Category: Uncategorized

Book Review: Atheism: A Very Short Introduction

Curious about Atheism, I sought to find a book that argues atheism’s position from a scholarly perspective. Before this, however, I had run into Oxford’s excellent series of Very Short Introductions. These books offer introductions to various topics. For my Mormon readers, Oxford has published books like Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction by Richard Bushman and also The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction by Terryl Givens. I highly recommend both of these works for those who would like to read a good over view of these topics.

Atheism A Very Short Introduction
Atheism: A Very Short Introduction

Similar to these books, Jullian Baggini’s Atheism: A Very Short Introduction was a well argued work and one worthy of consideration. Baggini, in short, has sought to create a positive case for atheism. Does he succeed? In my estimation, I would say mostly yes. He has certainly given me a lot to think about. Questions such as, “Where does morality come from, and why is it good?” were answered in incredibly thought provoking ways.

Another good feature of Baggini’s book was the fact that he was not interested in simply stating that religion is stupid, therefore atheism. Some of his interpretation of scripture, however, are a bit problematic. Baggini also dislikes militant atheism. Unlike Richard Dawkins who thinks we should ridicule large groups of people while simultaneously treating them like idiots, Baggini recognizes that ” Intelligent atheists often have much more in common with undogmatic theists than one might suppose” (pg 25) and that there are “many intelligent people [who] are religious and it is not good enough for atheists to simply dismiss religious belief as foolish superstition” (pg 92).

Baggini’s Atheism: A Very Short Introduction offers a challenging discussion that I believe theists should sometime consider. Baggini is both a bright and friendly atheist, and his book adds yet another fine piece to Oxford’s Very Short Introductions. 

Book Review: Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones

“I trust you will make this [Joseph’s Seer Stone] a matter of history.” – Zina Young Card.

“These stones will I give unto thee . . . [which]  shall magnify to the eyes of men these things which ye shall write.” Ether 3:24

Zina Young Card, Daughter of Brigham Young
Zina Young Card

When I first heard about Michael H. Hubbard and Nicholas J Frederick’s Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones, I asked myself, What can one possibly learn about Joseph’s Seer Stones? Aren’t they merely cultural artifacts that Joseph used to as a means of inspiration in translating the Book of Mormon? In summation, I thought that this book would have very little to offer, and would either be very short or very repetitive.

Boy, was I wrong. As it turns out, there is much to be learned regarding the Seer Stone’s, and much more that needs to be talked about. The book goes into extraordinary detail regarding interesting topics such as how Joseph found his seer stones, what was the context of the life of seer stones, a theology of seer stones, among others.

What was most interesting, in my opinion, was the portion tracing the seer stones back to Joseph and to today and the part about theologizing the stones. The authors give a very good critique of the “Didactic Model” of seer stones, which basically entails that the stones were used as a crutch for Joseph Smith’s prophetic role, rather than God’s actual means of communication with Joseph Smith. After all, if God created the brother of Jared’s Seer Stones specifically for a divine purpose, He could have done the same for Joseph Smith. Pointing to the Book of Mormon, Joseph’s seer stones, the authors argue, “were not [merely] cultural artifacts, but rather sacred relics that identified him as a seer, revelation, and prophet” (Hubbard and Frederick, 133).

Another great feature that has nothing to do with the content of the book is the paper that was used in its printing. Throughout the book one will notice colorful illustrations of seer stones, prophets, apostles, and others who were involved in Joseph’s Seer Stones. These colorful illustrations and photographs helps readers connect with the text and understand better who’s who and what’s what.

In conclusion, I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who has questions about seer stones. The authors manage to create a beautiful working narrative that many simply do not know about or have considered. And it’s meticulous arguments add to the fruitful discussion.

A Conversation with Christian Apologist Andrew Rappaport

Rappaport Residence (Wikimedia Commons)

“Nope I did not waste the time [reading your response] since you clearly did not see your first sentence proved my point. No sens Eto waste time with a deceiver.” – Andrew Rappaport, Facebook conversation with Eric Lopez.

Evangelical Christian apologist Andrew Rappaport has a series of video courses regarding Mormonism which can be found here. Andrew’s videos display, among other things, his ignorance and idiotic findings about Mormonism. [1] Before I wrote a review of his videos, I wanted to reach out to him and explain that they were inaccurate. His response shows how intellectually dishonest he is, as he asserts that I’m going to hell and was deliberately lying to him.

Below I provide our conversation in full, without any major editing.

