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Ryan Dahle

Why Not Engage the Evidence for Historicity?

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The topic I would like to address is sort of complex, so this opening post might get a bit lengthy in order to lay the groundwork for discussion. Sorry about that.

I think a lot about apologetic research. In my view it plays an interesting and important role in balancing the critical arguments against the LDS church, especially in the 21st century. It also offers a way to test the truth of the gospel in both our hearts and our minds. Many lines of apologetic research not only push back against the complete rejection of the LDS truth claims, but they also push quite strongly against the assumptions of Cultural/New Order Mormons.

My position is that LDS apologetic arguments, when viewed collectively, provide a very strong case for LDS truth claims—especially for the historicity and divine authenticity of our scriptural canon, which in turn is logically THE most important piece of evidence in virtually all other debates about the morality of the church’s policies and practices. If the restoration texts are authentically ancient, then we should be logically far more inclined to give Joseph Smith, and his successors, the benefit of the doubt in all of the arguments about the morality of their revelations and behavior. And we would be more inclined to have faith that God can and will give us personal, individualized, satisfying, discernible answers to our concerns, though the power of the Holy Ghost.

Yet, in my experience, many members of the LDS church who end up leaving or adopting a cultural Mormon mindset, do so without every seriously engaging the evidence for the historicity of our Restoration texts. They dabble in 19th century historical and moral issues, find numerous things that don’t jive with their expectations or moral sensibilities, often become angry, frustrated, hurt, and betrayed, and then quickly adopt blanket assumptions that essentially dismiss the value of LDS apologetic arguments related to scriptural historicity. I know not everyone fits this category, but many who leave the church do.

However, it seems to me that many of the controversial moral issues, which inherently rely on limited data from 19th historical documents, are far less probative than the question of scriptural historicity. This is because the question of whether or not a lengthy historical text like the Book of Mormon or the contents of the Book of Moses is truly ancient, or whether or not Joseph or one of his contemporaries was able to fabricate this content, is simply far more scientifically testable than whether or not Joseph’s sealings to teenagers were “eternity only” sealings, or whether or not polygamy can be morally justified, or whether or not the priesthood ban was a mistake. Much more evidence can be brought to bear on a single crucial question—historicity—and the evidence naturally comes from a wide variety of historical and scientific disciplines.

So, from my perspective, those who agonize over the moral issues and lose their faith over them are typically spending most of their time researching the least probative categories of evidence. They’ve got things backwards. If you want to intellectually test the validity of LDS truth claims, first test them at their foundation, and in the ways that are most scientifically verifiable. Then, with that context in place, address the complexity of the perplexing moral issues.

Unfortunately, even those who do engage with the evidence for historicity often do so in a very limited way. They dabble here and there, without ever seriously analyzing the depth and breadth of the evidence. Yet without an accurate, comprehensive view of the evidence, it is easy to naively shrug one’s shoulders in a sigh of neutrality and lament that there are good arguments on both sides and that neither of them are superior to the other.

I find this whole situation to be lamentable because it is precisely the area of scriptural historicity where the evidence for LDS truth claims are the strongest, the most conclusive, and clearly superior to opposing evidences. We have lots of categories of evidence that support historicity, and many of these categories are full of individual and mutually corroborating pieces of evidence. Moreover, LDS scholars and apologists have effectively argued against most criticisms in this area, such concerns with DNA, anachronisms, etc. And, tellingly, there is a drastic imbalance here. LDS scholars have already addressed most of the concerns that critics have brought up, yet there are numerous lines of evidence in favor of the historicity of LDS restoration texts that critics are essentially not willing to engage with, or have attempted to engage with and have come up way short. In my appraisal, the evidence that is most often ignored is often some of the best.  

Here are just 10 samples of lines of evidence that fit this description well:

1.       the comprehensive argument for Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon

2.       the comprehensive onomastic studies of the Book of Mormon, including lots of good proposals for Hebrew or Egyptian wordplays

3.       the numerous links between extant Abrahamic texts and the Book of Abraham

4.       the extant Enoch material that aligns so well with the Book of Moses

5.       studies on Book of Mormon warfare

6.       olive culture in the Book of Mormon

7.       the system of weights and measures in the Book of Mormon

8.       the cumulative weight of intertextual analysis

9.       King Benjamin’s coronation speech and its ancient Near Eastern analogues

10.   stylometric analysis (and no, the Holmes and Jockers studies do not count as valid counterarguments)

These, and many more lines of evidence, are only sparsely addressed by critics, if at all. Seriously, go try to find a critical rebuttal against Matthew Bowen’s numerous evidences for Hebrew and Egyptian wordplay. Try to find a substantive, critical argument that rebuts the comprehensive case for genuine Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon, or that explains how Joseph Smith could have derived ALL of these Hebrew features from his 19th century environment and then dictated them seamlessly into a complex fast-paced translation. Try to find a valid explanation for why so much material from 2nd and 3rd Enoch, and especially the Book of Giants shows up in the Book of Moses. Try to find a rational explanation for why so much Abrahamic lore—most of it not accessible to Joseph Smith—shows up in the Book of Abraham. I could go on and on. There are literally hundreds of articles and books that highlight interesting and important pieces of evidence related to the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

Why is it that so many people, on their way out of the LDS church, don’t seriously engage with this massive body of evidence that could potentially help revitalize their testimonies?  I have personally invited quite a few individuals struggling with faith to take this information seriously and to engage it thoroughly, and in essentially all cases the response has been to essentially ignore the offer.

I guess I want to hear from some of you—who have chosen to not seriously engage these evidences—explain why you have made this choice, especially in light of my analysis above. And I am being sincere here. I don’t want to rehash each of these issues and prove I am right. I just genuinely want to understand your rationale.

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(Bold Mine) I'm your girl, I'm the perfect person that you're asking for. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeology_and_the_Book_of_Mormon

Things like the information in the wiki article and elsewhere (mormonthink), make it difficult to believe you're right. 

Also, the biggest thing that I can't wrap my head around is Joseph being commanded to live polygamy by an angel with a drawn sword (which is in the Bible a few times...1st Chronicles 21:16). Besides that, Joseph went to the Lord first and asked if he should restore it.  

And I believe Joseph picked up things around him and implemented them in a new religion. And also, in my readings or hearing it somewhere, I heard that Joseph didn't want to start a religion at first, but Sidney Rigdon wanted him to go that direction. Therefore it doesn't sound like God had a hand in it. 

There are too many to list, and I have to go but if you can stand it ;) , I will come back and put down a few more thoughts.

 

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I just don't think any of those are sufficient evidence for what is an admittedly pretty radical claim. Now clearly I'm a believer, but it's because of experiences outside of these sorts of textual issues. I think these are among some of the stronger elements but they aren't sufficiently strong to really have much of an impact without a pre-existing testimony.

I'll confess that some of your 10 I don't find terribly persuasive. Particularly stylometic analysis. I'm a big skeptic on that. For some of the other elements (1, 3, 4, 6) I think there are good alternative explanations if Joseph wasn't the author but the text is still fraudulent. A lot of that information was available even if it is hard to believe a poor kid like Joseph had access to it.

That said, I think all these element in total offer a compelling reason to think there might be something to Mormon claims. As I said at a certain point it's hard to believe Joseph was collecting all these esoteric bits of knowledge. The level of genius at a certain point becomes itself a bit hard to buy. However to the non-believing skeptic, there are at least an equal number of things hard for the skeptic to swallow. Things like metal in America with the explanations of apologists being unsatisfying. So I think we ought recognize that we're having to compare at best two sets of evidences. For the person who has lost their testimony and demands public evidence for extraordinary claims though, things like Hebraisms are pretty weak. Were there something like the desired "Welcome to Zarahemla" sign I suspect many would change how they look at the Book of Mormon. However there are pretty good reasons to think such evidences won't be forthcoming. 

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1 minute ago, Tacenda said:

(Bold Mine) I'm your girl, I'm the perfect person that you're asking for. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeology_and_the_Book_of_Mormon

Things like the information in the wiki article and elsewhere (mormonthink), make it difficult to believe you're right. 

Also, the biggest thing that I can't wrap my head around is Joseph being commanded to live polygamy by an angel with a drawn sword (which is in the Bible a few times...1st Chronicles 21:16). Besides that, Joseph went to the Lord first and asked if he should restore it.  

