him from the Bible that Mormonism was false, that would just cause him to have doubts about the Bible. I am not kidding.

Lastly, as I've mentioned before, the Mormon fellow I had the email exchange with told me that his beliefs are based on a combination of his subjective experiences and the objective evidence. He said that one, by itself, could lead a person astray.

Part 3

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 1

If you've ever talked to Mormon missionaries or if you've ever even breathed the air around Mormons, you've probably caught wind of something about their epistemology. Maybe you've heard about their "burning in the bosom," or how their feelings cause them to believe that the LDS church is the true church of Christ. Well, personally I've been hearing a lot of different things lately. I haven't got it all sorted out just yet, but I wanted to share with you the wide variety of things I've been hearing on the subject from Mormons and from their scriptures.

The most common thing that comes up is Moroni 10:4. Moroni was supposedly the last living Nephite after the Lamanites exterminated the rest of them (except for the three disciples Jesus promised would never die). The book of Moroni contains some of Moroni's last words before burying the golden plates that Joseph Smith found and that supposedly the Book of Mormon was translated from. Chapter 10 of Moroni is the last chapter of the Book of Mormon. Moroni was writing about the Book of Mormon itself, and he said:
And when ye shall receive these things [i.e. the BOM], I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
If you look carefully, all this passage says is that if you ask God whether the BOM is true, he will let you know. It doesn't say anything about feelings or burnings in the bosom. It doesn't say anything about how God will let you know it's true, only that he will. Maybe he does it through feelings, burnings in the bosom, audible voices, exposing you to convincing evidence, or directly zapping your brain with belief.

So where does the idea come from that God reveals truths to people by way of feelings or burnings in their bosoms? I spent some time this morning looking for references in the index of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine of Covenants and came up with a few references. I'm going to bring some of them up, but keep in mind that I don't know for sure that Mormons use all of these to justify their views. I'm only bringing up the ones I think they might use.
1 Nephi 17:45
Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.
In this passage, Nephi is speaking to his unbelieving brothers. I'm not sure what it means to feel words. I get the impression that since they heard the words but did not feel them, it probably just means to believe them or take them to heart.
2 Nephi 4:12
And it came to pass after my father, Lehi, had spoken unto all his household, according to the feelings of his heart and the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, he waxed old. And it came to pass that he died, and was buried.
This passage uses two phrases--"feelings of his heart" and "Spirit of the Lord"--to describe the sources from which Lehi spoke. It could be that these are two ways of saying the same thing. It is the Spirit of the Lord who speaks to Lehi through the feelings of his heart. That's one way to look at it. Another possibility is that they are distinct, and the author is saying that some of the things Lehi spoke, he spoke because of the feelings he had for his household, and some of the things Lehi spoke, he spoke because the Spirit of the Lord commanded him to.
3 Nephi 11:3
And it came to pass that while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard; and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn.
This is the first reference I found to anything like a burning in the bosom. In this case, though, it isn't the burning in their hearts that communicated information from God. They already heard the voice. They just didn't understand it. And the heartburn didn't cause them to understand it either. It was simply the result of hearing it. I suppose you could say that since voices from God cause your heart to burn, then you can tell from your heartburn that a voice is from God. The argument would look like this:

If God speaks, then your heart will burn.
My heart burns.
Therefore, God is speaking.

But this argument commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent. A person's heart can burn for a variety of reasons--something you ate, how you feel about what is being said (e.g. fear, excitement, enthusiasm, etc.), or the conviction you feel because of what is being said. The burning in the bosom, by itself, doesn't give you any information.
D&C 9:8-9
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
This is a prophecy given through Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdry concerning Cowdry's ability to translate or write for Joseph Smith. The burning in the bosom is how Cowdry was supposed to be able to tell whether a message or translation was coming from God or not, but notice it also says he should first study it out in his mind. I don't know whether you can universalize this passage so that it applies, not just to Cowdry, but to everybody. And I don't know whether you can universalize it so that it applies, not just to translating, but to any kind of message from God.

