Thursday, October 23, 2008

Some evidences for the Book of Mormon

More of George's email to me...

As far as the geography of the Book of Mormon vs the Bible you can't compare them straight across. There are close to two Billion people who are either some for of Christian, Jew, or Muslim. For the past 2000 years this large group of people has been trying to prove their faith through archeology. About 18% of biblical sites are known. Another 18% may be known, but not with surety or without controversy.

We know the Book of Mormon took place someplace in the Americas. I personally believe it was in southern Mexico and Guatemala, but that's my opinion and not LDS doctrine. When the pre-colombian mesoamerican ruins were found, they were uninhabited and buried in the jungle. There were no people. No language. No names of cities. We still have only basic understanding of Mayan and almost no understanding of Olmec writings. Contrast that to Jerusalem which was continuously occupied. Imagine if we had the text of the Bible, but had no idea where on Asia, Africa, or Europe it occurred because the names of places were all different.

It's also difficult to compare the artifacts and writings. The jungles of Guatemala leave very little besides stone and pottery. The Spanish conquistadors burned entire libraries and purposefully destroyed languages, icons, religion, and history to make the people easier to conquer. The largest city that we know of in Meso America is El Mirador. Ever heard of it? Most haven't. It is very difficult to get to, and has hardly been studied or excavated. Imagine all the things we WOULDN'T know about Rome if we knew of the roman empire, but had yet to discover the ancient city of Rome.

I think it's an interesting topic. Keep in mind, Joseph Smith had about a 3rd grade education. He lived in rural New York. He had no access to significant Universities and Libraries. His time is fairly well documented while he was "translating" the Book of Mormon. It was written in less than 90 days.

He would read the text aloud and a scribe would write what he was saying. He would never ask "where was I" or "what was the last thing I said". He would start in the middle of a sentence in the morning or after a break.

At the time there are a number of things that were believed to be true by the scholars. A few of these include that ancient native Americans did: Not know how to use cement. Did not have large civilizations. Did not build highways. Did not know what horses were. Did not have barley. So, if Joseph Smith was so smart, wouldn't he be consistent with the knowledge of the day? He was mocked for all of these things.....until one by one they started to show up.

Less than 20 years ago it was taught that the Maya were peaceful, neighborly, and generally agrarian. The Book of Mormon describes a people at about 400 AD (contemporary with the Maya) who were salvages, warlike, blood-thirsty, and practiced widespread human sacrifice. We now know that that is a good description of the Maya of that time.

There have been a number of names that show up in ancient Israel or the Arabian peninsula that are also found in the Book of Mormon. Laban, Lehi, Nahom, are a few that I know off the top of my head.

The Book of Mormon describes cities that sunk into the sea. Joseph Smith was mocked on this point. When we started to fly and dive we began to find them. There's one in lake Atitlan. Others off the coast of Belize and Cuba. Lucky guess?

The Mayan text "The Title of the Lords of Totonicapan" indicates that their forefathers were "descendants of Abraham, fair skinned, and that they traveled across the sea".

Semetic and Egyptian style writings have been authenticated in the Americas. This has researchers stumped. One such sample was of the 10 commandments.

The legend of the "White God" appears all over the Americas. Kulkulcan to the Maya, Quetzalcoatl to the Aztec. The Inca knew him by another name. This God allegedly descended to their ancestors, taught them, commanded them to write what was said, and ascended to heaven....but not before promising to return one day. We can read this account in the Book of Mormon.

There are many elaborate chiasmuses in the Book of Mormon. They are perfect and precise. Joseph Smith never talked of them. No one did. That form of ancient poetry wasn't yet known and understood. They are found throughout the book.

The Book of Mormon has been determined to have multiple authors by it's varying writing styles. None of them were Joseph Smith based on his own writing style.

I could go on, but I'll leave it at that for now. Books have been written on the subject. A better question to ponder is as to why these things have been completely ignore, disregarded, and marginalized by scholars who claim to be unbiased?

Whether you believe the Book of Mormon is true or not, it can't simply be disregarded as a work of fiction or something that was plagiarized. No book existed that could have been plagiarized as the knowledge didn't exist in the world at that time. The chances of him going against what was known then, only to be accurate 150 years later is highly improbable.

to be continued...

Part 9

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 8

George's response to my email about epistemology.

Let me start with a question. Suppose an Atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu began studying Christianity. How could he discover that the Bible is the word of God and not simply a historical fiction maintained over the years? How would he know that Christ actually rose from the dead? Afterall, 2000 years ago it would have been easy to write that down and claim it happened even if it didn't. What if this person asked for proof that Christ rose from the dead? We could make similar arguments for may of the spectacular stories of the Bible. Afterall, most cultures in the world have embellished legends of some sort. Here in America we have Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and Davy Crockett. There are statues built of them, stories written of them, and even some elements of truth to their tale. Suppose this person argued that the Bible was simply a book of Good advice, rooted in ancient history, geography, and culture that took real people and created legends of them through embellishment and fiction?

The next question he might ask could be "who is the authority to interpret the Bible". What happens if you get 5 religious scholars who all seem to be well-meaning and all know the Bible extensively, yet they all interpret something in 5 different ways? Which one is right and how would this person (who is new to Christianity) KNOW which one was right?

Many of the Jewish people studied the words of the ancient prophets. The Sadducee's and the Pharisees studied extensively....yet they were still unable to identify their Messiah face to face. So how is it that they were so far off, when they studied the "Bible" (what they had of it) and knew it so well? Shouldn't their studying of it have made them more able to identify their Messiah? In fact the vast majority of Jewish people failed to recognize their Messiah. The Christians were a small minority in ancient Israel. How is it that the majority was so far off? What went wrong?

I am interested in your opinion on that. Mine is that we need to do both. I think you're splitting hairs when you say that James "meant this" but "didn't mean that". We'd have to look at the language in the original text to get any idea of what he might have really meant. Additionally Matthew said:
(21:22) "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."

Again, I don't see any disclaimers in there or exceptions. There are quite a few scriptures that are similar to this that I could continue to bring up. I believe that both are important. One biblical story that comes to mind is when the resurrected Lord walked with the two men, and after words (Luke 24:32) they said: "Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" He taught them from the scriptures and the holy ghost testified to their hearts that what was being taught was true. In the Doctrine & Covenants 8:2 we read "Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart." This is referring specifically to the process of translation for them, but I believe it is true to us as well. We should use our hearts and our minds to learn truth. One with out the other can (as history shows us) often leads men astray.

I agree with you that this is not a simple process. It's not as easy as just casually asking once and then having God speak right to you. However, I believe God does answer the prayers of those who have honest and sincere desires and are seeking truth or answers. It may not be when or how they like, however, the revelation will eventually come.

[Editing some stuff out...]

I think it's interesting to apply your logic on identifying false prophets to the Jews that Christ interacted with. Afterall, Christ was teaching a "new gospel". It contradicted the Old Testament in many ways (at least it's easy to interpret it that way). Using your logic, would the Jews have been able to identify their Messiah? Afterall, Christ taught that the Old Testament was true, and they believed it was true. So weren't they just "playing it safe" by just sticking to the Old Testament and only accepting that, as everyone agreed that it at least was true? I'm clearly playing Devil's Advocate and not trying to be sinister.

to be continued...

Some evidences for the Book of Mormon

Part 9

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 7

The rest of the story...

A long time ago when I first talked to some Mormon missionaries and went through their presentation, I did pray about it, asking God whether it was true. I prayed that prayer because at the time I thought it was at least possible that it could be true, and I figured it couldn't hurt to pray about it. But I didn't get any warm fuzzy, and I had no inclination whatsoever to think that it was true. In fact, I felt just the opposite. What does a Mormon say in response to that? Was it because I was insincere? Or was it because I was wicked? If a feeling of acceptance confirms that it is true, why doesn't a feeling of rejection confirm that it is false?

Well, I had not read the BOM at that time except for the few passages the missionaries recommended for me, but now I have. And having read it, I'm even more convinced than I was before that it is not an ancient document and that it is definitely not the word of God. I don't think it's possible for me to pray that prayer with any sincerity. It would be like you praying to ask God whether it's okay for you to commit murder as if you didn't already know [I'm indebted to James R. White from Alpha and Omega Ministries for this point]. It would be dishonest for you to pray such a prayer to God, and it would be dishonest of me to pray to God to ask him whether the BOM is true when I think God has already revealed that to me.

Nevertheless, I do think it's at least possible--remote as that possibility may be--that the Book of Mormon is true. But just because something is possible doesn't mean it's reasonable to believe. I also think it's possible that we're plugged into the Matrix and that our perception of the external world is just generated by a computer plugged into our brains. The mere possibility doesn't create any serious doubt in my mind, though. I'm pretty confident, just based on the use of the cognitive faculties and resources God has already given me that the external world exists, that it is pretty much the way it appears to be, and that the Book of Mormon is not the word of God.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that I'm just as sure that the BOM is false as I am that the external world exists. I'm much more confident that the external world exists than that the BOM is false. I'm just making the point that mere possibility is not enough to entertain serious doubt or belief about something. And unless I had serious doubt or belief, I don't think I could go to God with a sincere question. God would know I was lying if I ever went to prayer asking him whether the external world exists or is just an illusion.

Well, this is longer than I meant to write. Sorry about that. I have one question for you, though. If, hypothetically, Joseph Smith is not a true prophet, and the Book of Mormon is not true, how could a person know it? It seems like the only test Mormons employ is prayer and a subjective experience. But anybody who prays that prayer and does not get a confirmation that it's true, you can say that they are insincere or wicked. How, then, could anybody tell that it is not true if it's not true?

Do you think it's possible for somebody to get a strong feeling, a conviction, a burning in the bosom, etc. about something if that thing is untrue?

It seems to me that this test in the BOM only works one way. It can verify something, but it can't falsify something. It's interesting. The Bible gives us several methods of falsifying a prophet, but not many to verify a prophet. But the BOM gives one test to verify a prophet, but nothing to falsify a prophet.
...and that's the end of my email to George. Next, I will post some of his response.

Part 8

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 6

Part three of the email...

When the Bereans searched the scriptures to see if what Paul was saying was true, they couldn't have been searching the new testament since it hadn't been written yet. Later revelation is always tested by earlier revelation. But that raises an interesting question. Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon claim to be ancient documents that, with the exception of everything written before 600 BCE, were written independently of each other and close to the same time period. So, do we test the Bible in light of the Book of Mormon, or do we test the Book of Mormon in light of the Bible?

Well, I think we should test the Book of Mormon in light of the Bible for at least three reasons. First, because we have ancient fragments and manuscripts of the Bible, and we KNOW that it's an ancient document, but we have nothing but Joseph Smith's word that the Book of Mormon is an ancient document. There are no ancient manuscripts of the Book of Mormon whatsoever, and the only one we know to have existed was supposedly taken away by an angel so that nobody can examine it. So there's doubt about whether the Book of Mormon is even an ancient document.

Second, because it is well-established that the Bible is rooted in history, but it is not well-established that the Book of Mormon is rooted in history. Even people who completely reject the Bible, Judaism, Christianity, and God acknowledge that the Bible is rooted in history. It refers to real people and real places and real events. But it seems like the only people who think the Book of Mormon has any connection to history are Mormons themselves. But even among Mormons, they are not all in agreement that archeology supports the BOM. And even among those who think archeology DOES support the BOM, the evidence they present pales in comparison to the archeology supporting the Bible.

Third, because the BOM itself testifies to the truth of the Bible (I remember reading that several times in the BOM, but I can't find in my notes where I wrote it down), but the Bible does not testify to the truth of the BOM. That means that if the BOM is true, then the Bible is also true. But if the Bible is true, that doesn't necessarily mean the BOM is true. So either way you look at it, the Bible is true, but the BOM is not necessarily true.

Since I think we can be confident that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and since there is some doubt about whether the BOM is the inspired word of God, I think we should test the BOM in light of the Bible rather than vice versa.

Now, I understand that Mormons don't think there is any contradiction between the Bible and the BOM--at least not insofar as the Bible is translated correctly. But that's another subject, and too broad to go into now.

Unfortunately, my friend has read the entire Book of Mormon, but she hasn't even read half of the Bible. When she converted to Mormonism, she was in no position to test whether the BOM was true or not. She had nothing but her subjective experience to go on. From reading her testimony, I got the impression that she already believed it before she said her prayer. It's no shock that her feelings would confirm it for her since she not only already believed it, but she wanted it to be true. Jeremiah tells us that "The heart is more deceitful than all else," (Jeremiah 17:9), and Solomon says that "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool"
(Proverbs 28:26).

to be continued...

Part 7

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 5

In my last entry, I started to post an email I wrote about why I don't think asking God for a subjective experience is the best way to determine whether somebody is a true prophet or not, or whether a book contains his revelation or not, but I didn't post the whole thing. Here's some more of it:

The Bible also gives us criteria for examining prophets and prophecies. I'm sure you're aware of these--Deuteronomy 18:20-22 says that whatever a prophet says in the name of YHWH has to come about or be true, but that is a negative test. It tells you how to recognize a false prophet, but not how to recognize a true prophet. In Deuteronomy 13:1-5, the author considers the case of a false prophet who gives true prophecies or produces signs and wonders. A true prophecy is not enough to establish that somebody is a true prophet. It says,
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, "Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them," you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams.
I know there are a lot of misconceptions about Mormons out there, and that I probably have some myself, but from what I understand, I think the Mormon concept of God is so radically different than the Jewish and Christian concept of God that they are not the same God.

Matthew 7:15-20 tells us we can test prophets by their fruit. A lot of people take this to simply mean we can tell a true prophet from a false prophet by how moral their lives are or how many converts they win. But those two criteria alone are not enough because there are plenty of false prophets and teachers who could produce such fruit. After all, the servants of Satan disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). I think the fruit must also include their teachings, and that is consistent with Deuteronomy 13:1-5. They cannot teach false doctrine, a false gospel, a false Jesus, or anything contrary to what has already been revealed and established. But we have to know the scriptures in order to recognize what is contrary to what has already been revealed.

One doctrinal test, for example, comes from 1 John 4:1-3:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that is coming, and now is already in the world.
I think John was specifically addressing the docetists in this passage who believed that Jesus was only a spirit and that he only appeared to be in the flesh.

These methods for examining prophets and prophecies are fairly specific, but none of them include praying to God and asking whether those thing are true, as it says in Moroni 10:4-5.

In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul says to Timothy that "from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." So even if James did NOT specifically say that we can get wisdom from the scriptures, Paul clearly DID say that. He went on to say that "All Scripture is inspired by God [literally "theopneustos" which means "God-breathed"] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." If the scriptures are profitable for teaching, reproof, and correction, it would be negligent to rely merely on a subjective experience to determine whether something is true or not.

Have you noticed that most of the tests for prophets given in the Bible are negative tests? That is, they are useful for discovering a false prophet, but they aren't quite as useful for discovering a true prophet. It's only speculation on my part, but I think it might be because it is more dangerous to believe in a false prophet than it is to disbelieve in a true prophet. What we have in the old and new testament is adequate. It contains the gospel and all that we need to live righteously. It contains all that we need to know to be saved. Anything in addition to it may be helpful, but it isn't necessary. So if a true prophet comes along and reveals something we didn't know before, and we don't believe it, we aren't in danger of losing our salvation over it. That means we can chuck the whole Book of Mormon and all the writings, teachings, and prophecies of Joseph Smith and still be safe even if Joseph Smith is a true prophet and the Book of Mormon is God's word.

to be continued...

Part 6

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 4

This is my response to George when he asked me what I thought about James 1:5, and it's an explanation for why I don't think asking God for a subjective experience is the best way to determine whether somebody is a true prophet or not, or whether a book contains his revelation or not. Keep in mind that I'm not posting all of our emails. I'm editing some stuff out, and I'm doing a bit of formatting and italicizing. If I add anything, I'll put it in [brackets].

I don't think that "knowledge" and "wisdom" are the same thing. Knowledge is, for the most part, accurate information. Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge effectively, or you might say it's the ability to make good decisions. You have to have some knowledge already before you can apply wisdom. So I don't think James is telling us that if we want to know if something is true, we should ask God about it.

If simply praying to God to ask him for a bit of information was the best way to determine whether something was true, the majority of the scriptures would be superfluous. And even in our everyday lives, teaching, learning, investigating, and all the things we do on a daily basis to determine whether things are true or false would be superfluous.
Nor does it say "if any of you lack wisdom, read the Bible, and you'll find the answers there (although I believe that can be the case sometimes).
It does say that when Paul took the gospel message to the Bereans that "these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). Clearly, the author of Acts thought that examining the scriptures to determine whether somebody's message is true was a noble thing to do.

Mormons aren't unique in their epistemology. I see this sort of thing rampant among Evangelical Christians. The vast majority of them think they should pray to God to answer their questions, to determine God's will for their lives, and to make decisions. But the vast majority of them are Biblically illiterate, too. It has never made sense to me. Everybody wants to hear the voice of God, but few take an interest in what God has already revealed in the Scriptures. I think it's perfectly appropriate to pray for understanding when you're reading the Bible, but I think it's absurd to pray for God to reveal some truth to you that he has already revealed in the Scriptures when you won't even go to the effort of reading them. I don't imagine, for example, that you would pray to God to ask him whether you ought to steal or lie or something like that. You already know you shouldn't do those things.

In 2 Thessalonians 2, it talks about the coming of the "Man of Lawlessness," and how his coming will be "with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive a love of the truth so as to be saved" (v.9-10). You have to love the truth if you want to avoid being deceived. The passage goes on to say that "God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false..." If a person loves the truth, they will study the Bible as far as they are able to discover it. And in doing so, they are far less likely to fall for every wind of teaching floating around out there. I think Hosea 4:6 aptly applies to a lot of evangelicals today when it says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." [I'm indebted to Amy Hall from Stand to Reason for this point.]

We know different things in different ways. The Bible is specific about how we know whether a person is presenting a message from God or not. It doesn't say that we should pray about such things. It says, "Do not despise prophetic utterance, but examine everything carefully" (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). When it comes to prophecy, we are to examine it, not simply ask God if it's true. But how do we examine some new message if we have nothing to compare it to?

We have to know the scriptures if we are to effectively examine it. People fall for counterfeits when they don't know the genuine. That applies, not just to religious things, but to all things in life. For example, you couldn't recognize a counterfeit hundred dollar bill if you did not know what a real hundred dollar bill was like. Likewise, Paul said that "if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!" (Galatians 1:9). So we have to know the true gospel before we can recognize that something is a false gospel or a distortion of the true gospel.

to be continued...

Part 5

Friday, October 03, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 3

In one of the emails from the Mormon fellow I've been talking about, he said, "I've received my answer from the Lord. However, I don't want you to believe me. I want you to take it to the Lord and get an answer from Him." He didn't say how the Lord answered him. I just assumed he was referring to some sort of subjective experience since that's what most Mormons say. So I wrote back and said, "I don't think asking God for a subjective experience is the best way to determine whether somebody is a true prophet or not, or whether a book contains his revelation or not."

That's when he brought up James 1:5:
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
Before I go on, lemme explain why I keep saying, "Mormon fellow" instead of saying, "Jim" or "Bob" or whoever he is. I asked him ahead of time if he'd be okay with me posting some of our dialogue on my blog. He didn't come right out and say "no," but at the same time, he didn't seem to feel entirely comfortable with it. He said that as long as I wasn't degrading that he didn't mind. So, I'm protecting his identity. Let's just call him George. I like that name, and I'm tired of saying "Mormon fellow."

Anyway, George said he'd be interested in knowing what I think about James 1:5. This is the rest of his email:
I don't see any disclaimers on that verse. Anything that says "you can ask anything BUT _____". Nor does it say "if any of you lack wisdom, read the Bible, and you'll find the answers there (although I believe that can be the case sometimes). God is our father, we are his children. I believe that this scripture is true. Most people in the world "lack wisdom" as to whether or not there is a true prophet of God on the earth today.

Lastly, I think it's interesting how many Christians feel that praying to God and asking him if Joseph Smith was a prophet and if the Book of Mormon is true is a terrible thing to do.....don't they believe God answers prayer? If it's false he'll tell them "'s not true". Shouldn't they confidently pray to God, and then if God reveals to them that it is true, shouldn't they be joyful that they've received light and truth from heavenly father?

Isn't this a truly biblical and Christian way to access truth? The LDS teachings do not contradict the Bible....we believe in both. They may conflict with certain interpretations of the Bible, but that does not mean that they conflict with the Bible.

Matthew 21:22 "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."
In my next blog entry, I'll post my response. I may break it up into parts, though, because it's long.

Part 4