Once in a while, somebody writes to FAIR, taking issue with something one of us writes. While the correspondent may be right, that person bears the burden of showing that it is so. If the evidence that person presents is persuasive, we alter our opinions accordingly. Otherwise, it will remain on our “not proven” list.
Some time ago, FAIR received an email from a gentleman who took issue with my article, “Adding up the Book of Mormon Peoples.” In sum, he stated that a 2.6% average growth rate would get the Book of Mormon numbers–without the need for immigration, which he claimed was contrary to what the Lord commanded. While this brother might be right about the growth rate (He is right about the mathematics!), to assume that would (to me) make the Book of Mormon events too miraculous where it doesn’t need to be.
In my article, I cited the growth rates of the fifty United States during the 1980s. Texas’ growth rate of 1.8% was an outlier from the average growth rate of 0.9%–and would be even more of one when compared to an average growth rate of only 0.3%, which is the world-wide average until about 250 years ago. While God intervening would certainly be possible, I don’t think this type of miracle is in God’s style–not when the Nephites themselves have the capacity to get the numbers with a lower, more easily attainable domestic growth rate, coupled with substantial, yet modest amounts of immigration. If the Nephites could pull it off themselves, it is unnecessary for God to intervene (though, of course, He could have). Why have God do something we could do for ourselves? The rule of Occam’s Razor would (to me) make this brother’s numbers less likely than the lower numbers that I cited–plus immigration.
Further, I am unconvinced of this brother’s use of Alma 3:8-9, 15 as evidence that immigration has nothing to do with the Nephite growth. While the Lord did forbid intermarriage between Nephites and Lamanites (at least until the coming of the Saviour described in III Nephi), I know of no texts where He had forbidden intermarriage with other groups (besides the Lamanites) that the Lord prompted to migrate to America.
One reason that the Book of Mormon rings true to me is the realism and relevance of Scriptural miracles, that tend to accomplish readily apparent purposes. One such miracle was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego staying alive through the furnace [Daniel 3]. Yes, God did help Joseph Smith translate the Book of Mormon; at the time, the Nephite language was dead, and there were no living mortals who could read the language. Yet, one should also note that Joseph Smith actually did the translating work; it did not show up full-blown–not even (assuming anti-Mormons are correct about the mode of translation) when he allegedly looked into the hat.
Another hallmark of the Book of Mormon’s authenticity is that it portrays people as they really are (as does the Bible), instead of portraying heroes without flaw. For example, as righteous as Lehi and Sariah were, their childrearing skills (described in the first two Books of Nephi) seemed to me to have left something to be desired. Moreover, Captain Moroni is a little too sarcastic and insubordinate to Nephite leader in Alma 60–though I must admit that his “state of thoughtless stupor” insult in verse seven makes for delicious reading.
To sum up, there is a reason for FAIR’s conservatism: we who accept the Book of Mormon as bona fide Scripture bear the burden of proof, and far-out explainations tend to detract from the Book of Mormon’s credibility–especially when anti-Mormon answers seem more plausible.
UPDATE: Theodore Brandley sent me an interesting email:
“There are at least 2 religious, agrarian groups in North America that have experienced 4% growth rate for over a century.
“In 1900 there were approximately 3,700 Amish in North America. By 1990 the estimated figure had increased to 127,800. (Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online)
“Since then the Amish population has increased to an estimated 227,000. (Associated Press Wednesday, August 20, 2008)
“The Hutterites, with whom I am quite familiar with in Western Canada, Montana and North Dakota, have also had an annual growth rate of about 4% over a period of 125 years. Almost all of them are descended from the original 400 who came to America.
“Nearly extinct by the 18th and 19th century, the Hutterites found a new home in North America. Over 125 years their population grew from 400 to around 50,000.”
Quoted in: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hutterite
“I think that this demonstrates that a Christian group, living an agrarian lifestyle, in the fertile lands of North America, can and do attain growth rates sufficient to meet the requirements of the Book of Mormon without
immigration from others.
Of course, Theodore did well by finding these cites. Theodore didn’t attack me for being too stupid to bow to his superiority, nor did he abandon his position when he didn’t persuade me. Instead, he went about strengthening his case.
By demonstrating that the less-likely no-immigrant large population growth is not as rare as I and others thought, he also makes less rare the more likely population growth with immigrants.
While anti-Mormons still can raise some hard questions, Theodore did help neutralise the “impossible population growth” stick they used to beat us.
One of us is very likely wrong about the immigration issue, but we are united about the REAL issue: The Book of Mormon, including its claims about population numbers, is true.