The following posts were originally made on Newsweek's On Faith blog (http://tinyurl.com/2684fy ). So, some of the content might not make sense out of context.
I don't think you are going to get very far with Mormons arguing about Jesus' teachings on hell or the interplay of omniscience and free will. At least it did not work for me when I was a true believing Mormon.
Even the stuff that I have mentioned thus far on this forum (failed prophecies, prejudice, discrimination against women and gays) would not have had any effect on my beliefs. I found a way to be ok with Joseph's hiding his plural marriages from Emma, marrying other men's wives and his own teenage foster daughters. I found a way to be ok with Joseph's involvement with magic, his repurposing Masonic signs and tokens into the endowment, his so-called lying for the Lord, his anger problems and physically assaulting and threatening others. I was ok with Joseph's evolving first vision stories, and false recreations of early church history. I find a way to defend against the mounting evidence against the Book of Mormon.
How could I be ok with all of that? Because if one looks hard enough, one can always find some remote possibility, however improbable, that would allow Joseph to escape serious condemnation. And as a believer, I would always give Joseph the benefit of every doubt. I wanted to believe him and I had had many spiritual experiences that I interpreted as God telling me that the Church was true.
What finally caused me to quit giving Joseph the benefit of the doubt? A critically important case for which there was no doubt to give Joseph the benefit of - no possibility however remote that Joseph was doing the work of God. A case so solid that even the best attempts by the brightest and most informed apologists cannot create reasonable doubt. Uninformed members will believe the apologetic explanations. But, when one knows and is honest with all the evidence, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that Joseph was a con-man.
The case is the Book of Abraham. This is supposed to be scripture - the word of God. If there was ever a time when Joseph was acting as a prophet, seer, and revelator, and in tune with the Holy Spirit, it was then. And if one can show that this work was a fraud, it undermines everything. After one knows that this scripture is pure fiction, there is no need to give Joseph the benefit of the doubt. Then, one can look at the balance of the evidence and see that the weight of the evidence is against the Book of Mormon, and the temple, and the First Vision, etc. Everything crashes. Futhermore, since I believed that the Spirit had told me the BoA was true, I was forced to rethink what those feelings might mean and where they are really coming from. One thing is for sure, the Spirit is not a reliable tool for identifying what is true. And once that is gone and one looks into the criticism of the Bible and apologetics, one realizes that in all likelihood, the God of Abraham is fictional, too.
The Book of Abraham is the single most important thing a Mormon can study. And it is way more serious than just not being a true translation, it almost certainly isn't even a revelation and the evidence can show it. And I firmly believe that Joseph knew he was creating a fraud. He was a con-man in Palmyra, he conned Josiah Stowell in Pennsylvania, he conned the investors in the Kirtland Safety Society, he conned all of us with the BoA, and he pulled the wool over Emma's eyes by hiding his plural marriages from her. I see a clear pattern of behavior. But, let every Mormon decide for his or herself. But, that cannot be done if one does not know all that is available about the BoA, both anti and apologetic.
Start here: http://trialsofascension.net/mormon/abraham.html
John D the First:
Hi Dave/ Heuff,
I followed the link. Interesting stuff there, but nothing I found to be terribly compelling, primarily because of my understanding of the process of revelation.
I agree with you that every Mormon should decide for his or herself. Since your webpage does not cover the Mormon side very in depth, I thought I would include a link as well:
Yes, that site recommendation was only meant as a starting place. It does not present all of the information necessary to rule out all possible apologetic explanations.
In fact, all that site does is show evidence for why the BoA is not a translation. It does not touch upon the evidence against it being a revelation. Here is the next step: http://tinyurl.com/349hu5
That is just chapter 8 and deals with the text itself: anachronisms and plagiarisms. But, I would invite you to read all of the chapters. It is not long and a lot of it covers the same information as the first link, but with more photographs so that the reader can better understand what is being explained. Pay special attention to the reuse of Egyptian characters in Chapter 7; we will come back to that later.
