I’ll admit I’m a novice when it comes to anti-Mormons. I can’t claim to have studied their methods for more than a week or two as of the writing of this post, although during that time I’ve read quite a bit. In everything I’ve read, there seems to be one similarity as to how anti-Mormons work when it comes to their mission of disproving LDS Church theology, and that would be to take things out of context and twist meaning.
It’s one thing to have a factual disagreement. For example, Mormons believe that God has a physical, tangible body. Not a body like ours since his is immortal and ours obviously isn’t, but a body nonetheless. Other Christian religions believe God does not have a tangible, physical body. That’s a factual disagreement that doesn’t require any statements to be taken out of context. It is what it is.
However, anti-Mormons often take words spoken by church leaders (or even simple church members) that appear to contradict official church doctrine and make this their “proof” of the falsity of Mormonism. For example, some anti-Mormons claim that the idea that all Native Americans are descended from the people in the Book of Mormon is LDS Church doctrine. In this they either err purposely or do not understand what constitutes LDS doctrine. Official LDS doctrine does not mean “anything that comes out of the mouth of a Mormon leader” even if that leader is the President of the church, nor does it mean anything published in the official introduction to the Book of Mormon.
On the afore-linked page commenter Tal Bachman takes the words of the late President Gordon B. Hinckley out of context and misinterprets them to mean something completely other than what is quite obvious Pres. Hinckley meant, and then exploits that misunderstanding to show the “weakness” of Mormon apologists. So as to avoid as much as possible the risk of taking Bachman out of context, here is a large excerpt from his comments:
Our first example is from Pres. Hinckley himself, made in the course of defending the BOM by “arguing” or at least stating that the BOM can be known to be true ultimately through the Holy Ghost. This is from “The Four Cornerstones of Faith”, Ensign, Feb. 2004, page three. I’ll break up the excerpt into three statements:
S1.) “The evidence for its truth, for its validity in a world that is prone to demand evidence, lies not in archaeology or anthropology, though these may be helpful to some.”
S2.) “It lies not in word research or historical analysis, though these may be confirmatory…”
S3.) “Those who have read it prayerfully have come to know by a power beyond their natural senses that it is true”.
As I said, this at first glance all appears rather unobjectionable. But if we examine it closely, certain puzzling questions arise.
Re: S1.): For example, if, as GBH says, evidence for the BOM’s validity “lies not” in archaelogy or anthropology (a categorical statement), on what conceivable grounds could archaeology and anthropology ever be “helpful” as a tool for supporting the BOM’s validity? How really could “no evidence” be “helpful”?
Re: S2.) If, as GBH says secondly, evidence “lies not” in “word research or historical analysis” (another categorical statement), on what conceivable grounds could “w.r. and h.a.” EVER be thought to be “confirmatory” in any way? That doesn’t seem to make any logical sense at all, at least on its face. If there is “no evidence” there, how can those disciplines “confirm” ANYTHING about the BOM? (“Confirmatory” is a strong word after all. And GBH is a lifetime printer, so he must know what it means. He even knew what the word “callow” meant, remember?).
(I’ll leave S3 for later).
So, if we focus on these puzzling remarks, and try to see beyond their logical inconsistencies to what GBH really might mean, I suggest that we will end up with the following formulations:
P1.) Sometimes disciplines and methodologies produce evidence which appears to support the BOM’s claims;
P2.) What that is the case, these disciplines are “helpful” and even “confirmatory”;
C.) Therefore, there is no reason to doubt the BOM is true.
P1a.) Sometimes disciplines and methodologies produce evidence which appears NOT to support the BOM’s claims;
P2b.) When that is the case, the evidence “lies not” in these disciplines or methodologies;
Cb.) Therefore, there is no reason to doubt that the BOM is true.
If we focus on these syllogisms and try to reduce them further, we get this:
For all intents and purposes,
E1.) Whatever evidence confirms my BOM belief exists (or counts);
E2.) Whatever “evidence” disconfirms my BOM belief does not exist (or does not count).
And if we reduce this down as far as we can, we get:
R.) Everything confirms what I believe.
Pres. Hinckley’s remarks to me appear to be an attempt at a particular argument for belief in the BOM (see the P series above). Fundamentally, however, those statements boil down to R. They might even be boiled down to one simple word: “believe”. Examined closely, his remarks appear very much like those I described initially: they appear to be a statement about objective reality; but upon examination, do not actually acknowledge, abide by, exist within, the parameters of objective reality. As such, his remarks (or “arguments”) do not constitute anything like a valid argument at all – they undermine themselves. Every sentence turns out to be a tautology, each imbued with a tacit claim of authority, each appearing to countenance objective reality, while in the end merely conscripting whatever facet of reality into the effort to maintain a particular psychological state. Objective reality, supposedly the thing sought for, turns out to be a wholly malleable construct at the whim of the holder of the particular psychological state, not to be acknowledged on its own terms or “deferred” to at all. At best, indications of it are gobbled up as fuel for the state; at worst, it is degraded and disdained altogether.
Pres. Hinckley’s comments so far seem to me, when boiled down, to comprise nothing more than an authoritarian tautology only justifying or endorsing a certain psychological state. That is it. In that sense, since it turns out not to be what it is supposed to be, it undermines itself.
Right off the bat Bachman misinterprets Hinckley’s words when he says that Hinckley is contradicting himself. Obviously Hinckley is saying that there are different sorts of evidence. There is supporting evidence which, by itself, is not enough to prove anything although it may support a given hypothesis, and there is evidence that proves a hypothesis rendering it no longer a hypothesis, but a fact. Archeology, anthropology, word research, and historical analysis may confirm, they may support, they may be of temporary help while someone is developing a more sure testimony, but even if we were discover a thousand pieces of such evidence to support the Book of Mormon, it would not be enough to prove the Book of Mormon is true. The only sure way to know if the Book of Mormon is true is through the “power” Hinckley alludes to. There is no logical inconsistency in Hinckley’s words. They’re perfectly understandable and simple unless they are twisted to mean something different than what Hinckley meant by them. Everything that Bachman assumes after making his initial mistake is based on his first assumption and therefore is rendered equally incorrect.