Testing for Truth
“If false, it (the Book of Mormon) is one of the most cunning, wicked, bold deep-laid impositions ever palmed upon the world; calculated to deceive and ruin millions who will sincerely receive it as the word of God, and will suppose themselves securely built upon the rock of truth, until they are plunged, together with their families, into hopeless despair.”
Orson Pratt’s Works (Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, Liverpool 1851)
Proper Test for Scripture
The truthfulness of Mormonism rests on whether or not the Book of Mormon, (among other LDS Scriptures) truly is the Word of God, on par with the Old and New Testaments. So, If we are to test the Book of Mormon for truthfulness and inspiration, how are we to do so? As we’ve seen, (see part 1 of “Testing for Truth”) it is not, as the Latter-Day Saints argue, through the prayer of Moroni 10:5, so then how do we test the claims of Mormonism? I believe there are four criteria for determining if something is to be considered true scripture: Internal Consistency, External Consistency, Temporal Consistency, and Biblical Consistency.
Internal Consistency – It Is What It Is
The First criterion for scripture is, is the message consistent? From the start of the Book of Mormon, to the end, do the (historical) details stay the same, does the (doctrinal) message stay the same. Scripture cannot have internal contradictions. This is what is also known as the Coherence Theory of Truth, (the other theory being the Correspondence Theory, what I refer to as External Consistency). Coherence Theory demands that a set of propositions, (such as the statements found in the Book of Mormon) can only be true if they are coherent, that is they must be free of contradictions. However, it should be noted that even coherent statements can be wrong, it is possible for someone can tell a coherent lie.
External Consistency – Reality Check
Once it passes the coherence test, the next thing to do to see if the Book of Mormon is true, (which must first be proven before addressing whether or not it’s inspired) is to check for External Consistency. That is to see if it corresponds to the world external to the Book of Mormon. This is what I would call, a “reality check”. Since we can’t test its claims of spiritual matters, we must test its claims of natural or material matters.
Jesus says in John 3:12, “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you [of] heavenly things?” The issue here is that Jesus spoke about natural/earthly things, things that can be seen and tested to see if He was speaking the truth, and certain people didn’t believe him. Jesus was pointing out that if they didn’t test/believe in natural issues, they certainly wouldn’t believe in Him when it came to spiritual issues. Likewise, if we were to test the Book of Mormon when it speaks of earthly things, and it fails, there would be no reason to believe its spiritual statements. If however, the Book of Mormon passes such a test, while not proving inspiration, should at least cause us to consider its spiritual claims.
There are two steps in testing the Book of Mormon for external consistency. These steps deal with Science and History. Before I go into these I must take the time to differentiate between the two, as many people often confuse the studies of science and history.
Science can be divided into two categories, Operational Science, and Origins Science. Operational Science deals with studying how things operate, how they work. In operational science, we’re talking about direct observations of things as they happen in the present. And since were dealing with the processes of how things normally operate, we’re talking about an observation that can be repeated again and again.
Origins Science is quite different. In Origins science, also known as Historical or Forensic science, we’re not talking about operational processes, but rather historical events. Here we’re dealing with one-time, unrepeatable, unobservable things that happened in the past. (These can either be ‘natural’ events, like the Birth of Christ, or King Herod’s slaughter of infants, or ‘supernatural’ events like Creation, or the Resurrection of Christ. Being historical events, they are not limited to the natural processes of operational science. So while miracles are allowed, events that seem to go against natural processes, (thus being miracles), should be closely examined to see if they are indeed miracles, or false reports or events that did not happen. And again, even if an event is shown to be a miracle, we must look at the source of the miracle, for even Satan can perform “great signs and wonders”, Deuteronomy 13:1-3).
In Historical science you are often observing evidence left behind from the event, not the event itself, you don’t know for sure what happened. So, you have to interpret the evidence, and you interpret the evidence according to a framework, which is based on certain assumptions you’ve made. For instance, when it comes to the issue of origins; the atheist interprets the world according to the assumptions of naturalism, the Biblical Creationist interprets the evidence according to the assumption that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, and the Mormon interprets it according to the Standard Works and words of the Prophets. They all have the same evidence, but their view of origins is different because they interpret that evidence differently, because they have a different framework of assumptions.
So when I’m speaking of the Scientific Criteria, I’m examining what the Book of Mormon has to say about operational Science, what it says about natural processes. When I’m speaking of Historical Criteria, I’m looking at the framework provided by the Book of Mormon and checking to see if it provides a good interpretation of the evidence. That is, does it explain all the evidence, are there parts of the framework (the story) that have left no evidence, are there evidences that don’t match the story, and how many assumptions are involved, (the fewer assumptions the better), and are the assumptions reasonable? For the Book of Mormon to be externally consistent, it must accurately describe the way the world is, (scientific accuracy) and the way things have happened, (historical accuracy).
In order for the Book of Mormon to pass the scientific step it must positively answer the following questions: Are its statements in accordance with what we observe of the world around us? Are its statements about nature/science accurate? Is it free of error when describing scientific phenomenon?
Now, some may ask, why bother asking these questions? Who cares if there are a few scientific errors in the Book of Mormon? After all, the Book of Mormon is a religious book, it’s about religious and spiritual truths, it’s not a science textbook. While that may be true, again I remind you of what Christ said, if we don’t (or can’t) believe what He said about earthly things, then we won’t believe what He says about heavenly things. There is a link between the reliability of what scripture says concerning earthly things, and what it says about heavenly/spiritual things. Also, If the Book of Mormon is scripture, than that means it’s the word of God, and God is perfect and all knowing, free of error and deception. If there are scientific mistakes in any supposed scripture, then the author was either in error, or being deceptive, and God would be neither, so God could not be the author. God is perfect in all ways, and his word must also be perfect in all ways, including the scientific.
God reveals himself through both Scriptures and nature, therefore the two must be in agreement with each other in what they say about God, and what they say about each other. While the purpose of scripture may not be to teach us about biology, geology, astronomy, etc… when it does touch on such things, what it says is true. If what it says on those subjects is not true, it’s not scripture.
Once we address the issues of whether or not the Book of Mormon is Scientifically accurate, we can address the second step for proving external consistency, Is it historical? If it describes events as happening, did those events actually happen? Is there historical or archeological evidence to support the history contained within the Book of Mormon? Does the Book of Mormon make sense of the archeological evidence and explain what we see? Did the Jaredites, Nephites, Lamanites and Mulekites really exist? Did/do their cities exist? Did the events they experience, the migrations, the wars, the visitation of Christ, really happen? Not only must we address the history IN the Book of Mormon, we must address the history OF the Book of Mormon. That is, was it really written on gold plates, hidden in the Hill Cumorah, revealed by Moroni to Joseph Smith, translated by Joseph Smith using the gift and power of God, being the most correct of any book on earth?
There are numerous passages in the Bible that relate the importance of history. For instance, in Psalms 78: 5-7 we read, “For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know [them, even] the children [which] should be born; [who] should arise and declare [them] to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments”. The passage then goes on to remindIsrael of all that God did for them, when He brought them out ofEgypt. The point being, remember your history, so that you remember what God has done for you, remember what God has done for you, that you would obey him. The other option, forget what God has done for you, and you will fall into disobedience.
Some might say that purpose of this passage is the importance in passing on the stories to the children because of the effect it has: obedience. Whether or not the stories are true doesn’t really matter. But scripture disagrees with this idea. Paul wrote to the Corinthians when they were dealing with an issue that relates to what we’re talking about here. Some of the Christians in Corinth were denying the physical (scientific/historical) resurrection of Jesus. Paul responds to them by saying, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). These verses teach that the Christian Faith is based on the Physical resurrection of Christ, and the Reality of it as a Historical Event. It would do no good to pass on false stories, (lies), just because they appear to have good fruit. If Scripture says something happened a certain way, it must have then happened that way, if not, then scripture lies, and any faith based on the scripture is in vain, being misplaced.
While external consistency, verified by scientific and historical accuracy, does not prove inspiration, inspiration does necessitate external consistency. External consistency must be proven to as great a degree as possible before moving on to the other two criteria, which must both be met before anything is to be considered scripture.
The importance of logic and evidence in presenting the Gospel message is shown in 1 Peter 3:15, which says, “Be always ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” The word translated “answer” is the Greek word apologia, it means, “answer, reason, or defense”. It was used to describe the argument a lawyer would present in a court of law. And what do lawyers use in a court of law when they present their case? They use evidence, eyewitness testimony, and a line of logic. In fact, the word translated “reason”, is the Greek word logo, from which we derive the word logic. So this verse could be paraphrased to read, “be always ready to present a logical case, based on evidence and eyewitness testimony, to everyone who asks you for the logic of your faith”. This is the standard of argument that God commands to have in presenting our faith. If Mormons are going to claim to be Christians, and following Scripture, then we should ask no less of them.