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Robert Ritner - Book of Abraham Interview


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15 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

Also, define rules of scholarship. Let me guess: "peer review." When an apologetic statement is, actually, peer reviewed, the goalpost shifts: "peer-reviewed by non-Mormon experts." This seems to me like nothing more than rank ideological bigotry. What kind of free discourse can we conceivably claim if a person's opinions on a matter can be summarily dismissed based on his origins, life circumstances, or ideological opinions? That's why claims that "mUhLeStEiN aNd GeE aReN't ReAl EgYpToLoGiStS" merely convince me to regard the claimant as a bigot. Try these "rules of scholarship" on for size: intellectual humility, willingness to acknowledge the horizons of one's understanding, willingness to acknowledge the limitations of scholarship, and willingness to understand that all conclusions, including one's own, are held provisionally. Willingness to understand that not all explanations are or can be universal. Willingness to understand that institutional authority is not a trump card. 

Isn't the problem, from a critic's perspective, that the believing apologist must come to a believing conclusion, despite where the evidence logically leads?  At a certain point, one has to humbly give up on outliers, despite the continued existence of possibilities the outliers possess.  I think this is why critics make the demand to have non-mormon experts review apologetic work.  It isn't because of bigotry or some other reason.  Apologists hold to outliers, perhaps too much, and maybe independent experts would do some good in showing this?  Maybe we should trust that despite what outside experts may show, God's truth remains?

Even so, I think, while interesting, spending too much time in the weeds of apology can lead to a weakening of testimony.  If one spends too much time rationalizing possibilities, one can suddenly realize that possibility doesn't equal probability and start to doubt the spiritual.  We live in an imperfect world where sense can mislead us.  God speaks to imperfect vessels and what may seem one way is in reality another when seen through the spirit. 

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28 minutes ago, Robert J Anderson said:

Isn't the problem, from a critic's perspective, that the believing apologist must come to a believing conclusion, despite where the evidence logically leads? 

EVERY text is subject to interpretation, and since belief OR non belief has nothing to do with "logic" but with the initial assumptions of the interpreter, and the paradigm she chooses, objectivity in these matters simply doesn't exist, and is impossible.

Every interpretation reflects the views of the interpreter, it is impossible to escape that.

Having a non-believer review the work of a Believer automatically puts a category error into the logic of the conclusion.

 

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Book of Mormon Central has just published a short (<20 minute) interview of Kerry Muhlestein:

Thanks,

-Smac

Link to post

And then there's this.  (I haven't been following the thread slavishly ... :huh: :unknw:

https://rsc.byu.edu/no-weapon-shall-prosper/egyptian-papyri-book-abraham

Kerry Muhlestein, “Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: A Faithful, Egyptological Point of View,” in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 217–43.

Edited by Kenngo1969
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2 hours ago, smac97 said:

Book of Mormon Central has just published a short (<20 minute) interview of Kerry Muhlestein:

Thanks,

-Smac

Interesting.

Muhlestein says "the BoA is not based on Egyptology in any way"

and

"the BoA doesn't rise or fall on my opinion or reputation, or on another scholar's opinion or reputation"

I wonder if, in time, he's going to have to resort to there not being any evidence for the BoA.  There can't possibly be anything in Egyptology that provides evidence for it as some ancient record.  So...I guess we're left with nothing to verify it.  

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5 hours ago, Robert J Anderson said:

Isn't the problem, from a critic's perspective, that the believing apologist must come to a believing conclusion, despite where the evidence logically leads?

That is the problem, from a critic's perspective. From my perspective,  @mfbukowski is right. Logic can only build off of established rules and assumptions. If those rules are not shared, the logic becomes irrelevant and a category error.

5 hours ago, Robert J Anderson said:

At a certain point, one has to humbly give up on outliers, despite the continued existence of possibilities the outliers possess.

Why? It seems like any choice to do so would be entirely subjective. 

5 hours ago, Robert J Anderson said:

I think this is why critics make the demand to have non-mormon experts review apologetic work.  It isn't because of bigotry or some other reason.  Apologists hold to outliers, perhaps too much, and maybe independent experts would do some good in showing this?

Who gets to define "too much"? The outside experts? Why do the apologists and their genuinely held opinions deserve to be disenfranchised? Who sets the standards? Where does the authority come from? 

Perhaps my point should be clarified, it couldn't hurt. I don't believe that it is inherently bigoted to ask for a non-Mormon expert, but it is bigoted to say that the opinions of Mormons don't count, dismissing them out of hand, is bigoted. It's dismissing a person, refusing to listen, simply because of who they are or the opinions and affiliations they hold. Hence, somebody who argues that Gee or Muhlestein aren't "real Egyptologists" is acting in a bigoted manner. 

6 hours ago, Robert J Anderson said:

If one spends too much time rationalizing possibilities, one can suddenly realize that possibility doesn't equal probability and start to doubt the spiritual.  We live in an imperfect world where sense can mislead us.  God speaks to imperfect vessels and what may seem one way is in reality another when seen through the spirit. 

I pretty much agree with this. This blog post summarized some thoughts of C.S. Lewis which I think you'll mostly agree with, and I do too. You are absolutely right about imperfect worlds, misleading senses, and how God can act in ways that don't make sense to us. But I do think that apologetics can have value as helping us learn how God works, what God is willing to prioritize and tolerate, and I think that is valuable. Many would best be served by your philosophy, but others, perhaps less so. The Kingdom requires all kinds. 

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1 hour ago, stemelbow said:

Interesting.

Muhlestein says "the BoA is not based on Egyptology in any way"

and

"the BoA doesn't rise or fall on my opinion or reputation, or on another scholar's opinion or reputation"

I wonder if, in time, he's going to have to resort to there not being any evidence for the BoA.  There can't possibly be anything in Egyptology that provides evidence for it as some ancient record.  So...I guess we're left with nothing to verify it.  

We have testimony.

Can you verify the atonement with your methodology?

I honestly don't know why this is so difficult.  It just boggles my mind.

Spiritual truth can only be verified by spirit.

