Gene Expression

There’s a hilarious, and often thoughtful, comment thread over at The American Scene. Ross Douthat is a Roman Catholic, and many of his readers are serious intellectual Christians. So, I am always interested when they object to the bizarre and obviously anthropogenic hocus-pocus of Mormonism. Some snips of interest:

dude, mormans are weird. let’s just face it. the whole thing makes me giggle when I talk about it. golden tablets . . . the whole thing is goofy-times.

Because the theology is “weird,” and the history is even weirder. Captain Moroni? Golden tablets? Steve Young gets his own universe? I mean . . . this just doesn’t sound serious.

I can’t get past “Moroni.” It just sounds like a name that a 19th Century quack would invent.


Weirder than, say, believing that a man who died two thousand years ago can be eaten in convenient wafer form as a requirement to getting into heaven?

Hear, hear! Now, Michael Brendan Dougherty:

Also, I don’t think Mormons will take well to scrutiny about their history – putting aside polygamy and the other aspects of Mormon faith that have been abrogated by continuing revelation (like excluding blacks from the major priesthood) – early Mormon rhetoric is deeply rooted in 19th century Amerian Anti-Catholicism, there are of course continuing controversies over the LDS baptizing the dead – particularly holocaust victims. Let’s also not forget the very bizzare (most Christians would say gross) interpretations about the conception of Christ.

I may be willing to vote for a Mormon – but I would have to think about it. To be honest, I trust better the sense of atheists than I do someone who would hold to such a mish-mash of doctrines as Mormonism.

There you have it!

Please note a point of irony, to some extent Mormon theology is materialistic. God is a being of flesh and bone, constrained by logic and the laws of the universe. Mormons need to make less recourse to bizarre semantic philosophical circumlocutions because their idea of God stays pretty close to our “cognitive machine code.” This is the problem though, the Mormon god seems more like science fiction than supernaturalism because he is a creature of this universe more than a creator of the universe.

Related: One Nation Under Gods.


  1. #1 Chris
    April 28, 2006

    One thing’s for sure, many of Mormonism’s stranger beliefs violate Atran’s “minimally counterintuitive” principle. It’d be interesting to look at the difference between whacky Mormon theology and everyday Mormon beliefs. I’d bet everyday Mormon beliefs are much more mundane, and not unlike those of more mainstream Christians (even Catholics, who probably don’t actually use the transubstantiation belief in their daily lives at all).

  2. #2 Johnny Vector
    April 28, 2006

    First of all, it’s “hear! hear!” Dammit.

    As for Mormons’ everyday beliefs, the only one I know is immensely rational in her everyday life. The ones I grew up with in Arizona don’t count, because they were busy doing the Mormon equivalent of the Catholic teenage rebellion. And when I say ‘equivalent’, I mean it in the mathematical sense.

  3. #3 razib
    April 28, 2006

    One thing’s for sure, many of Mormonism’s stranger beliefs violate Atran’s “minimally counterintuitive” principle. It’d be interesting to look at the difference between whacky Mormon theology and everyday Mormon beliefs.

    i think it is arguable that mormom beliefs are far less counter-intuitive than regular christianity, for what it is worth.

  4. #4 matoko_96%evil
    April 29, 2006

    Any belief in the supernatural is counterintuitive–Mormonism differs in that its 19th century origins are far more susceptible to fact checking and general skepticism.

    i think it is arguable that mormom beliefs are far less counter-intuitive than regular christianity

    Exactly, Razib– it is just that origins of mormon beliefs aren’t shrouded in the forgiving mists of time.

  5. #5 Nathan Myers
    April 29, 2006

    Really whacko beliefs are better, to the extent that they’re less likely to interfere with daily life. Medical miracles, for example, are a problem, because they lead some to pray as a substitute for actual treatment. Say you believe, instead, that Horus kills his father Osiris, marries his mother, becomes Osirus and sires Horus every year. It has no consequences, and no implications, it just floats out there, entirely disconnected from experiential reality.

  6. #6 Ed Darrell
    April 29, 2006

    Most Mormons restrict their odd views to their religion, though, and remain thoughtful, practical operatives in their daily lives, to the extent that we might wonder whether the faith doesn’t produce some tendency toward sanity. The church has no teaching against evolution, for example, and biologists and geologists from Brigham Young University come well trained to do research that is useful, rather than making videos for Kent Hovind (whose faux academic credentials would probably raise hackles in Mormon circles, where knowledge is cherished).

    Others who believe might do well to follow the Mormon example — have faith, but don’t deny reality.

    Oh, sure, there are exceptions — Ezra Taft Benson as Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture was spooked daft by communism (which probably didn’t affect his work at Agriculture), and Sen. Smoot’s faith may have contributed to his isolationist tendencies (think Smoot-Hawley Tariffs). But Ted Bell was an excellent Secretary of Education — probably the best we’ve had so far, and Marriner Eccles made a commendable chairman of the Federal Reserve, after writing the legislation that overhauled the U.S. banking system. James Fletcher was an oustanding scientist and great head of NASA, and his father, Harvey Fletcher, was a great scientist and inventor (hearing aids, and work on stereophonic sound recording)(full disclosure: I knew Harvey Fletcher in my childhood, and my father was an acquaintance of James, who was, later, the father-in-law of my former assistant and good friend).

    I think sometimes a religion may be known as much for its refugees as its adherents, and in that case Mormonism qualified for having produced refugees such as Airzona Rep. Morris Udall and Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland.

    The genetic stuff recently must trouble some Mormons, but no doubt they are buoyed by their history. The Book of Mormon tells of great civilizations in Central and South America. It was published before the civilizations we now know to have existed there were known generally or at all. When one’s time frame is eternity, patience is easily affordable. In the meantime, the Mormon commitment to knowledge and research has not caused them to deny the reality of genetics, as some religionists deny the reality of geology and biology to defend their beliefs. Nor would most Mormons avoid any form of medical care in preference to prayer-only treatments. God expects action, Mormons believe, and so they act to prevent and cure disease and treat other medical problems.

  7. #7 Jason Malloy
    April 29, 2006

    You missed an important refugee.

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