Thursday, February 16, 2006

Don't confuse them with facts.

There is a reason that religionists emphasize faith over facts and religion over reason. Evidence is damn inconvenient. It has a tendency of smacking one in the face now and then. And the Mormons keep running into inconvenient facts on a regular basis.

The latest is the issue of DNA evidence and the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon, written by Joseph Smith, but passed off as the work of an angel, claims to be the history of the Lamanites.

Lamanites isn’t a new version of plastic flooring. They were supposedly a race of people who lived in the Americas and whose story is told in Smith’s fanciful fiction work. Of course Mormons believe the book is inspired and actual history. The imaginary Lamanites were Israelites who, due to sin, were made a darker color. And they supposedly came to North America and are the ancestors of the indigenous people of North America.

Now a crisis has been looming over the fictional Lamanites because of DNA evidence which shows that American Indians are not related to people from the Middle East. Simon Southerton is a molecular biologist and was once a Mormon bishop. And he wanted to check out the evidence.

DNA testing showed that Jews throughout the world did have strains of DNA from the Middle East. Southerton looked at the DNA maps of 7,300 American Indians and among Pacific Islanders -- another group the Mormons said were really Israelites.

Now the evidence showed what would have been expected. None of these people showed a lineage going back to the Middle East. Southerton wrote a book on the subject called Losing a Lost Tribe. The faith blind church takes the view that “the Book of Mormon will never be proved or disproved by science.” Duh! If Smith’s tome says these people are Hebrews and the evidence shows they are not Hebrews then the book is fiction! End of story.

Now Mormon leaders are inventing a whole new take on the story and pretending it was the old story all the time. They say that Smith’s fiction only described an isolated segment of the Hebrews who intermarried with the existing natives and that the Hebrew DNA was swamped by the much larger population. Daniel Peterson teaches at the church’s center of “higher” learning, Brigham Young University, and says: “It would be a virtual certainty that their DNA would be swamped. And in this case, you couldn’t tell who was a Lamanite descendant.” How convenient!

Of course Smith was a relatively uninformed man though an inventive one. He had the Lamanites in North America riding horses. Yet horses were brought to America by the Spanish centuries after these fictional tribes supposedly existed. Smith also didn’t realize that the Lamanites could not have had cows, sheep, steel, chariots or silk either. All these items are in his novel but never been found on the North American continent by archaeologists. Maybe they got “swamped” by interbreeding with bear, deer and beaver?

This issue has been brewing among Mormons for awhile and is not a new controversy. Mormon Thomas Murphy is an anthropologists and he wrote an essay Lamanites Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics which said that DNA research “lends no support to traditional Mormon beliefs about the origins of Native Americans.” The best he could come with for Smith’s treatise was to same it might be “inspired” fiction. The church went to excommunicate Murphy but backed down when other Mormons protested.

Smith’s inventive tales are a woeful legacy for the faith driven. His Book of Abraham was allegedly written by Abraham of Hebrew fame. Smith purchased a mummy from a travelling side show and found some papyrus which was the writings of the biblical Patriarch. From that Smith, through divine revelation, wrote out a translation. No one could read hieroglyphics at the time so he was safe then. But the Rosette stone put an end to that. But luckily for the Church the mummy and papyrus had vanished. But in 1967 it showed up at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

And the document was not written by Abraham. It couldn’t have been. It wasn’t old enough. And it wasn’t written in “reformed Egyptian” as Smith claimed. Nor was it a manuscript. It was a funeral document and a rather routine one at that.

Smith purchased the mummy and papyri from Michael Chandler in 1835. Smith wrote that with some help "I commence the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc. - a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth."

Smith didn’t live long enough to “translate” the second scroll, supposedly written by Joseph of the Old Testament. Good thing he didn’t. The Mormons don’t need another hoax floating around the temples.

Now the mummy and the papyri disappeared. But the Mormons had kept copies of the text and published them in the book itself. Alas Egyptologists had all pronounced the “translation” to be totally wrong.

But the faithful, for the most part, go on refusing to consider the facts. Born-againers ridicule them for this but themselves engage in similar blindness.


Blogger Publius II said...

Good article. Very informative. I actually didn't know anything about the history around Smith's Lamanites.

February 17, 2006


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