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The Crazies

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Autor:  anton  05 January 2011
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Science and Mormon Doctrine

Soon after completing my study I read an article on the Flood and the Tower of Babel in the January 1998 issue of the Ensign magazine. According to this article faithful Latter-day Saints believe in a universal flood that killed all animals and presumably most plants, besides those on the ark. Those who believed anything less were lumped in with the unbelievers. It was claimed that these unbelievers were persuaded in their belief by the way that they interpreted geological evidence. There could not have been another time in my life when I would have reacted more strongly. I had come to accept that Noah was a real man, but that the Flood was a localized event. I strongly suspected that other LDS scientists thought the same way. If there was a major extinction in the last 5 to 10 thousand years then the biological and geological evidence has been removed. I didn’t know any scientists who considered that there was evidence of a universal flood. I accepted that God had power to do many things, but covering, creating or distorting evidence to test His children was not a characteristic of the God I worshipped. I was deeply disappointed at this article. As a bishop I was sacrificing a large amount of my time serving in my ward, at the expense of my family. It hurt deeply to be labeled an unbeliever by an ignorant BYU scholar on the Church payroll.

While I was greatly troubled by this article, my testimony was unaffected. I had known for some time that things that are written in the Ensign are not necessarily doctrine. I had over the years, however, grown tired of the fact that modern biology was frequently an easy target for ignorant attack by uninformed Church leaders. About the only book in my limited LDS library that mentioned the Flood was Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie. This was a relic from the black and white days of Mormonism from my youth. I was already acquainted with McConkie’s ignorant position on evolution so I was not interested in what he had to say about the Flood. Like many Mormon scientists I saw no conflict between my religious faith and an acceptance of the principle of evolution. Evolution is simply one of the firmest facts ever to be validated by science. Despite this, it is surrounded with controversy and widely condemned by large numbers of people who generally haven’t taken the time to carefully examine the evidence. In my experience in the Mormon Church, public criticism of evolution was acceptable while vocal support was frowned upon.

I felt a need to talk to other members about my concerns but when I made an attempt a member in my ward, who overheard a private conversation, reported me to the stake president! From that point on I became very reluctant to talk to members about things that troubled me. I soon felt quite alone in my thoughts at church. I could only discuss things with my wife, my friends at work and some of my family. I concluded that the Internet was the quickest and most readily available avenue for me to find out what other Latter-day Saints thought about the Flood. Or so I thought. I found material written by Mormons on evolution, Book of Mormon archaeology and many other subjects but after two weeks I had made no progress. Without doubt the article that had the most impact on me was a statement published by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. concerning the Book of Mormon. In very strong language this statement spoke of a complete lack of evidence for any connection between the Old World and the New World. The strength of this statement jolted me. Scientists rarely make such dogmatic statements unless they have plenty of evidence (or none in this case) to back them up. I had been told in seminary that the Smithsonian had been known to use the Book of Mormon in their research. The statement utterly refuted this claim. In fact the Smithsonian has grown tired of responding to Mormons who regularly contact them to see how the Book of Mormon is helping them out. I believed the Book of Mormon was true and that Hebrew civilizations had occurred on the American continent. I firmly believed that there was a connection between the Old and the New World, however, I had never taken the time to seriously examine this. I was confident that somewhere in the scientific literature there must be some reliable research that supported this. There is an abundance of Mormon literature that claims strong links between the two worlds. With this in mind I decided to look for myself for research that supported Old World migrations to the Americas.

I began searching for research papers having some connection with American Indians or Polynesians. Because I was familiar with plant genetics I became interested in recent research on the DNA of American Indians. The principles of DNA analysis are applicable to all living things so it was relatively easy to jump from the plant to the animal kingdom. I rapidly accumulated many scientific papers comparing the mitochondrial DNA of American Indians from numerous tribes with the mitochondrial DNA of other populations around the world. Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to child each generation. It is essentially a female genealogical lineage, or a maiden name if you like, stored in the mitochondrial DNA sequence. This part of the total DNA genome is used for population studies in many animal species. It is very simple to study because the mitochondrial genes don’t get rearranged each generation like most genes, which are inherited as a mixed bag from previous generations. I was equally interested in more recent Y-chromosome DNA studies. Male lineages, much like DNA surnames, are passed from father to son and clearly reveal male genealogical lineages.

In the last decade scientists from several research groups had tested the mitochondrial DNA of over 2000 American Indians from about a hundred tribes scattered over the length of the Americas. It soon became apparent to me that about 99% of their female lineages were brought into the Americas in excess of 12,000 years ago. Almost all of these lineages are most closely related to those of people in Asia, particularly in southern Siberia near Mongolia. Several tribes in Mesoamerica (which included Aztecs and Mayans) had been tested and all but a couple of individuals out of about 500 had mitochondrial DNA of Asian origin. The small fraction of Native American lineages that were not from Asia appeared to originate in Europe, most likely Spain. DNA studies also showed that the female ancestors of the Polynesians came from South East Asia and not the Americas. Y-chromosome studies, which trace male migrations, strongly support the mitochondrial work, except that the European influence is higher (about 10% in the Americas).

For two weeks I wrestled with the research. I collected more and more research papers but failed to find anything that supported migration of Jewish people before Columbus. Enough is known about the DNA lineages of Jews to be very confident that they are clearly distinguishable from Asian lineages. They would also be easily identifiable if they were present in the Americas in significant numbers. I struggled with the complete discrepancy between the research and my understanding of the Book of Mormon and the doctrine of the Lamanites. The Book of Mormon describes the occurrence of Hebrew civilizations in the Americas numbering in the millions. It is clear that the victorious Lamanites would have numbered in the millions in about 400 AD. I could not understand how such large numbers of people could have escaped detection.

Until this point in my life my intellectual study of the Book of Mormon was minimal. I had read it several times from cover to cover and knew the first few chapters of I Nephi very well. I had only taken a passing interest in New World prehistory. Perhaps this was because I am an Australian. I suspect that few Americans have an interest in Australian prehistory. Perhaps it was because I was so busy in the Church that I just didn’t have the time. For whatever reason I had happily assumed that BYU scholars were uncovering evidence supporting the Book of Mormon. I began to closely examine the text of the Book of Mormon. The Introduction to the book states that the principle ancestors of the American Indians are the Lamanites. The original founders of both major Book of Mormon civilizations fled to a Promised Land kept from the knowledge of other nations. Historical accounts of these civilizations only mention the presence of people in the New World whose Hebrew origin is accounted for in the text. People who migrated away from these civilizations appeared to be entering further unoccupied territories. There is not a single mention of non-Israelite people in the entire history. According to the Book of Mormon there was clear reason to consider it Mormon doctrine that the American Indians are predominantly the offspring of Hebrew ancestors. The Lamanites with their dark skin curse and loincloths appeared as stereotypical American Indians. This strong scriptural foundation is apparently the reason that most Latter-day prophets and senior leaders consider this to be the case today. Arguably the most frequently repeated message in the Book of Mormon is that the seed of the Lamanites would receive the Gospel in the Latter days from the gentiles. This is further supported in the Doctrine and Covenants where God himself refers to any Indians at the frontiers as Lamanites. How could God allow the book to give the overwhelming impression that the descendants of Lehi were numerous, when they are now virtually undetectable?

I desperately tried to find holes in the research but soon realized just how fruitless this was. I was not upset by it and strangely my belief remained intact. I was on a detached journey of discovery in a field of science that was new to me. The gravity of the situation completely escaped me at first; however, gradually I became aware of the contradiction that I was faced with. When I woke up on the 3rd of August 1998 I felt I had solved a puzzle I had been battling with for as long as I could remember. During the night my subconscious must have found the space to sort things out. All the problems I had been struggling with evaporated when I reached one simple conclusion. As much as I wanted the Book of Mormon to be true, I suddenly knew that it wasn’t. It might be full of some remarkable stories and scriptural writings, but it wasn’t history about real people. My belief in the Book of Mormon was the foundation for my belief in Mormonism. When it was shattered it brought a lot down with it. I immediately knew that I must be released from my calling. I rang my stake president that day and arranged to have an interview the next night. I told one of my counselors and my close friend Kevin Thomson serving in another bishopric, about why I was going to be released. Both were in a good position to defend my reputation in the face of the rumors that would certainly start. Few bishops are released before serving two years and knowing some members in my ward, the gossip was certain to travel quickly.

Soon after I came to the realization that the Book of Mormon is not what it claims to be, I became deeply upset. I had firmly believed that it was true. I had not been looking for evidence to prove it wrong. I had been looking for research that could be viewed as supportive. It was a shock to have my belief shattered so quickly. For about three days the thought of all this reduced me to tears, at almost any hour of the day. I went for days’ wondering if anything at all that I believed was true. As a Mormon I believed that all other Churches were false. I was in no hurry to rush out and join another Church.

I was released within two weeks of speaking to my stake president. I spoke at my release and asked the members not to gossip among themselves about why I was released. I told them that all they needed to know was that it was the right thing to happen. For some reason, at the time I felt strongly that the senior leaders of the church needed to know about the science so that they could be prepared for what lay ahead. I was strangely protective of the Church. My stake president and his counselors were very compassionate and never judgmental. They suggested that I speak to the area leaders in Sydney. I soon discovered that other members and leaders were less considerate. Several clearly assumed I had sinned and one man in my ward took it upon himself to call me to repentance.

I was surprised to receive, out of the blue, a very thoughtless and judgmental letter from a member of the area presidency. He launched into his letter by quoting a scripture in 2nd Nephi 9: 28-29, which was probably conceived by Joseph Smith to put the fear of God into someone questioning his authority.

"O, that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and frailties, and foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God."

The rest of the three-page letter contained a collection of statements that were purely intended to fill me with fear and guilt. I was warned that I would damage my family’s reputation and hurt my mother, family, wife, children and future generations. I was warned that I would become a hollow shell of a man without the Church. It was clear that the area leaders had not even spoken to my stake president and had written the letter on the basis of idle rumors. I had asked to be released because I was honestly concerned and it was the correct thing to do. I could not simply pretend that I was not troubled. At the time I was still shocked and confused and had not decided that I was going to leave the Church. Even my stake president and the new bishop were disappointed when they saw the content of the letter. I firmly, yet politely, responded to this letter and received a letter shortly afterwards apologizing for acting on hearsay.

The area leaders initially questioned the validity of the science and assumed that my interpretation was incorrect. They were of the view that the American Indians were Lamanites and if the science doesn’t agree with that conclusion then the science is wrong. They suggested I speak to a BYU professor who was an expert in this field. I was irritated by the fact that they trusted Mormon scientists at BYU more than non-Mormon scientists, but I guess I had grown accustomed to this prejudice in the Church. I corresponded with this BYU professor on about four occasions until I became even more convinced of the seriousness of the situation. He was a very nice man and he was very honest with me. In the midst of his lengthy defenses of the Church he acknowledged that greater than 98% of American Indians came from Asia and that this conflicts with current thinking in the church regarding the whereabouts of the Lamanites today. Not only did he confirm my conclusions, he strengthened them even further. He confirmed that scientists at BYU had tested 3000 American Indians from Peru and they came up with the same problem of virtually all the female DNA lineages coming from Asia. Now I knew that all three major civilisations in the Americas the Aztecs, Maya and Incas were comprised of people who trace their genealogy back to Siberia. Data from Peru had been conspicuously lacking in my research.

My communication with the area presidency stalled when they became aware that my correspondence with BYU had confirmed my interpretation. It was evident that they were seeking advice from more senior leaders and that these leaders were hastily speaking to scientists at BYU. The explanations that eventually came back to me were that the term Lamanite was a cultural or political term and that we don’t know precisely where they currently live. The BYU professor had struggled for a number of years with the research, but had managed to settle most of his concerns. He had come to the conclusion that it wasn’t doctrine that the American Indians were Lamanites. I was dumbfounded. If this doctrine could be so easily dismantled then no doctrine in the Church was safe. I have since come to the conclusion that LDS leaders have realized that it is much harder to change the truth than to change doctrine. So they simply change the doctrine. I used to think that doctrine was the truth and that the truth is the same yesterday, today and forever.

I began to read some of the material published by people at BYU and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS). The most widely accepted theory at BYU was that the descendants of Lehi lived in Mesoamerica. I closely examined the claims of archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon. I quickly came to the conclusion that none of it can be considered evidence. At a stretch it could be used to make it appear that the occurrence of Hebrews in ancient America was plausible if you want to believe. Many exaggerated claims of the past have steadily evaporated under the weight of objective research. Major weaknesses have now been found in the widely touted evidences for the Book of Mormon such as Quetzalcoatl, stele 5 (Lehi’s tree of life) and others. The truth is that there is no reliable scientific evidence supporting migrations from the Middle East to the New World, just as the Smithsonian statement had said. Some Mormon scholars and indeed Apostles are aware of this and quietly acknowledge it in academic circles behind closed doors. This is never revealed to the Church at large presumably because it isn’t faith promoting.

Alternative theories of how Lehi’s descendants established their civilizations in the Americas are now being contrived. Soon the most popular theory will be that after the arrival of Lehi’s family in the New World, his descendants recruited a large peasant population that formed the base of their civilizations. These poor people would have been none other than the Native Americans. Some derive support for this idea from the writings of John Sorenson, a senior FARMS scholar. He claims to have found numerous references in the Book of Mormon to “other” people being there when Lehi arrived and later during the Book of Mormon period. Apparently those that miss these evidences are lazy readers with only superficial interest in getting to the deep truths in the book.

Some at BYU thought that the now obvious link to Asia could be explained by the Jaredite migrations. Hugh Nibley speculated that the Jaredites had migrated 8,000 kms across Asia and then sailed to America from China. Doubtless they picked up a few Asians on the way. This was a new theory to me and I was utterly astonished at the book by Hugh Nibley that expounds it. I was amazed at the way educated Latter-day Saints at BYU accommodated the contradictions between science and the Book of Mormon. Some simply avoid these difficulties with a dismissive citing of the work of Nibley or Sorenson. “Oh that problem was solved years ago!” At best Nibley’s work was a feeble attempt at solving the Asian problem, but it did nothing to solve the absence of a link to Israel, which was so starkly revealed by the DNA evidence. Native Americans clearly migrated from Asia, but it was at least 12,000 years ago and it was almost certainly on foot. The archaeological and anthropological evidence for this is considerable and it is universally accepted by non-Mormon scientists. It should be kept in mind that these scientists are as diligent and truthful as anyone else. This conclusion is the result of capable people trying to honestly explain the evidence to the best of their ability. For several decades Mormon scholars have disputed these conclusions, however, the evolving theories about the current location of the Lamanites have been heavily influenced by mainstream theories of New World colonization.

I was amazed at the lengths that FARMS went too in order to prop up faith in the Book of Mormon. I felt that the only way I could be satisfied with FARMS explanations was to stop thinking. On the other hand I was also surprised at how readily the declarations of the prophets, including Joseph Smith, could be overlooked in order to salvage the wreck. Some argue that Joseph Smith was never clear about where the Lamanites were located. I doubt Joseph Smith felt it necessary to be specific because he so obviously thought that all American Indians were Lamanites. It is very clear in the Doctrine and Covenants that the God speaking to Joseph Smith thought the Indians in Missouri were Lamanites. The explanations of the FARMS researchers stretched the bounds of credibility to breaking point on almost every critical issue. I could not force myself to accept their conclusions no matter how hard I wanted it to be true. I continuously found myself thinking that there is a simple explanation for all this.

I could not believe that Lehi and his family conquered thousands of Native Americans soon after their arrival in America and that they became adopted as Lamanites. I also could not accept that the title Lamanite was essentially political. Its only political use was to distinguish divisions among the Lehites and Mulekites. Many prophecies about the Lamanites also refer to their seed in the latter days, clearly implying a genealogical link. I couldn’t believe that a people could be so worthless in the sight of God and the Nephite prophets that they were simply not mentioned in the Book of Mormon. I was troubled by the statements made by Joseph Smith and all the prophets about where the Lamanites currently live. Millions of members of the Church have been mislead into believing that the Lamanites are all over America and Polynesia. I am certain that thousands of Native Americans and Polynesians have been attracted to the Church in the belief that the Book of Mormon contains an account of their ancestors.

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