Bringing Down Holy Books

A reader sent in this question and I thought it would be good to see what the community thought:

I have some Mormon acquaintances that I have had some very lengthy discussions with. The Book of Mormon makes claims that are demonstrably false based on tested empirical evidence (DNA lineage of Native Americans for example). If I were to go after the validity of the Book of Mormon, would these sorts of empirical issues be a good first target, or do they fall under the “science” realm that is too easily shoveled aside with the “just have faith” response? If so, could you perhaps clarify a little on what the best ways to go after a religious book might be? Are we looking for internal contradictions, philosophically problematic statements, wildly magical or unreal stories that are so outlandish we would never believe them today?

What do you think is the best way to convince someone their holy book… isn’t?

  • Cletus

    Why waste your time? They already know their book is deeply flawed, but they have chosen to overlook the absurdity, dishonesty (intellectual and factual), and immorality it contains. If they won’t believe their own eyes, why would they believe anything you have to say?

    Better to have a conversation about the weather.

    • Elemenope

      You’d be shocked just how little the average (emphasis on average; I know there are exceptions) believer knows about their chosen holy text. And i don’t just mean its history, I mean its contents. I don’t know how it is over at the church of LDS, but in general that has been my experience in many traditions.

      • vorjack

        Agreed. The surveys done that test biblical literacy always show that even committed believers can’t identify phrases or people from the Bible.

        Perhaps the best way to “bring down” a holy book is to simply teach people what they contain.

        • DDM

          Reminds me of a quote I heard: “The best way to turn [a believer] into an Atheist is to have him/her read the Bible.”

          • Janet Greene

            Worked for me!

      • wazza

        It should be noted this is true of Christians, but not Muslims. Most, especially in Muslim-majority contexts, will read the whole Qur’an with a teacher, and completing the study is considered a rite of passage, on a par with confirmation amongst some Christian groups.

        • mikemarsh

          Which brings light to their more militant approach to their religion. If Christians dove in to that kind of indoctrination in either childhood or adolescence, they might hold the same feeling towards the infidels. Christianity and Islam stem from Judaism, and the murderous, genocidal laws of the Old Testament. It’s simple, Christians don’t read their book, Muslims do. Actually reading stories from the Old Testament is what did me in.

          • wazza

            actually, the Qur’an contains a lot less violence than the OT. I’d bet the exposure to holy violence between the three groups is about the same considering the lower rate of familiarity with their book in Christians and Jews.

            What really makes the difference for Islam is that they were the colonised, not the colonisers. That anger is what’s really driving the extremist groups, not any special feature of their religion.

  • DDM

    Do you know why no one believes in the Greek gods anymore? It’s because we can go to the very top of Mount Olympus, where the gods were said to reside, and see for ourselves that nothing was there. I bet if they instead decided to have gods that couldn’t be proven true or false in such a concrete way, there would still be people worshiping Zeus even after it was proven that lightning bolts are just electricity built up in clouds. You can imagine a Zeus-ist saying 40 different qualifiers and excuses to explain why that’s not really what’s going on and Zues is still somehow hurling those lightning bolts down on other countries.

    The main root of the issue with the Greek gods and Mormonism is that they’re both obviously based on a lie. The only difference is that Mormonism’s lie takes a little science to weed out. I’m not sure how you’d go about proving to a believer to trust science enough to stop believing, but pointing out the flaw(s) in Mormonism is a great start.

    On an off note, the Greeks knew how to tell awesome stories based on their gods.

    • Francesc

      “Do you know why no one believes in the Greek gods anymore? It’s because we can go to the very top of Mount Olympus, where the gods were said to reside, and see for ourselves that nothing was there”
      You mean they couldn’t before?? I don’t think that’s the reason

      “there would still be people worshiping Zeus”
      Internetz is amazing… ask for it and you will have
      http://www.ecauldron.net/recongreek.php
      http://www.widdershins.org/vol10iss4/01.htm

      • DDM

        brb committing seppuku

        • Custador

          Second with the sword, please…

          • Francesc

            hey! There are still flat-eartheners, or even people who believes that an old-bearded man in the sky -and we have reached the sky, far higher than babel’s tower- created us from mud. Why is the greek pantheon more unbeliveable?

            • Siberia

              Personally, I think the greek pantheon is a lot more awesome (and believable) than the monotheistic religions.