Me: Hello, I watched your videos about Mormons and within the first five minutes, you said that if someone says they’d rather be called a Latter-day Saint rather than a Mormon, that’s basically them saying that they are going to “try to deceive you.” Really? I choose to be called a Latter-day Saint over the word Mormon because it better represents who I am. And what kind of “introduction” is that? Imagine if a class you attended was an introduction to Christianity. And the teacher, rather than giving basic facts about Christian teachings and history, he instead gave a class on why Christianity is wrong and Islam (or something) was right? Would that be an ok introduction? You also said our website teaches that we teach the trinity. Actually, Mormons have consistently denied in believing in the trinitarian creeds. In 1988, for instance, Dr Daniel Peterson and Stephen Ricks wrote that “Latter-day Saints reject the doctrines of the Trinity as taught by most Christian churches today.” Jeffery R Holland, in 2007, spoke that “In such creeds all three members are separate persons, but they are a single being, the oft-noted “mystery of the trinity.” They are three distinct persons, yet not three Gods but one. All three persons are incomprehensible, yet it is one God who is incomprehensible. We agree with our critics on at least that point—that such a formulation for divinity is truly incomprehensible.” In an authoritative article commissioned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it reads (emphasis added): “Latter-day Saints believe the melding of early Christian theology with Greek philosophy was a grave error. Chief among the doctrines lost in this process was the nature of the Godhead. The true nature of God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. As a consequence, Latter-day Saints hold that God the Father is an embodied being, a belief consistent with the attributes ascribed to God by many early Christians. This Latter-day Saint belief differs from the post-New Testament creeds.” Mormons have consistently taught that we don’t believe in a Trinitarian God. I don’t know what part of the website you were reading, but I’ve been unable to track down any source that says we accept the trinity.

Andrew Rappaport: It is simple the LDS is founded on stating we do not have the truth now your church runs commercials stating you are Christians like us. Which is true

Me: Actually, Mormons have always believed and taught that we are Christian. This isn’t anything new.
And we have also always pointed out that we have differences. Have you read the works “How Wide the Divide” by Evangelical Scholar Craig Blomberg and Mormon scholar Stephen Robinson? It isn’t comprehensive, but it points out that Mormons and Evangelicals certainly do have differences, but those differences aren’t as big as we thought they were.

