Brant Gardner – software consultant and DNA expert

Apologetics Book of Mormon

Check out this Deseret Morning News story about Brant Gardner’s recent claim that DNA evidence is not damning of the Book of Mormon. A lot could be said about this idiocy, but I think the third to last paragraph says all that needs to be said,

“We’re often trying to compare our traditions versus science, but what does the Book of Mormon actually say? … No matter how many opinions someone might have about the Book of Mormon, if the opinion is wrong, it’s the opinion that’s wrong and not the book,” Gardner said.”

In debate, this is called circular logic and it is a logical fallacy. Basically Gardner is saying that it does not matter what someone says about the Book of Mormon or what evidence people bring to the table about it – the book is true because the book is true. Wow, can’t argue with that! Way to raise the level of debate, Mr. Gardner. We have moved up from, “Just take it on faith” to “It’s true because it says it’s true.” If only every apologist was this retarded, the jobs of Mormon critics would be so much easier… 😉

60 thoughts on “Brant Gardner – software consultant and DNA expert

  1. Exmoron, I’m with chanson; don’t lump retarded folks into the same catagory as apologists. What’d they ever do to you? 😉
    Excellent post. I just love reading nonsense like this. I love the fact that it was posted in the Deseret even more… bwahahahahaha

  2. But seriously, I found this quote very interesting:

    He didn’t believe in the book before and went off looking for things that would support his view. He gives us information about what science is doing, but he is making a conclusion that supports what he had already decided.

    So Gardner understands that starting with the conclusion and then seeking evidence to support it isn’t a good way to get an unbiased result. Accepting that alone is half the journey to critical thinking.

    It’s also interesting that he accepts DNA research but urges us to “accept its limitations.” One cool thing about science is that scientists (in research papers as well as writing for lay people) will typically explain how the evidence works and spell out carefully what are the limitations of the evidence and reasoning. Yet I’m not convinced that Gardner has started from the known limitations of DNA research and taken an unbiased path from there to concluding that DNA evidence against the Book of Mormon as history can be dismissed by an appeal to the technique’s limitations.

    On a tangentially related note, in a recent family email newsletter my grandparents (who are very orthodox Mormon and huge genealogy buffs) wrote about how they’d been able to connect our family tree to to some distant cousins (where written evidence was questionable) using DNA!! (Aerin, maybe you remember this one and can confirm if I’m reporting this correctly.) I remember thinking “Wow, you guys accept DNA evidence as accurate for doing family history…?” And probably the situation is that they accept it in some cases, but not when it makes the Book of Mormon look shaky. But they’re not experts and haven’t learned DNA theory in detail, so it’s a little odd that they feel qualified to decide when the experts are right and when they’re wrong. It’s a little like the creationists who’ve decided to accept “micro but not macro” evolution.

  3. Thanks, Chanson.

    I do not think that it is accurate that Thomas Murphy approached the Book of Mormon with a negative mindset. After all, Thomas Murphy is a return missionary.

    It’s probably the other way around. Murphy submitted his opinions of the Book of Mormon to logic and evidence, which is certainly more humble than relying on your own feelings.

  4. He said neither Murphy nor Southerton understood that LDS scientists have known “for 50 years” about DNA evidence linking American Indians to Asian ancestry rather than Hebrew blood. “For some reason, these two men think this shocked us. It’s been something we’ve been dealing with for a very, very long time.”

    This statement cannot possibly be right. Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, and Francis Crick have only discovered the double helix in 1953. Native American DNA would have had to be mapped within less than four years of the basic research.

    More than likely, the Deseret News is either misquoting Brent Gardner or this remark was just a casual statement.

    What I find interesting is the notion that LDS researchers supposedly knew about the DNA evidence but did not publish it in Mormon studies. That would be troubling because it indicates that people’s concern regarding their religious commitments trumps their professional obligations.

  5. Okay, Gardner does make retarded people look bad. I’ll give you that one 😉

    I absolutely agree that Mormons are selective in their use of DNA, but I don’t think they are any more selective than most other religious groups in what they accept and reject of science. Mormons (like Ken Jennings) can claim that the LDS religion has no “official” stance on evolution then accept it, despite the fact that the unofficial position is basically creationism or intelligent design. So, Mormons aren’t really all that different from other religious groups in their selective approach to science, they just accept different snippets.

    As for apologists not being honest or forthright (and completely illogical to boot), isn’t that the definition of apologist? I mean, honestly, isn’t that their job – to “apologize” using any means possible for the absurdity that is religion?

  6. Apologia is actually frequently the first step to a more rational relationship to all things Mormon. Chris Tolworthy, for example, used to be an apologist.

  7. Hellmut, you are, of course, right (apologetics isn’t always the first step down the road to apostasy, but it seems like it often is). I was an informal apologist for years before I bolted. At some level, though, it does kind of seem like the goal of apologists is to reconcile what they believe with what they know. And, much of the time, the only way to do that is to be a little less than honest. I’m not trying to say apologists are intentionally dishonest, but reconciling fact with belief often seems to lead down a road filled with dishonesty.