              It’s still fairytales, but at least they’re good fairytales.

            • http://camelswithhammers.com Camels With Hammers

              right on, Siberia, right on.

      • trj

        It’s only a matter of time before someone calling himself John Z posts a defense of the Zeus mythology, explaining how it’s really about a spiritual kingdom that resides in our souls.

        • LRA

          WIN!

        • John C

          Gee, I wonder who that shot was aiming at,? ha.

          All the best trj!

          John Z…errh C :)

          • trj

            He he. Hi, John, and all the best to you too.

    • http://cinnamonbite.livejournal.com/ Cinnamonbite

      Actually, no one believes in the Greek gods anymore because it got replaced by another religion. Namely, christianity.

    • Janet Greene

      And their male gods were really, really, (*whew*) hot!!!! None of this robe & sandal-wearin’ hippy stuff….these guys were buff!

  • Jer

    I really don’t think that most people become convinced that their faith is wrong via argument. Faith is faith – either you’ve got it or you don’t. If you’ve got it, it takes something to shake it before you lose it – and in only a few rare cases is that “something” going to be a rational realization that your holy book is wrong. A lot of Fundamentalist Evangelical faiths can be destroyed by the realization that their book has errors in it, but that’s because there’s an unhealthy strand of American Fundamentalism that has turned the Bible into a paper idol that is worshiped almost as if it were in fact a god itself. The doctrine of textual inerrancy always glides the edges of defiying the book, and among some American Fundamentalists that’s exactly what has happened. So pointing out that there are errors in a book when your entire faith is based on the idea that the book itself is the inerrant Word Of God can cause a faith like that to crumble Fundamentalist Islam is susceptible to the same crumbling for exactly the same reasons. I have no experience with Judaism, so I don’t know if orthodox Judaism is also susceptible.

    Very few Mormons that I have ever known would have their faith shaken by their book turning out to be mistaken. All of the Mormons I know who are still Mormons have reached a point where they have reconciled the fact that the book documents things that cannot possibly have happened as documented with the fact that their Church still holds the True Path. Roman Catholics (of whom I know many, many more than I know Mormons) have the same ability – it doesn’t matter if the book has errors because the Church is bigger than the book. Of course that kind of faith can be shaken to its core when the Church itself proves to be a fallible work of humans and not guided by God at all – I know Catholics who left the Church over the pedophile scandals and Mormons who are very, very angry at their Church’s activities during the “Prop 8″ mess in California. But my point is that their faith isn’t going to be affected by some debating point you come up with – the world is going to have to shake their faith, or not.

    • me

      That s pretty much why I left ortho Judaism – the book got things wrong ;)

      • Custador

        Shame – those little black hats are the shitz :D

    • Olaf

      What if their bible is specially create by god as a test to see if they are stupid and keep on believing what is written even if the ons of evidences would proof that this is a deeply flawed god. OR if people are intelligent enough to say “Hey! Wait a minute. This is a hoax “, and the open their mind to find the real god that has shown itself over and over again in science.

      There might be a god in the universe, but the one in the bible is clearly fake.

    • Janet Greene

      There was a South Park episode about exactly that – a Mormon family who admitted they know the whole thing was bunk but continued to practice the “faith” because it worked for them anyway. I have a hard time understanding how anything you know to be untrue can be a help or a guide. For example, the minute I disbelieved in Santa, from that moment I was no longer compelled to be good in order to get a stocking next year. So how can a disbelieving person continue to practice their religion?

  • Solar Hero

    First, there are people who worship the Greek pantheon. I for one, although you may quibble with me about what I define “worship.”

    As to the point, go right ahead and tear up that Book o’ Mormon, but it won’t matter, nobody is a Mormon because they read the book!

    • catsnjags

      “so sayeth the lord”. : )

  • Clyde

    For openers you could introduce them to http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com. Annotations are placed at the side of verses and highlight absurdity, injustice, cruelty and violence, intolerance, contradictions, family values, science and history, interpretation, women, good stuff, sex, prophecy, language and homosexuality. Annotated versions of the Quran and The Book of Mormon are available there also at the top left of the page.

