The writer of this account is Mormon, who called Korihor an anti-Christ. Alma 30 is part of an abridgment made by Mormon--under the direction and inspiration of the Lord--from a larger, more detailed account by earlier prophets. In vision Nephi saw that this record would eventually come forth in the latter days for the benefit of our modern generation. (1 Ne. 13:32-36.) Keeping this in mind, why would the Lord direct Mormon to devote an entire chapter to the details of the teachings and final destiny of Korihor when so many other things were written on the original plates? As we compare the teachings of this man and the beliefs of those today who advocate the philosophy of naturalism, we see a striking similarity. I believe that the Lord foresaw the adverse effects of naturalism on our modern world and therefore purposely directed Mormon to include the teachings of Korihor in his record. Those who read and accept the Book of Mormon are thereby warned against accepting the philosophical assumptions of naturalism. What one believes about the universe is important because it affects one's behavior, for "as [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he." (Prov. 23:7.)
The Rise of Naturalism
E. A. Burtt, in his book The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science, traces cosmological thinking from medieval to modern times. He points out that the naturalistic viewpoint has made great inroads into the thinking of many of our modern generation. Even though we may not all be philosophers or scientists, still the philosophies of those around us affect our thinking even though we may not realize it. Burtt explains that sometimes we accept a philosophical position without being aware of its implications and hence it produces a subtle and pervasive control over our thinking.
How curious, after all, is the way in which we moderns think about our world! And it is so novel, too. The cosmology underlying our mental processes is but three centuries old--a mere infant in the history of thought--and yet we cling to it with the same embarrassed zeal with which a young father fondles his new-born baby. Like him, we are ignorant enough of its precise nature; like him, we nevertheless take it piously to be ours and allow it a subtly pervasive and unhindered control over our thinking.2
Bertrand Russell was a renowned mathematician and philosopher who advocated the naturalistic viewpoint. He claimed that as science has arisen in the past 300 years and has become so pragmatically successful in our lives, it has become a dominant factor in determining the beliefs of educated people: "As a result of the new control over the environment which scientific knowledge has conferred, a new philosophy is growing up, involving a changed conception of man's place in the universe."3 He went on to explain that it is our personal acceptance of the premises on which the scientific method was based that has changed our way of thinking about the world around us:
Out of the work of the great men of the seventeenth century a new outlook on the world was developed, and it was this outlook, not specific arguments, which brought about the decay of the belief in portents, witchcraft, demoniacal possession, and so forth. I think there were three ingredients in the scientific outlook of the eighteenth century that were specially important.
- Statements of fact should be based on observation, not on unsupported authority.
- The inanimate world is a self-acting, self-perpetuating system, in which all changes conform to natural laws.
- The earth is not the center of the universe, and probably Man is not its purpose (if any); moreover, "purpose" is a concept which is scientifically useless.4
We advocate the philosophy of naturalism (whether we realize it or not) when we no longer regard these statements as restricted outlooks to be taken only in scientific endeavors but shift to the following positions: knowledge cannot be gained by any other means than by the use of the natural senses, the universe is really an inanimate self-acting and self-perpetuating system, and there is no real purpose in the existence of the universe.5 This chapter will compare these fundamental assumptions of naturalism with Korihor's teachings to show the similarity between the two. The implications of accepting these assumptions will then be examined.
Methods of Gaining Knowledge
Science has become successful in predicting, controlling, and explaining many natural events by making the restriction that in any scientific endeavor all conclusions must be based upon public, repeatable observations using the natural senses. This has proved advantageous for the progress of science, but if we allow this restriction to become part of our personal epistemology or method of gaining knowledge of the world around us, it automatically eliminates any knowledge coming to us from God through the living prophets, the scriptures, or personal revelation.
Korihor took the naturalistic viewpoint. He advocated that what the prophets say and have said (their recorded words, or scriptures) are foolish traditions (Russell's unsupported authority), since we cannot know of anything that does not come through the natural senses (things we cannot see): "O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope, why do ye yoke yourselves with such foolish things? Why do ye look for a Christ? For no man can know of anything which is to come. Behold, these things which ye call prophecies, which ye say are handed down by holy prophets, behold, they are foolish traditions of your fathers. How do ye know of their surety? Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see." (Alma 30:13-15; emphasis added.)
Because of Korihor's position that we cannot know anything of the world around us except through empirical observation, he claimed we cannot know that there is a God, "a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be." (Alma 30:28.) When Alma confronted him directly and asked him if he believed in a God, he answered no (Alma 30:38) and went on to explain that he would believe in God only if he were given a sign, some empirical evidence: "If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words." (Alma 30:43.) Later he took more of an agnostic rather than an atheistic position, but he still maintained his position that knowledge of such things comes only by empirical observation: "I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God . . . and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe." (Alma 30:48.)
Alma, on the other hand, held that we can obtain knowledge from God by revelation as well as through the natural senses. By not hardening our hearts, we can receive revelation to our spirits that confirms to us that the words of the prophets and the scriptures are true.6 Alma rebuked Korihor, saying that he was resisting the promptings of the Holy Spirit; otherwise he would accept the words of the prophets and the scriptures and believe in God:
And now 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. But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? Believest thou that these things are true?
Behold, I know that thou believest, but thou art possessed with a lying spirit, and ye have put off the Spirit of God that it may have no place in you. . . .
Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God. . . . And yet do ye go about, leading away the hearts of this people, testifying unto them there is no God? And yet will ye deny against all these witnesses? And he said: Yea, I will deny, except ye shall show me a sign.
And now it came to pass that Alma said unto him: Behold, I am grieved because of the hardness of your heart, yea, that ye will still resist the spirit of the truth, that thy soul may be destroyed. (Alma 30:40-42, 44-46; emphasis added.)
The Nature of the Universe
Russell's second point was that science has become pragmatically successful by assuming that the world around us is a self-acting, self-perpetuating system in which all changes conform to natural laws. Russell explains that before the rise of modern physics, it was thought that all motion resulted from the action of living beings with souls:
Before Galileo it had been thought that a lifeless body will not move of itself, and if it is in motion it will gradually come to rest. Only living beings, it was thought, could move without help of some external agency. Aristotle thought that the heavenly bodies were pushed by Gods. Here on earth, animals can set themselves in motion and can cause motion in dead matter. . . . Everything depends upon impulsion from the souls of living beings.
So long as this view prevailed, physics as an independent science was impossible, since the physical world was thought to be not causally self- contained. But Galileo and Newton between them proved that all the movements of the planets, and of dead matter on the earth, proceed according to the law of physics, and once started, will continue indefinitely. There is no need of mind in this process.7
At a later date the philosopher and mathematician Descartes "held that not only dead matter, but the bodies of animals also, are wholly governed by the laws of physics."8 The French freethinkers and the eighteenth- century materialists took the next step by saying that all causes are material in nature, and that mental occurrences are inoperative by-products. We will see, however, that if we accept these views as part of our personal cosmology, certain implications result that are contrary to the words of the prophets and the scriptures.
Belief in a self-acting, self-perpetuating system in which all changes conform to natural law eliminates a belief that God has any power to direct or control matter.9 Such a position is that of naturalism. Instead of believing that God is the author of all natural law and therefore ultimately controls all phenomena in the physical universe (theism), the naturalist believes that self-existing "Law" is the sovereign power in the universe and ultimately controls all phenomena.10 According to this view, all causation is material (according to natural law) rather than mental (originating in the mind of God or some other living creature).
Burtt points out that the shift from theism (in medieval times) to naturalism (in modern times) was gradual. In the early history of science, many scientists held theistic views.11 Their religious beliefs led them to conclude that God controls all matter by his power and that he commands this matter to behave in certain ways. To them God was sovereign and therefore the author of all natural laws. As scientists, they attempted to discover these laws by gathering facts empirically in an attempt to induce from them certain regularities in nature. Once these regularities (natural laws) were found, the scientists could better predict, control, and explain the phenomena in the universe around them. However, to them God was not just a super scientist or super engineer who discovered and worked with self-existing natural laws; rather, he was the Great Creator, who authored the laws they were attempting to discover. Thus, a description of how matter behaves would also be a description of the handiwork of God. This was the position of Alma when rebutting the position of Korihor: "Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote 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." (Alma 30:44; emphasis added.)
If God had no power to command and direct matter, then Alma would not have given God credit for the orderly motion of the earth and other heavenly bodies. Alma's position is substantiated by the word of the Lord in modern revelation wherein the regular motion of the heavenly bodies is attributed to God's commands (law), which reach all matter through the Spirit of Christ:12
Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ.... Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space--the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne.... And again, verily I say unto you, he hath given a law unto all things, by which they move in their times and their seasons; and their courses are fixed, even the courses of the heavens and the earth.... The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God.... Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power. (D&C 88:7, 12-13, 42-43, 45, 47; emphasis added.)
The Nature of Humanity
In Russell's second statement, he not only advocated a self-acting and self- perpetuating universe, but also one that was inanimate. A universe that was self-acting and self-perpetuating, where all changes result from the operation of natural law, would of necessity be one where man was merely a physical machine. Such a machine would be controlled completely by natural law, leaving no room for a spirit within the physical body to interact with the body and influence its actions. Some early scientists such as Johannes Muller believed that humans were composed of more than a mere body that was a physical machine. However, some of Muller's own students made a pact among themselves to promote the idea that people's actions were the result of no forces other than the operation of natural law. They were eventually successful in promoting that view, which has now become a traditional way of thinking for many of our modern scientists,13 especially in the field of behavioristic psychology.14
Coming back to Korihor, we find that his views pertaining to humanity were consistent with these naturalistic views. Korihor implied that people had no spirits when he said that "when a man was dead, that was the end thereof." (Alma 30:18.) Furthermore, in such a mechanical universe as that advocated by Korihor, there could be no place for such things as God's law given by his prophets. Consequently, Korihor taught that the words of the prophets were not from God but were mere traditions of men. We also find Korihor teaching that even if people did not live according to the words of the prophets, they still would not "offend some unknown being, who they say is God." (Alma 30:28.)
The Effects of Korihor's Naturalistic Doctrine
In such a naturalistic universe as that advocated by Korihor, where there were no laws of God to break, there could be no sin nor spiritual death that results from sin. Instead of being motivated in their behavior by a fear or love of God, people's actions would be motivated by a survival of the fittest, both physically and mentally, which was no crime. Holding such naturalistic views would influence people to believe that they were not accountable to a higher power for their actions. As a result, they would be led away into sin. Mormon comments on Korihor's teachings and their effect on the people of his day as follows: "Many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that... every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime. And thus he did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms." (Alma 30:17-18.)
Since Korihor's universe held no room for a God, God's laws, or certain effects resulting from the breaking of these laws, to be consistent he would have to deny the fall of man which came as the result of the transgression of Adam and Eve. The scriptures describe how the transgression of a commandment of God in the Garden of Eden by our first parents affected not only them but all their posterity by causing them to become mortals subject to spiritual and temporal death. (Alma 42:2-14.) It seems that Korihor was denying the fall when he said: "Ye say that this people is a guilty and a fallen people, because of the transgression of a parent. Behold, I say that a child is not guilty because of its parents." (Alma 30:25.)
Ancient as well as modern scriptures teach that an atonement was needed to provide a remission of personal sins (on conditions of repentance) as well as to overcome the effects of the fall of Adam and Eve. (2 Ne. 9:1-13; Alma 42:12- 16.) Again to be consistent with his other naturalistic views, Korihor would have had to deny a need for an atonement and of course a need for Christ to perform the atonement. Concerning the atonement, he said "that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men." (Alma 30:17.) He also stated that to "look forward and say ye see a remission of your sins . . . is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so." (Alma 30:16.) Since Korihor did not believe in sin or a need for an atonement to overcome the effects of sin, he claimed that the idea of a Christ slain for the sins of the world was a foolish tradition of the Nephites used by their priests to keep them in bondage: "Ye . . . say that Christ shall come. But behold, I say that ye do not know that there shall be a Christ. And ye say also that he shall be slain for the sins of the world--and thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands." (Alma 30:26-27; emphasis added.)
Consequently, he taught the people "that there should be no Christ" (Alma 30:12) and that to look forward to the coming of Christ was to yoke themselves "under a foolish and a vain hope" (Alma 30:13).
Why Korihor Was an Anti-Christ
It is now easy to see why Mormon labeled Korihor an Anti-Christ: Korihor was denying the truth of those doctrines that made it necessary that Jesus was (and is) the Christ. The role of Christ is two-fold.15 First, he is the Lord God of this world. He attained to this position in premortal life. (Abr. 3:19-21; D&C 38:1-3.) As the Lord God, his word is law to the physical elements, and by his word or power he created or organized this world and continues to sustain and uphold it. He also gives his word (or law) to people on earth, and they have a spirit within them with the capacity to receive and obey his word (or law) or to reject it. Even though each person has a physical body subject to natural law, the spirit within that body can control the body's outward behavior.16
Christ's second role is that of Savior or Redeemer. Because Jesus was born the Son of God and performed the atonement during his mortal ministry, he gained power to overcome the effect of people's breaking the very laws he gave in his role as the Lord God. (2 Ne. 2:10.) Hence, he gained power to overcome the effects of the fall as well as to overcome the effects of individual sin, if the person sincerely repents and strives to live the gospel. The purpose of creation was to give people joy, which comes when they overcome spiritual and temporal death through the atonement of Christ.17 Korihor denied all this (Alma 30:22, 35), as do the "naturalists" of our day who hold similar viewpoints.18
In his final confrontation with Alma, Korihor exclaimed he would never believe in God unless he received a physical sign as a manifestation of God's power. Finally, the Lord allowed Alma to give him a sign, but it was to his condemnation: Korihor was struck dumb by the power of God. Korihor then confessed that his doctrines were false and were authored by the devil:
Now when Alma had said these words, Korihor was struck dumb, that he could not have utterance, according to the words of Alma. . . .
And Korihor put forth his hand and wrote, saying: I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak; and I know that nothing save it were the power of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I also knew that there was a God. But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me. (Alma 30:50, 52-53; emphasis added.)
Summary and Conclusions
If we accept the Book of Mormon as the word of God, the account of Korihor teaches us that the beliefs associated with the philosophy of naturalism are anti-Christ in nature. Science itself should not be anti-Christ, for its methodology should restrict scientists to making statements only about things that can be observed through the natural senses. Some scientists have taken theistic views while others have taken naturalistic views about the nature of the universe, but both groups have acted as philosophers, making statements that go beyond what can be confirmed publicly through the natural senses. According to C. S. Lewis, what is behind the things science observes cannot (and should not) be answered by the scientist if he or she is speaking as a scientist. Lewis comments on the role of science in solving the question of whether God created the universe and continues to uphold it, or whether it is merely an inanimate, self-perpetuating system with no God involved:
Wherever there have been thinking men both views turn up. And note this too. You cannot find out which view is the right one by science in the ordinary sense. Science works by experiments. It watches how things behave. Every scientific statement in the long run, however complicated it looks, really means something like, "I pointed the telescope to such and such a part of the sky at 2:20 on January 15th and saw so-and-so," or, "I put some of this stuff in a pot and heated it to such-and-such a temperature and it did so-and- so." Do not think I am saying anything against science: I am only saying what its job is. And the more scientific a man is, the more (I believe) he would agree with me that this is the job of science--and a very useful and necessary job it is too. But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes--something of a different kind--this is not a scientific question. If there is "Something Behind," then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in some different way. The statement that there is any such thing, and the statement that there is no such thing, are neither of them statements that science can make. And real scientists do not usually make them.19
C. S. Lewis makes a good point. As a result of scientists using the methodology of science in the last few centuries, an enormous amount of valuable knowledge has been gained about the world around us, knowledge that can be confirmed by empirical observation. However, God has given us revelation through his prophets and through scripture, which reveal to us many things about the universe that cannot be observed in a scientific way. Sometimes what the philosophers say about our universe disagrees with what God has revealed. However, God will confirm to us that the knowledge he has given to us by the prophets and the scriptures is true. That confirmation can come to our spirits through the Holy Ghost if we sincerely ask for it.20 God has said that part of our test here is to see if we will seek the truth through the power of the Holy Ghost: "Ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God. For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith." (D&C 98:11- 12.)
Consequently, if we seek and gain a confirmation through the power of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true, we can use the contents of that book as a guide in detecting the beliefs of our modern generation that are anti- Christ in nature. It is our responsibility to not "put off the Spirit of God" (Alma 30:42) as did Korihor so that we may not "be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils." (D&C 46:7.)
2. Edwin Arthur Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern
Physical Science (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1950).
3. Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1953), pp. 1-2.
4. The Impact of Science on Society, p. 6.
5. Russell held the extreme position of naturalism by advocating all three of these assumptions as being true. There are various other positions that are not quite so extreme. However, advocating any one of these assumptions as being true results in holding a position that is still not in accordance with the words of the scriptures and the prophets. For example, a "deist" believes that God created the universe to begin with but then withdrew, and that since then the universe has run by itself according to natural law. In such a universe there could be no miracles or revelations because there would be no divine intervention after the creation.
6. Alma 5:45-48. Joseph Smith stated that revelation comes ''to our spirits precisely as though we had no bodies at all.'' (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1938], p. 355.) See also D&C 6:14-17, 22-24; 18:1- 5; 29:7; Moroni 10:4-5.
7. The Impact of Science on Society, pp. 9-10.
8. The Impact of Science on Society, p. 10.
9. The Prophet Joseph Smith and the scriptures indicate that when God commands the elements, they obey his will. (Abr. 2:7; Moses 1:25; Hel. 12:7-17; D&C 133:23; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 197-98.) This earth had its origin first as a plan in the mind of God. (Abr. 3:24; 5:1-3.) He then spoke to or commanded the elements (D&C 38:3) by means of his spirit (D&C 29:30- 32), and they obeyed him (Abr. 4:9-11, 18, 21, 25). They continue to obey him and are thus governed (D&C 88:7-13) or upheld by his power (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 55-56, 345). In other words, what we describe the elements as doing (natural law) is nothing more than what God has prescribed them to do. Furthermore, God tells us that it is offensive to him to not acknowledge his hand in all things. (D&C 59:21.) A more detailed discussion on this subject is given by the author in ''Creation, Fall, and Atonement,'' Studies in Scripture, Vol. 7: 1 Nephi to Alma 29, ed. Kent P. Jackson (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1987), pp. 87-90, 98-100.
10. A more detailed discussion on the shift from theism to naturalism is given by the author in ''What Is Man?'' Hearken O Ye People (Sandy, Utah: Randall Book Company, 1984), pp. 134-42.
11. As an example, Burtt points out that both Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton held theistic beliefs. See The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science, pp. 289-90.
12. Joseph Smith also gave God credit for the movement of the heavenly bodies when he said that ''God set the sun, the moon, and the stars in the heavens, and gave them their laws, conditions and bounds, which they cannot pass, except by His commandments; they all move in perfect harmony in their sphere and order.'' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 197-98.)
13. Edwin G. Boring, A History of Experimental Psychology (New York City: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1957), p. 708.
14. A more detailed discussion of the naturalistic views on humanity is given by the author in ''What Is Man?'' pp. 133-39.
15. A more detailed discussion of the two roles of Christ is given by the author in ''Jesus Is the Christ,'' Studies in Scripture, Vol. 5: The Gospels, ed. Kent B. Jackson and Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986), pp. 323-40.
16. As an example, Christ's spirit ruled over his body at all times. (Mosiah 15:5-7.)
17. 2 Nephi 2:10-13, 25; Alma 42:16; D&C 101:35-38; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 255. A more detailed discussion on the subject of the joy that comes from overcoming spiritual and temporal death is given by the author in ''The Fall of Man,'' Principles of the Gospel in Practice (Salt Lake City: Randall Book Co., 1985), pp. 48-58.
18. It should be recalled that the naturalist denies that there is ''purpose'' in the universe. Burtt summarizes Russell's naturalistic beliefs on this subject as follows: ''To Russell, man is but the chance and temporary product of a blind and purposeless nature, an irrelevant spectator of her doings, almost an alien intruder on her domain. No high place in a cosmic teleology is his; his ideals, his hopes, his mystic raptures, are but the creations of his own errant and enthusiastic imagination, without standing or application to a real world interpreted mechanically in terms of space, time, and unconscious, though eternal atoms. His mother earth is but a speck in the boundlessness of space, his place even on the earth but insignificant and precarious, in a word, he is at the mercy of brute forces that unknowingly happened to throw him into being, and promise ere long just as unknowingly to snuff out the candle of his little day. Himself and all that is dear to him will in course of time become 'buried in a universe of ruins.' '' (The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science, p. 10.)
19. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1960), p. 32, emphasis added.
20. Moroni 10:4-5; D&C 6:14-17, 22-24; 18:1-4; James 1:5-6; Matt. 7:7- 11.