I am absolutely convinced intellectually, emotionally, and (most importantly) spiritually, that there is a God, that Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God and Redeemer of the world, and that the resurrected Christ restored his true Church in 1830 through a young man from upstate New York named Joseph Smith. The purpose of this website is to explain how and why I can make such a statement. To do so I will first explain why I am intellectually convinced. After that I will explain how I am emotionally and spiritually convinced and why I think that the emotional and spiritual are by far the more important reasons.
I assume that the reader is somewhat familiar with the claims and basic beliefs of the Church that Joseph Smith restored; namely: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints(or LDS Church). If this is not the case I will refer you to the website www.mormon.org to gain a better understanding from a resource specifically intended to explain our beliefs. My intent here is not to teach the doctrines of the Church, but to explain why I so strongly believe in those doctrines. Nonetheless, for those not familiar, a short summary is probably in order and can be found here.
Why I believe that there is a God
So many people seem to think that in the modern world it is only the ignorant, irrational, and superstitious who continue to believe in the existence of a Creator. They seem to think that it is much more reasonable to think that everything just came into existence by random chance. To me, that is a very untenable position. If a person came across Michelangelo’s sculpture of David in the middle of nowhere without knowing where it came from, would it be more reasonable to assume that the sculpture was the result of random weather patterns or that there must have been a sculptor that created it? The odds of weather creating such a detailed and intricate sculpture seem so low as to be non-existent. Yet the stubborn skeptic might insist that somewhere on some planet in a seemingly infinite universe conditions might occur that could create such a thing. But what happens to the odds when that person comes across La Pieta? Could random events create two such different and unique statues on the same planet? Add to that Michelangelo’s statues of Moses, The Risen Christ, Rachel and Leah, and The Rebellious and Dying Slaves? Could the stubborn skeptic continue to believe that random chance could create all these statues on the same planet? The random creation of millions of such statues all on the same planet somewhere in the universe would be the equivalent of what we have surrounding us in the natural world occurring just by chance.
As stated in one of my favorite scriptures from the Book of Mormon:
“All things denote that there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a supreme Creator” BofM, Alma 30:44
Modern science teaches about the intricate balance that must exist on our planet to support life. Millions of different complex systems interact with and sustain each other in ways that boggle the mind. In an infinite cycle, the oceans become clouds, the clouds become rain, the rain becomes rivers and streams that flow back to the oceans. The rain combined with sunlight allows plants to generate oxygen, that oxygen and water sustains animal life. Animals die and provide fertilizer that helps the plants grow. The earth contains a molten core that creates a magnetic field that protects all forms of life from harmful cosmic radiation. The immune system protects the body from sickness. When sickness or injury occurs, the body contains the ability to repair itself. The list goes on and on. It seems much more rational to believe that there is a designer of all of this complexity than to think that it all happened by chance.
By profession I am an electrical engineer that designs communication systems. In my experience it is difficult for an engineer to design even the simplest of self sustaining systems, let alone complex communication systems. Would it not be ridiculous to believe that a cell phone came into existence through random events rather than through careful design by teams of highly trained engineers? And yet cell phones are child’s play compared to the complexity of everything that surrounds us.
I am not alone in arriving at this conclusion. The great British physicist Sir Fred Hoyle (d. 2001) said:
“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”
Similarly, physicist Freeman Dyson of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study has said:
“As we look out into the universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit it almost seems as if the universe must in some sense have known that we were coming.”
However, just because there is a Creator does not mean that He loves and is interested in His creations. Perhaps everything was created as a cruel experiment? Or maybe He created everything but has moved on to more interesting things and is content to just let His creations fend for themselves?
Why I believe God is a loving God, Jesus Christ is His Son, and Joseph Smith is His Prophet
It might be confusing to some readers that I would address belief in a loving God, Christ as the Savior, and Joseph Smith as a Prophet in the same section. For me personally these topics are intricately tied together.
The first and most powerful reason to believe that God is a loving God is the inspiring accounts given in the Bible of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. If the Bible is to be believed, then God really does love his creations and is interested in our well being; as the Bible states in John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Christ brought enlightened teachings of love, forgiveness, sacrifice, repentance, service, and constant self improvement. Most importantly, he gave himself as a great and last sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world. It is incredible to think that the literal Son of God walked the earth, walked on water, healed the sick, was crucified, and then came back from the dead.
