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

Monday, July 23, 2018

When Lehi Left Jerusalem: 605 B.C.? A Plausible Hypothesis from Jeff Chadwick

A frequent question and criticism of the Book of Mormon involves Nephi's statement at the beginning that Lehi had a vision in the first year of the reign of King Zedekiah. Afterwards, when Lehi and his family have left Jerusalem, Lehi prophecies that the Messiah would be born 600 years later (1 Nephi 10:4, repeated in 1 Nephi 19:8 and 2 Nephi 25:19, and confirmed in 3 Nephi 1:1, 9–19). Since it has long been known that Zedekiah's reign began in 597 B.C., and since it is generally accepted that Christ's actual birth was around 5 B.C., the 600-year prophecy poses an obvious problem. Viewing the 600-year prophecy as a rounded approximation seems inadequate, given the specificity of the text.

Several approaches have been taken to deal with the 600-year prophecy, including an appeal to a 360-day year of the Mesoamerican calendar or a 354-day lunar calendar, but Professor Jeffrey R. Chadwick of BYU has what seems to be a superior treatment. In his newly published "Dating the Departure of Lehi from Jerusalem," BYU Studies 57/2 (2018): 7-51, Chadwick proposes that when the Egyptians killed Josiah in battle in 609 B.C. and later Jehoiakim on the throne, the rightful heir was Zedekiah and many faithful Jews might have naturally viewed the Egyptian appointment as illegitimate. Indeed, Jehoiakim was strongly denounced by Jeremiah.

In the minds of the Jews of that day, the rightful reign of Zedekiah had already begun, though he wold not ascend to the throne for several more years. Chadwick's proposal seems to neatly resolve several issues and provides for a reasonable time for Lehi to minister in Jerusalem before he had to flee for his life. It also fits well with some of the social and political realities that might have made later travel too risky. He considers a wide variety of details and concludes that the Book of Mormon account is remarkably consistent with what we are learning about Israel in that era.

On quibble is that Chadwick insists that the River of Lemuel must have been a wadi that only temporarily had flowing water, otherwise a perennial stream (such as the excellent candidate found by George Potter) would have attracted a large settlement and would not have been available for any random family to wander up to and use. But remote, hard-to-find locations can remain largely uninhabited, as we see with Khor Kahrfot/Wadi Sayq, the leading candidate for Bountiful which remains substantially uninhabited in spite of having the largest freshwater lagoon in the Arabian Peninsula. When there are other sources of water in a region, a remote and difficult location won't necessarily attract a crowd.

Had Joseph been the brilliant Bible scholar he is sometimes required to be, he would have known that Zedekiah's reign began in 597 B.C. The 600-year prophecy would have at least been dialed down to 597 years. The 597 B.C. was well-known as the beginning of Zedekiah's reign in Joseph's day is illustrated in a printing of the Bible with commentary showing the date 597 B.C. at the top of the pages for Jeremiah 27. The source is Thomas Scott, The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments According to the Authorized Version with Explanatory Notes and Practical Observations, vol. 3 (Boston: Samuel Armstrong, 1823), available at Google Books; https://books.google.com/books?id=jaJOAQAAIAAJ&pg=RA1-PA323. The commentary explains that there may be a scribal error in Jeremiah 27:1, for that verse speaks of the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim, but the rest of the chapter is addressed to Zedekiah.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

"Artifact or Artifice?" Orson Scott Card's Brilliant 1993 Essay Still Rings True

Twenty-five years ago a famous name among fiction writers, Orson Scott Card, gave a speech at BYU that provided a novel way of evaluating Book of Mormon claims. The speech was “The Book of Mormon – Artifact or Artifice?” at the 1993 BYU Symposium on Life, the Universe, and Everything; see his transcript at The Nauvoo Times. Card applied his profound skills to examine the artifacts of fiction we should find if the Book of Mormon had been fabricated and not merely translated by Joseph Smith.

