Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Book of Mormon's Grammar Isn't So Strange...If You're From the 14th Century!

Something even lifetime Mormons have been aware of with the Book of Mormon is the seemingly awkward phrasing of some passages and sentences of the Book of Mormon. To our modern ears, they don't seem to fit the way people speak or write today.

Critics of the Book of Mormon have long held that the Book of Mormon's phrasing is the simplistic product of Joseph's unlettered mind trying to grasp at the language of the King James Version of the Bible.

But, as it turns out, according to new studies of the language and grammar of the Book of Mormon, the phraseology isn't all that bad. If you lived in the 1500s, it was perfectly natural, in fact.
Several sections of The Nature of the Original Language are dedicated to showing that virtually every expression that scholars and critics have proposed as representing the language of Joseph Smith’s time turns out to have existed in earlier English, including such striking expressions as “to endure the crosses of the world” and “to sing the song of redeeming love.” Some of these, indeed, are truly archaic expressions that died out of English prior to 1600 and that would, accordingly, not have been used by Joseph Smith in his own language. 
Nineteenth-century critics of the Book of Mormon typically mocked what they viewed as the Book of Mormon’s inelegant phraseology. For instance, the Rev. Alexander Campbell, in his blistering 1831 critique of the Book of Mormon, identified 121 of what he derided as “Smithisms.” Yet it turns out that all but one of them occurred in Early Modern English. In fact, some of them actually occurred in the King James Bible, but somehow Campbell, famed as a biblical scholar, failed to recognize them.
In his research, Royal Skousen identified 80 word uses, phrases, and expressions that didn't exist in Joseph Smith's time but were common up to three centuries prior.

So, the Book of Mormon is not a crude copy of the King James Bible language usage after all, as its critics have supposed, but was received in a direct translation using actual 1500s King James English, such as was not spoken in Joseph Smith's time at all. There's simply no other explanation, unless one wants to argue that Joseph was not unlettered, but rather a brilliant linguist who had the only copy of archaic idioms and grammar that other scholars of his time were not aware of.

It's almost as if God is challenging the learned of the world to figure out this mystery of how Joseph Smith got so many things right that people thought were so wrong for so long. The answer, for those who have the eye of faith, is that the Book of Mormon was given by direct revelation in exactly the way God intended it to be delivered.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

More Evidence for Pre-Nephite/Pre-Jaredite American Inhabitants

One of the more aggravating objections to the Book of Mormon that I see from time to time on various online forums is this idea that all original inhabitants of the Americas came from a single source: the Bering Strait. It usually takes the form of a statement like, "there's no evidence that anyone but Asians are the predecessors of Native Americans found when Columbus arrived..." or some such nonsense.

I've already written about this recently, and also earlier, and see also Steve Smoot's excellent DNA and the Book of Mormon article. But here comes yet another bit of scientific discovery that blows this limited and antiquated Beringian population group idea out of the water.

Brazilian rock shelter proves humans inhabited Americas 23,000 years ago

"The “First Americans” are usually believed to be East Asian migrants that crossed the Bering Straits 15,000 years ago, members of the Clovis Culture (a reference to their stone tool technology). A small number of researchers have suggested that an earlier group of migrants, from Europe’s Solutrean culture, arrived in North America a couple of millennia before these Clovis settlers, a hypothesis which was hotly disputed by academics... 
It now appears that researchers favoring both the Clovis and Solutrean models have got it all wrong and supporting the claim of “First Americans” should be given to a mysterious population living in Brazil over 23,000 years ago."

While there is still some reasonable doubt about the Solutrean (European) arrival and whether it was before or after the Beringian/Clovis culture, it's hard to find a way to refute the findings of the Brazilian site.

