There is no gold in China. This analogy was told to me some time ago, and has stuck with me, despite its flaws. The idea is this: China is really big, a flake of gold is really small. To say there is no gold in China would require endless searching. I would never really be done. That is why it is far easier to say, like an agnostic, that there might be gold in China, rather than saying there is no gold in China. During my search for gold in China, I might be fooled by fools’ gold. When I find the fools’ gold to be fake, I might admittedly declare that there is no gold in China. However, the presence of fools’ gold does not negate the possibility that under a rock is a flake of 18-caret gold. The problem I have with this analogy is, there is gold in China. I don’t think people are prone to disagree. So, to make the same point, we could talk about lifeforms in outer space. Space is big, really big, and we know so little about it. Here it is easy to side with the agnostic and say, I don’t know.
Back to China. I have been to China, I have seen gold, but the best I could do was take someone’s word who told me it really was gold. I have not the ability to discern between real and fake gold. And yet, if all the gold I saw in China was fools’, I still cannot conclude that there is no gold in China.
It has been a while since I have studied out any of the “Elephants,” but I was invited to take a look at the Book of Mormon and archeology, and see what there is to see. Yet, I recognise that a lack of evidence does not mean the Book of Mormon is not true. I also recognise that there may have been fools’ gold found. Various artefacts have come up that people claim support the historicity of the Book of Mormon, which, in reality, have no connection. These poorly supported claims do not then require us to denounce the historical reality of the Book of Mormon anymore than finding fools’ gold in China should convince us that there is no gold in China
My biggest concerns with the historicity of the Book of Mormon, are not the lack of archeological evidences (My 8th great-grandmother was Lucia Nilsdotter, and while I cannot find any archeological evidence of her parents or her grandparents, I do not doubt that they existed. Our knowledge of history, and the remaining evidence is spotty), but that which seems to go against the history we know. Elephants in America? The ancient inhabitants of America from Israel?
I have heard it said that there are 56 different locations suggested as to where the Book of Mormon could have taken place (I have heard a statistic of this sort, but I do not actually remember the number given. It may have been higher). The accounts recorded in the Book of Mormon are but a small sampling of all which went on in the western hemisphere in the thousands of years pre-Colombus.1 To draw from this any sort of broad strokes as to what should be found by archeologists ignores the vast amount of activity going on during this time of which we have no written record. I will not here deal with any archeological discoveries that seem contradictory to the history written in the Book of Mormon. Rather I will consider anachronisms and seemingly out of place details.
The problem is, the more I consider this route of study, the more I realised that I am not bothered. Maybe there was steel made in Israel long before we previously had thought, and yet we have no traces of it today.2 Maybe there were horses and elephants. The possibilities of history seem endless. Maybe Joseph Smith when translating was given an image rather than a word, and it looked to him like cement, so he wrote cement when it was really agglomerate rock, but he did not know what it was.
A third possible reason for anachronisms in the Book of Mormon is that when Nephi and his family landed in the Americas, that they used words from their home land to describe similar objects in their new surroundings. The may have cultivated plants similar to what they had previously grown, and called them by the same name though they were different.3 Imagine for a moment that there is no gold in China, but I go to China, see golden coloured stones and write home about the gold I saw. I might even know that it is not gold, and yet have no better word to describe what I see.
Even if all that is mentioned in the Book of Mormon could be found on the American continent, the would not prove the veracity of the Book of Mormon. Likewise, the lack of archeological evidence does not disprove the historicity of the book. I am convinced that God knows if the Book of Mormon is good, if it teaches true principles, if it is a nice story and if it is based on historical events. God knows if the book will bring us closer to him. So, the Book of Mormon invites us to ask God if it is true4 as James counsels us to ask God if we lack wisdom.5 Furthermore, we can test the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon as we apply its direction in our lives and become more like Christ. These are the ways I have come to know the Book of Mormon is true. I am grateful for that book, for the many ways that it has helped me come closer to Christ. There might be gold in China, there could be aliens in outer space, and perhaps there were anciently elephants in America, I do not know history, but I know God loves his children.
Two pictures that I like which depict how little we once knew and suggest there is still much we do not know:
1 John L. Sorenson, Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture: https://www.lds.org/ensign/1984/09/digging-into-the-book-of-mormon-our-changing-understanding-of-ancient-america-and-its-scripture?lang=eng#pop_001-03178_000_016.
2Or do we? See: Matthew Roper, Laban’s Sword of “Most Precious Steel” (Howlers #5), https://www.fairmormon.org/ blog/2013/06/17/labans-sword-of-most-precious-steel-howlers-5-2.