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Response to a Mormon Critic

Trent Horn

After my July 27th Catholic Answers Live appearance, I was directed to an open letter written to me by a Mormon English teacher. Most of his objections are addressed in my new booklet 20 Answers: Mormonism, but I felt it would be worthwhile to respond to this critic, Jamie Huston, on this blog.

What are your sources?

Huston begins by posing ten questions based on general observations of my responses given during the CA Live broadcast. His first five questions are basically variants of the same question, “Have you done your homework?” He asks:

Have you engaged many Latter-day Saints in conversation about your claims regarding us? What have been the primary sources of your education about Latter-day Saints? How many sources have you studied and are they published by the LDS church?

To answer Mr. Huston: yes, I have done my homework. In my booklet on Mormonism, I cite primarily from the Mormon “standard works” (e.g. the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price) as well as official announcements from the First Presidency, which is the highest governing body in the LDS Church. I’ve also read extensively the work of contemporary Mormon apologists and have visited the website of FAIR Mormon, an online LDS apologetics website.

So, yes, I am well aware of the arguments made for Mormonism, as well as Mormon rebuttals to arguments made against the faith, all of which I have found unconvincing. That is not to say that I find them to be irrational or easy to refute (an attitude Huston accuses me of having in questions 7 and 10 of his post).

It means only that, after weighing the evidence, I have found the Mormon position unable to account for what we know from the Bible, from history, and from natural theology. I’m sure Mr. Huston feels that Catholicism and all other non-Mormon faiths also do not account for the available evidence, so he can’t fault me for having a similar attitude toward his faith.

Question 6 asks, “Are you aware of any accusations that have ever been made about LDS belief or practice that were distorted or inaccurate?” Yes; in fact, question 2 of my booklet corrects mistaken views people have about Mormon polygamy, temple garments, and endowment ceremonies (while respecting the confidentiality of these ceremonies).

Concerning the Strange and the Speculative

Question 8 says that some of my arguments against Mormonism rely on “strange or unappealing [details],” such as my comments about the phrase “and it came to pass” in the Book of Mormon. Huston asks if this is a good standard for judging if the Book of Mormon is true.

My comment about the phrase “it came to pass” was a passing one about the Book of Mormon. The fact that this phrase occurs almost twenty times more often in the Book of Mormon than it does in the Bible should be expected if the former were just an improvised dictation and not divinely inspired writing. (See Thomas Finley’s critique in the anthology The New Mormon Challenge of how the Book of Mormon uses this phrase.) But this wasn’t my main argument against the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

In my booklet, I showed that there are other, more serious reasons to question the Book of Mormon, including passages that are plagiarized from the New Testament (which was supposedly not available to the ancient authors of the book of Mormon) and anachronistic details about ancient America. And, yes, I have read Mormon defenses against these charges but have found them unconvincing.

For example, some Mormon apologists say that the descriptions of swords in the New World are not anachronistic, even though steel did not exist in the New World prior to Spanish colonization. That’s because some New World tribes made swords out of clubs laced with volcanic glass called obsidian. But this doesn’t explain the Book of Mormon’s description of these swords rusting (Mosiah 8:11), which glass cannot do.

Question 9 says that my analysis of the Mormon concept of God represents “digging” into “obscure and trivial parts of [the Mormon] religion.” Huston asks if this is “a tacit admission that the vast majority of Mormonism is innocuous if not actually positive?”

This raises the question as to what the “main parts” of the Mormon faith are. I would argue that God is a central part of not just the Mormon faith but of any faith. So the fact that Mormons believe that they will become gods (Doctrine and Covenants 132:20) and that God the Father has a physical body (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22), lives near a celestial object called Kolob (Book of Abraham 3:3-4), and created us with the assistance of a Heavenly Mother (Origin of Man, 1909) are not obscurities but crucial doctrines that must be evaluated.

And, no, I haven’t had to dig into some obscure archive in order to find these details. They are readily available in the standard works of the Mormon faith, particularly Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. The First Presidency taught in 1909 that alongside heavenly Father there is another divine figure called “Heavenly Mother” who was involved in creating human beings. Past LDS President Gordon Hinkley even said, “Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me.”

Finally, the absence of compelling historical evidence for the events described in the Book of Mormon is troubling, and certainly Mr. Huston would agree that what is recorded in the Book of Mormon is not an “obscure” or “trivial” part of his faith!

The Witness of the Spirit

After his general observations, Huston addresses three specific issues I brought up in my CA Live appearance. The first is the Mormon practice of asking people to pray in order to discern if the Book of Mormon is true. I said this is a subjective and therefore poor way to discover if a religion is true, which Huston countered by citing Luke 24:32, James 1:5, and Matthew 7:7-8.

But in Luke 24, Jesus actually appeared and disappeared in front of the disciples on the Emmaus road, thus confirming his message and identity beyond what those two men felt. Matthew 7 deals only with asking for spiritual gifts, not knowledge about religious truth, and James 1:5 promises only that God will help us be wise, or apply our knowledge in prudent ways.

James does not teach us that God will give us knowledge about other religions or confirm if they are true or false simply through prayer and personal feelings. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” Instead, as 1 Timothy 3:15 says, the “the pillar and foundation of truth” is not a personal testimony but “the Church of the living God.”

Huston also says:

How do you account for the millions of people who have felt the power of the Holy Ghost testifying to them the truth of the Book of Mormon and the restored gospel? Can such a wide variety of people, over centuries and around the world, be deceiving themselves in such a consistent way? If it’s wishful thinking, when else has wishful thinking led to lives of compassionate charity and devotion fueled by sacrifice and self-denial?

But this argument could justify any religion. How does Huston account for the millions of people across the centuries who felt the spirit of God move them to embrace Catholicism, or Protestantism, or Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism? Don’t these faiths also possess people with lives of “compassionate charity and devotion fueled by sacrifice and self-denial?

If this argument proves Mormonism is true, then it also proves every other major religion is true, and therefore it becomes useless as a defense of Mormonism. This also applies to Huston’s other argument: “If the Book of Mormon isn’t true, and someone prays about it, wouldn’t God clearly answer, ‘No! Get away from those lies and back to the Bible alone!’ Why wouldn’t God answer a prayer like that?”

So, according to Huston, since God doesn’t often correct people who accept the Book of Mormon, that means the book of Mormon is true. Okay, but God doesn’t routinely correct people who dismiss the book of Mormon, nor does he usually tell people who read the Qu’ran or the Catechism of the Catholic Church “get away from those lies!” Does that mean that Islam and Catholicism are true? Once again, Huston’s argument proves too much.

I agree with Huston that God can speak to someone’s heart to help him see the truth of the gospel message, but God also left us with evidence to help us determine when he actually has revealed himself. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says we should test everything and retain what is good, not that we should pray only about important matters of faith. When Mormonism is tested for historical accuracy and sound theology, it falls short in both areas.

Becoming “Like” God, or Becoming Gods?

Huston says that the doctrine of “becoming like God” supposedly “got on my nerves,” but it’s not the doctrine of becoming like God that I found to be absurd (this is called theosis and is referenced in paragraph 460 of the Catechism). It’s the Mormon doctrine that those who follow all their ordinances will actually become gods—and, yes, we should be alarmed at a doctrine like that. Huston asks, “Which official LDS sources do you base the many extensions of this teaching that you cited?”

I’m glad he asked.

Along with the famous couplet from the fifth Mormon president, Lorenzo Snow (“As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be”), we have the words of Mormonism’s greatest prophet: Joseph Smith. Huston says I don’t have sources to back up the first half of Snow’s couplet; but in his King Follett sermon, Joseph Smith said, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!”

Mr. Huston, is Joseph Smith wrong or right about God? If he’s right, then why not just accept Snow’s couplet? If Smith is wrong, then why should we trust the other things this so-called prophet said?

Huston explains the second part of Snow’s couplet by saying that we are “literal spirit children of God” and that “throughout the eternities of the next life, we can continue growing until we grow up to become like our Father and we will enjoy the same great blessings that make Heavenly Father God.” This includes the ability to “someday create spirit children of our own.”

But the Bible never says we are God’s literal children, only that we are his children through adoption (Romans 8:15). Jesus is the “only begotten” Son of God or the “one of a kind” Son of God (Greek, monogenous [John 3:18]). It’s true that in heaven we will share in many of God’s communicable attributes, like his holiness, but we can never become God, since God is the uncreated and infinite act of being.

We are and always will be creatures who, if we die in a state of grace, will adore the infinite God for all eternity. The Bible and Sacred Tradition never speak of us having “spirit children” in the next life, and they affirm that there is only one God, which means we cannot become “gods” (see Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 44:8, John 5:44, John 17:3, 1 Timothy 6:16).

Joseph Smith and other early Mormon leaders were more explicit about the Mormon doctrine that believers will “become gods.” Smith said in the King Follett sermon:

[Y]ou have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation.

Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, said, “The Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming Gods like Himself” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, 93.) In the twentieth century, the Mormon apostle Bruce McConkie said, “This full salvation is obtained in and through the continuation of the family unit in eternity, and those who obtain it are gods” (Mormon Doctrine, 472). The current Encyclopedia of Mormonism says, “This process known as eternal progression is succinctly expressed in the LDS aphorism, ‘As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.”

It’s true this teaching is not explicitly found in Mormonism’s standard works, but consider the words of prominent Mormon theologian Stephen E. Robinson:

It is the official teaching of the LDS Church that God the Father has a physical body (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22). The belief that God the Father was once a human being rests mainly on two technically uncanonized sources (sermons of Joseph Smith and Lorenzo Snow) which have, however, in effect become normative” [emphasis added] (How Wide the Divide?, p. 79).

Finally, I agree with Huston that the LDS Church has not defined how “spirit children” are made or who will be exalted, but what it has defined is heretical and must be rejected by orthodox Christians.

Is Jesus God or god?

Huston next says I was “flat-out” wrong in saying that Mormons don’t believe Jesus is God and demands sources for this allegation. Of course, that depends on how you define the word God. Mormons believe Jesus is “God” in the sense that we are all “gods.” According to their theology, we are all God’s literal spirit children (including Jesus) and were fashioned from eternally preexisting “intelligences” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29).

Jesus allegedly told Joseph Smith, “I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the First-born; And all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the First-born. Ye were also in the beginning with the Father” (Doctrine and Covenants, 93:31-33).

The First Presidency taught in 1909,“The Father of Jesus is our Father also. . . . Jesus, however, is the first-born among all the sons of God—the first begotten in the spirit, and the only begotten in the flesh. He is our elder brother, and we, like Him, are in the image of God.” Jesus is our sibling because he was created like we were (which means he can’t be God, since God is uncreated).

Jesus is even the Devil’s brother, since God created both of them. The Mormon apologetics website FAIR Mormon admits, “[I]t is technically true to say that Jesus and Satan are ‘brothers,’ in the sense that both have the same spiritual parent, God the Father.”

However, to distinguish our faith from this heretical belief, Christians say in the Creed that the Son was “begotten, not made” (the term made applies to creatures like us or the angels), “one in being with the Father” and not a distinct being he created.

Huston says, “Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. (Did you know that?).” I did, but Mormons erroneously believe that the Bible teaches the existence of two Gods, Elohim and Jehovah. Elohim is supposed to be God the Father, while Jehovah is God the Son; but this doesn’t explain passages that identify one God by both these designations. One example of this would be Deuteronomy 6:4, which says, “Hear O Israel, Yahweh [Jehovah] our Elohim is one.” Notice also that Huston restricts Jesus to being “the God of the Old Testament” as if there is a different God of the New Testament. But isn’t Jesus the God of the whole Bible?

Huston also says,

even though they each have their own glorified but physical body, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are absolutely united in all things, as both the Bible and Book of Mormon teach. Therefore, they are both God.

But if we are talking about two embodied beings, then we are talking about two gods, not one. Saying they are one being because they cooperate perfectly is like saying a miraculously cooperating Penn and Teller are one magician! Huston’s language is reminiscent of the previous LDS president Gordon Hinkley, who said of the Father and the Son, “They are distinct beings, but they are one in purpose and effort” (Gospel Principles, 37) and the LDS official website, which says, “each member of the Godhead is a separate being.”

So, if the Father and Son are separate beings (plural), and God just is being itself (singular, infinite, and undivided) then the Father and Son can’t be God. They would instead be gods, with the Father having a higher ontological status than the Son. But this contradicts Christian theology, which teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons who exist as the one being of God. The Catechism says:

We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity” . . .  the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another (CCC 253, 255).

Finally, I’ll close with some questions of my own for Mr. Huston:

  1. When Jesus said the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church (Matt. 16:18) and instructed believers to bring sinners to “the Church” (Matt. 18:17), did he mean it? If Jesus is God, then wouldn’t he have known about the so-called “great apostasy” involving the Church “falling away” from the gospel (until it was restored by Joseph Smith?). If Jesus knew that would happen, why did he speak and act as if it would not?
  2. How many gods are there? If there is more than one god, then how do you explain Isaiah 44:8, where God says, “Is there a God besides me? I know not any”; or John 5:44, where Jesus speaks of the glory of “the only God”?
  3. In Acts 7:59, Stephen prayed to Jesus before his martyrdom, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Would you be comfortable directly asking Jesus to receive your spirit before death like Stephen did? Would you say to Jesus, “You are my Lord and God” like Thomas did (John 20:28)? Now, it’s true Jesus taught us to pray to the Father, but where in Scripture did Jesus say we must pray only to the Father? Since Jesus taught his disciples to pray only the Our Father, do you say only that prayer, or are other kinds of prayers allowed?
  4. Can you tell me with any certainty and specificity where the events in the Book of Mormon took place? Doesn’t it concern you that even atheistic archaeologists agree with Christians and Jews on where many major events in the Bible took place but no such agreement is found regarding the events described in the book of Mormon?
  5. Is there anything that would convince you that Mormonism is false? If not, then why should you expect other people to leave their faiths and become Mormon when you aren’t prepared to do the same?

In closing, I thank Mr. Huston for his response and encourage him, and anyone else reading this, to evaluate the evidence and not rely on emotions, which can lead us into error.


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