Friday, January 11, 2013


It seems that every belief system has some concept of sin, whether it be disobedience to a god's commands or certain actions determining one's place in the next incarnation. This seems like an effective way to curb behaviors without actually substantiating any claims. Clever.

Some say that even if such teachings are untrue, they are still useful in instilling young minds with a sense of morality. For the moment, let's set aside that fact that such a mind set is not indicative of moral reasoning or agency but rather obedience to divine command, and instead ask the question, what happens when a person realizes that the basis of their morality is untrue? If a person only does good things because the Bible tells them to, for example, what will happen when that person finds the god of the Bible to be non-existent?

I have heard many religious people admit that if they did not believe in god they would opt to act immorally. This is just sad, and I think it shows the weakness of the argument that a belief in god makes people act better. It sounds to me that they are doing good things for bad or even selfish reasons (neither of which are moral). But none of this addresses the Euthyphro Dilemma which asks whether an action is good because god says so, or if god says so because it is intrinsically good (the first option makes morality subject to god's whim, and the second makes god irrelevant to morality).

Within most forms of Christianity there is a notion that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an unpardonable sin. There are many disputes and interpretations as to how this actually applies (such as: "any and all apostasy or just those with certain knowledge", "accidental blasphemy", "using the lord's name in vain", etc.). Mormonism has addressed this perhaps more clearly than most denominations, but it is still unclear whether some one such as myself who has received the Temple Endowment qualifies. Some would say yes, and some would say it requires the Second Endowment (a little known ritual, even within Mormonism).

Well, it turns out that due to certain people at the Mormon Think website being summoned for disciplinary hearings, the newest managing editor of the site is an ex-Mormon who actually did receive the Second Endowment from Russell Ballard (a Mormon Apostle). So, if any one qualifies for such damnation, Tom Phillips surely does.

I want to touch on a few points he makes in order to give you some idea of his experience. Shortly after his Second Endowment ceremony, Mr Phillips (an Area Executive Secretary for Harold Hillam, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and President of the Europe West Area--pretty high up in the Mormon hierarchy) began studying certain conflicts between science and Mormon theology so as to help certain friends and family keep their faith.

The answers Mr Phillips was given by Mr Hillam and other Mormon higher-ups were not only unsatisfactory answers to his questions, but also raised a slue of even more challenging and problematic unanswered questions. Mr Phillips, who as a result of his various positions in the Church had become familiar with Jeffery Holland (another Mormon Apostle), raised these questions and doubts to Mr Holland in hopes that he might have some answers. The response from Mr Holland, as Mr Phillips describes it, was "a rant full of logical fallacies, ad hominem attacks and insinuations." It really is a fascinating read.

So, what was the theological/scientific conflict which caused someone who had his "calling and election made sure" (a straight shot to heaven) to question his beliefs? Whether or not there was death before the Fall of Adam (approximately 6000 years ago).  Here is Mr Phillips' explanation to Mr Holland:

"Note 2 No Death before 6k years ago is a doctrine of the Church
Latter-day revelation teaches that there was no death on this earth for any forms of life before the fall of Adam. Indeed, death entered the world as a direct result of the fall (2 Ne. 2: 22; Moses 6: 48). The Official Scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints © 2006 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. Rights and use information. Privacy policy.
“And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.” (2Ne 2:22)
“And now behold, I say unto you that if it had been possible for Adam to have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life at that time, there would have been no death…
And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death…” (Alma 12:23, 24)
This means to me that there was no death on this earth prior to the fall of Adam approximately 6,000 years ago (D & C 77:6-7). To confirm that I have understood this doctrine correctly I quote the following from a priesthood lesson manual for 1972-73 :-
“In that condition the earth and all upon it were not subject to death until Adam fell. When Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the same judgment was placed on the earth and all things upon it. Therefore every living thing, including the earth itself, is entitled to death and the resurrection.”
The above quote is from page 54 of “Selections from Answers to Gospel Questions A Course of Study for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums 1972-73 Selections from the Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith” Tenth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” published by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
I mention this source lest any excuse the teaching as Joseph Fielding Smith’s own personal view and not that of the Church as has been done with some of the teachings of Brigham Young, Bruce R. McConkie etc. This was (in 1972) official church doctrine and accepted as such very emphatically by my stake president in 2004.
Also from the writings of Joseph Fielding Smith :
“NO DEATH ON EARTH BEFORE FALL. The Lord pronounced the earth good when it was finished. Everything upon its face was called good. There was no death in the earth before the fall of Adam. I do not care what the scientists say in regard to dinosaurs and other creatures upon the earth millions of years ago, that lived and died and fought and struggled for existence. …..All life in the sea, the air, on the earth, was without death. Animals were not dying. Things were not changing as we find them changing in this mortal existence, for mortality had not come……….
BOOK OF MORMON TEACHES TRUTH ABOUT FALL. We Latter-day Saints accept the Book of Mormon as the word of God. We have the assurance that the Lord placed the stamp of approval upon it at the time of the translation…The truth is the thing which will last. All the theory, Philosophy and wisdom of the wise that is not in harmony with revealed truth from God will perish. In regard to the pre-mortal condition of Adam and the entire earth, Lehi has stated the following :
And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. (2Ne. 2:19-26).
Is not this statement plain enough ? Whom are you going to believe, the Lord, or men?” ( pages 108-9 Doctrines of Salvation volume1 by Joseph Fielding Smith published by Bookcraft 1954 - states in the preface by Bruce R. McKenzie “Joseph Fielding Smith is the leading gospel scholar and the greatest doctrinal teacher of his generation. Few men in this dispensation have approached him in gospel knowledge or surpassed him in spiritual insight.”)
The clear message from the above is that church doctrine, based on Book of Mormon, Book of Moses, Genesis and statements by latter-day prophets is THERE WAS NO DEATH ON THIS EARTH PRIOR TO APPROX 6,000 YEARS AGO AND SCIENTISTS ARE WRONG BECAUSE THEY ARE CONTRADICTING THE WORD OF THE LORD." [citations added]
I must admit, in all the times that I went through the Temple ceremony and heard and read these scriptures describing the immortal condition of all creatures before Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, I don't know if I ever really thought about the scientific implications of such a doctrine. Furthermore, as Mr Phillips points out to Mr Holland either the Church is correct on this or all of the scientific understanding which we now have pertaining to "anthropology, zoology, metallurgy, chemistry, physics, biology, linguistics, history, archaeology etc" is completely wrong.

And what was Mr Holland's response to such scientific inquiries?

"So do what you want, Tom, but don’t embarrass yourself by asking about metallurgy or archeology or horses. The discussion about the power and promise of the Book of Mormon went light years beyond that a long time ago."

Tell me, does this sound like an adequate response from someone who is supposed to have afternoon tea with Jesus Christ? How about someone who is charged with being a "special witness of Christ" and have a vested interest to bring people to the Church? Either Mr Holland has the answers which would bring Mr Phillips back to the Church and chooses not to tell him for some unknown reason, or he doesn't have any answers and is dodging the questions. Which seems more likely?

This reminds me of several instances where I brought up some scientific problems of Mormonism to people and all they did was say I was "dead wrong". No justification; just a bald assertion that I was wrong and they were right. It is incredibly difficult to discuss anything with a person who thinks this qualifies as an argument.

In the end, Mr Holland retreated to a watered-down version of the tired old argument: "what if you're wrong":

"I love you and pray God you will be open to some spiritual indication of what is at stake here... I do love you and I will pray through this very night for you, more so than I will for the man who has cancer whom I now leave to bless. Yours is the more serious circumstance."

I am almost embarrassed to admit that at one point I actually admired Mr Holland. The man is a shameless coward for resorting to such infantile tactics and completely brushing off any and all criticism without so much as acknowledging a sincere man's questions and doubts.


Now for some videos. First is an excerpt from an interview of Tom Phillips with Mormon Stories during which Tom discusses the Second Endowment:

Part 1

Part 2

Next is a video recommended by Tom Phillips which deconstructs a talk by Jeffery Holland, which Tom addresses in his letter to Jeff, and which I have discussed in the past.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

And finally an interview with Jeffery Holland backpedaling and spinning his apologetic wheel:

No comments: