Review of:

No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues

Robert L. Millet (Editor)
Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2011
ISBN13: 978-0-8425-2794-1

Reviewed by Richard Packham

The title of this collection of essays from prominent Latter-day Saint scholars takes its title from a revelation of Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith dated 1831 and preserved as Mormon scripture in Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) section 71, encouraging Smith (and the Saints) to "confound your enemies; call upon them to meet you both in public and in private; and inasmuch as ye are faithful their shame shall be made manifest. Wherefore, let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord. Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you - there is no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; And if any man lift his voice against you he shall be confounded in mine own due time." (verses 7-11)

This collection, then, seems to be presented in obedience to that command. The editor and all of the authors are professors at the Church-owned Brigham Young University (BYU), and all are well-known and prominent defenders of their faith. The volume is published jointly by the University and the Church-owned publishing house.

Thus, the readers should expect that we have here the cream, the very best, the most hard-hitting and ultimately victorious confrontation with the critics' "strong reasons." Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Although the intended audience for the collection is ostensibly the critics of Mormonism, the tone and level of writing seems more directed to those Saints who have encountered critical material ("anti-Mormon propaganda," as it is called by the editor) and whose faith might therefore be in danger. The really knowledgeable critics of the Church, however sincere and open-minded they may be, will not likely be persuaded by any of the arguments or materials in this collection.

Why not? The standard explanation from apologists for their failure to confound their critics is that their critics have a "built-in" bias, that they are "too proud" to acknowledge they are wrong, they are not "spiritual" enough (they lack sufficient "faith"), and so on. That argument, of course, cuts both ways. But a more easily demonstrated reason is that apologists (including the authors included here) frequently commit fundamental errors in their argumentations: avoidance of hard facts, double standards in evaluating facts, logical fallacies again and again (circular reasoning, false dilemma, red herring, straw man, ad hominem, appeal to authority, and others), as I shall try to demonstrate in this review. (For readers who are unfamiliar with the identification of logical fallacies, there are many excellent summaries available, such as

The topics covered in this collection are indeed far-ranging. The editor asserts that they have been selected because they deal with the "hard questions" (Introduction, p. 5) Each article is authored by an LDS expert in the field. Each article will be considered separately.


Some of the topics do not seem to be "hard" issues at all, and are not very relevant to the truth of Mormonism's fundamental claims. Why do people join the LDS Church, as opposed to some other religious organization? One obvious reason is revealed in the last essay: the Church has a full-time missionary force of 50,000 enthusiastic young people knocking on doors all over the world, as well as a top-level public relations firm promoting the "clean," "family-oriented" image of the Church, using well-developed sales techniques. Of course some people are attracted to the public image of the Church. But in this first article we already encounter problems.

The author (Brent Top) cites the Church's own website's claim that the Church is "one of the fastest growing religious denominations in the world," citing the National Council of Churches, which uses unverified membership figures as reported by the denominations themselves. This statement contrasts sharply with recent news reports that a high-ranking Church official admitted that Church membership is shrinking. It does not explain why, according to Armand Mauss (an LDS sociologist), the Church quickly loses a majority of its new converts within a year of baptism, and yet the Church generally does not remove their names from the membership records, but still counts them among the "14 million members" (p. 22).

Top asserts that Mormons are less likely to suffer from depression, citing a study by BYU authors, apparently unaware that other studies indicate a high incidence of depression among Utahns (a very Mormon state) and Utah's relatively high consumption of anti-depressant medications. Nor does Top mention the high suicide rate among young Utahns, so high that the governor initiated a study of the problem.

Top says that only 25% of Mormons consume alcohol, compared to much higher indulgence by other religionists. What is surprising is not that so few Mormons indulge (it is contrary to their religion, and punished by withholding many Church privileges), but that so many do. In effect, Top is saying that 25% of all Mormons don't take their religion seriously enough to practice it.

A much "harder" question than why people join the Church would be why people leave it, since it appears that more are leaving than are joining. (See "How Many Ex-Mormons Are There"?) Unfortunately, the Church does not divulge the number of resignations it processes nor the number of members who are completely inactive or who have had no contact with the Church for a long period of time.


The volume's editor (Robert L Millet) authored the next article, discussing the LDS view of apostasy and restoration. Like several other articles in the collection, this one seems directed toward Christian critics, and attempts to soften the traditional stance of Mormons toward Christian churches as expressed in the official (scriptural) version of Joseph Smith's "First Vision," where Smith said that God proclaimed all Christian creeds of the day to be an "abomination" and their believers all "corrupt" (JS-Hist 1:19). The Book of Mormon (BoM) also declares that anyone who does not belong to the "church of the Lamb" is a member of "the church of the devil,... the whore of all the earth" (1 Nephi 14:10). Millet suggests that "abomination" is not really a bad word, and that "creeds" are not per se bad. In so interpreting those terms, he seems to be violating his own assertion that only prophets can interpret scripture. When God says that Christian creeds are an "abomination," he only means when they are used for evil purposes, suggests Millet. And those corrupt ones who "profess" the creeds refers not to those who accept them or live by them, but only the evil Christian ministers of Smith's day. The "church of the Lamb" includes all who do good, whether members of the "only true church on the face of the earth [the Mormon Church]" or not. It seems that such interpretation is trying to twist a different meaning out of words that have a plain meaning on their face. President Gordon B. Hinckley (the late Prophet) implied that since it was God who said those things about other religions, other folks should not take offense. (p. 44)


Kent Jackson's article discusses the issue of why other Christians hesitate to include Mormons under the "Christian" label. Jackson explains very well the ways in which Mormons are indeed Christian, according to many reasonable definitions of the term, and why, by defining the term very narrowly, other Christians feel justified in excluding Mormons. He points out very correctly that probably none of the followers of Jesus during the first two or three centuries of Christianity would qualify as Christians under the narrow definitions by which many deny the label to Mormons. Here, the Mormons are absolutely correct, and their Christian critics are guilty of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy.