In fact, these claims are more than incredible, they border on the unbelievable. Why should a person believe such a story? These stories sound a bit like the myths about the Greek gods and their demigod offspring. Why should the story of Christ be more believable than the stories of the Greek gods? Yes, non-religious historical documents do seem to claim that a person named Jesus really existed that was killed in 33 A.D. And yes, in the religious documents (the Bible) many people claim to have seen his miracles as well as his resurrected body after his death. And yes, a large religion resulted. But why should these stories be believed? Wouldn’t it be easier (and more convenient) to explain these accounts as hallucinations or gross exaggerations of actual events? As the wishful thinking of people grieved at the loss of their religious leader? Or perhaps the work of conmen trying to gain power over others?
By now those familiar with the story of Joseph Smith will recognize how similar arguments can be used in both cases. Visions of God and translated golden records? Angels and revelations? Who can believe such things? It is much easier to believe it to be the work of hallucination or conmen, than to believe that such things could really happen. This particular sword cuts both ways (as many atheists would gleefully agree).
This is where the Book of Mormon comes in. Within the text on the title page of the Book of Mormon it states:
“To the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS IS THE CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations”
I am absolutely convinced that the Book of Mormon is a true history of ancient people on the American continent, and that Christ did indeed appear to them after his resurrection. Why do I believe this? Because I do not believe it possible that a poor uneducated farm boy could have written a book like the Book of Mormon. The LDS scholar Hugh Nibley said:
“Joseph Smith's own story of the book's authorship certainly lies far "outside the usual and familiar," and we have every right to ask for special proof of it. This he obligingly supplies when he puts the book in our hands and asks us how we explain it. Books of Mormon do not occur at all "in the usual course of events." Therefore, we have every right to doubt the book's existence, except for one thing: We have the book. The only alternative to Joseph Smith's explanation is to assume …. the existence of a forger who at one moment is so clever and adroit as to imitate the archaic poetry of the desert to perfection and supply us with genuine Egyptian names, and yet so incredibly stupid as to think that the best way to fool people and get money out of them is to write an exceedingly difficult historical epic of six hundred pages. Endowed with the brains, perseverance, and superhuman cunning necessary to produce this monumental forgery, the incredibly sly genius did not have the wit to know, after years of experience in the arts of deception, that there are ten thousand safer and easier ways of fooling people than by undertaking a work of infinite toil and danger which, as he could see from the first, only made him immensely unpopular. This is the forger who never existed.” (Hugh Nibley, “New Approaches to Book of Mormon Study”)
Years before I came across scholarly research done on the Book of Mormon I was convinced that Joseph could not have written it. It seemed too complex, too detailed, to internally consistent. I am now convinced that the wealthiest, most intelligent and educated man on the planet could not have written it in the 1800’s, and probably could not even do so today. On the left panel at the top of this webpage I have included some of my favorite evidences and scholarly discussions on the Book of Mormon. They are well worth the investment of time to study. How could Joseph have included authentic Hebrew Chiastic poetry forms when they were not to be found in his King James Version of the Bible? How could he invent hundreds of previously unknown names only to have those names end up being authentic names found in the ancient world? How could he have included details of olive cultivation and olive culture when he lived in an area of the world that did not cultivate olives? How could he have invented a completely unheard of money system that ends up being a completely usable and plausible money system? How could he have invented the name of an obscure town on the Arabian Peninsula that ends up being a real town? The author of “Of Faith and Reason” states:
“There are literally hundreds of correlations between the things that Joseph Smith brought to Mormonism and things we find in ancient history –things that were unknown in Joseph’s era and vicinity… Critics must deal with the growing number of bull’s-eyes. Generally critics argue that Joseph made lucky guesses, or that any parallels are simply coincidental. But when we recognize the number of things that Joseph got right, the odds of so many lucky guesses and coincidences become staggering.” (Michael Ash, “Shaken Faith Syndrome”)
To me, the evidence proving the Book of Mormon is overwhelming. The stubborn skeptics (very similar to the ones we talked about before when discussing the existence of God) would have us believe that a poor uneducated farm boy whose family was barely scraping by was really a savant bible scholar and ancient near east expert. He was also a metallurgist capable of creating fake gold plates sufficiently good to fool up to eleven different people. Furthermore, he was a master hypnotist who could trick three of those eleven people into thinking they had seen the plates with an angel and heard the voice of God, and who had the power to cause them to swear to their dying day that they had really seen those things even though all three of them became hostile to Joseph at some point in their lives. He also apparently had access to a time travel device so that he could learn what scholars in the future were learning about ancient near eastern and Mesoamerican cultures so he could put those details into his book. As the years go by, Joseph’s explanation for the creation of the Book of Mormon is increasingly becoming the only rational explanation.
