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Musings Re: Historicity and the Book of Mormon


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10 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:

Yes, @ttribe told me I was doing the same thing, and he was right.

I may be thick skulled but eventually I learn.

You accuse me of sophistry, with this masterpiece in that genre?  I hope I never measure up to your genius.

I don't think I've engaged in sophistry.  

As all you've got is cheap shots, then let's move on.

Thanks,

-Smac

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Book of Mormon historicity is probably only indirectly approachable by scholarly means. That said, I would argue that the determination whether the text is Joseph Smith’s goes a long way toward clarifying the issue of historicity.

As many know, I study Book of Mormon syntax, which I consider to be the strongest evidence in relation to the authorship question. From what I know of its syntax (which by now is quite a bit), I couldn't honestly argue that Joseph was likely to produce a number of pervasive syntactic patterns found in the original Book of Mormon text, so I don't try to the point. I'm personally not interested in gaining the favor of various academic constituencies. I follow textual evidence, and my initial hypothesis in late 2013 and early 2014 (when I began to work in this field) was that the Book of Mormon was pseudobiblical in form.

Even if we're taking a strictly secular approach, we should take the syntax into consideration when trying to explain the text. For instance, that's what JarMan has done. He takes the syntax seriously and his idea is that a scholar wrote a Latin text that was translated into English during the early modern period. I've mentioned before that such an early modern translation would have probably undergone late modern updating at least once. The problem with this proposal is that it is highly unlikely from what we know of the well-attested dictation process. But if only a secular approach is acceptable, then that particular issue is overlooked or weakly explained away.

From an LDS perspective, it is a simple matter to acknowledge the syntactic evidence and accept the rather plain words of 2n2724 and 3n2111 and consider the Lord to be responsible for the text — however it might have been put together, whatever the process might have been, which is an area tailor-made for speculation. If the Lord is ultimately the source for the text, then historicity seems likely to me. It seems less likely that the Lord wouldn't have corrected the misconception through a prophet sometime over the past 190 years.

In the case of churchistrue, on the basis of evidence that is almost certainly not as strong as syntactic evidence, he has determined that Joseph and/or any of a number of candidates proposed through the years was/were responsible for the text. As this at odds with the strong syntactic evidence (and even some lexical evidence), the latter is and must be set aside. Such a determination combined with a variety of scholarly research makes historicity appear problematic for churchistrue, and so he rejects it. As one specific case I know about, a few years ago he presented the Book of Mormon as having many 19c phrases, blogging about it and mentioning it here.

I cited one of his blog posts in a recent paper called "Pitfalls of the Ngram Viewer". There I tried to show the importance of taking into account English usage across centuries, and the current shortcomings of the Google Books database and the Ngram Viewer.

[Comparative syntactic study can be thought of as a kind of smart, focused stylometry. To do this research I've made many small and large textual databases. My training in this area began in the early 1990s, when I carried out doctoral work on Old Spanish and Old Catalan texts (the ADMYTE project). More recently I've made precisely searchable databases of 16c and 17c English (750m words) and 18c English (10b words). I've also assembled a much smaller collection of 25 pseudobiblical texts. These let us know what biblical usage pseudobiblical authors imitated, what they were able to imitate, what they didn't imitate, and what they weren't able to imitate.]

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1 hour ago, champatsch said:

Even if we're taking a strictly secular approach, we should take the syntax into consideration when trying to explain the text. For instance, that's what JarMan has done. He takes the syntax seriously and his idea is that a scholar wrote a Latin text that was translated into English during the early modern period. I've mentioned before that such an early modern translation would have probably undergone late modern updating at least once. The problem with this proposal is that it is highly unlikely from what we know of the well-attested dictation process. But if only a secular approach is acceptable, then that particular issue is overlooked or weakly explained away.

From an LDS perspective, it is a simple matter to acknowledge the syntactic evidence and accept the rather plain words of 2n2724 and 3n2111 and consider the Lord to be responsible for the text — however it might have been put together, whatever the process might have been, which is an area tailor-made for speculation. If the Lord is ultimately the source for the text, then historicity seems likely to me. It seems less likely that the Lord wouldn't have corrected the misconception through a prophet sometime over the past 190 years.

In the case of churchistrue, on the basis of evidence that is almost certainly not as strong as syntactic evidence, he has determined that Joseph and/or any of a number of candidates proposed through the years was/were responsible for the text. As this at odds with the strong syntactic evidence (and even some lexical evidence), the latter is and must be set aside. Such a determination combined with a variety of scholarly research makes historicity appear problematic for churchistrue, and so he rejects it. As one specific case I know about, a few years ago he presented the Book of Mormon as having many 19c phrases, blogging about it and mentioning it here.

It's great to see some of your conclusions and implications about what your research shows, for those of us who are far behind your understanding of these issues.

Time will tell but it appears we are closer to understanding what may be more clear in the future that indeed the Lord has given us a "marvelous work and a wonder" the scope of which has perhaps not yet been envisioned even by the most devout Latter Day Saint.

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2 hours ago, smac97 said:

I don't think I've engaged in sophistry.  

As all you've got is cheap shots, then let's move on.

Thanks,

-Smac

And you expected...?

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2 minutes ago, ttribe said:
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I don't think I've engaged in sophistry.  

As all you've got is cheap shots, then let's move on.

Thanks,

-Smac

And you expected...?

I had hoped for a substantive and spirited, but still civil, exchange of ideas.  Ah, well.

-Smac

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29 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I had hoped for a substantive and spirited, but still civil, exchange of ideas.  Ah, well.

-Smac

And so it continues, now to ad hominem attacks.

C'EST la vie.

And of course there will be another baiting reply..

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2 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:
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I had hoped for a substantive and spirited, but still civil, exchange of ideas.  Ah, well.

-Smac

And so it continues, now to ad hominem attacks.

C'EST la vie.

And of course there will be another baiting reply..

I provided a well-intentioned and substantive post.  You immediately and summarily and conclusorily disparaged it, and did not interact with it in any helpful way.

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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2 hours ago, champatsch said:

As many know, I study Book of Mormon syntax, which I consider to be the strongest evidence in relation to the authorship question. From what I know of its syntax (which by now is quite a bit), I couldn't honestly argue that Joseph was likely to produce a number of pervasive syntactic patterns found in the original Book of Mormon text.

I appreciate the careful, painstaking work you have done on Book of Mormon syntax (although, admittedly, much of it is over my head). But the presence of Early Modern English syntactic patterns in the Book of Mormon doesn't settle the authorship question for me. Given that the nineteenth century came after the sixteenth century, I don't think it's impossible for sixteenth-century syntax to be there. It may be unlikely, but there are many things about the Book of Mormon that are unlikely, starting with its very existence.

For me, the presence of unusual syntax doesn't outweigh all the elements in the book pointing to Joseph Smith as the author: the clear references to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and the lost 116 pages, seer stones, slippery treasures, secret combinations, Israelite origins of Native Americans, Native Americans posing an existential threat to European settlers, Universalism (Nehor), infidelity/skepticism (Korihor), defensiveness about miracles/visions/supernaturalism, nineteenth-century sermon language, etc.

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27 minutes ago, Kevin Christensen said:

It seems to me that the advocates of the Inspired Fiction/Inspired or Inspiring But Not Historical approach basically want to recognize the validity of LDS spiritual experience overall against their own inability to accept historicity.  It's a rebellion against "all or nothing thinking".   Unsurprisingly, I start with Kuhn and Barbour.  Paradigm choice always involves deciding "which problems are more significant to have solved."  Opinions will vary because knowledge, experience, and modes of deciding which problems are most important vary.

Thanks for sharing these thoughts here. I agree with you on rejecting all-or-nothing thinking and the need for epistemic humility. For me, the "more significant" problem to have solved is whether or not the Book of Mormon contains truth to live by. I believe it does.

27 minutes ago, Kevin Christensen said:

And I notice that the people who give things time, keep their eyes open, and re-examine their assumptions once in a while, fare far better, and discover far more, across a wide range of subjects than do those who want final answers today, who know enough to decide for all time now, and who never examine their own eyes for beams.  Those who love and live in the house stay longer, and explore and find more than those who just pass through.

I love this!

Edited by Nevo
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7 hours ago, Kevin Christensen said:

Joseph Smith said, "God adapts himself to our capacity to understand"

Looking for this quote with no success. Could you point me to it?

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My guess it’s actually stemming from this quote 

 

““If He comes to a little child, He will adapt himself to the language and capacity of a little child” (Joseph Smith, in History of the Church, 3:392).

Edited by Steve J
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20 hours ago, Nevo said:

I appreciate the careful, painstaking work you have done on Book of Mormon syntax (although, admittedly, much of it is over my head). But the presence of Early Modern English syntactic patterns in the Book of Mormon doesn't settle the authorship question for me. Given that the nineteenth century came after the sixteenth century, I don't think it's impossible for sixteenth-century syntax to be there. It may be unlikely, but there are many things about the Book of Mormon that are unlikely, starting with its very existence.

For me, the presence of unusual syntax doesn't outweigh all the elements in the book pointing to Joseph Smith as the author: the clear references to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and the lost 116 pages, seer stones, slippery treasures, secret combinations, Israelite origins of Native Americans, Native Americans posing an existential threat to European settlers, Universalism (Nehor), infidelity/skepticism (Korihor), defensiveness about miracles/visions/supernaturalism, nineteenth-century sermon language, etc.

What we need to pinpoint are features that are strictly 19c. As two examples, take Christian universalism and 19c sermon language. I look up the former and read that proponents point to it being a feature of primitive Christianity. So it sounds like it might be a somewhat timeless religious notion. On 19c sermon language, I know from recent research with many primary sources that so much of it has its origins in the Protestant Reformation, two or three centuries earlier. That is in part what the paper "Pitfalls of the Ngram Viewer" is about.

What I try to do with the syntax is similar but in reverse: test Book of Mormon syntactic features for strict archaism. The patterns are quite important to consider. Did the patterns carry through in a meaningful way to the late modern period?

Possibly the two most important patterns have to do with personal relative pronoun (PRP) usage and clausal complementation. Expanding on just the first one, the Book of Mormon's PRP pattern is attested, but it was a less-common early modern pattern. It's utterly different from Joseph Smith's own (nonconscious) pattern and different from the modern pattern. In nearly 200,000 18c texts, the usage pattern only shows up in books that reprinted late 16c and early 17c texts. Nor is the Book of Mormon's PRP pattern pseudobiblical (26 texts and counting) or biblical. (The King James Bible is dominant in personal that, and the Book of Mormon is dominant in personal which.)

What we need to find is a longer pseudobiblical text with something close to the Book of Mormon's PRP pattern. Then we can say it was possible for Joseph as a pseudobiblical effort. Still, after that we will have the Book of Mormon's other nonpseudobiblical archaic features to explain: the heavy finite clausal complementation, the heavy use of shall as a subjunctive marker (extrabiblical), and so forth.

So, in the absence of pseudobiblical support, we conclude that it's highly unlikely Joseph was responsible for producing the thousands of PRPs of the Book of Mormon. For him to have done it, it must have been a continually conscious act that opposed his native speaker preferences and went against biblical usage. (He certainly didn't know the pattern from deep knowledge of the King James Bible, which is dominated by personal that, knowledge he is presumed to have had by those who think he authored the text, in order to account for all the brilliant blending of biblical phraseology.)

Edited by champatsch
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26 minutes ago, champatsch said:

Possibly the two most important patterns have to do with personal relative pronoun (PRP) usage and clausal complementation. Expanding on just the first one, the Book of Mormon's PRP pattern is attested, but it was a less-common early modern pattern.

For those of us who have not followed this closely, could you please provide examples?

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Smac writes:

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I'm not sure what you are asking for here.  The "potential source text" in view would be the Gold Plates.  We can look at extant evidence pertaining to the Plates.  We can also look at the text's explanation for itself.  And Joseph Smith's narrative.  And the attestations of the Witnesses.  And textual evidences.  And so on.

All extant evidence pertaining to the plates comes from only a couple of years prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon. And because of this, once again, this only works as an argument for verisimilitude and not historicity. How old were the plates? What language were they written in? Who was the author? These details can only be answered by an appeal to the text, because we do not have an external way of answering these questions. But we need these questions answered (or similar kinds of questions) to start discussing the historicity question. If instead we have to appeal to the question of writing on metal plates in antiquity, and those kinds of issues, we are making an argument for verisimilitude.

In other words, as you write later:

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I'm not sure what you are asking for here.  The "potential source text" in view would be the Gold Plates.  We can look at extant evidence pertaining to the Plates.  We can also look at the text's explanation for itself.  And Joseph Smith's narrative.  And the attestations of the Witnesses.  And textual evidences.  And so on.

Fictional accounts routinely contain explanations for themselves (it is in some ways, a characteristic of certain kinds of fiction). Consider, for example, the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, A Princess of Mars. It begins like this:

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In submitting Captain Carter's strange manuscript to you in book form, I believe that a few words relative to this remarkable personality will be of interest.

My first recollection of Captain Carter is of the few months he spent at my father's home in Virginia, just prior to the opening of the civil war. I was then a child of but five years, yet I well remember the tall, dark, smooth-faced, athletic man whom I called Uncle Jack.

It explains how a manuscript is produced, the names of those who provided the information, a bit of biographical detail. So should we simply 'look at the text's explanation for itself'? All of these things you mention - Joseph Smith's narrative, the text's explanation of itself, the testimony of the witnesses - none of these things are a part of an argument for the historicity of the narrative in the Book of Mormon (and presumably from the gold plates). They may be part of an argument for the historicity of the Book of Mormon (viewing the modern text as artifact). But, the historicity of the Book of Mormon as a modern text isn't really something that is controversial or debated or even questioned. If you want to say that the narrative in the Book of Mormon has historicity, then really none of these other things is all that relevant. This is why I believe you are misunderstanding the term "historicity" in this context - especially when you are contrasting a belief in a historically authentic Book of Mormon with a belief in the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction (whatever that term means).

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The Book of Mormon purports to be a modern translation of an ancient text.  We can examine evidences that tend to substantiate or rebut that purported explanation.

Sure. And the Book of Esther in the King James Old Testament purports to be a modern translation of an ancient text. And we can examine evidences that in fact substantiate that explanation. So no one contests that the Book of Esther is an ancient text. And most academics are quite certain that the Book of Esther is also a work of fiction.

This is, as you point out, not quite a corollary with the Book of Mormon, since you can argue that Joseph Smith couldn't produce the Book of Mormon as a text that appears to be an ancient text without having an ancient source. But once again, this is not an argument for historicity. The Book of Esther has historicity (taking the text as artifact) because we can identify ancient corroborations of the existence of the text that are external to any translation we have today. The narrative of the Book of Esther has no historicity because we know (again, from ancient evidence external to the text) that it is a work of fiction. So the text is considered verisimilar. On the other hand, we have no ancient external evidence to the Book of Mormon text (because we do not have the gold plates to analyze and determine their historical place), and we have no ancient external evidence of the events described in the book (people, places, and events) with which to line up against the text. And this means that we cannot make an adequate argument for the historicity of the text. Instead, there is an attempt made to substitute verisimilarity.

Put in a slightly different way, what evidence do you have for the ancient source of the Book of Mormon, that isn't personal revelation, or modern text?

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The clay jar could probably be subjected to further examination.  Is the material comprising the jar endemic to the area of Iraq described in the OP?  Is there any patina on it that could help establish its age?  Any residue on the interior that could be subjected to Carbon-14 dating?  Is its shape and design consistent with Neo Babylonian pottery?  Was anyone else with my father when he picked up the pieces of the jar?  If so, are these other people still around?  Do they have a recollection of visiting the ruins and watching my dad pick up the pieces?  Are they generally credible as witnesses?  What about my mom?  Can she attest to the "chain of custody" of the jar?

You shift in the middle here in a way that doesn't reflect historicity as a way of trying to justify your case. In other words, if we had the Gold Plates, and we could test them, and could produce evidence (external to the text), then this would start us down the path towards historicity. But the rest is irrelevant. Because we get back to the distinction between text-as-artifact and text-as-narrative. As we see in the Book of Esther, text-as-artifact having historicity doesn't mean that the text-as-narrative has historicity. And in any case, we don't have the plates to test. Everything else you discuss is of modern production. And it exists entirely in modern texts. And your argument, ultimately, is that the Book of Mormon should be seen as a translation of an ancient text, not because we can corroborate the details in the text against a historical reality (which is what historicity is), but rather because we can make a probabilistic case that this is the only reasonable explanation for the existence of the Book of Mormon.

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That's a fair question.  But "broadly accepted methods of looking at historicity in Biblical Studies" are not the definitive and exclusive means of "looking at historicity."

I would probably accept any accepted method that illustrates historicity of an ancient text. The challenge is that what you are doing resembles absolutely nothing that generally gets accepted for this sort of thing.

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I am saying the text of The Book of Mormon must be accounted for (certainly something more than endless repetitions of "Don't know" and "Doesn't matter").  It came from somewhere.

Who thinks that it didn't come from somewhere? We have it. We can read it. But again, this isn't a part of an argument for the historicity of the narrative in the Book.

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I'd like to better understand this point.  Joseph Smith lacked the capacity to write the text, and that's evidence of the text being fictional ('verisimilar")?  How so?

