Messianicity & Historicity

The Book of Mormon is a messianic text. As messianic, it means to interrupt and overwrite our normal experience of time. When this overwriting occurs at the level of the individual, it’s called repentance. When this overwriting occurs collectively, it’s called gathering. Both kinds of overwriting implicate the other.

One basic question to ask about this messianicity is its relationship to historicity.

Some people want to make the Book of Mormon’s messianicity a function of its historicity. “If it is historical, then it can be messianic.”

Secular critics of the Book of Mormon take this position. They say, “the Book of Mormon can only be messianic if it is historical.” Then they can dismiss the book’s messianicity on the basis of its thin historicity.

Assuming that messianicity is a function of historicity is, in many ways, the secular move par excellence.

I don’t recommend doing this. It seems like a bad idea. And it seems to miss the messianic point. If messianicity were a function of historicity then it wouldn’t be messianic!

I’m not saying that the Book of Mormon isn’t historical, but I’m happy to say that it’s not historical in any ordinary way. Why? Because I’m willing to go to the mat for the claim that the Book of Mormon is a messianic text and things that are messianic are never historical in an ordinary way.

The following seems to me to be the case: that the Book of Mormon’s historicity is, rather, a function of its messianicity.

Not vice versa.

Again, the Book of Mormon’s historicity (and it certainly has a variety of irreducible historical vectors of various strengths in play) is a function of its messianicity.

Still, it’s true, I think, that you never get the messianic apart from the historical. But this isn’t because the messianic is something that comes out of the historical (if so, it would be a function of the historical).

Rather, the messianic can’t be thought apart from the historical because the messianic is, by definition, that which is working its way into the historical—interrupting it, questioning it, overwriting it, reshaping it. More, the messianic is that which gives historicity itself. Our normal experience of time and history is a subset of messianic 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.

This is the thing to be investigated and accounted for.




101 comments for “Messianicity & Historicity

  1. So “reality” is the Plan of Salvation, as exemplified in the Atonement, which prophets work to overwrite upon history which, as a temporal entity cannot be “real” in an eternal sense? Am I close to your meaning here?

  2. 1) What is a messianic text?
    2) How is something historical in any way other than an ordinary way?

  3. Adam, a lot of what you say is over my head–but the spirit of it is welcoming, intriguing, and reflective. Having just finished slogging through the mire of judgment and false pity that was another recent thread on the historicity question, I thank you for elevating my thoughts.

  4. Joseph Spencer’s, “An Other Testament” gave me a new understanding of the historicity of sacred texts, and how scripture study alters the reader’s own history, not the text’s. Maybe I’m still thinking through that idea, but this post seems to harmonize with that idea.

  5. “The historicity of the Book of Mormon matters to most believing Latter-day Saints. They think, and the Church has always taught, that there was a real Moroni, that there were real Nephites, and that Jesus actually visited ancient America.” – Daniel Peterson

    Your argument is not with secular critics. Stop pretending like it is.

  6. Aren’t you engaging in a fundamental equivocation error here? When people say a text is messianic do they mean it interrupts the flow of time or do they mean it testifies about a messiah and that its epistemological strength depends upon its historicity. (Of course here historicity is open to many levels – a text can be historical but the underlying claim wrong or ungrounded)

    I recognize that in a certain sense many elements of meaning can be left “bracketed” from questions of grounding in reality. However certainly some meanings (if only the epistemologically relevant ones) do depend upon those sorts of evidentiary grounding. We wouldn’t want to say that scientific texts have a meaning not tied to human experience with reality for instance.

    So when people dismiss historicity I think there’s a lot of dodging going on rather than making clear what is actually being claimed. I don’t think anyone is saying that all readings require an engagement with history (in the more modern sense). I can read the Book of Mormon and talk about Nephi’s father in the same way I can read King Lear and talk about Cordelia’s father. However not all interpretations are open to that sort of hermeneutic. The real question, which seems all too often left unengaged, is what questions and readings require an engagement with history. Further what readings get undermined by a marginalization of historical contexts.

  7. I cannot follow this line of argument, so please unpack it for me. What is “thin history?” What is “normal history?” How does this influence your interpretation of “messianic history?”

  8. Adam, is this the core of the book you’re currently working on (an elaboration of your essay in Rube Goldberg)? How close are you to finishing it, cuz I want to read and cite it for something I am writing. Can you say a bit more about the specifically Benjaminian notion of the messianic you are drawing on here?

  9. I’ve long thought that Nephi’s vision in 1 Nephi 11-14 is about how Christ breaks history. Nephi sees history, especially the (future) history of his people, as an unending cycle of war and destruction. Christ’s coming is the only escape from this cycle, and individuals and communities who grab hold of Christ are pulled out of this destructive history no matter where or when they live.

  10. Would I be wrong to consider this idea on the same level as ancient Hebrews viewed their own Biblical history. It wasn’t history written for the sake of maintaining a record of the nation, but a record that establishes and maintains the relationship between Israel and God?

  11. Adam,

    I think you need to walk on this dusty planet a little longer. Sure, you feel more connected to the “beyond” when you’re on the right track — and that has a way of minimizing the “sting” of death. But, still, the longer you live the more you feel like old Abraham, longing for that elusive city of Zion. There comes a time when you just want to get out of here. And the longer you stay the more you feel your mortality.

    So, I’d say, it’s more like counting time by Abraham’s cosmic clock. You always know what time it is right “here” where we have one foot in the grave. But, then, with your other foot beyond the grave you also get a taste for time on a larger scale

  12. Mattathias, doesn’t the Nephite wars under Mormon and Moroni undermine the idea that Christ breaks history? After all even if we accept that Mormon and Moroni were born anew with Christ we have to deal with their place in war. The idea of Christ breaking the patterns of time works in one sense but fails in many others – unless we consider the messianic era as the millennium (or the life after death). To me the more interesting aspect of Nephi’s vision isn’t that the cycle ends but that his people are destroyed by the cycle. Then the cycle persists among the gentiles who come to the promise land. The cycle is like some cursed meme out of a horror movie. All who come appear blessed but end up stuck in the cycle.

    Carey, haven’t listened to Adam’s speech. I always love speaking with Adam of course. My problem if often that he uses terms that original in a Mormon context with a certain theological thrust, but then moves them into a broader ontological context. In one way that’s good. I think his work on grace is brilliant. However in an other way it’s fairly distorting since there is a fundamental equivocation at work as the play of the metaphor proceeds. So grace in his broad almost Spinozist sense just fundamentally isn’t the grace of Christ as we think of it theologically.

    I think we can talk of a broad messianic time. Especially in French philosophy. I’m rather partial to Derrida’s use of the messianic. But it’s just a metaphor. For Derrida we have a messiah always promised who never comes. Messianic time becomes the arrival of the idea in the Kantian sense. The break with a Messianic time thus is what always escapes discourse which for Derrida is differance itself. I know Adam is influenced by Derrida, but I sometimes wonder how many of his audience recognize this background.

    Adam’s more likely to be influenced by Badiou’s work on Paul and Agamben. Thus messianic time is tied to kairos if not kairos itself. This notion is similar to Heidegger’s notion of appropriateness. The idea of fitting the situation. Only for Adam’s sense of Badiou this must be thought through in a creative way. This ends up being quite the opposite of Derrida’s sense as for Derrida the messianic is what escapes the system. Kairos is much more wrapped up with what is appropriate to the system, yet slightly different. It’s a fractional evolution.

    Adam has an interesting paper “Giorgio Agamben’s Messianic Community” that touches on some of this. It adopts (albeit with reference to Judaism instead of Mormonism) the idea that heaven is just like this world. “The same community” as Joseph put it and so there’s a “small displacement” rather that a huge break.

    For Adam (at least in this paper) we have an opposition between “chronological time” which is the world as it already is. Adam, following Agamben, has messianic time as interior of this chronologic time. It’s not a supplement (with puns to Derrida’s notion) This messianic allows identity without being the same. (What Peirce might term iconicity)

    There’s a lot going on here. However we have to be careful to be clear about what we’re talking about. Are we talking of Agamben for messianic time? Derrida? Or Mormon theology? If we’re talking of apologetics or the very urge to understand theology within a scientific conception of the world what type of messianic are we speaking of? Is the messianic of the Book of Mormon to be taken theologically or as a metaphor to shift to a narrative of Agamben? It’s fine to do one or the other. However if we’re to be true to messianic time in the Agamben sense then this displacement must be small. Yet my sense is that Adam’s push has made for a rather large difference and the discourse has become disjointed. The metaphoric Book of Mormon and the Book of Mormon most encounter seem to be different books divided by a gulf. There is a difference that perhaps will be missed when spoken but is unavoidable when read.

  13. It is not clear to me how much you are distinguishing historical from natural.

    Is the Messianic opposed to natural or just historical for you?

    One interpretation of your argument is that the Messianic is false in ordinary terms.

    Is Messianic time the same as “story time”?

  14. Is this is what it takes to make it true now? All this esoteric debate about messianicity and historicity? Back in the 70’s, all we needed were those cool pictures of Mesoamerican ruins to help us feel like we were legit.

  15. Adam, could the BoM, as a text that catalogs the “messianic” experiences of ancient people, speak to us (today), as powerfully as it does, across time if those people (and their experiences) were not grounded in history?

  16. Adam, you seem to have tossed this out as a semantic provocation, daring us to NOT make sense of what amounts to a Catholic fairy tale. The effect is reinforcement of the impression that the Church has indeed thrown in the towel on genuine historicity. The perceptual shift you advocate should have occurred a hundred years ago, after BH Roberts wrote his analysis. Too late now w/o severe, enduring and magnifying collateral damage.

  17. I appreciate the link in #10. It led me to what may be the best sermon I have ever heard. That lecture greatly illuminates this post. The key contrast is between ordinary time and Messianic time. Ordinary time is linear, causal, the time of science and history, the domain of the natural man. In ordinary time, our present is the inexorable consequence of our past. The sins of the fathers resonate in the lives of their children for seven generations.

    By contrast, as the books of Moses and Abraham recount, Messianic time emerges full blown in the preexistence as a sure promise of atonement. Long before Christ is born, the prophets in Moses, Abraham, and the Book of Mormon know him, and the atonement anachronistically redeems them because of their faith in him. Thus, Lehi says, “the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Nephi 1: 15). In the locus classicus for Messianic time, Abinadi in 148 BC uses the past tense when speaking of the future: “And now if Christ had not come into the world, speaking of things to come as though they had already come, there could have been no redemption. And if Christ had not risen from the dead … there could have been no resurrection” (Mosiah 16: 6-7). Abinadi knows that though the atonement has not yet occurred in ordinary time, it is already the surest thing in the universe. Its sureness inheres in the utterly indubitable integrity of Jehovah who has promised it will happen. In Messianic time, the atonement has already occurred in every historical epoch from the moment Jehovah stepped forward and said “send me” (Abraham 3: 27).

    In ordinary time, the sequence of causation must be from past to future. In Messianic time, the future can transform the present and the present can remake the past. So in ordinary time, you and I have sinned. Our sin damaged us. It led to more sin and suffering. But our suffering may open a fissure in ordinary time through which Messianic time enters. Suffering may bring us to Christ and the atonement. Rebirth in Christ breaks the ordinary-time chain of causation. It remakes that moment of sinful weakness into the wellspring of our strength and purity. An event once remembered in shame and sorrow may now be our delight, the blessed moment which catalyzed our coming to Christ. So in truth, the past is not fixed as secular thinkers assume and the future is not unknowable. As was true for Lehi’s young son Jacob (2 Nephi 2: 3), the present and future calling and election of all who fully and profoundly trust in Christ is sure.

    Some persons with strong faith—e.g., John Sorenson and Brant Gardner–seek to locate the Book of Mormon within ordinary, scientific, unidirectional historical time. As Austin Ferrer has noted with respect to the larger Christian faith, these efforts may have value insofar as they shore up those whose faith is weak. But they are mostly beside the point for the living dead (Romans 4: 6-11) who are in the world (ordinary time) but not of it (because Messianic time has claimed them).

    Adam Miller’s discussion of Messianic time in no way implies that Lehi, Alma, and Moroni weren’t real people. It merely affirms that ordinary history can never fully encompass them. They were thoroughly enmeshed in Messianic time. The methods and assumptions of secular history make eruptions and causal effects of Messianic time invisible. If the Book of Mormon could be situated in any substantial way within secular history, it could not fulfill its mission which is to testify of the Messiah who, from the foundation of the world, has anachronistically penetrated and disrupted the flow of ordinary time. Given that the Book of Mormon would lose much of its spiritual power if it were to be substantially subsumed within ordinary time and secular history, we can be confident that God will never permit its witness to be weakened in that way.

  18. “Given that the Book of Mormon would lose much of its spiritual power if it were to be substantially subsumed within ordinary time and secular history, we can be confident that God will never permit its witness to be weakened in that way.”

    This is a church of the literal, Pacumeni. The Father literally fathered Jesus with Mary; The Father and Christ have physical bodies, as will we after death. Furthermore, it is clear that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and, so far as I know, every other LDS Prophet, understood the Book of Mormon to be a literal record of a literal people that once inhabited the New World in real time. By his own account, Joseph Smith handled heavy gold plates. Adam’s hypothesis and your post seem to be a response to archaeological genetic linguistic evidence to the contrary, and hence a bit desperate and (literally) unbelievable.

    All that rises must converge, but if this is a trial balloon, please please take it down.

  19. P, I don’t think Adam’s saying the regular linear time doesn’t matter. He’s making a more subtle point about meaning.

  20. That’s exactly what he’s saying, Clark, and that’s the problem, his Nephites inhabit the same dimension as Marian apparitions and acheiropoieta, a striking deviation for a member of a church composed of, let’s face it, Christian positivists.

  21. Umm, I don’t think that’s what he’s saying. I’ll critique him for focusing too much on the metaphor precisely because it leads to the danger of those sorts of misunderstandings. However I more or less think I understand what he’s saying. It’s not that these are “apparitions” but rather the meaning of future events changes the meaning of current events. (Repentance is a great example, although there are others) There thus has to be a disruption from normal linear time.

    Now how I think about this is different from Adam, although I think more broadly we have a lot of similarities of thought. I’ve just become increasingly less patient with metaphor whereas Adam has become more of a fan. (Grin) I just think in arenas like this one Adam’s really open to misunderstanding.

  22. A different way of thinking through the same issues is to note the distinction between time and events as discussed in science — especially physics — versus how we take events to be meaningful. When we talk of the meaning of events their meanings are caught up not just in present understanding but also our relations with the past and with the future. So the meaning of what happens right now can’t be understood without knowing events in the future.

    The analogy some (especially Jim Faulconer) make is a single note in a symphony. Physics can tell you about the harmonics, the frequencies and so forth. But the meaning is quite a bit more.

    If we want to talk about time in terms of meaning we can’t just talk about physics. That means there’s a different sense of time that must be included.

    Turning to history there’s a move that historicity is just physics. It’s just about matter, where it is, and the temporal relations between pieces of matter much like analyzing a billiard ball on a pool table. Yet if history is more than this then it must be more than science and the question of meaning rears its head.

    I suspect that’s all that’s meant with regards to Book of Mormon historicity.

    The difficulty in this is that all historians, including even the more positivists ones, acknowledge meaning. When we ask if there were real Nephites were making a claim about meanings.

    Thus an other rejoinder to Adam is one that is an immanent critique. That is it works within the metaphor he uses. In this argument the question of historicity isn’t a question of linear time at all. How could it be? Rather it is already posed within what Adam calls Messianic Time. To think that Messianic Time allows one to avoid the question of historicity is to fundamentally misunderstand the question and to attempt to repress it. The repression works only because one can misleadingly present the question is a question of physics whereas even a quick glance shows one can’t make sense of it that way. How on earth could one reduce the question of Nephites existing in mesoAmerica around 400 BCE to physics. The very meaning of Nephite is so tied to social issues and meanings that it can’t be done.

  23. I don’t know why but it seems like there’s a movement among some of the newer (younger) LDS scholars to down-play historicty in the BoM and the scriptures in general. I think Adam’s post is interesting — and I thought the video that someone linked to above was quite good in some respects. But if this whole thing is just another manifestation of the debate between the “old” and the “new” at the MI then I’m going to be really disappointed. I’d like to see stuff like this stand on it’s own feet and not on the shoulders of an already controversial issue in order to gain recognition.

  24. Totally agree, Jack, esp. after just having read Bokovoy’s “The Divine Word Made Flesh” at PATHEOS (in which he rather amazingly equates non-global historical issues in Bible [there is evidence, for instance, that Jerusalem actually exists] with global issues of BoM).

    The placement of Adam’s proposition within the context of current historicity problems makes me wonder if we’re witnessing the manufacture of a replacement paradigm. Sorry if that’s cynical, because otherwise I find Adam’s ideas intriguing and well worth study.

  25. Jack, I think some justifiably have a concern that people focused on historicity to such an extent that the structure of the narrative was downplayed. I just don’t think focusing in on narrative or literary features requires inverting the relation and downplaying historicity. Both can be important.

  26. Adam, thank you for bringing the work of Giorgio Agamben to the table and your productive recontextualisation of it.

  27. “Assuming that messianicity is a function of historicity is, in many ways, the secular move par excellence.”

    Adam is surely right to suggest that those who valorize historicity and, de facto, make the categories of secular science and history the arbiters of their faith—those people have given the game away. They have affiliated with Korihor rather than with Alma. The Book of Mormon affirms the priority of spiritual experience. Whether one does or doesn’t accept that affirmation is critically important. Reasoning inevitably has a Baysian aspect. Conclusions are always dictated in substantial part by one’s priors. If the priors are secular, if one is of the world, the historicity of the Book of Mormon will in all probability be denied. If one’s priors are those implicit in the Book of Mormon, if one is in but not of the world, historicity will be a tertiary consideration. One will probably find sufficient evidence to affirm it, but it won’t be a central issue in one’s life. Engagement with the Messiah will be the overwhelming priority. Empirical evidence changes our conclusions only on the margin. The axioms on which our reasoning is based, axioms we freely choose unless we passively inherit them from the culture, are largely determinative of our conclusions. So we get to choose the world we live in, the tenor of our lives. That was the plan from the beginning.

  28. Simply untenable, Pacumeni. We accept that Jesus himself existed historically as a corporeal man and interacted in real time with his apostles, this requires no ontological slight-of-hand. I understand and generally endorse a faith paradigm which relegates historicity to a position subordinate to spiritual insight, but doesn’t there have to be a historical baseline somewhere?

  29. P, if you endorse a paradigm that relegates historicity to a position subordinate to spiritual insight, I don’t think we disagree. What, exactly, are you suggesting is untenable? Why would a person who valorizes spiritual insight–who is an Alma rather than a Korihor–deny that Christ and his apostles existed in history? Such a person would deny claims that Christ was just another man but would not question his historical existence. What is at stake is not whether historical time exists. At stake is the set of assumptions/priors one has when interpreting the evidence. Conclusions will be substantially shaped by the priors. John Sorenson and Brant Gardner look at archaeological evidence and reach conclusions very different from those of Michael Coe. They don’t have different evidence. They have different priors which lead them to interpret the evidence very differently. And as I note above, Sorenson and Gardner’s priors do not differ from those of Coe as much as Adam Milller’s do. What is true for them is a fortiori even more true for Adam. But none of this is to suggest that history does not exist or is irrelevant and certainly does not suggest that Christ and the apostles did not exist. It does suggest that the importance of Christ and the Apostles can never be properly understood if one relies exclusively on the on the axioms implicit in modern science/historiography.

  30. “If one’s priors are those implicit in the Book of Mormon, if one is in but not of the world, historicity will be a tertiary consideration.”

    Bollox. The BoM clearly teaches that God has never done anything for his children unless some had faith first — and that means they believed He would intervene in the world in tangible, palpable ways.

    The whole story of Israel turns on God’s channeling them throughout history. We simply would not be doing what we’re doing today if God had not actually gotten involved with His people in the past — and the beauty of it is, we sense His hand in the furthering of His work today as an extension of what He did for those in the past.

    But, without that sense of (God’s) intervention in real history our sense of connection with His previous work (among His people) would not be so poignant, and, therefore, not as likely to produce as mature a faith as is needed to continue forward.

    The miracle of inspired myth is not that it somehow speaks to us while having no real footing in actual events. It’s that it grows out of real historical events involving God’s dealings with real people and, yet, somehow, comes to us *personally* as if it were tailor made. That’s the real miracle.

  31. Jack. If historicity is the primary or a primary consideration, one should focus attention on the latest findings of Mesoamerican archaeology and DNA testing so as to determine the historicity of the text and thus determine its degree of spiritual worth. This approach makes its messianic value, as Adam said, a function of its historicity, with historicity defined by the inherently unspiritual categories of modern science and historiography. If we valorize historicity, the book will lack clear spiritual value unless its historical bona fides are well established.

    That isn’t the way most members read the Book of Mormon. They pay no attention to questions of historicity. They do feel the Spirit while reading it, and do liken the narrative to their own lives. Most assume Nephi, Alma, etc. are real people, but they believe that because they have a spiritual testimony that the book is true, not because they have sifted the evidence as a scientist or historian would. They tacitly assume historicity, but don’t make it the main focus of their encounter with the text. That is a sound approach.

    Creationism illustrates folly of approaching an ancient scriptural text with modern scientific/historiographic priors valorized. It is quite obvious that Genesis describes the creation of the world as it was conceived at the time Genesis was written, e.g., the sky is the firmament, a solid dome that arches overhead with holes that star light and rain penetrate. It should not surprise us that God is described as creating the world in which the ancients thought they lived. If the creation had been described consistent with our current scientific conceptions, the narrative would have been gibberish for its original audience. And why should it be described consistent with the science of our time? Why not in language consistent with God’s perfect, complete understanding of science? Such a description would probably be gibberish for us. Creationists give the game away when they tacitly accept the axioms of current science as the foundation of their Genesis hermeneutic. Attempts to force the text into the mold of current science wrest the text while, if anything, distracting us from the central point–that it was God who acted to create the world in which we live. God acted in history, but modern, scientific epistemology does little to illuminate the meaning of the text. On the whole, the same is true for the Book of Mormon.

  32. Just to repeat my criticism, I’m not sure focusing in on archaeology is somehow less “messianic time” in the broad secular sense than more general concerns about the Book of Mormon.

  33. “They [most members] tacitly assume historicity, but don’t make it the main focus of their encounter with the text.”

    I agree. But I think their encounter with the text would change dramatically (for the worse) if that assumption (historicity) was not in place.

    I’m not trying to make an argument for the need for scientific evidence so much as for the need for a general feeling of being tied to real history — though I laud good apologetic work on the subject. But the problem is, nowadays, when historical claims are being challenged — claims that the text itself makes! — good apologetics can be very useful in checking our fears about those challenges. I don’t think it’s enough to assume that a “spiritual” reading of the text will always assuage our doubts about concrete historical claims.

  34. “According to Guillaume, the human mind has the experience of time, but lacks its representation and must therefore resort to space in order to represent it. Thus grammar represents verbal time (I mean the time system of our language) on an infinite line, composed by two segments—the past and the future—separated by the caesura of the present:

    past – present – future

    According to Guillaume, this representation—which he calls image-temps, time-image—is inadequate, because it is too perfect. It shows us a time already constructed, but it does not show time in the act of constructing itself in the thought. In order to truly understand something, Guillaume says, it is not enough to consider it in its achieved or constructed state; we must be able to represent the phases through which thought has moved while constructing it. Each mental operation, no matter how quick it can be, needs a certain time, which can be extremely short, but is nevertheless real.”

  35. “But let us try to develop this paradigm of “operational time” beyond the confines of linguistics in order to refer it to our problem of messianic time. In every representation of time, in every discourse by means of which we try to define and to represent time, another time is involved, which cannot be exhausted in them. It is as if man, insofar as he is a thinking and speaking being, produces an additional time, which prevents him from perfectly coinciding with chronological time, with the time of which he can make images and representations. Yet this time is not another time, not a supplementary time that could be added from outside to chronological time. It is, rather, a time within time—not ulterior, but interior—which measures only my disconnection with it, the impossibility of coinciding with my representation of time—but for the same reason, it also opens up the possibility of grasping and accomplishing it.
    I can now propose a first definition of messianic time: it is the time it takes for time to come to an end, to accomplish itself. Or, more exactly, the time we need in order to accomplish, to bring to an end our representation of time. It is neither the time—representable but unthinkable—of chronological time, nor the instant—equally unthinkable—of its end. Nor is it a segment cut off from chronological time, a segment that goes from the resurrection up to the end of time. It is, rather, the operational time that drives chronological time and transforms it from within; it is the time it takes us to bring time to an end—in this sense: the time which is left to us.”

  36. 35. ‘(they) do liken the narrative to their own lives’ ie to their own historicity! Hence the correspondence with the text through their consciousness of a past. It is JS who interrupts the linearity of secular time and history and introduces multiple concurrent timescales in which we are immersed. Adam’s thoughts contribute to an understanding of the relationship between those timescales.

  37. 40, True. If one takes Adam’s point that time (including the past) is multidimensional or, alternatively, subject to change, if one sees scientific historiography as just one strand of multidimensional time, e.g., if one has a richer understanding of time than, say, John Dehlin, the strands of time all interact and mutually illuminate. If a single conception–scientific historiography–is hegemonic and subsumes all other strands of time, the Book of Mormon will be misread and, ultimately, will be dismissed as of no consequence. This misreading and dismissal is a tragic error with eternal consequences.

  38. ” – if one sees scientific historiography as just one strand of multidimensional time, e.g., if one has a richer understanding of time than, say, John Dehlin …”

    Again, Pacumeni (sjames, Carey) there’s got to be baseline verisimilitude, i.e,. “scientific historiography” somewhere before you can launch off on these flights of fancy. At least you acknowledge that historiography is “one strand” but until you can actually FIND that strand your argument founders.

  39. P: Were we still in the 19th century, perhaps one could credibly talk about a kind of positivist “baseline verisimilitude,” but in the wake of, say, E. H. Carr’s “What Is History” and myriad other historiographical and epistemological studies, one must be pretty naive to think that we can achieve some kind of “baseline verisimiltude.” Facts are theory laden. That being true, and there being many different internally consistent theoretical frameworks which establish mutually inconsistent sets of facts, there can be no agreed upon historical baseline. We are condemned to have histories, not history. Look at how controversial Piketty’s conclusions/numbers are in his history of capital. Failure to achieve consensus on narrow, substantially mathematical questions such as those treated by Piketty is good evidence that “baseline verisimilitude” is a pipe dream.

  40. I like the idea that the truths that can change a person or unite a civilization exist outside of history. My personal testimony of The Book of Mormon has nothing to do with whether it is an actual historical account or not. That’s not to say I DON’T believe it is historical; I just find it more important to my faith that I believe, for example, that living the way Christ taught us to will make our nations better, than whether there actually was a perfect society created somewhere in America that lasted for 164 years following a personal post-Resurrection visit by Jesus. If I were to lose the first belief, it would hurt my faith much more than it would be strengthened by historians discovering that a society actually existed in America where property was held in common for that same amount of time.

    With that said, that lack of dependence on historicity is only true because I already have a testimony of the principle in question. If I didn’t already hold my current beliefs, knowing whether or not The Book of Mormon is historically true WOULD have a great impact on my willingness to ponder its teachings.

    The message of The Book of Mormon may be messianic in the way you describe, but the evidence for that message very often is historical. Time and time again, Mormon uses historical events he is describing to justify his doctrinal claims. If you lose the historical basis of the text, you lose much of the justification for the message. And while, like I said at the beginning, the historicity of The Book of Mormon doesn’t determine whether its lessons are true or not, the lack of truth of one definitely impacts a person’s willingness to believe the other. The arguments the book uses are set up that way.

    Furthermore, teaching history IS one of the main purposes for which The Book of Mormon was written. On its Title Page, the first stated purpose of the book (mentioned before convincing people that Jesus is the Christ) is “to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers.” Its purpose isn’t just to tell Israel that God has done great things for their ancestors (which would have the messianic impact you talked about), but to demonstrate WHAT those great things are. And that is entirely dependent on the book’s historicity.

    And since, by your definition, messianic literature is designed to change a person’s view of time/space, not just reinforce already existing views, the historicity of The Book of Mormon is absolutely fundamental to its desired aims. Thus, in a profound way its messianicity is a function of its historicity.

    Sorry to disagree a little.

  41. For instance, Pacumeni, baseline verisimilitude for post-Lithic/Archaic Maya would be the Formative site Izapa in Chiapas dating from 1500BCE.

    mirrororrim, you deftly nail the problem but offer no solution: “The message of The Book of Mormon may be messianic in the way you describe, but the evidence for that message very often is historical. Time and time again, Mormon uses historical events he is describing to justify his doctrinal claims. If you lose the historical basis of the text, you lose much of the justification for the message.”

    The rhetorical tautology Miller, Bokovoy, Givens et al have constructed is such that we Saints apparently now believe the BoM to be an absolutely historical text the evidence for which magically exists somewhere just outside or inside what’s traditionally been considered verifiable antiquity (i.e., you’re not going to dig this up with a shovel). Meanwhile it’s the truest book ever written and contains the fullness of the everlasting gospel.

    Is it just me?

  42. P, from the Wikipedia entry on Izapa: ” The site reached its apogee between 600 BCE and 100 CE; several archaeologists have theorized that Izapa may have been settled as early as 1500 BCE,… The period of Izapa’s height is still unknown due to little material for carbon dating, so the issue is still widely debated.” Your baseline fact is not as settled as you imply: “several archaeologists have theorized,” “may have been settled as early as 1500 BCE,” “the period … is still unknown,” “the issue is still widely debated.” What constitute facts here depend on who the theorizing archaeologist is and what assumptions that person brings to the interpretive task. Even for what is a comparatively simple question, there are multiple proposed readings, multiple provisional histories. Once again, your belief that there is some firm “baseline verisimilitude” lying around for us to pick up is naive.

  43. Here’s the key word in your Wiki quote above, Pacumeni: “site”

    Is there a bit of wriggle room here? Sure, but we can also be “reasonably” (another important word) confident that the people who constructed this “site” were descendants of Siberian nomads, not, say, exiles from Jerusalem. If LDS-leaning “science-of-the-gaps” is all apologists have left, game over.

  44. P, there is no solution; it just comes down to character judgment. It’s the reason why when I read Polybius I am more inclined to believe what I’m reading than when I read Livy—I trust the integrity of the one, and don’t the other. Both are Roman historians writing about events that cannot be verified archaeologically, and the works of both are filled with facts that are historically unlikely, but most of which cannot definitively be proven false.

    Reading The Book of Mormon, there are a ton of reasons to believe it is a 19th-century construction with no historical basis whatsoever. The more you study it, the more things you find. Read some Roman history—many of the events in The Book of Mormon seem to be pulled right out of it.

    However, despite all that, I trust the author/s. I have made a character judgment, and so while the historicity of the book seems incredibly unlikely, it is still possible, and I accept that possibility.

    The same is true of my belief in all aspects of Christianity. Around the time of the first century, there were many Jewish messianic claimants who ended up dead, most of whom were executed by the Romans. The New Testament mentions at least one other one, and Josephus mentions others. It is incredibly unlikely that one of these claimants was the real deal, and it strains credulity to believe that one of the ones who was executed was the legitimate messiah. In fact, the entire concept of a God who dies and is resurrected and a figure who brings “good tidings of great joy” are most logically instances of syncretism between Jewish religion and other Roman belief systems, and one would be inclined to believe they are not literal events. However, it is not impossible that they happened, and I choose to believe in them because I trust the character of several of those who claim those things happened, even though their accounts do not always agree with one another.

    With this belief system, a person has to become convinced of its truth over and in spite of, not because of, the historical scientific improbabilities. This comes because that person gains trust in someone who shares the message, or because she gains trust in the message itself. If you are following a historical Occam’s Razor, you don’t end up any type of Christian, much less a Latter-day Saint.

    Sorry, I know that’s probably not the answer you’re looking for, but in my opinion it is the only true one.

    But this is true for all organized religions: they depend on making a character judgment of another person, unless you happen to be the founder.

    That doesn’t mean you have to be an atheist otherwise, although that is a legitimate option. It just means your relationship with God has to be entirely personal. Which isn’t a bad way to go—that’s the end goal of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; things like prophets and scriptures are just helps along the road for most people to get there.

    Again, sorry that this isn’t really much of an answer. ?

  45. The one comforting part of this is that Occam’s Razor always ends up being wrong. It is usually a useful wrong, though, which is why we continue to use it. But in religion, I feel it loses its usefulness, which is why I don’t use it.

    Occam’s Razor is based on the assumption that you have all the facts, which is never true, which is why it always eventually fails. It is useful because as long as a failure meets the known facts, it is in practical terms a success, since you are able to do what you want to do.

    For example, when I look at a table, Occam’s Razor tells me it is a single solid substance, which lets me know if I push it, it will move. The greater truth is that it is billions of individual particles and is mostly made up of empty space, but the Occam’s Razor falsehood lets me know what I need to know to move it, which is my end goal.

    Religion, though, by its very nature is the exploration of things we have none of the facts for—that’s what makes it religion. This lack of known constants makes Occam’s Razor, and thus the scientific method, insufficient.

    At least that’s what I’ve come to. Feel free to disagree—I may very well be wrong.

  46. “I put the diskette back into your purse. When I lay down beside you, you rolled against me, waking, on your breath all the electric night of the new Asia, the future rising in you like a bright fluid, washing me of everything but this moment. That was your magic, that you lived outside of history, all now.”

    New Rose Hotel
    William Gibson

  47. I wish Andrew would would use plain and precious (I mean simple) language. I’m sure the other 50 commentators understood exactly what his he meant when he said, “the Book of Mormon’s historicity is, rather, a function of its messianicity” and the nuances thereof. And of course the conclusion, “The Book of Mormon, as a messianic text, is something that’s working its way into history.” Of course this overwriting is a function of …. Was there really an angel Moroni?

  48. P writes, “Here’s the key word in your Wiki quote above, Pacumeni: ‘site’”

    It is hard to see how the existence of a “site” undercuts confidence in the Book of Mormon. A complete absence of any sites in the Americas might be detrimental. As for the provenance of the inhabitants of Izapa, that is even more speculative than the uncertain dates of the site. In any case, travel times mentioned in the Book of Mormon make it clear that the geographical setting of the book is small, so even if it could be shown that Izapa was full of erstwhile “Siberian nomads,” it wouldn’t be all that dispositive on the question of Book of Mormon historicity, no matter how narrowly historicity is conceived.

    When our focus is ancient civilizations, gaps are everywhere and speculation unavoidable, so all science is, per force, a “science of the gaps” in one measure or another. MirrorrorriM makes this point effectively with respect to Roman history where there are far more gaps than there is history even though what happened in the Old World is far better documented than what happened in the New. And who gets to define what constitutes a gap? Two years ago, I was in an adult institute class in which every class member recounted one or more miracles they had personally experienced, e.g. one husband suddenly sat up in the middle of the night and declared to his wife, “Julia is in trouble.” He got in his car, drove a couple miles down the road and found their daughter, Julia, had crashed her car in a ditch. The experiences of most other class members were equally striking. These experiences constitute a gap in the ontology of secular humanists that they fill with their great god, “Coincidence.” But the number of these personally experienced miracles and their improbability make that explanation implausible.

    Reason (i.e., logic) can be deployed to draw “reasonable” conclusions from any set of axioms. The axioms, by definition, cannot be demonstrated to be indubitably true. Positing them is an act of faith. Theologians use rigorous logic to reach conclusions that are compelling for anyone who accepts their axioms. Scientists do the same, reasoning from purely materialist axioms. While people can be criticized as being unreasonable if they use faulty logic, they can’t be so criticized because we disagree with their axioms. When it comes to positing axioms, we all exercise faith or reveal our taste. The axioms reflect what rings true to us emotionally and intellectually, not some self-evident truth.

    We cook the books if, as P seems to be doing, we define as reasonable only those who share our axioms. Thomas Kuhn addresses this error when he discusses controversies between scientists who are doing science within incommensurable paradigms. Evidence adduced within one paradigm can rarely, if ever, conclusively destroy the credibility of another paradigm.

  49. Pacumeni, I was responding to topic: “baseline verisimilitude” and my point was that while this is copious for Early Maya as illustrated not only by Izapa but many other “sites” plus anthropology/folklore, linguistics, DNA, it is non-existent for Book of Mormon peoples. BH Roberts pointed clearly in this direction a hundred years ago, and if we’re not honest NOW what’s left of the Church in another hundred years will still be defiant and counterfactual – to what end?

    As I said above (actually, way above) I fail to see how status of BoM is enhanced or even defended by proposing that we now place it in a category/dimension with Marian apparitions and stigmata, (Givens/Miller/Bokovoy), or maintaining despite the evidence that there are so many “gaps” in New World pre-history that of course an enormous Semitic population could have completely disappeared. What kind of mental gymnastic does something like this require? Real world consequences: Where are the Lamanites, indeed! There are Native Americans in my ward for whom this is a an unanswerable question.

    These attitudes in turn create other problems, other untenable positions to retreat from in the future and thus more damage done. Obviously the institutional Church needs a kind of 9-11 Commission on status of BoM. Much has changed in 185 years, much has been learned-unlearned. Let’s get together, all of us, proponents of divergent paradigms, and make a plan based on evidence & prayer and the trust that comes with honesty. It is the only way forward.

  50. P, re, “a plan based on evidence and prayer”: The problem is what counts as evidence. What you allow as evidence may be incompatible with prayer. To be sure, most people just passively accept the cultural/epistemological assumptions of the society in which they live. So their line of reasoning and conclusions are ultimately determined by elites in the universities, the press, Hollywood, etc. To the extent that people adopt those assumptions, it creates a rhetorical problem for the Church because arguments must be mounted in hostile intellectual terrain. Holding on to the belief in other, spiritual dimensions of reality, in revelation, in a Messianicity that errupts into history, makes one both a reactionary and a radical critic of contemporary culture. But the practical implications of buying into the assumptions of our elite culture are not hard to see. They are the collapse of marriage, birthrate, religion, civilizational confidence, the embrace of various secular utopian visions, and secular apocalyptic nightmares. They are post-Christian, hedonistic Europe, whose evolutionary unfitness to continue living is apparent in its demographics. I doubt that one can save what one values, preserve the truths one finds in the gospel and Mormon culture, by convening a 9-11 commission that reevaluates the status of the Book of Mormon, reasoning from the materialist axioms of modern elite culture. We will be better positioned to resist trends in modern secular culture if we are intelligent critics of both its axioms and its conclusions. If unlike secular society, a reactionary, pronatal, radically critical Mormon subculture keeps its birth and conversion rates above those of the hedonistic, secular, cultural mainstream, it and related belief systems will own both the intellectual and the existential future. Ironically, demographics seem to demonstrate the falsehood of the secularization hypothesis–the idea that secular, western assumptions and beliefs will ultimately swamp all other belief systems. Assumptions implicit in Mormonism and other religions appear to be an essential for human reproduction and flourishing.

  51. DNA issues are complex. How do we determine what DNA from the tribe of Lehi looks like? Not all DNA passes down from generation to generation, and so even if we knew what such DNA looks like, how do we know if it survived? There is strong internal evidence to the BoM that the Nephites adopted many other groups into their culture (such as the Mulekites), and so their own DNA gene pool would have shrunk, while their culture expanded for a time.

    There is a big problem with people insisting that the BoM meet their version of historicity. There are evidences both for and against the BoM. We need a paradigm that allows the BoM to be what it is, and not something we want to make it. Adam’s concept of messianicity could be a part of that paradigm.

  52. P, it seems to me you are conflating two issues. The meaning something has and to what degree we can verify a meaning. I think we should keep those two separate. It’s quite possible for a speaker in the past to make a claim about the future in which case both the meaning and the verification can’t be limited to the time the speaker lives.

    To make an analogy a scientist may make a claim about some future event (say the movement of Mercury by Einstein) and as such it’s impossible to limit the meaning to the time of utterance. Both as meaning but also as verification.

    None of this is to deny that for some claims we require evidence to verify them that is missing. But things can be meaningful without yet being verified. (This claim is why positivists are usually demagogue in these discussions since, at least early on, they claimed things were only meaningful as they were verified whereas by the mid 20th century most people realized this was problematic. It tends to just be in history where those sorts of claims are still given acceptance)

  53. “Obviously the institutional Church needs a kind of 9-11 Commission on status of BoM”

    Do you mean a commission to find out what really happened? The church has no interest in such. Attempts to find evidence corroborating the historicity of the Book of Mormon have been made, and have not produced results that are too favorable to the church’s narrative. Gone are the days of teams of BYU archaeologists trekking down to the jungles of the Yucatan peninsula in search of evidence for the Book of Mormon. While church leaders and rank and file believers still speak of Book of Mormon historicity in a positivist sense, a paradigm shift seems to be occurring among the believing Mormon intelligentsia. Now, instead of positivistically touting pieces of evidence in support of Joseph Smith’s claims about the Book of Mormon (e.g. pre-Columbian horse bones on the American continent, NHM, Izapa stela 5, comparing ancient Semitic languages with Uto-Aztecan languages, etc.), they turn to the wisdom of Derrida, Kuhn, Popper, and other sort of postmodernistic thinkers out of the hope of making questioners and doubters suspend judgment about the idea that Joseph Smith’s claims about the BOM can be falsified. The idea is not to show the questioner hard evidence of BOM historicity, but to convert them to some sort of postmodernism. This is of course all very ironic given the fact that the bulk of the leading postmodernist philosophers were agnostics and not trying to make the case for religion at all. In fact, to the contrary they were trying to criticize absolutism, and the bold claims of organized religion to the truth very often fell within the purview of their critiques.

  54. “To be sure, most people just passively accept the cultural/epistemological assumptions of the society in which they live. So their line of reasoning and conclusions are ultimately determined by elites in the universities, the press, Hollywood, etc.”

    Interesting ideas coming from you, Pacumeni. Would you be willing to entertain the idea, then, that Joseph Smith’s ideas were just products that were ‘determined’ by the environment in which he grew?

  55. Clark Goble #56 try that one again. I see the general outlines of the pt you are trying to make but the specifics are unclear. Nobody contests that ” things can be meaningful without yet being verified” – is there a deeper argument here?

    Rameumptom #55 completely disagree w/ your opinion of sequencing, esp sampling on the scale of the civilizations extant in BoM narrative. It is a remarkably sensitive tool. For instance, see this from SCIENCE Extract: “The development of high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies (33, 34) allows large-scale, genome-wide sequencing of random pieces of DNA extracted from ancient specimens (35–37) and has recently made it feasible to sequence genomes from late Pleistocene species (38).”

    Pacumeni #54 even though I disagree with several of your assertions (yes, you are a reactionary critic esp. re: modern Europe and in your sweeping and unjustified indictments of American culture) I must say how much I enjoy reading you. Such grace with the language! You are a beautiful writer and I hope these online spaces are not the boundaries of your work.

    My only half-way tongue-in-cheek “commission” suggestion would proceed from the assumption that the BoM is immensely valuable – IOW, from a standpoint of respect and appreciation, which I unhesitatingly grant. But the pressure on this volume to live up to its self-imposed historical claims will only increase with years and it is critical to its survival as scripture that the institution situate it safely, which means truthfully and supportably. How to do this I don’t know and will leave to better, more inspired minds – this from one who also considers literature sacred; who, for instance,esteems Bolaño’s 2666 holy writ.

  56. Steve, I think that’s a mischaracterization both of intellectuals within the church but also those you call postmodernists. Seriously, that’s the first time I’ve seen Popper called a postmodernist – you seem to consider anyone not a positivist a postmodernist. Personally I think the term postmodernism is worthless. Whatever utility it had back in the 80’s is long sense gone partially by being a pejorative label appropriated by people decrying relativism (whether or not the figures they critique really are relativists – usually they just get them wrong) or by those in literary fields embracing relativism or near relativism. Yet neither deal well I think with how those critiquing positivist history are thinking nor does it really get at the issue of historicity. Especially since many of those critiquing positivism in history are simultaneously the ones most concerned with historicity.

    If you want to discuss those issues I’m more than willing to. I’ll just say that right now that you seem pretty confused on the issues. I’d add in that Sorenson’s recent book Mormon’s Codex seems an argument against your position. While you may think him wrong and avoiding many issues the fact is it was a pretty popular book in Mormon circles suggesting the days of BYU professors still dealing with evidences are still here.

  57. P (59), I was responding to you when you wrote in (53), (emphasis mine)

    I fail to see how status of BoM is enhanced or even defended by proposing that we now place it in a category/dimension with Marian apparitions and stigmata, (Givens/Miller/Bokovoy), or maintaining despite the evidence that there are so many “gaps” in New World pre-history that of course an enormous Semitic population could have completely disappeared.

    Earlier in (45) you wrote

    The rhetorical tautology Miller, Bokovoy, Givens et al have constructed is such that we Saints apparently now believe the BoM to be an absolutely historical text the evidence for which magically exists somewhere just outside or inside what’s traditionally been considered verifiable antiquity (i.e., you’re not going to dig this up with a shovel). Meanwhile it’s the truest book ever written and contains the fullness of the everlasting gospel.

    And in (23)

    That’s exactly what he’s saying, Clark, and that’s the problem, his Nephites inhabit the same dimension as Marian apparitions and acheiropoieta, a striking deviation for a member of a church composed of, let’s face it, Christian positivists.

    All of those seem to conflate verification issues with issues of meaning. I agree that conflating the two makes no sense and I’m glad you agree. But if you agree then it’d seem to entail that the meaning of the Book of Mormon (its significance) must be separated from verifying its historic claims.

    My point is simply that the issue of whether one thinks the Book of Mormon is correct seems separable from its meanings. However it also seems clear that to understand its claims requires engaging with the history it purports to be from. So there’s a hermeneutical circle at play. That is believers (most of whom aren’t positivists or even know what that means) think the Book of Mormon really happened thus the meaning of the text must be wrapped up in what really happened. People can claim they are wrong in this of course. It just seems weird to say that it’s status isn’t enhanced by placing it in a historic context – even if this is only a claim. (And to the critic a false claim)

  58. Clark, I could just as easily say that you are casually throwing around the term positivism and that it has become a worthless term, but I concede that in a general sense, the term positivism applies, and in that same sense, so should postmodernism. By postmodernism, I refer to the general trend which emphasizes epistemology over ontology, subjectivity over objectivity, and narrative over evidence. I suppose positivism could roughly be described as its opposite. Clearly there is lots of nuance and in-between ground and not every thinker exactly fits the bill of either positivist or postmodernist. I have seen Popper categorized as a sort of forerunner to a more widespread postmodernist trend (see for instance Alan Sokal, Fashionable Nonsense), and I think this is rightly so, although Popper most certainly isn’t a relativist. Following Popper’s falsification method, objective truth becomes much harder to arrive at. While I think that this can be a good thing in some areas of academia, it allows for proponents of all sorts of radical and ridiculous ideas a pass, and the standard of falsifiability becomes useless when confronting conspiracy theorists, historical revisionists, and denialists (of course, these guys are best ignored, but sometimes their ideas gain a strong enough current that we’re forced to engage them).

    I’m not necessarily criticizing Kuhn or Popper or other postmodernistic thinkers (even if some of their ideas do merit criticism). Instead, I’m pointing out the ironic appeal to postmodernistic ideas among some defenders of Mormonism. It seems strange to appeal to thinking of people who are trying to increase human uncertainty about reality to defending the claims of a church whose leaders have long boldly claimed certainty about specific aspects of history and the cosmos.

    As for me being confused on the issues, I guess I admit to as much, at least in relation to the OP. I have no idea what messianic time is. What new evidences of the Book of Mormon have apologists pointed to in the last ten years? The archaeology days are over.

  59. #58 Steve Smith. Everyone, including Joseph Smith, is inevitably affected by the time in which they live. Virtually everything Joseph produced was, in part, a product of his time. At a minimum, his vocabulary reflected his time. But on the whole, I think few people have lived who more fully diverged from the set of cultural assumptions they inherited than did Joseph Smith. As Terryl Givens repeatedly shows in Wrestling the Angel, Joseph over and over again put forward theological views that were far from the mainstream of his time. Polygamy is just one of many examples. So at a minimum, Joseph was a creative genius (Harold Bloom’s take). I prefer to see him as a prophet and have found that a lot of insight comes from approaching his oeuvre with that frame.

  60. Modernism was (and is) intellectually hubristic–far more certain that it knew the truth than was warranted. Postmodernist critiques of modernism inject salutary humility into the domain of intellect. The importance of intellectual humility is in every way consonant with the basic world view of most religions and certainly of Christianity. If we are to have it at all, certainty can come to us only through revelation from outside our own intellect, from someone who is for practical purposes omniscient. So it shouldn’t surprise us that people who value humility and warn against the dangers of intellectual pride might embrace aspects of postmodernism. Claims of certainty through revelation are not inconsistent with a postmodernist critique of ordinary intellect. We should, nevertheless, be intellectually humble even with respect to revelations. This fact is underscored in scripture, e.g., by the assertion that we are fallen beings and that we see through a glass darkly–religious statements that harmonize with key insights of postmodernism.

  61. Don’t see the confusion, Clark #60, Steve’s is a confidant, straightforward, critique and I can’t see a hole in it other than his not also mentioning that same Mormon intelligentsia’s resurrection of Joseph’s magic world view in their bizarre, labyrinthine support (if that’s what you can call it) of historicity.

    And are you really referencing a book by John Sorenson as buttress to a position positive to historicity? – not to mention “the fact [his book] is a pretty popular book in Mormon circles” as an indication of endorsement by BYU professors?

    An “intelligensia” advancing such desperate nonsense on an issue of foundational importance absent some kind of push-back from the authorities is indicative of a ship without a rudder. This institution is in deep trouble. Unfortunately, it’s hallucinatory brain trust will be no help whatsoever. At this pt they’re part of the problem.

  62. P (62) Well I don’t think positivism became as mangled a notion as postmodernism. However I do think many people cast the positivists in a strawman form typically limiting themselves to a simplified version of the early Vienna Circle era rather than the more mature (and sophisticated) views Carnap later had. People also forget that Kuhn’s work was published by a positivist press and was originally seen as part of the positivist program. So I certainly don’t share the disdain towards positivism that some have.

    I think Alan Sokal mangles movements misreading them and producing as much gibberish as he claims they do. That said I think Sokal unfortunately is completely right about how postmodernism came to be taken – primarily in literary and anthropology departments. Students were assigned very difficult philosophical texts without having done the reading of the difficult philosophers these texts were reacting to. So trying to read Derrida without having first come to grips with Husserl, Hegel, Heidegger and Levi-Strauss was doomed to lead to bad readings, for example. Sokal was completely right that a bunch of people were just aping language and meant almost nothing by it in order to justify a relativism they couldn’t justify in the least. Sadly a lot of the figures these folks misread became tainted by association.

    Anyway, I think the use of postmodern figures within Mormonism isn’t as common as you suggest. Further I think the way they are used is far more nuanced and careful than you suggest. It certainly doesn’t lead to relativism. So say Alan Goff (who tends to generate the most heat in this regard) is far more nuanced than he appears. Now in arguments with Alan (who I respect a great deal) I tend to be far more sympathetic to the positivists. That said though I think he is accurate with regards to a certain view of the relationship of verification and meaning in certain critiques. (Say for example in his “Positivism and the Priority of Ideology in Mosiah-First Theories of Book of Mormon Production”)

    That said though I think most of those embracing Continental Philosophy (Heidegger, Derrida, Husserl, Gadamer, Ricouer, Badiou, etc.) as a way to understand scripture are not at all moving towards relativism. I think they are making quite careful arguments. I don’t always agree with their arguments but I think we have to be careful how we deal with say Jim Faulconer’s use of these ideas to understand scripture. (Say his Scripture as Incarnation)

    My big critique of these things (which I’ve made in this thread) is that when religious language is used as a metaphor, it can lead to serious misunderstanding by readers in a Mormon context. (I don’t fault you or anyone for not getting what Adam means by Messianic Time in this post for instance – basically it just means the meaning of events which depends upon past, present, future events for its meaning. Although that’s an oversimplification) While Adam actually thinks a lot like myself, probably more than anyone else I’ve met, I’ve often felt a little uncomfortable with his use of religious metaphor without explaining it as metaphor. So I think Adam’s work on secular grace is brilliant. However it’s amazingly open to misunderstanding in an LDS context.

    As for what new evidences have apologists pointed to, I suppose it depends what you mean by evidence. I don’t think any apologist thinks now or thought in the past they had compelling evidence leading one to think the preponderance of evidence would lead neutral parties to believe the Book of Mormon as history. I do think they think they have evidence that suggests that the Book of Mormon is more compatible with history than many think. Again Sorenson is the good example here. That’s not to say they have created explanations for some things (metal & horses being the main examples) that will convince others. So there remain problems.

  63. P (65) I’m not sure what you mean. Most of the magic world view was brought up by critics not apologists. I do agree that say Quinn’s Magic World View conflated lots of separate issues and wasn’t terribly sophisticated on neoplatonism. Now Steve Flemming certainly has written a lot on the magic world view and neoPlatonism as a way of understanding Joseph. He has several posts on this at Juvenile Instructor and did his dissertation on the topic. I think his use of these is far more nuanced than you suggest though if he’s who you mean.

    As for Sorenson, I think I’m pretty careful as to how I used it. I just brought it up as an example (given its popularity) within the LDS community. (Yes, including BYU professors) I wasn’t dealing in the least with whether Sorenson is correct in his claims, although some points seem well made while others less so.

  64. Pacumeni (64), “We should, nevertheless, be intellectually humble even with respect to revelations”

    Is this your attitude with respect to the Qur’an? Should we be willing to suspend judgment and proclaim our uncertainty with regard to the idea that Muhammad brought forth the words of God and that the Qur’an contains those very words? Might you be hesitant to proclaim that Jesus is the son of God given the fact that the Qur’an clearly label’s such a statement blasphemy? Many beliefs have real-world costs, and such is the case with many religious beliefs. Religions of the world are often asking their adherents to expend vast material resources, significant emotional energy, and large amounts of time to propping up institutions founded on these beliefs. They often ask their adherents to shape their entire identity around these beliefs. The invocation of postmodernistic rhetoric when approaching different beliefs is simply an excuse to not ask the tough questions in relation to them. Where is the evidence to back such claims? How do we determine which revelatory claims are truer than others? How do we determine what is revelation and what isn’t? Why should we invest so many resources to defending such claims?

  65. Clark, you’re still missing my point and delving into a bunch of side issues. The new apologetics is no longer trying to back up Joseph Smith’s claims with hard evidence (meaning the finding of artifacts that corroborate the BOM’s claims). Sure, apologists have always claimed with their lips that they haven’t been attempting to prove the BOM with hard evidence, but the huge investment of resources for artifact-fact missions suggests otherwise. The new apologetics is defending JS’s claims by labyrinthine (to use p’s terminology) rhetorical tricks designed for pretty much the sole purpose of making doubters and questioners within the church think twice before concluding that they have a case against the LDS church’s truth claims. Their rhetorical tactics are an absolutely ineffective missionary tool. They aren’t gaining any converts to the church with their long and rather incomprehensible tracts. The people winning the converts are doing so by a positivist approach to the Book of Mormon. The architects of the missionary program are telling the missionaries to promote the BOM as literal history. The LDS church is founded on a positivist approach to history but now defended by postmodernistic, almost anti-history, rhetoric. This is bizarre and contradictory.

  66. Steve Smith (68), as it happens, I think the Qu’ran probably is divinely inspired and that God has been active among his Muslim children and his children in other religions as well. I feel a kinship with all believers, though I disagree with most on a number of specific points of doctrine and practice. I am not the least bit bothered that different religions have some beliefs that are inconsistent while sharing many others. Kurt Godel long ago demonstrated that there can be no system of beliefs that is both complete and fully consistent, so Emerson was right: “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

    All beliefs systems, including secular belief systems, have real world costs and have produced horrors. While the Inquisition was set up to provide procedural protections for the many people accused of witchcraft and heresy during the barbaric middle ages, several hundred people were nevertheless unjustly and cruelly executed in Spain by the Inquisition over the course of several centuries. But in the context of the time, the Inquisition was probably, on net, a good thing. (Around 98% of people charged were found innocent, a great improvement on the mob justice that preceded the Church’s creation of the Inquisition.) Compare that record with the atheist secularists Stalin, Hitler, and Mao who each cruelly killed many tens of millions with far less attention to evidence and justice. While the followers of no religion fully live up to their ideals, most religions—and certainly Christianity–have nevertheless quite obviously softened the barbarism of the societies where they have arisen.

    You suggest that the invocation of postmodern beliefs is an excuse not to ask the tough questions. But what is striking to me is the way you and other positivists fail to respond to the rigorous postmodern philosophical/epistemological critique of the flawed metaphysics, the scientistic faith that undergirds all your certainties and gotcha questions, in other words, how you fail to address the tough questions that have been put to you. I (and Clark Goble and Mirrorrorrim in a telling critique of Occam’s Razor) have demonstrated in various ways that facts are theory laden, that reasoning is inevitably ideological, that your various claims are not disinterested and objective, that the conclusions you draw are baked into the axioms of your reasoning. You don’t address those baseline questions. You just repeatedly, dogmatically assert that the facts are on your side and are fatal for the Book of Mormon. Frankly, your evasion of these tough, philosophical questions and recurrent dogmatism are beginning to remind me of a TBM whose answer to every Book of Mormon question is “read and pray.”

    My academic training—almost two decades of college—was in philosophy, literature, and social science. Drawing on that background, I have read the Book of Mormon very closely for several decades now, have well over a thousand pages of notes on its crafted parallel narratives, its abundance of intertextual allusions, its internally consistent backstories. As a reading of Margaret Barker suggests, its opening slots beautifully into our emerging understanding of pre-exilic and pre-Josian Jerusalem. In Understanding the Book of Mormon, Grant Hardy has begun—but only begun—to show its immense literary value. The Alan Goff article Clark Goble links in 66 shows how thin, how reedy are the attempts to explain the Book of Mormon as the straightforward product of Joseph Smith’s biography. (That article is also another, more fully developed, critique of your inadequate and uncritical metaphysics.) While I welcome the work of folks like Sorenson and Gardner who touch on a hypothesized Mesoamerican setting for the book, my own belief in and love for the Book of Mormon is primarily rooted in its theological richness, its literary and revelatory power. For me (as I think for Mirrorrorrim), the text that we indubitably have in front of us has a persuasive force that casts into shadow all your over-confident claims and thin questions.

  67. “I think the Qu’ran probably is divinely inspired”

    Inasmuch as you believe Jesus to be God’s son, you cannot possibly believe Surah 9:30 to be divinely inspired, in which it states: “The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!” At any rate, I highly, highly doubt that you would be willing to defend the Qur’an with the same sort of fanciful rhetoric that you are defending Mormonism’s historicity claims. I further doubt that if the issue were pushed on you (say if Islam started spreading rapidly throughout the US and your neighbors converted and began raising the issue of divinity of this particular verse) that you would remain open-minded.

    “All beliefs systems, including secular belief systems, have real world costs and have produced horrors”

    You would say this of ALL belief systems, including the Mormon belief system? Wow, you are cynical. Furthermore you do recognize that the social costs of Jainism are far less than those of Stalinism, right? At any rate, I bring this up because the question of whether Joseph Smith was perpetuating a fraud or delusional is an important question for which there is a definite answer which we should take seriously (especially because the LDS church collects lots of money from people, many of whom feel highly pressured to donate against their will, based on the idea that he was a true prophet), and there simply is enough information for us to venture a good educated guess. We have to venture guesses to move forward, to destroy seemingly bad ideas, and to experience progress. The invocation of postmodernistic thinking by LDS defenders of the faith is a cop-out. Besides if we unearthed ancient records in the Yucatan that we could determine, beyond a reasonable doubt, were referencing Book of Mormon cities and characters, I have no doubt that all of the Mormon postmodernistic thinkers would turn into positivists overnight.

    “But what is striking to me is the way you and other positivists”

    I don’t identify as a positivist, at least not in all senses, and not on all topics. You’re missing my main point, though, which is not to legitimate a positivist view of the Book of Mormon, but to say that the LDS church leaders have historically viewed and continued to view Book of Mormon historicity questions in the same way that the so-called ‘positivists’ viewed science. The way you and Adam Miller and other commenters on this post view the historicity question is most certainly not the way Joseph Smith viewed it, or any other church leader for that matter.

    “facts are theory laden”

    Yet facts exist, don’t they? It is possible that we were all created 3 minutes ago with a vivid memory of a detailed past, but this is hardly a proposition worth concerning ourselves with now, is it? It seems a pointless endeavor to just give up trying to find out what the facts are because humans are just too biased. Clearly some human positions about different issues are less biased than others. If reality is so colored and objectivity is so elusive, the what is the point of even thinking?

  68. Quite a broadside, Pac, and, again, beautifully rendered. But I gotta ask, isn’t it the very height of irony when the New LDS Apologist sounds like Jacques Lacan? You and others may defiantly assert the irrelevance of dirt archaeology and DNA but reality doesn’t magically disappear because some enterprising scholar invents “messianic time.” If anything, with that messianic boost the BoM should describe events that are super-real, Battle of Stalingrad super-real, Plain & Precious super-real, Clay County Missouri super-real, not accessible only via the horizontal perspective of some lazy pot-smoking, free-love French existentialist who died half a century ago. My god, man, are we this desperate?

  69. Steve, perhaps you could clarify what you mean by New Apologetics. I might be taking you to be arguing for something different than you are.

  70. “Kurt Godel long ago demonstrated that there can be no system of beliefs that is both complete and fully consistent”

    No, he didn’t.

  71. To add, I really don’t see the whole positivist/postmodern debate as too terribly relevant. Also, philosophically, the biggest attacks on positivism weren’t from the postmodernists but mainstream American analytic philosophy. Popper too, although I think most see him as more in the analytical tradition. (His falsification theory really doesn’t work despite being popular among people not too up on the issues)

  72. P, I can’t speak for “Pac” but I certainly am not discounting DNA evidence or archaeology. I’m slightly confused as to who these “new apologists” are and with what apologists they are to be contrasted with. I don’t think I’d call Adam an apologist at all. If anything he doesn’t think apologetics are that important. I also don’t really think the whole positivism issue is really that relevant for most of these questions. At best it deals with how certain evidential arguments are made when things that are assumed need themselves to be argued for.

  73. Steve in #71. As I indicated in the original post, I feel a kinship with all believers while disagreeing with them “on a number of specific points of doctrine and practice.” Like other scriptures, the Qu’ran can be inspired of God without being dictated word for word by God. So for multiple reasons, Surah 9: 30 does not bother me. Indeed, I could, but won’t take the time, to give a more detailed explanation of how even it could be inspired. You will probably see that possibility as evidence of cynicism and empty rhetoric. I believe is evinces awareness of the complexity and contingency of all “facts.”

    I said, “All beliefs systems have real world costs and have produced horrors.” You asked, ”You would say this of ALL belief systems, including the Mormon belief system?” Of course: Mountain Meadows Massacre. The impending invasion of Johnson’s Army, the suffering in Missouri and Illinois, cannot excuse this act of incredible brutality. Most of the perpetrators themselves came to understand the utter depravity of these murders and lived with a terrible burden of guilt for the rest of their lives. The Church has certainly acknowledged the wrongness of the massacre, the deep faith of those who perpetrated it notwithstanding.

    Once again, I hear crickets chirping, birds singing. As for the serious philosophical/epistemological questions put to you about the inconsistency and naiveté of your worldview—silence. Well not quite silence. Along with the usual dogmatic suggestion that my serious arguments are “fanciful rhetoric,” you add a plaintive, “Yet facts exist, don’t they.” This is equivalent to the TBM expanding his response when challenged on the Book of Mormon to, “read, pray, and … and … fast!” No. Facts do not exist in the simple, objective way your use of the term implies.

    Let me take what was held to be the simplest, most straight-forward fact every child was taught and expected to know when I was young: “Columbus discovered America in 1492.” Every word in that statement, with the possible exception of “in” is fraught, has a complicated story that lies behind it. Why do we call this man Christopher Columbus rather than the Spanish Cristobal Colon, or perhaps still more appropriately, the Italian Cristoforo Colombo? Why do we translate some names, keep others in the original language? Lots of issues of power politics and cultural hegemony involved in that. It is related to the past practice of people Anglicizing their names, either by choice or under duress, at Ellis Island, which is no innocent fact about the past. “Discovered?” I’m sure P’s Siberian nomads were much gratified to discover, at last, that they existed when Cristoforo Colombo or Cristobal Colon or Christopher Columbus “discovered” them. That word isn’t innocent. When we say it, we situate ourselves within a certain historical place and time and ideology. We mentally stand in Europe, but not even in all of Europe. Had Sweden remained as powerful as it was at various times, I would probably have been taught about Leif Erickson’s heroic discovery of Vinland centuries before Cristoforo Colombo was born. And why “discovered”? Why not “invaded”? But that would be too simple, too, given the endless mix of good and evil that have followed. “America?” How America? How named for an Italian who was never here when there were thousands of indigenous names for the same place? Why not the Dine Bik’ea I used as a Navaho speaking missionary? Anno domini “1492”? Why that particular number. What worldviews, what histories, what hegemony, what conflict, what redemption is wrapped up in that? That seemingly simple original fact is theory laden all the way down, is heavily freighted with ideology.

    This simple “fact” has been transformed since I first learned it. Columbus day became controversial. In ways that resonate with Adam’s original post, the past has been rewritten. I have just scratched the surface on this “fact.” And every “fact” you and P put forward is equally fraught with multiple strands of meaning and history. In virtually all cases, the more expert one becomes in a subject matter, the more contestable, contingent, and nuanced become the “facts” one knows—facts that typically appear so simple and definitive to the uninitiated. Look again at P’s post in 45 and my response in 46 for another example.

    As I acknowledge in 54, since we must operate on hostile intellectual terrain, we believers have a more difficult rhetorical task than you have. But don’t delude yourself. The quality of the argument you advance—as you have been advancing it—isn’t all that different from the TBM arguments I have mentioned. It will be hard to take them more seriously than the TBM arguments unless you can engage the deeper questions that have been put to you.

    As for money I have paid to the LDS church over the years, in light of the benefits my parents, my (great, great, great) grandparents, my siblings, my children, and now my grandchildren have received from their membership in the Mormon Church and culture, it would have been a bargain at three times the price. And my wife who converted at 16 places no less value on this legacy than I do. It is brain dead to think all this human experience and history can be dismissed as Joseph Smith’s “fraud or delusion.” I know from personal experience, from personal observation of four generations of lives, that your characterization of this faith is cartoonish. As I argued in 31, we all get to pick our axioms and choose the world we live in, the tenor of our lives. It is unwise to simplistically assume that our own point of view is the only true and living point of view on the earth today.

  74. P, # 72, as I argue in 64, religious people value humility. There is no irony in their embrace of insights that foster intellectual humility, that undercut the overweening intellectual pride of modernism.

  75. Just to second (74) – Godel only spoke about certain axiomatic systems and whether one could formally prove statements as true or false. That is we could find a statement that seemed meaningful to us but which couldn’t be verified by proof. Since nearly all systems we deal with are non-axiomatic this is largely irrelevant most of the time. Godel did this because he saw it as evidence for mathematical platonism. That is the idea that there were mind-independent truths about math and that math couldn’t be reduced to rules and proof. While there are definitely a lot of realists towards mathematical objects in the world it’s also true that this doesn’t particularly convince those who limit what counts as true in mathematics to logic or construction of proofs via symbolic rules. It’s quite important for certain situations but far less relevant in most discussions than it appears.

    I disagree with Emerson that consistency is not important. I think when we find an inconsistency (contradiction) it implies that we don’t understand. Thus certain incompatibilities between quantum mechanics and general relativity imply that we don’t know the fundamental rules of physics. I don’t think that contradiction always entails beliefs are wrong. For instance quantum mechanics and general relativity apply to the vast majority of phenomena we encounter. That there are places they don’t apply says nothing about where they do apply.

    Again, I’m not sure any of this is relevant to the discussion at hand. As I said I think Adam’s point is a subtle one about meaning. I don’t think it has much bearing, if any, on the historicity debate about the Book of Mormon. Nor do I think “postmodern apologists” are trying to distract from the historicity issue. If anything they seem to be the ones trying to stop non-apologists from avoiding the historicity issue. At best some arguments against positivism apply to some types of arguments. However without pointing to those particular arguments the issue is largely irrelevant that I can see. What counts are the arguments and evidence. Vague gestures at postmodernism or positivism by either side don’t inform us much without making clear what we’re arguing.

  76. Clark in 77. You can speak for me. I don’t discount dirt archaeology or DNA. I just understand that the story there is and will always be much more complex than P and Steve Smith realize.

  77. Cark 80 and N. W. 74, I yield to your likely superior mastery of Godel’s argument. Is it true, though, that all systems we deal with are non-axiomatic? If we press any belief hard enough, don’t we eventually arrive at an axiom or at least at a datum that is affirmed as an act of faith? Aren’t all systems of belief in that sense a axiomatic?

  78. Pacumeni (81) I didn’t think you did. I just didn’t want to put words in anyones mouths. My suspicion is that there are lots of straw men being created here with regards to what apologists do or don’t claim or even who is or isn’t doing apologetics.

    As I said earlier (25) I think the argument against Adam’s point is that archaelogy and most arguments for historicity of any text make use of the same “Messianic Time” that Adam brings up. That is I take Adam’s argument in the original post as a kind of argument against doing apologetics because it’s pointless. I just don’t think it follows. Further I think the type of argument he makes, appropriating Agamben, is quite subtle and easy to misunderstand if you’re not familiar with the text. I think in particular “p” just reads Adam wrong.

    I think the biggest issue is that we’re so far from particular arguments that it’s not at all clear what anyone is actually arguing. Most of my comments have been about tangental issues people have gotten wrong. However in terms of Adam’s argument I think my (25) and (28) make all my points. It’s too bad Adam hasn’t chimed in to clarify his comments however the link I made to Agamben in (30) clarifies the metaphors Adam is using. I’d link to Adam’s paper on Agamben but I don’t see that it is online. The IEP has an entry on him but it’s not terribly helpful if you aren’t already familiar with the figures in the article and their own philosophies. (I’ll admit I’m not that up on Agamben although I think I get the gist of what he’s arguing)

  79. THE PROBLEM, Clark, is that LDS apologists old & new approach the problem backward: they reach conclusions first, then cherry pick & proof-text to support those conclusions. If they’re called out on this untoward process they’ll maintain that when it comes to religion/belief the scientific method is either inappropriate or ineffectual. MY POINT, supported by others on this thread, is that when said religion makes positivist claims – for instance, that golden plates derived of an ancient civilization once existing somewhere in the Americas were DUG UP by human hands in New York State – then scientific modes of truth discovery are not only valid but necessary. Furthermore, that a ludicrous contrivance like “messianic time” does not obviate the requirement for what’s commonly known as EVIDENCE when such positivist claims have become so institutionalized as to constitute a core religious tenant.

    As for what distinguishes the New Apologist, I would have to say reckless & joyous élan with the counterfactual. Appropriating the worst work of deranged mid-century existentialists/postmodernists. Tacitly agreeing with Catholics that, yes, perhaps that actually IS the Madonna staring up at us from that piece of French toast at Waffle House –

  80. Pacumeni (82) as soon as you are doing non-deductive reasoning (i.e. induction) then Godel is irrelevant. Very few beliefs are tied to an axiomatic system. Primarily just those in analytic mathematics. And probably few people have beliefs about those except for simple mathematics, algebra and perhaps calculus – none of which are impacted by Godel’s claims.

    Axiomatic systems are like geometry. You create a series of axioms and then try to reason deductively from them. This starts with euclid. An example of the problem Godel’s raises is trying to prove that parallel lines never meet. It turns out that we can understand this claim but can’t prove it from Euclid’s axioms. So we have to introduce an other axiom (the parallel line one) for it to work. But you can use different axioms which is why we have non-Euclidean geometry.

    An axiom is not a foundation in beliefs. There are traditions in philosophy largely arising from Descartes that attempt to ground beliefs on facts we know absolutely. The positivist tradition mostly adopted this view. However very, very few people are epistemological foundationalists anymore. Further even epistemological foundationalists like the positivists allowed for non-deductive logic like induction. (Which is rather key for science) As soon as you have non-deductive logic you’re no longer doing a formal axiomatic logic. So Godel’s completely irrelevant except for some very narrow arguments against very narrow claims and arguments by positivist philosophers.

    For more information I’d suggest reading the SEP entry on foundationalism within epistemology.

  81. P (84), there’s no doubt that this sometimes happens. There are good arguments and bad arguments and I’ve seen apologists make both. However I think that’s a vast over simplification of most of the things apologists argue for. I think most apologists belief on the basis of evidence you don’t agree with that the Book of Mormon is historical. You think them wrong, but that’s not the same as cherry picking and working backwards. Rather it’s just taking as a fact and trying to understand the rest of the evidence. You do exactly the same thing.

    What’s going on is that you dispute one of their conclusions and thus arguments that hinge upon that conclusion you disagree with. But let’s at least be clear as to what’s going on and what is in dispute.

    As for your designation of new apologists I still can’t figure out who you are talking about. Perhaps rather than trying to be snarky it’d be useful to name names and say why you think they are a member of this group “the new apologists.”

  82. Clark,

    An axiom is often defined as a premise or starting point for reasoning. Induction isn’t presuppositionless. At a minimum, there must be some kind of foundational mental operation that computes similarity between instances. Those mental operations cannot themselves be induced. They are a premise for induction. I think the famous argument between Chomsky and Skinner about the nature of language is relevant here. Skinner broadly held that one could arrive at language and grammar inductively. Chomsky held that the essentials of grammar, the axioms, so to speak of language, had to be inborn. Most people think Chomsky carried that debate. Kant’s response to Hume’s problem of induction would also seem to be relevant. What we perceive, Kant concluded, is not just a function of what is out there. It must be in substantial measure a function of preexisting categories of mind. The reality we perceive must reflect the categories of our mind. So unless knowledge is presuppositionless–which I think it cannot be–it must be grounded in some basic intuition or set of inborn reasoning capabilities that are essentially the axioms of or the ground of all thought. So even induction, if we press on it, will prove to rest on something axiomatic. But perhaps you are using the word axiom in some narrower, more technical sense that makes it more relevant to the project Godel undertook.

  83. How to deal with induction is of course a famous problem in philosophy. As a practical matter people just do it and don’t ground it philosophically. There have been attempts to deal with induction via Bayesian inference or the like.

    That doesn’t address my point though. There are places where particular philosophers have attempted to ground induction in deduction where one can make more Godel like arguments. However that doesn’t appear too common. For instance there are places where one can understand Derrida in terms of Godel. Derrida actually borrows terms from Godel in early works such as in Dissemination but he’s also careful to note he’s doing so by analogy. People have tied Derrida and Godel but often miss that Derrida’s key texts are addressing Husserl’s early axiomatic projects. And of course Godel most definitely does apply there. It’s fair to note that the systems Derrida attacks pretty much were dead by 1930 so Derrida’s later attacks are somewhat pointless from a certain view. Although I do think they allowed him to use immanent critiques of these systems to think something deeper – although I think one could easily have arrived at the same issues via C. S. Perice’s semiotics.

    So where we apply Godel really depends upon the argument in question. Sometimes it applies and sometimes it doesn’t.

    I’m a Peircean pragmatist so I think there are three irreducible logics of deduction, induction and abduction. So the concerns by some philosophers or thinkers to ground induction on deduction seem rather pointless to me.

    As for Chomsky, if I remember right his universal grammar attempts to be a formal system. But I have admit I’ve not gone through the details of his universal grammar since college so my memory on it is quite rusty. In any cast I think most people are skeptical of Chomsky on this point. In any case even if there is some ur-language I’m skeptical it’d be formal while most natural languages are most definitely not formal. But even if Chomsky is right, so what? It just would mean there are things we couldn’t think that someone with a different formal system might be able to. It says nothing about what we could think. (I actually vaguely remember writing a short one page essay on just this point for a final in my Philosophy of Language class)

  84. Just to be clear as to why I dismiss the significance of this (possible) implication of Chomsky. In experience there are already things we can’t think. So we can’t smell or hear like a dog and we can’t have those types of experiences. Finding out there are linguistic limits to thought doesn’t seem any more profound than not seeing a color an other animal could. Further while there are limits to the universal grammar what is there is so expressive as to be so expansive it doesn’t matter as a practical point. But the deeper issue is just that I think Chomsky wrong in his view of language and his view of the evolution of language.

  85. “As for the serious philosophical/epistemological questions put to you about the inconsistency and naiveté of your worldview-silence”

    Wait, what is my worldview, Pacumeni? I think that you’re making huge assumptions about how I think and are trying to turn me into your positivist straw man. I simply made some remarks about the evolution of Mormon apologetics, and you seem to have skirted around those. Furthermore, your remarks are doing nothing but confirming my original point about postmodernism and the new Mormon apologetics. Instead of engaging the issues at hand in order to preserve tradition, the new apologists are all about smoke and mirrors.

  86. “As for your designation of new apologists I still can’t figure out who you are talking about. Perhaps rather than trying to be snarky it’d be useful to name names and say why you think they are a member of this group “the new apologists.””

    P and I are referring to a visible trend, which is exemplified by the OP. Adam Miller would certainly come under the category of the new apologists, as would Nathaniel Givens. Another name would be Kerry Muhlestein, whose most recent presentation on assumptions is part of this new apologist trend. Instead of engaging the issue of historicity head-on by presenting solid evidence, they talk obsessively about epistemology. While epistemology is important, it needs to be balanced with ontology. Based on your comments on this thread and others, your thinking seems to fit the new apologist trend too, Clark. The new apologetics relies on clever philosophical tricks to get by.

    “I think most apologists belief on the basis of evidence you don’t agree with that the Book of Mormon is historical. You think them wrong, but that’s not the same as cherry picking and working backwards. Rather it’s just taking as a fact and trying to understand the rest of the evidence. You do exactly the same thing.”

    You’re full of false equivalences. In a discussion that we had on another thread, you thought the historicity questions in relation to the BOM and the OT were the same thing, they aren’t. P’s thinking (as far as I can tell from this discussion and discussions on other threads, provided he is the same person) is completely different from the way the apologists are thinking. The apologists are starting from huge assumptions that Joseph Smith literally translated an ancient book by looking at a stone in a hat. P isn’t starting with such an assumption.

  87. Steve, It seems to me there are two separate issues. First what the text means and then what evidence there is for it. I think we have to keep those separate. I’ve not read anything by Kerry Muhlestein but I wouldn’t call Adam Miller an apologist. He just doesn’t seem interested in that. While I’m not sure I do apologetics that much, I am quite sympathetic to it. However with questions of what happened in the actual history I think one has to use science as best one can. So I don’t think in the least I’m using “clever philosophical tricks” in the least. I do think that sometimes arguments aren’t as clear as people think. But it seems pretty clear cut whether there is, for example, evidence for horses in the era 600 BCE – 400 CE. How to read the text where it deals with horses is more complex. Perhaps what you call “clever philosophical tricks” is really just paying attention to hermeneutic issues of the text itself. However I don’t think that’s being clever. I think it’s just recognizing that a literalist reading ala fundamentalists is usually unjustified. I recognize it makes the critic’s life much easier to attack fundamentalist readings. But well I just think those readings wrong.

    In any case I think we have to take arguments on their own terms.

    I don’t think I’m “full of false equivalences.” In some ways OT and BoM historicity are the same thing. In other ways they are not. I thought once we got specific in the ways they are not I fully agreed. But maybe I’m just not clear on what you mean. (But this is probably not the place for that) Again, I think we need to be clear about what claims we are making and our arguments for them. My experience is that in many discussions it’s easy to talk past one an other when we’re not clear on our claims. (I think that 90% of any discussion is getting our terms clear to one another for instance)

    Certainly critics and apologists have different assumptions (although clearly both believe they have evidence for those assumptions) I’ve tried to be upfront on that. I think that by and large those starting points leads to different conclusions. I think I’ve repeated that many times in this thread.

    In any case as I’ve said I don’t think postmodernism intersects most apologetic issues. There are hermeneutic debates of course about how to read the text but that’s a somewhat separate issue I think. By and large for most apologetic issues it’s more a scientific question although in some cases there’s also an issue of how to interpret vague physical evidence.

    By and large if someone’s simply critiquing postmodernism though I think they’re creating a straw man. For one, I don’t consider myself a postmodernist and I bet many called that don’t either. It’s a form of ad homen. I’m rather critical of most that goes under the postmodern rubric. I certainly have far less patience for the style than I used to. That said some figures read in that tradition I think are quite valuable for various reasons. However I also think they are frequently misread by people both within the tradition and critical of the tradition. But again, I think that somewhat beside the point for apologetics.

  88. Just to be clear as I may not have been in 70 and 78, I think the TBM suggestion to read, pray, and fast if one has questions about the Book of Mormon is good advice. And P, let me thank your for your kind words about my prose style. It takes a special kind of grace, of righteousness to offer compliments to someone with whom you are arguing. At the end of the day, it is more important to be that kind of person than it is to win arguments.

  89. The worry, the reason for the reaction, is that Adam’s ideas, innocent in themselves, will be seized upon by apologists and the institutional Church either to maintain an already-totalitarian official position on the issue, or as yet another pretense for disingenuousness. Even in my educated Midwestern college-town ward the blackout is complete, nothing but officially-sanctioned orthodoxy is spoken from the pulpit or in classrooms. Meanwhile John Dehlin is excommunicated for performing a service that is not only morally necessary but humane. I am dead-set against anything that perpetuates the dishonesty and misdirection for which my beloved church is justly infamous, I am dead-set against anything that prevents or discourages this institution from finally, fully and honestly grappling with critical issues, be they Book of Mormon historicity, Book of Abraham provenance, the character and behavior of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and other Church presidents, racism and prejudice, homosexuality and the deadly way supposedly inspired Church leaders have mishandled and currently mishandle this among Church members while simultaneously attempting to impose their benighted notions upon civil society and the body politic, the total exclusion of women, who constitute half the church (and most of the righteousness) from all decision-making bodies as if this somehow makes the most obvious sense – to name a few.

    I would like to know why the Bush/Cheney administration was so heavily populated by BYU alumni willing to do literally anything for the right-wing cause and why one of the creators of the torture protocol was only recently elevated to the position of Bishop (he has since resigned). I would like to know why there are no Democrats among the presiding 15, and why Utah is the most reliably Republican state in the Union with all the prehistoric ignorance, stupidity and arrogance that accompanies same.

    This all adds up, it is wrong and disturbing. Those Progressives who keep their mouths shut do not sufficiently love their Church.

    (You are very welcome Pacumeni, your prose is wonderful, I re-read your #78 last night. I wish you were a member of my ward. Same for Clark Goble and brother-in-arms Steve Smith who understands far more than I)

  90. Lots there and I have opinions about a lot of them, but perhaps I’ll save that for a future thread. I can but say that I think being honest about everything is what we always have to do and I’ve always tried to do. I’ve never felt any pushback for it and I bet I know pretty much every “controversial” thing there is. Some things we just don’t have answers for. Maybe it’s just because my background is science and I have even more unanswered questions there, but I’ve reconciled myself to not having all the answers. Ultimately I think the point of life is to figure out how to be Christlike on our own. I see Church as a hospital for the infirmed run by the infirmed so I cut everyone a lot of slack. Honestly I’m more troubled by people not doing callings like scout leader or primary teacher than I am the rest. I strongly feel we tend to invert our view of status and that the real key in the Church is visiting teaching and home teaching. And by and large we as a people don’t do a good job at that and the rest. Everything else seems secondary. But maybe I’m just too caught up in Stoic-like ethics but I really don’t worry as much about what everyone else is doing wrong. I just worry about whether I’m doing right. (Which keeps me more than occupied enough)

  91. P, I think the church is what we make it. Lay leadership is both the curse and the blessing of our religion.

    The church changes as we force it to change. I believe many Latter-day Saint literal truth claims, but I think people should be free to have an open and honest discussion about them. Recently, I have come to believe (I would say recognize, but I know many will disagree) that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve aren’t chosen because of any particular spiritual strength they possess. Instead, they seem closer to a representative sampling of our active male membership, albeit one skewed toward areas where the church is most heavily concentrated. So if they’re sexist, it’s because we’re sexist. If they’re conservative, it’s because our membership tends toward conservatism. If those among them who are liberal largely remain silent, it’s because the lay liberal membership is also silent.

    The reason that exceptions like John and Kate are easily excommunicated is because they are exceptions; in a ward where over 33% of the members are vocally feminist, pro-gay, and liberal, I can all but guarantee none of them would ever worry about discipline because of their beliefs. If you expand that to 33% of the total active membership, in 20 years we will not only have apostles that hold the same opinion—some of them might even be female.

    A while ago, I had the opportunity to live in a branch where, when I moved in, half the members of a prominent family in the area had been disfellowshipped over a disagreement they had with an earlier bishop. When I left, one of them had become high priest group leader, and I heard he later served as bishop. Why? My idyllic answer would be the power of God, and I do believe that, but the practical answer is that the branch (since a ward) needed that family, and so the leadership adapted to accommodate them. Our church is nothing if not a practical one.

    The problem with liberalism is that it is largely limited to the internet, journals, and occasional protests or conferences, none of which affect the day-to-day life of a bishop or stake president. Liberals largely feel intimidated into silence in person on Sunday, which is the setting leaders are most aware of and focused on. So, if you really want to change things, gather.

    Do what Paul did—when he joined the church, it was entrenched in obedience to an archaic, well-beloved law that was prominent in the location where the church was most concentrated. Instead of trying to change those people’s minds, he went and found a bunch of people who believed in the same kind of Christianity he did: a minority, but a powerful, united one that formed strong localized majorities. Then, with those people in tow, he went and made his case in Jerusalem, and the leaders there were persuaded to change church policy.

    And then when they later reverted, he called them out to their face. By then, it was too late to excommunicate him—the church needed him.

    The best way to create change is to baptize more people who think like you. If that seems impractical, then move with others to form a ward or branch of active liberalism. If that still seems impractical, wait 20 years—the change is already coming.

    Relating back to the original post, if you disagree with the application of the messiah that certain apologists adopt, there are lots of other messianic models available, and there’s no reason some people cannot accept one and others another. Look at the four Gospels: each one present a different kind of messiah out of the same general set of events. We claim to believe in the same organization that existed then, so there’s no reason we cannot do the same. Our messiah doesn’t have to only be a Victorian one (as beautiful as some aspects of that model are). At least I don’t think so. ???

  92. Again, just to be clear, Adam is being quite metaphoric when he uses the term Messiah here. He’s adopting a term Agamben uses and adopting some Pauline sections that Badiou and Agamben adopt in a secular sense. As I said, I think Adam tends to confuse things when he posts that use here on T&S without clarification I think Adam’s philosophical work is brilliant but I wish he’d also worry a bit more about how he is easily misread.

    I honestly can’t recall most people in the apologetic movement (the old FARMS, FAIR, the contemporary Maxwell Institute to a degree) have said much about Messianism. I bet they all have opinions but it doesn’t come up that often.

  93. No, I understand that. At least I believe I understood what you’re saying. But Adam Miller is still creating a distinct brand of messianicity, one I think doesn’t necessarily have to follow from a natural reading of The Book of Mormon, and one that I think, due to the nature of The Book of Mormon’s narrative, has direct implications on the nature and role of the Messiah. I think the tag “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” was created purely as a marketing device, but I also think it’s true, and when a Latter-day Saint describes her views on the text’s meaning, I feel she also often describes her views of the Messiah, since the two are so often interwoven.

    To quote the original post, “[T]he messianic is, by definition, that which is working its way into the historical—interrupting it, questioning it, overwriting it, reshaping it.”

    To me, a key component of The Book of Mormon is its claim to be the work of an historian, and because of this, the type of history it describes has real influence on its message, including its description of the Messiah.

    Like I mentioned in my first post, the book’s arguments often have a historical basis. On many occasions the author relates what he claims is an historical story, then uses phraseology like “thus we see” to describe what he claims as spiritual truth.

    But as I read the book, I do not see an interrupting, questioning, or overwriting component to the events described at all. To the contrary, the author presents a predictable, cyclical narrative out of events that otherwise would naturally seem transformative and extraordinary. He takes this beyond events, often applying it to groups of people. People often point out prejudices in the text against people with darker skin tones, but in fact Mormon seems to have previously-construed ideas (let’s be honest—biases) about all the groups he describes: Nephites are stiff-necked, prideful, unfaithful, and obsessed with status. Lamanites are lazy, but loyal to family. Gentiles are unappreciative and not spiritually self-sufficient. And these things are not incidental: the author’s God and Messiah depend on this predictable nature as they shape humanity’s destiny: God knows the Nephites are proud, so he uses the Lamanites to humble them. God knows the Lamanites are loyal to family, so he forgives them for succumbing to the sins of their fathers and has confidence they will one day change. God knows the Gentiles can’t figure anything out themselves, so he gives them the Jewish Bible and Native American The Book of Mormon to point them straight. One way or another, God knows all of us will sin, but also knows how to set all of us straight, and that is the purpose of his Messiah.

    By transforming the book’s message into a history-breaking one, like Adam Miller suggests, I think you lose some of the original intention, at least as I interpret it, and so change the testament of the Messiah. Taking a more traditional ahistorical view of the text, like P talks about, you do the same thing. My point is that I think these can all lead to distinctly practicable interpretations of our religion, and I think there is a place for all of them, even though they are in some ways mutually-exclusive. An historical text cannot be ahistorical, and Adam’s interrupting messianicity differs from the cyclical, regular narrative I hold to. Some of the differences this results in will be inconsequential, like Matthew’s red robe versus Mark’s purple one, returning to my Gospels analogy. Others, though, might have a fundamental impact, like Luke’s “he that is not against us is for us” versus Matthew’s “he that is not with me is against me”.

    But, you aren’t mistaken in assuming parts of this discussion are probably over my head. I have no idea, for instance, who Badiou and Agamben are, and I’m sure there are a lot of underlying currents to this conversation that I am completely misunderstanding. Thank you for your help in bringing me ever-so-slightly up to speed.

    This is probably a good time to bow out of the discussion, before any further revealing my extensive lack of knowledge. Good night!

  94. Mirrorrorrim (97 & 99),

    It strikes me that a major theme of the Book of Mormon (and this is all consistent with Adam’s original post) is the eruption of the Messiah into history. In the first Chapter of the book, the normal flow of Lehi’s life and that of his family is disrupted by a sudden vision of the Messiah. That vision of a distant future is anachronistic, not part of the flow of normal time. The future becomes the present for Lehi and changes everything for his family. Lehi’s and Nephi’s dreams are similar eruptions of the messianic, as are Nephi and Jacob’s anachronistic knowledge of their people’s future. A central theme of Jacob/Zenos’ parable of the Olive is pruning, digging, and dunging the Father and the Son do. The Messiah again erupts in Benjamin’s sermon, leaving people prostrate on the ground, born as new creatures, son’s and daughters of a person who won’t himself be born for more than another century. Zeniff, a basically good man, unwisely rejects counsel of the first Mosiah and tries to chart his own path to peace. Having rejected prophetic leadership, he ends up being precisely the person he most reprehended when young—a remorseless slaughterer of Lamanites. Noah makes things worse, but then the messianic breaks into the flow of ordinary time in the Land of Nephi just as it was contemporaneously doing in the Land of Zarahemla. Abinadi is the Benjamin of the south. With his messianic message he completely redirects the settled course of many lives, first of Alma the elder and his followers, then of all the people led by Limhi, who go from being notably wicked in the Land of Nephi to being notably righteous for the rest of their known history in the Land of Gideon. Young Alma and his royal friends had charted a path for themselves—that was suddenly disrupted. That disruption then resonates in the lives of King Lamoni and his father, who were fully focused on complicated political maneuvering when, suddenly, the Messiah disrupted their lives through the ministrations of former reprobate sinners, Ammon and Aaron. More strikingly than Benjamin’s people but much like young Alma, Lamoni is suddenly prone, suddenly a new man, and his father, formerly renowned for his unconstrained violence, dies a pacifist as do many of his once ferocious people. Helaman’s sons Lehi and Nephi, bear a messianic message that disrupts Lamanite culture and history in the south while Samuel the Lamanite reciprocally disrupts with the same message the lives of the Nephites in the North. And then, in the biggest messianic eruption of all, the Savior himself descends into the world of all these –ites and remakes the lives of all who then know him. So yes, the flow of ordinary, secular, causal time is recounted in the Book of Mormon, but it is consistently and consequentially disrupted by anachronistic eruptions of a Messiah who makes new things old and old things new and who, in general, plays havoc with the unfolding of ordinary time.

  95. Mirrorrorrim (99) But as I read the book, I do not see an interrupting, questioning, or overwriting component to the events described at all.

    The destructions before the appearance of Jesus and then the reshaping of Nephite culture for 100 years of peace seems to be an example of that. On a more thematic level every time things shift, that would be a messianic act, in the more metaphoric sense. So Mormon’s imposition of a kind of cycle of success, pride, fall, repetence is itself based upon this “messianic” underlying move. The messianic in this more metaphoric sense is what makes this cycle possible. When looking at how Nephi uses Isaiah, he takes the messianic chapters and applies them not just to the end times but also to the individual life and the more short term historic cycles of the Nephites. Thus a lot of what Mormon is doing when he writes his history is taking these hermeneutic principles that Adam might call messianic and applies them to how he reads Nephite history.

    From a more modern concept of history it seems fair to ask how distortive these acts of Mormon are to the events. But that seems a secondary issue.

    As for Mormon’s types, there are some stereotypes there but I think probably the stereotypes are more on the various records Mormon is editing. It seems that Mormon’s patterns often undermine the stated stereotypes quite often. i.e. he often portrays the Nephites as lazy and the Lamanites as industrious.

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