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Ryan Dahle

Why Not Engage the Evidence for Historicity?

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Just now, Benjamin Seeker said:

Of course I can say for sure, but putting videos on YouTube is the most sure-fire way of spreading content to a wide audience. Videos > text in popularity and YouTube > all other content delivery systems (i believe) in popularly currently.

Dehlin made his name in podcasts, so why would anyone be surprised that he continues in that medium? The idea that podcasting or doing youtube videos is an effort to avoid criticism is, well, silly. 

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8 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

In the end, does it make any difference?

I think so.  Consider these remarks by Elder Holland:

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In his classic definition of faith the Apostle Paul suggests, with one of those paradoxes that so frequently crop up in the gospel, that evidence is still evidence even if it is not immediately observable. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,[5] he wrote. For me a classic example of substance I hope for and evidence of things I have not seen is the 531 pages of the Book of Mormon that come from a sheaf of gold plates some people saw and handled and hefted but I haven’t seen or handled or hefted, and neither have you. Nevertheless, the reality of those plates, the substance of them if you will, and the evidence that comes to us from them in the form of the Book of Mormon is at the heart, at the very center, of the hope and testimony and conviction of this work that is unshakably within me forever.

It is with reference to evidence and in this case literal, corporeal substance that Luke introduces the book of Acts:

“The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,

“Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:

To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”[6]

In one of the earliest such manifestations after His Resurrection, Jesus came to the eleven, inviting them to touch His hands and feet as He sat to eat meat and honeycomb.[7] To those who doubted, Mark says He “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart.”[8]The message is that if members of the Godhead go to the trouble of providing “many infallible proofs”[9] of truth, then surely we are honor bound to affirm and declare that truth and may be upbraided if we do not. My testimony to you tonight is that the gospel is infallibly true and that a variety of infallible proofs supporting that assertion will continue to come until Jesus descends as the ultimate infallible truth of all. Our testimonies aren’t dependent on evidence—we still need that spiritual confirmation in the heart of which we have spoken—but not to seek for and not to acknowledge intellectual, documentable support for our belief when it is available is to needlessly limit an otherwise incomparably strong theological position and deny us a unique, persuasive vocabulary in the latter-day arena of religious investigation and sectarian debate. Thus armed with so much evidence of the kind we have celebrated here tonight, we ought to be more assertive than we sometimes are in defending our testimony of truth.

To that point I mention that while we were living and serving in England, I became fond of the writing of the English cleric Austin Farrer. Speaking of the contribution made by C. S. Lewis specifically and of Christian apologists generally, Farrer said: “Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”[10]

I think Elder Holland may be on to something here.  I think Latter-day Saints have an obligation to defend the Restoration, and to make use of those evidences that the Lord has given us.  

FWIW, I think Elder Holland's references to "infallible proofs" are intended to suggest subjective, not objective, infallibility.  

8 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

It's kind of like all the stuff that goes on around the JFK assassination. The physical evidence and eyewitness testimony is pretty clear what happened, and yet there's always some "what about this" thing coming up. A while back, I saw this guy saying a photo had been doctored because a car in the background had gray window frames when they should have been yellow. For whatever reason, I could see the guy was wrong, so I sent him an email explaining why he was wrong (that kind of car had metal window frames, and they could be seen in other photos and films). Didn't matter in the least because this guy was alive in 1963 and knew better than I did, and I obviously was one of those shills for the "lone nut with a gun" theory. Nothing changed, the guy is still making this claim, and I learned a lesson about following someone into the weeds.

In the end, though, who shot JFK 50+ years ago will not really have much of an impact in our lives.

In contrast, the question of "historicity" can matter to a Latter-day Saint, quite a bit.  It can have a huge impact.  Consider these remarks by Elder Oaks (emphasis added):

Quote

Elder Oaks: "There is something strange about accepting the moral or religious content of a book while rejecting the truthfulness of its authors' declarations, predictions, and statements. This approach not only rejects the concepts of faith and revelation that the Book of Mormon explains and advocates, but it is also not even good scholarship. ... The argument that it makes no difference whether the Book of Mormon is fact or fable is surely a sibling to the argument that it makes no difference whether Jesus Christ ever lived." (Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, edited by Paul Y. Hoskisson, p. 244.)