  8. Re: LDS scientists have known “for 50 years” about DNA evidence linking American Indians to Asian ancestry rather than Hebrew blood.

    It’s likely he meant they’ve known about archaeological evidence for 50 years. However, there is another possible explanation: Back when I was in Jr. High (in the 80s), I saw a film that talked about the evidence for the migration from Asia (discussed in my deconversion story). One of the points mentioned in the film was that statistical analysis of blood types indicated shared ancestry between Asians and Native Americans. Blood typing can involve checking for more characteristics than just A/B/AB/O, which is why it was used for paternity testing before modern DNA analysis. Really it is a kind of rudimentary form of DNA evidence (inferring the genotype from the phenotype). So when I first heard all of the big news about DNA evidence linking Native Americans to Asia and how it disproves the Book of Mormon, honestly my first reaction was “Didn’t they already know that?” But the difference is how precisely they can analyze the DNA today.

    Still, if they knew already, I agree with Hellmut that they seemed oddly silent about it. I certainly didn’t hear anything of the sort from LDS sources, and as I described in the deconversion story I linked to, I was relatively well-informed about the “meat” of Mormonism.

  9. I think that what Mr. Gardner was getting at above was that the ‘hemispheric model’ of the Book of Mormon is kind of a folk belief among the rank and file and that the text of the Book of Mormon doesn’t necessarily support that.

    “I mean, honestly, isn’t that their job – to “apologize” using any means possible for the absurdity that is religion?”

    The word apologist comes from the Greek apologia, which means ‘speech in defense’

    I always thought that its interesting that people attack or defend religions. Every religion is a tautology. For believers and non-believers, there is no set of facts under which the religion could be found false (or in the non-believer’s view, true). The only thing that gets people to change seems to be religious or spiritual experiences**. I have yet to hear a conversion story from any religion where the person got up and stated that the logic and reasoning of the preacher convinced them that joining the congregation was God’s will.

    ** A.J. Ayer, a British philosophy noted for his Language, Truth and Logic, was a died-in-the-wool atheist. Whenever someone would say that there are no atheists in foxholes, he would always say that he had been one. Late in life, he had a near death experience that, although he didn’t give up his atheistic beliefs, led him to be quite a less bit inflexible concerning the possibility of life after death.

  10. I know what you mean about faith, dpc, but every religion has testable implications. Joseph Smith actually made a lot of verifiable statements, especially in his autobiographical report in the Pearl of Great Price.

    It is true that people can refuse to acknowledge the relevant evidence but that would not be honest.

    Of course, there are some techniques to preserve one’s faith while acknowledging the evidence. The most important one is probably to stop interpreting scriptures literally.

    Even that does not work all the time.

  11. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts” Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts”

  12. dpc — Re: For believers and non-believers, there is no set of facts under which the religion could be found false (or in the non-believer’s view, true).

    I’m not so sure about that. I’ve seen many atheists spell out precisely what type of evidence they’d accept as convincing for the existence of God and/or other supernatural phenomena. For example, we had a thread about it here.

    I’m also not convinced that no one has converted to a religion based on the logic and reasoning of the preacher. My brother (a historian specializing in early LDS history) has talked about how some of the earliest Mormon missionaries used to challenge Christian preachers to debates (and win many converts) because Mormonism seemed very rational according to the beliefs (scientific and other) of the time. Maybe I can get John to swing by this thread and give more details on that.

  13. Nietzsche could be pretty funny but he was often full of it. Facts have a way of asserting themselves. If you bump into a table, you will know it regardless of what interpretation our minds might imagine.

  14. Part of the reason Nietzsche is so popular is that his philosophical writings are so accessible. When it comes to physical sensations of bumping into tables, he was probably wrong. When it comes to religious truth, he was probably right.

  15. For what it’s worth, logic and reasoning played a major part in my deconversion. I’m not saying that my logic was flawless, or that my decision was completely based in logic, but the rationality of atheist arguments grabbed my attention. The “religious” experience (irreligious experience?) followed after I allowed myself to accept the atheist arguments.

  16. Jonathan:

    “but the rationality of atheist arguments grabbed my attention”

    To which arguments are you referring? Strictly speaking, the statement “There is no God” is just as unverifiable as “There is a God” and they are functionally equivalent. I’m not sure how one statement could be more rational than the other.

    Perhaps you were influenced by the problem of evil?

  17. I think I am just going to end up reiterating the point made by Hellmut about there being testable elements of religion, but I think the point needs to be made a bit more forcefully. I’m not attacking anyone, but I do believe logic is on my side (if I didn’t, I’d change sides).

    Basically it seems like dpc is saying that you can’t use logic and empiricism to measure religion. That may work in the world of postmodernism where there is no “reality” and everything is just an argument… But I think the Sokal affair was a crowning touchstone that illustrated postmodernism is just so much hot air (don’t get me wrong, I see the utility in some of the arguments as thought experiments, but at the end of the day, postmodernism is a circular argument – how do we know there is no authoritative position, because postmodernism, an authoritative position, tells us so).

