There is an interesting discussion going on at the Mormon apologetic board (where I have not shown my face in several years, btw – waste of time) re. Craig Criddle’s just published, peer reviewed research that indicates a 95% or so probability that Rigdon was the primary author of the Book of Mormon. You can find this at http://www.mormonapologetics.org/index. ... 39911&st=0
. My post to the thread is below.
Here is a link to the paper.
As present, it is subscription access only. I have read it carefully, and while not a scientist, know enough about statistical and scientific methodology to feel that Criddle et al have significantly advanced the state of our understanding of what the BofM probably is. More will no doubt be learned as a result of the response this work will generate.
This paper deserves, and I am sure will receive, serious consideration from both Mormon and non-Mormon academics. The knee-jerk, dogmatic responses that have so far characterized this thread remind me of what can still be found where young earth creationists confront geological science regarding the age of the Earth.
I haven't bothered to participate much in Mormon apologetic (or other) discussions for some time, but this issue has my attention because similar to the DNA research, this has the potential for an immediate, significant impact on how Mormonism is viewed by well informed non-Mormons, and eventually Mormons. Over time, this is the kind of research that has caused a large part of Christianity to read the Bible metaphorically instead of literally. I have long predicted that within a generation or two that is how the BofM will probably be read by the majority of well informed Mormons. I predict that at minimum, history will probably judge Criddle et al. to have taken an important step in that direction.
Many of the responses above on this thread are predictable, and pathetic. Trot out the good old historical homilies and conclude, before reading a piece of excellent scientific research, that the conclusion it suggests on the basis of something like 95% probability (Rigdon/Spaulding BofM authorship) is “impossible”. Why bother to attempt to understand this painstaking work? We already “know” with certainty.
The key concept to remember is probably. We are dealing here with science. Imagine that the question instead is the authorship of Koran, or whether Lord Rama caused a bunch of monkeys to construct a land bridge off the coast of India (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/6994415.stm
) In those cases, Mormon scholars as well as most reasonably well educated Mormons would resort to various scientific and historical disciplines to collect data and develop and test various hypotheses regarding what actually happened, and would instintively use probabilities in assessing these.
Science will not purport to tell us with 100% certainty that the Earth is more or less round (and not flat), let alone how a particular book was written or who was (or was not) responsible for the construction of the Indian land bridge. All it will do is help us to justify (or not) probability statements regarding phenomena of this sort. That is what Criddle et al have done re. the authorship of the BofM. Most literalist Mormons will not be swayed by this. The scientists might be wrong. The scientists themselves say that there is a 5% (or something like that) chance that Rigdon did not write the parts of the BofM they attribute to him. And even if the accepted probability within the scientific community was 99.99% that Rigdon was responsible for most of the BofM, God works in mysterious ways. Right?
Having understood all that, if you don’t want to come off sounding like the Hindus who deny (violently in some cases) any and all evidence that Lord Rama did not build the land bridge, I suggest that you meet Criddle and his colleagues on their ground, and analyze the legitimacy of the probability statements they make about the BofM authorship. This requires an evaluation of the reliability of the methods they have chosen to use (and these have been used in many other contexts), how their samples of BofM text were constructed (lots of interesting comparisons can be made there to prior word print studies), and finally the way in which they generated their probability statements based on those samples. This is detailed scientific work, and can only be legitimately addressed in a similar fashion. I am not qualified myself to make this assessment, but tried as hard as I could based on my limited understanding of the issues in question to find holes, and came up dry. I await with interest the responses and counter responses that are no doubt forthcoming (recall again how the DNA saga played out), and look forward to learning as this process unfolds.
I note that it was particularly interesting for me to learn a bit about how this came about. Apparently, the pattern finding technology at the root of this project has its origins (or perhaps has just been used a lot) in the biological sphere to identify subtle differences in cancer cells. This is a classic case of advancing techology making things visible that used to be invisible. Kind of like telescopes, or DNA research. Mormons had best get used to Galileo-like events that get lots of press at least outside of Mormonism, and will be available at a few mouse-clicks after those nice missionaries have told their simple, incredible story about the BofM.
A few analogies may help to bring what awaits us into focus. Again, the best recent analogy in the Mormon Studies area is the relatively recent DNA work re. the Book of Mormon, the outcome of which so far (after a lot of dust was kicked up by the Mormon apologetic community) was probability statements from most Mormon DNA experts that more or less support the non-Mormon conclusion. That is, is that based on the current theory and evidence, it is extremely unlikely that an Israelite population of material size ever existed in the Americas. This has changed, and will probably continue to change, the way the BofM is perceived.
Perhaps a better analogy for Mormons to consider is how DNA research has changed our understanding of human migrations patterns. This contradicts the Mormon belief that the Garden is Eden was in Missouri, but that is not as important a Mormon belief as the literal historicity of the BofM. Alternative theories of human migration were for generations debated in the scientific community on various mostly historical, linguistic and archaeological grounds. Conflicting opinions were strongly held by respect scientists. This is analogous to the current historical debate (alluded to in various ways in the thread above) re. the roles Rigdon, Cowdery and others played in Mormon history. Then, the DNA evidence started to come in, and this data eventually crushed all of the other theories. There is now as close to scientists come to a consensus regarding the broad strokes of human migration. And it all started in Africa.
I could trot out other examples, but that will do and I have already spent more time than I had planned on this. In any event, these are exciting times for Mormon Studies. As our ability to see current and prior events using new tools continues to expand, our perspective and beliefs should be expected to change. Think Galileo.
I predict that, as usual (see http://www.mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.ap ... 20mind.pdf
) the Mormon apologetic response to Criddle et al's work will at least initially be to maximize the uncertainty and technical difficulty related to understanding the relevant issues. A few "experts" will pronounce the research to be unreliable on technical grounds even if the non-Mormon academic community is onside. And, the more on point and reliable the research is shown to be, the less it will be talke about in Mormon circles. Then a generation or so from now, it will be accepted on an "of course" basis. Like, what do you mean polygamy is required for entrance into the Celestial Kingdom? Or, nobody takes the Book of Abraham seriously. Or, "man can become like God"? - we don't really teach that. Or, the Book of Mormon was probably played out in a tiny areas somewhere in Central America, and all of the prophet (including Joseph Smith) who though otherwise were simply mistaken.
Eternal truth doesn't change. And by definition, any Mormon beliefs that do change are not part of Eternal Truth. Among the many Godly mysteries at Mormonism's core is why God, with the most powerful intellect conceivable, relies so heavily on circular logic.