Questioning: The Divine Plan

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Some critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, chiefly of the secular variety, claim that Latter-day Saints are mind-controlled robots who are forbidden to think for themselves. I collected an example of this claim nearly twenty years ago that will serve to represent many other such expressions before and since.

On 3 March 1997, a caller named Laurie (or something similar) phoned in to a program on Salt Lake City’s television station KUTV (Channel 2) called “Take Two.” The host, Rod Decker, had been discussing past disagreements among the General Authorities with his two guests, D. Michael Quinn and Marvin Hill. Speaking with obvious irony, she wanted to know how such disagreements could possibly occur, since Mormonism forbids unregulated individual opinion:

Laurie: “Mormon scripture itself discourages independent thought when it states that, and I quote, ‘The thinking has already been done,’ and when independent thought —”

Rod Decker: “All right. I’ll ask him that, okay? We’ve heard that. ‘When the Church leaders speak, the thinking has been done.’”1

To my frustration, neither Mr. Decker, Dr. Quinn, nor Dr. Hill challenged the substance of the quoted passage, nor did anyone ask the caller for a scriptural reference.

The source for the statement in question is actually a June 1945 ward teachers’ message, and it doesn’t occur in any Latter-day Saint scriptural book. Since its first appearance seventy years ago, however, it has become quite popular among certain critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Back in the early 1980s, for example, in an article addressed to intellectually inclined religious skeptics, George D. Smith, the owner of Signature Books, cited the statement as evidence of the true nature of Mormonism.2

In 1986, in response to such claims, a private 1945 repudiation of the statement by George Albert Smith was published in the Mormon-oriented journal Dialogue.3 Since, at the time of his repudiation, George Albert Smith was the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some of us fondly hoped that his forceful rejection of the statement would euthanize it. After all, as the June 1945 ward teachers’ message itself explains, “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. … When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy.”

But such hopes were naïve. Probably no other ward teachers’ message from the 1940s is remembered today. This one, however, lives on. Despite the 1986 Dialogue article, for example, one critic used it to criticize the church during an address to the 1991 annual meeting of the Mormon History Association.4 And a simple search on the key words from the statement will easily find scores of sites where it’s still used to reveal the alleged truth about Mormonism.

In that light, I would like to submit a few brief words in favor of thinking and questioning.

The restoration of the Gospel in the latter days began with earnest questions. Consider, for instance, the canonized statement from Joseph Smith about the circumstances leading to his First Vision:

In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.

So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt.5

We all know the spectacular, even world-transforming, answer that Joseph Smith received when he went into that grove of trees near his home with some questions and a desire for wisdom. It was, certainly, a far bigger answer than he had anticipated.

And the public portion of his prophetic ministry, effectively the rest of his life, also began with questions:

On the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him.6

There followed the appearance of Moroni and the recovery of the Book of Mormon, which is the founding and distinctive text of the restored church.

The importance of asking questions and the assurances that God will answer them runs like a leitmotif throughout the Book of Mormon. Nephi, for example, tries to encourage his rebellious and disobedient older brothers to ask:

For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought. …

And I [Nephi] said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?7

In counseling his son Corianton, the prophet Alma recalls his own questioning, which had led him to deeper doctrinal understanding:

Behold, [the Lord] bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead. But behold, my son, the resurrection is not yet. Now, I unfold unto you a mystery; nevertheless, there are many mysteries which are kept, that no one knoweth them save God himself. But I show unto you one thing which I have inquired diligently of God that I might know — that is concerning the resurrection. …

Therefore, there is a time appointed unto men that they shall rise from the dead; and there is a space between the time of death and the resurrection. And now, concerning this space of time, what becometh of the souls of men is the thing which I have inquired diligently of the Lord to know; and this is the thing of which I do know.8

A letter of the prophet Mormon, preserved and cited by his son Moroni, recounts how that late Nephite leader, troubled by disputes concerning the baptism of very young children, had gone to the Lord in prayer with questions on the subject:

For immediately after I had learned these things of you I inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. And the word of the Lord came to me by the power of the Holy Ghost.9

The entire missionary program of the Church of Jesus Christ is, in fact, predicated upon the necessity of seekers asking and of God granting light in response:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.10

“Ask,” said the Savior in his Sermon on the Mount, “and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”11

The story of the brother of Jared, recounted in the book of Ether in the Book of Mormon, provides an especially instructive case of asking questions. In preparation for the approaching transoceanic voyage, the Jaredites, under his direction, have constructed special seafaring vessels. But they’re so tightly sealed that he wonders how the passengers traveling in them will be able to have any light. “Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?”12

But the Lord doesn’t respond with a simple answer. Instead, he replies with a question of his own (“What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?”), offering a pair of possible solutions to the problem but pointing out their impracticability.13 The situation, the Lord indicates, is really quite difficult, in view of the nature of the boats and the voyage they’re about to undertake. “Therefore,” he asks again, “what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?”14

If the brother of Jared was expecting merely to ask a question and receive a simple answer in response, he was surely disappointed. Instead, the Lord has encouraged him to give his own thought to the problem and to return with his own proposed solution to it. And that, of course, is exactly what he does (as recorded in the following chapter), and it leads to one of the most remarkable theophanies in all of scripture. It’s yet another illustration of the principle that “out of small things” (in this case, an inquiry about interior lighting for some boats, and a proposal involving a few rocks) “proceedeth that which is great.”15

The Lord doesn’t intend for us to be marionettes. He has no intention of being our puppeteer:

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.16

In an April 1829 revelation given to Oliver Cowdery through Joseph Smith at Harmony, Pennsylvania, the Lord offers a commentary on the general principle that seems to be involved here. Oliver had sought to be included in the process of retrieving the Book of Mormon, not merely as a scribe but as, himself, a translator. But he expected the translation to simply be handed to him, apparently without significant effort on his part. “Behold,” the Lord gently chided him,

you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.17

Perhaps, in its own way, Doctrine and Covenants 88, the wonderful revelation given at Kirtland, Ohio, through the Prophet Joseph Smith at the very end of 1832 and the beginning of 1833, also provides some insight into this principle:

And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.18

In other words, questions about the Gospel aren’t to be posed in a purely secular and academic way, though conventional tools of careful reading, gathering information, thought, and analysis are often both relevant and appropriate. Nor are they to be asked in a merely passive manner, expecting the Lord to do our work for us while we simply sit back and wait (preferably not too long).