It's like arguing that because Romeo and Juliet never existed then Shakespeare is worthless, but even  a worse argument than that, because Romeo and Juliet MIGHT HAVE EXISTED just under different names. Or as archetypes, like Adam and Eve. It used to say straight out in the temple presentation pre 1990,  that Adam and Eve were just figurative.

Many here write under the name of an avatar.  Do we judge the quality of their posts by what we know about them personally?

Do we have to know their history to judge the quality of their writing?

Of course not.

And so we judge spiritual writing by the quality of the spiritual advice it gives.

It's really quite easy.

Edited by mfbukowski
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2 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:

We have testimony.

Can you verify the atonement with your methodology?

Verify the veracity of myth?  Sounds fun to me.  How would you do that?  

2 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:

I honestly don't know why this is so difficult.  It just boggles my mind.

What's "this"?

2 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:

Spiritual truth can only be verified by spirit.

Spirit is also unverified.  Why use an imagined something to verify anything?  

2 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:

It's like arguing that because Romeo and Juliet never existed then Shakespeare is worthless, but even  worse argument than that, because Romeo and Juliet MIGHT HAVE EXISTED just under different names.

Not so.  Story can have meaning and therefore worth to people.  

2 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:

Many here write under the name of an avatar.  Do we judge the quality of their posts by what we know about them personally?

Do we have to know their history to judge the quality of their writing?

Of course not.

And so we judge spiritual writing by the quality of the spiritual advice it gives.

It's really quite easy.

There is no spirit.  You judge writing, story, simply on the basis of its quality.  Spirit is not inspiration.  Spirit is makebelieve.  Inspiration is simply your chemical response to appreciated info.  

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13 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

There is no spirit.  You judge writing, story, simply on the basis of its quality.  Spirit is not inspiration.  Spirit is makebelieve.  Inspiration is simply your chemical response to appreciated info.  

Those who don't already believe that assertion find nothing in your comment that is convincing. It's just not a shared point of departure, no matter how many times it is said. 

Edited by OGHoosier
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7 hours ago, mfbukowski said:

Having a non-believer review the work of a Believer automatically puts a category error into the logic of the conclusion.

Perhaps Gee and Muhlestein should be reviewed by Stephen E. Thompson, then.

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2 hours ago, stemelbow said:

Verify the veracity of myth?  Sounds fun to me.  How would you do that?  

What's "this"?

Spirit is also unverified.  Why use an imagined something to verify anything?  

Not so.  Story can have meaning and therefore worth to people.  

There is no spirit.  You judge writing, story, simply on the basis of its quality.  Spirit is not inspiration.  Spirit is makebelieve.  Inspiration is simply your chemical response to appreciated 

I am afraid we have nothing to discuss.

Our language games are too far apart for coherent discussion. I have already commented extensively on physical reductionism.

It would take weeks to establish communication, and I don't have that kind of time. 

I should have not butted into your conversation.

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3 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

Those who don't already believe that assertion find nothing in your comment that is convincing. It's just not a shared point of departure, no matter how many times it is said. 

Yes that's exactly it.

 

 

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2 hours ago, Scribe said:

Perhaps Gee and Muhlestein should be reviewed by Stephen E. Thompson, then.

This is not my area so I really can't comment on that.

What I do know is that philosophically theists and atheists can be so far apart that there is simply nothing for them to discuss. It comes down to two different ways of seeing the world and everything in it.

The difference often comes down to atheists wanting to see how things work and theists wanting to see why things work.

 

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17 hours ago, smac97 said:

Book of Mormon Central has just published a short (<20 minute) interview of Kerry Muhlestein:

Thanks,

-Smac

Some context about this video from Daniel Peterson:

Quote

As I understand it, incidentally, this interview was not recorded as a direct response to recent controversies involving Professor Robert Ritner.  Accordingly, pointing out (as some have) that it doesn’t respond to Professor Ritner is rather irrelevant.

However, the good folks at Book of Mormon Central appear to have removed several of the comments that initially followed the posted interview.  That’s too bad, in at least one sense:  If you would like to have seen a nice sampling of textbook-quality illustrations of the ad hominem logical fallacy — generally and aptly classified by students of informal logic as a “fallacy of distraction” — you would definitely have enjoyed reading several of those comments.  They were gems.

Thanks,

-Smac

 

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13 hours ago, stemelbow said:
Quote

Can you verify the atonement with your methodology?

Verify the veracity of myth?  Sounds fun to me.  How would you do that?  

This rather exemplifies why so many of these discussions are not feasible.  The issue is not the Atonement, but the disparate-to-the-point-of-preclusive assumptions about it that each side brings to the table.  You have an a priori assumption that the Atonement is "myth," that it does not exist, that God does not exist, etc.  In contrast, MFB's position is one of faith.  He believes God exists, that we have a relationship with Him, that the Plan of Salvation is "real," that its central and core component - the Atonement of Jesus Christ - is "real."

I share MFB's perspective.  While I won't speak for him specifically, I will say that my position allows for the possibility that the Atonement is "myth."  I believe it is real, but until I reach a "sure knowledge" of such things (something I may not achieve in this life), I am content with faith.  Hope.  Belief that these things are real and true.

I sense that your position on these matters is preclusive.  Closed-minded.  You won't consider even the possibility that the Restored Gospel is what it claims to be.  If that is so, I find that unfortunate and hope you eventually reconsider your position.  

13 hours ago, stemelbow said:
Quote

Spiritual truth can only be verified by spirit.

Spirit is also unverified.  Why use an imagined something to verify anything?  

Again, this is more about your a priori assumptions than about the actual subject matter.

To "verify" something is "to prove the truth of, as by evidence or testimony; confirm; substantiate."  Regarding the existence of God, there is no clinically empirical means of "verifying" it.  So we go with what we've got.  And what we've got is pretty good.  "That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day."  (D&C 50:24)

The best decisions I have made in my life have been borne of faith.  Preceded by study, reasoning, discussion, and real effort, to be sure.  But in the end . . . faith.

13 hours ago, stemelbow said:
Quote

Many here write under the name of an avatar.  Do we judge the quality of their posts by what we know about them personally?

Do we have to know their history to judge the quality of their writing?

Of course not.

And so we judge spiritual writing by the quality of the spiritual advice it gives.

It's really quite easy.

There is no spirit. 

You say this, not having "verified" it.  Again, this is more about your a priori assumptions about the Spirit.

I believe the Spirit is quite real.

13 hours ago, stemelbow said:

Spirit is not inspiration.  Spirit is makebelieve.  Inspiration is simply your chemical response to appreciated info.  

Again, a priori assumptions.

You say these things based on "faith."  A negative imprint of it, anyway.  Faith that God does not exist.  That is certainly your prerogative, but I don't quite understand how folks like you manage the incongruity of faulting people like MFB for exercising faith that God does exist, when here you are exercising faith that He does not.  And not only are you acting on "faith," you are proselytizing based on it.

Thanks,

-Smac

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22 minutes ago, smac97 said:

This rather exemplifies why so many of these discussions are not feasible.  The issue is not the Atonement, but the disparate-to-the-point-of-preclusive assumptions about it that each side brings to the table.  You have an a priori assumption that the Atonement is "myth," that it does not exist, that God does not exist, etc. 

That's not true.  I was given an a priori assumption that the Atonement was real and was effective.  But as it turns out, there really is no reason to accept that assumption.  

22 minutes ago, smac97 said:

In contrast, MFB's position is one of faith.  He believes God exists, that we have a relationship with Him, that the Plan of Salvation is "real," that its central and core component - the Atonement of Jesus Christ - is "real."

That's my point.  His position is one of an assumption--faith in God or more precisely in the dogma of a certain religion is somehow effective.  Good for him.  But it really is just his assumption.  

22 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I share MFB's perspective.  While I won't speak for him specifically, I will say that my position allows for the possibility that the Atonement is "myth."  I believe it is real, but until I reach a "sure knowledge" of such things (something I may not achieve in this life), I am content with faith.  Hope.  Belief that these things are real and true.

Great.  Run with your assumption then.  I allow all possibilities too.  I simply don't see a good reason to agree to your assumption.  

22 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I sense that your position on these matters is preclusive.  Closed-minded.  You won't consider even the possibility that the Restored Gospel is what it claims to be.  If that is so, I find that unfortunate and hope you eventually reconsider your position.  

That's rather presumptuous and weird considering how long I've been around here discussing these things.  I might appear closed-minded on some things only because as long as people have been discussing those certain things I find the most reasonable position to be different, most times, than from those who seem so closed-minded on the other side.  I can't imagine I'm any more closed-minded on anything pertaining to "the gospel" than you are.  I doubt, for instance, you make much room for the possibility that Jesus simply was not.  That there is no God, nor Son of God, no atonement, no special visit from a god and son to Joseph Smith.  You may feel you've found reason to accept all of those propositions.  And I likely find your reasons wanting, to say the least.  

22 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Again, this is more about your a priori assumptions than about the actual subject matter.

To "verify" something is "to prove the truth of, as by evidence or testimony; confirm; substantiate."  Regarding the existence of God, there is no clinically empirical means of "verifying" it.  So we go with what we've got.  And what we've got is pretty good.  "That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day."  (D&C 50:24)

I haven't seen any particular believer showing more light than a non-believer, for instance.  To you this idea somehow is a pretty good reason for God.  Great.  I simply don't agree with that, as it seems it merely carries a bunch of assumptions forward.  

22 minutes ago, smac97 said:

The best decisions I have made in my life have been borne of faith.  Preceded by study, reasoning, discussion, and real effort, to be sure.  But in the end . . . faith.

Good for you.  And I mean that.  If it somehow feels like it's helped you, great.  I encourage you.  On the other hand, I have not, as hard as I've tried, come to the same conclusion about holding to faith.  

22 minutes ago, smac97 said:

You say this, not having "verified" it.  Again, this is more about your a priori assumptions about the Spirit.

I believe the Spirit is quite real.

Again, a priori assumptions.

I think you have this wrong, as that should be obvious.  I don't hold my disbelief in the LDS as an a priori assumption.  That's not to say, that I, along with everyone else, do not hold assumptions.  My position here is simply borne out of my observation which is the opposite of a priori.  

Religious belief is quintessentially a priori.  Such belief simply assumes the position, declares truth without verifying evidence.  You have pointed out "Regarding the existence of God, there is no clinically empirical means of "verifying" it." that conclusively declares then to believe in God is an a priori assumption.  Odd you keep up your accusation while at the same time belying your complaints by defining your position as a priori

22 minutes ago, smac97 said:

You say these things based on "faith."  A negative imprint of it, anyway.  Faith that God does not exist.  That is certainly your prerogative, but I don't quite understand how folks like you manage the incongruity of faulting people like MFB for exercising faith that God does exist, when here you are exercising faith that He does not.  And not only are you acting on "faith," you are proselytizing based on it.

Thanks,

-Smac

I'm not faulting anyone.  You have simply mischaracterized my words.  I'm simply pointing out that all the a priori's or simply assumptions, he declares are simply his position previous to any reason to believe his position, or as it turns out a priori.  My goodness, run all you want on your a priori religious perspective.  Fine by me.  But that isn't really going to stop me from pointing out the bad arguments based on assumption.  I don't see why discussion should work that way.  REligion doesn't give one a special, privileged place.   Turning this all around to offer complaints is just odd.  

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16 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

That is the problem, from a critic's perspective. From my perspective,  @mfbukowski is right. Logic can only build off of established rules and assumptions. If those rules are not shared, the logic becomes irrelevant and a category error.

Why? It seems like any choice to do so would be entirely subjective. 

Who gets to define "too much"? The outside experts? Why do the apologists and their genuinely held opinions deserve to be disenfranchised? Who sets the standards? Where does the authority come from? 

Perhaps my point should be clarified, it couldn't hurt. I don't believe that it is inherently bigoted to ask for a non-Mormon expert, but it is bigoted to say that the opinions of Mormons don't count, dismissing them out of hand, is bigoted. It's dismissing a person, refusing to listen, simply because of who they are or the opinions and affiliations they hold. Hence, somebody who argues that Gee or Muhlestein aren't "real Egyptologists" is acting in a bigoted manner. 

