The Problem With Thomas Murphy - By Geoffrey Biddulph
The Parable of the Chess Club and Anti-Mormons
by Geoffrey Biddulph
About the Author:
Geoffrey Biddulph lives and works
in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He is the
First Counselor in the bishopric of
the Jardim Botanico ward. He is
proud of his beautiful wife Sara,
his two lovely daughters, Camila
and Isabella, and his stepson
The Chess Club
There once was a highly successful university chess club. The chess club became very popular
and gained dozens of members.
One day, one of the members, let’s call him Mel, grew bored with playing chess and decided he
wanted to play checkers. In fact, he was so bored of chess that he wanted all of the other
members to play checkers too. He spent all of his time haranguing them to stop playing chess
and start play checkers. And when he didn’t get his way, he left in a huff and would disappear
from the club for weeks on end.
The chess club finally held a vote, and it was 49-1. Mel was still the only guy who wanted to
Time passed, and the chess club got a new president. Some of the people didn’t like the new
president, and Mel noticed this. He convinced them that now was really the time to start playing
checkers. So, a small group, a total of six, of the chess club’s members said they wanted to play
Soon they became bored with just playing checkers among themselves, and they decided to try
to get everybody else in the chess club to play checkers. But nobody else wanted to play
checkers besides the original six. The new president became tired of the constant whining of
the checkers promoters.
“Look guys, this is a chess club. If you want to play checkers, go start a checkers club,” the
president said. But of course this is not what the dissident chess club members wanted.
Checkers itself was not very challenging; they wanted to convince everybody else to stop
Mel and his friends were creating chaos. They spent all of their time bothering the chess players
so no actual chess got played. Finally, the president held a vote on expelling the dissidents from
the chess club. The final tally: 44-6 against Mel and his buddies.
The Chess AND Checkers Club
But of course this was just what the dissidents wanted. They called the college president to
complain and invited reporters over to tell their sad stories about being discriminated against by
the mean chess players. Mel’s somber visage soon appeared in newspapers nationwide as he
aired his complaints. The college president became so upset about all the negative publicity that
he decided the club had to change: from now on it would be a chess AND checkers club. And,
to top it all off, he named Mel the new president of the university chess and checkers club. Mel’s
first rule was that everybody in the chess and checkers club would play checkers only.
The Problem with Thomas Murphy
This is a pretty apt parable to illustrate the problem with people like Thomas Murphy, the poor,
abused graduate student who is getting so much publicity these days criticizing The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Brother Murphy’s story has made it all the way down to Brazil
via the Internet, and he tells a disconcerting story about discrimination and fabrication in the
church. I mean, you’ve gotta feel for the guy: those mean Mormons want to kick him out of the
Church for speaking his mind!? Isn’t this America?
Brother Murphy, a formerly active member of the Church who is now inactive, is a graduate
student at the University of Washington who says that DNA analysis proves the Book of
Mormon is pure fiction. Brother Murphy, who is also the chair of a community college
anthropology department, wrote an article supporting his theories. When his stake president
saw the article, he met with Murphy and reportedly scheduled a disciplinary council. Brother
Murphy then went public with the council, and a Salt Lake City Associated Press reporter said
he would be excommunicated for “questioning the validity of the Book of Mormon.” The issue
then went international, with the obvious spin, promoted by Brother Murphy and others, that the
Church was suppressing free speech. As of the writing of this article for Meridian, the
disciplinary council had been postponed.
Brother Murphy’s public statements on the Church and the Book of Mormon make it quite clear
he wants very little to do with the Church’s teachings. His comments repeat the tired and
repeatedly refuted arguments of the most dishonest anti-Mormons: that Joseph Smith made up
the Book of Mormon and that he stole ideas from other earlier writers. He basically accuses
Joseph Smith and other Church leaders of fraud. Brother Murphy has the entire anti-Mormon
repertoire down pat: he appears to have read the most prominent anti-Mormon books and
presents their arguments cogently.
In a Dec. 19, 2002 KUER radio interview, Brother Murphy made the following statement: “we
need to entertain the possibility this scripture (the Book of Mormon) might very well be fiction
and we also need to stop expecting prophets to be sources of history.”
