You’ve all seen them, spoken with them, discussed things with them. They’re your evangelical anti-Mormon friends, neighbors, classmates, co-workers, relatives. (Not to mention those random strangers who accost you as you go to the temple.) We get comments from these folks around here sometimes as well. I’ve always been a little surprised by the types of arguments put forth by evangelical anti-Mormons, because it seems to me that they prove too much. Evangelicals, it seems, are best at giving Mormons a strong reasons to become an atheist (or agnostic, or Unitarian).
There are three standard tests (University of Chicago history Dept.) used by all historians to verify the accuracy of historical event and they are;
1. The bibliographical evidence test- how reliable is the transmission of the historical account? Has the story been changed down throughout history
2. The internal evidence test-does the writer of the event contradict himself internally in his own account.
3. The external evidence test-is there any external evidence through documents and archealogy that contradicts the account under question?
These tests of historical authenticity should be applied to Joseph Smith’s accounts as a better means of verifying if indeed he saw an angel and the LDS religion is true, not some subjective unsubstantiated series of visions.
This is a reasonable approach for a person to take, and the critic is correct that one might come to doubt Joseph Smith, applying this logic.
But here’s the rub: The Bible is full of accounts which would also fail such a test. That’s not such a big deal for certain offshoots of Christianity, which may believe that large portions of the Bible are not literal depictions of events. But for evangelicals, who themselves tend to believe in Biblical literalism, this is a big potential concern.
It seems clear that an objective observer, applying the historicity standards listed above (those which the Evangelical critic suggests Mormons apply to their own faith) could easily come away with serious doubts as to the Biblical accounts such as the Creation; the Flood; the Earth stopping in its rotation; the birth of Christ; the miracles of Christ’s ministry; the Atonement; the Resurrection; the conversion of Paul; the miracles performed by the early Apostles.
And yes, I know, there are scads of Christian apologists who can explain to you how two of every animal, all housed in the same ark, managed to disperse into the biodiversity we have now, and how kangaroos hopped all the way to Australia. But once we’re opening that door, it’s time to admit that we’re listening to apologists and leaving behind the critical thinking hat. And the natural question is, why? Why should we be critics with regards to Joseph Smith but apologists with regards to Noah?
The Evangelical anti-Mormon argument simply proves too much. It may be an effective argument if one is intending to convert a listener to atheism, or agnosticism, or perhaps Unitarianism. But it’s not really effective coming from a believer in Biblical literalism. And this is because it depends on an application of a double standard: Please apply certain rigorous tests to the truth of Joseph Smith’s claims, but don’t do the same for Paul’s claims or Matthew’s or John’s.
Evangelicals don’t apply rigorous historical review to the Bible. An Evangelical believer accepts Biblical claims not because they meet some professional standard of historicity, but because of faith. And so it should be no surprise that, when examining Joseph Smith’s claims or the Book of Mormon, we Mormons take the same approach.