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Multiple sources have put forward this argument.

For example, the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies article Stylometric Analyses of the Book of Mormon: A Short History (link) affirms:

Abstract
The abundance of skeptical theories about who wrote the Book of Mormon has led many scholars to seek scientific data to discover the answer. One technique is stylometry. Having first been developed in the 1850s, stylometry seeks to find the “wordprint” of a text. Although these stylistic studies are not as accurate as a human’s fingerprint, they can give researchers a good idea either of differences in style between authors or of who might have written a text from a list of possible authors. Beginning in the 1960s individuals have completed four major stylometric studies on the Book of Mormon, studies that varied in both findings and quality of research. In addition to these four studies, this article presents a fifth study—using extended nearest shrunken centroid (ENSC) classification—that incorporates and improves on the earlier research

[...]

Conclusion
Stylometric analyses of the Book of Mormon have generated much interest over the past thirty years. Some of these analyses have produced interesting information, but some of the studies have been characterized by hyperbole, faulty reasoning, and misapplication of statistical methods. When examining all the evidence, our overall conclusion is that the Book of Mormon displays multiple writing styles throughout the text consistent with the book’s claim of multiple authors and that the evidence does not show the writing styles of alleged nineteenth century authors to be similar to those in the Book of Mormon. Further, the claims thus far put forward for alternative authorship of the Book of Mormon, other than as described by Joseph Smith, are untenable.

Similarly, the article Is Stylometry the Ultimate Proof that Joseph Smith Did Not Write the Book of Mormon? (link) states:

[...] Together this presentation helped the audience consider the impossibility of someone of Joseph Smith’s age and limited experience working with Oliver Cowdery over 60 working days to compose anything so complicated as the Book of Mormon. It worked for me and others in the audience.

[...] Like Fields and Roper, many other scholars have used stylometry to show the distinctive styles of the book. These studies show that the major contributors, Nephi, Mormon, Moroni and Alma, all have distinctive “wordprints” in comparison to Joseph Smith’s. Clearly, he did not author the book, but a team of many writers compiled it and none of them were Joseph’s contemporaries.

User @HoldToTheRod presents the stylometry argument too in his answer to the question According to Latter-day Saints, what are the strongest apologetic arguments for the divine inspiration of the Book of Mormon? :


  1. Positive arguments

In order to pretend to be concise I'll just focus on 3.

A. Stylometry

(Drawn from Book of Mormon Authorship – New Light on Ancient Origins)

Stylometry studies word-prints and offers a means of determining who wrote an anonymous text. Like a fingerprint, people leave traceable patterns in their writing. Very small samples (e.g. a few verses) are insufficient for statistically-significant stylometric analysis, but longer passages are quite relevant and the scientific apparatus is well-studied. Stylometry has been used to determine authorship of a variety of documents, including some of the Federalist Papers.

An author’s word-print has been shown to survive translation, and authors who try to game the system and mimic another author’s style have been betrayed by their own unconscious writing habits—stylometry can catch the ruse. Even when an author has multiple characters who speak and behave differently, the author’s word-print can be discerned.

The Book of Mormon has been subjected to stylometric analysis which has demonstrated, among other things:

  • Neither Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, nor Solomon Spaulding wrote the Book of Mormon
  • The Book of Mormon was written by multiple people. I.e. Nephi, Alma, Mormon, Moroni etc. are not just different characters—their words were written by different people

The authors of the aforementioned Book of Mormon Authorship provide an extensive discussion of the statistical data, and they offer rebuttals to counterarguments that have failed to capture the depth of the stylometric analysis that has been performed.


Question

How do non-LDS Christians respond to the stylometry argument for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon?


Related questions

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  • 2
    I figured we'd be seeing a bounty on this one soon =) Sep 6, 2022 at 2:14
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    I saw it coming too :-). My apologies for leaving you out of scope on this one :-/ (unless you want to rebut yourself :-))
    – user50422
    Sep 6, 2022 at 2:18
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    Wouldn't be the first time I'd written a rebuttal and a rebuttal to the rebuttal =) ...we'll see Sep 6, 2022 at 4:06
  • Having begun researching this very topic about a decade ago (and being forced to abandon it due to other priorities), my first conclusion was that the methods were still very primitive and easily fooled. You can find papers that show how to fool various techniques. At the time, no technique was even close to being courtroom-ready. Granted, this was 10 years ago, and things "may" have progressed since then. But if one tweaks a statistical technique enough, or combs through enough of them, one can get any result they want. My skepticism would be grounded in that. Sep 10, 2022 at 0:44
  • @user1745937 one of the helpful features of the stylometric analyses relevant to this question - such as the Larsen & Berkeley studies - is that their methodology is laid out in their reports and can be challenged if faulty. And a documented study can be (and some have been) replicated. Sep 11, 2022 at 0:51

4 Answers 4

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+50

With apathy

Simply, most non-LDS Christians would not consider the argument to be persuasive enough for consideration. That doesn't meant to say that it isn't useful at all, but just that it doesn't seemed to be targeted at non-LDS Christians.

The Logic Itself

First, let us examine the argument in isolation. Would the argument itself be a sound argument on its own merit? I do not think so. For this argument to hold, it needs to assume several things which do not seem to be true:

  1. It would not be possible for one author to write in the style of multiple authors.
  2. Multiple source authors presumes they must have been authentic authors.

Regarding the first point, while stylistic study may help later readers understand and distinguish between multiple voices and styles of writings between known or at least honest authors, those same methods would not be as reliable when considering dishonest authors who one may reason have the incentive and ability to take on various writing styles. Even some reputable and genuine authors may inadvertently have divergent writing styles when writing different types of documents. The first anecdote that comes to mind is how Lewis Carrol's mathematical texts were called "dry". Imagine how much more pronounced this would be if one had intended deception or somehow suffered delusion.

On the second point, even if there were multiple authors, there is no reason to believe that these authors must have been authentic. We have no alternative records to know what style the alleged original authors would have used as we have no separately verified documents with which to compare. There is also no need that I can see to assume that these works were compiled over any small number of days. The claim that the work had not been done elsewhere seems to rest entirely on Joseph Smith's claim, and perhaps one or a few other individuals at most. It doesn't seem implausible to me that they could have been various works written even by multiple contemporary authors that were presented to Joseph Smith by the time he claimed to have received them divinely.

So, in general, I think that many non-LDS, whether Christian or not, would probably respond to the claim with mostly apathy. At best, it seems to perhaps give somebody pause to consider Mormonism a con by a single individual, but not even to rule that out completely.

The Religious Perspective

The Question of Cannon

While it can often be hard to generalize for all non-LDS groups that self-describe as Christian, I believe that for this question, it is a little easier. Historically, most popular branches of Christianity, whether Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, or otherwise, they seem to be in common in generally agreeing that there are some very unique requirements for a text to be considered to be Scripture. While there have been and still remain many disagreements between some of the most distant branches, the whole body of works within those disagreements are far more similar to each other than the Book of Mormon, and the divide between them considers neither style nor number of authors when making that determination.

The Old Testament and the New Testament, and then also the Apocrypha, have slightly different rules for inclusion, but it seems that, regardless of how a denomination sits on these matters, they tend to agree that two large factors are:

  1. Widespread adaption of contemporary believers
  2. Consistency of theme

These are typically the playing field when cannon has been debated. Those who argue for adding a work to the cannon would argue that the work was written and copies were indeed passed around extensively to the local congregation(s) of believers at the time and that the theme is consistent with the rest of the work. Neither style nor authorship contribute to these. In fact, we know that there are works written by Paul which are not cannon. Furthermore, there are works, such as The Epistle to the Hebrews and also Ecclesiastes with uncertain authorship. In those works, there is much discussion about style, but never as a grounds for changing status in the cannon.

The Book of Mormon still fails to be a document which was widespread among the pre-existing body of believers at any time (either upon its writing or upon its alleged re-discovery), and many (or perhaps most?) non-LDS would see many thematic differences between that work and any cannon of Scripture that they currently accept, and the argument presented here does not address that.

