I believe the Book of Mormon is fiction because it was created the same way that Joseph Smith used to defraud people out of money.

In his young life, Joseph Smith was known as “seer” in his community. A seer is someone who could “see” things by looking into crystal ball, a stone, a bowl of water, fire, or other objects. Joseph Smith had a few seer stones that he used to see things in the earth. His favorite seer stone was a brown stone that he found when he was a teenager while helping dig a well for a man named Willard Chase. To see things in this stone, he would place the stone in the bottom of a hat, put his face into the hat to block out the light, and then somehow he would be able to see things in the rock.

At least he said he could see things. What could he see? He saw different things. He said he could see where lost treasure was buried in the earth, lost money, and lost property. People paid him money to use his seer stone to find these things. But there’s no indication that he ever actually ever found anything.

In 1825, Josiah Stowell hired Joseph Smith to use his seer stone to help him find underground gold mines. The mines were never found and the result was that Joseph Smith to be brought to trial for the crime of “glass looking.” Essentially, this meant that Joseph Smith was accused of defrauding Josiah Stowell out of money by claiming he could see things by looking into his seer stone.

At the trial, Josiah Stowell testified that he believed in Joseph Smith’s abilities despite the fact that the mines were never found. Others testified against Joseph Smith.

In the end, Joseph Smith was found guilty of a misdemeanor and was required to pay a fine of $2.68.

The original transcripts from the trial have been lost, but a copy of them were published in the 19th Century.1 In addition to the transcripts, an original copy of the courts’ bill for Joseph Smith has been found which verifies the fee of $2.68.2

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================
same [i.e. The People]
vs.                                                                Misdemeanor
Joseph Smith
The Glass Looker
March 20, 1826
.                                                                   To my fees in examination
================                                     of the above cause                     2.68

It was one of these same seer stones that Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon. To translate the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith used the same method that he used to “see” buried treasure in the earth. He put the stone in a hat, put his face into the hat to block out the light, and “saw” glowing words on the rock that became the text of the Book of Mormon.

If the text of the Book of Mormon came from Joseph Smith looking at a stone in a hat, why does church artwork depict images of Joseph Smith sitting at a table, looking at the Golden Plates, with a scribe sitting across the table?3

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joseph-translating-gold-plates-329346-wallpaper

While the church does acknowledge that the text of the Book of Mormon was produced by Joseph Smith looking at a rock in a hat,4 I believe the church doesn’t show this in artwork and doesn’t talk about it very much for two main reasons:

First, the church does not want to connect the text of the Book of Mormon with the same process Joseph Smith used to “see” buried treasure in the earth.

It just sounds crazy, doesn’t it? If someone today told me they looked at a special rock in a hat that showed them where treasure was buried in the earth, I would not believe them. If they tried to prove it to me, unless there was extraordinary evidence to back up their claim, I would expect that anything they might do would be a trick.

If this same person, using the same rock in the same way, said they produced the text of an ancient book, I would not believe it either. If I wouldn’t believe it if someone told me this today, why should I believe it when Joseph Smith did the same thing?

Second, the church does not want to connect the text of the Book of Mormon with the same technique Joseph Smith used to defraud people out of money.

Anything that reflects poorly on Joseph Smith’s character does not promote faith in the church. A conviction for glass looking reflects poorly on Joseph Smith’s character. So the church doesn’t talk about it much. In artwork, in writing, and in song, the church paints a saintly image of Joseph Smith. He’s revered like no other human being that ever lived. He is considered to have done more than anyone who has ever existed, except Jesus, for the salvation of mankind. Given the image the  church has built up around Joseph Smith, they don’t want much time spent on the fact that defrauded people out of money – especially when the fraud involved the same technique he used to create the Book of Mormon.


