The Confident Christian
12/23/12 at 11:57 AM 41 Comments

One Way Mormonism Fails the Belief System Test

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Christians are oftentimes criticized by skeptics as having no good reasons why they believe Christianity to be true, but other faiths to be false. Such is certainly not the case; there are quite a few systematic methods used by Christians to reject other belief systems (such as atheism) they believe to be incorrect.

For example, many decades ago, Christian theologian and philosopher Dr. John Edward Carnell proposed a systematic method for testing any belief system to determine its validity. Although some criticize his approach, it still remains a good rule of thumb for evaluating worldview claims.

 Carnell said for any belief system to be considered defensible, it had to pass the following hurdles[1]:

  1. Logical consistency
  2. Empirical adequacy
  3. Existential or experiential relevancy

Logical consistency asks the question: do the belief system’s teachings logically cohere with one another or do they conflict in logical or rational ways? For example, Buddhism says that to reach Nirvana, a person must rid themselves of desire (which Buddhism views as the crux of all humankind’s problems). But wait – doesn’t someone have to have a desire to rid oneself of desire?

Empirical adequacy concerns itself with the question of the worldview being able to defend itself with an explanation of all the relevant facts concerning its claims. It must provide good philosophical, empirical, and/or historical evidence, and be able to weather any knockdown arguments or opposing evidence that contradicts its core doctrines. For instance, were Jesus of Nazareth’s body ever produced, Christianity would be completely undone.

Lastly, existential/experiential relevancy asks the question of whether the worldview is existentially relevant and has answers for the core questions of life: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.

It can also sometimes include whether the teachings are backed experientially in life. For example, perhaps the number one argument used by skeptics today to cast doubt on Christianity is the very real presence of evil in the world. How can it and the God described in the Bible co-exist together?

So how can Carnell’s method be used to evaluate various faith claims? Let’s take a quick look at Mormonism. When Mitt Romney fully clinched the Republican nomination for the 2012 presidential run, much attention was focused on his Mormon faith, with questions being asked of whether Mormons are truly Christians and if Mormonism is a well-founded belief system.

Using Carnell’s method – and specifically the test of empirical adequacy – I’d like to point out one issue in Mormonism that I consider quite problematic.

The Book of Mormon, its Origins, and Charges of Plagiarism 

The Book of Mormon is allegedly a historical record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas from 600 B.C. to 400 A.D.[2]  Mormons claim that around 322 A.D., a prophet named Mormon compiled a history from the ancient records written by prophets into one set of golden plates.[3]  They believe that God guided Joseph Smith to these golden plates in 1827.

Supposedly translated letter-by-letter by Joseph Smith through the use of a ‘seer stone’ from those gold plates and recited out loud to Smith’s assistant Oliver Cowdery (who would repeat the letter to ensure accuracy), the Book of Mormon is traditionally viewed by Mormons as equal to or superior to the Bible.

But there’s a problem with the story.

There are numerous direct quotations (both Old and New Testament) in the Book of Mormon from the 1611 King James Bible. Mormons admit to this[4] and there are a number of web sites that showcase a side-by-side comparison for those who want to see it for themselves.[5]

If you do a little research, you will find quite a few blogs and lengthy research articles written by Mormons attempting to explain the situation. However, none in my opinion are able to truly justify how a book supposedly written in 322 A.D. contains whole passages from books like Isaiah that come from the King James Bible, which was written centuries later.

Moreover, the King James Bible belongs to a class of Bible translations known as ‘literal/formal equivalence’ (other examples include the NASB), which is a word-for-word or sentence-by-sentence translation from the original languages. To assist in readability, the translators inserted words into the inspired text, which are identified by being cast in italics.

What do you find in the Book of Mormon with the mirrored Isaiah passages and others from the KJV? The italicized words. 

Now, when we do a philosophical appeal to the best explanation in an effort to try and explain why this is the case, we are really left with just two options:

Option 1: God valued the King James Bible translators work so much that He supernaturally altered the Mormon golden plates after they were written to include the italicized words inserted into the 1611 KJV, or he guided the hands of the KJV translators so that they would include the same words that were on the Mormon tablets.

Option 2: Joseph Smith plagiarized the 1611 King James Bible.

As gently as I can put this, I believe that the intellectually honest person must admit that the second option seems the most plausible.

Seeing this and examining other evidence that runs contrary to Mormon doctrine (e.g. no archaeological evidence has ever been found in America to substantiate Mormon teachings of ancient civilizations being present) the Mormon claims appear to fail John Edward Carnell’s second test of empirical adequacy. That being the case, I believe it’s valid to question whether Mormonism itself is a valid belief system.

[1] Norman Geisler, “John Edward Carnell” in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999), 114-120.

[3] Ibid.

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