Tuesday, February 20, 2007

An Evening with Dr. Reynolds

Last night I met with the President of the Mission Board over south Florida for the Church of Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Dr. Noel B. Reynolds. I had been looking forward to, as well as dreading, this day for months now since the missionaries first suggested that I visit with him. I knew from the outset that I probably would have little of value to add to the conversation as most of my arguments would not be new to him or carry much, if any, weight. But I was determined not to back down, so I accepted the invitation.

After following the missionaries to his house in Plantation, we began the evening with pleasantries and I introduced myself giving a brief introduction to my own background. In the days leading up to the appointment, I had decided that I would present my case for my disbelief in Mormonism to Dr. Reynolds. I would present him with a simple logical proof and proceed to break down how it could not be true. I kept it in the back of my mind as we started our meeting. This is what I had prepared:

Major Premise – The Bible is useful for teaching correct doctrine.
Minor Premise – The Mormon scriptures are useful for teaching correct doctrine.
Conclusion – Both the Mormon Scriptures and the Bible should teach the same, correct doctrines.
I would then proceed to show that the Bible and the Mormon scriptures do not teach the same doctrines, thus the conclusion is false. Therefore, one or both of the premises must be false. This process seemed to me to be a very good starting place for evaluating the claims of Mormonism. Unfortunately, Dr. Reynolds did not see it that way.

I asked Dr. Reynolds if he believed that the Bible was good for teaching doctrines and he agreed that it was. I inquired, “But what about the parts of the Bible that contradict Mormon doctrine?” He told me that he was not aware that there were any such areas. I replied that Mormons believe that they can become a god if they are good enough, but that the Bible teaches there is but one God and no other. He rebutted with the statement of Jesus’ “Is it not written in your law, I said, ‘Ye are gods’?” (John 10:34). Furthermore, he told me, all of the early church fathers believed in deification, that is, the idea that Jesus died so that we may become gods (for a more in-depth treatment see Mormon Defense of Deification and Orthodox Defense of Deification). I told him that the verse he and Jesus were quoting was in reference to God-appointed judges which were men who would one day die (see Psalm 82). In short, Dr. Reynolds claimed that any discrepancy between Mormon and Biblical teachings could be chalked up to the modification of the Bible through the ages. Therefore, any thing that I could cite as being a critical difference could be dismissed as error in translation or a later change in the text. My Socratic dialectical was useless.

Dr. Reynolds told me that comparing the two scriptures (or other doctrinal differences or the philosophical difficulty of an infinite number of Gods and universes) was not the correct starting place, instead he suggested that the question to start with is this: was Joseph Smith a prophet or not? A fair question I admit, but as I sit here at my computer reflecting I can’t help but think that that was my starting point. My proof is just a simple way of evaluating whether or not Smith was a prophet. If he was a prophet then his book should teach the same thing as the Bible. But Dr. Reynolds did not agree that a logical proof could confirm the veracity of the Mormon scriptures.

Instead of using reason to evaluate Smith’s claim to be a prophet, he suggested that the way to know whether or not the Mormon scriptures are true is to follow a simple formula found in the Book of Mormon:

“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” Moroni 10:3-5
I had read this Scripture before and as it had been explained to me the manifestation of truth that one feels was in the form of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It wasn’t through reason or tradition, but experience and experience alone that one knows that the Book of Mormon is true. I was about to espouse to Dr. Reynolds the need for other modes of knowing to fully establish a well founded belief from which a solid faith can spring. But before I did I asked him to define what he meant by “God manifesting the truth.” His answer surprised me. He told me that the manifestation of truth was better termed “revelation.” I immediately asked him to define what he meant by revelation and he told me, “It is the still, small voice of God that tells you what to do, or sometimes, what not to do.” Mormons believe that we all receive revelation on a daily basis. We may not all be receptive to the message or heed the instructions, but we all receive them. I have to agree with Dr. Reynolds on this point, I do not deny that God speaks to our hearts through the moral law, but something about this use of “revelation” troubled me. And as I drove back to my house I thought about what he had said.

It seems to me that Dr. Reynolds’ faith is based on what he believes is revelation from God which, though it has its emotional component, is not strictly emotional. It is the revelation that he has received, and continues to receive, that assures him that Joseph Smith is a prophet. The continual revelation is not a part of his faith, but is rather the entire thing. I was shocked when he told me that the Bible and Book of Mormon do not differ in doctrine to any significant degree. I am no great student of the Bible, but I know enough to conclude that the Bible and the Mormon scriptures do not teach the same doctrines. One or both must be incorrect. And in my own sojourning I have found that the Bible is a trustworthy document which I can use to construct doctrine. Dr. Reynolds has the utmost faith in the Mormon scriptures first and makes excuses for the “illusory” inconsistencies between it and the Bible.

Aside from the matter of revelation, I also asked about matters of evidence for the book of Mormon. He cited two examples 1) the use of chiasmus (an ancient literary form only rediscovered decades after Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon), and 2) the discovery of a temple with an inscription of the name of a man who Lehi buried in Arabia on the journey to the New World. I am not going to comment on these two pieces of evidence, because I am not an authority on the subject of ancient literary styles and I know little of the actual facts of Dr. Reynolds’ archaeological evidence. Instead, I will direct you to the following references if you are interested in learning more about these topics: Chiasmus in the Bible, Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, and Archaeological Evidence for the Book of Mormon. I can only conclude that Joseph Smith did receive information from a source that knew about chiasmus and the temple inscription in Arabia. Who or what that source was is indeed the big question.

In conclusion, I wish to say that I do not think that the Bible and the Book of Mormon teach the same doctrines. A polytheistic view is not supported by the Bible, but is necessary for faith in Mormon teachings. Their beliefs detract from the Christian idea of who God is. And to claim that a mere man can become a god equal to Our Father in Heaven is simply blasphemous. We may become more like him, yes, but we shall never be his equal. The truly sad thing is that these people are sincerely striving to be what they think God wants them to be. They are firmly ensconced in the belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet, but Joseph Smith “professing to be wise, […] became [a] fool, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man.” (Romans 1:22-23). Pray that God opens the eyes of the Mormons.

Quotations from the Book of Mormon taken from http://scriptures.lds.org/


Here is some background information on Dr. Reynolds:

For a short bio click here

To read his critique on Greek philosophy in Christianty click here

Thursday, February 8, 2007

No Raccoon Left Behind

TALLAHASSEE, FL- Today Florida governor Charlie Crist unveiled the first phase of his new animal education program: No Raccoon Left Behind.

"There has been a lot of concern about the rising number of vandalism, assault, and rabies incidents involving raccoons in the past few years," Crist said. This new program is intended to curtail the sometimes destructive behavior of the state's most populous nocturnal omnivore.

Incidents of raccoons knocking over trash can, fighting with neighborhood cats, and accosting tourists in the Everglades National Park has prompted lawmakers to take action to make Florida safe for all of its citizens.

Initially, some consideration was given to traditional population control measures such as trapping and the use of poisons. However, opponents of these measures were successful in blocking legislation to authorize local animal control units to eliminate a portion of the raccoons in urban areas. "Violence never solves our problems," said Rep. Thad Altman (R), chairman of the House's Committee on Education Innovation & Career Preparation.

"The senseless killing of these raccoons would prove that we are no better than they are. What we have to do is come up with a fresh, new way to solve an age-old problem," said Altman. "Instead of lowering ourselves to their level, we should strive to bring them to our level through proper education."

"It is no secret that our local raccoon population is poorly educated," said Crist in his announcement today, "current estimates indicate that 94% of our state's raccoons are illiterate."

The first phase of Crist's plan includes using animal control officers and high school volunteers to create a safe learning environment for a pilot group of 200 raccoons in Miami. If successful, Crist plans to open satellite campuses across the state as soon as next year.

This is not the first attempt to assimilate animals into society through education. During the 1960s Florida was the first state to institute education programs for dolphins. Today, half a dozen other states have similar dolphin education programs.

Other states are already taking interest in Florida's new raccoon program. "My administration has always played with the idea of starting raccoon schools," said South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, "If Florida succeeds you can guarantee South Carolina won't be far behind."

Hopes are high for the new program. "I look forward to the day Florida's children can walk hand in paw with Florida's raccoons," said Thad Altman. "And I'm glad that I'll live to see that day."

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Without Excuse: A Look at Romans 1

The first chapter of Romans seeks to tell us what man can know about God and how he can come to that knowledge. There are two ways in which we can gain knowledge of God and before I go any further I would like to define those two paths. The first is commonly called "general revelation." General revelation can best be described as the gaining of knowledge of God without God's active intervention. Most commonly truths discovered about God through general revelation come from the natural world. Reason is usually the main tool which gives us knowledge via general revelation. The second kind of revelation is "special revelation." This kind of revelation deals with God directly interacting with mankind to give us some knowledge of Himself. The Bible is the best example of special revelation; however, I think that it can also apply to visions, dreams, and other direct experiences with God. Now that we've defined the two main kinds of revelation, let us look at what the apostle Paul has to say about revelation.

It is necessary that we establish who Paul's audience is in Romans. If the name of the book doesn't give it away, verse five gives us a clear idea to whom Paul is addressing this letter. In that verse Paul tells us that his calling is "to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His [God's] name's sake." Paul is writing to the Gentiles. The Gentiles haven't had the benefit of the Hebrew Scriptures to learn about God, but Paul still thinks that "they are without excuse" (v. 20). Paul is convinced that general revelation is enough to make the most important decision that there is to make: whether we are for God or against Him.

But how can Gentiles with no knowledge of Hebrew beliefs come to make the decision to follow or reject the God of the Hebrews? It must all come from general revelation. However, it should be noted that general revelation is rather limited in the amount of knowledge that one can gain about God. Paul only lists two of God's invisible attributes that can be known from general revelation: "His eternal power and divine nature" (v. 20). C.S. Lewis sheds light on the subject of general revelation with his exposition on one of the main truths that we can glean from the world. That truth is that there is a universal moral law (see Mere Christianity for a more in depth explication of how we can come to this knowledge). And if there is a universal moral law there must be a moral law giver. From the moral law we can see the character of God's divine nature.

Paul tells us that God made the moral law evident to mankind. How is it that God "made it evident to them" (v. 19)? I think that God gave us reason to discover the moral law. Reason cannot be explained satisfactorily with naturalistic causes. Reason cannot come from non-reason so reason must also have an author (see Lewis's Miracles for a better argument for this). So now we can make two statements about God: 1) He is moral, and 2) He possesses reason. Is this enough to make a decision about following or rejecting God? I think so. Through general revelation we can come to knowledge of the moral law and we find that we have trespassed against this law and in doing so trespassed against the Lawgiver. Even this incomplete knowledge is enough for Paul to claim that "they knew God" (v. 21). But what did they do with this knowledge? Paul tells us that "they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart[s] w[ere] darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools" (v. 21-22). It appears to me that the folly of the Gentiles was to think that general revelation can tell them what it could not.

Paul believes that the Gentiles had enough knowledge, via general revelation, to have at least a basic faith in the one, true God. Unfortunately, "they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God" for idols (v. 23). Furthermore, "they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (v. 25). And what was God's response to their action? "God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity" (v. 24). They made the choice to reject God and so God "gave them over to degrading passions" (v. 26). They knew God's moral law, but rejected it and so God rejected them. They had a chance but, they threw it away. So I close with these questions for my readers: Would these same men have made the same choice if they had had the benefit of special revelation? Is general revelation really enough for us to come to have a faith in God? I welcome your thoughts.