LDS defenders sometime grow impatient, even flabbergasted, with critics who refuse to acknowledge the existence of any evidence for the Book of Mormon, in spite of what some of us feel are impressive leads that should at least raise an eyebrow or two. It’s a mistake for us to assume that our critics are deliberately being blind or dishonest. We need to remember that faith is required not just to accept Christ, the Restoration, and the divinity of the scriptures, but a touch of faith also required to even begin to recognize the value of evidence.
If one is confident that one already has all the answers, it is impossible to ask the questions that can lead to new and surprising answers. If one is confident that disease is due to bad “humors” or vapors just as Aristotle said, then someone presenting “evidence” that limes prevent or cure scurvy cannot be taken seriously and the “evidence” will never get past the scare-quotes treatment from those who roll their eyes at the preposterous claims of some upstart. This is why it took the elite minds over the Royal Navy of Britain over 200 years and thousands of lost lives of British sailors to finally acknowledge the evidence that scurvy was easily prevented with a better diet. Without the faith to accept that maybe there is more to the story than we already know, without the open-mindedness to entertain a radical new proposal seriously to fairly consider another point of view, then there is simply “no evidence” to be considered, no matter how much a passionate advocate of something else rambles on about his so-called “evidence.” This is why Ignaz Semmelweis faced massive opposition and ridicule in spite of solid evidence that some invisible factor could be passed on from corpses to mothers giving birth and give them fatal fevers. That invisible factor, known today as germs, did not fit the rigid mental framework of the elites in charge of peer review for the medical profession, and thus Semmelweis’s passionate battle for truth faced decades of passionate opposition. His “evidence” just wasn’t there, as far as the elite cared, for the lacked the particle of faith required to imagine that there could be something to the invisible particles Semmelweis claimed were there.
We like to think that those who resisted progress regarding scurvy or germ theory were stupid and petty, but they were actually well educated elites just doing their job — but with a lack of faith in other possibilities. They were too secure in the received wisdom they already had and could not see more, no matter how painfully obvious it seems today.
We LDS folks get frustrated at the results, but we should be more compassionate. Here on this blog, one of our most vocal critics has resisted every piece of evidence related to Book of Mormon plausibility, including some works from non-LDS scholars and some items that have gone through non-LDS peer review, and still claims that we have nothing, not one scrap, not one non-LDS source in our favor, not one piece of peer-reviewed data. This same critic was once asked what could possibly count as actual evidence in his view, and he responded that it would be nice, for starters, to see evidence of a Mayan glyph that meant “and it came to pass.” A link was promptly provided to exactly that–one of the interesting tiny little bits of evidence from the Mesoamerican venue–and instead of saying, “Wow, well, that was at least a little interesting,” it was just another dismissal and then moving on to other charges. When the evidence he asked for was provided, it was obviously not relevant. Just didn’t count. It’s not because he’s dishonest or blind or mean. He’s intelligent and sometimes quite interesting. But lacking faith that there could be a real Moroni and real golden plates, any “evidence” for such can’t possibly be evidence.
I’ve seen exactly the same in dealing with some critics attacks on the Arabian evidence. Bountiful, for all practical purposes, just isn’t there. How could such a place be uninhabited as the Book of Mormon implies? Preposterous. Must not be there, per an ivy-league educated elite with access to much better maps than Joseph Smith ever dreamed of. And yet it is.
Faith is required to recognize evidence as evidence. It’s no use getting exasperated with critics. Be patient and don’t waste too much breath.
For some who are open to other possibilities, the evidence can make a difference, and it’s for them that we can keep sharing and pointing to new things we learn or discover that might be helpful. But don’t expect to win over critics or get any admissions from them by hammering them over the head with Nahom, chiasmus, Margaret Barker’s findings, evidences of writing on metal plates, Janus parallelisms, or whatever. That evidence just isn’t there without a particle of faith.
As for disease and especially scurvy, our modern, scientific, peer-reviewed society has progressed to the point where we all know citrus fruit prevents scurvy, and where you can also go to jail for printing “helps cure scurvy” on your package of orange juice. The problem is that the elites are still in charge and they have very demanding standards for anyone wishing to claim “evidence” for health food’s “curative” effects, so be careful.