Latter-day Saints are equipped to confront atheism

From the Deseret News story in 2017 by Hyrum Lewis.

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In recent decades, anti-religion books have become best-sellers, the culture has become increasingly secular, and religious affiliation has declined among the population. There are many reasons for this rise in atheism, but it is not because atheists have advanced good arguments. They haven’t.

The basic atheist objection to belief in God is that we don’t see him, but this assumes — for no reason at all — that knowledge comes exclusively through sight. Most religious people believe that revelation — scriptures, personal inspiration or living prophets — can give knowledge just as sight, sound or touch can. Many Latter-day Saints believe in God not necessarily because they have seen him, but because they know through spiritual witness that he is real.

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Atheists don’t take such spiritual experiences at face value, but instead dismiss them as mere illusions — tricks played on us by the brain. The mind evolved to believe nonsense, says the atheist, so we can just discard spiritual experiences accordingly.

But notice that by saying our brains are powerful deception machines, atheists have undercut the validity of the science that forms the very basis of their worldview. If we can dismiss spiritual experiences (such as “feeling the Holy Ghost”) by appealing to brain chemistry, we can also dismiss sensory experiences in the same way and for the same reasons. If our brains are built to trick us, why should we trust anything they tell us, including the evidence for evolution, relativity or any other scientific theory? When it comes to spiritual experiences, the atheist refers to the brain as an all-powerful deception machine; when it comes to science, the atheist refers to the brain as an all-powerful truth machine.

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The atheist claim that “we don’t see God” is also false. The scriptures and LDS traditions are full of accounts of people who have seen, heard or even touched God. Why are atheists willing to accept sensory evidence when it comes to science, but not when it comes to religion? It would appear that, for the atheist, the “seeing is believing” rule only counts when it supports their worldview.

Also note that atheists themselves believe in many things they can’t see. Atheists generally believe in moral principles, but when has anyone ever seen these entities called “good” and “evil”? If our experiences of God are “just feelings” that we can ignore, then why aren’t our experiences of right and wrong also “just feelings” that we can likewise ignore? “Moral” is simply a name we give to certain behaviors we prefer, but isn’t our preference for them, like our belief in God, just a product of evolution that we can now disregard?

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Science works on the principle of falsifiability, but no scientist is willing to falsify morals in the face of new evidence. It’s inconceivable that a scientist would look into a microscope and declare, “I’ve just falsified the theory that murder is wrong.” Since no atheists are willing to falsify their morals, this is evidence that they do exactly what they charge religious people with doing: believing in things for which there is no empirical scientific evidence.

Another common atheist argument says that God can’t exist because he would not allow the suffering and wickedness that are so prevalent in the world. While other Christian denominations teach that God created us from nothing, Latter-day Saints believe that our intelligence and agency are co-eternal with God. This means that God respects our free will. We played a role in coming to earth, with all the risks that entailed.

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We also have the ability to choose, even if we abuse it. If we choose greed, we reap the unhappiness of materialism; if we choose selfishness, we reap the unhappiness of loneliness; if we choose substance abuse, we reap the unhappiness of addiction; if we choose indolence, we reap the unhappiness of poverty. God could not stop this suffering without depriving us of our agency. Human choices explain much (perhaps most) of the suffering in the world.

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Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must remember that everyone, atheists included, have faith. Humans are wired for worship and we all seek out dogmas that give our lives direction. Our choice is not whether to worship, but what to worship.

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Notice, for instance, that nearly all atheists who ridicule the idea of faith, themselves gravitate to secular faiths such as Marxism, progressivism, humanism, postmodernism, scientism, libertarianism or other such “isms.” Each is based on dogmas that require leaps of faith.

While atheism has grown in America over the past generation, this is not because it has solid arguments behind it. Latter-day Saints are equipped with religious truths that can help them refute even the strongest atheist claims.

Faith, Reason, and Spiritual Experience

Wonderful perspectives with Blake Ostler.

Topics Discussed:

• Epistemology of Religious Experience
• The Distinctive Mormon Epistemic Practices
• Faith, Evidence and Reason

Among many other ideas, Blake makes the point that we should trust our spiritual experiences just as we would trust our senses. He states that we’re hard wired to be spiritual. That God has implanted within us a spiritual compass we can follow when we’re faithful.

Evidence for God and What about the “New” Atheists?

The wonderful 3 Mormons:

 

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Let’s start with this series of short, 5-minute videos from Prager University. 21 videos total are available in Prager’s Religion/Philosophy section.  Consider subscribing to this YouTube channel.

Dennis Mark Prager is an American conservative and nationally syndicated radio talk show host, columnist, author, and public speaker.

He’s also a believing Jew.  Of course, LDS people don’t share all specific beliefs with Dennis.  However, we do have much in common.  Including most of the following beliefs about God, evil, morality, free will, etc.

 

Blake Ostler, an LDS attorney and philosopher, shares many of his insights relative to the nature of God in over 20 podcasts found here at “Exploring Mormon Thought”.