And I believe Joseph picked up things around him and implemented them in a new religion. And also, in my readings or hearing it somewhere, I heard that Joseph didn't want to start a religion at first, but Sidney Rigdon wanted him to go that direction. Therefore it doesn't sound like God had a hand in it. 

There are too many to list, and I have to go but if you can stand it ;) , I will come back and put down a few more thoughts.

 

I have read an awful lot of Mormon apologia, and I daresay I'm familiar with the evidence listed in the OP. I just don't find it compelling, at least not enough to outweigh what I see as the overwhelming evidence against the historicity of the Book of Mormon and so on. I respect and appreciate folks like Jack Welch, John Sorensen, and Brant Gardner, among others, who have devoted themselves to finding such evidence, but I just don't find such evidence compelling. I guess I see it as being like looking at a Bloom County strip through a magnifying glass. You might find a large number of points of color that correspond to points in Gaugin's "Tahitian Women under the Palms," but when you put down the magnifying glass, you're still looking at Bloom County. I don't mean to dismiss Mormonism as being like Bloom County, but that's the best analogy I can think of that describes how "evidence" is presented to link things that are totally dissimilar. 

Frankly, every time I delve into these "how could Joseph have known?" arguments, they end up being much more tenuous and less impressive than they are presented as being. As I've mentioned before, I made a plain text copy of the text of the Book of Abraham and sent it to the leading American scholar of Abrahamic epigrapha. I didn't tell him its provenance, only that it was purported to be the writings of Abraham. A couple of days later, he responded, saying it was clearly "late Protestant," likely American, in origin. My guess is that the "links between extant Abrahamic texts and the Book of Abraham" weren't particularly impressive to him. Similarly, I spent a couple of hours once looking at John Clark's article on "points of convergence" between Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon. Pretty much all of it fell apart under scrutiny. 

Maybe if I were younger and more passionate about all this, I might spend the time to engage all these evidences. But I just don't care that much anymore, and even if they were all as impressive as alleged, the best these evidences do is support a remote plausibility to the Mormon story. 

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1 hour ago, Ryan Dahle said:

So, from my perspective, those who agonize over the moral issues and lose their faith over them are typically spending most of their time researching the least probative categories of evidence. They’ve got things backwards. If you want to intellectually test the validity of LDS truth claims, first test them at their foundation, and in the ways that are most scientifically verifiable. Then, with that context in place, address the complexity of the perplexing moral issues.

Just a couple comments.  I probably fit your loose stereotypes at least to some degree.  I started questioning my conservative orthodox Mormonism five years ago, and I'm probably best described as a non-theist, humanist, Christian, Mormon (or something along those lines) at this point.  I do read a lot of books on Mormonism and religion, and I continue to engage and find value.  

One thing you're missing with the above content is how the moral conundrums of religion and of Mormonism in particular make the idea of a punitive, arbitrary God that doesn't address actual suffering in the world, is a real moral quandary.  I think many people find their way out of religion when they begin to grapple with how unsatisfactory the apologetic arguments are to justify this kind of God.  And for Mormonism, the history around polygamy is a major problem when some people consider the implications of a God that would command this practice. 

1 hour ago, Ryan Dahle said:

Unfortunately, even those who do engage with the evidence for historicity often do so in a very limited way. They dabble here and there, without ever seriously analyzing the depth and breadth of the evidence. Yet without an accurate, comprehensive view of the evidence, it is easy to naively shrug one’s shoulders in a sigh of neutrality and lament that there are good arguments on both sides and that neither of them are superior to the other.

This is too simplistic, and not true for myself or for many other people I know.  Conversely I would say that this criticism applies to most members who are converts to the church.  They don't do a deep dive on actual history, they just accept the correlated narrative uncritically.  This is how Mormons are taught to engage with religion, so its really no surprise that some who leave find a few problems with the religion and don't dive really deeply into the complexities of history.  I think those willing to take a deep dive into history are the exception rather than rule.  

1 hour ago, Ryan Dahle said:

I find this whole situation to be lamentable because it is precisely the area of scriptural historicity where the evidence for LDS truth claims are the strongest, the most conclusive, and clearly superior to opposing evidences. 

I find it lamentable as well, because I think we can learn a lot from the past about human behavior.  I've learned so much and continue to learn as I study history.  But I'm not learning the same things you're learning however.  LDS truth claims are subjective tribal preferences, not objective universal facts.  