If one is being fair, they may point out that the Old Testament, or perhaps the Torah or Tanakh, had different rules for what the congregation of believers was at that time, and one might even claim that the New Testament makes thematic claims or changes that the Tanakh did not make. Also, there are some fringe groups in modern day who consider newly discovered documents to be available for inclusion in cannon. In that since, you might argue that multiple authors hints at these being the same as discovered works. I think that such arguments might be a stretch, but they might be valid. At that point one has to consider the reasons why non-LDS Christians are Christian in the first place. These reasons (from a secular perspective) are as varied as the individual, but many times they are often based upon things such as archeological evidence, prophetic evidence, philosophical or moral arguments, scientific claims, or even occasionally social or cultural reasons, and these would not likely be altered by a technicality, nor would an argument about style or authorship be likely to have such an effect.

Differences With Scripture.

Additionally, non-LDS Christians typically reject the Book of Mormon on the grounds that its alleged discovery is suspect, the lack of verifiable claims, and also that the doctrine contradicts other Scripture.

For all other texts considered Scripture by non-LDS Christians,they were all delivered directly, through inspiration of God through holy men, writing in public, making presently falsifiable claims, often even involving miracles. There seems to be no Biblical precedent for God hiding His Word or letting people obscure it. As such, it seems odd to such Christians to think that such a God would allow a new message to come through one man and a secret process. The argument does not address this concern.

Non-LDS Christians often champion the historical reliability of the Bible. The places, events, and people are often discovered through archeology, and the claims made tend to hold up even in opposition. We can see on the map places from the Bible. We can see secondary sources citing events. We can talk often about how and when prophecies were fulfilled. Contrary to this,the events, people, and places described in the Book of Mormon seem to either lack evidence or simply defy what we learn about the area. While that may not be the best proof of inauthenticity, it is a common contention and this argument seems only tangential.

The biggest problem, though, is that non-LDS Christians see the Book of Mormon and the other writings of Joseph Smith as contradicting Bible doctrine. For instance, they believe the Bible teaches that God is the creator of all things and eternally existent, and that Jesus is the same God, eternally existent and always God. They believe that the Bible teaches salvation through faith in Jesus. They believe that the Bible teaches that the Gospel is complete and that the next event will be Jesus' return. Therefore, when they learn about the claims of Mormonism, they see it as a false doctrine. Nothing in the argument addresses that concern.

Overall, the argument seems to be less effective in convincing somebody of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, especially somebody who is a non-LDS Christian, but rather to provide an emotional appeal to people who are already convinced of its authenticity, and probably best as a part of a network of similar appeals.

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  • You argue for "various works written even by multiple contemporary authors that were presented to Joseph Smith..." Ok, but what would be your explanation on how they could have kept quiet about it for a such a long period of time? If the LDS church grows it seems by your definition that they could add what they would like to the canon, as long as there was "consistency of theme." The classic view is to limit the canon to those core apostles with Jesus who were pre-approved with the gift of total recall (John 14:26) - with Paul being approved after checking in with the Jerusalem disciples.
    – Jess
    Sep 7, 2022 at 22:54
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    This is the answer I wanted to write but was too apathetic to 😂 +1 Sep 8, 2022 at 5:17
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    Some holes here...Re the Logic itself: Point 1 - this is what stylometry shows to be statistically untenable. Point 2 - it is true that stylometry does not show that Nephi wrote Nephi; rather, it shows that none of the proposed 19th-century alternatives wrote Nephi. Re the religious perspective: this indeed appears to be why people reject the Book of Mormon, but this is not relevant to stylometry. Re peppering the work with other sources - stylometry is particularly helpful here - it shows that rather than the major authors being peppered in, their words come in massive contiguous chunks. Sep 8, 2022 at 13:27
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    To be sure, nobody gains a testimony of the Book of Mormon through stylometry, but rather, through the Holy Ghost. Stylometric analysis comes as a result of people claiming for several generations that the Book of Mormon was invented or plagiarized by Joseph Smith (or his peers) - it shows quantitatively why we should not believe that is what happened. Sep 8, 2022 at 13:31
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One possible way of defeating the stylometry argument is to show that stylometric analyses can be fooled. If we can find at least one counterexample in which a stylometric analysis is fooled, this would demonstrate that the general inference rule "stylometry indicates multiple authors => multiple authors" is false (in a general sense).

In fact, counterexamples seem to exist:

From Adversarial Stylometry: Circumventing Authorship Recognition to Preserve Privacy and Anonymity:

The use of stylometry, authorship recognition through purely linguistic means, has contributed to literary, historical, and criminal investigation breakthroughs. Existing stylometry research assumes that authors have not attempted to disguise their linguistic writing style. We challenge this basic assumption of existing stylometry methodologies and present a new area of research: adversarial stylometry. Adversaries have a devastating effect on the robustness of existing classification methods. Our work presents a framework for creating adversarial passages including obfuscation, where a subject attempts to hide her identity, and imitation, where a subject attempts to frame another subject by imitating his writing style, and translation where original passages are obfuscated with machine translation services. This research demonstrates that manual circumvention methods work very well while automated translation methods are not effective. The obfuscation method reduces the techniques' effectiveness to the level of random guessing and the imitation attempts succeed up to 67% of the time depending on the stylometry technique used. These results are more significant given the fact that experimental subjects were unfamiliar with stylometry, were not professional writers, and spent little time on the attacks. This article also contributes to the field by using human subjects to empirically validate the claim of high accuracy for four current techniques (without adversaries). We have also compiled and released two corpora of adversarial stylometry texts to promote research in this field with a total of 57 unique authors. We argue that this field is important to a multidisciplinary approach to privacy, security, and anonymity.


Responses to objections

Objection

This is certainly the strongest avenue for responding to the original question, upvoted +1. However this is an apples to oranges comparison. Test subjects have shown an ability to fool stylometric analysis when two conditions are met: 1) they have an awareness of the testing that will be performed on their writing sample & 2) short passages of text are used (e.g. 500 words). Both conditions were met by this study; neither condition is met by the Book of Mormon text published by Joseph Smith in 1830. (The longer the text under evaluation, the more people will unconsciously fall back on personal habits, and the more the statistical signal will dwarf the noise). E.g. the Hilton study on the Book of Mormon, using tens of thousands of words, found that the statistical likelihood of Joseph Smith writing the words attributed to Nephi to be less than 2.7 x 10 ^ -20. (For scale, 10^20 is about 100 times more than the number of grains of sand on earth)

Response

Good objection. I think I successfully managed to rebut the broad inference rule, but this by no means rules out the possibility that the stylometry argument might still remain undefeated in more constrained conditions, such as the ones in which the Book of Mormon was produced. A more specific negative argument would be required showing that a stylometry analysis can be fooled even with very long texts. I'm not an expert on this, so my honest position is to remain agnostic with respect to this possibility (aka I don't know).

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  • This is certainly the strongest avenue for responding to the original question, upvoted +1. However =)...this is an apples to oranges comparison. Test subjects have shown an ability to fool stylometric analysis when two conditions are met: 1) they have an awareness of the testing that will be performed on their writing sample & 2) short passages of text are used (e.g. 500 words). Both conditions were met by this study; neither condition is met by the Book of Mormon text published by Joseph Smith in 1830. Sep 9, 2022 at 1:35
  • (The longer the text under evaluation, the more people will unconsciously fall back on personal habits, and the more the statistical signal will dwarf the noise). E.g. the Hilton study on the Book of Mormon, using tens of thousands of words, found that the statistical likelihood of Joseph Smith writing the words attributed to Nephi to be less than 2.7 x 10 ^ -20. (For scale, 10^20 is about 100 times more than the number of grains of sand on earth) Sep 9, 2022 at 1:37
  • @HoldToTheRod - Good objection. I think I successfully managed to rebut the broad inference rule, but didn't rebut more specific inference rules constrained to the specific conditions in which the Book of Mormon was produced. A more specific negative argument would be required showing that fooling a stylometry analysis is still doable even with very long texts. I guess I can fall back on a more neutral agnostic position: I'm still not convinced that it is not possible to fool a stylometric analysis in such a case, therefore I'm still open to the "fooling stylometry" hypothesis in such a case.
    – user50422
    Sep 9, 2022 at 2:15
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    As always I admire your careful, honest inquiry. Also, nice formatting choices for the post-script. Sep 9, 2022 at 2:43
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This is somewhat analogous to whether one can prove a non cessationist theology on the basis of modern miracles. In another SE post here, there is a case of a Lutheran pastor who recorded his speaking in tongues back in 1963. A few years later it was played in a Seminary setting and in other places also, where it was identified by several different individuals as ancient Aramaic mixed in with Hebrew. It was a prophecy of a worldwide expansion of charismatic phenomena. There is no reasonable natural explanation, that I am aware of, that would account for how this was possible.

The only reasonable explanation, that a cessationist can provide, is that the pastor was sadly subject to a deceptive spirit. They would claim that though there was a lot of good that he did, he was still deceived. Matthew 24:14 states:

... false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.

Any movement or religious truth claims must have Scriptural backing for it to be accepted. The books that make up Scripture were approved by the Hebrew prophets and the New Testament, which was authorized by the core eyewitness apostles. That is why the Muratorian Fragment rejects the Shepherd of Hermas for public reading. It does so on the ground that it was too recent and therefore cannot find a place "among the prophets, whose number is complete, or among the apostles."

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    do you consider the Muratorian Fragment authoritative? Sep 6, 2022 at 3:58
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    HttR, it was a confirmation of how the early church determined what constituted the canonical Scriptures and how ongoing charismatic prophetic gifts and/or inspirational visions & dreams were not taken to be extensions of the canon. It's also why prophetic movements like Montanism were not accepted by Jerome and the early Catholic Church - e.g. "... we do not so much reject prophecy—for this is attested by the passion of the Lord—as refuse to receive prophets whose utterances fail to accord with the Scriptures old and new." - Jerome (385 A.D., Letter XLI: To Marcella)
    – Jess
    Sep 6, 2022 at 4:19
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    thanks for clarifying. The question of whether the New Testament canon is "an authoritative list of books" or "a list of authoritative books" is an interesting one. Sep 6, 2022 at 4:42
  • @HoldToTheRod Indeed a necessary question. The answer is neither. It is an authoritative list of authoritative books. And, of course, the OT is as authoritative as the NT.
    – Glorius
    Sep 6, 2022 at 12:23
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    so no response specifically to the stylometry claim of the book, just generic arguments against it?
    – depperm
    Sep 6, 2022 at 15:14
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The related answer I gave (to your question of just over a year ago) Why do non-LDS Christians accept the testimonies of the apostles but reject the testimonies of the 3 & 8 witnesses to the golden plates? may indicate one reason why this 'stylometry argument' regarding the Book of Mormon is used by supporters of the LDS faith, and turned to by some who do not support the Book of Mormon.

As a non-LDS Christian who has been convinced for over 4 decades of the 66 books of the Holy Bible being the unique word of God, the question of whether claimed holy scripture is of God or of man depends on one simple thing. That is, did the Holy Spirit inspire the writer/s to convey God's message to humanity in written form?

Modern methods of analyzing written texts, not to analyze the message but to dissect writing styles, cannot begin to deal with the role of the Holy Spirit in God's communications to humanity over the centuries. The Holy Spirit does not come into their 'scholarly' or scientific equations. "Extended nearest shrunken centroid (ENSC) classification" may enable scholars to argue back and forth till they are blue in the face; it, and they, will never progress one iota in discovering whether the texts in question are of God, or of man.

And before anyone supposes my answer of a year ago (above) shows I went down that road of investigation then, let me just say that the issue there was whether plagiarism at that precise time had been committed by one party. It was not about LDS claims regarding the alleged pre-Christian-era initial recording of the Book of Mormon, which did not come into Joseph Smith's hands until the early 1800s. Turning the spotlight on to 'stylometry arguments' would, however, turn off the spotlight on claims of plagiarism.

That is why this answer here will fall far short of what is being asked for in one sense - but in another sense is the only answer non-LDS Christians need to uphold. We uphold the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit as the integral witness in all holy scripture, which is lacking in all human attempts. No scientific methods can have any bearing on that. To ask "Who wrote the Book of Mormon?" when the only "who" is deemed to be human people, completely misses the point of the divine mover behind the writers. When God moves humans to write his holy scriptures, their various writing styes will show, but that is an irrelevance as to the Holy Spirit being the one who moved them to write exactly what God would have them write. That is my response.

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  • A response to the plagiarism/Spaulding theory is available in this post on the site. Sep 7, 2022 at 13:29

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