The Book of Mormon, Revisited

The Book of Mormon, Revisited July 5, 2015

No, that’s not a reference to the musical.

In recent weeks, I have posted several items concerning the historicity or literal veracity of the Book of Mormon, and have had some exchanges with Dr. Bill Hamblin at his blog (a debate that he suggested and initiated). You can see my latest (lengthy) contribution here:

Once again, you will observe Dr. Hamblin’s scholarly approach in that he is not only hosting a debate like this, but also permitting his blog to be used to present strongly contrary views.

You can follow the whole story yourself, but if you have any interest in the topic, do read that post in particular. I am drawing attention to it here it here because it is so central to my case. Basically, this represents pretty much everything I have to say in these Book of Mormon arguments, and it is what I would refer to in answer to any and all future questions on these matters. If you think that anything that follows below is sketchy or skips over major points in an argument, that is because I am summarizing a much longer piece, so of course I am leaving out a great deal.

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.

Finally, I have responded to Dr. Hamblin’s most recent post here:


Can I reiterate one thing? Before you comment on anything, PLEASE read the full post at Dr Hamblin’s site, not just this summary, which is bare bones. That full document is, once again, at



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  • Dr_Doctorstein

    It seems to me that Hamblin’s argument here is even weaker than you say. Maybe I’m getting my Book of Mormon storyline wrong, but if I recall correctly, Akish was a Jaredite, and sometime well before the days of K’ihnich Kan B’ahlam II, the Jaredites were all killed in a massive war. If so, then how could B’ahlam truthfully claim U-kix/Akish as an ancestor?

    Also, according to the Book of Mormon, Akish would have lived not too long after the destruction of the Tower of Babel. And when was that, exactly? This is not exactly a question for archaeology.

    Hamblin is certainly right to say say that “there is insufficient data to precisely establish Jaredite chronology” — far more right than he lets on. Nonetheless he claims that it is “clear” that Akish “lived in the early Preclassic/Formative period (1800 BCE – 400 BCE).” This does not at all seem clear to me.

  • MesKalamDug

    I am all on your side. Keep up the good work. But …

    It’s off topic I know but I do not share your confidence in academic
    peer review. The journals are controlled by “the establishment” and
    cannot be utilized by people of whom the establishment disapproves
    (a class I would put Book of Mormon literalists in). To offer an example
    from far away, Paul Krugman complains that the economic journals
    have fallen into the hands of one school of economics and papers by
    Keynesian economists are never published. On the whole, the same
    thing holds true for non-Chomskian linguistics.

    One of things the internet has given us is at least a way for heresies
    to make themselves heard. That’s better than it is was.

  • philipjenkins

    Not off topic at all.

  • David Tiffany

    I have to also wonder why Joseph Smith would try to sell the copyright to such a “sacred” book.

  • Blaine Johnson

    This debate closely resembles the debates surrounding the Kingdom of Funan in Southeast Asia. Despite 2-3 different Chinese accounts of a vast kingdom of 100+ polities stretching (possibly) from Vietnam to the tip of the Malay Peninsula, nobody can find it. All that we know about Funan comes from a handful of Chinese envoys to the barbarians. But the city names are all wrong, the distances and directions are all backwards, and the kings don’t match up. But nobody doubts that Funan exists, somewhere.

    But if you were to ask any Southeast Asian academic for one shred of evidence to prove it, you’d get the run around, depending on who you ask. A legend here, a folktale there, some beads, some pottery shards, but nothing linking those few historical accounts to peer-reviewed “evidence”. Some say the Funanese were Austronesians in Vietnam, some say they were Mon-Khmer in central Thailand, others say they were Javanese on the other side of the Gulf of Thailand. There’s just no way of knowing the “where” and “who” without more evidence.

  • philipjenkins

    Very interesting stuff.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Jenkins says: If ABC were true we would expect to find XYZ, and as often as I have asked to be shown XYZ, no one has come up with that. I can confidently, even objectively, conclude therefore that ABC isn’t true. (If you substitute “Book of Mormon” for ABC and “credible, objective evidence that is consistent only with the history portrayed in the Book of Mormon and no other” for XYZ, you have Jenkins’ argument in a nutshell.)

    The argument fails for two reasons. 1. Jenkins could be mistaken about what he would expect to find. 2. XYZ could exist and yet not have been found to date.

    Of course, Jenkins will argue that he *isn’t* mistaken, dammit, he just isn’t. But he lacks the ability to prove that he isn’t mistaken about that. He avoids that problem with the old burden-of-proof trick … but he retains the burden to show that his if-then hypothesis is a correct one. The scientific response is that the hypothesis is only a hypothesis, nothing more.

