In What Way Is It True

Seth recently suggested that there were a number of ways to view the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. Several of them suggest that they are true. In which was do you view the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith:

Let me break it down for clarity. There are a few ways to view the Book of Mormon:

  1. An actual “true” historical document about what went down in the Americas
  2. A true religious document containing God’s stated prophesies and teachings
  3. A useful book of moral teachings
  4. A dangerous and false book

There are several different ways to view Joseph Smith:

  1. An infallible prophet who always spoke with perfection when addressing spiritual or God-related matters.
  2. A fallible prophet who got things right most of the time or perhaps only half the time on “spiritual matters.” Or a variation on this one – a fallen prophet who began well, but eventually fell off the wagon.
  3. An often well-intentioned fraud who had some neat ideas and was possibly inspired on occasion
  4. A wicked sort of fraud who should be discounted entirely.

Personally I go between #3 and 4 on both (BoM more 3 and JS more 4). But I would be THRILLED with the LDS church accepting #3 for both items. Former President Hinckley said that there is no middle ground. Either it’s all true or it’s a wicked fraud. Was he right? What does the LDS church teach about both?

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57 thoughts on “In What Way Is It True

  1. I would agree with you on this, 3 for both. All of us as humans are usually well intentioned and entitled to be both human and inspired. All books also have some value.

  2. I have a hard time with this set-up.
    It is too absolute. Either I fully agree or I altogether disagree…

    Well I think that nobody was perfect excepting of course Jesus Christ. Thus by this set-up we would have to go with 2 or 3 on all things. But this is not how things work. Huamns are failable, some may argue that is one thing that makes us human. We do make mistakes and Profits of God are not immune to this. I say that “JS” was a profit of God and did as best he could with that responicibility. The Book of Mormon is true, be it religious text, a book of moral building stories, or an account of a people who lived – abriged from their historical documents.

    truth.

  3. I know the rhetoric that you attribute to Pres. Hinckley. It’s been said by other Church authorities and you’ll also hear it regularly among Mormon internet commentors. But honestly, I don’t share it.

    I think you can validly ask: was Joseph a prophet or not? My answer to that question is yes – but then it follows that you ask what being a prophet means.

    My own view on the Book of Mormon is a combination of 1, 2, and 3. However, I do not require the Book of Mormon to be inerrant in all particulars. I allow that Joseph may have interjected himself to some degree in the “translation” process. I also allow that the original Book of Mormon writers may have written in a flawed or incorrect manner on occasion. Mormon himself, for example, seemed to have a sort of hero-worship thing going for “Captain Moroni” (see the book of Alma) that I honestly don’t really share.

    My default position of faith is that the Book of Mormon is generally historically accurate, and I have yet to see a convincing case that this is not so. However, I also keep in mind that historical documentation was not the book’s primary purpose.

    Finding that parts of the book were, in fact, historically inaccurate would not really bug me too much since I don’t expect historical inerrancy from the text to begin with.

    I reject #4.

    As to Joseph Smith, I personally do not subscribe to #1. I’m pretty firmly in the #2 camp. I reject #3 and #4 simply because I see too much evidence of the divine in his message (and in his life – though not always). I’m even open to the “fallen prophet” idea. I consider the mere existence of the Book of Mormon to be compelling evidence that there was something more mortal endeavor going on with that book. There are just too many linguistic parallels with other ancient texts, too many details about ancient societies that Joseph could not have known. The question isn’t really whether Joseph could have written the book from his own capacities, the question is whether ANYONE in the 19th century could have written that book. And I think the answer is no. No one in the 19th century had the wherewithal to write a book like that.

    Which leaves some degree of divine intervention.

    But I do not automatically believe everything Joseph said. I scrutinize his statements and decide whether I really believe what he said on various topics. I don’t expect infallibility from Joseph. Certainly not when he was speaking on matters unrelated to the spiritual and sometimes not even when he was addressing the spiritual.

  4. I think that the church teaches pretty consistently that the BoM is a historical truth.

    But it never claims that JS was infallible. It teaches that he was a man who was called to be a prophet. What isn’t clear, and isn’t made clear, is what that means–does that mean that some of the doctrines he said were the case were not actually so? Does that mean that some of Brigham Young’s ideas were wrong? The church will never come out and say it; it is easy to be led to believe that the prophets’ teachings are infallible, although the church couches it in language that gives it an out.

  5. The question isn’t really whether Joseph could have written the book from his own capacities, the question is whether ANYONE in the 19th century could have written that book. And I think the answer is no. No one in the 19th century had the wherewithal to write a book like that.

    I couldn’t disagree more strongly. That’s a pretty common Mormon position, and I don’t think it holds up. I don’t mean to be offensive (for once), but I think it requires a certain measure of ignorance.

    Is it likely that an uneducated farm hand wrote the BoM? Not really. But history is pretty replete with unlikely events, unusually talented people, savants, prodigies, and unexplained mystics. To me, JS and the BoM are just one more matched pair in a huge category.

    The chiasmus(es) aren’t that impressive to me, though much hay gets made about them in Mormon apologetics. They were a regular device in classical literature (i.e. Cicero, the Greeks, the Romans), Shakespeare used them, and their prevalence in memorable rhetoric (in antimetabole form) indicates that on at least some level, they’re intuitive. And they were prominent in 19th-century literature.

    If you need it to help you believe, then believe away, but I don’t think chiasmus amounts to any evidence at all.

    As far as the complexity, the number of proper names, etc., the BoM’s got nothing on LotR.

  6. Tim,
    Where does the Bible fit on this scale for you? I am curious as to how you would react if someone stated they would be “thrilled” if evangelicals adopted #3.

