Uprooted: Review of Patrick Q. Mason’s New LDS Apologetic Book “Planted”


Uprooted Out of the Darkness of Faith and into the Light of Doubt: A Light Review of “Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt” by Patrick Q. Mason of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute For Religious Studies, Formerly FARMS (The most recent attempt at Mormon Apologetic)



Kerry A. Shirts

February 17, 2016


This last decade we have seen some interesting books, mostly apologetic in nature, where it appears to me the tune has changed in Mormon apologetic writings. Terryl Givens has risen to become the “go to” apologist for ironing out issues of faith and doubt.[1] Other apologetic attempts at persuading both non-Mormons and doubters of Mormonism have been Mike Ash,[2] Thomas A. Wayment,[3] Grant Hardy,[4] Chad P. Conrad,[5] and Scott R. Peterson.[6] All these are interesting reading, though ultimately unpersuasive because they are still operating under church assumptions and give me the impression that they must write in a certain way (faith-promoting) in order to please the church, rather than enlighten us. I know, that appears to be quite negative, but that’s how I see it. I aim on showing you why I see it this way as well.


The newest attempt is honest to goodness no different. We have now to read the new book by Patrick Q. Mason, “Planted, Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt.” A new book by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship.[7]


One thing one who tries to keep up with the apologetic writings (for amusement? Instruction? Doubt building? Who knows why we do it?) notices is they appear to be getting more and more nervous (and vocal) about the influence of democratic knowledge given to us all thanks to the internet. No more can the church control and check the information we Mormons receive for their education. We now have millions of more times the amounts of information at our fingertips on all subjects than we did just 10 years ago, and are no longer stuck with just the church’s angle. We can now realistically check all angles, understand all views, faiths, and doubts, people are having, not to mention their experiences both good and horrible, in Mormonism. It is an education par excellence that has been denied to us, more due to the quirks of history and technology than determination to keep us in the dark. Or is it?


Patrick Q. Mason wants to have a friendly discussion, a dialogue with friends and disgruntled family members (fellow Mormons) in his book. He says he wants to work through some of the actual issues causing doubts in Mormons, and thinks the church is the best place and Mormonism is the best way to calm those doubts. Let’s take a closer look. Now, I believe his intention is sincere, but his naivete is, well, let me say amusing. I wish no offense, but really man! O.K., I am not going to do a complete survey of every idea he brings out, but will pick what I think are some of the truly problematic aspects of his entire approach to doubters. I just sincerely think doubters and “faithers” continue to talk past each other. You’ll see what I mean as we move along. I’m a doubter. I don’t think “faithers” get it at all. Allow me to make several illustrations, not in meanness, but in the spirit in which Mason intends his book, in friendly dialogue. But if you want to dialogue, then dammit, at least begin to understand how to do so realistically. Read on to see what I mean. I will first mention the page number in parenthesis and then a quote of Mason’s, and then write a blurb after it.


(p. 1) – “We are having conversations about things we’ve not previously talked about in the open, which is one sign of a church membership that is more committed and less casual about the role of faith, and the church in their lives.”


Are you talking to us or the leaders? Look, forget about faith, we’re not interested in faith, we’re interested in evidence, in the reality which we find to be actual when evidence points us to it. To a doubter, faith is the problem and enemy. Reality is based on evidence and probability, not faith. Faith can’t change the probability of something being real or fake, only evidence can achieve that. You might wish to understand this far better in future books you may wish to write attempting to “help” us.


(p.2) – There are those either “Switched off,” or “squeezed out”


I am one of the “switched off” kinds. For numerous reasons, and those reasons keep adding up the more I look into things. And I mean in the honest search for truth, looking at all sides, whether Mormon, other religions, or atheists. I mean honestly all sides, because if it’s one thing Joseph Smith actually got right, it was his comment (if he wrote it that is, but whoever did, told it right) “by proving contraries, truth is made manifest.” I seriously thought I had this marked in the History of the Church, but can’t find where. I know Eugene England also noticed this statement in his writings. Mormons and Mormonism as a whole give lip service to learning about truth and searching for truth, but they don’t actually appear to me to be doing so in a realistic manner. Read those who truly are contrary to you, and you begin to see the weaknesses of your own assumptions. And your answers are always and forever only as strong as your weakest assumptions. It’s almost counter-intuitive, but it’s true.


(p. 2) – “The switched off group includes those who sees the new knowledge [on the church’s website] does not square with what they had previously learned over the years at church – sometimes by way of direct contradiction, but usually by revealing parts of the story that we usually don’t tell in our three-hour Sunday meetings. When a person realizes that at least part of what they are learning for the first time is factually true, not simply the malicious inventions of anti-Mormon propagandists, then they sometimes start to wonder what else they haven’t been told. They often go off in search of other “hidden knowledge”, sometimes forgetting the basic principles and experiences that they had originally built their testimony upon. They begin to see duplicity rather than sincerity in the church’s presentation of its doctrine and history.”


When the essays appeared on the church’s websites there were troubled Mormons who actually began warning us on the internet that anti-Mormons had invaded the church’s website and hijacked their writings with anti-Mormon articles. They were speaking of the church’s new, super-honest and open articles on polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, etc. Now what to make of this fascinating reaction? What could possibly cause such a thing? There were other Mormons who were so very angry they wrote the church (and called them on the phone they told us!) and told them to take those articles down as they were not the truth, that this was not what we had been taught, are not supported by the scriptures, nor what the Holy Ghost had testified to their souls the truth was. Another utterly amazing reaction! They then vehemently denied to a lot of us that the church had authorized those articles, that it was some renegade idiot working for the church, sneaking them onto the site without anyone’s knowing they were there, wishing to make the church look bad and hypocritical, and those articles needed to be destroyed.


Now then, without doubt, this should astound anyone. It is not so much the articles, although they contribute to the problem, but the implications that are so very damning, and no one is talking about them at all, but merely presenting spiritual apologetic pap-n-pablum fluff in place of sober, rational, sane, honest reasoning and analysis. Mason is no different, though he is attempting to be a little more open and appear at least, to be a little more objective about it all. But that isn’t near good enough for doubters. Let us spell out for you what we are seeing, if it interests you at all in having an actual discussion and dialogue. Quit trying to re-convert us, and have the dialogue. We’re not interested in conversion, we’re interested in truth, reality, what actually is. There are at least four, if not more, implications to the new “truthful” “open” “transparent” essays on the official church website.

  1. The essays were clearly seen as anti-Mormon and it horrified a lot of people. How could that reaction possibly occur? It’s simple. The information in those essays is the same information that anti-Mormons have been teaching for decades, if not the past century and three-quarters as what really happened. The church excommunicated anyone teaching this information and labeled them exactly in the manner Mason just did – “the malicious inventions of anti-Mormon propagandists.” Now, as it happens, it was the church who are the “malicious propagandists” and telling the not so accurate history (whitewashing it – to put as charitable a description on it as I possibly can) and the anti-Mormons who were telling the actual truth! So that when the essays came out and finally “came clean” and decided to finally “tell the truth” everyone thought the anti-Mormons had come home to roost! Truly deliciously ironic as all get out. The implications of this are beyond staggering when one puts a little brain muscle into it. Let’s try it and see. The church has so left out so much, has so changed what really happened, or what was really said, or what was really meant, it has so spiritualized things in the past to encourage and help testimonies, that there is simply no other way to describe it, they have lied to teach the truth. The true church has been lying to teach the truth? This makes reason stare! Seriously? Seriously, yes. The truth cannot be told straight, it has to be lied about in order to get people to accept it.  And they have been excommunicating people by the hundreds through the years and decades and over a century for teaching the real truth, ruining their lives, their spirituality, causing untold of misery with families, their health, psychology, their standing in their communities and jobs, and all for the crime of simply telling the truth. This is reprehensible! Lets be blunt. That is unacceptable.
  2. This brings up the credibility issue and implication and fall out which is still not being discussed honestly, openly, or lovingly. We have been taught the Holy Ghost will testify to us in our hearts, our very depths of our souls that what the church has taught is eternal, unchanging truth. God knows. God KNOWS the truth, and will tell us it is true when we pray about it. The Holy Ghost will cause a burning in our bosoms (we were taught this for literally all our youth – damn near every Sunday night fireside, every single Sunday night – and up into adulthood). This is pure Mormon doctrine. God will reveal the truth of these things by the Holy Ghost, directly into our hearts, we do not have to rely on the learning of man for our knowledge of the truth. God will not lie to us about anything. You can trust God. This is Mormon doctrine we all were taught over and over and over and over and over…….and OVER again…….and OVER some more……..and non-stop continuously OVER again. Good God CONTINUOUSLY!!! Pray to KNOW the truth, God will surely not let you down. God is a God of truth, of righteousness, of love, and he loves you more than you can comprehend, and will surely guide you, impress upon you in your hearts his truths, and they will be sweet to the taste and delicious to your souls……..I mean we were taught this OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER again and again and again and again, and I am not exaggerating as millions can attest. Any who lived through the 1960’s and 1970’s and on into the 1980’s will know exactly what I am saying, those who were active in the church in those decades. This is the context for the implications.  THIS IS THE CONTEXT. Let that sink in. So, if we were taught by the Holy Ghost, who knows all the mind of the Father and the Son, i.e., pretty much damn near everything there is to know, that what the church had taught us is true, and now it turns out they have lied, and what they taught us is not true, uh, well, then, this fairly begs the question, just who or what caused the burning in our bosoms, and what was answering our prayers in faith with the truth that was actually a lie?! Let me get this straight here… millions……now let’s just slow down……s-l-o-w…….. d-o-w-n……. and think about this……….let this sink in……millions have testified of these truths, and know the anti’s are apostate, had lost the spirit, were evil, lied, were without priesthood authority and hence not going to be celestialized, and all those millions also were told by the Holy Ghost the information they had was true, when it really wasn’t? Are you yet grasping the significance of this?
  3. So… with that said, and thought about, this also begs us to ask, is the Holy Ghost actually real? Is there such a thing? What evidence actually exists that it is? If it does exist, how can it possibly lie to us? Yet this is what has happened. It has lied to us (assuming the church was right in saying it will testify to us of what the church taught us). Is that even possible? Obviously, since millions have been testified to by the Holy Ghost, but the testimony has been of things the Holy Ghost (if it were what we have been taught) who actually knew the truth. Yet we were praying about lies thinking it was the truth, and the Holy Ghost testified to us those lies were truth?! Really? Would an eternal God being who actually knew what was real and true tell anyone that the lies they were asking about was true, when it knew it wasn’t? For what possible purpose?! The church causes far more doubts to rise in us than any anti-Mormon or atheist could ever conceive of with this new information it has finally begun to share in “honesty.”
  4. So you lied. No biggie. Wait…stop. FULL STOP. Uh back up a little bit…. You lied, continually, deliberately perpetually for decades, almost centuries, and now all the sudden you think you can just stop and begin telling the actual truth in openness? Do you really think you can sell us on that?  A person used to lying all the time about lots of things does not just one day say, “oh hey, I’ve been a lyin, but now I will tell the truth from now on.” You really think we will swallow that swill because you hope it works that way? So uh, want to see the problem? O.K., from now on you are going to be open, honest, transparent, and realistic about the truth. Uh, how do we know you’re not lying? See the problem? Well you might respond, I am not lying because now I have decided to tell the truth. But uh, how do we know you are telling us the truth? Perhaps you’re lying. NO! I am NOW telling the TRUTH, by God Almighty I am! But uh, how do we KNOW that? Does that help clarify another problem here? We literally cannot know if you are telling the truth. Let…….that…….sink……in……….. forget trying to convert us for the moment, there is something here much more important. We have no way of discerning whether you are being truthful anymore or not. Do you not yet grasp that?! You cannot punt to faith and the Holy Ghost anymore. Do you not yet grasp that? You lied, the Holy Ghost has lied to us, what’s left? You have destroyed any hope, any reason, any possibility of actually being believable, or of having any evidence you are believable. I have no way to verify what you say is true. DO……….YOU……….NOW………..GRASP……….THE……..PROBLEM?

It’s not that we have no faith, it’s that you have no credibility. You have no evidence of having any credibility. You have literally destroyed any anchor you might have had for anyone to take you seriously or credible or truthful anymore. It’s not about us and our doubts, it’s about you and your credibility. We aren’t the ones with the problem, YOU …………ARE……………. We are not having a faith crisis, you are having a truth crisis. Do…………you…………get……………it……………yet……………?


(p. 2) “they begin to see duplicity instead of sincerity.” [speaking of those who feel the church has lied to them, and now the church essays on the church’s official website demonstrate this]


Yes, that is because the evidence clearly shows there is duplicity instead of sincerity. Funny how evidence works isn’t it…. When people speak up they get ecclesiastically threatened and excommunicated. That is not dialogue. We see “duplicity” rather than “sincerity” because actions speak louder than words. Just being plain with you in a dialogue. One reason, among many, we get “switched off” is the arrogant, self-righteousness and lack of freedom to disagree and have a congenial conversation with the church in a realistic, honorable manner, not the attitude “yes, you have every right to believe whatever you want, just shut-up about it and don’t say anything to anyone about it.” So, if you won’t listen, the internet certainly will. There are plenty of communities and “family” one can enjoy and share their lives with. You are simply not the only game in town. Authoritarianism is not a viable option anymore. We can vote with our feet. Dialogue enriches, authoritarianism backed by ecclesiastical baseball bats of church discipline thwarts. You would think “inspired” leaders would grasp that.


(p. 4) – “My insights here are built upon a foundation of responsible, faithful scholarship…”


This is an immediate red flag warning for we doubters. All we have ever been given to read in church materials is “faithful” materials. It’s been a deception. What is this vagueness going on here? “Faithful scholarship”? You’ve got to be kidding me. Look, you want to dialogue with doubters, then realize, here and now, we aren’t interested in your “faithful scholarship.” We’re interested in the principled real scholarship of valid evidences assessed, probabilities calculated for seeing what is more probably true or false, you know, rational reasoning, things like that. This statement of yours tells us you are simply going to regurgitate the church’s stance.  This is going to end up being the kind of dialogue that you say yeah o.k., we heard what you said, but we have the truth, you have to end up having faith in it after you get over your doubt scare, so lets pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you and everything will turn out all right. You already assume the church’s stance is credible. The bad news is, it doesn’t work anymore, not now. You’re honestly not fooling us with your word games anymore. This is going to end up being a charade.


Your statement “these scholars have demonstrated persuasively that a thorough and honest examination of Mormonism can enhance rather than detract from a life of deep faith and committed discipleship,” is another red flag warning to we doubters. Besides, if this was even a smidgin true, then why your book? Your book is putting the lie to the test isn’t it? ”Deep faith” is fundamentally irrelevant to doubters because the question is “deep faith” in what? Or in who? And why? How is “deep faith” more important than just the diamond truth based on knowledge and evidence? Your concern with faith is the problem. We want knowledge that is real, what is actual, not apologetic screeds on “deep faith.” Do you know why? Because once we enter back into the fold (if that ever happens) one is eventually intimidated, coerced to begin group think along church lines again, or in other words, well, that was a fun diversion, now then, shut-up, serve, have faith, pay your tithing. It’s talked about all over the internet. It, unfortunately appears that your desire for actual dialogue is a gimmick. It takes years of honest, open dialogue to gain trust. You don’t have that yet. We’ll see if it’s possible to achieve. Excommunicating everyone who doesn’t see eye to eye doesn’t help your wish. Disagree but be quiet about it is not dialogue, it is not honest, it damn sure is disrespectful, and you need to be teaching the leaders that, not us. It does, however, “squeeze out” a lot of people.


(p. 4) The Joseph Smith Project does nothing to prove you are completely open, honest, and transparent and will always be so from this day forward with things. You say you have nothing to hide, but the evidence so foundationally destroys your lie here it’s breath taking! The project is only the beginning, not the end. Now is the time to dialogue, but it’s questionable if that will openly, honestly happen without a lot of threats and coercion to conform to a church coached testimony.


In the same spirit, the church essays are but one small, almost insignificant blip on the radar screen to being open, honest, and truthful, and you’re already jumping up and down, throwing confetti, celebrating and bearing your testimony. We see it as a PR stunt so far. You have yet to do the real work. Stop bragging already and let’s get on with it.


(p.5) – “We are confident enough in the truthfulness of the gospel and the divine mission of the church that we can have hard conversations and need no shy away from difficult issues.”


Yes, we all know you can have these conversations, The question is will you? And will you without the power play of excommunication, and  threats against people’s spiritual welfare and other such silly things like that. Will a flaming sword be held over our heads threaten to smite us if we don’t agree, or find things you won’t like, like it did with Joseph Smith forcing him to live polygamy with those young under-aged 14 year olds? I’ve been told the church is not a Democracy, so we are suspicious you want to have a democratic dialogue, but the leadership doesn’t and won’t do so. Are you being paid by them to fool us? The days of pap-n-pablum faith-promoting discourses are over. The time to face the music and reality are here. And I have a feeling you aren’t going to like it much.


(p. 6) – “turn to church resources…”


Huh? Here we go again! This is the problem, not the solution for we doubters. Those resources are not credible to us now. We know they are doctored up, and use language of spirituality to reflect the very best only, and all sorts of gimmicks like carefully selecting of sources only favorable to make the best most magnaminous impression. That’s nice, but is it real? We cannot ever be sure now.


(p. 7) – “Follow Peter’s advice…”


Why? We’re not interested in just having answers like Peter in the Bible says to give. We’ve already been given answers. We want, we need, evidence for reality. Just giving answers solves nothing. What is the probability they are accurate or truthful is far more important to us than just “getting answers.”


(p.7) – “Facts not in dispute…”


You’re daydreaming here.


(p. 7) – “basic, faithful answers…”


I’m not interested in basic “faithful” answers. I’m interested in the truth, the reality, not church spin. You keep talking past us with the faith gobble-de-gook. Stop it. Let’s have actual answers with valid evidence and sound reasoning.


(p.7) – “For most doubters there are no magic words or ready-made formulas that will immediately make them go away. Doubt is thus less a problem in need of a solution than a common part of the mortal experience.”


True. Doubt is not a problem, it’s a solution. Faith is the problem. “Doubt is divine in that it impels a search for the truth. It opens the door to knowledge. Faith puts a lock on the door. Indeed, while one is under its spell, faith anesthesizes the desire to seek knowledge and truth. And as knowledge increases, faith recedes.”[8]


(p.7) – “the quest for faith…”


Still talking past us. We’re not interested in faith, we’re interested in what’s real, what’s actual, with justified and accurate evidence, not whitewashed history and doctrine.


