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Plausibility, Evidence, and the search for Explanations


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A couple of questions: 

I appreciated the discussion of absolute and relative probabilities. I notice, however, that you said the following  (emphasis mine): 

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

On the other hand, relative probabilities tend to compare things – and which of those things is more likely. We do this when we can't determine an absolute likelihood. There is that old saying from Sherlock Holmes that “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” You can see here the connection between the impossible and the merely improbable. In this case, the merely improbable takes on a sense of plausibility by comparison to the impossible. There are two takeaways from this – the one that matters most for my point is that plausibility doesn’t always mean likely. Most inappropriate users of the term plausibility forget the other takeaway: to consider something plausible by comparison, you first have to demonstrate that all of the other options are either impossible or less likely than the one you are promoting.

You also said this:

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

Unless the probabilities being discussed are both absolute and reasonable, the claim of plausibility can be made as a claim of possibility in a vacuum or as a comparison with the impossible. Rarely do we see actual attempts to evaluate all of the possible options and assign relative degrees of likelihood (although we do sometimes see this in the misapplication of Bayes' Theorem when it uses personal conjecture as a way of introducing probabilities - that is, any time you see someone arguing that probability X is safe to use because it must be so conservative of a value ....).

And this: 

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

This isn’t just about the narratives in the Book of Mormon (for example, the route taken through the desert) but it applies just as much to the weight of the plates and their make-up (drawn from comments made about the plates in the historical record). These explanations are very poor at determining possibility or plausibility because they are already burdened by assumptions, and are often placed in comparison with the impossible. And these arguments don’t really do as much in terms of laying out the plausibility of the text or of a narrative as it is suggested. They merely discuss whether such a thing is possible or not.

If I could boil down the essence of your OP, it was to argue that commenters on this board (and I expect you would regard me as a guilty party) misuse "plausibility" in that we use it to merely indicate possibility when, properly used, it indicates likelihood. I'm more concerned with how one is supposed to calculate the likelihood of relative probabilities within the constraints which you seem to imply. It seems that a degree of personal conjecture is impossible to avoid when calculating relative probabilities - by "personal conjecture" I mean "subjective qualitative assessment of the evidence detached from strictly mathematical measures of probability." It must go without saying that all qualitative assessments, all possible explanations, are burdened by assumptions and must necessarily be so. How, then, are we supposed to properly assess relative probabilities? 

 

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And, if we really want evidence, perhaps we should start by discussing what evidence of the Book of Mormon narrative would actually look like …

I'll bite. Enlighten me. 

Edited by OGHoosier
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6 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

Which brings me to the recent discussion on the Book of Mormon. When an interpretation of the text is required (and this doesn’t matter which side of the believer/non-believer divide you stand on), you are no longer in the realm of prediction but are providing post-hoc analysis. This isn’t just about the narratives in the Book of Mormon (for example, the route taken through the desert) but it applies just as much to the weight of the plates and their make-up (drawn from comments made about the plates in the historical record). These explanations are very poor at determining possibility or plausibility because they are already burdened by assumptions, and are often placed in comparison with the impossible. And these arguments don’t really do as much in terms of laying out the plausibility of the text or of a narrative as it is suggested. They merely discuss whether such a thing is possible or not.

As another example, the introduction of the question of EModE in the text has been (since its introduction) largely concerned with the question of whether or not Joseph could have written the text (there’s that comparison with the impossible that messes with the notion of plausibility as well as the problem of post-hoc explanation involved in the interpretation of both the Book of Mormon text and the state of English language in 1830). From the perspective of believers, the argument that the Book of Mormon was substantially written in EModE should be at least minimally engaged in asking why a divinely assisted translation would be produced using language that makes its audience(s) incompetent readers. One way to identify this sort of post-hoc explanation is to recognize assumptions that can be (and have been) challenged. Does English really work the way that the fans of this theory suggest? Does the BoM text really contain EModE?

Conceptually, this has been historically one of the consistent issues I have seen with Book of Mormon apologetics. It isn’t very good at providing evidence of the gold plates or evidence of the historicity of the events described in the Book of Mormon. And from my perspective, apologetics isn’t very helpful at all in understanding the text of the Book of Mormon – when our focus of interpretation is to provide for the possibility of modern accounts of its production, we tend to lose the question of the meaning of the text.

I am not arguing here that apologetic efforts are bad. I have engaged in them myself. I am suggesting that we should understand that they play a specific role that they play in engaging with critical polemic (apologetics on the other side of the ideological divide). But, plausibility, at least conceptually, is highly unsatisfying in this context. It’s like smelling the food on your neighbor’s barbecue and knowing that you will never get some. For most of what has recently been said using the term, we might as well substitute the idea of "isn't impossible" for "plausible". By interpreting the Book of Mormon and finding a possible route through the desert leading away from Jerusalem, we haven’t made the text plausible, we have simply found a way to keep it from being impossible. By arguing about the make-up of the gold plates, we aren’t finding evidence that there really was gold plates that Joseph received from an angelic visitor, we are simply pointing out that the gold plates themselves don’t make the historical narratives as impossible as the critics would argue. A lot of "not impossibles" does not really add up to a high level of plausibility. 

When dealing with complex issues with competing sets of evidence, it would seem that a piece of data which on its own would only render a given explanation as possible (whatever that precisely means) could, in light of other evidence, be appropriately described as increasing its plausibility.

Take a hypothetical murder trial, for instance. Let's say that three individuals testify in court that they witnessed the defendant shoot John Doe in a parking lot at night. And eight other witnesses testify that the defendant had a gun like the one described by the three witnesses. And lets also say that there are social media posts which indicate that the defendant was the type of person who might be prone to gun violence.

In every point, the defense counsel provides some counter evidence. They attempt to cast doubt on the credibility of each of the witnesses. They show that the social media posts could be interpreted differently. They try to demonstrate that the witness wasn't prone to violence. And, most importantly, they point to video evidence of the defendant at a different location during the alleged timing of John Doe's murder. Let's say, however, that the prosecution is able to convincingly demonstrate that the person who looks (from a distance) like the defendant in the video footage actually isn't him. Thus they argue that the defendant was not at the party.

Now, on its own, this piece of counter-evidence from the prosecution would not directly increase the plausibility of the defendant murdering John Doe. All it does, in isolation, is show that the defendant wasn't at a party. Yet in the context of the larger case and the competing sets of data, the neutralization of this video evidence might very well increase the plausibility of the defendant murdering John Doe (as assessed by the jurors). 

Assuming that things like the testimony of the Three and Eight Witnesses (and other sets of data) constitute decent evidence in support of the Book of Mormon's authenticity, it would seem that effectively neutralizing reasons for doubt can appropriately be described as adding to the overall case for its plausibility, even if on their own those evidences don't constitute a case for high plausibility. 

And yes, I realize that everyone has different starting assumptions and that these terms are going to be inherently loaded by those assumptions. Many people understandably assume from the outset that angels don't give gold plates to farmers. Most people, when pushed, would admit that they can't prove that assumption to be true. So they might also admit that Joseph Smith's story is technically possible (or at least that it can't be proven to be impossible). But there is quite a spectrum of what it means for something to be possible. What it takes in the mind of an observer to tip the scales from possible (but extremely unlikely) to possible (but highly unlikely) to possible  (but very unlikely) to possible (but unlikely) to plausible (but still unlikely) to plausible (and somewhat believable) to plausible (trending towards belief) to confident (beyond reasonable doubt) to virtually certain is very complex. We all prioritize and evaluate these evidences differently in the overall schema of relevant data. And we don't have a precise language (outside of statistics) to really capture the varying degrees of certainty or belief that we cognitively experience. And reliable statistical assessments are obviously not attainable for many aspects of the arguments for and against the Book of Mormon's authenticity. Even arguments which do utilize statistical data (whether Bayesian or otherwise) ultimately rest on assumptions that can't be statistically assessed. We are therefore dealing with an intractable semantic issue. 

I disagree with you on the EModE front and on your assumptions about stylometry and so forth (for various reasons that I don't have time to articulate at the moment), but it would seem to me that the appropriateness of using phrases like "increasing plausibility" may depend on whether the collective data can make a decent case for plausibility in the first place (at least in the eye of the beholder). You and I may disagree about which data sets bear the bulk of the evidentiary weight when it comes to the case for the Book of Mormon's authenticity, but as long as they, from our perspectives, have collectively passed the plausibility threshold (as ill-defined as that is), then anything that contributes in any way to the overall argument would seem to add to its overall plausibility (just like the neuralization of the opposing evidence in the hypothetical court case). 

For those who strongly believe that Joseph Smith's origin story of the Book of Mormon is extremely unlikely to be true despite all of the allegedly positive evidence in its favor, I can see why they wouldn't characterize any available evidence as increasing the plausibility of the text's authenticity. They may not prefer that word because their assumptions and interpretations of the data lead them to see the text's alleged divine origins as virtually impossible (and therefore not even approaching the realm of the plausible).

In any case, this whole discussion seems like quibbling to me. In a more colloquial sense, it seems like anything that would appear to strengthen or support an argument's conclusion in the eye of any given beholder could appropriately be said (at least from that person's perspective) to add to its plausibility, no matter how slightly or in what specific manner it does so, and no matter how implausible the argument's conclusion appeared to the beholder in the first place or how implausible the argument's conclusion may still seem even after accounting for the said evidence. I'm willing to admit, for instance, that the story of the Kinderhook plates adds to the plausibility of Joseph Smith fabricating the Book of Mormon. Now, I think the evidence is weak, and I don't think it directly affects the issue of the Book of Mormon's production. I don't think it makes it "highly plausible" that Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon. But it seems like, to some degree, that piece of evidence helps strengthen the case of those who disbelieve in the text's authenticity and who think fabrication on his part is likely. Their conclusion seems somewhat more plausible in light of that evidence, no matter how implausible it still ultimately appears to me. 

