the thinker


The following is an essay by RFM poster Baura who provides his insight as to the relevance of "NHM" and other claimed BOM evidence.

Why "Book of Mormon evidences" are not evidences at all.

From time to time the Ensign publishes an article showing a similarity or "parallel" between something in the Book of Mormon and something in ancient Hebrew, ancient Egyptian, or pre-Columbian American (north and south) cultures. Some that have stirred a lot of interest are so-called "chiasmus" passages in the Book of Mormon and the finding of the consonants "NHM" on a stone in Yemen. The "NHM" inscription has been called "the strongest evidence yet" for the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

Jeff Lindsay has a website with scores of "Book of Mormon Evidences."

It therefore is important to look at what really is evidence for a given proposition and what is not. We can get our bearings by first looking at the nature of coincidence.

Kennedy Lincoln Parallels

On November 22, 1963 President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas. Not too long afterwards people began compiling amazing "coincidences" between the Kennedy assassination and the Lincoln assassination. This spread to include "parallels" between Kennedy and Lincoln themselves.

The list of coincidences/parallels include:

Lincoln was elected to congress in 1846.
Kennedy was elected to congress in 1946.

Lincoln was elected president in 1860
Kennedy was elected president in 1960

Kennedy's assassin fired while in a warehouse and then fled to a theater.
Lincoln's assassin fired while in a theater and then fled to a warehouse.

Lincoln's assassin used three names: John Wilkes Booth.
Kennedy's assassin used three names: Lee Harvey Oswald.

John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839.
Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939.

Both assassins were from the South.

Both assassins had exactly 15 letters in their name.

Both assassins were shot to death before they could be put on trial.

Both Kennedy and Lincoln were shot in the back of the head while seated with their wives.

Both Kennedy and Lincoln were shot on a Friday.

Lincoln was shot while at FORD'S theater
Kennedy was shot while riding in a FORD automobile.

Lincoln was shot while in Box 7 of the theater.
Kennedy was shot while riding in car 7 of the motorcade.

Both Kennedy and Lincoln were in the company of another married couple when shot and in each case the husband of the couple was injured during the assassination but not fatally.

Both Kennedy and Lincoln had vice-presidents who were Southern Democrats, and former U.S. Senators named "Johnson" and both Johnsons chose not to run for re-election in '68. Each Johnson was also the father of two daughters.

Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

Kennedy had a secretary named "Lincoln."
Lincoln had a secretary named "Kennedy."

Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Kennedy proposed sweeping civil-rights legislation.

The name "Lincoln" has seven letters.
The name "Kennedy" has seven letters.

Both Kennedy and Lincoln studied law.

Both Kennedy and Lincoln had been ship's captains.

Both Kennedy and Lincoln were named after their grandfather.

Both Kennedy and Lincoln lost a son while in the White House.

Both Kennedy and Lincoln were the second-born in their families.

The car Kennedy was riding in was a Lincoln.


Many other striking parallels have been put forward.

The Birthday Problem

Another example of a "parallel" or "coincidence" which is contrary to our intuition is the famous "birthday coincidence:" Consider the following: If 50 people are chosen at random what is the probability that two of them will have the same birthday (day and month)? One way to think of this is as follows: Well, if there are 366 people then there MUST be two with the same birthday (ignoring leap years). Therefore for 366 the probability is 1. For half of that, or 183, people the probability should be about half of what it is for 366 people or 50%. For 91 people it should be about half again or about 25% and for 50 people it should be about 13 or 14%. This line of reasoning, although seemingly plausible, is completely wrong. Without going into the details of probability theory I will simply point out that for 50 randomly chosen people the probability that at least two of them have the same birthday is slightly over 97%.

Why should the actual probability be so high? A similar question is "Why should there be so many parallels between Kennedy and Lincoln?" The birthday problem is just simple mathematics at work but the Kennedy-Lincoln list of parallels is not susceptible to exact mathematical analysis. It often makes us think that something spooky is going on--that there must be some supernatural connection at work.

The birthday problem works the way it does because as the number of people increases the number of possible coincidences increases at an even faster rate. With two people there is only one way to get a match. With three people, however, there are three ways to get a match. If I label the three people A, B and C then there can be A and B with the same birthday, B and C with the same birthday, or A and C with the same birthday. By adding one person we've tripled the number of ways to get a birthday match.
With 4 people there are 6 possible matches: AB, AC, AD, BC, BD, CD.
With 5 people t here are 10 possible matches. AB, AC, AD, AE, BC, BD, BE, CD, CE, DE.
With 6 people there are 15 possible matches. (I'll stop listing them.)
With 7 people there are 21 possible matches.
With 8 people there are 28 possible matches.
With 9 people there are 36 possible matches.
. . .
And with 50 people there are 1225 possible matches.


It is because of the great number of possible coincidences that the chance of hitting at least one is so great.

With the Lincoln-Kennedy list of "coincidences" the number of "possible matches" becomes astronomical. With any two presidents there are an unbelievable number of "possible matches" in some aspect of their lives. Consider how many cabinet members there are or the number of White House staff members or the names of their children or their past positions, political or otherwise. Consider names of doctors they may have been treated by in their lives or the names and ages and occupations of various relatives. Consider all the possible incidents that may have happened in their pasts--what was the name of the minister that married them, that married their parents, etc. The number of possibilities is huge.

The parallels that I have given above concerning Kennedy and Lincoln were discovered by many different people scouring both Kennedy's and Lincoln's lives for any similarities that could be found. The number of parallels reflects the amount of searching that has been done to dig them out rather than any specific connection between t he two presidents.

If the list were filled with the failed connections such as "Lincoln was from Illinois and Kennedy was from Massachusetts" then a list of tens of thousands of items could easily be made. On such a list the "hits" would appear very rare indeed. However in the lists that are actually presented the failed connections--the misses--are ignored. No aspect of the two presidents' lives is even considered until AFTER a coincidence is found. Then questions such as "what is the probability that two presidents would have secretaries with each other's last names" is asked. Of course that probability when considered by itself is extremely small. But out of tens of thousands of possibilities it is to be expected that there will be a few dozen that actually are hits. And each of those hits will have a very small probability when considered by itself. But the probability of any one of these hits when considered by itself is not significant. It is the whole picture INCLUDING the misses that is significant. If a million "thousand to one shots" are considered it is to be expected that many of them will actually occur.

This is an example of "a posteriori" research--"research" after the fact. The significance of a bit of evidence is judged only after it is found to be a hit. "A priori" research, on the other hand, would be to decide what items will be compared BEFORE the hits or misses are known.

This is the way real research to test a theory needs to be done to have any validity. One looks first at the theory and then, before looking at the evidence, one decides what would be expected if the theory were true. If further research shows that what was expected to be found ahead of time actually is found then that is evidence that confirms the theory.

Crackpot science, on the other hand, works in the other direction. A pet theory of the "crackpot" is proposed. Since the formulator of the theory is more interested in supporting his theory than in finding the actual truth, the evidences that will or will not support the theory are not decided upon ahead of time. The "theorist" looks through all kinds of possible evidences that may or may not be consistent with his pet theory and only records those that he feels are favorable.

This is exactly what was done with the "Lincoln-Kennedy" list of parallels. It is also what is done with Book of Mormon "evidences."

If the Book of Mormon were actual history there are quite a few things that would be expected to be found. It would be expected that there would be the remains of a vast civilization on the American continents which, between 600 BC and 400 AD, planted wheat and barley, had a Judeo-Christian religion, used a hybrid form of Egyptian and Hebrew language and script, used horses, had the wheel, used smelted iron and steel, etc.

No trace of such a civilization has ever been found. This is the "a priori" approach. This is the approach that real science uses in testing theories. First decide what would result if your theory were true then see if that is the way things really are.

The Book of Mormon evidences that are presented are all "a posteriori" pieces of evidence. They are only considered "evidence" because someone found a way to view them as supporting the Book of Mormon claim of historicity. Thousands of "misses" (which are every bit as significant as the "hits") are ignored in compiling the lists of "evidence."

In such an approach the sheer number of the "parallels" that are found is a reflection of the amount of time spent trying to dig them out rather than because of any real validity of the "theory" being considered. And there is no question that millions of man-hours have been spent by Mormons trying to find "evidences" for the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

When viewed from this standpoint the list of sporadic parallels that are presented by Lindsay and others is strong evidence that the proposition they are trying to prove is, in reality, false. These kinds of lists of sporadic, "a posteriori" parallels are exactly what is to be expected when a crackpot theory is presented by its adherents. It is not the kind of evidence that real scientists collect to objectively test a theory.

Oh, when viewed in isolation it can be, psychologically, quite striking. Just as the list of parallels between Lincoln and Kennedy is quite striking. Both are made to be psychologically persuasive to the reader. But neither list is designed to get at the truth of any underlying proposition--the proposition was already decided as true before the evidence was gathered.

When one considers the sheer number of things mentioned in the Book of Mormon and the even greater number of things that can be known about ancient Israel, Egypt, or the Americas--millions of square miles during a thousand or more years (things found dating to a thousand years after Book-of-Mormon dates can still be considered hits--but just assumed to be remnants handed down from the previous civilization of a thousand years ago) then the number of possibilities is truly astounding. That a hundred or ever a few thousand can be forced into a list is to be expected even if the Book of Mormon is not historical. However, what is not to be expected, if the Book of Mormon is historical, is that this is the best that they can do.

The lists of "Book of Mormon evidences" that Mormons proudly publish are more a proof that their position is a pipe dream than evidence that it has any merit.

A good resource debunking the Lincoln-Kennedy issue is: Skeptoid episode #360

The Titanic

In 1898 an American science-fiction writer, Morgan Robertson, wrote a novel ("Futility") which described a shipwreck. The ship was the largest ship ever built, 800 feet long, carrying 2500 passengers. It had three propellers. On its maiden voyage in April in the North Atlantic it struck an iceberg in the fog on the starboard side and sank. Half the passengers died, since there was a shortage of lifeboats. Its name was "Titan."

In 1912 a ship named the Titanic (the largest ship ever built, 828 feet long, with three propellers) carried 2200 passengers on its maiden voyage, and in the North Atlantic struck an iceberg in the fog on the starboard side on an April night and sank. Half the passengers died, since there was a shortage of lifeboats.

Link is here.

Remarkable coincidences do happen.