Comments about ‘Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: Challenging Issues & Keeping the Faith: The Book of Mormon and modern science’

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Published: Monday, April 25 2011 4:00 a.m. MDT

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Mike in Texas
Allen, TX

Marvelous dissembling by Mr. Ash. In his defense of the historicity of the Book of Mormon he argues that science is not definitive, and that scientists will draw different conclusions based upon the same evidence. What a revelation. The question is why does he need to do this? Is there some concern that the scientific evidence does not support the historicity of the book? Is that what is worrying him?

Well, maybe it should.

Weber State Graduate
Clearfield, UT

"There is no such thing as a completely neutral observer."

Perhaps so, but a reputable researcher will do their best to eliminate any "confirmation bias" that may creep into their work. That's why many scholars willingly subject their evidence to peer reviewed examination.

On the other hand, apologists often engage in cognitive illusions by selectively searching for and considering information that confirms a belief, while at the same time ignoring any empirical evidence that might serve to disconfirm those beliefs.

As pointed out by Austin Cline in an online article about conformation bias, Michael Shermer in a September 2002 issue of Scientific American stated that "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons."

Confirmation bias is certainly a "nonsmart" method that actively keeps one from arriving at the truth through the continued acceptance of comforting nonsense.

Provo, UT

For the past several months, Ash's articles have been straying further and further from their ostensible purpose: providing "evidence" supporting the "truthfulness" of the Book of Mormon. Unfortunately for Ash, his articles have been straying into realms of inquiry in which he has no training, experience, credentials, or savvy, and it shows.

But this week, Ash's article says... pretty much nothing at all.

Somewhere in Time, UT

Another excellent article. Thanks.

Perth, Australia

Despite modern science being completely against the BOM's claims, I can still understand why Mormons, who have grown up in Utah, would want to hang on to their beliefs. They have been immersed in Mormonism all their lives and they have had many positive experiences associated with living in a mostly Mormon community. The consequences of turning their back on the church are typically very severe.

Mormons outside of the US are almost always a small minority in their communities. They are the odd ones out in what are typically secular societies. If people in say Australia choose to leave the church they are not faced with the degree of social alienation that many US Mormons are faced with. There is almost no risk to their current or future employment. They often experience a sense of euphoria because they feel much more connected to people in their community. When I left the church my friendships with workmates, neighbors and other friends deepened considerably. I realized more fully just how decent most people are. They are certainly not the depraved and evil people church leaders constantly warned us about.

Salt Lake valley, UT

It's important to note that Ash didn't say we believers should ignore science. He is just saying that science has more bias and interpretation than we might expect. To me, this means that I should continue having faith in the BoM because I've chosen a faith-based life-style, and that it's OK to make tentative scientific judgments about the BoM but I should recognize that the final answer from science about the BoM isn't in and that I should thus withhold final scientific judgment of the BoM.

Provo, Ut

Hugh Nibley was once criticized for painting a world-view of what he termed "the ancients", which implied that earth's early inhabitants all belonged to a singular cohesive culture. He would cut and paste pieces from the Orient, the Middle-East, etc, and weave them into an "ancient" pseudo-Mormonism conveniently for his apologetics. Some of what Ash is doing, in conjunction with all Book of Mormon apologists is the same. He say's that The Book of Mormon, when taken for what it say's, matches quite well with Old-World American culture. When we take all of these "evidences", the old Nibley habit of taking bits and pieces and wrestling a collage of Old-World Mormonism, seems to be at play.

With all of this "education" on science, from a quote-horse that appears to have no real scientific training, we need to get down to basics - falsification. It is simple. Mr. Ash needs to establish, at least theoretically, what it would take to falsify Mormonism - and then see if he can do it. If you don't even know how to falsify it, how could you ever defend it - scientifically speaking. It's just that simple!

Bountiful, UT

"If we forego traditions and folk-assumptions about the Book of Mormon and apply the methods of modern science and scholarship to what the Book of Mormon actually says and does not say, we find that the book paints a picture which is amazingly similar in many ways to the same picture painted by New World experts about the ancient cultures during Book of Mormon times."

The problem is we can't just pick and choose evidence. For example, we can't just ignore the suspicious origins of the book. The evidence must be examined in total and in the context. If Joseph claimed to translate ancient records without making those records available for public examination, and if he translated them using a rock in a hat method, then that context must be the starting point of our examination. We cannot rely solely on what the mysteriously translated text says.

I would hope that people are smart enough view such claims, whether religious or not, with skepticism absent some very convincing evidence proving their authenticity. Unless Ash plans to present some previously unknown evidence, the scant evidence doesn't adequately support the extraordinary claims made by Joseph.

Salt Lake valley, UT

@Vanka You've said several times that Ash's purpose is to present evidence supporting the truthfulness of the BoM. I didn't realize that was his purpose, and I wonder about it. Would you please give us the name and date of his articles where he states his purpose is to give evidence of the truthfulness of the BoM? This will help me to read his articles with the context he has tried to give for the articles. Thanks in advance.

@Mormoncowboy "He [Ash] says's that the Book of Mormon, when taken for what it say's, matches quite well with Old-World American culture." Sorry, but Ash didn't say that. He did say, the picture given by the BoM is "amazingly similar in many ways to the same picture painted by New World experts about the ancient cultures during Book of Mormon times." "amazingly similar in many ways" is quite different than "matches quite well".

@Jax I don't think Ash is picking and choosing evidence. He is discussing the BoM from a lot of different viewpoints. Perhaps you can give us examples of Ash picking and choosing his evidence?

Murray, UT

These articles are starting to do the opposite of what the initial intent was. Another article and another attack on science. It seems like Mike is moving to a position that says science will never prove or disprove the Book of Mormon.

With this logic we could say that the shrinking ice cap on the North Pole has no correlation with the temperatures in the Artic Ocean.

We could also say that the disapearance of the carrier pigeons had nothing to do with them being hunted.

I am sure that it is possible to find quotes to support any position from LDS people as well as non-LDS people. I see this as a very much weaker support for a theory than physical evedince.

Going back to the ice cap, it is much easier to measure its size, than talk about its size, if we want to see how big it is. Failure to use the scientific tools we have available to prove or disprove, is not a good way to prove or disprove any theory.

Bountiful, UT

"Perhaps you can give us examples of Ash picking and choosing his evidence?"

I was referring to Ash's statement in the article where he suggested that "we forego traditions and folk-assumptions about the Book of Mormon and apply the methods of modern science and scholarship to what the Book of Mormon actually says and does not say." I was making the point that such efforts must take into account the origins of the book which are rooted in early 19th century magic and occult practices. Some of the traditions and folk-assumptions that Ash would forego stem from this same magical context. Please see Quinn's "Early Mormonism and the Magic World View" for a detailed treatment.

One cannot fairly analyze the Book of Mormon without accounting for the magical practices from which it sprang. Often those same practices were used to trick and defraud people. In fact, Joseph was convicted of glass-looking for pretending to be able to find hidden treasure by using a magical stone. To me, this is compelling evidence of fraud that cannot be ignored.

Tucson, AZ

It is difficult to leave out the traditions and folklore when the purveyors of the tradition and folklore claim to be talking to God. When Joseph Smith says Zelph is a Lammanite isn't that evidence that at least one Lammanite lived where the body was buried? And logically if he was buried there one could assume (no direct evidence to be sure) that other lammanites buried him and therefore the objects around his burial sites are Lammanite objects and therefore evidence of Lammanite people? Now all we need to do is examine where Zelph was found and see what artifacts are there and find similar artifacts and looking at the complete picture build a model. Then see if that model fits. If it doesn't he's not a Lammanite.

Salt Lake City, UT

In the sciences, physical, biological, and social there also exists the concept of likelihood. Indeed in the natural science of statistics likelihood functions can be constructed. As for the BOM, the questions need not be posed as "is it true," rather it can be posed "is it likely true."

LDS Revelations
Sandy, UT

Mr Ash creates a strawman in order to make his argument.

I don't view it as 19th fiction because I don't have 'proof' it's what Joseph claimedI view it as 19th fiction because multiple pieces of evidence support that conclusion. I don't see them as 'proof.' I'm open to the idea that I could be wrong but currently the evidence supporting that position is far better than that of the Church.

I got the impression Mr Ash was suggesting that in BoM research, science was wrong and the victim of bias. If so, I'd love to see his support for that.

"If we forego traditions and folk-assumptions about the Book of Mormon and apply the methods of modern science and scholarship to what the Book of Mormon actually says..."

Are apologist the ones to disabuse the Church of these folk assumptions? Problem is, these are often put forth by Apostles and Prophets. Is the Church really OK with self-appointed defenders sifting through the words of the the Brethren declaring what is revelation and what is assumption?

Otis Spurlock
Ogden, UT

Michael Ash,

Science, anthropolgy, archaeology, linguistics, geography, geology, botany, etc. all prove to a scientific certainty that the BoM is fiction. This is not some vast right-wing conspiracy in the scientific community. This is fact.

As a member of the LDS faith that views the BoM as not literally, I can tell you that the Church so much more straightforward, less complex and enjoyable when you don't have to perform mental gymnastics everyday regarding the BoM.

I would encourage you to take the 500lbs gorilla off your back. It will help you enjoy the Church, life and the BoM more.

Bill in Nebraska
Maryville, MO

First off science will never totally prove or disprove the Book of Mormon. Also, it isn't important to prove the historical value of the Book of Mormon, only that the events protrayed in the Book of Mormon happened. The problem is that the secular world will not believe the Book of Mormon can and did come about simply as Joseph Smith stated it did.

So the critics are left with basically destroying the evidence and credibility of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon and the individual that did the translation.

Those of you who think if you saw the plates as described by Joseph Smith would believe then are no different than those who were there present when Christ walked the Earth. He used their own scriptures to testify of himself, yet they wouldn't believe and some of you say you are better than them.

Christ has already declared the Book of Mormon to be historic, that Joseph Smith translated by the Gift from God and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the only true and LIVING church upon the whole Earth. Don't believe me then ask Christ.

Clearfield, UT

Again....Ash can't get around the "probability factor" or the "weight of the evidence" concerning the BoM. BoM evidences is very weak and improbable. Archaeological, anthropological, biological, and linguistic scientific evidence exists that doesn't support the BoM and that evidence far outweighs any evidence Ash or any Mormon presents. Scientists are mostly in agreement, outside of Mormonism that the evidence doesn't support Mormonism. Ash must twist or contort evidence to even show it as parallel which in turn has to degrade actual scientific evidence. There is simply no getting around the fact that demonstrably untrue things are claimed....and claimed in a work that supposedly came from God, even if written down by someone else. What, didn't God proof read the Gold Plates?

The most fundamental tenets of Mormonism crumble in light of the scientific evidence. The Smithsonian Institutions National Museum of Natural History has even provided a written statement denying the BoM's archaeological validity for inquirers for years.

For me, the scientific evidence against the Mormonism only increases and supports my inability to even initially believe the fantastically unbelieveable claims by Smith. His questionable character doesn't support his claims either.

Temple City, CA

It is interesting to me that so many people who have long been critical of believers make broad statements, incomplete summaries, and unsupported conclusions using some of the same techniques that they criticize.

Weber State Graduate wants to imply that all Mormon scientists use "confirmation bias," and supports that by quoting people who say that confirmation bias exists (apparently in non-Mormon scientists as well, which is a point Ash has made).

Oxy-Moroni broadly states that "modern science [is] completely against the BOM's claims." He might have more reasonably said that SOME "modern science" is against the claims (which claims, he doesn't say), but he has at least one adverb too many for his own claim.

"LDS Revelations" says that Ash "creates a strawman in order to make his argument." S/he does not identify Ash's alleged strawman, but creates a strawman about 19th Century fiction that has nothing to do with the article.

"Mormoncowboy" quotes critics of Hugh Nibley, but fails to quote Nibley; doing so would refute the critics, of course. Cowboy's simplified and incorrect summary shouldn't be taken seriously anyway.

Otis Spurlock
Ogden, UT

Michael Ash wrote:

"We find that the book paints a picture which is amazingly similar in many ways to the same picture painted by New World experts about the ancient cultures during Book of Mormon times."

What?! I don't know about Michael, but I'm still waiting for iron swords, coins, horse bones, chariots, DNA evidenc, linguistic, archaeological evidence, etc. Michael Ash now claims that instead of evidence to support the BoM, the BoM is the evidence?!?

It's Advil time.

Idaho Coug
Meridian, Idaho

I struggle so much with what Ash and his apologist colleagues have been asking us to do for many years now - discard much that has been said and written by LDS leaders in order to support a more logical, modern explanation of LDS history and doctrine.

On one hand, where do they have the authority to dismiss what they choose in order to strengthen what they have chosen as current explanation? And on the other hand, I couldn't agree with them more. I find that I have had to set aside literally everything as opinion, tradition, culture or myth. I am a lifelong active member but both my spirit and mind are crying out that nothing makes sense anymore.

I suppose the question for me has become this - can I set aside my doubts, confusion and frustration with the fact that so much from the First Vision to today just makes such little sense and has so many troubling questions surrounding them - and just hope?

I'm sorry I keep saying the same thing here. I guess it is part of my process to figure this out. I appreciate what I read from believers and critics alike.

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