Daniel C. Peterson 2017 Fairmormon Conference
Latter-day Saints are equipped to confront atheism
From the Deseret News story in 2017 by Hyrum Lewis.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Politics and Religion
Dr. David Campbell, Packey J. Dee Professor of American Democracy at Notre Dame, in his recent lecture, ‘When God and Caesar Meet’, discussed how the large exodus from religion in today’s culture has often occurred because religion is increasingly associated with one political party.
Campbell points out this especially occurs with those in the political center and center left.
What Difference Does it Make if There’s no God?
Our Christian brothers — especially William Lane Craig — share wonderful insight. No atheists can live within a framework of their own world view.
Their world view is that there is no ultimate meaning. They may create a veneer of meaning for this life, but that is artificial and not lasting. Atheism is fundamentally unlivable.
Did Jesus Claim to be God in His Teachings?
Short answer: yes.
Longer answer: watch the videos.
Primary vs. Secondary Questions
Elder Corbridge gave this talk at the BYU devotional yesterday: What to do with your questions, according to 1 General Authority who’s an expert on anti-Church materials.
As part of an assignment, Elder Corbridge read critical material. Lots of critical or anti-Mormon material. In fact, he claims there’s virtually nothing he hasn’t read from critical or anti sources.
Elder Corbridge explained there are primary and secondary questions when it comes to the Church. The primary questions must be answered first, as they are the most important. They include:
- Is there a God who is our Father?
- Is Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Savior of the world?
- Was Joseph Smith a prophet?
- Is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the kingdom of God on the earth?
In contrast, the secondary questions are unending. They include questions about Church history, polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, women and the priesthood, how the Book of Mormon was translated, DNA and the Book of Mormon, gay marriage, different accounts of the First Vision and so on.
“If you answer the primary questions, the secondary questions get answered too or they pale in significance and you can deal with things you understand and things you don’t understand, things you agree with and things you don’t agree with without jumping ship altogether,” Elder Corbridge said.
More from the talk:
“There are some members of the Church who don’t know the answers to the primary questions, and they spend their time and attention slogging through the secondary questions.
They mistakenly try to learn the truth by process of elimination, by attempting to eliminate every doubt,” Elder Corbridge said.
One cannot prove the Church is true by disproving every claim made against it. Ultimately, there must be affirmative proof. With the things of God, that affirmative proof comes by revelation through the Spirit of the Holy Ghost.
Has Anyone Seen God?
Latter-day Saints believe the answer is yes!
Is it true that no man has seen God?
John 1:18 “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”
JST: John 1:19 “And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son; for except it is through him no man can be saved. “
The video above shares several biblical passages in which God is referenced.
Isaiah 6:5 “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.“
Acts 7:55-56 “5But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”
Lehi’s Vision, 1 Nephi 1:8: “And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. “
Several accounts from the Old Testament:
This suggests bodily features of God and an ability to see Him. The Children of Israel are still at the foot of Mt. Sinai at the time of this writing. 2
This type of opportunity to see the face of God or his entire body (Stephen’s stoning context) isn’t a casual or common experience. See the verse below in John 6.
John 6:46: “Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. “
This verse in Hebrews stresses the same point:
Hebrews 12:14 “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord”
Jesus himself said the following:
Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”
Moses was initially fearful to see the Lord, Exodus 3:6:
“Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. “
But later in his ministry Moses was permitted to look at the Lord’s back, Exodus 33:23
Moses’ encounter with God couldn’t be much plainer than read below. Many saw God and survived to tell about it.
After Jacob’s wrestle with the angel, Jacob shares this account:
Numbers 12:8 “With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
Deuteronomy 34:10 “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face“
1 Kings 11:9 “And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice“
Summary: The Old and New Testament attest that people do see the Lord under the proper circumstances and when they’re prepared.
How Not to be Secular
James Smith, professor at Calvin College, makes a case against rising secularism, emphasizing the continued presence of spirituality, and he asserts that a secularist explanation of humanity cannot account for spiritually motivated behaviors. This lecture was sponsored by The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University and delivered on March 10, 2016.
Calvin College is a liberal arts college located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Founded in 1876, Calvin College is an educational institution of the Christian Reformed Church and stands in the Reformed tradition of Protestantism. Calvin College is named after John Calvin, the 16th-century Protestant Reformer.
God Can’t — How to Believe in God and Love After Abuse, Tragedy, and Other Evils
Five beliefs in this book answer the question why a loving God doesn’t stop evil. Starting with the belief God cannot stop evil singlehandedly, the book adds that God empathizes with those who hurt, heals the injured to the greatest extent possible, squeezes good from evil God didn’t initially want, and needs cooperation from creatures to overcome evil.
Oord helps shares his view on why bad things happen to us.
“God’s uncontrolling love makes it so that God can’t prevent genuine evil.”
“God isn’t sitting on the sidelines doing nothing.”
“God doesn’t permit torture. God doesn’t have the power to prevent horrific things.”
Many falsely believe this: The pain and suffering in the world is allowed by God for some greater good, some hidden purpose, some divine plan. Oord disputes this idea.
“God squeezes good out of the evil that God in the first place.”
“God does have a plan, but it’s not a detailed plan.”
“God can’t prevent evil single handedly.”
Dr. Oord is an ordained elder within the Church of the Nazarene.
Another awesome podcast on a related issue. According to Mark Karris, God is all-loving, but not all powerful. We should reconsider how we pray when so much of what we pray for should involve us as solutions.
Evolution Proves God’s Existence
William Lane Craig rightfully points out that Catholic scholar, St. Augustine of Hippo who lived from 354-430, articulated that creation wasn’t necessarily 6000 years ago. Neither did Augustine required special creation with God “poofing” Adam into existence. This flexible conception of creation arose well before Science revealed the age of the earth and universe.
Without intervention by God, Craig argues life wouldn’t have arisen. Life simply would have been so improbable the Earth would have first been swallowed up by our dying Sun before life would have had a chance to develop.
Latter-day Saints don’t believe in creation ex nihilo. We believe in eternal matter and eternal spirits. We believe God is the father of our spirits. When men developed from their ancestors, at this point God may have given the first humans their spirits.
We simply don’t know how God was involved. We welcome findings of scientists that demonstrate what occurred. But we should all recognize there are limits to what Science can tell us. We don’t need to adopt Scientism. Instead, we should marry the best of Science and our faith.
Interestingly, Joseph, Hyrum, and Orson Hyde believed that people lived before Adam. They discussed the use of the word “replenish”. People must have predated Adam.
The Affirmation of Pre-Adamites by Joseph and Hyrum Smith and Orson Hyde