28 thoughts on “major LDS concession

  1. Quite a leap in logic you’re making there. The only official LDS statements mentioned in that article are changing the wording from Lamanites being “principle ancestors” of Native Americans, to “among the ancestors” of Native Americans. And an LDS.org statement accepting the Asiatic source of Native American DNA.

    Hmmm… Nope. Not seeing any statement that there’s “no evidence whatsoever” in there.

    If you’re going to make grand leaps of logic, at least clue us in to how you got there.

  2. I see this change as the church’s acknowledgment that the claim that Lehi is the principle ancestor of the pre-Columbian Americans is overly simplistic. Whether this is due to the DNA evidence or due to a more circumspect consideration of the internal claims of the Book of Mormon text I don’t know.

    Regardless, this should make everyone ponder the accuracy of prophetic, even canonical statements. There are numerous statements in the Doctrine and Covenants equating Native Americans with Lamanites:

    “Which is my word to the Gentile, that soon it may go to the Jew, of whom the Lamanites are a remnant,…” (D&C 19:27)

    “you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites.” (D&C 54:8

    So we have here a retreat from a strong claim to Native American ancestry in the noncanonical introduction to the Book of Mormon but a firm identification of the Lamanites with Native Americans in canonical scripture.

    So if the LDS church really wants to distance itself from the claims of its former prophets, time and textual changes will do the trick as it has in the past.

  3. NEWSFLASH! Internal LDS email leaked to Main Street Plaza…

    An internal memo of the LDS religion marked “top secret” leaked to a Mormon-interest website today, detailing the thoughts of Boyd K. Packer on the press release concerning the word change in the Book of Mormon. Quoting from the memo,

    “If you look closely at the response in the blogosphere you’ll note responses to the change from people like Seth R., a regular commenter on Main Street Plaza. Seth is illustrating that our strategy is working perfectly. The membership isn’t going to take this as a sign that we are conceding to science on the origins of the Book of Mormon but rather that we are “clarifying” our position. Letting apologists debate this for years before we took any formal action was clearly the right way to go. Members won’t see this as a dramatic concession but rather a logical procession toward what we’ve “known all along.” Conclusion: More halting concessions to science will trickle out over the next few years. Recommendation: Continue funding for FARMS and the “Strengthening the Members Committee” (who brought Seth’s post to my attention).”

    Seth, this doesn’t require a leap in logic. The LDS religion has had an implicit position on the Book of Mormon since its inception – the hemispheric model. It was only in the 1960s and 1970s, when Mormon archaeologists began to realize the truth, that this even became an issue. 30+ years of debate among apologists and the religion is now conceding that the Book of Mormon does not detail the history of the “ancestors” of Native Americans but maybe a small group of people who dropped by this continent for a while. As I’ve said since I learned about the limited geography model, this is an attempt to turn the Book of Mormon into a non-falsifiable “historical” document, which will make it immune to scientific scrutiny (and basically turn it into something as close to fiction as you can get without actually calling it fiction). That is intellectually dishonest, but smart – if you want to keep the myth alive.

    As I see it, this is an out and out concession on the religion’s part that the evidence doesn’t support a hemispheric model (which is what most members believe because that is what the religion has taught for 150+ years). This may very well go down as being as momentous a day in Mormon history as the changes in racism (1978) and polygamy (1892) – the day the religion finally started down the road to admitting that the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction.

  4. Delete, delete, delete, as usual. So the “hemisphere theory” was never really doctrine now. I’m just waiting for them to decanonize the Book of Abraham…..

  5. Seth is right. Of course, that won’t doom Mormonism.

    The important thing is that believers take note because prophets are so frequently wrong that people follow them at their own risk. It is much safer to rely on one’s own judgement than to follow the prophet.

  6. “It is much safer to rely on one’s own judgement than to follow the prophet.”

    If that statement includes prayerful study a consideration of the prophetic utterance, it pretty-much describes my own position on prophets.

    Exmoron, you are insisting on an extreme position that I don’t think was EVER required by the scriptures. That various prophets and general authorities held the PERSONAL OPINION that it was so, doesn’t make much difference to me.

    The change in the intro merely puts forth the central message with a minimum of extraneous personal commentary.

    By the way, I’m flattered HQ is taking notice of my posts. Think I can get a promotion?

  7. The change is a recognition of the facts, but people are able to work their way through logical inconsistencies and maintain belief. The will to believe will overcome such things as this. If people continue to believe that a dead guy returned to life, they will continue to believe that the BoM is god’s word and that JS didn’t boink any of his additional wives.

  8. I have a serious question though:

    Who is this “LDS spokesman Mark Tuttle”? Is that a calling or a paid position? Can’t the G.A.s speak for the church? Are the G.A.s planning to talk about this, perhaps in conference or something?

  9. Elder R. Seth… Has a nice ring to it 😉

    I absolutely agree that this isn’t going to send any shockwaves through the LDS community. I tried to get that across in my mock “memo” – members of the religion may be a little surprised if they haven’t already heard about this idea, but they can find ways to justify it. And those who have heard about it will basically just say, “It’s about time.” So, yes, this isn’t going to change any/many minds, but symbolically, I consider this a victory for the critics of Mormonism – the religion has now conceded that it’s primary scriptural book is “not as historical” as it once was – in the sense that it can no longer be empirically verified. That doesn’t mean they’ll throw the book out, but it’s strength in converting people will be diminished, IMO. You can’t tell Latin Americans that this book is a record of their ancestors any more, like I did during my mission. A small concession, but a concession nonetheless.

    Here’s the weird part for me… In many Mormons’ minds this is a confirmation that the religion is directed by inspired individuals. In my atheistic mind, this is one more piece of evidence that religions must give way to science over time if they want to continue to exist (though there are many prominent exceptions that seem to be taking a bit longer doing this than others). The gap explained by “god” has just shrunk a little bit more…

  10. Either that or the religions have to quit sticking their noses in science’s business. For me, religion occupies a space that science cannot and never will go.

    But I think science will have to likewise quit sticking its nose in religion’s business. Seriously, a lot of people these days seem to take the latest scientific study as something akin to new prophesy – which, in my opinion – is every bit as ridiculous.

  11. Exmo, I didn’t read your ‘memo’ when I commented earlier.

    Anyway, I think that at least one reason why “this is a confirmation that the religion is directed by inspired individuals” is because they are so starved for something resembling a revelation. Now, at last, there is a specific change they can point to, and an explanation that this represents a new understanding. Wow, isn’t it marvelous? Now we know something we didn’t exactly know earlier.

  12. Mike… You’re absolutely right. This is confirmation that their religion is “alive” and can change. I don’t see it that way, but I’m sure many Mormons will.

    Seth… I agree that religion should keep out of the business of science, but I don’t agree that science should keep out of the business of religion (see Dennett’s latest book). Religions make all sorts of claims that are amenable to the tools of scientific inquiry. For instance, prosperity gospel religions claim giving to them and praying for money will give you money. Why not let scientists investigate that claim? Or what about health benefits from religion? That, too, is amenable to the methods and tools of science.

    As for “purpose in life” or “life after death”, both are subject to scientific scrutiny. Science suspends judgment until data is forthcoming. If data is forthcoming, it will be science that tests it, not religion. In the meantime, religionists can believe or not believe – but never with evidence. Purpose in life is provided by science – to create more life. It’s actually a circular argument in a sense, but that is what science tells us about life – we only exist to pass on our genes, which have an innate interest in replicating. That’s it; that’s the purpose in life. And that purpose comes from science, not religion. Any additional purpose in life is “fluff” (not necessarily bad fluff, but not the “real” purpose in life).

    As for morals, that is not and should not be the realm of religion. Morality supercedes religion and religion is not a prerequisite. The 1 billion atheists around the world are sufficient evidence for that claim.

    So, do tell, what is there religion has that science cannot comment on? Non-falsifiable beliefs? Nifty. Let religion keep those. There is pretty good evidence that most scientists don’t want those anyway… 😉

  13. Jonathan… This is a strawman argument. Inherent in science is the possibility of being wrong. Also, science progresses by proving things are wrong. It is science that is amenable to correction, not religion. If you really believe science is not amenable to correction, you don’t understand science. One of the reasons I am so enamored of science is because it admits when it’s wrong and moves on with better answers. Religions don’t do that. Take Mormonism – it never admitted polygamy or racism were wrong, it just changed policies and moved on. Science admits it is wrong (e.g., Lamarckism or Hawking’s ideas on black holes) and moves on with what works (e.g., modern evolutionary biology and genetics).

  14. exmoron,

    If religion is not “amenable to correction,” it is in part because both sides of the debate keep insisting on extreme positions. Every time someone in Mormonism tries to make a correction, we get this chorus of voices shouting about how this just shows how full of crap them Mormons are. You’re not being very encouraging here.

    Science can also take a looong time to move on. Especially when you are talking about politically charged issues. Take obesity in schools. There was a massive federal study a couple years back of several schools, control groups, long observation periods, you name it, it had it. Very expensive and formidable study.

    Its conclusion was that none of the school programs that have been used till now – parental involvement, counseling, in-school exercise, change of lunch room menu, and so forth – was having ANY impact whatsoever on the fat ratios of the children at school. The schools that implemented the programs did no better than the control schools.

    The scientific community’s response?

    Utter denial. No one cites this study. No one talks about it. Everyone basically pretends it never happened. The scientists in this field are so wedded to the idea that the stuff they’ve worked on gets results, that they are essentially blind to the reality that few of their assertions are really supportable.

    Science has its own fundamentalists, no question about it.

  15. exmoron,

    I feel like you’re responding to something I didn’t say, which is understandable since I said very little and said it vaguely. I also admire the pragmatic humility of the scientific ideal.

    I don’t know that science gives us purpose in life so much as it is helpful in discovering our motivations.

    Not every trait has an evolutionary advantage it seems. I’m open to the idea of evolutionary spandrels. Evolution doesn’t necessarily explain everything about biological systems.

    This opens just enough room that a given individual may have motivations which cause it to value things outside of its instincts for survival and reproduction. It depends on how we define “meaning”, but these values (the individual’s personal meaning) would not be explainable by evolutionary theory: this individual’s purposes in life would transcend purely evolutionary concerns. I believe that naturalistic science can investigate the mechanisms of these spandrels, but evolution itself would be insufficient.

    I’m not suggesting that this leaves room for traditional religion to explain things.

  16. Why should it be different with religion? That’s partly rhetorical, but I would like to flesh-out why science is accorded a benefit of the doubt when religion is not?

  17. A variety of responses…

    Jonathan… I don’t think we actually disagree. I recognize that our biology doesn’t necessarily give us the “purposes” in life we regularly choose (e.g., lots of money, good family life, pursuit of pleasure, etc.), but there is one fundamental purpose in life – to create more life. It’s cold and innate, but it is what it is. Do we get to choose other “purposes” in life? Absolutely. But all the others are really secondary to the primary purpose in life dictated by life itself. In short, I think we agree.

    Seth… You make a good point. Maybe I should not be jumping down Mormons’ throats when they do finally admit that some members of the religion could have been wrong in the past (though I hate saying it like that). In a sense I am rejoicing, though I’m not doing it the way you would like. I’m rejoicing because it illustrates error. You, too, are arguing it illustrates error, but the spin WE put on the change differs. In short, good point – I should be encouraging more change like this instead of celebrating it.

    Seth… I won’t disagree with your argument about science sometimes taking a long time. That does happen. But, fundamentally, science can change and it isn’t damaging to science. When religions change it does seem to be more damaging, in large part because they claim (and yes, this is an extremist position as you call it) they are divinely inspired. The “fundamentalist” interpretation of this is that it should be perfect to begin with; change indicates it is not. That’s not your perspective, I know, but it is the perspective of many Mormons.

  18. “When religions change it does seem to be more damaging, in large part because they claim (and yes, this is an extremist position as you call it) they are divinely inspired. The “fundamentalist” interpretation of this is that it should be perfect to begin with; change indicates it is not.”

    One quibble about where you put the parenthetical “this is an extremist position…”

    I don’t consider it “extremist” to view religion as “inspired.” I consider it “extremist” to view religion as inerrant, whether talking about scripture, or about prophetic utterance.

    I find it completely reasonable to countenance a Bible verse, a Book of Mormon passage, or a sermon by Joseph Smith as being “inspired by God,” and yet still not perfect, and even possibly flawed in important ways.

    It’s an important point to grasp. I really do think that often religious fundamentalists and disillusioned ex-believers are two sides of the same misguided coin. Both are insisting on the non sequitur that “if God had a hand in it, that means it must be perfect.”

    No, no, and no. Inspiration does not, and has never demanded perfection. This is a false demand that is placed on religion. By definition, a human religion must be imperfect. You have to look at the reality of a flawless God dealing with flawed individuals. It quickly becomes apparent that to demand perfection of God’s Church among humankind, or of God’s scripture as written and received by humankind, is deeply misguided.

    By demanding inerrancy from Joseph Smith, or the Book of Mormon, or the Bible, both ex-believers and Christian fundamentalists are rigging the question to play to their own artificial ground rules. But that dog won’t bark. Inerrancy has never been a requirement for true religion.

  19. Seth, I’m fine with that interpretation. I really am. But then I’m left wondering what benefit comes from religion. If religion doesn’t do anything to improve upon the human experience – no perfection, no “unknownable except through divine revelation” knowledge, no ability to tap into a resource that knows everything and is perfect – then religion is akin to an Elks Lodge or Civic Association. There is nothing special about it – it’s just a bunch of people claiming to know the unknowable.