1 hour ago, Ryan Dahle said:

I guess I want to hear from some of you—who have chosen to not seriously engage these evidences—explain why you have made this choice, especially in light of my analysis above. And I am being sincere here. I don’t want to rehash each of these issues and prove I am right. I just genuinely want to understand your rationale.

I see each of the above examples as demonstrating a talent that humans have for finding patterns in random data.  Since no actual evidence that stands up to scholarly scrutiny has been found to substantiate ancient origins for the BoM or other Mormon scriptures (quite to the contrary, all the compelling evidence shows the opposite), apologists have come up with some creative parallels and associations that traverse a road of trying to prove plausible connections with the ancient world, where no concrete antecedents exist.   I see this as very similar to those finding evidence for ancient aliens or big foot.  They too have evidence (sometimes quite complicated explanations), unfortunately none of that evidence proves anything in an objective sense, or stands up to any outside scrutiny, but they are able to attract a loyal following of people that believe this evidence is legitimate. 

The only real problem I have with any of these evidences is that you're trying to overstate their significance.  If you believe they support your faith in Mormonisms' truth, thats great for you.  I think you ought to also acknowledge that the evidence doesn't function in the same way for others, and its not necessarily because those others didn't engage with the material at a sufficient depth.  The blind spot I see you having on this topic is you've failed to consider that those apologetic arguments might be so weak that they don't even register on the radar of other scholars who engage in Mormon studies.  

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6 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

I'll confess that some of your 10 I don't find terribly persuasive. Particularly stylometic analysis. I'm a big skeptic on that. For some of the other elements (1, 3, 4, 6) I think there are good alternative explanations if Joseph wasn't the author but the text is still fraudulent. A lot of that information was available even if it is hard to believe a poor kid like Joseph had access to it.

Obviously, I have dumped a lot of topics into the mix and not everyone will agree on all of them, and debating the merits of each of them is hardly practical in this broad of a discussion. But I do have a few responses.

First of all, I find modern stylometric methods, when approached correctly, to be quite valid. I have spent quite a bit of time working directly with Paul Fields and asking him questions about the research. And I have spent time very carefully analyzing virtually everything that has been written on it in the LDS community and also looking at how it is approached in the academic community outside of our faith. There are lots of different types of stylometric analysis and the methods that were used in the LDS studies have essentially been based on the most widely accepted stylometric principles. Mover, the results of multiple LDS studies, each using slightly different methods, have all corroborated one another's basic conclusions. While this evidence alone isn't overwhelmingly conclusive, it is still quite notable, especially because critics have tried and  failed to provide valid contradictory stylometric results (i.e. Jockers and Holmes studies). Styometry is not a perfect science, but it does have controls and it is getting better and better. And Fields, et al. have produced some interesting new research to add to the mix. 

As for 1, 3, and 4, I am aware of many of the attempts at rebuttal that have already been given. I have carefully read Crillo's work on Enoch. I know about Wunderli's analysis of Alma 36, as well as comparisons with Green Eggs and Ham, computer manuals, and so forth.  I also have looked at Welch's work on what was most likely available in Joseph Smith's day concerning chiasmus and poetic structures in general. There are always possibilities of derivation on some level. But in every case I have looked at, the evidence convincingly goes beyond any plausible argument for derivation.

For instance, even if Joseph had access to 1st Enoch, as Crill's thesis assumes (unconvincingly, I might add), that really doesn't do anything to explain the greater correspondences in 2nd and 3rd Enoch and especially with the Book of Giants. As far as I know, Bradshaw and Larsen's work on this has basically gone uncontested. There is no remotely satisfying naturalistic explanation. As for the Abraham material, some stuff was available in Joseph's day, but quite a bit wasn't. So same thing.

Similarly, even if Joseph knew about chiasmus or literary rounds, there is still a LOT more Hebrew content in the Book of Mormon that needs to be accounted for. Some of it isn't especially significant, such as simple alternate parallels. But quite a few things are much harder to explain, especially when they all show up pervasively in the same quickly-dictated document. Attempts to compare the Hebrew content in the Book of Mormon with other 19th century texts, like Chris and Duane Johnson's analysis of the Late War, have been amateurish and thoroughly unconvincing.   

As for anachronisms like metal (and the whole list), they really do very little to combat positive evidences. In situations where sample sizes are limited, the value of positive evidence, at least when it is unexpectedly predicted by the text, trumps negative evidence. And we have lots of positive evidence, much of it very unexpected and unknowable in Joseph's day, from Mesoamerican studies. Moreover, we have seen over and over again how what seemed to be an anachronism turned out not to be. We know a lot more about what texts were likely available to Joseph Smith in 19th century New York than we do about material culture in ancient Mesoamerica. So the value of the absence of evidence can't be equated in these situations. 

I'm not saying critics haven't attempted to push back against this research. What I am saying is that when I carefully look at the back and forth, I find major categories of evidence where the critics are losing the argument, and they are losing it handily. However, this conclusion can't be reached by idle research. It takes comprehensive study in lots of areas. But I'm very confident it is an accurate view of the situation as a whole.  

 

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12 minutes ago, cinepro said:

 

The Improbability Principle

This will help you understand why arguments that rest on the question "What are the odds...?" aren't convincing to many people, especially those involving "bullseyes" and parallels.

 

If the improbability principle factors into this, then lawyers should start using it in the courtroom. ;)

 

Personally, for me, the evidences for the Restoration of the Gospel indeed do factor in. But only after a spiritual testimony. The explanations for some of those that critics bring up, to me, are exceptionally weak. I still think Bountiful being "nearly eastward" from Nahom to be a pretty good "bullseye". Still, I fully recognize that evidences simply don't work for critics and academic folks. No problem. I think the Lord designed it that way. Evidences help believers - not non-believers. 

Sorry, this isn't very helpful or enlightening. But, it works for me. :)

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12 minutes ago, Ryan Dahle said:

As for anachronisms like metal (and the whole list), they really do very little to combat positive evidences.

This is a good illustration of what cinepro was talking about in terms of the weight given to different kinds of evidence. To you, tenuous links to, say the Books of Enoch, outweigh obvious anachronisms, and yet you are somehow surprised that other people don't find such tenuous evidence particularly compelling. Pretty much we are going to see what we want to see, unless we take great pains to be skeptical and look at the other side. For example, you take at face value the assertion that the text of the Book of Mormon was produced in a short period of time with no source material simply because that's what the producers say happened. My advice is to step back and stop looking for evidence in favor of the book. Instead, look at the totality of evidence and see where it leads you. You may find your belief strengthened, but at least you'll have made some effort at skepticism and balance.

Edited by jkwilliams
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3 minutes ago, Fly Fisherman said:

If the improbability principle factors into this, then lawyers should start using it in the courtroom. ;)

 

Personally, for me, the evidences for the Restoration of the Gospel indeed do factor in. But only after a spiritual testimony. The explanations for some of those that critics bring up, to me, are exceptionally weak. I still think Bountiful being "nearly eastward" from Nahom to be a pretty good "bullseye". Still, I fully recognize that evidences simply don't work for critics and academic folks. No problem. I think the Lord designed it that way. Evidences help believers - not non-believers. 

Sorry, this isn't very helpful or enlightening. But, it works for me. :)

That's how I always saw it. This notion that there is all this overwhelming positive evidence that us wretched unbelievers can't deny is silly. In the end, it's a matter of personal faith.

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1 hour ago, clarkgoble said:

I just don't think any of those are sufficient evidence for what is an admittedly pretty radical claim. Now clearly I'm a believer, but it's because of experiences outside of these sorts of textual issues.  I think these are among some of the stronger elements but they aren't sufficiently strong to really have much of an impact without a pre-existing testimony.

Same here.  But I don't think the OP is suggesting that we base our faith on textual evidences instead of spiritual experiences/promptings.  

Elder Maxwell, quoting a man named Austin Farrer, said:
 
There is a reason for developing not only commitment but also capacity to spread and to defend the faith. George Macdonald warned that "it is often incapacity for defending the faith they love which turns men into persecutors." Even those, said Lehi, who have "tasted of the fruit" (the love of God) can yet fall away into forbidden paths and be lost. Why? Lehi says that some believers become "ashamed because of those" who scoff at them. Apparently the inability to defend the faith while under peer pressure may not only cost the soul of the uncertain onlooker, but the hesitant, inarticulate believer as well. No wonder Peter was desirous that believers "be ready always" to give answers to those who ask us reasons for our faith and hope. Austin Farrer counseled, "Though argument does not create conviction, . . . the lack of it destroys belief . . . what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create unbelief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish." (That My Family Should Partake, p.27-28)
 
Elder Maxwell also said this:
 
Peter urged members of the Church in his generation to ". . . be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and in fear." (I Peter 3:15.) There are those who need only to hear to believe the message, but for others, the leader or teacher has an obligation to be articulate enough to build and to preserve a climate in which belief is possible....
 
Is man "perchance, a prince in misfortune, whose speech at times betrays his birth?" The gospel helps us to know that men are princes in misfortune, and the good tidings we bear from the celestial castle are so important that we must not fail to develop our abilities to be believable, articulate bearers of that message. (More Excellent Way, p.316)
 
Elder Holland in the May 2014 Ensign said:
 
With admiration and encouragement for everyone who will need to remain steadfast in these latter days, I say to all and especially the youth of the Church that if you haven’t already, you will one day find yourself called upon to defend your faith or perhaps even endure some personal abuse simply because you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Such moments will require both courage and courtesy on your part.... Be strong. Live the gospel faithfully even if others around you don’t live it at all. Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them. ("The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship," Ensign, May 2014)
I think the OP is proposing that "the evidence for historicity" be more substantively addressed than it presently is.
 
1 hour ago, clarkgoble said:

I'll confess that some of your 10 I don't find terribly persuasive. Particularly stylometic analysis. I'm a big skeptic on that. For some of the other elements (1, 3, 4, 6) I think there are good alternative explanations if Joseph wasn't the author but the text is still fraudulent. A lot of that information was available even if it is hard to believe a poor kid like Joseph had access to it.

That said, I think all these element in total offer a compelling reason to think there might be something to Mormon claims. As I said at a certain point it's hard to believe Joseph was collecting all these esoteric bits of knowledge. The level of genius at a certain point becomes itself a bit hard to buy. However to the non-believing skeptic, there are at least an equal number of things hard for the skeptic to swallow. Things like metal in America with the explanations of apologists being unsatisfying. So I think we ought recognize that we're having to compare at best two sets of evidences.

Yep.  We have different opinions as to how to weight and gauge the evidence.  We use presumptions to lend weight to some portions of the evidence which corroborate and strengthen those presumptions, while simultaneously lending less weight to evidences which countervail those presumptions.

1 hour ago, clarkgoble said:

For the person who has lost their testimony and demands public evidence for extraordinary claims though, things like Hebraisms are pretty weak. Were there something like the desired "Welcome to Zarahemla" sign I suspect many would change how they look at the Book of Mormon. However there are pretty good reasons to think such evidences won't be forthcoming. 

Agreed.

Thanks,

-Smac

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22 minutes ago, Fly Fisherman said:

Evidences help believers - not non-believers. 

 

Part of the understanding that Ryan is looking for can be found by taking a step back and asking "If claim XYZ weren't true, what would be different?"  and "If claim XYZ wasn't true, what would be expect from those who still want to believe it is true?"

Certainly, if someone believed a false proposition, we would expect them try and convince people using weak arguments ("trust your feelings", "look at this anecdotal evidence", "believe this fallacious argument") and then once the person believes, then to bolster that belief with "evidences." 

This obviously doesn't mean that such a method indicates a false belief; it could certainly be used for true claims as well.  But for true claims, it doesn't need to be.

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6 minutes ago, cinepro said:

Part of the understanding that Ryan is looking for can be found by taking a step back and asking "If claim XYZ weren't true, what would be different?"  and "If claim XYZ wasn't true, what would be expect from those who still want to believe it is true?"

Certainly, if someone believed a false proposition, we would expect them try and convince people using weak arguments ("trust your feelings", "look at this anecdotal evidence", "believe this fallacious argument") and then once the person believes, then to bolster that belief with "evidences." 

This obviously doesn't mean that such a method indicates a false belief; it could certainly be used for true claims as well.  But for true claims, it doesn't need to be.

A good exercise with the Book of Mormon is to ask yourself, What in the book is evidence of 19th-century production that would be highly unlikely in an ancient record? I would suggest that, for each of these "how could Joseph have known?" bits of evidences, there's at least as much "how could that have been produced by an ancient record keeper?"

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1 hour ago, cinepro said:

The evidences that you provide certainly prove that The Book of Mormon is fascinating.  They show that it is complex.  It is certainly an important book.  For many, it is an inspiring book.  But do they show that it is a true book, describing real events and people?  In some ways yes.  But not in ways that would offset the reasons to believe that it isn't.

I think you are missing my point. I'm not saying that the evidences for the Restoration "prove" it to be true. I'm saying that when it comes to the most scientifically probative category of evidences, the evidences in favor of faith are collectively better than the current competing arguments. There are still lots of other things to consider, but this category of evidence needs to be more carefully looked at by those struggling with faith than it currently is. 

1 hour ago, cinepro said:

First, I would recommend this book:

The Improbability Principle

This will help you understand why arguments that rest on the question "What are the odds...?" aren't convincing to many people, especially those involving "bullseyes" and parallels.

As for probability arguments, I don't think we get anywhere with general discussions about them. It doesn't mean anything until we take a specific academic discipline, look at its advantages and limitations for reaching certain types of conclusions, look at what types of things constitute persuasive evidence in that discipline, and then see how it applies to specific issues related to Restoration texts. Essentially, the persuasiveness of ALL truth claims ultimately rest on probability evaluations, so merely bringing up the potential for fallacious reasoning or the need for correct methods of analysis doesn't seem relevant, when discussed in the abstract. 

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35 minutes ago, Ryan Dahle said:

I'm saying that when it comes to the most scientifically probative category of evidences, the evidences in favor of faith are collectively better than the current competing arguments.

Unless you were being intentionally ironic when you typed out "evidences in favor of faith", I'm not sure we're even speaking the same language.

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4 hours ago, Ryan Dahle said:

I guess I want to hear from some of you—who have chosen to not seriously engage these evidences—explain why you have made this choice, especially in light of my analysis above. And I am being sincere here. I don’t want to rehash each of these issues and prove I am right. I just genuinely want to understand your rationale.

Putting my empathy hat on, I would say that if I left the Church over historicity issues while not having seriously engaged the evidences, it would be because there were other more influential, underlying concerns. Dismay over a historical point would simply have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Putting my empathy hat on, at that point, I simply wouldn’t have cared at that point to engage the historical evidences!

I don't think people leave the Church for its historical soundness any more than they join it for such. But people do find an interest in history and will incorporate it into their belief and unbelief, whichever the case may be.

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1 hour ago, jkwilliams said:

A good exercise with the Book of Mormon is to ask yourself, What in the book is evidence of 19th-century production that would be highly unlikely in an ancient record? I would suggest that, for each of these "how could Joseph have known?" bits of evidences, there's at least as much "how could that have been produced by an ancient record keeper?"

How do you go about doing that? How do you set it up scientifically?  Has it been done, or is this something that also relies on "feeling?"

I understand Ryan's rationale, but after many discussions with people like you that have lost their testimony and with faithful members, I do not believe that there will ever be a meeting of the minds on this. There are some very bright minds on both sides of the fence that disagree on just what the evidence says in aggregate. There are a lot of things that the critics have not answered very well, but they do not feel they have to. There are many things that apologetics have not answered very well, but they say "Just wait, we do not have all of the information yet...."

Even if the "Welcome to Zarahemla" sign were to be found, I doubt it would change many minds. The first suspicion would be (and probably a correct one) that it would be a hoax. The truth claims of the LDS church always have and always will rest upon a confirmation by the spirit.

Glenn

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4 minutes ago, Glenn101 said:

How do you go about doing that? How do you set it up scientifically?  Has it been done, or is this something that also relies on "feeling?"

I understand Ryan's rationale, but after many discussions with people like you that have lost their testimony and with faithful members, I do not believe that there will ever be a meeting of the minds on this. There are some very bright minds on both sides of the fence that disagree on just what the evidence says in aggregate. There are a lot of things that the critics have not answered very well, but they do not feel they have to. There are many things that apologetics have not answered very well, but they say "Just wait, we do not have all of the information yet...."

Even if the "Welcome to Zarahemla" sign were to be found, I doubt it would change many minds. The first suspicion would be (and probably a correct one) that it would be a hoax. The truth claims of the LDS church always have and always will rest upon a confirmation by the spirit.

Glenn

I’m not saying it would be probative to do what I suggested. I’m just saying that one is going to find what one is looking for and ignore anything that counters it. If you want to be balanced, you have to look as hard for 19th century America as you do ancient Hebrew culture. 

It has nothing to do with feelings. 

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2 hours ago, cinepro said:

Unless you were being intentionally ironic when you typed out "evidences in favor of faith", I'm not sure we're even speaking the same language.

I mean evidences which support faith (i.e. believe, trust, confidence--despite the lack of certainty) in the Restoration scriptures.

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3 hours ago, jkwilliams said:

A good exercise with the Book of Mormon is to ask yourself, What in the book is evidence of 19th-century production that would be highly unlikely in an ancient record? I would suggest that, for each of these "how could Joseph have known?" bits of evidences, there's at least as much "how could that have been produced by an ancient record keeper?"

I get it. I've already gone through that. My holistic assessment takes 19th century parallels into consideration. 

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4 hours ago, jkwilliams said:

This is a good illustration of what cinepro was talking about in terms of the weight given to different kinds of evidence. To you, tenuous links to, say the Books of Enoch, outweigh obvious anachronisms, and yet you are somehow surprised that other people don't find such tenuous evidence particularly compelling. Pretty much we are going to see what we want to see, unless we take great pains to be skeptical and look at the other side. For example, you take at face value the assertion that the text of the Book of Mormon was produced in a short period of time with no source material simply because that's what the producers say happened. My advice is to step back and stop looking for evidence in favor of the book. Instead, look at the totality of evidence and see where it leads you. You may find your belief strengthened, but at least you'll have made some effort at skepticism and balance.

I think that bias is an absolute, but there is no guarantee that an individual cannot significantly control or change his or her biases. Nor is it a given that a bias will overrule logical or rational thought. So I disagree that we only "see what we want to see." Sometimes we choose to see things we don't want to see, when we feel the evidence demands it, and for better or worse. 

As far as being fair and balanced with my holistic approach, I think I covered that already. 

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4 hours ago, hope_for_things said:
6 hours ago, Ryan Dahle said:

Unfortunately, even those who do engage with the evidence for historicity often do so in a very limited way. They dabble here and there, without ever seriously analyzing the depth and breadth of the evidence. Yet without an accurate, comprehensive view of the evidence, it is easy to naively shrug one’s shoulders in a sigh of neutrality and lament that there are good arguments on both sides and that neither of them are superior to the other.

This is too simplistic, and not true for myself or for many other people I know. 

Are you saying that you have seriously studied a good portion of the apologetic material related to the historicity of LDS Restoration texts? I suspect if I gave you a comprehensive list of the books and articles that I think are essential reading on the topic that you would have read a very small portion of it. I don't know for sure, I'm just basing this on past conversations and comments you have made about such topics in the past.

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50 minutes ago, Ryan Dahle said:

Are you saying that you have seriously studied a good portion of the apologetic material related to the historicity of LDS Restoration texts? I suspect if I gave you a comprehensive list of the books and articles that I think are essential reading on the topic that you would have read a very small portion of it. I don't know for sure, I'm just basing this on past conversations and comments you have made about such topics in the past.

In many ways, this conversation ends up feeling like trying to describe what water is to a fish.  We understand how firmly you believe in The Book of Mormon.  We know how much sense it makes to you.   Some of us here had a firm testimony of its historicity at one time, even if we don't now.  We know how overwhelming the evidence seems to you.

We all admit that there has been a lot written on Book of Mormon studies over the decades, and it's awesome you've read so much.  I admit that while I've read a lot, I've lost interest in Book of Mormon studies and usually spend my time on 19th century Church history if I'm going to read anything LDS related.

Book of Mormon studies actually really reminds me of other "studies" that focus on conspiracy theories and supernatural phenomenon.  Those who study UFOs, or Bigfoot, or the truth behind 9/11, also have voluminous research and evidences that are undeniable to the believers.  They publish in journals of their own making, and hold seminars and symposiums, but, like The Book of Mormon scholars, their research is totally ignored by the evidence-based fields of research.  There's a reason for that.  They would all tell you it's because of a conspiracy, or the close-mindedness of the mainstream. 

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