Thursday, August 17, 2017

Interlude - Book of Mormon chiastic geography

In Moroni's America, Pocket Edition, I discussed some of the parallels between the Book of Mormon and modern Church History. I think the history is chiastic. Consider this summary of several points of parallelism.

I like to say that if you've been on a Church history tour, you've been on a Book of Mormon tour--although you probably didn't realize it.

1. The gospel was restored to the exact place where it had last existed on Earth--western New York.

2. Moroni revealed the plates at the same place where he and his father wrote and sealed them (Moroni in his stone box, Mormon in the records repository, both in the Hill Cumorah in New York).

3. Moroni translated the Book of Ether in the same area and with the same instruments that Joseph translated the plates.

4. Moroni and Mormon saw the three Nephites in the same place where they helped Joseph, David Whitmer, etc.

5. The First Vision took place in the same area where the Lord last appeared to man, Moroni.

6. The first latter-day temple was built in Ohio, where the last temple mentioned in the Book of Mormon existed (in Bountiful), and possibly on the exact same location in Kirtland.

7. The war chapters in the Book of Mormon took place on the plains of the Nephites, which Joseph Smith identified as he crossed Ohio, Indiana and Illinois on Zion's Camp.

8. Mosiah escaped from their enemies in the land of Nephi and went to the land of Zarahemla where they built a city, just as the Saints escaped their enemies in Missouri and went to the land of Zarahemla where they built a city (Nauvoo, across from Zarahemla- D&C 125).

9. Ether prophesied of the New Jerusalem to be established on "this land," and Joseph Smith identified the New Jerusalem in Missouri.

The next section is a quotation from chapter 35.
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The restoration started at Cumorah because that’s where Moroni hid the plates in the stone box so Joseph Smith could obtain them. It is fitting that the restoration of the Gospel occurred in the same place where the Gospel last existed on Earth.

The apostolic authority in the world of the New Testament was lost to apostasy in the early centuries after Christ’s death. Priesthood authority endured in the lands of the Book of Mormon until the death of Moroni around 421 A.D.

There are many parallels between Book of Mormon sites and Church history sites. Moroni, writing in “this north country” near Joseph Smith’s home between Palmyra and Cumorah, wrote that he had seen Jesus and talked with him face to face. Joseph’s first vision, when Jesus talked with him face to face, took place in the same area. Perhaps Moroni, too, met the Lord in the Sacred Grove?

The first temple of this dispensation was built in Ohio. The Lord personally accepted the temple, appearing to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.  Centuries earlier, the Lord appeared to the Nephites at a temple in the land Bountiful—modern day Ohio. Could the Kirtland temple be built where that ancient Nephite temple once stood?

The Nephite civilization degenerated and died out as the Nephites retreated eastward from Zarahemla to Cumorah. The restored Church grew and developed as it moved westward from the Cumorah area to Nauvoo.

Zion’s Camp retraced the military campaigns of Captain Moroni and other Nephite warriors. Joseph and Hyrum Smith are buried in a Nephite (Hopewell) cemetery in Nauvoo.
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When Moroni abridged the writings of Ether, he spent an entire chapter covering Ether's prophecies (Ether 13). It's interesting that he concludes his summary with a chiastic thought:

12 And when these things come, bringeth to pass the scripture which saith, there are they who were first, who shall be last; and there are they who were last, who shall be first.

Then he says he was forbidden to write more. Maybe because we, the recipients of his writing, would have enough difficulty accepting what he wrote?

He explained how the people rejected the words of Ether, and we wonder how they could have been so foolish and hard hearted. But maybe it's not so surprising after all.

Ether 13:4 For behold, they rejected all the words of Ether; for he truly told them of all things, from the beginning of man; [think about how scholars reject the Biblical account of the creation of Adam, which Moroni refers to in Moroni 10:3] and that after the waters had receded from off the face of this land [think about how scholars reject a literal flood] it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord; wherefore the Lord would have that all men should serve him who dwell upon the face thereof;

3 And that it was the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord.

4 Behold, Ether saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land.

5 And he spake also concerning the house of Israel, and the aJerusalem from whence bLehi should come...

6 And that a aNew Jerusalem should be built up upon this land, unto the remnant of the seed of bJoseph, for which things there has been a ctype.

7 For as Joseph brought his father down into the land of Egypt, even so he died there; wherefore, the Lord brought a remnant of the seed of Joseph out of the land of Jerusalem, that he might be merciful unto the seed of Joseph that they should perish not, even as he was merciful unto the father of Joseph that he should perish not.

8 Wherefore, the remnant of the house of Joseph shall be built upon this land...

12 And when these things come, bringeth to pass the scripture which saith, there are they who were first, who shall be last; and there are they who were last, who shall be first.

13 And I was about to write more, but I am forbidden;

Interlude - Chiasmus Jubilee

I'm postponing the series on DNA to next week because of an important event I attended last night at BYU.

The Chiasmus Jubilee was a profound experience. The organizers did a phenomenal job. Two days of seminars, concluding with a two-hour presentation of music, video, and talks by important scholars and participants in the study of Chiasmus, capped by a powerful talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, which I'll discuss separately.

For those not familiar with chiasmus, there's an awesome new website here:
https://chiasmusresources.org/. It explains that

Chiasmus is a literary device in which words or meanings are structured in an inverted parallel pattern. For example: 
A
B
B
A
This is a simple chiasm. The name of the pattern comes from the Greek letter chi, X, because the pattern crosses, like an X. Chiasmus is frequently found in the Bible, but it was used in ancient Greek and Latin literatures and other sacred writings.
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Fifty years ago, when he was a young missionary in Germany, John W. (Jack) Welch attended a lecture on Chiasmus in the Bible. He woke up with the idea to look for it in the Book of Mormon. He asked where. The Spirit said start where you left off yesterday. He turned to the passage in Mosiah and he saw, in the German Book of Mormon, two words stacked on top of one another. From there, the inverse parallelism became apparent.

His discovery changed his life and Book of Mormon studies. I made this Ngram on Chiasmus to show the significance of the discovery.




Thanks to Brother Welch's work, scholars around the world of many denominations have recognized the Book of Mormon as an integral part of the study of Hebrew parallelisms. Several of them participated in the Chiasmus Jubilee seminars over the last two days, as well as in the program last night.

I hope the videos and presentations will become available publicly. If so, I encourage everyone to enjoy them. (I posted a copy of the program below. Note that it was organized in chiastic format. Everything about this event was outstanding. It was professional, educational, enlightening, and inspiring.)

Meanwhile, go to the Chiasmus web page and peruse the resources available.

https://chiasmusresources.org/

https://bookofmormoncentral.org/content/chiasmus-in-the-book-of-mormon

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Readers of this blog know I've focused on Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, BYU Studies, and the rest. I've tried to make it clear that I greatly admire and respect all the scholars who participate in these organizations and publications. I like them all personally. I read their work and incorporate it into my own study and publications as much as possible.

