Friday, July 31, 2015

Answers to CES Letter Questions and Concerns, Part I

Dear Jeremy,

I really want to let you see your concerns through the eyes of a true believer who understands your concerns and cares about you.

I want to share with you the reasons why I am not troubled by the issues that trouble you, and hopefully lessen or eliminate your concerns.

I think it’s important to approach these things with an open mind, as you seem to be willing to do. Things aren’t always as they appear, and it’s easy to make false assumptions that lead to false conclusions.

I learned a lot through taking a course in magic at a young age. Trick after trick, I saw the unexplainable play out right in front of my eyes. And each time, as the explanation showed up, I gained a greater appreciation for the craft.

Sometimes I wonder what it would take to convince me today that a trick is real. I can't trust my eyes, or ears, in the face of a cunning illusion.

Philosophers have tried to figure out what it means to really know anything. It seems the only thing you can really know at the most fundamental level is that there is such a thing as conscious experience. It makes sense to me that God would reach out to us at that fundamental level - at the core of who we are. That is where we know Him, not just about Him. I think the real question is, “what does God’s love and light mean to us when we feel them?” For me, faith is when our spirit feels God’s spirit and starts to remember things that defy worldly understanding. It is not the absence of evidence that defines faith, but the attraction of our spirit to things it doesn’t understand but that it knows and remembers.   

I do know Heavenly Father, and I love Him. And I know He loves you. That is why I am writing this letter, attempting to answer your questions as best as I can.

My Job

One day, Joseph Smith will personally answer questions about him. I am confident his answers will completely satisfy all of us.

We do not need to wait for definitive answers, however, before demonstrating that satisfying answers are possible, which should be sufficient to neutralize criticism. For more on this, see The Apologetic Proof Paradox.

Your letter essentially presents a series of discrepancies, coupled with a request to reconcile them. My job, then, is not to prove that the answers I provide are true, but, rather, to show that my answers can reconcile the discrepancies (see link above). 

For this reason, you will find quite a few words like "may" and "might" in this letter. Some may take that as a sign of weakness, but I don't need to posture my arguments - this is about logic and reason, not pretense.  

Presumption of Innocence

Your online letter has helped fulfill the prophecy that Joseph’s name should be had for both good and evil among all nations. There are plenty of good things to be said about Joseph Smith, which are beyond the purview of this reply but which are available elsewhere.

I think it would be a mistake to approach the concerns you raise without presuming Joseph’s innocence. We are largely dealing with historical matters and circumstantial evidence against a defendant who literally had his day in court stolen from him by accusers, because they killed him.

Occam’s Razor can’t settle the question of Joseph’s guilt or innocence, because non-believers are left with the circular “Joseph is probably guilty since he’s probably a false prophet,” while believers like myself expect opposition in all things, and the mere existence of that opposition proves nothing.

In practical terms, I’m saying that the case against Joseph Smith is only meaningful if it can overcome the presumption of innocence. If it can’t, then wherein lies the conclusion?

Issue #1

“What are 1769 King James Version edition errors doing in the Book of Mormon? An ancient text? Errors which are unique to the 1769 edition that Joseph Smith owned?” – CES Letter

Your third question, first. The 1769 version is evidently quite standard, and substantively the same as the 1611 version, so I don’t know that it is unique in a meaningful way (I could be missing something), but I agree that it contains the variations to which you refer.

Your second question, next. The source text of the Book of Mormon is ancient but the target text of the translation is modern; the ancient text does not contain English, presumably, and as such does not have the KJV variations we see in the target text.

Now your first, and primary, question. The matter is of course speculative for us, but not intractable.

Since the plates from which Joseph translated would not have had the KJV variations/errors, I think it is reasonable to assume that the sections in the English translation which contain those came not from the plates but from the KJV Bible, indicating the KJV content in those passages was chosen over the corresponding content or lack thereof on the plates.

In other words, not everything Nephi wrote was necessarily suitable for English translation.

This could mean that Nephi had written a version of Isaiah aimed exclusively at a Mesoamerican audience, similar to Midrash or Targum, which had expired in usefulness (and could even cause confusion today) or resisted English translation. Nephi tells us (1 Nephi 9:5) that he doesn’t know why the Lord is commanding him to make the Small Plates. Perhaps if Nephi had understood that the Plates were for Latter-day use, he would have written exclusively for our day.

We don’t need to know the exact reason, but other possibilities exist. We might not be ready for the version of Isaiah Nephi may have quoted and so it is being held back from us. Or, Nephi may have gone back and forth between quoting small portions of Isaiah and referring the reader to the Brass Plates for the majority of the sections he referred to – in which case Joseph may have substituted the KJV for the Brass Plates.

All of this I think finds support in the use of Malachi in the Book of Mormon. Let's look at the context in the Book of Mormon, where Malachi is cited. 3 Nephi 24:1 tells us that Christ expounded the Malachi scripture. Then 3 Nephi 26:1 again tells us Christ expounded it. However, we do not get to see Christ expounding on the content of Malachi. Instead, we see only the Malachi scripture (in King James Version), indicating that Christ's expounded version of Malachi is being kept from us and replaced with the KJV. This makes sense in the context, because Mormon tells us he is commanded to not write the things Christ spake (verse 11), saying that the greater things will only be made manifest to those who believe the lesser things (verses 8-9), and that the reason for this is to try the faith of the people.

Brigham Young said:

When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities.... Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings.

So, if the people were willing to receive a different version, it might have been given to them. But it’s important to realize that the KJV of Isaiah is accepted scripture, human error notwithstanding. So there’s nothing inherently wrong with Joseph using the KJV of Isaiah. Human language is flawed, and if the Lord chooses to use human language then He expects it to be flawed and expects us to turn to Him to understand.

Joseph did say the Book of Mormon was the most correct book on earth, but I think it’s pretty clear that he was referring to the teachings found in the book, not punctuation, grammar or things of the like.

One might ask why Joseph didn’t see or correct the variations/errors when he made other changes to the KJV of Isaiah. To answer this, we would probably need to know what criterion he was using to make changes. He probably was not trying to retranslate Isaiah. Instead, he may have been looking for specific types of changes to make. It is impossible to judge Joseph without knowing what Nephi had written, what Joseph understood, what Isaiah intended, and what the Lord said.

Issue #2

“What are [17th century italicized words from King James translators] doing in the Book of Mormon?” – CES Letter

They are part of the translation. The distinction you make between italicized and non-italicized words is unnecessary, I think, since they are both chosen by translators and both necessary to represent the source language in target language. Consider that if a child asks what the word “huge” means, someone might explain that “huge” means “very large.” The word “very” does not mean “huge,” but it is part of the translation. Here, the word “very” would be italicized if we were following the convention of the KJV.

For the essential answer to your question, I would refer you to the answer to Issue #1, to which I would add that there is something to be said for standardized usage, i.e., the scriptures talk about the importance of being “plain” to the understanding of the children of men (1 Nephi 13). So if the KJV were to translate “huge” as “very large,” then it would not be helpful for Joseph Smith to change “very large” to “enormous” just for the sake of changing it. It creates confusion without adding clarification.

Issue #3
“How is it that the Book of Mormon has the incorrect Sermon on the Mount passage and does not match the correct JST version in the first place?” – CES Letter

You’ll notice that the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible is shown in footnotes in the LDS KJV Bible. The JST is a resource to help clarify, and it doesn’t get in the way of standardized usage of the KJV or add confusion. Also, the Lord may have only intended the JST to supplement and inform rather than replace the KJV, which serves a sacred purpose and is accepted scripture though acknowledged to be imperfect. The JST may reflect more the intent of the ancient writers and not especially the word choices they used.  

The Sermon on the Mount passage in 3 Nephi is quite possibly substituted in place of more specific doctrines not revealed to us, in which case it represents the portion of what Jesus taught the Nephites which overlaps what Jesus taught in his mortal ministry. See answers to Issue #1 and Issue #2.

Joseph Smith may have done more if he had lived longer. The discrepancy you present could be explained as Joseph prioritizing the Book of Mormon translation ahead of the Bible translation, and thinking of the Isaiah, Malachi and Sermon on the Mount passages in the Book of Mormon as being part of the latter undertaking.

Issue #4(a)

“DNA analysis has concluded that Native American Indians do not originate from the Middle East or from Israelites but rather from Asia.” – CES Letter

   During the Carter Administration, Saturday Night Live aired a skit about the President growing into a giant, following a visit to a nuclear power plant. Only a handful of people were aware of the President’s condition. During a Press Conference, a reporter asked if the President was 100 feet tall. The answer came back: “No! Absolutely not!” Then someone asked, “is the President 90 feet tall?” This time, the answer came back: “No comment.” The willingness to answer one question but not the other was itself an answer.

     I am reminded of this skit when I recall an exchange I had with Dr. Simon Southerton. He showed a willingness to answer some of my questions, and then I asked him in a straight-forward way how diluted my Scandinavian DNA would need to be in order for it to avoid detection. His response surprised me. He essentially said that he didn’t want to give me information that could be used to defend the Book of Mormon.
     Clearly, his unwillingness to answer that specific question is itself an answer. His response wasn’t actually about hard science, but about his personal beliefs.

