Who Has The More Difficult Task, BoM Skeptic or Apologist?

Rusty - January 8, 2006

Catching the tail end of this conversation it made me wonder who has the more difficult task, the Book of Mormon Skeptic or Apologist? The more I read the Book of Mormon, the more I learn about Joseph’s early life and the more I read skeptic’s theories the more I lean toward the idea that the skeptic needs more planets to align to be right.

Apologist’s Defense
Apologist: “Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon through inspiration from God.”
Skeptic: “But what about X issue?”
Apologist: “That’s how God does things.” “We don’t know everything about Mayan history yet.” “The Spirit.” etc.

Skeptic’s Defense
Skeptic: “Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon.”
Apologist: “But he was an uneducated farmboy, he couldn’t have written it.”
Skeptic: “He was probably exposed to X, Y, and Z books that might have existed in Palmyra then.” “He obviously had more education than 3rd grade.” “other uneducated people have written masterful works.” etc. (Yes, there are theories of other writers but those seem to necessitate an equal amount if not more planets to align than the Joseph Smith-writer theories, albeit different ones)

The problem for the skeptic is that the Book of Mormon exists. And it’s pretty much proven to have been written when we claim it was in the amount of time it was. Regardless of all the post-BoM speculation (by prophets and members alike) regarding historicity/geography/etc (i.e. Zelph) it’s still a major theological and literary masterwork, especially to have been written by such a person in such a short amount of time in such an early time in his life. I’m tempted to bring up Occam’s Razor but I’m not sure that strengthens my point because the skeptic would just say that “revelation” doesn’t fall under the “simpler theory.”

“Revelation” and “We don’t know yet” are great trump cards. But we’re allowed to have them because the Book exists.

55 Comments »

  1. The Skeptic has the more difficult task! As you point out, The Book of Mormon exists. There were 11 witnesses who saw, handled, and confirmed the plates’ physical existence. There were three of those witnesses who actually saw, and heard Moroni testify to their existence and truthfulness. Name ONE skeptic witness who can credibly testify they know with certain knowledge Joseph’s rendition of how the Book of Mormon came to be is false. The fact is, faith plays a very important role here. The skeptic has no faith. The skeptic also has the more difficult task, faith notwithstanding.

    Comment by Guy Murray — January 8, 2006 @ 11:58 pm

  2. Apologist: “That’s how God does things.” “We don’t know everything about Mayan history yet.” “The Spirit.” etc.

    Rusty, the problem is that assigning to god is the more complicated explanantion…and obvioulsy the most difficult to prove.

    This puts the onus back on the apologist.

    Comment by Watt Mahoun — January 9, 2006 @ 12:07 am

  3. Watt,
    Yes, but then it’s not an argument about the Book of Mormon anymore. You’re now turning it into a debate about the existence of God (or of a revelatory God). That’s a given for the apologist, it’s a prerequisite, he’s been saying that all along.

    Comment by Rusty — January 9, 2006 @ 12:23 am

  4. Guy,
    That’s another good point, witnesses! Whether you believe them or not, the Skeptics don’t have any of those on their side.

    Comment by Rusty — January 9, 2006 @ 12:24 am

  5. Rusty, the book is supposed to have come from god, therefore the arguement is essentially about god…unavoidable.

    The apologist’s belief is not proof of god…witnesses are some of the post unrealiable forms of evidence…saying that something comes from god is not proof, in fact, it’s the most unverifiable of explanations.

    I’s not the skeptic’s responsibility to prove/disprove what the apologist claims…that’s the apologist’s job…and as long as the apologist is claiming that the book came from god then the apologist not only has to prove that god exists but that god gave us the BoM…very difficult if not impossible.

    This is the reason why the church and BoM teach that a seeker must get his answer directly from god…because ultimately, there is no other proof.

    Comment by Watt Mahoun — January 9, 2006 @ 12:44 am

  6. “The apologist’s belief is not proof of god”

    Neither is the skeptic’s non belief proof there is no God.

    “…witnesses are some of the most unrealiable forms of evidence”

    Witnesse can be some of the most powerful evidence. In my business one witness can be the basis of the awarding of millions of dollars, or on the criminal side, the basis for putting a person to death. Witnesses must be judged by their credibility and their bias.

    If we examine the credibility and bias of the 11 witnesses, particularly the three witnesses, I believe we have very credible, independent witnesses, with litte or no bias. This is particularly true in light of the fact many left the Church, yet remained faithful to their testimony as witnesses. They did not recant their witness though they had motive to do so.

    “…saying that something comes from god is not proof, in fact, it’s the most unverifiable of explanations.”

    True . . . matters of God are by definition matters of faith. But, simply saying there is no God, likewise is not a self proving statement.

    Comment by Guy Murray — January 9, 2006 @ 1:03 am

  7. I would guess that most believers would side with you and most skeptics with me. We need someone to side against their interest.

    The 1830 BoM is a remarkable production. It is remarkable that Joseph produced such a long and involved book whether he wrote it or translated it.

    However, I think you are stretching a bit (understatement!) when you posit that Occam is on your side. Let’s say that a under-educated man in Germany in the 1920′s produced a book filled with new revelations from God as given to the Bronze-age inhabitants of Switzerland. Furthermore, a fairy led this man to the cave where these inscriptions were made and gave him a magical telescope with which to read them. Furthermore, after he finished translating these markings in a year or so, the fairy made the cave disappear, leaving just his modern German translation.

    Now, Rusty, are you seriously claiming that the burden of proof is on me to prove these fairies don’t exist, just because this German man produced a book that is perhaps better than we could expect for an under-educated Weimar-Republic German?

    We could argue forever about the historicity of the BoM (with interesting points on both sides), but I think it is undeniable that those making incredible or supernatural claims bear the burden of proof.

    This, I believe, is why Moroni’s Promise exists. We can’t prove the BoM so we ask converts to accept spiritual proof instead. I respect those that believe they have received such proof, but I look suspiciously on those who claim they have physical proof.

    Comment by NFlanders — January 9, 2006 @ 1:23 am

  8. I forgot to add… this German once let 14 Germans (neighbors of his, mostly related to each other) into his cave one night to look around for a couple minutes.

    NOW do you believe him? Now do I have to disprove the existence of fairies? In this circumstance, I believe the burden of proof still lies with the German and his followers.

    Comment by NFlanders — January 9, 2006 @ 1:31 am

  9. I hope that didn’t come off as too derogatory. I just wanted to point out how unusual and unbelievable some of the elements of our foundational story truly are. It is too easy to forget this when we are so involved in the Church. Seeing the story in a different context helps put it in perspective. If a modern-day Joseph Smith were walking around today, I dare say we’d all think he’s nuts.

    BTW, your new banner is amazing, Rusty.

    Comment by NFlanders — January 9, 2006 @ 3:11 am

  10. Guy,

    Neither is the skeptic’s non belief proof there is no God.

    The skeptic would not be a skeptic if he expected his disbelief to be proof of anything.

    Witnesses must be judged by their credibility and their bias.

    That’s fine. Yet we are not asked to believe based on the witness testimony…rather to let it lead us to a process of discovery from God…the witness tesitimony is not intended to prove anything, but to encourage the seeker to continue the investigation. Also, I believe this is how witness testimony is used in legal cases…certainly the witness testimony would not be considered as credible if there were little to no supporting physical evidence in discovery.

    But, simply saying there is no God, likewise is not a self proving statement.

    I agree. I don’t claim that there is no god because I don’t know that there is no god…any more than I know that there is. And I certainly could not prove it either way.

    BTW, to say that one can’t prove that there is a god and that he gave us the BoM does not equal saying that there is no god. Just want to get that clear, since I get the impression that you may think I’m making that claim.

    Comment by Watt Mahoun — January 9, 2006 @ 4:09 am

  11. It’s pretty obvious to me that the answer to this question depends on who you’re talking to. Whoever is advancing a specific BOM theory has the harder time, simply because there are so many and because none has conclusive verifiable evidence.

    Ned’s point is terrific. Try it out! See if you feel good about making the Book of Mormon a bigger part of your life. Does this constitute incontrovertible evidence that the book is true/historical? No. But that’s essentially irrelevant if it’s a positive influence in your life. Since nobody here is claiming to have positive physical proof of a God or a lack of one, Moroni’s promise is even more salient. If the question is that pressing, give it an honest try.