  • Clyde

    Oops, that should be -top center of the page-

  • Jesse

    I think that for some people, this kind of conversation might get them investigating and making their own decisions about whether their beliefs are true. The trick of it is to keep it a friendly conversation, and to always visibly respect their right to their own opinions. As soon as your argument gets bucketed with the hundreds of other “attacks on their faith” the person has no doubt heard, they’ve probably stopped listening and started fighting to defend their values.

    More often, though, it doesn’t matter that the book contains nonsense. One doesn’t generally look to religion for a thorough, cohesive explanation of the universe. If it was readily explicable, what would be left to worship? And, too, disproving certain historical claims doesn’t disprove the existence of the deity. Perhaps, they may conclude, the real God contacted Joseph Smith and gave him a set of parables to demonstrate important truths, and Smith somehow misunderstood and thought them true. Whether the stories really happened is often immaterial – the followers of the religion aren’t (typically) using the book to guide archeological digs.

    The hardest part of dissuading a religious person is that you’re asking them to stop using the tools they’ve relied on to understand how they fit into the world and what they should value, but there isn’t much to replace those tools with. The world is more complicated, and individuals are more error-prone, without the safety rails that a religion provides. It’s a big step for a person to take.

    • http://www.dctouristsandlocals.wordpress.com DCtouristsANDlocals

      Actually, I know someone who goes on archeological digs based on bible stories. He’s been all over the middle east to sites where they have dug up “evidence.” I don’t think this applies to mormonism, but in Christianity, people seem to be seeking out the “truth” or “evidence” to prove that some of the stories actually happened. H

      owever, it could be a great money-making venture in the middle US if we could establish a mormonism evidence recovery site… I’m sure we could find SOMETHING and make people believe it matters, and they’d pay to see it!

  • Confused

    I have thought a lot about this in the context of talking to christians about evolution and the bible.

    It’s entirely based on my own values, I suppose, but the way I would approach the problem is to emphasise truth. Most people regard their beliefs as true by default, but if you can get right down to it, I think most people would agree that objectively, they should believe what is true, whatever that belief turned out to be. If you can somehow get a concession like that – most religions place some kind of value on truth, honesty, justice, that kind of thing, so in theory it shouldn’t be too hard – then you might have somewhere to work from in terms of teaching someone to think objectively about the assertions made by their holy book, and whether they are testable.

    It runs into a problem when your theist redefines truth to automatically equal their scripture, but hopefully you can encourage them to see that as a logical fallacy… Or not.

    • j1

      Confused -
      That’s the tack I found myself using the two times I’ve broached evolution with Christian friends. The second, an elder in our church, asked I wasn’t concerned about the inerrancy of the Bible and I asked if I had to preserve a particular reading of Genesis at the expense of what is true. He seemed willing to concede that truth should take priority and we would have moved on to evidence for evolution, except we got interrupted.

      As to the original question, I would look for internal contradictions, but the problem is, you won’t find strong cases of these by using an index. For instance, there are a lot of internal contradictions in the Bible over things like census numbers, but people don’t really care about that. You could bring up discrepancies in the Gospel stories, but there’s already an explanation for that (that the individual writers were compiled by God to give the “whole story,” so gaps or contradictions fit into the “multiple witnesses” framework and don’t easily disturb people).

      In my opinion, the best opener is a contradiction they haven’t heard before and that takes the book seriously in its own context. One of the things that did it for me with the Bible was Ezekiel’s failed prophecy about the king of Tyre (failed prophecy in ch. 26; admission in 29:17). It’s one thing to argue that Daniel is written after the fact, but when you have a prophecy admitting that an earlier prediction didn’t come true, and another part of the Bible calling for prophets whose words don’t come true to be ignored, then you have a more serious issue on your hands. That’s not something that can be dismissed by excoriating a scholar or two.

      • cello

        This was an interesting post, thanks.

        I suspect that the thing that does it for any given person will vary depending on what rings true or false to them in their own head. And while I know the argument about the different gospels being different perspectives, the one that did it for me was the visitors to Jesus’ tomb. One account specifically says they showed up before sun rise and another says they showed up after sun rise. I had to at least give up inerrancy upon that.

      • amy

        There are parts of the gospel that haven’t been reconciled though. Like in Matthew, Jesus was born in a house, but in Luke he was born in a stable. In Matthew and Mark his last words were ‘My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me?’ In Luke he says, ‘Father! In you hands i place my spirit!’ and in John he says ‘It is finished!’ They’re all meant to be the true word of God, but they contradict eachother, therefore they cant all be right which means that none of them can be trusted. Differing eyewitnesses accounts for some stories being omitted in one gospel and included in another, not outright contradictions. Just as another example: in Genesis God states that no person shall live longer than 120 years, yet Noah lives nearly a thousand and so do generations after him and that statement.

