Bob Rees: Earl Wunderli’s Imperfect Book
Earl Wunderli wrote “An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us About Itself” (2013). Bob Rees discusses Wunderli and his book in his FairMormon Conference presentation.
Rees begins his review by showing a video (available on Youtube) by Richard Wiseman, entitled “Color Changing Card Trick”. In the video, two people are shown, with one performing a card trick for the other. Once done, the video is shown again, but this time pulled back to show the entire scene. Instead of focusing on the cards, one sees the two performers changing their shirt colors, the background color and the table cloth colors, things not noticed when the camera and our focus were on the cards.
Rees notes that while the card trick is an interesting one, it is only a small part of the whole picture. We see the same thing occurring with the Book of Mormon and Wunderli’s depiction of it. While Wunderli focuses on the minutiae, he completely misses what is going on in the big picture.
Rees notes that Wunderli seems to have made a “sincere attempt” at researching the Book of Mormon. As a lawyer, Wunderli attempts to place the Book of Mormon on trial in a court of law. And as its prosecutor, he is selective in his use of witnesses, making his case seem convincing that the Book of Mormon is a piece of 19th century fiction.
Wunderli brings up several issues that are very familiar to FairMormon audiences: the use of the KJV Bible, anachronisms, internal inconsistencies, geography, mythology, etc. Rees quotes Wunderli, “critics prefer evidence and reason over faith and prayer in finding truth.”
Here in lies one of the weaknesses of Wunderli’s book, according to Rees.
While using reasoning and the scientific method is valid in studying the Book of Mormon and its claims, so too is using spiritual methods. We are encouraged to use both heart and head in finding the truths and evidences of the gospel. Those who use both approaches see things differently than a person who uses just one or the other.
Rees explains that it is similar to how we view a poem. We can hold it up to the light, read it silently and then aloud, listen, ponder, and see it from many angles. Wunderli’s methodology would be to tie the poem to a chair and intensely interrogate it. You do get information from the interrogation, but miss the most important concepts regarding the poem. In some ways, this is not really being rational, but is substituting one flawed method for another.
Wunderli goes shallow in his research and methods. For instance, on inconsistencies in geography, he notes two verses in the Book of Mormon. Two inconsistencies, according to him, show that the Book of Mormon is seriously flawed. Looked at another way, however, and we see how incredibly consistent the Book of Mormon is on its geography. Rees notes that the two inconsistencies in geography are in sections compiled by Mormon, centuries after the actual events, and more likely to be in error than something written originally by Nephi.
Rees notes (as did Kerry Muehstein earlier) that we all need to challenge our assumptions. If we start from a certain perspective and then just look for those things that support our view, we miss out on the bigger picture. Worse, we end up with a twisted world view.
He notes that Wunderli dismisses chiasmus as common place and found everywhere. Rees contends that this is not as apparent as Wunderli believes. Rees compared Joseph Smith’s writings with many of his contemporaries: Emerson, Whitman, and several others. He noted that these others spent years preparing to be the great writers they became. Meanwhile, Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon in 90 days, while having mobs harass him and being forced to move on several occasions. While an Emerson may be able to compose a a classic writing over a period of months in his quiet writing room, Joseph had no such luxury.
When one begins from a doubting world view and then seeks only those evidences that will support that limited world view, you end up with a book like Wunderli’s Imperfect Book.