Mormonism Beats Christianity—Or Does It? (2 of 2)

Mormonism Beats Christianity—Or Does It? (2 of 2) April 6, 2017

In part 1, we saw that Mormonism spanks Christianity in the evidence department. It has far more voluminous, recent, and reliable information. The Christian apologists’ many arguments for document reliability work against them since they apply even more strongly to Mormonism.

(I’ll be using “Christianity” and “Mormonism” as if they are two separate religions, ignoring for now the claim that Mormonism is simply another denomination.)

The other side of the story

Still, I’m not quite ready to convert. Mormonism has its own problems.

  • The populating of America. The Book of Mormon (BoM) says that the Americas were populated by immigrants from Palestine, beginning in about 2500 BCE, in the aftermath of the Tower of Babel. Anthropologists say that, no, the first immigrants actually came from Siberia roughly 15,000 years ago.
  • Connection between early Americans and Palestine? If modern American Indians were the recent descendants of these immigrants, we should see a genetic and (to a lesser extent) linguistic connection between American Indians and cultures of the ancient Near East. We don’t.
  • Anachronisms. The BoM refers to things that didn’t exist in the Americas at that time. For example: “They became exceedingly rich—having all manner of fruit, and of grain, and of silks, and of fine linen, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things; and also all manner of cattle, of oxen, and cows, and of sheep, and of swine, and of goats, and also many other kinds of animals which were useful for the food of man. And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants.” (Ether 9:16–19). The italicized items were not present in the Americas at this time. Other anachronisms include barley, wheat, steel, chariots, the compass, and glass windows.
  • Plagiarism. The BoM appears to have been plagiarized in part from several contemporary books, the King James Bible, and the Apocrypha (semi-canonical books that are nevertheless included in the Bibles of some Christian denominations). The idea that God would choose to give his message to founder Joseph Smith in King James English rather than contemporary English also suggests that the story is fiction.
  • Bogus translation. The Book of Abraham, a “translation” from an Egyptian papyrus, has been shown by modern experts to be fraudulent. Even the name “Book of Abraham” was an invention by Smith. Historians have much of the original papyrus, and it’s not at all what Smith claimed it to be.

It gets worse

Using “seer stones” (magical stones that would become transparent to reveal some truth) to find treasure was popular in his day, and Smith was an enthusiastic participant. He used seer stones in a hat to find treasure, the same technique he would later use to translate the BoM. For this, he was brought into court at age twenty (it’s unclear whether the charge was divination or fraud).

Close to 4000 changes have been made to the BoM since its original publication in 1830. Many are trivial, but some change the theology. For example, the original BoM used the phrase “white and delightsome” to refer to the skin of good people and said that God darkened the skin of bad people (see 2 Nephi 5:21 and 30:6). When that was no longer politically correct, the language was softened.

When the church’s teaching of polygamy became an obstacle to statehood, the church president received a “divine revelation” that declared that their unchanging god had changed his mind. That’s quite a comedown for a book that Joseph Smith declared to be “the most correct of any book on earth.”

The obvious explanation is that Joseph Smith was a treasure hunter caught up in the religious enthusiasm of the Second Great Awakening. He applied his interest in divination to his interest in Christianity, and a new religion was born. In those fervent times, his religion found fertile soil.

To the Christians who read this list of false claims and feel a bit smug that their religion doesn’t have these problems, what if Mormonism didn’t include these details that show that it was invented? Since it so handily trounces Christianity using Christian apologists’ own arguments for textual reliability (see part 1), would you convert? If not, then don’t claim that evidence supports your belief.

What have we learned from Mormonism? Rule #1.

Don’t let on that it’s a scam. If you want to start a new religion, the basics apply. Don’t tell your friends, as L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, did: “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” Don’t publicly use a particular divination technique, as Joseph Smith did, and then later say that an angel told you how to learn divine information … coincidentally using your favorite technique.