If I were a Mormon, I'd be reluctant to universalize it because of how Smith tells Cowdry how he can know something is not from God. It says he will forget the thing that is wrong. If that were universalized, Mormons would not be able to remember what other Christians teach or believe, or what they've read in Christian literature about Christian doctrine.

The Mormon fellow I mentioned in my previous blog entries told me that he thinks it applies to us as well. He also told me that "We should use our hearts and our minds to learn truth. One with out the other can (as history shows us) often leads men astray."

There are also a few Biblical passages Mormons use to justify their epistemology.
Acts 2:37
Now when they heard this [Peter's speech], they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?"
This passage doesn't really say they were pierced to the heart and therefore believed what Peter had just told them. My impression is that it's the other way around. They were pierced to the heart (i.e. convicted) as a result of believing what Peter was saying. So the belief came before the piercing.
Luke 24:32
And they said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking to us on the road, while he was explaining the Scriptures to us?"
This comes from the passage in Luke where Jesus was walking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and he explained the Scriptures to them. Again, the passage doesn't tell us whether they believed because their hearts burned or whether their hearts burned because they believed. I get the impression that their hearts burned because they believed. After all, it says that Jesus "explained to them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures" (v.27). It's the explanation that clarified things for them, not the heartburn. The heartburn was a result of having it explained. They had just explained to Jesus (who they didn't recognize at the time) how they had high hopes that Jesus would be the one who would redeem Israel, and how they had been disappointed. By explaining the Scriptures to them, Jesus was restoring their hopes. Of course their hearts would burn!

There are many sciptures Mormons use to justify their heart/feeling epistemology. They aren't unique, either. Many evangelicals use the same scriptures to make the same points. Rather than go into detail about all of them, I just want to recommend Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen and J. Robin Maxson. Or, if you don't want to read all of that, get Greg Koukl's MP3's or CD's on Decision-Making and the Will of God.

There's one last scripture I want to mention because the Mormon fellow I've been talking about brought it up.
James 1:5
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
I wrote kind of a lengthy response, so I'm going to save my comments for a future blog entry.

Part 2

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

An argument against Mormonism from their concept of eternal marriage

In my last entry on Mormonism, I listed three questions that have to be answered in the affirmative if Mormonism is to be true:

1. Was Joseph Smith a prophet of God?
2. Was the Book of Mormon really written by ancient prophets (...and is it true)?
3. Was Christ's church lost from the earth and then restored through Joseph Smith?

The person who sent me these three questions said if they are all true, then several other things are also true:

- The LDS church is the one and only true church on the earth. While others might do good and teach some truth, only one is authorized by God and lead by Jesus Christ.
- There is a prophet of the Lord that speaks to us just as Moses, Abraham, and Isaac of Old.
- God has a plan for us and it has been revealed to us
- We can better understand the Bible through modern prophets and additional scripture, all of which help us to better understand the Lord and his plan for us.
- Marriages, when performed in the Temple, can be, not just only for this life, but for all eternity.
- We have additional understanding of life after death.
- Members of the church can hold the priesthood of God and can act in his name to bless, heal, baptize, etc.
- You can receive the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost to help and aid you in your life.

Today, I want to share a thought that I think it not only applicable here, but is applicable in many other areas of thinking. In any deductive argument, the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. It isn't possible for the conclusion to be false if both of the premises are true and if the conclusion follows logically from the premises. So, if it turns out that the conclusion is false, then that necessarily entails that at least one of the premises that led to the conclusion is also false.

Not so with inductive arguments. If a conclusion becomes more probable when the premises are true, and if the conclusion turns out to be false, that only makes the premises less probable, but not impossible.

It could be that some Mormons would disagree with the fellow who sent me this email, but the fellow who sent me this email seemed to think all of the things that followed from a "yes" answer to the three questions above followed deductively. He said, "If those three things are in fact true, then the rest that is built upon it is also true."

If that is, in fact, the case, then the entire Mormon religion can be shown to be false just by showing that one of those points is false. It just takes one! One could argue like so:

-If 1, 2, and 3 are true, then x is true.
-X is not true.
-Therefore, 1, 2 and 3 are not true.

The one that jumps out most to me is the one about eternal marriage.
Marriages, when performed in the Temple, can be, not just only for this life, but for all eternity.
Jesus addressed this issue explicitly in Matthew 22:23-33. Jesus taught that there would be a resurrection of the dead, but the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. So they confronted Jesus about it.

In this confrontation, the Sadducees made what is called a reductio ad absurdum argument. That's where you take a person's point of view to its logical conclusion. If the logical conclusion of a person's point of view is absurd, then the premises that led to it are also absurd. The Sadducees assumed, for the sake of argument, that resurrection was true. Then they constructed a scenario under that assumption and asked Jesus about it. In the scenario, a woman married several brothers, one after the other as each died, and the Sadducees asked Jesus, "In the resurrection therefore whose wife of the seven shall she be? For they all had her."

In asking this question, they hoped to expose the absurdity of resurrection. Either this woman would be married to all of the men, which is absurd, or she would be married to only one of them. But there is no way to determine which of them she would be married to, so there's no way for Jesus to answer the question.

Jesus responded by rejecting the hidden assumption in their question, which is that she would be married to any of them. He said, "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." In other words, the woman would not be married to any of the seven brothers at the resurrection. She would be like the angels--single.

After Jesus removed the objection the Sadducees had to resurrection, he went on to show them, from the Torah, that resurrection is true.

I suppose a Mormon could say, "Well, yes, it's true that in the resurrection, people will not get married, but those who have already gotten married will remain so." If that's what Jesus was saying, then he didn't rebut the Sudducees' argument after all. In fact, he said something that was completely irrelevent to the question they asked. It seems perfectly clear to me that Jesus intended to convey to the Sadducees that nobody will be married at the resurrection. Marriage is for this mortal life only.

Now we can make the following argument:

-If Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, and the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets, and Christ's church was lost from the earth and restored through Joseph Smith, then marriages, when performed in the Temple, can be, not just only for this life, but for all eternity.
-Marriage is not for all eternity.
-Therefore, Joseph Smith is not a prophet of God, the Book of Mormon was not written by ancient prophets, and Christ's church was not lost from earth and restored through Joseph Smith.

So Mormonism is not true.

Somebody on Yahoo Answers asked a similar question as the Sadducees asked Jesus, only instead of a woman marrying several men, they asked about whether a man could be sealed for eternity with another woman in case his wife died. The Mormons answered that yes, he could. At the resurrection, he would be married to every woman he had married in the Temple and had his marriage sealed for eternity. So there will be polygamy in heaven.

That made me wonder whether it worked the other way around, so I posted a question on Yahoo Answers. Could a woman have her marriage sealed to more than one man in case her first husband died? The concensus from the Mormons was that she could not. So, in heaven, a man can have several wives, but a woman cannot have several husbands.

I suppose a Mormon might answer my argument by saying that Jesus was only dealing with a woman who had several husbands. It was an obvious absurdity to suggest that a woman could have more than one husband at the resurrection, but if the Sadducees had asked him about a man who had had several wives, Jesus could've easily answered by saying they would all be his wives at the resurrection, and that would not have been absurd. But that argument would fail because the woman could have been married to at least one of the men at the resurrection, but Jesus answered by saying she wouldn't be married to any of them.

A Mormon might also answer my argument by saying that the Sadducees were talking about ordinary marriage, not about Temple marriages that are sealed for eternity. I think that is a very weak argument for several reasons.

First, because the concept of eternal marriage is completely foreign to the Bible.