(p. 8) – “Latter Day Saint faith never exists in the abstract,”


All faith is abstract, so this makes no sense.


(p. 8 ) – “First few chapters focus on maintaining faith…”


Not interested in faith, interested in knowledge. Evidenced, justified, warranted, principled, knowledge. And not the church spin stuff, the real thing.


(p. 8) – “Maintaining belief is essential…”


Why? Belief has nothing to do with reality. I shall get to this in a bit.


(p. 9) – “We can’t set up camp on two sides of an arbitrary divide with believers on one side and doubters on the other and then talk at (or usually past) one another.”


You already have. This needs to be told to your leaders, not we the people. They set up the divide from the beginning and with divine forcing and divine sanction of disfellowshipping/excommunication. Hell this has happened in religion since the dawn of time, do some homework in religious history. Ever read about a movement called Judaism? There’s another one that can be quite illustrative, it’s called “Early Christianity. I suspect there are some books you could look this up and read about. From the divides in Mormonism a helpful book is by Steven L. Shields, “Divergent Paths of the Restoration,” Herald House, 2001, wherein he notes divides of over 250 different, separate, and divided offshoots from Mormonism. Just trying to help is all. Look into a place called “Southern Utah,” some sort of group there having something to do with strange religious practices begun by Joseph Smith and thrown out by later prophets such as Wilford Woodruff. “Fundamentalist Mormon” might make a helpful Google search for ya. The name Warren Jeffs might be a good clue, and turn up something about it as well.


(p.9) – “It’s difficult for me to fully articulate the origin, nature, and depth of my belief…”


You were born in Mormonism. Had you been born in another country you would have been saying this about that culture’s religion. That was easier than falling off a log. It’s all a matter of where you were born, and what culture you were raised in. This is in the literature. Two examples, among many, I will share.

“Religious beliefs are conventions and not private or idiosyncratic creations: ‘religious beliefs are culturally constituted, they are traditional beliefs, i.e., they are beliefs that arise and develop in the history of a social group, and that are transmitted from one generation to the next through those social processes that are variously  denoted by such terms as education and enculturation.’”[9]

“…there is no such thing as belief just as there is no such thing as religion or language. There are only religions, languages, and beliefs. One cannot speak a language in general, nor have a religion In general, one can only speak a particular language or have a particular religion. Similarly one cannot believe in general but can only believe particular things in particular ways.”[10]


(p. 10) – “I approach the issues of doubt and uncertainty from a position of belief, and, yes, certainty…”


It’s why you talk past us. I approach it from evidence and probability testing all claims against all others to see which is more probably correct and which is more probably wrong. Certainty is the death-knoll of learning truth. All you will do now is give yourself confirmation bias. “The presence of an idea or belief in one’s consciousness does not constitute knowledge; one can have false ideas and false beliefs. If man is to acquire knowledge, he must have a method of distinguishing truth from falsity, beliefs which correspond to reality from beliefs which do not.”[11] “Overconfidence is fallacious. Admitting ignorance or uncertainty is not. Ignorance and uncertainty are normal. But asserting as known or certain what in fact isn’t entails some fallacy in your reasoning. One thing professional historians soon learn is how much we need to accept the fact that we will never know most of what we want to know…”[12] And furthermore, “there is obviously more than one degree of certainty. Some things we are more sure of than others, and some things we are barely sure of at all. Hence especially in history, and even more so in ancient history, confidence must often be measured in relative degrees of certainty, and not in black-and-white terms of only “true” and “false.” Accordingly historians must be comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty, and ignorance, and must critically weigh and examine their own confidence in any conclusion..”[13] In other words, the more you talk about having a dialogue with doubters, the more nervous and skeptical I am becoming, truly.


(p. 10) – “Frankly, I worry about sowing doubt rather than belief.”


I use doubt as the perfect metric to measure and test claims. Belief leads millions to false knowledge as the literally many tens of thousands of fighting Xian sects demonstrate with more than ample evidence. You surely don’t believe all their beliefs do you? Therefore, belief hasn’t led them to truth, let alone to “the truth.” Doubt prevents one from being duped. You tell those in other religions to doubt their religions, yet use faith for yours. That’s a double standard, the correct cure for which is John W. Loftus’s book “The Outsider Test of Faith,” Prometheus Books, 2013, which, in a nutshell says honestly analyze your own religion and claims with the same level of skepticism and care for evidence as you do when you analyze other religions to demonstrate they are wrong. I strongly advize you read it carefully. It puts all religion on the same playing field as equals and then testing to see if any are possibly strong enough to pass the skeptics tests for authenticity. You don’t get to privilege your own while holding all others to a higher standard of severe testing for truth and reality. You don’t get to punt to faith in hard spots, you have to go with the evidence and reason just like all the others do.


(p. 11) – Mr. Matson’s story of finding information he never learned at church, tried to talk to the leaders but they knew nothing but told him to just go pray harder and study harder, and eventually became inactive because he went to the internet and there was an enormous amount of information which contradicted what he had learned after decades in the church.


This story is mine, in part, as well. It is the story of many thousands if not tens of thousands now. Possibly hundreds of thousands.  One implication for the leaders is they don’t know, so why turn to them? Another implication is God doesn’t seem to see the need to teach the truth either, whether in person or through the Holy Ghost. God does nothing.


(p. 12) – The bishop didn’t have any magic words that made the member’s concerns go away.


Of course not. It’s not what makes the difference. Evidence makes the difference between reality and fantasy. We don’t need faith and magic words, quickie spiritual shallow answers, faith-promoting piffle and scriptures taken out of context, we need real evidence, a core reality, not theological make believe. You no longer get to merely proclaim truth, you have to demonstrate it.


(p. 12) – “People are born to believe.”


No, it’s  a matter of being born into a believing culture and raised in it being taught to believe.


(p. 12) – “faith not based on tangible, empirical proof.”


This is why it fails. “There is only one way to arrive at true judgments about any subject at all with any degree of certainty, and that is by reason. That is the reason why reason is the only type of thought that deserves to be called thought; reason demands facts, weighs those facts for truth and correspondence with reality, and then processes those facts to obtain trustworthy knowledge.”[14] The multiple problems of faith are well expounded by several authors, of which I will take one for now to illustrate the enormous problematical nature of this entire issue. This is where you begin paying attention if you want to actually dialogue with doubters in any sort of realistic way.

Faith is admitting that the evidence isn’t good enough, but you are going to irrationally believe anyway. I don’t know about you, but being irrational is not exactly high o my priority list. “To take something on faith, or to believe by faith, is to believe it despite contrary or inadequate evidence. It is to believe anyway when there’s not enough support from evidence and reason to clear the way.”[15] And that is just silly. Why is it silly? Because faith cannot change facts or reality. It’s mere wishful thinking about something we really, really want to be real, but it isn’t. Seriously. Atheists use the analogy, properly so, of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a most ridiculous thing, on purpose to drive the point home, and it’s valid! If I say I have faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster as a God out in space, there is no way for you to even say I’m being stupid if faith is all that matters, and doesn’t need any evidence. With faith, one can claim anything and cannot refute anything any more than they can demonstrate anything. Faith is worthless in other words for getting at reality. It is powerless to discriminate what is true from what is false.


The F-word (to use McCormick’s funny analogy!) is when “People only invoke faith in cases where they have a strong desire for a particular outcome or claim to be true and the evidence in favor of it is lacking in some regard.”[16] We are being asked to ignore the insufficiencies of evidence of a claim, insufficiencies of evidence and believe in it anyway! But is this even sane let alone rational or smart to do? If I give someone a liquid to drink, they take a sip, and then fall over dead, and I give you the same liquid to drink with the words, “ I have the antidote to this liquid, go ahead and take a drink,” would you? I damn sure wouldn’t! But why? What if I said “have faith in me, I can raise you up.” Would you then? Not me. Faith cannot change the fact that I am a charlatan. Mere words alone without evidence cannot overcome the real doubt one would have can it? Would all the faith in the world give me the power to raise you up like I promised? Of course not.


“When someone opts to believe despite the fact that the evidence undermines or even contradicts the conclusion, how could he maintain that others who haven’t done the same are somehow at fault?… a believer by faith simply has no grounds from which she can argue that others who don’t have faith, ought to have it. She can’t criticize the non-faithful for doing something contrary to reason or ignoring the evidence by not believing. By refusing to believe by faith, the nonbeliever may be only seeking to accept that which is supported by the evidence. The faithful believer cannot argue: “You’re not listening to reason. You need to accept the obvious implication of the evidence! All of the evidence indicates that you should believe on faith.” Faith carries no leverage against nonbelief.”[17]


Is it possible then to use faith and evidence? It is not. Consider the implications. Faith is only ever invoked when there is a shortage of evidence. No one ever says I have faith that I have cancer! “If there is sufficient evidence to justify the conclusion, then faith isn’t needed. So to suggest that faith and evidence jointly justify is to acknowledge that the evidence by itself isn’t sufficient, and to say “I will ignore that gap and believe anyway… Suppose a prosecuting attorney tells the jury, “You have all seen the full evidential case against the defendant, and you have seen that it is inconclusive about his guilt. However, if we invoke faith to overcome those doubts, we can convict him nevertheless. I urge you to have faith that he is guilty.” [18] This would just be outright criminal and wrong. The judge would not let the jury do this in any manner. No one in their rational mind would agree to that kind of idiotic thinking and mentality. “Faith, then, gives us no recommendation to believe something that we don’t have justification for and it certainly does not give us grounds to reject conclusions that are better supported by the evidence… the attitude of I’m going to believe anyway, despite these objections is just dogmatic irrationality.”[19]


So, if you think faith is the manner to go about having a dialogue with us about our doubts, you must realize that you want us to take you seriously? Then you need to subject your belief to the same general standards of justification that are vital everywhere else. You don’t get to privilege faith and protect it from being tested empirically. You aren’t in church, nor in your own faith arena, the game you are having to play here because of the circumstances we have noted about lacking credibility means you play this game on our playgrounds, by our rules, not yours. If you can’t or won’t do that, then go home, we have no need of dialogue with you. “To believe by faith amounts to believing what suits you with no responsibility to what is true or evidentially justified. And how can believing some sought after idea without any accountability to the evidence be moral? How can it be moral to adopt moral principles that are not subjected to rational scrutiny through the evidence? Your religious views matter to the rest of us, but if they arise from faith, then they are groundless.”[20]


(p. 13) – “Divergent views were easily dismissed as anti-Mormon…”


And yet, so many of those so called lies were actually the truth. In the age of the internet, you now have to demonstrate and prove your claims with bonafide correct evidences and probability.


(p. 14) – On discovering church not telling the truth of polygamy, blacks and priesthood, Book of Abraham, Adam God, DNA and the Book of Mormon, History, etc., “Some of the claims [of critics] they [Mormons] have learned are indeed based on facts, not just scurrilous lies made up by anti-Mormons…”


We are wondering how many “scurrilous lies” Mormonism has taught. Apparently an avalanche because the more we look, the more we find. The labels all fit on the other foot now. And the evidence proves it. Otherwise, why did you write your book? You do realize the church has proven and demonstrated that faith is powerless to discern the truth from the false right? You do grasp that and the implications right?


(p. 15) – “Why Was I not told any of this? They feel that the church has lied to them.”


No, we have the justified evidence the church has lied. You’re soft peddling.


(p. 16) – “For some people their crisis of faith leads them to doubt the grounds of their testimony… they call everything into question they knew….Can I trust past spiritual experiences?…How do I know God lives?… How do I know Jesus was resurrected and died for my sins?… how do I know what is sin and what is righteousness?…. how do I know anything at all?”


Precisely. Because you and God have been lies, everything we have been taught is false. We get the joy of starting over afresh and using real methods that help discern truth from the false. But the mere acknowledgment that this is our experience is not near enough. Now we have seen the evidences you claim for the after life, angels, Jesus, God, must be tested, weighed, and checked for probability. Your lies about all that open up the way to full blown atheism for us now. Are they, like the anti-Mormons, also correct? This calls for serious and honest investigation, which should have occurred in the first place actually. But I don’t trust you to be my guide. You have distorted and twisted the anti-Mormons so you also will do so with atheists and secular studies. You literally have precious little credibility left to hang any hat onto.


Once again, for pure emphasis sake so it is crystal clear to you, you can no longer scurry away into the safety of your little house of faith and warm yourself by the fire of belief, if you are going to dialogue with we doubters. You’re on our turf and you play the game our way. Rational, valid, real evidences using good principled logic and careful reason with finding the probabilities of whether your evidence is true or false after testing all other claims. You no longer are privileged of picking and choosing which evidence you think is important and discarding whatever you want when it suits your purposes. The cheating game you’ve been playing is over. We are looking for what is real. Only evidence and probability matter at all. If you have it, present it, and know it will be rigorously tested, not merely believed because someone important in your history said it was so. All cards are on the table now.


(p. 23) – “There are answers to be found…”


Fundamentally irrelevant to us. We no longer trust only mere answers for answers’ sake, as if that solves the problem. We need rational, empirical evidence, valid logical reasoning, and evidenced probability, just like we have for everything else in our lives. Religion no longer gets a free ride or the benefit of the doubt, it earns it’s honor, or it dies. We need real reasons to accept your answers.


(p. 23) – “But there are in fact good answers, intellectually rigorous and honest answers, faithful answers.”


Automatic RED FLAG WARNING!!!! “Faithful answers” meaning aligning with the church’s view and interpretation only as valid. These have been lies, deceptions, and cons, and are no longer trusted, listened to, or allowed. We need real answers, based on real probabilities, with sound and principled logic, based on actual justified, warranted evidence that all can check and are aware of, not some specially chosen spiritual witness. Nothing short of that will do any longer. You have not begun the work needed to do yet. All this special pleading and faith gets you nowhere. “Faith is always at war with the truth, because if we try to make ourselves arrive at a predetermined conclusion [‘faithful answers’] we run the risk of not dealing honestly with the evidence.”[21]


This will suffice for now. I made it through chapter 1. It’s already long, so I will carry on with analysis of chapter 2 in the next paper.



  1. His two most popular books being “The God Who Weeps,” Ensign Peak, 2012; “The Crucible of Doubt,” Deseret Book, 2014. I see Givens as one of the most clever rhetoricians in modern Mormonism to fill in the shoes of Hugh Nibley. He utterly fails to check on his own Mormon assumptions, and hence produces one-sided, unconvincing texts. Everyone else is supposed to doubt their faith, but not him! His Mormonism is true, and that is the operating assumption he presumes to use while convincing everyone else it’s O.K. to give up their own views, just don’t let those views be about Mormonism as it is a priori true already.
  2. Mike Ash, “Of Faith & Reason,” CFI, 2008. A good friend of mine who has remained an apologist. He is far too reliant on the old FARMS materials with all their assumptions he apparently uncritically accepts. The book gives all the appearance of already having the answers, now it’s just a matter of whizzing through some evidences that supports the answers. A worse method cannot be imagined.
  3. Thomas A. Wayment, “From Persecutor to Apostle, A Biography of Paul,” Deseret Book, 2006. Truly, the most ridiculous book on the Apostle Paul I have ever read. Insipidly muddled Mormonizing of Paul. Worthless as actual history. Much more informative, realistic, and actually valuable would be, say, Alan F. Segal, “Paul the Covert, Yale University Press, 1990; H. J. Schoeps, “Paul, The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History,” The Westminster Press, English Translation, 1961; James D. G. Dunn, “The New Perspective on Paul,” Revised edition, William B. Eerdmans, 2005; James D. G. Dunn, “The Theology of Paul the Apostle, William B. Eerdmans, 1998; Albert Schweitzer, “Paul and His Interpreters, A Critical History,” First Schocken Paperback, 1964; Adolf Deissman, “Paul, A Study in Social and Religious History, First Harper Torchbook, 1957; Robin Griffith-Jones, “The Gospel According to Paul, The Creative Genius Who Brought Jesus To the World,” HarperSanFrancisco, 2004. There is literally nothing of any kind of valuable scholarship utilized whatever in Wayment’s book. All the more troubling because he said he wanted to write the best book on Paul ever published! Can one do so by ignoring the best of Paul Scholarship all together, and merely using LDS authors, most General Authorities, who, by contrast to Pauline scholarship, know next to nothing about Paul?
  4. Grant Hardy, “Understanding the Book of Mormon, a Reader’s Guide,” Oxford University Press, 2010. One of the books that actually helped me realize the Book of Mormon is nothing but someone else’s opinion, not based on reality at all. Not his intention, but what I got out of it.
  5. Chad P. Conrad, “Doubt Your Doubts, Seeking Answers to Difficult Gospel Questions,” CFI, 2015. Seems to me to be trying to take advantage of Utchdorf’s conference talk that razzle dazzled the revelation-starved Mormons with his kitsch. Not very impressive reasoning at all.
  6. Scott R. Peterson, “Do the Mormons Have a Leg to Stand On? A Critical Look at LDS Doctrines in Light of the Bible & the Teachings of the Early Christian Church,” Millenial Press, 2014. A good attempt, but labors under the mistaken assumptions piled on far too often. Needed a good logician and scholar of Early Christianity to iron these out.
  7. Patrick Q. Mason, “Planted, Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt,” Deseret Book, 2015.
  8. Vincent Bugliosi, “Divinity of Doubt: God and Atheism on Trial,” Revised, Updated, Vanguard Press, 2012: 270.
  9. David Eller, “Atheism Advanced,” American Atheist Press, 2007: 407.
  10. David Eller, “Atheism Advanced,” p. 408.
  11. George H. Smith, “Atheism: The Case Against God,” Prometheus Books, 1989: 102.
  12. Richard Carrier, “Proving History, Bayes Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus,” Prometheus Books, 2012: 23.
  13. Richard Carrier, “Proving History,” p. 23.
  14. David Eller, “Natural Atheism,” American Atheist Press, 2004: 80-81.
  15. Matthew A. McCormick, “Atheism and the Case Against Christ,” Prometheus Books, 2012: 215.
  16. McCormick, “Atheism,” p. 217.
  17. McCormick, “Atheism,” p. 219.
  18. McCormick, “Atheism,” pp. 219-220.
  19. McCormick, “Atheism,” p. 220.
  20. McCormick, “Atheism,” p. 225.
  21. David Ramsey Steele, “Atheism Explained, From Folly to Philosophy,” Open Court, 4th printing, 2012: 119.

Faith is Causing the “Faith Crisis”: Ironic Isn’t it?