A few more examples of righteous and appropriate questioning may be helpful:

When Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ordained to the Aaronic priesthood under the hands of the resurrected John the Baptist, this significant event — marking the return of divine priesthood authority to the earth, presaging the imminent restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood, and permitting the first divinely authorized baptisms in many centuries — came in response to questions that arose from their translation of the Book of Mormon and from a desire for greater understanding: “We … went into the woods,” Joseph Smith later wrote, “to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins, that we found mentioned in the translation of the plates.”19

According to the note that precedes it in the published scripture text, Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants records

A vision given to Joseph Smith the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon, at Hiram, Ohio, February 16, 1832. Prefacing the record of this vision, Joseph Smith’s history states: “Upon my return from Amherst conference, I resumed the translation of the Scriptures. From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of man had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled. It appeared self-evident from what truths were left, that if God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body the term ‘Heaven,’ as intended for the Saints’ eternal home, must include more kingdoms than one. Accordingly, … while translating St. John’s Gospel, myself and Elder Rigdon saw the following vision.” At the time this vision was given, the Prophet was translating John 5:29.

Plainly, Joseph and Sidney had been intensively involved with a studious reading of the New Testament, which prepared them for the reception of a remarkable revelation:

By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God.20

The revelation on celestial and plural marriage, too, came about because of questions occasioned by study. (Time and time again, and perhaps never more clearly than in this case, Joseph Smith’s prophetic ministry illustrates the rule, “Be careful what you ask for!”)

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines —

Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter.21

Doctrine and Covenants 119, which provides the financial basis for the church, is a

Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Far West, Missouri, July 8, 1838, in answer to his supplication: “O Lord! Show unto thy servants how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a tithing.”22

Many of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, along with many of the Prophet’s insights incorporated into the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, apparently came in response to his wondering questions. Sometimes, though, they left him still wondering:

I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following:

Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on this matter.

I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face.

I believe the coming of the Son of Man will not be any sooner than that time.23

Many more such examples could be given of questioning by church leaders and the answers that have come in response, but I cite just one in passing: The historic revelation that came to President Spencer W. Kimball in June 1978, extending the blessings of ordination to the priesthood to all worthy male members of the Church of Jesus Christ, came after a lengthy period of study and reflection. In other words, of questions.24

The Interpreter Foundation is fundamentally committed to the faithful asking of questions and, to the best of our ability, to answering them. This is no merely academic exercise, an indulgence in curiosity for the sake of curiosity. It’s an attempt to comply with the scriptural admonition to “feast upon the words of Christ.”25 Not merely to sample them, but to “feast” upon them.

Interpreter’s approach is only one of several appropriate ways to do so, but it is, we believe, a legitimate way, consistent with scriptural examples and the historic experiences of modern prophets.

And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, convince them of the error of their ways.26

1. I cite my own transcription of the exchange.

2. George D. Smith, “Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon,” Free Inquiry 4 (Winter 1983/84): 27.

3. The full text of the ward teaching message, as well as that of a letter of concerned inquiry that it inspired from Rev. J. Raymond Cope and the important reply of President George Albert Smith, can be found in “A 1945 Perspective,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19/1 (1986): 35–9. For a different (and, since they were career anti-Mormons, predictably hostile) viewpoint on the exchange between Rev. Cope and Pres. Smith, see Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Mormon Purge (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1993), 56. In a remarkable passage, the Tanners effectively contended that Pres. Smith’s statement, in which he refused to assume the role of a religious dictator, must be rejected. Why? Because, they contended, he and his successors and colleagues actually want to be religious dictators and, thus, deny that anybody ever has a right to reject or even question their statements.

4. Edward H. Ashment, “Canon and the Historian,” a paper presented at the 26th annual meeting of the Mormon History Association, 1 June 1991, page 10.

5. Joseph Smith-History 1:10–11, 13–14.

6. Joseph Smith-History 1:29.

7. 1 Nephi 15:3, 8.

8. Alma 40:3, 9.

9. Moroni 8:7.

10. Moroni 10:4–5.

11. Matthew 7:7.

12. Ether 2:22.

13. See Ether 2:23.

14. See Ether 2:24­–25.

15. Doctrine and Covenants 64:33.

16. Doctrine and Covenants 58:28.

17. Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–8.

18. Doctrine and Covenants 88:118.

19. Joseph Smith-History 1:68. See, altogether, JS–H 1:68–73 and Doctrine and Covenants 13.

20. Doctrine and Covenants 76:12.

21. Doctrine and Covenants 132:1-2.

22. From the explanatory preface immediately preceding Doctrine and Covenants 119.

23. Doctrine and Covenants 130:14–17.

24. See, e.g., Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2005), 195–224.

25. 2 Nephi 32:3.

26. Doctrine and Covenants 6:11.

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About Daniel C. Peterson

Daniel C. Peterson (Ph.D., University of California at Los Angeles) is a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University and is the founder of the University’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, for which he served as editor-in-chief until mid-August 2013. He has published and spoken extensively on both Islamic and Mormon subjects. Formerly chairman of the board of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and an officer, editor, and author for its successor organization, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, his professional work as an Arabist focuses on the Qur’an and on Islamic philosophical theology. He is the author, among other things, of a biography entitled Muhammad: Prophet of God (Eerdmans, 2007).

42 thoughts on “Questioning: The Divine Plan

  1. Hi Dan.

    I appreciate all the interesting articles you write for Interpreter, Deseret News, Patheos, etc. We are fortunate to have you there doing those things. You are a treasure.

    Best regards,
    Lorin Hansen

  2. I am a big fan of yours. Your words are encouraging, and resemble many of my own thoughts. I watched the 2013 conference of God and science, and the cosmos. It was great. I myself have been engaged engaged in conversations that include that God govern’s the universe in harmony with the laws of the universe, for about 4 months now, and when I was hearing these scientists speaking about it, it was just another validation of God’s love. You would be amazed of how many such strange ideas have come to my mind only to be validated some time in the future. I am not a scientists, or a scholar, I am not an avid reader, but I do get some pretty amazing ideas. One is I was reading Paul’s writings on the resurrection and the mechanics of how it works was opened up in my mind. 3 months latter, I was reading the 88th section of the D&C and for the first time, and there it was, exactly as it was given to me. I have had so many of these events that I’ve lost count. One you validated was the importance of the 11 witnesses. Again I was teaching my family for months about the power they posses in their testimonials. Then I started listening to your lectures and there it was, a scholar validating that very point. In the end only God can validate but it’s good to know that I do not stand alone.

  3. Well isn’t disagreeing with the “brethren” a form of apostasy, according to the “brethren”? Doesn’t this prohibition from disagreeing with leaders squelch free thought? Isn’t this prohibition what the ward teacher manual was supposedly teaching. This was just taught by Dallin Oakes in Boise, Idaho.

    So is it allowed to question except to question the “brethren”? Given that they speak as men from time to time, and make mistakes from time to time when they are speaking as men, shouldn’t we question them, too?

    • My name is AJ and I am curious about your comment. It seems to have no definitive conclusion.
      So are you not sure if we are to disagree with the leaders when we have cause to? When we evaluate the statements made by the leaders of the church, we should always ask the question, why did they say what they said, and ask God to bring fourth truth. The apocryphal is the same or any other text that we read, it is far short of the entire truth, and thoughts of the author. So in conclusion, let God complete it, and let Him correct where it needs correcting. I believe in the end, it is not wrong to see the universe structured differently than another would see it, it is when the leaders set fourth commandments and structure within God’s Kingdom when we should not refute.

      • AJ:

        My question is why can’t we question our leaders like we question each other, like you question my comment?

        It seems that if we are worried about questioning them it will dampen thought

      • Thanks for the input. However, I believe we should question everything and everyone. No one is above scrutiny, especially the leaders. Frankly, what do the leaders have to fear from members questions anyway?

        Doesn’t the prohibition from questioning the leaders lend strength to those who claim that Mormons are mindless automatons? Isn’t that really the heart of their complaints?

        • Rahm, it seems that you are determined to miss the point of the article, which was precisely the opposite of your claim that there is a prohibition from question the leaders. Perhaps you might read the article again, and if you are basing your conclusion on the recent talk in Idaho–you might re-examine that as well. There is a very big difference between saying that we shouldn’t question leaders and that the order of God’s church is that revelation for the entire church will come from the prophet and not the members. That was a point that was important early in the church and the revelation given to resolve that came at that time.

          That doesn’t mean that we can’t question. It means that we don’t have the right to usurp church leadership. Those are very different issues.

          • Brant:

            Thank you for responding to my questions. However, I respectfully disagree with your assertion that questioning leaders and usurping authority are two different issues. For example, questioning certainly should have been done regarding the race and the priesthood issue. This questioning should have questioned the reasoning used to justify this “undoctrine.” As president Hinckley implied to the Australian press years ago that there simply wasn’t any agitation for change and that is why it took so long. Well questioning that undoctrine would have been considered apostasy back in the late 50’s and 60’s. So, what is the difference now? The tone of the question? Ask only questions that lead to the right answers? Is that true scholarship? Shouldn’t questioning be allowed even if it shows that the leaders are wrong? I know in their quorums the leaders have permission to speak freely, why can’t the members?

          • You must not have lived through the times before the priesthood was available to all righteous men. There was a lot of questioning from a lot of people. That example rather demonstrates my point rather than yours. Questioning has been going on from the beginning. It will continue. Frankly, I have seen more questioning now that the Internet makes communities of questioners easier. I have also seen great improvement in the quality of the answers.

            Your perception of a problem does not square with my experience over decades, including my own participation in questions and at times uncertain answers.

        • Rahm is there anything in paticular you speaking about, that makes you feel as if you are on the thin line. For example when Joseph questioned God 3 times if he should allow Martin Harris to have the manuscripts, God left to him to decide, and we know what happened there. I always measure my questions this way am I looking for a way to get closer to God or am I looking for a way out. Same with questioning the authority of the Church am I looking for a way to strengthen there standing in their position or am I trying to tear them down. This is the measure of our affect, it can be positive, or negative and can build up or destroy. The land in which the Nephites occupied is probably an ongoing debate even between the Apostles so inevitably I would be for one side and not the other, and in the end why doesn’t God tell us where it is and end the debate. It is to encourage thought and conversation, this is how He keeps us engaged as we are now.

          • I love how you put this, AJ:

            “Am I looking for a way to get closer to God or am I looking for a way out. Same with questioning the authority of the Church am I looking for a way to strengthen there standing in their position or am I trying to tear them down.”

            I would like to add

            “Am I seeking to be closer to God or am I seeking to look more acceptable to people?” We really can’t follow both God and the world. We have to recognize when our questioning is being inspired by a true desire for truth and righteousness vs a desire to be progressive and appear well educated to others (in this secular mindset, vs appearing to blindly following our leaders).

            Are we seeking our will, or the will of God when we question? I like the scripture in D&C 88 that says:

            63 Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

            64 Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you;

            65 And if ye ask anything that is not expedient for you, it shall turn unto your condemnation.

          • AJ, you are right about the type of questions we should ask. I would go farther and distinguish between questions and pseudoquestions. People who ask questions want answers and are more or less satisfied with real answers (though they might not like the answers). However pseudoquestions are really complaints worded as questions.

            If you have teenagers you are almost certainly familiar with pseudo questions. “Why can’t I do to the party?” If that is a question you can explain the reasons and the teen will accept those reasons. However it is usually a pseudoquestion. He doesn’t want to know why he can’t go, he wants to go. It is not a question, it is a complaint.

            Likewise when we ask pseudoquestions of the Lord we really don’t want an answer. We don’t want to know why we shouldn’t use Sunday for recreation, listen to unsuitable music etc. We just want to complain about being told not to do it.

    • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints allows members of the church to have questions, doubts, or even disagreements with church doctrine or policy and still remain members of the church in good standing. Those people are not excommunicated or censured.

      Hugh B. Brown stated: ““Preserve, then, the freedom of your mind in education and in religion, and be unafraid to express your thoughts and to insist upon your right to examine every proposition. We are not so much concerned with whether your thoughts are orthodox or heterodox as we are that you shall have thoughts . One may memorize much without learning anything. In this age of speed there seems to be little time for meditation. Dissatisfaction with what is around us is not a bad thing if it prompts us to seek betterment.” (:

      President Uchtdorf recently quoted Brigham Young who once said: “I am … afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security. … Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates.” (Quoted in Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “What is Truth? From: Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe (1941), 135.”)

      Let’s consider a statement by President George Q. Cannon: “Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a Bishop, an Apostle or a President; if you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone; but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside. … Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places in order that His Saints may learn to trust in Him and not in any man or woman.” (Millennial Star 53:658-659, 673-675.)

      But when members engage in a public campaign to teach doctrines opposed to the Church or lead others out of the church, or otherwise harm the church or its members, it is a different matter. The Church has the right to protect itself from such people. Church disciplinary hearings are held only after repeated attempts to correct behavior are not heeded. The Church has said “”Some members in effect choose to take themselves out of the church by actively teaching and publicly attempting to change doctrine to comply with their personal beliefs,” the statement reads. “This saddens leaders and fellow members.”

      Other organizations such as businesses and clubs have the right to regulate membership. Very few people, if any, would argue that those organizations don’t have the right to protect themselves from harm caused by disloyal members or employees. Businesses have the right to fire employees who break company policies and especially to fire employees who are wilfully undermining the welfare of the company.

      George Q. Cannon said: “We have not stated that an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the authorities constituted apostasy; for we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion, and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife, and to place the acts and counsels of the authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term. We further said that while a man might honestly differ in opinion from the authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adversary would take advantage of him and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy, can be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern His Church.”

      This is consistent with the position of the Church today as expressed in a recent official statement dated June 28, 2014 and which says in part:

      “We understand that from time to time Church members will have questions about Church doctrine, history, or practice. Members are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding. We feel special concern, however, for members who distance themselves from Church doctrine or practice and, by advocacy, encourage others to follow them.

      “Simply asking questions has never constituted apostasy. Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.” (Statement issued by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, June 28, 2014)

  4. Br. Peterson, I agree with you that the scriptures encourage questioning. I would go further and say that the prophets and the scriptures critize those who fail to ask questions.

    For example, in 3 Nephi 15, Jesus tells the people in the New World that he was referring to them when he told people in the Old World “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold.” Jesus then explains that they wrongly thought they understood those other sheep to be the Gentiles. Jesus let that misundersanding persist because of their “stiffneckedness and unbelief”. When I read that chapter of the Book of Mormon, the impression I get from this is that if they had asked Jesus in humility what He meant, instead of assuming or guessing, He would have told them.

    Another example is in 2 Nephi 32:4. Nephi tells his brethren “Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.” The message is clear that if we do not understand something, we had better ask, or we will “perish in the dark.”

    Here is an example from the Old Testament: In Isaiah 7, The Lord invited king Ahaz to ask the Lord for a sign, but Ahaz refuses, saying “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.” But that was the wrong response. Isaiah’s reply: Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?”

    And finally an example from the New Testament: In 1 Thessalonians 15:21: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” Proving things whether they be good or not implies a certain amount of questioning and evaluation.

    In short, there is a mountain of evidence that Latter-Day Saints doctrine is that we are not only allowed but commanded to think and ask questions. If people believe otherwise, despite all of this evidence, I wonder if it is because someone told them we are unthinking robots, and they didn’t bother critically evaluating the statement. 🙂

  5. Brant:

    Thank you for the fallacious appeal to age and wisdom. However, still, the certain persons, secular persons, who claim that the mormons cannot think for themselves have a point when it comes to questioning the leaders. The “follow the prophet,” “follow the prophet,” mantra coupled with the injunction against questioning the leaders certainly seems to squelch free thinking, in this area. You and Dr. Peterson are right that the members may question in other areas, but not in these important areas.

    You may not agree and you may claim that we can question the leaders without repercussions, even though Dallin Oakes claims otherwise. However, the fact remains that members are not allowed to question in certain areas like finances, or priesthood for all, etc. without facing a “court of love,” if the questioning becomes popular and gains a following.

    Why would the one and only true church care about the so called dissidents? If they have the truth, simply reason and gently correct them instead of sending them to the “courts of love.” Surely, those who testify of the name of deity would be up the task?

    • Rahm,
      If you recall, the promise made in Moroni 10 is to ask “with real intent” which means, expect and act on the answer. To ask about priesthood for all, for example, means one should be willing to not only listen to the answer (and answers can come from many different sources, including our leaders), but use the question to truly seek those answers. If people sought answers “with real intent” then they would listen to simple reason and gentle correction (and all of the efforts of apologists e.g., the Interpreter and would have immediate and lasting results). But what I have seen from the raucous “questioners” have not been a willingness to listen at all, but just to stir up a contentious stew. It’s ironic that the answers are there (and often redundantly so), but the questioners are so busy posing their questions that they can’t be bothered considering the answers.

  6. Great points brother Peterson. Elder Richard G Scott visited our mission in Mozambique in 2011. In a meeting with the missionaries he explained that God respects our agency so much that, generally speaking, he will not reveal truth to us until we ask. He told the missionaries that revelation comes through asking questions.

    Having said that, not all “questioning” is really that. Sometimes questions are asked in the spirit of planting seeds of doubt or contention rather than honestly seeking for answers. I believe that was the attitude of the priests of Noah when they were “questioning” Abinadi – “And they began to question him, that they might cross him, that thereby they might have wherewith to accuse him” (Mosiah 12:19).

    Right after that we read “that one of them said unto him: What meaneth the words which are written, and which have been taught by our fathers, saying,” and then he quoted the words of Isaiah (Mosiah 12:21-24). This also was not a sincere inquiry. The verses from Isaiah speak of publishing peace and salvation, of bringing “good tidings of good,” and of the Lord comforting his people – exactly the opposite of what Abinadi was preaching to the people. Rather than a sincere question, I believe that this was really a not-so-subtle accusation by one of Noah’s priests.

    Sincere, truth-seeking questions lead to revelation and inspiration, while criticisms and accusations framed or clothed as questions do not. For this second type of “questions,” one could rephrase the words of Jesus to read – Beware of false questions, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

  7. I’ve been a member since 1964 and stand in awe of how well the General Authorities lead this wonderful organisation. I have always been encouraged to ask questions and to seek to understand. Do I believe our leaders to be infallible? Hardly! They are human just like me. I understand that our agency is sacred and that goes for the leaders as well. They are called of God and have the responsibility to lead us. Sometimes they are allowed to follow their own wisdom and make mistakes like all of us. However, God remains in control and my 51 years as a member has proved that to me. Sometimes we can ask God but he does not chose to answer, perhaps because we wouldn’t understand the answer. So he lets us have our freedom but the end result is guided to accomplish his will in spite of our weakness. Certainly the Church has withstood the test of time in spite of the fallibility of our human leaders. I certainly could not do any where near as well! They lead and I follow and know that I follow leaders called of God.
    I am no stranger to corporate and government organizations, having spent 40 years in the banking industry. I can say without question that our leadership so outshines that of this world, as to be almost laughable. Go ahead and question all you want but don’t try to lead the Church. It doesn’t belong to you!

  8. This ended up being REALLY long. Sorry…
    I enjoyed your article and want to believe your premise that our church does not really believe this. Personal experience in my extended family and in several wards leads me to think there is a significant subset of members at the “grass-roots” level who actually believe the quote under discussion: “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. … When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy.”

    I was taught growing up that this was correct doctrine. We were told to pray about it and if we did not come up from our knees in agreement, then to get back down there and pray until we did. There was NO room for “why?” questions in my home or in the classes of the branches and wards I grew up in. I learned as a teenager that my questions were somehow “unfaithful”, and if I wanted approval from my leaders and peers I should just keep my questions to myself and give back only the answers I was taught to give.

    As an adult involved in various wards in several states, I have seen the same situation. Several years ago, while studying the George Albert Smith manual in Relief Society, the Bishop’s wife who was teaching the class, actually handed out a cute refrigerator clip with this quote for us to put on display in our homes!

    “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan – it is God’s Plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give directions, it should mark the end of controversy, God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the Kingdom of God.”
    (Ward Teacher’s Message Deseret News Church Section p. 5 May 26 1945; Improvement Era June 1945)

    I timidly tried to remember pieces of a quote or two (listed below) given by some of the apostles who were concerned that people would follow them with total trust, but was not allowed to complete my thoughts.

    This sentiment may not be correct doctrine as far as we try to explain it to the outside world, but it is certainly an entrenched viewpoint in the rank and file membership of many wards of the church, and is continuing to be perpetuated on a daily and weekly basis…so I can see where the “anti-Mormon” element can accuse us of believing this.

    Here are some other quotes along the same lines; “the thinking has been done”:

    “The Lord Almighty leads this Church, and he will never suffer you to be led astray if you are found doing your duty. You may go home and sleep as sweetly as a babe…as to any danger of your leaders leading you astray, for if they should try to do so the Lord would quickly sweep them from the earth.”
    (Prophet Brigham Young Journal of Discourses v. 9 p. 289)

    “My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he tells you to do something wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.”
    (Prophet Heber J. Grant quoted by Apostle Marion G. Romney “The Covenant of the Priesthood” Ensign July 1972 p. 98)

    “Always keep your eye on the President of the church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, even if it is wrong, and you do it, the lord will bless you for it, but you don’t need to worry. The lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.”
    (Apostle Marion G. Romney Conference Report Oct. 1960 p. 78)

    “When the Prophet speaks the debate is over.”
    (Apostle N. Eldon Tanner Ensign Aug 1979 pp. 2-3)

    The following quotes by many of the same leaders seem to say the opposite; “think for yourselves”:

    “President Joseph Smith…said the Lord had declared by the Prophet [Ezekiel], that the people should each stand for himself, and depend on no man or men…that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls…said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall – that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves…”
    (The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith pp. 237-238)

    “… Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another’s sleeve, will never be capable of entering into the celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate; they will never be capable of becoming Gods. They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others, but they must be dictated to do in every trifle, like a child. They cannot control themselves in the least, but…somebody else must control them. They never can become Gods, nor be crowned as rulers with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. They never can hold scepters of glory, majesty, and power in the Celestial Kingdom. Who will? Those who are valiant and inspired with the true independence of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, through all mankind besides should take the opposite course…”
    (Prophet Brigham Young Journal of Discourses v. 1 p. 312)

    “How easy it would be for your leaders to lead you to destruction, unless you actually know the mind and will of the spirit yourselves.”
    (Prophet Brigham Young Journal of Discourses v. 3 p. 45)

    “…I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken the influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not…”
    (Prophet Brigham Young Journal of Discourses v. 9 p. 150)

    “I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied… Suppose that the people were heedless, …manifest[ing] no concern with regard to the things of the Kingdom of God, but threw the whole burden upon the leaders of the people, saying, ‘If the brethren who take charge of matters are satisfied, we are;’ this is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord.”
    (Prophet Brigham Young Journal of Discourses v. 3 p. 45)

    “We have heard men who hold the Priesthood remark, that they would do anything they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong: but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, unless he turns from his folly.”

    “… the question is sometimes asked–to what extent is obedience to those who hold the Priesthood required? …willing obedience to the laws of God, administered by the Priesthood, is indispensable to salvation; but…none are required to tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the Priesthood.”
    (Millennial Star “Priesthood” 1852)

    “Do not, brethren, put your trust in a man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a president. If you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone…”
    (Apostle George Q. Cannon Millennial Star v. 53 pp. 658-659 quoted in Gospel Truth v. 1, p. 319)

    “And while all members should respect, support, and heed the teachings of the authorities of the church, no one should accept a statement and base his or her testimony upon it, no matter who makes it, until he or she has, under mature examination, found it to be true and worthwhile…”
    (Apostle Hugh B. Brown “A Final Testimony” from An Abundant Life 1999)

    I lean toward the “thinking for ourselves” category, but I am truly confused. I really do want to do the right thing, but the “thinking has been done” quotes give me a very uneasy feeling. I have many family and friends who believe that the thinking has been done, yet do not feel that they are “blind followers”. From the outside, it often looks like they are. To listen to Conference and immediately adapt their thinking to what was said without seeming to take time to ponder or discuss pros and cons tends to make it appear they are.

    Am I on some lower level of righteousness that I strongly feel to ponder the messages over time, to internalize and contemplate the ramifications of following? To take time to deal with contradictions that occur between speakers and between conferences? Is the goal to someday be able to “instantly follow”? I fear the path will become too rote if I allow “someone” to tell me which path to follow after every Sacrament meeting, Stake Conference, General Conference or Sunday School class. I want to keep my ability to weigh good, better, best, and when I automatically follow, my skills erode. I want to weigh the ramifications and make a well thought out choice, based on not only the directions of our leaders, but my own personal and spiritual guidance.

    AND I want to be sure that I am following CHRIST for my life at each point in time. Sometimes I lose track of that with all the leaders and apostles and prophets coming from all directions with the right way to go…

    Leaders and family and friends also leave me feeling that if I do not follow the instructions immediately, I will be found wanting and the Lord will be displeased with my efforts… Do you have any thoughts about my conundrum?

    • Very good question. The quote, “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan – it is God’s Plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give directions, it should mark the end of controversy, God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the Kingdom of God.”
      (Ward Teacher’s Message Deseret News Church Section p. 5 May 26 1945; Improvement Era June 1945), should have had some clarification or follow-up added to it, because the statement by itself, is incorrect.

      We are all encouraged, “to study it (the teachings, scriptures, etc) out in [our] mind[s]”. Even D&C 58:26 says that, “it is not meet that I should command in all things, for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.”

      There are many scriptures that suggest that if “[We] lack wisdom, let [us] ask of God (James 1:5).” Continue to study and ask God, not for the intent to prove someone false, but confirmation and understanding. That is how a testimony is gained.

  9. We are asked to “exersize or faith” in following the Prophet. Some say this is called “blind faith”. I think a lot of the misunderstandng comes from our lack of understanding about what true faith is.
    So what is faith? For me faith is a process of learning that transcends the common, worldly process of learning by reason. The “faith process” can be initially understood by spelling the word and using each letter as a guide to the steps involved:

    “F”… stands for Father. He is the creator of all mankind and the giver of all we are or hope to be. The “faith process” starts by mortals humbly recognizing that our Father in Heaven exists and wants us to seek his face.
    “A”… stands for “ask”. When we have questions or need confirmation about something, we need to ask our Father thru prayer, accompanied by study (reason), fasting, pondering and more prayer.
    “I”… stands for “In tune”. We need to live “in tune” with the gospel if we expect a meaningful answer to our asking. In otherwords, keeping the commandments is essential to this process.
    “T”… stands for “trial”. We should expect to be tried before we get an answer. Indeed, the answer we get or the level of understanding we acquire depends upon how well we endure the “trials of our faith”. Often, God will only give you the answer that you are ready to receive. I believe He does this to protect and nurture.
    “H”… stand for “Holy Ghost”. Finally, we should expect our answers to come from the still small voice of the Holy Ghost. When his spirit touches ours, we will know without a doubt that we have received truth. Thus, we will have “faith” in the subject that we initially asked about. The completeness of our faith on the subject is usually directly proportional to the way we conducted ourselves throughout the “faith process”. In this sense, “faith is substance”…. Faith is knowledge.
    When Jesus asked his disciples “where is your faith?”, I think what he meant was “to what level of knowledge is your understanding of the truths of the gospel”. Initially, they had very little understanding or very little faith. But, this changed dramatically as they progressed in their callings. It is the same with us today. Faith begates more faith and a bright hope that even more understanding will come our way as we follow the same process over and over again.
    Yet, “as not all have faith”, some will need to simply “believe” and follow our inspired leaders until they too have recognized the Father, asked their own questions, walked in-tune with the commandments, suffered thru their own trials and have received their own confirmation.
    My testimony is that as we follow this “faith process”, we will come to know that God is mindful of us and is leading us in ways that are true, and good. Likewise, we will come to understand that everyone is at a different stage or at a different level of learning in the gospel. We will develop patience and long-suffering and thus will be at peace with ourselves and our fellow man. We will be able to follow the prophet because we have followed the same process that he follows when he recieves instructions from the Lord.

  10. Joseph Smith taught, “Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.”

    Is this not essentially the same as “not questioning”? God, or the leaders of the church, may require us to do something, and we should do it, whatever that might be, and we should regard it as correct, period, regardless of what we may think our feel about it, and we should simply obey because we just don’t understand the reason thereof yet. Our reasons are not God’s reasons, his thoughts are not our thoughts, etc (Isaiah 55:8-9). Isn’t that supposedly the Abrahamic test, to be asked to do something completely contrary to what one thinks and feels, even to the murder of one’s own son, to test our true obedience to God at all costs? Check your conscience at the door?

  11. Let me add a comment: the Lord, if we believe what He has designated as His work, is trying to expand our knowledge, our power, our understanding, our will, our capacity. There are many questions which have been asked and which have been answered in Scripture. These help us to avoid reinventing the wheel and give us the ability to see the general contours of God’s plan at work in the lives of others. It also lets us see patterns emerge for God’s methodologies in dealing with His children individually and in groups. There are many instances recorded in scripture where God has allowed people to wrestle with questions and issues. This should not surprise us. It is part of His plan for our learning. There are also instances when He answers those questions definitively through His prophets. And there are ambiguous times when prophetic figures are working toward their own answers individually and when God’s people are working toward them collectively. In our own lives we have the opportunity to rely upon the guidance of the Holy Ghost as we wrestle with questions. If we are sincere and courageous and if we trust that God will help us to come to the correct answer in time, we can be assured that our heartfelt yearning to know and understand and act accordingly will be answered. However, getting from not knowing to knowing and then doing is a process. The Holy Ghost may not give us specific promptings in the midst of these struggles. Rather, He may simply keep our vision clear so that as we come upon truth we can recognize it. He can nudge us away from thoughts, words, and actions that will make us unable to see clearly and which would otherwise deceive us. His influence is subtle and yet profound. The real factor in this effort is if we as individuals and as a group are truly willing to abide by whatever answer God gives us and want His will above our own. I think we all have times when we know in our heart of hearts that we are not entirely sincere in our desires. Purging selfishness and pride from our individual desires and subordinating our will to the Father’s is the solution as well as the purpose of these kinds of spiritual dilemmas.

  12. I have another question: Why doesn’t professor Hamblin simply answer Dr. Jenkins main question regarding the lack of evidence for BofM historicity? Instead, he is debating the size of the table where they will debate.

    A good answer to that question would certainly help those who disagree with the “follow the prophet,” “follow the prophet” drumbeat.

    • Rahm: Are you suggesting that Dr. Hamlin has never written articles discussing evidence for Book of Mormon historicity? Are you suggesting that no other LDS author ever has? Hamblin is discussing particular aspects that underlie Dr. Jenkins arguments.

      For information on the positive side that you appear to be looking for, there is a good and growing literature that you might want to read. Some of those have been written by Dr. Hamblin and therefore should answer your general question.

      • Brant:

        Thank you for the quick response. I would be interested in where to go to read the growing literature of which you speak. So, please put some links in your response.

        Even so, why doesn’t Dr. Hamblin simply answer the question posed by Dr. Jenkins? Whether or not he has written about historicity evidence in the past seems beside the point. If he has evidence, if he’s written about it before, then simply respond with the evidence. Maybe you could refer me to where he discussed it before, if he has? It seems straightforward.

        • Where to send you to a large body of literature? I assume you understand that learning requires some effort and therefore there cannot be a condensed place to find things. I will certainly agree that the the literature is uneven. However, you will find good lists of resources in FairMormon’s wiki. Interpreter has some articles on the topic. The FARMS related material archived at the Maxwell Institute has many. Among those sources you will find some bibliographies.

          The current single book to begin with would be John L. Sorenson’s An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. There is much that has been done since it was published, but it is a good place for a foundation.

          As for your second question, I suppose we would have to ask Dr. Hamblin why he selects the points to write about. We would have to ask Dr. Jenkins why he writes the way he does. I know that Dr. Jenkins was offered a forthcoming book that might help him answer some of his questions, but he declined it.

          There are always questions that we could ask about why someone didn’t do something just the way we think they should have, but that is usually an unproductive question.

          • I agree that asking why some people do things is unproductive. Too bad the judge thought otherwise when my client was sentenced the other day. I guess some people want to know why people do things and what they did.

            All kidding aside, I think Sorenson’s book is part of the problem because its claims don’t jibe with what Joseph Smith claimed. Clearly Joseph Smith claimed that the BofM geography was in all the Americas. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been shown to be the truth. Sorenson’s claims therefore seem to be a retreat to the wilderness where the “truth” (archeological, anthropological, and DNA) can remain hidden and apologists can use the “we will find the evidence in the future, just believe in the present” argument to push things down the road.

            Frankly, Dr. Hamblin’s lack of a response or his delay in responding, seems to be more of the same pushing the issue down the road to avoid an inconvenient lack of a viable answer.

          • Perhaps you can now understand why Dr. Hamblin elects to deal with the assumptions rather than discuss evidence with someone who has decided against evidence based on those assumption. Sorenson dealt with what Joseph believed in his book, and there is more historical information available to make it clear that your suggestion that Sorenson doesn’t jibe with Joseph is more related to Joseph’s willingness to accept a wide range of ideas uncritically (rather similar to others at the time). The question of correlation would be better done to time periods in Joseph’s life rather than a generalization for his whole life. Later in life he was very open and supportive of a Mesoamerican connection (though I doubt that was exclusive). It certainly supports Sorenson rather than you suggestion that it wouldn’t jibe.

  13. Bill Hamblin just noted something that I’ve never heard an apologist admit before. This is hugely significant:

    “I maintain that the only thing that could securely establish the historicity of Book of Mormon peoples would be written texts containing BOM personal names or place names. No other type of evidence would be conclusive.”

    It appears he is conceding the fact that no conclusive evidence has been found that confirms the historicity of the Book of Mormon. That is exactly Jenkins point he has been trying to make all along. There is no conclusive evidence!

    Perhaps the bigger question is, does Hamblin or other apologists believe any written texts with personal names or place names CAN be found that would conclusively show the book to be historical? If the Book is truly historical, would God allow such conclusive evidence to come forward? Our are we forever deadlocked without conclusive evidence, and God is forever hiding the conclusive historical evidence from us, always one step ahead of us, pushing it further and further from our grasp? Or perhaps God just destroyed all conclusive evidence for the book so we’ll never find it? Is it possible to find such evidence, or does Mormonism mandate that it cannot be discovered, so as to maintain faith?

    • There is a difference between conclusive proof and evidence. There is much that we do and believe (religion aside) that is based on evidence rather than conclusive proof. For example, a pretty well-accepted hypothesis for the Olmec language is Mixe-Zoque. There is not conclusive proof, but there is evidence which has been sufficient for many to accept the hypothesis.

      As for writing being found, it is cause for celebration when any new text is found in Mesoamerica because they are pretty rare. What was most likely the more common form of recording texts, on paper or leather, yields very few examples (and those from long after the close of the Book of Mormon). Nature or the conquest destroyed the majority. There are a few scripts that don’t have enough samples to render translations, and the best preserved Maya texts are carved in stone–something that appears to come later in their history. The painted texts such as those found in San Bartolo only serve to show us how much was lost.

      • Jon:

        Maybe God did intend the evidence to be slippery like the treasures the Nephites lost due to their wickedness or the treasures Joseph Smith, Jr. and Sr. couldn’t find in their various expeditions, like you said. Maybe it simply is a test of faith and the Nephites and Lamanites are meant to be seen with the spiritual eye and not the natural eye?

        • Rahm, I doubt it since there is more evidence that just the eye of faith. Certainly there is every reason to praise those who believe and yet did not see (as Jesus suggested to Thomas), but that doesn’t equate to an absence of evidence.

          Again, there is a difference between evidence and conclusive proof. There is so little conclusive proof about much. There is secular evidence for a historical Jesus, but not conclusive proof. That evidence is still sufficient for many Christians to use to bolster their more faith-based understanding.

          • What kind of response, to any question, brings about an end to any doubt, there is truly no answer that ever satisfies the critical thinker. So the two individuals referenced in your question seem to be critical thinkers. So what next, what or who do we trust, we can’t even trust our own thoughts or our own ideas. We are always looking for some evidence that qualifies our position, whether we for it or against whatever. So if you are for the Book of Mormon and its authenticity, then there will always be enough evidence. For those who seeks to destroy the Book of Mormon, then there is never enough evidence. So again what do we do to get satisfied, I would say continue to seek truth and let it qualify itself. What does it matter if there is no evidence of the Book of Mormon, does this somehow make it disappear, to never have an effect ever again. This is impossible, just as is the word god, its affect is either a positive or a negative, and to some irrelevant, but one cannot simply remove the word from the dictionary and say god does not exist, this is also impossible. A question that I have is, did God know that the Book of Mormon was to come, I would say just as much as He knew that the Bible was going to be written, translated interpreted. So if He knows this then what does One as He, do with any book that proclaims His existence, it would be the same as one would do with any lemon tree, make lemonade. So can any historical event be read without doubt of authenticity or without interpretation of all facts, I would say this is impossible also, even those who were a witness to any event, has never seen an event take place from every visible point. Again the only real evidence of historical events is the affected properties in their state of existence. And then we should ask, were the elements in a controlled environment or were they left to govern themselves. Next what were the conditions in the which they were affected, cold, rain, darkness, etc. Did the elements continue to keep the laws that have been proven to be successful for others. So the question comes to mind are the LDS people who keep the laws and principles close to their successful In their relationships, and if so is this success past on to their children. So what created this success, was the Book of Mormon a positive impact, the evidence is there, the book is read in every engaged Saints home. So again is there any physical evidence of the Book of Mormon, absolutely, the evidence is the Book itself. Does it have evidence that it a story about an ancient civilization that interacted with God, there is because that is precisely what the book is about. For me I have not seen any artifact that proves the bible to be the word of God, the only evidence that i do have is its impact on my life and that is good enough for me. This is the same for the Book of Mormon. I could come up with a hundred different senerios to show how the bible was created by man to manipulate people to believing in a form of religion that is false. So to end, either we choose to trust results or we trust nothing, because all that physical evidence is, is room for more debate.

      • Brant, I would be interested to hear your take on the second part of my question that is more philosophical.

        “Perhaps the bigger question is, does Hamblin or other apologists believe any written texts with personal names or place names CAN be found that would conclusively show the book to be historical? If the Book is truly historical, would God allow such conclusive evidence to come forward? Our are we forever deadlocked without conclusive evidence, and God is forever hiding the conclusive historical evidence from us, always one step ahead of us, pushing it further and further from our grasp? Or perhaps God just destroyed all conclusive evidence for the book so we’ll never find it? Is it possible to find such evidence, or does Mormonism mandate that it cannot be discovered, so as to maintain faith?”

        • Jon, I did at least begin a comment on the question of writing. I don’t think God necessarily has a hand in what gets preserved–with the obvious exception of scripture. I wouldn’t say that we would never find anything with a Book of Mormon name, but I think it unlikely simply because of the problems of preservation. The corpus of texts from Book of Mormon times is significantly smaller than those from post-Book of Mormon times.

          The problem is the idea of conclusive evidence. There really isn’t a lot of it for any historical fact during that time period. We know that cities exist and we are lucky in the Old World to have names associated with them so we know what they were. In the New World we think we know the names of some Maya locations. However, the most dominant civilization from the time of Christ to AD 600 is only known by the name a later culture gave it. We cannot conclusively demonstrate the language they spoke. So, there is conclusive evidence that they were there and that they were extremely important–but we don’t know what they called themselves. Even the Maya don’t help us when they record something about them, calling them the “western lords.”

          Personally, I think God is very interested in our spiritual welfare and is quite content to have questions like history and linguistics work themselves out through natural means. I don’t think God changed DNA so we wouldn’t find it. I don’t think He dictated what remains survived. I do think that He gives us the wits to solve puzzles and the wisdom and patience to work through them. Simple answers just don’t fit well with the more important principle of agency.

          As I have mentioned before, I doubt that conclusive proof is available–but good evidence is. Good evidence is sufficient for many hypotheses.

          • Do you think that there might be conclusive evidence that could be found? Such as a coin depicting specific people or events in the Book of Mormon? What kind of evidence would constitute conclusive evidence to you? Do you believe that such could be found? Or is conclusive evidence forever beyond our reach?

          • Conclusive proof is typically beyond most questions about antiquity. Given that it is so rare, I doubt that there will be any for the Book of Mormon. Even very good information is likely to be dismissed as coincidental. For example, there is a Maya city called Lamanai (pronounced LamanI and therefore sounds like Lamanite without the last two letters). That is close enough that there are some who suggest that it must be a connection to the Book of Mormon. I believe it is a linguistic coincidence. So, would a document that mentioned a Nepi be close enough or must it be Nefi? If we had one or the other, would be be another coincidence?

            So far, there is (I believe) a remarkable alignment of events in the Book of Mormon with events that occurred during the same time frame and in the same place–leading to explanations for the Book of Mormon events. A invasion causes a population disruption and shift when Mosiah I is forced to leave the city of Nephi. There is a movement of Zoque speakers into the upper Grijalva river valley at about the time the Book of Mormon suggests that Zarahemla was founded. Zoque has ties to the old Olmec language (based on evidence, not conclusive proof) and the Olmec are in an area where the Book of Mormon places Jaredites in the same area. The particulars of the destruction in 3 Nephi are sufficient that a geologist has determined the plausible volcano that has a known eruption during that time frame and had the characteristics to cause those particular descriptions (and why certain areas where hit and others not). There is a lot of evidence, and for those of us who work with that evidence, the cumulation is becoming impressive. None of it is conclusive–but again so little is. These are the stuff of which most historical and archaeological arguments are made, and similar correspondences between text and archaeology have led to an acceptance of the text as reflective of the archaeology (see Troy/Hisarlik as a quick example).

  14. It never ceases to amaze me how our critics will cling to some snippet of a non-doctrinal source, such as that 1945 article, to build their arguments against the Church, an so studiously ignore mountains of evidence to the contrary.

    In reference to Moroni 10:4–5, in the last couple of years or so I’ve noticed in my conversations with various critics an argument that the Bible does not say that one should pray about it. I have to wonder, of course, how one is supposed to ask the Lord for anything, as we are frequently admonished to do, without praying. I’ve not received an answer to this question yet.

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