The Curious Case of the Church Website

Many members of the Church struggle with polygamy, but apparently none moreso than the editors of the Church website.  I can only imagine the long meetings discussing how much detail should be included about the practice, with debates raging about openness and propriety.

A good example is the Presidents of the Churchpage on the Church website, where each Prophet is introduced to the world.

For an interesting study in the Church’s inability to deal with its polygamous past, I suggest the following:

1. Click on each President, then click on “Significant Events” on the left side of the screen.

2. Compare the list of “Significant Events” for the polygamous prophets with the list for the monogamous prophets, (or prophets that had multiple wives but not living at the same time).

Do you notice any differences? Why do you think these differences are there?

Bonus Question: Three prophets married an additional wife only after their first wives passed away. Are these bios presented differently than prophets who married more than one living woman at a time? If so, why might that be?

Bonus Bonus Question: Does Joseph Smith’s profile resemble the profiles of other polygamous prophets, or other monogamous prophets? Which would you expect, and why?

Discuss.

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“Mormons Made Simple”

I recently came across a website of videos explaining LDS beliefs and culture, simplified for the unitiated:

Mormons Made Simple

All-in-all, they’re not too bad.  I think the narration is good, the animation is as good as it needs to be, and the claims are relatively solid.

Obviously, there are a bazillion nit-picky things that could be corrected just for the sake of being precisely correct (i.e. a video claims the Word of Wisdom was a commandment in 1833), but as a basic primer on the Church, you could do worse.

Check it out.

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The Church and a Global Flood

Recently, the LDS Newsroom published a helpful guide to determining whether or not a teaching or idea is “doctrinal” in the LDS Church.

Here is the pertinent criteria:

With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.

With that in mind, let’s see whether or not the teaching of a Global Flood for Noah’s ark is “consistently proclaimed in official Church publications”.  For comparison sake, I will also list every reference to a Local Flood possibility in official Church publications.

Emphasis is added for all of these.

Is not today much like Noah’s day when the population of the earth was wiped out in the flood and but eight righteous souls were spared?   Some doubt that there was a flood, but by modern revelation we know that it did take place.

Elder Mark Petersen, “Follow the Prophets”.  October 1981 General Conference


The Lord further indicated that all flesh was corrupt in those days, and so he brought forth the flood and destroyed all flesh except Noah and his family. Therefore, we are all descendants of righteous Noah. But the family concept is under very serious attack today all over the world.

Elder Hartman Rector, Jr., “Turning the Hearts”. April 1981 General Conference.


There was the great Flood, when waters covered the earth and when, as Peter says, only “eight souls were saved” (1 Pet. 3:20).

President Gordon B. Hinckley, “If Ye Are Prepared, Ye Shall Not Fear”. October 2005 General Conference.

Another one was Noah, who was chosen to be the second father of the human race here on earth, after the flood.

Elder William Bennett, “Covenants and Blessings”. October 1975 General Conference.


Two generations later the Lord was so pained by that generation “without affection” (Moses 7:33) that he opened the windows of heaven and cleansed the entire earth with water.

Jeffry R. Holland, “A Promised Land”. Ensign, June 1976.

Here is what college-age LDS students are taught in the Church published curriculum of the Church Educational System (including Institute and BYU classes):

(4-15) Genesis 7:19. How Could the Flood Cover the Entire Earth, Including Mountains? What Was the Significance of This Immersion?

“I would like to know by what known law the immersion of the globe could be accomplished. It is explained here in a few words: ‘The windows of heaven were opened’ that is, the waters that exist throughout the space surrounding the earth from whence come these clouds from which the rain descends. That was one cause. Another cause was  ‘the fountains of the great deep were broken up’—that is something beyond the oceans, something outside of the seas, some reservoirs of which we  have no knowledge, were made to contribute to this event, and the waters were let loose by the hand and by the power of God; for God said He would bring  a flood upon the earth and He brought it, but He  had to let loose the fountains of the great deep, and pour out the waters from there, and when the flood commenced to subside, we are told ‘that the fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained, and the waters returned from off the earth.’ Where did they go to? From whence they came. Now, I will show you something else on the back of that. Some people talk very philosophically about tidal waves coming along. But the question is—How could you get a tidal wave out of the Pacific ocean, say, to cover the Sierra Nevadas? But the Bible does not tell us it was a tidal wave. It simply tells that ‘all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered Fifteen cubits upwards did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.’ That is, the earth was immersed. It was a period of baptism.” (John Taylor in Journal of Discourses, 26:74–75.)

Orson Pratt declared:
“The first ordinance instituted for the cleansing of the earth, was that of immersion in water; it was buried in the liquid element, and all things sinful upon the face of the earth were washed away. As it came forth  from the ocean floor, like the new-born child, it was innocent; it rose to newness of life. It was its second  birth from the womb of mighty waters—a new world issuing from the ruins of the old, clothed with all the  innocence of this first creation.” (In Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:20.)

“The earth, in its present condition and situation, is not a fit habitation for the sanctified; but it abides
the law of its creation, has been baptized with water will be baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost, and
by-and-by will be prepared for the faithful to dwell upon” (Brigham Young, in Smith, Answers to Gospel
Questions, 4:20).

Here is what is taught to adult members of the Church in their Church Sunday School classes:

b. Genesis 7:11–24; 8; 9:8–17. It rains for 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:11–12). All people and creatures that are not on the ark die, and the waters cover the earth for 150 days (Genesis 7:13–24). When the waters recede, Noah, his family, and the animals leave the ark (Genesis 8:1–19), and Noah offers sacrifice to the Lord (Genesis 8:20–22). The Lord establishes his covenant with Noah and sets the rainbow as a token of the covenant (Genesis 9:8–17; note that the Joseph Smith Translation of verse 15 states that the covenant was between God and Noah, not between God and every living creature).

More quotes, little ambiguity.

There is a third group of people—those who accept the literal message of the Bible regarding Noah, the ark, and the Deluge. Latter-day Saints belong to this group. In spite of the world’s arguments against the historicity of the Flood, and despite the supposed lack of geologic evidence, we Latter-day Saints believe that Noah was an actual man, a prophet of God, who preached repentance and raised a voice of warning, built an ark, gathered his family and a host of animals onto the ark, and floated safely away as waters covered the entire earth. We are assured that these events actually occurred by the multiple testimonies of God’s prophets.

Donald Parry, “The Flood and the Tower of Babel”.  Ensign, January 1998

Following the Flood, Noah and his three sons and their wives received a calling much like that given to Adam and Eve. They were commanded to “multiply and replenish the earth,” which would fulfill a prophecy made by Methuselah “that from [Noah’s] loins should spring all the kingdoms of the earth” (Moses 8:3). As the Prophet Joseph Smith explained, “Noah was born to save seed of everything, when the earth was washed of its wickedness by the flood.” 11 Noah fulfilled his specific calling just as Adam and Eve did in opening earth life and as the Savior did in redeeming earth life.

The Flood covered the whole earth (see Gen. 7:19–23).

Joseph B. Romney, “Noah, The Great Preacher of Righteousness”.  Ensign, February 1998


The worldwide flood of Noah’s time has been accepted as a benchmark historical event by Jews and Christians for thousands of years—and similar traditions appear among the Greeks, Mesopotamians, and some American Indian tribes. Yet the story is regarded skeptically today in our secular world. Most current geology texts ignore the Flood, ridicule it, or use it as an example of prescientific superstition.

Consequently, Latter-day Saints and other Christians sometimes find the apparent conflict between their faith in the scriptures and their education puzzling. The account of Noah’s flood is a typical illustration of the differences which occur between scriptural information and modern secular teachings about the history of the world.

F. Kent Nielsen, “The Gospel and the Scientific View: How the Earth Came to Be”. Ensign, September 1980

In prayer Noah asked the Lord never to destroy the earth again with flood. Noah’s prayer was answered; the Lord promised Noah that He would never again destroy the entire earth by flood. From that time forth the rainbow would be a symbol of that promise.

“Noah and the Ark”. Liahona, September 1984

These people were so wicked that they were no longer allowed to pollute the earth by their presence on it or to bring innocent spirits into its decadent environment. The Lord decreed that all living things would be destroyed by flood, with the exception of a faithful few who would be spared so that God could begin anew his creative work and reestablish his covenant among men.

Kent P. Jackson, “An Age of Contrasts: From Adam to Abraham”. Ensign, February 1986.

According to the Old Testament, Noah found favor with the Lord and was commanded to build an ark to preserve human and animal life during the Flood (see Gen. 5–9).

Rex C. Reeve Jr., “A Latter-day Testament of Biblical Truth”. Ensign, January 2001.

The history of the peopling of the earth is really a history of the scattering of the descendants of Noah, who is sometimes referred to as the “second father of mankind.” This general scattering began soon after the Flood when the sons of Noah and their children began to spread forth “in their lands, … after their nations” (see Gen. 10:5, 20, 31) and was greatly accelerated at the time of the Tower of Babel, when the Lord confounded the people’s language and did “scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.” (Gen. 11:9.)

Lane Johnson, “Who and Where are the Lamanites?”. Ensign, December 1975.

Is not today much like Noah’s day, when the population of the earth was wiped out in the Flood and but eight souls were saved? (see Genesis 7; 1 Peter 3:20).

Elder David E. Sorensen, “Preisthood, Agency and Black Power”. Ensign, September 2007.

*This is a bonus one.  Proponents of a “Limited Flood” have to explain what, exactly, God was covenanting with Noah.  No more local floods?  And what about all the other people living all over the world?

The Lord made a covenant with Noah, and the rainbow became the token of that eternal covenant with all mankind. (See Gen. 9:13.)

Elder Howard W. Hunter, “Commitment to God”. October 1981 Conference.

Just to be fair, I will also include every reference in a Church publication to a Local Flood, or the possibility that the flood wasn’t global:

[crickets chirping]

There aren’t any that I could find.  Let me know if you have better luck.

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Why we can’t pay for our own sins

At some point, it may occur to Christians (and potential Christians) that the whole deal might be a bit easier if we could just pay for our own sins.  Come judgement day, we are told all the bad stuff we did, and told how much we have to suffer in order to gain exaltation.  We suffer until the price is paid, and then go on to exaltation (or whichever kingdom we’re interested in).

If you discuss this with any Christian, the simple answer must be “No,  we can’t pay for our own sins, because if we could, we wouldn’t need Jesus and the whole gospel is pointless.”  Since the whole selling point of Christianity is the idea that  “You need Jesus”, considering other options is just bad salesmanship.

But since I’m not on my mission anymore, I’m not worried so much about salesmanship.  So let’s think about this.

What if, theoretically, it might be possible for someone to “pay” for their “sins”?  And what in the universe makes us think it isn’t possible?

First, the Plan of Salvation requires that there be some universal “entity” that is more powerful than God, and keeping God from just forgiving us of our sins outright.   One of the fundamental ideas of the Plan of Salvation is that God would love for us to return to live with Him, but there’s something more powerful than Him that keeps Him from forgiving us our sins.

For some reason, this entity (I’ll call it “Justyce”) determines whether or not someone is allowed to become God-like (and receive Celestial Glory).  Justyce has a set of universally applied rules for humans that want to progress and become more god-like.  If a humanoid spirit breaks any of these rules, Justyce will not allow God to exalt them.

Justyce has communicated these rules to God somehow, so God is able to communicate the rules to humans living on Earth.  Presumably, if any human were able to live their entire lives without breaking a single rule, they would be allowed by Justyce to receive exaltation, and everything would be great.

But for some reason, Justyce’s rules happen to include a few things that are common in the human experience.  Even without knowing them, everyone, everywhere is able to figure out how to break the rules and make themselves unworthy for exaltation.  The only exception appears to be young children and the mentally disabled; Justyce understands that some people break the rules but don’t understand what they’re doing, so it’s OK.  But people who break the rules as adults are still held accountable, even if they were never told the rules.

So, with Justyce’s rules, we would have a 0% success rate for exaltation for eligible persons.

Luckily, there is a loophole that allows people to have broken Justyce’s rules, but still achieve exaltation.  And luckily, Justyce has told God about this loophole.  For some reason, people are allowed to become exalted, even if they have broken Justyce’s rules, if a perfectly sinless human can be found, and he undergoes a terrific amount of suffering.  If that can happen, Justyce will allow people who have sinned to be exalted by God.

Another part of the deal is that God then gets to make up his own set of rules for the people who have sinned but want to become exalted.  Once the sinless human has “suffered” for all the sinners, then the sinners only get to be exalted if they follow these new rules set forth by God.  As instituted by the God of Earth, these rules involve things such as baptism and Temple Ordinances.  I’m not sure if Justyce cares about these things.

Which brings us to the point of the thread:

Why can’t sinners “pay” for their own sins, so Justyce will allow them to be directly exalted without needing someone else to suffer for them?

Based on our knowledge of the atonement, “paying for sins” seems to involve two factors: the degree of suffering, and the period of time.

Presumably, there is a universal algorithm such that some degree of total suffering is sufficient to pay for a certain degree of sins.  And once the sins have been “paid” for, the suffering stops (were this not the case, Jesus would be suffering for an infinite amount of time).  Based on my knowledge of pain and suffering, I suspect the algorithm looks like this:

Total suffering = (degree of pain)*(length of pain)

We understand that Christ was able to complete the suffering for every sin ever committed by every human by suffering a severe degree of pain (say, on a scale of 1-10, a “9.5”), for a few hours of Earth time (say, 600 minutes of Earth time).  Thus, Christ’s suffering would be the equivalent of “5700 degrees” of pain.

Considering that these 5700 degrees was sufficient for the billions and billions of people who ever lived on Earth, we can guess that the individual penalty for every person would be a small fraction of the pain suffered by Jesus.

Thus, we might ask why Justyce can’t let us suffer [i]that[/i] degree of pain.  At the end of our life (and judgement day), we are given an accounting of every one of Justyce’s rules that we broke, and we are told what degree of suffering is necessary to pay the price for these infractions if we want to be exalted.

Additionally, we could even be given the choice to vary the degree of pain and the length of suffering, so that we could take our medicine all at once, or stretch out lesser pain (say, a mild toothache) over millions of Earth years.  As infinite beings, there is no limit to the length of suffering we could endure in the afterlife.

(Additional note:  Some may argue that there is no super-god entity that is calling the shots, and that God learned about the plan of salvation and the “Atonement” option some other way.  But how?  Unless something told him about it, the only other way to figure out that the suffering of a sinless human would make it possible for sinful humans to get exalted would be trial and error.  Thus, there would be infinite cycles of creation-human experience-death-judgment where they would try different things to figure out what it takes for sinful humans to be able to somehow get around their sinful nature.)

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Thoughts on the recent First Vision Video (2005)

In 2005, the Church released a “new” video telling the story of the First Vision, meant to replace the film from the 1970’s that has been seen thousands of times by anyone growing up in the Church at that time.  If anyone hasn’t seen the two, here were my notes:

I think the best summary of the DVD is that it presents Joseph Smith’s family and situation as the Church wishes it had been. Or, as it would have been if they had lived as a good LDS family in Utah in the 1950’s. Or, as it would have been if produced by the Hallmark channel, or the guys who make Kodak film commercials. Take your pick.

I thought these were the most intersting points:

-No pre-vision visit from Satan. This has been left out of the first discussion for years, and now it doesn’t warrant a mention in the video.

-We don’t actually see the floating bodies of God and Jesus. It’s just a bright light in the trees. This is much more ambiguous; while the narration mentions the personages, the visual stamp isn’t quite as memorable.

-Joseph only mentions that when he asked God which Church to join, he was told to “join none of them”. But that’s it. No mention about abomidable creeds, corrupt professors (all of them), and near lips but far hearts.

-After the experience, Joseph calls to his mother from afar, as if he was going to excitedly tell her of his vision. Verse 20 of the Joseph Smith History has him giving less than full disclosure to his mother’s inquiries.

-We see a conversation Joseph has with the local minister. I couldn’t help but wonder how an LDS Bishop or Stake President would react if a 14 year old teacher revealed that God and Jesus had appeared, and told him the LDS Church was corrupt, and that his family should leave. I’m sure he’d get a very warm reception, up to and including a Disciplinary Court.

The story of the First Vision is a story of any rebel struggle against the status quo, and now that the Church is entrenched in its mindset and efforts of self-preservation, drastic “revelations” from outside the power structure would be just as unwelcome as they were in Joseph Smith’s day.

-And finally, we see Joseph in the process of translating the Book of Mormon. It shows Joseph sitting at a table, studying the plates without the aid of a Urim and Thummim or seer stone, while the scribe sits across from him taking it all down. Maybe if we wish hard enough, we can convince people that that was the way it really happened.

My wife and I both agree that the 1970’s First Vision film was superior, if only because it seemed much more sincere. And the low budget made it grittier and more realistic. And because it appears so old, we can tell our kids it’s actual footage from the early 1800’s.

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Quotes worth discussing (and remembering)…

A few years ago, Joseph Fielding McConkie  had these thoughts on the Church’s moves towards “ecumenism”, or trying to get along with other religions:

The Ecumenical Movement

As a young man I was commissioned as an officer in the Army of the United States and assigned to serve as a chaplain. My first duty was to report to an officer’s training school at Fort Hamilton in New York. There the Chief of Chaplains, a three star general by the name of Charley Brown, told us that our commission was to be the grassroots of the ecumenical movement. There were one hundred of us in that class, representing every major faith in our country. We were instructed to work together. We were informed that it was a violation of military law for us to proselyte for our own faith. Were I to attempt to teach Mormonism to someone who was not already a Latter-day Saint would have been grounds for a court marshal. Such is the cost of an ecumenical movement.

I appreciate the observation of Elder Maxwell, who said, There is today more ecumenicism, but there is also more shared doubt. More and more people believe less and less but they do believe it together. The fewer the issues, the easier it is to get agreements. The fewer standards there are, the less there is for congregations to rebel against. Since knowing is tied to doing, and doing to knowing, there is an awful cycle in all of this.

By revelation, we as a people have been charged to stand independent of the world (see D&C 78:14). In a directive to priesthood leaders President Packer stated, It is important to maintain a cordial and cooperative relationship with the leaders and members of other denominations. Representatives of the Church should not join interfaith organizations that have as their focus ecumenical activities or joint worship services. Interfaith relationships should center on moral values and on community betterment. [7]

http://www.meridianmagazine.com/jsbicentennial/051115vision.html

In short, the danger of trying to be liked by other religions is that they might think we are trying to be like them.  Which should never be the case.   I wonder which is more dangerous: being the weird, unliked, persecuted “cult”, or the big, popular, respected religion?  Which fosters a faster deterioration of unique (and important) doctrines?

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Cinepro’s Unified Theory Of Official Doctrine

One of the recurring themes among apologists and critics is how to find “Official LDS Doctrine”.  The confusion seems to stem over the lack of a clear, authoritative definition, leaving each member (and non-member) to arrive at their own conclusion.

While there are many, many doctrines for which there is no debate over their “official” status (Jesus is the Son of God, everyone will be resurrected, Baptism by immersion is required for everyone, etc.), once we venture outside of the core teachings, things get much murkier.

A recent article in Wired magazine discussed the problem of “status” in the world of scientists.  The traditional method of gaining status was to be published in high-status journals.  The more publications over time, the better for you.  But some scientists were doing work of great value, but for certain reasons, it wasn’t being accepted for publication in the few high-status journals.  But it was being referred to and used by other scientists, which would indicate that it did have value.

So physicist Jorge Hirsch developed his own system for “rating” scientists:

After two years of number-crunching in his cluttered office at UC San Diego, Hirsch had it—an invention important enough to warrant publication in the (very prestigious) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In his 2005 article, Hirsch introduced the h-index (named after himself, of course). The key was focusing not on where you published but on how many times other researchers cited your work. In practice, you take all the papers you’ve published and rank them by how many times each has been cited. Say paper number one has been cited 10,000 times. Paper number two, 8,000 cites. Paper number 32 has 33 citations, but number 33 has received just 28. You’ve published 32 papers with more than 32 citations—your h-index is 32.

Or to put it more technically, the h-index is the number n of a researcher’s papers that have been cited by other papers at least n times. High numbers = important science = important scientist.

In its nearly four years of life, the relatively simple, flexible h-index has become the most talked-about metric in the very hot science of rating scientists and their research, a discipline that has flourished in ways Hirsch had never imagined. The h-index was the biggest splash in a flood of Internet-enabled rating systems—growth and decay chronometrics, semiometric measures, hub/authority metrics. Schools and labs use such ratings to help them make grants, bestow tenure, award bonuses, and hire postdocs. In fact, similar statistical approaches have become standard practice in Internet search algorithms and on social networking sites. These numbers do for scientists what U.S. News & World Report does for colleges and Bill James’ Sabermetrics did for baseball: They quantify reputation.

It’s an interesting idea.  This quantification process reduces the influence of any single factor in determining the value of a theory or research paper.  It is the aggregate, over time, that is important.  There is no one, single authority determining what has scientific “value”, and what research must languish in obscurity.  It’s a way of saying “This theory or research is used by many different scientists in many different areas of research, so it must have value.”

It seems to me that a similar system could be used to determine the validity of doctrines in the Church.   Just as there is no single way for a scientific paper to be determined “valid” (it is tested and used over time, by many different scientists), there is no single way for a doctrine in the Church to be considered “official”.  Many factors come into play, including the source of the doctrine, the frequency with which it is taught, its “currency” (how recently was it taught?), who is teaching it, and who is teaching contradictory doctrines?

Each teaching of the Church could be analyzed in such a way, with weighting given to different sources (i.e. it’s in the AoF = very strong, it’s in an article written by a non-GA in the Ensign 25 years ago = not very strong, it’s only found in the JoD = very weak).  Some doctrines would be found to be taught and repeated in many places, continually getting reinforced in manuals, publications, conference talks, and rooted in the scriptures.  Others would be popular in certain eras, but fade over time (becoming “less official”).  Others might have more recent, contradictory statements that would weaken them considerably.

Looking at the aggregate of teachings and citations over time, it could be seen which doctrines have been useful and solid, and which have disappeared or fallen out of fashion.  “Jesus = Son of God” could be a 10, “Blood Atonement” could be a 1.  Instead of trying to shoehorn different ideas into a box of “Official Doctrine”, it could be understood that a teaching has a doctrinal rating of “6”, which might mean it is frequently found in manuals and certain interpretations of the scriptures, but there are alternate theories which are also acknowledged and it hasn’t been taught explicitly by a latter day Prophet of Apostle from the pulpit.

In order to implement such a system, each type of “reinforcement” would need to be graded, and then for each teaching under consideration, someone would have to do the research to determine when and where it has been taught (or taught against).  Ultimately, we all probably use our own version of this system (adjusted for our personal preferences for weighting of sources and knowledge of what has been taught where), but it would be interesting to actually try to codify it, and give some uniformity to these discussions.

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The Case Against Physical Evidence for the Book of Mormon

One of the truisms of Mormon apologetics can be summarized thusly:

There is no solid physical evidence for the Book of Mormon because even if they had solid evidence, people who disbelieve the book still wouldn’t believe. And for the others, they would be logically compelled to believe in the gospel, thus skipping the all important step of having faith.   Sometimes this is even embellished with the theory that God is being merciful by withholding all the evidence.  He’s doing it for our benefit.

But, as with many apologetic truisms, this one makes no sense when compared to other situations where evidences such as source documents are available.  Does the presence of these sources inspire other people to change their religion?  And when faced with an “exceedingly unusual” claim (such as one that drastically rewrites traditional history) does the presence of “evidence” such as source documents usually help the claim, or does it do more damage?

After all, how many people converted to the Church after the “discovery” of the Joseph Smith papyri?

How many people changed their religious affiliation, or diminished their feelings towards their current one, after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi library, or any other recently discovered ancient religious document?

How many “anciently inscribed” metal plates or clay tablets supporting an alternate view of ancient American history have been discovered on the American continent in the last 200 years (inluding the Kinderhook plates, the Vorhee Tablets, and the Michigan Relics)? Of these, how many have been fraudulent, and how many have been authentic? Has the availability of the artifacts made it easier to determine their fraudulent nature, or harder?

How many hard evidences of an ancient Hebrew presence have been “discovered” in the Americas in the last 200 years (including the Bat Creed Stone and the Los Lunas inscription)? Of these, how many have been accepted as authentic, and how many have been determined to be likely fakes? How has the availability of the artifacts affected a researchers ability to determine their authenticity?

In any of the previous examples, if the artifacts had been “lost” or hidden, would it be easier or harder to believe in their authenticity?

Compare pre-1980 comments in Church publications regarding the Kinderhook plates to post-1990 comments (when testing in 1980 had strongly indicated a 19th century origin). If there had been existing Kinderhook plates to test, would we have seen such a dramatic change in the approach of Church scholars to the subject?

In addition to the Golden Plates that are now gone, also consider the liahona, Laban’s sword, the breastplate, the Urim and Thummim and the cement box, all of which were claimed to have been recovered by Joseph Smith in the 1820’s. When formulating a theory to explain the missing Golden Plates, should the theory also include an explanation for these other missing artifacts?

It should also be noted that  “uneducated farmboys”  have found ancient artifacts before, including significantly religious ones (main example being the Dead Sea Scrolls). Joseph Smith could have found an stash of ancient metal plates and artifacts entirely by luck, especially since he was digging in the area looking for such things anyway. So, the actual existence of the plates would only prove that Joseph Smith found some ancient plates.

The critical factor as far as faith and evidence is concerned would be the translation. But based on the situation with the Book of Abraham, where Joseph Smith’s “translation” doesn’t exactly correspond with what is one the original document, and the apologetic reaction to the situation, how is it imagined the reaction would be any different if Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon didn’t correspond with what is written on the plates (assuming scholars could crack the code in the first place).

Let’s take the most direct piece of evidence we have for Joseph Smith’s claims of supernatural gifts: the papyri. Is it your opinion that it was easier to believe in the Book of Abraham before the papyri was recovered in the 1960’s, or after? For those who believe the existing papyri is incomplete, do you imagine the recovery of the rest of the papyri would be more supportive of belief, or more damaging?

Look at the Kinderhook plates. Until an actual plate was discovered and tested, most LDS publications considered them genuine, and supportive of the presence of ancient metal plates in the Americas (and thus the Book of Mormon). But the increase in “evidence” allowed the claim to be tested and falsified. Luckily, it was a purely tangential issue (merely a footnote in Church history), but imagine if the same thing happened with the actual gold plates !?

And the same thing has happened over and over in the last 200 years, with all sorts of odd archaeological artifacts being found that support some unusual theory of the ancient americas. The artifacts that remain get tested and falsified (michigan relics, kinderhook plates, bat creek inscription etc.,) The only hope for a con or a fraud is to somehow get rid of the evidence, so it can’t be scrutinized or tested.

No, in the last 175 years, discoveries of physical evidence have ended up being negative to the previous orthodox belief of Church members and scholars, and have required an attitude shift and redefinition away from the previous belief, usually to a less-literal and less-likely-to-be-falsified version of belief.

But if you can get people to believe something regardless of the evidence for or against it, then who cares? You’ve hit the argumentative lottery, and have graduated to that blessed Xanadu that few can hope to achieve: where you can say almost anything you want, and people will believe you not because of the evidence for our claim, but only because you said it. And if evidence contradictory to your claim should appear in the future, the believers will not doubt your claim, but instead work to re-evaluate the evidence to make it fit with your claim, or ignore it all together. They’ll do the work for you!

Just to be clear, the plates would not be a “dead giveaway”.

Remember, there is a situation where a group of people seperated from the main “Church”, and lived in their own society for many years. Then, before their annihilation, they hid up their records (including copies of some of the books of the Old Testament, which they had with them). The records were preserved for over a dozen centuries, until discovered by an uneducated farmboy.

But this farm boy wasn’t Joseph Smith, and we still have them today. The discoverers of these ancient texts didn’t start a Church though. They handed them over to scholars. Thus, researchers the world over are able to learn about this ancient community. No one doubts the origin of the record, because they can be examined. And yet, their existence and publication hasn’t “compelled” anyone to change their belief, as far as I know.

These records are of course the Dead Sea Scrolls.

So, it would have been entirely possible for Joseph to have found a set of buried metal plates in one of his digging expeditions. The real proof wouldn’t be in the existence of the plates, it would be in the translation of the plates. And if the translation was shown to be unrelated to the engraven language, then those who had faith would accept their mistake, right?

Unfortunately, there is another similar case where Joseph translated some ancient documents, with the subsequent examination producing a non-faith promoting result. The Book of Abraham.

So, even if we had the plates, and the translation was shown to be incorrect, I’m sure we would be hearing all about a “catalyst” theory for the Book of Mormon, where these ancient american artifacts weren’t the actual record, but instead “inspired” Joseph to channel Mormon‘s long lost writings.

But if we had the plates, and the translation was shown to be correct, that would be pretty incredible. But considering the prevelance of hoaxes involving ancient american artifacts in the last 200 years, and the ability of the hoax to be exposed based on the availability of the artifacts, I think it was the smartest thing Joseph and/or God ever did when they got rid of the evidence.

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What’s Wrong With “Mormon Doctrine”?

In 1958, Elder Bruce R. McConkie (then a member of the Church’s Quorum of the Seventy, the third highest Quorum in the Church) published a book entitled “Mormon Doctrine”.  It set out, in alphabetical order, his views on hundreds of different subjects relating to the Church, ranging from “The Atonement” to “Playing Cards”.

Though not an “official” Church publication, Elder McConkie was a noted and respected scriptorian, and his forceful and certain tone throughout the book gives it an air of authority.  Soon after it was published, the first edition of the book fell under criticism for some of it’s more unusual and ascerbic claims (the most notable one being that the Catholic Church is “The Church of the Devil” as described in The Book of Mormon).  Higher church authorities discussed the matter, and to make a long story short, the book was issued in a revised second edition in 1966.  After the revelation giving blacks the priesthood in 1978,  it was further revised, and that is the edition available today.

Before his death, Elder McConkie became a member of the LDS Quorum of the 12 apostles, making him a high-ranking authority and one of the 15 men LDS revere as “apostles”.  Since his death, Elder McConkie’s writings, including “Mormon Doctrine”, have enjoyed continued popularity, and he is one of the most quoted Church leaders in the Church’s own scripture lesson manuals and curriculum.

While many of the statements made by Elder McConkie have become outdated and fallen out of fashion in Mormon culture, “Mormon Doctrine”  continues to be published and sold to this day (even in Deseret Book, the LDS Church-owned bookstore). [Edit: As of March 2010, it appears the book is no longer in print or available at Deseret Book – CP] LDS Scholars who support the Theory of Evolution and other more “nuanced” understandings of the scriptures are those most likely to find themselves teaching things contradictory to Elder McConkie.

Whenever the topic of “Mormon Doctrine” comes up, people tend to downplay the book, as if it were harmless or “mostly correct”.  I agree it is “mostly correct”, but I think perhaps it is time to let the book go out of print and fade away (as has almost ever other book published by an LDS General Authority during the 1960’s.  When was the last time you saw “An Abundant Life” by Hugh B. Brown on sale at Deseret Book?)  And why?

Here are some of the many statements made in “Mormon Doctrine” that, at the very least, do not reflect the opinions of many modern Church members and leaders.  I won’t note why each one has fallen out of favor in some circles, but I will say that if these statements are true in general, apologetic scholarship on the Book of Mormon and creation of the Earth has run off doctrinal the rails, and scholars and apologists are living in a  state of delusion:


American Indians “When Columbus discovered America, the native inhabitants, the American Indians as they were soon to be designated, were a people of mixed blood and origin. Chiefly they were Lamanites, but such remnants of the Nephite nation as had not been destroyed had, of course, mingled with the Lamanites. (1 Ne. 13:30; 2 Ne. 3:1-3; 9:53; Alma 45:13-14; D. & C. 3:16-19.) Thus the Indians were Jews by nationality (D. & C. 57:4), their forefathers having come out from Jerusalem, from the kingdom of Judah. (2 Ne. 33:8-10.)”

…….

Since the days of the Spanish conquests and colonizations of Mexico and South America, there has been further dilution of the pure Lamanitish blood. But with it all, for the great majority of the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere, the dominant blood lineage is that of Israel. The Indians are repeatedly called Lamanites in the revelations to the Prophet, and the promise is that in due course they “shall blossom as the rose” (D. & C. 49:24), that is, become again a white and delightsome people as were their ancestors a great many generations ago.



Animals They were all created as spirit entities in pre-existence. (Moses 3:1-9.) When first placed on earth in the Garden of Eden, they were immortal. The revealed record, speaking of the edenic day, specifies: “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.” (2 Ne. 2:22.) Such would have been the continuing condition had there been no fall of Adam, but Adam and all forms of life were subject to the fall and have been living on earth in their mortal states ever since.

Article on Marriage

When the Prophet returned (in 1835) and learned of the action taken relative to the publication of the article on marriage, he was greatly troubled. However, knowing that up to that date the new and everlasting covenant of marriage had only been revealed in principle, that there was as yet no command to practice it, and that the power and keys had not been restored whereby marriages could be solemnized so they would endure for eternity, he let the action stand. The higher order was to come later.

Evolution

Adam’s fall brought temporal (natural) and spiritual death into the world. The temporal or natural death means that body and spirit separate, the spirit going to a world of waiting spirits to await the day of the resurrection, the body returning to the dust, the primal element, from which it was taken. The effects of this fall passed upon all created things.

Thus when man fell the earth fell together with all forms of life on its face. Death entered; procreation began; the probationary experiences of mortality had their start. Before this fall there was neither mortality, nor birth, nor death, nor — for that matter — did Adam so much as have blood in his veins (and the same would be true for other forms of life), for blood is an element pertaining only to mortality.

…..

However, for our present purposes, it is sufficient to know that the time element since mortal life began on earth is specifically and pointedly made known. We are now nearing the end of the 6th thousand years of this earth’s “continuance, or its temporal existence,” and the millennial era will commence “in the beginning of the seventh thousand years.” (D. & C. 77.) That is, we are approaching the end of the 6th of the periods of one thousand years each, all of which periods have occurred since the fall, since the earth became temporal, since it gained its telestial status, since it became the natural earth that we know, since death and mortality entered the scene. Thus the period during which birth, and life, and death have been occurring on this earth is less than 6,000 years.

……

How weak and puerile the intellectuality which, knowing that the Lord’s plan takes all forms of life from a pre-existent spirit state, through mortality, and on to an ultimate resurrected state of immortality, yet finds comfort in the theoretical postulates that mortal life began in the scum of the sea, as it were, and has through eons of time evolved to its present varieties and state! Do those with spiritual insight really think that the infinite Creator of worlds without number would operate in this way?

…..

Merely to list the basic doctrines of the gospel is to point out the revealed truths which are inharmonious with the theories of organic evolution and which were to taken into account by those who postulated those theories. In addition to the considerations so far mentioned attention might be given to revelation, visions, and angelic ministrations; to miracles, signs, and gifts of the Spirit; to the enjoyment of the gift of the Holy Ghost by the faithful; to the truths comprising the plan of salvation; to the decreed judgment according to works, and the ultimate assignment of all resurrected men to kingdoms or degrees of glory hereafter.

There is no harmony between the truths of revealed religion and the theories of organic evolution.

First Man

There were no pre-Adamites; the great archangel Michael, who descended from the courts of glory to be the father of the human race, was appointed to be the father of all living. Indeed, Adam and Eve were not able to have children and provide bodies for the spirit children of the Father until after the fall.

Plural Marriage

Obviously the holy practice will commence again after the Second Coming of the Son of Man and the ushering in of the millennium.

Flood of Noah

In the days of Noah the Lord sent a universal flood which completely immersed the whole earth and destroyed all flesh except that preserved on the ark. (Gen. 6; 7; 8; 9; Moses 7:38-45; 8; Ether 13:2.) “Noah was born to save seed of everything, when the earth was washed of its wickedness by the flood.” (Teachings, p. 12.) This flood was the baptism of the earth; before it occurred the land was all in one place, a condition that will again prevail during the millennial era. (D. & C. 133:23-24.)

There is no question but what many of the so-called geological changes in the earth’s surface, which according to geological theories took place over ages of time, in reality occurred in a matter of a few short weeks incident to the universal deluge. (Man: His Origin and Destiny, pp. 414-436.)

Birth Control

(Quoting President Joseph F. Smith:) : “I regret, I think it is a crying evil, that there should exist a sentiment or a feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. I think that is a crime wherever it occurs, where husband and wife are in possession of health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity. I believe that where people undertake to curtail or prevent the birth of their children that they are going to reap disappointment by and by. I have no hesitancy in saying that I believe this is one of the greatest crimes of the world today, this evil practice.” (Rel. Soc. Mag., vol. 4, p. 318.)

Cain

As a result of his rebellion, Cain was cursed and told that “the earth” would not thereafter yield him its abundance as previously. In addition he became the first mortal to be cursed as a son of perdition. As a result of his mortal birth he is assured of a tangible body of flesh and bones in eternity, a fact which will enable him to rule over Satan. The Lord placed on Cain a mark of a dark skin, and he became the ancestor of the black race.

Caste System


However, in a broad general sense, caste systems have their root and origin in the gospel itself, and when they operate according to the divine decree, the resultant restrictions and segregation are right and proper and have the approval of the Lord. To illustrate: Cain, Ham, and the whole negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not intermarry. (Gen. 4; Moses 5.)

Cumorah

See BOOK OF MORMON, GOLD PLATES.

Both the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations fought their final great wars of extinction at and near the Hill Cumorah (or Ramah as the Jaredites termed it), which hill is located between Palmyra and Manchester in the western part of the state of New York. It was here that Moroni hid up the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. (Morm. 6; Ether 15.) Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and many of the early brethren, who were familiar with all the circumstances attending the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in this dispensation, have left us pointed testimony as to the identity and location of Cumorah or Ramah. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3, pp. 232-241.)

Quetzalcoatl

See APOSTASY, BOOK OF MORMON, CHRIST, NEPHITES AND LAMANITES.

Lamanitish tradition has preserved the account of the ministry among the ancient inhabitants of America of a white God called Quetzalcoatl. One of the most accurate and authentic sources of the secular history of America, for the period before Columbus, was written by Ixtlilxochitl near the close of the 16th century. His material, gained from ancient hieroglyphic writings handed down from his ancestors, contains such statements as these:

“Quetzalcoatl was a favorably disposed man, of grave aspect, white and bearded. His dress was a long tunic.” He was “just, saintly and good.” He taught “by deeds and words the path of virtue forbidding them their vices and sins, giving laws and good doctrine.” “He told them that in time to come, … he would return, and then his doctrine would be received.” (Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, pp. 195-222; Hunter, Archaeology and the Book of Mormon, vol. 2, Christ in Ancient America.)

It is well known that one of the chief reasons for the relatively easy conquest of Mexico by Cortez was the belief, almost universal among the Aztecs, that he was the great white God returning as he had promised. (William H. Prescott, The Conquest of Mexico.) Almost without exception Latter-day Saints have associated these traditions with the ministry of the resurrected Christ among the Nephites. President John Taylor, for instance, has written: “The story of the life of the Mexican divinity, Quetzalcoatl, closely resembles that of the Savior; so closely, indeed, that we can come to no other conclusion than that Quetzalcoatl and Christ are the same being. But the history of the former has been handed down to us through an impure Lamanitish source, which has sadly disfigured and perverted the original incidents and teachings of the Savior’s life and ministry.” (Mediation and Atonement, p. 194.)

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The FLDS – Our greatest missed missionary oppurtunity!

Is there any group of people on the Earth today that should be easier to baptize than the FLDS?

They already have a testimony of Joseph Smith and the BoM. They already have a testimony of Brigham Young and John Taylor. All we have to do is convince them that Wilford Woodruff really was a prophet, and they’re in. They probably haven’t ever really prayed to find out if the LDS church is true, and if they did, they must be close enough to the Holy Ghost for God to testify to them of their error.

Instead of sending missionaries to areas of the world with incredibly low rates of conversion and huge cultural and religious obstacles (Japan?), we should be blitzing Colorado City, where everyone is a dry Mormon with the same concern to resolve.

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