Second, marriages were never performed in temples, neither in Judaism nor in Christianity.

Third, if the Mormon concept of eternal marriages being sealed in Temples was a view that Jesus held, the conversation with the Sadducees would've looked much different, I think. It would've looked something like this:

Sadducees: If a woman married and her husband died without having children, and she married his brother who also died without having children, etc., whose wife would she be at the resurrection?

Jesus: She wouldn't be married to any of them unless her marriage was sealed for eternity in the Temple.

Sadducees: Okay, so suppose her marriages were sealed for eternity to all of them.

Jesus: That can't happen. She can only be sealed to one of them. At the resurrection, she would be married to whichever one she had been sealed to, if any.

What an opportunity for Jesus to instruct the Sadducees on the Mormon concept of eternal marriage! A Mormon might say that Jesus' silence on the matter was due to the fact that eternal marriage was normative in Judaism, and the Sadducees already knew about it. But if that was the case, then you'd expect the Sadducees to make a better argument and include the concept of eternal marriage in there.

A Mormon might say that the knowledge of eternal marriage is implicit in the argument of the Sadducees, since they were assuming she had to be married to somebody at the resurrection. But that's the very assumption the Sadducees rejected! They could not have believed in eternal marriage for the simple reason that they did not believe in eternal life! They did not believe in a resurrection. They seemed to think that eternal marriage followed from the doctrine of resurrection, and they were mistaken about that, as Jesus showed them. Mormons are mistaken about it, too.

It seems to me that the one argument a Mormon could make is that the Bible has been tampered with. We don't really have an accurate version of this passage. We'll save that for another blog entry.

I am not trying to be condescending when I bring up these hypothetical things a Mormon might say. I want to make a disclaimer about that since there may be Mormons reading this who might be offended that I'm insulting their intelligence. I have never heard a Mormon actually raise these objections that I'm bringing up, and I don't know whether they actually would or not. So why am I bringing them up? I'm doing it because I'm simply trying to anticipate any possible rejoinders that I can think of. I'm trying to cover all my bases. If there are other rejoinders that I didn't think of, then I'd like to hear them.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Some general comments on Mormonism

I've been learning as much as I can lately about Mormonism, and I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on it in a few blog entries. Mormons are extremely sensative about being misrepresented. Since I don't know a whole lot about the LDS church, I'm sure I have some misunderstandings, but I'm going to try to be accurate and fair. One of the things I've learned lately is that LDS theology is not nearly as well-defined as I thought it was. There is far more diversity of belief within the LDS church than I used to think. Some of their peculiar beliefs that I used to think were official doctrine turn out to be just some people's opinions. Or at least that's what I've been told.

For me, there are really two major questions to concern myself with about Mormonism, or any other worldview. First, what is it? Second, is it true? The question of epistemology always comes up when delving into the second question, and I plan on spending a lot of time on it.

According to a conversation I had recently with some Mormons, it isn't necessary to fully answer the first question before answering the second. In an email I got from a Mormon fellow I met on Yahoo Answers, there are three things I ought to focus on to determine whether Mormonism is true:

1. Was Joseph Smith a prophet of God?
2. Was the Book of Mormon really written by ancient prophets (...and is it true)?
3. Was Christ's church lost from the earth and then restored through Joseph Smith?

If these things are true, then all the peculiarities of the LDS church are also true, and he listed several of them. If a person answered "yes" to all of the above questions, I suppose they could conclude that Mormonism is true and they could convert without knowing all of the things that follow from those three points. I'm sure they'd have to know some of them; just not all.

It seems to me that these three questions are interrelated. If it turns out that the Book of Mormon was not really written by ancient prophets, then Joseph Smith is not a prophet of God. And if Joseph Smith is not a prophet of God, then Christ's church was not restored through Joseph Smith. So it seems like if you could answer "no" to any one of these questions, you'd have to answer "no" to the rest of them. But does it work the other way around if you answered "yes" to any one of them?

I don't think so. If Joseph Smith is a prophet, or if Joseph Smith restored Christ's church, then I think the others would follow. But if it turns out that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets, I don't think that necessarily entails a "yes" answer to the other questions.

Lemme explain. If the Book of Mormon really is an accurate translation of ancient American writings, then I think it's safe to say that Joseph Smith translated those writings through some kind of supernatural power. But does that necessarily make him a true prophet of God? No, it doesn't. In Deteronomy 13:1-5, it says that if a prophet or a dreamer of dreams gives a sign or a wonder, and if it turns out to be true or comes to pass, that doesn't necessarily mean he's a prophet of God. That prophet may go on to encourage people to go after other gods, in which case he is to be rejected.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I saw this loud kid at the gas station who looked and sounded exactly like "Chunk" from The Goonies. I said to him, "Have you ever seen that movie, The Goonies?" He nodded knowingly and said, "Chunk." He was there with a bunch of friends who were buying junk food. He wanted some gum but didn't have any money so I told him I'd buy him some gum if he'd let me take his picture. He did the shuffle for me and everything! It's kind of blurry because I used my cell phone.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Stand to Reason Alaska Cruise

A couple of years ago, Stand to Reason had an Alaskan cruise with people like J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. I really wanted to go because I was already a big fan of Greg Koukl, J.P. Moreland, and Bill Craig, and also because I had always wanted to go on an Alaskan cruise. But, alas, poverty would not permit it.

Things were different this time. I have a better job, and I managed to save enough money to go on an Alaskan cruise. And I also figured that since I was in my 30's and hadn't really done much, and might possibly die in another 30 years, I ought to get some adventure into my life. So all of that helped me decide to go on this cruise.

I took bunches of pictures and even a few video clips using my flip video camera. I got some video clips of some big chunks of ice falling off of a glacier into the water, and that was pretty cool!

Well, this cruise was a lot of fun, because for the first time in my life, I was around a lot of like-minded people. I mean other Christian's who were interested in apologetics and who I could have really good deep conversations with about it. I didn't even have any social anxiety attacks! It was awesome!

I thought I'd share some pictures with you. This first one was taken in Skagway. I was just walking along this creek where there were people fishing for salmon, and I saw a little trail that seemed to lead up into the mountain. I decided to walk up there and see where it went. I ended up hiking up there for about 5 hours, because the trail was really long and pretty steep in some places. After about 2 hours, I found this lake called "icy lake," but it wasn't frozen.

I continued to walk because a sign said there were some water falls. I was mostly alone up there in the woods, and sometimes the trail seemed to disappear. I got to thinking, "You know, a bear could come running out of the woods at any moment and eat me." I had my flip video camera with me, though, just in case. I figured if I was going to die, at least maybe somebody could be entertained once they found the video recorder. They could see the bear coming. I didn't see any bears, though. I didn't see a moose either. Shoot, I hardly saw any wildlife at all up there. Near the bottom, I saw a squirrel and a couple of birds, but that was it.

Every night, we got to eat in the Rotterdam dining room, and we had assigned seating. They stuck all of us STR people together, and these are the people I ate with.

From left to right, that's Josh, his dad Eugene, me, Steve, and Leroy (pronounced 'leROY," not 'LEroy.') They were really nice people, and we had some good conversations.

I had read a lot of stuff by J.P. Moreland and Greg Koukl, so I was really excited about having the opportunity to talk to them. I don't know if you remember or not, but I posted a blog a while back about a question I had been wanting to ask J.P. Moreland for years concerning beliefs, rationality, and volition. It was hard to talk to J.P. or anybody else because everybody else wanted to talk to them, but I did manage to catch J.P. and finally ask him my question. We had a nice chat about it, and then a couple of days later, I had another nice chat with him one on one.

