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Physics Guy

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  1. Ideally, yeah. Maybe one could find other arguments in support of accuracy. Reporting grammatical errors, for example, would indicate that the reporter was not correcting the preacher's words. If the reporter simultaneously praised the preacher sincerely, then that would tend to rule out the possibility that the errors had been inserted by the reporter to mock the preacher. So it might be feasible to rule out Carmack's argument with this kind of data, by finding lots of reported EModE in old sermons, but not feasible to rule out the alternative hypothesis of overdone archaism, because if one found no EModE expressions in the reports of sermons then one couldn't tell whether the reporter had consciously or unconsciously corrected the preacher's bad King James grammar. So to support Carmack's argument might indeed need multiple corroborating accounts, which would be harder to find. Empirical evidence is often an unfair playing field that way, with decisive evidence one way being much harder to find than the other. As I said, it's going to be hard to close this loophole. It really is a big and obvious loophole, though. As soon as you think at all seriously about someone faking the Book of Mormon in the 19th century, the possibility that they might mess up the dialect comes up right away. As soon as you think at all seriously about exactly how a dialect might get messed up, you realize it would be a matter of systematic errors through applying mistaken grammatical rules. Closing the big loophole will be hard. It may well be impossible. If it is impossible, then that won't mean that there's proof that the Book of Mormon was composed in the 19th century. It will mean, though, that there is no proof on linguistic grounds that it wasn't.
  2. It would indeed be worth looking at sermons by uneducated preachers, if their speech has been preserved accurately. This was a good suggestion of yours, and Carmack seems to have recognized that it would be nice to do something along these lines; but he seems to think of it as an added luxury. He doesn't seem to realize that he really needs to close this loophole because until he does, he does not have a case against 19th century composition. It's not going to be easy to close this loophole. I'd be surprised if one could get a large enough sample from preachers to be confident of a pattern to which Smith would have had to conform. If the preachers were mostly just quoting the King James Bible, for instance, even in pastiche, then their accuracy in matching KJV grammar would not show what would have happened if they had tried to improvise an entirely new text of considerable length in a KJV style. On the other hand one might kill the whole Carmack argument against 19th century composition with one shot here, if lots of EModE usages turned up in rural preaching. So on the scientific principle of trying to falsify theories, rural sermons should be a high priority for Carmack to check. The possibility that Smith actually spoke archaic English in his local rural dialect is another big loophole in Carmack's argument. I haven't been talking about it because other people (mainly you, Clark) seemed to be covering it, but it's clearly another major issue. I can't blame Carmack for not (yet?) having covered these loopholes. They're going to be an awful lot of work to cover, and it's not clear that it will ever be possible to cover them convincingly because we may just never be able to find enough data. But you can't just ignore them and still claim to have demonstrated that Smith could not have composed the Book of Mormon because he didn't know EModE.
  3. I don't understand how you're using this concept of "support". The hypothesis that I don't think you've ruled out is that Smith tried hard to dictate just like the King James Bible, but through lack of expertise and lack of time to revise, he made systematic errors—he got King James grammar wrong. His divergences from King James usage would thus not be at all like those of educated writers producing texts for entertainment. Neither would they simply be random errors, however. He would be following systematic rules that were incorrect for his target dialect—but also happened to be more correct for an earlier period. I don't see how you can rule out this hypothesis by looking at any published pseudo-Biblical works by educated writers who were not trying to deceive. There is no reason why their pseudo-Biblical language should have anything to do with the systematic errors in imitating King James by an uneducated deceiver who didn't edit his text. I don't see how you can rule out this hypothesis by looking at the Bible or any other late modern texts, either. The hypothesis is that Smith made systematic mistakes. So his language would not simply be Biblical, nor would it resemble late modern texts that did not made mistakes in their own proper grammar. And I don't see how you can rule out this hypothesis just by accumulating multiple examples of Early Modern usage in the Book of Mormon. The hypothesis is that Smith's errors in imitating King James usage were systematic. Like anyone trying to speak in a dialect they don't properly master, he followed incorrect rules. If he got something wrong (for King James) once, he would get it wrong that way again and again—just as if he were following the right rule for Early Modern English. I don't see where you have even addressed this possibility. You seem to be simply ignoring it.
