Jenkins Response 12: Epistemology

Jenkins Response 12: Epistemology June 25, 2015

Prof. Jenkins has very begrudgingly agreed to allow, under extreme duress and purely for the sake of argument, that there might be something we could possibly call “discredited ancient Book of Mormon cranky pseudo-science.”  I consider this a small victory.  Very small.

If Dr. Jenkins will, for the sake of argument, at least pretend to take the ABMS discipline marginally seriously, we can perhaps move on.  I’m very skeptical.  His position renders the well of discourse perpetually poisoned.  I’m not asking him to accept the conclusions of ABMS scholars.  I’m asking him to take them seriously enough to give them a fair hearing.  His ongoing rhetorical posture makes me believe he will be unable to do so.

So, to the offensive.  Professor Jenkins has repeated (annoyingly often) the following challenge.

Can anyone cite any single credible fact, object, site, or inscription from the New World that supports any one story found in the Book of Mormon? One sherd of pottery? One tool of bronze or iron? One carved stone? One piece of genetic data? And by credible, I mean drawn from a reputable scholarly study, an academic book or refereed journal, not some cranky piece of pseudo-science.

In trying to deal with this question, the first issue we must engage is epistemological.  How do we know the past, and, more specifically, how can we determine how archaeological data may or may not reflect the Book of Mormon?

Let’s start with “one sherd of pottery.”  There are literally millions of pot sherds from Precolumbian Mesoamerica.  And this creates a fundamental problem.

By what criteria should we expect to be able to distinguish a Nephite pot sherd from a Maya pot sherd, solely on the basis of pottery typology?

And as a preliminary methodological analogy: By what criteria can we distinguish between Canaanite and Israelite pottery, solely on the basis of pottery typology?  If we didn’t have the Bible, could we identify Israelites solely by pottery typology?

While you’re at it, could you read John Clark’s essay, “Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief”  Prof. Clark is a widely respected Mesoamerican archaeologist at BYU, specializing in the Preclassic period. 

Here I should add that if Prof. Jenkins is unwilling to do his homework, this discussion is not going to get very far.

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