Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Response to Matt Slick or Steve Smoot's Excellent Adventure in Anti-Mormon Zombie Hell (Pt. 3)

"Through all of these years critics have tried to explain [the Book of Mormon]. They have spoken against it. They have ridiculed it. But it has outlived them all, and its influence today is greater than at any time in its history."

A double standard is a logical fallacy in which one subjects one's opponent to a standard that one is unwilling to subject to oneself. In other words, one is not being fair and balanced in how one evaluates the arguments of one's opponent when compared to how one allows another to evalute his or her own argument.

Matt Slick, in his treatment on textual variations in the Book of Mormon editions and manuscripts, employs a double standard that is both glaring and unfortunate. He, out of either "stunning ignorance or appalling cynicism[1]" has demonstrated that, when forced to, some anti-Mormons are not below employing double standards to fight against the Church of Jesus Christ.

On his website, Slick warmly endorses the Chicago Statement on biblical Inerrancy[2]. This statement, drafted in 1978, details the modern popular view of Scrpitural inerrancy amongst Evangelical Christians. Slick himself passionatly writes that "recognition of the total truth and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture [read: inerrancy] is essential to a full grasp and adequate confession of its authority.[3]"

Thus, when Slick turns his cross hairs on the Book of Mormon, one would expect him to apply the same standard he employed for the Bible, right? Unfortunatly, to expect such is asking too much of Mr. Slick.

In his obtuse article "Some of the Many Changes in the Book of Mormon[4]", Slick again recounts the quote from Joseph Smith wherein the Prophet described the Book of Mormon as "the most correct book". Shortly thereafter, Slick reminds the reader that "allegedly it [the Book of Mormon] was translated by the power of God." Then, the bombshell:

Nevertheless, it has some 4,000 changes in it.

What?! Can he be serious! 4,000[5]? That sure is a high number! How can it be?

If that is not enough for the Latter-day Saints, Slick then asks two more questions that are sure to give the Saints some headaches:

Why is this so if the book of Mormon was translated accurately by the hand of God?

Why would the Mormon Church continue to change the work even after Joseph Smith's death?

After these two questions, Slick, in his usual form, provides a handy chart which compares a "very small sample of the changes in the Book of Mormon" and informs his audience that "some are mere spelling corrections, but others are significant changes." Some are mere spelling corrections? Royal Skousen has noted that the majority of the variations in the Book of Mormon are "mere spelling corrections" or grammar and punctuation corrections[6]. He concludes that "errors have crept into the text but no errors significantly interfere with either the message of the book or its doctrine. These textual errors have never prevented readers of the book from receiving their own personal witness of its truth--every sincere reader.[7]"

Thus we see first hand the disingenuous way in which Slick presents his information on the textual variations in the Book of Mormon. He leads his reader away with a red herring by making it seem that only "some" of the variations in the Book of Mormon are simply "spelling corrections". Furthermore, he also tries to make it seem like the majority of the textual changes in the Book of Mormon are of doctrinal import. However, just the opposite is the case. The vast majority of changes in the Book of Mormon are of minor importance (i.e. spelling, punctuating, grammar, etc.) while very few deal with doctrine[8].

But how is Slick pointing out the changes in the Book of Mormon employing a double standard? Remember that Slick is a firm disciple of biblical inerrancy. For him, therefore, to attack the Book of Mormon based on textual changes while simutaniously ignoring the fact that the New Testament alone has had, according to some textual critics, "literally hundreds of thousands"[9] of textual changes is a glarring double standard[10].

Therefore, unless he abandons his views of biblical inerrancy, Slick cannot attack the Book of Mormon based on textual variations because the Bible has had similar changes[11]. Furthermore, he cannot ask pedantic questions or make desperate comments like the following (Slick's comments are in red, mine are in black):

Why would the Mormon Church continue to change the work even after Joseph Smith's death?

For the same reason that the various sects of Christianity continue to change the Bible even to this day; namely, that 1) as new manuscript evidence becomes available new changes are required to best reflect the original texts and 2) because, as human beings at the time, the men who were charged with preserving both the Bible and the Book of Mormon were subject to making mistakes and corrupting God's word because of their limited ability to preserve writings[12].

