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Arandur comments on How to Convince Me That 2 + 2 = 3 - Less Wrong

53 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 September 2007 11:00PM

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Comment author: Arandur 27 July 2011 10:49:37PM 4 points [-]

Ooh, ooh! I'll do you one better. I'm not just a Christian; I'm a Mormon. :P

My goodness, what would convince me of non-Christianity? The problem here is that Mormonism has presented me with enough positive evidence that I'm reasonably certain of its veracity. So the conversion process would be two-tiered: first a strong positive evidence for Islam/Judaism/whatever, and second a strong disconfirmation of Mormonism, which I would then seek to corroborate by figuring out why on earth I received so many outlandishly unlikely false positives.

Both of the tiers may be explained by telling you about the positive evidences I've received for the religion I currently espouse.

Many of you may be aware that Mormons (obligatory semantic note: we are technically called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; the 'Mormon' appellation is non-official and in fact was originally a term of offense, but it sure makes for a good abbreviation!) have a bit more scripture than most Christian denominations: in addition to the Bible (we use the KJV, thanks!) we have the Book of Mormon (hence our nickname) and a few other bits and pieces. But it is the Book of Mormon that's the most well-known book of our scripture, and rightly so: it is often referred to as the "keystone of our religion", in that, were it to be disproved, our church would crumble like an arch with its keystone displaced.

Those of you who are not familiar with the circumstances of the translation of the Book of Mormon may seek to enlighten yourselves; I will proceed from this point under the assumption that you are familiar with the actual story, and not with the, erm, South Park dramatization.

(In addition, you may wish you educate yourselves regarding the differences between Mormonism and mainstream Christianity; they are many. Here is a primer on what we believe.)

Here we have an example of God talking to Joseph Smith, giving him the power to speak in His name, and giving him physical evidence of such: the Book of Mormon. Therefore, the veracity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints depends wholly on the veracity of the Book of Mormon: if it is false, then Joseph made everything up and the Church is false. If the book is true, then the Church upon which it is founded must also be true.

I will here make an aside to state that yes, I am treating the truth of the Book of Mormon as a binary value. There are three possibilities: Either the vision(s) were true, the translation was by God, and the Book really is what it claims to be; the vision(s) never happened, the "translation" was a lie, and the Book is fiction; or the vision(s) were false visions, the translation occurred by a supernatural power (Occam suggests the same power behind the visions), and the Book is still fiction (which, being backed by a supernatural power, may have false evidence to back it up), and also "God" is a perverse and conniving creature acting with motives beyond our ken. These possibilities will forward be referred to, respectively, as P-True, P-False, and P-Alien.

Therefore we have reduced the problem of whether this religion is true to a much simpler one: If the Book is true, then either the Church is true (P-True) or P-Alien. If the Book is false, then the Church is false (P-False).

Now we will dwell for a moment on what it means for the Book of Mormon to be true. In this case, we have a very precise working definition: The Book makes several historical claims, which would, if true, leave archaeological evidences. So, if the archaeological evidences corroborate the Book's story, then we must consider the Book to be "true", and thereby accept either P-True or P-Alien. Keep in mind that, in order to disprove P-False, we must use archaeological evidence that would not have been available to Joseph Smith; that is, evidence lacking from what we must assume would be the knowledge available to a 21-year old unschooled farmhand in upstate New York in 1827.

So does such archaeological evidence exist? Why yes, it does.

(comment split for length)

Comment author: Arandur 27 July 2011 10:49:57PM *  0 points [-]
  • The entirety of Lehi's journey from Jerusalem to the sea has been found to match up with actual geographical and cultural sites in the Arabian Peninsula. Lehi's journey follows what we now know to be ancient trading routes. Lehi's family buried Ishmael at a place which Nephi called Nahom, which has been found by name, exactly where it should be. More or less directly east of that site, on the coast of Oman, have been found two candidate sites for Bountiful, Wadi Sayq and Salalah, right where they ought to be, with every feature described in the book including: reasonable access from Nahom (i.e. no mountains in the way!), an inlet for launching a ship, fertile ground with "much fruit and... honey", timber to build a durable ship, year-round access to fresh water, a nearby mountain upon which Nephi could offer his prayer, available ore and flint, and wind and ocean currents favorable for launching a ship out to sea. Candidate sites for the Valley of Lemuel and the River of Laman have been found, right where they ought to be.
  • The practice of writing on metal plates, laughable in 1830, has now been well established as a legitimate ancient practice; one that Joseph Smith could never have known. He was mocked for his claim of receiving a "book written on gold plates" more than any other he made... even to this day! The practice of burying said records in stone boxes in the earth has been similarly credited.
  • The practice of writing in what Mormon called "reformed Egyptian" (Mormon 9:32-34) has recently been shown to be rather more accurate than might be expected, as demonstrated by Daniel C. Peterson in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 5, 1993:

The statement "When modern Jews copy their scripture, they use Hebrew. They do not use Egyptian or Arabic, the language of their historic enemies" is quite an astonishing display of ignorance. Since the Egyptian language has been dead for centuries, it is hardly remarkable that modern Jews do not read the Bible in Egyptian. On the other hand, "the first and most important rendering [of the Old Testament] from Hebrew [into Arabic] was made by Sa'adya the Ga'on, a learned Jew who was head of the rabbinic school at Sura in Babylon (died 942)" (George A. Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible [hereafter IDB], 4 vols. and supplement [Nashville: Abingdon, 1962-1976], 4:758b). Thus, Jews have indeed translated the Bible into "Arabic, the language of their historic enemies." They also have translated it into the language of their "historic enemies" the Greeks (IDB 4:750b on the Septuagint) and Aramaeans (IDB 1:185-93; 4:749-50, on the Aramaic Targums).

  • Many tourists to Mexico will be well familiar with the use of cement in ancient America, for example in Teotihuacan; this information is had in the Book of Mormon, but was unknown in Joseph Smith's time.
  • Jacob chapter 5 offers many, many details regarding olive cultivation which match precisely with what is now known about ancient practices in Israel.
  • Many seemingly non-Hebraic personal names in the Book of Mormon (Alma, Sariah, Lehi, Mosiah, Aha) have been independently attested. These names are not just "Hebrew-ish", mind. They have been shown to be actual attested Hebrew names.

There are more evidences, but these are the strongest, in my opinion.

Now, are there negative archaeological evidences for the Book of Mormon? Unfortunately, there is rarely such a thing as a "negative archaeological evidence"; there are certainly none that disprove anything the Book of Mormon says. All that can be said is that the Book of Mormon makes claims that do not match up with our current archaeological knowledge... but the same was said, at various points in the past, for all the above claims. It is true that the statement "lack of evidence is not evidence of lack" is blatantly false... but "lack of evidence" certainly has a lot less weight than the positive evidence above.

Eliezer, you said that it is more rational to believe that Occam's Razor will always yield useful results than to believe that, although it has yielded useful results up to the present, it will cease to at some future date. Forgive me if I make an error here, but by application of the same argument, I should think that it is more likely that the Book of Mormon will corroborate with all future archaeological evidence than that the Book of Mormon will fail to match up, having so far met all of the above and more.

It is true that I do not have a 100% certainty that the Book of Mormon is true. But having seen all the evidence for its veracity, I am convinced enough of it to base my life and worldview on the religion predicated upon it.

So in order to convert me to Islam? First, you'd have to convince me that the Book of Mormon is not true, in order to get me back to a baseline. Then you'd have to convince me that Islam is true... and you've seen above the weight of evidence that will convince me.

