Friday, August 18, 2017

Interlude - Elder Holland's powerful talk to a room full of unbelievers

Last Wednesday evening at the Chiasmus Jubilee, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve gave one of the most powerful talks I've ever heard. It was in the auditorium of the Joseph Smith Building, which seats over 850 people. The room was full of BYU faculty, students, scholars, and other interested people.

The entire talk is available now at mormonnewsroom here. For brevity sake, I'll refer to the Deseret News report here, titled "Elder Holland on Book of Mormon: 'Engaging the head as well as the heart'."

The article is a nice summary of Elder Holland's talk, but it overlooked a key point he made which I discuss below.

First, I note that Elder Holland began his talk by expressing deep appreciation for the work of faithful scholars at BYU and throughout the Church. It was a fitting tribute after the evening's celebration of Brother Welch's discovery of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon and the widespread impact that has had on building testimony and encouraging additional faithful research. Non-LDS scholars were present in support of Brother Welch's exemplary long-time collaboration with scholars around the world.

I'll proceed by quoting from the Deseret News article, with my observations in red

Elder Holland reminded guests that the spirit of revelation — including one’s testimony of the Book of Mormon — comes through a process of “engaging the head as well as the heart,” with “the force of fact as well as the force of feeling.” He prefaced this by reminding us about Oliver Cowdery and D&C 8:2, "I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost." He also pointed out that "truth borne by the Holy Spirit comes with, in effect, two manifestations, two witnesses if you will-the force of fact as well as the force of feeling."

He added: "Our testimonies aren’t dependent on evidence. We still need always and forever that spiritual confirmation in the heart of which we’ve all spoken. But to not seek for and not to acknowledge intellectual, documentable support for our belief, when it is available, is to needlessly limit an otherwise incomparably strong theological position and deny us a persuasive vocabulary in the latter-day arena of religious investigation in a sectarian debate." Elder Holland said that we are sometimes not as bold as we could be about this evidence, which made me think about whether I need to be more bold myself. He also quoted from Austin Farrer 1965 observation about rational argument (as BYU President Kevin Worthen had also done earlier that evening): "[T]hough argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish."

Elder Holland cited the Apostle Paul’s expression of faith being “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

“For me, the classic example of substance that I hope for and the evidence of things I have not seen is the 531 pages of the Book of Mormon, which come from a sheath of gold plates that some people saw and handled and hefted, but I haven’t seen or handled or hefted, and neither have you,” Elder Holland said.

“Nevertheless, the reality of those plates — the substance of them, if you will — and the evidence that comes from them in the form of the Book of Mormon is at the heart, at the very center, of the hope and testimony and conviction of this work that is unshakably within me forever.” Elder Holland also described Martin Harris' experience, when he responded to the visitation of the angel with the plates by shouting, "'tis enough, 'tis enough. mine eyes have beheld, mine eyes have beheld."

That's the end of the article's coverage of the talk, and it's great. But it missed what I think was the most powerful lesson of the talk.

After reviewing examples of evidence, including the testimony of the eight witnesses, Elder Holland quoted Mark 16:14. This was Christ's first meeting with the eleven apostles after his resurrection.

"Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen."

He said "The message is that if members of the Godhead go to the trouble of providing “many infallible proofs” of truth, then surely we are honor bound to affirm and declare that truth and may be upbraided if we do not."

I did some research. This verse has been cited only twice in General Conference according to, once by Elder Carlos Asay and once by President James E. Faust, and only President Faust recognized that the Savior upbraided the eleven. This is significant because he upbraided them for rejecting eyewitnesses and having a hard heart against those witnesses.

As far as I can discover, Elder Holland has never quoted this verse prior to this Chiasmus Jubilee talk, at least not in any of his books and talks included on Gospelink.

So I wondered, why quote Mark 16:14 at this time, in this place, to this audience?

The first thought: Maybe Elder Holland was appealing to the non-LDS scholars in the room, as well as other nonmembers who might hear or read his talk in the future, who have not accepted the testimonies of the twelve official witnesses to the Book of Mormon (Joseph Smith, the Three Witnesses, and the Eight Witnesses). Maybe he was suggesting they, too, should believe these witnesses who testified of what they had actually seen.

But I don't think that was what he had in mind for three reasons.

First, he is much too kind and gentle to compare the non-LDS scholars in that room that night to the Apostles the Savior was upbraiding for their unbelief in the witnesses of his resurrection. Besides, these good non-LDS scholars are all firm believers in the Bible and they love the Lord.

Second, if the focus of the talk was on non-LDS people, there are plenty of other scriptures about people not believing evidence; Mark 16:14 is unique because Mark shows how the Savior upbraided his closest and most faithful and trusted followers, the Apostles themselves, for their unbelief.

Third, his audience in that room that night contained only a few non-LDS people. The audience consisted mostly of prominent LDS scholars and educators at BYU and in the Church, along with students and other LDS people assembled to celebrate evidence that supports the Book of Mormon.

Then it dawned on me.

I was sitting in the midst of over 800 people who, in fact, "believe not them which had seen" and testified about important facts regarding the Book of Mormon.