We all have to negotiate conversations with others who don't share our assumptions or frames of reference, but I'm not really inclined to start using specific terms or phrases to appease others' assumptions that I don't share. For instance, I'm hardly going to start describing Lehi's journey through Arabia as something like: "providing evidence that Lehi's wilderness journey might not be impossible." That doesn't really capture the worth I attach to the evidence or how that evidence fits into my overall framework. 

Which pretty much leaves us where we started. It seems like what this all really boils down to is that you disagree with others about the ultimate value of certain pieces or sets of evidence. And you seem to think it is important that they describe that evidence in terms that better match your own assessments of its worth and meaning. 

Edited by Ryan Dahle
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1 hour ago, OGHoosier said:

How, then, are we supposed to properly assess relative probabilities? 

You have to start by actually coming up with a probability (which I am suggesting isn't even possible sometimes).

I probably wasn't terribly clear when I said "We do this when we can't determine an absolute likelihood." I wasn't approving of this process. What I meant by this is that sometimes we play a little game by comparing what it is we want to prove with something that is patently impossible. In that context, no matter how unlikely it is, it always has a better chance that that proposition that has no chance at all. This is a bad argument all the way around. When you make this argument, you aren't making an argument for plausibility. You are only making an argument for possibility.

Religion tends to suffer somewhat in these discussions. After all, with the Book of Mormon, if there is no chance of an angel showing up, it makes a very low bar for critics to create a possible explanation. But in some ways the same is true for believers. The EModE argument is used like this. The gist is that if the text is written in EModE, then Joseph Smith couldn't possibly have been its author. It's the same argument - a comparison with the impossible. If all we shoot for is the "possible," then our arguments aren't usually going to be very helpful.

I am not sure what would make good evidence. It isn't where I have made my efforts. At the top of my list though is that I would expect that evidence to be falsifiable.

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I've made this point before, and I'm keenly aware, as one of the Boards dimmer bulbs (I was going to say "lesser lights," but I fear that others may conclude that I would be giving myself too much credit if I were to do that ;)) but each of us is his or her own "trier of fact" in matters of faith: Each of us decides what rules of evidence we will use in deciding matters of faith, and, as a consequence of those rules, what evidence we will admit in deciding a particular question or proposition of faith, what evidence we will exclude in deciding such questions or propositions, how much weight we will give to any particular piece of evidence we do decide to admit, and so on. 

I don't expect anyone to be persuaded by the type or by the quantum of evidence that has persuaded me, and I might not be persuaded by the type or by the quantum of evidence that has persuaded him or her.  Theoretically, it's possible to present the exact same case to two different juries who then reach diametrically different conclusions regarding it.  That's what makes juries and their constituent jurors such idiosyncratic, interesting creatures. ;) 

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On 9/21/2022 at 1:10 PM, Benjamin McGuire said:

I probably wasn't terribly clear when I said "We do this when we can't determine an absolute likelihood." I wasn't approving of this process. What I meant by this is that sometimes we play a little game by comparing what it is we want to prove with something that is patently impossible. In that context, no matter how unlikely it is, it always has a better chance that that proposition that has no chance at all. This is a bad argument all the way around. When you make this argument, you aren't making an argument for plausibility. You are only making an argument for possibility.

I see, thank you for the clarification. 

By the way, I went back and re-read your talk from the 2016 FAIR Conference, "The Book of Mormon as a Communicative Act: Translation In Context." Reading it through now, I found it more insightful than I had previously. Thank you for giving it. 

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6 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

I see, thank you for the clarification. 

By the way, I went back and re-read your talk from the 2016 FAIR Conference, "The Book of Mormon as a Communicative Act: Translation In Context." Reading it through now, I found it more insightful than I had previously. Thank you for giving it. 

Thanks for ensuring that it is not I who killed the thread! ;) 

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I enjoyed reading your original post. Thanks so much for its thoughtfulness.

I would like to make two comments, which may be asides. I hope they are not too far afield. First, in your post, in your text you seem to equate "non-believer" and "critic." This often happens on this forum and can be deeply ingrained in those who engage in apologetics or polemics. I wish we could move beyond that tendency. It starts out the conversation by creating a distancing mechanism. That is rarely helpful. Of course, there are those who are indeed non-believers and critics, but I wonder if they are indeed the majority? I know I work very hard as a historian of religion as conflict to discourage the view that they (non-believer and critic) are synonymous.

Second, I would like to add another "p" word to the conversation. That word is "provisional." I am a person of faith. I believe the best platform for that faith is provisional certitude as opposed to certainty. I think that certainty most often shuts the door to learning and careful consideration; while absolute certainty locks it. I regret it when folks feel that the best way to validate their faith is to express it with absolute certainty. I think both Episcopal scholar Miroslav Volf and Anabaptist professor Peter Enns have hit on something when they suggest that uncertainty is a virtue while certainty may even be said to be a sin (Enns). My hesitation about certainty leads me to be open to greater light in the form of knowledge or revelation. Hence my faithful attendance at an LDS ward for five years now.

The Book of Mormon is a precious volume to many. I find it fascinating, especially in its copious quoting or paraphrasing of Isaiah. As a non-believer, I must respect and regard that preciousness (probably not a word).

It would be fair to deem me a non-fan or at times a critic of the certainty of many of the faithful (regardless of the specific faith), hence not of the faith or belief itself. Methinks, that is a distinction with a difference. Therefore, I tend to criticize onlying and othering. I stipulate to that. I believe with provisional certitude 😀 that onlying and othering are two of the principal eight precursors to human conflict that tend to morph conflict into violence. But that is of course, a subject for another time. Thanks again for your post.

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1 hour ago, Navidad said:

I would like to make two comments, which may be asides. I hope they are not too far afield. First, in your post, in your text you seem to equate "non-believer" and "critic." This often happens on this forum and can be deeply ingrained in those who engage in apologetics or polemics. I wish we could move beyond that tendency. It starts out the conversation by creating a distancing mechanism. That is rarely helpful. Of course, there are those who are indeed non-believers and critics, but I wonder if they are indeed the majority? I know I work very hard as a historian of religion as conflict to discourage the view that they (non-believer and critic) are synonymous.

You may be right - I may have allowed the non-believer and the critic to bleed together a little bit. In my defense, I would say a couple of things about my thought process. First, as I noted, we regularly see people improperly invoking Bayes' theorem as a way of making certain kinds of proof. We end up with books claiming to prove the existence of God using Bayes' theorem, and books using the exact same theorem to conclusively prove the non-existence of God. This broader application was what I was thinking of when I used that terminology of believer/non-believer. For almost any argument, you could make such a comparison. And part of the point of my post was to point out that it is demonstrably difficult for people to recognize how poor of an argument these kinds of proofs are.

I would say this - one of the problems we face with the Book of Mormon (as we do to a lesser extent with the Bible or other older religious texts) is that it is difficult to read the text without including assumptions about its nature (I spend some time on this in my essay in Interpreter: Nephi: A Postmodernist Reading). That is, in order to read the text, you already have had to make assumptions about what it is. Reading the Book of Mormon as a work of fiction is fundamentally different from reading it as a history. In the OP, I wrote this:

On 9/21/2022 at 9:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

When an interpretation of the text is required

I was, generally speaking, only concerned with the back and forth about the truth claims that Mormonism makes about the text - which is where this sort of argument is made. Perhaps what I should have said is that "When an interpretation of the text is required in an argument about the historical or truth claims made about the Book of Mormon ...". While most non-critical discussions of the Book of Mormon generally make assumptions about the nature of the text and its truth claims, they aren't interested in arguing about the truth claims directly, and so aren't generally comparing the impossible with the potentially merely improbable.

You might enjoy this brief discussion (now 16 years old) by the Catholic theologian Richard Rohr. My objective is not to label an 'other' but to try and describe a set of behaviors. So I apologize if this came across poorly.

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On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

Lately, I have seen the word ‘plausibility’ thrown around a lot. It is, more or less, a synonym for the word ‘likelihood’ - but that's not really how it seems to get used here.

I was surprised at the divergent definitions and connotations for "plausible" found in various sources:

Oxford English Dictionary: (of an argument or statement) seeming reasonable or probable.  "a plausible explanation"

I like this one.  "Reasonable" works well, particularly when qualified by "seeming."  Nothing absolutist or dogmatic here.

Dictionary.comhaving an appearance of truth or reason; seemingly worthy of approval or acceptance; credible; believable

I like this one as well.  

Merriam-Webster

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1: superficially fair, reasonable, or valuable but often specious
a plausible pretext
2: superficially pleasing or persuasive
a swindler …  , then a quack, then a smooth, plausible gentleman
— R. W. Emerson
3: appearing worthy of belief
the argument was both powerful and plausible

I'm not as inclined toward this one.  The first and second have overt cynical connotations that I don't think are justified by the word.  The third is is workable.

American Heritage:

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1. Seemingly or apparently valid, likely, or acceptable; credible: a plausible excuse.
2. Persuasive or ingratiating, especially in an effort to deceive.

The first definition works.

Collins:

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1. ADJECTIVE
An explanation or statement that is plausible seems likely to be true or valid.
A more plausible explanation would seem to be that people are fed up with the Conservative government. 
That explanation seems entirely plausible to me. 

Synonyms: believable, possible, likely, reasonable

I'm sort of ambivalent about this one.

Vocabulary.com:

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If something is plausible, it's reasonable or believable. Things that are plausible could easily happen. A woman becoming President is very plausible. A giraffe becoming President is not.

Plausible things are not far-fetched at all. Things in fantasy stories — such as wizards, dragons, and unicorns — are not plausible. On the other hand, some things in science fiction stories might be plausible: who knows where spaceships will eventually go? If something really seems like it could happen, then it's plausible. One of the many tricky parts of life is figuring out what's plausible and what's not.

This one is so-so.  It seems a bit messy.  I think a think could happen, though not "easily," and still be "plausible."  

The second paragraph seems someone uneven.  Nothing in "fantasy stories" is "plausible?"  At all?  Fantasy stories are undoubtedly imaginary, but are they utterly unrooted in reality?  I am reminded here of Arthur C. Clarke's "three laws"

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  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

The first law's reference to a statement that "something is impossible" may be relevant here.  That is too absolutist, I think.  Some of what we perceive to be "impossible" is borne more of our finite perspectives and knowledge than by reality.

Also, the third law.  "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."  Consider these remarks from William Hamblin, Daniel Peterson and George Mitton in this 1994 article (reviewing John L. Brooke's The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology) (emphasis added) :

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In part, Brooke is simply taking the basic thesis of Quinn's Early Mormonism and the Magic World View and attempting to extend the range of alleged occult influences on Mormonism backward in time and space.  In one sense this simply belabors the obvious: It is undeniable that the alchemical and occult ideas found in eighteenth-and nineteenth-century America had antecedents in Europe in earlier times. Indeed. why should we stop at the Renaissance? Why not take hermeticism and alchemy back to their origins in Hellenistic Egypt? Brooke's subtitle could then read: "The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 344 B.C. to A.D. 1844." The real question, of course, is whether or not such ideas had any formative influence on Joseph Smith and early Mormonism. Here, Brooke has utterly failed to make his case. 

Problems of Definitions and Terminology

Perhaps the fundamental flaw in The Refiner's Fire is the author's failure to define his key terms, especially "magic." "hermeticism," and "alchemy." "Magic" is seen by many modem scholars today as a highly problematic concept, which has yet to receive a universally accepted scholarly definition.15  Many, in fact, feel that its use should be abandoned in academic discourse. As one important recent book on the subject puts it, "We have avoided the use of the term 'magic' in this volume. It is our conviction that magic, as a definable and consistent category of human experience. simply does not exist."16  It is not a question of whether or not there is a supernatural realm; the fundamental problem is that there are no firm boundaries between activities and beliefs that are clearly magical and those that are clearly religious. From this perspective. "magic" is simply a subjective and generally pejorative term used to describe unpopular forms of religious expression. "The beliefs and practices of 'the other' will always be dubbed as 'magic,' 'superstition' and the like .... Thus the use of the term 'magic' tells us little or nothing about the substance of what is under description. The sentence, 'X is/was a magician!' tells us nothing about the beliefs and practices of X; the only solid information that can be derived from it concerns the speaker's attitude toward X and their relative social relationship."17  Brooke makes no serious attempt to define the term, let alone to deal with the intricacies of its meaning or the solid objections that have been raised against its use. 
---
15. One of the present reviewers (D. C. Peterson) spent much of the summer of 1994 in a seminar. at Princeton University, on '"The Problem of Religion and Magic." The thirteen participants in that seminar, coming from backgrounds in anthropology, biblical studies, classics, history, Indology, Islamic studies, literature, medieval studies, religious studies, and sociology, were unable to arrive at anything remotely like an unproblematic, universal definition of "magic." 
16. John G. Gager. Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 24. See his references and arguments, as also those gathered by Stephen D. Ricks and Daniel C. Peterson in "Joseph Smith and 'Magic': Methodological Reflections on the Use or a Term," in "To Be Learned is Good if..." ed. Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft. 1987), 129-47. 
17.  Gager, Curse Tablels and Binding Spells, 25. 

Vocubulary.com's reference to "far-fetched" seems akin to the use of "magic" as noted above.  Both are "a subjective and generally pejorative term used to describe {something that is unpopular."

Consider, for example, Star Trek, which has futuristic ideas that, at the time, were "plausible."  Spaceships.  Life on other planets.  Hand-held communicators.  In the 60s-80s (when The Original Series and The Next Generation were being made), these seemed to be something that are attainable.  Likely.  "Plausible."

But there are other technologies in TOS/TNG that, at the time, seemed implausible.  "Transporter" technology, for example, was actually formulated to save money by the TV studio by avoiding spending money on visual effects involving spaceship landings.  This technology grew to be a staple of the franchise, but was it plausible?  Is it plausible now?  It is, it seems, a mixed question:

Mostly no:

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I don’t think a transporter is something that humans will be able to create. I hope I’m wrong, but it seems almost impossible. The risks associated with it are far too great. We simply don’t understand enough about biology or quantum physics to ensure that our particles would be reassembled perfectly.

Plus, I don’t know how many would volunteer to test a transporter, particularly as an “early adopter”.

We could very well have a transporter for non-living objects, but I don’t think we’ll have a tool to beat the city traffic anytime soon.

Or, cautiously, "maybe":

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Is "Beaming" Possible?

Will it ever be possible to develop such technology? The idea of transporting solid matter by turning it into a form of energy and sending it great distances sounds like magic. Yet, there are scientifically valid reasons why it could, perhaps, one day happen.

Recent technology has made it possible to transport—or "beam" if you will—small pools of particles or photons from one location to another. This quantum mechanics phenomenon is known as "quantum transport." The process does have future applications in many electronics such as advanced communication technologies and super-fast quantum computers. Applying the same technique to something as large and complex as a living human being is a very different matter. Without some major technological advances, the process of turning a living person into "information" has risks that make the Federation-style transporters impossible for the foreseeable future.

So the distinctions between "possible" and "impossible," between "probable" and "improbable," between "plausible" and "implausible," seem to be contingent on our current competencies and information.  A person living five hundred years ago could have confidently declared instantaneous communications to the other side of the world "impossible."  Were they correct?

Macmillan:

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1 likely to be true
A bomb was the only plausible explanation for the crash.
The story was plausible but that didn’t necessarily mean it was true.

This one is okay, but I prefer definitions that focus more on things like "seeming reasonable" and "having an appearance of truth or reason; seemingly worthy of approval or acceptance; credible; believable," "reasonable or believable," 

Cambridge:

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seeming likely to be true, or able to be believed:
a plausible explanation/excuse

This one works.

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

In general, we run into several problems with its usage and in these discussions about religion. When we deal with the idea of plausibility (and plausibility bias), we run into several problems. So, let me put forth a few thoughts:

1: There are two kinds of probabilities – absolute probabilities and relative probabilities.

We can (everything else being equal) accurately predict the probabilities of certain types of things. We know that if you flip a coin X times, the outcomes will fall into predictable patterns. The more times you flip the coin, the more the pattern comes to match the prediction. On the other hand, relative probabilities tend to compare things – and which of those things is more likely. We do this when we can't determine an absolute likelihood. There is that old saying from Sherlock Holmes that “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” You can see here the connection between the impossible and the merely improbable. In this case, the merely improbable takes on a sense of plausibility by comparison to the impossible. There are two takeaways from this – the one that matters most for my point is that plausibility doesn’t always mean likely.

I agree.  I think "plausible" should have more to do with "having an appearance of truth or reason," or "seeming reasonable," "apparently valid, likely, or acceptable," "able to be believed," and so on.

It is, in my view, not "plausible," not "reasonable," for an American living in 2022, to believe that the world is flat, or that Joe Biden is the current president of the United States, or that the actor James Stewart never actually existed.  Reasonable minds can disagree about all sorts of things, including important things, but certainly not all things.  There are some matters that are outside the boundaries of reasonable dispute.

For me, the existence of God is within the boundaries of reasonable dispute.  The same goes for our relationship with Him, our premortal/postmortal existence, prophets, priesthood, and so on.  Miracles also (as defined here, anyway).

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

Most inappropriate users of the term plausibility forget the other takeaway: to consider something plausible by comparison, you first have to demonstrate that all of the other options are either impossible or less likely than the one you are promoting.

"Demonstrating" the "likelihood" of something seems challenging because "likelihood" as to particular events and persons seems to be more of an "eye of the beholder" kind of thing.

For example, how does one go about applying this to Jesus Christ?  How would we go about "demonstrat{ing} that all of the other options {regarding His status as the Son of God, as having performed miracles, as having resurrected and ascended into heaven, etc.} are either impossible or less likely than the {conclusion} you are promoting"?  That seems like an impossible task, as we simply lack the means to "demonstrate" either His divinity or his mundanity.  

Meanwhile, however, billions of people have believed Him to be the literal Son of God.  Is that belief "plausible?"  By your emphasis-on-"likelihood" metric, no, because we cannot "demonstrate that all of the other options are either impossible or less likely."

Alternatively, if by "plausible" we mean belief that is within the boundaries of reasonable dispute, that is "seeming reasonable" and "having an appearance of truth or reason; seemingly worthy of approval or acceptance; credible; believable," then yes, that belief works.  It is "plausible."

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

2: Plausibility does not equal possibility but it does mean that something isn't impossible (at least in theory).

While something must be possible for it to be plausible, the reverse is not true. Being possible does not mean that it is also plausible. There is the old idea that if we put enough monkeys in front of enough typewriters that eventually one of them will type up the complete works of Shakespeare. Interestingly enough, this particular issue falls into the realm of absolute probability. It seems possible to define the likelihood in a well defined mathematical sense. And, of course, it will never happen.

Agreed.  Arguing about "probabilities" as to essentially untestable questions seems like a waste of time.

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

4: Because of (1) and (2), the claim of plausibility by itself, can be meaningless in context. Unless the probabilities being discussed are both absolute and reasonable, the claim of plausibility can be made as a claim of possibility in a vacuum or as a comparison with the impossible.

Or as a claim of being within the boundaries of reasonable dispute.  

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

Rarely do we see actual attempts to evaluate all of the possible options and assign relative degrees of likelihood (although we do sometimes see this in the misapplication of Bayes' Theorem when it uses personal conjecture as a way of introducing probabilities - that is, any time you see someone arguing that probability X is safe to use because it must be so conservative of a value ....).

Assigning "relative degrees of likelihood" in the context of most religious truth claims would, I think, be a hugely subjective endeavor, and one that says far more about the presuppositions of the person doing the assigning than about the subject matter.  Again from the Hambling/Peterson/Mitton article quoted above:

Quote

Thus the use of the term 'magic' tells us little or nothing about the substance of what is under description. The sentence, 'X is/was a magician!' tells us nothing about the beliefs and practices of X; the only solid information that can be derived from it concerns the speaker's attitude toward X and their relative social relationship."

To paraphrase: Thus the use of the term 'likelihood' tells us little or nothing about the substance of what is under description. The sentence, 'Jesus was, in all likelihood, just a rabbi' tells us nothing about the divinity or mundanity of Jesus; the only solid information that can be derived from it concerns the speaker's attitude toward Jesus and their relative social relationship."

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

Which brings me to the recent discussion on the Book of Mormon. When an interpretation of the text is required (and this doesn’t matter which side of the believer/non-believer divide you stand on), you are no longer in the realm of prediction but are providing post-hoc analysis.  This isn’t just about the narratives in the Book of Mormon (for example, the route taken through the desert) but it applies just as much to the weight of the plates and their make-up (drawn from comments made about the plates in the historical record). These explanations are very poor at determining possibility or plausibility because they are already burdened by assumptions, and are often placed in comparison with the impossible.

I think this works if "possibility or plausibility" focuses on a testable 'plausible'-meaning-likelihood model.  But I just don't think that model works very well.  

Alternatively, if we consider a model based on 'plausible'-meaning-within-the-realm-of-reasonable-disagreement and/or 'plausible'-meaning-having-an-appearance-of-truth-or-reason, I think approaching the Book of Mormon and other truth claims works.

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

And these arguments don’t really do as much in terms of laying out the plausibility of the text or of a narrative as it is suggested. They merely discuss whether such a thing is possible or not.

With respect, I disagree.  Again, assigning "relative degrees of likelihood" to most religious truth claims is a hugely subjective endeavor, and one that says far more about the presuppositions of the person doing the assigning than about the subject matter.

And I don't think Latter-day Saint scholars who are advancing defenses of the truth claims and other arguments in defense of the Church are not focusing on plausibility as a statistics-based "likelihood," but rather on plausibility as being based on evidence and reasoning, as being within the realm of reasonable disagreement.

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

Conceptually, this has been historically one of the consistent issues I have seen with Book of Mormon apologetics. It isn’t very good at providing evidence of the gold plates or evidence of the historicity of the events described in the Book of Mormon. And from my perspective, apologetics isn’t very helpful at all in understanding the text of the Book of Mormon – when our focus of interpretation is to provide for the possibility of modern accounts of its production, we tend to lose the question of the meaning of the text.

I think the value of the text lies in its revealed truths and precepts.  "Apologetics" is typically more focused on rebutting polemical critiques as to its origins.  It is understandable and reasonable for an individual to harbor some ambivalence as to those origins.  Approaching the text as having moral/spiritual authority and weight (and therefore accepting its truths and precepts as binding) requires the individual to evaluate its claimed origins.  I think this is why we have the Witness statements, Joseph Smith-History, and so on.

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

I am not arguing here that apologetic efforts are bad. I have engaged in them myself. I am suggesting that we should understand that they play a specific role that they play in engaging with critical polemic (apologetics on the other side of the ideological divide). But, plausibility, at least conceptually, is highly unsatisfying in this context.

"Plausibility" (as in 'plausible'-meaning-within-the-realm-of-reasonable-disagreement and/or 'plausible'-meaning-having-an-appearance-of-truth-or-reason) works quite well for me.

As to the divinity of Jesus Christ, I accept that as a matter of faith.  Evidence-based faith.  I find the subjects of my faith to be plausible.  I don't really construe that plausibility via a "{first} demonstrate that all of the other options are either impossible or less likely" lens.  I am just not persuaded that the question of the divinity of Jesus Christ can be assessed that way.  We lack the data/evidence to prove His divinity or his mundanity.  We lack the capacity to objectively and empirically "assign relative degrees of likelihood" to His status, miracles, Atonement, resurrection, etc.

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

It’s like smelling the food on your neighbor’s barbecue and knowing that you will never get some. For most of what has recently been said using the term, we might as well substitute the idea of "isn't impossible" for "plausible".

Only if we construe "isn't impossible" as being functionally equivalent with "within-the-realm-of-reasonable-disagreement" and/or "having-an-appearance-of-truth-or-reason."

I don't think we ought to do that.  We need to maintain the distinction between "possible" and "plausible."

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

By interpreting the Book of Mormon and finding a possible route through the desert leading away from Jerusalem, we haven’t made the text plausible, we have simply found a way to keep it from being impossible.

With respect, I disagree.  Consider Rule 401 of the Utah Rules of Evidence ("Test for Relevant Evidence") :

Quote

Evidence is relevant if:

(a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and

(b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.

I think these principles can be adapted here.  Evidences such as NHM, Wadi Sayq, the Seal of Mulek, Sheum, tumbaga, etc. present information to us now which A) were unlikely to have been available in Joseph Smith's time, and B) have "any tendency to make" Joseph Smith's explanation of the origins of the Book of Mormon "more {} probable than it would be without the evidence."

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

By arguing about the make-up of the gold plates, we aren’t finding evidence that there really was gold plates that Joseph received from an angelic visitor,

Yes, I think we are.

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

we are simply pointing out that the gold plates themselves don’t make the historical narratives as impossible as the critics would argue.

I think we are doing more than that.  We are situating Joseph's narrative, and the narrative of the text, as being "plausible."  As being within the realm of reasonable disagreement.  As having an appearance of truth or reason.

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

A lot of "not impossibles" does not really add up to a high level of plausibility.

I don't think apologetic arguments are intended to advance a "not impossible" argument, but rather a "within the realm of reasonable belief" argument.

On 9/21/2022 at 7:44 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

And, if we really want evidence, perhaps we should start by discussing what evidence of the Book of Mormon narrative would actually look like …

The text is here.  It needs to be accounted for.  Setting it aside in favor of guesswork as to what we think it should say or look like seems problematic.

The same goes for the witness statements and JS-H.

And in the end, all of this is secondary anyway.  If we really want evidence, we should read, ponder and pray about the Book of Mormon, and apply Moroni's Challenge to it.  All other "evidence" pertaining to it is ancillary.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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On 9/21/2022 at 1:19 PM, Kenngo1969 said:

I've made this point before, and I'm keenly aware, as one of the Boards dimmer bulbs (I was going to say "lesser lights," but I fear that others may conclude that I would be giving myself too much credit if I were to do that ;)) but each of us is his or her own "trier of fact" in matters of faith: Each of us decides what rules of evidence we will use in deciding matters of faith, and, as a consequence of those rules, what evidence we will admit in deciding a particular question or proposition of faith, what evidence we will exclude in deciding such questions or propositions, how much weight we will give to any particular piece of evidence we do decide to admit, and so on. 

I don't expect anyone to be persuaded by the type or by the quantum of evidence that has persuaded me, and I might not be persuaded by the type or by the quantum of evidence that has persuaded him or her.  Theoretically, it's possible to present the exact same case to two different juries who then reach diametrically different conclusions regarding it.  That's what makes juries and their constituent jurors such idiosyncratic, interesting creatures. ;) 

We are speaking here about philosophical principles, like why should we follow established ideals of morality? In what sense can such philosophical standards be recognized as "true"?

In what sense is it rational to believe in an invisible being at all? How could an alleged "son" (of an invisible being? ) take on himself "punishment" for every infringement of said  (and not yet, in this paradigm, justified,) "ideal standards of morality" and take on the punishment imposed by this invisible being, for all mankind in the past, present and future?

How could any rational person then end up attributing the logical justification for this whole paradigm to the historicity of unintelligible writings allegedly written by  an ancient civilization unknown as yet by science, on golden plates which were delivered and then conveniently taken back by other invisible beings?

I'm not even getting into "translation" questions now with EModE etc?

Can you, mi amigo explain why this is even an issue?  

I have been a faithful member now over 40 years and I have never understood this mode of thought!

If Mozart a drunkard, how would that relate to the quality of his music?  If Shakespeare's literature was written by someone else, does that affect its value as literature?

The question to me is how does LDS Doctrine stand up compared to current philosophical standards, and how can such a paradigm be justified?

The "plan of happiness" and Alma 32 answers both right there. 

We need to be looking at correlations in beliefs with historical sources (Bible etc) as well as temple symbology and ancient religions, but from a philosophical viewpoint, not history.

We need to use philosophy instead of history to establish truth, and what that word "truth" even means, philosophical answers for philosophical questions, not trying to use history to answer philosophical questions!  That's a category mistake right there!

Do that, and we have the Holy grail!

It's William James, it's Pragmatism, it's John Dewey and Richard Rorty, and dozens of others! It's the spirit of Postmodernism itself that justifies it.  It's our Dr. Paulsen and the Claremont school, Process philosophy and Phenomenology that makes, imo, historical arguments obsolete. 

We gotta get a little sophisticated about this stuff if we want apologetics with teeth! 😁

And the biggest question is whether or not personal testimony is justified?

(Don't worry, it IS, big time! )  ;)

 

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57 minutes ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

Reading the Book of Mormon as a work of fiction is fundamentally different from reading it as a history.

I hesitate to see either the Bible or the Book of Mormon as either works of fiction or history, per se. Parables are certainly neither fiction or history. They are both volumes of texts written for sacred purposes by someone, sometime, somewhere to inform, inspire, and instruct. They each propose to, in multiple ways reveal the sacred to humanity. They each contain poetry, parables, history, teachings, inspirational, apocalyptic (prophetic or eschatological), and more writings.  Each type of literature requires careful, studious, and prayerful interpretation to reveal its true intent. The account of Naboth's Vineyard may or may not be historically accurate, but it sure gives me a great example to use to teach US-Mexican relations through the years.

As an Evangelical I am not big on binarisms, or either-or thinking. I have a cousin who reads the OT right now to harvest kernels of history about the neo-Assyrians (he is studying the lost war camps of Sennacherib). It is a pretty good (says he) source book for that study. Others study to find peace for their lives or dozens of other reasons. For me, I study the New Testament to correctly ascertain what is required for eternal life with the Savior and Father so I can continue to grow in grace and knowledge in both this life and the next. I haven't quite figured that out to any exact degree yet, but I am working on it!

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1 hour ago, smac97 said:

"Demonstrating" the "likelihood" of something seems challenging because "likelihood" as to particular events and persons seems to be more of an "eye of the beholder" kind of thing.

It isn't usually challenging at all. That's part of the problem here. Most of the things that we use likelihoods to assess are reasonable straight forward (even if they involve complicated processes). We can talk about the likelihood of someone developing cancer given a set of conditions. We can deal with the likelihood that we can determine the sex of a fetus before it is born. We use artificial intelligence all the time - and AI is largely a predictive process that looks at likelihoods. The challenge is when someone abuses the idea and argues that the fact that we can find ancient records on metal plates makes it likely that the narratives we have about the gold plates are true (that they are plausible). The one doesn't lead to the other. It merely makes it possible that they are true, not that they are likely to be true - they aren't connected in this way.

1 hour ago, smac97 said:

Alternatively, if we consider a model based on 'plausible'-meaning-within-the-realm-of-reasonable-disagreement and/or 'plausible'-meaning-having-an-appearance-of-truth-or-reason, I think approaching the Book of Mormon and other truth claims works.

It doesn't. But thanks for trying. I think that there is something fascinating here that you in particular go cherry picking through a series of dictionaries looking for the definition that might allow your conjecture to work.

1 hour ago, smac97 said:

With respect, I disagree.  Again, assigning "relative degrees of likelihood" to most religious truth claims is a hugely subjective endeavor, and one that says far more about the presuppositions of the person doing the assigning than about the subject matter.

And I don't think Latter-day Saint scholars who are advancing defenses of the truth claims and other arguments in defense of the Church are not focusing on plausibility as a statistics-based "likelihood," but rather on plausibility as being based on evidence and reasoning, as being within the realm of reasonable disagreement.

I realize that you do in fact use the term "plausible" more than practically anyone else here. To quote Inigo Montoya (actually, why bother, I am sure you get the reference).

1 hour ago, smac97 said:

Evidences such as NHM, Wadi Sayq, the Seal of Mulek, Sheum, tumbaga, etc. present information to us now which A) were unlikely to have been available in Joseph Smith's time, and B) have "any tendency to make" Joseph Smith's explanation of the origins of the Book of Mormon "more {} probable than it would be without the evidence."

You see, you merely make my point (which means that you really don't understand it). Your position in A) is about impossibility. You suggest that it would be impossible for it to be there in other circumstances, so that B) becomes plausible by default and not through any reasonableness of its own. NHM isn't evidence. It requires as a starting point that we read the text in a certain way - and we read the text in that way so that it allows for NHM to become meaningful (the connection comes first, the interpretation comes afterwards). That's what all of these things do. They aren't predictive. And so they don't have the kind of value that you suggest they should have. A critic could argue that this is all simply coincidence (and could make a decent argument to that end). These kinds of coincidences happen. And our human response is relatively predictable - because our brains prefer post-hoc explanations we tend to value them more than we should. This is why the argument that "were unlikely to have been available in Joseph's time" is essential to your claim. It creates the impossibility back drop against which Holmes' "whatever remains, however improbable" becomes true.

1 hour ago, smac97 said:

I think we are doing more than that.  We are situating Joseph's narrative, and the narrative of the text, as being "plausible."  As being within the realm of reasonable disagreement.  As having an appearance of truth or reason.

I know that you have certainly come to see it as reasonable. But, I think that you are mistaken (actually, I am pretty certain of it). But in the end, apparently, you really just want to reduce this to a discussion of semantics. Is it ever really appropriate to cherry pick dictionaries until you find the definitions you want to use and discard those you don't? I guess it must be ....

 

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1 hour ago, Navidad said:

I hesitate to see either the Bible or the Book of Mormon as either works of fiction or history, per se. Parables are certainly neither fiction or history. They are both volumes of texts written for sacred purposes by someone, sometime, somewhere to inform, inspire, and instruct. They each propose to, in multiple ways reveal the sacred to humanity. They each contain poetry, parables, history, teachings, inspirational, apocalyptic (prophetic or eschatological), and more writings.  Each type of literature requires careful, studious, and prayerful interpretation to reveal its true intent. The account of Naboth's Vineyard may or may not be historically accurate, but it sure gives me a great example to use to teach US-Mexican relations through the years.

The thing is, though, that how we conceive or understand a text matters a great deal for how we read it. To use an example that I have stolen from someone else - when we compare biography to fairy tale (which are usually pretty distinct genres) we might recognize the challenge that comes in mistaking one for the other:

Quote

To use an example from Rabinowitz, if we read Cinderella without participating in the narrative audience, we end up reading the story of a “neurotic, perhaps psychotic, young woman subject to hallucinations” instead of a children’s fairy tale. (Peter J. Rabinowitz, “Truth in Fiction: A Reexamination of Audiences,” Critical Inquiry 4/1 [Autumn 1977], 129).

We can read it as fiction. We can read it as history. We can read it simply as scripture independent of any historical value (and ignore questions of historicity altogether), we can read it as a philosophical metaphor. We could read it in a lot of ways - but the way that we approach the text inevitably influences the meaning we get from it - often in profound ways. And to make this overly generic (as your comment does) doesn't actually relate well to the reality of what we actually do when we read (and its probably not a great idea for us to start debating the question you raise of intent). This isn't about the individual parts of the text or its various types of content - its about how we understand the text as a communicative act in its own right. It is not the sum of its parts so to speak as you imply here. I don't believe that there is a problem because we may read the text in different ways and so come to different meanings - I think this is natural. We just need to be aware of how our understanding of the text at that higher level has already created interpretational boundaries for us. The person who believes the Book of Mormon is fictional will never read it in the same way that the person who believes it is a word-for-word translation of some ancient Nephite historical text. Just as the individual who reads Cinderella as a fairy tale will read it quite differently from the person who reads it as biography.

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52 minutes ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

We just need to be aware of how our understanding of the text at that higher level has already created interpretational boundaries for us. The person who believes the Book of Mormon is fictional will never read it in the same way that the person who believes it is a word-for-word translation of some ancient Nephite historical text. Just as the individual who reads Cinderella as a fairy tale will read it quite differently from the person who reads it as biography.

These discussions become rather ironic for me now as my personal interpretive preference has seen the world from an anti-realist and post-modern lens for 50 years, which actually caused me to investigate the church and found it exactly what I was looking for, a church which justified personal revelation and individual religious experience.

The irony now is trying to see it any other way, which should be easy for a relativist, but it is not!  I have become a strictly orthodox and totally dogmatic, fundamentalist relativist. ;)

And thanks for your reference to your Interpreter article- I missed it when it came out and am looking forward to reading it

 

Edited by mfbukowski
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2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:
Quote

"Demonstrating" the "likelihood" of something seems challenging because "likelihood" as to particular events and persons seems to be more of an "eye of the beholder" kind of thing.

It isn't usually challenging at all.

I guess reasonable minds will have to disagree about that.  Whether or not Jesus Christ was the Son of God, whether He performed miracles, was resurrected, etc. is not something that I think can be empirically reduced to a demonstrated "likelihood."  

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

That's part of the problem here. Most of the things that we use likelihoods to assess are reasonable straight forward (even if they involve complicated processes).

I think that's part of the problem, as "the things" we are discussing (the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Gold Plates) are not "straight forward."  They are well outside the norm, well outside our experience, well outside our ability to empirically and definitively prove or disprove.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

We can talk about the likelihood of someone developing cancer given a set of conditions. We can deal with the likelihood that we can determine the sex of a fetus before it is born. We use artificial intelligence all the time - and AI is largely a predictive process that looks at likelihoods.

But the divinity of Jesus Christ and the provenance of the Book of Mormon are not to be discerned through "a predictive process."  And I don't think "AI" is situated to provide a competent "post-hoc analysis."

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

The challenge is when someone abuses the idea and argues that the fact that we can find ancient records on metal plates makes it likely that the narratives we have about the gold plates are true (that they are plausible).  The one doesn't lead to the other.

I think you are misreading me a bit.  I think the evidences I referenced make the claimed origins of the Book of Mormon more likely.  I'm not claiming preponderance, as I am not sure we can confidently declare any particular quantum of evidence sufficient to establish matters that are predominantly and fundamentally based on faith.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

It merely makes it possible that they are true, not that they are likely to be true - they aren't connected in this way.

I am not trying to shift from "impossible" to "impossible," but rather from "possible" to "more possible" and "more probable." 

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:
Quote

Alternatively, if we consider a model based on 'plausible'-meaning-within-the-realm-of-reasonable-disagreement and/or 'plausible'-meaning-having-an-appearance-of-truth-or-reason, I think approaching the Book of Mormon and other truth claims works.

It doesn't. But thanks for trying.

I think it does.  Your conclusory assertion to the contrary is understandable (I am sort of contradicting the thesis of the OP), but it's not self-evidently established.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

I think that there is something fascinating here that you in particular go cherry picking through a series of dictionaries looking for the definition that might allow your conjecture to work.

Except that I didn't cherry-pick.  I presented a number of definitions of "plausible" and found almost all of them applicable, with a few having connotations/emphases that I found a bit at odds with what most people think of when they use the word.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

I realize that you do in fact use the term "plausible" more than practically anyone else here. To quote Inigo Montoya (actually, why bother, I am sure you get the reference).

I do.  I don't get your use of it, though.  I was agreeing with pretty much all of the definitions, taking exception to a few connotations here and there.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:
Quote

Evidences such as NHM, Wadi Sayq, the Seal of Mulek, Sheum, tumbaga, etc. present information to us now which A) were unlikely to have been available in Joseph Smith's time, and B) have "any tendency to make" Joseph Smith's explanation of the origins of the Book of Mormon "more {} probable than it would be without the evidence."

You see, you merely make my point (which means that you really don't understand it).

I don't think I am making your point, and I think I do understand it.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

Your position in A) is about impossibility.

It is not.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

You suggest that it would be impossible for it to be there in other circumstances,

I am not suggesting that.  At all.  Not even a little bit.  Again, from Rule 401 of the Rules of Evidence:

Quote

Evidence is relevant if:

(a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and

(b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.

I am not speaking of evidence leading to a conclusion of what is "possible" v. "impossible," but rather evidence that has a "tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence."

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

so that B) becomes plausible by default and not through any reasonableness of its own.

No, I'm not saying that either.  You are not accurately stating my position.

I am not advocating anything like a "default" alternative.  I am saying that evidences can have probative weight, they can tend to make a face "more {} probable than it would be without the evidence."

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

NHM isn't evidence.

Yes, it is.  It has "any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence."  

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

It requires as a starting point that we read the text in a certain way -

All evidence requires that.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

and we read the text in that way so that it allows for NHM to become meaningful (the connection comes first, the interpretation comes afterwards).

With respect, I disagree.  NHM is corroborative.  It is not definitive or dispositive, but it doesn't need to be.  We seldom get a "smoking gun."

NHM may not be sufficient evidence, it may not (for some, even many) be evidence carrying much probative weight, but to claim that it's not evidence at all?  Nope, that just does not work.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

That's what all of these things do. They aren't predictive.

Evidence of things past are not, I think, generally intended to be "predictive."   Predicting a future or random event - like a coin flip or a baby being born a girl - is susceptible to predictive analysis.  I just don't think the same can be said about assessing a past event, particularly one that is "miraculous."  

Whether Jesus was the Son of God cannot be be empirically proven or disproven.  It is fundamentally a question of faith.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

And so they don't have the kind of value that you suggest they should have.

I think they have quite a bit of value.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

A critic could argue that this is all simply coincidence (and could make a decent argument to that end).

I acknowledge that.  But "all simply coincidence" becomes less tenable as more data/evidence comes in.  So to say that this data has no probative value at all is, I think, misguided.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

These kinds of coincidences happen.

Now you are proving my point: "Assigning 'relative degrees of likelihood' in the context of most religious truth claims would, I think, be a hugely subjective endeavor, and one that says far more about the presuppositions of the person doing the assigning than about the subject matter.  Again from the Hambling/Peterson/Mitton article quoted above..."

"These kinds of coincidences happen" is not evidence.  It's not even an argument.  It is an unsubstantiated and conclusory assertion.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

And our human response is relatively predictable - because our brains prefer post-hoc explanations we tend to value them more than we should.

Hence the need to acknowledge that examining religious truth claims is a "hugely subjective endeavor," and hence not really things that can be reliably and empirically "assign{ed} relative degrees of likelihood."

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

This is why the argument that "were unlikely to have been available in Joseph's time" is essential to your claim. It creates the impossibility back drop against which Holmes' "whatever remains, however improbable" becomes true.

It does not.  I don't need "impossibility," as evidenced by the fact that never said or implied any such thing, and you have instead introduced the concept by (mis)characterizing my position.

I am operating under the auspices of there being evidences in relation to the Book of Mormon which have "any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence{s}."  You seem to be saying, categorically, that no such evidences exist.  Anywhere.  At all.  ("NHM isn't evidence...").  I just don't think that works.  You may find these things insufficient, you may assign them less probative weight than I do.  That's all well and good.  But to say they aren't evidence at all?  Nope.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

I know that you have certainly come to see it as reasonable. But, I think that you are mistaken (actually, I am pretty certain of it).

I am okay with that conclusion.  Reasonable minds can disagree about all sorts of things, including important things.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

But in the end, apparently, you really just want to reduce this to a discussion of semantics.

No, I don't.

Not only are you misstating and mischaracterizing my position above, you are imputing onto me motives I do not have.  Please don't.

2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

Is it ever really appropriate to cherry pick dictionaries until you find the definitions you want to use and discard those you don't? I guess it must be ....

Again, I didn't cherry-pick.  I presented a number of definitions of "plausible" and found almost all of them applicable, with a few having connotations/emphases that I found a bit at odds with what most people think of when they use the word.

Your bio states that you are "a technologist in the field of healthcare in northern Michigan."  I'm not sure of the particular contours of this field of work, but it sounds like you work with medical technology/devices.  I wonder if that background has an effect on how you approach concepts like "evidence" and "plausibility."

Your critique notwithstanding, I think I am using "plausible" in a very normative sense of the word.  For example, I quite agree with the sentiment expressed here:

Quote

Since you can't "prove" religion, is apologetics a waste of time?

Dallin H. Oaks spoke to this concern:

The lack of decisive scientific proofs of scriptural truths does not preclude gospel defenders from counterarguments of that nature. When opponents attack the Church or its doctrines with so-called proofs, loyal defenders will counter with material of a comparable nature to defend. [3]

And, Neal A. Maxwell noted that God would provide fascinating additions to our understanding:

There will be a convergence of discoveries (never enough, mind you, to remove the need for faith) to make plain and plausible what the modern prophets have been saying all along…[I] do not expect incontrovertible proof to come in this way…, but neither will the Church be outdone by hostile or pseudo-scholars. [4]

Pres. Oaks often speaks from a perspective that I think is heavily informed by his legal training/expertise/experience.  I think he is on board with the idea of presenting evidence-based arguments and reasoning to defend the position taken by the Church.  

Similarly, Elder Maxwell spoke of (predicted, actually) "a convergence of discoveries (never enough, mind you, to remove the need for faith) to make plain and plausible what the modern prophets have been saying all along."

You seem to be saying, however, that this will never happen, that there is no such thing as "evidence" which can corroborate, make more likely, make "plain and plausible," the claims of the Church.

Also this (from the same link) :

Quote

Austen Farrar said, of C.S. Lewis:

Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish. [5]

Apologetics does not aim to "create belief"—it aims only to dispense with the poor reasons given by critics for disbelief. As Elder Maxwell put it, the critics ought not to be permitted "uncontested slam-dunks." [6]

Argument, particularly argument borne of evidence and reasoning, is an important part of maintaining "a climate in which belief may flourish."

And this (same link) :

Quote

Is it appropriate for a Church member to be involved in apologetics?

C.S. Lewis pointed out that since enemies have invoked 'science' or 'reason' to attack faith, it may now be necessary that someone respond in the same vein:

To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. [1]

Indeed, the great risk which apologetics seeks to counter is that those unfamiliar with anti-Mormon arguments will assume that there are no good answers to the critics. Elder Neal A. Maxwell warned of the consequences of such a situation:

Let us be articulate for while our defense of the kingdom may not stir all hearers, the absence of thoughtful response may cause fledglings among the faithful to falter. What we assert may not be accepted, but unasserted convictions soon become deserted convictions. [2]

I think an important part of "be{ing} articulate" and providing "thoughtful response{s}" requires, to some extent, evaluation of ancillary evidences such as those I have referenced previously, which you categorically reject as not being "evidence" at all.

I also like this sentiment, expressed by someone at Saints Unscripted (quoting Elder Maxwell) :

Quote

Ultimately, I agree with Elder Neal A. Maxwell who wrote, “It is the author’s opinion that all the scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, will remain in the realm of faith. Science will not be able to prove or disprove holy writ. However, enough plausible evidence will come forth to prevent scoffers from having a field day, but not enough to remove the requirement of faith. Believers must be patient during such unfolding.”

God recognizes the need to somewhat satisfy our logical faculties. But God wants us to choose Him because our hearts and hopes align with His plan, not because the evidence simply compels us, forces us to believe. That’s not the kind of belief that God is after. That creates drones, not disciples.

I think my use of "plausible" and "evidence" are along the same lines as Elder Maxwell's usage.  

See also this article from Daniel C. Peterson:

Quote

The Book of Mormon does fit into what we know of the ancient world. Its early account of Jerusalem just before the Babylonian captivity gains in plausibility as research continues to accumulate. For example, the name of Lehi’s wife, Sariah, previously unknown outside the Book of Mormon, has been found in ancient Jewish documents from Egypt. Likewise, the nonbiblical name Nephi belongs to the very time and place of the first Book of Mormon figure who bears it. Nephi’s slaying of Laban and the justification given to him by the Lord for doing so can now be seen as instruction that focused on the culture of Nephi’s era.
...
But the region of Mesoamerica—particularly southern México and Guatemala, where some suggest that many of the Book of Mormon events may have happened—is a place of continuing volcanic and seismic activity. Painstaking research by John L. Sorenson and others has demonstrated the plausibility of the complex geographical data contained in the Book of Mormon. This research suggests many fascinating correlations with what we continue to learn about life in ancient Mesoamerica.
...

As Latter-day Saints, we must never take the Book of Mormon for granted. Its sheer existence is astonishing. That it was produced by an almost completely uneducated young man constitutes a challenge to the entire world. Yet its historical narrative is sober and realistic. Its content is rich, profound, and subtly complex. And though dictated at a rapid pace, it tells a highly consistent and very complex story involving scores of place and personal names and internal quotations.

Persons who choose to dismiss the Book of Mormon must ignore the mounting evidence for its authenticity. And while we will never “prove” the Book of Mormon true, the evidence strongly suggests that it is exactly what it claims to be—a book worthy of our deep study, reflection, and serious personal prayer. Thousands of hours of research have produced the current blossoming of Book of Mormon studies that bless the lives of Latter-day Saints. They cannot be lightly brushed aside.

The conclusion of the matter is that much modern evidence supports the more powerful witness of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true. Joseph Smith, who translated it, was what he said he was—a prophet of God. And he did what he said he did—he served as the means by which Jesus Christ restored His Church. Together, the Book of Mormon and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirm that Jesus is the Christ, the divine Savior of the world, and that on some future day He will come in the manner the scriptures herald.

I think my use of "plausible" and "evidence" is along the same lines as DCP's usage, as is his overall approach to assessing ancillary evidences and finding them helpful.

Another comment from DCP:

Quote

I first became involved in apologetics because I wanted to defend the truth of beliefs that are important to me and to defend the character of leaders for whom I have great respect, even veneration, against attack. I’m offended by falsehoods, prejudice, and injustice. I wanted to help faltering members who were sometimes besieged by intellectual challenges for which they had no adequate response. I also desired to assist interested observers to see sufficient plausibility in the Gospel’s claims that they would be able to make its truth a matter of sincere and receptive prayer. My hope was to clear away obstacles that might obscure their recognition of truth. These continue to be my motivations, and I expect that others who are engaged in apologetics feel much the same way.
...
11. Paul D. Feinberg, “Cumulative Case Apologetics,” in Steven B. Cowan, ed., Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 248. As I read him, Feinberg likewise denies the existence of such arguments, though he believes (as I do) that a good cumulative case can be made in support of the plausibility of the existence of God, etc. 

I agree with these sentiments, and with his usage of the word "plausibility."

And another from DCP:

Quote

The fact is though that people can look at the same facts and come up with different views. There are lots of stories that occurred to me about this. I remember years ago when FARMS published an article which — it was one of our earliest reprints by someone named Reed Putnam where he was arguing that the golden plates of Joseph Smith were actually possibly made of an alloy called tumbaga, which is not pure gold and it seemed plausible to me. It results in a set of place that come out to about the right weight and there is some attestation of this substance in pre-Columbian America and so on and so forth but then my copy of the Utah Evangel came and they had read the same article. Now the Utah Evangel is, bar none, my favorite all time tabloid. I used to love that thing. You know for sheer logic and so on it was a treasure trove. I once toyed with the idea of writing a textbook on ‘practical logical fallacies’ illustrated entirely from the Utah Evangel. I could have done it. It would have been easy to do, but their response to this article was not what I thought was faith-promoting and it demonstrates that there is a plausible candidate for a substance that could make the plates that would have the right physical qualities and right weight and everything...
...
Modesty and apologetics, we have to be modest about what we can do. We are not the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost will bring conviction to people, not us. We need to understand, we can’t prove most things. The best we can do — we will be criticized for it –is suggest that something is consistent with or it can be read in this light or this makes sense. We are not offering decisive proofs. I like the difference in German between Beweis and Hinweis. Beweise are proofs; Hinweise are indications and I think we are in the business usually of offering indications, pointers. This makes sense, the gospel makes sense, this claim of the Church makes sense. We can point to things that point in the direction of the plausibility of that claim. We cannot beat you over the head with some sort of evidentiary baseball bat and make you admit that the Church is true and the Lord doesn’t want that, okay?

I agree with these sentiments, and with his usage of the word "plausibility."

See also this 1995 Church News comment:

Quote

The power of evidence in the nurturing of faith was the topic addressed by John W. Welch, professor of law at BYU, at the Sidney B. Sperry Symposium Oct. 7.

"Without diminishing the essential power of the Holy Ghost, and knowing that we cannot prove anything in absolute terms, I still speak favorably about the power of evidence," he asserted. "Evidence is an important ingredient in the Lord's plan of happiness."Brother Welch said Elder John A. Widtsoe taught that evidence can remove honest doubt and gives assurances that build faith. Further, he said, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith affirmed that evidence, as convincing as in any court in the land, proves "that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery spoke the truth."

Quoting a 1976 prediction by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "There will be a convergence of discoveries (never enough, mind you, to remove the need for faith) to make plain and plausible what the modern prophets have been saying all along," Brother Welch remarked: "I believe this prophecy has been amply fulfilled in the last 20 years. Things that might at first have appeared outrageous, on closer inspection turned out to be right on target."

He added: "The ancient Jaredite transoceanic migration that lasted 344 days (Ether 6:11) ceases to seem so fantastic when that turns out to be exactly the length of time it takes the Pacific current to go from Asia to Mexico. The oddity of Nephi also making new arrows when only his bow had broken suddenly becomes plausible when one realizes that arrows and bows must match each other in weight, length and stiffness. The bizarre ritual of chopping down the tree as part of Zemnarihah's execution (3 Ne. 4:28) fits right into place alongside Jewish law that required the tree to be chopped down on which a person was hanged, making `plain and plausible' what the Book of Mormon has said all along."

I agree with these sentiments, and with his usage of the word "plausible."

See also DCP's The Logic Tree of Life, or, Why I Can’t Manage to Disbelieve.  Some excerpts:

Quote

I was confronted within the past week, about five-six days ago, I think, by a demand, and I get this all the time, you know: “All right, name your single best evidence for the Book of Mormon.” Or I think in this case it was, “Name the three absolute proofs for the Book of Mormon.”

And I don’t believe there are any such things. I think that what Latter-day Saint scholars – apologists, if you want to use that term – have thought they were doing with the Book of Mormon, what we see ourselves as doing, is constructing a cumulative case, no one element of which is definitive, no one element of which will simply force, compel unbelievers to suddenly cave in, surrender. I don’t believe that that’s the Lord’s intention. I don’t believe that there will be any such things.

I agree with these sentiments.

Quote

I’m not even sure I can conceive of one. If we found a stela in Central America, say, that said “I, Nephi, was here,” there would still be ways of getting around that. You have arguments about the so-called minimalist position on the Old Testament where you find reference to the House of David. People have been arguing there is no House of David. The Davidic monarchy is a myth. They found a reference stone to the House of David. Well, there are people who contend it really means House of Worms. I mean, you can read it that way, if you really, really want to.

And so there are very few things out there that I can even imagine would simply compel people to believe. There are things out there, though, that can give you reason to believe, that can convince you or convince other people that it makes sense to believe.

But one of the arguments I will make, it’s the one I’m going to outline today, just very briefly – this wasn’t what I had intended to speak about this year, but then it just seemed to me that I needed to say it. Maybe there’s one person out there. The nice thing about my saying that is you can’t falsify this. There may be somebody out there, you know, who needs this. Or maybe I’m just hallucinating. I don’t know.

But one of the arguments I would make is simply that I have been unable – and I think I have tried seriously and honestly – to construct a case or construct an explanation of the Book of Mormon other than Joseph Smith’s that really accounts for all the data. I can construct a case – and other people have – that explain elements of the Book of Mormon, say, “Well this was borrowed from such and such a book.” Or, “You know, maybe this happened and this is why the witnesses thought they saw this or that.”

I concur with these assessments.

Quote

Now, I realize there are enough ambiguities out there, I’m oversimplifying, that not everybody will get to this position. But it’s the way I get there. It’s why I can’t take those other avenues. I’ve said, I can’t not believe, because, to me, Joseph Smith’s story is easier to credit than the explanations that have been proposed to account alternatively for what he claimed.

And there are other things, I mean, I haven’t gotten into these things, but the plausibility of Lehi’s trip down the coast of Arabia and then over from Nahom to the Indian Ocean or the Arabian Sea. These things strike me as remarkable. And they shouldn’t be there if Joseph Smith were the shallow fraud that many claim him to be.

DCP seems to think that NHM constitutes evidence of, well, something.  But not proof.  He speaks of "plausibility," and then goes on to note that these things are "shouldn’t be there if Joseph Smith were the shallow fraud that many claim him to be."  This is essentially the same point I made above ("Evidences such as NHM, Wadi Sayq, the Seal of Mulek, Sheum, tumbaga, etc. present information to us now which A) were unlikely to have been available in Joseph Smith's time, and B) have 'any tendency to make" Joseph Smith's explanation of the origins of the Book of Mormon "more {} probable than it would be without the evidence.'").  It may even be fair to say that I cribbed from DCP a bit in making my point (not consciously, though I have read his remarks in the past).

DCP goes on to discuss at some length "evidence" pertaining to (both for and against) the origins of the Book of Mormon.  Again, I think my usage of "evidence" tracks with his.

I hope I have not given offense.  If so, I apologize.  But I don't think my use of either "plausible" or "evidence" is ideosyncratic or ad hoc.  

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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3 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

The thing is, though, that how we conceive or understand a text matters a great deal for how we read it. To use an example that I have stolen from someone else - when we compare biography to fairy tale (which are usually pretty distinct genres) we might recognize the challenge that comes in mistaking one for the other:

We can read it as fiction. We can read it as history. We can read it simply as scripture independent of any historical value (and ignore questions of historicity altogether), we can read it as a philosophical metaphor. We could read it in a lot of ways - but the way that we approach the text inevitably influences the meaning we get from it - often in profound ways. And to make this overly generic (as your comment does) doesn't actually relate well to the reality of what we actually do when we read (and its probably not a great idea for us to start debating the question you raise of intent). This isn't about the individual parts of the text or its various types of content - its about how we understand the text as a communicative act in its own right. It is not the sum of its parts so to speak as you imply here. I don't believe that there is a problem because we may read the text in different ways and so come to different meanings - I think this is natural. We just need to be aware of how our understanding of the text at that higher level has already created interpretational boundaries for us. The person who believes the Book of Mormon is fictional will never read it in the same way that the person who believes it is a word-for-word translation of some ancient Nephite historical text. Just as the individual who reads Cinderella as a fairy tale will read it quite differently from the person who reads it as biography.

And this is part of the reason why you pointed out to me that we don't have wisdom literature?

That while one can see similarities between the things pointed out in my thread and wisdom literature they are read in very different ways?

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1 hour ago, Rain said:

And this is part of the reason why you pointed out to me that we don't have wisdom literature?

I think we do have wisdom literature of a sorts - but its not really a modern genre, just as anciently, there wasn't much in the way of the novel. In particular, our hymns are a part of that literature. However, we don't have Wisdom literature as a genre in our modern scriptures or as part of our conference talks. This isn't to say that people can't read some of our scriptural texts as Wisdom literature (just as anyone could read Cinderella as biography). So yes, this is part of that reason.

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11 minutes ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

In particular, our hymns are a part of that literature.

Excellent point I have not heard before, yet yes it is very true.

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19 minutes ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

This isn't to say that people can't read some of our scriptural texts as Wisdom literature

If we all did that,the need for apologetics would disappear.  We could pick and choose what we want to pick as literal.

We would appear as reasonable folks to the rest of the world and get converts.

Nah.

It makes too much sense. ;)

Gotta stick with a 6 day creation, no evolution and a literal flood.

Or some would swear up and down that those make a difference

[Sarcasm? Hmm...]

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2 hours ago, smac97 said:

I think you are misreading me a bit.  I think the evidences I referenced make the claimed origins of the Book of Mormon more likely.  I'm not claiming preponderance, as I am not sure we can confidently declare any particular quantum of evidence sufficient to establish matters that are predominantly and fundamentally based on faith.

I don't think I am misreading you. I am simply stating what should be obvious. The 'evidences' you reference allow for the claimed origins of the Book of Mormon. They establish that it could happen. But they don't really provide any evidence that it did happen. By the same token, the critic who spends time looking for parallels and ideas found in the Book of Mormon in sources contemporary with Joseph Smith would - under your model of understanding - be presenting evidence of the modern fabrication of the text. And I would argue in the same way that it merely argues that there could be a way for such a text to be produced - but it doesn't make an effective argument that this was the way that the Book of Mormon was produced. Perhaps that helps explain it better.

For me, this is the underlying concern. I am always reminded a bit in discussions like this of something written by Larry Hurtado in his book Lord Jesus Christ. There he discusses how what he terms the "pre/anticritical and the history-of-religion approaches" to religious history. In a way I see that here. By claiming that these kinds of secondary evidences amount to something significant in establishing the truth of the narratives of the Book of Mormon, you also have to allow that other kinds of secondary evidences amount to something significant in establishing the claims that the Book of Mormon as a modern fraud. Both sides using the same principles but on opposite sides of the debate - and both making claims that I don't believe can be effectively demonstrated. This is the issue I have. In a similar way, people have used Bayes' theorem to prove 'conclusively' that God exists and that God doesn't exist. Both sides believe that the principle of Bayes' theorem can provide evidence for this conclusion. It is the shared assumption that is flawed (leading to bad conclusions). I see this a lot in Mormon apologetic and in anti-Mormon polemic.

3 hours ago, smac97 said:

I acknowledge that.  But "all simply coincidence" becomes less tenable as more data/evidence comes in.  So to say that this data has no probative value at all is, I think, misguided.

I don't think so. And perhaps we will simply have to settle for disagreement. Simple coincidences only become less tenable when the evidence that comes in is in fact evidence and not more chains of secondary issues that merely allow for the possibility of something. We can't really get past that.

3 hours ago, smac97 said:

I am not trying to shift from "impossible" to "impossible," but rather from "possible" to "more possible" and "more probable." 

Then you are failing. This is really another part of why this sort of thinking fails. You can't tell me how probable proposition A is. You can't tell me how probably proposition B is. How can you realistically suggest that A + B makes something more probable than merely A or B alone? And again, if this is acceptable, every time a critic of the Book of Mormon finds another possible source for some piece of text or some idea, doesn't that make their ultimate claim "more possible" and "more probable". In the heart of a semantic argument, can you even really claim that something is "more possible"? Could that be just a little bit like being "more pregnant"? Either something is possible or it isn't. What you are actually doing isn't moving something to "more probably" but moving something from "could be possible" to "more likely to be possible". That's the distinction I am trying to draw here.

3 hours ago, smac97 said:

All evidence requires that.

No. It doesn't. Evidence that isn't tied into something that is literary doesn't involve a literary interpretation. All evidence may need to be interpreted - but textual interpretation is a very different animal from say a forensic analysis of a crime site.

4 hours ago, smac97 said:

I am operating under the auspices of there being evidences in relation to the Book of Mormon which have "any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence{s}."  You seem to be saying, categorically, that no such evidences exist.  Anywhere.  At all.  ("NHM isn't evidence...").  I just don't think that works.  You may find these things insufficient, you may assign them less probative weight than I do.  That's all well and good.  But to say they aren't evidence at all?  Nope.

I continue to stand by my assertion that these are not evidence that the Book of Mormon was translated from an ancient set of gold plates. NHM isn't evidence. The Seal of Mulek is not evidence that the Book of Mormon was translated from ancient gold plates (the number of times that Chadwick uses the conditional "if" in his argument is really extraordinary). And so on.

Realistically, I realize that I have no chance of getting you to change your opinions. Your list of quotes doesn't impress me. It is fascinating that after asserting a very narrow definition of "plausibility" that you have provides lots of examples with it being used more broadly in the way that I am critical of. At the same time, I think that I have adequately made my point. At any rate, I am tired, and its late, and I am off to bed.

 

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58 minutes ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

I don't think I am misreading you. I am simply stating what should be obvious. The 'evidences' you reference allow for the claimed origins of the Book of Mormon. They establish that it could happen. But they don't really provide any evidence that it did happen. By the same token, the critic who spends time looking for parallels and ideas found in the Book of Mormon in sources contemporary with Joseph Smith would - under your model of understanding - be presenting evidence of the modern fabrication of the text. And I would argue in the same way that it merely argues that there could be a way for such a text to be produced - but it doesn't make an effective argument that this was the way that the Book of Mormon was produced. Perhaps that helps explain it better.

For me, this is the underlying concern. I am always reminded a bit in discussions like this of something written by Larry Hurtado in his book Lord Jesus Christ. There he discusses how what he terms the "pre/anticritical and the history-of-religion approaches" to religious history. In a way I see that here. By claiming that these kinds of secondary evidences amount to something significant in establishing the truth of the narratives of the Book of Mormon, you also have to allow that other kinds of secondary evidences amount to something significant in establishing the claims that the Book of Mormon as a modern fraud. Both sides using the same principles but on opposite sides of the debate - and both making claims that I don't believe can be effectively demonstrated. This is the issue I have. In a similar way, people have used Bayes' theorem to prove 'conclusively' that God exists and that God doesn't exist. Both sides believe that the principle of Bayes' theorem can provide evidence for this conclusion. It is the shared assumption that is flawed (leading to bad conclusions). I see this a lot in Mormon apologetic and in anti-Mormon polemic.

I don't think so. And perhaps we will simply have to settle for disagreement. Simple coincidences only become less tenable when the evidence that comes in is in fact evidence and not more chains of secondary issues that merely allow for the possibility of something. We can't really get past that.

Then you are failing. This is really another part of why this sort of thinking fails. You can't tell me how probable proposition A is. You can't tell me how probably proposition B is. How can you realistically suggest that A + B makes something more probable than merely A or B alone? And again, if this is acceptable, every time a critic of the Book of Mormon finds another possible source for some piece of text or some idea, doesn't that make their ultimate claim "more possible" and "more probable". In the heart of a semantic argument, can you even really claim that something is "more possible"? Could that be just a little bit like being "more pregnant"? Either something is possible or it isn't. What you are actually doing isn't moving something to "more probably" but moving something from "could be possible" to "more likely to be possible". That's the distinction I am trying to draw here.

No. It doesn't. Evidence that isn't tied into something that is literary doesn't involve a literary interpretation. All evidence may need to be interpreted - but textual interpretation is a very different animal from say a forensic analysis of a crime site.

I continue to stand by my assertion that these are not evidence that the Book of Mormon was translated from an ancient set of gold plates. NHM isn't evidence. The Seal of Mulek is not evidence that the Book of Mormon was translated from ancient gold plates (the number of times that Chadwick uses the conditional "if" in his argument is really extraordinary). And so on.

Realistically, I realize that I have no chance of getting you to change your opinions. Your list of quotes doesn't impress me. It is fascinating that after asserting a very narrow definition of "plausibility" that you have provides lots of examples with it being used more broadly in the way that I am critical of. At the same time, I think that I have adequately made my point. At any rate, I am tired, and its late, and I am off to bed.

 

This is all over my head, but maybe you can speak down ;) to me and explain after you get some rest! :)

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