J.P. was a bit of a recluse I think. He was very kind and generous with his time, but when the opportunity presented itself, he was gone. One time we were all up on the crows nest, and J.P. was surrounded. Then somebody said, "Orca!" and everybody looked out the window to see the orcas. I did, too. When I turned back around, J.P. was gone.

He did let me get a picture with him, though.

I got to eat lunch with Greg Koukl and six other people. Greg spent almost the entire time talking. We just had to poke him now and again. I felt a little bad about it because we were all finished eating, and he had barely begun because he had spent the whole time answering questions. Very nice fellow! I met him on the crows nest later that day, and he had all kinds of nice things to say to me, and it just about gave me a big head. So I said, "How would you like to have your picture taken with me?" He was all for it, and I asked Melinda Penner to join in.

I have never read anything by Josh McDowell because he's so popular that he's almost a cliche, and from what I've read, non-believers aren't that impressed with him. I admit that on an intellectual level, I wasn't that impressed with him either when I heard him talk. He made what I thought were some misleading statements that (in my opinion) inappropriately made the evidence for Christianity look better than it actually is.

But Josh won me over on a personal level. He's one of the most likable and friendly people I've ever met. He was jovial, funny, layed back, cheerful, warm, deep, personable, and just an all around good guy--the kind of guy you'd want to be friends with. Now I've become interested in reading his stuff just because I like him on a personal level, and I'm more curious about what goes through his head. He told me his two best sellers were the exact opposite in writing. Evidence That Demands a Verdict (I'm linking to the revised edition) took him the longest to write, and More Than a Carpenter was written in the shortest amount of time. He said he basically wrote MTaC in one sitting. It took him 48 hours to write it, and he didn't sleep that whole time.

I think I may have exasperated Josh with questions. I just figured this was my once in a lifetime opportunity to talk to these guys, so at the risk of pestering them and wearing out my welcome, I talked to them as much as I could and asked questions every opportunity I got. Josh was nice about the whole thing, though, and he let me get a picture with him.

Unfortunately, it was back lit with the flash on, so I had to play with the picture a little just so you could see our faces. This was the best I could do.

Sean McDowell, Josh's son, was there, too, and he was one of the speakers. I didn't get a picture with him, though. I did buy his book, Understanding Intelligent Design, though, and he signed it for me. He asked, "Who should I make it out to?" I said, "To my good friend, Sam!" So that's how he signed it.

I noticed a curious thing about Greg, J.P., and Sean (we're on a first name basis, you see). I noticed that when they spoke, they all had the same kind of body language. They all made the exact same kind of hand gestures and such. It was interesting. Josh had a style all his own, though. He didn't even use an outline. It was all just in his head.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Response to a Jew with a View about Jesus

A couple of hours ago, I read a blog written by a Jew With A View arguing that "Jesus was not, indeed could not have been, the Jewish Maschiach." I wrote a response to it that is currently awaiting blogger approval. I figured since I haven't posted anything here in a while that I'd post my response. You are encourage to read the other blog first.

Howdy! I found your blog from a link somebody (you?) posted on Yahoo Answers. I've been hearing quite a bit lately about Jews complaining that Christians misrepresent their views. Although I've done quite a bit of reading about the Jewish people from around the time of the Babylonian Exile up until the second war with Rome, I know very little about modern Judaism or how it has developed since then. And, I don't even claim to be an expert on Judaism between the times I described. So it wouldn't surprise me a bit if I myself have some misconceptions. With that in mind, I have a few questions and some comments about your post on Jesus.

Jewish Maschiach is a normal mortal man - he's born, he lives, he dies. And BEFORE he dies, he must usher in world peace, rebuild the temple, redeem Israel, and redeem the world.

I think I can sort of understand why you would say the messiah has to do these things before he dies. I mean if he's dead, he can't do them, right? But the Christian claim is that Jesus was raised from the dead after he died, so he's still alive. Is there anything specific in the Tanakh that precludes the messiah from dying and rising again before fulfilling all of the roles assigned to him?