Faith is Causing the “Faith Crisis” in Religion: Ironic Isn’t it?!



Kerry A. Shirts

February 15, 2016


In reading the autobiography of Brigham D. Madsen, I found towards the end how he described how he and his fellow historian colleague Richard D. Poll did history.


“Dick and I, though perfectly congenial as friends, did not approach history in the same way. I strongly feel that I had not trained at Berkeley to be a professional historian and to devote most of my life to the field of teaching only to be denied the right to teach ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’ In contrast, Dick wrote that his own philosophy in writing biography is ‘that I will tell the truth and nothing but the truth but not necessarily the whole truth.’ It is these signs of omission of ‘faithful’ Mormon historians that result in apologetic accounts of Mormon history.”[1]


His observation on the Mormon apologetic approach to history had a profound impact on me. The more I thought of it, the more it gonged in my head that this puts the nail to the problem in all apologetic, not just history.


When Boyd K. Packer told D. Michael Quinn “I have a hard time with historians because they idolize the truth. The truth is not uplifting, it destroys… historians should tell only that part of the truth that is inspiring and uplifting,”[2] My jaw hit the floor. I wonder if this would be acceptable methodology in bishop’s interviews for worthiness…


Or when Dallin Oaks said of the traditional way of doing history in Mormonism, compared to the so-called “New Mormon History,” – “Balance is telling both sides. This is not the mission of official Church literature or avowedly anti-Mormon literature. Neither has any responsibility to present both sides. But when supposedly objective news media or periodicals run a feature or an article on the Church or its doctrines, it ought to be balanced.”[3]


Now if those sentiments don’t truly drive a wedge of skepticism and doubt into you, you may not understand what it is they are saying. This just boggles the mind! Do not tell the truth, and do not tell the truth from a balanced perspective if you have to tell it. And these are church leaders saying this! Lie to tell the truth, it’s the only way. Anti-Mormonism cannot possibly find a stronger argument against credibility no matter how hard they try to.  But this is just the tip of the iceberg.


It is a foregone conclusion that Mormon historians will always describe Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon as honest, industrious, a thriving farmer, etc., etc. However, one description of him read “so blindly credulous.”[4] Another description of him said he “had an unstable, violent temper, and yet withal a certain Christian meekness which emerged at unexpected moments. There were many paradoxes in his nature, above all a shrewd, almost naïve practicality that was perpetually at war with his uncritical appetite for the marvelous. John A. Clark, an Episcopalian minister of Palmyra, says of him that he ‘had always been a firm believer in dreams, and visions, and supernatural appearances, such as apparitions and ghosts.”[5]


The historian of Mormonism, Dan Vogel, noted that while Harris’ contemporaries certainly enjoyed his good businessman ethics, “also described him as an unstable religious eccentric…” Lorenzo Saunders said “…he was also a great man for seeing spooks.” William Hyde described Harris as “on religious subjects I thought him slightly demented.”  “Jesse Townsend went so far as to call Harris a visionary fanatic.” John Clark described once Harris claiming to have seen Jesus Christ who walked besides him for several miles in the form of a deer talking and chatting with him! This was during the same period Harris was translating the Book of Mormon with Joseph Smith. In another instance his imagination is described as “excitable and fecund.”[6] Isn’t this “truth” about the man also important to gather in judging him as reliable or unreliable as a witness of something supposed to be “real”? Yet the church leaves all this out in the various accounts they have of the descriptions of Harris. Packer and Oaks ways of telling the “truth” is to leave all this out as unnecessary, but, it is crucial for us to see the full view of the kind of man it was who supposedly had visions of testimony of angels, gold plates, Jesus Christ, and reality isn’t it? Would anyone in their right mind give a man who behaved and thought this way today the time of day as being reliable and trustworthy? Would you actually hang out with someone who thought all this and talked about things like this? Would you hire such a man to work for you? Be honest. I certainly wouldn’t do so. Vogel rightly ends his section examining the kind of people the witnesses were with this – “To emphasize Harris’s business ethics or Cowdery’s intelligence or Whitmer’s good citizenship is irrelevant to their potential to be inclined to see visions.”[7]


Boyd K. Packer is probably correct though, this kind of truth is not very useful… to a testimony built on faith, no, obviously not. And there’s the rub. Evidence destroys faith because invoking faith is an admission that the evidence isn’t good enough to believe a claim, so bolster it through that magic cover all, faith! But does that all the sudden make things real simply because they are wished for? So sure go ahead and tell about the good businessman Harris, just leave out he is loonier than a 15 tick bloodhound sniffin pepper on popcorn  during full moon nights huntin coons in the river bottoms.


The overall religious fervor of Smith’s area has been covered, with such luminous spiritual lights as a gent named McDonald who came to realize he was none other than Jesus Christ himself. In 1822 in Bowling Green, Kentucky this dude, using the Bible to confirm the happy doctrine that he was God, yessirree!, also taught the truths (you have to take it on faith, not doubt, and if you doubt, then doubt your doubt!) that Jesus himself had come back many times, sometimes even as a woman like Jemima Wilkinson, or Anna Lee! No sir, this is sober history as told from Jesus Christ himself as McDonald! Where’s your faith you doubting slobs?[8]


Too tall a tale for ye to swaller? Then try this one! God the Father himself incarnated in the form of Joseph Dylks. This 1828 Leatherwood God in Ohio was literally the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost all wrapped up into one gigantic super deity! And lucky him, it was Joseph Dylks! All ye had ta do is ask him! He’d tell ye strait! Whaddya mean you doubt it? There is no two sides to this, it’s history, and by faith one can come to know this truth.[9] Sure the newspapers cried out against these kinds of claims (including golden plates!) calling them wretched fanaticisms, but really, the country was not becoming a vast lunatic asylum, it was the Spirit of God hovering over the nation! I mean hey, with faith and partial truths, you can virtually make anything look virtuous. “No idea was too absurd, no person too squalid, to compel belief.”[10]


My point is this. Boyd K. Packer also got after historians for publishing “sensitive or controversial items which had been published before.”[11] This is a no, no. I mean come on, it was published once,  can’t we just let it go? Give Joseph Smith a break ya know? And for God’s sake already man, don’t publish “the unworthy, the unsavory, or the sensational.”[12] That’s just not in good taste. Yes we want you to be personally honest, of course, and but tis true, tis true, we insist on having your personal integrity, but there comes a time when truth as the church interprets it takes precedence over your own historian egos, and when you tell the actual truth, you go too damn far, so knock it off! B.H. Roberts is far too easy with the evidences, lay low and lay off his junk, since the received wisdom from the “Brethren” is “you cannot always rely on what brother Roberts says,” and in fact, when the facts get in the way of your thesis, do what the Spirit tells you to, leave em out![13] Relax, no one’s gonna check em, and no one cares anyway. We want to fill our hearts with the Spirit, not our heads with facts. No stuffy pickle farts here mind you!


The church has no interest in your version of the truth, even if it has some facts. Yes, perhaps it will be seen as historians being dishonest and perhaps careless if one omits sensitive, controversial, genuine, unworthy, unsavory, or sensational junk, but think of the Gospel kiddo! What is more important, your ego, or the church’s spin on truth?[14] Since real historians are known to create history, not just report it,[15] then go ahead and create it as faith promoting as you possibly can! God will only beat us with a few stripes and then all will be well in Zion. The thing about history is, and ya gotta understand where the church is comin from here man, with history, “you already must select certain facts and form them into a convincing story,”[16] So I mean like yeah! Make it BIG! Go for the mustard on top! I mean hey, the Catholics, those bastards, they got a head start on us by a few thousand years, lets catch up faster by makin things look bigger, better, and stronger than ever! Come on, chop, chop! Emphasize those spiritual glories!


O.K., O.K., you professional historians, wantin to be all like honest and clean shaven, that’s cool, no really, that’s cool, because like we are aware that “new outlooks demands that past events be surveyed anew in search of relationships overlooked by earlier scholars. Reasonableness and plausibility, the sine quo non of good history, take on new meanings in each generation,”[17] yeah, we fathom, we dig. However, lets spice up the glory a bit eh? What’s wrong with glory houndin it in favor of Joseph a little bit more than normal, right? Lets do this!


Whaddya mean that ain’t quite kosher? Who wants to be kosher? Are you kiddin me man? Well sure “historians are forever rearranging old facts and assimilating new ones into accounts that will help men and women of the present understand the past,”[18] but is it actually necessary to let all 8 accounts of Joseph’s First Vision be known about? Can’t we just pick the one we like the best and use it for testimony building? Come on whaddya say, ya with us on this? Do you sustain your brethren?


You want what? Objectivity? How lame! How sophomoric! For real? Lookit, the prophet said “objectivity meant seeing that the history of the church was presented in a positive light,”[19] and if it was good enough for him that way, then shut it up, sit it down, cause it’s gonna have to be good enough for you that way. Are you trying to tell me you’re more enlightened than the prophet? I didn’t think so big guy. Faith is the tool, whether we use it to beat you up with or not. Oh so you find contradictions? So? We got faith see. You don’t see how that works? Look with faith all things are possible, so by faith Joseph Smith wasn’t a bad guy you make out to be with your idiot evidences got it? “If we believe regardless of the evidence at our disposal, we don’t need historians or theologians.”[20] Yeah so? Is that so bad? We got no paid clergy, we can do without them two kind of knuckleheads. All historians do is pretend environmental influences is where the prophets were inspired from, coming up with revelation like the Word of Wisdom. We want em to give us the more spiritual truth, like revelation and coming from God[21]


Look Mormonism is unique, and we want you to teach that and use our language, not the language of the world to describe it. That’s not necessary. We want a language of discourse that makes you feel the spirit. Don’t use “seekers” to explain the people in Joseph Smith’s day. And what is with the use of “Mellenarianism,” and “primitivists,” and “myth” and “magic”? Why are you using those words?[22] It’s not “magic,” it’s “religion,” or else use “priesthood” or something. Anything but that stupid word “magic”! And why are you constantly saying “Although it is acceptable to argue that God is in all human events, it is not for historians to assign divine significance to those events”? Why not? Joseph Smith said so. Look if Joseph said it, that’s it, it’s true. You mean to tell me you can’t grasp that simple irrefutable logic?


We understand you historians believe “as much of the evidence as possible be investigated before conclusions are reached.”[23] But what you fail to understand is that when prophets are imbued with God’s Holy Spirit, no evidence will over turn the truths they teach from heaven see. Once the prophet speaks, the thinking has been done. All argument is over. The truth has arrived.  There is no point to thinking “continually test out different hypotheses and seek new evidence in attempting to explain and understand events.”[24] Don’t you realize that if you don’t just believe what Joseph Smith or any other prophet said, then your “soul is in great spiritual jeopardy”?[25] Far better to forget the evidences, do away with being totally honest, and just follow the prophet, he knows the way.


The community of faith is what helps us separate the sacred from the profane. That is what to have faith in![26] Only the inner sanctum of believers can expound honestly about Mormonism, outsiders, and those not in faith will never understand, the Spirit just will not abide in them.[27] So secular Mormons and historians writing about the Mormon experience as something human are wrong then?[28] Do we have to pretend they are already celestialized and write as if they are such? Is it so against God that we are still human while on this earth now? Really? I mean seriously, really? “History cannot concern itself exclusively with the celestial but must move outside of the inner sanctum into the terrestrial world.”[29] Joseph Smith, after all, didn’t have the First Vision in the celestial kingdom, but in New York! And that before there were Mormons available to “Mormonize” the account in their own image according to their own likeness.


And the drum beat goes on and on with all subjects historically, scientifically, socially, you name it. Faith is invoked every time there isn’t enough evidence or else an interpretation is different than the official one. Science has demonstrated there could not have been a “first man and woman” named Adam and Eve. It doesn’t work that way physically. That is a myth, not historic verity.[30] But if Joseph Smith said they were real, that’s all that is needed. Unfortunately, no. Our genes of all modern humans diverged from one another a long time ago, far earlier than the mere 6,000 – 10,000 years religion thinks we first arrived. And even that is misleading.


“the rest of our genome descends from a multitude of different ancestors who lived at various times ranging from 10,000 to about 4 million years ago. Our genome testifies to literally hundreds of “Adams and Eves” who lived at different times – a result of the fact that different parts of our DNA were inherited differently based on the vagaries of reproduction and the random division of genes when sperm and eggs were formed.”[31]


The non-Mormon historian Lawrence Foster said it well when he noted in his study of Mormonism “What a pity that the poorly informed writers of Sunday School manuals and approved histories were evidently ignorant of the vitality and richness of their own faith. Nowhere was such blindness to their own history more pronounced than in Mormon treatments of polygamy.”[32] Apparently he hadn’t looked much into the youth of Joseph Smith and treasure digging using peep stones as D. Michael Quinn was so powerfully to demonstrate over and over again.[33] This issue, as polygamy, caught Mormons completely flat footed and they had to hoof it fast to scramble and make some sort of attempt at two things. 1. Demonstrate something faith promoting about such rampant superstition. 2. Put as much spin as possible to keep the history faithful to their whitewashed version of the story where they thought they controlled all the sources. Quinn blew the walls out of the house with this that continues to have repercussions to this day.


Again, the poignant insights of Lawrence Foster are worth mulling over. Many LDS are fearful of writing openly and honestly about the history due to some leaderships myopic thinking that it won’t be faith promoting and will cause a loss of faith. “Leaders of the church are now [said in 1992, and things ain’t changed all that much yet as of 2016] calling publically for their historians  to write only sanitized saccharine accounts, treatments which would best be characterized as ‘propaganda’ by an objective observer… the writing of misleading yet supposedly ‘positive’ accounts of the Mormon past will be neither faith promoting nor good history.”[34]


Again, C. Robert Mesle has written about the problem of ignoring evidence and using faith when evidence goes against one’s cherished notions or doctrines in the case of Mormonism, and there are so blasted very many! Boyd K. Packer’s notorious discussion in his article “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect,” presupposes that Mormon historians are to understand they already have the truth of the First Vision, and therefore, “select only that evidence for their histories which supports that truth.”[35] The upshot of this is that all it does is give us confirmation bias. Catholics do this and hence… surprise! Prove Catholic! Jews do this and hence… surprise! Prove Judaism. Lutherans, Moonies, Calvinists, and many others do this and hence… surprise! Prove their own religions. If one cannot see what is at fault here (apparently the Holy Ghost went to sleep while Packer was giving his talk so he failed to give Packer the big picture and problem with such lousy instruction) then one is in poverty intellectually and spiritually. This proves that faith gives wrong answers. Think about it. By faith Catholics remain Catholic. So do Lutherans, Jews, Baptists, Calvinists, and Mormons. But each religion does not believe the other religions are correct, no of course not. Faith has led them into error. Faith is not a good method to use to find truth, nor confirm what we believe truth is, because the vast majority of all other religions have used faith and failed to find the truth using it! Can they not see this?


As Brian D. Birch has so insightfully demonstrated, “If reason is trumped by revelation such that rational arguments and secular scholarship are valid only to the extent they are consistent with revelation, reason ends up serving only apologetic ends.”[36] This is so important, I am going to continue with Birch’s significant thoughts and analysis. Here is the problem, which apparently church leaders are not adroit enough to fathom, unfortunately. (God ought to wake up and get them smelling the coffee already!) “Many accounts of Mormonism suffer from the difficulty of, on the one hand, using secular categories and methods to validate a particular interpretation of history, scripture, etc., [like when analyzing the various accounts of the First Vision! They deal with actual evidence of the various accounts, properly so], while on the other hand, rejecting this same methodology to the extent that it yields conclusions at odds with this interpretation. This is not scholarship!”[37]


If scholarship, any scholarship, Catholic, Jew, Mormon, whichever one you want to pick, if any kind of scholarship is to have integrity, that is, if it is to be taken seriously (such as by investigators into Mormonism – if THAT doesn’t wake up leaders and their contradictory, hypocritical ways, nothing will) then it must, it absolutely has no choice but to use the same methods and applications of data to all views and data under consideration and carry the same weight. In other words, “Scholarly methods cannot justifiably be applied in patchwork fashion that depends on what the outcome of the inquiry will be.”[38] Let me translate. You cannot begin with the answers, and merely select anything that supports those answers of “truth” you have faith in, and ignore everything else that says something else other than what you believe the truth to be. That is apologetic, not scholarship. Scholars recognize this, prophets and many LDS authors and scholars, apparently, and ironically, do not.


Consider one of the most startling debunking of LDS apologetic I have ever read. Robert Millet, in his LDS way, attempting to show how smart, sophisticated, and valuable his magnificent mind is for demonstrating the truth of Mormonism handily (he thought) disposes of the “environmental” argument in his criticism of historical criticism of the New Testament thusly:


“One obvious proposition of this perspective is that an event or a movement is largely (if not completely) a product of its surroundings, the result of precipitating factors in the environment. Though it is certainly valuable to be able to look critically at the setting – for nothing takes shape in an intellectual or religious vacuum – and though it is true that many elements impinge upon a moment in history, we need not suppose a causal connection between any two factors in an environment. Simply because A comes before B, we need not conclude that A caused B; we need not be guilty of the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc.”[39]


Birch’s devastating reply is priceless!


“This type of criticism is commonly employed in LDS scholarly circles as a way to preserve the religious integrity of a Latter Day Saint understanding of history and scripture against causal explanations for events that depend upon naturalistic methods of inquiry. However, this same ‘environmental argument’ has been repeatedly employed in LDS scholarship to argue that Christian doctrine was co-opted by Greek philosophy such that it became theologically misguided. The implication seems clear. Critical methods cannot only apply in one direction and maintain any scholarly respectability. One must employ a kind of theoretical ‘golden rule’ in these cases: Apply only those critical methods to others you are willing to be subjected to yourself.”[40]


The invoking of faith, the one sided application of scholarly methods against others, but not your own scholarship, and the deliberate falsification of historical evidence, either through ignoring them, changing them, etc., are some of the reasons for the “crisis of faith” occurring within Mormonism. Until someone addresses this honestly, openly, lovingly, and without the consternation, cantankerous sledgehammering of guilt onto someone who thinks differently, views the evidence differently, or even comes to different conclusions based on evidences not used by Mormons, expect that crisis of faith to grow magnificently as we all attempt to discover the “truth” that is so cleverly and not so cleverly being hidden from us in the name of God and truth. Lying for the Lord isn’t working. Not to put too fine a point on it, but, it sucks.



