I recently perfunctorily read a new study written by three Stanford University professors, titled “Reassessing authorship of the Book of Mormon using delta and nearest shrunken centroid classification,” and published in the latest issue of the journal, Literary and Linguistic Computing. While I admit to being disturbed by the article, it is not for the reason they would like it to be. I teach statistics at America’s largest privately-owned university, and, frankly, I see so many problems, I’m not sure where to begin.
To start, they were not exhaustive in alleged authors. In this regard, the “study” is not unlike choosing five National Football League (NFL) teams at random (and two Canadian Football League (CFL) teams as a “control”), and stating that the one with the best won-lost percentage won the Super Bowl. Choosing the best of an woefully incomplete list tells the reader nothing about “Who really wrote the Book of Mormon”–the Stanford authors’ clucking agreement with the authors of the book by that name notwithstanding–just as not checking out ALL NFL teams says nothing about the winner of the Super Bowl.
For one thing, Joseph Smith’s writings were missing from this study. I can imagine that even many anti-Mormons would be upset at crowning Solomon Spaulding’s Manuscript Story as the true Book of Mormon, if it were demonstrated that Joseph Smith’s letters or journal was a better match!
Moreover, the authors alleged by Latter-day Saints are VERY conspicuous by their absence. While I admit that there are no other samples of Mormon’s or Alma’s or Nephi’s writing than what is found in the Book of Mormon, the Book does extensively quote Jesus Christ–and not just the rerun of the Sermon on the Mount!
Why is the New Testament missing from this study? Surely, if Solomon Spaulding were the author of III Nephi 9-12; 15-21; 23; 26-30, rather than the Saviour, wouldn’t testing His words in the New Testament put the final nail in the coffin burying Mormonism? However,whether or not Jesus’ New Testament statements are a match with His alleged words in the Book of Mormon, these authors have made sure that the reader would never know it. What are they afraid of–that the Gospels would be a match?
It gets worse. As I read the results, not one of the works studied had more similarities with the Book of Mormon than dissimilarities. Their choice of Spaulding’s manuscript as the true source of the Book of Mormon, then, is like taking the last place team in each division of the NFL and congratulating the best of them for winning the Super Bowl. Just as every last place team is disqualified from the playoffs, let alone winning the Super Bowl, a manuscript with more dissimilarities than likenesses to the the Book of Mormon should also be disqualified from consideration.
In short, this game is rigged, and such a misuse of scholarship offends me as a teacher of statistics, as a Latter-day Saint, as a Christian, and as a fair-minded person. The fact that this pseudo-scholarship is in reality a poorly-reasoned anti-Mormon bromide makes it worse.