"Scientists utilized three separate dating methods to investigate samples of charcoal, sediment, and the sloth bones. The revealed dates securely place people at the Santa Elina site well over 23,120 years ago. Humans groups abandoned the site after a short period, but later groups utilized the rock shelter again between 10,120 and 2,000 years ago... 
The new dates from Santa Elina further erode the consensus understanding that the first modern humans reached the Americas by walking across the land bridge between Northeast Asia and North America 15,000 years ago. The rock shelter is thousands of miles from the proposed entry site.  
Not only is Santa Elina located far from even the earliest Clovis sites, it is also over 1,000 miles from the Brazilian coast in a heavily forested region. This seems like an unlikely first point of entry as it is logical to suspect that humans lived initially along the coastline before moving into the Brazilian interior by 23,000 years ago. This would seem to offer further support to claims that modern humans were in Brazil long before even this early period."

Again, what people thought they "knew" for certain is being upended by new findings. This is why when people say to me that there is no proof (such a sloppy word) or evidence (better) that there were Nephites or Lamanites or Jaredites or any connection whatsoever between ancient America and the Middle East, first I tell them all the new stuff we're finding followed by "and wait until you see what else the Lord will eventually reveal."

By faith and also by reason. That is how truth is discovered.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Is Mormonism a CULT?!



So? Is it?!

Well, that all depends on what you mean by "cult".

Jeff Lindsay, a Mormon apologist, put together a tongue-in-cheek website, MormonCult.org, to illustrate this concept. On the site he explains, in the voice of the Mormon church's detractors but while making the opposite argument, that he "pursued the most scholarly, objective approach [he] could take" and that "Mormons are clearly a cult". But the definitions he uses are the original ones right out of the dictionary.

Of course, Lindsay then goes on to explain, again tongue-in-cheek, how silly the new definition is and how it can be used to control peoples' thinking about religious groups that aren't a threat to anyone and just because they're "different".

Another great article about the Mormon church being a "cult" comes from esteemed AmericanTestament.com alumnus Stephen Smoot. He takes aim at a prominent ex-mormon podcasting duo who, under the very protective and controlling auspices of one of today's most prominent ex-mormons, have hurled this accusation at the Church in every episode.

But, as Smoot points out, they cannot or will not see that their own actions have put them and their efforts to discredit the Church squarely in the cross-hairs of that more modern definition of "cult".

So, now that we know that Mormonism is definitely a cult, also originally known as "a system of religious belief and worship", we can dispense with the silly name calling and mudslinging and focus on truth.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

White Native Americans? New DNA Discovery Says "Yes".

When we talk about the Book of Mormon people, we often divide them into two categories: Nephites and Lamanites, with one group being light-skinned and another group being dark-skinned.

Well, it's not that simple, really. But cultural forces inside and outside the LDS church have sort of forced things into these polarizations.

The truth about the racial mix of human populations in reality is quite difficult to divide into two "racial" camps. Tribes and entire peoples intermarry and racial distinctions become hard to distinguish. Ultimately, we're just talking about one race...the human race...and nothing else about them really matters beyond that.

But if we're going to insist on going down this road of "who was white and who was not", we might as well start with a new DNA discovery that portrays the origins of at least some groups of original inhabitants of the American continents as distinctly white.

What scientists found predates even the earliest estimates of the arrival of the Jaredites (the first Book of Mormon people, even if their story appears at the end). 

About 11,500 years ago, just as the last ice age was drawing to a close, a woman gave birth in an Alaskan valley to a child who didn't live very long. She buried the remains next to another likely stillborn child (perhaps a cousin) in a burial pit. Those remains, discovered in 2013, hadn't been able to be fully analyzed until very recently.

Expecting the first child's DNA to come closer to matching modern Native American lineages, they discovered that the genetic markers pointed to a completely different origin. 

Named the "ancient Beringians", this group seems to have come from European groups nearly 20,000 years ago. They had come to Alaska over a frozen land bridge from Europe and Asia and then continued south, likely in a single wave.

Please know that by posting this I'm NOT jumping onto any bandwagons about which races might be superior or pure or chosen or "first" or any of that other nonsense. No way. I'm just interested in the science of migrating people and how that might have looked before, in, and after Book of Mormon times without regard to anyone's preconceived notions about whiteness, brownness, or blackness. 