  4. My position is that you haven't shown how improbable the coincidence is. You've just shown (I assume, pending second opinions from experts) that there is a coincidence. My point is not that oral dictation makes it easier to produce archaic language. It's that oral dictation makes it easier to mess up archaic language, for example by producing Early Modern forms when you're aiming for King James Bible. I disagree with the bolded part. I don't pretend to be able to prove that the odds of hypercorrection are high, but I find it far from obvious that they are low. Can you cite any studies to support your low estimate?
  5. I'm not the one claiming to rule out an authorship theory on linguistic grounds. You are. I'm just pointing out loopholes in your argument. Just as a matter of logic, I don't have to do anything to prove that authors limited their archaism or that Smith overdid his fake archaism. You have to provide strong evidence that they almost certainly didn't and that he almost certainly could not have. Or else you have to back off from your claim that Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon. This isn't geometry. You don't need to prove things to mathematical certainty. But if you want to establish your conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt, you need to cover reasonable loopholes like mine. Those other authors clearly differed from Joseph Smith in ways that might reasonably affect their ability to produce controlled archaism. And how do we know that an author like Smith would not have produced grammar like the Book of Mormon by systematic error, hypercorrecting and overgeneralizing in a clumsy effort to imitate the King James Bible? Maybe the possibility seems remote to you, but as far as I know there has been no actual analysis of what fake archaism by uneducated con artists tends to be like. Raising a completely un-analyzed issue that is crucial to your conclusion is pointing out another reasonable loophole. I'm not saying anything at all against the hypothesis that someone from the 16th century wrote the Book of Mormon. I'm only attacking your apparent claim to have established your hypothesis as probable fact. If you can't cover the reasonable loopholes, you haven't established the conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt.
  6. I do strongly believe, myself, that there is no divine source for the Book of Mormon. I am not particularly committed to advocating that position. I do not feel that I have enough evidence or argument on my side that it should persuade convinced Mormons, and anyway I don't care what they believe. I'm not going to admit that the Book of Mormon has remarkable archaism exceeding that of the King James Bible or pseudo-Biblical texts, because I lack the expertise to make an informed judgement either way on this matter. I believe I have said before on this forum, and I happily say it again now: I do not challenge Carmack's claims that the Book of Mormon has remarkable archaism exceeding that of the King James Bible or of pseudo-Biblical texts by authors who were not at all like Joseph Smith. For the sake of argument I am perfectly willing to stipulate to these claims, pending more informed judgement by Carmack's trained peers. My point is that these claims do not contradict 19th century composition, because it has not been ruled out that fakery by an author like Joseph Smith or his associates could have produced similar remarkable archaism. This is the missing link in the linguistic argument against 19th century composition and without this link the chain does not hold. The fact that this simple logical criticism is not even being acknowledged, but instead is being deflected by accusing me of bias, is a worrying sign. If my simple criticism is misplaced, it should still be obvious that it's a natural issue to raise, and its simple rebuttal should just have been given.
  7. Several papers have been published in Interpreter to show that some features of the Book of Mormon language could have been composed in the 16th century, but that's not the same as showing that it couldn't have been composed in the early 19th century. The argument seems to be simply that the hypothesis of 16th century composition fits the Book's grammar so well that we don't have to ask how well any other hypothesis might fit it also. Empirical reasoning doesn't work that way, though. The history of science is full of dead theories which were all consistent with large bodies of evidence. They just happened to be inconsistent with some other evidence, and so they were replaced by other theories that could account for all the evidence instead of just some. Accumulating evidence consistent with your hypothesis is never enough to establish it. You have to present evidence against the alternatives to your hypothesis. So far I've only seen one paper, again in Interpreter, which even tries to show that 19th-century fake archaism could not have come out with grammar like the Book of Mormon. That paper examined pseudo-Biblical works written by educated authors with the intent of amusing book-buyers, rather than texts dictated by uneducated authors with the intent to deceive. So its conclusion that fake archaism could not have produced the Book of Mormon's grammar is like concluding that orange fruits can't exist, because all the fruits in a sample of apples were red. Is there anything more than that, not to show that 16th-century composition could have produced Book of Mormon grammar, but to show that 19th century fake archaism could not have done it?
  8. If something weird is going on for 25 years, I don't stop wondering why just because longer time scales also exist. For heaven's sake: this is a steady linear trend that persists across a total change of over a hundred standard deviations in the annual change! A linear function can have any slope, but the size of increase is certainly not irrelevant to whether something is linear. It sounds as though the Taylor series stuff didn't mean anything to you. If it really didn't, we're going to have a hard time discussing functions. Perhaps you could read the Wikipedia article on the subject? It's pretty clear, I think. At the midpoint of a logistic curve the curve looks linear ... because it is linear, there. A curve can't appear to be linear but be nonlinear deep in its soul. Curves don't have souls. They're just shapes. The way they look is the way they are. In this case the church membership has not grown linearly throughout its whole life, and it may well have stopped growing linearly in the past few years. Lots of things do show changes over time in the way that they grow. There's always a reason, however. Exponential growth levels off because a population reaches the limit of its food supply, or a predator species proliferates, or something like that. Scientists don't plot logistic curves and then simply sit back smiling as if the curve itself constitutes its own explanation. We ask why the growth is exponential in the early phase, why it straightens out into linearity, and then why it plateaus. We consider each of those questions important. If growth stays linear for an extended period, we wonder what's stabilizing the system in that behavior. (I can't believe I just wrote "a hundred standard deviations". That's crazy. But the standard deviation in yearly gain is something like 50-60 thousand, and the total gain is something like 9 million. Easily a hundred sigma. Does it really not register how strange this is?)
  9. Every smooth function looks linear on short scales, yes. All smooth curves become lines, when you zoom in. That's good to know, but even better is to understand why it is so. It's called the Taylor series. If you've never heard the term, you might Google it; if it rings a faint bell, you might review your freshman calculus. As you narrow the range over which you are looking, the higher order terms in the Taylor series all get smaller faster than the linear term. So if you narrow your view range enough, the linear term will be all that is left. The narrow field of view is the reason for trivial universal linearity. Whenever total change is small, in a smooth function, what small change there is will look linear. In this case, however: Church growth looks linear over at least 25 years. During this time the church increased in size by a factor of more than 250%. This is not just zooming in on a smooth function. It is not taking a narrow field of view. It is not a small total change. Church membership more than doubled by marching steadily up a straight line for a generation. If you don't want to recognize a pattern so clear and simple, why are you even trying to analyze data? What's the point of the exercise, for you? If this strikingly linear growth doesn't count for you as finding something, what kinds of patterns are you hoping to find?
  10. Linear growth is a simple fact about what happened during that thirty-year time frame. Perhaps you can explain what you mean by "a thing".
  11. On the other hand, postulating that any given age cohort has a stable population just pushes the question back. What is keeping that number stable? Since people age linearly, and there's a boundary condition of zero people at zero age, there needs to be a steady linear gain from somewhere in order to keep a population steady within any fixed age range.
  12. For the period about which I've been talking, roughly 1985-2015, I agree that the dotted arch fits the data about as well as a flat line does. I'd put that the other way around, though: the dotted arch is no better fit than a flat line. One can always fit data to more complicated curves, but this is only really meaningful when a modest increase in complexity of fitting provides a significant improvement in fit. I wouldn't say that's the case here. For this thirty-year period, a flat line fits as well as anything does, short of complicated functions that try to represent the 1989-90 peaks. To me that's what linear growth means in the noisy real world, where no long-term trends are free of short-term blips. Another point is that one really has to look at both the annual changes and the cumulative absolute numbers. Large base membership of several millions makes annual variation in growth hard to see on the cumulative chart, but if you only look at annual change, you lose track of whether the change is adding to a base of millions, or of hundreds of millions. If a population of hundreds of millions were growing by 300,000 per year, then you couldn't say whether the growth was linear or exponential until you looked over centuries. When you know that the total number changed from six million to sixteen million over a time frame, however, then you know that exponential growth and linear growth would have to look totally different over that time frame. To me the main point is that thinking in terms of percentage growth can blind one to what is really going on, because it artificially turns a simple situation (linear growth) into something more complicated (logarithmically falling percentage growth rate). This can get you looking in the wrong directions for explanations. One looks for things that have been changing over time to slow the growth rate down. If you focus on linear growth, on the other hand, then that says that growth is actually being determined by something that has NOT been changing. So one looks for factors that have remained constant, which might be playing a stronger role in church growth than one thought. For example there is Analytics's suggestion that the sizes of younger age cohorts have been staying constant for quite a long time now, with population only growing in older ages. If the US population in the 20's age range has been staying constant, and if the church membership within that age range has also been staying constant, then this suggests that church growth has stayed flat simply because church growth is all about young people. If that were the real explanation, then one might decide to feel fine about flat growth, instead of being disturbed by falling growth, and stop looking for ways to boost missionary effectiveness. Or, if one did want to boost growth, one might look for ways to attract more older people, instead of trying to squeeze more young converts out of the non-growing pool. I don't know whether that explanation about growth being all about youth will really hold up under closer examination, but it's an example of the different kind of explanation one finds when one thinks in terms of linear growth instead of percentages.
  13. Ions generate and respond to electric fields. That's not an ability that any organism had to develop. It's basic physics. Nerve cells have evolved some complicated patterns of ion motion—and as a physicist that's about all I know about nerve cells. The point is that for nerve cells to respond to each other's electric fields across an air gap is not really a different ability from what nerve cells do when they're connected in the brain. It just shows that the cells can respond to weaker fields than one might have expected. Perhaps it even has big implications for how the brain works—perhaps cells in the brain influence other cells around themselves to a further range than we've suspected. If this finding is true, it's interesting, but it's not any kind of new wrinkle for evolution.
  14. Nerve cells didn't evolve the ability to communicate when physically isolated. They evolved the ability to affect each other with electric fields. Affecting each other with electric fields is what nerve cells naturally do when they're connected in the brain. All that stuff about ion flows and action potentials is happening through electric fields. Neural activity is all about electric charges. Electric charges make electric fields. The electrical interactions among nerve cells are just normally at short range. Electric fields naturally extend over distance, however. You can rub a balloon on some fuzzy stuff, to charge it up, and then see how the charged balloon can attract hair or bits of fluff from a distance. If you separate two nerve cells by an air gap, then the electric fields they feel from each other will be weaker than they would feel if they were directly connected. That's why it's surprising if there's still an effect. Lots of things in biology are over-engineered, though, being stronger than they would need to be in order to work as they usually do. The hallmark of evolution is clumsiness and inefficiency. Nothing has to be perfect. It just has to be competitive with other organisms that have also evolved inefficiently.
  15. I'd be surprised if conversion rates were especially high among seniors, but I guess that's just because I think of religious conversion as a thing for young people. I imagine that most sixty-year-olds have already settled on a religious outlook. I'm still in my 50s myself, so I don't really know that—but I'm not so far off that I have no idea. I guess I also figure that by age sixty a person will have lived through a lot of news cycles about religious frauds, and this makes it easier to dismiss Mormon claims about Joseph Smith. So if the church's 60+ cohort is growing, I'm guessing that it's mostly growing by existing church members aging into it. If my naive expectation is true, however, and only young people convert, then the stability of younger cohorts in the general population would help explain linear growth in the church. The total US population may have grown a lot in the past thirty years, but perhaps the critical demographic slice of impressionable young people has not grown in this time. (It's hard to see from that colored chart, because its yellow cohort stops at 19 and its blue cohort extends to 39, while I would guess that the critical cohort for conversion would be the 20s.) If conversions only come from this critical cohort, then that would help explain why conversions have held a steady pace.
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