     I am mentioning Southerton because you evidently rely on his interpretation of data in order to formulate your own conclusions in CES Letter, especially in your follow-up response to FAIR. You quote Southerton as saying, for instance, that “Lehi’s descendants multiplied exceedingly and spread upon the face of the land.” However, that is not what the actual text of the Book of Mormon says. It says the “Nephites” multiplied exceedingly (Jarom 1:8), but it contains no reference to descendants, ancestry or biological relation. Dr. Southerton says a group as small as the Lehites should be detectable using modern methods, however his actual scenario upon which he relies requires that the biological descendants of Lehi first grow in number exponentially, and only then mix their DNA with the native population. 

     Contrast Southerton’s analysis with the fact that, under Joseph Smith, the Church gained about 10,000 converts in the first ten years. If we permit Nephi the same conversion rate of the Native population which science tells us was here in the Americas, we then see how the Nephite people could quickly lose their association with Lehite DNA (not that Lehite DNA started out as uniform itself).

     This is where an interesting dynamic develops, making the Nephites and Lamanites comparable to the situation we find in Theseus’s Paradox. Theseus’s ship, in Greek Mythology, was preserved for many years. As parts wore out, they were replaced. Eventually, all the parts had been replaced, which raises the philosophical question, “can it still be called Theseus’s ship?” Similarly, we could ask if “you” are still “you” after all the atoms in your body are eventually replaced over time. When it comes to the issue of Lamanites, how much of Laman’s own DNA would you propose is necessary? Remember, the Book of Mormon people are not identified in terms of biological relation, but spiritual relation. To God, all things are spiritual. Even if all the “original” DNA were replaced, Nephites would still be Nephites. We are not DNA – it is something we have, not something we are - we are human beings, with souls.

     Are we to expect, then, that any “original” DNA from the Lehites exists in Native American people today? How much, Jeremy, would you expect to find? I would not expect to necessarily find any, and let me explain why.  

     The Church’s January 2014 essay on “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies” offers a number of considerations, such as The Founder Effect, Population Bottleneck, and Genetic Drift. To these, I would add a factor I am calling, “Selective Bottleneck Effect.”

     Selective Bottleneck Effect is the idea of combining a genetic population which has just experienced Population Bottleneck and has not had a chance to regrow its population on its own, with a genetic population that was unaffected by the Population Bottleneck event. This magnifies the dilution of DNA.

     Consider the following scenarios:

Scenario 1:

     Population A (1,000 people) and Population B (1,000,000 people) are genetically different. A Population Bottleneck occurs, affecting both populations, decimating each population to 100 and 100,000, respectively. The populations then integrate, resulting in a composite DNA of 1,000 parts Population B DNA to 1 part population A DNA, which is the same ratio as would have existed had the populations integrated without a Population Bottleneck.

Scenario 2:

   Population A (1,000 people) and Population B (1,000,000 people) are genetically different. A Population Bottleneck event affects only Population A, decimating the population to 100. Population A and B then integrate, resulting in a composite DNA of 10,000 parts Population B DNA to 1 part Population A DNA, which is a ratio 10 times greater than it would have been had the populations integrated before a Population Bottleneck.

Scenario 3:

     Population A (1,000 people) and Population B (1,000,000 people) are genetically different. A Population Bottleneck event affects only population A, decimating the population to 100. Population A integrates with 100,000 people from population B, resulting in population C, which has 1,000 parts Population B DNA to 1 part Population A DNA. Another Population Bottleneck event occurs, affecting only Population C, decimating the population to 10,000. Population C then integrates with the remaining 900,000 people from Population B, resulting in a composite DNA of 90,000 parts Population B DNA to 1 part Population A DNA.

     As demonstrated in these scenarios, Population Bottleneck events affecting only Nephites and Lamanites could have greatly increased the diluting impact of integration with surrounding Native populations. This would also apply to integration following smaller bottleneck events, such as each time the Nephites and Lamanites fought and decreased one another’s populations. Over the course of the Book of Mormon, this effect could add up. And, of course, the great destruction in 3 Nephi and the great destruction in 4 Nephi not only would have been Population Bottleneck events causing tremendous loss of DNA in their own right, but they also may have led to Selective Bottleneck Effect.

     Consider the state of the people after Christ visited them. Imagine the effectiveness of missionary work by a nation of personal witnesses to our Resurrected Savior, having personally been ministered to, and imagine the corresponding integration between these people and their converts – converts consisting perhaps of Native peoples who had not previously been contacted (consider how long it took the Nephites to discover the people of Mulek, and how much longer it would take to discover Native populations which had not yet migrated to Mesoamerica or which the Nephites had not yet scouted). Then consider the end of the Nephite civilization. The remaining Lamanites had plenty of time to explore the Americas and integrate with Native populations, which would make the Lamanites among the ancestors of today’s Native American populations, as the introduction to the Book of Mormon states.

Issue #4(b)

“The Prophet Joseph Smith disagrees with FairMormon’s “integration” and “Limited Geography” theories.” – CES Letter (Response to FairMormon)

     You then quote the following from the Wentworth Letter:

“In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century.”

     Remember that we are dealing with a very important letter here, and yet Emma (years later) told their son that Joseph “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter.” Joseph was literate, but writing did not come easy to him. Accordingly, one of the routine duties of Joseph's scribes was to adjust his grammar and phraseology to conform to professional standards. In the process of them performing that duty, some meaning was inevitably lost.

     For example, Richard Bushman illustrates in Rough Stone Rolling (p. 486) how William Clayton as a scribe was “more alert to doctrine” than was Willard Richards, by citing differences in how they recorded a statement made by Joseph Smith on April 2, 1843:

Richards recorded one famous epigram as “The earth in its sanctified and immortal state will be a Urim & Thummim for all things below it in the scale of creation, but not above it.” Clayton elaborated the sentence to read “The earth when it is purified will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim & Thummim whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom on all kingdoms of a lower order will be manifest to those who dwell on it.”

     I feel like I can kind of relate to Joseph Smith. Although I do write reasonably well, I don’t really understand the rules of how I’m supposed to write. I just do it intuitively as best as I can. And in particular, I have a difficult time reading. I find it hard to read and think at the same time, which obviously makes it difficult to think about things I’m reading.

     I don’t think there’s anything shameful about Joseph Smith needing assistance. After all, Church members are called upon to sustain the Prophet, and the word “sustain” means, “to give strength to.” Aaron sustained Moses in a similar way. Moses may not have had trouble with written words, but was “slow of speech.”

     What we most likely have in the Wentworth Letter, then, is a re-wording by scribes of Joseph Smith’s ideas which he wanted to convey.  And, importantly, the letter was not intended to expose everything Joseph Smith knew. Instead, the Wentworth Letter was intended to be a basic introduction to the Book of Mormon and to the Restored Gospel.

     For instance, the letter mentions a “first settlement” in Ancient America. But we know from Joseph’s earlier teachings that Adam-ondi-ahman predates Jaredite settlements on American soil. Does this mean Joseph forgot about Adam? Of course not. The context of the letter is limited. It is not about everything that has happened on this continent ever. The context is of a particular history – a history that started when the Jaredites arrived. The broad, sweeping language is probably the work of the scribes, who were evidently drawing on Orson Pratt’s 1840 Pamphlet. For instance, Pratt wrote “early settlement,” which was changed to “first settlement” for the Wentworth Letter. I imagine the scribes thought nothing of it doctrinally, but they may have thought the word “first” is more precise grammatically and therefore would sound more professional.

     God allows His servants to make mistakes, and expects us to do the same.

     It’s important to remember also that the audience for whom the Wentworth Letter was initially written was a society that had no problem crediting Europeans with the discovery of America, despite the fact that millions of people were already here when the Europeans arrived. Even the erudite Noah Webster, in his 1838 dictionary, says America was “first discovered by Sebastian Cabot.” It’s important, therefore, to remember that Webster was looking at things in terms of the European history of America, just as the Wentworth Letter was looking at things in terms of the Jaredite/Nephite history of America. The European view of who “first discovered America” didn’t stop the Europeans from integrating with the pre-existing Native population, just as the Jaredites and Nephites may have done.

     And, of course, there’s the question of how much Joseph knew. I’m inclined to think Joseph Smith knew more than we realize, but I’m also inclined to think the details on things he didn’t “need to know” were probably hazy. Joseph did have Angels visit him, but consider the fact that Jesus Christ Himself taught his disciples in Jerusalem, and He didn’t reveal everything. Regarding the inhabitants of America, Jesus only told them He had “other sheep” to visit and minister to. We need not suppose that Jesus told the Apostles much more than that. Especially, if they didn’t ask. Was it not the same way with Joseph Smith? Certainly the Angels Joseph saw knew he would need to be baptized by one holding Priesthood authority, but they didn’t tell him until the time was right, and he asked concerning baptism. So the fact that he had Angelic visitations does not tell us how much he knew.

     As far as the use of the word “race” in the letter goes, it speaks of the race that came from Jerusalem as being “principally Israelites of the descendants of Joseph.” We should note that Israelites have always included converts of any genetic race. When Christ visited America, everyone in the area became converted or was already a member. And by that point, essentially everyone in the area would be able to trace their ancestry spiritually as well as biologically to Lehi, regardless of how much, if any, of Lehi’s DNA was in their genetic makeup. In other words, they would have all been “descendants of Joseph” at that point.  

