Historicity, Schmistoricity

There has been much internet controversy in the bloggernacle and on facebook of late regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Julie Smith recently wrote an excellent summary of why it is (or, at least, probably should be) beside the point. But I’m going to go one further. I’m going to state that the debate is, in its heart, inherently silly and self-contradictory. Allow me to explain.

Mormons believe in miracles. Angels visiting people (in the modern era). Miraculous healing. Language fluency in a couple of months. However, like the Vatican, we don’t embrace every possible supernatural faith event as being necessarily a miracle (or of supernatural origin). We are open to the possibility, but willing to test the hypothesis.

That paradoxical embrace is one of the things that makes Mormonism different (and worth believing in, in my opinion). However, it is also counter-productive when applied to the question of Book of Mormon because the Book of Mormon mitigates against evidence for its own historicity. For example, in the 90s and 00s, there were several well-publicized works on DNA and how it demonstrated or failed to demonstrate the truth of the Book of Mormon narrative. That’s all well and good, but this is a text that states that, when God is so inclined, he can alter the skin tone of entire nations. This would seem to imply that God, in his infinite wisdom, is capable and willing to alter markers for ethnic characteristics down to the level of the chromosome. If you are a complete historicist, absolutely believing that everything that happened in the Book of Mormon happened in the manner that we today understand it to have happened in the Book of Mormon, then DNA studies are meaningless to you. God is the ultimate geneticist. However, this also means that those big projects (sometimes funded in Utah and environs) to provide genetic maps of world movements and to collect genetic profiles of people are just so much wasted money. If God is monkeying with the DNA, then DNA, now and forever, fails to tell us anything about the Book of Mormon (or history, generally).

Sure, you might say, that’s just one example. But there are more. The Book of Mormon claims that God mixes up geology, that God hides artifacts, and that God alters the course of heavenly bodies (and apparently the laws of physics). With the possibility of an interfering God on this scale, there is no evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon that can be trusted. All those Mayan sites and Guatemalan tours? Someone threw a dart at a map. Debates regarding whether north can mean east or deer could be horses? A complete waste of time. We have a terraforming God, active in history; no conclusion can be taken for granted.

The more you believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the more you should embrace the lack of evidence for it. Shout it from the hilltops: There is remarkably little evidence to demonstrate that the events described in the Book of Mormon took place in the Americas and therefore I, as a rational person, must embrace the Book of Mormon as being an empirically true and accurate record of events in the Americas.

So, debating the historicity of the Book of Mormon in order to prove its worth, demonstrate its importance, or share your testimony is counter-productive. If you truly believed that the Book of Mormon is factually correct in every detail, then you’d never tell another soul about it and smile smugly to yourself as evidence for its historicity shrank and shrank. God moves in mysterious ways, indeed.


  1. LDSneurobiologist says:

    I feel it’s worth noting that horses actually evolved on the american continent. They were extinct before 600bc, but they did did live here naturally at one point in time.

  2. Is this satire? I can’t tell…

  3. “This would seem to imply that God, in his infinite wisdom, is capable and willing to alter markers for ethnic characteristics down to the level of the chromosome.”

    Seriously? You think this whole thing is some kind of game to God? “Play With DNA” to separate the wheat from the tares on the BOM? Sort of like believing that life on this planet really goes back just 6,000 years, but God planted dinosaur bones to mess with our heads. Interesting.

    I’m with Jeremiah: either this is satire or apologetics has taken a strange left turn.

  4. it must be satire.

  5. “debating the historicity of the Book of Mormon…is counter-productive…smile smugly to yourself as evidence for its historicity shrank and shrank.”

    I think I get it now: Top 10 “Defender Of The Faith” Arguments – Ranked.

  6. Isn’t John saying that, paradoxically, the stronger your view of BoM historicity the less likely it is that you will believe that we will find physical evidence for it? Because if you literally believe that Book of Mormon cities vanished into the sea, then you won’t find them on a tour to Guatemala. Or something like that.

  7. So, if you’re a strong historicist and someone comes along saying there is no DNA evidence for a Hebrew occupation of the Americas, rather than getting involved in the apologetics, you should simply shrug your shoulders.

  8. Read Sorenson’s ‘Mormon Codex’, there’s plenty of evidence. Not to mention Bountiful and Nahom on the Arabian land mass.

  9. Observer,
    There is indeed plenty of evidence; probably too much of it. Unfortunately, we don’t really know how to recognize what is relevant and what isn’t. We have theories, including Dr. Sorenson’s, but it is not for nothing that people can come to the conclusion that Zarahemla was in the Great Lakes region (or the Philippines). If the past 100 years of Biblical archaeology have taught us anything, it is to be very careful regarding how you intermingle texts and archaeology. Regarding the Book of Mormon, we don’t even have the benefit of fairly consistent toponyms to help us out.

  10. Thou hast well said. Getting caught up in all of that hoopla never did anything for my testimony or my spirit. And believe me, I used to be somewhat obsessed with apologetics.

  11. Is it still called satire when the author doesn’t know he’s being satirical?

  12. The mark of a post like this being successful is that half the people who read it walk away angry or convinced you’re an idiot.

  13. Carey Foushee says:

    He also can made their necks stiff and hearts hard — talk about miracles — that must of really hurt.

  14. Carey, in my experience that doesn’t require miracles.

  15. The problem I have with this approach is that, taken to the extreme, it would invalidate every observable phenomenon. If God changes natural processes on a whim to test us, then all of science is invalidated. The inherent message is “You can’t trust observations about the world”. This holds about as much weight as the theory that the devil planted dinosaur bones to deceive us. I sincerely hope this is satire.

  16. I like this post. Yet I can see how those who do not have a a testimony of the Book of Mormon by the Holy Ghost would write it off as nonsense, foolishness, satire, or apologetic rambling. Such responses are certainly consistent with scriptural prophecy.

    When I consider at times that I am convinced almost daily that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, but am not as sure of its historicity, a scripture often comes to mind: “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham”. Matthew 3. I think that scripture says, in part, that for an omnipotent God, for whom “time is [not] measured” and for whom “all is as one day”, Alma 40, the prospect of producing historical evidence, even out of stones, if necessary, is not a big deal.

    That said, I can’t see any possible benefit, to anyone, in God bringing forth incontrovertible evidence that would “prove” that the Book of Mormon is “historical”. If the scriptures are to be trusted about the capacity of miracles to produce faith, the proof wouldn’t strengthen any one’s faith. It is highly unlikely that it would help them develop any other essential Christ-like attributes either, such as hope, charity, humility, knowledge, wisdom, love, diligence, kindness, etc. How could it? The only thing that I can see that it would do is to serve as greater condemnation against those who have already cast their lot against submitting to the call to trust in the Lord.

  17. Kevin Christensen says:

    Questions of historicity are inescapably enmeshed with questions of interpretation, and interpretation in inescapably enmeshed with questions of contextualization. Both the soil in which the seeds are planted and the nurture given affect the harvest. Some get nothing, some get a hundred fold. Since I began exploring the question seriously in 1974 with my first reading of Nibley’s An Approach to the Book of Mormon, I’ve seen a remarkable harvest. “Know ye not this parable? Jesus asked. “How then shall ye know all parables?”

    Historicists like Nibley and Sorenson and Brant Gardner contextualize the Book of Mormon differently than do those who want to treat the whole question as pointless. That the harvest from the same words is different becomes understandable when we realize that the different contexts can change the meaning of those same words. McMurrin famously dismissed the whole notion, and not surprisingly, he never bothered to read the book. Those who insist on reading the Book of Mormon solely against a 19th Century background, and Joseph Smith’s mind, will contextualize and interpret differently than those who test the textual claims against the ground. And it makes a difference if one is testing the claims of the text, actually read carefully, rather than supposing they understand based on pop culture supposition, and don’t bother to ask. There is a huge difference between Matt Roper’s detailed essay “Nephi’s Neighbors” and the kind of uncritical supposition we get from people who harp on a non-textual “principal ancestors” and DNA. Margaret Barker comments that her whole approach to the Bible is to stand where the ancient writers stood, in hope that she might see and therefore understand what they saw. Those who dismiss even the validity of the attempt will not be the ones who make the discoveries. Nor will they have minds well suited to evaluating the quality of the discoveries. That’s the law of the harvest.

    It makes a great deal of sense, says Thomas Kuhn, to ask “Which paradigm is better? Which problems are more significant to have solved?” So far, I have never seen a 19th century reading of the Book of Mormon that comes close to accounting for the harvest I have.

  18. John, I cede to you, good sir. Mine is now only the second-most-controversial bloggernacle post in the 6,000-year history of the world. Bravo!

  19. I don’t think burying your head in the sand is a good thing on these issues. The church demands too much of its members to do so. Also, the church has always vigorously rested its case on the Book of Mormon being historical. So, if it isn’t, then maybe the church isn’t what it claims plain and simple.

  20. If you don’t like this post, there is no Morrissey in your soul.

  21. D&C 93:24-35
    24 And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;

    25 And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.

    So the Book of Mormon is not truth, says the post-writer. Why is the post-writer Mormon?

  22. Log, you are misunderstanding. I did not say that the Book of Mormon is untrue. If you want my testimony, read past posts.

  23. “Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations, and where is our religion? We have none.” – Joseph Smith

    To say the Book of Mormon is ahistorical is akin to replacing gold with paper money which can be printed on command, thus permitting the printers to steal the value of the money stored in bank accounts by savers without having to rob the banks. Of course, this drives the value of all money down, and ultimately to zero, but hey, Keynesian economics are fun until the inevitable loss of faith in money produces the necessary crash.

    Ahistoricity robs the Book of Mormon of all value and replaces it with paper. Which is the point. No more does one have the tension between science, so-called, and the Mormon faith, because the latter has been devalued to zero.

  24. John,

    If the book is ahistorical, then it is not truth by the definition of truth offered in D&C 93. Having said it is ahistorical, whatever you may then say about it being true is irrelevant.

  25. Log, you need to work on your reading comprehension skills. You’ve completely misunderstood the OP.

  26. This suggests to me that there’s another way to describe the “factions” in the Mormon historicity debate. Rather than describing (generally) two sides characterized by conservatives who believe or liberals who do not necessarily believe in historicity, it makes more sense to describe the sides as conservatives who would stop believing in Mormonism if confronted with overwhelming evidence against historicity and liberals whose belief wouldn’t be affected (including faithful whose faith would not be shaken) by overwhelming evidence against historicity.

  27. Log,
    I’m a librarian. I love paper.

  28. The only way to make this post better is to discuss how kids are using public welfare funds to support themselves while going to college to get degrees to help prove the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

  29. Some things are too beautiful to exist, Steve.

  30. John – Several years ago I posted a comment on a BCC thread stating essentially what you did about the BofM and DNA (i.e., if we are to take the BofM at its word, DNA would likely have been altered by miraculous means). I was laughed off the stage.

    Not sure I would go quite as far as you did on the rest of your conclusions, but glad to see someone else has noticed the inconsistent standard we sometimes apply to the BofM. :)

  31. Modest Proposal says:

    Apparently, in an interview today on Radio West with Doug Fabrizio, John C claimed that “people who comment at BCC” believe in miracles . As far as I’m aware, John C does not have any special insight into the religious convictions of people who comment at BCC. In fact, as a result of his unsubstantiated comment, I feel it necessary to issue the following statement: “Dear Internet:

    Miracles aren’t the result of some priesthood superpower, but they might be the result of complete misunderstanding concerning the laws of nature.

  32. Much of the Bible is ahistorical, and yet it still has value. Great value. And while I have serious doubts about whether the Book of Mormon is an accurate historical account of the events it purports to describe, I can still find value in its gospel teachings.

    A testimony grounded in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the factual accuracy of the first vision as set forth in the Pearl of Great Price, etc., is one built on a sandy foundation.

  33. Doug’s question caught me by surprise. I was quoted out of context. I want a recount!

  34. He isn’t saying the Book of Mormon is ahistorical, Log.

    John C., I believe I understand you — I certainly understand the impulse behind the post and the reaction to the sheer ugliness of blog attacks on Bokovoy, for example — but I don’t necessarily agree with the dichotomy on which you’ve built the original post. One can have a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and still be genuinely interested in evidences and proofs of the historical episodes it records — of the reality of the people it describes, i.e. that someone named Nephi really lived and did the things described (more or less — accounting for the possibility of self-serving narrative that casts himself in the most positive light possible), that Jaredites existed and travelled from a Babel setting somewhere in Central Asia or Asia minor to the Western Hemisphere through miraculous events, etc. I don’t see a solid faith in the historical nature of the Book of Mormon as needing to lead to the kind of grandstanding that the post describes.

    Though I do agree with Julie’s overall point in her recent post at Times and Seasons, I don’t think the exercise of investigating historical references through archaeology, linguistics, geology, history, and any other means of pursuing knowledge need be illegitimate at all. (And I don’t think that Julie thinks it is either — after all, she herself has closely studied the context in which the Gospels were written and has wonderfully situated the Gospel of Mark in that very context.) I believe that the pursuit of historical inquiry on context can indeed enrich faith, though I take it as axiomatic that a belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon does indeed rest on religious faith and not on these evidences. But I agree that studies that take the historical reality of the events depicted seriously (that they really happened), make it possible to contextualize the scriptural information being presented and can add to our understanding. Emblematic of this enriching contextualization, in my view, is work done by John W. Welch (to name one example) — allowing relevant historical context to add to our understanding of what the text is actually saying. The analysis of King Benjamin’s Speech is a good example — looking to historical context from the periods actually depicted in the Book of Mormon (600 B.C. to 400 A.D.) enriches the content of the King Benjamin material more than a nineteenth century context. His book Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon is another excellent example of the type of historical contextualization that I’m talking about.

    I don’t believe the case against Book of Mormon evidences and “historicity” is as strong as some argue. It simply has not been “disproven” that Lehi, Nephi, Laman, and Lemuel existed or that they emigrated, mixed in with myriad peoples already in the Western Hemisphere, encountered other old world emigrants (Mulekites), found records of still others (Jaredites), etc. It can’t really be disproven, I don’t think, short of the discovery of admissions that Joseph Smith made it up. In this, you’ve got it exactly right in your post! Yes, there are puzzles — steel swords, horses, certain kinds of grains, etc. But I’ve never seen the binary that some others present — that these issues function as “proof” that the book is not historical in nature (in the same way that the Old Testament is “historical”). On the other hand, for those who believe that the Book of Mormon is true, historical knowledge, context, details, evidences, etc. can provide more understanding of the substance of the content. I don’t think you disagree with this. I think you’re mainly responding to perceived efforts to “prove” the Book of Mormon true through parallelisms and seemingly cherry-picked evidences to people who do not already believe it is true. I think you’re right about that to an extent, but I would also add that evidences can indeed be persuasive, even in light of other evidences that are claimed to refute the possibility of the historical nature of the Book of Mormon.

  35. Modest Proposal and others: I do not read John C.’s original post as claiming that he does not believe in the “historicity” of the Book of Mormon or that the events depicted occurred in history (rather than being fiction).

    Even if he is making that claim, I hope it does not create confusion that different bloggers at BCC could take different believing approaches to the question of the historical nature of Book of Mormon events. To expect otherwise exemplifies what is actually wrong with our current Church culture, and why our internal discourse is so dysfunctional. Perhaps that is the underlying point of his post: let’s stop lynching people who aren’t persuaded by the debates about the historicity of the Book of Mormon. A secondary point, I think, is to encourage all to start taking the book’s sermons and principle themes seriously in their own right, regardless of where we stand on what can even be known about the historical details.

  36. Owen, John F. – I am aware of the concepts of passive-aggression, and plausible deniability.

    The implicit charge of anti-intellectualism against believers in the historicity of the Book of Mormon seems a rather plain indicator of his position, even if he hasn’t been so gauche as to state it outright.

  37. I don’t think it’s precisely correct to say that “the Book of Mormon” makes all these claims. Rather, the Book of Mormon claims to preserve statements by people that made these claims. I know I’m picking at nits, here, but I think it’s actually related to a more significant point: the beliefs of the various authors of the Book of Mormon are not necessarily intended to be taken as all true by the intended audience of the Book. In my opinion, we are supposed to take the statements in the Book of Mormon not as infallible, inerrent, or dictated by God himself, but as written by real people who lived a long time ago. And given the whole “record of a fallen people” thing, and things like Jesus having to correct the record to include things like Samuel’s prophecy, not to mention Mormon and Moroni’s anxiety over their inability to do job, I don’t think we are necessarily always supposed to take the Book of Mormon authors as reliable. And anyway, really, if we accept that the Book of Mormon is an authentically ancient artifact, wouldn’t it be strange if the ancient people that wrote it did not hold beliefs that we now hold to be unscientific?

    I mean, similarly, you might say that “the Bible claims that the earth was created in seven days,” but I think it is more accurate to say that the Bible preserves ancient texts that appear to say that, but it isn’t clear whether those ancient texts were intended to be taken literally, and even if they were, it is clear that they were operating under a different view of the world, and under much more limited scientific knowledge, so we don’t need to accept the seven day creation or the global flood to accept the Bible as “historical”—that is, as an authentic ancient document.

    In other words, the unscientific claims of the Book of Mormon authors do not need to be accepted in order to accept the Book of Mormon as historical. In fact, if the Book of Mormon made no such claims, that would weigh against its historicity.

  38. John C. can speak for himself but I do not read his post as containing an implicit charge of anti-intellectualism against believers in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. In fact, I know that John does not take such a view of people who believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. To my knowledge, John himself believes in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, though, of course, he does not consider himself an “intellectual” to any special degree more than any other college educated Mormon who has completed graduate studies in the Hebrew Bible could be considered an “intellectual” simply by virtue of having “been there, done that.”

    Nevertheless, though John C. did not state this in his post (I don’t think), I am happy to here: anti-intellectualism is indeed a huge problem in our current Church culture, and one that does not bode well for us. The mantle is indeed far greater than the intellect (I like that talk and think its overall point to be very sensible: that we in general, but people employed by the Church teaching youth in seminary and institute in particular, should be careful in how historical facts are constructed into narratives and presented to youth, making sure that such information is presented with helpful context and in a way that accounts for their particular level of sophistication with historical methodology and interpretation, based on their age and particular experience, i.e. basically to tailor it to the audience), but it was never implied in that talk or elsewhere that the intellect should be jettisoned, and even the author of that quote, even in the same talk in which he gave that quote, expressed gratitude for intellectual inquiry and effort, and he, on other occasions, requested assistance from professors with relevant expertise in their various fields to help him understand scriptures in their own context through intellectual means.

    The current revival of Mormon anti-intellectualism among some self-appointed orthodoxy police on some Mormon blogs (i.e. people who do not happen to carry that “mantle” referred to by Elder Packer but who have still anointed themselves to attack anyone they perceive as being an “intellectual” or “so-called intellectual,” publicly calling their devotion to the Gospel into question, casting aspersions of subversive beliefs or intent, accusing them of not sustaining Church leaders, artificially creating categories of “conservative” and “liberal” Mormons, in their own self-serving definitions, and then applying the latter descriptor pejoratively) has been particularly harsh, unforgiving, demeaning, and abusive (in that passive-aggressive Mormon way you’ve alluded to). It’s a nasty scene that seriously doesn’t speak well of us as a people, looking more like taking umbrage that “you” would dare think you “know” more than “we” know about any given topic. Our own little Mormon Law of Jante:

    1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
    2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
    3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
    4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
    5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.
    6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
    7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
    8. You’re not to laugh at us.
    9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
    10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

    And, of course, the “Eleventh Law”, the Penal Code of Jante:

    11. Perhaps you don’t think we know a few things about you?

    I understand that many don’t perceive anything to be amiss with our currently revived Mormon anti-intellectualism, or even find that it’s virtuous, lovely, of good report, and/or praiseworthy. But it’s very troubling to me, a major concern of mine, and a cultural lamentation.

  39. Clark Goble says:

    We should perhaps distinguish intellectualism (whatever that means) from politicizing with the views of a particular position. My sense, perhaps incorrect, is that it is the politics and not the intellectualizing that some look askew at. I’ve written a lot of stuff over the years that probably would be considered “intellectual” but I’ve never had the smallest complaint against me that I can see.

    Ultimately the question is how to read the text and context matters in matters of interpretation. I’m constantly surprised people seem to think it doesn’t.

  40. I think the post displays very well the inconsistent approaches we take on the historicity debates in Mormon culture. On the one hand we very serenely declare that evidence for the historicity of scripture is irrelevant since the scriptures are inherently guides to establish a relationship with deity. On the other hand we’ve developed elaborate efforts to provide empirical evidence supporting the historicity of scriptures in an effort to intellectually prove to detractors (and believers) that we aren’t kooks. When the empirical evidence we’ve painstakingly assembled is challenged, we calmly revert to the spiritual record argument while smiling inside because *we* can still appreciate the incontrovertible proof our scientific evidence provides. It really is a bit silly.

  41. John F., if self-righteous anti-intellectualism is troubling to you, why do you engage? Isn’t the only winning move not to play?

    As for me, I’m quite willing to let the ahistoricists practice their religion, call themselves LDS, teach their views, and label me and mine anti-intellectual. I have even defended this position in the pages of the Interpreter.

    But I will point out the logical consequences of the ahistoricist view – if the Book of Mormon is not truth, then the ahistoricist who declares it yet true is one to be avoided, since apparently their definition of true includes things which are not truth. One cannot be sure such an one is not lying, as some would define lying. I suppose such an one might even countenance the idea of noble lies, I suppose, like priests telling their adherents there is a God to maintain control over them, to glut themselves on the labors of their hands, that the people durst not look up and enjoy their rights. “It’s all true,” for varying definitions of true. It’s just not truth, like the Book of Mormon, I suppose.

    After all, what does it say about one when one resolves the conflict between religion and science by redefining terms such that religion is emptied of content? Is such an one a friend to religion?

  42. “Isn’t the only winning move not to play?”

    I’m not aware that I am playing. Periodically lamenting our cultural demise doesn’t constitute playing the game of “self appointed apologist” vs. “so called intellectual”, at least in my estimation.

  43. Log, that jumble of “truth” and “not true”, “true”, “not truth” is a cumbersome tool not suited to all of our efforts in pursuing truth. Job can be a parable-poem and Jonah a satire — and both be completely true. The Silmarillion absolutely presents truth, beautiful, deep truths about good and evil and righteousness, even though it is admittedly a fictionalized mythology and history.

    The Book of Mormon is not like The Silmarillion, in my view (though many close parallels emerge on a close reading of the latter, which has often made me wonder if JRRT might not have read the BoM and allowed it to influence the historicity of The Silmarillion, at least as to presentation of great themes, movements of peoples, factions, intrigue, and, most importantly, downfall of people after people). The former is a historical record that was written for the purpose of being scripture to those who would receive it. The fact that it was written by real, historical people does not mean, however, that the material it presents can be treated, by us, as history like we know history. If some portion of it is parable-like material similar to Job, that doesn’t lessen its scriptural character for us.

  44. This could be the most interesting BCC post in quite a while.

    With lines like “….it is not for nothing that people can come to the conclusion that Zarahemla was in the Great Lakes region (or the Philippines),” BCC might even have a shot at getting its 15 minutes of fame on The Daily Show.

    I like the comment about how it’s the same as young-earth creationism: God made the earth in a week 6000 years ago, and built in the fossil record just to f**k with our minds.

  45. Mike, I also don’t believe in God as The Great Deceiver.

  46. it's a series of tubes says:

    Is such an one a friend to religion?

    People may differ on this. However, such an one who repeatedly uses “such an one” in conversation is no friend to modern English. Fie!

  47. Although this post does mock the traditional anti-intellectual arguments (God doesn’t really follow the rules of nature so us attempting to analyze His actions as recorded in scripture by our understanding of the rules of nature will ultimately be fruitless, therefore evidence contrary to the historicity of scripture just proves how powerfully is God’s disregard for the laws of science), it isn’t hard to also see the hypocrisy of the intellectual arguments for historicity. In the LDS.org essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon, the majority of the essay is spent scientifically explaining why it would be unlikely to find DNA evidence supporting the claims of the Book of Mormon. The conclusion of the essay, however, emphasizes that the Book of Mormon will ultimately never be proven true or false via scientific evidence. So basically, the entire preceding portion of the essay was pointless.

  48. Log,
    If you don’t want to read my past posts, I understand. There are times when I can barely put up with them myself. But you don’t get to lay claim to knowledge regarding my opinions on intellectualism, its opponents, or much of anything else whilst not even making an effort to find out what I wrote. Even that is barely useful, as I don’t always say what I think, but it’s what I said to do, so I suppose I should encourage you in it.

    You do not have to be anti-intellectual to believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon narrative.

  49. Mary Ann, it wasn’t pointless because it answers concerns that believing members might have when they hear the overreaching claims that DNA evidence has “proven” anything false about the Book of Mormon itself. The DNA studies were competent to show that Elder McKonkie’s own overreaching description in the introduction to the Book of Mormon that he penned, describing the peoples in the book as the “principle ancestors of the American Indians,” should be amended to something that more accurately described the relationship — as “among” the ancestors of the American Indians. (I personally think it could be amended further to say “potentially among the ancestors of some of the Native Americans or indigenous peoples who were living at the time of the coming forth of The Book of Mormon”.) But the Church was correct in thinking that a response could be helpful for members who are troubled by claims that DNA evidence proves the BoM false, which, of course, it does not.

  50. “principal” not “principle” X 2. Don’t get miffed, it’s not that often that fellow posters can play gotcha with you.

  51. ok, you’re right about the 11:40 am comment, but where is the second instance?

  52. Will Roberts says:

    This is literally the dumbest thing I have read in months. You have so much cognitive dissonance that you don’t know what to do so you resort to one of the most base and primal defense mechanisms to deal with it: straight up denial. If this were a JW writing the same thing about his religion you’d think it was just absurd. Turn on your brain.

  53. 10:01

  54. lressghtien says:

    This is satire, right?

  55. John C.,

    You’re absolutely correct. I can’t claim knowledge on your views on anything. I just know “smug”ness is not typically considered a positive attribute. Neither is it generally considered neutral. Neither is declaring a lack of empirical basis for one’s views typically considered rational or desirable in our Gentile society. But those are things you kinda stuck on the historical side. Putting these things together… well…

    So, let me patch a hole here. John C., is the Book of Mormon historical, in your opinion? Or is it instead ahistorical, in your opinion?

    Just curious. It really doesn’t matter too much to me, because for me the issues are principled and philosophical, not really centered around personalities. In other words, I won’t think less of you if it turns out you’re a hypoliteralist to whatever degree, neither would I think more of you if you were a hyperliteralist like me.

    As for me, I appreciate the chuckling of my enlightened brethren at the benighted naivete of my fellow coreligionists’ view of Lamanites as something of spiritual chameleons; like Pinocchio, his parents always knew if little Laman was lying because his skin would be darker…

  56. No dice, Log. Read the posts. Draw your own conclusions. Leave me out of your witch hunt.

  57. Just curious. Yeah.

    Anyways, John C. is the reason I still have a testimony of the Book of Mormon. His past posts really are epic. Log, you should read them.

    He also introduced me to the bloggernacle. I think he will have to pay for that at the judgement day.

  58. Oh, you don’t have to believe me, but I am the world’s authority on my own motivations.

    I already asked the questions I would ask if he said he was an ahistoricist: how do you reconcile the contradiction between the Book of Mormon being “true” while at the same time the Book of Mormon is not “truth,” with “truth” being defined in D&C 93 as cited above? The consquences to that answer were already given by Joseph Smith, also already cited; why would an ahistoricist be Mormon? What is the content to Mormonism on an ahistoricist view? What is the meaning to Mormonism when each conflict between Mormonism and science, so-called, is resolved in favor of science, so-called – or, in other words, whenever Mormonism meets “reality,” it is Mormonism that retreats?

    So I look at the author list and John C. doesn’t show up on my iPad. A simple “I am an historicist” or “I am an ahistoricist” would have sufficed.

    I go not abroad searching for monsters to destroy, nor witches to throw water upon. But, I cannot force anyone to answer any of my questions. All I can do is ask them and note that they aren’t answered.

  59. John f. @ 11:40, that kind of proves the irony, though. As much as we insist that we don’t rely on scientific evidence for historicity, we still really do care about scientific discoveries that point one way or the other. Members who believe in the historicity of the scriptures still desire science to back up their claims, even though the original claim itself is based on a spiritual witness rather than empirical evidence.

  60. CH, Not to take away any jots or tittles from John C., but how can anyone have a testimony of the Book of Mormon that is based on blog posts, as opposed to say, communication with God? I guess, as I am asking the question, I can anticipate that the answer may be that he helped you come up with an intellectual framework upon which the the book’s plausibility can be posited. But that doesn’t seem like what I understand a testimony to be. Maybe my view of the definition of testimony is narrower than your intended use of it.

  61. it’s a law of the internet that when an anonymous interlocutor asks a deeply personal question in bad faith you have to answer

  62. The repeated queries about whether John’s post is satire are themselves satire, right?

  63. Now that john f. has brought the Silmarillion into it, I’ll point out that my biggest frustration with almost all historicity discussions is that the participants, on both sides, remind of the men in Tolkien’s allegory of the tower from the “Monsters and the Critics.” A man builds a tower from some old stones that were taken from the ruin of an ancient hall. His so-called friends criticize the work, and pull down the tower in order to examine the stones more closely and guess at their origin. Some attempt to decipher the engravings on them. Some dig beneath the tower to determine where they were quarried. But all of them miss the point of the power: that the man who built it could climb to the top and look out upon the sea.

  64. it's a series of tubes says:

    I find my enjoyment of this thread increases immensely when I imagine Log’s posts being read in the voice of any of:

    -Queen Elizabeth: “what does it say about one when one resolves the conflict…”
    -Sean Connery: “I appreciate the chuckling of my enlightened brethren at the benighted naivete of my fellow coreligionists..”
    -Prince Humperdink: “I would not say such things if I were you!”

  65. I like gst.

  66. MikeInWeHo says:

    WVS: Me too.

  67. I think John C. (and Julie) takes the argument too far. I kinda feel like he’s really bucking against an orthodox literalism of sorts rather than historicity — at least the way the “old guard” view historicity. I mean, sheesh, they certainly don’t believe that every infinitesimal detail of scripture should somehow be grounded in real history for it to have real value.

    Let’s just start with an historical Jesus and then go on from there…

  68. “CH, Not to take away any jots or tittles from John C., but how can anyone have a testimony of the Book of Mormon that is based on blog posts, as opposed to say, communication with God?”

    I was not referring to posts, but personal conversations and other interactions over the years. It is more like people who give credit to a set of missionaries or a seminary teacher.

    God doesn’t speak to me.

    John sometimes does.

    I am open to the possibility that God can sometimes speak to me through a friend. Even John C.

    I love the Book of Mormon and have a testimony of it.

  69. wreddyornot says:

    Genly Ai told Ursula K. Le Guin that the truth is a matter of the imagination. I doubt that many readers here recognize his authority, but I don’t see how his revelation to her discounts truth being knowledge of things as they are, were, and are to come. And it makes sense to me. I believe we could all benefit from recognizing the fancy in all *our* doings, whether in recall, choice, or anticipation. I imagine the original post recognizes that.

  70. A wise (well, I think they are wise) mentor has encouraged me to always keep the main thing the main thing. I believe the main thing (when it comes to the Book of Mormon) is that the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour of the world. This testament is based on the writings of a group of ancient prophets. In helping me understand his point, the mentor posited this scenario to me, “what if the spot that Moroni buried the plates (~421AD) was not the exact same spot that Joseph Smith found them? is it beyond the power (and reasoning?) of God that He could move the plates?” The mentor wasn’t saying that God did or didn’t move the plates, or any reasoning behind that. Simply that our testimony should be based on a spiritual witness. That is our starting point. I think historicity studies are useful and can be quite interesting. I am currently enjoying going through the Joseph Smith papers material. It uncovers a lot of unknowns, even discrepancies in the historical record. But, I try to keep things in perspective. The spiritual witnesses I have received are undeniable. As are the fruits of the work.

  71. martha my love says:

    I wonder how many people would be discussing historicity today if his SP hadn’t put John Dehlin in the crosshairs a year ago.

    Personally, I think this will prove to be like Prop 8 which is to say an argument that people were initially either unquestioning about or bullied into going along with but which, ultimately, will become a slow simmering stew of distaste and, for many, unacceptability. The next few years will tell the tale.

  72. I left the first comment about satire. I didn’t mean to be snarky.

    Anyway, through my dabblings in archaeology, genetics, linguistics, paleoagriculture, etc. I have come to wonder whether or not the book is historical. I still feel like the book is “truthy”. I like a lot of the principles in the book. I don’t need it to be historical to be valuable to me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about the issue. I forget who mentioned this earlier, but the Church asks a lot of people. And can be very ruthless with those who are different. And I think some of that is driven by a literal belief in scripture. So if it is “true” but not historical, it does matter if it affects the way we treat one another.

  73. Well, someone accused me of “bad faith” in asking whether John C. was an ahistoricist, which was held to be “a deeply personal question,” because I said I was only curious, and wouldn’t hold it against him if he was an ahistoricist. Here’s my “good faith” bonafides (read onward for more).

    As I said, I’m willing to live and let live. Now, how about some answers to the questions I’ve asked?

  74. On one level, I completely agree with this post. However, I think that there is another level that I think gets obscured by it.

    If I understand John correctly, the secular academic wants to lure church members away from playing the game of the gospel into playing their secular academic game, where the church’s claims regarding the BoM will lose. It church members, however, simply keep playing their game of the gospel, then they have a great chance of winning. The problem comes when church members think they an go play the game of secular academics and beat them at their secular academic game as well. Thus, I see John as persuading members to stay safe on their own turf and to quit trying to play the unnecessary game of secular academics with regards to the BoM.

    Is that about right, John?

    The problem I see with this is that both the church and secular academics see their own game as the true game of truth which pertains to all nations, kin and tongue. Thus, even if the church can beat the academy at the game of the gospel and the academy and beat the church at the game of secularism, both teams seek to convert the entire world to playing that game that they themselves are good at. Both sides think that they have full right to pass judgment on the claims made about and within the BoM and the historicity debates are merely one expression of a much larger battle over the hearts and minds of all men/women.

    It might not be the case that we can reduce the historicity debate to a power play between two cultures with conflicting sets of values, but if we took away the latter it’s hard to imagine the former existing.

  75. As far as faith is concerned the historicity of the BOM and other scriptures is irrelevant. Inspired fiction is no less inspired than accurate history of inspired events. Known history however isn’t irrelevant, and that’s the part that is being left out from this discussion.

  76. Man, why hasn’t someone banned Log?

    Oh. (clicks)

  77. Log. Dude. John C can defend himself–or not, since nobody on an internet forum is obligated to give you any attention (I’m just nice like that!)–but when your opening salvo is to imply they the author somehow isn’t or oughn’t be Mormon, and then your follow up is a… let’s say… labored… diatribe against the evils of paper money (!?), then it’s hard to take the doe-eyed “hey I’m just curious” act seriously. But if that’s how you engage in serious discussion, then good luck with that!

  78. Well, I guess my put-down is going to waste.

  79. I don’t think its historical and very contradictory. The more I look at it the more obvious it becomes.

  80. Steve Evans, please take a bow as I clap.

  81. The BOM will bring us together.

  82. “Inspired fiction is no less inspired than accurate history of inspired events”.

    What? Wow, may the force be with you, Peter.

  83. The word “calculus” means pebble, so I’m pretty sure the historicity of math involved counting them, but though my faith in the reality and pedagogical value of pebbles is undiminished, I now see that the power of counting does not depend on the thing counted.

  84. D. Fletcher says:

    The Book of Mormon is an artifact of conversion, and as such has done its job admirably well. I agree that its historicity is beside the point. However, I have been rebuked in this opinion by none other than Richard Bushman. Joseph Smith certainly presented the elements of his story as natural (gold plates) and supernatural (translating the plates by looking into a hat). The observable and the mystical go hand in hand, but one cannot just dismiss… the observable facts, or in this case, the *missing* observable facts. Just because there isn’t evidence of the civilizations reported in The Book of Mormon doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t exist.

  85. Hook 'em Horns says:

    Whew! One more thing I can be a cafeteria Mormon about!

  86. As long as apostles like Elder Oaks keep saying things like “The historicity—historical authenticity—of the Book of Mormon is an issue so fundamental that it rests first upon faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which is the first principle in this, as in all other matters,” you’ll forgive some of us for not feeling as “meh” as you do about the subject of historicity.

    Just my $0.02, but this post (and Julie’s that you referenced) smacks a bit of the kind of slight of hand a bad magician uses. For 150 years the church and its members lauded the historicty of the Book of Mormon, only to see much of that enthusiasm wane under the glare of serious scientific and historical scrutiny. Now we’re expected (despite Oaks’ and others’ comments to the contrary, not to mention Joseph Smith’s bedrock claims about the Book of Mormon’s historicity) to buy this new argument that historicity either doesn’t really matter, or never really was all that important anyway.

    I mean, I get your argument. I just don’t buy it.

  87. John, the ultra-orthodox and the DAMU don’t like your argument.

    Just. Right.

  88. As I commented on Julie’s post, if your faith depends on the historicity of (the BOM) (the resurrection) (Kolob)(whatever), then you’re in trouble, because there is very little evidence for any of it. Which isn’t to say believers should stop looking for proof of historicity–it’s not as if anyone is going to find absolute disproof either–but historicity makes a mighty thin reed to base one’s faith on. By contrast, faith based upon the spirit does not need proofs–that’s kind of the point, really.

  89. Not certain how my orthdoxy affects provenance and credibility. There is remarkably little evidence to demonstrate that the events described in today’s Deseret News ever took place. But I still read it.

    Apparently some are able to determine that Joseph Smith lied about some things, but not others. I don’t have such highly attuned discernment myself. Either I accept things on faith, or they all fall apart.

  90. Not sure I agree with you, Chris. The disaffected folk are all for stomping historicity out of existence. In fact, I can see them now lining the road to the MI, applauding as the new guard passes by.

  91. Yeah, I do not think we are talking about the same thing.

  92. Senile Old Fart says:

    As another apostle may have have completed a couplet: Some things that are true aren’t very useful, and some things that are useful aren’t very true.

  93. Log,

    I know thou hast been banned, so I speaketh to you now as a voice from dust and beyond the veil:

    Most correct book does not = 100% true. Therefore the BoM is not true, as per your definition.

    Fare thee well till I meet such an one as you again.

  94. Historicity of the BOM matters a great deal to me. I feel I’ve received a spiritual witness of the BOM, but I also feel I’ve received spiritual witnesses of goodness in things that I knew to be fiction (though perhaps to a lesser extent). I’ve decided these spiritual feelings are less a lie-detector than a nudge towards what is good and right. While I’m very appreciative of that, there’s goodness and rightness to be found all over, and I’m not satisfied. I yearn for more — something more concrete. I want a God like the one Mormonism describes, but I don’t want to create an idol from the imaginings of my heart. The God I’ve imagined for myself doesn’t deceive. He doesn’t create dinosaur fossils to test my faith. He reveals little bits of truth to fallible men like me to wrestle with and understand imperfectly, yet occasionally makes Himself known in significant ways that people can witness and testify to. I accept that the testimony of witnesses isn’t entirely reliable, but it is still evidence of a God who will interact with people like me on my plane of existence. The BOM is full of accounts of such witnesses. If those witnesses are merely allegorical, then they’re not really witnesses at all. Sure, there are still witnesses of the BOM itself (as divine allegory), but that’s sure a different understanding of God than i have now. Such a God may very well have created dinosaur bones to test my faith.

    So, John’s post misses the mark for me. JKC’s first comment from 2 days ago describes my personal take as well.

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