1 https://archive.org/stream/frasersmagazine08unkngoog#page/n243/mode/1up

2 http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/byustudies/id/227/rec/4 (see pages 223-233)

3 https://www.lds.org/media-library/images/translating-plates-82841?lang=eng&category=

4 https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-translation?lang=eng&_r=1

I believe the Book of Mormon is fiction because the narrow neck of land doesn’t exist.

There is a lot I like about the Book of Mormon. Many of its messages inspire me. I love the story of Abinadi. I love the message of King Benjamin. But despite all the things I like about the Book of Mormon, I don’t believe it’s a record of people that existed in the real world.

One of the key geographic features in the Book of Mormon is the narrow neck of land that separates the land northward from the land southward. Find the narrow neck, and you find the place where the Book of Mormon took place.

Growing up in the church, I’d been told that maybe the narrow neck of land was in the Great Lakes region of the United States. This seemed to match up the closest with what I learned about church history and what I read in the Doctrine and Covenants.

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Or maybe it was Panama. One time, I was shown a video that explained why this was the case.

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Or maybe it was the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico. This seemed to be the favored theory of Mormon academics.

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Later in life, I learned that some people claim that the narrow neck is on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico.

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Or the Isthmus of Rivas in Nicaragua.2

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When I first ran across the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in the Baja Peninsula, it was like a light bulb went off above my head. “Maybe,” I thought, “no one can find it because it doesn’t exist at all.”

All these theories can’t be right. There are only two options: (1) one of these theories is correct; or (2) all of them are wrong.

If one of these theories is correct, which one is it? Why is there so much uncertainty about it? Why do so many faithful members have such confident conclusions about places spanning the North American continent? Why couldn’t someone figure it out? Why couldn’t the prophet ask God where it was?

Growing up in the church, I was promised on a number of occasions that archaeology would prove the Book of Mormon true. The more time passed and the more I studied, the less this seemed to be happening. Instead, the more I searched and pondered, the more the Book of Mormon appeared to be a 19th century work of fiction.

Over time, it appeared that option (2) was the only one that made sense. It made a lot more sense that all these theories were wrong and that the people looking for the narrow neck of land were looking for a fictional place that never existed.

Inspiring though it can be, if the Book of Mormon is fiction, that’s a fatal flaw for the church. How can the church be true if the Book of Mormon is fiction? It can’t be. The elusiveness of the narrow neck of land is one of the reasons I believe the Book of Mormon is fiction.


1 http://www.achoiceland.com/home

2 http://mormongeography.com

I believe Joseph Smith was not a prophet because he claimed he could translate the fake Kinderhook Plates

On April 23, 1843, near the town of Kinderhook, Illinois, a man named Robert Wiley excavated a large mound of earth and discovered some ancient plates. In a letter to the May 1, 1843 edition of the Times and Seasons,1 the discovery was described like this:

“a bundle was found that consisted of six plates of brass, of a bell shape, each having a hole near the small end, and a ring through them all, and clasped with two clasps, the ring and clasps appeared to be of iron very much oxydated, the plates appeared first to be copper, and had the appearance of being covered with characters. It was agreed by the company that I should cleanse the plates: accordingly I took them to my house, washed them with soap and water, and a woolen cloth; but finding them not yet cleansed I treated them with dilute sulphuric acid which made them perfectly clean, on which it appeared that they were completely covered with hieroglyphics that none as yet have been able to read. Wishing that the world might know the hidden things as fast as they come to light, I was induced to state the facts, hoping that you would give it an insertion in your excellent, paper for we all feel anxious to know the true meaning of the plates, and publishing, the facts might lead to the true translation.”

Published in the Times and Seasons along with this letter was this declaration:

We the citizens of Kinderhook, whose names are annexed, do certify and declare that on the 23d April, 1843, while excavating a large mound, in this vicinity, Mr. R. Wiley took from said mound, six brass plates of a bell shape, covered with ancient characters. Said plates were very much oxidated–the bands and rings on said plates mouldered into dust on a slight pressure. The above described plates we have handed to Mr. Sharp for the purpose of taking them to Nauvoo.

Rob’t Wiley                W. P. Harris             G. W. F. Ward

W. Longnecker          Fayette Grubb          Ira S. Curtis

Geo. Deckenson        W. Fugate                 J. R. Sharp

As stated in the declaration, the plates were taken to Nauvoo and presented to Joseph Smith. Here is the front and back of the six plates:2

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In the official History of the Church published in 1856, it describes Joseph Smiths’ version of the events:3

Monday, May 1.—I rode out with Lucien Woodworth, and paid him £20 for the Nauvoo House, which I borrowed of William Allen.

I insert fac-similes of the six brass plates found near Kinderhook, in Pike county, Illinois, on April 23, by Mr. Robert Wiley and others, while excavating a large mound. They found a skeleton about six feet from the surface of the earth, which must have stood nine feet high. The plates were found on the breast of the skeleton and were covered on both sides with ancient characters.

I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth.

In 1879, Wilbur Fugate, one of the men who submitted the declaration that was published in the Times and Seasons, said that the plates were a hoax. In a letter to James T. Cobb in Salt Lake City, Mr. Fugate said:4

Mr. Cobb: —

I received your letter in regard to those plates, and will say in answer that they are a HUMBUG, gotten up by Robert Wiley, Bridge Whitton and myself. Whitton is dead. I do not know whether Wiley is or not. None of the nine persons who signed the certificate knew the secret, except, Wiley and I. We read in Pratt’s prophecy that “Truth is yet to spring up out of the earth.” We concluded to prove the prophecy by way of a joke. We soon made our plans and executed them, Bridge Whitton cut them (the plates) out of some pieces of copper; Wiley and I made the hieroglyphics by making impressions on beeswax and filling them with acid and putting it on the plates. When they were finished we put them together with rust made of nitric acid, old iron and lead, and bound them with a piece of hoop iron, covering them completely with the rust. Our plans worked admirably.

Despite Mr. Fugate’s claim and other evidence that suggested the Kinderhook Plates were a hoax, the church continued to stand by the claim that they were authentic. By this time, the plates had been lost, so at the time there was no way to analyze the plates themselves.

Then, in the 1960’s one of the plates was discovered by a member of the BYU faculty at the Chicago Historical Society Museum. When the plate was first discovered and analyzed, it was believed that the symbols had been engraved with a pointed instrument and not etched with acid as Mr. Fugate claimed. Based upon this observation, in the September 1962 edition of the Improvement Era (an official magazine of the church like the Ensign is today) an article stated that the discovery of this plate reaffirmed Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling and proved that Mr. Fugate lied when he said he etched the plates with acid.5

In 1980, the plate was analyzed again by Professor D. Lynn Johnson of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University. Dr. Johnson used a scanning electron microscope and a scanning Auger microprobe to determine that the Kinderhook Plates were, as Mr. Fugate said, etched with acid. This proved conclusively that the plates were indeed fake.

In the August 1981 Ensign, the church admitted the Kinderhook Plates were a hoax.6 However, rather than admitting that Joseph Smith had been fooled, the church instead claimed that Joseph Smith never said he translated them.

How did the church explain Joseph Smith’s statement that he “translated a portion of them” and that it was written by “a descendant of Ham,” a character from the Old Testament? They said that this claim was actually written by Joseph Smith’s scribe William Clayton and that it was unknown where William Clayton got this information. In other words, after almost 140 years of claiming the Kinderhook Plates were evidence of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling and ability to translate, the church then claimed that Joseph Smith never actually said he translated them.

Does that make any sense? William Clayton was Joseph Smith’s scribe. It makes the most sense that he wrote what Joseph Smith told him to write. Up until the tests in 1980 which proved the plates were fake, the church claimed they were authentic. It seems awfully convenient to then state, when they were proved fake, that Joseph Smith didn’t really translate them.

Keep in mind that Doctrine and Covenants sections 129, 130, and a few other sections were taken from William Clayton’s writings when he was Joseph Smith’s scribe. In other words, the words written on paper by William Clayton when he was a scribe for Joseph Smith have been canonized which means the church considers them the words of Christ. And yet, when it comes to the Kinderhook Plates, the church claims William Clayton is unreliable. How convenient. Why is William Clayton a good enough scribe to put his writings in the scriptures, but not a good enough scribe when he said Joseph Smith translated the Kinderhook Plates?

What makes the most sense is that Mr. Fugate was correct that the plates were a hoax and that Joseph Smith, rather than being able to translate them, fell for the hoax.

If Joseph Smith could be so easily fooled by such a hoax, that tells me he was not a prophet. Rather, it tells me he was a fraud.


1 https://archive.org/stream/TimesAndSeasonsVol4/Times_and_Seasons_Vol_4#page/n293/mode/2up

2 http://archive.org/stream/historyofchurcho05churrich#page/374/mode/2up

3 http://archive.org/stream/historyofchurcho05churrich#page/372/mode/2up (link goes to 1909 edition)

4 http://olivercowdery.com/smithhome/1886WWyl.htm#pg207a

5 http://archive.org/stream/improvementera6509unse#page/n21/mode/2up

6 https://www.lds.org/ensign/1981/08/kinderhook-plates-brought-to-joseph-smith-appear-to-be-a-nineteenth-century-hoax?lang=eng

I believe Joseph Smith was not a prophet because the Book of Abraham translation is wrong

The question of whether Joseph Smith was a prophet is the key question that the church hinges on. If Joseph Smith was truly a prophet, then maybe the church is true (or maybe another church that traces itself to Joseph Smith is true). But if Joseph Smith was not a prophet, there is no way the church can be true.

One of the reasons believe Joseph Smith was not a prophet is because the Book of Abraham translation is all wrong.

Sometime between 1818 and 1822, an archaeologist named Antonio Lebolo discovered 11 mummies in Thebes, Egypt. Some papyri (literally, papers) that contained ancient Egyptian writing and images were discovered along with the mummies.

By 1833, these mummies and papyri ended up in New York where they were purchased by a man named Michael Chandler who travelled around the eastern United States to display and sell the mummies.

At the time, no one could read ancient Egyptian. Although the Rosetta Stone (which eventually allowed ancient Egyptian writing to be understood) had been discovered in 1799, it took several decades before archaeologists and linguists could confidently read ancient Egyptian. In the United States in the 1830’s, no one was skilled at reading ancient Egyptian.

But wait! Joseph Smith claimed the golden plates were written in “reformed Egyptian” and that he translated this language into the Book of Mormon.

Because of this, in 1835, Michael Chandler travelled to Kirtland, Ohio in the hopes of selling the last 4 mummies and remaining 2 papyri to the church. Joseph Smith felt impressed to buy the papyri and did so.

Later, Joseph Smith inspected the papyri and declared that one of the papyri contained the writings of Abraham and the other contained the Book of Joseph (the character from the book of Genesis in the Bible). Joseph Smith said that he translated the papyrus into what is now known as the Book of Abraham contained in the Pearl of Great Price. For some reason, the papyrus containing the Book of Joseph was never translated.

The text of the Book of Abraham, and the explanation for the images contained in the Book of Abraham all come from Joseph Smith.

Over time, the papyri and mummies were lost and thought to be destroyed in a fire. Then, in the 1960’s, some of the papyri were discovered in a museum in New York City and given to the church. By the 1960’s, the knowledge gained from the Rosetta Stone had spread throughout the world and ancient Egyptian could be read. This meant the writing on the papyrus could be compared to text of the Book of Abraham to see if Joseph Smith translated the words correctly.

The result? Not a single thing was translated correctly.

The picture below1 is the part of the papyrus that was discovered in the museum in New York. As you’ll notice, the head and hand is missing from the character on the left and the middle of the body on the table is also missing.

Facsimile 1 from the Book of Abraham

Below is Facsimile No. 1, as originally published in the March 1, 1842 edition of the Times and Seasons,2 the official church publication at the time. This image was created from the papyrus above. The explanations were given by Joseph Smith. As you’ll notice, a human head and hand holding a knife was added to the character on the left.

Facs 1 copy

In reality, the image should have looked more like this:

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Notice the head of the character on the left. It is not a human head. This character is the Egyptian god Anubis, who had the head of a jackal.

The scene being depicted is not an attempted sacrifice. The papyrus says the man on the table was named Hor, not Abraham. Hor is not being sacrificed. In ancient Egypt, Anubis was a god associated with mummification and the afterlife. In this scene, Anubis is preparing Hor’s body for the afterlife.

The jars beneath the table do not represent idolatrous gods as Joseph Smith claimed. These are called canopic jars. In the mummification process, the person’s stomach, intestines, lungs, and liver were removed and placed in these jars. The jars in this picture represent the canopic jars that would have held Hor’s organs.

The big picture is this: there is not a single part of this facsimile, or any of the others, or any text on the papyrus that Joseph Smith translated correctly.

Today, the church tries to make sense of the failed translation by changing the definition of translation. On LDS.org, it says that instead of literally translating the papyrus, the papyrus gave Joseph Smith and opportunity to meditate, reflect, and receive revelation.3 This doesn’t make any sense to me. Joseph Smith said he translated it. Translate means translate, not “translate.” It wasn’t a mystery to him. There are written records demonstrating that he was translating the papyrus. Plus, the very first words at the beginning of the Book of Abraham are:

“A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.”

Joseph Smith claimed to receive a lot of revelation in his life. If the Book of Abraham came from revelation instead of a translation, why didn’t he ever say so? The plain meaning of “written by his own hand” means that Abraham supposedly put the ink on the papyrus himself. This was the common understanding of the church until recent decades when the church has tried to offer other explanations as the problems with the Book of Abraham became undeniable.

Here is what I believe: he made it up.


1 http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/egyptian-papyri

2 https://archive.org/stream/TimesAndSeasonsV3#page/n135/mode/2up

3 https://www.lds.org/topics/translation-and-historicity-of-the-book-of-abraham?lang=eng

I believe the church is testable (part 2)

There is a difference between objective truth and subjective truth.

Subjective truth is truth that is different for different people. I love guacamole. This is a subjective truth. No one can tell me I don’t love guacamole. It’s true that I love guacamole because I believe it is. Someone else may hate guacamole and that would be their subjective truth.

Objective truth is truth that is true no matter what anyone believes. The earth revolves around the sun. This is an objective truth. When people believed the sun revolved around the earth, they were wrong.

If Moroni really buried gold plates in the Hill Cumorah, then this is an objective truth. It can’t be true for one person and false for another. Either the plates were buried in the Hill Cumorah or they weren’t. People can believe that they were or weren’t, but there is only one truth about it. Either they were or they weren’t.

Different people interpret the facts about Mormonism differently than I do. That’s fine.

But wait! What about the spirit?

The church teaches that when someone searches, ponders, and prays, that the Holy Ghost will teach them truth of all things through spiritual feelings. What’s wrong with praying and feeling the spirit to know that the church is true? In my experience, spiritual feelings are an unreliable indicator of things that are true.

I’ve had conflicting spiritual impressions. Early in college, I fasted and prayed very intensely to know what I should study. I felt very strongly that I should pursue medicine. Due to this interest, I found a job in a hospital that would expose me to the field of medicine. During the training for this job, all my interest in pursuing medicine left me. I wanted nothing to do with it. I now had a distinct spiritual impression that I should not pursue medicine.

Why did the spirit tell me to study medicine and then tell me not to? Either the spirit was playing tricks on me for the lulz, it wasn’t the spirit at all and I was simply experiencing different thoughts and emotions at different times. Regardless, I learned that the spirit is unreliable.

Plus, people all over the world have felt the spirit that their religion is true. They experience the same feelings and share the same types of experiences when they share their testimony of their religion. Muslims know their religion is true and that Muhammed is God’s last prophet. Catholics know their church has the true Priesthood authority. And on and on. Not every religion claims to be the one true religion on earth, but many do. And all these true religions teach fundamentally incompatible things. They can’t all be true.

But if the spirit is unreliable, what can we do?

People often use different phrases to express why they feel or think certain things. You’ve certainly heard the phrases “I have a gut feeling that…” or “my heart is telling me…” or “I think that…”

I have a gut. I have a heart. I have a brain. If something went wrong with my gut and it was replaced, I’d still be me. If something went wrong with my heart and it was replaced, I’d still be me. But if something went wrong with my brain and it was replaced (pretending such a thing was possible) I wouldn’t be me anymore. While I do believe in a mind/body connection, at the end of the day what makes me me is the brain inside my head and everything stored there. If you took out my brain and replaced it with a different one that had different things stored in it, I wouldn’t be me anymore.

When faced with determining what to believe, I listen to my brain first. I know my brain can lead me astray. So can my heart. So can my gut. But as wrong as my brain can be, I trust it the most. I do my best to think, evaluate the evidence, and draw conclusions that make sense to me while always remembering that I’m human and could be wrong.

I believe the church is testable (part 1)

As religions go, Mormonism is young. It’s less than 200 years old. Because of this, there is a deep supply of records available related to the origins of Mormonism. Also, historically the church has kept very good records and much of it is available to study. Between the records the church has kept and other available records, there is an abundance of sources available to study Mormonism.

But it’s not just the availability of sources that makes the church testable. The church also makes unique, testable claims that other churches don’t make.

To give you an example, let’s compare the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the Mormon church. These two churches are similar in many respects. Both churches began around the same time. Both were founded in the United States. Both churches have a strong focus on spreading their message door-to-door. Both churches have similar numbers of active members. Both churches claim to be the true church on earth.

Despite the similarities, there are some key differences. Doctrinally, the Jehovah’s Witness church is focused on their interpretation of the Bible. They claim their religion is true based on their belief in their superior interpretation of the Bible compared to other churches. When a claim is made based on the interpretation of the Bible, it can be difficult to test it because interpreting scripture can be a very subjective endeavor.

In Mormonism, the claims are not based only on a superior interpretation of scripture. The church claims that the Book of Mormon is a real record of real civilizations that existed in the Americas. This is not a spiritual claim. It is a physical one. Things that exist in the physical world can be tested.

The Book of Mormon tells us where the people came from (the Tower of Babel and Jerusalem), it describes the geography of the land they lived in, it describes the cities they built, it describes how they worshipped, it describes their technology (chariots, steel, silk, etc), it describes their money, it talks about animals (honeybees, sheep, horses, etc), it talks about plants (barley, wheat, etc), it tells us how many people died in battles, it describes their form of government, and so on.

The Bible also describes the area in which the events happened. The Bible talks about people, cities, plants, animals, how people worshipped, and so on. Not every person and event in the Bible can be authenticated with a high degree of certainty. But for the most part, the text of the Bible matches the society in which the Bible says it took place. The people, plants, animals, religion, cities, etc, that are mentioned in the Bible match the people, plants, animals, religion, cities, etc, that have been discovered in that area through historical and archaeological research.

If the Book of Mormon is a real record of real people, it can be tested by a study of history and archaeology just like we can study the Bible and every other ancient civilization on earth.

There is indisputable evidence that Vikings settled on the northeastern coasts of North America hundreds of years before Columbus reached America. The civilization that the Book of Mormon describes is far more extensive and lasted far longer than these Viking settlements. If there is indisputable evidence that Vikings reached the remote shores of North America, there should be evidence that the Book of Mormon civilizations were real.

Keep in mind that the church does not claim the Book of Mormon is an ordinary book. Joseph Smith stated, and the church has often repeated, that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on earth. It should be held to the standard of what it claims to be.

Joseph Smith said Moroni, the last person in the Book of Mormon, appeared to him as an angel and led him to the Gold Plates that he (Moroni) put into the ground. If a real person named Moroni put real plates in the ground that contained a real record of real people and really appeared as an angel to Joseph Smith 1,400 years later to show him where these plates were buried, we are talking about the real world, not myths, metaphors, and symbols.

The Book of Abraham is also testable. The papyrus that Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Abraham exists. The church owns it. It can (and has been) tested to see if it is what Joseph Smith claimed it to be.

Priesthood power is also testable. The church claims that it has exclusive access to God’s true Priesthood power. One of the ways the Priesthood is used is by the giving of blessings to comfort and heal. If the Priesthood is a real power that has access to a greater portion of God’s power than the rest of the world, this can be tested. If a Priesthood blessing can really help someone heal better than a normal prayer or better than doing nothing at all, this can be tested.

Due to the availability of records, many claims about church history can be tested. Did the church build a temple in Nauvoo? Yes. This is obvious based on historical records and the remodeled building is still there. Did Emma Smith remarry after Joseph Smith was murdered? Yes. The historical records make this clear.

Some scientific and historical information is challenging for some Mormons to accept because it conflicts with their beliefs about Mormonism. Often times, when Mormons are challenged with a piece of information, they will label it “anti-Mormon” and disregard it.

It should make no difference whether information is “anti-Mormon” or “pro-Mormon.” It shouldn’t matter if it is faith promoting or not. What should matter is this: is it true? Then, if it is true, what does it mean? Or, if the facts suggest the claim is a lie, it should be treated as such, regardless of whether it promotes faith in the church or not.

Sometimes the facts lead to only one plausible conclusion. If someone looked at the facts and still insisted Emma Smith didn’t remarry after Joseph Smith was killed, they’d just be wrong. There’s no reasonable interpretation of the facts that allow for the conclusion that she didn’t remarry.

Sometimes things are not so clear and people will look at the available facts and come to different conclusions. But even though interpretations vary, people can hopefully agree on the facts.

 

I believe I have one brain

Geology is the study of the earth – what it’s composed of, the pressure different parts of the earth put on each other, and how the earths’ composition changes over time.

Geologists have determined that the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old. It’s hard for our minds to even comprehend how old that is. In the grand scheme of things, the length of our lives is less than a blink of an eye.

When we look at places like the Grand Canyon, we are looking at something that has been created millions of years ago.

I have a friend named Mark who is a geologist. As long as I’ve known him, Mark has always believed in the church.

When my beliefs started changing about the church, one of the things I was having a hard time reconciling was the age of the earth compared to what I read in D&C 77:6 where it says that the earth has a 7,000 year temporal existence. Temporal means “physical” or “material.” Saying the earth has a temporal existence of 7,000 is like saying the materials that make up earth are 7,000 years old. Even if this means 7,000 years since the Fall of Adam and doesn’t include how long it took the earth to be created, the Bible Dictionary says there was no death before the Fall of Adam and there are countless fossils of dead animals and humans that are more than 7,000 years old. Also, I wondered a lot about the Flood and if a global flood was supported by geologic evidence.

When I thought about these things, I naturally thought of my friend Mark who believed in the church and was a geologist. So I called him. When I talked to Mark, I asked him specifically whether the things he learned at church were compatible with the things he learned studying geology.

I’m paraphrasing, but this is what he told me, “When I was in college there were some things I learned about geology that didn’t seem compatible with the gospel. I had a Mormon geology professor and I decided to ask him about it. He said to me ‘There is part of my brain that I use for church, and part of my brain that I use for geology. I keep these two parts of my brain separate so there is no incompatibility.’”

Mark said that this idea of having two brains worked for him and he no longer bothered himself with trying to reconcile what he learned at church with what he learned about geology. One brain for church. One brain for geology.

This way of thinking is called compartmentalizing. When people compartmentalize, they suppress thoughts or feelings that conflict with other thoughts or feelings in their brain. Rather than dealing with conflicting thoughts, the brain sends each thought to a separate compartment and does not let the compartments talk to each other.

The reason people compartmentalize is to avoid cognitive dissonance. The word cognitive relates to thinking, and the word dissonance means inconsistent.  So essentially cognitive dissonance means “inconsistent thinking.” The term is also used to described the feeling someone gets when they are confronted with ideas that conflict with ideas they have in their head. Often, it’s like your brain short circuits because it can’t process both thoughts because they contradict each other. Your brain has has to pick one.

Why do people want to avoid cognitive dissonance? Because cognitive dissonance doesn’t feel good. Confronting cognitive dissonance requires admitting that something you think is wrong, and people typically don’t like to be wrong. Often, they’d rather be incompatibly right. When strongly held beliefs are involved, cognitive dissonance can be very painful. I’ve experienced it.

People react differently to cognitive dissonance. Some people pick the thought they like best and don’t consider the other one at all, some people compartmentalize so they can keep both thoughts in their head, and some people try to figure out which idea is right and which is wrong.

For my friend Mark and his Mormon geology professor, they held in their heads two opposing ideas about the age of the earth and the Flood. One set of ideas they learned at church. The other set they learned through the study of geology. These ideas were incompatible with each other. But rather than analyzing which set of ideas were correct, they kept these two sets of ideas separate from each other in their brains to avoid having to choose one over the other.

When figuring out what I believe is true, it only makes sense to me to have one brain. I can’t have one brain to study science and one brain to study the church. The church makes claims that are testable with science. These claims include the age of the earth, a global flood, the existence of the Book of Mormon civilizations, the ability to heal people with a Priesthood blessings, and more.

The church also makes historical claims which can be evaluated the same as any other historical claim.

When I study the historical and scientific claims the church makes, I have to use the same tools I use to determine the truthfulness of any other scientific or historical claim. It makes no sense to me to use one brain to think about church-related historical and scientific claims, and use another brain when I think about everything else. Having two brains would lead to more error. I realize I will never be free from error, but as much as I can, I’d like to be less wrong. If I had different brains to study different things, I would be wrong more often.

Everyone compartmentalizes in one way or another. We are all human and everyone’s brain plays tricks on them without them realizing it. I’m not immune. I’m sure I have opposing ideas in my head that I unconsciously compartmentalize so I don’t have to deal with figuring out which one is right.

Some forms of compartmentalizing make sense and are healthy. When I was in college, I helped one of my college professors on a documentary film about the training of prison guards. We closely followed a group of future prison guards through their 8 week training course. One thing I noticed was that they were trained to act as if everything a prisoner told them was a lie. When they were at work, they were never to trust a prisoner. Think about what it must be like to spend every day at work not trusting almost all the people around you.

In a situation like this, it would be good for the prison guard to have one mindset for his relationships with all the prisoners at work and another mindset for his family and friends at home. This is a form of compartmentalizing. It’s good for a prison guard to compartmentalize in this way so they don’t act like a prison guard towards their family and friends.

But it’s a very different thing to compartmentalize in order to avoid asking the question: which one of these two contradictory beliefs in my head is wrong?

It is this latter type of compartmentalizing that I am talking about when I say that I have one brain.

I’m not a scientist. I’m not an historian. But I can use my brain. It’s surely not the best nor the worst brain in the world, but it’s the only one I’ve got to work with. This blog is not intended to be academic or scientific papers, but rather a summary of things I’ve learned and thought about.

If the church is supposed to be for all people, then it cannot be something that can only be understood by scientists or historians. It must be able to be tested and understood by anyone of average intelligence whether or not they have any historical or scientific training. I believe that it can be.