    Using the “postmodernist” approach to defend religion doesn’t hold up – so long as religions make verifiable claims. Has Mormonism ever made verifiable claims? Absolutely…

    -Sample Claim 1: The Book of Mormon is an historical account of the Americas. Modern apologists may refute that, but it was pretty clear what Joseph Smith meant and it is even more clear that all of the early followers of the religion (and most Mormons still today) believe that.
    -Sample Claim 2: Brigham Young claimed the moon and sun were inhabited. Maybe he was prophesying, as we are planning a moonbase, but I’m guessing that is not the case.
    -Sample Claim 3: The LDS religion claims the Pearl of Great Price (specifically, the Book of Abraham) is a translation of ancient papyrii. Modern Egyptologists laugh at the very notion that it is a literal translation. (Hugh Nibley, of course, has gone to great lengths to offer alternative (read: ridiculous) excuses for this.)

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly fine with religions that say things like, “Well, you can’t know there is NO god, so I’m just going to believe there is a god.” Great. So long as you define that entity as something supernatural that no one can measure, I can’t argue whether it exists, I can only argue whether anyone should care. But whenever religions step into the territory of science, they are and absolutely should be subjected to critical analysis (see Daniel Dennett’s latest book for illustrations).

    In short, when religion sticks to the unknowable (e.g., life after death, existence of god), I’m happy to say, basically, “Let them have their comfort blankets.” But the second it crosses the line into the knowable, science will royally kick its ass and send it packing back to never-never land.

    Addendum: It is this exact awareness that led me out of Mormonism. Mormonism taught me the importance of truth. Science (read: graduate school) taught me how to discover truth. I applied my new tools to me religion and my religion collapsed under the scrutiny. Religion 0, Science 1!

  18. exmoron:

    Are you an evolutionary biologist or something?

    “In short, when religion sticks to the unknowable (e.g., life after death, existence of god), I’m happy to say, basically, “Let them have their comfort blankets.” But the second it crosses the line into the knowable, science will royally kick its ass and send it packing back to never-never land.”

    I always like how people make metaphysical statements and think that if they label them scientific, it somehow makes them true.

  19. Strictly speaking, the statement “There is no God” is just as unverifiable as “There is a God” and they are functionally equivalent. I’m not sure how one statement could be more rational than the other.

    Actually, that’s logically incorrect. The statement “There is a God” is verifiable but not falsifiable.

    The statement “There is no God” is not verifiable but falsifiable.

  20. Hellmut:

    Don’t blame me! Blame A.J. Ayer!! 🙂

    I think that neither statement is verifiable or falsifiable. There is no empirical evidence (or means of gaining such evidence) by which one could verify or falsify either statement. To the extent that “There is a God” or “There is no God” are intended to be statements by which we can say something meaningful about the world, they are metaphysical statements with all their attendant problems. (This statement itself being a metaphysical statement and so forth ad infinitum…Isn’t logical positivism great?)

  21. I’m not an evolutionary biologist, though some times I think I should be. I’m a sociologist.

    And I’m not sure what you were trying to imply with your last sentence…

  22. exmoron:

    There is a whole range of human experiences that cannot be explained by science alone and yet is completely ‘knowable’. Check out the following link:

    Science is great at describing the physical world and its related phenomenon, but whenever it crosses the line into philosophy and the humanities, it gets its ass royally kicked.

  23. That’s your argument? That music has a special effect on us? Try again… Whatever effect it has on us is limited to what occurs in our brain. And whether or not we understand it perfectly now doesn’t mean it is somehow supernatural or mystical or religious… It just means we haven’t worked out all the details. Yeah, try again…

  24. Re: #18 “I’m not sure how one statement could be more rational than the other.”

    Consider a complex hypothesis such as the existence of a super-powerful, sentient being. Requiring some sort of measurable objective evidence before assuming the hypothesis is true is more rational than assuming that it is true without objective evidence. I don’t claim to be certain that there’s no such being, but the second you start to make claims about how this supposed being has affected the known universe or is affecting it, I will ask for the evidence so we can analyze it. If you say that this supposed being does not do anything that can be objectively observed in any way, then this being’s existence is perhaps not falsifiable, but it is also not relevant to us.

    Additionally, dpc, your comments 12, 16, and 18 seem to imply that you think that everyone with an opinion on the supernatural — theist and atheist alike — just picks the conclusion they prefer and seeks confirming evidence; that no one is really swayed by evidence (or lack thereof). I’ve posted my story of how I became an atheist, and frankly, while I’m not upset by the non-existence of God, I’m sincerely distressed by the idea that death is the end, as I explained here and here. While I agree with the atheists who say that “knowing life is finite makes it more precious” I still wish I could believe that it is not finite, and that my consciousness has some sort of essence that could continue after my death. But I don’t believe it because it is not the conclusion best supported by the evidence.

    If you insist that I’m just deluding myself and that deep down I “just want atheism to be true,” then I think it’s a little presumptuous of you to tell me that you know me better than I know myself. Personally I’d prefer we not start second-guessing each other’s subconscious motives. I don’t consider it a useful or interesting discussion topic, which is the main reason I was hoping that MSP wouldn’t degenerate into another site for the grand epic battle between anti’s and apologists…

  25. I think that neither statement is verifiable or falsifiable. There is no empirical evidence (or means of gaining such evidence) by which one could verify or falsify either statement.

    The difficulties that you are alluding to, dpc, are of an empirical nature. In terms of formal logic the statement “There is a God” is verifiable.

    The absence of empirical evidence should give us pause.

    More importantly, every religion makes statements with testable implications. In those cases, humility and honesty require us to submit our opinions to logic and evidence.

  26. The atheist arguments that I alluded to are easily found wherever atheists congregate. You’ve probably already heard many of them. While I realize that we can’t be certain that there is no being that roughly corresponds to the hazily defined notion of God, the preponderance of evidence that I have available to me suggests that no such being exists. There is no ironclad logical argument, but there are good arguments and evidence that make the likelihood of God seem to approach nil.

    In other words, the atheists’ arguments weren’t persuasive because they were flawless but because they were better than the theists’ and because they made the world make sense.

  27. The supposed DNA “refutation” of the Book of Mormon pretty-much misses the boat.

    Sure it refutes, the uninformed and caricatured view that a lot of lay Mormon hold about the BoM, and a primitive viewpoint that Joseph himself held, but that’s a far cry from saying the book itself has been disproven.

    For me, the DNA thing is a big snooze. I accept the DNA study’s findings as probably accurate. I just don’t think you can make the jump from the science to the religious conclusions.

    Now, if you want to talk about how the theology and doctrine of Mormonism keeps changing over time, now we’re talking about much more troubling areas for Mormon apologia. But the DNA thing is pretty weak.

  28. Oh, and exmoron,

    The moon men quote came from Joseph Smith, not Brigham Young.

    If you’re going to make fun of Mormons, at least get it right.

  29. Seth R. — So you’re saying that both the text of the Book of Mormon and the DNA evidence can be reconciled with a limited geography theory?

  30. Brigham Young declared in 1876 that “the Sun was inhabited and God dwel[le]d in the midst of eternal burnings.” (Journal of Discourses 13:371) I thought he also said the moon was inhabited, but I can’t find that quote just now. Sun, moon, not a huge difference.

  31. Seth, you can’t just come here and dismiss the DNA refutation of the BofM by saying, “I don’t buy it.” Give us a more reasoned argument. Why don’t you buy it?

    Also, I do find it ironic that the person who wrote the BofM is now being dismissed as naive and ignorant by modern-day apologists. Brilliant! This is particularly ironic considering Seth would probably go to his grave defending claims like this one from D&C 76:12 “By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God…” Apparently the “things of God” didn’t include an accurate understanding of the BofM. Damn god, fucking around with Joe like that. Or maybe god just got it wrong all those years ago, and now the modern-day apologists are smarter than she is (note the deliberate use of the female pronoun – that’s just for fun!).

  32. Sure. If you want to attack Joseph Smith’s views of the BoM geography based on the DNA evidence, or even a popular continental model of BoM geography still common among many Mormons, you probably have a fairly good argument.

    But the continental model of the BoM hasn’t been the Mormon scholarly view for over 40 years now. Most Mormon scholars believe that the Book of Mormon describes events that took place in a geographic area not much larger than present-day Alabama. Such a limited geography would adequately allow for the presence of other Asiatic peoples on the continents and would also leave open the possibility that Nephite and Lamanite ancestors mingled with those Asiatic peoples, obscuring and diluting whatever DNA strands Lehi’s family originally had.

    Secondly, we really don’t have any way of testing whether “Lehi’s DNA” is present among Native Americans. Simply because we’re not sure what DNA he had. Lehi was not Jewish. He was from the tribe of Ephraim. So the lack of “Jewish DNA” among Native Americans is pretty-much irrelevant (if anyone can even tell me what “Jewish DNA” actually is, they’ll be doing better than countless geneticists who are still puzzled to this day over trying to trace Jewish genes).

    It doesn’t work to try comparing with modern Middle Eastern DNA either, since the current mix in the Middle East has been obscured by countless migrations, conquests, invasions, and what not. There simply isn’t any way to say with certainty that today’s Middle Eastern DNA looks anything like it did back int he days of Nebuchadnezzar.

    Finally, mitochondrial DNA (a reliable method of tracking lineage) can be easily lost and obscured among people over time.

    This isn’t an episode of CSI. We’re talking about over a thousand years of genetic drift and complex and unknown migratory patterns involving a small portion of the population in the Americas. It’s incredibly simple-minded to try and claim that Book of Mormon claims can be solved by doing cheek swabs at the local Navajo Indian Reservation.

