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A key difference between Jesus’ resurrection and Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon

July 12, 2014

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.

  1. “Whereas the resurrection of Jesus involves multiple recorded sightings on multiple occasions by multiple authors”

    Actually, it involves multiple claims of multiple recorded sightings. The gospels were all written years if not decades later, and there’s no evidence as to who the authors of them actually were.

  2. Thanks for the shout out! I’m honored that you found my comment so thought-provoking!

    I’ll concur with NotAScientist, on this. I’d be willing to grant that Peter, James, and John all claimed to have seen a risen Jesus, since Paul knew them and says that they had this experience. However, he does not claim that these appearances occurred simultaneously nor repeatedly; and his nebulous claim that Jesus appeared to 500 at one time is not corroborated even by the gospel writers.

    Still, I do see that Smith is not a perfect analogy. I’ll try to find an even better fit.

  3. I too have to concur with my ‘colleagues’ above, Rob.
    Superficially, the supposed multiple accounts of the resurrection appear to give those accounts an air of reliability. However, our knowledge about the way history is written pretty much dash them for even a soft sceptic.
    The main issue is that we have no account of the resurrection that is independent. All relevant claims that Jesus really came back to life are the word of the apostles only, who had what can best be described as a vested interest in the claim. In fact, unless I’m mistaken, and as hinted at by Boxing Pyth above, my understanding is that none of them are even direct claims. They all fall into the hearsay box, because they are actually claims collated (presumably from verbal accounts) then transcribed by one person.
    What would help the resurrection story is to find something written by someone else at the time who was not a follower of Jesus, eg., some ancient Roman historian, with an independent account of seeing the risen Jesus. Then you might be onto something.
    Until then, waving seer stones over magically disappearing golden plates with your face in a hat is about as reliable a way as getting to divine truth as reading the NT.
    Kudos though, for at least taking the analogy back to your speaker for his response.

  4. Steven Carr permalink

    Another big difference is that early Mormon converts believed Joseph Smith received Scriptures, while early Christians converts in Corinth (and possibly also in Thessalonika) must have been scoffing at the very idea of their god choosing to raise corpses. Paul had to remind them that if the earthly body is destroyed, they will get a new body (made presumably in Heaven) and that Jesus ‘became a life-giving spirit.’
    Also Joseph Smith could describe these Golden Plates, while Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 was unable to come up with one single piece of testimony as to what a resurrected body was like – he works entirely from first principles, explaining, for example, that resurrected bodies are as different from present bodies as a fish is different to the Moon,

  5. Steven Carr permalink

    ‘….and his nebulous claim that Jesus appeared to 500 at one time ‘
    Gosh, 500 Christians all present at one place and one time. Were they at a conference or something?
    I thought they had all scattered after the crucifixion.

  6. Steven Carr permalink

    The question is – were early Christian leaders the kind of people who were unable to distinguish between visions , dreams and reality?

    According to Acts, they were.

    And were early Christian believers the kind of people who regarded things as being more authoritative , not less, if they were recorded as being the results of visions?

    As they accepted the Book of Revelation as scripture, they certainly were.

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