This was a room full of some of the most faithful and committed members of the Church, many of them entrusted with the heavy responsibility to educate the youth of the Church at BYU and through CES, and yet nearly all of them "believe not" a fundamental witness from Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery about the Book of Mormon; i.e., their teaching that the Hill Cumorah was in New York.

(I say "nearly all of them" because some people in the audience I knew do accept Letter VII. I'll estimate maybe 50 out of the 850 present. BYU students present have all been taught not to believe Letter VII, but fortunately at least some of them reject what their BYU professors are teaching about this.)

In this setting, at this time, Elder Holland's audience consisted of many of the closest and most faithful and trusted followers in the Church today. (I know, I was also present, but I'm not claiming to be anywhere near on a par with the other people in that room.) I think he quoted Mark 16:14 to this audience--after discussing the witnesses to the Book of Mormon--at least in part to call their attention to their disbelief in what Joseph and Oliver taught.

I doubt this has occurred to a single one of them, but maybe this blog post will help.

Consider this list of LDS speakers on the program. These are all good men, highly skilled and faithful and dedicated, with a variety of academic specialties and backgrounds, with strong testimonies and years of dedicated service, but they have one thing in common: they have specifically rejected what Joseph and Oliver said in Letter VII.

Robert F. Smith
John W. Welch
Kim B. Clark
Noel B. Reynolds
Daniel C. Peterson
Taylor Halverson
Stephen Smoot

Others present in the room, some of them having presented earlier in the Jubilee, have done likewise:

Neal Rappleye
Matt Roper
Kerry Hull
Kirk Magleby

There were other scholars and educators present that I won't name, and as I said, there were a few people in the room who do accept what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII, but the ones I listed not only "believe not" what Joseph and Oliver wrote, they strongly oppose it. 

Consider the sponsors of the event.

Book of Mormon Central, Official Sponsor of the Chiasmus Jubilee, and the Interpreter Foundation, Official Co-Sponsor, have published articles specifically opposing Letter VII and its implications.

BYU Studies , the other Official Sponsor of the Chiasmus Jubilee, continues to feature, on its main web page, maps and other material that reject Letter VII.

The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, another Official Co-Sponsor, published a book that ridicules what Joseph and Oliver taught by saying, "There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd." Of course, among the Latter-day Saints who "insisted" this--who went further and stated it was a fact--were Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith.

I hope this post is not perceived (or later characterized) as some sort of attack. It's not. As I've always said, I respect and admire the people I've listed here and their work. I like all of them. Their ongoing disbelief in what Joseph and Oliver taught is inexplicable to me.* 

Some may reject my interpretation of what Elder Holland meant, which is fine. Before they spend time trying to come up with an alternative interpretation, though, I suggest they ask themselves what they think about Letter VII and why. Is their rejection of what Joseph and Oliver taught based on confirmation bias? I.e., are they seeking to hold onto a belief in the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theory? If so, why?

Some may claim that Elder Holland doesn't know about Letter VII and what Joseph and Oliver taught, or how the disbelief in what they taught is affecting the Church. Do you seriously want to make that assumption?

Some may not see the importance of Letter VII. For that, I suggest you consider the abstract map of Book of Mormon lands that BYU is now requiring every new BYU student learn, and which was presented at the event right before Elder Holland spoke. That map teaches every BYU student that Joseph and Oliver were wrong about an important issue. It's the first step on a slippery slope that no member of the Church should take, let alone be required to take.

I think Mark 16:14 provides an insightful and profound explanation of the situation here. The Savior was appearing to his apostles for the first time after his resurrection. They would go forward from this meeting and "preach the gospel to every creature" with great power and faith.

But first, he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe the witnesses the Lord had provided. They had to conquer their unbelief and hardness of heart, and they weren't doing it on their own. We may infer they had justified their unbelief somehow. They had their reasons. Their rationalizations. Maybe they even thought they had facts. Everyone does.

And yet, their disbelief and hardness of heart prevented them from accomplishing their callings. The matter was so important that the Savior Himself came to them to upbraid them.

Their justifications didn't matter then, any more than the justifications for disbelieving Letter VII matter today.

We know from Brigham Young and others that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were eyewitnesses to Mormon's record depository in the Hill Cumorah. That's how they could speak of Cumorah as a fact years later when they wrote Letter VII. They were witnesses to Cumorah as much as they were to the plates themselves.

For too long, modern LDS scholars and educators have rejected the witness of Joseph and Oliver as "manifestly absurd," as the book I quoted claimed.

I hope Elder Holland's talk will motivate these faithful, capable, and talented scholars to reconsider their justifications and cease their disbelief.

As Joseph taught, "there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it—" (D&C 123:12)

Imagine how many blinders would fall from the eyes of the people in the world if our LDS scholars and educators--and their students and readers--would accept and embrace and work to vindicate the testimonies of Joseph and Oliver about the Hill Cumorah and related issues instead of opposing them because of disbelief and hardness of heart. 

I think it will happen. It's just a matter of when, and I hope it's sooner rather than later.

* It is inexplicable in the sense that they should know better by now.

