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Forest of confusion

Mormonism’s surprising and incoherent worldview

wikipedia.org

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Published: 10 December 2015 (GMT+10)

In the year 1820 in New York, a 14-year-old boy entered the woods to meditate. He was living at a time which is now known as the ‘Second Great Awakening’—a time when Protestant religious fervor had reached peak intensity in the Western world. The existence of so many Christian denominations was particularly distressing to the boy; he would later write:

In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?1
Mormonism is polytheistic to the extreme—there’s essentially an infinite number of gods, since good human beings can ultimately become gods themselves, and there is no limit to this god-generating process.

Citing James 1:5, the boy hoped to receive revelation directly from God about which denomination to follow, having given up any hope of finding answers in the pages of the Bible itself (as we will see, this foundational error led to many others). He wrote,

“ … the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.”

So into the forest he went, to pray to God in seclusion for answers.2 This boy’s name was Joseph Smith.

According to Smith’s own account, while he was in the forest, he had a vision in which he was addressed by two ‘personages’—beings of light—who told him many things. Smith goes on to relate how he asked the beings of light which denomination was correct, and that he was told not to join any of them, because they were all abominations in God’s sight. Through a series of alleged revelations, Smith constructed a set of teachings which would ultimately create a religion and worldview that differs by no small margin from the teachings of the Bible. Smith’s teachings were materialistic and even satanic, and taught that people could become gods—in fact that the God of the Bible had once been a man Himself.3 The result was the Mormon religion, the first widespread religion to originate in the United States.

The ‘Book of Abraham’

Among the many documents the LDS church claims as scripture is a book of highly dubious origin called The Book of Abraham. Smith claimed to have translated it from an ancient Egyptian papyrus, and it includes what amounts to a rewrite of the creation account in Genesis. This account parallels Genesis, but it sharply contradicts it in many serious ways. That fact alone presents a huge problem for the Mormon worldview, because the LDS church also claims to hold the Bible as Scripture, “as far as it is translated correctly.”4 Presumably, the Mormon church would appeal to alleged errors in Bible translation to explain the outright contradiction between Genesis and the Book of Abraham, but there is no existing manuscript of the Hebrew Scriptures which would even come close to lining up with the Book of Abraham, so that line of defense falls flat. There is simply no evidence at all to suggest that the Bible has been mistranslated or corrupted.5

Internal failures

That’s not the only problem facing The Book of Abraham and the worldview it teaches, however. When considered simply on its own merits, the Mormon worldview utterly fails to provide answers to the most basic questions facing mankind, and it fails to present a cogent picture of reality. The book of Abraham reads:

And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth. (Abraham 4:1)

There are some important things to keep in mind here. First, when this text says, “at the beginning”, it doesn’t really mean the beginning of everything—of the universe—it means only the beginning of our planet. This is because the Mormon church teaches that, “As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be.”6 This means that we are not being told the whole story of the universe, but just a very small part which concerns only our local affairs on this planet.

Notice, too, that it doesn’t say the ‘gods’ created anything! Instead, they merely reorganized pre-existing matter. That is an outright contradiction of Genesis, and it gives us a completely different worldview. Mormonism is polytheistic to the extreme—there’s essentially an infinite number of gods, since good human beings can ultimately become gods themselves, and there is no limit to this god-generating process.

In the biblical worldview, matter is a created thing, and subordinate to its Creator, God. In the Mormon worldview, it would appear that matter itself is the ultimate Supreme Being, since they believe that matter pre-existed God, and that God only reorganized it! This creates a very obvious question, but the Mormon answer may surprise you: Who created the universe? The Mormon answer is: no one created the universe. Brigham Young, probably the most important early leader of the Mormon church besides Smith himself, stated,

How many Gods there are, I do not know. But there never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds, and when men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through. That course has been from all eternity, and it is and will be to all eternity.7
Smith was not wrong to seek the Lord in prayer, but he was open to deception because he did not follow the biblical example of testing all things by the Word (e.g. Acts 17:11, Galatians 1:8, 1 John 4:1).

But is this a logically possible or coherent answer? As we know from the plain logic of the Kalaam Cosmological Argument,8 the universe itself needs an explanation for its existence, because it began to exist. We know the universe began to exist from a number of different directions; it would be a logical impossibility to traverse an actual infinite number of past moments of time (we’d never get to the present moment!), therefore we know that the past itself cannot be infinite—time had a beginning.9 I would go so far as to say that it’s intuitively obvious (or self-evident) that an infinite regress of past events is an impossibility. Not only this; the Second Law of Thermodynamics shows us that the physical universe is currently winding down.10 This entails the need for an original act of ‘winding up’ the universe, and it also means the past is not infinite, because in a finite amount of time the universe will have completely run out of usable energy.

More inconsistencies

An astute Mormon might try to respond to the entropy problem by stating that the gods, being supernatural, could intervene to counteract entropy. However, this would miss the mark, because, unlike the biblical worldview, the Mormon worldview cannot make any real distinction between the natural and the supernatural. Mormon gods are actually less powerful than the universe itself, which preexisted them and on which they depend. Mormon gods are finite, created beings. How can a finite being become an infinite being? Such an idea defies all logic, and what we’re left with is the fact that Mormon gods are not ‘supernatural’ at all, but just products of the universe itself. The Mormon worldview presents no ultimate Creator God who made everything that exists and is outside time. Instead, we are given a mysterious, infinite regress of evolution from created human beings into gods.

An external mismatch

The universe we observe around us looks very different from what we would expect, given a Mormon worldview. With an infinite number of gods out there, what power or force would exist to prevent one god’s decrees from interfering with or contradicting another god’s? What defines the boundaries between one god’s domain and another’s? The ancient Greek worldview faced similar problems, since it too was polytheistic; the Greek gods often fought with each other and interfered with one another’s plans. We might expect to see the same thing going on in our universe if Mormonism were true, since you’d have so many different gods out there and no Ultimate Being to govern them all. Seeing one unified reality with predictable laws that govern it in the same way in all places and at all times is certainly not what we would expect to find, yet that’s what we do see in our universe. It’s a good thing, too, since without such predictability, science and reason would be impossible.

There is only one God!

The worldview propagated by Joseph Smith and the church he founded is fundamentally different from and completely incompatible with the biblical worldview. However, Smith claimed to worship the same God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that gave us the Bible in the first place. He was a very confused man! The Bible says in Isaiah 46:9, “ … for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” In Psalm 90, we learn of God’s nature: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:2) God did not start out as a man and get exalted eventually to godhood—God has always been God and will always be God. Smith was not wrong to seek the Lord in prayer, but he was open to deception because he did not follow the biblical example of testing all things by the Word (e.g. Acts 17:11, Galatians 1:8, 1 John 4:1). Worship the one true God alone, and do not fall victim to this modern iteration of Satan’s original lie in the Garden.

Related Articles

Further Reading

References and notes

  1. Smith, J., History of the Church, Vol. 1, Ch. 1, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 1981. Return to text
  2. Ibid. Return to text
  3. Smith, J., Doctrine & Covenants, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 132:20, 1981. Return to text
  4. The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1:8, lds.org, accessed 14 November 2015. Return to text
  5. See Cosner, L. and Bates, G., How Did We Get Our Bible?, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, 2014. Return to text
  6. Williams, C. J., Ed., The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, p. 1, 1984. Return to text
  7. Watt, G., Ed., Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7, p. 333, jod.mrm.org, accessed 14 November 2015. Return to text
  8. See Kumar, S. and Sarfati, J., Christianity for Skeptics, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, pg. 20, 2012. Return to text
  9. Craig, W., On Guard, David C Cook, Colorado Springs, pp. 83–84, 2010. Return to text
  10. See Wieland, C., World Winding Down, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, 2012. Return to text

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Readers’ comments
Phil K., United States, 11 December 2015

In Isaiah 43:10 Jehovah God declared that no God formed before him and there will be none after him.

In Isaiah 44:6, Jehovah God declares:

“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me."

(fun fact: words have meaning. "no God besides Me" means just that--no God besides Him. You can't add the phrase: "of this world" and make Mormonism consistent with Christianity)

And in Malachi 3:6 Jehovah God declares that he does not change. This means no progression needed to become God.

Richard J., United States, 10 December 2015

How do you know the bible is true? Maybe Mormons are right. Both books (The bible and Book of Mormon) say that they are the undiluted word of god. Just some food for thought.

Paul Price responds

Dear Richard,

I actually addressed that question to some extent in my article. It's true that both the Bible and the Mormon scriptures claim to be God's Word, but the Bible came first, and the Mormon scriptures contradict it even while claiming to also believe the Bible! Thus their worldview is self-contradictory. As I linked above, there is no evidence that our Bible has been mistranslated or corrupted; it's a reliable set of documents.

How do we know the Bible is true? That's a very broad question! All our articles exist to argue for the fundamental view that the Bible is a reliable starting point for interpreting the world around us (worldview). There are many different reasons or ways we can know the Bible is true, so maybe this article might be a starting point for you:

Not Circular Reasoning

Fred C., Australia, 10 December 2015

Hello, Just a quick question regarding this comment in the article: "How can a finite being become an infinite being? Such an idea defies all logic." Would you please clarify how the word 'infinite' is being used in this statement. Primarily, when I hear the word 'infinite' I think of 'endless' or limitless'. To my way of thinking, God is holding out to all humans the prospect of eternity, an immortal life that knows no end. To me that is an 'infinite' life. Hence looking at it this way a 'finite' being is offered the prospect of becoming an 'infinite' being and I do not see anything illogical about that? This remark against the Mormon point of view doesn't seem to fit? Please explain? Kindly regards, Fred C.B.

Paul Price responds

Fred,

To explain this, I need to explain the difference between an actual infinite and a potential infinite. An actual infinite is, just as the name indicates, an actually-existing infinite set of something— like if you said you had an infinite number of bricks in the walls of your house. That would be impossible; just to fit an infinite number of bricks in any physical space would require all of the universe, and that would still not be enough! Infinite means "without limit" or "without a boundary".

In comparison, a potential infinite would be a situation where, over time, there is no limit to the amount of something that can accumulate; the best example of a potential infinite I know is time itself. As time progresses from a starting point, the total number of years continues to grow and grow; but at any point on that span, you can always look at the number of years and count them. It will always be a finite number. This is true with the eternal life of believers, as well. In this case, eternal doesn't mean "without beginning or end", since humans are created beings and always have a beginning. The eternal life God offers to believers is a potential infinite— for all eternity we will continue to exist, but still our temporal age will be a finite number at any point.

I would still submit that for any finite, created being to become actually infinite in any attribute would be a logical impossibility. No matter how much you add to something which is finite, it will always be finite. By definition, there can only be one infinite being, because multiple infinite beings would limit each other.

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