Current Biology, SMGF, and Lamanites

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On January 28, 2009 Simon Southerton posted the following comments on the discussion board at exmormon.org about my recent scientific publication on Native American origins. He also took the opportunity to criticize Dr. Scott Woodward, former molecular biologist at Brigham Young University and current director of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF).

Having great familiarity and being personally involved with the subjects mentioned in Southerton’s remarks, I deemed it necessary to provide an alternative and more accurate version of the facts. This is simply a rebuttal to Southerton’s specific posting and it is not meant to be another treatise on the Book of Mormon vs. DNA issue, since there is already a great abundance of LDS scholarship addressing the topic.

Southerton’s posting, each section of which appears below, was retrieved from exmormon.org. Below is each section of his posting, along with my comments.

When I resigned in 1998 after discovering DNA evidence that American Indians were essentially all descended from Asian ancestors, I was counseled by the Area Presidency to get in touch with Professor Scott Woodward, a “world-renowned DNA expert” at BYU. In a handful of email exchanges that I had with Woodward, in amongst his lengthy molecular apologetics, he admitted that he had found it difficult to talk to other people about the DNA work and that after a few years of struggling he had reconciled most of the issues it raised.

The use of the word “discovering” is interesting in the opening sentence of Southerton’s remarks. It appears that Southerton deliberately wants to give the impression to those who are unfamiliar with studies in population genetics that he is the one to first discover a genetic link between Native Americans and Asian populations. Dr. Antonio Torroni and Dr. Theodore Schurr were the first two researchers to make public such discoveries in the early nineties (references available upon request) when population genetic studies based on mitochondrial DNA variation were still in their infancy. When Dr. Woodward began his correspondence with Southerton in 1998, he wrote that he was aware of the papers mentioned and was surprised that Southerton thought it was a new problem. In his book Losing a Lost Tribe (Signature Books, 2004), Southerton provides proper citations to these earlier scientific works, but I noticed that in his informal communications he tends to be a bit vague about who did the actual DNA work on Native American populations.

During the communication exchange between Southerton and Woodward in 1998, Woodward expressed how difficult it was for him to explain DNA related concepts to people (Southerton included) who did not want to understand or put serious effort into understanding the concepts involved. Woodward’s “difficulty” was not in reconciling Book of Mormon issues, but in dealing with people that refused to listen.

Woodward’s emails from 1998 were eventually edited by Southerton and forwarded to LDS Church leaders in Utah, with the objective of hurting Woodward’s teaching position at BYU. This event greatly upset Woodward. When in 2004 Southerton visited Woodward at SMGF, he admitted his earlier intentions and apologized for what he did in 1998. I was present at that meeting.

I met Woodward when I visited the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) in Salt Lake City a few years ago. At the time he angrily defended the Book of Mormon and hinted that SMGF scientists were finding exciting new evidence that supported the Book of Mormon (must be still finding it).

There were four people present at that more than three hour long meeting in 2004: Woodward, Southerton, Luke Hutchison (currently at MIT completing his doctorate studies), and myself. I did not speak much, but I remember vividly the meeting and listened carefully to the conversation that took place.

During that occasion, Woodward did not “angrily defend” the Book of Mormon, but there was definitely some tension in the room due to what Southerton attempted to do to him in 1998. As I already stated, Southerton admitted to sending communications to LDS leaders in an attempt to purposely hurt Woodward’s academic position at BYU, and said he was sorry for what he did. However, we had a hard time believing that he was sincere in his apologies since his recent book Losing a Lost Tribe contained several innuendos about the nature of Woodward’s work with SMGF, insisting on possible connections with the search for Lamanite DNA evidence.

Woodward and Hutchison explained to Southerton the complexity surrounding the issue of identifying unknown Israelite DNA among modern Native American populations, the limited data available at the time, the limitations in building or interpreting phylogenetic trees, and other basic population genetic principles as they pertain to the arrival of a small family group in an already largely populated continent. It was emphasized over and over that DNA may or may not yield in the future any evidence about a non-Asian contribution to the modern Native American gene-pool, but the bottom line is that any attempt of using genetic data to support or attack the Book of Mormon is highly complicated and fails to put this matter to rest. Eventually Southerton admitted that he did not know much about population genetics (he is a plant geneticist) and that he did not understand phylogenies but, nonetheless, he was still “very proud of his book.” That pretty much ended that long debate…

No one at that meeting (except, apparently, Southerton) recalls any mention of “finding exciting new evidence that supported the Book of Mormon,” particularly with regards to the work done at SMGF, as DNA and family history data collected in the first few years of the project were mainly of Anglo-Saxon extraction. However, references were made about the work of researchers from other universities publishing data that did not fit with the classic “Asian” markers as found among the majority of pre-Columbian groups. In some cases, the hypotheses surrounding their possible presence in the Western Hemisphere are still a matter of dispute (these arguments have already been discussed elsewhere and basically they have been promptly dismissed by those criticizing the historicity of the Book of Mormon).

This month in the scientific journal Current Biology, Woodward co-authors a research paper that clearly demonstrates that the ancestors the American Indians arrived in North America over 15,000 years ago via two routes from Asia (http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(08)01618-7). The founders brought 5 major maternal DNA lineages with them, named A, B, C, D and X. One group of founders brought the X lineage to the region adjacent to the Great Lakes as they migrated between ice sheets across what is now central Canada. The other group followed the Pacific coast, probably bringing the other four DNA lineages (A, B, C and D).

An international team of 16 scientists worked on this research for the past 18 months. Dr. Achilli and I were the leading authors on this project, which was conducted under the mentorship of the corresponding author, Dr. Antonio Torroni. All the other authors contributed to some degree to the developing of the project, the analysis of the data, and the writing of the manuscript. I find it interesting how Woodward was singled out by Southerton for his contribution to this research paper. (By the way, the link provided in Southerton’s post does not work. A summary is available at this address. For a copy of the full article, please contact me directly at ugo@smgf.org).

Geneticists in the past emphasized a single arrival for the first Paleo-Indians and this was in clear opposition with scientists from other fields (linguists, anthropologists, archaeologists, etc.), as they were convinced that there is enough evidence to support a multi-origin of all the modern Native Americans. Our paper shifts the position of population geneticists to be more in line with researchers from other fields.

There are currently eleven recognized mitochondrial DNA lineages among modern Native American populations: A2, B2, C1b, C1c, C1d, D1, C4c, D2, D3, D4h3, and X2a. Approximately 95% of modern Native American maternal lineages belong to one of the first six in this list. The others are considered rare lineages. The paper discusses two of these less common mtDNA haplogroups (D4h3 and X2a). D4h3 was identified as a new Native American lineage for the first time in 2007, when DNA extracted from the remains of a 10,300 year old skeleton found in Alaska yielded a genetic sequence that did not match any of the known Native American mtDNA haplogroups. A careful survey of DNA databases identified a significant number of previously unclassified DNA sequences in modern Native American populations belonging to this new haplogroup, which was eventually called D4h3. Although D4h3 is also of probable Asian origin, this important discovery underlines the problematic issue with genetic sequences that were initially ignored simply because they did not fit with the classic “Asian” haplogroups. It is possible that in the years to come, additional rare lineages will be identified both in modern and ancient samples.

The migratory routes followed by the ancestors of these two rare lineages were drawn based on the available data, as it was inferred by the distribution of mtDNAs collected and analyzed in the modern population. These conclusions may be adjusted at future times based on new data both from DNA and/or from other fields. In fact, the paper starts with this clear statement: “When and from where did the first Americans arrive, and what migratory routes did they follow? Scientists from several disciplines continue to search for answers to these questions, but, despite new important evidence, the debate concerning the peopling of the Americas is far from resolved.” Southerton, on the other hand, thinks that this matter is clearly already resolved.

In this paper Woodward helps bury a pile of apologetic trash from both the Mesoamerican (church approved) and Heartland (church still watching) Geographists who have variously claimed in the past that the X lineage came from Israel. The X lineage is conclusively shown to have arrived in the New World thousands of years before the Book of Mormon period.

None of these studies on Native Americans, including the current one published in January 2009 in Current Biology were designed to address the Lamanite/Book of Mormon issue. Data for this study were collected and analyzed with the objective of shedding new light about the origins of Paleo-Indians; not to identify additional migratory events in the following millennia and the role they may have played in re-shaping the genetic pool already existing in America’s double continent. Therefore, I don’t see how “Woodward” is helping in burying anything here, particularly with regards to Southerton’s personal interpretation of what is considered “church approved.”