  1. Brigham D. Madsen, “Against the Grain, Memoirs of a Western Historian,” Signature Books, 2002: 359.
  2. “Faithful History,” edited by George D. Smith, Signature Books, 1992: 103, footnote 22.
  3. “Faithful History,” 103, foot note 23.
  4. Dale Morgan, “Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism, Correspondence & A New History,” Signature Books, John Phillip Walker, editor, 1986: 342.
  5. Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism & Correspondence, p. 273.
  6. Dan Vogel, “The Validity of the Witnesses’ Testimony,” in Dan Vogel, Brent Lee Metcalfe, editors, “American Apocrypha,” Signature Books, 2002: 94.
  7. Vogel, “Validity of Witnesses,” p. 97.
  8. Dale Morgan Correspondence, p. 226.
  9. Dale Morgan Correspondence, p. 226.
  10. Dale Morgan Correspondence, p. 226.
  11. D, Michael Quinn, “On Being a Mormon Historian,” in Smith, “Faithful History,” p. 75.
  12. Quinn, “On Being a Mormon Historian,” p. 76.
  13. Quinn, “On Being a Mormon Historian,” p. 76.
  14. Quinn, “On Being a Mormon Historian,” p. 77.
  15. Richard Bushman, “Faithful History,” in “George D. Smith, editor, “Faithful History,” p. 3.
  16. Richard Bushman, “Faithful History,” in “George D. Smith, editor, “Faithful History,” p. 3.
  17. Richard Bushman, “Faithful History,” in “George D. Smith, editor, “Faithful History,” p. 4.
  18. Richard Bushman, “Faithful History,” in “George D. Smith, editor, “Faithful History,” p. 5.
  19. It was Joseph Fielding Smith who said that, as found in Paul M. Edwards, “The Irony of Mormon History,” in Smith, ed., “Faithful History,” p. 20.
  20. Paul M. Edwards, “The Irony of Mormon History,” in Smith, “Faithful History,” p. 21.
  21. That was Ezra Taft Benson’s complaint, as found in in Quinn, “On Being a Mormon Historian,” Smith ed., , “Faithful History,” p. 77.
  22. Malcolm R. Thorp, “Some Reflections on New Mormon History and the Possibility of a ‘New Traditional History,’” in Smith, ed., “Faithful History,” p. 267.
  23. Thorp, “Some Reflections on New Mormon History,” p. 273.
  24. Thorp, “Some Reflections on New Mormon History,” p. 273.
  25. Boyd K. Packer said that, as found in Quinn, “On Being a Mormon Historian,” p. 71.
  26. Thorp, “Some Reflections on New Mormon History,” p. 275.
  27. David Earl Bohn’s claim as found in Thorp, “Some Reflections on New Mormon History,” p. 274.
  28. Thorp, “Some Reflections on New Mormon History,” p. 274.
  29. Thorp, “Some Reflections on New Mormon History,” p. 275.
  30. Jerry A. Coyne, “Faith Verses Fact,” Viking Books, 2015, pp. 126-128
  31. Jerry A. Coyne, “Faith Verses Fact,” pp. 127.
  32. Lawrence Foster, “New Perspectives on the Mormon Past: Reflections of a non-Mormon Historian,” in Smith, ed., “Faithful History,” p. 118.
  33. Michael Quinn, “Early Mormonism and the Magic World View,” Signature Books, 1987; D. Michael Quinn, “Early Mormonism and the Magic World View,” Revised and Enlarged, Signature Books, 1998.
  34. Foster, “New Perspectives on the Mormon Past,” p. 119.
  35. Robert Mesle, “History, Faith, and Myth,” in Smith, ed., “Faithful History,” p. 124.
  36. Brian C. Birch, “Theological Method and the Question of Truth,” in “Discourses in Mormon Theology,” edited by James M. McLaughlan and Loyd Ericson, Greg Kofford Books, 2007: 123.
  37. Brian C. Birch, “Theological Methods,” p. 123-124.
  38. Brian C. Birch, “Theological Methods,” p. 123-124.
  39. As found in Brian C. Birch, “Theological Methods,” p. 124.
  40. Brian C. Birch, “Theological Methods,” p. 124-125.



Point of BIblical Scholarship To Help Us Think (Mount of Transfiguration as Example)


The Point of Biblical Scholarship is to Help us Think, Analyze, and See Anew (The Mount of Transfiguration as Example)


Kerry A. Shirts

February 14, 2016


Raymond E. Brown, one of Catholicism’s foremost biblical exegete, scholar and prodigious author, described an attitude about the Bible that is, it appears to me, for the most part, completely lost or else for the most part ignored, especially by the Christian churches, resulting in the gross ignorance of the public about what the Bible is really saying, meaning, and what it is all about, at least as careful and serious, responsible scholarship has discovered. I open this paper using Brown’s sagacious observations on a few themes because he was such a pillar of strength and powerful scholarly insight into the Bible and religion for over 50 years producing an enormous and important work of scholarship through several books and several signal articles in the peer reviewed scholarly literature. One does not have to be a Catholic to see the immense value in what he shared so graciously with the rest of us to learn from. “True critical studies demand a humble submission to evidence and a willingness to accept truth no matter where it may be found.”[1] This above all other considerations. There is simply no better way.


He then continues to describe a phenomena which I will explore further in this essay. “In his two-part theological treatment of Christ and the church, Luke shows a remarkable ability to synthesize material from many sources into a unified picture.”[2] This theme has grown enormously, though, in fits and starts, in the 50 years since he wrote it with incredibly dense, consistent, and astounding break throughs I will explore, more or less in summary form in this paper. I will extend the treatment and discussion in further explorations and papers. Years later Brown noted that as the Catholic Church lifted its restrictions of scholars to work honestly with the biblical texts, views, doctrines, history, and literature, “eventually the Church learned what sooner or later all Churches learn – there is no way to avoid dealing with the results of responsible scholarship. Scholars can be purged once or twice, but a new generation keeps coming along; and eventually the Church has to enter into dialogue with them.”[3]


Several years later Brown again discussed this only from a bit of a different angle. On the idea that the Pastorals of Paul were written by a forger, Brown noted he took exception to this description since “The prejudiced character of such a remark which ignored the convention of writing in someone else’s name (i.e., pseudonymity)… the best explanation may be that the Pastoral Epistles are letters written by a follower of Paul, conscious of inheriting his mantle and seeking to give advice and instruction for the administration of local churches. This adoption of a revered name in such circumstances was a literary convention of the times.”[4] But it has come to the attention of the scholarly community through increasingly numerous studies, monographs, symposia and books, and is slowly leaking to the rest of the public, that this “literary convention” is just the tip of an enormous iceberg of intertextual influence of ancient texts and their influence on the Bible. That the ancient biblical authors were immersed and significant influenced by ancient writing techniques using ancient literatures from the Greeks, Romans, and Jews is just coming into blossom for the world to see. It has incredible implications we have not yet fully fathomed when it comes to grasping what the Bible is and what it is doing.


Biblical scholar G. N. Stanton warned significantly that we are simply not done at all in our searching for reality and truth in the Bible, and nothing, absolutely nothing can be declared finished nor even off limits because of a so-called invented “scholarly consensus” has arrived at what actually was or is. “New Testament scholarship has moved so quickly in recent decades that reconsideration of generally accepted conclusions is very much the order of the day…an intensive resifting of the evidence will, by indicating which conclusions are well grounded and which not, provide firmer foundations for further research.”[5]


Moises Silva, Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, states the obvious to fellow Christians who are not overly familiar with the scholarship that “the history of the Christian church, like the history of society generally, has been characterized by repeated conflicts regarding the interpretation of evidence.”[6] The reality has dawned on Christians, laymen and scholars alike that “when dealing with a number of crucial interpretative issues, found oneness of mind to be a very distance hope indeed.”[7] It is truly staggering to see the confession now that “the truth of scriptural authority does not automatically tell us what a given passage means.”[8] Is it all just a guessing game? Far more than the public is led on to believe! It is a matter of continually readjusting what we thought we knew, and recognizing our “preunderstanding” determines how we interpret, and that this interpretation is inevitably at best incomplete, at worse, completely irrelevant and wrong!


What has emerged over the course of the decades since the first and second quests for the Historical Jesus is in the late 1800’s on into the 1900’s and now into our own new millennium is “rhetorical criticism, which attempts to understand biblical material as carefully composed literary works.”[9] Once one seriously begins to engage the biblical texts, and continues doing so, we discover as Silva correctly notes, “no reasonable person is likely to deny that, at least in some sense, the biblical books are literature, and therefore patient of literary study… all with recognize that literary sensitivity is a significant aid to the appreciation of the Bible.”[10]


Terrence W. Tilley, past President of Theological Society, described how the problem of history faces us squarely, and how we have not yet overcome it. He described Marcus Borg’s Jesus, as being seen as “strikingly contemporary.” In fact, his version of Jesus as “an uneschatological ‘spirit person’ who ‘mediates the sacred’ as a healer and sage is “a figment of Borg’s imagination just as the Jesus who merely taught ‘the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man’ was a figment of Adolf Harnack’s imagination.”[11]  As the Jesus Harnack discovered was merely his own liberal Protestant reflection, so too, the Jesus of Borg and the Jesus Seminar they discovered as “the real Jesus,” simply “reflects their own social locations and academic reflections.”[12] Just how does this happen? As it does with every scholar who attempts to discern history in the ancient texts, they “…allow their presuppositions to control their results.”[13] And as Tilley so rightly admonishes, this same accusation can be leveled against any historical analysis or reconstruction of the past, whether of event or person or idea. However, the believer and the scholar do not use history in the same manner. The scholar warrants their claims on the basis of evidence in the field (whether it is the Bible say, or some ancient economic factor, or war, etc.), while the believer simply argues against the historian/scholars warrant based on the evidence because it doesn’t suit the believers views. Why not? Because ,as Tilley notes, “They wanted both to affirm historical truths about the historical Jesus  and simultaneously to affirm that historical investigations proper to forming judgments about historical figures could not warrant theologically significant truths  about Jesus.”[14] Believers feel threatened by historians and scholars of religion and religious history. “Exercising the historian’s craft – whether utilizing the methods of microhistory, biography, sociology, psychology, economics or other disciplines – can still result in the production of narratives which have severe tensions with living the faith of the believer.”[15]


Our modern assumptions, ideas, and ideals about what history is and how it is to be written differs significantly from ancient times, and one of the most fascinating if not disturbing examples we have had develop in our own time that illustrates this with immense power and dark humor is the strange story of Simon Schama, a professor at Harvard in the 1980’s and what he did that so engaged and enraged the public in the United States.


In 1991 Schama wrote a series of essays in his best-selling book “Dead Certainties” which led from one item into another in related threads analyzing a murder, and how history is “done.” First he discussed a reconstruction of the death of General Wolfe in the Battle of Quebec in 1759, where the British wrestled Canada from the French. This led to Francis Parkman, who was a 19th century biographer of Wolfe. The essays move to Parkman’s uncle, George Parkman, a Boston doctor in 1849 who was murdered by James Webster, Professor of Medicine at Harvard. Webster’s gruesome disposal of Parkman’s body by hacking it into pieces and burning them in the chemical laboratory led to one of the greatest scandals of the era and the guilty verdict was controversial. There was no eyewitness to the crime, no remains except for the dentures, and Webster never confessed. What Schama did was reconstruct the evidence and examined the basis of the verdict. Here is where things get really interesting for us today. I’ll let Keith Windschuttle carry on from this point.


“What is really on trial is the process of drawing absolute conclusions from the tiny, highly selective fragments of evidence that remain. In other words, the trial is a parable of the process of historical reconstruction itself, and the verdict an analogy of the historian’s claim to produce the truth about the past. Schama’s subtitle (‘Unwarranted Speculations’), cleverly mocks the book’s main title to question the status of much of what we believe about the past.”[16] Now here is where it gets our attention because it directly relates to our basis of understanding how the ancients wrote their own history, including and especially  the Gospel authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in light of current understanding of how the ancients composed their ancient histories and literatures we have received down through the ages. The contrast with us and them abruptly jolt us rudely as we gain an incredible insight here with this modern example concerning history and evidence.


Schama admitted to writing his historical investigation into these important matters in some places, as writing it fictionally. He even admitted to having invented some material presented in the essays as being facts! “He describes the essays as ‘works of the imagination, not scholarship’ and says that some passages are pure inventions. “[17] Some of his colleagues were quite critical of him doing this. Yet others made the point that this is the basis of how historians are doing most of the time, the difference is Schama came clean. Schama’s publishers changed the title calling the essays “imaginative reconstructions” and a “history of stories.”[18] But Schama defended his work, because, as Windschuttle notes, “Instead of arcane jargon, Schama prefers the dramatic clash of real human beings. He is, in fact, a champion of the revival of history as narrative storytelling…”[19]

Schama expounded that those who were looking for objective history with cold hard facts have deadened the fascination, written in stolidly boring academic prose, killed off any interest in learning our past, let alone the past of anyone else. Academic history has become a liability, however, our modern reaction to Schama still involves something worth noting because of how it dramatically takes us to the overall subject of what I am writing about in this paper. “To respond by abandoning truth, and adopting fiction is hardly the way to redress the situation [of boring, academic, intellectually stilted, dry, difficultly worded writing] Readers who come looking for history and find they are offered ‘imaginative reconstructions’ will inevitably feel cheated.”[20] The fallout is important for our modern assumptions and thinking about what makes history and how this differs, if at all, from literature.


“The first seven pages of “Dead Certainties” are presented as if they are eyewitness accounts of a soldier of the opening action of the Battle of Quebec. Schama maintains this apparent authenticity even to the extent of using eighteenth century spelling conventions. When the book’s readers arrive at the Afterword, they find that this and other passages were not authentic but were merely what Schama admits are composite assemblies from several different documents. However, once some of a book of history is discovered to be fabricated, the reader can never be sure that it is not all made up. Under these conditions, how could we have any confidence that the composite version itself is at all accurate or authentic?”[21] This is a critically momentous point.  When we are told that an author is writing history, then we expect to read the truth. But when the author then admits he was inventing some of the story, adding details here and there, using various different documents to compose a story, then we “are bound to suspend judgment about the credibility of everything the writer has written.”[22]


Sure some of the more dramatic historians earlier, such as Michelet, Macauley, and Gibbon had some biases, made mistakes in their analysis and facts, and probably had some mistaken perspectives, but what they didn’t do was make things up! As Windschuttle puts his finger directly on the point that bothers us because our modern thinking  – “being mistaken is a world away from deliberately inventing fictionalized passages… the practice of selectivity does not justify the resort to fiction. We always retain the right to distinguish between stories that are true and stories that are invented. There is nothing inconsistent in using selected evidence to establish the truth… one of the most common experiences of historians is that the evidence they find forces them, often reluctantly, to change the position they originally intended to take… the evidence itself can often determine what is important… the obligation historians have is to try and shake off their own values and pursue the truth.”[23]


This gets us to the point of looking at the ancient texts and their ways of doing things with history. Are they like us? Do they think how we think about what makes the difference between truth and reality, and what is false? The simple answer is directly no. This means, in order for us to apprehend their literature, history, and world view, we cannot simply pretend they thought like we do, nor that they did things like we do in order to be “honest” and “truthful.” Their views do not coincide with ours, even though some of their values do. They just went about it in a different way, and it is imperative we realize it is not our way, and hence we are not justified in simply writing them off as phony, fakers, deceivers, and quacks. If we want to understand them, we have no choice but to understand them on their own terms, not ours. This, as we shall see, opens up an entire new discourse of dialectic give and take concerning their writings, including the Bible. Lets take a closer look.


Donald Ostrowski described the most valuable way historians come to grips, as it were, with the past. They make models. These models “…seek to present plausible explanations of how the extant sources have come to be. But these models always remain hypothetical. All we can say is they are representations of a virtual past. How and in what manner this virtual past corresponds with the real past we are unable to say.”[24] Barbara Tuchman agreed. “We can never be certain that we have recaptured it the way it really was. But the least we can do is stay within the evidence.”[25]


The idea of using models to help us approach reality is also used in physics. Gordon Kane, the Victor Weisskopf Distinguished University Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan, noted that while the “Standard Model” of particle physics doesn’t give us a complete picture, “it can describe the behavior of all these extra quarks and leptons.”[26] Theoretical Physicist Jim Al-Khalili, senior lecturer at the University of Surrey in Guildford, explains that the scheme which loosely incorporates both the electroweak theory and QCD is called “The Standard Model” which “works very well, but no one believes it to be the final word on the matter.”[27] Models, whether in physics or history, or any other discipline, are how we arrange our data, and interpret facts as we discover them. Some models work and are used and extended, others are discarded as they become outdated. It works the exact same way in history and literature. We have discovered that the ancients’ model for understanding truth and reality was not ours. So what was it? Let us proceed.


The first thing we need to grasp is the principle “Each writer creates his precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.”[28] To us, we want to know what actually happened in the past, who did what? Who said what? Who went where and why? How did they travel? Etc.  With the Early Christians and the Gospel writers, this may not have been their primary concern. C. H. Dodd, Rylands Chair of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis, Manchester University, an influential Christian exegete and scholar in the early to mid 1900’s, after giving a few samples, several good ones actually, of Old Testament passages in the New Testament concluded that this method of using the Old Testament in the New was “the starting point for the theological constructions of Paul, the author to the Hebrews and the Fourth evangelist.”[29] But this didn’t quite capture the overall essence of what the Gospel authors were doing, although it was pointing in the right direction. Dodd knew well that “we start with the original writer, what he said, what he had in mind, and what his contemporaries understood him to mean. But to stop there is the part of a pedant. No great literature will stand such treatment. All great writers meant more than they knew. They all welcomed the imagination of their readers. But it must be instructed imagination, not fantasy.”[30] And it was a fantasy pure and simple, as Dodd noted, to assume an infallibility, a concrete, once and for all, exact truth that was unchanging and unchangeable which Christianity adopted which gave way to their chaos of confusion on what the Bible says and means. But the larger problem, for Dodd, as well as for us, is this weird doctrine, without any evidence whatever, meant “the biblical writers have lost incalculably because their writings have been forced into a dogmatic scheme alien from their thought.”[31]


For this paper, it’s not the emphasis of the historian’s attempts to show the Gospels wrote historically, as that may actually be a minor concern of theirs once all the evidence is accounted for. The emphasis and insistence of scholars to claim history as the basis of the Gospels may be continuing to “force a dogmatic scheme” onto the Gospels. I shall treat, for the more part, four scholars’ work on this issue of historicity  which may be misleading us into an incorrect understanding of the Gospels in the New Testament. Dennis R. MacDonald, Thomas L. Brodie, Adam Winn, and Dale Miller, among many others, have, in various ways, been investigating the ways and reasons for the use of the Old Testament by New Testament authors, especially the Gospel authors.