Yet Brother Murphy said he doesn’t want to abandon his “Mormon heritage.” He will not leave
the Church even though “a lot of people are encouraging me to do so” because he’s
“comfortable being a latter-day skeptic.”
The Foundation for Apologetic and Information Research (FAIR) looked into Brother Murphy’s
statements and his research. According to FAIR, Brother Murphy has said in some interviews
that he hasn’t gone to church in almost a decade, partly in protest for the high-profile
excommunications of some anti-Mormon scholars. In other interviews, Brother Murphy says he
still goes occasionally. FAIR also prints strong evidence that Brother Murphy plotted the whole
disciplinary council affair to bring as much negative publicity as possible to the Church. Brother
Murphy apparently has close connections with anti-Mormon groups. FAIR concludes: “Brother
Murphy has taken direct action to aid those who consider the Church their enemy—the moral
equivalent of a Jewish person aiding and abetting anti-Semitic groups.”
I should make something very clear: I have no interest in passing judgement on the details of
Brother Murphy’s possible excommunication. I have no way of knowing whether that step would
be appropriate or not. The only people who can make these decisions are church officials
receiving revelation from our Father in Heaven.
Understanding the Background
But I am uniquely qualified to understand exactly where Brother Murphy is coming from. Despite
my LDS heritage, I once was a strong private critic of the church. I spent most of my teenage
and young adult years criticizing the very same things that Brother Murphy now finds so
reprehensible. I am extremely familiar with the arguments of the anti-Mormon books he
summarizes so well.
It is very important to understand that people like Brother Murphy are exactly like our friend Mel
from the university chess club. They have no real interest in playing checkers: the fun is making
everybody else stop playing chess.
As anybody who has spent even a short time in the Church will attest, no real censorship goes
on. At every ward I’ve ever been in, there are a wide variety of opinions expressed on all issues,
and I’ve never seen anybody even bat an eye at some of the wild viewpoints. Anti-Mormon
groups love to make it appear that “latter-day thought police” try to suppress different
viewpoints, and anybody who has actually been to church knows this is a ridiculous distortion.
But the bottom line is that the Church has to be about something. It can’t be a church about
everything and anything. It needs to have some guidelines. Some of the most important
guidelines include the facts that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God who received the Book of
Mormon and other scriptures through direct revelation from the Lord and that modern-day
prophets run the church at the behest of Jesus Christ himself. A chess club is a club where
members play chess; The Church of Jesus Christ is a church where members accept that
Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that the latter-day dispensation he brought in continues
All of us have varying degrees of testimony about the truthfulness of the Church. At varying
times in our lives we may believe in the Church with greater or lesser intensity. Sometimes you
can have a passion for chess, but other times it’s just a bit tedious. But if we take the step of
directly rejecting what the Church is about – as Brother Murphy has clearly done – we have
stopped playing chess and have started playing checkers.
Once a person decides he doesn’t believe in the Church and, in effect, wants to play checkers,
not chess, he has several choices. He can still go to church and therefore maintain his Mormon
heritage and social connections. He can go to other churches. He can pray and fast and ask for
guidance and try to regain his testimony. He can read responses to the anti-Mormon literature in
scores of excellent books and web sites. And of course he can become inactive.
Anti-Mormon Pattern of Openly Opposing the Church
But once he takes the step of openly and publicly opposing the Church, which Brother Murphy
appears to be doing, he has moved toward apostasy, defined in the Oxford American Dictionary
as “renunciation of one’s religion.” Often, the main reason that people openly and publicly
oppose the Church is that they want to justify their own position. It’s important for apostates to
bring others with them: they have discovered a great, hidden truth, and the world must know!
Anti-Mormons celebrate anytime their “evidence” convinces somebody to become inactive. It
doesn’t matter what happens to the personal life of the person they have convinced to leave the
Church. It doesn’t matter if the person becomes an alcoholic, or beats his kids or becomes
addicted to pornography or gambling. The great anti-Mormon truth-seekers, with their subtle
arguments and twisted facts, have scored yet another marvelous victory, just like our friend Mel
scored a great victory against “the evil university chess club.”
Anti-Mormons will always hide behind reasonable-sounding statements like, “we want to start a
debate.” It’s amazing how many of these people who want to start a debate never go to church
and try to debate actual Mormons. What they do instead is hide behind anti-Mormon web sites
and books and try to pick off stragglers whose faith in the Church is weak for one reason or
It is particularly poignant that Brother Murphy appears to have been one of these stragglers. He
describes himself as a formerly spiritual, active member who began reading anti-Mormon books
and thinking they were true. We can sometimes see this same pattern: members get challenged
by “all the rules” and feel guilty for one thing or the other. Then they latch onto anti-Mormon
propaganda, and instead of searching out the reams of information that makes this propaganda
look silly (or abandoning the search through anti-Mormon literature altogether), they build a
worldview that justifies their growing sense of rejection of the church. Next thing you know, they
have “discovered” some detail that “proves” the Church is untrue.
Murphy and DNA Analysis
In Brother Murphy’s case, the “proof,” to him, is DNA analysis. Is there any validity at all to his
arguments? The short answer is no.
Brother Murphy says that the 1981 introduction to the Book of Mormon claims that all Native
Americans are Lamanites. Lamanites are descended from Lehi, an Israelite. Therefore, the
argument goes, there should be similarities between Lamanite DNA and Israelite DNA. As
Brother Murphy says in an on-line paper published by “Mormon Scripture Studies”: “So far, DNA
research lends no support to traditional Mormon beliefs about the origins of Native Americans.”
Brother Murphy’s claim is that in fact most Native Americans have DNA from Asia, not Israel.
This is a classic anti-Mormon tactic: start out with a “straw man” thesis that sounds reasonable
and then base your entire argument on destroying that straw man. The straw man in this case is
that Brother Murphy emphasizes the 1981 introduction to the Book of Mormon, not the book
itself. In fact, if you read Brother Murphy’s writings they are virtually devoid of evidence from the
book itself (it may have been a long time since he actually read the scriptures).
Amorphous Nature of the Name ‘Lamanite’
If Brother Murphy were to read the Book of Mormon, he would find that the definition of the word
“Lamanite” changes through the course of the book. Lamanite starts out meaning the people
who follow Laman, Lehi’s son. Then Jacob says he is changing the definition of Lamanite to
mean the people who “seek to destroy the people of Nephi.” (Jacob 1:14). Later on some
Lamanites convert to the church of Christ and become righteous and others maintain their
opposition to the Nephites. After Christ comes to the Americas, there are no Lamanites at all for
almost 200 years, and then those who “rejected the gospel” (4 Nephi 1:45) in the third century
AD begin to be called Lamanites again. These Lamanites eventually destroy the people of
Notice how amorphous this designation of “Lamanite” is. Very often the Lamanites do not call
themselves Lamanites at all. The historical Lamanites probably had a myriad of different tribal
Today “Lamanite” has come to mean something different. It is a catch-all designation for “Native
American” used by people who read the Book of Mormon. It is very common for a designation of
a people to change its meaning over time. Think for a second about what it means to be from
the House of Israel. In the time of Moses, the “House of Israel” had a very different meaning
than what it does today. What about being an “American?” To people in the United States, an
American only lives in what we call “America,” but of course Brazilians see themselves as
Americans as well.
So does this mean that all “Lamanites” (meaning Native Americans) should have blood that can
be traced to the original Laman? The Book of Mormon makes no such argument.
In fact, the Book of Mormon makes the exact opposite argument. If the Book of Mormon is
historical, and I believe it is, you would expect to see that Native Americans have blood from
many different groups that migrated to the Americas. We learn in the book of Ether about
another group of people, called the Jaredites, who settled the Americas long before the
Nephites and Lamanites. The book of Ether says the Jaredites traveled east from the Tower of
Babel across a land of many lakes. They then made boats and crossed a large expanse of
water to arrive in the Americas.
Could the Jaredites have come from Asia and therefore have Asian DNA? Although the Book of
Ether does not say, it’s quite probable. Hugh Nibley makes a strong case that the Jaredites
crossed Asia on their way to the Americas and took on many of the characteristics of early
Asian tribes (see the Complete Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 5 for more information). If this is
true, DNA evidence showing Asian roots for Native Americans is supported, not contradicted, by
the Book of Mormon.