    I don’t mean to say that the objective truth of the Book of Mormon isn’t an issue (indeed, it seems to be the major issue), but that spiritual/subjective experience shouldn’t be neglected, especially when the empirical side isn’t supporting a specific conclusion.

    Comment by D-Train — January 9, 2006 @ 5:25 am

  12. Watt:

    1. I understood Rusty’s original post to ask who has the more difficult task, the skeptic, or the believer. Neither I, or anyone else, can “prove” the Book of Mormon. Likewise the skeptic cannot “disprove” the Book of Mormon. Therefore, my comments are really addressing Rusty’s original question of who has the more difficult task, not really who can “prove” or “disprove”. Such an ability would thwart the entire purpose of the Book of Mormon, i.e., to “convince” the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ. I am so convinced. Yet, I can’t prove anything. I am convinced based on my own faith, which in turn is premised upon my own personal revelation. I hope, and believe in something which I do not see, but which I believe to be true.

    2. I agree witness testimony likewise does not “prove” The Book of Mormon. It does, however, in my own opinion lend more credibility to the Book of Mormon, than were there no witnesses so testifying. I also believe there is significant physical evidence supporting the witness’ testimony, most notably the physical Book of Mormon itself. Again, at least for me, the witness testimony makes the skeptic’s task just a bit more difficult. I don’t believe the skeptics have the same type of credible witness testimony supporting their position, as does the Book of Mormon.

    3. I don’t really know you, and so I’m not suggesting you do or do not believe in God, or the Book of Mormon. I return to Rusty’s original question: Who has the more difficult task, the believer or the skeptic? I remain convinced it is the skeptic. There are many who will and do disagree with me.

    NFlanders: I don’t think the Church’s “foundational story” is any more unusual and unbelievable than Christianity itself: God, created all that is or was, came to earth to live a perfect exemplary life, healed the sick, raised the dead, walked on water, cast out devils, suffered, bled and died on the cross, and then rose in three days to further proclaim His gospel and reedem all mankind.

    Comment by Guy Murray — January 9, 2006 @ 8:50 am

  13. apologist

    Comment by annegb — January 9, 2006 @ 8:57 am

  14. Guy has pointed out that perhaps my wording in the post could have been a little less ambiguous. I don’t know if this conversation is about “proof” or “convincing” or what, I should have expected the necessity of defining my terms.

    It seems to me that the apologist’s job is to prove that it comes from God, not prove that it’s true. And this is quite easy for the apologist to do because s/he basically pushes that resonsibility back onto the reader and God. This is why I’m claiming it’s easier for the apologist because s/he has the Moroni 10 trump card.

    The skeptic doesn’t have such a trump card. S/he must provide a scenerio with enough evidence to prove that it happened that way (which I beleive to be more diffiucult than convincing someone to pray and be answered).

    In other words, if it were a question of “proving” the BoM true or “proving” the BoM false I think the apologist has not only the more difficult task but the impossible task. But like I said, I don’t think it’s their job to “prove” it true. That’s God’s job.

    Comment by Rusty — January 9, 2006 @ 10:16 am

  15. It seems to me that the apologist’s job is to prove that it comes from God, not prove that it’s true. And this is quite easy for the apologist to do because s/he basically pushes that resonsibility back onto the reader and God. This is why I’m claiming it’s easier for the apologist because s/he has the Moroni 10 trump card.

    You see how problematic this is, don’t you? What of people who claim that, based on Moroni 10:3-5, God has revealed to them that the Book of Mormon is NOT divine and true?

    Having God on his (self-proclaimed) side doesn’t make it any easier for the apologist when there are so many competing claims as to what God is, what he says, and how he reveals himself and truth.

    In my opinion, the truth, or lack thereof, of the Book of Mormon can only be made manifest in the lives of those who seek wisdom in it and live according to its teachings.

    Comment by Chris Williams — January 9, 2006 @ 10:27 am

  16. I don’t think the Church’s “foundational story” is any more unusual and unbelievable than Christianity itself…

    Guy makes a very good point. I am always amused at other Christians who claim to “believe every word in the bible”, including God speaking out of a bush, walking on water, feeding thousands with a few loaves of bread, water to wine, a virgin birth, and resurrection from the dead, but who then dismiss the story of gold plates from an angel as too incredible.

    Comment by Mark IV — January 9, 2006 @ 10:46 am

  17. It seems to me that the apologist’s job is to prove that it comes from God, not prove that it’s true. And this is quite easy for the apologist to do because s/he basically pushes that resonsibility back onto the reader and God. This is why I’m claiming it’s easier for the apologist because s/he has the Moroni 10 trump card.

    So then the point of the question in this post comes down to this: that the apologist has it easier because he relies on god for the proof? If that is so, then the apologist is wasting his time and everyone elses, trying to make arguements set in the language of science and philosophy. And this is the only real issue that this skeptic has with the apologist…’cause if the only real proof is in a person’s individual relationship with god, then the use of scientific and philosophical tools of thought to “convince” lacks congruity.

    In other words, unless these tools of human understanding can be used to prove that the BoM comes from god, then it’s actually highly misleading to use them…not to mention highly frustrating to those who do use them to in fact prove other, more down to earth posits.

    Comment by Watt Mahoun — January 9, 2006 @ 12:35 pm

  18. I think that Matt is on to something with the that last comment. It really comes down to to who is trying to convince whom.

    If the apologist is trying to convince the skeptic of the rightness of his claim then he must package it in the only way that his claim can and ought to be understood, spiritually. The skeptic must then measure the merit of the claim in kind.

    On the other hand, if the skeptic seeks to alter the view of the apologist then she will use the physical evidence as is expected by her claim.

    The fact of the matter is that you are comparing apples to oranges and there is no way to tell which burden is larger because it is all subjective at that point.

    Comment by Russ J — January 9, 2006 @ 1:07 pm

  19. In order for the apologist and the skeptic to get anywhere in their conversation, they are going to have to come to an agreement on what it means to claim that the Book of Mormon is true. Historically true? (It certainly claims to be.) Spiritually true? (But isn’t this terribly subjective?) Otherwise, the skeptic and the apologist will just talk past each other and both claim victory.

    Also, not all Book of Mormon skeptics are the same. Some are faith-based skeptics (Evangelical Christians, for example) while others are scientifically oriented. It is likely that skeptics of different stripes will adopt different approaches in criticizing the BoM.

    Comment by Chris Williams — January 9, 2006 @ 1:14 pm

  20. It is easier to be a skeptic for the simple reason that they are really not taking a ‘stand’ on anything. It is a lot easier to criticize those that actually take a stand on something than to actualy take the stand.

    Comment by Eric — January 9, 2006 @ 1:22 pm

  21. Watt and Chris,
    I think you guys both have very good points. This post was a way for me to work out my ideas. My original thought was that there are SO MANY factors that have to come together (planets that need to align) to make it possible for JS to have written the BoM that it just seemed ridiculous to believe such a scenerio was possible. I still feel that way but you’re right that you really can’t compare the two tasks because they are completely different.

    I don’t read too much of either apologist’s or skeptic’s ideas… I try to do what Chris said, “seek wisdom in it and live according to its teachings” and make my conclusions based on the results.

    Comment by Rusty — January 9, 2006 @ 1:54 pm

  22. Eric,

    It is easier to be a skeptic for the simple reason that they are really not taking a ‘stand’ on anything.

    That’s a rather narrow view to apply so broadly. Consider that possibility that the skeptic cares a great deal about the truth and takes a stand on the process of finding truth with every critque of an unsupported or weak claim to knowledge.

    As in all groups of thought, there is potential for cynicism, but I for one experience a great deal of passion in the process of discovery…in fact, I believe that inquiry and discovery are are among the greatest and most human of causes for which one can a stand.

    Comment by Watt Mahoun — January 9, 2006 @ 1:55 pm

  23. Watt:

    The passionate pursuit of truth is a wonderful thing. But eventually one needs to humbly acknowledge truth when they find it. If not, would we not all be ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the turth?

    I guess thats it. If someone is sincerely seeking thruth then great. I feel there are some skeptics who are not. Of course this does not apply to all.

    Comment by Eric — January 9, 2006 @ 2:08 pm

  24. Eric,
    Of course, I totally agree with this…and would you agree that there are at least some apologists who are not seeking truth?

    Comment by Watt Mahoun — January 9, 2006 @ 2:13 pm

  25. Maybe. But I still think that they are in the more difficult position – a stand already taken. This limits them in arguments I believe. Skeptics are not necessarily tied down to believing anything.

    Certainly apologist in general could be blindly defending something, or be in denial of the facts, but they are the ones that are choosing a position in most cases. To me this is more difficult.

    Comment by Eric — January 9, 2006 @ 2:25 pm

  26. Rusty,

    Don’t skeptics also have the Moroni 10 trump card? I know a lot of people that prayed about the BoM and did not get an answer. I think Moroni 10 is a double edged sword. The problem is that some of those who get a positive answer assume that everyone else will get the same answer. The same goes for those that get no answer. They can’t imagine why someone else might have a different experience.

    Comment by a random John — January 9, 2006 @ 2:28 pm

  27. Watt,
    I agree that there are probably some apologists that aren’t searching for truth but rather to prove that they’re right. This I’ll give you. But I also think Eric makes a very valid point in that the skeptic doesn’t have to “believe” anything because they are in the “search for truth” which can be defined as ambiguously as they deem fit.

    Comment by Rusty — January 9, 2006 @ 2:31 pm

  28. Couldn’t the skeptic simply start from the position that the Book of Mormon is not true? Isn’t that also standing for something?

    Comment by Chris Williams — January 9, 2006 @ 2:37 pm

  29. Yes, but that is a much easier stand to take.

    Comment by Eric — January 9, 2006 @ 2:58 pm

  30. If the focus is on convincing either the believer or unbeliever then it’s a draw. If it is a question of who has the burden of proof, then clearly the believers have the rougher time. Especially since the key facet of convincing someone, the Holy Ghost, isn’t under our control. i.e. it isn’t open to presentation the way most arguments are.

    One can certainly suggest, as you do, that both the believer and unbeliever have facts that the other side can’t account for. But ultimately that’s not the real issue. I tend to think it a red herring that apologists sometimes unwisely bring up.

    Comment by Clark Goble — January 9, 2006 @ 3:02 pm

  31. Rusty, begin with a problematic premise. It is not necessary that the Book of Mormon must either have been translated or dreamed up by Joseph Smith. There are many other possibilities, most prominently plagiarism and co-authorship.

    You are right. One can attribute anything to God. When something explains everything, it turns out that it explains nothing. That’s why scientists discount accounts that have to rely on miracles.

    Smith’s case is interesting not because he invokes God but because even though he refers to God he is still demonstrably wrong in several important instances. For example, we know that his translation of the Book of Abraham is wrong. We know that the Lamanites are not the ancestors of native Americans.

    Since Joseph is known to have been wrong in spite of claims to divine support, as long as one believes that god is no fool, one must reject Smith’s claims.

    Comment by Hellmut Lotz — January 9, 2006 @ 3:22 pm

  32. Hellmut has provided an excellent example of why it is easier to be a skeptic. Find a couple of apparent mistakes by Joseph Smith and through out the entire thing. An apologist has to defend every dart thrown from any direction – a much more difficult task.

    Comment by Eric — January 9, 2006 @ 3:44 pm

  33. Hellmut,
    Eric is right, just because the Lamanites aren’t the Native American’s ancestors doesn’t prove that JS wrote the BoM, it just means that past apologists were wrong.

    Comment by Rusty — January 9, 2006 @ 3:58 pm

  34. I guess where it gets dicey is that JS suggested (after the BoM was translated) that the Lamanites were the Native American’s ancestors. I don’t know exactly what to do with these statements, but I don’t think they prove that the Book of Mormon is false. I think it just brings us back to all the historicity debates.

    Comment by Rusty — January 9, 2006 @ 4:16 pm

  35. Why is it that every word that Joseph Smith utters must be prophesy? Doesn’t it seem a reasonable step for Joseph to assume that the American Indians are decendants of the Nephites even if they are not? Now I don’t know the specific circumstances of Joseph’s statements to that effect, but we seem to expect Joseph to be infallible while we have no problem dismissing later church leader’s comments as oppinions.

    Comment by Russ J — January 9, 2006 @ 5:17 pm

  36. As Clark stated: “If the focus is on convincing either the believer or unbeliever then it’s a draw.”

    That is whole point. Learning whether the Book of Mormon is truth or not was never intended to be an end, but rather the means to an end. The ultimate end is “the eternal life of man”. An intermediate step toward that is receiving revelation from God. The “draw” Clark mentions funnels one necessarily into “asking God with real intent”. The entire process is a weeding out process — separating sheep from goats. Either people sincerely ask God or they don’t. Those that do try either try hard enough to be sure of an answer or they don’t. Sheep hear God, goats don’t.

    I know that might be harsh sounding but this life is a probationary state (and that is what the scripture sdo say). God will treat everyone with kindness in the eternities… Nevertheless, we are here to choose. Eternal life is KNOWING God (John 17) and the Book of Mormon funnels people into seeking personal revelation — the only real way to know God in this life. If one can’t get revelation then all the rest of the arguments are moot in the long run anyway.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 9, 2006 @ 5:57 pm

  37. Either people sincerely ask God or they don’t. Those that do..either try hard enough to be sure of an answer or they don’t.

    IMO, this is a remarkably uncharitable description of the experience of those who sincerely seek but don’t receive a testimony. What you’re essentially saying is, “If you read the Book of Mormon, pray about it, but don’t receive a witness of its truthfulness, then try again! And try harder! Be MORE sincere!”

    Comment by Chris Williams — January 9, 2006 @ 6:04 pm

  38. Nope Chris. I’m saying that everyone that is interested in this question should try hard enough (and in the proper and prescribed ways) to be sure one way or the other. I made no claims about a foregone conclusion.

    Further, Christ is the one that said eternal life is to know God and Christ — was he being uncharitable too?

    Comment by Geoff J — January 9, 2006 @ 6:28 pm

  39. I don’t know whose job is harder.

    But not all the evidence exists that the BoM was written in a short time period at all. Lucy Mack Smith, among others, has said in many places that Joseph “told” these stories for years, years before he got the Plates. He made up histories about former civilizations that accounted for the Indian burial mounds in his area. The actual Book was probably gestated for 10 years. And a good percentage of the real writing is identical to the King James bible.

    Hi, Chris!

    Comment by D. Fletcher — January 10, 2006 @ 1:26 pm

  40. Here’s a better overview of “problems” concerning the writing of the Book of Mormon:

    http://trialsofascension.net/mormon/plagiarism.html

    Comment by D. Fletcher — January 10, 2006 @ 1:43 pm

  41. Hi D!

    Comment by Chris Williams — January 10, 2006 @ 3:27 pm

  42. Further, Christ is the one that said eternal life is to know God and Christ — was he being uncharitable too?

    Not at all. Of course, what Christ said is not what you said, so I’m not quite sure what your point is.

    Comment by Chris Williams — January 10, 2006 @ 3:28 pm

  43. This debate shows the limits of debate, science and common sense. I think traditional searches for knowledge sometimes, without allowing for other forms of discovery to be included in the mix, tends to end up like: (a) a self-fulfilling prophecy; (b) one side perpetually with the apples and the other side with the oranges; or (c) a hermetically sealed box (nobody can think outside the box).

    Thank God we’ve got more than this. Too often we dumbly look at a dark glass instead of look through a glass, darkly!

    (By the way, who says Native Americans have no connection with Lamanites? That sounds premature. Genetic information from the mitochondria seems to be severely limited; there’s more evidence from the blood alleles. Plenty of Gentile researchers believe the Americas were full of transoceanic migrations.)

    Comment by cadams — January 10, 2006 @ 5:16 pm

  44. I would think that being an apologist is different than being a believer, and it strikes me that most arguments in favor of the apologists are simply defending believers.

    In other words, it is easy for a simple believer to simply say, God hasn’t told us/me yet. But it seems that an apologist has taken on a different role; that of defender of the faith, prover of truth, etc (not just believer of truth).

    So I would say the believer’s task is easiest, in that it requires no logical thought; one can believe, even does believe, whatever they want (albeit at an unconcious level).

    That said, I would find the role of apologist orskeptic equally unappealing, since both are usually looking at things from preconceived notions of what they want to prove and yet claiming to be logically and objectively arriving to their conclusions.

    Comment by APJ — January 10, 2006 @ 8:48 pm

  45. Additionally, I would add that it depends on what the apologist is trying to prove, and the skeptic trying to disprove or prove false.

    Some comments above seem to indicate that some kind of burden of proof shifts over to the skeptics simply because the Book of Mormon ‘exists’ or that there are 11 witnesses of it. But that doesn’t make much sense, since no skeptics are really arguing that the Book of Mormon doesn’t exist, or that the testimony of the 11 witnesses was forged or made up.

    I think this is one reason that a lot of active members don’t delve into Mormon apologetics: they either find it irrelevant to their faith or are perhaps even worried that such a study would lead to conclusions that affect their faith in a way they don’t want to affect it.

    Comment by APJ — January 10, 2006 @ 8:56 pm

  46. “Revelation” and “we don’t know” are not trump cards to someone who either doesn’t believe in revelation or believes in alternative (or contradictory) revelation. A spiritual witness is sufficient for those who receive it (which may be precisely those who seek and want it), but it begs the question for those who do not receive the same witness.

    The mere existence of the BoM is relevant, but how is it more relevant than the existence of other inspired books? One could as easily claim that A Course In Miracles was the sole divine word, if it were not for the historical claims of the BoM. If the BoM turns out to accurately describe actual people, it is the strongest extrinsic evidence of God’s existence that the world has known. Until we can identify the people, though, it’s difficult to distinguish from many other inspired religious books.

    The apologist has a heavy burden of proof because the basic claim of the BoM is that people who don’t believe it will be damned. At the time of Joseph Smith, maybe the witnesses were sufficient corroboration for Joseph’s claims, as supplemented by speculation about extrinsic evidence; but in our day, we don’t have the luxury of unfounded speculations. We are confronted by frequent new discoveries in archaeology, DNA, geology, anthropology, etc., that, for the most part, undermine at least our assumptions about BoM historicity.

    Assuming BoM historicity is never established, the apologist has a difficult task to explain why the existence of the BoM leads to the claim that the Church is the only true Church (which is the real issue), while all other comparable inspired books do not.

    Comment by jonathan N — January 10, 2006 @ 10:40 pm

  47. Jonathan,

    Excellent.

    If the apologists haven’t already tired of defending their trump cards, I’d like to hear as measured and reasoned a response as this one.

    Comment by Watt Mahoun — January 11, 2006 @ 12:14 am

  48. Jonathan, I don’t believe it is entailed by LDS theology that those who don’t believe the Book of Mormon will be damned. It does, I think, require that one turn to God and attempt personal revelation. For that it is quite helpful. It disallows the kind of faith that I think the Bible sometimes allows: a naive faith that doesn’t require that real personal relationship with God. (Since we know there was a Biblical land) Of course, I think, many Mormons still manage to adopt that naive kind of faith instead of the informed faith that Moroni 10 requests.

    As to the burden of proof, the question is why the apologists have the burden of proof. What is the context in this? In an academic debate? Perhaps. If only because one has posed the question so that one has to be convinced. i.e. cast it in terms of passive acceptance of evidence.

    Comment by Clark Goble — January 11, 2006 @ 1:37 am

  49. In most cases the skeptic is not bringing anything to the table to replace what they are criticizing. They do not say ‘Joseph Smith was not a prophet, but this guy over here is’. They don’t usually say ‘The BoM is false, but this other book over here is true’. If they did then Jonathan would have a better point. But how many people who are skeptics of the BoM are also defending something else at the same time. This almost never happens. They are not defending anything themselves. Kinda like a soccer game with a goal at only one end that the skeptic shoots at and the apologist has to defend. This is not just the case with BoM, I believe this is the nature of skeptic/apologist in general.

    Comment by Eric — January 11, 2006 @ 8:42 am

  50. Clark, I like the idea that one doesn’t have to believe the Book of Mormon to turn to God and receive personal revelation, because that is consistent with what I have observed in others (although for me the BoM enhances personal revelation); but there are several references in the BoM to its being a testimony against the world (e.g., Ether 5), and don’t you think that means one must accept it or else? D&C 84:74 and other scriptures seem pretty clear on this point, too.

    The apologists (by this I don’t mean merely intellectual defenders of the faith but anyone who promulgates the faith) have the burden of proof, just as a plaintiff in a trial, because the apologists are taking the initiative; i.e., as LDS we are saying to the world “you can’t continue as you are; you must change your lives, your beliefs, your behavior, and your goals, or you will be damned.” (This is more blunt than our normal PR-influence approach, but it is how the scriptures described the situation.) If, on the other hand, we were content to live our lives without trying to convert others, and instead people were challenging our beliefs to change us, then I’d agree that we would not have the burden of proof.

    Eric: In my experience, most skeptics do defend something else. Evangelical Christians, for example, are defending their beliefs against the implications of the BoM. For that matter, everyone who encounters a missionary is on the defensive, at least at first; the missionary is clearly on the offensive. I see missionary work as having the soccer ball in your analogy.

    Comment by jonathan N — January 11, 2006 @ 10:02 am

  51. Eric wrote:

    They are not defending anything themselves. Kinda like a soccer game with a goal at only one end that the skeptic shoots at and the apologist has to defend.

    While I see your point, I think it’s a better analogy to place the skeptic in the role of referee with the job of challenging all players (including his own role) on the rules of the game and how they are best interprested in a given situation.

    Certainly the referee is also a key player in the game, and his/her role as arbiter of the rules and advocate of the game is unquestionably a position of value and clear purpose.

    Comment by Watt Mahoun — January 11, 2006 @ 12:31 pm

  52. But, it occurs to me that referee may be too much for some people’s taste…too much an unbiased position.

    On second thought, I like Jonathan’s suggestion; that whoever has the ball is going to get attacked…and the literalness and divinity of BoM is the apologist’s ball.

    If you want to put a skeptic on the defensive, attack his ball…the belief that faith without more or less solid physical evidence is unfounded…or other claims of skeptics.

    To state that skeptics don’t stand for anything is to ignore your opponent’s strenghts…and not advisable. :-)

    Comment by Watt Mahoun — January 11, 2006 @ 1:49 pm

  53. Jonathan, the obvious problem with needing a testimony of the Book of Mormon to be saved is the issue of those who lived prior to the writing of the Book of Mormon.

    Accepting texts isn’t the issue, but accepting Christ. Now I think the Book of Mormon does testify of Christ and its messages are entailed with accepting Christ. But I’m not at all convinced that having a correct view of Book of Mormon historicity is necessary for salvation anymore than having a correct understanding of events in the council of heaven is necessary.

    I think we conflate issues of truth with issues of salvation while they are separate.

    With respect to D&C 84:74, I think you are conflating content of the words with the form of the words. I do think that ultimate salvation does require baptism by proper authority. So there are things we have to do to take hold of salvation. But it seems to me that is a different issue from what you address.

    Now we do say to the world that to be saved they have to change, either now or in the spirit world. But that, to me, seems to be a different matter from the issue of accepting the Book of Mormon.

    But perhaps this is more a semantic issue over what it means to accept the Book of Mormon?

    Comment by Clark Goble — January 11, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

  54. Clark, good point about the semantics. Words often get in the way.

    However, I’m not sure that accepting texts is not the issue. Nephi says his words would condemn those who did not accept them. He also says that if we believe in Christ, we will believe his words. To the extent we detach accepting Christ from accepting the BoM, aren’t we rewriting our own doctrine? Even the whole purpose of the BoM?

    I do agree with you that having a correct view of BoM historicity is not necessary for salvation; however, the topic of the blog was has the bigger task, defenders or opponents of the BoM. So long as we rely solely on a spiritual witness, the question is moot because each individual relies on his or her own witness. But if we rely on extrinsic evidence (as Joseph Smith did with the witnesses, and for that matter Moroni did when he said it was the history of the ancient inhabitants), then, based on current knowledge about historicity, it seems to me that apologists have the more difficult task, both because they have the burden of proof and because the preponderance of the evidence does not support historicity.

    Comment by jonathan N — January 11, 2006 @ 5:00 pm

  55. I’d agree with that Jonathan. Indeed I think I said it in my initial comments. (grin)

    Comment by Clark Goble — January 11, 2006 @ 8:31 pm

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