A Tough Question: What’s the Single Most Impressive Evidence for the Book of Mormon?

A critic recently asked me a tough question: what’s the single most impressive piece of evidence for the Book of Mormon? Based on prior statements from this critic, he certainly wasn’t looking for evidence that might change his life and open his mind, but was looking for a way to make his life easier by simplifying his job of attacking the Book of Mormon. So he wasn’t looking for evidence to sincerely consider, but for evidence to vigorously dismiss. I can understand the frustration of critics who feel like dismissing the Book of Mormon is frustrating given the increasingly long lists of evidences that defenders of the sacred record can offer these days, complicated by the steady stream of discoveries being published at Interpreter and Book of Mormon Central. So instead of trying to tackle so many issues, there’s a need to just identify the one best target, focus efforts there, and declare ultimate victory, for if the single best evidence for the Book of Mormon can be readily refuted, there’s no need to engage other issues, right?

Focusing on one “single best” piece of evidence is not a valid way to find truth, but can be a great way to attack it. Even if looking at intellectual evidence were all that were required to determine the truthfulness and divinity of the Book of Mormon, exclusively considering just the “single best” leaves out the vast majority of relevant evidence, and one person’s view of what’s “best” may be subjective, transitory, and flawed. That person’s choice on any given day might be something that isn’t all that solid. In science, in court cases, and in all intellectual pursuits, evidence is something that needs to be considered collectively. Imagine the fun a corrupt court could have with the “one best”  rule: “The court hereby requires the counsel for the defense to just pick your one best witness, and then only focus on your one best argument — you have up to five minutes — before we reach the decision to execute the defendant.”

Nevertheless, realizing that some people might be willing to consider the evidence and might really want to understand more, what evidence is most important and impressive? I chose to make some comments regarding what may be among the single best evidences for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text, written on gold plates, giving an account that begins in Jerusalem and describes a migration of a small Hebrew group to the New World, and ultimately giving us an ancient record that bears witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ.  Here are the slightly-updated thoughts I offered:

  1. A Solid Understanding of the Text. The most important test is to read and ponder the text itself, to more fully understand what the book is and does, in order to even begin contemplating what is being tested and why it matters. Deep reading, pondering, and even prayer is a key to experiencing the profound power of this controversial text. The “evidence” thus obtained in one’s mind and heart may be the most important, though we cannot stop there. But as one reads, ponders, and prays, one can test the text to obtain increased understanding. One can then test it to see if it is plausibly a crude fabrication from a 19th century farm boy and conman, or an eloquent ancient text showing the influence of multiple distinct authors with their own styles and techniques, with content and structure indicative of ancient origins. Only by first understanding it can one evaluate whether  it is more than mere inspiring fiction, but has divine power as an authentic, sacred witness of Christ written by true prophets of God and preserved for our day.
  2. Witnesses. After understanding and evaluating the text itself, perhaps the clearest single evidentiary issue is the eye-witness accounts of those who saw or felt the plates, and those who also watched the translation process. A great deal of scholarship reveals that their accounts are credible and reliable, and leave no room for thinking that the gold plates never existed or that all who bore testimony of them were deceivers out to make a buck or gain power over others. The film “Witnesses” from Interpreter Foundation is one of the best summaries of the detailed historical work on the Three Witnesses. But there were many more witnesses, including the 8 witnesses and others as well. The witness of multiple people, including non-members, on the translation process also confirms the miraculous nature of the translation process, done without consulting notes, books, etc., dictating large chunks of text at a remarkable pace for any translation or creative writing effort.
  3. Ancient Paradigms: Covenant Making. The Book of Mormon reveals its ancient origins subtly through the pervasive ancient paradigms found in its pages. The way covenants were made, for example, reflects paradigms from the Ancient Near East that were not yet known to bible scholars in Joseph’s day, such as the six-step “covenant formulary” pattern that can be found not only in the restored temple paradigms of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but also in King Benjamin’s speech. See Stephen D. Ricks, “Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1–6,” Stephen D. Ricks, “Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1–6” in King Benjamin’s Speech, ed. by John Welch and Stephen Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 233–275 (also discussed on my post on King Benjamin’s speech at Arise From the Dust). 
  4. Ancient Paradigms: The Religious Landscape in Jerusalem, 600 B.C. For those who appreciate the work of the Protestant Bible scholar Margaret Barker, a highly impressive complex of evidence involves the way First Nephi corroborates her work. She was amazed and delighted to learn of the details provided by the Book of Mormon about the religious strife in Jerusalem in 600 B.C. and the persecution of prophetic figures clinging to what she sees as the original, old Jewish ways including belief in a council of heaven, prophetic visions, belief in a Messiah as the son of God, etc. She has become an ardent fan of the Book of Mormon based on her scholarship and how the Book of Mormon resonates so clearly with what she has uncovered. For starters, see “Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship and Its Significance for Mormon Studies” by Kevin Christensen, FARMS Occasional Papers, 2001. Also see Margaret Barker, “What Did Josiah Reform?
  5. Ancient Paradigms: Hebrew Literary Tools and Scribal Practices. For those who appreciate the significance of ancient rhetoric, poetry, and scribal traditions, the abundant scholarship based on textual analysis of the Book of Mormon may provide the most fascinating complex of evidences, and has become a “go to” topic for many more educated Latter-day Saints. The best known issue in this complex might the abundant and eloquent use of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon (see also the collection of articles on chiasmus at Book of Mormon Central and the impressive 2020 supplemental volume of BYU Studies focused on chiasmus), a topic that has gained respect and interest among some secular scholars. But this complex also includes much more, including a host of rhetorical and poetical techniques, abundant apparent Hebrew wordplays, particularly on names, as evidenced in the extensive works of Matthew Bower and others (search for Bowen at https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/journal/), and the analysis from Noel Reynolds and others on ancient scribal techniques evident in the Book of Mormon. For the latter, I suggest starting with the first three or four most recent articles of Dr. Reynolds listed at Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship.
  6. The Arabian Peninsula Evidence: Lehi’s Trail. For those wanting hard, tangible evidence that doesn’t require on sifting through historical accounts from witnesses or complex scholarship on ancient paradigms, perhaps the clearest issue to understand and verify is the plausibility of Lehi’s Trail. The story seemed ridiculous right up until recently, with critics mocking the idea of a River Laman or that such a place as Bountiful could even exist. Now there is a flood of evidence supporting the plausibility of the details we find in 1 Nephi 16 and 17, with remarkable candidates for the River Laman in the Valley Lemuel, the hunting place called Shazer, the place of burial for Ishmael called (by others) with the name transliterated as Nahom, and the place Bountiful. Even some very minor details have corroboration such as how travel to and from Jerusalem is described (i.e., going “up” or “down” to places accurately matching the real geography), or the strange fact that when Lehi’s group left the camp in the Valley of Lemuel, they packed up, walked across the river, and then immediately began going south-southeast to Shazer. Even after the candidate for the Valley of Lemuel and River Laman was found at Wadi Tayib al-Ism, 3 days south of the beginning of the Red Sea as Nephi indicates (it’s 75 miles south, so this would be 3 days of travel by camels, of course, which is surely how they traveled and carried their tents and supplies), that detail of crossing the river and then going south-southeast seemed to be leaving out the necessary step of exiting the great granite rift/valley that the River Laman is in before a south-southeast journey could begin, but it was only last year that we learned that the most logical encampment site in the valley is on the north side of the stream and that immediately across from the camp site is an opening in the wall, leading to another wadi that indeed would allow them to travel south-southeast for four days, as the text indicates, and arrive at a superb candidate for Shazer, with no backtracking required. See “Nephi’s ‘Shazer’: The Fourth Arabian Pillar of the Book of Mormon.” The River Laman, Shazer, and Bountiful are hard geographical details that one can view on Google Earth and for which detailed information and photos are available.