I realize that the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories originated with RLDS scholars in the 1920s. The theories were developed further by LDS scholars who, in part, relied on the anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons. It was fueled, as well, by such works as David A. Palmer's book, In Search of Cumorah, which established phony "requirements" for Cumorah that contradicted what Joseph and Oliver taught. Palmer wrote the entry on Cumorah in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism that contains this deeply unfortunate claim: "Because the New York site does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Book of Mormon geography, some Latter-day Saints have looked for other possible explanations and locations, including Mesoamerica." Palmer cited his own book in that article, of course, and then someone plagiarized it for a phony fax from the "Office of the First Presidency" which the Conclave (FairMormon, FARMS, Book of Mormon Central, etc.) has used ever since to support their Mesomania. It's a cascade of errors that should have been discarded long ago, but it persists partly because of inertia and partly because so many scholars and educators have invested so much time, energy, and personal credibility into the Mesoamerican setting that they strongly resist changing their minds, even to the point of unbelief in what Joseph and Oliver plainly taught.

But we should be way past academic pride by now.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Interlude - Book of Mormon chiastic geography

In Moroni's America, Pocket Edition, I discussed some of the parallels between the Book of Mormon and modern Church History. I think the history is chiastic. Consider this summary of several points of parallelism.

I like to say that if you've been on a Church history tour, you've been on a Book of Mormon tour--although you probably didn't realize it.

1. The gospel was restored to the exact place where it had last existed on Earth--western New York.

2. Moroni revealed the plates at the same place where he and his father wrote and sealed them (Moroni in his stone box, Mormon in the records repository, both in the Hill Cumorah in New York).

3. Moroni translated the Book of Ether in the same area and with the same instruments that Joseph translated the plates.

4. Moroni and Mormon saw the three Nephites in the same place where they helped Joseph, David Whitmer, etc.

5. The First Vision took place in the same area where the Lord last appeared to man, Moroni.

6. The first latter-day temple was built in Ohio, where the last temple mentioned in the Book of Mormon existed (in Bountiful), and possibly on the exact same location in Kirtland.

7. The war chapters in the Book of Mormon took place on the plains of the Nephites, which Joseph Smith identified as he crossed Ohio, Indiana and Illinois on Zion's Camp.

8. Mosiah escaped from their enemies in the land of Nephi and went to the land of Zarahemla where they built a city, just as the Saints escaped their enemies in Missouri and went to the land of Zarahemla where they built a city (Nauvoo, across from Zarahemla- D&C 125).

9. Ether prophesied of the New Jerusalem to be established on "this land," and Joseph Smith identified the New Jerusalem in Missouri.

The next section is a quotation from chapter 35.

The restoration started at Cumorah because that’s where Moroni hid the plates in the stone box so Joseph Smith could obtain them. It is fitting that the restoration of the Gospel occurred in the same place where the Gospel last existed on Earth.

The apostolic authority in the world of the New Testament was lost to apostasy in the early centuries after Christ’s death. Priesthood authority endured in the lands of the Book of Mormon until the death of Moroni around 421 A.D.

There are many parallels between Book of Mormon sites and Church history sites. Moroni, writing in “this north country” near Joseph Smith’s home between Palmyra and Cumorah, wrote that he had seen Jesus and talked with him face to face. Joseph’s first vision, when Jesus talked with him face to face, took place in the same area. Perhaps Moroni, too, met the Lord in the Sacred Grove?

The first temple of this dispensation was built in Ohio. The Lord personally accepted the temple, appearing to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.  Centuries earlier, the Lord appeared to the Nephites at a temple in the land Bountiful—modern day Ohio. Could the Kirtland temple be built where that ancient Nephite temple once stood?

The Nephite civilization degenerated and died out as the Nephites retreated eastward from Zarahemla to Cumorah. The restored Church grew and developed as it moved westward from the Cumorah area to Nauvoo.

Zion’s Camp retraced the military campaigns of Captain Moroni and other Nephite warriors. Joseph and Hyrum Smith are buried in a Nephite (Hopewell) cemetery in Nauvoo.

When Moroni abridged the writings of Ether, he spent an entire chapter covering Ether's prophecies (Ether 13). It's interesting that he concludes his summary with a chiastic thought:

12 And when these things come, bringeth to pass the scripture which saith, there are they who were first, who shall be last; and there are they who were last, who shall be first.

Then he says he was forbidden to write more. Maybe because we, the recipients of his writing, would have enough difficulty accepting what he wrote?

He explained how the people rejected the words of Ether, and we wonder how they could have been so foolish and hard hearted. But maybe it's not so surprising after all.

Ether 13:4 For behold, they rejected all the words of Ether; for he truly told them of all things, from the beginning of man; [think about how scholars reject the Biblical account of the creation of Adam, which Moroni refers to in Moroni 10:3] and that after the waters had receded from off the face of this land [think about how scholars reject a literal flood] it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord; wherefore the Lord would have that all men should serve him who dwell upon the face thereof;

3 And that it was the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord.

4 Behold, Ether saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land.

5 And he spake also concerning the house of Israel, and the aJerusalem from whence bLehi should come...

6 And that a aNew Jerusalem should be built up upon this land, unto the remnant of the seed of bJoseph, for which things there has been a ctype.

7 For as Joseph brought his father down into the land of Egypt, even so he died there; wherefore, the Lord brought a remnant of the seed of Joseph out of the land of Jerusalem, that he might be merciful unto the seed of Joseph that they should perish not, even as he was merciful unto the father of Joseph that he should perish not.

8 Wherefore, the remnant of the house of Joseph shall be built upon this land...

12 And when these things come, bringeth to pass the scripture which saith, there are they who were first, who shall be last; and there are they who were last, who shall be first.

13 And I was about to write more, but I am forbidden;

Interlude - Chiasmus Jubilee

I'm postponing the series on DNA to next week because of an important event I attended last night at BYU.

The Chiasmus Jubilee was a profound experience. The organizers did a phenomenal job. Two days of seminars, concluding with a two-hour presentation of music, video, and talks by important scholars and participants in the study of Chiasmus, capped by a powerful talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, which I'll discuss separately.

For those not familiar with chiasmus, there's an awesome new website here: It explains that

Chiasmus is a literary device in which words or meanings are structured in an inverted parallel pattern. For example: 
This is a simple chiasm. The name of the pattern comes from the Greek letter chi, X, because the pattern crosses, like an X. Chiasmus is frequently found in the Bible, but it was used in ancient Greek and Latin literatures and other sacred writings.

Fifty years ago, when he was a young missionary in Germany, John W. (Jack) Welch attended a lecture on Chiasmus in the Bible. He woke up with the idea to look for it in the Book of Mormon. He asked where. The Spirit said start where you left off yesterday. He turned to the passage in Mosiah and he saw, in the German Book of Mormon, two words stacked on top of one another. From there, the inverse parallelism became apparent.

His discovery changed his life and Book of Mormon studies. I made this Ngram on Chiasmus to show the significance of the discovery.

Thanks to Brother Welch's work, scholars around the world of many denominations have recognized the Book of Mormon as an integral part of the study of Hebrew parallelisms. Several of them participated in the Chiasmus Jubilee seminars over the last two days, as well as in the program last night.

I hope the videos and presentations will become available publicly. If so, I encourage everyone to enjoy them. (I posted a copy of the program below. Note that it was organized in chiastic format. Everything about this event was outstanding. It was professional, educational, enlightening, and inspiring.)

Meanwhile, go to the Chiasmus web page and peruse the resources available.


Readers of this blog know I've focused on Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, BYU Studies, and the rest. I've tried to make it clear that I greatly admire and respect all the scholars who participate in these organizations and publications. I like them all personally. I read their work and incorporate it into my own study and publications as much as possible.

Chiasmus is a good example. I devoted several chapters to Chiasmus in my first edition of Moroni's America (the topic of an upcoming post). Every member of the Church should at least be familiar with Brother Welch's work on this topic.

Really, the sole area of disagreement that I have with all of these scholars is their rejection of Letter VII and the associated context and ramifications. I won't belabor that here, but I want to make sure readers see the distinction between the excellent work of these faithful LDS scholars and educators and my criticism of their rejection of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon regarding the New York Cumorah.

Here is the program from last night:

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The missionaries are defenseless - Part 3c - DNA and evolution

Gospel Topics DNA essay - Part 3c - DNA and evolution

The DNA Gospel Topics essay is part of a long-running debate between Bible literalists and scholars who think the Bible is merely metaphorical and useless as a guide to understanding the Creation. It is also part of the debate over Book of Mormon geography because the proponents of the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories also reject Biblical literalism.

In this series, I'm discussing the Gospel Topics essay from the perspective of missionaries whose investigators believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, as well as from the perspective of LDS people who interpret the Bible and latter-day scriptures literally. 

I'm not saying any particular interpretation is "true" or "correct," but I am pointing out that there is a big difference between literalists and those who reject a literal interpretation of the Bible and the latter-day scriptures. In my view, the essay rejects the literal interpretation of the scriptures and ought to at least acknowledge such an interpretation as one of multiple working hypotheses. 

As it stands now, the essay is another hurdle for Bible-believing investigators to overcome before they even read the Book of Mormon.

The principal author of the essay, Ugo Perego, contributed a brief essay to the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF), an organization whose Mission Statement is “to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex.”

BMAF is also the parent corporation that owns Book of Mormon Central (BOMC), which explains why BOMC adamantly and exclusively promotes the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories.

Here is the statement by BMAF, with my comments in red:

DNA Statement by Book of Mormon Archaeology Forum

Please, don't fall for the DNA "evidence" being promoted by some members of the Church. We believe in the Book of Mormon with all our being, [as a Mesoamerican codex] but we also believe when we use science to prove something, then we should consult the experts and follow basic scientific methods. [This is a clever straw man fallacy. No one involved here is using DNA science to prove anything, but as we’ll see, the DNA evidence may corroborate the Book of Mormon narrative—just not in Mesoamerica, which is why BMAF wrote this statement.]

The Church (approved by the First Presidency on has just released a statement about using DNA to promote a Book of Mormon agenda:

“Much as critics and defenders of the Book of Mormon would like to use DNA studies to support their views, [notice, the actual essay refers to support, not proof] the evidence is simply inconclusive. [This sentence conflates the use of evidence to support a proposition with a claim that evidence is conclusive. These are two separate concepts. It's true that some anti-Mormon groups have portrayed the evidence as conclusive; i.e., that the DNA evidence disproves the Book of Mormon. That's an easy argument to refute, and the essay does a great job demonstrating that, because in reality, the evidence is not conclusive. But really, that's axiomatic. Scientists use evidence to support or falsify theories, but science is and must be open-ended, always subject to additional discoveries. The debate is really over what propositions the DNA evidence tends to support, not whether it is conclusive.]  

Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples. [As I mentioned before, I think it’s safe to say we know Lehi’s people were of Hebrew descent and came from Jerusalem, which narrows down the possibilities from the entire universe of DNA to a fairly small subset of DNA possibilities, which is not “nothing.” A better phrase might be “Little is known.”] 

Even if such information were known, processes such as population bottleneck, genetic drift, and post-Columbian immigration from West Eurasia make it unlikely that their DNA could be detected today. [The “unlikely” characterization is based on the undisclosed Mesoamerican assumption that Lehi’s people were all absorbed into a much larger Mayan culture. This is why it is so telling that the essay never even quotes from the scriptures, except in footnoted materials written to support the Mesoamerican theory.]”
Book of Mormon and DNA Studies

From Ugo Perego, PhD

There is a video circulating widely on the internet about NEW INCREDIBLE DNA EVIDENCE in favor of the Book of Mormon. I want everyone to know that I do not support the views presented in this video (here is the link on youtube

I personally believe the Book of Mormon to be sacred scripture, but not based on genetic evidence. [Which is also undoubtedly true of everyone who believes the Book of Mormon to be sacred scripture; i.e., no one has a testimony based on genetic evidence.]

It is my opinion that the presenter in this video (Rod Meldrum) [We’ll discuss what Brother Meldrum presents later; for now, I’m explaining the context of the Gospel Topics essay and some of the motivations for the way it is written and footnoted.]

is oversimplifying and stretching complex scientific data to fit its own view and purposes. [Simplifying is how any scientific information is presented to the public. I suggest readers consider this point once we delve into what Brother Meldrum was actually saying.]

This is dangerous because some people might actually believe in what he is saying and take for granted his conclusions. [This is equally true of every side of these debates, of course. Brother Perego implies that one side is right—his—and one side is wrong—Brother Meldrum’s. Brother Perego’s conclusions are based on Darwinian evolution; some people think taking evolution for granted as an explanation for the creation is a dangerous approach. This is really a debate about Biblical literalism, as we’ll see.]

I have listened to Rod Meldrum in the past and spoke with him on several occasions. I have also tried to explain to him the mistakes with his approach, but to no avail. [I can’t speak for Brother Meldrum, but I have also spoken with Brother Perego and I think I understand his objections. But he doesn’t understand, or doesn’t accept, and certainly doesn’t acknowledge, the counterarguments to his position.]

Here are in a short few points the main problems with the information presented in this video:

1. Lineage (haplogroup) X in the America [sic] is an unusual marker, but there is absolutely no evidence to link it to Book of Mormon people. [This absolute argument is in the same vein as the claim that we know nothing about the DNA of Lehi’s people. The evidence may not be substantial, may not be conclusive, may not be persuasive to Brother Perego and others, but there is some evidence of a link. I’ll discuss the merits in more detail later, but for now, consider that the unusual (actually, unique) haplogroup X2a in the Americas is concentrated around the Great Lakes region and the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada. The only place in the scriptures in which the Lord designated specific people as Lamanites was in D&C 28, 30 and 32, when he sent Oliver Cowdery and three other brethren to preach to the Lamanites in New York, Ohio, and Missouri/Kansas (where they had been driven from the eastern states.) This geographical connection between haplogroup X2a and the revelations in the D&C is evidence in any sense of the term. The probity and utility of the evidence can be examined and debated, but it is not “absolutely no evidence.”]  

2. As far as science has been able to determine to date, lineage X has been in the Americas probably long before Book of Mormon times (based on both carbon dating and the molecular clock). [The question of dating is really the crux of the matter. As the footnotes in the Gospel Topics essay explain, Brother Perego says lineage X has been in North America since around 7,000 B.C. This date is long after X separated from other, earlier lineages, and is in line with the standard evolutionary assumption that the first homo sapiens evolved around 200,000 years ago. The “molecular clock” referred to in the essay is an assumption about the mutation rate of biomolecules that measures evolutionary rate variation among organisms, again based on the 200,000- year-old evolutionary development of homo sapiens. “Carbon dating” is the technique used to determine the age of an object by measuring levels of radiocarbon (C-14). These two measurement techniques contradict the Biblical account of Adam and Eve, which is how this discussion of DNA implicates Bible literalism. In other words, people who interpret the Bible literally believe Adam and Eve were created around 4,000 B.C., based on the chronology given in Genesis. Mormons who interpret the Bible literally find corroboration in the Book of Mormon, D&C, and Pearl of Great Price. At least with respect to Adam and Eve, they are on common ground with Bible-believing Christians. Literalists think there are problems with the carbon dating and molecular clock that explain why those methods contradict the scriptures. For them, the Gospel Topics essay is problematic because it rejects Biblical literalism outright.]
3. It is not true that the first four lineages in the Americas prior to the discovery of haplogroup X are identical to lineages found in Asia. They are related with each other, but the ones in the Americas have their own unique characteristics. [This is an important clarification; these lineages changed as people migrated to the Americas from Asia, whether they were Jaredites or other Asian peoples.]

4. Likewise, lineage X in Northern North America has its own unique characteristics and it is not found anywhere else in the world. The one in the Americas is known as lineage X2a. [This is what we would expect of Lehi’s DNA as well; i.e., that it would be unique after some period of time in North America.]

5. There are other lineage X's in the world (Europe, North Africa, Middle East and Asia) but none of them is the same as their American counterpart X2a. [Again, exactly what we expect of Lehi’s DNA. Lehi left Jerusalem shortly before the Babylonian siege and invasion. That invasion was a genetic bottleneck; only the poorest people were left in the land, with 10,000 taken to Babylon. It would not be surprising that the DNA of Lehi’s group was unique (X2a) because their relatives were killed.]

6. It is not true that lineage X was identified in the Americas in 2003. Data on a fifth lineage in the America has been widely published since 1991. [Good point of clarification.]

7. All the DNA that has been talked about in this video is referred to a [sic] genetic molecule known as mitochondrial DNA that is transmitted exclusively along the unbroken maternal line. This means that this approach cannot be easily used to determine the genetic ancestry of male lineages such as those described in this video and in the Book of Mormon. In other words, this is not the DNA we would expect to find today from Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Lehi, Nephi, etc. [Good clarification, but mDNA is still used to trace migrations. This mDNA would be coming from the women in Lehi’s group and would still represent their Hebrew and Middle-Eastern origins.]

8. The LDS Church does not support DNA evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon. [Nowhere does the essay say this, of course. The essay claims there is no DNA evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon, not that the Church would not support such DNA evidence if it existed. And the main reason why the essay claims there is no DNA evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon is because of its assumption that Darwinian evolution explains how humans arrived on the earth, a product of evolution around 200,000 years ago.] 

Here is something more official found on the website:… [In classical citation cartel practice, Brother Perego cites his own essay, although, to be fair, he is a world expert on the topic, which I respect, so I don’t have a problem with this. But the Gospel Topics essay is unsigned, and people who read this BMAF version should be aware that Brother Perego wrote both essays. Actually, his BMAF essay is more accessible and understandable than the Gospel Topics version, but the gist is the same. The Gospel Topics essay is only partly a response to anti-Mormon critics; it is also an argument for why Church members should not believe Brother Meldrum and the link between the X2a haplogroup and the Book of Mormon.]

There is much more to it but this should be sufficient for now. It is too early to know for sure what the actual relationship of lineage X in the Americas with the Old World is and we need to be careful to jump at any conclusions at this time." [This is a fair statement with which I agree, but again, it’s the assumptions about dating that are the underlying issue.]

This analysis demonstrates that the DNA issue in the Gospel Topics essay is a component of the ongoing debate over Biblical literalism vs. scientific repudiation of the scriptures.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Youtube channel

I've started posting some short clips from my presentations on Youtube so they are easier to share. Here' are some:

Explains some of my books on Church history and Book of Mormon geography:

Explains D&C 9 and 10:

Explains the order of translation of the Book of Mormon:

The missionaries are defenseless - Part 3b - DNA and evolution

Gospel Topics DNA essay - Part 3b - DNA and evolution

A lot of people have asked me about this Gospel Topics essay on DNA over the years so I'm sharing my notes in this series. It saves me a lot of time when I can answer questions by sending a link to a blog post. Feel free to share the link with others who have similar questions.

Another point of clarification. Sometimes I hear that lots of people are being baptized into the Church, and none of them raise the issue of Book of Mormon geography and/or DNA. To a significant degree, that is axiomatic; i.e., the people who raise these questions are unlikely to be baptized, especially when the missionaries (and members) are unable to effectively answer the questions.

In this sense, and at the risk of oversimplification, converts are self-selected by lack of awareness, interest, or concern about these issues.

And that's great. I'm not saying or implying that everyone should be concerned about these issues. 

But by embracing Darwinian evolution, the Gospel Topics essay unnecessarily excludes the millions of people who are concerned about these issues and who accept a literal interpretation of the Bible.

I'm proposing instead that, until we are ready to take a firm position on how and when the Earth was created, a better approach would be to acknowledge multiple working hypotheses, one of which includes a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

Converts per 1,000 LDS members - graph by David Allan
As we've seen, the number of converts per 1,000 members (about 15/1,000 currently) is about 1/3 of what it was 35 years ago (47.5/1,000). We can think of these as the missing 30 converts per 1,000 members.

I’m told that the most productive area for missionary work, in terms of baptisms per thousand members, is Africa—specifically, West Africa. Even in Western Europe and the U.S., relatively few long-term citizens convert; a high percentage of converts are immigrants from developing countries who self-select as noted above. 

