The Book of Mormon as Inspired Fiction

Not long ago I did a reprint of a Mormon Matters post where I asked people if they would regularly study inspired fiction. The overwhelming answer was “no.” But in the choir of voices, there was one particularly interesting response that I think is worthy of sharing.

Now this commenter did not believe the Book of Mormon is in any way historical. In fact, when he took my question to the group, he rewrote it like this:

Did coming to believe realize The Book of Mormon was only inspired fiction not a literal history cause you to reduce your efforts to study it in any way?

His response was then:

I’ve known this since my teenage years, so a before/after comparison is impossible. All of my adult study of the Book of Mormon has been informed by my understanding that it is not a literal history.

His biggest concern with my original post was that:

I think the terms “fiction” and “fictional” are loaded words that break the spiritual mood. To keep a religious feeling, it’s probably better to say “parable” or “inspired stories” or simply “scripture,” with the understanding that scripture is not history and vice versa.

My concern with his rewording was that just saying “parable” failed to get to the heart of my real question, which was how do you explain the plates. Joseph Smith carted them around and many many people touched them under a cloth.

Then an amazing thing happened, he actually gave an tentative answer to this question. Outside of this one time, I never seen nor heard of any person in favor of an “inspired fiction” view of the Book of Mormon actually make an attempt to explain how such a thing is possible! (See also Mike Parker’s article on this subject.)

I should note that contextually I have no reason to believe this response was his own personal beliefs. Actually, I was under the impression that he was not speaking of his own personal beliefs, but instead only suggesting how an LDS person could choose to look at it. Further, this commenter had a history of suggesting “LDS people can look at things this way if they wish.” (Take a look at the whole context of the conversation and judge for yourself.)

Regardless, this is the first and only time I’ve seen someone try to make a rational case for an inspired but non-historical Book of Mormon. Even if it was only ‘you could look at it this way’ it’s still worthy of respect for having made the attempt. (And if it was his personal beliefs, then it is worthy of our tolerance anyhow.)

So I want to put his comment up here and I want to encourage honest and open dialog on this. Keep in mind that any time someone puts their neck out with an explanation it is worthy of the utmost respect.

Also keep in mind that the ultimate form of respect is rational criticism, because it means you are taking the explanation seriously. Politely ignoring it is not a show of respect, because it means you are treating it like it doesn’t even deserve your time.

Probably the best way to assess this theory is to answer it like this: Could this approach work for you personally? Why or why not?

But I will delete any comments to the effect of “that’s lame” or something like that. That’s disrespectful and this deserves our deepest respects for having made an attempt at a rational explanation.

Let’s consider the box [that people hefted with the plates in them].

[Bruce asked:] “How does believing The Book of Mormon is…a parable or inspired writing of modern origin but still sent by God yet that the revelator that received it claimed was an ancient record either fraudulently or out of ignorance (including hefting around a bunch of heavy plates in a box) affect how you feel about, study, or treat The Book of Mormon (if at all)?”

Does God authorize his prophets to part ways with the truth in order to accomplish an important result?

In order to survive a famine, Abraham and his wife Sarai were forced to travel to Egypt. On the way the Lord said to Abraham:

“Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon; Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say—She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise: Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.” (Abraham 2:22-24)

This is a direct commandment from the Lord to his prophet to depart from the truth in order to accomplish an important purpose: that Abraham and Sarai could live and produce children in the covenant.

When God commanded Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the children of Israel go, he was instructed to pretend that they were only going to make a temporary journey three days into the wilderness (Exodus 3:18). Of course, God had already confided that his true purpose was to “bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:11). But the Lord commanded his prophet Moses to stray from the truth in order to accomplish the important goal of freeing the people.

When God commanded Joseph Smith Jr. to restore plural marriage in order to establish and build up the Kingdom, Joseph faced the same concern as Abraham and Moses among the Egyptians. If the Gentiles knew with certainty what he was doing, Joseph would certainly be killed — as eventually he was. And so Joseph publically and repeatedly throughout his life strayed from the truth by denouncing the practice of polygamy and denying his participation in it.

As the Lord’s prophet he spoke “on this wise” (in the Lord’s words), engaging (like Abraham and Moses) in what you are calling “fraud.” And he did so as a means to accomplish the crucial end result of establishing and building up the Kingdom of God on earth.

How much more critical is restoring the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the earth? And yet you want to label the box, which was the means of accomplishing that great end, a “fraud”?

I am hesitant to give my own rational evaluation at this point, though I certainly have a point of view. Most of you can probably guess what my point of view is. Perhaps I’ll explain my own view in the comments or in a future post if there is interest.

One thing I will say for this explanation is that I suspect it is as rationally solid as was possible for this particular issue. That is to say, I doubt this argument could be much improved upon. But I’d be interested in alternative theories from those that actually believe in a inspired but non-historical Book of Mormon. Perhaps there is an even better argument lurking out there that has yet to be openly argued for and so I’m just not aware of it.

But for now, assess the pros and cons of this approach to the Book of Mormon for yourselves.

211 thoughts on “The Book of Mormon as Inspired Fiction

  1. So this view would suggest that Joseph was inspired by God to make up a lot of things in order to teach us true principles. I suppose it arrives at the same destination, but how you get there is a bit different.

    The main rebuttal points would be, in all cases where God has commanded someone to do something immoral (lie about your sister, lie about plural marriage, cut off the head of a sleeping man) God could see the direct consequences which awaited in the future and how it would create even more bloodshed. I suppose an interesting question is why did God prefer Abraham lie, instead of just smiting all the people who tried to take Sarai? I think at least my suggestion that this way was the “path of least negative externalities” or something like that is a good one.

    In the case of the Gold plates? That’s kind of a silly extreme. Unless God came to Joseph and said, “you think of something to help persuade people to join the church and I’ll honor it.” And Joseph replied, “How about some gold plates to do the trick?” it doesn’t seem to make much sense. The gold plates caused Joseph to enter more life threatening situations, not less. He wouldn’t be lying to protect himself. He would be going through elaborate lengths to persuade others to have faith.

    You might as well suggest Jesus was never resurrected, but everything he taught was true, and none of us will be resurrected until the Earth is cleansed — but the Apostles made up the resurrected bit in order to give people something to cling to that what was happening was really a miracle.

    Yes, I suppose you can argue that with a degree of logic, but it’s approaching flying spaghetti monster logic.

  2. The “problem” with Joseph is he is so well documented and so recent. Mohammad we, as later-day Saints, can even say he was inspired and perhaps had a spiritual event but either mis-interpreted it or it was corrupted after his death. But the OP is right, the gold plates are a tricky situation. What I like about them is they unite the spiritual and the physical. In a similar sense as the LDS take on the plan of salvation. Also similar to the atonement – Christ experienced physical consequences to redeem us from spiritual estrangement from God.

  3. bruce,

    it’s great to see rational and respectful consideration insisted on when discussing these matters.

    a quick point about the plates: they don’t prove anything other than than that joseph smith had some artifact of some date in the past and bearing some text on them, which may or may not be related to the book of mormon we read in english. if we had the plates now, i am not at all confident that their physical existence would solve the question of book of mormon historicity. we have the joseph smith papyri and, well, let’s just say that they don’t exactly erase all doubt. simply put, we can’t use the plates as a bludgeon against those who question the historicity of the book of mormon or are sympathetic to the inspired fiction view to whatever degree.

    also, have you seen this:

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2010/07/a-post-columbian-setting-for-the-book-of-mormon/

  4. While I agree with g.wesley that the plates prove a lot less than we would like them to prove, I tend to think that the text itself argues for reading it as historical. The text comes with a complicated editorial back story, internal to itself, involving revisions, lost books, abridgements, randomly inserted primary sources, and so forth. While many of its concerns are the concerns of the 19th century and while its biblical transcription is more like the KJV than it should be, I still think that the internal structure of the thing argues for it being an authentic document, rather than a pious fraud. I can understand people who prefer to see it as an inspired fiction (Lord knows, there is precious little external to the book to argue for (or against) its authenticity), but, for me, that would be the bridge too far. At least, it would be for now. Should the brethren come out with some authoritative statement otherwise, we’ll see if my mileage varies.

  5. To back up John C’s point in #4, the thing that strikes me about the BoM is how strange it is as something Joseph Smith would invent out of thin air. Putting aside the impossibility of writing a 500-page manuscript in two months, which I discuss in Mike Parker’s post, I keep on asking myself: why would Joseph Smith write it the way he did if he were starting from scratch? Why wouldn’t he start with the book of Ether first (that is the first thing chronologically)? Why all the different groups mentioned that are superfluous to the story? An author writing something like this would also make a point to make the real, physical location more clear — the BoM never does this.

  6. The Book of Mormon is a spiritual record within a historical context. Trying to figure out the history of their society would be like someone trying to figure out what American Society was like by selecting my spiritual experiences from my personal journal. It is not going to happen. History was not the intent of Mormon or the Lord with regard to this sacred book. It is meant to show how the Lord watches over and blesses a people.

    As Nephi says so well, “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” 1 Nephi 1:20. I think this is the entire point of the book summed up very succinctly.

  7. I should add that I am open to the Nephite authors making stuff up (like Captain Moroni’s speeches or some such) because ancient historians did that all the time. But I have a hard time seeing the internal textual history of the thing being made up.

  8. Regarding #6, the BoM says itself what its purpose is:

    “Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—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—Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, 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.

    An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also, which is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven—Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations—And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.”

    To summarize: the book tells about actual, historical people. The purpose of the book is to 1)Show what great things have been done in the past for these actual, historical people 2)know that these people were promised historical blessings through covenants from God 3)to convince all people that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God and that he shows himself to all nations (not just the people in Jerusalem).

  9. @ John C – There are many works of fiction that do the same thing – it is actually a characteristic defining almost any Gothic novel – that there was a “manuscript” that underwent editing, nested storytelling, etc. If we’re going to look at it as inspired fiction intended to teach a metaphorical truth about an ultimate reality, then there’s no reason that the internal history of the text should imply that we must see it as essentially historical.

    For example, Dracula begins with a statement implying that the novel is simply an anthology of diaries and letters, and the text supports that claim throughout, simply because it makes a better, more mysterious story. In the case of the Book of Mormon, it makes perfect sense to me that the text would have internal commentary about itself, considering how it was intended to be the tool for evangelization – to raise it up, so to speak, as this very important text, a representation of a living culture over centuries of time, handed down for generations, contributed to by many different individuals, and secreted away to keep it safe for the time when God would choose to bring it forth, makes it special. This specialness touches the hearts of those who read it. It makes the message that it proclaims even stronger.

  10. Those who believe they can take the Book of Mormon as not historical, but only metaphorical, have to do some huge misreadings or outright dismissal of its own claims. As Geoff B has pointed out, the title page rejects its use as an extended parable and that theme of historicity continues throughout. The prophets who are claimed as the writers and editors continually beat the drum that they are not making these evens and miracles up. As pointed out by the book “By the Hand of Mormon,” its main message is the reality of miracles to shape individual lives and civilization itself. I know the question is for those who don’t believe its historical, but I just can’t see a real argument no matter how logical. In the process of taking it seriously without dismissal, it ends up not taking its message seriously. Since the message is supposed to be the reason to not reject it outright as a religious text, it seems the message has to be rejected for other interpretations. The purpose for the book as explained both by Joseph Smith and the text becomes neutered.

  11. The difference between Dracula and The Book of Mormon is huge. Stoker never meant it to be taken as more than fiction, albeit given a thin feel of reality. That was the conventions of his day. Joseph Smith never claimed and was adamant that it was anything different than what he said, a translation of ancient records by revelation. Again, Stoker wrote it as fiction and had no other purpose besides minor ones. Joseph Smith, even before it was published, declared it a religious text of historical significance written to usher in a new Christian era.

  12. I think when someone starts “wondering” if the book is “metaphorical” or similar nonsense they are on a slippering slope to apostasy that is very dangerous. Just as it is unwise to mountain climb on a scree, it is unwise to beginning doubting the authenticity of the Book of Mormon once you have had a testimony through the Spirit. Caution.

  13. Geoff and Jettboy are absolutely correct. And, to add to their points, I’m still waiting for a cogent and logical way to deal with Moroni’s visits to Joseph Smith in September 1823, as documented in the History of the Church and canonized in Joseph Smith—History:

    He [Moroni] said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants.
    —JS—H 1:34

    Was Moroni lying? Or did Joseph make the whole Moroni story up? How many lies or delusions (however well-intentioned) do we have to work through before we can accept a non-historical text?

    Joseph Smith’s consistent testimony was that he was visited by real divine beings who actually lived anciently and wrote their history.

  14. amigos/as,

    i (think i) understand where you are coming from and likely would have made similar comments myself not that long ago. so for instance i don’t take it personally when someone decides to issue warnings against apostasy from some implicit moral high-ground, turning real life intellectual wrestles into diabolical colaboration.

    but i will say that once that happens we leave respect (which is kind of a touchy-feely word anyway) and more importantly rational criticism behind. far behind.

    yes, joseph smith genuinely believed it was ancient, as the text itself claims. yes, there are the important moroni visits to account for. yes, the plates were genuine. yes, the text is extremely intricate, perhaps even brilliant. at the same time it also contains a fair number of anachronisms–stuff that is quite difficult to correlate with the world around us.

    we can choose to shut our eyes to the outside word, to attribute the disconnect to the machinations of satan, chalk it up to the mere selection between paradigms, etc., or we can look for possible means of reconciliation, however temporary and situated.

    i do not think that the venerable topic addressed in this post is reducable to either/or solutions. at least it does not have to be.

  15. @ Mike Parker – I do not accept that 1. simply because something didn’t literally happen, that is is therefore a “lie,” that it is not true or 2. that to call the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith’s accounts of his visions inspired fiction is to say their invention were acts of deception or delusion.

    @ Jettboy, I fully understand that there is a difference between Dracula and the Book of Mormon. However, quite apart from any literary analogy I could offer, the fact remains that even if a text makes claims about its own nature, that doesn’t mean we have to take those claims seriously or that the author intended us to take those claims seriously. A much stronger argument for your point would be what Joseph Smith said about the nature and historicity Book of Mormon, which comes much closer to necessitating a completely literal understanding of those claims in the text. On that point, I agree with you.

  16. If I may add an observation about lying, the ninth commandment says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” In the cases cited where the Lord suggests telling a lie, the people being lied to were not neighbors to Abraham or Moses, in the sense that they did not have friendly inclinations toward those men and their people. The Book of Mormon is offered to the world as a gift intended to benefit all who receive it; there’s no reason for sophistry in presenting it as anything other than what it is.

    It might be splitting hairs to differentiate between bearing false witness against neighbors and enemies (the parable of the good Samaritan teaches that anyone can be a neighbor who shows kindness to others). And I’m not suggesting it’s good to lie to people who don’t like us. But let’s not ignore the circumstances under which the Lord sanctioned such deception.

    Another thought, from Occam’s Razor: The simplest answer is the best. If there had been no real Nephites, Lamanites, or Jaredites, yet the Lord wanted Joseph Smith to teach all the doctrines and principles found within the Book of Mormon, why would He have him produce a book that used the narratives of those people as a framework upon which to hang those teachings? God could just as easily had Joseph receive revelation directly, without using the stories of some ancient forgotten peoples as the vehicle with which to present them. He actually did do that. It’s called the Doctrine and Covenants.

  17. @ Witteafval – I would add that the commandment is intended to prevent us from harming others by telling lies about each other – it’s essentially an anti-slander commandment, which Jesus in the New Testament expands upon to include lying about God/what God requires of humanity.

  18. This is all wonderful, but where does it leave us? I’ve written on this previously, and have been told that there is a way to make sense of it, but so far no one has offered a way to do so. As I wrote just over a month ago:

    If the Book of Mormon is ahistorical, we’re left with only four conclusions:

    1. Moroni really appeared to Joseph Smith, but Moroni lied about the plates and their contents because God sometimes directs his angels to lie for an unknown purpose.

    2. Moroni really appeared to Joseph Smith, but Moroni lied about the plates and their contents because he was an agent of Satan.

    3. Moroni didn’t appear to Joseph Smith; Joseph lied about the experience.

    4. Moroni didn’t appear to Joseph Smith; Joseph was delusional.

    Any one of these conclusions has disturbing implications for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the message of the restored gospel.

    I’ve laid this out for people who believe the Book of Mormon is inspired but ahistorical, and I’ve yet to receive a satisfactory answer on how they deal with it. Numerous times I’ve been told, “There are other possibilities,” but no one has ever told me what those possibilities are. I’m sincerely interested to know how one reconciles an ahistorical Book of Mormon with a true God and an honest, sane Joseph Smith.

    I’m still waiting.

  19. For me a key word here is “against,” which was a little more expansive in definition than it is now. In Dutch (English’s closest sibling, linguistically speaking) if I were to say “I’m talking to you” it would be rendered as “ik spreek tegen u,” which would literally translate as “I speak against you.” Not all prepositions translate straight across the same way every time; they depend on the context of the words around them to determine what they mean. So for me the ninth commandment is more about not bearing false witness to your neighbor, rather than bearing false witness about your neighbor. And I could be off the mark, but that’s where I’m coming from.

    But back to the topic at hand, we can see useful reasons for Abraham lying about his wife or Moses lying about what he intends to do with Pharaoh’s slaves, but I don’t see what good can come from inspiring Joseph to invent complex ancient societies for the sake of teaching the Lord’s doctrine, when it’s far easier to just teach the doctrine and not hang so much importance on people whose existence is questioned.

  20. brother parker,

    is it just me or does your comment come off as rather flippant and condescending?

    i’m also curious as to why you think that others should answer your questions for you.

    you list some possible “conclusions,” with their “disturbing implications,” as if their being disturbing is enough in and of itself to dismiss the entire enterprise. why don’t you try wrestling with some of these implications and see what you come up with yourself? you may find that there are more conclusions than the four you list.

    if you need some inspiration, you might consider reading this post (ahem, written several months ago):

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2010/07/a-post-columbian-setting-for-the-book-of-mormon/

  21. g.wesley: I’m not trying to be condescending. I’d seriously like to know how one resolves what appears to me to be an insurmountable conundrum.

    And you’re doing exactly what everyone I’ve asked before has done — instead of telling me how you have solved the problem, you give a non-answer: “[Y]ou may find that there are more conclusions than the four you list.” Okay; if there are more conclusions, then please enlighten me. I’ve pondered this at length and am at a complete loss.

    Reading the T&S link you provided was of little help. Jonathan Green isn’t suggesting that the Book of Mormon is ahistorical, only that we haven’t correctly identified its true chronology. But in order to do this, he has to toss out portions of the Book of Mormon that inconveniently make very specific chronological statements, including Nephi in Jerusalem during the reign of Zedekiah and Jesus’ visit to the Nephites soon after his ascension from the Mount of Olives. Why does he feel compelled to do this? “I don’t like the idea of Moroni being mythologized from a wandering record keeper into an angel.” So it’s his discomfort with the claims of the text that drive him, rather than what the text actually says. That’s extremely poor scholarship.

    In the nearly 200 years since the Book of Mormon was introduced to the modern world, more and more evidence has appeared that verifies its historical claims. The Old World discoveries of Nahom and candidates for Bountiful — exactly where they should be — are two examples of this. Just because all the pieces don’t fit with our current understanding of ancient American civilizations doesn’t mean that they never will. Personally, I’m more than happy to be content with that for now.

  22. Carla,
    I’ll have to take a closer look at Gothic novels. I know that Dracula is an epistolary novel, but I’ve never read it so that parallel didn’t occur to me. That said, is it common for epistolary novels (or other meta novels) to devote entire chapters and books to detailed explanations of their own creation and modification? Certainly something like Tristam Shandy might do this, but it still strikes me as rare. I think that the Book of Mormon remains unique in its internal scribal discourse, but I’ll have to take a look at more Gothic literature to be certain (thanks for the heads up).

    Mike,
    Blake Ostler’s theories of Book of Mormon origins (partly ahistorical, partly historical) would satisfy your Moroni quote without making a liar of our favorite angel. Also, if Joseph Smith is being a pious fraud in producing the Book of Mormon, then a fictional Moroni isn’t that stange a conclusion. You could even have genuine angels when they appear to other people. For folks of this mindset, the important thing that Moroni conveys in his message to Joseph Smith is “that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it.” To me, it seems unacceptable, but that’s how they roll.

    I should say, I don’t object to other people finding truth and value in the Book of Mormon, even if they don’t find it in the way I do.

  23. I agree almost exactly with John C. I believe the Book of Mormon to be a more or less historical document and an ancient text based mostly on the internal narrative. However, I cannot imagine basing my worldview upon the proposition that once there really was a man named Moronihah who did such and such.

    People in the church believe all kinds of unsupportable or illogical things and nobody tries to talk them out of it, so I don’t get why this is such a bugbear for us. If someone feels a desire to repent and be part of the church by reading the BoM as a parable, it’s no skin off my nose.

  24. To clarify my position: I don’t care if an active Mormon believes the Book of Mormon is ahistorical. I just find the position illogical, that’s all.

  25. I want to make a number of responses to each of you. Sorry to do so many in a row.

    People in the church believe all kinds of unsupportable or illogical things and nobody tries to talk them out of it, so I don’t get why this is such a bugbear for us. If someone feels a desire to repent and be part of the church by reading the BoM as a parable, it’s no skin off my nose.

    First of all, is what you describe a bugbear for anyone here? I’m not sure anyone is complaining about someone that honestly and truly believes in the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction other than to point out that it’s a rationally difficult (probably impossible) position to hold.

    But it seems to me that this isn’t the end of the question. For one thing, of all those ‘crazy irrational’ theories held in Church, I have never and I mean never ever had said crazy person not be gushing all over me trying to explain their personal crazy theory through ‘reason.’

    By comparison my experience with an inspired fiction theory of the Book of Mormon exactly matches Mikes — I have yet to have a single person that claims to believe in the BoM as inspired fiction be willing to talk about how they personally reconcile their theory via reason.

    I hate to say it, but this is really and odd thing and honestly somewhat ominous. And therefore analyzing it is entirely warranted in and of itself. If the people I’ve met on the Bloggernacle that claim to believe in the BoM as inspired fiction were gush all over me telling me how they reconcile their theories, I’d only have to print their theories and explain why I can’t accept them. I’d probably not even bother. In truth, there is more going on here.

  26. g. wesley,

    I’m going to defend Mike on this somewhat. I think I’ve probably seen, oh, about a billion equivalent challenges against LDS Church doctrine on the Bloggernacle. I can’t recall anyone ever feeling it was condescending. It’s generally taken as a challenge to rationally defend your position. That challenge is generally taken up too.

    Besides, the idea of issuing a rational challenge like he is doing is basically a standard critical discussion technique. You need to give him some lattitude on that.

    Also, I confess I am rationally concerned with this statement:

    why don’t you try wrestling with some of these implications and see what you come up with yourself? you may find that there are more conclusions than the four you list.

    I confess, I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to come up with another alternative and I couldn’t do it.

    Now I admit, the fact that I can’t think of an alternative just doesn’t — at least by itself — mean much. I’m too dumb to think of all rational possibilities. So typically what I do is I seek out people who have thought of alternatives that I haven’t thought of.

    I have done this, as apparently Mike has. I’ve come across probably 3 to 5 or so people that actually claim to believe in the BoM as inspired fiction and probably five to ten times that number of people that defend that position even if they are unwilling to actually say if they themselves believe that.

    And I have asked for clarification on this point, just as Mike apparently has. And you know what? I’ve got nothing. People who claim they believe in BoM as inspired fiction do not want to rationally defend this position. They have no interest in advancing their own theories on this subject.

  27. g. wesley,

    I thought of something else I better mention. Note that we have had several people ‘defend’ the BoM as inspired fiction theory so far. You, Carla, John C (sort of), Mark Brown.

    What have been the defense so far?:

    g. Wesley: offered up a ‘BoM as history’ theory based on post-columbian setting. I.e. interesting in it’s own right, but off topic because it’s not an example of ‘BoM as inspired fiction’ theory.

    Carla: Defended ‘inspired fiction’ but cut the line at ‘inspired fraud.’ But, of course, that was the topic under discussion. (By the way, Carla, I agree with you that ‘inspired fiction’ has no issues whatsoever so long as it’s not ‘fraudulent fiction.’ That’s what parables are, right? Not to mention probably some of the OT stories. But there isn’t a hint of fraud going on.)

    John C: Admits he can’t buy it personally.

    Mark Brown: Basically said, “It’s a crazy/stupid/lame theory, but so what? I’ll love them anyhow.” (Obviously a valid point, but does not deny that the theory has no rational basis.)

    I think this is typical. Probably no one will show up to defend the ‘inspired fiction’ theory. I was amazed the commenter in the OP did to any degree at all. It’s still the only time it’s happened.

    By the way, g. wesley, I would be interested in responding to you further on why I find the post columbian setting theory to be objectively weaker than ‘the stanard theory.’ (At least at this time given the current data.) But I would want to do that in a post or something and respectfully give it a critical analysis.

  28. While I’m agnostic on this particular question of the BoM, and in many ways think it misses the point of the book, I’m not particularly surprised that people who don’t take it as fully historical, or even those who hold to Ostler’s expansion theory, don’t want to publicly “defend” their ideas. For one, it is annoying to read others accuse those people of apostasy, irrationality, and general idiocy, let alone to be the target of it. Second, engaging seriously in the discussion involves possibly bringing up a lot of difficult aspects of the BoM or church history that were likely painful for the person to come to terms with themselves and they dont necessarily want to put their interlocutors through that, epspecially if they dont respect them very much. so, I’d say that if people domt want to open up to you all, it might say something about the tone of conversation you start out with more than some conspiracy that Bruce alludes to.

  29. I want to make one more point.

    The real basis for a rationally critical discussion (according to Popper) is a willingness to follow things to their logical conclusions.

    It seems to me that the real problem with the commenter in the OP is that they are not doing this. They are only stating that lying is not always immoral and that sometimes God commands it.

    But this is not a Popperian critical analysis. To do that, this commenter would have to ‘own’ the logical conclusions that come from his theory. There are several commenters that have already pointed this out:
    1.What was God gaining by lying here?
    2.Why is the OP commenter comparing lies to protect someone to lies that protected no one?
    3.Why even bother with the lie when it’s unnecessary and He could have just revealed a bunch of revelations.

    Now look at that list? Is this really the sum total of questions our OP commenter owes us answers to? Not really. I could probably list another 10 right off the top of my head. Given 10 minutes, I could probably think of 50.

    Think about it that way: what questions does someone holding this theory now owe us a sincere attempt at answering? Try to think of them. As you start to think of such questions, they start to overflow. They start to crash all around you. This theory has what Deutsch would call “explanation gaps” or in other words, it’s an explanation that explains nothing. In fact, it’s really just an explanation spoiler and not an explanation at all.

  30. For one, it is annoying to read others accuse those people of apostasy, irrationality, and general idiocy, let alone to be the target of it.

    TT, I’ll add you to the list of people willing to defend this theory on non-rational grounds but does not accept it personally. There are millions of you. :)

    I, for one, would love to sit down and talk to someone about this. I’m not going to accuse a person that sincerely believes in this theory of apostasy.

    (Contrary to popular belief, I never accuse people of apostasy. I just don’t care that much about people’s beliefs. I’m far too down the universalist path to believe that what you believe has any direct impact on your salvation. However, I am really interested in how people derive their thinking. I have many times asked people ‘well, what do you believe about this?’ and in turn been accused of accusing them of apostacy even though it was just a sincere attempt to understand where they were coming from and to have a true rational dialog by looking at all sides. I don’t believe in ‘apologetics’ I believe in looking at two alterantive theories and weighing them next to each other. Therefore asking for an alternative belief is required. I’ve also restated what they’ve told me before: ‘you just said you don’t believe in the historicity of the BoM’ and had then accuse me of accusing them of apostasy. Odd in and of itself.)

    I confess, though, that I find your suggestions problematic on many levels. For one, merely expressing you believe in the BoM as inspired fiction will get you accused of apostasy in many Mormon circles. So choosing to defend yourself would make perfect sense.

    Secondly, of the three people I can actually remember by name that actually claimed to believe in this theory, none of them were hiding their ‘heresies.’ So this explanation does not ring true to me.

  31. TT says: ” in many ways think it misses the point of the book”

    This is a really interesting comment that I’m dying to ask you about because it seems rationally and historically indefensible to me.

    But it’s off topic, so I’ll let it go for now. :)

  32. TT,

    I issue this challenge to you. ;) See if you can, even faking it, rationally defend the ‘inspired fiction’ theory. How would you have to go about it?

    You are a dang smart guy. See if you can come up with an argument and see if you can make it rationally hold water by being able to give responses to all logical conclusions that can be drawn from your explanation.

    You’ve already said this isn’t your positon (or rather you are agnostic about it) so I get it that this isn’t your personal beliefs. But so what? I can argue all sort of positions I don’t personally believe in. I’m guessing you can too.

  33. Bruce,

    I’m beginning with the assumption that we are talking about religion and faith and therefore, sooner or later, reason isn’t a factor anymore. So I see this issue as a non-issue, because now all we are talking about is WHEN reason leaves the room, not IF.

  34. Bruce,
    To some extent, I find your claim that those who don’t accept the historicity of the BoM as having never ever given a single “rational” reason as somewhat incredible. I can think of half a dozen published articles that make this case. I’m also sure I can check out NOM websites and Sunstone and Dialogue archives to come up with many, many, more. So, let’s not pretend that no one has ever given a coherent reason. For the middle posiiton which many hold to, see Ostler’s “expansion theory” article which lays out some pretty compelling reasons why not all of the BoM may be historical. They may not have engaged you personally, but as I say that I think says more about you and the commenters on this blog than it does about the theory.

    In any case, I want to repeat that I really don’t think that the historicity question is the right question to ask about the BoM, and I think that getting past it is the key to actually understanding it. In any case, if you are really dying for alternative explanations for the BoM that avoid the prophet/fraud dichotomy, I will engage you on this point for the sake of the hypothetical.

    First of all, I would imagine that accepting that JS had a religious experience that led to the production of the BoM can be, and has been, taken to be authentically religious, without having to adhere to a particular “reality” behind the events. In fact, I’d say that it is not that difficult at all to do this, even for Mormons. Perhaps the best way to analyze this claim is by analogy.

    Let’s start by considering Muhammed. Illiterate. Religiously confused. Has a vision of an angel. Has another. Miraculously produces a great religious work that claims ancient origins and to be a restoration of earlier religion that had been lost and corrupted. Are the only two options for evaluating this that Muhammed is a real prophet or that he is a fraudulent deceiver? Can someone claim to admire the Koran, even to take it seriously religiously, and doubt that it is a verbatum record of a revelation that Muhammed received? The fact is that there are many LDS prophets that have suggested that Muhammed did have some kind of divine experience and that he was in some ways a prophet. This doesn’t mean that they take all his claims as fact, but it also doesn’t mean that he was a liar or inspired by the devil. We already have within our own tradition ways of evaluating spiritual claims of people that admit to some divine inspiration, without having to take literally all of their claims. I’d suggest for those who see JS and BoM as inspired, but not taking everything claim as actual “fact,” are doing nothing different from what we do already with other religious figures. The same can be said for Teresa of Avila, Luther, the hundreds and hundreds of accounts of God and Jesus appearing to Americans at the same time as JS, etc, etc. We don’t have to say they are liars. We can admit that they were inspired and their religious experiences are “real” (however we may define that), and are not required as a result of our exclusive claims to think that all others are frauds.

    Now, let’s consider another example. The four gospels do not tell the same story. They contradict each other. They can’t all be historically true. Like it or not. Many people are aware of this problem and choose to still believe in Jesus’ salvation. Now, as a matter of fact, we know that the stories we have about Jesus cannot be historical, and cannot be rationally believed to be so. The same can be said for much of the OT. There is nothing particularly difficult about accepting the overall message, its religious worth of the Gospels or the OT, even while doubting that things really happened. If we say that the flood didn’t happen the way Gen 9-11 says it did, that doesn’t mean that the only other alternative is that the author is a liar. I don’t have to think that Luke “lied” when he said that he heard from Mary certain details to see the religious value of those, even if I don’t think they are historical. That is to say, historicity is not the precondition for religious worth, and the lack of historicity is not evidence of a “liar,” but of a different understanding of truth, the way the world works, or of spiritual value.

    To look at another example, in the last few weeks a number of people on this blog commented that they have received a divine witness that the temple ordinances that we practice today are the same as those anciently. Do I think they are liars because I don’t think that their claims about the ancient or modern temple are historically accurate? No. I also know that you don’t think that those claims are true because you admitted that even large portions of the modern temple may have modern origins. Does that mean that you think they were lying when they testified against your view? I think they have legitimate religious experiences. I think their interpretations are wrong, but I don’t think they are frauds or deceivers because they claim divine revelation for something that is factually incorrect. I can even see the value in their claims for how they understand the world and their faith, and can even myself testify to some similar version (without the claims to historicity) of the essence of their view that the temple symbolizes some “eternal truths.”

    Finally, as has been pointed out, the PoGP is a good test case for these ideas. Apologetic wrangling aside, the Book of Abraham is most likely not a translation of any papyrus that JS once held in his hands. JS’s translation of the hypocephalus and other image are not correct. It also suffers from a lot of other historical problems. Can we accept the value of the text, the great truths it claims, without having to conclude that JS lied when he produced it?

    Two themes emerging here: 1) if we adopt the view that the only two explanations for religious experiences are either they are fully “true” or totally “lies” then we have no room to understand the religious experiences of billions of people outside our tradition. Yet, we already have lots of resources for having qualified acceptance of these religious traditions and the authentic religious experiences of others that don’t fall into the either true or false dichotomy. Since this isn’t how we understand the religious claims of others outside our tradition, why do we impose it on those inside our tradition? 2) the insistence that historical accuracy is the only way that a valid religious truth may be conveyed is going to be devastating to our faith because already the Bible does not meet this criterion. I’d say that overall this conflation of historicity with religious truth is a bad start to build one’s faith upon.

    My guess is that those who say that the book is a 19th c. production but see its religious value probably think that obsession with its historicity misses the point. It says that it is given for our day. BY says that if it were translated again today that it would be totally different. While there are some interesting ancient “parallels,” if we were to stack them against the evidence in the “not historical” pile, they would really come up short. We could run all the same counterfactuals that you’ve run, but instead of asking wouldn’t it be easier for the Lord to just teach us with a book that wasn’t “fiction,” we could ask wouldn’t it be easier for the Lord to just give us something that was credibly historical, to offer some “proof” of the Book’s facticity, such as the plates that we could all examine and archeolgically and philologically verify? But, perhaps this is the wrong question, and we’ve imposed a set of questions about history that the book challenges rather than assumes, and it’s strange newness and deliberate obscurance of any tangible proof is meant to point to meaning instead of known history. In short, what does it mean rather than did it really happen? Isn’t this the point of 84:57, “remember the new acovenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—,” that the Lord wants us to read it to know the new covenant and to do the things commanded therein, not to obsess about its historicity?

    Anyway, so that is just off the top of my head.

  35. @ Mike Parker – I don’t think your list is comprehensive. I don’t think that you have to rule out the possibility that Joseph did not tell the whole truth about the vision, about the origin and nature of the plates, etc (see g.wesley’s #3 comment) in order to still affirm the divine nature of the Book of Mormon.

    @ John C – I would check out Melmoth the Wanderer, but there are also non-Gothic novels which do the same thing, such as The Princess Bride by William Goldman (which claims to be an abridgment of an older novel by a fictional author), and Wilbur Smith’s River God series (which purports itself to be a modern rendering of a story found on ancient Egyptian papyri, ironically). You’d also find the same thing in Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle (which is styled as the journals and writings of a man as edited by another). It’s actually one of my favorite methods of storytelling, “this is a very old document which was discovered in modern times and edited,” and it’s found in many different eras and genres. One big reason I’m a fan of the Gothic.

  36. @ Bruce:

    Why even bother with the lie when it’s unnecessary and He could have just revealed a bunch of revelations.

    As a student of literature, I would say that gets at the very heart of the nature of storytelling. It’s something we’d discuss in a poetry class: we spend all that time trying to “translate” the poem into a bunch of prose statements/questions. Why not just write it in prose and say exactly what you mean in the first place? Well, to the poet, you say it in verse because in prose you wouldn’t be able to say exactly what you mean in prose. The poet thinks in verse, as the painter thinks in colors and lines, and the composer thinks in volume and timber and pitch and rhythm.

    Honestly, Frost could have just said, “Don’t just do what everybody else does. It’s boring.” But he didn’t; he said “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I? I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

    If you’re going to ask the question, “why not just give a bunch of revelations?” you might as well ask why anybody writes fiction, or music, or poetry, or paints pictures, or sculpts – why not just say what you mean? Because form matters. The form of art (visual, audio, verbal) conveys meaning and feeling and beauty and horror in a way that literal meaning can’t.

  37. Let me just add one quick thing that seems to be assumed in the OP. As I understand the structure of your argument about the amount of time studying the BoM one spends is somehow relevant to the question of its historicity.

    1. People study the BoM because they believe it to be historical
    2. People who don’t believe the BoM to be historical don’t study it as much
    3. We should study the BoM of Mormon
    4. Therefore, we should be people who believe it to be historical.

    There is no logical connection to 4, which seems to be what you are implicitly arguing for.

  38. TT,

    That argument isn’t mine. Sorry, but you’ve misunderstood.

    But please feel free to ask clarifying questions.

    My original original post was just an interesting query because I kept bumping into people that claimed that believing the BoM to be ahistorical didn’t matter. Rememer, I was brand new to the Bloggernacle at the time.

    Asking people honestly: does it actually affect how you feel about it. Made sense. The answer was overwhelming ‘yes, it affects me.’

    However, the amount of affect differed by degrees.

    Therefore, there was no logical argument being made at all. Just a question of interest.

  39. … and I should have also said, there’s every reason God would speak to us using art, as these art forms resonate with humanity, and always have.

  40. Bruce,
    In the OP, you said, ” I asked people if they would regularly study inspired fiction.” When given an answer to that question, you then said that the answer, “failed to get to the heart of my real question, which was how do you explain the plates.” So, here is my clarifying question. What does your question about whether people would study it or not if it is “fiction” have anything to do with your “real” question about whether or not it is fiction?

  41. Carla,

    I appreciate what you’ve said. However, You’ve misunderstood.

    I was only quoting (paraphrasing) what someone else had said.

    Since you are arguing (if only to play ‘devils advocate’) in favor of the ‘inspired fraud’ theory, let me ask you this: Why didn’t God make the BoM a parable instead of a fraud? Why claim it’s history when that can (and does) alienate people from his Gospel when it’s found out later to be a lie? And what was God thinking when he decide to lie to spread His Gospel? What does this say about God’s nature?

    Wouldn’t it be true that all God had to do was say, “this is a parable” and then reveal it to Joseph Smith? No plates, no deception, no fuss. So why?

    If you are going to take up this argument (even if just for the sake of argument) then you must now defend this position. Are you really ready to?

  42. Bruce,
    I think I address your counterfactual questions to Carla in my long comment above. One could just as easily ask, why doesn’t God just make it easier to believe the BoM by “proving” it is true? why doesn’t God just appear to the world and tell them the BoM is true? Or even easier, why not leave the plates behind or leave the Book of Abraham portion of the JS papyri? The assumption behind your questions is that there is some more logical way for God to have gone about what he is doing, but the problem is that, assuming he is actually behind the BoM and the LDS Church, that it doesn’t meet the same standard of rational action that you expect from people who think God is acting in some other way. That’s sort of the problem with counterfactuals.

  43. Bruce,
    I’m asking what, if any, relevance you think the amount that people study the BoM as a result of the basis of their belief in its historicity has to its historicity. In the OP, you say that your question is about whether or not one would study it if it is “fiction,” but then say that isn’t your real question and that you are really interested in arguments for why one should read it if it is fiction. I’m not sure I see the connection between the two questions that your post assumes.
    But, this is a pretty minor point. I’d rather you address the main arguments in my 36.

  44. @TT’s 36:

    Whoa! Very long.

    Okay first, please send links to any articles. I’m talking about my personal experiences first hand. Someone says they can reconcile a fictional BoM rationally. You ask them questions. They don’t respond. I’ll be happy to look at these millions of articles that you claim exist.

    As for Ostler, this is not a middle position and you are too smart to make such a claim. Ostler’s theories have no problem at all with the rational issues of God fraudulently having JS cart around gold plates. It’s the fraud that is the issue. Please stop pretending like it’s some other issue at stake. I feel you are avoiding this question.

    I will now read the rest of your #36 and respond. But I expect you to tackle my questions / comments above because they strike me as the heart of the matter.

  45. @ Bruce – sorry about the confusion, I was skimming to try to catch up after work. :D

    In the situation that you propose, I would favor the likelihood that Joseph Smith, a human being, made mistakes and did not tell the whole truth, doing what he thought was right, in order to share God’s message with the world, rather than imply that God “lied.” But really, I don’t think it really is a lie for God to simply work through human channels and use art forms such as literature in the way proposed by the Book of Mormon story.

    I have a question though. Are we supposed to see Joseph’s account of the genesis of the Book of Mormon (his vision of Moroni, etc) as scripture, or just the text of the Book of Mormon as scripture? If the only thing the church asks is to accept the Book of Mormon – the text which Joseph said came from golden plates, and nothing else – then there is much less reason to say that we must accept the BoM as historical. I could be mistaken, but to me, much of the reasoning that says the “inspired fiction” theory is inherently illogical is because of what Joseph said about the text, not necessarily what the text says about itself (from my perspective that what the text says about itself is not necessarily intended to be taken seriously/literally).

  46. Bruce, you’re acting like the plates are the only issue that is relevant to the question of “fraud,” but I’d suggest that claiming that the translation of those plates represents a historical document is just as much at issue as the plates themselves. One could say either it was a faithful translation of a real ancient document, or it was a lie. So, the plates is just one arbitrary standard for imposing the prophet/fraud dichotomy, but it could just as easily be imposed on the translation itself. So, in that sense, Ostler is a middle position by claiming that the prophet is not a fraud with respect to the plates, but (imposing the prophet/fraud dichotomy that I reject) is a “fraud” with repsect to the translation.

  47. #46

    Yes, I can clarify.

    I asked “would you regularly study inspired fiction’ as a tag line.

    John Hamer then accused me of being unfair and suggested I reword it to “would you regularly study a parable?”

    I assume you can see that John’s rewording avoids the real issue I was trying to ask about: the problem of the plates. I, and most people, would have no problem at all studying inspired fiction if it was known to be fiction.

    John was wrong to try to co-mingle fiction and fraud like this so I challenged him on it. He was gracious about it and we went back and forth and tried to hammer out more neutral wording. But I was not interested in rewording the discussion to be non-specific to the BoM including the problem of the plates. That would be merely to not ask the question I was intending to ask.

    The point of the post was not to ask people to defend an inspired fiction theory, only to see how it might have affected their views and if it lessed the importance in their lives (It did, but was sometimes still important. Exactly what I expected.)

  48. I don’t have links to articles, but check out New Approaches to the Book of Mormon and The Word of God, both published by Signature. They both have several essays that take this position, though others in those volumes don’t. Again, that is just off the top of my head.

  49. “So, the plates is just one arbitrary standard for imposing the prophet/fraud dichotomy…”

    True. But it’s the one under considertion.

    “So, in that sense, Ostler is a middle position by claiming that the prophet is not a fraud with respect to the plates, but (imposing the prophet/fraud dichotomy that I reject) is a “fraud” with repsect to the translation.”

    I’m pretty sure Ostler makes no claims that the translation was in some way fraudulent. I think you’re stretching here. I can’t even see what it has to do with the question at hand. Clearly, one can believe that the plates really existed, that the people that wrote them were ancients, and that the translation was ‘loose’ and even full of ‘midrash’ without in any way suggesting fraud. Ostler is not suggesting fraud. The fact that someone, that isn’t Ostler and isn’t you, could suggest fraud seems to me to have no logical relevance at all. If you care to assert such a claim and argue that position that is fine. YOu will then have a ‘middle’ position (that isn’t Ostlers) and it probably does have exactly the same ramifications as fraudulent plates. In any case, Ostler still does not represent a middle position.

  50. @50, ah, I think I see. You think that the BOM can only be true or fraudulent, and not defensible to be read in any other way, so you think that only those people who agree to the terms you’ve set up that it is either true or fraudulent can actually answer your question….
    but, let’s drop this and stick to the main points of my long comment in 34 since that is what you are asking about.

  51. TT, thanks for the suggestion. I really do want to see a well thought out argument on this front. Yes, I will do my best to criticize it. But that is exactly what should happen. If someone comes up with a really good argument on this front that can wether the criticism, I’d have to give it a serious second thought.

    For the sake of argument, though, let’s assume I’m not actually going to go read these articles today or soon. :) So I’ll read through and address your #36, but I’d like to settle the Ostler claim first. Can we now agree that Ostler does not represent a middle position on the quesiton of fraud? This seems pretty obvious to me and I’m hoping it does to you to.

    I am not arguing that one couldn’t find a middle position argument where the plates are real but JS translated it to his liking. But I am not aware of anyone here making such an argument. I’d be happy to play hypothetical with you if you wish to. But I will not accept that Ostler is anywhere even remotely close to this position.

  52. #53,

    TT, I am not droping this. If you are going to make such extravagent claims about what I said, I will expect you to defend them. I will not be moving on until you do. Care to explain further? Because I’m not seeing that you are summarizing me at all correctly.

  53. Bruce,
    You’re right. I don’t accept the prophet/fraud dichotomy, and in this hypothetical it is exactly what I am arguing against. Your acceptance of Ostler’s theory as a possibility is the model for exactly what I am suggesting is the solution to the problem! Just as Oslter (and you) admit that not taking the BoM exactly as it presents itself (that is 100% ancient) is not a reason to reject it outright. It can be “midrash” for instance. Why are you willing to accept that the text of the BoM isn’t what it claims to be, as Ostler argues, but not willing to accept that the plates aren’t what they claim to be?

  54. Bruce, I’d like to see your response to my 57 to why I think Ostler is relevant to this discussion, but perhaps I am not understanding the particular terms that you are setting up for me to address in this hypothetical. I am addressing the quesiton of the BoM historicity more generally, but you seem to be focused on just one particular claim in that larger question about historicity, namely, the plates. Am I allowed to argue against your framing of this issue, or are the constraints of the hypothetical spelled out someplace that I have missed?

  55. As an amendment, in 34, you “challenged” me: “See if you can, even faking it, rationally defend the ‘inspired fiction’ theory. How would you have to go about it?”

    But, you seem to have something specific in mind when you say “inspired fiction.” Perhaps we don’t agree on the definition of this and it is worth saying exactly what you are expecting me to rationally defend, at least hypothetically. That’s what I thought I was doing in 36.

  56. a longer comment have gotten lost, giving me the chance to be succint on the second attempt:

    that the t&s post (and now ostler’s expansion model) doesn’t qualify as an example of the simplistic history vs. fiction and prophet vs. fraud dichotomies is exactly the point. it might be worth reading them more carefully.

    i am interested in keeping posibilities open, including inspired fiction of some sort. only in that sense would/do i defend it. i don’t introduce myself at parties as a devout reader of inspired fiction.

    with # 35 apparently, i remain confused as to what mike p. and bruce mean by “illogical” and “rational.” would a logical and rational explanation include metaphysics? the reanimation of dead and decomposed matter, perhaps? is it precisely the bracketing of these that contitutes a logical breach in rational criticism?

  57. TT,

    First, I think I see the issue with your #53 now. You are right that I personally do not see rational middle ground between the BoM as either essentially true or fraud.

    However, you go too far when you say “so you think that only those people who agree to the terms you’ve set up that it is either true or fraudulent can actually answer your question”

    That borders on the insulting the way you phrased it. I’m openly looking for someone willing to try to defend a middle ground position.

    As for the question of framing the question in terms of the plates. I have no issues at all with you broadening the question so long as you also address the question of the plates. My argument with John from #50 was that he was intentionally avoiding that question. If you don’t avoid it, I have no issues with an ‘expansion’ of the discussion. Fire away.

  58. @Carla #48:

    In the situation that you propose, I would favor the likelihood that Joseph Smith, a human being, made mistakes and did not tell the whole truth, doing what he thought was right, in order to share God’s message with the world, rather than imply that God “lied.” But really, I don’t think it really is a lie for God to simply work through human channels and use art forms such as literature in the way proposed by the Book of Mormon story.

    Carla, when in abstract, I agree with you. In the specific, it fails for me. Specifically, I have this really really big concern abuot someone accidently creating fake plates, then accidently making a mistake and telling everyone they are real and even letting them touch them (under a cover), etc.

    Again, I have no issues with the idea that God can use fiction. So by extension, I have no issues with, say, Jude refering to a fictional story that he honestly believes is real and treats as real. So far so good. But that’s not what we’re talking about with the BoM.

  59. “with # 35 apparently, i remain confused as to what mike p. and bruce mean by “illogical” and “rational.””

    They mean internal consistency. So, yes, they can include those.

    G Wes, it’s a lot easier to say “I’m open to inspired fiction” then “I believe in an inspired fraud.” The point is that ‘open’ probably really means for you “not really.” But I will read it a bit more closely and see if I see what you are getting at. My initial read suggested that there was no fraud. But I must have missed it.

  60. TT,

    I confess, I keep getting interrupted before I can read your #36. I will probably have to read it tomorrow and then respond tomorrow night. I do intend to respond.

    However, you still haven’t answered my question about Ostler. Do we agree Ostler was not a middle ground on the question of fraud? Only on the question of how literal of a translation it was. Right? This seems pretty basic to me.

    “Why are you willing to accept that the text of the BoM isn’t what it claims to be, as Ostler argues, but not willing to accept that the plates aren’t what they claim to be?”

    First, I do not accept that the BoM text isn’t what it claims to be. You are arguing that Ostler does. But as far as I can see that’s not true.

    Let me give examples here:

    a. There is a real person named Mormom. He includes a fictional story about a commander named Moroni (that he named his son after) and includes mythical stories about him, honestly thinking it’s all true.

    b. There is no person named Mormon. Joseph Smith makes him all up and then goes around claiming it’s true. Joseph Smith isn’t even ‘mistaken’ because he fakes numerous items that Mormon made, spending hours working on the fakes.

    Niether A nor B is “true.” A is not fraud. B is.

    I get the feeling you are trying to take “a” and claim “See, the BoM text in ‘a’ isn’t what it claims to be because Moroni wasn’t real. Therefore, you should also accept ‘b’ because it’s really just the same sort of argument.” Is this your argument? Am I understanding you correctly?

    (Bear in mind, still haven’t read #36)

  61. “But, you seem to have something specific in mind when you say “inspired fiction.””

    Actually, ‘inspired fiction’ was chosen because it was ‘neutral.’ No one would have an issue with reading ‘inspired fiction.’ The point was that you can’t apply that to the BoM without it become ‘fraud.’

  62. Thanks Bruce. My intention was not to be insulting, and I’m sorry if it came accross that way. Let me clarify. It seemed that you were saying that to say that the BoM is inspired fiction is to admit that it is a “fraud.” Your objection to John was framed as an objection to him preferring “parable” which has a positive connotation, to your preference for the negatively charged “fiction” or “fraud.” So, you seemed to be saying that because he didn’t agree to the label “fiction” or “fraud” for the text, that he was avoiding your question, because your question assumed that the text’s non-historical status must be taken in a negative light. Now, I have only read your account of your exchange with John, but it seems that he was trying to reframe the terms so that the only two options were not “true” or “fraud,” but parable. I agree that this suffers from some problems, problems that I think the position I laid out in 36 doesn’t suffer from, but my point was that you were trying to insist that if the BoM isn’t historical that it must be understood negatively is not a fair framing of the issue and excludes the answers you are demanding from me and others before you even see them.

    Now, if you would please get back to the arguments in 36 for why this prophet/fraud dichotomy doesn’t work when it comes to evaluating religious experiences and sacred texts, I think we can advance the discussion.

    As for Ostler, I agree that he thinks that the plates are historical, but the translation is not. But why can’t this position just be extended to the plates, that they exist in some form, but that their antiquity is not literal? It seems that once you open the door that at least some of the BoM is not “historical” in an absolute sense as a theological requirement, that opening it up all the way is no more of a risk.

  63. TT I’ve now read #36.

    I confess, it seems to me that you intentionally avoided ‘the problem of the plates.’

    Your argument seems to boil down to this:

    1. I can show you many examples of where religious experiences were not true, but not a lie.
    2. I can show you that even in the case where they were ‘not true’, they still have religious value.
    3. Therefore, the BoM could be not true and still have religious value.

    Is that your argument summarized correctly?

  64. @66,

    TT, actually, the transcript of what John said to me is on the OP linked to this post. Judge for yourself. My concern at the time wasn’t that he wanted to use a ‘more postive word’ but rather he was trying to remove it the question from a BoM context so that those answering weren’t forced to deal with the problem of the plates.

    “As for Ostler, I agree that he thinks that the plates are historical, but the translation is not”

    I thought that’s what I said. Midrash. Arguing that this ‘isn’t a loose translation’ is merely to play with words at this point. This still isn’t a quesition of fraud. So can we agree then that Ostler doesn’t represent a middle ground?

    “It seems that once you open the door that at least some of the BoM is not “historical” in an absolute sense as a theological requirement, that opening it up all the way is no more of a risk.”

    I can’t see this argument at all. I still think your stretching. That’s like saying “if your wife ever once told you an untruth in good faith you can therefore assume she is always lying.” Huh?

  65. Last comment…

    a. There is a real person named Mormom. He includes a fictional story about a commander named Moroni (that he named his son after) and includes mythical stories about him, honestly thinking it’s all true.

    b. There is no person named Mormon. Joseph Smith makes him all up and then goes around claiming it’s true. Joseph Smith isn’t even ‘mistaken’ because he fakes numerous items that Mormon made, spending hours working on the fakes.

    Why not c? There is a real person named Joseph. He includes a fictional story about a commander named Moroni and includes mythical stories about him, honestly thinking it’s all true.

    Why is it okay for Mormon to engage in mythologizing and fiction writing, so long as he thinks what is writing is true, but not Joseph?

  66. @ Bruce – right, you did make it clear that you’d have no problem with God using fiction, I was just trying to support the idea that God would even go so far as to use fiction that made claims within the text indicating that it wasn’t fiction – which I don’t think you were even talking about, but I felt the need to state based on other comments in the discussion.

    But as to your point about *accidentally* creating plates, etc, I wasn’t trying to say that Joseph accidentally did anything. I was saying that he did things that were not entirely honest, and that he did such things because he is a human being, and in life we are often presented with situations where the good, moral choice isn’t always obvious to us. Joseph felt he had a message that needed to be presented to all humanity. He did what he felt he had to in order to accomplish that goal. I can understand that, and I don’t think it really has to effect our perception of the divine nature of the Book of Mormon, because I think Joseph really was doing what he thought was right. I don’t think God just tells us exactly what to do, even if one is a prophet. Joseph still had to make choices, just like the rest of us.