    All these details converge in an interesting way at Nahom, where Ishmael was buried. Search for Nahom or Arabia at InterpreterFoundation.org and Book of Mormon Central or read Warren Aston’s book, Lehi and Sariah in Arabia. Here we have a place accessible from the River Laman and Shazer by traveling a general south-southeastern route, and remarkably, one can then turn due east from Nahom (as Lehi’s group does, heading “nearly east” after the burial) and wander into a wadi with no impassable barriers that would bring the group to a rare fertile spot offering a miraculously appropriate candidate for Bountiful. The place where Nahom needs to be, given the locations of Bountiful and the the River Laman + Shazer, just happens to be in or near the tribal lands of the ancient Nihm tribe, whose name in ancient Southeast Arabic is NHM and has been transliterated in several modern maps as Nehem. One recent modern map, for example, lists NEHEM as an “ancient burial site” (but of course, there are burial sites all over populated regions — but much of Yemen and Arabia is unpopulated, so having an ancient burial site in the Nehem region is not completely trivial evidence).For those who wonder if the NHM tribe even existed in Lehi’s day and need something more than geographical evidence, we have the icing on the cake of hard archaeological evidence dating to the 7th or 8th century BC in the form of votive altars donated to the nearby temple at Marib (about 70 miles away from modern Nihm tribal lands) by a prominent member of the NHM tribe, and other inscriptions thereafter showing continuity of the NHM tribe in that general region. There was a NHM tribe in the area in Lehi’s day. (As another minor aside, we also have hard archaeological evidence showing that there was at least one man named Ishmael, apparently a foreigner and possibly a Hebrew, who was buried in the Nihm region around the 6th century BC: see “An Ishmael Buried Near Nahom“. That doesn’t mean it was our Ishmael in the Book of Mormon, but it certainly contributes to the plausibility of the account.)So contrary to what is commonly said, the Arabian Peninsula evidence is far more than just a random NHM name that we found and tried contrive a story to make it count as evidence. If the River Laman and the place Bountiful are considered and the directions of travel given in the text are considered, then the Book of Mormon would seem to require that the ancient place Nahom be near northern Yemen, not just anywhere in the Arabian Peninsula. That there was an ancient Nehem/Nihm tribe in that region, backed with archaeological evidence showing their existence there in Lehi’s day, in just the right place where one can turn east after long southern travel and then avoid the Great Empty Quarter and another impassable dessert to the south, but travel nearly due east unimpeded (though water would be more scarce, but not impossibly so — indeed, the text indicates that this was an especially difficult part of the journey) and then reach the miraculous place Bountiful, exactly as the text describes, must be understood as more than a trivial factoid, more than creative adjusting of the narrative to make random trivia seem impressive.So for me, if someone says what’s the most interesting hard, tangible evidence for the Book of Mormon, I would say it is the complex of evidences from the Arabian Peninsula with four pillars, each worthy of much study: the River Laman in the Valley of Lemuel, the place Shazer, the place that was called Nahom where Ishmael was buried, and the place nearly due east of Nahom, Bountiful. Efforts to deny its significance fail, IMO. See “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map: Part 1 of 2″ and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map: Part 2 of 2.”

  7. The Voice from the Dust. However, the “one best” evidence that I think means the most to me, at least right now (“one best” is a variable target!) involves the way the Book of Mormon serves as a “voice from the dust” to testify of Christ, and in so doing, artfully and properly employs ancient motifs related to rising from the dust, as explained just a few decades ago by biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman. This evidence naturally leads to the related evidence for the apparent existence of something closely related to our modern Book of Moses on the Nephite’s plates of brass that strongly influenced the Book of Mormon. This is a heavy topic but one that has had a profound impact on my testimony of the reality and antiquity of the Book of Mormon. It brings together issues such as Hebrew poetry and rhetoric (chiasmus, inclusio, etc.), textual analysis, and other lines of evidences, and serves as an explanation for a number of puzzles in the text, adding depth and meaning, and steadily testifying of Christ and His Gospel. See, for example, “Strong Like unto Moses”: The Case for Ancient Roots in the Book of Moses Based on Book of Mormon Usage of Related Content Apparently from the Brass Plates, as well as “Arise from the Dust”: Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon (Part 1: Tracks from the Book of Moses) and “Arise from the Dust”: Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon (Part 2: Enthronement, Resurrection, and Other Ancient Motifs from the “Voice from the Dust”).You may also with to view my presentation on this topic given in 2018 at the FAIR Conference in Provo, Utah. I may be speaking a bit fast as I tried to cram a lot of material into one talk, but I feel it reasonably expresses what this topic has meant to me personally as one of my favorite issues on the power, beauty, and authenticity of the Book of Mormon:
  8. Much more! Others might point to many other factors, such as the volcanic ash evidence related to the volcanic activity apparently described in the Book of Mormon, or the evidence that the language of the dictated text, based on the scholarship of Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack, clearly shows that Joseph was dictating language that is not simply a mashup of KJV language or his own dialect, but language with a strong Early Modern English flavor that is distinct and often slight earlier than the English of the KJV Bible. This is a complex and controversial issue, but one based on hard data with strong implications that Joseph Smith is not the author. Which of the many issues offered as evidence for the origins of the Book of Mormon are “the one best” issue to focus will depend on the student and what assumptions he or she bring to the table about what is most relevant. I’d suggest that those interested look at Item #1 above and after gaining an overview of the text, then explore some of the many issues raised at Book of Mormon Central, Interpreter, FAIR, and other websites.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

34 thoughts on “A Tough Question: What’s the Single Most Impressive Evidence for the Book of Mormon?

  1. An odd critic indeed. Why would someone request evidence for something that is true by definition and lacks any principle of falsifiability? It is as odd as looking for evidence for something that is already true by definition.

    It is like asking, what is the single strongest evidence for Freudism or Marxism. Proponents will have no difficulty producing a long list of strong evidence, the only difficulty will be picking their favorite.

    1. Joe, help me out. While some Marxists won’t allow their theories to be questioned, others have the intelligence and open-mindedness to discuss issues with skeptics. I’ve seen their support is sometimes based upon assumptions and beliefs about what ought to or what could work, rather than what actually happens, and while they have a lot of talking points about the problems of various societies, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that they can provide abundant solid evidence that can withstand scrutiny for the claim that Marxism makes a people better off than liberty.

      Regardless of how convinced anybody is, when it comes to evidence, if it’s any good, it can be scrutinized and evaluated and supported when challenged. It’s not just “dogma” and a priori belief if there’s anything to it. The issues I raise, like the relationship of real geographical and archaeological sites to details in the Book of Mormon is something that can be scrutinized and studies and rebutted. So if you think the evidence is fallacious, please feel free to explain why.

        1. Many things could. Discovery of an undisputed, clearly authentic set of notes in Joseph’s handwriting from a secret locker he buried showing divergent early drafts of the Book of Mormon based on input from a variety of scholars to concoct Hebrew word plays, Hebrew poetry like chiasmus, etc., and showing how he selected a route through Arabia based on rare maps and the records of explorers. It would also be significant if verifiable, authentic written statements from numerous co-conspirators were produced showing that they were lying when they said they saw gold plates or watched him dictate without the aid of notes, etc., and if it could be shown that the many statements from them that bear witness of the Book of Mormon were given under duress or as a result of bribery, and that they actually publicly renounced those statements on their deathbeds, etc.

          It would help if it could be shown that there is not and could not have been a place like Wadi Sayq for the place Bountiful, or if it were proven that there were no and never have been any continually flowing streams of water near the Red Sea such as we have at Wadi Tayib al-Ism, but such evidence needs to be examined carefully because just a couple decades ago, it did look like a solid argument against the Book of Mormon — after all, a major scientific survey of Arabia said there were no rivers at all, and almost nobody knew of the unpopulated wonder at Khar Kharfot/Wadi Sayq in Oman — but such arguments based on ignorance are questionable until a great deal of work is done to prove the absence is real. In this case, the seemingly solid argument crumpled when field work was done in the Arabian Peninsula based on the descriptions and directions in the text, and now the most amazing evidence for authenticity comes from the Arabian Peninsula. So caution is needed — but the Book of Mormon certainly makes many claims that can be tested. But arguments of ignorance have been steadily eroded, which is an interesting trend to consider. The case against the Book of Mormon has eroded greatly over time, when increased knowledge ought to be exposing it more clearly as a fraud if it were a fraud.

          Each of the issues I raise can be debated. The arguments made are not assumed to be true or not subject to logic, and there are cases of Book of Mormon evidences that once seemed impressive but don’t really hold up well, such as the previous belief of some that Stela 5 was based on Lehi’s vision, or the notion that some had that some gold plates from Mexico were relevant to the Book of Mormon, when they turned out to be fraudulent.

          To respond to evidence by claiming that we aren’t willing to look at evidence is an ironic argument.

          1. Take your first for example, “clearly authentic set of notes in Joseph’s handwriting”. The Church has already declared any such discovery could be an early expert forgery from a time when the Church had many enemies, so such a discovery will never be definitive.

            Your response is plainly a tongue-in-cheek parody and verbose way of admitting nothing can prove the Book of Mormon not true. A parody you engage because you know the fact that nothing can prove it not true means all evidence is therefore meaningless. As you demonstrate, it is true by definition, and just like Freudism and Marxism, it will always have an abundance of evidence.

          2. Hardly tongue-in-cheek. I hope you can appreciate that fraudulent historical documents are a genuine risk, like the Salamander Letter than brought great delight to our critics until it was proven fraudulent by scientific tools. Such a concern does not rule out the value of authentic documents, and that’s what my scenario requires. I don’t care what anybody else says — you asked for my views, not those of imagined others who would ignore truly genuine evidence. You asked for scenarios where I would concede that the Book of Mormon had been proven false, and I offered several. They are serious.

            If we discovered truly authentic documents from Joseph showing how he planned and developed the Book of Mormon in a fraudulent way, the Book of Mormon wold be overturned. Further, if the critics had been PROVEN correct when they said that the whole Lehi’s Trail story across the Arabian Peninsula was impossible (e.g., extensive investigation showing there was no such place as Bountiful and the River Laman), and if the very specific scripturally- and Church-endorsed EVIDENCE of the reality of the gold plates, the eye-witness accounts of the three witnesses and the eight witness could be reliably PROVEN (not just asserted) to be false, then the Book of Mormon would have been overturned. This is different than critics just saying why they think a place like Bountiful is unlikely, or repeating an unverified rumor about Martin Harris.

            I am serious when I say that if the Book of Mormon truly can be proven false — which is different than merely raising questions and doubts based on ignorance and silence, or making claims based on potential misunderstanding of data which can be reasonably rebutted — then it is false. So I’ve given three examples of such a scenario. You are clinging to your a priori dogmatic and erroneous belief that Latter-day Saints have an unfalsifiable faith in the divinity of the Book of Mormon. If it’s not divine, I do want to know about it. And I’ve spelled out some clear ways that would show that.