Chiasmus is a good example. I devoted several chapters to Chiasmus in my first edition of Moroni's America (the topic of an upcoming post). Every member of the Church should at least be familiar with Brother Welch's work on this topic.

Really, the sole area of disagreement that I have with all of these scholars is their rejection of Letter VII and the associated context and ramifications. I won't belabor that here, but I want to make sure readers see the distinction between the excellent work of these faithful LDS scholars and educators and my criticism of their rejection of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon regarding the New York Cumorah.
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Here is the program from last night:







Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The missionaries are defenseless - Part 3c - DNA and evolution

Gospel Topics DNA essay - Part 3c - DNA and evolution


The DNA Gospel Topics essay is part of a long-running debate between Bible literalists and scholars who think the Bible is merely metaphorical and useless as a guide to understanding the Creation. It is also part of the debate over Book of Mormon geography because the proponents of the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories also reject Biblical literalism.

In this series, I'm discussing the Gospel Topics essay from the perspective of missionaries whose investigators believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, as well as from the perspective of LDS people who interpret the Bible and latter-day scriptures literally. 

I'm not saying any particular interpretation is "true" or "correct," but I am pointing out that there is a big difference between literalists and those who reject a literal interpretation of the Bible and the latter-day scriptures. In my view, the essay rejects the literal interpretation of the scriptures and ought to at least acknowledge such an interpretation as one of multiple working hypotheses. 

As it stands now, the essay is another hurdle for Bible-believing investigators to overcome before they even read the Book of Mormon.
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The principal author of the essay, Ugo Perego, contributed a brief essay to the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF), an organization whose Mission Statement is “to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex.”

BMAF is also the parent corporation that owns Book of Mormon Central (BOMC), which explains why BOMC adamantly and exclusively promotes the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories.

Here is the statement by BMAF, with my comments in red:
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DNA Statement by Book of Mormon Archaeology Forum

Please, don't fall for the DNA "evidence" being promoted by some members of the Church. We believe in the Book of Mormon with all our being, [as a Mesoamerican codex] but we also believe when we use science to prove something, then we should consult the experts and follow basic scientific methods. [This is a clever straw man fallacy. No one involved here is using DNA science to prove anything, but as we’ll see, the DNA evidence may corroborate the Book of Mormon narrative—just not in Mesoamerica, which is why BMAF wrote this statement.]

The Church (approved by the First Presidency on LDS.org) has just released a statement about using DNA to promote a Book of Mormon agenda:

“Much as critics and defenders of the Book of Mormon would like to use DNA studies to support their views, [notice, the actual essay refers to support, not proof] the evidence is simply inconclusive. [This sentence conflates the use of evidence to support a proposition with a claim that evidence is conclusive. These are two separate concepts. It's true that some anti-Mormon groups have portrayed the evidence as conclusive; i.e., that the DNA evidence disproves the Book of Mormon. That's an easy argument to refute, and the essay does a great job demonstrating that, because in reality, the evidence is not conclusive. But really, that's axiomatic. Scientists use evidence to support or falsify theories, but science is and must be open-ended, always subject to additional discoveries. The debate is really over what propositions the DNA evidence tends to support, not whether it is conclusive.]  

Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples. [As I mentioned before, I think it’s safe to say we know Lehi’s people were of Hebrew descent and came from Jerusalem, which narrows down the possibilities from the entire universe of DNA to a fairly small subset of DNA possibilities, which is not “nothing.” A better phrase might be “Little is known.”] 

Even if such information were known, processes such as population bottleneck, genetic drift, and post-Columbian immigration from West Eurasia make it unlikely that their DNA could be detected today. [The “unlikely” characterization is based on the undisclosed Mesoamerican assumption that Lehi’s people were all absorbed into a much larger Mayan culture. This is why it is so telling that the essay never even quotes from the scriptures, except in footnoted materials written to support the Mesoamerican theory.] https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-and-dna-studies?lang=eng.”
Book of Mormon and DNA Studies
www.lds.org

From Ugo Perego, PhD

There is a video circulating widely on the internet about NEW INCREDIBLE DNA EVIDENCE in favor of the Book of Mormon. I want everyone to know that I do not support the views presented in this video (here is the link on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mADM3RYKl5Y&feature=youtu.be).

I personally believe the Book of Mormon to be sacred scripture, but not based on genetic evidence. [Which is also undoubtedly true of everyone who believes the Book of Mormon to be sacred scripture; i.e., no one has a testimony based on genetic evidence.]

It is my opinion that the presenter in this video (Rod Meldrum) [We’ll discuss what Brother Meldrum presents later; for now, I’m explaining the context of the Gospel Topics essay and some of the motivations for the way it is written and footnoted.]

is oversimplifying and stretching complex scientific data to fit its own view and purposes. [Simplifying is how any scientific information is presented to the public. I suggest readers consider this point once we delve into what Brother Meldrum was actually saying.]

This is dangerous because some people might actually believe in what he is saying and take for granted his conclusions. [This is equally true of every side of these debates, of course. Brother Perego implies that one side is right—his—and one side is wrong—Brother Meldrum’s. Brother Perego’s conclusions are based on Darwinian evolution; some people think taking evolution for granted as an explanation for the creation is a dangerous approach. This is really a debate about Biblical literalism, as we’ll see.]

I have listened to Rod Meldrum in the past and spoke with him on several occasions. I have also tried to explain to him the mistakes with his approach, but to no avail. [I can’t speak for Brother Meldrum, but I have also spoken with Brother Perego and I think I understand his objections. But he doesn’t understand, or doesn’t accept, and certainly doesn’t acknowledge, the counterarguments to his position.]

Here are in a short few points the main problems with the information presented in this video:

1. Lineage (haplogroup) X in the America [sic] is an unusual marker, but there is absolutely no evidence to link it to Book of Mormon people. [This absolute argument is in the same vein as the claim that we know nothing about the DNA of Lehi’s people. The evidence may not be substantial, may not be conclusive, may not be persuasive to Brother Perego and others, but there is some evidence of a link. I’ll discuss the merits in more detail later, but for now, consider that the unusual (actually, unique) haplogroup X2a in the Americas is concentrated around the Great Lakes region and the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada. The only place in the scriptures in which the Lord designated specific people as Lamanites was in D&C 28, 30 and 32, when he sent Oliver Cowdery and three other brethren to preach to the Lamanites in New York, Ohio, and Missouri/Kansas (where they had been driven from the eastern states.) This geographical connection between haplogroup X2a and the revelations in the D&C is evidence in any sense of the term. The probity and utility of the evidence can be examined and debated, but it is not “absolutely no evidence.”]  