One is linked below.  Please review all his others.  They’re awesome and insightful!

Ostler explains how one can know truth from spiritual experiences:

 

Alvin Plantinga, perhaps the world’s leading religious philosopher, discusses the position that all religions can’t logically be simultaneously true.  Alvin is not LDS.

John Lennox articulates the differences between faiths, especially between the 3 major monotheistic religions.

Judaism believes Jesus died, but didn’t rise.  Islam believes Jesus didn’t die.  And Christianity believes Jesus both died and rose.  1 of these 3 (or none) is correct.  All 3 are not correct.

Thoughtful Ravi discusses why he believes Christianity is the true faith.

Ravi is great in a question-and-answer format:

New Atheism

In my experience, the climate today with strident new atheists makes people who leave faith feel more supported, trendy, and smarter. It’s ridiculous, but seems to be the case.

The atheists arguments are no different (and in many cases worse) than in C.S. Lewis’ day. Yet, most people have no idea.

They usually haven’t gotten to the bottom of things till years into their journey at which time things look pretty bleak.

Classical atheists were sad that God didn’t exist and owned that the outlook was completely miserable. New atheists are strangely glib and sometimes ecstatic in their claim that there’s no God. They seem to forget that — according to all previous atheists — life is bleak and meaningless in the absence of God.

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No ultimate meaning, despite finding meaning week to week in subjective and personal choices month to month. New atheism is a pop-cultural phenomenon.

Richard Dawkins (perhaps the most famous atheist in the world today), outside the pop culture, is ridiculed by academics for his poor arguments and avoidance of past obstacles. But your cousin who left faith doesn’t understand any of this. He thinks he’s smarter than you, you dummie!

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I have an atheist/agnostic friend who used to be a full-on LDS-hating atheist. Now, after a few years of cooling down, kinda hopes for God, but still rails against the Church. He just can’t let go of his critical interpretations. Most (85%) of our doubts are emotional doubts.

This fellow, William Lane Craig, is a wonderful creedal Christian defender comments on new atheism:

Discussing the most significant cultural challenges to belief in our society:

Elder Holland: the Greatness of Evidence

Jeffrey R. Holland affirming an informed, evidence-based approach to faith, not mere fideism that is all too common within LDS circles:
 
“Peter assumed that two-fold aspect of our conviction when he said, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Reasons for the hope that is in us. Reasons for our belief. I am not a lawyer as virtually all the Welch family men are, but I don’t have to be one to understand in a court of law the power and primacy of evidence. In making our case for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, I believe God intends us to find and use the evidence He has given—reasons, if you will—which affirm the truthfulness of His work.”
 
” . . . not to seek for and not to acknowledge intellectual, documentable support for our belief when it is available is to needlessly limit an otherwise incomparably strong theological position and deny us a unique, persuasive vocabulary in the latter-day arena of religious investigation and sectarian debate.”

 

DNA & the Book of Mormon

Short, but clear, video on this topic:

Awesome summary video below.  Key points to this discussion:

  •  founding Lehite population DNA uncertain
  • American indigenous populations were decimated after 1492, changing the genetic composition
  • descendants can’t be genetically linked to ancestors after 100s of years pass

Episode 6: DNA Detective Work – Ugo Perego

No, DNA evidence doesn’t (and cannot) refute the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.  This is worth watching!
Michael Frank Whiting is the director of the Brigham Young University (BYU) DNA Sequencing Center and an associate professor in BYU’s Department of Integrative Biology. Whiting received his bachelor’s degree from BYU and his Ph.D. from Cornell University. Dr. Whiting is a widely respected expert on DNA and genetics.
Whiting has also written on why the critics of the Book of Mormon on DNA issues have overstated their case.  He gives a superb speech below:

Dr Ugo Perego speaks at the FairMormon Conference in Kungsbacka, Sweden, 18 June 2016.

Ugo is a world expert on DNA and Native Americans.

More from Ugo on DNA, the Book of Mormon, and Native American Genetics:

Blind Faith in General and Atheists’ Blind Faith

Elder Bruce Hafen gave this talk in early 2017 at BYU-Hawaii:  “Faith is Not Blind.”

Atheists often accuse believers of blind faith.  Faith without a shred of evidence!

This, unfortunately, may be true in some cases. Just as it’s true for many uneducated atheists who have not deeply contemplated their positions. After all, many atheists were raised in atheist homes, and have not been challenged.

But it isn’t true in my case or for many I know.  Indeed, we should all develop our beliefs in an environment of faith and reason.  Study and prayer.  Blind faith is untested faith.

Faith, reason,  and evidence are closely bound together.

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Learning and study enhances belief. Faith (belief) and reason (study) are complementary.  Not mutually exclusive. The scriptures support this position.

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God wants us to have faith,  but not blind faith.  Developed, nurtured faith isn’t blind.

Faith in your wife, after years of loyalty in marriage, is neither blind faith. Not at all, though it’s still faith! 

