Like Brant Gardner, I too doubt that conclusive evidence exists for the Book of Mormon, but not because the supposed ancient Book of Mormon people never created such evidence, that it got destroyed through time by the elements, that we can’t rightly interpret the evidence we have, or that we haven’t found it yet. As I noted before, there are other reasons why we can’t find objective evidence for the book, even if we wanted to, and even if the book is truly historical. God mandates that objective evidence can’t be found, and this has significant implications for God. Whether or not evidence exists in the soil, simply situating the Book of Mormon in historical reality causes immense logical problems.
If the Book of Mormon is a real history of true events, then God is playing the role of the Great Deceiver, hiding the evidence for us to never discover. He must do this, for discovering sure evidence would cause all sorts of problems for agency and faith (see my previous post). It creates a paradox where that which is there is not really what was there, and that which is not there was really there. Such paradoxes either show God to be intentionally deceitful, ostensibly for our own good, or that one of the assumptions that underlies the paradox is not correct. In this case, it may be that the Book of Mormon is not true history.
It is very similar to the plight of the young earth creationists who claim that God has intentionally made it so that the earth, fossils, geology, DNA, and even light coming from distant stars just looks like it is ancient, when it really isn’t (see LDS scientist David Bailey’s comments on this). The Catholic biologist Kenneth Miller points this out in his book Finding Darwin’s God.
What saddens me is the view of the Creator that their intellectual contortions force them to hold. In order to defend God against the challenge they see from evolution, they have to make him into a schemer, a trickster, even a charlatan. Their version of God is one who intentionally plants misleading clues beneath our feet and in the heavens themselves. Their version of God is one who has filled the universe with so much bogus evidence that the tools of science can give us nothing more than a phony version of reality. In other words, their God has negated science by rigging the universe with fiction and deception. To embrace that God, we must reject science and worship deception itself.
Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health and evangelical Christian, says much the same thing in The Language of God:
Recognizing the overwhelming body of scientific evidence, some YEC [Young Earth Creationist] advocates have more recently taken the tack of arguing that all of this evidence has been designed by God to mislead us, and therefore to test our faith. According to this argument, all of the radioactive decay clocks, all the fossils, and all of the genome sequences have been intentionally designed so it would look as if the universe was old, even though it was really created less than ten thousand years ago.
As Kenneth Miller points out in his excellent book, Finding Darwinn’s God, for these claims to be true, God would have had to engage in massive subterfuge. For instance, since many of the observable stars and galaxies in the universe are more than ten thousand light-years away, a YEC perspective would demand that our ability to observe them could come about only if God had fashioned all of those photons to arrive here in a “just so” fashion, even though they represent wholly ficticious objects.
This image of God as a cosmic trickster seems to be the ultimate admission of defeat for the Creationist perspective. Would God as the great deceiver be an entity one would want to worship? Is this consistent with everything else we know about God from the Bible, from the Moral Law, and from every other source—namely, that He is loving, logical, and consistent?
It seems that Joseph Smith made a significant logical fallacy in placing the Book of Mormon in historical physical reality, something that we could eventually test directly. But if we could test it directly, and if it be truly historical, that would mean eventually proving the existence of God, something which God seemingly prohibits on the basis of free agency and faith. And so God has some work to do to prevent that from happening.
Like the young earth creationists, by placing the book in historical reality Joseph made it so that all of the evidence, or lack thereof, has been designed by God to mislead us, and therefore to test our faith, or allow us to continue to exercise faith. God is engaged in massive subterfuge, ensuring that any and all sure evidence of the Book of Mormon people has been wiped completely off the map, or out of the earth, for finding it would massively disturb agency and faith. Therefore, what we find in those lands is not really what used to be there. This large civilization of people used to be there, but we will forever be unable to conclusively find them.
Is this image of God, one who has claimed through his prophets that a book is historical reality, but yet seems unable to allow any sure evidence of it to be found in reality, and thus intentionally obscures our finding it, or has actively destroyed it, be an entity one would want to worship? Is that a moral being? Is it consistent with a loving and reasonable God?
What this does for members of the Church is cause an incredible amount of cognitive dissonance that must be resolved to maintain sanity. Francis Collins continues:
Young Earth Creationism does even more damage to faith, by demanding that belief in God requires assent to fundamentally flawed claims about the natural world. Young people brought up in homes and churches that insist on Creationism sooner or later encounter the overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of an ancient universe and the relatedness of all living things through the process of evolution and natural selection. What a terrible and unnecessary choice they then face! To adhere to the faith of their childhood, they are required to reject a broad and rigorous body of scientific data, effectively committing intellectual suicide. Presented with no other alternative than Creationism, is it any wonder that many of these young people turn away from faith, concluding that they simply cannot believe in a God who would ask them to reject what science has so compelling taught us about the natural world?
Likewise, belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon essentially requires assent to fundamentally flawed claims about the natural world. Young people brought up in Mormon homes that insist that the Book of Mormon is historical sooner or later encounter the overwhelming scientific, archaeological, genetic, geographic, anthropological, and historical evidence in favor of the nonexistence of Book of Mormon people, places, and events. What a terrible and unnecessary choice they then face! To adhere to the faith of their childhood, they are required to reject a broad and rigorous body of scientific data, effectively committing intellectual suicide. Presented with no other alternative than Book of Mormon historicity, is it any wonder that many of these young people turn away from Mormonism, or even from faith itself, concluding that they simply cannot believe in a God who would ask them to reject what science has so compellingly taught us about the natural world?
The historicity of the Book of Mormon is an internally inconsistent logical fallacy that doesn’t work, before we even get to the question of whether or not there is evidence.
It should be noted that this fallacy seemingly doesn’t exist for biblical history and archaeology because the historical accuracy of the people, places, and events in the Bible have no say whatsoever regarding which denomination is the “true” one, whether God exists, or whether any modern day individual is a real prophet. These are precisely the things that Book of Mormon historicity claims, which is what generates the fallacy. As Bill Hamblin has noted, “To accept the Book of Mormon as history requires accepting Joseph Smith as a prophet and Jesus as the Christ.” No such requirement follows from Biblical history, at least outside its supernatural claims. One could claim, for example, that if the Bible is accurate history, then Christ must have resurrected. This must mean that Christ is divine. But one would need to conclusively test the specific accuracy of the resurrection event. And even if Christ is divine, it still doesn’t tell us anything about which church is “true,” or what prophet to follow. In contrast, the test of the Book of Mormon historicity is the book in full. It either occurred, or it didn’t. Mormonism doesn’t grant a cafeteria style approach to evaluating what events are authentic and which are not, like the Bible. It’s all or nothing, which says everything about Joseph Smith, God, and the LDS Church.
Do I doubt that the Book of Mormon is historical? I do.