  7. I pretty much agree with what Seth R. said (and I acknowledge that our views aren’t typical within the church, although not that unusual in the blogosphere). And I disagree with Kullervo that believing the Book of Mormon has divine origins doesn’t come out of ignorance. I’m a natural skeptic, and if I wanted to find reasons to reject the BoM and the Church it wouldn’t be hard for me to find reasons to do so. But the more I’ve studied the Church’s history and the life of Joseph Smith (and, yes, I’ve read plenty that’s critical), the more convinced I am that this document isn’t a scam of some sort.

    Is there proof? No. Is it possible that Joseph Smith and his “golden Bible” were a fraud? Yes. But taking that position leaves me with plenty that can’t be explained easily.

    But the same is true in accepting beliefs such as the resurrection of Jesus, a belief that Mormons and evangelicals share. Is there proof he rose from the dead? No. Is it possible that the belief in his resurrection was the result of some sort of sociological phenomenon? Yes. But taking that position also leaves me with plenty that can’t be explained easily.

    (By the way, in no way am I saying that belief in Joseph Smith’s inspiration is as important as belief in Jesus’ resurrection.)

    Ultimately, whatever you decide about Jesus Christ (and the LDS church) is a matter of faith. I don’t believe it’s blind faith, nor do I deny that there is a rational basis for accepting Jesus as a divine personage and the Church as a divine institution, but it is faith nonetheless.

    It might make life easier if everything were black and white: Either the BoM is totally true or it’s a total scam. Either Joseph Smith spoke with infallibility or he was a fraud. But for me, at least, life doesn’t work that way. So I’ll just do the best I can to figure things out, and the grace of God and his Son will take me the rest of the way.

  8. I was rereading a chapter in one of my text books from college yesterday on history and the Bible. The author noted that there are two extremes with which one can view the Bible as an historical document: 1) that it is absolutely accurate in every respect and apparent contradictions are just that, apparent, and can be overcome; 2) that the Bible is a total fabrication and has zero historical value. Naturally, he notes, most people fit somewhere on a vast spectrum in between those two modes of thought.
    I can’t help but draw parallels to the Book of Mormon anytime I read things like this about the Bible. The problem with this spectrum is that it is not necessarily linear, but individuals usually have really complex notions and feelings about these texts that place them at varying points throughout the spectrum. The Book of Mormon does not have to be an historical document in my mind to be valid and useful, and yet I believe it has historical value. I’m convinced that the individuals spoken of in the Book of Mormon lived, they were real people. But that’s only important to me because I also believe that for the most part the things they took the time to inscribe on the plates are valuable, not only as useful moral teachings, but with impressive prophecies and calls to repentance that have motivated me on more than one occasion to take stock of my life and make some serious changes. I have similar feelings about the Bible.
    As for Joseph Smith, I whole-heartedly believe that he was inspired of God, that he revealed some really amazing things that affect my life day in and day out (like, for example, that my relationship with my sweet wife will not end at death). That being said, he was fallible and had weaknesses. When reading some of his sermons I get the sense that he could be really arrogant. His is a complex figure, but what he brought to the world of theology and faith is for me so precious. Was he wrong at times? Yeah, probably. He made some pretty stupid decisions during his life and suffered the consequences of them, just like we all do. And yet the fruits, as it were, of his ministry are incredible.

  9. Seth answered in a way that I think is helpful: it’s probably more accurate to say which of the possibilities I reject than which I settle on. I reject 4 for BoM. As for Joseph, I reject all of 1, 3, and 4, and much of 2.

    Like Doc, I’m interested in where Tim puts the Bible.

  10. “As far as the complexity, the number of proper names, etc., the BoM’s got nothing on LotR.”

    Of course, Tolkien worked on the LotR story for over 3 decades—about 12 years for LotR itself—so it is perhaps not the best comparison.

    Nevertheless, I agree with kullervo’s larger point: incredible prodigies and savants exist, so Joseph’s amazing achievement is simply that: amazing—but not necessarily proof of prophethood.

  11. Where does the Bible fit on this scale for you? I am curious as to how you would react if someone stated they would be “thrilled” if evangelicals adopted #3.

    It depends on the genre of the book in question. Genesis 1 is clearly written poetically. Its historicity is much different than the book of Acts. I don’t take the Psalms literally of nearly anything (I’m not a sheep for example).

    I think the Gospel accounts and the book of Acts fit the category of #1 (except for the Americas part). I think Jesus fits #1 and then some.

    One of the main reasons I take the Old Testament as seriously as I do is because Jesus affirms it. That only matters to me, because He claimed to be the Son of God and then backed it up by predicting his own resurrection. If Jesus can be trusted about being the Son of God, then he can be trusted to be right about the Old Testament (given its genre).

    The question isn’t really whether Joseph could have written the book from his own capacities, the question is whether ANYONE in the 19th century could have written that book. And I think the answer is no. No one in the 19th century had the wherewithal to write a book like that.

    I agree with Kullervo. If it’s not ignorance, it’s extreme hyperbole. When you strip away everything in the Book of Mormon that is found in other places: Spaudling manuscript, George Washignton, Golden teapot, King James Bible, etc; there really isn’t all that much more for Joseph to fill in. Much of it was already written by someone else before Joseph Smith.

  12. One of the main reasons I take the Old Testament as seriously as I do is because Jesus affirms it. That only matters to me, because He claimed to be the Son of God and then backed it up by predicting his own resurrection. If Jesus can be trusted about being the Son of God, then he can be trusted to be right about the Old Testament (given its genre).

    I don’t think so. Quoting the Old Testament to a Jewish audience–even presuming its truth arguendo, again to a Jewish audience–doesn;t mean he affirms it, and even if it does, it certainly doesn’t tell us to what extent he affirms it.

  13. Kullervo, I am looking for a lot more quality substance and study than what you are trying to pass off to the readers here in comment #12.

    You are not off the hook. 🙂

    Tim, I wouldn’t put any of the books of the Bible in the category of #3.

    How did Jesus use the law, the prophets, and the writings, bro? Much, much more than just moralistic principles.

    Tim, many Christian fundamentalist preachers use the Bible to just preach morality. And I say, “What in the world are you doing? That’s it?!”

    Christ-centered, Gospel-centered hermeneutics!

    If I just want books on morality, all I need to do is walk into any given Christian book store. For that matter, let’s just stick the apocrypha back in between the Old and the New Testaments of the King James Version. 🙂

  14. What is your position on biblical creation?

    Young earth creationist? Old earth creationist? Gap theory? Day-age theory? Progressive? Theistic evolution? etc.? etc.? etc.? among all the nuances of interpretation out there (enough to make one’s head spin). . .

  15. I would like to know where doc and brian put Ecclesiastes? #3?

    Ok, I will be quiet now on this late Friday night. Come to think of it, this is a thread on the Book of Mormon.

    (chuckling)

  16. Kullervo, is it your position that Jesus didn’t believe in/affirm the old testament?

    Todd Wood- Not sure what point you are making.

    I think if you do not believe the books are divinely inspired, the Bible hovers between 3 and 4. By modern standards the morality of much of the old testament is indefensible. Genocide, murder, human sacrifice, incest, misogyny, capital punishment for trivial offenses are all seemingly endorsed at one point or another. I simply don’t accept that God backs all of these things e.g. I don’t believe that God ordered the murder of every man, woman and child of Jericho, despite what was said in the bible, (at least not the God I worship.) Without some sort of spiritual confirmation of divine origin much of the Bible seems like an anachronism that could be (or should be) dismissed.

    As a holoy book, I think the Book of Mormon is as believable and verifiable as much of the Bible, often more so. The Book of Mormon may even have a stronger claim to divine origin since we have first hand testimonies of living witnesses of a supernatural provenance, something which the Bible does not have. The earliest manuscripts of the bible are copies made between 100 and 2000 years after the fact. Its almost universally accepted among scholars that the Gospels were derivative of earlier texts and not written by first hand witnesses. The accounts of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances are not consistent and often contradictory.

    The historical and scientific evidence does not prove the Bible is accurate. This is the same for the Book of Mormon.

    I think my overall point is that without the sort of spiritual confirmation that Moroni promises, is it plausible to accept either the Bible or the Book of Mormon as divinely inspired?

  17. Here are a couple of good Brigham Young Quotes about the bible that are somewhat relevant:

    * I have heard some make the broad assertion that every word within the lids of the Bible was the word of God. I have said to them, “You have never read the Bible, have you?” “O, yes, and I believe every word in it is the word of God.” Well, I believe that the Bible contains the word of God, and the words of good men and the words of bad men; the words of good angels and the words of bad angels and words of the devil; and also the words uttered by the ass when he rebuked the prophet in his madness. I believe the words of the Bible are just what they are; but aside from that I believe the doctrines concerning salvation contained in that book are true, and that their observance will elevate any people, nation or family that dwells on the face of the earth. The doctrines contained in the Bible will lift to a superior condition all who observe them; they will impart to them knowledge, wisdom, charity, fill them with compassion and cause them to feel after the wants of those who are in distress, or in painful or degraded circumstances.
    o Journal of Discourses 13:175 (May 29, 1870)

    [T]ake the Bible just as it reads; and if it be translated incorrectly, and there is a scholar on the earth who professes to be a Christian, and he can translate it any better than King James’s translators did it, he is under obligation to do so. . .
    But I think it is translated just as correctly as the scholars could get it, although it is not correct in a great many instances. But it is no matter about that. Read it and observe it and it will not hurt any person in the world. If we are not to believe the whole of the Bible, let the man, whoever he may be, among the professed Christians, who thinks he knows, draw the line between the true and the false, so that the whole sectarian world may be able to take the right and leave the wrong. But the man Christ Jesus, who has revealed himself in the latter days, says the Bible is true and the people must believe it. Let us believe it, and then obey it.

    * Journal of Discourses 14:226-227 (August 27, 1871)

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Brigham_Young

  18. Jared C: since I don’t really consider myself Christian at this point, I don;t feel like I have a horse in this race, so to speak. But I never like to see poor reasoning, and in my mind, the fact that Jesus quotes the Old Testament only means that Jesus quoted the Old Testament.

    Jesus could have quoted Star Wars to illustrate a point, but it wouldn;t make Star Wars true.

    Well, it kind of depends on what sense of “true” we’re talking about. Infallible document, substantially accurate historical record, or even a total work of fiction that expresses universal truths–these are all ways in which something can be “true.”

  19. I would agree in principle. Jesus definitely seemed to rebelling against the Old Testament. I don’t think we have enough information to understand what he really thought of the Old Testament and just because someone quotes the old testament doesn’t amount to complete endorsement. His interpretation of the Old Testament was radically unorthodox.
    The Gospels do, however, depict him as endorsing the prophecies He believes foretold his coming. In context, it would be hard to say that he didn’t believe fundamentally in Judaism, the “law and the prophets” why else would he care about the temple?

    I think its an interesting question. I think the question of how Jesus interpreted the Bible should call into question “orthodox” interpretations of scriptures in general. As Jews today would completely agree, Jesus was far afield of anything that Jews expected of a Messiah based on a careful reading of their prophecies.

  20. In Ammon, Idaho, I am all about challenging the “orthodox” interpretation of Bible text among the majority. I am the unorthodox outsider. 🙂

    Jared, there are two issues in my mind about scripture that appear on this thread: (1) my view of scripture (all of the 66 canonical books): absolutely divinely inspired and trustworthy (2) my view of hermeneutics: a conservative, normal rendering of the words in their literary genre (the word already mentioned by Tim), pointing to Christ and the gospel throughout.

    These are the big points that I would like to make. And unfortunately, biblical revelation and latter-day scripture are clashing in my heart rather than blending into a beautiful inter-faith amalgamation.

    I experience a fundamental unity of the O.T and N.T., taking for face value the words of Christ. But when you don’t, this creates even more problems when you seek to add the latter-day scripture (heavily entrenched in Genesis and Isaiah data). Scrap the O.T. (as some LDS have proposed) and you have just exploded your foundation in the standard works.

  21. Todd,

    I would believe that the Proverbs are meant to be somewhere between #2 and #3. That’s their intended meaning.

    I am either gap theory or day-age theory on creation.

    I too would find it difficult to remove Jesus from the context of the Old Testament=scripture.

  22. I too would find it difficult to remove Jesus from the context of the Old Testament=scripture.

    Only because that’s how you’re used to thinking about it.

  23. The Gospels do, however, depict him as endorsing the prophecies He believes foretold his coming

    The ones Jesus believed fortold his coming, or the ones Matthew insists fortold Jesus’s coming?

  24. Kullervo, I could point out others but one of the events I was speaking of was when the Jesus of Luke, speaks of himself fulfilling the the scriptures and does so even when it put his life at risk. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21). However, you can see that the later gospels appeal to the scriptures more than the earlier gospels and contain more “scripture fulfilling” events. (Of Course Mark was not directed toward Scripture believers). But I would tend to agree that we cannot really KNOW what Jesus really thought of the Old Testament since we don’t have first hand accounts of his teachings on the subject.

    Tim and Todd (and others)

    I think that Evangelicals apply a different sort of skeptical lens to the Book of Mormon than they do to the Bible. There are powerful arguments that the Gospels are not historically accurate, and even more powerful arguments that Genesis is not historically accurate. Just as their are powerful arguments against the Book of Mormon. (and the existence of God). The disconcerting thing for believers is that they cannot prove their beliefs to be “objectively” true.

    From a scientific perspective, Evangelicals attacking the Book of Mormon while relying on the in errancy of the Bible is like saying that the quicksand Evangelicals have built their faith on is firmer than the quicksand the Mormons have built their faith on. Even if the Bible is firmer, its still quicksand.
    Jewish scholars systematically de-construct New Testament accounts in the same way you attempt to de-construct the book of mormon. (Here is an example http://jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=245&letter=N#701 )

    Most (if not all) Mormons and Evangelicals make up their minds about scripture prior to evaluating the evidence. Neither have have a true scientific approach to evaluating scripture. Christians’, Protestant and Mormon apologetic attempts to justify their faith(s) through historical/ philosophical/ scientific/ inquiry is generally only satisfactory to those within the faith. I don’t think this is necessarily an illogical position when taken with present spiritual experience. But this position should be acknowledged. I EXPECT both Mormons and Evangelicals to mount apologetic attacks on historical evidence against their faith rather than weighing it at face value against scriptural accounts. I also sympathize with the reasons they do so.

    For me, the more important questions are these:

    Ultimately can either Evangelicals or Mormons separate their faith in Scripture from how the Gospel works in their lives? Isn’t the voice of God in our lives today the most compelling evidence for our faith and its alleged superiority to the faith of others?

    And if thats the case, isn’t a discussion of that voice more fruitful than attempts to shaking faith in either the Bible or the Book of Mormon?

    Can we have that discussion with a mind open enough not to automatically denounce the voices others hear as satanic while affirming only the voices we hear as divine?

    Maybe too tall an order . . .

  25. Which LDS have proposed ditching the OT? That’s ludicrous!

    Todd, sorry, but I know too little about Ecclesiastes to have any opinion.

  26. Can we have that discussion with a mind open enough not to automatically denounce the voices others hear as satanic while affirming only the voices we hear as divine?

    Funny you should mention that. Katyjane?

  27. There are powerful arguments that the Gospels are not historically accurate, and even more powerful arguments that Genesis is not historically accurate. Just as their are powerful arguments against the Book of Mormon. (and the existence of God).

    To say that the critical arguments against Luke are evenly weighted (or even comparable) with the critical arguments against the Book of Mormon is a joke. It’s hard to even take that line or reasoning seriously. Just because they both have historical critics does not mean that neither can be trusted.

    Isn’t the voice of God in our lives today the most compelling evidence for our faith and its alleged superiority to the faith of others?

    I can’t disagree that the way God moves within us personally is often the most powerful influencer. But hopefully you’ll agree with me that not EVERYTHING people call “God” is actually Him. We have to strive to make sure what we’re hearing is actually truth and not some “other angel.”

    I don’t think faith is an end in itself. I’m not really interested in people “living by faith” if it’s not grounded in truth. If it’s not faith in the God that actually IS, it’s idolatry.

    As people who are supposed to be living by truth, we have an obligation to investigate truth claims and see if they hold up. We can’t just decide that we like the sound of something or determine that we feel comfortable where were at and stop there.

    All that being said, I don’t deny that Christ may be working in your life (or any Buddhist life for that matter). I can’t be the judge of that.

  28. Tim,

    Luke is a third-hand account of supernatural phenomena (that is impossible to recreate experimentally) that occurred between 30-70 years after the fact. On top of this it was written by an evangelist with an agenda.

    The witnesses to the Book of Mormon and its divine provenance testify first-hand of supernatural experience written down days, weeks or months after the fact.

    Any objective observer would hold them both as completely unreliable in themselves. Very suspect.

    To hold that Luke is the inerrant word of God is just as sketchy as to hold that the Book of Mormon came from God.

    The Proposition that Luke is more historically accurate is only supportable in its generalities by other sources, not in its details, which are all that really matter in the religious sense. I.e. it doesn’t matter for Christian religious claims much that there are independent accounts that Jesus existed as a person in 1st century Palestine.

    One reason why you may not see this is your bias toward Luke.

    I think you are still missing the point. I think we both agree that there is an historical component of our religion, i.e. God working in history and a personal component of religion, i.e. God speaking to us. The problem, of course, is that both are relatively unreliable by objective standards, i.e. neither the historical accounts of supernatural experience nor the personal accounts of supernatural experience are independently verifiable. The biblical history is filled with problems. Considering how hard it is to found out what really happened to Kennedy shows that disputed events, even when recent and well documented, evade accurate depiction.

    I think one problem with religious discussion is that there hasn’t been enough to understand the personal religious experience and the historical accounts have been elevated to the point of absurd adoration. One thing we can do is continue to have new and evolving religious experiences, we can’t re-visit history that happened 2000 years ago. We just ignore most of the present spiritual data in favor of the old.

    You are living by “faith” by following either historical accounts or your own personal revelation.

    I would also agree am not really interested in people living by faith, I am interested in people being good and loving (God is love, not “truth”). Following truth is completely beside the point, perhaps the most horrific deeds on earth were prosecuted in the name of some “truth”). I think searching for the platonic truth on most subjects is chasing shadows.

  29. I think your holding me to a standard of inerrancy that I don’t hold to. . .but regardless.. . .

    I would also agree am not really interested in people living by faith, I am interested in people being good and loving (God is love, not “truth”). Following truth is completely beside the point, perhaps the most horrific deeds on earth were prosecuted in the name of some “truth”). I think searching for the platonic truth on most subjects is chasing shadows.

    I don’t really know how you can separate real love from objective truth. But if your that caught up in Post-modernism, go for it.

  30. I haven’t read all the other comments, but I would have to say that for me, personally, I would have difficulty believing in a religion that has no historical backing whatsoever. With both Christianity and Judaism, there is solid historical evidence that Jesus existed and that characters in the OT correlate directly and exactly with other works of the time – such as Josephus and the Dead Sea Scrolls. With Mormonism, we don’t have that, which is why I can’t convert.

  31. Tim- I still think I am not making myself clear. Maybe it would be helpful to know where you are coming from: Do you believe that the Bible can be proven to be the Word of God and do you believe that Jesus can be proven to be Resurrected by historical or scientific evidence?

    Do you accept either of these propositions?:

    The Book of Mormon is difficult to believe in many of its general historical claims due to our current understanding of ancient history as well as in its depiction of supernatural events due to lack of independent accounts and impossibility of reproducing the phenomena experimentally.

    The Gospels are difficult to believe in some of their historical details due to inconsistency as well as in most of their descriptions of supernatural events due to impossibility of reproducing the events in an experimental setting. ( resurrection, walking on water, raising the dead, feeding 5000 with a few fish etc.)

    As for your comment on Post Modernism- I am thinking on extremely Modern lines (Maybe you have a non-standard understanding of Post Modernism):

    I do believe in objective truth, I just think that even though you may BELIEVE something is objectively true, if you don’t have proof or experimental evidence and if what you believe is not particularly plausible by empirical standards, all you have is relatively UNCERTAIN belief backed up only by rhetoric, argument and faith. Ultimately the divinity of the Bible (or the BOM) rests PRIMARILY on these. I.e. whether scripture is trustworthy in its record of supernatural occurrences and its prophecy of future events. That is not post-modernism, that is just plain old critical thinking. I am not denying the existence of objective truth, simply pointing out that Believers (Evangelical and Mormon) don’t have proof.

    You say to Mormons, your faith does not rest on as much historical evidence as mine does. I would reply that both Mormonism AND Protestantism rest on core doctrines that cannot be proven to be beyond mythological by objective standards.

    Believers, of course, rarely recognize this. Most are certain that what they believe is true and they are extremely convinced (and sometimes convincing to others). Subjective certainty doesn’t qualify a claim to be justified true belief by objective standards. Failure to recognize this is simply a failure to critically examine ones own beliefs by rigorous standards. Most are are much more rigorous in criticizing adverse beliefs than they are in analyzing their own by objective standards. I see this all the time in the Evangelical/Mormon debate, a lack of intellectual honesty regarding the difficulties with their own position.

    On Love: Here again I am simply being Modern, not Post-Modern. I think that love is a quality that has real meaning in experience. I think you can determine whether some action is loving independently of whether you can accurately tell if it is guided by some theologically true principle. I think whether a principle is consistent with love is actually an important part of determining whether something should be considered good or true.

    When it comes to love I simply think that its far easier to discern if actions are consistent with love than to it is to tell if certain religious propositions or certain accounts of ancient events are objectively true.

    This may be a part of teh reason Jesus said that “by this shall men know that you are my disciples”, and why Paul said that Love is greater than faith. ) You don’t hear Jesus telling us to seek first objective truth in all of your religious beliefs in order to make sure our love is pure. Paul tells us that we can only discern the blurry edges of objective truth, but he can describe love in detail.

  32. Jared, my apologies for the post-modern comment. I clearly misunderstood what you were getting at.

    Do you believe that the Bible can be proven to be the Word of God and do you believe that Jesus can be proven to be Resurrected by historical or scientific evidence?

    No, I don’t accept either of those propositions. I don’t believe either can be proven (I don’t think there are many things that can actually meet the high standard of “proven” for we might be living in the Matrix).

    I do believe that there is strong evidence that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Following that evidence I believe that it is reasonable to believe that Jesus rose from the dead and proved himself to be who he said he was.

    Based on Jesus being the Son of God and the disciples giving a reliable testimony of him, I believe it’s reasonable to think that the Bible is the Word of God (though not dictated word for word from God’s mouth through the writer’s pen).

    I hope that clarifies. I am well aware that proving “God did it” to any seemingly supernatural event is a difficult task in the world of objectivity, rationale and historical critique.

  33. When talking about proof, it’s important to explain what you mean. What kind of standard of proof are you talking about?

  34. I could use this definition of proof:

    That degree of evidence which convinces the mind of a fact, and produces belief; a test by facts or arguments that induce, or tend to induce, certainty of the judgment; conclusive evidence; demonstration.

  35. That’s too vague of a standard of proof for my comfort level. A definition of proof and a standard of proof are not the same thing.

  36. No, there are different level s of standard of proof. In law for example, there’s preponderance of evidence, the typical standard for civil actions, which means you only have to prove something is more likely than not. So if the evidence is 50.000001% in your favor, you have met that standard of proof.

    Beyond reasonable doubt, on the other hand, is such that to meet the standard of proof you have to show that no other reasonable story explains the evidence you’ve presented. That’s the standard for criminal trials in the US.

    Somewhere in between the two is clear and convincing proof, which isn’t as tightly defined as preponderance and beyond reasonable doubt.

    Complete 100% certainty (of anything at all) is basically impossible because of epistemological concerns. We could always be in The Matrix, or Loki could be fooling us with a flawless illusion.

  37. I am an attorney so I understand the legal ideas of standard of proof. However I also think that they are not particularly good in this context. I think the theory behind the legal standards does not really comport with how people are convinced and to what degree they are convinced.

    The legal standards are designed within an adversarial system with all kinds of presumptions. They compare the evidence presented rather than all of the possible evidence and I don’t think they are very helpful in arenas of non-adversarial, multifaceted inquiry.

    Also, I do think we can be 100% certain of many of the beliefs we have even though there may be conceivable reasons to doubt those beliefs.

    But, taking the legal paradigm for what its worth – If you had a trial now, with a reasonable and intelligent non-believer I don’t think you can prove the Bible or the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God to her by any of the legal standards in view of the totality of known historical and scientific evidence. There are too many counter-explanations of religious phenomena that make the preponderance of the evidence too difficult to achieve.

    I don’t think

  38. { scratch the “I don’t think” from the last post. Even though it might appear accurate to some 🙂 }

  39. I think if you take an isolated look at the Resurrection and stack it up to the other plausible explanations, the miraculous event comes out as the most likely thing to explain everything that happened afterwards.

    The only reason you would accept any of the other theories is because you’re already predetermined that miracles never happen and can’t EVER be an explanation.

    Jesus’ Twin,
    Swoon theory,
    Mass Hallucination,
    Disciple’s Conspiracy,

    none of them really answer the “why” of the disciples actions. Except for a slim minority most NT scholars concur that at the very least the disciples were convinced that Jesus had risen from the grave.

  40. Also, I do think we can be 100% certain of many of the beliefs we have even though there may be conceivable reasons to doubt those beliefs

    Sorry, but this is stupid. It makes no sense. I imagine you can be subjectively 100% certain, but that’s because you’re too ignorant to know why you should reserve a healthy measure of doubt.

  41. If there are reasonable conceivable reasons to doubt your beliefs, then you can’t possibly be 100% certain, because it must be possible, even if the chance is slim, that those conceivable reasons are in fact the case.

  42. Kullervo-

    Certainty is always subjective, it describes a belief that is held by a subject.

    I don’t think its helpful to debate the fine points of epistemology in this forum but suffice it to say that things aren’t generally as simple as you may think them to be.

    Tim-

    I disagree that the resurrection story is the most plausible. One possible explanation of the resurrection story is that it came out of certain visionary experiences of the disciples and then was embellished over time. This would explain a lot of the inconsistencies in the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus as told in the Gospels. Many of the appearances were of a man that followers did not recognize to be Jesus. Assuming Jesus body was laid in a tomb, some of his followers may have removed the body leaving the others to think that He had been resurrected.

    I think Christian certainty regarding the evidence of the resurrection party comes from setting up straw-man counterexamples. There are all kinds of supernatural stories from India that rival the resurrection account but are generally as unconvincing. Certainly there is (and should be) a bias against supernatural experience since generally it cannot be reproduced and does not comply with other experience.

    I am not saying that the resurrection didn’t happen, just that it cannot be proven and there are reasonable counter-explanations that do not involve supernatural phenomena. I don’t think its unreasonable to believe in the resurrection, just that its unreasonable to think that there are no more plausible explanations.

  43. I don’t think its helpful to debate the fine points of epistemology in this forum but suffice it to say that things aren’t generally as simple as you may think them to be.

    As I think them to be or as people often think them to be?

    And I think epistemology is the question in this forum.

  44. And I think epistemology is the question in this forum.

    as fun as the other stuff is to talk about I think you’re right.

  45. Kullervo-

    I meant” As you personally think them to be.”

    Most people I know who use the phrase, “that’s stupid, it makes no sense” are the ones who think in black and white terms where the black is those things they disagree with or can’t understand or do not fit within their world view. So I am kind of prejudiced against those who use this type of rhetoric. I generally don’t have a lot of interest in engaging those types in technical philosophical discussions because it is generally tedious and unenlightening.

    Since I only know you through this blog, I could be wrong in making this judgment about you but comments like that brings out my prejudice. (Maybe I am just conceited)

    Assuming I let my prejudice get the best of me I will lay out what I meant on certainty within the constraints of a comment post-

    Generally people can be certain of certain beliefs within certain contexts of knowledge and experience. I am 100% certain the sun will come up tommorrow. There may be conceivable reasons to doubt Newtonian Physics that predicts this but this does not make me less than 100% certain nor any less justified in my certainty from a subjective or objective position.

    We can be certain of propositions within certain contexts even when we can conceive of reasons to doubt our foundational beliefs in our perceptions and thoughts. A definition of certainty that does not take this into account would not jibe with what we understand to be knowledge.

  46. Jared, you’re the one being simple here, not me. I’m calling you ignorant because you’re acting ignorant. I see stupid, I say stupid. I’m not the one who is thinking in black and white terms here. Using nasty language to tell you I disagree with you is not the same thing as seeing in black and white.

    But the point is, you’re dead wrong about 100% certainty and the sun. You say you’re 100% certain that the sun is coming up tomorrow, but you can’t ever know that. Sure, it’s a safe bet, with probability (as near as we can tell, from the meager tools we have at hand that we can use to gauge probability) being about as close to 100% as things get. But there’s a chance it won;t happen.

    The sun could blow up tonight. The earth could blow up tonight. The earth could be blown or knocked out of orbit. Given what we know about physics, these all seem fairly unlikely, but unlikely doesn;t mean impossible. And even if physics tells us these scenarios are impossible, physics might be wrong. The chance is slim, but that doesn;t matter because it means that certainty isn’t 100%.

    Shoot, if you’re Mormon, there’s actually Book of Mormon precedent for the sun not coming up tomorrow! You believe it’s happened before! There could be a God who whimsically decides to not make the sun come up tomorrow. Or God could have a good reason for it. Or Fenris might eat the sun and Ragnarok would begin. Even if you don’t believe in God, you might be wrong! The evidence you’re basing your belief on might be misleading. Maybe God made it that way on purpose; you’d have absolutely no way of knowing.

    Furthermore, since God could be controlling and manipulating all of the observable data, you actualy have no way of judging the probability of these things happening. What would you base your estimate on? Observable phenomena? Past experience? Fossil-hiding-God could be manipulating that data.

    And we don’t even need fossil-hiding-god for those kinds of scenarios. For example, the earth could be suspended in a huge chamber, programmed to feed us the data we think we’re observing in the universe. We could literally be in The Matrix, exactly how it is portrayed in the movie. You could be a madman in an insane asylum floating in space millennia from now, long after the destruction of both earth and sun, having a psychotic fantasy episode. None of this, including you, might exist. Descartes could have been wrong.

    How would you know if those things were the case or not? What would you use to judge their probability? Your experiences, your empirical observations? Those could be be actually lying to you. the testimony of others? They might not even really exist, or they might be living in the same lab experiment you are.

    There has to be a measure of uncertainty in everything, or you’re fooling yourself.

    What you’re saying in your post, Jared, is basically this: “assuming no reason to think otherwise, the sun is definitely coming up tomorrow.” Well duh, that’s a tautology. You can make that sentence true about anything. “Assuming there’s no reason to think otherwise, the President is definitely an alien.” See, in a certain context, I can be 100% certain that the president is an alien: in the context where I have filtered out all possible variables that could produce a different result. “Assuming there’s no reason to think otherwise, people reincarnate after death.” “Assuming there’s no reason to think otherwise, the Seattle Seahawks are the greatest team in the history of the NFL.” “Assuming there’s no reason to think otherwise, the world is definitely flat.”

    I can be 100% certain of those propositions if and only if I ignore all contrary possibilities.

    Granted, based on what we experience, it seems practical to act as if we did have 100% certainty that the sun is going to come up tomorrow. It doesn;t make sense to live in fear of an exploding sun, for example, since experience and science tell us it is so unlikely as to be not worth considering. But that’s just a sanity strategy, and if we think that those asumptions we make are the same thing as 100% certainty, we’re living in denial.

  47. Kullervo-

    I am sure you think you are right on this, and I am sure you are the kind of guy who “calls it as you see it” which is why I suggested it might not be helpful going into an explanation of something you have already seen and called.

    But, I still think you have a simplistic and ultimately incorrect view of certainty which ignores the complexity of logic, language and understanding.

    Let me give a better example than the sun coming up
    tommorrow (if you are not certain enough of that). I am certain that the Giants won Superbowl XLII. You coulc of course have some doubt that the touchdown pass was legally caught but it wouldn’t make any sense to doubt that the game was scored incorrectly. I could doubt the existence of New York or even the game of football through some of the imagined reasons you are giving, but those sorts of exercises don’t destroy the certainty that a touchdown is 6 points and that the Giants scored two touchdowns during the fourth quarter to win the Superbowl.

    Now you can say: wait, you could be dreaming all of this, God or some demon made you believe that the Giants are a football team when in fact there is no such thing as football. There is a chance you are wrong. But these doubts simply do not assail the certainty that you have that the Giants are the reigning Superbowl Champions.

    Another example along the same lines: I am certain that football is a game played with a ball. You could doubt this by argue that it is possible everyone has played football incorrectly thus far and in fact the REAL game of football is played with a frisbee. But it doesn’t mean much to say that such a doubt makes your knowledge less certain.

    The point being that certainty and knowledge are not concepts that can be abstracted from language, logic and context without distorting them beyond all recognition.

    There is a distinction between certainty and indubitability, You can certainly know things even when there is conceivable doubt when those doubts are simply outside the context of the knowledge you are speaking of, as in the football example. You can “know” things within a context where you able to conceive of rational doubts relating to the the foundations of that context. You can know things even if a proof of them is ultimately inexpressible.

    Of course you can attempt to define knowledge and certainty in a way that defies they way these concepts are used by people in language. But here you are putting a very specialized spin on them to make “certainty” mean a “state of knowledge that is impossible to doubt”. I would argue that you are talking about something else at that point.

    You appear to presuppose that due to our ability to imagine possible scenarios in which we cannot have certain knowledge of anything that it follows that we can have certain knowledge of nothing. I think is a conceptual mistake that suffers from some faulty assumptions.

    You seem to be saying that anyone who says “I know” is using the term incorrectly since they can’t “really” be sure if they open their minds to conceivable doubts. To me this is a bit like saying that touchdowns are really worth 20 points but everybody gets it wrong.

  48. I’m bristling that you’re accusing me of simplicity. And you are vastly underestimating my understanding of the near-infinite complexities of logic, language, and understanding.

    Essentially, you are playing a semantic game here. The “certainty” you are talking about is not the same thing as the certainty that I am talking about. I know way too much about language to try to say mine is correct and yours is not. That kind of statement would be meaningless.

    It seems like you are saying that you can be certain of x, given a particular set of premises (that’s your sun and Giants arguments, essentially). The kind of certainty you are therefore talking about is a sort of functional, practical certainty, since absolute, naked, certainty is completely impossible.

    What I am saying is that functional, practical certainty is fine and dandy, but given how little we can really know absolutely about objective reality, it’s important to not confuse practical certainty with absolute certainty. The practical kind of certainty you’re talking about comes along with the possibility that its premises may be faulty.

    Using certainty to mean these two subtly different things (although it is the kind of thing that happens a lot in language) irritates me, because too often the people using the word blend the two senses together and assume that a practical certainty is the same thing as an absolute certainty. Their practical certainty rests on uncertain assumptions.

    If that’s not what you mean, though, then I probably just think you’re naive about reality.

  49. I am not sure what “certainty” you are talking about but as I remember I said we can be 100% certain about many of the beliefs we have even when we can conceivably doubt them.

    You said that was stupid and made no sense.

    I explained how it does make sense and now you are saying you are talking about a sort of “naked”, “absolute” certainty that is impossible. Well, if you define certainty as something that is impossible then I think you are using the word in in a way that nobody really uses it. We may be using the word in different senses but I don’t think that typically anybody uses the word in the sense you are using it. I am not playing a semantic game, I am trying to offer an explanation of how the concept is generally used, rather than offering a sort of unnatural version of the concept. If the “absolute certainty” you describe is “completely impossible” I think its generally a vacuous and un-helpful concept.

    You say that the “the practical kind of certainty [I am] talking about comes along with the possibility that its premises may be faulty.” That is not what I am saying- for example I am saying that we can be certain that football is played with a ball, there is no doubt that this is true, the premises that lead me to the conclusion are not faulty because if football wasn’t played with a ball it wouldn’t be football, its really meaningless to doubt the proposition in this way.

    Your concept of “naked certainty” as opposed to “practical certainty” seems to hinge on the fact that “practical certainty” follows from certain premises (which could be doubted) while “absolute certainty” comes from propositions that rest on premises that are beyond all doubt.

    I would argue that there are no propositions that are not based on some sort of background “premises” and that you can always conceive of reasons to doubt these background premises. All premises are expressed in a language and language is built upon the background, the form of life, the world that people experience reality through.

    I think we can be absolutely certain of all kinds of things:

    I can be certain that putting out a cigarette in the eye of a child is wrong, regardless of whether I can conceive of a possibility that there really are no children.

    I would suggest that you shouldn’t take it personally if I point out that your conception of certainty is not complex enough to explain the concept as it is used. I would gladly agree that mine is not either. What makes me question your capacity to grasp the complexity of the way people see and understand reality is your propensity to label ideas stupid without really understanding them (and the fact that I think you are still kind of missing my point, but that could just be the way I am explaining it).

  50. Tim, I have a question for you:

    How do you get from this . . .

    I do believe that there is strong evidence that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Following that evidence I believe that it is reasonable to believe that Jesus rose from the dead and proved himself to be who he said he was.

    Based on Jesus being the Son of God and the disciples giving a reliable testimony of him, I believe it’s reasonable to think that the Bible is the Word of God (though not dictated word for word from God’s mouth through the writer’s pen).

    To the fact that your brand of evangelicalism (which I don’t know much about and may be at a disadvantage here because of it) is true. Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals of all colors, and even Mormons all believe in the Bible. So the fact that the Bible is true (and has archeological evidence to “prove” it) doesn’t prove that your church is true, does it?

  51. I don’t believe my church is the only one true church. I believe true followers of Christ exist throughout Protestantism, Catholicism and Orthodoxy. I even believe there are true followers of Christ in the LDS church. I don’t think any of them need to be rebaptized to be considered valid Christians.

    I believe that Christ heads a spiritual church that embodies itself through a great many individuals and organizations.

    I’m a little unsure what you’re asking me, so I hope that answers your question.

    My church can be found at http://www.rockharbor.org

  52. Yep, that is what I was wondering about and you did answer my question. Thanks.

    You are much nicer than some Evangelicals if you include us Mormons in your flock.
    What does a Mormon have to do, in your opinion, to be a true follower of Christ and a valid Christian? Thanks.

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