Two points. You have it backwards. If Joseph Smith produces a verisimilar text, while lacking the capacity to do so (for whatever reasons), that isn't evidence of the text being fictional. It may be evidence of the text being authentic (depending on how you want to see it). Verisimilar isn't synonymous with fictional. Verisimilar means that it reads like it fits a specific historical context. Often (as was pointed out in that article about the Book of Esther), we judge the historical nature of a text by its verisimilarity. In the Book of Esther, this issue has been raised for its authenticity for a long time. It reads just like we would expect it to, if it was written in the time frame that it claims to be written in. But we also know that the main characters never existed, and that some of the major events described in the text never happened. We know this because we have sufficient historical knowledge from the time period to make this determination - that is, we know a great deal about people and events from that time period. So the Book of Esther cannot be considered to have historicity because the people and the events described in it never actually happened. This is what makes it fiction - not because it is verisimilar (it is certainly verisimilar - but it would be verisimilar even if it was about real people and read events). Generally, we expect ancient non-fiction to be just as verisimilar as ancient fiction. And we regularly encounter fiction that isn't (especially historical fiction, right?). One of the fascinating elements of the Book of Judges is the descriptions it provides of the territories of the twelve tribes. At one point, they match quite well the territories that existed at a much later point in time - but not that earlier time frame being discussed. Because we can match it up we might suggest that it has historicity (we can identify it to a particular place and time) but not verisimilitude (it doesn't match what it should in the context of its narrative). So our understanding of the authorship of the text is built around these kinds of interactions.

For the Book of Mormon, the problem is that we don't have sufficient external historical knowledge to be able to demonstrate the existence of (or the lack of existence of) the people and events in the Book of Mormon narrative. So we cannot make claims of the historicity of the text (or potentially it's non-historicity). So instead of arguing about historicity, we argue about all sorts of other things - including this question of verisimilitude. If the text sounds like it could be describing real events, in a real historical context (whether or not we can identify real people and events), then you can claim verisimilitude - and in the absence of a good argument (one way or the other) about historicity you can use this to discuss the (historical) authenticity of the text. And there are lots of ways to do this sort of thing. 

I don't have any issue with you taking shots at the notion of the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction. I don't have any issues with you discussing the potential verisimilitude of the text. I don't have any problem with working to establish the integrity of early witnesses to the Book of Mormon and its production props (the gold plates, the breastplate, the interpreters, the hat, and so on). I don't have any issue with you suggesting that because we now know more than what Joseph could have known, and it matches the narrative of the Book of Mormon in certain places, that the text has greater verisimilitude now than it could have had in 1830 (and thus suggest that the Book of Mormon's prediction of our understanding of a particular place and time establishes its prophetic authenticity).

The Book of Mormon is a literary work. Because it claims to be a translation, we have to distinguish between the Book of Mormon as an artifact (independent of its textual meaning) and the Book of Mormon as a narrative text. For us to discuss the historicity of the Book of Mormon as a narrative text, we have to discuss the real existence of the people in the text and the events that are described within a specific historical context. That is what historicity means. If you can connect individuals in the Book of Mormon narrative to an external reference and argue that they represent the same people - that would be an argument for historicity. Historicity is a rather specific idea. It is not the same as speaking about something's historical authenticity. And, to reiterate, historicity and verisimilitude are not opposites. You make an argument for verisimilitude. But then you suggest that this argument should answer the question of historicity. This is exactly what the article on Esther was arguing against - by pointing out that fiction can be verisimilar but have absolutely no historicity. This is the issue. I think it is important to be accurate in our discussions about it.

And finally, I am just glad we are having this discussion within the realm of literature. The philosophical discussion on historicity is ... well ... here is an excerpt from Gauthier Vanhouwe's article "Questioning and Historicity: A Philosophical Revolution" in Revue Internationale de Philosophie (2007/4):

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Historicity is what remains when everything changes historically. It is repressed as much as history itself allows. Problematology is that moment in history when historicity must be theorized for what it is, for historically, the historical return to history is an aspect of it and can no longer be avoided. Historicity is a question, the question of the problematological difference which is reflected according to historically variable modalities, a reflexivity which is itself a form of its effectuation at a given moment of history. ...

 

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On 6/26/2020 at 2:01 PM, Kevin Christensen said:

It seems to me that the advocates of the Inspired Fiction/Inspired or Inspiring But Not Historical approach basically want to recognize the validity of LDS spiritual experience overall against their own inability to accept historicity.  It's a rebellion against "all or nothing thinking".   Unsurprisingly, I start with Kuhn and Barbour.  Paradigm choice always involves deciding "which problems are more significant to have solved."  Opinions will vary because knowledge, experience, and modes of deciding which problems are most important vary.

Barbour draws on people like Ninian Smart in observing that there are a range of experiences that people draw on to justfy their religious belief and committments.   I like to view these like this:

From responses to external impressions regarding:


(a) Order and creativity in the world
The common mythic symbols and patterns underlying most religious traditions
Key historical events that define separate traditions and bind individuals

(b) Through the innermost experiences of the individual:
Numinous awe and reverence
Mystical union
Moral obligation
Reorientation and Reconciliation with respect to personal sin, guilt, and weakness, the existence of evil, suffering, and death, and tensions between science and faith.

(c) Then returning to the external world as human action:
Personal dialogue where you begin interpret external events as God speaking to you, and you answer through your own actions.
Social and Ritual behavior

From this essay:

http://oneclimbs.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/A-Model-of-Mormon-Spiritual-Experience.pdf

Notice that that the third entry under (a) is "Key historical events that define separate traditions and bind individuals."   What defines the LDS as a distinct community is the story of Joseph Smith, the angel, and the book.  If a person does not accept those events, and more particularly, events described in the Book of Mormon itself, such as Moroni's claim in Ether 12:39 to have "seen Jesus, an that he talked with me face to face, and told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language concerning these things", if they want to justify their adherence to the existing LDS culture, they must do so via kinds of experience that are not exclusive to the LDS.  (And I notice that D&C 1 expressly declares that things like faith, truth, revelation and human virtue are not exclusive to the LDS.  And D&C 1 does not use the expression "one and only true faith".)   There is nothing wrong with that.  This amounts performing their experiment on "even a portion of the word" as Alma 32:27 puts it.  But while there is nothing wrong with doing so, that approach at least for the present gives up on that which defines this community.  Which problems are more significant to have solved?

I personally see "all or nothing thinking" as an artifact of Position 2 of the Perry Scheme, and as a hierarchical strategy for dealing with complexity.  There will always be LDS who use such approaches, but that is part of the human condition, and the LDS faith itself does not require them.  There are other ways to go besides "all or nothing" thinking, and I see Joseph Smith and the scriptures as pointing us to those ways, while recognizing that different people are in different positions, and as Joseph Smith said, "God adapts himself to our capacity to understand".  And that insight comes with the related notion that our minds are capable of enlargement.  (See Alma 32 and much else, including the Perry Scheme).

Notice that Reorientation and Reconcilliation amount to changes in thinking and feeling.  And that in 3 Nephi, Jesus calls for the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, which happen to correspond to a willingness to reorient our thinking, and our feelings. And the Lord tells Oliver Cowdery that he will be told in his mind and his heart.  But it is a process, not a once and for all moment.  A bit of growth, expansion, fruitfulness, and all that Alma 32 says.

Personally, I have performed a wide range of experiments with the Book of Mormon, and I like what I have found, I have experienced many moments of Reorientation and Reconcilliation in relation to Key Historical Events inside and outside the Book of Mormon, and I accept historicity.  And I have read a wide range of critiques and counter arguments, and I find them unpersuasive.  I have open questions on some issues, but that is just what Kuhn calls "the essential tension" and it exists in science as it does in faith and for the same reasons.  Science and Positivism/Empiricism are NOT the same thing.  One is a method, and the other, an ideology.  And I notice that the people who give things time, keep their eyes open, and re-examine their assumptions once in a while, fare far better, and discover far more, across a wide range of subjects than do those who want final answers today, who know enough to decide for all time now, and who never examine their own eyes for beams.  Those who love and live in the house stay longer, and explore and find more than those who just pass through.

So while I am sympathetic to those who doubt historicity, but find grounds to stay on other issues, I will continue to point to issues that I think are more significant to have solved regarding historicity, look to testability, comprehensiveness and coherence, fruitfulness, simplicity and aesthetics and future promise.

FWIW,

Kevin Christensen

Canonsburg, PA

Wittgenstein was a believer in a narrow sense, but oddly I have the same opinion that he had.  ;)  I have been accused of being too "esoteric" in what I post- I hope this is clear to all.  Wittgenstein comes out of the same millieu as the Pragmatists and of course Kuhn, James, Dewey, Rorty, etc.  All these philosophers stood on the threshold of being "true believers" yet stayed on the threshold and never fully entered the room.   In a sense however, I believe that this is what makes them so strong in the arguments they made- if agnostics can see and understand the place of religion as a rational belief, who are we believers to look for reasons to argue against that?  They at least have come to the doorway- it makes no sense to push them out because they do not see historicity as our "all or nothing" members do.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value;   Translated by Peter Winch, Edited by G.H. Von Wright ; University of Chicago Press, 1980

P 32- 33 E

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Queer as it sounds: the historical accounts in the gospels maybe historically speaking, be demonstrably false and yet belief would lose nothing by this: not however because it concerns ‘universal truths of reason’!  Rather,  because historical proof (the historical proof-game is irrelevant to belief). This message (the Gospels) is seized on by men believingly (ie  lovingly).  That is the certainty characterizing this particular acceptance-as-true, not something else

 

A believer’s relation to these narratives is neither the relation to historical truth (probability), nor yet that to a theory consisting of ‘truths of reason’.  There is such a thing- (We have quite different attitudes even to different species of what we call fiction!)

 

I read: “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost”.  And it is true: I cannot call him Lord; because that says nothing to me.  I could call him ‘the paragon’, ‘God’ even- or rather, I can understand it when he is called thus; but I cannot utter the word “Lord” with meaning.  Because I do not believe that he will come to judge me; because that says nothing to me.  And it could say something to me, only if I lived completely differently.

 

What inclines even me to believe in Christ’s Resurrection ?  It is as though I play with the thought,- If he did not rise from the dead, then he decomposed in the grave like any other man. He is dead and decomposed.  In that case he is a teacher like any other and can no longer help; and once more we are orphaned and alone. So we have to content ourselves with wisdom and speculation.   We are in a sort of hell where we can do nothing but dream, roofed in, as it were, and cut off from heaven.  But if I am to be REALLY saved, - what I need is certainty - not wisdom, dreams or speculation- and this certainty is faith.  And faith is faith in what is needed by my heart, my soul, not my speculative intelligence.  For it is my soul with its passions, as it were with its flesh and blood that has to be saved, not my abstract mind.  Perhaps we can say: Only love can believe the resurrection . Or: It is love that believes the Resurrection. We might say: Redeeming love believes even in the Resurrection;  holds fast even to the Resurrection.  What combats doubt is, as it were, redemption.  Holding fast to this this must be holding fast to that belief. So what that means is: first you must be redeemed and hold on to your redemption (keep hold of your redemption) - then you will see that you are holding fast to this belief.  So this can come about only if you no longer rest your weight on the earth but suspend yourself from heaven.  Then everything will be different and it will be ‘no wonder’ if you can do things that you cannot do now. (A man who is suspended looks the same as one who is standing, but the interplay of forces within him is nevertheless quite different, so that he can act quite differently than can a standing man.)

 

 

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8 hours ago, Steve J said:

My guess it’s actually stemming from this quote 

 

““If He comes to a little child, He will adapt himself to the language and capacity of a little child” (Joseph Smith, in History of the Church, 3:392).

