I know that I have been absent for a long time. This is due to the interference of real life, the dearth of topics that interest me and others and about which I am knowledgeable, and general idleness on my part. I shall break that pattern and henceforth release an article at least once in every month, notwithstanding the disadvantages of fixing oneself so to a schedule. This should give my four or so regular readers some reason, however weak, to remain regular readers. But all this is at most tangentially related to the topic of this article, and more to Two Sixteen House in general.
The title of this article is Latin for “A Response to the Three Mormons on the Topic of Atheism”. (I will ignore anyone who says that using a Latin title makes me pretentious, because this whole place is pretentious, and that is not a germane criticism at any rate. I chose the Latin title not to affect intellectualism, but simply because I like Latin.) The 3 Mormons run a small YouTube channel (2500 subscribers at the time of writing) under the same name. Most of their videos concern Mormonism (or “the Gospel” as most Mormons prefer to call it); a few are more general-interest.
The video to which this article is a response is entitled “Mormons Respond to Atheism”. I noticed it in the sidebar of YouTube while watching some of Rachel Oates’ videos. It piqued curiosity in me sufficient to awaken Two Sixteen House from its long dormancy, because I wanted to hear what holders of my former opinion regarding Gods had to say about my current opinion regarding Gods, and I was eager to respond to it.
The Book of Mormon, the chief distinguishing holy text of Mormonism, features an atheist character named Korihor (‘koɹɪhoɹ) in the thirtieth chapter of its Book of Alma. Some Mormons may say that this is evidence of the book’s divine origin (“How else could Joseph Smith have known about atheism,” &c.), but atheism has an ancient and worldwide history. Joseph Smith grew up during a period of great religious fervour in reaction to the increased secularism of the recent Enlightenment. But even if we suppose that the Book of Mormon is a literal ancient document, atheism was known and rejected among the ancient Hebrews. Did not the Psalmist write, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God”? (Ps. xiv: 1) He even wrote it twice! (Ps. liii: 1)
Korihor appears in Alma xxx: 6 as “anti-Christ”. (How and why pre-Christian American Jews got Christianity, and why no such thing is attested anywhere, is anyone’s guess.) He is arrested for his preaching in verse 20, despite the fact that the Nephites (the main, white, civilized, godly race in the Book of Mormon, as opposed to the dark, savage, loathsome, impious Lamanites) had freedom of religion (vv. 7-12). Korihor is not released and his captors rebuked for arresting a man for his religious opinions; instead, the high priest over the land (!) banishes him (v. 21). He begins preaching in the land of Gideon, but is arrested again and brought before the high priest and chief judge of the land of Gideon. Korihor, when asked why he goes about “perverting the ways of the Lord”, says that he wishes to free the people from the yoke of bondage and ignorance set upon them by ancient priests. Korihor disdains the doctrine of original sin (as Mormons do at present, but the Nephites do not). Korihor accuses the priests of getting rich off their parishioners, whom they have deceived with “their traditions and their dreams and their whims and their visions” &c. (vv. 22-28) Stunned at Korihor’s blasphemousness and impiety, they deliver him up to Alma, the high priest over all the Nephites. Alma says that he and all his fellow priests work for the church for free, not even travelling on the church’s dime (vv. 32-35). (This is an anomaly, as all religious leaders of Alma’s rank sustain themselves on their parishioners, including the Mormon ones.) Alma asks Korihor, who does not believe in any god, “What evidence do you have that there isn’t a god?” (v. 40) Korihor asks for evidence of God’s power, and Alma responds to this by striking him dumb. (vv. 48-49) Korihor passes a note to the chief judge and Alma saying that he always knew that there was a god, but that the Devil appeared as an angel and said to him that there was no god; (!) that he taught his words because they were “pleasing unto the carnal mind”. (v. 53) Korihor is cast out and made a beggar, while all his proselytes are scared straight; he is ultimately trampled to death by the Zoramites, a different sect of heretics (vv. 56-59). This, according to the Book of Mormon, is the just deserts of “him who perverteth the ways of the Lord” (v. 60).
With all that in mind, it is safe to say that the Mormons’ holy texts are not fond of atheists. Even so, the Three Mormons like to appear friendly to them in this video. I am not complaining that they are doing so, of course, except if they hold the same opinion of us as their holy book does and just wish to hide it. Adherents of all religions are entitled and encouraged to read their holy texts in the way that makes them hate the smallest number of people; nevertheless, others are entitled to point out all the heinous things written therein.
D&C, used throughout this article, is an abbreviation of “The Doctrine and Covenants”, which is another Mormon holy text. Abraham, when it appears in a scriptural-style reference like Abraham i: 24, refers to the “Book of Abraham” in still another Mormon holy text called the Pearl of Great Price.
A still from the Three Mormons’ video “Mormons Are Christian”.
From left: Kwaku, Shelley, Ian.
The Three Mormons are Kwaku, Shelley, and Ian. They invited Greg Trimble, himself a Mormon, to appear as a guest in this video on atheism. Although Mr Trimble is not one of the Three Mormons, I refer henceforth to him, Kwaku, and Ian collectively as “the Three Mormons” for the purposes of this article.
The Mormons’ Introduction to Atheism
The Three Mormons take care to note that atheists are “human beings, they’re rational, they’re smart, they have morals, they’re people”. While this in itself is not offensive, it is a product of and reaction to the attitude widespread among religionists (e.g. in Alma xxx: 60) that atheists are devoid of morality and servants of Satan. (However, I would dispute their statement that atheists are rational and smart; there are plenty of irrational and stupid atheists.) Even so, as I first watched the video, this seemed to me a brief disclaimer prepended to a barrage of calumny, which was mercifully absent. They seemed to have grave misunderstandings about many aspects of atheism, but to hold them sincerely.
Immediately, they say that “[atheists] are still loved by God, even though they don’t believe in him”. But if we atheists dare to share our beliefs, we shall suffer an ignominious end, as Korihor did in the Book of Mormon: he was arrested for his teaching (in a land of religious freedom!), struck dumb, and ultimately trampled to death (Alma xxx: 48-60). Moreover, if we were formerly Mormons (as I was), then we shall be tortured for ever (D&C lxxvi: 40-49). I know that they mean well in saying that God loves us even though we do not believe in him, but here they ignore their own scripture and their own religion. I also find it rather patronizing, as though when they say “God still loves you, even though you don’t believe in him”, they actually mean, “You’re wrong, but God loves you, and he’ll make you come around soon enough.”
The Mormons’ Guide to Misconceptions of Atheism
The Three Mormons then read answers to the question they asked on Twitter, viz. “What are mistakes that Christians make about atheism?” (I shall leave aside the question of whether Mormons are Christian, other than to say that they maintain that they are, and I agree with them, but some ex-Mormons and evangelical Christians do not.)
The first answer (and the only one given in the video) is twofold: ignorance of the difference between agnostics and atheists, and believers’ sense of superiority over unbelievers. (I refer again to the scriptures I gave above as a possible origin of the attitude alluded to: Alma xxx: 48-60 and D&C lxxvi: 40-49, as also Ps. xiv: 1 and Rom. i: 20.)
Together with most atheists, I reject that atheism and agnosticism are mutually exclusive and propose instead that agnosticism and gnosticism refer to the degree to which one is certain of their atheism or theism. An agnostic atheist (which I am, and which most other atheists are) only lacks a belief in any gods and does not maintain that no gods exist. A gnostic atheist would maintain the positive belief that there are no gods.
The Three Mormons attempt to explain the difference between agnostic and atheist. They start by saying that atheists do not believe in a cosmic intelligent designer. This is untrue. An explicitly atheistic religion exists which believes that humanity was intelligently designed; it is called Raëlism. They then say that agnostics are uncertain on the issue. They indeed are uncertain whether or not any gods exist, but the existence or action of a cosmic intelligent designer is not a defining feature of agnostics or atheists at all. Also, uncertainty does not preclude disbelief, as I explained above.
They then note that agnosticism is the fastest growing “religion” (their scare quotes, for which I must give them credit) among Millennials. This is true.
The Mormons’ Guide to Constraints
They address the question they attribute to atheists, “How can you bind yourselves down to a certain doctrine?” It is a minor point, but this wording is reminiscent of Korihor’s words in the Book of Mormon: “I do not teach this people to bind themselves down under the foolish ordinances and performances […]” (Alma xxx: 23, emphasis added). I only point this out because as a Mormon, I was taught to despise Korihor like Hitler or the Devil. Further, although the Three Mormons project a friendly exterior to atheists, at best they disagree with or are unaware of their scriptures’ hateful attitude toward us (putting them at odds with many other Mormons), and at worst, they agree with it, but they are hiding it.
Their answer to the question is that Mormonism is less of a yoke than various vices found in “the world” outside Mormonism. The example they give is drinking. If you go and drink and become an alcoholic, (they say) you have been subjected to the yoke of alcoholism; but you can avoid that by adhering to the Mormon church’s health code called the “Word of Wisdom” (D&C lxxxix).