  67. Why not c? There is a real person named Joseph. He includes a fictional story about a commander named Moroni and includes mythical stories about him, honestly thinking it’s all true. Why is it okay for Mormon to engage in mythologizing and fiction writing, so long as he thinks what is writing is true, but not Joseph?

    The logical consequence you are not owning up to here is that Joseph did not think he was writing something true. He faked the plates. You have to first explain where the fake plates came from and why Joseph thuoght they were real. You have not done this. This is — and from the beginning has been — the problem with your argument.

  68. Joseph felt he had a message that needed to be presented to all humanity. He did what he felt he had to in order to accomplish that goal. I can understand that, and I don’t think it really has to effect our perception of the divine nature of the Book of Mormon, because I think Joseph really was doing what he thought was right.

    The logical consequence you just ‘owned’ is why God decided to bless Joseph Smith this actual real revelations and inspirations in the midst of this lie.

    You are, whether you realize it or not, making direct statements about the nature of God now. Are you willing to accept those too?

    Questions for this position:
    1. Why would God put real inspiration behind Joseph’s decision to take his message to the world through what must ultimate amount to a huge lie?
    2. Does God often back up lies like this by making it all a real revelation after all? Or was this an exception? If it’s an exception, why?
    3. If it’s not an exception, how are we to trust God?
    4. How are we to know what parts of this are God’s actual message to us when it’s so deeply intertwined with — let’s be honest — an huge huge deception.
    5. Did God know that many people (most actually) when they found out it was fraud would reject it? Why did God not care about this?

    You really are now making huge and very important statements about the nature of reality and the nature of God. What I am asking you to do is to keep following it to it’s logical conclusions and not ‘give up’ part way.

    You are now the record holder for someone willing to ‘own’ this position. You’ve got TT beat hands down. :) I think he’s still trying to equivocate over ‘untruth’ and ‘lie.’ Don’t stop now. Keep going all the way to it’s logical conclusions for me. I’ll keep asking new questions. And, yes, there will be many more questions. You will eventually find that making the ‘inspired fraud’ argument requires a full theology. But seriously, keep going. You’re doing great!

  69. Bruce,
    On Ostler. You have set up the terms of the debate that either the BOM is what it says it is 100% historical, or it is a “fraud.” I am suggesting every way I know how that your framing of this issue is a bad way of putting it. I point out that Ostler does not accept that the BoM is 100% historical. In fact, iirc, he admits that “significant portions” are 19th products. I am at a loss at this point as to why you don’t see that admitting that the “translation” is a 19th c. production, but still accepting the Book as authoritative, inspired, etc does not constitute a middle ground between seeing the book as both ANCIENT and MODERN. Here is a link: http://content.lib.utah.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/dialogue&CISOPTR=16228&CISOSHOW=16115

    Now, I’m suggesting that Ostler is relevant because he does not see the TEXT of the Book of Mormon as historical, but nevertheless as inspired and authoritative. My suggestion is that one could adopt the exact same position with respect to the PLATES, that as an artifact that are not historical, but nevertheless represent an inspired, authentically religious (in the same epistemic sense as Muhammed, Teresa of Avila, etc).

    Now, you see to be asserting that even if the translation is 100% not historical, that the plates can only be understood as a fraud or as authentically ancient. Frankly, I think that there is something too this, and the reality of the plates is something worth considering. But in the spirit of the hypothetical, I think that the plates can be understood exactly the way that the Koran can be, or exactly the way that Teresa’s visions and physical experiences can be. To accept JS and the plates on these terms does not in any way entail that the dichotomy of prophet or fraud which you are imposing here is the only way, but rather that they can be understood as inspired, good, non-”fraudulent,” but also not historical.

  70. “You have set up the terms of the debate that either the BOM is what it says it is 100% historical, or it is a “fraud.” ”

    No, I’m saying that the only two options that makes logical sense to me are that it is historical in the same sense anything is historical (i.e. to the best of the keepers ability, making allowances for them being human) or it’s a fraud. This dichotomy does not exist with the examples you used. It does for the BoM due to the problem of the plates.

    Because of it’s miraculous nature, this means I can logically derive certain things from there.

  71. 1. Because God gave him the revelation first, and Joseph decided to use deception to give it to the world. I think 2 and 3 depend on God deciding to back up Joseph knowing that he would deceive people, but I don’t see it that way. If free agency means anything at all, God has to trust us with making a real decision, and that means there has to be a real chance that we’ll make bad ones. That doesn’t mean the message that God gave Joseph isn’t true (the Book of Mormon); are you suggesting that God would “take it back,” so to speak, if Joseph exercised his free agency and made poor choices about the syndication of that message?
    4. God gave us reason and free will. He expects us to use them, and again, make our own choices. I think he does in fact expect us to grapple with this complex reality – the mixing of human deception with Divine Truth – because, as I said before, if free agency means anything, we have to have the ability to make the wrong decisions, the wrong choices, the wrong conclusions. If God chooses to use human beings as his mouthpiece, that means he accepts the risk that they will make poor choices. Otherwise, if he takes measure to ensure that a pure Divine message is conveyed to humanity without the taint of human hands, free agency is null.

    I definitely don’t intend to give up, and I have to say I’m really enjoying our conversation.

  72. The logical consequence you are not owning up to here is that Joseph did not think he was writing something true. He faked the plates. You have to first explain where the fake plates came from and why Joseph thuoght they were real. You have not done this. This is — and from the beginning has been — the problem with your argument.

    No, I have suggested in c that he thought he was writing something real. I have no idea where the plates came from. Why do I have to explain that? Don’t you have to explain where they went? Moroni took them to Kolob? The truth is that no one knows that but Joseph, and no one is required to explain where they came from or where they went because no one has access to that information. What we are required to explain, if we either accept or doubt their historical value, is why Joseph thought they were real. The fact is that both of us are arguing that Joseph thought they were real because he sincerely believed that they were the record of an ancient people. Now, his translation, according to Ostler, is not that of an ancient people, but that doesn’t mean that Joseph was lying about it, or that he was perpetrating a fraud.

  73. TT,

    I’ve got to call it a night too.

    Trust me, I’m having a lot of fun with this. Can we resume tomorrow night?

    Carla, you too. I’m anxious to see how you’ll respond to my questions.

    This is what I’ve been really getting at. That making a decision like “the BoM is fiction” requires critical rational analysis and leads to questions and logical consequences that then must be answered.

    TT is currently avoiding the problem of the plates, I suspect because it undermines his position. Carla is directly addressing it and thereby exposing the cascade of logical consequences that follows.

    Believe it or not, I have made a real attempt to follow this through to it’s logical conclusions. And I found a way to do it! It wasn’t a pretty answer, though.

    I’m not saying my way is the only way. But it was the only way I could dream up with my limited imagination. And my hat is off to you Carla for your boldness so far. Don’t stop now.

  74. What we are required to explain, if we either accept or doubt their historical value, is why Joseph thought they were real.

    That’s what I said.

    The fact is that both of us are arguing that Joseph thought they were real because he sincerely believed that they were the record of an ancient people.

    No, you are avoiding the most important question in your theory. You are claiming that there is no supernatural events involved and that the BoM was fiction, but JS honestly thought it was real.

    You absolutely owe an explanation (at least a possible one) of how JS got the plates and thought they were real. When you avoid the question by saying “Why do I have to explain that? Don’t you have to explain where they went?” you come across rather irrational in my opinion.

    No, I don’t have to explain it because “Moroni took them” is self consistent with ‘the standard theory.’ You don’t get to use that argument because it’s a contradiction to your theory. You have to come up with an alternative.

  75. about this:

    “I [bruce] am not arguing that one couldn’t find a middle position argument where the plates are real but JS translated it to his liking. But I am not aware of anyone here making such an argument.”

    that ties into my initial comment, again, on analogy to the book of abraham and papyri. i thought it was pretty straightforward. the existence of the plates as genuine artifact doesn’t do a lot for us necessarily. the writing on the plates could say anything. we don’t know.

    i’ll elaborate. j.s. is a treasure hunter, the occupation we all wish we had. say he finds one day a breastplate, sword, and metalic records, among other things. maybe they’re in the grave of a native american who got a hold of a european sword and breastplate that the indian decided to be buried with. maybe j.s. had been trying to contact dead native americans to lead him to treasure. and maybe in the excitement of finding something big he is reassured that contact had been successful.

    j.s. is also deeply concerned about the treatment of native americans generally, not to mention a host of religious questions. maybe he even knows some native americans from personal experience and talks to them (i have no idea how plausible that would have been at that time and in that place; u.s. history isn’t my field).

    so he’s got these plates that he knows belonged to an indian whom he believes led him to them. he wants to figure out what they say. he does his best to translate them the only way he can, though a combination of prayer and his own mental and psychological thought and emotional processes, drawing on what he heard/read about current theories of indian origins as well as what he hoped god had in store for their future and christianity in general.

    … later, the plates are recovered, scholars translate them, and they turn out to be, i don’t know, a 16th century c.e. text on something or other having very little to do with the book of mormon.

    i am not saying that is what i believe happened. i do not call this: prolegomena to reading joseph smith as inspired fiction. but you see, i hope, how there could be scenarios in which the plates are genuine, while the book of mormon is other/more than historical. bottom line: we should not make the plates our salvation.

  76. Bruce,
    Absolutely we can resume another time. FWIW, I don’t think I’m avoiding the problem of the plates. I think you’re avoding the problem of Muhuammed. How do you explain the Koran? I’d like you to explain the Koran and all of Muhammed’s religious experiences and miraculous events. You’ve asked me to do it for JS, but you’ve not done it for the other religious experiences I’ve mentioned. Do you still insist on the prophet/fraud dichotomoy when evaluating other religious figures, or only JS?
    I really don’t think that I have to explain the plates. There just isn’t enough information about them in the historical record. Most accounts are decades after the fact. One is a visionary account. In the other they don’t actually see the plates themselves. And, the accounts aren’t all consistent with each other. The accounts of the plates cause as many problems as they solve.
    Now, if I was arguing that the JS was a fraud, perhaps I would have to explain the plates b/c Joseph Smith would be consciously tricking people. But, that is not the hypothetical I’m arguing. Rather, I am arguing that the BoM can both not be an ancient text but still be religiously valuable. In this latter scenario, any and all explanations of the plates, from the fact that he made them, imagined them, or was directed to them by an angel are all equally valid so long as JS was “inspired” as an authentically religious figure. So, that’s why I don’t have to explain where the plates came from or where they went because that is not the relevant question for the particular theory you’ve asked me to defend.

  77. Carla,

    Good follow through.

    You asked me a question:

    “are you suggesting that God would “take it back,” so to speak, if Joseph exercised his free agency and made poor choices about the syndication of that message?”

    I want to caution you on this because my personal views are currently irrelevant. But it seems only fair for me to answer. So within my current understanding of God, yes, I’d expect God to essentially disown Joseph as a prophet under the circumstances.

    Or so, that is my current world view. But we’re not talking about my view. We’re talking about the one you are presenting.

    So let’s restate what you are now agreeing to:
    1. God came to Joseph Smith and wanted him to write a revelation. This revelation was a fictional story — a parable — to teach certain truths.
    2. Joseph then decided to ‘enhance’ this intended message from God his own way. God is not responsible for this part. These enhancements included:
    a) Making fake plates
    b) Making up a story about a visit of an angel guardian of the plates
    c) Faking trips for 4 years to a hill (which was not in fact in any way connected to the BoM, since it was just fiction) and pretending to meet with an angel there year after year.
    d) Carting around his fake set of plates for quite a while, protecting it in boxes, under covers, etc.
    e) Convincing 11 witnesses to pretend to see it and 3 of them to pretend to see an angel.

    I want to be clear that you are agreeing with all of this so far. I’m not making a challenge as of yet. But I want to be sure you are really and truly ‘owning’ your theory. All of it’s logical consequences.

    Feel free to change the above as you see fit. If, for example, you want to claim there was a real angel at some point, please specify which point your theory accepts real angels at, etc.

  78. TT,

    “I think you’re avoding the problem of Muhuammed. How do you explain the Koran? I’d like you to explain the Koran and all of Muhammed’s religious experiences and miraculous events”

    Muhaummed did not claim to carry around plates. Your analogy is false here.

    However, it becomes true if you want to assert the rest: namely that JS never had the plates and never claimed he did. It was all made up later.

    But are you ‘owning’ this as part of your theory. If so, I’ll agree that you don’t have to explain the plates. (You’ll then have to explain the historical record, of course, but maybe that is what you’re after.)

    Again, if you are admiting that JS did have actual plates that he carted around, you have to explain what they were. If you are claiming he didn’t, that’s a later invention that has no place in the historical record, then I’m agreeing you don’t have to explain the plates, only the historical record of the plates. That seems fair to me.

    Going to bed for real now. You guys are bad keeping me from my sleep! :P

  79. g.wesley,

    My point, from start to beginning, is that you have to ‘own’ the logical consequences of your theory.

    You are hypothesizing that there were real plates and objects, but that they were 19th century indians. You are hypothesizing that JS prayed over them and then came up with the BoM.

    Fine. Are you prepared to defend this position historically? If not, then let’s not waste time on it. If so, I’ll be happy to critically examine it for you by asking more questions and seeing if your “theory” can survive. (Yes, I get it that it’s not your personal beliefs.)

  80. Hey, Mike, I’ve got you three brave souls (so far) willing to try to come up with a rationally consistent argument and compare it to ‘the standard theory’ via rational examination.

  81. I agree for the most part. I think it is possible the the source of the revelation was the meetings with the angel – so we don’t necessarily have to say he made up the angel, only that he would have had to lie about what the angel said and why he was there.

    To the question I asked, I wasn’t inquiring into your personal belief, I was confused about what you meant by that – whether you meant God would take back the Book of Mormon (which seemed weird, and I didn’t think you could have meant that, which is why I asked) or that God would henceforth no longer speak through Joseph.

    At this point I recognize the flaw that God probably wouldn’t have, for instance, sent an angel to back up the false claims Joseph’s been making, in order to convince those witnesses. Joseph would have had to convince them to lie about it. OR, as happens in many other religions, the people saw what they were expected to see/wanted to see. There is definitely reason to believe that, for instance, in Evangelical groups where participants are expected to speak in tongues or be slain by the spirit, that their body in a kind of somatoform(sp?) expression of intellectual belief, makes the person’s belief come true – similar to how a person who feels psychologically paralyzed would literally become paralyzed, their animal brain doing what the higher brain says it must. So I think that there is enough evidence to say that it’s possible the witnesses had an experience in their minds which did not originate from God, but which confirmed the claims Joseph Smith made. What I’m saying here is, it’s not necessary that any of those witnesses actually lied.

    So at this point I can say, yes it might make more sense that God would have disavowed Joseph as a prophet. Except I cannot get past the fact that God as a father would not simply “give up” on his chosen prophet, his son. I think most parents would do the same, and not because of some parental blindness, but because God as our role model of perfect parenthood has given us a model of hope, love, compassion, and the chance to do better – an emphasis on the future.

    No matter how many times a person has made the wrong decision, it does not mean they are doomed to always make the wrong decision, and as God is also our role model of perfect love, if he expects us to forgive others their crimes, no matter how numerous or terrible, and believe in the possibility that people can change, then it only follows that God gives us that maxim because it is a part of his own Divine model of behavior: God also forgives, and gives us opportunities to do better.

    Every soul matters to God; he wants us to fulfill our potential. Possessing infinite patience, God would never give up hope for any soul to do what he has planned for them. Joseph still had skills and gifts which God could use to great effect in building the church. And Joseph did in fact make good choices alongside the bad. The fact that God could have given him many chances to do better than he did before only affirms the idea and concept of progression.

  82. Very interesting discussion. What motivates people that take the “not literal history, but inspired” position? Most such people probably had strong spiritual experiences while reading and studying the BoM. They believe what it teaches about Jesus’s nature and personality and about how one should live one’s life. They think that there is much to be learned from the experiences of the people in the BoM.

    Then they find out that Joseph lied/misled in several situations: 1) regarding polygamy, and 2) regarding his use of seer stones and conviction in a criminal trial between annual visits of Moroni. They find out about various theories of the BoA, which make it difficult to see how Joseph was right about the vignettes. They read about Zelph, which very few apologists really think was a BoM-related person. They read about the Kinderhook plates episode and the Greek psaltery episode. Here are 4 episodes besides the BoM that show Joseph acting as if he knew the correlation between a physical object and ancient history/scripts. But he seems to be consistently wrong about that correlation.

    So these people are stuck. They have great spiritual experiences on one side. On the other they wonder if Joseph didn’t make the BoM up, since he wasn’t reliable when it came to ancient documents or artifacts. They see that the Book of Mormon is hard to place in a historical New World context and there are serious issues with material culture (animals, plants, weapons). They acknowledge the complexity of the BoM, but can’t feel like there is a strong enough correlation between the BoM and any ancient New World historical / religious context. Some find the FARMS/FAIR approach convincing, others do not.

    The “not literal history” point of view makes these problems go away, and lets them keep their spiritual experiences. Then it doesn’t matter any more if Joseph was reliable/trustworthy/accurate. The alternatives are: 1) ignore criticisms of the BoM since one has a testimony. The old evidence doesn’t sway me position, a position exemplified by people who take a literal position on D&C 77:6. Ignoring evidence works for lots of people, but not for others. The other alternative is to 2) conclude that the BoM has no value. This is the typical anti- argument. This is also unacceptable if one has had life changing experiences reading and studying it.

    The criticisms of the “not literal history” view are that it is incoherent/paradoxical from a logical point of view. Granted. How can God support someone who lied? But the “not literal history” people also think accepting it as history is incoherent/paradoxical or extremely unlikely from an evidentiary point of view. They may also feel (based on their own experience, in part) that starting with spiritual axioms and using deductive logic always leads to the taking of untenable positions.

    Anyway, I am guessing that this is the kind of thinking that goes into the “not literal, but inspired” position.

  83. @ Paul 2

    How can God support someone who lied?

    He does it all the time. He supports us all, speaks to us all, listens to us all, every single day. God doesn’t abandon anyone. And if he wants something done, and he wants it done through a specific person, he’s going to give that person every opportunity to make the right choices and to make up for past mistakes. I think the Apostles in the New Testament are a great example of this. They made many mistakes, misunderstood what Jesus wanted them to do all the time, they sinned and basically blundered throughout the Gospel narratives, almost comically. And yet Jesus left them with the gift of the Holy Spirit to build his church.

  84. This is all over my head, but I have a thought or two.

    I don’t think this question can stop at only analyzing what Joseph did or didn’t do. There is also the reality of what every living prophet has done since Joseph. The use of the book and the upholding of the book as a real record of God’s dealings with His people, including the record of the visit of the Living Christ to real people, is something all the prophets have talked about. So if one wants to question Joseph here, one would have to be questioning every prophet. That alone is beyond just a slippery slope — it questions nearly everything Mormonism claims to proclaim, including a living God and a living Christ, continuing revelation, a restoration of truth and authority, and more.

    It would sort of be like trying to send missionaries with out Harry Potter and expecting that such a work could actually bring people to Christ and the powerful, life-changing conversions that happen when someone has a testimony of the Book of Mormon. As has been said by prophets, this book is the keystone of all we believe. We aren’t just here to teach nice ideas or share another piece of art that might inspire, we take the Book of Mormon to the world with confidence for the very fact that we claim it is *true.* That Christ really interacted with the peoples on this continent. That God led and guided and loved them. That the resurrection was witnessed by others besides those in the old world. That faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost were part of the gospel even before Christ came to earth. And so much more.

    This discussion reminds me of a Mormon Scholars Testify testimony by Gregory Smith.

    Anyway, “logic” to me is not an absolute term; it always operates within a certain set of assumptions and beliefs about where and how truth is found. I think the logical fallout within the belief system of God’s eternal plan and pattern for revealing truth makes it pretty unsustainable to look at the Book of Mormon as fiction.

  85. @ michelle – that’s an excellent point, but I would like to say that we aren’t trying to say the the Book of Mormon, if it isn’t true history, is just a work of fiction, like Harry Potter. We are talking about inspired fiction, meaning that even though the story may not have actually happened, what that story tells us is still The Truth – which cannot really be said of any work of fiction that is not divinely inspired. Harry Potter may be inspiring, but no one would say that it is divinely inspired – God didn’t have a hand in its creation, but in the case of inspired fiction, as this theory relates to the Book of Mormon, means that God himself had a hand in its creation, and that makes it worth one’s time as a believer. We are definitely not suggesting that the “inspired fiction” theory means that the BoM is just like every other work of fiction in the world.

    I would also say that if you do not believe it’s your job to question your leaders, why do you think God gave you reason and free agency and taught you that this agency is a gift which you are intended to use? I would point out that there are people who have been faithful members of the LDS church for many, many years, their whole lives, who do believe that it’s your job to question all the leaders of the church, to use your own reason and free will to judge the truth for yourself. I know some of them. To say that questioning the leaders is “beyond a slippery slope” is a generalization that does not fit with reality, because it does not in fact inevitably lead to disaffection or non-belief as you imply.

    However, I definitely don’t think any of this is way over your head – you seem to have grasped the gist of the argument quite well, and shared a thoughtful, coherent opinion about it. Don’t sell yourself short. I think you’re very much up to participating in the discussion. :D

  86. Carla, I think I understand where you want to go here, but maybe I need to be more clear where I’m coming from. To try to convince me that questioning the leaders is ok is really going a direction that at some point misses my point.

    The point I was trying to make is that there is a logical flow in my mind to the position that the Book of Mormon is a real record. I can totally respect that someone can have a personal spiritual journey and not believe in the BoM’s literalness, but I do believe this is a personal place and not one that is sustainable at the collective level. I think there is too much that ties into the reality of the record, particularly the testimony of a living Christ, that I believe is logically incompatible with a fictional BoM.

    So, my point was less about questioning leaders per se but more about how BoM-as-fiction to me is disruptive to the logic that I see as inherent in the gospel and the restoration. I do also hope that you aren’t trying to imply that those who end up upholding the prophets are somehow not using “reason and free will.” ;)

  87. p.s. Part of the logic that I find beautiful in the way the gospel works is the law of authorized witnesses. As such, I don’t feel the need to question every last thing that the leaders do or say (which is an act of reason and free will for me). Rather, I watch what they do and say and look for the patterns that I believe are logical signals that point to God’s truth. So that was some of what I was trying to get at, but obviously didn’t do it very well.

  88. Bruce,
    I think it could go like this. Joseph has visions (facilitated by a seer stone) that he feels reflect the history of the Nephites in America, etc. He feels that these visions are real and are from God. He knows that people are going to consider him crazy. So he makes some gold-looking plates from tin and he dresses his brother Hyrum (a true believer in the visions) up in a get-up when he needs an angel to show up. Joseph may know that what he is doing is fraudulent (because he is forging documents and orchestrating experiences), but he also believes that it is the only way to get God’s word out. God maybe tells him to do it this way (like how God, through Rebeckah, tells Jacob to deceive his father or how he tells Abraham to deceive Pharoah (who, in the Biblical text, doesn’t deserve to be treated in this way)) because it serves God’s ultimate purpose (like telling Nephi to kill a drunken, defenseless Laban). So Joseph does it, believing that he is lying for the Lord. In this sense, you could argue that the Book is from God and has religious, covenantal value (it is true), while at the same time believing that Joseph essentially made up the stuff around it. You could even go further and believe that, although God is the ultimate source of the truth in the Book, he told Joseph to just come up with a vehicle for it and this is what Joseph worked out (allowing Joseph to make the whole thing up, yet still be inspired).

    Carla,
    I really don’t see the Princess Bride as a good parallel, but I will give the others a read when I get time.

  89. Bruce,
    Also, setting aside the plates issue, which I know you don’t want to do, if you read Digging in Cumorah, by Mark Thomas, you’ll see someone who reads the Book of Mormon without believing in its historical claims but who sees religious value in the Book and approaches it respectfully and religiously. I used to be in your shoes, believing that such a thing isn’t possible, but then I met and talked with people who did it. I had to change my assumptions about the possible.

    Ultimately, it seems to me that your question really is “If God could allow/accept a pious fraud in the Book of Mormon, then why couldn’t he allow/accept just about any behavior?” My response would be “what leads you to believe that he doesn’t?” If genocide, murder, deceiving your parent in order to steal an inheritance away from your brother, polygamy, and human sacrifice are all, at one point or another, divinely sanctioned behaviors, what won’t God do if he puts His mind to it?

  90. I regret that I didn’t notice this post earlier. I’ve been swamped the past few days. It’s a bit hard to catch up with this whole thread of comments, so I’ll just add my thoughts on the topic in general and on points that I have picked up on after my quick review of some of the previous comments.

    First of all, would I study the BoM as much if I realized/believed it to be merely inspired fiction? (I know that isn’t the focus of this particular post)
    I think I would have a hard time taking it seriously and therefore, would probably not study it as regularly, nor attempt to apply its teachings to my life as vigorously as I do now. Having said that, I do frequently study ancient texts (apocrypha/pseudepigrapha) that I don’t necessarily believe to be inspired or Scripture. However, there is some distinction in my mind between accepted Scripture and extra-canonical material, no matter how interesting it is. I don’t read, for example, the Book of Enoch religiously, and try to apply it to my life. Although I think there is often a fine line between the two categories (take TT’s example of the Quran, for example), in the end it comes down to, for me, what has been established by the prophetic authority of the Church as canonical and authentically inspired.

    I think that it would be difficult for me, if I were an outsider, to tell the difference between the Book of Moses, for example, and a piece of pseudepigraphal literature regarding Moses. The main difference, for me as a member of the Church, is that I have been taught that the Book of Moses is inspired Scripture and that the other is not necessarily such. Because I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet, I accept the Book of Moses to be what he claimed it to be. I believe it to be a revelation from God and not simply brilliant religious prose or clever exegesis. But I think it’s quite impossible for us, as fallible human beings, to make that distinction on our own. We may be able to distinguish what appears to be more “orthodox” to us, but such an approach may have served, in times past, to force truly inspired writings out of the canon, and accept non-inspired works into it. When it comes down to it, I think we need to depend on the Holy Ghost and Priesthood authority to determine these things. I read the Book of Mormon religiously because I have had a witness from the Holy Ghost that it is true — and I have not obtained any such witness for the extra-canonical works I enjoy reading (although I must admit that I have not tried praying about them).

    I know I’m not getting anywhere fast with this comment, but I will now relate my thoughts to the Book of Mormon. Now because I believe Joseph Smith to be a prophet, I believe the Book of Mormon to be what he claimed it to be — a record of ancient peoples that came from Jerusalem in 600BC to the Americas. This is what the book claims and this is what Joseph claimed and knew it to be. Although I recognize that Joseph Smith’s own thoughts, perspectives, personality, weaknesses, etc., could have possibly affected the way in which the Book of Mormon was translated into English and subsequently published, I believe it to be almost exclusively what was written down on those gold plates that Moroni directed him to uncover. If not, what was the purpose of the translators/seer stones that he received and used? There are many other factors, but I’m sure these have been discussed above. Someone brought up the issue of Joseph’s translation of the Book of Abraham and how it doesn’t match up with the papyri that he had. Well, there are many issues concerning the translation of the Book of Abraham that cannot be answered with our current knowledge (e.g., the issue of missing papyri, unclear mode of translation), so I think that it’s unfruitful to compare the two translation efforts.

    I largely agree with Michelle’s comments in 91. If we stop viewing the BoM as historical, we must start rejecting the perspective of all the prophets since Joseph Smith. While some may imagine that they have found anachronisms, traces of 19th century thinking, errors, etc., why should their opinions be trusted over those of the prophets of God? I find that almost any criticism of the BoM that I have heard has been answered to my satisfaction by someone from FARMS/FAIR. But who is to say who is wrong and who is right on any of these issues? Were there horses in ancient Mesoamerica, as claimed in the BoM text? Some say there weren’t, but some say there were. Was “horse” just the best word Joseph found to describe what he saw on the plates? There are too many factors to be able to prove anything either way. I am not trying to diminish the efforts of anyone on either side of these arguments (personally, my enjoyment and understanding of the text is bolstered by these debates), but in the end, I agree that these are not the issues that matter most. We can argue until we’re blue in the face whether this or that detail seems to be historical or not, but can we really know?

    I think it comes down to whether we believe Joseph Smith or not, and whether we believe the official teachings of the Church or not. I don’t see much room for middle ground. Arguing for a comparison of Joseph Smith’s denial of the practice of polygamy to save his life (and the Church and its members) to his implied fabrication of the whole history of the Book of Mormon (a key part of his new religion) is untenable. While the first is understandable and IMO forgivable (if this is indeed what happened), the second would not be.

  91. “If we stop viewing the BoM as historical, we must start rejecting the perspective of all the prophets since Joseph Smith.”

    While this may be necessary for you, there is no reason to assume that this is a necessary condition for anyone else. If you approach the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction (like a parable), then there is no reason why you have to assume that prophetic authority doesn’t exist. That you say it is so, doesn’t make it so. Heck, you could argue that only prophets are authorized to lie, because when they do it, they are inspired to do it.

    You are drawing a line in the sand that defines your belief, which is just fine (I did the same several comments ago). But it isn’t your job to tell other folk what they can or cannot believe.

  92. Well, you are right, John C., that this is my own view and that I shouldn’t try to make it apply to all. And you’re right that it isn’t my job to tell people what they should or shouldn’t believe. I was simply participating in the discussion and not trying to force my views on anyone. I probably shouldn’t have stated my comments in such black-and-white terms. However, IMO, there is an implicit connection.
    First of all, I think that when we read parables, we understand that they are such — I don’t think we should see Jesus’ parables as consisting of historical events. He doesn’t ever claim that they are. The parables that are told by Book of Mormon authors are clearly parables as well. No one would try to argue that they aren’t and the authors don’t claim that they are.
    However, there is a problem in interpreting the whole Book of Mormon as a “parable” — mainly because it specifically claims to be historical and not parabolic. Joseph Smith claimed that it was historical, as have the subsequent prophets of the Church. Could they be wrong and still be prophets? Well, yes, but I think it’s a pretty major issue to be wrong about and it would eventually lead us back to a consideration of why Joseph Smith would have claimed it to be history. And also, we would have to consider who made up this parable? Was it Moroni, Mormon, or another ancient author? So that would mean that God led Joseph to discover and translate an ancient parable that claims to be a history? Or does it mean that Joseph Smith (or some other modern author) just made up this parable and subsequently claimed that it was history? These just don’t work for me, and would cast serious doubt, in my mind, on the trustworthiness of our modern leaders as prophets of God. Again, this is just my view and you can take it or leave it.

  93. nice overview, paul.

    bruce, i am not hypothesizing in order to explain how the book of mormon came to be so much as how appeal to the plates is not certain. it’s not a good defense. the plates, the moroni appearances, let’s not make them the hinge on which everything must turn.

    you are so insistent on following things through and owning logical consequences … why don’t you explain then what full blown christology as developed in the gospels of matthew and john for instance is doing in a text that claims to have been written by israelites, centuries before christianity?

    for my part, i will stigmatize what i think you are up to.

    shadow boxing 101; remedial effigy burning; intro to straw people.

    start with a simplistic typology.

    frame what you are doing as rational and logical and what they are doing as irrational and illogical.

    refuse to consider whatever does not conform to your typology (to do so, resort to jokes, inflated rhetoric [e.g. you can’t possibly mean something so silly as …], claim that you are being misunderstood, issue challenges, as necessary).

    rest assured in the self-affirmation that not much if anything in the real world fits your typology and few if any people are willing to defend it.

  94. If the argument is that God instructed Joseph to lie (or Joseph decided on his own to lie) and concoct a lengthy and detailed fraud, albeit a pious one, in order to pass off his work as historical when it was actually fictional, then I reject that argument on the basis of logic, with an appeal to Occam’s razor. Joseph didn’t just produce a book that he claimed, as an aside, was historical; he went to great lengths to demonstrate its connection to real people and events by arranging witnesses (who went to their graves testifying they’d seen an angel or handled the plates) and claiming he saw divine beings who were part of the historical narrative. It strains credulity to believe he would do this when he could make the whole problem go away by claiming God revealed the book to him and that, even though it’s not historical, it is inspired.

  95. Oh, and Paul #89: Your claims that Joseph lied or was deceived about polygamy, Zelph, the Kinderhook Plates, and the Greek psalter are all based on incorrect or incomplete acquaintance with the facts of those cases. I’d recommend a little more reading on those subjects, especially the recent scholarly responses to criticisms. A good start is Greg Smith’s paper, “Polygamy, Prophets, and Prevarication.”

  96. Bruce,
    I think we’ve reach a certain point where some summary arguments are in order.

    As I understand it, you challenged me to defend the hypothetical, “See if you can, even faking it, rationally defend the ‘inspired fiction’ theory. How would you have to go about it.” As I understand it, and perhaps this needs some further discussion, a “rational defense” is offering an internally consistent explanation, which is distinct from making logical propositions. Coherence is the standard that I am using, and I think a fair standard for evaluating all of the options: 1) your own, following (a particular version of) the “standard story,” 2) the view that JS is a fraud, and 3) a middle ground which sees the Book as religiously valuable, but a nevertheless a product of the 19th c. (a formula I prefer to “inspired fiction”). So, my task is to explain that the hypothetical person who sees the BoM as a 19th c. production, but also “religiously valuable” is a coherent position. Let me offer some summary points.

    1. You have suggested that the only way in which we can evaluate JS’s claims with respect to the BoM are that he is either a prophet (he is what he says and it is what he says) or he is a fraud. However, you have attempted to restrict this analysis not to the text of the BoM, but to the plates.
    2. If I understand correctly, we seem to have agreed that JS could be wrong about the claims that the TRANSLATION of the BoM represents a 100% ancient text. You seem to at least be open to the idea that Ostler develops that much of the text is a modern “expansion.”
    3. So, while you agree that at least in principle there is nothing wrong with believing that JS was mistaken about the translation of the text as representing an ancient text, you have argued that the plates themselves are the ultimate arbiter of JS’s claims because of their materiality.
    4. We seem to have agreed that counterfactuals about why God wouldn’t have done it in this or that way have no basis in this question because they cut equally both ways, so we can avoid them and instead interpret the events as we have them, not as we could imagine God possibly doing them.

    I see your 2 and 3 as inconsistent claims, as I will argue below, but my main beef is with 1.

    Let me see if I can address these issues.
    With respect to 1, I have offered many examples of ways in which we don’t have to accept either the prophet/fraud dichotomy when evaluating religious claims, and why this is not the best way for evaluating JS or even the BoM.

    A. Other religious figures have real religious experiences, produce real religious texts, and even make tangible claims about materials as evidence of their claims. We can accept these experiences as authentically religious without having to accept the ontological claims about their reality. What I am suggesting is that rather than either prophet or fraud, we have a third category to use which is “religious” to explain the behaviors and beliefs of certain figures. It seems to me that we could consistently judge our own tradition in the same standards that we judge other religious traditions and experiences, ascribing a validity to them without having to judge them in the prophet/fraud dichotomy.

    B. The problem with the prophet/fraud dichotomy with JS is that it stakes all of JS’s claims on a particular point. You have suggested that the only point that is relevant in evaluating whether or not JS is a prophet or a fraud is the plates.
    1. This is totally arbitrary. Why shouldn’t we evaluate the actual translation of the Book to determine whether or not JS was a prophet or a fraud? Or why not evaluate Zelph as the standard by which we judge whether or not JS was what he said he was? Or, why not whether or not Native Americans in Missouri have “Lamanite” DNA? Or why not some other arbitrary point? If we accept that the prophet/fraud dichotomy is the proper way to evaluate JS in any particular instance, then we are actually forced to evaluate all of his claims by that standard, not simply the ones that you want. To accept that this standard is valid at all for evaluating JS entails accepting that all instances of JS’s claims are equally subject to this same standard.
    2. If you are open to judging JS’s claims to providing a fully ancient document in translation by some other standard than the prophet/fraud dichotomy, which you have to do if you accept Ostler’s claims as being possible, then there is simply no reason why you have to apply the prophet/fraud dichotomy to any other aspect of JS’s claims. If you admit at all that the prophet/fraud dichotomy is the wrong way to evaluate any single one of JS’s claims (and the list of ways in which JS was not always right is long), then there is no reason why it is not possible to also evaluate the BoM in those terms.
    3. The Bible and PoGP cannot possibly sustain the standard to which you are subjecting JS’s claims about the BoM. If the texts in the Bible aren’t all what they claim to be either, and certainly don’t represent historical claims as we understand ‘history’ today, don’t we have a precedent for accepting texts as both not historical, and also religiously valuable? We don’t need to appeal to “parable,” but to the Gospels themselves as texts which cannot sustain historical scrutiny, but which we may nevertheless find of redeeming religious worth.

    C. How does someone who sees the BoM as a 19th c. text, but still religiously valuable “explain” the plates as material artifact? You have suggested that if one doesn’t accept JS’s account, that providing some other explanation is necessary. I have suggested that this is not the case for several reasons.
    1. The person who sees the BoM as religiously valuable does not accept the prophet/fraud dichotomy that you are trying to impose on the situation. There is no consistent reason why they should have to apply this particular standard in this particular case if in all other cases they don’t accept the standard as a legitimate test of any particular claim.
    2. The person who sees the BoM as religiously valuable, but a 19th c. production is making that evaluation on the basis of what the BoM actually says. There are plenty of really good reasons to doubt the text’s historical claims. If they don’t accept the text’s claims about history as fact, but still accept it is religiously valuable, there is no bright line that has been crossed by making the same claim about the plates, namely, that they do not represent a historical artifact, but nevertheless play a part in the overall value of the text itself.
    3. It is not clear that the plates prove anything, even if they are ancient. As g.wesley and John C. have argued, we have the JS papyri, and they certainly don’t vindicate the BoA. I’d add that we have other instances of JS “translating” in which he didn’t have any physical text at all, whether in the case of the JST or in the case of D&C 7. Whether there is any relationship at all between JS’s translating activity and physical artifacts is in serious question. Ultimately, the standard for determining the historicity of the text of the BoM is completely independent from the question of the historicity of the plates.
    4. Finally, I have argued that for the person that sees the BoM as a 19th c. text and also religiously valuable, no explanation of the origins of the plates is required because any and all explanations are equally valid. It could be that he made them, found something in a hill which he took to be them, or even that Moroni gave them to him. I can fully accept your view that the texts were given to him by Moroni, and still see the text as a 19th c. production. Therefore, I am not required to offer some alternative explanation because the explanation of the plates is not relevant to my assessment of the historicity of the text. For the person who denies the ancient history of the text, this claim rests on what the Book says, and not about the facticity of the plates. When it comes to the plates, the only issue at stake is whether or not JS understood them to be ancient records, not whether or not they really were. The person who sees the BoM as a 19th c. text yet religiously valuable has already determined that JS was not acting as a “fraud,” but as a sincerely religious figure and so what the plates actually were is wholly irrelevant to the issue. Only if one accepts the prophet/fraud dichotomy that you are imposing on the situation is the question of what the plates “really” are is relevant. For the person who you’ve asked me to imagine, this question is not relevant in the least.

  97. Bruce N.,
    good post, you get at the real issue here, which is Joseph Smith’s story about the plates and the Angel Moroni, and the witnesses who saw the plates, and all the rest. If you accept that, then believing that the plates are fiction means believing that God made them up for some inscrutable reason. Might as well swallow the gnat since you’ve already swallowed the camel.
    If you don’t, then Joseph Smith et al. were fraudsters, so no ‘inspiration.’
    That said, if folks who believe in these comforting halfway houses don’t try to promote them to the rest of us, we might as well let it lie.

  98. I think I am coming seriously late to what seems like a substantive discussion. So instead of answer anyone concern I will simply add my voice that I think that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be: inspired scripture, a record of an ancient people. As Joseph Smith claimed The Book of Mormon is the most correct book of any on the Earth and that as we study it we can get nearer to God. The idea that the book is a giant collection of parables seems to undercut the principles of the book in some ways to me. I can appreciate real people overcoming real problems or succumbing to real temptation. For that reason I have not found a reasonable explanation by those who wish to consider the Book of Job in the same light – parable. That is not a slam on parables, as they obviously have a place in the teachings of the gospel.

    If the Book of Mormon is fictional or is parable, then I would find very little explanation as to why a fictional book would have visions like the Tree of Life in its contents. If the book was parable, then there would be no need for the book to make a “vision” distinction. It would have just happened within the context of the parable itself – no vision needed. Perhaps that is over simplified an explanation.

    If such was the case, it would also seem counter intuitive to pray to find out if it is true. If it were simply principle based parable, the truth would be in its principles, not in the need for a translation of an old record. If they were stories, God could have simply told them to Joseph. The idea of their being an actual record that was translated seems to imply that there was a people, they kept a record, and that it had value beyond novel.

    The inclusion of the inspired versions of Isaiah would then also have to imply that Isaiah would also be parable. This could all end up being a downward slippery slope that could result in the complete dissolution of the reality of Christ on this earth and the primary source for his birth and history. Christ himself could end up the myth, and I know in my heart that is not the case.

  99. I have to admit that I have not read all the comments here, but I am struck by the fact that people defending the “inspired fiction” theory of the BoM are missing Bruce’s larger point. Bruce is not trying to force you to accept one theory, he’s only asking you to come up with a plausible explanation and then follow it through to its logical conclusions then compare it to the other two theories. (i.e. It’s historical or it’s an non-inspired fraud.) That’s a totally legitimate thing for him to ask you to do. And other than Carla, no one has really been willing to try to own their own logical consequences yet. Bruce’s point seems to be that this is very strong evidence that you can’t come up with one that even you are willing to own.

  100. Geoff, you really should read the comments before saying that I am missing the point, since that is exactly the point I am arguing. See my 103 for my exhaustively detailed engagement with Bruce’s argument.

  101. Geoff,
    I think that I said that the consequence of believing in the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction results in a God who seems much more arbitrary than we might like. Beyond that, I don’t think that other conclusions would be different.

  102. James N., # 105,

    Are you aware that Pres. Spencer W. Kimball taught that Job was fictional?

    Also, your example of Isaiah helps us see what is going on here. The Isaiah as presented in our visitor centers is indeed a fiction. Almost everybody who has put in the effort to study the book of Isaiah think it is the composite work of multiple authors, one of whom may or may not have been a man named Isaiah. This isn’t apostate heresy, this is openly acknowledged in the BYU Religion department. And yet we see great value in studying that book and don’t question the testimonies of people who have different views of the book’s historicity.

    The point is that it simply doesn’t matter — Nobody, not even Bruce, thinks that every single word in the BoM is historically accurate. So discussions like this become a sort of sideshow and detract from the point of the book, which is to bring people to Christ.

  103. It’s one thing to claim that a story or account in the Book of Mormon (or the Bible) is fictional or exaggerated; it’s something quite different to claim the entire book was made up.

    I, for one, believe Job is allegorical fiction and that Isaiah was written by at least two—and probably more—individuals. And I accept that many of the population sizes mentioned in the Book of Mormon are likely exaggerations (such things were common among ancient historians).

    But that’s a long way from what we’re dealing with here, where Joseph Smith repeatedly affirmed that a resurrected being appeared to him who was the final author of an ancient history. He claimed to have actual plates that were written by these ancient authors. Other people testified they saw these plates, and three said they also saw the resurrected being and heard him testify. Not a single person involved even hinted that the whole thing was a fraud, pious or otherwise.

    Apples and oranges.

  104. So discussions like this become a sort of sideshow and detract from the point of the book, which is to bring people to Christ.

    Are you referring to the real, historical Christ who appeared in glory to the Nephites? Or to the fictional, ahistorical Christ who never did anything that the Book of Mormon claims he did?

  105. @ Mike Parker #110 – you make a very good point. In the context of the inspired fiction theory, we cannot compare the Book of Mormon with scriptural texts that do not 1) claim within the text that they are historical or 2) come from someone who said they were historical over and over, as Joseph Smith did about the Book of Mormon. The Book of Job never says it’s not fiction, and we have no evidence that the author told anyone it wasn’t fiction.

    #101 – except that I don’t think he could have just made the whole problem go away by saying it was just a parable. As I have postulated above, the reason to claim it is historical is to give the story more power, the make the message more relevant to people, the same way it does when other texts do the same thing (i.e. when the text itself says it’s true, and the person propogating it says it’s true).

  106. @Mark Brown #109

    I don’t find a problem taking the Book of Job as fictional. It doesn’t claim to be otherwise, but reads more like a “parable”. The only problem with this is that many authoritative figures (including the Lord) mention the figure of Job as if he were a real person. However, I think we could reason that the person of Job could be a real person even if the Book of Job is not an accurate history of that person. There is nothing about the Book of Job that requires us to believe that it is history — the book itself is quite devoid of any historical referents.

    I agree with Mike’s sentiments in 110 — arguing that Job is allegorical fiction or that Isaiah may not be written by a single author is very dissimilar from accepting the Book of Mormon as fictional. There is no explicit claim in Job or Isaiah that these books are meant to be taken as historical, although they may often be assumed to be. We do not have any kind of statement from the prophet Isaiah himself that he wrote the entire book and that no one else contributed to it. As Mike noted, this is very different from the situation we have with the Book of Mormon, where there are significant efforts on the part of Joseph Smith and his colleagues to demonstrate that it was a historical account.

    While some of the details may be open to question as to whether they are good history or not, the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that arguing for an “inspired fiction” position is untenable, especially for a Latter-day Saint. While we may be tempted to bring up examples like that of Mohammed and the Quran, in the end these are not reasonable comparisons for Latter-day Saints to make, as we do not accept the Quran as being inspired in the same way that the Book of Mormon was. I cannot define, at the moment, to what extent we would say that Mohammed was inspired, but it is certainly not in the same way, or on the same level that Joseph Smith was when he translated the Book of Mormon. That is, however, a question worth looking into further.

    However, I think you would agree that arguing for such an equivalence would either require the Church to accept the Quran as Scripture or remove the Book of Mormon from our canon of Scripture and place it in the same category as we would the Quran or the Apocrypha. Do you suggest that we do this? Should we just go ahead and place all Scripture together in the “fictional but inspirational” bin?

  107. @ David Larsen – nobody is calling the BoM “fictional but inspirational,” they’re calling it inspired fiction. Inspired is not the same as inspirational.

  108. David, Mike,

    Let’s be careful. I’m on your side — it doesn’t matter to me that our visitor centers depict a man named Isaiah writing on a scroll, and I’m not claiming the church is lying by doing so, even though it is simplistic and probably misleading. James N. himself brought up the point that if you can’t trust Isaiah, who can you trust? We all know LDS people who faith might be shaken a bit to learn of multiple Isaiah authors.

    Mike, to answer your question about which Christ, my personal experience with such people has been that they desire to repent and join with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They feel the spirit when they read the book of Mormon, and they are perplexed that people think of them as lesser Mormons.

  109. @ Mark Brown – 105

    I am not aware of that teaching. Would you be willing to give a source? I would be interested in seeing the original text and its context. Thanks in advance.

    As far as Isaiah being multiple writers, I suppose that is not really provable within the text itself. However, considering the nature of all biblical translation and the number of people involved I would not be surprised if there were multiple translators giving the impression of multiple writers.

    My feelings are unchanged in the sense that most of this questioning the authenticity or fictionality of the scriptures is only a valid practice for those wanting to not believe it. I believe it, therefore I don’t find value in assuming the paradigm of the Book of Mormon as being anything less than inspired writings teaching us the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  110. james, you write:

    “…I would not be surprised if there were multiple translators giving the impression of multiple writers.”

    would you be surprised to learn that chapters of isaiah cited in the book of mormon were written after 586 bce, i.e. could not have been on the brass plates? because that is what (evil) scholarship and the (big bad) outside world will tell you.

    you write:

    “… is only a valid practice for those wanting to not believe it.”

    actually, it’s quite the opposite. did you read #89? i don’t think anyone, mormon or otherwise, comes to such a point through a desire not to believe. if they did not believe or did not want to believe, then the situation would be rather simple. it’s the challenge of balancing faith with scholarship or whatever that produces these situations, which are not unique to our faith.

  111. hi james,

    no. i did not discover this myself.

    if interested, you could start with the ever reliable wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Isaiah

    for further reading, you could pick up most any recent academic commentary on isaiah.

    i’m sure the topic has been discussed ad nauseum in the bloggernacle, not to mention farms review, etc.

    ostler discusses it in the 1987 dialogue article tt linked to above in #76. see page 77, for instance, where ostler refers to the isaiah quotations in the book of mormon as “a special problem.”

  112. adam (#104),

    your comment surprises, especially as the author of such a post as this:

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2008/04/is-fiction-inherently-immoral/

    have you seen that the plates are not the issue?

    or at least that the reality of the plates as well as of joseph smith’s religious experiences have been repeatedly admitted?

    i could swear i detect a veiled threat coupled with anti-intellectualism in your parting line. if it makes you feel better to ignore the anachronisms in the book or mormon and demonize those who take them seriously as proto-apostates on their way out, then, well, go right ahead. that’s wonderful.

  113. So from what I see, admittedly a small amount at this point, it still sounds like academic guessing because even the sources listed are not in agreement. I understand this happens in academic circles all the time. This does not discount the research, but it does not make it true either. But the last I checked, Isaiah was one of the most quoted sources by Christ himself. So wether the “Shakespeare author syndrome” comes into play with the writings of Isaiah or not is almost irrelevant is it not?

    I think the original question of the post to discover the value of even considering the scriptures in this light is a valid question. To me, this is not intellectualism. It is gospel rejectionism in “intellectualism” clothing.

  114. James,
    Is there are approach to Mormonism that you don’t personally agree with that you wouldn’t consider a rejection of the Gospel in some way?

  115. An approach? What do you mean approach? That is vague enough that I don’t feel comfortable answering.

    However, discounting or devaluing the Book of Mormon does not sound like the work of the Church. Those seeking to find some other explanation for the Book of Mormon other than the claims of the book and the testimony of the prophets regarding its truthfulness could be questioned as being rejectionist. Because if you have a testimony of the truth of the Book’s truthfulness from the spirit, nothing on the earth can be more convincing – not even scholars. The difference between many in the “bloggernacle” and those at the Maxwell institute is a matter of motive.

    If that answers the approach question, fine.

  116. James,
    The person about whom the argument originated has that testimony, in spite of not believing the Book of Mormon is historical. I know other people, fervent Mormons, who hold this view. It may be outside your experience, but that doesn’t make adherents of this particular approach enemies to the Church or non-believers. Please stop dime-store psychoanalyzing others.

  117. You asked my opinion. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. Nor does my opinion rely on the acceptance of others. I am not dime store-analyzing. Just expressing my feelings and experience on the issue. Please park the condescending remarks. It does not support your position well.

  118. FWIW, there’s been quite a bit of LDS scholarship on the authorship of Isaiah and how it relates to the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon. It’s oversimplistic to claim that some Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon post-date Nephi and the brass plates (ergo the Book of Mormon is ahistorical). The lack of any quotations or allusions from Trito-Isaiah (chapters 56–66) is, in fact, compelling evidence that these portions were written after the Babylonian exile and therefore not on the brass plates.

    I summarized the current state of research in a stake Old Testament class I taught last year; see pages 4–6 of the class notes, as well as page 3 of the handout that lists all the Isaiah quotations in the Book of Mormon.

  119. I can honestly say that I have read every comment in this discussion up to the point I started to compose this one. But even having read them, it would be overwhelming to try to respond to all the points. So I will just throw out a couple of observations:

    ——————-
    @ John C.
    I remember when you held a view similar to Bruce’s. You told me so personally. Here you say that since then you changed your mind after you “met and talked with people who did it.” Something about that interaction compelled you to “change [your] assumptions about the possible.” And yet, you still personally think the Inspired Fiction view is a “bridge too far.”

    You seem to be all over the map here. You are saying that while you personally agree that the “Inspired Fiction” view is logically untenable, at the same time you are convinced that it is (inexplicably) a tenable position because “fervent Mormons” you know believe it. When pressed to show how it can be logical you can only offer a hypothetical that you don’t even believe yourself. You seem to be saying that if they can be “fervent” while still holding this position, then the position must be both logical and acceptable. Subjective “fervency” trumps logic and consistency?

    ——-
    @TT

    Your Muhammed argument doesn’t work because the Qur’an was not written down by Muhammad. He recited his revelations, which were memorized and written down by some of his followers over many years. It only existed in a kind of unified form orally, memorized by a few designated teachers. The written texts were scattered among private owners. A unified book derived from the oral and gathered texts wasn’t compiled until after Muhammad had died. And variant copies may have been burned.

    The only reason that some Mormons can allow for Muhammad to possibly have been a prophet is that we can postulate that the Qur’an does not represent his authentic prophetic experience and teachings, but is instead an apostate corruption of his original, but unavailable revelations. If we had an authentic copy of the current text of the Qur’an written in Muhammad’s own hand, then Mormon’s would reject him as a false prophet.

    As you point out, Mormons can recognize God’s hand in inspiring Luther to publicize the apostasy of the church and call for a reformation, or inspiring Tyndale to produce a vernacular translation of the New Testament, or even individual visionary experiences, without having to accept everything they believed or taught by them as truth. This is consistent with the church’s teaching that all men have access to some level of inspiration through the “light of Christ,” which we strongly distinguish from the Gift of the Holy Spirit and Revelation.

    When you try to extend that same approach to Joseph Smith as we use for Luther, don’t you basically obliterate the very concepts of priesthood authority, commission, and revelation in favor of a fuzzy concept of vague inspiration? Doesn’t this amount to a logical repudiation of the concept of the Restored Church? Unitarianism calling itself Mormonism?

    ————-
    @Carla and @John C.

    Here is a question about the positions you have argued:

    You postulate that Joseph Smith might have received an authentic revelation, but that he might have invented a bunch of extras, perhaps under the direction of God, and then gone to great lengths to deceive others into believing those extras, to make the revelation look historical “to give the story more power, the make the message more relevant to people, the same way it does when other texts do the same thing.”

    If God is going to validate the authenticity of the revelation he has given to Joseph through the Holy Ghost (which is the reason why we accept it as “Inspired” and not just “Inspirational”), why would there be any need for the deception in the first place? Since recognizing that the revelation is true comes independently through the Holy Ghost, there is no reason to try to make it more powerful, appealing, or applicable by dressing it up in falsehoods.

    Furthermore, what about the inherent problem with dishonesty? Though the deception is intended to help “sell” the revelation, doesn’t the fact that once the deception is uncovered it will do more to discredit the revelation than it ever did to sell it in the first place make it illogical that God, whose aim is to bless his children with the truth in the revelation, would either command or permit Joseph to attempt to improve the appeal of the revelation through deception?

    If God wants to get information to his children, then he isn’t going to undermine his own efforts by employing a short sighted method for immediate benefit but with long term consequences that undo his very objective.

    Plus, look at the actually history and reactions. It is obvious that Joseph’s claims about the history of the book, how he received it, and where it came from were in fact a huge obstacle to people accepting the revelation. Had he merely presented it as an inspired parable it would have been far more palatable and he would have been spared the persecution. Even if the deception was his own idea and not God’s instructions, wouldn’t he have quickly learned the negative consequences of presenting it that way and quickly backtracked to the parable approach?

    The argument you are making simply doesn’t make any sense at all.

    ——
    @ Carla

    You say “I cannot get past the fact that God as a father would not simply “give up” on his chosen prophet, his son.”

    Just because the Bishop releases someone from a calling upon finding out that they have committed a serious sin, doesn’t mean that he has given up on them. Wouldn’t keeping Joseph as prophet to the detriment of getting his revelation to his other children mean that God was giving up on the others?

  120. Bruce N: So within my current understanding of God, yes, I’d expect God to essentially disown Joseph as a prophet under the circumstances.

    As I mentioned before, I think it would be nearly disastrous for Joseph Smith’s credibility if he knowingly published an ahistorical text as if it were historical, and I agree there are good reasons to believe it wasn’t even possible to reproduce those modern events if it wasn’t.

    That said, I think the position that people cannot write down inspired ideas (learned from whatever source) in such a work is untenable. For one thing there is no reason to believe that God is so interventionist as to stop such a person, make it so that he can only write down falsehoods, or block his mind from remembering any true idea he had ever learned.

    Not only that, I think that God is sufficiently and properly opportunistic that if someone (for whatever reason) decided to write a historical fiction on the greater good theory, that he would actively help wherever and whenever truth was attempting to be conveyed. I certainly don’t think that God would help anyone make anything up – I believe that would be disastrous for _his_ credibility, but helping with the doctrinal principles, to the level of the author’s understanding, almost certainly.

    Why? Because it would be enormously counterproductive to block inspiration to anyone dealing with religious and historical traditions of questionable value. As long as you don’t bear direct responsibility for the fictional parts, helping the author get the principled parts right might do a lot of good.

    Historically speaking there are all sorts of religious texts that have no end of questionable material in them. But great wisdom is found here and there nonetheless, and I think it is untenable to suggest that such wisdom was uninspired from front to back. After all, the person who wrote it down might not have been the ones who developed the ideas with inspired help in the first place.

    A skeptic, for example might say that despite the BoM arguably having a more coherent representation of the gospel than the New Testament as a whole, the author may have largely just been documenting the state of the art in Arminian and restorationist theology in the first place, i.e. ideas that he himself only partially developed, but which where “in the air” at the time in part due to inspiration received by countless others.

    Of course there are all the obvious problems with such a theory, but the idea that a imaginary history cannot contain inspired ideas is not a sustainable one. Nor do I think that it is reasonable to believe that God would cut off future inspiration to a religious leader just because (horror of horrors) he made the serious error of constructing such a historical fiction and presenting as historical.

    God wants to help people who are trying to do good, and teach the truth, and I believe he will take virtually any opportunity to help that happen, even when all sorts of other errors and pious fictions get propagated along the way.

  121. @ J Max Wilson – You make great points, but I feel like they were the same points the Bruce brought up and I’ve already answered them, specifically the question of “why deceive people about the BoM?” in that Joseph was a human being who may have made some poor choices. Obviously it’s been a detriment, but like I said, if free agency is real, then when God asks us to do something there has to be a real chance that we’ll make the wrong choices and screw it up, whether a little bit or a great deal. Your questions center around “why would God let that happen?” and my answer has consistently been: “because of free agency.” And on your statement that it’s not giving up on someone to release them from a calling (even prophet), like I said before, Joseph was also doing great things and making other good choices, and God thought he deserved the opportunity to fulfill his potential as prophet in spite of his past.

  122. JMax,
    I don’t see it as logically untenable. I see it as subjectively untenable (that is to say that it would be untenable for me, for the reasons that I have explained). But I understand why my reasons wouldn’t be convincing for other people (mostly because a testimony of the Spirit is the most important part of it and that, on its own, isn’t logically convincing). As to being all over the map, that’s what happens when you request someone who doesn’t believe a position to make it seem defensible. I come by my bad arguments by throwing anything at the wall to see what sticks.

    “Subjective “fervency” trumps logic and consistency?”
    Oh my yes. That’s testimony, isn’t it?

    “why would there be any need for the deception in the first place?”
    To make Joseph feel more comfortable about it? I think that goes a long way towards explaining moments of bizarreness like Nauvoo polygamy.

    “what about the inherent problem with dishonesty?”
    In the biblical sense, what about it? If we accept the Biblical stories at face value, God pretty much commands Jacob to deceive Isaac. In the Book of Mormon, both Nephi and Captain Moroni find justification for deceptive behavior in their beliefs about what God has revealed to them. I like the idea of God being a God of truth, but I don’t know if that means he has to always be honest. But I’m torn on all this personally, so if you ask me again in a week, I’ll probably give you a different answer.

    “doesn’t the fact that once the deception is uncovered it will do more to discredit the revelation than it ever did to sell it in the first place make it illogical that God, whose aim is to bless his children with the truth in the revelation, would either command or permit Joseph to attempt to improve the appeal of the revelation through deception?”
    This does seem to be the argument that people who stop believing in the church make when they stop believing. I don’t know, frankly. I think that if God was all that interested in appealing to our notions of what is moral, he wouldn’t have chosen a man who kills a drunken man as the first prominent prophet in the book (doesn’t Elder Holland refer to the Laban story as a great test or something?)

    “Had he merely presented it as an inspired parable it would have been far more palatable and he would have been spared the persecution.”
    I think he would have collected Methodists or Lutherans (maybe Baptists), but not Mormons.

  123. I am home and able to make some responses now. I can only promise a couple each tonight. Then you’ll have to wait another day for any more responses. Sorry.

  124. It seems that in all of the scriptural accounts where people are lying, steeling or killing in order to fulfill God’s will that we find an explicit injunction from God for those people to do so against their better judgment. Can the same be said about Joseph fabricating golden plates? Or receiving angelic visitations? If not, must we wait a few more generations for Joseph’s story to become “that much” more mythologized before future scribes will tweak the text to include a divine injunction to justify Joseph’s actions?

  125. @John C in #95.

    I appreciate that you have stuck your neck out a bit and tried to come up with an real competing theory. As I mentioned to the others, what I am really looking for is for you to ‘own’ this explanation and accept all logical consequences via attempts to explain them with explanations that fit your theory.

    I believe Popper was right that conjecture (explanation) and refutation is how we grow knowledge. But I agree with Kuhn that the real way conjecture and refutation works is by comparing competing theories, not by merely criticizing a single theory.

    What I am hoping for is that one of you on this thread will actually want to develop your ‘suggested explanation’ to the point where it is as easily ‘criticize-able’ as both of the ‘standard theories’ (i.e. historicity and non-inspired fraud). Then we can actually, Kuhn/Popper style, compare the two theories and make objective and/or subjective judgments about their relative strengths.

    This means that I need to be able to ask you questions about your suggested theory and you will answer them as if you really believed in it and if you were seriously trying to make rational sense out of it – as if you were an ‘apologist’ for that explanation. Is that okay?

    If it is, then the first thing I need to ask is for you to decide between these two:

    “God maybe tells him to do it this way…”

    and

    “You could even go further and believe that, although God is the ultimate source of the truth in the Book, he told Joseph to just come up with a vehicle for it and this is what Joseph worked out (allowing Joseph to make the whole thing up, yet still be inspired).”

    Those would each require different questions / criticisms.

    In the mean time, let me ask what questions I can given that I don’t yet know if you are claiming God only supported the fraud vs. God actually coming up with the fraud.

    A Lying God
    First, you use several examples of God lying in the scriptures. These included Rebekha and Jacob and “Nephi and Captain Moroni find justification for deceptive behavior in their beliefs about what God has revealed to them”

    I need you to clarify all of these. I know what you are referring to with Rebekha, but not with Nephi and Captain Moroni.

    In any case, given that I only have the Rebekha story, I do not see where God actually lies to someone there. So, at least so far, we don’t seem to have any scriptural cases of God lying.

    If we include the OP quotes, we have two accounts of God allowing a human to lie once in an impossible circumstances. But this is still not a case of God lying.

    Since you are, in both versions of your theory, claiming God lies, I would like to see you back that up with scripture as strongly as you can or admit that this explanation has no scriptural support.

    Also, I’m very interested on the idea of faith. I personally can’t have faith in a God that can and does rather arbitrarily lie to his own followers. I am going to challenge that idea that ‘faith’ for anyone is possible for a lying God. Can you please explain how faith and a lying God can be reconciled by your explanation?

    The Purpose of the Book of Mormon – God’s Ultimate Purposes
    You go on to claim that “the consequence of believing in the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction results in a God who seems much more arbitrary than we might like.” But this does not ring true to me. Beyond the challenge to the very concept of faith (above), I’d like to know what this God (according to this explanation) is trying to accomplish by bring forth the BoM at all? What is, as you say, His ‘ultimate purpose?’ What is it about the BoM that God wants us to have? In the standard theory, this is obvious: all of it. The teachings, the fact that God can and does talk to all nations, the fact that God speaks today, that fact that God has called a modern prophet, the fact that this means there is one true Church, etc. The standard theory fits the facts perfectly. It is all internally consistent.

    How well does the BoM’s existence fit your suggested alternative explanation? Within your explanation, it seems like we might have bumped off some or all of the above. Please specify which you are positing are still true, if any. If none, then please come up with your own list of what it is about the BoM that God wanted us to have.

    Historical Challenges
    Please consider and offer plausible explanations for all of the following:
    1. Why didn’t anyone notice that the angel was just a man dressed up and in fact Hyrum? They all knew Hyrum, right?
    2. Why didn’t anyone notice that the tin wasn’t Gold? (8 witnesses)
    3. Why did JS hide the plates at all since he really had them and they apparently looked like Gold?
    4. Why didn’t he sell them for money?
    5. Where did he get the plates? (Did he secretly know how to smelt metal?) How did he afford them?
    6. Why did JS fake going to a certain hill for year after year rather than just get started?
    7. How and when did God reveal these visions to JS? In your explanation you place the visions first and the fraud second. But the real historical record does not seem to allow for this interpretation and even forces us to accept that JS had this all worked out by age 16. Please get more detailed and try to come up with a story consistent with the historical record.
    8. How did JS get 3 people to claim not only that they saw an angel (Hyrum) but that this angel was brilliant and shining from heaven? What 19th century technology was being used for this?
    9. What about the breastplate? There is an apparent eye witness account of that as well. Please fit it into your explanation.

  126. John C,

    On an unrelated note, I am shocked that you said Occam’s Razor is bunk.

    Now if you had said that how people abuse it is bunk, I’d have agreed. But Occam’s Razor itself is required for our epistemologies to work. Scientific progress would be impossible without Occam’s Razor.

  127. John C,

    I have really appreciated your sincerity with dialog. I do want to ask you about something and, perhaps, make a gentleman’s bargain with you.

    Since we started having dialog a few weeks or so ago, you have attempted to play the ‘you’re challenging my righteousness’ card several times with me and others. Unlike many on the Bloggernacle, you’ve been very tame about this. And to your credit, you have backed off of that in every case where I’ve challenged it.

    I, for one, can see why a perceived challenge to someone’s righteousness might make you (and others, including me) squeamish. But it seems to me that it just isn’t that simple.

    I personally will never challenge someone’s commitment to the church. I may challenge their morality, if I feel they are doing something deceptive. I very definitely will challenge their rationality at times. But I commit to never challenge their commitment to “the Church” nor, more to the point, their salvation. I have mentioned before how strongly I have universalist leanings. So I just do not buy that a person’s beliefs directly impacts their ‘salvation.’

    However, I feel you do over reach on this point and put dialog in jeopardy at times. Let me see if I can explain with an example that seems similar.

    Consider the example you have used of, as you say, “I know other people, fervent Mormons, who hold this view [i.e. ahistorical BoM].”

    Well, this post challenges “this view” doesn’t it? But in what way? Does it challenge their ‘righteousness’? No. Does it challenges their commitment to the Church? No. So what exactly am I challenging about those that hold ‘this view?’

    Well, let’s be honest. What I’m challenging, if we put it truthfully but frankly, is their there ability to make critical rational arguments. Now if someone were here that held ‘this view’ (none of you defending it has claimed you do) I would never put it that way because of tact. Yet wouldn’t it be ‘implied?’

    Why Yes! And how do I know? Because that is what the definition of ‘critical discussion’ is. If I’m arguing that my position is rationally valid and someone elses’ is less so, then it will always be theoretically possible to recast my argument into the point of view of “You just think you’re able to think rationally better than me on this point!”

    Well duh! Of course that’s what I’m arguing. So is the other person in reverse.

    My point here is that someone might decide to continually play the “you’re saying I’m not rational” card and quickly turn a valid rational discussion into an emotionally untenable situation.

    I believe the same holds true for charges of ‘righteousness tests.’ They quickly cause the whole discussion to fall apart. (Or can, anyhow.)

    Here’s the problem. There is a valid question that needs to be asked at times. It’s this: how much fidelity (closeness to) does a certain point of view (or even a certain person) have with the teachings of the LDS church?

    The fact is that this is a rationally valid question at times and fully pertinent to the current discussion. (i.e. if ahistorical BoM is out of step with the Church’s teachings, which it is, what does this rationally imply about the Church’s other teachings to that person?)

    I need some way to be able to ask this question that won’t cause you or others to perceive it as a ‘righteousness test.’ It is a question valid to many discussions. I left the Bloggernacle and came to M* precisely because I got tired of people controlling conversations through the technique of accusing people of a ‘righteousness test’ the moment they refer to ‘the teachings of the LDS church.’ (Personally, I find that technique rather offensive on many fronts.)

    So here is my suggested bargain. I will promise to never challenge you or anyone at all on the topic of commitment to the LDS church if you will not take my discussions about fidelity to the teachings of the LDS church compared to a certain point of view (or even a certain person’s point of view) as a claim against yours or anyone’s righteousness. I will even defend this bargain by, if necessary, moderating people that make a direct claim against yours or anyone’s commitment to the LDS church or salvation.

    There is a second problem that needs to be addressed. It’s the multiple ways the word ‘believer’ can be used/defined.

    Let’s, for the sake of argument, say that we had a person that was 100% committed to the LDS Church. They are deep LDS. But they don’t believe in a historical BoM. In fact, for the sake of argument, let’s assume they don’t believe that Joseph Smith was uniquely called as a prophet to the world. They don’t believe physically resurrected beings visited Joseph. They also don’t believe the LDS church solely holds priesthood authority. They do not believe the LDS Church is the one true (or even most true) church. They don’t even believe that Jesus was God. They don’t even believe in the resurrection at all. There is no afterlife, heaven, nor salvation. They are not even sure Jesus existed even as a mortal non-divine man. He was probably just a myth.

    Is this persons a ‘believer’ in the LDS Church?

    It entirely depends on what you mean by ‘believer’ of course.

    So here is my bargain with you here. If you will accept that this person is, in some legitimate sense, a non-believer in the LDS Church, I’ll accept that in many legitimate senses he.she is a believer in the LDS Church. (For example, they may believe that the LDS church is where God wants them to be. Or they may believe that the LDS church’s teachings saves them, or they may believe God recognizes the authority of the LDS Church too, etc. I could give you hundreds of examples.) And I propose that both of use will take care to specify what senses we are using to avoid confusion.

    Is this a fair bargain?

  128. John C, one more:

    “I used to be in your shoes, believing that such a thing isn’t possible, but then I met and talked with people who did it.”

    You are reading me wrong. I most certainly do believe a person can believe the BoM is ahistorical but also approach it religiously and respectfully.

    What I do not believe is that this can be done rationally without, essentially, resorting to a certain sort of explanation which I haven’t had a chance to explain yet. (And, I’m afraid, it’s not one that would make you very popular in the LDS church, so it’s not shocking people don’t want to talk about it.)

  129. G. Wesley,

    You started down the road to coming up with an explanation you were going to defend then abandoned it and instead said:

    bruce, i am not hypothesizing in order to explain how the book of mormon came to be so much as how appeal to the plates is not certain.

    I have never said nor even hinted at the diea that an appeal to the plates was somehow certain. You made this up, not me.

    You go on to ask me to follow up on logical consequences of the standard theory.

    Okay, very well, here is my suggested bargain for you. I am not an apologist. Not at all. Apologists field concerns with their theory/explanation, and then come up with their best explanations that still fit the over all theory. That’s not me.

    I have no issue, whatsoever, answering your questions, but only in the context of comparison between explanations. Therefore, if you are not going to offer up an explanation and defend it, please explain to me why I owe you one?

    After all, my only contention has ever been that as bad as the standard theories both are, they are way better than any other theory. The highly improbably against the nearly impossible as I see it. I am arguing for the highly improbable. You are arguing for the nearly impossible (i.e. inspired fiction BoM). I think once we have two explanations side by side, this becomes obvious.

    However, I promise you that I will respond to your every question if you will match me and make a sincere attempt to defend at least one inspired-but-fiction theory of the BoM to the best of your ability.

    But until then, shall I assume you have surrendered and were unable to defend a position?

  130. mike parker (#128),

    those look like great notes and handouts. your class was lucky to have you.

    … oversimplistic of lds scholarship, sure. of non-lds scholarship, i doubt. i don’t think many non-lds scholars are going to push back the date of II isaiah in order to line up with book of mormon chronology.

    you put it rather well in you notes i think:

    “If portions of Isaiah were written after Lehi left Jerusalem
    with the brass plates (in or shortly after 598 B.C.), and yet those same
    portions appear in the Book of Mormon, it would cause considerable
    problems with the book’s claim of historic authenticity.

    “(ii) Most scholars believe that Deutero-Isaiah wrote sometime during the
    Babylonian captivity (586–538 B.C.), and Trito-Isaiah wrote after the
    return from captivity, in the late 6th century.

    “1. But, as you can see from your handout, there are numerous and
    lengthy passages from Deutero-Isaiah that were on the brass plates,
    including more than four complete chapters quoted in 1 and 2 Nephi.

    “(iii) In order to accept multiple authorship of Isaiah, Latter-day Saints
    would have to push back the portions of Deutero-Isaiah that appear in the
    Book of Mormon to no later than just after 600 B.C

    i’d be personally and genuinely interested in hearing about how you have dealt with this issue. you have obviously spent some time studying isaiah and the book of mormon. do you find the pushing back of the date of II isaiah to be a a workable solution?

    about the absence of citations to III isaiah, yes, that is interesting. it is also an argument from silence, which arguments are not all bad, just not as conclusive as could be hoped. and it does not remedy the situation with II isaiah de facto. as you list in your handout, there are also quite a few chapters from II isaiah that are not cited in the book of mormon. since those are not cited yet presumably were known to the book of mormon author/s, could we not also imagine the same for III isaiah?

  131. Mark D,

    I want to give you a respectful (i.e. critical) response as well. However, your main point is that almost anything can have inspiration in it.

    I don’t think that is in question. We are not talking about ‘inspirational’ but ‘inspiration.’ See #114.

    If I understand your argument correctly you are saying that it is possible that JS learned truth doctrines, such as arminianism. Then he decided to perpetuate a fraud and included his learnings. Therefore the book is 100% fraud, but also ‘inspired’ in the sense that it contains real actual truths from God.

    Is that a fair summary of at least one possible variant of what you are saying?

  132. @Carla #88,

    Carla,

    Thanks for the response. But please keep in mind that what I am after is a single well thought out plausible explanation I can compare ‘the standard theories’ (historicity and non-inspired fraud) to. So when you saying things like “Joseph would have had to convince them to lie about it. OR, as happens in many other religions, the people saw what they were expected to see/wanted to see.” it screws up my ability to ask questions. Not because of some logical grounds, but because I have to make mutually exclusive arguments/questions/criticisms depending on which way you choose.

    My advice would be to pick the one that you believe is going to be rationally hardest to criticize. Also, you are not ‘stuck’ with a single path. I’m happy to carry this on via multiple paths/theories so long as you are willing to stick with one until either you get to the end of my questions or you are willing to admit that that line wasn’t rationally tenable and that you are asking to switch to a new theory/explanation.

    So here were my questions to you again. Please tell me what specific answers you wish to go with for round 1.

    1. God came to Joseph Smith and wanted him to write a revelation. This revelation was a fictional story — a parable — to teach certain truths.
    2. Joseph then decided to ‘enhance’ this intended message from God his own way. God is not responsible for this part. These enhancements included:
    a) Making fake plates
    b) Making up a story about a visit of an angel guardian of the plates
    c) Faking trips for 4 years to a hill (which was not in fact in any way connected to the BoM, since it was just fiction) and pretending to meet with an angel there year after year.
    d) Carting around his fake set of plates for quite a while, protecting it in boxes, under covers, etc.
    e) Convincing 11 witnesses to pretend to see it and 3 of them to pretend to see an angel.

    Also, I do not feel that you entirely answered all of J Max’s questions. For example, you really didn’t get at the heart of his question. Specifically, your hypothesis (the one you are choosing to defend for the sake of argument) is that the BoM is in fact ahistorical. The fact is that at some level God Himself has made a giant mess of things. Not nearly so much as JS who died a long time ago. So God is responsible for a lot of what J Max challenges your theory on.

    Also, I am going to ask you many of the same questions that I asked John C.

    In particular, this seems particularly pertinent to your explanation:

    The Purpose of the Book of Mormon – God’s Ultimate Purposes

    I’d like to know what this God (according to this explanation) is trying to accomplish by bring forth the BoM at all? What is his purpose? What is it about the BoM that God wants brought forth anyhow? In what sense is this a ‘restored Gospel’?

    In the standard theory, this is obvious: all of it. The teachings, the fact that God can and does talk to all nations, the fact that God speaks today, that fact that God has called a modern prophet, the fact that this means there is one true Church, etc. The standard theory fits the facts perfectly. It is all internally consistent.

    How well does the BoM’s existence fit your suggested alternative explanation? Within your explanation, it seems like we might have bumped off some or all of the above. Please specify which you are positing are still true, if any. If none, then please come up with your own list of what it is about the BoM that God wanted us to have.

    I can’t really ask you historical questions as of yet because I need you to be more specific first. But I’ll have a considerable number of historical questions. Feel free to look at my historical questions to John C. Many will end up applying to your explanation as well.

    Also, Carla, it’s fun to ask you questions like this. I know this isn’t your personal beliefs, and I think this is fun for you too. But I do have to warn you that the questions will probably get a lot harder as you get more specific. You are positing the existence of a full explanation for an inspired-fiction BoM. That’s no small order.

  133. @ Mark Brown – 109

    I have still not been offered a source for Spencer Kimball’s teaching regarding Job being a parable. I really would be interested in reading that. Did you post it and I didn’t see it?

  134. @ Michelle #93,

    “I can totally respect that someone can have a personal spiritual journey and not believe in the BoM’s literalness, but I do believe this is a personal place and not one that is sustainable at the collective level”

    Michelle, you make a point here that I think most have overlooked.

    It is way easier for a single individual not ask difficult questions of themselves than it is for a group.

    This is a problem I see no one hear addressing. An ‘inspired-fictional BoM’ theory is possible in, as far as I can see, two ways: 1) you just don’t think too hard about it, 2) you redefine ‘inspired’ and/or ‘fraud’ just right to create a remapping scheme.

    Neither of these approaches could ever work at a group level. Once you have to deal with the fact that eventually all questions will get asked and you have to answer them, both of the above become unworkable.

    This is why an individual can honestly believe in an ‘inspired fraud’ theory but a Church cannot. The individual might make it all the way through life without a problem. The Church would die very quickly.

  135. @ Bruce

    My advice would be to pick the one that you believe is going to be rationally hardest to criticize. Also, you are not ‘stuck’ with a single path. I’m happy to carry this on via multiple paths/theories so long as you are willing to stick with one until either you get to the end of my questions or you are willing to admit that that line wasn’t rationally tenable and that you are asking to switch to a new theory/explanation.

    Fine, be that way. ;-) I don’t know how much more I’ll be able to defend. It was fun to think I might be able to create a whole theology here, but I figured that eventually you’d get me to the point where I didn’t have an answer to your question. What makes the most sense to me here is that the witnesses experienced something which they perceived to be a supernatural event of divine origins, and that they did not actually lie. If you want to continue from that point, I’ll do my best to keep going – this has been a challenging mental exercise for me.

    I’d like to know what this God (according to this explanation) is trying to accomplish by bring forth the BoM at all? What is his purpose? What is it about the BoM that God wants brought forth anyhow? In what sense is this a ‘restored Gospel’?

    This will be, for me, the most difficult to answer. I have read the BoM cover to cover once, about 3 years ago. If I were approaching this like any other text, I would have been looking for patterns, weird stuff – using the skills I learned in my English Lit classes in college – I would have been reading it with the goal of coming up with a clear thesis about its overall message, or at least one point in why I should care about what this text has to say at all. Sadly, that wasn’t the mindset I had when reading it. I was taking it at face value, not applying critical thinking, not trying to organize my thoughts, etc. As such, I don’t have a clear understanding about what the BoM is essentially saying. I remember familiar themes from the Old and New Testaments – a promise of a land of plenty, metanoia, the inheritance/disinheritance paradigm, and I remember themes unique to the BoM: emphasis on the importance of texts for faith, a clear and direct promise of Jesus as the Messiah, assent, climax, decline, and fall of a civilization … but these are just descriptors. None of them is a message.

    Still, I don’t see why a parable that metaphor-izes the message that, for instance, Jesus is the savior of all nations, can’t be effective in conveying that message (that’s the nature of fiction after all), in the same way an historical account of Jesus visiting another continent does. Whether history or fiction, I think the stories in the BoM teach the same principles. It being fiction doesn’t take away any of the teachings you mention, in my opinion.

  136. This is why an individual can honestly believe in an ‘inspired fraud’ theory but a Church cannot. The individual might make it all the way through life without a problem. The Church would die very quickly.

    Not if I can effectively stump you here. :) Watch, I’ll have my arguments here correlated and distributed within months!

  137. @carla

    if free agency is real, then when God asks us to do something there has to be a real chance that we’ll make the wrong choices and screw it up, whether a little bit or a great deal. Your questions center around “why would God let that happen?” and my answer has consistently been: “because of free agency.”

    I am not asking why God would let Joseph screw up. Of course Joseph had the choice to screw things up. The lost 116 page manuscript demonstrates that God would permit Joseph to make bad choices. My question is why, once Joseph had screwed up by trying to enhance his revelation with fraudulent historicity, would God not call him to repentance, to own up to his mistake, and rectify it? And if Joseph would not, why would he not then call someone else to deliver his message? The imposition of a punishment or consequence after the bad choice has been made not only doesn’t interfere with Joseph’s agency, but is consistent with what God requires of everyone who makes bad choices and then does not repent.

    Your argument makes Joseph equal to those in the first centuries after Christ who used their agency to screw up their Great Commission. We call it the Apostasy. Doesn’t your argument then make the Restoration through Joseph functionally equivalent to the Apostasy that it was supposed to remedy. How is that comprehensible? Why then should we prefer Joseph to the Pope or to Luther who would have equally been given a commission that they screwed up?

    Again, doesn’t this then amount to an argument for Unitarianism calling itself Mormonism?

  138. Joseph was also doing great things and making other good choices, and God thought he deserved the opportunity to fulfill his potential as prophet in spite of his past.

    What great things and good choices, specifically, was he making that qualified him despite his BoM fraud? How would you reconcile his lack of repentance, including confession and restitution, (he perpetuated the fraud until the end of his life) with the inspired message of repentance contained in the revelation itself? Doesn’t that just make him even more of a hypocrite?

    Incidentally, I got my degree in English Lit and Criricism too. Here is a challenge for you: go back and read the Book of Mormon using all of you literary training and knowledge. When you do it, ask yourself if the text itself can be reconciled with the Inspired Fiction theory? What is the inspired part? What is it teaching? And can what it teaches be consistent with the the idea that it is taught through fraudulent means?

  139. bruce,

    you call the plates your “real question” in the o.p.:

    “My concern with his rewording was that just saying ‘parable’ failed to get to the heart of my real question, which was how do you explain the plates. Joseph Smith carted them around and many many people touched them under a cloth.”

    you tell me what you implied by this.

    if you are now willing to admit that the existence of the plates as genuine artifact does not prove much of anything, then we are in agreement.

    you write:

    “…if you are not going to offer up an explanation and defend it, please explain to me why I owe you one?”

    you do realize that you are the one who asked first and by this reasoning ought to be the first to defend. right?

    but let’s put such pettiness aside.

    here goes:

    say the plates were real, bona fide, not faked. they get recovered tomorrow, translated by an international team of scholars next week, and turn out to be, i don’t know, a 16th century c.e. text having very little to do with the book of mormon.

    is that the end of the world? do we then give up on mormonism? no. not unless we hold to a bunch of reductionist dichotomies about what prophets and religious experience and revelation are. one can make a strong case for remaining mormon and converting to mormonism that does not rely on doctrinal claims but rather practical reasons:

    http://mormonscholarstestify.org/396/richard-lyman-bushman

    it’s not that the doctrinal claims are to be jettisoned. it’s that the way they have been used, such as if-the-book-of-mormon-is-true-then-joseph-smith-was-a-true-prophet-and-therefore-the-church-he-founded-must-be-true, may not be sustainable and may actually be setting at least some of our members up for a fall that is unnecessary.

    so what would be the logical conclusions of genuine plates and a 19th century book of mormon? well, for starters, joseph smith might be more human than previously thought. besides a charismatic leader, innovative religious thinker, and apparent literary genius, he may have also been prone to wild speculation that he himself could not distinguish from his own understanding of divine revelation. he may have also seen and experienced things that he himself could not process in terms of physical sense perception but that we have blithely taken to be phenomena observable by any and all by-standers.

    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2010/12/visions/

    … in short, god may have been less directly involved than we or the prophet would like to believe in his life and our own … we might have to come to grips with the prospect of living with less certainty and tidiness than we might prefer, abandoning our simplistic typologies that do not jive with the real world.

    lastly, in regards to your victory cry over my surrender, do please take this more seriously than a matter of ego.

  140. @ J Max Wilson

    A very good point. As a preface to my answer: We know for certain that Brigham Young taught things that are not true, that are condemned as false by the church today (such as the Adam-God doctrine), but which he certainly taught as true doctrines straight from God. But he remained the president of the church until his death, there are no claims that he was ever called to rectify his mistake there, nor any claim that he was disavowed by God as a prophet – there is no account of him being punished for teaching falsehoods.

    This doesn’t answer the question of “why?” but I do think the precedent serves as evidence that God doesn’t always punish deception or bad behavior, even in the highest officials of the church.

    The only answer to the “why” I have is that God doesn’t always take action to fix things when people screw up. That’s exactly what happened with the apostasy, isn’t it? The Catholic church continued to reign as The Church for centuries and is still a massive institution holding sway over the hearts of a billion people worldwide – why wouldn’t God call those early leaders to repentance and call someone else to share his message (exactly as you suggest God should have done with Joseph Smith if he did in fact do the things I’m suggesting)? That clearly didn’t happen, or Catholicism would not be what it is today. Catholicism would be Mormonism and there would have been no apostasy. God does not always interfere when his chosen leaders screw up, tell lies, teach false doctrine, etc.

  141. Therefore the book is 100% fraud, but also ‘inspired’ in the sense that it contains real actual truths from God. Is that a fair summary of at least one possible variant of what you are saying?

    Bruce N,

    (1) Clearly the true parts cannot be considered a fraud. Fraud would only consist of knowingly representing historical fiction as fact.

    (2) I claim that the level of inspiration would go beyond merely the incorporation of existing inspired ideas. Further that it is contrary to God’s character, his purposes, and indeed his very nature to block incremental inspiration of anyone seeking to understand the truth, even if he/she may propagate it by questionable means.

    (3) That is not to say that God wouldn’t try to influence anyone not to use questionable means – I believe clearly he would. I just don’t think God can or would walk away from anyone trying to understand the truth.

    I will say that my nominal position is more or less the expansionist theory. I tend to be persuaded that there is quite a bit of expansion based on contemporary themes that probably shouldn’t be there, but also that one can’t go around idly discarding the proposition that the core events are historical.

    I don’t find that even that level of expansion a particularly comforting prospect either, other than to say much of the Bible seems to be riddled with it.

    Lastly, although this is completely circumstantial, nothing bothers me more about the BoM than the fact that Joseph Smith gave hundreds of sermons where he could hardly go two sentences without quoting or paraphrasing some passage from the New Testament and yet he doesn’t appear to have quoted the BoM once. The D&C doesn’t appear to quote the BoM anywhere either.

    That is sort of thing that makes the BoM look like a primer to other scriptures, to be discarded once a basic interpretive foundation is established.

  142. Here is a challenge for you: go back and read the Book of Mormon using all of you literary training and knowledge. When you do it, ask yourself if the text itself can be reconciled with the Inspired Fiction theory? What is the inspired part? What is it teaching? And can what it teaches be consistent with the the idea that it is taught through fraudulent means?

    *groan* My “to read” list is so massive. Just the thought of that kind of undertaking kind of makes me want to crawl under the covers and hide. I’m not saying I won’t ever do it. But it’s not going to be very high on my list of priorities. I’d love to wrote some scholarly essays on the BoM, I really did enjoy reading it the first time around. So, that’s in the back drawer waiting for me to take it out one day …

    As to the great things Joseph did – organizing a church, instituting essential ordinances, transcribing (via dictation) and printing several works of scripture, leading believers across great distances in the wake of violence, disease, and many different hardships, sending missionaries far and wide, directing the building of two temples – he did many great things, both spiritual and temporal, for the betterment of the people who believed his message. I don’t think that makes him *more* of a hypocrite, I just think it makes him human.

  143. Bruce,
    I wrote a bunch of stuff that was, apparently, eaten. I could try again tonight, I suppose.

    My immediate request would be that you read Ezekiel 20:24-26 and then will have to start from that when I can get back to it tonight.

  144. I don’t think passages like the one mentioned from Ezekiel can be understood properly in any other context than what I call proto-Calvinism, namely the belief that God causes everything to happen, especially things that we might consider to be natural consequences rather than divine intervention. If God can stop anything from happening then surely that anything that does happen is in accordance with his will, right?

  145. Hey, Bruce saved my excessively long comment. Here it is. Bruce, I take back all the mean things Mark D. said about you.

    Bruce,

    Part of the problem with this conversation is that you are demanding an awful lot of thought and time. So long as we establish that my failing to answer doesn’t equate to my agreeing or acquiescing to your points, that’s fine. Also, I find the entire exercise of looking for the ways in which someone’s belief maintains logical consistency a red herring. Whose faith beliefs are entirely logically consistent? Mine certainly aren’t; I doubt yours are. Every system of belief has its mysteries and you are expecting me to come up with genuine mysteries and explanations for a set of beliefs that I don’t actually hold (even though I am sympathetic to their bearers).

    That said, I’m going to set aside your questions for a sec because I think what is really at stake here is our notion of a God of Truth (which the Book of Mormon explicitly claims our God to be). I tend to think that this isn’t a reference to honesty per se (although it probably is implied); instead I think that it is a reference to the likelihood that God will fulfill a given promise. A True God is one that can be relied upon, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what we would like it to mean. So, can a God that fulfills covenant, but not necessarily expectations, be a God of Truth? Probably, but it will be (and is) tough for us to see and understand in that light. Which is fine, because his ways aren’t our ways, etc.

    Finally, I’ve personally given up on the project of trying to make God seem moral all the time. By my reckoning, he does some things that would be considered monstrous if done by people (and deservedly so). So while I can accept that God is moral (even perfectly so), it is only by accepting that his moral scale is vastly different from ours (his ways, our ways). Attempting to emulate his parenting style in temporal life would justly get your kids in the system and you thrown in jail.

    Also, should we just decide to restrain ourselves from discussing other morally questionable divine behaviors in order to avoid topic creep later? I’ve already brought up Laban’s death a couple of times but I’m happy to set it (and similar stuff) aside.

    With those caveats and ground rules, I’ll try something or another.

    “You could even go further and believe that, although God is the ultimate source of the truth in the Book, he told Joseph to just come up with a vehicle for it and this is what Joseph worked out (allowing Joseph to make the whole thing up, yet still be inspired).”

    Let’s go with this one since I suppose it better allows someone to pretend God keeps his hands clean and his heart pure. :)

    Nephi: I’m probably overstating things a bit, but I was thinking of his trying (badly) to pretend to be Laban while talking to Zoram

    Moroni: there is that whole justification for using espionage and misdirection that Mormon creates for him (so maybe the blame for the justification should be placed at the feet of Mormon). See, for instance, this.

    For that matter, there is this odd incident where Ammon uses guile, which I am not sure what the verse means really, but it seems like it means that he is being deceptive in some way.

    “So, at least so far, we don’t seem to have any scriptural cases of God lying.”

    Here, let me refer you to one, Ezekiel 20:24-26.

    “But this is still not a case of God lying.”

    Ah, so divine sanction doesn’t imply divine approval? God does, after all, bless Abraham in Pharoah’s household. And Abraham does it over and over again. He seems to have quite the racket going with Sarah. God and kings get duped by it every time. Also, calling it impossible, doesn’t actually make it impossible. Since we know nothing of the actual circumstances of what Abraham did in Egypt or Gerar, I don’t think we should assume that we know why he did what he did. While this does prevent our assuming the bad, it should also prevent our assuming the good. Abraham certainly doesn’t come off looking that great in the Biblical account of his stay in Egypt (morally, that is; financially he comes up aces).

    “Can you please explain how faith and a lying God can be reconciled by your explanation?”

    Who am I to claim to know the end from the beginning? Paul and his fellow saints assumed that the second coming would happen in their lifetime. Are there reasons to assume that they never took the question to God and felt a confirmation? Elder McConkie taught things that later turned out to be untrue. Does he strike you as someone who would teach doctrine that hadn’t been confirmed to him by the Spirit? Now, maybe we confuse the Spirit with our own desires (although I’m not comfortable saying that of Elder McConkie, in part because I don’t think that he was particularly racist) or maybe speaking “to our understanding” sometimes means allowing us to keep flawed undestanding. Does not correcting false belief when God could constitute lying? Probably not, but I think it could still be considered deceptive. But maybe it’s deceptive like letting children believe in Santa Claus. Of course, that doesn’t stop people from feeling betrayed does it? Maybe our faith in God shouldn’t be based in any particular set of truth claims aside from knowledge of Him and His love (the temple recommend questions may indicate that). Perhaps if you know Him, He appears to be more of a trickster God than we would like. Or not. Certainly there are a lot of verses that assure us that His word is sure. It’s just a matter of figuring what is actually his word and what is some human trying to express what they think his word is (or should be). Let me direct you to, for instance, Job (although that could be fiction, of course), where the ultimate message is that God is big and can do whatever he wants and that sometimes that means messing us over, which God admits in the end (in a very passive-aggressive kind of way). Why is Job ultimately righteous, in spite of eventually calling God out on not keeping His promises? It’s a mystery, and deservedly so.

    “The teachings, the fact that God can and does talk to all nations, the fact that God speaks today, that fact that God has called a modern prophet, the fact that this means there is one true Church”

    I don’t see that inspired fiction has to lose any of these, so you’ll have to explain to me why you think it does. Sorry, but I don’t see the warrant here.

    Regarding all the historical questions, ask Dan Vogel, who thinks that the whole thing is the result of psychological trauma from the leg operation (apparently, Joseph really should have drunk some alcohol). I’m sure he has answers for all that and I frankly don’t feel like bothering with any of it. Just assume that I would say what he says or something similar and let’s move on.

    “On an unrelated note, I am shocked that you said Occam’s Razor is bunk.”

    I’m mostly a Social Scientist, so this has been true in my experience. And since we are talking social science here, my statement stands. I’m happy to retract it in the physical sciences (although I believe that it is ultimately equally shaky there (all scientific phenomena is caused by little demons; scientists are just trying to make you feel better about it all ;) )).

    “What I’m challenging, if we put it truthfully but frankly, is their there ability to make critical rational arguments.”

    Good gravy! Why would we want to apply rational criticism to faith? Perhaps to analyze it, I suppose, but every religion holds inconsistent beliefs (hence the need for apologetics in every religion to paper over those holes). Besides, faith itself is rather impervious to rational criticism (or should be). I suppose that the reason that I find this process suspect is because application of rational critique to another’s faith isn’t helpful or uplifting. It’s what Antis do all the time and I don’t like see our people do it.

    Of course, you may be engaged in all of this out of anthropological interest and, failing to get actual first person witnesses of this belief, you are stumbling around with people like me who don’t fit the bill but are willing to play one on TV. That’s fine, I guess, but I would think your time would be better spent on a NOM or DAMU forum. Those folks are generally happy to explain exactly how and why the church’s approach to x, y, and z is wrong. Actually, that might be a bad choice, because they don’t tend to like the Book of Mormon either. Perhaps go to a Community of Christ blog and ask away (although they have a spectrum of approaches). I’m always going to be a lousy witness because I’m not particularly committed to the process and, as a result, I tend toward flippancy (actually, I tend toward flippancy in real life, but the tendency is emphasized in this sort of setting). Read the Digging for Cumorah book that I mentioned earlier, there, at least, you would have an actual informant (and maybe he’d engage you online; people do like to read about themselves). If it is anthropological interest that you have, then there are far better informants out there than TT and myself (I won’t speak for Carla).

    If, however, this is all part of a process to come to the eventual and inevitable conclusion that you are right and the other side is wrong, then you’re not going to get a lot of love. Not that you are necessarily engaged in that, of course, but it is always helpful to consider one’s motives. I, for instance, am almost certainly engaged in that endeavor, but I am a prideful jerk.

    “how much fidelity (closeness to) does a certain point of view (or even a certain person) have with the teachings of the LDS church?”

    Since I see the church as orthoprax first and orthodox second, this really isn’t an important point for me. I believe that we should believe what we are supposed to believe in order to get a temple recommend (and, maybe, the articles of faith should be believed, too.) Beyond that, I don’t think testing orthodoxy is useful or relevant. FWIW

    “if ahistorical BoM is out of step with the Church’s teachings, which it is, what does this rationally imply about the Church’s other teachings to that person?”

    If it is, then why did Elder Holland go out of his way to include these folks in his conference talk here? I should note that I think he is saying “out of whole cloth” to mean without divine influence. He doesn’t mention the internal historical claims of the text once, instead focusing on whether or not Joseph and Hyrum genuinely thought they were doing God’s work. I think he does it in a way that allows folks to believe in the “inspired fiction” theory, but, of course, ymmv.

    “I left the Bloggernacle and came to M*”

    huh?

    “Is this persons a ‘believer’ in the LDS Church?”

    I would actually say no, because they don’t even meet the limited criteria for belief that I have. I think you are misreading me if you think I would be tempted to consider this person a believer. That I have different standards doesn’t mean that I have no standards. Of course, I wouldn’t drive such a person away if they want to hang out with us, but I wouldn’t call them to be Sunday School teacher either.

    “without, essentially, resorting to a certain sort of explanation which I haven’t had a chance to explain yet.”

    Well get on with it, sir. Certainly there is nothing about Mormon geekery that makes one popular.

  146. I have spent hours writing responses now and just can’t keep up. :)

    Some thing will have to wait until tomorrow.

  147. @ Michelle
    I concede the point. However, I was limiting my comment to ‘purely rational’ approaches. I do not mean to in any way imply ‘being held responsible.’

  148. Carla gets a response first. She is the boldest.

    Carla,

    Fraud and Delusion
    First, I think you made some good choices. I approve of going with the angel being a group delusion over a lie. One person lying is just a lie. A group of synchronized liars is a conspiracy and conspiracies become untenable over time just due to human nature. By comparison we know so very little about delusions that it’s still possible to basically claim anything was a delusion and people will buy it.

    However, atheist Daniel Dennett challenges this. In real life, it is not possible for the brain to produce a perfect high fidelity delusion. Namely it really struggles with touch. It generally can’t even do sight. For example, it’s very difficult for a delusion to allow a person to walk around the ‘vision of the angel’ and see his back.

    However, I do know of a few high fidelity delusions that included full sight. SteveP wrote an article about a very long delusion that happened to him that included high fidelity sight but not touch. It had an amazing amount of consistency to it too for a delusion. It was on the upper scale of high fidelity delusions right into the ‘very rare’ type.

    However, despite the amazingly high fidelity, the truth is that if his reason centers hadn’t also been at least partially impaired that he’d have easily been able to figure out it was a delusion. Actually, that is the main way delusions happen at all. They impair the reason centers so that you can’t think to test them as delusions or because the brain forces the individual to ‘just accept them’ despite the fidelity problems. (For example, SteveP’s brain made up a reason why he couldn’t touch his delusions.)

    I’d like for you to comment on that in light of your explanation. After all, most people try to posit that JS and the three witnesses were all one big group delusion. They all got together and hyped each other up until they thought they saw things and it all happened to be a very high fidelity delusion on par with StevePs.

    But you are positing otherwise. You are suggesting JS knew it was all a fraud but that he somehow got three men – all of who were, prior to their vision of an angel, concerned that maybe it was all a fraud – to somehow, nearly on command, have a group delusion. This is something your explanation will need to address in some way.

    The Message of the Book of Mormon
    I commend you on your choice for the message of the Book of Mormon: “Jesus is the savior of all nations.”

    This fits as well as you could have hoped with your theory and it is the main theme of the BoM in real life.

    However, your theory is not without significant problems.

    First, I would need to know how you’d reconcile the fact that a parable about Jesus coming to America does not seem to really suggest that Jesus is the savior of the world.

    Having Jesus actually come to America does create this message rather directly. Having a fictional story (parable) about it does not do so, as far as I can tell. A fictionalized version of this message seems to work against the message to me.

    Worsening this problem is the fact that believing members of the Church that carries that message to the world all consistently teach it isn’t a parable when in fact it is. What a disaster!

    Now I don’t have to be a psychology expert to realize that thinking you have a real historical account of Jesus coming to America – so that proves Jesus really is savior of the world – then later finding out it’s not historical (and remember, it’s God’s will we find this out) pretty much ends any value of the original parable might have had. Indeed, it’s actually has negative value towards that message, or at least it woudl for most people. This is self evident why.

    So given that JS has entirely ruined the core message of the BoM, now making it have the opposite message, why did God continue to reveal it to him?

    It’s well known how JS received the BoM. It took him months of work (three months). He looked into a either a seer stone or a Urim and Thumim and then repeated, one line after another, what the story was. So he was completely dependent upon God to keep revealing the story to him. All God had to do was ‘turn off the spigot’ so to speak.

    We have two accounts from eye witnesses where God did turn off the spigot. Once for quite a while after JS lost the 116 pages. Once after arguing with his wife. He literally could not do it if God didn’t want him to.

    So you now need to explain why God would stop the flow of revelation over an argument with JS’s wife but would refuse to while JS is literally permanently destroying the very message God intends the world to have. This seems like a substantial gap to your theory to me.

    Also, please evaluate the fact that God is now complicit in the fraud. Pretty much entirely in my opinion. You’ve gone to great lengths to not allow God to be lair. But it seems He still is in your theory. Worse yet, God just isn’t that omniscient. He is actively undermining his own purposes for years on end by continuing to support a very very complex fraud that includes (as we’ll see) lying to his entire family as a boy, lying to everyone he ever met for his whole life, creating fake plates (using stolen metal, I guess, since he couldn’t afford it), etc.

    I also note that J Max made a similar challenge. In what sense is JS different from other religious leaders now? (See J Max’s comment) I’d like to see that addressed further. Hasn’t he effectively started a new apostasy before the restoration had even begun? And you can’t now claim the bad made the good worth it because the core message was what was undermined.

    Historical Problems
    Also, just how fast did JS come up with this fraud? Consider this. He claims on Sept 21, 1823 (at age 17) that he sees an angel and that very day (next morning actually) tells his family about it. In fact, he’s had at least one vision before this point, 2 to 4 years earlier. He hasn’t told his family about it because he’s afraid too because he told a minister about his first vision and gets told off. So the angel literally has to command JS to tell his family. So he does. This event (telling his family) is one of the most highly documented events in Church history because it happened to have so many witnesses – JS’s family. We know the exact date and all sorts of details from multiple accounts.

    So JS is literally afraid to tell anyone he’s having visions. Then he’s commanded to tell them. And what does our young 17 year old do? He promptly decides, “this story is just isn’t good enough. I’m going to lie to my whole family and claim the angel also told me that there are these plates in yonder hills. Then I’m going to pretend to go out to that hill once a year for four years, each time failing to get the plates due to my own unrighteousness.”

    Please explain this as per your theory. Let’s admit it’s a bit difficult to swallow. Remember, the only people he is lying to right now is his own family. Yet they are nothing but supportive. And he sort of has all sorts of real things he’s supposed to tell them that are more than a little impressive. What exactly might have been going through his mind here that this played out in such an unbelievable manner?

  149. G. Wesley,

    First, it’s not rationally fair to take a comment in one context and then try to apply it in another. Taking a comment in the OP about whether or not someone’s rephrase of my original (and rather neutral) question intentionally changed the context to avoid the problem of the plates does not mean that everything I will say from that point forward, for the rest of my life, therefore be related to the plates.

    Also, everything about your approach and your tone suggests that you are trying to ‘win a debate.’ Just exactly how do you expect to do that? Is there some audience here that is going to vote on which of us argued better or took the better shots at each other?

    So relax. This isn’t a debate. There will be no winners and losers. It’s a ‘critical discussion’ or dialog.

    I have stated this already several times, but let me try again. I am explaining, via real life examples, why it is that I can look at all the problems of the LDS Church and not really care: namely because there is no better rational alternative on the table so even if mine is a ‘bad’ one (as you seem to believe) it is still preferred.

    Asking you to pony up an explanation, and your refusal to do so really does demonstrate my point. It doesn’t mean you ‘retreated’ or that you ‘lost.’ But it does demonstrate my point.

    Theory to Theory Comparison

    As for me offering up an explanation. No problem. Mormon Standard model. It’s easy to look up and readily available and, get this, it’s obvious you’re already an expert in it. So I have already ‘explained’ my view in full.

    That’s the problem, isn’t it? You can easily ‘attack’ my beliefs (i.e. explanation) with complete safety because no one has any idea what yours are. If you were to expose them and make this a fair contest, then I’d have no problem arguing with you on any related topic any time anywhere. As I said, I do explanation-to-explanation / theory-to-theory comparisons.

    I do not field questions known to be problematic for my explanations (beliefs) in a vacuum. There is no explanation in existence, including the SUBPERB theories of physics, that can’t be made to look stupid if we use a Rejectionist approach and just shoot holes at the theory but refuse to suggest an alternative theory.

    Here, I’ll prove it. General Relatively is wrong because it’s known to be in direct contradiction to our deepest theory of physics: quantum mechanics. Even Stephen Hawkings admits that they are in direct contradiction. So how could anyone be so stupid to believe in General Relativity? If you were a “Thinking Physicist” then you’d abandon your beliefs in General Relativity today!

    But this is a horrible arguement, even though it’s factually right that General Relativity is know to be in contradiction to Quantum Mechanic.

    Specifically, we do not abandon our explanations just because there are problems (even outright contradictions as in this case) with it until we have a better explanation to replace it with. This is because all explanations are approximations in the first place. We already know they are all ‘wrong’ in some sense. Being wrong means next to nothing. Being ‘more right’ is what matters. When I compare my ‘explanations’ (the Mormon Standard Theory) with yours (none being offered) mine is provably better.

    You shooting holes in the beliefs of the LDS Church is basically meaningless until you are ready to pony up with your own counter explanations and let me shoot holes back. It’s that simple.

    Could the LDS Church Survive a Disproof?
    G. Wesley, you go on to raise a very interesting issue worthy of consideration. You state:

    say the plates were real, bona fide, not faked. they get recovered tomorrow, translated by an international team of scholars next week, and turn out to be, i don’t know, a 16th century c.e. text having very little to do with the book of mormon.

    You then make an impassioned statement that:

    is that the end of the world? do we then give up on mormonism? no.

    Well, actually, yes. I for one would have none of it. Not interested, sorry. I’d be off looking for a religion that actually believes in itself.

    But frankly, my own view hardly matters here. Nor does yours.

    The real problem with your statement is that it goes against all current empirical evidence.

    Please list examples of religions, particularly Christian ones, that have managed to thrive post giving up on their truth claims? I know it worked so well for the CoC (check your irony detector here) but at least they can intentionally harvest dissidents from the LDS church. The LDS church would be ble to harvest from no one. They would not fare as well as the CoC. (And it would also be the end of the CoC, who would no longer have anywhere to harvest disaffected people from.)

    The fact is, right or wrong, that the LDS Church minus its truth claims (which let’s face it, all hinge on a historical BoM) is doomed. Three generations tops, if that. It really is that simple.

    But that is our most basic disagreement isn’t it? You honestly do think that somehow (despite all empirical evidence to the contrary and none to the positive) that the LDS Church really and truly can give up the historical BoM and survive. I do not.

  150. John C,

    I’m out of time for the night almost. I felt like I had to write up Carla’s response first. You say so many interesting things worthy of response. And when I have time, I’ll try to respond. But due to limited time, I will try to pick out the most important things first.

    “Part of the problem with this conversation is that you are demanding an awful lot of thought and time.”

    You think this is taking you a lot of time? :P

    “So long as we establish that my failing to answer doesn’t equate to my agreeing or acquiescing to your points, that’s fine.”

    Because you see this is a contest and winners and losers will be declared later… oh, I already used this line on G. Wesley.

    “Good gravy! Why would we want to apply rational criticism to faith?”

    Holy cow! I can’t believe you just said that. ;) First of all, you are literally acting as if you are surprised that I am using rational criticism on religion. Hello! Wasn’t it obvious long long before this point?

    Secondly, everyone else here is too. Thirdly, every religion I’ve ever come across uses rational criticism on themselves (often to prove themselves right) and on others (often to prove themselves wrong.) Oh, and every post on BCC I’ve ever read (admittedly this isn’t many) did. So does every Mormon blog on the internet actually. Well, actually, everyone in the world does whether they are religious or atheist.

    So apparently no one in the world got the memo that we’re not supposed to be using rational criticism on religion and faith.

    Even you apparently didn’t get the memo, or why else all the rational arguments here?

    Heck, truth be told it’s not actually possible for human beings to talk about things without using rationality. So if religion could not be rationally criticized it would be so disconnected from human nature we couldn’t talk about it at all.

  151. Having Jesus actually come to America does create this message rather directly.

    As does having real dealings with real people over the course of 1000 years+

    Bruce, I don’t know how you keep up with it all, but hats off to you for engaging so many people on so many fronts.

  152. John C,

    Okay, as far we your hypothetical theology, I’d have a lot of questions/comments if this were real life. But since we all know this is fake anyhow, I’m going to skip many obvious problems, such as the fact that you pointed me to Dan Vogel for answers to your theory. Dan Vogel’s theory is at odds with yours. He believes in the non-inspired fraud theory. Also, he believes the witnesses were delusional, so you need an entirely different explanation to handle the light from heaven since in your theory is that it’s Hyrum.

    But really, let’s ignore all that for now. The real key factor in your hypothetical explanation is the idea that God can lie.

    What I am not so clear on is if you are claiming God can lie any way God chooses without limit? Or are you trying to hedge your bets and claim that God only lies in certain set circumstances?

    For example, you waffle over whether or not God told Joseph to come up with a way and Joseph decided on fraud, so God supported his decision. While this really does not reduce the fraud on God’s part in my opinion (and calls into question he’s omniscience no less) you then go on to indicate that for some reason this allows God to distance Himself for the lie. Well, I’m not convinced, but now I’m confused on whether or not you are arguing God can or can’t lie.

    So what I’d really like for you to do is focus on this part of your explanation. Tell me outright if your suggested explanation does or does not put limits on how far God can lie.

    As for all the scriptural quotes, I’m fine with your presentation. You argued so strongly, I was beginning to believe you. You almost convinced me to be an atheist that believes in a lying God. ;)

    But more seriously, the point wasn’t to convince anyone. I’m sure you know your exegesis was questionable, and that’s okay. I’ll accept this as a best effort to hook a lying God (if that was your intent) to scriptural quotes.

    I think this is the most important aspect of your argument so far. A lying God gives you an almost open ended way to explain anything. It seems to put your argument beyond reason. That is the strength and ultimately the weakness of your argument.

  153. TT,

    I’ve written a really long response to you multiple times now, and I’m still not satisified with it. Not sure why, because you are the easiest case of all because you refused to even offer a single plausible scenario despite claims that any would do (okay, so pick one and go for it.)

    Instead, I’d like to take a different approach with you. Do you, in real life, believe the Book of Mormon is inspired? This seems like a safe question as I just worded it, though of course it’s up to you if you wish to answer or not.

  154. Mark D,

    Need to clarify something with you. I doubt that, once we get past wording and definition issues, that we are disagreeing.

    However, you said this: “Clearly the true parts cannot be considered a fraud. Fraud would only consist of knowingly representing historical fiction as fact.”

    I don’t get it.

    If I forge a letter from Benjamin Franklin and make the claim that he discovered Quantum Mechanics, the letter is 100% fraud even if absolutely everything in the letter (such as a full description of quatum mechanics) is true.

  155. That’s all I am allowed to do for tonight. Sorry. So much I’d like to say and/or ask. So little time.

  156. If I forge a letter from Benjamin Franklin and make the claim that he discovered Quantum Mechanics, the letter is 100% fraud even if absolutely everything in the letter (such as a full description of quatum mechanics) is true

    No, a “100% fraud” would be something more like a book claiming that Benjamin Franklin discovered something far superior to quantum mechanics with hundreds of pages of equations that look promising but take a team of experts years to falsify.

    However, the semantics there are beside the point. The question here is can a historical misrepresentation conveying true principles pass the Moroni 7 test:

    for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

    In my opinion, historical misrepresentations can invite to do good and to persuade to believe in Christ, and can be considered “of God” in that sense, even if God does not condone the means.

    Furthermore, I believe the Holy Ghost necessarily witnesses of truth wherever it may be found:

    …he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

    So the question is, when someone is inspired while reading the BoM (as I have been many times) is he receiving confirmation that such and such an account is historically accurate, or is he receiving confirmation that the principles related are true and will bless his or her life? In my experience, inspiration primarily deals with the latter rather than the former.

    Due to whatever personal contingencies some have a witness of the principles, but not the events. I don’t have any interest in making the case that events were manufactured or stories were embellished. It just worries me a little for reasons that others have brought up.

  157. Bruce @165,
    I think you’ve got all the right answers to all the wrong questions. The point of my comment in 103 is to show you how you’ve already predetermined the answers in the way you’ve set up the question. Saying that I’ve failed to answer your wrong questions isn’t saying much, nor does it constitute a failure on my part. Failing to justify your own questions and framework does, however, constitute a failure on your part.

  158. Bruce,
    Religions don’t stand or fall based on the rationality of their beliefs. So determining which set of beliefs is more rational is silly. Certainly apologetics attempts to create a rational structure underneath the belief, but the foundation is always shaky. That’s the nature of faith. So, why are you trying to destroy these people’s faith? ;)

    Vogel’s history can be roughly shaped into my history without losing anything important. Just make the fraud inspired and you are good to go.

    So we are clear, I’ve no idea if God can lie. I know that he claims to lie in Ezekiel, but should I believe him? I know that he seems to endorse other people lying. I put the distancing thing in to make the theology palatable for other folks. Like saying “It’s okay for God to tell Nephi to kill Laban, because God is following a higher law” So, do I think God can lie? No idea. Can God appear to lie? Sure. Am I being wishy-washy? Not really. I’m dealing with the limits of the evidence we have available. Trying to weigh passages about the God of Truth with those verses in Ezekiel. The evidence is ambiguous, so I think letting the morality of God remain mysterious is necessary. Firm statements either way simply aren’t justified right now.

    Part of the problem is that I tend to think that God uses a different definition of true than we do. We tend to think of truth as “conveying accurate information.” I think that He tends to think of truth as “having covenantal value.” So maybe He tells us what He knows we want to hear so that we’ll making the binding covenants necessary to return to Him. Once we are back and learn that he did stick those dinosaur bones in the ground to mess with the heads of paleontologists, but that the world is only 300 years old, will we really care? Once we are back, we will have a frame of reference that is completely unlike our current frame of reference, so who knows how we will judge things. It is inarguable that the Book of Mormon is true in this second sense.

    But then we have passages like Jacob 4:13. It may be significant that he doesn’t mention the past there, but I doubt it. I’m more interested in the notion of “really.” It does make it seem like we are tied up in Plato’s cave, doesn’t it?

    I guess that I’m going to have to go with this: I think God is moral. So if He appears to lie to us, He does it for moral reasons. So I think that God, when He deceives, He is still moral. But that thought requires a notion of morality that is irrational. I can live with that.

  159. bruce,

    you may be onto something. you cannot allow someone like me to exist because in your view what i am arguing for (as a possibility) threatens what you believe and spells the end of mormonism.

    i am, it is … too ambiguous, not easily pinned down, uncertain, temporary, elusive, in short, painful to consider and have to live with.

    you would like things to be true or false, logical or illogical, national or irrational, historical or ahistorical, but they can’t be both. i am asking you to rethink that position.

    you are afraid that the church will fall and membership will desert in mass if the book of mormon is not somehow ancient and therefore true. i am asking you to have more faith in your religion than that, in religion in general. religions change and adapt all the time. ours has done it on several specific occasions as well as more gradually over the decades, though admittedly perhaps not on an issue as doctrinally central as the historicity of the book of mormon. but humans are remarkably resiliant. i am confident, though i did not used to be, that a way can be found, if and where and for however long it is needed. whether it will or not largely depends on your willingness and mine to think past the dichotomies we are so accustomed to, like the ones driving this post.

    otherwise, we can continue with them, close our eyes to the outside world, cast aspersions on those who disagree with us, and call it defending the faith.

  160. g.wesley,

    Now that is a comment.

    I think that you have encapsulated the last decade of your intellectual and religious life, as I understand it, in just over 250 words. And you even were able to do so while engaging a hostile audience and tacitly appealing to a sympathetic one. I know that we joke about our parallel lives but this manifestito has not been equaled in any of my attempts to speak my truth.

    Masterfully done.

  161. The Book of Mormon is true wether a scholar sees it the same way or not. If Joseph is a Prophet, and I know he is, then no theory can derail this work from progressing.

    Some so called “proofs” or “theories” regarding the history of scripture, or what was written when, can come from the works of men. Scholars are often the least correct of any one group. Scholars are a group that once thought the world was flat, and that 100 years ago thought that the cure for asthma was from cigarettes. Scholars are continually wrong, and have to be in the process of testing new ideas, new concepts, etc. Hypothesizing does not make someone evil or rejectionist. But pushing a decidedly known anti-doctrinal position is rejectionist IMO. This is not about closing our eyes as I see it. But it is important to discover the value of pursuing a scriptural study while simultaneously taking the position that the book is less than inspired.

    Scholars start their processes of discovery with certain assumptions in place – understandably. But what if they discover something based on a false premise? Can someone gain salvation following an incorrect doctrine? I do follow the idea that “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance” (D&C 131:6), and that we should learn by study and by faith. That means that we need to start out pursuing truth from a foundation of truth.

    There have been some who have clearly not read the Book of Mormon that have commented on its validity. While others have read and are still quite ignorant of it. I speak generally, not for those on this post. I appreciate Bruce expressing his approach to this subject. Even though I don’t doubt the historical claims of the book, I can appreciate why people are seeking for other ways to learn from the Book of Mormon. I just don’t see value in starting off the pursuit of truth by studying something I don’t even believe to be accurate. Perhaps that is why I start my scripture study with the assumption that the Book of Mormon is true and that its claims are true.

  162. @Bruce 165,
    Sorry, I forgot to address this as I was running out this morning.

    Instead, I’d like to take a different approach with you. Do you, in real life, believe the Book of Mormon is inspired? This seems like a safe question as I just worded it, though of course it’s up to you if you wish to answer or not.

    You originally asked me to assume the persona of someone who ascribed to the “inspired fiction” theory, which I understood to be someone who thought the BoM had 19th c. origins but was nevertheless “religiously valuable.” I feel like I’ve done that. I stated at the outset that though this was not a view which I held, I was committed to the idea that there was nothing particularly problematic about it. I know you have lots and lots of different angles to tackle on this point, since you’ve had many who were willing to engage you. I admire your patience and thoughtfulness is responding to them. (Personally, I think I put out the strongest position though :) )

    As for this new direction you’d like to take with me, I’m not entirely sure why you now want to interrogate me. I will tell you why I am hesitant, not just on this question, but on a variety of questions of this sort. I think that too often we as thinkers (conservative, liberal, Mormon, non-Mormon, former Mormon, etc) take shortcuts. We seriously consider only those that we see as being “on our side” and try to defend against those we see as opposing us. In the world of LDS-related blogging, I feel like we find this shortcut in bullet points of declared belief or unbelief. We feel the need to “testify” or “anti-testify” constantly as an answer to whatever intellectual issue is vexing us. I generally don’t articulate what I believe because I think it encourages lazy thinking on the part of those that I engage, as if it will reveal everything one is supposed to know about me. Instead, I prefer to stick to the realm of arguments and analysis of claims. My hesitation to state my beliefs on this or any number of issues is not because I don’t hold them, but I don’t find them particularly relevant when analyzing a particular problem, and I’m especially reluctant to draw empirical conclusions from beliefs.

  163. TT,

    Thanks and I’m fine with your response. But allow me to explain why I asked. It was relevant, though indirectly, to your summary post.

    I have grown used to the idea that TT makes sure he’s a vacuum. You don’t get to know what TT thinks. You don’t get to know what TT’s own theory is. Unfortunately, you don’t even get to know what TT means.

    You make very large, very extensive arguments and you require anyone to engage you to do so in this perpetual vacuum. I think the end result, though you may have had the best of intentions, is that you’ve encouraged lazy thinking in yourself.

    I look at your arguments so far, and they are literally impenetrable to me. They might indeed be strong arguments. Maybe they are even brilliant. But since I apparently don’t understand them, it really makes no difference.

    I’m sure everyone else here looks are your arguments and say, ‘yeah, I get it.’ But it’s gibberish to me: a collection of statements that don’t add up to anything.

    My last question was a sincere attempt to try to make sense of what you had said. So I had this idea that maybe, just maybe, I had finally penetrated your statements and had figured out what you meant. So I wanted to test my theory by asking you what you meant by ‘inspired.’ But, based on past experience, I feared that if I asked you ‘what does inspired mean?’ you’d make sure your answer in no way revealed what you personally meant by it. It would probably be a response like “well, it doesn’t matter what it means. You can pick any definition.”

    So I thought I could trick you into accidently explaining yourself by instead asking you (after trapping you with the rather innocuous question of ‘You believe the BoM is inspired, right?’) ‘Well, what did you personally mean by ‘inspired.’ Oh, I’m so clever! ;)

    Or not

    Because you — well color me pink! — avoided answering the question! You’re batting 1000 at this point! :P

    So I apologize for the aside. I thought it would help out, but clearly it didn’t.

    In any case, I’ll make another post in a moment to explain my final thoughts on your argument because I don’t actually understand them anyhow, so we’re probably done here unless you care to make them more clear.

  164. TT,

    As I just mentioned, I find your arguments impenetrable. In fact I have my doubts you actually even made an argument.

    First of all, to get from ‘truth vs. untruth’ to ‘religious value’ isn’t something that can just happen in a vacuum (pardon the pun.) So without further explanation, there really is very little chance I’m going to understand you. You’d have to create a backdrop of why truth doesn’t matter first. (I’m not saying this can’t be done. See below.)

    Further, on the arguments you did use, I obviously don’t understand your point. For example, you keep challenging me on the question of Mohamed vs. Joseph Smith. Even after I pointed out that there is no fraud with the Quaran, so you are comparing apples and oranges. But you just ignored my response and claimed I didn’t answer you. Since I did answer (to the best of my understanding of your point anyhow) we’re sort of stuck now.

    J Max even went on to make an extended comparison to help you understand why your argument does not make sense from within a Mormon worldview. You basically just ignored him too.

    Another piece of evidence that perhaps your arguments aren’t as good, at least not as communicative, as you think they are:

    “If I understand correctly, we seem to have agreed that JS could be wrong about the claims that the TRANSLATION of the BoM represents a 100% ancient text.”

    But what in the world made you think that? Did Joseph Smith claim that the translation of the BoM represents 100% ancient text and was a 100% literal translation? I was not aware of this claim.

    Actually, I was under the impression that Joseph Smith openly admitted to adding parts to it that were modern in 2 Nephi. While he didn’t use the term ‘midrash’ that was what it effectively was. And he was quite open about it. So I do not agree to that statement. Since your argument seemed to be largely based on it, you probably need a new argument.

    So your attempts to break down an obvious (and correct) dichotomy like “truth and untruth” into a new category of ‘religious value’ has failed to impress or even to be understandable.

    One thing that did occur to me was that perhaps you are backing into (rather indirectly) another family of theories.

    Specifically, we have all (except you) discusses four possibilities so far:

    1. The BoM is historical
    2. The BoM is an uninspired fraud
    3. The BoM is an inspired fiction (use parable here if you prefer) that was not intended (by God) to be historical but somehow was viewed as historical contrary to God’s will, either via mistake or human fraud.
    4. The BoM is an inspired fiction that God intended for us to misunderstand the truth about it. That is, it’s God’s fraud.

    Clearly, your ‘religious value’ argument is meaningless with these four families of theories (except maybe #2).

    Now I hinted at a ‘fifth’ possibility. That is the one I was beginning to think you were trying to back into. It is:

    5. Religion is a human endeavor and ‘God’ is a metaphor or at least not a conscious being / person. Therefore the BoM can be fictional and still religious in the same sense that all religion is both fictional and religious. Therefore, in that very limited sense, the BoM is both fictional and ‘inspired by God.’

    Now if you had been talking about ‘option 5’ (or something akin to it) I could have actually understood your point and engaged you further. I can see that ‘option 5’ would allow for the ‘truth / untruth’ dichotomy to lose value (though it would still exist) and I could then have seen how you could adequately (though subjectively) replace it with a ‘religious value’ point of view.

    But if this is what you’ve intended, you’ve done a wildly bad job of explaining it. For one thing, you’ve said things directly against ‘option 5’ more than once now. My probe was to start a line of questioning about what ‘inspired’ meant to you so that I could try to figure out what you were really saying. But you, and perhaps not unexpectedly, refused to answer. The vacuum of TT is not to be violated, I see! You wish to criticize, but not be criticized. Hey, it’s all good to me. If I could get away with that, I probably would too.

    But personally I will not play this game with you. I’d encourage David Larsen and others not to either.

    Think about how you’d feel if David Larsen had responded to you using the same ‘religious value’ arguments when you were challenging him? You expected him to account for all data points and to ignore none. But when I ask you to do the same you responded to me:

    “No explanation of the origins of the plates is required because any and all explanations are equally valid. It could be that he made them, found something in a hill which he took to be them, or even that Moroni gave them to him.”

    Honestly, this seems like an insincere answer to me. Maybe it comes across that way only because I don’t yet understand you. I don’t know.

    But either way, I don’t recall David saying to you, “I don’t owe you an explanation of how to connect the ancient temple to the modern one because any explanation is equally valid. So no explanation is necessary. It simply does not matter how it’s all true, it’s just all true! God makes it so!”

    But that’s exactly what you answered me. I no more feel you are engaging in sincere criticism/scholarship on this point then you would have if David had given you your own answer.

    In any case, the ball is in your court, I’m afraid. I don’t understand your point and don’t really believe you made one. You may have had the best of intentions, but in the end, you so consistently refuse to put forward your own specific theories and explanations that I fear you’ve lost your ability to communicate ideas well.

    I’m willing to explore your thoughts further here, but you’ll need to take responsibility for actually make them meaningful to me. I’m not going to try to penetrate them any more without your help. I’d recommend that you start with actually putting forward an explanation of your own (whether it’s your personal beliefs or not). Specific examples make everything easier to understand.

  165. John C,

    I enjoyed your response, as always.

    I think you have given me enough information now that I am able to give your ‘hypothetical’ theory a rational “theory-to-theory” critique and epxlain why it doesn’t work for me. My point was, for the beginning, that theory-to-theory critiques are ‘fair’ and sound much better than just asking me to be an apologist and defend my point of view while you sit in a vacuum protected from criticism. All apologetics is weak sounding to human ears. It’s theory to theory comparisons that make our arguments sound truly plausible.

    I think you made a valliant attempt here, by the way.

    I do want to clarify one thing, though. While the ahistorical BoM theory is not really your own, I do sense that your final statements were (at least to some degree) your own personal beliefs. Is that true? (I’m refering to your arguments about how God is moral, but we can’t really trust reason due to be in Plato’s cave.) If that is so, I’ll avoid being playful in my final response and take it seriously, as it deserves to be.

    Also, this thread is long and stale. May I have your permission to wait a while before I respond and do it as a post later?

    One other thing. You talked about defining ‘standards’ of belief. This was a very interesting subject and response (though not the one I expected, since I was just trying to make a bargain) and I’d like to explore it further with you. Again, may I have permission to do that as a post, quoting your comments? (At some future date.) I don’t really disagree with anything you said, per se, but I do see a potential concern you didn’t address that I’d like to get your input (and otehrs) on.

  166. Bruce,
    Why didn’t you just say so? My 103 was meant to be clarifying, shutting down some of the parts of the debate that didn’t seem to be going anywhere (like the specific case of Muhammed). We are now at comment 178 and this is the first time I’ve heard that you’re not sure what I’ve said. Your 165 actually insinuated the opposite, that I was so simplistic that “you are the easiest case of all because you refused to even offer a single plausible scenario.” I wouldn’t say that there is any evidence that I am not willing to clarify what I mean, or define my terms since this is the first time I’ve been made aware that you aren’t understanding them. All these complaints about me being in a vacuum strike me as a little odd, since the exercise was for me to assume a different persona, one that I don’t actually subscribe to, in order to demonstrate a certain point for you. So, I am a bit confused as to why you seem so put out that I have done this.

    If you want to know what I mean by “inspired,” there is no need to resort to tricks (I usually don’t fall for them), you can just ask. In many ways, I think that the problem with this term is somewhat a cause of the problem you see with what it means to say something is “inspired fiction.” I can see why you think that is a contradiction in terms, and it is exactly the reason why I suggested “religiously valuable” instead of “inspired.”

    Specifically, we have all (except you) discusses four possibilities so far:

    1. The BoM is historical
    2. The BoM is an uninspired fraud
    3. The BoM is an inspired fiction (use parable here if you prefer) that was not intended (by God) to be historical but somehow was viewed as historical contrary to God’s will, either via mistake or human fraud.
    4. The BoM is an inspired fiction that God intended for us to misunderstand the truth about it. That is, it’s God’s fraud.

    Clearly, your ‘religious value’ argument is meaningless with these four families of theories (except maybe #2).

    You are indeed perceiving correctly that I do not accept that these are the only four options. I think they make too many assumptions about the transparency of God, and I think that were I to be the kind of person who saw the BoM as both a 19th c. text and a religiously valuable one, I wouldn’t find this framework compelling for similar reasons as what I myself find problematic about it. For me, “inspired” is invested in a certain set of implicit theological assumptions that I am not entirely comfortable with. For one, inspired is often taken to be a synonym of divinely manufactured, where we call something inspired if God himself is the puppet master directing the prophet, and all things that we call “inspired” must therefore conform to our expectations of God. The problem is that we pretend to already know what God is, and then judge things according to those predetermined expectations about God in order to identify what is “inspired.”

    As others have raised here, I see major problems with this theory in terms of agency as the assumptions about how revelation works that see God as acting by proxy through human beings, rather than seeing human beings acting on behalf of God. In the former understanding, inspiration is taken as a kind of divine equivalency and invested with infallibility that we attribute to God. In the latter, when we see humans acting on behalf of God, we are never outside of the realm of humans. These are always human actions since there is never some unmediated access to God by virtue of what it means to be an interpreting human being. (Maybe this isn’t clarifying anything at all…) In any case, because of the implicit assumptions about what “inspired” means, I suggested that “religiously valuable” was a better category precisely because it is not loaded with the theological baggage of “inspired” and the assumptions about “truth” that are behind your paradigm. Instead, to take something as religiously valuable is not to see an unmediated God/puppetmaster revealed within, but to see what is produced as valuable to one’s religious life, either in their personal spiritual practices or as forming an authoritative text that binds a community of interpreters together. I think by shifting the terms away from trying to determine if something is “true” in some objective, logical, rationalist paradigm to evaluating its “value” for religious practitioners we are able to get at a better understanding of how someone like our hypothetical person might embrace the BoM from a religious perspective, even while assuming its 19th c. origins. After all, the kinds of truths that religion and the BoM offer are about how to interpret God, human life, and meaning, and are closer to literature (even fiction) and philosophy than they are to math and science. Perhaps we should evaluate our historical claims using the tools of history, but our religious claims using an entirely different set of interpretive tools.

    Furthermore, I think that the question of “religious value” is a more stable ground, when it comes down to it, for establishing the authoritativeness of religious texts. If we insist in literalism, historicity, logical consistency, etc in our religious texts (or even our prophetic figures), I think we are going to be disappointed really fast. I also think we already have tools for thinking about relative religious worth, like how we evaluate the Bible and how we evaluate other religious texts, traditions, and figures, that are not working within a true/false binary. There is nothing wrong with using these same tools for establishing relative worth to our own unique texts and traditions as well.

    Instead, if we look at “religious value” as the framework, we are opened up to a whole new range of possibilities about how the text can function. For instance, we can actually read what the BoM teaches, evaluate its content, learn how it sees the world, what values it represents, how it describes how humans should relate to God and to one another, and what it means to be human. Since I did actually start off my contribution to this whole discussion by stating that I think that the historicity question is the wrong one for looking at the BoM, I will expand on that idea here by noting that in the 178+ comments about the supposed “truth” or “fraud” of the BoM, I am not aware of a single one that addresses any of these questions about what the Book actually says, what it teaches about the world and the human condition. I see this as a real shame, and also the inevitable result of seeing the BoM as a “sign” for prophetic truthfulness, rather than as “scripture” which can teach us something about how to live our lives in more truthful ways. The historicity question has, in my view, been a travesty for BoM studies insofar as it occludes the genuinely important questions that have to do with its religious value. So, while I’m agnostic about the historicity question, I am passionate about finding a different standard for evaluating the BoM, like “religious value,” that allows us to actually read what it says in useful ways than has been thus far offered by those invested in historicity.

    Did Joseph Smith claim that the translation of the BoM represents 100% ancient text and was a 100% literal translation? I was not aware of this claim.

    Now, I’m sure you’ve heard it said that JS said that the BoM is the most correct book on earth. I’m also sure that you’re aware of the 8th article of faith which suggests that the Bible is not translated correctly, but the BoM is. I’m also sure that you’re familiar with JS’s accounts of the translation process where the words appeared to him and he repeated them back. You’re “impression” that JS admitted to adding his own words to 2 Ne may be true, but I am not aware of any such claim from JS. If you can cite a source on that, I’d appreciate it.

    As for your option 5:

    5. Religion is a human endeavor and ‘God’ is a metaphor or at least not a conscious being / person. Therefore the BoM can be fictional and still religious in the same sense that all religion is both fictional and religious. Therefore, in that very limited sense, the BoM is both fictional and ‘inspired by God.’

    Now, speaking as myself, if I may drop the persona you asked me to don, I would say that yes, religion is a human endeavor. How could it be otherwise? That doesn’t entail that God doesn’t exist or even that he exists in some other way that Mormons describe him as. In fact, the Mormon teaching that God IS a human being only serves to reinforce the idea that religion is a human endeavor. Now, if we can drop “fictional” and “fraud” as the categories that we use to determine value in religious texts, as well as critically investigating our presuppositions about what “inspired” means, I think that seeing the BoM as a human production, whether ancient or modern, gives us better interpretive tools for evaluating it. I mean, its editors practically beg us to read it as a human production by constantly telling us about its shortcomings, its errors, etc. Even when Christ shows up, he ends up telling them that they’ve kept an incomplete, biased record by excluding Samuel the Lamanite and makes them go back and put it in. So, I guess seeing the BoM and religion in general as a human product I don’t see as somehow in contrast to assigning it religious value.

    Think about how you’d feel if David Larsen had responded to you using the same ‘religious value’ arguments when you were challenging him?

    Actually, if you read that thread closely, I more than once urge David to move away from seeking to make his arguments within the context of history and scholarly exegesis and toward something else. I actually do think that there are responsible ways of making the kinds of arguments that David is making, but that one needs to adopt a different method of doing so. I say so explicitly in comment 65 on the first of David’s posts

    If I were to articulate my own view, which is not dependant on the standards of truth that you may or may not be requiring of me, I’d say that the best way to understand our temple practices is by looking closely at them to determine the significant features, looking at them the way that they were understood by early saints, and how that view has evolved, including the new kind of myth making from Nibley to David here as religious expressions. Specifically, I think that the best way to understand the relationship between the ancient temple and JS’s temple practices is to look at the kinds of interpretations that he is using. What in antiquity inspires him? Basically, I think that we can adopt a theory of revelation like Nate Oman puts forth: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2010/07/how-to-write-a-revelation/ Seeing Joseph as the author of a particular idea is not evidence that God did not inspire it. We don’t have to see Joseph as a blank vessel into which “ancient” knowledge is poured as the only way to understand the temple. Rather, we can see him as a keen reader of the Bible, of Masonic rites, and creative thinking who saw something new and great in combining them.

    I also link 3 times to my post about making comparisons between early Christianity and Mormonism as a model for how to compare the ancient world with modern Mormonism, in which I explicitly adopt a standard of “religious value” as the method guiding the comparison:

    comparisons be made to helps us better understand the human condition, or the religious impulses and practices to which Mormonism belongs

    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2010/04/the-magical-connection-between-mormonism-and-early-christianity/

    So, I’d have to say that the accusation that I’ve not been consistent, or forthcoming about how I think we should evaluate religious claims represents more of a misunderstanding or my failure to be “penetrable” than the fact that I am somehow evasive or hypocritical.

    But either way, I don’t recall David saying to you, “I don’t owe you an explanation of how to connect the ancient temple to the modern one because any explanation is equally valid. So no explanation is necessary. It simply does not matter how it’s all true, it’s just all true! God makes it so!”

    But that’s exactly what you answered me.

    I think that if you’ve seen my argument as an equivalent with a “God makes it so” argument, then I’ve really been misunderstood. Ultimately, I think you are right that there is a connection between my critique of you and of David. I just don’t think that you’ve seen the way that I’m being entirely consistent in both cases. In David’s case, I am suggesting that his interpretation is a selective, and therefore misleading interpretation of what the ancient temple was like (with a smaller argument about how much his selective interpretation distorts really central features of the modern temple). David is making an interpretative and historical claim that is subject to the rules of those disciplines. My objection to your argument is not that you are misreading the evidence, but that you are insisting that the evidence only be read in one way, in a truth/fraud paradigm. Can we adopt the “religiously valuable” test for David’s claims? Absolutely. While I think that David’s framing of the modern temple as an ascension toward the presence of God has some limitations, I actually think it is quite moving and productive, yeah, religiously valuable reading of the temple. That doesn’t mean that we can’t evaluate the historical claims he is making independently. Indeed, my entire argument with you has been that we evaluate religious value as an independent variable from historicity when considering the BoM, and my argument with David has been that we evaluate the meaning of the modern temple as an independent variable from its supposed historical antecedents in ancient Israel. In both cases, one can and should see the BoM and the modern temple as religiously valuable, but this is not considered to be a direct result of any historical evaluation. Further, I said from the very beginning that I was agnostic on the issue of historicity, so your surprise that I would refuse to take a definitive position on the historicity of the plates seems unwarranted.

    As for the Muhammed issue, I still think it is relevant, but I don’t really have the energy to pursue it, and reading JMax makes my eyes bleed. And may the eyes bleed of anyone who reads JMax’s theory that Muhammed was a prophet (read: JMax-approved), and that after his death the Koran was changed so significantly that the entire Arabian peninsula of followers didn’t notice an “apostate” version of what Muhammed really thought. With this level of analysis, it just isn’t worth my time to untangle it, so I moved on.

    Anyway, hopefully that clears things up.

  167. TT,

    Whoa! You have boundless energy, my friend. ;) And I did read every word.

    Okay, let me say this, if you were to tell me that the truth/fraud paradigm is independent of the ‘religiously valuable’ paradigm, I could make some sense of what you are saying.

    But so far, you’ve tried to claim that it’s one or the other. (Or at least, that is how you read to me.)

    The fact is that I can accept a ‘religiously valuable’ paradigm, but only if we also accept that there is a ‘truth/fraud’ paradigm that lays on top of it.

    From this point of view, yes, I can see how something could be ‘religiously valuable’ and also a fraud. My proposal for how to do that is option 5: there is no God.

    For you to try to simultaneously claim that all three (there is a God, the BoM is a fraud, it is also religiously valuable) would require a substantial explanation that you are not offering.

    Until you offer that, I do not see how to make sense of what you are saying. I do not believe you are really saying anything at all.

    Perhaps, instead, we can claim that God has ensured that all religions (even ones based on a fraud) are equally true. Okay, fair enough. Let’s call this option 6. But that is a truth claim that can be rationally evaluated. Now you have to explain how it could be. You are not explaining.

    Oh, here’s another (just to show you how easy it is to generate idea.) Let’s say that even a fraudulently formed religion God will honor to the spiritual capacity of it’s adherents. Now we can claim that there is some sense that the BoM is both a fraud and ‘inspired’ in a very very limited sense because it is ‘religiously valuable.’ Okay, fair enough. Let’s call this option 7. But this too is a truth claim that can be rationally evaluated and consequences can be derived.

    The problem, TT, is that as far as I can tell, you are trying to take one measure, let’s call it height, and claim ‘well because I believe in width, there is no such thing as height. Therefore, I owe no explanations about height.’

    Sorry, that is bad logic. And, in fact, it would explain why what you say makes so little sense to me.

    For what it is worth, I did say “you are the easiest case of all because you refused to even offer a single plausible scenario.” And at the time, I was still planning to basically write you a response saying that if you don’t offer an alternative explanation, you fall into the ‘not even wrong’ category. I then thought better of that and really really tried to make sense of what you are saying.

    The fact is, with your extra explanation, I think my original assessment wasn’t far off. I now thinkg you are trying to claim one non-mutually exclusive measure can somehow eliminate another non-mutually exclusive measure. Please continue to explain and clarify.

  168. “The historicity question has, in my view, been a travesty for BoM studies insofar as it occludes the genuinely important questions that have to do with its religious value.”

    I can’t pass this one up.

    This is utter nonsense. The primary ‘religious value’ of the Book of Mormon to the past (and current) community that it binds together is it’s truth claim — which is deeply tied to historicity. You’re a scholar. How could you not know this?

    This is true regardless of whether or not the BoM is really historical. If you are trying to measure ‘religious value’ to a community without accepting this as true, then you are way way off base from the moment you started your study. There is no way you’ll get anywhere even close to complete scholarship. That because there is no way to divorce the BoM’s ‘relgious value’ from historicity.

  169. G Wesley,

    You are correct that I do not believe things can, in the same sense and aspect, be both true and false, both rational and irrational, both historical and ahistorical. This is called basic logic. How unfortunate you thought otherwise.

    I am asking you to rethink just how contradictory your behavior has become and to stop closing your eyes to reason.

    “i am asking you to have more faith in your religion than that, in religion in general.”

    I admit I have no faith in my religion minus God. But I do have faith in my religion’s God. Have faith in God, not a religion.

    If God is at odds with my religion, then I care not for my religion. I’d change it in a heart beat. And if God doesn’t care what my beliefs are, as you imply, then I don’t care either. But neither should you.

    And if there is no God then it does not matter who is right and who is wrong, so you are wrong to argue as if your life depended on it.

    Your need to cast aspersions with every comment here made perfect sense back when I thought you sincerely believed you had The Truth and were defending your Faith through reason.

    But now that you’ve explained your full point of view, I can’t fathom how you justify your behavior. It cannot be explained.

    You are a man at odds with yourself.

  170. Bruce N, the idea that the church might ever announce that the BofM isn’t actually historical is an interesting hypothetical, but I believe it is one of those things that wouldn’t ever happen no matter what.

    I believe it is virtually certain the the church’s position will always be that those events, and the corresponding modern ones, occurred essentially as described. The only possible change is something like informal toleration for the minority position. So that a member could mention it in church and be treated like someone with strange views, rather than an outright apostate.

    There is a key issue here – suppose a denomination was founded in a far off country that determined to duplicate LDS ordinances, practices, and procedures to the letter – such that the members who grew up in that church had substantially the same experiences as those who grew up in ours.

    The question is, would God respect and more or less honor that church, and the ordinances, covenants and commitments made within it, or would he reject it and withhold similar blessings, inspiration, and guidance because it was lacking in divine authority?

    If the former, the ultimate strength of the church is in the correctness of its principles and practices, not in a grant of monopoly authority. If the latter the reverse.

    If someone believes that the legitimacy of the church is dependent on monopoly authority, any suggestion that the founding prophet may have embellished the record, or worse threatens their entire belief system.

    But if someone believes that the legitimacy of the church rather is based on the correctness and inspired (not necessarily dictated) character of its ordinances, procedures, and practices, and that divine authority is more a matter of endorsement than monopoly, such a suggestion while threatening does not imperil the long term strength of the church, because that strength is based more upon divinely endorsed practice rather than divinely endorsed patent.

  171. Thanks Bruce. I think we’ve probably both said our piece on this, and can wrap it up. Let me just clarify one thing that I think you’ve persistently misunderstood.

    For you to try to simultaneously claim that all three (there is a God, the BoM is a fraud, it is also religiously valuable) would require a substantial explanation that you are not offering.

    I am somewhat surprised that you would attribute to me the idea that the BoM is a fraud. Suggesting that the text is not historical does not mean that it is fraudulent. This is exactly the very point that I’ve been trying to refute because I do not think that this is a valuable category! Let me just refer to what I actually said about the BoM:
    in 79

    I have suggested in that he thought he was writing something real. I have no idea where the plates came from.

    and in 103

    When it comes to the plates, the only issue at stake is whether or not JS understood them to be ancient records, not whether or not they really were. The person who sees the BoM as a 19th c. text yet religiously valuable has already determined that JS was not acting as a “fraud,” but as a sincerely religious figure and so what the plates actually were is wholly irrelevant to the issue.

    So, more than once I have suggested that so long as JS believed sincerely that what he was translating/holding was ancient, or that God had given him something “real,” he cannot be said to be a fraud. This doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as a fraud, and it doesn’t mean that religious value can be derived from a fraud. This means that if JS was acting as a fraud deliberately, that is of course meets that definition, but JS being wrong about the historicity of the BoM is not sufficient to call him a fraud, any more than the numerous other instances in which JS was wrong make him a fraud. Does that make sense? So, if the BoM is a fraud, then yes, it is a fraud. But, JS and the Book’s claims to its ancient origins being wrong is not a sufficient condition to warrant calling either a fraud.

    The primary ‘religious value’ of the Book of Mormon was it’s truth claim which was deeply tied to historicity. You’re a scholar. How could you not know this?

    Well, I am actually a VCR repairman and all of my ignorance can be attributed to that (no offense to my VCR repairperson colleagues). I don’t deny that the BoM has primarily been understood in its history in that way. I don’t even deny that it is a useful way to evaluate the BoM. I do suggest, however, that if we are constrained by this view that we simply miss out on a whole heck of a lot that the book has to offer because we read it as history instead of scripture. Also, we could claim that the Gospel of Mark or John or Acts or Joshua or Deuteronomy or 1 Chronicles suggest that their religious value lies in their historical claims. You know, it turns out that their historical claims are often crappy. If you insist on judging the religious value of a text by the standards of history, even if those are the standards that the text asks of itself, logically you are going to have to reject essentially the entire canon. And you have to own the logical consequences of your views, you know.

  172. Mark D:

    I agree with everything you said.

    However, that position would hardly be the last word. There is much we could rationally evaluate about the point of view of someone that thought the ‘principles’ in the BoM were what was true but not the book itself. Quite a bit, actually.

    If what you are saying is that this point of view would rationally allow for someone to believe in an ‘inspired fraud’ I’d say you were correct, to a degree. But I’d also say that if the person thought deeper, it would start to bump into rational problems fairly quickly that would have to be explained. (One possible explanation being that the fake prophet didn’t get his truths from God, but from another source, etc. Thereby freeing God from the fraud.)

    By the way, for what it is worth, I would consider a fake letter from Ben Franklin correctly describing quantum physics as 100% fraud for the letter itself. You have made it clear you’d rather not define it that way. Fair enough. But I do. We will have to make adjustments in our language for each other. But I think if we adjust for language we are actually saying the same thing.

  173. TT,

    You can be truly frustrating in your ability to misunderstand me ;) (And I know you feel the same way in reverse.)

    Here, let me try to find some common ground between us before you go.

    Yes, I agree that historicity is not the only value of the BoM. But I do think you are fooling yourself if you think it can be divorced from it. It would be hard to find any teachings of the BoM not in some measure touched by the question of it’s historicity.

    Concering Bible historicity, this is an example of where you seem to be ignoring all reason. There is a direct corollary between ‘the problem of the plates’ and ‘the problem of the resurrection.’ If either of those is false, the whole of the religion is over and gone. GW’s insistence otherwise not withstanding.

    But minus those two points, there is much that can be ahistorical in either without causing the fraud problem. Therefore comparing historicity of the plates to historicity of the Bible betrays the fact that you do not yet understand that there are two ‘species’ of historicity questions and that you are wrong to intermix them like you do.

    That being said, I suggest this means there is much common ground that is being overlooked. Neither the Bible nor the BoM has to be any more a ‘history’ than a history of that time frame would be. That means the BoM only has to be ‘as historical’ as the Bible for there to not be a problem of the plates. (Likewise, the Bible needs only to have the resurrection be fully true.)

    However, my real frustration with your last post is that you said this: “JS being wrong about the historicity of the BoM is not sufficient to call him a fraud, any more than the numerous other instances in which JS was wrong make him a fraud.”

    Yes, I know! That’s what I’ve been saying!

    Now all you have to do is being willing to pony up with an explanation of how we can take the ‘problem of the plates’ out of one species of ‘untruth’ and place it into the ‘other’ and you’ll finally have started to end the vacuum and/or give me a response. ;)

    By the way, yes, you are a scholar. Don’t be shy. Most scholars have a day job.

  174. Bruce,
    Okay, this really is my last comment because I’m done. So don’t call me out any more!

    There is a direct corollary between ‘the problem of the plates’ and ‘the problem of the resurrection.’ If either of those is false, the whole of the religion is over and gone.

    I have no doubt that you truly see this as the case at this point, because you’re insisting that the only way to evaluate these central issues is that they are either objectively true, or they are completely false. Presumably, if the resurrection did not happen, you would start killing people and live a horrible life. You would never pray again despite all the benefits it has given you this far in your life. You’d probably end up strung out on coke turning tricks. You what though? For me, I don’t think it would change a thing if either of those things turned out to be false. I hope they are true, but if I found out tomorrow that they weren’t, I’d probably live my life and religion in exactly the way I do now. The reason is that my relationship to the Church and religion is not based on historical claims, but religious experiences and value. But I will make you a promise, if these things aren’t true, I will come visit you in prison because the historicity of the plates or the resurrection is apparently the only thing keeping you out of that place.

    here is much that can be ahistorical in either without causing the fraud problem. Therefore comparing historicity of the plates to historicity of the Bible betrays the fact that you do not yet understand that there are two ‘species’ of historicity questions and that you are wrong to intermix them like you do.

    I’m not sure that your fine distinction between different kinds of historicity problems really makes all that much sense. It seems like a pretty arbitrary distinction given your commitment to the dichotomy of truth vs. fraud. If I can show that John “made up” something about Jesus, how is that a difference species of fraud than the worst case scenario for JS? I don’t really see how your tolerant of some levels of “fraud” but not tolerant of others. I could say that either Exodus is right about Jews being enslaved and liberated by Moses and crossing the Red Sea, or the text is a fraud. I’m not sure how that is different from saying that either JS was right that there was a real Lehi, or he is a fraud. That seems to be the logical consequence of the standard you’ve put forth, but you just seem to be selectively applying it to the things that you personally think are important. Why not just say that the historicity of the BoM is as important as the historicity of the Flood or the Exodus? If they happened, great. If not, so what? As long as the authors didn’t deliberately write with the intent to deceive, and just happened to be wrong (or worked within a different cultural paradigm of truth), I don’t see why we can’t accept both equally.

    Now all you have to do is being willing to pony up with an explanation of how we can take the ‘problem of the plates’ out of one species of ‘untruth’ and place it into the ‘other’

    Like I say, I feel like I’ve dealt with this already. On the condition that JS sincerely believed that what he was saying was true (and I really have no reason to doubt it), any and all explanations of the plates, including that he made them, found them, or was directed to them by Moroni can be advanced without any change to the outcome of my argument. I suppose that if I were to say what my answer to the problem of the plates is, it would be that of the condition that JS understood what he was doing in the terms in which he publicly described it. This takes the question away from what the plates actually were to what JS thought they were as the locus of any investigation into a charge of “fraud” against him.

    Finally, if I were to say were I think there is some common ground and where I think you have a point is in the way in which Mormonism’s founding stories do see to confound easy explanations, and do seek to bundle together historical and theological claims. It has been said that Mormon theology is based in history and narrative and memory, not abstract claims about the world. I actually think that there is something really fascinating about the way that Mormonism messes with the kinds of distinctions between history, religious value, truth, and theology, that I’ve been trying to draw. However, I don’t think that we are constrained necessarily by that tradition. No doubt there is a powerful, even redeeming message about that. I think Givens has made a strong case for the power of literalism in Mormonism, and I suspect that Bushman’s upcoming work about the gold plates is going to point to the ways in which the plates do seek to confound distinctions between spiritual and material, abstract and concrete, etc. In a way, I think that this is the stronger version of your argument, and it is something that needs to be taken seriously, as an idea, if not as a belief. Taking it seriously, however, does not require that we must slavishly adhere to it.

    This has been fun. I wish that I were a scholar, but I’ve got a bunch of Sony SLV-D550P recalls to process.

  175. Bruce N,

    Clearly any person who doubts in the historicity of the BofM and/or angelic visitations of Joseph Smith isn’t likely to have a strong faith in authoritative monopoly as the primary reason for the church to exist.

    My claim is that there is a separate line of reasoning for the church to exist, and that reasoning is likely to be the primary basis for anyone who doesn’t believe the authoritative monopoly theory, to have loyalty to the church and its doctrines apart from heritage and acquaintance.

    Historical contingencies notwithstanding, does the church thrive because it has an authoritative monopoly or does it thrive because its practices are inspired? Or even substantially more productive, uplifting, and helpful practices than what prevails in other denominations as a whole?

    The pragmatic version is the church thrives because it “works”, i.e. it produces individuals who bear the fruits of righteousness. The pragmatic version of inspiration is that God will guide and direct anything anywhere that has that potential. The pragmatic theory for the uniqueness of the LDS Church is that regardless of details, history, or transmission of its fundamental doctrines, they bear fruit, and God endorses them and the institution that is organized around them because of that fact, not the other way around.

    Or in other words, it is the doctrines that make the church true, not the church that makes the doctrines true. No monopoly is required. Greatest fruit, greatest endorsement.

  176. Or I might add, nothing is of greater credit to the church than instances where denominations and individuals not of our faith adopt practices and precepts that we teach. Some view that as a threat to our authoritative monopoly. I see it as inspiration in action.

  177. Bruce, you stated,

    “I admit I have no faith in my religion minus God. But I do have faith in my religion’s God. Have faith in God, not a religion.

    If God is at odds with my religion, then I care not for my religion. I’d change it in a heart beat. And if God doesn’t care what my beliefs are, as you imply, then I don’t care either. But neither should you.”

    I am not sure how you can come to this conclusion because a great deal of how you have come to know God is (presumably) due to the religion. I agree that we have faith in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost primarily, but if you have a testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints being the true church of Jesus Christ, then these elements will never be at odds with each other. It has been so promised that there will be no more general apostasy.

    We embrace all truth, not just all information. Therefore, the pursuits that will lead us toward God is to embrace the teachings of His church. Right?

  178. “but if you have a testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints being the true church of Jesus Christ, then these elements will never be at odds with each other”

    James,

    You’ve lost the thread of the conversation. G. Wes is positing that we should have faith in ‘religion’ whether or not God is in the equation. I’m saying the opposite.

    To understand, James, you have to note that G. Wes was asking me to ‘see’ that even if the Book of Mormon is not true, that I should continue to care about the Church that brought it forth and formed a religion around it. In fact, he is claiming that (despite no exmpales of this ever having happened in the past) most people would stick with a provably false LDS Church and it would continue to grow and thrive as a religion that didn’t believe in itself.

    I’m suggesting that all the empirical evidence (100% of it actually) points the other way. That Churches that decide, say, that Jesus wasn’t really God, lose their potency and eventually die because people do not have faith ‘in religion’ they have faith in God.

    In other words, I completely 100% agree with you James: “if you have a testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints being the true church of Jesus Christ, then these elements will never be at odds with each other”

  179. Mark D:

    Ah! I get it!

    Okay, yes, I can imagine the logical existence of someone that has decided that the BoM (and all follow on scripture) brought forth a unique set of practices that in fact are a restored Gospel and (in so far as there is no religion out there that duplicates those practices all the way) it is in fact the one true (or really most true) religion. Therefore, that could be used as an argument in favor of an ‘inspired fraud’ theory to a degree.

    However, Mark, this ‘explanation’ is not above rational criticism. This position has got gobs of overwhelming rational problems that would have to be addressed.

    For example, you say “Clearly any person who doubts in the historicity of the BofM and/or angelic visitations of Joseph Smith isn’t likely to have a strong faith in authoritative monopoly as the primary reason for the church to exist.”

    Yes, you are right. But they are also not likely to believe in the BoM at all, nor it’s principles.

    Of the four people I can think of at the moment that told me they believed the BoM was both inspired and fiction, not a single one believes that the Church is in any sense uniquely true. In other words, the farthest they are willing to go is that the LDS church has a ‘unique way’ of reaching some people that can’t be reached other ways. The LDS Church might, therefore, be ‘more correct’ for those individuals. But that is all that is possible.

    I also note that all four of them spend 100% of their time on line pointing out how bad the LDS Church is and how it destroys lives and that if it would just change to match their specifications that it would be ‘more true’ and ‘closer to God’s real doctrines.’

    In other words, they don’t really believe their own arguments. The real truth is that they feel the BoM is a stumbling block to ‘real belief in God’ but they wish to not say that when amongst Mormons.

    There real argument, as far as I can see, is that Mormons are spiritual pygmys that needed a crutch like a historical BoM to approach God, so God utilized Joseph Smith’s deception for this group of pygmys by blessing their lives through it (that is why it’s ‘inspired’ in their minds).

    But they have personally since transcend that need and spiritually matured and that their mission is now to help people give up the historical BoM along with essentially all of the defining doctrines of the LDS Church so that they can find the one true religion of coming to realize that there is no one true religion.

    My contention is that they don’t really believe in an inspired BoM at all except through a careful relabeling scheme that they then need to deceptively hide because the people they are trying to convert to their one true religion would be on their guard around them if the truth was known.

    I am not saying this is true of every person that believes in the BoM is inspired fiction. John C mentioned a book of someone that might see it otherwise. Michelle pointed out that a person might ‘just not know’ and be on a journey to learn to accept a historical BoM. And your argued hypothetical position, while problematic, is not without value.

  180. John,

    I’ll be happy to validate you. ;)

    I don’t agree with you personally on rational grounds, but I don’t really object ‘spiritually.’ I can see how you might want to give up on rationality since we probably live in Plato’s cave anyhow.

    However, a word of caution. It is not true you do this consistently. If it was, you’d never be able to interact with any sort of discussions on the internet. There would, for example, be not point whatsoever to talk about how much evidence there is or isn’t for the BoM (which you did on this thread @#4). In fact, even your rational argument against using rational arguments because we live in Plato’s cave would be impossible. (This is actually my top concern with your theory epistemological.)

    The fact is, your position, while understandable, is non-sustainable even for you. You are human. You will try to use reason in all walks of your life no matter how much you try not to.

    My position is that if you are right, then I have no choice but to embrace the falsehoods God wants me to embrace as if they are true. If I could successfully break out of that false set of beliefs, I would do so only by being at odds with what God wanted me to believe. So I prefer to, therefore, believe the BoM is historical even though it is not because God wants me to believe it’s historical. (This is my top concern with your theory theologically.)

  181. “Presumably, if the resurrection did not happen, you would start killing people and live a horrible life.”

    TT,

    I know you are just being humorous, but I’m going to take you seriously here.

    No, of course knowing for a fact that there is no resurrection would not cause me to go out and start killing people, thus forcing you to visit me in prison.

    But if you are going to say things like this I think I have every right to be frank in return.

    First, a world with no Jesus and the Resurrection really is a world without hope. Science claims this, doesn’t it? That eventually we will all die and that will be the end. That no matter how long we prolong this end as a society, it just means the fall will be greater and more horrifying when it finally comes for our descendents.

    Religion is about giving people hope. Even if all of every religion’s truth claims is false, this is still true.

    Religion is not (as you seem to think) some interesting social phenomenon that can be divorced from the hope that comes directly from it’s truth claims. Religion is the hope of the truth claims. A resurrectionless Christianity is not Christianity. Liberal Christianity that tries to deny the resurrection can only do so by harvesting people that once had the hope of the resurrection. No one else would ever be interested.

    You do not believe in the truth claims of any religion, I see, though you don’t necessarily deny them either. But you really don’t hold out much hope for them. You hold yourself up as an example here.

    I don’t know about any of that, but I will say this at a personal level. When I once lost my own hope temporarily (as I have mentioned many times elsewhere) there was a tearing desire to refill the hole in my life with something else. Anything else. It was overwhelming.

    Believe it or not I can understand why NOM/DAMUs who can’t find a replacement religion (i.e. set of truth claims that creates hope) spend their life online tearing down other people’s hope under the guise of ‘advancing the truth’ and ‘freeing the captives’ but never expose their own beliefs to ensure that they can never again be challenged.

    And I can understand why the dark hole must be filled, and will be filled in this way. I am glad that these people can find something to replace the hope they have lost and I do not begrudge them that. I just wish they would see the moral problems of what they are doing. Even if they are right, they are wrong.

  182. Bruce N,

    I don’t think it is particularly fair to trivialize a position with polemics. Or to put words in people’s mouths.

    I am not making an argument for the proposition that the BofM isn’t historical. I think that is unusually counterproductive, to put it mildly. The proposition, rather, is: can someone who believes that the BofM is only partially historical, or not historical at all, rationally believe that the LDS Church is divinely endorsed and supported, even to a greater degree than other denominations, on the strength of its practices and principles?

    I believe the answer is yes.

  183. On re-reading your comment, Bruce, I back off the claim that you are putting words in anyone’s mouth. I agree with you as to the consequences of adopting and promoting the position that the BofM is not historical. I am looking at it from the other direction – how anyone who doesn’t have confidence in the historicity of the BofM might believe that the doctrines of the church are uniquely inspired, validated, or endorsed just the same.

  184. Mark D:

    I was about to write a response to your 198 that essentially said what you said in 199. :)

    You say this: “I am looking at it from the other direction – how anyone who doesn’t have confidence in the historicity of the BofM might believe that the doctrines of the church are uniquely inspired, validated, or endorsed just the same.”

    I need to find it, but somewhere in the mass of comments above, I already agreed with this.

    In fact, I actually agree with it whole heartedly.

    I am not sure if there is a difference in ‘focus’ or actual a difference in what we believe here. It may be that we’re agreeing but I’m concentrating on one aspect of the equation (that an inspired BoM theory has more rational problems to explain away then just believing it’s historical) and you on another (that one can do it) or if we actually have some level of disagreement.

    I can defintely see why someone might want to believe in the BoM as inspired fiction. And I completely agree with TT (and always have) that if we switch to a standard of ‘religiously valuable’ that fraud does not necessarily eliminate relgious value. (Though whether it does or not is entirely dependent on what the truth actually is. For example, if the Evangelicals are right, the a fraudulent BoM has negative religious value. This is the point TT keeps avoiding and why I believe he is just dodging.)

    And I do think one can make a ‘logical argument’ for an inspired fiction argument with the Book of Mormon without watering down what ‘inspired’ means. John C and Carla did this as well as could have been expected, and probably using the two best ways to do it. My hat is off to them. (It is my belief that they came up with the two single best possible arguments that don’t water down ‘inspired.’ But, of course, I can’t possibly know that for sure unless I know every argument that will ever be made.)

    Yet none of this changes the reality that we can now, given specifics, make rational criticism in return on these counter theories. And it is my contention that now that we can, it is possible to show that epistemologically the ‘standard theories’ (historical vs. non-inspired fraud) are objectively ‘better’ theories.

    “Better” here doesn’t mean right or wrong. We don’t get to ever know that for sure. “Better” means literally deeper, explains more, has fewer explanations gaps, doesn’t self undermine it’s own argument, etc. Actual objective measures about an argument that are worth considering.

    But that is the limit of my argument.

    John C could be right that we live in Plato’s cave, for example. In some ways, this is an emotionally compelling theory, I admit. (I’ve considered a ‘matrix’ understanding of reality many times my self and half suspect we really are just all holograms projected from a greater reality as physics is starting to believe. So I’m half way primed for Plato’s cave already.)

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