Category Archives: Science

Fair Issues 50: Book of Mormon DNA issue one of science, not theology

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Ash (newer) PictureLDS critics with training in genetics acknowledge that if a small group of Israelites came to the New World and intermixed with a larger Native American population, their DNA could have disappeared as well…the DNA issue is one of science.  The question as to who lived in the Americas in addition to Book of Mormon peoples is not one of doctrine or revelation, but is one of personal opinion based on research and evidence, including textual evidence from the Book of Mormon

The full text of this article can be found at Deseret News online.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FairMormon Bookstore.

Tell your friends about the Mormon Fair-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon Fair-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

The view and opinions expressed in the podcast may not reflect those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or that of FairMormon.

 

Book Review: Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book

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Title: Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American BookMormon's Codex
Author: John L. Sorenson
Publisher: Deseret Book
Genre: Nonfiction
Year Published: 2013
Number of Pages: 826 pages
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 978-1609073992
List Price: $59.99 (currently available from FairMormon bookstore for $50.99)

Reviewed by Trevor Holyoak

John L. Sorenson has been studying the relationship of the Book of Mormon to Mesoamerica for over 60 years. He received an MA in archaeology from BYU and a PhD in anthropology from UCLA. His best known book prior to this was “An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon,” published in 1985.

“Mormon’s Codex” is the culmination of his studies. It begins with a Foreword by Terryl Givens and then has three main sections followed by an appendix. At the center of the book are colorful maps and photographs of places and artifacts. There are also black and white photos interspersed throughout the text.

Part 1 is called “Orientation.” It introduces the Book of Mormon and its orgins and tells us about problems with archaeology. One way archaeologists have been able to base the Bible in reality is through finding convergences where the text agrees with archaeological findings. This book investigates the same type of convergences between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica. This is not easy, because “only a fraction of the material that was left behind by ancient peoples has been preserved and is waiting to be found” (page 11). There is also the problem that only a fraction of what has been discovered has been excavated, and only a fraction of the items found have been studied and published. In spite of this, there is a tendency among archaeologists to “speak as if their data were complete and their inferences were facts” (page 12).

Sorenson lists key places from the Book of Mormon text and then places them on the map. He has found that a limited Mesoamerican geography is the best fit, specifically around Guatemala. He has gone as far as to identify plausible locations for many places, such as the narrow neck of land, the east and west seas, the river Sidon, the city of Nephi, and the final Nephite and Jaredite battleground (this is the only Jaredite place that he is very certain about). He concludes that the text of the Book of Mormon fits this area so well that it only could have been produced by people living in that place and time.

The histories of the Jaredites and Nephites are laid out, followed by a parallel history of Mesoamerica. It is also pointed out that there is a limited amount of history to go on from the Book of Mormon (three centuries are covered in a mere four pages, for instance).

Part 2 covers “Correspondences by Topic.” It first lays out geographical correspondences, such as distances and characteristics of the land. This is where a possible site for Jerusalem is first mentioned, a submerged city called Samabaj that was discovered recently in Lake Atitlan.

Evidence for transoceanic voyages is laid out, with a list of some of the plants that have been found in both hemispheres. This is followed by a similar list of diseases, as well as a discussion of languages, records, and writing systems. Also covered are human biology, political economy, society, population and distribution, material culture, government and political processes, warfare, knowledge systems, and ideology and religion.

Part 3 has “Correspondences from Archaeology and History.” I found this part to be the most interesting. It is split up into four time periods: before 600 BC, between 600 and 1 BC, between AD 1 and 200, and between AD 200 and 400. One of the things discussed is the apparent absence of fortifications, since they are a common part of the war chapters. There have actually been more found than is commonly recognized. Sorenson has tabulated 75 named sites that date before AD 400. (It hasn’t been published because the project kept expanding.) He tells how it took generations of work at Tikal before they realized an embankment was actually a wall. It took over 30 years to trace the miles of wall found, and it may not yet be fully revealed.

A possible location for Bountiful has been identified, based on geography, but it has not yet been studied, so Sorenson still considers such correspondence to be premature. However, Santa Rosa is a good candidate for Zarahemla, all the way down to evidence of destruction from the right time period preceding Christ’s visit in 3rd Nephi. In fact, corresponding evidence such as volcanic ash has been found in the same time period in many places in the area. This also includes the city of Jerusalem being covered with water as mentioned previously. In addition, there is evidence of significant cultural and religious
upheaval at that time which corresponds with the Book of Mormon text.

Sorenson explains how the codex (the plates) may have been transported to New York from Mesoamerica by relating the story of English sailors who trekked 3,000 miles from Mexico to Nova Scotia in 1589 over a period of nine months. And near the end of the 20th century, an adventurer named David Ingram walked 4,000 miles from Maine to Tampico in 11 months.

In the appendix, Sorenson explains how he has modified his views of the Jaredites since the publication of “An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon.” He now sets them in Veracruz, with the three main lands in Jalapa, Cordoba, and Tuxtepec. And he has changed his mind to an Atlantic Ocean crossing instead of the North Pacific. However, he notes that all this still remains tentative.

I would have preferred if the book were laid out a bit differently – he tends to explain Book of Mormon history and Mesoamerican history separately and then gives a summary conclusion. He explains that “to recapitulate detailed parallels would be tedious; an alert reader can identify further general and specific correspondences” (page 665). While this may be the case, I believe it would better suit the purpose of the book to combine the parallel information, pointing out correspondences in more detail as it goes. On the other hand, I appreciate that in places where the evidence is weak or still lacking, he is quick to point it out.

This book is a treasure trove of information about New World archaeology and how it may relate to the Book of Mormon. It probably won’t convince critics (although it will be harder for them to say there is no evidence), but as a believer in the Book of Mormon as scripture and as real history, it helped me better visualize the events and people it contains. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in physical evidence for the Book of Mormon and placing it on the map.

Fair Issues 49: More Limitations in Book of Mormon DNA study

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Ash (newer) PictureIn this podcast brother Ash explains how DNA studies are inconclusive to establish a direct link between Book of Mormon peoples and there ancestry because of the “molecular clock” of mtDNA and the Y chromosome Cohen marker.

The full text of this article can be found at Deseret News online.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FairMormon Bookstore.

Tell your friends about the Mormon Fair-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon Fair-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

The view and opinions expressed in the podcast may not reflect those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or that of FairMormon.

Fair Issues 48: Founder effect, genetic drift, bottlenecks and the Book of Mormon

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Ash (newer) PictureIn this discussion brother Ash relates the effects on population as it pertains to mtDNA and Y-chromosome inherited from our ancestors.  Other factors include founder effect, genetic drift and bottlenecks.

The full text of this article can be found at Deseret News online.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FairMormon Bookstore.

Tell your friends about the Mormon Fair-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon Fair-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

The view and opinions expressed in the podcast may not reflect those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or that of FairMormon.

 

Fair Issues 42: Dismissing Book of Mormon Geography Inaccuracies

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Ash (newer) PictureThe traditional LDS folk-belief asserts that the Lehites arrived to a nearly vacant New World,…this assumption – like many other assumptions about the about the Book of Mormon – comes from a naïve reading of the text that was filtered through the 19th century misunderstanding of the human migrations that populated the ancient New World.

In this article brother Ash explains this common error and extends our understanding of this important issue.

The full text of this article can be found at Deseret News online.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FairMormon Bookstore.

Tell your friends about the Mormon Fair-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon Fair-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

 

A New Church History Seminary Manual

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Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 11.17.54 PM

The cover page of the new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History seminary manual.

[Cross-posted from Ploni Almoni: Mr. So-and-So's Mormon Blog.]

The Church has released a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History manual for seminary students. One of the remarkable aspects of the new manual is that it includes a discussion of several sensitive topics in church history. These topics include the following.

1. The various accounts of the First Vision are highlighted in the new manual. “There are nine known accounts of the First Vision—four written or dictated by Joseph Smith and five written by others retelling his experience,” the manual states (p. 20).

The multiple accounts of the First Vision were prepared at different times and for different audiences. In these accounts, Joseph Smith emphasized different aspects of his experience of the First Vision, but the accounts all agree in the essential truth that Joseph Smith did indeed have the heavens opened to him and see divine messengers, including God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Because the 1838 account was part of Joseph Smith’s official history and testimony to the world, it was included in the Pearl of Great Price as scripture. (p. 20)

The manual then recommends students to read articles by Milton Backman and Richard Lloyd Anderson published in the Ensign discussing the various accounts of the First Vision (pp. 20, 22).

2. There is an entire chapter devoted to the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Utah War (Lesson 151). The manual gives a brief historical overview of the events leading up to the massacre and acknowledges the participation of “Latter-day Saint leaders and settlers” in the crime (p. 523). Besides citing an article on the Mountain Meadows Massacre published in theEnsign, the manual also reproduces this quote given by President Henry B. Eyring at the 150 year anniversary of the massacre.

The gospel of Jesus Christ that we espouse, abhors the cold-blooded killing of men, women, and children. Indeed, it advocates peace and forgiveness. What was done [at the Mountain Meadows] long ago by members of our Church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct.

3. In a chapter on the history of the Pearl of Great Price there is a brief overview of the history of the Book of Abraham, including the loss and recovery of several papyrus fragments once in the possession of Joseph Smith (pp. 524–526). Included in the discussion about the Book of Abraham is this (which is actually reprinted from the Church’s Pearl of Great Price Student Manual).

In 1966 eleven fragments of papyri once possessed by the Prophet Joseph Smith were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They were given to the Church and have been analyzed by scholars who date them between about 100 B.C. and A.D. 100. A common objection to the authenticity of the book of Abraham is that the manuscripts are not old enough to have been written by Abraham, who lived almost two thousand years before Christ. Joseph Smith never claimed that the papyri were autographic (written by Abraham himself), nor that they dated from the time of Abraham. It is common to refer to an author’s works as ‘his’ writings, whether he penned them himself, dictated them to others, or others copied his writings later. (p. 525)

(Incidentally, yours truly has written a thing or two on this subject over at the Interpreter blog, which you can access here.) The manual also states, “Although we do not know the exact method Joseph Smith used to translate the writings, we do know that he translated the book of Abraham by the gift and power of God” (p. 525).

4. The new manual has material covering the practice of plural marriage, including an entire chapter on Joseph Smith’s plural marriage (Lesson 140) and a mentioning of Post-Manifesto plural marriage. Below are a few pertinent excerpts from the manual.

In this dispensation the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and many other Church leaders found this commandment difficult, but they obeyed it. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church (see Official Declaration 1). (p. 204)

While Joseph Smith was working on the inspired translation of the Old Testament in 1831, he read about some of the ancient prophets practicing plural marriage (also called polygamy). Under this practice, one man is married to more than one living wife. The Prophet studied the scriptures, pondered what he learned, and eventually took his questions about plural marriage to Heavenly Father in prayer. . . . the Prophet Joseph Smith was reluctant to begin the practice of plural marriage. He stated that he did not begin the practice until he was warned that he would be destroyed if he did not obey. . . . Because of a lack of historical documentation, we do not know about Joseph Smith’s early attempts to comply with the commandment. However, by 1841 the Prophet had begun to obey the commandment and to teach it to some members of the Church, and over the next three years he married additional wives in accordance with the Lord’s commands. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s obedience to the Lord’s commandment to practice plural marriage was a trial of faith for him and his wife Emma, whom he loved dearly. (pp. 477–478)

Practicing plural marriage brought additional challenges. Because the practice was initially kept very quiet, rumors began to spread about Church leaders marrying additional wives. These rumors greatly distorted the truth, slandered the names of the Prophet and other Church leaders, and contributed to increased persecution against the Saints. (p. 479)

A small number of Latter-day Saints continued to enter into new plural marriages after the Manifesto was given. In 1904, President Joseph F. Smith announced “that all [plural] marriages are prohibited, and if any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage he will be . . . excommunicated”. . . . This policy continues today. (p. 530)

Towards the end of the chapter on Joseph Smith’s plural marriage, the manual warns, “Much unreliable information pertaining to plural marriage exists on the Internet and in many print sources. Be cautious and wise with such information. Some authors who write about the Church and its history present information out of context or include partial truths that can be misleading. The intent of some of these writings is to destroy faith” (p. 479). I myself have raised a similar point in this post. The manual then concludes by recommending, “Reliable historical research concerning the practice of plural marriage can be found at josephsmithpapers.org and byustudies.byu.edu” (p. 480).

5. On describing the nature of the Joseph Smith Translation, the manual says the following.

Around the fall of 1830, Joseph Smith was commanded by the Lord to translate the Bible. He did not translate the Bible from one language to another; nor did he have an original biblical manuscript to work from. Instead, Joseph would read and study passages from the King James Version of the Bible and then make corrections and additions as inspired by the Holy Ghost. Thus, the translation was more of an inspired revision than a traditional translation.The Joseph Smith Translation is estimated to have affected at least 3,400 verses in the King James Version of the Bible. These differences include additions (to clarify meaning or context), deletions, rearranged verses, and complete restructurings of certain chapters. The Joseph Smith Translation clarified doctrinal content, especially the mission of Jesus Christ, the nature of God, the nature of man, the Abrahamic covenant, the priesthood, and the Restoration of the gospel. (pp. 180–181)

6. The historical circumstances surrounding the priesthood ban and President Spencer W. Kimball’s 1978 revelation are discussed in a chapter on Official Declaration 2 (Lesson 157). As part of this discussion, the manual reprints the introductory material to OD 2 printed in the 2013 edition of the scriptures.

The Book of Mormon teaches that ‘all are alike unto God,’ including ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female’ (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.

There is also the recommendation at the end of the chapter for students to “go to Gospel Topics on LDS.org and search for ‘race and the priesthood’” to learn more about the priesthood ban (p. 545).

7. Finally, in discussing section 77 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the manual straightforwardly says, “The 7,000 years [in vv. 6–7]  refers to the time since the Fall of Adam and Eve. It is not referring to the actual age of the earth including the periods of creation” (p. 280).

I am sure there is more that could be said about the new manual, but suffice it to say from the above examples that the Church is implementing productive measures towards introducing these sort of issues in a faith-promoting, safe, and positive environment (seminary). This will hopefully serve to “inoculate,” to use the popular metaphor, seminary students against the often highly debatable claims and negative information one can currently find on the Internet. While one might perhaps quibble over how certain issues are addressed in the new manual, that there is even a discussion at all in Church curriculum is, in my estimation, a step in the right direction.

Fair Issues 41: Real Science, truth coincide

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Ash (newer) PictureMichael R. Ash relates how real science, truth coincide with real Mormon scholarship.  While science is unable to answer the questions about the purpose for life, the hereafter, or many other thing that must be taken on faith, accurate science is necessary for the telling us about the world in which we live.  As Elder John A. Widtsoe said: “Truth is truth forever. Scientific truth cannot be a theological lie.”

The full text of this article can be found at Deseret News online.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FairMormon Bookstore.

Tell your friends about the Mormon Fair-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon Fair-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

 

Book Review: Letters to a Young Mormon

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Title: Letters to a Young Mormon
Author: Adam S. Miller
Publisher: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
Genre: Religion – Faith
Year Published: 2014
Number of Pages: 78 pages
Binding: Paperback
ISBN-10: 0842528563
ISBN-13: 978-0842528566
Price: $9.95

Reviewed by Trevor Holyoak

This is the first book in a new “Living Faith” series from the Maxwell Institute. While reading it, I struggled to determine just who the “young Mormon” is that the book is aimed at. Is it for teenagers, or perhaps for 20-somethings? I think I actually understand it much better as a 40 year old father than I would have at a younger age, mostly due to the knowledge and experience I have since gained. Then I discovered, thanks to Amazon, that there has been a whole crop recently of books entitled “Letters to a Young XXXXX” (for example, Letters to a Young Contrarian by the late atheist Christopher Hitchens). Briefly looking at some of them, it appears that this book may have been loosely modeled after them. However I still question exactly who the intended audience is.

The book covers a wide range of topics of interest to Mormons, including agency, work, sin, faith, scripture, prayer, history, science, hunger, sex, temples, and eternal life. While I did find some new insights in some of these letters, much of what is contained is vague enough that any parent who shares the book with their teenage child may want to read it themselves so they can discuss it together. The chapter on sex, in particular, warrants this, as the only thing really clear in it is an admonition to avoid pornography, and then only for some of what I consider to be the right reasons.

I asked my two teenage daughters to read a couple chapters each. My 17 year old chose the chapters on history and hunger and thought they were too vague and wished the author had connected the dots. She is probably more familiar with some of the things mentioned (but not explained) in the history letter – such as “Joseph Smith’s clandestine practice of polygamy, Brigham Young’s strong-armed experiments in theocracy, or George Albert Smith’s mental illness” (page 48) – than many young LDS people her age because I have tried to teach her about some of the more difficult topics, yet she had questions about the usage of the word “clandestine” and about George Albert Smith. In fact, with that kind of loaded wording, someone picking it up off the shelf and glancing casually at the page might get the initial impression that it is anti-Mormon material. This chapter may provide an opportunity for a parent to teach their child how to find trustworthy answers for any questions that are raised.

On the other hand, my 16 year old (who doesn’t like to read and appreciated the shortness of the sections) read the prayer and the temple sections, and found she could actually relate to some of it. I think the temple chapter is one of the better ones in the book, and it was particularly timely for her because the material in it complemented what I told her in a discussion we recently had after she stumbled upon a critical video on YouTube.

There are a few other places in the book where I feel good answers are given to common issues. One example is an explanation for the seemingly unscientific account of the creation found in Genesis. The author begins by explaining that the Hebrews “thought the world was basically a giant snow globe. When God wanted to reveal his hand in the creation of their world, he borrowed and repurposed the commonsense cosmology they already had. He wasn’t worried about its inaccuracies, he was worried about showing his hand at work in shaping their world as they knew it” (page 53). Miller continues through the creation sequence as the Hebrews would have understood it, and then follows up by relating his experience in changing his point of view from a literal one that he retained beyond his mission to one that allows more for the scientific explanations of today.

In regard to some of the struggles we might have when learning about church history, he points out that “it’s a false dilemma to claim that either God works through practically flawless people or God doesn’t work at all…. To demand that church leaders, past and present, show us only a mask of angelic pseudo-perfection is to deny the gospel’s most basic claim: that God’s grace works through our weakness. We need prophets, not idols” (page 47).

Where Miller is clear on things, he excels by providing much food for thought and discussion. And in spite of its weaknesses, the bright spots in this book make it a worthwhile read for people who will not be troubled by its overwhelming vagueness, although I do believe a parental advisory may be in order.

Science & Mormonism: Cosmos, Earth, & Man

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science-mormonism2Registration is closed for the first Interpreter Foundation symposium (co-sponsored by FairMormon and LDSAgents.com). However, the event will be streamed live on YouTube.

It will take place on November 9 and will begin at 8:30 MST.

Science and Mormonism have nearly always been on very friendly terms, with Church members sharing the deep conviction that, as expressed by former scientist and apostle Elder James E. Talmage, “within the gospel of Jesus Christ there is room and place for every truth thus far learned by man, or yet to be made known.” Subsequent Presidents and General Authorities of the Church have advanced similar views about the ultimate compatibility of religious and scientific truths and, with notably few exceptions, have maintained markedly positive attitudes toward both the methods and conclusions of mainstream science and the advance of modern technology.

This symposium will feature the personal perspectives of prominent LDS scientists addressing the theme of “Cosmos, Earth, and Man.” Through presentations, panels, and interactive discussions, attendees will hear concise and colorful summaries of the state-of-the-art in scientific research relating to these topics and will gain a deeper appreciation of the unique contributions of LDS doctrine to the ongoing conversation.

For more details, see: http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/events/2013-symposium-science-mormonism-cosmos-earth-man/

FairMormon Frameworks 3: What Is Doctrine

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doctrineBill Reel and Jon Westover sit down and have a discussion over “What is Doctrine and What isn’t.”  They attempt to try and differentiate between doctrine, policy, and culture.  Using statements from leaders and their own unofficial insights, they try to establish ways the average member can navigate “What is Doctrine.”

- How big is the “Box” of Mormon Doctrine?

- What is the Church’s official stance on what is Doctrine?

-  Is there room for those struggling to have more flexibility than what they perceive?

- What were Joseph Smith’s feelings on creeds and dogma and defining Mormonism strictly?

 

The opinions expressed in this podcast and in the referenced books, presentations, podcasts and articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of FairMormon.

To get to know our guest participant, Jon Westover better, please check out these informational resources

http://mormonscholarstestify.org/3093/jonathan-hinton-westover