It is easy to claim the Book of Mormon is a fraud if you have not read it nor studied its claims. It is a little less easy, but still possible, to claim it as false if it is casually read. But the more deeply it is studied, the more difficult it becomes to deny its truth. I believe that only the most hardened and stubborn of skeptics, blindly intent on looking for ANY explanation other than Joseph’s, could study it in-depth without agreeing that it must be true.
To me personally, I don’t think the Bible by itself would be enough to create significant conviction within me. It might be enough to make me an Easter Sunday member, but not enough to create the kind of conviction that would cause me to spend all day at Church every Sunday, to work with the neighborhood youth and church members in the evenings each week, to attend the Temple every week, to give up two years of my life as a youth to serve a mission and after retirement as a senior missionary(still to come), to donate large amounts of my personal time to service within church callings, to pay tithing and fast offerings, and otherwise dedicate my life and resources to serving God. But with the Book of Mormon combined with the Bible, I am willing to do all of those things, and more.
So why do I believe God is a loving God, Jesus Christ is His Son, and Joseph Smith is His Prophet? I believe these things because the Book of Mormon is true, and all of the other conclusions naturally flow from that knowledge.
Can LDS Scholars be Trusted?
One of the most common methods that critics use to try to discredit LDS scholarly research and defensive writings is that LDS scholars are not well respected
scholars and that their methods are suspect. While it is true that some LDS writers pollute the scholarly waters with shoddy research, many LDS scholars are very
well respected. Surprisingly, several years ago a couple of Evangelical scholars wrote a very candid and self critical paper about how opponents of the LDS church
needed to stop blithely dismissing all LDS scholars as substandard. They pointed out that many LDS scholars have risen to highly regarded positions in institutions all
across the U.S. and that by not taking their work seriously the critics were losing the battle and not knowing it. A copy of this paper can be found
Missing Puzzle Pieces
Having stated how strongly I am convinced that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet is not to say that I am without unanswered questions. There are still some unanswered questions about the Book of Mormon. I also still have unanswered questions about events in Church history. But for me the scales have become so heavily weighted on the side of the truthfulness of the restored church that when troubling issues arise, it is relatively easy for me to accept that we don’t have all of the facts, or that plausible alternative explanations are the correct ones, or to attribute things to the fallibility of man and the failings of good, but imperfect, prophets. To use a different metaphor, the puzzle pieces I have found fit so perfectly, and I have found enough of them to see such a beautiful picture, that it would be completely insane for me to toss the puzzle into the garbage because I can’t make a few puzzle pieces fit.
Many critics and disaffected church members seem to think that all believing Mormons are either uninformed, or stupid and gullible. They seem to think: If church members only knew what I know they would leave the church. Many don’t stop to think that intelligent and well educated members have probably already come across the same issues and come up with different conclusions than what the critics present.
Since I have decided to dedicate my life to the truth represented by the restored church, I personally have gone out of my way to search out troubling issues. I have always wanted to see things as they really are and meet hard problems head on. With a Bachelors and Masters in Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Business Administration I think that I can lay at least some claim to skill in analytical and critical thinking, in problem solving and judgment of coherent arguments. With each troubling issue I have studied, I have always been able to arrive at a plausible solution, especially with the help of other dedicated latter day saints that are much more educated than myself in disciplines associated with each issue. On the side panel I have provided links under “LDS Scholarly and Defensive Websites” to several resources that I have found useful in the past. I have also included several books under “Highly Recommended Books” that I have found very helpful and interesting.
When I was preparing as a youth to serve a mission I came across a book in a bookstore called: “No Man Knows My History” by Fawn Brodie. This book presented material that I had never heard of before that described Joseph Smith as a scoundrel and conman. It had quotes about Joseph from people of his time period that were very unflattering. It seemed to me at the time to prove that everything the church had taught me was a lie. I was very troubled since I was just about to leave on a mission. She seemed certain that all of the evidence pointed to the restoration being a fraud.
After about a week or so of stewing in a mire of doubt, it occurred to me that maybe someone much more educated about church history than myself had written a response to this book. I searched the library at the University of Utah and found a short response written by Hugh Nibley called: “No Ma’am, that’s not History”. It described how Fawn Brodie had used second and third hand accounts and many quotes from apostate members with an axe to grind against Joseph Smith. It also became clear to me that Fawn Brodie was an atheist and therefore, she discarded everything that supported a miraculous source behind the claims of Joseph Smith. To her, any supporting evidence was just the result of crazed and delusional minds. She wrote the book convinced that Joseph’s claims were all false. So given human nature it should have been no surprise that she focused only on things that supported her thesis.
The Myth of Objectivity
A common line of attack that critics often use against evidences produced by LDS scholars is that LDS scholars cannot be trusted to produce objective scholarly work because they are biased by their beliefs. The problem with this reasoning is that there really is no such thing as an objective person, no matter what side of the argument they are on. We are all psychological creatures. All of us are affected by our past personal experiences and upbringing; by our families and our cultures. Our minds are conditioned to view things differently based on positive and negative emotional experiences. When we have decided to become emotionally invested in something or some idea, it causes us to view things through very colored lenses. Many times these emotional investments cause our minds to defend positions at all costs because of the impact the rejection of those positions would have on our lives and emotions. Because of these things, our minds all have blind spots. Our minds make assumption based on past experiences and emotional investments that result in valuing evidence differently. Do I have blind spots? Absolutely! We all do. I often wonder what data I have missed or what information I have weighed incorrectly. I accept that I am not objective as an unavoidable flaw, because it is impossible for anyone to be totally objective.
For example, in the case of the book “No Man Knows My History”, the experiences in Fawn Brodie’s life led her to be an atheist. I believe atheists are as emotionally invested in their views as any religious believer. This impacted how she weighed the evidence. Dedicated believers who have sacrificed and made large emotional investments in other religions would naturally weigh the evidence related to the Book of Mormon differently than I would because of the upheaval that would occur in their lives if they accepted it as true. They would most likely look at both positive and negative evidence with a much harsher eye. One critic said the following when discussing some of the unexplainable evidences of the Book of Mormon: “Even if that is the case, where did Smith get it from? Given everything else we know, it’s better to assume he got it somewhere other than from God. “. Whereas I would say: Look at all of these incredible evidences supporting the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. No one has given me anything close to a plausible explanation for the existence of all these things in the Book of Mormon. Given everything else that I know (positive experiences, good things that I know about Joseph Smith, the Church, and its history), it is better to assume that he must have gotten the Book of Mormon from God. Yes, there are some unanswered questions, but there are plausible explanations. I am inclined to give the benefit of the doubt.
The Interaction of Faith and Doubt
Even though I am so impressed with the evidence supporting the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, I have admitted that I am not totally objective in that analysis (click here to understand some of the struggles I underwent when determining if the Book of Mormon is true). In truth, I think that God has set things up so that there is always enough evidence to cause reasons to believe, but also enough to cause reasons to doubt. I believe that God is all about moral agency and that if he provided too much evidence it would hinder mankind’s ability to make moral choices. To take this idea to the extreme, if God immediately punished acts of immorality and immediately rewarded acts of goodness, there would be no moral choice possible for mankind. It would not take long to force the world to be righteous if every time we were unrighteous a big hammer appeared and smashed us on the head and every time we were good we received $100. But then we would be good not because we were choosing goodness, but because we wanted to avoid immediate punishment or gain immediate gratification. One of the most profound things I have ever read regarding the importance of this balance between faith and doubt was written by Terryl Givens. He said:
“I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice—and, therefore, the more deliberate and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. … One is, it would seem, always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.” (Terryl Givens, “Lightning out of Heaven: Joseph Smith and the Forging of Community,”)
The Importance of the Spirit in Knowing Truth
“I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will
guide you into all truth”
One of my most central convictions is that there is absolute truth. The same thing cannot be true for one person and false for another. Things are either true, or they are false. Joseph Smith was a fraud and a liar, or he was a Prophet of God; perhaps an imperfect and flawed Prophet that made mistakes just like all of us, but a Prophet none-the-less. If truth could be subjective, the laws of the physical world would never be consistent; one day airplanes could fly, and the next they could not. Given the idea that there is absolute truth and that God is avoiding direct intervention with His creations to allow us the freedom to choose good or evil, it is still important that He provide a mechanism to communicate truth to us. One tool he has obviously given us is our minds; the ability to use logic and reason. Also, God can communicate to our intellects with his spirit by directly introducing thoughts and ideas. I believe that every good idea, every stroke of inspiration, every burst of genius that has ever come into the minds of men and women throughout the ages have the spirit of God as their source.
But the problem is that the intellect, using logic and reason, is not sufficient by itself to motivate action. It takes emotion to generate action. The perfect example of this is how many people know without a doubt that it is important to eat healthy and exercise, and yet they don’t do it. Why don’t they do it? It is because they can’t get motivated (i.e. they lack the emotional commitment to do it). There is too much immediate gratification (another emotion) in eating unhealthy and sitting on the couch. Eating correctly and exercising are difficult and the results are not immediate (i.e. they are impatient… another emotion). Some people are able to overcome the many problems in life caused by immediate gratification, laziness, and impatience, but if they do it is most likely the result of other more powerful emotions like love, loyalty, compassion, vanity, ambition, pride, or greed (all emotions). I believe it would be much more accurate to describe mankind as emotional creatures than to describe them as rational creatures. Furthermore, as we have discussed, emotions heavily bias the conclusions of the intellect. This is why the Spirit of God communicates not only to our intellect, but most strongly to our emotions. It is through our emotions that God can have the greatest effect. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul describes to the Galatians what emotions they will feel if the Spirit is communicating to them:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…” (Galatians 26:12-13)
I have often heard critics deride emotion as a means of knowing if something is true since emotions can be so easily manipulated. While I agree that we do have to be careful in basing our beliefs purely on emotion, it still does not change the fact that the most common and powerful method that God uses to communicate to us is through our emotions. He is almost forced to use this method if he wants to have any chance of motivating us to action.
In the Bible, the Savior taught two principles to help us know how to recognize truth. The first indicates that if we want to know if something comes from God, we need to do God’s will (i.e. keep His commandments). In John 7:16-17 Christ responds when the Jews marvel at his sayings:
“My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”
The second teaching tells us to look at the final results of something to know if it is good or bad. He says:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth for evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20)
This brings me to my final and most powerful reasons for believing in the restored Church of Jesus Christ. I have studied the issues and weighed the evidences with my mind as carefully as I can, and have become convinced intellectually that it is true. I have tried my very best to live its teachings and I have prayed to know if its doctrines are true; and as a result I have had countless experiences where I have felt God’s spirit witness to me of its truthfulness. Without a doubt the fruits that I have harvested from the tree that grew from the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon are good. I am convinced that this is because the Savior is their source.
The doctrines and teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints inspire me to want to be a better person. They constantly occupy my thoughts. A day does not go by when I am not thinking about some aspect of its teachings. When I read the Book of Mormon or attend the Temple it fills me with a desire to be more kind and gentle, more understanding and loving, more honest and fair. When I listen to the Apostles and Prophets speak during the semi-annual General Conference I am filled almost to overflowing with the desire to be more Christ-like and more faithful. I am undoubtedly a better person as an active member of the Church than I would be without it. I don’t believe that I would naturally seek out opportunities to interact extensively with others, to serve others, to serve youth, to work in Scouting, to sacrifice my money and time in significant amounts for something other than myself and my family. All of these fruits are the greatest evidences that I can offer for the truthfulness of the things I have been discussing.
This evidence is repeated in the lives of millions of Latter Day Saints throughout the world; millions of imperfect people striving and struggling to live up to the teachings of the Savior(often, many of us fall short, but we keep trying); millions of people motivated to sacrifice significant amounts of their money and personal time for the benefit of those around them. The fruits of this tree result in a people that are extremely family and community focused, that help the needy in their communities and in humanitarian efforts abroad, and donate millions of dollars and thousands of hours of time every year to the victims of natural disasters and other calamities. Indeed, the tree is most definitely good.