Steven C. Harper's article on the "First Vision" starts off by committing the "false dilemma" fallacy (or, more correctly in this case, the "false trilemma" fallacy), and at the same time gives us a "straw man" fallacy. He asserts that there are only three arguments against accepting the "First Vision" account as reproduced in Mormon scripture at Pearl of Great Price, JS-Hist 1: 1) such things don't happen; 2) Smith made it up years later (Fawn Brodie's argument); 3) there was no revival in 1820, as asserted in Smith's account (Wesley Walter's argument). Harper argues that we should give higher priority to the "only eye-witness" - Smith himself.

One must immediately ask: Why? This is committing the fallacy of self-validation, a form of circular reasoning. When the issue is whether a solitary witness is telling the truth or not, one does not "give priority" to the witness's statement. One tests it, one compares it to other statements (especially contradictory statements) by the witness, one checks the verifiable fact statements made by the witness, and weighs - based on all verifiable facts - whether the witness is telling the truth.

Harper asserts that Smith's "First Vision" claim "may be the best documented theophany in history." That assertion seems somewhat over-reaching, especially when the editor had asserted (p. 4) that claims of having seen God (or Christ) were not at all unusual in Smith's day. If Harper dismisses the many claims by non-Mormons of Smith's day, one must ask whether he is not simply applying the first argument he lists (such things don't happen). If not, why not? Are they not as well documented? By their very nature visions have generally only one "witness" to document the vision (some visions have more, such as the 50,000 witnesses at Fatima). However many times the witness may write a description, the many versions do not make the genuineness of the vision more trustworthy, especially if the versions contradict each other in major details (as do Smith's). One could just as easily assert that Smith's theophany is the most shabbily documented theophany in history, since Smith made no attempt to describe it, either orally or in writing, for twelve years, and then it took him another eight years before he "got it right" and made it public.

Harper's dismissal of Brodie as "biased" is a cheap shot (is not Harper equally "biased"?). That she had no knowledge of the 1832 record, and corrected her second edition to reflect it, does not weaken her argument, but rather supports it: more evidence that Smith was editing, revising, and changing his story. Harper suggests that it is misleading to say that Smith "embellished" his story (Brodie's words?) because the final version is not "longer"; he overlooks the fact that embellishment does not necessarily require increased length, but also means more details (such as adding an appearance by the Creator of the Universe).

In criticizing Wesley Walter's information about the lack of an 1820 revival (as claimed by Smith), Harper blunders in conflating information about several revivals, relying on a revival involving George Lane, who was not in the Palmyra area until 1824. Lane himself wrote about the 1824 revival in Palmyra, in which he participated, recording the success in the number of converts. But local church records for 1820 show no results of any revival, even though Smith claims that "great multitudes" were converted by the alleged 1820 revival (JS-Hist 1:5). That seems not to be the case.

Harper insists (quite rightly) that it is a "historical fact" that Smith claimed to have seen the Father and the Son. Nobody is disputing that. The issue is not whether Smith made that claim, but rather 1) WHEN he made the claim; and 2) whether he is telling the truth or making it up. Harper feels that it is a mistake to assume (falsely, he claims) that Smith would necessarily tell the same story in the same way, and to prove that such an assumption is false, he cites the various versions that Smith told. Isn't that a classic example of the fallacy of circular reasoning? The assumption is not that SMITH would tell the story in the same way, but that an honest man who really had a life-changing experience of universal importance would be able to tell of his experience without major changes in the story. That is a valid assumption. One of the problems that a liar has is remembering the details of the stories he has told. Was Smith a liar? His propensity for lying and deceit is well documented, as well as an active imagination. He deceived his wife about many of his polygamous "marriages" and he lied to his own followers about them (History of the Church 6:411). As one public prosecutor put it, commenting on the increasingly varying alibis of a defendant, "I've always found that it's easier to keep your story straight if you're telling the truth to begin with."

We are also mistaken, Harper suggests, in assuming that a person who has had such a remarkable vision would accurately remember the exact date and the circumstances. That is an odd suggestion, in light of the fact that Smith certainly DID remember very precisely the date of his 1823 vision of Moroni (although he first remembered the angel's name to be "Nephi").

Harper insists that "the historical method" requires one to "allow his [Smith's] accounts to shape" one's understanding. If Harper means that the contradictions in the accounts should be used to shape our understanding that he was simply making it all up, then one must agree. But Harper does not explain (and cannot, I suspect) why we should simply accept Smith's accounts without skepticism. And finally, Harper's ultimate fallacy is the appeal to authority (p 72): several scholars have examined Smith's accounts with "trust" and have found them "consistent where it counts." These scholars have actually written books and were educated at Ivy League universities. I guess that settles the matter. (Harper does not mention that the scholars are employed by the LDS Church. Again, the word "bias" comes to mind.)

Harper does not confront the question of why there is not a shred of contemporary evidence of the First Vision, or of the wide persecution Smith claims he suffered because of his telling of it. Even his worst enemies, who, one would assume, would make much of it, were apparently completely unaware. They were quick to attack him on many other issues, but no one questioned his claim to have seen God and Christ in 1820. Dare we suggest that it was never mentioned by his enemies (or even his supporters), and he was not attacked or persecuted for it, because he had never made the claim until much later?


Kerry Muhlestein's article is an attempt to deal sympathetically with the evidence that Smith, before producing the Book of Mormon and founding a religion, was deeply involved with his family in folk magic, seeking buried treasure by spells and incantations, and his being charged and arrested for violating laws against such activity.

