My discussions with Dave continued. One morning in January or February of 2011 I found Dave reading "The God Delusion", by Richard Dawkins. I had no idea who Dawkins was, but the title made the book's purpose clear.
This discussion stuck out to me for two reasons. One of Dawkins' arguments was based solely on the implausibility of an omniscient, yet omnipotent God. If God knows everything, he certainly knows what will happen in my conversation now. He also knows everything I've done, everything I'm doing, and everything I will do in the future. Problematically, though, if God is also omnipotent, he can change anything he wants to - that means that he can change my future, my past, or even the present in an way he wants. In principle, then, he can change the future into something he doesn't yet know.
But even if we ignore this idea, an omniscient, yet omnipotent God precludes even the possibility of free will. If God knows everything and he can do anything, none of our actions aren't known by God already. In short, we have a set fate and there is nothing we can do about it. Although my previous experience learning about the workings of the brain proved to me that I don't have total control over everything I think, I still felt an attachment to the idea of free will. I didn't want to believe that God had already set me on my path and I couldn't do anything about it.
So I did what I had done in the past - I rationalized. If an omniscient, omnipotent God can't exist, then God must be just really powerful and really smart, so powerful and smart that he seems all powerful and all knowing to someone like me who can't understand his position. Luckily, this position fits with the LDS doctrine of Eternal Progression. Joseph himself said that "As man is, God once was, as God is, man can become". My faith was still unbroken.
Our conversation didn't end there, though. Eventually something more troubling eventually came out. Dave mentioned problems with the historicity of scripture during the conversation. I don't remember exactly what it was that brought the subject out, but I was unphased...at least at first. After all, I could just hide behind the "correct translation" clause in our articles of faith, and without further study my "shield of faith" remained whole. What I didn't anticipate, though, was a passing comment Dave made on a subject I utterly dismissed at first - the Book of Abraham. I no longer remember his exact statement, but it was troubling enough for me that I eventually felt the need to investigate further.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. This February conversation left me feeling empty. All the rationalizations I had made up to this point were no longer cutting it for me. So I made a momentous decision. I decided to read Dawkins.
Many of the true believers at this point will say "well, now I know why you've fallen away: you've allowed yourself to be led by the devil and his minions...". If you've come this far, though, please continue, at least until the end of this paragraph. I wasn't reading Dawkins because I wanted to give any credence to his arguments. On the contrary, I was reading with the following idea in mind: "To defeat your enemy, you must understand him". I had been blindsided often enough by Dave that I felt I needed to understand what was behind his arguments. What better way to do this than to read his source material? If I understand the arguments well enough, I'll can anticipate his ideas and counter them before they come out.
So I read. Dawkins is no Thoreau, but regardless of his eloquence he was refreshingly frank. He laid out his position, piece by piece, relentlessly attacking every argument I mustered, and many others I hadn't even conceived. Even today I don't agree with everything he says, but at the very least he brought to me a perspective I couldn't ignore. Clearly fundamentalist Christianity and Islam are difficult to reconcile with science.
Most Mormons feel slighted when they are called "not Christian", and with good reason. The term "Christian" as it is used today in the US, is synonymous with a "good person". No one wants to be slighted by being told they aren't good. Ironically, though, after reading Dawkins I was able to escape into the world of the Non-Christians. Christianity does have a history of violence and coercion, but that doesn't apply to Mormonism, went my reasoning. That was just what happened because mainstream Christianity fell away from the truth. Sure, modern fundamentalists are crazy, intolerant, and self-deluded, but that doesn't apply to Mormons. It isn't a delusion when it's the truth. Ironically, the church doesn't take an official position on most modern scientific issues, so that left me free to contort the doctrine however I wanted to make it fit with what I had uncovered.
Still, I was unsatisfied. I was conflicted enough at this point that my faith was no longer enough to satisfy my feelings. Remembering Dave's statement on the book of Abraham, I set out to prove once and for all that while other religions were incorrect and clearly conflicting with modern science, mine was not. Surely there was evidence of the Book of Abraham's divinity and Joseph's inspiration in translation.