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Nothing is more fundamental for Latter-day Saint scholars than maintaining a proper balance between the intellectual and spiritual pursuits of life. In the material that follows below, I will explore this topic as a legal and religious scholar from a Latter-day Saint perspective but with a general audience in mind. Anyone seriously investigating Latter-day Saint scripture, doctrine, history, or culture—let alone dealing with highly charged anti-Mormon propaganda or enthusiastic pro-Mormon apologetics—will be well served by an appreciation of the following principles, which spell out the ground rules of epistemology, evidence, proof, and decision making in this area of life and inquiry.

Many Latter-day Saint Church leaders and authors have written about study and faith, and all of them agree that both are important, if not essential. None of us can assume that we have learned enough. The scriptures see faith and learning as mutually facilitating, not separate processes. The gospel not only permits but requires it. Thus the difficulty is not whether to learn by both study and faith but in what priority to combine them. In attempting to describe or prescribe the proper coordination of study with faith, Latter-day Saint thinkers have turned to various analogies, as people often do when they are confronted with their deepest intellectual or religious concepts.

Each of these metaphors is potentially quite powerful. Some work better than others, but each may offer insight into the roles of scholarly evidence in nurturing or strengthening faith. Some of these analogies emphasize the fact that both study and faith are necessary. In the bicycle-built-for-two metaphor, the relationship between reason and revelation is compared to two riders on a tandem bicycle. When both riders pedal together, the bicycle the search for truth moves ahead more rapidly.

The Role of Evidence in Religious Discussion

Each rider must work or the other must bear a heavy and exhausting burden. Only one faith can steer and determine where the bicycle will go, although the other reason can do some back-seat driving. Similarly, the Apostle Paul used the human body as a metaphor to show the need for many parts in an organic whole. Mind and heart, study and faith, reason and revelation—both halves of these pairs are needed.

A few selected studies may illustrate the function of evidence in building faith or examining faith-based claims. The first comes from the use of doubled, sealed legal documents in ancient Israelite legal practice. The open portion was available for routine inspection and daily use; the sealed portion was saved for use in court to resolve disputes or in case the open part got damaged or altered. Subsequent examples of such legal documents have been found as this practice spread to Hellenistic Egypt and all around the eastern Mediterranean and the Roman Empire.

There could be additional witnesses, often totaling six or more. The potential parallel with the Book of Mormon seems quite striking. Nephi, who left Jerusalem during the lifetime of Jeremiah, may have been familiar with the customary legal practice that Jeremiah followed and took for granted. Nephi clearly envisioned from the beginning of Nephite history that the final Nephite record should eventually be configured as a two-part book, consistent with this pattern of Israelite law and custom obscurely mentioned in Jeremiah As early as about BC, Nephi described the time when the Book of Mormon would come forth having two parts: The open part was, in a sense, less complete than the sealed part Ether 4: At the judgment bar, God will show that the things found in the open part are true Moroni Although the procedures had to be modified slightly to accommodate metal, a pair of bronze plates from the Roman Emperor Vespasian features a doubled text, witnessed by seven witnesses, and the two plates were sealed together with one text open and the other protected.

Many other studies of numerous types could have a similar effect. To name only a few, fascinating evidence for the Book of Mormon has been found in the last few years in such things as the semantic ranges of words like thief and robber the meaning of the word robber in the Book of Mormon squares on all counts with its meaning in the ancient world. However, the present point is not to multiply such examples but to ask, do points like these build faith?

It will be as ever has been, the world will prove Joseph Smith a true prophet by circumstantial evidence, in experiments, as they did Moses and Elijah. Without overstating the value of these kinds of discoveries and arguments, it is fair to say that evidence plays several specific roles in the cultivation of faith. Many people have shared comments and experiences that are instructive and affirm the importance of evidence from the LDS perspective.

Widtsoe taught that evidence can remove honest doubt and give assurances that build faith.

Over and over, I have found that solid research confirms the revelations of God. Evidence also makes the truth plain and plausible. Literally hundreds of newly discovered insights converge on the same supporting conclusion.

The Role of Evidence in Religious Discussion | Religious Studies Center

Certain things that might at first have appeared outrageous, on closer inspection have turned out to be right on target. The ancient Jaredite transoceanic migration that lasted days Ether 6: In an important sense, evidence makes belief possible. I am very impressed by the words of the British theologian Austin Farrar in speaking about C. Lewis and quoted by Elder Maxwell on several occasions: What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows that ability to defend is quickly abandoned.

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Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish. Thus evidence in a sense brings people toward belief. Evidence is also useful in articulating knowledge and defending against error and misrepresentation. Evidence helps to keep pace in the give-and-take of competing alternatives. No, but neither will the Church be outdone by hostile or pseudo-scholars. Perhaps most of all, in my opinion, evidence promotes understanding and enhances meaning.

In all study, one should seek understanding. A clear delineation of evidence also strengthens the impression left by any text on my mind and soul. Evidence has a way of drawing my attention to subtle details that otherwise escape notice. With evidence about ancient Israelite festivals in mind, I read with heightened attention and gratitude the text in Mosiah 3: Marshalling evidence builds respect for the truth.

I have been amazed and pleased to watch the Book of Mormon win respect for itself and for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had long appreciated and valued the Book of Mormon, but it was not until I began to see it speaking for itself before sophisticated audiences, especially in connection with my work on such things as chiasmus and law in the Book of Mormon, that I began to sense the high level of respect which the book really can command.

On many grounds, the Book of Mormon is intellectually respectable. I believe that the flow of additional evidence nourishes and enlarges faith. Finally, the presentation of evidence impels people to ask the ultimate question raised by that evidence. Once a person realizes that no one can explain how all this got in the Book of Mormon, the honest person is at last at the point where he or she must turn to God in order to find out if these things are indeed true.

Many people have told me how evidences have helped to impel them through this process of reading, studying, pondering, and asking. Scripturally, this is beyond question. All other evidence is secondary. No arrangement of evidence, however skillfully ordered; no argument, however adroitly made, can ever take its place. To use another metaphor, the correlation of faith and reason works like our two eyes representing mind and spirit ; working together they give depth to our sight, and with the aid of a pair of binoculars representing scholarship and revelation , we see close up and in bold relief many marvelous things.

In order for this to work, however, both eyes must be healthy and both lenses in the binoculars must be clean and in focus. I also like to think of faith and reason like two arms working together to play a violin. One hand fingers the strings and the other draws the bow. When these two distinct functions are brought together with skill and purpose, they produce expressions that ontologically transcend the physics of either part individually.

According to this view, for an LDS scholar to proceed on either spirit or intellect alone is like trying to play a violin with only one arm. Nurturing faith in the Book of Mormon or deciding whether to believe arguments or weapons formed against it are just specialized cases of nurturing faith in general. Faith is increased by purposeful study, diligent prayer, attending church, rendering service, experimenting with the word, and feeling the Spirit.

Evidence can play a role in this process in several ways. The presentation of evidence can help people to hear the word, to pay attention, to listen more closely, to hear what is really being said. I have seen evidence, when it is presented modestly and accurately, help people listen to the Book of Mormon or other Latter-day Saint ideas who otherwise would not give them the time of day.

I have seen it soften hearts and prepare the way for testimony to be borne and received. Second, faith comes by prayerful study. It will take prayer and anxious seeking of the source of all truth.

The Role of Evidence in Religious Discussion

The intelligent use of evidence helps people sort out propositions that are clear, true, or plausible from those that are muddled, false, or bogus. Third, faith also comes from sacrifice. While evidence may perform several useful functions, this is not to say that evidence is some kind of panacea or elixir of pure knowledge. People often misunderstand the way in which evidence works in our minds and in our lives.

As a lawyer and law professor, I have become acutely aware that evidence can even raise certain problems if it is not kept in proper perspective. For example, some people place too much weight on evidence. The scriptures caution against becoming overconfident or too secular. But such abuses are no different than anything else in life: Like all tools, the mind must be carefully used.

Like a hammer, the intellect can be used either to build up or to tear down. Jesus gave us another analogy, that of a fruit tree, to help us determine the right balance: Other people go the opposite extreme and give too little attention to evidence and latch onto answers too readily. Others halt between the two and become consumed by questions. It is a fact of life that we can ask more questions than can ever be answered. It takes skill and wisdom even to ask a good question. Asking better questions, for example, about the similarities between the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5—7 and the Sermon at the Temple in 3 Nephi 11—18 has led me to see the Book of Mormon text in entirely new ways, namely as a text related to the temple, which has not only satisfied all of my honest inquiries but has given me many unexpected insights.

This study has elucidated the Book of Mormon beyond my remotest expectation and has turned what I saw as a potential problem into a great strength. In an ideal world, evidence would not be necessary. Things would be known directly, immediately, and certainly. The only problem is, we do not live in an ideal world, and it was not intended by God that we should. We are surrounded in this probationary state by possibilities, choices, and the need to seek and to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Moreover, in working with evidence, we must not forget what or who is really on trial. As so often occurs, the gospel of Jesus Christ stands things on their heads: And likewise, the testers are being tested. In dealing with and reacting to evidence, we actually reveal more about ourselves than we do about the subjects being tested, and we sharpen the sword, not of human discernment but of divine judgment.

For this reason, also, we can understand why evidence does not affect all people in the same way. Not everyone will need evidences, and not all people will need them at every stage of their lives. Abundant miraculous and physical evidence was given to Pharaoh, but he still rejected Jehovah. Evidence makes the plan of choice and accountability viable; without evidence both for and against two alternatives, no bona fide choice could ever be possible. Paraphrasing Lehi, we might add, Adam fell that men might choose; and evidence is that they might have a basis on which to choose. These theological observations about evidence invite a closer look at the nature and operations of evidence itself.

The better we understand both faith and evidence and the subjective elements that bridge the two, the better we will be able to bring them both beneficially together. Having seen how evidence contributes to faith, consider the elements of faith and the roles of personal choice in the nature of evidence and how evidence works. People often misjudge the nature of evidence because, a la Perry Mason, they may take an overly simplistic view of evidence. The concept of evidence is complex.

The power of evidence is shaped by metaphysical assumptions such as causation and cultural conditions such as the value placed on proof , and it combines wide fields of human experience including such philosophical concerns as epistemology, the reliability of sensory experience, the adequacy of language, the nature of history, and the psychology of persuasion. The word evidence derives from the Latin ex-videns , meaning anything which comes from seeing , but also from seeming. Evidence is literally what meets the eye and, more than that, what seems to be from what we see.

Evidence is based on hard facts, but even under the best of circumstances it works less automatically and more subjectively than many people realize. If evidence were not such a complicated matter, many things would be much simpler in our courtrooms, legislative sessions, and corporate board rooms, as well as in our academic lecture halls, classrooms, and study carrels. While this complexity will present problems in many cases, it also allows evidence to combine with faith, because in its complexity evidence is both a product of empirical data attractive to the mind amendable to study and the result of personal choices generated by the spirit in faith.


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Not only is seeing believing, but believing is seeing, as has been often said. Philosophical world views that would have it be only one of these two ways offer a model that hobbles on one leg. In exploring the workings of evidence, I have found that the practice and study of law is a valuable experimental laboratory.

Every legal case requires judges, lawyers, jurors, witnesses, and parties to define the issues, to organize evidence relevant to those issues, and to reach conclusions about the relative persuasiveness of the evidence. This wrenching world of legal experience—as problematic as it may seem to the general population after the advent of public television in the courtroom—is a furnace of realities that can teach us many things about the use and abuse of evidence. Firstly, any piece of evidence is deeply intertwined with a particular question. No real evidence exists until an issue is raised which that evidence tends either to prove or to disprove.

