Join us now as we enter a mysterious building
that no outsider has ever visited — a Mormon temple — for today
we're studying that most curious of history texts, the Book of Mormon.
The Mormons, formally and properly known as the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-Day Saints, is the same as any other more conventional Christian church,
but with the additional element of a belief that after the Resurrection, Jesus
also appeared to peoples in the Americas. The story goes that a man in Jerusalem
named Lehi built a boat for his family and sailed across the Atlantic to the
American continent in about 600 B.C., and they became the forebears of the
American Indian people of North and South America. The history of the continent
was kept on gold tablets, passed from generation to generation, compiled by
a warrior named Mormon and finally buried in upstate New York by his son Moroni.
A golden statue of Moroni, now an angel and holding a long trumpet, stands
atop most Mormon temples — all unofficially pointing toward Jackson County,
Missouri, which Mormons believe is the geographic center of the continent,
and where they believe Jesus will make his Second Coming. That's a free tip
for you property investors.
Now the early days of the Mormon church were violent. It all began around
1827 when a young man of 22 named Joseph Smith revealed that Moroni had been
appearing to him in dreams for some time, and had guided him to the location
of the buried gold plates. With divine guidance, he translated the plates
from the "modified Egyptian" in which they were written, published
the text as the Book of Mormon, and begun to acquire followers. This was a
tall order in those days of staunch Protestant Christianity, and the
early days of the church were bloody indeed. Whole wars were fought in counties
throughout Illinois and Missouri, and it was some decades before the Mormons
decided enough was enough, and were led by Brigham Young to the safe haven
of Utah, where they founded their kingdom called Salt Lake City, and got to
work building some of our finest ski resorts.
Once we get past their early years, when murders and even massacres were
committed by both sides, what you'll find to be generally true of Mormons today
is that they are among the most upstanding of citizens. They generally don't
drink or smoke, crime is almost unheard of, they have great family values,
and if you believe Playboy magazine, BYU women are among the hottest in the
nation. It's true that toward the end of his life, Howard Hughes kept his inner
circle composed largely of Mormons, not because they never drank as some stories
say, but because he felt they were the only people who were truly trustworthy.
You could do a lot worse than Mormons if you want good next-door neighbors.
They even use pooper scoopers.
So what is there about the Mormons to be skeptical of? Well, it's not the
polygamy, which the church gave up as a condition of statehood in 1896. Certainly
nobody who believes in the Bible should have a problem with polygamy, and most
of the rest of us couldn't care less how many wives other people want to have.
It's not even the whole thing with the gold plates, evidenced only by a sworn
testimonial from Joseph Smith's closest confidants who claimed, as Mark Twain
noted, to have "hefted" them. It's not even that Joseph Smith couldn't
possibly have written that much detailed and well-constructed stuff all by
himself: Whether he did it himself or was assisted by his team of ghost writers
doesn't prove or disprove anything about the accuracy of its contents.
The part of Mormonism to be skeptical about is the demonstrably untrue ancient
People who believe in Bible stories are on thin enough ice as it is, but at
least a lot of them have enough sense to say that the stories are allegorical
and not meant to be taken literally. Mormonism, on the other hand, claims that
the history in the Book of Mormon is the correct history of the peoples of
the American continents, no allegory involved. Yet, every falsifiable detail
of the Mormon account has been easily shown to be completely untrue.
For one thing, the genetic evidence shows that native populations in the Americas
came from Asia via the land bridge at the Bering Sea, not from Europe. American
native populations fall into one of four haplogroups. Haplogroups are the main
branches of the human genealogical tree, defined by markers on the Y chromosome
and mitochondrial DNA, and corresponding to early human migrations to the various
continents. The consensus of opinion among biological anthropologists is that
all four American haplogroups bear markers that tie them to Asia. There is
very little dissent from this consensus, and what little there is comes mainly
from fringe religious groups. Dr. Michael F. Whiting, a biologist with Brigham
Young University's Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, responds to
the majority opinion thusly:
The first point that should be clarified is that those persons who state
that DNA evidence falsifies the authenticity of the Book of Mormon are
not themselves performing genetic research to test this claim. This conclusion
is not coming from the scientists studying human population genetics. It
is not the result of a formal scientific investigation specifically designed
to test the authenticity of the Book of Mormon by means of genetic evidence,
nor has it been published in any reputable scientific journal open to scientific
peer review. Rather, it has come from outside persons who have interpreted
the conclusions of an array of population genetic studies and forced the
applicability of these results onto the Book of Mormon. The studies cited
by these critics were never formulated by their original authors as a specific
test of the veracity of the Book of Mormon. To my knowledge there is no
reputable researcher who is specifically attempting to test the authenticity
of the Book of Mormon with DNA evidence.
This is probably true, and the reason is that the Book of Mormon is not a
scientific theory. If it was, research teams would be trying to test it and
falsify it, to verify its validity. Since it's a religious myth, there are
about as many legitimately funded biologists studying it as there are zoologists
trying to determine whether serpents can talk.
Evidence against the Book of Mormon is not just genetic. The Book of Mormon
is full of references to technologies and species that are known to have not
existed in pre-Columbian America. Michael Coe, an archaeologist at Yale University,
There is an inherent improbability in specific items that are mentioned
in the Book of Mormon as having been brought to the New World by...Nephites.
Among these are the horse, the chariot, wheat, barley, and [true] metallurgy.
The picture of this hemisphere...presented in the book has little to do
with the early Indian cultures as we know them.
Mormon scholars do have answers to some of these questions. For example, they
propose that meteoric nickel-iron alloy could have been mistaken for steel.
FairLDS.org defends the Book of Mormon against the contradicting scientific
evidence, in a series of lengthy essays full of scientific language, yet often
citing the Bible as the authority for its assumptions. Well, it's all well
and good to hypothesize all day long, but the only thing we can know for sure
is what we find in the physical evidence. And all the evidence shows that many
technologies and species described in the Book of Mormon were introduced to
the continent in modern times, and that the native Americans all descend from
Asian migrations many thousands of years before the Book of Mormon stories
were said to take place.
There are no better next door neighbors than Mormons. No better examples of
family values and clean, healthy living. But, you can be all of those things
and have all of those things — including
being a good Christian, if that's what you want — without insisting on
the literal truth of a nineteenth century book that is not only improbable,
but is exhaustively evidenced to be false.
Are you or someone you know a Mormon? How do you reconcile your faith
with the contradicting evidence? Do you have or know of real evidence that
bucks the scientific consensus? Come to Skeptoid.com and tell us about it.
Either comment on this podcast, post it in the Skeptoid.com forum, or put it
on the Skeptalk email discussion list.