That is all.

Find out more about this fascinating research at http://www.pnas.org/content/111/48/17060.full.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Was the Book of Mormon Man-Made or God-Given?

Elder Tad R. Callister
Sunday School General President
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
A question I sometimes hear from people is whether the Book of Mormon came from the mind of a man or if it is real scripture from God.

This excellent talk, "The Book of Mormon: Man-Made or God-Given?", by Elder Tad R. Callister of the Sunday School Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will shed more light on this question. In the talk, he explores the many explanations that try to account for how the Book of Mormon came to be. He also addresses the holes in those explanations.

He covers the following proposed explanations:

  1. Joseph Smith, alleged to be an ignorant man, wrote the Book of Mormon
  2. Someone else wrote it
  3. The Book of Mormon was plagiarized from other books
  4. Joseph suffered from a mental illness
  5. Joseph Smith was a creative genius who, shaped by his environment, wrote the Book of Mormon

He also covers the following:

  • Where did Joseph get the doctrine?
  • A parable that counters the arguments proposed by the critics
  • Other evidences that the Book of Mormon is not man-made

Ultimately, though, the truth about scripture comes from the Spirit. As he notes in his conclusion:

If I were to ask my good Christian friends how they unquestionably know the Bible is the word of God, I do not believe they would cite archaeological discoveries or linguistic connections with ancient Hebrew or Greek as their prime evidence; rather, they would make reference to the Spirit. It always comes back to the Spirit. The Spirit that helps me know the Bible is true is the very same Spirit that helps me know the Book of Mormon is true. 
The Spirit is the decisive, determining factor—not archaeology, not linguistics, not DNA, and certainly not the theories of man. The Spirit is the only witness that is sure and certain and infallible.
We can read hundreds of theories and explanations without ever coming to a knowledge of the truth. What will bring us to truth is prayer and faith. Have you prayed to know whether the Book of Mormon is true?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

What the Book of Mormon Witnesses Said Will Shock You!

Everybody knows the Book of Mormon is a fraud, right? Right? I mean, after Joseph Smith died, people came out of the woodwork to finally deny what his "mesmerism" had forced them to attest to. Finally, they were free to say whatever they liked about the Book of Mormon!

Except, that's not what actually happened (sorry if you were told otherwise).

Joseph Smith, Sr. (the prophet's father), Hyrum Smith and Samuel H. Smith (the prophet's brothers), Peter Whitmer, Jr., and Christian Whitmer never recanted their testimonies. All died faithful to the Church.

Here are the quotes of those witnesses of the Book of Mormon who later left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of them left for good. Others eventually returned to full activity.

David Whitmer (left, but came back)
In regards to my testimony to the visitation of the angel, who declared to us three witnesses that the Book of Mormon is true, I have this to say: Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time. Martin Harris, you say, called it 'being in vision.' We read in the Scriptures, Cornelius saw, in a vision, an angel of God. Daniel saw an angel in a vision; also in other places it states they saw an angel in the spirit. A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled at noon day, and there in a vision, or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon.
Source: Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (Malad, Idaho: A. Metcalf, 1888), 74.
It having been represented by one John Murphy, of Polo, Caldwell County, Mo., that I, in a conversation with him last summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the BOOK OF MORMON. To the end, therefore, that he may understand me now, if he did not then; and that the world may know the truth, I wish now, standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once for all to make this public statement: That I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that Book, as one of the three witnesses. Those who know me best, well know that I have always adhered to that testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do again affirm the truth of all of my statements, as then made and published. He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear; it was no delusion!
(Source: Richmond (Missouri) Conservator, March 24, 1881; Hamiltonian (Missouri) Newspaper, April 8, 1881.)

