BYU editorial on word change

Apologetics Book of Mormon BYU Reason

In case you missed it, the BYU newspaper came out with an editorial on the word change in the BofM. The logic employed in this editorial is a brilliant representation of the flawed logic that I usually see in apologetics (though there are a few regular commenters on here who seem to do better than this – shout out to Seth and dp). Let me dissect a few of the points made…

Here’s the first argument, “This is nothing new to the Church. The same attack has reared its head in the form of horses and elephants being on North America during Book of Mormon times. Such attack-minded reasoning is more agenda driven than truth driven.” The last sentence is the kicker – of course it is agenda driven. People who point out the lack of horse fossil evidence do have an agenda – making other people aware of the truth that there were no horses. Now, people may have other agendas to go with that (e.g., non-Mormon Christians trying to convert Mormons or Mormon critics just lambasting Mormons or scientists just telling the truth), but does it really matter whether there is an agenda or not when the truth is the truth? I don’t think so. That’s a non sequitur.

The last part of that same paragraph is also faulty in its logic, “The ancestral teaching (which was not a part of the original book) of the introduction is far from the core theological witness of the book.” This is, IMO, historical revisionism at its finest (logical fallacy: intellectual dishonesty). The ancestral teaching (that it was a record of Native Americans) was originally a key part of the original book and the primary means of spreading the book (though Teryl Givens denies that). I won’t rehash this argument, but there are dozens of D&C references of missions to the Native Americans who are clearly seen as having an association with the Book of Mormon. I see this argument as no different than an ostrich sticking its head in the sand while it is threatened – it is an outright denial of reality.

I think my favorite part of the editorial is this section, “Ironically, these scientific critics allow [sic] much larger degree of tolerance to their own profession than they do to the realm of faith. When science admits it was wrong, it is seen as progress. When a religion modifies a statement in the slightest degree, it is seen as being an imposter.” There is a reason for this – science (good science; let’s not argue this point, please!) never says it has the final word on anything. It’s goal is closer approximations of reality, but it is never done or absolute. Religion, on the other hand, has traditionally claimed to have THE TRUTH, which is depicted as unchanging. Well, if THE TRUTH changes, then it does warrant criticism and derision. Science and religious faith are not subject to the same critical criteria because they make different claims – science claims to approximate truth using a empiricism; religion claims to have truth via its revelational methodology. Religion is the proverbial apple; science is proverbial orange. Saying we should allow religion the leeway of science is comparing apples to oranges! (This is a “bare assertion fallacy”; it claims something is true based on saying it is true. If apologists want to subject religion to the same scrutiny as science, I’m all for it, but they won’t like the results.)

The last two paragraphs are contradictory, which is brilliant in itself. The second to last paragraph talks about how the change is in the introduction to the BofM and was only written by McConkie (you know, a mere mortal who made mistakes). The last paragraph then quotes the BofM saying, “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore – condemn not the things of God.” So, which is it? Is McConkie’s “mistake” irrelevant or is it relevant and you are using the classic “get out of jail free” card that Joseph Smith included in the BofM to begin with (i.e., any mistakes, well, they aren’t god’s, which is the world’s greatest cop out).

Overall, I would consider this editorial to be about as compelling of an argument as I’ve seen made by four year-olds in grocery stores insisting they want candy:
Mom: “No, you can’t have that.”
Four year-old: “But I want it.”
Mom: “But I said no.”
Four year-old: “Waaah!”

18 thoughts on “BYU editorial on word change

  1. The agenda driven sword cuts both ways.

    LDS missionaries clearly have an agenda. If having an agenda makes an argument invalid – then how can the LDS justify sending out (and supporting) missionaries with a clear agenda? That mormonism is right and all other religions are wrong? That is what Joseph Smith was told in the first vision.

    With that said, religions make revisions all the time. The Roman Catholic church, for example, has made many such revisions and policy changes (think fish on Friday or St. Christopher). There’s the rub – you can’t criticize other religions for making revisions to their faith and turn around and make them yourself.

    The way my dad explains this is that the gospel is true yesterday today and forever. Whatever was changed clearly was not gospel. So Spencer W. Kimball repeatedly referred to all Native Americans as “Lamanites”. It wasn’t gospel and he wasn’t speaking as a prophet.

    But if you believe that, the point you eventually reach is that mormonism (the gospel kernel) is really no different than other mainstream christian religions (if you take out everything that might change or is different).

  2. Nothing like an article critique that could have been written about itself. The contradiction in the BYU article has nothing on the one in this article: “making other people aware of the truth that there were no horses during BoM times”; “Good science never says it has the final word on anything”.

    Science apparently has truth, but not the final word. Not quite sure how that works. What is truth if it is not the final word?

    Science is the intellectualist’s religion minus trials of faith. It’s always easier to believe blindly.

  3. Wandering Mo… It actually sounds like you are saying I contradicted myself. Current scientific knowledge says no horses. If they find horses, I’ll change my mind. But until then, no horses. From what you said it sounds like you’d prefer for me to say, “Pending the complete removal and sifting of all of the Western Hemisphere, pending time travel, and pending any future possible developments, it is possibly true that there were no horses in the Americas during BofM times, but I can’t be sure.” That’s just ridiculous. At present, science says no horses. Ergo, no horses (until proven wrong, which is implicit in science).

    Um, did I ever say science has “truth”? Science seeks truth and approximates truth, but science doesn’t ever really arrive at truth – it is ever changing.

    Truth would be the final word, if it existed. Religions claim they have it, but boy are they wrong a lot.

    And, alas, the standard apologetic attack – science is religion. Pshaw – science is not religion, and if you can’t tell the difference, you need to learn a bit more about both science and religion.

    Believe blindly? How about “comment snidely?”

  4. Oh come on. If they find horses, you’ll change your mind on horses, but find another 92 unproven “issues” with the BoM, PoGP or some other item. Nobody can force you to believe, not even science.

    Thanks for clarifying the science truth issue. The article does in fact clearly state that those who cite a lack of horse fossils (science) do it to show its truth. A more responsible scientific approach would probably be to simply state that there is no fossil support for or against the BoM claim of horses. Unfortunately it’s not nearly as exciting. Science in fact, does not say “no horses” (until proven wrong), but rather “no evidence”.

    What I don’t understand about the intellectual is why science with its claim of truth approximation and myriad of changing beliefs is more satisfying than religion with its claim of truth and occasional change of beliefs (as you would characterize them).

    Yes, at times I’m snide and I’m afraid it’s not always unintentional.

  5. So, now I’m being criticized for saying I will change my opinion? I’m not sure I understand…

    Let me ask you this: What would it take for you to change your position on Mormonism?

    You see, I’m a skeptic – I go where the evidence tells me to go. That means I am always willing to change my position. I’m not dogmatic, just hard to convince (I need good evidence). Are you, likewise, willing to allow the evidence to change your positions? If not, you are: (1) dogmatic, or (2) irrational.

    As for why science is more satisfying… I prefer evidence and would rather have my knowledge advance slowly than believe things that are unverifiable. Basically what you are saying is you prefer to believe things that are unverifiable and hope they are shown to be true. We are exact opposites: me – evidence first; you – evidence last. To each their own…

  6. Exmoron:

    “We are exact opposites: me – evidence first; you – evidence last. To each their own…”

    I think that may be a false dichotomy. As far as science is concerned, it takes faith to believe its predictions. It’s just that the level of faith is much lower. If I drop my pen , I can say that I know it will fall to the ground. But do I really know that it will? It has on ever occasion before, but that doesn’t mean that it necessarily will in the future (Hume pointed this out). Evidence of things in the past is not evidence of things in the future. To the extent science purports to tell us anything about the future, well, that’s faith. Knowledge is more than just perception over time.

    I see science as a product of the mind. Our minds order the world around us. We see patterns where none exist.

    My own personal belief is that people can experience phenomena outside of the five senses. I label those phenomena ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ experiences and I think that they are as real as anything experienced via physical sensory perception. But to each his own. As they say in Japan: ten people, ten colors (junin toiro).

  7. The question you pose regarding my “position” on Mormonism is a hard one to answer because it is essentially asking “How do you unring a bell?”

    Now if you’re going to discount personal or spiritual experiences as evidences, the rest of this post is useless. But for me, as long as I can personally replicate the experience, it qualifies as good evidence. And like you exmoron, I require good evidences. I didn’t simply accept the LDS doctrine as true from the moment I heard it. I thought about it, I lived it, I experienced it. Then I prayed about it. This combination of personal, repeated (and repeatable) evidences led me to my conclusion–it’s true. You ask what it would take to change my conclusion? The simple answer is that the evidences supporting it would have to be proven false.

    Considering the evidences are historic events that becomes difficult. Regardless, faith is not simple and, like most, I have my moments of doubt. These moments, however, are fairly easily overcome by recalling the initial evidences and experiencing new ones.

    My evidence, like you claim for yours, came first. And while you see science as verifiable knowledge, it is theory and verifiable only until it is unverified. Theory and theology are much closer cousins than I think you want them to be.

  8. The problem is that there are a couple of Pentecostals for every Mormon who will swear that God told them that Mormonism is a cult.

    Feelings are important but they are an unreliable source of knowledge.

  9. Hellmut:

    If feelings are so unreliable, how do you know whether you are happy or whether you are sad? If I tell you that I’m mad at someone, should you doubt that because feelings are an unreliable source of knowledge? Feelings and emotions tell us important things about our world, things that reason can’t tell us. If feelings were so unreliable, we’d have to get rid of all sciences except history. Past experience doesn’t tell us anything about the future. Only our feelings can tell us that.

  10. Wandering Mo… Expounding on Hellmut’s comment…

    I can “prove” your evidence false, but you won’t believe me. I have a very close friend who received a spiritual confirmation just like the one you received. He also received this confirmation many times. The only problem: He was an evangelical Christian at the time and he was praying about whether Mormonism is true. His confirmation: It is not true and it is a Satanic cult.

    That friend is now, like me, an atheist. Why? Because we both talked about our “confirmations” and realized they are the WORST way of arriving at beliefs. How can “god” tell us contradictory things using the same method?

    I’m not going to deny that you felt something. In fact, I’ll admit that you very likely did. That you felt something is “truth.” All I’ll say is, what you felt wasn’t “god” or “supernatural” or even all that special. It was natural processes that were manipulated by your religion to convince you of something. And now, as a result of that “confirmation” experience, you are unwilling to consider evidence that contradicts your beliefs. You put more weight in a capricious, flawed approach than you do in a method that has shown itself to be extremely reliable – science. No one can make you change your approach, but I can insist that your approach is flawed and irrational.

    In short, I discount “spiritual” experiences because they are not reliable, a key element of scientific investigation. It’s as if I was using a magic 8-ball to answer scientific questions – I can get different answers to the same question or the same answer to contradictory questions. Prayer is a magic 8-ball.

  11. dpc #7,

    I was with you right up until the stuff about spiritual experiences. We almost agreed on something. 🙂

    Also regarding #10, if I feel happy, that is reliable evidence that I am happy. Once I try to extrapolate from there, the evidence becomes less useful—not completely useless but not entirely useful either.

  12. Exmoron:

    “All I’ll say is, what you felt wasn’t “god” or “supernatural” or even all that special.”

    Wow! You must have some kind of supernatural power that let’s you know what other people are feeling or experiencing. Science can’t explain it all. If it could, we wouldn’t need to have humanities departments on university campuses.

  13. Exmoron, I can’t speak to your friend’s experience–only to mine. Although the conversation has keyed on spiritual evidences through feelings, the evidences I listed included those as well as considering, reasoning, experimenting and observing–all techniques used in science as well.

    What I have difficulty with is that people reject the concept of God because of its uncertainty flee to science because of its “certainty”, “truth”, “knowledge” and “reliability”. But science never claims to have any of those things. The only thing certain about science is that next year it will be different. How can religion be more unreliable than that?

  14. dpc #11, of course, my feelings tell me about my feelings. Like any tautology, that one happens to be true.

    It does not follow, however, that feelings are a reliable source of knowledge.

  15. Wandering Mo, science is reliable in the sense of generating more and better knowledge over time. That’s a threshold that neither religion nor feelings can cross.

  16. Wandering Mo,

    One thing you didn’t mention that is critical to the success of science is peer review, the effort to reign in personal bias. Relying on personal feelings or experiences as a keystone of our world view makes us especially vulnerable to personal bias. Peer review tries to counteract that.

    Aside from that, in my case, I interpreted my feelings and experiences the way I was told I should. When I had pleasant, peaceful feelings reading the Book of Mormon, I interpreted that as God communicating its truth to me. I interpreted it that way because that is what I was taught to do. When I finally stepped back and looked at my experiences with a beginner’s mind and asked myself what I thought that they told me, I came to a different conclusion.

    You can rely on science, in the ideal case, to be fiercely loyal to the evidence. Any theory that fails to explain new evidence is cast aside as yesterday’s news. I’m not looking for absolute truth from science. I want an honest, humble, good-faith search for the truth. I might believe one thing today, and something entirely different tomorrow, but at least I know I’m doing my best to live honestly in light of what evidence I have.

    Religion could probably be like that, but mostly it ends up dragging its feet when evidence contradicts its dogmas. It’s also often more about preserving mysteries than parting the veil and peering into the universe’s deepest mysteries. That’s not the kind of reliability I’m looking for.

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