The Likelihood of Religion Being True

Michael Meyerson

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Mormonism is a sect of Christianity that has expanded to include even more incredible stories than those found in standard Christianity. In addition to believing in the absurdities of the Old and New Testaments, Mormons need to believe in the absurdities of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrines and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price as well as the sayings of a never-ending stream of prophets. Philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris makes the point that however unlikely it is that Christianity is true, it is nevertheless more likely to be true than Mormonism, because there are fewer unlikely phenomena posited by mainstream Christianity than by Mormonism. I’m sure non-Mormon Christians would agree. Certainly the Mormon tradition offers a great wealth of absurdities.

Consider some examples: Mormons believe that Joseph Smith, their first prophet, was directed by an angel, Moroni, to find buried gold plates that were inscribed in “reformed Egyptian” with the religious history of an ancient people. Smith translated these writings into English using “seers” consisting of two stones—Urim and Thummim. Smith then returned the gold plates to Moroni, making them unavailable for others to inspect. The “translation” was published as the Book of Mormon in 1830.

The book describes how in ca. 2400 bc God instructed the Jaredites, a tribe living in Mesopotamia, to build boats according to his design. The boats were to be small and light, leakproof and air-tight, because they were to be buried time and again by mountainous waves on a journey across the ocean. They were to take flocks and herds with enough food supplies for a year. Eight such boats were built, each with a tight-fitting door. Once construction was complete, the brother of Jared (the Book of Mormon does not disclose his name) explained to God that the design had not allowed for air and light and that without them they would be unable to breathe or see in the vessels. God advised them to make a hole in the top and another hole in the bottom of each boat so that when they needed air in the rolling vessels they could open whichever hatch happened to be on top. God also provided a solution for the lack of light by touching several stones that then shone in the darkness.

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