  33. exmoron,

    I just don’t think now, and haven’t felt for a long time that God micro-managed everything Joseph ever thought or said. I think He gave Joseph room to have his own opinions on a range of subjects, and He gave him room to be wrong as well. I think Joseph was wrong in his continental view. Simple enough.

    As for the moon-men thing, all I can tell about it was that it was a fanciful speculation that Joseph shared with his friends around the campfire which was then taken out of context by about three different Mormons and recorded in their journals (not always with very reliable accuracy). Who among us hasn’t looked at the stars and wondered what’s out there? Joseph was just speculating and a few fanatic-brained acquaintances got all excited about it and thought he was prophesying or some other fool notion. Big whoop.

  34. But the continental model of the BoM hasn’t been the Mormon scholarly view for over 40 years now.

    I don’t think that there is such a thing as a Mormon scholarly view, Seth, at least not in the sense of a Mormon theology.

    If anything, the 1974 BYU production Ancient America Speaks represents an “officious” voice of Book of Mormon studies.

    Have you ever seen that movie, Seth?

  35. Nope. You might be right Hellmut. Just the same though, if you’re out to disprove the Book of Mormon, you have to attack and discredit ALL explanations for it, not just the weakest ones.

    Haven’t seen the movie, but it sounds about right for the time period.

    exmoron, I can’t find your quote from Brigham Young anywhere online. I don’t have a copy of the JD handy, but from what I can tell 13:371 is the words of Orson Hyde, not Brigham Young. Or was he quoting him? Not that I’m incredibly eager to wander off into threadjack land with you on this…

  36. Secondly, we really don’t have any way of testing whether “Lehi’s DNA” is present among Native Americans. Simply because we’re not sure what DNA he had. Lehi was not Jewish. He was from the tribe of Ephraim. So the lack of “Jewish DNA” among Native Americans is pretty-much irrelevant (if anyone can even tell me what “Jewish DNA” actually is, they’ll be doing better than countless geneticists who are still puzzled to this day over trying to trace Jewish genes).

    That’s a clever argument, Seth.

    If Lehi was an Ephraimite then he would have had the same Y-chromosome as Jews because they shared the same male ancestors. Of course, there is always the possibility that Lehi’s ancestor might have been a convert or illegitimate.

    Also, bear in mind that the people we call Jews today include not only members of the tribe of Judah but of Benjamin, Levi, and the Old Testament also mentions settlements of the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim in Jerusalem.

    Supposedly, that’s how Lehi got to live in Jerusalem in the first place. Therefore, Lehi’s type of Y-chromosome would be among contemporary Jews.

    Let me take exception with your suggestion that people are guessing Israelite DNA. It’s a matter of measurement, not guessing. Y-chromosomes get passed along from father to son, mitrochondrial DNA from mother to daughter and will match over hundreds of generations.

    There is an uninterrupted Jewish tradition that allows us to observe y-chromosomes and mitrochondrial DNA today. Imprecision may result from the introduction of additional DNA because members of another lineage have converted to Judaism in the meantime.

    The presence of additional markers, however, would add, not eliminate, genetic markers, which means that there is a considerable chance of false positives when one compares Jewish and native American populations. The chance of negatives would actually decline.

    If anything, the factor of historical difference tips the scale in favor of confirming the Book of Mormon.

    Even with this favorable bias, there are no common markers between the contemporary Jewish and native American populations.

    The bottle neck theory is the best refuge to explain the absence of genetic evidence. However, that raises serious questions about the account of the battle at the Hill Cumorah because the number of Nephite troops is so large that it would have required a million people population. The notion that a population of that size would have left neither matri- nor patrilineal lines is improbable.

    I suppose if one wants to believe then the bottle neck theory does provide an out but then there are even more devastating issues with the Book of Mormon that remain unresolved.

  37. You know, I have to applaud efforts like these… It is really an attempt to move the BofM into the realm of the non-falsifiable, which is a brilliant move. I made this point at a Sunstone symposium once and 95% of the people looked at me with blank stares. Basically, if a claim is non-falsifiable, it cannot be subjected to scientific analysis (you can’t prove it wrong). What better way to bolster one’s faith than to move what are blatantly falsifiable claims to the realm of non-falsifiability? This is what modern-day apologists are doing. They are taking the book that the allegedly inspired founder of their religion believed was a history of Native Americans and turning it into a localized narrative for a small group of people that is completely lost to history. The only trace of this metal-sword wielding, elephant riding group of people is the Book of Mormon. Anthropologists can’t find them; archaeologists can’t find them; only believers can find them. And they find them with the eye of faith. Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!

    Of course, this flies in the face of logic and Occam’s Razor, which would basically say here, “Hmmm… Which is more probable, that someone lied a couple hundred years ago when he wrote a book and passed it off as scripture or that the tools of modern science cannot find any evidence to indicate this group of millions of people (with all their alleged metal weapons and tools and elephants) existed, indicating it did not, but that the group actually existed?” Granted, we cannot prove a negative. It may be possible that those millions of people simply vanished from the earth, leaving no trace of their bloody wars, metal tools, and elephant steeds. It may be possible. But the very thought of it is ridiculous.

    I also love how Joseph Smith and other early prophets are now shrinking prophets… People used to hang on every word, thinking everything they said was prophetic. Now, whatever apologists see as blatantly false is quickly categorized as speculation. It’s a beautiful game, “Oh, Joseph Smith said that. Well, he only said that when he was acting as a man, not a prophet…” Honestly, Seth, how do you know the difference? I’d love for one apologist to give me a hard and fast rule for knowing when a prophet speaks as a prophet and when a prophet speaks as a man! I think the rule is, “Does it currently mesh with what we know about science? If not, he was speaking as a man. If so, definitely a prophet. Unless later prophets have refuted it (e.g., Brigham Young’s Adam-God doctrine, which was taught as doctrine for 50+ years in Mormon temples but is now refuted).”

    I don’t mean to be offensive, but I find the entire exercise an illustration of intellectual dishonesty. You bend the rules to suit your arguments. That’s cheating!

  38. To be fair, Ex, if science contradicts the prophet then it is proper to conclude that he must have spoken as a man. I don’t see any problem with that, on the contrary.

    However, if that is how one perceives prophets then there are a couple of logical and ethical implications that complete the picture.

    The first step is to conclude that the current prophet might be speaking as a man.

    Second, I feel that it is the duty of faithful Mormons to share that insight with their investigators. Imagine what might happen to somebody who is new to Mormonism and approaches the words of the prophets as the will of god. The consequences of acting on a man’s advice can be severe.

    If missionaries or Sunday school teachers bear testimony of the prophet then any believer who relies on the common sense meaning of the word prophet might act on damaging advice.

  39. Geneticists have failed to genetically mark even known Jewish communities via matrilineal mtDNA. Jewish DNA researchers believe that Jewish mtDNA overwhelmingly originated from non-Jewish sources. Makes sense, given what we know about the Jewish exile and diaspora.

    Cohen modal haplotype doesn’t work, because it is derived solely from the priestly tribe of Levi, of which we have no proof that Lehi had any connection. Besides, only a fraction of the modern Jewish population has the haplotype anyway.

    Now for the male Y chromosome question:

    We could expect Lehi’s decendants to have Lehi’s Y chromosome. But Lehi is only listed as “a descendant of Manasseh.” He could have his Y chromosome from any number of sources, without having a direct patrilineal line possessing an Abrahamic Y chromosome.

    Honestly Hellmut, before you mentioned it, I hadn’t given the bottleneck idea much thought. But keep in mind that a genetic bottleneck is more than a possibility. It’s a part of recorded history.

    Historians estimate that as much as 90% of the native population of the Americas perished upon contact with the first Europeans. Entire nations were killed by smallpox before the Spaniards even knew they existed.

    There’s just too much going on here to have a closed mind to the possibilities.


    Sounds suspiciously like sour grapes to me.

  40. Sour grapes is your rebuttal, Seth? I guess you win… by not responding. Not sure how that works, but then, I’m also not sure how believing Joseph Smith was simultaneously wrong on basically everything he said but also a prophet works.

    Hellmut, I don’t buy your argument. You said, “if science contradicts the prophet then it is proper to conclude that he must have spoken as a man. I don’t see any problem with that…” If the best a prophet can do is make statements that are later contradicted by science, what good is he/she? That’s no different than claiming “prophets are right until they are wrong.” Well, what is the purpose of a prophet, then? Is it to just say whatever ridiculous idea comes to mind and hope some of it turns out to be right (or at least non-falsifiable)? If that is a prophet, I know some psychics and even some schizophrenics who qualify. How do you define “prophet”?

  41. Jewish DNA researchers believe that Jewish mtDNA overwhelmingly originated from non-Jewish sources. Makes sense, given what we know about the Jewish exile and diaspora.

    As I said before, Seth, that problem should only lead to false positives.

  42. I agree with you, Ex, that a person that is wrong as often as some Mormon leaders cannot really lay claim to the common sense meaning of the word prophet.

  43. “I’m also not sure how believing Joseph Smith was simultaneously wrong on basically everything he said but also a prophet works.”

    Ah, but I don’t believe that. But it may look that way to someone who never looks at Joseph Smith except when looking for evidence of fraud or insanity. Those who are critical of Joseph are very selective in what they choose to emphasize among the great many things he said and taught.

    I assure you, he said an awful lot more than the controversial topics that have vogue among his critics. Why can’t we simply acknowledge faults in our historical figures when they have been validly pointed out? But that is no reason to fixate on areas Joseph got wrong at the expense of so many other things he got right.

    I believe he usually got it right. But I also believe he occasionally got it wrong. I agree with Hellmut, what’s “intellectually dishonest” about looking at the history and conceding flaws where one honestly finds them?

    My suspicion is that your charge of “intellectual dishonesty” is nothing more than a gripe that thinking people haven’t reached the same conclusions you have. So of course they must be dishonest. Right?