His primary argument regarding the 1826 court hearing is that the accounts were written much later and they vary in details, and are therefore "questionable." Muhlestein apparently did not read Harper's article on the First Vision (above), since Harper insists that those are NOT valid objections. Muhlestein is not willing to follow Harper's advice and examine the evidence with trust, and "allow [the] accounts to shape our understanding." Muhlestein wants us to consider the testimony of Josiah Stowell and Smith's father, who both believed that Smith Jr. could find buried treasure using his peepstone. We should also accept the testimony of Smith's friends, his supporters, and Smith himself. The implication is that we should disregard or discount contrary testimony. This sounds like the fallacy of "special pleading": "don't listen to my opponent's evidence!" Should we also consider the fact that there is no record that Smith ever actually found treasure? Does Muhlestein actually believe that Smith's stone had that magical power? He points out that the Bible has many instances of the use of magic. The argument may be convincing to those who accept everything in the Bible as accurate and worthy of imitation (stoning of adulterers and witches, genocide, talking animals, testing a wife's virtue by ordeal [Num 5:11ff]), but will not convince those who do not take the Bible literally.

Muhlestein does not deal with Smith's use of his magic peepstone in producing ("translating") the text of the Book of Mormon from the gold plates, nor the extensive affidavits from neighbors and others about Smith's treasure-hunting and magical rituals.


Brian Hauglid's article on the Kinderhook Plates goes to great lengths to demonstrate that Joseph Smith did not translate the plates. We all know that. The questions that critics have about the Kinderhook Plates are based on the evidence that Smith examined them, that he identified the ancient person who engraved them as a "descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh" (based, apparently, on his "reading" of the engraved characters), and that the one surviving plate was identified in 1980 through metallurigical tests as having been made in the 19th century, after having been promoted by the Church for 135 years as a genuine ancient artifact, giving credence to an admission by a Kinderhook resident of the day that he and others had produced the plates as a hoax to trap the "prophet."

Hauglid suggests that the reason Smith did not finish the translation was because the text was not scriptural, and so he lost interest. Hauglid does not explain HOW Smith knew that, without having "read" the phoney characters. Hauglid seems to think that the characters really did "say" something. Nor does Hauglid explain why the Prophet did not recognize the plates as a modern forgery and an attempt to embarrass him. The author does try to cast doubt on the hoax explanation by pointing out that the hoaxsters did not come forward until years later. The explanation seems natural enough: they were waiting for the Prophet to produce a more thorough translation, but he was killed before he could do so. So what would be the point? The fact remains that the hoax did work, and the inspired prophet of God fell for it.


The only article in this collection dealing with plural marriage is by J. Spencer Fluhman, on Smith's marriage to Apostle Heber C. Kimball's daughter Helen, as though the only troublesome aspect of the Church's practice of polygamy was this one example, troublesome as it is.

Fluhman's approach is to try to take the sexual aspect out of the matter, expressing doubt that the marriage was consummated, based on the fact that Smith had little to do with Helen after the ceremony, and contending that the union was "for religious [and] dynastic purposes," and discounting Helen's own later statement that she had consented to the union believing wrongly that it was only "ceremonial." Fluhman suggests that it was Helen's father who suggested the marriage, but does not mention that Smith had previously approached Heber, requesting Heber's wife Vilate. Fluhman does not explain why, if Heber wanted a family connection with the Prophet, the Prophet did not suggest sealing Helen to him as a daughter or as a sister. He seems to overlook that one of the principal purposes of dynastic marriages in royalty is to produce offspring, which generally can only be achieved through sexual relations. To "raise up seed" is the ONLY reason God would command polygamy, according to the Book of Mormon (Jacob 2:30). If Smith did not consummate the marriage, he could hardly fulfill that important purpose of polygamy.

Nor does Fluhman explain the doctrinal basis for Smith's promise to Helen that, if she married him, it would guarantee her entire family's salvation. He fails to explain how Smith complied with the requirement of D&C 132:61 that Smith first obtain permission from his first wife, Emma.

Fluhman's asserts that in those days it was not unusual for girls of 14 to marry. It WAS unusual, however, for a man in his 30s with numerous wives already to marry a 14-year-old girl. Fluhman points out that Helen became an ardent defender of plural marriage. That seems to be irrelevant to whether it was morally right of Smith to convince her to marry him. (One cannot help but compare this with the present indignation among almost all people, including faithful Mormons, at the actions of a modern-day follower of Smith, Warren Jeffs, who also married and bedded numerous barely pubescent young followers, claiming it to be according to religious principles.)

The editor and publisher missed a wonderful opportunity here by failing to include any other "sensitive issues" or "hard questions" about plural marriage, such as: Why did Smith marry over ten women who already had living husbands, in violation of the requirement at D&C 132:62 that a plural wife must be a virgin and "vowed to no other man"? Why is there no written revelation telling Prophet Wilford Woodruff that God wanted the practice ended, but only a "Declaration" that the Church would no longer practice it? Why, in spite of that Declaration, did leaders of the Church continue to practice it (performing as well as entering into additional plural marriages themselves), and lie to the public about it? Why do present-day Church leaders insist that plural marriage is not doctrine (per President Gordon B. Hinckley), when it is still included in the Doctrine and Covenants? And even though the Church still practices it by sealing living men to more than one wife for eternity, in the case of death or divorce of the first wife? (Two of the present Apostles are sealed to two wives each.) And why does Church spokesman Richard Hinckley lie on public television, when asked about this, saying that "we don't know" whether there will be plural marriage in heaven (2011 interview with BBC correspondent Sweeney)?


Two articles deal with the role of scripture in Mormonism. The first, by editor Robert L. Millet, deals with the Mormon attitude toward the Bible, and seems primarily directed to two extremes of Christian view, the inerrantists at one end of the spectrum and, at the other end, those Christians who view the Bible largely as not to be taken too literally. Mormons, says Millet, are somewhere in the middle, recognizing that there are errors in the Bible, that it is not a "handbook," but rather an "experience to be lived." He laments that the Reformation led everyone to interpret the Bible for themselves, which, he says, led to "chaos." He does not make clear exactly how one is to "live" the Bible, without viewing it as a kind of handbook, or without doing some individual interpretation. One suspects that, as in his earlier article, where he asserted that only prophets can interpret scripture (see above), that applies even to the reading of words that are plain on their face. It apparently takes a prophet to make plain words mean something quite different. Millet asserts (p 129) that Mormons are not concerned with the form (the words?) of scripture, but with the "revelation behind it." One must ask what the purpose of the words then is?

Daniel K. Belnap's article attempts to deal with three issues about the Mormon view of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and scripture in general: 1) the use of King James language and passages in the Book of Mormon; 2) what the Book of Mormon says about the Bible; 3) the LDS view of scripture.

Belnap relies on the reports of witnesses to the translation process that produced the Book of Mormon to assert that Smith did not use the King James Bible while translating. Belnap seems to be unaware that to prove extensive plagiarism, it is not necessary to have witnesses to the actual act of plagiarism. Plagiarism can be demonstrated by comparing the two texts. The plagiarism of the King James Bible in the Book of Mormon is so extensive, so identical, even including King James errors, that it boggles the mind that anyone can deny it. Belnap touts the similarities as proof that the Book of Mormon is "well-grounded in the Bible"! Yes, there are some variations, but that is also typical of most plagiarisms. Ask any college professor who must read student term papers. Belnap does not attempt to explain how or why the very exact 17th century wording of the King James translation appears in the Book of Mormon.

Belnap seems to think that it is important to note that the passages from Isaiah chapters 48 to 54 are all "Christological." This would be the point at which Belnap might have dealt with the most "sensitive issue" about these chapters: almost all Bible scholars consider those chapters to have been written several centuries later than the earlier Isaiah chapters, after the Babylonian Captivity. That would mean that they could not possibly have been included in the writings brought by Lehi from Jerusalem. But, no mention of this problem.

Belnap feels that it is important that the Book of Mormon actually mentions the Bible (p 146). Again he misses the opportunity to explain how Nephi could even understand that concept, since the notion of a "bible" (or a "canon") did not exist until more than six hundred years later. If the Book of Mormon were authentic and historically accurate, one would expect that when God told Nephi that the Gentiles would cry, "A Bible! We have a Bible!" Nephi would have asked, "Excuse me, God, what does 'Bible' mean? It's an idea I'm not familiar with." And God would have given Nephi an explanation, so that Nephite readers of his record would know what was meant: something that would develop only many centuries later. (The writer of Mosiah does take the trouble later to explain the term "church" [Mosiah 25:21], which, of course, causes more anachronism problems; see "Linguistic Problems in Mormonism" at

Mormons view scripture, says Belnap, as a "catalyst for revelation," and he points out how many scriptural passages were changed and broadened by later (Mormon) prophets. One must ask how much the later revelation can change the original scripture without calling into question the validity of the original. Joseph Smith taught that even a message from an angel should not contradict a previous revelation (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p 215, History of the Church 4:581). Another explanation (following Occam's Razor, without having to assume divine revelation) is that later religionists simply revised the originals to suit their own needs and current thinking. Of course, only a phoney (pretend) prophet would do that, as with the long prophecy in 2 Nephi 27 which so beautifully fits the incident with Charles Anthon, as cited by Belnap (p 153).

Belnap mentions that the phrase "Lamb of God" occurs 33 times in the Book of Mormon. It seems significant to him that most of them are in 1 and 2 Nephi. He does not mention that the phrase occurs in the Bible only twice, in the Gospel of John (1:29 and 36). None of the other Gospel writers seem familiar with the phrase. The phrase "the Lamb" referring to Christ occurs several times in Revelation. But that's it. Why is it so prominent in the Book of Mormon?

On the use of King James English in the translation, Belnap suggests (correctly, I think) that its purpose was to lend the book an "air of authority." This would suggest that the choice was made by the translator, which would contradict the testimony of witnesses such as David Whitmer, who said that the English words would appear on the stone, and Smith would simply read them to the scribe, and when they were correct, the words would disappear. The question arises then as to why there were so many grammatical errors in the English? Not only the several thousand that have been corrected in modern editions since 1830, but those violations of Elizabethan grammar which have remained in today's text. (See for examples.)

DNA AND THE Book of Mormon

Ugo Perego, a geneticist at BYU, authored the article on how DNA research impacts the message of the Book of Mormon. Perego frankly admits that current DNA research on the origin of Native Americans cannot confirm the Book of Mormon by showing Israelite ancestry for them (p 182). He confirms the view generally held by authorities in the field that DNA research shows an origin for them in the area of Mongolia, and that they began to migrate to the Americas thousands of years before Book of Mormon times. Perego acknowledges that the entire human race is descended from a single woman who lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago (p 170).

In defending the Book of Mormon against the implications of these facts, Perego makes some astonishing claims. He claims that the Book of Mormon says nothing about "whether other populations were already established in the land" (p 163). He appears to want to ignore what God said to Lehi that his people would go to a land where they would be "kept from all other nations." (2 Nephi 1:9) Or God's assurance to the brother of Jared (Ether 2:8) that the land they had been promised would be preserved for them alone, so long as they remained righteous.

Perego gives no explanation for the fact that the Book of Mormon text makes no mention of encounters with people already there. When the Mulekites are discovered (Omni 1:14) there is a great todo, and the encounter is recorded. But that's the only such encounter or mention of other peoples. Compare that with the Israelites, who also were led to a "promised land." Their history repeatedly mentions their neighboring peoples, their wars with them, their victories over them, their intermarriages with them. Why - if a similar situation really existed with the Book of Mormon peoples - is there nothing of that nature? Perego comments that the Book of Mormon is a "sacred and religious history," but so is the Old Testament.

Perego attributes the belief that the Book of Mormon should be seen as a history of the origin of ALL Native Americans to "a common sentiment" and "speculation" by both Mormons and non-Mormons. He seems to be unaware that the same "sentiment" was shared by the Angel Moroni and most Mormon prophets from Joseph Smith through Spencer W. Kimball. Did not Moroni say (JS-Hist 1:34) that the gold plates gave "an account of the former inhabitants of this continent and the source from whence they sprang"? Perego (and many other modern Mormon apologists) apparently read that as "an account of a tiny percentage of the former inhabitants of a little corner of this continent before they were swallowed up without a trace."

Perego concludes with the assertion that "Anyone using DNA to ascertain the accuracy of historical events of a religious nature - which require instead a component of faith - will be sorely disappointed." Why is the origin of Native Americans a religious question? Only because the Mormons have made it so. Yes, if one wants to believe something which is unsupported by historical or scientific information, a large component of faith is required. Faith apparently always trumps science (a common theme in this collection). But DNA is used every day in criminal cases to determine the accuracy of facts.

Update 6/23/12: Ugo Perego has written a response to this section, which you can read here. Among other things, he points out that I incorrectly said that he is on the staff at BYU, for which I apologize.

THE Book of Abraham

Two articles deal with the Book of Abraham, the text that Joseph Smith claimed to have translated from some Egyptian papyri which came into the possession of the Church in Kirtland, and which has been canonized as scripture in the Pearl of Great Price. Smith identified the scrolls partly as written by the Patriarch Abraham "by his own hand" and partly by Joseph, son of Jacob, who was sold into Egypt. The "sensitive issues" about the Book of Abraham are that Egyptologists are able to read the surviving scrolls, and they do not date from the time of Abraham, but a period about two thousand years later; the Egyptian text does not correspond in any way with the text Smith produced; they are entirely pagan in nature; they do not mention Abraham; and Smith and his staff produced an "Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar" containing characters copied from the scrolls accompanied by passages from Smith's text. Egyptologists say the "grammar" is complete nonsense and shows no knowledge of Egyptian.

When some of the long-missing papyri were discovered in the 1960s, Mormons were excited about the possibility that Smith's divine ability to read Egyptian would be vindicated, even though already since 1856 Egyptologists had universally declared Smith's translation of the characters reproduced in the illustrations ("Facsimiles") of the printed text to be phoney. The excitement, however, was short-lived. The surviving papyri merely reinforced the scholarly verdict: they had nothing to do with what Smith had said was "translated" from them.

Mormon scholars and apologists immediately went to work to try to salvage something from the wreckage. They presented one speculative theory after another, often contradicting each other. None of them survived the scrutiny of critics and Egyptologists. Thousands of formerly faithful Mormons came to doubt Smith's ability as a divine translator, and left the Church in disappointment.

The present articles, by Kerry Muhlestein and Brian M. Hauglid, do not offer much new beyond what was written almost fifty years ago and repeatedly rebutted. See especially Charles M. Larson's book By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus (1985) for a thorough treatment of the arguments presented here. Extensive "red herrings," circular reasoning, and wild speculation characterize both present essays. Both authors ultimately fall back to the "have faith" argument, when all else fails. Muhlestein asserts that criticism of Smith's translations are "based on false assumptions and bad information" (p 203). He does not explain how it is a "false assumption" to expect that Smith's translations be accurate, or how the verdicts of dozens of competent Egyptologists are "bad information." He correctly asserts that "Egyptologists have been wrong" (including himself?) but that what he has learned "from the Spirit" has "never been wrong." A true scientist! (p 220).

A few newer items are presented. A place called "Ulisum" is mentioned in recently discovered Akkadian documents from the supposed time of Abraham. This has been heralded by Mormon apologists as identical to the "Olishem" mentioned in Smith's text. Muhlestein does not mention that the Akkadian Ulisum is not where Olishem was supposed to be, but hundreds of miles further north. Nor does he acknowledge the weakness of such name similarities in authenticating Smith's translations. Yes, it is an odd coincidence, much like the similarity in names like "Moroni" and "Cumorah" to the city Moroni, capital of the Camoras Islands, known in Smith's day as the haunt of Captain Kidd the pirate. Or the similarity of the name "Lehi" to the name of the Lehigh Valley near the place where the Book of Mormon was written. See also Vernal Holley's long list of place names in the vicinity of Smith's home which are similar to place names in the Book of Mormon (at, summarized at See also my rebuttal to L. Dwayne Samuelson's article on Pacific place names, "Lehi In the Pacific." If all those similarities are "coincidents" as Mormons claim, then surely "Olishem's" similarity to "Ulisum" is just as likely pure coincidence. Another explanation (not requiring coincidence or divine intervention) would be that Smith was studying Hebrew at the time he was producing the Abraham text, and he simply made up the name from Hebrew 'olah' ("burnt offering," "evil") and 'shem' ("name"), which is exactly what "Olishem" was, according to the Abraham text: the name of a place of pagan sacrifice.

Hauglid's article deals mostly with the "Kirtland Egyptian Papers" and the problems that they present. Hauglid (very carefully?) does not mention that a significant part of those papers is what Smith called an "Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar." This consists of Egyptian characters in a left margin, with passages from Smith's Abraham text on the right. In his attempt to distance Smith from this damaging evidence, Hauglid neglects to mention Smith's numerous comments about his work on it, preserved in the official History of the Church. He emphasizes that the copies (of which there are several) are not originals, and they are in the handwriting of scribes. He seems quite reluctant to admit that one copy is indeed in Smith's handwriting. He wants to give the impression that we can't really know how or why this work was produced, but it cannot be Smith's attempt to write an Egyptian grammar or dictionary. Hauglid seems unfamiliar with the fundamental principle of the "Duck Quack": if it looks like a dictionary/grammar, acts like a dictionary/grammar, and is called by its author an "alphabet and grammar," then that is exactly what it was intended to be.

In other words, this is the old "The Scribes Did It" theory. Larson in his book (cited above) thoroughly dissects the argument. None of the arguments make sense, and most of them do not deal with the glaring problems. If Smith could read Egyptian, why did he not correctly identify the papyri as being pagan funerary documents from a time two millennia after Abraham? Why would the still missing part of the papyri contain material so fundamentally different in content (as claimed by apologists as the real source of the Book of Abraham) from the part we now have? Why would Smith identify to Josiah Quincy "Abraham's signature" (as Quincy records in his book Figures of the Past, which Muhlestein cites in note 24, without mentioning that fact) if he did not believe that Abraham actually wrote on the papyrus which he was exhibiting? Why has no later Mormon prophet - all of whom are divinely inspired "translators" (D&C 107:92) - when God took all that trouble to preserve these papyri, deigned to provide us with the text of the Book of Joseph? Why would God deposit such a rare and sacred scripture in an Egyptian tomb? Apparently there were many copies made for burial purposes of the Book of Breathings (the actual text on the existing papyri). Do they all contain the writings of Abraham? If not, why just this one? (Actually, Muhlestein can explain that: God stimulated the 19th century interest in things Egyptian, just so this one scroll could find its way to Smith - p 204).

Muhlestein points out that ancient Egyptians did indeed practice human sacrifice as related in the Book of Abraham. This, he says, shows that critics are wrong who claimed that such a depiction was evidence against the Book of Abraham's authenticity. This is a "straw man" argument. That claim (which I do not recall ever having seen from the critics) is by no means the strongest or most convincing of the many evidences against Smith's text. Why doesn't Muhlestein tackle some of those?

Hauglid's article is replete with non sequiturs and circular reasoning. He admits (p 236) that Smith "thought" he was "translating" the characters, even though he wasn't. But, says Hauglid, obviously the Lord allowed Smith to think that. Why? Hauglid finds it significant that the Book of Abraham manuscripts are not first drafts, but almost finished, complete with punctuation. But minor changes were still being made. This is typical, he says, of "sacred texts." It also is typical of fictional works - a fact Hauglid seems unaware of.

Hauglid assures the reader that even though he has heard "the voice of God in the sacred text," he does not let that influence his scholarly examination of it. One wonders how God must feel about his servant's blatant ignoring of his message. Or how he explains the fact that many others have heard the voice of God telling them that Smith made it all up.


John W. Welch, professor of law at Brigham Young University and a much published Mormon apologist, writes about "the ground rules of epistemology, evidence, proof, and decision making" as applied to religious discussions. He quite correctly urges anyone dealing with Mormonism - especially "highly charged anti-Mormon propaganda" - to apply these principles. However, he insists, "the Holy Ghost" (faith) is more important than evidence (p 252-253). Then why look at the evidence? One should use evidence to strengthen one's faith. No one can prove the Book of Mormon to be true, he admits (p 255). He does not seem to consider that one CAN prove it to be false.

Welch mentions some items he believes to be evidence in favor of the authenticitiy of the Book of Mormon. He makes an astonishing assertion that it takes exactly 344 days for the Pacific Current to travel from Asia to Mexico: the number of days that the Jaredites supposedly traveled using no sails or oars (Ether 6:1-11). Not 345 or 343. Exactly 344. Apparently it makes no difference exactly where one starts or stops. Whether setting out from Viet Nam or China or Kamchatka, whether landing in northern Baja California or further south near Acapulco, it will take exactly 344 days. Amazing! Welch does not mention the problems of all the people, livestock, and provisions (water and food) for 344 days in underwater ships that have as ventilation only one usable porthole, the problem of sanitation, or how all the "barges" stayed together and landed in the same place on the same day.

One of Welch's principal contributions to Mormon apologetics is his work on pointing out the presence of the literary device known as "chiasm" (or "chiasmus") in the Book of Mormon. He lists it here as evidence that helped him "understand [the Book of Mormon] as an ancient record." His faulty logic seems to be: Chiasm is found in ancient documents such as the Bible. Chiasm is found in the Book of Mormon. Therefore, the Book of Mormon is an ancient document. Welch seems unaware not only that his logic is fallacious, but that chiasm is found everywhere in documents both ancient and modern, including Joseph Smith's personal correspondence, and the text of James Strang's scriptures (which Welch undoubtedly would not admit as being "ancient" in spite of their containing chiastic passages). For a thorough discussion of how frequent (and natural) chiasmus is, see Dr. Mardy Grothe's website at He gives no indication that chiasmus is evidence of antiquity or of divinity (nor does he mention the Book of Mormon).

Welch correctly summarizes the varying strength required to prove differing assertions, ranging from "merely possible" (the lowest) to "beyond a reasonable doubt" (the highest). He then asks - without suggesting the answer - what level of evidence should be required of the Book of Mormon (or other Mormon claims)? (p 264) He suggests that one should "experiment" with it to determine its "truth [and] goodness" before requiring it to be proven true "beyond a reasonable doubt." But he does not say why one should do that. One might justifiably ask, Why should I experiment with something that is false? Why not FIRST see if there are reasonable doubts about it? (And there are indeed reasonable doubts; see my listing "101 Reasonable Doubts About Mormonism" at

Circumstantial evidence is evidence that only indirectly goes toward proving an assertion. Welch's discussion of its role in the law is rather brief (p 262), and he neglects to mention the most important requirement for accepting circumstantial evidence. He emphasizes (correctly) that large amounts of circumstantial evidence may be sufficient to establish a premise. He fails to point out that ANY item of circumstantial evidence, to be considered as probative, must be the best and most reasonable explanation of the known facts. That is, circumstantial evidence must comply with "Occam's Razor" (also called the "Law of Parsimony"). If there is ANY other reasonable explanation, the proffered circumstantial evidence cannot be considered decisive or cumulative. And - this is important - it is not necessary that the other explanation actually be proven to be factual. It only needs to be reasonable and possible. Welch offers as an example of circumstantial evidence the "astonishingly short time" it took to produce the Book of Mormon, implying that such a thing was possible only with divine help. Sorry, another explanation is quite natural: Smith was dictating (or reading) from material which had already been prepared, perhaps beginning already in 1823, when he first announced the existence of the gold plates. But, says Welch, "if a person's spiritual disposition inclines one to receive and value such evidence," one might view such evidence "favorably." So we are back to "faith trumps facts and reason."

One important principle of evidence which Welch does not mention, but which is the fundamental principle of all scientific endeavor, is that truth cannot be established by examining only the evidence in favor of a proposition, however much there may be, but also by searching diligently for evidence against it, and refuting all that negative evidence. Even the D&C passage which gives the title to this collection (D&C 71) embodies that principle.


The collection concludes with several shorter essays on doctrinal issues, defending some of the doctrines of Mormonism which many Christians find unusual and unsupported (at least in their view) by the Bible. The approach of these articles is to find Bible passages or writings of early church Fathers which support the Mormon doctrine.

Daniel K. Judd defends the Mormon position that Adam's Fall, although it was a "transgression," was nevertheless a blessing and beneficial. Beneficial even though (or perhaps also because?) it brought death into the world (Alma 12:23-24). Judd does not deal with more serious problems regarding Adam, who, according to the chronology in the LDS version of the King James Bible (see "Chronology" in the section "Bible Dictionary"), lived about 4000 B.C. and who, according to D&C 116, lived in Missouri, apparently at the beginning of the seven thousands years of the earth's "temporal existence" (D&C 77:6). Did we not read earlier, in Professor Perego's article, that the human race began in Africa over 200,000 years ago? Is that not a much more serious problem than whether one views Adam's Fall as good or bad? Was Adam the first human? Where does he fit in with Perego's 200,000 years, beginning in Africa?

Judd does make an excellent case for rejecting the relatively late Christian doctrine of "original sin."

Editor Millet's article on salvation quite rightly asserts, against many Christians' claims that Mormons are not "Christian," that Mormons do indeed believe that salvation is available through Christ's sacrifice. Anyone who would assert the contrary is obviously someone who knows very little about Mormon doctrine.

Millet's next article deals with the Mormon view of God. Christians often object that Mormons believe in a "finite" God, a God that changes, that Mormons believe in the existence of many gods, that God has a body, and do not accept the traditional doctrine of the Trinity, that good Mormons can become gods themselves. Millet argues convincingly that the Trinity doctrine is of late origin, and not biblical, that there are many Bible passages (and some non-Mormon Christian theologians) which support the idea of God having a physical body.

Millet cites Mormon scripture and sermons of Mormon leaders in an attempt to make Mormon views seem more like traditional Christian views. He does not take into consideration the fact, as carefully documented in the compilation by fellow BYU professor Charles R. Harrell, This Is My Doctrine (Kofford Books, 2011), that Mormon doctrines about God have developed (and changed radically) over the years since 1830, and the direction has generally been away from their original traditional Christian beginnings to exactly the kind of doctrine that today's Christians find un-Christian. Millet's citations to early Mormon statements are thus misleading. He does not deal with the contradictions. For example, he cites the Lectures on Faith, Lecture Fifth, to support his assertion that Mormons believe we can "become like God," but neglects the passage in that same Lecture which says that God the Father does NOT have a body, a glaring contradiction to D&C 130:22, which says that he has a tangible body, as tangible as a man's. He cites the Book of Mormon to support his contention that Mormons are monotheistic, but does not deal with the problem that the Book of Mormon also repeatedly identifies God the Father and Christ as identical (the "modalist" view), whereas the present position of the Church is that they are quite separate.

As for whether Mormons believe that they can eventually become gods, Millet fudges. Mormon scriptures (D&C 76:58, 132:17, 20, 37) and Mormon leaders for years have taught that humans can become gods and can create and rule over their own universes, and that the God Mormons worship was once a man like us. Millet does cite the source of the "God was once a man" doctrine, but, like the late Mormon prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, says that "we don't know" much about that, and tries to rephrase it so that it sounds like "become gods" simply means "become like God, god-like [pure, sinless, perfect]," or "become one with God" or "dwell with God." Has Mormon doctrine really changed, or is Millet being deceptive, to sound more "Christian" to his Christian readers? There is a huge difference between becoming something and becoming LIKE something.

Millet asserts, entirely without basis, that "...there is no way to establish and maintain a moral standard independent of God." (p 323) There is not enough space here to show the moral arrogance and falsity of that assertion. The subject of morality without religion is dealt with by several prominent secular scholars. These include Robert Buckman, Can we be good without God (2002), Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (2006), Michael Shermer, The Science of Good and Evil (2004), Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great (2007), Paul Chamberlain, Can We Be Good Without God (1996), Richard Holloway, Godless Morality: Keeping Religion Out Of Ethics (1999), Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Morality Without God (2009).


The final essay, by Camille Fronk Olson, describes the purpose of Mormon missionary work and Mormon humanitarian work, linking it to Christ's "great commission" (Matt 28:19-20). Many Christians, especially Christian clergy, criticize Mormon missionary efforts that are directed toward Christians, who, in their view, are already "saved." That would seem to be a valid objection, if, as explained earlier in this collection, anyone who "does good" belongs already to the "Church of the Lamb" (see Editor Millet's article on the Apostasy and Restoration, above). Olson claims that "rather than criticizing another's beliefs or working to tear down other churches, we offer the added truths of the restored gospel." That statement does not seem to jibe with the fundamental claim that missionaries make to Christians, that their Christian baptism is not valid and will not be recognized by God, because the minister or priest who performed the baptism had no divine authority to do so. And that an 18-year-old Mormon teenager who has been ordained to the Mormon "Aaronic Priesthood" has more authority than the men who baptized them.

Nor does Olson explain why "adding truths" to the religion of devout Christians does not violate the statement of Jesus to the Nephites (3 Nephi 11:33-40) that his "doctrine" consists of faith, repentance, and baptism, and that "whoso shall declare more or less than this... cometh of evil..." - a view repeated at D&C 10:67-68.

