A certain blog titled “So… You Think the Book of Mormon is a Fraud?” has been circulating amongst the Mormon faithful’s social media pages and has made it’s way onto the Merkolovic radar. I LOVE what the author is trying to do here–he’s attempting to present an argument and providing evidence to support his claims. Fantastic! I wish more people would attempt to address their own faith with some level of critical analysis.
The problem, however, is that he doesn’t seem to have taken a very critical look at the evidence he’s presenting. He gives a list of ten points (plus a bonus 11th) to support the idea that the Book of Mormon (heretofore abbreviated as BoM) cannot possibly be a fraud. I’ve posted each of his 11 points below with my own critique.
Before we start I want to be clear that my intent is not to bash on my Mormon peeps. Rather, I want to pay homage to those faithful LDS members who are able to reconcile faith and reason in an intellectually honest way. My opinion of my LDS friends and family is too high for me to accept that any of them would prefer to base their beliefs on inaccurate or incomplete information. Similarly, I’m not trying to suggest that Mr. Trimble is in any way being intentionally deceitful in his position. Having been raised in a Mormon cultural bubble myself I know firsthand how the LDS culture promotes a certain church-friendly version of the facts that lacks what I would now consider a healthy dose of skeptical inquiry. Ok, here we go.
1. “Could an uneducated boy come up with 531 pages of ancient scripture on his own that was historically accurate and prophetic in nature?” No, which is likely the reason that the Book of Mormon is NOT historically accurate by any objective measure, nor prophetic in nature. The historical inaccuracy of the Book of Mormon is well documented. The massive body of archeological discoveries in the Americas has failed to turn up a single shred of evidence supporting the existence of the people, places, or events detailed in the BoM. Furthermore, the BoM consistently refers to flora and fauna which are known not to have existed in the pre-Columbian Americas. The BoM also mentions technologies that are known to have not existed at the time. Developments in the science of genetics have verified that the indigenous people of the Americas trace their lineage from people of central Asia, which clearly contradicts the BoM tale of native American civilizations springing up from Middle Eastern immigrants. All the alleged”prophecy” contained in the book deals with predictions of things that had conveniently happened by the time Joseph Smith wrote it, predictions that were conveniently fulfilled by the act of writing the BoM itself, predictions that conveniently haven’t happened yet, and predictions which are just plain wrong.
2. “Would it be possible for that boy to understand and include ancient Hebrew literary writing styles such as idioms and Chiasmus, some of which weren’t even discovered until long after Joseph Smith was gone?” Purposely or not, this is a disingenuous question. Chiasmus may not have been called “chiasmus” in Joseph Smith’s time, but the Bible was still full of examples of this writing style. Anyone familiar with the Bible or trying to replicate a biblical style of writing could easily do this. Despite the daunting academic weight of an obscure word like “chiasmus,” it’s actually a fairly simple device. JFK used it in his quote “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” It might be noted that JFK was also not known to be a Hebrew language scholar. (More discussion on chiasmus and the BoM.)
3. “How would Joseph Smith have been able to know so much about the Middle East, especially the Arabian Peninsula where Lehi and his family traveled? The book includes findings in that region that no one had discovered yet.” Here is an excellent discussion of the pseudoscientific leaps one needs to make to come to the conclusion that recent old world discoveries are evidence of BoM validity. To summarize, the BoM is very vague in describing these areas. It gives a general sense of which direction Lehi’s party walked and how long they walked (eight years?!), so that there are thousands of square miles that fit the description. Since a quarter or more of the Arabian Peninsula fits the description given in the BoM, it’s not surprising that previously undiscovered ruins have been found in those area.
4. “How could Joseph Smith come up with roughly 200 new names in the Book of Mormon and then have them turn out to be Semitic in nature?” Good discussion here. Many of the names Joseph came up with were coincidentally found on maps, particularly maps of the area around his home of Palmyra, New York. It’s also worth noting that Hebrew names and words in general are easy to link to unrelated names since written Hebrew doesn’t include vowels.
5. “If you think Joseph Smith couldn’t have written this book, then where did it come from? If one says the devil put him up to it…then why would Satan want to publish another testament of Jesus Christ and a book that does nothing but promote righteousness. Jesus said that a house divided against itself would fall.” The only people arguing that Joseph Smith couldn’t have written the BoM are the Mormons themselves. There isn’t any evidence that the BoM contains anything that Smith couldn’t have known, plagiarized, or just made up.
6. “Who were the “other sheep” that would hear Jesus’s voice in John 10:16?” Like a lot of the Bible, this comes down to a matter of personal interpretation. There is no evidence that Jesus even knew the Americas existed.
7. “Why are there volumes of books written by non-LDS authors stating that Christ came and visited the America’s a couple thousand years ago just like it says in 3rd Nephi? (See Example “He Walked The America’s”) How would Joseph Smith have known this when at the time no one even considered it?” Why are there volumes of books saying that the Earth is hollow? That 9/11 was an inside job? That Bigfoot is a space alien? The existence of books doesn’t prove that the premise of the books is true. Harry Potter told me so. There’s no evidence that Jesus was ever in the Americas. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith knew there would be volumes of books about Jesus in the Americas.
8. “If we have the stick of Judah (record of the Jews or the Bible), then where is the stick of Joseph that is referenced in Ezekiel 37:15-20? The Book of Mormon is the only explanation for this scripture. Lehi was a descendant of Joseph. Think Joseph Smith could have gotten that right by sheer chance?” Actually, if you read the rest of the chapter, it becomes pretty clear that the two sticks are metaphors for reuniting the kingdom of Israel. Verse 22: “And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all.” In the context of the chapter as a whole it seems really strange to interpret this as a reference to the BoM. Classic case of apologists assuming the conclusion and going back to look for supporting evidence after the fact.
9. “How could there be so many witnesses of the Book of Mormon and the plates and not one of them deny their testimony even when some of them became bitter toward Joseph Smith? With so many people involved…a hoax of this magnitude could never go uncovered.” Where to start on this one? Of the original three witnesses, two later clarified that they didn’t _literally_ see anything at all. All three of them were excommunicated from the church at some point. You’d think seeing angels and hearing gods would have more of a long-lasting impact on someone. Harris and Cowdery both returned to the church later, but that seems inconsequential compared to the fact that they had a falling out with a guy who showed them angels and let them hear the voice of God himself. I don’t know about you, but if someone demonstrates enough God-given authority to summon angels and the voice of God I probably wouldn’t want to pick a fight with that guy. Furthermore, we have the strange case of James Strang. Strang claimed to be the true heir to the prophetic mantle after the death of Joseph Smith. He produced more samples of ancient writings and translations, which he, unlike Smith, allowed the public to examine. All but one of the surviving BoM witnesses accepted Strang’s legitimacy and the authenticity of his plates and translations. This seems to cast considerable doubt on the reliability of these witnesses. Unless you’re a Strangite, which is apparently still a thing. (Bonus weird story to check out: The Kinderhook Plates.)
10. “How could the Book of Mormon never contradict itself while being an extremely complex book? After all these years…someone would have found something…but no.” We’re setting the bar pretty low here if we’re accepting internal consistency as evidence of divine providence. Not being self-contradictory is usually a bare minimum requirement for any book. Literary “complexity” is a difficult concept to quantify, but there’s no objective reason to think that the BoM is any more complex than, say, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. LotR also manages to avoid contradicting itself but that doesn’t seem like evidence supporting a literal interpretation of its events, characters, or divine origin. One might note that while the BoM may not contradict itself, it does seem to contradict other Mormon scriptures including the Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Bible itself. Not to mention that the BoM _does_ contradict everything we’ve learned from new world archeology, genetics, etc (see item #1 above).
11. “And the most important question to ask yourself is ‘How do I feel while I read the Book of Mormon?’ Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t trust your feelings. We are spiritual beings, and if we can’t trust our feelings, then what do we have?”One of my favorite stories about Mormon feelings involves my mother as a young coed at Brigham Young University. On multiple occasions she was approached by earnest young men claiming to be moved by the spirit to ask her out. These clean-cut former missionaries were convinced that they had received affirmative answers to their prayerful queries about a romantic future with my mom. I honestly feel bad for these guys as victims of a culture that tells you that a warm feeling in your heart is an affirmative answer from God. They must have been extremely bummed out when my mom walked away each time. Other notable anecdotes about Mormons being wrong about their feelings include people living on the sun, death penalty for interracial marriage, that Jesus would come back by 1891, and that the US government would be overthrown after it’s mistreatment of the early church. Several more are just a Google search away.
I would suggest to Mr. Trimble that we have a lot beyond just our feelings. We have facts. We have logic. Facts and logic suggest that feelings are a particularly horrible way to discern the truth about anything. Many people feel that vaccines cause autism. Many people feel that humans have never set foot on the moon. Many people feel that Caucasians are a superior race. When feelings and facts run afoul of one another, we ought to first consider why our feelings are so out of line with reality, and second consider changing our beliefs to fit more accurately with what the evidence suggests.