    Jenkins will argue – does argue, in fact – that Meso-American history is so thoroughly characterized that it is impossible for XYZ to exist without having yet been found. But that’s not provable either. If pressed, Jenkins will even admit, I suspect, that it’s not provable … but fall back on burden-of-proof reasoning to get the burden off of his shoulders and onto his adversary’s.

    An example is the recent finding of Polynesian mtDNA as extracted from ancient skulls of the now extinct Botocudo Indians from Brazil. This was thought to be inconsistent with the strong evidence of land-bridge migration; the alternative would be to consider that there have been other migrations or possible migrations which have eluded detection to the present time, despite Jenkins’ non-specialist certainty that no such thing is possible.

    But Jenkins says, he doesn’t have the burden of proof here and that any LDS believer has a burden of proof that he believes they can’t satisfy. Well, that’s Jenkins’ opinion, and he’s welcome to it. But that’s only his opinion, it is not a fact. It is possible in science and outside of science to hold a belief which is not subject to empirical proof, in the hope or expectation that someday the truth will be known. This is, after all, the foundation of all religion, and I don’t think (?) Jenkins is an atheist. That means to me that there is some set of propositions that Jenkins is willing to take on faith, despite his insistence that no one is entitled to do so if they disagree with him.

  • philipjenkins

    As to the burden of proof issue, which is critical, PLEASE read the full post, not this summary. Actually that applies to everything: don’t comment unless and until you have read the full-length post at Dr Hamblin’s site. This is bare bones right here.

    Actually, I have also added the relevant section down below. Please read.

  • EngineerSenseHere

    “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.”

    This is to take the easy path of the critic who doesn’t produce any evidence against, but only claims the evidence for the BoM is not true according to your criteria.

    God doesn’t agree with your method for verifying the BoM is true. God specifically removed physical evidences (gold plates, sword of Laban, etc) so that those looking to know if the BoM was true would not do it by sight, but would do it by reading the BoM and praying to receive an answer.

    I agree it is rational not to believe something without evidence. That is why God provides a way to know it is true, not by looking at ancient artifacts, but by telling you Himself.

    The BoM hasn’t and can’t be proven false. It is also true to say it can’t be proven true by a study of historical sites and artifacts. That’s just how God wants it. If you want an answer you have to get it His way.

  • EngineerSenseHere

    Good question. Because they didn’t have money to print it. Selling the copyright would give them money to print. They weren’t trying to make money off selling copies of the BoM, they were trying to get as many copies out as they could to teach others the truth.

    It is highly likely that he would have sold the copyright with a contract to buy as many as they wanted. It doesn’t mean they had to give up all rights to the book.

    Its like asking why an inventor would sell his patent to another company. Sometimes you need more resources to produce something than you have. Fortunately, the Lord provided a way to get the large sum of money to print the BoM.

  • philipjenkins

    Good to know what God thinks, from a personal friend of his. When you see him again, tell him I said hi.

    PLEASE READ THE WHOLE ORIGINAL POST BEFORE COMMENTING. This is the reason for my burden of proof statement:


    The point about standards of evidence is so important for this reason.

    I have said that the account of the New World in the Book of Mormon is “a view that is utterly at odds with the views of pretty much the entire
    academic profession dealing with New World history and archaeology,
    American history, Biblical studies, genetics, linguistics, and so on.”
    You might not like the fact, but I hope you will agree that, for better
    or worse, “mainstream” academe has no time whatever for the approaches of Ancient Book of Mormon Studies.

    You yourself have written that the Book of Mormon “receives almost no
    serious attention by Pre-Columbian scholars,” and you are largely right
    about that. I would rather say, “receives absolutely no attention
    from Pre-Columbian scholars.” The scholarly consensus is not just
    overwhelming, it is total, and it is totally opposed to your world-view.

    That observation has two implications.

    First, and this is almost too obvious to be worth stating, the burden of proof
    is entirely and wholly on you, or anyone wishing to challenge that
    consensus. You cannot sit there and hold your extraordinary and (by most standards) bizarre view and wait for outsiders to come and undermine it. You must make the positive case. You must advance the proofs, claims and arguments.

    Let me be more specific. The crucial point – I would say, the only
    point worth discussing – is whether the peoples described in the Book
    of Mormon scenario were actually present in the New World at roughly the right time and place. The scholarly and academic consensus on this is rock solid: they were not, and that must be the default assumption. I
    have zero obligation to disprove the existence of those peoples, still
    less anything particular about them. You have an absolute,100 percent,
    obligation to prove their existence, if you can. If you choose not even
    to make the attempt, that is your choice, but it means that you have no
    argument, and no credibility in anything you say about the issue. It’s
    your call. You cannot just assume.

    take an analogy, nobody wishing to be taken seriously could stand there
    and proclaim “Tolkien was an inspired prophet! Middle Earth is real!
    Disprove it if you dare!” If that analogy seems farcical or trivializing
    to you, it contains a very serious point. From the point of view of
    virtually all academics, and certainly those dealing with New World
    history or archaeology, the Book of Mormon carries precisely as much, or as little, credibility as objective fact as does the Lord of the Rings. To reiterate, you might not like that fact, but fact it is. If you want to change that reality, then you must make the case.

    Second, any arguments or points supporting the Book of Mormon’s historicity constitute extraordinary claims, which are so to speak from the furthest
    far left field. Of course, then, they demand extraordinary evidence,
    but more important, that evidence must be assessed by the most rigorous and indeed impregnable standards of plausibility.

    Clear now?

  • philipjenkins

    May I just add that your argument here is profoundly embarrassing for a grown up living in an advanced civilization:

    “God doesn’t agree with your method for verifying the BoM is true. God
    specifically removed physical evidences (gold plates, sword of Laban,
    etc) so that those looking to know if the BoM was true would not do it
    by sight, but would do it by reading the BoM and praying to receive an
    answer. I agree it is rational not to believe something without
    evidence. That is why God provides a way to know it is true, not by
    looking at ancient artifacts, but by telling you Himself…. That’s just how God wants it. If you want an answer you have to get it His way.”

  • David Tiffany

    I believe it is a result of wanting to make money, period:

  • EngineerSenseHere

    “First, and this is almost too obvious to be worth stating, the burden of proof is entirely and wholly on you, or anyone wishing to challenge that consensus.”

    I don’t know if you think repeating your opinion over and over is going to change my mind or what, but let me be totally clear. I have never stated that the BoM is true based on historical evidence. You have claimed that it is false based on historical evidence (or lack thereof). So no, I am absolutely under no obligation to prove it to you or anyone else based historical evidence. But if you claim it is true based on historical evidence, then lets see the evidence.

    And the analogy to Middle Earth is incredibly weak. The Lord of the Rings is nothing like the BoM. Not to mention, that no one, not even the author has claimed it to be anything other than fiction. And if you seriously think it carries as much credibility as the BoM then you are beyond reason.

    Oh, and the consensus argument is usually the fall back of people who can’t prove their position. If you could prove it, you wouldn’t need a consensus to back it up.

  • Blaine Johnson

    If Lehi went straight from Jerusalem to South America, then where did the Polynesian/Austronesian mtDNA in those extinct Brazilian tribes come from? Polynesian or Asian mtDNA in Brazilians would suggest that migrations went east towards the New World, as geneticists, archaeologists and linguists have already proven.

    Consider a Book of Mormon geography based in Austronesia/Malay/Polynesia and your argument could be valid. A Mesoamerican Book of Mormon doesn’t fit. It just doesn’t.

  • cynth

    you say you have never stated that the BoM is true based on historical evidence. But, then you do say:

    “God doesn’t agree with your method for verifying the BoM is true. God specifically removed physical evidences …”
    So, if those physical evidences existed, you are de facto arguing for a historical basis of evidence. To then say God picked up his marbles and went home just so we wouldn’t find those evidences is a truly ridiculous dodge, and not really an argument to be putting forward in a scientific discussion..

  • trytoseeitmyway

    You obviously missed my point.

  • Blaine Johnson

    Correct me if I missed your point. You seem to be saying that an extinct tribe of Brazilians with Polynesian mtDNA is somehow proof that Lehi and his Hebrew band settled somewhere in the New World.

    I’m saying that Polynesian/Austronesian mtDNA in Brazil doesn’t prove that Hebrews migrated to the New World. It proves that Polynesians/Austronesians did. If the Lamanite remnant was Austronesian, it fits. If you insist they were Hebrews, it doesn’t fit. There is no evidence that the Book of Mormon is an account of Mesoamericans. But it could possibly be an account of the “source from whence they sprang”, Asia and the isles of the sea, just as Jacob claimed when they landed in the Promised Land.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Yes, you missed my point. I was not saying that. Try to read what I wrote to understand what I was, in fact, saying. I promise, it is not hard.

  • Rooster

    maybe they were nephites….

  • paul

    And thus the unenviable task of the LDS General Authority: attempting to hold the Church together as the faith stories fall apart. If only those prophets & seers had foreseen the Internet – because none of this is remotely new: Michael Coe made his “nothing, absolutely nothing” assertion about BoM evidence in 1973, and things have gone rapidly downhill for the BoM since then. Now we see LDS philosophers like Adam Miller claim that the BoM was somehow magically inserted into time: “With respect to the material of history, there is a messianic in-working on display. The Book of Mormon isn’t a product of history. It’s not something that comes out of history. The Book of Mormon, as a messianic text, is something that’s working its way into history.” (Times&Seasons) Not sure how an archaeologist deals with statements like those, but I’d be interested to hear.

  • Blaine Johnson

    I get your point, but I don’t understand your example. Most academics are considering other migrations to the New World. There’s evidence in Monte Verde to suggest that Austronesians made the trip even before the land bridge. But there is no evidence that Hebrews did. That’s not to say it wouldn’t have been possible, but there is no evidence to test. If someone can give Jenkins evidence of the Book of Mormon in the New World, I’m sure he’d test it.

    The problem is not the claim that the Book of Mormon is an important religious document, the problem is the claim that the Book of Mormon is a historical record of Hebrews, elephants, silk, scimitars, chariots and horses in Mesoamerica between 2500 BC and 421 AD. That claim should not be made because there is no evidence of elephants etc. in South America.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    It’s hard to tell what “EngineerSenseHere” did to warrant the deletion of all of his comments. He is not a writer prone to rule breaking in my observation.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    I’m pleased that after I clarified my example you have provided others. (This edits an earlier response.)

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Dr. Jenkins, it seems incongruous to post an essay which purports to be “a minimal statement of [your] case,” and then deny validity to comments on it unless the commenter assures you he or she has read something else. But oh well. You then quoted at length from your previous essay regarding burden of proof. I had previously skimmed through it and in response to your statement read it again more carefully. I find that my original comments stand up.

    Maybe it’s no surprise to find that I agree with myself! OK but I’m simply saying for whatever it is worth that even after familiarization with the earlier essay, I have no reason to revise my comments here.

    First of all, I offered criticisms unrelated to burden of proof. In fact, my argument in part was that your only response to the criticisms is to fall back on a rhetorical ploy of insisting that the adversary has a burden of proof that he or she hasn’t met.

    But, you say, the adversary in this case *does* have the burden of proof. This then becomes your whole argument. I think it is specious for reasons I will try to touch on briefly.

    In the discussion on burden of proof, you speak about what a Book of Mormon proponent is “obligated” to do. You used the term “obligated” more than once, and variations on that theme multiple times. Those are normative statements which themselves are not subject to proof. Before you fall over from apoplexy (to which you seem at least somewhat prone) let me hasten to concede that such normative statements can be drawn from recognized professional or legal (i.e., Daubert and its progeny) standards. You say things like, “this is how we do history” or “this is how we do archeology.” Rest assured, I get that.

    But, my friend, it is not – repeat not – how we do religion. As a history professor, I suppose it is natural for you to want to reduce as many issues as possible to issues of history or historicity. But as a student of religion, you know – don’t you? – that the Universe isn’t so tidy, and that there is room in it for rational and intelligent faith. I suspect that you agree with that statement as a generalization, but also that you want to draw the line in a place which places *my* faith on the other side (the non-rational, non-intelligent) side of the line. Naturally I would want to push back.

    I keep making the point – and you keep avoiding comment – that your same arguments as applied to the Book of Mormon could be, and actually are, applied by atheists to discredit the faith of most Christians. They say (in parallel with you here) that anyone who asserts the existence of Hebrew God (Creator of the Universe, covenant with Abraham, Father of Jesus, you know Who I mean) bears the burden of proof to demonstrate His existence, which burden can’t be met on scientific, empirical grounds. So I think – and I think YOU think – that there are limits to the power of that “disproof” and that it is possible to align faith (“the evidence of things not seen,” as you recall) with the work product of scientific and historical inquiry if enough thought is applied to the endeavor.

    And if one takes that view, then the argument from burden of proof is mitigated. To emphasize a point, this is not irrational or a denial of objective reality, or some kind of post-modern argle-bargle. It is instead *exactly* how we “do” religion, and how we have done religion ever since the Renaissance.

    Your normative assertions about burden of proof have to be taken in that context. If I want to present expert testimony in court, yes, I am obligated to bring that testimony within the rules of evidence. If I want to publish in a peer-reviewed journal, then, yes, I am obligated to follow and apply professional standards to that undertaking. But those obligations DO NOT follow me outside that field as I consider my relationship to my Heavenly Father, my purpose for being, and my eternal destiny. You can wax as sarcastic about that as you like – as you certainly did with EngineerSenseHere, even as you deleted all of his remarks – but I am *entitled* (the opposite of obliged) to search for and even to find my Lord and my God without assuming burdens of scientific proof.

    (As an aside, or perhaps a footnote, are you familiar with W.V.O. Quine, Two Dogmas of Empiricism (1951) (reprinted in Quine, From a Logical Point of View (Harvard University Press, 1953; second, revised, edition 1961)? If yes, then you know why I refer to it; if no, you might find it of interest. Quine was a firm atheist, so you needn’t worry that I am asking you to read LDS propaganda.)

    One can be religious and assume no rational responsibilities whatsoever – but that’s not my point or at all what I think I would like to do. A religious inquiry is not required to be a scientific one; in fact, it is explicitly *not* a scientific one. If it were, it would just be science! The rational religionist seeks to square (or to harmonize, or to make consistent) his or her religious insight and acceptance of a sacred text with the products of scientific inquiry. This can, and is, done without assuming the burdens of proof that you insist, over and over, must be assumed.

    Ideally I would elaborate on this idea with specific examples related to conventional Christian belief and explicitly Mormon belief. But my comments here are already over-long and I have paying work to do. The simple answer to what you insist are my or our obligations with respect to burden of proof is to say, no, those are not our obligations any more than they are the obligations of any other person of faith, and you have no sound philosophical grounds on which to insist otherwise.

  • philipjenkins

    I don’t know why I am not saying about the burden of proof is not being heard here. Let me try again:

    1.In terms of its relationship to any kind of scholarly
    opinion or scholarly consensus, belief in the literal, historical truth of the Book of Mormon is way, way off any acceptable spectrum. That is true of history, archaeology, Biblical studies, Mesoamerican studies, New World archaeology, genetics, whatever. You may not like the fact, but that really is undeniable. If you ask a serious scholar working in one of those areas what they thought about the Book of Mormon as a valuable historical source, they might be polite and say “not really” or they might laugh in your face.

    This is not something like (say) Obamacare or using armed
    force in Syria where you have multiple qualified people arguing rival cases, each coming from different perspectives that may or may not be equally valid. In the Book of Mormon example, the two sides are in no sense equal.

    And before you say “There are highly qualified Mormon experts in all those fields, like history and archaeology”, of course there are. But have you noticed that they never incorporate any of the Mormon mythology into their actual scholarly writing and publication, not even the Meso-Americanists. Why do you think that is?

    2.Therefore, any claims made about that literal truth of the
    Book of Mormon must be framed in positive terms by the believers or claims makers. The burden of proof is entirely on them.

    If you don’t choose to accept that burden of proof, fine,
    but don’t ever claim your case in any way touches on scholarship.

    Not for a second would I challenge the Book of Mormon as a religious document. Where I challenge it is because it makes claims about the literal, objective, historical world. That’s where claims have to be made. It’s also where your arguments about religious v historical proofs collapse.

    This is not hard. What are you not getting?

  • trytoseeitmyway

    So you would make the exact same point about, e.g., the existence of God. “Don’t ever claim that it touches on scholarship.” You would make the exact same point about a literal Adam and Eve, or the separate creation of humanklnd. “Don’t ever claim that it touches on scholarship.” You would make the exact same claim about a literal acceptance of the Exodus story. “Don’t ever claim that it touches on scholarship.” You would make the exact same claim about the miracles of Jesus Christ, up to and including the Virgin Birth and His Resurrection. “Don’t ever claim that it touches on scholarship.”

    As long as you accept those as accurate representations of your views, then there is nothing that either one of us aren’t getting. By the way, I don’t care if a “serious scholar” laughs in my face, because some serious scholars are complete boors. You may have noticed that yourself.

    But what does, and doesn’t, “touch on” scholarship? I’m not sure, because I’m not an academic – I work for a living. (Joke.) It strikes me that one can practice perfectly legitimate scholarship as follows:

    “Here is a sacred text. I believe it to be what it purports to be, within some limits that I don’t propose to define at the outset. In other words, I am open to the idea that I might discover errors or inaccuracies, but I am willing to assume hypothetically that it is what it purports to be. I am mindful that other practitioners don’t begin with an assumption or hypothesis like that, and that they can be very unkind about that, but so what. What I propose to do is to look for evidences that would be consistent with my hypothesis, and to consider whether or when my hypothesis needs to be adjusted to accommodate recalcitrant contrary evidence. I will find this to be a worthwhile study and, who knows, maybe I will find something that everyone will need to accept as compelling.”

    You will surely say, that’s not science. That’s not how we do science. Yes, I understand. But I do think that is how we do *religion*, and I think that even scientists can and do approach religious topics in such a way. I can *rationally* think about these things this way, even if I don’t get published in one of your precious journals, because, heck, that’s not my goal.

    It’s not hard, Dr. Jenkins, it really isn’t. It has to do with faith in God. It has to do with a supernatural or trans-natural understanding of the Universe and its purposes which is explicitly not being offered as scientific or atheist, the latter being the perspective that you increasingly appear to advocate. One can be a believer and engage in rational thought and engage in scientific inquiry all at the same time. You can either accept that or not, just as you choose.

  • cynth

    it looks like he deleted his own comments.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Oh maybe. I have seen the same entry when a mod banned a poster, so that was my first thought. But you’re right, I don’t know which one would be accurate.

  • cynth

    please be civil, if someone missed your point, then try restating it. what is the point of getting ugly about it? Your last sentence sounds straight out of danpeterson’s repertoire; it does not go over well in a civilized discussion.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Oh dear. Reductio ad petersonum, I guess. Actually I think that the last sentence sounds more like Jenkins than Peterson. I don’t restate the point because I felt satisfied with how it was expressed in the first place and thought that the comments about it were tendentious. I’m surprised you think it was ugly to reply the way I did – that seems extreme to me.

  • cynth

    really? We will agree to disagree then.

  • Blaine Johnson

    Tendentious? I also agree to disagree.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Widespread agreement then. 🙂

    Look. The Polynesian DNA is an example of the discovery of something not previously thought to exist. These things do happen. It is not a guarantee that something like that would be uncovered for “Nephites,” but it shows that the history of pre-Columbian migrations is not so well understood that evidence of smaller, unrelated migrations can’t possibly be found. To the contrary, they can be and, in this instance, were. This is what I was saying earlier, pretty clearly, which is what put me off when Johnson irrelevantly asks,”If Lehi went straight from Jerusalem to South America, then where did the Polynesian/Austronesian mtDNA in those extinct Brazilian tribes come from?” The question showed that he had missed the point, and so I said so. You guys think this is mean or Peterson-like something, which annoys me a bit but bothers me not at all.

  • Blaine Johnson

    Apologies for misunderstanding. I do agree that mtDNA of smaller groups can be absorbed in larger populations. A relevant example would be the Lemba Tribe in Zimbabwe. They somehow test positive for Cohen at rates higher than what might be found in Jewish/Arab communities within Palestine. Without speculating on where this mtDNA came from we can assume that it persists due to strict rules against intermarriage from the time Jewish/Arab refugees/traders arrived.

    The Lemba people of South Africa, carrying a putative semitic Y chromosome, currently provide the only evidence for gene flow from the Middle East into southern Africa.

    However, early inhabitants of the nearby Comoros Islands have cultural traits that closely resemble the Lemba and are likely descendents of similar migrations starting at the Qamar Mountains in Oman, but no Cohen mtDNA is found. Probably because there has been a lot of mixing with Malay and mixed African-Arab seafarers. This could all be bad science, but its the closest example I could think of off the top of my head. Here’s the study in case I got it wrong:

    Genetic diversity on the Comoros Islands shows early seafaring as major determinant of human biocultural evolution in the Western Indian Ocean

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Thanks, appreciate the comment.

  • Blaine Johnson

    I think the DNA research on Lemba/Comorian Jews (acknowledging there is no such thing as Jewish DNA) is particularly relevant since the claim is that they left from the Qamar Mountains in Oman, which is where most ABMS scholars place the Lehites just before they started their migration. The Comoros Islands are named after the Qamar Mountains, and Cohen mtDNA has been found in nearby Zimbabwe at extremely high rates. Its not proof of a band of Lehites, but it is evidence of a similar migration of Jewish merchants/refugees from the Arabian Peninsula during the exact same time period.

    It also shows that Cohen mtDNA could survive 2500 years in a foreign land if conditions are strict. But it also shows that it can completely vanish. My point is that ABMS scholars could claim these documented migrations (Qamar to Camoro) as evidence of the possibility of a Lehite migration to points no further than the Indian Ocean. There is no evidence that seafarers ventured beyond the Indian Ocean before 200 AD.

    Interesting article right here, but not a very reliable source.

  • cynth

    no, my problem is when people have a story in mind before any discoveries, and then constantly try to shoehorn any bit of information into the preconceived model. I have no problem with, in your words, “example of the discovery of something not previously thought to exist.” Note the words, NOT PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT TO EXIST.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Sure, I understand. But my impression was not that the discovery in that instance was entirely serendipitous. And regardless of intention or serendipity, at least you get my point about how we could still discover evidence of smaller migrations.

    I still take your point about shoehorning. But nothing says that you can’t have a conclusion in advance that you wish to support while searching for evidence. Much forensic inquiry is conducted in just that way. And if you think that scientists aren’t partisans toward one theory or another while they engage in investigation, you probably don’t know that many scientists. The larger point, though, is that inquiry through the scientific method isn’t going to lead one to faith in God or any other classification of specifically religious belief. This is taken by some – you too, perhaps – as an argument against the belief in God at all. But I’m not obligated to see it that way, and in fact I don’t see it that way. Empiricism only takes you so far. Empiricism just plain won’t help you decide if there is life after death, for example. You can apply Occam’s Razor if you want, or some concept of what is the default in the absence of proof, but these are just ways to make a decision about something in the absence of positive knowledge, and can’t for that reason inspire confidence. To this day there are caterpillar scientists who deny the existence of butterflies.

  • philipjenkins

    Can I just say that this is incredibly interesting material.

  • philipjenkins

    Just one point of argument. We don’t know who the people were at Monte Verde, ethnically. The most popular theory is that they were Siberian-derived people following the kelp highway all the way south. ie coasting in small boats, rather than trekking as big game hunters overland. But we don’t know they were Austronesians, Polynesians…

  • Blaine Johnson

    A coastal migration from Siberia and NE Asia is the smartest bet. But there is some momentum in support of a simultaneous coastal migration following the kelp highway from the Kuril Islands in Japan. Possible Austronesian migrations from Formosa along the surf to Chile would help explain the strong presence of Haplogroup B, which is found mostly in Austronesians. It would also help explain the Austronesian cranial features of Luzia Woman. The Botocudo were also Austronesian, but I don’t think that supports the Kuril coastal migration theory. They probably came much later through Easter Island or the Madagascar slave trade.

    Or, according to one fringe Book of Mormon theory, the Polynesian arrival in South America was the final stage in the scattering of the Lehite remnant across the isles of the sea towards the New World. Just like the Lehites, the Lemba took their Cohen mtDNA down the Arabian Peninsula through the Qamar Mountains in Oman and boarded/built merchant ships likely headed east towards Ophir, or possibly south to Africa. Journeys beyond the Malay Peninsula were nearly impossible in those days, so its most likely they would have settled in Lembah Bujang or Sena (Malaysia) and joined the Malay migrations towards Madagascar and the Comoros. These Austronesian, or “Lamanite” if you prefer, migrations continued over millennia and eventually reached South America.

    From Asia to the Americas by boat?

    Coastal and Island-Hopping Routes to the New World

  • JT

    Prof. Jenkins,

    Can I just say that I agree with you that, from a scientific perspective, the Book of Mormon has not been proven to be a historical record and is not generally accepted as a historical document within the scientific community. For a Mormon to claim otherwise, the burden of proof would certainly be on them.

    As a believing Mormon, I have no problem with this. I don’t believe in the Book of Mormon because I believe it has been scientifically proven (and I say this as someone with advanced degrees). I believe in it because I believe it has divine origins. It is a spiritual epistemology I am working with on this, and I wouldn’t expect someone in academia to accept that on academic terms – because they shouldn’t.

    At the same time, I don’t believe the Book of Mormon has been scientifically or historically disproven. Yes, the burden of proof to claim that it is a scientifically and/or historically proven record lies with those making such a claim. But once you make claims that the Book of Mormon has been actually disproven, the burden of proof has shifted back to you as the claimant. If you are simply saying “there is no scientific reason to accept the Book of Mormon as a historical record” (i.e., there is an absence of proof) then I have no argument.

  • theenlightenedskeptic

    So now that your mind is made up and you’ve spoken your peace, we can anticipate that you will never again speak/write on the subject?

    I mean, what would be the point, right?

  • IllinoisMostert

    Excuse me for my ignorance. In the following discussions it is mention that scientist have discovered what they call Polynesian DNA in a certain tribe in South America. Thor Heyerdahl years ago claimed a western flow from the Americas to Polynesia. Could it be possible we might connect that tribe with the Book of Mormon people and thus have the Lehite DNA identified, along with those Polynesians who accept they are descendants of the Lehites?

  • cynth

    And if you think scientists start by assuming their pet theories have to be true, and then manipulate every possible piece of data to try to support it, then you have met fewer.

    Wait, what do I hear? “the mocking tone isn’t appreciated.” that’s you, posting earlier in the comments of “What Scholars Do,” telling us both to knock it off.

    To your point about scientists having a pet theory, good scientists also eventually let go of a theory when there is nothing to support it and much to disprove it.

    Since this is a discussion about scientific endeavor, there is no larger point re: faith in God, that is a completely different point, and one not being discussed, nor amenable to discussion in this setting, as Professor Jenkins has pointed out numerous times in numerous blog posts and comments.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    This is a discussion about “scientific endeavor” and not faith. Really? This *is* Patheos, isn’t it? Although I am confident that Dr. Jenkins did not, as you claim, rule references to faith off limits, it is just like you to try to rule out points of view which disagree with yours.

  • Allen Richardson

    For those who have followed the debate between Jenkins and Hamblin, it has been enjoyable reading. Here is how I score it thus far. First of all, I have never read anything written with more certitude than Jenkins various writings on the Book of Mormon (BofM). It is written with type of language that mathematicians invoke in writing proofs. Yet unlike mathematical proofs, Jenkins logic fails.

    Suppose a mathematician took all possible inputs between negative infinity and positive infinity and put those inputs into a formula that someone claimed to be a function. The formula could be proved to be a function only if the results consistently returned a separate unique output for each unique input. It is precisely this type of logic that proves Jenkins assertions on the BofM fails.

    To demonstrate Jenkins failure we could take the set of all civilizations, societies, populations, etc, (known and unknown) that ever existed throughout all inhabitable parts of the earth from say, 3000 BCE to 1000 CE and set up Jenkins rule for proof that they have actually existed. That rule is there must be a sherd of pottery, or a DNA link, or an ancient inscription, etc. or they didn’t exist. So under Jenkins logic, here-to-fore unknown societies that truly existed didn’t exist because they didn’t meet Jenkins rule. How many ancient societies are out there in the annals of history across the globe but we don’t know about them due to lack of DNA, inscriptions, pottery shreds, etc? The answer of course to Jenkins is none. To Jenkins we know all societies that ever existed throughout history only because we have a relic or inscription which provides physical proof of them. If Jenkins thinks there may be some yet undiscovered society out there, then he himself proves his rules for historicity of the BofM are bogus. The mathematical analogy is Jenkins didn’t get a unique output for each unique input. Each time a previously unknown society is uncovered through new discoveries of relics, Jenkins rule will be shown to be invalid all over again.

    I have followed the Hamblin/Jenkins debate and read nearly ever link cited in there posts. Hamblin’s logic is spot on while Jenkins isn’t. I’m not nearly as smart as either of them, but then again I have never read anyone who writes with so much certitude and lack of logic than Jenkins does on this subject. To be fair Jenkins has said in effect he would change his mind if there was but one sherd of pottery that could attributable to the Nephites. This is Jenkins “out” and demonstrates he recognizes the logical flaws in his dogmatic adherence to his illogical statements. I suspect (though he hasn’t outright stated it) that he views it as a matter of probability. In other words he must believe that there is an infinitesimal probability (difficult to distinguish from zero) that relics which prove the BofM to be true exists. However, Hamblin handles this nicely in “Hamblin 18: Quantity of Evidence”. The very lack of verifiable ancient inscriptions that Jenkins argues to support his belief on the historicity actually proves Hamblin’s argument to be superior. If there were tens of thousands of inscriptions me other relics from the BofM period, and none of them could be attributable to BofM societies, them I would say Jenkins has the better argument.

    Hamblin’s own posts, his citing of Gee and the the comments by Blaine Johnson and trytoseeitmyway demonstrate that Jenkins is on flimsy ground and the probability he assigns to BofM historicity is not in effect zero after all.

  • Blaine Johnson

    There is some evidence of a western flow (more like a trickle) from the Americas towards Polynesia. For example, the sweet potato was domesticated in Peru where it is called kumara but somehow made its way to New Zealand, where it is also called kumara. But this hardly proves that the Polynesian islands were populated from South America. If anything, it demonstrates the skill of Malay seafarers to not only navigate all the way to the New World, but to return home to the islands with a bunch of sweet potatoes, and probably a boat load of South American women.

    The genetic, linguistic and archaeological data are pretty clear that Polynesia was settled by Malay/Austronesian seafarers heading west towards the New World. This is the main reason I support a Book of Mormon geography based somewhere in the isles of the sea, most likely Malay.

    Here’s an article with some more info on Thor and the sweet potato:

    Kumara Origin Points to Pan-Pacific Voyage