Andrew Rappaport: Just like us? Do not be deceiving now because that would prove me right
Me: Dude, I just said we have differences as well.
Andrew Rappaport: The church has a “we are Christian” campaign. The purpose is to state that LDS are like us real Christians. Now for the last time is that true or not. I understand you want to keep your deception and not lie at the same time but you cannot have it both ways. LDS is nothing like the Bible or the BOM. So are you Christian believing that Jesus is and always was God, that the Father is and always was God only in spirit and never in flesh OR do you pretend and deceive. The reality is that you are deceived and heading to hell and I do not want that for you but as long as you are unwilling to be honest with yourself then you will not repent.
Me: The LDS Church actually had an ad campaign titled “I’m a Mormon.” And we are Christian. Indeed, the protestant scholar John Turner recognized this in his book “The Mormon Jesus: A Biography.” He stated the following; “Given this trajectory [of modern LDS interactions with non-LDS faiths], it no longer makes sense to consider Mormonism a “new religion,” a “new world religion,” or even a “new religious tradition,” if that implies a supersession of or definitive break with Christianity. Instead, Mormonism is a vibrant new branch of Christianity, one in which temples, ordinances, and prophets have taken their place alongside a Jesus who is both utterly Christian and distinctively Mormon.” (Belkarp Harvard pg 294) And the Catholic theologian and philosopher Stephen Webb argues in his book “Mormon Christianity: What Other Can Learn From the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Oxford) extensively that Mormons are Christian. Are we Christian? I certainly believe so. Are we protestants? No. Of course not. But since you are so eager to say that Mormons say we are “just like you,” I challenge you to find a reputable Mormon scholar/authority who says we are just like other Protestant Christians. I haven’t seen one. I would be very surprised if I did. “So are you Christian believing that Jesus is and always was God” The assertion that Mormonism teaches that Christ was a created being (certainly, I must say, some Mormons DO believe this nonsense) is wrong on a number of levels. In the poorly researched book from reformed author Richard E Carroll “Mormonism and the Bible” (Mustang), he argues that “Mormons embrace the heresy of Arias. They see Christ as a created being.” This theology, as you may know, states that, while Christ pre-existed, he did not pre-exist eternally. Instead, he came into existence ex nihilo prior to the Genesis creation. There are a number of groups who have Arian Christology, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses (though with an added twist on identifying the pre-mortal Jesus as Michael). But in Latter-day Saint (Mormon) beliefs, is is a distinct teaching of LDS Christology that Jesus has eternally existed, His nature being that of an intelligence, with all the attributes inherent within intelligence (see Abraham 3, D&C 93). There is no creation ex nihilo of Jesus, as Arianism teaches. While probably a post Joseph Smith concept, the “Spirit birth” of Christ is wherein an intelligence is clothed upon with a spirit body, analogous to our spirit being clothed upon with a mortal physical body. Furthermore, Trinitatian scholars actually do believe that “Jesus” was created. In Trinitarian Christology, “Jesus” is a single person who with two natures and two wills, al la the Hypostatic Union, as defined in Chalcedon in AD 451. The human nature and will of Jesus did not actually pre-exist the Incarnation. Certainly, Trinitarian scholars have been forced to admit that one cannot speak of Jesus pre-existing unless pre-existence is normative of what it means to be “human.” Much work has been done in recent years in what is called, “Spirit Christology,” focusing on what precedes “Jesus”-the Word in John 1-as God. What follows are two quotes from leading studies on this issue, and how only holding that all humans, not just Jesus, pre-existing can one speak of the pre-existing Jesus. This comes from trinitarian scholar Bernard Byrne’s “Christ Pre-existence in Pauline Soteriology,” Theological studies, June 1997, 58/2: “By the same token, it is important to stress that in speaking of pre-existence, one is not speaking of a pre-existence of Jesus’ humanity. Jesus Christ did not personally pre-exist as Jesus. Hence one ought not to speak of a pre-existence of Jesus. Even to use the customary expression of the pre-existence of Christ can be misleading since the word “Christ” in its original meaning simply designates the Jewish Messiah, a figure never thought of as pre-existent in any personal sense. But in view of the Christian application of “Christ” to Jesus, virtually as a proper name and in a way going beyond his historical earthly existence, it is appropriate to discuss the issue in terms of the pre-existence of Christ, provided one intended thereby to designate simply the subject who came to historical human existence as Jesus, without any connotation that he pre-existed as a human being.” This second quotation comes from Trinitarian scholar Roger Haight’s “The Case for Spirit Christology,” Theological Studies, June 1992, 53/2 (Emphasis, mine) “And with the clarity that historical consciousness has conferred relative to Jesus’ being a human being in all things substantially like us, many things about the meaning of Incarnation too can be clarified. One is that one cannot really think of a pre-existence of Jesus . . . But one cannot think in terms of the pre-existence of Jesus; what is pre-existent to Jesus is God, and the God who became incarnate in Jesus. Doctrine underscores the obvious here that Jesus is really a creature like us, and a creature cannot pre-exist creation. One may speculate on how Jesus might have been present to God’s eternal intentions and so on, but a strict pre-existence of Jesus to his earthly existence is contradictory to his consubstantiality with us, unless we too were pre-existent.” “Mormonism,” of course, answers this problem. And we believe everyone had a personal pre-existence, not just Jesus. Furthermore, there is no doctrine creation ex nihilo in LDS theology to begin with. And can you stop saying that I’m trying to maintain a lie or deceive? I’m not stupid. People are allowed to believe different things and still be honest about those beliefs. This isn’t anything new or controversial. If I wanted to lie about you, I would do it somewhere you couldn’t really respond. But, instead, I’ve come straight to you. I’ve been straight up about what I believe and clear where I stand.
Andrew Rappaport: you can quote who ever you want you just prove me right you try to claim that you are like us when you are not. Joseph Smith was a known con man that is leading you to hell where he is now. repent .
if you were straight up you would state as the Joseph Smith did that we fell away and need him to restore the church. by the way that make Jesus a lair since He stated that they church would not fall away but my guess is that you have not studied the Bible.

Me: Good grief, Andrew. Did you even read what I wrote? I was pointing out a difference in Mormonism. I pointed out that “in Latter-day Saint beliefs, i[t] is a DISTINCT teaching of LDS Christology that Jesus has eternally existed . . . with all the attributes inherent with intelligence.” Notice the word “Distinct.” What do you think that means? Does that mean, “like everyone else?” As to your paragraph in regards to apostasy, it’s been a very consistent teachings that Mormons believe that Christians lost the priesthood and that it was restored through Joseph Smith by Jesus Christ, the Eternal God, Wonderful, the Son of God, the Messiah. This teaching can be found in Missionary manuals. It’s taught to everyone who takes the eight lessons from the LDS missionaries.

Andrew Rappaport: Nope I did not waste the time since you clearly did not see your first sentence proved my point. No sens Eto waste time with a deceiver.

Me: What sentence did I utter which proved your point?

Andrew Rappaport: Well I guess you did not read my much shorter response that pointed it out.

Me: I’ve read all your responses, Andrew. Could you point out which response in which you pointed out that I proved your point?


1. A much better introduction to Mormonism is Richard Bushman’s “Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction” (Oxford University) or Stephen Webb’s “Mormon Christianity” (Oxford University).

Online Debating

Richard Mouw
Richard Mouw, who has been an inspiration to me in regards to healthy disagreement and charitable interactions. (Wikimedia Commons)

How do we get past the idea that debating online is something that we do to “win” arguments, or to “destroy” our opponents? An online friend of mine suggested that we should not think of online interfaith discussions as a sport. He suggested that one way to help combat this “sport” mentality is to institute a rule against screenshotting ideological opponents for sport. This rule seemed interesting to me. But, I wonder, what would that do for accountability? Some may jump on this rule and spew whatever venomous tarnish they would like in order to support their opinions laden with zingers and bigotry.

Before I continue, however, I must admit that I have been guilty of screenshotting conversations with ideological opponents in an effort to make them look stupid and/or uninformed. [1] Looking back, it’s embarrassing that I went through such a phase, and lost track of why we should be having these conversations. My focus was not on glorifying Christ and His work on earth. It was about destroying my opponent, and  attempting to gain points and zingers against their ideas. Indeed, this was a selfish act on my part and, not to mention, petty. So, therefore, I wish to repent and hope I can build bridges once again with my brothers and sisters and focus on why I do what I do. Do I talk about Mormonism online to win arguments, or do I do so to bring people to know Christ, and His magnificent Gospel? [2]

Discerning truth from error does not come from debaters tactics or rhetoric. It comes from rational arguments, faith, and proper discernment. In the Doctrine and Covenants, it invites us to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). I am not convinced that pointing out typos or trivial errors in an essay or blog constitutes as totally discrediting someone as an intellectual, as long as said intellectual is willing to listen and respond reasonably to criticisms. Nor am I convinced that debates are all that useful for pointing people to the truth. Dr. Daniel C Peterson also shared a similar opinion: “I’m not convinced that public debates are a very effective way of getting at or pointing to truth,” writes Peterson. “Too much depends upon quick-wittedness, cleverness, and rhetoric. . . I heartily dislike American presidential “debates,” which are more about soundbites and “zingers” than about serious, substantive discussion of complex issues. I’m much more inclined (though, even here, lack of time, coupled with a long list of preexisting priorities, would argue against it) to written discussions, where there is no time clock, no premium placed upon one-liners and zingers and crowd-pleasing oratory, no playing to an audience, and no length limit.” [3]

Our conversations must be more fruitful, and filled with more charity for one another. Some of my online interactions with people have grown so polarizing that I once told a friend that I was not longer interested in having serious conversations with others, and would rather troll people. Really!? That’s what my conversations have turned into? In what universe should a faithful Latter-day Saint take Christ’s Infinite Atonement, and not take it seriously? In Micheal R. Ash’s fantastic response to the so-called CES Letter, he touched on a simple yet important truth: “Smart people don’t always agree with eachother.” [4] How do we recognize that others might be familiar with the same working information and historical facts and yet simultaneously have come to different conclusions without assuming the other person is merely “ignorant,””blind,” or “crazy”? This is a question that I think everyone needs to ask themselves while engaging in online interfaith actions. In the long run, people need to realize that we all come from different perspectives and different backgrounds. We need to simply realize and accept that some people have read the same things as you’ve read, and yet have different conclusions.

Another great question, How do we deal with people who are simply hostile towards the things you hold dear and sacred? I have asked my self this question throughout my years of online interaction. I have answered this question in many different way, from “Be kind, and defend what you believe,” to “Sarcastically, but cleverly, respond to their conversations.” I have come to the personal conclusion that both of these answers are wrong. In the Book of Matthew Christ instructs that we should “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” I have come to the conclusion that some people are so mean, irresponsible, and nasty that withholding what’s sacred has been, and is, the healthier option. In some cases, I can come up with fantastic, well thought out answers to complex issues, and some people will still find ways to twist it and make you seem like a maniac. In these extreme yet common cases, it’s simply not worth casting your pearls.

Getting back to my earlier comment on accountability. I think we shouldn’t let anybody say merely whatever they want and simply get away with calling groups of people blind and ignorant. These attitudes are not helpful, nor are they useful. We need to hold these people accountable for what they say, and have them further explain themselves. And if they cannot explain themselves, we ought to simply ignore such silly rants. It’s simply rude and uncharitable to assert that an entire group of people are idiotic, and don’t know a thing about, well, anything. Accountability is actually why I disagree with my friend in regards to excluding screenshots on the internet. Screenshots are good and can be used for the safety of an environment where people can express good ideas. Imagine if, say, in private one is especially rude and hostile while, at the same time, in public forums these same individuals are winsome and kind. I think as long as we take and share  screenshots for reasons that are ultimately constructive, then it’s perfectly fine. Did Joe Shmo say Mormons are stupid idiots who are going to hell on a public forum? Did Jack Smack say evangelicals are deluded idiots? Well, we have a screen shot of him saying so. So, therefore, it holds people accountable for rude, ridiculous, and slanderous writings. This, ultimately, creates a safe environment for honest individuals. It is not, however, a safe environment for trolls who wish to slander and demean.

In the end, we are all just people doing our best to be kind and loving to our brothers and sisters. As we write and comment, I invite people to think before they press that “comment” button, “Is this useful? Is this appropriate? Is the person I am talking to a kind and reasonable human being?,” and, most importantly, “Is this comment honest and fair?”It is not honest to grab what one Mormon or evangelical says to paint the hole heard. It isn’t charitable to demean an entire group of people based of off peculiar beliefs.  Asking these questions before and after typing a comment, I believe, will help build better dialogue.

Saint Francis of Assisi once wrote the following poem called “Peace Prayer,” which has brought me great comfort and peace as I read its words. It speaks to me in tremendous ways, and reminds me that I need to be an instrument in the Lords hands.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:

Saint Francis of Assisi (Wikimedia Commons)

where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

In summary, I believe that we, particularly I, need to be more charitable in conversations. We need to be more kind, loving, honest, and more Christlike. Because, ultimately, what we are trying to do is point people to Christ. We can do this, not by fire, not by wind, and not by an earthquake, but with the soft impressions and the gentle touch of the Holy Spirit.


1. While some of these conversation certainly did testify of my opponents ignorance, it simply was not right to blast it the way I did in some circles.

2. For those of you interested in learning what Mormons identify as the Gospel, follow the link here.

3. For further context regarding Daniel’s blog, see “Responding to Robert Bowman.”

4. Ash, Micheal R. Bamboozled by the “CES Letter.” Self Published, 2015. Pg 13.

Smart people don’t always agree with each other.

“There are smart atheists, Baptists, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, and yes, Mormons.
Smart people don’t always agree—in fact, they often disagree. There are, for example, also smart Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and even Communists. You might think that the other guy or gal is an idiot. You may be convinced that they don’t have a clue about how the real world works or what is best for our country—and you may have good arguments to support your convictions—but the reasons you maintain your views and reject theirs are typically not because you are smarter than they are.

“Intelligent people can all agree that 2+2=4, that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and that a dropped rock will fall toward your toes.

“Intelligence and rationale are not enough alone, however, to determine that there is or isn’t a God, that the Bible was written by divinely inspired prophets, or that Joseph Smith communed with God and translated an ancient American record There is no silver bullet to kill all other arguments and no universally acceptable “proof” that will convince all people that one position trumps all others. Psychologists and neuroscientists tell us that we don’t always think purely rational thoughts or that all most of our decision making—even on important life-changing issues—is determined by sheer intelligence. And we can’t escape this problem because it’s simply part of our human nature. “

On America and Terrorism

Panoramic view of the Miniques, a massive volcanic complex and lake located in the Antofagasta Region, northern Chile. The lake has nothing to do with what you are about to read. (Wikimedia Commons)

I’m currently reading Charles Kurzman’s The Missing Martyrs: Why There are so Few Muslim Terrorists (Oxford) which seeks to put terrorism into context. An excerpt from the book, which readers might find interesting:

The bad news for Americans in this: Islamist terrorists really are out to get you. They cannot be deterred by prison sentences, “enhanced” interrogations, or the prospect of death. They consider the United States to be their mortal enemy, and they would like to kill as many Americans as possible, in as dramatic a way as possible. The more I look at their websites, watch their videos, and read their manifestos and discussion boards, the more I realize that these are a brutal and inhumane bunch. It is worth taking them seriously. 

The Good news for Americans is this: there aren’t very many Islamist terrorist, and most of them are incompetent. They fight each other as much as they fight anybody else, and they fight their potential state sponsors most of all. They are outlaws on the run in every country in the world, and their bases have been reduced to ever-more-wild patches of remote territory, where they have to limit their training activities to avoid satellite surveillance. Every year or tow they pull off a sophisticated attack somewhere in the world, on top of the usually daily crop of violence, but the odds of their getting lucky and repeating an operation on the scale of 9/11 seem like a long shot, since no other attack in the history of Islamist terrorism has killed more than 400 people, and only a dozen attacks have killed more than 200. 

In fact, there have been 51 deaths in the united states from Islamist terrorist violence since 9/11. And if you add the death toll from the 9/11 attacks, you have a total of 3,054 deaths due to terrorism. These deaths, of course, are horrible and saddening. But in the light of murders that took place in the United States (190,000 murders!), that is an extremely low number.

How many terrorist are there? one might ask. Kurzman estimates that there are somewhere around 100,000 terrorist in the entire world. This may seem like a scary number to some. 100,ooo terrorists! Wow! But in the grand scheme of things this is not a whole lot. And not only that, they are usually fighting themselves. Groups that we hear of such as the Taliban, Hamas, Hizbullah, and other terrorist groups are wanting to make a revolution where they are, and are not interested in spreading their fight across the world. Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, wants to globally kill everyone who does not fit into their mold (me, you, the family cow). But they are also occupied fighting with the Taliban and other terrorist groups regarding a whole bunch of other nonsense.

So why is there so much fear regarding terrorism? The answer, of course, is simple: The media. Don’t get me wrong here. It’s the medias job to report terrorism and violence. If they weren’t reporting these things, people were certainly complain that the media isn’t doing it’s job (and rightfully so). But that’s where this irrational fear of terrorism comes from. And it’s the only thing that people hear about. The truth is that in the context of everything else, there are many more big ticket issues we need to worry about. That isn’t to say terrorism isn’t an issue. Like Kurzman points out, we need to take them seriously. But it’s not a big as an issue as some politicians like to think.

Thoughts from Terryl Givens and Evolution

Christ ordaining his apostles. But for what purpose? (Wikimedia Commons)

I often bring up a quote from Richard Dawkins’ controversial The God Delusion. I found it entirely interesting and thought provoking. Later, while reading Terryl Givens’ Wrestling the Angel, I found that Givens had some commentary on the quote. I was very surprised to see that he quoted him.

Anyways, I wanted to provide some of Givens’ thoughts on the topic. I hope readers find this very interesting. Everything written or quoted by Givens is written in blue.

Givens, Terryl L. Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pg 215-216.

Darwin’s more famous Origin of Species appeared in 1859, but precipitated no immediate crisis in religious circles. The 1860 debate between Thomas Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” and the Anglican Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in England, which presages the prominent “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925 featuring Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan in America, typified the studied staging, rather than the natural unfolding, of confrontation and conflict between science and religion. Initially, most Christians were able to accommodate both by embracing a kind of theistic evolution. Books written early on in the Darwin controversy, with titles like History of the conflict between Science and Religion (1875) and History of the Warfare of Science with Theology (1896) reaffirmed and exacerbated an invented rather than an inevitable mutual hostility. 

At this time, Mormons were insisting upon the seamless marriage of science and religion. As we saw, Parley Pratt thought the intellectual strength of Mormonism was its unwillingness to claim special exemption from the laws of the scientific world. Even the father and Son, he declared in his Key to the Science of Theology  were part of an eternal and physical universe, and therefore “subject to the laws that govern, of necessity, even the most refined order of physical existence.” Because “all physical element, however embodied, quickened, or refined, is subject to the general laws necessary to all existence.” Young confirmed this conflation of earthly and heavenly law with a startling image: “Wen the elements melt with fervent heat, the Lord Almighty will send forth his angels, who are well instructed in chemistry, and they will separate the elements and make new combinations thereof.” 

Richard Bushman suggests in the same spirit that “The end point of engineering knowledge may be divine knowledge. Mormon theology permits us to think God and humans collaborators in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Engineers may be preparing the way for humans to act more like gods in managing the world.” In this speculation, Mormons ironically find an unlikely (and surely unwilling) ally in the arch-atheist Richard Dawkins. In his controversial critique of religion, he wrote that: “Any creative intelligence of sufficient complexity to design anything comes into existence only at the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.” Elaborating this point, he said that

You have to have a gradual slow incremental process [to explain an eye or a brain] and by the very same token, God would have to have the same kind of explanation. . . . God indeed can’t have just happened. If there are gods in the universe, they must be the end product of slow incremental process. If there are beings in the universe that we would treat as gods,. … that we would worship . . . as gods, then they must have come about by an incremental process, gradually.

Consistent with scientific understanding of the eternity of matter that had been suggested as early as the eighteenth century with Lavoisier’s principle of mass conservation, Smith had already rejected the earths ex nihilo creation, and contested the biblical version of its sic-day organization as well. The Book of Abraham, produced by Joseph Smith in 1835-1842, substituted indeterminate “times” for twenty-four hour days. And as for the antiquity of the results, Smith’s close associate W. W. Phelps recognized that Smith’s teachings in this regard conformed to, rather than conflicted with, the new science of geology. 

Quotes about Mormonism Regarding Cults

Both Catholics and Mormons were once known as the great reptiles of America, and a barbaric religion.

I always run into the claim that Mormonism is some sort of disgusting cult. The way they define cult, however, seems to be rather narrow, and meant to fit specific religious movements [1].

In this blog I simply wish to share quotes from various scholars of Mormonism and their view of cults.

Bushman, Richard L. Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pg 1-2.

For many people, the mention of Mormon conjures up an assortment of contradictory images. Fresh-faced missionaries knocking on doors with a religious message; the Mormon Tabernacle choir broadcasting on Sunday mornings from Temple Square in Salt Lake City; church members cooperating to provide for their own poor; Brigham Young University students consistently being voted the most strait-laced college students in the United States; tightly knit families teaching their children to live clean lives: All these suggests that Mormons are happy, uncomplicated, kindly, and innocent-if perhaps naive.

A contrasting set of associations begins with the extravagant stories of the founder Joseph Smith. Smith claimed that an angel directed him to gold plates, which he translated as the Book of Mormon. In the 1840’s, he instituted plural marriage among his followers, and in 1844, he was assassinated by his non-Mormon enemies. His successor, Brigham Young, took scores of wives after he led the Mormons to Utah in 1847. Today, some people think of a powerful religious hierarchy controlling the church from the top. These less innocent Mormons are secretive, clannish, and perhaps dangerous. Frequently Mormonism is labeled a cult rather than a church. Some say it is not Christian.

Which of these is the true Mormonism? Are both descriptions accurate? Mormons react strongly to the negative images of themselves. They wholeheartedly believe the stories of Joseph Smith and the gold plates. The visit of the angel and the translation of the Book of Mormon, far from being fabulous fairy tales, constitute Mormonism’s founding miracles, the equivalent of the Resurrection of Jesus for traditional Christians or the deliverance of Israel from Egypt for the Jews. Yes, these are controversial, Mormons say, but founding miracles always are. Miracles give a religion its original impetus, its evidence that God intervenes in human life, while at the same time they are its most contested assertions. The resurrection of Jesus is fiercely debated to this day. 

Okholm, Dennis. “Apologetics as if People Mattered” Talking Doctrine: Mormons and Evangelicals in Conversation.  Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2015. Pg 51.

When I was in seminary I took a course in apologetics that trained me in a two-step strategy. First we proved that God exists, then we proved that Jesus is who he said he is. If our interlocutor disagreed with us at any point it was because he or she was “irrational.”

I have learned since that was just one of many approaches in apologetics-an approach I have chosen not to espouse to the students who have taken my  apologetics course over the past few years. In fact, I opted for what some might call a “postliberal” approach and subtitled my course, “Winning Disciples Rather Than Arguments” or “Apologetics as if People Mattered.”

When we covered “cults” in my seminary course, Mormonism was in the mix. We were absolutely certain that Mormons were going to hell, but then I had always been taught the same fate for Roman Catholics, and I wasn’t sure about Presbyterians, and Anglicans were not even on my radar. Though my assessments have radically change-I later became an ordained Presbyterian, am now an Anglican priest and have been associated with Roman Catholic Benedictine monks for over two decades-I still embrace one very valuable lesson I learned in our unit on cults. Our professor told us that when we engage a member of such a religious group we should focus on just one question: “Who is Jesus Christ?” Ironically, it is that question that has also radically changed my assessment of those members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) who have become some of my cherished friends, though I am fairly certain that that is not at all what my seminary professor intended. 

Turner, John G. The Mormon Jesus: A Biography. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016. Pg 294.

” . . .  it no longer makes sense to consider Mormonism a ‘new religion,’ a ‘new world religion,’ or even a ‘new religious tradition,’ if that implies a suppression of or definitive break with Christianity. Instead, Mormonism is a vibrant new branch of Christianity, one in which temples, ordinances, and prophets have taken their place alongside a Jesus who is both utterly Christian and distinctively Mormon.”

Webb, Stephen H. Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians can Learn from the Latter-day Saints. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pg 11.

I am not a Mormon, but sometimes I wish I were one. I grew up in a tight-knit religious community that shaped every aspect of my life. My church was a world set apart, not unlike the way Mormonism has chosen for much of its history to say on the sidelines of the American mainstream. Many aspects of Mormonism take me straight back to the powerful experiences I had in the evangelical church of my youth. Indeed, Mormonism cultivates a sense of belonging, purpose, and focus that is not easy to find in many churches today. . . . Mormons have a strength of religious character that helps them to put religion ahead of popular culture, and that is no easy task.

In fact, Mormons can be so intense about their church that some Protestant fundamentalist call them a cult. That accusation is ironic, because Mormons and fundamentalist have a lot in common. They share a commitment to absolute truths, the sacredness of the family, the need for strong moral communities, and a reverence for the King James version of the Bible. Like fundamentalists, Mormons know how to draw a sharp line between who they are and what they do not want their children to become.

This comes from a PBS report in 14 September 2012. You can find the report by clicking here.

SEVERSON [reporter]: Mason says antagonism toward Mormons stretches back to the beginning of the church. They’ve been called a cult, demonic, a false religion with a false prophet.

MASON [historian at BYU]: Mormons in a lot of ways are scarred from a long history of misrepresentation in what they see as false reports about the church or unfair treatment of the church, and this goes all the way back to the 1830s.

SEVERSON: As for lingering animosity today, Professor Mouw says some of it is because the Mormon Church has grown so big and prosperous.

MOUW [Fuller Theological Seminary]: And I think it has something to do with the growth of Mormonism. While on the one hand they’re entering into the mainstream in a lot of ways, they’re also a very powerful presence globally—14 million Mormons around the world. They’re identified with some of the major businesses. There’s a sense that it’s a kind of juggernaut, that it has tremendous clout.

SEVERSON: As for the claims that Mormonism is a cult, Professor Mouw takes exception.

MOUW: I mean one reason why I don’t think it’s very helpful to call Mormonism a cult is that they have a world-class university. They have scholars who consider all kinds of complex topics. You know, Scientology doesn’t have a world-class university. Hari Krishna doesn’t, Jehovah Witnesses don’t. But Mormonism has pretty much entered into the mainstream of intellectual life.

SEVERSON: Mouw goes even further, accusing some some of Mormonism’s accusers of “shading the truth.”

MOUW: I want to say I think the motives of people who often attack, for example, attack Mormons as evangelical leaders or other kinds of Christian leaders is that they do want to protect their people against falsehood, against being led astray. But when it comes in terms of standing up for the truth, if you tell falsehoods about another religion that’s bearing false witness against our neighbors.

SEVERSON: Mouw expressed those sentiments to a packed house at the Mormon Tabernacle. His words did not sit well with many evangelicals.

MOUW: The press the next morning the big story was “Fuller Seminary president says we’ve sinned against Mormons,” and boy, I get hate mail yet on that.

Peterson, Daniel and Stephen Ricks. Offenders for a Word. Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 1992. Pg 211.

Instead of the abused, and abusive, term “cult,” we propose more neutral terminology, such as “religious movement,” “religious group,” or “church.” According to Lawrence Foster, “there is no analytical substance to the popular definition of a cult as a dangerous group with bizarre religious beliefs that follows a deranged or cynically opportunistic leader. One person’s ‘cult’ is another person’s ‘true faith’ . . . In effect, the only popular meaning of the word ‘cult’ is, ‘a religious group that someone else doesn’t like.’ Such definitions are less than useful as analytical tools. . . . Since ‘cult’ is essentially a pejorative term without analytical precision, I shall henceforth refer to such groups as ‘new religious movements’ or ‘new religions.’”78 Perhaps the best approach would be to apply to each group the name that its adherents use in referring to themselves.79 This action alone would practically eliminate the term “cult” from religious discourse. (Further, no false uniformity would be imposed upon widely differing faiths.)


  1. For example, Walter Martin in Kingdom of the Cults defines “cult” as “a group of people gathered about a specific person or person’s misinterpretation of the Bible” (pg 17) and that “cults contain many major deviations from historical Christianity” (pg 18). Martin ignored, however, the fact that American Protestantism, the faith he adhered to, had understandings of the Bible that weren’t only inconsistent with historical Christianity, but with other forms of Protestantism itself. Indeed, historian Mark Noll writes that  the “ever-present internal conflicts” within Protestantism have generated “an immense range of variations among Protestants in fleshing out this general picture of salvation” (see Noll, Mark A. Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. pg 5). So, therefore, by his own definition of “cult,” American Protestantism would also fit the bill. For a review of Walter Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults, see Midgley, Louis C. “A Tangled Web:” The Walter Martin Miasma.” FARMS Review of Books 12/1 (2000): 372-434.