Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012


This is a little cartoon I made in response to all the moderate Muslims claiming Muslim Extremists don't represent their religion, and to all the Christians who agree.

Monday, September 24, 2012


"Atheists are often charged with blasphemy, but it is a crime they cannot commit.... When the Atheist examines, denounces, or satirizes the gods, he is not dealing with persons but with ideas. He is incapable of insulting God, for he does not admit the existence of any such being."

A few weeks ago my Facebook news feed exploded as my Mormon friends and family discussed the recent 42 minute news report by Brian Williams on the Church. Most comments were positive, acknowledging that there were "some mistakes" but it was a pretty fair report. Others were outraged by what they perceived as blatantly disrespectful jabs at the Mormon Church. The worst offense by most counts was the showing of Mormon temple undergarments (aka "Magic Mormon Underwear", see left). To an extent, I understand the outrage. They perceive it as disrespectful, and most Mormons are very careful to cover up their garments and never show them to non-Mormons. They are symbols of the sacred temple ceremony and should, therefore, be treated with the same level of reverence.

So, before every one of my Mormon friends and family decide to never speak to me again for revealing the temple garments on a public blog, let me make my point: to those who are not Mormon, temple garments are not sacred. This means that viewing the garments and talking openly about them is not a matter of respect (Brian Williams was hardly being disrespectful in his report), it is a matter of free speech.

All I can say to those who are offended by the picture above is that they are choosing to be offended because of a made up rule which they willingly subscribe to in order to make it into the highest kingdom in heaven. That's too wordy, so let's simplify it: you are mad because I do not follow the same moral standard as you.

I value open discourse and debate. I value free speech. I value demonstrable morality. Putting a restriction on talking about or showing a picture of some cloths slams the door on discourse, free speech and demonstrating your moral standard.

This may be a slippery slope, but such restrictions are not that far removed from banning--or even burning--books. I would understand your outrage if an active Mormon revealed the garments, but expecting non-Mormons to abide by your rules imposes your morality onto others. This is the same principle used to justify anti-blasphemy laws to restrict non-Muslims from criticizing Islam.

This brings me to my next point: The Middle East is still pissed about the "Innocence of Muslims" video which incited riots at US embassies, which resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens. In fact, in the last few days, more people have been killed in riots. According to this BBC report, 20 people were killed in a riot in Pakistan as protestors of the film clashed with police. And now certain members of the United Nations are trying to pass INTERNATIONAL anti-blasphemy laws.

Let that sink in for a bit.

To the credit of the Mormons outraged by the Brian Williams report, they have not started riots, nor have they pushed for "anti-disrespectful showings of temple garments" legislation. They are only upset. And to be fair, that is their right to be upset, even if I don't see the big deal.

Here is the full Brian Williams report


For those who still think the Brian Williams report was in poor taste or went a little too far, or for those interested in seeing real disrespect for Mormon temple garments, click here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


"If ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, knowledge of nature is made for their destruction."

Tonight I listened to a debate between Evangelist Ray Comfort and Atheist YouTuber Aron Ra. Before I get to the debate, let's review a few clips to get some background on these oratorical combatants.

Ray is most famous for his faux pas of describing in gloriously ignorant detail how the banana is the "atheist's nightmare" in one of his rather hokey inspirational videos, which seeks to prove the existence of god through empirical evidence. Or something close to empirical evidence...

It turns out that Ray was unaware that the banana has been modified by humans for thousands of years, and thus was not designed by god (similarly, god did not create the chihuahua). Once the mistake was made public, and Ray received ample ridicule for it, he admitted his ignorance and then proceeded to "clearify" (read: "spin") his position by claiming god created man with the ability to modify the banana. This is the type of thing one should expect from a person desperately trying to square their beliefs (read: "bias") with science. But in an effort to give Ray the benefit of the doubt, here is a clip of Mr. Comfort debating an atheist, and clearly he thinks he is winning.

Ok, that's enough of Ray for the time being.

Aron Ra is one of the most well known YouTube atheists (that's a thing, right?), and has a series of videos which point out "foundational falsehoods" of creationism. The videos are informative and well made. Here is the 14th video in the series which critiques one of Ray Comfort's debates.

Without giving too much away, the debate between Ray and Aron was a clash between reason and rationalization. Ray relied almost entirely on word games and trying to back Aron into a corner of hypotheticals and variable word meanings. Aron countered with reason, clear definitions, and actual evidence every time Ray opened his mouth. I have never before seen a theologian squirm and back pedal in a debate so much. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one."

