Twelve arguments and one proof of the Book of Mormon

In a recent discussion, Hellmut asked Seth R “Why do you think that the probability that the Book of Mormon is true is greater than one percent?” And Seth R. gave a number of reasons. I have summarised them formally, in the hope that they can be further refined and polished. This post is inspired by that classic of philosophy, “Over Three Hundred Proofs of God’s Existence

1. ARGUMENT FROM LOGIC
(1) All opposing arguments are illogical (“shot quite full of holes”)
(2) Therefore no supporting arguments are needed (by “most Mormons”)
(3) Therefore, the probability that the Book of Mormon is true is increased.

2. ARGUMENT FROM PATTERNS
(1) The Book of Mormon contains “patterns common to ancient writings.”
(2) These patterns appeared weird to early readers
(3) Therefore, the probability that the Book of Mormon is true is increased.

3. ARGUMENT FROM COMPLEXITY
(1) The Book of Mormon contains “doctrinal complexity.”
(2) This is incompatible with “Joseph’s personal background.”
(3) Therefore, the probability that the Book of Mormon is true is increased.

4. ARGUMENT FROM GRAMMAR
(1) The Book of Mormon contains an “ancient style of writing.”
(2) This is incompatible with “Joseph’s personal background.”
(3) Therefore, the probability that the Book of Mormon is true is increased.

5. ARGUMENT FROM IRRELEVENCE
(1) Critics have suggested that Sidney Rigdon may have been involved.
(2) “I don’t think the supposed Sidney Rigdon connection explains much of anything.”
(3) Therefore, the probability that the Book of Mormon is true is increased.

6. ARGUMENT FROM DEPTH AND RIGOR
(1) The Book of Mormon contains “doctrinal depth and rigor”
(2) Critics can be ignored until they accept this. (“I simply can’t take you seriously until I feel you are capable of giving merit where merit is due.”)
(3) Therefore, the probability that the Book of Mormon is true is increased.

7. ARGUMENT FROM UTILITY
(1) The Book of Mormon contains many principles
(2) Believers find these useful
(3) Therefore, the probability that the Book of Mormon is true is increased.

8. ARGUMENT FROM APPLICABILITY
(1) The Book of Mormon contains a “paradigm for viewing human history and affairs”
(2) Believers find this useful
(3) Therefore, the probability that the Book of Mormon is true is increased.

9. ARGUMENT FROM ENTERTAINMENT
(1) The Book of Mormon contains many stories
(2) “The stories have their own appeal, having captured my imagination since I was a young boy.”
(3) Therefore, the probability that the Book of Mormon is true is increased.

10. ARGUMENT FROM REWARD
(1) “I find the religious teachings to be personally rewarding”
(2) “So I’m pre-disposed to look at them favorably.”
(3) Therefore, the probability that the Book of Mormon is true is increased.

11. ARGUMENT FROM FEELINGS
(1) The Book of Mormon says if you pray about it and feel good then it is true.
(2) Some people have prayed about it and felt good.
(3) Therefore, the probability that the Book of Mormon is true is increased.

12. ARGUMENT FROM IGNORANCE
(1) Critics say the Book of Mormon is 99 percent probably false
(2) “I don’t see how any intellectually honest, and self critical individual can reach 99% certainty about ANYTHING in the realm of truth.”
(3) Therefore, the probability that the Book of Mormon is true is increased.

13. THE “90 PERCENT” PROOF
(1) The number of different arguments increases the likelihood that something is true.
(2) The Book of Mormon can be supported by numerous arguments (see above).
(3) Therefore, the Book of Mormon is around “90 percent” proven to be genuine history.

Note: according to Seth R., the 90 percent proof does not rely on argument 11 (the argument from feelings). If that argument is added then the percentage is increased to above 90, but less than 99 (see argument 12, the argument from ignorance).

Q.E.D.

44 thoughts on “Twelve arguments and one proof of the Book of Mormon

  1. Gee. This should be fun.

    I agree with Kullervo’s post following mine. The percentage numbers weren’t really the point of what I was saying. Please try not to get too hung up on them.