Now their example began with ‘if you go and drink and become an alcoholic,’ as though the third followed hard upon the second. But the third is not a necessary consequence of the second; else were all the world (since alcoholic beverages have been drunk universally for millennia) convulsed and ruined by alcoholism. There is in fact a spectrum between the alcoholic and the teetotaller. Also, there are teetotallers outside Mormonism; in fact, the “Word of Wisdom” was one of many temperance movements in America in the nineteenth century. Moreover, the “Word of Wisdom” explicitly declared itself “not [a] commandment or constraint” (Ibid., v. 2); the giver of this revelation himself drank beer and wine not as a sacrament just before his death (documented in B.H. Roberts’ History of the Church vol. 7, chapter 9; see D&C lxxxix: 5 for the prohibition of drinking wine except as a sacrament), and Brigham Young (Joseph Smith’s successor) built a distillery for the manufacture of whiskey (Journal of Discourses 10:206). Why was not the whole of Mormonism consumed by alcoholism? It is possible to participate in these “vices” responsibly, and most of the world does. It is not necessary to appeal to a religion for good advice; it can be had independent of any religion, and it always has a better basis outside of religion. Mormonism’s commandments free one from the yoke of vices in the way that an infant’s crib frees it from the yoke of crushing its head.
The Mormons’ Guide to Morality
Next, the Three Mormons address the topic of the afterlife, saying that they wish to attain a prize and avoid a punishment therein. They attribute a counterpoint to atheists, “You are lost in this ‘hope for the future’ because it’s not based in fact,” which they answer by asking (paraphrased), “If there’s no god and we’re just particles, what’s keeping us from robbing and just doing whatever we want?” They thus question how morality is possible with nothing “binding” you. (This term “binding you” is a microcosm of the authoritarianism inherent in religion, which I may probably address in a future article.) They correctly identify the conscience and the emotions as origins of morality: not atheists’ morality only, but all people’s morality. If questioned, they would probably find slavery, genocide (and mass murder in general), rape, and plunder abominable, as all civilized people do. But all of these are lightly punished at most in their scriptures, and some examples are even endorsed therein. God himself is a slaver (Ex. xxi; Deut. xx: 11) and a genocider (Deut. xx: 16-17, Josh.); he has (or had, if Old Testament laws no longer apply) despicable attitudes towards rape (Deut. xxii: 23-24, 28-29) and is a plunderer (Deut. xx: 10-14, Josh.). How then did they decide that those things are bad if their god approves, except by appealing to their consciences and their emotions?
Then they mangle evolution and ignore epiphenomena (phenomena that seem to arise in complex systems independent of the systems’ component parts) in saying that humanity is just evolved groups of particles that do not have a conscience to ask the same question again. Ian asks, “How does ‘fertilizer’ [a running gag throughout the video referring to spirit-less human bodies] develop a conscience?” Kwaku answers, “I see what you’re getting at here!”, to imply the Mormon doctrine that the conscience is the “light of Christ” shining in every person (this was not included in the video). This is not true. Many non-human animals manifest consciences (that is, awareness of morality and willingness to follow it). Morality is necessary for organisms in a social species. Humans are not the only social species; chimpanzees and bonobos, humans’ closest relatives, are also.
The Three Mormons now elaborate their beliefs concerning morality. They point out that “the law” keeps agnostics and atheists from stealing from others. (This too is authoritarian, but that is a minor issue here.) Indeed the law does; what also does is an unwillingness to be robbed and an unwillingness to impose that on others. Christians (including Mormons) know this as the “Golden Rule”, but it long antedates Christianity; it has been had among heathen peoples for thousands of years.
According to them, guilt for doing immoral things was planted by religion. This is the case in people raised in religion, but is it in lifelong atheists too? No; it could not be, especially for third-, fourth-, and later-generation atheists. As I said before, religion is unnecessary for good advice, and it is better based elsewhere.
One of them proposes an alternative hypothesis: a sensus divinatus that “knows” there are “transcendent” laws and causes its bearer to feel guilty when they do something immoral. No evidence for such a sense is provided; the notion may be dismissed on that account alone.
The Mormons’ Guide to Evidence
A More Complete Explanation of Historical Evidence
First, they explain historical evidence and say that it is primarily based on writings contemporary to the events in question. This is true as far as it goes, but history is also based on archaeology; artefacts and ruins support historical writings, and they can mean the difference between myth and fact. Troy was widely thought to be a mythical city (as it was only referenced in ancient writings, most notably in the obviously legendary Iliad and Odyssey) until its ruins were actually found. But that Troy actually existed does not mean that Circe turned Odysseus’ men into swine; this event must be evinced independently if it is to be believed. Furthermore, because of the highly implausible nature of the event (and because no other such event is attested anywhere in history), it must be evinced much more strongly than such a relatively mundane event as Odysseus’ voyage from Ithaca to Troy. Stated succinctly, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
After their incomplete explanation of historical evidence, they wonder aloud why skeptics disbelieve the “First Vision” of Joseph Smith (of which there are several mutually contradictory versions, by the way). A visitation from a god is an extraordinary event, and claims of such events require extraordinary evidence to be believable.
The Problems with Eyewitnesses
They appeal to multiple eyewitnesses of Jesus’ alleged appearance in the Mormon Temple at Kirtland, Ohio; of Joseph Smith’s golden plates; and of other unnamed “divine miracles”. Every religion has such things. Muhammad split the Moon in twain. Followers of Transcendental Meditation can learn to levitate. Thousands of Catholics saw the Sun move erratically across the sky. There are eyewitnesses to all of these. But again, eyewitness testimony is insufficient for miraculous claims. There are witnesses to a worldwide plan to douse the world in evil chemicals using airliners; they have personally seen the chemicals being sprayed!! There are witnesses of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, extraterrestrial visitors, and shapeshifting reptilians. But eyewitnesses are unreliable, especially for extraordinary claims like these. It is unnecessary for the skeptic to demonstrate that these eyewitnesses are liars; conscious deception is not the only way to make an untrue statement. The skeptic need only prove that the eyewitnesses may have erred (which is not at all an extraordinary claim; in fact, it were more extraordinary to claim that the eyewitnesses were without error).
An Explanation and Refutation of Faith
They attribute to unbelievers the question, “How are we to believe that Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus if he [Smith] was the only one there?” This question implies that any claim is to be believed if there are enough persons who can attest to it, which is untrue. It also implies that unbelievers believe in God and Jesus at all, which is not necessarily true either. At any rate, they propose for the purpose the alternative epistemology of a “spiritual engagement that you have to have with God”, or faith. “It’s about God”, they say, “so why don’t we allow him into the conversation?” But faith is not God, nor need it even be about God. There are no specific gods in Scientology, yet Scientologists take the efficacy of auditing on faith. Believers in homeopathic medicine or faith healing take their efficacy on faith. Believers in ghosts and spirits (neither of which requires a god) believe in them on faith.
Faith can lead to contradictory conclusions. Muslims take on faith that Muhammad was the last and greatest prophet that God would ever send. Mormons take on faith that God sent Joseph Smith as a prophet twelve centuries after Muhammad’s time. Both Mormonism and Islam cannot be true together, but both appeal to faith. This demonstrates conclusively that faith is unreliable. Nevertheless, Christians must take their religion on faith in lieu of evidence, for “a wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign” (Matt. xvi: 4).
The Mormons’ Guide to Biology
<!–Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed; Dawkins’ interview with Ben Stein;
quote-mining; let the intelligence be called “God”; directed panspermia is more
unbelievable than a magical anthropomorphic immortal; a signature in DNA that
identifies God’s work; the “most respected atheist” “admitting” that there
could be a god or higher intelligence; the classic argument from ignorance;
BoM opened but never read from; the marvellous structures of the body;
incomprehensibly vast creationists’ odds drawn either from their own recta or
from the rectum of the person who told them of it; random formation, harder to
believe than a god; creatio ex nihilo ridiculed; –>
Ben Stein’s Propagandism
Mr Trimble brings up the interview that Ben Stein held with Richard Dawkins for the former’s film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, in which Stein asked Dawkins “what the possibility is” that intelligent design might be true. Dawkins answered with directed panspermia, which is the idea that life on Earth was seeded by an alien civilization. He (Dawkins) further said that this might be found out by seeing a molecular-level “signature of a designer”. After he said this, Stein began narrating (silencing Dawkins’ continuing speech to accommodate it): “Wait a second! Richard Dawkins thought that intelligent design might be a legitimate pursuit?” No; Dawkins was merely entertaining Stein’s hypothetical, as open-minded people should. (I am surprised that he did not insert a record scratch at that point, since the way Stein delivers this line begs for it.) Also, it is strange that the question Dawkins was answering was more likely “How might intelligent design have worked” than “What is the possibility that it worked”, as the latter question seems to ask for a likelihood, which Dawkins gave earlier after Stein said in narration: “Professor Dawkins seemed so convinced that God doesn’t exist that I wondered if he would be willing to put a number on it.” Stein either expected or pretended to expect a rigourously calculated probability, which Dawkins failed to give, thus making him (Dawkins) look stupid. But the cleverest and most knowledgeable person on Earth would fail to give it too, because there is only one accessible universe, and it is unknown whether a god exists for it.
But elaborating Stein’s dishonest propagandism, as the late great Roger Ebert did already, is incidental to my purpose. I am here to mark how the Three Mormons have swallowed it hook, line, sinker, pole, winch, and hand. Not only did Stein’s desired message reach them loud and clear, but they also believe it wholeheartedly; they uncritically recapitulate the part of the interview where Dawkins attempted to “put a number” on the unlikelihood of a god. Stein’s message falls flat for reasons I have already explained.
How Aliens Became Gods
Mr Trimble recounts Dawkins’ hypothetical intelligent design scenario. He paraphrases as saying “There is a compelling and intriguing possibility that there was a higher, more intelligent being or beings somewhere in this Universe that came down to Earth and seeded life on this Earth.” He then says, “And Ben Stein looks at him and says, ‘But you can’t call him God’.” I shall not be overly pedantic, pretending to expect direct quotations; nor shall I make too much of his insinuation that Stein said words to the effect of “But you can’t call him God” in the actual interview rather than in narration added afterwards; nor shall I treat his mangling of biology connected with it. The point is that Mr Trimble received and believed Stein’s intended message, that Dawkins was being intellectually dishonest and refusing to call such an intelligence “God”, when all hypothesized non-god life seeders are “so much more unlikely” than a god — never mind that Dawkins explicitly stated that the “higher being or beings” would have to have come about by a “Darwinian means” or other “ultimately explicable process”, which rules out most gods, in particular the Christian one.
I would like to focus for a moment on Mr Trimble’s statement that non-god seeders are “so much more unlikely” than any gods. A non-god seeder is more likely prima facie than a god, because all objectively verifiable things in existence are not gods. An example of a non-god seeder would be a spacecraft loaded with life launched into the endless void of space in hopes that it would seed a distant planet. This scenario does not violate any known physical laws; provided that the life-forms aboard the spacecraft were put into hibernation and that the spacecraft was sterilized to prevent other life-forms from consuming the payload, the spacecraft could travel indefinitely and still succeed in its mission. The spacecraft would not need to travel faster than light.
On the other hand, a god, an anthropomorphic immortal with supernatural powers, is vanishingly unlikely. The fact that supernatural powers by definition violate the laws of physics reduces the probability of a god to near-zero. Mr Trimble’s statement that “You can’t prove that God doesn’t exist” is irrelevant, except in response to someone who claims that he does not. (Why is God always a “he”? Is misgendering him blasphemy?) Neither I nor most atheists make the positive claim that God does not exist. We are merely unconvinced that he does. But the Mormons will probably remain deaf to this, because the execrated Korihor made this argument to the righteous Alma, whose only response was to strike him dumb (Alma xxx: 48-49).
At any rate, “You can’t prove that God doesn’t exist” is no ground for rational belief. Neither can I prove that fairies, the Loch Ness monster, Sasquatch, or teapots orbiting the Sun do not exist. Must I then also believe in all these other things too, or is God special?
The Creationists’ Odds
Ian having noted that atheists commonly respond to “You can’t prove that God doesn’t exist” with “You can’t prove that he does”, Mr Trimble then appeals to the marvellous organs of the body to incredulously ask atheists how they could disbelieve that a god was responsible for it, and how they could believe that it came about by chance. Leaving aside that atheists do not necessarily believe in evolution and that the theory of evolution does not require anything to be assembled by chance, this is a failure of imagination; that Mr Trimble, or anyone else, cannot conceive that these organs came about by natural processes does not mean that they did not. There are several compelling hypotheses concerning the environment of the early Earth in which life arose, many of which can be true together; Darwinian evolution (i.e. descent with modification, natural selection acting on the products) is an observed fact; deep time is also indisputable.
Creationists like to combine the idea that the theory of evolution requires everything to be assembled by pure chance with the alleged gigantic odds against such a thing happening (Mr Trimble gives 1052 to 1) to attempt to discredit evolution. Other figures given by other creationists are 1087, 10113, and 10139 to 1. These odds are all irrelevant, for improbable things happen, and the creationist cannot change that by his incredulity. Let us briefly assume that life in its present form came about purely by chance. I can flip a coin ten thousand times and log all the results. The odds against getting the exact results I did are thousands of orders of magnitude larger than all of these multiplied together: 1.995 x 103010 to 1. What inconceivable odds! A supernatural being must therefore have ordained it!! But such a thing is not necessary. It does not matter what the combination is; it could be an uninteresting jumble of headses and tailses, a run of five thousand headses followed by a run of five thousand tailses, or ten thousand tailses. The probability of all of them is equal. Again leaving aside that evolution does not operate by chance: even if it did, and were conclusively shown to do so, the facts are that evolution happens, that life is currently in its present form, and that I got the combination of headses and tailses I got. (The latter two are tautological; it is literally logically impossible for them to be false.) Improbable things happen.
Evolution by natural selection is not random. Some mechanisms of modification may be, but natural selection is not. Many, many, many combinations of traits can be tried in billions of years. Those organisms with traits that poorly fit them to survive dwindle and die out, which is why ninety-nine per cent of the species that have ever lived on Earth are extinct, and why the Three Mormons (surviving organisms) can marvel at how well-fitted they are for life on Earth.
What a Piece of Work Is a Man!
Let us assume that the human body is so marvellously designed that only a being of very great wisdom and power could have designed it. Truly a being capable of designing and realizing such a marvellous structure should be very much more wonderful and intricate than its creation. Whence came the designer? Is the being too complex to have been designed, or is it too so complex that it must have been designed by a being very much greater? If the latter, then we are forced into infinite regress, since the meta-designer of the designer needs itself to be designed by an ultra-designer, the ultra-designer by an extreme-designer, the extreme-designer by a jumbo-designer, &c., because each increasingly superlative designer is necessarily much more complex than its creature. We need not assume an infinitude of unattested superlative designers when we have workable scientific theories of origins.
But what if the being is too complex to be designed? There obviously exist things too complex to be designed, so why is the human body not? How did the too-complex-to-be-designed designer come about? by evolution? by chance? This idea seems self-defeating, which may be why I have never encountered it used by advocates of creationism.
Maybe the designer has existed for ever. Can you prove it? What was it doing for the eternity before it decided to create us?
Creatio ex Nihilo
Finally, neither evolution nor abiogenesis hold that life came “from nothing”, contrary to what Mr Trimble says. If these were ordinary non-Mormon Christian creationists, I would ask them, “Why is life coming ‘from nothing’ unbelievable? Don’t you believe that God created the Universe ‘from nothing’?” But Mormons do not believe that God did this; rather, they believe that he (or a council of gods) re-organized already existent matter (Abraham iii: 24). But the fundamental forces are more than capable of re-organizing existent matter themselves, so the Mormon god is unnecessary. Also, deep time is enough time for life to arise naturally.
The Mormons’ Guide to Physics
<!– Atheists ridicule the Holy Ghost; appeals to Ghost Hunters (!!)
mistakenly called Ghost Watchers, the aether (!!!) (which is now
apparently called “dark matter”!!!!) and its use by mobile phones (!!!), whose
electromagnetic emissions are called “impressions” (!!!!!); “There is no
contradiction between faith and science — true science.” –>
Radio Waves and Holy Ghosts
Mr Trimble correctly points out that atheists ridicule appeals to the Holy Ghost. Sacred spectres, hallowed phantoms, and holy ghosts must be demonstrated to be real and capable of coherent speech before words attributed to them can even be considered. However, Mr Trimble then continues by alleging that atheists object to the Holy Ghost because it uses “invisible communication”. No reasonable atheist in the modern world objects to invisible communication. Radio waves are invisible, yet they have been used for communication for more than a century. The difference between radio waves and holy ghosts is that radio waves have been demonstrated to exist. They have objectively observable effects; billions of devices have been built to use them for speaking and listening and for showing and seeing. On the other hand, no device has ever been built that can detect any holy ghosts or use them for communication. Thus, they cannot be tested except by the highly fallible and occasionally wilfully deceptive humans whom (it is alleged) God has endowed with the power to detect them.
(Devices have been built that are alleged to be able to detect ghosts and communicate with them, and such devices are used on TV shows like Ghost Hunters. But these are generally ordinary video and audio recorders which are set to record silent spaces. Because of the inherent limitations of these devices, electronic noise is introduced to the recording media. The recordings are thereafter trawled through, noise and all, for anything that can be interpreted as a spectre. Purpose-built devices used in “ghost-hunting”, including the infamous Ouija board, operate on the same principle. Unlike most other ghost-hunting devices, the noise used by the Ouija board is not electrical; instead, it is minute movements of the body undetected by the people moving. Such movements are called the “ideomotor effect”.)
The Aether Is Dead; Long Live the Aether
Mr Trimble alleges that the medium used by the Holy Ghost for communication was once called “aether”. He elaborates, saying that the aether was an “essence throughout everything”. This matches the description of the luminiferous aether, which is a long- and thoroughly-refuted hypothesis intended to explain the propagation of electromagnetic waves through vacuum. Suffice it to say that if the luminiferous aether existed and a holy ghost used it to communicate, we would have detected it, since the luminiferous aether was said to carry electromagnetic waves.
He then says that it is now called “dark matter”, but dark matter has nothing whatsoever to do with the propagation of electromagnetic radiation, so its function is not at all analogous to that of luminiferous aether. Dark matter is a type of matter altogether invisible to electromagnetic radiation hypothesized to explain anomalies in astronomical observations. If a holy ghost used dark matter to communicate, then it would have to know that it does not emit electromagnetic radiation, or else be impotent to communicate at all.
“This essence,” Mr Trimble says, referring to “dark matter” or “the aether”, “is actually used to communicate.” He gives the example of his cell phone, whose operation is well-understood to be dependent on electromagnetic radiation and to have nothing to do with the nonexistent luminiferous aether or dark matter. Most cell phones nowadays have GPS capabilities built-in, which means that they depend on relativity for proper functionality; relativity actually superseded the aether as a theoretical framework once the latter became unworkable.
Mr Trimble describes the operation of a mobile phone as though it involves “impressions”. This is an unprecedented name for electromagnetic emissions! I have a hypothesis concerning why he used that word rather than a more standard one. He constructed a false equivalency between the subjective and vague “impressions” attributed to the Holy Ghost and the objectively verifiable electromagnetic radiation emitted by a mobile phone.
A Challenge to Daring and Enterprising Mormons
Mr Trimble says that there is “a science to how we [Mormons] feel the Holy Ghost.” Science is based on falsifiable hypotheses grounded in fact and carefully constructed, conducted, and documented experiments, where the hypotheses are dropped if falsified and where the experiments have been repeated by independent, unbiased parties. Everything I have seen that was called “spiritual” is calculated to be unfalsifiable, meaning that its truth value cannot possibly be determined. Experiments that have been constructed to test for it either reveal that there is nothing to the spiritual claims under test, or are sloppily constructed with bad control groups and other methodological problems, or else are cheated by the experimenters who believe the claims under “test” and are unwilling to stop believing them if they were falsified. The application of science has resulted in the entire modern world; the application of religion has resulted in untold fanaticism and barbarism which continue to this day. Science, empirically and morally, is the better epistemology.
I would like to see a device invented or a process found which can detect the Holy Ghost. The readouts of this device, or measurements taken from this process, must be indisputably the sole responsibility of the Holy Ghost and not of any other phenomenon, be it electrical, mechanical, aural, neural, or otherwise. Since the Holy Ghost is held to be distinct from feelings (though he may inspire them,) the readouts of this device, or measurements taken from this process, must not be taken from psychological subjects. All documentation required to construct this device or reproduce this process must be made public, as well as the theory of its operation. No chicanery must be employed in the operation of the device or process, e.g. listening for key words which are said to “attract” or “drive away” the Holy Ghost, or inducing in subjects feelings associated with the Holy Ghost. Finally, since Mormon prophets are supposed to speak authoritatively on matters of religion, the behaviour of the Holy Ghost as shown by the device or process must be consistent with Mormon doctrine, insofar as the latter extends.
The Mormon who accomplishes this task successfully will convert millions, including myself, to true religion. He or she will have finally found God, after humanity has sought him in vain for untold millennia, and will therefore have the unbounded and eternal admiration of humankind. That Mormon shall have made the greatest contribution to “building the Kingdom of God” since Joseph Smith, Junior. Finally, when that Mormon dies, with “how great joy” shall he or she enter into the kingdom of the Father, for bringing so many of his children to repentance! (D&C xviii: 13-16) Surely such rewards as these are far greater than any filthy lucre anyone could offer! Let any Mormon who, with Mr Trimble, maintains that “religion and science actually go together”, undertake this endeavour and conclusively create the long-sought connexion between science and religion! If “God is the great Scientist”, why would he not open himself and his realms up to investigation thereby?
