Monday, April 4, 2011

the book of mormon "debate"

I was presented with some questions about the book of mormon recently concerning apparent contradictions. i'll be honest, i resisted even getting into discussing it because when it comes down to it, believing the book of mormon is true is a choice of faith. if you choose not to believe, all the external evidence in the world proving it's validity is not going to convince you - and if you DO choose to believe, then all the anti-stuff isn't going to convince you to change either because your choice to believe is based on a different kind of evidence; a spiritual evidence. and i guess, that's the base issue… whether you believe that physical evidence, or scientific truth, is more viable/reliable - or whether you believe that spiritual evidence is, i.e. spiritual experiences and impressions or the truth found through personal revelation. there will always be lots of things "proving" and "disproving" the book of mormon, but however that tide ebbs and flows, my testimony will remain constant because it is founded on the spiritual base of personal revelation - faith… i choose to believe.

that being said, of course i want to bring into harmony my intellectual belief with my spiritual belief. of course it is important to me to see the logic in spiritual truths. (one of the things i love about the gospel is how logical it is to me) so, i decided to try and address the questions that were brought up. i did so NOT with the intent to show how i can believe despite the grievances/problems that were presented (because that belief is possible because of FAITH not science) but to show instead that i have tried to see how things fit together -- even though i have already conscious chosen to believe.

i hope that makes sense…

anyhow, one issue that was brought up was concerning parts of the introduction of the book of mormon that cast doubt on the prophet joseph smith. that was an easy one to deal with, but involves knowing something that a lot of people aren't aware of... that the introduction of the book of mormo is NOT actually part of "the book of mormon." it was added by the church in 1981 and has since been changed/amended as our understanding of the book has developed. for example, there is a sentence about the american indians: "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principle ancestors of the American Indians."

that has been changed to say "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians." a small change, but a one that sparked a lot of debate concerning how critics argue that DNA evidence shows no evidence of hebrew blood so that statement is false. however, despite this, there is nothing in the actual Book of Mormon, other than that old introduction that is actually "undermined" by the DNA studies because the translated ancient text of the book of mormon itself does not say anything to disprove scientific theories about Native Americans migrating from northeast Asia over a land bridge. the book of mormon only claims to be the writings of some specific little groups of people that came to the Western Hemisphere over a small period of time -- and these writings, of a cultured and civilized people living in america, are definitely supported by archeological evidence (which i could point you to some pretty crazy SPECIFIC artifacts but let's leave that for another post) even without a definite geographic tie-in. joseph smith didn't write the intro. and joseph did not write the BOM.

in fact, joseph's involvement to me bespeaks the veracity of the book of mormon. it doesn't seem logical that a 23 year old man, with no college education and only 3 years of formal schooling, would write a book (which he dictated and make only ONE draft of) using only his limited understanding of the scriptures and the world would BE ABLE TO WRITE a book of such a religious, political and economic complexity. with changes of style (distinct wordprint! the probabilities of one author duplicating all 24 of the distinct wordprints of the BOM has got to be like a billion to one!), distinct national histories - concerning ancient civilizations you know next to nothing about THEN convince 3 credible witnesses that an angled appeared and showed them the record it came from AND THEN convince 8 other witnesses to testify that they saw the record as well AND THEN somehow pull the wool over the eyes of tens of thousands of people - great men, intellectual giants, and scholars included - and write this book - make up this book - all of this in about 2 months. Doesn't seem logical to me at all.***

The book of mormon contains Hebraisms, which are expressions that do not belong to the english language but actually belong specifically to the language from which they were translated…these expressions are often award in english but are perfect hebrew grammar. it also contains chiasmus, which is a rhetorical device used in ancient literature like the bible. since there is no evidence that anyone in america even understood chiasms in 1830 when the BOM was published the presence of chiasms in the BOM seem to pretty strongly prove that the text had an ancient origin.

and of course there is more. but this doesn't really address the DNA question does it?

so let's discuss that. first of all, the makers of that famous anti-book of mormon film film i am sure decided to forget to mention that this huge study excluded any native americans with DNA that showed markers of european or other non-american genes, to avoid a "contaminated sampling" and i'm pretty sure that if you take out all the old world stuff before you even analyze it then you haven't actually proven that it wasn't there. plus small population groups can EASILY disappear as groups intermarry and the population mixes. also, after doing a little bit of reading i found out that this whole batch of testing was for population studies -- read this:

"the anti-Mormon critics had been jumping to conclusions based on low-resolution DNA tests that are used for population studies. When high-resolution tests (the type used by police forensics scientists to identify individuals, not large population groups) were done, genetic markers for Hebrew DNA showed up. LDS scientists accurately point out that this does not tell us how the DNA got there, whether by Lehi's descendants or by Spanish Conquistadores. It does indicate that Hebrew DNA is present, a possibility our critics ridiculed" (Greg West for Meridian Magazine).

whenever it comes to this sort of thing, be it DNA or one of the other scientific "proofs" against the book of mormon, i always think of what Henry Eyring, a renowned scientist and member of the church, once said: "is there any conflict between science and religion? There is no conflict in the mind of God, but often there is conflict in the minds of men." i think this pretty accurately sums up the debates that fly over science ever "proving" anything.

but to continue to address the issue of DNA there is a website that hosts scholarly publications from LDS academics (FARMS - go check it out) and i found an article dealing directly with the dna issue. read this:

Native Americans as Descendants of the LamanitesIf we were able to do the genealogy for a modern Native American to Lehi’s generation, we would have approximately 90 to 100 generations (we’ll choose 90 to keep it conservative). This Native American would have over 1.2 octillion ancestral slots (that’s more than 1.2 trillion x 1 quadrillion). Now obviously she would not have 1.2 octillion ancestors (there haven’t been that many people in the entire history of the world) since the same ancestors would fill many of these slots. Nevertheless, on a giant genealogy chart, there would be 1.2 octillion ancestral slots. From how many slots would our Native American be descended? All of them.
If Laman (or a descendant of Laman) was an ancestor in just one of these 1.2 octillion ancestral slots, then it can legitimately be claimed that our Native American is a descendant of Lamanite.
Recent studies suggest that we are related in several ways, and that many large groups of humans are often related in distinct ways as well. Such studies indicate that a large percentage of all people may have traces of Israelite ancestry, and that most people may be descendants of Abraham (see Genesis 22:17). In regards to the Book of Mormon, one scholar who has studied this concept notes: “The numerical dynamics of population mixing make it easily feasible…that most Amerindians are descended from Book of Mormon peoples, even if Book of Mormon peoples were originally a minority of ancient American populations and are thus only a part of the ancestry of most individuals.”
In summary, while there is no evidence for a genetic link between modern Native Americans and the Lehite/Lamanites (and there is no reason to suspect that Lehite DNA would be detectable in modern native peoples), LDS scriptures and prophets are justified in referring to them as “Lamanites” due to the likelihood of cultural and genealogical affiliations.
Written by Michael R. Ash for the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR), Copyright © 2004. +++

Reading the Book of Mormon and then asking God if it is true through prayer is the only way to really know. Any other attempt will give you uncertain results. science can not "prove" it true (or false) and really… the most reliable truth is the spiritual truth we get from God. If God actually is the author of the book (through ancient prophets), then anyone who truly wants to know will receive a confirmation from Him that the book is true if they humbly ask. that spiritual confirmation is spiritual knowledge... and like i said at the beginning, choosing to believe because of spiritual knowledge is the way you have to know in order to be secure. you don't believe in christ because of external evidence - or even because the bible - you believe in christ because He has manifest Himself to you in your life. THAT is real evidence. when you have that kind of real evidence - nothing scientific can cross it.

***wanna read more about the improbability of joseph smith writing this book? here's my brother jim's review of an amazing article you should definitely read:

In the mormon/non-mormon peer reviewed journal "Dialogue" there is an article called "Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon, and the American Renaissance." The author of this article addresses the idea that the book of mormon was simply a product of its historical, social, and cultural context. He talks about how, if we are going to assume the book of mormon as a product of its time, we must analyze and compare Joseph Smith with his contemporaries such as Thoreau, Emerson, Melville, Hawthorne, etc. In addition to analyzing the qualities, characteristics, and backgrounds of these authors, we should also analyze their works such as Walden, Emerson's Essays, Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, and of course, the Book of Mormon. In doing so, we might better understand if the book of mormon was truly a product of the imagination of the early 1800's, or, if it might be what Joseph claimed it to be -- an ancient text brought forth by the power of God.

I thought the article had some very intriguing and curious points. In addition, the conclusion the author makes at the end is...well, to me it is quite astounding. And, to be honest, I'm not sure how you could argue otherwise.

Here's a link if you feel so inclined:

+++if you want more "evidence" as to the authenticity of the BOM try reading the two lectures prepared and published by the church and written by dr. james e. talmage (instead of anti-mormon literature) -- there are some really interesting points in there about it's origin and etc.

p.s. gotta admit, i pulled some of this post from a mormonwiki without citing it (SHAME. argh.) but, it's because this was originally written as just an email, so i didn't really worry about it then, and now i'm too lazy to sort through it and figure out what was mind versus what was me paraphrasing the article. so, this "p.s." is just so you know that this isn't completely me. mostly me, but not completely... gotta be honest.

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