  2. Part of the issue (in my mind) is that the book of mormon claims to be “all true” or accurate. I remember hearing countless lessons/testimonies that it was. It was/is said to be a record of ancient civilizations and Christ’s visit to the Americas.

    Yet, with that said, it’s not difficult to find reasonable doubts in just about any sacred/religious text OR philosphy. Does that make the Book of mormon more or less true or useful? I can’t answer that question.

    Please understand, I’m not trying to defend or argue any of the above arguments. I’m just trying to understand why it’s important to logically analyze something that seems (in my mind) out of the realm of logic.

    I suppose it does matter what someone believes. And it does matter when that person or group promotes discrimination against another group. Or when members of that group are determined to convert others to their belief system. Is that what some former members find distasteful? Two 19 or 21 year old “kids” knocking on my door telling me that they know more about what’s right for me than I do?

    From my perspective, if someone wants to believe in a religion or religious text, that’s their right.

    Hey, if someone really wants to believe that there are really quakers on the moon – that’s also their right. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with someone who believes (and teaches) that there are quakers on the moon to my children – but I would hope that I would share enough critical thinking with them that they could determine truth for themselves.

    I guess my question is – does it really matter that someone defends (or refutes) the truthfulness/validity of the book of mormon?

  3. I agree that there should be many ways to accept the Book of Mormon. I used to know a Catholic who thought the Book of Mormon was wonderful and true – but he stayed a Catholic. I agree that we should all be free to believe what we want. And that includes the freedom to disagree and to say why.

  4. it seems to me that there are only two basic truths about the book of mormon, and in the end, these are all that matters.

    1. regardless of the verifiable authenticity of either the book or the church itself, it will always come down to faith in the end. the book has been endlessly denigrated, perpetually challenged, and “shot full of holes” – but it hasn’t made the slightest impact on the church’s statement that it is essentially a factual history.

    2. therefore, in the end, the burden of proof will never lie with the book, or with the church – instead, the burden of faith falls to the member. if you don’t believe in it, it’s your own damn fault. the church lies blameless and spotless at the core of it all, easily pointing the finger at a spiritually-weak and easily-led membership who fall into every chasm of the intellect that they come upon.

    i think those are really the only factors that matter. you can either buy it on faith, or you can’t, and all the intellectual arguments in either direction amount a hill o’ beans.

  5. Humility requires that we submit our opinions to logic and evidence. The Book of Mormon does make statements that are testable. The results of the respective tests do have implications with respect to Joseph Smith’s metaphysical truth claims.

    The most important implication is that Joseph Smith’s statements about the Book of Mormon are so far removed from reality that one cannot reasonably claim that he understood it.

    If the Book of Mormon is a hoax then Joseph Smith was part of a con and we should not follow him. If the Book of Mormon were true then Joseph Smith fundamentally misunderstood it.

    That raises the specter that there might be other aspects of the gospel that Joseph Smith did not understand either. That might include topics reaching from polygamy to the power of the priesthood.

    Either way, Joseph Smith is just too unreliably a guide to follow him or his successors. We are much better off taking responsibility for our own decisions according the dictates of our own conscience and the guidance of our own judgement under the constraints of logic and evidence.

  6. “Humility requires that we submit our opinions to logic and evidence.”

    Agreed. It also requires that we submit our logic and reasoning to being flawed as well. Just because you and I don’t get it, doesn’t necessarily signify much.

    “The most important implication is that Joseph Smith’s statements about the Book of Mormon are so far removed from reality that one cannot reasonably claim that he understood it.”

    Hellmut, what is the Book of Mormon? A spiritual record? Or a historical document?

    Obviously, a bit of both. But Moroni himself makes it plain that the book is an abridgment of primarily spiritual history, and not secular history.

    It only makes sense, therefore that we judge the book on its spiritual merits first and foremost, and only secondarily on its secular merits. Likewise, I would only expect Joseph to have a grasp of the spiritual reality of the “history” of the Nephites and Lamanites. His opinions on stuff like geography are really almost beside the point.

