Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Joseph Smith's Character

"Historical or Hysterical: Anti-Mormons and Documentary Sources" by Matthew Brown at FAIRLDS.org is an excellent new article for any of you dealing with the accusations of anti-Mormons about the character of Joseph Smith, or with anti-Mormon charges of fraud involving the First Vision or the origins of the Book of Mormon. The paper presents a wide body of information to solidly refute some of the most troubling claims. In the process, there is an excellent lesson to be learned about how many anti-Mormons play with documentation to create their case.


Recently our ward mission leader invited several couples to his home for dinner and what I thought would be an "ordinary" ward mission correlation meeting for half of the group while the others could chat about other topics. Instead, it proved to be a discussion for all of us after dinner in which we were each asked to share an experience in which we played some role helping another person who joined the Church or made the decision to become more active in the Church. For a moment I thought this would be somewhat corny, but it proved to be a helpful and inspiring experience.

I thought about the tremendous experiences we had watching some people change their lives and glow with the joy of the Gospel. Remembering those experiences, and the small miracles involves, strengthened me. When I left the meeting later that evening, I gave the ward missionary leader one of my highest compliments (with a smile, of course): "This meeting was not a waste of time."

Remembering - what a good idea!

The Book of Mormon is filled with admonitions to remember the covenants of the Lord, to remember all that He has done for us. It is so easy to forget what He has done, to forget our testimony and the blessings that the Gospel brings. Memory is lost if not used and recalled. Testimony meetings help this, but we need to do more. We need to ponder and reflect frequently on the Lord's dealings and the blessings we have received, including the spiritual experiences accompanying missionary work. May we reflect upon the spiritual experiences we have had and always remember the covenants of the Lord.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

A Father's Message to an Abortion Protester in Wisconsin

Recently I met with a man who wished he had some way of reaching an unknown abortion protester. The protester, a woman, was with a small group in Appleton, Wisconsin who had been holding up signs recently in front of a local clinic to protest against abortion. Here is my paraphrasing of the message he wishes he could pass on to the protester who talked with his daughter as she was on her way for her scheduled abortion:
"Thank you! Thank you with all my heart for being there for my teenage daughter in her darkest hour. Thank you for saving the life of my grandchild. By simply being there with tactful signs about abortion, you gave my daughter a chance to wonder about her decision, to wonder if there might be some other way to deal with the fear she was facing. She was so scared and had been deceived into thinking that abortion was the only way. I wish she would have come to me first, but thank God you were there. Something about you, your sincerity and goodness, perhaps, and the peaceful, civil behavior of your group, made her dare to approach you and ask. And you were so kind to her. You knew she was scared and above all just needed someone to tell her the truth, to free her from the misinformation of the abortion industry and let her know that her life would not be ruined forever if she let the baby live. You gave her hope and helped her to see what everyone should see: abortion is wrong. It slaughters an innocent child. In this case, it would have been my grandchild. Her child - an innocent victim. Thank you so much for taking her aside and listening and helping and giving hope. I wish I could meet you - I want to hug and tell you thank you, thank you, thank you! We don't yet know if his baby will be adopted or kept, but I do know this: the baby will live, and my daughter was rescued. You rescued at least two people by being there."

MP3 Download: Prof. John E. Clark's 2004 Speech on Archaeology and the Book of Mormon

Last year Dr. John E. Clark, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the New World Archaeological Foundation at BYU, gave a speech entitled "Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief" on May 25, 2004 in the de Jong Concert Hall at BYU. He makes many excellent points on what evidence can and cannot do, indicating that not even the gold plates presented directly by Moroni would convince skeptics. Yet there is evidence that should be considered, and he discusses some of his favorite items. Here is an excerpt from his speech (an unofficial transcript is available online):

In the past fifty years, friends and foes have adopted Joseph's plan of comparing ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon. Both sides believe archaeology is on their side. Consider the argument against the Book of Mormon circulated recently by an evangelical group. "The Bible is supported in its truth claims by the corroborating evidence of geography and archaeology. That assertion cannot be said for the Book of Mormon. Several decades of archaeological research funded by LDS institutions concentrating in Central America and Mexico have yielded nothing that corroborates the historical events described in the Book of Mormon." The only things wrong with this clever argument are that its claims are false and its logic faulty.

Archaeology and geography support the Book of Mormon to the same degree and for the same reasons that they support the Bible. Both books present the same challenges for empirical confirmation and both are in good shape. Many things have been verified for each but many have not. Anti-Mormon arguments specialize in listing things mentioned in the Book of Mormon that archaeology has not found. Rather than cry over missing evidence, I will tell you about evidence that has been found.

The pamphlet lists eight deficiencies. First, that no Book of Mormon cities have been located, and last, that no artifact of any kind that demonstrates the Book of Mormon is true has been found. This last assertion is overly optimistic in suggesting that such material proof is even possible. No artifact imaginable, or even a roomful, could ever convince critics that the Book of Mormon is true. The implied claim that the right relic could prove the book's truth beyond all doubt is too strong and underestimates human cussedness. Moroni could appear before Congress tomorrow with the golden plates, the Sword of Laban, and the Liahona in hand, and this would not satisfy public demands for more proofs.

The logical challenges with the first assertion, that no cities have been located, are more subtle. Book of Mormon cities have been found, they are well known, and their artifacts grace the finest museums. They are merely masked by archaeological labels such as "Maya," "Olmec," and so on. The problem, then, is not that Book of Mormon artifacts have not been found, only that they have not been recognized for what they are. Again, if you stumbled onto Zarahemla, how would you know?

One last point about significant evidence. The hypothesis of human authorship demands that truth claims in the Book of Mormon be judged by what was believed, known, or knowable in Joseph's backyard in the 1820s. The book's description of ancient peoples differs greatly from the notions of rude savages held by nineteenth-century Americans. The book's claim of city-societies was laughable at the time, but no one is laughing now. As the city example shows, the lower the probability that Joseph Smith could have guessed a future fact, the stronger the likelihood that he received the information from a divine source. Consequently, the most compelling evidence of authenticity is that which verifies unguessable things recorded in the Book of Mormon, the more outlandish, the better. Confirmation of such things would eliminate any residual probability of human authorship and go a long way in demonstrating that Joseph Smith could not have written the book. This is precisely what a century of archaeology has done.

I will consider a few items in the time remaining. The one requirement for making comparisons between archaeology and the Book of Mormon is to be in the right place. For reasons I will explore in a few minutes, Mesoamerica is the right place. The first archaeological claims related to the Book of Mormon concern the facts of September 22, 1827, the actuality of metal plates preserved in a stone box. This used to be considered a monstrous tale, but concealing metal records in stone boxes is now a documented Old World practice. Stone offering boxes have also been discovered in Mesoamerica, but so far the golden plates are still at large, as we would expect them to be. Another fact obvious that September morning was that ancient peoples of the Americas knew how to write, a ludicrous claim for anyone to make in 1827. We now know of at least six Mesoamerican writing systems that predate the Christian era. This should count for something, but it is not enough for dedicated skeptics. They demand to see reformed Egyptian, preferably on gold pages, and to find traces of the Hebrew language. There are promising leads on both, but nothing conclusive yet. New scripts are still being discovered, and many texts remain undeciphered. The example shown here was recovered 56 years ago and qualifies as America's earliest writing sample, but so far nothing much has been made of it and most scholars have forgotten that it exists.

