CES Reply: DNA and Book of Mormon anachronisms

This is an excerpt from “A Reply from a Former CES Employee.” The entire document can be downloaded for free.

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This is a line-by-line response to Jeremy Runnells’ “Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony.” Jeremy’s words are in green, the color of life, while mine are in black, the color of darkness.

Let’s move on to number 4:

4. DNA analysis has concluded that Native American Indians do not originate from the Middle East or from Israelites but rather from Asia.

Nonsense. It has “concluded” no such thing. Science rarely, if ever, reaches definitive conclusions. It is always open to new information, some of which it received in 2013 when a study determined that some Native Americans do, in fact, have Middle Eastern and European DNA. That study in no way proves the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, as the genes in question come from specimens well before Lehi, but it does demonstrate that there is plenty of room for more information. Most scientists, Mormon or non-Mormon, would scoff at the idea that an absence of evidence is proof of anything.

The Church has been remarkably open on this subject and offers a comprehensive analysis on LDS.org. Would you be willing to concede that this essay constitutes the work of “official” apologists?

Why did the Church change the following section of the introduction page in the 2006 edition Book of Mormon shortly after the DNA results were released?

“…the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians” to

“…the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians”

Because the second version is likely more accurate than the first.

If the translated text of the Book of Mormon concedes that it contains errors, surely we shouldn’t expect a non-revelatory introduction written well over a century after Joseph Smith’s death to be infallible, should we?

Anachronisms: Horses, cattle, oxen, sheep, swine, goats, elephants, wheels, chariots, wheat, silk, steel, and iron did not exist in pre-Columbian America during Book of Mormon times. Why are these things mentioned in the Book of Mormon as being made available in the Americas between 2200 BC – 421 AD?

Once again, you’re overstating your case here. It cannot be said conclusively that such things “did not exist,” only that we have no independent record outside the Book of Mormon for their existence. You’ve probably heard the cliché “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” too many times to count, but clichés usually become clichés because they’re true. If you apply that standard, the Israelites were never enslaved in Egypt, and Attila the Hun never rode a horse, either – no ancient horse bones have been found across the path he used to sweep through Europe, despite the fact that we have written records of his invasion on horseback.

That said, I cannot deny that such things are, indeed, anachronisms, and I find some of the apologetic explanations for them to be more persuasive than others. Critics chuckle at FAIR’s attempt to attribute the anachronisms the translator process of “loan-shifting” and say that all the horses were really tapirs, and I don’t really blame them. But the most interesting description of loan-shifting comes from Orson Scott Card’s genius essay “The Book of Mormon – Artifact or Artifice?” where he points out that even the best authors can’t help but betray the time and place in which they are writing. He had this to say about horses – or the possible absence thereof:

Nobody rides anywhere [in the Book of Mormon.] Think about it. I don’t have to explain to you about airplanes when I say I flew here, but I would certainly say that I flew here. People in Joseph Smith’s day rode everywhere they could — either a horse or a wagon. When they took a long journey on foot, they said so, because it was remarkable. But no one in the Book of Mormon rides anywhere. How did Joseph Smith know to keep his made-up Nephites and Lamanites on foot — and how did he keep himself from ever pointing out the fact?

So whatever the horses were in the Book of Mormon, people didn’t ride them. The horses didn’t pull anything – even the anachronistic chariots, whatever they were, weren’t pulled by horses. Why not? Why would a forger put horses in the Book of Mormon and then not give them any of their modern uses? To me, that makes the arguments favoring a loanshifting explanation seem far less ridiculous.

The other remarkable thing about the anachronisms in the Book of Mormon is that there are actually less of them now than there were when it was first published 186 years ago. My father tested the waters of unofficial apologetics when he wrote a book a few years ago titled Leap of Faith: Confronting the Origins of the Book of Mormon which was published by Deseret Book. I quote from him liberally here, beginning on page 216:

Picture a ledger sheet with the arguments of believers on the right side and of the critics on the left. Label it 1830.

In 1830, all the external evidence was on the left side of the ledger, in favor of the critics. Writing on metal plates? Ridiculous; an obvious invention. Large cities in America, inhabited by the ancestors of the Indians? Nonsense; the Indians are nomadic tribesmen who live in tents…

Think of the same ledger sheet, labeled 2009. Metal plates with writing on them, hidden in the ground for later generations to find? Joseph was right on that one; move it from the left side of the ledger to the right, as a mark in the book’s favor. Big cities among the Indians? Whether they were Nephite cities or not, there were clearly big cities with large populations in Meso-America before Columbus…Add to those items the others we have covered in the previous chapters that have come to light in just the last half century, and it is clear that the passage of time has put a good many new items on the right side of the ledger (in favor of the book) and removed some of the old ones on the left (against it).

Such a trend is significant, because truth is the daughter of time. With most forgeries, the farther you get from its date of production, the clumsier it looks. In the case of the Book of Mormon, the farther we get from the date of its production, the better it looks.

With regard to forgeries, my father’s book provides some firsthand accounts of modern frauds that are really fascinating and probably aren’t anything you’ll read from any other apologist, official or otherwise. He worked for Howard Hughes back when Clifford Irving forged Hughes’ supposed “autobiography” and when Melvin Dummar plopped a forged Hughes will onto the front desk of the Church Office Building. Those forgeries were initially persuasive, but the passage of time has made them appear to be obvious frauds. The idea that the Book of Mormon is actually more plausible now than it was almost two centuries ago ought to give pause to anyone who insists that these anachronisms deal a death blow to its claims of authenticity.

Tomorrow: Book of Mormon archaeology!


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CES Reply: Book of Mormon archaeology

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