Dialogue Subscribers and Book of Mormon Historicity?

Aaron R. aka Ricobook of mormon, historicity, Mormon 19 Comments

In 2005 Dialogue conducted research among it’s subscribers.  There was over a 1,000 responses which (assuming that everyone answered every question) is a fairly good sized sample to infer what the population of subscribers might think.  One interesting tidbit is that nearly half of the subscribers were over 61 and that 40% had a doctoral degree.  They asked a range of qustions but one that interested me was: ‘What way is the Book of Mormon Authentic?’  I thought before showing the results that our readers should answer the same question:

 [poll id=”93″]

The Dialogue subscribers answered in the following way:

33.9% = Historical

21.6% = Teaching and Moral Theology Authentic; Historicity Doubtful

12% = Moral Teachings Sound, Historicity & Divine Origin Doubtful

13.7% = 19th Century Literary Product

I would have thought that less people would have thought that the Book of Mormon was historical?  Just in case your wondering, for those people who subscribe to Dialogue only 5.9% subscribe or read regularly FAIR.


Are these results surprising to you?  If so why?

Comments 19

  1. Not surprising. If you’re a believer and your fund of spiritual experiences is adequate, you’d be inclined to give the BoM and Joseph Smith the benefit of the doubt. Just because a person is old and educated doesn’t mean he/she wouldn’t have that sort of faith.

  2. Post

    But that would lend them to answer in the second category not the first. Moreover, I would have thought that there would have been more scepticism among dialogue readers exactly because they are well-educated, even if they have spiritual experiences.

  3. I think the nuance necessary to discuss the historicity of the Book of Mormon is lost on most people. I take it that the vast majority of the Book of Mormon is historical while being open to the possibility that Joseph Smith also contributed parts as inspired by the Holy Ghost. I guess you could say I subscribe to Blake Ostler’s Expansion Theory of the Book of Mormon. In the end though, the arguments for the historicity of several portions of the book are compelling to me. Isn’t it possible that educated people come to the conclusion that the evidence is compelling for its historicity?

  4. Post

    Yes, I think it is. I do. But I guess because, as you note those that are aware of the issues on both side migh have more doubt than certainty. I also sense that I like Ostler’s view but I also think there are some real problems with it. Like which is which and does it matter. Can he really streddle both streams, especially as they seem to be moving in both directions. More and More evidence appears on both sides… in some ways I see this as making it difficult to sit on the fence. But maybe I am creating a false dichotomy.

  5. I’m not entirely surprised. I think there is a wider audience for Dialogue than might appear. Plus, just because someone doesn’t find FAIR compelling doesn’t mean that they don’t believe in the historicity of the BoM. They may just not trust Church-sponsored research (aka apologetics) in general.

  6. I found the four options limited and restrictive, a sliding scale might reveal a subtle difference.


    “I would have thought that there would have been more scepticism among dialogue readers exactly because they are well-educated”

    I don’t that analytical/critical training is automatically attributed to spiritual reasoning. During a discussion with a SP who is also a lawyer he told me that he “shelves” the issues that he is uncomfortable with, I believe this method is used very often by most members, some make a very conscious decision and others perhaps subconsciously “shelve” issues that would otherwise lead to a crisis of faith.

  7. The results didn’t surprise me. I think that many (most?) who have left the church, probably believing the BoM is a 19th century literary product, would not really be interested in Dialogue. So it seems to me the 14% is even a bit higher than I would expect.

  8. I think level of education may be less significant than type of education. One tends to be convinced more by the evidence in his/her own discipline. For instance, I’ll pay more attention to whether the geophysics, the internal consistency of a “fictional alternative”, or military descriptions are correct than to anything said about 19th Century history. Others whose disciplines are more social science oriented than mine may weight the factors the exact opposite way.


  9. #9: Good point. And of course engineers will believe anything, which is why creationists like to trot out Ph.Ds in engineering to dress up their pseudoscience with some kind of degreed respectability.

    What the ability to design a dam has to do with qualifications to pronounce on geology and biology, I’ve never quite understood.

  10. It should probably also be noted that some people read Dialogue for research other than that related to BoM historicity. That isn’t the only topic that they publish on.

    And Thomas (#10) – #9: Good point. And of course engineers will believe anything, which is why creationists like to trot out Ph.Ds in engineering to dress up their pseudoscience with some kind of degreed respectability.

    I’m sad to hear that you find myself and my colleagues so incapable of rational thought. Not all of us should be lumped together as pseudoscientists.

  11. #11: Present company excepted, naturally. How do you do that “wink” emoticon, anyway? An engineer would probably know.

    For some reason, nobody ever gins up intellectual respectability using a token lawyer.

  12. “They may just not trust Church-sponsored research (aka apologetics) in general.”

    Just FYI, FAIR isn’t Church sponsored. FARMS, perhaps, as part of BYU, but not FAIR. Splitting hairs for those who lump them together, perhaps.

  13. Interesting that MM readers are slightly different from Dialogue readers, from our decidely small sample.

    #7 – Shelving issues might be laziness, it might just be that they could get one answer. I have shelved issues, not because I would not look at them, but that my looking did not give me a definite answer either way, in fact most things don’t. But i am sure that there are many people who do take this approach.

    #8 – I agree that this is possible. although they ahve probably read sunstone and dialogue to leave and may well still be readers. However, I do take your point. my surprise was that there was ot more down the list.

    #9 – Good point. I am a sociologist (in training) and so my engagement with history or literary analysis is different from that of sociology. Perhaps it might be interesting for Dialogue to include their type of training in the future.

  14. Rico #16

    I would disagree I don’t believe that “Shelving” issues is due to laziness, I feel this is an unfair judgement on the many who do shelve issues.

    I don’t think that shelving issues is necessarily a bad thing.

    I agree with your experience of shelving issues that don’t have a definitive answer. JST’s in the Book of Mormon come to mind, in my experience the JST that is in Matthew but not in 3rd Nephi is puzzling, without a satisfactory solution I choose to shelve the issue.

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    Sorry I did not intend to imply that all shelving was laziness, but that it might be for some. I mean that some people just don’t care enough, so maybe apathy and laziness is more accurate.

    The reason I think shelving could become an issue is that it highlights a problem that we are not willing to deal with, when we could appropriately approach it. Kinda like a weakness, we push it back because we do not want to deal with it. I think if we have tried then that is ok, but just saying I do not care is maybe dangerous.

    But I should say that I do not necessarily think that apathy and laziness toward these things is all bad, I have the same approach to many issues. This is all might seem a little inconsistent.

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