In his review “Hindsight on a Book of Mormon Historicity Critique,” Kevin Christensen proposes a hypothetical situation that, I think, really underscores the strength of the present case for the Book of Mormon, and answers the question not only which of evidence is better, but which kind of evidence is really more important to have in trying to build a believable case for the Book of Mormon:
Science historian and philosopher Thomas Kuhn observed that paradigm choice always involves deciding which problems are more significant to have solved. Suppose that in the ongoing Book of Mormon historicity debate we could swap currently plausible solutions for current problems. That is, suppose we had better evidence for metals and horses, a scrap of recognizably reformed Egyptian script, and even some profoundly unlikely DNA that somehow pointed directly to 600 BC Jerusalem. At the same time, suppose we did not have a unique fit for the river Sidon, nor an archaeologically suitable Cumorah, nor the rise and fall of major cultures at the right time (Olmec and Preclassic), nor a Zarahemla candidate that explained various circumstances in the text (physical, geographic, and linguistic), nor evidence of a major volcanic eruption at the right time, nor fortifications of the right kind, nor a candidate for the Waters of Mormon complete with a submerged city, nor a good candidate for the Gadianton movement, nor the other abundant cultural details that Sorenson, Gardner, Clark, and others have detailed. Suppose that Clark had demonstrated that the trend for Book of Mormon criticisms was moving consistently away from resolution of questions rather than toward it. And then for good measure, toss out all of the ancient Near Eastern correlations from Jerusalem through the Arabian desert to Nahom and Bountiful as well. Given that exchange of current solutions for current puzzles, would the present case for New World Book of Mormon historicity be stronger or weaker? (pg. 167)
I will offer two brief thoughts on the matter, and I encourage others to offer their own reflections as well. Please note that these are more or less free flowing thoughts, thus the lack of documentation, source citation, or even presicion of expression.
- First, I find this telling, because evidence for metals, animals, DNA, and Egyptian or Hebrew in the New World always tend to fascinate and excite the mind; they seem to carry a sort of “wow factor.” These are the sort of scientifically variable evidences that critics demand and Mormons hope for (and sometimes expect), as if such things would somehow “prove” the Book of Mormon is true. However, as Christensen’s hypothetical/rhetorical scenario illustrates such evidences without the context provided by the kind of evidence Christensen contends we do have (making appeals to John Sorenson, John Clark, and Brant Gardner) for a proper geographic, historic, and cultural context for the events to have taken place, the “wow factor” evidences would become completely meaningless. This, I think, demonstrates that it is the contextual evidences that are really more important to have, and that these sorts of contextual evidences exists says a lot about Book of Mormon historicity.
- My second comment is that this seems to really contrast the types of evidences that Mesoamerican theories champion versus the evidence of the Heartlanders (Rod Meldrum et al.). Forget about, for a moment, the merit and controversial nature of some the evidence advanced by folks who support the Heartland (though, it should be noted that such evidence is very suspect), and consider the issues at hand. Rod Meldrum and company champion evidence for DNA, and metallurgy, and Hebrew writing, but the geographical configuration of his Book of Mormon lands is out of whack with the text, he doesn’t have an “archaeologically suitable Cumorah,” history of the area does not support the kind of populations found in the Book of Mormon, nor does is offer cultural rise and fall cycles consistent with the Book of Mormon peoples. In short, the Heartland just doesn’t offer the right context, so whatever other evidence it might have is meaningless.
Those are just the two thoughts that came to my mind as I reflected on Christensen’s hypothetical scenario. I wish I had more time to offer commentary and expand Christensen’s (and my own) thoughts here, but school and other responsibilities demand my attention. Nonetheless, I thought this would be worth putting out there for others to consider.