Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mormonism and history

I don't know if there are any Mormon apologists out there, but I'm going to raise some questions about their religious beliefs, using the following piece by ex-Mormon Teresa Nielsen Hayden here. In my course on world religions every semester we watch a video of a debate between evangelical Christian William Lane Craig and my former housemate and sometime philosophical sparring partner Keith Parsons. A good deal of the discussion in the debate surrounds Craig's claim that we have good reason to believe that Jesus' resurrection occurred, while Parsons maintains that in view of the antecedent improbability of the miraculous, the extraordinary claim of a resurrection a requires extraordinary evidence that cannot be provided by defenders of the resurrection. In view of this, Parsons maintains that it is more reasonable to accept the claim that the disciples resurrected the risen Jesus than to accept the claim that Jesus rose from the dead.

Without attempting to adjudicate this interesting debate, I would just argue that at the very least the Christian miracle stories are consistent with what we know historically. However, it appears to me that Mormonism does ask you to believe things that are contrary to what we know historically. The Israelites had wheels and the Native Americans did not, so how did they forget how to use the wheel? When did the wheels fall off? There are no linguistic similarities between Native languages and Hebrew, which we should expect if the descendants of the Hebrews lived in the America. Etc. Etc.

I once had a long discussion one evening with a Mormon missionary, who every time he was cornered in a discussion, said that regardless of the evidence, all I needed to do was take the book of Mormon home, pray over it, and see if I felt a "burning in the bosom" telling me that God wanted me to become a Mormon. But even if I tested positive for Mormonism, I would still be expected to accept a religion's claims when my best reasoning tells me that the weight of the evidence is against it. This is something I won't do, or more precisely, I cannot do.

On a personal note, the Nielsen-Hayden piece mentions Joe Sheffer, a close personal friend of mine in the 70s and 80s who, in spite of a getting only a baccalaureate education, could stand up in a philosophical debate with the most brilliant philosophers I ever met. He was a great lover of C. S. Lewis and Thomas Aquinas, and I wish I could have his input on my Unmoved Mover discussion. He had an idea to employ Thomistic philosophy to solve fundamental problems in artificial intelligence, but his life was cut short by a heart attack in February of 1989 at the age of 36.


Jason Pratt said...

Yeah, the 'burning in the heart' thing can be problematic; but fair's fair: a lot of (more-or-less {g}) orthodox Christians are converted in pretty much the same way. (There're reasons why Southern Baptists have been found to be the best converting ground to LDS in past decades. I bet Pentacostals rank pretty high, too.)

An extremely good book on the similarities and differences between Evangelicals and Mormons is: _How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation_; jointly written by Craig L. Blomberg (one of my own favorite authors) and Stephen E. Robinson. The two friends bend over backward being fair to one another, while also taking seriously real differences. It's a fantastic study in proper dispute--and Robinson gets in some telling points, IMO.

Notably, the question of historical accuracy for the texts in context with other discoverable facts, is not significantly raised in the book (a bit surprising considering Prof. Blomberg's own work); but one could say that the debate is on theology proper, leaving historicity for another day. (Also, such a tack would intrinsically leave Robinson on the defensive, since he would be willing to agree with Blomberg about the historicity of the OT and NT as far as they go. This would run against the joint eirenism and spirit of mutual criticism in the work.)

Every chapter features a joint conclusion written by both authors in conjunction; and a final jointly written chapter. Keeping in mind that both authors refuse to claim they are speaking authoritatively for all members of their communions, they reached the following consensus about what they jointly affirm as being foundational propositions of the Christian gospel (though in some cases they understand these in different ways):

1.) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one eternal God.
2.) Jesus Christ is Lord; and both the Son of God and God the Son.
3.) There is no other name or way by which any individual may be saved other than through Jesus Christ.
4.) Jesus Christ suffered, bled and died on a cross to perform a substitutionary atonement for the sins of the world.
5.) Jesus Christ was resurrected on the third day and raised up in glory to the right hand of God.
6.) We enter into the gospel covenant and are saved by the preaching of the word and by the grace of God.
7.) We are justified before God by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
8.) We are progressively sanctified by yielding our lives to God's Holy Spirit, Who enables us to obey God's commands.
9.) All the gifts of the Spirit manifested in the New Testament church continue in God's church today.
10.) The Bible is God's word, and is true and trustworthy within those parameters shared by the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy and the eight LDS Article of Faith.
11.) Jesus Christ will publicly and visibly return from heaven to establish his millennial kingdom on earth.
12.) The God of heaven is a God of love, and those who desire to be with him must also seek to be motivated in all their relationships by love.

They also identify the following divisions between them as important:

1.) Are the OT and NT the sole inspired, authoritative canonical books that God has revealed to guide His people; or should the _Book of Mormon_, _Pearl of Great Price_, and _Doctrine and Covenants_ be included as well?
2.) Does God the Father currently have a physical body or not?
3.) Was God at some point in eternity past a human being like the mortal Jesus, or has he always been the infinite Supreme Being?
4.) Can exalted humans one day share by grace all the attributes of God, or only the so-called communicable attributes?
5.) Is God a Trinity in essence, or only in function?
6.) Do the classic early Christian creeds accurately elaborate biblical truths about God and Christ, while admittedly rephrasing them in later philosophical language; or have they so imported Hellenistic concepts into their formulations as to distort biblical truth?
7.) Is "justification by faith" or "justification by faith _alone_" the more appropriate summary of the Bible's teaching on that topic?
8.) Do good works function solely as a response to God's gracious act of saving us, or do they also determine the level of our eternal reward?
9.) Do people have a chance to respond after death or not?
10.) Is "heaven" (the abode of the saved) subdivided into three levels of glory or not?
11.) How serious are the consequences to each of us if one belief system turns out to be wrong and the other turns out to be right?

(I'll add that Blomberg's position isn't exactly my own, though I'm very much closer to his understanding of the Trinity, among other things than to Robinson's.)

Kyle said...

Orson Scott Card has some arguments in defense of Mormonism from an SF writer's perspective here: His basic argument is that the kinds of complexity in representing multiple foreign cultures are so complicated that they are far beyond the ability of a highly skilled writer of speculative fiction, let alone a relatively uneducated religious leader. He is of course, defending his beliefs before an audience of the convinced, but it made at least for a good explanation why Mormons make some of the greatest SF writers of all time.

I would also be interested in seeing some serious discussion of the real historical problems with the stories related in the Book of Mormon.

Will Kratos said...

That's awesome that you're former housemates with Parsons.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I was really impressed with Orson Scott Card's article. I'm not exactly the best devil's advocate because I really admire his sci-fi work, especially "Ender's Game", but I think his arguments for BoM's authenticity are about as convincing as you'll find anywhere.

It still doesn't amount to all that much, though. Granted the difficulty of explaining away BoM as an elaborate hoax, we still don't have a shred of archeological evidence for Joseph Smith's elaborate claims. With the Bible we're full to overflowing: towns, clothes, swords, coins, people, etc. Now as I observed on a blog post of mine, even complete archeological accuracy doesn't validate the Bible's theological truth. The Bible could for the most part be a fairly reliable historical record of the people of Israel, and later the early Christians, and the visions still be due to some kind of misfiring brain circuitry, the more conspicuous nature miracles later legendary elaborations, and the prophets' passion for God a fundamental human expression of a completely natural, socio-biological impulse. Archeology, even when it confirms the Bible, doesn't confirm it in THAT sense.

I'm prepared to accept that Joseph Smith was a genius, and that he did not intend to produce a hoax. He probably genuinely believed his visions and experiences. Still, I think Card greatly overestimates the difficulty of coming up with a quirky, unusual document that, as far as its cultural influences, is 'jack of all trades and master of none', to stretch the expression. Card insists that either BoM should sound exactly like the average expectations and knowledge of a typical 1820s American, OR it's an accurate history of Israelite descendants in Middle America. He seems to ignore the very obvious source of the Bible itself to come up with a lot of these cultural artifacts and customs contained in the book. And truth be told he is not exactly consistent with his criteria. We should expect to find things this way, but we don't, AND EVEN WHEN WE DO this is also to be expected due to some factor or another.

It strikes me to the heart to say these things, because I know how much it sounds like the corrosive criticism of atheists and unbelievers. God forbid I should want to sound like that or apply a double standard, being extremely, skeptically, naturalistically critical of BoM while cutting the Bible all the slack that I can. But my criticism really IS different from atheists. I accept the reality of the supernatural. I don't think miracles are impossibly improbable and I do believe in God, Jesus Christ, etc. I think my criticism is mainly theological. I just cannot accept that God would work that way. What Christian can honestly accept that with the death of the last apostle inspiration vanished from the Christian world, and that the next 2000 years of Christian history, including the luminous work of Augustine, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin and all the rest were theologically dark? To be fair, Christians adopted a similar attitude towards the Jews after about a century and a half, but I don't think you'd find any reflective Christian nowadays claiming that Judaism was left dark and barren before and with the coming of Christ.

Mormonism is a truly fascinating religion, probably the only genuinely American one (excluding Native American religions). It is also amazingly parasitic, in that it draws on the real inspiration and authority of Jesus Christ to win converts (a major part of their missionary agenda is to get people to think that they're Christians), while mixing in its own elaborate mythology. I think that that's really the key to Mormonism's paradoxical success: it is still based on Jesus Christ, albeit a rather peculiar misunderstanding of him. The name of Jesus is powerful and the Gospel authoritative even if misrepresented and co-opted for alien purposes.

exapologist said...

Hi Victor,

I guess I find myself seeing Christianity in a way similar to how you see Mormonism. Honestly, how am I supposed to square the resurrection of Jesus with the data that abductively points to Jesus' being a failed eschatological prophet? What's the probability of God raising a false prophet from the dead?

Anonymous said...

I think that it's important to be careful with assumptions--such as assumptions about the wheel in ancient America. The fact that wheeled figures have been found in pre-columbian excavations demonstrates that Native Americans had knowledge of the wheel; but it seems that other factors could have hindered wheel technology in the western hemisphere. It's one thing to put functioning wheels on toys and another to put them on a cart without an iron axle or a suitable draft animal to pull it. If I left my own society today and went to a foreign land, I'm pretty sure I couldn't build a decent wheeled vehicle or teach my children how to do so.

As far as linguistic similarities to my ancestors, the majority of my progenitors came from Sweden and Denmark. The only words of either language that has remained with me is the memory that my mother used to say "ya" instead of "yes" and a mangled version of a word for "soup" (gruncole). Does that prove that I'm not of Scandinavian descent? I think not--and that's a change that took place in 150 years. Increase the time frame to 2,600 years and what's the likelihood of my descendants being named Sven or Bjorn? In the case of the Book of Mormon, we're talking about a group of at most two dozen people moving to Meso America 2,600 years ago, into an area that already had an existing population. The chance that their language would have ever been predominant or preserved is infinitesimally small.

We know that thousands of Scandinavians came to Utah the same time as my ancestors. I'd be surprised to find any today who have incorporated linguistic elements of a Norse language into their English as a result of this immigration from barely 3 generations ago.

Why should anyone presume to find vestiges of Hebrew among Native Americans after so long of a time even if there were proof of Israelite descent? Do we assume that African Americans living in Detroit have a language that includes Nigerian or Ghambian words?

Find legitimate, real world questions and then apply them to actual claims of the Book of Mormon and I think you'll find the Book of Mormon rises to the challenge. As recently as 20 years ago, critics of the BoM faulted Joseph Smith for having a male prophet in the Book named "Alma" when everyone knows that it's a female name from Latin rather than Hebrew. However, in 1961, archaeologists located the name in an ancient scroll--referring to an "Alma the son of Judah." Given enough time, all of the scientific problems will be resolved and those that remain will be simple matters of faith.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you that one-step arguments like "They forgot about the wheel, so BoM is false" accomplish nothing other than to expose the ignorance and naivete of the critic. Archeology IS a very tricky business and we are constantly learning new things about the past, revising our dates, changing our theories, etc.

But to acknowledge this is not to present a positive argument for BoM's historicity. To my knowledge not a single BoM name, place, custom or genealogy is anywhere attested to outside BoM (or maybe the Bible, if Joseph Smith used it as inspiration), with one very tenuous exception, blown way out of proportion by FARMS 'scholars' (and to be honest, I find something inherently dubious about a group which sets out deliberately to prove the authenticity of a text; even Roman Catholic or evangelical OT and NT scholars do not do that, at least not the most respected and critical ones).

Now compare this to the Bible, where we have ample archeological attestation for kings, towns, coins, manuscripts (in Hebrew, not King James English), pottery, buildings, etc. Jesus is attested to by Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus, etc. and the New Testament itself, which no serious scholar doubts is an authentic product of the 1st century (Mormon scholars have not even come close to establishing this kind of contextual plausibility for BoM; even if they did, however, there must be both outside evidence and plausibility of context for a text to be taken seriously).

Now as I said in my previous comment, I do not think that problems with archeological accuracy, or confirmation thereof, have much significance for theological truth, but it does have an important part to play. For example, if the NT were convincingly shown to be a forgery by 6th century Christian scribes (the whole thing, not bits and pieces), Christianity would not have legs to stand on. With the NT and other evidence as we have it, at least Christianity is firmly grounded in history. In the end I would agree with you that ultimately theological truth is disclosed by the Holy Spirit, but without the relevant archeological and literary evidence even the claim to revelation by the Holy Spirit cannot stand. God's revelation is in word and in deed, not just word or internal witness.

But just imagine the following scenario for a moment: would it really be all that bad if Mormonism were conclusively shown to be false and Christianity were left standing? It's worlds apart from the stark dichotomy between a supernatural hope and existential nothingness, as the battle between secular culture and religion usually goes. If you're wrong but (orthodox) Christians are right, you don't really lose much. You will still be the object of God's love and will live eternally with Him. Isn't the Jesus of the NT enough ("I am the alpha and omega, the first and the last")? Isn't he "all in all" already without adding a complex, bizarre mythology to the whole mix?

Steven Carr said...

' I would just argue that at the very least the Christian miracle stories are consistent with what we know historically.'


Jesus ascends into Heaven by first going into the sky? Why is there no evidence that going into the sky is the first stage of going to Heaven.

According to Acts 2, the whole of Jerusalem knew about the suicide of Judas. A suicide would have been news, of course. I wonder how many people saw the body, to report the news whcih swept all of Jerusalem.

Yet many saints rose from their graves at the same time, and appeared to 'many' in the city of Jerusalem.

So if one suicide can get all of Jerusalem talking, where is the eruption that would have happened in history if that story had been true?

This was Passover ,remember, with people from all over the Empire returning to Jerusalem.

Surely such a silence im history is equal to any silence of history about Mormon claims.

Moses and ELijah returned to Earth in full view of some Jews, yet this news never spread. In fact, Jews saw Moses and Elijah return to Earth and their lives were not dramatically transformed as a result.

This does not correspond to any history of any Jews I know of.

If that Christian miracle was true, the disciples would have told everybody in Jerusalem, and the news that Moses and Elijah had returned would have been the biggest news item up to then.

Mike Darus said...

You seem to be superimposing a modern concept of "news event" on a first century community. All of what you suggest should have happened probably did happen but not in written form. Even Jeruslaem was remote and inconsequential at the time.

Steven Carr said...

As I said, it was Passover and there would have been people from all over the Empire present.

such an event as the resurrection of the saints who appeared to many in the city of Jerusalem would have been well-attested.

Jason Pratt said...

{{Jesus ascends into Heaven by first going into the sky? Why is there no evidence that going into the sky is the first stage of going to Heaven.}}

I think something is missing here in this complaint. If anything, I would have thought the complaint would be 'Of course the god goes back home up into the sky--just about any culture would be inclined to use that imagery, including the ancient Jews by plenty of testimony.' (i.e. nothing unique about it, it's completely standard imagery, par for the course.)

{{So if one suicide can get all of Jerusalem talking, where is the eruption that would have happened in history if [the GosMatt risen saints] story had been true?}}

Notably also a detail that seems to be absent in other accounts, upon which hangs no subsequent doctrine, practically no teaching, etc. Jesus' descent into hell, which isn't even mentioned (much less narrated) in the Gospel accounts, gets vastly more serious doctrinal air-time than that.

i.e., yep, this one _does_ look like some kind of spurious detail, and apparently did back originally in the day to most people, too. That being said, the surrounding contexts of the anecdote have a historical (even naturalistic) flavor to them: earthquakes weren't unknown in Jersualem, they did in fact bury people in ways which would lend toward having the stones popped out like corks and the boxes thrown out during an earthquake. The tearing of the temple curtain is much more problematic--not least because we know there were _two_ curtains; but again the problem is limited to this one particular anecdote. (And at least the anecdote knows there's at least one curtain, and where it is, and seems to tacitly know what its tearing would imply.)

So it's still a very problematic anecodote, and doesn't harmonize at all well with other story contexts, and I strongly suspect it really is a legendary accretion (built on actual earthquake results); but it isn't something completely alien to its immediate contexts, and it isn't something that looks more at home in, say, a Roman context. (On the contrary, if it looks a lot like a blatant and rather clumsy attempt at retconning in a prophecy fulfillment involving the only OT mention of tombs being opened at the advent of the Messiah. Who, in that OT account, is identified as being effectively the Son of Joseph--any GosMatthean themes apparent there!? But this would only have relevance to a Jewish audience.)

{{Moses and ELijah returned to Earth in full view of some Jews, yet this news never spread. In fact, Jews saw Moses and Elijah return to Earth and their lives were not dramatically transformed as a result.}}

Are you talking about the Transfiguration scene? The three Jews who reportedly saw this (which is reported as being specifically dreamish imagery, btw), also reportedly: (a) kind of freaked out about it, wanting to build temples there on the spot; (b) centered the importance of this on that other fourth Jew standing between Moses and Elijah (who had already been in the process of dramatically transforming their lives for a couple of years, and was about to kick that process into a higher gear); and (c) were specifically told by that 4th Jew _not_ to say anything about this to anyone (or so the story goes) until something else had happened which would rather eclipse the importance of this in the history of Judaism anyway.

i.e., the claim that the top Jewish religious leaders had condemned the long-awaited Messiah for blasphemy and had turned him over to the pagan oppressors for an execution in a God-accursed manner, after which the Messiah had returned briefly but only to sporadic groups of his followers, is kind of going to overshadow (for better or for worse) any claims that three of this Messianic claimant's followers once saw him talking with Moses and Elijah one night when they were more than half-asleep.

(If you were talking about another NT claim of Elijah and Moses appearing, I guess you'll have to be more specific. The only other one I can recall is in RevJohn, and that was supposed to happen in the coming future.)

Mike Darus said...

Steven said:
"such an event as the resurrection of the saints who appeared to many in the city of Jerusalem would have been well-attested."

Are you thinking about what you are saying? Where would this have been written? In the local paper? Who would have kept the copies? In the local library? Who would have copied the copies to perserve them? At the local Kinkos?

Victor Reppert said...

Nielsen-Hayden's essay includes a range of anti-Book of Mormon arguments of which the "wheel argument" is only one. It's a cumulative case.

Steven Carr said...

Mike D. pretty much trashes the idea that anybody would have recorded anything about Jesus. Where, he says? Where?

And the Marcan injunction to silence in the Transfiguration is an obvious apologetic to get around the fact that nobody had ever heard of these Gospel stories before.

Why had nobody heard about the empty tomb? The women were told not to tell anybody about it.

Why had nobody heard about the miracles? The healed people were told to tell nobody about it.

Mark's Gospel is totally unbelievable as there is the tension between the account of the deeds which prove Jesus divinity (and which would have been empire wide news), and the need to explain why these stories had not been heard.

Hence the disciples being told to keep quiet about Moses until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead, which totally contradicts Mark's view that the disciples just didn't know what Jesus meant by saying he would rise from the dead.

I wonder what Christians would make if the Book of Mormon said that the Native Americans knew all about the Jews coming to America, but had been told to keep quiet about it, and not use things like wheels...

Jason Pratt said...

{{And the Marcan injunction to silence in the Transfiguration is an obvious apologetic to get around the fact that nobody had ever heard of these Gospel stories before.}}

It could (at first glance) plausibly be an apologetic to get around nobody having heard of _THAT_ particular story before. It couldn't be used to get around nobody having heard of any _other_ Gospel story, though.

Also, you're totally changing the ground of your complaint, which was 'If they had _really_ seen these things, why wouldn't they have been broadcasting it all over Jerusalem? They didn't, which is ridiculous behavior for Jews and thus unrealistic storytelling.'

You can't have it both ways, Steven. The story contexts explain why they didn't just start broadcasting it everywhere, including in Jerusalem. It's somewhat plausible (in an initially unreflective manner) to complain about the story contexts being over-convenient. But it's only ridiculous to extend that complaint to be a blanket explainer for (apparently) 'none' of the Gospel stories having been heard of before. The fact is that you totally goofed the story contexts, and now you're trying to cover by making a different complaint.

Which runs into the problem that it only explains _one_ incident of silence, when in very many other cases the Follower (i.e. GosMark's author) is writing about potentially publicly rememberable incidents. (Including on occasion some cases where an injunction from Jesus to keep quiet about something is then followed _in the story_ by claims of public exposure anyway.) If no one had heard of these either before, _and_ if the Follower was so concerned about trying to protect himself from lack of public memory concerning one story that he would cleverly invent story contexts to explain its lack of mention, _then_ he would have had no compunction not to sheerly invent similar qualifiers for why no one could be expected to remember all the other incidents, either. (For instance, there was a big war shortly after all this happened, killing off all living witnesses, leaving behind records he just recently rediscovered himself. Okay, maybe that wouldn't have worked in the Roman empire in reference to a publicly accessible nation, but... {shrug})

On the other hand, if he was sheerly inventing things out of whole cloth for an audience whom he wasn't expecting to be in a position to question why no one has heard of such things before, then there would be no reason for him to invent _these_ details, either, in self-protection.

So your case for inventing safe-hole details in order to explain away a lack of anyone having heard about a sheerly invented story, falls apart. If the Follower simply invented those details, he did so for another reason.

Meanwhile, in regard to inventing the women as a safe-hole explainer at the end of GosMark, is the theory supposed to be something like: 'the Follower was writing in context of a tradition where Jesus had simply appeared to the first Christians who of course neither knew nor cared anything about a tomb, but for no apparent reason the Follower decided to include a tomb in his story flatly _against_ surviving details, thus dramatically handicapping the chances his account would be accepted by his own people, and so to overcome this handicap of having a tomb in his story he invents some scapegoat women to blame the total lack of a tomb tradition within his own group on?'

Since that sounds patently ridiculous (a writer hoping to be accepted by his living-memory group decides to innovate a major detail guaranteed to cause massive problems for acceptance and so tries to balance it with something that to his own people will seem freakishly implausible), perhaps the theory is supposed to be: 'the Follower, writing to create a new tradition for brand new audiences, and feeling free thereby to create from whole cloth (with touches of otherwise irrelevant historical features for sake of verisimilitude) since no one in his audience will be in a position to check references, decides he still has to explain why none of his audience have ever heard of a tomb story before by also inventing a group of scapegoat women to blame a lack of reportage about the tomb on.'

That might be slightly less ridiculous as an explanation, perhaps ({cough}).

But really, one has to wonder why the Follower would bother with inventing a tomb story to begin with if he thought it was going to cause that much trouble. He could have stopped with Jesus being thrown in a compost heap like any other crucified rebel, and then spent his remaining scroll space relating a post-death appearance or two. That would have satisifed a Greco-Roman Gentile audience fine (since they weren't culturally prepped to expect a bodily resurrection anyway); and/or had already been sufficiently acceptable for whatever reason to his own group for decades. Right? And if he was doing this to try to appeal to a new Jewish audience, he sure was going out of his way to include a bunch of details _elsewhere_ that they'd have trouble connecting with thereby.

At the end of the day, even from a sceptical perspective, wouldn't it just be easier and more plausible to conclude that the Follower was relating to some kind of established tomb tradition already, and that whatever the explanation is for the weird truncation at the end, it wasn't in order to get around people not hearing about a tomb before? Wouldn't it make more sense for the weird truncation to have something to do with _the young man_ instead being some kind of unexpected novelty?

Jason Pratt

Anonymous said...

Victor writes: "Nielsen-Hayden's essay includes a range of anti-Book of Mormon arguments of which the "wheel argument" is only one. It's a cumulative case."

Ah, the "avalanche theory." Even if each individual criticism might not be valid, the cumulative effect is? I don't buy it. Even though Jesus was found guilty of blasphemy, and condemned on the basis of testimony, when you examine each charge and the witnesses against Him, the finding is shown to be invalid. Similarly, if you use legitimate standards and logical processes, the Book of Mormon will always come out on top.

Anonymous said...


That's not a valid analogy. The witnesses against Jesus brought forth "all manner of accusation against him" but did not agree among themselves. A true cumulative case consists of arguments which mutually reinforce and complement one another, so that even if one of the arguments is ambiguous one way or another, the support it derives from other arguments which are consistent with and support one or more of its premises strengthens the overall case.

So far in critical discussion of BoM historicity I have not seen it 'come out on top' anywhere. At best Mormon scholars have been able to not openly concede defeat. Now compare this to the Bible and NT, where top-ranking believing scholars such as Martin Hengel, Raymond Brown, N.T. Wright, Markus Bockmuehl and others have produced massive arguments which put secular scholars on the defensive and force them to write hundreds and thousands of pages in response. The best Mormon arguments do not do that, they do not even evoke so much as a shrug from mainstream historians with few exceptions. The evangelical Christian engagement with Mormon historical arguments is solely apologetic (or counter-apologetic if you will) and is aimed at Mormons. Of course, evangelical assessment of the accuracy of Mormon history is consistent with the mainstream secular perspective.

And have you considered the points I made above? What do you think about my last question?

Jason Pratt said...

It's nice to see the topic back on actual track, btw... {g}

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the delay in responding, JD, I’ve been swamped. I’ll answer your last question first. You asked, “What Christian can honestly accept that with the death of the last apostle inspiration vanished from the Christian world, and that the next 2000 years of Christian history, including the luminous work of Augustine, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin and all the rest were theologically dark?” Since Mormonism doesn’t posit such a condition, I don’t think it’s a valid question. Mormons believe that inspiration continued (the BoM says Columbus would be led by the Holy Spirit). Brigham Young used to remove his hat whenever he walked past John Wesley’s church in England. That doesn’t convey the idea that everything about Christianity was darkness does it?

You don’t think that the false witnesses against Christ (who disagreed with each other) is a valid analogy to witnesses against Mormonism? I’ve read volumes of it and believe me their witness isn’t any more valid or consistent. If the quality of the criticism is lacking, the quantity is irrelevant.

Perhaps the reason you don’t think the BoM responses measure up is because you’re expecting Mormons to produce something that Mormons don’t believe. Critics of the Book of Mormon come from the perspective that “lack of evidence” constitutes “evidence against the BoM.” Absence of evidence doesn't demonstrate anything. However, most Mormons I know don’t believe that God intends to provide proof of miracles. He hasn’t produced proof of the resurrection. The best that can be said is the resurrection is plausible because the statements left by witnesses are reasonable. While the Bible contains accounts of verifiable cities and artifacts, that fact does not mean that Jesus was resurrected. If that were the case, Mark Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee” based in medieval England would prove time travel. The fact is, there are hundreds of cities in Mesoamerica, and lots of evidence for civilization during the time frame of the BoM. But proof of the BoM would also be proof of miracles. You wrote in another context, “I just cannot accept that God would work that way.” How would you expect God to work to demonstrate His truth? I think He would do as He did anciently: Reveal Himself to witnesses and then expect people to judge the work based upon the confidence they have that the witnesses are reliable. (Acts 10:41)