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.

Friday, June 11, 2021

The Witnesses movie, etc.

People are asking what I think of the Witnesses movie. Because it's not playing anywhere near where I live, I haven't seen it. 

I'm reserving judgment until I do (if I do).

Nevertheless, people tell me it heavily promotes the narrative from the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed; i.e., the ideas that

(i) Joseph Smith didn't really translate anything; 

(ii) he didn't even use the plates or the Urim and Thummim, 

(iii) instead he merely read words that appeared on a stone in the hat (SITH).

IOW, the movie is assigning a belief in SITH to its viewers. 

I wrote about the psychology behind opinions and belief on my consensus blog, here:


If it's true that Witnesses teaches Mormonism Unvailed, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised. Dan the Interpreter insists that SITH (the stone-in-the-hat) is a feature, not a bug. 

Dan's argument boils down to this: "Sure, Joseph and Oliver said Joseph translated the plates, but we don't believe that any longer because other people said he merely read words that appeared on a stone in the hat. And we have really cool linguistic evidence that proves Joseph and Oliver misled everyone."

I've explained many times why I think the linguistic evidence he cites does not support the conclusions. The idea that a mysterious unknown supernatural translator (MUST) must have been the actual source of the Book of Mormon strikes me as ridiculous. 

Sure, it's one of multiple working hypotheses. I like having multiple working hypotheses to explain facts. Just because I find one to be ridiculous doesn't mean I think it should not be considered; it was by considering it that I reached my conclusion.

As we accumulate more data, we can add, delete, and modify the hypotheses accordingly. (This is why Book of Mormon Central needs to change its "only one hypothesis allowed" logo.)

If people want to believe that someone from the 16th century translated ancient buried records in America that weren't discovered until 1823, that's fine with me. People believe all kinds of things. 

In a sense, MUST is useful; it is a superficially sophisticated justification for SITH. But, as Mormonism Unvailed explained in 1834, if SITH is the explanation, the plates are meaningless because Joseph didn't translate them anyway. If anything, MUST makes the plates even more superfluous. 

Oliver and Joseph responded to the Mormonism Unvailed argument by specifically refuting SITH (see JS-H for example). 

The SITH question is what we lawyers call "asked and answered." The question was posed by Mormonism Unvailed in 1834, Joseph and Oliver answered it promptly and repeatedly thereafter, so the case should be closed.

But that doesn't matter to our modern scholars. They depend on ongoing controversy to generate donations for "scholarly research." Continually rehashing old debates is a dream job and assures employment security. It's much more profitable to reject what Joseph and Oliver said in favor of what Mormonism Unvailed says. 

Hence, we have the Witnesses movie teaching the world to believe Mormonism Unvailed instead of Joseph and Oliver (and the D&C).

But I'm reserving judgment. 

Maybe the people telling me about it are wrong and the Witnesses movie relates everything the witnesses said.

I can't wait to see.

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