John D the First:
I don't think that anything on that site is "evidence against a revelation" unless you assume that revelation cannot also include much from the psych and imagination of God's instrument. I think that necessarily much of both Joseph and God was put into his revelations. Like you have shown, even Biblical revelation cannot be accepted if you do not accept that God worked through ideas and concepts readily available in the social environment of Prophets.
The Mormon veiw of revelation outlined in D&C 9:8 supports this view, outlining a study it out in your mind process involved in the process of revelation.
So if both Joseph and God are put into the revelations, we should expect some anachronism and intertwining of folk knowledge into the revelations.
John D the First:
In science a hypothesis can change as new evidence arrives. Many critics of evolution demonstrate that the specifics of the theory have changed over time. They think that the fact that many loose ends are not tied up is enough to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Likewise, my hypothesis concerning Joseph Smith changes as I get new evidence. The only thing this Huff's evidence contradicts is a Calvinist view of revelation, not dialictic revelation outlined in Mormon scriptures. For those who hold to the-
Calvinist revelation or No revelation dichotomy, there is falsification, but indeed these are not the only options.
To me, dialectic revelation makes more sense due to my understanding of human nature, Mormon scripture and the history of God.
The no revelation hypothesis has as many loose ends as the Calvanist revelation hypothesis. I think the dialectic revelation hypothesis has the least loose ends.
Many theological claims are unfalsifiable because the nature of the phenomena under question is not precisely defined. Such is the case with revelation. Your evidence contradicts your definition, but not all definitions; including mine.
As for your question James, it is a complex one. I may address it, but it would require a long treatment. If it was more relavent to the thread overall, I might do it. In other words, ask me later.
John D. the First,
Ahh, you buy into Blake Ostler's Expansion Hypothesis I see. I will post more when I have time. I had suspected that earlier by some of your comments in the prejudice thread.
John D the First:
In all honesty Huff, I have never read Blake Ostler. If the “expansion hypothesis” is what I think it is, it is a Mormon fundamental, not just the invention of one Mormon Apologist.
I think the loose ends of both the new revelation hypothesis and no revelation (con man) hypothesis are outlined well in
By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion
by Terryl L. Givens, Oxford University Press
If this is going to turn into to a polemics/apologetic crusade I wish a real apologist would step in and provide the Mormon side. For I am just one man with a religious opinion and a family to feed. I will grow tired of this after a while.
Now James I suppose we are back on track with talk of Prophesy. I think the revelation Joseph received on the second coming did provide useful information. Many saints thought the 2nd coming would come within a decade. The revelation communicated that it would not come that soon. Useful information as far as I am concerned.
Now the naysayers have their apologists to explain away Mormon evidence I know, but despite those who nit pick the language about timing, the following revelation does foretell in a compelling fashion historical details of the 19th and 20th century.
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls;
2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.
3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.
4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.
Beginning of the Civil War and place (somewhat compelling)
The South calling on Great Britain (More compelling)
Slaves being marshaled for war (also compelling)
World war alliances (also compelling)
This does not read like a text book, but it does provide information about future states of affairs unknown in 1832. Not a meaningless prophecy by any means.
This a quick note on the Civil War prophecy. This comes from: http://www.lds-mormon.com/civilwar.shtml
"Along the same lines, I think it is quite clear from historical records that unrest was already brewing regarding slavery in Joseph Smith's time. Joseph Smith made his South Carolina "revelation" (D&C 87) on December 25, 1832.
Do you think that the nullification convention held in November 1832 by South Carolina may have had an influence on Joseph Smith's prediction? I think so.
In November 1832 a South Carolina delegation defiantly nullified the federal 1828 and 1832 tarriffs. South Carolina immediately prepared for a military showdown with the federal government. South Carolina regiments were organized and volunteers were gathered together to fight the federal government. The issue was temporarily diffused with the compromise of 1833, but the tension was only postponed. (Secret and Sacred, The Diaries of James Hummond, a Southern Slaveholder, edited by Carol Bleser, Oxford University Press, 1988).
So history speaks to us quite clearly. Joseph Smith's so called revelation was made on the heals of one of the biggest signs to the country that a civil war was evident. A State within the Union had nullified federal law and even prepared its people for war against the Union. Do Mormons consider this information when reviewing Doctrine and Covenants 87? I think not."
This isn't about what the critics or the apologists have to say; I know what they have to say. This is about my and your beliefs about what we can tell from the evidence surrounding the BoA.
Frankly, John, I have come to like you. And although I ultimately respect your right to believe whatever you wish, for as long as you are willing to talk I'd like to point out a couple of things to you. It is sad for me to read that you are looking forward to Christ's second coming, which in all likelihood will never come.
I did not know whether you had heard of Blake Ostler or not, but since he was the first to publish this theory, the concept of the prophet adding his own ideas (that are sometimes false) to the core revelation he receives from God is referred to as Blake Ostler's expansion theory among apologists and critics.
First, I must note that this is a very radical view and very different than the orthodox view of revelation that is taught throughout the Church from GC to Sunday School. Heck, if I could just get Mormons to realize that Joseph did not receive conventional revelation, I'd be fine if they adopted the expansion theory. At least then they would question whether their prophets are leading them astray with their own ideas.
Let's take a look at some of the teachings of the church that reject your new type of revelation (of course the catch is, you can dismiss all of these statements as merely the opinions of the prophets).
1) Satan's ministers teach the philosophies of men mingled with scripture, but according to your view when Joseph created scripture (BoA) he mingled his own philosophies with what he received from God.
2) Wilford Woodruff declared, "The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty. (Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2.) Yet, with your view of revelation there is the very real possibility that the prophet will lead us astray by getting us to accept his opinion that he mingled with his revelations as the mind and will of God itself.
3) In a 1993 speech by Boyd K. Packer, he listed Cafeteria Mormons as one of the enemies of the church. But, your approach requires you to accept some verses of scripture and reject others.
4) D&C 68:4, "And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation". Yet, according to you, at least sometimes, the scriptures they create will have false opinions of men in it.
5) Duet 18:18-22: "18 I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
19 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.
20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?
22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him."
6) 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 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." So, not only is the prophet to study it out in their mind, but there is a way to tell whether what they think is true. Evidently, Joseph either did not listen for the burning bosom when he wrote about Chaldea or Egypt being named after Egyptus, etc, or he simply cannot tell when he is following God or not. Either way it makes for some very unreliable scriptures.
Look, I view the expansion thesis as a desparate attempt to hold things together. It produces notoriously unreliable scripture in which neither the reader nor the prophet has a clue which parts are true and from God and which parts are simply the prophets faulty ideas. Most of what can be verified or falsified is proven to be false, but you are still going to trust that the non-falsifiable parts are true? I would never trust the statements of a man that I could not verify, if almost all of his statements that I could verify are wrong.
Now, people want to make a big deal about the things Joseph got right. They want to claim that there is no way that he could have gotten those things right without true revelation from God. And that is why they prefer the philosophies of men mingled with scripture version of revelation over the alternative of no revelation. I have yet to see or hear of anything Joseph or any of his followers ever did that was so unlikely to happen without metaphysical help, that one simply must conclude real revelation exists. I already shot down the Civil War prophecy handily by looking at the news of the both prior to the day he made his prophecy. What else have you got?
To me there is no reason to even suspect Joseph had access to anything supernatural or metaphysical. And being that he is so wrong even when creating sacred scripture on facts that are verifiable, why would I ever consider that he was a true prophet? So far, I have only shown that Joseph was incorrect. Now that leaves two possibilities, either he was sincere, but mistaken, or he knew he was pulling a fast one over everyone. I believe that there is sufficient evidence to show that he knowingly deceived us all and abused his power and the trust of the people. And that makes me mad.