(Given that Mormonism and Scientology are successful religions and that believers clearly don’t much care about disconfirming evidence, Rule #1 clearly has limited force.)

Rule #2

I’ve already written about the surprising benefits of ambiguity to a religion’s longevity (“When a Contradictory Bible Is a Good Thing”).

Rule #3

Finally, let’s return to the observation we began with: that predicting the end of the world precisely and unambiguously is embarrassing when that date passes without catastrophe. Conclusion: don’t be precise.

That’s the problem with the elaborate history of Mormonism. It makes too many specific claims. Joseph Smith was able to get away with most of them, but references to steel, silk, horses, and other anachronisms make the church’s history easily debunked.

(Do Mormon apologists have snappy answers for most of these? Sure, but they don’t convince non-Mormons. Similarly, Christian apologists have elaborate arguments and snappy rebuttals of their own, but they also don’t convince skeptics. New Christians rarely convert because of good intellectual arguments. Most conversions are for emotional reasons.)

Note how much better Christianity does. It wins because it’s vague and untestable. Its lack of evidence becomes an advantage.

Mormon claims can be tested (and they’re found wanting), but Christianity’s claims can’t even be tested. Neither is a solid basis for a belief system.

The book [of Mormon] is a curiosity to me. 
It is such a pretentious affair and yet so slow, so sleepy, 
such an insipid mess of inspiration. 
It is chloroform in print.
— Mark Twain

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 11/14/13.)

Photo credit: Wikipedia


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  • Michael Neville

    The Mormons claim that three waves of Middle-Easterners came to the Americas. The first were the Jeredites, who arrived shortly after the Tower of Babel was overthrown supposedly in 2600 BCE (or perhaps 2100 BCE or maybe some other time). The second group were the Mulekites who showed up after Israel was conquered by Babylonia in the late 7th Century BCE. A couple of generations later, around 600 BCE the Nephites came to America.

    There is no genetic, linguistic, archeological or anthropological evidence to support any of this. Michael Coe, professor emeritus of anthropology at Yale and an expert on the Mayans and other pre-Columbian mesoamericans, wrote:

    The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere.

    • Excellent background, thanks.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      which would suggest to a dispassionate observer

      Well there you go. Who cares about those unbelievers anyway? People who have faith can see.

    • RichardSRussell

      And the most recent wave of immigrants, beginning in 1847, were the Dopomites.

  • Dannorth

    According to The Bible Unearthed many if not most of the historical claims of the Old Testament up to the rise of the kingdom of Northern Israel are false.

    The authors state that there is no evidence for an unified kingdom of Israel and Judah.

    And whether they are right or wrong the mythicists shine a light on the fact that we know nothing of Jesus apart from the New Testament.

    • Jim Jones

      Israeli Founder Contests Founding Myths

      . . .

      So, with the coming of the Zionists to Palestine, a frantic archeological search started. The country was combed for real, scientific proof that the Biblical story was not just a bunch of myths, but real honest-to-God history. (Pun intended.) Christian Zionists came even earlier.

      There started a veritable attack on archeological sites. The upper layers of Ottoman and Mamelukes, Arabs and Crusaders, Byzantines and Romans and Greeks and Persians were uncovered and removed in order to lay bare the ancient layer of the Children of Israel and to prove the Bible right.

      And the result? Incredible as it sounds, four generations of devoted archeologists, with a burning conviction and huge resources, did produce exactly: Nothing.

      From the beginning of the effort to this very day, not a single piece of evidence of the ancient history was found. Not a single indication that the exodus from Egypt, the basis of Jewish history, ever happened. Nor of the 40 years of wandering in the desert. No evidence of the conquest of Canaan, as described at length in the Book of Joshua. The mighty King David, whose kingdom extended – according to the Bible – from the Sinai peninsula to the north of Syria, did not leave a trace.

      • Yes, it’s pretty telling when even the Israelis admit this is false, since their claim was based on it.

      • busterggi

        Nothing – proof that all other religions are conspiring against the one true one!