I pretty much agree with this. This blog post summarized some thoughts of C.S. Lewis which I think you'll mostly agree with, and I do too. You are absolutely right about imperfect worlds, misleading senses, and how God can act in ways that don't make sense to us. But I do think that apologetics can have value as helping us learn how God works, what God is willing to prioritize and tolerate, and I think that is valuable. Many would best be served by your philosophy, but others, perhaps less so. The Kingdom requires all kinds. 

Who said Dr. Gee and Dr. Muhlestein aren't real Egyptologists?  I don't think Dr. Ritner said so.  He was only objecting to their interpretations of the Book of Abraham.  Also, I sense that you are equating mere disagreement with bigotry.  I am sure you would agree that one can disagree with another and not be a bigot, right?

Anyway, my opinion is that perhaps leaving the battlefield of *** for tat apologetics might be a better course.  My brother took a deep dive into it and left the church over it because he lost his spiritual focus.  You probably don't have this problem, I am sure, but others might.  It also leads to unnecessary anger and there is much that we do not know and probably won't until this life is over.  In the end, who cares if someone is in fact bigoted toward us or professors from BYU or anyone else in the church?  The spiritual witness is what matters and sustains.  I was down in Los Angeles a few years ago watching a football game, rooting for the University of Utah and had several people ask me how many wives I had.  My response was to pretend that I couldn't remember if it were 4 or 5.  Everyone laughed and we went on.

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13 minutes ago, Robert J Anderson said:

Who said Dr. Gee and Dr. Muhlestein aren't real Egyptologists?  I don't think Dr. Ritner said so.  He was only objecting to their interpretations of the Book of Abraham.  Also, I sense that you are equating mere disagreement with bigotry.  I am sure you would agree that one can disagree with another and not be a bigot, right?

Dr. Ritner did not say so, to his credit (though I confess that I expect such consideration as a standard). The actual scholars usually don't. However, I've noticed a trend among consumers of scholarship (particularly of the Reddit variety) to dismiss people like Gee and Muhlestein out of hand, or refuse to engage their work until it passes some metric of external approval. That, I think, is in practice bigoted. Sure, we can disagree with each other and not be bigots, but to deny someone a voice at the table simply because of who they are, their communities and opinions? I leave it to you to judge. You can want external examination of Gee and Muhlestein and be justified, but to refuse to even hear them before someone outside the community compels your validation? That crosses a line for me. 

13 minutes ago, Robert J Anderson said:

Anyway, my opinion is that perhaps leaving the battlefield of *** for tat apologetics might be a better course.  My brother took a deep dive into it and left the church over it because he lost his spiritual focus.  You probably don't have this problem, I am sure, but others might.  It also leads to unnecessary anger and there is much that we do not know and probably won't until this life is over.  In the end, who cares if someone is in fact bigoted toward us or professors from BYU or anyone else in the church?  The spiritual witness is what matters and sustains.  I was down in Los Angeles a few years ago watching a football game, rooting for the University of Utah and had several people ask me how many wives I had.  My response was to pretend that I couldn't remember if it were 4 or 5.  Everyone laughed and we went on.

Fair enough. 

Edited by OGHoosier
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17 hours ago, stemelbow said:

Interesting.

Muhlestein says "the BoA is not based on Egyptology in any way"

and

"the BoA doesn't rise or fall on my opinion or reputation, or on another scholar's opinion or reputation"

I wonder if, in time, he's going to have to resort to there not being any evidence for the BoA.  There can't possibly be anything in Egyptology that provides evidence for it as some ancient record.  So...I guess we're left with nothing to verify it.  

I read your comments and thought "Hmm.  This doesn't sound like Muhlestein."  Sure enough, I listened to the video and found that your characterization doesn't come close to accurately depicting his position. 

Some transcribed excerpts from the interview:

1. Muhlestein enthusiastically endorses the idea of "apply{ing} scholarly tools to the Book of Abraham," saying that we should do so because it helps us "understand the scriptures as well as possible," which "happens when we worship the Lord with our heart and our mind."  He says we should therefore "bring everything we have to the table, our whole minds ... if we are going to try to understand these things."

2. Muhlestein says we need to sort out how we got the scriptures, what they say, and their context.  He says "I get more out of the Book of Abraham when I am both prayerfully pondering and using all my intellectual skills to try and draw something out of the text."

3. Responding to the question "Is the historicity of the Book of Abraham important?", Muhlestein immediately and unequivocally states "I think it is important because I believe Abraham was a real person."  He notes that three great world religions trace their roots to him, such that "the story and the doctrine" of the Book of Abraham "revolve around Abraham the person."  He goes on to know that this "doesn't mean, either in Genesis or the Book of Abraham, that every single detail must be perfectly accurate," and that "both books have what we call 'redaction history,' someone who was copying it who made a mistake or thought that they'd throw in their own two cents," and that not all redactors were necessarily "inspired."  Nevertheless, he says that "for the most part we have a story about the real person, and that lends a real gravitas to the text, and it also makes it easier for me to apply it in my life because when I recognize that these are challenges a real person went through ... then I can relate to them better and see how their challenges apply to me."

4. Muhlestein goes on to summarize the Church's essay entitled "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," which he says represents a "clarification" of the Church's "official position" rather than a "change" to it.  He also notes that the Church's "position" is that the Book of Abraham "is canon," that it "was translated by the power of God by the prophet Joseph Smith, who was, among other things, a translator," and that the above essay provided further clarification that "there are a number of things that we don't know about the translation process."  He says "We know it's from God, and that's about all we can say.  Exactly how, the Urim and Thummim and so on, we don't have a position or doctrine on that, and frankly from an academic point of view we don't have enough data to say for sure what the translation method was, other than by all accounts from the time of Joseph Smith and by our doctrine, we believe it was translated by the 'gift and power of God.'"  

5. Responding to the question "What is the role of Joseph Smith in giving us the Book of Abraham?", Muhlestein says A) Joseph was "the one God used to give us this book of scripture," B) that "we have lots of theories as to whether the source {of the Book of Abraham} is the papyrus that we now have, whether it's papyrus that he had but has now been destroyed because most of it was destroyed in a fire," or whether it's "revelation that came to him as he was looking at the papyri but wasn't on the papyri," or "whether it was a combination of those things," C) and "in the end, we don't know."  He goes on to say that God used Joseph Smith as an "inspired translator," but also that he is "sure there is a human element in {the translation}," and also that he doesn't know if "Joseph always fully understood the translation process himself," which is "probably why with both the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon we don't get a lot of details from Joseph Smith."  He suggests that Joseph "{knew he was} getting the text and the way he's supposed to say it, and that it's through God," but that "more than that, he may not {have been} able to fully understand {that} this is a divine process that probably goes beyond anything of our ability to understand."

