I recently read a blog post on Patheos about archeology and the Book of Mormon. The author’s tone was friendly and accepting of Latter-day Saints as a people, for which I am grateful, but his ultimate conclusion was that there is absolutely no archeological evidence of the Book of Mormon, so there is no way it can be an authentic historical text. While this is not correct, I will not attempt to refute this particular claim in this post, but rather will simply mention that answers to his questions can be found here on the FairMormon website.
I will concede the point that you cannot scientifically prove that the Book of Mormon is true. However, this shouldn’t be anything shocking to believers; the same thing is true about the Bible, Jesus Christ’s divinity, and even for the all-encompassing question of God’s existence. And it is certainly true that while there is evidence for all of these issues, there isn’t any proof. Why is this?
Part of the reason lies in the limitations that are inherent in the scientific method. Science is just incapable of answering certain questions: Why are we here? Does God exist? Do the Book of Mormon and Bible contain the word of God? You get the idea. These questions just don’t lie within the scope of what can be tested scientifically. Regardless of personal belief systems, one has to give some value to religion because it answers those questions that cannot be answered in any other way. It can also give greater meaning and purpose to science, just as science can help validate (but not necessarily prove) many of the tenets of religion.
Another reason is that “proof” can be a rather elusive principle when it comes to truly changing people. Laman and Lemuel saw an angel, but they still rebelled. Despite all of the wonders shown to the Children of Israel, they still wanted to go back to Egypt. And despite being shown the Gold Plates by an angel, all of the Three Witnesses fell away from the Church, at least for a time (although the fact that they never denied their testimony is powerful evidence for the truthfulness of that event). I would argue then that we should not be seeking evidences as a means to prove that the gospel is true, but rather as a means to assist with conversion, which causes a much deeper and more profound change.
Conversion is unique in that it requires us to use both intellect and spirit. We are to “study [the gospel] out in [our] mind” (D&C 9:8) and then ask if it is right. But we must do so with “a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ” (Moroni 10:4). In other words it is the convergence of faith and reason to bring about a “mighty change of heart.” While science and reason can assist in conversion, by themselves they are not enough.
Let’s make no mistake about it. If Heavenly Father saw fit, He could certainly offer up irrefutable science on any matter, but it doesn’t usually happen that way. Why not? Doing so would certainly make it easier for us to convince the rest of the world that the Church is true, but it would also undermine the entire point of our existence. Although conversion is not an easy or quick process, it gives us a strength that could not be gained in any other way.
Elder Jeffery R. Holland, in his discourse “Missionary Work and the Atonement,” had this to say concerning missionary work and conversion:
Anyone who does any kind of missionary work will have occasion to ask, Why is this so hard? Why can’t our success be more rapid? Why aren’t there more people joining the Church? Why isn’t the only risk in missionary work that of pneumonia from being soaking wet all day and all night in the baptismal font?
I have thought about this a great deal. I offer this as my personal feeling. I am convinced that missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are The Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him? It seems to me that missionaries and mission leaders have to spend at least a few moments in Gethsemane. Missionaries and mission leaders have to take at least a step or two toward the summit of Calvary.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about anything anywhere near what Christ experienced. That would be presumptuous and sacrilegious. But I believe that missionaries and investigators, to come to the truth, to come to salvation, to know something of this price that has been paid, will have to pay a token of that same price.
For that reason I don’t believe missionary work has ever been easy, nor that conversion is, nor that retention is, nor that continued faithfulness is. I believe it is supposed to require some effort, something from the depths of our soul.
If He could come forward in the night, kneel down, fall on His face, bleed from every pore, and cry, “Abba, Father (Papa), if this cup can pass, let it pass,” then little wonder that salvation is not an easy thing for us.
Although we are not talking specifically about missionary work I believe what Elder Holland said is the essence of this issue. If we had every question answered, our experience here in mortality would not be a test but rather a “cheap experience.” While in mortality, it is absolutely essential that we don’t know everything, otherwise there would be no need for faith and no need to lean on our Father in Heaven.
Now, I don’t want anyone to misunderstand where I am coming from. I am a firm and ardent believer of science–––in my personal, professional, and religious life. I believe there are literally thousands of strong evidences that support the authenticity of the Restoration. We should (and do) continually search out these evidences from all sources possible, including scientific research, but in the end, without the Spirit, what we find won’t be enough for a true change of heart.
So then, let’s not be distraught over any supposed lack of “proof.” All answers will come in the Lord’s own time–––both through our efforts to learn and through revelation to His prophets. Let us instead be grateful. For what may seem as a hindrance at first is actually an opportunity to grow, develop our faith, and walk a few steps along side our Savior on our symbolic journey “toward the summit of Calvary.”