Faith and Reason 62: Uto-Aztecan Language

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From the book: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith

by Michael R. Ash

Painting by Arnold Friberg

When the Lehites arrived in the New World over two thousand years ago, they would have merged with existing native populations. Within a few generations, the spoken language of their descendants would likely have become that of their neighbors. It’s also possible, however, that some of the original Hebrew words used by the Lehites were picked up by their neighbors and continued to be used even after the Hebrew language disappeared. Near Eastern language expert Dr. Brian Stubbs argues for a possible link between Uto-Aztecan (a family of about thirty Native American Languages) and Hebrew. As a professional linguist, Stubbs avoids the pitfalls of amateurs who simply point to similar words between two different languages.

Michael R. Ash is the author of: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting The Prophet Joseph Smith. He is the owner and operator of and is on the management team for FairMormon. He has been published in Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, the Maxwell Institute’s FARMS Review, and is the author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt.  He and his wife live in Ogden, Utah, and have three daughters.

Julianne Dehlin Hatton  has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, Television Host, News Anchor, and Airborne Traffic Reporter. She graduated with an MSSc from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2008. Julianne and her husband Thomas are the parents of four children.

Music for Faith and Reason is provided by Arthur Hatton.

Some Mistaken Claims Associated with the Church’s Policies Regarding Same-Sex Marriage

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priesthood-blessing-37771-galleryIt has been a volatile and emotional few days since the leak of new Church policies regarding same-sex marriage and children being raised in such marriages. We have discussed those matters already, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Twelve has explained some of their rationale as well. The First Presidency also recently released further details.

Many are understandably emotional, and their compassion and concern reflects well upon them. Some questions will probably be addressed only on a case-by-case basis by the First Presidency.

Many “sound bite” or “bumper sticker” complaints on this topic have appeared on social media and elsewhere. Many of these reflect serious misunderstandings or distortions of LDS scriptures and doctrine. Few answers can come if we begin from inaccurate starting-points or assumptions.

We here review and correct a few of the most common.

The Second Article of Faith

“We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” (2nd Article of Faith).

Some have claimed that the new policy violates this doctrine. This is mistaken, on at least three points:

First, the second Article of Faith is a rejection of the doctrine of “original sin” from creedal Christianity, which held that all mankind remained under condemnation for Adam’s sin. LDS doctrine, by contrast, teaches that Christ unconditionally atoned for this original sin, which is thus no longer operative (Moses 6:54). This Article of Faith has nothing to do with issues such as those presently under consideration.

Second, as Elder Christofferson has explained, the new policy is intended to protect children and their relationships and experiences from the consequences of others’ decisions. Unless one wishes to argue that the leaders of the Church are lying, there is no punishment being affixed at all, and none intended.

Third, Church doctrine nowhere teaches that children or others cannot be adversely affected by the choices of others. In fact, part of the tragedy of sin is that the negative effects of our actions may spill onto others. The Book of Mormon treats this matter repeatedly—the descendants of Laman and Lemuel were deprived, for a time, of gospel truths and ordinances because of the choices of their parents. The Lord made ample provision, however, for them to receive all possible blessings even if they had to wait.

We should instead “minister” to the children of same-sex marriages

Some have claimed that these children need to be “ministered” to—which is certainly true. The unstated presumption is that the Church and its members will not do so, or will be unable to do so, because of these policies.

In the Book of Mormon, the risen Lord spoke of those who are not yet eligible for baptism:

Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them (3 Nephi 18:32).

Clearly, then, being a member of the Church—or even at present being eligible for Church membership—is not a prerequisite for being “ministered to.” Arguably, Church members are under even greater obligation toward such souls who are not at present full covenant members of the Church.

The policies announced will, to be sure, mark off minor children of same-sex marriages as somewhat distinct. This can have the effect, however, of focusing leaders’ and members’ attention upon them because of their unique situation. Approached with the proper attitude, the policy can thus emphasize and remind shepherds of the particular and unique needs of these members of the flock.

To “minister” is to serve. It is almost a truism to point out that we are commanded to serve everyone, regardless of their baptismal status, or even interest in joining the Church. There are many examples of ministering to those who are not members, only to have them later join the Church (e.g., Alma 22:23).

All can and should be “ministered” to—in and out of the Church, regardless of baptism. To insist or imply otherwise reflects either a deep confusion or sophistry.

“Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me”

In all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the disciples attempt to prevent parents from bringing small children to Jesus. Jesus rebukes the disciples, saying “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).

Some imply that this means that Jesus would insist that all children be permitted to be baptized immediately. While a surface reading might lead some to that conclusion, an examination of the scripture’s context and other LDS doctrines demonstrates otherwise.

We will consider five areas that should be considered.

First, Luke’s account makes it clear that the “little children” were “infants,” and that the parents desired that Jesus “would touch them” (one presumes to bless them—Luke 18:15). The parents were not seeking baptism or membership in the covenant for the children; they were seeking a blessing or contact with Jesus.

Second, pay attention to what happens immediately after Jesus makes his pronouncement: “He took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them,” says Mark, and “he laid his hands on them, and departed thence” recounts Matthew. Jesus did not baptize these children, or urge them to repentance as he did everyone else. Instead, he simply invoked God’s blessing upon them. (As discussed further below, such blessings are explicitly available under the new policy.)

Third, Jesus held out the little children as examples: “of such is the kingdom of heaven.” He did not, then, see these infants or young children as requiring baptism or repentance—they were already in a pure, saved state as they were.

Fourth, the Joseph Smith Translation teaches that the disciples tried to forbid the parents from bringing such children because they (the apostles) understood that such children were already saved. They therefore sought to spare Jesus’ time or attention for others that needed his saving ministry: “The disciples rebuked [the parents] saying, There is no need, for Jesus hath said, Such shall be saved” (JST Matthew 19:13, click footnote b).

Fifth, the Book of Mormon is clear that to claim that “little children” require baptism is to grossly misunderstand the gospel and the doctrine of Christ (Moroni 8; compare 3 Nephi 17). Mormon instructs Moroni to focus instead on “teach[ing] parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children” (Moroni 8:10, emphasis added).

This meme thus misstates the context and teaching of the New Testament, Joseph Smith’s commentary upon the text, and the Book of Mormon’s clear instruction regarding baptism and “little children.”

Such children can already come to Christ and are already accepted by him without the need for any ordinances. Elder Christofferson emphasized that minor children affected by the policy can still have precisely what Jesus wanted to offer the children brought to him in the New Testament: 

When we are talking about blessings, priesthood blessings, given to those who are ill or want a blessing of comfort or guidance, that’s open to all. We would expect that to be done throughout their lifetime, from infancy on as long as that’s the desire of the parents and of the child. That’s something we are anxious to provide…. Where there is any kind of need for blessing, for counsel, for help of whatever kind, that can be offered; we want to do that.

The policy explicitly permits, then, the provision of precisely what Jesus provided when he said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” The policy does not contradict these scriptures, it follows them precisely.

“Such children will be denied the gift of the Holy Ghost”

Church members understand that the influence of the Holy Ghost can be felt by anyone. However, they regard the “gift of the Holy Ghost” as a blessing which accompanies baptism and confirmation. As Joseph Smith taught:

There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him.[1]

Thus, this concern has perhaps the most superficial plausibility of the issues we’ve considered here.

It omits, however, a crucial factor. We must not be so legalistic as to think that God is hamstrung or restricted until an ordinance is performed. An ordinance and the covenant that accompanies it is not a magic ceremony of some sort. It is, instead, a physical symbol and public expression of our inner commitment to God. The associated covenant is ratified by the necessity of God’s priesthood power and supervising priesthood keys performing and authorizing it. But, God may bestow his gifts and blessings upon whomever he chooses, especially if they are at present unable to participate in the ordinance that is usually required.

In Joseph Smith’s example, Cornelius would not have had the Holy Ghost to continue with him had he refused baptism, since he would be making a choice to reject the ordinance which God commanded him to undergo.

If, however, Cornelius had his experience prior to Jesus’ resurrection, he could not (yet) have been baptized, since Jesus instructed his disciples to only approach the House of Israel (Matthew 10:6, 15:24). Would we really expect, however, that Cornelius would have then lost the spirit of God in his life simply because he could not be baptized, through no fault of his own? Of course not.

God simply does not operate with such capriciousness. If a non-member is invited to be baptized, has the means and opportunity, and refuses, then she cannot expect the Holy Ghost to continue with her. She has refused to obey, and refused to make a covenant. However, if a non-member is unable—for whatever reason—to be baptized, God will not condemn or penalize her for an opportunity she does not have. There are many throughout Church history who have not been able to be baptized for many years, due to political or other reasons.

One well-known example is Italian Latter-day Saint Vincenzo Di Francesca, who discovered the Book of Mormon in 1910, but did not know to what church it belonged.[2] He was censured by his own Christian denomination for preaching from it, and only learned the identity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1930. An apostle came to baptize him in 1932, but was prevented by political strife. Other attempts were made, but these likewise failed. From 1940–49, no contact with the Church was possible. Vincenzo was finally baptized in 1951. He had thus desired baptism for over forty years.

We do not believe, however, that God would not or did not bless such a faithful believer abundantly, despite a lack of baptism through no fault of his own. (A Church video— How Rare a Possession— has dramatized the story of Vincenzo, and can be viewed on-line.)

The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that when righteous people are prevented from fulfilling a commandment of God through the actions of others, God does not require that commandment to be fulfilled. He also does not punish those who do their best. (See D&C 124:49.)

Latter-day Saints ought to understand this concept better than almost anyone, since our doctrine of vicarious ordinances for the dead makes it clear that God does not punish his children for that which they have not yet had the opportunity to receive.

As President Joseph F. Smith taught:

The presentation or “gift” of the Holy Ghost simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment.[3]

The “gift of the Holy Ghost” is thus a blessing of the covenant; it gives “the right” to this blessing if we are faithful. But this does not preclude God bestowing such a blessing on others who are worthy, according to his own mind and merciful purposes. As President Harold B. Lee observed, “The bestowal of the gift [of the Holy Ghost] is actually, then, a command to so live that when we need and desire it, we may have the accompaniment of the power of the Holy Ghost.”[4]

Any believer who is unbaptized through no fault of his or her own can keep this commandment, and reap the promised blessings as well. When asked what would happen to those who believed, and yet were prevented from obeying a commandment, President Joseph F. Smith said: “I reply that every man and woman will receive all that they are worthy of, and something thrown in perhaps on the score of the boundless charity of God.”[5]


It is understandable that good and faithful people may have questions about how this new policy will be administered. We encourage any with questions to study the scriptures, reflect  upon what apostles and prophets have to say on the matter,  ponder and pray, exercise patience, and look deeper than the slogans, memes, and sound-bites.

[1] Joseph Smith, cited in “For the Times and Seasons. SABBATH SCENE IN NAUVOO; March 20th 1842,” Times and Seasons 3/12 (15 April 1842): 752; see also History of the Church 4:555.

[2] See “I Will Not Burn the Book,” Ensign (January 1988),

[3] Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co., 1959), 60–61.

[4] Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co, 1996), 96.

[5] Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses, 20:30–31 (7 July 1878).

Faith and Reason 61: List of Book of Mormon Items

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From the book: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith

by Michael R. Ash

Critics frequently claim that the Book of Mormon is contradicted by New World archaeology. This may have been true in 1830 when the Book of Mormon was published, but it is no longer true today. Dr. John Clark of the New World Archaeological Foundation recently compiled a list of sixty items mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The list includes items such as steel, swords, barley, cement, thrones, literacy and more. A dozen years after the Book of Mormon was printed only eight of those sixty items had been confirmed by archaeological evidence. By the turn of the twenty-first century , however, forty-five of those sixty items (or 75 percent) have been confirmed by archaeological evidence.

Michael R. Ash is the author of: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting The Prophet Joseph Smith. He is the owner and operator of and is on the management team for FairMormon. He has been published in Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, the Maxwell Institute’s FARMS Review, and is the author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt.  He and his wife live in Ogden, Utah, and have three daughters.

Julianne Dehlin Hatton  has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, Television Host, News Anchor, and Airborne Traffic Reporter. She graduated with an MSSc from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2008. Julianne and her husband Thomas are the parents of four children.

Music for Faith and Reason is provided by Arthur Hatton.

The Brethren are not Bigots

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quentin-l-cook-largeSeveral weeks ago, I was excited to learn Elder Quentin L. Cook would be visiting our Annapolis, Maryland Stake Conference. (When I learned he had brought his wife, Mary, I was even more thrilled.) My husband’s calling required him to attend the Saturday afternoon priesthood leadership meeting, and I rode down with him to avoid having to drive down by myself for the Saturday evening adult session. I settled in on the couch in the foyer to listen to the priesthood meeting, and will always be grateful to have heard what I heard.

Elder Cook shared some prepared thoughts, and then opened the meeting for questions. My husband was called on, and asked about a matter concerning the Church’s teachings about families and LGBT individuals. Elder Cook first answered the particular detail my husband sought, but then continued in a much more personal vein.

He reminisced about presiding over a San Francisco stake in the early 1980s, when the city was an early gathering place for many LGBT individuals and social tensions were high, in part due to the AIDS scare. Elder Cook found himself responsible for many heartbroken individuals in extraordinarily difficult circumstances–––diagnosed with a terrifying disease, estranged from their families and the Church, sometimes disowned by their families and shunned by members of the Church, alone and unmoored as death approached.

Elder Cook’s recounting of this situation was no humdrum recital–––his voice shook with plain emotion. His descriptions of the men he tried to help were incredibly tender. It was obvious that even all these decades later, the love he felt for those men, and his sympathy for their pain, had stricken him to the core.

Elder Cook ended his answer with a forceful command to love everyone, and especially LGBT members. To try harder to reach out with compassion and understanding.

When new Church policies cause controversy, it’s tempting to suppose our experience, joined with the experience of the multitude of voices weighing in on social media, gives us sufficient wisdom to judge. It’s good to learn from others, and to have the easy opportunity to learn from so many others via the internet. But those voices can give us no insight into the motives and hearts of the leaders responsible for the policy–––only assumptions that often reveal more about the assumer than about Church leaders.

I share my experience listening to Elder Cook not because it will resolve the debate about the new Church Handbook policy on baptisms and parents in same-sex relationships, but because part of that debate is perpetuating a troubling falsehood. The accusations that the Brethren are bigots and clueless about people out in the real world are false. The accusations that the Brethren are acting out of hatred or ignorance are false.

Sustaining our leaders means, at the very least, extending to them sufficient benefit of the doubt to reject such accusations. Fully reject accusations against Church leaders; don’t let conventional wisdom and assumptions constantly repeated by others start to cloud your judgment. I fear that even when we don’t agree “the Brethren are bigots,” we almost subconsciously incorporate some cynicism into our opinions of them just because we see the accusations repeated so often. We conclude so much smoke proves at least a tiny fire. We have to consciously reject that false conclusion.

Church leaders are not automatons at a podium. They’ve led full lives and had broad experience. There’s no Utah bubble to hide in for Church leaders, because to be a high-level Church leader, even in Utah, is to deal with a constant stream and bewildering variety of hard and heartbreaking situations.

And to be a former Stake President in San Francisco is to have a deeply compassionate and loving perspective on the situation of LGBT members. That’s not incompatible with the new policy.

A Look at the Church’s New Policy on Children of Gay Couples

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The Church recently confirmed some changes to its Handbook of Instructions provided to bishops and stake presidents. The Handbook prescribes doctrines, policies, and procedures for administering the Church and serving members.

The changes are three-fold:

  • Those who enter into a same-sex marriage are considered apostate, and will need to undergo Church discipline possibly resulting in disfellowshipment or excommunication;
  • Local leaders should seriously consider Church discipline against members cohabitating in same-sex relationships but not married;
  • Minor children in same-sex households are not to be baptized into the Church until they reach adulthood At that point they must understand and accept the Church’s doctrine regarding the sinfulness of same-sex acts and marriages in order to be baptized

The first two points can hardly be surprising—homosexual acts have long been grounds for Church discipline. The only change is placing same-sex marriage in the category of apostasy, which requires that disciplinary action be taken.

The third point has led many to mistaken claims, including:

  • The Church is making minor children whose parents are in same-sex marriages “apostates”;
  • The Church is “punishing” children for their parents’ sins.

These conclusions reflect unfamiliarity with the important considerations the Church must take into account when working with children and families.

The Church has long honored parental authority

No minor child may be taught or baptized without the consent of his or her parents. Thus, the Church defends the parents’ authority and the parent-child relationship even in a matter—baptism—which the Church regards as ultimately essential for salvation.

Furthermore, the Church does not believe that a child who cannot receive baptism because of their parents’ action will be condemned. All have a full and free opportunity—either in this life, or in the next through vicarious temple ordinances—to accept the gospel. Others cannot prevent this forever. But, in some cases, a child must wait to be baptized if the parents’ actions make it necessary.

Standards the same for children in polygamous families

The policies regarding children with same-sex married parents is the same as that for children whose parents are in polygamous relationships. In both cases, the children cannot be baptized while they are minors living in such circumstances. They must also both be interviewed carefully to confirm that they understand and accept the Church’s doctrine on same-sex relationships or unauthorized plural marriage.

It would be inappropriate and unfair for the Church to expect minor children to cope with the issue of divided loyalties. All children need the support of a family. Ideally, that support should be provided by a married mother and father. Some children do not have that advantage, but it is still important that the Church does not undermine a polygamist family’s relationship between parents and child, or a same-sex couple’s relationship with a child they are parenting.

To baptize a minor child in such a situation would be to put the child in a difficult position. Those who choose to be baptized must wholeheartedly endorse the Church’s doctrines and principles. Yet, children whose parents are in a same-sex marriage would be told at home that their parents’ marriage was valid and a model to follow; at Church they would hear that the marriage was invalid and deeply sinful. At best, this could be confusing; at worst, it risks alienating the child from to parental figures.

The Church is trying to balance the importance of baptism with the importance of family harmony and relationships. A child of parents in same-sex relationships might not be able to easily reconcile the love he feels for his parents with the teachings at church that the parents’ relationship is sinful. It takes maturity to be able to love and respect others whom we believe to be acting wrongly. When the child reaches adulthood, and is ready to make the mature choice to make covenants that require renouncing his parent’s (or parents’) lifestyle, and accept all of the challenges and implications of that choice, the time will be right for baptism.

Were the Church to do otherwise, its critics and detractors would likely complain that it was undermining parents’ authority or depriving the minor member child of the benefits of family life by teaching against same-sex acts and same-sex marriage.

Protecting the Church from those who would manipulate it

Those who are the members of polygamist groups have also, on occasion, sought to have their children join the Church in order to access temple ordinances. Thus, parents may occasionally push children into Church membership to achieve goals of their own, and not out of sincere belief.

In a similar way, it is conceivable that at least a few same-sex parents might seek to use a child’s baptism as a way to make a political point in the media, or gain leverage over a local Church unit’s handling of their same-sex relationship.

Children and local Church leaders should not be put in such a position, and so the Church’s policy protects both.

Decisions ultimately made by the First Presidency

The decision whether to baptize adult children of same-sex married parents will not be made by local leaders. Local leaders can only recommend a course of action to the First Presidency. Such situations can be messy and complex; guidelines and policies probably cannot capture all the various circumstances or complications that will arise in a pluralistic society with widely differing views of marriage. The decision in all such cases will be made by the First Presidency, and not left to the sole discretion of local leaders.

This will help ensure uniformity among similar cases Church-wide, and also assure that those who make the decisions—the First Presidency—have the widest possible base of experience upon which to draw. As time goes on, as Church leaders seek to address individual cases, they will likely improve in their understanding of what best suits the needs of the child, the parents, and the Church.

Resolving the Conflict Between Science and Religion

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MAThe following is part of a fictional dialogue between Shane and Doug, two former missionary companions many years after their missions. Shane writes to his friend Doug who has posted comments about his on-going faith crisis on Facebook. The characters are fictionalized composites of members who have faced these same dilemmas but the issues are based on very real problems which have caused some to stumble. Likewise, the responding arguments are based on the author’s own personal engagement with these same concerns as well as his discussion of these issues with other members who have struggled. (By Michael R. Ash, author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt,and Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith, and Director of Media Products for FairMormon.)

Dear Doug,

I’m glad you found value in my last letter discussing DNA and the Book of Mormon. I’m not sure, however, if you’ve accurately understood my position on the science vs. religion debate. So in this letter I hope to clarify my perspective.

I believe that conflict between science and religion really comes down to a conflict between the known and the unknown. LDS scientist Henry Eyring (the late father of current apostle Henry B. Eyring) explained: “Is there any conflict between science and religion? There is no conflict in the mind of God, but often there is conflict in the minds of men.”[i]

Secular atheists claim that there is only the natural; what we call “supernatural” is simply the point where we have yet to fully explain the natural mechanics of the event or cause. Eventually, they argue, all of the “gaps” in such mysteries disappear and are replaced with naturalexplanations.

I actually sort of agree, but would phrase it a bit differently. God said, “all things unto me are spiritual” (D&C 29:34). Obviously, this doesn’t mean that your chair is simply spirit; what I believe it means is that everything—and that means everything—is part of a divine essence. So from God’s advanced perspective, all things are naturally spiritual. Natural and spiritual are simply different perspectives and descriptions of the same thing. As Brigham Young explained, “…God is a scientific character… He lives by science or strict law….”[ii]

Truth is truth. Joseph Smith once said: “One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.”[iii]

There is not spiritual truth or natural truth, there is only truth. The “gaps” that we fill with natural explanations are all part of God’s one truth. The problem, of course, is man’s arrogance in thinking that we have such great scientific vision that those things which believers call “spiritual” cannot be part of the same natural law.

While science is constantly advancing in our understanding of the world and cosmos, comparing what we know to what we don’t know is like claiming that a grain of sand understands the planet Earth because all it can see is beach. Science grapples with understanding the intricacies of the mind, the body, gravity, dark matter, multiverses, and countless aspects of what makes the universe tick. Knowledge is limited but progress is constantly being made.

Science is able to discover those parts of the God’s natural/supernatural world through tools which can measure some of those things which appear to have a physical presence. Revelation can discover those parts of God’s natural/supernatural world through tools which can glimpse some (but relatively few) of those things which do not have a physical presence.

Both science and revelation are able to lead us to truth. Both are liable to make errors because they utilize imperfect tools in the hands of imperfect humans. But both, combined, eventually will self-correct and teach us more about God’s natural/supernatural world.

We Latter-day Saints tend to focus on the feelings of the “heart” when determining God’s truth. We cannot test, with any currently known secular tools, if God exists, if Jesus is the Christ, or if Joseph Smith saw the Father and Son in a vision.

It’s all well and good to recognize the power of the heart in receiving testimony on life’s most important questions, but the appreciation for the “heart” should not come with an exclusion for the appreciation of the “brain.” God gave us both, and all of our thoughts (and the way our bodies react to spiritual manifestations) must be filtered through our brains.

In the ancient world people did not understand the purpose of the brain. They believed that emotions, feelings, spiritual impressions, and thoughts all came from the heart. We find numerous passages in the scriptures which reflect this ancient perspective. Following are just a few examples.

“Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heartmay be forgiven thee,” (Acts 8:22, emphasis added).

“And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38).

“And he said unto them: Behold, I, Samuel, a Lamanite, do speak the words of the Lord which he doth put into my heart; and behold he hath put it into my heart to say unto this people that the sword of justice hangeth over this people,” (Helaman 13:5).

The oft-quoted verse from Moroni expresses this ancient mindset: “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would …ponder it in your hearts” (Moroni 10:3).

We ponder in our minds, not in our hearts. We may feel the testimony (in part) in our hearts, but the thought process goes on in the brain.

When Oliver Cowdery tried the translate the Book of Mormon the Lord told him that the mind was part of the process: “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (D&C 9:8). As President Uchtdorf explained:

When we talk about testimony, we refer to feelings of our heart and mind rather than an accumulation of logical, sterile facts. It is a gift of the Spirit, a witness from the Holy Ghost that certain concepts are true.[iv]

I think that too often some Latter-day Saints tend to brush off science and scholarship as unreliable (the “arm of flesh”) when most of what drives our modern twenty-first century lives comes as the result of the power of that same science and scholarship.

In our search for truth we should embrace science and scholarship. Logic and historical precedence give us good reason why we shouldn’t demand the acceptance of all current points of scientific knowledge as final—we know that science can, has, and will make mistakes. Recognizing that mistakes have been made (and will undoubtedly be made again) is no excuse, however, to simply reject science when it conflicts with our interpretations of religious issues. Science is self-correcting and eventually truths are discovered.

Anti-science and anti-scholarship positions are not the paths to discovering truth and therefore are not, I believe, the way the Lord would want us to approach our quest for learning. The Lord suggested that we are to be “instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine”

“…Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth [geology, archaeology?]; things which have been [history], things which are [current events], things which must shortly come to pass [science]; things which are at home [local politics, culture, history?], things which are abroad [foreign politics, cultures, history?]; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms” (D&C 88:79).

Anti-science and anti-scholarship positions can damage us both physically as well as spiritually. It is an unfortunate fact, for example, that at least a few Latter-day Saints have joined with the anti-vaccination movement despite overwhelming scientific support for the benefit of vaccinations as well as an absence of scientific evidence supporting the myth that vaccinations cause autism. Those members who reject the science on the issue, also reject Church counsel which recommends that children should be vaccinated.[v]

Spiritual stumbling blocks can also be constructed of anti-intellectual bricks. The DNA topic we discussed earlier is a good example. For those members who reject science, which tells us that the Americas were populated 15,000 years ago (and that the Lehites would have been a small incursion into this larger population), the DNA argument can damage faith. For those who accept the anthropological and archaeological evidences, as well as modern DNA science, the basic premise of the Book of Mormon remains unscathed.

In closing this far-too-lengthy letter, I think it’s significant to recognize that all truth works line upon line and—if followed properly—becomes self-correcting. This means that both science and religious truths will run into dead-ends, or will make wrong turns. Prophets do not get a special handbook from God that contains the answers to all questions. Their revelation (like ours) comes typically by way of answers to prayers and then may come only piecemeal or through a glass darkly (1 Corin. 13:12).

We must be willing to shift or modify our religious paradigms to absorb the truths of science. Ourbasic spiritual foundation is immutable and can only be known through the spirit. God lives, Jesus is the Christ and atoned for our sins, and the Gospel has been restored and is led by modern-day prophets who hold keys to sacred covenants.

Most of the rest of the stuff—yes, even the religious stuff—is ancillary and can be better understood through the application of a combination of both spiritual and secular learning. Science (to use a general description designating the mass of intellectual insights) has taught me at least two very important points regarding my approach to religious beliefs:

1) There are secular evidences which support belief. The more we learn, the more convinced I am that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is a translation of an authentic ancient text.

2) I, like every other human, have often assumed too much. As secular studies give us a clearer picture about the world and history of mankind, I have frequently needed to adjust my worldviews about ancient scripture and how God works with and through His children and through the physical laws which govern our planet.

While some members have resisted modifying their paradigms, or have painfully jettisoned false assumptions (and, at times, their testimonies), I find such modifications not only to be rewarding, but exciting. The more I know, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Each new bit of knowledge, however, as well as each new modification or liberation from a faulty assumption, increases my appreciation for God’s creations and how He accomplishes His purposes through the weakness of humanity.

If you like, we can discuss some of these examples in subsequent letters.

Your friend,


[i] Henry Eyring, Reflections of a Scientist (SLC: Deseret Book, 1983), 2.

[ii] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses (13 Nov. 1870), 13:302.

[iii] Joseph Smith, quoted in History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2nd ed. (SLC: Deseret News Press, 1949), 5:499.

[iv] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Power of Personal Testimony,”

[v] See, for example, the Church’s official website here: as well an official Church video here: See also non-official sites which discuss official Church quotes such as the one here: and

The Parable of the Hounds and the Herrings

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Hunt_Master_exits_Castle_croppedIn 19th century England, hounds were often used for hunting foxes and other game for food or sport, a tradition that survives in some parts of that country even today.1 According to legend, sometimes as the hounds went off in search of animals scent, saboteurs would take smoked fish (usually herring turned reddish in color because of the smoking process) and drag it along the hunting route but away from the game. Perhaps they were other hunters wanting the trophy for themselves, or maybe just mischief makers–––the story doesn’t specify. Whatever the motivation, their ploy would cause the dogs to abandon the trail and follow this new and alluring scent. Unfortunately, this would sabotage the hunt, and the dogs would be left empty handed, so to speak, because they had lost sight (or smell) of the true prize.2 Although the origins of this story are dubious, the phrase “red herring” has stuck to refer to using false or misleading information to redirect attention away from the real issue.

In our parable we are the hounds and anti-Mormon critics are the saboteurs who use (figurative) strong-scented fish to lead us away from our real treasure: the core doctrines and ordinances of the Gospel. There are many examples of this, and they are too numerous to mention here, but always the goal is the same: distract from the critical issues (is the Book of Mormon true? is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints God’s Church on the earth? is Joseph Smith a Prophet?) by getting us to focus all of our time and energy on infinitely less important ones (Joseph Smith’s character flaws, translation “issues” with the Gold Plates or the Book of Abraham, polygamy, etc.). We start to ignore what really matters–––the things actually important to our salvation–––to focus on these other issues, and in the process allow our testimonies to wither and die. Unfortunately, it can be easy to take the bait and fall down this false trail. I would like to offer up a few suggestions that might be helpful as we find ourselves dealing with this problem.

First, a common red herring that gets thrown around is that if we don’t have the answers to every question an anti-Mormon critic brings up, then the Church obviously isn’t true. This is just ridiculous. The Church has never claimed to have the answers to everything. In fact, it is commonly taught that we don’t have all of the answers and probably won’t in this life. Scientists don’t have all of the answers about science, yet you never hear anti-science critics decrying all their findings as false. Doctors don’t have all the answers about medicine, but you don’t hear critics portraying every medical professional as a fraud. You get the idea. Not knowing everything is part of the Plan of Salvation. If we did know everything then we would have no need for faith, and faith is a crucial part of our mortal experience. Without it we cannot be exalted.

That being said, there are good answers to almost all of the questions posed by critics, and even more answers will come with additional research. A good example would be the supposed anachronisms found in the Book of Mormon. The more we have learned about ancient America, the more they have disappeared.3 We would do well to follow the counsel of Sister Camilla Kimball, wife of President Spencer W. Kimball: “I have always had an inquiring mind. I am not satisfied just to accept things. I like to follow through and study things out. I learned early to put aside those gospel questions that I could not answer. I had a shelf of things I did not understand, but as I have grown older and studied and prayed and thought about each problem, one by one I have been able to understand them better.”4 Just because we don’t have the answer to a question right now doesn’t mean we won’t later, and as such is no reason to leave the straight and narrow sniffing after smoked fish.

Second, we need to be careful to not sacrifice our study of the things that really matter as we search for answers to less important issues. Just as our bodies require constant physical nourishment to survive and thrive, our testimonies need the constant spiritual nourishment that the scriptures and words of the living prophets provide. It can be easy to get so wrapped up in an issue that we obsessively read every article and blog post on the subject–––taking up hours of our time and neglecting the scripture study we so desperately need. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we shouldn’t find answers to issues that trouble us. But I am saying that we should not sacrifice the “best” for the “good.” I think that scholarly research about the Church is critical, and I spend a good amount of my time studying it, but when all is said and done, it will be the study of spiritual things that draws us closer to Christ and ultimately saves us. It is not something we should abandon, especially when there is an issue we are struggling with. The more we let the Spirit into our lives, the easier it will be for Him to teach us the truth.

Third, when we are seeking answers to questions that may bother us, we owe it to ourselves and to our Heavenly Father to use sources that will build up instead of attempt to tear down our testimonies. This is critical. How information is presented, whether it is true or not, can have a significant impact on how it is received and interpreted. A good example of this is found in a recent FairMormon podcast by Ned Scarisbrick. Even something critical to life itself (like water) can be given such a negative spin as to make is seem reprehensible. The same is true about things of the Spirit. As Elder Stanfill of the Seventy eloquently explained during this most recent General Conference:

When we consider thoughtfully, why would we listen to the faceless, cynical voices of those in the great and spacious buildings of our time …These ever-present naysayers prefer to tear down rather than elevate and to ridicule rather than uplift. Their mocking words can burrow into our lives, often through split-second bursts of electronic distortions carefully and deliberately composed to destroy our faith. Is it wise to place our eternal well-being in the hands of strangers? Is it wise to claim enlightenment from those who have no light to give or who may have private agendas hidden from us? These anonymous individuals, if presented to us honestly, would never be given a moment of our time, but because they exploit social media, hidden from scrutiny, they receive undeserved credibility.5

Let us be careful not to give these critics power over us that they don’t deserve and instead seek answers from good, qualified, uplifting sources of which there are plenty.

Lastly, remember that the things that really matter, spiritual truths that can save and uplift us are only understood by spiritual means. It is not a sign of weakness or lack of intelligence to rely on God for this; it is a sign of faith. These truths can only be revealed by His Spirit, and when we have gained our testimony the other issues don’t seem to matter as much, for we know that we are on the right path and that all of our answers will come in time. It’s not so much that our questions disappear, but we gain a greater peace and understanding that overcomes our uncertainties. On the other hand, if we allow them to, red herrings can take us away from those central, core truths that bring to us light and life, but that doesn’t need to be the case. Consider the following quote from President Uchtdorf:

I wish I could help everyone to understand this one simple fact: we believe in God because of things we know with our heart and mind, not because of things we do not know.  Our spiritual experiences are sometimes too sacred to explain in worldly terms, but that doesn’t mean they are not real. Heavenly Father has prepared for His children a spiritual feast, offering every kind of exquisite food imaginable—and yet, instead of enjoying these spiritual gifts, the cynics content themselves with observing from a distance, sipping from their cups of skepticism, doubt, and disrespect. Why would anyone walk through life satisfied with the light from the candle of their own understanding when, by reaching out to our Heavenly Father, they could experience the bright sun of spiritual knowledge that would expand their minds with wisdom and fill their souls with joy?… Skepticism is easy—anyone can do it. It is the faithful life that requires moral strength, dedication, and courage. Those who hold fast to faith are far more impressive than those who give in to doubt when mysterious questions or concerns arise.6

Let us be careful that in our search for truth that we do not fall into the trap of the cynics. Rather, let us see these red herrings for what they truly are–––stinky fish–––and follow instead the path that will lead us to eternal life.


  1. Foxhunting (n.d.). In Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from
  2. Jack, Albert (2004). Red Herrings and White Elephants. The Origins of Phrases We Use Every Day [Adobe Acrobat eBook Reader] pp. 188-189. Retrieved from
  3. Book of Mormon/Anachronisms/Basic Principles (n.d.). FairMormon Answers. Retrieved from
  4. Caroline Eyring Miner and Edward L. Kimball, Camilla (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1980), pp. 126–27
  5. Stanfill, Vern P (2015) “Choose the Light.” Retrieved from
  6. Uchtdorf, Dieter (2015) “Be Not Afraid, Only Believe.” Retrieved from

Faith and Reason 60: Barley

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From the book: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith

by Michael R. Ash

Barley was considered to be unknown in the New World when discovered by the Europeans. However, scientists have discovered that is entirely possible that this grain had disappeared not long after Book of Mormon times.  In an article in Science 83, Daniel B. Adams wrote of the archaeological research of the Hohokam Indians –a pre-Columbian culture that lived in Arizona from about 300 BC to AD 1450 and had been influenced by Mesoamerica. According to Adams: “The most startling evidence of Hohokam agricultural sophistication came when archaeologists found preserved grain of what looks like domesticated barley, the first ever found in the New World. Wild barleys have fibrous husk over each grain. Domesticated barley lack this. So does the Hohokam barley. Nearly half the samples from one site yielded barley”. Scholars now report that other examples of what may be “domesticated” barley have been tound in Eastern Oklahoma and southern Illinois dating from AD 1 to AD 900.

Michael R. Ash is the author of: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting The Prophet Joseph Smith. He is the owner and operator of and is on the management team for FairMormon. He has been published in Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, the Maxwell Institute’s FARMS Review, and is the author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt.  He and his wife live in Ogden, Utah, and have three daughters.

Julianne Dehlin Hatton  has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, Television Host, News Anchor, and Airborne Traffic Reporter. She graduated with an MSSc from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2008. Julianne and her husband Thomas are the parents of four children.

Music for Faith and Reason is provided by Arthur Hatton.

Some Thoughts on “Bracketing” and the Relationship of Reason and Revelation

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Cross-posted from Studio et Quoque Fide

20120518_faith_reasonWhen I first started this blog back in 2010, I called it “Reason and Revelation.” I spelled out some thoughts I had on the relationship between the two at the time. Of course, as with all things, when I write, the thinking is not necessarily done, not even by me. Like everyone else, I keep wrestling with the tension that the two often create—a wrestle that, I must admit, I find strengthens faith.

There is a growing tendency among Latter-day Saint academics to talk about “bracketing” faith out of scholarship (although not everyone uses that term). While I grant that this method has certain benefits as a provisional mental or intellectual exercise, and I have gained some valuable insights both from works where such “bracketing” has been done and from engaging such exercises myself, I fear there are also corrosive effects that are not often recognized by its practitioners.

For starters, more often than not, it is not treated merely as a provisional mental exercise, but rather as a permanent, methodological necessity. That is, the conclusions reached while the lens of faith is removed are taken to be more valid and more accurate than those reached with faith. This has at least two byproducts that are harmful to holding a vibrant faith.

First, it treats the lens of faith as a distortion rather than a corrective. Most practitioners of bracketing, I suspect, will object to this assertion, and I accept that none of them are consciously meaning to demean faith in this way. Nonetheless, it is inherent in the method. By privileging conclusions reached without faith, you inherently make faith a negative bias—as I said, a distortion to how you read and interpret the data which should be removed.

While most secular academics would likely read that, nod their heads and say, “Yes, of course, that is exactly what faith is,” as believers and disciples, we ought to take a more positive view of our faith and the revelations it gives us access to. Faith should be viewed as a positive bias—a lens which improves and enhances our vision and clarifies what we see. A corrective to our imperfect ability to reason and interpret.

The second byproduct is that it creates what I call a “One Way Street,” between reason and revelation. Because faith is “bracketed,” i.e., blocked off from traveling with our reason into the realm of scholarship, faith and revelation have no influence on the conclusions reached. But these conclusions are still imported back into the practitioner’s faith. That is, they reshape and reform their faith in light of conclusions reached without faith.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I am not opposed to letting scholarship, reason, and evidence influence and shape the content of our faith. My faith has certainly under gone changes as a result new information. What I am opposed to is the one way relationship created by bracketing faith out of scholarship, but not bracketing scholarship out of faith. Instead, I believe that faith and scholarship, reason and revelation, should have a two-way, give and take relationship. Where they help influence and shape each other.

This should not be viewed, however, as a relationship of equal partners. While granting that we can—and sometimes do—misunderstand what the Lord has revealed, we nonetheless ought to grant the Lord’s revelations precedence over our own reasoning. I particularly like the metaphor of faith and reason as riders on a tandem bike. Both must not only be peddling, but they must be in-sync with each other in order to move forward most effectively. And while the rider in the back can offer some guidance on where to go, only the front rider can actually steer the bike. I would suggest that faith should be the front rider. When we bracket faith out of scholarship, however, we often times not only make reason the front rider, but push faith off the bike completely (or, at least, forbid it from peddling at all, making it dead weight).

In closing, I would simply like to state what should be obvious—my faith is a part of me. As such, it will influence any creative act in which I engage—and make no mistake about it, scholarship, particularly that related to history and the humanities, is an act of creation, and hence a creative endeavor. It would be absurd to ask someone to “bracket” or ignore evidence they know contradicts something the Sunday School teacher, or the Sacrament meeting speaker, is saying. And, indeed, most practitioners of the bracketing method turn around and insist that scholarship is an important part of their faith, despite not letting faith be part of their scholarship.

I can no more bracket my faith out of my attempts at scholarship than I can turn off my brain and capacity to reason while worshiping at Church, or while reading the scriptures devotionally. Both reason and faith are part of who I am, and are constantly influencing me in how I understand both scholarship and revelation. To my best recollection, I have never pretended it to be otherwise. I freely and willingly and openly let faith influence my scholarship (and vice-versa), and leave to readers to decide what to count that for (whether it be a weakness or a strength).

Faith and Reason 59: Cement

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Photo credit Jeff Lyndsay:

From the book: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith

According to the critics and what was known about ancient America during Joseph Smith’s day, the Native Americans did not work in cement. Recent research, however, shows that some Native Americans began using cement extensively at about the time indicated in the Book of Mormon. One of the most notable uses of cement is in the temple complex at Teotihuacan, north of present day Mexico City.  According to David S. Hyman, the structural use of cement appears suddenly in the archaeological record, and its earliest sample is a highly developed product. Although exposed to the elements for over 2,000 years, this structure still exceeds many modern day building code requirements.

Michael R. Ash is the author of: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting The Prophet Joseph Smith. He is the owner and operator of and is on the management team for FairMormon. He has been published in Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, the Maxwell Institute’s FARMS Review, and is the author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt.  He and his wife live in Ogden, Utah, and have three daughters.

Julianne Dehlin Hatton  has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, Television Host, News Anchor, and Airborne Traffic Reporter. She graduated with an MSSc from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2008. Julianne and her husband Thomas are the parents of four children.

Music for Faith and Reason is provided by Arthur Hatton.