The Mormons’ Guide to Interaction with Atheists
The Morality of Atheists, Recaptiulated
Ian and Kwaku are magnanimous enough to maintain that “atheists are not bad people”, which is generally true. There are a few bad atheists, just as there are a few bad people in all religions. Unfortunately, religions have historically been willing to bury or even exploit the bad people within them to facilitate the spread thereof. Atheism has no fixed dogma and no inherent mandate to spread itself, so such elements cannot be and are not used to spread it, especially because all the theistic religions of the world would severely reprehend it, and rightfully so, were such a thing tried! When any atheist has used the baser natures of humankind, it has been in the service of an ideology. The examples commonly cited by theists to calumniate atheists and stain them with their atrocities — Stalin, Mao Zedong, and other Marxists — fail on this account; they acted in the service of Marxism and not atheism, just as Muhammad committed his pogroms in the service of Islam and the witch-hunters of Salem prosecuted dozens of women in the service of puritanical Christianity, and neither acted in the name of theism.
Calm and Vitriolic Conversations
Ian says that “conversations about atheism and theology need to happen”. Indeed they do, and they are happening, as shown by this very article and the video to which it responds. As they said at the beginning of the video, YouTube is awash with theists proposing various gods and theologies, and with atheists criticizing them.
Kwaku says further that “they don’t have to be vitriolic. They can be scholarly and kind and rational, and we don’t have to be children.” Calm discussions on theology are and have been had, but the subject of religion is one that arouses the passions, so these calm discussions are in general carefully arranged and moderated formal debates. In informal discussions, the vitriol flies freely from Mormon to Catholic to Protestant to Muslim and back again; when an atheist enters, he is met with the combined bile of five billion believers, which he feels free to return. In former times (and to this day around the world) the atheist is met with more than bile; he is liable to be killed by fanatical believers, sometimes even backed up by the state. Vitriol in the service of justice is hardly a vice; soft speech in the service of justice is hardly a virtue. Even so, both approaches have their uses. Some need to be harshly slapped awake; others will awake naturally in response to the calm tones of reason.
Childishness and Satire
The accusation of childishness on the part of atheists, except in a few cases, is hardly justified. Living as we do in majority-theistic nations, we cannot afford it. (Justified anger at the overreach and abuses of religion is not childishness, nor even is mockery of the absurd.) On the other hand, very many theists, particularly fundamentalist Christians and Muslims, throw the most terrible temper tantrums when they perceive an insult or fail to get their way. Mark Muhammad’s pogroms of Jews who would not convert to Islam and Martin Luther’s resentment that the Jews of Europe would not join his new church. The latter wrote a vile tract called On the Jews and Their Lies, which informed German anti-Semitism for many centuries, and Hitler cited him as a ‘great statesman and reformer’ in Mein Kampf. Note also that both of them, like violently disposed children, took their frustrations out on those weaker.
They anticipate accusations of hypocrisy in failing to live by what they just said, which they rebut by saying, “It’s our show!” I recognize their right to behave as they like on their show and would never dispute it. Nevertheless, if they are not obliged to follow their own advice, then I am much less obliged to follow it, for they, not I, decided it was worth saying. Besides, subtle and even overt mockery and satire have their places even in rational discourse; the alert reader may notice many instances in which I have used it in this very article.
The Three Mormons are obviously well-intentioned but severely misinformed, not only about atheism, but about science as well. They know neither physics nor biology nor the nature of evidence; such ignorance fits one passing well for a religion. They were raised and conditioned from birth to associate good feelings with Mormonism, or else the salesmanship of missionaries persuaded them. They will defend it any way they can, even reaching for such ridiculous things as the luminiferous aether.
It would have behooved them to have done better research on the subjects about which they spoke. To be sure, such a thing would have set them apart from most professors of religion, who trade in confident yet void affirmations of utter nonsense. As it is, however, they fit the pattern.
They appear to be friendly disposed toward atheists, although their holy texts hate them and take sadistic glee in their ruination. Their mangling of facts about atheism is calculated (either by themselves or by whomever taught them) to make it appear ridiculous, undercutting any good-will that they have. They would have done well to have an actual atheist speak on atheism. (Mr Trimble says that they would have, but they found no interest.)
The Three Mormons make confident pronouncements on things of which they know nothing, as all religionists do, but there is a unique Mormon tint to it. Their reactions to opposite points of view are enlightening, being examples of Mormons encountering atheism “in the wild”. They are full of regurgitated propaganda and junk science, not to mention apologetics that only carry weight if one believes in Mormonism already. It is devoid of entertaining fire-and-brimstone preaching, but their bungling of science provides some laughs. Apart from that, their video is rather banal; only well-informed Mormon-watchers would find it edifying.