Monday, January 28, 2008

My critical response to "Irreantum"

Here is a copy of a recent email exchange I had:

Hey there,

I know you were very active in apologetics and such before leaving the
church. Could you give me your opinion about the "Irreantum" evidence that
apologists like to bring up? If you could steer me to any resources about
this that would be great.

(Name Withheld)
I assume the apologist "Irreantum" argument that you are referring to is the one best expressed in this article:

I cannot find a link to a critical response to this specific argument. I am not a linguist, but it seems to me that the author's approach is way off and he does a lot of post hoc reasoning. For example, Nephi is supposed to know Hebrew and Egyptian. A person would expect Irreantum to be derived from one of those languages, and if the author would have found an Egyptian connection, he would have been bragging that it is exactly what he would have predicted. But, Irreantum has no connection to those languages, so after discovering that, he claims he would have predicted that it would not have been Hebrew or Egyptian because Nephi gives a translation. That is unfair, anyone can come up with explanations (many of them wrong) for why something is the way it is after the results are in. If you want to show that your position has strength, you have to make a prediction before the results are in, and then see if the results support you or discredit you.

The other way the author cheated is he took the shotgun approach and examined all the words for water in all the many languages in the area looking for anything even close to any part of the word "Irreantum". You are likely to find something in the ballpark of one of the 4 syllables that means water if you look at enough languages, even by chance. And what the author found isn't really remarkably close: 'rwy (which even he admits not knowing how to pronounce). So, the author took advantage of random chance without any guiding theory as to why he would expect one language over another. So, his results mean nothing. He makes it appear as though he has a strong argument because his post hoc explanations are reasonable. But, it is analogous to coming up with an explanation for won someone won the lottery.

In my opinion, the whole Irreantum case is much ado about nothing. In short it is shotty scholarship and you won't find one non-Mormon linguist impressed in the least.


Chris said...

It doesn't help that there's really only one expert in the world in South Semitic, her lexicon costs like a hundred dollars, and she doesn't really answer email. I suspect nobody really feels qualified to answer the Irreantum argument, which is why it hasn't been tackled at any great length.

Anonymous said...

Your "critical response" only shows your ignorance in Semitic languages. The article's etymology of Irreantum is well within the bounds of Semitic phonology. I guess my counter argument to you would be make Irreantum fit phonologically in the English language if the author of the article was so sloppy with his work.