Olson correctly praises the positive results that missionary service has for the missionaries themselves, quite apart from benefits it brings to those converted. They learn self-confidence, self-discipline, organizing abilities, how to deal with frequent rejection and disappointment, and many learn a foreign language. Many former missionaries (usually called "returned missionaries" or "RMs") go on to find success in business, government, and especially sales. A side benefit to the Church is that, having spent two years in indoctrinating and in being indoctrinated, they often become stalwart leaders in the Church. Olson does not mention that the Church unofficially acknowledges that 40% of all RMs eventually leave the Church, their disillusionment often having begun while in the mission field.

Nor does Olson comment on the stark difference between LDS missionary work and the missionary work of other denominations, such as the Seventh-day Adventists, which is a denomination with about the same size membership, and with an extensive missionary program. The Adventists, however, build and staff schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, and develop infrastructure in poor countries. For them, proselytizing is not the priority. In comparison, the Mormons seem much less "Christ-like."

Olson brags about the amount of humanitarian aid provided by her Church, 643 million dollars over the last 18 years, both in cash and in kind. ("In kind" represents produce from Church-owned farms and factories and cast-off clothing and other materials donated by members. No indication is given as to what proportion is cash.) That is about 36 million per year. With an average membership size during those 18 years of about ten million, that comes out to less than four dollars per year per member spent on humanitarian aid. This should be compared with the estimated annual income of the Church in tithing alone (i.e., received from members) of five billion dollars per year, or $500 per member. The amount of Church income devoted to humanitarian aid is thus less than one percent of its income. The Church looks very sorry in comparison with the humanitarian efforts of other religious organizations, not only the Adventists, but the Lutherans (another denomination of about the same size), Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and many others. The Church is not even listed on any listing of leading charitable organizations. See the article by Mormon author Bradley Walker, criticizing the Church for its meager humanitarian efforts (Dialogue, vol 36 no 1 p 36ff ).

Compared to the amount of money spent on building elaborate temples, one cannot help but recall the condemnation in the Book of Mormon: "For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the ADORNING OF YOUR CHURCHES, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted." (Mormon 8:37, emphasis added)


Editor Millet's concluding essay asserts that spiritual things can be known only through "the quiet whisperings of the Holy Ghost." He admits that science and archaeology cannot prove the Bible or any other holy scripture to be true. That is quite right. One must ask, then, why apologists appeal so desperately to science and archaeology? What Millet does not acknowledge is that science and archaeology (and other academic disciplines) CAN prove when something that claims to be true is in fact false. And that is the basic problem with which this collection does not deal satisfactorily.

Millet does not give quite enough credit to the power of the "quiet whisperings" or "faith." They are so powerful that, using only their help, one can "know" anything at all, including things that are imaginary, untrue, contrary to evidence, and contrary to reality. It is by "faith" that the adherents of ALL religions claim to "know" that their religion is true, including those that Mormons label as false. Nor does Millet distinguish between things that are truly unverifiable by rational means and those which can be tested. Faith may be the only means by which one can know that Grandmother is in Heaven, or that God does not want me to work on Sunday. But faith is unnecessary to know many things, and it is dangerous to rely on faith and disregard facts which contradict what the "spirit" tells you.

Nor does Millet tell us how the "whisperings" we might be hearing actually come from a divine source and are not simply our own subconscious feelings. The standard answer to that problem from Mormon leaders (although not discussed here) is that if those whisperings confirm what the leaders or the scriptures have told you, they are from the Holy Spirit, but if they tell you something else, they are from Satan. That is a classic example of circular reasoning and self-validation. Even more fallacious is the quote from Mormon scholar Hugh Nibley, with which the editor concludes: "The words of the prophets cannot be held to the tentative and defective tests that men have devised for them. ... Let us not, therefore, seek to hold God to the learned opinions of the moment when he speaks the language of eternity." Can we ask for a better example of circular reasoning?


A reviewer should generally not criticize an author because the author did not write the book that the reviewer feels the author should have written. However, I do not feel it a violation of that principle to point out that these scholars - if their intention was to deal with the really hard and "sensitive" issues raised by critics - missed a grand opportunity by failing to deal with so many such issues; for example: the complete lack of archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon; the inability of the present prophet to identify key geographical locations in the Book of Mormon (the "hemispheric model" versus the "limited geography model" versus the "Great Lakes model"); the Church's history of racism; the Masonic basis for the endowment, and the many changes from its supposedly pure restoration by Smith; the controversial proxy baptisms and endowments for deceased ancestors of non-Mormons; the complete lack of evidence for a literal Tower of Babel and Great Flood; the absence of any mention in the Book of Mormon (said to contain the "fullness of the Gospel" - JS-Hist 1:34) of many present doctrines of the Church; the failure of so many prophecies of Smith (and the lack of so many prophecies by present-day Mormon prophets); the refusal of the Church to make available its financial records for outside public audit, or to provide accurate accounts of its membership numbers; the involvement of its leaders in the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the subsequent cover-up; the failure of Church leaders to receive divine guidance when being deceived by forger Mark Hofmann; to mention only a few.

This major attempt to provide a powerful defense of Mormonism fails on many counts. The collection seems unclear on the identity of its audience. Sometimes it seems to be speaking to Christians, rarely to the non-religious, sometimes to a Mormon readership. Perhaps the Mormon readers are those Mormons who have encountered problematic information ("scathing," "biting," "vicious" criticisms, as characterized by the editor). The purpose in addressing those Mormons would be to allay their concerns. If so, the authors fail. Christians will not be swayed by these articles. The non-religious will find nothing here to make them more sympathetic to religion or to Mormonism. And doubting Mormons will be even more turned off by the weak argumentation, the logical fallacies, and the (purposeful?) avoidance of the really hard questions. The only audience to which this collection will appeal is those faithful Mormons who do not question, but who see their religion challenged more and more. They will read this book, without giving it much thought, and sleep better at night, having assured themselves that all the problems have been taken care of.

Comments?   Questions?  (Please, no preaching, testimonies, or hate mail!)   To send a comment or ask a question, click here.

©  2012 Richard Packham    Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included


To search this website or the web:

The following ads are selected by Google and do not necessarily represent the views of this website.