Talking online with a critic of the Book of Mormon recently, I was reminded of a scene from M. Night Shyamalan’s last good movie, 2002’s Signs.
In the film, two brothers living on a farm in the Midwest investigate noises outside at night. In classic suspense style, movement just off screen causes the characters and camera to look, just in time to miss whatever was there, but it was clearly someone. When a police officer comes out the next day to look into it, the following exchange takes place:
How certain are you, that this was a male?
I don’t know any girls can run like that.
I don’t know, Merrill. I’ve seen some of those women on the Olympics. They could out run me easy.
This guy got on the roof in like a second. That roof is over ten feet high.
He’s telling you the truth. Whoever it was, is very strong and can jump pretty high.
They got women’s high jumping in the Olympics. They got these
Scandinavian women who could jump clean over me.
I know you’re making a point. I just don’t know what it is.
Yesterday afternoon, an out of town woman stopped by the diner and started yelling and cussing cause they didn’t have her favorite cigarettes at the vending machine. Scared a couple of customers. No one’s seen her since… My point is, we don’t know anything about the person you saw. We should just keep all possibilities available.
Excluding the possibility that a female Scandinavian Olympian was running around outside our house last night, what else is a possibility?
So, what does this have to do with the Book of Mormon?
In my online conversation, I offered to share three of the best evidences for the Book of Mormon, and invite the critic to analyze and account for them if the book is a hoax. I suggested 1) the accurate, previously unknown geography of Arabia (Nahom, Bountiful, etc.), 2) the ancient texts that nobody had access to, given in 2 Nephi 12:16 and 3 Nephi 4:28-29, and 3) chiasmus.
His responses were quick. After making sure to leave “coincidence” open as a possibility (!), he suggested that chiasmus be explained by Smith’s imagination and memory, and that the other details were largely culled from (I swear I am not making this up) well-traveled and devout Middle-Eastern immigrants in his neighborhood.
Each of these is, of course, laughably implausible enough on its own. To explain chiasmus this way, we must credit Joseph Smith with somehow figuring out chiasmus from its fragmentary nature in the King James Bible (before history records any scholar doing so), then employing it to a degree of mastery unrivaled anywhere else in world literature (aloud and spontaneously, without any revision or notes that have ever been found), never using these amazing gifts in nearly the same way again in any of his other stories or writings, and then keeping it a secret for the rest of his life, for some reason.
Meanwhile, as Smith is proving to be a literary genius on par with Shakespeare, he swaps some idle chatter with (or maybe overhears convenient conversations between?) all the vibrant mutli-ethnic elements in his upstate New York village of the 1820’s, which of course features at least one friendly and learned rabbi (who also happens, in order to share the Isaiah material, to be fluent in Greek?) as well as at least one Bedouin trader who’s eager to share the intimate details of Arabian geography which none of these ignorant Westerners have yet mapped.
I suppose Smith chats up these various folks (minorities whose presence is invisible in any recorded history, sadly) because he expects to use their golden nuggets of details in the vast hoax he’s planning to write soon? (Even though, once again, he never once used any of these things as evidence of his work; it does seem like a lot of unnecessary effort for a con man, eh?)
In short, putting together all of these coincidental explanations, we end up with a tottering popsicle-stick tower of unlikely, illogical assumptions that certainly dwarfs that of “female Scandinavian Olympians.”
And that was all just to explain three evidences. Imagine if I’d asked him to account for the dozens of other evidences that might be offered!
I pointed out the similarity between his arguments and the movie scene. He didn’t have a cogent response to it.