Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Answers to Mormon Logic Problems

While checking out the blog world as I do, I ran into a discussion of what a "Born-again" Christian considered Mormon logical dilemmas. Without going into the absurd notion that any religion is logical, there are some essential logical problems with the logical dilemmas. The first and most damaging fallacies are the lack of contextual and definitional examinations. Some of the logical problems are based on lack of explaining related subjects that help to answer some of the questions posed. Other logical problems are based on assumptions held by the presenter that Mormons don't hold themselves. Both of these are very common anti-Mormon tactics. Probably the most hypocritical is when a detractor states (with some truth I might add) that Mormons use Protestant and Catholic words and notions, yet mean something different. Then, they turn around and criticize Mormonism from the definitions that Mormons don't hold as if the first statement didn't exist. A very switch and bait tactic that is employed with such ease by the following supposed logical dilemmas that turn out to be strawmen.

The reason I wanted to answer these particular accusations was because of how pedestrian they are. The arguments show up constantly, and I might add have been answered many times over; if you agree with the answers or not. I just thought it would be a good excuse to answer these on my own blog for those who might be curious what a "Mormon" thinks on the issues. To answer on the blog with the questions is futile, but the response should be somewhere.

First and foremost, Joseph Smith (I love the whole "Joe" thing as a classic dismissive) never said "As man is God was,,, as God is man may become," as claimed by the critic. Don't get me wrong, I am perfectly willing to accept that the concept came from Joseph Smith made prominent by a famous speech near the end of his life. To get the facts correct, however, the formulation was presented by the Prophet Lorenzo Snow decades after Joseph Smith died. Its general meaning has been argued and discussed within Mormonism almost from the time it was made.

"If God was once a man,,, where did man come from?"

Most of the criticism is based on the supposition that the statement is about Physical Creation. He lists three problems that to a Mormon aren't problems. Besides the question of if Mormonism has room for Creationism, Evolution, or Panspermia (I believe all three are not theologically exclusive of each), what the statement is talking about is Spiritual existence. Mormons often use the term "intelligence" to express the primordial spiritual existence far removed from physical formations. Where did "man come from" is not easy to answer, but not in the way the critic seems to think. "Man" has always been Man and therefore never came from anywhere. Just as God was never "Created," "Man" was never created. At least not until the spiritual and the physical were "organized" by God from existing material. I will get into the complications of that in another paragraph.

I have to quote the next criticism because it is so full of misunderstanding and even, interesting enough, *denial* of one of the most criticized beliefs Mormons hold:

If man became a God before there was a God,,, why do we need a God or the Mormon teaching about becoming Gods to actually become a God. Doesn’t that imply that eventually all men should have or will become Gods? Or is the Mormon position that only one man evolved into a God and then said no other man could become a God unless he followed his rules and then he started the Mormon church and laid out all the does’ and don’ts about how to become a God?

Hard to know where to start with this one. This can be answered by the Mormon belief that God has a Father and His Father probably had a God, and down the line. How close this comes to "folk-belief" is unknown. It depends on some interpretations of both Scripture and teachings of Joseph Smith that aren't clear. It might very well have started with our God, but that still doesn't cause logical problems as expressed by the critic. He could have simply followed the path of Jesus who became Man in order to become the God of Salvation. Interesting enough, we are commanded to follow after Jesus who followed after his Father.

We need a God because without God there would have been no "organization" and therefore we would have remained in the state of primordial spiritual intelligence. We could not form ourselves. In the same way, we could not form our physical bodies without God and we cannot be saved or progress without Jesus. Yes, this is all complicated and could be put into a theological dissertation; but that is the point. The critic simplifies where it isn't so simple and then jumbles or ignores other Mormon teachings. I could go into explaining the last question posed by the paragraph, but that would be biting off more than this one blog post is meant to chew.

Can’t you see the logical dilemma of Mormonism by initially saying that there is only one God and that he is unchangeable,,,,, and then going on to say that God was once a man?

I suppose one could say, and Mormons often do, the same thing about Jesus Christ. If Jesus is God, then did He not change when he became physical? However, Mormons mean something entirely different. Change is about the individual and not about the spiritual or physical. God has always been God, just as anyone has always been themselves. Ice and steam, for instance, are still water in its non-liquid state. That should be something a Trinitarian should understand. Of course, that brings up the question of what "God" means or who can be labeled with that? Jesus seems at one point to have exclaimed that every person is a God and therefore it isn't a mockery for him to claim the title.

A related part of this is that Mormons believe that there is just One God, and that would be The Father. Any other gods that exist are not of immediate influence or personal devotion. Now, Mormons are not Trinitarians in the classical sense, so there needs farther clarification. There is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost who exists numerically independently from each other. However, they act within the authority of God the Father so intimately that they essentially become One God. It has been said that Mormons are Social Trinitarians, and that comes as close to accurate as possible.

Finally, the argument "If the Book of Mormon is the 'most correct book on earth,' Why has it been changed so many times?" is a mis-interpretation of a statement reported to have been made by Joseph Smith. I say "reported" because it was recorded by someone rather than actually written down by Joseph Smith. To be fair, that is how almost all of what we have about Joseph Smith's teachings came about. But, I digress. The assumption made is that "The most correct book on earth" means its textual presentation. For a Christian that believes in the infallibility of the text of the Bible that is a "logical" interpretation of the saying, but it is wrong! Here is what Joseph Smith is reported to have said:

"I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

In context what Joseph Smith is saying is that the Book of Mormon is the most correct in its teachings that any other book. It is possible that there could be an argument that the textual purity is what he meant, but it would be hard to prove. Joseph Smith made editorial corrections while he was alive without feeling compelled to explain why the changes *could* be made. Most important is that the Book of Mormon expresses adamantly that it is NOT perfect and is probably filled with mistakes. It condemns anyone who finds fault with the Book of Mormon because of the human frailty it exhibits. It laments the insufficiencies of the language and the writing. At one point it states an original source is better that what was put in the Book of Mormon, but couldn't be used because of space limitations or lack of corresponding ways of communication. It actually turns out to be a fascinating examination of Scriptural development (for those who don’t believe in Biblical infallibility or sufficiency). At most Joseph Smith could be accused of hyperbole rather than obfuscation.

The Mormon dilemmas are the critics, and not generally Mormons. They cannot conceive of concepts different from their own and therefore don't try. That isn't to say there aren't logical problems in Mormonism. Some of my answers did open up that there are, but not the ones the critics usually use as a weapon. That is because the dilemmas of Mormonism often can be non-consequential or are shared by many Christians or other religions. This particular critic's ignorance and blind dogmatism is showing, although it borders on sincere rather than pretended.

1 comment:

Eric Nielson said...

Nicely done my friend.