The believer

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Science  19 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6373, pp. 264-268
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6373.264

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  • RE: Lizzie Wade's "The Believer" -- The Real Lessons from Thomas Ferguson's Disappointment

    I enjoyed Lizzie Wade's nicely written reflections on the life of Thomas Ferguson, the Mormon lawyer who tried to do amateur archaeology to somehow prove the Book of Mormon to be true. Carefully written, the article gives due recognition of the much good scholarship that comes from Brigham Young University's New World Archaeological Foundation, sprung from Ferguson's enthusiastic but quite unscientific efforts.

    One quibble with the article is the overly gentle treatment of Ferguson's methods as "scientific," particularly in this sentence: "After decades of stressing the importance of the scientific method and using it to shore up his own faith, Ferguson now found himself at its mercy." Ferguson had an undergraduate degree in law and a lot of enthusiasm for science, but his methods were hardly worthy of being called the "scientific method." He lacked the training, the preparation, the discipline, and above all the patience to deal with the complexity of science. In archaeology above all, one cannot simply pick a spot, dig around, and fall into despair when the hoped-for jackpot is not found. His expectations were wildly unrealistic and his techniques bound to fail. The lesson from his disappointment is not that science and religion are hopelessly incompatible or that highly educated men will lose their faith if confronted with scholarship. Rather, the lesson is that amateur efforts without discipline, training, patie...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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