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Sufficient Evidence

“Behold, if they will not believe my words, they would not believe you, my servant Joseph, if it were possible that you should show them all these things which I have committed unto you.” – Doctrine and Covenants 5:7

I recall a very frustrating conversation with an O.J. Simpson supporter. I was mounting a very credible case based on the voluminous evidence, and she was rejecting all of it out of hand. That was planted, she would say. He was framed, she would say. Just because he abused his wife doesn’t mean he killed her, she would say. And on and on it went. Finally, I pointed out that the blood found at the scene was conclusively proven by DNA tests to have belonged to the notorious Mr. Simpson. I told her there was less than a one in one billion chance the DNA belonged to somebody else.

Her response was, “Well, I sure wouldn’t want to be that one in a billion!”

In her mind, there were only two possibilities: O.J. was innocent, or else more information was needed.

You see this kind of nonsense in politics all the time. Back in 2004, Keith Olbermann was absolutely convinced that George W. Bush had stolen the presidential election in Ohio. He cited the exit polls, which showed John Kerry winning by a sizable margin, and claimed that the makers of the voting machines were far too cozy with Republicans. When it became very clear that the exit polls were flawed and that the voting machines had not been tampered with, our fearless Keithie still refused to give up the fight. In his mind, either George W. Bush had stolen the election, or more information was needed.

As a young Mormon missionary, I still discovered that just about everyone takes this stand with regard to their religious beliefs, or lack thereof. If you doubt that, try and think what it would take to make an atheist believe in God. What if an angel came down from heaven and told you there was a God? Well, how do I know it’s really an angel? Such things can be faked. I’ve seen Fantasmic at Disneyland – that sure looks like a divine manifestation. How do I know I’m not hallucinating? You know, the Bible says the devil can appear as angel of light. And on and on and on…

The scriptures are replete with stories of tremendous signs and wonders doing absolutely nothing to convince people of the realities of God. Pharaoh continually hardened his heart despite the amazing things Moses was able to do. The Children of Israel saw manna fall from heaven and still whined like little girls whenever something went wrong. The Book of Mormon has plenty of examples, too. Laman and Lemuel start complaining just moments after an angel appears to them. Unbelievers who see the signs of Christ’s coming gradually become “less and less astonished” as they become inundated with irrefutable proof of Christ’s coming. For too many people, either there is no God, or else more information is needed.

So the words told to Joseph Smith in the verse at the beginning of the page are absolutely true. Would the world accept Mormonism en masse if the Golden Plates were on display at the Salt Lake Temple Visitor’s Center? Well, we’ve already found Nahom, a Book of Mormon site mentioned in 1 Nephi 16:34 which nobody writing in the 19th Century could possibly have known about. Why aren’t people lining up to be baptized? Because facts that don’t gibe with deep personal convictions are either rationalized away or dismissed out of hand. Believers do it, too. When confronted with the famous “Salamander Letter” that stated Joseph Smith first claimed Moroni was not an angel but rather a lizard, members of the church didn’t leave in droves. For the believers, either the Book of Mormon was true, or more information was needed. (In this case, the “more information” came soon after and proved that the Salamander Letter was a forgery courtesy of one Mark Hofmann, who is now serving a life sentence for murder.)

At what point do you obtain sufficient evidence to change a deeply-seated belief?

With regard to external evidence, I don’t think there can ever be enough evidence to convince someone who refuses to be convinced. That why all the best evidence for God is internal. It is the Holy Ghost that is to “teach [us] all things.” (John 14:26). He speaks to our soul and makes it impossible to deny the truth. The Book of Mormon tells us that “by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:5) That does not, incidentally, mean the Holy Ghost will teach us all truth. That is, if you want to know the square root of Pi, just praying and asking the Holy Ghost to crib off of his notes isn’t going to work. But if you already have information and you want confirmation as to whether or not that info is on the level, the Holy Ghost can help you there.

There’s only one chance in a billion that what I’m telling you is wrong. Of course, I’d sure hate to be that one in a billion!

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  1. Kwen, I’m noticing a certain tack that your boat is taking, namely your attempts to create equivalence between “belief” and “non-belief”, a position claiming both rely upon “faith”. This is a disingenuous argument. When someone asserts the positive existence of an entity, the burden of proof is their responsibility; it is not the audience’s liability to disprove your assertion.

    When I tell you that I have “faith” that Crom is strong on his mountain, and that he controls the four winds, it is my positive assertion, not yours. You do not require “faith” or “belief” to disregard the truth of my claim.

    • Mr. Winslow, in real life there’s very seldom a choice between “belief” or “non-belief.” There is, instead, “belief in one thing” or “belief in something else.”

      Take our friend Crom, Controller of the Four Winds. People observing activity on the mountain come up with explanations. To some, Crom is up to his old tricks again. To others, there’s all this nonsense about weather patterns and cold fronts and heaven knows what else. If the question is, “Is this all Crom’s fault?” then you have a choice between a positive and a negative. But that’s not usually the question. The question is, “What’s goin’ on on the mountain?” Then you have at least two distinct, positive responses: Crom or meteorology. One has more evidence than the other, but, absent a perfect knowledge, both require faith.

      • Wrong. I’m surprised, but it’s true. You’re spouting post-modern “word game” drivel! When did this happen? Uh-0h…another bet…

        Another $50 Bet!

        Let’s look at two positive assertions, or claims:

        Assertion 1 — The Angel Gabriel came to Muhammed in a cave on Mt. Jabal. The Angel Gabriel then began to reveal the contents of a book in Heaven, written by God, called the Koran.

        Assertion 2 — Joseph Smith met the Angel Moroni…the Golden Plates…etc. etc.

        There are ~1 billion humans on Earth who could talk your ear off in an attempt to prove the truth of Assertion 1, but I’m willing to bet $50 that you accept only one of these two Assertions as a “truthful claim”. And why is that?

        I disregard Assertions 1 and 2, but I have my own. Mine is Assertion 3 — Crom is strong on his mountain!

        • I make no bets, as I am decidedly pre-modern.

          I don’t understand why these three assertions preclude the need for those who reject them to exercise faith in something. Consider Assertion #4 – the universe is a Darwinian accident. To believe that, you have to have confidence in Darwinian processes to account for the existence of stuff. How is that not exercising faith?

          • You really have become Kwen; you’re a bona fide post-modern philosopher now.

            What’s next? There’s no such thing as “truth”, or that science is merely a “social construct”?

            I have seen the day.

          • Look, don’t make me write another blog entry about this.

            (Oops. Too late.)

  2. Eh, don’t mind me. I have a seriously bad attitude. Read my disclaimer.

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