Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/Letter to a CES Director

A FairMormon Analysis of "Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony" and "Debunking FairMormon"


A FairMormon Analysis of: "Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony" and "Debunking FairMormon"
A work by author: Jeremy Runnells
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Claim Evaluation
Letter to a CES Director
Ces letter summary of claims.jpg
Summary chart breakdown to claims tag.jpg

Overview

Recommended: "A Reply from a Former CES Employee" (PDF)

Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony

Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony is an online document which is critical of Latter-day Saint truth claims. The document is comprised of a list of issues that the author states caused him to lose his testimony, and it is hosted on a number of websites which are critical of the Church. [1] The author states that he is "a disaffected member who lost his testimony so it’s no secret which side I’m on at the moment. All this information is a result of over a year of intense research and an absolute rabid obsession with Joseph Smith and Church history. With this said, I’d be pretty arrogant and ignorant to say that I have all the information and that you don’t have answers." A long list of issues follows. The author ultimately concludes that "There are just way too many problems. We’re not just talking about one issue here. We’re talking about dozens of serious issues that undermine the very foundation of the LDS Church and its truth claims."

Debunking FAIR's Debunking or Debunking FairMormon

The online document Debunking FAIR's Debunking or Debunking FairMormon is an apologetic attempt by the CES Letter author to respond to an earlier summary version of FairMormon's CES Letter response. The author incorporates much of the text of FairMormon's original summary responses and then attempts to, in his own words, "debunk" them. Many of his attempts to "debunk" involve the following tactics:

  1. Simply reasserting his original conclusions because he failed to understand the data.
  2. Having to "move the goalpost" on assertions for which he was proven wrong, and then asserting that it was FairMormon that focused on the wrong point.
  3. Speculating on the motives of historical figures for doing what they did without any supporting data, on the presumption that they were lying.

FairMormon's responses to a number of assertions made in this "failure to debunk" are interspersed in the list of claims below.

PDF-based response to the March 31, 2015 revision of the Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony

An alternative response in the form of an annotated PDF of the March 31st revision of the Letter is also available at the following link: "Letter to a CES Director : A Closer Look".

Detailed responses to "Letter to a CES Director" and "Debunking FairMormon" are found in linked subarticles below

The following links respond to individual claims contained in the following documents:

  • Jeremy Runnells, Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony (April 2013)
  • Jeremy Runnells, Debunking FAIR's Debunking (a.k.a. Debunking FairMormon) (July 2014)
  • Jeremy Runnells, Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony (October 2014)
  • Jeremy Runnells, Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony (March 2015)

Response to section "Book of Mormon Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author asks why italicized text and errors from the King James Bible are present in the Book of Mormon. He also briefly discusses anachronisms, archaeology, and a theory that the Book of Mormon place names actually originated in the area around New York. The "View of the Hebrews" theory of Book of Mormon authorship is discussed.

Jump to Subtopic:

Response to section "Book of Mormon Translation Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author of the letter asks, "Why is the Church not being honest and transparent to its members about how Joseph Smith really translated the Book of Mormon? How am I supposed to be okay with this deception?"

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Response to section "First Vision Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author states, "Like the rock in the hat story, I did not know there were multiple First Vision accounts. I did not know its contradictions or that the Church members didn’t know about a First Vision until 22 years after it supposedly happened. I was unaware of these omissions in the mission field as I was never taught or trained in the Missionary Training Center to teach investigators these facts."

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Response to section "Book of Abraham Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author notes that, "Egyptologists have found the source material for the Book of Abraham to be nothing more than a common pagan Egyptian funerary text for a deceased man named “Hor” in 1st century AD. In other words, it was a common Breathing Permit that the Egyptians buried with their dead. It has absolutely nothing to do with Abraham or anything Joseph claimed in his translation for the Book of Abraham."

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Response to section "Polygamy/Polyandry Concerns & Questions"

Summary: Regarding Joseph's practice of polygamy, the author states that "Joseph Smith’s pattern of behavior or modus operandi for a period of at least 10 years of his adult life was to keep secrets, be deceptive, and be dishonest – both privately and publicly."