But doesn’t the Book of Mormon say all of the Jaredites were killed? The Book of Mormon
describes a battle to the death between factions of the Jaredites that involved “all the face of the
land.” (Ether 14:19). Millions were killed. There were a few 20th century wars in Europe that
involved all of the face of Europe, and millions were killed too. But obviously millions also
survived. It is of course logical to suppose that many Jaredites also survived the battles and
eventually migrated to other areas of the Americas.
Chances are extremely high that at least some, and perhaps a majority, of modern-day Native
Americans are descended from the Jaredites, and would have Asian blood. And of course
Brother Murphy’s writings and public comments virtually ignore the Jaredites.
But any discerning person will quickly gather than using modern-day DNA analysis to disprove
or prove the Book of Mormon is a problematic task. Many of these complications are much too
involved to get into in this article. The FAIR web site, which you can access here, has some
good information on the subject.
The short answer to the question is that some DNA analysis shows that Native Americans have
Asian DNA. But there is also evidence of some DNA from the Middle East. Would Brother
Murphy accept the corollary to his argument, which is that if we can discover ANY Middle
Eastern DNA in the Americas then the Book of Mormon has been proven true? Obviously not.
Bottom line: ‘Murphy’s Law’ applies to Brother Murphy’s arguments here: If they could go
wrong, they will.
Murphy’s Influence on Others
I’ve been a bit rough on Brother Murphy in this article, but it is not personal. I don’t know him; he
probably is a nice person, a good student and a good husband and father. But his ideas about
the church are certainly alarming, and it’s imperative to oppose those ideas.
I’m quite sure that Brother Murphy’s publicity has already convinced at least one young,
rebellious teenager who was raised in the Church that all this stuff about gold plates and
modern-day prophets is a bucket of hooey. I can just hear the arguments now: “Mom and Dad,
get off my back about going to church. I’m old enough now to make my own decisions. Didn’t
you see how they’re trying to excommunicate that one poor guy just for speaking his mind. Why
would you want to be associated with a church like that?”
If Brother Murphy were more active in the Church, he might know how painful it is to watch the
cascade of bad decisions that can follow inactivity in the Church. Does Brother Murphy know he
is helping encourage people to make these types of negative choices?
Personal Plea to Brother Murphy
You’ll notice that I’ve referred to Brother Murphy as “brother” throughout this article. Although he
may have decided he doesn’t believe in the church, I’m certain that the Father still believes in
him. If this article could somehow finds its way to Brother Murphy, I would like to make a
personal plea to him to come back to the Lord.
Brother Murphy, study the history of the Church and the history of all of the people who have
been tempted to turn against it. Think about Oliver Cowdery, who saw Jesus Christ in the
Kirtland temple with Joseph Smith and many other miracles, yet still was tempted to abandon
the prophet when Satan found just the right tools to test him. A humble Oliver Cowdery later
rejoined the church, and he was happily accepted back into its fold. But think of all the blessings
he would have enjoyed had he remained faithful through the tumultuous times that occurred
during his ten years of falling away.
Brother Murphy, you are being tested in exactly the same way. Misery loves company, and the
miserable, professional anti-Mormons are using you. Don’t fail the test. Fast. Pray. Ask our
Father in Heaven for guidance. Read the scriptures. Listen to your bishop and your stake
president. They are truly guided by the Lord.
Think for a moment about the character and attitudes of the anti-Mormons you know. Are they
really motivated by love and true concern for you and your family? Do they have real interest in
your long-term happiness?
Faith does not always come easily. This mortal experience is set up to test our faith. Faith
sometimes takes work and constant nurturing, exactly as is described in Alma 32. Let that
desire to believe in God overtake the desire to believe in the world. It will set you free.
Now, a bit of good news for those of you worried about my chess club comparison: the Church
is not about to abandon its teachings. Anti-Mormons will not be named president of the Church.
In the case of the Church, the “president of the university” is Jesus Christ Himself. He’s not
gullible as the university president was in my example and not concerned about bad publicity.
He knows exactly what is in the hearts of Brother Murphy and other anti-Mormons. He wants
them back, but they’ve got to make some changes. Will they?
Most of the anti-Mormon arguments that get circulated out there have been refuted repeatedly
in a variety of sources. Here are some of the best web sites:
FAIR (The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research): http://www.fairlds.org
FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies): http://farms.byu.edu
I also highly recommend The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, in 14 volumes and which can be
purchased from FARMS.