        The best way to argue the faith is to use the book itself because the majority of believers haven’t really read it. I know because i was one of them. I read what my pastor recommended and no more. It wasn’t untill i decided to read the bible as if it was a book that i stopped believing

        • j1

          Let me put it this way: the outright contradictions didn’t bother me back when, they don’t bother any of my family (who are pretty Biblically well-read), and they still don’t stand out to me that much even now. The house vs. stable thing, for instance – you could argue he was born in a stable and given refuge in the house later, when the wise men come around: since he’s described as a child then, might not’ve been an infant anymore. Or you could go all cultural-contextual and argue that the stable was in fact the lower level of the family dwelling (a la Kenneth Bailey), so stable and house are both applicable terms.

          Yes, many people don’t read the Bible, but some do, very thoroughly. I’m one of them. And in all honesty, I don’t know exactly why I don’t believe anymore. There were things that shocked my faith, like biblical criticism or evolution, but I can’t say that one thing or another did it in. Maybe it was reading the Bible, but if that’s the case, it took 20 years of reading and memorizing to get that effect, and along the way there was a highly zealous fundamentalist phase. I think I was done in by my own curiosity more than anything else, which is why I don’t think a factoid will do a whole lot for Joe X.

          I hold that the best way to convince somebody of anything is to get them curious enough about it enough to go looking on their own. That’s why I suggested a novel contradiction; a hook, if you will. As Heschel describes it, “Midwife the question.” (The part I always forget is that they’ll have their own questions, biases, experiences, and they’ll come to their own conclusions which may not match mine, because it’s, y’know, *them*, not me. ^^)

          • amy

            fair point. I guess you cant really change someone’s beliefs until they want to. Reading the bible was enough for me at 13, but there are many ppl i know who ignore the inconsistencies i see. I guess opening the door to curiosity would be the best way to go if one must

          • Janet Greene

            Yeah, same with me. Can’t really remember when I suddenly realized that I KNEW the whole thing was a huge hoax. I remember feeling guilty for many years, knowing that christianity was true but that I was backslidden (and would definitely land in hell if I died); then I remember a long phase where I was terribly angry at christianity, but also scared of the rapture/hell (so I must have still believed it); then suddenly, rapture/hell didn’t scare me at all anymore because I realized that there was absolutely no truth to any of it! It was so gradual…a journey of about 10 years of reading, thinking, and discussion. I do remember a few books that were VERY important on my journey. They were “christian” authors who, in reality, are not christian at all but atheists claiming to be christian. These include Celia Murray Dunn (Religion that Harms, Religion that Heals – wonderful expose on the psychological harm of a christian upbringing, and essential to my journey); John Shelby Spong, and Gretta Vosper. These “christian” writers had more influence on my journey to atheism than the “new atheists”, all of whom I have read vociferously also.

  • Siberia

    Do you know why no one believes in the Greek gods anymore?

    Because other religions took over?

  • step21

    I also think that if someone really wants to believe in their book (but is not dumb, and knows that it is not rational) there is not really much you can do, you will just aggravate them and maybe alienate them. My general conclusion is that some people need the idea of something greater that sets right or wrong, or of an afterlife. (whether or not a holy book from your point actually even provides these is irrelevant in that regard) So I don’t try to convince them or anything, this won’t do anygood, but if it comes up I argue my side (up to a point). Keep in mind however that I’m talking only about more or less liberal christians here … for example catholics which from what I know about catholicism would never qualify as catholics.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

    What do you think is the best way to convince someone their holy book… isn’t?

    Not to turn this into a purely semantical game, but it all depends on what you and the person you’re debating means by “holy.”

    If you’re debating a fundamentalist Christian, for example, who believes in an inerrant bible that was verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit (http://www.theopedia.com/Inerrancy), then you might start with internal contradictions/discrepancies, such as the differences in the accounts of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, resurrection.

    But not every Christian understands their “holy” book to be that, so you’ve got to be able to perceive what the person really thinks about their book before you launch an assault on a strawman.

    At least that’s been my experience.

  • Jabster

    Strangely enough I would have a different take on it … why bother trying to proving them wrong unless it causes you problems?

  • Sam

    I don’t think there is a way that will work with everyone, but for me, the thing that did it was reading the book. In the interest of realizing that you can really FORCE people to read their holy book at all, never mind read it without blinders of faith on, I think the best thing that can be done is a “God vs. the Bible” sort of layout of what’s wrong with internally AND externally. It would take time and probably require pages and pages of explanations and proof, but if anyone were to change beliefs, that would likely be what did it.

    Of course, then you could take each page’s basic argument as a point and have a shortened list of what makes the book wrong, with a link at the end to the larger explanation site “for further explanation and information”. That’s far more likely to actually be read in its entirety.

  • Again

    Hey All,

    I’m the one who originally posed the question. I understand the sentiment that this sort of thing might be futile. But my interactions have given me a different perspective. Many believers, even those with fundamentalist beliefs such as Mormons, do not consider themselves to be holding irrational beliefs. They truly believe that the Book of Mormon is a true history of the ancient Americas. Now, I’m not saying this makes up even a large portion of believers, but people such as this are definitely out there. Shouldn’t they be engaged in such a way as to give them a chance to liberate their minds? Mormonism is intensely an inherited religion. Those on the inside are not exposed to the possibility that they might be wrong from anyone within the community. Finding your way out from that vantage is immensely difficult. So pushing from the outside seems, at least on the surface, as something that could have some merit.

    I suppose I don’t necessarily think there is some special method to instantly wake people up to thinking critically, but I am somewhat optimistic that something can be done. There are deconversions all the time these days from various religions. That implies it isn’t totally futile. Mormonism is interesting because it is so recent on the scene compared to Christianity and actual original documents still exist. That fact also seems to indicate that it is more easily debunked. The big problem is the cultic element, the familial pressure, and the community pull. That certainly adds a different dynamic, especially when dealing with the most vigilant. But even most of the vigilant, deeply entrenched, function in their day to day life with some degree of rationality (it may be small in many cases, but there is some!). Maybe there isn’t enough in there to shake things up without some sort of external crisis, one not related to reason or evidence, but it at least seems plausible to me given the fact that others have made it out from similar circumstances. Anyways, thanks for the thoughts so far.

    • wazza

      I’ve argued with people before about their beliefs, and one thing I’ve noticed is that you can only push them so far. You provide logical arguments and evidence, and they start agreeing with you a little, but when what you’re saying becomes a real threat to their beliefs, they’ll stop accepting what you say rather than give up those beliefs.

    • jesavius

      You hit it on the head when you said familial pressure. Mormonism more so than other religions in my opinion is very cult like with it’s focus on the family. One has to understand that being born in a Mormon family is very intense due to their belief of time and all eternity of the family. If one child leaves the religion then they cannot be with their family in the Celestial Kingdom, they will be in the Telestial Kingdom or (gasp) Terrestrial Kingdom. That is so much shame that people not born in Mormonism will never understand. I’ll try to illustrate;It’s like killing your mother in front of your father.

      My question to you is the Mormon(s) you’re talking to are converts or born in a Mormon family. If they’re converts citing contradictions of the Book of Mormon such as Native Americans being descendent of a lost Jewish tribe will be some what easy depending if a significant other (wife/husband) converted them and how long they’ve been a Mormon. If they were born into a Mormon family and their last name is Beck(stead), Eyring, Christensen, Packard, Fielding, Snow, Young, or Neilsen no inaccuracy in the Book of Mormon or books in the Pearl of Great Price is going to sway them. Also, if they’re female and married, aint going to happen, due to they truly believe that a man of the Mormon faith who upholds its tenets and has stock to become a Bishop and then Stake president andl ascend to become a God. Not even Edward Cullen can beat that LOL!

      Like I said, this religion is in a cult structure. It’s a system of worker deseret honeybees holding up the beehive they do what their instructed and all is fine. They live a very simple life since 12 men dictate to them how to live. You must understand even if you convince a Mormon to go apostate you put them in a situation that they must think for themselves. Imagine for the better part of twenty some odd years all major decisions were made for you and you lived a some what productive life and then “change” to become independent and reject your family history and tradition to do your own thing. How much confusion that person would be is unimaginable. So yeah, you won’t be able to convince them otherwise they “need” to have the testimony that the book is true.

      • Again

        I have had quite a few interactions with Mormons, but the most recent is with a couple of missionaries, a recent convert as of three years ago, and another, a lifer. The convert is a single girl. Basically, she has told me that she has a book of questions and, on their missions, they don’t have enough time to look deeply into things but when she gets home she wants to go through each one. I also asked her if there was any conceivable way that she could see herself being wrong. In other words, is there any evidence that could make her not believe in the LDS Church. And she actually answered yes. “Could I be wrong? Well, I guess so. Yeah, it’s possible. But I don’t think I am.” So she seemed like an interesting case compared to other Mormons I have spoken with. For example, one of my old college professors was Mormon and he recently told me that there is no empirical evidence that would convince him of his error. The only way he would leave the church is if he had a spiritual experience that ushered him out (he never explained how that could happen if the church wasn’t true…). This is the sort of answer I have most frequently seen given. The “testimony” or feeling factor is given primacy. Whether that is just all talk when push comes to shove and certain evidence comes to light, I don’t really know.

    • jesavius

      I guess I should have summed it up with a Bertrand Russell quote that beautifully sums up people of the Mormon Faith quite literally “Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so.”.

  • selfexisting

    One approach to take, rather than attempting to show the flaws of their Book point by point, is to engage the believer on what exactly convinced him or her that the Book was in fact the Word of God. What attributes does it possess that other books do not? What transcendent doctrines are contained within the text that must have divine origin? What do they know about the Book’s origin and history? Do you find their reasons convincing? Why not?

    This kind of questioning can be done in a friendly, non-confrontational manner (after all, you’re really just giving them a chance to talk). The key is to keep the conversation focused on the Book: on its actual text, on its actual history and use. The trick is that I don’t think most believers get their doctrines and understanding of their religion from the holy books themselves, but from what I like to call the “shared narrative” of their particular sect or denomination. The result is that while most believers know the “important parts” of their Book and some assorted cherry-picked verses, most of their understanding of their beliefs comes from whatever more-or-less consistent teachings that their church has hammered out over the years. This is why we can have countless conflicting Christian denominations that use the exact same Bible.

    The power of this approach is that ostensibly the believer’s faith should lie atop their Scriptures. The texts are the one solid way, after all, that God makes his will known in the world. All else is hearsay of a sort. Therefore, it’s entirely reasonable for an inquisitive skeptic to ask what it was about the Book that initially convinced him or her. Of course, we know that in reality it probably wasn’t the Book at all that convinced most of the faithful. Most believers were probably either told their religion was true by those they trusted (perhaps as credulous children) or turned to their faith in some time of personal crisis. The Book was most likely a package deal.

    It is unlikely that rationally challenging the Bible or the Book of Mormon is going to convince a believer to abandon their faith on the spot. After all, even a very friendly challenge is likely to provoke a defensive reaction, where the believer is more concerned with protecting their tribe and identity from attack rather than really considering the issues that are being raised (and we are all vulnerable to this tendency). However, if you can at least get them to question, or to get interested in learning more about their Book so that they can defend it better in the future, they may eventually come around. As you noted, the various Books are ultimately resting on a very shaky foundation. Some real, independent investigation of where their Books came from and what actually say (outside of the filter of the shared narrative of their church) might be enough for them to realize they are being lied to.

    • Again

      “One approach to take, rather than attempting to show the flaws of their Book point by point, is to engage the believer on what exactly convinced him or her that the Book was in fact the Word of God. What attributes does it possess that other books do not? What transcendent doctrines are contained within the text that must have divine origin? What do they know about the Book’s origin and history? Do you find their reasons convincing? Why not?”

      I think this is great stuff. What I have always run into with Mormons is their “testimony”. What separates the BOM apart, according to Mormons, is that you can know the truthfulness via a special feeling, a burning in the bosom, that can only equate to the truthfulness of the message. I have taken a couple different tactics with this:

      1) I point out that catholics, muslims, and jehovahs witnesses all “know” and feel in their hearts that their church is the one true church, the one true path to salvation. If you look at their doctrine they all cannot be right as they teach contradictory things. So someone is wrong. Yet they all have strong feelings that they say equates to truth. Someone is either mistaken or deceiving themselves. There is no other conclusion. As Mormons they look at them all and say that they are either mistaken or being deceived. But those in the opposing faiths look at Mormons in the same way. What non-biased reason do they, the Mormons, have for not thinking they could be deceived too? “The feeling is indescribable and unmistakable,” they say. But that is what the people of the other faiths say too. So what does this tell us? Doesn’t it indicate that feelings are a little shaky as the ultimate way to gain truth? “Well, just give it a chance,” they inevitably say, ignoring what I was trying to get at.