            If Joseph fabricated the Book of Mormon in the ways critics often allege, by drawing upon various sources and perhaps even experts to draft out the text and then later pretend to dictate by “revelation,” working with fellow deceivers in some kind of conspiracy to sell a book and become wealthy or powerful, there really ought to be some pretty solid evidence for that, even abundant evidence. Instead, to not only have zero reliable evidence of the fraudulent textual preparation and conspiring, but instead to have solid, increasingly impressive evidence of a miraculously dictated text and many eye-witnesses who went to their death beds affirming over and over the reality of what they saw, even after some of them split from the Church over other issues, leaves us powerful evidence to reject the proposal that Joseph was a fraud.

            To also have powerful evidence that completely overturns the long-standing claims that there could not even be such as place as the River Laman or Bountiful, and instead to have powerful evidence that wonderfully suitable candidates are in locations that precisely comply with the text (3 days south of the beginning of the Red Sea for the River Laman, and nearly due east of an ancient place called Nahom that was generally south-southeast of the River Laman and Shazer) has completely changed the landscape of the debate. We have an oasis of fertile evidence for authenticity where once only desert sounds blew across the horizon.

            I am sorry that after giving several specific scenarios to explain how the Book of Mormon could be falsified, you refuse to consider the answers and just say I have confirmed your unfalsifiable belief that there is simply no imaginable way that the Book of Mormon could be proven false to me. I’ve given you three specific ways. It is not “true by definition” — that’s absurd. It’s a book that demands to be tested, examined, and considered in light of not just prayer and faith, but evidence. It even speaks of the value of the evidence of witnesses, a prophetic claim that has solidly withstood the test of time. And much more evidence has come since then. And yet here you are, in the face of intricate Arabian Peninsula evidence, for example, pretending that it doesn’t exist.

            Joe, if you are just going to repeat the same apparently “unfalsifible” claims no matter what evidence is provided or no matter what explanations are given, you’re refusing to engage in actual dialog and doing the very thing you accuse Latter-day Saints of doing. So here’s a question: is your refusal to consider Book of Mormon evidence (while seeming to at least have some interest in the topic based on making comments about it) due to a belief that the Book of Mormon is untrue by definition, a belief that is so unfalsifiable that there is simply no point in considering alleged evidence to the contrary? It’s entirely your right to not be interested in the book, but when you ask questions but won’t consider the answers, I’m a little puzzled.

          3. Do understand, though, that we do realize there are many uncertainties and question marks over the Book of Mormon. Exactly where to look for archaeological evidence is a matter of debate, though Mesoamerica has become the focus for many scholars who take the book seriously. Less than 10% of archaeological sites in Mesoamerica have been excavated, so arguments from ignorance are not yet definitive, but there has been impressive progress reflected in, for example, Dr. John L. Sorenson’s massive book packed with potential evidence and insights, Mormon’s Codex.

            Perhaps the most commonly cited weakness involves horses. Understanding what is meant by a few references to “horses,” when real horses in the Americas are widely understood (but not absolutely proven) to have been completely extinct by Nephite times, is a matter for debate. That debate includes the possibility that of some surviving pockets of actual native horses based on some finds with late carbon-14 dates in Mesoamerica, but a number of Latter-day Saint scholars argue that a translation issue is at play, where another animal may have been given a Hebrew name translatable as “horse” or that a functional translation into names recognizable in Joseph’s day was given. (Nobody rides on “horses” in the text, so what are they?) So that weakness is one with arguments and evidence that can leave room for a historical Book of Mormon in spite of the uncertainty about what was meant with that animal name. You can learn more about the debate and the evidence in “‘Hard’ Evidence of Ancient American Horses” by Daniel Johnson and “Animals in the Book of Mormon: Challenges and Perspectives” by Wade Miller and Matthew Roper, both published in BYU Studies.

            The argument against the Book of Mormon based on horses is one based on an absence of evidence, or rather, an absence of evidence with the right carbon-14 dating since there is abundant evidence that horses in fact were native to the very ancient Americas, and there is the obvious prospect that relevant evidence has not yet been found, though Daniel Johnson’s article suggest that maybe some such evidence has been found. This is an issue for ongoing work and debate, not something that clearly proves the Book of Mormon to be false, and not something that outweighs the many evidences for the authenticity and plausibility of the text.

            To overturn the Book of Mormon, much bigger issues need to be considered. The very existence of the gold plates (this is where the witnesses matter greatly), the account of the origins of the Book of Mormon translation (miraculous dictation by a prophet or a carefully prepared text worked out with the help of many resources and assistants), and the possibility of the journey across Lehi’s Trail, where we have specific locations and directions related to some precisely known locations such as the north borders of the Red Sea, give us three excellent “big issue” targets where there ought to be definitive data one way or the other based on growing scholarship and investigation. And there is definitive data: the witnesses were consistent and reliable, everything we can glean about the translation is consistent with Joseph’s account and not with fraud, and Lehi’s Trail has an amazing bounty of hard evidence establishing the plausibility of the account, with rock-solid candidates for the River Laman and Valley Lemuel, Shazer, Nahom, and Bountiful. If the book were an easily-dismissed fraud, how could we possibly have this situation?

    2. Dear Joe,
      I think you might be demanding a little too much out of what can be true and what might be false. For something to be true there has to be a subject (hard core evidence) and a predicate (an idea, a narrative, idea). All truth-telling and lying is representational, of facts combined with ideas. If someone says something (e.g., “my great grandfather only had four fingers”), there might not be hard evidence to support it, so there can be no resolution, short of digging up his grave — but he was buried at sea on the way to America. There might be a family tradition, or even a something hinted at in a letter. Popper’s notion of falsifiability (probably from a mischaracterization of the earlier genius C. S. Peirce) has been criticized.

      Or take another example. When it comes to particle physics, physical tracks from smashing particles can be recorded, measured, and explained — although a lot remains unexplained, including dark matter, where gravity fits in the forces of nature, and so on.

