Absence of Evidence - for the Book of Mormon

Recovery from Mormonism (RfM) discussion forum. 


Posted by: RPackham ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 02:07PM


A common argument used by Mopologists in defending the BoM and the lack of archaeological evidence for the existence of Nephites is the supposed principle that "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!"

That may be a valid argument in some situations, but it does not apply to all. For example, Jack claims he has a Ph.D. from XYZ University. We contact the university registrar to check this, and the registrar says there is absolutely no record of Jack having a degree from there, or even having attended. The registrar assures us that the records are complete and accurate.

Can Jack claim that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"? That just because the record isn't there, it is not evidence that he was not there? Hardly!

The more correct statement of the principle should be: "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, unless it would be reasonable to expect that evidence would be there."

Is it reasonable to expect that somewhere in America archaeologists would find SOME evidence of the existence of a thousand-year-long civilization that had horses, cattle, wheat, metal coinage, Egyptian language, Christian religion, wheeled vehicles, with populations of millions, covering the entire "face of the land" (Jarom 1:8, Helaman 11:20)? Of course!

Compare the evidence for the Roman civilization in Europe and Asia, which also spanned a thousand years. Museums are full of Roman artifacts and other evidence of the existence of Roman civilization. Nothing like that for the Nephites.

Yes, in this case, absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence. There were no Nephites.


Posted by: Rebeckah ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 02:11PM


then asking us to believe this tribe of Jews vanished is simply insulting to our intelligence.

You're right, there were no Nephites -- nor Lamanites nor the other "ites"....


Posted by: mossface ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 02:13PM


A good comparison is cryptozoology. Does Bigfoot exist? Well, pending a some pretty compelling evidence (read: a body), it's reasonable to assume he doesn't. Did the Nephites exist? Same answer. Pending solid evidence, it's reasonable to assume they didn't.

Bigfoot and the Nephites have kind of a similar evidentiary situation. A few somewhat intriguing odds and ends, but the big, clear pieces of evidence we would expect just aren't there. There's no Bigfoot body. There's no Middle-Eastern DNA.


Posted by: rogertheshrubber ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 02:47PM


Spencer Kimball told me that Bigfoot DOES exist! It's Cain. Are you saying he doesn't have his facts straight?


Posted by: Brother Of Jerry ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 02:18PM

Not only that, but their book is better. Arguably more moral and more inspiring too.

Posted by: Heresy ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 02:28PM


We now know a lot about the many different groups who lived here in the right time frame. They have many unique characteristics, like the use of tobacco in religious ceremonies, unique foods, animals and cultural practices.

Not one of the unique identifiers of inhabitants of this hemisphere ever made it into the Book of Mormon. All the identifiers that do show up in the book came from the Old World, and were well known to even a badly educated person from New England in 1830.



Posted by: A ANON ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 02:28PM


Absence of evidence can become a universal wild card in any almost any argument:

“I propose that the 'Wizard of Oz' was not fictional. I propose that L. Frank Baum, its author, had a medical emergency in which he found himself in a Parallel Universe. All the basic events, characters and creatures of his story are based on those things he discovered in a very real world that happens to be beyond or current experience. Of course he knew that the American Reader would never take him seriously if he published the book as fact, so he wrote it as a fiction.

Because ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’, my proposal cannot be dismissed! My assertion of truth deserves equal attention and the equal prospect of validity as any other scientific proposition. Winged Monkeys do indeed exist – somewhere!”


Posted by: S2 in Chandler ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 02:39PM


The best response to that bon mot comes from Christopher Hitchens:

That is can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.


Posted by: CA girl ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 02:46PM

I've heard that before too - I love that one.


Posted by: FreeRose ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 02:40PM


New York? South America? Hidden in Salt Lake? I know they are out there SOMEWHERE, therefore, the BoM is true, even if there is no other evidence ANYWHERE.


Posted by: Makurosu ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 02:41PM


Really, there could. We'd be foolish to shut our minds to the possibility of cureloms and cumoms and Jaredite submarines... from the Tower of Babel...

Posted by: The Guillotine ( )
Date: June 13, 2011 04:40AM


I have "evidence" for you and I believe all of you will look at the Moron religion in a whole new light.


Posted by: Puli ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 04:27PM


This argument can be used for anything that has no evidence - space aliens, big foot, magic, or pink elephants and purple unicorns. Indeed, the statement is intrinsicly true as was the case prior to the discovery of the panda bear. Stories of black and white creatures living in remote areas of China were told to Europeans for decades but no hard evidence existed until someone finally took on the project and finally capture one. Lack of evidence has to account for something or we would need to believe in all sorts of odd and unproven things which have no evidence. It is up to those making the claim to provide the evidence to support the claim. And, I think another quote would be appropriate for this argument: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" (popularized by Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996))


Posted by: RPackham ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 07:10PM


Puli Wrote:
> .... And, I think another quote
> would be appropriate for this argument:
> "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary
> evidence" (popularized by Carl Sagan (1934 -
> 1996))

Sorry, I have to disagree with that principle as worded, however much I admire Sagan. (Sagan may have popularized it, but it originated in slightly different form with either Hume or Laplace).

The statement as worded is easily misinterpreted (by those who are defending extraordinary claims) to mean that it would take a miracle to prove a miracle, thus it is impossible to prove a miracle. Therefore skeptics are not justified in rejecting claims of miracles.

"Extraordinary evidence" in this context means nothing more than "an extraordinary AMOUNT of evidence," not evidence that is of an extraordinary nature.

I would accept any claim of a miracle, if there were sufficient, very ordinary evidence for it. See my article "The Man With No Heart: Miracles And Evidence" at


Posted by: Richard the Bad ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 04:33PM


Additionally, "absence of evidence" assumes a void of evidence. In this case, there is abundant archaeological evidence of Native American prehistory that fills that void.


Posted by: Rebeckah ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 04:36PM


There's plenty of evidence indicating that someone else was living and thriving on this continent during the times in question. ;)


Posted by: Puli ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 05:02PM


And all of it contradicts the BOM stories.

+1 on the Excellent point


Posted by: axeldc ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 05:00PM


Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
-Carl Sagan

Mormons who use such arguments are essentially saying that the BoM is true until you disprove it. In reality, they are making the claim that it is the unassailable word of God, and then offering no real evidence for that claim.

Exmos do make a strong case that the BoM is a work of 19th C. fiction, but really it's unnecessary. In a court of law, the defense is not required to present a single piece of evidence. The burden of proof rests on the prosecution, and if the prosecutor fails to prove his case, the defense wins. The job of the defense is not to prove his client's innocence, but to show that the prosecution has failed to prove his guilt.

Just as a man is innocent until proven guilty, the BoM is false until proven true. The LDS Church is making a claim that it cannot support. It's their job to prove it, and the exmo's job to show that their proof is inadequate. TBMs prefer to reverse that so that they can stay in their little bubble despite the mountain of evidence showing how unsubstantiated their beliefs are.


Posted by: Stray Mutt ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 05:10PM


Their little couplet does nothing to advance their claims. All it means is they still want their fiction to be true, despite lack of proof. Big deal.


Posted by: michaelm (not logged in) ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 05:29PM


It is one thing to hope for things which are not seen, it is another to believe in the face of evidence to the contrary.

The first is called faith, the second is defined as delusion.


Posted by: chulotc is snarky ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 06:02PM

Faith is delusion.


Posted by: baura ( )
Date: May 19, 2011 09:44AM


There is a difference. There are many questions to which scholarly and scientific investigation does not provide an answer. Is there a purpose to the universe? Does the personality survive death? etc. This is where FAITH operates. However the question of the historicity of the Book of Mormon is clearly answered by scholarly and scientific investigation. So belief in Mormonism does not require FAITH, it requires DENIAL.


Posted by: michaelm (not logged in) ( )
Date: May 19, 2011 10:26AM

Thanks baura.

Posted by: bubbleboy ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 05:37PM


The thing that kills me is that the whole book depicts God giving people obvious evidence, over and over again. Except our generation doesn't get evidence. We're not as special apparently.


Posted by: Reed Smith ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 06:00PM


Thanks to RPackman for artfully pointing out the fallacy of the couplet, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

If one takes the Bayesian view of evidence, “evidence” would be any state of affairs the existence of which makes a given theory or claim more probable than it would be in the absence of such state of affairs. Upon this definition, the absence of a college record of Jack’s Phd is a state of affairs that makes the theory that Jack does not have such degree more probable than it would be in the absence of such a state of affairs. (And correspondingly, the alternative claim that he has such a degree more improbable) However, Jack’s assertion of his Phd status is itself evidence of such by the same principle, simple because such a statement makes the theory that he has such a degree more probable than it would otherwise be. The issue, then, is weighing the evidence, and assessing, intuitively or otherwise, the probabilities of a given theory or claim being true, given the evidence.

Note, however, we should be leery of any cute couplets used as rhetorical devices in either science or religion. Often they turn out to be false or nonsensical.

For example, the quote, “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence,” attributed to Christopher Hitchens, is also false. The fact of the matter is that a great deal of scientific theory is first asserted either without evidence, or with very weak evidence, offered merely as a possible explanation for a given phenomena, only later to be confirmed or disconfirmed, by evidence and discussion. Some scientific theories thrive for decades without any evidence beyond mathematical consistency. Much of modern theoretical physics and cosmology exists as mere mathematical theories without direct supportive evidence. Often such unsupported theories have great explanatory power, which make them attractive and worthy of pursuit, the lack of evidence notwithstanding. Einstein’s theory of special relativity is a case in point. When offered it had nothing more than great explanatory power. Later it was confirmed by direct evidence.

The couplet, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," attributed to Carl Sagan, is also problematic. Again, extraordinary claims are often made in science without evidence, or minimal evidence. They do not require extraordinary confirming evidence, just ordinary evidence. Their viability is based upon their explanatory power, and their susceptibility to confirmation or falsification. There was nothing wrong with the extraordinary theory that the ancient Americans were descendants of the lost 10 tribes. As a theory, it had explanatory power, and was falsifiable, and in fact has been falsified. The implication of the above couplet is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, in order to warrant belief. But this is also false. Belief is sometimes warranted in the absence of any evidence, if the theory believed offers the best explanation for a phenomena in question, or if, as a practical matter, belief is more efficacious than disbelief. There was a time when the idea of God offered the best explanation for the complexities found in nature, particularly the existence of life. No extraordinary evidence was required to support this claim, it just seemed like the best explanation. Later, it was supplanted by evolution as the best explanation, much to the chagrin of theists.

Finally, it can be noted that it is false to claim that there is no evidence for ancient civilizations consistent with the descriptions in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon itself is evidence for such claims, notwithstanding the fact that it is weak, and fails to be confirmed by modern archeology, anthropology, and genetics. As indicated above, like most controversial issues, whether in science or religion, the question is whether the proposed theory provides the best explanation for the phenomena in question. If the phenomenon in question is the existence of ancient American civilizations, the Mormon explanation is simply no longer viable. But this does not assume that it was always ludicrous, or that it required extraordinary evidence. Regular evidence could have confirmed it, the same type of evidence that falsified it.


Posted by: Happy_Heretic ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 08:52PM


The context in which a claim is made does matter. In your assertion about Hitchens, for example "that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence" (which is not a quote BTW. The real qoute is, "that which is accepted on faith, can be dismissed on faith" which mean something rather different) is TRUE. If, for example a scientist says in the year 1400 that there is an invisible force which is attractive and causes objects in space to move towards each other, but offers no evidence to support it. it would be quite proper to immediately reject this. If, however, in 1642 upon the death of Galileo you are given his research and it is stated that there is the very same invisible force, then you have evidence to support the assertion.

Also, with your example of Carl Sagan, what you call "ordinary" evidence is B.S. You offer a dismissal of an extraordinary claim based on "ordinary" evidence, and if Sagan had written "extraordinary claims can only be dismissed with extraordinary contradictory evidence", then you would have made your case. But you did not. To put Sagan's quote in context if one asserted, for example, that a flying invisible camel inhabited Reed's body and was writing his nonsense, then the evidence would, indeed need to be convincing in order to accept it as true. Until then Reed is just an ordinary fool who really likes to take Atheist's quotes and attempt, poorly, to refute them.

I agree with the rest of your assertions however.

HH =)


Posted by: Greyfort ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 09:02PM


When I started studying the evidence for the Book of Mormon, I came away going, "Well, I'll be. Sometimes absence of evidence really is evidence of absence."

With the missing DNA, the missing archaeological finds, the missing linguistic evidence, the missing steel mills, the missing swords, chariots, bones, horses, wheat, etc., I'd call that pretty strong evidence that there's no such thing as a Nephite or a Lamanite.


Posted by: Outcast ( )
Date: May 18, 2011 11:39PM

Except it's the layman and neophyte. Again, JS took Masonic concepts/lore and twisted them to suit his needs.



Posted by: NYNeverMo ( )
Date: May 19, 2011 11:14AM


Outcast-----WOW....great observation...layman---lamanite/neophyte---nephite....It is comical to see the connection


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