Incomprehensible vs Contradiction

I wrote this post way back at the time of Mormon Matters and never published it. I’m throwing it up for fun with only a little bit of tweaking. I probably would handle this different today. For example, I no longer consider the creedal Trinity to be a contradiction per se, but rather to be a set of undefined statements that are used in contradictory ways so as to claim all attempts to understand the Biblical Trinity doctrine are really just forms of polytheism or modalism. But the point I make here is still worthy of some discussion.

I’ve written a lot of posts directly or indirectly dealing with the traditional Creedal Trinity Doctrine. I’ve made the assertion several times that the Trinity Doctrine is a contradiction, not just an incomprehensible paradox.

I wish to give a primer on the difference between something being incomprehensible vs. a contradiction.

Now obviously a contradiction is also incomprehensible. Consider this list of statements:

  • Joe is      a man and
  • Joe is      a woman
  • A man      can never be a woman

These statements, collectively, are incomprehensible because they are a contradiction. Unless I am tricking you by equivocating (i.e. using different definitions for the same word) in some way, the above statements are a contradiction.

Now look at these statements:

  • Light      is a particle
  • Light      is a wave

Are these contradictory? No, they are not. Now I know from sad experience that many people will make the mistake of claiming this is a contradiction. In fact, I had a Christian friend use this very example to try to prove to me that contradictions exist in real life. I’m afraid not.

The issue here is that we intuitive add a third statement that I didn’t state:

  • Light      is a particle
  • Light      is a wave
  • A      particle can never be a wave

Now we do have a contradiction. But the way I originally wrote it there is nothing contradictory about it. Light is both a wave and a particle. [1]

Now is the idea that light is both a wave and a particle comprehensible? Well, not really. Yes, I can comprehend that “that’s the way it is.” But I have no intuitive experience with wavicles in real life because I have never lived as a person small enough to experience them.

In other words, light as a wave and a particle is not contradictory, but it is incomprehensible, or to put it another way, it’s something I have direct no experience with and cannot imagine in my mind.

I would assert that something being incomprehensible is a very common thing. But that there is never such a thing as something being contradictory.

Why would this last statement matter? Can’t God do anything? So why can’t God make a contradiction be true?

Well, to be honest, it matters a lot. First of all, if God can make a contradiction be true that would mean there is no point in ever using reason to discuss God – or anything else. To paraphrase, C.S. Lewis, we have for all intents and purposes scrubbed God and reality itself off the plate.

To give an example of this I often have creedal Christians tell me that such and such doctrine in Mormonism “doesn’t make sense” or is contradictory. But if they believe in the Trinity doctrine and that is a contradiction, then I want to know why they think they get a free pass when it comes to reason but I don’t. If God is made up of three persons all separate from each other but each fully 100% of God, then Jesus can’t be 100% of God, the Father 100% of God, and the Holy Spirit 100% of God, yet none of them is identical. If that were possible then there is nothing wrong with me asserting any doctrine I want and using the same “logic.” For example, I am told by Catholics that Mormons really believe in polytheism because we believe in a plurality of gods. But why would a plurality of gods not be monotheism? You just have to understand that the one God makes it so that a plurality of Gods is really monotheism. Because God can do anything including make a contradiction true. There, argument over. Oh, ok, I’ll tell you this much. God can do it because they all are a single substance. Now I’m done. [2]

For that matter, how in the world do I know that the Trinity doctrine is capturing the *right* contradiction? Maybe we aren’t saved for believing the Trinity doctrine’s contradiction after all. Maybe God really wanted us to understand that Jesus is the Father and Jesus isn’t the Father. It seems to me that that contradiction is as valid a contradiction as any and resolves to the Biblical data just as well. That’s because there are an infinite number of contradictory ways to resolve any set of data.

The second objection I have to the idea that God can make a contradiction true is that it means God could, for all intents and purposes, lie. So when God says you believe in Jesus and you go to heaven He might actually mean that when you believe in Jesus you go to hell. Contradiction? Who cares, because God can make a contradiction true. There is no way to have faith in a God that can make a contradiction true.

I think this is also one of the main reasons I have issues with people advancing a fictional Book of Mormon that came from God, by the way. This means God can lie, does it not? And you can’t just say “well, we misunderstood” since we have a Joseph Smith carting the plates around and way too many people see them under a cloth. This “problem of the plates” is not a problem I’ve seen even respect liberal religious scholars solve. Merely saying “Well, Blake Ostler believes it’s only part historical (and you accept that argument as viable) and therefore this is just the next step” is about as irrational an argument as can be imagined. Because a partially historical record (with Joseph Smith inserting his own explanations and such) is not a lie and a wholly fictional Book of Mormon is. And a God that can lie is a God that can’t be understood, trusted, discussed, or that we can have faith in. So for rational Mormons that are going to accept the LDS Church’s truth claims, a fictional Book of Mormon isn’t really a logial possibility.

Now could the Trinity doctrine be thought of as incomprehensible instead of contradictory? Clearly it’s contradictory the way I just wrote it, but couldn’t way just say “well, you’re misunderstanding it.”

That’s a topic for another post. The short answer is, yes, the statements in the Trinity Doctrine can in fact be imagined in various ways, and not all are contradictory. But that is because some possible interpretations of the Creedal Trinity Statements are plurality of gods and others are modalism, both of which are non-contradictory. But I know the claim I just made needs some evidence and that will have to wait for another post.

[1] This is the bloggernacle, so I’m assuming most of you know that light is both a wave and a particle. I’m also sure most of you know that in reality light is a “wavicle” which is a thing that behaves sometimes like a wave and sometimes like a particle, but never at the same time. And I’m sure you also know that everything in the universe, including the atoms making up your body, are all wavicles too and that particles and waves are really just the same thing in differing frequencies. But none of  this matters to the point I’m making but I was certain if I didn’t say this someone would try to “correct” me, so I thought I better include it.

[2] In fact, God can make a plurality of gods a form of monotheism. Perhaps Mormons aren’t so much Trinitarians as Infinitarians.

83 thoughts on “Incomprehensible vs Contradiction

  1. …I have issues with people believing in a fictional Book of Mormon that came from God, by the way. This means God can lie, does it not? Bruce please explain how this follows. To me it doesn’t. What is the historicity of a parable? Is historicity of a parable important? If so why? Aren’t parables great teachers? Isn’t fiction a potentially wonderful medium with which to teach?

  2. Howard, I explain this at length in the post itself. The parable argument (so common on the Bloggernacle) is rather offensive to my rationality, personally anyhow, because it assumes I can’t see the difference between Jesus telling a parable as an example that is known upfront to be a work of fiction and Joseph Smith carting around plates with intention of convincing people it is not fiction.

    If you can wrap your mind around this, I guess more power to you. I won’t judge you personally. If it works for you it works for you.

    But honestly I can’t wrap my brain around this argument and I suspect most people can’t. Trying to force us to accept that ‘this is just like a parable’ feels like being told ‘just stop thinking and take my word for it without explanation.’ And it feels that way because that is prettty much what that argument entails.

    I have this belief that personal beliefs and community beliefs can hold different qualities. Personal beliefs are amazingly flexible to the limits of your own mind. Beliefs held by communities are not. They must work for a large number of minds.

    I think you need to honestly reassess the viability of the ‘its like a parable’ argument in terms of how consumable it is for consumption by a religious *community*. If you think most people can accept this, I think you are probably fooling yourself.

    Again, this is not to slam on you for holding it as a *personal belief* if it works for you.

  3. Howard, I probably should have said “I think this is also one of the main reasons I have issues with people *advancing* a fictional Book of Mormon that came from God, by the way.”

    If this was your only point, then well played. I’ll change the post.

  4. The premise may be somewhat misstated.

    Arthur C. Clarke, the noted scifi author, postulated his three laws based on practical observation.

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

    The incomprehensibly dense may someday be subject to enlightenment.

    Apparent contradictions may prove perfectly understandable from a different perspective. New theories spin off different insights every day.

    I think perhaps one of the few things I can state with certainty is that I have a lot more uncertainty than I care to admit.

  5. I head Terryl L. Givens state in a lecture (I believe he also discusses this in his books) that while it may be possible to accept the stories in the Book of Mormon as parables and still accept them as scripture, you can’t treat the Golden Plates and the Angel Moroni as parables and still have the Book of Mormon be scripture. Most critics try to dodge this issue by focusing on the content of the Book itself, when the real issue is whether Joseph was guided to some plates in the side of a hill by an Angel or not. Early Mormons didn’t really consider the content of the BoM important so much as the manner of it coming forth.

    Therefore any argument about the historicity of the BoM are really arguments about the historicity of Joseph Smith’s claims.

    Finding a tablet in Central America that says “My name is Lemuel and I hate my stupid self righteous brother Nephi so much, and my dad Lehi is a visionary fool” would be proof for the Angel Moroni and the Gold Plates as much as it would be for the actual content of the Book of Mormon. That’s why (I think), even if people never actually mentioned Moroni and the Plates, people would initially try to dismiss such a find as a forgery or find some other way of interpreting it (not that I actually expect any find to every happen).

  6. I explain this at length in the post itself. I’m sorry I don’t see this connection. Do you mind clearly summarizing it?

    “force us”? I’m sorry, I don’t understand your viewpoint here, do you mean convince you?

    Smith carting around plates with intention of convincing people it is not fiction. Is that what he was doing? Trying to convince people of the historicity of the content of the book? I thought he was trying to convince them that he wasn’t crazy, he didn’t make it up and convince them of his supernatural experiences as the source but I haven’t read all of this history, do you have a reference? Isn’t it also possible for it to be fiction and JS assumed it to be fact?

    Bruce, I was using parable as a logical stepping stone example to get to: Why couldn’t the BoM be God’s lesson manual in novel format? Fiction is a more flexible and accommodating platform for weaving in lessons than actual history would be.

    You say If you can wrap your mind around this… I can but at the same time I understand many can’t.

    I agree that personal beliefs and community beliefs can hold different qualities. Milk is good for people, unless you happen to be allergenic to it, then it’s bad for you. Belief in the historicity of the BoM was much easier earlier in the history of the church but as time collects and science advances and evidence of it’s historicity does not collect this belief involves greater and greater dissonance greater and greater compartmentalization of belief vs logic.

  7. Some fun proofs of the Mormon Church for me:

    1) I have had one of those ineffable experiences telling me to get on the wagon or not, but it was His wagon, and He was moving forward with me or without me.

    2) I adore Helaman 5:12, where Helaman delivers a parable loosely based on Isaiah. But where Isaiah was describing desert whirlwinds, Helaman is talking about a hurricane and storm surge, something Joseph Smith would have no experience with and which is completely other than any of the content of the Bible Joseph was allegedly copying from. Besides, Helaman 5:12 is just cool scripture, even if it wasn’t a proof of the validity of Book of Mormon historicity.

    3) I love the story of the Queen of the Lamanites and her three husbands. Neither Joseph nor any of the departed who were helping him “translate” cared to be explicit, but the story of a kingdom being passed to an heir by virtue of the heir’s marriage to the queen was the way things were done in Israelite law. But that stopped in the western world circa 1050 AD, such that Joseph Smith would have been completely unable to make up such a story. The stories of Tamar and Ruth are sufficiently different from the succession laws that arose thousands of years later that I don’t think it is reasonable to say “well, it’s kind of in the Bible, so that’s how Joseph got it.” Besides, we aren’t talking about a Bible scholar in Joseph. Recall that he didn’t even know there was a wall around Jerusalem.

    There are other fun proofs, but those are my favorites du jour.

  8. “I explain this at length in the post itself. I’m sorry I don’t see this connection. Do you mind clearly summarizing it? ”

    Howard, you’re talking to me about it. So you clearly saw it and understood it.

    ““force us”? I’m sorry, I don’t understand your viewpoint here, do you mean convince you? ”

    No, I mean force. Okay, I don’t think you get the issue here yet. Let’s say you personally hold to the idea that the Book of Mormon is inspired fiction. God’s novel for us. In fact, it sounds like you do.

    So far, I have no issue with you whatsoever.

    Then let’s say you attempt to argue that there is nothing wrong with this if you do hold this point of view personally. (i.e. it is now a bit public)

    I still have no issue with you.

    Now let’s say you start to argue that the Church needs to go this way. (Which in fact you do)

    Now I do have an issue with your argument, yes. You are, in fact, trying to move the church in a direction that I honestly believe isn’t going to work at all and will be detriminatal to the church. So, yes, I have a moral duty to argue (friendly discussion) with you on this now.

    Why do I feel this way? Well, obviously its because I feel your doing damage to the Church (and you might well feel the same way in reverse.) But its honestly a bit more personal. Let’s say the LDS Church goes the way of the CoC and says “well, its up to you how you’re going to believe on this.”

    Now mind you, this is NOT what the LDS church teaches today at all, though some liberal believers try to use smoke and mirrors to create the illusion they do. Yes, the LDS church leaders will bear with people — with some disappointment — that make this decision. But they actively teach historicity of the Book of Mormon. Why?

    Well, read Ivan Wolfe’s comment. Because he’s got this correct. Joseph Smith did indeed physically have plates he carried around, though hidden under a cover. The 11 witnesses saw them without the cover, but that’s not what I’m talking about in this case. I mean like Emma picking them up to dust. Every day stuff. Or building a box to hide them in, etc.

    Why did this happen? One obvious possiblity is that Joseph actually did have golden plates that were a real history (LDS church’s doctrine today). Another obvious possiblity is that he was a fraud and his fraud wasn’t that good, so he had to hide the plates and make up a cover story about an angel saying he couldn’t show them. (Most common non-believing point of view.)

    Howard, is there really a middle ground here? You are free to believe what you want, of course. If you want to make up some convulted story here and choose to believe it, go for it. But honestly, I suspect that whatever you come up with will be less rational and less believable then the standard LDS doctrine today. More to the point, I’ve asked numerous people to honestly try and so far — I’m exactly right.

    Which puts me in a bit of a pickle, you see. Let’s say the LDS church did go your way and did decide “believe as you feel.” But since I honestly need to believe it’s historical to make sense of the whole narrative, this for all intents and purposes removes the one place on earth and the one community on earth that shares my beliefs from me. I now have to sit silently in Church as people avoid discusisng if it is or isn’t historical.

    If this happens, I will no longer be a part of the LDS Church. At least not in some active form. And I doubt the LDS Church would last more than another generation or three before it went the way of the Shakers. It just wouldn’t be a very useful religion any more.

    So, yes, force. I am arguing with you because if you are successful, you’ll literally force me out of the church.

    Or that is what I meant when I said that. I guess I wasn’t the most clear because I hadn’t given you enough context.

  9. Jim,

    I honestly don’t agree with you.

    Logical contradictions can’t become non-contradictions in any situation and no matter how much more we learn.

    As a possible caveat, I *can* see that what appears as a logical contradiction *can* become a non-contradiction if we later find out there was some subtle hidden assumption it was built on that is no longer true. But that is precisely what this post says.

  10. Howard, a quick few other points.

    Had Joseph Smith not carted around plates and told people they were ancient plates given to him by an angel and dug up from a hill (even making a trip to said hill with a witness to get the plates!) and instead just said “this is a revelation from God!” it would be possible for me to buy into the idea that originally the early saints thought it historical but today we know it’s more like God’s novel to teach us.

    So this really does boil down to Ivan’s point for me.

    Also, Howard, if the Church isn’t pretty much exactly what it says it is, I’m a bit unclear why I should care if it lives or dies. I’ll enjoy it as long as its viable, I guess, and I might even mourn its passing if you are correct that it eventually becomes untenable to hold to historicity. But I’ll bet it lasts quite a bit longer sticking to its guns than the way you’re suggesting that it abandon historicity.

    But either way, if it’s not what it says it is, my mourning will be pretty limited when it passes from this world.

  11. I think the plates are being conflated with the book’s content but okay, I’ll bite. …you can’t treat the Golden Plates and the Angel Moroni as parables and still have the Book of Mormon be scripture. Scripture is words of a prophet written down, the D&C is scripture. Where are the plates that make the D&C scripture???

  12. Howard,

    This isn’t that we need to explain to you how the plates fit in. If you are taking the point of view that the Book of Mormon is not historical, it’s for *you* to explain to *me* why Joseph Smith faked plates or where the plates came from and how this factors into the story in a rational and believable way such that God isn’t lying.

    That’s it, its your problem to solve, not mine. You have to make the story convincing or worthy of rational respect. You haven’t done that in my opinion, so naturally my opinion hasn’t changed.

  13. “I think the plates are being conflated with the book’s content”

    Howard, yes, that’s what we’re doing. Ivan already explained that.

    And of course we are. Because the two are intimately connected in such a way that rationally you have no choice but to conflate them. (Or so it rationally seems to me, I mean. You are free to try to come up with your best alternative explanation.)

  14. Howard,

    Honestly, I am not sure if you are for some reason not understanding what seems fairly plainly stated or if you are intentionally playing dumb to make some point. You probably ought to level with me soon because I’m not going to play this game. If you honestly don’t understand, I’ll do my best to help you get it. If you are playing dumb to make a point, cease and desist immediately or this conversation will be over.

    As far as your question about the D&C, of coure it needs no plates. That’s obvious. There is no analogy here. I already made a comment on how if Joseph Smith hadn’t carted plates around and merely claimed the Book of Mormon was a revelation (like the D&C) then reimagining it as an inspired fiction would probably fly. But that doesen’t happen to be what happened.

    There aren’t complicated arguments we’re making. We’re just starting what is self evident, that if Joseph Smith was carting around fake plates he made to convince people the Book of Mormon was an actual historical record, then the book itself is naturally also a fraud. Again, this is self evident. You are too smart to not understand this and that is why I’m feel frustrated with you at the moment and am wondering if you are intentionally playing dumb.

    If I’m misreading you, I apologize and please explain yourself better. But I’m not going any further down this road. The above is an obvious problem to the idea of a fictional Book of Mormon and you have yet to even explain you *you personally* make sense of it.

  15. Bruce,
    I’m demonstrating the plates aren’t necessary for the BoM to be scripture. I’m not arguing there weren’t plates. If Joseph spoke the D&C and it became scripture he could have spoken the BoM with or without plates and it could be scripture as well.

  16. How do I make sense of it? Well here’s one way. God dictated the novel to Joseph via some form of revelation. This might explain why there are descriptions of “translation” going on while the plates were out of Joseph’s sight. Or God inspired ancient scribes to write his novel on golden plates and Joseph later translated it. The precise way is not as important as the point that it could have been fiction and nothing about the JS story compels the historicity of the BoM. When you don’t have to defend it’s historicity you don’t have tension with the lack of evidence.

  17. Then what was the purpose of the plates? Good question head and stone in a hat, plated out of sight. What was the purpose? What was the purpose of the papyrus?

  18. Btw, upthread I wrote: Isn’t it also possible for it to be fiction and JS assumed it to be fact? So this might be one explanation for why Joseph carted plates around.

  19. Howard,

    I honestly don’t know if you are making an argument so bad to me that I’m finding it inconceivable that you just made it or if you just aren’t explaining yourself well.

    I do not see how the Book of Mormon could be scripture and also the fraudulent imagination of Joseph Smith who made a bunch of fake plates to trick people. And you haven’t even begun to explain how that is possible because you keep making bad analogies between the Book of Mormon — which had plates which are an integral part of the the Book of Mormon’s existence — and the D&C which has no similar limitations.

    I do not want to put words in your mouth and maybe I’m misunderstanding you. But it really seems like you are making an argument on par with claiming that Emil Rupp’s findings are truth even though he fabricated them because Einstein’s findings were truth, so see, when people make physics findings they find truth. I mean you are literally coming across that irrational to me at the moment. I haven’t the foggiest idea how to respond to such an argument because there is nothing to say but shrug and move on.

    You seem to think there is some way to tease out the content of the book from how it came to be. But if you believe this is the case, you need to actually explain how this is possible and I haven’t seen you even attempt that so far. Because it looks to me like it is not possible. Really, Howard, how could Joseph Smith make fake plates and then use them as the ‘basis for a translation’ that in fact he knew he just a work of fiction — he must know this because he faked the plates — and then somehow this turns out to be scripture anyhow? Really? What am I missing, Howard? This isn’t a demonstration of anything as far as I can tell. What am I missing.

  20. “Btw, upthread I wrote: Isn’t it also possible for it to be fiction and JS assumed it to be fact? So this might be one explanation for why Joseph carted plates around.”

    Okay, well at least we’ve now narrowed whatever the miscommunication is down a bit.

    Because I honestly don’t see how Joseph Smith thinking it is fact, but it is really fiction, somehow explains why he then when out and made a bunch of plates that he knew were fake becaue he made them (you haven’t offered an alternative explanation to this. Or are you claiming God gave him the fake plates, so he thought they were real?) and carried them around. In fact it seems to me this is a particularly bad argument you are making.

  21. Bruce,
    …you are literally coming across that irrational to me at the moment.

    Well, I’m not surprised Bruce as you don’t seem to be following me at all! Instead you are totally misrepresenting my position by adding to it. Are you psychologically blocking what I’ve said? I’ve said and asserted NOTHING about the fraudulent imagination of Joseph Smith who made a bunch of fake plates to trick people. This is something you’ve apparently imagined I said and added to my position. Please remove it! And for future reference I am not asserting that Joseph or the plates were fraudulent, I am accepting the historical accounts of the JS story and as I explained in a earlier thread I have a personal testimony of the restoration. Did you conflate my position with some common anti-Mormon position? Do you somehow believe that in order for the story of the BoM to be a fictional novel that the plates have to be fraudulent? They don’t!

    So let’s try it again without the additions. How do I make sense of it? Well here’s one way. God dictated His novel to Joseph via some form of revelation. This might explain why there are descriptions of “translation” going on while the plates were out of Joseph’s sight. Or God inspired ancient scribes to write his novel on real golden plates and Joseph later translated it from those real plates. The precise way is not as important as the point that it could have been God’s fiction and nothing about the JS story compels the historicity of the BoM.

