That Big List of Challenges in Anti-Mormon Literature

Any member who has undergone a faith crisis knows that there are many critics on the Internet who are happy to share a Big List of Mormon Problems to help facilitate one’s exit from the Church. These lists can serve as the catalyst for the initial testimony damage, or contribute the final straw in a “death by a thousand cuts” (the “Big List of Mormon Problems” is not the real name of any list but designates features which all of these lists have in common).

Such lists were around long before the Internet was invented but received limited interest and distribution. While some of the works found their way into member or investigator homes, into the hands of missionaries, or even into local libraries, much of the material was picked up only by those critics or LDS apologists (defenders) who found the topics interesting.

Today, however, anyone can create a quick Big List of Mormon Problems, convert it to a pdf, and post it online. Depending on the creator’s writing abilities and social networking skills, a well-written piece by an outgoing author could quickly attain viral status.

The Marketing of Doubt in Anti-Mormon Literature

Marketing of doubt graphic

Good marketing often follows the K.I.S.S. principle—an acronym supposedly invented by the Navy in 1960—which means “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Now this this doesn’t mean that the marketing or material is stupid, but rather that information is generally more effective if it’s simple instead of complex. The current rash of Big Lists of Mormon Problems are good examples of following the K.I.S.S. principle.

Such LDS-critical lists are often not much more than expanded bullet lists of all the things which the critic finds distasteful, supposedly inaccurate, or otherwise damning to Mormonism. The bulleted items need not fully engage all of the issues; it’s usually sufficient to make the accusation, and convince the reader that list provides the only reasonable interpretation of the data.

If the author feels the need to note opposing interpretations, the typical response is along the lines of: LDS apologists don’t officially speak for the Church so their arguments are moot; LDS apologists are not real scholars but are simply biased believers; or LDS apologists engage in mental gymnastics by twisting the text rather than sticking with the plain reading of documents.

The charge that apologists don’t speak for the Church is answered in my previous article, “Where are the ‘Official’ Answers to My Question?” The claim that LDS apologists are not real scholars was dealt with in my book Shaken Faith Syndrome and is also soundly trounced by the website MormonScholarsTestify. And, of course, any claim that there is a “plain” reading to a text—especially an ancient text or a purported translation of an ancient text—demonstrates a naïve understanding of the ambiguity of language (which was also addressed in Shaken Faith Syndrome).

A critic’s Big List of Mormon Problems can, unfortunately, plant the seeds of doubt in LDS testimonies—and that is precisely the intent of such lists; plant doubt and make someone questions their beliefs. If you find a single strange hair on your pizza, you call the waitress over and request a new pizza. The entire pizza is tainted. The Big List need not convince you that every item on the list has equal merit, only that there are enough troubling issues to taint the entire Mormon claim to religious truth.

Computer
A Big List of complaints can overwhelm us. Image via techvibes.com

In my high school psychology class the teacher would always call out students who answered a question with long rambling responses drawn from quips of previous lessons. He compared such answers to throwing trash against the wall in the hopes that something would stick.

In a 2008 FairMormon Blog post I discussed research which explained the difficulty of removing whatever garbage stuck to the wall—even if it wasn’t true. In that post I quoted non-LDS scholar Shankar Vedantam who wrote,

“The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information.  But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.”

In other words, trying to point out that the accusations are false can, in some cases, actually cause some people to more easily accept the accusations. This happens all the time when someone is charged with criminal behavior (especially, it seems, with criminally deviant sexual behavior). Psychologist Dr. Ruth Mayo (and her team), for example, has shown that in time, our memories may turn denials into facts. “‘John did not harass the secretary’’ will activate associations of harassment and John might be remembered as the one who did harass the secretary.”[i]

Years ago the owner of a popular restaurant in Utah was accused, by a young female employee, of groping her at work. The charges were later dropped (suggesting the owner’s innocence) but most people still thought of him as the guy who groped his employee. When critics charge Joseph Smith with sexual licentiousness in his plural marriages, it’s difficult to undo the mind’s-image once the impression has been implanted.

How do People Decide what is True?

decide what is true graphic

Through experimentation, scholars have discovered that people often believe that statements are true based on criteria that are not accurate for determining truth. Research demonstrates, for instance, that humans often determine the truthfulness of a claim based on how familiar it feels. When we are exposed to information, we must process the data with information stored in our fallible memories. Our imperfect memories are actually pretty poor at retrieving accurate information but rely, instead, on big picture images. When the new data finds some connection with this big picture, we tend to trust its accuracy.

Scholars are aware, for example, of the “illusory-truth effect” wherein “subjects rated repeated statements as more probably true than new statements.”[ii] When a claim is repeated, it makes an impression on our memory. When it comes up again, we unconsciously tend to feel that it is true because it blends with our memory of the claim.

Big Lists frequently repeat (either explicitly, implicitly, or in different ways) some of the same general claims: the Witnesses never really handled physical plates, Joseph Smith was known as a con-man before acquiring the plates, non-Mormon scholars laugh at LDS attempts to demonstrate that the Book of Mormon took place in ancient America, Joseph Smith was a womanizer.

By repeating these claims—often subtly throughout the text, even in places where some other issue is being discussed—the mind automatically latches on to the claims; it becomes more familiar, and therefore more believable.

Easy Information is More True?

easy information graphic

Another element that makes the Big Lists successful in damaging testimonies is known by psychologists as cognitive fluency. Research demonstrates that we will tend to believe something if it’s easy to understand (once again, it feels familiar). This is the psychological equivalent of the K.I.S.S. principle. “Simpler writing,” notes Dr. Daniel Oppenheimer, “is easier to process, and studies have demonstrated that processing fluency is associated with a variety of positive dimensions” including “…higher judgments of truth, [and] confidence….”[iii] His research showed that easier to understand texts (fluent and familiar) score higher confidence on accuracy than complex texts. “…statements that are easy to process,” write Drs. Reber and Schwarz (who ran their own experiment on the theory), “are experienced as familiar…, thus leading participants to feel that they have heard or seen this before, suggesting that it is probably true.”[iv]

The cognitive fluency element affords an advantage to the Big List and a disadvantage to the LDS apologists/scholars. It is much easier to make a claim or an accusation than it is to respond to the claim or accusation. It’s simple, for instance, to claim that the Book of Mormon is false because horses were unknown in the Americans until after the arrival of the Spaniards (contrary to what is recorded in the Book of Mormon).

To respond to the claim, however, requires much more detailed and complicated information, including discussions on the limits of archaeology, the possibility that horse bones (dating to the correct period) have been found, as well as a detailed discussion on loan-shifting (the application of a familiar name to an unfamiliar item). Critics brush these more complicated answers aside as “mental gymnastics,” but in reality, complex discussions and answers are what we find in real scholarship and real science.[v]

The Value of Learning More

value of learning more graphic

So how do we overcome the cognitive problems when confronted with the Big List? Unfortunately, there is no absolutely foolproof and universal solution that works for everyone. All of us are different. Each person must decide—based on evidence, feeling, cognitive skills, impressions, and so on—what reasons we will accept to believe or disbelieve. Being aware of the tactics used by critics, and recognizing that answers (yes, sometimes complex answers) respond to the critic’s claims, is a good first step.