Mormons, like Scientologists, love their celebrity members. The Osmond Family, Gladys Knight, Steve Young, Mitt Romney, Jon Heder and now Brandon Flowers (more on him later) are often lauded by Mormons as Pillars of their faith. Scientologists actively seek out celebrities for this very purpose as if to say "See, we are too a real religion." Mormons do tend to be more subtle about their public figures, but will rarely miss an opportunity to point them out.

I suppose this is natural. Celebrities bring a face of normalcy and mainstream acceptance to organizations. Just look at PETA. It is sad, though, when people rely on the fame of others as an argument in their favor. Fame is not an argument. Many famous people are wrong about a great many things. Again, just look at PETA... This doesn't even qualify as an argument from authority (a logical fallacy), since celebrities are rarely authorities on much of anything. And why would they be? Would you expect someone like NFL quarterback Steve Young to be an expert on Mormon history?

Famous Mormons often find themselves barraged by inquiries about their faith. Most of them say they are comfortable with this, which is likely due to the proselytizing culture within the Church. Most Mormon men have been missionaries; every first Sunday of the month members are encouraged to give their testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the Church; members are often challenged by Sunday School Teachers to tell their non-Mormon friends and family about the Church. All of this brings upon the members an expectation to be fairly familiar with the Church's teachings and why they believe. And this is commendable.

I think every member of the Mormon Church should do a thorough examination and study of the Church's history and teachings. The problem, though, is that the few people who actually take on this task usually limit their study to Mormon sources. They refuse to examine or even acknowledge so-called "anti-Mormon" literature. They dismiss it as fraudulent misinformation or taking things out of context and coming to the wrong conclusion.

This type of spin reminds me of a time when someone told me in a conversation about religion and atheism that I was over-analyzing the religious side and thinking too much. Really? Thinking too much? How much thinking is too much? How much thinking is not enough? Should I just assume that the "right amount" of thinking is the amount which favors your point of view? This is a digression.

The point is, when people are cornered or forced to think critically about their beliefs they tend to get defensive. This brings us to Brandon Flowers, who recently appeared on a Norwegian TV show to promote his band (The Killers) and their upcoming album. Before you watch the clip below you should know that Flowers did not expect to have a religious debate on the air. Also, before you accuse Richard Dawkins of "ambushing" Flowers with some tough theological questions, you should know that Dawkins expected to have a debate with a proper theologian. In fact, once Dawkins realized that the producers has misinformed both he and Flowers about the show and that he had put the unprepared Flowers on the spot, he promptly apologized to Flowers and shook his hand.

So, what do you think? Did Dawkins "ambush" Flowers as this article from Deseret News would have you believe? Did the slightly flustered Flowers offer any valid reasons for holding his belief? Part-way through Flowers's response to Dawkins he refers to a quote from Mormon apostle Jeffrey R. Holland, which I addressed in another post a few weeks ago. Do you agree that the Book of Mormon "still stands" today, despite being analyzed and dissected by scholars for 170+ years? Would this same logic apply to the Torah, the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, or Aesop's Fables? And, perhaps most importantly, do you think Brandon Flowers was justifiably "offended" by the criticisms of Mormonism offered by Richard Dawkins?


Here is the rest of the interview with Richard Dawkins.

And for those interested in keeping score, here is a video of famous atheists:

Sunday, September 16, 2012


"If absolute power corrupts absolutely, where does that leave God?"
--George Daacon

A few days ago I posted this about the recent riots in Libya and Egypt spurred on by an inflammatory film critical of the Prophet Mohammad and resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. For anyone who doubts my conclusion that Islam is not a religion of peace, The Onion (a satirical news site) issued an inflammatory cartoon of deities of various religions engaging in graphic sex acts (it is more graphic than I care to have on my own blog, but those so inclined can view it here), and pointed out that no one was killed for said cartoon. You can even buy a t-shirt with the cartoon and proclamation on it.
As much as I love The Onion (and I do), rarely are they as poignant and politically current as they are with this cartoon. The point is very well put. The picture is easily more offensive that anything shown--or even implied--in the video which incited the riots, and yet, as was pointed out, NO ONE DIED. So, on the scale of "peaceful" religions, Islam doesn't seem to fair very well.
As a side note, some Libyans have come out in protest of the riots and offered support to the US and admiration for Ambassador Stevens. This is also significant because I have never seen moderate Muslims speak out in this way against violence by other Muslims. And how sad is it that in order to be a moderate Muslim all you have to say is it is not OK to kill someone for blasphemy?

In many ways, Islam is going through a similar stage that Christianity went through in the Dark Ages with the Crusades and the Inquisition (religious puberty?). Hopefully, as more moderate Muslims speak out against senseless violence for fictitious crimes (i.e. witchcraft, blasphemy, girls going to school), Islam will out-grow this stage more quickly than Christianity did.

Here's hoping.


Here is Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller) on "Blasphemy Day"

And YouTuber "Thunderf00t" on "Draw Mohammad Day"

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Over the last couple of days there has been civil unrest in at least two Muslim countries resulting in the deaths of four Americans. In Libya thousands of riotous Muslims took to the streets. Hundreds of them stormed the US Embassy, overpowering the American and Libyan guards using automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades. In the take-over, US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, was killed. In Egypt similar riots broke out, but US Embassy guards were able to keep the intruders at bay with rubber bullets. This has spurred a dramatic response from various US officials including President Obama vowing to "bring justice" to those responsible. So, who is responsible?

The deaths of the US Ambassador and the three other Americans seem to be the handy work of some opportunistic Muslim terrorist groups, and these are the people upon whom the President intends to bring said justice. But the person responsible for inciting the riot in the first place was Sam Bacile who, like Theo Van Gogh, created a film critical of Islam, which depicted the prophet Mohammad as a womanizing warmonger. This is what led to the deaths of four Americans--a film critical of Islam. Here, watch it. It isn't even that good. The acting is terrible, and there is too much green screen. At least Van Gogh had style when he incited violence resulting in his death.

Ayann Hirsi Ali, who still receives death threats for her involvement with Van Gogh's film, was on Bill Maher's show "Real Time" where one of the panelists brought up the point that all of this religious extremism is relatively new and that Christians and Muslims have been able to live together peacefully in some areas of the world for centuries (clip below). This reminds me of something very interesting about my mission for the Mormon Church to Bulgaria which causes me to question this sentiment of Muslim extremists being a new phenomenon.

While in the Missionary Training Center we were told that in Bulgaria people do not nod and shake their heads in the same way that we do in America. It is, in fact, reversed: you shake your head for "yes," and nod your head for "no." It took some time to get used to this practice, but after a few weeks it became second nature. Once in Bulgaria I received an explanation from the natives for nodding and shaking their heads in this way.

As you can see on the map to the left, Bulgaria shares a border with Turkey. When the Ottoman Empire attempted to take over the whole of Europe a few centuries ago (at this time the Bulgarian nod/shake routine was like ours) they had to go through Bulgaria to do it. As a result, Bulgaria became a police state similar to Nazi Germany from 1396-1878 where Christians (the national religion) were the targets of severe harassment and were sometimes killed.

As the Muslims became more efficient at this harassment, they developed a routine of targeting a native, putting a knife or sword under their chin, and asking them if they were a Christian. If the person answered "yes" the weapon would be thrust into their skull. If they answered "no," implying they were Muslim, they would be allowed to live. Fearing death by mob execution, while also fearing damnation for lying as per Christian tradition, they reversed the practice of nodding and shaking their heads in order to avoid both. This apparently fooled the Muslims thus saving the lives of many Bulgarian Christians and the practice is still used today. This happened centuries ago, therefore, Muslim terrorism is not new.

Is Islam a religion of peace? Nod your head for "no."


Here is Ayaan Hirsi Ali on "Real Time" with Bill Maher discussing Islam as a religion of peace:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


"If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."
--Harvey Milk

Tonight I watched the film "Milk" starring Sean Penn for the second time. I had two thoughts: I wonder how accurate the movie is to the actual events; and I think Harvey Milk is my new hero.

As a biographical movie it is pretty straightforward, nothing flashy or particularly novel. But the story itself is fascinating and powerful to point of being able to persuade those against gay rights to at least reconsider how their stance affects lives. Sadly, though, those who need to see this film the most will very likely not watch it, and probably for the same reasons they hold such a view in the first place.

I had a similar realization a few weeks ago when I had a conversation with a family member concerning gay marriage. If it were not for the familial relationship we have, this person probably would not have listened to my point of view. This person has effectively built a wall around them keeping out those with opposing views as a way of "protecting" them from, I presume, the influence of Satan. Virtually all their social interactions, for the last several years at least, have been almost exclusively with people from their church. Having realized that I am likely the only person they know with such liberal views about marriage equality, I almost feel an obligation to be open about it so they have at least one person that they personally know who thinks this way. As Harvey Milk said (at least in the movie), "They vote for us 2 to 1 if they know they know 1 of us."

Personalizing the argument makes it harder for moderates to discriminate. Bigots will always be bigots, with few exceptions. But those who preach compassion on Sundays will have a tougher time of it if they personally know a homosexual. I know this because this is exactly what happened to me. And every time I see a film like "Milk" or talk to someone who is opposed to gay marriage I am reminded of my former thinking, which only bolsters my resolve.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


"If we are going to teach "creation science" . . . as an alternative to evolution, then we should also teach the stork theory as an alternative to biological reproduction."

The following is a rather long (ongoing?) conversation I had on Facebook about a clip from Bill Nye (the Science Guy), where he says that it is inappropriate to teach creationism to children. But before you read it, watch the clip.
Person 1: "That was irrational on various levels on his part. the vast majority of intellectual break throughs in science, medical health care and inventions that changed the world came from individuals who believed in creationism. I've been studying biology, chemistry, physics for the last 4 years. Professors (who are not Mormon as side note) have talked to me on an individual level and stated that the theory of evolution is incomplete and not fact, they only teach it because they have been commissioned to do so. Anyway, creationism is absolutely appropriate for children."
Me: "[Person 1], a couple of centuries ago the vast majority of intellectual break throughs in cosmology came from individuals who believed the Earth was the center of the Universe. So what? The question is not how many professors you know personally who believe "evolution is incomplete and not a fact." The question is why they think that. Also, even if evolution was disproven completely, that is still not an argument in favor of creationism, because it is not a true dichotomy (disproving "x" does not prove "y"). Bill Nye's point is that creationism has no evidence to support it, and this makes it inappropriate for children. Do you, [Person 1], have evidence for creationism? I suggest you check out "" to see what scientists have to say about many creationist claims. One last thing, evolution is a fact in the same way gravity is a fact. It is based on observations which formulate a scientific theory. That evolution happens is a fact, the theory of evolution is the explanation of the facts. Check out "" to see what I mean."

Person 2: "[Me] im gonna emphatically disagree with you based on this......Faith. Who appointed this man to tell me or anyone else how to raise my children? There is absolutely nothing wrong with teaching your children about creationism if that is your belief system. If i choose to teach evolution to my children then that is my perogative as well, dont you think. Youre allowed to teach your children satanism. Do i question you? I dont care what you teach your children as long as it coincides with the law. Personally Ill teach them evolution and creationism" 
Me: "Having the right to teach your children something does not make it appropriate. Bill Nye's is talking about methods of thought. According to him, it is inappropriate to teach children creationsim because it is not based on evidence. This method of thinking is in opposition to the way science works, which will influence the way future doctors and engineers go about solving problems. This is his point. You have every right to teach your children that the earth is flat (look up the "Flat Earth Society"), but you cannot deny this will affect the way your children view the world and how they think. Also, based on previous comments made by Bill Nye, he seems to be attacking Young Earth Creationism through a literal interpretation of the Genesis account, rather than the more modern reconciliation of creation through evolution, which is what it sounds like you are teaching your kids. Correct me if I'm wrong."
Person 2: "What i am saying is this. There is nothing wrong with teaching your children the literal interpretation of Creationism. People have been passing down faith, God, and their religion to their children for thousands of years. And this clown comes out and says this!? Can you at least admit this hasn't caused any damage whatsoever to children. I contend without faith, morals,religion that we would not be living in the greatest civil society in the history of the world. This argument is absolute garbage."
Person 2: "Let me further say this....Science has not been able to disprove the possibility of a higher power or God either. To say theres no proof, there is no proof to the contrary there? So who is this clown Bill Nye to tell me that i am wrong teaching my children my sincere beliefs? When he cant prove that my beliefs are wrong? Idiotic argument im sorry"
Person 2: "[Original Poster] i swear you love to stir me up dont you? I think you like to post controversial things and just sit back and enjoy the show laughing dont you?"
Me: "No, I cannot admit that this "hasn't caused any damage whatsoever to children." Many people have experienced great inner turmoil when trying to reconcile the things they have been taught as truth with what they see around them, or what science has shown us. At the time of Galileo, the Catholic Church taught that the geocentrism of the Earth proved God's glory and power. When Galileo used physics to show that the sun was the center of the solar system, thus disproving geocentrism, the Church feared what this would mean docrinally, and he was exiled and lived under house arrest for the remainder of his life. The time to believe something is when there is sufficient evidence to support it (apply this to bigfoot, UFO's, Santa Clause, etc.). This is the basis of science, and this is the point Bill Nye is trying to make. Falling back on the argument that "science has not been able to disprove the possibility of a higher power or God" is a shifting of the burden of proof (can you prove Santa didn't put presents under the tree?). Is this why you believe in god? Because science hasn't disproved it? Then I say you need to rethink your faith. I don't mean this sarcastically or to be mean. I genuinely think there are better reasons to believe in god than an argument from ignorance. Let us be clear, you can believe in creationism without teaching it as divine truth. Many people do this. It is when it is established as unalterable dogma that it causes problems with scientific thinking. And, since you brought it up, faith and religion are separate from morality and are not responsible for “the greatest civil society in the history of the world.” Every significant scientific advancement (the earth goes around the sun, evolution, the big bang, germ theory, etc.) has been vehemently opposed by at least one significant and powerful religious group which has sought to suppress information and ideas. But this is not what Bill Nye is talking about! Again, he is talking about methods of thought. And some methods of thought are inappropriate for children."