By way of illustration and simplicity, I will use the Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity to indicate the approach which has caused several of the issues and perplexities we have been struggling with for grasping the nature of the Gospels and New Testament as a whole.


According to that venerable source, “Before the time of Irenaeus, the sacred books of the Christians were in the main the Hebrew Bible, ‘law, prophets, and writings,’ or ‘Old Testament’. The tradition of the words of the Lord was largely oral, and even after the canonical gospels were freely circulating, second-century citations of Jesus’ teachings often suggest oral rather than written transmission… the mind of Jesus was captured less from the written books than from the oral teaching of those seniors who had known apostles personally.”[32] This view of orality has been giving way slowly but surely to a view of what is now known as “Intertextuality.” This exciting new development (new meaning within it’s been gaining steam the last 100 years or more) sheds light on all facets of the New Testament in provocative and fascinating ways.


Intertextuality is about how texts use other texts to give us their form as well as message of what an author wants us to believe or know. There are actually many techniques the ancients used which we have become aware of through intrepid scholarship, in, among foremost places, the Gospels of Mark and Luke-Acts, and more generally the entire New Testament. The limited paradigm we have operated under over the last 100 years in part due to the “limited paradigm of New Testament scholarship has inherited from source, form, and redaction criticism.”[33] The problem is that source criticism “closed the door on the search for Markan sources. If sources for gospels can only be gospel-like material, and Mark is the first gospel, then no avenue exists for uncovering Markan literary sources. We are simply left to conclude that Mark is a unique and original creation – one that is independent of significant literary sources.

If source criticism shut the door on the search for Markan literary sources, form criticism locked it by proposing that the sources for Mark’s gospel were in fact not literary at all, but oral. The Markan evangelist simply compiled oral traditions from the early church and strung them together to form a rough narrative.”[34] This picture is being over turned, for one reason, among many, in that it is simply not realistic in light of current discoveries of how the ancients composed their literature and stories.


Intertextuality is the sharing of complete systems of thought in anthropology, but has also come to mean the relationship among texts with other texts, their use, emulation, copying, imitating, and transforming the stories of one text into the stories of another with radical and not so radical changes in themes, characters, and plots for the new story, which is based on other texts using other contexts for other peoples.[35] The Gospel of Mark and “Proto Luke-Acts” did not merely cite allusions to the Old Testament, but they are based entirely on the Old Testament stories, the anchor section being the Elijah-Elisha narrative.[36] James H. Charlesworth taught “the evangelists were not mere compilers of tradition, they were editors of tradition. Each shaped his own work according to certain easily recognized tendencies.” Charlesworth also notes Luke had a tendency to “trifurcate universal history… he also tones down Mark’s tendency to emphasize the present as the end time…he edits prophecy…”[37] But there is far more to it than this. Mark also is known now to have employed numerous stories, plots, and changing of themes, adjusting, crunching, expanding, and adopting from Homer’s two classic epics, the “Illiad,” and the “Odyssey.” Dennis R. MacDonald is the main New Testament scholar who has demonstrated this line of work.[38] As if this weren’t enough, Dale Miller has demonstrated how Mark is a Midrashic explanation of multiple Old Testament texts woven together to form a coherent and internally consistent story which Mark wrote as his Gospel.[39] All together these various interlocking, supporting materials have given us a vast, new, and impressive evidence that Mark was a literary genius of the highest caliber. His skillful use of sources is unmatched for superb meaning and overall impressive narrative instruction for those wanting to know about Jesus. As history, Mark used to be seen as more or less “primitive,” and simple, sort of disjointed, not all that impressive, especially in comparison with John’s Gospel. For instance, the Christian exegete Henry Barclay Swete noted of Mark’s Gospel, “It was not an orderly or complete account of the Lord’s words or works.”[40] But now as we are beginning to understand just how Mark went about constructing his narrative, he is superbly the most impressive Gospel of the entire collection, canonical as well as non-canonical. This is an entirely new picture we have learned! I will focus on the Mount of Transfiguration to give a sense of the stimulating genius of Mark, with many more examples to follow in further papers.


There is a lot more to the Mount of Transfiguration scene and theme than meets the eye in the New Testament. It is true that Jesus is made to be more than the law and the prophets as his enhanced glory is enlarged beyond that of both Moses and Elijah who are said to have visited him on the mount, as William R. Farmer explained. “The symbolism of Moses and Elijah disappearing and leaving only Jesus is crystal clear. Jesus is not an authority on par with the law and the prophets, but his authority as the Son of God transcends the law and the prophets.”[41] MacDonald notes this scene is representative of the Sinai motif of Moses in the Old Testament, without question.[42] It is repeating ancient Israelite mythological motifs because that was part of the way they carried on their traditions. As Schroter noted “History writing emerged – both in Greece and Israel – in close connection with mythical interpretations of the world.”[43] They did this through “Mimesis,” or imitation of earlier great works of literature. “…the ancient world was obsessed with imitating the great works (oratory, literary, sculpture, etc.), that were already in existence… through the study of imitation in ancient Greco-Roman literature, we have a rare and significant window into the way in which ancient authors used literary sources.”[44] Winn’s analysis points this out. At Jesus’ transfiguration, Elijah is physically present for one thing. Interestingly, Elijah is discussed after the transfiguration several times, and in fact, in Mark 9:1-13, “in this span of text, Elijah’s name occurs more times than Jesus’ name, with Elijah occurring six times, and Jesus’ occurring only five. Clearly, the Markan evangelist is drawing the reader’s attention to the character of Elijah and quite plausibly to the Elijah-Elisha narrative as well.”[45]


Jesus surpasses both Moses and Elijah with the Son of God epithet given to him from the voice from heaven, which title was also linked to suffering. [46] Mark’s midrash on this obvious.  The mountain of God to the ancient Jews was dark, thunderous, scary. They saw no form, but only heard a voice (Deut. 4:11-12). But the three disciples with Jesus on the mount did hear the voice and saw Jesus shining as well as saw Moses and Elijah. This is a greater extension to Israel now as a community than it was anciently. God’s work is progressing, moving forward.[47] Elijah too had a vision of God on Mount Sinai (1 Kings 19). As interesting as the Jewish antecedents are in this story, they cannot explain all the details, yet MacDonald demonstrates how Mark included in his imitation of ancient literature to produce this story, how he used Homer’s Greek materials and skillfully interwove those themes in also. One of these was the secrecy motif, which properly reflects Odysseus’s secrecy so no one discovers who he is when he returns home to fight against the suitors. “The transfiguration especially resembles Odysseus’s transfiguration to his son Telemachus.” MacDonald details this for a few pages, the common themes of glory, light, brilliant clothing, terror, silence, etc.[48] “Other similarities are distinctive. Odysseus and Jesus both wear clothing whitened by a heavenly launderer, Telemachus and Peter both err in ascribing divinity to mere mortals, and those who witness both transfigurations must be silent about what they saw. Most ancient epiphanes result in legends or cult, not in secrecy.”[49] Here we see Mark using the dynamics of many other stories to craft his own with its own twists and logic. He is like “the proverbial bee of ancient rhetoric, harvesting nectar from several blossoms – some Jewish and some Greek – and transformed them into Gospel honey.”[50]


Odyssey 16. 167-307                                                             Mark 9: 2-10

Odysseus was alone with                                                      Jesus was alone with Peter,

Telemachus                                                                              James, and John

Athena transformed Odysseus and                                    Jesus was transformed. His garments

Dressed him in a well-washed cloak.                                 became  dazzling white so no                                                                                                                         launderer could                                                                                                                                                    bleach them

Telemachus was terrified because he thought                  Disciples terrified, offer to build                                                                                                                     three shrines as

The beggar was a god in disguise. Offers gifts.                   Though Elijah, Moses, Jesus were                                                                                                                 divine.

Odysseus refuses the offer, he’s no god,                             Voice from cloud rebuked Peter and                                                                                                           announced

But the boy’s father.                                                                 That Jesus was God’s son.

Odysseus demanded that Telemachus                                   Jesus demanded the disciples tell                                                                                                                 no one what

Keep his identity secret                                                              they had seen.

This chart and further analysis is found in another book by MacDonald also.[51]


With all this, Brodie’s theme that Mark specifically used extensively the entire Elijah-Elisha narrative takes on added meaning. The entire bulwark of narrative themes, characters, plots, and settings intermesh giving us a new creation of Mark which extends the theme of Israel and the prophecies of Israel being fulfilled in Mark’s day.[52] The real power of the presentation in Mark is recognizing, as Brodie does, that the Elijah-Elisha narrative is formed in eight diptychs, two-part texts in which the first is complimented in the second. This same eight-fold pattern is mirrored in Mark exactly as he utilized the same narrative!  It gives a “unified interpretative synthesis” between the Old Testament narrative and the Gospel of Mark as he continues Israel’s prophetic pattern.[53] The consistent use and wholesale swallowing of Old Testament texts for his (Mark’s) own purpose is further shown in MacDonald’s analysis of the Logia of Jesus throughout the New Testament as they are found in all the Gospels, most especially in Mark and Luke-Acts, as Deuteronomy and many other texts were brought to bear upon the stories as the Gospels produced them.[54]


The amazing new view we have clarifies much of the mystery and questions scholarship have had about why, where, and how the Gospels were put together, the kinds of stories they shared, the plots and interactions among the people. Much more can be said, and will be in later papers. What we are finding now is that Mark and the other Gospel writers were not isolated and alone with no texts to draw from for their inspiration. It was a network of “schools” they worked in to produce their texts, as Brodie has shown. Not only the Gospel writers however, but even Paul, “far from being an isolated writer, was attuned both to the writing methods of his day (rhetoric) as well as the whole canon of popular philosophers… it is now recognized that Platonists, Peripatetics, Cynics, Stoics, Epicureans and Pythagoreans must all come under consideration… by a process of transformation, [Paul] used these books as constituitive of his message, as central to his own writing.”[55] Mark is in the exact same boat as is Luke-Acts. So there are some very exciting new things we are discovering about the New Testament, among others, it had far more literature at its base, which they have rearranged, imitated, changed, drawn upon, and reworked thematically, adding their own characters, plots, and themes with sub-themes, than has heretofore been supposed.



  1. Raymond E. Brown, “New Testament Essays,” Image Books, 1965: 67.
  2. Brown, “New Testament Essays,” p. 68.
  3. Raymond E. Brown, “The Critical Meaning of the Bible, How a Modern Reading of the Bible Challenges Christians, the Church, and the churches,” Paulist Press, 1981: ix. He also notes, and this is largely the reason he wrote this book, among others, that “Biblical scholars themselves are continually developing insights in areas that affect theology.” (p. 1).
  4. Raymond E. Brown, “Response to 101 Questions on the Bible,” Paulist Press, 1990: 50-51. Cf. Leonard Foley. O.F.M., “Believing in Jesus, A Popular Overview of the Catholic Faith,” St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1985: 20, who upon noting the authors of the various Gospels wrote different accounts, is due to the fact that “they selected the things which were suited to the situation of the faithful and adapted their narrative to that same situation… Therefore, Pius XII said, the interpreter of Scripture must examine the particular literary genre (style, form) used by the writer to see how this contributes to a true and genuine interpretation.”
  5. G. N. Stanton, “The Gospel Traditions and Early Christological Reflection,” in “Christ, Faith, and History, Cambridge Studies in Christology,” edited by S. W. Sykes, J. P. Clayton, Cambridge University Press, 1st paperback, 1978: 192-193.
  6. Moises Silva, “Has the Church Misread the Bible?,” Academic Books/Zondervan, 1987: 2.
  7. Silva, “Has the Church Misread the Bible?,” p. 4.
  8. Silva, “Has the Church Misread the Bible?,” p. 4.
  9. Silva, “Has the Church Misread the Bible?,” p. 9.
  10. Silva, “Has the Church Misread the Bible?,” p. 10.
  11. Terrence W. Tilley, “Introduction: Practicing History, Practicing Theology,” in “Theology and the New Histories,” Gary Macy, editor, The Annual Publication of the College Theological Society, (1998): 44: Orbis Books, p. 4.
  12. Tilley, “Introduction: Practicing History, Practicing Theology,” p. 4.
  13. Tilley, “Introduction: Practicing History, Practicing Theology,” p. 5.
  14. Tilley, “Introduction: Practicing History, Practicing Theology,” p. 6.
  15. Tilley, “Introduction: Practicing History, Practicing Theology,” p. 7.
  16. Keith Windschuttle, “The Killing of History, How Literary Critics and Social Theorists are Murdering Our Past,” The Free Press, 1997: 227-228.
  17. Windschuttle, “Killing of History,” p. 228.
  18. Windschuttle, “The Killing of History,” p. 228.
  19. Windschuttle, “The Killing of History,” p. 228.
  20. Windschuttle, “The Killing of History,” p. 229.
  21. Windschuttle, “The Killing of History,” p. 229-230.
  22. Windschuttle, “The Killing of History,” p. 230.
  23. Windschuttle, “The Killing of History,” p. 230-231. This is a summary of the main statements made on this angle over the course of two entire pages. I am leaving out the irrelevant material in order to make the point more poignant for the purposes of this paper, I am not attempting to deliberately change the context of Windschuttle’s own interesting research.
  24. Donald Ostrowski, “The Historian and the Virtual Past,” in The Historian, a Journal of History,” LI:2 (February 1989): 201.
  25. Barbara Tuchman, “Practicing History,” Ballantine Books, 1982: 18. Cf. Alan Nevins, “The Gateway to History,” Anchor/Doubleday Books, Revised, 1962 – “As for reading only what history pleases our prejudices, it is the surest means of confirming ourselves in error.” (p. 228) See also Allan J. Lichtman, Valerie French, “Historians and the Living Past,” AHM Publishing, 1978 – “…we can only know the past indirectly by analyzing the evidence that survives.” (p. xvii).
  26. Gordon Kane, “Supersymmetry and Beyond, From the Higgs Boson to the New Physics,” Revised, Basic Books, 2013: 32.
  27. Jim Al-Khalili, “Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed,” Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004: 201.
  28. Morris Dickstein, “The Ever-Changing Literary Past,” in David H. Richter, editor, “Falling  Into Theory: Conflicting Views on Reading Literature,” Bedford Books, St. Martin’s Press, 1994: 129.
  29. C. H. Dodd, “According to the Scriptures, the Sub-structure of New Testament Theology,” Fontana Books, 1965: 127.
  30. C. H. Dodd, “The Authority of the Bible,” Harper Torchbooks, 1958: 7.
  31. C. H. Dodd, “The Authority of the Bible,” p. 11.
  32. “The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity,” edited by John McManners, Oxford University Press, 1990: 30-31.
  33. Adam Winn, “Mark and the Elijah – Elisha Narrative: Gathering the Practice of Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material,” Pickwick Publications, 2010: 2.
  34. Winn, “Mark and the Elijah – Elisha Narrative,” p. 2.
  35. See the excellent observations of Thomas L. Brodie, “The Birthing of the New Testament, The Intertextual Development of the New Testament Writings,” Sheffield Phoenix Press, 1st paperback, 2006: 74-75.
  36. Thomas L. Brodie, “The Birthing of the New Testament,” is the main author showing this vast interconnected network of scriptures, story, plot, characters in extensive analysis.
  37. James H. Charlesworth, “Jesus Within Judaism, New Light on Exciting Archaeological Discoveries,” Doubleday, 1988: 18-19.
  38. Dennis R. MacDonald, “The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark,” Yale University Press, 2000; See also his book “The Gospels and Homer, Imitations of Greek Epic in Mark and Luke-Acts,” Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. Also his magnum opus, “Two Shipwrecked Gospels, The Logoi of Jesus and Papias’s Exposition of Logia about the Lord,” Society of Biblical Literature, 2012.
  39. Dale Miller, “The Gospel of Mark as Midrash on Earlier Jewish and New Testament Literature,” Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity, Vol. 21, Edwin Mellen Press, 1990.
  40. Henry Barclay Swete, “Commentary on Mark,” Reprint from 1913, Kregel Publications, 1977: xxv.
  41. William R. Farmer, “Jesus and the Gospels, Tradition, Scripture, and Canon,” Fortress Press, 1982: 80.
  42. Dennis R. MacDonald, “The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark,” p, 91.
  43. Jens Schroter, “Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament,” translated by Wayne Coppins, “From Jesus to the New Testament, Early Christian Theology and the Origin of the New Testament Canon,” Baylor University Press, Mohr Siebeck, 2013: 35.
  44. Adam Winn, “Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative,” p. 8.
  45. Adam Winn, “Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative,” p. 92-93.
  46. Oscar Cullman, “Die Christologie des Neuen Testaments,” Translated by Shirley G. Gutherie, Charles M. Hall, “The Christology of the New Testament,” Westminster Press, 1963: 277-278.
  47. Dale Miller, “The Gospel of Mark as Midrash,” p. 227-228.
  48. Dennis R. MacDonald, “The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark,” pp. 91-96.
  49. Dennis R. MacDonald, “The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark,” p. 95.
  50. Dennis R. MacDonald, “The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark,” p. 96.
  51. Dennis R. MacDonald, “The Gospels and Homer, Imitations of Greek Epic in Mark and Luke-Acts,” Rowman & Littlefield, 2015: 267.
  52. Thomas L. Brodie, “Birthing of the New Testament,” p. xix-xxi. “There is a distinct dependence on the entire Old Testament.” (xxi)
  53. Thomas L. Brodie, “Birthing of the New Testament,” p. 39.
  54. Dennis R. MacDonald, “Two Shipwrecked Gospels,” pp. 408-409 for example, among many in his book.
  55. Thomas L. Brodie, “Birthing of the New Testament,” p. 125-126.






The Historical Jesus and Curiosity About Reality


(New in a series of essays for the year 2016)


Kerry A. Shirts

December 26, 2015

What is, indeed, the point? There have been so blasted many millions of books written on this character that no one can read them all.  And no one actually accepts that any single one of them has the final or even the best view, let alone the most accurate one, of Jesus. So why continue delving into a subject that really does appear insolvable? Because there is always a new angle, a new piece of information, or a new perspective that someone else has not thought of, and, Jesus has never shown back up to solve the ultimate issue, so we are left to our own devices to figure him out. Just because it’s insolvable doesn’t equate with being uninteresting! Once one begins down the road of whetting the appetite for Jesus, historical or otherwise, you soon find out that there are actually an amazing number of Jesus’s out there! And no two of them are alike. This is just one reason I have decided to start up a regular column on my blog about Jesus. It dawned on me after reading so many books about him that no one “owns” the correct Jesus, no one has “the” insider track exclusively and legitimately being able to prove their Jesus, and theirs alone, is the authentic one, all others are imposters. Are any of them authentic? Who knows?

We do come to the startling realization that a goodly number of them are quite contradictory however, and those who hang their salvation on his cross for their sake might be in huge errors on any numbers of things concerning this most fascinating character in history. And, what has become one of the strongest driving forces to my own skepticism is precisely this vast, colorful, and frustrating array of Jesus’s not to mention gods, that everyone touts as being real, true, and alive, interested in us and our welfare. If it’s not that big a deal to God or to Jesus that we actually find him being a reality, it most definitely is to we humans. And it is a remarkable testament to our human ingenuity as to how we try and trace any sort of reality to Jesus, no matter how clever it is, or no matter how much lack of actual evidence we have. We must attempt to know, and thus I write about others and my own attempts to know.


It’s interesting to realize that Jesus has caused so many 16-25 page pamphlets and 100-1,100 page books to be written about him, and any number of pages in-between that were we granted lifetimes of even 500 years in good health we could not, physically could not, read them all! Wow. Let that sink in. The best of the best scholarship has been mulling him over and researching, writing, and worshipping him now for over 200 years on a serious scholastic level, (2,000 years before that on a more mundane less than accurate and scholarly level) and have basically come to the point that it is impossible to ever know the real historical Jesus. He isn’t even real. Now granted, the atheists say this also, (for different reasons, of which we will be looking at) but this is one of the truly great Christian scholars on this issue, James D. G. Dunn! Historical Christianity has imprisoned Jesus within the tomb of their own version of faith-promoting and scriptural exegesis (explanation, commentary, etc.) and the point of the “Quest(s)” for him has been to get him out of that “faith” prison, and into the light of reality and history.[1] Well the first “Quest” for Jesus failed, and the second one flopped, this so-called “Third Quest” may now just be fizzling,  (many will vehemently disagree with that!) who knows? But one thing for sure, it has generated an interesting amount as well as quality of scholarship the first two quests didn’t. But does the scholarship carry the day? I don’t think so honestly. But it’s educational to see the hows, whys, and wherefores that scholars have attempted to come up with in favor of Jesus being this type of person or that, all without ever settling or confirming much.


Robert B. Stewart has noted that there are many (including Dunn) who say Jesus is merely a “construct,” with no one really getting to the reality.[2] Scot McKnight has said it best, and perhaps the most straightforwardly simple – “we all believe in the Jesus we have constructed in our own minds.”[3] And the problem of taking one scholars’ Jesus over another is precisely the same problem of taking one church’s Jesus over another. It still isn’t the real Jesus, but a Jesus after our own understanding and view, or theology. The problem is there isn’t any real Jesus, there are only an enormous amount and varieties of many Jesus’s and it’s getting worse, not better as time and research goes on![4] Clearly something is seriously wrong with it all. It is to that, as well as the many, variegated, and sometimes whimsically idiotic interpretations of Jesus from the Bible and other scriptures that I will continue looking into in the up-coming several papers on this fascinating topic I will explore this year.


  1. James D. G. Dunn, A New Perspective on Jesus, Baker Academic, 2005: 20f.
  2. Robert B. Stewart, “From Reimarus to Dunn,” in Robert B. Stewart, Gary R. Habermas, editors, Memories of Jesus, Baker Academic, 2010: 22.
  3. Scot McKnight, “Why the Authentic Jesus is of No Use for the Church,” in Chris Keith, Anthony Le Donne, editors, Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity, T & T Clark, 2012, p. 173.
  4. As Dale C. Allison, Jr., has noted, there is the Jesus of N. T. Wright, the Jesus of John Dominic Crossan, the Jesus of E. P. Sanders, and his own Jesus, the Jesus of Dale C. Allison, Jr! See his Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus, William B. Eerdmans, 2009: 8-9.

Do Religion & History Conflict? Revisiting Hugh Nibley’s Mormon Apologetic Rhetoric


Do Religion & History Conflict? Revisiting Hugh Nibley’s Mormon Apologetic Rhetoric


Kerry A. Shirts

October 18, 2015

Upon re-reading Hugh Nibley’s article “Do Religion and History Conflict?”[1] which I have read numerous times in the past, it being one of my favorite articles of his, when I was “doing” apologetics, I was struck by an insight I had never thought before, but can clearly see it now, at least to me. Hugh Nibley was a quite clever fellow, actually a rhetorical sophist of sorts. Now, granted, based on his aspersion against sophists, that’s probably not a nice thing to say, but this article really brings out his sophistry in ways I haven’t realized. Allow me to demonstrate a couple ideas here to show what I mean.

I get the feeling now reading this, that Nibley was looking for a realistic method of doing history, and could find no other than simply crunch through the gajillions of books and see which one of them made the most sense. He was looking for the Bayes Theorem methodology. He never did get to it however. That’s too bad, it’s by far, the best methodology we have going for us today, being scientifically proven to be the most objective way to go about analyzing evidence. I won’t write about that in this discussion however. It does need to be realized that it is not just subjective guess work, not by a long shot. James V. Stone’s nifty book Bayes’ Rule: A Tutorial Introduction to Bayesian Analysis, describes it as a “rigorous method” and the wide range of its use is demonstrated in many fields, such as genetics, linguistics, image processing, brain imaging, medicine learning, psychology, forensic science, human object recognition, ecology, “Bayes Theorem is not a matter of conjecture.” It has “been proved to be true.” “It is far from random guessing…Bayesian inference can be justifiably interpreted… this perfect inference machine is fallible, but it is provably less fallible than any other.”[2] While Richard Carrier has demonstrated its very powerful use in history, and specifically how to apply it to the Bible and religion claims in general, including scientific claims also.[3]

James A. Lindsay, a mathematician has written several enormously helpful, fascinating, and easy to grasp articles on Bayes theorem as it applies to religion and belief in one of the most under-appreciated blogs on the internet. This is a must read for anyone interested in seeing actually how it works. His blogs is one of the most succinct, distinct, and educational blogs that speaks to we normal Joes and Janes anywhere. I highly recommend a thorough reading of these materials on the necessity, the importance, and significance of using Bayes Theorem on claims being made in history, in science, and in religion. His research into infinity is second to none also. He demonstrates how infinity being mixed up with God just is insanely perverse and illogical. It is one of the most eye-opening blogs on the subject of infinity and God on the entire internet.[4] I bring this up because I most definitely will have recourse to both subjects, Bayes’s Theorem and Infinity when dealing with other apologetic claims made by Mormon scholars as well as Christian scholars. This is just sort of a heads up for future discussions coming down the pipeline as it were. Now, back to Nibley’s ideas.

Now then, it’s true that the good ole swashing buckling desire for heroic “certitude” in the earlier days caused enormous problems, but we have learned a thing or two since Whitehead’s days of explication. Of course we cannot give our learning or science any benefit of the doubt, or at least Nibley can’t. To give science any credit is to take credit away from religion from Nibley’s stance, which is quite ludicrous on my take. But I could be wrong. This entire essay of his appears to be one long carefully crafted attempt to say history as I interpret it does not contradict my testimony. How convenient.

The fallacy that Nibley lived and operated in throughout his career, so far as it seems to me to be, was possibiliter ergo probabiliter, “possibly, therefore probably.” So what does this mean? It indicates to us that “just because you can conceive of a possible alternative explanation, does not entail that your alternative is actually more likely (or in any way likely at all). Historians often do little more than conceive of some possible ‘just so’ story to explain the evidence and assume that because their interpretation fits, therefore it’s true.”[5] That is the best overview of Nibley’s entire life work, unfortunately! There is a most unfortunate downside here as well. “An infinite array of possible explanations can be developed for any set of evidence, and quite a lot of them will even seem an uncanny fit, yet at most only one of them can be true, which means merely finding a seemingly uncanny fit between evidence and theory is a completely unreliable method to employ.”[6] This describes the only method Nibley ever used in his scholarly career, unfortunately because of his apologetic bias, and is the foundation upon which all religious apologetics, Mormon or otherwise, in any other religion, that is ever employed, for the most part. And if the method is faulty, it is a logical certainty the conclusions will be, in any argument made on any subject.

“Your religion may conflict with my history and my religion with your history, but for that matter your religion and mine probably conflict, as do your history and mine.”[7] So there’s the answer. There is conflict, honestly without much question. But there is much more to this than that obvious answer we all already intuitively realized.

The cause of the conflict? But of course, that falls to interpretation, people’s diverse, fascinating, and contradictory interpretation. And that is both for religion and history, neither is privileged above the other as having “the truth,” or “being correct” while the other is wrong, as Nibley so properly and well understood. The reason, as Nibley so adroitly described (I say adroitly, because that was my first impression of reading this lo those many years ago, now I see it is very clever rhetoric keeping our eye on the right hand whilst the left hand we know not what it does), or rather rhetorically described is that we actually are finite beings (for now) and we sincerely have severely limited abilities, and cannot possibly in any way read everything that has been published, not even for a mere month, let alone year, or even the last 6,000 years, so there is bound to be stuff left out, and other stuff included, and the vast majority, seriously now, the vast majority of information, we will never even know exists. We don’t even have the capacity to ask the right questions, let alone get the accurate answers. Nibley is sincerely correct in noting this. The reason it’s vital to bring this up yet again, is because, it appears at times, that we want certitude so very gosh darn blinkerin badly that we forget the reality that we actually are, and always will be over 99.999% ignorant of everything there is to know actually, at least personally for ourselves.

Nibley’s response to this? To scurry away off to one’s personal testimony of the truth, as one understands it. My response? Go to Bayes Theorem and find out what is probable and what is not, since that proven method works and works well in myriads of disciplines we humans work in and work through and learn from, including many of Nibley’s pet favorite disciplines, history, archaeology, and linguistics.[8]

We have learned an immense amount concerning how history ought to be done more correctly than we knew in 1955 when Nibley first gave this lecture. Some of his criticisms are spot on, as usual, but his methodology over-all, if used by everyone will result in just more contradictory claims and partisan bullying between religions of the world, as we have sadly, gotten used and assume reality must be this way. Nibley’s subjectivity is what undoes the buttons on his shirt of apologetics and leaves him exposed to error.

He says the religions of the world are historically based and they’re stuck with that, so lets make the best of it. O.K., I can grant that, to within limits. Christianity itself is apocalyptic, according to Nibley, meaning it deals with the “last days,” the “end” of time as it were. Well, it’s been that for several thousands of years, so that’s as close to meaningless as a concept can get isn’t it?

Apocalyptic literature arose, according to the new intriguing study of Anathea E. Portier-Young, assistant professor of Old Testament at Duke University, as resistance literature against the empires dominating the ancient Jews beginning adamantly with Antiochus IV’s edict against the Jews in 167 B.C. This was the era of the rise of the Enochic literature, the testamentary literature, pseudepigraphic literatures, and the book of Daniel, all written as literature fighting against the Seleucid crushing authority over the Jews. It was a literature invented for establishing power within the Jewish breast of fighting against evil and tyranny, and hope that a brighter day of God was dawning. It created an outlook of what had happened in Israel’s past ideologically, and brought it up in summation to their own day in order to cause people’s patriotism of their own culture, their own God, to stand together and fight, fight God’s enemies, we cannot lose. Victory is assured, God is on our side. He fought Israel’s battles before in history as the literature crafted showed (1 Enoch, Daniel, Testament of Moses, etc), he will do so now.[9] History demonstrates that day never came. The Jews never won against the Romans (neither did anyone else, only meager victories were ever had against the Romans, if at all). God simply didn’t show up. They were thwarted at every turn, hence their rebellions were fueled by a false hope built up in invented literature saying God will do this with us, and God never showed up. That is the sound verdict of actual history as we have it from antiquity.

Nibley contends of the scriptures “at least half of them are history, and it rests its whole case in the last analysis on the fulfillment of prophecy.”[10]

Half? It’s that much?! Forgive what appears to be an over-reaction on my part, however, this, again, illustrates the problematic nature of Nibley’s biases subjectively confirmed through his own hopes about what reality may be, instead of basing it upon actual probably of what it is. Now, Nibley said this in 1955 during the heyday of William F. Albright’s domination over biblical scholarship and historical criticism. Nibley is probably correct in his time. In the 1950’s – 1970’s – the overall impression one was receiving was the Bible was historical, those stories were recounted accurately as history, the events which described as happening really did so. Scholarship was giddy with excitement over the translating of the biblical languages and findings of the dirt archaeology which verified the Word of God in so much substantial verity it was ridiculous to even ask any kind of skeptical question. I only slightly over-exaggerate.

Today? None of this is seen as real. Such are the changing times. P.R. S. Moorey’s A Century of Biblical Archaeology was enough to undo this myopic view. And there is much more, but this is a great start to see the changes. It’s a pipedream invented largely by Protestant Christian American people who were literalists. Scholarship continued chipping away at finding what was real and ended up finding out none of it was historically real, not even close to half as Nibley wistfully hoped.[11]

In fact, Brain Peckham’s magisterial research of how the Old Testament was formed, changed, transformed, invented, re-written, re-redacted, rewritten again from later political viewpoints stamped onto the older historical understandings, then rewritten again from a northern view of Israelite politics, then changed once more when the south got the upper hand and threw out all the older stuff and invented it’s own “Deuteronomistic” version of truth and reality, and then after that was changed, reshaped, updated, rewritten, transformed, etc., we finally ended up with an “epic” literature. Not a history remembered by any means or in any ordinary sense whatever. This is invented, changed, and propagandistic through and through.[12]

Margaret Barker has been preaching this to the choir for decades through her voluminous writings. We don’t have the actual old history, nor the actual religion from ancient times in the Ancient Near East, because the Bible authors of later times, who had a different temperment, different theology, and different political machinations, got rid of everything they could and simply rewrote the Old Testament Israelite history from what they thought it should have been, including all their own biases, prejudices, theologies, historical understandings, and hopes and fears. We have no idea if anyone included in or current Old Testament was actually really in existence as far as that goes.[13]

Well, does the New Testament fare any better? The evidence is showing the probability that the New Testament is even close to half history is realistically grossly overly optimistic. Considering how Thomas L. Brodie, the Director of the Dominican Centre, in Ireland, has demonstrated with concrete evidence from the texts themselves that the New Testament stories of Mark are taken from the Old Testament (especially the Elijah-Elisha miracle stories in 1 and 2 Kings) and adapted, changed, redacted, added to where Mark desired certain effects, this is not history, this is created literature. In several significant areas of the Gospels, entire whole chunks of Old Testament texts were lifted, changed, transformed, and molded to create an entirely different narrative and story, with different emphasis, contrasts, and emulations. The “intertextual development” is far more extensive, severe, and detailed than anyone has guessed, apparently. Brodie makes a very strong, meaningful case for this.[14]

Edith M. Humphrey, William F. Orr Professor of New Testament, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, can rightly call for “a sober contextual reading of scriptures,”[15] and James D. G. Dunn, the great Bible and Historical Jesus scholar can proclaim in all sobriety that “no one with any sense of history can dispute that Jesus existed and that he was active in some sort of mission in Galilee,”[16] but what are we then to do and make of the fact, as demonstrated extensively that Dale and Patricia Miller in their detailed, cogent, careful analysis of the Gospel of Mark, in fact, do make, that Mark’s stories, every single one of them he recounts in his Gospel, are taken from Old Testament texts, and creatively adapted, modified, rewritten, and used as the basis for his creation? Their book The Gospel of Mark as Midrash on Earlier Jewish and New Testament Literature, was volume 21 in the prestigious series, Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity.[17]

What are we to make of the “sober contextual reading” of Burton Mack’s research in his A Myth of Innocence, wherein he showed many scholars in the early Christian studies field have demonstrated and come to understand, with sincere honesty that Mark is full of “fictional themes” and George W. E. Nickelsberg, the Colossus striding across the entire field of biblical and apocryphal, pseudepiraphical scene, concluded that Mark, the earliest Gospel, and one upon which all others are based, thus demonstrating they are not independent sources of any kind, is wholly himself the author of the passion in his Gospel, not a recorder of historical events as they unfolded?[18] We, through the vast, extensive, well documented research of biblical scholarship itself are now facing the very real and actual probability that “much of the tradition in the Gospels is flawed history wrapped in the illusion of faith.”[19]

On yet another look at it, Dennis R. MacDonald, the prolific John Wesley Professor of New Testament & Christian Origins, Claremont School of Theology, has demonstrated that the majority of the so-called “authentic sayings” of Jesus are actually taken from Old Testament texts. There is precious little unique about anything Jesus came up with.[20] This is considered as the Christological problem in New Testament studies, as Oscar Cullman in his careful exegetical book Die Christologie des Neuen Testaments assessed and analyzed.[21] But further than this, MacDonald, among many other scholars, has demonstrated the New Testament is saturated with what the ancients called their literary technique of mimesis, which means “the creation of stories after pagan literary models, sometimes without Jewish or Christian traditions to inform them.”[22] David E. Aune, another informative Christian scholar, has demonstrated in the prestigious scholarly journal New Testament Studies, easily that the entire book of Revelation in the New Testament absorbed, included, intertwined, enhanced, and dramatically changed and worked the common Mediterranean literature available to the author of that book. Revelation isn’t prophecy of some crazy future we all get to face, it is a created literature for its own community living in that time.[23]

It was not only the Gospels that imitated and rewrote and transvalued the ancient literature for their own propagandistic purposes however. Scholars of the clout of Nickelsberg have demonstrated with astonishing amounts of actual evidence from documents we all have access to and can see for ourselves the evidence that Tobit in the apocrypha took liberally form Genesis and Homer’s Odyssey in order to create its own faith promoting stories.[24] And The Acts of Andrew, and many other early Christian apocrypha have the same method and distinct transvaluing, changing theology, history, and doctrines, in order to suit their own times.[25]

It was not a singular exception of Christian literature either but was the method the entire ancient Mediterranean society was using, as evidenced, again, in the extensive rewriting, changing, and completely over turning the political, historical, and religious understanding of the Seleucid’s empire’s ambitions. Portier-Young found copious evidence that the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, the entire corpus of Enochic literature, and the testamentary literature was taking the available sources and re-arranging them, re-writing them, and turning their view points upside down into their own favor so the Jews could rebel against the Seleucids, using their rewritten literature as the basis for forging control and inviting rebellion into active resistance against their oppressors.

They were in a complete revamping and literary revolution where no literature was exempt from being adapted by their own political, economic, and religious views, disinheriting the evil empire controlling them, and taking control for themselves. John J. Collins, the biblical and Dead Sea Scroll scholar, calls this one of the most important books on this subject in print.[26] Not only were the pagans using their own classical stories as the basis for their further creative inventions, such as Vergil did using Homer’s materials, but so did the Jews. This is extensively analyzed, and elaborated on by Erich S. Gruen, Professor of History and Classics at University of California, Berkeley. The Jews changed every kind of allusion, victory, greatness, heroism, and success in the pagan literatures showing their greatness and holiness, they transformed it, and put it into their own writings and scripture and literature.[27]

MacDonald has extensively analyzed hundreds of parallels and places in the Gospels where the authors of Mark and Luke and John have simply taken already existing stories from Plato, Euripides, Homer, Vergil, and others, used their model, taken actual events described in those stories, and changed the names, added some features, or subtracted some features, and changed the moral lessons from goodness for Hercules, or other Greek heroes, and turned it into goodness for Jesus in the Gospel stories.[28] This is, without question one of the most startling, disconcerting developments of New Testament scholarship, something Nibley, no doubt, would have been miffed at. Or else he would have ignored it, and gone back to testimony as a safety net, and at that, not all that good of one in light of actual evidence.

M. David Litwa, who teaches Greek at University of Virginia, has described in exceedingly careful detail, just last year, in an outstanding scholarly manner, how Jesus was simply a depiction of the kind of deity that was occurring all over the Mediterranean. There is, quite honestly, on close and careful analysis, nothing significantly different or new or unique about Jesus that wasn’t already in existence in the Second Temple world of Judaism. There is no history here, there is creation of a literature, and creation of a hero.[29] Dale C. Allison Jr. has shown this from many angles as well. On investigating the surrounding literature, the surrounding religion and politics of the time, much as Burton Mack has done, Allison opts for the idea that the transfiguration of Jesus, along with many other of the stories in the Gospels, is more surely myth than an event that actually occurred in history.[30]

The appeal to what might be possible is the last resort, and this was the path Nibley kept taking. But all apologetics, no matter of what persuasion takes this path, and the result show this path doesn’t lead us to the truth of history, and very well might not do so for religion either. Possibility cannot lead to what is real or true. We all have the vast proof right in front of our eyes with the over 40,000 different Christian sects alone, not to mention the other hundreds of different religions who also work with only what is possible.

In the old days, as Nibley notes, in almost prophetic foresight of what has happened to the quest for the historical Jesus, among several other studies being conducted o myriads of themes, he explained how one scholar takes a mere sampling of the evidence then forms a theory about it and “from then on the scholar spends his days defending his theory and mechanically fitting all subsequent evidence into the bed of Procrustes.”[31]

But this complaint of squirrely scholarship was the only method Nibley himself ever used, as can be seen from pursuing his writings. It’s the foundation of Islamic, Judaic, Christian, and Mormon scholarship! Nibley shoots himself in the foot here. If it’s not a valid method, and it most certainly is not, then why use it? There is something else, a better way. And that way is Bayes Theorem. This is precisely the complaint about the Historical Jesus scholarship over the last 40 years that Richard Carrier has so effectively demonstrated in two major books dealing with this topic as it relates to the historical Jesus.[32]

What’s the way out of this obviously flawed method? We need to face up to our own interpretations and biases on subjective evidence which we knowingly pick and choose only that evidence we already like and which supports our own interpretations, ignoring anything that challenges our evidence and knowledge. We cannot begin with the answer, and then cherry pick only that which supports our conclusion. If you cannot accept this, you then have no right to tell anyone else you have “the truth” while all others are incorrect. They also say this of you and your “answers” and we end up in a never ending merry-go-round of apologetics. It doesn’t validate anything.

Bayes Theorem forces us to be honest about what we like and don’t like, and to compare all background knowledge, and all evidence, both for and against our own desired outcome, and test to see which claim is probably more true than another. There is no other way. If this seems too subjective, it is not a matter of refusing to use Bayes Theorem, but of using it correctly, instead of incorrectly. Otherwise, we end up with the world we live in right now, an entre boatload of loud braying apologetics convincing no one but themselves, and irritating the rest of the world with their constant carping against everyone else, and bragging they alone possess the Godly truth of reality. “Bayes rule is not like a ‘rule of thumb’ which was discovered in the process of observing how probabilities interact. It is not a hypothesis waiting empirical tests of its validity. Formally Bayes is a theorem, which means it has been proven to be true,”[33]

Your testimony means nothing because theirs means nothing and they get theirs in exactly the same manner you get yours. This isn’t received through evidence and probability of reality, it’s brought to you through prayer and faith and God. But so is theirs. So someone is not being consistent here. And of course, it’s always them never us.

Nibley says “At present my religion and history do not conflict [does anyone’s in their own minds?] Well, you say, of course they agree because you make them agree. That is not entirely true. [the self-delusion is palpable] There are controls.”[34] He then mentions documents that changed everyone’s views, meaning the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi codices. He then notes that it changed everyone’s view of history as they understood it. And then rightly remarks “It is a good thing when religion and history conflict: it means they are not being bent willfully to force them into agreement.”[35]

But did you notice what he does here? The discovery of new documents goofed up everyone else’s views, but it confirmed only his! These documents gives his religious interpretations validity, while all others? Um, no. They had to change. But is this accurate?

If it’s valid confirming evidence in the scrolls, then it would convince all scholars. But it hasn’t. It hasn’t convinced all Catholics that Mormonism is confirmed. Nor Jews, Protestants, or Muslims. Yet, in his own view, it confirms his religion. This is simply not the way to arrive at the truth. It’s confirmation bias pure and simple, unfortunately.

We would do very well to remember in its huge heyday (and it was one helluva ride!) the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed Catholicism to the Catholics, Judaism for the Jews, Protestantism for them, and Mormonism for Nibley! These documents confirmed and proved every single contradictory religion! There is still no unity of the faith with this evidence, no Second Coming of Jesus, no millennium of peace, there is just nothing at all unifying anything about them. This is proof positive, as good as we can possibly ask for anywhere in scholarship actually, that religious methodologies do not unify and bring one to “the truth.”

The Catholics interpret everything in light of Catholicism, and sure enough, it fits! It must be true. The Protestants interpret everything in light of Protestantism, and sure enough, it fits! It must be true. Mormonism interprets everything in light of Mormonism, and it fits! It must be true. What we actually have fundamentally grounded, solid evidence of is religion has no objective, realistic standard to determine what is probably true against what is probably false. Faith cannot get them out of this problem, it is the methodology that got them into this quagmire of confirmation bias in the first place.

“I believe my history and religion agree in a way that is objective enough to justify my conviction that the agreement is not entirely the result of my own manipulating.”[36] Of course you do Hugh, and so does everyone else. William Lane Craig, the Evangelical scholar and debater, said the same thing about Mormonism. The Book of Mormon cannot possibly be the real thing, the Holy Spirit told him it wasn’t! If science refutes religion, Craig will remain with what the Spirit tells him, against any and all evidence brought to show his knowledge is faulty![37] This is precisely why there is constant arguing, disagreeing over contradictions between religious doctrines, histories, and truths, because they, like you, refuse to acknowledge their own subjectivity and problematic nature of using a phony methodology to arrive at what is most probably true. And thus they enjoy the merry-go-round of faith, as they think it is, forever moving and yet going fundamentally nowhere in particular.


  1. Hugh Nibley, “Do Religion & History Conflict?” in Temple and Cosmos, Deseret Book, 1992: 434-449.
  2. James V. Stone, Bayes’ Rule: A Tutorial Introduction to Bayesian Analysis, Sebtel Press, 2013: 2-3, 9, 126.
  3. Richard Carrier, Proving History, Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus, Prometheus Books, 2012; On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We May Have Reason to Doubt, Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014; “Neither Life nor the Universe Appear Intelligently Designed,” in John W. Loftus, editor, The End of Christianity, Prometheus Books, 2011: Chapter 12; “Why the Resurrection is Unbelievable,” in John W. Loftus, editor, The Christian Delusion, Prometheus Books, 2009, Chapter 11; “Bayes Theorem for Beginners: Formal Logic and its Relevance to Historical Method,” in R. Joseph Hoffman, editor, Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating History from Myth, Prometheus Books, 2010: Chapter 12.
  4. James A. Lindsay’s blog where he deals with Bayes Theorem can be found at http://goddoesnt.blogspot.com/search?q=bayes+theorem
  5. Richard Carrier, Proving History: 27.
  6. Carrier, Proving History, p. 27.
  7. Nibley, Do Religion and History Conflict? P. 435.
  8. Carrier, Proving History, p. 49.
  9. Anathea E. Portier-Young, Apocalypse Against Empire: Theologies of Resistance in Early Judaism, William B. Eerdman’s, 2011.
  10. Nibley, “Do Religion and History Conflict?,” p. 435.
  11. P. R. S. Moorey, A Century of Biblical Archaeology, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991.
  12. Brian Peckham, History & Prophecy, The Development of Late Judean Literary Traditions, Doubleday, Anchor Bible Series, 1993.
  13. Margaret Barker, The Older Testament, Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2005; The Mother of the Lord Vol. 1, The Lady in the Temple, Bloomsbury, 2012; King of the Jews: Temple Theology in John’s Gospel, SPCK, 2014; The Lost Prophet: The Book of Enoch and its Influence on Christianity, Abingdon Press, 1988, to name just four of her books on this theme.
  14. Thomas L. Brodie, The Birthing of the New Testament: The Intertextual Development of the New Testament Writings, Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014.
  15. Edith M. Humphrey, “To Squeeze the Universe into a Ball – Playing Fast and Loose with Lazarus?” in Stanley E. Porter, Mark J. Boda, editors, Translating the New Testament: Text, Translation, Theology, William B. Eerdmans, 2009: 307.
  16. James D. G. Dunn, A New Perspective on Jesus: What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed, Baker Academic, 2005: 22.
  17. Dale and Patricia Miller, The Gospel of Mark as Midrash on Earlier Jewish and New Testament Literature, Edwin Mellen Press, 1991.
  18. Burton L. Mack, A Myth of Innocence, Mark and Christian Origins, Fortress Press, 2006: 265.
  19. Scot McKnight, “Telling the Truth of History,” in Robert B. Stewart, Gary R. Habermas, editors, Memories of Jesus: A Critical Appraisal of James D. G. Dunn’s Jesus Remembered, B&H Academic, 2010: 46.
  20. Dennis R. MacDonald, Two Shipwrecked Gospels: The Logoi of Jesus and Papias’s Exposition of Logia about the Lord, Society of Biblical Literature, 2012.
  21. Oscar Cullman, The Christology of the New Testament, translated by Shirley C. Gutheries and Charles A. M. Hall, Westminster Press, 1963: 5-6.
  22. Dennis R. MacDonald, Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? Four Cases from the Acts of the Apostles, Yale University Press, 2003: 2.
  23. David E. Aune, “The Apocalypse of John and Graeco-Roman Revelatory Magic,” in New Testament Studies, Vol. 33 (October 1987), #4: 481-501.
  24. George W. E. Nickelsberg, “Tobit, Genesis, and the Odyssey: A Complex Web of Intertextuality,” in Dennis R. MacDonald, editor, Mimesis and Intertextuality in Antiquity and Christianity, Trinity Press International, 2001: 41-55.
  25. Dennis R. MacDonald, The Acts of Andrew and the Acts of Andrew and Matthias in the City of the Cannibals, Scholars Press, 1990; The Acts of Andrew, in Early Christian Apocrypha, Polebridge Press, 2005; Christianizing Homer, The Odyssey, Plato, and the Acts of Andrew, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  26. Anathea E. Portier-Young, Apocalypse Against Empire: Theologies of Resistance in Early Judaism, William B. Eerdman’s, 2011, Foreward, pp. xii-xiii.
  27. Erich S. Gruen, Heritage and Hellenism: The Reinvention of Jewish Tradition, University of California Press, 1998.
  28. Dennis R. MacDoald, The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark, Yale University Press, 2000; The Gospels and Homer: Imitations of Greek Epic in Mark and Luke-Acts, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015; Luke & Vergil: Imitations of Classical Greek Literature, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015; Mythologizing Jesus: From Jewish Teacher to Epic Hero, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
  29. M. David Litwa, Iesus Deus: The Early Christian Depiction of Jesus as a Mediterranean God, Fortress Press, 2014.
  30. Dale C. Allison Jr., The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus, William B. Eerdmans, 2009: 72.
  31. Nibley, “Do Religion and History Conflict?” p. 445.
  32. Already mentioned in the above notes, Proving History; and On the Historicity of Jesus.
  33. James V. Stone, Bayes’ Rule, p. 126.
  34. Nibley, “Do Religion and History Conflict?” p. 447.
  35. Nibley, “Do Religion and History Conflict?” p. 447.
  36. Nibley, “Do Religion and History Conflict?” p. 447.
  37. Jerry A. Coyne, Faith Vs. Fact, Viking Publishing, 2015: 73.

Hugh Nibley’s Mormon Literalism: How Not to Defeat Atheism and Defend Religion


Hugh Nibley’s Mormon Literalism: How Not to Defeat Atheism and Defend Religion


Kerry A. Shirts

October 15, 2015

I was mesmerized by Hugh Nibley’s Mormon apologetics for 25 or so years. His attitude of seek greater light and knowledge and use our brains I am forever grateful for. His foundation for Mormon apologetics is still the driving force for LDS apologetics to this day.

Recently I was asked what about Nibley’s stuff? Since you are no longer an apologist, can you now turn around and refute the magnificent edifice he built? To be sure, with my limited knowledge and understanding, I certainly have come to find myself now disagreeing with a lot of his assumptions I was blind to as an apologist. If the assumptions don’t hold, the conclusions won’t be valid. That’s a matter of simple logic, and I don’t have to be the master of a dozen languages to fathom that. I grant, of course, he was far better read than I ever can be, and smarter in some areas as well, but being smarter does not equate to being correct. Pick and chooses apologetics doesn’t make something true. Faulty methods lead to faulty conclusions.

Nibley himself actually set up a dandy of a test for us to perform (so far as I can tell, he never actually went through in print with it to see what consequences were to be had, or whether the conclusions would be legitimate). Nibley liked Iranaeus (an early Christian Church Father) approach to the scripture in his argument against the Gnostics – “’Why not forget all this play of abstraction, allegory, mysticism, and metaphor and simply take the words of the Bible literally as they stand?’ Since ancient times the doctors of the church have been loathe to accept it literally, and they still are.”[1]

Nibley was a literalist. Ha admitted such in a letter to Sterling McMurrin, “My present religious mood is an all-out literalism… so today, just for kicks, I read the scriptures as if everything in them was meant to be taken in the most literal sense, as if no such thing as a symbol, allegory, or type even existed.”[2]

I think, on my reading of some of the literature, that this is a categorical mistake. It is this kind of thinking that gives rise to atheism. We can smile with bemusement at the kooky and crazy things in Homer, Herodotus, Vergil, and Thucydides, but then the belief takes over as literally true and happening when talking snakes and donkeys occur in a human language no less, when the gods send down fire from heaven at deliberately selected little targets of other people’s altars, angels come down and have sex with human women and produce “giants” as children and the like. Why oh yes! These things in our scriptures and literature are real and happened, those obviously ridiculous things in others’ scriptures and literature did not. Only our scriptures and literature are true.

Now, to be sure, Nibley wasn’t into refuting atheism as such, but his methods and assumptions (untested at that) fuel the fires of atheism nonetheless. His disdain for logical and probable analysis is sprinkled throughout his voluminous writings. For example, he criticizes, or perhaps is simply mocking any kind of thinking anyone (he uses all other religions in this particular example) who says “We altogether avoid saying positively and confidently anything which contradicts manifest experiences and the reasoning of philosophy or the other sciences. The truth of the Holy Writ cannot be contrary to the solid reasons and experiences of human knowledge. This naïve faith in the infallibility of our present knowledge would make many a modern physicist smile…”[3] He goes on to twit the “Mormon intellectuals” saying their problem is simple. They “must have their religion neat and rational, and they balk at anything in the gospel that could not have sprung from their own minds.”[4] Now I would like to analyze this for a moment if I may. I truly think Nibley entirely misses the point here.

For one thing, his strawman argument that anyone ever has claimed “infallible knowledge is so sophomorically stupid. It appears to me that this is his way of wiggling out of the scientific method and logical philosophical, probabilistic approach to understanding. Nibley, deep down, appeared to me to be against the scientific method and said so actually – “I deplore the authoritarian Baconian structure on which the entire edifice of modern learning is built.”[5]

What he thinks is “authoritarian” is simply the obviously sane approach of believing what has evidence to justify its’ truth. Since you can’t religiously refute the evidence of scientific claims, then go all out complaining that they are authoritarian and hence not at all fair. It gets even worse. His method was the singular worse method for finding truth. I don’t say that lightly. Here’s how he put it – “[I] “have always been a passionate devotee of the open-ended discussion in which nothing is ever proven except for the individual. Whenever anything is proven it is because some individual has been convinced, having acquired a personal, non-communicable testimony of the truth of the proposition (Popper).”[6]

Nibley wanted to believe what’s possible, not what’s probable. And that’s because, I believe, he knew and understood the evidence was against him, but he wanted a testimony more than discovering what is real. John W. Loftus explained this very well. “Time after time, in order to defend what they believe, Christians must continually retreat to what is possible, rather than to what is probable.”[7]

Was Nibley true to his outlook? No. He said he didn’t like the scientific method and “authoritarian” science method because it eliminates possibilities. All things are possible, as we all intuitively grasp, but not all things are real or actual, again, as we all intuitively grasp. Nibley wanted the luxury of believing what he “felt” was true, and didn’t like it when “authoritarian” science, with its evidences, demonstrated his literal beliefs of what scripture says is just dead wrong.

What Nibley’s method does enhances confirmation bias, exactly as it does so in all other religions. There is ample evidence of this the world over. Can this method of personal conviction alone and above all other methods lead to the truth? I don’t think so, and it’s not my “infallible knowledge” I’m using here, its evidence. Lets take a look.

In taking Nibley seriously at his word that the scripture is literal and this is how to take it upon reading it, it seems we have two claims about a particular incident said to have happened in the Bible. I’m not being facetious here. I am taking the Bible seriously in order to see the consequences of Nibley’s literalist approach. It’s the only justified way to test it.

We have learned through the last 6,000 years or so, both from ancient records and art talking about, and throughout our history, of interaction with snakes that there are truly many thousands of kinds of different snakes, 3,000 different species actually. We know what they looked like from descriptions of them anciently, in writing and art, all the way up to our day, and based on our viewing them in nature or zoos or as pets when we purchase them from pet stores, etc. We know they are pretty much the same as they were 6,000 years ago. There hasn’t been much change in them. Based on our background knowledge and observations we know they slough off their skins, crawl around on their bellies, slither through grass, swim through water, have two eyes, a tongue, some are poisonous and some aren’t. They come in all varieties of sizes and colors as well. We know a lot about snakes. This is patently obvious.

We know their anatomy, from evidence from antiquity up to our day, through skeletal finds and dissections performed today; we know, based on real evidence they did not have, nor do any now have, wings like those of eagles, nor legs like we humans. We know they did not, nor do not now, have the physical anatomy of their mouths, or from the shape and form of their tongues morphology, nor with the lack of vocal cords, have the ability to speak a vocal language. Their brains also lack any developed areas like ours have to have the capacity for language or speech. This is our actual knowledge based on realistic background information through centuries and millennia of interaction with them, with real data available to all, from around the world for the last several thousand years at least.

The literal claim is that a snake talked in the biblical Garden of Eden.

The probability of the hypothesis that a snake spoke and used articulated language compared to the probability that a snake did not talk must be compared with all our background knowledge and evidence of our ever having talked with snakes verbally and vocally.

The prior probability of a snake talking to a human based on what we know (not infallibly, but with the evidence) in the past and now today, is, quite honestly, very low.

The prior probability of a snake not talking to a human, again, based on what we know (not infallibly, but with the evidence) in the past and now today, is, quite honestly, very high.

Using our background knowledge and evidence we have to ask how likely is the evidence we have right now, is the evidence we would have, if snakes could talk? In this case of talking snakes, the evidence we actually have right now, it is quite unlikely that snakes talked, either then or now.

But if snakes don’t talk, then the evidence we have right now today about snakes, as we understand them, is exactly what we would expect, and that is what we see now. It is the same concerning snakes with legs and being able to walk.

Therefore, but not infallibly, we would say the probability based on thousands of years of interaction with snakes, and no claims of anyone ever having talked with even one, and that there have been tens of millions (at least!) of snakes that have existed within the last 6,000 years, and plenty of interaction with people and snakes during that time, all over the world on every continent (except perhaps Antarctica), the probability cannot, in any conceivable manner, be more than 1,000,000,000 to 1 (a billion to one). If we argue a fortiori, that is from the stronger argument, and given an unimaginably huge benefit of the doubt, and say it’s no more than 1,000,000 to 1 (a million to one) or 0.000001%, we still have such a miniscule probability that we are entirely warranted in rejecting that this story actually happened as recounted in the Bible.

[[A side note – This same background biological knowledge we have concerning donkeys and human interactions with them and the claim of holding conversation with them, applies. We have never found an exception yet, and so reject Balaam’s ass story as well in Numbers. We also don’t take Aesop’s Fables literally for the same legitimate reasons]].

Now from using Nibley’s method, he could say but that’s not “open-ended” and there is a possibility that this was a one-time exception, so it could have happened.

And he is entirely correct. There is no 0% probability of something not being possible, nor impossible. But millions to one is such a vanishingly minute probability, there is entirely, reasonable justification for not believing it did, unless… evidence strong enough to overcome the probability is discovered and validated. And rather than mere millions to one, the probability is realistically thousands of times greater taking us into the realms of billions to one against it being real.

But am I not being quite subjective in just pulling these numbers out of my hat? What if the odds are merely 100 to 1? We have to understand that would mean that out of every 100 snakes, 1 would talk. Do we observe this in nature or at zoos that have snakes in them? Do we see 1 in 200 snakes talking? In 300? 700? 1,000? 10,000? 100,000? We base our numbers on the actual evidence, which in this case is generous at billions to one odds.

One is simply being irrational for believing it happened. The logic here is truly unassailable.

This is the difference between Nibley’s “testimony method” and the scientific method. Belief and faith cannot and do not change all our actual evidence we possess of snakes, their anatomy, physiology, and capabilities due to their morphology. Saying I have faith snakes talked then doesn’t change all our knowledge into something else. Only evidence can change probabilities of any claims ever made. None has shown up changing what we know of snakes in this regard. This is why faith cannot change the probabilities based on what we know by the evidence which we have right now. Perhaps something will come up that changes this, in which case we welcome it, after testing and being validated accurately, of course. That is possible. But until it does, we are completely justified in saying it didn’t. Only actual evidence will change this.

Nibley is again wrong when he contended that “Mormon intellectuals… balk at anything in the gospel that could not have sprung form their own minds.” This is not accurate. We balk when claims made that snakes conversed fluently with humans, in full semantic, linguistic discourse, really happened when there is not a chance in hell it did, and that claim is supposed to be reality revealed from God. It’s unjustified irrational claims we balk at. It’s assertions like “I have faith and believe it anyway” that fuels the atheists rational way of thinking. And they are justified in it since religion has nothing better to offer for knowing what is real.

Nibley is wrong, yet again in saying “we altogether avoid saying positively and confidently anything which contradicts manifest experiences and the reasoning of philosophy or the other sciences… the truth of Holy Writ cannot be contrary to the solid reasons and experiences of human knowledge…”

Mormons actually do this all the time. But the real points are missing here. Why should we accept anything that is claimed merely because someone says it’s true? On what actual substantial basis is there to believe any claims? What can we do to verify what is more probably true or more probably false? Can we rationally simply believe what everyone says? Do we ever believe everything said?

John W. Loftus, former religious preacher turned atheist appears to me to be correct when he says the more we back-peddle to what is possible, “the less likely their faith is true.”[8] He continues with perfect logic that “it is unreasonable for apologists… to demand that the skeptics must prove the Christian faith [Mormon faith] impossible before they will consider that it’s improbable.”[9]

Using Alvin Plantinga’s (a well known Christian apologist) limp claim that evidence from psychology, anthropology, and brain science is possible to confirm his own Christian understanding, because there is “no tendency to discredit religious belief,” and with my applying Nibley’s method of personal proof as the only viable way to truth, Loftus shows us the end conclusion that inevitably follows. It is seriously instructive for all religious practitioners who think along these lines.

If the same evidence for his (Plantingas) “religious belief” of “Why Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists believe what they do,” we thus arrive at the conclusion which logically follows. “Plantinga [and Nibley – who has the same method of “possibly therefore probably, a fatal fallacy] is conceding that they believe what they do for exactly the same reasons Christians believe what they do. This, then, would confirm that whatever causes Christians to believe what they do is verifiably incapable of reliably causing a true belief at all. Those same causes, would just as easily generate one different religious faith as another one, faiths that in many cases believe mutually contradictory things.”[10]

The religious methodology is completely flawed. It does not allow us to confront our own assumptions and biases and help us correct them, it entrenches them in concrete. Nibley’s method of “personal belief and testimony” no matter what science and philosophy and evidence shows or says is precisely the reason we have over 40,000 different, squabbling, contradictory sects of Christianity today. They also use the same method.

If a method consistently leads to fracturing, rupturing and contradictory knowledge, that method doesn’t work. This is obvious to everyone except the religious who continually and irrationally use it. Their knowledge appears to be stunted by their faith. Their ability to reason is shackled by their testimonies. Their reality is skewed by their irrational belief in possibility.

And all of this is what atheists point out. If God is really talking to all of you as you claim, and giving the religious so much contradictory, problematic and ridiculous knowledge, then there can be no kind of God you claim there is. We would not observe what is happening in Christianity right now if your claims of God being a lover of truth were real.

Until you pull it together they say, and get real, get used to atheism, it’ll only grow in strength. If you want to get rid of atheism, get rid of biblical literalism. That’s the only real shot you’ve got.


  1. Hugh Nibley, “A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew,” in Eloquent Witness: Nibley on Himself, Others, and the Temple, Deseret Book, 2008: 239.
  2. Nibley, “Dear Sterling,” in Eloquent Witness, p. 144.
  3. Nibley, “Nobody to Blame,” in Eloquent Witness, p. 129.
  4. Nibley, “Nobody to Blame,” in Eloquent Witness, p. 130.
  5. Nibley, “Dear Sterling,” in Eloquent Witness, p. 144.
  6. Nibley, “Dear Sterling,” in Eloquent Witness, p. 144.
  7. John W. Loftus, “Christianity is Wildly Improbable,” in John W. Loftus, editor, The End of Christianity, Prometheus Books, 2011: 92.
  8. Loftus, End of Christianity, p. 93.
  9. Loftus, End of Christianity, p. 93.
  10. Loftus, End of Christianity, p. 93.

Looking for Truth Might Be a Bad Thing To Do Actually


Looking for Truth Might Be a Bad Thing To Do Actually


Kerry A. Shirts

October 8, 2015

We read in Eugene England’s essay (England was a profoundly taunting Mormon essayist in the 1950-80’s, who made us actually think sometimes very hard with his provocative essays in his attempts to build our faith) “No Respecter of Persons,” that “The basic principle, consistent throughout scripture, and eminently sensible, seems clear enough; God loves us all equally, treats us all equally and liberally expects and hopes the same for all of us – and asks, expects, us to do the same for each other. But of course, we have not done so.”[1]

God is, as usual, let off the hook, while we are condemned. Theology has always done this favor for us proclaiming, with precious little evidence incidentally, “God is love.” No matter what, we are to blame for everything wrong. The censure belongs to us alone, always and forever. God is untouchable. This is always the set-up. And England’s assertion concerning God is, quite frankly, “eminent sensible,” but our failure to observe this love in the world is not. What went wrong?

Or take Brigham Young’s comment in the Journal of Discourses, which Joseph Fielding McConkie used to good effect in an article he wrote, where Mormonism is proclaimed in stentorian voice by Young “…embraces all truth, in heaven and on earth, in the earth, under the earth, and in hell, if there be any truth there. There is no truth outside it; there is no good outside of it.”[2]

Young’s hyperbole is breath-taking. It all depends on how one defines “good” to see if his claim has any validity doesn’t it? One can be excused if she sees this as a complete insult to everyone else who is not Mormon. And, of course, the evidence is so at variance with the claim, it brings a smile of irony on our faces, doesn’t it? Did your eyebrows raise in surprise at reading that statement, even a little bit? Does it not make you cringe to read further that Young contended “There is nothing holy and honorable outside it.” The “it” being Mormonism?

Or Take Robert L. Millet’s statement “To tell the truth (at least as far as we see it) is not enough; we must tell the truth and more. He quotes Russell M. Nelson, an Apostle in Mormonism, “We now live in a season in which some self-serving historians grovel for truth that would defame the dead and the defenseless. Some may be tempted to undermine what is sacred to others, or diminish the esteem of honored names or demean the efforts of revered individuals. To do so is the height of ingratitude.”[3]

Perhaps it might just be a matter of perspective however. Are these persons being demeaned revered by all people, or just some who thought the same and believe the same as those revered persons, and hence anyone thinking differently is merely labeled as “demeaning”? Is a revered person always correct in all he or she teaches? Isn’t this all just subjective special pleading?

And the idea of “groveling for the truth” is an intriguing description. One gets the impression that getting at the truth might actually be wrong to do. Why are historians described as grovelers, yet religious people called righteous even though we are all looking for the same thing, namely the truth?

Eugene England had this to say – “Too many students and even faculty hunger for the devil’s bread of easy and final answers without disagreement or struggle.”[4] So, those who find different information and have other interpretations of evidence are labeled as “grovelers” because they are not just accepting what they’ve been told about “revered persons,” when looking at other evidence some ignore, and arriving at different ways of understanding? Or should one just ignore all contrary evidence (contrary to who?), which survives in enormous quantities all can see for themselves, and merely accept what one is told of “esteemed, honored names” and “revered persons” or else we are ungrateful?!

We are told in no uncertain terms that we are to be “seeking earnestly to give leaders of the church the benefit of the doubt.”[5] Well, it would be nice if they would return the favor and not label all the rest of us “grovelers for truth.” I mean, it’s just an idea is all, probably not really necessary to be sure, but just kinda thoughtful at that. It might help make it appear they aren’t “demeaning” others’ honest attempts at discovering truth for ourselves.

And finally we have this instruction – “Intelligent devotion and loyalty to the Lord, his church, and his appointed leaders are more highly prized by the Almighty than sheer intellect or native abilities.”[6] It’s kind of odd, isn’t it, then, that God let his leaders be killed off in Jesus’ day and didn’t bother replacing them for almost 2,000 years? Doesn’t honestly seem too highly prized to me much in light of the interpretation of the “great apostasy” theme in Mormonism.

What about loyalty to truth, with its evidence, as it exists? Do we read “The Glory of God is loyalty”? Or do we read “The Glory of God is Intelligence, or in other words, light and truth”? Hey don’t get angry, I’m just askin is all. God says “Come let us reason together…” Why, if intellect is such a dismal thing to use? Why is God’s church so anti-intellectual?

When evidence against truth claims show up is the spiritual way to sweep it under the rug, or to “grovel” in seeing how evidence verifies or refutes a truth claim being made? Is it honest or deceitful to use all the evidence available to us when attempting to understand claims to truth?

If God were so determined that we “know the truth” why would he say through Nephi “trust not in the arm of flesh”? And yet, we are told nothing pleases the Almighty more than trusting in the arm of flesh today. It appears to me, that there is a bit of confusion here. Why trust anything except what has evidence for its verification and justification? Isn’t this what has always shown what reality is, tentative for us though it is? If it walks like a duck, looks, smell, and acts, and sounds like a duck, one cannot say that we have here an automobile and expect to be taken all that seriously.

Special pleading for loyalty while denigrating the rest of the entire world as “nothing holy or honorable about it” and labeling others as “grovelers” while asking for loyalty for questionable claims of truth is a bit much, wouldn’t you say? There are some, probably not too many billion, who would think so.

James D. G. Dunn, one of the finest New Testament scholars ever born, at the end of a book which critically, carefully assessed his book Remembering Jesus said of his critics who intelligently and passionately disagreed with some of his material, made suggestions, outright refuted many of his claims and assertions, “thank you.” He didn’t label them with nasty words, or call foul they saw and understood things about Jesus differently than he does. No one has a monopoly on truth and he said with gratitude and heart-felt feeling he was grateful for their corrections, ideas, expansions, and wonderful dialogue they were providing for everyone.[7] The idea is we are working together to find and understand what is real and what is true in history and in our lives. We best work together (as church and individuals) instead of leadenly labeling one another with idiotic name calling. Dunn very properly noted further “We need to dialogue, to hear what others have to say, to let their contributions improve, correct and reshape whatever has gone badly wrong.”

The anti-intellectual stance the church has and uses as a bludgeon against scholarship is stifling, and is just not acceptable anymore, if it ever was. It is showing its own ingratitude for the truly wonderous work of historians who should be given vastly more credit than they receive.

After all, Brigham Young’s own denigrating of all else still holds an intellectually feasible key, amazingly enough! The learning of all truth, no matter from where, if he he said it like an infidel.

Robert B. Stewart appears to me to have a more useful method than merely accepting what we’re told is true in vague generalities such as we receive far too much from religion. “Precision [of good data and analysis on a subject] is in fact, what keeps good scholarship headed in the right direction.”[8] We all see things differently even though we are all reading and studying the same texts. As Marcus Bockmuehl aptly notes, “interpretation is a genuine two-way encounter.”[9] Though his context for the comment is interaction with texts, I would propose this can apply between any two people or between people and a church.

I think after reading so many sides and views people take the modernist approach. “Tell us what happened, and if you use a rigorous method, you’ll be able to tell us the truth.”[10] Theologizing and making meaning do not add to the truth of what may or may not have happened. We’re asking for reality, and the church appears not to want to tell us, so when we go looking for evidence ourselves, we are the ones given denigrating labels such as “grovelers for truth.” That’s because the “revealers of truth” are not doing their job honestly. Otherwise why are we still looking?

What I think many are seeing today is the modernist understanding of historian/philosophers, Keith Jenkins or F. R. Ankersmit who contend that facts don’t give meaning, the meaning is shaped through the narrative or story into which the fact are placed.[11] With the upshot that we have the situation where the truth is not being told, it’s being created for your own reasons.

It is how the story is told, is composed, that attributes meaning to the narrative. So when the story is told one way and we are strongly encouraged to get a testimony of its “truth,” but when we learn the facts are different, the interpretation of those facts are most definitely different, leading to different conclusions, compared to the “official” story, it causes doubt, cognitive dissonance, and confusion. Is the truth in what happened? Actually the question is what happened? Or is the truth in telling the story of what happened? If the narrative gives the meaning, which narrative is real? All narrative is created. This is the reason evidence changes truth as we perceive it, because one “official” narrative cannot include everything, and leaves more out than it includes!

So, does that mean historians are grovelers of truth because they find evidence showing the meaning of the story is different with other evidence and facts not included in the narrative? Hardly! Excommunicating each other, labeling each other, and killing each other doesn’t solve anything. We’re all hopefully mature enough and intellectually and spiritually mature enough to learn from all views, with all the evidence, and good will toward learning to understand the truth, no matter where it comes from, prophets, grovelers or we laymen.


  1. Eugene England, “No Respecter of Persons,” in Making Peace, Signature Books, 1995: 179.
  2. Journal of Discourses, 11:213. McConkie’s article was “The Spirit of Truth,” in Robert L. Millet, editor, To Be Learned is Good If… Bookcraft, 1987: 227.
  3. Robert L. Millet, “How Should Our Story Be Told?” in Millet, editor, To Be Learned is Good If… Bookcraft, 1987: 5.
  4. England, Making Peace, p. 80.
  5. Millet, Ibid., p. 7.
  6. Millet, Ibid., p. 7.
  7. James D. G. Dunn, “In Grateful Dialogue,” in Robert B. Stewart, Gary R. Habermans, editors, Memories of Jesus: A Critical Appraisal of James D. G. Dunn’s Jesus Remembered, B & H Publishing, 2010: 287.
  8. Robert B. Stewart, “Preface, in Memories of Jesus, p. xviii.
  9. Markus Bockmuehl, “Whose Memory?, Whose Orality?” in Memories of Jesus, p. 34.
  10. Scot McKnight, “Telling the Truth of History,” in Memories of Jesus, p. 53.
  11. McKnight, Ibid., p. 54.