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Response to section "Prophets Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author expresses concern about changes in doctrine. For example, "As a believing member, I had no idea that Joseph Smith gave the priesthood to black men. I’m supposed to go to the drawing board now and believe in a god who is not only a schizophrenic racist but who is inconsistent as well? Again, yesterday’s doctrine is today’s false doctrine. Yesterday’s 10 prophets are today’s heretics."

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Response to section "Kinderhook Plates and Translator/Seer Claims Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author claims that, "Joseph Smith made a scientific claim that he could translate ancient documents. This is a testable claim. Joseph failed the test with the Book of Abraham. He failed the test with the Kinderhook Plates."

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Response to section "Testimony/Spiritual Witness Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author asks the question, "Why is this Spirit so unreliable and inconsistent? How can I trust such an inconsistent and contradictory Source for knowing that Mormonism is worth betting my life, time, money, heart, mind, and obedience to?"

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Response to section "Priesthood Restoration Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author states, "Like the First Vision story, none of the members of the Church or Joseph Smith’s family had ever heard prior to 1834 about a priesthood restoration from John the Baptist or Peter, James, and John. Although the priesthood is now taught to have been restored in 1829, Joseph and Oliver made no such claim until 1834. Why did it take five years for Joseph or Oliver to tell members of the Church about the priesthood?"

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Response to section "Witnesses Concerns & Questions"

Summary: Regarding the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, the author states, "At the end of the day? It all doesn’t matter. The Book of Mormon Witnesses and their testimonies of the gold plates are irrelevant. It does not matter whether eleven 19th century treasure diggers with magical worldviews saw some gold plates or not. It doesn’t matter because of this one simple fact: Joseph did not use the gold plates for translating the Book of Mormon."

Jump to Subtopic:

Response to section "Temples & Freemasonry Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author of the letter asks, "Does the eternal salvation, eternal happiness, and eternal sealings of families really depend on medieval originated Masonic rituals in multi-million dollar castles? Is God really going to separate good couples and their children who love one other and who want to be together in the next life because they object to uncomfortable and strange Masonic temple rituals and a polygamous heaven?" We respond to these questions in this article.

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Response to section "Science Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author concludes that "The problem Mormonism encounters is that so many of its claims are well within the realm of scientific study, and as such, can be proven or disproven. To cling to faith in these areas, where the overwhelming evidence is against it, is willful ignorance, not spiritual dedication."

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Response to section "Scriptures Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author states that "To believe in the scriptures, I have to believe in a god who endorsed murder, genocide, infanticide, rape, slavery, selling daughters into sex slavery, polygamy, child abuse, stoning disobedient children, pillage, plunder, sexism, racism, human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, killing people who work on the Sabbath, death penalty for those who mix cotton with polyester, and so on."

Jump to Subtopic:

Response to section "Other Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author notes that, "Under [Quentin L.] Cook’s counsel, FAIR and unofficial LDS apologetic websites are anti-Mormon sources that should be avoided. Not only do they introduce to Mormons 'internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and in some cases invent shortcomings of early Church leaders' but they provide many ridiculous answers with logical fallacies and omissions while leaving members confused and hanging with a bizarre version of Mormonism."

Jump to Subtopic:

Response to section "Conclusion"

Summary: The author concludes, "FAIR and these unofficial apologists have done more to destroy my testimony than any anti-Mormon source ever could. I found their version of Mormonism to be alien and foreign to the Chapel Mormonism that I grew up in attending Church, seminary, reading scriptures, General Conferences, EFY, mission, and BYU. Their answers are not only contradictory to the scriptures and teachings I learned through correlated Mormonism…they’re truly bizarre."

Jump to Subtopic:

"Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director)

Summary: The author of the Letter to a CES Director spent approximately eight months and over 500 pages responding to FairMormon's analysis of the CES Letter. He calls this document "Debunking FairMormon". The document incorporates our original summary responses and the author responds line-by-line to reassert his original claims.

Citation abuse associated with various revision of the Letter to a CES Director and associated documents by the same author.