The biggest stumbling block which I’ve seen to a believer’s testimony is not too much information, but rather too little information. The more we approach things with an open mind (as open as humanly possible), the more we recognize that we can accept seemingly damning information from within a new paradigm (worldview) that not only explains the challenging discoveries but incorporates them into a paradigm of belief. Such expanded worldviews can ultimately strengthen our testimonies and may increase our confidence that God’s truth is universal and envelopes both the secular as well as the sacred.

student studying Millennial
Faith can be strengthened by deep study. image via The Daily Herald

Big Lists offer sugar to diabetics; they are intended to shock the system rather than to provide anything of nourishment. Real nourishment—a real understanding of the issues—requires effort, time, and energy. It’s my hope that Latter-day Saints who stumble from the supposed problems of a Big List, will invest the necessary effort to form conclusions based on a full examination of all the data, rather than accepting a simplistic and repetitive formula that bases much of its effectiveness on feelings as opposed to evidence.

____________________________

[i] Ruth Mayo, Yaacov Schul, and Eugene Burnstein, “‘I am not guilty’ vs ‘I am innocent’: Successful negation may depend on the schema used for its encoding,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2004): 40, 446.

[ii] Ian Maynard Begg, Ann Anas, and Suzanne Farinacci, “Disassociation of Processes in Belief: Source Recollection, Statement Familiarity, and the Illusion of Truth,” Journal of Expirimental Psychology (1992), 121:4, 446.

[iii] Daniel M. Oppenheimer, “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly,” Applied Cognitive Psychology (2006), 20: 140.

[iv] Rolf Reber and Norbet Schwarz, “Effects of Perceptual Fluency on Judgments of Truth,” Consciousness and Cognition (1999), 8:342.

[v] It should be noted that not all critics simply brush such things aside. There are educated critics who engage in these complex discussions and dialogues with LDS scholars.

 

100 COMMENTS

  1. In a May 11 article I wrote for LDS.net, I said:
    “For more than two decades I’ve conversed with struggling or former members as they’ve navigated questions for Mormons. Frequently they complain that people such as myself are simply amateur (or “professional”) apologists (an “apologist” is someone who defends a belief), and therefore, my thoughts on the topics can be dismissed.” (http://lds.net/blog/faith/defending-the-faith/official-answers-to-questions-for-mormons/). I can be dismissed, they argue, because I don’t speak for the Church.

    In that article I pointed out that most of the issues discussed by defenders and critics are not about gospel issues but are about issues of history, science, etc.– areas where there can not only be disagreements, but are areas wherein the Church has no official opinion. The discussion on my most recent article is of similar nature. I’m not a spokesperson for the Church and I don’t know if the Brethren are even aware of this article. Of course, that’s all irrelevant. I, or any member or non-member is welcome to throw their hat into the ring. My take on “Big List” criticisms is part of an academic discussion, not part of a pastoral directive. I may be wrong, or my critics may be wrong, or the truth could lie somewhere in between. Internet grumblings from certain critics may try to brush what I have to say aside because I’m not an official spokesperson, but such cries are merely red herrings and carry no weight in discussions wherein the Church has no official position. Just in case some were wondering.

  2. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for anyone to have (mental or physical) list of problems with any religion (including our own). If they are honest issues / questions, why should they be shamed or brushed under the rug? We honestly and openly review and give opinion everywhere else in life. People have been through different things in life, we have different needs, we all have different personalities, some use logic more than emotion, we all see things through a different lens and there is no getting around that there will always be different perspectives. I do not feel threatened by another’s honest opinion or critique of a truthful fact.

    Also in terms of psychology, on the flip-side, there are also a lot of reasons why people cling to their faith, outside of testimony / what feels right. There is no question that there are a lot of social and emotional benefit to being a member in the church. When we go and fulfill our duties, we are emotionally rewarded with praise, pats on the back, and physical confirmation that what we are doing is right. We have a network of help and we are a part of something important and special. And in turn, there is great risk of being treated very differently if our faith changes. There is great risk of losing network, friends, family and praise / being treated like a good person. Those who doubt are often shamed, labeled as deceived, lazy, dark, ignorant, unfaithful, untrustworthy, among so many other negative labels. This is classic conditioning.

    Many will make lists not to bring down the church, but to defend themselves from the ridicule and these labels! To help others to try to understand their concerns and where they are coming from. It is especially difficult when loved ones don’t want to try to understand, and they automatically stick to these labels.

    I also think the biggest problem the church is experiencing, is with truth and testimony itself. For many, testimony of the church was based in specific information / stories. It’s very difficult to consolidate when new information is introduced, when the true church history is very different from the watered down or completely altered version that is portrayed in film, music, art, and lessons.

    It does make sense that those with the strongest testimonies (the brightest and best) are the most disturbed and affected by the new information. For many, it feels as if their testimony was built around historical fiction, rather than historical fact. It’s very difficult for many to consolidate.

    This situation for many, feels akin to a salesman over emphasizing the great things in his product, and leaving out or sugar coating flaws, and not giving you a very truthful or accurate depiction of the product. You are highly encouraged not to do research, and you are told it’s best to only focus on the sales pitch. You are encouraged to trust the salesman who sells the product, over the internet. You choose to trust because everything sounds and feels great… even life changing. But you later discover problems and issues; the product is different from what you were told it was. You feel let down and it’s difficult to trust this company. And for some people, it downright just doesn’t work.

    The problem is, yes, the flaws can be overlooked by many and the church regardless. But for some, those facts ARE very important. It is important to know the whole story, to be aware of the good, bad, beautiful, and ugly. It’s important to have authentic fact in order for their testimony to be and feel authentic. The truth is, like I said, people are different. Social and emotional needs and core beliefs are different.

    What needs to be changed, is either the church needs to start being more authentic with what they are teaching people concerning the restoration, Joseph Smith and church history, or they need to stop shaming people for being authentic with their concerns, doubts and even when they are honest about their faith when it changes.

  3. You gave a list of reasons why a list of reasons is not effective. Apply your own rules to your own argument.
    Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

  4. Reading these comments from everyone on both sides makes me think of the following exchange from a popular movie:

    Man in Black: You’ve made your decision then?
    Vizzini: Not remotely. Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.
    Man in Black: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.
    Vizzini: Wait till I get going! Now, where was I?
    Man in Black: Australia.
    Vizzini: Yes, Australia. And you must have suspected I would have known the powder’s origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
    Man in Black: You’re just stalling now.
    Vizzini: You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you? You’ve beaten my giant, which means you’re exceptionally strong, so you could’ve put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you’ve also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
    Man in Black: You’re trying to trick me into giving away something. It won’t work.
    Vizzini: IT HAS WORKED! YOU’VE GIVEN EVERYTHING AWAY! I KNOW WHERE THE POISON IS!
    Man in Black: Then make your choice.
    Vizzini: I will, and I choose – What in the world can that be?

  5. Wouldn’t a reader of a big list book such as “Of faith and Reason:80 evidences supporting the prophet Joseph Smith” be susecptible to all the same influnces and bias you correctly point out. My apologies if this is simple thinking.

    • Possible, we humans are interesting when it comes to how we think. It’s unavoidable. The K.I.S.S. principle works in various areas of marketing and in the sharing of information because most people don’t want to dig deep. Simple doesn’t mean incorrect, obviously. One of the biggest differences in Of Faith and Reason and the Big List productions is that those who write critical material typically poison the well of LDS scholarship. They denigrate LDS arguments with the sweep of a hand and write them of as the ad hoc creation of apologists rather than to-be-taken-serious writings of real scholars. As I noted in the end of my article, I believe that we are improved by “more” information. Big List critics often give the impression that the information they offer is all the information you need.

      • Part of the reason for that implied simplicity is that some people find there to be no credible response to statements like, “Joseph Smith married other men’s wives while those men were away on missions he had sent them on”. To someone like me, the only credible response to this statement in a list is, “No. Joseph Smith NEVER did that!” followed by supporting facts. Any other statement of, “consider the era” or “great prophet, imperfect man” fails completely. And as a result, the original statement, offered in a list or even a bumpersticker, is quite devastating.

        • I guess that’s where we part ways. I don’t see it as simple or as black and white as you do (and most historians– both critic and believer– don’t either). Quite frankly, it’s not possible for you (or I) to fully understand matters related to a different era (and there is a lot more going on then just the time difference). Entire books have been written on such topics. If your not interested or persuaded by such depth, that’s fine– to each his/her own.

          • Mike, Can you expand on this?

            “Quite frankly, it’s not possible for you (or I) to fully understand matters related to a different era…”

            It seems that I’m hearing this “you just can’t understand it” approach more and more. And it seems to be a powerful approach, with some people, to terminate any critical thinking. Because if we truly can’t know or understand something, then why would we spend the time examining it (or being objective about it).

            Why do you feel that we can’t “fully understand matters related to a different era?” I can read the available historical record. I can consider the historical context and surroundings. I can examine what Joseph said and did. I can examine what witnesses saw, and what they wrote down. I can study what Emma said, as well as Joseph’s other wives (and some of their husbands, as well). I can study the theology that Joseph laid forth and examine if his behavior was congruent with this (i.e. D&C 132). I can compare what Joseph said, and when (i.e. First Vision). I can examine the lives and behavior of key players (i.e. 3 and 8 witnesses). I could go on, but you get the point. There is much to examine and contemplate. I understand the presentism argument. However, trying to convince people that we can’t “fully understand” matters seems to be a tactic to get them to turn their brains off. I understand that it’s not always black and white, but I would argue that there are certainly enough available records and evidence to make an informed decision. That we can fully understand these matters.

          • MTB, explaining epistemology and history is not a tactic of trying to get people to “turn their brains off,” it’s simply pointing out the current understanding of interpreting historical sources. Instead of me trying to rehash (in a blog format) what has already been written, I would suggest some books on the topic, perhaps starting with Sam Wineburg, “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.” A brief quote from his book: “We, no less than the people we study, are historical beings. Trying to shed what we know in order to glimpse the ‘real’ past is like trying to examine microbes with the naked eye…”

            Obviously, I think we should try to understand the past and it’s not a completely useless endeavor. We can get close, but we can’t completely escape our heads and worldviews and adopt those of past generations (or cultures). Unfortunately all humans (believers and atheists, apologists and critics) are typically overconfident in their rational abilities and are cocksure about their skills on how to interpret people and events. None of us are really anywhere near as smart as we think we are. Now certainly this doesn’t mean we just give up or reject everything under the umbrella of “who really know?”. It means, instead, however, that (IMHO) God expects us to use both our brains and our spirits in guiding us to the really important truths. Relying on spirit alone can get us confused if we cling to emotions rather than deeper spiritual promptings; relying on our brains alone will let us down because there is far too much still to learn (as anyone who has followed this stuff even in the past decade can attest to). Fides quaerens intellectum: Faith seeking understanding. Through the years I’ve changed many of my views thanks to scholarship & science. I think it’s a mistake to ignore the truths found in research. But we need to be careful that we stay away from dogmatism both in religion and science.

          • Look, if it is not possible for people to understand such things Mike, missionary work is going to be tough sledding in the information age.

          • daveescaped , why on earth would anyone need to understand such things for a spiritual conversion? I think you’ve entirely missed the point of this discussion. The Gospel is plain– it speaks to the spirit and can convert across cultural, economic, and intellectual boundaries. Christ didn’t ask his follwers/fishermen to do a thorough investigation as to why this new religion was an extension of Judaism, he asked them to “follow” him. Some people don’t care about history/science/scholarship. Some do. All can feel spiritual promptings, but some us need a bit more. We need intellectual support, evidence, and understanding. That’s available, but not required for conversion.

          • Mike. Apologies. I missed your reply. You said:
            “why on earth would anyone need to understand such things for a spiritual conversion?”

            Mike these issues are readily available and if you ask any missionary today working in the Western world they will tell you that nearly all investigators are exposed to these issues. So the reason WHY they would need to understand them is that they are ASKING to understand them. Yet you say that understanding these issues requires scholarship and an understanding of the complexities of the issue. How will that ever work in the world of retail religion? Do you hope to keep these issues secret from potential converts? Do you expect them to be satisfied with basic answers such as “having faith”? I am curious what you would prescribe for dealing with these issues since you believe they are difficult for an outsider to understand. Seems to leave few options since all converts start as outsiders AND most converts encounter these issues.

            You analogy to Christ’s is interesting. But in my fairest mind I can’t see the equivalence. Since you offered up the hypothetical, I must extrapolate. If Jesus Christ was guilty of sleeping with the nanny and marrying 14 year olds after he had sent their husbands away on missions (again, no disrespect meant, just extending your analogy) then YES I think it would have been perfectly likely for Christ’s followers to ask “what gives?” But Christ didn’t do such things. His character was and is an aspect of his magnetism. Take away Christ’s character and you would be left with a poor messenger, no?

      • Sure. I think thats fair. I think you and anyone else deserves a voice and has a right to make an argument. I think its important to recognize our biases and that every one of us on both sides have them. I think self evaluation can be very helpful in understanding our psychological triggers, perhaps more so then diagnosing another group. Although I think there maybe some value in that as well. It really can be illuminating to see ones own biases at play and realize, “maybe I could be wrong.” Thats particularly challenging the more emotionally/spirtually invested we are in our particular conclusions.

  6. Ash does have a point about how critics tend to overuse lists. It is overwhelming for the guy with the freshly broken shelf. I don’t know how exactly that can be helped. There is a lot of stuff a chapel Mormon may never learn until they find the CES letter. It’s worth remembering that the CES instructor asked for all of Jermy’s questions, that is why it is a big list.

    On my way out I read a lot of stuff written by Michael Ash. Ash’s basic premise is that everyone has bias and so one must assume the church is true and make all evidence fit into that hypothesis. At its core it is prepositional apologetics. He summed up his view nicely in the Deseret News:

    > “when examining the Book of Mormon, we must begin by assuming that it was really written by ancient authors.” He says, “While the critics will immediately cry that such an examination is “bias,” it is equal bias to reject the document from the start…Once you assume that a document is a fake, no arguments and no evidence to the end of time can ever vindicate it, even if it is absolutely genuine.” (Michael Ash – June 6, 2011 Deseret News)

    Note that Kerry Muhlestein believes the same thing:

    > “I start out with an assumption that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon, and anything else that we get from the restored gospel, is true,” he said. “Therefore, any evidence I find, I will try to fit into that paradigm.” (Kerry Muhlestein – Aug. 12, 2014 Deseret News)

    Kerry and Ash could benefit by reading up on the “Null hypothesis”.

    My view is that bias is a problem and the best way to combat bias is to adopt the scientific method. What Ash proposes only amplifies bias and could be used to support even the most blatantly false religions.

    A sign of a weak argument (or methodology) is when the exact same argument can easily be used to support a known false claim.

    Ash’s method falls short because it has no possible way to produce a negative result. However, a negative result can be the most valuable type of result; especially if we are trying to work against bias. If bias is something we are trying to overcome, then shouldn’t we be trying to answer questions that have the potential to change our minds?

    Karl Popper’s philosophy pokes some big holes in what Ash writes.

    Knowledge can be gained from paying attention to dis-confirming evidence. A single counterexample to a hypothesis can be logically decisive in disproving that hypothesis. (And that’s true even if the that counter example happens to have been added to a large list somewhere.)

    Ash, if big lists are problematic, what exactly is the 826 page book called “Mormon’s Codex”?

    It looks to me that Sorenson dumped his entire file cabinet into one big book. However, I don’t see its size as a problem. Nor is the size of critics arguments really all that much of a problem either. Mormonism is a big topic because it is a new religion that left behind a lot of documentation. That is just the nature of Mormonism.

    Ash also made some points on the pitfalls of accepting the clear and more simplistic argument. There is some truth to that. But I keep in mind that one doesn’t really understand something until they can explain it in simply language. A clear message doesn’t mean something is true; however when an apologist attempts hand-waving or speaks over the audiences’ heads it is a major red flag that what is being spoken about may not really be understood so well.

    • Logic is central to people trying to figure out if the Church, its doctrines and scriptures are or are not true, especially for people who are losing their faith. Many of these people are completely tied up in knots because they can’t make the logic of a true church work any more, because of new information, whether that information is factual or not. Much of the discovered information cannot be proven true or false because supports are missing that would be needed. If you read Christian Lassen’s article on this site, Why I Stay, you’ll see that spiritual experience becomes often the most “true” knowledge in a person’s life. I have had so many of these spiritual experiences, undeniably profound far beyond what logic or study has shown me, that I can’t deny these experiences. As I’ve stayed true to these experiences without wavering in my faith, proofs for questioned facts have presented themselves.

      • Gale, I appreciate your perspective and die-hard testimony. I think spiritual experiences are important, but what I find difficult to understand is how these experiences occur in other religions as well. For example, even within LDS offshoots these are used as proof that Warren Jeffs is a prophet or Denver Snuffer. Going beyond that people use these spiritual experiences as proof that Mohammad is a prophet. So does God send conflicting answers? How is it possible that he is sending conflicting answers if He cannot lie?

        • I actually don’t see a problem with people from different religions basing their conviction on their own spiritual experiences. I do believe in Satan and believe he can “inspire” people, and I also believe that inspired people who believe in their causes can cause horrible destruction and loss of life. I believe God reaches out to people who reach out to Him, starting at the point where that person finds himself/herself. I read about a woman, an atheist who had never prayed, who could see she was headed for a head-on collision with no way out. At that moment, she reached out to a higher power and hoped that 1) she would not continue in this life if terribly wounded, and 2) she wouldn’t be the cause of someone else’s suffering. At that moment she was embraced by a blue, transparent figure, and she was calmed and protected. Her prayer was granted. Even though she was an atheist, God, her Father rescued her. He cares for her as He cares for all His children, and gave her that thing she most needed in a way that transcends logic. To me, this experience should bring her to believe in a higher power.

          • OK following your explanation, how do you know that the spirit isn’t providing you with answers so that you can eventually find out that Buddhism is true or Islam? Do you see the danger is ascribing all spiritual experiences as a testament that the LDS Church is true? I value my personal spiritual experiences deeply, but I cannot rely on them as proof of one church or another. Once that is established, I have to take the LDS Church truth claims on their merit independent of my personal feelings or bias.

      • I don’t believe you are correct in saying that logic is central to people deciding if the Church is true or not. Logic, in and of itself, is nothing more then depending on the arm of flesh of the natural man. Faith and humility are the central factors in determining whether or not the church is true, not logic.

      • That’s one tall order for the comment section of a blog. There are journals, letters books (Oliver Cowdery’s letter book is quite interesting), newspapers, court documents, congressional transcripts, expositors, Egyptian translation materials, sermons, histories, papyrus, etc. Will it be okay if I simply ask you to google the “Joseph Smith Papers” project?

    • Thank you, James! You point out exactly why I can’t really find much to laud about Ash’s work. I can’t take an argument seriously that expects me to set aside valid concerns and make assumptions in order to prove its point. The only time it’s reasonable to make assumptions is when you are doing so hypothetically to make a counterpoint. E.g., “Even assuming X is true, it follows that… .”

    • I agree with some of the things you write James, but do not agree with your conclusions of how they apply to my arguments (as well as the arguments of other defenders). I don’t have the time /energy to address all your concerns in this post (in part, because you point out some issues that require a lot more discussion– and I’ve actually written 10s of thousands of words on these issues for another book I’ll hopefully have out in another year or two). These are big questions/issues and don’t have simple answers. And without hoping to draw you into a bigger discussion on this this, let me just say, I’m am a believer in the scientific method. Those who know me know that I’m not anti-science in the least. I believe that at time, we (who believe in the divine) need to remember that scientific truth can correct, modify, or jettison some of the things which we have uncritically accepted in religion. But (and current research bears this out), I believe we need to not take a dogmatic approach to science either. Many recent studies how demonstrated that peer reviews have failed, experiments are not always replicate-able, and that (as Kuhn argued many years ago), scientists are as biased as the next guy and that scientific studies have suffered from this unfortunate part of humanity.

      • I’d agree Science as practiced doesn’t live up to the rigor we’d like to see. However, my light bulb moment was when I realized that the best way to minimize all the biases you list in your book was to adopt the scientific method in my own reasoning.

        Uchtdorf said that being a skeptic is easy. He confused skepticism with cynicism. In Mormonism, it is taught that being a skeptic is easy. I was taught that there was little value in testing the foundational claims of the LDS religion though empiricism. It was taught that faith is a much more noble virtue and that there was not any evidence against its foundational claims.

        From personal experience I’ve found that being a skeptic is anything but easy. A skeptic is someone who doubts claims until they’re supported by evidence. A skeptic has to be skeptical of their own ideas and beliefs too, not just the beliefs of others. A skeptic should start with himself. It turns out that that is far from easy. Rarely I find people that see an error in their thinking and seriously take on the task of correcting the error. That person often ends up taking their most cherished beliefs, the ones that form their very identity, the ones that they have sacrificed for and reconsider those beliefs in the face of the evidence. They weigh the evidence and admit they were mistaken. Now that person is what I would call a skeptic. That is the type of person that has earned the right to call himself or herself a skeptic.

        You are able to see an epistemology based on feelings is flawed when taking about critics. But can you see the flaws in your own epistemology? Can you see how relying on emotion and the spirit is what so often leads people towards the wrong conclusion?

        • James, I agree that adopting the “scientific method” helps to _minimizes_ bias– it’s a great place to start. It doesn’t solve the problem, far from it, but it certainly puts us in the right direction. Bias, however, doesn’t always let us objectively “weigh the evidence and admit” when we are mistaken. It may help, but quite frankly sometimes it works, sometime it doesn’t. And I think you’ve misread me, I didn’t claim or imply that an epistemology based on feelings was directed at critics, I was talking about humanity as a whole. And I certainly agree that relying on emotions can lead people to the wrong conclusion. In a nutshell (to paraphrase what could take many more words to detail), I don’t believe that “the spirit” is strictly (or even primarily) about emotions, and a critic (even a skeptic) is just as likely (some better than others) to be lead to incorrect conclusions based on emotions as a believer. Skeptics will often deny this or claim that their acceptance of the scientific methods minimizes or precludes this, but it doesn’t. I’m actually a fan of skepticism (productive, not unproductive), and I think that, in general, most LDS need to change their thinking about such things and the strength of the scientific method (hence, my some-day forthcoming book). We (Mormons) have dug ourselves in the hole too many times but taking anti-scientific approaches, and taken stances on things which are indefensible, weak, based on myth or urban legend, etc. We need to put away such childish things and embrace truth from all sources (even when they make us uncomfortable). It is my conviction, however, that such things can be embraced (although paradigm shifts are necessitated) from within a framework of belief in God, Christ, JS as a prophet, priesthood keys, and an authentically ancient BoM.

          • I understand that bias isn’t a problem that can be completely solved. But how would you go about mitigating bias?

          • James, “how would you go about mitigating bias?” Answer: You can’t completely. If you could then all intelligent, critical thinking people would be Democrat/Republican, Atheist/Theist, etc. We can try– and we should try. When we become aware of the problem we can try to reduce the effect in our daily choices. This helps improve our lives, builds critical thinking skills, helps drive away faulty thinking, and overall contributes to a better world. But it doesn’t go away. We’re wired for bias and as long as we are human, it’s going to be a problem. The best approach is to avoid dogmatism and remain open minded. We have to choose what’s best for ourselves– and certainly there is nothing wrong with attempts to share what brings us happiness– but we need to be careful not to claim that our way of thinking is the only correct way of thinking, or to think someone else is stupid or lying because they don’t agree with our views.

          • That sounds fair enough. That kind of runs counter to the whole “one true church thing”, and I am fine with that. It is better to believe what can be supported by evidence. When there isn’t enough evidence to make a call then there isn’t enough evidence to warrant making claims to children and investigators. It’s better to tentatively stick to a falsifiable null hypothesis until the null hypothesis can be disproven. Faith isn’t the virtue I once thought it was. Believing with out evidence is what gets people into trouble so often.

    • I read this entry and the first thing that came to my mind was Eccl 5:3 “…a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words.” The next thought is how Jewry missed the promised Messiah because they looked beyond the mark, though he dwelt in their midst. The final thought that came (all in rapid succession) was my recently departed father in law who was a member of the Triple Nine Society. If you are not aware of what this was, I quote from their website, “TNS is a high-IQ society which selects members at the 99.9th percentile using a number of IQ and academic aptitude tests.” In other words, the brightest intellects on the planet, of which he was a card carrying member. He also scored among the top 100 people on earth in his IQ test to enter the TNS. His thoughts on the Church, the Restoration and Christ? “Nothing has been more clear or logical to me than that of the restoration of the Gospel through Joseph testifying that Christ lives.” I am amused at how your posts go on and on in a morass of analysis and yet don’t lead the reader to Christ. You could learn something from my father in law.

  7. I’m suspicious when the answer to nearly every question is so complicated that it requires a person to buy and read entire books to get to the heart of it. The apologists could do a better job of distilling the answers into a simple portable format, and then directing people to books or articles for the well-researched background.

    Q: Why are there no horses found in the Americas during the time period of the Book of Mormon?
    A: Most scholars believe horses became extinct in the Americas before Book of Mormon times, but that there were other indigenous animals that resembled horses. The current best thinking is that these animals were identified as horses. To read more, visit …

    Q: How could Joseph have been deceived about the Kinderhook Plates?
    A: Joseph was human and prone to mistakes, and we believe he eventually recognized them as a fraud due to the fact that he never published them to the membership of the Church.

    You know what’s a great antidote to a “Big List of Issues”? A “Big List of Simple Answers”… We get it – not all things have simple answers, but do your best. Arguing the meta-battle isn’t going to get you very far.

    • As I noted in another post, simple doesn’t mean false. There are simple answers to all your questions. Maybe not as simple as you’d prefer, but they are available.

      • “We get it – not all things have simple answers, but do your best. Arguing the meta-battle isn’t going to get you very far.”

        This is a great response.

  8. Well done and excellent points, Mr. Ash. I see many examples of oft-repeated, but wrong, information being believed and shaping opinions in everyday life–not because they’re true or that anyone has ever cared to find out the source, but because they’ve been repeated so often.

    My experience with asking deeper questions about individual issues with long-list-makers has been similar to yours. They actually know a lot less about the topics than you might expect from their confidence in their assertions.

    • Varden,

      Can you give me some example of “oft-repeated, but wrong” information? I’m interested in what you are referring to. I agree that we need to pay close attention to the sources that we are using to inform ourselves of foundational church history events and claims.

      In my personal experience, when I actually did care about appropriately sourcing various church history issues (15 years after i returned home from my mission), that is when it became problematic to my testimony of Joseph Smith. The more information that I gained (from vetted sources, including those that I found at FAIR and FARMS), the more difficulty I had in accepting the church’s official narrative of the Restoration.

      • Agreed. I am in a similar boat. To tell you the truth, I am a young HP that still attends. I would happily reverse course were someone to offer credible responses.

        But much in the same way there is not credible response to say, why a man killed someone, I see no credible response to why Joseph Smith married 14 year olds, other than, “Joseph Smith did not marry 14 year olds. You have your facts wrong”.

        To be honest, a lot of this feel like a nightmare to me. I would love for someone to set me straight with credible answers. My wife is highly understanding. But I feel like I am breaking her heart. I wish more than anything that someone could offer credible answers to these challenging issues.

  9. Thank you for this article. There is much to debate and confuse over in the world and in the discussion following this article, but there is indisputable clarity when you seek an answer in prayer and receive it. Joseph translated the Book of Mormon and was the Lord’s prophet of the restoration. I asked God if these things were true and He answered. It is true. Therefore, it doesn’t matter to me how clever or creative an argument is crafted. We can focus on the negative or on the positive about Joseph. We will all someday meet Him and meet the Lord who called him and learn the truth about Joseph and all the other issues people love to dwell on. Until that day I will rely on God for my answers.

    • What happens if someone prays to know if Mohammad is a prophet and the Koran is proof? Is it possible that God can send diametrically opposed answers to different people?

      • It is possible that the answers and feelings that God gives to different people could be interpreted by the receiver as diametrically opposed answers. We often fill in the gaps between God’s revealed answers with out own thoughts and those filled in ideas are what cause problems, not God’s revealed knowledge. If God tells someone in Afghanistan that they should follow the prophet Mohammad, is God telling that person that the Koran is completely true? No. He is simply giving that person guidance to get that person closer to the ultimate goal.

        • Christian, I appreciate your reply. I wonder though, perhaps God is giving you an answer in the similar vein? Maybe the true religion is Buddhism, and for your benefit God is allowing the limited light and knowledge of Mormonism to be your current path. That being said, so much of the truth claims of the church rely on “the spirit” instead of the information. I fully appreciate my undeniable spiritual experiences, but recognizing they are not unique to the LDS Faith, has made me challenge the foundational claims of the LDS Church. I read your other post and saw that you had a witness that the Book of Mormon is true. I have heard the testimonies of Muslims testify of the same thing regarding the Koran. There are other books like this as well. Dan Peterson makes an appearance in the following video, I recommend you check it out: https://youtu.be/l3EfXz5VzR8

          • You are correct. I advise you to not worry about other people’s spiritual experiences since you can never really truly feel what they felt or what they really and truly know or don’t know. You can only know what YOU know, right? And your personal experiences get to trump all other knowledge. Though we should seek to add more knowledge to our own, not all knowledge is created equal, or equally truthful. If you can’t know for certain what someone else’s experiences told them, you have to rely on your own experiences.

          • Great video, thanks for sharing it. I’ll give you my thoughts as I watched it. You WILL find fault with my thinking, that’s okay. I don’t. And we are different people with different backgrounds, so I get it.

            The description of the embryo in the Koran is no more accurate than any other description of the creation of life. Like saying that the description of God taking Adam’s rib is accurate in describing a surgical procedure.

            Scientologists are Experts in high-pressure salesmanship and manipulation and influence, i get offers for their classes all the time and have had colleagues take them because of their guarantees to quadruple the production of dental offices. They’re full of expert use high-pressure manipulation and the “weapons of influence”. I will take exception with comparing Scientology with most other faiths. It is unique one.

            All books that promote goodness will lift people around the world, and if they do, GREAT!

            Does God inspire people from all over the world and send his Spirit to everyone? Absolutely. Will that inspiration look different? Yup

            Do any of these stories of other faiths negate the experience I had: Jesus is the Christ and the Book of Mormon is True? No. Does Buddhism negate Christianity? I haven’t head anywhere that it does. Does Sikhism? Never once did any of the sikhs I met in BC negate my faith. Is our faith exclusive like the video says? No, and many other faiths are not either. Some are, but not all, like the video says (half truth! was that intentionally or ignorantly included into the video?)

            Does knowing all these things help me to love the rest of humanity? Absolutely. We’re all in this together, bumbling and stumbling our way to a better life and world.

            And just because there are all these other faiths with equally devout members doesn’t make mine not true.
            If I had the original manuscript of the Declaration of Independence and threw it into a pile of 100 near-duplicates, does that mean the original and true one isn’t in there or that the bulk of the text wouldn’t serve to inspire and lift people all over this planet?

          • Christian, thanks for your response. I can tell you’ve thought through this, and I appreciate the dialogue as it helps me process my worldview. The next question I would pose for you is, beyond the strong spiritual witness you received, what gives you confidence that the Book of Mormon is true? Phrased another way, can a book be true if it’s factually inaccurate?

          • Beyond the strong spiritual witness? I’m not sure what could surpass a fairly other-worldly experience. Based on that experience, it’s either true, or I’m wrong. If it’s true, than any “facts” we decide to believe about it or “evidences” we use to disprove it are auxiliary, debatable, and gray. If I’m wrong, than I must’ve been on drugs or something (which I wasn’t), and if I can’t tell when I’m having some sort of hallucination, if I can’t distinguish reality from imagination, why would you really believe much of anything I say?

            Can 2+2 equal 4 if it doesn’t equal 4? Of course, I could give you a few ways 2+2 could and could not equal 4 without contradicting myself or misrepresenting, or ignoring the laws of the universe. And that would become an endless debate of philosphy, logical rhetoric, and symantecs, or mathematical theory.

  10. I always look at any advice regarding faith/religion and assess whether or not it is any good by this little question. “If I was a member of another religion, would this advice help lead me to mormonism?”

    The underlying assumption is, good advice will lead me to truth. Bad advice is just used to keep me in place.

    For example doubt your doubts is not very good advice in discovering truth. If I was catholic and my priest told me to doubt my doubts, this advice would only keep me in Catholicism and not help me find mormonism.

    From this article the good elements, for me, that can help me find truth appear to be these, among others:

    1) Conduct a full examination of all the data.

    2) Don’t rely upon processes that rely solely upon emotions and manipulation.

    3) Repeating a claim doesn’t make it true.

    4) Have real intent. If I am unwilling to consider both sides of an argument as potentially possible, do I really have real intent? Probably not.

    5) Big lists don’t mean the church isn’t true. Big lists in support of the church don’t mean it is true either.

    6) And finally. Truth is unafraid of investigation. There is no problem with big lists as long as you are not afraid of a fair and honest investigation of the issues they raise.

    • You wrote: “. . . doubt your doubts is not very good advice in discovering truth..” I believe what was suggested by that advice was to ignore doubts or refuse to listen to an opposing view, but to do exactly what you suggest in your points 1 through 6. Good post on your part, however!

      • Sorry! What I meant to write was ” I believe what was suggested by that advice was NOT to ignore doubts, etc.”

        • Thanks. I would readily agree with the advice of doubt your doubts when it is given in the light of your comment to NOT ignore doubts.

          Sadly, I have heard personally the advice to doubt your doubts given to frequently as advice to ignore your questions and just keep believing no matter what.

          But if the intention is as you indicated then I would agree.

  11. Michael Ash is right. While the list is big, it does not want the reader to go beyond what it says. They want people to take what they say as truth at face value because they said it. They do not want people to research what they say. A classic example is the Book of Abraham. All criticism is centered on how it came to be. The important thing “big list” people do not what anyone to do is read the book!

    Another classic example may be the responses to my posts here which will deal with narrow issues: the hair on the pizza.

    • People questioning do the most research. Imagine growing up with Mormonism your whole life. Then the questions arise. You can ruin all of your eternity with the wrong decision. So you study every aspect and dig deep only to find what you’ve “known” your whole life is a farce.
      Do you know which group of people know the bible the best? Mormons and Catholics? Nope, Atheists and Agnostics.

  12. Great article I went through a period of time where I studied the claims of anti-mormonism. I walked away with a number of thoughts:

    1. Where do consumers of anti-mormonism focus their attention? Like other faith based systems out there, Mormonism requires some faith. While there is room for doubt, there are also some powerful evidences in favor of the restored gospel. If one focuses on their doubts to the exclusion of the evidences then doubt will govern their thoughts.
    2. The writers of anti-mormonism are heavily biased and will make up half truths and whole lies. Claims which have been thoroughly debunked decades ago still get reused and rehashed. This taints the general trustworthiness of anti-mormonism scholarship.
    3. It is hypocritical for one faith based organization to attack the faith components of another.
    4. Anti-mormonism creates far more agnostics out of Mormons than anything (a net gain for Christianity?)
    5. You can find well reasoned answers to most questions by studying the counter claims at fairmormon.org, or another good resource is JeffLindsay.com

    • Dave,

      I immediately went to FAIR when I unintentionally stumbled into Joseph’s polyandry. To be honest, FAIR’s defense & explanation of polyandry left me completely hollow. And when I sought answers from Heavenly Father, I felt completely at peace with the conclusion that polyandry is not of God. Furthermore, it was while I was on FAIR’s site that I encountered the depths of the challenges with the Book of Abraham (of which I was very naive about, previously).

      I also went to FAIR for polygamy, Kirtland Bank, priesthood restoration(s), First Vision accounts, Book of Mormon historicity, changes to D&C, Kinderhook Plates, succession crisis, and so on and so forth. In my experience, FAIR did not provide the “well reasoned” answers that you have found.

  13. I’ve kind of divided the world into ‘hard thinkers’ and ‘soft thinkers’. Hard thinkers are swayed by facts, logic and reason. They evaluate the truth or value of something on it’s merit. They can change their position in the face of new information but aren’t afraid to stand up against those who disagree without providing any valid argument. Soft thinkers go with what feels good, facts and logic are confusing and brushed aside as an opinion they don’t like. Their position changes with their feelings and they are easily manipulated or controlled by authority figures. Sadly the world is full of a lot of soft thinkers who think they are hard thinkers.

    • But the world is mostly full of people who are soft thinkers one moment and hard thinkers the next. When I apply for a loan, I am a hard thinker. When I bounce my grandchild on my knee, I’m soft thinker. Each of us needs a fair amount of both of your categories.

      Assuming your statement implies all Mormons (or any religious people) are soft thinkers, as I assume it does, there are many who take a hard thinking look at the Church. I run into dozens of them in church every Sunday. To deny that may be convenient, but is not hard thinking. The doctrines and teachings of the church are some of the best examples of hard thinking.

  14. I dunno a recent ‘big list’ was written by someone who was a sincere, search lds member, he was promised answers for at least three questions, but didn’t get any, so he seems to have the right to complain about no answers. And let’s talk about the dog poop, doesn’t Joseph Smith behaving immorally count for anything? Don’t just dismiss all big lists, some raise sincere questions that the church should answer, and it makes you look silly.

  15. Why were u afraid to tackle the real issues? You did try the issue of that there were no horses before the spaindars but I don’t really remember the BM saying too much about horses either.
    What about J smith reading the B of M out of a hat? Not even near the plates?

      • The point that repetition does not equal truth is certainly made within your piece. In fact, you go to great lengths to demonstrate that both the repetition of criticisms within single lists and the reoccurrence of criticisms across multiple lists lends a false legitimacy to anti-Mormon complaints.

        The inference to which the reader is led could be summed up as: many anti-Mormon claims might seem more valid than they actually are, simply because they have been repeated.

        MDJ’s summary of your repetition claim doesn’t seem off base to me.

  16. I think this approach will leave those who are seriously seeking answers more than a bit disappointed. Questioning the nature of truth and seeking out what feels good will only last so long. Choosing just one of many example, now that the church has acknowledged Joseph Smith engaged in polyandry, there are some very significant and serious questions that should arise.

    LDS historians note that in 11 instances Joseph Smith approached married women and told them God commanded that they enter into a relationship with him.

    Stop there for a moment and consider that encounter.

    The prophet of the church is approaching married women who have pledged fidelity to another man and encouraging them to break that vow. It would appear Joseph was convinced he was freed from obedience to the commandment to not covet his neighbor’s wife, and he encouraged these women to break the command against committing adultery.

    I doubt any LDS today would suggest that similar behavior from a bishop or stake president should be tolerated, but it is somehow forced into an acceptable behavior since it was done by the prophet. I wonder if anyone, even God himself, could have faulted any of these women if they’d chosen to reply to his advances with a simple, “No, what you are suggesting is against God’s word, and no man of God would suggest such shameful actions.” And why would we fault any LDS for saying that some thing today?

    • Tall Questions: You state, “Questioning the nature of truth and seeking out what feels good will only last so long.” This isn’t even remotely what I said or implied. Everyone please remember that only so much information can be contained in one article. If you have questions about plural marriage, I suggest reading some of the material from Brian Hales.

      • We realize that this might not be a comprehensive summation of your entire post, but it doesn’t seem like a mischaracterization to me (nor, obviously, to Talk Questions). For our convenience, would you mind distilling the main thrust of your piece? One or two sentences would be nice, and would make your position much easier to pin down.

  17. If only we could get through the crap of flowery words and phrases that are intended to impress or confuse and get to the real source of what people are about…. motives. What are their motives in making a statement? It comes down to two things… for or against the statement, or in other words bias. So, is the bias based on truth (fact) or based on a lie (error) or even based on emotion (a feeling)? How do we know truth from error? For me, God does exist and I know this by exercising faith in His teachings… which is about exercising ‘the proof of the pudding is in the tasting’ principle. Again, for me, God’s pudding is the best I have ever tasted and I’m not talking how it tastes to my tongue and body, but how it tastes to my soul. Now comes the biased bit…. the teachings provided by the LDS Church are the best I have ever tasted and bring me closer to God’s pudding than anything I have tasted. But you might say I haven’t tasted all puddings? To know the ultimate pudding is to know there is no other to better it… because the ultimate pudding brings life, joy, peace and happiness to my all my senses both physical and spiritual. In the end, motives can confuse or clarify any statement… tell me first what your motives are and I will tell you what your statement means.

    • My motive: to show that tastiness of a pudding is not an indication or its “truthfulness”.

      Just because a pudding tastes good doesn’t mean it is “true.” Truth has nothing to do with how tasty (or warm and fuzzy) something is. You have been raised with a tasty, piping hot bowl of plum pudding on your plate, but that doesn’t make it any more “true” the the plate of unsavory gruel that someone else was handed at birth. Heck, even a plate loaded with dried up cow patties might be the “true” plate. How something tastes is no measure of truth.

      It is my opinion that there is no true pudding out there. If you’ve found a flavor you like, that’s great. But remember that not everyone will like your flavor, and some may even have a fatal allergic reaction to it.

      I know you really aren’t talking about pudding, but remember that others have just as valid emotional reasons for eating their pudding as you do for eating yours. And none of those reasons mean that anyone’s pudding is the best one for everyone else.

      • “The proof is in the pudding” does not make for a compelling religious argument – at least, not in mortality.

        Indulge in a hypothetical: what if God actually desired that worship consisted of the recitation of a very specific poem, and the daily consumption of 1/2 lb of chocolate. Eating that much chocolate could easily have a negative effect on believers’ health. Others might look down on the chocolate-eaters, thinking to themselves “MY religion really helps me. It has the Word of Wisdom which keeps me healthy. It helps me develop emotionally, and strengthens my family. My religion is obviously better, and the proof is in the pudding.”

        What happens to the two groups on judgement day? The chocolate-eaters (even with their poor physical health) end up being rewarded, while the smug, proof in the pudding crowd find that they actually have the short end of the stick.

        My point is this: if eternal rewards are the end goal, then temporal benefits are – at best – an inconclusive indicator that one is on the right track.

  18. What about the classic methods of discerning truth? Logic, reason, syllogisms. Was that even mentioned in the above? Human beings may be bad at it but it seems to be the only valid approach. It almost felt like the above was saying to disregard a logical approach if it’s answers take you down a road you don’t like or can’t accept.

    • The article didn’t address this because it was focusing a one specific set of cognitive problems, not the entire range of possibilities. There is much more which can be said (and much more than will be said when I finish my much larger project which addresses these issues).

  19. “To respond to the claim, however, requires much more detailed and complicated information, including discussions on the limits of archaeology, the possibility that horse bones (dating to the correct period) have been found, as well as a detailed discussion on loan-shifting (the application of a familiar name to an unfamiliar item). Critics brush these more complicated answers aside as “mental gymnastics,” but in reality, complex discussions and answers are what we find in real scholarship and real science.”

    I know the main point of this article is not to discuss pre-Colombian horse archaeology, but this paragraph misrepresents critics of the church. I can assure you that any given “big list writer” knows more about the issue than you give them credit for.

    • I agree with Todd.

      Further, I’d like to point out that the loan-shifting defense of horses (and multiple other anachronistic animals, plants, metals, and technologies) really falls short as far as the Book of Mormon is concerned. Multiple translation accounts point toward a “tight translation” (including some who reported that Joseph would correct word choice and spelling mistakes). Additionally, the presence of non-standard words such as ziff, neas, curelom, and cumom tend to undermine the notion that Joseph read “horse” when the author recorded “tapir,” “wheat” when the author meant “maize,” “steel” when the author meant “terrestrial iron,” “chariots” when the author meant “sleds,” etc.

      • Westwood, you need to read Brant Gardner’s, “The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon.” Your assumptions about loan-shifting and the BoM don’t work.

  20. Is this not anti-antimormon literature? Is this not an attempt to discredit something you see as false in the same way that thing you see as false is trying to discredit your truth?
    How is this approach any more/less convincing, or credible, than what you call ” anti-Mormon literature ” ?

  21. The author thinks I have a syndrome. This disqualifies him from having any impact on my life. If you want to reach out to people, don’t give them fake maladies and act like they are deficient in some way.

  22. The reason the cesletter is so effective is not that it gives new information, it’s that is aggregates it all in one place. Apologists love to wrestle with individual issues (I know I did as a recovering apologist) blacks and the priesthood ban, polygamy, book of Abraham, etc. any one of those issues individually can be reasoned and defended. line them all up together and the obvious pattern of deception appears. Defenders of the faith will use the big list as a pejorative, “these are old issues” “nothing new, nothing to see here” but really the big list is its strength. One of the issues can be dismissed or reasoned away, show them all and its dificult if not impossible to realize something isn’t right.

    • But while compiling enough half-truths in one place makes it more “effective” it does not make it more accurate.

      • Think of it this way, if your wife didn’t come home one night and you found out the next morning her car had broke down and cell phone broke and she was trapped, you would believe her and be concerned. If it happened twice in week, it would be a weird coincidence. If it happened 45 times in a row you would think something is wrong. If it happened 30 times it would be very hard to believe there wasn’t something going on, infidelity, gambling problem etc.

        One issue like blacks and the priesthood or BoA you can individually dismiss as a weird thing. Line them all up and you start to realize the mental gymnastics to square things away. It really is (and I’m using this word intentionally) unbelievable.

        • I agree. When list item after list item has no support or is twisted or has simple explanations, a careful reader can clearly realize that it’s bogus. Unfortunately, as Mike pointed out, for many uncareful readers the opposite happens. By piling up so much garbage in one place, an uncareful reader starts to think there must be something of merit there, when in fact simply compiling a larger and larger list of half-truths doesn’t make any one of them more true. You, yourself, seem to have been hoodwinked by this fallacy.

          • your assumption is that on reading the list I and other readers merely took it at it’s word and our faith and belief evaporated overnight. Most people invested in the church have either wrestled with most of the topics before or looked deeper into each topic if it was new. You are being disingenuous (I’m assuming, since you seem like an intelligent dude you could just be ignorant) calling the cesletter half-truths. Every issue is at the very least problematic for believers and gets to my original and maybe my only point, having so many problems lined up is the feature of the list, not it’s problem.

      • Christopher,

        Shouldn’t it be fairly simple for the apologists, or you, to expose the “half-truths?”

        I went down the church history wormhole before the CES Letter existed. I immediately went to FAIR to address the questions that I had. My personal experience was that FAIR caused more challenges, as opposed to providing solutions…… This is why I think the future of Mormon apologetics will trend towards a softer Patrick Mason approach, and distance itself from the combative FAIR and Dan Peterson approaches.

      • Mike I read your post yesterday before making this post and just reread it to try and understand what you mean. If your point is that you couls reason away any problem the church has individually but they just sound bad when they are all together, you are missing my point. See the analogy I made above about a wife making excuses. I know you know most of the issues, probably better than most. Think about what is required to have the church history and its mistakes make sense, horse = tapir, God asked JS to do the exact thing that all cult leaders do (sleep with all the women), JS changed his story a bunch, God commanded racism, etc, etc, etc.

        I know, I know, you have answers for all of those. Maybe you can explain to me why God the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, decided to roll out his great restoration to look exactly like a cult.

        • I don’t believe that God rolled “out his great restoration to look exactly like a cult,” I believe that YOU think it looks that way because of what agnostic scholar Michael Shermer calls “patternicity.” Lots more to this than can be discussed in a single article or blog response.

          • If i told you there was some dude in California who had a new bible and was getting all his followers to move out to a small town to wait for the second coming, but instead got them all involved in a banking scheme where they all lost their money and then he left to a different town and ended up declaring himself king and sleeping with all the women, you and everyone else would know what to call it, patternicity indeed.

          • Josh, creating a caricature doesn’t make your position any stronger. The truth is much more complicated than you paint it, and this is exactly what I was referring to in my article. Your caricature is good example of taking a complex topic and simplifying it into something that doesn’t accurately reflect the situation (in this case a straw man)– which you can then use to support your position. I don’t begrudge anyone who doesn’t believe, or even leaves. It’s strictly a personal choice to accept or reject the LDS faith. The problem I have, however, are with those who attempt to paint a simplistic picture of the situation. Serious critical scholars and serious believing scholars rarely take this approach. They know that there are biases and cognitive shortcomings that drive interpretation and that data can sometimes point in many directions. While they may argue for their position, they typically acknowledge that the unassailable truth is elusive and that the most anyone can hope for is a theory that best accounts for all the data.

          • Josh, just to give an example about something that you “know” that isn’t factually correct:

            “but instead got them all involved in a banking scheme where they all lost their money ”

            One fact and one context. First, the fact — most people were fully repaid (96%), and Joseph Smith lost his shirt seeing them repaid. This continued all the way until the Saints arrived in Utah when they continued to take out advertisements seeking those who had lost money in the KSS to make claims so that they could be repaid. So Joseph lost money in the society himself, lost more money in personally repaying debts he did not legally owe (but felt responsible for), and yet somehow that makes him a scoundrel? In any event, your statement that “they all lost their money” is inarguably factually incorrect.

            Second, the context. The KSS had a financial reserve of about $21k. This was a very significant reserve at the time. William Parrish, an anti-Mormon, stole $20k of that (partially causing the run which collapsed the bank).

            So you have a anti-Mormon trying to bring down the bank, stealing money, and even after it comes down you have Joseph and the Church trying to make things right and you still somehow see that as a negative towards Joseph?

          • Jonathan,

            Check your sources on William Parrish. I find that most every source is very late and very polemical. I think at some point in the retelling of the story Parrish gets turned into the boogie man. He he gets accused of things that were probably not even possible. 27 years after the failure of the anti-bank failure George A. Smith accuses Warren Parrish of embezzling $100,000. That would have been a very large amount of money back then for the KSS. There is no evidence that it happened. That math doesn’t add up either. That is too large of a sum to be embezzled by Parrish. The KSS simply wasn’t large enough for someone to embezzle that much.

            The Kirtland Safety Society ledger book survived. I haven’t gone through it myself. But the people who have say they see no evidence of fraud in the ledger book. The LDS church points to this as evidence that Joseph Smith was not guilty of fraud. I agree. Which implies to me that neither Warren Parrish or Joseph Smith embezzle any money. That makes sense to me. If the ledger book is evidence that Joseph Smith did not embezzle funds, isn’t it also evidence for the idea that the guy who kept the books, Warren Parrish, also did not embezzle funds?

  23. I think it is pretty clear that the hair on the pizza analogy was to illustrate a rhetorical device, not to preach about accepting or rejecting contamination. But I think the point being made in the comment is legitimate: all of life (or historical stories or real people’s lives, or actual choices) have a bit of dog poop in them and we need not freak out because nothing is perfect.

  24. This is slightly funny, because I have heard by members an old statement that if there is a tray of treats, but a little dog poop in the corner, the whole thing isn’t good. (This was used to refute bad TV with “just a little objectionable material.) However, here…it says that it is actually ok to have “a little dog hair on your pizza.”

    • And this, Ladies and Gentlemen is a perfect example of the K.I.S.S and a ‘Strawman’ fallacy. Misrepresenting a statement to simplify the article into something it was not meant to be. Bravo

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