Some LDS scholars suggest that haplogroup X2a—found exclusively in northern North America—could be a proof of Lehi’s genetic legacy, but at this time there is not enough data to support these conclusions. Reidla and colleagues in 2003 began exploring the origin and distribution of haplogroup X among the world populations and they concluded that “phylogeography of the subclades of haplogroup X suggests that the Near East is the likely geographical source for the spread of subhaplogroup X2.” Regarding the presence of a few sequences belonging to haplogroup X found in the Altai population of central Asia, the authors commented that “under the assumption that these sequences are a random sample of the Altaian haplogroup X [they provide a] a time depth of <6700 years, and it would suggest that Altaians have acquired haplogroup X2 only relatively recently.” In other words, haplogroup X2 in modern Asian populations is NOT ancestral to haplogroup X2 found in Native Americans. Reidla and colleagues concluded that “the few Altaian and Siberian haplogroup X lineages are not related to the Native American cluster, and they are more likely explained by recent gene flow from Europe or from West Asia.”

Much can still be said about haplogroup X2 in the Americas. In our paper, two sub-branches of the Native American haplogroup X2a have been classified as X2a1 with an estimated age of 9200-9400 years and as X2a2 with an estimated age of 2300-3800 years. A possible third X2a sub-branch (X2a3?) was identified among the indigenous groups of British Columbia in Canada, but there is not sufficient data at this time to confirm this hypothesis. Furthermore, we reported in this paper the discovery of a previously unidentified X2 lineage in an Ojibwa sample – which we named X2g – that has never been previously observed in Native American populations or elsewhere.

Lastly, a paper published on PLoS One in 2008 (Shlush et al.) provides important clues about the possible origin of haplogroup X: “No population or geographic region has been identified to date, in which haplogroup X and its major subhaplogroups are found at both high frequency and high diversity, which could provide a potential clue as to their geographic origin. Here we suggest that the Druze population of northern Israel may represent just such a population.”

Our paper in Current Biology does not discuss (and does not dismiss) a potential ancient origin for haplogroup X in the ancient Near East, as proposed by Shlush and Reidla (and their co-authors, including important names in population genetics such as Michael Hammer, Doron Behar, Toomas Kivisild, Richard Villems, Antonio Torroni, Alessandro Achilli, etc.), but we emphasize how this haplogroup marked a separate migratory event that characterized the history of Native American populations. Apart from anyone who believes haplogroup X to be the ultimate proof marking the arrival of Lehi’s group to the Americas (something that neither Woodward, nor myself advocate), the bottom line is that there is still much to research about the origin and dispersal of this and the other pre-Columbian lineages.

But Woodward is not always so open with his research. Back in 1998 Woodward told me that his group had DNA tested 6500 American Indians from Peru. I could hardly believe it. All other research groups combined at the time had only DNA tested about 2000 American Indians across the entire New World! There can be little doubt that Woodward had been hunting for Lamanite DNA but apologists of course would deny this. Woodward clearly found none because those Peruvian DNA lineages remain unpublished over a decade later.

So, if Woodward participates in a research project using his data, he is criticized for doing so, and if he doesn’t, he is criticized anyway. This seems to be the common theme linking the last two sections presented by Southerton. First he praises Woodward for “burying piles of apologetic trash,” then he criticizes him for hunting Lamanite DNA and not publishing the data he has available! Could there be room for a third explanation? Could it be that Woodward and his colleagues at SMGF are not searching for a genetic fingerprint of Lehi’s descendants in the Americas? Could it be that LDS scholars can actually participate in genuine scientific research without being biased by their personal beliefs? Apparently to some people this last option is mere fantasy!

So, what about the samples described by Woodward in 1998 to Southerton? These are 6500 samples from Peru collected by the late Joel Myres over a period of eight years (Joel passed away in 2001). Most of the samples were typed for a small segment of the mtDNA control region in Woodward’s lab at BYU (which was standard procedure given the cost and technology of 1998) and meticulously recorded in several files. These data were partially published in two research papers and in a scientific poster (references available upon request). Joel was working on four additional manuscripts at the time of his premature death. The files and the 6500 biological specimen are currently in my office and have been shown and shared with a number of researchers that have demonstrated interest in them. This was indeed a remarkable collection of Native American data from a very fascinating geographic area, particularly for 1998, and for sure a greater number of interesting population, medical, and anthropological papers would have been published if Joel was still living. Southerton’s obsession with Lamanite DNA, stands in clear opposition with the anthropological passion Joel had for Peru.

Woodward is now leading an organization (SMGF) that has much more DNA data on American Indians than any other group in the world. His group has undoubtedly DNA tested thousands of individuals from Central America including Mesoamerica. Woodward knows that Mayans, Mesoamericans, Central Americans etc don’t have Israelite ancestors. How long he will hold on to this truth is anyone’s guess.

Woodward has been leading the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) since 2001. That is where Southerton met him in 2004. To date, SMGF has collected DNA samples and genealogical data from approximately 105,000 volunteer participants representing more than 170 countries. These samples have been sequenced and linked to corresponding family history records and regularly uploaded in a public database on the project website at www.smgf.org. Additionally, these data have been used to produce a number of scientific publications with researchers from both the US and internationally (see a partial list online). Our dataset includes thousands of samples from Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. Southerton insists that all these data, the years of work, the resources employed, the collaborations with scientists from other institutions and universities, the publications, etc. have as an ultimate purpose the discovery of Israelite DNA in the Americas and we are failing at it. Further, in Southerton’s viewpoint not only are we failing at what he erroneously insists is our goal, but we are suffering the failure without admitting it.

The ‘truth’ that Israelite DNA (whatever that might be) has not been found in Mesoamerica is public knowledge, a concept that finds Woodward and me with peace of mind. But Southerton is obsessed with the hopeless idea that Woodward and others at SMGF are still searching restlessly for this genetic link so that we can finally reconcile our LDS beliefs and be done with our work!

Perhaps the time has come for Southerton to recognize the considerable contribution that Woodward and the SMGF team have brought both to the scientific and the genealogical community, continuing to pursue the initial mission of building a genetic database to be used as a valuable research and humanitarian tool. This database was voted as one of the best genealogical resources available on the internet (for the years 2007 and 2008) out of more than 300,000 genealogical websites by the popular Family Tree Magazine.

Thankfully there is a public effort in progress that will be looking at large numbers of American Indians from all across the Americas. https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/lan/en/about.html
We can expect that data to be published in a timely manner over the next couple of years.

Southerton concludes his remarks with a reference to the National Geographic’s Genographic Project that has been also collecting thousands of DNA samples worldwide with the objective of reconstructing the history of mankind as it developed thousands of years ago. The Genographic Project is definitely praiseworthy and Woodward and colleagues have met in the past with some of its key researchers. As with other groups, we have been exploring opportunities to collaborate and share our data to further scientific knowledge in the field of anthropology, genealogy, and history. The Genographic Project, just like SMGF, has already published a number of important scientific papers on different populations. Contrary to SMGF, they have not yet published a single paper on Native American populations, but we are exploring the possibility to share our data with them as they had some difficulties collecting the necessary samples among indigenous groups from the Western Hemisphere (see for example an article published in the New York Times).

Despite Southerton’s continued efforts to discredit the professional integrity of institutions and/or individuals affiliated with the LDS faith, the debate about the origin of Native American populations is still wide open as demonstrated by the great amount of scholarship that scientists from different fields are still producing today. Rather than pick and choose from the scientific literature what fits best with his personal interpretation of the history of the Western Hemisphere, Southerton should attempt his own population genetic study to test the hypothesis for “Lamanite DNA.” He will soon “discover” the limitations with designing such a research project, the difficulties in obtaining and processing the necessary ancient and modern DNA samples (including those for comparison), find “reconciliation” between his conclusions with those from other disciplines (such as linguistic, archaeology, anthropology, paleontology, etc.), find a suitable journal with a high impact factor that will publish his work, and be ready to reply to criticisms from other scientists, including geneticists. Through this experiment he might finally realize the complexity of such proposition and understand that others are not actively pursuing a similar objective.

The Book of Mormon withstood 180 years of criticism and it should be evident by now that man-made philosophies alone can neither destroy nor support its truthfulness. The book itself provides a pattern to know if it is from God or from man. As a scientist and as a member of the LDS faith, I find no difficulties in reconciling my scientific passion about Native American history with my religious beliefs. I am not looking for a personal testimony of the Book of Mormon in the double helix. The scientific method and the test of faith are two strongly connected dimensions of my existence, working synergistically in providing greater understanding, knowledge, and from time to time even a glimpse into God’s eternal mysteries.

I have always been fascinated with ancient civilizations and I look forward to my involvement in future genetic studies that would contribute to a greater understanding of human history, including that of Native American populations.

-Ugo Perego

98 thoughts on “Current Biology, SMGF, and Lamanites

  1. Louis Midgley

    I wonder if Alex DeGaston, see above, currently thinks of himself as a Latter-day Saint, or has he shed the identity he once made a covenant to follow–that is, to take upon himself the name of the Messiah or Christ. Or, moving in a different direction, he could think of himself as French because of his father’s surname, or does he choose to identify with some portion of his mother’s ancestors? He could, of course, if it suited his purposes, pick some special identity from a whole host of ancestors or from no ancestor at all. If he will think about how identities, including kinship identities, are formed and transformed, he will begin to see why his supposedly devastating remarks are confused. I wonder what identity he hopes his own children will come to adopt. They could, if so disposed, eventually come to think of themselves as French or Polish or whatever, given the way kinship labels tend to work. I have witnessed individuals insist that they were Maori when the best they could come up with is one ancestor out of 64 or 128. They would insist that they were Maori in their hearts or at their core. And others would welcome them as such. Just two days ago I received an email message from a Maori who addressed me in terms that included me among his kinship. If Alex will think about these things, he will have the answer to his question. Put another way, if we make and then strive to keep the covenant we make with God, we are thereby transformed into the seed or children of Christ and join his extended family.

  2. Ugo Perego Post author

    To Theodore:

    Perhaps the following article by Hugh Nibley (Before Adam) can offer you an alternative and less orthodox view on the creation: http://farms.byu.edu/publications/transcripts/?id=73. By no means I take the words of Professor Nibley as the revealed gospel and the talk itself is quite outdated in few parts as it is nearly 30 years old (for example it is now evident through genetic data that the Neanderthals are not the ancestors to modern humans). However, I like Nibley’s take on the subject as it is very much in line with some of my thoughts when I study the creation accounts through my scientist glasses, particularly the one given in the 4th chapter of the Book of Abraham:
    20. And the Gods said: Let us prepare the waters to bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that have life; the fowls, that they may fly above the earth in the open expanse of heaven.
    21 And the Gods prepared the waters that they might bring forth great awhales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters were to bring forth abundantly after their kind; and every winged fowl after their kind. And the Gods saw that they would be obeyed, and that their plan was good.
    24 And the Gods prepared the earth to bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind; and it was so, as they had said.
    25 And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth the beasts after their kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after its kind; and the Gods saw they would obey.

    Note that it was the waters (primordial soup?) and the earth that brought forth the moving and living creatures. The Gods prepared the “ingredients” and blessed them.

    Regarding: “Do you not agree that God commanded every form of life to multiply each after their own kind, in their own sphere and element?” My simplistic explanation (and opinion) on this subject is that there could be little or unnoticeable difference between two generations of the same living origanism, but after hundreds or thousands of generations, these differences could be more evident to the point that you may argue that the original living form is ancestral to the one observed today. Therefore, the law of multiplying after their own kind is respected from one generation to the next, but “bended” when comparison is made between organisms separated by a very large number of generations.

  3. Alex Degaston

    You raise some good points Lou. Looking back a few generations in my own family I see that about 200 years before I was born was the average birth year for my 64 great-great-great-great grandparents. Assuming 3 generations per century would make 60 generations going back 20 centuries to circa 30 BC. That’s over a quintillion placeholders in the 60th generation going back. Undoubtedly there was some overlap with plenty of distant cousins intermarrying. There has been plenty of DNA mixing going on.

    In the 60th generation there is only one pure paternal line (i.e. y-ch DNA). Likewise there is only one pure maternal line (i.e. m-DNA). And that’s where I focus my questions on DNA studies as they relate to the Book of Mormon.

  4. Allen Wyatt

    Theodore said:

    I have the luxury of speaking only for myself, from my own reasoning from the scriptures. Living prophets must be more guarded or they will stir up a hornets nest for the Church.

    I have a problem with what you seem to be implying—that the Brethren say one thing in public but another in private. It is (to me) tantamount to saying “well, if the Brethren were really free to talk, you would find out that they agree with me.” That is an assertion without evidence, honestly.

    If your implication is true, then it is possible that they keep their private speculations (including those about the origins of life) out of the public sphere because they are just that—speculations. And, those speculations could be just as strong for evolution as against it; it cuts both ways.

    Do you not agree that God commanded every form of life to multiply each after their own kind, in their own sphere and element? And, do you not agree that God said that all forms of life obeyed His commands to do so?

    I agree that this is what scripture reports. As to whether God really did those things or whether the ancients felt it was self-evident that God must have done those things, I can’t really say.

    If you agree to those statements, how would you conclude that God used evolution to fill the earth?

    I don’t conclude what you assert that I am concluding. What I conclude is very simple—we don’t know. We don’t know if God spoke and everything came about and operated by command (which is very close to the concept of creation ex nihilio, which which I disagree) or if God used natural methods (including evolution) to bring about His purposes.

    The bottom line is that He has not revealed the means by which He created the Earth and everything in it. I trust that someday I will understand, and until then I am willing to have an open mind on both sides.

    -Allen

  5. Craig Paxton

    Theodore Brandley Said:

    Evolution is a popular and interesting theory but it is not a proven fact.

    …………………………………………………..

    HUH? You’re kidding right? With all due respect Theodore, Gravity is only a theory but I seriously doubt you questions its existance.

    The only people I know that do not accept evolution as fact are those people that have not studied it. May I suggest an excellent introduction to evolution “Evolution” by Carl Zimmer, after reading this book, I seriously doubt that you will be able to question the reality of Evolution.

    Oh and it’s ok to study Evolution…BYU teaches it so you already have a subtle green light from the First Presidency.

  6. Mike Parker

    Craig wrote:

    I still would hope that in light of scientific reality, the First Presedency would come out and make a definitive statement with respect to this question rather than allowing the membership of the church to speculate.

    I agree with you, Craig, that evolution is a fact. And I wholeheartedly agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky’s conclusion that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” The evidence for it is overwhelming, and the arguments against it are extremely weak.

    There has been and continues to be rejection of evolution among doctrinally hard-line Mormons (there’s that fundamentalism again). This resistance has a long history, going back to the publication of Darwin’s work 150 years ago. It is a mirror of the larger Christian community’s difficulty squaring science with a literal reading of the Bible.

    And that last sentence is important to understanding what’s going on here. There is nothing in Mormon scripture or revelation that invalidates evolution, only in the interpretation by some of that scripture and revelation. Some prominent Latter-day Saint leaders were comfortable with evolution (most notably James E. Talmage), while others railed against it (most notably Joseph Fielding Smith). While many Latter-day Saints have followed JFS’s approach, many others have not. Well-known LDS scientist Henry Eyring (father of the current apostle) believed in an old earth and rejected JFS’s arguments. Today there are even blogs by LDS scientists who advocate for evolution.

    As to how today’s Church leaders feel, note the BYU news article Trevor previously posted. Evolution is taught at BYU without hesitation or reserve. BYU’s board of trustees is made up largely of members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve; they could shut down the teaching of evolution today, if they wanted. Instead, they allow free and fair instruction of it without religious interference. Personally, I think that speaks volumes.

    So why doesn’t the Church take a stand on the veracity of evolution? I think there are two reasons:

    1. The purpose of the Church is to reveal and teach spiritual truths that will bring salvation to men and women. Scientific truths are interesting, but largely irrelevant our salvation.
    2. There has been no revelation from God on the subject of evolution, and the Brethren won’t make a statement without one.

    So while the truth of evolution seem indisputable to me, and I sometimes struggle with what I see as an anti-intellectual strain among some Mormons with whom I associate, ultimately whether one accepts or rejects it has not bearing on whether we are saved in the kingdom of God. And so I maintain my friendships with Saints who don’t believe as I do on evolution, and enjoy the healthy debate I have with them, and rejoice that we’re all still brothers and sisters in the gospel.

  7. Craig Paxton

    So a pattern is immerging…let me see if I am correctly interpreting your brand of Mormonism…

    You reject:

    The young earth theory as set in scripture in D&C 77

    The Mormon scripture/doctrine that demands death being introduced with the fall.

    A universal flood that baptized the earth (so the earth had a catholic baptism of sprinkling?)

    The scripturalized historical Babel story

    You accept that:

    Mormon Prophets are Fallible, subject to human error and are often wrong

    Evolution is a reality and is God’s tool for creation (interesting accommodation)

    The earth is Billions of years old…more than likely just as science claims…4.5 billion give or take a few million years.

    The America’s where pre-populated prior to Lehi’s supposed arrival

    Humankind emerged out of Africa and not Missouri.

    The America’s were not touched by the flood…thus its inhabitants were also unaffected as was the majority of the worlds population. (This accommodation seems to undermine a lot of the Bible’s credibility but I’m ok with that)

    Human-kind has existed in its present form for 10’s of thousands of years (coincidently just like science claims)
    Death has existed for literally billions not thousands of years.

    The revelatory powers of the Mormon “Brethren” are more human feeling based rather than an actual physical experience…i.e. feelings rather than a personal P.P.I. with Jesus on a monthly basis. (although I may have gone too far on that one…I think most of you still beleive that Jesus physically makes regular visits with his annointed church leaders)

    Hmmm…maybe there is hope for me…we agree on a whole lot more than I could have imagined. But I still don’t know how in light of Mormon doctrine you make these accommodations…although I understand why you do.

  8. Mike Parker

    Craig,

    I pretty much agree with your list, with a few exceptions:

    • D&C 77 doesn’t require a belief in a “young earth,” although some have interpreted it that way. (You might be interested in the class notes I prepared on this subject; see pages 8–10 of this PDF document. Yes, I taught exactly what’s written there in a stake-sponsored class of 30 adults, without so much as a gasp or a raised eyebrow.)
    • Mormon scripture doesn’t “demand death being introduced with the fall,” although that’s one way to interpret it. As Theodore mentioned, above, there is only one scripture that comes close to this (2 Nephi 2:22), and even that is open to interpretation.
    • The notion that the Flood represented a “baptism” of the earth is not scriptural or based on revelation.
    • I wouldn’t say that LDS prophets are “often wrong,” but they are subject to their own beliefs, opinions, and interpretations. When they speak authoritatively, they speak for the Lord. But even then we don’t subscribe to any doctrine of infallibility.
    • I accept the reality of revelation (I’ve experienced it myself), so I wouldn’t say the Brethren’s experience is “more human feeling based” in any way. Revelation happens; that I know. How much personal experience they have had with Jesus Christ, that I don’t know. My reading on this leads me to believe that their witness need not be a physical one. (I don’t believe that President Monson has lunch with Jesus every Thursday.)

    And, FWIW, I know lots of other Latter-day Saints who believe like I do. Your experience seems to be limited to only the most extremely orthodox Mormons, but they are not the sum total of the Church, especially among those who have done any serious reading of Church history and doctrine.

  9. Louis Midgley

    Alex wrote: “In the 60th generation there is only one pure paternal line (i.e. y-ch DNA). Likewise there is only one pure maternal line (i.e. m-DNA). And that’s where I focus my questions on DNA studies as they relate to the Book of Mormon.” I am not sure I would use the term “pure” the way he does. Even those who carry those markers also carry a huge mixture of genetic material. So in this sense Alex is wrong. There are only two markers that, at least at this time, can be used in population genetics. But, for various reasons, the identities we think of when we refer to the descendants of the Lehi colony or to the Maori or to the French or Brits are social constructions and do not low grade genetic science. With the desire Alex seems to have of identifying a pure Lamanite, I must point out that there has been in any reasonable view, mixing of genetic materials that simply cannot now be tracked. This is one of he reasons why the insertion of a small group into a much larger population will probably not leave a trace that can now be identified. And this is one of several reasons why Simon Southerton was wrong to turn to population genetics to try to justify his having gone missing. Alex and others need to figure out exactly why Southerton once admitted that, if the Lehi colony arrived in an already populated America, which is the standard belief now among educated Latter-day Saints, the possibility of identifying a Lehi marker, if it that was even known with certainty, would be next to impossible.

    Ugo Perego’s comments made a solid contribution to getting these matters sorted out. His commentary helps us to understand what was driving Southerton ventures. And getting these things sorted out does not assist those who want to hang their unfaith on his opinions. This appears to be the reason Craig Paxton shifted away from a discussion of DNA and the Book of Mormon. And hence why he shifted, instead, to a list of elements in folk Mormonism that he thinks one must believe and defend or else go missing. From my perspective what he must have been, if his list is at all an accurate reflection of his version of folk Mormonism, is a kind of Protestant fundamentalist type of Latter-day Saint. He does not seem to have been at all focused on the core elements of the faith–the doctrine or gospel of Christ–that is on the absolute necessity of repentance (or turning or returning to God and away from the ways of the world), or on faith (understood as trust in the Holy One of Israel for redemption from death and sin), and on the necessity of allowing the Holy Spirit to burn out of us the old stuff and transform us into new sanctified beings that Jesus Christ (the God of the Old Testament) in the final judgment can present to his father (known at times as the Most High God and the one Jesus called Daddy when he prayed) as now justified and hence ready to live in the presence of divine beings.

    Craig seems obsessed with the necessity of the Saints entertaining as opinions the idea that Adam got booted out of the garden park in 4000BCE, or that death started at that moment, or that the story of the flood that is found in the Bible demands that we believe that mountains well over twenty thousand feet high were covered with water, of course, without being able to explain where all that water came from or went, and so forth. I have always believed that the meaning of that story for those who told it was based on some large local event. The land that was covered was the land as they knew it. I have also always believed in some version of organic evolution. Put another way, I have never thought of the grounds and contents of my faith required me to make war on sciences. Most of my colleagues at BYU, in one way or another, share my unwillingness to imitate the worst elements of Protestant fundamentalism by making war on all intellectual endeavors, including the natural sciences.

    Hence, I do not need and do not expect or want the Brethren to be issuing official statements in which they sort these things out for me. They seem properly content to let the sciences, which hopefully are in the long term self-corrective, sort these matters out. It appears, unfortunately, that Craig started out believing that the Brethren must be infallible and that every element of folk Mormonism must be made by them to appear in harmony with every other item, or the Church is not what he imagined it claimed to be, to borrow some of the language from one of his friends.

    I am not, of course, pleased with those Craig calls “cafeteria Mormons,” but I also believe that it is wise and necessary for the Saints to jettison some elements of folk Mormonism, including much or what is found in Mormon Doctrine and other similar efforts to fashion a dogmatic theology. The reason is that the Saints, I believe, should be focus on the redemption from sin and death provided by Jesus of Nazareth. One reason is that we live by stories and not by dogmatic theology, much of which turns out to be mere speculation piled on speculation that tends to decoy us from what is crucial in our faith. We do not or at least should not strive to live by creeds for dogmatic theology but by faith–that is, by discovering in our lives the wondrous, enchanted and enchanting world described for us in our scriptures and in the founding story of the Restoration. We must live in the Light and not just talk about it as it it were some ideology. Striving to do this should take all the wind out of our sails and hence dampen our urge to harmonize and speculate.

    I regret seeing RfM type former fundamentalist Saints turn up on this blog. It seems that they have come here in an effort to justify their rebellion against God. I am confident that they can gain the applause they seek on other venues. And I am also puzzled by Craig Paxton’s list of what he sees as absurdities that he wants to insist must be part of the opinions of the Saints, on the false assumption that what is revealed to Prophets and seen by Seers is a kind of alternative science. While saluting what he calls science, he also gives the back of his hand to his former faith. I am genuinely interested in figuring out what drives people like Craig. I wonder why those like Craig, who have fled the faith, don’t find something better to do than post up a storm trying to convince themselves and others of the folly of faith. Why is it that someone like Craig must constantly busy themselves making war on the faith of the Saints. Isn’t there something better they can think of doing with what remains of their probation? If all they are is an accident of blind chance, can’t they find something better to do with their time before, as they must insist, their light goes out permanently? Their passionate religious devotion to their unfaith is, for me, puzzling. I simply don’t believe that their constant version of secular “home teaching” or pulpit preaching is part of a therapy they must endure to rid themselves of the evils inflicted on them in Sunday School. But an additional puzzle is why they cannot remain focused on the topic of a blog, in this case the soundness of Southeton’s opining about DNA and the Book of Mormon.

  10. Mike Parker

    I heartily second Lou’s remarks, above. The purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ is to bring people to Christ, not to bring them to a correct scientific understanding or whatever.

    Whether my opinion on the age of the earth is correct or not has no bearing whatsoever on whether I have been regenerated by allowing the Holy Spirit to make me into what God wants me to be.

    Unfortunately, two or three now-deceased LDS leaders have gathered up a following among the Saints by teaching that correct beliefs about evolution and other such things are essential to salvation. On this point I vigorously disagree with them. If God can forgive my unjust acts that offend others, he can certainly forgive any of my errors in reasoning that offend no one.

    And that is ultimately what concerns me most — forgiveness and exaltation.

  11. Ken Taylor

    In addition to what I wrote earlier, I’d like to add, after having read all the posts here to date, there seems to be a strong tendency on the part of active LDS posters here, to base comments they make on the rather condecending premise of “Here’s where you are wrong about almost everything” and/or “We’ve already addressed the issues many times” and/or “If you think about it some more, you’ll find out that I’m right, after all” and/or “I’m sorry for you.”

    At least Craig politely acknowledges that he learned something from you. I can’t say the same.

    How can a church that purports to be ‘the only true church on the face of the earth’ and also ‘the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ” – NOT be able to clearly and definitively answer, through a prophet of God, basic questions about the origins of human beings?

    To use the general TBM approach in this discussion, there is an elephant in your room. And when you acknowledge it and deal with it, you will eventually come to accept reality.

  12. Mike Parker

    Ken,

    The irony of you chastising the Saints for being condescending and then telling us to “accept reality” is quite thick.

    The biological origin of human beings has been the subject of much speculation among Mormons since at least the days of Brigham Young. I find it interesting, however, that our scriptures are entirely focused on the covenant relationship between men and God. That is what is important when it comes to salvation.

    And salvation is what the Latter-day Saints as a group are concerned about, not scientific understanding.

  13. Allen Wyatt

    Ken,

    How is your last statement (“when you acknowledge it and deal with it, you will eventually come to accept reality”) any different than the types of statements you decry among other comments (such as “if you think about it some more, you’ll find out I’m right”)? It is not productive to resort to stereotyping while engaging in the same stereotyping.

    In reading back through the comments, I don’t think anyone gave a blanket renunciation of Craig’s comments. Mike agreed with many of them. Craig, in turn, asked how someone could reconcile what he saw as irreconcilable. And, the answers were provided. From those answers Craig said he learned from that he and at least Mike Parker “agree on a whole lot more than I could have imagined.”

    That isn’t condescension; that’s discussion.

    -Allen

  14. Ken Taylor

    Mike, I was reluctantly using YOUR approach, in spite of the fact that I do believe what I wrote. If you read what I wrote more carefully, you’d have seen that. (Thick?)

    You say your scriptures are “…entirely focused on the covenant relationship between men and God.” I don’t think so.

    Agreed, in the context of Mormonism, salvation is paramount to science.

    But to me, it’s truth — at any and all levels.

  15. Theodore Brandley

    Ugo,

    My simplistic explanation (and opinion) on this subject is that there could be little or unnoticeable difference between two generations of the same living origanism, but after hundreds or thousands of generations, these differences could be more evident to the point that you may argue that the original living form is ancestral to the one observed today. Therefore, the law of multiplying after their own kind is respected from one generation to the next, but “bended” when comparison is made between organisms separated by a very large number of generations.

    There are two problems with this theory. First, it assumes that if the created creatures broke the command of God a little bit at time God would still consider them as obeying Him, even though in the end they produced an entirely different creature. I don’t think He would let us get away with that in our own lives. :-) Second, this is not consistent with the fossil record. The fossil record does not show this gradual, blending transition but shows various periods when a plethora of new species suddenly come into existence, which is consistent with the scriptural record.

    Allen,

    I have a problem with what you seem to be implying—that the Brethren say one thing in public but another in private. It is (to me) tantamount to saying “well, if the Brethren were really free to talk, you would find out that they agree with me.” That is an assertion without evidence, honestly.

    I apologize that I gave you that impression. I was not implying that at all. I’m sure that some of the Brethren would privately agree with you and some may even agree with me. As you have pointed out, and what I was implying in my post, is that these things are of private speculations. That is why I can speak openly about these things but they cannot.

    Being that you are willing to have an open mind on this issue you might consider the following:

    Because our natural and scientific knowledge of the power and workings of God are limited we tend to confine His methods to concepts we can more easily understand and relate to. What we understand we call natural processes and what we do not understand we call supernatural. The supernatural is discounted by most scientists. For example, with our present understanding of physics we cannot relate to how Jesus got His resurrected physical body through the walls or the ceiling of a locked room so that His disciples could feel the prints of the nails in His hands. So, most scientists discount this event as fiction.

    Moses was a highly educated warrior and engineer. After the Lord showed him the vision of every particle of this earth and every inhabitant thereof (past, present and future), the first response from the enquiring mind of Moses was to ask the Lord two questions. “Why did you do it,” and, “how did you do it?” (paraphrase from Moses 1:27-30) The Lord was very direct in His answer to both questions. To the “why” question the Lord answered, “To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). To the “how” question the Lord was equally concise and direct, “By the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son” (Moses 1:32). The power of God is such that the elements of the universe are controlled by His words. The creation account is clear that when God commanded things to happen “it was so even as I spake” (Moses 2:11). Even Satan understood this. He said to Jesus, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread” (Matthew 4:3). Water to wine; instantly providing cooked loaves of bread and fish flesh; walking on and calming water; were simple demonstrations that He was the creator and that He created and controlled the earth by His words. Nephi understood this when he said, “If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done (1 Nephi 17:50). Lazarus had been dead four days and his body was decomposing and rotting, but at the command of the Son of God, Lazarus came forth from the tomb alive. In my opinion, God didn’t need, or use, a low tech “natural” process that we can now relate to in order to create the earth. The fossil record does not match the theory of evolution but it does match the scriptural account.

    Theodore

  16. Seth R.

    “As you have pointed out, and what I was implying in my post, is that these things are of private speculations.”

    If you’d just leave it there Theodore, that would be great.

    It’s when you start asserting that we all have to follow your private interpretation that we have problems.

  17. Louis Midgley

    I notice that some who have for whatever reason gone missing now insist that the Saints must read this or that passage of scripture in the most wooden possible way. They do this in an effort to argue that what the Saints must believe is such that a moments reflection on science will demonstrate that their faith is absurd and hence must be abandoned. They insist that the faith of the Saints is absurd because it is challenged at every possible point by what they understand as science. But it turns out that in the case of population genetics, they are simply wrong, as has been demonstrated on this blog and elsewhere. So they slide around that issue. And trot out their favorite laundry list of silly things Latter-day Saints have believed, none of which are crucial to the faith of the Saints. While on probation, we are not having our intellect tested. If that were the case, we would have no hope whatsoever. The good news—the gospel—is that death is not the end, this life is a probation, and we can, if we desire, avoid the consequences of sin by seeking the gifts offered to us by our God. I do not think we are being tested on how well we have mastered the rules of chess, or how well we did in selling used cars or insurance to talking people into investing in stock. Or how well we mastered the current science. But if we use our understanding or misunderstanding of some science to justify our rebellion against God, then we have dug a big hole for ourselves. The gospel of Jesus Christ requires the right deeds and not the right opinions. No thoughtful person can imagine that God is alarmed at our holding the wrong opinion about something. But anyone who has even glanced at the scriptures must see that God is profoundly concerned about our deeds.

    On this blog we have seen evidence that some once seemingly Protestant fundamentalist type Saints now claim to have been taught to read see in the scriptures answers to questions that the authors of the language they mine could not possibly have asked and clearly were not addressing. They insist that the scriptures coupled with every opinion ever uttered by one of the Brethren must somehow add up to a system that has to be at war at every point with truth, where truth is understood as science as they imagine science to be. From my perspective, they end up having one imaginary Straw Man doing battle with another Straw Man. They clearly have employed these images as part of their argumentative ploy. My hunch is that they do this as a way of convincing themselves that they are all for truth and nothing but the truth, and so forth. They even boast of how they are sincere and honest. And if the faithful were like them, then faith would presumably evaporate.

    It is, from my perspective, clear to thoughtful and faithful Saints, those who have passed through the inevitable challenges to some initial naïve faith, that their faith is not necessarily in conflict with what goes on in the sciences. One obvious reason is that the scriptures are not badly conceived science. They are, instead, primarily stories, always from the perspective of the believes, of some of their encounters with God, and then what they learned the hard way by not keeping faithfully the covenants they once made. The scriptures do not teach a physics or a geology—they are not what is commonly called theoretical but practical or moral. It is true that there are some myths about the sciences that since the Enlightenment have functioned as a kind of substitute religion—what is often called scientism—that are latched onto by those whose experience within the Church of Jesus Christ has been closely patterned after the very worst of what is found in Protestant fundamentalism, who end up using that nonsense as a stick to beat the Church. But the faith of the Saints does not rest, for example, on some speculation by the Bishop of Ussher about when Adam got the boot from the garden or on the age of the earth and so forth.

    My advice to those who insist on parading their prattle, in the name of honesty and truth, against the faith of the Saints, is to either stick to getting clear on the problems in Simon Southerton’s rationalization for his having gone missing or take their act to some venue where they can get some unfaith supporting applause from the rabble.

  18. Mike Parker

    Ken,

    You strike me as a textbook example of a fundamentalist, orthodox Mormon who encountered science and reason and had your rigid preconceptions shattered — along with your faith. You’re out of the Church, but you’re still as fundamentalist as you were before, only now you’ve replaced the falsehood of an inerrant Gospel with the falsehood of inerrant Science.

    Now you come demanding that we be fundamentalist Mormons like you were, so we too can have our faith shredded and replaced by Perfect Reason.

    But we don’t have to fall for that false dilemma, when there are other alternatives that incorporate both perspectives quite adequately.

  19. Theodore Brandley

    Seth,

    It’s when you start asserting that we all have to follow your private interpretation that we have problems.

    I don’t recall asserting that everyone has to follow me, and if I did it was not intentional. As I mentioned to Allen above, “you might consider the following.” What I have said is intended to be persuasive, not assertive.

    Theodore

  20. P. K. Andersen

    Craig,

    You wrote,

    I still would hope that in light of scientific reality, the First Presedency would come out and make a definitive statement with respect to this question rather than allowing the membership of the church to speculate.

    The First Presidency has declined to offer definitive statements on important scientific issues such as Special Relativity, Quantum Electrodynamics, or the Big Bang.

    And why should they comment on such things? As others have already pointed out, the First Presidency has other concerns.

    You seem to be saying that it is a bad thing that the church members are allowed to speculate. What do you have against speculation?

    You also wrote,

    Evolution is a fact. Period. It would be nice to understand how this reality can be better understood in light of church doctrines.

    Suppose we agree to accept the theory of evolution as true in the scientific sense (that is, not falsified). How does that that understanding affect in any way the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

  21. Mike Parker

    Many Latter-day Saint leaders would agree with you, BHodges, including, but not limited to:

    • Parley P. Pratt
    • Orson Pratt
    • James E. Talmage (PhD in geology)
    • B. H. Roberts
    • John A. Widtsoe (PhD in chemistry)
    • Russell M. Nelson (PhD in surgery)
    • Richard G. Scott (nuclear engineer)

    And also LDS scientists like:

    • Henry Eyring (pioneered the application of quantum mechanics to chemistry)
    • Joseph F. Merrill (PhD in physics from Johns Hopkins)
    • Duane Jeffrey (PhD in zoology and genetics)

    And many others that I’m not including here.

    It’s unfortunate that the contributions of all these men to LDS thought on the sciences have been lost by focusing on two or three Mormon leaders who were, by most definition, anti-science.

  22. Louis Midgley

    Whoever P. K. Andersen is, he has made some very good points in what he just posted. In addition, his use of the word “falsified” is a clue that he probably understands how science is currently often thought to work. And also perhpas why it seems to consist of what are sometimes called conjectures and refutations.

  23. David Farnsworth

    I am 53 years old. I studied evolution in school in the 1960s and 1970s. In Provo Utah (the heart of Mormondom). At Provo HS and then at BYU.

    So why this insistence that what people are saying here about Mormonism and science is NEW? Ever since I can remember it has been like this.

  24. Ken Taylor

    Mike,

    Sorry to disappoint you, but you’ve got it wrong about me. I don’t expect to convince you otherwise. But why not try? I’ve heard your “Ex-Mormon Fundamentalist argument” from others, many times before now.

    Frankly, it’s just a little too “neat” of you to put me in that box – I just don’t fit in it, and I never have, even when I was IN the church. I have PLENTY of room in my mind and heart for uncertainty, and believe me, there is PLENTY of it.

    But I know when I’ve been lied to. And lies do not sit well with me.

    Why, I ask myself, do TBMs INSIST that an honest search for the truth is “fundamentalism?” Beats me, but that’s what it seems like many TBMs do.

    I do not demand anything of you, Mike. But the attitudes, arguments and tones I see here on this particular thread of this blog remind me of some pseudo-authoritative religious leaders who has come to set me straight. And that was my point from the beginning.

    By the way, if there is a “textbook” about “fundamentalist, orthodox Mormons” there must be a lot of them around. Would you not be led to wonder why there are so many? They might be wrong, but there sure are a LOT of them these days.

    And for the record, I freely admit that science is NOT inerrant, as you imply I might think. I’ve noted that both science AND faith are corrected fairly regularly. Science is hardly “perfect reason.” (Where did you get THAT idea?)

    No, Mike, you needn’t “fall” for anything at all. You’ve got the “only true church on earth” in which you are apparently an advanced believer and thinker, and you can formulate thoughts and ideas that fit with your personal philosophy. The “best of all possible worlds.”

    More power to you. Just watch out for the elephant.

    Peace.

  25. Craig Paxton

    Whenever I venture onto the FAIR-Blog I feel as if I’ve entered the Twilight Zone or an Alternative Universe where reality is sacrificed for the sake of maintaining belief.

    It is regrettable that Brother Midgley wants to make this about me and my apostasy from Mormonism rather than on the sincere legitimate questions I’ve brought up and others have been willing to discuss in an open-minded manner. But since this seems to be where Brother Midley always wants to go…let’s go there and be done with it.

    Brother Midgley asserts that I had ulterior motives for joining this discussion…perhaps acting as the water boy for Simon Southerton…by drawing attention away from the original content of this thread.

    Lou said: (may I call you Lou?)

    “And getting these things sorted out does not assist those who want to hang their unfaith on his opinions. This appears to be the reason Craig Paxton shifted away from a discussion of DNA and the Book of Mormon. And hence why he shifted, instead, to a list of elements in folk Mormonism that he thinks one must believe and defend or else go missing.”

    Gee Lou, I’m sure it couldn’t have been that I was hoping to form a bridge of understanding and really did have some legitimate questions, that you refer disparagingly to as “Folk Mormonism”. I find it interesting that this so-called folk Momonism is the very Mormonism that is currently being taught in the Mormon church.

    You go on to quantify me by stating:

    He does not seem to have been at all focused on the core elements of the faith–the doctrine or gospel of Christ–.

    Ummm…I don’t ever remember meeting or speaking with you Lou (other than here at FAIR-Blog) How could you possibly know the depth of my soul or the one time level of my commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ while an active believing Mormon? Are you using your super-human priesthood powers of discernment? (couldn’t help myself)

    You continue:

    Craig seems obsessed with the necessity of the Saints entertaining as opinions the idea that Adam got booted out of the garden park in 4000BCE, or that death started at that moment, or that the story of the flood that is found in the Bible demands that we believe that mountains well over twenty thousand feet high were covered with water, of course, without being able to explain where all that water came from or went, and so forth.

    I wonder where I might have gotten these CRAZY fundamentalist ideas Lou? Any ideas? I know I’m not as progressive as you are…I only accepted the words of the so-called prophets (both living and dead) of Mormonism whole cloth…silly me. I must have slept through that lesson where they tell you one can discount and ignore the pronouncements of God’s anointed.

    You continue:

    Hence, I do not need and do not expect or want the Brethren to be issuing official statements in which they sort these things out for me. They seem properly content to let the sciences, which hopefully are in the long term self-corrective, sort these matters out.

    Seems to me that it is Mormonism that is shifting to Science rather than science shifting to Mormonism.

    More assumptions:

    It appears, unfortunately, that Craig started out believing that the Brethren must be infallible and that every element of folk Mormonism must be made by them to appear in harmony with every other item, or the Church is not what he imagined it claimed to be, to borrow some of the language from one of his friends.

    Well at least you made me laugh Lou…Infallible no…consistent and not in conplete conflict with their predecessors, yes.

    Some agreement:

    I am not, of course, pleased with those Craig calls “cafeteria Mormons,” but I also believe that it is wise and necessary for the Saints to jettison some elements of folk Mormonism, including much or what is found in Mormon Doctrine and other similar efforts to fashion a dogmatic theology. The reason is that the Saints, I believe, should be focus on the redemption from sin and death provided by Jesus of Nazareth.

    Yeah you wouldn’t want the members of the church to focus on whether the church IS what it claims to be (to borrow a phrase from one of my firneds)

    More from Lou:

    I regret seeing RfM type former fundamentalist Saints turn up on this blog. It seems that they have come here in an effort to justify their rebellion against God. I am confident that they can gain the applause they seek on other venues.

    Personally, I take offence with your attempt to put me in your stereotyped box as an “RFM type former fundamentalist Saint”, although I understand your need to place these restraints on me in your attempt to diminish me…but seriously Lou, although in this response I’ve taken on a more cynical voice, my participation and questions have been honest and sincere.

    Even More:

    And I am also puzzled by Craig Paxton’s list of what he sees as absurdities that he wants to insist must be part of the opinions of the Saints, on the false assumption that what is revealed to Prophets and seen by Seers is a kind of alternative science. While saluting what he calls science, he also gives the back of his hand to his former faith. I am genuinely interested in figuring out what drives people like Craig.

    First many of those so called absurdities seem to be ideas shared in common with some of the posters on this board. Second I am driven my a sincere search for the truth and an insatiable curiosity in all things Mormon.

    And Yet More:

    I wonder why those like Craig, who have fled the faith, don’t find something better to do than post up a storm trying to convince themselves and others of the folly of faith. Why is it that someone like Craig must constantly busy themselves making war on the faith of the Saints.

    There are other like me?

    Isn’t there something better they can think of doing with what remains of their probation? If all they are is an accident of blind chance, can’t they find something better to do with their time before, as they must insist, their light goes out permanently? Their passionate religious devotion to their unfaith is, for me, puzzling. I simply don’t believe that their constant version of secular “home teaching” or pulpit preaching is part of a therapy they must endure to rid themselves of the evils inflicted on them in Sunday School.

    Nope nothing better to do…way too much time on my hands and actually here you are very wrong….it’s very therapeutic in ridding myself of these evils.

    And finally:

    But an additional puzzle is why they cannot remain focused on the topic of a blog, in this case the soundness of Southeton’s opining about DNA and the Book of Mormon.

    I agree and apologized to the author.

    NOW that we have that out of the way…can we bury our preconceived notions and have an honest conversation free of polemic tricks, personal attacks and hyperbolae and just have an honest conversation with the intent of forming bridges of understanding?

  26. Mike Parker

    Ken,

    Don’t you find it odd that you would come here, tell us that we’re believing a lie, and then complain when we respond and compare us to “pseudo-authoritative religious leaders who [have] come to set me straight?”

    I can tell you how many times I’ve heard the “I’ve been lied to” excuse. It doesn’t fly with me anymore. I’ll accept being told something that wasn’t correct by people who were well-meaning but misinformed, sure. But claiming you’ve been lied to requires you show proof of intent.

    You say that uncertainty sits well with you, and yet it’s that very same uncertainty that you’re not willing to accept within the Church. You wanted your religious and scientific paradigm validated, and when it wasn’t, you bolted.

    More power to you as well. Including the power to accept that you’ve changed your views and move on. Hanging around on the most-poorly-named “Recovery from Mormonism” board is about the worst therapy you could get.

  27. Mike Parker

    Craig,

    You continue to not see the forest for the trees. Young-earth creationism, the global Flood, and the division of languages at Babel are peripheral issues that Mormons have (for over 100 years) discussed and debated. But, in the end, whether one takes them literally or not is not an article of faith.

    Did you read the Dialogue article that I linked earlier? Funny how Clayton White is a believing Mormon and BYU professor, and yet he still retains his job and church membership after publishing an article shredding the notion of a global flood.

    (Dr. Duane Jeffrey did the same thing in Sunstone a few years ago, and he’s still teaching and practicing, too.)

  28. Ken Taylor

    Mike,

    I came here because I wanted to see what you folks might say about Simon’s latest post on DNA and the BOM. I don’t think I’ve ever come here before that – although I have visited either FARMS or FAIR in the past and read some posts.

    I do apologize for having discussed other issues on this thread.

    In light of that, I won’t continue here, but would welcome a private discussion with you any time. I do have some very specific responses to what you wrote last. But…. it’s up to you; here’s my email: taylorken AT aol DOT com.

    [Email address edited by admin to defeat spam bots.]

  29. Craig Paxton

    Mike Parker Said:

    “You continue to not see the forest for the trees. Young-earth creationism, the global Flood, and the division of languages at Babel are peripheral issues that Mormons have (for over 100 years) discussed and debated. But, in the end, whether one takes them literally or not is not an article of faith.”

    Granted, but it does go to the heart of the churches credibility claim does it not? If current and past men who allegedly speak with God can’t get it right on these myths it begs the question what else are they misinformed on?

    “Did you read the Dialogue article that I linked earlier?”

    Yes …read it several years ago…Loved it…I salute these brave men who had to undergo a lot of criticism and several editing’s before they felt they could publish their thoughts. I also believe that their paper was rejected by BYU was it not? I’d have loved to be able to read their original paper.

  30. Mike Parker

    Craig,

    You assume that since prophets receive revelation from God that they therefore are inspired in all their personal beliefs and every public teaching. The first does not require the second. Joseph Smith famously noted exactly that, and his exact words (“a prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such”) are well-known throughout the Church.

    The only Mormons I know who accept every word the comes from the prophet’s mouth are those who have left the faith over that very issue.

    White and Thomas discuss the history of their article in endnote 1. They were very complimentary of the dozens of people who read and commented on their original drafts (many of them BYU professors and believing Mormons). Personally, I wish BYU Studies had published it, but I’m not on their review panel.

  31. Mike Parker

    Ken,

    I appreciate you taking the time to comment here, even though I obviously disagree with your point of view.

    While I enjoy a good back-and-forth here once in a while, I don’t know exactly what profit would come from an email exchange. We both have made up our minds, and I highly doubt either of us is going to persuade the other.

    But thank you for the invitation.

  32. Mike Parker

    Prophetic pronouncements — those given when the prophet is acting officially in his capacity as prophet and president of the Church — should not be ignored. The Proclamation to the World on the family is an example of an authoritative statement from the Brethren.

    All other statements, including General Conference sermons, should be given serious consideration, but you are not under obligation to do or believe anything unless the Holy Spirit testifies to you that you should.

    This is basic stuff, discussed in Sunday School. (At least the classes I’ve been to.)

    Here’s some reading for you: Official Church doctrine and statements by Church leaders.

  33. Mike Parker

    Oh, and here’s a statement issued recently by the Church:

    Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency…and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles…counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.

    http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/commentary/approaching-mormon-doctrine

    My wife is calling me for dinner, so I’m off for the night. I’ll check in here tomorrow.

  34. Craig Paxton

    Thanks Mike,

    I know I’ve taken this thread into areas the author never intended…so maybe I should just let this go…but I do note that the president of the church gets a pass. Pres. Lee stated that exception is …”unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator—please note that one exception”

    And yes I know that this is basic stuff… I was on my stake’s high council after all…but much of this arugment is like trying to nail jell-o to a wall…Impossible to nail down.

    But thanks just the same…

  35. Mike Parker

    Understood, Craig. Thanks for being fair and non-confrontational, even in the face of my initial doubts as to your sincerity.

    I wish you peace and happiness.

  36. Craig Paxton

    As an interesting aside note:

    I meet with several current and former members of the church for lunch on a regular basis. We’re friends and we haven’t allowed our differnt takes or loss of belief to become a wedge in our friendship, despite our often heated discussions over religion.

    Every one of the good non-believers and former members in this group would jump at the opportunity to return to the church if they thought for an instant that the church was what it claims to be.

    Each of us has served in high leadership positions. Each was married in the temple and served honorable missions. We are NOT the kinds of members that the church was supposed to lose.

    Our biggest problem was that we maybe believed in the church too much…and to some here it seem too literally and then tried to learn more. Although I would never have classified any of us with any of the terms Lou Midgley’s disparagingly designed, stereotypically besmirching subgroups he likes to place people who disagree with him in, I do at least give him credit. It does make it easier to dismiss a so-called enemy when we apply labels to them that are intended to make them appear less intelligent, less dedicated or seemingly fanatical. Becasue surely we couldn’t have lost our testimonies for other reasons. Hey labeling works in all kinds of wars right? Didn’t we apply belittling labels in WW II and Vietnam to our enemies? So if applying labels to those of us who have left the church for valid reasons helps you maintain your faith I guess that is your right. But not all Exmo’s left because of some imagined unresolved sin. In fact I’d say thats just another made up church myth.

    For those you who took the high ground and tried to help me understand how your brand of Mormonism works for you in light of reality, I thank you. You’ve given me something to think about…and I do enjoy thinking.

    Cheers
    Craig

  37. Allen Wyatt

    Craig,

    You made this very interesting statement in your last comment:

    Our biggest problem was that we maybe believed in the church too much…and to some here it seem too literally and then tried to learn more.

    That has given me a lot to think about. I think I will post an entirely different blog post about that since it is far afield from the topic of this thread. Please–watch for it, as I would be very interested in your observations.

    -Allen

  38. Pingback: Same Process, Different Outcome | FAIR Blog

  39. Mike Parker

    Craig,

    This comment of yours is not only insightful, it also works both ways:

    So if applying labels to those of us who have left the church for valid reasons helps you maintain your faith I guess that is your right. But not all Exmo’s left because of some imagined unresolved sin. In fact I’d say thats just another made up church myth.

    The same is also true of those who stay in the Church — not all (or even most) of them are still faithful because they have been “duped” or had to do “pretzel-twisting logic” to rationalize their beliefs. That’s just another made up ex-Mo myth that helps people on the RfM board explain why so many people don’t “see the light” like they have.

  40. Louis Midgley

    Craig:

    Despite the snide stereotyping you employ to demonize me, I am quite impressed with the reasonableness of your last post. Both in tone and content, I sense an improvement. And I also agree fully with the note with which you ended an earlier message where you invited all of us to “bury our preconceived notions and have an honest conversation free of polemical tricks, personal attacks and hyperbolae and just have an honest conversation with the intent of forming bridges of understanding.” Who would want to object to such an enlightened proposal, unless they were partisans in a war against the Church?

    But I notice in this last post a bit of what seems to me to constitute a bit of a polemical trick and also a personal attack on me. And earlier I noticed some stereotyping and mocking. But this last item suggests a change of mind. Good. But I still must complain about the following: “Whenever I venture onto the FAIR-Blog I feel as if I’ve entered the Twilight Zone or an Alternative Universe where reality is sacrificed for the sake of maintaining belief.” Unless you are ready to jettison those on RfM who have turned up on this blog, and hence back away from that nonsense, how can we possibly have a genuine conversation? Productive, fruitful conversations leading to increased understanding , rather than merely scoring points before a real or imaginary audience, require what ancient philosophers called friendship. What they had in mind in part was an equality between those taking part in the conversation. In a conversation between a child and an adult or between a childish adult and a wise person (think a lover of wisdom), there is no equality. In such situations the best thing would be for the child to shut up and just listen. Now apply this to the endless opining on the lists, boards and blogs.

    I hope that you genuinely desire a productive conversation. At least your language suggests that you have changed your mind. It would please me if you honestly and sincerely want a conversation aimed at genuine understanding and for the purpose of build bridges. Such a conversation cannot be focused on you proclaiming why you went missing. And, if you still believe that those on the Fair list who have participated in this blog sacrifice what you call reality in an effort to maintain their faith, and hence are not sincere, honest seekers of that truth, as you indicate you are, then a fruitful conversation is impossible. When we are seen as MORGBOTS and so forth, nothing can flow from an exchange. And those who employ those kinds of labels do not desire a real conversation and will not permit one. They clearly occupy the rhetorical gutter, which we strive, sometimes unsuccessfully, to avoid.

  41. Louis Midgley

    Craig:

    While you are thinking about my earlier post, I will comment on your complaint that some of my remarks hurt your feelingsor, I believe you said, offended you, when I described you as seemingly a kind of Mormon version of a rigid Protestant fundamentalist. I was not, as you imagined, guessing about your youth or whatever. Instead, I took you seriously when you claimed that you had been taught as, if I understood you correctly, that you were tought as a younger fellow that Latter-day Saints must eschew the sciences grounded specifically in a theory of evolution, and they must believe in a young earth, and hence also one must believe that Adam got the boot from the garden in exactly 4000BCE, that prior to that boot, there had been no death on this earth, and so forth. Every item in your list, except for that no-death-before-the-fall business, I have heard from a few Latter-day Saints now and again. But I have attended Church services recently in four nations and never heard that stuff even once. I have not encountered any of those dogmas at BYU in the last half of my teaching career, and then only among a few in Religous Education who are now long gone.

    That no-death business I first heard only perhaps a year ago and then from an someone who had gone missing and was using it as a stick to beat the Church. I never read Mormon Doctrine. I never read Cleon Skousen’s thousand year series. I once had a set in my possession and they immediately went in a trash bin, with my wife’s full approval.

    I will, however, grant that there is a naive faith among Latter-day Saints that just accepts some ideas that are at times somewhat similar to what one finds in Protestant fundamentalism. But in many instances, when this naive faith confronts the intellectual world around us, then there is the necessity for the person undergoing the crisis to put aside folk Mormonism and with it some other childish things. My own experience indicates that faith in Jesus Christ and conficence in the Restoration actually thrives on challenges and dealing with doubts. They seen to me to help feed both spiritual and intellectual growth.

    Some however, who have never sought to own their own faith and for whom it remains what they once were taught, when they fase a crisis, jettison their faith and they may end up running with the dogs and messing up their lives. They also no longer have a real moral anchor. One can see the signs of this by glancing at RfM.

    But what comes after the crisis in which an initial naive faith can be a more mature, reasonable, profound faith. One enters what has sometimes been called a second naivety where some of the old things are shed and one’s faith is better grounded, more mature and productive. I know or have met some of the Brethren. And this is clearly the case with each of them, as well as virtually all of my associates and colleagues at BYU and in my immediate experience in CES and so forth.

    What puzzles me is why something like this did not happen to you. I sort of suspect that you may never have really come to own your faith so that you got past this business of talking about what you were taught in Sunday School. I also wonder if you read widely prior to your encounter with doubts? I did.

    I have elsewhere published an essay describing my own passion for putting myself out in the field of fire so that I could see for myself whether my faith could stand up to whatever is out there. I made a minor career out of pawing through the most radical of Protestant theology. In addition, I have tried my best to read and absorb the arguments of the very first ancient shy and retiring atheists, as well as the bold ones who turned up later. I very much want to understand them from their point of view.

    I can, however, understand how someone who does not read or care to think about such things might get a jolt when they encounter some of the vast, confusing and interesting intellectual world out there. I have not wanted to miss the fun of being right in the middle of that mix.

  42. Michael Paul Bailey

    For me, I find the discussion of evolution and the age of the Earth to be a red herring. As has been pointed out, there are plenty of explanations of creation that allow for evolution and a very old Earth. We don’t know how long the creative periods were, we don’t know how long Adam and Eve were in the garden, we don’t know if there was death before the fall, etc…

    There is one doctrine regarding the creation that is quite firmly set in Mormonism. The BYU evolution packet clearly explains this one key doctrine. The essence of statements by the first presidency is this: We don’t know how the creation was performed, but we do know that Adam is the father of all of the generations of man.

    There is the key doctrine that Mormons have to explain. Everything else is just a red herring. We have a firm checkpoint in history at 4,000 BCE. All humans must descend from this single man. That’s a pretty difficult argument to defend. In fact, the above defense regarding Book of Mormon DNA depends upon the falsity of this checkpoint.

  43. cinepro

    As has been pointed out, there are plenty of explanations of creation that allow for evolution and a very old Earth. We don’t know how long the creative periods were, we don’t know how long Adam and Eve were in the garden, ,we don’t know if there was death before the fall, etc…

    Ummmm…are you kidding me? “We don’t know if there was death before the fall”? The Church I go to knows.

  44. Michael Paul Bailey

    cinepro, you make a good point. I agree that church doctrine is clear on this issue, but there is still a fair bit of debate among members regarding this issue. I was trying to point out that the key, indisputable element of Mormon doctrine is that a man named Adam lived at 4,000 BCE and is a common ancestor to the entire human race. This is the key doctrine which MUST be reconciled with science.

  45. Thomas

    Cinepro — Does that reference apply only to human beings? It defines physical death as the separation of the spirit from the body. I probably should know this, but does the Church, i.e., anyone entitled to provide a more authoritative statement on the issue than my musings, teach that animals have spirits? Or if they do, do they have spirits in the same sense as people do?

    (Do viruses have spirits? If so, I just emerged from an encounter with a particularly reprobate bunch, who doubtless were less valiant in the virus pre-existence.)

    Anyway, if that passage only refers to humanity, then I see no problem believing human death only came into the world after the Fall of Adam, who I understand to be the first human being who climbed far enough down from the trees for God to have a rational conversation with him. There was no (human) death before the Fall, because there were no true human beings before Adam.

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