Summary: Examples of citation abuse in the Letter to a CES Director which demonstrate quote mining and quote duplications in order to make the hostile quotes appear to be more numerous.

The author's "open letter" to Elder Quentin L. Cook

Summary: Six months prior to writing the "Letter to a CES Director," the author posted an "Open Letter" to Elder Quentin L. Cook in an online ex-Mormon forum. This "open letter" represents a good summary of the issues that he would later cover in the "CES letter."

Attempts to "spread the word" about the CES Letter and media response.

Summary: Efforts to "spread the word" using the CES Letter involve vandalism and email spam.

Ad hominem case study: An attempt to discredit Brian Hales as a scholar

Summary: The author of A Letter to a CES Director attempts to discredit Brian Hales as a scholar without addressing his work.

Ad hominem case study: An attempt to portray FairMormon as delusional, dishonest and deceptive

Summary: The author of A Letter to a CES Director attempts to dismiss members of FairMormon as "delusional, dishonest and deceptive."

Kevin Christensen, "Eye of the Beholder, Law of the Harvest: Observations on the Inevitable Consequences of the Different Investigative Approaches of Jeremy Runnells and Jeff Lindsay," {{{publication}}}, (2014)

In his Letter to a CES Director, Jeremy Runnells explains how a year of obsessive investigation brought about the loss of his testimony. In an LDS FAQ, LDS blogger Jeff Lindsay deals with all of the same questions, and has done so at least twenty years and has not only an intact testimony, but boundless enthusiasm. What makes the difference? In the parable of the Sower, Jesus explained that the same seeds (words) can generate completely different harvests, ranging from nothing to a hundred-fold increase, all depending on the different soil and nurture. This essay looks at how different expectations and inquiries for translation, prophets, key scriptural passages on representative issues can lead to very different outcomes for investigators.

Click here to view the complete article

The FairMormon Blog responds to these questions

Jeff Lindsay,"Coping with the “Big List” of Attacks on the LDS Faith", FairMormon Blog, (May 20, 2014)


One of the challenges in defending one’s faith is coping with critics who use the “Big List” technique in their attack. This involves throwing out numerous arguments to create the impression of an overwhelming barrage that decimates the faith in question (see the related post, “If Only 10% of These Charges Are True…“). The Big List is loaded with barbed questions that weren’t written in search of a real answer. If there is a good defense to the arguments raised at first, never mind, there are many more to be launched in different directions.


As with many topics in fields like history, science, and religion, the issues raised in Big List attacks are often complex and may require exploring abundant details to answer questions properly. Even for those who are prepared to answer questions on a wide variety of topics, the time it takes to lay a foundation and properly answer a question can be taken by the instantly impatient critics as an admission of weakness and confirmation that they are right, and then it’s time to move on to the next attack and the next. If reasonable answers are promptly provided for some attacks, or if the alleged weakness on further examination actually proves to be evidence in favor of the faithful position, the response can be ignored as new attacks from the Big List are hurled out.

Click here to view the complete article

Daniel C. Peterson, "Some Reflections On That Letter To a CES Director"

Daniel C. Peterson,  Proceedings of the 2014 FairMormon Conference, (8 August 2014)
Some of you don’t know what the “Letter to a CES Director” is. It’s a letter that’s been circulating online for about a year now…a year and a half, I think, as far as I know, that has gotten quite a bit of circulation. It’s a kind of compendium of standard critical arguments against the truth claims of the Church. ....I don’t object to the attempt in the “Letter to a CES Director” to subject the claims of Mormonism to reasoned examination. I just don’t think the effort went nearly far or deep enough.

Click here to view the complete article


This set of articles comprises approximately 580 questions or sources assigned to the response to Letter to a CES Director. A full list of these articles may be found here: Category:Letter to a CES Director. New questions and sources are periodically added to this list.

Notes

  1. The PDF version of the letter is located at http://cesletter.com/. A response to FairMormon's initial response is located at http://www.cesletter.com/debunking-fairmormon/ FairMormon's standing policy is not to link to critical websites. To view these sites, copy and paste the links into your browser.