Mormon visits: Episode 6
Text messages since our last visit.
Me: Hi guys. I’ve been preparing for a debate on Islam/tolerance so not had time to read more of your book since we last met. Are we meeting tonight? I’m sorry I hurt your feelings last week.
Them: Hi Peter. We have a landlord inspection later tonight and our rooms are less than tidy. If we do get time then it won’t be for as long as usual.
(They didn’t turn up)
Me: Had an idea. Your story about Smith translating hieroglyphs. Hieroglyphs were cracked in 1822 and investigation was still ongoing in the 1830’s and 1840’s so nobody at the time was an expert. I’ll look for examples of Smith’s translations, if he got them right that would be incredible! What do you think?
(They didn’t reply)
Just as England started to play against Uruguay my wife told me she had just seen them pulling up on their bikes outside. I went and greeted them at the door. “You really don’t have a TV do you?” I said. “The England world cup match has just started!” They smiled, we said it was nice to see each other. This time it was me who said that we can’t chat for long because I wanted to watch the match, they said they just wanted to share with me what their (mission manager?) had told them about the changing of the name Benjamin to Mosiah. We sat down on the door step, it is a nice evening 🙂
They opened the the Book of Mormon to some page at the front somewhere. It said something along the lines of “if you find any errors they are the errors of men, so don’t judge the book by them”. I said that we had already agreed last time that they were errors of men. The men who left King Benjamin took years to reach their destination so might not have known about Benjamin’s death and in error may have given the dead king’s name rather than the name of his successor. However, this still doesn’t explain the correction. Why correct it later? Why correct one instance 7 years later and then the other instance another 7 years later? Also, considering Smith was dead 3 years before the 2nd change, who made the change?
They agreed that it shouldn’t even take humans 7 and 14 years respectively to proof read a 600 page book and correct the errors. Then the American guy said “Maybe it wasn’t fixed by divine revelation? What if it was simply errors made by humans, which humans saw later and then fixed, and we have always just assumed it was divine revelation?”
“That’s fine,” I said, “I can accept that because it makes perfect sense to me. Humans wrote it in the first place and got it wrong. Then later humans spotted errors at different points in time and fixed them. If you don’t have divine revelation in the equation then it all makes perfect sense”. They were happy with our agreement, I was pleased that they had taken a step towards accepting their book was not divinely micro-managed.
They asked what I thought about the existence of God. I told them that I neither know such a thing exists or doesn’t exist. If it wants me to know it exists then I will know, but if it doesn’t want me to know or it doesn’t exist then I will spend the rest of my life continuing to not know for certain. I told them that all I know is that if such a thing exists then I definitely want in! I asked “If we were contacted by aliens would that be exciting?” They both agreed that apart from the fear of being killed/eaten they would be very excited and would definitely want to know about it. I said I too would be excited, but that would be like seeing an ant on the floor compared to being contacted by the most perfect entity there is (God).
They went back to suggesting the process of praying to receive testimony. I pointed out again that my past experience gave a contrary answer to theirs, and more intense. They had hoped I might receive a different feeling about their religion. I asked how I could possibly know that this other feeling would be genuine? If I could be convinced by my last experience, then by using the same approach I could easily be convinced by a different feeling about anything. I told them I’ve been talking to a Sikh, what if I have this feeling about Sikhism, or perhaps Hinduism? They had no answer for me, but suggested that they had once been told they should doubt their doubts before they doubt their faith.
I then asked “What if I tried this same approach and experienced these feelings again but they were telling me that Islam was true? Should I just go with it because the testimony should take priority over my doubts? Should I pay attention to the doubts that led me to the evidence that convinced me Islam was man made, or should I trust in this emotional feeling I am experiencing and just put any doubts out of my mind?” They said “No”.
They told me how they had seen people getting lots of happiness from Mormonism. I said “That doesn’t make it true though does it? There are millions or perhaps billions of people in the world who are made happy by their religions, and that doesn’t make them all true does it?” – They agreed it doesn’t.
I told them that it is easy for me to recall my emotional feelings from my past experience. I am able to bring out those happy feelings I had as if recalling a beautiful memory. I told them that this doesn’t mean that the claims of Islam are true, it simply means that I can associate certain memories of the time with positive feelings; such as how united Muslims seem to be when they pray together, and how hospitable they seemed to be to me and to each other. These are nothing more than emotional reactions to memories; not some kind of divine spirit guiding me to the truth.
They asked how someone uneducated person could find out which is the true religion, wouldn’t prayer be the only method that have available to them? I first pointed out that the question should be “is there a true religion?” and they agreed. They then also agreed that if there was an all-powerful all-knowing entity that had a religion it wanted us to follow then there would be no doubt amongst the people of the world. We wouldn’t all be depending on the same low levels of physical evidence, compensated with experiences of how we feel when we think about it. People of all religions have those experiences about what they believe, God should be able to do better than mistaken humans.
I went back to how I decided the Quran was man made. How I read things that seemed to look like common erroneous beliefs of the time. I’d read an apologist’s explanation and at first be satisfied, but the more I saw this happening the more I needed in order to be convinced. Apologists’ explanations alone were no longer enough for me, I had to investigate the history of what kinds of beliefs were common at the time. If the book reflected those beliefs, which we now know to be incorrect, then I must concede the book is man made. “Of course” they said.
Then I told them to take the tower of Babel as an example. I told them that in the past people believed the Earth was stationary and the stars/Sun/Moon orbited around it. I pointed out how human intuition fails because we don’t sense the movement of the Earth; there is no wind in our faces from the movement, when we drop objects they fall straight down and not sideways etc. Amazingly they had never thought of these things and agreed that they could see why people thought the Earth was stationary before we found proof that it isn’t.
So then I went back to Babel. “Do you remember I once asked you what the Firmament was that was mentioned in the Book of Mormon? When people believed the stars etc went around the Earth they believed it was covered by a kind of dome called a Firmament. So why do you think God would punish people for trying to build a tower to heaven?”
USA guy said “I think it was about arrogance. They thought they were so good that they could get into heaven with no need for God”. “Exactly,” I said, “they thought they could literally build a tower high enough to reach the firmament of heaven, and then smash through it and climb into heaven.”
Big lit up faces from both of them as they suddenly realised something they had never noticed hadn’t made sense to them. They now knew why the people of Babel built a tower to reach heaven. Then I asked “But why would God punish them for that? They are doing no harm other than being arrogant. If I could talk to ants and I saw them standing one on top of each others’ backs to try to reach the Moon I’d just laugh and tell them they are being silly. I’d tell them that they cannot possibly reach high enough, and after a certain number of miles they will run out of oxygen and die anyway. If they still didn’t listen I’d just leave them to it and wait, eventually they would realise how futile their efforts were and give up with a certain level of humility”. They were both nodding with understanding, so I asked them “What would you do? Wait for them to harmlessly discover the errors of their ways, or walk over and stamp on them?”
“Leave them to it” they both agreed. So then I said “What kind of a God would punish them? The one that makes the most sense is one created by humans who erroneously believed it was actually possible to reach the firmament of heaven. Meaning that there would be a valid reason for their God to intervene and stop it.” They agreed, perhaps the same story is not in the Book of Mormon? I don’t know.
I told them that doubts aren’t a bad thing. If we had ignored doubts then we’d still believe the whole universe orbited a stationary planet Earth. Having those doubts made us realise we were wrong. However, if we really had lived in a geocentric universe then those doubts wouldn’t have been a problem for us at all, we’d have had our doubts, investigated, and all we’d have found would have been evidence proving a geocentric universe. Reality cannot be altered by doubts, doubts are necessary for finding the truth.
So I said to them that if we look at the historical beliefs of the time we should be able to work out what people of the time might have written if their religion was actually deliberately/indeliberately man made. I told them that I had read an account of how people in America in the 1800’s believed that the diversity of people around the world was a result of the events at the tower of Babel, and so the native Americans must have ultimately come from the middle east. They asked how we could know that this is what they believed. I told them there was a book called something like “The view of the Jews” which was published about 3 years before the Book of Mormon; it was written by the priest of the town that Cowdery grew up in, and was all about how the native Americans were people that had travelled by boat from the middle east. I told them that we now know for a fact that this is not the case because DNA analysis shows the native inhabitants of America were migrants from some part of Asia and not the middle east at all.
I pointed out that with the benefit of modern science and knowledge we now know that to be wrong, but nobody at the time could have known for a fact that it was wrong and so seeing such a claim in a religion would indicate it was made with errors by people. They told me they didn’t know what to say. They have heard something about that book but can’t remember what it was, but someone had told them that it doesn’t disprove their religion. The French guy wanted to leave, he kept looking at his watch and saying how they had run out of time, but the American guy just wasn’t budging, he seemed to want to stay.
The French guy asked if they could end with a prayer. It was at this point I realised that they hadn’t insisted on an opening prayer. The American guy asked if it was okay for him to lead the prayer, I agreed, and he thanked God for the nice weather and good friends.
“Oh, about the Egyptian hieroglyphics,” I said after the prayer. “There were four Egyptian mummies….” The American guy was nodding eagerly “Yes, yes” he was saying, to indicate he was familiar with the story. “I think there were three scrolls with the mummies which Smith was supposed to have translated.” They were still nodding and saying this was true. I said I was going to try to find a facsimile or something on the LDS website, the USA guy was grinning from ear to ear “I have a copy in my bag!” he said. “I would leave it with you but it is in a pile of other scriptures that I will need, but I can have it copied for you”.
“That’s great,” I told him, “I am really looking forward to seeing that! Imagine if he has left behind either the original scrolls or a drawing of what he translated. Back then only a handful of people would have known anything about hieroglyphics and even then their knowledge would probably have been much more basic than we have today. If there are any hieroglyphics on there that we can compare his translation to then this is a real deal clincher. The whole claim of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon is based on Smith’s ability to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs into English. Now we can’t check the gold plates because they are gone, but if we do have a copy of some hieroglyphs he has translated, and also the text he translated from them, then we can check if his translation was right or wrong. Do you agree that he should have got it right?” I asked.
“Yes” they both said. So I said “Obviously if we look at the translation and it is completely wrong then it will prove that he couldn’t translate hieroglyphs into English and it would be strong evidence that the Book of Mormon is not genuine”. I could see they both knew this is exactly what it would mean. I could also see that they both agreed with me but were concerned that they might discover the translation was incorrect…for reasons that only God can understand, I’d expect.
“But imagine if we looked at the hieroglyphs and the translated text and it matched perfectly. That would be absolutely stunning, wouldn’t it?” Wide eyed with awe both of them were smiling and saying “Yes!”
“Well,” I said, “I’d like to go and watch the rest of the match now and (French guy) is much more keen to leave than you (USA guy) are. If you are going past my house at some point with little spare time, feel free to just post the copies through my door and I will see what I can find out about them. I have been in touch with an Egyptologist in the past who has made TV documentaries, so it won’t be difficult to find out what the original text is actually saying.”
We all smiled at each other, shook hands, and then I went inside to watch England lose to Uruguay, shitty football team! I am looking forward to seeing how they deal with Smith’s massively erroneous interpretations of the ancient papyrus he illustrated and translated.