By choosing what questions one will ask, one already introduces a subjective element into the inquiry. Seeking and asking begins in faith, just as at the same time, questions determine what will become evidence. Some questions are relatively simple and mostly objective: Where was Tom on the day of the crime? Other questions are more difficult and intermediate: What was Tom thinking? Ultimate questions frame the crux of the case and are largely subjective: Did Tom commit murder? Evidence may answer the simpler questions, but it rarely settles the ultimate issues.

They are separate, subjective formulations made by them in response to the evidence. Similarly, religious matters are approached by asking different levels of questions. Certain queries ask ultimate questions: Did Joseph Smith tell the truth? Did Jesus appear to the Nephites? Such questions are usually tackled by breaking the question down and asking intermediate and easier questions: Is it reasonable to think that Lehi came from Jerusalem around B.

Does it appear that many authors contributed to the writing of the Book of Mormon? To answer the intermediate questions, we start looking for specific bits of data. Was there timber in Arabia suitable for ship building? In what style did the Jews write around BC? They used many varieties of parallelism.

The study of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon illustrates in more detail this interaction of questions and data in the operation of evidence. What does the presence of chiasmus in a text prove? Chiasmus is usually thought of as evidence of Hebrew style, which it is, but it may be evidence of many other things as well, depending fundamentally on what question a person asks.

For example, is the English text of the Book of Mormon orderly, complex, precise, and interestingly composed in purposeful units, or is it dull, chaotic, and redundant as some have suggested? Chiasmus gives evidence to answer that question. What is the meaning of a text? Did they revise and rework their own earlier texts? The abrupt antithetical parallelisms in Mosiah Because all authors did not use chiasmus in the same ways, this literary element also provides evidence of multiple authorship and historical development in the Book of Mormon. King Benjamin is quite classical in his use of chiasmus.

Alma the younger is more creative and personal in his use of chiasmus. The chiasmus in Helaman 6 works even better in Hebrew than it does in English. Each time a word appears within these given frameworks, it seems to have been rendered by the same English word. Each of these bits of evidence is interesting in its own right, but these points do not begin to function as evidence until we have provided the question we seek to answer. Thus, we are involved in the inception and conception of evidence by the questions we choose to raise.

Some of these questions are simple, and objective answers to those questions from the realm of evidence may, to a large extent, confirm faith or make faith plausible. But the ultimate questions are more subjective, and although influenced by reason, their answers remain predominantly in the realm of belief. Just about anything can serve potentially as evidence, depending on what a person wishes to emphasize.

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Some have viewed violent opposition to the Book of Mormon as evidence of its divinity. Some rightly find evidence for the spiritual truthfulness of the Book of Mormon in its clarity, plainness, and expansiveness. Some properly find persuasiveness in its uniformity and its conformity with eternal truths, while others appropriately find confirmation in its variety and cultural idiosyncracies. When we seek evidence of something, we are prospecting, looking around at just about anything to see what we can find.

Of course, not everything we find will ultimately amount to useful evidence, but just because some people may go overboard and wish to see every hole in the ground in South America as evidence of pre-Columbian baptismal fonts, or to see every use of a King James phrase as evidence of plagiarism or forgery, that does not mean that one should reject all evidence as worthless.

Thomas Edison had several silly ideas before coming up with his many inventions. For this reason, evidence can almost always be found or generated for and against just about any proposition. Only a very impoverished mind cannot find evidence for just about anything he or she wants. Once again, this points out that evidence is not only discovered but also created. That creation is not arbitrarily ex nihilo, but neither is it impersonally predestined. Different kinds of evidence evoke different kinds of responses.

The law allows physical evidence, written documents, oral testimony, and so on. But at the same time, different people or legal situations may require or prefer one kind of evidence over another. No rules automatically determine how one kind of evidence stacks up against another or what kind of evidence is best. In fact, many different types of evidence likewise exist concerning the Book of Mormon: Its historical complexity and plausibility is supported by the study of warfare in the Book of Mormon including remarkable coherence in its martial law, sacral ideology of war, and campaign strategy, buttressed by archeological evidence regarding weaponry, armor, fortifications, and seasonality.

And so on, many times over.

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