    Joseph understood the book quite well on the parts that were important for him in God’s eyes. He just didn’t understand it as well as you’d like on your own pet ideas.

    “That raises the specter that there might be other aspects of the gospel that Joseph Smith did not understand either.”

    Possibly. For instance, my personal feeling is that Joseph was actually commanded by God to practice polygamy. But he then was left to implement the practice as best he could. I think in some respects, he made a hash of it. Joseph was an idealist, not a pragmatist. And it showed in his implementation of Gospel programs. By many accounts, the man was a financial trainwreck for instance. He didn’t seem to be possessed of the same common sense of, say, Brigham Young.

    Whatever his foibles though, I think we will find in the end that Joseph was, nonetheless, closer to the divine source than most men. He must be judged first on the spiritual truths he taught. Not that we should ignore the non-spiritual stuff he was proclaiming. But it really isn’t the point of the Book of Mormon, or of Joseph’s life and mission.

    When critiquing the Book of Mormon, you’d be better served, for example, in pondering whether the book is correct on issues like pride and repentance, and not whether there was a steel industry in Zarahemla, or whether Nephites rode “war deer” into battle.

    You’ll risk missing the forest for the trees.

  7. Seth R wrote: “When critiquing the Book of Mormon, you’d be better served, for example, in pondering whether the book is correct on issues like pride and repentance”

    Agreed. Those are more important issues. And I think this is where the book is most seriously wrong. Belief in God leads to pride: we claim to have superior knowledge to other people, without having superior evidence. And of course the church will NEVER admit it was wrong. It took me thirty four years to repent of my part in that.

  8. LOL, Main Street Plaza has promoted you to being some sort of G.A. “Elder R. Seth” and is now devoting whole posts to contemplating your arguments. I’ll be you don’t get this kind of respect on the Bloggernacle… 😉

  9. I’m very grateful to Seth R. for adding some genuine faith to our apostate navel gazing. It takes guts to post here without being offensive. Kudos Seth. As for doctrine versus application, I don’t think there are any fixed doctrines in the church (except for obedience). Everything else is totally open to interpretation (by both leaders and followers) and always has been. Which means the whole question of truth becomes empty.

  10. I know chanson. And it’s not like my ego needed any stoking. I think a lot of bloggers are inherently a bit egomaniac. It’s kind of like “don’t feed the animals!”

    Chris, I’m a little hesitant to wade into the “changing doctrine” theme. First off, it does seem to me that parts of Mormon doctrine are somewhat in flux and tricky to nail-down. That’s my own personal take on things.

    But my grasp of the overall narrative of the source materials (the writings of prophets and apostles) is also sadly lacking compared to some heavy-weight Mormon “scriptorians” (my own father being one of them). Absent such understanding, I’d be hesitant to say definitively that Mormon doctrine “is this” or “isn’t that.” The danger of getting derailed by my own “Gospel hobbies” is too real for me to confidently talk about whether Mormon doctrine is inconsistent or not.

  11. “Joseph was an idealist, not a pragmatist.”
    I agree with you that Joseph Smith was not the most practical person in the world. However, it does not follow from Joseph Smith’s ineptitude that he was an idealist.

    Whatever happened to the maxine that we shall judge a prophet by his fruits? If I were to accept your logic about good ideas badly implemented then I might have to excuse every political criminal who has ever walked the face of the earth.

    Marxism did not fail because it was a good idea poorly implemented. It failed because it ignored certain aspects of human nature.

    Likewise, polygamy failed because it failed to recognize the self-serving nature of Joseph Smith’s inspirations. Polygamy also fails to take into account that healthy human beings are jealous. Therefore polygamy requires either dependency or coercion. That’s just how human sexuality works.

    Joseph Smith did what every founder of a charismatic religion ever did: he had sex with his followers. That kind of behavior is actually pretty ordinary.

  12. Hellmut:

    “Likewise, polygamy failed because it failed to recognize the self-serving nature of Joseph Smith’s inspirations. Polygamy also fails to take into account that healthy human beings are jealous. Therefore polygamy requires either dependency or coercion. That’s just how human sexuality works.”

    If we strip polygamy of any religiousness for a moment, I find it interesting that until recently in most societies, polygamy was the norm. I also find it interesting that you omit the fact that polygamy was stopped because the United States government was going to confiscate all the church’s property if they didn’t stop. That is a more tangible reason why polygamy ‘failed’ rather than human nature.

  13. “Just because you and I don’t get it, doesn’t necessarily signify much.”

    There are certainly many facts and concepts that happen to be true that I do not understand. However, Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon proudly declare that the gospel truths that required restoration were “plain and simple.”

    Your argument appears to imply that the plain and simple version of Mormonism is no longer relevant.

  14. “Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon proudly declare that the gospel truths that required restoration were “plain and simple.””

    I would suggest that most of them are, and we’re just focusing on the juiciest tidbits. A diverting pastime. But it’s important not to take oneself too seriously on this score. You can get a warped view of any human endeavor by fixating on its worst aspects.

  15. dpc, I am not interested in prohibition. That’s a relatively boring aspect.

    When I refer to polygamy’s failure, I am thinking about Joseph Smith’s and Brigham Young’s coercion, which includes the break up of followers’ families, threatening not only personal damnation but also that of loved ones, arrest, shunning and boycotts.

    Once established polygamy required the subjugation of teenage women. Even then women resisted, often futilely, being married off to members of the old boys’ network.

    The failure of polygamy was the inhumanity of its implementation, not the Edmunds Tucker laws. In my eyes, polygamy failed the moment it required coercion, which is how Joseph Smith instituted it.

    You might want to read D&C 132. The bullying of Emma Hales Smith is just extraordinary. Polygamy started corrupt and became worse the longer it lasted. Thank heavens for the federal government that saved Mormons from each other.

  16. “I find it interesting that until recently in most societies, polygamy was the norm.”

    It is true that many societies allowed for polygamy but most children have always grown up in monogamous families. Of course, there are any number of ways to organize families but the modal form will always be monogamous.

    That is an implication of the fact that humans are an altricious species.

    Unlike precocious species such as turtles, for example, human off-spring requires parental care. Even in a hunter and gatherer society, we have to nurture our children for at least twelve years. In our post-industrial society, nurture extends well into the third decade of a person’s life.

    No other species invests as much into its off-spring as human beings. That’s why monogamy is more frequent than polygamy even in societies without polygamy prohibitions.

    Where polygamy is legal, only the richest men can afford to exercise it. They can supplement paternal scarcity by hiring personnel. Most people have to rely on parental labor, often supported by members of the extended family such as grandmothers and barren aunts.

    The nature of childhood dictates that monogamy is the modal form of the family, a fact that the empirical record bears out as well.

  17. “You can get a warped view of any human endeavor by fixating on its worst aspects.”

    Two points, Seth.

    Although I would hope that you would join in me in opposing abuse, since there is abuse in every human endeavor that’s secondary. The problem with Mormonism is that there is so little that one can do about abuse from within Mormonism. Unfortunately, that is an implication of our theology that is fixated on leadership.

    Second, the problem with the worst aspects of the Mormon experience is that rather than being aberrations, they tend to be systemic.

    Joseph Smith failed to learn the lessons of the founding fathers. As Lord Acton summarized so ably when discussing the reasserted infallibility claims of his religious leader: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    Essentially, the problem with Mormonism is a lack of accountability of power, especially at the top. In that regard, Mormonism is an extraordinarily poorly designed institution, a flaw, which has unfortunately devastating consequences for real people.

    In that context, the irrational, incoherent, and falsified aspects of the Book of Mormon and, more importantly, the Book of Abraham are essential because the claim of divine privilege by Mormon leaders rests upon Joseph Smith’s fruits.

    When we have the courage to acknowledge the issues with Mormon scriptures, we are in a much better position to protect our children, our neighbors, and ourselves from ecclesiastical abuse, be the latter directed at children, society’s minorities, or scholarship.

  18. Well, that’s not how I view the polygamy narrative Hellmut. And you could make just about all of the same “abuse” criticisms about 19th century monogamy. The structural demands placed upon the polygamous man, and the alienation of the “rogue male” do seem inherent in the system. But the abuses do not.

    Contemporary monogamy in its worst instances was every bit as coercive, abusive, and obsessed with young girls as the worst cases of polygamy.

    I actually don’t feel the slightest need to be any more apologetic about Mormon marriage practices than a native South Carolinan feels about Southern Baptist marriage practices. And yes, I am completely open to the idea of relationships being much different in the afterlife, when we have rid ourselves of biological flaws, jealousies, and self-centeredness. And that includes the possibility of polygamy in the afterlife.

    I see polygamy for its very real flaws and do not wish to reinstitute it. But I don’t find particularly distasteful in principle.

  19. (Sorry, can’t find the complete, with attribution)(paraphrase):

    ‘One not need Evidence to dismiss a theory-opinion – proposal presented-espoused Without Evidence’

  20. Come on, Seth. Standard problems of marriage were nothing like the issues that arise with polygamy. Nineteenth century monogamy suffered from gender inequality. Polygamy creates a whole bag of other issues.

    Seriously, that’s not a reasonable argument. Besides, other scumbags are hardly an excuse for Joseph Smith. You are invoking the slippery slope fallacy.

    Notice, while monogamous relationships have become much more equal, Mormon polygamy remains just as coercive as during the nineteenth century. The one aspect that has changed is the sad fate of the lost boys who have been expelled from their families to render polygamy sustainable.

    Finally, your reference to changes in the afterlife implies an acknowlegement that polygamy is incompatible with human nature right now. Why would a just and loving God impose an institution on His children that does not work?

    Joseph Smith was just like any other charismatic religious leaders. He had sex with his followers because he could. It’s a great way to dominate your tribe.

    By the way, alpha chimps assert their power the same way. It used to be pretty standard among humans as well. You might remember the prophet’s Samuel’s warning when the Israelites insisted on anointing a king. It has taken our species millenia to design institutions that would protect wives and daughters from presumptuous rulers.

    In his ignorance, Joseph Smith swept aside these civilizational gains. The predictable result was violence that savaged the Saints and eventually consumed Smith’s own life. It is no accident that Joseph Smith was ultimately killed over polygamy.

    When governments fail to respect the property and the sexual autonomy of its subjects, people will resist with any means available.

  21. No, I’m simply requesting that you look at the historical period in its own historical context.

    When I read Aristotle, do I care that he believed in slavery?

    No, I really don’t. That’s not why I’m reading Aristotle in the first place.

    Likewise, do I care that Joseph was just as chauvinistic as any other frontier American male of the time period? Not really. I see Joseph as a product of his culture. Being a prophet doesn’t mean God comes down from on high and personally re-wires your brain. Joseph was a flawed man interfacing with the divine – as were all the Biblical prophets.

    Seriously, in and of itself, I see nothing particularly wrong with polygamy or its variant polygyny (spell?) IN AND OF ITSELF.

    Human weaknesses being what they are, I don’t see it as a particularly good idea here and now.

    I personally think that Polygamy was an Abrahamic test of early Mormonism and God making a point that our assumptions are not his assumptions and that there is room in the human heart for more than one person. But that’s just me.

    I think it is more useful to think of what polygamy did for the early Mormons. Essentially, it isolated them from larger society and forged them into a people.

    I’ll wager you that without polygamy, the Mormons A) would not have been driven out of Illinois and B) by now would have largely vanished from society either becoming a marginalized sect of few members no one pays attention to or by simply adopting the practices of their neighbors and ceasing to exist as a unique religion at all.

    Polygamy, for all its bad points, forged a religion that lasted, by golly. It forged a powerful religious community that has managed to avoid the overwhelming impulse in American society to secularize, mainstream, and limp off quietly into irrelevance. I doubt this religion would have even half its potency without this trial.

    But I’m just giving my take. That’s not doctrinal, although I’m not the only one who has suggested the “Abrahamic trial” theme.

    And by the way Hellmut. If Joseph wanted to sleep around with other guys wives, there are a lot easier ways to do it than instituting a new public doctrine. You simply do what the other cult guys have done – use your clout to do the whole thing in secret.

  22. Read what Seth R says:

    “Polygamy, for all its bad points, forged a religion that lasted, by golly. It forged a powerful religious community that has managed to avoid the overwhelming impulse in American society to secularize, mainstream, and limp off quietly into irrelevance. I doubt this religion would have even half its potency without this trial”

    THERE YOU HAVE IT FOLKS: The ENDS JUSTIFIES THE MEANS (BARF-A-RONI)

    same as with nephi & Laban, AND with the rest of the Wrongs done in the name of “religion”: Crusuades, MMM, Hofmann, on and on…

  23. “THERE YOU HAVE IT FOLKS: The ENDS JUSTIFIES THE MEANS (BARF-A-RONI)

    same as with nephi & Laban, AND with the rest of the Wrongs done in the name of “religion”: Crusuades, MMM, Hofmann, on and on…”

    I think that’s a gross overstatement of what Seth R. was saying. (Plus the last time I heard the word ‘Barf-a-roni’ used in civil discussion was when I was in the fourth grade). I don’t think that he said that the ends *always* justified the means.

    If the end can only be justified if the means are good or ethical, does that mean that pharmaceutical companies shouldn’t sell their medicine because of the few individuals who have an adverse reaction to it? That war is never justified because of its potential for collateral damage? That any action that potentially disadvantages another is wrong, even if the end is worse than the means that bring about that end?

  24. where to draw a/the line may be of legitimate interest to some, but not to me. I dislike much of the Mormon Mentality, Period.

  25. Polygamy is a complex interplay of Divine Will, human error, popular prejudice, and end results.

    Honestly, the subject is simply too emotionally and politically charged to have an objective discussion about it. Even Todd Compton in “Sacred Lonliness” (probably one of the better books on the subject) had his own biases and didn’t really approach the subject entirely objectively.

    Guy, I don’t care much for the overly simplistic and reductionist fundamentalist mentality either, so there we are I guess.

  26. If Joseph wanted to sleep around with other guys wives, there are a lot easier ways to do it than instituting a new public doctrine. You simply do what the other cult guys have done – use your clout to do the whole thing in secret.

    It was secret (taught to only a select group of church leaders) until the practice was preached openly by Brigham Young.

  27. “If we strip polygamy of any religiousness for a moment, I find it interesting that until recently in most societies, polygamy was the norm.” In which societies did the practice of polygamy also include literacy, industrialization, freedom of press, conscience, and political belief? Please define “recent.”

  28. That’s not the same thing as absolutely secret Jonathan – which is what the critics typically allege.

    Besides, if you know anything about the guys he shared the revelation with, you would know that he couldn’t have picked a tougher crowd to sell the idea to within the Mormon community. If he wanted to do this secretly, the foolproof method (used by most “cultists” – whatever that word means) is to isolate vulnerable people in the group, single them out, and then have them keep quiet about it using your authoritative position to do it. This was not what Joseph did.

    Instead he went before a group of the most opinionated, outspoken, educated, and knowledgeable members of his Church and tried to sell them on it. It doesn’t add up. Not only that, he excommunicated the – I believe it was – mayor of Nauvoo Bennett on grounds of infidelity with multiple women at about the same period. The guy would have made a perfect partner in crime if Joseph was just hoping to “get some.” Instead, Joseph excommunicated him.

    And that doesn’t even get to the problem of why he EVER went public with it at all. If we are to believe Hellmut’s thesis here, the sensible thing to do would be to keep it quiet. And if anyone went public about it, you could publicly deny everything and then ostracize, discredit and isolate the informant(s). Mormons knew their neighbors hated them. It wouldn’t have been hard to deny that the affairs were happening and claim that the press was being unfair in its “lies and rumors.”

    I just don’t buy Hellmut’s argument. The idea that Joseph Smith was simply horny and then fabricated a revelation to justify it doesn’t add up to the facts about what polygamy was as a doctrine and how it was practiced.

    Nor does this account really match what we know of the men who practiced it (or the women – critics of polygamy usually tend to patronize and belittle the intelligence and capacity of the polygamous wives in order to make them look more like helpless victims). When Brigham Young says that, upon hearing about the polygamy revelation, he “desired the grave,” I tend to believe him. It matches with the other stuff I’ve read about him.

    If you’re looking for a conspiracy, you will tend to find evidence of it and discount the accounts that don’t jive with your conclusions. But like I said, any treatment of a subject as charged as Mormon polygamy is likely to be suspect and unobjective, whichever side it tries to argue.

  29. I understand you don’t buy it, Seth. However, it appears to be true. The doctrine awas made up to justify the adultery.

  30. It’s been a little while since I read Rough Stone Rolling (my primary source of uncorrelated information on Joseph Smith, I admit), but Joseph seems to have had his first affair (Fanny Alger) prior to preaching polygamy to anyone, as early as in Kirtland. Only after the first plural wives did he start preaching this confidential doctrine as something for others to follow.

    Cult leaders often violate personal boundaries (e.g. asking to marry another man’s wife) in order to control their flock. I imagine this serves to cull the herd and to deconstruct personal integrity. Joseph’s behavior fits this pattern pretty well.

    It’s not clear whether John Bennett’s chief crime was sexual excess, simply being indiscreet about it, or rivaling Joseph’s status as alpha male by taking wives without Joseph’s consent.

    I don’t know that Joseph was a calculating exploiter of his religious flock. My honest opinion is that he had an average sexual appetite but better than average access to willing women. As the leader of a borderline cult of personality, he fell prey to the intersection of his appetite and his opportunity. It is entirely possible, in my opinion, that he fully believed his religious justifications for his actions even though they were just rationalizations for his infidelity to Emma.

    Or he could have been a calculating exploiter. It’s very hard to tell based on the evidence that I’ve seen. I guess that’s why they call him an enigma.

  31. And by the way Hellmut. If Joseph wanted to sleep around with other guys wives, there are a lot easier ways to do it than instituting a new public doctrine. You simply do what the other cult guys have done – use your clout to do the whole thing in secret.

    First, there is no “if” about it, Seth. Joseph had sex with other men’s wives.

    Second, you are mischaracterizing my argument. Here is what I am actually saying, Seth:

    Joseph Smith was just like any other charismatic religious leaders. He had sex with his followers because he could. It’s a great way to dominate your tribe.

    Your view of my argument is false.

    I am actually with Bushman. Polygamy was about domination. What Bushman fails to see is that domination does not preclude sex. On the contrary, power is usually closely intertwined with sex. In this case, Joseph Smith was just another alpha chimp.

    With respect to going public, Joseph produced D&C 132 long after he had carnal relations with multiple women. He had succeeded for many years to keep the secret among his closest collaborators. The express purpose of the “revelation” was to cow and intimidate his legally wed wife Emma Hale Smith.

    Going public before his believers was anything but an act of courage. Smith went on offense by invoking divine authority only after Emma Hale Smith, William Law and several other members had confronted him about his unsavory lifestyle. That’s why “the crowd” was so “tough.” The purpose of D&C 132 was to shut up the critiques.

    Besides, domination is a relational act. It’s kind of difficult to keep the slaves in the dark about their subordination. There might be various Orwellian schemes to obfuscate exploitation but secrecy is not among them. There can be no domination unless people acknowledge their subordination in some form.

    Therefore secrecy is only possible with respect to outsiders. The believers who the leader wants to dominate, will know about the dominating behavior.

    With respect to removing Bennett, alpha males are just as jealous as other males. They only share women when they have to. Removing a sexual rival from the group is pretty typical behavior for an alpha chimp. Likewise, tolerating the sex life of allies has been observed among chimpanzees. When Smith realized that he couldn’t pull it off by himself, he was clever enough to let Brigham Young et al. have some as well.

    In the end, Smith’s concessions were insufficient. William Law considered Smith enough of a threat to the public good that Law considered it his duty to expose the abuser. As events evolved, Smith ended like many alpha males. He was killed by other males who were upset about his sexual impositions.

    You might enjoy Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes by primate anthropologist Frans de Waal. The events in the Arnheim zoo were eerily familiar to reports from Nauvoo.

  32. Wrong Hellmut. I said “if Joseph WANTED..” Did you just miss the wanted part, or are you ignoring it on purpose? As for proof of whether he actually did sleep with them, fill me in. I’m open to the idea he did. I just don’t have proof of it. Perhaps you do?

    (don’t read any sarcasm in there – it’s just an invitation to share what you know)

    I don’t have much to add besides that other than to note you seem to have a very ugly and distasteful view of people and society. Not that I can really disprove your view, but I don’t share it, that’s all.

  33. Are you even open to the idea that he didn’t do this out of pure appetite for power or sex?

    There doesn’t seem to be much reason to think otherwise. I suppose it is possible that Joseph first had an experience that convinced him that God wanted him to live polygamously then began taking wives. That just doesn’t seem to be the case based on what I’ve learned. The evidence points in the other direction. If it walks like a duck and all that.

  34. C. Biden

    “In which societies did the practice of polygamy also include literacy, industrialization, freedom of press, conscience, and political belief? Please define “recent.””

    Let’s see, Hong Kong for one. When the family wants a son and the wife didn’t produce one, it’s not uncommon for the husband to take a concubine. China for a long time had polygamy until the Communists stamped it out in the 1950s. Ditto for for Vietnam.

    Serial monogamy may be a form of polygamy.

    And, of course, polygamy is practiced in the United States and Canada. And I believe (although I could be wrong) that American and Canadian societies are literate, industrialized and allows for freedom of the press, conscience and politcal belief.

    Did you think that I meant only repressive, sexist regimes permit it?

  35. I haven’t read all the comments but one thing does stand out. People seem to be forgetting that you can find faults in all religions. Given enough time you could pick fault with the doctrinal changes of the Catholic Church or say (wrongly I might add) that because of the inority of muslim being exteme that their religion is false. Personaly i believe that every religion has parts of the truth – it wouldn’t last a day otherwise. But we can always find a way to tear apart a religion
    I am a mormon and it has brought me alot of happiness, i do not claim to have all the answers no one here does, it’s all about faith. As far as polygamy is concerned, my understanding is that as a result of the persicutions there was alot of widows with no means of supporting there family, this is why i believe it was introduced, the book of mormons greatest proof is the promise of recieving an answer to your pray, this is what led me to believe the church was true and that Joesph Smith – despite his weekness and flaws- was a prophet. I may be wrong but so could you 😛 One day we will find out. :) Anyway religion can rarely be explained logicaly it’s always comes down to faith.

  36. It’s always interesting to pull up an old post like this one and see what we used to talk about.

    People seem to be forgetting that you can find faults in all religions. Given enough time you could pick fault with the doctrinal changes of the Catholic Church or say (wrongly I might add) that because of the minority of muslim being exteme that their religion is false.

    It’s true that many of the arguments on the list above have parallels that can be applied to other religions — and it’s very instructive and interesting to do such analysis. I don’t think the author’s intention was to claim that arguments for Mormonism don’t hold water unlike other religions. I think the focus is simply on Mormon arguments here because that’s what’s most familiar to this community.

  37. Whatever happened to Seth R.? I miss his additions to the discussions. He was like a lion in a wolves’ den (no offense to anyone, of course). It is always good to have good debates on any blog of merit.

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