Thursday, February 24, 2011

Book of Mormon Lands

Click on map to enlarge

Book of Mormon Lands
Before examining other criticisms which have been used in an attempt to refute the Book of Mormon, it might be well to comment on the geography involved. It has generally been understood that this land would have been somewhere in the Americas. Although sites in North America are thought most likely, some people hold to a region somewhere in South America. It never has been revealed by an LDS prophet, though, where the Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites lived. The Book of Mormon, however, does indicate that the lands they inhabited overlapped. Still, doubt leads to much speculation concerning the location. While not essential to the spiritual purpose for which the Book of Mormon was written, it nonetheless generates considerable interest. A number of Latter-day Saint scholars as well as enthusiasts have written about this subject in recent years. Many, if not most, LDS Church members believe that the Book of Mormon lands center someplace around the Hill Cumorah where Joseph Smith was led to the Golden Plates. Nevertheless, a number of LDS scholars maintain that the area was within what is now Mesoamerica. In October of 2009, a conference was held on this topic, with most participants advocating an area within this region.

Since many able LDS scholars have presented numerous reasons why Book of Mormon lands were likely somewhere within Mesoamerica, there is little to be gained by reiterating in this blog what has already been well discussed previously. But with that said, there is more supportive evidence for this location that has not been so thoroughly discussed. The fact that cold weather and snow are never mentioned in the context of where the Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites lived certainly suggests a warm clime. In 4th Nephi, v. 24, it is stated that the people had, “…all manner of fine pearls.” While pearls do occur in oysters and other clams in many parts of the world, some even in fresh waters, gem (i.e., “fine”) quality pearls are from warm seas. The seas bordering Mesoamerica fit this condition. Animals listed in the Book of Mormon can all be accounted for in this book during the time mentioned. Elephants commented on in the Book of Jared were in North America until the last few thousand years. They are usually referred to as mammoths by paleontologists. Actually the North American mammoth is more closely related to the present Asian or Indian elephant than this animal is to the African elephant!The southern North American mammoth or elephant (not the northerly Woolly mammoth) extended well into Central America. However, it never did range into South America.

There are also geological factors favoring Mesoamerica as the Book of Mormon region. One relates to the statements made that there was an abundance of gold and silver in the land (e.g., Alma 1:29, and especially Helaman 6:9-11). This has been shown to be true in Historic times as much gold and silver has (and is) being obtained from many localities in Mesoamerica. However, gold and silver from New York and other New England states is rare. In Chapter 8 of 3rd Nephi, all the destructive events listed can best be explained by volcanic activity. This includes the terrible tempests, sharp lightnings,  earthquakes, fires, burying of cites, sinking of land, breaking up of rocks and land, and creating of thick darkness. Indeed it is difficult to imagine anything else but strong volcanic activity, coupled with plate tectonic movement, that could produce all the destructive events recorded in 3rd Nephi. Nowhere east of the Rocky Mountains, including the Great Lakes – New York region, has there been volcanic activity for many, many millions of years. However, one of the most volcanically active places on earth today is in Middle America.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

DNA and the Book of Mormon Peoples ( Ancestry of the American Indians)

Native American Chiefs of Various Tribes
Much archaeological evidence exists to indicate other cultures were present then. It must be kept in mind that the Book of Mormon record, while documenting events for more than 3000 years, does so very incompletely, and then for only geographically limited groups (the Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites). Some serious objections have been raised by many people, both LDS and especially non-LDS, regarding ancestry of the American Indians based on DNA evidence. Many claims have been made that these inhabitants all stem from Southeast Asian ancestors. In fact some current DNA studies indicate that samples taken from numerous American Indians do show an Asian ancestry, not one from the Middle East. However, there are also studies which show ancestry other than from Asia proper, and probably including Europe.

The matter of DNA and Book of Mormon peoples has been ably discussed by an active Latter-day Saint DNA typing expert, John M. Butler.  Other qualified LDS scientists have also discussed this subject recently. Book of Mormon peoples probably only represented a small percentage of the population in the New World during the period of time there was record-keeping. The numerous wars and famines necessarily kept their numbers relatively low as indicated in the Book of Mormon. With low numbers, various DNA lineages could well be masked. For example if a man had no sons, his Y chromosomes would be lost to all his posterity. If a woman had no daughters, her mitochondrial DNA would be lost to all her descendants. When populations were especially low, this would have a major impact on which DNA markers were passed on. The beginnings of the Nephites and Lamanites can be traced to only three males (Lehi, Ishmael and Zoram).The matter of DNA and ancestral-descendant lines is far more complex than most people realize. DNA studies very likely will never prove or disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. God’s plan for all of us is that we are required to learn by faith. That is the only true way to obtain a testimony of the Book of Mormon.

Native American Family
The genealogical history of the American Indian has been oversimplified on the part of many people, including some scientists. Too many choose to “lump” them into a single homogeneous group. However, more recent studies show that lineages come from different geographical areas. Although most DNA-tested American Indians do show a Mongolian or Southeast Asian heritage, Caucasian bloodlines apparently are also involved, including some from the Middle East. On the title page of the Book of Mormon the prophet Mormon, who compiled the records of his antecedents, made a statement that this book was, “Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel…” Unfortunately, it seems that too many Latter-day Saints (LDS) believe that all American Indians must be descendants from Israelites of the Middle East. This can only be an assumption. Nowhere in the Book of Mormon does it state that no other peoples inhabited the Americas at the time Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites were living there.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why Some Critics have Opposed the Book of Mormon

As a believing Latter-day Saint scientist criticisms of the Book of Mormon have been of great concern to me. Although coming from a variety of sources, some of the most damaging objections directed against the Book of Mormon have emanated from the Smithsonian Institution. This national establishment is America’s premier institution of science. Consequently, statements made by its scientists are usually given strong credibility. Many thousands of people over the years have contacted the Smithsonian asking if information relating to science in the Book of Mormon is true or not. Questions asked have come from both LDS (Latter-day Saint, commonly known as Mormons) and non-LDS individuals. The written response to people’s questions, including the response they wrote to me, has been sent out as a form letter. I here quote part of the statement sent to me by the Public Affairs Director of Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology – which is apparently the same as that sent to all who have requested similar information. “Your recent inquiry concerning the Smithsonian Institution’s alleged use of the Book of Mormon as a scientific guide has been received in the Office of Communications. The Book of Mormon is a religious document and not a scientific guide. The Smithsonian Institution has never used it in archaeological research and any information that you have received to the contrary is incorrect.” It was also stated in the form letter I received that Smithsonian’s archaeologists have found no evidence to support the claims made in the Book of Mormon. This hardly is an endorsement of the book.

Smithsonian Institution

In 1998 the Smithsonian Institution’s response to public enquiries was shortened to that presented above. However, their earlier response was more detailed, and listed a number of objections to the Book of Mormon. Their objections have been repeated by many critics and are still used today. Some of the scientific objections to this book are presented below. They will be discussed item by item.
1. The physical type of the American Indian is basically Mongoloid
2. Iron, steel, glass, linen and silk were not used in the New World before 1492
3. American Indians had no wheat or barley before 1492
4. American Indians had no cattle, pigs, horses, donkeys or camels before 1492
5. Camels and horses were in the Americas, along with the bison, mammoth, and mastodon, but all these animals became extinct around 10,000 B.C.

These topics will be discussed in subsequent blogs.