Spiritual Witness

Secular Evidence vs. a Spiritual Witness: Though the Latter is Indispensible to Believing the Truth Claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Does That Make the Former Irrelevant? Why I Don’t Think So

By Ken K. Gourdin

A poster at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion, who is, happily, making his way back to full fellowship in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints despite having strayed for a number of years, recently posted (essentially; I hope my brief paraphrase does his position justice) his opinion that the answer to the question posed in my title is, “Yes.” I respectfully disagreed. I wrote (endnotes and explanations in brackets have been added):

I agree with your premise that God’s purpose is for us to walk by faith rather than by sight. However, while it may not be relevant to a spiritual witness, we diverge in our thinking about whether any secular evidence tending to validate the Book of Mormon will be (or has been) discovered. There are, to borrow a book title, “Echoes and Evidences,”1 but how much weight any particular inquirer gives to each one of these (or to all of them taken together) is up to him. If one is determined to believe, no amount of secular evidence is necessary; if one is determined to doubt, no amount of secular evidence ever will be sufficient.

I believe a spiritual witness is most important (indeed, that it’s indispensable), regardless what evidence ever is or is not found for the Book of Mormon, and I believe the Book of Mormon is true because I have applied the test given in Alma 32 and have found that its good seeds bear abundant good fruit in my life. I believe that the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith are what they claim to be because, while such an experience is not reducible to purely logical terms, a witness of those facts has been imprinted upon my soul.

Conversely, to quote Farrer, “While argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief.”2 While, ultimately, no amount of secular evidence ever will form an adequate basis for a testimony [how members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refer to a witness of the Church’s truth claims], it still can provide room for belief in the mind of someone who is of a more logical, analytical bent. I don’t know if any road signs such as, “Now Approaching Zarahemla City Limits” or “Zarahemla 10 km,” [Zarehemla is a city written about in the Book of Mormon] ever will be discovered. Still, it seems to me that God and His servants have gone to an awful lot of trouble to create ad hoc (but ultimately unnecessary) artifacts such as plates, a sword of Laban, holograms of an Angel Moroni and of other purportedly-Heavenly messengers, and so on if physical and historical evidence supporting the Book of Mormon is now (and forevermore will be) totally irrelevant.

Personally, once the Book of Mormon’s purpose of persuading us to walk by faith has been accomplished, I look forward (eventually) to some really cool historical, archaeological, and other discoveries supporting it. Several of its writers were not only crystal clear, but also were very pointed in telling their readers, “Someday, you’re going to stand before me, and at that day, you will be held accountable for your reaction to what I wrote.” As strong as my spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon is, I also believe those folks were real people who lived real lives, with all of the history, archaeology, and so on, that such living entails.

Where so many people err is at the elementary misstep where they say, “No evidence of [x] ever has been discovered; thus, [x] does not exist.” Au contraire! Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. (We’ve had that discussion before, you and I.) Line upon line and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, I believe that at least enough historical, archaeological, and other evidence has been (or will be) found to provide room for belief, if not to make a definitive case. Were it otherwise, at least some historians, archaeologists, and other professionals would (unfortunately) have wasted an awful lot of time.

END NOTES

1.

See Donald W. Parry, John W. Welch, and Daniel C. Peterson (Eds.) (2002), Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (now the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship), available on line at the following address, last accessed April 11, 2015: http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/book/echoes-and-evidences-of-the-book-of-mormon/.

2.

Austin Farrer, et al. (1965) Light on C.S. Lewis, New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, quote as reproduced on line at the following address, last accessed April 11, 2015: http://www.sourcedquotes.com/Austin-Farrer-Quote-on-lack-of-argument-destroys-belief.

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About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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