6. Muhlestein goes on to state that Joseph, "as he look{ed} at drawings on the papyri, or as he talk{ed} about {} characters, I don't know if he knows that, if he's receiving inspiration, if he's doing his best to reason things through, which he had been commanded to do."  He also states that "in the issues surrounding the production of {the Book of Abraham there was} a lot of the human element," but that "the actual text is inspired."

7. Regarding questions about the GAEL/KEP, he characterizes these as "some documents that were created, I would say not completely in conjunction with the translation.  It's very clear, if you look at the historical record, the eyewitness statements, that the translation starts first and then they start creating these documents.  There, at that point, there was some give and take as they work back and forth on doing one and then the other.  We have some documents, for example, that are called "Egyptian Alphabet," one that is called "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language."  It's pretty clear that Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery and W.W. Phelps, and the largest player seems to be W.W. Phelps by all accounts.  They are trying to figure out something about the Egyptian language based on the translation of the Book of Abraham.  So there have been a lot of theories and a lot of speculation as to what the relationship is.  And I've personally spent a lot of time on this lately, and I would say that it's pretty easy to demonstrate that it's not what many people theorize.  It's very clear that the translation comes first, and then the grammar, {and} not that the grammar was used to create the translation."  He then goes on to say that while we "can say what the relationship {between the documents and the text of the Book of Abraham} is not" we cannot say "what the relationship is" because "I don't think we understand," but is "probably a lot of good and crazy ideas mixed together as they try and do their best to decipher a language" would be his guess, but that he ultimately doesn't know.

8. Responding to the question "Does Egyptology prove the Book of Abraham true or false?", Muhlestein responds "No.  I actually don't think it's capable of doing either.  Some would argue that {Egyptology} has proved {the Book of Abraham} false, but every instance ... {is} based on some problematic assumptions."  He gives some examples of such assumptions, and then says "I do not think that {the Book of Abraham} has been or can be disproved because, in the end, the Book of Abraham is not about Egyptology, and it's not based on Egyptology really in any way.  We don't know what Joseph Smith's {} intent is with giving his explanations about the facsimiles, how much he is or isn't tying that into Egyptological ideas, or the translation, or any of those things.  We don't know.  So I think it's impossible to disprove it.  I also think it's impossible to prove it.  Egyptologically.  I think we can look at, use Egyptology ... to better understand the text, and that's been my goal all along as researcher.  I want to understand the text better.  Often that's turned into a form of apologetics.  I'm often painted as an apologist.  I don't set out to do that, and don't feel I am, but I understand that that point of view.  But it's because I apply my academic training to try and better understand the text and the context, then it often ends up supporting Joseph Smith.  But my goal is to understand the text and the context better so that we can draw more out of it.  And that's worth doing.  It creates a space where we can see {that} there is a decent case to be made here.  It's certainly plausible that this book is really about an ancient person from an ancient setting.  But proving it?  That's only going to happen one way, and that is by God revealing that to us.  That's a realm that's really outside of the academic ability ... {or} academic process, {which} can help us understand it better, but proof lies with God.  The text of the Book of Abraham doesn't rise or fall on my arguments or my reputation, or on another scholar's argument or reputation for or against it.  The text of the Book of Abraham stands on its own merit.  Whether it is true or not has nothing to do with what I say about it.  I can say all sorts of things that are good or bad research.  That doesn't change whether the text is true or not.  The text is either true, and is inspired and about a real ancient person, or else it's not.  {} All of our academic tools can only create a certain amount of knowledge about it.  The only way we'll know that is by finding out from God.

9. Responding to the question "Can reasonable people accept the Book of Abraham as ancient and inspired, or do we rely on faith alone?", Muhlestein says that "reasonable people can absolutely accept the Book of Abraham as ancient and inspired.  Again, faith is what will demonstrate the truth of it or not, but there is lots of reason to go behind that.  And that's what I love about what Pear of Great Price Central has been doing.  {The} videos and articles that have been created are based on really good research.  A really highly qualified, well-trained, very experienced, and intellectually diverse group of people were behind these articles and videos.  And often there was disagreement.  I was part of that.  I learned a lot from my colleagues, and I hope they learned a little bit from me.  We came to understand things better as we did it.  But it's good, solid research that I think paints a wonderful picture that helps us understand the ancient setting of the Book of Abraham.  The byproduct of that is that it also creates {a} very reasonable space where you can say 'That makes a lot of sense, this works for me.'  In fact, if we were to talk again about being able to prove or disprove, I would say that the arguments against the Book of Abraham ... there are a few that we just don't understand yet.  They're not convincing one way or the other. ... But in all the big cases, we can understand that, we can say 'Well, here's why this argument doesn't work.'  {Given} these little essays and articles that we've created {on Pearl of Great Price Central}, I find it's more difficult to explain those {arguments favoring historicity} away than it is {to explain away} the arguments against them.  You {would} have to say that Joseph Smith was hundreds of times luckier than any person that's ever lived on earth to have gotten all of these things so right.  Now again, my believe in the Book of Abraham doesn't actually ride on that.  But I've enjoyed seeing those things as I've tried to understand the text better.  And I believe it creates a very, very plausible place for people of intellect and reason to say 'This works.'  And it bolsters my faith.  Maybe we could call it ... 'confirming nudges' to our faith.  I would wholeheartedly recommend Pearl of Great Price Central.  I think it is a great repository of things that not only can be 'confirming nudges,' but also just help you {better} understand the world that Abraham was in {}, which will help you better understand Abraham and thus his text and how it applies to you better.  I wholeheartedly endorse it."

