Returned Missionaries

I’m sorry my time has been consumed with a great number of other things lately. Among them regular meetings with a couple of Mormon missionaries from the great state of Colorado and meetings with a recent Mormon convert to Lutheranism. (He left the Mormon church a week before we started meeting and I’m doing what I can to encourage him in his journey and explain Protestantism to him).

My wife passed this email from ConversantLife.com on to me so I thought I would share it here.  Sean and Brett were two of my classmates in college.  They both live near me and I bump into them about once a year or so.  They use trips to Salt Lake City and Berkeley as a means of giving students practical applications for their studies in theology, philosophy and Christian apologetics.

Last week two of our intrepid bloggers, Sean McDowell and Brett Kunkle, traveled to Utah with a team of six leaders and 23 students to interact with Mormon students at BYU, knock on doors in Salt Lake City, and tour Temple Square to learn about the history and doctrine of Mormonism. Sean writes about the experience in two fascinating blogs, “Conversations With Mormons.” And Brett, who serves with Stand to Reason Ministries, reflects on the “Reality of the Resurrection” in a three-part blog. These are inspiring and instructive articles on the core values of the Christian faith, which hinge on the reality of the living Christ. Read and post your comments. Sean and Brett want to know what you think!

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116 thoughts on “Returned Missionaries

  1. Sean in the above-linked blog post said:

    I requested one external verifiable fact that corroborates the [Book of Mormon] and they couldn’t give me one—not one. … Such lack of confirmation would be quite disconcerting to me if I were a Mormon.

    Yet, interestingly enough, Sean doesn’t find it disconcerting that there are no more external verifiable facts supporting the Resurrection than there are for the Book of Mormon. And without the Resurrection, there’s no evangelical Christianity (or Mormonism, for that matter).

    Look, all Christians — evangelicals, Mormons, Catholics, Adventists and even mainliners — place a lot of faith in things that can’t be proven. But people who use Sean’s apologetic approach don’t seem to see that.

  2. Well, as a Lutheran it’s always nice to see someone else see the light of God’s freedom, and His freedom for us in the external Word and Sacraments.

    I do hope he realizes that he is getting into a minority view within Christianity.

    Oh well…he’ll find out soon enough.

  3. For a taste of the radical view that Lutheranism holds…check out my latest post and see if you can stomach the radical nature of the sermon posted there.

    Thanks.

    PS- And feel free to rip it apart if you feel you need to.

    Or…be pleasantly enlightened.

  4. I’m glad to know of people going out and sharing what they believe with others. I am not so keen on people going out and trying to tear down what others believe.

    Unfortunately, this does seem to be the method of many outreach programs. When I was serving my LDS mission, I never once had any success with someone if I started the conversation telling them that the things they hold most dear are all wrong. (I admit that this did happen at times, but usually when the other person started it. Not a strong argument, I know, but hey, I was younger and stupider than I am now.)

    I don’t really understand Sean’s belief in the Bible. Well, I understand why he says he believes in it, but I don’t understand how that is a very strong basis for faith. He says he knows the Bible is truth because of “internal and external evidences”. To me, that is such a terrible reason to believe Scripture is true. Where is the faith in the message of the Bible?

    I’m really not looking to find fault with Sean, though. I know many Christians who cite this reasoning as their answer for why they believe the Bible to be true. I just find it lacking in the faith department.

    Similarly with Brett’s article on the realities of the Resurrection. If there was absolutely no physical evidence, historical evidence, or any evidence other than the accounts found within the Bible which, according to Sean, cannot be trusted because they internally reference themselves, would Christians still believe in Christ? I would hope so. I don’t believe in Christ because the Scriptures tell me so. I believe in Christ because I have received a witness from the Holy Ghost that He is who He says He is. I sometimes wonder if some Evangelicals are afraid of relying on a witness from the Spirit.

  5. Sean’s account of how students reacted to their trip to Salt Lake City and Provo sounds a lot like how some of the students in my TEDS group reacted when we visited Utah a few weeks ago.

    And I have to admit, I had a hard time with it. Maybe it’s just me, but every time I go to Utah, my feelings aren’t, “I’m so saddened and overwhelmed by how deceived all these people are.” My feelings are, “I love these people and I’m so happy to be here among them right now.” Let’s assume that most Mormons are indeed lost and living without God in their lives. Does that make visiting BYU or Salt Lake City really any different from visiting the University of Washington or Seattle? Granted, I understand that under this scenario the tragedy is supposedly that the people of BYU and Salt Lake City think they have Christ in their lives when they don’t. But lost is lost to me. The majority of the people at the University of Washington and Seattle are not born-again Christians of any kind, and they certainly don’t think they’re living without an essential part of their lives. Isn’t that a type of deception on some level?

    Some of the students on our team were very zealous about this “there’s evidence for the Bible, but not for the Book of Mormon” argument. They were doing things like asking the sister missionaries at Temple Square where the Book of Mormon archaeology room was. One of the things our group did was to have a dialogue with some graduate students at BYU who have weekly discussions on psychology and philosophy under Professor Brent Slife of the Psychology Department (who is an evangelical Christian). Over the course of the discussion, they brought up their “there’s no evidence for the Book of Mormon” point—and got a little blind-sided by FARMS and FAIR-esque responses to the effect of, “there’s internal literary evidence for the Book of Mormon such as chiasmus and other Hebraisms which shows that Joseph Smith could not have written it.” The TEDS students were completely unfamiliar with such arguments and had no idea what to say.

    I knew what to say, but I confess, I waited a few minutes before bailing them out. I didn’t want to dominate the conversation, and I thought it would be a good learning experience for them. I think we all need the experience of getting clotheslined by Mormon apologetics at least once.

    All that said, I do think it’s significant that there is no uncontested external evidence that validates the Book of Mormon. Maybe I’ll go into that in my next post.

  6. Alex said:

    If there was absolutely no physical evidence, historical evidence, or any evidence other than the accounts found within the Bible which, according to Sean, cannot be trusted because they internally reference themselves, would Christians still believe in Christ? I would hope so. I don’t believe in Christ because the Scriptures tell me so. I believe in Christ because I have received a witness from the Holy Ghost that He is who He says He is.

    But if there’s nothing in terms of evidence, how would believing in Christianity (of whatever vareity) be any different than believing in the Jedi, or the Smoke Monster or the Vulcan spaceship or whatever? It seems to m a faith like that would be based on emotions and/or deception and not much else.

    On the other hand, relying on hard evidence of spiritual things can get one only so far. Despite what some apologists (evangelical as well as LDS) may say, proof of the Resurrection or of the burning bush or of the Book of Mormon simply isn’t there to be found (although I believe in all three of them). And when talking to the nonbeliever, the best that can be done is to do what a criminal prosecutor does in a preliminary hearing — not offer proof, but show that there’s something there, enough to give the idea worthy consideration.

    As much as anyone, I would be delighted if we found incontrovertible archaeological evidence of the Nephites in America. But I don’t expect it to happen. Similarly, I would be delighted if we could find, for example, firsthand accounts dating to 30 AD that could leave no doubt in even the most jaded observer about the truth of the Resurrection. But I don’t expect that to happen either.

    So I have to agree that, obviously, the Holy Spirit plays a huge role in developing faith. But for me, at least, that faith also has to be grounded in some sort of external reality, unprovable though it may be. It doesn’t make sense to me otherwise.

  7. The lack of evidence for Biblical events is not the same as the lack of evidence for the Book of Mormon. With the Bible, we are talking about specific, individual events in the narrative: we know there was a Roman Empire, and a Jerusalem, a Pontius Pilate, and a temple, and Pharisees. The specific actions of obscure contemporary people like Peter and Jesus we don’t have a lot of corroborating evidence on, but we wouldn’t expect to have any. The gospels could be fiction, but setting aside for a moment the problem of miracles, its at least plausible fiction. There’s no noteworthy gaps in the evidence, no evidence that we should have and usually have but don’t in this case that would raise a red flag.

    The Book of Mormon documents the rise and fall of an entire civilization that appears to have left no trace of its existence. There’s no corroborating evidence for anything.

    I realize that Evangelicals aren’t basing their faith on the historicity of the man Jesus, but on the miracles he allegedly performed. But Evangelicals have a lot fewer problematic inferences to make. Their context is there, the details are plausible, there’s not a lot of records about the specific people mentioned but they were typical of the people we do know about–the historical record has no dearth of relatively contemporary charismatic messianic figures–so the only serious problem is whether the miracles happened or not, and if they did, whether that means what Evangelicals say it means.

    Mormons don’t only have miracles to cope with (the BoM is rife with them), but the entire chain of reasoning leading up to them. There’s no archeological evidence for the entire Nephite civilization where all of this is supposed to have happened. That’s a dang big blank. Mormons have one book which was produced in the 19th century, entirely divorced from the context of its narrative. In other words, Mormons have to deal with all of the cognitive leaps that Evangelicals have to deal with, multiplied by gaps-within-gaps all the way up to a pretty broad level. It could only be worse if the Book of Mormon supposedly happened on another planet or something.

    Yeah, there are leaps of faith involved in both cases, but there’s a difference in magnitude that is exponential.

  8. And when talking to the nonbeliever, the best that can be done is to do what a criminal prosecutor does in a preliminary hearing — not offer proof, but show that there’s something there, enough to give the idea worthy consideration.

    PS, that’s not what a prosecutor in a criminal case has to do. A prosecutor in a criminal case has to actually demonstrate that the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt, even given the defendant’s offered evidence to the contrary. Not many religions could carry that burden of proof.

    “Enough to give the idea worthy consideration” would not even win a civil suit, much less a criminal case. “Enough to give the idea worthy consideration” only lets you survive summary judgment and actually go to trial. To win a civil case you still have to convince the fact-finder (jury or judge, depending) that your version of the facts is more likely than not. Not many religions could carry that burden of proof, either.

  9. As much as anyone, I would be delighted if we found incontrovertible archaeological evidence of the Nephites in America.

    How about even any archaeological evidence at all.

  10. It could only be worse if the Book of Mormon supposedly happened on another planet or something.

    That would be Scientology.

    Regarding proof, I do not discount the value of evidence. Evidence is a wonderful thing. However, Paul did not teach that faith is the substance of things seen, and the evidence of things hoped for. Quite the opposite. So it bothers me that so many people state that their belief in the Scripture is because of the evidence of things seen. The evidence isn’t bad, but they are missing the bigger picture, which kullervo points out: the faith is in the efficacy of the miracles. But they are so caught up in the gotcha game of who has evidence and who doesn’t that they miss this point. Or, if they get it, they fail to share it.

  11. As much as anyone, I would be delighted if we found incontrovertible archaeological evidence of the Nephites in America. But I don’t expect it to happen.

    Totally agree. And the reason this will never happen is it would force the rational mind to the conclusion that Mormonism is true. Because of the miraculous nature of its origins, any corroborating evidence for the Book of Mormon is also corroborating evidence for angels that occasionally give people books inscribed on gold plates, translation by divination, etc.

    In order for there to be faith there will need to be room for doubt when it comes to evidence of God’s intervention in the world.

  12. Totally agree. And the reason this will never happen is it would force the rational mind to the conclusion that Mormonism is true.

    Except there’s no such thing as incontrovertible proof of anything. There’s always doubt. We could always be living in the Matrix, after all.

  13. My point is, the line about “well, the reason God doesn’t give us incontrovertible proof is because then we wouldn’t need faith” is an apologetic sleight of hand: a false dichotomy. Nobody’s expecting incontrovertible proof, because there’s no such thing as alevel of proof that would force your mind to believe a particular way.

    Just look around: people believe all kinds of crazy crap despite the available evidence. And I’m not just talking about religious belief, either.

    Its a false dichotomy because evidence or proof is a broad spectrum: there could always be a little bit more evidence, leaving a little bit less–but still some–doubt.

  14. Just look around: people believe all kinds of crazy crap despite the available evidence.

    You mean that Barack Obama really is a U.S. citizen?

  15. because there’s no such thing as alevel of proof that would force your mind to believe a particular way

    As a wise man is fond of saying: bull[poop].

    In my defense, I tried to preempt this preposterous evocation of the epistemological problem by choosing my words carefully (“force the rational mind”).

  16. I don’t believe for a second that finding incontestable proof of a Nephite or Lamanite civilization would force people to believe in God, miracles, angels, or Mormonism. Skeptics would find other explanations for how Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon: that he must have been working from other sources that had knowledge of these civilizations perhaps preserved through Native American legends, that clairvoyance for such things is present throughout all humanity and was especially strong in him, or they would simply write the entire situation off as an enigma that they can’t explain while maintaining that the other pieces of the Mormonism puzzle don’t line up. Besides, even if we conclude that Smith had some sort of divine gift and insight, that doesn’t mean that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. You still have the succession claims of all the other Mormon splinter groups to deal with, and all it really means is that Smith had a prophetic gift at the time of his writing of the Book of Mormon. Everything that happened afterward and most of the stuff that happened before is still gray area.

    The narrative that the Bible repeats over and over is that people will not believe even when they have proof positive of the truth. Luke 16:31, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (NRSV) So I find it pretty difficult to believe that God is purposefully concealing evidence for the Book of Mormon because he doesn’t want to compel people to believe.

  17. In my defense, I tried to preempt this preposterous evocation of the epistemological problem by choosing my words carefully (“force the rational mind”).

    Right, and kudos for the attempt, but I don’t think you can get an end run around the epistemological problem by limiting your selection to rational minds, unless you can show that rational minds could utterly rule out said epistemological problem. But you can’t, because part of being rational is accepting the limitations of your data: garbage in, garbage out. It’s rational to trust your sensory data, but it’s not rational to insist that your sensory data is infallible.

  18. Jack,

    I grant you (and Kullervo) people believe anything they want. I’m saying they can’t rationally believe anything they want. As your list of hypotheticals demonstrates, depending on the type of evidence the alternate explanations quickly become less plausible than the thing you’re trying to explain. Legends that no one else has heard, clairvoyance, and explanations that don’t explain anything would be dismissed the same way we dismiss evidence that Elvis is still alive or that the moon landing was faked.

    I also chose the word “Mormonism” carefully because of the logical diconnection between the truth of the Book of Mormon and that of the LDS church. I’m with you there.

    On Luke 16, perhaps I am less pessimistic than Jesus but I believe that more people would be convinced by someone returning from the dead than by reading the Old Testament. 🙂 I understand that scripture and similar accounts as saying that people can be convinced without being converted. You could learn of the reality of judgment and the afterlife and it not have the same transformative power in your life that comes from walking by faith. Our Heavenly Father is far more interested in the latter so He has us see through a glass darkly.

    Thanks for fixing my blockquote.

  19. …it’s not rational to insist that your sensory data is infallible.

    If strawman arguments exist outside The Matrix, then this is one of them.

  20. Well, Mephibosheth, I can tell you that if someone found an ancient road sign that said “Zarahemla: 20 miles” (or the ancient equivalent thereof), I wouldn’t convert to any known strain of Mormonism or conclude that the Book of Mormon is true because of it. Guess that means I don’t fit your definition of “rational.”

    And so long as we’re comparing things to Elvis sightings and faked moon landings, personally, I think this whole “God won’t give us evidence of Book of Mormon civilizations because then we’d have proof of its truthfulness and he wants there to be faith” argument rates right up there with “God put the dinosaur bones in the earth to trick us into thinking the earth is old.”

  21. Here is what I find puzzling, There is an utter dearth of evidence for any of the specific events of the Bible or the Book of Mormon but somehow these serve as people’s basis for belief.

    However there seems to be all kinds of personal spiritual encounters with God, yet these are considered by many as being too “subjective” to be a basis of faith.

    And the irony is that without the personal spiritual experiences, there would be no Bible or Book of Mormon.

    Granted that there are all kinds of weird judgments that are made about spiritual experiences, and I don’t believe they are at all well understood. But it seems ridiculous to dismiss them as untrustworthy.

    Maybe its just easier to believe in a simple story derived from the Bible rather than make strong sense of everything God has said to human beings. Perhaps. . . believing in an ideology does seem easier than actually embodying. It doesn’t seem like spiritual experience can fit nicely into a particular ideology.

    Also, I think Evangelicals would have a better time at relating to and conversing with LDS about God if they actually took the LDS spirituality seriously, and acknowledged it as both real and similar to theirs. I think Mormons have a lot of success with evangelicals and other Christians because they appeal to the extra-Mormon spiritual experiences.

    I don’t think either “side” does this enough, but it probably muddies the water way to much for simple proselytizing methods.

  22. Also, I think Evangelicals would have a better time at relating to and conversing with LDS about God if they actually took the LDS spirituality seriously, and acknowledged it as both real and similar to theirs. I think Mormons have a lot of success with evangelicals and other Christians because they appeal to the extra-Mormon spiritual experiences.

    Jared, you may enjoy the comment that I made at MarkCares blog the other day, here.

    I’m trying to figure out how to work it into a new post here or at my blog, haven’t decided yet.

  23. Thanks Jack,

    I think you have good reasons for believing in the Bible.

    One question people will always have is what should be the priority of the reasons for your belief.

    For example, if somebody had an amazing, transformational spiritual experience reading the Book of Mormon, and felt God in her life when she read daily and actively participated in the LDS church, and felt the love of God and the power of Grace in her life, is she reasonable or justified in ignoring the lack of historical evidence for the Book of Mormon?

  24. …I can tell you that if someone found an ancient road sign that said “Zarahemla: 20 miles… I wouldn’t convert

    I already agreed that conversion doesn’t follow. If you were intellectually honest though you would have to conclude that the Book of Mormon was true or come up with a naturalistic explanation why a 19th-Century farmer was able to make such a prediction by staring into a rock. Good luck with that.

    [This] argument rates right up there with “God put the dinosaur bones in the earth to trick us into thinking the earth is old.”

    If you know something, you ipso facto cannot have faith in it. If you could deduce spiritual truth the way scientific or mathematical or historical truths are deduced, then life is just a big IQ test.

  25. If you know something, you ipso facto cannot have faith in it. –

    I disagree, this view distorts what it is to know as well as what it is to have faith. I do this all of the time by simply having faith in my ability to see what is in front of my eyes. I know that a computer is there by my senses, and I show faith that my eyes are not deceiving me when I type.

    I think the better, slightly related point is Kierkegaard’s, i.e. if you want to have life transforming/saving Christian form of faith, it takes an acceptance, or even an embracing of paradox.

  26. I sometimes contemplate leaving the LDS but will probably die LDS to keep peace with the family I raised in it, albeit buried in a suit and/or cremated and Amazing Grace played grave side. But if I did leave, it would likely be to one of the Pentecostal churches; they just seem to get more into the spirit of what worship is all about. Having been RC until 11-12, I know I couldn’t suffer liturgical Protestantism. Then there’s Luther’s rabid anti-Semitism that’s too tough to stomach.

    On the BofM, I know there’s a popular LDS party line that commits us to BofM historicity, but I refuse to buy into it (along with probably all LDS dogma). Even if parts of the BofM are historical, it’s clear nobody’s dug in the right place yet. So my sympathies are with the “it’s all allegory” crowd or Old World settings like the Malay hypothesis that eliminate the major anachronisms, albeit w/o explaining how the plates were anciently buried near Palmyra.

  27. Jared C.,

    I agree that what you say is philisophically accurate, but my language here is simply not intended to be parsed with this kind of extreme skepticism, where merely typing at a computer screen becomes an act of faith. I’m simply using “know” and “knowledge” in their colloquial senses.