Tangent Warning

     Lastly, I just have a pet tangent I’d like to go down. I want to note that when the letter says the Jaredites “were destroyed,” that could simply mean the name and culture came to an end, which does not necessarily preclude the idea that former Jaredites had at various points branched off and went their own way, becoming “separate peoples” although still inhabiting America.

     One related possibility is that the Jaredites may have arrived thousands of years earlier than we generally assume. Recently, I ran across this verse of scripture:

Yea, and behold I say unto you, that Abraham not only knew of these things, but there were many before the days of Abraham who were called by the order of God; yea, even after the order of his Son; and this that it should be shown unto the people, a great many thousand years before his coming, that even redemption should come unto them.
(Helaman 8:18, emphasis added)

     I had never previously considered the significance of those words: "a great many thousand years."

     This could mean a very large number of years, potentially.

     At first, the idea may seem to contradict other scripture. For instance, you may wonder how this squares with D&C 77:6, so I want to take a moment to suggest Jeff Lindsay's excellent post which sheds light on that verse of scripture, and also this FairMormon article.
     And, of course, I realize the scriptures give us some genealogy concerning who begat who, but this could easily be a record of notable names rather than of every descendant in a lineage. For instance, I am a "son of Abraham," yet Abraham lived 4,000 years ago. The New Testament starts out in Matthew with the words, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." Or, in reverse it could be said, "Abraham begat David, David begat Jesus Christ." I realize the Bible says that specific people lived certain numbers of years and begat other specific persons. But in light of the fact that we may say David begat Jesus, it may be the case that the age associated in the Bible as being when a person begat another, may actually refer to the lineage from which their said descendant came. For instance, we might ask at what age David begat Jesus. The answer would be the age at which David begat Solomon, from whom Jesus came. This might not feel like appropriate terminology in modern-day English, but then again it also would not "seem" appropriate to us today to say that Jesus was the son of David, or that David was the son of Abraham, and thus to omit everyone in-between. So it would be very hasty for us to assume that the Bible is telling us that a person was born at or even close to the time they are listed as being "begat."

     For those interested in a more thorough treatment of this issue, including what we are to understand by the word "begat" (the Hebrew word, "yalad"), click here. For information on the Hebrew word "ben," click here.


     I think it could be insightful to try reading the first few books of the Book of Mormon with the idea that the land was inhabited (perhaps sporadically at the time, with cluster populations) when Lehi arrived. As you do so, consider a few things.

     First, it is true Natives are not explicitly referred to “as” Natives. But Nephi didn’t know God’s purpose in commanding him to make the small plates. He probably wrote the small plates for his people, which may have mostly been Natives, telling them the story of how the gospel was brought to them. In that context, we wouldn’t expect him to refer to them as Natives, but simply as his people. They would recognize that phrase as a reference to them. Consider, for instance, 2 Nephi 5:33, which reads, “And if my people desire to know the more particular part of the history of my people they must search mine other plates.” In English, this repeating of the words “my people” seems somewhat awkward, perhaps indicating a connotation in the original language was lost in translation. In this verse, Nephi makes clear he is writing for his people, but he speaks of them and to them at the same time.

     At other times, references are made to “the people” in a more general sense, which may indicate that they are not necessarily the people of Nephi. Again, phrases like “the people” are an English translation of whatever was actually said, and any cultural understanding of the phrase used could be lost in translation. For instance, if the word “aloha” were translated into another language, it would simply be translated as a greeting – such as “hello” in English – but in Hawaiian language it means so much more, yet all of its special connotations would be lost in translation. Again, the cultural and Native connotations of what Nephi actually said would likewise be lost in English.

     Second, when someone adopts a child, we wouldn’t expect them to refer to the child as their “adopted child,” but simply as their “child.” Likewise, we wouldn’t expect Nephi to refer to those without Lehite blood as different. They were all the “people of Nephi” – those adopted into the house of Israel could rightfully claim membership in the “branch” that was broken off when Lehi left Jerusalem. Converts were all numbered among Lehi’s seed (2 Nephi 10:18-19), regardless of their gentile background. It is in this sense that Lehi inherited the land – this is who his progeny would be, and where they would flourish and have an opportunity to inherit the land for Israel.

     Third, as I recently pointed out, The “skin of blackness” mentioned by Nephi (2 Ne 5:21) - translated at other times into English as “very dark” or “dark” - may have actually been understood by Mayans according to extensional meanings represented in their language - and not physical coloration.

     According to Alexandre Tokovinine of Harvard University,

...the significance of the logogram for the color black extends beyond the notion of color into a broader range of meanings that includes hollow objects … The association of the term ihk with the notion of emptiness is indicated by the presence of dark or cross hatched spots on representations of objects, which are not necessarily black, but almost certainly hollow.

     This opens up some interesting possibilities. Could “emptiness” in the context of skin mean lack of clothing? Or garments?

     As far as literal darkness goes, lack of clothing would certainly cause darker skin under the hot Mesoamerican sun. Interesting possibilities.

     Tokovinine goes on to state that when Mayans described objects and beings as a certain color, they usually didn’t mean the object or being actually was the color: "Classic Maya narratives’ fascination with extensional meanings … cautions us against automatically linking every instance of basic color terms in writing and imagery with color properties of objects or beings. The actual evidence suggests that, more often than not, this was not the case."

     All of this is consistent with the fact that Joseph Smith changed the word “white” to “pure” (2 Nephi 30:6) in the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon, before race was an issue. Nephi may have written a word for the color “white,” intending to convey a meaning other than color, but which in English is just taken as reference to the color.

     This explanation is also consistent with the Book of Mormon telling us the mark on the wicked is something they do to their own selves (Alma 3:18-19).

     And, of course, the Native skin color of people living in the Americas when Nephi arrived was probably a beautiful brown or dark brown, having nothing to do with the mark the wicked placed on themselves.

Issue #5

     "Horses, cattle, oxen, sheep, swine, goats, elephants, wheels, chariots, wheat, silk, steel, and iron did not exist in pre-Columbus America during Book of Mormon times." – CES Letter

     As the story goes, during an 1860 debate at Oxford,  concerning evolution, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce asked Thomas Henry Huxley which side of his family had monkeys – was it his grandmother’s side or his grandfather’s side?

     The caricature painted with that question is pretty funny. But it is not a logical argument, and does nothing to refute or even address evolution. Laughing at something doesn’t make it false. Personally, I think if I didn’t know about the sun I might even laugh at the idea of a giant, exploding gaseous sphere on a voyage through space – but I don’t laugh at it because I am familiarized with the notion. It’s difficult to avoid direct evidence of it every day. It literally hits you in the face, in the form of radiation spat out at you by those exploding gases.

     Evolution should be taken seriously, regardless of what side one takes on the issue. And organic evolution isn’t the only type of evolution. Language also evolves. One of the ways it evolves is through loan shifting. Making fun of loan shifting, instead of offering a serious response, is just as intellectually evasive as making fun of organic evolution. I’m hoping, then for serious arguments to be made against the loan shift idea. So far I haven’t seen any, ever.  

Addressing the Flagship: Horses

     They say a picture paints a thousand words, so here are some thoughts to consider.

On the left is a horse skeleton, on the right is a tapir skeleton.

“I was much struck how entirely vague and arbitrary is the distinction between species and varieties.”  
               - Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

     No matter how many millions of years ago Eohippus lived, the relevant and remarkable fact stands that scientists today call it a “horse.” Google “earliest known horse” to see page after page of scientific books and articles refer to Eohippus and Sifrhippus as “horses.” Sources include everything from Yale University to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

     “But,” someone might protest, “scientists have a reason for calling Eohippus a horse!” Okay, but I’m sure Nephi also had a reason for calling something a horse. If it were me, after years of not seeing horses, the tapir would probably seem more and more reminiscent of a horse. The point is, an animal doesn’t need to look very similar to a modern horse to be called a horse. If Eohippus is considered a horse by modern science, why is Nephi not allowed to call a deer or a tapir a horse ~600 BC?  Even if you believe Nephi was misguided, that just places him in the company of all the scientists who have made taxonomy classifications which later needed to be changed.

     Another argument someone could make is that Eohippus is not a “modern” horse and therefore doesn’t really count. Okay, but why is it still called a horse? Is it done for convenience and simplicity? If you say Eohippus is not actually a horse, all you are really saying is that the scientists are loan-shifting. Why would Nephi not be allowed to do the same thing? It is true Eohippus is related to the “modern” horse, but the tapir is also related to the “modern” horse. Eohippus is an ancestor, while the tapir is a close cousin – in fact, it is the closest cousin to the family of horses, which includes zebras, donkeys, etc. Why would loan-shifting be allowed in one case, yet banned in the other? Of course, all four species of tapir that are native to the Americas are cousins of the horse, but they are also related to other horse-like animals mentioned in the Book of Mormon. So, different species of tapir could have been assigned different names in the Book of Mormon.