The golden plates and other relics ended up in New York in the final instance because the Nephites were exterminated in a cataclysmic battle. The Book of Mormon brims with warfare and nasty people. Until twenty years ago, the book's claims on this matter were pooh-poohed by the famous scholars. Now that Maya writing is being read, warfare appears to have been a Mesoamerican pastime. The information on warfare in the Book of Mormon is particularly rich and provides ample opportunity to check Joseph Smith's luck in getting the details right. The warfare described in the book differs from what Joseph could have known or imagined. In the book, one reads of fortified cities with ditches, walls, and palisades. Mesoamerican cities dated to Nephite times have been found with all these features. The Book of Mormon mentions bows and arrows, swords, slings, scimitars, clubs, spears, shields, breastplates, helmets, and cotton armor--all items documented from Mesoamerica. Aztec swords were of wood, sometimes edged with stone knives. There are indications of wooden swords in the Book of Mormon. How else could swords become stained with blood? Wooden swords could sever heads and limbs and were lethal. The practice of taking detached arms as battle trophies, as in the story of Ammon, is also documented from Mesoamerica.

Another precise correspondence is the practice of fleeing to the summits of pyramids as places of last defense and consequently, of eventual surrender. Conquered cities were depicted in Mesoamerica by symbols for broken towers or burning pyramids. Mormon records this practice. Other practices of his day were human sacrifice and cannibalism, vile behaviors well-attested for Mesoamerica. The final battle at Cumorah involved staggering numbers of troops and of Nephite battle units of 10,000. Aztec documents described armies of over 200,000 warriors, also divided into command units of 10,000. The Aztec ciphers appear to be propagandistic exaggeration. I do not know whether this applies to Book of Mormon numbers or not.

In summary, the practices and instruments of war described in the Book of Mormon display multiple and precise correspondences with Mesoamerican practices and in ways unimaginable to nineteenth-century Americans.

Mesoamerica is a land of decomposing cities with their pyramids or towers, temples, and palaces--all items mentioned in the Book of Mormon but foreign to the gossip along the Erie Canal in Joseph Smith's day. Cities show up in all the right places and for the predicted times. One of the more unusual and specific claims in the Book of Mormon is that houses and cities of cement were built by 49 B.C. in the land northward, a claim considered ridiculous in 1830. As it turns out, it receives remarkable confirmation at Teotihuacan, the largest pre-Columbian city ever built in the Americas. Teotihuacan is still covered with ancient cement that has lasted over 1500 years.

All Book of Mormon peoples had kings who ruled cities and territories. American prejudices of native tribes in Joseph's day had no room for kings or their tyrannies. These were crazy claims. The last Jaredite king, Coriantumr, carved his history on a stone about 300 B.C., an event in line with Mesoamerican practices at that time. A particular gem in the book is that King Benjamin labored with his own hands, an outrageous thing for Joseph Smith to claim for a king. It was not until the 1960s that anthropology caught up to the idea of working kings and validated it among world cultures. Even more specific, consider Riplakish, the tenth Jaredite king, an oppressive tyrant who forced slaves to construct buildings and produce fancy goods. Among the items he commissioned about 1200 B.C. was an exceedingly beautiful throne. The earliest civilization in Mesoamerica is known for its elaborate stone thrones. How did Joseph Smith get this detail right?

Not all evidence concerns material goods. A striking correspondence is this drawing from the Dresden Codex, one of four surviving pre-Columbian Maya books. It shows a sacrificial victim with a tree growing from his heart, a literal portrayal of the metaphor preached in Alma chapter 32. Other images depict the Tree of Life. The book's metaphors make sense in the Mesoamerican world. We are just beginning to study these metaphors, so check in with the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies for future developments.

A correspondence that has always impressed me involves prophecies in 400-year blocks.
The Maya were obsessed with time, and they carved precise dates on their stone monuments that began with a count of 400 years, an interval called a bactun. Each bactun was made up of twenty katuns, an extremely important twenty-year interval. If you will permit me some liberties with the text, Samuel the Lamanite warned the Nephites that one bactun shall not pass away before they would be smitten. Nephi and Alma uttered the same bactun prophecy, and Moroni recorded its fulfillment. Moroni bids us farewell just after the first katun of this final bactun, or 420 years since the sign was given of the coming of Christ. What are the chances of Joseph Smith guessing correctly the vigesimal system of timekeeping and prophesying among the Maya. The list of unusual items corresponding to Book of Mormon claims could be extended.

The LDS tendency to get absorbed in specifics has been characterized as a method for distracting attention from large problems by engaging critics with endless irrelevant details, much as a mosquito swarm distracts from the rhinoceros in the kitchen. Let's take up the dare to consider big issues, namely geography and cycles of civilization and population. As is clear from the Cluff expedition, if the geography is not right, one can waste years searching for Zarahemla and never get there. Book of Mormon geography presents a serious challenge because the only city location known with certitude is Old World Jerusalem, and this does not help us with locations in the promised land.

However, it is marvelous for the Old World portion of the narrative. As Kent Brown and others have shown, the geography of the Arabian peninsula described in First Nephi is precise down to its place names. The remarkable geographic fit includes numerous details unknown in Joseph Smith's day. For the New World, dealing with geography is a two-step exercise. An internal geography must first be deduced from clues in the book, and this deduction must then become the standard for identifying a real world setting. John Sorenson has done the best work on this matter, and this is his internal map of physical features and cities. The Book of Mormon account is remarkably consistent throughout. Nephite lands included a narrow neck between two seas and lands northward and southward of this neck. The land southward could be traversed on foot with children and animals in tow in about thirty days, so it could not have been much longer than 300 miles. The 3000 miles required for the traditional geography is off by one order of magnitude. Nephite lands were small and did not include all of the Americas or their peoples.

The principal corollary of a limited geography is that Book of Mormon peoples were not alone on the continent. Therefore, to check for correspondences we must find the right place and peoples. It is worth noticing that anti-Mormons lament the demise of traditional, continental geography because it was so easy to ridicule. The limited geography is giving them fits. . . .

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Abinadi's Use of Ancient Near Eastern Concepts in His Testimony of Christ

An outstanding recent book on the Book of Mormon is Testaments: Links between the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Bible by David E. Bokovoy and John A. Tvedtnes (Tooele, Utah: Heritage Press, 2003, 232 pages). This morning I read chapter 14, "The Personification of Death and Hell." The authors discuss the ancient Near Eastern patterns in treating death and hell that have strong parallels to the Book of Mormon. I was especially intrigued by the issue of "swallowing" and its relationship to the bands of death.

In the ancient Near East, hell, or Sheol in Hebrew, was the shadowy underworld where departed spirits dwelt in grief, but was often personified with a demonic deity, the power behind death. Death also was often personified. The forces or monsters of death and hell often had to be overcome in battle, as in legends from the Canaanites. This concept is embodied in the Old Testament and is also found in the Book of Mormon. For example, Jacob in 2 Nephi 9 calls death and hell a "monster" three times (verse 10, 19, and 26). For example, in verse 9, he refers to death and hell as a monster from whom we must escape with the help of God:
10 O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.
Among Old Testament passages personifying death, of particular importance is Isaiah 25:8, where we learn that the Lord "will swallow up death in victory." The use of the word "swallow" is especially interesting, for in ancient Canaanite mythology, death was depicted as the "swallower" - a monster with a limitless appetite. Bokovoy and Tvedtnes note Isaiah's ironical touch in predicting that Jehovah would "swallow the swallower."

This very concept, resonating with ancient Semitic concepts, is found in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 16:7-8:
7 And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection.

8 But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.
I note that similar language is used in Alma 22:14, which summarizes the basic teachings ("missionary discussions") of Nephite missionaries teaching Lamanites:
14 And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth; and that he breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory; and Aaron did expound all these things unto the king.
The Nephite missionaries apparently were highly influenced by the recorded teachings of Abinadi.

