long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Issues of Proof

Dr. Jenkins insists on "any single credible fact, object, site, or inscription from the New World that supports any one story found in the Book of Mormon." I, too, have been eager to see one such thing from Mesoamerica. (There are many in North America, as I point out in Moroni's America.)

Jenkins summarizes his argument in ten points that I'll post below.

Neal Rappleye responds with a piece titled "The Goose and the Gander," in which he argues that Jenkins doesn't apply his "rule of one" to the Exodus. That is, there is no evidence of the biblical story. It's an excellent point and I'm curious how Jenkins would respond.

Here's how Rappleye puts it:

Take the Exodus, for example. The basics of the biblical story here are that a family or clan migrated from Canaan into Egypt, stayed there for about 400 years, where their posterity grew into a large population, so large that the Egyptians considered them a threat and forced them into slavery, killed their new born males, etc. Until one day the Lord sent Moses in to set them free by way of incredible miracles. This large population of Israelites then wanders the desert for 40 years before finally entering the promised land. In the narrative, at least two Israelites (Joseph and Moses) hold prominent positions within the Egyptian government.

This makes for a decent comparison to the Book of Mormon, because it likewise tells a story that starts with a family or small clan (smaller than that of Israel, in fact), which then grows into a large population over the course of several hundred (actually, about 1000) years. And, like the Book of Mormon in the New World, there is not a single scrap of evidence for the Israelites in Egypt or Sinai. In fact, one could aptly paraphrase Jenkins here:
“Can anyone cite any single credible fact, object, site, or inscription from [Egypt or Sinai] that supports any one story found in the [books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, or Numbers]? One sherd of pottery? One tool of bronze or iron? One carved stone? One piece of genetic data?”
The fact is there is no evidence to support the idea that the Israelites were everthere. No pottery. No inscriptions. No tools. No cities. In fact, there is no evidence to even suggest that Israelites existed before the late 13th century BC, and by then they are already in Canaan, and most experts (e.g., William Dever, Israel Finkelstein) would argue that they were an indigenous group—not immigrants from Egypt via Sinai. Again, in Canaan, there is no single piece of evidence to support a migration from Egypt. No pottery. No inscriptions. No tools. No cities. The Mernepteh Stela (ca. 1208 BC) supports the existence of Israelites in Canaan, but not that they came from Egypt. Archaeological assemblages of pottery, etc. are also argued to indicate the rise of Israel around this time, but whether such assemblages can actually represent an ethnic group continues to be debated, and these would not satisfy the “rule of one” anyway (they are, after all, assemblages of several pieces of data), and tend to point (again, per Dever, Finkelstein, and others) to indigenous origins. The inscription on the Mernepteh Stela likely passes Jenkins “rule of one” test, but does not really help with the Exodus. And since Jenkins insists that there must be evidence for the ethnic group before proceeding with the conversation (see several of his comments scattered across Hamblin’s blog), then we must wonder how he can accept Moses and an Exodus given the lack of evidence for the Israelites as a people in Egypt in the 2nd millennium BC, and prior to the late-13th century at all (anywhere). Without the Mernepteh Stela, even the existence of Israelites in Canaan ca. the 13th century would fail the “rule of one” test.

Now, here is Jenkins argument, which I'll address another time:

In very rough summary, using the customary ten point sequence:
1. Any discussion of historicity or literal truth has to focus first on the question of whether any or all of the peoples, societies and languages described in the Book actually were present in any part of the Americas at the time described. Every other issue and claim is subsidiary.
2. Given the lack of textual evidence, that has to be an archaeological question, rather than a subject for academic history. Of course, where contemporary texts survive, as in the case of the ancient Maya, then history and archaeology can and must be integrated, but otherwise, archaeology must take precedence.  That observation determines the methodologies to be used.
3. Archaeology is a science, with well-established rules and principles. It is empirical in nature, and pursues familiar scientific practice in making and testing hypotheses. Any claims or statements must be testable, refutable and falsifiable. I describe at some length what these principles are, and how they work in practice within the realm of archaeology. Archaeology, like any discipline, also has clear standards about what claims can be considered credible: generally, this implies peer-reviewed publication.
Evidence cannot be considered if it is merely anecdotal or impressionistic. There’s no point citing vague, generic “parallels” that supposedly exist between Old and New Worlds.
4. The far-reaching statements made by the Book of Mormon about the New World stand in stark contrast to any kind of scholarly consensus in any recognized discipline whatever, doubly so because of the wholly supernatural claims on which they are based. They are therefore extraordinary in nature, and demand high standards of proof. Evidence must be subject to the strictest criteria outlined above: it must be testable, refutable and falsifiable.
5. Also because of this extraordinary quality, any statements made in support of the Book of Mormon’s historicity must be positive in nature, in the sense that specific claims must first be advanced by believers for testing and verification. The burden of proof is wholly on the claims-makers. Non-believers are not required to do anything in order to disprove statements made by the Book.
6. I have made a great many repeated requests for any proposed piece of credible, objective evidence of this kind that might be subjected to such a process to testing and verification.
Far from requesting comprehensive proofs of the whole Book – an impossible task – I have requested merely one single piece of credible evidence that might confirm the Book of Mormon’s account of the New World. As examples, I have cited the kind of items that are so regularly used by archaeologists, such as architectural remains, inscriptions, metalwork, pottery, weaponry, and so on. I am of course defining the realm of archaeology widely, so that evidence derived from genetics or linguistics would also be welcome.
7. To date, I have never received or seen even the hint of any such credible, positive evidence concerning the New World.
8. In the total absence of such evidence, it is impossible for any debate to proceed. We must hold to the default position that the Book of Mormon was entirely composed by an American author in the early nineteenth century. It has no validity whatever as a picture of the pre-Columbian Americas.
9. My conclusion to Dr. Hamblin is therefore as follows: Without such positive, objective, verifiable evidence – evidence subject to the rules and conditions that I have laid out here – then you have zero grounds to support or advocate the historicity of the Book of Mormon other than religious faith, which is not susceptible to academic discussion or examination.
10. Ergo, we cannot even speak of a debate or controversy about the historicity of the Book of Mormon. The Book is a product of religious faith, and must be received on the basis of religious faith. It has nothing to do with scholarship.
Those ten points represent a minimal statement of my case.
Personally, I would add that it is inconceivable to me that such a supposedly mighty and long-lasting civilization as that portrayed in the Book of Mormon (a thousand years) should have vanished without leaving any traces whatever, whether material, genetic or linguistic. I just don’t believe it, and I say that on the comparative basis of looking at a great many civilizations and cultures worldwide. The lack of genetic evidence in particular is utterly damning. Nor am I convinced by any arguments I have yet seen that attempt to explain or account for these enormous and telling absences.
In the context of this present argument, though, my views on that subject are superfluous, as I have no obligation to produce any evidence whatever, whether positive or negative. I don’t have to make a case. As I have said, the burden of positive proof is wholly and entirely on the claims-makers.
I also reiterate one key passage in my text:
I stress these criteria and particularly their origins, so that you (and your readers) can see that I am not inventing them out of whole cloth. I am in no sense trying to invent special rules to apply to the Book of Mormon that I would not apply to other topics or eras. These are fundamental principles of science in general, and of social science in particular.

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