    I suppose I am using a slightly obscure definition of “faith,” but if it isn’t obvious from the context of my comments I am referring to a state on a spectrum somewhere between blind belief and knowledge as is suggested in Alma 32 (“faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things”).

  28. If you were intellectually honest though you would have to conclude that the Book of Mormon was true or come up with a naturalistic explanation why a 19th-Century farmer was able to make such a prediction by staring into a rock.

    I disagree with this dichotomy, Mephibosheth. I already believe in the supernatural, therefore I wouldn’t have to find a naturalistic explanation for how a 19th century farmer knew about these hypothetical civilizations. Nor do I have to conclude that the entire book is “true” and that God was the source of his knowledge. The Bible has numerous figures who are able to perform supernatural feats or discern hidden truths without being faithful prophets of God (Balaam, Caiaphas, the possessed girl in Acts 16, the medium of Endor, etc.). I could just argue that JS discerned these things through similar means and go about my day—very rationally.

  29. Ah, very good Jack. I stand corrected and I overplayed my hand in saying that it proves Mormonism is true (at least if we found something like a Zarahemlan roadsign; I can think of much more difficult though experiments). But at the very least, does it not force one to the conclusion that there is something supernatural? Put yourself in the shoes in the atheist: where does their plausible deniability go? So if I may amend my original point: due to its miraculous origins, corroborative evidence for the Book of Mormon becomes corroborative evidence for the supernatural.

  30. Steve EM said:

    I sometimes contemplate leaving the LDS but will probably die LDS to keep peace with the family I raised in it, albeit buried in a suit and/or cremated and Amazing Grace played grave side.

    You may not have known this, but President Hinckley had Amazing Grace performed graveside, so you aren’t going to distinguish yourself as a rebel that way.

  31. I think you have to first specify what proper evidence for the Book of Mormon would look like before you can criticize the book for not having any.

    I’ve said this many times before, but I’ll say it again:

    The Western Hemisphere is – compared to the Middle East – and archeological BLACK HOLE.

    Nobody knows what the heck went on there before Columbus – and what we do know is very, very sketchy and vague outliine in nature. There have been a lot of studies linking the Book of Mormon narrative as fitting well within patterns of existing Mayan or Aztec narrative. But no one seems to care – because no one has found the word “Nephi” or whatever else.

    But consider this – even if we did discover the city of Zarahemla – what would it look like, and how would we know we’d found it.

    Even the Book of Mormon itself states that the Reformed Egyptian which it was written in was altered over a thousand years by the Nephite scribes (which is, honestly, kind of a no-duh for anyone familiar with the evolution of ancient languages). What would the writing even look like? And who says Nephite civilization even used Reformed Egyptian for everyday use? Who says the old Mayan glyphs are NOT the actual Nephite language? And if you found city names in Mayan glyphs, how do you translate them and feel confident in the phonetics you are getting from them (especially since we have almost no Mayan speaking people left on the earth)?

    And Cortez and company weren’t much help when they melted down about every last bit of gold when they invaded the Aztec Empire – with the accompanying Jesuits burning every last scrap of skin or parchment that they considered heretical (which meant pretty-much all of it). If there was something similar to golden plates in the Aztec region, they never would have survived Cortez.

    This is not unusual. Half the reason we even have the writings of Aristotle is because a few librarians were ingenious enough to bury the great library at Alexadria in sand – thus preserving it from being burned by invaders. What if no one had thought to do that – how much ancient knowledge would we have lost? Has anyone here thought about this?

    And how lucky was it that someone happened to have a bright idea that saved all those documents? How likely was it?

    The fact is, usually, someone doesn’t have a bright idea, and the invading soldiers of countless armies throughout human history have usually had their way with the major cities and civilizations of human history.

    In the battle of “books vs. barbarians” it’s usually the barbarians who have won. 9 times out of 10. If records survive the collapse of an ancient empire it is a LUCKY CHANCE. Records just don’t usually survive political and military upheaval. That’s just the way history goes.

    I would say that a good 90% of the world’s history over the span of it is gone beyond retrieval. It was destroyed, and you will never, ever, get it back – no matter how good your technology or your archeologists.

    I mean, this is not really a controversial point. Do you guys realize that we came within an inch of losing about half of all films made prior to 1960 in the USA?

    Yeah, all the film reels were just sitting in boxes in a warehouse in California slowly decomposing. A few more years and most of them would have been unviewable. It was just a lucky chance that the wealthy Ted Turner caught wind of it, and decided to devote his energies to saving the film stock before it was lost forever.

    Just half a century guys! And we came that close to losing most of our motion picture legacy.

    Why on earth, is it a shocker that a 1000 year old empire would vanish without a trace. Kingdoms and empires vanish without a trace in human history all the time. Real archeologists know this. Ask one sometime. Most of our human history is gone, gone, gone. And you’re not getting it back.

    Bible scholars are spoiled. They have the privilege of studying one of the most stunningly well preserved records in the history of the human race – the Bible.

    Guys, the Bible is a historical freak.

    Records normally don’t survive like that for that long.

    For me, the fact that no one has been able to plot Zarahemla on their GPS system, or dig up something in Reformed Egyptian is an utter non-issue. It’s not even pertinent to the religious paradigm anyway.

    Frankly, when it comes to supernatural and theological claims, the Bible is no better verified than the Book of Mormon is. In fact, the Bible is probably in WORSE shape on this score since, unlike the Book of Mormon, it has a lot of theologically awkward competing texts (see Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.).

  32. Yeah, all the film reels were just sitting in boxes in a warehouse in California slowly decomposing. A few more years and most of them would have been unviewable. It was just a lucky chance that the wealthy Ted Turner caught wind of it, and decided to devote his energies to saving the film stock before it was lost forever.

    Not to mention all those Doctor Who episodes from the 1960s that are lost that we’ll never get back. Man, what a tragedy.

    Or in other words, I’m much too tired to properly continue this conversation tonight . . .

  33. I’ve said this many times before, but I’ll say it again:

    The Western Hemisphere is – compared to the Middle East – and archeological BLACK HOLE.

    And you are completely wrong. Yes, Cortez et al. pillaged the Americas. Can you please count for me all of the times that the land of Israel/Palestine has been pillaged? Yet, we still find ways of finding crap in the soil there. Guess what? So do mesoamerican archeologists. If you had restricted your generalization to only Egypt you would have a point.

    In fact in several ways mesoamerican archeology is in better shape than is ANE archeology. First, you can did pretty much wherever you want in the Americas, there are no political problems. Second, most of the really advanced archeological and anthropological techniques (aside from stratigraphy and pottery analysis) were pioneered in mesoamerica and applied there much more consistently. ANE archeologists have to deal with lots of information from finds that were not found in situ, with dig reports that used horrendous techniques, and now with politically motivated and biased digs. Third, the Bible actually hurt ANE digs for decades because it made people lazy. Digs were conducted to “prove the Bible true” and not to get scientific knowledge of the site. Also, people read the Bible into digs which made their findings biased and in some cases flat out wrong. It’s only been in the 20-30 years that archeologists have begun to unravel this mess. As far as I know, this has never happened in mesoamerican digs.

    There is one area where mesoamerica has lagged, archeologists have not been able to read the native scripts until very recently. This is rapidly changing as Mayan script has been deciphered and others are following suit. But the bottom line is that this actually hurts the Mormon case. In the ANE there are three kinds of writing that survive stone carvings, fired clay tablets, and potsherds. Well, the Maya carved on plenty of stone, so the Mayan experts have that to read. There is no fired clay that I know of. And lack of potsherds comes from lack of pottery. That is a technology that Lehi and company would have brought with them, so lack of potsherd writing (and potsherds in general) only hurts the Book of Mormon case.

    Bible scholars are spoiled. They have the privilege of studying one of the most stunningly well preserved records in the history of the human race – the Bible.

    Guys, the Bible is a historical freak.

    Yeah, except for all of the copies of Homer, Hesiod, Greek tragedians, Greek philosophers etc. which are contemporaneous with the composition of the OT. And the NT is completely freakish except for Virgil, Tacitus, Philo, Josephus, etc. Yep completly freakish. Oh, and I forgot the tens of thousands of cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia that predate the Bible by a thousand years or more. And the pyramid texts, coffin texts, and papyri in Egypt that also predate the Bible by at least hundreds of years. Yep, it’s a complete fluke.

    Frankly, when it comes to supernatural and theological claims, the Bible is no better verified than the Book of Mormon is. In fact, the Bible is probably in WORSE shape on this score since, unlike the Book of Mormon, it has a lot of theologically awkward competing texts (see Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.).

    The Book of Mormon does have awkward texts that make theological claims. It’s just that you refuse to acknowledge them because they are from the 19th century.

  34. David, none of that addresses my argument really.

    I never said we don’t have a lot of stuff that has been discovered and preserved.

    What I did say is that most of the stuff in human history does not survive. Nothing you’ve said really contradicts that.

    And your comments about Mesoamerican archeology ignore the fact that while we are able to dig up pottery, and find stone carvings, buildings, etc. we have no historical context for any of it because the Spaniards pretty-much destroyed all of it.

    You don’t have a Mayan “Josephus.”

    Half the stuff we know about the Incan empire comes from the writings of a SPANISH priest who conducted interviews with the remnants of the Inca people.

    Because the Spaniards wiped out the rest of the records.

    Yes, we do have the Illiad and all that stuff.

    You still haven’t even come close to establishing that those records constitute the majority of the records produced in the human history of those regions.

  35. And while you might claim some 19th century patterns in the book, I can also claim patterns that are utterly alien to that time period. Those have to be explained.

  36. We’re talking about evidence that would force a rational person to believe.

    That would be evidence that confirmed something with 100% certainty and no room at all for doubt. No possibility, however extreme or unlikely, for doubt.

    If you have anything less than a pure 100% certainty, then a person has to make some inference, no matter how small of an inference or how infinitesimally easy to make. If you have to make an inference to conclude x, then you could also choose not to make that inference. Making an inference is a voluntary mental jump, even if you do it unreflectively or don;t realize its what you’re doing, you’re still doing it. You’re still inferring the conclusion from the data. 100% proof would require no inference. To have enough evidence to force someone to conclude x, you would have to leave no room, no matter how tiny, for doubt.

    And the nature of human knowledge and human perception is such that 100% certainty is only possibly in our imaginations. There’s no evidence that could force someone to believe anything, regardless of how rational they are.

    I keep bringing up the Matrix with full knowledge that it seems preposterous, but is it really? How would you even evaluate the likelihood that all of the empirical data you are being fed is fraudulent. You wouldn’t know. You couldn’t know. That’s the point.

    To function on a practical level we have to sort of assume away all of the incalculable possibilities like that, but at the same time we always have to reserve a hair’s worth of doubt to account for things like “what if my senses are being lied to?” and “what if I am insane and not interpreting my sensory data correctly?” and “what if I am just a character in some CRAZY ALIEN’S DREAM?”

    You could never have enough evidence to force people, against their will, to conclude something because those kiond of doubts exist independently of any kind of evidence: they call into question our ability to evaluate the evidence correctly in the first place, and in fact whether the evidence that appears to exist actually exists.

    But none of that actually matters, because here’s the thing: the only people talking about God giving incontrovertible evidence that would force people to believe regardless of their will are Mormons, who are using it as a talking point of theological rhetoric.

    That’s my real point: we’re not asking for incontrovertible proof such that would force people to believe against their free will. We’re asking for more evidence than none. “Incontrovertible proof” when dragged into this discussion, is a strawman. Evidence exists on a spectrum.

    God let there be all this evidence for the Roman Empire, for Egypt, for Paul, for the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, but nevertheless rational minds are still not forced to believe the truth of Christianity.

    There could be a hell of a lot more evidence for the Nephites before it started forcing even rational minds to believe in Mormonism.

  37. I tend to agree with Hugh Nibley that IF we did have more compelling physical evidence, it would likely act more as a distraction to faith than a real help (no matter what it ultimately proved).

  38. I tend to agree with Hugh Nibley that IF we did have more compelling physical evidence, it would likely act more as a distraction to faith than a real help (no matter what it ultimately proved).

    Bull[poop] rhetoric, evading the question. False dichotomy. Classic Mormon “it’s not a bug; it’s a feature.”

    Does Hugh Nibley also wish that the Bible had less physical evidence?

  39. Seth,

    Almost all of the arguments made by critics against the Book of Mormon, which concern archeology, are based on material culture, not on written records. So you can BBQ that straw man you have erected all day long, and it still doesn’t even address the arguments that the critics make.

    Did Cortez systematically wipe out all metallurgical evidence in the Americas? Did Pizarro wipe out all native horses and all fossils of horses? Did Balboa wipe out all traces of pottery? Did they all wipe out all evidence for old world animals, old world crops, wheeled vehicles? The list goes on. Notice that none of the critics’ arguments rely on surviving records because they know they don’t exist. So, keep whining that Cortez personally defecated on every last scrap of Mayan written culture but it doesn’t address the issue.

    As for your issue that we have lost a lot of written records. Sure, that’s indisputable. But, material culture tends to last. Unless you are a migratory goat herder people leave their marks on the soil and archeologists can investigate. Even sometimes migratory goat herders can leave traces. But, if you have people living in cities for hundreds of years, they will leave behind a material culture. That’s what the critics focus on and that’s what your argument fails to address.

    And your comments about Mesoamerican archeology ignore the fact that while we are able to dig up pottery, and find stone carvings, buildings, etc. we have no historical context for any of it because the Spaniards pretty-much destroyed all of it.

    BS. First, there is no pottery in the right context, and that’s one of the problems. As for no historical context, that’s completely bogus. The gold standard for putting material culture in context is not that you have a book which tells you what it is, which is what a historical context would imply. In fact that almost never happens, even with the Bible. The gold standard is that a find appears in situ, in an dateable stratigraphic context, and by a reputable archeological team. That probably happens MORE often in mesoamerica than it does in the Middle east because so much of what has been “found” in the middle east is acquired out of context on the antiquities market. What you want to find is some trace of material culture that was described in the Book of Mormon in the proper context. So far, nothing has been found and that’s the real problem, not your made up problem of lack of finding the books in mesoamerica.

  40. You mention the wheel as a problem.

    It isn’t.

    First off, the Book of Mormon doesn’t assert a wheeled culture.

    Secondly, there have been wheels discovered in very, very limited contexts in Mesoamerica pre-1500. But it doesn’t really matter, since you don’t need the use of wheels for the text of the Book of Mormon to remain valid.

    The crops thing is a similar non-issue because some of the mentioned crops have been discovered after decades of science believing they didn’t exist, and the absence of others is likewise not troubling at this point.

    As for metallurgy, the Book of Mormon simply doesn’t describe a large iron-works society. So another non-issue. We don’t need to find any metal implements for the Book of Mormon text to be validated. As for horses, I’m not convinced there weren’t any prior to the Spaniards.

    So no, the list does not “go on.” If there’s any list here about the Book of Mormon and anachronisms, its a list of one archeological-historical criticism of the Book of Mormon after the other crawling off into the bushes to die. Just about every criticism of the Book of Mormon being made today on archeological grounds was being made against it in the 1800s. And the arguments haven’t really changed much in a century. Of the critical points made against the Book of Mormon originally in the 1800s, about 2/3 of them have been decisively discredited by the march of discovery. I don’t expect the remaining criticisms to fare much better.

  41. Seth,

    Quick question, How much non-FARMS/FAIR mesoamerican archeology have you read? I’m sincerely asking this, I really don’t feel like continuing the exchange we have had, it’s obvious I’m not going to convince you of anything. But, I do find asking why people believe certain things to be fascinating.

    What I really would like to know what research has convinced you that the issues the critics raise are not issues. I’ll be honest, I don’t think you are going to convince me either, so don’t feel like you have to convince me of your position. Again, I’m just interested in what has convinced you, whether it would convince anyone else is utterly irrelevant.

  42. I’ve read a lot of FARMS and FAIR material on the subject. Haven’t read Sorenson’s book – which is probably the most thorough treatment of the stuff we’ve been briefly debating. But I have read plenty of FAIR Wiki articles and the more extensive articles on FAIR’s main page. If anyone wants some representative links, I’d be happy to provide them.

    But I should be clear about what I think they do, or do not, establish.

    I don’t feel that FAIR’s stuff proves the Book of Mormon. I do feel that it successfully contests almost all the most popular criticisms of the Book of Mormon. I don’t think it always refutes these criticisms. Some criticisms have been refuted in my mind (the “coins” criticism being a prime example). But many criticisms have not been thoroughly refuted, but merely cast into the “contested” category.

    I don’t like it when people act like they’ve got it all figured out – or that they’ve got the “obvious” truth. I find this behavior just as unbecoming over at exmormon.org as it is in Fast and Testimony Meeting. So I tend to bristle when hints of it appear – in any context.

    For me, the objective evidence front of the Book of Mormon is thoroughly contested and undecided.

    Thus, I’ve pretty-much moved beyond it and base my own allegiance to the book on its theological content. I am actually quite disinterested in the question of whether the Book of Mormon is a bona fide historical document – at least when it comes to questions of personal faith and belief. I feel similarly about the Bible.

  43. Seth, do you honestly believe that FARMS and FAIR are going to give you a balanced picture on the state of the archaeological debate surrounding the Book of Mormon?

  44. For me, the objective evidence front of the Book of Mormon is thoroughly contested and undecided.

    Okay, then name any non-Mormon who thinks so. Go, go go!

    “Not impossible” is not the same thing as “Likely.” In fact, something may be “not impossible,” yet still have a likelihood of near-zero. That’s what you get by refuting criticisms. “Not impossible,” but still squarely in the realm of “not bloody likely, though.”

  45. Kullervo, most non-Mormons are so knee-jerk dismissive of Mormonism to begin with, that I honestly don’t care whether they are on-board or not.

    So that argument that “no non-Mormon scholars agree with FAIR” is really beside the point. No one besides FAIR and critics of the LDS Church CARE about Mormon issues in the first place. Jan Shipps is about the only example of a non-Mormon who gives a care (and isn’t trolling on exmormon.org). So I’m afraid your either stuck with FAIR or the anti-Mormon stuff. There is no objective middle ground when it comes to Mormonism.

    And I would probably classify statements like “probability near zero” and “not bloody likely” as embodying exactly the kind of cocksure confidence that I reject on this subject. So I frankly don’t care how confident you are in your conclusions. I don’t trust your conclusions or percentages.

    Jack, I do not consider FAIR unbiased. Far from it. But dealing with biased sources is just going to be your challenge when talking about Mormonism. For myself, I’d settle for people being just as suspicious of the critical material out there as they are of FAIR’s stuff. That would be a good start.

  46. Kullervo, most non-Mormons are so knee-jerk dismissive of Mormonism to begin with, that I honestly don’t care whether they are on-board or not.

    Siege mentality.

    So I’m afraid your either stuck with FAIR or the anti-Mormon stuff. There is no objective middle ground when it comes to Mormonism.

    False dichotomy.

    And I would probably classify statements like “probability near zero” and “not bloody likely” as embodying exactly the kind of cocksure confidence that I reject on this subject. So I frankly don’t care how confident you are in your conclusions. I don’t trust your conclusions or percentages.

    Go back and read what I said. I’m not saying that the Book of Mormon has a probability near zero. I’m saying that as a rule, showing that something is not impossible does not actually demonstrate that it is at all likely. If you dispel every single criticism of the Book of Mormon, you’ve still only demonstrated that it’s not impossible. That means you’re still at the level of “not a shred of evidence for it.” You have to actually produce some evidence that it is likely for you to be abel to say that it is likely.

  47. Kullervo, you take an online sampling of what is being said about Mormonism any given day. Do that for a while, and then you can talk to me about siege mentality. You know how often I actually encounter someone being objective and fair about Mormons?

    It’s a pretty rare occurrence.

    And I don’t think it’s a particular stretch to say that if you go up to a standard archeologist at a typical university in America and ask him if he thinks the Book of Mormon is a historic record that he’s not going to give the matter much serious thought. Why should he? He’s got more important things on his plate than worrying over whether a fringe American religious movement’s arguments hold any water.

    Outside of Mormons and their critics, no one cares about Mormon claims.

    Are you really suggesting that that is a controversial statement?

  48. Seth, you might try Michael Coe and Deanne G. Matheny, two never-Mormon archaeologists who have interacted with Mormon studies.

    Michael Coe published an article in Dialogue in the Summer 1973 volume, “Mormons and Archaeology: An Outside View,” available online here. There is a PBS interview with Coe concerning his interactions with Mormonism and the problems he sees for Mormon concerning archaeology here.

    Deanne G. Matheny contributed an essay to New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology edited by Brent Lee Metcalfe. Her essay, “Does the Shoe Fit?: A Critique of the Limited Tehuantepec Geography,” is available online here.

    There may be a few others, but it will have to wait until I’m back in Illinois and can check my notes.

  49. Actually, I may be mistaken about Matheny being never-Mormon. I’ll have to look into it.

    EDIT: Yup, I think I’m mistaken about this. It seems Matheny is either Mormon or ex-Mormon. But she is a Mesoamerican anthropologist. I probably have someone else in mind.

  50. Seth,

    If you are so worried about bias, make the comparison yourself. It’s not that hard really. Read a few books on ANE archeology and culture. Then read a few books on pre-Columbian archeology and culture. At that point ask yourself 2 questions. First, if people from the ANE arrived in mesoamerica, does the culture in mesoamerica match what you would expect? Second, does the Book of Mormon fit in the actual mesoamerican context?

  51. Actually, the culture in the Book of Mormon does match on several points:

    -a culture of cold indifference to women that goes beyond that found in the Old Testament (and certainly alien to the fawning culture of female-worship common to the 19th century)
    -agrarian labor patterns different than the Jewish model or the 19th century model
    -evidence of family bloodlines as an overwhelming point of pride and reference consistent with Mayan and Aztec patterns
    -“and it came to pass” – a common linguistic marker in discovered Mayan stelas
    -patterns of warfare alien to Jewish accounts and romanticized 19th century notions, but consistent with Mesoamerican warfare
    -political maneuvers that parallel those found in Mayan and Aztec accounts
    -evidence that land was communally held by the city and not held by individual homesteaders. In fact, land is never, not once mentioned in the Book of Mormon as a indicator of wealth – something that couldn’t be more alien to someone with Joseph’s 19th century sharecropper background.
    -Clothing as the predominant symbol of wealth in society – which matches neatly with Aztec and Maya cultures, where wealth and status was always indicated by clothing (how many exotic feathers you had on your mantle, etc.)
    -Zerahemnah’s surrender negotiations with Moroni fit the old Aztec model of warfare and honor.
    -The idea of minor kings like Lamoni being subject to a greater king (Laman) and patterns for raiding a rival king’s flocks matching with Mesoamerican patterns.

    I’m sure others could come up with additional examples.

    And whatever else you think, the Book of Mormon does not really read like a 19th century book at all.

    If you want an example of a 19th century product, look no further than Spaulding’s manuscript. Blair Hodges posted an excerpt over on his blog that you can read for yourself and see if you can spot the “glaring parallels”:

    http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/2010/03/spaulding-manuscript-and-book-of-mormon.html

  52. It seems impossible to get away from the pot and the kettle as far as Mormons and Evangelicals are concerned.

    There is obviously some evidence for the events of the Book of Mormon, i.e. the book itself.

    However, this is just about as slim as the evidence for the book of Genesis.

    To believe in Adam is as reasonable as believing in Nephi, perhaps less so.

    So while the New Testament may be far more historically established, at least broad brush, a belief in the historicity of Genesis seems to even the score.

    When it comes to believing stuff that can’t be the least bit proven as inerrant fact, Mormons are not different in kind, only in degree, and there only moderately.

    Shouldn’t Evangelicals, to be consistent, should accept other books and unproven records as scripture if there was sufficient religious/spiritual evidence for them, just like they accept Genesis as scripture?

  53. I’m sorry if I sound irate, but I’m really losing patience for this “this is no different from part XYZ of the Bible” argument.

    We’re talking about no corroborating external evidence whatsoever for ANY of the events, locations, individuals, or civilizations in the Book of Mormon. Not even in places where we would expect evidence to exist and lots of it. Not even after the church spent a ton of money trying to find evidence via the New World Archaeological Foundation (funny, no one thought God wasn’t going to give us any evidence of the BoM lest we no longer need faith back when that was founded in 1952).

    The Old Testament is not the same. We know of at least 40 individuals mentioned in the OT whose existence has been corroborated by external sources. We know Jericho and Jerusalem are real cities. We know that the OT is a compilation of ancient documents written thousands of years ago.

    I’m willing to suspend disbelief for a few events and places here and there. I’m willing to say that the archaeological record could be wrong occasionally. I’m willing to give credit for LDS attempts to show internal evidence for BoM antiquity. But I’m not willing to say, “Oh, you’re right guys. This is exactly the same as how we don’t have any evidence for Genesis or the Exodus or the miracles of Jesus. I can see why this doesn’t bother you.” As they say on Sesame Street, one of these things is NOT like the other.

    Not to mention that said argument only has any power on people who hold to biblical inerrancy, and the two people who have been doing most of the arguing concerning lack of evidence for the BoM on this thread (Kullervo and David Clark) aren’t inerrantists.

    Sigh. Cranky evangelical is signing off.

  54. Well, Jared does have a point in one respect.

    The Bible is not a single book.

    The Bible is a whole bunch of books combined into one volume.

    So you can’t exactly just lump them all together and pretend that Genesis is just as validated as, say… the Gospel of Luke.

  55. Jack, I know that there have been all these amazing things found that corroborate the people and places of the Bible, but how long did it take for these things to be found? What about non-Biblical people and places? Places like Jericho and Troy used to be thought of as just stories. Then someone finally found evidence of them. People had been searching for hundreds of years. The Book of Mormon hasn’t even been around for 200 yet.

    I am not offering this as evidence or really as an argument. More as just a point that folks who have been researching the people and places of the Bible have had a collective history of doing so for a thousand years or so. With the Book of Mormon, we’ve had barely a century.

  56. funny, no one thought God wasn’t going to give us any evidence of the BoM lest we no longer need faith back when was founded in 1952)

    There are a lot of things people didn’t think of back then, which are true.

  57. I have to mostly agree with Jack. In terms of archaeological evidence tying things to real times and places, there’s no comparison between the Book of Mormon and the Old Testament. With the exception of a few tantalizing hints that could be nothing more than coincidence, the archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon is scant to nonexistent.

    In other words, there’s basically nothing in terms of archaeology to suggest that the Book of Mormon has anything to do with actual events. And I don’t think we should be afraid to say so.

    There’s also nothing to disprove the Book of Mormon; most of the so-called anachronisms are fairly easy to explain. But lack of disproof isn’t proof.

    As to the Old Testament, Jack is pretty much right. Things do get shaky in Genesis; the evidence for Abraham isn’t as strong as we might like, and the same goes for a mass exodus from Egypt on the scope described in the Pentateuch. But new evidence as it is found (and people are looking all the time) tend to support the Biblical account. Of course, there’s plenty of evidence of places and culture by the time of David and certainly Jesus.

    In terms of archaeology, a literal reading of the first 11 or so chapters of Genesis can be problematic. Evidence all but proves there was no worldwide flood, and certainly there have been humans (or creatures that are biologically human) around for a lot longer than a literal straightforward reading of Genesis would suggest. I don’t have a problem with this, but it could be a challenge for literalists (both LDS and evangelical).

    What “objective” evidence (not proof) we have for the Book of Mormon doesn’t come from archaeology, but from linguistics, the coherence of the book’s content, and 19th-century history. I think we do believers and skeptics alike a disservice if we pretend otherwise.

  58. Jack said: “We’re talking about no corroborating external evidence whatsoever for ANY of the events, locations, individuals, or civilizations in the Book of Mormon.”

    I didn’t say the Old Testament, I said Genesis.

    If you believe in 900 year old men and worldwide floods, believing in an ancient civilization in the Americas that was utterly destroyed is not only, not a stretch, it is orders of magnitude more plausible.

    I don’t think that there are strong, non-religious reasons for believing in the reality of the events in either the BOM or Genesis.

    When you ask both Evangelicals and Mormons whether they believe in the historicity of events and people for which there is absolutely no substantial historical evidence for, both say “YES” and both of their faiths (to some extent) depend on this answer.

    [If you don’t believe in Genesis you are not going to be considered a good Evangelical, and if you don’t believe in the BOM you are not going to be considered a good Mormon.]

    This is not to say that Evangelicals shouldn’t be bothered by Mormons believing in the BOM without historical evidence, but . . . they shouldn’t be bothered that Mormons have reasons other than historical proof and that these reasons are strong enough to believe without historical proof.

    The underlying life question you are talking about is:

    “Should you believe that some stories are true even when there is no historical evidence?”

    Evangelicals seem to answer this yes, at least when it comes to Genesis, Job, and numerous other stories of the Bible.

    The question then becomes, on what OTHER basis should you trust stories that are not historically proven, or very plausible.

    Do Mormons and Evangelicals answer this question differently?

  59. Um, the Protestants here may correct me, but I don’ think a party line Evangelical necessitates also being a Protestant Fundamentalist (one who believes in historicity of entire Bible). And FWIW on the Mormon side of the fence, not believing BofM historicity in whole or part doesn’t preclude one from membership or temple worship, even though accepting BofM historicity seems to be the LDS party line.

  60. Maybe it’s just me, but every time I go to Utah, my feelings aren’t, “I’m so saddened and overwhelmed by how deceived all these people are.” My feelings are, “I love these people and I’m so happy to be here among them right now.”

    In the end, there is no good reason to dichotomize these two sentiments. I think they actually end up being complementary.

    I do see the point that Mormons are not the only ones deceived. Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and agnostics are deceived too. But better to have a healthy amazement that all such people are deceived than to discard the attitude altogether. For those who haven’t had the practical time in a given culture to develop a special personal love for the people, we should see fresh amazement over deception as a good opportunity; if properly channeled it can be one of the very things that fosters the beginning of a deep compassion and love for the people.

    G’night,

    Aaron

  61. In the end, there is no good reason to dichotomize these two sentiments. I think they actually end up being complementary.

    I never said they had to be mutually exclusive, but with certain people I do feel like I hear all of one and little of the other.

  62. Steve EM said:

    I don’ think a party line Evangelical necessitates also being a Protestant Fundamentalist (one who believes in historicity of entire Bible).

    That’s basically correct. Many who believe the Bible is infallible believe it’s infallible in terms of faith and practice, not necessarily historical details, and they certainly allow for the use of allegory and common-sense readings. And the Creation account is interpreted with varying degrees of literalness by evangelicals (Mormons too). But I think it’s safe to say that evangelicals would have a stronger belief in near-total historicity than would mainline Protestants.

    not believing BofM historicity in whole or part doesn’t preclude one from membership or temple worship,

    Oh, that’s technically true. But I think it’s safe to say that the room for believing it’s not historical at all is a very tiny one.

  63. Outside of Mormons and their critics, no one cares about Mormon claims.

    This is precisely because they have no historical or archaeological basis whatsoever.

    Archaeologists also do not spend a lot of time looking into the historicity of the Lord of the Rings or of Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian tales, even though they both purport to be histories of a previous Age of the earth.

    Granted, they both are generally presented as fiction, but what if they weren’t? What if Howard hinted that his tales of Conan were channeled or revealed to him somehow? Would that change anything?

  64. And whatever else you think, the Book of Mormon does not really read like a 19th century book at all.

    This is a laughably false dichotomy.

  65. There have been plenty of things in science, history, and archeology that hardly anyone in the field gave credence to, until they were proven factual.

    So I don’t see why the lack of scientific experts validating the Book of Mormon (who aren’t Mormons) is even relevant. That there aren’t any is hardly surprising since they are all assuming that the book isn’t worth taking seriously to begin with.

    That is a rational choice for a scholar to make in allocating his time. They have no particular reason at present to take the book seriously. For their own scholarly orbit, they’ve made the correct decision.

    But that doesn’t really have any bearing on whether the book is ultimately historical or not. The scientific community has been caught by surprise countless times before (just about any scientific breakthrough is – by definition – something that catches the scientific world by surprise), and it will be again, and again.

    Besides, all this talk of “you don’t have any experts” is really nothing more than an appeal to authority that seeks to avoid having to actually deal with the pro-Mormon arguments being made.

  66. Besides, all this talk of “you don’t have any experts” is really nothing more than an appeal to authority that seeks to avoid having to actually deal with the pro-Mormon arguments being made.

    An appeal to authority may not logically establish something as fact, but it is far from irrelevant.

  67. I think it’s awesome that these students and adults took time to visit Utah and share the good news with the Mormons there!

  68. Now that I have my notes, here are the other non-LDS archaeologists who have engaged the Book of Mormon and archaeology.

    Nigel Davies had a section on it in Voyagers to the New World (New York: Morrow, 1979). I haven’t seen this myself yet; Givens gives it a one-paragraph summary in By the Hand of Mormon (see below).

    John A. Price had an article called “The Book of Mormon vs. Anthropological Prehistory” in Indian Historian 7.3 (summer 1974): 35-40.

    On the LDS/ex-LDS side of things, of course there’s Stan Larson’s Quest for the Gold Plates: Thomas Stuart Ferguson’s Archaeological Search for the Book of Mormon (1997), about Ferguson’s journey into losing faith in the Book of Mormon.

    On the “pro” side though, there’s Alejandro Sarabia Gonzalez and his wife, Kim Goldsmith, two Mesoamerican archaeologists who joined the LDS church in 2002. I’m not sure if they’ve published on their journey into the church, but it’s worth mentioning.

    Most of these cases get good summaries (with something of an apologetics bent) in By the Hand of Mormon by Terryl L. Givens (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

  69. From my perspective, the Bible is a collection of fantasies composed at various different times by various different people. The Book of Mormon is a collection of fantasies composed by one man (with or without help from friends and family). They are not history, and do not need to be in order to be useful. What does the historical reality of Jesus have to do with the principle of charity? What does the historical reality of Alma have to do with the principle of repentance and forgiveness? Precisely nothing. Where is salvation in this mix? I am not really sure, and the more I investigate, the less it matters to me. I am more interested in learning how to love my neighbor, forgive my neighbor, and repent for my mistakes each day than I am in “being saved” (whatever that means to Mormons, other Christians, or anyone else). Why do self-identified Christians so often end up arguing with one another over historical trivia, as though the meaning of life depended on exactly what some specific person (Jesus, Athanasius, Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, Joseph Smith et cetera ad nauseam) did or thought at some specific moment in the context of some specific story (which you had better accept in all its ridiculous details or else)? Why does the story have to be true the way we want it to be true and not the way you want it to be true? How does our inducing you (whether by bribes, arguments, patience, friendship, or torture) to accept our story (and get rid of your own) “save” you? Why can’t we share stories about our religion the way we share stories about other things? No one tells the legend of King Arthur (or the Iliad, or Robin Hood, et cetera) and then asks, “So, who believes in the exact, literal truth of everything I have just said?” And yet we learn valuable (religious) lessons from those stories, too, don’t we? What gives? (The rant is now over. I will go and sit quietly in the corner.)

  70. They are not history, and do not need to be in order to be useful. What does the historical reality of Jesus have to do with the principle of charity?

    Well, it makes a difference as to whether charity is a nice idea for human behavior, or a call by God to a totally radical new way of living. Hoenstly, when you take out the divine from the equation, you are just in the realm of bandying moral ideas about.

    Why do self-identified Christians so often end up arguing with one another over historical trivia, as though the meaning of life depended on exactly what some specific person (Jesus, Athanasius, Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, Joseph Smith et cetera ad nauseam) did or thought at some specific moment in the context of some specific story (which you had better accept in all its ridiculous details or else)? Why does the story have to be true the way we want it to be true and not the way you want it to be true? How does our inducing you (whether by bribes, arguments, patience, friendship, or torture) to accept our story (and get rid of your own) “save” you?

    Because they think it matters. Because they have a different understanding of the function of religion and spirituality than you do. If they accepted your premise, which is apparently something like “the point of religion is to help us generally live richer and better lives,” theh they might come to the same conclusion as you do. But–and this is a critical point, so pay close attention–as it turns out, they don’t accept your premise.

    And there’s no way they’re going to.

  71. Besides, all this talk of “you don’t have any experts” is really nothing more than an appeal to authority that seeks to avoid having to actually deal with the pro-Mormon arguments being made.

    You can’t lump all appeals to authority into one basket. Appeals to authority can be based on appeals to position or appeals to expertise. Appeals to authority based on position are utterly irrelevant when establishing evidence. Appeals to expertise are not because of necessity. None of us can gather the relevant data from all fields of inquiry in order to weigh evidence, so appeal to expert authority is necessary to avoid nihilism. The bottom line is that the is something more than a baseless appeal to authority. As a lawyer, you should already know this.

    And whatever else you think, the Book of Mormon does not really read like a 19th century book at all.

    If you know what you are looking for, it sounds remarkably 19th century. But, I will grant that most of 2 Nephi reads remarkably like KJV Isaiah and 3 Nephi 12-14 reads remarkably like KJV Matthew. There you have a point.

  72. But these are not appeals based on expertise.

    My whole point has been that scholars have NOT applied their expertise to the question of Book of Mormon authenticity – because they don’t care in the first place. They have not, thus far, even weighed in enough for their expertise to be at question.

  73. My whole point has been that scholars have NOT applied their expertise to the question of Book of Mormon authenticity – because they don’t care in the first place.

    Wrong. They have weighed in: nobody has produced any evidence for Book of Mormon authenticity, so they apply their expertise in the form of a presumption that where there is no evidence that something happened, it probably did not happen.

    They have analyzed the evidence: all zeo of it.

  74. Thanks Kullervo.

    I’ll file that one away in my “stuff some guy said on the Internet” drawer.

    Or did you actually have a statistical breakdown of all the scholars who have “analyzed the evidence” and reached conclusions on the Book of Mormon?

    Jack’s stuff was helpful. But as far as I can tell, you’re just talking out of your hat and making presumptions here. Name me a scholar who did more on the Book of Mormon question than simply chuckle dismissively, or ignore the question altogether and get on with his work.

    You guys would really, really like the absence of scholarly interest in the Book of Mormon as a historical document to mean something. But it really doesn’t mean much of anything – except that Mormonism isn’t on the radar.

    But why don’t you chuck a few profanities at me Kullervo?

    That’ll really make your point cogently.

  75. No, I’m saying that if you go around waving the biased disinterest flag because non-Mormon archaeologists don;t want to look at the lack of evidence for the Book of Mormon, you are wrong. Archaeologists don;t examine the evidence for things for which there is no evidence. Someone has to come up with some evidence fo rthem to look at first.

    That’s why they don;t analyze the evidence for the historical truth of the Lord of the Rings: nobody has produced any yet. But the fact that they haven’t looked at non-evidence doesn;t mean they haven’t weighed in on the question. In fact, by not-looking at no-evidence, they do in fact render their opinion: the presumption of “it didn’t happen” until someone finds some evidence that it did.

    The absence of scholarly interest in Book of mormon archaeology means the same thing as the absence of scholarly interest in Conan archaeology, Lord of the Rings archeology, or Theosophy archaeology. It’s an absence of interest because there is nothing to be interested in. And that’s a powerful statement about the substance of the debate, at least as a matter of archaeology.

  76. I think the problem is that we are confusing which burden of proof we are after here.

    You seem to be after a burden of proof sufficient to make a disinterested party like you claim “more probable than not.”

    If you are asserting that there is not enough proof for a disinterested person to be compelled to buy into the book as historical and that scholarly disinterest is compelling evidence on that score, I’ll just flat out agree with you.

    All clear? I agree with you on THAT burden of proof. We don’t meet it.

    But that’s not what I’ve been responding to. That’s not the burden of proof I’ve been seeking to establish.

    The burden I’ve been trying to satisfy is there’s enough evidence for a believing Mormon to not dismiss the Book of Mormon as fictional – IN LIGHT OF the other personal evidences that he or she finds compelling.

    My aim here on this blog Kullervo, has NEVER been to “evidence” you or David back into Mormonism, or to evidence Tim and Jack into it. That’s not an aim I’ve ever really been interested in.

    My only goal in these online debates has been to demonstrate that we’re not a bunch of deluded tools for having confidence that the Book of Mormon will eventually be vindicated. We’ve got evidence enough to stay put in this church and not be required check in our rationality cards.

    Does that clarify things for you?

    We’re not idiots. There is more than enough scientific/archeological proof out there for someone to buy into this, given additional faith-based evidences. And the lack of scholarly interest or support is NOT even close to valid evidence for overcoming that burden of proof – as I’ve been arguing.

  77. I realize that’s the point of apologetics, and I don’t think there’s anythign wrong with that. I don’t think you are a moron for being a Mormon.

    But I think you are vastly overstating the scientific/archaeological proof. I think if there was any worth looking at, then people would look at it.

  78. I think it is a safe assumption for an outsider to take the lack of scientific evidence or validation as compelling if he or she has no other reason to find the Book of Mormon compelling. It’s a safe-bet.

    But the same concerns do not apply the same for a believing Mormon who is invested for a variety of reasons – of which objective evidence is only one factor..

    For such a person, the lack of scientific interest is simply not compelling. It just isn’t.

    They aren’t interested because they haven’t discovered us yet in any compelling fashion. Pretty simple.

    This is compounded by the highly problematic nature of establishing what exactly scientific evidence for the Book of Mormon would be.

  79. I agree with everything you have said except this:

    They aren’t interested because they haven’t discovered us yet in any compelling fashion. Pretty simple.

    I would say “They aren’t interested because nobody has produced any evidence that would pique their interest. Pretty simple.”

    It’s not that Mormonism or Mormons are too low-profile or too easily dismissed. That’s a really easy rhetorical cop-out for you, and draws on a kind of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” thinking that radically distorts the thinker’s perceptions. The issue is not one of bias against Mormons/ism. It’s simpler than that: produce some interesting archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, and people will be interested.

    The kind of internal, vague stuff that FAIR and FARMS bandies about would not be enough to make neutral archaeologists interested in anything, whether or not it was connected to a religion. thus, I bring up Lord of the Rings and Conan. Let’s take Conan, because there were always hints and suspicions that Robert E. Howard may have actually believed that he was somehow channeling a real, forgotten bygone age.

    Even if his manuscripts were full of strange quirks and anachronistic philosophies, for which one possible explanation was that his work was actually historical, no archaeologists would be interested in it. Not because of some kind of ideological bias, but because it was still just a quirky manuscript with no corroborating evidence.

    Maybe the Hyborian Age is not impossible, but that’s still not evidence of an anti-Conan agenda by archaeologists who ignore it, or evidence of a disinterest that stems from bias. It’s much simpler: until you start digging stuff up and corroborating Howard’s manuscripts with positive external evidence, it’s still just a body of short stories written in the 1930’s.

    Any belief that it’s an echo of some real bygone era, no matter how possible, is still for the purposes of archaeologists and historians a near-zero-probability until you start to pull Cimmerian relics out of the ground–or find some other corroborating evidence.

  80. Jack’s stuff was helpful. But as far as I can tell, you’re just talking out of your hat and making presumptions here. Name me a scholar who did more on the Book of Mormon question than simply chuckle dismissively, or ignore the question altogether and get on with his work.

    How about this, Seth: name me some Mormon scholars who have published their evidence for the Book of Mormon in peer-reviewed, scholarly journals in the field of Mesoamerican archaeology and anthropology.

    My guess is that you can’t, because they haven’t. They publish all of their arguments for the Book of Mormon in places like Journal of Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture and BYU Studies. In-house journals that come out of a single academic institution, by Mormons, for Mormons, that non-Mormon archaeologists & anthropologists will never read unless (like Michael Coe) they develop a fascination with Mormon studies for personal reasons. Occasionally they publish to non-BYU Mormon venues like Dialogue and Sunstone, but still, those are not journals that non-Mormon experts in the field read.

    The opinions of non-LDS archaeologists are brushed off by LDS apologists on the grounds that they haven’t seriously studied and engaged the entirety of the material produced by BYU scholars on the Book of Mormon. But that’s a little ass backwards to me. Why should the onus be on archaeologists to take an interest in Mormon studies and get involved? Shouldn’t the onus be on Mormon scholars to make their case to their peers? Why not take the best of LDS arguments concerning evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon and make a submission to one of these journals here?

    I have my theories on why no one does that, but I know better than to publicly try and read the minds of BYU scholars. It’s a disappointment to me though because, while I haven’t found the evidence studied so far very convincing, I would love to be wrong about that. I would love to see Latter-day Saints make their case to the greater scholarly community. I am so not fond of this “Red Rover” game that they’re playing with non-Mormon experts in the field.

    For the record, I’m not saying that there isn’t fine work on the BoM that gets published in the BYU journals. But it lacks the refining fire of critical analysis from those with differing view points on the subject, and there’s only two ways to fix that—only one of which Mormon scholars can actually control.

    I’m still waiting.

  81. I’ve never read any Mesoamerican journals, so I don’t know what is in them, but Jack, have you looked for articles about evidence for the Book of Mormon in these and found nothing, or are you just guessing they are not there?

    As far as kullervo’s argument that nobody has studied the possible evidence because no evidence exists at present, and therefore no evidence should exist, lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. Sorry, I just don’t buy that false claim.

    Also, nobody researches to see if the Lord of the Rings presents historically accurate information because there were no claims by the author/publisher that it was accurate and true. Tolkien wrote it as fiction. He published it as fiction.

    The Book of Mormon claims to be true. It describes locations, people, flora, and fauna. Some people take it seriously and look into it. Most don’t. Just because the majority don’t take it serious, that is no indication that it is false. It just means it isn’t on the radar yet, as Seth said.

    Let’s take another example: I am a professional educator. For a long time, people cared about how kids did in school based on their ethnicity. Occasionally, somebody would bring up poverty in relation to success in school, but it was generally cast back to “well poverty and ethnicity are so closely related that there’s no need to get into that.” In the 1990s, Ruby Payne decided it was time to take poverty as a factor in education success seriously. And now lots of people research it, publish on it, and take it seriously. Was poverty a nonexistent issue before 1990? Of course not. It just took a while for people to notice it and discuss it. Some things just take a long time for academics to decide they are going to take the time to research it. Heck, Jack, isn’t this what you are doing with your thesis? Researching something that hasn’t been researched thoroughly?

  82. Alex ~ I don’t know what is in them, but Jack, have you looked for articles about evidence for the Book of Mormon in these and found nothing, or are you just guessing they are not there?

    I’ve looked, but not exhaustively; I certainly don’t read Mesoamerican scholarly journals in my spare time. I believe they are not there because I have watched this discussion play out between apologists and critics in other venues many times before, and not once has an apologist replied by referring to any of said articles even though that would be the perfect response. I would love to be wrong on this, but every apologist thus far has gone the lame route of “FARMS/JBMS/BYU Studies/Dialogue is good enough.”

    And in case people weren’t paying attention, I listed FOUR Mesoamerican historians/archaeologists/anthropologists who have given the Book of Mormon more than passing critical interaction. I listed a fifth LDS archaeologist who lost his faith in part over the lack of evidence for the Book of Mormon, and then, just to be fair and balanced, I listed two archaeologists who converted to Mormonism as adults and experts in their field. I’m the only one who’s dropped any substantive names or articles in this discussion.

    But I get the impression that I’m just wasting my time and energy only to not be taken seriously, so I think I’m done.

  83. Jack I think just the interview from PBS “The Mormons” sufficed to make your argument. Dude clearly knows Mormon Archeologist and respects them greatly.

  84. Jack, I actually do intend to look up the stuff you mentioned.

    I don’t know much about Stan Larson, but I have heard the story of his subject: Stuart Ferguson.

    Stuart was not an archeologist. He was a Mormon businessman with an archeology hobby that he honestly wasn’t really that good at. He had a grand idea, and decided to organize an expedition to Central America to – in his mind – dig up proof of the Book of Mormon. The guy was extremely naive and showed a frankly horrible grasp of how archeology works. He also seems to have been cut from the same mold as other ex-fundamentalist Mormons I’ve encountered. When his childish expectations of finding a “smoking gun” were not met, he became bitter and disillusioned.

    Great entrepreneur, and had a knack for organizing things. But not even remotely a serious archeologist.

  85. Seth,

    Bzzt Seth, wrong again. THOMAS Ferguson, a LAWYER, lost his testimony over the Book of Abraham, NOT lack of Book of Mormon evidence. He was a bit disillusioned about the lack of archeological evidence but he maintained faith up until the Book of Abraham papyri were discovered.

    In any case he stayed in the church as a member in good standing until he kicked the bucket. So for all intents and purposes he did exactly what you wanted him to do, he stayed loyal.

    It’s great that you can pre-judge a man based on almost zero knowledge of him or his life. Yet, you feel confident that he was a rube fundamentalist. Why? You obviously know very little about him. You are simply convinced that he has to be a rube fundamentalist because he came to the exact opposition conclusion as you have. Egoism at its finest.

  86. Seth, nobody seemed to think he was a crappy archaeologist with childish fundamentalist expectations when they let him found the New World Archaeological Foundation (an organization whose work was praised by non-Mormon experts in the field), officially commissioned him to do archaeological work for the church, and took his advice to form an archaeology department at BYU.

    That sounds like exactly the sort of post hoc character assassination that a growing number of Mormon apologists seem to be fond of when one of their own falls away and becomes a liability. I’m rather disappointed to hear it coming from you.

    David, in all fairness, I’m the one who claimed that the lack of archaeological evidence for the BoM was part of the reason TSF lost faith, though I was aware that the Book of Abraham problems were the main reason.

  87. No one signed him on for being an archeologist. He never was. He was a gifted organizer with a grand vision. And for the record, I’m being harsher than the stuff I’ve read about him – which was typically more measured in tone. Calling him a fundamentalist and naive was probably unnecessary on my part and needlessly inflammatory (though I’m having a hard time drawing other conclusions based on what I know of his story).

    Incidentally, I don’t think he was a lawyer. He had an undergraduate law degree, but I don’t think he went on to law school.

    Jack, if you want to lay the blame for character assassination – lay it at the people who made his credentials an issue in the first place. People have tried to paint Ferguson as some sort of high-caliber intellectual within the LDS Church with extensive experience in archeology, such that “well, if he had his doubts, then gosh, that should give us all pause.”

    And then when LDS apologists try to point out that he didn’t have any particular academic qualifications, they get accused of “character assassination.”

    Well, it wasn’t the apologists who made his character an issue in the first place. If writers critical of the LDS Church want to make an argument out of someone’s character or qualifications, then no one should be surprised when that character becomes a point of argument.

  88. Actually David, I may be wrong there. He might well have been a lawyer after all. The source I was reading did not say what I thought on first read-through.

  89. He had degrees in political science and law both from the University of California.

    Funny, I wonder how many “high-caliber” Mormon intellectuals “only” have law degrees.

  90. I stopped giving much weight to that stuff a while ago. It seems apparent to me that anyone can have an intellectually compelling argument. They should be judged on the basis of how good their arguments are, not whether they passed the LSAT and the Bar Exam.

  91. Good lords, Seth. If degrees don’t matter, then why did you even bring it up?

    Hey, I agree, degrees don’t matter. But I’d bet money that objections to Ferguson as a terrible archaeologist didn’t start cropping up in significant numbers until after his intellectual apostasy. Like I haven’t seen that happen with apologists and apostasy before.

  92. They didn’t crop up because he wasn’t an archeologist.

    And again, I’m not the one who brought it up. The author you referenced to did.

  93. From Michael Coe’s Mexico, From the Olmecs to the Aztecs page 41:

    Knowledge of the Early Preclassic in Chiapas began in the 1950’s with the interest of the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF) in Chiapa de Corzo.

    Also from page 41:

    More recently, the NWAF, under the direction of John Clark, turned its attention to the Soconusco region, the broad, Pacific coastal plain of south-eastern Chiapas and neighboring Guatemala, where the oldest Preclassic cultures of all have been revealed by the excavator’s spade

    And from Coe’s interview with the Mormons.

    Thomas Stuart Ferguson, whom I knew, Tom Ferguson was really a wonderful man. He had a long-range vision: that if the church would simply put money into actually digging at these sites, at the right time level and the right place where Zarahemla ought to be, they’re going to find pay dirt; they’re going to find evidence for it; that it’s there. This faith carried him all the way through decade after decade of big excavations in this region by really fine archaeologists working for the New World Archaeological Foundation.

    Yep, horribly naive fundamentalism combined with horrible archaeology.

    By the way, the Late Preclassic in Mexico goes from 1800 BC to 150 AD. So yes, they were digging for Jaredites and Lehites. But, they managed to do first rate archaeology along the way. Kudos to NWAF and Ferguson for telling it like it is. Early 20th century excavators in Palestine could have learned a thing or two from Ferguson and his team.

  94. Edit:

    Sorry, the late Preclassic only goes from 400 BC to 150 AD. The entire preclassic goes from 1800 BC to 150 AD. So it looks like they were only hunting Lehites. Mea Culpa.

  95. Second Edit: OK, this time I am not typing late at night. The Early Preclassic goes from 1800 – 1200 BC. The Middle Preclassic from 1200 – 400 BC, and the Late Preclassic goes from 400 BC – 150 AD. At this point none of this matters, I’m just trying to be accurate.

  96. Alex:
    Research is by definition new. Good on you for pointing that out.

    Jack:
    “Good lords Seth”, Um, when did Jack start channeling Kullervo?

    Seth:
    Good on you for sticking up for the argument. I find it terribly aggravating when some ex-anti Mormon brings up a point without evidence, you refute it with evidence, and then are told you’re dumb for bringing it up.

  97. I’m confused. What evidence did Seth bring to this thread?

    When I said “good lords,” I meant good Time Lords. I’ve been watching Doctor Who (the new series) on Netflix you see.

  98. As far as kullervo’s argument that nobody has studied the possible evidence because no evidence exists at present, and therefore no evidence should exist, lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. Sorry, I just don’t buy that false claim.

    You misunderstand my argument. I’m just saying we have no evidence, and for a civilization as large as the one reported in the Book of Mormon, that sems really suspect.

    Also, nobody researches to see if the Lord of the Rings presents historically accurate information because there were no claims by the author/publisher that it was accurate and true. Tolkien wrote it as fiction. He published it as fiction.

    Of course. But what if he didn’t. What if the whole thing was exactly as it is now, exvcept that Tolkien said, “by the way, this is all true, and it was dictated to me by Gandalf himself.” What then? How much attention should archaeologists pay to it then?

    Thus my Conan example, since there were always hints and intimations that Howard might have thought his Hyborian tals were true. And my Theosophy example, which is even better, because it’s a real religion that makes absurd historical claims for which there is no evidence.

  99. I stopped giving much weight to that stuff a while ago. It seems apparent to me that anyone can have an intellectually compelling argument. They should be judged on the basis of how good their arguments are, not whether they passed the LSAT and the Bar Exam.

    The problem is that most people are not equipped to evaluate an archaeology argument without a sufficient background in archaeology. That’s why expertise matters. A lawyer (or other random internet jackoff) can bedazzle laypeople with “a compelling argument” that is total nonsense to someone who is actually informed about the subject matter.

    A degree doesn;t make you right, but it at least implies that you are informed enough about a specialized subject to know what a good argument would be or not.

  100. I’m guessing most people probably lost interest in this thread about a week ago, which is about 3 years in internet time, but here is a link to a gentleman who has compiled a list of evidences for the Book of Mormon. None of them are silver bullets(or ziff bullets, for that matter), but they do address many of the common historical/anachronistic challenges brought up over the years. Take it for what it is worth.

    http://www.jefflindsay.com/BMEvidences.shtml#lemuel

    http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll/Magazines/Ensign/2000.htm/ensign%20january%202000.htm/mounting%20evidence%20for%20the%20book%20of%20mormon.htm?fn=document-frame.htm&f=templates&2.0

    Just a couple of thoughts I have had concerning the lack of evidence heretofore (and exhaustively, I might add) discussed. I don’t necessarily stand behind these suppositions but they might be interesting to ponder:
    -According to the events detailed in 3rd Nephi, immediately following the death of Jesus Christ, there were several catastrophic events including, but not limited too: tempests, earthquakes, fires, cities being swallowed by the sea, mountains becoming valleys, valley becoming mountains, etc.

    “But behold, there was a more great and terrible destruction in the land northward; for behold, the whole face of the land was changed, because of the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth.” 3 Ne 8:12

    Assuming this record is true, couldn’t these events essentially erase a large if not entire portion of artifacts left by the civilizations prior to this time? (est 34 AD)

    Also, in Jewish cultures and in many others, the ultimate conquering of an enemy involved completely destroying their children and seed, and erasing any evidence that they even existed. With the extreme hatred between the Lamanite and Nephite civilizations detailed in the Book of Mormon, is it not possible that the Lamanites intended on doing this very thing (hence the sense of urgency of Moroni to safely bury the record of the Nephites)?

    These notions by no means fully address the issue at hand, but I think they provide some novel food for thought.

    We all tend to readily accept new evidence that confirms our beliefs and dismiss those that challenge it. I believe true objectivity in the matter is nigh impossible. With politics and hotly debated matters such as these, I tend to take an Aristotelian approach and try to find the truth in the mean of the extremes.

    I don’t think archaeological evidence of Biblical or Book of Mormon events has made many converts(at least not lasting ones.) Ultimately, there is no physical evidence that Christ atoned for our sins in Gethsemane and was resurrected, and yet as disciples of Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us the most powerful evidence we could ever hope to receive that these things are true. If we can’t agree on anything else, let’s at least agree on that.

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