    My experience is that critics of Mormonism usually start throwing out gripes about “dishonesty” when they are frustrated that Mormons won’t continue to live up to their caricatured fantasies of what a believer is supposed to look like. Since much of their argument is premised on attacking this strawman “fanatic morgbot” they’ve created in their mind, they are understandably bitter when the caricature is denied to them.

    Hellmut, your allusion to prophetic infallibility is worth responding to, but I gotta run. Later.

  44. I get a bit frustrated when the topic of debate changes from the original issue. We now seem to be debating issues several steps removed from the original issue. I also get frustrated when someone I’m debating begins to attack my motives rather than my arguments.

    I don’t feel like I got a legitimate response as to how to tell when a prophet is speaking for god, but that may be because there is no good response. Maybe it’s like porn, I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it 😉 There’s a mathematical proof for you: How is a prophet ≈ porn!

    As for “fixat[ing] on areas Joseph got wrong at the expense of so many other things he got right.” Why can’t I do that? Maybe it shouldn’t matter whether a brilliant person is a fraud in other areas of his/her life. Maybe it shouldn’t matter whether a brilliant person manipulates people so he can sleep with their wives or take their money. Maybe I should appreciate that brilliant person’s gifts to humanity and overlook their faults. But I can’t. Calling that a personal failing. Or call that throwing out the baby with the bath water. Or call that justice. Whatever you call it, it’s hard to accept brilliance in the face of contempt.

    Granted, I am left asking the follow-up question: What did Joseph get right? Hmmm…. I’m really not sure.

    Would you mind answering either of these questions straightforwardly (without attacking my motives and leveling ad hominems):
    1) How do you know when a prophet is speaking as a prophet?
    2) What did Joseph Smith get right?

  45. “I also get frustrated when someone I’m debating begins to attack my motives rather than my arguments.”

    I know, but that’s essentially what you were doing to me. Anyway, sorry if I got a bit snitty.

    When does a prophet speak for God?

    Well, let’s start with the moon-men thing that occasionally gets brought up by some who attack Joseph. Absolutely not in this instance. In an intimate and personal setting, Joseph supposedly expressed to his companions the fanciful view that the moon was inhabited by beings like us (not an uncommon notion in those days, silly as it sounds now in hindsight). I say supposedly, because we’re not even sure what the exact wording was, as it all comes from second-hand accounts. Just personal opinion. Not binding, not prophecy, nothing to indicate it came from anywhere other than Joseph’s own speculations. He never preached it, he never had it written down and sent forth to the LDS. It’s no more the word of God than if he had one evening come home and complained to Emma that the bacon was burnt.

    I think it’s safe to say that stuff we only know Joseph said because of non-official personal journal accounts from lay Mormons is not to be taken too seriously as either Church doctrine or the word of God. Stuff Joseph said in localized or intimate settings may have value, it may explain something of his personal views, but it can’t be relied upon as doctrinal.

    Now what about Conference addresses, the Journal of Discourses (much of which was conference addresses) and other books published by standing apostles and prophets? Bit tougher. Obviously we have to take these sources a bit more seriously, being as they were committed to paper by the most official means available at the time and distributed to the Church (and still are). Plainly, these are meant to be taken seriously by lay Mormons. But how binding are they?

    My view of these sources, as well as General Conference is that they are persuasive, but not necessarily binding. I say “necessarily,” because they might address only a localized cultural and situational concern (for example, the LDS focus on the family is fairly recent – probably for the simple fact that the family was not considered to be in any societal danger in Brigham Young’s time). Furthermore, they might be overruled by more recent sermons and addresses. For instance, Heber J. Grant took the suggestive tone of the Word of Wisdom contained in the Doctrine and Covenants and made it binding and mandatory. I see nothing wrong with him doing that. Finally, the best that can be said about General Conference and the Journal of Discourses is that it is “inspired commentary” on the scriptures. A great deal of deference should certainly be given to such commentary (given the inspired position of the speakers), but it is not the last word on doctrine. Nor should tweaks, corrections, or course changes trouble people too much. I view it as similar to rabbinical commentary on the Torah. Most lay LDS don’t see it this way, but I do. And this is because…

    The LDS scriptural canon is ultimate in doctrinal precedence. All prior sources of content must be compared and weighed against the accepted scriptural canon. Each lay Mormon is commanded (though they don’t always seem aware of it) to study out and question any pronouncement from the prophet in light of the scriptural text and personal revelation and witness from God.

    If that causes me to read, say… Pres. Kimball’s speech on interracial marriage in a much more limiting way than perhaps other Mormons (or their critics) read it, then so be it. For instance, I read the speech as simply warning that cultural differences may make marital interaction more difficult, but not as an outright discouragement by God of interracial marriage. It’s good advice, and deserves to be taken seriously and read carefully, but it’s not binding where it conflicts with other scriptural mandates.

    I’ll concede that this will seem confusing, and perhaps two-faced, to some. But I don’t see it that way. I think our obligation for interfacing with prophets and God’s Word is not easy, it is not simple. You aren’t going to get a plain roadmap in all instances. Being a Mormon requires study, intuition, a thirst for knowledge (from whatever source), and a critical eye. Otherwise you fall into brainless fanaticism, and neither Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, nor any prophet I know of every conveyed that God desired brainless fanatics.