      So I try #2:

      I point out that their whole feeling based test is circular. They ask you to pray because the BOM says that is the way to gain truth. But how do I know the BOM is true? Because if you pray you will get a burning in the bosom that tells you so. Well how do I know that burning actually tells you about truth? Because the BOM says it does. But how do I know…and so on. So I try to show that even if I were to pray and get a special feeling I wouldn’t have any justifiable reason to think it meant that the BOM was true. It could just as easily be due to me talking myself into it (imagine that…).

      Do you think I should skip this entirely and focus on more substantial issues within the book or do you think the epistemic stuff is enough to get people thinking? My goal with all this is to show them that “feelings” ain’t all they think they are and evidence and reason should be our tools for investigation. The thought is that if I succeed in this, and they are willing to start caring about evidence then it is curtains for the BOM. It is just too easy to demolish if you are willing to accept empirical evidence.

      I’m curious what you think of this.

  • http://dougintology.blogspot.com Ibid

    Send that person to seminary. Or at least to the class that goes book by book through the text and explains it’s history.

  • http://MormonsAreChristian.blogspot.com Mormons Are Christia

    Jesus Christ makes a most significant statement to Mary in John:
    ”Jesus saith unto her, touch me not for I am not yet ascended to my father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my father, and your father; and to my God, and your God.”
    Question: Why would Christ say to Mary he has yet to ascend unto his Father? And, furthermore, why would he clarify that not only will he ascend to his father and their father, but to his GOD and their GOD? The only way this would make any sense if that Christ truly distinguished himself separate and distinct physically from God.

    • trj

      The concept of Trinity can accept both a singular Jesus and a unified Jesus, although as a Mormon you of course don’t believe in the Trinity.

      Anyway, you’ll probably find that most people at this atheist site don’t care whether one esoteric interpretation or another claims to be true. Every variation of Christianity considers itself to be the True Faith, and you believers will squabble endlessly amongst each other to justify yourselves. But it’s all the same to us. We’re not impressed either way.

  • http://metroblog.blogspot.com Metro

    I suppose it all depends on whether they’re in it for the book or the belief.
    Most people I know with religious conviction aren’t scholars. They’re in it for a vague sense of comfort and a hope for justice beyond this world. So the book isn’t the lynchpin of faith for them, it’s a warm fuzzy feeling they get from faith unexamined.

    • step21

      This.

  • Neophyte

    I don’t think it’s possible. It has to be an event born of self-discovery. I think challenging the person(s) will make them ever the more adamant. Good luck.

  • Mark

    I don’t think that anyone really believes that stuff. I think that they are more concerned with what other people would think if they said that they didn’t believe it. The bible was compiled by a bunch of rich white guys with political agendas. Religion would not survive if it were not for the acquisition and maintenance of great wealth and political power. Remove the money and the politics from religion and you have no religion.

    • nazani14

      I’m fairly sure that the guys who attended the Council of Nicea were brownish, mostly Mediterraneans. I agree with the maintaining power bit, but great wealth did not always accompany religion back then. However, they did not have to earn a living like everybody else. I suspect that was the origin of priesthood – some guy who was a lousy hunter figured out that the rest of the tribe would feed him if he did chants and dances to bring the others luck with the hunt.

  • dan

    I don’t think you can convince them. However, I know for many ex-Mormons, finding out about the Book of Abraham was a big problem for their faith. It is a fairly well documented fraud by the Mormon founder Joseph Smith. It is considered to be one of their extra Holy Books just like the Book of Mormon It is fairly easy to look up information about it on the web. Just ask them if they can explain it.
    http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4168

    Probably not something to bring up initially, but another challenge to Mormon faith is finding out more about Joseph Smith’s wives. Most Mormons only know about his first wife and are unaware that he “spiritually” married and slept with many women. One was 14 years old, many were already married and told to keep their “spiritual” marriage to Joseph secret from their husbands.
    I left the Mormon Church before I found out about either of these, but even many years later it was really surprising to learn about these.

  • SteelMag

    @Again:
    I understand the difficulties in speaking with Mormons, especially regarding contradictions within the BoM and their other texts. If one is born into the religion, the familial and cultural pressures are nearly insurmountable, but some do leave. Their missionary effort is specifically set up to ensnare seekers by making them feel special and giving them a good feeling about what is being taught. They purposely introduce the BoM first as it is the most unassuming of their texts. Once a member of the church, the new seeker begins to learn about other doctrine and texts that have even more discrepancies, but by that time are too enmeshed in the church to do anything about it. They have also accepted the authority within the church (of Joseph Smith and any past or present prophets), so any discrepancy is easily brushed off.

    Mormons hate arguing about their texts and if they are backed into a corner, will promptly give their testimony, i.e. “I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the true church, and Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God…” Being gentle will get you far. If you question the BoM, you may be referred to their institute (FARMS) at BYU that has been set up to “prove” that the people of the BoM existed.

    If you plan on speaking to many Mormons, you may want to familiarize yourself with the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrines and Covenants which were also written by Joseph Smith. The PofGP is particularly intriguing especially when you consider the Book of Abraham. It was originally purchased by Smith from a traveling mummy exhibition. He “interpreted” it and called it the Book of Abraham; this contains some of their most interesting teachings, including the only mention of the star Kolob, which is nearest to where God lives. The Rosetta Stone had not yet been discovered, so nobody at the time challenged J. Smith, but later it’s been found to be an Egyptian burial rite.

    Anyway, it will likely take a long time to convince a Mormon that their texts are false, but humility and gently being persistent with your questions, and allowing them to discover the answers rather than being told, will help you out.

    • Again

      Thanks SteelMag. I have run into the testimony retreat before in the past and I think you are right. I most certainly was pushing too hard. What sorts of questions do you think are piercing, yet gentle enough to get them thinking and trying to discover the answers? For example, if I were to say, “Hey, you know the Book of Abraham is a total fraud. How can you believe that garbage?” I’m going to antagonize them and probably shut them off. But I’m not quite sure how I can bring up the issue without blatantly challenging the veracity of it. Anyways, if you have any thoughts I would be grateful to read them.

  • nazani14

    When people say they’re studying the Bible I give them copies of Bart Ehrmann’s books. Fascinating guy, who started out a fundie, and then found himself un-converted after he actually studied ancient languages and manuscripts.

  • http://luckyatheist.blogspot.com Mike Caton

    My advice: full-frontal attack on something that people have socially and emotionally identified with their core principles is never effective. (Think about it: somebody starts off with “let me tell you why atheism is stupid and Christ is the way”, you’re probably not very receptive.) Two things that are of immediate importance to people are their social identity, and their values, both legitimately important questions. So work on the values angle: instead of the full frontal attack, gradually illuminate the disconnect between how they make day to day decisions, and what their book says (and unless they’re all-out maniacs, there will already be a huge disconnect.) Ask, “Is the lineage of Native Americans that important to whether you behave morally, or to how I do? Exactly how?” Since you both will likely agree on what is the right thing to do in most situations, think of a moral decision they made, no matter how trivial it may seem, and point out that there’s no connection between Indian DNA (or maybe even, the Book of Mormon as a whole…) and their moral decision process. Make a point of flattering their moral sense in the process. They’ll probably come away at least thinking about your points, and having trouble condemning atheists as immoral. You obviously, even as an atheist, must have good moral sense since you were able to appreciate their own moral decision-making process. :)

  • http://yamipirogoeth.blogspot.com Sakura

    Speaking from experience with Mormon parents…I have brought up the validity of the claims of the book of mormon (as well as it’s proprietor, Joseph Smith, and his little history with the law) and the only response I would EVER get is “Those documents are false and it’s just Satan’s way of deceiving people and you have to have faith to know that Joseph really did have the plates” and as far as the validity of the book “It’s a direct correspondence of God given to Joseph and it’s more correct than any version of the bible that exists”

    =_= Yes…they pull that “gotta have faith” crap no matter how much evidence I give them and even ask them to ask leaders in the church how they know this stuff is true (and just get back an answer along the lines of “You have to have faith that they know what they’re teaching”)


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