Friday, July 27, 2012


Get comfy--this is a long one:

Mormons often say that there is nothing factually wrong or incorrect in the Book of Mormon. It is essentially inerrant. It must be correct in order for Mormonism to be the least bit credible. So, if someone were to examine the Book of Mormon and show something wrong, immoral or perhaps just inconsistent, that would shake Joseph Smith's claim that the Book of Mormon "is the most correct book ever written." Shall we begin?

While on my mission, one of my favorite chapters in the Book of Mormon was Alma 30. Since I was in a post-communist country we met our share of atheists (although, not as many the Cold War would have suggested), so this chapter was particularly relevant to us, as it dealt with atheism head-on. The main characters in this chapter are Korihor (anti-Christ), and Alma (High Priest, Chief Judge, and Governor). Before we get into their dialog, let us first examine why Korihor was arrested and brought to Alma in the first place.

The people of Ammon were living in a period of peace for about a year and a half when Korihor comes onto the scene. According to verse 3, the people "did observe to keep the commandments of the Lord; and they were strict in observing the ordinances of God, according to the law of Moses; for they were taught to keep the law of Moses until it should be fulfilled." This will become very important later on, but for now just note that they are following the law of Moses.

Moving on, in verse 6 Korihor starts to preach that there is no god and that Christ will not come (keep in mind this is before Christ's birth). Verse 7 says, "Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds." Oh really?


The Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 13:6-11) clearly states that "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend" tries to lead you away from god "thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people." Therefore, either the people of Ammon are not following the law of Moses as claimed, or Joseph Smith did not know that particular part of the law. In either case, the Book of Mormon is wrong in this instance. In fact, the whole concept of religious freedom and freedom of speech described in this chapter do not reflect the law of Moses at all, but rather the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which Joseph Smith was certainly aware of since he was born just a couple decades after its ratification. Freedom of speech and religion were among the most important aspects of the Revolutionary War, because, well, they were revolutionary concepts! So it is not at all surprising that Joseph Smith would incorporate these ideas while being ignorant of the law of Moses.

Let's move on to Korihor's arguments against god and the coming of Christ. Verses 13-15 pretty much just say it is foolish to believe in the traditions of our fathers and no one knows what is to come--straightforward and actually good advice. However, Korihor makes a fatal mistake by saying that you can't know of something you do not see. But let's assume that this is a reference to the scientific method and demonstrating things through empirical evidence. Then I would agree.

In verse 16 he even says that such a belief is the result of "frenzied mind," meaning that if you believe in god you are crazy. Some atheists have made this claim, but I am of the opinion that most people believe through indoctrination rather than psychosis. But still, the ancient Jews didn't really know about psychology and there are many scriptures which describe mental illnesses as demon possession (more on this later).

Verse 17 describes Nihilism which, according to my mission president's wife, is the inevitable conclusion of atheism, which she based on this scripture. I have refuted this before, so I won't do it here, but suffice it to say atheism and Nihilism are not the same thing.

In verses 19-21 Korihor goes to a couple new cities where they arrest him and cast him out for his blasphemy. This, of course, stands against the idea of freedom of speech described earlier.

Verse 22 begins the rather brief dialog between Korihor and a priest named Giddonah. The priest asks Korihor why he is trying to take away the happiness people get from their beliefs (a common question asked of atheists). Korihor's response is that the traditions are used by those in power to subjugate the common folk. As compelling as religious corruption is, it is essentially irrelevant to atheism.

Continuing, in verse 25 Korihor says something very interesting, "Ye say that this people is a guilty and a fallen people, because of the transgression of a parent. Behold, I say that a child is not guilty because of its parents." He is refuting the idea of the Fall of Man and Original Sin. Now, most Mormons disregard Original Sin, but the Fall of Man is still widely believed. In another post I may address the immoral nature of the Fall of Man, but for now I will just point out that the concept of the Fall of Man and Original Sin did not come about until early Christians tried to interpret the Creation account in Genesis. So it seems odd that a group of Jews living in America before the birth of Jesus would have any such concept. Also, at no point does anyone in this chapter refute this claim, thus implying that the people of Ammon did believe that the sins of the fathers carry on to the children.

Well, the priest never responds to Korihor, but instead sends him to the Chief Judge, Alma. Keep in mind that so far Korihor's only crime was saying there is no god in a country where it is not a crime to say there is no god. In verse 31 he continues to say that the priests are suppressing the people through their traditions and in verse 32 Alma finally cuts him off. In verses 32-35 Alma goes off on a rant saying that the priests do not get any money from the people for their work. But this has nothing to do with atheism, so I don't see why Korihor would find it particularly relevant to continually condemn someone for being paid to preach. This is clearly a jab at churches who employ paid clergy; a practice which the Mormon Church very openly condemns, and also takes great pride in their own pro-bono Bishops and Stake Presidents. Again in verse 35 Alma makes it clear that people who believe in god are happy, so why take that away?

Verses 37-39 establish that Korihor does not believe in god and Alma does (I guess for clarity). In verse 40 we have an interesting reversal of an argument against god. Alma says, "And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only." I have heard theists use this argument many times. It is completely stupid. Belief in god is active. One needs a reason to believe in god--lacking such a reason leaves one without belief. This should be Korihor's main argument, but he's carried up with irrelevant arguments about paid clergy. Doesn't seem genuine to me.

In verses 41-42 we see another very common Christian argument that "there are no atheists." It is presumed that everyone ultimately knows god exists--atheists are just in denial. Alma takes this concept to the next level by saying "I know that thou believest, but thou art possessed with a lying spirit." This goes back to the concept of demon possession explaining things like mental illness. Now it is being used to explain disbelief. An interesting idea, except for the whole concept of FREE AGENCY, a basic doctrine of Mormonism. If Korihor is possessed by Satan, how can he be held accountable for his actions? I will return to this later.

In verse 43 Korihor says the most ignorant thing imaginable, and this is really the main reason this story seems made-up by a believer: "If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words." The old tired argument of showing a sign... A sign would not prove the existence of god, plain and simple. If Alma did something miraculous, all it would prove is that Alma can do something which Korihor can not explain. How would that prove anything? Later in the chapter Korihor receives a sign and instantly believes in god. This is ridiculous. Signs prove nothing. How many ailments has Rev Benny Hinn "cured?" How many Pentecostals have spoken in tongues? How many people have found their car keys just in time to make it to work? How would any of this prove the existence of anything supernatural?

Alma responds to Korihor's request for a sign by using some of the most common logical fallacies used by theists today. First Alma cites "of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee." This is a classic argument from popularity--this many people can't be wrong, right? The popularity of a view has no bearing whatsoever on it being true (i.e. "the earth is flat"). Next Alma uses the Argument from Creation (i.e. "God of the Gaps") which I have addressed many times and have shown it is nothing more than an argument from ignorance. Your lack of knowledge proves nothing.

In verses 45-47 Alma and Korihor have a back-and-forth where Alma gives Korihor one last chance to accept god. And in verse 48 Korihor responds, "I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe." This is kind of confusing, but I think that he is trying to make a distinction between atheism and agnosticism. At any rate, the two are not mutually exclusive, so it is irrelevant to Korihor's piss-poor argument for atheism.

In verses 49-50 Alma finally gives Korihor a sign by making him unable to speak. An interesting twist and likely meant to be poetic given that Korihor used his voice to blaspheme against god. But as I explained above, signs or miracles do not prove that god exists. The only conclusion that could be drawn is that Alma can make people dumb by uttering some words, which says nothing about the process by which the sign came about. Without explaining how god made Korihor dumb, or that god actually did it, it is nothing more than a magic trick. This is, of course, assuming that this happened at all.

In verse 52 Korihor writes a response to being struck dumb, "I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak; and I know that nothing save it were the power of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I always knew that there was a God." This verse is another reason I cannot take this story seriously. Naturally, it feeds into the concept that Korihor knew that god existed all along, not to mention that he buys into the sign hook, line and sinker. How does he know that only god could do this to him? How does this prove that Alma is using the power of god? Perhaps Alma is a necromancer or a witch as described in the Bible. Nothing about Korihor's conversion seems genuine, and to me this is exactly what someone might write if they were trying to assuage nay-sayers as they begin a new religion. "I can show you a sign from god, but you aren't going to like it." This plays on the same fears as threats of Hell and eternal torture. Pure hucksterism.

In verse 53 Korihor further explains that "the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel." Assuming this actually happened, how can Korihor be accountable for saying there is no god? AN ANGEL TOLD HIM SO. If it were possible for the devil to do such a thing, how can anyone rely on any miracles or signs or visions or dreams or anything supernatural? How would you know it isn't Satan? There is a Mormon legend that if you are approached by an angel you should ask him to shake your hand. If the angel declines, it is of god; but if it accepts, it is of Satan since they envy our bodies and wish to touch us (creepy). But how do you know that that is true? And wouldn't Satan and his minions know this? How can a thinking person take this seriously?

From a legal stand point, the real question becomes how Alma can ignore the law of Moses in this case. Let's suppose that the freedom to believe there is no god and freedom of speech were overstated at the beginning of the chapter. This would give Alma a legal basis to hold Korihor captive, as he had violated the law of Moses. If this were the case, then Alma should not have given Korihor a sign, but rather he should have killed him as the law clearly states. Since he did not do this, and the beginning of the chapter emphasizes freedom of speech and religion, one can only assume that they were not really following the law of Moses as described in verse 3. Either way this chapter contradicts itself.

The rest of the story describes Korihor's life as an outcast and he eventually is "trodden down" by other people and dies a beggar. Charming.

So to recap, the people of Ammon are following the law of Moses even though it appears more like the US constitution; Korihor, who is arrested for using freedom of speech as outlined in their law (of Moses?) is the worst representation of an atheist ever; and Alma's proofs of god are extremely weak, he has no legal basis to hold Korihor captive, and instead of adhering to the law of Moses concerning blasphemy and apostasy, he makes Korihor dumb which will ultimately lead to his death.

There is one more point I want to make. At the end of Korihor's conversation with Alma, he says that as he went around telling people that there is no god, he began to believe it himself. This is probably the only thing of value in this chapter. This is a well known psychological concept and can be applied to any belief system. If you keep telling yourself it is true, you can convince yourself it is true. I wonder how many theists have done this to convince themselves that god exists...

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