And yes, that seems to be a fulfillment of prophecy, as others have noted (2 Nephi 12), and yes, we love these converts and welcome them with open arms. But what about the missing 30 converts per 1,000 members? (Actually, in some areas of West Africa, conversion rates are 45/1,000 or higher, which means the conversion rates in developed countries is well below 15/1,000. For those interested, there’s lots of information at

There's also no question that the DNA issue has had a tremendous impact on Church members. For many years, LDS people assumed that all the indigenous inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere were descendants of Lehi. This assumption is inexplicable because when Joseph Smith wrote the Wentworth letter, he replaced all of Orson Pratt’s hemispheric rhetoric with the simple and clear statement that the “remnant are the Indians that live in this country.” Yet, as with his teaching about the New York Cumorah in Letter VII, Joseph’s rejection of the hemispheric model was ignored.

The discovery that most of these indigenous people have primarily Asian DNA prompted the 2006 change to the Introduction to the Book of Mormon (from stating the Lamanites "are the principal ancestors of the American Indians" to stating that the Lamanites "are among the ancestors of the American Indians." Nevertheless, the DNA issue remains a focus of anti-Mormon ministries and critics, which is why missionaries face the question so often.

I think the Asian/Lamanite issue can be easily addressed by the text of the Book of Mormon,* but for now I'm looking at the DNA essay's approach.

My focus is on missionaries whose investigators are well educated and comfortable with the Internet, especially the millions of traditional Christians who have been trained to ask these questions. These educated, Bible-believing Christians should be well-prepared to accept Moroni's challenge, but they have to overcome four unnecessary barriers to even take the first step of reading the Book of Mormon. These barriers are explained on their ministry web sites, taught in their Sunday Schools, etc., and our own LDS scholars and educators are making the problems worse because of their Mesomania:

1. Mesoamerican geography, 
2. Asian DNA
3. LDS scholars rejecting Joseph and Oliver, and 
4. Rejecting a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Of course, the missionaries themselves need to understand the questions and responses wherever they go in the world, because sooner or later, these issues will come up everywhere. Already there are anti-Mormon ministries in Africa seeking to undermine the progress of the Church there. And missionaries who don't have solid answers to these questions may find themselves questioning their faith.

This series about the DNA Gospel Topics essay has to do with the essay's explanation of DNA, but also the unstated, underlying context of the essay (in 3c). 

I'm not a DNA scientist, but the essay is, or should be, intended for general audiences (although, as I pointed out in Part 2, the essay is not really accessible to most teenagers, missionaries, and investigators). I suspect it's not all that accessible to most members of the Church either, but the main points are set out as I discussed in the last post.

Here, I'm going to discuss aspects of the science that I think matter most to many investigators, missionaries and members. 

I begin by explaining that I respect scientists and I know a bit about the scientific process. I have an MS degree (although the focus was agriculture). In my career I've funded university research projects, and I know from those experiences that to a significant degree, the one who pays the bills gets the results wanted. Scientists universally deny this, of course, but when I was reviewing a grant proposal from a high-profile East Coast university, the scientist who was going to do the work (and receive the money) asked me what result I wanted so he could tailor the proposal accordingly. This is not an uncommon practice. 

Mark Twain wrote "There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.” This is true of many fields besides science, but we kid ourselves when we assume science is completely objective.

There are always assumptions, many of them unstated but assumed or implied.

To reiterate, my focus here is on the implications of this Gospel Topics essay for investigators and members of the Church who believe in a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

The essay is targeted to scientists and those who don't believe in a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

This is important for two reasons:

1) There are still some LDS people (including scientists) who accept a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

2) There are still many investigators who accept a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Is it ironic that the people most inclined to accept the gospel--people who already believe in the Bible--are the ones who are most likely to find this essay troubling?

The literal interpretation of the Bible holds that Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden around 4,000 BC. This is based on Biblical genealogy. Moroni alluded to this in Ether 1:3, and picked up the theme in Moroni 10:3. He seemed to think the Biblical account was sufficient, an assumption that appears justified by Moses 1-5 and Abraham 4-5, as well as the temple.**

Modern scriptures corroborate this idea.

2 Nephi 2 relates the story of Adam and Eve as literal people; i.e., the first humans.
Lehi taught, "22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

23 And they would have had no children."

Obviously, no children would mean no evolution, at least from Adam forward. But evolution can't explain how Adam and Eve--and all things which were created--would have remained in the state they were in after they were created, forever.

D&C 77:6 says, "Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?

A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence."

I'm not saying that to be a good LDS, you have to accept a literal interpretation of these and other passages, but the Gospel Topics essay doesn't cite these verses. It doesn't explain how they relate to the topic of Darwinian evolution, which is implicit in everything this essay teaches about DNA.

This is an important issue because this essay teaches, and ultimately is founded on, Darwinian evolution.

This is not a problem for many members of the Church who think modern science is correct, but for those who do interpret the scriptures literally, it is a big problem.

More importantly (maybe), it's a problem for investigators who believe in the Bible.

Imagine you're a devout Christian, but you believe in a pre-existence, or you see the need for modern prophets and revelation, or the Nicean Creed doesn't make sense to you. In other words, you have some cognitive dissonance between what your church teaches and what you really believe.

The Mormon missionaries knock on your door. Despite your misgivings, you let them in. You discuss your beliefs. You discover an affinity for what they are teaching. It feels right to you, and is consistent with what you've always thought. They say they believe the Bible, as do you.