Only Loan Shifting Fits the Text

     3 Nephi 3:22 tells us “they had taken their horses, and their chariots…” And then what did they do with their horses and chariots? Did they ride like the wind? No. They took their horses and chariots “…and did march forth by thousands.” Horses and chariots are simply possessions they took with them, along with “cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance.” No indication anyone rode a horse, only marching is mentioned as a means of travel. The book of Ether actually goes out of its way to say that horses were among the less useful animals. Ether 9:19 says there were “horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms.” Why would Joseph Smith, or anyone else in his time period, put horses in a “less useful” category, when they were the most useful animal to man in 1830?

     Do you know of any better explanation than loan shifting for why the Book of Mormon people always walk, rather than ride horseback? For that matter, can you think of any other explanation for this? Did Joseph intentionally leave out horse travel? Did Joseph intentionally fabricate horses that are too weak to carry people? Was it an oversight?

     “Horse” is a word Joseph used on a daily, if not hourly, basis in his life. For Joseph, horses were the primary mode of travel from town to town as well as living pets that needed to be taken care of and cleaned up after and loved. If the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction, the failure to mention people riding on horses would be like an auto mechanic writing a novel set in 2015 and mentioning cars but then forgetting about them and having everyone walk long distances instead of riding in the cars.

     The point here is that the plain meaning of the text connotes a type of animal people do not ride on. And someone called it a horse. Since Nephi, having come from the Old World, could have called it a horse at least as easily as Joseph Smith could have, the word horse in the Book of Mormon is not a true anachronism.


     Carl Linnaeas, the founder of modern taxonomy, classified the tapir as a type of hippopotamus, “Hippopotamus terrestris.” This was over 2,300 years after Nephi lived. Needless to say, a tapir is a much closer relative to a horse than it is to a hippopotamus. The tapir, horse and rhinoceros constitute the order Perissodactyla.

     Speaking of the rhinoceros, Linnaeas put the rhinoceros in the order Glires, together with rodents and rabbits.

     And, speaking of ancient prophets being criticized for how they classified animals: for those who might criticize Moses for lumping bats in with a list of birds (Leviticus 11:13-19), you may find it interesting to know that Linnaeas classified bats as primates, which they are not.


     We need not suppose that the first time Lehites saw a tapir they directly called it a horse. Rather, they may have initially compared it to a horse. They may have even called it “long-nosed horse.” This is the process of scaffolding. It involves a familiar name being applied to a new item, prefaced with a qualifying word or words which distinguish between the new and original item. Eventually, the qualifying word drops, leaving only the familiar name. In this case, people would start calling the “long-nosed horse” simply “horse,” because there are no real horses around to contrast it with and so the qualifying words aren’t necessary.

     We see this happen in real life all the time. For example, the New Testament mentions “corn.” But the “corn” Americans think of was unknown in the Old World. The word “corn” was an Old World name for grain. When travelers came to America, they referred to maize as “corn” but qualified it with the word, “Indian.” It was known as “Indian grain,” then “Indian corn.” Then, being separated from their homelands, over time they dropped the qualifier ("Indian") and began to refer to “Indian corn” as simply “corn.                                 

If Nephi Had Gone To Asia

     Had Nephi instead gone to Asia, he could have encountered the pug. What would we allow him to call pugs, and on what basis? The key here is not that a pug looks like any dog he had previously encountered, but the idea that the pug could be a strange new type of dog he had not previously encountered. Using that reasoning, could we suppose that Nephi mentioning domesticated dogs in Asia might be a reference to pugs? Now, we wouldn’t know for sure if he was referring to pugs, but would a pug be a valid candidate? If so, then why can that same reasoning not be applied when we consider what animal Nephi referred to as a horse in America?

     To show how easily loan shifting can happen, let’s look at your letter. At one point, you note “that both Larson and Bell correctly show the jackal head pagan Egyptian god Anubis…” However, they are relying on a loan shift. DNA studies reveal the “Egyptian Jackal” is actually a form of Grey Wolf, which I believe means that the “Egyptian Jackal” is more closely related to a pug than to a jackal, interestingly enough.

Joseph Smith’s Role

     Some might ask why Joseph Smith did not “correct” words in translation. But consider cows, another alleged anachronism. We might imagine the Nephite writers were equating cows with bison. The translation conveys their intended meaning. If Joseph had translated it as “bison,” we would have missed the writer’s intention and lost a level of richness and nuance in the text. Similarly, if Joseph had substituted the word “America” in place of “the Promised Land,” the experience of the writers would be lost. The role of translator can be confusing to those on the outside who don't have access to the original intent of the source. I don’t think a translator should change words because they feel the original writer was wrong to use them. For instance, a German word for horse is pferd; if I'm translating a document from German into English, and the original writer is clearly talking about a cow but calls it a pferd, it would not be my place to render the word “pferd” as “cow.” Instead, I should render it as “horse,” even if I know that's incorrect, especially if I know the original writer intentionally called it that.

     Two animals, “cureloms” and “cumoms,” are unknown. So indeed it appears Joseph did not see his role as correcting the source text, only representing it in the target language.

The Case of Chariots

     Chariots are mentioned, but only after the Lehites had spent hundreds of years in the Promised Land and would have had only a vague idea of what a chariot was. I imagine the Brass Plates probably had no direct explanation or description of “chariot,” and certainly no pictures. The people would have relied on intertextual clues. They could have adopted the phrase, “horses and chariots” from the Brass Plates, and incorporated it into their own vernacular, perhaps applying it to Native customs that fit the intertextual clues – for instance, laden animals accompanying people on journeys.

     As I previously mentioned, 3 Nephi 3:22 tells us “they had taken their horses, and their chariots…” And then what did they do with their horses and chariots? Did they ride like the wind? No. They took their horses and chariots “…and did march forth by thousands.” Horses and chariots are simply possessions they took with them, along with “cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance.” No indication anyone rode a horse. Only marching is mentioned.

     Thus we see how important it is to consider the Nephite experience in the context of their history, their records and their sentiments. They branched off and evolved separately from the rest of the world, and we should not be surprised but should expect to see the evolution of terminology.


     Nephi brought with him from the Old World a knowledge of smelting, including steel production, and taught it to his people. This does not mean a massive steel industry existed. In fact, Nephite steel is not mentioned at all in the Book of Mormon after 400 B.C.

     The confusion over this issue results from a reference to steel swords, causing some to imagine that steel had “really taken off” and caused the Native people to replace their old ways. I don’t make that assumption and I don’t see why anyone would see a compelling need to do so.

The Case of Steel Swords

      Nephi patterned his construction of swords “after the manner” of the sword of Laban. And the sword of Laban had a blade of “precious steel.” So, as the argument goes, Nephi’s swords had to be made of steel. I, however, would challenge the validity of the argument.

     First, what about the hilt? Are we to believe Nephi made all the hilts on his swords out of solid gold? The hilt on the sword of Laban was solid gold. If Nephi had to use steel for the blades, did he have to use solid gold for the hilts? And are we to assume all the swords made over the course of Nephite civilization had hilts of pure gold? If not, then on what grounds would we be required to believe and defend the same thing about the “precious steel” portion of the sword? And remember what I said about scaffolding. We can’t know what “precious” steel meant to Nephi and why he qualified it with that word, as opposed to simply “steel.” He also mentions “fine steel” with respect to his bow. What was the difference between the types of steel he was referring to? One possibility I personally find interesting to think about is that “precious steel” may have been similar to a diamond knife, having sharp “precious” stone fragments protruding from a base (of course this could be replicated in Mesoamerica with obsidian).

     Any clues what “precious” meant to Nephi? Yes. He uses it in reference to Solomon’s temple, i.e., built of “precious” things. So, we can see a bit of a parallel here between Solomon’s temple and the sword of Laban. The sword of Laban’s hilt made of pure gold is again consistent with Solomon’s temple. And just as Nephi patterned the construction of his swords “after the manner” of the sword of Laban, so he patterned the construction of the Nephite temple “after the manner” of Solomon’s temple. And, as Nephi explains, the temple was not built “of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land.” And yet, despite not having the right materials, Nephi assures us “the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon.” So, Nephi simply didn’t have to use the same material.

     As for the single mention of Jaredite steel swords (Ether 7:9), which were made by Shule, it’s important to remember that Joseph Smith was not translating the Jaredite record but translating a Nephite abridgement of the Jaredite record. What Shule produced to make the swords with isn’t necessarily something Joseph Smith would have described as “steel,” merely something Moroni was willing to equate with his understanding of steel.

     This is not to say that whatever Shule produced was not impressive. Moroni specifically tells us that Shule was “mighty in judgment,” and Moroni links that fact to Shule making the swords, i.e., Shule was mighty in judgment “Wherefore, he came to the hill Ephraim, and he did molten out of the hill, and made swords out of steel.”

Issue #7(a)

     “Many Book of Mormon names and places are strikingly similar to many local names and places of the region Joseph Smith lived.” – CES Letter

     Suppose I encounter two people in one small neighborhood who look very similar. I might reason that the chance of two people living so close and randomly looking so similar is very, very small. I might further reason then that the similarity in appearance is probably not actually random. Should I next reason that one of them altered their appearance to try to look like the other? Not so fast. I would be forgetting that the two people might have come from the same source, i.e., the same parents, and inherited their appearance from that common source, rather than copying from each other.

     Likewise, we should expect names that stem from the same linguistic heritage to have some similarity. As you know, 7 of the 20 place names on your Vernal Holley list are in the Bible - and these tend to also be the best matches on the Holley list (incidentally, regarding the town of Alma on the Holley list, my understanding is that Myron Rough and John Longcore were the first settlers, in 1833. Unless I’m missing something, which I very well could be, I don’t think it should be on the list). 

     Since those names are from the Bible, and since the Lehites came from an Old Testament setting, I believe the place name correlation represents a convergence of authentic ancient language.

     There is an obvious parallel between the Lehites and the Lost Tribes of Israel. 2 Kings 17:6 tells us they were captured and taken to Assyria, including the “towns of the Medes.” This means they were taken to what is now the northwest part of Iran, by Azerbaijan.

     And, interestingly, the language in that region independently produces the same names as those found in the Book of Mormon.

     Notice how the vast majority are in the northwest, where the Lost Tribes were expelled to. You may be interested in reading about the Mountain Jews and the Bukharan Jews, both of whom have ties to Persia and both of whom trace their ancestry to the Lost Tribes. I had no idea before I researched this.

     As I mentioned earlier, I believe the town of Alma should be off the Holley list, but if you disagree I am open to being corrected. And for reasons made apparent in the Iran illustration, I believe the Biblical places – Antioch, Boaz, Jerusalem, Jordan, Noah Lakes, Sodom and Shiloh really don’t belong. I would add to that list Sherbrooke, Hellam, Rama and Lehigh because their alleged counterparts Shur, Helam, Ramah and Lehi are Biblical names. I suspect Biblical names are much more likely than most others to have their sounds and spelling copied, and if we substituted Biblical names not found in the Book of Mormon for ones which are, then repeated the Holley method, we would have a similar result to the one Holley came up with. And, of course, that would not prove anything.

Parting Thoughts

     This concludes Part 1 of my answers to your questions and concerns. You will notice I skipped over #6. I thought it would make some good parting thoughts.

     What can the Smithsonian Institute and National Geographic Society tell us? A great many things about archaeology, yes. But nothing that refutes the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

     If their letters constitute the big scientific response to the Book of Mormon, where are the peer-reviewed journals? Where are the pages of research that went into formulating their conclusions? Where is the intertextual analysis demonstrating that they made a serious attempt to even understand the claims of the Book of Mormon? This is not a criticism of these good folks… I’m merely asking why anyone would appeal to them as an authority of a subject they never studied?

     Jeremy, the organizations you refer to are not equipped to assess the Book of Mormon as an English translation brought forth by the Gift and Power of God. The real question to ask is, how would the organizations have reacted to a strictly secular account of the Nephites, recorded on gold plates and discovered in Central America by archaeologists in 1830 and deciphered in 2015? They would be excited to learn about this extinct race of people. The mention of horses would be a case study in the evolution of language, and, yes, NHM would be counted as hard evidence of authenticity. And most importantly, they would not have the flawed expectations they currently bring to the table, about direct evidence – because, they would take the time to understand the actual stated context of the book. The Book of Mormon tells us very little about what the Lamanites were up to on their own. It is a Nephite record.

     The problem is, the Nephites were systematically exterminated by the Lamanites. As far back as Enos, who tells us the Lamanites swore that if it were possible, “they would destroy our records and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers” (Enos 1:14). This goes way beyond one nation simply conquering another. It even goes further than book burning. The Lamanites swore to destroy every trace of the Nephites, their practices, their traditions, etc.

     And that means the Lamanites had different practices. Things we wouldn’t know to look for.

     Did the Lamanites keep the Nephite records? No, they swore to destroy them. Did they keep city names? No, they would have changed them. Did they tell the history of what actually happened? No, they rewrote it.

     You mention Rome, and the evidence we have of Roman occupation. But how much evidence would we have today, if another occupying force swept through in 400 A.D., systematically killed all the Romans, renamed Roman cities, destroyed all Roman records, rewrote history and imposed their own culture? And, 400 years prior to that, the Roman Empire had been decimated by a massive earthquake, after which the rubble was picked up and cities rebuilt by survivors? And, over 1,000 years after, 90% of the people in what would be the land no longer known as Rome were killed and the vast body of their written records was destroyed by Spanish invaders?

     Rome merely fell. The Nephite civilization was destroyed.  


  1. I hope you know that your speculation does more harm than good. Be honest with yourself, you know Joseph Smith was a scumbag! Why do you give him so much leeway? If Mormonism did not yet exist and attempted the restoration right now in our times, people would be able to see right through his lies. Was thrown in prison not for his testimony for God, but because he said God gave him permission to lie, cheat, steal and molest. The World is so much bigger than mormonism, you have to reject so much of the real world to believe in the plan of salvation, bible and the BOM. And did you run this by the brethren before posting it? Do you think they agree with your explanation of the 1769 errors being in the BOM? Opinion and Speculation. The philosophies of men mingled with scripture, that is all anyone has.

    1. Great job Ryan.

      Our "Anonymous" friend is entitled to his own opinion, but he is in error. Joseph Smith was a prophet and his life and teachings can withstand scrutiny. Richard Bushman observed: "The closer you get to Joseph Smith in the sources, the stronger he will appear, rather than the reverse, as is so often assumed by the critics."

      It is unfortunate when misinformation like THE CES LETTER arrives, but it is not unexpected. Several scholars have been working together to further expose the errors. Here's a sample.

      I'm sure Jeremy will not be surprised because I told him months ago I was going to respond to his polygamy pages (31-36) It should be completed in the next few weeks.

      Carry on!


  2. Usually the simplest explanation is the correct explanation. I think your attempts have just made it worse for anyone with simple critical thinking skills.

  3. You are embarrassing yourself, Ryan.

    1. Will point to some factual errors or logical fallacies you feel I have made? If not, what makes you say I'm embarrassing myself?

  4. This is just sad.

  5. Seriously now. Just stop.

  6. So, in other words, you, every other mormon, and all the prophets, seers, and revelators, have no answers. Got it.

  7. Holy shit! There are so many things to say in response to this, I don't even know where to begin. I would have to write something at least as long (maybe longer) to explain everything wrong with it and bring in actual factual references.

    1. Can you please pick one of the things you consider to be egregiously wrong, and explain why you feel that way?

  8. No matter how many millions of years ago Eohippus lived, the relevant and remarkable fact stands that scientists today call it a “horse.” Umm...Mormon's believe in a young earth. So it wasn't around millions of years ago. You might want to figure out what the church teaches before you start teaching "false" Mormon doctrines.

    1. Umm, most Mormons (including me) do not believe in a young earth, so your objection is invalid. You might want to figure out what the church (actually) teaches before you start attacking people for teaching "false" Mormon doctrines.

    2. "Mormon's believe in a young earth"

      First of all, "Mormons" isn't a possessive noun in this context, so there is no need for the apostrophe. Secondly, as David has already pointed out, most Mormons (including myself) emphatically do not believe in a young earth. So you are attacking a straw man.

  9. Could you add a concise, direct response to each section, in addition to the current text? The indirect, meandering approach and lack of clear thesis statements make it difficult for me to follow your writing, or motivate myself to continue reading.

    1. I will work on that, thank you for the feedback!

  10. I stopped reading after the first part of issue #1. Really? God let Joseph Smith use the KJV because it was more suited for the people of the time? REALLY? You sure that's an argument you want to make? When we have whole thing about shibloms and whatever the f else? You can only make this argument if EVERYTHING in the Book is modern. Occam's Razor is ABSOLUTELY the correct technique to use. Because the simplest explanation for a book being written is that SOMEBODY WROTE A BOOK. No magic plates stolen by angels, no translating without looking at said plates, no magic rocks, no years of "not being worthy" to translate... People like you are completely helpless when it comes to thinking objectively about Mormonism. It truly is pure insanity.

  11. From the premise you have completely shot yourself in the foot Saying we all need to presume Joseph Smith was telling the truth and work from there. No. This is not how it works! Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence!

    So your "Presumption of innocence" is tactic is insane. We are supposed to assume that every person that has ever claimed to be a prophet, or have magic powers, or speak with God, from the magician in ancient times to the psychopath on the street is ACTUALLY TELLING THE TRUTH?!?! Give me a break!

    Why aren't you making these excuses for L Ron Hubbard? Or Mohammed? Why do you give Mormonism the benefit of the doubt? Because you were raised in Mormonism. Period. End of story.

    1. The article isn't written to someone like you Anonymous. It's audience is the concerned, educated believer. As an unbeliever, you need to start from the beginning.

    2. Aaron, what is the beginning?

    3. This article was written for an educated believer? Maybe you should use less fallacies and stop dancing around the issues.

      Why did the rock in the hat translate so many things into modern language, but not black skin? You can't have it both ways.

      If you want to live a life of ignorance, that is your choice, but maybe you should do some actual research instead of just declaring what you wish was true.

    4. Aaron, thank you for your comment!

  12. .... Same old same old from the comment section.... Only if me have comprehension skill as good as dis folks

    1. Do you have something substantive to add that is not ad hominem? If so, please state it.

    2. lol, like anything in this comment section is not as hominem or just plain group think...

      Yes, all "monologists" are ignorant or dishonest...

  13. Yeah, nobody likes me and I'm a real terd.

  14. Sorry, your DNA explanation comes up short. One the critical narratives of the Book of Mormon is that Lehi, Nephi, Laman and their party are all descendants of Jacob, as an explicit contrast to Gentiles who are adopted into the house of Israel. It's basically the whole point of the olive tree allegory in Jacob. The idea that true Lehite descendants are very limited or, even more drastic, extinct contradicts a core teaching of the Book of Mormon, and it negates God's covenant with the Lamanites.

    1. There seems to be a misunderstanding. I didn't say Lehite descendants are limited or extinct. Read that section over carefully, and you should see what I'm saying.

    2. The part about DNA is actually accurate and well written. To be a descendant does not mean to have the DNA of an ancestor. Everyone with basic understanding on genetic inheritance principles would not that you can be genealogically related to your ancestors, but have no DNA to prove it. For example, out of your 1024 ancestors ten generations ago, perhaps as few as 100 of them may have successfully passed their DNA to you. The others existed or you would not be here, but their DNA was not transmitted due to chance. The Book of Mormon talks about cultures, people, covenants, genealogies, etc. Those are the factors playing a role in the personal identity of people. DNA has little or nothing to do with it.

    3. Excellent points, Peregos. Thank you for your comment!

  15. Clearly, you want to believe. As James Randi said, "No matter how smart or well educated you are, you can be deceived."

    I don't know how smart you are. I don't know your education level. But I do know that you have been deceived. And it likely stems not only from having grown up within the Mormon worldview, but from your continued desire to believe.

    You sound absolutely desperate to believe that your religion is true. Your mind will not let you accept that it could be false. It's a deeply-ingrained defense mechanism to avoid the catastrophic realization that the way you have viewed reality your entire life is false.

    I get it. I used to be the exact same way. But I'm here to tell you that it's okay. It's not easy to change deeply held beliefs. It's not painless to reject a belief system that seems fundamental to your emotional and social well-being. But it gets better.

    Ask yourself one simple question: What would it look like if Mormonism wasn't actually true? Then think about the issues you discussed above.

    1. Ugh, what condescending nonsense

  16. Wow. The comments are way too hostile. I appreciate anyone who is willing to engage. I wish this could all be more civil.

    I read FAIR's repose to the CES letter before reading the CES letter. At the time I did not then realize that the church really lacked coherent answers. I was taught to believe 'anti-Mormons' were lying. But it turns out the CES letter was not lying. FAIR confirmed how bad the situation really was. I now understand that bad apologetic explanations do more to help people let go of faith than no apologetic explanations.

    I think more of the membership should be exposed to what you have written here. I think it could really open some eyes.

    The commentates ought to chill out and instead share this with folks who haven't been exposed to the CES letter. I plan on sending this blog series to a number of people.

    1. True. FAIR was what did me in. If that was the best, there were no answers.

      Then I found Google, and the LDS essays, and, well, most of you know how that ends.


    2. Wow, I found Google too, and yahoo and bing

  17. Other comments are are already harassing you for the bad logic, so I won't go there. What I want to say very simply is that while you may concoct these great mental cathedrals, and it's perfectly fine, whatever floats your boat, the ultimate point is that it's completely REASONABLE for others to conclude differently that yourself. This is the part that people like yourself tend to miss. You seem to think that everybody should engage in the same gymnastics that you do, but why? I personally do not perceive any logical justification for wrote KJV existing in the BOM that concludes the book to have been divine, period. There is one, and only one, sensible explanation. Joseph put it there. And the issue also goes so much deeper, like Deutero-Isaiah. Major problems. And we're expected to accept that God caused the book to be translated this way? You may choose to believe that, and that's fine, but it's unreasonable for you to expect others to accept this. If the BOM is actually a 100% true divine translation of an ancient book of scripture, then my goodness, God seems to be going out of his way to make it truly unbelievable. Are you suggesting that God is going around trying to make the church/gospel look false on purpose? That's the only sensible explanation. And all the issues are like this and just stack one on top of the other. I'm supposed to believe our "prophets" are literally led by God, literally, despite all the huge things they got totally wrong? Despite the fact that we haven't had a modern revelation since, dunno, when? 1978? 1895 before that? Both were times surrounded by extreme controversy and external social pressures. lol. The bottom line is that it's very very very reasonable for people to conclude the church isn't true. Not out of malice, but genuine humility... I'm disaffected right now because I kept telling myself over and over CTR, Choose the Right, let the consequences follow. I got to a point where I decided I would be willing to leave the church if that's what the Lord really wanted me to do. I let all the church bias go. And when I did that, in a very spiritual way I felt at peace and like I was genuinely being guided out of the church. A wave of stress since left me and I feel myself becoming a much better person. Much nicer, much kinder, a much greater moral duty. Before I felt like being a church member is what made me good, I was a member of God's Army. Now I feel like I really have to be a good person, and this requires real work.

    1. I left because , truth issues aside, Jesus said get out of the boat, but Dieter said stay in the boat and doubt your doubts

      Well, I know who I was going to listen to

      And then it ALL made sense, and I felt freedom and peace from that churning stomach feeling

      Oh how I wanted it to be true. I'd done 43 years. Mission, marriage, kids, all of it.

      But deep down, well, you know

      Then I found the essays, and FAIR, and we'll, you know where that ends


    2. Why the BOM has kjv to me makes perfect sense... But I appreciated all your exit narratives... Glad you became kinder, nicer, better people

    3. When Jesus said "get out of the boat", he did not mean to exercise doubt. He meant to exercise faith. Hence, Jesus' message is identical to Dieter's, and your supposed dilemma of "who to listen to" is false. Since this is the case, your later feelings of freedom and peace are surely based on a false premise as well.
      Don't blame FairMormon for your confusion, it is surely all of your own making.

    4. Why is the KJV language in the Book of Mormon such a dealbreaker? I simply cannot understand the difficulty. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were first translated into English, the translator put it in KJV English (and this in 1960!), because it made it sound more ancient. Obviously, this was an affectation, but nobody objected. So why is it when Joseph (who would know much less about ancient documents) does so it raises howls of Deception. Is it because you expect divinely inspired persons to somehow have a pure language, or what?


    5. It's not just the KJV in the BoM that's a problem. It's the 17th-18th century middle english (which has since been removed), the 19th century protestant theology and phrasing, the anachronisms, deutero-isaiah, the lack of historical or archaeological evidence, the incredible similarities with The Late War (and other books of the time) which JS had access to (and contains chiasmus), the fact that such an incredible civilization just disappeared without a trace.

      Then add to that all of the issues with translation. There are many records indicating it was a tight translation and even Royal Skousen made a great case for it being a tight translation. The idea of a loose translation only came about as a theoretical way to explain things because taken as a tight translation it is blatantly and undeniably false. The idea of a loose translation makes the work as a whole unreliable as the basis of the religion or any doctrinal teachings. What's real or true? What's not? How can we know?

      Of course, all of these things should be able to be clarified by prophets, but they just turn to apologists to find answers instead of turning to God.

      And why would God try to take something that's already so hard to believe or have faith in and then stack the cards against it if it's true?

      There's all of the messy history and completely unexplainable things like the Book of Abraham, the Kinderhook plates, the existence of the Book of Moses when historians generally agree that there was no exodus from Egypt, no Moses and much of the bible is simply not historically accurate. Christianity itself is already on very shaky ground, let alone the mormon church.

      And then, if that's not all, the only way we can apparently know the truth of it is by first believing or at least hoping it's true and then praying until we get a "good feeling" confirming it. That is known as confirmation bias. Feelings are an unreliable way to determine truth. But God goes ahead and muddies the waters even more by apparently withholding the answer for a while for people, or withholding it because they apparently just didn't want to know bad enough, or maybe because they should already know the answer and he doesn't want to repeat himself. Except sometimes, to some people.

      And then we could dive into all the examples of how God is a trickster or deceiver if the church is true because he said one thing but it turns out that was wrong and he led people astray. And also all the times past prophets have been allowed to lead the church astray.

      And then there's all the false prophecies Joseph Smith had. Because apparently we don't want to give people too much reason to actually believe the truth.

      Yeah, sorry, not buying it.

    6. I asked why the KJV is such a problem. You started to answer it, and then wandered off into wider and wider tangents until it descended into arm-waving (well, its all not true, because, well, its not true). Thanks, but I'm not buying it.

      Regarding Deutero-Isaiah (to take one of your objections at random), the standard theory of its provenance is 6th to 7th century bce (Isaiah lived in the 8th century bce), with some liner notes added in by later readers. As my friend Bill Hamblin has pointed out, this is early enough for Lehi, et al, to have seen it before their departure from Jerusalem. (And the liner notes, referencing Cyrus, for example, who lived a generation or two after the departure, are NOT in the BofM, btw. Fancy that stupid ignoramus Joseph Smith being so dumb as to include Deutero-Isaiah and then manage to avoid all sections that are demonstrably late. Lucky boy he was.)

