Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Occam's razor to the rescue

On another site, I just got all worked up and wrote a response to a (fake) talk alleged to be written by Russell M. Nelson, an apostle in the LDS Church. Apparently he didn't write the talk at all, but I wrote my response before I knew that. Anyway, the points in the fake talk purport to be valid, and so my response to them still stands. Read the talk, or don't. The gist is that the Book of Mormon contains all kinds of linguistic "evidences" that Joseph Smith couldn't possibly have come up with on his own. I call bullshit. Here's my response.

Oh, dear heaven. Almost all of the linguistic constructions you're talking about are used frequently in the Old Testament (originally written in Hebrew, of course), and Joseph Smith was very familiar with the Old Testament. It would have been quite natural for him to speak in this way if he were trying to produce scripture that sounded authentic. It's not a miracle that the Book of Mormon language sounds just like King James English translated from the Hebrew.

As for "ziff", I would love to know whether other words translate naturally into Arabic (and why Arabic? why not Hebrew or Egyptian?). How about: cumom, curelom, deseret, senine, senum, seon, shum, limnah, ezrom, onti, shiblon, shiblum, antion, neas, sheum, shemlon. With dozens of such made-up words, I am not surprised that one of them happens to sound like a real word in another language. In the context of the word "ziff" though, does it really sound like it should be referring to a scimitar-like sword? The context seems to imply that "ziff" is a precious metal or ornament, not a weapon. This is not impressive "evidence".

Occam's razor, people. What is the most likely explanation? That a history of ancient American people was preserved on golden plates, delivered by an angel, translated with a seer stone, and then taken back up to heaven? And the best evidence of this is a few words that could easily be coincidence? Meanwhile, our best scientific knowledge indicates that no such people, animals, weapons, or foods were present in America during the relevant timeframe, and DNA evidence indicates that modern native Americans are descended from Asians, not Jews. Is it possible that the Book of Mormon is historically accurate? Sure. Is it likely? Not bloody well so. What is the simplest explanation that fits the facts?

I understand that in some areas where there is little evidence, it is possible to have faith. For me, in the face of overwhelming disconfirming evidence, faith in the historicity of the Book of Mormon is willful foolishness. I'm not asking you not to love the Book of Mormon. Love it! Find joy in it! But please don't attempt to support an argument for its historicity with these flimsy apologetics.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hello, world!

I've had a LiveJournal account for a few years, but my life is so interesting that it probably deserves at least two blogs, so here we are. Seriously though, I've been feeling the need to create a separate blog just for skeptical, scientific, and spiritual stuff. The LiveJournal blog will be for relatively benign stuff like Scrabble, weight loss, financial freedom, and other random thoughts. This blog will be a little more serious, a little more philosophical, and a little more irreverent.

The name of this blog is Saganist, because that's who I am. I greatly admire the work and ideals of the late Carl Sagan. It was through reading his books that I was finally able to admit to myself that I am a skeptic at heart, and I always have been. Until relatively recently though, I was a devout, if somewhat unorthodox, religious believer. I am still a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). These days, the most concise label I might apply to myself is ignostic, though I would also call myself a secular humanist, a Saganist, a skeptic, or an atheist. I hope this blog will be a good way for me to explore my own relationship with the cosmos on both a large and small scale.

For now, I will leave you with one of my favorite Sagan quotes, from The Demon-Haunted World:

It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

This is what I strive for, honestly and imperfectly. I will probably never reach the destination, but I am excited for the journey.