Upon reading this article today, one familiar with Book of Mormon studies may be impressed with how well Card’s analysis has stood the test of time. So many of the points he made have become more relevant or strengthened by subsequent explorations into the text of the Book of Mormon, the details of its translation and publication, the scholarship into the lives of the witnesses, and many new studies relevant to evidence for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon and the meaning of the text.

When Card spoke in early 1993, he did not have the benefit of the major discoveries related to Lehi’s Trail from the work of Warren Aston that highlight numerous details such as the existence and location of an ancient place with the name like Nahom or the existence of a fully plausible site for Bountiful exactly where it should be. Card did not have the benefit of the field work of George Potter examining the prospects for what was once said to be impossible, the River Laman in the Valley of Lemuel three days south of the beginning of the Red Sea. He didn’t have the body of evidence from John Sorenson’s Mormon’s Codex or the insights about the Mesoamerican perspectives in the Book of Mormon uncovered by Brant Gardner in his Traditions of the Fathers. He lacked the revolutionary insights from the study of the earliest Book of Mormon texts by Royal Skousen or the analysis of the language of the Book of Mormon by Stanford Carmack.

Card’s speech was also before LDS scholars became familiar with the work of Scottish researcher Margaret Barker and before she became familiar with the Book of Mormon. Barker has sought to reconstruct the early Jewish religion before the reforms of Josiah and before the major changes of the Second Temple period. Barker was impressed with what she found in the Book of Mormon, for it seemed to reflect an ancient environment and ancient worldviews consistent with her research, and again, quite foreign to the knowledge available to scholars in Joseph Smith’s day.

Much has changed since Card tugged at the text from the perspective of a master of science fiction, but for the most part the added knowledge twenty-five years later only increases the value of Card’s approach. Card looked for telltale threads of modern fiction, revealing instead that the text was of quite a different weave. Card sees it as the tapestry of multiple authors from an era far removed from modern fiction, a work impossible for even a skilled writer of fiction in our day or Joseph’s. Using the lens of a science fiction writer, Card reveals patterns woven into the text that defy explanation based on Joseph Smith as author. Today I'll just mention two of the many issues Card mentions and consider what we can learn from further research since his speech.

Voices and Viewpoints of Authors, Ancient and Modern

Card points out that authors write with a vast network of assumptions from their environment coloring the way they perceive and describe events. The environment the author has inherited provides numerous views on life and society that are easily taken for granted without realizing that it may not be this way at other times or in other societies. The environment that influenced the author can often be revealed by examining that which the author recognizes as unusual and in need of explanation in the text versus what the author sees as normal and requiring no explanation.

One of the first points Card mentions to illustrate such subtleties is the contrast between the attitude toward valuable documents showed by Book of Mormon characters and Joseph himself. He mentions Amaleki’s statement in Omni 1:25 wherein he justifies his decision to turn over the records he has inherited to King Benjamin:
Which, by the way, is something that would certainly not be a cultural idea available to Joseph Smith. You don't turn ancient records over to kings in the world of the 1820s in America. Kings would have nothing to do with ancient records. You would turn ancient records over to a scholar. We know that that was Joseph Smith's personal attitude because when he wanted to find support for his translation in order to encourage Martin Harris's continuing support, he sent Harris, not to a king or a president or a political leader, but to a scholar.
This is one of many indications of implicit cultural views consistent with the ancient world of the Book of Mormon and highly divergent from Joseph Smith’s environment, and a valuable observation by Card. Indeed, the issue of the handling, preservation, and transmission of sacred records in the Book of Mormon has been a fruitful area for additional research since 1993, particularly John Tvedtnes’s book published in 2000, The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: Out of Darkness unto Light. Tvedtnes examines the authentic ancient aspects of relevant features in the Book of Mormon such as the use of treasuries to store records, the practice of hiding or sealing ancient records for a future time, the use of stone boxes to preserve records, traditions about records entrusted to the care of angels, mountain repositories, and ancient traditions about glowing stones used for revelation, all showing evidence that the world of the Book of Mormon is highly consistent with ancient Near Eastern practices and traditions.