    Why was Joseph carting plates around? Truly I wanted to say “who cares” because it’s so incidental to my position and could be accommodated a number of ways, the question is just a distraction. But you seem to find it important so I answered it. Probably to convince people that he wasn’t crazy, that he didn’t make it up and to convince them of his supernatural experiences as the source. It’s also possible for the BoM to be fiction but JS assumed it to be fact so he carted them around for the reason you assert.

    What is the advantage of a fictional BoM? When you don’t have to defend it’s historicity you don’t have tension with the lack of evidence allowing potentially more people to believe.

    I’m not “forcing” this position upon you, your readers or the church. But, since a fictional book is consistent with the evidence and lies on the continuum between unbelief and literal belief I think it should considered an acceptable belief.

    Is my position clear to you now?

  22. To summarize my position: God may have simply chosen fiction as a teaching medium for the BoM. This requires no fraud of the part of Joseph or God.

  23. Responding to Howard’s comment:

    But by the time we get to the Doctrine & Covenants, the prophet speaking is Joseph Smith. These paper records were the “plates” for that record.

    Joseph said that the Book of Mormon was a translation of actual plates with the appearance of gold. It could have been a translation as contemporary documents portray the process,with the plates sometimes not even in the same room. But the plates were a physical thing and the Angel Moroni was an actual presence in Joseph’s tale of the Book of Mormon. If not, then Joseph was lying.

  24. I think this conversation with Howard is providing an excellent example of how when people try to come up for alternate explanations for Joseph Smith’s claims re: the Book of Mormon and D&C they inevitably fail to produce a narratives that are anywhere near coherent. When I read “No Man Knows My History” I was struck by the wild attempts to come up with explanations that were just pure speculation based on almost no facts. I am having a bit of a flashback when reading Howard’s position.

  25. Geoff B.,
    You don’t find my March 31, 2014 at 4:24 am and March 31, 2014 at 4:39 am explanations coherent? Or did we cross post while my comments were stuck in moderation?

  26. Howard, no. The actual physical plates are absolutely central to the story of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. To ignore them or say they are not important is to misunderstand the history.

  27. Well fine Geoff B. but the logic of my position works with or without the plates. So if they are a requirement for you or other readers please include them! I’m not attempting to exclude them.

  28. “Are you psychologically blocking what I’ve said?”

    I admit I smiled at this one Howard, because obviously if I were psychologically blocking what you’ve said, then I wouldn’t know it and it would be up to you to figure out where the disconnect is.

    “I’ve said and asserted NOTHING about the fraudulent imagination of Joseph Smith who made a bunch of fake plates to trick people. This is something you’ve apparently imagined I said and added to my position. Please remove it!”

    Of course I did, Howard! It’s the single most obvious explanation for the existence of the plates if the book itself is fiction! Howard, honestly, you aren’t getting how bad your argument is until you fill in the blanks to all obvious questions.

    We are talking about multiple possible explanations for a single set of facts. So far we’ve discussed two possible explanations that fit the facts and then yours which until your last comment didn’t address where the plates come from and still doesn’t address all the facts so it’s not even a coherent explanation yet.

    Explanation 1: Joseph Smith was given real gold plates with a real history written by actual people that lived and one of them showed up as a resurrected being to give it to him.

    Explanation 2: It’s all a fraud, so Joseph Smith must of obviously faked the plates.

    Those are the two coherent explanations that have been brought up.

    Until YOU offer a third that actually addresses all the facts, you don’t have a coherent explanation and it would be impossible for me to guess what is on your mind. It would NATURALLY seem like you are advancing #2. Which is precisely how you were coming across.

    What you don’t seem to be understanding, Howard, is that when you offer an alternative theory — it’s YOUR job to explain how it fits all the facts. Merely telling me “it’s fiction and the plates don’t matter” does not make it so. The plates continue to matter because they are part of the historical record.

    Now — at last — you’re finally starting to get serious about trying to offer me a full explanation. But what you are offering up is still so full of explanation gaps that I hardly know what to do with it.

    For example:

    “Why was Joseph carting plates around? Truly I wanted to say “who cares” because it’s so incidental to my position and could be accommodated a number of ways, the question is just a distraction.”

    No sir, it’s your job to offer such an explanation. It is not my job to read your mind. I honestly don’t see how you are missing that this is your problem to solve? It’s one of the most mind bending things I think I’ve ever seen on the bloggernacle to date. Of course you need to address this explanation gap in your theory and offer up how it could possibly be accomodated. Why are you expecting me to fill in these blanks to these incredibly obvious questions on my own? Honestly I can’t think of a good way to even go about it. I’m perplexed that you think its okay for you to not explain where the plates come from and how they got here and think I’m not going to immediately stamp your theory tooty-fruity in my mind. You’ve got to offer a full explanation.

    Possible Answer: Probably to convince people that he wasn’t crazy, that he didn’t make it up and to convince them of his supernatural experiences as the source.

    Gap: You’re missing this. YOu have to explain where he got them.

    Possible Answer: Well here’s one way. God dictated His novel to Joseph via some form of revelation. This might explain why there are descriptions of “translation” going on while the plates were out of Joseph’s sight.

    Gap: Huh? No, Howard, the plates are part of the historical record. Where did they come from? Who gave them to Joseph?

    Possible Answer: Or God inspired ancient scribes to write his novel on real golden plates and Joseph later translated it from those real plates.

    Gap: Okay, doing better. At long last you’ve actually started to own up to the rather serious problems of your theory. Okay, but I’m still confused. So ancient scribes write a fictional story and then one of them shows up as a resurrected being and apparently lies to Joseph about it and claims its a real historical record? This is so completely unbelievable. You need to address this HUGE gap in your explanation.

    “But, since a fictional book is consistent with the evidence…”
    Not yet it isn’t. You’ve got a lot of facts to address still.

    “What is the advantage of a fictional BoM? When you don’t have to defend it’s historicity you don’t have tension with the lack of evidence allowing potentially more people to believe”

    Howard, forgive me, but the alternative explanation you are failing to offer in full is direct evidence that you’ve got this all backward. There could be any amount of ‘lack of evidence’ for the Book of Mormon to be historical and that explanation would still whallop what you’re offering in terms of being a rationally believable explanation so far.

  29. “Well fine Geoff B. but the logic of my position works with or without the plates. So if they are a requirement for you or other readers please include them! I’m not attempting to exclude them.”

    Howard, I don’t understand why you say things like this. The plates are part of the historical record, so your position fails miserably without explaining the plates. Why do you think your position works without them?

  30. Bruce,
    It was never my intention to provide a new detailed narrative rather I was offering a third possibility that is not historicity and not fraud. Simply substitute God’s novel for either history or fraud. I’m simply saying this substitution cannot be ruled out as impossible and it is consistent with with the lack of evidence supporting the historicity of the BoM.

    You are asserting that I “owe” you more explanation. I disagree but I will address your stated “gap” challenges:

    Where did Joseph get the plates? Where he said he did.

    So ancient scribes write a fictional story… The Introduction to the BoM reads in part: “The book was written by many ancient prophets by the spirit of prophecy and revelation.” By prophecy and revelation? Why would a history book require prophecy and revelation to write? Simply write down what took place. The prophecy and revelation referred to here may well be God dictating his novel, we don’t know that it isn’t. and then one of them shows up as a resurrected being and apparently lies to Joseph about it and claims its a real historical record? I’m not aware of Moroni claiming historicity for the BoM as I recall it was referred to as “an account of the former inhabitants of this continent” Certainly the BoM contains a lot of truth regarding human behavior and many other bits of truth as research has shown, it is certainly not without truth. A novel based on these truths about former inhabitants of this continent would be an account.

  31. “It was never my intention to provide a new detailed narrative rather I was offering a third possibility that is not historicity and not fraud.”

    This is what is so mind bending to me, Howard. Why would you not have this intention? You needed to have this intention.

    You are trying to make a best case that the BoM can be fiction and still match the historical record but you have no intention of even offering up a single possible way this could be the case!? Why would you do that? Why would you not realize that would be immediately confused as a case of fraud? Why would you think you could offer an expalnation without making it full? My brain hurts just thinking about these questions. It makes your attempt to show that the BoM can be considered fiction look really bad, Howard. I think you need to seriously rethink your approach on this.

    Okay, you’ve offered up some more details for me to sink my teeth into. I’ll get back to this in a little while.

  32. Why do you think your position works without them? Because some witness accounts speak of what certainly sound like physical plates but others only talk about seeing them using their spiritual eyes, spiritual plates if you will. Given my experience with personal revelation either works for me but may not for you or others. As LDSs we accept that there were physical plates but this isn’t entirely clear. Also because Joseph spoke the words of the BoM with his head in a hat unable to even see the plates. Joseph spoke the D&C as the words of God and it appears he spoke at lest some of the words of the BoM as the words of God without physically using the plates and that works for me but I know many who have a lot of trouble with head and stone in a hat plates out of sight method.

  33. <em?Why would you do that? Why would you not realize… Bruce we have very different perspectives that’s what we are sharing here. I can’t read your mind! I could ask you very similar questions, why are you attempting to blame me for your reading into my comments and adding to them?

  34. Howard,

    Okay, so so far we have an ancient prophet — specifically Moroni — receiving a fictional story and then showing up as a resurrected being to Joseph Smith. Joseph is given these plates — they are real plates created by an authentic historical figure and prophet — to translate. The translation is more or less accurate. The plates say they are “an account of the former inhabitants of this continent’ and this apprently does not mean “it’s a historical account” as it honestly seems to say, but rather that it is “a novel based on these truths [about human nature] about former inhabitants of this continent would be an account”

    Seems like a massive stretch to me, but okay, so far so good. At least you are now addressing the serious gaps in your theory.

    However, you do err here:
    “I’m not aware of Moroni claiming historicity for the BoM”

    Here is the most famous version of the account:
    33 [The angel] called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; …

    34 He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent [Your theory insists this just means a fictional account about them], and the source from whence they sprang.

    Oops… your theory needs to address this in some way.

    Also, we know Joseph Smith did insist it was all an actual historical account and that everyone else thought it was because he told them it was. Are you saying Joseph was mistaken because he misunderstood the meaning of what Moroni said (and who would blame him!)

  35. “Bruce we have very different perspectives that’s what we are sharing here. I can’t read your mind!”

    Howard, you can read my mind. You know plain well I’m sticking with the standard received story. So you know exactly where I am coming from and you should have a VERY good idea what types of questions I’m going to have and what issues you’re going to need to address to make your explanation coherent.

    By comparision, you are expressing an explanation that you’ve made up yourself that I have no access to and honestly could never have guessed at. That is why this is wholly your responsibility to fill in the blanks.

  36. “Because some witness accounts speak of what certainly sound like physical plates but others only talk about seeing them using their spiritual eyes,”

    Howard, you are confusing the eye witness of the plates — with no cover — to those that felt the plates under a cover. There *were* physical plates under the cover. That’s part of the historical record (unless you intend to take all historical references to this and explain them away.)

    That’s what we’re refering to, not the witnesses.

    However, even if we are talking about the witnesses, your explanation is problematic. The three witnesses make no reference to anything but a vision of an angel showing them the plates. They make no claims they physically touched them. The 8 witnesses did make such a claim.

    You are trying to somehow conflate those two. You’re trying to say “well, some people said they were physical and some not, so who knows?” when in fact we’re talking about two distinct groups with known to be different claims. There is no particular reason we should expect those that saw the angel but didn’t get to touch the plates to avoid terms like “spiritual eyes” to explain how they saw an angel. But there were none of the 8 witnesses that make such a claim for spiritual eyes.

    This also brings us back to the fraud question. What, exactly, did the 8 witnesses see when they saw the plates? Your theory must address this to be a full coherent theory. I suppose it does because you’re currently offering that there were in fact ancient plates created by an ancient author.

  37. Oops… your theory needs to address this in some way. Address what? Are you referring to “the source from whence they sprang”? Paraphrasing Moroni: It’s a novel about former inhabitants of this continent and where they came from.

    Also, we know Joseph Smith did insist it was all an actual historical account… As I’ve stated JS may have assumed or believed them to be an actual historical account.

  38. Okay, next problem you theory must resolve. Here is the title page:

    An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi [Are you theorizing that Moroni invented Mormon?]

    Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites [This is in fact a claim to historicity. Are you suggesting its fiction but Moroni didn't mention this?] —Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation [You are claiming this is evidence of fiction since if it was just historical then you just write what happened. I assert this is a grave misunderstanding of the nature of history and the role historian in interperting history. But nevertheless, we now see that in full context this is refering to the spirit of prophecy and revelation of the people in the historical account who do in fact receive revelation throughout. So this is in fact a claim to historicity] —Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed [Okay, note how you theory makes this part non-fiction. Thus we have a rather deceptiving thing going on here where Moroni is mixing fiction and fact in what can only be called deceptive ways. Your theory must explain this] —To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof —Sealed by the hand of Moroni [non-fiction], and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—The interpretation thereof by the gift of God

  39. Sorry Bruce but “sticking with the standard received story” doesn’t account for you blindness to a third alternative.

    There *were* physical plates under the cover. How do we know what was under the cover was golden plates?

    No, I’m not trying to conflate the two. Joseph taught: “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; we cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter” I’m just not sure which form of matter the plates were or if they existed as both forms.

  40. Bruce,
    A record is an account, an account is a record. I’ve addressed this.

    So this is in fact a claim to historicity No it isn’t, it doesn’t have to be read that way.

    It’s not necessary deceptive to mix fiction and fact, it just appears that way to you because your frame of reference is biased toward the traditional LDS story. Parables mix fiction with fact. Did Jesus offer disclaimers before telling them?

  41. Okay, so according to your theory Moroni was actually saying “I wrote this book about the former inhabitants of this contient and where they came from” and in fact what he meant was “I wrote this fictional book…” which of course then also includes a fictional account of where they came from. And Joseph hears this and quite naturally — since Moroni fails to say it — thinks this is a real historical account.

    I will add this into your theory.

    Can you also explain all the references in the D&C where God treats these fictional inhabitants as if they are real? Is God lying?

    D&C 3:
    16 Nevertheless, my work shall go forth, for inasmuch as the knowledge of a Savior has come unto the world, through the btestimony of the Jews, even so shall the cknowledge of a dSavior come unto my people—

    17 And to the Nephites, and the Jacobites, and the Josephites, and the Zoramites, through the testimony of their fathers—

    18 And this testimony shall come to the knowledge of the Lamanites, and the Lemuelites, and the Ishmaelites, who dwindled in unbelief because of the iniquity of their fathers, whom the Lord has suffered to destroy their brethren the Nephites, because of their iniquities and their abominations.

    How can the knowledge of the savior go to a bunch of fictional people — in the future!!

    And why does God rather deceptively treat fictional people the same as Jews, who are real people?

    Other references for you to address:

    Doctrine and Covenants 1:29
    29 And after having received the record of the Nephites, yea, even my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., might have power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon.

    Doctrine and Covenants 38:39
    39 And if ye seek the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity; and it must needs be that the riches of the earth are mine to give; but beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.

    4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would aask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

    How does this not amount to outright deception?

  42. Moroni…what he meant was “I wrote this fictional book…” Well he didn’t write the whole book but he abridged it so what does he have personal knowledge of before his time? Not much probably. So Moroni may have assumed it to be historically accurate as well.

    Can you also explain all the references in the D&C where God treats these fictional inhabitants as if they are real? Is God lying? Sure, he’s teaching from his lesson manual that was written in novel format.

  43. Well, I would argue with you the obvious point that parables do not mix fact and fiction in the way you have Moroni doing so. To make it an equivalent problem Jesus would have to start the parable with “I really and truly saw the following” and then offer the parable.

    But okay, I’ll take your theory at face value. Moroni writes a fictional title page that fictionally makes the assertion that these are all real people and it’s an abridgement of real people and then, rather confusingly, intermixes in an entirely true story about him then burying these plates so that they will not be destroyed by a fictional enemy trying to destroy them (as the Book of Mormon content explains.)

    While it seems rather deceptive to me, I’ll accept it as part of the theory.

  44. Okay, so Moroni is in fact not the author after all, but he is actually reall and truly abridging real records! But, these records are actually fiction and Moroni does not realize this. However, your theory bumps into a problem when we realize that Moroni is a real angel. The real angel doesn’t realize its really fiction?

    Also, you’ve moved the problem. Who are these people that Moroni is abridging? Where did their accounts come from?

  45. “I could ask you very similar questions, why are you attempting to blame me for your reading into my comments and adding to them?”

    Howard, really? I’m supposed to hear you say “the Book of Mormon is fictional” and you offer not a single explanation for the existence of the plates in the historical record, yet I’m NOT supposed to fill in the blanks with the most reasonable assumptions I can think of to make sense of what you are saying?

    Howard, I think maybe you’re being more than just a little bit unrealistic here.

  46. Sometimes Young Earth Creationists are accused of believing in a trickster God who created false evidence just to test our faith.

    Howard, apparently, believes in a trickster God, since that’s what it would require to make his theory make any sense at all.

  47. “How do we know what was under the cover was golden plates?”

    Well, we don’t. They could be real gold plates or they could not be. But under your theory there are real plates given to Joseph by a real angel. So are you asserting that these plates under the cover are real gold plates? That would be my assumption for your theory.

    But in any case, you’ve miss the point here. Since there are real plates under a real cover, any theory of a fictional Book of Mormon must address this either by having the plates by fakes or be historical. You’ve chosen historical for your theory.

    As for material and spiritual matter, that’s fine. But if you want to claim the plates were spiritual matter, than you have to explain what the metal plates rasping under the cloth were, since obviously those aren’t spiritual matter. But your current theory accepts them as physical matter, so you’re good right?

  48. “Sure, he’s teaching from his lesson manual that was written in novel format.”

    Okay, Howard, this seems deceptive to me, but I’ll accept it as part of your theory.

  49. Howard, you have addressed my initial round of questions. I might have more later.

    I would like to write up your theory — i.e. put it all together so its in a single post — and explain why I have issues with it personally. Would that be okay? That would be a lot easier than trying to refer across so many comments.

    If you are worried I’ll misrepesent what you’ve said, I’ll run the ‘pulled together’ explanation past you first for your approval.

  50. Oh, wait, you haven’t answered all my initial questions. One that I asked that I’d still like to get a response on:

    “Also, you’ve moved the problem. Who are these people that Moroni is abridging? Where did their accounts come from?” (from above)

  51. Moroni does not realize this…The real angel doesn’t realize its really fiction? Well let’s see, a real angel who once walked the earth is a dead person and there’s a lot of stuff people don’t realize so unless death or resurrection made him all knowing, a God perhaps? No I don’t think quite yet, so no he doesn’t realize this.

    Who are these people that Moroni is abridging? Where did their accounts come from? They are scribes of the ancient prophets who by the spirit of prophecy and revelation referred to in the introduction page spoke God’s novel.

  52. Okay, so angel doesn’t realize it’s fictional. Will add to the theory.

    The idea of ancient scribes strikes me as more problematic, or maybe not really problematic, but still a giant gap.

    Who are these people? So Moroni pulls together fictional writings of many various authors and pulls them together. In and of itself, this is relatively believable.

    But who are the authors? They are in fact (some of the) ancestors of the American Indians? God has in fact revealed various fictional stories about Nephi, Lehi, Alma 1, Alma 2, etc? And they did in fact write about the come of Jesus to America (even though Jesus didn’t actually come to America and it was really just a parable?)

  53. Please fairly represent it as a defense of an inspired fictional BoM, not the BoM according to Howard. I’m simply showing that a fictional version is defensible and as you know the answers were quickly worked out during the course of this thread so better answers may well be possible.

  54. “Please fairly represent it as a defense of an inspired fictional BoM, not the BoM according to Howard.”

    Yes, that is completely fair. It’s ‘a possible way’ to look at the Book of Mormon as fictional.

  55. The idea of ancient scribes strikes me as more problematic Why? Isn’t that the official story? Who are these people?…But who are the authors? The same people you think wrote the BoM. And they did in fact write about the come of Jesus to America (even though Jesus didn’t actually come to America and it was really just a parable?) It seem most cultures have a creation or origin myths. Do you literally believe genesis? Did Jesus come to America? Well, I guess may claim that to be true completely independent of the BoM.

  56. Ivan,

    I think expanding on your comment to show how a fictional BoM parallels YEC and how a long drawn out historical process of writing, editing and abridging parallels a process of theistic evolution.

  57. But who are the authors? The same people you think wrote the BoM.”

    Okay, so Moroni is abridging records of Alma, Nephi, etc. And in fact these are records written by a real Alma, Nephi, etc.

    Fair enough. I’ll add to the theory.

    Okay, Jesus in America: Yes, you are right. Any of these could be true: a) Jesus came to America, but Book of Mormon account is not the account of the actual historical event. b) Jesus did not come to America and the account in the Book of Mormon is more like “Genesis”, c) Jesus came to America and the Book of Mormon account *is* of that event, but is a sort of historical fiction version.

    I am just asking you to pick one of the above (or something else?) as what will go into the final proposed theory.

  58. All three work. Why pick? Also I would only change the official story by the minimum required to make a fictional version work. Minimum changes with maximum flexibility opens the envelope of acceptability.

  59. Well, if picking one affects something else, then obviously you’d either have to pick one or you’d have to sort of branch off and try to come up with explanations down three chains.

    But honestly, I can’t think of anything that choosing one affects. So “why pick?” seems acceptable to me for the moment.

  60. I was about to write “Best. Comment thread. Ever!”, but then realised I’d forgotten the one with all the funny (and cringe-worthily true) stories a while back (was it on T&S?)

  61. Interesting discussion between Howard and Bruce.

    What I gather is that Howard embraces the Book of Mormon as a contradiction. He accepts the standard Smithsonian conclusion that historicity is an untennable position from a scientific or historical perspective. But he also believes Joseph Smith was a prophet, inspired by God, and an honest one, and therefore, there must be angels and plates of some sort.

    Howard has a lot of evidence to back up his contradictory position. The ancient American historical claims of the book are preposterous from almost any current scholarly perspective. But the historical evidence of Joseph Smith’s integrity, and the witnesses to the plates and the angels are impressive and undeniable.

    Additionally, there is a lot of evidence to support a nuanced reading of the Book of Mormon’s historicity, even when accepting it’s spiritual truth. Many faithful LDS scholars accept the scrolls as a source of “inspiration” for the Book of Abraham, but not its translation. Why would it be any different with the Book of Mormon? The historical record suggests most of the Book of Mormon was recieved from a seer stone, not the plates themselves.

    I believe that in the grand scheme of eternity, Bruce is probably right: There are no contradictions. But I think it is unwise to try to resolve contradictions prematurely, from our extremely limited mortal perspective. I’m with Howard. I embrace contradiction rather than trying to resolve it. I am an empiricist. I accept anything that can be shown to be true, even if it contradicts another truth. It can be demonstrated equally well that the Book of Mormon is both non-historical, and historical. I accept both positions. I trust contradictions will be resolved, but I am not bold enough to resolve them myself. In the words of Rilke, I believe we should:

    “love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

  62. Nate, you write, “The ancient American historical claims of the book are preposterous from almost any current scholarly perspective.”

    This is simply untrue. There are literally hundreds of scholars who have provided convincing evidence of every major historical claim in the Book of Mormon. I can only assume you have never seen this evidence. You may want to go to the FAIR page or look up some of the older FARMS papers to get a taste of the scholarship involved. In fact, there is not a single historical claim in the Book of Mormon that has been effectively disproven. Evidence is not proof. Yes, there are lots of claims of false historical events in the BoM, but there is significant supporting counter-evidence in every case. So I think you need to do some work to catch up with the scholarship involved here.

    In the meantime, I think, more in line with this post, Bruce would really appreciate you trying to make some kind of middle case between the two possible arguments on the BoM. As he says, the book is either what the Church claims it to be or it is a fraud. Can you provide evidence for a middle way, i.e., some kind of claim of historical fiction? I know Bruce would appreciate it.

  63. Nate,

    I’m not unsympathetic to your position if we’re assuming its personal. I live with so many contradictions and just have to have faith that they can all be worked out somehow, so that doesn’t sound *too* much different than what you describe.

    However, we’re actually talking about the Church taking some sort of official position (and we’ve already discussed why ‘taking no official position’ is the same as taking an official position — namely one against historicity).

    So I’d hope that you can see why your approach of embracing contradiction would be a poor official teaching for the Church.

  64. Bruce,

    I absolutely agree with the church’s “official” position, and I preach it myself when I am acting in an “official” capacity. But individual members can hold more nuanced views and can freely discuss those views in forums like these, where members are dealing with issues that transcend the standard correlated answers which are “adapted to the capacity of the weakest of all saints.”

    But when talking to a more educated audience, Elder Oaks said this:

    “It is our position that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Its authenticity depends, as it says, on a witness of the Holy Spirit. Our side will settle for a draw, but those who deny the historicity of the Book of Mormon cannot settle for a draw.”

    “Our side will settle for a draw.” Sounds similar to Howard’s position. True, Elder Oaks has taken a stand, but he recognizes it is untennable from a purely academic perspective.

    Geoff, I have read all the evidence for the Book of Mormon given by FAIR, and all the evidence against it, and I share Elder Oaks view: The evidence is equally compelling both for and against the Book of Mormon. The evidence against it is absolutely damning. It is implausible and preposterous in the extreme. The evidence for it is mindblowing. It hangs in the balance between certainty and incertainty, a perfect trial of faith.

    But what if it isn’t a question of certainty or uncertainty? What if there is a middle ground, like the one the Book of Abraham stands upon? That is Howard’s and my position. I see it as an extremely plausible position, as it is the position the Bible currently rests in as well. Scriptural and historical are somewhat different things. There can be contradictions between them.

  65. Nate,

    First, if you look at my second comment to Howard, I ended up conceding right away that individuals can hold more nuanced views and that I only had issues with people advancing a non-historical theory as the correct one for the Church. I even changed my post to match that position.

    Having said that, I think you are massively stretching to liken Howard’s view to Elder Oaks’. He’s saying they’ll settle for a draw in the sense of neither needing to prove of disprove its actually true — as in historical.

    The main issue with a non-historical BoM is that every version of the theory you can come up with is worse than the historical theory. Therefore, you might as well just go for the historical theory. So this not a matter of adapting for “the weakest of the saints” at all. It’s a matter of being rational enough that the average joe on the street with very little education can immediately see it’s not as totally preposterous as the fictional theory. I feel the fiction theory, even at its best and more coherent, is just really bad. I’ll need to demonstrate why I feel this way in futher discussion outside this thread. Howard has been kind enough to give us his best off the cuff explanation that fit the fiction theory. If you go back and look at the thread years ago where I last did this with people, he’s probably the best one so far!

  66. Therefore, you might as well just go for the historical theory. Well now you’re pushing people out. You’re saying their belief is not enough, not faithful enough to be one of you. Holding a bright line there will hurt the church in the long run unless Zarahemla is discovered first. I don’t think the church should abandoned the historical view but is there something wrong allowing a range that includes both?

  67. Bruce says: “The main issue with a non-historical BoM is that every version of the theory you can come up with is worse than the historical theory. Therefore, you might as well just go for the historical theory.”

    I don’t know how you can have a theory any more preposterous than one which includes Jaradite submarines, missionary superheroes, and vast sections of KJV text magically transported across space and time, among many other anachronisms and implausibilities.

    To me, the inspired fiction account seems much more rational than the official account, even with its conflicts. Most Mormons probably don’t see it that way, but I do.

    However, I disagree with Howard that “holding a bright line there will hurt the church in the long run.” Making highly improbable truth claims with conviction is one of the main charactaristics of Mormonism, and a source of its popular success. It demands real faith, and it makes today’s God the same as the God of the Bible.

    But individually, for a certain minority of people like Howard and myself, I think there can be a more gnostic approach which seeks to transcend the clunky materialism of Mormonism and focus purely on the spiritual.

  68. Howard,

    I’ll address your statement in a future post. In fact, I think the case is overwhelming that the church should not be okay with a fictional BoM hypothesis and should be openly discouraging towards it. In part because of what Nate goes on to say. I’ve also already mentioned the problem that ‘allowing’ either view is really just the same as encouraging the fictional view. Once a person that believes in historicity loses access to a community that is openly supportive of their views, they basically lose everything. Not so the other way around.

    Nate,

    I am not sure my views are as different from yours as I once thought. Though there does seem to be one big difference in that I’m pretty dang sure that even Jaredite subs, Superhero missionaries, and KJV like translations are going to turn out to be far more believable to the vast majority of humanity than any fictional Book of Mormon theory I’ve ever seen offered up so far, including Howard’s. I will explain more in my up coming post as to why I believe this is just going to be the case and there is nothing that can be done about it. Though I admire Howard for being open enough to honestly take a stab at it and come up with his best (though off the cuff) argument. But I’m hoping I can maybe sway Howard some to — if not abandon his theory (he should stick with what he is comfortable with) at least seriously consider that this is not going to ever work as a church-wide public belief.

    Nate, would you like to take a whirl at your own? This is a game I enjoy. Perhaps you’ll suprise me with a version that holds more merrit than its next closest alternatives.

  69. Bruce wrote: Once a person that believes in historicity loses access to a community that is openly supportive of their views, they basically lose everything.

    This describes a frail testimony! A testimony with sand as it’s foundation! Where is the rock of personal revelation to support this view if it is indeed the truth?

    I’m not talking about a community that isn’t openly supportive.

    In addition you haven’t addressed the hurtle BoM historicity presents to many potential investigators.

  70. Howard, I am talking about a community that isn’t openly supportive. How could they be if they have to accomodate both a historical and fictional view of the Book of Mormon? Likely they will be not openly supportive of any position at all and we all lose. Far better for them to pick the stronger of the two alternatives — I believe this is overwhelmingly historicity — and stick with that as the only officially accepted story.

  71. That is simple childish uncreative black and white, one-size-fits-all thinking that sooo characterizes the church. Add a little creative nuance, scoot down a bit and make some room for us in the pews to observe with you without feeling slighted or victimized, we mean to take nothing from you…but should you blinders fall away in the process let it accrue to your advancing knowledge of God.

  72. Howard, seriously, it’s nothing personal. I think I’m just being more realistic than you.

    If there were some way to accomplish all you want and it didn’t hurt the church any, of course I’d not be against it. I just don’t think you’re being realistic.

  73. Okay, well given the trust of your OP argument let’s start here: Belief in the historicity of the BoM and belief in the BoM as God’s novel are not mutually exclusive!

  74. “Nate, would you like to take a whirl at your own? This is a game I enjoy. Perhaps you’ll suprise me with a version that holds more merrit than its next closest alternatives.”

    Well, this is just a shot. In mystical literature, there is a concept called Akashic Records, which is supposedly a compendium of spiritual knowledge encoded on a non-physical plane of existance. A man named Levi Dowling wrote a book called The Antequarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ in 1908 about Christ’s youth and travels to various places like India. He claimed to have recieved this gospel through the Akashic Records.

    Recent LDS scholarship hypothosizes that Joseph Smith recieved the Book of Abraham in a similar way. Not as a direct translation, but rather a revelation from a spiritual plane of existance which housed historical and spiritual knowledge about Abraham. However, when Joseph was younger, he recieved almost all his revelations through a seer stone. At a certain point, he no longer needed the seer stone to access revelation. He may have used the Abraham scrolls in a similar way to his seer stone, as a physical object upon which to exercise faith.

    This demonstrates that Joseph was very much reliant upon material things in order to access faith, at least in his youth: stones, scrolls, objects, physical angels, plates, etc. But the actual content of scrolls had no real connection to the content of revelation. They were mere crutches of faith. There is no logical reason to interpret the reception of the Book of Abraham in any way as fundamentally different than the Book of Mormon. Neither the plates nor the scrolls likely have any relation to the books they inspired.

    The world is teeming with angels and spirits, a fact that has been verified by not just Joseph Smith, but countless others inside and outside the church. That Joseph Smith was gifted to see angels is nothing particularly special. It is a gift many have. Angels also have agency and free will, just like us. I trust that Joseph Smith said that one of the angels presented himself as a former resident of ancient America, and that he showed him some plates with strange writings on it. Angels can do what they want to do.

    Joseph took this strange angelic experience, mixed with his 19th century theological understandings, his KJV Bible, his imagination and invention, his seer stone and the access it provided to this plane of spiritual truth, as well as perhaps the Akashic Records, real historical facts written on some kind of spiritual Book of Life which is accessible to mystics like himself, and recieved a very strange book, which presents itself as exactly what I have described: a mixture. Both 19th century and not, both preposterous and plausible, at times both highly inspired and highly banal.

    That the Book of Mormon contains aspects of Joseph’s imagination and invention is evidenced from his revelation to Oliver Cowdry, that you must “study it out in your mind and ask God if it be right.” The Book of Mormon came from the “study of Joseph Smith’s mind,” not from seeing literal words written like the finger of God on stone tablets, which were then copied verbatim. It is a spiritual “study” upon which Joseph marshalled all the forces of his faith, imagination, clarvoiant gifts, and practical theological knowledge.

    This reading explains away all the anachronisms of the Book of Mormon while still giving ample room to accept it as an inspired document, full of true wisdom, and even resonances with some actual history. It is already the interpretation many faithful LDS scholars take on the Book of Abraham, which they acknowledge is psudodepigraphic, and could not represent actual writings of a real Abraham. So it is no stretch to view the Book of Mormon in the same way.

    That’s just a theory off the top of my head, but whether it works for anyone or not is not really important. I embrace the contradiction. I don’t need a resolution. This is just a game.

  75. It would have been difficult for Joseph to convince people of the restoration without something tangible. Even today as we attempt to wrap our minds around our everyday use of the intangible virtual world of the internet the testimony of the existence of actual physical plates comforts and pacifies the doubts and anxieties of many faithful Mormons struggling to believe or to continue to believe the outlandish story. It’s somehow more creditable to the human mind (probably due to our limited virtual reality experience and our even more limited spiritual experience) than a simple story that Joseph downloaded God’s Kindle book via revelation. Who would believe him and why should they? In a similar way the assumed historicity of the BoM makes the story seem somehow more vital, more tangible, more creditable, more alive and seems to explain it’s reason for existence in the minds of many than a book that is God’s lesson manual for humankind written in novel format. But fiction is a far more flexible medium for teaching than the dryness of actual history and given agency who knows if the actual history will cooperate to provide the desired lesson opportunities.

    In 1830 or so there was no virtual world for comparison, it was more of a trust your senses, seeing is believing kind of place so tangibility would have been even more important back then. God being God understood this requirement, planned ahead and dictated his lesson manual novel in pieces to ancient authors to be abridged by Moroni without telling him it was actually fiction because he had directed it to be written as if it were fact and fully expected it to be accepted as if it were fact with the purpose of propping up Joseph’s creditability and by extension the creditability of the restoration especially during it’s early embryonic form. This creditability was used to bootstrap the Prophet Joseph into a position with his followers to be able to simply speak God’s word with creditability as witnessed by the D&C, by then tangibility and creditability had been transferred to Joseph himself. It was done to insure the success of the restoration with the knowledge that at some future time it would become apparent that it is a fiction, but an inspired fiction that contains God’s truth, God’s lessons for humankind no longer needing the tangibility originally required, it now stands on it’s own content creditability as did Joseph.

    So belief in the historicity of the BoM isn’t wrong, that’s exactly what God intended and belief in the BoM as inspired fiction isn’t wrong because, well that’s what it actually is.

  76. Howard,

    Whether you noticed this or not, your last comment basically amounted to a claim of revelation from God. I I think we underestimate the degree to which people do root their views in what is more or less equivalent to revelation but don’t notice they’ve done it.

  77. So you’re offering that comment as a simple observation or is there some implication I’ve missed?

  78. Really, just as a simple observation.

    I suppose there is a minor implication: that there is some symmetry here. Both points of view involve to some degree an appeal to revelation intermixed with an appeal to ‘reason’

    But maybe that’s more or less a yawner.

  79. Well I do enjoy profound personal revelation that I have come to highly trust. The BoM as inspired fiction because fiction is a better teaching medium concept was given to me as personal revelation when I inquired as to the lack of evidence supporting it’s historicity. I must admit I was stunned by this answer and had a lot of difficulty wrapping my mind around it. But that was several years ago and so I’ve had time and guidance to accept it. This is why I was confident it would successfully thread the challenge gauntlet you raised even though it was the first time I tried it. Still I’m aware you’re unimpressed with specific answers but I don’t think inspired fiction can be ruled out.

    As to the comment you’re addressing, the creditability bootstrap problem of restoring the gospel was also given to me as personal revelation. Finally I typically blog while in a meditative state and much of what I write is a stream of consciousness which is how I connected the dots for this theory.

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