Where will the Mormon Church change it next?

What kind of a question is this? Is it intended to reflect some spooky conspiracy that will alienate people more against the Church? Is it a rhetorical question gone horribly wrong? Whatever it is, if Slick wants to find out for himself, he can look at the 2004 Doubleday Edition of the Book of Mormon, published by the Church, which includes new variations based on the textual evidence brought forth by the work of Royal Skousen and others. Or he can go right to the source and look at the works of Royal Skousen himself on this subject[13].

As you can see, the Book of Mormon is a changing document.

Just like the Bible, and all of it's thousands upon thousands of changes through the centuries, right Mr. Slick?

Why is this so if the book of Mormon was translated accurately by the hand of God?

Could we not ask the same thing about the Bible if it is infallible? Why are there so many changes in the text if it is inerrant?

But why is this even an issue? The Book of Mormon never claimed infallibility or inerrancy. As FAIR reminds us, "the authors of the Book of Mormon themselves explained several times that their writing was imperfect, but that the teachings in the book were from God[14]." And as Hugh Nibley so rightly observed:

The second mortal offense of the Book of Mormon was the admission on the title page that this record, translated "by the gift and power of God," might possibly contain mistakes. Mistakes? In a book revealed by the power of God? Another blasphemous conception. Yet Bible scholars accept this proposition [for the Bible] as readily as they do the first...and once the possibility of human errors is conceded, why should the idea of corrected editions of the Book of Mormon be offensive[15]?

Thus, Slick has set up both a double standard and a straw man in his attack on the Book of Mormon based on textual changes. He is attacking a book for changes that never claims infallibility and ignores the fact that a book he holds to be infallible contains many more changes. Until Slick drops any notion of biblical infallibility, he has no authority or ground on which he can attack the Book of Mormon for textual variations.

** End of Part 3 **

[1]: Daniel C. Peterson in Reflections on Secular Anti-Mormonism. While the comment was directed to Evangelical anti-Mormons in general, they apply well to Slick specifically.

[2]: http://www.carm.org/creeds/chicago.htm

[3]: Ibid.

[4]: http://www.carm.org/lds/bom_changes.htm

[5]: Actually, Slick here is being a bit modest. According to Royal Skousen, Professor of Linguistics at Brigham Young University, who has worked on the critical text edition of the Book of Mormon manuscripts for well over 20 years, the number of changes in the Book of Mormon manuscripts is closer to 105,000. See his excellent discussion here.

[6]:See here.

[7]: Ibid. For Skousen's other works, see here.

[8]: Slick brings up the fact that "the Son of" has been added in later editions of the Book of Mormon, which, no doubt, is an attempt to cast doubt on the doctrines of the Book of Mormon. For a response to this charge, see here. Slick also brings up the changing of the name "Benjamin to "Mosiah" in Mosiah 21:28. For a response, see here and here.

[9]: Thomas A. Wayment "The Story of the New Testament" in The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ: From Bethlehem Through the Sermon on the Mount edited by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment (Deseret Book. 2005) page 45. For an excellent treament on the textual development of the New Testament, see Bart D. Ehrman in Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (Harper San Francisco. 2005.) See especially page 6, wherein Ehrman comments on how there are more variations in the New Testament than there are words in the New Testament.

[10]: Note that I do not have the intention to "attack" the Bible. I am simply trying to show that Slick is holding a double standard. Also note that, like the Book of Mormon, the majority of the changes in the Bible are small changes to spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

[11]: See the following two essays (here and here) by Professor John Gee of BYU.

[12]: On the subject of errrors in the scriptures, see John Tvedtnes in "The Mistakes of Men: Can the Scriptures be Error-Free?". Found online here.

[13]: See the multi-volumed works of Royal Skousen (editor), in Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Brigham Young University.)

[14]: Found here.

[15]: Hugh Nibley in Since Cumorah (2nd edition. FARMS, 1981) pages. 3-4.