CES Reply: No clear insights into the origins of this practice

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnells “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

Other Concerns & Questions:

These concerns are secondary to all of the above.  These concerns do not matter if the foundational truth claims (Book of Mormon, First Visions, Prophets, Book of Abraham, Witnesses, Priesthood, Temples, etc.) are not true.

Okay.

1.Church’s Dishonesty and Whitewashing Over Its History

Adding to the above deceptions and dishonesty over history (rock in hat translation,

Yeah, gotta get in at least one more mention of the rock in the hat.

polygamy/polyandry, multiple First Vision accounts, etc.),

Which, of course, we’ve repeatedly discussed already,

the following bother me:

2013 Official Declaration 2 Header Update Dishonesty:

“Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent.  Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.”

Haven’t we already talked about this? I guess this is a minor variation on a previous theme – not a complaint about the priesthood ban, but on how we talk about it. The Church says that we don’t have clear insights about how the ban started. That’s an accurate statement. Yet you offer the following to claim that it’s inaccurate:

The following is a 1949 First Presidency Statement:

Not really. The following is a letter written by the First Presidency to a private individual. Calling it a “First Presidency Statement” implies that it was issued to the general membership of the church, which it was not.

“August 17, 1949

Hey! That’s my birthday! (Well, not the 1949 part.)

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord,

I, too, have problems with the underlined part of this statement, as it contradicts President McKay’s labeling of the band as a “policy, not a doctrine,” but I presume you’ve underlined it because you think it contradicts the statement that we don’t have clear insights into the origin of the ban. It doesn’t. We have no record of a revelation – i.e. a direct commandment from the Lord – putting the ban in place, and we don’t know when the ban actually began, given the fact that Joseph Smith ordained black people to the priesthood.

This was written in 1949, around a century after the ordination of black people stopped, but we can’t put a precise date on when that happened, since Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. (See what I did there?)

on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: ‘Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.

Okay, I find the underlined portion to be a racist explanation for the ban that the Church has since disavowed, but how does it offer any clear insight as to how and when the ban began?

President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: ‘The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.’

See? There was some light amid the darkness. No clear insight into the origins of the ban here, though.

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.

The First Presidency”

This is a faulty and racist explanation of the ban, surely, but it in no way offers insight into how and when the ban originated.

Along with the above First Presidency statement, there are many other statements and explanations made by prophets and apostles clearly “justifying” the Church’s racism.

Correct. But your problem, as you described it initially in this objection, is that you think the Church is lying when it says we don’t know when and how the ban first began. Faulty justifications for racism are a problem, but they’re a different problem than the one you’re raising here. You’re switching horses in midstream.

So, the 2013 edition Official Declaration 2 Header in the scriptures is not only misleading, it’s dishonest.  We do have records – including from the First Presidency itself – with very clear insights on the origins of the ban on the blacks.

No, these are insights into why the ban was perpetuated, not into how it began. When was the ban implemented? We don’t know; Church records provide no clear insights. Was the ban a deliberate decision, or was it just something that started happening in practice and was later institutionalized as church policy? I believe the latter to be the case, but we don’t know for sure – Church records provide no clear insights.

December 2013 Update:   The Church released a Race and the Priesthood essay which contradicts their 2013 Official Declaration 2 Header.  In the essay, they point to Brigham Young as the originator of the ban.

Not really. The essay insists that Brigham Young was the first to announce the ban in 1852, but there is plenty of evidence that, in practice, black people had not been ordained to the priesthood for many years prior to that announcement. Did the ordination of black people stop at some point in Joseph Smith’s lifetime? Maybe. Many leaders after Brigham certainly thought it did. Fact is, we don’t know. Church records offer no clear insights as to the origins of the ban.

Further, they effectively throw 10 latter-day “Prophets, Seers, and Revelators” under the bus as they “disavow” the “theories” that these ten men taught and justified – for 130 years – as doctrine and revelation for the Church’s institutional and theological racism.

When additional light and knowledge comes into the world, we rejoice for what we now have rather than condemn those who didn’t have it. People are judged only according to the light and knowledge they have received. That way, nobody gets thrown under the bus.

Finally, they denounce the idea that God punishes individuals with black skin or that God withholds blessings based on the color of one’s skin while completely ignoring the contradiction of the keystone Book of Mormon teaching exactly this.

You couldn’t be more wrong on this one. The Book of Mormon’s references to skin color have precisely zero to do with the priesthood ban, which was solely applied to men of African descent, not Native Americans, who, because of the Book of Mormon, are promised tremendous blessings that are arguably even greater than those promised to us boring white people.

In addition, the Lamanites were never denied the priesthood and had no blessings withheld because of their skin color, and were often more righteous than the lighter-skinner Nephites. Here’s some good anti-racist counsel from a Nephite prophet: “Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them [i.e. the Lamanites] because of the darkness of their skins;” (Jacob 3:9.)

Yesterday’s revelation and doctrine is today’s “disavowed theories.” Yesterday’s prophets are today’s disavowed heretics.

Amen! Here a little, precept on precept, great things to be revealed, and all that stuff I’ve already said every time you repeat this little mantra of yours.

Zina Diantha Huntington Young:

The following is a quick biographic snapshot of Zina:

She was married for 7.5 months and was about 6 months pregnant with her first husband, Henry Jacobs, when she married Joseph after being told Joseph’s life was in danger from an angel with a drawn sword.

Wrong. She was sealed to Joseph for eternity only, never married to him. (No sex.) The angel with the drawn sword did not threaten to kill Joseph if he didn’t marry Zina.

After Joseph’s death, she married Brigham Young and had Young’s baby while her first husband, Henry, was on a mission.

Since she and her first husband, Henry, were no longer living as husband and wife when she had Young’s baby, the fact that he was on a mission is irrelevant. You’re misleadingly implying that this was polyandry, when it wasn’t.

Zina would eventually become the Third General Relief Society President of the Church.

Good for her! Sound like she was a remarkable woman.

If anyone needs proof that the Church is still whitewashing history in 2014 aside from the above-mentioned issues, Zina is it.   

Cool! A smoking gun! Let’s hear it.

The  following are 100% LDS  sources:

Zina’s biographical page on LDS.org:

In the “Marriage and Family” section, it does not list Joseph Smith as a husband or concurrent husband with Henry Jacobs.

That’s probably because Joseph wasn’t her husband or concurrent husband with Henry Jacobs. They never lived together as husband and wife.

In the “Marriage and Family” section, it does not list Brigham Young as a concurrent husband with Henry Jacobs.

Probably because she ended her marriage with Henry Jacobs when she was sealed to Brigham Young.

There is nothing in there about the polyandry.

Which is not surprising, given the absence of polyandry.

It is deceptive in stating that Henry and Zina “did not remain together” while omitting that Henry separated only after Brigham Young took his wife and told Henry that Zina was now only his (Brigham) wife.

How is it deceptive? They did not, in fact, remain together. The idea that Henry was the only one who “separated” and that Brigham Young “took” Henry’s wife is rather sexist, as it presupposes that Zina herself had no say in the matter. The LDS.org biography plainly states that Zina was Brigham Young’s plural wife.

This is Zina’s index file on LDS-owned FamilySearch.org:

It clearly shows all of Zina’s husbands, including her marriage to Joseph Smith.

Wasn’t your problem that the LDS Church was whitewashing its history by purging references to Zina’s sealing to Joseph? If that’s the case, how did this reference escape the purge?

In any case, the purpose of Family Search.org is to gather information for temple work, so it makes sense that an eternity-only sealing would be referenced.

Why is Joseph Smith not listed as one of Zina’s husbands in the “Marriage and Family” section or anywhere else on her biographical page on LDS.org?

Because the “Marriage and Family” section doesn’t have any lists at all. She never lived with Joseph as his wife – she was sealed to him for eternity only. He was not one of her husbands in mortality.

Why is there not a single mention or hint of polyandry on her page

Because she was not engaged in polyandry.

or in that marriage section when she was married to two latter-day prophets and having children with Brigham Young while still being married to her first husband, Henry?

Because she was not married to two latter-day prophets. She was married to one and only sealed to the other. Also because she was not still married to Henry when she had a single child – not multiple children – with Brigham Young.

Brigham Young Sunday School Manual:

In the Church’s Sunday School manual, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, the Church changed the word “wives” to “[wife].”

Yeah, that probably wasn’t the best choice. In fact, the parenthetical insertion probably calls attention to Brigham’s polygamy more than if it had been left unchanged. (If the Church was really trying to whitewash, they would have just left off the S and not acknowledge that the text had been changed.) The case can be made that they’re changing the word to apply Brigham’s teachings to a modern audience, but if I were making the call, it’s not what I would have done.

Not only is the manual deceptive in disclosing whether or not Brigham Young was a polygamist but it’s deceptive in hiding Brigham Young’s real teaching on marriage:  “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.” – Journal of Discourses 11:269

We’ve covered this. In the same speech, he clarified twice that this meant you had to accept the doctrine of polygamy, not necessarily be a polygamist.

When you repeat yourself, I have to repeat myself. It gets really tedious.

Next: Follow the Money

The Many and the One

When my father, former Senator Bob Bennett, passed away just over a month ago, our family was inundated with kind messages of love and support. Glowing tributes appeared in the media, and my siblings and I read every one we could find. We also, against our better judgment, read the public comments people made online.

For the most part, the comments were just as kind as the articles, but there were some glaring, obnoxious exceptions. One guy went on every site he could find to remind people of the eyesore that was the abandoned Bennett Glass and Paint Warehouse that used to be on the corner of 21st South and 300 West, a building my father didn’t own and had nothing to do with. Another thought that excoriating my father as a RINO was appropriate in light of his passing, as if a parting partisan shot was going to make a difference. One person just typed two words: “Ding, dong…” As in, I assume, “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.” Every nasty barb made my blood boil, and even if such messages were preceded by a dozen lovely sentiments, the nasty ones overshadowed everything else.

Nastiness tends to do that. Just a tiny bit of it can color your entire perception, like a single drop of red food coloring into an otherwise clear glass of water. The transparent water outweighs the red, but the red distorts and changes everything else, far in excess to its actual percentage of the overall liquid.

Remembering this is helpful as I am forced to absorb the news of the horrific massacre in Orlando, the worst mass shooting in American history. As the response to this latest atrocity breaks down predictably along partisan and ideological lines, I find myself uninterested in taking sides, because I think the sides are increasingly defined by a small amount of negativity that is perceived to be much broader than it really is. And I think we are all diminished when we assume that a single drop of bile is actually an ocean, and that vast swaths of our fellow human beings are as odious as the monster who perpetrated these crimes.

How many people, in the wake of these murders, have stated that most Republicans are indifferent to gun violence? They aren’t. With a handful of odious exceptions, they’re as torn up about this as everyone else. How many people, in the wake of these murders, think that Muslims applauded this slaughter? They didn’t. With a handful of odious exceptions, they’re as horrified by this as everyone else.  How many people, in the wake of these murders, believe religionists, or at least those who teach that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful, would like to see gay people gunned down in cold blood? They wouldn’t. With a handful of odious exceptions, they’re as heartbroken by this as everyone else.

Yet in the wake of every publicly evil act, we only hear from the exceptions and not the rules. We get posts about the one repugnant pastor who prayed for gays to die, or the one Muslim extremist dreaming of 72 virgins, or the one hillbilly who thinks he has a constitutional right to own an ICBM, or the one Donald Trump who thinks keeping all Muslims from immigrating to America would have prevented a terrorist attack perpetuated by an American citizen who has been here his whole life. (Sorry. Cheap shot.)

The point is that we’re shown the One, and then we’re told the One represents the Many. And maybe, as in the case of the Trump-ites, they do represent the Many. But I have to think that, in most cases, they do not. And certainly it would improve our interactions with each other, as we each try to come to terms with senseless violence and find ways to prevent it, if we were to speak to each other one on one, and not make the lazy assumption that those who disagree with us are equivalent to the very worst representatives of any Many that we don’t like.

I think that would actually help.

CES Reply: Scriptural Weirdness

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnells “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

Scriptures Concerns & Questions:

To believe in the scriptures, I have to believe in a god who endorsed murder, genocide, infanticide, rape, slavery, selling daughters into sex slavery, polygamy, child abuse, stoning disobedient children, pillage, plunder, sexism, racism, human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, killing people who work on the Sabbath, death penalty for those who mix cotton with polyester, and so on.

No, you have to believe that ancient scripture is hard to understand to modern audiences, that it includes a mix of literal and figurative that we aren’t fully capable of discerning, and that human error can get in the way of correctly interpreting God. Also, you have to believe that Mormonism doesn’t believe in inerrant scripture.

Aside from scientifically discredited stories mentioned earlier, the following scriptures are some among many which make it hard for me believe the scriptures literally and that the scriptures hold any credibility:

Those are two very different things. Many scriptures aren’t intended to be interpreted literally, which means they’re designed to lack scientific credibility. That doesn’t mean they necessarily lack spiritual credibility.

1. D&C 132:

I’m supposed to believe in a god who issued an FLDS style revelation that states stuff like: the only form of polygamy permitted is a union with a virgin

We’ve talked about this. In context here, “virgin” doesn’t mean what you think it means.

after first giving the opportunity to the first wife to consent to the marriage. If the first wife doesn’t consent, the husband is exempt and may still take an additional wife, but the first wife must at least have the opportunity to consent. In case the first wife doesn’t consent, she will be “destroyed.”

“Destroyed” doesn’t mean what you think it means, either. You’ve already said all this.

  1. Also, the new wife must be a virgin before the marriage and be completely monogamous after the marriage or she will be destroyed.

Again, “virgin” and “destroyed” mean “sexually pure” and “left without posterity in the marriage.” Context helps. So does avoiding reading scripture using narrow, legalistic interpretations.

  1. Numbers 31:

This is truly despicable behavior from God and Moses.  Under God’s direction, Moses’ army defeats the Midianites. They kill all the adult males, but take the women and children captive. When Moses learns that they left some alive, he angrily says: “Have you saved all the women alive? Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” So they went back and did as Moses – the Lord’s prophet – commanded, killing everyone except for the virgins. In this way, they got 32,000 virgins. This is the same prophet that Joseph Smith claimed to have appeared to him and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836 for the “gathering of Israel.”

Nice little maneuver to tie Joseph and Oliver to ancient genocide for which they were not even remotely responsible. Did you know that Gwyneth Paltrow named her son Moses – after the prophet who killed the Midianites and gathered up their virgins? What is she, Hitler?

Look, you can find apologetic explanations of this story from any number of sources, most of them non-Mormon, and scholars who understand these ancient cultures can provide context that neither of us understand. From my non-scholarly Webelos-leader perspective, the bottom line is that the Old Testament is a record of a time and culture wholly displaced from our own, and it’s written with a mixture of figurative stories and historical reality. It’s never easy for even the smartest or most inspired minds to know which is which.

When you bump into a wacky story like this, you have to recognize that there’s huge chunks of info that we just don’t have, and that Mormons, unlike many orthodox Christians, teach that the Bible contains errors, and some of them are real doozies. Just know that if Mormons or anyone try to use these passages to justify modern genocide and rape, I’m going to run as fast and far as I can in the opposite direction.

4.1 Nephi 4:

The Lord commands Nephi to murder (decapitate) Laban for the brass plates.  Never mind that Laban was drunk and defenseless.  The argument that Laban would send his servants after Nephi and his brothers is ridiculous considering that the same God who had no problem lighting stones and taming swarms of bees (Ether 2-3) for the Brother of Jared can also preserve Nephi.  This story has been used as a defense in killings by religious people.

No doubt God could preserve Nephi. No doubt God could have teleported the plates from Laban’s study into Lehi’s lap. In fact, God has the capacity to end world hunger, enforce world peace, and rid the world of Donald Trump. But in doing so, he would defeat the whole purpose of mortality, where we are each called upon to exercise our agency and walk by faith. That means that God doesn’t use his Deus Ex Machina very often, if at all. Nephi had a difficult moral decision to make, and such decisions always involve competition between two righteous values.

John Welch’s discussion of the legality of Nephi’s actions is an interesting perspective on this, too.

5.Exodus 12:12:

God kills all the firstborn children in Egypt except for those who put blood on their doors? What kind of a god is this? Like the flood, what kind of a loving god would kill innocent children for the actions of others?

Does the Book of Exodus provide a specific body count? How much of this is Old Testament hyperbole? How historically and scientifically accurate should we assume this, or any other Old Testament story, to be?

As for “what kind of a loving god would kill innocent children for the actions of others,” the answer is a god who would sacrifice his perfectly innocent Only Begotten Son for your sins and mine. This story is dripping with messianic symbolism, which suggests that a figurative rather than a literal interpretation of this story is a wiser approach.

6.Deuteronomy 21:18-21:

Got a rebellious kid who doesn’t listen?  Take him to the elders and to the end of the gates and stone him to death!

Verse 21 ends with the phrase, “and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” This reads to me like it’s a scare tactic rather than an actual thing that people did. After all, how many parents, even with rebellious kids, would voluntarily have their own children killed?

7.Exodus 35:1-2:

God commands death penalty for those who work on the Sabbath trying to support their families.

Again, does Exodus provide hard data about how often these laws were enforced? The Law of Moses was still in effect during Christ’s day, and there are several exchanges between the Pharisees and the Savior where Jesus refuses to enforce these kind of gruesome provisions and suffers no negative repercussions for doing so. When he counsels the Pharisees that the sinless should cast the first stone at the adulterous woman, the Pharisees simply walk away, leaving the ancient law unenforced. These laws sure sound scary, but in practice, it seems likely that they were largely empty threats.

8.Number 21:5-9:

God doesn’t like to hear whining and ingratitude so he sends out a bunch of snakes to kill the people.  When the people had enough of the snakes, they ask Moses to tell God to quit it.  God decides Moses is persuasive and tells Moses to put a snake on a pole and tell the people to look at the pole and they won’t die.  So, the pole is built, the people look at it  and they don’t die.  The moral of the story?  Don’t whine or God will send in the snakes.

No, the moral of the story is “look to God and live.” This can be found repeatedly in the Book of Mormon:

“Yea, did he not [Moses] bear record that the Son of God should come? And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come.

And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal.” (Helaman 8:14-15)

Lots of important symbolism here, and getting caught up in a strict literal interpretation of the story probably isn’t helpful.

9. Judges 19:22-29:

After picking up his concubine from his father-in-law’s house, a certain Levite settles in Gibeah for the night. The men of the city attempt to sodomize him, but end up raping the concubine until her death. As a response, the Levite dismembers his wife’s corpse and sends her body parts throughout the land of Israel.   Who needs R or X-rated movies when you got scripture like this?

A gruesome story, surely, but neither God nor his prophets have anything to do with it. Were you expecting a PG-13-rated Bible?

As a believing Mormon, I tried to rationalize some of the craziness by saying, “Oh, this is in the crazy Old Testament when the Law of Moses was in force. Christ came and fulfilled the Law of Moses.”

The problem with this is that the crazy god of the Old Testament was Jehovah.  Who’s Jehovah? The premortal Jesus Christ.  So, Christ is the crazy god of the Old Testament.

And everything Christ does or has ever done has been done with the full approval of the Father. Did you think Jehovah was going rogue back in the old days?

The Christ of the Old Testament and the Christ of the New Testament are light years different. 

No, the culture of the Old Testament and the culture of the New Testament are light years different. Understanding the Old Testament in its proper context requires a great deal of additional information, much of which we no longer have.

Again, I’m asked to believe in not only a part-time racist god and a part-time polygamous god but a part-time psychopathic schizophrenic one as well.

No, you’re asked to believe that a perfect God is working with imperfect children in a fallen world, many of whom represent their interaction with God in imperfect ways.

CES Reply: Science!

Science Concerns & Questions:

The problem Mormonism encounters is that so many of its claims are well within the realm of scientific study, and as such, can be proven or disproven.

No, the real problem is that you’re about to make a lot of scientific claims about Mormonism that Mormonism doesn’t make for itself.

To cling to faith in these areas, where the overwhelming evidence is against it, is willful ignorance, not spiritual dedication.

That’s probably true, except it’s not necessarily for Mormons to “cling to faith” in the areas you’re going to describe.

1.2 Nephi 2:22 and Alma 12:23-24 state there was no death of any kind (humans, all animals, birds, fish, dinosaurs, etc.) on this earth until the “Fall of Adam”,

Here’s 2 Nephi 2:22:

“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.”

Where does this say there was no death of any kind on this earth before the Fall?

Here’s Alma 12: 23-24:

“And now behold, I say unto you that if it had been possible for Adam to have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life at that time, there would have been no death, and the word would have been void, making God a liar, for he said: If thou eat thou shalt surely die.

“And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.”

Where does this say there was no death of any kind on this earth before the Fall?

which according to D&C 77:6-7 occurred 7,000 years ago.

Here’s D&C 77:6-7:

6 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.

7 Q. What are we to understand by the seven seals with which it was sealed?

A. We are to understand that the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh.

Where do these scriptures mention the date of the Fall of Adam?

This scripture has long fascinated me, as it refers to the seven thousand years of the earth’s “temporal existence.” What does that mean? Since we reject ex nihilo creation and believe the matter out of which the earth was made is eternal, surely that dirt is older than 7,000 years – it’s so old, in fact, that it can’t really be measured. Is that what D&C 77 is saying – the physical planet has only existed for 7,000 years? (Actually, the real number would be less than 6,000 years, because the last thousand years of the temporal existence would constitute the millennium in which Christ reigns personally on the earth.) Because that’s not just inconsistent with science; it’s inconsistent with scripture.

7,000 years isn’t the chronological age of dirt; it’s the length of earth’s “continuance” or “temporal existence.” So what does that mean?
I think of it in these terms. How old is the city of London?

According to Wikipedia, infallible source of all wisdom, the city was founded in 43 AD and first referred to as “Londinium” a little less than a century later. Did London exist prior to 43 AD? Well, physically, yes, of course it did. The Thames was flowing, but it wasn’t called the Thames. All the dirt was presumably there, too, but it wasn’t called London, because there was no one there to call it London. So it really wasn’t quite London yet, despite its geographical relationship to the town and then city that would later occupy that spot of ground.

History is concerned with chronology and where there is no chronology, there isn’t really any history to speak of, either. Anthropologists refer to the era prior to man’s arrival as “pre-history,” as in “prehistoric times.” So when does history begin?

Specifically, if the chunks of matter that make up the earth have always existed, at what point did they participate in earth’s “continuance” or “temporal,” i.e. time-based, “existence?” I submit that the criteria is the same as that of when London began.

History began when people showed up who were capable of recording time, which would require mathematics, writing, and philosophy – in a word, civilization. It’s not scientifically ludicrous to say that, regardless of biological origins, functional human civilization is somewhere around 7,000 years old, give or take. In any case, I don’t think the idea of earth’s 7,000 year-old temporal existence mentioned in Latter-Day Saint scripture ought to be viewed through an ex nihilo filter, nor do I think it presents a significant intellectual roadblock to credible theories about the origins of both the earth and the life upon it.

So where does the Fall of Adam fit into that timeframe? No idea. God has not seen fit to reveal the dates or the process, so I feel no responsibility to worry about it or to reject scientific evidence about both the age of the earth and the origins of life.

It is scientifically established there has been life and death on this planet for billions of years. How does the Church reconcile this?

It doesn’t.

“Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God.” (Improvement Era, August, 1908, 778.)

“The Church itself has no philosophy about the modus operandi employed by the Lord in His creation of the world”
(Joseph F. Smith, Juvenile Instructor 46 (April 1911): 208-09).

That one’s kind of fun, as Joseph F.’s son, Joseph Fielding Smith, wrote a book called Man: His Origin and Destiny to refute evolution and claim the earth was only a few thousand years old. He tried to get the Church to publish the book, but my great-grandfather David O. McKay, who was a firm believer in evolution, death before the Fall, and geological time, disagreed with Joseph Fielding Smith on just about everything in that book.

Here’s a letter President McKay wrote on the subject:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
47 E. South Temple Street
Salt Lake City, Utah
David O. McKay, President

February 3, 1959

Dr. A. Kent Christensen
Department of Anatomy
Cornell University Medical College
1300 York Avenue
New York 21, New York
Dear Brother Christensen:

I have your letter of January 23, 1959 in which you ask for a statement of the Church’s position on the subject of evolution.

The Church has issued no official statement on the subject of the theory of evolution.

Neither ‘Man, His Origin and Destiny’ by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, nor ‘Mormon Doctrine’ by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, is an official publication of the Church…

Sincerely yours,

[signed]

David O. McKay

(President)

How do we explain the massive fossil evidence showing not only animal death but also the deaths of at least 14 different Hominin species over the span of 250,000 years prior to Adam?

We explain it by teaching precisely that information in biology classes at church-owned universities like BYU and BYU-Idaho.

2.If Adam and Eve are the first humans, how do we explain the 14 other Hominin species who lived and died 35,000 – 250,000 years before Adam? When did those guys stop being human?

That’s a question that B.H. Roberts and James E. Talmage frequently asked, as they believed in the idea of “pre-Adamites,” as they called them. It is true many prophets and apostles doubted evolution, but many more have not. The Church has taken no official position on the subject, so there’s no need for it to “explain” any of this, as it’s not spiritually relevant. The Church is concerned with why God created the heavens and the earth, not how.

3.Science has proven that there was no worldwide flood 4,500 years ago. 

No, it hasn’t, because it’s impossible to prove a negative.

Time for Dan the Illogical Scientist to make an encore presentation:

illogical scientist

I will grant you, however, that science has provided compelling evidence that suggests a worldwide flood 4,500 years ago or at any other time would be highly unlikely.

Do you really literally believe in the flood story where 600-year-old Noah built a massive ark with dimensions that equate to about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet deep?

You’ve touched on a sore spot in the Bennett household. Because there was a time when I answered an unequivocal “yes” to that question. Then I married a brilliant biology major who, while a faithful Latter-day Saint, also believed that much of the story of Noah is kind of ridiculous.

I’ve since discovered that there fully active and faithful Latter-day Saints of every stripe who believe anything and everything that it is possible to believe about the story of Noah – some who insist that it is 100% scientifically accurate, and others who insist the whole thing is a fable, and everywhere in between. The Church does not require its members to believe any scientific information about Noah and the ark.

That Noah and his very small family took two of each unclean creature and seven of every clean creature and all the food and fresh water that would be needed on board for 6 months? And that after the flood, Noah and his family released the animals and they, along with Noah’s family of eight repopulated – via incest – the entire planet?

Simple mathematics show that there was insufficient room on the ark to house all the animal species found on the planet, let alone the food required to feed all of them.

How did the carnivores survive?  There would not have been nearly enough herbivores to sustain the carnivores during the voyage and the months after the ark landed.  What would the herbivores eat after the flood subsided?

There are a bunch of other problems with the global flood and Noah’s ark story but I find it incredible that this is supposed to be taken literally considering the abundance of evidence against it.

Well, for my part, as I’ve discussed the matter with my brilliant wife, I’ve been persuaded that, while I believe there was an actual, historical prophet named Noah who built an ark and put animals on it and survived a flood, I also believe that a great deal of the story is figurative and/or allegorical, and I neither know nor particularly care which parts are which.

While I remain open to the supernatural possibility that God engineered miracle after miracle to make the impossible possible, I am also open to the possibility that the flood was smaller and more localized than many assume, and that Noah’s world, at least as he perceived it, may not have been the entire globe. In any case, I do not see the story of Noah as an impediment to honest scientific inquiry, nor do I see any action on the part of the Church to punish or even counsel Church members who are not willing to read Genesis as a literal scientific treatise.

Am I expected to believe in a god who would wipe out the entire planet like that?  Kill millions of women and innocent children for the actions of others?  What kind of a god is this?

If you take the story at face value, the people who were wiped out were not innocents. Everyone in Noah’s world was corrupt and wicked. I am open to the possibility, however, that Noah’s world, as he understood it, was not the entirety of the globe, and that there were innocents outside of Noah’s awareness who did not perish in what may have been a localized and not a global flood.

 

Other events/claims that science has discredited:

  • Tower of Babel

Science has nothing whatsoever to say about the Tower of Babel. Nobody knows where it was, or where it was supposed to have been. As with Noah, I think this story is based in some kind of historical fact. I think there was an actual Tower of Babel, but I neither know nor particularly care how much of the story that has been handed down is literal or figurative. I assume there are elements of both.

  • People living to be 600+ years old

Hmmm. Never really thought about that one, to be honest. I guess I would have to treat this little tidbit the way I deal with all supposed conflicts between religion and science – with a humble recognition that we neither fully understand religion or science, and that all such conflicts will vanish when our knowledge is perfect. In the meantime, people should continue to pursue knowledge both by study and by faith, both in science and in religion.

  • Humans and animals having their origins from Noah’s family and the animals contained in the ark 4,500 years ago. It is scientifically impossible, for example, for the bear to have evolved into several species (Sun Bear, Polar Bear, Grizzly Bear, etc.) from common ancestors from Noah’s time.

Again, how much of Noah’s story should be taken literally and how much of it is figurative? We simply don’t know.

  • Jonah and the whale

Man, that’s a freaky story from beginning to end, no doubt. The finale is priceless – Jonah sits under a magic gourd that grows overnight and gets mad when God doesn’t blow Ninevah away, and then a worm eats the gourd. It’s just – odd. My reaction is that there is kernel of historical truth in there somewhere, but there’s also a lot of ancient cultural weirdness that modern readers like you and me just don’t get.

  • People turning into salt in Sodom & Gomorrah

This one doesn’t bug me all that much. If you run back into a war zone where everything is on fire, then what happens to you? I think this was less magic and more burned-alive stuff described with magical language.

  • As mentioned in Book of Abraham section, the sun receives its “light from the revolutions of Kolob.”

And as replied to in the Book of Abraham section, the text itself suggests this is merely an Egyptian metaphor. (Also, you are the sunshine of my life.)

They carried honey bees across the ocean?  Swarms of them?  All manner of them which was upon the face of the land? (Ether 2:3)

barges

For with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:37.)

Or, if you want to go secular…

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

  • Hamlet (1.5.167-8)

Maybe this makes me naïve, but I feel no need to raise my hand in Sunday School and point out the scientific improbability of 600-year-old people, but neither do I get indignant when a biology teacher describes the evolutionary process. Mormonism teaches that we should seek after truth wherever we can find it, which means we should learn more about science, not less, because we assume that eventually all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole.

Tomorrow: Scriptural Weirdness

CES Reply: Shake It! (Also Masons.)

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnells “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

The Shakers and Ann Lee:

Shakers

The Shakers felt that “Christ has made his second appearance on earth, in a chosen female known by the name of Ann Lee, and acknowledged by us as our Blessed Mother in the work of redemption” (Sacred Roll and Book, p.358).  The Shakers, of course, did not believe in the Book of Mormon, but they had a book entitled A Holy, Sacred and Divine Roll and Book; From the Lord God of Heaven, to the Inhabitants of Earth.

Neat!

More than 60 individuals gave testimony to the Sacred Roll and Book, which was published in 1843. Although not all of them mention angels appearing, some of them tell of many angels visiting them. One woman told of eight different visions.

Here is the testimony statement:

We, the undersigned, hereby testify, that we saw the holy Angel standing upon the house-top, as mentioned in the foregoing declaration, holding the Roll and Book.

Betsey Boothe. Louisa Chamberlain. Caty De Witt.  Laura Ann Jacobs. Sarah Maria Lewis. Sarah Ann Spencer. Lucinda McDoniels. Maria Hedrick.

So we shouldn’t accept the testimony of Book of Mormon witnesses because the Shakers, who no longer exist and who’s central claims have been completely discredited by the passage of time, claimed to see angels? How is that anything but a non sequitur? Each testimony should be evaluated on its own merits. As it stands, the Shakers no longer exist, so I don’t see much value in reviewing their testimonies.

Joseph Smith only had three witnesses who claimed to see an angel. The Shakers, however, had a large number of witnesses who claimed they saw angels and the Sacred Roll and Book.

And the Shakers no longer exist, which pretty much destroys the credibility of Shaker witness claims.

There are over a hundred pages of testimony from “Living Witnesses.”

And yet the Shakers aren’t living any more – it’s a completely dead and discredited movement. Are you arguing that we ought to resurrect the dead Shaker movement based on these witnesses?

The evidence seems to show that Martin Harris accepted the Sacred Roll and Book as a divine revelation. 

No, it doesn’t, no matter how many times you recycle the same tired hearsay quotes. (I think it’s four for this one.)

Clark Braden stated: “Harris declared repeatedly that he had as much evidence for a Shaker book he had as for the Book of Mormon” (The Braden and Kelly Debate, p.173).

Braden, who never met Harris, passed along this uncorroborated hearsay years after Harris’s death and decades after Harris allegedly said it. I resent having to type that again. You may enjoy repeating yourself, but I find it tedious.

Why should we believe the Book of Mormon witnesses but not the Shakers witnesses? 

Because time has conclusively demonstrated that the Shaker witnesses were wrong, based on the fact that the Shakers no longer exist.

What are we to make of the reported Martin Harris comment that he had as much evidence for the Shaker book he had as for the Book of Mormon?

We are to make that you are obsessed with unreliable hearsay nonsense and enjoy repeating yourself.

In light of the James Strang/Voree Plates witnesses,

who claimed to see something as mundane as a fish in a tent,

the fact that all of the Book of Mormon Witnesses – except Martin Harris – were related to either Joseph Smith or David Whitmer,

which is overblown – third cousin once removed? – and largely irrelevant,

along with the fact that all of the witnesses were treasure hunters who believed in second sight, 

which is not true,

and in light of their superstitions and reputations…

which were mild superstitions in line with conventional 19th Century thinking, and the undeniable fact that they enjoyed very good reputations for honesty and good character,

why would anyone gamble with their lives in believing in a book based on anything these men said or claimed or what’s written on the testimonies of the Witnesses page in the Book of Mormon?
If the entirety of your faith in the Book of Mormon is based on the written testimony of these witnesses, then you may have a point. Fortunately, the Lord has made provision for each of us to receive our own direct witness from heaven as a result of our own study and prayer. That’s the witness people cite when they stand up and bear their testimonies of the Book of Mormon on the first Sunday of every month.

On Fast Sunday, have you ever heard anyone attribute their testimony to the statement of the Three or Eight Witnesses? I surely haven’t, but, given that you were apparently teaching missionary discussions that cited these statements as legally binding affidavits, your experience seems to be quite different from my own.

The testimony of the 11 witnesses, like all signs from heaven, are designed to confirm faith, not create it from scratch. You proceed from a false premise here. Your assumptions are what are unreliable, not the Book of Mormon witnesses.

The mistake that is made by 21st century Mormons is that they’re seeing the Book of Mormon Witnesses as empirical, rational, nineteenth-century men instead of the nineteenth-century magical thinking, superstitious, and treasure digging men they were. 

No, the mistake is that 21st Century ex-Mormons like you condescend to 19th Century men and distort harmless beliefs in antiquated superstitions into something more significant than they actually were.

They have ignored the peculiarities of their worldview, and by so doing, they misunderstand their experiences as witnesses.

It’s very easy to misunderstand witnesses when you ignore everything they actually said in favor of a handful of hearsay statements that you repeat ad nauseum, each time pretending they’re something new.

At the end of the day?  It all doesn’t matter.  

It doesn’t? Then why are you wasting my time?

The Book of Mormon Witnesses and their testimonies of the gold plates are irrelevant.

They are? Then why didn’t you say so? I could have moved on to the next chapter.

It does not matter whether eleven 19th  century treasure diggers with magical worldviews saw some gold plates or not.

Well, it matters somewhat that you misrepresent farmers and schoolteachers as professional treasure diggers, as your eagerness to label them in the most negative light possible demonstrates your unwillingness to engage this issue with any attempt to keep an open mind.

It doesn’t matter because of this one simple fact:

OOoo! Here it comes…

Joseph did not use the gold plates for translating the Book of Mormon.

What? That’s it? Please don’t tell me you’re still hung up on the rock and the hat.

rock in hat

*sigh*

I don’t know what else to say. The deeper I get into this reply, the less I think we understand each other. I honestly do not understand why the rock in the hat is such a huge obstacle for you. If Joseph had translated the record by means of plucking his own eyebrows and lighting them on fire, it would make no difference to me whatsoever. The product of the method, not the method itself, is what matters. The Book of Mormon is here; it exists, and it’s a powerful work of scripture that has brought millions of people closer to God. You can’t make it vanish in a puff of smoke just by posting pictures of Joseph looking like he’s throwing up in a hat.

Moving on…

Temples & Freemasonry Concerns & Questions:

1. Just seven weeks after Joseph’s Masonic initiation, Joseph introduced the LDS endowment ceremony in May 1842.

While there are elements of the temple ceremony that demonstrably precede Joseph initiation into Masonry – chunks of the Book of Moses are in the endowment ceremony, for instance – I think you’re absolutely right not to chalk this up to coincidence. The pattern Joseph set was that events served as catalysts for seeking revelation. Remember, the Word of Wisdom came as the result of Emma getting tired of cleaning up tobacco stains. The revelation on plural marriage came after Joseph asked a question in the course of translating the KJV. Answers from heaven are received only after someone asks.

Since revelation doesn’t come in a vacuum, my guess is that Joseph sensed something ancient in the Masonic ceremony and asked about it, which led to the endowment. I don’t think there’s anything sinister in acknowledging the possible connection.

2. President Heber C. Kimball, a Mason himself and a member of the First Presidency for 21 years, made the following statement:

“We have the true Masonry. The Masonry of today is received from the apostasy which took place in the days of Solomon, and David. They have now and then a thing that is correct, but we  have the real thing.”

– Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball and Family: The Nauvoo Years, p.458

Sure. In other words, the Masons have some ancient practices – “now and then a thing is correct – mixed in with apostate corruptions, and the endowment represents the truth of what masonry should be.

3. If Masonry had the original temple ceremony but became distorted over time, why doesn’t the LDS ceremony more closely resemble an earlier form of Masonry, which would be more correct rather than the exact version that Joseph Smith was exposed to in his March 1842 Nauvoo, Illinois initiation?

Two things. One, you’re frankly acknowledging here that the Mormon endowment ceremony is different enough from Masonry to be its own thing and not just a pale copy of Masonic ritual, which is the accusation that most critics of the Church make. Second, why should an earlier form of Masonry be more correct? The rituals of Solomon’s temple preceded Masonry by thousands of years. Whatever changes modern Masons have made to their ceremony took place over a relatively short period of time in comparison, so they would be unlikely to have any bearing on whatever portion of truth survived the intervening millennia between Solomon and the Masons.

You’re making assumptions again and not recognizing that you’re likely to be proceeding from a flawed premise.

4. Freemasonry has zero links to Solomon’s temple.  

Define “links.” You would be correct to say that it’s impossible to demonstrate that the rituals of Masonry have been handed down from the time of Solomon in an unbroken chain. You would be incorrect to say that Masons have not appropriated their understanding of ancient practices into their ceremony. The “link,” then, would not be a passed-down line of authority but one of similar ideas, many of which the Masons undoubtedly got wrong but a few, apparently, they got right.

Although more a Church folklore, with origins from comments made by early Mormon Masons such as Heber C. Kimball, than being Church doctrine, it’s a myth that the endowment ceremony has its origins from Solomon’s temple or that Freemasonry passed down parts of the endowment over the centuries from Solomon’s temple.

The Church makes no attempt to claim that either Freemasonry or the endowment claim their authority from being “passed down” from antiquity.

By way of comparison, the Roman Catholic Church claims their priesthood authority through apostolic succession, while the Mormons claim that their priesthood authority was restored after a long period of apostasy. So while one group claims to have their authority passed down in an unbroken chain while the other claims it was lost and then restored, both groups agree that there is such a thing as priesthood authority, and that there was such a thing as priesthood authority anciently.

Similarly, our authority to perform the endowment ceremony and sealing ordinances does not come from a claim of “masonic succession,” so to speak. While many, including me, believe that what we do now in temples bears a resemblance to what they did anciently – although we don’t know the extent of that resemblance – our authority to perform these ordinances came by means of modern revelation, not from being passed down.

Solomon’s temple was all about animal sacrifice.

Oh, nonsense. Solomon’s temple had a whole lot more going on than just animal sacrifice. If you doubt me, then consult the infallible Wikipedia.

Freemasonry has its origins to stone tradesmen in medieval Europe – not in 950 BC Jerusalem.

True, although Freemasonry was attempting to mimic the rituals of what happened in 950 BC Jerusalem.

If there’s no connection to Solomon’s temple, what’s so divine about a man-made medieval European secret fraternity and its rituals?

I don’t know of any prophet or apostle who has ever claimed Freemasonry is divine. If they did, we’d all be counseled to become Freemasons.

5.Why did the Church remove the blood oath penalties and the 5 Points of Fellowship at the veil from the endowment ceremony in 1990?  Both 100% Masonic rituals?

Probably because both were 100% Masonic rituals and unnecessary.

What does this say about the Temple and the endowment ceremony if 100% pagan Masonic rituals were in it from its inception?

It says somebody made a mistake, and that we don’t believe in infallibility.

What does it say about the Church if it removed something that Joseph Smith said he restored and which would never again be taken away from the earth?

Joseph Smith said that penalties and the 5 Points of Fellowship would never be taken from the earth? When? Perhaps you’re referring to the sealing power, the keys of the priesthood, and the spirit of Elijah, all of which are still very much a part of temple worship.

6.Is God really going to require people to know secret tokens, handshakes, and signs to get into the Celestial Kingdom?  If so, Masons, former Mormons, anti-Mormons, unworthy Mormons as well as non-Mormons who’ve seen the endowment on YouTube or read about the signs/handshakes/tokens online should pass through the pearly gates with flying colors.

So should every person who has ever lived on the earth, as we intend to do temple work for every child of God who comes to earth in mortality.

7.Does the eternal salvation, eternal happiness, and eternal sealings of families really depend on medieval originated Masonic rituals in multi-million dollar castles?

Earlier, you admitted that the endowment ceremony has significantly departed from Masonry, and now you call the endowment nothing more than “medieval originated Masonic rituals.” Which is it? Make up your mind.

Eternal salvation, eternal happiness, and eternal sealings depend on the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. The rituals are symbols that connect us to God, but it is God that saves, not the rituals.

Is God really going to separate good couples and their children who love one other and who want to be together in the next life because they object to uncomfortable and strange Masonic temple rituals and a polygamous heaven? 

Why should he? All those children will have these rituals performed on their behalf, so there will be no need to separate them. The temple doctrine of redemption of the dead are extraordinarily inclusive and know of no parallel in the wider Christian world. But it’s nice that you got another dig in there about polygamy instead of one more mention of the rock in the hat.

Tomorrow: Science!

 

Of Brock and Bill

As far as human beings go, Brock Turner, the recently convicted rapist who violated an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, is about as loathsome as they come. In her extraordinarily powerful statement, Brock’s victim was rightfully aghast that the writer of the news article about the attack felt it necessary to make note of Brock’s accomplishments on the Stanford University swim team.

Quoting from her statement:

And then, at the bottom of the article, after I learned about the graphic details of my own sexual assault, the article listed his swimming times. She was found breathing, unresponsive with her underwear six inches away from her bare stomach curled in fetal position. By the way, he’s really good at swimming. Throw in my mile time if that’s what we’re doing. I’m good at cooking, put that in there, I think the end is where you list your extracurriculars to cancel out all the sickening things that’ve happened.

As reprehensible as Brock is, his father is no prize, either. True, Brock’s dad isn’t a rapist, but he’s getting an appropriate helping of opprobrium for his own letter filled with ludicrous and offensive assertions that Brock’s a good kid otherwise, except for that whole rape thing. Actually, he’s not even calling it a rape. He’s calling it “20 minutes of action.”  Brock’s dad (hereafter known as “B.D.”) thinks it’s important to know that his son used to have an “easy going personality and welcoming smile,” is a “very humble person,” and that he’s a “very good cook.” Of course, the swimming came into play. B.D. cites his son’s “60% swimming scholarship” to Stanford and also points out that Brock was a solid baseball and basketball player, too.

Want to throw up yet? Go ahead and come back. I’ll wait.

All right, so it’s pretty clear here that Brock is scum, and that all of the swimming records he’s broken and great omelettes he’s made are entirely negated by his crossing a clear line of fundamental human decency. B.D. laments that Brock will have to be a registered sex offender for his whole life, but reasonable human beings who don’t think a record time in the butterfly relay mitigates sexual assault have no problem with Brock having to bear such legal consequences for as long as he lives. After all, his victim doesn’t get emotional or spiritual probation from her suffering, so why should Brock?

So here’s a question – how many of you would be willing to vote for Brock for president?

What? Why not? Well, okay, he’s only twenty, and we don’t know what his politics are. But let’s pretend he’s now thirty-five, agrees with you on every single issue, and that he has real political talent and skill. Not too big a stretch, really – if you take his dad’s word for it, little Brockie had a solid work ethic and a good academic record. Are you really going to let this one little rape get in the way of all the good things he’s done – and all the good he could do as your Commander in Chief?

No? Okay, well, how about B.D.? He didn’t rape anybody. All he did was make excuses for his son the rapist. Why should a dad be held responsible for his son’s actions – actions he tried to excuse, minimize, and refuse to fully acknowledge? (Dad chalks this up to a problem of “alcohol and promiscuity,” not the fact that his kid mauled an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.)

No? Not even if B.D. were running against someone as odious as Donald Trump?

Yes. I’m going there.

The bottom line is that Bill Clinton should never go anywhere where he doesn’t hear the name Juanita Broaddrick, who told five contemporaneous witnesses in 1978 that Clinton raped her when he was the Arkansas Attorney General. Or Eileen Wellstone, the woman who accused him of rape when he was a college student at Oxford. Or Kathleen Willey, a volunteer in his White House that Clinton sexually assaulted on the day her husband committed suicide. Not a day should go by when he’s not asked about his multiple trips on a private jet to convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s island of underage sex slaves. Or about the seven women who reported varying levels of sexual assault when he was Governor of Arkansas. Or the fact that he lost his law license and his ability to practice in front of the Supreme Court because he repeatedly perjured himself on sexual topics.

The record demonstrates a clear and persistent pattern of sexual predation on Bill Clinton’s part, yet many of the same people who are outraged over the outrageous Brock Turner are ecstatic that Hillary Clinton could very well be our next president. After all, Hillary isn’t a sexual predator herself, is she? Why should she be held accountable for Bill’s twenty minutes of action?

Yeah, if you think B.D.’s letter was bad, read Juanita Broaddrick’s chilling account of Hillary’s veiled threats to keep her quiet. Review all the witnesses who recall Hillary’s considerable efforts to silence and destroy the women who came forward against Bill. Recognize that, regardless of her politics, this is a woman who, together with her husband, has crossed a line of basic human decency that ought to exclude her from polite society of any kind, let alone the most powerful office on the planet.

Although I hear Bill, like Brock, is a very good cook. I wonder what his swimming times are.

CES Reply: Where are the signatures?

Yes, sorry, I’ve been slacking off. My entire CES Reply is downloadable here, but it’s high time I continued posting, as promised, excerpts from that reply so it can be digested in bite-sized chunks.

So here’s today’s installment, titled “Where are the signatures?”  As always, Jeremy’s original words from his letter to a CES director are in green.

6. No Document of Actual Signatures:

The closest thing we have in existence to an original document of the testimonies of the witnesses is a printer’s manuscript written by Oliver Cowdery.  Every witness name except Oliver Cowdery on that document is not signed; they are written in Oliver’s own handwriting.  Further, there is no testimony from any of the witnesses, with the exception of David Whitmer, directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon.

Which means what, exactly? Every witness repeatedly reaffirmed their testimonies throughout their lives in a variety of settings. The statement was not a legal document, so no signatures were necessary. Certainly there’s no record of any witness disputing any details of the statement.

signatures

And isn’t Oliver’s penmanship lovely?

While we have “testimonies” from the witnesses recorded in later years through interviews and second eyewitness accounts and affidavits, many of the “testimonies” given by some of the witnesses do not match the claims and wording of the statements in the Book of Mormon.

Not true at all. What, now you’re just going to re-quote the same three/seven hearsay guys again?

For example:

Testimony of Three Witnesses (which includes Martin Harris) states:

“…that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon;”

Martin Harris:

“…he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them…” 

– Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2

Yep, that’s exactly what you’re going to do. Thank you for providing citation for this bogus hearsay quote the third time you cite it, as someone may have missed it the first two times around.

Dude, this is getting ridiculous.

“I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see anything around me, though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.”

– Origin and History of the Mormonites, p. 406

Third time’s a charm, I guess. Do you think re-citing this same handful of tired hearsay quotes, which contradict dozens of reliable firsthand accounts, somehow makes them truer?

There is a difference between saying you “beheld and saw the plates and the engravings thereon” and saying you “hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them” or that the plates “were covered over with a cloth” and that you “saw them with a spiritual eye.”

But there is no difference between this argument now and when you first made it several paragraphs up, or the second or third time you made it. (That “spiritual eye” bit has made it into your letter four times now.) The quotes you provide are still bogus and are vastly outnumbered by more reliable sources that directly contradict them.

When I was a missionary, my understanding and impression from looking at the testimony of the Three and Eight Witnesses in the Book of Mormon was that the statements were legally binding documents in which the names represented signatures on the original document similar to what you would see on the original US Declaration of Independence

It was? Why? It certainly wasn’t my impression, and it certainly isn’t anything that is taught by the Church. Why or how would these testimonies serve any binding legal purpose? These weren’t affidavits; they weren’t notarized. Nobody was going to introduce this stuff into a court of law. It’s your weird assumption here that’s the problem, not the testimony.

In any case, the Witnesses claimed that they did sign the original manuscript, most of which was destroyed via water damage. Only about 25% of it survives, so, yes, the original document was lost. That’s bad news if any of these witnesses needs to use the original to apply for a loan or something, but it has no bearing on the veracity of their testimony whatsoever.

This is how I presented the testimonies to investigators.

Then, no offense, but you were kind of a weird missionary who was off on his own program. No reference to the witnesses was found in the six discussions I taught, and I’ve since reviewed “Preach My Gospel,” which is the current lesson plan, and it, too, makes no mention of the witnesses, let alone the supposedly legally binding nature of the document they signed.

According to the above manuscript that Oliver took to the printer for the Book of Mormon, they were not signatures.

And nobody has ever made any attempt to pretend that they were.

Since there is no evidence of any document whatsoever with the signatures of all of the witnesses, the only real testimonies we have from the witnesses are later interviews given by them and eyewitness accounts/affidavits made by others, some of which are shown previously.

And previously and previously and previously. (And previously.) But the only one which are shown three and four times previously in the CES letter are the small handful of dubious hearsay docs that contradict the voluminous firsthand accounts that you ignore because they support the witness statement.

From a legal perspective, the statements of the testimonies of the Three and Eight witnesses hold no credibility or weight in a court of law as there are a) no signatures of any of the witnesses except Oliver, b) no specific dates, c) no specific locations,

Good thing they were never intended to be presented in a court of law, then.

And, by the way, when I present the CES Letter to investigators, I do so having been under the impression that it is a legally binding document in which your name represented a signature on the original document similar to what you would see on the original US Declaration of Independence.  Yet I can find no signature of yours, no evidence that it was ever notarized, no specific date or location. Your letter would never have any credibility or weight in a court of law. Can we therefore assume that the whole thing is nonsense?

and d) some of the witnesses made statements after the fact that contradict and cast doubt on the specific claims made in the statements contained in the preface of the Book of Mormon.

And previously. (Previously.) You have precisely three such statements, all unreliable hearsay, that you have previously presented multiple times. Previously.

7. Conclusion:

  1. “The Witnesses never recanted or denied their testimonies”:

Neither did James Strang’s witnesses; even after they were excommunicated from the church and estranged from Strang. 

That’s because they had nothing to recant. They really did see the fake plates they dug up, just as a bunch of people saw the fake Kinderhook plates. The people who saw the Kinderhook plates have never recanted the fact that they saw them, just as I have never recanted my fish-in-a-tent story.

Neither did dozens of Joseph Smith’s neighbors and peers who swore and signed affidavits on Joseph and his family’s characters.

Were any of them asked to recant? Were any of them challenged on the veracity of their statements, or persecuted or ridiculed for making such statements? Maybe some of them thought better of their positions later on and changed their mind, but we’ll never know, because as far as the record goes, they were never given any formal opportunity to recant.

Neither did many of the Shaker witnesses who signed affidavits that they saw an angel on the roof top holding the “Sacred Roll and Book” written by founder Ann Lee.  Same goes with the thousands of people over the centuries who claimed their entire lives to have seen the Virgin Mary and pointing to their experience as evidence that Catholicism is true.

There are also thousands of witnesses who never recanted their testimonies of seeing UFO’s, Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, Abominable Snowman, Aliens, and so on

It doesn’t mean anything.  People can believe in false things their entire lives and never recant.  Just because they never denied or recanted does not follow that their experience and claims are true or that reality matches to what their perceived experience was.

The logical conclusion to this principle is that no witness on any subject can ever be be believed, because there have been lots of false witnesses who have born testimony of ridiculous things. If we apply this warped logic to the CES Letter, we have to throw out everything you say, because people have written letters about religious topics that have later proven to be incorrect.

You and Dan the Illogical Scientist should hang out and swap stories.

Dan the illogical

For the record, I served my mission in Scotland and visited Loch Ness several times. Each time, there was a guy in a kilt standing in front of Urquhart Castle who made a living telling tall Nessie tales for tips, and the stories were different with every visit. (I think he was drunk.) Furthermore, none of his stories were signed or notarized, which would get them thrown out in a court of law.

2. Problems:

In discussing the witnesses, we should not overlook the primary accounts of the events they testified to.  The official statements published in the Book of Mormon are not dated, signed (we have no record with their signatures except for Oliver’s), nor is a specific location given for where the events occurred.  These are not eleven legally sworn affidavits but rather simple statements pre-written by Joseph Smith with claims of having been signed by three men and another by eight.

I’m sorry, but didn’t you just say this? How is this charge in any way different from what you said a page or two ago? It was a goofy charge then, and it’s a goofy charge now. Nobody other than you has ever presumed this was somehow a legally binding document. (Perhaps you ought to quote Stephen Burnett again.)

All of the Book of Mormon witnesses, excepting Martin Harris, were related by blood or marriage either with the Smiths or Whitmers. Oliver Cowdery (married to Elizabeth Ann Whitmer and cousin to Joseph Smith), Hiram Page (married to Catherine Whitmer), and the five Whitmers were related by marriage.  Of course, Hyrum Smith, Samuel Smith, and Joseph Smith Sr. were Joseph’s brothers and father.

Mark Twain made light of this obvious problem:

“…I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.”  –  Roughing It,  p.107-115

 

Mark Twain is awesome. Have you read what he had to say about Mormon women?

Our stay in Salt Lake City amounted to only two days, and therefore we had no time to make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics and deductions preparatory to calling the attention of the nation at large once more to the matter.

I had the will to do it.  With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here—until I saw the Mormon women.  Then I was touched.  My heart was wiser than my head.  It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically “homely” creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, “No–the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure–and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.

As to the fact that all the witnesses were related, I’m not quite sure what your point is. This is only really an issue with the Eight Witnesses, not the the Three Witnesses, who weren’t related except in the case Oliver Cowdery, who was third cousin to Joseph’s mother, making him Joseph’s third cousin once removed. (I’m curious as to how many of your third cousins once removed you know personally.) Citing Oliver’s marriage to Elizabeth Ann Whitmer does not support your argument at all, as the marriage took place in 1832, two years after the publication of the Book of Mormon.

The supernatural nature of the experience of the Three Witnesses is a far bigger deal than the more mundane experience of the Eight Witnesses, and, in any case, this is just one more ad hominem attack that doesn’t address the particulars of their testimony.

Within eight years, all of the Three Witnesses were excommunicated from the Church.  This is what Joseph Smith said about them in 1838:

“Such characters as…John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, are too mean to mention; and we had liked to  have forgotten them.” – History of the Church Vol. 3, Ch. 15, p. 232

This is what First Counselor of the First Presidency and once close associate Sidney Rigdon had to say about Oliver Cowdery:

“…a lying, thieving, counterfeiting man who was ‘united with  a gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars, and blacklegs in the deepest dye, to deceive, cheat, and defraud the saints out of their property, by  every  art  and  stratagem  which  wickedness  could  invent…”

February 15, 1841 Letter and Testimony, p.6-9

What does it say about the witnesses and their characters if even the Prophet and his counselor in the First Presidency thought they were questionable?

It says the witnesses, being personally insulted, had even more incentive to stick it to Joseph Smith and expose him as a fraud, which they could have done easily. Why didn’t they?

As mentioned in the above “Polygamy/Polyandry” section, Joseph was able to influence and convince many of the 31 witnesses to lie and perjure in a sworn affidavit that Joseph was not a polygamist. 

As mentioned above, this is not accurate. The 31 witnesses signed an affidavit – wait, do we have their original signatures? – stating that Joseph was not engaged in John C. Bennett’s “spiritual wifery,” which he was not, and that he was not an adulterer, which he also was not. No lie and no perjury.

Is it outside the realm of possibility that Joseph was also able to influence or manipulate the experiences of his own magical thinking treasure digging family and friends as witnesses?

I would think so, yes.  Joseph spurned them, insulted them, and kicked them out, and they faced personal and financial ruin for refusing to recant. If their testimony was based solely on Joseph’s manipulations, their disaffection provided them with every reason to expose him as a fraud at the earliest opportunity.

If the Prophet Joseph Smith could get duped with the Kinderhook Plates thinking that the 19th century fake plates were a legitimate record of a “descendent of Ham,” how is having gullible guys like Martin Harris handling the covered gold plates going to prove anything?

Joseph was not duped by the Kinderhook Plates, and Martin saw the plates and the angel, contrary to the sixth(!) time you have invoked this piece of unreliable hearsay.

James Strang’s claims and Voree Plates Witnesses are distinctive and more impressive compared to the Book of Mormon Witnesses:

    • All of Strang’s witnesses were not related to one another through blood or marriage like the Book of Mormon Witnesses were.
    • Some of the witnesses were not members of Strang’s church.
    • The Voree Plates were displayed in a museum for both members and non-members to view and examine.
    • Strang provided 4 witnesses who testified that on his instructions, they actually dug the plates up for Strang while he waited for them to do so.  They confirmed that the ground looked previously undisturbed.

Just as my tent looked undisturbed when I found the dead fish in it. We’ve been over this already. I cannot and will not recant!

Tomorrow: Shake it, baby – and more!