A question: what “evidences” might actually matter in obtaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon or of the Restoration? Is the issue one that we (the Church, “on the average”) emphasize too much or not enough?
Latter-day Saints rightly emphasize the importance of revelation in gaining knowledge and faith about the things of God. This can exasperate some critics, who wish that we would collapse under the weight of their alleged “evidence” that the Church is false and abandon our testimonies. They may attribute our stubborn persistence in the faith as a sign of lemming-like ignorance and self-deception, thinking that our testimonies are little more than hypnotic delusions shrouded with warm fuzzy feelings. How foreign and frustrating the LDS testimony seems to be to some people, yet it so thoroughly biblical. Peter was a keen thinker, IMO, yet his testimony of the Savior was not based on a consensus of leading scholars, or on DNA studies showing that the DNA of Christ was of divine origin, or on an objective comparison of Christ’s actions with rabbi-approved interpretations of ancient prophecy. It wasn’t even based on the scientific improbability of the miracles Peter saw. When Christ praised Peter for having a testimony of the Savior, it’s source was clear to the Lord: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). This rock of revelation is the firm basis on which true Latter-day Saint testimonies are based.
Peter had a testimony derived from revelation through the Spirit, but I believe he still demanded that Christians apply their intellect to their faith. He asks that we “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). Likewise, I believe that Latter-day Saints should also be ready to discuss issues that are raised when others want to know why we believe. Intellectual information should never be used to convert or to prove, but can help people in getting past barriers. Sometimes only after certain objections are answered can others take the Gospel seriously enough to be open to the Spirit and pray.
I would like to know if there are particular “evidences” – especially “Book of Mormon evidences” – that actually made a difference in your testimony or the testimony of others, and why? A little hobby of mine has been looking at various Book of Mormon evidences – things like the resilient testimonies of all the witnesses who saw the plates, or interesting findings in the Arabian Peninsula, the issues of cement and volcanism, relationships between Mesoamerican cultures and broad patterns of Book of Mormon civilizations, and so forth. Again, none of that should be taken as a “proof” or as a driving force for conversion, but can prove helpful when the time is right. I’ve been surprised at how important some of this information has been to people who were struggling with their testimonies. I’ve had numerous people tell me that they couldn’t get past the “consensus” that there seems to be in the world about the stupidity of the Book of Mormon, and then when they found out that there were some intellectually sound responses to some of the objections or that there were some findings in favor of Book of Mormon authenticity, it gave them hope to continue investigating and they ultimately joined the Church.
In using the term “evidence,” I’d like to focus more on external, intellectual issues rather than the subjective, personal evidences of the Gosepl that one obtains through prayer and living the Gospel. The latter form of evidence can be far more impressive than anything you will ever see published in a book, but is also far harder to convey to others as answer to a question or challenge.
My question to this community is, in your experience, what “evidences” or intellectual responses to attacks have proven to make a difference in your life or the lives of those you know, and why? I’ve been surprised at some of the things people have said were their big hang-up with the Gospel and what helped them get over it. It’s often not been the things I thought would help. A related question is whether we in general emphasize intellectual responses and evidences too much or not enough – I recognize this will vary wildly depending on your location and peer group, but “on the average,” do we make too much of such things, or not enough?