Regarding my last post which quoted Francis Collins, and the “fundamentally flawed claim” required of young earth creationists, the question could be asked, what is the fundamentally flawed claim required of Book of Mormon historians?
The fundamentally flawed claim is this—conclusive evidence cannot exist for a physical historical reality. It’s not just that it is not there, that we haven’t found it yet, was destroyed, etc. It’s that it cannot exist for us to find it. It’s not that it does not exist, it is that it can not exist.
That is a fundamentally flawed claim, scientifically and philosophically, but it is one that is absolutely essential to the claims of Mormonism and the Book of Mormon. If the Book of Mormon is a historical reality, God must hide all conclusive evidence of it from us in order to maintain agency and faith. Does he not? We can never find that inscription or artifact which would ultimately settle the question of its historicity. For to find it would mean the book is historically true, which means Joseph was a prophet, which means the church must be true. God can’t allow that and maintain free agency and faith. And so if the book is historically true, God must hide its certain evidence. But this means that God is deceptive, and engaged in subterfuge, just as he is for the young earth creationists.
That is not the kind of information that is required for other historical texts, even those from the New World. Scholars’ fundamental assumption in doing any historical research is that there actually exists certain evidence for historical peoples, places, and events, which we can find, discern, analyze, compare, contrast, and ultimately understand in finer and finer levels of detail. They do not believe that certain evidence can not exist for particular peoples. They might think that it does not exist, for various reasons, but not that it can not exist. That is just the opposite of the basis of scholarly inquiry. If such evidence could not exist, then there would be no point to going out to look for it in the first place. All evidence would be deemed circumstantial and conjectural, but telling us nothing ultimately about anyone. But that is not the case. Conclusive evidence can exist, or evidence which leads to ultimate conclusions. Did the Mayans exist, or did they not? How about the Olmecs? Or the Canaanites? Or the Israelites? Scholars are absolutely certain that these people existed. There is no question.
Disregarding any single conclusive evidence, does the volume of other evidences for the Book of Mormon lead one rationally to the ultimate conclusion that these people existed, that these events really occurred in the physical world? I don’t think so, or otherwise non-LDS scholars would agree in the reality of these people. And if they did agree in the reality of these people, that would create the paradox of restricting their free agency and choice in faith. The Nephites and Lamanites would no longer be a matter of faith, but of objective history. As Hamblin noted, “To accept the Book of Mormon as history requires accepting Joseph Smith as a prophet and Jesus as the Christ.” For this very reason the Book of Mormon cannot be historical, for if it were, and was discovered as such, it would require everyone everywhere to accept Joseph Smith as a prophet and Jesus as the Christ. That’s not how God works. The only alternative, from the standpoint of the book being true history, is that God must hide the historical evidence, so that its reality remains a matter of faith.
For Collins, there is “overwhelming” scientific evidence in favor of an ancient universe and evolution, and against young earth creationism. The “overwhelming” evidence for a fictitious Book of Mormon, and against the Book of Mormon historicity, is simply this—there is no conclusive evidence for its history, or even evidence which leads to an ultimate authentic historical conclusion. That is the scientific crisis. Yes, there may be a large amount of information and evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon. Even “solid” evidence. But nothing conclusive. Nothing certain. Nothing verified. Nothing peer-reviewed by mainstream non-LDS Mesoamerican scholars. Nothing that secures the Nephites and Lamanites in the history textbooks at universities. But even worse, a whole lot worse, which is also the philosophical and theological crisis, is that such evidence cannot exist for Mormonism to remain intact as a faith-based institution. Such a discovery would cause a paradox that God can’t allow. And so, if the book is historical, we are left to consider a God of deceit, who would have to hide any certain evidence in the natural world from us, whether it is there or not. And is that a God we would want to worship? Is that a moral being? Does the exercise of free agency trump all other questions of morality and truth?
If evidence cannot exist for a physical historical reality, then one seriously questions whether it existed at all.
Do I doubt the historicity of the Book of Mormon? I do.