10. Responding to the question "What else might you recommend to someone who might have questions or be struggling with with doubts about the Book of Abraham?", Muhlestine says that "BookofAbraham.org is a great site.  There is FAIR.  There are lots of books, some that were put out by what was then called FARMS, now the Maxwell Institute, as part of the 'Book of Abraham Series.'  This had some really good books that present both translations of the papyri we have, articles about the context of the Book of Abraham, and {} ancient traditions about {} Abraham.  If you go to the Religious Studies Center website that is done by BYU. ... There are a lot of great articles in there.  In fact, in the next issue there will be an interview they did with myself and Robin Jensen, who is {with} the Joseph Smith Papers Project, {and who} helped created the critical {text} volume on the ... Egyptial Alphabet and Grammar.  ... There are a lot of great resources out there.  I am astonished all the time at how many independent researchers are doing work on the Book of Abraham that do good, solid work.  Some things I've seen are kind of crazy, but there's a lot of really good, solid work out there done by independent people out there.  And some of them submit things to places like The Interpreter or similar places, and some of them just publish it on their own blogs or websites. There's a lot of really good stuff out there." 

---

Last December I posted some remarks about a substantial mischaracterizations of Terryl Givens by two critics of the Church (RFM and Analytics).  See here (me responding to Analytics) :

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Your fixation on Jeremy Runnells and Jeff Lindsay's theory about "big lists" is really missing the mark here. As a chess analogy, I'm not a very good chess player. At all. But if you put me in the middle of a game with a strong enough position, I could beat any Grand Master or chess supercomputer. The Grand Masters could write hundreds of books about chess, but that wouldn't change the fact that if the pieces are arranged in such a way that even a dimwit like me can see the endgame, I will win.

As an example of what I mean, our own consiglieri is an extremely well-read ex-apologist now critic. He has a very articulate and accessible podcast called "Radio Free Mormon". A recent episode is called "The Amazingly Subversive Terryl Givens," which goes through Givens's latest book and shows how it is subversive in the sense that it contains dozens of concessions of anti-Mormon claims that you'd find on a "big list." Givens thinks the end result is beautiful and expresses it all from a perspective of admiration in erudite language, but if you have the patience and intellect to read what he is actually saying and compare it to what the church teaches in manuals and in conference, then one inescapably comes to the conclusion that Givens is admitting it isn't true--it is a fraud. A beautiful inspiring fraud for Givens, but a fraud nonetheless. Listen to the podcast. 

So I listened to most of the podcast (it's a bit tedious).  

I also sent an email to Terryl Givens.  I quoted (verbatim) the second paragraph above, and asked him if he would agree with your characterization/conclusion (that he is conceding that the Pearl of Great Price is "a fraud").  He responded within minutes and categorically rejected your characterization (calling "patently false" your allegation that he believes or implies the PoGP is a "fraud").

Given that Givens is perhaps the world's leading expert on what he believes, and given how massively incorrect you were in reaching a purportedly "inescapabl{e}" conclusion derived from applying "patience and intellect to read what he is actually saying," I think you'll understand which of the two sources I will find more persuasive.  

And later in the thread:

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I've been musing the last little bit about Consig's and Analytics' assessment of Terryl Givens.  These two are well-seasoned observers of the Church.  They know a lot about the Church.  It is interesting, then, to see them so spectacularly mis-read Givens. 

Consig pubilcly characterizes Givens' latest book as "amazingly subversive."  Roger publicly declares that if "patience and intellect" are used to read Givens' book, "one inescapably comes to the conclusion that Givens is admitting it isn't true--it is a fraud."

Givens himself rebuts these characterizations of his position.  "Patently false," he calls them.

This does not seem like an isolated incident.  I feel like our critics are not really listening to us.  They are not understanding us, or accurately describing or characterizing our position.  It seems like they don't want to listen or understand or charactize us.  They want to make us look bad, so any and every event or story about us must be construed so as to put the Church in a negative light.  

Abraham Maslow famously said: "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."

If one's perspective on the Church is principally defined by implacable hostility (the "hammer"), then every story about the Church can be construed to make us look bad ("as if it were a nail").

I am seeing this again in Stem's significant distortion of Muhlestein.  Stem apparently watched the interview and came away with the perception that Muhlestein is on the cusp of admitting that "there not being any evidence for the BoA" and that "{t}here can't possibly be anything in Egyptology that provides evidence for it as some ancient record."  And yet this not remotely a fair or accurate characterization of what Muhlestein is saying.

Again, this does not seem like an isolated incident.  I feel like our critics are not really listening to us.  They are not understanding us, or accurately describing or characterizing our position.  It seems like they don't want to listen or understand or charactize us.  They want to make us look bad, so any and every event or story about us must be construed so as to put the Church in a negative light.  

Thanks,

-Smac

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3 hours ago, stemelbow said:
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Can you verify the atonement with your methodology?

Verify the veracity of myth?  Sounds fun to me.  How would you do that?  

This rather exemplifies why so many of these discussions are not feasible.  The issue is not the Atonement, but the disparate-to-the-point-of-preclusive assumptions about it that each side brings to the table.  You have an a priori assumption that the Atonement is "myth," that it does not exist, that God does not exist, etc. 

That's not true.  I was given an a priori assumption that the Atonement was real and was effective.  But as it turns out, there really is no reason to accept that assumption.

You responded to MFB's post by declaring that the Atonement is a "myth."

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In contrast, MFB's position is one of faith.  He believes God exists, that we have a relationship with Him, that the Plan of Salvation is "real," that its central and core component - the Atonement of Jesus Christ - is "real."

That's my point.  His position is one of an assumption--faith in God or more precisely in the dogma of a certain religion is somehow effective.  Good for him.  But it really is just his assumption.  

But that's my point.  Many of these discussions about religious topics can't really proceed because we start with examining the topics while not giving sufficient attention to the assumptions we bring to the table.

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I share MFB's perspective.  While I won't speak for him specifically, I will say that my position allows for the possibility that the Atonement is "myth."  I believe it is real, but until I reach a "sure knowledge" of such things (something I may not achieve in this life), I am content with faith.  Hope.  Belief that these things are real and true.

Great.  Run with your assumption then.  I allow all possibilities too.  I simply don't see a good reason to agree to your assumption.  

