In Korihor's Defense
by Bryce Anderson
A response to "Countering Korihor's Philosophies," by Gerald Lund
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Now when the high priest and the chief judge saw the hardness of his heart, yea, when they saw that he would revile even against God, they would not make any reply to his words; but they caused that he should be bound. . . (Alma 30:29)

The story of Korihor is probably as direct and in-depth an attempt to deal with atheism as can be found anywhere in the LDS canon. Certainly, the Bible never gives the subject this kind of coverage. Not surprisingly, when LDS authors attempt to deal directly with such ideologies as secular humanism and agnosticism, they invariably cite Korihor's story, which is found in Alma 30.

Such is the case of Gerald Lund's "Countering Korihor's Philosophies." (Ensign, July 1992) Lund, a noted LDS author and speaker, appears deeply concerned with the ubiquitous nature of atheistic and secular philosophies. He writes, "We read them in books, see them championed in the movies and on television, and hear them taught in classrooms and sometimes in the churches of our time." In order to protect themselves from these seductive false doctrines, Gerald Lund suggests that the faithful reader look to Korihor's tale, reminding them that God put the story in the Book of Mormon expressly for the enlightenment of latter-day minds.

It quickly becomes obvious that Lund knows his audience, and feels safe that the Ensign readers will not question his reasoning too deeply. It also becomes painfully obvious that, because of this, Lund gives himself license that would never be accepted in a neutral forum.

The article starts off with a whirlwind primer of philosophical terms such as "metaphysics," "axiology," and "rationalism." His definitions are, for the most part, acceptable. But his definition of "authoritarianism" is a slick attempt at glossing over some serious questions. He writes: "Authoritarianism is the system by which truth is learned from those who are authorities or experts. We trust learned men or women, such as parents, teachers, religious teachers, and consultants, to give us the truth in their area of expertise."

I don't believe that Lund naive enough to believe that a priest's knowledge of things supernatural is universally accepted as being of equal merit when compared to, say, an engineer's knowledge of mechanics. The differences between the two fields are vast, as can be demonstrated by an example:

Put twenty engineers of various disciplines in a locked room and give them a puzzle to solve that would be covered by their areas of expertise (for example, given these architectural plans, three calculators, and all necessary charts and tables, decide whether this building could survive a magnitude 7 earthquake). You could expect that, given time, this group of experts would be able to come up with at least a fair analysis of the problem. On the other hand, if you put twenty religious instructors of various backgrounds and disciplines in the same room, along with a puzzle that related to their area of "expertise," (for example, given a structural engineer, all applicable knowledge about his life, and any relevant religious texts, tell him how to get to heaven), the "experts" would not be able to come to an adequate consensus, and our structural engineer would wander away, fearing for his immortal soul. The simple fact is that each of their "areas of expertise" is in total disagreement with the opinions of the others. Therefore, while an LDS Institute teacher may know a lot about the Mormon faith, it hasn't been demonstrated that he knows anything about God. These complexities, though crucial to the validity of Lund's thesis, are overlooked in the article.

In an even bolder stroke, he writes, ". . .[W]e also rely on another way of knowing truth: divine revelation. In this method, truth comes either directly from God or indirectly through his prophets." Of course Lund would have difficulty defending his unstated assumption that divine revelation is just as trustworthy as empiricism or logic. Certainly, he wouldn't argue that God's divine appearance to the prophet Mohammed could be considered "trustworthy." So he avoids tackling the subject altogether, substituting his complete confidence in his beliefs for a substantiative argument.

Lund notes, correctly, that if "a person like Korihor rejects the idea that there is a spiritual dimension to life. . . [then this] metaphysical position automatically determines what that person will accept as truth. Revelation is rejected because the reality of God is rejected." Lund doesn't elaborate on what would cause a person to determine that there is no "spiritual dimension to life." In this way, he frees himself from the duty of investigating many of atheism's most damaging arguments, while giving the silent impression that the atheist's conclusion was formulated solely through rebellion against God instead of reason or verifiable evidence. Again, he leaves vital questions unexplored. His reason for this particular omission becomes clear later in the article, when he reminds his readers in several places that Korihor's philosophies are satanic. Never does he confront the question of why someone might reject epistemologies unrelated to the physical senses, but simply calls the matter settled.

In a section called "Korihor's Corollaries," Lund reveals to the reader the implications of Korihor's beliefs. He compare's Korihor's statement, "ye cannot know of things which ye do not see" (Alma 30:15) to Paul's assertion that "Faith is. . . the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Next, the article agrees that Korihor's premise (nothing can be known beyond the physical senses) logically leads to the conclusion that prophecy cannot be valid ("It is not true, but it is rational!")

I don't want to get too sidetracked by Paul's statement, and will simply respond that if I held a deep and abiding belief that Venus is inhabited by six-legged goats, then barring any further evidence, my faith is not proof or even evidence of the existence of said critters. I'd rather focus on Lund's logical process. Lund correctly notes that, if Korihor's statement is taken as a premise, then it logically follows that "you cannot 'see,' or experience the future with the physical senses [and] consequently, all talk of a future Savior. . . is to be rejected on principle." He is also correct to note that, when atheism is accepted, "then there are no eternal consequences for man's actions." But for the remainder of his analysis, the word "eternal" is conveniently ignored. Not all consequences are eternal, nor do they need to be in order for people to take them into consideration when deciding on a course of action. In fact, an acceptable system of ethics and morality can be built by considering only the "temporary" effects of actions. Lund conveniently ignores this, and continues condemning the dangerous doctrines of immoral atheists.

In the third section, entitled "Korihor Today," Lund quotes several items from The Humanist Manifesto II. I would liked to have seen him do an actual analysis of the statements. Lund, however, feels it sufficient to simply remind his readers that the beliefs expressed are satanic in origin.

The fourth section, entitled "A Prophet's Answer," is of greater interest. It details the response of the Nephite prophet Alma when Korihor is brought before him. In what may be the most revealing statement in the article, Lund claims that it is fruitless to engage atheists on intellectual grounds, which he apparently considers enemy turf:

"The first thing to note is that Alma does not get into philosophical debate with Korihor. He doesn't allow himself to be pulled onto the ground that Korihor tries to define as the area of debate. There is a great lesson in that. We combat false philosophies with revelation and true doctrine, not academic debate."

What conclusion am I to draw from this? Does Lund believe that philosophers are merely mouthpieces for Satan, and thus incapable of comprehending the sublime proofs put forth by the wise theologians of our time? Or does he believe that such "academic" proofs are unavailable? If the former, then Lund must secretly believe that philosophers who offer arguments against the existence of God are dishonest (or maybe not so secretly, for he writes "Korihor's teachings were based on lies. Indeed, Korihor himself confessed this when he wrote, after he had been stricken dumb, that he 'always knew there was a God.'") If, however, he believes that there are no convincing "academic" proofs of the truth of the LDS Church, then belief in the LDS Church must rest entirely on "feelings." Many people from many conflicting religious backgrounds "feel" that their truth is the only truth. Why does Lund consider his claims valid, while necessarily discounting those of Jews, Muslims, and mainstream Christians?

In spite of his assertion that philosophical shenanigans are counterproductive, Lund just can't help but engage in them. ". . . [W]hen questioned, Korihor categorically denies that he believes there is a God. Alma then asks, 'What evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only.'(vs.40)" The "categorical denial" Lund speaks of (presuming he means vs. 38) is a statement by Korihor, attesting to the fact that he doesn't believe in God. Korihor doesn't make a claim to absolute knowledge, invalidating Lund's next two paragraphs:

"It is an inspired insight on Alma's part. Korihor is not consistent in his own thinking. If we truly can know only those things for which we have empirical evidence, then we cannot teach there is no God unless we have evidence for that belief. And Korihor has no evidence."

"Korihor will consider only evidence that can be gathered through the senses. In such a system, it is much easier to prove there is a God than to prove there is not a God. To prove there is a God, all it takes is for one person to see, hear, or otherwise have an experience with God, and thereafter the existence of God cannot be disproved. But here is what it would take to prove there is no God: Since God is not confined to this earth, we would have to search throughout the universe for him. We assume God is able to move about, so it would not be enough to start at point A in the universe and search through to point Z. What if after we leave point A, God moves there and stays there fore the rest of the search? In other words, for Korihor to say that there is no God, based on the very criteria he himself has established, he would have to perceive every cubic meter of the universe simultaneously. This creates a paradox: In order for Korihor to prove there is no God, he would have to be a god himself! Therefore, in declaring there is no God, he is acting on "faith," the very thing for which he so sharply derides the religious leaders!

As I mentioned before, Lund allows himself much leeway because his audience won't seriously question his assertions. The problems with this argument are so numerous and so damaging that, in a neutral forum, Lund would doubtless have left it out. The weaknesses I see right off hand are as follows:

  1. Korihor's response was to the question, "Believest thou that there is a God?" When Korihor answers, "No," he is not making a claim to absolute knowledge, which is a requirement for the "infinite knowledge" argument to be relevant. Evidence is not necessary for belief or disbelief, as the members of the Heaven's Gate Cult can attest.
  2. The God Lund describes, the God who moves to point A and hides there while his creation futilely searches for Him, is not the God the LDS (or any other organized religion I've heard of) worships. Nor would worshipping so disinterested a being be useful. But the LDS God, if they are to be believed, is constantly trying to draw all men to believe in Him. Lund wrongly implies that, since the "God of Hide and Go Seek" is not subject to disproof, no God is subject to disproof.

    I think the quickest way to point out the problem with Lund's line of reasoning would be to ask, "Can we say that the 'Hide and Go Seek' god desires that his creations find him?" Obviously, the answer is no. We can categorically state that a God who spent his entire existence hiding from his creations yet is interested in being found does not exist. [1]

  3. Lund destroys his own position, and that of Alma, when he demonstrates the impossibility of disproving God. Alma asks Korihor, "What evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only." (vs.40) If we are to presume that Lund's reasoning is fundamentally sound, then when Alma asks Korihor what evidence he has that there is no God, he is really asking our befuddled anti-Christ to show him every point in the universe simultaneously. When Alma demands evidence that "Christ cometh not," he is really telling Korihor to show him a vision of the Universe, from Big Bang to Big Crunch, and demonstrate that each of the organisms that inhabited the Universe could not possibly have been the Messiah. In spite of Lund's praise of Alma's perspicacity and wisdom, the High Priest has violated an important rhetorical maxim: "He who asserts must prove." Korihor never once claimed to know that there was no God, yet Alma is asking for evidence that there is no God. My six-legged Venusian goats must be very happy right now. Following Alma's lead, I simply need to assert that they do indeed exist, and any critic will have to finance a probe to Venus to prove that they don't exist. [2]
Lund tries to blur the distinction between religious faith and the "faith" it takes to be an atheist. He writes, "In declaring there is no God, he is acting on 'faith,' the very thing for which he so sharply derides the religious leaders!" Korihor, despite Lund's intense desire that he do otherwise, only stated that he believed there was no God. Therefore, the only "faith" he is using is faith that he has not seen evidence of God's existence that he's forgotten about. Lund's comparison is much like saying that one person's faith that the sun will rise tomorrow is basically the same as my unshakable faith that the six-legged goats are waiting for me to come to Venus so that they may crown me their King.

The story of Korihor itself is hopelessly incomplete and one-sided. The author of Alma 30 pays much lip service to the idea of religious tolerance in the early part of the chapter, but is quickly abandoned when Korihor begins preaching. Nephite law, according to Alma 30:11, stated that ". . .there was no law against a man's belief. . ." and in verse 12 it is noted that ". . .the law could have no hold upon [Korihor]. . ." Apparently, sometime between verses 12 and 20, the Nephite first amendment was revoked, for Korihor is arrested and exiled from the city of Jershon for his heretical teachings. Undaunted, Korihor picks himself up, brushes the dust off his clothes, and heads for the land of Gideon. Here, the treasured Nephite laws protecting freedom of religion are also forgotten, and our plucky, persevering preacher is brought before the high priest of Gideon. In verse 29, Korihor is again bound, and sent to Zarahemla for a meeting with the chief judge, a man named Alma. After a lengthy discussion, in which Korihor asks for a sign of God's power, Alma asks God to silence Korihor. God, disliking freedom of speech as much as the next guy, strikes Korihor dumb. It is then revealed in verse 53 that Korihor was not simply teaching the doctrines of Satan, but was doing so at Lucifer's own behest. "The devil hath deceived me, for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, . . . and he taught me that which I should say." Yes, you did read it correctly. Korihor, if the Book of Mormon is to be believed, was preaching atheism because he was commanded to by an angel!

In a final, tragic blunder, Lund apparently confuses atheism with disbelief in Jesus Christ. He claims that the Zoramites that Alma meets in the next chapter are the final product of Korihor's teachings. Now, in Chapter 31, the Zoramites are reviled for only meeting to worship for an hour a week, and for not thinking about their deity more than once a week. Since Korihor's main teaching was that "there is no God," then to what were they praying?

Again and again, Lund makes assertions based on unstated premises. He gets away with it because the vast majority of his readers share his religious background, and share the same premises. But this indulgence allows the author to avoid bringing up questions that might be detrimental to his argument, and makes his writing a tool of propaganda, instead of education.

1) Those who would argue that this doesn't accurately describe the deity they worship miss the point: though the existence of deities in general cannot be disproven, once people claim to know some attributes about that deity, those statements are open to disproof.

2) Actually, my critic would have to finance a full-scale colonization. After all, much like Lund's "hide-and-seek God" the goats may not happen to be conveniently located wherever the probe happnes to land, and may indeed scamper away from the probe before they can be detected. Of course, by then I'll have realized that the goats are escaping detection by burrowing under the surface. . .

Copies of "Countering Korihor's Philosophy" can be found at and Daniel Purdie's webpage.


Copyright 2000
by Bryce Anderson