Three Great New Mormon Podcasts

I’ve written before about the awesome LDS Perspectives podcast, and lately three more worthwhile productions have started and caught my eye. It’s worth your time to check them out:

The Interpreter Radio Show. A weekly audio broadcast by the Interpreter Foundation, publishers of the eponymous journal of scripture scholarship, this roundtable discussion has a rotating panel that discusses various timely topics of interest to Latter-day Saints. Like the journal itself, it’s a reliable source for enlightenment, entertainment, and edification.

Rare Possessions Podcast. This one is put out by Book of Mormon Central, and each weekly edition features a discussion of–and then a short reading from–classic but largely forgotten works about the Book of Mormon. The most recent show is devoted to the life and work of the great, recently-departed scholar John Tvedtnes. Definitely listen.

True Blue Mormon Podcast. The newest entry in this list–they have three episodes under their belt–this new show has a cast of hosts who are active in the online world (the excellent Jr. Ganymede blog gets more than one shout out), and thus the show has a largely apologetic bent, both in terms of doctrine and culture. This fills a major hole, and is much appreciated.

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My YouTube Interview With a Christian Apologist About the LDS Church

Nick K. of the “Next Generation Saints” channel is a really awesome guy. He contacted me a couple of weeks ago wanting to do a live online discussion about the our respective beliefs. I’ve been wanting to do something similar for a while, so I gladly agreed. We streamed our discussion yesterday, and we both think it went great. In fact, we want to do more of these! I’m really grateful for this opportunity to share my testimony of Jesus Christ.

Ten Thoughts After Debating Hundreds of Anti-Mormons

A little over four years ago, I posted this video about Book of Mormon evidence online. In the last year or so, it has really taken off, and now has over 77,000 views, with over 1300 comments. Many of those comments are from me–I read and respond to almost everything. Here are some things I’ve noticed from engaging those comments:

  • Many people who comment clearly have not watched any of the video at all. They’re posting pre-conditioned talking points on the subject. Most of those people, even when explicitly invited to do so, still do not watch the video. Even when I reply to a comment with just a single, simple question, most people will never return to comment again.
  • Even when I make it clear that my only criteria for posting is that people refrain from rudeness and that they address my questions, many people still won’t. If they repeatedly abuse my hospitality and I block them, others will complain about censorship. To be fair, though, on the other hand, I’ve also had to block several Mormons who won’t stop insulting critics or “spiking the ball” about how the critics are failing to make their points, even after I insist that they be nicer. It’s weird and frustrating.
  • The saddest exchange I’ve had is with a young woman who didn’t care if the evidence was true or not. She had decided to openly rebel against God, whether He’s real or not, because religion doesn’t line up with her political preferences. I didn’t know how to respond to that–it really was shocking. I think this may well be representative of a lot of people these days. It’s nothing short of heartbreaking.
  • Dozens of people have complimented the video overall, but have scolded me for not embracing the Heartland model of Book of Mormon geography. Every time, I tell them that I don’t really care about it, but I post a link to a summary of arguments on the topic and invite them to respond. Not one ever has.
  • Dozens of others have explained the evidence for the Book of Mormon by claiming that Satan inspired it. Nothing else productive ever happens after that.
  • Some of my favorite comments are ones posted from other countries and even in other languages. I’ve used Google Translate to reply to such comments more than once, and it’s a wonderful experience.
  • This hobby has taught me that there are sections of the world where the cruelest, most superficial stereotypes about Mormons and our beliefs are alive and well. There is still a lot of work to do.
  • Many people have written claiming to be innocent investigators who have honest questions. Such people are almost always undercover critics, and they reveal their hostility before long. It’s apparently a standard anti-Mormon trick.
  • Often a commenter will be shown definitively that a claim they’ve made is wrong–not as a matter of belief, but merely as basic factual inaccuracy–and then they’ll repeat the claim again later on in another comment. That makes me feel like I’m wasting my time.
  • But many others have said that they were impressed to study the book because of the video, and that’s immensely satisfying. Dozens have said that it has strengthened their faith. That makes it all worth it! :)

Joseph Smith and Chiasmus: Means, Motive, and Opportunity

132This year marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of chiasmus, an ancient poetic writing style, in the Book of Mormon. A great jubilee celebration is being held at BYU this week to commemorate it.

I’ve talked to a lot of critics of the Book of Mormon about this, and the most popular response is that chiasmus isn’t that hard to figure out or write, and that Joseph Smith must have just integrated it into his “hoax.”

But this really doesn’t make sense. Once we look at the situation critics propose in detail, we see that an authentically ancient Book of Mormon is more reasonable than their theory!

In short, critics have only weak answers for the “how” of chiasmus being in the Book of Mormon, and absolutely no answer at all for the “why.”

Let’s consider those three classic staples of investigating a crime: means, motive, and opportunity.

MEANS

Did Joseph Smith have the ability to figure out chiasmus and then duplicate it? For a critic to answer yes to this, they would have to agree with this scenario:

  • Decades before the term was even named by modern scholars, Joseph was able to discern this style from its fragmented, muted use in the Bible. There is no record of anybody else outside of professional scholars ever doing this.
  • Not only did he perform that amazing feat, but he found the writing style significant enough to notice and incorporate into his “hoax” manuscript.
  • Not only did he somehow figure all of this out, but he was able to create a huge number of these poetic narratives–several dozen, at least, and maybe hundreds–covering single verses, entire books, and every length in between, and he did so with clever word play and thematic coherence (consider the literally Christ-centered chiasmus in Alma 36, pictured above, for example).
  • Not only did he do that, but he appears to have done so with no notes, no practice, and with no review or revision to his manuscript. Certainly, all existing manuscript evidence supports this–the critic who would imagine otherwise has to invent hypothetical evidence.
  • Not only did he do that, but then for some reason he restricted its use primarily to that manuscript only–he later produced reams of revelations and other documents, like the books of Moses and Abraham, but none of these would ever use chiasmus again in anywhere near the degree or complexity with which it appears in the Book of Mormon. If it was so easy and he was so good at it, then why not?

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An Open Letter to Trent Horn

Hi Trent!

I heard you on the radio last Monday talking about Mormonism. I tried calling in but the lines were busy. I tweeted you on Tuesday asking to talk about it, but you haven’t responded yet–maybe you’re busy?

At any rate, I thought this post might be a good way to open a dialogue, if you’re OK with that. Feel free to respond to any and all of the items I discuss here, or proceed as you see fit. I look forward to a friendly and respectful, but candid and productive discussion!

I didn’t hear the entire program, as I was driving around and running errands at the time, but I think I got the gist of it; certainly, I heard enough to be able to address what I think your major points were.

First, I want to offer some general observations, in the form of questions, about what I heard you say on the radio. (I’d love to hear your actual answers to these questions, please–they’re not meant to be merely hypothetical!) Then I’ll cover a few of the biggest specific issues you raised.

10 questions regarding general observations

1. You invited Mormons to call in and discuss your teachings, and this leads me to wonder: have you engaged many Latter-day Saints in conversation about your claims regarding us? Have any of them had the equivalent education and training in their religion that you’ve had in yours? Do you feel you have a solid understanding of what LDS answers to your objections are?

What have their responses been? Have you found any of those responses compelling at all?

If not, doesn’t it strike you as odd that a religion with so many adherents should be incapable of adequately explaining *any* of your claims? Might that seem to indicate the presence of confirmation bias on your part?

Do you ever address these responses in your presentations on Mormonism? If not, why not?

2. If you have not sought out responses from qualified Latter-day Saints, why not? Shouldn’t someone who professionally teaches about the perceived negatives of another group seek out responses and even rebuttals from that group as assiduously as possible as part of their own preparation? Wouldn’t that bolster your credibility and, frankly, be the most civil thing to do?

3. What have been the primary sources of your education about Latter-day Saints? What would say are your top five sources? Continue reading

200 Years For Three Generations

On Thursday of this week, people in my stake read the Book of Mormon’s little Book of Enos.  At the end of that short work, Enos says that as he approached the end of his life, “an hundred and seventy and nine years had passed away from the time that our father Lehi left Jerusalem.” (Enos 1:25)

That actually used to bug me–it seemed implausible that nearly 200 years could pass in the space of only three generations.  Any time I tried to make the math work, it just didn’t seem realistic.

But upon reading it again this week, I remembered this story from a couple of years ago: John Tyler, 10th president of the United States, who was born in 1790, has grandsons who are still alive.

Not great-great-great-grandsons, mind you.  Grandsons.

That’s well over 220 years covered by only three generations, more than 40 years longer than the time mentioned in the Book of Mormon.  If you figure that Lehi might have been about 40 when he “left Jerusalem,” the chronologies aren’t far off at all.  Indeed, the Book of Mormon says that Enos’s father Jacob was the next-to-youngest son of a large family (1 Nephi 18:7), and that his parents were quite old at the time (1 Nephi 18:17-18).  Enos may well have also been a youngest son of old age.

179 years from 1 Nephi 2 until the end of Enos is perfectly plausible.

Top 10 Book of Mormon Evidences

I think this is one of the best Book of Mormon videos on YouTube–certainly, it gives the most information in the shortest time, and with great visual aids.  Yes, this is a greatly improved version of a video I did in June.  Please enjoy and share!

The Moon Landing and The Book of Mormon As Hoaxes?

Does the Book of Mormon make sense as a hoax?  Compare it to the 1969 moon landing.

I just saw about the billionth joke on TV about the moon landing being a hoax.  This old conspiracy theory is usually referenced as a crackpot belief these days, and rightfully so.

Consider all the logical problems with the moon landing being a hoax:

  • Motive.  Beating the Soviets in the space race?  Couldn’t it have been achieved with far less effort and risk in many other ways?
  • Benefits.  What did we really get out of this?  A brief bump in pride and some cool photos?  Again, these could have been achieved in far easier ways.
  • Costs.  Absolutely staggering amounts of money were sunk into building and executing this project over many years.  Not sensible if it was fake.
  • Means.  Did we really have the ability to pull off this scam?  It would have required tons of complicit agents, sets and props, bribes, image effects, and a host of lying witnesses, to say the least.  The whole scheme seems very implausible.
  • Secrecy.  With all that would have been involved, nobody blew the lid on this hoax, ever?  Even when there would have been huge financial rewards for doing so?
  • Odds.  What are the chances that all this worked out, if wasn’t real?  History shows that such attempts fall apart.  The singular legacy of this project attests to its reality.
  • Repetition.  Where else has our government pulled off a hoax on this scale?  If they were able to do it once, they would have done so again.

Of course, each of these seven things also testifies of the reality of the Book of Mormon as an ancient document, divinely delivered to and translated for the modern world, and not as a 19th century hoax by Joseph Smith: Continue reading

Volcanoes and Lightning

NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day, March 11, 2013: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap130311.html

NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, March 11, 2013: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap130311.html

And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth.  3 Nephi 8:17, the Book of Mormon

The huge, destructive storm described in 3 Nephi 8 has long been mysterious to some and derided by others, but in recent years, some scholars have shown that the features described there (wind, earthquakes, darkness, and lightning) fit a volcanic eruption.  (See here and here, for example.)

Certainly, Joseph Smith knew nothing about volcanism.  The existence of this storm narrative makes far more sense as a summary written by those who experienced it.

The photo above, one of NASA’s Astronomy Pictures of the Day from last week, dramatically illustrates the plausability of that story.  Volcanic eruptions do produce lightning.  Pretty cool lightning at that!

The Book of Mormon and Gulliver’s Travels As Hoaxes

The New Republic just published a long article which includes a summary of LDS history.  While repeating many expected errors (why is Mormonism apparently so hard to research and fact-check?), one passage about the Book of Mormon especially stood out to me:

 By the 1820s, the jeremiad had long been a pervasive rhetorical form among American Puritans and their republican descendants. Nor was that the only connection between this supposedly timeless text and its early American context. There were references to debates over infant baptism, church government, and revivalism, allusions to fears of secret societies, and other evidence that marked the book as a product of its historical moment. 

This flavor of brusque dismissal has been around since the book was published: if some fraction of the text can be interpreted as similar to some elements of the environment at the time of publication, then it must have been written at that time.

Such a myopic approach leaves out the majority of the text, evidences in its favor, and alternate explanations.  It’s a desperate attempt to come up with an easy origin for the book—any explanation other than Joseph Smith’s will do—and then forget that the whole issue ever existed.

It’s ultimately a lazy and disingenuous endeavor, one completely divorced from intellectual honesty.

I’ll illustrate.

Imagine that after Jonathan Swift wrote his satirical masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels in the early 1720s, he took it to the American colonies and buried it instead of publishing it.  Continue reading

Exposing What Mormons “Really” Believe

I’ve lost track of how many articles lately, and how very many comments on articles,  claim to reveal to the world the secret, sinister beliefs of the LDS Church.  Their attempts at scandalous revelations tend to revolve around the same few topics, and they’ve all been squarely addressed (I covered the whole “Mormons want to become gods who rule their own planets” trope last summer), so I don’t want to analyze them one by one here.

What most strikes me about these alleged controversies, though, is how deep into obscure arcana the critics have to dig in order to find objectionable stuff.    If the worst dirt you can find on an organization is based on a handful of rumors, gossip, and secondhand quotes from 19th century figures, how bad can the organization really be?

Imagine a make and model of a car that someone wants to take down.  So they write some snarky blurbs about it online that show the world the truth: the company logo on the rear end is kind of derivative.  And the antenna is a bit hard to unscrew.  And don’t even get me started on the horrors of the rubber coating under the front passenger floor mat.

“Trust me,” says our automotive Internet muckraker, “I know all about the dark, seedy underbelly of this scam.”

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The Decline and Fall of FARMS?

In short, it seems that a bureaucrat at BYU has railroaded out a whole generation of scholars from their formerly-fine Book of Mormon studies publications.  The era of faithful apologetics at BYU may be over, replaced by some vague desire to go in an as-yet undefined direction.

Daniel Peterson, a great advocate of the Book of Mormon, has been unceremoniously given the boot, apparently along with a host of other scholars. I don’t want to rehash the whole sordid affair here, but here’s a brief intro from a longer and excellent summary:

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Catholic Scholar at First Things Gives Book of Mormon Backhanded Praise

A new article up at First Things recounts a Catholic professor’s experience reading the Book of Mormon.  Although he does not have a spiritual experience with it, he finds much to praise in its insistent focus on Christ, and some to criticize in its drabness.  I rejoice whenever anyone recognizes the former, and frankly have no argument with the latter.  Though any Mormon would quibble with a few things in the piece, he brings up some terrific points–I especially like the whole “grandfather’s funeral” analogy–and the whole thing is definitely worth reading.  The money quote:

Mormonism is obsessed with Christ, and everything that it teaches is meant to awaken, encourage, and expand faith in him. It adds to the plural but coherent portrait of Jesus that emerges from the four gospels in a way, I am convinced, that does not significantly damage or deface that portrait.

I came to this conclusion when I read through the Book of Mormon for the first time. I already knew the basic outline: that it recounts the journey of a people God led from Jerusalem to the Americas six hundred years before the birth of Christ. In America, they split into two groups, the good guys (the Nephites) and the bad guys (the Lamanites), who battled each other until there were no good guys left—except for Moroni (Mormon’s son), who buried the chronicles of their wars and then, in 1823, told a farm boy from upstate New York where to find them.

When I actually read this book, however, I was utterly surprised. I was not moved, mind you. The Book of Mormon has to be one of the most lackluster of all the great works of literature that have inspired enduring religious movements. Yet it is dull precisely because it is all about Jesus. Continue reading

Defending Internal Book of Mormon Evidence: The Lesson of Proto-Indo-European

Critics of the Book of Mormon often deride it for its apparent lack of archaeological corroboration.  Indeed, most of the evidence that bears on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon is “internal,” meaning evidence derived from the text of the book itself.  Those given to rejecting an ancient origin for the Book of Mormon often denigrate the value of internal evidence, perhaps considering anything not in the purview of Indiana Jones to not be “real” evidence.  For some, it seems, physical remains are all that counts.

As someone whose interests are primarily linguistic, and as someone who loves and believes in the Book of Mormon, I find this intellectually and spiritually disingenuous.  Frankly, ignoring the importance of linguistic evidence in a study is unscientific. 

Consider the study of the Indo-European language family, and its prehistoric origins among groups of people who spoke a language that we call Proto-Indo-European. 

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We’ll Be Gods Of Our Own Planets? What Mormons Really Believe

As our society’s “Mormon moment” continues, with the award-winning Book of Mormon musical selling out shows and a second Latter-day Saint announcing a run for the presidency, I think we’ll see more attempts by some to “expose” what they see as embarrassing or bizarre aspects of the church.  Perhaps chief among their targets will be our doctrine of exaltation.  But the descriptions given of this belief will likely be grossly warped, as they usually are.

Case in point: not only was exaltation mocked as a weird, scary secret in an anti-Mormon CNN blog post a couple of weeks ago, but an article in The American Conservative this week garnered two consecutive comments that depicted exaltation in an erroneous light:

They believe that their destiny is to become a god on another planet.

and then:

Furthermore, they claim that we are all potential gods (if we are good little Mormons) with our own universes to rule one day.

Neither of these remarks is accurate.  My goal here is to define what Mormons do and don’t believe about exaltation, as best as I can.

Continue reading