Also, it is my understanding that the eschatological messiah will reign forever. He will not have heirs. One place I get this is from Ezekiel 37:24-26, especially the part that says, "My servant David shall be their prince forever." How will the messiah do this if he's just an ordinary mortal man? Or am I mistaken to think the messiah will be king forever?

BTW, I'm citing the Christian old testament. I realize some of the books and chapters are arranged differently in the Tanakh, but I'm in a hotel room at the moment and don't have one handy, so I don't know what the corresponding reference would be in the Tanakh.

Numerous young Jewish blokes believed themselves to BE that messiah. Jesus was one of them but - Christian friends, brace yourselves - he was far from unique.

This is actually one of my reasons for believing Jesus was raised from the dead. I mean if you think about all the messianic or quasi-messianic movements in the first century, and even Simon bar Kosiba in the second century, none of those movements survived the death of their leader. When some messianic pretender died in failure, nobody continued to think they were the messiah once they were dead. The Jesus movement is unique in this sense because it's the only one that survived the death of its leader. There has to be an explanation for that.

As you said above, and as I agreed, it does make sense that if somebody dies without fulfilling the role of the messiah, then it's perfectly reasonable to think they are NOT the messiah. In fact, it's downright crazy to go on thinking they are. So why did the Jesus movement not only survive Jesus' death, but even flourish? Well, the reason given by his earliest followers is that some of them SAW him alive after he had died, which lead them to believe he had risen from the dead. This is such a powerful explanation for the origin of Christianity that the most popular theory among scholars these days is some version of the hallucination hypothesis. Not many scholars will bite the bullet and say he rose from the dead, but most seem to agree that the disciples saw SOMETHING that led them to believe Jesus had risen (check out E.P. Sanders' discussion of the resurrection appearances in The Historical Figure of Jesus). Due in part to weaknesses in the hallucination hypothesis, I think they DID see the risen Jesus.

Thus it seems logical to include that the people who first described their messiah, are sufficiently intelligent to IDENTIFY THEIR OWN MESSIAH.

But when you think about how many of those people went after Simon bar Kosiba, thinking he was the messiah, it also seems logical to conclude that those people were perfectly capable of MISIDENTIFYING their own messiah. I think almost all Jews are sufficiently intelligent to identify their own messiah once their messiah has fulfilled all of the messianic roles predicted of him. Shoot, I think even non-Jews could do that. But what we're dealing with here are people who were in the process of fulfilling prophecy without completing it, and Jews were being asked to trust these would-be messiahs that they would continue until everything was accomplished. Understandably, mistakes were made. It should be no shock that given the great number of people claiming to be some sort of messiah that there would be a great deal of skepticism on the part of most Jews to any given claim of that sort, including Jesus.

But besides that, the people in the first century who we are talking about did not write the scriptures having to do with the messiah. Those scriptures were written hundreds of years earlier. They, just like us, had to interpret those scriptures. And they did not all interpret them the same. There was a quite a bit of variety in messianic expectation. Some Jews, namely the Essenes, actually expected two messiahs--a king and a priest. While you can certainly make generalizations about what first century Jews expected of the messiah, there is too much diversity to claim that they were all in a position to recognize their own messiah before that messiah had finished fulfilling all the messianic prophecies.

when Christians study the 'old testament' many of them assume they are reading the 'jewish bible'. Well, newflash: they're not!

Are you arguing just that Christian translations are inaccurate, or are you claiming that the content is actually different?

The OT is just a MIStranslation of a translation of the actual Jewish bible - the Tanakh.

Unless I have misunderstood you, this is just not accurate. Most modern versions of the Christian old testament are not translations of translations. They are translations of the original Hebrew and Aramaic taken from the best manuscript evidence and textual criticism available, and these translations are done by people who are experts in the Hebrew language. I'm not a Hebrew scholar myself, but if there are disagreements between Hebrew scholars on how certain passages should be translated, then it's debatable at worst.