Regardless of whether or not this is the "correct" quote which was being sought, I find this incredibly useful in this apparently "esoteric" context

Edited by mfbukowski
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1 hour ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

The Book of Mormon is a literary work. Because it claims to be a translation, we have to distinguish between the Book of Mormon as an artifact (independent of its textual meaning) and the Book of Mormon as a narrative text. For us to discuss the historicity of the Book of Mormon as a narrative text, we have to discuss the real existence of the people in the text and the events that are described within a specific historical context. That is what historicity means. If you can connect individuals in the Book of Mormon narrative to an external reference and argue that they represent the same people - that would be an argument for historicity. Historicity is a rather specific idea. It is not the same as speaking about something's historical authenticity. And, to reiterate, historicity and verisimilitude are not opposites. You make an argument for verisimilitude. But then you suggest that this argument should answer the question of historicity. This is exactly what the article on Esther was arguing against - by pointing out that fiction can be verisimilar but have absolutely no historicity. This is the issue. I think it is important to be accurate in our discussions about it.

Thanks for sharing. I wasn't familiar with this nuance, and I think it is an important distinction that can help clarify discussions. I would suggest, though, that the very unique circumstances surrounding the discovery and translation of the Book of Mormon turn any sort of strong evidence of verisimilitude into pretty good circumstantial evidence for historicity. 

I suppose it might be sort of like if someone who doubted the historicity of the New Testament was visited in person by the resurrected Jesus Christ, and if Jesus told him or her that the accounts about his life in the New Testament were essentially accurate and true. That certainly wouldn't prove the historicity of the relevant New Testament texts in an academic sort of way (such supernatural visitations aren't permitted under most academic assumptions and the visiting personage could possibly not be what he seems; perhaps he is an alien in disguise or a demonic being or a sophisticated hologram or some other bizarre phenomenon). But to such a person, if this type of event were ever to happen and if the event was perceived as distinctively "supernatural" in nature, it would probably go a long way toward inviting belief in the essential historicity of the New Testament. 

In a similar way, strong verisimilitude coming from an author like Joseph Smith seems to help confirm the Book of Mormon's general antiquity, and it is hard, at least for myself and probably for others, to account for the text being authentically ancient outside of accepting Joseph Smith's own claims about its origins and its miraculous discovery and translation. At the same time, it seems illogical to me (because of a much more complicated network of assumptions that I don't have room to develop) to assume that the text is not historically what it claims to be while simultaneously being authentically ancient, miraculously discovered, and miraculously translated.

So what I am saying is that because of the Book of Mormon's unique claimed origins and production history, verisimilitude may have much stronger implications for the plausibility of the text's historicity than it would for a text like the book of Esther. This may help partially explain why the distinction you are pointing out between verisimilitude and historicity is often not explicitly made in such discussions. 

That being said, I think the distinction you have brought up is important and helpful and should be used. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. 

 

 

 

 

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9 hours ago, champatsch said:

So, in the absence of pseudobiblical support, we conclude that it's highly unlikely Joseph was responsible for producing the thousands of PRPs of the Book of Mormon. For him to have done it, it must have been a continually conscious act that opposed his native speaker preferences and went against biblical usage. (He certainly didn't know the pattern from deep knowledge of the King James Bible, which is dominated by personal that, knowledge he is presumed to have had by those who think he authored the text, in order to account for all the brilliant blending of biblical phraseology.)

I, for one, don't presume that Joseph Smith would have known that the King James Bible is dominated by personal that. Especially since one of the most famous lines from the King James Bible conspicuously uses which: "Our Father which art in heaven." The genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:23–38 has 75 examples of personal which in just 16 verses, so I don't think it would have necessarily been clear to a nineteenth-century person that dominant personal which "went against biblical usage." Personal which also shows up in the Testimony of the Three Witnesses: "the people of Jared which came from the tower."

So, while interesting, I don't think this observation rules out a nineteenth-century origin for the Book of Mormon.

You note that Christian universalism and nineteenth-century sermon language are not "strictly 19c." That's correct, as far as it goes. Origen, the third-century Church Father, believed in universal salvation and phrases like "demands of justice" were not coined in the nineteenth-century. But those things were particularly prominent in Joseph Smith's immediate environment.

The Universalist movement in America took root in rural New England after 1770 and grew rapidly in the following decades, particularly in upstate New York. Historian Whitney Cross attributed this growth to "the increased tide of hill-country New Englanders who migrated in the years following 1815." By 1823, there were nearly ninety Universalist congregations in western New York. "In the following year, the sect was supporting periodicals at Watertown, Buffalo, Rochester, and Little Falls. Two of these, removed to Auburn and Utica, claimed circulation totaling nearly eight thousand copies by the end of the decade" (Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-Over District, 18). By 1830, there were more Universalists in New York than in any other state (Milton V. Backman, American Religions and the Rise of Mormonism, 218).

Sermons, books, pamphlets, and newspapers attacking and defending the doctrine of universal salvation proliferated. Proponents of Universalism emphasized God’s love and mercy and rejected the notion of endless punishment for the wicked, maintaining that God would save everyone. Defenders of the orthodox position, on the other hand, argued that sin against an infinite being required an infinite punishment, and that the demands of justice could not be abrogated. "By the second and third decades of the [nineteenth] century, attacks on Universalism almost invariably invoked considerations of justice to condemn the faith" (Ann Lee Bressler, The Universalist Movement in America, 38).

And this is exactly what we see in the Book of Mormon. 

As Grant Underwood observed years ago, when Alma tells Corianton "do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness" (Alma 41:10), early readers of the Book of Mormon would have seen this is a “particularly pointed” reference to the second article of the Universalists' 1803 Winchester Profession: "We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness" (Grant Underwood, The Millenarian World of Early Mormonism, 88).

Against latter-day Coriantons who have wrested the scriptures "and have gone far astray because of this thing" (Alma 41:1), the Book of Mormon takes pains to emphasize that mercy cannot rob justice of its due, that "according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state." Otherwise, "the work of justice" would be destroyed and "God would cease to be God" (Alma 42:13).

The idea that this life is a probationary state figured prominently in anti-Universalist sermons as a corrective to restorationist Universalist claims that one might still repent after death. For example, John Cleaveland declared in 1776: “The time of life here on earth is our probation-time for eternity. . .  after death, they that are filthy will be filthy still; and they that are holy will be holy still . . . after death until the final judgment, while our bodies are in the grave, our souls will be in a state of fixed happiness or misery, according to the state we were in when we gave up the ghost” (Cleaveland, An Attempt to Nip in the Bud, the Unscriptural Doctrine of Universal Salvation [Salem, MA: E. Russell, 1776], 10; compare Alma 34:32-34). A sermon published in the New York Methodist Magazine in 1823 put particular emphasis on this idea: "The present is a probationary state for the kingdom of heaven. The future is a state of retribution." "None can be saved in the future state who are not prepared for the kingdom of heaven in this." "Every thing which we can conceive necessary to constitute a state of probation, belongs to man’s state in the world. Here life and death are set before him . . . The gospel is preached to him, and the Holy Spirit helpeth his infirmities. He is told that this state will soon end, and that his future state will be determined by the deeds done in this. These things indicate a state of probation as clearly as any thing can" (Methodist Magazine 6 [September 1823]: 322; see also, Methodist Magazine 6 [August 1823]: 284Methodist Magazine 2 [October 1819]: 378-79; Methodist Magazine 3 [September 1820]: 343-44). 

Alma’s discussion of God’s justice and mercy also closely resembles nineteenth-century orthodox treatments of the subject. Methodist minister Timothy Merritt argued that “if mankind are under the law of God, there must, in the very nature of things, be a penalty for the breach of the law . . . If we incur the penalty of the law by transgression, that penalty must be executed either on us or on our substitute. If on us, then no favor is shown us; but if on our substitute, the way is opened, and mercy may be extended to us.” Christ’s suffering for us, in our stead, “[gave] exercise to that mercy and grace which otherwise would have been prevented by the unsatisfied demands of the law upon us.”  Thus, “the atonement was not made to render God merciful to us, but to satisfy the claims which his justice had against us as transgressors, and open the way by which he might extend mercy to us consistently with his character as Lawgiver and Judge” (Methodist Magazine 6 [July 1823]: 244-45).

Alma's argument that God’s mercy cannot destroy his justice or he would cease to be God (Alma 42:13, 22, 25) also had antecedents in Joseph Smith's environment. An article appearing in the Utica Christian Magazine in 1813, for example, argued that God’s justice is essential to his nature; therefore, "God can no more disregard his justice in his conduct toward his creatures than he can deny his own name or destroy his moral perfection. If God had saved sinners from threatened and deserved punishment without an atonement, he would have sacrificed his justice, and have ruined his character and government" (Utica Christian Magazine 1 [October 1813]: 223, 227-28). Likewise, Josiah Priest asked: "[Can] a being necessarily just, suspend his justice? . . . If mercy can overcome justice, what is become of Omnipotence by which justice is supported?" (Josiah Priest, The Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed [Albany, NY: Josiah Priest, 1825], 133-35).

Edited by Nevo
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On 6/26/2020 at 12:51 PM, smac97 said:

I had hoped for a substantive and spirited, but still civil, exchange of ideas.  Ah, well.

-Smac

And so the Wittgenstein quote is not "substantive"?

It is what I have been arguing all along, for years, that in logical terms, historicity  in religion is a faith based belief, not based on history or historical evidence.

The belief comes before historical evidence.

And now I suppose you will bring up evidence again without defining what that is.

 

Edited by mfbukowski
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17 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:
Quote
Quote

 

Yes, @ttribe told me I was doing the same thing, and he was right.

I may be thick skulled but eventually I learn.

You accuse me of sophistry, with this masterpiece in that genre?  I hope I never measure up to your genius.

 

As all you've got is cheap shots, then let's move on.

And so the Wittgenstein quote is not "substantive"?

You didn't quote Wittgenstein.  You just dropped a cheap shot and otherwise totally ignored what I said.

17 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:

It is what I have been arguing all along, for years, that in logical terms, historicity  in religion is a faith based belief, not based on history or historical evidence.

The belief comes before historical evidence.

And now I suppose you will bring up evidence again without defining what that is.

We don't seem to be able to have substantive discussions without them devolving into sniping.  So let's just agree to disagree and move on.

Thanks,

-Smac

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2 hours ago, Nevo said:

I, for one, don't presume that Joseph Smith would have known that the King James Bible is dominated by personal that. Especially since one of the most famous lines from the King James Bible conspicuously uses which: "Our Father which art in heaven." The genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:23–38 has 75 examples of personal which in just 16 verses, so I don't think it would have necessarily been clear to a nineteenth-century person that dominant personal which "went against biblical usage." Personal which also shows up in the Testimony of the Three Witnesses: "the people of Jared which came from the tower."

So, while interesting, I don't think this observation rules out a nineteenth-century origin for the Book of Mormon.

You note that Christian universalism and nineteenth-century sermon language are not "strictly 19c." That's correct, as far as it goes. Origen, the third-century Church Father, believed in universal salvation and phrases like "demands of justice" were not coined in the nineteenth-century. But those things were particularly prominent in Joseph Smith's immediate environment.

The Universalist movement in America took root in rural New England after 1770 and grew rapidly in the following decades, particularly in upstate New York. Historian Whitney Cross attributed this growth to "the increased tide of hill-country New Englanders who migrated in the years following 1815." By 1823, there were nearly ninety Universalist congregations in western New York. "In the following year, the sect was supporting periodicals at Watertown, Buffalo, Rochester, and Little Falls. Two of these, removed to Auburn and Utica, claimed circulation totaling nearly eight thousand copies by the end of the decade" (Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-Over District, 18). By 1830, there were more Universalists in New York than in any other state (Milton V. Backman, American Religions and the Rise of Mormonism, 218).

Sermons, books, pamphlets, and newspapers attacking and defending the doctrine of universal salvation proliferated. Proponents of Universalism emphasized God’s love and mercy and rejected the notion of endless punishment for the wicked, maintaining that God would save everyone. Defenders of the orthodox position, on the other hand, argued that sin against an infinite being required an infinite punishment, and that the demands of justice could not be abrogated. "By the second and third decades of the [nineteenth] century, attacks on Universalism almost invariably invoked considerations of justice to condemn the faith" (Ann Lee Bressler, The Universalist Movement in America, 38).

And this is exactly what we see in the Book of Mormon. 

As Grant Underwood observed years ago, when Alma tells Corianton "do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness" (Alma 41:10), early readers of the Book of Mormon would have seen this is a “particularly pointed” reference to the second article of the Universalists' 1803 Winchester Profession: "We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness" (Grant Underwood, The Millenarian World of Early Mormonism, 88).

Against latter-day Coriantons who have wrested the scriptures "and have gone far astray because of this thing" (Alma 41:1), the Book of Mormon takes pains to emphasize that mercy cannot rob justice of its due, that "according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state." Otherwise, "the work of justice" would be destroyed and "God would cease to be God" (Alma 42:13).

The idea that this life is a "probationary state" figured prominently in anti-Universalist sermons as a corrective to restorationist Universalist claims that one might still repent after death. For example, John Cleaveland declared in 1776: “The time of life here on earth is our probation-time for eternity. . .  after death, they that are filthy will be filthy still; and they that are holy will be holy still . . . after death until the final judgment, while our bodies are in the grave, our souls will be in a state of fixed happiness or misery, according to the state we were in when we gave up the ghost” (Cleaveland, An Attempt to Nip in the Bud, the Unscriptural Doctrine of Universal Salvation [Salem, MA: E. Russell, 1776], 10; compare Alma 34:32-34). A sermon published in the New York Methodist Magazine in 1823 put particular emphasis on this idea: "The present is a probationary state for the kingdom of heaven. The future is a state of retribution." "None can be saved in the future state who are not prepared for the kingdom of heaven in this." "Every thing which we can conceive necessary to constitute a state of probation, belongs to man’s state in the world. Here life and death are set before him . . . The gospel is preached to him, and the Holy Spirit helpeth his infirmities. He is told that this state will soon end, and that his future state will be determined by the deeds done in this. These things indicate a state of probation as clearly as any thing can" (Methodist Magazine 6 [September 1823]: 322). 

Alma’s discussion of God’s justice and mercy also closely resembles nineteenth-century orthodox treatments of the subject. In an 1822 sermon attacking Universalism, the Methodist minister Timothy Merritt argued that “if mankind are under the law of God, there must, in the very nature of things, be a penalty for the breach of the law . . . If we incur the penalty of the law by transgression, that penalty must be executed either on us or on our substitute. If on us, then no favor is shown us; but if on our substitute, the way is opened, and mercy may be extended to us.” Christ’s suffering for us, in our stead, “[gave] exercise to that mercy and grace which otherwise would have been prevented by the unsatisfied demands of the law upon us.”  Thus, “the atonement was not made to render God merciful to us, but to satisfy the claims which his justice had against us as transgressors, and open the way by which he might extend mercy to us consistently with his character as Lawgiver and Judge” (Methodist Magazine 6 [July 1823]: 244-45).

Alma's argument that God’s mercy cannot destroy his justice or he would cease to be God (Alma 42:13, 22, 25) was also echoed in orthodox preaching. An article appearing in the Utica Christian Magazine in 1813, for example, argued that God’s justice is essential to his nature; therefore, "God can no more disregard his justice in his conduct toward his creatures, than he can deny his own name, or destroy his moral perfection. If God had saved sinners from threatened and deserved punishment without an atonement, he would have sacrificed his justice, and have ruined his character and government" (Utica Christian Magazine 1 [October 1813]: 223, 227-28). Likewise, Josiah Priest asked: "[Can] a being necessarily just, suspend his justice? . . . If mercy can overcome justice, what is become of Omnipotence by which justice is supported?" (Josiah Priest, The Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed [Albany, NY: Josiah Priest, 1825], 133-35).

If you (or anyone else here) get a chance, check out my podcast episode I did recently that goes into this exact kind of logic.  https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/fcr-004-book-of-mormon-content/id1516616452?i=1000478162500 I'd love to hear what you think.

 

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2 hours ago, smac97 said:

You didn't quote Wittgenstein.  You just dropped a cheap shot and otherwise totally ignored what I said.

We don't seem to be able to have substantive discussions without them devolving into sniping.  So let's just agree to disagree and move on.

Thanks,

-Smac

https://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/72961-musings-re-historicity-and-the-book-of-mormon/?do=findComment&comment=1209979095

What you said was nothing new, it simply repeated the previous content, which had been thoroughly re-hashed before.

But you are right- your comment came before the Wittgenstein quote, though I did not reply, for reasons I have already mentioned.  Sorry about the confusion, if it matters.

But yes that's fine about "moving on".   

My wish is to show the logic of holding scriptural historicity as itself a spiritual belief as a justifiable position, and apparently the greatest philosopher and logician of the 20th century reached the same conclusion though I had never seen that quote before.   That's good enough for me, even if others find it "too esoteric".   That is pretty funny stuff!

And then we have Rorty, James, Dewey, Nagel and other luminaries on the same path. 

Suffice it to say I am comfortable about my position and really don't feel a need to say much more about it.

If even atheists can acknowledge the spiritual validity of the position I hold, drawing on the work of others, of course,  I find it odd that I have to fight believers into saving themselves philosophically when the atheists have already surrendered in that battle.

It is perfectly justifiable, says the greatest philosopher in the 20th century for historical evidence to be ignored as justifying spiritual beliefs.  And  many many luminaries agree completely with him.

It doesn't make much sense for me to contend with members about this when the atheists have already lost the war if there ever was one.   Believing The  Book of Mormon's spiritual teachings is completely logically justifiable for believers in the Book of Mormon, regardless of historicity , admit non-believers.

 

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