Turning to Mesoamerica, John L. Sorenson also shows that Book of Mormon practices regarding record keeping are consistent with ancient Mesoamerican traditions, as is also true for the nature of records and writing systems, including the keeping of dates, recording of prophecies, genealogies, keeping of lineage histories, etc. (Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, Chapter 5, “The Nature of History in the Book of Mormon,” 104–108). For example, the Quiché Maya had an office of record keeper that was passed from father to son, similar to the Nephites’ practice. The records also played an important role as symbols of political and religious authority (ibid., 106).

One thing I deeply appreciate about the Book of Mormon is the great care Mormon shows for his document and for his sources. There is no sense of an omniscient narrator. Statements may be flawed or imperfect, but we know where they came from and can often gain insights by carefully considering why something is said and how it relates to what others did or did not observe in making their report. As Card pointed out, digging into the assumptions and viewpoints of the authors of the text is a fruitful exercise, and one that frequently reveals the absurdity of crediting it all to Joseph's creative dictation to his scribes. His many points in this regard are still fresh and meaningful today. 

A Rarely Attempted Feat, Or, Mormon vs. Ossian

Card also makes an interesting argument regarding the alleged forgery of the Book of Mormon, one that may motivate some to examine some interesting but apparently forged ancient poetry from Scotland, the famous Ossian works of James Macpherson from shortly before Joseph's day. 
 
Critics frequently try to defuse respect for the Book of Mormon by suggesting that the purported fraud of Joseph Smith is routinely done with even more impressive results. J.R.R. Tolkien’s works such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy are commonly cited, showing that it is possible for a writer to concoct a beautiful, complex, and generally consistent “history” involving many places, numerous new names, great battles, political intrigues, and so forth. The fact that Tolkien had advanced education and put in a lifetime of work to produce his polished masterpiece, points often made by LDS apologists in response to critics citing Tolkien, is a minor point in light of Card’s insight.

Card’s experience as a science fiction writer enables him to make a salient observation about the alleged fraud of the Book of Mormon. If it is a fraud, what Joseph did is rarely attempted and almost certainly results in obvious failure. What he did, if the Book of Mormon were a fraud, was not simply write a work of fiction set in a different culture and remote time. Many writers stand with Tolkien in being able to write such fiction well, with a product that is clearly fiction written by a single modern author for a modern audience. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, claims to be written by multiple ancient authors over a long expanse of time within a distant and changing culture. Such a fraud, to have any hope of long-term success, would need to be written from the cultural perspective of the authors in that different culture, not one that explains or indicates what is foreign relative to our modern culture. Such a work must reflect different authorial interests of the various writers and reflect the changes in culture or perspective that occur over time. It is a breathtakingly complex project. Such a work almost never attempts to pass itself off as a genuine document from a remote culture and time.

Card then cites an important example where a fraudulent work purportedly from antiquity was passed off as genuine by a modern author. The work was a collection of Gaelic poems said to be written by an ancient poet named Ossian. The poems had been “translated” into English by a Scottish politician and writer, James McPherson. McPherson’s publication was a hit and added to his fame and fortune. He died wealthy, wealthy enough to buy a spot at Westminster Abby for his tomb. But he did not die without being denounced as a fraud by Samuel Johnson, who also was buried at Westminster Abby, but as a token of respect, not as a result of his wealth.

The poetry of Ossian inspired many influential people including Napoleon, Goethe, Thomas Jefferson, and others. Selma, Alabama was named after Selma, the home of the Scottish warrior Fingal from the poems of Ossian. The work has had a significant influence in many circles, in spite of concerns about fraud.

The text is available at Sacred-Texts.com, where J.B. Hare, the website’s founder, summarizes the controversy:
James Macpherson claimed that Ossian was based on an ancient Gaelic manuscript. There was just one problem. The existence of this manuscript was never established. In fact, unlike Ireland and Wales, there are no dark-age manuscripts of epic poems, tales, and chronicles and so on from Scotland. It isn't that such ancient Scottish poetry and lore didn't exist, it was just purely oral in nature. Not much of it was committed to writing until it was on the verge of extinction. There are Scottish manuscripts and books in existence today which date as far back as the 12th century (some with scraps of poetry in them), but they are principally on subjects such as religion, genealogy, and land grants.
For this and several other reasons which are dealt with in the Preliminary Discourse et seq., authenticity of the work was widely contested, particularly by Samuel Johnson. A huge (and probably excessive) backlash ensued, and conventional wisdom today brands Ossian as one of the great forgeries of history.

In fairness, themes, characters and passages of Ossian are based on established Celtic and Scottish folklore. Much of the fourth volume of J.F. Campbell's massive Popular Tales of the West Highlands is devoted to tracking down Ossianic fragments in circulation prior to Macpherson, or elicited from illiterate Highland peasants who had never heard of Ossian.

Macpherson is today considered the author of this work. The language of composition was probably English: As Campbell determined, Macpherson wasn't even particularly fluent in Gaelic. [ J.B. Blare, “The Poems of Ossian by James Macpherson [1773],” introductory comments, Sacred-Texts.com]
What some view as a definitive work on the fraud of Ossian came out after Card’s article with the 2009 publication of Thomas M. Curley’s Samuel Johnson, the Ossian Fraud, and the Celtic Revival in Great Britain and Ireland  Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2009). I have njoyed this book, but am not sure I recommend it -- might be a bit tedious and doesn't dig into the poetry and the linguistic issues thoroughly enough, IMHO. In summarizing his survey of the Ossian fraud, Curley praises Samuel Johnson for recognizing the nature of the fraud, a conclusion that has withstood the test of time and Curley’s own extensive detective work:

Johnson’s sense of  the falsity of the  Ossian works was  correct, despite professions to the contrary by some modern scholars. Twenty-eight out of Macpherson’s thirty-nine  titles—72 percent of all the individual works comprising Ossian—have no  apparent grounding in genuine Gaelic literature and are therefore entirely his own handiwork. The remaining 28 percent of the titles have but generally  oose ties to approximately sixteen Gaelic ballads. Contrary to his assertions, Macpherson was no editor or translator of ancient poetry. He was the author of new, largely invented literature in violation of true history, legitimate Gaelic studies, and valid national identity in Scotland. As Johnson had charged, Macpherson committed literary fabrication. [Thomas M. Curley, “The Great Samuel Johnson and His Opposition to Literary Liars,” Brgewater Review, 28(2), article 6 (Dec. 2009), http://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1253&context=br_rev.]
Macpherson claimed to have original Gaelic manuscripts that he translated. Samuel Johnson, recognizing the many indications of fraud in the translation, demanded that Macpherson present the originals for review. One can easily draw a parallel to Joseph Smith who was also asked to show his gold plates to the world, if such existed. But unlike Joseph Smith and the gold plates, Macpherson provided no extract of copied characters from the manuscripts, sought out no independent scholarly examination of a portion of his translation, had no witnesses to support the existence of the original manuscripts, and had no witnesses of the translation process. Further, with no angel requiring that the original document be returned for divine safekeeping, Macpherson lacked any excuse for the failure to let others see the documents he had translated.

McPherson’s fraud is not without evidence of authenticity, for many of the names he uses were ancient Gaelic names that can be found in documents going back several hundred years. But as Curley and others have explained, these are names that could have been picked up from current lore that he extracted from his wanderings in the British Isles. Curley also explains that there are also 16 authentic Gaelic sources that are used in some way by Macpherson, giving it several small kernels of apparent authenticity. Some have argued that Macpherson was simply taking liberties with the existing poems and still acted largely as a loose translator, but Curley argues that such defenses are unjustified and that the fans of Ossian poetry must confront that fact that the vast majority of it is simply fabricated.

Curley argues that the evidence of fraud is clear cut and easily exposed, and most scholars today may agree. On the other hand, some scholars have sought to revive Macpherson’s Ossian, claiming that it is much more authentic than Samuel Johnson recognized. Ultimately, though, it seems that what Macpherson offered his enthusiastic audiences was his invention.  Defenders suggest that Macpherson was drawing upon authentic material but applying a great deal of his own creativity to translate in his own style, but this overlooks what Macpherson insisted upon from the beginning: that his translation was “extremely literal” and that the unusual word order in the English was often adjusted to reflect that of the original. But this was artifice, not an artifact of authentic translation. Yola Schmitz describes Macpherson’s artifice as translatese–the deliberate creation of nonstandard syntax to create the sense of a highly literal translation from a foreign language.

Compared to the Book of Mormon, what McPherson attempted was not a complex history spanning vast stretches of time and epic migrations from the Old World to the New, but mere poems, and not from a wholly unfamiliar culture, but from his own island and from his own country and ancestors though removed by fifteen hundred years. Macpherson had the benefit of being well educated, of being raised in a society familiar with Gaelic tales, with access to abundant sources of relevant information for his project. What Macpherson attempted is quite unlike the feat of, say, having a poorly-educated New York farm boy with scant resources write about travel across the Arabian Peninsula, or create ancient poetry rooted in ancient Hebrew, or describe battles, cities, natural disasters and other events in an unfamiliar New World setting. What Macpherson attempted was kid stuff compared to the Book of Mormon, and yet his Ossian project failed, in spite of some hopeful supporters seeking to overlook its flaws. It was successful enough to add to his wealth, but he had already been vocally denounced as a fraud by Samuel Johnson and remains widely recognized as a fraud who got very much wrong. It has certainly not withstood the test of time. From the beginning, basic questions about the existence of the original documents could not be answered nor could witnesses be provided.

The Book of Mormon was a surprise bolt from the blue from a poorly educated, impoverished farm boy not known to be a bookworm or a writer, unexpectedly announcing he had received an ancient record, then daring to show the plates to numerous people, and then translating it by dictation at a prodigious rate apparently without the use of any manuscripts. Consider the contrast we find in Macpherson’s preparation for his work, as described by Yola Schmitz in her 2017 chapter on the Ossian fraud. See Yola Schmitz, “Faked Translations James Macpherson’s Ossianic Poetry,” in Faking, Forging, Counterfeiting: Discredited Practices at the Margins of Mimesis, ed. Daniel Becker, Annalisa Fischer, and Yola Schmitz (Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript Verlag, 2017), 167–180; http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv1wxr9t.13:
Macphersonʼs upbringing put him in the perfect position. He was born in Ruthven, in the Scottish Highlands where he was brought up in a Gaelic-speaking community and accustomed to the oral tradition of the bards of the clans. Yet, he also experienced first-hand the serious effects of British oppression. In 1745, the nine-year-old Macpherson witnessed the Jacobite Rising with all its devastating consequences for the collective identity and the heritage of the Scottish clans. In its wake, many customs and traditions, such as the tartan plaid and playing the bag pipes, were prohibited.
However, one of the worst consequences must have been the subsequent ban on using the Scottish Gaelic language. Therefore, Macphersonʼs forgery can also be considered an attempt to recuperate what was left of the literary tradition of the Highlands and to rehabilitate a people, thought to be uncultured and uncivilised.

These circumstances provided Macpherson with all he needed to produce a successful forgery. He was an insider of Scottish traditions and, at the same time, he had profited from an academic education. He had not only learned how classic works of poetry were studied, but also how they were supposed to be presented. When the scholars in Aberdeen showed interest in this kind of poetry and offered to sponsor an excursion to the Highlands, Macpherson seized the moment and delivered. [emphasis added]

Card’s comparison with Macpherson’s fraud makes valid points that have only become stronger in light of further research both into the Ossian fraud and into the origins of the Book of Mormon, including the translation process, for which there were multiple credible witnesses.

Macpherson’s fraud could also be considered in light of a few other attempted forgeries, including Thomas Chatterton’s Rowley papers, purporting to be poems from a 15th-century monk named Rowley. The poems were initially accepted due to a general lack of attention at the time of publication to the details of the English language and its changes over the centuries. Chatterton used antique paper for his poems, but was unable to properly reflect the language of the time he sought to mimic, ensuring that the fraud would be detected.

Failure to appreciate linguistic change over time was a key weakness in the Ossian fraud. Macpherson claimed that the Erse language (ancient Gaelic) of 300 A.D. had remained pure and unchanged over the centuries, allowing him to read and understand ancient Erse and translate Ossian’s poetry into English. In spite of Macpherson’s outstanding education, this was a monumental blunder, one easily picked up by critics in his day. Some observed that Gaelic in Scotland showed obvious variability just from one valley to the next. With such obvious change across short distances, how could the language remain unchanged over more than a thousand years?

On the other hand, the challenges of linguistic change over time is an area where the Book of Mormon shines and far surpasses what Macpherson and presumably Joseph knew. Linguistic change is implicit as a fact of life in the Book of Mormon narrative. Nephi’s scribal work may already be blurring the lines between Egyptian and Hebrew (1 Nephi 1:1-3; see Neal Rappleye, “Nephi the Good: A Commentary on 1 Nephi 1:1–3,” Interpreter Blog, January 3, 2014; http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/nephi-the-good-a-commentary-on-1-nephi-11-3/.). We see the Mulekites, immigrants without written records to help maintain their language, have lost much of their language (it had become “corrupted”) and need to be taught to understand the Nephite’s Hebrew after just a few hundred years of separation (Omni 1:17–18), with their rapid linguistic drift presumably accelerated by contact with local peoples in the New World. We see Nephites treasuring their written records as a means of helping them maintain their scriptural language system (Mosiah 1:2–6). We see the Lamanites losing their written language and later needing to be taught the Nephite writing system (Mosiah 24:1–7). And in spite of their written records, centuries later Mormon acknowledges that their Hebrew had been altered (Mormon 9:33) and that their script for recording scriptures, now called “reformed Egyptian,” had been altered over time and was unknown except to them (Mormon 9:32, 34). These are realistic views on linguistic change, in contrast to the much less reasonable claims from the highly educated Macpherson.  

Card's comparison of Ossian and the Book of Mormon remains a fruitful exercise and one that I'll mention in some more detail in the future. 

I highly recommend Orson Scott Card's "Artifact or Artifice." There's much of value there to contemplate, in spite of a great deal of new research since that day. 
 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Coach Lindsay's Power Secret for Success in Tennis and in Life!

Roger Federer, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Tonight I'll confess to having watched some television (while diligently working on a crucial project, of course--hardly noticed the TV for at least some of the time). The Wimbledon semifinals tennis match between two charming tennis players, Roger Federer and Kevin Anderson, has been outstanding. I am a long-time Federer fan (from Switzerland, my beloved mission country!), but it's hard not to also cheer for Anderson, a fellow excessively tall person (oops, that's a microagression: I mean "altitudinally different"). Both are great athletes and great sports.

Like many people, I have a great deal of unearned self-confidence and consider myself to be a good tennis player, good enough to beat either of these men on any given day. Here I define "given day" to mean "day when my opponent is severely injured or in prison." But I'm an even better tennis coach. Through years of careful analysis of tennis, I have developed some sure-fire secrets of tennis success that I am sure would do much to improve the play even of these champions.

I'm revealing these secrets at no cost as a gift to my readers. First I'll review some basic  secrets, and then comes the real power secret.

Basic secrets you may already know:

#1: When receiving a serve, stand where the ball is going to come. Aces tend to do where you are not. You should have been over there, waiting for it. Come on!

#2. Hit the ball over the net and inside the lines. So simple, but so many points are lost by not following this overlooked secret.

#3. When serving, hit the ball to where your opponent isn't standing or likely to reach. Amazing how often this basic secret is overlooked. 

But these secrets are for winning individual points. The power secret that you are about to learn is not about running around all day trying to win a point here or a point there. It's about focusing on the one thing that really matters: not losing the match.

Here's the critical insight: in the end, winning a match comes down to the final point, the match point. If you never lose a match point, you will never lose a match. That's the key! That's the secret! Secret, you ask? Yes! In fact, it's obvious that even Federer himself doesn't fully understand this secret and it's proper application, which you are about to learn.

In this match I'm watching tonight, like almost all matches I've seen, players wear themselves out running back and forth across the court to hit the ball in order to win individual points. Points that don't really matter in the end because they are not the match point! Remember, the winner of the match is the one who wins what? That's right: the match point! Now here is the practical guidance you need for success, Coach Lindsay's Secret Power Tip:

When playing tennis, always check: Is this the match point? If not, let it go. Relax. Save your energy. Don't chase the ball like crazy for a point that doesn't matter. Save all your energy for the one point that does matter: the match point, and just make sure you win it. As long as you win the match point, you will never lose. It's that simple!

Don't sweat the small stuff, don't worry about anything except what really matters: avoiding the ultimate disaster when it's immediately before you. Until then, let it go and enjoy!

Coach Lindsay's Power Secret has not yet affected competitive tennis (understandable--it was unknown to the world until today), but the same principle seems to be at work in many other parts of the economy in the US and other nations:
  • Do we have hyperinflation? Are hungry mobs rampaging in the streets? No? No worry, let's print more money to stimulate the economy. 
  • Have they turned off my utilities or shut off my phone service? No? Then relax and use that credit card to spend a little more money that I don't have. 
  • Am I starving? No? This might be a good time to take a break year before looking for a job. 
  • Are the checks we issue to teachers, firemen, and other government employees bouncing, and are angry mobs of unpaid workers burning down our government office buildings demanding their pension money? No? Let's increase our debt even more to keep our state or city government functioning. (No, I'm not singling out Illinois or New Jersey here.)
  • Have all the people with the capital and sills needed to create jobs left our state already? No? Then let's crank up taxes on them even more. 
  • Has the economy ground to a halt? No? Oh, yes? Um, fix the stats to say it's healthy, and then let's divert more of our nation's capital on unnecessary war in nations that aren't attacking us.
  • Have I lost my job? No? Then no need to develop new skills. Good time to turn on the TV or open up YouTube and watch something fun. Maybe even a little tennis. (Oops!)
So you can play tennis and economics and life the old school way, working hard and being wise and frugal and nervous about the future every step of the way, or you can relax and stay focused on what matters: avoiding disaster by not worrying about it until you really, really need to worry, which is usually a distant tomorrow, right?

You know Coach Lindsay's Power Secret now. Enjoy!

Friday, July 06, 2018

Misdiagnosis!

A few days ago a grieving mom in Shanghai, a good friend of ours, shared some tragic news with me: her teenage son had pancreatic cancer, one of the worst cancers. Her son was likely to die soon, if the doctor was correct. Only about 20% of pancreatic cancer patients live past 5 years. She was almost overcome with grief and had been crying for a couple of days. But even though she had gone to an expensive hospital that caters to foreign clients, she wasn't sure she should trust the doctor. The mother called me to see if I knew where she could turn for help. She didn't know that one of my sons happens to be a doctor treating cancer as a radiation oncologist at a leading US clinic.

I received a photo of the lab report for the boy and sent it to my son. The report mentioned a scan of internal organs showing no unusual problems indicative of cancer. There were no other symptoms, just a slightly elevated CA-19-9 antigen level, with a value of 45 instead of a desired maximum of 37.

My son explained that the CA-19-9 test is not supposed to be used for diagnosing cancer on its own. Absent other symptoms of cancer, its predictive power for cancer is less than 1%, he said. When he learned that the son was just a teenager, he said it's even less likely to be pancreatic cancer because that disease is almost unheard of in young people. The mother's grief was turned to relief.

I later found scientific publications confirming what my son had said. For example, see K. Umashankar et al., "The clinical utility of serum CA 19-9 in the diagnosis, prognosis and management of pancreatic adenocarcinoma: An evidence based appraisal," Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology, 2012 Jun; 3(2): 105–119; doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2078-6891.2011.021:
CA 19-9 serum levels have a sensitivity and specificity of 79-81% and 82-90% respectively for the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in symptomatic patients; but are not useful as a screening marker because of low positive predictive value (0.5-0.9%).
Other articles indicate that diabetics, such as this young man, can have inflated CA-19-9 values (this applies at least for Type 2 diabetes--I'm not sure if CA-19-9 artifacts from Type 1 diabetes has been investigated), one of many possible alternative causes of elevated CA-19-9 values. Alternative causes for the elevated test result do not appear to have been  considered by the doctor who terrified a mom by declaring that it was probably pancreatic cancer. Again, the test can be useful in tracking the progress of treatment of a known cancer, but should not be used to diagnose cancer in the absence of other evidence, as in this case.

The family still needs to be cautious and follow up on the possible causes of the inflated test result, but it was only slightly elevated unlike the much higher scores that I've seen reported in patients who actually do have pancreatic cancer.

To be fair, the doctor may have just said pancreatic cancer was one of several possibilities and he did ask the mom to go get further tests, but whatever he actually said or meant to say, what she understood was that her son probably had a usually lethal cancer. He also told her not to discuss it with her son or husband until they had done further tests, which may mean that he didn't want the family to be all panicked for nothing, but the effect of that requirement was that the mother was all panicked and all alone, unable to discuss her grief with others.

In deep grief, the mother had been fasting and praying, unconsoled. After fasting, she felt she should turn to someone to get another opinion, but didn't know where to go. She feels it was inspiration that she reached out to me, not knowing that my son would be able to help.

I am so grateful that my son was able to help bring peace to a mother who had been crying for a couple of days over the "fake news" she received from a generally good hospital. I suggest that here or anywhere else you should be open to the possibility that some doctors don't know what they are talking about. And of course, that can apply to what I've said here. Do your homework, ask questions, and be cautious about what others declare.

I raise this story as an example of how much pain a misdiagnose can cause. This was a minor case compared to misdiagnoses that lead to unnecessary surgery, improper amputation, blindness, or death. It reminds us that even experts can and often do make serious mistakes.

Misdiagnosis is a problem not just for physical health but also for our spiritual health. There are many who have been turned to unnecessary fear and even panic about Mormons and the LDS faith because of a local expert, often a pastor or religious friend, who declares that Mormonism is a cancer and that Mormons aren't even Christian or don't believe in the Jesus of the Bible. This kind of misdiagnosis is more outrageous than treating a mildly elevated CA-19-9 test as evidence of pancreatic cancer in a young person. The hear, anger, and confusion that has been caused by this persistent misdiagnosis truly is malignant.

There are LDS people who panic and abandon what was once a strong testimony over an expert somewhere who proclaims that Mormonism is a cancer or proven to be wrong. Sometimes the diagnosis is based on a rigged or improperly executed test, and other times there is a metric of some kind that points to a genuine problem, but a problem that should not be lethal to a testimony. Such problems can be due to the confusion and errors that always happen when mortals are allowed to do anything in the Church, no matter how much we want them to be infallible. More often than not, I think the real problem are inaccurate assumptions on our part about how God should do things or about what may or may not occur in a Church led by prophets and apostles of God. Such problems are often linked to inadequate information on our part, requiring a recognition of our incomplete knowledge and the patience and faith to wait for more.

We see through a glass darkly in this life. Faith and patience will always be required (Luke 22:19). There will always be doubts that can be stirred up, but if we have found the pearly of great price through faith, study, patient following of God's counsel and the witness of the Holy Ghost, we should be prepared to deal with the inevitable onslaught of experts and other sources of doubt with a healthy dose of doubt itself, that is, to "doubt our doubts" -- a phrase that to me means to have a healthy dose of skepticism about the attacks made by various experts, and to have an even healthier dose of faith and patience as we seek guidance and help to cope with those doubts. Reaching out to others who may have experience and knowledge with the issue can be helpful. Fasting and seeking inspiration from the Lord may be essential.