Saturday, 18 October 2014

There is quite an impressive amount of evidence in favour of the genuineness of The Book of Mormon (although this evidence is not conclusive)

Mormonism stands and falls on the genuineness of the Book of Mormon being what it claims to be - there really is no wriggle room on this matter: the claims are much too explicit, specific and too concrete for them to be regarded as symbolic.

Furthermore, there really are only two possibilities with the BoM : it must be valid or else a conscious, deliberate and extremely elaborate fraud.

These are the rival hypotheses which need to be evaluated.


Now, many or most people will be sure, a priori, that the BoM is a fraud; and if that is how the matter is approached, then that is the conclusion which will emerge.

However, if the question is approached in an agnostic fashion, then the matter is far from straightforward.

And in fact there is a lot of evidence, some of it remarkable, in support of the genuineness of the Book of Mormon - easily enough to make the claims factually plausible and to make belief in the genuineness of the BoM absolutely reasonable by normal evidential standards; even despite some currently-unanswered questions and inconsistencies.


Here is an interesting and accessible round-up from Daniel C Peterson - who is a highly intelligent, honest and learned scholar who is himself a Mormon.

In watching this, I would suggest that the positive evidence that Prof Peterson presents should simply be regarded as reasonable and plausible and significant - it is quite unnecessary to regard it as absolutely hard-line conclusive, or as there being no other way of interpreting it.


I think it would be a mistake to try and convince people that the Book of Mormon is true.

The validity of the Book of Mormon cannot be established by such evidence as assembled above; nobody is going to feel compelled to accept the genuineness of the book's claims on the basis of such evidence - not least because modern people find it easy to reject any 'supernatural' claims, and all empirical evidence of any kind is susceptible to plural interpretations.


The Book of Mormon itself says explicitly that after all possible evidence has been gathered and evaluated, belief should be (and should only be) a consequence of prayer, of asking God about the validity of the Book of Mormon, and of obtaining a sense of personal conviction of its truth by revelation.

So, the way it works is that the investigator should establish for himself that it is at least not-unreasonable that the Book of Mormon's claims are true; and that there is significant (although it will never be conclusive) evidence to support its claims.

Then the investigator must pray to know the truth; must pray sincerely, earnestly and with an open heart.

If the investigator will not pray - then he should not believe; and if the investigator does pray but receives a negative answer - then he should not believe.

That's it - although of course the process may be repeated.


Beyond evidence there absolutely must be faith by personal revelation.

Once the validity of the Book of Mormon's claims have been granted and confirmed, once someone is convinced, then this belief inevitably has immense significance and vast ramifications for understanding human history and the nature of life.

Nothing will ever be the same again.



Chemist said...

What of the utter absence of any archaeological evidence supporting the BoM's many claims about the history of the American Indians?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Chemist - Actually there is quite a lot of that kind of evidence - certainly enormously more than there was in 1830 when the BoM was published. When the scale and complexity of Mesoamerican civilization became apparent in the late 19th century - for a while it looked like a complete vindication. However things are not really as straightforward as that. So this fits my general point - there is quite an impressive amount of evidence in support of the BoM descriptions - but it is certainly not conclusive, nor all on one side.

Brandon said...

Slightly off topic, but what about the intersection of Freemasonry and Mormonism in its origins?

Also, it there appears to be a strong Judaizing tendency in Mormonism.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Brandon. Joseph Smith was a Freemason, and reinterpreted some of the symbols and rituals derived (presumably) from Freemasonry (as did Freemasonry itself adapt older symbolism and rituals).

As for Judaism - Christianity grew from it, so naturally there are large shared elements - like most of the Bible.

Beyond that - the basic stance of Mormonism is that the Christian Church was only really pure during the lives of the Apostles (except for John, who is presumed to be still alive), and then went off the rails to a greater or lesser extent, especially under the influence of Greek and Roman philosophy.

I suppose the early Apostolic church was inevitably mostly Jewish, since it hadn't had time to become anything else.

Brandon said...

My point being, I fail to understand how Freemasonry is compatible with orthodox, apostolic Christian belief and praxis.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Brandon - But that did not seem to be a problem to earlier generations. I have seen photographs of my local evangelical Anglican vicars and other church worthies parading in the Masonic regalia about 100 years ago. It seems that Christians saw no problem whatsoever about also being Masons, and were proud of and advertized the fact.

Freemasonry was also popular among the Protestants of Northern Ireland. It was indeed extremely respectable in Britain - indeed a mark of high social status for men.

(Also, Victorian Christians were often stalwarts of Druidry, which we now regard as a neo-Pagan revival movement - and usually anti-Christian in sentiment.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@W - As I have explained, anyone who has made up their mind that Mormonism is a deliberate fraud before investigating it, will necessarily interpret the evidence to confirm that assumption. This is trivially obvious - the same has been done with Christianity many times by those who are a priori convinced Christianity is a fraud. It means nothing; except as evidence of a negative prejudice.

@Al - Not being utterly crazed, I don't print comments which abuse me. But you have completely missed the whole point of my argument.

If you believe that there is *zero* plausible archaeological evidence in support of the BoM history of the Americas (assuming a reasonable interpretation of the text and its mode of production - i.e. it does not present itself as the dictated word of God but as an inspired translation actively done by a particular person at a particular time and place) then you are factually mistaken.

The supporting evidence is not overwhelming, and will not convince a skeptic; but there just is some reasonably plausible evidence.

Archaeology is not a science, and is continually making major revisions to itself. During one particular era the consensus *seemed* to Mormons to vindicate the BoM very exactly. But the consensus has changed many times since, and will no doubt change again.

As you imply, the authors I have read believe that the BoM as it describes itself takes place in a rather small area, and the BoM peoples were one particular minority group among a much larger Amerindian population.

But I am not trying to persuade anybody that the BoM is vindicated by archaeology - it isn't. But neither is it refuted by archaeology. As so often, we must make a judgement; and in this case the judgement *must* involve prayer and personal revelation - and if that does not provide confirmation, then you ought not to believe.

Bruce Charlton said...

I would like to add that I am under no illusion but that Mormonism is *Incredible* in the sense that it severely strains mainstream modern credibility, and simply seems ridiculous, absurd, disgusting to the standards of normal public discourse.

However, mainstream Christianity is incredible also, and in exactly the same way. (i.e. to the external observer, who is neither mainstream nor Mormon)

Christianity is Incredible, Mormon Christianity is Incredible-squared.

Therefore neither mainstream Christianity nor Mormon Christianity should be presented as anything other than Incredible - because to do so is to misrepresent.

If Incredible things are to be rejected, then both Christianity and Mormon Christianity should be rejected.

But of course the truth of Mormon Christianity is NOT entailed by the truth of mainstream Christianity - one can rationally embrace the Incredibility of mC while rejecting the incredibility of MC.

(The opposite is not possible - if someone believes that Mormonism is true then that does entail accepting the - partial - truth of mainstream Christianity).

So it is reasonable, and indeed usual, for mainstream Christians to reject Mormon Christianity as Incredible-hence-untrue; however, they should be aware that *precisely* the same qualitative point can equally-reasonably be made against mainstream Christianity.