Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kerry Shirts' Podcasts - Many Details on the Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham

In addition to many articles Kerry Shirts has written on the Book of Abraham, he has a diverse series of podcasts that include detailed discussions about evidence supporting Joseph Smith's interpretations of the facsimiles. For starters, I recommend this podcast on the Book of Abraham Egyptian facsimiles.

LDSForums.com - Valuable Online Community

If you're looking for forums to discuss LDS matters, consider LDSForums.com - an online community to learn about LDS doctrine, beliefs, and other matters. It is sponsored by the More Good Foundation. Many topics. Especially suited for people interested in learning and discussing what Latter-day Saints believe.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Tap . . . Tap . . . Tap - Surely You Recognize That Tune?

One of my favorite books, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath, has a great section about tappers and listeners (in fact, it's available online in a published excerpt). As you read the story of Elizabeth Newton's research on tapping out tunes, think about the difficult believers and non-believers have in understanding each other.
Tappers and Listeners

In 1990, Elizabeth Newton earned a Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford by studying a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: "tappers" or "listeners." Tappers received a list of twenty-five well-known songs, such as "Happy Birthday to You" and "The StarSpangled Banner." Each tapper was asked to pick a song and tap out the rhythm to a listener (by knocking on a table). The listener's job was to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped. (By the way, this experiment is fun to try at home if there's a good "listener" candidate nearby.)

The listener's job in this game is quite difficult. Over the course of Newton's experiment, 120 songs were tapped out. Listeners guessed only 2.5 percent of the songs: 3 out of 120.

But here's what made the result worthy of a dissertation in psychology. Before the listeners guessed the name of the song, Newton asked the tappers to predict the odds that the listeners would guess correctly. They predicted that the odds were 50 percent. The tappers got their message across 1 time in 40, but they thought they were getting their message across 1 time in 2. Why?

When a tapper taps, she is hearing the song in her head. Go ahead and try it for yourself — tap out "The Star-Spangled Banner." It's impossible to avoid hearing the tune in your head. Meanwhile, the listeners can't hear that tune — all they can hear is a bunch of disconnected taps, like a kind of bizarre Morse Code.

In the experiment, tappers are flabbergasted at how hard the listeners seem to be working to pick up the tune. Isn't the song obvious? The tappers' expressions, when a listener guesses "Happy Birthday to You" for "The Star-Spangled Banner," are priceless: How could you be so stupid?

It's hard to be a tapper. The problem is that tappers have been given knowledge (the song title) that makes it impossible for them to imagine what it's like to lack that knowledge. When they're tapping, they can't imagine what it's like for the listeners to hear isolated taps rather than a song. This is the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has "cursed" us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can't readily re-create our listeners' state of mind.

The tapper/listener experiment is reenacted every day across the world. The tappers and listeners are CEOs and frontline employees, teachers and students, politicians and voters, marketers and customers, writers and readers. All of these groups rely on ongoing communication, but, like the tappers and listeners, they suffer from enormous information imbalances. When a CEO discusses "unlocking shareholder value," there is a tune playing in her head that the employees can't hear.
Fascinating!

Sometimes when we are sharing the Gospel with others, explaining why we believe, we are tapping out a rhythm based on a beautiful song in our heads, where each note has richness and overtones based on numerous spiritual experiences. But without that music in his or her head, the other person has no idea what we are trying to say. If others don't get it, it's not necessarily because they aren't spiritual or lack faith - perhaps it's because our tapping doesn't have the right accompaniment. There is a way past this gap. In my view, anyway, the accompaniment of the Holy Ghost can carry our words, our plain tapping, into the hearts of others and help them hear the music and recognize once familiar tunes.

"No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." (1 Cor. 12:3) It's the Holy Ghost that reveals that Jesus Christ is Lord, that God exists, that we can be forgiven for our sins through the Atonement of the Son. We can testify to that, we can share our testimony, but it's all vain tapping that no one will get if not accompanied by the witness of the Spirit.

Multiply and Replenish . . . Your Spreadsheet

Alert for Excel 2007 users: Excel Can't Multiply. If you're doing any calculations that involve the number 65,535, you may have trouble. For example, Excel thinks 850*77.1 = 100,000, when the real answer is 65,535. And numerous calculations using 65,535 directly will give errors.

Microsoft is aware of the problem and is feverishly working to come up with a fix, or at least an explanation as to why it's a feature and not a bug.

I only mention this because much of the world's economy depends on calculations done by Excel. Perhaps much of the security of the world. Just in case you're wondering.

Reminder on Comments: This Is Not the Place for YOUR Unconstrained Freedom of Speech

A couple people have been sorely offended when I have deleted comments that violate my policies here. As a reminder, I ask that your comments be on-topic, civil in tone, not make slurs or highly offensive remarks about other religions (disagreeing with doctrines and beliefs is OK, when it's on-topic), and not be excessively long and rambling. Links to video content will usually be deleted because I don't want to take the time to screen video content, and links to hostile or offensive sites (most anti-Mormon sites) will usually be deleted because I don't want to give added visibility to them.

Of course, there is a double standard. My posts may violate any of those policies. For example, I could go ahead and link to MormonCult.org, if I wanted to. And I could say something offensive to the good Christians of Wisconsin, like, "Not all true Christians are Packers Fans." But if you try such rubbish, SNIP! Or I may even pull out my E-Taser! Why the double standard? Because this blog, sad to say, is an expression of MY free speech, not yours. I'm really sorry about that, but those who are bothered by that are welcome to start their own blog.

Repeat postings of deleted comments is another form of bad behavior that really tries my patience (hello - if I deleted it once, I'm obviously not willing to have it posted again).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lost Everything? Imagine What God Can Do With You Now

I recently had a remarkable conversation that included listening to a terrific sermon from Pastor Charles Reeb of the Tuskawilla United Method Church in Florida. The sermon, "You Only Have to Die," was given by Pastor Reeb on Sept. 9, 2007. You can read it as a Word document or listen to it as a Windows media file (you can access other sermons of his on their sermons online page). It's a moving and thought-provoking sermon.

I know a few things about this pastor from a trustworthy source and really admire who he is and what he is doing.

Here's an excerpt:
I recall doing a hospital call while I was in seminary that reminded me of the spiritual death that is required of all disciples. I had just started seminary and was visiting patients with a supervisor who was rather unorthodox. He had a way of getting to the truth of things without being abrasive, which is good if you are making your living as a chaplain! We were visiting a patient who was recovering from a drug overdose. The patient was a prominent man in the community. He said to my supervisor, "I have lost everything! My job, my reputation, my livelihood . . . I have lost it all. This is the end for me." My supervisor responded, "Oh, that's interesting. Because I see this as just the beginning." The patient responded, "What do you mean, the beginning?!" My supervisor said, "Well, you said you have lost everything? Everything?" The patient said, "Yes, everything that really mattered to me." My supervisor said, "Well, that means God has you all to himself. Just think what he can do with you now."
Nice way to frame the opportunity the Lord may have before us when we have a major setback. There is always someplace the Lord can take us, no matter where we are, if we'll just let Him guide. And sometimes loss and pain is a way for Him to get us to check into His clinic - or rather, into His travel agency to begin the most important journey of our lives.

Monday, September 24, 2007

If Someone is Selling a Used Bike with Scriptures, Let Me Know

It might belong to my son on a mission in Las Vegas, whose bike and scriptures were just stolen last week while the bike was locked up near an LDS church in Las Vegas. His mission is about over so the bike can stay, but I'd like to retrieve his scriptures. I know the pain of having scriptures stolen after you've put lots of work into notes and cross-references.

I searched Ebay: no hits for "scripture bike" or "mormon bike," and the hits for "bible bike" don't look like his. Oh well.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sports vs. Debate & Forensics: Understanding Parental Duties to Attend Kids' Events

Back when I was a young father with my first little boy, one of the strongest messages ingrained on me as a parent from other parents both in the Church and without was that A GOOD PARENT MUST ATTEND EVERY SPORTS EVENT YOUR CHILD IS IN. For example, everyone knows that when your child is in Little League Baseball, it is vital that you show support by being there for every moment of every game, even when your child might play for only a few minutes. Same for soccer and every other sport under the sun (a major source of cancer-causing radiation).

My youngest son is now in forensics and debate. He's done really well, making it to nationals in forensics in his freshman year last year. I've attended the parents' meeting for debate and forensics students, talked with other parents, and with students, including my son, and have had quite the opposite lesson ingrained on me: "PLEASE DON'T SHOW UP. YOU WOULD BE A WEIRD PARENT IF YOU DID." That's not what the coaches said - they are very happy to have parents involved - but somehow it was clear that it would be a bit out of the ordinary, which I could relate to from my own experience. I was very active in high-school debate back in Utah, and can't recall any parent ever showing up to watch their kids debate, and would have been surprised if mine had. But why? Good parents stay away and don't cramp their kids' style when they are competing in these more academic events, but a pox on them if they don't sit through all nine innings of baseball, even when little Zordak is sitting on the bench. Any style cramping there? "Swing higher! No, not like that. Keep your eye on the ball, watch it, get your feet apart, get your elbow up, ready, ready, AARGH!"

Can someone explain all this to me? I'm about to head to Milwaukee where I may have an opportunity to violate the sacred Code of Parental Behavior by attending a round of a debate tournament near the end of the tournament (good excuse: I need to pick him up instead of letting him ride the bus back so he can attend a Church dance in the area). My son has been warned that I might be present if he makes it to a final round and he's OK with it, but I may have to put a paper bag on my head to protect what's left of my reputation as a decent parent.

Aftermath, 11 p.m.:
What a great day! As I arrived at Milwaukee's Marquette University High School, a student from our high school recognized me and told me to hustle to Room 416, where my son was about to begin the semi-final round. I walked in, sat nonchalantly at a desk behind my son, said hi, received a kind smile, and then pulled out my book on Open Business Models, trying not to look too attentive. The debate (public forum style) was really quite interesting. Dealt with the Fairness Doctrine. Really enjoyed listening to my son take a position I know he actually opposes. He and his very talented partner won that round and went on to win the final round, which was cool (nice trophy for Appleton East). It was a great relief to see that I didn't need to wear the paper bag on my head, even though I was the only parent there. Other students mistook me for an adult - perhaps a judge or something. And between the rounds, my son and his partner seemed to enjoy discussing with me some details of the debate (my ancient experience in the area actually was a bit helpful). Their response, in fact, was a request for me to be more involved, not less. What a pleasant surprise! Much more enjoyable than the old experience of endlessly watching a crowd of little kids stand around a soccer ball while all of us parents shout encouraging words such as, "The ball, go for the ball! Kick it! Kick it! With your foot! Toward the goal. The goal! No, the other way."

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fast Moving Mormons

I'm sure it's just one more sign of cult-like behavior, but I have to say I'm impressed with the ability of most Mormon congregations to rapidly rally around someone who is moving to help them move into or out of their ward or branch. The good Saints in Madison sure made a positive impression on my son and his wife when they moved into town--so many people showed up to help. Thanks! They knew they were "home" right away. And some of the LDS community in Naperville/Aurora, Illinois really came to the rescue of another relative in the midst of sudden hardship this week. Thank you!

And when I needed some people this week to help a woman I home teach make a move, I was so pleased with the good men who showed up and freely gave of their time. I thought that the woman just wanted two people to move one item of furniture into a truck - a five-minute job - but there were a lot more items to be moved and then unloaded elsewhere in town, so the project, though small, was a lot bigger than I had advertised. Fortunately, I had booked more people than necessary just in case (six showed up). It was a very positive experience for the woman and a good way for some of her relatives to meet some LDS people, too. And I scored bigtime: the woman had a valuable anti-Mormon book that I hadn't seen yet and really wanted to review. Offered to buy it from her but she was going to donate it to our ward library anyway and said I could have it (she didn't realize it was anti - doesn't look that way at all, and I didn't bother to clarify its nature for her). Ah, the blessings of service. Nothing beats scoring an interesting out-of-print book.

Update: Several critics put on their robes of indignation over my statement that I accepted an anti-Mormon book from an elderly woman who was going to give it away to the ward library. It has been called a "mugging" and "cult-like" and "deceptive." (Some of the most unkind comments were deleted for other reasons.) Whew! Look, the old woman who can barely see anymore was going to give it away because she thought someone else in the ward might like it. It would have ended up in the garbage. Instead, it was something I wanted to take a look at. I asked her if I could buy it and she said I could just have it since she was getting rid of it anyway. Knowing her, she would have been quite upset if she knew she had had an anti-Mormon book on her shelf. Why upset the woman?

Don't Get Spoked When Networking

Just a survival tip: don't share private information with a social networking site unless you know it's trustworthy. For example, I use LinkedIn.com and have shared information there, but the site has a tremendous reputation and has been a source of significant help in my career activities. On the other hand, you might want to think twice before using another social networking site, Spoke.com. Or at least read the devastating reviews and warnings at XOMReviews.com. People are reporting that Spoke takes private information from their address book and uploads it for others to use, and other violations of privacy are reported.

What does this have to do with Mormons? Uh, Mormons are good networkers, maybe? Or need to be better networkers? Something like that. Anyway, stay away from questionable sites and stick with safe ones. You know, like Mormanity.org. (And a pox on the cybersquatters who bought Mormanity dot com after I started this blog - but my fault for once being too conservative about domain name acquisition.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Priesthood, Agency, and Black Power

At least that's what I thought the title was when I opened up this month's Ensign and saw the article by David Sorensen. After reading another fairly bold article in the same issue on the Mountain Meadow Massacre, I guess I was ready for something else out of the ordinary.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Mormon Temple Ceremony - Evidence of a Mormon Cult?

The Mormon Temple Ceremony is often painted as solid evidence that the Mormon Church is a demonic cult. While people rant against the "Mormon Cult" (and I'm talking about sites far nastier than, say, MormonCult.org with it's "proof" that Mormons are a cult). Yet for many intelligent Latter-day Saints, the Temple truly seems to be a House of God, a sacred space for contemplating our relationship with God and Christ, a place for making beautiful covenants to follow Christ, a place the takes us out of the mess of mortality and the world into a realm where we contemplate heaven and feel closer to the Lord.

For some of us, the Temple really is the powerhouse of the Gospel. Many testimonies are strengthened there. Many marriages are made stronger there. Many people find answers to some of the biggest questions of life in the Temple. The Mormon temple ceremony and the entire "cult" of the Temple is far more Christ-centered and inspiring that our critics imagine. And some of us find it interesting how strongly linked the Mormon temple ceremony is to practice in ancient Christian and Jewish religion. Barry Bickmore's page, "Early Christianity and Mormonism: The LDS Temple Endowment is the introduction to a series of pages showing the links to ancient practices, far more interesting than the links to modern practices in Masonry. But even more interesting is Barry's chapter on the Temple in his book, Restoring the Ancient Church, now available free online at FAIRLDS.org. Please study that well-documented and intelligent survey before assuming that a "secret" Mormon temple ceremony is somehow non-Christian and evil.

But the Temple is a sure sign of a cult, I'll admit - after facing the harsh reality in the exposé at MormonCult.org.

Swift Action Needed to Stop Bullying

There's an important essay over at Mormon Momma on the painful topic of bullying. Alison Moore Smith's story, and the story of her daughter, should be read by every bishop and youth leader in the Church. And not just religious leaders - there's a message for teachers in public schools and leaders anywhere working with youth.

It is outrageous how often adult leaders are clueless about the tormenting that one bully can cause, even when it is open and egregious. "Oh, he was just kidding. Just ignore him." That's a pathetic way to deal with the abuse and harassment that occur in our halls and classrooms. We cannot tolerate bullying in any of our youth activities or events. We must protect our children from that. Turning a blind eye to the problem is the wrong thing to do.

And once we have our adults trained, watchful, and proactive, we need to train our young people to never go along with bullies, to stand up for those being picked on, to actively resist it and get help when it is occurring.

A bright spot in Alison's post is how the parents of one bully took responsibility and worked with their daughter to stop that behavior immediately - and it worked. I've seen other cases where parents defend the bully - I have run into that many times when I tried to take action about problem behavior - and the problem persists. Parents, wake up: when youth leaders approach you about a bullying problem with one of your children, it's a critical opportunity to help your child. Don't run and hide, but work and pray and communicate and get help.

One of my best friends when I was young was constantly mocked and picked on while we were in high school. There was no help, it seemed. I was his friend, but really wish I had done more to defend him. And I wish that a teacher or two would have helped to protect him. He acted like he didn't care and even seemed to egg everyone on, but I suspect there was a lot more pain going on than anyone realized. His life has been far too painful.

Puzzling Coincidences After People Pray to Find the Truth

I just checked out MormonTestimonies.org, a new Wiki-based site where members can upload their own testimonies. I encourage you to use it. I was pleased to find the testimony of Giuseppe Martinengo, whom I just met during recent travels. He's an intelligent, well-educated convert who speaks four or five languages. In his testimony, he shares an experience which I have encountered many times in the lives of other converts, an experience that I find to be one of those puzzling little things about missionary work:
I can remember that I was laying down on my bed, tired of my apparently fruitless search. I offered a simple silent prayer, in which I basically said, "I have done all that I knew I should do… now I really need help since I don’t know what to do next."

As soon as I expressed my thoughts to God, I started feeling an incredible peace and I felt as if heaven was close to me. In that exact moment, the doorbell rang. This time I was alone at home. I went to answer at the door and the missionaries were there. When they entered the living room, and shook my hand, I knew that they had the answers I was looking for.
This puzzles me because it seems to happen relatively often. A woman in my little ward had a very similar story. In total desperation about her empty life, she decided she needed to pray. She prayed that God would show her what to do, and seconds later the missionaries were at the door. And they, too, had experienced unusual guidance in coming to that door at just the right moment.

A convert that I taught on my mission in Switzerland had a story remarkably similar to Giuseppe's, with similarity in several additional details shared in his complete story. After finally turning to the Lord in prayer, the missionaries showed up - may have been a day or two, but the moment they came was perfect timing for other reasons, and when she read the materials they left, there was a recognition of truths that she somehow already knew. The drama and power of her conversion, and the joy that it brought to her life and to many other people over the next few years made everything I put up with on my mission more than worth it.

It's a story I seem to have heard frequently. When people pray for guidance, for truth, the Lord listens. And for some percentage of those cases, Mormon missionaries with uncanny timing show up.

Please note: I'm not saying that the Lord only sends Mormon missionaries. People seeking for the truth have had their lives improved by finding many other faiths, sometimes with uncanny timing helping them to move forward in that particular direction. The most important thing in my post is this: It pays to pray. Whoever you are, if you sense that you are missing something in life, if you sense incompleteness and a need for truth that you don't have, then do all you can to find it, and make sure you exercise faith in God by praying to Him to help you find what you need. When people pray to find the truth, the Lord hears and, in his own due time, will bless you. And that due time may, in some cases, be seconds after your sincere prayer.

Oh, and by the way, if He sends Mormon missionaries right after your prayer, at least give them a chance to share their message. You might be surprised at what you find.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Solving the Christian Puzzle

If you missed it, there's a good laugh and some valuable insights to be had by reading Solving the Christian Puzzle by John Tvedtnes, who shows how modern anti-Mormon scare tactics could have been applied against Christian in the 1st century.

Almost as entertaining is the rebuttal of Tvedtnes' work on a non-LDS Christian site.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Clipboard Virus: Don't Let the Street Preachers Know about This

Recently during the opening exercises of Priesthood Meeting, I was sitting quietly by myself with several books open on my lap, trying to get some studying and planning in while the meeting gradually got started. Things were going just fine until someone from behind walked over to me and handed me a clipboard with a sign-up sheet of some kind. I think this was a sheet of people ready to commit to offering rides for people wishing to attend a distant Stake Temple Day. My memory is fading - maybe this was the sign-up sheet for those who had chain saws that they could bring to a service project at a local park. No, I think this was the sheet for volunteers with pressure washers and industrial cleaning equipment willing to clean-up after a Primary food fight planned in the Stake Center. In any case, I groaned silently. I had just been infected with the Clipboard Virus. Third time in three weeks!

It's such a difficult virus to stamp out, for each new infected soul becomes possessed with incredible feelings of guilt if they don't immediately act to spread the virus to someone else. Even knowing that this was a virus, there was little I could do. I stared at the sign-up sheet blankly for a few seconds, felt the weight of the Clipboard upon trembling knees, and then, feeling that the welfare of the entire ward, perhaps the entire stake, depended on my making sure that the Clipboard was handed to some other uninfected soul, I put all my books down, closed my note pad, set down my pen, moved my stuff out of my way, stood up, and walked like a cursed zombie up the aisle to find someone who had not yet joined the ranks of the Clipboard Carriers. "Here you go. Have you seen this yet?" He looked blankly at it, knowing immediately that it had nothing to do with him and that he had no interest in anything on the Clipboard. But moments later another zombie would stand and seek out an uninfected victim, also feeling distracted and irritated.

Please don't let the anti-Mormon street preacher crowd know about the genetic vulnerability Mormons have to the Clipboard virus. If only they knew its power, they would recognize that yelling into bullhorns and waving underwear in people's faces on their way to General Conference or other LDS events is a completely lame and ineffective way to disrupt Mormon worship. They could do much more harm by simply slipping into one of our meetings and handing someone in the back row a Clipboard. "This is the sign-up sheet for volunteers for the Stake crop-circle activity next month. You know, the one to make a giant Angel Moroni in some beet fields. Pass it on."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mingling Scripture with the Philosophies of Men: BYU Presentation on Sept. 13

Anybody can mingle scripture with the philosophies of men, and frankly, it's not only easy but fun, too. Here's my most recent attempt. It's the abstract of a presentation I'm giving on Thursday at BYU, 3:45 pm, Clyde Building, Room 254, for the Chemical Engineering graduate seminar program).
Disruptive Innovation: Lessons from Theory and Experience, with an Intellectual Property Twist

"We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all corporations, as soon as they get a little market share, as they suppose, that they will immediate begin to exercise short-sighted dominion. Hence many disruptive innovations are culled, and few are chosen."


"Disruptive innovation" has become a popular business term, yet is often used so loosely as to be meaningless. Thorough analysis of disruptive innovation has been provided in scholarly work from Dr. Clayton Christensen of the Harvard School of Business and others. Here we explore lessons from theory and experience--the kind of experience that many engineers may face in their careers. The sad reality is that seemingly sound decision making processes almost ensure that large corporations will ignore or even actively kill some of the most important innovations that arise in their field of business. It is vital that future innovators understand this phenomenon and develop strategies to deal with it.

Useful tools for mitigating the challenges of disruptive innovation come from a crucial field rarely mentioned in publications on disruptive innovation: intellectual assets such as patents and defensive publications. These tools can be used to secure disruptive opportunities that might otherwise be ignored or quashed by a corporation, or to avert threats from competitive disruptive innovations that might otherwise be neglected until it is too late. Our growing experience with "disruptive intellectual assets" suggests that this approach may be a valuable strategy for protecting a business and strengthening innovation systems.
The warped citation, of course, comes from the book Disruption and Corporations, Section 121.

I hesitate - only hesitate - to play around with a verse from LDS scripture in this manner, and also recognize that not all of the audience will be familiar with the original passage, but figured that as long as only a few souls are lost, why not?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Take a Bite of Byteline

Just added a great LDS blog to my blogroll: Byteline by Alma Allred. Outstanding LDS material with unique insights from a solid Latter-day Saint intellectual. Wish I had noticed this blog earlier!

Noah's Flood: When the Mediterranean Sea Broke Through to the Freshwater Black Sea?

"Marine Team Finds Surprising Evidence Supporting A Great Biblical Flood" is a headline from ScienceDaily.com today:
Prof. Beer was part of the team on board "Mediterranean Explorer" that recently headed to the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey, the site where historians believe the great biblical flood occurred. EcoOcean and an international team believe they have found evidence to substantiate what is written in the Bible.

Says Weil, "We found that indeed a flood happened around that time. From core samples, we see that a flood broke through the natural barrier separating the Mediterranean Sea and the freshwater Black Sea, bringing with it seashells that only grow in a marine environment. There was no doubt that it was a fast flood -- one that covered an expanse four times the size of Israel. It might not have been Noah, as it is written in the Bible, but we believe people in that region had to build boats in order to save their animals from drowning. We think that the ones who survived were fishermen -- they already had the boats."
The flood as a local event has often been postulated by Christian and LDS scientists seeking to understand the scriptural accounts. See, for example, my discussion of science and LDS religion in my LDSFAQ section of my Website. We'll have to see if further work confirms a massive flood that once swept over a huge region of land as the Mediterranean Sea broached the barrier between it and the original freshwater Black Sea. If so, there may be many ancient settlements underwater and under silt in the Black Sea waiting to be explored. There will be many unanswered questions and ongoing difficulties in seeking to understand scriptural accounts, but let's deal with these issues one step at a time as we cautiously examine our assumptions about the text and the scientific record.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Working Through Disillusionment: Faith-Based Education

Many Latter-day Saints and numerous Christians of other faiths have experienced the disillusionment that can come when facing intellectual assaults on their faith. Whether it's from reading an anti-Mormon book, dealing with a persuasive Darwinist professor who appears to destroy Genesis with science, or facing the writings of intellectuals tearing apart Christian history and theology, many of us have struggled to understand our faith when comfortable assumptions and beliefs are challenged.

When we face such a crisis, I feel it is a dangerous mistake to expect immediate answers. Faith and patience are needed as we sincerely seek for answers. There are reasonable answers in many, perhaps even most cases, but they may take time to find, time to digest, time to develop new skills and insights as prerequisites for the answers, and time for us to revise errant assumptions that make aspects of our faith unnecessarily vulnerable to attack. (And yes, there may be things that are wrong that require revision, but not necessarily abandonment of that which we have learned through revelation from God.)

An example of this "faith-based education" approach to dealing with a crisis of faith comes from the experience of D. Charles Pyle [9-10 update: complete name now used with permission], from whom I received the following account in the past few days. It is shared with his kind permission. Charles has many rich insights into the scriptures and the Gospel, many of which draw upon his expertise in the Greek New Testament. This expertise, and a profound testimony of the Restored Gospel, came through patiently applying faith and intelligence to his own crisis of faith that began shortly after joining the Church. Here is his fascinating account:
Over twenty-four years ago, I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Not long after that I decided to look for LDS books in libraries (I had not thought to look in my own Ward's library. . .). As I searched the shelves I found a few but one in particular caught my eye. It was a large, hardcover book with an image of the Salt Lake Temple on it (the title of the book is not important now) and began reading. The first chapter seemed fair enough, but as I kept reading I grew more distraught. I read for hours. I was shocked and dismayed by what I was reading. I worried that I had been deceived and then began to think that Satan was behind the scenes in the Church. When the library was about to close, I put the book back and immediately walked over to my Bishop's home to question him about what I had read. I was frightened. I was angry. I was shaken to the core.

I began asking the questions that had been raised in the book. The Bishop answered a couple of questions but could answer not more. I was growing more upset by the minute. Finally, my Bishop made a statement that bothered me. He said that I just needed to have faith. He said that the authors and others like them are nothing more than faith killers and testimony thieves and that I should ignore them. I left that day more distraught than ever. I vowed never to return to the Church and stopped attending. People who were members of my Ward would stop by to see me and, out of fear, I had my parents or others tell the people who came to see me that I was not available. I went into hiding. All the while, I was most unhappy. Whereas I had had the light of the Spirit of God in my life on a daily basis, I now had nothing but brief glimpses of the Spirit at times but mostly darkness and fear. I did not know where to turn.

A few months later, I was cornered in a grocery store by a member of the Ward who asked me why I had not been attending Church and who, after a few minutes of discussion, told me that he had missed me and that a number of others there also missed me. All throughout the discussion, I noticed that I had once again felt of the Spirit of God and went home marveling. I kept thinking of how I had felt away from the Church and how I felt during the discussion with that member of the Ward. I kept wondering how something that was of Satan could have such feelings as those, particularly since I had had past experiences with the occult and with Satan's influence, which feels very, very different from those feelings associated with the Spirit of the Lord. I made a decision to return to the Church, even if only tentatively. I was happy again. However, my mind kept reverting to what I had read. Surely there had to be answers somewhere. After another experience with some Jehovah's Witnesses, I became motivated to study my scriptures in depth and went back to the library to check out the book that caused me so many problems. I decided to face my fear.

I started to notice other things as well as I studied. I found that many of the same arguments of the authors could be turned back onto the Bible. I was shocked by this. Again, I felt of the spirit of fear. "What if there was no God? What is all religion was a lie?" I began to think. I had come to a crossroads. I had a decision to make. As I pondered the significance of all that I had done, I also had brought back to my mind my experiences in joining the Church and the feelings I had felt under the influence of the Spirit of God. These were very real to me. In addition to this, what was I to do with a vision of Christ that I had had while investigating the Church? I was torn. I decided the path of faith. And never had my name taken off the rolls of the Church. I have since traveled the country researching the Church and its history and doctrine. Answers came here a little and there a little at times, and at other times, the answers came in floods.

One time I recall vividly as though it were yesterday. I was then in Boston, Massachusetts. I had been reading the Book of Mormon on the ‘T' (the train in the city) on the way home from downtown. A woman approached me and invited me to dinner. I thought that was nice and dropped by her home for dinner the next day. When I arrived, I noticed that there were other people there. I had not been informed that there would be others there and became wary of the situation. Then, others came in. We had a wonderful dinner. Then, the questions began. Questions regarding the evidence for the Book of Mormon were pounded into me and supposed contradictions between the Book of Mormon and Bible were posed rather forcefully. I was able to parry all of them off but one. This question concerned the visitation of Christ to the Americas and how it contradicted a passage of scripture in the Bible that stated that Christ must be retained in heaven until the times of restitution of all things (Acts 3:20-21). The fellow then asked me how it was possible for Christ to visit the Americas when the Bible stated that he would remain in heaven until the end time. I had no answer. I said that I would get back with him on that. Again, I was troubled.

All the way home I prayed and plead with the Lord that he would give me the answers I sought. Almost home, I was beginning to become worried again, as I had not yet received an answer. I made one last attempt in prayer and poured out my soul to the Lord. Suddenly, I heard a voice say, "Go to the Public Library and I will give you your answer there." I was awash with the Spirit of God and filled with light and warmth. I did as directed and began walking through the library. I did not know where I was going or even what I was looking for. I reached an upper floor and felt that I needed to walk a certain way and stop at a certain bookshelf. I still did not know what I was looking for so I stood there for a moment.

Then, the Spirit of the Lord directed me to pick up a book, which was the second edition of A Greek-English Lexicon of the Greek New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. I had no idea at the time what I was looking for and began flipping through pages. One page caught my eye and I turned back to that page. There, on that very page, was my answer! It turned out that Christ had returned to earth to stand by Paul (Acts 23:11), and this was after he had ascended into heaven! I concluded that if Christ could come to earth and visit Paul, he certainly could have visited the peoples of the Book of Mormon after his ascension into heaven. So, I came to the conclusion that either the Bible contradicted itself or the statement earlier in the Book of Acts did not mean what my assailants thought it did. I studied the question further and found that my assailants had misinterpreted the scripture because of reliance on English translation. It was then and there that I fell in love with the Greek language and have studied it ever since. I now read the Greek New Testament fairly regularly. The question had been answered and I immediately returned home to call the woman and let her know I had an answer. I gave it over the phone on her message machine. The result was that I never heard from the woman again and she never made another attempt to contact me or answer my phone calls.

You may ask, "What has this to do with archaeology and its quirks?" It has plenty to do with the subject, as you are about to find out. What I learned, if worded like the critics who attacked Mormonism, I could take such passages in the Bible as those I spoke of and turn them against the Bible, just as the anti-Mormon authors had done in attacking the Book of Mormon and the Church. Many of the same arguments against the Church could be turned back on the Bible. This was a revelation to me and strengthened my resolve to stay a member of the Church and further strengthened my testimony of what I knew to be true by the Spirit of God.

At another time, I actually put some of this knowledge to use in my dealings with an anti-Mormon at work, named Ed. He would attack my faith on a regular basis. This went on for weeks. Finally, I told him that he had better watch out because the selfsame arguments he was posing to me could be turned back on the Bible and Christianity. He told me that he did not believe me. I said that I would be glad to demonstrate and did so. After a couple days of this, I could see the look of concern and worry on this fellow's face. I had seen it on my own face in the mirror a couple years previous. A few days after that, one of his friends who attended the same evangelical church that he did came up to me and exclaimed, "Dude, what did you do?!? Ed just threw his Bible in the trash and he won't come to church anymore!" I told them what I had done. The guy walked away angrily. A few weeks later, Ed's unfaith turned back into faith again and he began attending his own church again. However, he was a changed man. He walked up to me one day and said, "It is a good thing that you serve God! I will never attack your beliefs again." He never spoke with me again and never attacked my faith again, true to his word.
I have gone through similar crises of faith in facing some of the perplexities of Mormonism. There are rough edges and challenging questions, to be sure, but it is amazing how rich the answers are that we do have, and how real the power of the Restored Gospel is in bringing hope and joy as it brings souls to Christ. Don't demand of God that all questions be answered now, but do study and pray and seek knowledge throughout your life, walking in faith and learning to recognize the Spirit and the things which come of God.

Saul, the expert scriptorian and defender of Jewish ways, did not become Paul the Christian Apostle because of the brilliant scriptural answers provided by the Christians or the compelling intellectual evidences that they could offer for the divinity of Jesus Christ.

For those looking for evidence in the days of early Christianity, there was plenty: "witnesses" who attested that Christians raided the tomb, stealing the body of Christ to fake the miracle of the Resurrection; "witnesses" who heard Christ commit blasphemy and other crimes; evidence that Christ used magic tricks or perhaps even occult powers to deceive people with so-called miracles (see the writings of Celsus, for example); the obvious inability of Christ to resist being killed on the cross, proving that He was an ordinary mortal with no divine power; and the fact that all the intellectuals in Jewish society, as well as Roman and Greek society - philosophers, scholars, theologians - saw nothing of merit in Christianity. The dupes known as Christians were generally the poor and uneducated, people who could be deceived by emotional appeals and ambiguous "burning in the heart" (Luke 24) or feeling "pricked in their hearts" (Acts 2), people who claimed that they "knew" Jesus was the Christ not through reliable tools from science, theology, or philosophy, but from their own subjection "revelation" from God (Christ even told his closest believers in Matthew 16:16-17 that it wasn't flesh and blood--you know, the facts, the evidence, the tangible proof--that converted them, but revelation from God).

When Saul the learned persecutor of Christians became Paul the devout Christian Apostle, this change came not from his examination of objective evidence, but from his alleged mystical encounter with the divine, a claimed personal revelation that let him know Jesus was the Christ, in spite of all the evidence against it. And after that, he was incredibly close-minded about the whole subject, unwilling to reconsider that perhaps he was wrong, no matter how much his fellow Jews of the anti-Christian variety reached out to Paul to minister to him in love with beatings, imprisonment, and other tools of the ministry.

Many converts to the Gospel have learned through powerful spiritual experiences that it is true, that they should enter into a covenant to follow Christ and be baptized, and that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored, but afterwards face a crisis of faith when they learn, as did the early Christians, that the Gospel is spoken against everywhere, and that there are many compelling arguments that intelligent people have raised against it. Some abandon hope and return to old ways, shedding the joy that the Gospel was bringing into their lives. May we help them realize that there are answers, many answers, and that with faith and patience, our faith can become stronger and more, not less, intelligent.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Latest Buzz from Jerusalem

"3,000-year-old beehives unearthed in Israel" is the top story listed over at Digg.com at the moment. Interesting. There is now archaeological evidence that an advanced beekeeping industry was in place in the ancient Holy Land. While the Bible mentions honey, many have assumed that it was "honey" made from figs and dates, not from honeybees. There is no mention of a beekeeping industry in the Bible. But now we know that advanced honeybee cultivation was taking place in Bible lands at least 3000 years ago. This may have some minor interest for Book of Mormon students, since Ether 2 refers to the Jaredites bringing swarms of honey bees with them during their travels in the Old World. This latest find may increase the plausibility of the account in Ether of ancient Old World travelers having access to honeybee cultivation technology.

Interestingly, the anti-Mormon buzz on the topic of bees seems exclusively focused on the alleged anachronism of honey bees being unknown in the Americas before Columbus. As a reminder, the Book of Mormon does not state that the Jaredites brought honey bees to the New World, and the list of items taken to the New World in Ether 6:4 does not include the honey bees they had used during at least part of their Old World journeys. Some anti-Mormon sites seem to think that the alleged absence of honey bees in the Americas before Columbus is slam-dunk evidence against the Book of Mormon, but that argument is truly without sting - just like the stingless honeybees that the Mayans and other Native Americans knew and used before the coming of Columbus (different species than the Old World bees we rely on for honey now).

Here is an excerpt from the CNN story on the recent find:
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Archaeologists digging in northern Israel have discovered evidence of a 3,000-year-old beekeeping industry, including remnants of ancient honeycombs, beeswax and what they believe are the oldest intact beehives ever found.

The findings in the ruins of the city of Rehov this summer include 30 intact hives dating to around 900 B.C., archaeologist Amihai Mazar of Jerusalem's Hebrew University told The Associated Press. He said it offers unique evidence that an advanced honey industry existed in the Holy Land at the time of the Bible.

Beekeeping was widely practiced in the ancient world, where honey was used for medicinal and religious purposes as well as for food, and beeswax was used to make molds for metal and to create surfaces to write on. While bees and beekeeping are depicted in ancient artwork, nothing similar to the Rehov hives has been found before, Mazar said.

The beehives, made of straw and unbaked clay, have a hole at one end to allow the bees in and out and a lid on the other end to allow beekeepers access to the honeycombs inside. They were found in orderly rows, three high, in a room that could have accommodated around 100 hives, Mazar said.

The Bible repeatedly refers to Israel as a "land of milk and honey," but that's believed to refer to honey made from dates and figs -- there is no mention of honeybee cultivation. But the new find shows that the Holy Land was home to a highly developed beekeeping industry nearly 3,000 years ago.

"You can tell that this was an organized industry, part of an organized economy, in an ultra-organized city," Mazar said.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Abinadi vs. Noah's Priests: Why the Interest in Beautiful Feet?

In the Book of Mosiah, there is a dramatic scene where the renegade prophet Abinadi takes on King Noah and his corrupt court of priests. His condemnation of their evil ways gets him condemned to a painful death in fire. When the confrontation begins in Mosiah 12, I have long been puzzled by the strange question the priests through out at Abinadi. They ask about the meaning of Isaiah's discourse on beautiful feet:
19 And they began to question him, that they might cross him, that thereby they might have wherewith to accuse him; but he answered them boldly, and withstood all their questions, yea, to their astonishment; for he did withstand them in all their questions, and did confound them in all their words.
20 And it came to pass that one of them said unto him: What meaneth the words which are written, and which have been taught by our fathers, saying:
21 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth;
22 Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion;
23 Break forth into joy; sing together ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem;
24 The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God?
25 And now Abinadi said unto them: Are you priests, and pretend to teach this people, and to understand the spirit of prophesying, and yet desire to know of me what these things mean?
Why pick this passage to challenge Abinadi?

When we read this as a family recently, the meaning of the challenge suddenly seemed more logical when we considered the context - particularly the agenda that the priests must have been pushing. Their message had been one of living it up and enjoying life, of preaching salvation without repentance and without standards or covenant keeping. It was a "feel good" religion: they were a chosen people and should be rejoicing about the good news of their election rather than fretting over archaic definitions of sin. Rather than believing Abinadi's message of gloom and doom and destruction, their message was about peace, prosperity, salvation, assurance, and comfort from God. In their hands, the cited passage from Isaiah was an ideal prooftext to refute Abinadi's credibility and push their own comfortable doctrine. They weren't asking a sincere question, but, like the critics of Christ in the NEw Testament, were seeking to trip up Abinadi.

Abinadi seems to depart from the topic right after he responds with a question of his own about why they don't understand those things. He swiftly returns to his condemnation of sin, then inquires about the law of Moses and whether salvation comes by it. He recites the Ten Commandments, but explains that while they need to obey, that salvation does not come by keeping the law of Moses, but through the Atonement of Christ. He explains the purpose of the law as a symbol to teach us of Christ, and then launches into a lengthy discourse about the Messiah and prophecies about Christ, citing all of Isaiah 53.

He then continues teaching about the Atonement and its power. He points out that the holy prophets of the past testified of these things, and that they are of the seed of the Messiah and shall be saved. And finally, at the end of Chapter 15, many verses after the question about "beautiful feet" was first raised, Abinadi returns to the topic in the following majestic passage, completely turning the tables on the priests to show that their selected excerpt does not support their cause at all, but leaves them utterly condemned:
14 And these are they who have published peace, who have brought good tidings of good, who have published salvation; and said unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!
15 And O how beautiful upon the mountains were their feet!
16 And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that are still publishing peace!
17 And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who shall hereafter publish peace, yea, from this time henceforth and forever!
18 And behold, I say unto you, this is not all. For O how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people; yea, him who has granted salvation unto his people;
19 For were it not for the redemption which he hath made for his people, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, I say unto you, were it not for this, all mankind must have perished.
20 But behold, the bands of death shall be broken, and the Son reigneth, and hath power over the dead; therefore, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead.
21 And there cometh a resurrection, even a first resurrection; yea, even a resurrection of those that have been, and who are, and who shall be, even until the resurrection of Christ—for so shall he be called.
22 And now, the resurrection of all the prophets, and all those that have believed in their words, or all those that have kept the commandments of God, shall come forth in the first resurrection; therefore, they are the first resurrection.
23 They are raised to dwell with God who has redeemed them; thus they have eternal life through Christ, who has broken the bands of death.
24 And these are those who have part in the first resurrection; and these are they that have died before Christ came, in their ignorance, not having salvation declared unto them. And thus the Lord bringeth about the restoration of these; and they have a part in the first resurrection, or have eternal life, being redeemed by the Lord.
25 And little children also have eternal life.
26 But behold, and fear, and tremble before God, for ye ought to tremble; for the Lord redeemeth none such that rebel against him and die in their sins; yea, even all those that have perished in their sins ever since the world began, that have wilfully rebelled against God, that have known the commandments of God, and would not keep them; these are they that have no part in the first resurrection.
27 Therefore ought ye not to tremble? For salvation cometh to none such; for the Lord hath redeemed none such; yea, neither can the Lord redeem such; for he cannot deny himself; for he cannot deny justice when it has its claim.
28 And now I say unto you that the time shall come that the salvation of the Lord shall be declared to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
29 Yea, Lord, thy watchmen shall lift up their voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.
30 Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.
31 The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
The priests of Noah think they have found a powerful prooftext for their "feel good" religion, but Abinadi takes it perfectly in stride, lays a foundation to help them understand what it really means, and then turns the tables on them. The messages of salvation, of rejoicing, and of beautiful feet upon the mountains (evoking images of Sinai, of covenants, and the temple) are linked to those who teach and follow the ways of the Messiah, not to those who reject the Messiah and violate the commandments of God. The passage, so powerfully interpreted and taught by Abinadi, leaves the priests exposed and condemned. Unable to deal with his reasoning, they respond in the traditional manner by killing Abinadi.

I used to wonder why the priests of Noah picked some random passage from Isaiah that they didn't seem to understand to seek an interpretation from Abinadi. It was always so awkward and strange when I read it superficially. I now find this section of Mosiah to be profound and brilliant literature. The choice of the Isaiah passage by the priests makes a lot of sense in the context of who they were and what they must have been teaching, and Abinadi's seeming departure and return to the passage is all part of a truly inspired response. The entire episode is great drama and great ancient literature, in my opinion, with much more to it that might meet the eye upon first reading it - or first dictating it.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Stress Debriefing: Why Dwelling on Negative Church Experiences May Only Make Things Worse

Newsweek recently carried an article that mentioned the harms of stress debriefing (June 18, 2007), referring to the practice of some therapists helping people who have gone through painful experiences by dwelling on the trauma they experienced in order to "process" it. In many cases, this practice only makes things worse, and is cited as an example of questionable therapies in vogue today:
"Stress debriefing," for instance, is designed to prevent symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD] in those who have suffered or witnessed a trauma. In a three- to four-hour group session, a therapist pushes patients to discuss and "process" their feelings and to describe in detail what they experienced or witnessed. Many of those who undergo stress debriefing develop worse PTSD symptoms than those who deal with the trauma on their own, controlled studies show, probably because the intense reliving of the trauma impedes natural recovery. Burn victims who underwent stress debriefing, for instance, had worse PTSD 13 months later than victims who had no psychotherapy; people who went through it after being in a car crash had greater anxiety about travel three years later than those who did not.
I wonder if this might also apply to those who have had a negative experience with a religion? When I look at some of the people I have known in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who left the Church, I think there is a risk that some of the support groups a few have become involved with or even started have, in effect, become extensive "stress debriefing" sessions that really don't seem to have helped, in my opinion.

Is it possible that extensive dwelling on negative experiences or other problems can increase the pain and the bitterness, or even create "recovered memories"? False recovered memories is what comes to mind when I read some people's description of the their Church experience, where home teaching in pairs becomes remembered, years later, as oppressive mind control with a senior Mormon there to make sure nobody starts asking questions, where every action of a bishop becomes some form of mind control or manipulation, and where possibly good-natured visits from home or visiting teachers or other members becomes shallow manipulation or insincere "love bombing."

I have some good friends who have left the Church without all the "stress debriefing" therapy that some online groups offer. They simply determined that they didn't believe it anymore, or disagreed with a policy or position, or were too ticked off about something to come back. And then they moved on without needing to come back and pick at the church and repeatedly trash our faith, though they aren't necessarily shy about why they disagree. They can talk openly about what they respect in the Church, without having to color every aspect of the Church in dark and sinister tones. We can disagree calmly on key issues, agree on some others, and move on in our friendship. I hope they come back some day, but their current religious status is no barrier to my liking them and respecting them, and I am glad that they can respectfully allow me to have my beliefs without having to "hate bomb" me with anti-Mormon spam or assume I'm an idiot for disagreeing.

Stress debriefing: be careful about what kind of support you get for the pain you've been through, religious or otherwise.