Really?  You allow for the possibility that God exists?  That the Spirit is real and not "myth?"  That God spoke to and inspired Joseph Smith?  You are open to these these things being true?

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I sense that your position on these matters is preclusive.  Closed-minded.  You won't consider even the possibility that the Restored Gospel is what it claims to be.  If that is so, I find that unfortunate and hope you eventually reconsider your position.  

That's rather presumptuous and weird considering how long I've been around here discussing these things. 

I admit that my assessment is based on my aggregate experience with you.  But that means my assessment is based on observation and experience, not guesswork or presumption.

I only know you from your online handle, and a generalized perception based on your posts here.  That perception is that you are implacably hostile and opposed to the Church, its doctrines, its leaders, and so on.  If I have misread you, I am certainly open to correction.  I did not mean to offend.  I've abstractedly figured you to be a compatriot of RFM, Dehlin, Sam Young, Bill Reel, and so many of the dozens/hundreds of critics and dissidents that come to this board.  Am I wrong?

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I might appear closed-minded on some things only because as long as people have been discussing those certain things I find the most reasonable position to be different, most times, than from those who seem so closed-minded on the other side.  I can't imagine I'm any more closed-minded on anything pertaining to "the gospel" than you are.  I doubt, for instance, you make much room for the possibility that Jesus simply was not. 

Sure I do.  I am open to that possibility.  But I have nevertheless staked out a contrary position.  I believe Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be.  You apparently do not.  Is that a fair statement?

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That there is no God, nor Son of God, no atonement, no special visit from a god and son to Joseph Smith.  You may feel you've found reason to accept all of those propositions.  And I likely find your reasons wanting, to say the least.

Again, I am confused.  You are open to the possibility that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?  To the Atonement?  To Joseph Smith's prophetic calling?

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Again, this is more about your a priori assumptions than about the actual subject matter.

To "verify" something is "to prove the truth of, as by evidence or testimony; confirm; substantiate."  Regarding the existence of God, there is no clinically empirical means of "verifying" it.  So we go with what we've got.  And what we've got is pretty good.  "That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day."  (D&C 50:24)

I haven't seen any particular believer showing more light than a non-believer, for instance. 

I have.  Many times.

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To you this idea somehow is a pretty good reason for God.  Great.  I simply don't agree with that, as it seems it merely carries a bunch of assumptions forward.  

Well, no.  My position is based on experiential data.  I have tested the proposition that God exists, and have found sufficient, even ample, evidence that He does.  More particularly, I have tested propositions relating to the Restored Gospel, and have found evidence in its favor.

I don't know what, if any, tests you have made regarding such propositions.  

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The best decisions I have made in my life have been borne of faith.  Preceded by study, reasoning, discussion, and real effort, to be sure.  But in the end . . . faith.

Good for you.  And I mean that.  If it somehow feels like it's helped you, great.  I encourage you.  On the other hand, I have not, as hard as I've tried, come to the same conclusion about holding to faith.

Thanks.  I won't press you to explain this, as I don't want to personalize this thread (more).  But I hope you keep trying.  And if I have misread your position relative to the Restored Gospel, I apologize.  I did not mean to offend.  

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There is no spirit. 

You say this, not having "verified" it.  Again, this is more about your a priori assumptions about the Spirit.  I believe the Spirit is quite real.  Again, a priori assumptions.

I think you have this wrong, as that should be obvious.  I don't hold my disbelief in the LDS as an a priori assumption.  That's not to say, that I, along with everyone else, do not hold assumptions.  My position here is simply borne out of my observation which is the opposite of a priori.  

Well, I won't press the matter.  You unqualifiedly declare that "{t}here is no Spirit," and then imply that you somehow have "verified" this (by virtue of you saying I am "wrong" to say that you have not verified it).  That is difficult for me to understand.

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Religious belief is quintessentially a priori. 

I'm not sure about that.  "A priori" in this context seems to mean "existing in the mind prior to and independent of experience ... not based on prior study or examination; nonanalytic."  The Latter-day Saints do not subscribe to the concept you describe, and instead invite - even require - adherents to read, ponder, pray, and obtain spiritual confirmation of the reality of the truths under consideration.  Moroni's Promise is incompatible with what you are suggesting here.

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Such belief simply assumes the position, declares truth without verifying evidence. 

This is demonstrably inaccurate relative to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We are all continually and actively exhorted to seek out "verifying evidence."

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You have pointed out "Regarding the existence of God, there is no clinically empirical means of "verifying" it." that conclusively declares then to believe in God is an a priori assumption.  Odd you keep up your accusation while at the same time belying your complaints by defining your position as a priori

I don't understand your criticism here.

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You say these things based on "faith."  A negative imprint of it, anyway.  Faith that God does not exist.  That is certainly your prerogative, but I don't quite understand how folks like you manage the incongruity of faulting people like MFB for exercising faith that God does exist, when here you are exercising faith that He does not.  And not only are you acting on "faith," you are proselytizing based on it.

I'm not faulting anyone.  You have simply mischaracterized my words. 

Then I retract my characterization of you and apologize.

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I'm simply pointing out that all the a priori's or simply assumptions, he declares are simply his position previous to any reason to believe his position, or as it turns out a priori. 

I don't understand what you are saying here.

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My goodness, run all you want on your a priori religious perspective.  Fine by me. 

Again, I don't thinkwe are supposed to have an a priori faith.  Quite the contrary, we are supposed to study, ponder, pray, seek revelation, etc.

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But that isn't really going to stop me from pointing out the bad arguments based on assumption.  I don't see why discussion should work that way.  REligion doesn't give one a special, privileged place.   Turning this all around to offer complaints is just odd.  

Again, I don't understand what you are saying here.  I haven't claimed to have "a special, privileged place," and I don't know what you mean by that.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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23 hours ago, mfbukowski said:

EVERY text is subject to interpretation, and since belief OR non belief has nothing to do with "logic" but with the initial assumptions of the interpreter, and the paradigm she chooses, objectivity in these matters simply doesn't exist, and is impossible.

Every interpretation reflects the views of the interpreter, it is impossible to escape that.

Having a non-believer review the work of a Believer automatically puts a category error into the logic of the conclusion.

