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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Book of Mormon Term "Liahona": New Evidence of Ancient Authenticity

Jonathan Curci has an impressive article, "Liahona: 'The Direction of the Lord'" in the latest edition of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, (Vol. 16, No. 2, 2007, pp. 60-67) which provides fresh insight into the name Liahona. The article is available in HTML format or PDF (best).

(Click to enlarge)

It's one of those numerous little "plausibility enhancing" details in the Book of Mormon that defy explanation if Joseph made it up based on what he could have known or learned from his environment.

35 comments:

Peter said...

Thanks Jeff,

This is something new to me and quite interesting.
By the way you misspelled liahona in your link to the maxwell institute.


Peter

Greg said...

I think this certainly enhances the plausibility, but a mountain of plausibility will be trumped by one shred of actual evidence every time.

The fact is, a little tidbit like this, by itself, is impressive; but when weighed against all the other evidence out there, it falls far short of anything convincing. This is from a Mormon journal with a vested interest in proving the BoM true. Indeed, the paycheck is coming from the Church, I presume.

If an independent study verified evidence in support of the BoM, then we have something to talk about. True scientists and researchers are only interested in the truth, and if it pointed toward the BoM being a legitimate historical record, why wouldn't they publicly convert? Some scientists are at fault for having blind faith in their theories, but the majority simply cannot be.

We don't see scientists and archaeologists flocking toward the church and it's because there's simply not enough reason to do so.

I'm not trying to be overly antagonistic here, but I want to present reasons why this is so difficult for non-Mormons to believe. If I'm going to begin a life of tithing and believing in prophets, I'm going to want a lot of substantial evidence. If it were only a matter of a faith, I could be persuaded to believe anything out there.

That said, I think it's important that these plausibilities be looked at carefully. If true, they really are something spectacular and they should be taken into account when assessing the broader context of evidence we have about this time, its cultures and their significance.

Anonymous said...

I love science and it has allowed for many wonderful things to come about. however, science is not conclusive. The Bohr's model of the hydrogen atom is a very good model. But it is not so good for the other atoms but we use it anyway because it is close enough. Calculus has also helped with scientific advancement but it is based on a division by zero (technically, as the divisor approaches zero or in other words becomes infinitely small) but that is at odds with math which states you cannot divide by zero.

I love science and I love the advances that it brings but I am not going to rely completely on science for my answers. I love my religion also. When I feel that God has answered me and millions of other people have shared a similar experience, I cannot simply ignore it.

Greg said...

I think Anon @ 10:42's comment is a very thoughtful one. Although science does seem to have its limits, it also has its progress. I guess I have a hard time understanding why, when science has yet to fully explain something, despite past proof that it can eventually get around to it, that we must suddenly make the leap to "it must be God." It seems a bit of a jump to me.

Why is a testimony of this God easily accepted without question, while a testimony of Shiva or Zeus or fairies is dismissed as nonsense? Isn't that quite arbitrary?

Zelph said...

Interesting. Hugh Nibley said the following

"Many people have dealt with the word Liahona. We had a teacher from Hebrew University here for a few years…. His name was Shunary. He never joined the Church, but the first thing that fascinated him was this name Liahona. He traced it back to the queen bee, the leader of bees swarming in the desert. When bees swarm, that's Liahona. I took it from a different one. Yah is, of course, God Jehovah. Liyah means the possessive, "To God is the guidance," hona (Liyahhona). That's just a guess; don't put it down. But it's a pretty good guess anyway"

Patrick said...

This has become my favorite quote lately, it's from Joseph Conrad,

"Only in men's imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life."

Man's ability to create, imagine, and reason is unlimited. Religious truth is either man's invention or an endowment from God. How do we know which it is?

Mormanity said...

Fixed the spelling. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

"The fact is, a little tidbit like this, by itself, is impressive; but when weighed against all the other evidence out there, it falls far short of anything convincing."

As the Dr. Nibley said, it is not if Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon but could any one have written it in 1820. No matter how big the stack of tidbits get they will always be unconvinced. Pray my good man. Pray.

Anonymous said...

"True scientists and researchers are only interested in the truth, and if it pointed toward the BoM being a legitimate historical record, why wouldn't they publicly convert?"


Are you so unworldly that you do know the answer to this question. Why would they give up their jobs, life, family and may be more even it if they knew it was true. Only if they are looking for the true God by praying would they be willing to change. Get a grip man.

Anonymous said...

"True scientists and researchers are only interested in the truth,"

You must be living on Kolob. What planet are you living on. O' yes let me tell you what I really think and lose my job, family, and... you get the point. No one wants to know the truth. Truth comes kicking and screaming into the light and even then people turn away to do what is easy and feels good.

Anonymous said...

"Some scientists are at fault for having blind faith in their theories, but the majority simply cannot be."

Get a load of carbon credits and gobal man made climate change if you think we know the truth and even if they trully want to know. Just try to show up with a different point a view and see what happens to you. Science or religion.

Anonymous said...

"Although science does seem to have its limits"


I have spent my life watching science rewrite it's self. Finding out where it is wrong and correcting it time and time again. If you have a spiritual experience from God and Christ you don't need science to confirm it. You just look and pray for another to build upon. The limits are science can not prove or disprove my spiritual experiences for the Holy Spirit.

Anonymous said...

"One of South America's few remaining uncontacted indigenous tribes has been spotted and photographed on the border between Brazil and Peru."

These are live tribes that we are just now finding out about and know very little and you are going to count on science to tell you about you eternal soul, the Bible, Book of Mormon, and God using archeology. Good luck.

Rich said...

Hi Greg,

You certainly have some good points and these are the same things always brought up by non-believers. Doesn't part of scientific discovery include finding evidence that supports a model or theory? So for those of us who already believe the BofM to be true find things like this add to that testimony. It's because it is evidence that supports stories from the BofM. To me it seems that if we weren't talking about a religious book, many of these same evidences would strongly suggest the book was what it claimed to be.

Bookslinger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bookslinger said...

I don't think Greg has 'grokked' the religious context of plausibility that Jeff is using here.

If Greg is honest, then he's merely mistaken in this thinking that Jeff is trying to "prove" the Book of Mormon with these things he (Jeff) is calling "evidence of plausibility."

However, I'm starting to wonder if Greg really does understand Jeff's intent and use of evidence of plausibility and he (Greg) is intentionally using a strawman argument with his constant "But that doesn't prove anything" rejoinders.

Uh, Greg, listen up please, Jeff (and the rest of us on the pro-LDS side) are not trying to prove anything there. The purpose is to illustrate (not prove) plausibility in order to give faith a space to exist. This is so that a sincere seeker of God may have just a teensy bit of faith that these things (BoM stuff) just might be possible, and therefore such a seeker might go to God in prayer, and ask "God, is (any of) this true?"

There is a thing called "the agnostic's prayer". It is a prayer in which someone who doesn't know something or doesn't even have a belief, goes to God in prayer and merely asks.

"Are you there, God?" is an agnostic's prayer. "Is Jesus the Savior? Did He die for me?" is an agnostic's prayer.

That's really all what the LDS church and its representatives formally ask of people who are seeking truth. Ask God if He's there. Ask if Jesus died for our sins. Ask if the Bible is true. Ask if the Book of Mormon is true. (I asked those things. I got answers.)

In other words, Jeff has never asked anyone to "believe the BoM because this evidence proves is." But rather, "Hey look, here's something that shows this might be true. Why don't you ask God for spiritual enlightening or a answer about it?"

The other use for "evidence of plausibility" is to counter the false claims of many critics of the church who for 178 years have said "it can't be true." The mountains of evidence on the pro-LDS side don't prove the BoM to be true, but they do show that the critics are wrong when they trot out things and claim the Bom can't be true.

Sometimes, it can take a while for the apologists to catch up to all the junk slung against the church, but eventually, little by little those things the critics use against the church are shown to be incorrect, and many of those things come out as evidence of plausibility for the church and the BoM.

One of my favorites was barley. Barley wasn't known to exist among native americans, so its mention in the BoM was a point against it.

However, a strain of barley was discovered by archealogists. So that now comes out as a point in favor of the BoM.

I'm pretty sure Jeff isn't trying to convert any of those critics who are staunchly against the church and who make their "anti-mormonism" a crusade. But I suppose Jeff's motivation is to prevent those nattering nabobs of negativism from keeping true seekers away from investigating the restored gospel.

Greg, please don't fight against this work just based on lack of physical evidences.

To paraphrase, just one outpouring of the Holy Spirit trumps all lack of physical proofs.

Demanding physical proof of the prophets of the Book of Mormon is like demanding physical proof of the prophets in the Bible. Ain't gonna happen.

Greg said...

"So for those of us who already believe the BofM to be true find things like this add to that testimony."

I think that's part of my difficulty in understanding. When you believe something to be true already, in the absence of evidence, it devalues the analysis of any evidence because you already have a conclusion - it's not a theory or a hypothesis as in science. This is why critics charge that Mormons cherry-pick evidence that supports their absolute belief that the BoM is true and ignore evidence to the contrary.

I have trouble understanding the idea of evidence of plausibility because it only helps those who already believe. Why put this forward as if it convinces someone? It's not...it's reaffirming faith and should be stated as such.

I take it many Mormons would have a problem if scientists were putting forth evidences of plausibility that abortion might be a harmless thing. You would rightly dismiss this and any group claiming "Yes, this reaffirms my belief that abortion is a harmless action."

Science allows for changes to be made and it should. What exactly is the problem with science rewriting itself, as one poster suggested? That's how we built the technology we have today or learned about diseases. We adapted our understanding to suit incontrovertible facts. We modify our theories to suit the facts rather than picking the facts to fit conclusions that we already "know."

Why should faith be the trump card every time? It's anti-intellectual and if there is a God, He certainly gave us the ability to reason this.

I hope everyone understands that I write this with deep respect and a desire for honesty, with no intention of offending or negatively attacking Mormonism. There's been good discussion here and I'm learning a lot from other comments.

bassooner said...

Greg said:

I think that's part of my difficulty in understanding. When you believe something to be true already, in the absence of evidence, it devalues the analysis of any evidence because you already have a conclusion - it's not a theory or a hypothesis as in science. This is why critics charge that Mormons cherry-pick evidence that supports their absolute belief that the BoM is true and ignore evidence to the contrary.

Your difficulty is the dual to mine:

I think that's part of my difficulty in dealing with critics. When you believe something to be not true, when evidence is available, it devalues the lack of evidence because you already have a conclusion - it's not an act of faith, which is required by rligion. This is why critics of the Mormons nit-pick items that support their absolute belief that the BoM is false and discount any evidence to the contrary.

Ryan said...

Out of curiosity, how does one justify faith that the pursuit of science, in and of itself, will improve the human condition?

I accept science as a wonderful tool that can empower those who wish to improve the human situation. Unfortunately there is a fair amount of evidence that many of those wielding the tool have ulterior motives ($$$ if nothing else!) and science empowers them just as easily. Further, the law of unintended consequences means that even a person who wishes to do good may achieve the exact opposite in the process.

At best, a person can only have "meta-faith" in the scientific method -- it might be defensible to claim faith that the process of scientific pursuit will eventually lead to the Truth -- maybe -- but no true scientist can claim that a particular finding today is the Truth or necessarily even near it.

All in all, I find it supremely unsatisfying to try and turn the tool that is science into a philosophy that defines your world view.

Greg said...

"When you believe something to be not true, when evidence is available, it devalues the lack of evidence because you already have a conclusion - it's not an act of faith, which is required by rligion. This is why critics of the Mormons nit-pick items that support their absolute belief that the BoM is false and discount any evidence to the contrary."

But how do you distinguish people who hold a bias that the BoM is false from those who are making an honest intellectual inquiry and simply believe, given the available evidence, that it is false?

The burden of proof rests on the believer to say why it is true. I'm not the one claiming that there is a personal God out there that answers prayers or that the BoM is a historical record. The baseline, the starting point, is not believing anything and when evidence becomes convincing enough, we believe something to be true.

It's a fallacy to say that anyone who doesn't believe the BoM to be true is an anti or just ignoring evidence. This could be true, but not necessarily, and it has to be accounted for. To do otherwise would indeed be attacking straw men.

And to clarify, I'm doing my best to give Mormonism it's best chance, approaching it from the strongest arguments it has. There are compelling questions, but this is hurt when faith comes in.

If you make faith the trump card or the final link to fill the gap where the logic chain ends and belief begins, you surrender the ability to truly know.

Ryan said...

I'm doing my best to give Mormonism it's best chance, approaching it from the strongest arguments it has. There are compelling questions, but this is hurt when faith comes in.

What, exactly, do you hope to gain from accepting Mormonism (or religion in general), should the arguments prove convincing?

Suppose, for example, that a top-notch team of (non-LDS) archaeologists and linguists discovered, translated, and published an ancient Mayan record with the same message and teachings as the Book of Mormon. Then what?

I really would like to hear your answer, because it's really unclear to me what you're searching for.

Greg said...

"What, exactly, do you hope to gain from accepting Mormonism (or religion in general), should the arguments prove convincing?"

I guess when I say "Mormonism," I mean claims about the BoM's veracity or any arguments that Mormons are putting forth in support of the religion's truthfulness.

The question I'm primarily concerned with is:

Is the Book of Mormon true as a historical record?

This is the first step for me because it is being used to buttress the arguments for Mormonism's truthfulness. When people say it can only take you so far and the rest of it is faith, then what's the point of verifying the BoM's accuracy if all you needed was faith from the start? Why bother putting forth evidences of plausibility when it's already untouchable to reason?

I don't think these are antagonistic or negative questions. Many potential converts could be asking the same things.

bassooner said...

Greg,

I am not seeing your questions as antagonistic, in fact they are good questions and I will try to give some counterpoints.

I cannot answer everything here. Many of the questions you ask have been answered before and to just say they have been answered is not much good because you would have to search for them but that is still all I can do except for what I choose to answer here. (Please don’t see this as an invasion attempt but as a time and space issue.)

All forms of knowledge require an acceptance by faith first. Think of when you were learning arithmetic -- you were told that one plus one equals two. Did you question that? Why? Why do you say it is now, if you had trouble then? The point: as children we often had to say things were true because we trusted the person we were learning from, in other words we had faith in them. Later, most often until college, we may have learned why one plus one equals two (but most of us still don’t know why and most people would get very lost in the theory).

It works the same with anything in life, including religion and science. In almost all cases first we learn how or what (faith) and then much later we learn why (perfect? knowledge). Even with a scientific process we first establish an idea then test the idea. We use the test to validate or invalidate the idea but that test still may or may not be correct, it may still be correct in concept but not in implementation.

All knowledge is first based on faith and much of it remains based on faith (whether religious or scientific) in spite of our best efforts to make it otherwise -- we actually undierstand very little (notice the understatement) of the world around us. I believe full knowledge will eventually come, just not during this life.

Let me tell you the story of my brother, if I can do it briefly. He spent the first part of his life as a member of the Church and had a strong testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon, he went on a mission and stayed active for a few years after but as he progressed in life he came to doubt and much of the reason was because he felt he was unable to get an “anser to his prayers” about the truth of the Book of Mormon. I can’t tell you the reason this was except that maybe he approached things from a skeptical angle and so was not as open as he should have been (the road to the skepticism was long and complicated, so I cannot go into it). Anyway he started to have trouble believing in God as he was looking at things strictly from reason an logic. I think he really did believe in God but was looking, again, from the wrong angle. Finally, after much effort he came to realize that no matter where you look; Religion, Science, or whatever; you must make a “leap of faith” somewhere.

Now I must make some appologies if some of this doesn’t make sense or seems to be unclear. Normally, when something of the magnitude (size and subject matter) is to be published you would sit on it for a few days and spend more time making things clear and worded better. But, the volatile nature of a blog prevents all of this from taking place; so I hope things work out with just the “Five Peso” version.

Best Regards.

Greg said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response, bassooner (btw, do you play the instrument?)

I think there's a difference between faith in 1 plus 1 being 2 and faith in something like God or the truth of the BoM.

We eventually learn that 1 and 1 really is 2 and can prove it time after time for ourselves, objectively. And even if we don't fully understand the explanation, at least there is an empirical, rational, testable, evidence-based one behind it.

I do appreciate your philosophical take on it though, suggesting that some things may not be understood to us in this lifetime; but is it really just a matter of not believing hard enough or praying hard enough?

I know these are big questions, and I guess I didn't mean to hijack this thread with the Questions of the Universe, but these are issues underlying our thought processes when investigating the BoM. I understand there isn't much time or space for the ideal explanation, but I do appreciate your thoughts, bassooner.

bassooner said...

Greg,

Yes I do play play the bassoon and it's a good thing since I seem to be all thumbs, anyway.

And it is unfortunate that it is so hard to cary on a conversation on such a great (oh, so much meaning in that word) topic and we probably could hijack the thread on it, too.

Anonymous said...

Zelph, said:

"Many people have dealt with the word Liahona. We had a teacher from Hebrew University here for a few years…. His name was Shunary. He never joined the Church, but the first thing that fascinated him was this name Liahona. He traced it back to the queen bee, the leader of bees swarming in the desert. When bees swarm, that's Liahona. I took it from a different one. Yah is, of course, God Jehovah. Liyah means the possessive, "To God is the guidance," hona (Liyahhona). That's just a guess; don't put it down. But it's a pretty good guess anyway"


In this one post there are three possible explantions for Liahona, how would anyone ever be able to prove the Bible or Book of Mormon through science? Its fun but can never prove the truth of the gospel.

Anonymous said...

Greg,

I appreciate your remarks. I didn't mean to imply that if we don't understand something in the realm of science then it must be from God. We are continually learning new scientific discoveries that supersede what we previously thought was correct or we learn something that enhances what we already know (Newtonian physics with the addition of relativity for example). I look forward to the addition of new scientific discoveries.

Again, I have shared in an answer to my prayer that millions of others have had. I also don't dismiss the religious experience of others (Siva, Zeus or fairies as you have put it) so I am also not arbitrary in this regards. I figure that God will sort all of this out and it is not for me to judge others religious experiences as long as they don't impede on my (or others') personal liberties.

Anonymous said...

"Science allows for changes to be made and it should. What exactly is the problem with science rewriting itself, as one poster suggested?"

Nothing is wrong with science rewriting itself but the point is if you expect to find God or religion or you think that this is how people come to Christ you have some serious study ahead of you.

Anonymous said...

Greg said...
*"I think that's part of my difficulty in understanding. When you believe something to be true already, in the absence of evidence, it devalues the analysis of any evidence because you already have a conclusion - it's not a theory or a hypothesis as in science. This is why critics charge that Mormons cherry-pick evidence that supports their absolute belief that the BoM is true and ignore evidence to the contrary."

To go back to Jeff's main point that just as the Book of Mormon should be excepted on faith just as the Bible is excepted on faith. I spent about 3 years reading all the books I could find that disputed the Bible. At the end I concluded that from a science stand point the Bible was mostly made up. But the only other two ways to except this book is faith or obtain a spiritual experience and all the cherry-picking that is used against the Bible does not devalue the faith or spiritual experience only the true facts that is available at the time. I am all ways surprised at the strain that people go through to prove the Bible or the Book of Mormon true or false.
*"I have trouble understanding the idea of evidence of plausibility because it only helps those who already believe. Why put this forward as if it convinces someone? It's not...it's reaffirming faith and should be stated as such."
I am not sure if I am addressing and atheists or a Christian but here again you think that people think their way in to the Church or a religion. Some people do but most people I know are moved by something outside the physical science and have a personal spiritual experience or faith. So all this talk about proof of science is mostly going to go no where.

*"Science allows for changes to be made and it should. What exactly is the problem with science rewriting itself, as one poster suggested? That's how we built the technology we have today or learned about diseases. We adapted our understanding to suit incontrovertible facts. We modify our theories to suit the facts rather than picking the facts to fit conclusions that we already "know.""
If you truly believed this then why would this not apply to the study of the Bible or the Book of Mormon. Some claims of the Bible or the Book of Mormon have changed over time. I fail to see the problem here when we study anything, as we find new facts our paradigms must change.

*"Why should faith be the trump card every time? It's anti-intellectual and if there is a God, He certainly gave us the ability to reason this."
O' where is your Bible. Faith, Faith, Faith! Over and over again. I don't recall anywhere in the Bible it tells you to prove your belief in God with science so why would you try. On a personal note, I was not religious, had not read the Bible but had a spiritual experience when I prayed to know if there was a God. One year later, having never read the Bible, I was reading a book about how a persons life was effected by Christ. Again I had the same powerful spiritual experience. One year, having never read the Bible, I had the same powerful spiritual experience when I heard the first vision story of Joseph Smith. I have been blessed with many more of such experiences during my 30 years in the LDS Church. No science is going to tell me the Bible or the Book of Mormon is true or not. I understand the part science plays in helping us in life but when it comes to God it is just something to help us to stop and consider is He there?

*"I hope everyone understands that I write this with deep respect and a desire for honesty, with no intention of offending or negatively attacking Mormonism. There's been good discussion here and I'm learning a lot from other comments."
We (I am) not offended because we have gone through these things many times before.

Anonymous said...

Is the Book of Mormon true as a historical record?

This is the first step for me because it is being used to buttress the arguments for Mormonism's truthfulness. When people say it can only take you so far and the rest of it is faith, then what's the point of verifying the BoM's accuracy if all you needed was faith from the start?

If you have not you need to read the book. It tells you to question these things and tells you not to rely on science but have only a seed of faith then do the unthinkable. Pray to Our Father in Heaven in the name of Jesus Christ. And the promise that God will tell that it is. Our Prayers are with you.

Anonymous said...

When science supports LDS teachings, that science is trumpeted from the rooftops. When science seems to contradict LDS teachings, science is mocked as "changeable" and "not reliable."

Is this integrity?

True science will never contradict true religion, said Brigham Young. If the science is true, and it contradicts with a teaching of the LDS religion, then that teaching is wrong.

jayleenb said...

I am so grateful for the testimony of the Holy Ghost that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord's Church restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

The same Spirit that testifies that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, testifies of the truthfulness of this Church.

There are no words that express how grateful I am to know what I know and have the relationship I do with our Father. To know I am literally His child and of the same species and not just an adopted pet. To know that Satan didn't get to make the rules. I am a daughter of Deity. It is so humbling and amazing.

I wish everyone could know this and feel the joy of knowing the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What a marvelous work and a wonder.

Anonymous said...

"True science will never contradict true religion, said Brigham Young. If the science is true, and it contradicts with a teaching of the LDS religion, then that teaching is wrong."

Only if you have the arrogance to believe that science is always right. So when new facts are learned and that prove the LDS religion is correct than do we live the wrong science or the correct science. Stay flexable all the facts are never in.

Anonymous said...

jayleenb said...

"The same Spirit that testifies that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, testifies of the truthfulness of this Church."

Thats better than all the science in the world. Thanks

jonathan said...

many of you are quoting h. nibley statement that i report in my article in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. His statement is superseded by the findings that I described. Shunary, that I personally work with for improved translations of the BoM in Hebrew, agrees with me.
continue to search...