But you've heard some things about the Book of Mormon. You ask about the DNA issue. They refer you to this Gospel Topics essay. You study it carefully.

Then you realize that, to accept the LDS faith, or at least to accept the Book of Mormon in spite of what you've been told about the DNA problem, you'll have to abandon your literal belief in the Bible.

In upcoming parts, I'll explain why.

* The text tells us the Jaredites came to the new world and soon "began to spread upon the face of the land." Assuming they crossed Asia and left from the shores of the Pacific (probably from today's China), we would expect them to have predominantly Asian DNA. Ether's account relates his own family line, but he was more than 33 generations removed from the brother of Jared. This is many millions of people spreading throughout the land. Coriantumr mentions just 2 million of his people killed in the wars leading up to Cumorah. Moroni wrote only of the people living "in this north country," implying the rest of the Jaredites lived elsewhere. We would expect their Asian DNA to be diverse and well-represented throughout the continent, except in Northeastern U.S.

In the Northeastern U.S., we have a distinctive DNA haplogroup, again as expected from the text (i.e., assuming Cumorah is in New York). This is the X2 haplogroup, which I will discuss in parts 3c-3e. 

How do we explain the statements of the prophets about Lamanites throughout the hemisphere, when their DNA is Asian? 

The Mayan civilization collapsed around 800-900 A.D. Some of them migrated northward to what is now the Southeastern U.S. After several hundred years of intermarriage, they returned to Central America. We would expect the blood of Lehi to thereby intermingle with indigenous people throughout the Americas, albeit in low concentrations. So we can say, despite the Asian DNA markers, that these people have the blood of Lehi in them.

**It’s interesting to consider that Abraham 4 depicts the plan for the creation, not the actual creation. The implication from Darwinian evolution would mean that the Gods planned billions of years of evolution before the Earth was actually formed, then executed the plan with billions of years of evolution in mortality. This means that, if we accept the scriptures, there is no way to escape creationism; i.e., even if you accept Darwinian evolution, it was planned spiritually first.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The missionaries are defenseless - Part 3a - DNA and evolution

This is a continuation of my series about the practical problems missionaries face because of the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories. Instead of one long post, I'm breaking it up into smaller pieces to post each day this week.

My focus here is on the implications of this Gospel Topics essay for investigators and members of the Church who believe in a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

First, I re-emphasize what I wrote in Part 1: The missionaries are not "defenseless" in the broad sense of the term. They have the Lord with them (D&C 39:12). They are protected, as we all know, and the Spirit guides and directs them, touches the hearts of the people they meet, etc. But they are defenseless when it comes to answering and even discussing some of the most common questions they get from investigators and former Mormons.

And they are defenseless when it comes to common questions about Book of Mormon geography and DNA posed by investigators, and instead of being defenseless, they could be using these questions to bring people to Christ.

I stipulate that a spiritual testimony of the Book of Mormon is the most powerful and enduring witness of the truth we can have. But what are the steps of Moroni's promise in Moroni 10:3-5?

3 Behold, I would exhort you

(i) that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, 

(ii) that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, 

(iii) from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and 

(iv) ponder it in your hearts.

The first step, then, is that people have to "read these things" first.

The geography and DNA issues are obstacles for those considering whether or not to read the Book of Mormon in the first place. The Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories not only make those barriers higher, but they add the additional barrier of claiming that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah in New York.

How can people "remember how merciful the Lord hath been" unless they know what the Lord has done? That is, they have to remember what they've read in the Bible, or what they've learned about God's dealings in whatever faith tradition they have grown up in. Some commentators think Moroni is referring to what people read in the Book of Mormon, but the next step clarifies that.

The next step is the one I'm going to discuss in Part 3. "From the creation of Adam even down until" the modern day.

The Book of Mormon expressly omits God's dealings prior to Lehi leaving Jerusalem, except for some snippets of his dealing with the Jaredites (Ether 1:3), so readers must rely on information outside the text of the Book of Mormon to remember God's dealings. In most cases, this means they have to read and remember the Bible.

Here we have, in the verses that every missionary shares with every investigator, a reference to the creation of Adam as taught by the Bible. 

Yet the DNA Gospel Topics essay rejects the plain teaching of the Bible (and our other latter-day scriptures) about the creation of Adam in favor of a metaphorical Adam who was either (i) created tens of thousands of years before the Biblical chronology or (ii) created tens of thousands of years after humans occupied most of the planet.

To be sure, I understand there are many different ways to interpret the scriptures regarding the creation of Adam and Eve. However, the Gospel Topics essay adopts the Darwinian evolutionary approach to Adam and Eve and rejects the literal interpretation accepted by many members of the Church and many millions of potential investigators.

In lieu of rejecting alternatives to Darwinian evolution as this essay does, I propose acknowledgement, if not acceptance, of multiple working hypotheses. 

Otherwise, missionaries who refer investigators to the Gospel Topics essay on DNA find themselves trying to reconcile what Moroni said about the creation of Adam with the essay's adoption of a version of the Adam story that fits within Darwinian evolution.

What's a missionary to do?

What's an investigator to do?
end of Part 3a