And these by Kent P. Jackson (emphases added):

Quote

Can the Book of Mormon indeed be 'true,' in any sense, if it lies repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately regarding its own historicity? Can Joseph Smith be viewed with any level of credibility if he repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately lied concerning the historicity of the book? Can we have any degree of confidence in what are presented as the words of God in the Doctrine and Covenants if they repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately lie by asserting the historicity of the Book of Mormon? If the Book of Mormon is not what it claims to be, what possible cause would anyone have to accept anything of the work of Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints given the consistent assertions that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text that describes ancient events?" (Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, edited by Paul Y. Hoskisson, pp. 137-138.)

I have previously presented my thoughts on this subject here.

I am glad that there are people who, having rejected the historicity of the Book of Mormon, can nevertheless retain their believe in the Restoration, can maintain activity in the Church, can continue to keep their covenants, and so on.  Full stop.  I am really happy for these people.

But I think there are many people for whom rejecting the historicity of the Book of Mormon is one of a series of steps away from faith and discipleship.  I've seen it too many times to say that historicity doesn't make a difference.

Thanks,

-Smac

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16 minutes ago, Benjamin Seeker said:
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I can't help but wonder if Vogel (and Dehlin) use recordings, rather than text, to discourage substantive critique of the arguments they are making.  You aren't the only one who doesn't have time to peruse dozens of videos (or, in Dehlin's case, hundreds of audio/video recordings, consisting of hundreds - thousands? - of hours of content).

Difficulty in perusing content tends to discourage substantive scrutiny of such content.  

Thanks,

-Smac

Of course I can say for sure, but putting videos on YouTube is the most sure-fire way of spreading content to a wide audience. Videos > text in popularity and YouTube > all other content delivery systems (i believe) in popularly currently.

"Spreading content?"  Yes.  Definitely.

Presenting that content in such a way as to make it reasonable susceptible to substantive scrutiny?  Not as much.

I think this is why academics both make presentations orally at conferences and such, but also reduce their scholarship to writing.

Thanks,

-Smac

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1 minute ago, smac97 said:

I think so.  Consider these remarks by Elder Holland:

I think Elder Holland may be on to something here.  I think Latter-day Saints have an obligation to defend the Restoration, and to make use of those evidences that the Lord has given us.  

FWIW, I think Elder Holland's references to "infallible proofs" are intended to suggest subjective, not objective, infallibility.  

In the end, though, who shot JFK 50+ years ago will not really have much of an impact in our lives.

In contrast, the question of "historicity" can matter to a Latter-day Saint, quite a bit.  It can have a huge impact.  Consider these remarks by Elder Oaks (emphasis added):

And these by Kent P. Jackson (emphases added):

I have previously presented my thoughts on this subject here.

I am glad that there are people who, having rejected the historicity of the Book of Mormon, can nevertheless retain their believe in the Restoration, can maintain activity in the Church, can continue to keep their covenants, and so on.  Full stop.  I am really happy for these people.

But I think there are many people for whom rejecting the historicity of the Book of Mormon is one of a series of steps away from faith and discipleship.  I've seen it too many times to say that historicity doesn't make a difference.

Thanks,

-Smac

I meant, does engagement by critics make any difference? I don't think so. 

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18 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

Dehlin made his name in podcasts, so why would anyone be surprised that he continues in that medium? The idea that podcasting or doing youtube videos is an effort to avoid criticism is, well, silly. 

Agreed, the audience is larger and younger.  Arguably more influential.  

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1 hour ago, jkwilliams said:

A cursory glance at the ngram viewer shows that "the more part of them," etc., isn't exactly unknown in the 19th century.

Original instances?

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1 hour ago, Gray said:

Alternative interpretation: the translator fixated upon the examples of "the more part" in the KJV because they sounded archaic to his ears, and over-used them in his translation. Might also explain the misuse of "ye" when "you" would actually be the correct KJV-era grammar. "Ye" sounds more archaic so it gets used instead.

And the rare variants?

The 1611 King James Bible was about 7 percent nominative you (see a 1914 PMLA article by Kenyon). Beginning around 1680, the Cambridge editions began to weed them out. By 1769 only three were left.  Nominative ye and you variation was around in the 1500s.

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Just now, champatsch said:

Original instances?

Apparently. Does that matter?

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6 minutes ago, champatsch said:

And the rare variants?

The 1611 King James Bible was about 7 percent nominative you (see a 1914 PMLA article by Kenyon). Beginning around 1680, the Cambridge editions began to weed them out. By 1769 only three were left.  Nominative ye and you variation was around in the 1500s.

I think a 19th century person could plausibly, but unknowingly recreate rare variants on the familiar theme.

Edited by Gray

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Just now, smac97 said:

I think so.  As Hugh Nibley put it: “We need more anti-Mormon books. They keep us on our toes.”

Michael Ash gave a pretty thoughtful presentation on this topic back in 2002: "The Impact of Mormon Critics on LDS Scholarship"

As an attorney, I have long appreciated the effectiveness of our legal system's adversarial processes.  Adversarial scrutiny of competing claims and arguments about the same set of facts tends to have a purifying effect for both sides.

For me, my years of examining Mormonism in an adversarial context (this board, mostly) have had a comparable "purifying" effect on my perspective on the doctrines and history and practices of the Church and its leaders and members.  I feel that I know a lot more about the doctrines than I would have otherwise.  I feel that I know a lot more about the purported flaws and weaknesses in the Restoration than I would have otherwise.  My son, currently serving as a Church Service Missionary in the MTC's Referral Center (he mans the "chat" feature of Mormon.org), has repeatedly told me that his discussions with me really helped him be prepared to address doctrinal disputes and concerns with people he meets in his missionary service.  He has since very much "come into his own" as far as having a spiritual, but also pragmatic, testimony.

So yes, I think engaging the critics can make a difference.

Thanks,

-Smac

Well, I hope I have contributed to your knowledge in some way, but my days of engaging are over. I just don't see the point.

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Just now, Gray said:

I think a 19th century person could plausibly, but unknowingly recreate rare variants on the familiar theme.

The problem I have is that no one has been able to show that these "rare variants" or obsolete usage are used in any consistent or significant way in the Book of Mormon. Absent any sign of intent or consistency, a happy accident has just as much explanatory power.

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Joseph as author, philological achievement #2:

There are about 75 examples of active-voice complex finite "command X that X" language in the Book of Mormon. This was very rare, high-level language by the 1820s. Joseph probably produced more examples of this syntax than anyone else. One must go back to 1483 to find a text with nearly as many, Caxton's Golden Legend, which has about 65.

Joseph produced a rare variant with one command verb governing two that-clauses mixing should and shall, like the translator Grimeston did in the early 1600s.

Joseph mixed complementation more than once, just like the King James Bible has once. Maybe someone can find a modern instance of this. I haven't seen one yet.

Joseph used the modal auxiliary shall about seven times after the verb command with complex finite complementation, literate usage that is absent from the King James text and was probably very rare in the 1800s.

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Just now, champatsch said:

Joseph as author, philological achievement #2:

There are about 75 examples of active-voice complex finite "command X that X" language in the Book of Mormon. This was very rare, high-level language by the 1820s. Joseph probably produced more examples of this syntax than anyone else. One must go back to 1483 to find a text with nearly as many, Caxton's Golden Legend, which has about 65.

Joseph produced a rare variant with one command verb governing two that-clauses mixing should and shall, like the translator Grimeston did in the early 1600s.

Joseph mixed complementation more than once, just like the King James Bible has once. Maybe someone can find a modern instance of this. I haven't seen one yet.

Joseph used the modal auxiliary shall about seven times after the verb command with complex finite complementation, literate usage that is absent from the King James text and was probably very rare in the 1800s.

Well, I've already waded into this more than I should have. If that is you, Stan, I hope all is well with you and yours. Every time I involve myself in a discussion of these issues, it always ends badly, so I'm going to take my leave. Be well.

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46 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

I really started reading voraciously about these issues 25 years or so ago when I worked for the church and could spend my lunch hour at the historical library. As I said, people who are much smarter and better read than I am believe and don't believe. I stopped "engaging" apologetic arguments because I got to the point where it didn't make any difference. I haven't seen anything that makes me reconsider my conclusions, and clearly, nothing I say here is going to change anyone else's mind. Ryan asked why people like me don't engage the evidence, and that is why. There simply isn't much of a point.

Probably a majority of people (Mormon and non-Mormon) feel that same way.  I understand that, and it may be that Ryan is a bit naive to even ask the question.  A better question is perhaps What level of engagement pays any real dividends, if at all?  Non-Mormon scholars sometimes provide a perspective on this matter which is wholly unexpected by those who have done a lot of reading, but who are not really scholars:  The late Prof Stephen H. Webb (Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis) is merely one example of deeply respectful engagement:

Webb, Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford, 2011).  He argues that Mormonism provides the most challenging, urgent, and potentially rewarding source for metaphysical renewal today.

Webb,  Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn From the Latter-day Saints (Oxford Univ. Press, 2013).  reviews at https://bycommonconsent.com/2013/12/23/review-webb-mormon-christianity/ , and https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4550&context=byusq .

46 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

I haven't been ignoring this thread. I've just had more important stuff going on.

 

gray.jpg

O.K. Grandpa, I get the point.  😄

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12 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

Well, I hope I have contributed to your knowledge in some way, but my days of engaging are over. I just don't see the point.

You have.  I have also had ample opportunity to repent of unkind / intemperate words, to realize how far I have to go, to re-examine what I believe and why I believe it, to expand my horizons, and so on.

At some point I will probably hang up my boots.  I'm much more a consumer of apologetics than a producer.  I think there may be members of the Church out there who would do a better job of defending the Restoration than I have.

Thanks,

-Smac

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12 hours ago, Bernard Gui said:

I just read this paper. Now I cannot even remember what happy means.

Etc., and so forth.

http://www.famsi.org/research/hopkins/DirectionalPartitions.pdf .

That is all correct, and it is the consensus among Mayanists.  I had the good fortune to study under Nick Hopkins and his late wife at UCLA years ago.  Their explanations and illustrations were very helpful.

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Joseph as author, philological achievement #3:

There is no complex finite cause syntax in the King James Bible (cause X that X); it has only three examples of the simple finite (cause that X), in John, Colossians, and Revelation. Pseudo-biblical texts don't even have a single example of simple finite complementation.

The last independent example of complex finite causative syntax I've seen so far is dated 1701. Maybe others can find more. I've seen reprinted language up to 1725.

Joseph produced 12 of these in his 1829 dictation. The last text I've seen with multiple examples is 1616. So Joseph could have been the first person to produce more than two of these in 213 years.

Salmon (1701) is a perfect syntactic match with original 3 Nephi 29:4 ("will cause it that it shall").

Phelpes (1672) is nearly a perfect match with Alma 58:11 and Helaman 16:20.

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27 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

Apparently [original instances of "the more part"]. Does that matter?

Early 19c examples that I've seen are usually from Elizabethan-era statutory language, but there are late 19c examples by scholars, which I referred to above.

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18 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

Well, I've already waded into this more than I should have. If that is you, Stan, I hope all is well with you and yours. Every time I involve myself in a discussion of these issues, it always ends badly, so I'm going to take my leave. Be well.

Yes. Take care.

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2 minutes ago, champatsch said:

Early 19c examples that I've seen are usually from Elizabethan-era statutory language, but there are late 19c examples by scholars, which I referred to above.

I saw some in fiction, as well, but granted, it was just a brief glance.

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3 hours ago, cinepro said:

I think we'll be surprised to find what is and isn't "negotiable" over the next few decades.

............................  Honestly, if the Church were to diminish over the next few decades and find itself with < 1 million members mostly centered in Utah, I would guess it's because of the Church's stance on issues like homosexuality, not a literal belief in the Book of Mormon.

Is Scott Lloyd going to start the clock on these assertions?  Will we even be around to see the results?  Probably  not.  However, I see no likelihood at all that those scenarios will play out.

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Assuming that Joseph was the author of the Book of Mormon, this is what he managed to do.

Philological achievement #4:  had (been) spake;  this morphosyntax was very rarely found by 1829.  There are many false positives in the databases.  Peak popularity of spake as a past participle was in the 1600s.

Joseph produced 13 examples of spake as a past participle in the 1829 dictation.  This was a 183-year milestone.  John Bastwick used 31 of these in a 1646 text.  Besides that, I haven't seen a text with more than five — a lengthy biblical commentary with multiple authors.

Joseph produced the rare variant "had been spake".  The latest one I've seen outside the Book of Mormon is dated 1699, 130 years earlier.  Two more with "been spake" are found around the middle of the 1600s.  If anyone finds a later one, let me know.

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5 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

I saw some in fiction, as well, but granted, it was just a brief glance.

RLS?  In any event, the rare variants aren't there, nor is the level of usage.

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37 minutes ago, smac97 said:

We're really only discussing arguments and evidence being advanced by the first group ("reasonable, well-educated, well-informed people").

And these arguments and evidences aren't being addressed.  

Right. And "reasonable, well-educated, well-informed people" are the ones who are either floating along as a religious exercise with a Pascal's Wager approach, or have beliefs that are compartmentalized, contradictory, and on the shelf.

The reason the arguments in question aren't being addressed is because there is no comprehensive view of the totality of the evidence being presented. Cinepro did a good job of explaining what I'm referring to here.

37 minutes ago, smac97 said:

You find the historicity of the Book of Mormon to be a priori absurd, akin to young-earth creationism.  I get it.  That's a bit odd given how many years you've spent discussing Mormonism.  How many hundreds (thousands?) of times have you made public statements about the LDS Church and its doctrines.  And yet when it comes to addressing substantive points and evidences presented by LDS scholars and apologists, you just turn your brain off?  These things aren't even worth your time?

My comment counter is probably north of 5,000. I read, think about, and comment on what interests me. Not all of it does.

 

37 minutes ago, smac97 said:

John Weldon did the same thing, but he's a dogmatist, and apparently not the brightest bulb in the box.  You are neither of these things, but you are emulating him anyway.  I guess I just find that strange.

I don't know anything about John Weldon.

 

37 minutes ago, smac97 said:

A priori dismissal is certainly your prerogative.  I'll account for it accordingly.

Arguments about historicity are, in my view, categorically distinct from the imponderables you suggest above.  We only work with what we've got.

Imponderable is the wrong word for what I was describing. We know a lot about the nature of reality, and we know a lot about history. Dismissing this knowledge as imponderable because it contradicts your preferred religious beliefs is special pleading.

 

37 minutes ago, smac97 said:

That's not quite the case, though, with the historicity of the Book of Mormon.  We have some real, substantive stuff to work with.  The text.  The statements of the Witnesses (and historical information about the Witnesses).  Royal Skousen's critical text project.  Information about Joseph Smith's life and education and contemporaries.  There's quite a bit of very interesting information - evidence - that can be derived from these things.  There is some measure of "testability" about them, unlike your list of imponderables.

"Special pleading" is defined as an argument that deliberately ignores aspects that are unfavorable to the point of view being championed. Mainstream science has a view of reality where an incredible amount of evidence from all sides contributes to create a compelling, comprehensive picture of what's going on. It's the exact opposite of imponderable.

 

37 minutes ago, smac97 said:

C'mon.  Comparisons to young-earth creationism are nothing but a declaration that those who believe that the Book of Mormon is historical are unintelligent.

That simply isn't true. I've met some ridiculously intelligent young earth creationists, and highly intelligent people believe all sorts of things. People are subject to all sorts of cognitive biases. That doesn't mean they are unintelligent. It simply means they are human.

 

37 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Still haven't seen much in the way of "why."  Just Weldon-esque dodges.  But there's no obligation to engage LDS scholarship, so dodge away.

I have no idea who John Weldon is.

Did you happen to read the debate between Philip Jenkins and Bill Hamblin from a few years ago? Great stuff.

 

 

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