DISCLAIMER: The above is not an attempt to convert anyone. It is an honest response to the question (challenge?) that Eliezer posed. I do not believe that anyone can or ought to be converted to a religion solely based upon logical evidence... though logical evidence can certainly be a gateway drug! :3 If you're intrigued, I would urge you to read the Book of Mormon for yourself. If you have questions, I urge you to comment, or email me at vl (period) arandur (at) gmail (dot) com.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 July 2011 11:10:36PM *  4 points [-]

The entirety of Lehi's journey...

The places exist, but is there evidence of the actual journey? If I adopt this theory of evidence, I accept American Gods as non-fiction, because most of the places in that book exist.

The practice of writing on metal plates, laughable in 1830, has now been well established as a legitimate ancient practice; one that Joseph Smith could never have known.

What evidence is there that Smith knew nothing of the practice of writing on metal plates? Who says it was laughable in 1830?

Many tourists to Mexico will be well familiar with the use of cement in ancient America, for example in Teotihuacan; this information is had in the Book of Mormon, but was unknown in Joseph Smith's time.

It was known in Europe -- used almost everywhere in Rome. Are there specific architectural details that were unprecedented?

Jacob chapter 5 offers many, many details regarding olive cultivation which match precisely with what is now known about ancient practices in Israel.

Jacob 5 agrees with what, as Darwin would say, "every animal husbander knows." What exactly are the details that match? Are they unexpected?

Many seemingly non-Hebraic personal names...

What proportion of random 3-character Hebrew strings do not correspond to personal names?

I have read the Book of Mormon in the past, but I hereby precommit to reading it again and "searching in my heart" (I have a copy on my bookshelf) if you can demonstrate that my skepticism regarding your evidence is unwarranted.

Comment author: Arandur 28 July 2011 01:44:30AM *  0 points [-]

I will answer your points in the order received.

First: your analogy is flawed, and, I'm sorry to say, rather obviously so. Neil Gaiman knew of the places where he set the events of American Gods, having either traveled there himself or else at least seen them on a map. (I can't name any specifically, never having read the book, but I can surmise as much from the context of your objection, I should think! x3) Smith, on the other hand, could not have credibly known anything about the location or name of an ancient burial site in the Arabian Peninsula, or of the location of such a place as "Bountiful" in the same part of the world... particularly since "common knowledge" of the Arabian Peninsula makes the notion of finding anything that could be described as "bountiful" there subject to skepticism.

Second: Here are various sources deriding Joseph's claim of metal plates. John Hyde, Jr., Mormonism: Its Leaders and Designs (New York: Fetridge, 1857), 217-18; M.T. Lamb, The Golden Bible (New York: Ward and Drummond, 1887), 11; Stuart Martin, The Mystery of Mormonism (London: Odhams Press, 1920), 27. A quote by Hugh Nibley in 1957 seems amusingly prescient: "it will not be long before men forget that in Joseph Smith's day the prophet was mocked and derided for his description of the plates more than anything else." (Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, CWHN 5:107). A quote I have on hand: "No such records were ever engraved upon golden plates, or any other plates, in the early ages" /M.T. Lamb, The Golden Bible, or, the Book of Mormon: Is It from God? (New York: Ward & Drummond, 1887), p. 11/]. More information can be had [here, thanks to Jeff Lindsay, who is my primary (though not my sole!) source for Book of Mormon evidences. He has done a wonderful job compiling them.

I must, for the sake of completeness, humbly admit fault: To say that the practice was one "that Joseph Smith could never have known" is in fact false; it is within the realm of possibility that Joseph might have heard of such a thing. In my opinion, the likelihood that he could have known anything about the practice is so small as makes no odds, but I must concede that the probability is not 0. But the ridicule that he received for his claim is well-documented.

Third: I did not mean to imply that the use of cement to make dwellings was unheard of. However, the use of cement by pre-Columbian Americans was unknown to the hoi polloi in Palmyra, late 1820's. Even as late as 1929, ridicule abounded for the sake of this idea:

In 1929, Heber J. Grant (former President of the Church) told the story of a man with a doctorate who had ridiculed him for believing in the Book of Mormon. That learned man cited the mention of cement work as an obvious lie "because the people in that early age knew nothing about cement." President Grant, who was a young man at the time of that conversation, said:

"That does not affect my faith one particle. I read the Book of Mormon prayerfully and supplicated God for a testimony in my heart and soul of the divinity of it, and I have accepted it and believe it with all my heart." I also said to him, "If my children do not find cement houses, I expect that my grandchildren will." He said, "Well, what is the good of talking with a fool like that?" (April 1929 Conference Report, p. 128 ff.)

For more on this, please see Matthew G. Wells and John W. Welch, "Concrete Evidence for the Book of Mormon," Insights (May 1991): 2.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 July 2011 02:27:04AM 0 points [-]

First: Very well, the analogy was flawed. I'm unclear as to what the name "Bountiful" is supposed to refer to. Do either of the places mentioned as candidates translate to "Bountiful"? Further, I want to point out that "Critics doubt the link between Nahom and NHM, as well as having other criticisms." This will dovetail with our forthcoming conversation on Hebrew/English transliteration.

Second: While such things were unknown archaeologically, the practicing of inscription on gold is referenced in the Bible; some googling uncovers Ex 39:30; see also the references here. Whoever the author of the BoM was, they were very well versed in the Bible.

Third: The quote demonstrates that the actual existence of pre-Columbian American cement houses is irrelelvant. If they had not been found in our time, surely you also would maintain that they would be found... eventually. As you do elsewhere.

Comment author: Arandur 28 July 2011 02:54:10AM -1 points [-]

First: The name "Bountiful" has no significance other than indicating a place of bounty. The candidate sites are those which match the description I noted above:

...reasonable access from Nahom (i.e. no mountains in the way!), an inlet for launching a ship, fertile ground with "much fruit and... honey", timber to build a durable ship, year-round access to fresh water, a nearby mountain upon which Nephi could offer his prayer, available ore and flint, and wind and ocean currents favorable for launching a ship out to sea.

The only reason I am able to use the Nahom - NHM theory as evidence is because the language Nephi uses indicates that the name of the place was given by someone prior to Lehi's travel. Speaking of which, yes, Critics do doubt the link, but if you read on, those criticisms are somewhat less than moving...

  • The fact that the Book of Mormon does not explicitly mention contact with outsiders during Lehi's journey.
  • It is suggested that there is no evidence dating NHM before A.D. 600.
  • It is suggested that the pronunciation of NHM is unknown and may not relate to Nahom at all.
  • It has been suggested that Joseph Smith simply created the name Nahom as a variant of the Biblical names Naham (1 Chron. 4:19), Nehum (Ne. 7:7) and Nahum (Na. 1:1).

The first is not really comprehensible as a counter-argument; contact with outsiders is not requisite for Lehi to know the name. The second is a mere lack of evidence. The third is merely a complaint of ambiguity inherent in Hebrew, and is answered elsewhere in the article. The fourth is simply an alternate theory, and a right flimsy one at that, if it's meant to explain away the consonance between Joseph's "guess" and the actual place.

Second: I'll just note that the practice of engraving on metal jewelry and plaques is something much different than the practice of writing sacred records on books of precious metal.

Third: The story of Einstein's Arrogance is relevant. :3 But at this point, I have enough positive evidence behind the Book of Mormon to start taking some of its as-of-yet unverified claims on faith.

And what about you? What of the evidences that do stand? What is the chance that these could have come about by pure luck? Certainly we've acquired enough bits of evidence to raise the Book of Mormon to the level where it merits our attention, at least.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 July 2011 02:59:48AM *  5 points [-]

What is the chance that these could have come about by pure luck?

Reasonably high. We have many examples of charismatic people constructing obviously fictive religions whose followers then retroactively find evidence, exploiting hindsight/confirmation bias. Scientology, Baha'i, Theosophy, and the various tibetan tulkus are examples.

Comment author: Arandur 28 July 2011 06:02:08PM 0 points [-]

In each of these cases, the amount of retroactive evidence is far outweighed by the number of evidences against the religion's teachings. The opposite is true of Mormonism. None of its claims are disproven; we are only lacking evidence to support them. And the number of claims unsubstantiated by physical evidence is shrinking. Every time a discovery has been made that relates to the Book of Mormon, it supports the text.

I will admit that there have been discoveries that have challenged popular understandings of the Book of Mormon. Once upon a time, it was in vogue to suppose that the narrative spanned the entire American continent (that is, both of them). This has been shown to be probably false, and in fact the text of the Book of Mormon itself seems to contradict that notion. However, the difference between, say, Scientology and the Book of Mormon is that we have in the latter a document that is not changing, but is still matching up to the evidence thrown at it. This document has been around for some 200 years in its present form, and the only alterations that have been made to it have been to repair grammatical errors - errors that, in fact, speak more strongly for the Book of Mormon than against it, since the first printing had "errors" that, while atrocious English, actually made very good Hebrew. I will supply you with references to this claim if you wish, but I thought it behooved me to stick to physical evidence first, as those are, in my opinion, the strongest claims.

But you say "reasonably high". I'm afraid I'll have to hand you the burden of proof. With this counter, you chose to comment on an afterthought of a question and dismiss it out of hand, instead of talking about my arguments. We started this conversation - at least I did - under the premise that the physical evidences I supplied were worth discussing. I thought that you were under the same premise, but now with this post you attempt to dismiss any physical evidences as "hindsight/confirmation bias". I call foul.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 July 2011 06:56:14PM *  3 points [-]

In each of these cases, the amount of retroactive evidence is far outweighed by the number of evidences against the religion's teachings.

Really? I can't think of any evidence contradicting the belief that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama. Yet the evidence in favor is much of the same kind of evidence presented here, namely, "How could the young Dalai Lama have known which of many objects were the personal possessions of the previous Dalai Lama, were he not the reincarnation thereof?" In the same vein, "How could Joseph Smith have known X?", asked rhetorically, doesn't provide evidence in itself.

In any case, this was never meant to be an argument about me converting to Mormonism. I wanted to know why you thought a non-Mormon shouldn't be skeptical of these evidences. I'll leave others to judge whether or not you've satisfied the condition of the precommitment in a parallel discussion thread.

Comment author: Arandur 28 July 2011 07:14:48PM *  1 point [-]

If you look at the votes for our posts, I think you'll find that they've already been judging. :3 Yes, I'm sorry if you felt I was jumping onto the "Hey, I've convinced you, now you should convert!" bandwagon; that was far from my intent. But I have offered my arguments about why a non-Mormon shouldn't be skeptical - rather, ought to be skeptical, but should be swayed anyway by the weight of evidence - but if it is not enough to convince you, then so be it. It is said that two Bayesians, working from the same set of priors, cannot agree to disagree... but I think we have different priors, which disturbs me to an extent. I will go meditate on this; I hope you will, too.

EDIT: As to the Dalai Lama example, whose word do we have that these objects did in fact belong to the previous Dalai Lama? If the honesty of the ceremony is well-documented, then I would be interested to learn more.

Comment author: Desrtopa 28 July 2011 08:12:13PM 6 points [-]

None of its claims are disproven; we are only lacking evidence to support them. And the number of claims unsubstantiated by physical evidence is shrinking. Every time a discovery has been made that relates to the Book of Mormon, it supports the text.

Absence of evidence is evidence of absence. The book of Mormon makes many claims for which, if they were true, we would expect to find evidence, but we do not. If you only look at the writings of Mormon apologists, you're going to get an extremely slanted picture of how well the Book of Mormon agrees with existing archaeological evidence, but if you look elsewhere, it's not hard to find strong evidence against it. The fact that the Book of Mormon references as being present animals that did not exist in Mesoamerica, or anywhere in the New World at the time, while not mentioning any of numerous common animals that were, is, as I see it, a knockdown argument all by itself. If these animals existed at that time and place, we have an extremely strong expectation of evidence for it given the archaeological and paleontological research we've done, but instead there is none. And the chance that legitimate writings from that time and place would reference as present animals which were not approximates to zero. This is extremely strong evidence against the Book of Mormon being true, and it's only one among its evidential failings.

Comment author: Arandur 28 July 2011 10:22:17PM *  0 points [-]

I am well acquainted with the notion of absence of evidence, thank you; I touched on this point above, stating that, although absence of evidence does count as points against the case I make, positive evidence makes stronger points. Were this not the case, then physicists wouldn't be searching for the Higgs Boson; they'd be restricted to theories which are readily explained by only the particles we have evidence of.

A disproof of the Book of Mormon, then, must rest upon just that: disproof. With that in mind, let us examine further those points raised in the link you provided.

Archaeological Fallacies
First, four technologies are mentioned which were "unknown to Mesoamerica": chariots, steel swords, bellows, and silk.

An explanation of the word 'chariot' can be found here.

Many explanations have been made re: steel swords; the reference made in this case comes from the book of Ether, speaking of the Jaredites. I offer the below quote as a counter:

In light of contemporary conditions in Mesoamerica, one can understand this passage a number of ways. Although the blades of most macuahuitls in Mesoamerica were made from obsidian, the Aztecs are known to have had war clubs studded with iron instead of the usual obsidian. There are even examples in Mesoamerica of ceremonial macuahuitls with feathers replacing the obsidian blades.

Various types of material, including iron, replaced the usual obsidian of the macuahuitl, and such a weapon could thus be described as a sword with a metal "blade." Another possibility is to equate this Jaredite steel with the "steel" of the King James translation of the Old Testament, which actually refers to the Hebrew word for "bronze."

Finally, we need to understand that Mosiah translated Ether's plates into social and linguistic concepts with which he was familiar. Mosiah, as king, possessed Laban's sword, a steel weapon that was passed down as one of the insignia of royalty. In translating Ether's record, Mosiah might thus have given the Jaredite kings steel swords, like the one he himself possessed, because in Mosiah's society a king was expected to have a steel sword as his royal weapon.

Bellows are only mentioned in the locale of the old world, not in America, making this a non-point.

Regarding silk: An LDS publication, and a non-LDS publication, "Silkworm of the Aztecs" by Richard S. Peigler, Ph.D., Curator of Entomology, in Museum Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring, 1993): pp. 10-11 (published by the Denver Museum of Natural History, both show evidence of silk in the Americas.

A note on cities in America comes again from Jeff Lindsay:

As for the account dealing with peoples in the New World, Book of Mormon geography best fits the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (southern Mexico, Guatemala), where a number of sites, cities, etc., have been tentatively correlated with Book of Mormon locations. The best treatment of this is in John Sorenson's An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. He offers fascinating correlations, very strong (in my opinion), though only a small fraction of the archaeological work has been done that is needed to confirm most of the specific proposals. The Lamanites in the Book of Mormon may correlate well with a part of the early Mayan civilization or one of the other cultural groups in ancient Mesoamerica. The peoples described in the Book of Ether could very well be part of the Olmec peoples from the same area. A number of Mayan legends and the few surviving writings provide interesting parallels with Book of Mormon concepts. Could write much more on this if you're interested. Bottom line: yes, there are real places and there were real people described in what is truly an authentic ancient record. But we are in our infancy when it comes to understanding Mesoamerica. Until scholars are able to do more work there, the argument from silence should be applied with caution.

Further, as noted above, the details of Lehi's journey through the Arabian peninsula have been well correlated with actual places, some with names matching those found in archaeological studies.

Anthropological fallacies

Most stunning of all, the BoM never once indicates that the American continent was anything but uninhabited when the refugees from Jerusalem arrived.

I'm sorry, but this is plainly wrong. We have known for quite some time that the Nephites were not the only inhabitants of ancient America; the Jaredites are an example attested in the Book of Mormon.

Biological fallacies
My goodness, what an intriguing question this is. I'll defer to Jeff Lindsay, who has done much work on this subject, and who has cited many good primary sources, lest there be a complaint against my using his work too many times.

Linguistic fallacies
I once again defer to Jeff Lindsay:

One of the most interesting evidences of transoceanic contact between the Old and New Worlds is the Bat Creek Hebrew inscription found by a Smithsonian expedition in Tennessee in 1889. (The Bat Creek Stone and other interesting oddities of archaeology, including pre-Columbian maize in India, can be seen at the Archaeological Outliers site.) Anti-Mormon writers such as the Tanners have spent much effort trying to argue that the writing on the Bat Creek Stone is not Hebrew. However, non-LDS scholar J. Huston McCulloch has now shown that the Bat Creek inscription, once thought to be Cherokee, "fits significantly better as Paleo-Hebrew" (J. Huston McCulloch, "The Bat Creek Inscription: Cherokee or Hebrew?" Tennessee Anthropologist, Vol. 13, Fall 1988, p. 116, as cited by Matthew Roper, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 4, 1992, p. 212). McCulloch's recent work confirms Cyrus Gordon's original hypothesis about the inscription, namely, that it was from between 70 A.D. and 135 A.D. and represented Old World writing (Science Vol. 2, May 1971, pp. 14-16, as cited by Paul R. Cheesman, BYU Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1, p. 85). Carbon-14 dated wood and brass bracelets associated with the inscription date to between A.D. 32 and A.D. 769 (Ibid., pp.107-12, 116) - definitely before Columbus. Cyrus Gordon, a respected non-LDS scholar, wrote:

The Bat Creek Inscription is important because it is the first scientifically authenticated pre-Columbian text in an Old World script or language found in America; and, at that, in a flawless archaeological context. It proves that some Old World people not only could, but actually did, cross the Atlantic to America before the Vikings and Columbus....The discredited pre-Columbian inscriptions in Old World scripts or languages will have to be reexamined and reevaluated, each on the merits of the evidence, case by case. (Cyrus Gordon, "A Hebrew Inscription Authenticated," in Lundquist and Ricks, eds., By Study and Also by Faith, 1:71,80, as cited by Roper, op. cit.; for more on this controversial issue, see also J. Huston McCulloch, "The Bat Creek Inscription: Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee?" Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1993, pp. 46-53, 82, and the differing view of P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., "Let's Be Serious about the Bat Creek Stone," Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1993, pp. 54-55, 83.)

While critics will repeat old arguments that the Bat Creek Stone is a forgery, it is important to recognize that "there is absolutely no indication that the inscription is a forgery, in the first place, other than the circular, and therefore unscientific, argument that being Hebrew, it must surely be a fake" (J. Huston McCulloch, "The Bat Creek Stone: A Reply to Mainfort and Kwas," Tennessee Anthropologist, Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring 1993, p. 16, emphasis added, as cited by Matthew Roper, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1997, p. 142). David H. Kelly has also found serious evidence of several pre-Columbian inscriptions of European origin: "We need to ask . . . where we have gone wrong as archaeologists in not recognizing such an extensive European presence in the New World" (David H. Kelly, "Proto-Tifnagh and Proto-Ogham in the Americas," Review of Archaeology, Vol. 2, Spring 1990, p. 10, as cited by Roper, op. cit.). More evidence for scholarly acceptance of Old World scripts in the ancient Americas can be found in W.R. McGlone et al., Ancient American Inscriptions: Plow Marks or History? (Long Hill, Mass.: Early Sites Research Society, 1993, as cited by Sorenson, 1993, p. 21) and Jacques de Mahieu, "Corpus des inscriptions ruiniques d'Amerique du Sud," Kadath 68, Brussels, 1988, pp. 11-42 (cited by Sorenson, 1993, p. 21). More relevant research has tentatively identified hundreds of possible links between Uto-Aztecan languages (in Book of Mormon territory) with the ancient Hebrew language (work by Brian D. Stubbs, including "A Curious Element in Uto-Aztecan," The Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers, Vol. 23, 1998 [according to second-hand sources - I have not yet read this article]; "Elements of Hebrew in Uto-Aztecan: A Summary of the Data," F.A.R.M.S. paper, 1988; "Looking Over vs. Overlooking Native American Languages: Let's Void the Void," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 1-49).

It Takes a Thief...
I will not deign to justify this. Any examination of the story, from either side, will show that this is neither a rigorous disproof or in fact unreasonable.

Lost in Translation
B. F. Sperry writes a response here to the question of Harris vs. Anthon. As for the Book of Abraham, I would be remiss not to refer you to Jeff Lindsay's excellent three-part piece.

Comment author: Arandur 28 July 2011 01:54:50AM *  -1 points [-]

Fourth: In this case, I defer entirely to the experts.

Below is an excerpt from John Gee and Daniel C. Peterson, "Graft and Corruption: On Olives and Olive Culture in the Pre-Modern Mediterranean," in The Allegory of the Olive Tree, pp. 186-247, taken from pages 223-224:

[Jacob 5] purports to be the work of an ancient northern Israelite author, living between 900-700 B.C., about olive growing. [Footnote 275 discusses the details leading to this conclusion.] Almost every detail it supplies about olive culture can be confirmed in four classical authors whose authority on the subject can be traced back to Syro-Palestine. Zenos's parable fits into the pattern of ancient olive cultivation remarkably well. The placing of the villa above the vineyards [Columella, Rei Rusticae I, 5,7] means that, when the master gives instructions to his servants, they have to "go down" into the vineyard (Jacob 5:15, 29, 38). It was also customary for the master of the vineyard to have several servants (cf. Jacob 5:7,10-11,15-16, 20-21, 25-30, 33-35, 38, 41, 48-50, 57, 61-62,70-72,75). [Cato, De Agri Cultura 10; Varro, Rerum Rusticarum I, 18.] When only one servant is mentioned in Zenos's parable, the reference is most likely to the chief steward. Likewise, Zenos's mention of planting (Jacob 5:23-25, 52, 54), pruning (Jacob 5:11, 47, 76; 6:2), grafting (Jacob 5:8,9-10,17-18, 30, 34, 52, 54-57, 60, 63-65, 67-68), digging (Jacob 5:4, 27, 63-64), nourishing (Jacob 5:4,12, 27, 28,58,71; 6:2), and dunging (Jacob 5:47, 64, 76), as well as the fact that dunging occurs less frequently in the parable than the nourishing, all mark it as an authentic ancient work. The unexpected change of wild olive branches to tame ones (Jacob 5:17-18) would have seemed a divine portent to our ancient authorities. [Theophrastus, Historia Plantarum II, 3,1.] Even more striking, for Joseph Smith to have made up the parable from these classical authors, he would have had to read all four: Theophrastus is the only one to discuss the differences between wild and tame olives, the tendency for wild olives to predominate, and prophetic use of the olive tree as a sign. [Romans 11:16-24 does mention wild and tame and grafting, but nothing about the fruit or the purposes thereof. A casual reading of Paul leaves the impression that it is as easy to be one way as the other.] Varro and Columella are the only ones to acknowledge the Phoenician connections. Cato and Varro are the only ones who discuss the servants' roles. Cato and Columella alone note the placement of the villa above the groves; Varro is the only author to discuss the "main top" in association with the "young and tender branches" (cf. Jacob 5:6). Yet Joseph Smith probably did not have access to these works. And even if he had, he could not read Latin and Greek in 1829. Theophrastus's Historia Plantarum first published in English in 1916, [Theophrastus, Enquiry into Plants, trans. Arthur Hort (London: Heinemann, 1916)] and no part of his De Causis Plantarum was available in English until 1927 [Robert E. Dengler, ... Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1927]. While English translations of Cato, Varro, and Columella were available to the British in 1803, 1800, and 1745 respectively [Thomas Owen, M. Porcius Cato concerning Agriculture (London: White, 1803), ...], it is hardly likely that they were widely circulated in rural New York and Pennsylvania. Joseph Smith could have known nothing about olives from personal experience, as they do not grow in Vermont and New York. Can it reasonably be supposed that Joseph simply guessed right on so many details? And even if he somehow managed to get the details from classical authors, how did he know to put it into the proper Hebrew narrative form? [The narrative of Zenos follows the Hebrew narrative pattern as laid down by Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1981).] Even if Joseph Smith had somehow gathered the details of ancient olive culture from someone who knew it intimately, he would still have had no plot. [Zenos's plot is much more complicated than Paul's, and if Joseph Smith is adding to the plot, it must be explained how he got the extra details ... and made them fit in with ancient olive lore.]

And here is an excerpt from "Botanical Aspects of Olive Culture Relevant to The Allegory of the Olive Tree" by Wilford M. Hess, Daniel J. Fairbanks, John W. Welch, and Jonathan K. Driggs in The Allegory of the Oliver Tree (pp. 552-554):

Based on the botanical and horticultural information present in the archaeological and historical record, and reflected in Jacob 5, we can conclude that the ancients were superb horticulturists and had a profound understanding of vital biological and plant cultural principles. Most of the botanical and horticultural principles in Jacob 5 are sound and are very important for olive culture. In addition, the one or two points, according to our interpretation, that represent unusual or anomalous circumstances are necessary enhancements to the message of the allegory. In this single chapter of the Book of Mormon there are many detailed horticultural practices and procedures that were not likely known by an untrained person, and may not have been fully appreciated by professional botanists or horticulturalists at the time the Book of Mormon was translated. Even today, outside of olive-growing areas, professional horticulturalists may not fully appreciate some of the unique aspects of olive culture. Given the extensive detail about olive culture present in Jacob 5, we must give Zenos much credit for a high degree of horticultural knowledge, which many take for granted. Examples of what the ancients and Zenos evidently knew were how to prune, dig about, dung, and nourish; how to graft tame to wild and wild to tame, and how to graft tame back into tame; how to balance tops and roots by pruning, and the reasons for doing this; how to save the roots of trees whose branches had decayed, and how to transplant branches to preserve the desired traits of good plants; how to preserve and store fruit and how to distinguish between good and bad fruit; how well plants grow on good and bad soil; how to care for trees to cause young and tender branches to shoot forth; that they could graft wild to tame to rejuvenate tame; that specific cultivars produced well in certain areas; . . . that they could burn an orchard to reestablish a new one; that plants grown from seeds would not have desirable characteristics; the importance of elimination of old wood and debris by burning, and how to deal with pests and pathogens; how to prevent heavy bearing one year and no bearing the next by proper pruning; the necessity to plant more than one cultivar for pollination; and how to propagate scions with the desirable genetic material. Interestingly, much of this sophisticated technology was probably lost in the Nephite civilization, for the olive is not mentioned again in the Book of Mormon after Jacob 5, an indication that the lands of the Book of Mormon may not have been suitable for growing olives ... The only regions on the American continents with Mediterranean climates where olive culture is economically feasible are the regions of California, Chile, and Argentina. Joseph Smith probably knew how to prune, dig about, dung, and nourish local fruit trees; he probably knew a little about grafting, and he may have been familiar with some other horticultural principles, but not likely those peculiarly related to olive culture.

Fifth: That is entirely the wrong question to ask; so wrong that I wonder if you understood my point. Your question should have been, "What proportion of random 3-6 English character strings correspond both to pronounceable words and as-of-that-time undiscovered Hebraic names". Or perhaps you are acting under the assumption that these names are attested only by consonant matches? That's not quite true. For example, the name "Alma" is not simply written as "lm" in hebrew, but is written with four characters, essentially coming out to 'lm'. For scholars of Hebrew, there is good evidence that the name should be "Alma," which is exactly how the non-LDS scholar, Yigael Yadin, transliterated it. As far as the actual proportion, I have no idea, but one must assume that there are more disallowed combinations than allowed ones, or else the language would become incomprehensible. :P

Comment author: [deleted] 28 July 2011 02:35:30AM *  1 point [-]

Fourth: I'm not an expert, so I too defer.

EDIT: Wait, these aren't random experts. They're all Mormon apologists, with obvious incentive to defend their faith. Where are the unaffiliated archaeologists on this?

Fifth: I am admittedly an amateur at biblical Hebrew, so I suppose I should have asked for 3-4 character strings. If I were an evil Joseph Smith, I would construct such plausible-sounding Hebrew strings, and then transliterate them into English. Under this procedure, whether I generate aleph-lamed-mem-aleph, aleph-lamed-mem, ayin-lamed-mem, and etc, I still plausibly generate "Alma". After some familiarity with Hebrew, it does not become overly difficult to guess at vowels; hence the legibility of unpointed text.

Comment author: Arandur 28 July 2011 05:49:24PM 1 point [-]

Fourth: No, of course not. If you were a non-LDS scholar, would you come out and say, "Oh, by the way, according to this evidence we found, the Book of Mormon might well be true after all." First off, it would be career suicide, and second, if you found scientific evidence supporting the Book of Mormon, I imagine you'd be intrigued, start seeking for more information, and eventually become LDS. :P But very well; I can offer what non-LDS scholars have said about olive culture, and you can compare to Jacob 5 and draw your own conclusions. The following quote courtesy of Jeff Lindsay.

For online verification of olive culture principles from non-LDS resources, consider "The Secrets of Olive Trees" from BienManger.com (also LeGourmetMarket.com), from which the following excerpts are taken. That page verifies several concepts in Jacob 5, such as the ability of olive trees to grow in rich and poor soils, the importance of grafting, the ability to regenerate or rejuvenate a decaying olive tree, and the practice of applying dung:

SOILS The olive tree often grows on poor and dry soils, but gives remarkable results on rich soils (California) or by irrigation (Spain and Oranie). . . . GRAFTING : the propagation of a given variety of table olives is done by grafting, except in special cases (cuttings, stump chips of the same variety). Depending on what has to be grafted, the following techniques are being used : For the seedlings and the sprouts coming from stocks of a different variety, you can use cleft grafting or budding. In the case of older trees, be it the grafting of wild olive trees or of olive groves whose production is to be modified, it is advised to use inarching or bark grafting. . . . REGENERATION : It may be necessary to rejuvenate an olive grove if it has not been maintained for a long period or if it has suffered accidents, thus becoming unable to produce a normal crop. It is sufficient to cut away all branches, except the largest ones and then graft the remaining stumps. The grove should then bear a unique variety of table olives and be able of bearing fruit in excellent conditions. A trunk in very bad shape should be cut at the base in order to start with three replacing shoots. . . . MANURE : Although manuring largely pays off, olive trees are still too rarely manured. Manure should be organic, on a basis of dung or cattle cake. When possible, a culture of green fertilizers (vetch, lupin, etc.), mowed at maturity and ploughed in, will complete the dressing of organic matter. . . . Here is some information from a modern olive-tree cultivator, as viewed April 27, 2008: Some ancient olive trees in Jerusalem at the Mount of Olives date back 2000 years. When old large limbs are pruned on large aged olive trees, new branches grow and a new olive crop grows. . . . The leaves of olive trees are gray-green and are replaced at 2-3 year intervals during the spring after new growth appears. Pruning yearly and severely is very important to insure continued production. The trees have the unproductive limbs removed, "so that it will be more fruitful" John 15:2. An olive tree can grow to 50 feet with a limb spread of 30 feet, but most growers will keep the tree pruned to 20 feet to assure maximum production. >>New sprouts and trees will emerge from the olive tree stump roots, even if the trees are cut down. Some olive trees are believed to be over a thousand years old, and most will live to the ripe old age of 500 years. Olives generally are beaten off trees with poles, harvested mechanically or by shaking the fruit from the trees onto canvas. Most ripening olives are removed from the trees after the majority of the fruit begins to change in color. It is important to squeeze out the olive oil within a day after harvesting or else fermentation or decline in flavor and quality will occur. The olive oil can be consumed or used in cooking immediately after its collection from the press. Olive oils are unique and distinct, each brand of olive oil having its own character, as determined by many factors, like those unique flavor differences found in fine wines. Prepared commercial olive oils can vary greatly in aroma, fruit flavor; whether the taste is, flowery, nutty, delicate, or mild, and the coloring of olive oil is quite variable. . . . Olive trees can survive droughts and strong winds, and they grow well on well drained soils up to a pH of 8.5 and the trees can tolerate salt water conditions. In Europe, olive trees are normally fertilized every other year with an organic fertilizer. Alternate bearing can be avoided by heavy pruning and generally the trees respond to this very quickly and favorably. Olive trees should be purchased that have been vegetatively propagated or grafted, because the seed grown trees will revert to a wild type that yields small olives with an insipid taste. Olive trees are more resistant to diseases and insects than any other fruit tree and, therefore, are sprayed less than any other crop. Other olive-related resources are provided by the University of Georgia (note the discussion of soils, indicating that olive trees can grow on soil too poor for ordinary cultivation, consistent with Jacob 5) and the California Rare Fruit Growers.

Fifth: Yes, of course you're correct about the legibility of unpointed text, but again, this does not mean that a majority of viable consonant strings are eligible names. We can roughly do the same thing in English, ndrstndng t wtht hvng vwls, but this wouldn't work if all of the prior consonant strings were viable names. There must be rather large gaps in morpheme-space for any language to be intelligible, otherwise any errors in pronunciation or data lost in transfer would render the communication unintelligible, or worse, change its meaning entirely. I'll claim a minor position of authority on this point; I'm in college, working on a major in Linguistics.

Comment author: MatthewBaker 28 July 2011 11:12:29PM 1 point [-]

waits for wedrifid

Comment author: wedrifid 29 July 2011 12:40:12AM *  12 points [-]

waits for wedrifid

I hadn't actually read the grandparent beyond skimming and categorized it as an entirely non-trollish expression of personal belief. Given the prompt in the post it was appropriate to the context and as rational as can be expected given that the guys' beliefs are utter nonsense.

Having read through the first comment (before the "to be continued") the following part jumped out at me as the primary non sequitur.

So, if the archaeological evidences corroborate the Book's story, then we must consider the Book to be "true", and thereby accept either P-True or P-Alien.

That just isn't case. Archaeological corroboration provides evidence for the Book's story. That is, part of the story is validated which eliminates a whole lot of the bits that could be wrong and we can assume a correlated truthiness with the remainder of the story. We update p(Book's Story) upward, but not to one. Something along the lines of:

p(Arch | BS) = x
p(Arch | !BS) = y

p(BS | Arch) = p(Arch | BS) * p(BS) / p(Arch)

We do not have the logical deduction "IF Arch THEN BS" but rather a likelyhood ratio such that BS is more likely the less likely it is for the archaelogical evidence is to exist given that the BS is false. Because p(Arch | BS) > p(Arch | !BS), Arch does something to overcome the incredibly low prior probability p(BS).

To put it another way there is a critical observation that deductively "(Book's Story) = (Archeologically verifiable parts) && (parts that are not archeologically verifiable)". This is before we go ahead and calculate p(Mormonism | BS) vs p(Alien | BS).

Another interesting probability calculation to consider is how likely it is that wedrifid will write out a bunch of probability calculations given the clearly false 'truth' proposition is the acronym of "Book's Story" vs wedrifid writing out a bunch of calculations about bullshit given the acronym is not BS. From this we can go ahead and chain our inferences to calculate p(wedrifid is peurile | wedrifid writes out the calculations). For what it is worth I think you should find that the likelyhood ratio is small even if your posterior is enormous.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 29 July 2011 01:04:13AM 2 points [-]

Upvoted for amusement value.

Comment author: Arandur 29 July 2011 12:33:26PM 3 points [-]

I take offense to any implications about my posterior.

Heck, even I upvoted this. Your point is well made, and well taken; even if archaeological evidence corroborates parts of the Book of Mormon, that does not update its probability to 1. I should have been more clear... no, rather, I should have thought of it that rationally, but I was blinded by my own certainty. I apologize; thank you for showing me my error.

Were I to rewrite the above, it would take the form of something like this:

The Book consists of two pieces of information: data that are archaeologically verifiable, and data that are not archaeologically verifiable. If archaeological evidences corroborate the Book's story, then there are two possibilities: either the non-archaeologically-verifiable bits are also true, or they are not. If the former is the case, then Joseph Smith's story is correct, the Church is true, etc. etc. If the non-archaeologically-verifiable bits are not true, given that the a.v. bits are, then we must conclude one of two things: either a coincidence (which probability becomes smaller with each additional corroborating evidence), or something Stranger, e.g. alien teenagers. I am inclined, given the current state of the evidence, to believe the above scenarios in the following order, in descending order of probability: a) The Book Is True, b) Aliens Are Trolling Us, c) Magnificent Coincidence. I also think that these three possibilities, and their subgroups, comprise the entirety of the probability space, but please correct me if there's a possibility I have overlooked.

Oh, as an aside: The proposition that "The mainstream LDS church is not true, but the truth is had by one of the handful of splinter groups that split off from the LDS church and still believe in the Book of Mormon" does in fact fall under possibility a, though considering the legal troubles surrounding some of these groups, this seems rather unlikely to me. After all, Joseph Smith published this as one of our thirteen Articles of Faith: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates; in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."

Comment author: MatthewBaker 29 July 2011 03:39:23PM *  0 points [-]

Again in 2008 that same team of genetic scientists republished essentially the same article under the same title, making a similar point: "Here we show, by using 86 complete mitochondrial genomes, that all Native American haplogroups, including haplogroup X, were part of a single founding population, thereby refuting multiple-migration models." (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2427228/?tool=pmcentrez)

Only solid piece of evidence i found on the DNA route, most of the rest seems to be arguing that there remains a miniscule chance despite the current consensus on DNA data.

Comment author: Arandur 29 July 2011 04:12:49PM 0 points [-]

I'm not sure why you chose to post this as a response to my rewrite, but that doesn't detract form the validity of the post.

I'm well acquainted with the fallacy you linked to; that's actually been one of my favorite of Eliezer's articles. It is unfortunate that this and other fallacies abound in real-world arguments... however, I trust you understand that the existence of fallacies does not equate to a false conclusion. If I base my conclusion X on arguments A, B, C and D, and D is fallacious, X may still happily rest on A, B and C.

In particular, there's a difference between the hopeless grasping-at-straws of the "there's a chance it's a coincidence!" argument and the "This does not necessarily contradict what we're saying" argument. In the latter, there are also positive evidences to bolster the conclusion; it is true then that negative evidences (by that I mean, evidences which show no support for the conclusion, but do not disprove it) nudge the probability does, but not as much as the positive evidences nudge it up. In the former, all there is is wishful thinking.

Comment author: MatthewBaker 30 July 2011 04:17:11AM 0 points [-]

I trust you understand that the existence of fallacies does not equate to a false conclusion. If I base my conclusion X on arguments A, B, C and D, and D is fallacious, X may still happily rest on A, B and C.

I just think that if the DNA evidence isn't there then how can i consider the possibility of the book of Mormon having any truth to it. It feels a lot like considering the possibility of Intelligent Design as the origin of humanity. If A, B, and C preclude the existence of D then X is weakened more by the disproof of D then if it is a standalone piece of evidence.

Comment author: Arandur 30 July 2011 05:11:04AM 0 points [-]

But the DNA evidence is there. You pointed to a piece of it, and then said "but the rest is mostly bull". But that doesn't mean that the evidence you found ceases to be valid.

Comment author: wedrifid 29 July 2011 08:43:39PM 1 point [-]

While I do not accept certain of your premises (surprisingness of corroborated evidence) your reasoning from there is cogent and the update worthy of respect!

Comment author: Arandur 29 July 2011 11:33:33PM 1 point [-]

Oh! Well, thank you! I will attempt to be cogent the first time in the future. :3

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 14 September 2011 11:06:00AM 1 point [-]

Oh, as an aside: The proposition that "The mainstream LDS church is not true, but the truth is had by one of the handful of splinter groups that split off from the LDS church and still believe in the Book of Mormon" does in fact fall under possibility a, though considering the legal troubles surrounding some of these groups, this seems rather unlikely to me. After all, Joseph Smith published this as one of our thirteen Articles of Faith: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates; in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."

I don't understand this - why would legal troubles make their beliefs any more or less likely to be true? Seems like an entirely irrelevant issue.

Comment author: gjm 14 September 2011 12:11:07PM 3 points [-]

I think the point is that not getting into legal trouble is an important tenet of Mormonism (since obeying the law was one of those 13 "Articles of Faith"), so that a group that's got into a lot of legal trouble is unlikely to be The One True LDS Church.

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 14 September 2011 07:03:52PM 1 point [-]

Cheers. I understand what he means now, but it still seems like a particularly peculiar belief.

Comment author: byrnema 29 July 2011 12:59:51PM *  0 points [-]

I gather the discussion of the whole thread rests on this unexpected premise:

we can assume a correlated truthiness with the remainder of the story

Stories always have a blend of fact and fiction. Accounts of travels, culture and civilizations may have some seeds of truth, but other parts about God's intentions and angels needn't be true.

My sense is that you are collectively underestimating how unpredictably information can pass down family lines and through traveling story-tellers, scholars and historians.

we must use archaeological evidence that would not have been available to Joseph Smith; that is, evidence lacking from what we must assume would be the knowledge available to a 21-year old unschooled farmhand in upstate New York in 1827

There's a lot packed into this. To give an analogy for a non-theistic example, if some details prove correct about the collective community's awareness of the lost location of Atlantis, Hans Christian Anderson shouldn't get credit for 'knowing' these details when he included them in The Little Mermaid.

Comment author: lessdazed 29 July 2011 02:13:51AM 1 point [-]

...what would convince me of non-Christianity? Mormonism has presented me with enough positive evidence...the conversion process would be two-tiered: first a strong positive evidence for Islam/Judaism/whatever, and second a strong disconfirmation of Mormonism

This seems like a subtle attempt to shift the burden of proof.

The probability of something being true plus the probability of it not being true is one. Other things being true may entail the first thing's not being true. But it's all related and of the same type, as the probability of "not Mormonism" is aggregated out of an unimaginably large number of possibilities.

To have a similarly peremptory (I can't think of a good word for what I mean, but I hope it's clear) belief system as Mormonism, one would only require what would look like the first tier, sufficient strong positive evidence for Islam/Judaism/whatever, and that would itself disconfirm Mormonism.

To make Mormonism unreasonable, one would only need what would look like the second tier, though what would look like the second tier of evidence would work too.

When I was very young, I thought that the ingredients section of a food label had to list, as the first ingredient, something that comprised over 50% of the product. If I still believed this, it would be easy to prove to me that a five-bean salad was mostly kidney beans. Simply show that none of the other four bean types made up a majority of the salad, and there you'd have it!

Likewise, religions illegitimately try to prove themselves true or probable by showing other beliefs unlikely, but not only doesn't this suffice to show them probable, it isn't even the case that the most likely thing is necessarily probable.

Improbable things can be coherently amalgamated into sets, so materialist explanation of consciousness1+materialist explanation of consciousness2... > dualist explanation of consciousness1+dualist explanation of consciousness2.

Comment author: Arandur 29 July 2011 05:02:06AM 0 points [-]

It is true that a proof of Islam, or one of any other religion, would necessarily constitute a disproof of Mormonism. But in order for any other theory to gain enough credence for me to pay attention to it, one would first have to lessen my confidence in Mormonism, so that I could, as it were, hear the background noise. The question was not what would convince someone without prior belief; the question was what would convince me as a Christian, and in order to do that, first you would have to convince me to step off my Christianity tower.

Is this a bias? I don't believe so. I've tried my hardest to erase my preconceived notions and start from scratch. I've tried it three ways. Starting without privileging any hypothesis led to rather a paralysis of thought; I realized that, without any prior hint as to which direction I should start searching for truth, I could only rely on the evidence of my senses; hence atheism. Starting by privileging Mormonism led to a reaffirmation of the veracity of Mormonism. Starting by privileging Catholicism, for comparison, led to Mormonism.

This is either a proof of deep-rooted bias in my own mind, or evidence - that suffices for me, at least - that Mormonism is the most correct religion. :3 But of course, this is an experiment I will rehash over the course of my entire life, working ever to perfect my strength as a rationalist.

When I was very young, I thought that the Nutrition Information percentages had to total up to 100%. x3 I just thought I'd share that with you.

I like your point that the most likely thing isn't necessarily probable. I apologize if I'm taking this the wrong way, but that seems to actually be a point in my favor (though not mine specifically! Please don't accuse me of arrogance!): Just because Mormonism is improbable doesn't necessarily mean it's not the most probable thing out there. But time will tell, and in the meantime, I will attempt to keep my mind wide open.

Comment author: lessdazed 29 July 2011 05:09:27AM 1 point [-]

The question was not what would convince someone without prior belief; the question was what would convince me as a Christian,

This could mean at least two things, one right, one wrong. I do not know what you mean.

If I pick up a book, and read page 54, and then 53, and then 55, I will think certain things about the world. If instead I had read 53, then 54, then 55, and if doing so would have led me to think different things about the world upon concluding my reading, there is a problem with me as an information collecting and judging agent.

Comment author: Arandur 29 July 2011 12:18:18PM 0 points [-]

It means that, having been born into the covenant, and not having any of the qualms and confusion that apparently are a common result of being born into religion, I therefore have a bias, which may or may not be irreparable, which, if it is, may or may not be unfortunate. Eliezer said that noticing one's confusion was the first step to changing one's mind. I can boldly state, without qualm: I am not confused. Everything I have learned about Mormonism is internally consistent, and consistent with my own ideas on morality. There is a God, and He is my Father, who loves each of us as a child. Joseph Smith was a true prophet, ordained of said God to restore His church in these, the latter days of the world.

Comment author: lessdazed 29 July 2011 01:45:22PM 0 points [-]

may or may not be unfortunate

Let possible states of the world be represented by A, B, C, etc. Let's say A is true.

An agent that decides to believe that the world is represented by the theory that comes earliest alphabetically will be fortunate as it will believe true things, but it isn't discerning at all.

An agent that believes the contents of books when it reads the book's chapters in sequential order and disbelieves the contents of books when it chooses to read the chapters in reverse order is not an agent designed to discern truth, however lucky it gets deciding how to read each book it reads.

I'm just trying to ask to what extent you don't resemble an optimal thinker in this particular way no human totally succeeds at, one possibility would be for you to deny that this human tendency is a flaw. Some people may disproportionately be influenced by the last book they read, others by the first, others by the one's with nice covers, etc.. All I'm trying to get at is to see if you agree it's bad to be a decider that is influenced by the order it gets information in (except for to the extent the order constitutes information, but this isn't really an exception).

Someone could claim that truth of a proposition is commensurate with the age of the oldest book containing it, and such a person would not mean what anyone else means by "truth", and would be wrong to the extent they are trying to communicate.

Likewise truth isn't usually bound to the order of evidence. If I read a pamphlet advocating Islam, and then one advocating Mormonism, I ought to reach the same exact conclusions as if I had read them in the other order. If I don't, I may happen to come to believe the correct thing, but this is true of any decision process, even the alphabetical one.

The question was not what would convince someone without prior belief; the question was what would convince me as a Christian, and in order to do that, first you would have to convince me to step off my Christianity tower.

the conversion process would be two-tiered: first a strong positive evidence for Islam/Judaism/whatever, and second a strong disconfirmation of Mormonism

I've tried my hardest to erase my preconceived notions and start from scratch.

having been born into the covenant, and not having any of the qualms and confusion that apparently are a common result of being born into religion, I therefore have a bias, which may or may not be irreparable

In the first two quotes above, you seem to disagree with what I say, in the latter two, you seem to agree.

Comment author: Arandur 29 July 2011 04:05:58PM 0 points [-]

The confusion, I reckon, comes from my inability to step outside myself. I am not a perfect rationalist; I am trapped to an extent by the concepts taught to me since birth, just as I find myself uncomfortable with my gender identity due to growing up in an abusive household. It is difficult to step outside one's own biases. So yes, my bias may be irreparable. As for "unfortunate", the odds of it being an unfortunate bias are exactly the odds of Mormonism being true. If I believe the truth, then I am fortunate. It is the chance that my bias is unfortunate that drives me ever to refine my understanding, and never stop questioning my premises.

I'm just trying to ask to what extent you don't resemble an optimal thinker in this particular way no human totally succeeds at, one possibility would be for you to deny that this human tendency is a flaw.

It's not not a flaw. I'm just struggling to determine to what extent my belief in my religion is due to prior bias, and to what extent it's due to rational thought.

Comment author: Alicorn 29 July 2011 02:41:12PM 2 points [-]

Everything I have learned about Mormonism is internally consistent, and consistent with my own ideas on morality.

This sounds very convenient for you. Do you consider the church's consistency with your morality to be evidence that your morality is correct, or that the church is? Especially if the latter, what evidential status do you consider people whose morality disagrees at least partly with the church to have?

Comment author: Arandur 29 July 2011 04:23:54PM 0 points [-]

Oh, yes, it's very convenient. :P Well, not always. A good example is the recent fight over Prop 8, wherein the Church's morality came into sharp contrast with the morality of many outside it. (I will not say "most", because it was in fact the vote of California citizens which decided the matter, and not the Church.) To showcase the inconvenience without revealing overmuch about my personal life, I will simply state that I have many personal friends who were outraged at my decision to stand with my Church on the matter.

The church's consistency with my own morality is, I think, evidence that the Church is correct. Without the church, my morality would still exist. As far as others' conflicting moralities...

.....

That's an interesting question, actually. What evidential status does my conflicting morality have on yours?

Comment author: Alicorn 29 July 2011 05:41:36PM 0 points [-]

The church's consistency with my own morality is, I think, evidence that the Church is correct. Without the church, my morality would still exist.

Without your morality, the church would still exist, too, wouldn't it?

What evidential status does my conflicting morality have on yours?

Some, but not more than the average dissenter - less than a typical clever consequentialist found around these parts, and not even as much as the ideologically similar votes of Mormons I'm friends with and have had a chance to question in more detail. But that's not quite the same question, because I developed the framework of my own morality independently, and am not backed by a large institution. What I want to know is more along the lines of: why is your morality agreeing with the LDS church evidence for the LDS church, which is not overwhelmed by the majority of human beings whose moralities disagree with yours/the church's, or overbalanced by the humans whose moralities agree with those of other religions?

(If you were using "evidence" in a sufficiently technical sense that this overwhelmingness/overbalancedness was in fact noted and simply left unmentioned as strictly irrelevant to what I originally asked, I retract the question, but I suspect otherwise.)

Comment author: Arandur 29 July 2011 11:54:40PM 0 points [-]

I was in fact using evidence in that technical a sense, but I'll answer your question anyway.

...why is your morality agreeing with the LDS church... not overwhelmed by the majority of human beings whose moralities disagree with yours/the church's, or overbalanced by the humans whose moralities agree with those of other religions?

Because morality is not a binary attribute. You can't go out on the street and ask them, "Do you agree with the Mormons, yes or no?" Well, you could, but then if they answered no, you'd have to ask them how many people they killed today. It's exactly that fallacy that leads fundamentalist Christians /shudder/ to claim that atheists love to rape and murder and... I dunno, engage in bestiality or something.

So no, other peoples' moralities don't sway me particularly much, because a) they don't matter as much to me as my own morality - as I think you'd agree with, saying "not more than the average dissenter"; and b) because the consonance between my morality and Mormonism isn't that much of an evidence in its favor. I was using it mainly as a contrast between myself and all the people who have posted saying that Christianity made them feel "wrong".

Comment author: lavalamp 29 July 2011 07:33:37PM 0 points [-]

I saw this on the side while reading an unrelated post...

The church's consistency with my own morality is, I think, evidence that the Church is correct. Without the church, my morality would still exist.

I'm much more inclined to think it's evidence that you were raised in the church, or in a culture influenced by the church, etc...

If I rephrase what you said, it's "Party X's agreement with me on subject Y is evidence that Party X can think well and is probably right about other things, too." Please tell me you meant something else...

PS: You seem capable of updating, judging from a few of the comments in this thread, and you seem to care about the truth. The next step is to stop holding your own beliefs to a different standard of evidence than you do other beliefs. I hope you find your time in the soon-to-be-formerly-theistic camp more fun than I did.

Comment author: Arandur 29 July 2011 11:36:44PM 0 points [-]

Your point is only applicable inasmuch as you took my quote out of context. I was asked to choose one of two options; I chose the one that seemed most right to me. I could be wrong, but your point doesn't answer to the original question.