Person 2: "Oh good grief! You know what, Bill Nye is flat wrong brother and so are you. Its really sad that some people are so ardent on destroying this society based on their lack of faith because they cant prove it. Your Santa clause example is ridiculous. A made up story that can be proven just that, a story. Why dont you people just leave us alone and allow us to live our lives, believe what we want and teach our children what we want. You people are corrupting this country which was founded by men of faith. How do you explain miracles genius? I have personally witnessed several undisputed miracles in my own life. How lost some have become trying to drag society into darkness with them. Perhaps one day your eyes will truly be opened to a world filled with the love of God. I suspect you cringe at that statement. It takes a whole lot of humility and maturity to see. Good luck with that." 

Person 3: "One word: Dinosaurs. Where oh where did those things come from? Also, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington were deists. Which means they believed that God did not intervene in his creation (no miracles, no favorite nations/races). He made the world and moved on. And while you are preaching humility and maturity... your facebook rants aren't building your case."

Person 2: "My facebook rants are coming from a man watching his country go down in flames at the hands of a dictator buddy. I believe the Capitalist free market society this country was built on has done more to lift up individuals then any other system in the history of the world pal. Your fraudulent President is turning it into a Communist type iron fisted top down imperial regime with himsekf at"
(I assume he wasn't finished writing) 

Me: "I don’t know where I said I was trying to destroy society (ardently, no less), but I think you have me mistaken for someone else. But none of this has anything to do with what Bill Nye is talking about. Bill is saying that teaching children to believe things without evidence is not as good as teaching them to use the scientific method (which, by the way, is why this society is so great). I have no doubt you have experienced things which you can only explain by supernatural means. Does this make it so? How do you know if you are correct in your interpretation? How does explaining things through supernatural means explain anything at all? How do you know if your supernatural explanation is better than other supernatural explanations? If I can only explain visions and voices in my head as god talking to me, what happens when I discover epilepsy? If the Bible explains diseases as being the result of sin or demonic possession, as many used to believe, why investigate germs? Again, (sigh) this is what Bill Nye is talking about. Being satisfied with a non-answer stops investigation. This is the harm. I don't cringe at the prospect of anything if it can be demonstrated as being true, and despite the sarcasm in your tone, I do appreciate the sentiment."

Person 3: "Again, that maturity and humility is shining through."
Person 2: "[Me] youre an exeptionally intelligent guy. I yield to your knowledge of science. I believe in science absolutely and have no doubts have benefited the world immensely. I just happen to disagree with Bill Nye. I think he's just dead wrong. Sure given your example some children struggle with creationism. Im not sure how you were raised but im sure there are those like you that have been raised this way that do struggle with it of course. Is it damaging? I would argue not to a child who was raised properly and not abused with it. We all question this at some point in our lives. I appreciate your arguments and your reason. I do apologize for my sarcasm. Im very engaged in our politics and tend to be able to pair just about anything into it. Wasn't my intention to bring politics into this discussion. Anyway God bless ;-)" 

Person 2: "So is the oatmeal dripping off your chin buddy. How bout you go away now."
(I assume this comment was directed at Person 3)
Me: "I'm glad that you at least partially see my point in the harm teaching creationism can cause. Now I ask, how many children struggling with this reconciliation makes it no longer OK to teach creationism? Going back to the Santa Clause example (respectfully, of course), if even one child was emotionally disraught by the teaching of Santa Clause, wouldn't that be enough to say we shouldn't teach this to children without a good reason and at least some evidence? How much emotional trauma is acceptable? Wouldn't it be better to teach children how to think and find answers for themselves rather than telling them what to believe implicitly?

Original Poster:

Person 2: "As far as my children go they are taught creationism in the literal sense and that it is what i personally believe to be true and have faith that the things i teach are true. It really depends how it is taught. There are proper ways this can be done. In a healthy environment with discussion and prayer i dont believe this is harmful in the least. There are wrong ways to do this of course. As far as the Santa Clause example i dont think ever in my life have heard a case of a child being emotionally damaged by this. There are going to be disappointments in life, winners and losers. Too often people do not let their children experience these things. Life experience builds character. Being allowed to experience loss is not a bad thing. Children do not need to be shielded from everything bad that may happen. This is going to be the downfall of our society because our children are being taught that everybody wins, heres a trophy for all. If we do not allow failure when they hit the real world they will be in for a huge emotional loss. Im not sure if this ties into what you are saying but it seems relevent."

Person 2: "[Original Poster] you crack me up man! lol"

Me: "Let me see if I understand you. You are saying it is OK to teach children something false because when they find out it is false it will build character, regardless of any potential emotional damage? That sounds very cynical to me. By this logic, is there anything that would be inappropriate to teach children? I hope that you teach your children creationism, and evolution and as many different ideas as you can. I also hope you teach them how do make their own decision as to which one they accept as truth (even if it means they might not believe in creationism). As an aside, have you ever considered the possiblility that god may have used evolution as the mechanism for creation? I only bring this up because many religious people hold this view, including the previous Pope."

Person 2: "I believe creationism to be true. As far as Santa Clause it is the spirit of the season. A symbol. All children taught this eventually realize he is not actually a real person and are ok. I believe in some forms of evolution and dont think it is wrong to expose them to different theories in this case."

Person 2: "So yes im not the type of person to shelter my child from getting upset. This is part of life and necessary."

Person 2: "At the same time i dont intentionally expose them to things i know to be false."

Person 4: "Wow. You should write something long and boring. And ya did."

Me: "I'm not talking about sheltering children. I'm talking about teaching them to accept things which are false and the damage that can cause. Suppose a child never learned Santa isn't real? Would that negatively affect the way they view the world? Many children are not Ok when they find out Santa isn't real. They usually come to accept it eventually, but initially it can be traumatic. But the point is, why would you teach your children something as truth if you cannot demontrate it as such? What does this teach your children about truth? Or accepting things as truth despite evidence to the contrary, as is common for Young Earth Creationists like those at Answers in Genesis, who actually built a multi-million dollar museum displaying vegetarian velociraptors living harmoniously with humans before the great flood. At what point do you go too far?" 

Person 2: "You're really getting in the weeds here with alot of "what ifs". Creationism is taught with faith and prayer. It cant be taught on absolute fact, only belief. Religion itself is faith based confirmed by much prayer. Why is it so difficult to accept those who choose to believe in something based on faith? I teach my children this because i believe it. Thats it. Your arguments on damaging children with this is minute at best. The benefits are life long when taught properly."
Me: ""Creationism is taught with faith and prayer. It cant be taught on absolute fact, only belief." This is exactly my point. If you teach creation with this mindset, then I think we are in agreement. OK, everyone. The show is over. Cheers."

Person 2: ";-)"

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


"In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that has happened in politics or religion."



Some time ago, Mormon scholars realized that the Hill Cumorah, where the Angel Moroni showed Joseph Smith the gold plates which later became the Book of Mormon, does not match the geographical description given in the Book of Mormon for that hill. This has caused a great deal of backpedaling since many church leaders had claimed that this hill was, in fact, the same hill mentioned in the Book of Mormon. They even hold a pageant at the Hill Cumorah every year (see left). This is significant because critics of the Church often say that there is no verified archaeological findings in support of the Book of Mormon, as I have mentioned before, and the fact that there is seemingly no geographical location in the Americas which matches the description in the Book of Mormon only verifies the counter-claim that Joseph Smith made it all up. So let's go over some of the responses Mormon apologists use in rebuttal.

First, with regards to the Hill Cumorah, they claim that there must be a second hill with the same name somewhere else in the Americas. This is odd when you consider that Joseph Smith got the name "Cumorah" from the Angel Moroni who, according to the Book of Mormon, is said to have buried the gold plates at the Hill Cumorah after watching his civilization fall at a hill called Cumorah (it's confusing, I know). Why would the Book of Mormon describe a battle at one Hill Cumorah and have Moroni bury the plates at another Hill Cumorah? Why didn't Moroni clarify this to Joseph Smith at the time? This argument seems to be nothing more than spin and desperation.

So, where did the Nephites and Lamanites of the Book of Mormon live? The general consensus of Mormon scholars is the Yucatan Peninsula in Mesoamerica (see left). It does seem to match some of the geographic descriptions offered in the Book of Mormon. But some such descriptions are a bit of a stretch, which is why some Mormon scholars don't agree with the consensus. Despite any geographic similarities with the Book of Mormon, there are still no archaeological findings in that region which support the claims in the book. Even their best guess is still speculative and tenuous. Isn't it odd that the "Land Northward" is west, the "Land Southward is south east, the "East Sea" is north and the "West Sea is south?

Skeptics have offered another answer. The map to the left contains many of the cities and land marks described in the Book of Mormon and in a way which does not stretch the meanings of words like "north, south, east and west." In fact, compared to the Yucatan Peninsula, this map even matches with the previous claim that there is only one Hill Cumorah.

Here is the same map with today's cities and land marks. It is the same region as the original Hill Cumorah, which is where Joseph Smith grew up. Pay particular attention to the names of the cities and land marks of the two maps. Do you notice any similarities? That's right. Many of the names used in the Book of Mormon are altered names of places near Joseph Smith's home in Palmyra, New York. Mormon Think explains this further and includes a chart of many such altered names, such as "Lehigh" to "Lehi," "Antrim" to "Antum," and "Kishkiminetas" to "Kishkumen." As these maps indicate, the locations of the real places match fairly well with the locations described in the Book of Mormon.

So, which is more convincing, that there are two hills called Cumorah, Moroni hiked between the two hills (a few thousand miles apart) with the gold plates, and the Book of Mormon peoples lived in the Yucatan peninsula despite no archaeological evidence, or that Joseph Smith uncleverly altered names of places near his home (and the first Hill Cumorah) as he made up a tall tale?

But wait, there's more. Mormon apologists like to offer the following as archaeological "proof" for the Book of Mormon. The beginning of the Book of Mormon describes the journey of the family of a man called Lehi from Jerusalem to the Americas. During this trek, a man named Ishmael dies near a place called "Nahom." And wouldn't you know it, archaeologists have found Nahom in Yemen exactly as described in the Book of Mormon, which, of course, Joseph Smith could not have known about, thus proving--once and for all--he was a prophet of god. Or so they say...

Actually what happened was they found a tablet near a cemetery in Yemen with the Hebrew letters "NHM" inscripted on it (see left). Ancient Hebrews did not include vowels when writing so we do not know which vowels are intended on this tablet. But there are some 25 or so different combinations which make actual Hebrew words, one of which is "Nachom" (similar to "Nahom" but a bit of a stretch grammatically). As far as I can tell, "Nahom" is not a real word in any language. Furthermore, the region in which this tablet was found is call "Nihm," which is a different word entirely. Mormon Think delves further into grammatical issues with the word "Nahom" as well as other supposed Old World words in the Book of Mormon. At any rate, which is more likely, that Joseph Smith really got it right and out of the couple of dozen possible words the letters "NHM" really mean "Nahom," or that the letters are merely the name of a nearby region called "Nihm" and Joseph made the story out of whole cloth?


Here are some Mormon apologists and scholars attempting to tie "Nahom" to the Book of Mormon as evidence. Notice how they don't talk about the letters "NHM" and other possible vowel combinations, and instead assume it means "Nahom." Is this is a fair portrayal, or leading the evidence? Also, notice that one of the Arab scholars actually pronounces it "Nihm" instead of "Nahom."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


I have been wrestling with a few topics over the past few days. And by "wrestle" I mean I can't decide which topic to comment on first. So, let's start with a fairly easy one: This is a great resource for those interested in a different perspective on the Mormon Church. The site is a collaborative effort from many people, some active Mormons, some former Mormons, and some unaffiliated critics. The primary purpose is to present as many perspectives on controversial topics concerning the founding of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon as possible.

I understand that some active Mormons would opt to not view the site as they may be exposed to "anti-Mormon literature" (aka "anything which sheds an unfavorable light onto Mormonism"). To this I say, the truth has nothing to hide. What does your refusal to read anything contrary to your point of view say about your character (or your point of view)? If your beliefs are true, then a thorough examination--even by critics--should affirm your views. Avoidance of sensitive topics only breeds speculation and ignorance.