2. As far as science has been able to determine to date, lineage X has been in the Americas probably long before Book of Mormon times (based on both carbon dating and the molecular clock). [The question of dating is really the crux of the matter. As the footnotes in the Gospel Topics essay explain, Brother Perego says lineage X has been in North America since around 7,000 B.C. This date is long after X separated from other, earlier lineages, and is in line with the standard evolutionary assumption that the first homo sapiens evolved around 200,000 years ago. The “molecular clock” referred to in the essay is an assumption about the mutation rate of biomolecules that measures evolutionary rate variation among organisms, again based on the 200,000- year-old evolutionary development of homo sapiens. “Carbon dating” is the technique used to determine the age of an object by measuring levels of radiocarbon (C-14). These two measurement techniques contradict the Biblical account of Adam and Eve, which is how this discussion of DNA implicates Bible literalism. In other words, people who interpret the Bible literally believe Adam and Eve were created around 4,000 B.C., based on the chronology given in Genesis. Mormons who interpret the Bible literally find corroboration in the Book of Mormon, D&C, and Pearl of Great Price. At least with respect to Adam and Eve, they are on common ground with Bible-believing Christians. Literalists think there are problems with the carbon dating and molecular clock that explain why those methods contradict the scriptures. For them, the Gospel Topics essay is problematic because it rejects Biblical literalism outright.]
   
3. It is not true that the first four lineages in the Americas prior to the discovery of haplogroup X are identical to lineages found in Asia. They are related with each other, but the ones in the Americas have their own unique characteristics. [This is an important clarification; these lineages changed as people migrated to the Americas from Asia, whether they were Jaredites or other Asian peoples.]

4. Likewise, lineage X in Northern North America has its own unique characteristics and it is not found anywhere else in the world. The one in the Americas is known as lineage X2a. [This is what we would expect of Lehi’s DNA as well; i.e., that it would be unique after some period of time in North America.]

5. There are other lineage X's in the world (Europe, North Africa, Middle East and Asia) but none of them is the same as their American counterpart X2a. [Again, exactly what we expect of Lehi’s DNA. Lehi left Jerusalem shortly before the Babylonian siege and invasion. That invasion was a genetic bottleneck; only the poorest people were left in the land, with 10,000 taken to Babylon. It would not be surprising that the DNA of Lehi’s group was unique (X2a) because their relatives were killed.]

6. It is not true that lineage X was identified in the Americas in 2003. Data on a fifth lineage in the America has been widely published since 1991. [Good point of clarification.]

7. All the DNA that has been talked about in this video is referred to a [sic] genetic molecule known as mitochondrial DNA that is transmitted exclusively along the unbroken maternal line. This means that this approach cannot be easily used to determine the genetic ancestry of male lineages such as those described in this video and in the Book of Mormon. In other words, this is not the DNA we would expect to find today from Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Lehi, Nephi, etc. [Good clarification, but mDNA is still used to trace migrations. This mDNA would be coming from the women in Lehi’s group and would still represent their Hebrew and Middle-Eastern origins.]

8. The LDS Church does not support DNA evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon. [Nowhere does the essay say this, of course. The essay claims there is no DNA evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon, not that the Church would not support such DNA evidence if it existed. And the main reason why the essay claims there is no DNA evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon is because of its assumption that Darwinian evolution explains how humans arrived on the earth, a product of evolution around 200,000 years ago.] 

Here is something more official found on the LDS.org website: https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-and-dna-studies… [In classical citation cartel practice, Brother Perego cites his own essay, although, to be fair, he is a world expert on the topic, which I respect, so I don’t have a problem with this. But the Gospel Topics essay is unsigned, and people who read this BMAF version should be aware that Brother Perego wrote both essays. Actually, his BMAF essay is more accessible and understandable than the Gospel Topics version, but the gist is the same. The Gospel Topics essay is only partly a response to anti-Mormon critics; it is also an argument for why Church members should not believe Brother Meldrum and the link between the X2a haplogroup and the Book of Mormon.]

There is much more to it but this should be sufficient for now. It is too early to know for sure what the actual relationship of lineage X in the Americas with the Old World is and we need to be careful to jump at any conclusions at this time." [This is a fair statement with which I agree, but again, it’s the assumptions about dating that are the underlying issue.]

This analysis demonstrates that the DNA issue in the Gospel Topics essay is a component of the ongoing debate over Biblical literalism vs. scientific repudiation of the scriptures.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Youtube channel

I've started posting some short clips from my presentations on Youtube so they are easier to share. Here' are some:

Explains some of my books on Church history and Book of Mormon geography: https://youtu.be/j4XCsDUlyCc

Explains D&C 9 and 10: https://youtu.be/qizLazrJ6Qk

Explains the order of translation of the Book of Mormon: https://youtu.be/VKMymegPyhU

The missionaries are defenseless - Part 3b - DNA and evolution

Gospel Topics DNA essay - Part 3b - DNA and evolution


A lot of people have asked me about this Gospel Topics essay on DNA over the years so I'm sharing my notes in this series. It saves me a lot of time when I can answer questions by sending a link to a blog post. Feel free to share the link with others who have similar questions.
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Another point of clarification. Sometimes I hear that lots of people are being baptized into the Church, and none of them raise the issue of Book of Mormon geography and/or DNA. To a significant degree, that is axiomatic; i.e., the people who raise these questions are unlikely to be baptized, especially when the missionaries (and members) are unable to effectively answer the questions.

In this sense, and at the risk of oversimplification, converts are self-selected by lack of awareness, interest, or concern about these issues.

And that's great. I'm not saying or implying that everyone should be concerned about these issues. 

But by embracing Darwinian evolution, the Gospel Topics essay unnecessarily excludes the millions of people who are concerned about these issues and who accept a literal interpretation of the Bible.

I'm proposing instead that, until we are ready to take a firm position on how and when the Earth was created, a better approach would be to acknowledge multiple working hypotheses, one of which includes a literal interpretation of the scriptures.
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Converts per 1,000 LDS members - graph by David Allan
As we've seen, the number of converts per 1,000 members (about 15/1,000 currently) is about 1/3 of what it was 35 years ago (47.5/1,000). We can think of these as the missing 30 converts per 1,000 members.

I’m told that the most productive area for missionary work, in terms of baptisms per thousand members, is Africa—specifically, West Africa. Even in Western Europe and the U.S., relatively few long-term citizens convert; a high percentage of converts are immigrants from developing countries who self-select as noted above. 

And yes, that seems to be a fulfillment of prophecy, as others have noted (2 Nephi 12), and yes, we love these converts and welcome them with open arms. But what about the missing 30 converts per 1,000 members? (Actually, in some areas of West Africa, conversion rates are 45/1,000 or higher, which means the conversion rates in developed countries is well below 15/1,000. For those interested, there’s lots of information at http://cumorah.com/.)

There's also no question that the DNA issue has had a tremendous impact on Church members. For many years, LDS people assumed that all the indigenous inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere were descendants of Lehi. This assumption is inexplicable because when Joseph Smith wrote the Wentworth letter, he replaced all of Orson Pratt’s hemispheric rhetoric with the simple and clear statement that the “remnant are the Indians that live in this country.” Yet, as with his teaching about the New York Cumorah in Letter VII, Joseph’s rejection of the hemispheric model was ignored.

The discovery that most of these indigenous people have primarily Asian DNA prompted the 2006 change to the Introduction to the Book of Mormon (from stating the Lamanites "are the principal ancestors of the American Indians" to stating that the Lamanites "are among the ancestors of the American Indians." Nevertheless, the DNA issue remains a focus of anti-Mormon ministries and critics, which is why missionaries face the question so often.

I think the Asian/Lamanite issue can be easily addressed by the text of the Book of Mormon,* but for now I'm looking at the DNA essay's approach.

My focus is on missionaries whose investigators are well educated and comfortable with the Internet, especially the millions of traditional Christians who have been trained to ask these questions. These educated, Bible-believing Christians should be well-prepared to accept Moroni's challenge, but they have to overcome four unnecessary barriers to even take the first step of reading the Book of Mormon. These barriers are explained on their ministry web sites, taught in their Sunday Schools, etc., and our own LDS scholars and educators are making the problems worse because of their Mesomania:

1. Mesoamerican geography, 
2. Asian DNA
3. LDS scholars rejecting Joseph and Oliver, and 
4. Rejecting a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Of course, the missionaries themselves need to understand the questions and responses wherever they go in the world, because sooner or later, these issues will come up everywhere. Already there are anti-Mormon ministries in Africa seeking to undermine the progress of the Church there. And missionaries who don't have solid answers to these questions may find themselves questioning their faith.
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This series about the DNA Gospel Topics essay has to do with the essay's explanation of DNA, but also the unstated, underlying context of the essay (in 3c). 

I'm not a DNA scientist, but the essay is, or should be, intended for general audiences (although, as I pointed out in Part 2, the essay is not really accessible to most teenagers, missionaries, and investigators). I suspect it's not all that accessible to most members of the Church either, but the main points are set out as I discussed in the last post.

Here, I'm going to discuss aspects of the science that I think matter most to many investigators, missionaries and members. 

I begin by explaining that I respect scientists and I know a bit about the scientific process. I have an MS degree (although the focus was agriculture). In my career I've funded university research projects, and I know from those experiences that to a significant degree, the one who pays the bills gets the results wanted. Scientists universally deny this, of course, but when I was reviewing a grant proposal from a high-profile East Coast university, the scientist who was going to do the work (and receive the money) asked me what result I wanted so he could tailor the proposal accordingly. This is not an uncommon practice. 

Mark Twain wrote "There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.” This is true of many fields besides science, but we kid ourselves when we assume science is completely objective.

There are always assumptions, many of them unstated but assumed or implied.
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To reiterate, my focus here is on the implications of this Gospel Topics essay for investigators and members of the Church who believe in a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

The essay is targeted to scientists and those who don't believe in a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

This is important for two reasons:

1) There are still some LDS people (including scientists) who accept a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

2) There are still many investigators who accept a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Is it ironic that the people most inclined to accept the gospel--people who already believe in the Bible--are the ones who are most likely to find this essay troubling?

The literal interpretation of the Bible holds that Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden around 4,000 BC. This is based on Biblical genealogy. Moroni alluded to this in Ether 1:3, and picked up the theme in Moroni 10:3. He seemed to think the Biblical account was sufficient, an assumption that appears justified by Moses 1-5 and Abraham 4-5, as well as the temple.**

Modern scriptures corroborate this idea.

2 Nephi 2 relates the story of Adam and Eve as literal people; i.e., the first humans.
Lehi taught, "22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

23 And they would have had no children."

Obviously, no children would mean no evolution, at least from Adam forward. But evolution can't explain how Adam and Eve--and all things which were created--would have remained in the state they were in after they were created, forever.

D&C 77:6 says, "Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?

A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence."

I'm not saying that to be a good LDS, you have to accept a literal interpretation of these and other passages, but the Gospel Topics essay doesn't cite these verses. It doesn't explain how they relate to the topic of Darwinian evolution, which is implicit in everything this essay teaches about DNA.

This is an important issue because this essay teaches, and ultimately is founded on, Darwinian evolution.

This is not a problem for many members of the Church who think modern science is correct, but for those who do interpret the scriptures literally, it is a big problem.

More importantly (maybe), it's a problem for investigators who believe in the Bible.

Imagine you're a devout Christian, but you believe in a pre-existence, or you see the need for modern prophets and revelation, or the Nicean Creed doesn't make sense to you. In other words, you have some cognitive dissonance between what your church teaches and what you really believe.

The Mormon missionaries knock on your door. Despite your misgivings, you let them in. You discuss your beliefs. You discover an affinity for what they are teaching. It feels right to you, and is consistent with what you've always thought. They say they believe the Bible, as do you.

But you've heard some things about the Book of Mormon. You ask about the DNA issue. They refer you to this Gospel Topics essay. You study it carefully.

Then you realize that, to accept the LDS faith, or at least to accept the Book of Mormon in spite of what you've been told about the DNA problem, you'll have to abandon your literal belief in the Bible.

In upcoming parts, I'll explain why.
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* The text tells us the Jaredites came to the new world and soon "began to spread upon the face of the land." Assuming they crossed Asia and left from the shores of the Pacific (probably from today's China), we would expect them to have predominantly Asian DNA. Ether's account relates his own family line, but he was more than 33 generations removed from the brother of Jared. This is many millions of people spreading throughout the land. Coriantumr mentions just 2 million of his people killed in the wars leading up to Cumorah. Moroni wrote only of the people living "in this north country," implying the rest of the Jaredites lived elsewhere. We would expect their Asian DNA to be diverse and well-represented throughout the continent, except in Northeastern U.S.

In the Northeastern U.S., we have a distinctive DNA haplogroup, again as expected from the text (i.e., assuming Cumorah is in New York). This is the X2 haplogroup, which I will discuss in parts 3c-3e. 

How do we explain the statements of the prophets about Lamanites throughout the hemisphere, when their DNA is Asian? 

The Mayan civilization collapsed around 800-900 A.D. Some of them migrated northward to what is now the Southeastern U.S. After several hundred years of intermarriage, they returned to Central America. We would expect the blood of Lehi to thereby intermingle with indigenous people throughout the Americas, albeit in low concentrations. So we can say, despite the Asian DNA markers, that these people have the blood of Lehi in them.


**It’s interesting to consider that Abraham 4 depicts the plan for the creation, not the actual creation. The implication from Darwinian evolution would mean that the Gods planned billions of years of evolution before the Earth was actually formed, then executed the plan with billions of years of evolution in mortality. This means that, if we accept the scriptures, there is no way to escape creationism; i.e., even if you accept Darwinian evolution, it was planned spiritually first.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The missionaries are defenseless - Part 3a - DNA and evolution

This is a continuation of my series about the practical problems missionaries face because of the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories. Instead of one long post, I'm breaking it up into smaller pieces to post each day this week.

My focus here is on the implications of this Gospel Topics essay for investigators and members of the Church who believe in a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

First, I re-emphasize what I wrote in Part 1: The missionaries are not "defenseless" in the broad sense of the term. They have the Lord with them (D&C 39:12). They are protected, as we all know, and the Spirit guides and directs them, touches the hearts of the people they meet, etc. But they are defenseless when it comes to answering and even discussing some of the most common questions they get from investigators and former Mormons.

And they are defenseless when it comes to common questions about Book of Mormon geography and DNA posed by investigators, and instead of being defenseless, they could be using these questions to bring people to Christ.
_______________________

I stipulate that a spiritual testimony of the Book of Mormon is the most powerful and enduring witness of the truth we can have. But what are the steps of Moroni's promise in Moroni 10:3-5?

3 Behold, I would exhort you

(i) that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, 

(ii) that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, 

(iii) from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and 

(iv) ponder it in your hearts.

The first step, then, is that people have to "read these things" first.

The geography and DNA issues are obstacles for those considering whether or not to read the Book of Mormon in the first place. The Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories not only make those barriers higher, but they add the additional barrier of claiming that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah in New York.

How can people "remember how merciful the Lord hath been" unless they know what the Lord has done? That is, they have to remember what they've read in the Bible, or what they've learned about God's dealings in whatever faith tradition they have grown up in. Some commentators think Moroni is referring to what people read in the Book of Mormon, but the next step clarifies that.

The next step is the one I'm going to discuss in Part 3. "From the creation of Adam even down until" the modern day.

The Book of Mormon expressly omits God's dealings prior to Lehi leaving Jerusalem, except for some snippets of his dealing with the Jaredites (Ether 1:3), so readers must rely on information outside the text of the Book of Mormon to remember God's dealings. In most cases, this means they have to read and remember the Bible.

Here we have, in the verses that every missionary shares with every investigator, a reference to the creation of Adam as taught by the Bible. 

Yet the DNA Gospel Topics essay rejects the plain teaching of the Bible (and our other latter-day scriptures) about the creation of Adam in favor of a metaphorical Adam who was either (i) created tens of thousands of years before the Biblical chronology or (ii) created tens of thousands of years after humans occupied most of the planet.

To be sure, I understand there are many different ways to interpret the scriptures regarding the creation of Adam and Eve. However, the Gospel Topics essay adopts the Darwinian evolutionary approach to Adam and Eve and rejects the literal interpretation accepted by many members of the Church and many millions of potential investigators.

In lieu of rejecting alternatives to Darwinian evolution as this essay does, I propose acknowledgement, if not acceptance, of multiple working hypotheses. 

Otherwise, missionaries who refer investigators to the Gospel Topics essay on DNA find themselves trying to reconcile what Moroni said about the creation of Adam with the essay's adoption of a version of the Adam story that fits within Darwinian evolution.

What's a missionary to do?

What's an investigator to do?
_______________________
end of Part 3a

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Deseret News-FairMormon echo chamber

A lot of people have asked me why the Deseret News never covers stories about the North American setting, Letter VII, the two sets of plates, etc.

Many readers have noticed that the Church News this week published two full-page articles about the FairMormon conference. I usually get a lot of questions when this happens, so I'm answering them in advance. There's no reason for you to be upset with the editorial position these articles represent. It is what it is.

Actually, there's a good reason for the editorial stance you've been complaining about. R. Scott Lloyd, who writes most of these articles, has been covering FairMormon since at least 2003.

http://www.ldschurchnewsarchive.com/articles/44197/Intellectual-defense-of-the-faith.html

He is good friends with Daniel Peterson, who runs the adamantly anti-Heartlander magazine the Interpreter. In fact, one of the articles you've seen this week is a full-page report on Dan's speech at FairMormon (in the print edition).

Here are the digital editions if you didn't see the print edition:

Religion Does Make a Difference, FairMormon Speaker Says

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer
https://www.lds.org/church/news/religion-does-make-a-difference-fairmormon-speaker-says?lang=eng

History Skills Can Strengthen Study of Book of Mormon Witnesses, Speaker Says

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer
These are fine articles. Nothing objectionable about them at all. I especially enjoyed the one on history skills.

But don't expect to ever see something in the Deseret News that disagrees with Dan Peterson's position. Who, by the way, is a nice guy on a personal level. He just happens to have a long track record of strongly opposing the North American setting for the Book of Mormon, from FARMS through the Interpreter.

Plus, he writes a weekly column for the Deseret News.

The title of this post comes from a piece I read in the Wall St. Journal today that helps explain why you'll never see FairMormon or the Deseret News cover the topics I mentioned at the outset.

"Echo chambers maintain themselves by creating a shared spirit and keeping discussion confined within certain limits. As Noam Chomsky once observed, 'The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.'”

I once had an experience with Dan Peterson's Interpreter that exemplifies this echo chamber mentality. Their web master refused to allow a comment I made to their online journal because it challenged Mesomania. He wrote me a private email that I'll keep private but the gist was, they think they have a lively debate because they allow people to debate whether the river Sidon is the Grijalva or the Usumacinta. [These are two rivers in Mesoamerica.]

As long as Scott Lloyd is writing the articles in the Church News, they will be friendly with Dan Peterson and Mesomania. Granted, neither of the articles I linked to today focus on Mesomania, but the FairMormon conference definitely did.

Just as we know FairMormon's Mesomania prevents them from allowing a fair comparison of the different theories of Book of Mormon geography, or even a balanced representation of the North American setting, Letter VII, or the two sets of plates (because of the implications for the New York Cumorah), we can't expect the Deseret News to do so. They are one unit, in terms of editorial stance.

That said, enjoy the articles. Just don't expect anything different.


Friday, August 11, 2017

The missionaries are defenseless - Part 2 - DNA Gospel Topics essay

The second category of common questions investigators ask missionaries involves DNA and ancient America.

The questions are some variation of this: "If the Book of Mormon is true, why is Native American DNA Asian instead of Hebrew (or Middle Eastern)?"

I'd be surprised if any proselyting missionary in an internet-savvy area doesn't hear this question daily.

Although the DNA issue is core to the anti-Mormon arguments made by many groups, most investigators who ask about it are sincerely curious and not antagonistic. The DNA question can be an effective tool to encourage greater interest in the Book of Mormon if handled effectively.

The expected answer, of course, is the Gospel Topics essay on DNA, which you can read here:

https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-and-dna-studies?lang=eng

I'll include relevant quotations in this post so you don't have to go to that link, but it might be helpful to have the essay open in another screen if you're reading this on your computer.

These essays have done a lot to educate people, LDS and otherwise, and get them thinking about difficult questions. But because this DNA essay is trying to support and defend the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theory, it is not very effective when viewed from the perspective of missionaries, investigators, and faithful members who want answers.

You'll notice that footnote 6 claims "the Church takes no official position except that the events occurred in the Americas." That is true of the Church, but not of this essay, as I'll show below.

A major problem for many investigators (and members) is that this essay establishes Darwinian evolution as a foundation for understanding the DNA issue with the Book of Mormon, a topic I address in the next post of this seriest. For now, I emphasize that I'm not focusing on the science vs religion issue here. Instead, I'm focusing on how missionaries answer questions about the DNA.

(On the merits, I think it would make more sense to consider multiple working hypotheses instead of embracing only one--especially when the essay does not explain how the evolution hypothesis it embraces can be reconciled with the scriptures.)
_______________

The first problem is obvious: this is an academic essay written by and for scientists and those used to reading scientific literature (or at least Popular Science).

It was not written for teenagers and ordinary investigators (other than the rare scientist who might be interested in the Church).

Because there are a lot of quotations below, I'll put all quotations in blue, with my comments in black or red for the rest of this post.
_______________

Here's an excerpt from the opening paragraphs of the essay to give you an idea of the tone and content:

"Some have contended that the migrations mentioned in the Book of Mormon did not occur because the majority of DNA identified to date in modern native peoples most closely resembles that of eastern Asian populations.2 

[Note: Many missionaries and investigators are not familiar with footnote formatting and skip over them. Just as well, because when you click on this footnote, it goes to more academic verbiage and citations of LDS journals that adamantly and exclusively promote the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories.]

"Basic principles of population genetics suggest the need for a more careful approach to the data. The conclusions of genetics, like those of any science, are tentative, and much work remains to be done to fully understand the origins of the native populations of the Americas."
_______________

For a teenager, a missionary, a non-scientist, and the vast majority of investigators, this essay is word salad.

Fortunately, buried at the end of the third paragraph if anyone reads that far, is the short version:

"In short, DNA studies cannot be used decisively to either affirm or reject the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon."

Compare that to the summary put out by one of the most popular Christian ministries (millions of copies of their DVD distributed, plus widespread online presence):

"This documentary accurately presents the consensus of the scientific community that northern Asia — not Israel — is the place of origin of the Native American Indians."

The messaging disparity is obvious. It's not even close.

Now, let's look at the content of the Gospel Topics Essay.
________________

The first thing to note is that nowhere does the essay cite the Book of Mormon!

This leaves it up to investigators (and the Christian ministries that educate their members) to point out relevant passages to the missionaries.

Investigators who go to the Internet will find articles such as these that do cite the scriptures and the words of the prophets and apostles:

Who Are the Lamanites?

DNA and the Book of Mormon

While the essay does not cite scripture or seek to reconcile its theories with the scriptures, it does cite other articles that do. But these articles are the same ones cited by the detractors because they all promote the Mesoamerican theory, which is based on the premise that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the New York location of Cumorah.

The second thing to note is that the essay itself embraces the Mesoamerican theory in several places. For example, look at this paragraph:

"The Book of Mormon itself, however, does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied. In fact, cultural and demographic clues in its text hint at the presence of other groups.6"

Here's note 6:

"John L. Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1, no. 1 (Fall 1992): 1–34. These arguments were summarized more recently in John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2013). Sorenson suggests that indicators in the book’s text makes it “inescapable that there were substantial populations in the ‘promised land’ throughout the period of the Nephite record, and probably in the Jaredite era also.” (“When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 34). Though there are several plausible hypotheses regarding the geographic locations of Book of Mormon events, the Church takes no official position except that the events occurred in the Americas. See Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual (2012): 196. (emphasis added)"

The essay purports to be neutral on geography, but it cites Mormon's Codex, the epitome of Mesoamerican dogma. As an example, in Mormon's Codex, John Sorenson ridicules the idea of the Hill Cumorah being in New York: “There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundreds of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history. Mormon’s Codex, p. 688.

Any investigator, missionary, or member who reads this essay, including the footnotes, can come away with no impression other than that the Church endorses the Mesoamerican theory. This makes the quotation from the Seminary manual about "neutrality" look ridiculous when compared with the references cited in the essay.

In fact, individuals associated with the Conclave cite these essays as evidence that the Church does quietly endorse the Mesoamerican theory.

Now, imagine you're a missionary trying to answer the DNA question. You have an investigator who knows how to read. He/she is sincerely interested, so he/she reads the essay and the notes and the references. Let's say this investigator knows about Letter VII (unlike the missionary). The investigator points out that the Church's own web page is directly contradicting what Joseph and Oliver taught.

And the investigator is correct. 

We now have an official essay on lds.org that claims what Joseph and Oliver taught is manifestly absurd.

This is exactly what our LDS scholars and educators have been teaching for decades, of course, but many members of the Church don't realize it. This is the basic principle that underlies the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories. Maybe this Gospel Topics essay will help bring this unfortunate reality to the attention of more members of the Church. 

But it gets worse.

It's not only Joseph and Oliver whose ideas were "manifestly absurd." Our LDS scholars and educators teach that all the prophets and apostles who agreed with Joseph and Oliver about Cumorah being in New York, including all of Joseph's contemporaries and more recent ones such as Joseph Fielding Smith and Marion G. Romney, were merely expressing their own opinions and were wrong, even when they spoke about this in General Conference.

How does the missionary explain that?

They don't. They can't really, because this message undermines their basic teaching about the importance of modern prophets and apostles.

The assumption, apparently, is that people won't actually read these essays, or if they do, they won't read the notes, or if they do, they won't read the references.

I don't think that's a sustainable assumption, because as these essays become more and more part of the curriculum from Seminary through Institute and Gospel Doctrine classes, eventually members of the Church will read the fine print and discover the implications of the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories that our LDS scholars and educators have been teaching all these years.

How is a missionary supposed to explain to investigators that all the Church leaders who have spoken about Cumorah were embracing a false tradition? 

Are they supposed to teach investigators that only the current LDS scholars and educators at BYU are correct?

And what are these missionaries supposed to think after they return home?
_______________________

There's more.

Look at the paragraph again:

"The Book of Mormon itself, however, does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied. In fact, cultural and demographic clues in its text hint at the presence of other groups."

Juxtapose that with what Lehi said when he landed:

2 Nephi 1:8 And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.

9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.

I don't want to get into 2D arguments about semantics, but the basic premise of the Mesoamerican theory is that Lehi's people were absorbed into the much more numerous and extensive Mayan civilization. All traces of Lehi's people disappeared, except for some cultural artifacts or "correspondences" that are common to most human societies.

The basic premise of Moroni's America (the North American setting, based on one Cumorah in New York) is that Lehi's people encountered small groups of indigenous hunter/gatherers who joined with and followed Nephi and Laman, respectively, and that Lehi's descendants are still identifiable today (e.g., D&C 28, 30, 32).

Which interpretation seems more congruent with Lehi's teachings?
________________________

There's more.

Look at this paragraph:

Joseph Smith appears to have been open to the idea of migrations other than those described in the Book of Mormon,8 and many Latter-day Saint leaders and scholars over the past century have found the Book of Mormon account to be fully consistent with the presence of other established populations.9

Note 8: “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” Times and Seasons 3 (Sept. 15, 1842): 922. This article is unattributed but was published under Joseph Smith’s editorship. See also Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988): 250."

This note perpetuates the mistaken narrative that Joseph endorsed the anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons. This narrative is part of the premise of the Mesoamerican theory; i.e., that Joseph was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church and expected scholars to figure out things he didn't know, such as the location of Cumorah and the setting for the Book of Mormon. This means the entire Church was misled until our modern scholars rescued us from false tradition and figured out that Cumorah is actually in southern Mexico.

Note 9 is even worse.

"For a review of statements on this subject, see Matthew Roper, “Nephi’s Neighbors: Book of Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations,” FARMS Review 15, no. 2 (2003): 91–128."

I addressed this reference on my blog here, and I could say more about it now, but suffice it to say, it firmly promotes the Mesoamerican theory.

In fact, there is nothing in this Gospel Topics essay that presents any ideas that support what Joseph taught about Cumorah or support any geography theories other than Mesoamerica, despite the reference to neutrality in the Seminary manual, which is rendered meaningless by the essay.
________________________

There's more.

The last paragraph before the even more obscure section (Understanding the Genetic Evidence) says this:

"What seems clear is that the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples likely represented only a fraction of all DNA in ancient America. Finding and clearly identifying their DNA today may be asking more of the science of population genetics than it is capable of providing."

That looks like a fair statement, but when you analyze it, you wonder whether it was just poorly written or designed to obfuscate.

"What seems clear..." Is it clear, or does it merely "seem" clear?

"The DNA of Book of Mormon peoples likely represented..." Likely? It seems clear that this DNA likely?

The essay is hedging so much it really says next to nothing.

"represented only a fraction of all DNA in ancient America." We have to infer they mean "human DNA" or the sentence states the obvious no matter what percentage of the human population was Lehi's descendants; i.e., most DNA in ancient America is plant and animal.

Even with the inference, the sentence is meaningless because a fraction can be 1% or 99%. It can even be 150%. Assuming the sentence means to say a small or tiny percentage of human DNA, is there anything in the Book of Mormon text to support this idea? I'm not aware of any such passage. If we're writing about the Book of Mormon, why not cite any scriptures?

In my view, of course, the Book of Mormon took place in what is now the United States, mostly east of the Mississippi. I would expect most indigenous DNA in western North America and Central and South America to be Asian, partly because of the Jaredites (who spent years crossing Asia before arriving) and because of other migrations from Asia.*

But I would expect to find some Hebrew or at least Middle-Eastern DNA in the areas where Joseph sent missionaries to the Lamanites (D&C 28, 30, 32). More on that later.

For now, I'm interested in what investigators and missionaries are to make of this essay so far. We have two essentially meaningless sentences concluding the section titled "The Ancestors of the American Indians." The gist so far seems to be that the Book of Mormon people, whatever their origin, vanished somewhere in Mesoamerica.
________________________

I'll comment on the conclusion of the essay with my red insertions:

Conclusion

Much as critics and defenders of the Book of Mormon would like to use DNA studies to support their views, the evidence is simply inconclusive. [To the contrary; this essay has told us that it "seems clear" that it is "likely" that Book of Mormon people were such a small group that any evidence of them has vanished. They were completely absorbed by Mayans with Asian DNA.]

Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples. [Nothing? We know they were descendants of Hebrew ancestors, at a minimum. They didn't come from Japan, or Africa, or Western Europe. They left Jerusalem, where their ancestors had lived since the Exodus from Egypt. We can follow the migrations of Jews around the world. I doubt many investigators accept the essay's reasoning here.]

Even if such information were known, processes such as population bottleneck, genetic drift, and post-Columbian immigration from West Eurasia make it unlikely that their DNA could be detected today. [Now we've persuaded ourselves that it is unlikely to find Lehi's DNA among his descendants?] 

As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed, “It is our position that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”29 [I think this is also true of the Bible and the other scriptures. It's not proof we seek--it's plausibility and congruence between what we teach and what the scriptures teach. If we're writing an essay about the Book of Mormon, shouldn't we address what the text says instead of citing scholars who reject what Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith taught?]

Book of Mormon record keepers were primarily concerned with conveying religious truths and preserving the spiritual heritage of their people. They prayed that, in spite of the prophesied destruction of most of their people, their record would be preserved and one day help restore a knowledge of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their promise to all who study the book “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ,” is that God “will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”30 For countless individuals who have applied this test of the book’s authenticity, the Book of Mormon stands as a volume of sacred scripture with the power to bring them closer to Jesus Christ. [This is all awesome, except it omits a key point: the Book of Mormon was "Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel." This entire Gospel Topics essay is dedicated to the premise that if there are any Lamanites left, their genetics were completely erased by the Mayan civilization they encountered. To paraphrase the essay, it seems clear that this notion is inconsistent with the text.] 
________________________

With all of this in mind, put yourself in the position of a missionary. Your investigator asks the DNA question. You refer to the Gospel Topics essay (which you don't really understand) and say that the DNA evidence cannot prove or disprove the Book of Mormon. You don't realize it, but the investigator has done some research on the Internet, or talked to his/her minister or fellow Christians.

Investigator: "I've read the essay. It says the Book of Mormon took place in Central America and that all the Nephites and Lamanites became Mayans."

Missionary: "It does? I mean, yeah, that's right. Look at the paintings in the copy I gave you. Right there, Christ is visiting the Mayans."

Investigator: "But Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said the Hill Cumorah is in New York."

Alternative 1.

Missionary (trained by LDS scholars and educators): "Yeah, well, they were just speculating. They were wrong."

Investigator: "I see. It has been nice meeting you, but maybe you shouldn't come again."

Alternative 2.

Missionary (trained at BYU): "Yeah, well, they were just speculating. Cumorah can be anywhere you want it to be. We have this map you can stretch in any direction."

Investigator: "I see. It has been nice meeting you, but maybe you shouldn't come again."

Alternative 3.

Missionary (trained by reading Letter VII and the words of the prophets and apostles): "Yeah, and it is in New York."

Investigator: "I see. Then why does this essay and the illustrations in your own book say it all took place in Central America?"

Missionary: "Because some Mormon scholars haven't read or don't believe Letter VII and the prophets and apostles, but I'm not here to teach what those scholars say."

Investigator: "Tell me more."
__________________

I'll repeat what I said at the outset: Although the DNA issue is core to the anti-Mormon arguments made by many groups, most investigators who ask about it are sincerely curious and not antagonistic. The DNA question can be an effective tool to encourage greater interest in the Book of Mormon if handled effectively.

In my next post, I'll discuss a fundamental problem with the way this Gospel Topics essay approaches the science.

__________________

* In Moroni's America, I discuss why I think the Jaredites crossed the Pacific, leaving from the coast of China.
























Thursday, August 10, 2017

The missionaries are defenseless - Part 1 - Geography

I'm concerned about how missionaries are handling the common questions about the Book of Mormon. 

Missionaries (lds.org)
I love the missionaries, and I love missionary work. I go on splits with the missionaries in our stake and I try to follow what's happening elsewhere. I talk to returned missionaries, read their blogs, etc.

We all know how difficult it is to prepare teenagers to go on missions. Some are more ready than others. In many cases, missionaries encounter questions in the field they've never been asked before.

Often their own Mission President doesn't want them to answer or even discuss these questions.

Now of course the missionaries are not "defenseless" in the broad sense of the term. They have the Lord with them. They are protected, as we all know, and the Spirit guides and directs them, touches the hearts of the people they meet, etc. But they are defenseless when it comes to answering and even discussing some of the most common questions they get from investigators and former Mormons.

And instead of being defenseless, they could be using these questions to bring people to Christ.
__________________

Before addressing these questions, I need to review the background from which missionaries come.

More and more I'm hearing from people afflicted with Mesomania that the geography doesn't matter. "People either get a spiritual testimony of the Book of Mormon or they don't," the reasoning goes, "and geography has nothing to do with it."

In fact, that's sort of the rationale for the disastrous BYU "abstract" video-game map that puts the Book of Mormon into a fantasy setting. At BYU now, the setting for the Book of Mormon is wherever you want it to be, so long as you can pull and stretch it from an interpretation driven by Mesomania.

I think we all know the writing is on the wall: the Mesoamerican theory (and all non-New York Cumorah theories, aka "two-Cumorahs" theories) are dead men walking. 

Proponents of these theories will increasingly claim that the geography doesn't matter because that's the easiest way for them to minimize their cognitive dissonance, but that approach is exactly what is causing missionaries so much trouble.

The geography issue is directly linked to the history issue, which boils down to whether or not you accept Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer as credible and reliable witnesses. As more LDS people become fully informed and aware of the issues, fewer and fewer are sticking with Mesoamerica.* 

It is to prevent fully informed decisions that FairMormon, BYU Studies, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine and the rest [aka, the Conclave]** refuse to educate the Saints about Church history and the alternatives to the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theories. For the same reason, BYU uses an "abstract" map instead of teaching students what Joseph and Oliver taught.

How does this affect the missionaries?
______________________

Missionaries relate that two of the most common questions people ask are, "Where did the Book of Mormon take place?" and "What about the DNA?"

These are natural questions for anyone who reads the Book of Mormon. 

The question of setting arises as soon as people read about Lehi leaving Jerusalem.

Despite their natural curiosity, some people don't care about the setting. They accept the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon on its face. They don't even want to think about the geography issue lest it raise questions that don't have answers.

This is basic psychology, and it's true of adherents to every religion and nonreligion. On my first mission, I met Catholics every day who said they had their religion and they didn't want to know about mine, even when they didn't know what their church taught or didn't believe it when they did.

Most people resist ideas that might cause them to change. That's what makes missionary work difficult. (Google "people resist change" to see explanations for why people resist change.)

Lots of LDS people--maybe the majority of active LDS--are also in this category.

This is why BYU's "abstract" map works. It's easy and familiar to students raised on video game fantasy worlds. Apparently most students don't know or care about the implications of thinking of the Book of Mormon in a fictional setting that teaches Joseph and Oliver were mistaken.
_________________

Resistance to change is a wall. It keeps most people safely inside the traditions they grew up within and protects them from outside challenges and threats. Only a few members of a community climb the wall and venture outside. Some return, but others are never seen again.

Every person a missionary meets is surrounded by such a wall of varying height. The wall is built of bricks such as inertia, uncertainty, loss of control, defensiveness, peer pressure, etc.

Christian ministers recognize the threat of Mormonism. The wall between traditional Christianity and Mormonism is lower because of common beliefs in the Bible and in Christ.

For that reason, anyone who attends a Christian church has probably been told to ask Mormon missionaries these questions. I've seen it in their ministry materials. I've been with the missionaries when these questions were asked, and I've had them tell me about other times when people ask these questions.
_________________

Let's look at the first common question missionaries get and the natural follow-ups.

"Where did the Book of Mormon take place?" 

If you're a missionary, how do you answer? Something along these lines:

1. We don't know.
2. The Lord has not revealed it yet.
3. Central America (based on the artwork in the Book of Mormon they gave the investigator).
4. Mesoamerica (if they've been educated by the Conclave).
5. Wherever you want it to be, aka Fantasyland (if they've been educated at BYU recently).

An investigator who has been prepped (or who has read the Introduction) will ask, "Isn't the Hill Cumorah in New York?"

If you're a missionary, how do you answer? Something along these lines:

1. We don't know.
2. The Lord has not revealed it yet.
3. (If educated by the Conclave or at BYU recently) That was a false tradition started by unknown early Saints and embraced by Joseph Smith for a while, but then he changed his mind and said it was up to scholars to figure out.

An investigator who has been prepared by any of numerous Christian ministries will ask, "Didn't Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery say the Hill Cumorah is in New York? Don't you accept them as prophets? And what about all the other prophets and apostles who have affirmed that, including in General Conference?"

If you're a missionary, how do you answer? Something along these lines:

1. Yes, but... I'm sorry, could you repeat the question?
2. Yes, but... I'm sorry, I'm not sure about Oliver Cowdery. I'll have to get back to you on that.
3. (If educated by the Conclave or at BYU recently) That was just Oliver's opinion. Like Joseph, he embraced a false tradition started by unknown early Saints. Our modern scholars know better than Joseph and Oliver did. Plus, every speaker in General Conference who affirmed the New York Cumorah was expressing his own opinion and was wrong.

You get the idea. Missionaries are defenseless when they encounter these questions.

I'm told that in many areas, they have been instructed to drop investigators who pursue this line of questioning. 

To me, these sound like honest, sincere, reasonable (and inevitable) questions anyone would have when they read the Book of Mormon and Church history. The Christian ministries don't have to make up quotes to cause trouble; they simply cite our own history.

Eliminating investigators who have these questions serves only to restrict the pool of potential converts. Apparently, that's a risk many Mission Presidents are willing to take because they, themselves, can't answer the questions and they want to protect the missionaries from entertaining these questions when investigators pose them.

Here's the tragic part: the answers provided by our LDS scholars and educators raise more warning flags than the investigators (and missionaries) had already. 

Even missionaries find it difficult to accept the idea that Joseph and Oliver were honest, credible and reliable about everything except this one detail: the New York location of the Hill Cumorah.

(Actually, most members find it difficult to accept that idea, too. Most just are ignorant of the facts, thanks to the Conclave.)

When we have situations where investigators and former Mormons are asking missionaries questions that the missionaries have never asked themselves, and the missionaries have no viable answers, where does that leave the missionaries?

Is telling them to drop the investigators who have these questions a viable long-term solution?

Or is this approach contributing to the 40% of returned missionaries that leave the Church or go inactive within three years of coming home?
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Tomorrow I'll post comments about the second common question.
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*(Recap: If you still believe in the Mesoamerican, "two-Cumorahs" setting, you are taking the position that (i) Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the location of Cumorah, (ii) we should trust modern LDS scholars and educators more than Joseph and all of his contemporaries and successors, and (iii) we can't even rely on General Conference talks when they contradict what our LDS scholars and educators are teaching now.)

**Collectively, I've labeled these the "citation cartel" in the past. I've agreed to stop calling them this if they can provide another term for the collective, but so far they haven't. I don't want to call them the Borg. I don't know a non-pejorative term for Groupthink, but if anyone has one, I'd be happy to use it instead. For now, I'll call them the "Conclave."