      Unlike hard core physics, however, questions of morality are also problematic regarding their truth or falsity. It is endemic to the human condition a community to say “it’s ok to do such and such, but if you don’t do it, that’s NOT ok). So, is it true that it’s not ok to kill, to practice incest, to lie, to “dig a pit for your neighbor, and so on?” Are such moral imperatives true or false? What kind of evidence can one find for these predicates?

      Or it is fair to ask (for those who care enough to ask, and plenty of people have asked): “By what means did the Book of Mormon come into existence?” It must be agreed on all hands that no explanation, negative or positive, is absolutely probative. I mean that very question. The existence of the Book of Mormon is a fact. But its definitive genesis remains unanswered. In my view the book itself is stunning, a book that I cherish, believe in, and try to practice as best I can.

      Best,
      John S. Robertson, who shares Jeff’s mental illness.

  2. Jeff,
    I just watched your “Arise from the Dust” video. It was authoritative, brilliant, and beautiful—compelling evidence that the Restoration in its entirety was more than a 19th something that came from a hat. Thank you.
    John S. Robertson

  3. Haha, good one. Riigghhtt you being soooo serious.

    As the Church said during the Salamander Letter era documents, documents authenticated to the time period do not rule out forgery from the time period. That is not me sticking to a dogmatic position, that is the Church itself creating unfalsifiable position. You disagreeing with the Church doesn’t mean I am sticking to some a priori position. I was not trained in MTC or by my mission president, nor have I ever met a missionary trained to teach people how the Book of Mormon can be proven false. Now you may pretend you were, but given your record, it was be a dubious claim.

    You offered no serious method of accepting a falsifiable Book of Mormon. What you offered was this bizarre circular reasoning based on accepting your supposed evidence and mythical critics.

    Predominate critical view is the plates were as real as the Kinderhook and Strangite plates, so stating prove the plates didn’t exist (prove of a negative?) is hardly a serious statement.

    Your supposedly clear ways are a signed confession from Joseph Smith in his handwriting dating to the 1830ish. Hello? I am supposed to serious believe you won’t suddenly agree with the Church that it could have been a forgery from 1830? Seriously? Give your record?

    Your other way of proving it false is to fight some mythical critic that thinks surviving in Saudi Arabia is impossible? Seriously? How does that falsify the Book of Mormon? It doesn’t even make sense. Nobody cares about the critics running around in your head but you, and they have nothing to do with the Book of Mormon.

    You are all about being verbose to avoid genuine dialog and actually address the items I pointed out.

    The Church has already declared documents authenticate to the time period and in handwriting can’t falsify because they could have been forgeries from the time period. Stating you don’t care what the Church thinks is hardly a rejoinder, but that is in fact the Church making the evidence an item that cannot falsify.

    Prove the plates didn’t exist. This is method your of falsifying? Prove something didn’t exist that most critics believe were as real as the Strangite and Kinderhook plates. This is your attempt at being serious.

    Slay the dragons in your head. Prove it is not possible to survive in Arabia. Seriously?

    What is clear you either have a different definition of falsifiability than most everyone else or you are just being insincere.

    Your question for me is not very clear. How can things that are unfalsifiable be declared to be untrue? Something that is true by definition is not untrue.

  4. Haha, good one. Riigghhtt you being soooo serious.

    As the Church said during the Salamander Letter era documents, documents authenticated to the time period do not rule out forgery from the time period. That is not me sticking to a dogmatic position, that is the Church itself creating unfalsifiable position. You disagreeing with the Church doesn’t mean I am sticking to some a priori position. I was not trained in MTC or by my mission president, nor have I ever met a missionary trained to teach people how the Book of Mormon can be proven false. Now you may pretend you were, but given your record, it was be a dubious claim.

    You offered no serious method of accepting a falsifiable Book of Mormon. What you offered was this bizarre circular reasoning based on accepting your supposed evidence and mythical critics.

    Predominate critical view is the plates were as real as the Kinderhook and Strangite plates, so stating prove the plates didn’t exist (prove of a negative?) is hardly a serious statement.

    Your supposedly clear ways are a signed confession from Joseph Smith in his handwriting dating to the 1830ish. Hello? I am supposed to serious believe you won’t suddenly agree with the Church that it could have been a forgery from 1830? Seriously? Give your record?

    Your other way of proving it false is to fight some mythical critic that thinks surviving in Saudi Arabia is impossible? Seriously? How does that falsify the Book of Mormon? It doesn’t even make sense. Nobody cares about the critics running around in your head but you, and they have nothing to do with the Book of Mormon.

    You are all about being verbose to avoid genuine dialog and actually address the items I pointed out.

    1. The Church has already declared documents authenticate to the time period and in handwriting can’t falsify because they could have been forgeries from the time period. Stating you don’t care what the Church thinks is hardly a rejoinder, but that is in fact the Church making the evidence an item that cannot falsify.

    2. Prove the plates didn’t exist. This is your method of falsifying? Prove something didn’t exist that most critics believe were as real as the Strangite and Kinderhook plates. This is your attempt at being serious.

    3. Slay the dragons in your head. Prove it is not possible to survive in Arabia. Seriously?

    What is clear you either have a different definition of falsifiability than most everyone else or you are just being insincere.

    Your question for me is not very clear. How can things that are unfalsifiable be declared to be untrue? Something that is true by definition is not untrue.

    1. 1. The Church has recognized that there are forgeries, as we saw with Mark Hoffman and the Salamander letter. But being aware of the risk of forgeries is not the same as saying that all negative evidence will be dismissed as a result. You’ve made quite a claim about the Church saying that documents from that era can’t count as evidence. Show me where this ridiculous statement was made. The Church has shown much openness to documents that are problematic, if they are authentic. This includes the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, which they published, and Solomon Spaulding’s Manuscript Found, which they published, and the Salamander Letter, which they published, and the Joseph Smith Papyri, which they published, etc. Please explain.

      2. I didn’t say you must prove the plates didn’t exist. I said if the numerous eye-witness accounts of the plates (and the translation process) were a lie, based on a conspiracy to commit fraud, then there ought to be evidence for that, and showing clear evidence that they were lying would be convincing. The facts of the witnesses provide compelling evidence for the reality of the plates and of the divine translation. You are trying to dodge this evidence by errantly claiming that to rebut the evidence, one must prove a negative. Not at all. That’s not a logical assertion and not what I said.

      3. “Prove it not possible to survive in Arabia. Seriously?” Joe, again, that’s not what I said or inferred. The gap between what the evidence is and your caricature of what I’ve explained could rebut it is puzzling. If the Book of Mormon were a fraud, the places that seemed impossible in 1830 in the “wild” Lehi Trail account would not be expected to ever become plausible as more is learned about Arabia. If Joseph made it all up, the fact that “everybody knows” there are no rivers in Arabia should have remained compelling evidence against the Book of Mormon’s account of the River Laman, a continually flowing river that flows into the Red Seal, situated three days’ journey south of the north end of the Red Sea. That river was long mocked — until someone took the Book of Mormon seriously and went to the target area described, and found Wadi Tayyib al-Ism with a continually flow river/stream that completely meets the criteria for such a place. Ditto for Bountiful. Now if the Book of Mormon were false, there should be compelling evidence that no such places exist. But the places are there. But I am saying, if you provided clear evidence that Lehi’s Trail could not possible be true because, for example, there was no place such as the River Laman and no place such as Bountiful, that would be hard to refute. The fact that such claims were made and have been totally overthrown, complete with added hard archaeological data for the place called Nahom being to the west of Bountiful and south-southeast of the River Laman, has to be seen as amazing evidence that Joseph Smith could not have made up the Lehi’s Trail account based on what was known in his day. Is there any other way to see this? Or is it all lucky guesses?

      1. These threads are difficult to follow … ran across this one today …

        1.

        “You’ve made quite a claim about the Church saying that documents from that era can’t count as evidence.”

        There you go again. Deliberately changing the discussion. As you know, what was communicated is the Church made it an item that cannot falsify their claims.

        You already have this quote and already know where it is. Your demand I provide what you already have further demonstrates your insincerity: “we accept the judgment of the examiner that there is no indication that it is a forgery. This does not preclude the possibility that it may have been forged at a time when the Church had many enemies.” News Release, 28 Apr. 1985

        2

        Joe said: “Prove something didn’t exist that most critics believe were as real as the Strangite and Kinderhook plates. This is your attempt at being serious.”

        Jeff said: “I said if the numerous eye-witness accounts of the plates (and the translation process) were a lie, based on a conspiracy to commit fraud, then there ought to be evidence for that, and showing clear evidence that they were lying would be convincing. The facts of the witnesses provide compelling evidence for the reality of the plates and of the divine translation. You are trying to dodge this evidence by errantly claiming that to rebut the evidence, one must prove a negative.”

        Obviously, Jeff is the only one dodging. No critic seriously claims there were not thousand of witnesses to the Strangite and Kinderhook plates. Some critics do claim the fact there are so few and carefully selected “witnesses” is problematic. Critics do claim the history (whether divinity or Smith) demonstrates great lengths to prevent witnesses. The only retort to which I have heard is divinity wanted a lack of evidence in order to require more faith.

        3.

        Again, this is circular. It is predicated on first accepting some ill-defined belief of yours and mythical critics that exist mostly in your head, besides being tangential to the Book of Mormon .

        1. For point #1, your support for an audacious claim turns out to be the Church’s very fair response to one expert’s initial opinion that the Salamander Letter was not a forgery. The Church accepted that statement, with reservations, and published the letter. It was later discovered that the Church was right to recognize the possibility of forgery from enemies of the Church, for the letter was in fact a forgery from someone seeking to embarrass the Church, although it was an excellent modern forgery rather than an earlier forgery. This is a valuable lesson: just producing a document doesn’t prove anything, and even making the document look good enough to fool some experts still doesn’t prove it’s authentic. Significant testing with the right technology is needed, and the document was later proven to be a fraud when the right tools were used. So for a document to be viewed as absolute proof for an alternative theory of the origins of the Book of Mormon, of course I need to specify that it must be a genuine, verifiable document.

          2. Joe, you seem unaware of the significant details of the Book of Mormon witnesses. Non recanted their story, even though it would have been to their advantage. On the other hand, for the fraudulent Strangite plates, the “Strangite witnesses were not all faithful, and some recanted and described the nature of the fraud perpetuated by Strang.” See https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/answers/Book_of_Mormon/Witnesses/Strangite_parallels.

          3. The evidence for the Book of Mormon does not require accepting it a priori to recognize the relevance of the data.

          1. In other words, Joe, when the highly unfavorable Salamander Letter came out, the Church did the opposite of what you claim they will always do. Rather then ignoring it and dismissing it as a fraud, they had it examined by an expert and then accepted his report and published the letter, in spite of it being highly embarrassing for the Church. They naturally recognized that it was still possible that it could have been a fraud (and later it was proven to be a fraud), but they were not relying on that as a defense. They accepted the possibility that it was authentic and simply published it and lived with the consequences.

  5. Dear Joe,
    I think you might be demanding a little too much out of what can be true and what might be false. For something to be true there has to be a subject (hard core evidence) and a predicate (an idea, a narrative, or even a hypothesis). Both truth-telling and lying are representational, consisting of representing facts combined with ideas. Suppose someone says something: e.g., “my great grandfather only had four digits on one of his hands”), there might not be hard evidence to support it, so there can be no resolution of its truth or falsity, short of digging up his grave — oh, but he was buried at sea on the way to America. There might be a family tradition, or even a something hinted at in a letter. Popper’s notion of falsifiability has been criticized (probably from a mischaracterization of the earlier polymath C. S. Peirce).

    Or take another example. When it comes to particle physics, physical tracks from smashing particles can be recorded, measured, and explained — although a lot remains unexplained, including dark matter, where gravity fits in the forces of nature, and so on.

    Unlike hard core physics, however, questions of morality are also problematic regarding their truth or falsity. It is endemic to the human condition for a given community to believe “it’s ok to do such and such, but if you don’t do it, that’s NOT ok). So, is it really true that it’s not ok to kill, to practice incest, to lie, to “dig a pit for your neighbor,” and so on?” Are such moral imperatives true or false? What kind of evidence can one find for these predicates?

    Or is it fair to ask (for those who care enough to ask, and plenty of people have asked): “By what means did the Book of Mormon come into existence?” It must be agreed on all hands that no explanation, negative or positive, is absolutely probative in a factual sense. The existence of the Book of Mormon is a fact. But its definitive genesis remains factually unanswered. In my view the book itself is stunning, a book that I cherish, believe in, and try to practice as best I can.

    Best,
    John S. Robertson, who shares Jeff’s mental illness.

  6. John – It sounds like you just vigorously agreed with me and disagreed with Jeff. You will have to take the mental illness thing up with Brian. -Joe

    1. To be clear, Joe, please observe that the title of Jeff’s article includes a discussion of what he apparently views as “the most impressive evidence” bearing on the Book of Mormon. He does not present it as “the most coercive evidence.” Factual evidence is coercive, as “look here, see, I have four digits on my left hand.” Bare facts are something for which you have no choice but to believe; what goes on in your head cannot change my four digits to five digits. Impressive evidence, not coercive fact, is something Jeff apparently thinks is worth considering. It’s unfair to exploit Popper’s falsifiability as an explanation of the scientific method (based solely on deduction) so as to derogate Jeff’s blog.

      As I suggested in my earlier post, there are facts whose hard-core existence cannot be predicated, and therefore remain unexplained – and there are predicates that are lacking facts, which amount to mere empty ideas. The only way absolute scientific truth can be established is by the explanation furnished by the union of unimpeachable fact (s) with a concurring predicate. Thereby, truth is represented.

      As I see it, Jeff is making no such scientific claim. And neither am I.

      Despite what you might think I’m still mentally ill,
      John S. Robertson

  7. Fascinating juxtaposition between Jeff and John. John says it like it is. Beauty is in the beholder’s eye, and that is it. No need to create tortured evidences. He maintains a healthy perspective that says regardless if others find the baby ugly it doesn’t matter to him. He knows it is beautiful and thats that.

    Jeff, on the other hand, engages in classic psychological phenomena such as transference. I hate the dog becomes the dog hates me. While clinging to a priori dogmatic beliefs, he falsely accuses others of such. While avoiding genuine dialogue with tangential verbosity, he accuses others lacking genuine dialogue.

  8. Dear Joe,
    People who are put off by the entirety of the Restoration, who, with varying degrees of animas (e.g., “cling to dogmatic beliefs,” and use “tangential verbosity” and “falsely accuse others of such;” or John “knows the baby’s ugly, but he knows it’s beautiful, and that’s that”) use varying degrees of time and energy to satisfy some recondite antagonism. I wonder why, Joe? You obviously have a strong, capable mind, but oh boy, is the animas there. Honestly, I don’t feel animosity — just wondering. Indeed, why am I using my time on this? Maybe I am mentally ill after all. Or maybe others are. Who knows?

    Anyway…. If you don’t mind, I’d be interested in how you might account for the provenance of the Book of Mormon. I am appealing to regarding facts that in my mind are begging for a predicate Of course, I believe in God, which no one can prove or disprove “scientifically” (it’s a choice, after all), so I incline to the Moroni possibility as the predicate for the facts which are outlined below.

    Did metal plates really exist? Did each person who physically either saw, touched, handled, or experienced the plates lie? Did Joseph Smith dictate the Book of Mormon in the way that so many people both participated in, or observed the process—did the all gather ’round the campfire and agree to distort the facts for the rest of their lives? These several testimonies strongly admit of evidence that there were physical plates, and that Joseph Smith dictated without notes. This evidence can be dismissed out of hand, of course. But if you do not incline to the Moroni predicate, what might be your best guess? The several people who scribed for Joseph Smith all agreed that Joseph dictated and they recorded what they heard. Furthermore, Royal Skousen’s scholarly investigation of what’s left of the actual manuscript gives evidence that it was dictated in short bursts, the way the several scribes described it.

    By the way, beauty is in the eye of this beholder, but it is also deeply embedded in this beholder’s heart. In my (near) eighty years, I have had a beautiful life, which I attributed to my baptismal covenants and Temple covenants. I thank God every night for the wonderful consequences of my decisions, which are owing to my life’s decisions in trying to keep my covenants.
    My best,
    John S. Robertson

    ps: This is what I think of Jeff’s “Arise from the Dust” video. I have trouble believing that Jeff’s work is without merit. It is not.
    Jeff,
    I just watched your “Arise from the Dust” video. It was authoritative, brilliant, and beautiful—compelling evidence that the Restoration in its entirety was more than a 19th something that came from a hat. Thank you.
    John S. Robertson

    1. Sorry you perceive animosity. Could that be what is your heart?

      You ask several questions, i am not sure to what end. The provenance I was instructed to teach and indeed taught was that the BoM was produced as a mystical process of Smth’s mind when interacting with the plates.

      However, there is now universal consensus by near all opinions the plates were not part of the process, but the plates did exists. The only question then is was it entirely a natural process of smiths mind or was an extra terrestial force involved. If an extra terrestial force was involved was the roman god of genius, aliens, or the same God of abraham.

      Alas, opinions come down beauty. Chiasmus exists in other kjv style works, but not with the same complexity of one chapter of the BoM. Etc etc etc

    2. But seriously John …. when did I ever write “John “knows the baby’s ugly,” I was concerned for a moment, re-reading what I wrote, no, I never wrote that, despite your quotation marks. Yes it was your perception. Talk about antagonism.

      But after all you have self-declared yourself the judge. You are honest and not antagonistic, others are. Your life is judged to be holy by you. Apparently, you are a real Christian who walked In His Steps with a life full seeking constant real sacrifice involving dsicomfort, strife, and injustice, just as Jesus taught.

      I suppose someone like Jeff Bezos could tie his self-assessed superiority to his appreciation for Star Trek … it would be about the same as you just did with connecting your self-assessed superiority to your appreciation the Book of Mormon.

  9. Please change:
    I am appealing to facts that in my mind are begging for a predicate
    I am appealing to certain facts that in my mind are begging for a predicate.
    John S. Robertson

  10. Joe,
    You are absolutely right in calling me out for attributing “John knows the baby’s ugly,” to you. That was wrong — using quotes was dead wrong. What you actually said, referring to me, “Beauty is in the beholder’s eye, and that is it,’ as well as “He knows it is beautiful and thats that.” There’s truth in that. I can also understand why you said, “you have self-declared yourself the judge.” I probably came across as having a condescending attitude when I said things like, “You obviously have a strong, capable mind, but oh boy, is the animas there.” That was patronizing on my part.

    I am not judging myself superior to you, however, because I am deeply committed to the Church, and you were, but are not now. You have made your choice, and I made mine a long time ago. There are really are reasons for people finding great satisfaction in their commitment to the Church, and there are probably are a multitude of reasons why people disrupt such belief. From my narrow point of view, that is what I find difficult to understand. I may be too naive.

    I think we agree, however, that (1) there were existential plates, and (2) that it is out of anyone’s ken to find a predicate that could adequately account for the provenance of the Book of Mormon. It is easy for me to believe in God for some of the reasons articulated by the no mean polymath, C.S. Peirce:
    Peirce: CP 1.316

    “I hear you say: This smacks too much of an anthropomorphic I conception.” I reply that every scientific explanation of a natural phenomenon is a hypothesis that there is something in nature to which the human reason is analogous; and that it really is so all the successes of science in its applications to human convenience are witnesses. They proclaim that truth over the length and breadth of the modern world. In the light of the successes of science to my mind there is a degree of baseness in denying our birthright as children of God and in shamefacedly slinking away from anthropomorphic conceptions of the universe.

    Finally,
    Peirce: CP 6.216 You must not let this interfere with or be interfered with by any religious belief. Religion is a practical matter. Its beliefs are formulas you will go upon. But a scientific proposition is merely something you take up provisionally as being the proper hypothesis to try first and endeavor to refute. The only belief you — as a purely scientific man — have about it is that it is adopted in accordance with a method which must lead to the truth in the long run. It is a damnable absurdity indeed to say that one thing is true in theology and another in science. But it is perfectly true that the belief which I shall do well to embrace in my practical affairs, such as my religion, may not accord with the proposition which a sound scientific method requires me provisionally to adopt at this stage of my investigation. Later, both the one proposition and the other may very likely be modified; but how, or which comes nearer to the ultimate conclusion, not being a prophet or a magician, I cannot yet say.

    Best,
    John S. Robertson

  11. “ because I am deeply committed to the Church, and you were, but are not now. ”

    Where are you getting this? I have made no such declaration. I declare I have the same unwavering commitment to the Church. All you demonstrate is that 80 years of adherence you are still full of arrogance and contempt. I am not blaming the Church for behavior.

  12. Joe,
    You said, “But after all you have self-declared yourself the judge.” But speaking of “the judge,” you also said, “All you demonstrate is that 80 years of adherence you are still full of arrogance and contempt,” as well as, “I suppose someone like Jeff Bezos could tie his self-assessed superiority to his appreciation for Star Trek … it would be about the same as you just did with connecting your self-assessed superiority to your appreciation the Book of Mormon.”

    You also said that you were “Sorry [I] perceive animosity.”

    Anyway, I think the exchanges were more productive when we were discussing the nature of truth.

    Warmly,
    John

  13. Dear Joe,
    Detective that you are, you are among the few people who has been able to unveil my true character: an arrogant, contemptible 80-year-old. Oh well, such is life — my life, as it turns out. For the first time in my aging years, I can look in the mirror and see who I really am. (Although I wonder if it’s not my reflection that I see, but projection from the very person that made me aware of my true, contemptible self. You know, projection, not reflection).

    Nonetheless, I still think we had a productive conversation regarding the nature of truth. As I suggested in my earlier post, “there are facts whose hard-core existence cannot be predicated, and therefore remain unexplained – and there are [also] predicates that are lacking facts, which amount to mere empty ideas.” The only way to establish absolute scientific truth is by an explanation furnished by the union of unimpeachable fact(s) with a concurring predicate that fits. Thereby, truth is represented.”

    You helped me make this point. The provenance of the Book of Mormon (or more generally, the whole of the Restoration) cannot be readily predicated. To quote you, your conjecture is that the provenance of the Book of Mormon is either “a natural process of smiths mind,” or that “an extra terrestial force was involved was the roman god of genius, aliens, or the same God of abraham.” As I understand it, the standard Latter-day Saint (Moroni)’s position is that such an assessment of its truthfulness is a consequence of revelation, which epistemologically, is another way of knowing something.

    My best,
    John

    1. Best wishes John.

      We both agree that the conversation was better before and that Jeff is mistaken. The core truth claims are not falsifiable despite Jeff pretending he thinks they are, when he really doesn’t.

      We appear to only disagree on who first turned the conversation to assessments of individual character and who was projecting and who was providing a teaching moment.

      1. Joe,
        I mostly agree with what you said, except that I find the body Jeff’s work not to be empirically coercive (four digits on my hand right before your eyes, see above, etc.) but impressive, just as I find a lot of the other apologists’ discussions impressive and interesting. Apologetics has ancient roots, and it should not be surprising that the Latter-day Saints are so involved.

        We’ll have to agree to disagree (I hope—and not be enemies) on Popper’s notion of “falsifiability.” His claim that scientific truth relies on deduction only has pretty well been debunked. There are other approaches, including deduction and certainly hypothesis that have great application in scientific inquiry

        I just read a fantastic article by Sabine Hossenfelder “Physics Alone Can’t Answer the Big Questions” (https://iai.tv/articles/physics-alone-cant-answer-the-big-questions-auid-2237?_auid=2020). I highly recommend it.

        “When it comes to the biggest questions about the cosmos, physicists tend to either shy away from them or assert theories that have no real empirical backing. The Big Bang is a good example – a creation myth that physics will probably never be able to show is true. But these theories are also not simply equivalent to religious dogma, they lie in the undefined space between science and religion – not in conflict with science, but not supported by it either, argues Sabine Hossenfelder.”

        Rightly or wrongly, I put LDS apologists’ work in the same category as scientists whose math predicts things that cannot be tested against empirically hard evidence.

        But I’m all wrung out. So let’s say our interchange has been interesting and I believe, worthwhile. I’ve enjoyed it. I think we can agree that it’s really not worthwhile to figure out who reflects or projects.

        Anyway best wishes to you,
        John

  14. See above:
    just as I find a lot of the other apologists’ discussions impressive and interesting.
    just as I find a lot of the other apologists’ discussions impressive and interesting, but not probative.

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