When considering the origin of the Book of Mormon, there are any number of theories. Most readers will be familiar with the “Urim and Thummim/Power of God” theory, which demands a historical interpretation of the stories contained therin. Non-believers have their theories as well, from Dan Vogel’s “Pious Fraud” to various “Spaulding Theories”. Also the “Spalding Theory”, where it is believed Joseph used at various times a tennis ball, golf ball and Nephite-regulation size basketball instead of a seer stone.
While I rarely lay claim to having an original thought, I will be so bold as to put forth another theory to consider. This theory has the immense benefit of providing a more comprehensive overview of the process, without embarrassing holes or contradiction to answer for. The downside being a slight lack of detail.
This theory (which I humbly refer to as “The Cinepro Theory” is currently the most comprehensive and satisfactory theory for explaining the origin of the Book of Mormon in that it doesn’t resort to “god of the gaps” spackle to fill in the cracks, and it doesn’t require convoluted conjecture regarding the knowledge, experience and capabilities of Joseph Smith.
It’s the “I don’t know” theory.
It’s the same theory we use when we encounter the millions upon millions of things and occurrences for which we don’t know how it happened, or where it came from. We don’t feel compelled to make up a supernatural explanation (or accept someone else’s), even if we can’t formulate a natural explanation. No, we just say “I don’t know” and withhold belief until more data and a better theory come along.
It is based on the following immutable truth:
People aren’t required to explain the origin of the Book of Mormon.
There is no law saying that you will be put to death if you don’t subscribe to a theory of how the Book of Mormon was written.
The universe will not end if you can’t prove how Joseph did it.
Some may feel that eternal salvation rests on your approach to the subject, and therefore you must chose a “side”, but they are mistaken. That belief is only held because they feel like they can be the beneficiaries of a black or white thought process on the subject. But that doesn’t truly make it a black or white process, not matter how hard they insist. It only means you don’t know something, and ignorance is the start of the process of gaining knowledge, not the end. The fact that I don’t know how David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear doesn’t mean that I must adopt someone’s supernatural explanation. Or another magician’s explanation. It only means I don’t know how he did it.
The fact that someone doesn’t know how Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon doesn’t mean they must accept the supernatural explanation, or Vogel’s naturalistic one, or the Spaulding theory, or come up with their own. It only means they (I) don’t know. It isn’t a forced mulitiple choice test.
As in billions of other situations we encounter in this life, “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer. There are countless situations in life where we don’t have enough data to support any theory regarding something. This does not mean that we are compelled chose between the poor theories. The obvious point of course is to withhold judgement until further data presents itself.
If you do venture into allegiance with a poor theory that stretches beyond the data, you will probably find yourself defending your theory in the best way you know how: by pointing out the holes in the other peoples’ theories, and insisting that since someone must chose, they should ignore the holes in your theory and choose it anyway. If they do so, they can then join you in backslapping support for your mutual wisdom in choosing the right theory (after all, look at all the holes in the other theories!).
But to someone who sees the holes in all the theories for what they are, and has decided to withhold judgement, the backslapping and hole-pointing on both sides looks silly and unconvincing (granted, it’s convincing to the point of not pledging allegiance to either theory, but not in support of the other).
So please stop insisting that someone has to come up with a better theory than yours if they choose not to accept yours. It is quite possible that there will never be an acceptable theory for some people, because the data in support of any theory might be insufficient. And, absent the invention of a time machine or the discovery of new data, that may be the case for quite some time.
I agree with those who argue that the theories of the different critics are incomplete, or in some way unsatisfactory in answering every question that may be formulated. Unfortunately, I find the theories of divine origin to be similarly lacking once they get beyond the simplistic phase of “God did it” and actually try to say something. The most obvious weakness is the loose/tight translation dichotomy.
So I am a strong supporter of the “I don’t know” theory, and find pleasant company among the billions and billions of people on this Earth who likewise live a life in peace and happiness not having been forced to pledge allegiance with a particular theory regarding the origin of the Book of Mormon.