Before beginning this post, I would like to share an experience I had this week with some friends online. I shared an article on Facebook where biologist Richard Dawkins said that in certain circumstances he did not blame pedophiles for their practice, and even said it was not always harmful. My friend Taylor then pointed out that Joseph Smith, Jr. was married to very young women in his thirties, although I and others pointed out that such was not illegal in his time, even if it was not the most common, and we have no evidence of offspring from these marriages. One thing that stuck out to me was something my friend Egyptologist Stephen Smoot said:
Ultimately though, you are correct that in most cases it really does come down to who you are going to believe: Joseph Smith or his antagonists (both, of course, having their own respective motives and biases for making the claims they did). I cannot decide for you or anyone else who to believe. What I can do is merely emphasize that this is the situation we presently find ourselves in.Close quote. This statement is similar to the one philosopher of science Michael Ruse makes at the end of his book Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know (which I reviewed here ), that what we choose to believe in the end is a moral decision as much as it is an evidence decision. Do we want to live in a world where God exists, where he sent his Son to make an atonement for our sins, and where he speaks through flawed and imperfect men, or do we want to live in some other kind of world? I myself, after looking at the evidence, choose the former world. Some, like philosopher Thomas Nagel, who famously said he wanted atheism to be true because he didn't want there to be a god in the universe, choose the latter. What we choose to believe in is a choice, and has consequences. When it comes to these issues, I hope that my readers carefully examine the evidence, from sophisticated believers and unbelievers alike, and make a prayerful decision about what to do from there. If nothing else, I hope I can help facilitate that process.
Without any further ado, lets move on to the next claims in Letter to a CES Director. Claims 2-3 have to do with King James version verses being in the Book of Mormon, which I addressed in the first post, so I will not go through that again in detail. I will note that Runnells does not engage the fact that there are significant differences between the Isaiah text in the Book of Mormon versus the Isaiah text in the Bible; there are significant differences there. Also, the Sermon on the Mount has significant differences between the two texts as well. None of this is addressed in the CES Letter.
Claim 4: DNA analysis has concluded that Native American Indians do not originate from the Middle East or from Israelite's but rather from Asia. Why did the Church change the following section of the introduction page in the 2006 edition Book of Mormon shortly after the DNA results were released?
“…the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians” to “…the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians”
This is a popular claim that is made against the Book of Mormon, and it is one of the most easily refuted. Some, even perhaps the Prophet Joseph Smith, believed that the Lamanites were the ancestors of those we incorrectly call the American Indians. However, a careful reading of the text shows that there are no claims that that is the case. Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni nowhere state that their people are the only people who are on the continent, or thatall those on the continent are there offspring. This is a folklore belief, not a textual admission. The narrative states that a two small colonies came this continent after being directed here, and that they built cities and civilizations,that is all. As a convert, I was shocked that many Mormons believed (and many still do) that the Lamanites were the principle ancestors of the American Indians because that claim is not made in the text.
As for the introduction page, that was authored by Bruce R. McConkie, and represents his opinions on the matter. But others, such as Anthony W. Ivins, have pointed out before that introduction was penned that the text does not say that Lehi and his descendants were the only persons on this continent. So, while Elder McConkie was right on other things, he was wrong on that issue and the Church edited the introduction. I know this is hard for some to believe, but not all our beliefs are made because of scientific data. Folklore rubs off on even the best of us.
Claim 5: Anachronisms: Horses, cattle, oxen, sheep, swine, goats, elephants, wheels, chariots, wheat, silk, steel, and iron did not exist in pre-Columbian America during Book of Mormon times. Why are these things mentioned in the Book of Mormon as being made available in the Americas between 2200 BC - 421 AD?
An anachronism, for those unfamiliar with the term is, is something being in a text before it would have been known to the people in the text. For example, if a book before the 1800's has cars in it, we can conclude that the text is either fictional or non-historical because there were no cars at that time. Similarly, some claim that things like horses being in the Book of Mormon are anachronistic because these things were not introduced to Indians until Columbus and others came to the American continent.
Brant A. Gardner, an anthropologist, states:
LDS scholars have approached the issue of anachronisms in multiple ways, and the verse with both horses and chariots provides a convenient way to describe the two major approaches. One explanation has been to search for reasons the anachronism wasn't actually anachronistic. For example, contrasted to the common knowledge that there were no horses in the Americas prior to the Spanish Conquest, some scholars have argued that there were pre-Columbian horses...... The use of words that have no counterpart in ancient culture is a larger category of potential anachronisms than the mention of plants and animals that are presently unknown to have been on the American continents before its European discovery in the late fifteenth century. These items a better explanation in the fact that the Book of Mormon is a translation rather than an original document. It is entirely possible to have an anachronism in a translation that was not present in the original. (A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and History pg. 34-35)Close quote. So, some things we consider anachronistic simply are not. There is evidence that horses were on this continent, though not in abundance, before the arrival of Columbus, and the idea I mentioned in the first post also applies. The Book of Mormon is an expansion of a text that is written for our day, not a word for word translation. It is written in our language and understanding, not the language of the ancients. It is written in a way that makes sense to us, as we are familiar with certain things. Had it been a word for word translation, things would have been different. Also, it should be kept in mind that the Book of Mormon is not a text to tell us about ancient American civilization; it is not a history book, although it is historical. It is a testament of Jesus Christ that is supposed to lead us to a further understanding of his doctrines and teachings.
Further Reading: A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine & Church History edited by Laura Harris Hales, The Handbook of Mormonism edited by Terryl Givens & Phillip L. Barlow, Archaeological Trends and Book of Mormon Origins by John E. Clark, Science and the Book of Mormon: Cureloms, Cumoms, Horses & More by Wade E. Miller