The same concept is repeated in Mormon 7:5:
5 Know ye that ye must come to the knowledge of your fathers, and repent of all your sins and iniquities, and believe in Jesus Christ, that he is the Son of God, and that he was slain by the Jews, and by the power of the Father he hath risen again, whereby he hath gained the victory over the grave; and also in him is the sting of death swallowed up.
In the short passage of Mosiah 16:7-8, Abinadi employs several ancient Near Eastern concepts: personification of death, a battle of death to give victory, the imagery of swallowing death, and the concept of "the bands of death." Reference to the "bands of death" occurs in several parts of Abinadi's discourse (Mosiah 15:8-9, 20, 23, 16:7) and in other parts of the Book of Mormon (Alma 4:14, 5:7,9-10, 7:12; 11:41-42; 22:14). This phrase does not occur in the KJV, but is found in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. For example, in Psalm 18:4-5, the KJV has:
4 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.

5 The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.
The Hebrew word, hevel has been translated as "sorrows" in these verses, but it also has the meanings of "cord" or "band." Thus, the "sorrows of death" in Psalm 18:4 might more clearly be translated as the "bands of death" or "cords of death" -- phrases used in many modern translations. The same Hebrew phrase that can be translated as "bands of death" also occurs in 2 Samuel 22:6 and Psalm 116:3, where the KJV sticks with "sorrows of death" in both cases.

(To those who accuse Joseph Smith of plagiarizing because of Book of Mormon quotations from the Bible, please do not lose you faith in the Bible by noting that Psalm 18:5 is shamelessly plagiarized from 2 Samuel 22:6. Those Bible authors, sad to say, were rogues cut from the same fabric as Joseph.)

While the KJV does not use the phrase "bands of death" as the Book of Mormon does, a hint of that concept is in Ps 107:14: "He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder." And Psalm 73:4 has "there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm."

As another example of Book of Mormon passages dealing with the bands of death, consider Abinadi's teachings in Mosiah 15:8,9:
8 And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men--

9 Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice.
Again we see the themes of a victorious conquest, breaking the bands of death, and delivering fallen man.

(FYI, I think the authors have made a mistake in their essay, ascribing the Hebrew word hevel to "snares" in Ps. 18:5, when my reference materials give it as a different word, moqesh, that does mean bait, trap, or snare.)

Summarizing, I find it interesting that Abinadi would introduce the phrase "bands of death" that appears to be translated from an authentic Hebrew phrase that did not make it into the KJV Bible. And he uses this phrase in the context of a battle of deliverance between a divine hero, Jehovah, who would conquer the personified monster of death and thus "swallow up" death in victory. These concepts are solidly grounded in ancient Near Eastern concepts.

Bokovoy and Tvedtnes offer these remarks in conclusion (p. 87):
The personification of Death and Hell, together with motifs such as bands of death, preparing an escape route, and swallowing up one's adversary, demonstrate an authentic core to the Book of Mormon's claims for ties with the ancient Near East. Until quite recently, biblical scholars were unaware of these cosmological elements in the Old Testament. Yet Book of Mormon authors drew upon these archaic themes with poetic ease when presenting their testimonies that Christ was victorious over the grave.
Personally, I am moved with the power of the testimonies of Christ in the Book of Mormon. There is richness to the words and symbols used, a richness that cannot be appreciated without turning to the ancient Semitic and other Near Eastern roots of the ancient and inspired text. This truly is a marvelous and divine testament of Christ.

Stone Boxes and the Book of Mormon

A stone box from Mexico's Valles Centrales (central valleys) region of Oaxaca dating from 900 A.D. to 1521 A.D. On display in the Cultural Center at the Santo Domingo Cathedral in the city of Oaxaca.

I took the above photo back in March while my family was in Oaxaca for a few days. Though not directly "Book of Mormon evidence," it reminded me of how much things have changed since 1830, when the idea of ancient records on metal plates in stone boxes was utterly laughable. Since then, many examples of ancient writing on gold plates have been discovered. Further, the whole idea of ancient religious communities preserving and hiding sacred records for future times seemed a lot less ridiculous after the find of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The community at Qumran took careful steps to "embalm" their records before they were buried, seeking to preserve hidden sacred records for future generations. Details on ancient practices to hide and preserve documents, including whole libraries of buried documents, and in particular the use of metal documents in stone boxes, are given by H. Curtis Wright in "Metal Documents in Stone Boxes," in John M. Lundquist and Stephen R. Ricks, eds., By Study and Also by Faith, Vol. 1 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), pp. 273-334. ncient writing on metal plates is most attested in the ancient Near East, as is the use of stone boxes to preserve records. But this ancient ceremonial stone box from Mexico suggests that the concept of stone boxes for special purposes was also known in the New World, for whatever that's worth.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Tip for a Happy Life: Stay Morally Clean

Even if you don't believe in the teachings of the Bible and Book of Mormon on sexual morality, there is still a compelling case for living the principle of "no sex outside of marriage." Sexual morality is one of the greatest principles that the world needs to be taught, a principle that could restore a lot of peace, happiness, and physical health in the world today.

Those who add a sexual component to their dating relationships often miss the phase of actually getting to know and love a person during dating, instead focusing on the passions that can blind people to all else. These relationships are less likely to be based on genuine common values and interests and genuine respect and love for the other person. Meaningful conversation and empathy are less likely. The other person may just become an object or plaything.

Those who have no qualms about sex before marriage are more likely to accept sex outside of marriage once they are wedded, and that means terrible heartache or even disease for the betrayed spouse. Marry someone with high moral values - and have those values yourself - if you want a successful and happy marriage.

Those who want to jump into a sexual relationship right away tend to lack physical self-control. They tend to be slaves to their passion. The reality of a great relationship and great marriage is that both partners need self-discipline and strength to wade through the many challenges of life without abandoning each other. A spouse with physical self-control in sexuality is also more likely to not lose his or her temper, to not be abusive, etc.

A terrible reality of sex outside of marriage is that children are born without the benefit of having two parents. It is clearly best for a child to have both. Given the fact that children raised by only one parent are more likely to be in poverty, turn to crime, receive less education, etc., and are less likely to get the attention and guidance they need that comes from two loving parents, we should strive to make sure that our children are raised in the best possible way: in a healthy marriage with two loving parents. Many people do a great job as single parents, but when it's possible, there is no doubt that two good parents are better than one.

Do I need to mention disease? Yes, because too many of you have fallen for the lie that a condom makes everything OK. Condoms are no guarantee of anything! Even when they work as designed, they don't prevent all sexually transmitted diseases. HPV, for example, which can result in cancer for many women, is transmitted in many cases even if condoms are used. The only safe sex is sex inside of marriage between two disease-free people - and that's most likely when the two people have lived morally clean lives.

One of the best things you can do for your future husband or wife is to keep yourself free of someone else's sexually transmitted diseases by choosing now to live a morally clean life. Wait until marriage. Face it, that cute girl or guy that you meet at some bar may very well have a disease. Do you want to pass that on as a gift to your future spouse? Don't be an idiot.

But let's don't forget the big picture: there is a God, and He has given us guidelines to bless our lives and spare us from temporal and spiritual dangers. He has given us the commandment to have no sexual activity outside of marriage. Living that principle allows us to have more confidence before God, more joy and peace in our lives, and helps us stay on a path that can bring us back to Him. He created these bodies of ours. They are sacred gifts. The power of creating life is a sacred gift to be used only within marriage. Don't abuse the gift, don't cheapen yourself. If you have sinned, become clean again through the power of repentance and the Atonement of Christ.

Stay away from the dropping standards of the world where anything goes. When anything goes, soon everything will be gone. Don't be left with nothing: stay morally clean, avoid pornography and sexual sin, and offer your future or current spouse the great gift of your morally clean life.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

"He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."

"He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." This simple statement by Christ in John 14:9 was surely not meant to tell us that Christ is the same person or being as the Father, for Christ prayed to the Father, sought to do not His own will but the Father's, said that His Father was greater than He (John 14:28), ascended after His Resurrection to return to His Father, called His Father His God (John 20:17), and was later seen standing at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:55,56). No, what Christ surely meant was the same concept that Paul conveys in Hebrews 1:3 when he states that Jesus is "the express image of his [the Father's] person." In other words, Christ is in the image of the Father and looks like Him, enough so that to see the Son is to see the Father, just as He is so one in mind and purpose with the Father that to know the Son is to know the Father (John 14:7).

Adam's son, Seth, was said to be in the likeness and image of his father, Adam (Gen. 5:1-3), using the same words from Gen. 1:26,27 that tell us that we are physically created in the image and likeness of God, an unmistakable reference to the physical image. If the son of the first man, Adam, looked like his father, it should not strain our faith to know that the Son of the Ultimate Man and Father should look just like His Parent.

Christ was born with a physical body and was resurrected with that body, so real and tangible and in the same image as us that He could not only be recognized but handled and felt (Luke 24:36-43).

This stained glass window is my photograph of "Christ in Mandorla," designed by Charles J. Connick Associates of Boston around 1920. (Mr. Connick was one of America's best stained glass artists and sought to revive medieval stained glass styles from 13th century France.) The window was in the First Methodist Episcopal Church, 575 Washington Avenue, Gary, Indiana, which was abandoned and later destroyed in the late 1980s. I'm grateful this window was preserved. I photographed it in the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows in downtown Chicago, an 800-foot-long series of galleries in Navy Pier's Festival Hall. It's a great place and admission is free.

The term "Mandorla" refers to the almond-shaped intersection of two circles representing heaven and earth. He stands there as the Intercessor between both.

New Paper Relevant to the Controversy on DNA and the Book of Mormon

There is a new paper online that may be relevant to Book of Mormon issues, especially in light of the attacks based on DNA evidence. The paper is "Human Lymphocyte Antigens: Apparent Afro-Asiatic, Southern Asian, and European HLAs in Indigenous American Populations" by James L. Guthrie. It deals with human lymphocyte antigens (HLAs, proteins on white blood cells that can be classified like blood types to understand genetic relationships between groups. Guthrie's survey of the evidence suggest that Mesoamerica had significant genetic influence from non-Asian groups prior to the arrival of Columbus. Here is an excerpt:
The purpose of this paper is to point out that certain indigenous American populations have HLA alleles that are rare in America but common in parts of the world not usually associated with American Indian origins, and many of the unexpected HLAs are characteristic of populations sometimes claimed, on the basis of other kinds of evidence, to have had ancient contacts with Americans. In other words, there seems to be genetic support for the idea of ancient interhemispheric mobility. I propose that the “non-Indian” HLAs were introduced from the outside at various times between the initial colonizations of the hemisphere and the late fifteenth century A.D. I also consider other possible explanations, but they seem less likely to me. The percentage of apparently foreign HLAs averages only 7% in the populations tested so far, and this observation does not contradict the supposition that the founding American populations were overwhelmingly Asian.
Thanks to D.C. Pyle for letting me know.

Monday, May 23, 2005

"It's Been a Good Life"

Saturday morning, after an early missionary correlation meeting, I met the father of our outstanding Ward Mission Leader. He was just here for a few days, visiting from Pocatello. After the meeting, he told me a couple key parts of his life: seven missions including service in India and Malaysia, a marriage filled with service and love, the duty of caring for his wife as she suffered from Alzheimers, the release from that service when she passed away recently, and his summary: "It's been a good life."

There was such depth to his words as he spoke. It wasn't so much what he said as who he was and Who he followed. I was in the presence of a servant of the Lord who loves the Lord's children, a man whose life had been filled with righteous accomplishment, and it was inspiring. It made me resolved to press on with more vigor and faithfulness.

As this energetic and loving man told me a few parts of his story and mentioned the long caring for his disabled wife, I had a strange and moving experience of visualizing her rushing toward him - in the spirit world, I suppose - as a swirl of motion and color wrapping around him and tenderly thanking him for every moment of service, for every act of kindness to her while she was incapacitated and seemingly unaware or out of her mind. It all mattered. It all counted. It was all appreciated, deeply. It was hard to keep my eyes dry as this image passed through my mind.

Interestingly, one of the first things I heard this man say that day was his testimony of how precious the souls are of mentally handicapped children, how they are every bit as important as any of us and that they may represent some of the finest and purest souls the Lord has sent to earth.

I am grateful for the example of those who care for the disabled with patience and love. It may seem to be the most thankless of all service, but my encounter with this man left me convinced that great will be the reward of those who selflessly and lovingly care for a child, spouse, parent, or other relative or friend in their time of need.

How sacred the gift of life is!

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Evangelical Atheists?

San Francisco, that hotbed of atheism (among other things), is currently hosting the "All Atheist Weekend." It's something like an old time revival meeting gone wild.
"We're trying to do what church people call outreach," said Jim Heldberg, a Pacifica software salesman and onetime Methodist who coordinates the group San Francisco Atheists.

The goal is . . . turning atheists into activists.
The article in the San Francisco Chronicle uses terms such as "activists" and "advocates," carefully avoiding words like "missionaries" and "evangelists."

But help me, please - I'm puzzled. Why do atheists think they need to organize new groups of evangelists to proselyte for atheism? Aren't we already thoroughly covered with our public schools, the mainstream media, Hollywood, and the ACLU? Must be some kind of tax break they are after.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Discrimination Against Ex-Gays

Many companies have diversity sites on their corporate Intranet that perpetuate common myths about homosexuality, including the myth that 10% of the population is gay and the myth that homosexuality is an innate identity issue that cannot be changed. And of course, anyone who thinks it is wrong has the dread mental illness of homophobia (there couldn't possibly be some rational reason for opposing homosexual activity - must be mental illness!). Such misinformation should be offensive not only to Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others who have moral views on the matter, but it must be terribly offensive to ex-gays themselves who are essentially told that they don't exist - and certainly don't count.

I attended a corporate diversity session featuring a highly paid gay activist who, in response to a question I asked about Dr. Robert Spitzer's research on successful treatment for some homosexuals, essentially denied that they exist. Such a thing simply could not happen, he insisted - if they were really gay, they will always be gay, though they might "fool" themselves temporarily into thinking otherwise. But real ex-homosexuals just don't exist, he said, and a "cure" is impossible.

Hey, how about a little tolerance for ex-homosexuals? Why not begin with, say, a simple recognition that they do exist? How can we look them in the eye and tell them that they are liars and frauds because what they stand for challenges a myth someone wants to believe in, a myth that justifies behavior that can be controlled and even changed?

This is a widespread form of discrimination. For example, the PTA warmly accepts pro-gay groups and allows them to have exhibits at their conventions, but a group of ex-homosexuals seeking the same privilege were shunned, according to a recent article at WorldNetDaily. The idea that there are ex-gays apparently must be hidden from students and educators.

To learn more about the reality of ex-homosexuals, I recommend the DVD, "I Do Exist" from Warren Throckmorton. Also see the excellent Website, People Can Change. Summaries of related information is on my page, "Homosexuality: Seeing Past the Propaganda."

It's one thing to believe that somebody is doing something wrong. That's not necessarily hateful or discriminatory, though none of us likes others to disagree with our behavior. It's quite another thing to deny the very existence and integrity of those who have overcome a behavior they wanted to change. The first is a matter of personal values. The second is just being ugly.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


When I accidentally ran into SoyMormon.com, I initially wondered if it was some kind of LDS Asian cooking site, or perhaps a site for Mormon soybean farmers. No, it's actually a decent pro-LDS site in Spanish. For example, they've got some good pro-LDS articles in Spanish, such as Daniel Peterson's "A Scholar Examines Book of Mormon Evidences."

I've had several people ask me about LDS apologetics materials in Spanish. Please let me know if you are aware of other useful sites.

If SoyMormon is a Spanish site, would BeanMormon be German? And could there be a Mandarin equivalent? Shr!

Jesus: Lord of the Old Testament

While some critics allege that Latter-day Saints don't believe that Jesus Christ was and is God, that is mischaracterization of our beliefs. The Book of Mormon declares that He is the very Eternal Father, and that He and the Father are One God. We disagree with how modern mainstream Christianity has redefined (IMHO) the oneness of Christ and the Father (see my essay on the oneness of God, for example), but it is outrageous to suggest that we do not fully recognize and honor the divinity of Jesus Christ. In fact, some of the same critics who accuse us of not fully accepting the divinity of Jesus Christ go on to criticize our belief that He was Jehovah, the Lord who spoke to prophets in the Old Testament. In fact, we believe that He was the Creator of the earth under the direction of the Father, something that doesn't seem to be taught widely, even though it is proclaimed in the New Testament (Heb. 1:1-3, Col. 1:15-18, Eph. 3:9). How that squares with not believing that He is and was fully divine, I don't know.

For those who have been challenged about our belief in Christ as Jehovah (a title that does not necessarily always refer to Him, but typically does), FAIRLDS.org has a recent and helpful essay, "Jesus: Lord of the Old Testament" by David Ferguson.

Query: If you were to explore the writings of the earliest Christians, do you think you would find significant evidence that LDS views on Christ are supported or challenged? For example, would we find the earliest Christians speaking of Christ as one Being of the same substance as the Father and without body, parts and passions? Would the idea of Christ as Creator and Lord of the Old Testament be utterly unsupported? Or would we find that He was viewed as a distinct Being who was one in mind, purpose, and will with the Father, yet subordinate to the Father?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Mormonism and Early Christianity

One of my favorite resources for learning about the Apostasy and the Restoration is Mormonism and Early Christianity by Barry R. Bickmore. His site contains many well-documented essays demonstrating that key parts of LDS theology are closer to early Christianity than to modern mainstream Christianity, consistent with the LDS concept of a Restoration. Many of the LDS concepts that lead our critics to exclude us from what they call "historic Christianity" were also early Christian concepts.

One of many interesting pages on Barry's site is "The Nature of the Spirit World," which shows that Joseph Smith's teachings about the spirit world were quite out of place in his day but share many elements with early Christian teachings.

I am especially happy to remind that Barry's monumental book, Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity (Ben Lomond, CA: The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 1999), is available online at FAIRLDS.org for free! This one is worth studying. How kind of Barry and FAIRLDS.org to make it available to the world at no cost.

Inspired by Barry's essays, a few years ago I purchased and devoured The Apostolic Fathers and also spent a lot of time reading through online documents of early Christian writers. I relied on these sources for part of my essay on faith, grace, works, and salvation. I was intrigued at how many of the earliest Christian writings sound so much like typical LDS sermons at, say, General Conference, and very unlike modern preaching on salvation by faith alone without works or free agency. (That point is open for debate, of course - I would be interested in hearing other views based on the evidence from the The Apostolic Fathers, for example.)

I've just added Barry's book and his Early Christianity site to my permanent "Other Links" list at the right. I hope you'll explore both works.

Leaders vs. Managers

When I received my B.Sc. degree at BYU in August of 1983 (Chemical Engineering), I was thrilled to have the commencement speaker be none other than Dr. Hugh Nibley, a fellow member of my ward, the Provo Ninth Ward, and one of the most fascinating and intelligent men I have met. The speech he delivered was thought-provoking and controversial, and not terribly considerate of those in the School of Business. I my have mentioned it before, but here it is, courtesy of FARMS: "Leaders to Managers: The Fatal Shift."

I think he has some profound points. My, how we need more leaders in this world drowning in a flood of management.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Lessons from Crop Circles

The art of crop circles fascinates me. I wanted to share the link just for the fun of it, but being an LDS blogger, I feel driven to say something of a religious nature, however corny. So here goes: Regarding crop circles, are there moral or theological lessons we can learns from this controversial exercise in human creativity?

Playing the anti-Mormon's advocate for a moment, I could draw an analogy to the Book of Mormon and note how easy it is for humans to fabricate elaborate works that fool others. I could suggest that the Book of Mormon, though intricate, complex, and beautiful, was fabricated by human hands just as crop circles were (human feet, to be slightly more correct). The argument is a little too generous, for many critics would rather dismiss it as a rough, crude, ridiculous fabrication rather than recognize its artistry, but let's overlook that for now.

Could the Book of Mormon be a spiritual crop circle? Frankly, no. Crop circles generated a lot of speculation about their origins, but the actual origins of the circles were eventually exposed in great detail. Participants broke their silence and revealed that they were just duping people. Others determined the details of crop circle manufacture, providing non-mysterious explanations that accounted for every aspect of crop circles. Others were able to duplicate the effort and create equivalent or superior works. It takes talent and planning, but it can be done by almost anyone.

None of this applies to the Book of Mormon, where critics still cannot account for the details of its origins. Some say it was a stupid and ridiculous fraud from an uneducated farm boy, but in light of further evidence about the strength of the text and its remarkable consistency and sophistication, that explanation made no sense. Critics then looked to intelligent and scholarly allies who secretly may have helped Joseph plagiarize from a variety of sources. All of these theories have failed and lack any plausible substantiation. None of them can explain the powerful and consistent testimony of many witnesses, who remained true to their story of divine origins to the end of their lives and never came forward like crop-circle makers to explain how it was all done. Even ignoring the witnesses (the only reasonable course for our critics), the more we learn about the Book of Mormon and ancient Semitic writings, the more difficult it becomes to explain the origins of the Book of Mormon based on plagiarism from anything available in the nineteenth century.

So if the Book of Mormon is a spiritual crop circle, we are left without a plausible explanation for its origin - and any theory based on UFOs won't fly either (in spite of the crazed Godmakers gang who try to say we worship aliens instead of God and Jesus Christ). The Book of Mormon is a marvelous work and a wonder, as Isaiah prophesied (Is. 29), but not a work of the crop circle variety. Rather, it's a divine work, another testament of Jesus Christ, a second witness with the Bible for the divinity of Jesus Christ, brought forth by the power of God, not crafty men. That book is the reason I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and one of the reasons I can truly say that I know that my Redeemer lives.

Well, enjoy the inspiring crop circle art - but I hope you'll enjoy the even more inspiring art and majesty of the Book of Mormon, an inspired text that can run circles around anything crafted by mere mortals alone.

A Birthday to Remember

Did you catch the gut-wrenching yet inspiring post "Happy Birthday, Betsey Pearl" by Adam Greenwood over at Times and Seasons? For those of you struggling with the loss of a child, the pending loss of a child, or the grief in other families from the loss of a child, you may be strengthened by Brother Greenwood's experience and perspective. Make no mistake: mortality is not an easy place.

Thanks to Ethesis for calling my attention to that post.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

"Thou shalt not kill, nor do anything like unto it"

I always assumed that abortion was what the Lord had in mind when he said "Thou shalt not . . . kill, nor do anything like unto it" (Doctrine and Covenants 59:5). After reading the story of Kate Adamson-Klugman (one summary is available at Common Sense Runs Wild), it occurred to me that other crimes may be included as well. In Kate Adamson-Klugman's case, there is an amazing parallel to Terri Schiavo.

After a double brainstem stroke in 1995, KAte was completely paralyzed. Kate apeared to be in a hopeless coma and our system wanted to kill her. She seemed less responsive than Terri Schiavo, but was still able to feel and think inside the shell of her body. They operated on her without anesthesia, and she could feel it. They later decided to let her starve, and she could feel it. The eight days of forced starvation after they removed the feeding tube were terribly painful. Fortunately, she had a husband who was not trying to remove an inconvenient spouse. He believed that she could recover, and believed, like Terri's family, that he had seen signs that she was still there. Her husband fought to keep her alive, and after time and therapy, she progressed to the point that she can speak and write and proclaim to the world that we need to protect the sanctity of life. She and her husband are convinced that the killing of Terri Schiavo was a brutal murder. She can speak from a perspective that demands our attention.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

So Grateful for BYU: An Answer to the World's "University of Destruction"

My second son is home for the summer after his first year at BYU. Some of the changes I see in him remind me of the positive changes I saw in my eldest son after his mission. He's more confident, more talkative, even more wonderful to have around the home, and seems to have grown in several ways, including spiritually. I don't know how much was due to influences from BYU, but I can see that it was a positive experience for him.

While there are plenty of problems at BYU and plenty of dangers and temptations, it is a place where the leaders and role models generally are striving to help the students grow not only academically, but spiritually. It is a place where there are high standards and high moral expectations, where flagrant immorality is not the standard fare, and where safeguards have been provided to help protect our young people. How grateful I am for that!

Contrast that with life at many typical universities. University life has become so bad in most parts of the country that it is not unreasonable to refer to a typical school as a "university of destruction" - the title of a new Christian book by David Wheaton. I heard him on the radio recently explaining how tragic it is that Christian parents work so hard to save money to send their kids to universities where are the values they tried to teach will be deliberately undermined, where immorality will be encouraged and rewarded, where faith in Christ will be mocked, etc. And the parents PAY handsomely for this privilege, often having no clue that they are sending there kids to a moral cesspool that can destroy their child spiritually.

Christian youths can survive this, but they need a lot of strength to overcome the many direct assaults on their faith and purity that they will face. Wheaton offers a lot of advice - but I don't think an LDS school is one of them. Maybe it should be.

Below is an excerpt from Wheaton's book that describes his first day at Stanford. The excerpt is available on David's Web site:
Welcome to Stanford

My duffel bags had barely touched the dorm room floor when two tennis teammates-to-be barged through the door with pitchers of beer in hand. It may have been the middle of the afternoon, but the party had already started. Girls and guys roamed the co-ed dorm, checking out their new surroundings. Classes started the next day, and I kid you not, I had neither pen nor paper.

The first assignment in Great Works of Western Culture, a required freshman class, was to read the books of Genesis and Job. "Easy enough," I thought, since I came from a Christian background and was familiar with the Bible. Imagine my disbelief when the professor and other students ridiculed the Bible and mocked God for the "stupid" way He dealt with mankind. I had never heard "God" and "stupid" in the same sentence before! I was so stunned, I didn't know what to say.

The night life was just as shocking. It was as if all moral restraint had been lifted from the campus. Drunkenness and sexual activity were seemingly everywhere. The overall scene brought to mind images of wanton sailors coming ashore at a foreign port of call. Surely this wasn't Stanford--it was Sodom!

Why was I so surprised by my introduction to college? After all, I had heard what college was like. I had already seen and experienced a taste of campus life on college recruiting visits. I was no potted plant--I had been out of my own backyard plenty of times.

But this was different ... way different. I was now living full-time in the midst of a world diametrically opposed to the one I had grown up in--there would be no returning home to Mommy and Daddy every night. I would soon find out that an excellent upbringing coupled with academic and athletic success was no match for the maelstrom called college. The waters were baited, the sharks were circling ... spiritual shipwreck loomed.
Whatever school our LDS youth select, BYU included, they will need to be prepared for the challenges of being on their own. As a parent, I am grateful for the bishops, teachers, youth leaders, and others who recognize the urgency of the challenges before our young people and who lovingly help them grow strong enough to stand on their own. And I am grateful for the wisdom of the Church in sponsoring BYU and other institutions (Institute included) for blessing the lives of young people in college.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Impact of Immorality in the Military

During lunch with a well-educated friend from Taiwan, I was told that foreigners are just amazed when they come to America and see that so many Americans are good, moral people. Why the amazement? Because the most well-known Americans overseas are those in the US military and in Hollywood movies, and they are typically highly immoral. Based on the behavior of US military personnel, my friend and many others he knows expected America to be filled with sluts and party animals. They were surprised to see the basic goodness of the people.

His comments made me all the more concerned about the welfare of our young people in the military. It's hard enough resisting temptation in high school in a small, decent town like Appleton, Wisconsin with parents nearby. Throw those kids into the military, and they need to be real saints to stay out of the mire of immorality.

As just one glimpse into the problems, see the article Our Pregnant Military.

Any ideas on how to help our LDS people survive the moral trials of military life?

The Sikh Religion

I've had some brief encounters with people of the Sikh religion recently. I've known that they typically had the last name of "Singh," were often from Punjab Province in India, were monotheistic and generally quite decent people, but I still didn't know much about what they believed. A resource that helped me better understand their religion is Sikhs.org. I especially appreciate the page comparing Sikhism to other religions. Click on the graphic of books at the bottom of the page to get comparisons for specific religions. There is also a page at ReligiousTolerance.org that is helpful.

If any of your are LDS converts from Sikhism or are a Sikh investigating the Latter-day Saints, I would appreciate hearing your perspectives about the Latter-day Saints and the challenges in converting or the differences that bother you most.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Aha! Interesting Evidence in National Geographic

The April 2005 National Geographic provides at least two facts of interest to students of the LDS scriptures. Look at their Web page for the April 2005 issue. Notice especially the opening and closing sentences. Do you see the relevance? Here is an excerpt:
King Aha, "The Fighter," was not killed while unifying the Nile's two warring kingdoms, nor while building the capital of Memphis. No, one legend has it that the first ruler of a united Egypt was killed in a hunting accident after a reign of 62 years, unceremoniously trampled to death by a rampaging hippopotamus. News of his demise brought a separate, special terror to his staff. For many, the honor of serving the king in life would lead to the more dubious distinction of serving the king in death. . . .

Outside, situated around the enclosure's walls, were six open graves. In a final act of devotion, or coercion, six people were poisoned and buried along with wine and food to take into the afterlife. One was a child of just four or five, perhaps the king's beloved son or daughter, who was expensively furnished with ivory bracelets and tiny lapis beads.

Is this how a pharaoh's funeral in 2900 B.C. actually unfolded? It's a plausible scenario, experts say. Archaeologists have been sifting through the dry sands of Abydos for more than a century. Now they have found compelling evidence that ancient Egyptians indeed engaged in human sacrifice, shedding new—and not always welcome—light on one of the ancient world's great civilizations.
Did you notice? Aha! There it is, a Book of Mormon name in ancient Egypt. It's a name that is not found in the Bible (though critics have claimed he plagiarized it from phrases like "Ah!") or in any of the sources that Joseph theoretically had access to, as far as I know (even if Joseph had managed to secretly acquire the vast frontier library that his critics seem to imagine he had).

For the Egyptians, Aha was the name of a great king, also called "the Fighter." In the Book of Mormon, Aha was the name of another fighter, a Nephite military officer, son of the chief captain over the Nephite armies. His name is reported in Alma 16:5-6 (about 80 B.C.). Perhaps even more significant, the ancient Jaredite people had a king named Ahah, mentioned in Ether 1:9 and Ether 11:10. (And he was a wicked king that caused much bloodshed - apparently another fighter.)

The Book of Mormon's use of Aha and Ahah as the name of ancient male authority figures (both fighters, no less) makes sense, given that an ancient Egyptian king from around 2900 B.C. was Aha, "the Fighter."

Naturally, this could just be a coincidence, but it's at least an interesting one. It may provide support for the plausibility of the name Aha in the Book of Mormon. (As always, please don't mistake evidence for plausibility with the issue of "proving" the Book of Mormon.)

Did you notice the other thing relevant to LDS scriptures? As mentioned in the National Geographic summary, there is growing evidence that the Egyptians practiced human sacrifice, supporting the allegedly incredible claim in the Book of Abraham that a priest of the Egyptian religion had sacrificed children and attempted to sacrifice Abraham. Add this to a large body of evidence from other ancient texts that there was an attempt to sacrifice Abraham for his refusal to worship idols, and we have an interesting case for the authenticity of the story reported in the Book of Abraham. Far from being the weak underbelly of Mormon scripture, it is an increasingly impressive witness of the reality of Joseph Smith's divine calling as a prophet. The critics are unable to explain how Joseph could have made up so many details in the text that have recently become credible in light of other ancient accounts.

Thanks to T. Allen Lambert for e-mail calling my attention to the National Geographic article.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Walt Whitman as the Source of the Book of Mormon

{satire warning on}

Defenders of truth (what Mormon apologists hatefully call "anti-Mormons") have been arguing for years that Joseph Smith plagiarized from one or more nineteenth century sources in producing the Book of Mormon. Many dozens of books have been offered up as possible candidates, including works by Spaulding, Ethan Smith, various ministers, von Humboldt, and so forth. However, the real experts know that the strongest candidate for the secret source of the Book of Mormon is Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. One can find parallels in many themes, names, events, and even phrases of four, five, six, or even seven words at a time. The evidence for the Leaves of Grass as the smoking gun behind Book of Mormon plagiarism is far stronger than what critics have dug up for other sources.

The only possible weakness in this theory is that the Leaves of Grass was published in 1855, 25 years after the Book of Mormon. But there's a simple explanation: Whitman, for some reason, waited a few decades to publish the text that he must have written before 1830 (or actually before 1827, when the Book of Mormon story came on the scene). Now some sticklers have continued their desperate denial of the evidence, hoping to prop up the farcical case for the Book of Mormon. For example, here's an e-mail I received this week in response to my page on Whitman and the Book of Mormon:
Wasn't Walt Whitman born in 1819? How could the Book of Mormon have been plagiarized from Walt Whitman's work if he was only 11 at the time of it's publication.
Hey, haven't you heard of child prodigies? Really, the blindness of these Mormon defenders amazes me.

Update, May 9: Just received another hate-filled e-mail from a nasty Mormon supporter. Here it is:
At first glance, you seem to have an argument on the Leaves of Grass/Book of Mormon plagiarism....

...But if you consider the fact that Whitman was born in May 1819, he would have only been 10 or 11 years old when the Book of Mormon was published.

You could be right that there was plagiarism involved...but it may be the opposite of what you were thinking.

Next time, check your dates for accuracy.
So, I'm the one with an accuracy problem, eh? This is so typical of Mormon apologetics: nothing but ad hominem attacks and name calling from these vile, deranged cultists. There is even a veiled attack on Walt Whitman's integrity! Is nothing too low for the perfidious tactics of Mormon defenders? And look how they've completely ignored my point, running from the evidence, as always. They just regurgitate the same old tired canards from their fellow apologists. Why does the LDS Church refuse to officially debate the issue of Walt Whitman and the Book of Mormon? What are they trying to hide??

{satire off}

I think there are some valuable lessons to learn about plagiarism in studying these parallels. But they are lessons that tend to deflate some people's balloons. In my opinion, the critics have utterly failed to offer any plausible explanation for the origins of the Book of Mormon other than the one Joseph Smith and the many other witnesses have offered: there were real gold plates from that were translated by a prophet of God.

Something Unusual in the Conference Report

While thumbing through the May 2005 Ensign with the Conference Report (available online as a PDF file - click on May 2005), something struck me about this Conference Report that seemed to make it stand out from previous ones, based on my recollections. Did you notice it also? What impressed me in this issue was the black and white photography. There seemed to be an unusually large number of shots showing an artistic flare. Unusual angles, fascinating candid moments, clever composition, interesting layers of meaning. I was wondering who this photographer was that found so many great shots while running around during General Conference - turns out it was about a dozen people or so, including several international sites. Oh.

Some of my favorites are on pages 2 (interesting balance and composition), 7 (interesting hands), 14, 21, 23 (hands seem to get a lot of attention in some of the photos), 42, 47, 50 (cute), 53, 56 (beautiful!), 59 (great angle - and hands play a role again), 61, 67, 79 (nice light), 81, 83, 85 (symbolism?), 86 (great composition, nicely divided, and having two people in the lower part somehow adds a balance that makes it much better than if there were no one), 89, 90 (like the angle and the hand), 93 (the hand), 100 (outstanding), 108 (great shadows), 111 (my favorite - love the candid shot), 113, 117, and 119.

Has Conference photography always been this interesting?

Friday, May 06, 2005

Captain Moroni and the Interrogation of Prisoners

For the past couple of years we've heard dozens of government and military officials reminding us that we need to be "aggressive" in the interrogation of prisoners. We've had our top leaders insisting that captured prisoners in the war against terror cannot be expected to have the same rights as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention, all in the name of the good cause of getting out information to save the country from terror. While we've been shocked and shamed to see what these aggressive techniques can lead to, and we have created many more enemies with the heavy-handed approach, in the end, we've been told, it's all been essential in the name of getting every bit of info we can out of the captured prisoners.

Those who love the Book of Mormon may wince and wonder. We have Captain Moroni held up as an example of a great man whom we should emulate, a man who despised bloodshed yet was one of the most effective military generals ever. One thing that both friends and foes learned Moroni was that he was clever but NICE. He treated captured enemies well. Many times he would release prisoners if they would make a serious oath to not fight against the Nephites again. He abhorred unnecessary killing and looked for clever ways to win without bloodshed. And we can be sure that when he interrogated prisoners, they weren't being tortured.

But how naive to think that such methods could possible work. Could "nice" interrogation ever get anything valuable out of prisoners, any vital information at all?

Actually, the state-of-the-art information in interrogation techniques for several decades has pointed out that "nice" approach is far more effective that torture. It's hardly a secret. And the tough approach that the US seems to taking has had the results one would expect in light of the best information on interrogation: almost NOTHING of value has been extracted by our interrogators. Abu Ghraib was a disaster not just for the harm to our public image and the harm done to the victims and the degradation of American soldiers who stooped to such levels, but it was also a military disaster in terms of failing to extract useful information.

Please read "Truth Extraction" by Stephen Budiansky in the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly (June 2005). Here is a brief excerpt:
Six months before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison broke into public view, a small and fairly obscure private association of United States Marine Corps members posted on its Web site a document on how to get enemy POWs to talk.

The document described a situation very similar to the one the United States faces in the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan: a fanatical and implacable enemy, intense pressure to achieve quick results, a brutal war in which the old rules no longer seem to apply.

Marine Major Sherwood F. Moran, the report's author, noted that despite the complexities and difficulties of dealing with an enemy from such a hostile and alien culture, some American interrogators consistently managed to extract useful information from prisoners. The successful interrogators all had one thing in common in the way they approached their subjects. They were nice to them.

Moran was writing in 1943, and he was describing his own, already legendary methods of interrogating Japanese prisoners of war. More than a half century later his report remains something of a cult classic for military interrogators. The Marine Corps Interrogator Translator Teams Association (MCITTA), a group of active-duty and retired Marine intelligence personnel, calls Moran's report one of the "timeless documents" in the field and says it has long been "a standard read" for insiders. (A book about the Luftwaffe interrogator Hans Joachim Scharff, whose charm, easygoing manner, and perfect English beguiled many a captured Allied airman into revealing critical information, is another frequently cited classic in the field.) An MCITTA member says the group decided to post Moran's report online in July of 2003, because "many others wanted to read it" and because the original document, in the Marine Corps archives, was in such poor shape that the photocopies in circulation were difficult to decipher. He denies that current events had anything to do with either the decision to post the document or the increased interest in it.

But it is hard to imagine a historical lesson that would constitute a more direct reproach to recent U.S. policies on prisoner interrogation. And there is no doubt that Moran's report owes more than a little of its recent celebrity to the widespread disdain among experienced military interrogators for what took place at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo when ill-trained personnel were ordered to "soften up" prisoners. Since the prison scandals broke, many old hands in the business have pointed out that abusing prisoners is not simply illegal and immoral; it is also remarkably ineffective.
A key point is that torture makes it obvious that the soldier being interrogated is in enemy hands, and strengthens the resolve to be silent. When a man finally talks under torture, the information will often be deliberately incorrect. On the other hand, when prisoners are treated nicely, when there is someone interested in how they are doing and just talking, the prisoners may be willing to tell stories and share incidental information that can be pieced together with other information to provide useful insights. Moran and others obtained far more information from their prisoners that those who took more "aggressive" approaches.

And I bet that Captain Moroni's "nice" treatment resulted in much more useful information as well. If he were in charge of this war, I think we'd be in a much stronger position, with Muslims all over the world questioning the anti-US propaganda, and . . . . Actually, if he were in charge, it's hard to imagine just how different things might be. We might have both Osama bib Laden AND Howard Stern locked up in the same prison cell for all I know. Yes, Captain Moroni was nice, but he wasn't naive and he could take strong measures when essential.

How Can Latter-day Saints Compete?

Here's another reason why missionary work is slow in Wisconsin. How can we compete with the Catholics when they can offer this? We tried to respond by bringing in Ken Jennings to sip caffeine-free cola drinks with fans, but our budget was too tight now that Greyhound has increased their fares.

In fact, this kind of thing can also shake up some Latter-day Saints, weakening the credibility of the Word of Wisdom. But remember, resurrected bodies can probably drink anything and be fine! Whew, glad I could come up with the "Mo-pologist" spin on that little conundrum.

But we're still hurting. First we had to compete with the famous Polka Mass, and now this.

The photo is from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, about 20 miles south of Appleton. I took it last Saturday, April 30.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Intelligent Design: Not Just a Matter of Faith

On February 7, 2005, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece, "Design for Living" by Michael J. Behe (also available at Discovery.org and other unusual sites. The author makes the point that the concept of intelligent design has been widely misrepresented and does not depend on religious faith.

Michael Behe is a biochemist at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, a Seattle-based organization that supports the intelligent-design movement. Here is an excerpt from his article:
Rather, the contemporary argument for intelligent design is based on physical evidence and a straightforward application of logic. The argument for it consists of four linked claims.

The first claim is uncontroversial: we can often recognize the effects of design in nature. For example, unintelligent physical forces like plate tectonics and erosion seem quite sufficient to account for the origin of the Rocky Mountains. Yet they are not enough to explain Mount Rushmore.

Of course, we know who is responsible for Mount Rushmore, but even someone who had never heard of the monument could recognize it as designed.

Which leads to the second claim of the intelligent design argument: the physical marks of design are visible in aspects of biology. This is uncontroversial, too. . . .

The next claim in the argument for design is that we have no good explanation for the foundation of life that doesn't involve intelligence. Here is where thoughtful people part company.

Darwinists assert that their theory can explain the appearance of design in life as the result of random mutation and natural selection acting over immense stretches of time.

Some scientists, however, think the Darwinists' confidence is unjustified. They note that although natural selection can explain some aspects of biology, there are no research studies indicating that Darwinian processes can make molecular machines of the complexity we find in the cell.

Scientists skeptical of Darwinian claims include many who have no truck with ideas of intelligent design, like those who advocate an idea called complexity theory, which envisions life self-organizing in roughly the same way that a hurricane does, and ones who think organisms in some sense can design themselves.

The fourth claim in the design argument is also controversial: in the absence of any convincing non-design explanation, we are justified in thinking that real intelligent design was involved in life. . . .
Interesting comments.

Personally, I find the intricacies of life and the universe to be so clever and even inspiring that it is difficult to escape the natural testimony of a design. Yes, there is a Designer - and He's awfully good at what He does.

(Thanks to Walter Reade for calling my attention to the Behe article.)

Monday, May 02, 2005

The War on Terror and America's Moral Decline

On the radio this week I heard someone familiar with Muslims explaining how clueless Americans are about our international image and the reasons being used to provoke violence against us. He stated that the most powerful weapon being used against us is not bullets or explosives, but America's own satellite broadcasts of depraved entertainment. Muslim clerics are able to use things like the Howard Stern Show to depict America as the Great Satan. The Muslim people, who are raised with high standards of sexual morality, are outraged by what they see or hear about the "American lifestyle" that flows across the world from the cesspools of Hollywood and New York. (I, too, am outraged.) The speaker said that he could understand why so many Muslims would want to pick up a rifle and join the fight.

His concerns make sense. Even though many Americas are moral people with a moral Judeo-Christian heritage, the moral depravity fed to the world by the entertainment industry (and financially supported by far too many Americans) has done much to jeopardize this nation. It's one more way that immorality hurts people, and one more reason why morality matters.

With that in mind, I am pained to learn that our own First Lady, Laura Bush, gained the praise and laughter of Hollywood types last weekend in a public display that featured dirty jokes and off-color insults about her husband. She even joked that she, as a "desperate housewife," went to see the Chippendales. The First Lady joking about going to male strip clubs?? Great. Now Muslim newspapers can carry direct quotes from the First Lady to prove that America and its leaders are immoral and debauched. And this while patriotic young men and women are being killed by those who believe they are fighting invaders who want to bring American immorality into their land and tear down the moral pillars of their faith.

It was painful enough when I heard President Bush praise Ozzy Osbourne a couple years ago. To have the First Lady telling dirty jokes about George Bush and about her going to a strip club just sickens me. I know many of you will say that this is just a clever political move to throw the liberals off guard, but that's silly. How I yearn for the days of leaders like George Washington, who could always be counted on to represent the land of liberty with the highest of integrity and morality.

Morality matters. It matters in our leaders. It matters in our private lives. We can settle for nothing less. May we one day find leaders to represent us and out nation without shame.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Changes in the Doctrine & Covenants (Book of Commandments)

I was recently asked if there had been hundreds of changes to the Book of Commandments. My quick answer:

Yes, of course. Editing documents to prepare them for publication is perfectly acceptable. The many documented changes in the Book of Commandments (now the Doctrine and Covenants) may come as a surprise to some Latter-day Saints, but it's not anything shocking or deceptive. Joseph made substantial edits in some passages to prepare the text for publication. This included many changes involving grammar and punctuation, making some sections more complete, adding material or making changes to add information from subsequent revelations for clarity, or removing material that was no longer needed or appropriate. The anti-Mormons make a great deal out of this, but they grossly misunderstand the reality of publishing and of editing.

Jeremiah, for example, made editorial additions in a second version of his writings. See Jeremiah 36, where we learn that Baruch wrote all the words from Jeremiah that were recorded in a book (vss. 4, 17, 18) Unfortunately, King Jehoiakim of Judah burned the book that contained the words of Jeremiah (vss. 21-25). The Lord commanded Jeremiah to prepare his document again, writing "all the former words that were in the first roll" (vs. 28). In verse 32, Jeremiah then commanded his scribe, Baruch, to write on another roll the words of Jeremiah, "and there were added besides unto them many like words." Many like words added? This doesn't sound like original dictation straight from the mouth of God, perfectly preserved and unchangeable. Prophets speak or dictate by inspiration, but there can be later changes and additions. I have no problem with Joseph Smith doing the same. The fact that there has been significant editing of the Bible is no reason to throw it out. Same for the Book of Commandments.

For excellent information on the nature of the changes in the Book of Commandments, see "Editing to Prepare Revelations for Publication," an essay by Melvin J. Petersen that deals with the kinds of changes made to prepare the Book of Commandments (now the Doctrine and Covenants) for publication. Yes, of course there were changes. This is nothing to cause anger or loss of faith.