      As a deluded believer, I actually enjoy all the Bible references in the Book of Mormon, because they are woven into the narrative so well. My favorite is Moroni 7, which is a mash-up of Paul's lecture on charity in Corinthians and a deification reference in 1 John. Combined, the effect is remarkable, one of the most powerful sermons in all of scripture.

      This is just one example of what you have decided to abandon, just because of supposed over-use of KJV language.

    7. You totally missed the point. I'm pretty certain that almost no one has left the church over just the KJV errors in the BoM. You're committing a fallacy by focusing on just the one issue and assuming that's what everyone's problem is. Even worse, you're building a strawman when you state that the issue is "over-use of KJV language". The issue is the specific KJV translation errors that appear in the BoM. They are the errors that are found in the specific version of the bible available in Joseph Smith's family home.

      It's about use of KJV language added only by English translators between 1000-2000+ years after the original text was written in a different language. So basically, either God was reading from the KJV when giving Joseph the text (based on a tight translation) or Joseph was copying it which means it wasn't inspired. Otherwise you have to argue that Nephite prophets had a way to view and record the English translation errors on the plates that would be written in thousands of years and they chose to write them down. It doesn't make sense that it was from God though anyway because God later had Joseph correct some of the verses in the BoM for his JST but didn't correct them in the BoM. So it should be pretty clear that it wasn't inspired.

      Regardless, it does no good to focus on the one issue. All issues must be viewed as a whole. If that were the only issue, I would definitely still be in the church. There are literally hundreds of issues compounding against the church and the only answers the church has require a lot of mental gymnastics as well as shelving a lot of issues.

      Anyway, rather than debating things here you should read up more on church history. You can research the individual issues, like I did. You can also read the CES Letter, FAIR's response and then Jeremy's response to FAIR. Look at primary sources and reason for yourself. If you want some links to get you started I can give you a hundred or two.

      I'm happy to continue this discussion if you'd like, but I want to make sure we're on the same page as far as facts go.

    8. Don't worry. I have not "missed the point". I am just mocking you (I hope gently enough for you not to take offense), for your insistence on focusing on the KJV. It is truly a minor point that somehow gets blown way out of proportion by critics such as yourself. When a passage comes up that looks like Isaiah 48, isn't it easier to just copy it down, rather than re-translate from scratch? With some minor changes inserted where warranted. This is what I myself do (I am a translator of languages by profession). It is just easier to do. Joseph Smith himself admitted that he did this. Toward the end of his life, in a sermon he quoted the Bible, pausing to say "I might have rendered a plainer translation, but this will suffice."

      I agree that Isaiah could have been translated differently (or better). So? But it "suffices" for the time being. Later, he tries something else, in the JST, perhaps a little differently, to capture the same ancient thought. But this is not confusion or deception, as you seem to think. It is just how translation works. Even when God is behind it, you ask? Yes, I say, even when God is behind it.

      So you say that just one would not do. That there are hundreds of issues. So there are. But it is certainly more rational to tackle one issue at a time than to attempt to blast away at several hundred. If I can convince you that KJV is not a deal breaker, then we can move on to the next.

      Finally, you are lecturing the wrong person when you say I should read up more on Church history. I have been reading everything that is out there for decades, pro, anti, and every shade in between. The CES letter (which I finally, grudgingly, got around to last year, and it was as shallow and poorly thought out as I suspected it would be), the FAIR response, the counter-response, etcetera ad nauseum.

      It is all old-hat. I sincerely doubt that you have anything to show that would surprise me.

      And yet I am still here, and you are not. This should give you pause. (But if you don't think my example is worthy enough, how about Richard Bushman, who wrote a whole biography of that notorious Joseph Smith. Surely he knows more about JS than anyone alive, and yet he is still here.)

    9. Sorry I have to break this into two comments. Apparently it's too long.

      I never insisted on focusing on the KJV. You asked, "Why is the KJV language in the Book of Mormon such a dealbreaker?" My initial post was actually doing the opposite of focusing on the KJV. It was pointing out that the KJV issues alone are not a deal breaker, IMO, though they may be for some. You criticized me for widening the focus beyond the KJV.

      While it is easier in some cases to try to tackle one issue at a time, the KJV issues are a small part of the larger issue of the translation of the Book of Mormon that must be considered as a whole. It is simply one facet that provides evidence of the truthfulness as a whole.

      I think it's critical to establish what the translation process looked like, and to do it based on actual solid evidence (not speculation). While at least the vast majority of evidence, if not all, points to a tight translation of the BoM, there are many things which can only be explained by a loose translation. Of course, there are other things that can only be explained by a tight translation. The only valid argument that allows the BoM to be true is a mixture of tight and loose translation. Of course, for an inspired work that is supposed to be the basis of a restored church and that is supposed to be "the most correct of any book on earth" it's not good to have serious translation errors. Especially ones that affect doctrine. These errors bring the whole work into question. We have no idea which parts were tight, which were loose and what's really reliable. I believe any claims of a loose translation lead to a much more serious problem of the work's reliability as a basis for religious belief.

      There are countless issues working against the truth claims of the Book of Mormon as a whole, which taken together are very difficult to overcome. While not an all-inclusive list, there are some that I believe are very critical issues that need a reasonable explanation. These include things such as the KJV translation errors, the 19th-century protestant theology and wording mentioned by Richard Bushman, the middle english phrasing mentioned by Royal Skousen, the deutero-isaiah chapters, the Malachi verses, the high amount of correlation with The Late War (among others books), the process itself using a stone he found on his neighbors property instead of the Urim and Thummim - he used the same method for translating the BoM that failed previously in finding buried treasure, the fact that after the time it supposedly took him to get the plates he didn't actually use the plates in translating the BoM - which then negates the need for the witnesses at all, the countless anachronisms and lack of archaeological support. It's all too much to be taken seriously.

    10. Additionally, the fact that you or Richard Bushman are still in the church is neither surprising nor does it give me pause. I fully understand the mentality that keeps a person there, regardless of logic. Leaving the church is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I was tempted many times just to stay even though I didn't believe it, just because of how difficult it is to leave and be shunned and ostracized by family and friends. Though even that pales in comparison to realizing that the whole framework you've built your life upon has crumbled beneath you and you are now left with more questions and no answers. Frankly, it just sucks. But I couldn't force my mind to believe in the face of the evidence I've seen. Some people can. I can't blame anyone because it is hard and there's a lot of crazy psychology behind it.

      Richard Bushman is a very interesting case, IMO. He states that "The closer you get to Joseph Smith in the sources, the stronger he will appear, rather than the reverse, as is so often assumed by critics." However, I've found that the closer I get to Joseph Smith in the sources the weaker he appears. Frankly, that is a very subjective statement anyway and thus not admissible as any sort of evidence. I believe Bushman already had an idea in his mind of who he thought Joseph was (which should be a forgone conclusion as he has long been an active enthusiastic defender of the faith) and simply gave greater emphasis to the sources that supported his view - this is called confirmation bias.

      Also, I believe it is a very ignorant and arrogant statement to say, "I sincerely doubt that you have anything to show that would surprise me." Despite my extensive research I am always amazed to learn of new things about church history that call into question its truth claims. It seems that the issues are endless. I am confident that you haven't heard them all. And it is also an unprovable claim to state that you have.

    11. I feel like I should also mention that as much as it sucks leaving the church initially, there is hope and happiness outside the church. TBH, I think I'm happier now than I've ever been, but it would take a lot longer to explain all the reasons why. I'm at peace with my life outside the church now, though at the time I left it was very difficult and I freaked out a lot. That is to be expected when walking away from a way of life and all the comfort of the "knowledge" you once had and into the scary unknowns.

      I mention this only because I don't want my comment to be misconstrued as many in the church often do as unhappiness. I have found that many members seem to think that anyone outside the church or not obeying the church's commandments must be miserable and unhappy. That is simply not true.

    12. Justin, you assume that a large set of the anti-Mormon arguments hold up under scrutiny and therefore can be cited in aggregation, to overwhelm. My experience has been that critics often use that type of thinking in conjunction with the claim that apologists are using strained mental gymnastics to slip out of arguments, with the idea being that a couple of improbable things might be possible but a big list of them can't be explained away. The problem is, I don't ever get to see objective proof showing the probability of specific apologetic explanations. What it amounts to IMHO is critics saying that each explanation "feels" improbable to them, so therefore must be improbable, and therefore the list taken together must be super improbable - as though the Church being true is like winning the lottery 50 times in a row. Then, critics put their feeling-based probability argument in contrast to testimony - which they dismiss for being feeling based.

    13. The fact is, a large number of arguments do hold up under scrutiny. I'd be happy to go through them individually, but this is hardly the forum for that. However, I am currently working on a document outlining only indisputable facts as I believe the church can be entirely discredited on a small subset of the arguments that are not really debatable - just facts with a logical conclusion. I want to stay clear of all the disputable facts or facts that can be reasonably contested by apologists. However, many apologist arguments range from deceiving to outright lying and those facts will still be included with responses to apologetic claims explaining the deception.

      Sadly, even the church essays and other information they are publishing is still riddled with deceptive statements. That's why, in all cases, it is critical to review source material. I expect the same level of scholarship and honesty on both sides of the discussion about facts. In fact, I just called someone out for making such an unsubstantiated claim against the church earlier today. I don't care what side someone takes, for the discussion to move forward we need to work on provable information and be open and honest about it. IMO, this isn't about convincing anyone, it's about getting to the truth.

      People or organizations who have made up their mind and seek to prove their viewpoint hide facts that might conflict. The problem with apologetics is that the process starts with a foregone conclusion. For LDS apologists this means that the truth of the church is beyond question. They simply try to find ways to justify the claims or explain away the problems. To have a real discussion on the truth claims of anything, no conclusion can be set in stone or beyond question. Can you honestly say that you are willing to consider the possibility that the church is not true? Until you can, discussion is futile.

      I have always advocated that people do their own research, be skeptical and search out primary source material. I would never want nor expect anyone to take my word for it or question their faith just because I claim there are a lot of issues. It is my hope that members will search for themselves and discover the truth for themselves. OTOH, I feel somewhat disheartened at times because I've come to realize that very few want to or know how to do proper research or think critically. I only hope that the research that I've done will be able to help others.

    14. I would like to hear the issues you talk about here. I sent a friend invite on facebook, you can message me there.

      While I would never conclude that the Church is false, I don't think that makes discussion pointless. It just means that the conclusions I reach will be about the strength of arguments, not about transcendent truth.

  18. What about Joseph banging 14 year old children and other men's wives? He isn't addressing that. He can dance around and rationalize the book of mormon all day long, but you can't justify the actions of a pedophile.

    1. Since he did not consummate the marriage with the 14-year-old, and did not commit adultery with other men's wives, your objections are invalid. I suggest that you read discussions of Nauvoo polygamy from reputable sources (such as Richard Bushman or the Hales) and not from Internet scaremongers.
      Besides, it is a non-sequitor to say "the Book of Mormon is false" based on allegations of sexual impropriety that occurred years after the book's appearance. Stick to the subject.

    2. David, you are correct in stating that polygamy has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon being false. The only thing it has to do with is Joseph Smith's claims of being a prophet led by God. However, that does have to do with Book of Mormon truth claims.

      Also, you are committing a fallacy in asserting that Joseph did not consummate those marriages. We cannot currently prove that he did, nor can we prove that he didn't so technically neither of you are accurate in your statements. However, we do have first and second hand accounts of claims that he did consummate some marriages.

      I'd also like to know by what authority he married Fanny Alger in early 1833 since he didn't receive the sealing power until April 1836 and it wasn't a legal marriage. Also, it's funny that he had to apparently be coerced by an angel with a drawn sword to practice polygamy in 1834 since he was already practicing in 1833. I like how the church essay side steps this issue by stating that the Fanny Alger marriage was "in the mid-1830s" which is technically accurate but misleading. It just avoids the inevitable timeline questions that arise if they gave a more exact date.

  19. I'm going to make this really simple: you believe in magical golden plates. MAGICIAL GOLDEN PLATES. Say it out loud to yourself. You don't need the CES Letter to know your religion is nonsense - the religion itself does that for you. Use critical thinking skills without bias and it will become obvious.

    1. The golden plates were not "magical". They were ordinary objects. As all the persons who saw them with their own eyes testified. Nothing "magical" about them. I suggest that you use critical thinking skills without (your obvious anti-religious) bias, and it will be obvious.

    2. David, I'm grateful for your positive contributions to the comments! :)

    3. Ryan, I just want to point out that you've only responded positively to comments that agree with you. My comments have all been level headed and simply stated facts and my reasoning. The facts tell a different story and the reasoning disagrees with your conclusion. I understand that you don't like those comments since you disagree with my conclusion but I would argue that they are still positive contributions because they contribute positively to the discussion.

      If you only stick to audiences or comments that agree with you then you are unlikely to achieve your stated purpose of "softening hearts". While many people are understandably upset after learning the facts of church history, many of us are also less upset and simply following the logical truth where it takes us. Of course, that also requires that explanations for facts fall within a certain degree of plausibility.

      I'm actually very interested in your thoughts on the character and behavior of God. The reason my shelf broke and I finally left the church is because I realized that not only is the Mormon god inconsistent with himself, but the Mormon god as demonstrated by countless examples in church history is also inconsistent with the Mormon teachings of who god is. It doesn't follow that the Mormon god can be the author of Mormonism. If so, that is not a god I can worship. I would like to see a plausible explanation for God that can still fit the teachings but also explain His behavior in relation to history.

      Obviously there are many more issues to deal with in terms of church history and I'm happy for any answers I can get. I would simply like not to have to do a lot of crazy mental gymnastics to get there. The fact is, even if some of the explanations are theoretically possible, the amount of stretching and assuming required means I don't actually believe it when there's a much more plausible explanation at hand. I would also like not to have to shelve things and just say, "because I felt a good feeling all those other things don't matter". It's already been hashed and rehashed how bad feelings are at determining or measuring truth.

    4. Justin, thank you. You raise a good point. I actually have not read your comments, because my mind is a little overloaded right now. The reason I have thanked others is that I'm encouraged by their presence here which offsets the harsh negative comments which are in great abundance. And now I see that you also help offset those, by raising the level of discourse to a substantive one. And I thank you for that.

      As for the character and behavior of God, He gives us two governing principles which seem paramount. First, our agency - this includes our decision to come to earth knowing fully the pains, trials, hardships and confusion we would endure. Second, His work and glory is to bring to pass our progress, turning us into beings which He can share everything He has with. In other words, the principle of love. God, knowing everything, is well aware of how every experience will shape us in the long run.

      If God simply wanted us to be convinced of truth, He could easily persuade us. That's not an obstacle for an all-powerful God. The reason God doesn't do so is because our earth life is structured specifically so we are separated from God and do not cognitively remember Him, living in a confusing storm of distractions. God doesn't want us merely to believe, but to believe for the right reason. There's a reason God used an uneducated farm boy to do His work. God wants us to feel His Spirit, and recognize Him from the pre-existence, and let us decide how much that relationship means to us.

    5. Thank you for your reply. I have realized that the answer I am really seeking in relation to the character and behavior of God will require me to write a much more lengthy explanation of the question. It has more to do with God's M.O. I think to answer many questions we need to build a psychological profile of God. I will have to see if I can find some time and write more about the specific inconsistencies and issues I see. I have written much more extensively about a lot of issues as well as my specific reasoning about God, but I would prefer to share it privately for now. I may message you on Reddit.

  20. > If their letters constitute the big scientific response to the >Book of Mormon, where are the peer-reviewed journals? >are the pages of research that went into formulating their >conclusions? Where is the intertextual analysis >demonstrating that they made a serious attempt to even >understand the claims of the Book of Mormon?<

    Where are their refutations of Dianetics and it's claims? Where is their refutation of Greek Myths? Where is their refutation of other prophets (including FLDS?) Where is their refutation of Santa? Where is their refutation of the bhagavad gita. Where is their refutation of the Quo'ran? What should scientists say to people who believe these are part of some higher truth? I submit your that scientists are treating your magical beliefs and farfetched claims exactly like they treat other such claims-- the same way YOU treat conflicting faiths claims. If you want your claims to be taken MORE seriously than you (and scientists) take the claims of other religions/superstitions, then you would need to provide a valid reason (like real evidence) for them to do so. So far Mormons have not. (They cannot. Because Joseph Smith made it all up. )

  21. Ryan,

    You have evidently hit a very sensitive ex-Mormon nerve with this rebuttal of Jeremy Runnells.

    Then again, cognitive dissonance is indeed very common in ex- and anti-Mormons when the truth of their prophet Runnells and his letter is exposed.

    Well done.

    1. Thank you. I hope in time it will make a difference and soften hearts. I appreciate your comment.

    2. Two amateur "me too" Mormon apologists high-fiveing and back slapping each other over an embarrassing and poorly written cute.

    3. Stephen, if you consider Ryan's letter an exposé on the CES Letter or Runnells, you're unreasonable and delusional. The following debunking of Ryan's letter demonstrates this:

    4. Anonymous, that is a response to straw men he invented after filtering out my statements he didn't like. I responded to it, pointing out the error in his method.

  22. Here's a debunking of your letter, Ryan.

  23. Nice article very well written I do have some question about your article:
    2nd Nephi 5:21-25 1st the lord caused the blackness not their own choice; 2nd Nephites were comanded not to mingle with Lamanites it would be hard to mingle with the natives if they were mingling with the lamanites as well. only way to tell was the blackness of their skin.

    1. How would their genome completely disappear if they were not allowed to mingle with lamanites? besides the fact that they "were killed off"

    2. I believe most of the Nephites were natives. If you read the post, I do go into that a bit.

  24. Which leads me to my second question. what happend to the women, children and turn coats? There had to be survivors of the war at cumorah. would you take your wife and kids to the middle of a battlefield, no. No sane person would bring your wife and kids to fight. I would tell them to run like hell out of there and don't come back. also the turn coats they would have completely stayed away from civilization or kept close to friendly lamanites (not all germans were butchers)

  25. so in my opinion the genetic makeup had to survived in some shape or form.

    1. What circumstances would be necessary for you to believe otherwise?

  26. I appreciate your review of the CES Letter. I used some of your logic in my own review, thought I take a more liberal approach to historicity.