The Apostle John (see John 20:30-31 below) included some — but not nearly all — of the events in Jesus’ life so that we might believe in Him.  That thereby we might have eternal life.

In other words, understanding Jesus’ life, miracles, and teachings helps us believe.  John didn’t want us to believe blindly.

John himself was an eye witness.  Consequently, John shared the best evidence from Jesus’ life so our faith would be anything but blind!  He shared evidence so our faith would be evidence based. 

John 20:30-31 King James Version (KJV)

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

Lennox below makes a good case that atheists themselves exercise faith. Just as believers do.  Faith in the rational intelligibility of the Universe.

And, given their view — that evolution is a mindless, unguided process — they shouldn’t trust their own minds and the Science they produce.

But they do. Blindly!  Oh, the irony!

In a 2-minute segment below watch John Lennox discuss this topic of faith and blind faith with a very uncomfortable Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins is arguably the most militant atheist living.  Atheists believe in faith.  Don’t let them convince you otherwise.

Lennox argues that faith is based in evidence.  Dawkins says faith is only present where there is no evidence.  John points out that Richard Dawkins also exercises faith.  Faith in his wife, given past actions/loyalties.

Lennox is a brilliant, kind, and talented teacher.

Science developed in Western Europe precisely because Christians believed in a law giver.

In China and other areas, there was no unifying concept of a Creator.  The Gods, if they did believe in one or more, we’re capricious. One couldn’t systematically learn of the Universe.

Alvin Plantingsa asserts evolution itself undermines naturalism (more extreme form of atheism).

 

Evidences of the Resurrection

Was Jesus really resurrected? Or was his resurrection merely a trick, an illusion or the result of an incorrect conclusion drawn by followers who looked in the wrong tomb? In this episode of Religion Today, which originally aired on KSL Radio on March 31, 2013, Martin Tanner discusses evidence for the resurrection and the nature of the resurrection.

Mormons must understand this topic.  The resurrection is what caused Jesus’ early followers to spread his message throughout the world.

 

3 (False) Major Objections to Jesus’ Resurrection

Jesus is mythical figure:  Did Jesus really live?  YES.

Wrong tomb:  Was the empty tomb that of someone other than than Jesus of Nazareth?  NO.

Jesus only fainted:  Did Jesus faint from loss of blood, then revived, and seen again by his apostles later?  NO.

Martin Tanner discusses papyrus, early New Testament manuscripts, and the resurrection:

https://interpreterfoundation.org/interpreter-radio-show-march-31-2019/

Can Many Religions All be True?

Just yesterday a friend of mine claimed that it’s arrogant to say you’re the only true church.  After all, he said, other faiths say the same thing.

We debated for some time, reaching no agreement.  I thought I’d YouTube the question.  Among other things I found, I liked the video below.  I shared it with my friend who hasn’t yet commented on it directly.

Alvin Carl Plantinga is an American analytic philosopher, the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, and the inaugural holder of the Jellema Chair in Philosophy at Calvin College.  He is a Protestant and considered by many to be America’s leading Christian philosopher.

Plantinga explains that, according to his view, only one faith can be correct.  And it isn’t true one is arrogant to believe this.   I agree with Dr. Plantinga’s arguments.  I disagree, however, that Protestantism holds the Gospel’s fullness.

I believe Joseph Smith restored the fullness of Christ’s teachings through gradual development and miraculous visitations.

Finding a balance between loyalty or commitment to one’s faith and sympathetic openness to other faiths is one of the biggest challenges Mormons face in an age of inclusiveness.

Episode 32: Balancing Religious Tensions – Mauro Properzi

Truth is found in all faiths.  But priesthood and keys are only found in the restored church.

How can I know that spiritual experiences are not just a product of brain chemicals?

Only feelings?

Some critics state that all people have religious experiences that they report as true.  They, in fact, state they’ve felt the Holy Ghost.  Now what?

I say, do you feel it’s fair that only Mormons feel the Holy Ghost?  No, we’ve never taught that.  We know the light of Christ is felt by all.  Gifts of the Spirit aren’t unique to Latter-day Saints.

When folks of other faiths feel the Spirit we should be glad for them.  We hope they would consider investigating the LDS Church.  As Plantinga points out above, many of our positions can’t all be true.

I believe Jesus when he said he was the way, the truth, and the light.  One path gets us back to the Father, despite all the goodness and truth found in other faiths.

Blake Ostler emphasizes an inclusive faith in a pluralistic society:

On the topic of priesthood authority:

Extraordinary Evidence Needed for Jesus’ Resurrection?

I’m watching quite a few videos on Easter this week. I thought this was a good one. For the LDS Church to be true, Christ had to be resurrected. I believe He was!

William Lane Craig is a passionate defender of the Christian faith. I don’t agree w/ all his positions (he’s an evangelical & I’m LDS), but he is a strong debater and faithful believer in Jesus’ resurrection.

WLC explains in less than 3 minutes in 2013:

This video below is from a debate in 1999: