On Feb­ru­ary 12, 2017, The Faith of a Sci­ence Teacher pub­lished a post enti­tled “Ques­tions about the Church and Gospel of Jesus Christ”. I think many of these ques­tions are very poignant. Hav­ing thought for many years about these same kinds of ques­tions, I decid­ed to offer up some responses.

The author indi­cates that the absence of a sat­is­fy­ing answer out­side the gen­er­al LDS frame­work of thought can be viewed as evi­dence in favor of the propo­si­tion that the Church’s truth-claims gen­uine­ly cor­re­spond to real­i­ty (i.e., they are veridi­cal). He sim­i­lar­ly points out that for­mer mem­bers do the same thing with ques­tions dif­fi­cult to answer from with­in the stan­dard LDS framework—for exam­ple, many of the ques­tions asked by the author of the CES Let­ter seem not to have sat­is­fy­ing answers from with­in the ortho­dox LDS mod­el and these kinds of unan­swered ques­tions weigh against the stan­dard ortho­dox LDS model.

I agree with the author that a rea­son­able way to begin ana­lyz­ing a model’s use­ful­ness and cor­re­spon­dence with real­i­ty is to deter­mine how well it fields answers to var­i­ous questions—particularly ques­tions with sat­is­fy­ing respons­es in com­pet­ing mod­els. In the spir­it of sub­ject­ing mod­els to analy­sis, I have attempt­ed to answer the blog author’s ques­tions, or offer counter-ques­tions, using a nat­u­ral­ist or deist framework.

I hope my response may con­tribute to oth­ers’ efforts to form accu­rate mod­els and to fol­low good­ness and truth (see my beliefs).

[Ques­tions from Faith of a Sci­ence Teacher are pre­fixed “FST” and num­bered for ref­er­ence.]

Questions and Answers

[FST‑1] Where did the ener­gy and mat­ter in the uni­verse come from?

LDS the­ol­o­gy does not answer this ques­tion except to say that mat­ter always exist­ed. Con­trast LDS the­o­log­i­cal descrip­tions of mat­ter with the exquis­ite detail sci­ence has pro­vid­ed abou the nature of fun­da­men­tal par­ti­cles and the rela­tion­ship between mat­ter and ener­gy, for instance.

[FST‑2] What was before the Big Bang? What caused the uni­verse to form?

I do not think LDS the­ol­o­gy actu­al­ly answers this ques­tion. Regard­less, con­trast what LDS the­ol­o­gy says (or doesn’t say) on this ques­tion with the res­o­lu­tion pro­vid­ed by mod­ern sci­ence on the question.

[FST‑3] Is every­thing we are–the beau­ti­ful world we live in, the lov­ing rela­tion­ships we form, and the amaz­ing works we create–just the result of ran­dom chance?

Self-orga­ni­za­tion and emer­gence seem to be prop­er­ties intrin­sic to chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal systems.

What seems abun­dant­ly clear, how­ev­er, is that humankind did not orig­i­nate 6000 years ago (even though this is taught in vir­tu­al­ly every Church man­u­al) some­where close to Mis­souri, USA (also cur­rent­ly taught in les­son man­u­als).

This line of think­ing (if we are the prod­uct of ran­dom chance then maybe we don’t real­ly mat­ter) is sim­i­lar to the reduc­tion­is­tic approach to look­ing at humans. In its extreme form, the reduc­tion­ist approach says, “because we are com­posed of atoms we don’t real­ly mat­ter and there are no real morals.” In its extreme form, the spon­ta­neous gen­er­a­tion approach says, “because we came from ran­dom process­es and will some­day die, we don’t real­ly mat­ter and there are no morals.” Both these approach­es are high­ly flawed, IMHO, because they fail to acknowl­edge that meta-phe­nom­e­na are “real” and that emer­gent “stuff” is as sig­nif­i­cant as fun­da­men­tal “stuff” (even though emer­gent “stuff”, to be sure, is con­tin­gent upon fun­da­men­tal “stuff”). We are con­scious crea­tures and we appear to have at least some mea­sure of gen­uine agency (sci­en­tists are just at the begin­ning of being able to real­ly ana­lyze that process, so it’s unclear exact­ly how much). If we can con­sid­er how our actions might influ­ence the well-being of anoth­er con­scious crea­ture and alter our behav­ior based on that real­iza­tion, then moral­i­ty also exists in that very real­iza­tion. And, giv­en that we can direct­ly influ­ence the well-being of oth­ers and the fate of our plan­et now, we clear­ly are capa­ble of cre­at­ing mean­ing and pur­pose now, regard­less of how we came to be or the fact that our con­scious­ness is con­tin­gent upon the atoms of which we are composed.

[FST‑4] How could intel­li­gent life spring from a non-intel­li­gent uni­verse? (Note: I am aware that many peo­ple answer this with the anal­o­gy that a team of mon­keys writ­ing on type­writ­ers for an infi­nite amount of time will even­tu­al­ly recre­ate the works of Shake­speare. But that just opens up more ques­tions, such as who gave them the type­writ­ers and who iden­ti­fies what Shakespeare’s writ­ings are. It seems that all intel­li­gence must be pre­ced­ed by intelligence.)

Emer­gence appears to be a fea­ture of the universe.

How do you explain the first God? Infi­nite Gods is not real­ly an expla­na­tion because it only leaves us with a dif­fer­ent ques­tion: Why would the exis­tence of anthro­po­mor­phic Gods be a co-exis­tent eter­nal fea­ture of the uni­verse? That seems just as mirac­u­lous and unan­swer­able a ques­tion as how to explain the emer­gence of intel­li­gent life.

[FST‑5] Why have … hun­dreds of soci­eties used God or a sim­i­lar High­er Pow­er for their source of moral guid­ance? Or in the words of athe­ist his­to­ri­an Will Durant, why “is [there] no sig­nif­i­cant exam­ple in his­to­ry, before our time, of a soci­ety suc­cess­ful­ly main­tain­ing moral life with­out the aid of religion”?

Why have all these soci­eties’ con­cepts of God dif­fered so wide­ly? And why do almost all mod­ern soci­eties have mas­sive­ly reduced belief in God?

If you read the Durants you will find that they are simul­ta­ne­ous­ly assert­ing that mod­ern soci­eties are able to main­tain moral life with­out the aid of reli­gion. And, please note that belief in a supreme being is not shared by some pygmy tribes and also Jains, both of which have moral codes.

In gen­er­al, reli­gion can be viewed as a high­ly suc­cess­ful meme that sat­is­fies many human desires.

Fur­ther­more, many of these soci­eties prac­ticed human sac­ri­fice to appease their Gods. Hence, a moral sys­tem derived from belief in God is clear­ly sub­ject to abuse. If you haven’t already, please con­sid­er the argu­ments found in Euthyphro’s dilem­ma. Also, con­sid­er how athe­ists tend to think about moral­i­ty (it’s far more robust than God-cen­tric ver­sions of moral­i­ty, IMHO):

[FST‑6] What about the Bible? How did the teach­ings of some wan­der­ing Israelis and a carpenter’s son become the most influ­en­tial book in mod­ern civilization?

How did the Quran become so influ­en­tial? And if you accept the Quran as true, then why do you not believe that Muhammed is God’s prophet and Jesus is not the son of God as mus­lims believe?

[FST‑7] And that carpenter’s son, Jesus of Nazareth, how was he able to teach rev­o­lu­tion­ary moral ideas that upend­ed every­thing peo­ple had been taught previously?

Have you read the writ­ings of those who pre­ced­ed Jesus? The Sto­ics? Socrates? Aesop’s fables? The Baby­lon­ian “Coun­sels of Wis­dom”? I agree that Jesus’s teach­ings were, by and large, quite rev­o­lu­tion­ary, but they were def­i­nite­ly not with­out prece­dent in the ancient world (for instance, Aesop was a slave which makes being the son of a car­pen­ter sound love­ly, right? And the defin­ing fea­ture of Socrates, besides his bril­liant intel­lect, was that he was con­sid­ered “ugly”. How did an ugly man have so much influ­ence on philosophy?)

[FST‑8] How did this hum­ble man teach truths that had as much of an impact as the ideas of Pla­to and Aristotle?

How did Pla­to and Aris­to­tle have such an impact? They clear­ly weren’t divine, yet their thoughts were so pow­er­ful that they shaped the fol­low­ing 2500 years of history.

[FST‑9] He told them to love their ene­mies (because all peo­ple are your neigh­bors) turn­ing the oth­er cheek instead of retaliating.

Very sim­i­lar vari­ants of the Gold­en rule were at least some­what com­mon among ancient civ­i­liza­tions. For instance, the Baby­lon­ian Coun­sels of Wis­dom says:

Do not return evil to the man who dis­putes with you; Requite with kind­ness your evil-doer, Main­tain jus­tice to your ene­my, Smile on your adversary. 

And ancient bud­dhist wis­dom (cen­turies before Christ) taught:

Shame on him who strikes, greater shame on him who strikes back. Let us live hap­pi­ly, not hat­ing those who hate us. Let us there­fore over­come anger by kind­ness, evil by good, false­hood by truth. Do not hurt oth­ers in ways that would be hurt­ful to yourself. 

And there are oth­er exam­ples of this con­cept in the ancient literature.

[FST-10] He answered a moral dilem­ma by sim­ply telling his fol­low­ers to ren­der unto Cae­sar that which is Caesar’s and ren­der unto God that which is his, one of his many proverbs that we con­tin­ue to quote today.

I am not sure that Jesus’s wis­dom was far supe­ri­or to the wis­dom and pithi­ness of Aesop’s fables, ancient Bud­dhist wis­dom, the words of Con­fu­cious, or the Tao Te Ching.

Also, how do we know that Jesus’s fol­low­ers didn’t embell­ish or improve upon his orig­i­nal sayings?

[FST-11] Jesus’ mes­sage was that God loves the poor and pen­i­tent not the self-right­eous and wealthy; he went against social norms by invit­ing them to be hum­ble like chil­dren, because the great­est man should be a servant.

Again, sim­i­lar kinds of ideas per­vad­ed the ancient wis­dom literature.

[FST-12] If such a wise man were not the Son of God, why did he say he was?

Some mod­ern bib­li­cal schol­ars think the Son of God appela­tion was a some­what lat­er addi­tion (i.e., Jesus may not have actu­al­ly taught that him­self, but it was lay­ered on by the authors of the Gospels).

[FST-13] And why do mil­lions of peo­ple still believe him?

Why do bil­lions of peo­ple still fol­low Con­fu­cious, Mohammed and the Bud­dha? Does that make each of them divine?

I think that since most of the sto­ries of Jesus and his teach­ings are high­ly altru­is­tic they elic­it the emo­tion of ele­va­tion in peo­ple. This goes a long way to explain­ing why Jesus’s teach­ings have been passed on and pre­served in var­i­ous soci­eties (i.e., they tend to stim­u­late the vagus nerve and bring feel­ings of joy and peace and inspire altru­is­tic atti­tudes and behavior).

[FST-14] What about the Book of Mor­mon? Where did that come from? I don’t believe that Joseph Smith or any of the peo­ple around him could have writ­ten it themselves.

I agree that the exact man­ner of the com­ing forth of the Book of Mor­mon is a fas­ci­nat­ing his­tor­i­cal puz­zle, and I’m not sure it will ever be solved, com­plete­ly. How­ev­er, many authors have cre­at­ed dif­fi­cult to explain works in rel­a­tive­ly short peri­ods of time that seem extra­or­di­nary and beyond the author’s innate capa­bil­i­ty: The Oth­er Holy Books. How do you explain where these books came from? Many peo­ple do not believe that mor­tals with­out divine assis­tance could have writ­ten them.

And, even if we con­cede that the BoM were a lit­er­al mir­a­cle (I don’t think the evi­dence is strong enough to make that claim, but let’s just grant it for the moment) that still would not be suf­fi­cient to con­vince an objec­tive per­son that the book was not the work of an author from the ear­ly 1800s once you have exam­ined all the par­al­lels with works of its time (see point #2 of Five Key Facts). The con­tent of the BoM is very clear­ly the con­tent of a book writ­ten in the ear­ly 1800s (whether God inspired its cre­ation or not). The man­ner in which it comes forth does not, to my mind, trump the strong 1800s sig­na­ture that bleeds out of every page and in every doc­tri­nal exposition.

[FST-15] While I have read some pos­si­ble expla­na­tions of the book’s ori­gin, none of them seem to answer the most dif­fi­cult ques­tion, which Elder Tad Cal­lis­ter posed in a recent BYU devo­tion­al: Even if Joseph had obtained his­tor­i­cal facts from local libraries or com­mu­ni­ty conversations—for which there is no sub­stan­ti­at­ing evidence—the real issue still remains: Where did he get the deep and expan­sive doc­trine taught in the Book of Mormon—much of which is con­trary to the reli­gious beliefs of his time? For exam­ple, con­tem­po­rary Chris­tian­i­ty taught that the Fall was a neg­a­tive, not a pos­i­tive, step for­ward, as taught in the Book of Mor­mon (see 2 Nephi 2).

2 Nephi 2 fol­lows very close­ly the anti-Pela­gian arc of thought among Protes­tants of his time. View­ing the fall in a pos­i­tive light was not orig­i­nal to the BoM.

It’s appro­pri­ate to point out that Tad Cal­lis­ter made oth­er asser­tions about the Book of Mormon’s unique­ness which are demon­stra­bly incor­rect. For instance, he claimed “2 Nephi 9 intro­duces for the first time the phrase ‘an infi­nite aton­ment’”, but the phrase “infi­nite atone­ment” was com­mon­place and dis­cus­sions sim­i­lar to those found in the BoM. Here are just a cou­ple of exam­ples (empha­sis added):

The infer­ence that you draw from my say­ing, that “I did not believe an infi­nite atone­ment nec­es­sary in order for God to be just in the par­don of sin,” I think, wants pro­pri­ety. If it be my belief that the Son of God is not the eter­nal infi­nite God, still I think you have no right to declare it from any thing that I have writ­ten to you. You say, “that in order to sup­port” my “favourite sys­tem,” I “find it nec­es­sary.” How so? If it require an infi­nite atone­ment made by an infi­nite God to save a part of the human fam­i­ly is it nec­es­sary to have a finite atone­ment by a finite per­son to save the whole? (A Cor­re­spon­dence, by let­ters, between Samuel C. Love­land, Preach­er of the Doc­trine of Uni­ver­sal Sal­va­tion, and Rev. Joseph Laberee, Pas­tor of the Con­gre­ga­tion­al Church and Soci­ety in Jeri­co, Ver­mont. 1818. Wind­sor, Ver­mont. pg 51)

I do not con­sid­er the neces­si­ty of an atone­ment as aris­ing from the num­ber of sins, but from the nature of them. As the same sun which is nec­es­sary to enlight­en the present inhab­i­tants of the earth is suf­fi­cient to enlight­en many mil­lions more; and as the same per­fect obe­di­ence of Christ which was nec­es­sary for the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of one sin­ner, is suf­fi­cient to jus­ti­fy the mil­lions that are saved; so, I appre­hend the same infi­nite atone­ment would have been nec­es­sary for the sal­va­tion of one soul, con­sis­tent­ly with jus­tice, as for the sal­va­tion of a world. (The Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, vol I. 1820. Philadel­phi. pg 391)

[FST-16] Like­wise, con­trary to con­tem­po­rary beliefs, the Book of Mor­mon refers to a pre­mor­tal exis­tence in Alma 13 (see Alma 13:1–11)

Ter­ryl Givens recent­ly wrote a book on the top­ic of the pre­mor­tal exis­tence in var­i­ous thought across time (When Souls Had Wings). He recent­ly com­ment­ed:

The LDS faith is the only sig­nif­i­cant Chris­t­ian denom­i­na­tion teach­ing this doc­trine today. But it turns out, lit­er­al­ly dozens—perhaps hundreds—of poets, mys­tics, philoso­phers, the­olo­gians and pas­tors have taught this same prin­ci­ple across the centuries. 

And, Givens indi­cat­ed that Joseph Smith was like­ly exposed to these ideas.

Final­ly, there is also the ques­tion of why the author of Alma 13 repeat­ed­ly alludes to teach­ings and phras­es from the New Tes­ta­ment rather than the Old Testament.

[FST-17] and to a post­mor­tal spir­it world in Alma 40 (see Alma 40:11–14). Where did Joseph Smith get these pro­found doc­tri­nal truths that were in fact con­trary to the pre­vail­ing doc­tri­nal teach­ings of his time?

The dis­cus­sion in Alma 40 on the spir­it world match­es close­ly the dis­cus­sion in Matthew Earbery’s book “Of the state of the dead and of those that are to rise”, includ­ing sus­pi­cious­ly sim­i­lar phraseology:

What the future State of the Soul is after the Cor­po­re­al Dis­so­lu­tion; or con­cern­ing the mid­dle State of Souls betwixt Death and the Res­ur­rec­tion, as to the Degrees of Hap­pi­ness and Mis­ery. [empha­sis added] 

As we have already proved from nat­ur­al Rea­son, and from the Evi­dence of sacred Writ, That human Souls sur­vive the Body; we must next exam­ine in what State they are, and what Life they enjoy after this cor­po­re­al Sep­a­ra­tion. We must first enquire if they are invest­ed with anoth­er Body after they have part­ed from this; of what Nature that Body is; or, whether they remain naked and divest­ed of all Mat­ter to the Res­ur­rec­tion. The Solu­tion of this Ques­tion leads us direct­ly into a Knowl­edge of a future State. But as the oth­er, con­cern­ing the Degrees of Hap­pi­ness and Mis­ery, is more gen­er­al and less obsure, we shall bring upon the Test into Exam­i­na­tion, the Opin­ion of some * Neo­t­er­icks, who will have the Souls imme­di­ate­ly after Death car­ried up into Heav­en, and to the high­est Glo­ries of the Beat­i­fick Vision; or to be depressed into the utmost Mis­eries of Hell: Both, I think are too much upon the Extremes. The reformed Divines, to avoid the Ter­rours of Pur­ga­to­ry, have entire­ly tak­en away the inter­me­di­ate State; as we are too apt in avoid­ing one Fol­ly to fall upon anoth­er. It is very well known, the Roman Pur­ga­to­ry is adapt­ed to the Humours of the Peo­ple and the Ben­e­fit of the Priest: But why should these Phan­tasms fright us away from the Search of Truth, and the Opin­ion of the Ancients con­cern­ing the hith­er­to unful­filled State of Mis­ery and Hap­pi­ness, before the Day of Judge­ment. We shall at present defer to speak of the Mis­er­able, and con­fine our selves to shew, how dis­so­nant it is to the sacred Writ­ings and the ancient Faith, to assert the imme­di­ate Trans­la­tion from this Life to the King­dom of Heav­en, and the Beat­i­fick Vision, before the Res­ur­renc­tion and com­ing of CHRIST. [empha­sis added] 

See addi­tion­al sim­i­lar­i­ties with Ear­bery here.

[FST-18] Where did he get the stun­ning ser­mon on faith in Alma 32?

It appears to most­ly be an exten­sion of the para­ble of the sow­er found in Matthew 13:

Matthew 13:6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they with­ered away. 

Alma 32:38 … and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it with­ers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out. 

Per­haps a bet­ter ques­tion is, why did the author of Alma 32 fre­quent­ly quote New Tes­ta­ment vers­es and phras­es and not Old Tes­ta­ment vers­es and phras­es? (see book of mor­mon ori­gins project on Alma 32)

[FST-19] Or one of the great­est ser­mons ever record­ed in all scrip­ture on the Savior’s Atone­ment as deliv­ered by King Ben­jamin (see Mosi­ah 2–5)?

Again, this ser­mon is rich with sim­i­lar­i­ties to works of its time.

For instance, King Ben­jamin talks about actu­al blood com­ing from Jesus’s pores, but that idea was com­mon in Joseph’s time (see, for instance, A Selec­tion of Hymns and Spir­i­tu­al Songs. 1817. New York.).

Also, the descrip­tion King Ben­jamin gives of Christ’s suf­fer­ing is sim­i­lar to oth­er works from the ear­ly 1800s. The Book of Won­ders, Mar­vel­lous and True. 1813. Lon­don. states:

I became flesh and blood to dwell with men; and like man I became an infant of days, to be born of the woman. Here I became in all things like man, to suf­fer temp­ta­tions, to suf­fer per­se­cu­tion; to resem­ble man’s weak­ness, by hid­ing myself. All this I have done, to be a judge of the infir­mi­ties of man, that 1 might be a judge of what man had to go through, and a clear judge of the dif­fer­ent con­duct in mankind. 

I’m cur­rent­ly work­ing through the claims made by Tad Cal­lis­ter, so I hope to include more exam­ples in the future on this point.

[FST-20] Or the alle­go­ry of the olive tree with all its com­plex­i­ty and doc­tri­nal rich­ness (see Jacob 5)? When I read that alle­go­ry, I have to map it out to fol­low its intricacies.

The para­ble of the Olive Tree may be viewed as an amal­ga­ma­tion and embell­ish­ment of Romans 11 and Isa­iah 5, and it still bears the imprint of that patch­work (there’s a dis­tinct shift between olive tree and the whole vin­yard in Jacob 5:41), as I dis­cuss here.

[FST-21] Are we sup­posed to believe that Joseph Smith just dic­tat­ed these ser­mons off the top of his head with no notes whatsoever?

How do faith­ful schol­ars rec­on­cile the fact that there are 1769 King James Ver­sion edi­tion trans­la­tion errors [pg 6] also found in the Book of Mor­mon? What­ev­er man­ner he used to copy those trans­la­tion errors exact­ly seems like a viable can­di­date for how he was able to dic­tate oth­er com­plex sec­tions of the Book of Mormon.

[FST-22] And if Joseph did make it up, what did he find in the hill by his home? Why did so many peo­ple try so hard to steal it from him? What was it that Isaac Hale, who hat­ed Joseph, felt in a box?

Con­sid­er some of Dan Vogel’s work on the top­ic.

[FST-23] What about the Three and Eight wit­ness­es to the plates, why did none of them ever deny that the ancient record was real?

Con­sid­er the argu­ments from Chap­ter 3 of For my Wife and Chil­dren.

[FST-24] I know that many of the ear­ly church lead­ers left to form their own denom­i­na­tions, but why did some of them, like Mar­tin Har­ris, come back?

Why do peo­ple fol­low total­is­tic groups in the first place? Why did the Heav­ens Gate com­mu­ni­ty all com­mit suicide? …

Also, con­sid­er some of these argu­ments about their returning.

[FST-25] Why did Oliv­er Cow­dery and William McLellin claim that Joseph Smith’s rev­e­la­tions answer ques­tions he couldn’t have known they had?

Per­haps in a man­ner sim­i­lar to cold read­ing tech­niques.

[FST-26] Then there’s Solomon Cham­ber­lain, who had a vision sim­i­lar to Joseph Smith, telling him that none of the church­es were true. I’ve seen crit­ics who use this as evi­dence that Joseph bor­rowed his vision­ary sto­ry from the accounts of oth­ers. Then why did Solomon believe that the restored church was a ful­fill­ment of his vision? Wouldn’t he, more than any­one, have known if Joseph had invent­ed or pla­gia­rized the story?

I can’t real­ly answer for Solomon Cham­ber­lain, but we could ask why so many oth­ers joined sim­i­lar restora­tionist move­ments (and see here). Why did peo­ple believe in Jan Matthias and Jan Van Liden?

[FST-27] And what about all those who remained faithful–Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Tay­lor, or Wil­ford Woodruff? They were clos­est to Joseph Smith, and they believed every­thing he taught, even when it wasn’t easy. Why were they will­ing to give their lives for this cause?

Most fol­low­ers of high­ly charis­mat­ic lead­ers are will­ing to give their life for the cause. Con­sid­er the fate of the Branch David­i­ans, the Heaven’s Gate group, and the Peo­ples Tem­ple Agri­cul­tur­al Project. Extreme devo­tion to a cause clear­ly does not make it veridical.

[FST-28] Why did my own ances­tors believe in this gospel? Why did William and Catharine Mor­gan cross the coun­try in hand­carts in the same year that over 200 pio­neers died mak­ing the same jour­ney? Why did the Van Tussen­brooks send their 11 chil­dren one or two at a time from Hol­land to Utah?

It is not atyp­i­cal for peo­ple to make fan­tas­tic and extreme sac­ri­fices to join high-demand reli­gions in a quest for mean­ing and pur­pose. Extreme sac­ri­fice to fol­low a reli­gious thought or move­ment is not unique to Mor­monism (exam­ple 1, exam­ple 2, exam­ple 3).

[FST-29] Why do I feel a con­nec­tion to these peo­ple when I am doing fam­i­ly his­to­ry and tem­ple work? Isn’t the love and con­nec­tion we feel to oth­er peo­ple a sign of a high­er pow­er? Does that real­ly end with death?

The oxy­tocin medi­at­ed emo­tion of ele­va­tion is an evo­lu­tion­ar­i­ly con­served mech­a­nism for encour­ag­ing group behavior.

[FST-30] What about the cur­rent lead­ers of the church? How can they bear sin­cere tes­ti­mo­ny that Jesus Christ directs this church?

Why do Catholic lead­ers and the lead­ers of groups like the FLDS bear tes­ti­mo­ny that Christ directs their group?

[FST-31] If the Church were man-made, they would know it. But every six months, I hear talks by men like Thomas S. Mon­son, Dieter F. Ucht­dorf, and Jef­frey R. Hol­land, and I can’t pos­si­bly imag­ine that they are try­ing to deceive us.

I think the lead­ers are sin­cere in their belief and are doing their best to lead the Church.

Still, con­sid­er how lead­ers dance around the ques­tion of whether they have actu­al­ly seen Jesus. And, con­sid­er how straight­for­ward Hol­land is when asked about Mitt Rom­ney and tem­ple oaths.

[FST-32] And if there were some sort of con­spir­a­cy, wouldn’t there be a gen­er­al author­i­ty who would crack at some point? From what I can tell, in the last 100 years, no gen­er­al author­i­ty has left the church for any rea­son except per­son­al misconduct.

There is a huge incen­tive to stay in (male GAs receive a $120,000 / yr pay­check) and there is a huge dis­in­cen­tive to leave (imag­ine the shun­ning a per­son would expe­ri­ence from almost every­one they knew–virtually all their friends and fam­i­ly). Psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly, it’s just not set up to allow some­one who has achieved that lev­el of lead­er­ship to be able to objec­tive­ly re-exam­ine their beliefs.

Still, con­sid­er the sto­ries of area author­i­ty Hans Matts­son and for­mer Stake Pres­i­dent Tom Phillips.

[FST-33] How is this church grow­ing so rapid­ly in age of fad­ing religiosity?

It’s growth rate is drop­ping off. And why are there more Sev­enth Day Adven­tists and they still expe­ri­ence growth rates far above the Church?

[FST-34] How do young, inex­pe­ri­enced mis­sion­ar­ies have so much suc­cess in chang­ing people’s lives and bring­ing them to a new religion?

They are trained in a vari­ety of very effec­tive sales tac­tics focus­ing on the emo­tion of ele­va­tion and peo­ple are always search­ing for mean­ing and pur­pose and the Church offers that (even if its truth claims are not veridical).

Final­ly, mis­sion­ar­ies stu­dious­ly avoid all the con­tro­ver­sial parts of Church his­to­ry and Church truth-claims. Imag­ine a mis­sion­ary dis­cus­sion where the mis­sion­ary relat­ed the 1832 account of the First Vision, dis­cussed the trans­la­tion process of the Book of Mor­mon as it actu­al­ly occurred, shared their tes­ti­mo­ny of the Book of Abra­ham “cat­alyzed” from papyri, and shared the com­plete sto­ry of polygamy (includ­ing teenage wives, polyandry, hid­ing it from Emma, and lib­er­al denials that it was occur­ing).

[FST-35] Why does the Church of Jesus Christ do so much good in the world through human­i­tar­i­an and edu­ca­tion services?

I agree that the Church and its mem­bers do a lot of good in the world. Still, as an orga­ni­za­tion, the Church is on the stingy side of char­i­ta­ble con­tri­bu­tions com­pared to its income and resources.

My under­stand­ing is that, for its size, the Sev­enth Day Adven­tists do far more for char­i­ty than Mor­mons. Does that mean Ellen White is a prophet?

[FST-36] Why are reli­gious peo­ple more like­ly to donate to char­i­ty and give service?

Good ques­tion. I’m not total­ly sure. What about these find­ings from recent studies:

Reli­gious and non­re­li­gious par­tic­i­pants did not dif­fer in the like­li­hood or qual­i­ty of com­mit­ted moral and immoral acts. (Moral­i­ty in every­day life. Sci­ence 2014)

Across all coun­tries, par­ents in reli­gious house­holds report­ed that their chil­dren expressed more empa­thy and sen­si­tiv­i­ty for jus­tice in every­day life than non-reli­gious par­ents. How­ev­er, reli­gious­ness was inverse­ly pre­dic­tive of children’s altru­ism and pos­i­tive­ly cor­re­lat­ed with their puni­tive ten­den­cies. (see here and here)

[FST-37] What about my own expe­ri­ence? Why do I feel such pow­er when I read the Book of Mor­mon, as if it were writ­ten by prophets who kept a record for future generations?

See Tes­ti­mo­ny, Spir­i­tu­al Expe­ri­ences, and Truth: A Care­ful Examination

Also, con­sid­er the tes­ti­mo­ny of those who read oth­er Holy Books.

[FST-38] Why is reli­gious music so beau­ti­ful and inspiring?

I don’t know, but I agree that it’s won­der­ful. Still, does reli­gious music have a monop­oly on “beau­ti­ful and inspiring”?

Also, a lot of reli­gious music preach­es doc­trines that are fun­da­men­tal­ly con­trary to LDS teach­ings. Why doesn’t the Spir­it “turn off” when false doc­trine about the trin­i­ty is sung in the cre­do of Bach’s B Minor Mass, for instance?

[FST-39] Why has the doc­trine of grace and the Atone­ment giv­en me com­fort and peace, help­ing me feel that I can change and be for­giv­en of any mistake?

The atone­ment is a very pow­er­ful concept.

Still, we should con­sid­er this hypo­thet­i­cal sce­nario: What if the atone­ment had not actu­al­ly been per­formed but the gospel writ­ers mere­ly assert­ed that it was prop­er­ly per­formed. How would you know? Is there any proof of the atone­ment out­side of you believ­ing in it? What if some aspect of the atone­ment wasn’t real­ly part of the atone­ment pack­age (for instance, what if the atone­ment didn’t real­ly cov­er pain but only sin?) How would you know?

[FST-40] Why does the gospel of Jesus Christ make so much sense and feel so true?

Why does it seem sil­ly and unbe­liev­able to almost all out­side observers? (see the sec­tion “Tes­ti­mo­ny, bias, and pro­pa­gan­da” here)

Also, it is extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to real­ize you are think­ing inside a her­met­i­cal­ly sealed sys­tem of thought until you can look at it from the out­side. Many LDS sys­tems of thought are orga­nized to dis­cour­age your mind from ever notic­ing that alter­na­tive inter­pre­ta­tions exist.

[FST-41] How have I received impres­sions of things that I need­ed to do or places I need­ed to go that I could not have known beforehand?

Because minds are real­ly amaz­ing and are con­stant­ly doing “instinct” cal­cu­la­tions which are not ratio­nal but subliminal.

Why does a baby chim­panzee that’s nev­er been exposed to snakes or flow­ers before quick­ly learn fear of snakes but not fear of flow­ers (this source).

[FST-42] In fact, I have heard hun­dreds of peo­ple tes­ti­fy of expe­ri­ences that can­not all be explained by coin­ci­dence or imagination.

See Type I and Type II mir­a­cles. Also, con­sid­er these Catholic mir­a­cles. Do these mir­a­cles mean the Catholic church is true?

[FST-43] There has to be some­thing greater out there, and for me per­son­al­ly, the Church of Jesus Christ answers the ques­tions of where we came from and why we are here far bet­ter than any oth­er source I have found.

Almost all mod­els answer a few ques­tions well. Maybe the real test of a mod­el is how it deals with edge cas­es. So, how well does the LDS mod­el deal with these questions:

  • How do mod­els of pre-mor­tal life deal with sce­nar­ios where two dis­tinct twins exist and one twin sub­sumes the oth­er (i.e., cre­at­ing human chimeras)? What hap­pens to the spirits?
  • The Old Tes­ta­ment demands the ston­ing to death of women who have com­mit­ted adul­tery. Depend­ing on when the adul­tery was dis­cov­ered, some of these women were undoubt­ed­ly pre­gant. Does God con­done abortion?
  • What kind of a plan does the gospel pro­vide for those with com­plete andro­gen insen­si­tiv­i­ty syn­drome? Bio­log­i­cal­ly they talk, feel, and think almost exact­ly like a female. To what gen­der should they mar­ry? Would they remain mar­ried to that gen­der in the after-life?
  • Gen­e­sis and the tem­ple cer­e­mo­ny sug­gests that it is “not good for man to be alone”. What are homo­sex­u­al peo­ple real­ly sup­posed to do with them­selves? Is the “plan of hap­pi­ness” so hap­py for them?
  • Why do you not give oth­er reli­gions the same ben­e­fit of the doubt as Mor­monism? If you were raised in anoth­er reli­gion and gave that reli­gion the same ben­e­fit of the doubt as Mor­monism, could you ever leave it? If you hadn’t been raised in Mor­monism, would you seri­ous­ly con­sid­er con­vert­ing to it?

Cur­rent bio­log­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal mod­els can give a high­ly com­plete answer to each of those ques­tions, but the Mor­mon mod­el seems so much less clear and pre­cise on these kinds of questions.


The blog’s author asked many excel­lent ques­tions. I hope that some of my answers (and counter-ques­tions) will aid those seek­ing truth. I wish my very best to the Mor­gans in their per­son­al, reli­gious, and pro­fes­sion­al lives.

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5 years ago

[…] Faith of a nat­u­ral­ist (see FST-15–FST-21) […]

ernest padilla
6 years ago

I have found many of the answers to the ques­tions you ask in a book called the Uran­tia Book

Wesley Morgan
7 years ago

Thank you for your thought­ful response. I’ll look through all of those links you post­ed, though you’ll have to for­give me if it takes a while. I’m always inter­est­ed in learn­ing and think­ing more, and that was the main point of my ques­tions. I don’t have all the answers to all of my ques­tions in life, but for my deep­est ques­tions, the Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints has giv­en me the most sat­is­fy­ing answers. I still try to learn more about oth­er reli­gions, and I con­tin­ue to feel that the LDS doc­trine makes the most sense on ques­tions about sal­va­tion and our pur­pose in life. That being said, I know there is much to be learned from oth­er reli­gions and view points. I don’t think we are God’s only peo­ple; I believe that a lov­ing cre­ator would want to speak to as many of his chil­dren as are will­ing to lis­ten. That’s why I’m com­fort­able with find­ing truth in the works of ancient philoso­phers or with peo­ple of oth­er reli­gions expe­ri­enc­ing mir­a­cles. I do plan to read the Quran and the works of Ellen White, and I expect to find good things there. I also rec­og­nize that not every­one feels the same way about these ques­tions and about LDS doc­trine in gen­er­al. I’ve always appre­ci­at­ed how Joseph Smith him­self admit­ted that not every­thing he taught was easy to believe. “I don’t blame any one for not believ­ing my his­to­ry. If I had not expe­ri­enced what I have, I would… Read more »

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