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Korihor and the Self-Refuting Argument (Alma 30)

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon Lesson 27
“The Virtue of the Word of God” (Alma 30-31)




In Alma chapter 30, Korihor, one of three people in the Book of Mormon who at different times attempt to dissuade the Nephites from their faith in the coming of Christ, makes his appearance. His arguments have several interesting aspects to them, in part because they are at least partially self-contradictory. To show this we need to first look at what he is arguing, beginning with verse 13,

13 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.
14 Behold, these things which ye call prophecies, which ye say are handed down by holy prophets, behold, they are foolish traditions of your fathers.
15 How do ye know of their surety? Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ.
16 Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, it 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.

His starting premise is “no man can know of anything which is to come.” Arguing from this premise, he impugns prophecies, which indeed don’t make sense if it is truly impossible to know any future events, according to his initial premise. Thus if the prophecies do not constitute a knowledge of things to come then they are mere traditions, and one can have no confidence in anything premised upon them such as the coming of Christ. He goes on to ridicule faith in Christ, however, and makes the claim that these prophecies are “foolish traditions of your fathers”, which “lead you away into a belief of things which are not so.” Although it is subtle, by assuming that Christ does not come and assuming that the prophecies will not be fulfilled, Korihor has already flatly contradicted his starting premise. He is making an assumption about what the future will be and thus presuming to know that it will not include Christ, which is entirely inconsistent with his claim that “no man can know of anything which is to come. Later, when Korihor confronts Alma with similar arguments, Alma points out the logical incoherence of his approach, beginning with verse 37,

37 And then Alma said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
38 And he answered, Nay.
39 Now Alma said unto him: Will ye deny again that there is a God, and also deny the Christ? For behold, I say unto you, I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come.
40 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.

Here Alma points out the critical weakness of his argument: by his own premise his assumption about the absence of Christ from the future is as invalid as any other assumption about the state of the future, and thus his premise refutes his conclusion. Korihor’s argument is fundamentally that because no one can know anything about the future he, Korihor, can know something about the future, thus Korihor has to exempt his conclusion from the premise it is founded upon. His other argument is that because no one can know of anything except what they see, he can see that there is no God. We would be wise to be cautious of arguments in our day which partake of similar faults. Alma goes on, in verse 41, “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?”

The God in which Alma believes is of course th Yahweh, who is the creator, and thus he cites the ordering of the world and cosmos as supporting evidence together with his own testimony which arises from his redemptive encounter with him. Thus the evidence of the creation together with the evidence of redemption from Alma’s own experience comprise two witnesses of the Lord, the God who both creates and redeems.

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