    In short, you have scripture, then you have inspired commentary, then you have utterances that don’t even deserve to be included in a discussion of Mormon doctrine.

  46. Okay. I’ll buy that. And, as a compliment to to you, this actually sounds reasonable. My follow-up questions:
    1) What happens when scripture contradicts?
    2) What happens when you don’t agree with something scripture says?

    Let me give examples. And, while I’m guessing you’ll say that you have different interpretations of these scriptures (which I recognize is possible), I’m hesitant to take them for anything other than what they say.

    First, a scriptural contradiction:
    Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38 both give genealogies of Jesus. They are as different as day and night. If scripture is god’s word, how do you reconcile that? (I can give more, but this is a classic.)

    Second, a scriptural implication that is extremely objectionable:
    The Book of Mormon does say that black skin or dark skin is a curse from god:
    2 Nephi 5:21-24
    21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
    22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.
    23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.
    24 And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.

    That is, in your own words, doctrine. How do you reconcile that with, what I would assume from your other comments, is your more enlightened view of race – that blacks are not some how cursed?

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not baiting you. I’m honestly interested in how you reconcile what are apparent problems with what you view as the source of doctrine in Mormonism. Let her rip! 😉

    (Note: I like this tone of discussion much better – no ad hominems!)

  47. What Joseph got right, was reintroducing a sense of divine historical destiny into Church narrative that had been sadly lacking up to that point. He also corrected the fallacious Protestant trend that had thrown out virtually all sacraments, authority and ordinances from Christian worship. I view the “me, my Jesus, and my Bible” movement of evangelicaldom as deeply flawed in several respects. Joseph’s pronouncements reintroduced all of this without also introducing some of the corrupt baggage of the catholic tradition at that time. He also introduced a truly magnificent view of human destiny. Drew us closer to God as our loving and personal Father. Organized a Church capable of actually being a Zion society. Cut through the philosophical gobbledygook that had preoccupied Christian theologians in pointless debates for centuries. And, importantly, reintroduced to our recent history and memory what a REAL living, breathing, flawed prophet actually acts like and means for us – rather than the whitewashed, pious, dead view of prophets treasured by mainline Christianity up to that time.

    For me personally, he introduced a vital and personal system of theological thought and ethical action that has guided my entire life and served me extremely well (I’m not saying I’m super-righteous or anything, just that this system of thought has been very good to me). By contrast the theological constructs of historical Christianity seem incredibly limiting and intellectually stifling. And the personal Jesus movement so common among popular Protestantism seems superficial and weak to me. Atheism and rigid orthodoxy seem to me to be two sides of the same close-minded coin. Both refuse to leave room for possibilities in the universe.

    I have personally gained a great deal from Mormonism. I have never found a better system for exploring all truth in the universe, wherever it may be found.

  48. Problem with long comments is that stuff happens while you’re writing. Anyway…

    The genealogies of Jesus…

    I’ll level with you. I’ve never confronted this particular criticism of scripture. So my answer is “I don’t know, but I’m open to explanations.”

    I will note that I have heard some explain that John wrote his Gospel with a specific agenda of convincing the Jews of Christ’s claim to divinity. That may have colored the sources he used. Did that prejudice him or cause him to make up some of it.

    Additionally, I’m open to the possibility that the Bible simply hasn’t been translated correctly on this point.

    But I’m also open to whatever Christian apologists have come up with on the subject.

    Don’t know. Maybe. I’m withholding judgment on the subject.

    OK, the curse of the skin of blackness.

    I’ve always been open to the idea of the BoM being something filtered through the lens of Joseph’s mind and language. I believe that this may have limited the BoM in certain respects. But I would not hazard a guess as to which portions would be an example of this. So I won’t say that Joseph “made this up” or projected his own paradigm onto the pages. I have no basis for saying this.

    My personal opinion is that the verses are genuine and mean what they say. God darkened the skin of the Lamanites so that they would be estranged from Nephite society. I take this at face value, whatever the racial implications.

    Now, what I refuse to do is take this as far as some past LDS authorities did and tie this to some “curse of Ham” or Cain that afflicts modern peoples with darker skin. As far as I’m concerned the “curse” was a device God implemented as a practical matter, knowing that it would be a rather sure method of preventing a primitive minded culture from diluting their religion with the destructive practices of their neighbors.

    As a practical matter it worked. But there is no reason to read that dark skin equals less inherent morality from these verses. Nor do I consider dark skin today to be a sign of any sort of “curse.” We have no word from God that it is, and I refuse to make that jump, as I am aware many LDS did.

    I think this is a good example of where the “commentary” is being confused for the scripture it is commenting on. This line of commentary had become rather pervasive in LDS circles by 1970. So pervasive, in fact, that it required an outright revelation to correct it (simply issuing different commentary wasn’t going to cut it).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *