Finding Truth: Response to “8 Anti-Mormon Tactics That Satan Uses To Attack The Latter-day Saints”

In March of 2017, MyLifeBy­GogoGoff pub­lished a piece enti­tled 8 Anti-Mor­mon Tac­tics That Satan Uses To Attack The Lat­ter-day Saints. The piece was then reblogged by LDS Liv­ing.

I am cer­tain­ly no expert logi­cian, but I have tak­en a cou­ple phi­los­o­phy cours­es, and I spent many years in the sci­ences attempt­ing to avoid com­mit­ting the log­i­cal fal­lac­i­es the author dis­cuss­es. I offer brief reflec­tion on and some coun­ter­point to these 8 points.

1. Half truths

I agree whole­heart­ed­ly that we should avoid believ­ing in half-truths and lies.

I also agree that much lit­er­a­ture crit­i­cal of the LDS Church is not near­ly care­ful enough in how it rep­re­sents the data, and it often fails to present alter­na­tive inter­pre­ta­tions. The same can also be said for much pro-LDS lit­er­a­ture and schol­ar­ship. In gen­er­al, when peo­ple engage in debate/dialogue over high­ly emo­tion­al and polar­iz­ing top­ics peo­ple tend to be espe­cial­ly biased in how they present their argu­ments (see, for exam­ple, this dis­cus­sion on the polar­iza­tion of Chris­t­ian pro-cult/an­ti-cult scholarship).

While acknowl­edg­ing that much anti-LDS lit­er­a­ture engages in half-truths, LDS lead­ers them­selves have also engaged in mis­lead­ing and half-truths on var­i­ous occa­sions.1

Church lead­ers appeared to engage in telling half-truths when they felt it was for a high­er cause. Crit­ics of the Church some­times do the same thing in their haste to point out prob­lems with the Church. I think we can all agree that noth­ing less than all the facts—presented hon­est­ly, care­ful­ly, and as un-bias­ed­ly as possible—is the stan­dard both pro and anti LDS advo­cates should work to achieve.

Nobody is bound to accept a half-truth.

2. Irrelevant Appeals.

When some­one tes­ti­fies that the Book of Mor­mon is true, Satan will say “But Joseph used a seer stone in a hat!” And? What does that have to do with [whether] or not it is true? It is an irrel­e­vant appeal. It is a distraction.

I agree that it is not the most impor­tant issue, but it is not irrel­e­vant. For one, it is eas­i­er to view the Book of Mor­mon as an exten­sion of Joseph’s trea­sure dig­ging activ­i­ties when we find that he used the same seer stone to trans­late the plates as he did to search for buried trea­sure years before. In addi­tion, the instru­ment Joseph claimed to have used is impor­tant because he appears to be telling a dif­fer­ent sto­ry at dif­fer­ent times. For exam­ple, Joseph insert­ed the phrase “by the means of the Urim and Thum­mim” into Doc­trine & Covenants 10:1, where it pre­vi­ous­ly did not exist in the rev­e­la­tion as it was orig­i­nal­ly giv­en (see the 1833 Book of Com­mand­ments chap­ter IX).

So his use of the seer stone is rel­e­vant to the trans­la­tion of the Book of Mor­mon because it may point to a pat­tern of moti­va­tion and is cen­tral to eval­u­at­ing the con­sis­ten­cy of his mes­sage over time.

The Church is true.” “But Brigham Young said…” Once again, say­ing some­thing that is true, but irrel­e­vant, detracts from the truth and is a lie.

One of the (few) ways we can deter­mine that some­thing is not true (at least in log­i­cal sys­tems) is if it includes a log­i­cal con­tra­dic­tion. If Brigham Young said or did things that are gen­uine­ly irrec­on­cil­able with past or present lead­ers, then that is very rel­e­vant to those try­ing to eval­u­ate whether the Church is true.2

Nev­er let some­thing dis­tract you from your own testimony!