 

How far does this go?  If I look at a text, like the Book of Abraham, and interpret it as a secret code about the deep state and that God will rescue us like he did for Abraham, is that interpretation valid?  At a certain point one has to call an interpretation of a text invalid, objectively.  Sometimes belief is irrational and we need to be careful.  Sometimes outsiders are needed to take religious believers away from the precipice as in what happened in Jonestown long ago.  Yet, there is something outside of us that speaks to us if we will listen and there is irrational emotion that can overtake our interpretations as well.  It is a fine line at times.  I understand not wanting to grant a critic an audience in defense of the church but I don't think the defense of I will interpret the text as I see fit regardless of the meaning of words works in the end.  One has to be true to oneself and the ordinary meaning of words.  Otherwise, one plays into what the critics are saying: believers believe regardless of how irrational it seems.

In the end, all I know is that the scriptures speak to me, regardless of their origin.  If the book of mormon is internally inconsistent and therefore not history, so what.  If the book of abraham has a dubious origin, so what.  The scriptures speak to me.  I have had experiences that I cannot explain as a result of studying the scriptures and so, for me, it really doesn't matter what the critics say.  However, I believe, for me, the correct response is to listen to the critics and then realize that they are speaking of a different world, this world, and that there is a different world that is perhaps subject to different rules than this one, a spiritual world that we can touch at times.  Perhaps the scriptures are there to merely act as a guide to aid the traveler to touch the other world and give us a taste of possibilities and of what awaits us.  I don't know.  Anyway, let the critics do what they want.  For me, it doesn't matter whether or not this or that data point squares with what a critic considers as logical or not.  I have touched the other realm and that is enough for me.

Edited by Robert J Anderson
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On 8/6/2020 at 2:31 PM, Robert F. Smith said:

 

Bro. Smith,

I am continuing to read your Book of Abraham Essay, but somehow misplaced the link.  I know it is buried somewhere deep within some thread but thought I would kindly ask if you might share it with me again. 

Thank you,

PS: I tried to I/M you privately but was informed that you cannot receive I/M's.

 

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1 hour ago, Robert J Anderson said:

How far does this go?  If I look at a text, like the Book of Abraham, and interpret it as a secret code about the deep state and that God will rescue us like he did for Abraham, is that interpretation valid?  At a certain point one has to call an interpretation of a text invalid, objectively.  Sometimes belief is irrational and we need to be careful.  Sometimes outsiders are needed to take religious believers away from the precipice as in what happened in Jonestown long ago.  Yet, there is something outside of us that speaks to us if we will listen and there is irrational emotion that can overtake our interpretations as well.  It is a fine line at times.  I understand not wanting to grant a critic an audience in defense of the church but I don't think the defense of I will interpret the text as I see fit regardless of the meaning of words works in the end.  One has to be true to oneself and the ordinary meaning of words.  Otherwise, one plays into what the critics are saying: believers believe regardless of how irrational it seems.

In the end, all I know is that the scriptures speak to me, regardless of their origin.  If the book of mormon is internally inconsistent and therefore not history, so what.  If the book of abraham has a dubious origin, so what.  The scriptures speak to me.  I have had experiences that I cannot explain as a result of studying the scriptures and so, for me, it really doesn't matter what the critics say.  However, I believe, for me, the correct response is to listen to the critics and then realize that they are speaking of a different world, this world, and that there is a different world that is perhaps subject to different rules than this one, a spiritual world that we can touch at times.  Perhaps the scriptures are there to merely act as a guide to aid the traveler to touch the other world and give us a taste of possibilities and of what awaits us.  I don't know.  Anyway, let the critics do what they want.  For me, it doesn't matter whether or not this or that data point squares with what a critic considers as logical or not.  I have touched the other realm and that is enough for me.

Thank you for giving my post such thoughtful consideration. Unfortunately I do not have time to do it justice in my response.

Many contemporary and postmodern thinkers have commented on these issues. I might suggest such thinkers as Habermas and Gadamer, or right on this page @Kevin Christensen

It is highly controversial whether or not any given text has a final objective meaning. All texts emerge from Human Minds in human natural languages which are inherently ambiguous.

The writers themselves are imperfect human beings, with individual prejudices.  I suppose the final result of any deep inquiry into the accuracy of a text would  eventually come to the point where one was trying to read the mind of the author, a highly hazardous pursuit if one is a seeker of "truth"

In short I do not believe that there is such thing as a single objective reading of any given text.

Wittgenstein in my opinion conclusively showed that meaning depends upon the context not on words themselves. If you think about how language is commonly used in the real world it becomes self-evident. Between a husband and a wife the flicker of an eyelid can express paragraphs if not pages. ;) 

Suffice it to say there is an entire School of philosophy which has pretty much taken over the discipline of the philosophy of language, which would generally agree with what I am saying here.

So even if I am wrong I am in good company. ;)

These are important meta issues of course in any serious discussion and I hope at some point I will have time to return to your post.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans-Georg_Gadamer

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jürgen_Habermas

Also virtually All American pragmatists would in a general way, agree with my position.  So include William James, John Dewey, and Rorty, quoted below 

 

 

Edited by mfbukowski
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@Robert J Anderson

Said

"However, I believe, for me, the correct response is to listen to the critics and then realize that they are speaking of a different world, this world, and that there is a different world that is perhaps subject to different rules than this one, a spiritual world that we can touch at times.  Perhaps the scriptures are there to merely act as a guide to aid the traveler to touch the other world and give us a taste of possibilities and of what awaits us."

Yes, exactly and precisely true in my opinion.

And a world using a different language than they are using.  When Worlds cross like that it is likely you are going to find what is called a category mistake somewhere in the translation.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category_mistake

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 " To say that the world is out there, that it is not our creation, is to say, with common sense, that most things in space and time are the effects of causes which do not include human mental states.  To say that truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no sentences, there is no truth, that sentences are elements of human languages, and that human languages are human creations.

     Truth cannot be out there- cannot exist independently of the human mind- because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there.  The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not.  Only descriptions of the world can be true or false.  The world on its own- unaided by the describing activities of human beings- cannot."   Richard Rorty- Contingency Irony and Solidarity, P 5.

 

 

Edited by mfbukowski
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