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

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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: [deleted] 28 July 2011 07:22:15PM 5 points [-]

Beh, half of LW downvotes everything remotely theist on sight. It wasn't a judgment of the evidence.

I do worry that I have been insufficiently diligent in evaluating the many religions. Hopefully any extant gods will turn out to be understanding.

Comment author: Arandur 28 July 2011 07:28:42PM 0 points [-]

I reckoned that was the case, but I wanted to verify my unease. :3

And don't worry! If we Mormons turn out to be right, then the salvation/damnation schema isn't binary. ^_~ We believe that if you're a good person who didn't complete all the mystical rituals you need in order to be "saved", then you'll go to the next-lower degree of heaven, which is still a fair sight better than this place.

Also that you'll probably get ample evidence to peruse during the millennium, so you'll be able to make an informed decision. (My own understanding; may be disproven upon further perusal of Church doctrine, but I think I've got it pretty right.)

Comment author: shminux 28 July 2011 08:35:49PM 1 point [-]

" Rationality can't be used to argue for a fixed side, its only possible use is deciding which side to argue." People arguing for their own religion automatically fail this rather basic premise of rationality, so what's the point getting into a discussion with them on finer points of religious doctrine, given that they have no clue about rationality to begin with, regardless of what they say?

My question would instead be "Is it important to you for your religion to be right? If so, how does this mesh with rationality, if not, what are the odds that all the available evidence you evaluated pointed you in this convenient direction without any bias involved?".

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: Desrtopa 28 July 2011 11:03:25PM *  7 points [-]

Edit: I meant to cover this point first, but I left it out before.

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.

This really isn't how it works. Absence of evidence is evidence of strength proportional to the expectation of evidence if a given proposition is true. So if, for example, you propose that there is an elephant in a room, and then you investigate the room and see no sign of an elephant, then that is very strong evidence that there is no elephant in the room. But if you propose that there is a mouse in a room, and you investigate and see no sign of the mouse, then that is only weak evidence that there is no mouse. You will have to update your confidence that there is a mouse in the room downwards, but much, much less than you had to update in the case of the elephant.

In both the case of the elephant and the mouse, actually observing the elephant or mouse would be extremely strong evidence; you could still be wrong if you were hallucinating or someone had contrived an extremely clever way of creating an illusion of either, but it would still force you to greatly strengthen your probability estimate for an elephant or mouse being in the room. It's psychologically compelling to try to generalize this into an broad principle, that positive evidence is always stronger, but in fact as with the case of the elephant, negative evidence can reach arbitrarily high strengths depending on how strong the expectation of evidence is. Likewise, positive evidence can reach arbitrarily low strengths depending on how likely it is that the observation would be forthcoming without the proposition being true. For instance, if an alleged psychic describes a crime scene, and the police confirm that the description is accurate, this is not strong evidence that the psychic had any sort of vision of the scene if their description is statistically likely to apply to any crime scene of that type.

The defenses you've linked are extremely weak. Apologists of any religion can rationalize this degree of agreement with evidence, but the fact remains that given what we know about Mesoamerican civilization, the Book of Mormon does not remotely resemble what we would expect a legitimate text from that time and place to be like, the most we can say is that it is not strictly impossible for it to be so.

If you're already strongly invested in a religious narrative being true, then something like

After reading about the discovery of fossilized bison along with the mammoths recently found in Mexico (Associated Press, Oct. 30, 1996), perhaps one could speculate that bison were treated and named as cattle. If buffalo or bison had been in Joseph Smith's vocabulary in 1829, perhaps a more specific term might have been used in the translation, but "cattle" (perhaps as a generic term) may have been the most accurate translation for whatever word was used in the Nephite language.

may seem like an adequate defense, but a person who is merely impartial to the religion will simply ask "How likely is that?" Well, given that when animals are raised domestically for food like cattle, archaeologists can consistently find concentrations of their remains in human settlements along with food refuse, and there is no evidence whatsoever of bison being domesticated in Mesoamerica, or anywhere in premodern America at all, and besides which this was over twenty years after the Lewis and Clark expedition and Joseph Smith should have been quite aware of the existence of buffalo, the answer seems to be "very unlikely". Other defenses given on that page are similarly uncompelling.

I recommend checking out this article. It's about martial arts, but it generalizes extremely well. Once you become personally invested in a set of beliefs, your demands for arguments in its defense will be much weaker than a person without the same investment. Works of apologetics such as the ones you've linked may satisfy a believer to keep their package of beliefs, but this is very different from singling them out to an impartial individual to adopt them.

Having read a considerable number of works of apologetics for various religions, I cannot say that Mormonism stands out for having an atypical degree of support. It is at best typical, and the evidential standards among religions are already extremely low.

Comment author: Arandur 28 July 2011 11:39:48PM 7 points [-]

Your point is well taken, and I will meditate upon it. Thank you.

Comment author: novalis 29 July 2011 12:35:16AM *  3 points [-]

Re "Silkworms of the Aztecs", have you read it? Because these people say that the evidence for it existing is weak. I don't have access to JSTOR and I don't have Aaron Swartz's hard drive, so I can't look it up myself.

Comment author: Arandur 29 July 2011 12:02:49PM 1 point [-]

Well, that's disconcerting. Sounds like everyone's copying off everyone else. ;3 Problems in academia, indeed. The final post on that thread does seem to indicate that the article does exist; would you like me to attempt to gain a photocopy, so I can verify your suspicions?

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.