What if the evi­dence strong­ly sug­gests you ought to recon­sid­er your tes­ti­mo­ny? For instance, imag­ine if you tried to pro­vide evi­dence to a mem­ber of the FLDS group that War­ren Jeffs was not a prophet or they shouldn’t be prac­tic­ing polygamy and they refused to con­sid­er your argu­ments by respond­ing: “I should nev­er let some­thing dis­tract me from my own testimony!”

3. Argumentum ad hominem (personal attacks)

Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God.” Then Satan or some­one believ­ing his anti, replies “But Joseph Smith did X, Y or Z!” Instead of address­ing the ques­tion, “Is he or is he not a prophet?”

How does one go about deter­min­ing if a per­son is a Prophet of God (or if prophets of God even exist)? I can think of var­i­ous tests, but the most famous test of all was pro­vid­ed by Jesus himself:

15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s cloth­ing, but inward­ly they are raven­ing wolves.

16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gath­er grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a cor­rupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

18 A good tree can­not bring forth evil fruit, nei­ther can a cor­rupt tree bring forth good fruit.

19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

20 Where­fore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Gen­er­al­ly, an ad hominem argu­ment is con­sid­ered a log­i­cal fal­la­cy when the dis­cus­sion about the per­son is unre­lat­ed to a dis­cus­sion about the top­ic. How­ev­er, dis­cus­sion about Joseph Smith’s char­ac­ter and actions is high­ly rel­e­vant to a dis­cus­sion of the top­ic of whether or not he was a gen­uine prophet of God, so it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly a log­i­cal fallacy.

4. Argumentum Ad Lapidem (Appeals to the Stone)

I agree that some claims crit­i­cal of the LDS Church some­times fail to pro­vide jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for why the absurd is also unlike­ly or untrue.

5. Argumentum Ad Verecundiam (Appeals to Authority)

Wikipedia defines Argu­ment from Author­i­ty like this:

An argu­ment from author­i­ty (Latin: argu­men­tum ad vere­cun­di­am), also called an appeal to author­i­ty, is a com­mon type of argu­ment which can be fal­la­cious, such as when an author­i­ty is cit­ed on a top­ic out­side their area of exper­tise or when the author­i­ty cit­ed is not a true expert.[1] On the oth­er hand, a “true expert” can have valu­able insight.

M. Rus­sell Bal­lard him­self recent­ly made just such an appeal to qual­i­fied aca­d­e­m­ic authority:

…if nec­es­sary, we should ask those with appro­pri­ate aca­d­e­m­ic train­ing, expe­ri­ence, and exper­tise for help.

This is exact­ly what I do when I need an answer to my own ques­tions that I can­not answer myself. I seek help from my Brethren in the Quo­rum of the Twelve and from oth­ers with exper­tise in fields of Church his­to­ry and doctrine.

So, appeals to gen­uine experts with­in their field of exper­tise can be at least part of a sol­id log­i­cal argument.

But lead­ing Egyp­tol­o­gists have proven that the papyri trans­la­tion and the Book of Abra­ham don’t match up!”

Schol­ars are not 100% cer­tain that the papyri we have is the papyri that Joseph Smith used to trans­late the Book of Abra­ham from. How­ev­er, most of the evi­dence points to the Book of Abra­ham hav­ing been “trans­lat­ed” from the frag­ments that still exist.

Regard­less, Joseph Smith points to spe­cif­ic char­ac­ters on the fac­sim­i­les and gives a trans­la­tion of those char­ac­ters. So, even though there is some (slight) uncer­tain­ty about what char­ac­ters Joseph was trans­lat­ing in order to pro­duce the book of Abra­ham, and there is some dis­cus­sion still about the ulti­mate mean­ing of the vignettes (for exam­ple), there is no ques­tion about the char­ac­ters in the fac­sim­i­les because they were pre­served in the sketch­es of the fac­sim­i­les them­selves! Devout BYU Egyp­tol­o­gists have looked at those same char­ac­ters and trans­lat­ed them. The trans­la­tions do not match up. That is a state­ment of fact. We can dis­cuss what that means (as the lds​.org essay does), but we can­not escape the fact that, as the lds​.org essay says, “Mor­mon and non-Mor­mon Egyp­tol­o­gists agree that the char­ac­ters on the frag­ments do not match the trans­la­tion giv­en in the book of Abraham”.

When some­one tries to appeal to the author­i­ty or knowl­edge of man rely upon the tes­ti­mo­ny of the Deity!

If you have had a sit-down with the cre­ator of the uni­verse, then by all means, take their word on things. How­ev­er, most of us rely on very impre­cise spir­i­tu­al impres­sions, and these spir­i­tu­al impres­sions tend to con­firm to us what­ev­er posi­tion we already hold and want to believe.

For instance, a recent poll asked peo­ple to pray to ascer­tain God’s will on the sub­ject of gay mar­riage. Of the 68% of the par­tic­i­pants who believed that they were able to assess the will of God, every sin­gle per­son found that God agreed with their pri­or stance on same sex marriage—even though the stances were even­ly divid­ed and dia­met­ri­cal­ly opposed among the col­lec­tion of participants.

Spir­i­tu­al con­fir­ma­tion tends to track our famil­iar­i­ty and com­fort with a giv­en top­ic. Con­sid­er, for instance, Mar­lin K. Jensen’s frank dis­cus­sion dur­ing the “Swedish Res­cue” of his daughter’s expe­ri­ence with not feel­ing the Spir­it in the temple

Data like this call into ques­tion the reli­a­bil­i­ty of the “pray-feel” method for deter­min­ing objec­tive truth (even if it is use­ful for per­son­al reflection).

When we hear some­thing “new” does it change the wit­ness we already have from the Holy Ghost? NO! Noth­ing should ever trump what the Holy Ghost has told us!

A mem­ber of The True and Liv­ing Church of Jesus Christ and Saints of the Last Days received a tes­ti­mo­ny that their Church is true (a Church that prac­tices polygamy and claims a dif­fer­ent prophet at its head). Imag­ine try­ing to have a con­ver­sa­tion with this indi­vid­ual and sug­gest­ing their spir­i­tu­al feel­ings may not mean exact­ly what they orig­i­nal­ly thought (for instance, that Thomas S. Mon­son is the true prophet and not James Harm­ston and they shouldn’t be prac­tic­ing polygamy). What if they were to respond as you did above, “Noth­ing should ever trump what the Holy Ghost has told me!”?

This entire dis­cus­sion about the wit­ness of the Holy Ghost hinges on whether the receipt of pow­er­ful, ele­vat­ing emo­tions should be inter­pret­ed to mean that God is speak­ing to the indi­vid­ual. Mem­bers of dif­fer­ent church­es receive pow­er­ful wit­ness­es of the truth of their Church (see here and here), sug­gest­ing spir­i­tu­al feel­ings may not be as sure a guide to truth as we have been taught.3

6. False Dilemma

The author wise­ly urges us to avoid the false dilem­ma log­i­cal fal­la­cy (humans com­mit this fal­la­cy fre­quent­ly). How­ev­er, giv­en that we appar­ent­ly have many of the words of God record­ed in scrip­ture, it seems fair to point out (appar­ent) con­tra­dic­tions and sug­gest that these incon­sis­ten­cies might indi­cate, at the very least, that both sets of words were not writ­ten by God (this assumes that God won’t con­tra­dict him­self). If God says, “A equals B” and then goes on to say “A is not equal to B” then mere­ly stat­ing that “God’s ways are … infi­nite­ly supe­ri­or [to man’s ways]” seems like a bit of a dodge. Even if his ways are infi­nite­ly supe­ri­or, we don’t expect him to con­tra­dict himself.

The main prob­lem with the argu­ment “we can­not ful­ly under­stand God, there­fore nobody can point out a gen­uine con­tra­dic­tion in scrip­ture or a belief sys­tem”, is that such log­ic can be used to defend any reli­gious sys­tem of thought. Try telling a Catholic that they don’t have gen­uine apos­tolic author­i­ty (“Of course we do: God’s ways are not man’s ways!”) or a Jehovah’s Wit­ness that they should ques­tion their beliefs because their sec­ond com­ing pre­dic­tions went unful­filled (“It’s dif­fi­cult to under­stand, but God’s ways are not man’s ways”). Such a defense goes too far.

7. Argumentum Ad Populum (Appeals to the People)

I agree with the author, we shouldn’t just accept an argu­ment because many peo­ple do. This prin­ci­ple applies equal­ly to Mor­mons as to non-Mormons.

8. Hasty Generalizations

I agree with the author that we need to be care­ful of extrap­o­lat­ing from one or a few data points. I per­son­al­ly had a won­der­ful time as a mem­ber and can­not direct­ly relate with many who did not.

We should also be care­ful of the reverse hasty gen­er­al­iza­tion: I had a good expe­ri­ence in the Church, there­fore every­one had a good expe­ri­ence in the Church. Per­haps some peo­ple earnest­ly liv­ing the LDS lifestyle and attend­ing Church did not find it as reward­ing as I did.

(9.) Conclusion

At the end of the day, the only way to detect and pre­vent Satan’s lies…

This appears to by a false dilem­ma fallacy.

At the end of the day, the only way to detect and pre­vent Satan’s lies are to gain a tes­ti­mo­ny from God Him­self that this work is true.

This appears to be beg­ging the ques­tion. The belief in a Satan who is lying to us is pre­con­di­tioned on know­ing that the Church world­view is true. If the Church world­view does not cor­re­spond with real­i­ty, then we need not con­cern our­selves with Satan or his lies (just the lies and half-truths spo­ken and writ­ten by humans which are plen­ty dam­ag­ing enough).

doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.

As men­tioned above, this kind of state­ment (if accept­ed uni­ver­sal­ly) would encour­age a per­son to con­tin­ue in what­ev­er faith tra­di­tion they were born into, with­out regard for the legit­i­ma­cy of the truth-claims of their reli­gion. Imag­ine lead­ers of the Heaven’s Gate cult, for instance, telling their fol­low­ers “doubt your doubts.” Such a state­ment would only serve to main­tain a person’s pri­or faith posi­tion and doesn’t seem to be a great guide in the quest to deter­mine truth (see Fix your faith cri­sis with this one weird trick!).

When some­one gives you some­thing that brings you dark­ness rather than light

We should seek for truth and good­ness as Joseph Smith encour­aged, “let it come from whence it may.” Humans are very prone, how­ev­er, to dis­miss data and argu­ments that con­tra­dict their world­view, so we should be care­ful to avoid reject­ing truth mere­ly because it makes us uncom­fort­able upon first exposure.

ask your­self who is pre­sent­ing this argu­ment? Don’t let the words of apos­tate mem­bers shake your faith.

This is an ad homi­nen against for­mer mem­bers. The truth of what a for­mer mem­bers speaks is (at least until some­one presents good evi­dence this is not the case) inde­pen­dent of their mem­ber­ship status.

Apos­tates are not a trust­wor­thy source!

This appears to be a hasty gen­er­al­iza­tion. Why can’t apos­tates be a trust­wor­thy source? And, if an apos­tate is biased against the Church, doesn’t it stand to rea­son that Church mem­bers are biased for the Church? Per­haps the truth lies some­where in-between?

  1. LDS lead­ers have mis­led or told half-truths on at least sev­er­al occa­sions:
  2. For instance, accord­ing to Fair­Mor­mon (on 2017-03-23), “Brigham claimed to have received these beliefs [doc­trines relat­ed to Adam-God the­o­ry] by rev­e­la­tion, and, on at least three occa­sions, claimed that he learned it from Joseph Smith.” For those who reject the valid­i­ty of the Adam-God the­o­ry, this seems like the kind of con­tra­dic­tion that may call into ques­tion the valid­i­ty of the claim that Brigham is a gen­uine prophet of God.
  3. See Tes­ti­mo­ny, Spir­i­tu­al Expe­ri­ences, and Truth: A Care­ful Exam­i­na­tion for my com­plete analy­sis of spir­i­tu­al feel­ings.
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