A response to "Countering Korihor's Philosophies," by Gerald Lund
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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."
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:
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.
by Bryce Anderson