A key difference between Jesus’ resurrection and Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon
I really appreciate the comments of all the atheists who comment on this blog (particularly the Skept, Atomic Mutant and more recently Boxing Pythagoras). All comments and reflections really help me think through these questions (I will get to respond in due course) and I also hope that my posts challenge and stimulate thinking as well – I am trying to create a space for intelligent discussion.
Anyway, I was struck by a comment by Boxing Pythagoras on my recent post detailing three facts atheists must explain concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Boxing Pythagoras responded with an alternative ‘three facts’ which also required explanation with respect to the Book of Mormon. Most notable was the alternative second point:
[Joseph] Smith and his followers genuinely believed that he had translated these documents [Book of Mormon] by the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
This compared with the second point Simon Edwards had made which was:
Disciples genuinely believed Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them on a number of occasions.
This was an interesting challenge. So today I went back to the speaker Simon Edwards today and posed this alternative. As a result of my interaction, we can now more carefully articulate the difference between Jesus’ resurrection to Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon. The key difference comes in the nature of the evidence or the revelation and what best explains that.
Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Book of Mormon via a form of a ‘spiritual experience’. It appears that only Smith translated the book, there was no-one else who did the translation. (I realise it is claimed that there were other witnesses of the plates, but as far as I can tell, no-one else did translation, and could never verify Smith’s translation). It appears that a possible naturalistic explanation was that Smith just invented the translation in his mind through a form of spiritual experience (which is quite common). It would seem to be the most reasonable naturalistic solution and should therefore be accepted (remember a naturalistic explanation should take precedence over a supernatural one).
Whereas the resurrection of Jesus involves multiple recorded sightings on multiple occasions by multiple authors. If the resurrection were simply the ‘spiritual experience’ of Paul, we could quite conceivably dismiss it as ‘all in the mind’ and hence the naturalistic explanation would be the ‘inference to the best explanation’. Yet instead Paul’s experience corroborates several other witness accounts recorded at different times involving different people e.g. 1 Cor 15 records 500 people at once!
Edwards was trying to provide plausible naturalistic explanations for the resurrection, which, if reasonable would to take precedence over any supernatural explanation. Yet there is a naturalistic explanation for Smith’s ‘translation’ of the plates, whereas the naturalistic explanation struggles to account for all the data pertaining to the resurrection.