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

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

Response to "Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony (CES Letter: My Search for Answers to my Mormon Doubts) and "Debunking FAIR's Debunking"(Debunking FairMormon)

Summary: Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony (CES Letter: My Search for Answers to My Mormon Doubts as of 2017) 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. 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 FAIR's CES Letter response. The author incorporates much of the text of FAIR's original summary responses (created in 2013) and then attempts to, in his own words, "debunk" them. Here we have incorporated all arguments from three updates to the CES Letter and responded to them. We have also included responses to Debunking FairMormon. Articles have been edited to correct factual errors spotted by the author of the CES Letter and clarify responses.

Readers should bear in mind while interacting with any of the material from the author of the CES Letter that he frequently attempts to portray FAIR and other apologists as delusional and deceitful--frequently citing changes we (FAIR) have made to our responses in his rebuttals to FAIR and often appealing to ridicule. He often tries to discredit apologists by simply showing how we disagree on matters such as Book of Mormon Geography or other trivial things. Readers should be careful to look for this and be aware of how FAIR responds to criticism.

It is true that we have edited our articles that were posted in initial response in 2013 and also created new articles and responses to arguments from the CES Letter over time. This is the refining we expect to receive as we make the defense of the Church better through more study, improved scholarship, and through suggestions from our readers. We believe it's made our responses much stronger than his attempts at "debunking" us in Debunking FairMormon. We may also make mistakes in formulating our response (which we have corrected since the rebuttals to our original 2013 pages were posted by the author) but we have not sought to deliberately deceive anyone in editing them.

Readers should also be aware that just because FAIR hasn't responded to an argument or a response does not satisfy a question completely, that does not then mean apologetics can't be created or improved in answering that question/criticism. We are a group of volunteer members who seek to defend the faith in our spare time and write however much we can with that time and when we see it as necessary. We expect, as mentioned, to improve our efforts over time with improved scholarship and from suggestions by our readers.

With respect to the disagreement that the author cites among apologists, there are often many ways to faithfully reconcile something. FAIR's goal is to provide every angle. Additionally, the nature of scholarship is to make arguments based upon current scientific findings. Scholarship refines itself overtime as science improves and with it, apologetics. Additionally, the existence of disagreement does not invalidate the strength of an argument. Are we to believe that critics don't have any good points if they disagree on something? Readers should consult the actual scholarship done by faithful scholars and decide for themselves where they stand instead of accepting obfuscatory arguments such as these made by the author.

The CES Letter is a compilation of the most common attacks on the Church. Each of these issues that the author discusses have been repeatedly discussed in both official Church literature and in scholarly articles, notes, and monographs. A monograph could be taken to explain these issues in a satisfactory way and indeed, entire books have been written on many of these subjects. We advise readers to use FAIR as a starting point rather than an ending. The wiki is designed as your first stop for getting immediate first aid, so to speak. It may be advisable that, instead of reading this long response, that readers take time to order books that cover the same issues and read and digest at a pace that is more suitable to their work/family/school schedules, level of knowledge, and so forth.

If this is your first time visiting FAIR we invite you to see our introduction page found here. We strongly encourage the reader to also visit our introductory page to apologetics before reading our response. Debate uses the language of logical fallacy often. If you are not familiar with logical fallacy or at least need a definition for one or more of the logical fallacies listed in our response, we strongly encourage you to visit our logical fallacy page (preferably before reading our response). It will help you to evaluate claims better and make good suggestions as to how we can improve our responses. If you do not understand something in our response, you spot an error, an answer could be augmented or improved, a response could be provided to a claim that we have missed, or if you have any other question(s) and/or comment(s) regarding this document, we invite you to submit your question(s)/make your comment(s) to FAIR volunteers at this link.

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)

Chart CES Letter summary061018.png

Response to claims made in "Letter to a CES Director" and "Debunking FAIR's Debunking" by Jeremy Runnells

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Other responses to the "Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony"

A Faithful Reply to the CES Letter from a Former CES Employee, by Jim Bennett (2018)
Letter to a CES Director: A Closer Look
  • Highly Recommended: Latter-day Saint Sarah Allen has produced a series of posts on the different sections of the CES Letter. These posts synthesize material gathered from faithful sources across books and the Internet about the topics broached by the CES Letter. FAIR has edited these posts and published them on our website. Links to each of these posts have been gathered on this portion of our wiki.
Sarah Allen’s Response to the CES Letter

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.

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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."

The multiple First Vision accounts have been discussed many times in official, semi-official, and outside venues.

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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?" This section touches on themes of epistemology.

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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."

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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."

Science is embraced by Mormonism and understanding the past is something we believe helpful to being more perfectly instructed in all things pertaining to the kingdom of God. Our theology is not threatened by science (D&C 88: 78-79).

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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."

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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."

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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."

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"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."

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Eye of the Beholder, Law of the Harvest: Observations on the Inevitable Consequences of the Different Investigative Approaches of Jeremy Runnells and Jeff Lindsay"

Kevin Christensen,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (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

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Image is Everything: Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain"

Kevin Christensen,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (2015)
Soon after the appearance of my Interpreter review of Jeremy Runnells’ Letter to a CES Director, he promised to provide his personal response. Although this response has not yet appeared, he did post an essay called “The Sky is Falling” by his friend Johnny Stephenson. After I read the essay closely in May, I realized that it provides, however unintentionally, a valuable set of discussion points with illustrative examples. My response begins with some preliminaries, surveys essential background issues concerning facts, ideology, and cognitive dissonance, and then addresses his historical arguments regarding the First Vision and priesthood restoration accounts.

Click here to view the complete article

The FAIR Blog responds to these questions

Jeff Lindsay,"Coping with the “Big List” of Attacks on the LDS Faith", FAIR 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.


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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