Now that I have that throat-clearing out of the way (cough), let's get into the meat of Mormon Think. The site has some great information on the founding of the Church and I highly recommend you check out their stuff, but what really interests me are the scientific challenges of the Church.

Martin Harris was one of Joseph Smith's scribes for the Book of Mormon and one of Smith's greatest supporters, as shown in the following clip from South Park:

I don't want you to take this clip too seriously as a historically accurate account, but it does illustrate Harris' loyalty to Smith, and more to the point, how Mormons can spin events to appear more favorable to their Church. This is very common, not just for Mormons. I recall another such incident involving Harris which I was taught in church which has similarly been twisted as a faith-building story.

The story goes that Martin Harris had transcribed some of the characters from the Book of Mormon onto a paper and had them verified by a collegiate linguist, Charles Anthon, who allegedly "stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I [Harris] then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and he said they were true characters. He gave me a certificate, certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct."

Harris' account continues that Anthon inquired about where the characters came from and Harris admitted to him that an angel had given Joseph Smith gold plates with an ancient record written in reformed Egyptian. Anthon then withdrew his previous statement, tore up the certificate and denounced the supernatural explanation offered by Harris. According to Mormons, this story illustrates the oppression of the Church by scholars (as predicted in Isaiah) who seem to have had a vested interest in denouncing Smith as a fraud, instead of admitting he was divinely inspired. This was standard procedure for Mormons whenever anyone came out against Smith (for fraud, treasure hunting, etc.) denouncing such claims as slander from the wicked. But Mr. Anthon did not slander Smith or Harris based on his account, which you can read here. Anthon simply claimed that Smith was taking advantage of the gullible Harris, and called Mormons "fanatics." Given the circumstances, who can blame him?

This is neither here nor there, however, since we still have the paper with the writings of "reformed Egyptian" from the Book of Mormon (see left). And what do current scholars say about it? It is nonsensical gibberish.

Even if Harris was telling the truth about Anthon tearing up the certificate in a fit of anti-superstitious rage, we can examine the characters today and see if they really are "Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic" characters, as claimed. Modern-day Egyptologists clearly say the characters are fake, or in the words of Egyptologist Klaus Baer, "doodlings." Furthermore, since the characters are not authentic, any claims by Harris that Anthon said they were translated correctly are either false on the part of Harris or Anthon didn't know what he was talking about. However, Anthon's account that the characters "consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns ... containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways" seems consistent with the views of modern scholars, therefore, it seems Harris was the one being dum dum dum dum dum.

This is not an isolated case. There are other accounts of Joseph Smith attempting to translate ancient texts and failing miserably. Arguably, the most important instance of Smith's failure as a translator is the one that actually made it into Mormon scripture. The Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price (part of the the Mormon canon) is claimed to be a translation by Joseph Smith of facsimiles found on some ancient papyri (see left). According to Smith, this picture depicts Abraham being sacrificed in Egypt and an angel saving him. The jars below the altar are idols of various Egyptian gods. And what does this facsimile actually depict according to real scholars? Embalming. Yup, that's it. It is a picture of a man named Hor being prepared for burial. And the idols of Egyptian gods beneath the "altar" are, in fact, idols of gods, just not the gods Smith claimed. There are more examples on Mormon Think, and again, I highly recommend checking out their stuff.

Do I think any of this will de-convert active, believing Mormons? No. I had heard about the contradictions of the facsimiles before I left the Church and I recall my attitude of "well, we don't know how it all works, but it does, because the Church is true." It is shallow and intellectually dishonest to hold such a view. But many hold it, and it seems to be the very basis of religious apologetics.

Mormon groups like and the Neil A Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship are similarly dishonest and are engaged in the most biased form of pseudo-science. They start with the conclusion that the Mormon Church is true and then seek out information to affirm this and explain away through the most dizzying of spin tactics anything which might discredit the Church. They are neither fair, nor scholarly.


Here is Mormon apostle Jeffrey R. Holland (whom I met once outside of a men's room in Eastern Europe--no joke) claiming that the Book of Mormon is true while denouncing all the arguments I gave above in one fell swoop of pathos. Tell me, which is more compelling, an appeal to emotion and a claim that Joseph would not die for a lie, or actual scholarly criticism? Do you agree with Mr Holland that the arguments I offered above or others offered on Mormon Think are "frankly pathetic answers?" Is believing Joseph's story because "there is no other answer" anything less than an argument from ignorance?