    Seriously, I don’t think you can have your cake (prophets and scripture aren’t very special) and eat it too (but religion is still special). You’re pushing religion into the realm of, “It’s just a little better than non-religion, but not much.” If that’s the best religion can do, it’s not at all attractive to me, in large part because if you take the supernatural and divine out of religion, all I see are a bunch of people manipulating other people for their own ends.

    Let me see if I can give an illustration. Let’s say you sell cars for a living. I come looking at the cars and you show me two options. The first is an older model that runs, but not very well – we’ll call it a JoeGo. You say that it is a popular car, lots of people buy it. And, it has something of a (pardon the word choice, but it’s apt for this analogy) “cult” following – people who buy this particular brand of car tend to hang out together and become friends. Also, the original designer, Joe, was semi-inspired when designing the car; inspired in the sense that the car solves some problems people faced when it was built, back in the 1830s (e.g., it doesn’t hold alcohol products, or coffee or tea, but it does hold soft drinks quite nicely; it solves the problem of having three wheels in one (a unicycle) by giving the car three separate wheels, and as many infinite regression wheels as necessary for the car to remain steady, etc.). But, the car also insists that women sit in the back seat and no women can drive it (the same was true of blacks until 1978, when a new model was issued). It also insists that you get periodic updates from a central headquarters that are obligatory if you want to own the car. If you refuse the updates, the car will be repossessed. Oh, and you can only lease the car in monthly or yearly installments for 10% of your annual income. In short, it’s a fine car, but has some serious shortcomings.

    Then you show me the next car. This car is completely customizable. Whatever I want on it I can have. It is built based upon pragmatic and rational ideas. It may not be all that comfortable (e.g., no cushy leather seats for when you doze off), but it has its own forms of inspiration – it encourages people to make the most of this life by having a finely tuned engine and encourages people to get out and live life outside the car; it gets you where you want to go then encourages you to go enjoy that place. Also, if you ever want to change aspects of the car, you can and no permission is required – just a simple logic check to make sure the car still runs. The one big drawback – all of these cars are sooooo different that there is no sense of community. Oh, and the car is free. This car is called the SecHuGo.

    Given the choices, I’ll choose the SecHuGo every time.

  20. Exmoron:

    “But then I’m left wondering what benefit comes from religion”

    I’m reminded of the following quote:

    “What are the alternatives to the church? Where are the communities that sanction the pursuit of meaning and truth as a legitimate enterprise? that have material and personal resources to assist in this search? that provide regular occasions for confession of failures? that renew and inspire? that provide a setting where children are nurtured? where family members can be buried? where births can be celebrated? where social issues can be debated? There are a number of institutions that deal with one or several of these questions, but historically the church has demonstrated its ability to energize all of these activities.”

    Your local Elks Lodge tends not to lead funerals, weddings, etc. of its members.

    The description of the SecHuGo downplayed the anomie and alienation that occur when people don’t have a sense of community and the resulting social unrest and other social problems.

    This whole forum is a community solely based on religious affiliation. I doubt there are many forums made up a majority of people who have never been affiliated with the Mormon church that discuss Mormon-related issues. Religion takes disparate elements and combines them into a community the way that a city, state or nation never could. Religion is an integral part of civil society. It is a buffer between man and the state.

    Religion doesn’t need to be perfect to achieve these goals.

  21. dpc… I don’t disagree with your thought. The one thing I felt I lost when I left the LDS religion was a sense of community. I did actually describe that in my SecHuGo example – there is no local community around freethinking for most people. That said, you can find alternative communities that work just as well. The quote you gave even indicates as much – “there are a number of institutions that deal with one or several of these questions.” I can think of one that does a good job at dealing with many of them in a far more honest and forthright way than religion – education (of course, I’m biased, as that is what I do for a living).

    And, yes, I agree, “religion doesn’t need to be perfect to achieve these goals.” But I still am going to insist that religion is completely unnecessary to achieve these goals. If we got rid of religion, people would set up community organizations to replace them. In fact, many already exist.

    In summary, as near as I can tell having spent years studying religion from a sociological standpoint, the one real benefit that religions provide that is “hard” to get outside of religions (but not impossible) is a strong sense of community. Whether or not that is a worthwhile benefit given the cost (e.g., time, money, ability to think freely, etc.) is an open question. But other than that one thing, I don’t see any merit in religion whatsoever.

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