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Ryan Dahle

Why Not Engage the Evidence for Historicity?

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7 hours ago, clarkgoble said:

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. 

Okay, let's say the sign was discovered.  It's verifiably ancient, and we all agree it's not a fraud or contemporary creation.

What would you think if that sign was discovered by Rodney Meldrum?   If he discovered that sign in Missouri, would you firmly believe that that was where ancient Zarahemla was, and that the Mesoamerican theories must therefore be wrong?  Do you think Sorenson would acquiesce and admit he was mistaken and withdraw all his books and articles arguing as much?   Would all the parallels and other evidences to ancient Mesoamerica be discarded and chalked up to something else?

No, I suspect they would be just as skeptical of it as everyone else is of their evidences.  Except for the Meldrumites, of course.

Edited by cinepro

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3 hours ago, jkwilliams said:

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. 

Why??? Why not look at 16th century parallels. Jarman has posited a 16th century man as the real author of the Book of Mormon and has posted some fascinating parallels. You must have missed his threads on the subject.

Glenn

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7 minutes ago, cinepro said:

Okay, let's say the sign was discovered.  It's verifiably ancient, and we all agree it's not a fraud or contemporary creation.

What would you think if that sign was discovered by Rodney Meldrum?   If he discovered that sign in Missouri, would you firmly believe that that was where ancient Zarahemla was, and that the Mesoamerican theories must therefore be wrong? 

Nah, somebody moved it. 😎

Glenn

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9 hours ago, Ryan Dahle said:

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.

 

I hold a very different opinion.  It is my experience that seriously engaging the evidence for the historicity of our Restoration texts will lead a person to conclude that the foundational stories of the restoration are not factual. 

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8 hours 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.

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. 

While Ryan may be a bit too easily impressed with such a list of realia, it is also true that hardcore evangelical scholars agree with him that such LDS apologetic arguments are substantial, and have not been effectively countered by anti-Mormons.  For example, Paul Owen & Carl Mosser, “Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?" Trinity Journal, 19/2 new series (Fall 1998):179-205, online at https://www.cometozarahemla.org/others/mosser-owen.html .  Many Mormons are simply unaware of the strength of their religion, either because they don't have much experience with real scholarship, or because they just don't like the Mormon Church.  There are quite a few non-Mormon scholars who have taken a close look at Mormonism, and have been very impressed with the valid arguments made by it.

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1 hour ago, Robert F. Smith said:

While Ryan may be a bit too easily impressed with such a list of realia, it is also true that hardcore evangelical scholars agree with him that such LDS apologetic arguments are substantial, and have not been effectively countered by anti-Mormons.  For example, Paul Owen & Carl Mosser, “Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?" Trinity Journal, 19/2 new series (Fall 1998):179-205, online at https://www.cometozarahemla.org/others/mosser-owen.html .  Many Mormons are simply unaware of the strength of their religion, either because they don't have much experience with real scholarship, or because they just don't like the Mormon Church.  There are quite a few non-Mormon scholars who have taken a close look at Mormonism, and have been very impressed with the valid arguments made by it.

To a non-believer, that's like saying that we should pay attention to the evidence that UFOs from Venus have been visiting the Earth because their evidence is very substantial to people who believe UFOs from Pluto have been visiting the Earth.

 

Quote

There are quite a few non-Mormon scholars who have taken a close look at Mormonism, and have been very impressed with the valid arguments made by it.

The measure of an argument isn't its eloquence, or weight, or even its validity.  It's the ability to convince someone.  If those quite-a-few scholars still don't believe the LDS Church's claims are true, then I appreciate their politeness and willingness to admit they may have underestimated the arguments for Mormonism, but the fact that they haven't switched sides still shows how those arguments look to a non-believer.

It would be like finding a Mesoamerican-school apologist who is impressed by Meldrum's arguments and scholarship, but still thinks the BoM took place south of Mexico. 

Edited by cinepro
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I think you go way too far. At best the scholarly approach can make the LDS faith's truthfulness plausible but I have a hard time seeing how the evidence could be conclusive or even probable. I have met people who disagree or even found their faith this way but they are rare.

A faith built exclusively or even mostly on scholarly conclusions and correlations seems to me to be building your house on the sand. It is a fun hobby for many saints but most will never dig into it. If it were a key element in building faith unto salvation we are doing the gospel VERY wrong.

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1 hour ago, Robert F. Smith said:

While Ryan may be a bit too easily impressed with such a list of realia, it is also true that hardcore evangelical scholars agree with him that such LDS apologetic arguments are substantial, and have not been effectively countered by anti-Mormons.

I wouldn't say that I was impressed by the list. I'm not just copying and pasting some compendium of arguments from some other source. I have spent countless hours trying to read everything I could find on many of these topics (both pro and con), including your own notable contributions. (A younger buck like me typically has to work very hard to catch up to the old FARMS vanguard if we want to say anything halfway responsible on these topics.)

Look, guys and gals, all I am saying is that

1. Testing the historicity of LDS Restoration texts is the most probative avenue for a  scientifically grounded assessment of LDS truth claims. 

2. Apologetic evidences in this specific field of study are collectively better than the critics' counterarguments or counter-evidences in the same general field.

3. Since the apologetic evidence is very good, very plentiful, and better than its competing arguments, it is worth more investigation than it is usually given. 

I'm not saying that anyone who does this research will save their testimony. I'm not saying that the evidence is compelling "proof." I'm not saying that this evidence is more important than a spiritual witness. I'm not saying that this evidence is the only evidence that matters. I'm not saying that this evidence will surely compensate for the many other moral, social, institutional, or other concerns that people may have with the church's history, doctrines, policies, or practices.

Others, like sunstoned, may feel that the evidence isn't in favor of LDS truth claims on this issue. That's fine. I have no idea what his experience was investigating them, but I doubt it was similar to mine. In any case, the point is that intelligent LDS scholars feel these evidences are legitimate, and yet many who lose their testimonies (often, in part, because of historicity issues) end up not really being that interested in looking at them.

Instead, they simply believe the critics' caricature of apologetic research, and all of the silly reasons for rejecting it--such as cinepro's false analogy with UFO's, Bigfoot, or whatever. The fact is that the reason overtly apologetic material doesn't get published in mainstream academic presses is because religious-based apologetics is, generally speaking, outside the purview of secular educational institutions.

How many of the critics' overtly antagonistic arguments get published in academic presses? Same general problem. It's not a matter of intellect or qualifications; it's a matter of content. The fact that a number of LDS scholars do indeed publish material in mainstream presses confirms this. The irony of resorting to cinepro's position is that, when looked at collectively, I'm quite sure there are more apologetically informed LDS scholars with legitimate and relevant degrees and academic experience than the critics can muster. 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Ryan Dahle
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4 hours ago, Ryan Dahle said:

I suspect there are many informed scholars who would agree with it. It's not about it being compelling proof. It just has to better than the opposing evidence. In any case, I think its better, and I have spent several years now gathering evidences and comparing them in a holistic way. I have now gone through every single issue of Dialogue, JBMS, RSC, BYU Studies, Interpreter, and other journals. I have also either read or surveyed nearly every single online book that these organizations have produced. And I have read through numerous other publications as well. In this process I have systematically identified and categorized well over 1500 articles books, and I am in the process of combing through these publication and identifying every single substantive piece of evidence in them, and then trying to rate their value. I have also done the best I can to find counter evidence from the critics. However, I admit that I have not, as of yet, been as thorough in this process. Some day I hope to be able to get to it thoroughly.

In any case, I think that I am probably far more qualified than most to give an assessment of the overall value of the evidence. I'm not trying to be boastful. I'm just trying to explain where my ideas are coming from. 

There are people who have read much more than you have who disagree with your assessment. The bottom line is that you weigh some kinds of evidence more heavily than others, with predictable results. Your statement that you are more qualified than most suggests lack of self-awareness. 

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26 minutes ago, cinepro said:

The measure of an argument isn't its eloquence, or weight, or even its validity.  It's the ability to convince someone.  If those quite-a-few scholars still don't believe the LDS Church's claims are true, then I appreciate their politeness and willingness to admit they may have underestimated the arguments for Mormonism, but the fact that they haven't switched sides still shows how those arguments look to a non-believer.

It's hard to be convinced by an argument that one refuses to sufficiently research. I suspect you haven't really done the research, and so you don't really understand the argument in the first place. Therefore, whether or not you, or anyone else who hasn't performed the adequate research, are convinced by it is a moot point. 

And no, the measure of an argument isn't its ability to convince someone; that would be the measure of rhetoric. The measure of an argument is in its logical soundness. How an audience, no matter how large or popular, treats this type of argument says more about them than it does about the argument. I think you are making an appeal to popularity, my friend, and that is a patented logical fallacy. 

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11 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.

Most of those you are asking have engaged these evidences, and came to a different conclusion. Many try to share those conclusions here, but are usually met with: no...wrong answer, keep engaging, here's another book.

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39 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

There are people who have read much more than you have who disagree with your assessment. The bottom line is that you weigh some kinds of evidence more heavily than others, with predictable results. Your statement that you are more qualified than most suggests lack of self-awareness. 

I didn't say I know more than everyone or have read more than everyone. I said I am more qualified than most. Even many LDS scholars who regularly engage in apologetic arguments are often too focused on their specialized field to read more broadly in the LDS apologetic literature. 

Do you really think that my approach isn't unusual? Do you think that most LDS members who are confronted with anti-Mormon arguments approach the evidence in the way that I have? Do you think that most critics of the church have read what I have read? 

I think I have a pretty good handle on how comparatively informed I am on these topics. 

Edited by Ryan Dahle

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1 hour ago, jkwilliams said:

There are people who have read much more than you have who disagree with your assessment. The bottom line is that you weigh some kinds of evidence more heavily than others, with predictable results. Your statement that you are more qualified than most suggests lack of self-awareness. 

Perhaps he does lack self-awareness.  On the other hand, we wouldn't necessarily say the same of Mosser & Owen, the two evangelicals who took the time to examine Mormon apologetics and come up with the same conclusion that Ryan did.  Ryan does seem to be well-informed.  The problem for most is that it takes an inordinate amount of effort and time to master the questions he is addressing, and there may not be a job even for academics with degrees in related fields. History and religion (not to mention theology and philosophy) don't really pay well these days, if one can even find a job in a related field.  Consequently, who can afford the time to do the issues justice?  And so few even bother.

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12 hours ago, clarkgoble said:

I just don't think any of those are sufficient evidence for what is an admittedly pretty radical claim.

Right; and this is a huge factor. If the golden plates were lying in the Smithsonian for scholars to study, for instance, evidence like the stuff listed in the OP might help one to decide whether they were genuine artifacts or fakes. The same evidence seems less impressive when it has to support a story about an angel taking the plates away to heaven.

Quote

[A]t 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.

Major prophets are rarer than geniuses, though. And as a non-Mormon I have to say that I'm not so convinced that great genius was needed. Simple chiasmus, for instance, is so common in the Bible that one is likely to produce it in the course of simply trying to sound Biblical, even if one is totally unaware of chiasmus as a rhetorical device. Supposedly more elaborate examples of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon are really only there if you look at them in just the right way. They're not nearly as impressive as they are sometimes made out to be.

Quote

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.

Exactly so. And a lot of the counter-evidences do have a striking quality, even if they're not actually as slam-dunk as skeptics make them out to be. For example, the famous map of New England place names that sound like Book of Mormon place names has some problems when you dig into it, but it's so striking when you first see it that even after you've read the rebuttals you're apt to retain a suspicion that maybe Smith did lean on his own local geography as a source of names. For another example, "No horses!" is only two words, but they're a tough act to follow if what you've got is an explanation about free translation that needs a lot of set-up.

My impression is that when people complain about other people not "engaging" with their evidence and arguments, it's because their arguments are all long, because their evidence needs a lot of argumentative framing. The other people who are refusing to engage with those long arguments have a point, though.

Even the most absurd conclusion can be defended with a long enough argument. So long arguments are inherently less convincing than short ones, because everyone recognizes intuitively that if you had a really good case you could have made it succinctly.

Edited by Physics Guy

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1 minute ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Perhaps he does lack self-awareness.  On the other hand, we wouldn't necessarily say the same of Mosser & Owen, the two evangelicals who took the time to examine Mormon apologetics and come up with the same conclusion that Ryan did.  

Didn't Owen come to the conclusion that the Book of Mormon "could betaken as a genuinely restored ancient text with a fictional narrative that originated in the Old World"

As far as I can tell no Mormon scholar has engaged his research. Why?

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2 hours ago, cinepro said:

To a non-believer, that's like saying that we should pay attention to the evidence that UFOs from Venus have been visiting the Earth because their evidence is very substantial to people who believe UFOs from Pluto have been visiting the Earth.

I guess if you equate standard scholarship on climate change with UFOs and aliens building the pyramids, then any assertion may seem false right out of the gate.  Seems just a bit extreme, cinepro.  Shouldn't there be a place for standard scholarship?  And shouldn't we at least give some credence to the willingness of our scholarly opponents to praise some of what we do -- a grudging but honest recognition of solid and effective research?

2 hours ago, cinepro said:

The measure of an argument isn't its eloquence, or weight, or even its validity.  It's the ability to convince someone.  If those quite-a-few scholars still don't believe the LDS Church's claims are true, then I appreciate their politeness and willingness to admit they may have underestimated the arguments for Mormonism, but the fact that they haven't switched sides still shows how those arguments look to a non-believer.

I give a lot of weight to good scholarship, whether from evangelicals, Roman Catholics, or atheists.  Hugh Nibley used to mine their claims for "gentile respectability" for Mormon claims (where they agreed with us), and he was right to do so.  After all, Mormons are typically held in automatic contempt regardless of how well based their arguments are.  We have trouble even getting a fair shake.

I have been very gratified to meet Jewish scholars who have deep respect for Mormonism, but who do not wish to become Mormons.  Likewise, there are plenty of Mormons who admire Judaism and the Jews without wishing to convert.  Mutual respect doesn't mean that conversion is in the offing, although that has happened.  Instead, we have collegiality along with collaboration on various projects.

2 hours ago, cinepro said:

It would be like finding a Mesoamerican-school apologist who is impressed by Meldrum's arguments and scholarship, but still thinks the BoM took place south of Mexico. 

I have been known to express admiration for the high standards of production used by Rod in his videos, even though I disagree with his conclusions, and I tell him so from time to time (he is a member of my elder's quorum).

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17 minutes ago, Physics Guy said:

Right; and this is a huge factor. If the golden plates were lying in the Smithsonian for scholars to study, for instance, evidence like the stuff listed in the OP might help one to decide whether they were genuine artifacts or fakes. The same evidence seems less impressive when it has to support a story about an angel taking the plates away to heaven.

Yes exactly. And for people who haven't had those individual potent spiritual experiences there's just no reason to assume it's anything but a fraud - whether conscious or unconscious. Any explanation is better than angels. So if Joseph has to be an uneducated genius with a surprisingly robust knowledge of esoterica, so be it. This is made worse by the text itself with it's blatant KJV style and quotations. That apologists have explanations for that doesn't really matter because the explanations would only even seem plausible if we had some strong positive evidence of Nephites.

17 minutes ago, Physics Guy said:

And as a non-Mormon I have to say that I'm not so convinced that great genius was needed. Simple chiasmus, for instance, is so common in the Bible that one is likely to produce it in the course of simply trying to sound Biblical, even if one is totally unaware of chiasmus as a rhetorical device. Supposedly more elaborate examples of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon are really only there if you look at them in just the right way. They're not nearly as impressive as they are sometimes made out to be.

I think some things that seem significant at first frequently turn out not to be. Certainly chiasmus was vastly overhyped in the 90's (and I thought so at the time). When it turned out to be so common one would wish people would have backed away from pushing it as evidence. I think it's an important discovery to appreciate the text. But it's a rather common and natural form of rhetoric particularly for more oral traditions. As I said earlier in this thread stylometry isn't particularly persuasive to me either particularly because of the type of translation we're dealing with. There are other apologetic arguments I frequently wince at. However as I alluded, it's not hard to find bad arguments by critics either.

However just because some apologetic arguments don't end up being strong shouldn't be taken to judge the whole anymore than particularly weak arguments by critics are. Yet I find that unfortunately folks on both sides do just that. And not just critics but you find liberal Mormons who dismiss apologetics entirely. (Here meaning more theologically liberal not politically liberal)

17 minutes ago, Physics Guy said:

Exactly so. And a lot of the counter-evidences do have a striking quality, even if they're not actually as slam-dunk as skeptics make them out to be. For example, the famous map of New England place names that sound like Book of Mormon place names has some problems when you dig into it, but it's so striking when you first see it that even after you've read the rebuttals you're apt to retain a suspicion that maybe Smith did lean on his own local geography as a source of names. For another example, "No horses!" is only two words, but they're a tough act to follow if what you've got is an explanation about free translation that needs a lot of set-up.

Yup. And by the same measure to many believers some of the arguments apologists make can sound very plausible until one starts going to the original sources and looking at them carefully - and related texts often not examined. There's no shortage of Mormons who get bowled over by Nibley on the Book of Abraham but who never dig into the details for instance. So it definitely goes both ways. What's persuasive especially to people without a scholastic background and a willingness to check sources is quite different from what's actually a good argument. It doesn't help that often sources are difficult if not impossible to check. For instance I'm completely out of my element on Egyptian or Mayan. So it's frequently hard for me to even evaluate the arguments by either side.

17 minutes ago, Physics Guy said:

My impression is that when people complain about other people not "engaging" with their evidence and arguments, it's because their arguments are all long, because their evidence needs a lot of argumentative framing. The other people who are refusing to engage with those long arguments have a point, though.

Even the most absurd conclusions can be defended with a long enough argument. So long arguments are inherently less convincing than short ones, because everyone recognizes intuitively that if you had a really good case you could have made it succinctly.

Yes, but by the same token some arguments are just complex. You're a physicist so you know trying to engage with a lay skeptic and show them why they're wrong about something in physics is sometimes futile simply because of the very complexity of the subject. The amount of knowledge and skill needed to even get to the point where one can engage the argument is staggering. Often one is forced to make arguments to authority precisely because lay skeptics can't deal with the real arguments. That tends to mean on these arguments which are frequently very cross discipline and assume a lot of contextual knowledge just aren't persuasive to the reading inclined to disagree. Again on both sides.

 

Edited by clarkgoble

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16 minutes ago, Rajah Manchou said:

Didn't Owen come to the conclusion that the Book of Mormon "could betaken as a genuinely restored ancient text with a fictional narrative that originated in the Old World"

Not sure, but both Owen & Mosser could take the view that the BofM is a pseudepigraphon.  Yet the main point of their long article for an evangelical publication was that the Mormons had done a very good job of apologetics, while the evangelicals had not.  They were not saying at all that evangelicalism was wrong or untrue, nor that Mormonism was an authentic religion.  Indeed, one of them actually left evangelicalism and became an Anglican Priest.

16 minutes ago, Rajah Manchou said:

As far as I can tell no Mormon scholar has engaged his research. Why?

Is it true that he produced research worthy of reply?  And is it true that no one replied?  I am unaware of any such challenge by Owen, and would be happy to reply.

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7 hours ago, Ryan Dahle said:

I have now gone through every single issue of Dialogue, JBMS, RSC, BYU Studies, Interpreter, and other journals. I have also either read or surveyed nearly every single online book that these organizations have produced. And I have read through numerous other publications as well. In this process I have systematically identified and categorized well over 1500 articles books, and I am in the process of combing through these publication and identifying every single substantive piece of evidence in them, and then trying to rate their value. I have also done the best I can to find counter evidence from the critics. However, I admit that I have not, as of yet, been as thorough in this process. Some day I hope to be able to get to it thoroughly.

Sounds like you'll be able to give Mike Ash a run for his money. He only gave 80 evidences supporting Joseph Smith in his book, Of Faith and Reason. You're already well on your way to collecting 2,000!

Personally, I am more of a mind with Richard Bushman, who many years ago described how he became less and less impressed with such evidences over time. Eventually he came to the conclusion that "there was no proving religion to anyone; belief came by other means, by hearing testimonies or by individual pursuit or by the grace of God. . . . I no longer think that people can be compelled to believe by any form of reasoning, whether from the scripture or from historical evidence. They will believe if it is in their natures to believe."

I have studied many of the arguments for and against the historicity of the Book of Mormon and, ultimately, I'd say it's a wash. Both sides have their strengths and weaknesses. I am not persuaded that the Book of Mormon is an ancient record, but neither can I completely rule out the possibility. Logically, if Jesus actually rose from the dead, then angels and gold plates are not out of the question.

Edited by Nevo
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1 hour ago, Rajah Manchou said:

Didn't Owen come to the conclusion that the Book of Mormon "could betaken as a genuinely restored ancient text with a fictional narrative that originated in the Old World"

As far as I can tell no Mormon scholar has engaged his research. Why?

I'm not familiar with that particular argument of Owen, but he has been engaged with at conferences pretty regularly. I know Moser's been at several conferences I've been at. I just don't have time to go to even a fraction of the conferences I'd like. So I'm loath to say whether he's been engaged with or not with respect to this argument. 

I certainly wish more papers and talks at conferences got written up and put on the internet so people could engage with them. I know SMPT used to regularly put up audio recordings. (I frequently was the one doing it) I was in the hospital during the last one so I don't know if they are still doing that. But what gets published is a small fraction of the scholarly engagement.

2 hours ago, Rajah Manchou said:

Most of those you are asking have engaged these evidences, and came to a different conclusion. Many try to share those conclusions here, but are usually met with: no...wrong answer, keep engaging, here's another book.

That people come to difference conclusions is ultimately irrelevant. The question is more why they come to different conclusions. That in parts get at that big question of angels and so forth needing extreme evidence and thereby affecting how narrow arguments are treated. However in other cases people just haven't heard the counterarguments or arguments against those arguments. For instance I outlined my argument about why I don't trust current stylometry of the Book of Mormon. That some do isn't particularly compelling if they haven't engaged with those particular arguments. 

3 hours ago, cinepro said:

The measure of an argument isn't its eloquence, or weight, or even its validity.  It's the ability to convince someone. 

Were that true the Sophists would have the best arguments. However while Sophistry is frequently quite persuasive the arguments are just bad.

That's not to say that we shouldn't also focus on persuasiveness as well as soundness. However looking at the the current state of politics and the horrible arguments on both sides that seem to persuade millions I'm pretty skeptical persuasiveness should count for much.

6 hours ago, cinepro said:

Okay, let's say the sign was discovered.  It's verifiably ancient, and we all agree it's not a fraud or contemporary creation.

What would you think if that sign was discovered by Rodney Meldrum?   If he discovered that sign in Missouri, would you firmly believe that that was where ancient Zarahemla was, and that the Mesoamerican theories must therefore be wrong?  Do you think Sorenson would acquiesce and admit he was mistaken and withdraw all his books and articles arguing as much?   Would all the parallels and other evidences to ancient Mesoamerica be discarded and chalked up to something else?

No, I suspect they would be just as skeptical of it as everyone else is of their evidences.  Except for the Meldrumites, of course.

Of course providence for a discovery is an important part of the weight of that evidence. That's why for instance when Rick Jones was having horse bones in possible pre-columbian strata tested he made sure the chain of possession never included any Mormons. That way the problem you outline couldn't occur. (All tested as post-columbian unfortunately for his theory but I think the approach he took was quite important)

The more interesting question is what happens if some Jewish archaeologists discover 6th century brass plates written in some shorthand form of Egyptian containing something similar to the allegory of Zenos (but far from word for word exact). It's not strong positive evidence for the Book of Mormon's historicity but it'd sure make some elements surprising for a fraud. How would critics respond if Mormons weren't involved in the discovery at all?

Edited by clarkgoble
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38 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Is it true that he produced research worthy of reply?  And is it true that no one replied?  I am unaware of any such challenge by Owen, and would be happy to reply.

From Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture: A Thematic Analysis of 1 Nephi 13–14:

The suggestive parallels between 2 Esdras 14 and 1 Nephi 13–14 could be explained in a number of ways:

  1. they could be coincidental;
  2. Nephi could have been given a prophetic glimpse of the future role of Ezra, as accurately described in 2 Esdras;
  3. Joseph Smith (or someone in his circle) could have read 2 Esdras in the King James Version of the Apocrypha and perhaps had access to commentary on its meaning through libraries and cultural knowledge; or
  4. the Book of Mormon could be viewed as a restoration of an ancient Christian apocryphal text, which itself made use of earlier Jewish sources.

Owen seems most interested in #4, that the Book of Mormon could be viewed as a "restoration of an ancient Christian apocryphal text, which itself made use of earlier Jewish sources." (As you know, this is my view as well.)

AFAIK, John Gee provides the only response on his personal blog, which he summarizes as:

"Paul Owen's argument posits that Joseph Smith got the idea for the Book of Mormon by reading a book which historical sources deny that he read, in a translation published over a century and a half after he died. There are a number of words one could use to describe Owen's argument, but scholarship is not one of them." (source)

An extremely unfortunate response, given that Paul Owen attempts to engage the evidence for BofM historicity. Instead of giving a thoughtful response, Owen is informed that his arguments don't clear the high bar of Mormon scholarship.

@Ryan Dahle, this is why people stop engaging the evidence for historicity. No matter how much one might engage, there's only one right answer.

Edited by Rajah Manchou
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31 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

The more interesting question is what happens if some Jewish archaeologists discover brass plates written in some shorthand form of Egyptian containing something similar to the allegory of Zenos (but far from word for word exact). It's not strong positive evidence for the Book of Mormon's historicity but it'd sure make some elements surprising for a fraud. How would critics respond if Mormons weren't involved in the discovery at all?

Last year I went to a village in Burma and was shown a text that, in 1836, was revealed by an angel in a white robe to a Karen prophet who was fasting and meditating on a hill. The text is said to be taken from the lost Golden Book of the Karen people, which supposedly dates back to antiquity when their ancestors migrated from the Middle East. The text is still there in the village, untranslated. 

This is the leader of their church telling me the story of the angel who revealed the golden book: https://cloudup.com/cDegyEc0Pij

Q: How do we respond to this if Mormons weren't involved in the discovery at all?
A: Almost every Mormon I have told about this experience assumes it must have been a fiction written by a 19th century villager.

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15 hours ago, Ryan Dahle said:

I suspect there are many informed scholars who would agree with it. It's not about it being compelling proof. It just has to better than the opposing evidence. In any case, I think its better, and I have spent several years now gathering evidences and comparing them in a holistic way. I have now gone through every single issue of Dialogue, JBMS, RSC, BYU Studies, Interpreter, and other journals. I have also either read or surveyed nearly every single online book that these organizations have produced. And I have read through numerous other publications as well. In this process I have systematically identified and categorized well over 1500 articles books, and I am in the process of combing through these publication and identifying every single substantive piece of evidence in them, and then trying to rate their value. I have also done the best I can to find counter evidence from the critics. However, I admit that I have not, as of yet, been as thorough in this process. Some day I hope to be able to get to it thoroughly.

In any case, I think that I am probably far more qualified than most to give an assessment of the overall value of the evidence. I'm not trying to be boastful. I'm just trying to explain where my ideas are coming from. 

I think you have answered your question right there as to why critics or those thinking about leaving the Church have not engaged this evidence. It exists in a piecemeal fashion all over the place.  You, yourself say it has taken you some years to research and gather it. There is no good single source one can go to learn this evidence or balance it against opposing evidences. Opposing evidences are usually "a lack thereof, " so aren't really evidence at all. We have regulars on this board who air opinions like I believe Joseph made up the Book of Mormon. I don't believe they have really been through the massive amount of evidence which makes this belief almost an impossibility. It is not a book he sat down and made up. I think you are right that the amount of evidence against that is large. But it is not organized nor available in an easily accessible format. I think one reason for that is because it is published across a broad spectrum of publication formats in copyrighted articles and such, which I think is a barrier to its organization.  I assume you are doing something to publish some kind of organized format on these matters?

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Paging Dr Bukowski!

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9 hours ago, Physics Guy said:

Major prophets are rarer than geniuses, though. And as a non-Mormon I have to say that I'm not so convinced that great genius was needed. Simple chiasmus, for instance, is so common in the Bible that one is likely to produce it in the course of simply trying to sound Biblical, even if one is totally unaware of chiasmus as a rhetorical device. Supposedly more elaborate examples of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon are really only there if you look at them in just the right way. They're not nearly as impressive as they are sometimes made out to be.

It's not just about genius. It's about probabilities based on the data. The Book of Mormon is saturated with chiasmus and many other Hebrew forms. I am generally the least persuaded by macro chiasms, and I also agree that  chiastic couplets could possibly be derived from the Bible or from other sources of poetry. However, the Book of Mormon is filled with 3 and 4 and 5 level chiasms that are simple enough to really be convincing to most people as a legitimate and intentional, and yet complex enough that Joseph Smith probably wouldn't have picked up on them. 

Despite the possibility that he could have derived them from the Bible on his own, this scenario seems to be highly unlikely. Millions of people had read the Book of Mormon, and yet it wasn't until the 1960s that anyone noticed this feature in the text. Not one person remarked upon it or drew attention to it, that we know of. I think that gives us a pretty good reason to conclude it is highly unlikely that Joseph derived this from simply reading the Bible. Maybe there were a bunch of closet chiasmus enthusiasts, but the profound implications of the feature would suggest that if someone had noticed it, they would have immediately shared it with others, just like John W. Welch did.

The chances are also small that Joseph was aware of the biblical research on the topic. It was esoteric and mostly being talked about in Europe. There was only one publication available in America at the time that discussed it, and it was covered in only 4 pages of a massive encyclopedic volume. So again, it's possible that Joseph could have derived it from this publication, and its possible that one of the European publications made its way to America and into Joseph's hands, but it seems quite unlikely either way. 

Joseph could have gotten his idea for macro chiasms dealing with narratives from literary ring forms. But this does little to explain the much more plentiful micro chiasms in the text. They work quite differently than ring forms. And even though ring forms and the literature discussing them were available in the day, it doesn't mean it is likely that Joseph knew about it. Most people in his day--especially destitute farmers like the Smith family--probably didn't. They had a basic education, but they weren't literary scholars--especially not Joseph, if his mother is to be believed.

And then there comes the actual implementation. We have good historical reasons to believe that the text was dictated in the manner and timing described by the witnesses. We have data from the original manuscript and contemporaneous historical documents that corroborate that those involved in the translation were doing the things they said they were doing at the times they said they were doing them. It's not impervious data, but it is good corroborating data and it is the only data we have. The data suggests that the text was most likely dictated in the timing that was claimed, in the presence of the participants who claimed to be there, and in the manner claimed--fast paced, with immediate corrections based on minor scribal slips, and no substantive revisions. 

Anyone who has tried, recognizes that chiasmus, especially the longer 4 or 5 level chiasms, are not easy to implement. For most people, it takes careful thought and planning. Are we really to believe that Joseph made up all of these chiasms (hundreds have been proposed and at least doezens are very convincing) on the fly? And there is still Alma 36 to deal with. Despite Wunderli's mostly unreasonable complaints, this chiastic structure really is brilliant, and it is much longer than most biblical chiasms, and yet doesn't suffer from the uncertainties in most macro chiasms. David Noel Freedman was impressed by it, and for some reason I think his opinion on such matters counts more than Wunderli's. The most cohesive chiastic section of Alma 36 has proven to be statistically unlikely to be a product of mere chance, and its rhetorical value is readily apparent. Where did Joseph derive this from? And how did he dictate it on the fly?

If chiasmus were the only Hebrew form in the text, it would be one thing. But it isn't. There are a lot more poetic parallelisms to be accounted for, and several of them also complex in their own right. For instance, this example of gradation from (1 Nephi 15) is quite noteworthy (altered slightly from Parry's version):

Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men, then shall the fulness of the gospel of the

Messiah come unto the

Gentiles, and from the

Gentiles unto the

remnant of our seed—And at that day shall the

remnant of our seed

know that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord;   

and then shall they

know and come

to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also

to the knowledge of the gospel

of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him; wherefore, they shall come  

to the knowledge

of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto

him and be saved. And then

at that day will they not rejoice and give praise unto their everlasting God, their rock and their

salvation? Yea,

at that day,

will they not receive the strength and nourishment from the true vine? Yea,

will they not come unto the true fold of God?Behold, I say unto you, Yea;

they shall be remembered again among the house of Israel;

they shall be grafted in, being a natural branch of the

olive tree, into the true

olive tree. And this is what our father

meaneth; and he

meaneth that it will not come to pass until after they are scattered by

the Gentiles; and he meaneth that it shall come by way of

the Gentiles, that the Lord may show his power unto

the Gentiles, for the very cause that he shall be rejected of the Jews, or of the

house of Israel. Wherefore, our father hath not spoken of our seed alone, but also of all the house of Israel, pointing to the

covenant which should be fulfilled in the latter days; which

covenant the Lord made to our father Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the

earth be blessed. And it came to pass that I, Nephi,

spake much unto them concerning these things; yea, I

spake unto them concerning the restoration of the Jews in the latter days. And I did rehearse

unto them the words of Isaiah, who

spake concerning the restoration of the Jews, or of the house of Israel

There are a few maverick repetitions, like "meaneth" and "spake" but overall the repetition is fairly tight and clearly is used rhetorically to build up to a final conclusion about the restoration of Israel. Are we to suppose that Joseph picked up on gradation as well as chiasmus? There are a number of other good examples of gradation in the Book of Mormon. How about extended alternate. Here is a good example from Alma 10:22-23:

a if it were not for the prayers of the righteous, who are now in the land,

    b that ye would even now be visited with utter destruction;

        c yet it would not be by flood, as were the people in the days of Noah,

             d but it would be by famine,

                 e and by pestilence,

                     f and the sword.

a But it is by the prayers of the righteous that ye are spared; now therefore,

    b if ye will cast out the righteous from among you then will not the Lord stay his hand;

        c but in his fierce anger he will come out against you;

            d then ye shall be smitten by famine,

                e and by pestilence,

                    f and by the sword

 

The shift in b and c seems to be clearly intentional. The first structure was about the people in the days of Noah and the second about the people in Ammonihah. The repetition in d, e, and f, emphasize that even though the destruction would be totally devastating in each case, it would come by different means for the people in Ammonihah. This type of stuff is literally all over the place in the Book of Mormon, with lots of variation and many more categories. Is it possible that the above constructions were accidents? Sure, anything is possible. Is it possible that Joseph picked them up from the Bible or read them in some source? Sure, but again it seems quite unlikely. I have no idea if these specific features were known and talked about in Joseph's day, but I suspect that gradation wasn't, and I doubt that discussions of extended alternate were widely disseminated. 

The point is that when the data is looked at collectively, we have very good reasons to assume that Joseph shouldn't have been able to produce this book, especially in the manner and timing that the documented historical evidence supports. If someone doesn't want to believe it is a good argument, that is fine. But to date, there has been virtually no counterargument made by the critics that address the collective weight of these evidences (at least I haven't seen them). Where are the rebuttals to Bowen's and others' numerous wordplay proposals? Where are the rebuttals suggesting that colophons or repetitive resumption or simile curses or prophetic speech patterns aren't legitimate, or that Joseph could likely have derived them all from some source and then expertly implemented them in his fast paced translation (which has a lot of other demonstrably complex things going on). Here is the list of Hebraisms that I have found in LDS publications on the topic: 

Grammar and Literary Devices

  1. “And Now”
  2. Anapodoton
  3. Antenantiosis
  4. Anthropopatheia
  5. Avoidance of Adverbs
  6. Cognate Accusative
  7. Colophons
  8. Compound Prepositions
  9. Construct State
  10. Definite Articles
  11. Deflected Agreement
  12. Emphatic Pronouns
  13. Enallage
  14. Epistolary Form
  15. Geographic Terms
  16. Idem Per Idem
  17. Idioms
  18. If–And Conditionals
  19. Infinitives
  20. Interrogators
  21. Merismus
  22. Metonymy
  23. Motifs
  24. Name-titles of Deity
  25. Naming Conventions
  26. Numeric Conventions
  27. Participial Adjuncts
  28. Plural Amplification
  29. Poetic Refrains
  30. Polysyndeton
  31. Possessive Nouns
  32. Prepositions
  33. Prophetic Lament
  34. Prophetic Perfect
  35. Prophetic Speech Formula
  36. Repetitive Resumption
  37. Separated Participial Modifiers
  38. Simile Curses
  39. Wordplay

Parallelisms

  1. Antithetical
  2. Chiasmus
  3. Contrasting Idea
  4. Detailing
  5. Duplication
  6. Extended Alternate
  7. Extended Synonymous
  8. Extended Synthetic
  9. Gradation
  10. Like Paragraph Endings
  11. Like Sentence Beginnings
  12. Like Sentence Endings
  13. Many Ands
  14. Nor and Or
  15. Parallelism of Numbers
  16. Parallelism of Progression
  17. Random Repetition
  18. Regular Repetition
  19. Repeated Alternate
  20. Repetition of Words
  21. Simple Alternate
  22. Simple Synonymous
  23. Synonymous Words
  24. Synthetic Parallel
  25. Working Out

Some of these aren't nearly as significant as others. For instance, some cognate accusatives were used by English writers, and simple antithetical parallelisms are known in English prose, and so forth. I would say that at least a good half of them wouldn't have very much persuasive power on their own. And yet, when looked at collectively,  there are still well over a dozen features that substantially add to the argument. The less persuasive features are at least interesting and consistent with the argument that the text was written by authors trained in the Hebrew literary tradition. If anyone knows where to find responsible critiques for the collective presence of the more compelling features, let me know. I would very much like to read them. (I think I have already read the push back against chiasmus, and I have been unimpressed.)

Edited by Ryan Dahle

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