Why would you use the passage in Isaiah 7:14 to support your claim that the Christian old testament is a mistranslation and then turn right around and cite what you think is the correct translations from so many versions of the Christian old testament? These citations you yourself give prove just the opposite of what you're claiming.

As you probably know, the reason many English translations have said "virgin" instead of "young woman" is because that is how the Hebrew word was translated into Greek in the Septuigint. Do you think the Septuigint was translated by Christians or Jews?

The Jewish G-d NEVER takes human form - and certainly doesn't pop in to planet earth to quickly impregnate young Jewish chicks!!!

But does this actually contradict anything in the Tanakh? Is it impossible for God to do these things? Unless there is something in the Tanakh that would preclude God from ever doing these things, then this strikes me as being a weak argument. I mean the Tanakh was not written in a day. A person who accepted only the first five books might very well reject anything else in the following books just because it didn't happen in the first five books. In fact, that's exactly why the Sadducees of Jesus' time disagreed with the Pharisees on the issue of resurrection. There was no resurrection in the Torah, and the Sadducees placed no authority on the writings and the prophets where there WAS resurrection. It's easy to imagine somebody saying, "God doesn't cause giant fish to swallow people! That's nowhere in the Torah!" But if there's nothing in the Torah that specifically precludes God from ever doing that, then you have a very weak argument against it.

The issue of whether Jesus is God is completely different from the issue of whether Jesus is the messiah. If Jesus is the messiah, then Christianity is true even if he is not God. In fact, there are a few Christian sects who are quite adamant in pointing out that Jesus is not God. So even if you can prove that Jesus is not God, this doesn't even touch the issue of whether Jesus is the messiah. It's just a different subject. It's worth debating over, I'll agree, but it's irrelevent to the question of whether Jesus is the messiah, which seems to be the main subject of your post.

But let me say something about it anyway. From what I understand (and please correct me if it's a misunderstanding), the primary reason Jews reject the notion that Jesus is God is because the Tanakh explicitly says that God is not a man. But, from what I understand, that text was written in the present tense, and if so, then it is something any Christian could agree with wholeheartedly. It was written well before the incarnation. Now, given that nothing is impossible for God, except perhaps some logically incoherent state of affairs such as knowing what he doesn't know, lifting what he can't lift, etc., it does seem at least possible for God to create a human body and to animate it himself. I don't know the Jewish view on substance dualism, but if any Jews hold to substance dualism and believe that people are both physical bodies and spirits that animate the bodies, and if God is a spirit, what reason is there to suppose that God could not animate a physical body if he chose to? Or, if you allow that he COULD, what reason is there to suppose that he never WOULD? There are many things God is recorded to have done that we might've consider odd until he actually did it--turning people into pillars of salt, drowning the world, causing a prophet to be swallowed by a fish and then spit out alive, requiring animal sacrifices, circumcision, etc. The fact that something is very strange and unexpected is not much of a reason to claim that God would never do it.

You said that the Jewish messiah must "reject doing miracles." What do you base that on?

Some Jews probably doubt he ever existed at all - remember, Jesus is not mentioned by any of the contemporary writers of his own time.

Of course he was. Paul was a contemporary of Jesus, and he was personally acquainted with Jesus' brother, James.

I have much more to say about Jesus, but really just wanted to respond to what you had said. I've planned for a long time now to write a series of blogs on the historical developement of messianic expectation and how Jesus fit into it. If only I had more time! I would love to get your response to it.

I hope I haven't come across as antagonistic or condescending. You're disagreeing with me on a subject I'm very interested in, and the intelligent and articulate way you expressed your views gave me too much temptation to respond. As Oscar Wilde said, the best way to deal with temptation is to give in to it.

Please forgive any misunderstandings I've had or misrepresentations. Keep in mind that I'm only a Christian. :-)