  • Herald Newman

    Note how much better Christianity does. It wins because it’s vague and untestable. Its lack of evidence becomes an advantage.

    Except for that whole resurrection thing, which is a rather dubious proposition to begin with. I still find it shocking how vehemently believers reinforce the idea that the resurrection is a believable idea, simply because other people believed it. It’s not like anyone has ever confirmed that resurrections are possible…

    • C’mon–Uncle Frank and Pastor Jim both tell me that the Resurrection make sense. Like I need more than that??

      • Jim Jones

        Letters to Penthouse.

        “And though I never saw her again after that night I will always remember …. ….”

    • Kevin K

      Well, when you consider the fact that the Old Testament prophet Elijah was able to resurrect a dead boy back to life, and in Acts, both Peter and Paul were able to bring people back from the dead…

      I don’t think the word “dead” meant the same thing back then as it does now.

  • guerillasurgeon

    I was once lucky enough to get hold of a the book of Mormon helpfully annotated by a Methodist minister. There were so many internal contradictions, you don’t need the history or anything else much. One thing that struck me as a young lad was in one place, apparently America was full of gold and jewels. A few chapters later it specifically said it wasn’t.

  • Jim Jones
    • Chuck Johnson

      Thank you.
      The letter (PDF) can be downloaded there.

  • MystiqueLady

    Steel chariots? The WHEEL wasn’t even invented in the New World! 😀

    • Chuck Johnson

      “Steel chariots? The WHEEL wasn’t even invented in the New World! :D”

      You know that, I know that and Wikipedia knows that.
      But the faithful Mormons would not have known that.

      This is the main reason that religions are losing popularity in Western civilization.

      Information, knowledge and wisdom are gaining popularity in Western civilization.

  • busterggi

    Lack of physical evidence for the history that Mormonism claims – why, that’s just because the Lord made it all disappear because faith is more important without evidence.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    So the Book of Mormon was plagiarised? Let’s talk about where those ideas in the Bible came from.

    The obscure religion that shaped the West
    Not a whole lot of depth, but it’s more than Zoroastrianism usually gets.

  • eric

    Note how much better Christianity does. It wins because it’s vague and untestable.

    Well, no not really. It is also historically specific and wrong in places, it’s just that Christians often discount either the literal meaning of those stories or even when they do take them literally, they discount the significance of the problem. Consider:

    1. The flood. Just as historically unfounded as Mormonism’s ‘Jews in America.’ Generally discounted in terms of historicity (except by YECs).

    2. Tower of Babel and a universal common language in the recent past. Again, unfounded and ahistorical. We have records of humans using different languages going back thousands of years.

    3. Exodus out of Egypt. AFAIK, mainstream historians think this never happened and that the Hebrews were essentially a tribe of Canaanites. I think most Christians take this literally and are unaware of what historians think of the claim, so they aren’t bothered by this problem due to ignorance.

    4. Adam and Eve as a progenitor couple. Genetics has ruled out this being true. The smallest bottleneck for homo sapiens was never less than about 10,000 individuals. A problem for Catholics and YECers; most mainstream Protestants get around this problem by interpreting it ahistorically.

    So maybe what Mormonism needs to put it back on top as the ‘best choice’ is some sort of reformation that stresses the allegorical, nonliteral value of their scripture. Then they can just ignore their scripture’s historical gaffes the way other Christians do.

  • epicurus

    I’ve been through Salt lake city twice while on road trip vacations and have done the temple grounds tours and let the 20 something guides give me their polished well practised message. They are all blubbly and friendly and have slick answers to problems with the BOM and Mormonism – not good answers, but nice sounding answers that make you want to go “Oh, ok then.” And they seem fine with other religions, there’s no threats of roasting in hell for disbelief, so it all seems so vanilla suburban non threatening friendly.
    BUT, someday I hope to go to Independance Missouri where other dissenting Mormon groups are – I’ve heard things aren’t quite so rosy there.