Oliver Cowdery (left, but came back)
If your honor please, and gentlemen of the jury, the attorney on the opposite side has challenged me to state my connection with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon: and as I cannot now avoid the responsibility, I must admit to you that I am the very Oliver Cowdery whose name is attached to the testimony, with others, as to the appearance of the Angel Moroni; and let me tell you that it is not because of my good deeds that I am here, away from the body of the Mormon Church, but because I have broken the covenants I once made, and I was cut off from the Church, but, gentlemen of the jury, I have never denied my testimony, which is attached to the Book of Mormon, and I declare to you here that these eyes saw the angel, and these ears of mine heard the voice of the angel, and he told us his name was Moroni; that the book was true, and contained the fulness of the gospel, and we were also told that if we ever denied what we had heard and seen that there would be no forgiveness for us, neither in this world nor in the world to come.
Source: The Restored Church, 7th ed., p.74-75

Martin Harris (left, but came back)
The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true.
(Source: Martin Harris on his death bed. Cited by George Godfrey, “Testimony of Martin Harris,” from an unpublished manuscript copy in the possession of his descendants, quoted in Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1971], 65–66.)

David Whitmer's brothers John Whitmer and Jacob Whitmer, along with Hiram Page were all excommunicated in 1838 and never returned to activity in the Church. Yet, they also never recanted their testimonies.

So, there were a total of 11 witnesses, 5 of which never left the Church, 2 of which left and later returned, and 4 of which left and never returned. All of them remained true to what they saw.

To prove the Book of Mormon a fraud, one has to go over, under, around, and through these men.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

On Whether Religious People Can Have a Scientific Perspective

I was recently asked the following question on Quora:

Do religious people ever view their religion in a bigger perspective? Like science, (religious) history, psychology, human/religious geography, cosmology, biology, evolution, neuroscience…

My initial answer was short and simple.

Yes, definitely. I love to study these topics and try to piece together the puzzle of how my faith fits into it, particularly what God’s plan is in all of it. 

The questioner wanted more detail, specifically with regards to how I could still believe in God considering what I've studied during my life.

Below is the longer answer I gave. I'm preserving it here because, well, it took a long time to write it. And, Quora can be...squirrelly sometimes as to where answers get moved, if they get renamed, or if they get downvoted out of existence. Furthermore, the current design of Quora makes reading threaded comments tedious.

Special hat tip to Dr. Daniel C. Peterson, who I've gratuitously linked in the footnotes only because he's pretty much covering ALL the bases on this topic with his more recent blog posts on the subject of science vs. religion. Saves me a ton of time and typing and I'm happy to promote his work here.
My short answer is “how can I not?”. But I know that’s not a satisfying answer to anyone but me. :) So, here is my longer answer. 
First, to set aside the ill-conceived notion that one cannot be a scientist and a believer in God (and believe me, I’ve read and do understand ALL of the atheists’ views on this), here’s a list (The Rich, Historic Roll Call of Great Christian Thinkers and Scientists) of all the scientists over the years whose faith enlightened (was the reason for) their even exploring science. In other words, they pursued science because they saw God in it and wanted to know His creation more, not in spite of God (even if the Catholic Church often disagreed). Some like to insist that they were pioneering lone scientific renegades who were rebelliously and atheistically challenging the presumed wisdom of the Christian orthodoxy. But, that’s an incomplete (or disingenuous) reading of history and biography. In fact, many were (and remained even in the face of severe persecution) faithful Christians who maintained their belief in God until they died. See also Western science as a byproduct of medieval Christian theology
I was also quite impressed by the book “Signature in the Cell” by Stephen C. Meyer (Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design). It’s controversial in secular science circles, for sure, but his thesis made complete sense to me from the perspective of being both a Christian and a computer programmer with an interest in genetics. DNA is very, very literally a computer programming language, with its medium being biology rather than silicon. It is something that can be directly manipulated and changed (and even upgraded!) by the CRISPR CAS9 prokaryotic immune system. Given that DNA uses and gives rise to biological nanomachines of astounding complexity and elegance (that we have yet to duplicate from whole cloth), which, in turn, lead to an escalating and exponential scope of complex systems, organisms, organs, anatomy, and enablement of consciousness itself, there is zero doubt in my mind, after comparing the fundamentals of computer programming with the fundamentals of DNA replication and bio-computation that goes on in the cell, that an Intelligent Mind had to be behind its design. Just by sheer statistical improbability alone that all that DNA is, does, and the information (not just data) that it contains could have emerged by random chance and mutation. Someone imbued DNA with information. Information is a byproduct of intelligence. 
As a student of American History, the main thing that impacts me to this very day is the extreme improbability that the American Revolution should ever have succeeded if it were not from an Outside Influence. There were simply too many improbable “coincidences” for a tiny, disorganized, hungry, diseased, under-armed, ragtag band of inexperienced farmer-soldiers to have ever defeated what was then the greatest military superpower that the world had ever seen. See “Delivered by the Power of God”
On the subjects of psychology/neuroscience, you might find Intelligent Design Psychology and Evolutionary Psychology on Consciousness: Turning Water Into Wine an interesting read. See also Intelligent Design's One Valid Scientific Point, written by an anti-intelligent design atheist who sides with ID on the question of what can explain agency (free will). 
Logically speaking, just because all religions can’t be true doesn’t mean one religion can’t be true nor that there can’t be truth in religion. It’s not a binary either/or proposition. Truth is a both/and proposition. You can have truth in both science and religion. And the five physical senses are not the only way to know something is true or part of reality or cosmology (Is genuine knowledge available beyond the sciences?). We cannot begin to “see” the quantum realm of science. Our instruments are limited by the smallness of scale at that level. The quantum world is smaller than the photons we need to bounce off of its properties to see them. All our “seeing” of it is limited to second- and third-hand observations, and that is often limited to related phenomena where we have to infer rather than deduce to make a conclusion. At a certain point, that becomes more like faith than science. Indeed, the more we find out, the more questions we have. 
Again, after reading all the atheists’ objections to the concept of God and a Creator, I can’t understand how anyone can look into the ever-expanding and infinitely complex cosmos and, at the other end, the incredible incomprehensibility of the tiniest yet cosmically impactful quantum phenomena, and not see Pure Intelligence. 
Below are more articles by one of my favorite authors/researchers on this topic, Dr. Daniel C. Peterson. These short articles capture perfectly the essence of all my intended responses to the objections I perceive that you might have. I challenge you to read them all, as I have, before you respond. They’re actually notes he’s blogging about as he writes a book on this very topic (no idea when it will be published). After having reviewed your Quora thoughts on these topics, I think you’ll find his work enlightening as far as understanding how people who are religious can also be scientific (and vice versa!). With this list, I’m giving you everything he’s researched in order of most recent up to January 2018 (there’s much more beyond that).

  1. A Note on Science, Scientific Literacy, and Religious Belief
  2. On adjusting one’s religious views in the light of science, history, and the like
  3. Thoughts on Mormonism and Intellectual Sophistication
  4. A few scientists who were also ecclesiastical leaders
  5. Objective Proof in Religion
  6. Three Physicists
  7. Scientific discoveries as religious discoveries
  8. “Consistent with what I know about science”
  9. The Wonder of It All
  10. “Nature is skewed toward life.”
  11. “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”
  12. The Wisdom of the Nobel Prize
  13. “The Lost World of Genesis One”
  14. Four Nineteenth-Century Mormon Quotations on Science and Religion
  15. Peter Grünberg RIP
  16. Ultimate Questions
  17. What’s needed for life?
  18. What’s Needed for Life (Revisited)
  19. “Anything But Pedestrian”
  20. “A set of near optimal mechanisms”
  21. Of “meaning” and neurons
  22. “Mind, intelligence, was somehow embedded in the process”
  23. “Highly skewed toward fitness for life”
  24. A Slice of Life
  25. Did random chance demand the existence of a stellar system suited to life?
  26. “When you think about it, it does get spooky.”
  27. Our Favorable Location in the Solar System (Part 1)
  28. Our Favorable Location in the Solar System (Part 2)
  29. Life and our galactic location (Part 1)
  30. Life and our galactic location (Part 2)
  31. Life and our galactic location (Part 3)
  32. “Walking along the Shore”
  33. The myth of the “Dark Ages”
  34. “Nicely balanced, against all hazards, at an absolutely optimal level”
  35. The Culture of Science
  36. Reason and Faith, and Some Science News
  37. From amino acid soup to the B-Minor Mass
  38. “Ditchkins,” Science, and Religion
  39. Eagleton on Dawkins and Dennett on Science and Religion
  40. “So I ate his lunch!”
  41. “From a vantage point outside her body”
  42. Death and Consciousness
  43. Death and Consciousness, Again
  44. On Science and the Church
  45. Above our heads, beneath our feet, and beneath our dignity
  46. Charles H. Townes, plus some science news
  47. Do you know your ABCs?
  48. And our bodies have TRILLIONS of these!
  49. Lise Meitner, pioneering female Christian physicist
  50. The Secret Mental Life of Trees (Part 1)
  51. The Secret Mental Life of Trees (Part 2)
  52. The Secret Mental Life of Trees (Part 3)
  53. “A piper playing at the gates of dawn”
  54. Some reflections on probabilities (1)
  55. Some Reflections on Probabilities (2)
  56. Some Reflections on Probabilities (3)
  57. Mind, fundamental to the universe?
  58. “There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel.”
  59. Aliens did it.
  60. “I think there are clearly religious implications.”
  61. “A God of extravagant generosity”
  62. “The God Hypothesis”
  63. An alternative to the infinite multiverse?
  64. A scientist’s dissent
  65. “Raffiniert ist der Herr Gott, aber boshaft ist er nicht”
  66. A utopian view of science
  67. The Intuition of Design
  68. “Personal Explanation”
  69. The Problem of Consciousness
  70. Materialism as a “Non-Starter”
  71. We are invisible
  72. Darwinism is a good explanatory theory as far as it goes, but . . .
  73. “The extension of common sense by other means”
  74. Some science-related items of interest
  75. Can science (or any other discipline) ever be without unproven assumptions?
  76. We’ve only recently begun to recognize its vast scope.
  77. Why are some biologists more hostile than physicists to religion and theology?
  78. The supposed war between science and religion
  79. Scientific discovery as an encounter with the divine
  80. Asteroids and Meteorites, Construction and Destruction
  81. Unimaginable Vastness and Remarkable Order
  82. “Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.”
  83. Star Stuff
  84. Four examples of astrophysical fine-tuning
  85. “The nature of the universe itself seems to raise the ‘God’ question.”
  86. “Robust” fine-tuning in chemistry?
  87. “The Demiurge’s hidden message”
  88. The universe is both very big and very weird.
  89. Scientism as religion. Really.
  90. “How to Make Solar Systems”
  91. Some good quotations on science and religion
  92. “We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon”
  93. “Focusing on the essentials in the biblical story of creation”
  94. Inconceivable vastness
  95. Hans-Georg Gadamer on Scientism
  96. “Scientism,” “cult-acolytes” and me

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Ancient horse bones found in Lehi, Utah

A family doing landscaping in their backyard of their Lehi, Utah home found the bones of what appears to be a 16,000-year-old horse.

Even though it's a small horse, about the size of a Shetland pony, this find pokes one more hole in the argument that no horses of any kind ever existed in the Americas prior to the Spanish Conquest.

It has always seemed strange to me that we have been able to find human inhabitants in the Americas going as far back as possibly 130,000 years ago, but that there is this strange idea that not one human crossing the Bering Strait or arriving by any other route thought to bring a single pack-horse with them from the Old World to the New World. Or that not even one of these animals found their own way across the strait or along the edges of glaciers.

This is one more example of the absence of evidence not necessarily being evidence of absence. Eventually, we will find many more pieces of evidence that help confirm what we already know by testimony to be true from the Book of Mormon.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

New Evidence of Book of Mormon Historical Accuracy

One of the most persistent "faith-destroying rumors" (as I like to call them) about Book of Mormon archaeology is that we ought to have found much more "proof" (the real word is evidence) of the historicity of the Book of Mormon through archaeological discoveries by now.

Given that I am a big proponent of the well-established theory of Mesoamerica being the core of Book of Mormon civilizations and events, I'm sharing some insights from a recent article by National Geographic regarding the literally groundbreaking technology of LiDAR in the core of Classic Mayan civilization (ca. 250-900 AD), which is being used to revolutionize archaeological discoveries in our time. I'm going to do so in the context of the accusations made against Book of Mormon historicity claims.



CLAIM: "The scale of civilization as narrated in the Book of Mormon has never been discovered in Mesoamerica."

NEW EVIDENCE: “'Most people had been comfortable with population estimates of around 5 million,' said Estrada-Belli, who directs a multi-disciplinary archaeological project at Holmul, Guatemala. 'With this new data it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there—including many living in low-lying, swampy areas that many of us had thought uninhabitable.'”

CLAIM: "No evidence has ever been found that Mayan civilizations as a candidate for Book of Mormon civilizations ever built transportation or urban infrastructure at the scale claimed by the Book of Mormon."

NEW EVIDENCE: "Virtually all the Mayan cities were connected by causeways wide enough to suggest that they were heavily trafficked and used for trade and other forms of regional interaction. These highways were elevated to allow easy passage even during rainy seasons. In a part of the world where there is usually too much or too little precipitation, the flow of water was meticulously planned and controlled via canals, dikes, and reservoirs."

CLAIM: "Nothing has ever been found in Mesoamerica to correlate with the idea that Book of Mormon civilizations had massive, decades-long wars involving defensive earthworks and large cities."

NEW EVIDENCE: "Among the most surprising findings was the ubiquity of defensive walls, ramparts, terraces, and fortresses. 'Warfare wasn’t only happening toward the end of the civilization,' said Garrison. 'It was large-scale and systematic, and it endured over many years.'"

To put all of this in even more perspective, this initial LiDAR survey covered a mere 800 square miles of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén region of Guatemala. Imagine what else we don't know and how much bigger the population and infrastructure scale could be with further LiDAR studies!

Further, what we see under the forest canopy is what remains of the 250-900 A.D. civilizations that build on top of prior structures. That puts what we know right at the end of the peak of Nephite/Lamanite interactions. The evidence we're looking for to cover the period of the first Nephite arrival (591-589 B.C.) and, further back, the Jaredite arrival (approximately the 3rd Millennium B.C.), is subject to discovery only after we've spent decades digging through the layers of the Classic and Post-Classic Maya remnants, if it can even be found at all after being looted/repurposed/decomposed.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  those who claim archaeology will never uncover evidences of Book of Mormon historicity are simply not patient enough and/or don't have an understanding of how archaeology is a long-haul activity that often involves more uncertainty and questions the more discoveries are made. It is simply naive to think that one can sally forth into the jungles, dig a little bit, and find direct, clear, irrefutable proof of the existence of Jaredites, Nephites, and Lamanites. Too many confounding factors are possible through the complexities of time, the elements, and intermingling civilizations for that to be a possibility. Instead, we must take our time and carefully sift through data to find correlations that amount to a preponderance of evidence. We're far too early in our nascent understanding of Mesoamerican archaeology for that to have borne the kind of fruit that anti-Book of Mormon critics suppose should have been found by now.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Did Joseph Smith Make Up the Book of Mormon?


It's amazing to me that there are still people who say that "Joseph Smith made up the Book of Mormon". Let's see if we can clear this argument up once and for all (again). ;)

Below is an excerpt from Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 8, Ch. 11, pp. 221-2 where Professor Nibley explains to his student precisely how difficult this would have been for Joseph to accomplish. Among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints, this is a familiar "meme", but it is not well-known to the world at large.

Before reading this, keep in mind that Joseph had exactly none of the modern-day conveniences that modern-day fiction writers have. And even they strain and exert themselves to overcome writer's block, research challenges, plot holes, continuity problems, grammar difficulties, character naming trouble, and a variety of other authorship issues that, today, should be easy by comparison.

Professor Nibley told his students:
"Since Joseph Smith was younger than most of you and not nearly so experienced or well-educated as any of you at the time he copyrighted the Book of Mormon, it should not be too much to ask you to hand in by the end of the semester (which will give you more time than he had) a paper of, say, five to six hundred pages in length. Call it a sacred book if you will, and give it the form of a history. Tell of a community of wandering Jews in ancient times; have all sorts of characters in your story, and involve them in all sorts of public and private vicissitudes; give them names--hundreds of them--pretending that they are real Hebrew and Egyptian names of circa 600 b.c.; be lavish with cultural and technical details--manners and customs, arts and industries, political and religious institutions, rites, and traditions, include long and complicated military and economic histories; have your narrative cover a thousand years without any large gaps; keep a number of interrelated local histories going at once; feel free to introduce religious controversy and philosophical discussion, but always in a plausible setting; observe the appropriate literary conventions and explain the derivation and transmission of your varied historical materials.  
"Above all, do not ever contradict yourself! For now we come to the really hard part of this little assignment. You and I know that you are making this all up--we have our little joke--but just the same you are going to be required to have your paper published when you finish it, not as fiction or romance, but as a true history! After you have handed it in you may make no changes in it (in this class we always use the first edition of the Book of Mormon); what is more, you are to invite any and all scholars to read and criticize your work freely, explaining to them that it is a sacred book on a par with the Bible. If they seem over-skeptical, you might tell them that you translated the book from original records by the aid of the Urim and Thummim--they will love that! Further to allay their misgivings, you might tell them that the original manuscript was on golden plates, and that you got the plates from an angel. Now go to work and good luck! 
"To date no student has carried out this assignment, which, of course, was not meant seriously. But why not? If anybody could write the Book of Mormon, as we have been so often assured, it is high time that somebody, some devoted and learned minister of the gospel, let us say, performed the invaluable public service of showing the world that it can be done." 
Again, let me emphasize that Joseph Smith had no professors, no libraries, no store of common knowledge of any of these subjects. He had no computers, spell check, Internet, or other founts of wisdom about the ancient world and languages. All he had was the revelation he initially received via Urim and Thummim (yes, the concept of a Urim and Thummim is biblical and also something Joseph was not likely to have been previously familiar with at that age) and, as he became more comfortable with the process of revelation, direct information from the Spirit.

Another excerpt from Professor Nibley's writings is also helpful in understanding just how authentically divine the Book of Mormon has to be.
"The book starts out with a colophon telling us whose hand wrote it, what his sources were, and what it is about; the author boasts of his pious parents and good education, explaining that his background was an equal mixture of Egyptian and Jewish, and then moves into this history establishing time, place, and background; the situation at Jerusalem and the reaction of Nephi's father to it, his misgivings, his prayers, a manifestation that came to him in the desert as he traveled on business and sent him back post-haste "to his own house at Jerusalem," where he has a great apocalyptic vision. 
"All this and more in the first seven verses of the Book of Mormon. The writer knows exactly what he is going to say and wastes no time in saying it. Throughout the book we get the impression that it really is what its authors claim it to be, a highly condensed account from much fuller records. We can imagine our young rustic getting off to this flying start, but can we imagine him keeping up the pace for ten pages? For 588 pages the story never drags, the author never hesitates or wanders, he is never at a loss. What is really amazing is that he never contradicts himself." -- Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 8, p. 227
If you'd like to know more about the real Book of Mormon translation process, look no further than the LDS Church website. The Joseph Smith Papers project is also a direct source of primary documentation and accurate knowledge about the translation of the Book of Mormon.

More primary sources include: