Using Common Sense to Not See God: Christianity vs Mormonism

Using Common Sense to Not See God: Christianity vs Mormonism May 20, 2020

Bob Seidensticker, of Cross Examined here at Patheos, contributed a chapter to the recent book Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century. In his piece, he joins a few of us in the first section who look to philosophically dismantle the notion of God. The book is set into three sections.

There is a great variety of writing and subject matter on offer, here, with the first section (Part One: DECONSTRUCTING GOD) dealing with philosophical, moral and theological issues with the God concept. The second section (Part Two: REFLECTING ON GODLESSNESS IN MODERN SOCIETY), deals with atheism within various contexts in modern society, from cinema to the military, politics to education. The final piece of the puzzle (Part Three: LOOKING TOWARD A FUTURE IN A GODLESS WORLD) asks the reader where we go from here, and seeks to give a few answers.

Please click on the link above or the cover to grab yourself a copy (UK link here).

I posted the first part yesterday and the second part of his chapter is here excerpted:

Christianity versus Mormonism

Many Christians declare that they don’t hold their religious beliefs just because they were born into a Christian environment. No, they believe because of the evidence.

Let’s test that claim. If they believe because of evidence, they should accept claims that are better evidenced than those of Christianity such as those of Mormonism. The claims of Mormonism have just such a historical record. Compare that against conventional Christianity to see the many areas where the quality of the Mormon record beats that of Christianity.

Number and breadth of documents. The Christian apologist may say that the New Testament story is supported not only by the books of the New Testament but also by writings of non-Christians who lived within a century of the death of Jesus. But Mormons point to newspaper articles, diaries, letters, and even court records documenting the early fathers of their church, a far broader record than that of the New Testament. Some of these accounts of the events in the early Mormon church were written within days or even hours of the events.

Time gap from original to our best copies. The first six words of the Gospel of John 1:1 are, “In the beginning was the Word,” but how do we know that? Our oldest Greek copies of this passage are two papyrus manuscripts from roughly 200 CE, which leaves a century from the original authorship of John in about 90 CE to our best copies. And that’s about as small as the gap gets—it’s two or three centuries for much of the New Testament. That gap from original to our best copy means a long dark period during which undetected “improvements” could’ve been made to the text. The apologist will talk about the tens of thousands of New Testament manuscript copies, but the vast majority are from medieval period, which does nothing to enhance claims of biblical accuracy. The books of Mormonism were written after the modern printing press, and we have many early, identical copies.

Cultural gap. The Jesus story is from a culture long ago and far away, and the gospels were originally written in Greek. They can only document the Christian tradition within Greek culture, a culture suffused with tales of dying-and-rising gods, virgin births, and other miraculous happenings. This makes the New Testament’s original books already one culture removed from the oral Aramaic Jewish culture of Jesus. In Mormonism, we can read the accounts of the participants in our own language.

Oral history gap. The apologist will talk about how little time elapsed between the events and the documentation of those events—perhaps forty to sixty years for the gospels. That’s not bad compared to the biographies of other important figures of antiquity, but Mormonism spent no time in the limbo of oral tradition. The Book of Mormon was committed to paper immediately, which means no time for the story to grow into legend with the retelling.

Eyewitness accounts. The four gospels don’t claim to be eyewitness accounts. We don’t even know who wrote them—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are merely the names assigned by tradition to the four gospels. Within Mormonism, twelve men saw the golden plates. Testimony from those men is presented at the beginning of every copy of the Book of Mormon.

Provenance. The New Testament books were written by ordinary people, not by God himself, or even angels. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was told by an angel about the golden plates, from which the Book of Mormon was written. That his source document was vetted by an angel says a lot about the quality of what he started with (or at least it beats the claims of traditional Christianity). You might say that the Joseph Smith story is just that—a story. Why trust it? That’s a reasonable concern, but it applies just as well to Christianity.

Who would die for a lie? Christian apologists ask this question and then point to the martyred disciples of Jesus, but the historical evidence documenting the disciples’ deaths is contradictory. Besides, the likeliest explanation isn’t that the gospel story is a lie; it’s a legend. It wasn’t deliberately cobbled together by pranksters; it simply grew over decades of retelling. Even if we accept weak claims for disciples dying to defend the truth of the gospel story, Mormonism can brag about the same thing. The Mormon inner circle put themselves through much hardship, including death in at least the case of founder Joseph Smith. If Christian apologists claim that this is strong evidence for Christianity, it must be for Mormonism as well.

Naysayer hypothesis. Christian apologists say that if the Jesus story were false, naysayers of the time would have snuffed it out. A false story wouldn’t have survived to be popular today. This naysayer hypothesis crumbles under investigation,[1] but if apologists want to advance it, Mormonism comes along as well. If its story were false, those in the inner circle would have shut it down, right?

Point by point, using the arguments Christians themselves use, Mormonism beats Christianity. If Christians actually took their own argument seriously, they would find Mormonism far more convincing. Does this mean that I find Mormonism convincing? Of course not—it’s just that you can’t dismiss Mormonism for lack of evidence without more forcefully dismissing conventional Christianity as well.

There’s one more lesson to draw from the unique weaknesses of Mormonism. The Book of Mormon makes claims that archaeology, genetics, and even linguistics don’t support such as modern Native Americans descending from people from the Ancient Near East who sailed across the Atlantic about 2500 years ago. These visitors were supposed to have brought to the Americas horses, elephants, wheat, steel, and other goods that history tells us only arrived with Europeans.

Christianity doesn’t make claims that are so specific and testable. A win for Christianity? Not at all—its lack of evidence becomes an advantage since it can’t be caught in a lie, though that’s not much of a slogan to put on the sign in front of a church—”Christianity: you can trust it because it’s vague and untestable!”

[1] Bob Seidensticker, “13 Reasons to Reject the Christian Naysayer Hypothesis,” Cross Examined, July 6, 2015,

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2015/07/13-reasons-to-reject-the-christian-naysayer-hypothesis.


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