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The Priddis article probably deserves another paragraph or two, but by the end of the post I was tired and I was already over my 3-paragraph limit.

Nice review Dave. Will there be another couple of paragaphs?

Why is it that those espousing straight scientific worldviews hold out their ability to update beliefs in response to new data as a virtue, but these same folks portray religious worldviews that are updated in response to new facts as somehow breaking the rules?

Excellent, excellent point.

He accuses Ostler of using a "blizzard of misplaced lawyerly rhetoric," which was probably intended as a cut but personally I kind of enjoy misplaced lawyerly rhetoric. Maybe I would call Ostler's style a "parade of lawyerly rhetoric." Everyone loves a parade.

Beautiful. I agree.


Would having a group that claimed to be Nephites really help? When I lived in North Caroline the Catawba Indians had all been converted and believed they were Lamanites. They could be a sample group, but testing them wouldn't really do any good.

Also, the one issue that I do not feel has been brought up is the usage of Lamanites in the D&C. Joseph receives revelations to preach to the Lamanites and that they will blossom like a rose. It seems obvious that Joseph understood that to mean the Native Americans. But if that is not the case, who do these revelations refer to? I would be fine with the fallibility of the prophet response, but that is a robust notion of fallibility to contradict scripture in the canon.

"Murphy also quotes the unfortunate 'Lamanites ... are the principal ancestors of the American Indians' line from the Introduction to the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon, arguing that the genetic data refute that claim. I agree, and whoever put that line in the Introduction should be reassigned to other duties"

I believe Elder McConkie was "reassigned" in 1985.

Thanks for the review, Dave. I have to admit that despite being a scientist, it is hard for me to read through these debates and I appreciate your outline. Perhaps it is difficult, because the debates aren't particularly scientific in nature, I don't know.

"Also, the one issue that I do not feel has been brought up is the usage of Lamanites in the D&C. Joseph receives revelations to preach to the Lamanites and that they will blossom like a rose. It seems obvious that Joseph understood that to mean the Native Americans."

I think every revelation has an element of the human too it, to a greater or lesser extent. If JS believed that Native Americans were Lamanites I would expect him to refer to them as such in a revelation, whether they were or not. JS had no problem modifying other revelations as he gained greater insight.

David Stewart, of Cumorah.com, gave a presentation on this at the FAIR conference. I didn't hear it, but I've been told that it has new thought-provoking information/ideas.

Very nice overview, Dave.

You provoke a many thoughts. Here are a few:

"The last sentence in the quote gives the impression that Mormons do expect genetics to validate Book of Mormon historicity claims."

I think it would be fair to say that Mormons expect the truth of the BoM to be born-out in whatever field of truth-seeking. So its not unreasonable for Murphy to make this statement. He is simply saying that genetics does not appear to be an area where such validation will happen.

"If Murphy is comparing his data with LDS claims, he really ought to be engaging the scaled-down limited geography hypothesis that present-day LDS scholars are working with, not the outmoded continental or hemispheric model (what he calls the "traditional Book of Mormon view")."

Yet no other position appears in the Mormon canon of scripture than the one Murphy is addressing. Drop the title page reference and put the limited geography hypothesis into the D&C...or at very least some clear statement of position...then what is in fact the "traditional Book of Mormon view" may change.

"Why is it that those espousing straight scientific worldviews hold out their ability to update beliefs in response to new data as a virtue, but these same folks portray religious worldviews that are updated in response to new facts as somehow breaking the rules?"

Arguments about the fallibility of men aside...it's simply a response to prior claims of superior knowledge based upon spiritual/revelatory means. You can't really begrudge the frustration some feel when the virtue of scientific method is railed upon by those who don't need it, only to then have them modify their "revealed knowledge" based upon the findings of science.

I believe the general principle is that Lehi could be a common ancestor of the vast majority of Native Americans, and we would have no way to establish that fact genetically, due to the preponderance of other ancestry. Same deal with Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.

The reason why populations like the Lemba are traceable is because they have a some tradition of marrying only within the group, or passing certain roles only to patrilineal descendants. For all we know there are no males alive who carry Lehi's Y-chromosome, or if there are, they are a very small minority. That doesn't mean that a large majority have Lehi as a common ancestor of some sort, however.

Remembering the Abrahamic covenant, the spiritual heritage of Lehi, Sarah, and Ishmael may yet be a blessing unto the Native Americans to this day, if only by inter-marriage. Genetics are inconsequential compared to the weightier matters of parenthood.

The problem is not the "revealed knowledge" but the fact that we are in fact imperfect people interpreting it. Careful reading of the Book of Mormon has always had a problem of numbers. Lamanite population quickly mushrooms to vastly outnumber the Nephites. This was pointed out in anti-mormon literature as evidence that the Book of Mormon was "impossible" long before the DNA issue came around. However, was the hemispheric model, while propagated enthusiastically, really ever doctrinal or "revealed". I don't think actual scripture supports this.

At the same time, people are not perfect. It is understandable that given the climate the Book of Mormon was given in, exagerrated claims of the "origin" of Native Americans could be made just as easily, if not moreso than Three Nephite or John sighting stories or other folklore will be propagated. While it is tempting to hold our leaders to a higher standard, I don't think it's fair. They are people.

I don't think it suits God's purpose to squelch every incorrect belief that comes along if it's not harming our spiritual growth. In fact, I think there is important spiritual growth to be gained reexamining our assumptions as new information comes to light, through science or otherwise. It teaches us some humility.

Over the past twenty years we have been warned about making geographic, scientific, political, or historical inferences from a book of scripture that is designed primarily to bring souls to Christ. I think that is inspired advice to us all.

You see, Matt, there is no scripture that says "the hemispheric model is not true."

Of course, if there were such a scripture, it might not be accurate. Tempted as you may be to hold the authors of scripture to a higher standard, you have to understand it wouldn't be fair to do so. They are just people.

But wait. If the hypothetical scripture were hypothetically not true, then wouldn't that mean the same thing as a real scripture that was really true?

I'm confused.

Fair enough, Doc. I agree that there is a problem of human fallibility. But since this problem exists on all sides I set it aside to consider only that which is distinct to each side.

And while I personally don't see a problem with religion being revised as further light and knowledge arrives--even by way of science--I do find it problematic to trivialize the weight given to prior religious views; particularly when those views were presented with the weight of prophetic, apostolic, correlated, or even the total sum of all individual revelatory authority. I think that to trivialize former teachings is to trivialize the present and future weight of prophecy...Not a particularly self-consistent thing to do.

To downplay the full context of what was taught about the BoM in the era in which it was received from the hand of God is to trivialize the book itself. After all, if the geographic and historical context is not a core feature of the value of the book, then why would God bother with such issues in the first place?

No, the context of the book is the key to its power to persuade. The geographic and historical context is perhaps the essence of restoration. So as the context goes, so goes the book.

In response to comment #12, "I don't think actual scripture supports" the hemispheric model, do the words of Moroni to Joseph Smith count as "scripture"?

According to Joseph Smith's Testimony in the Book of Mormon, Moroni "said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang."

Sounds fairly "hemispheric" (or at least "continental"?) to me.

In the BoM, it states that those who were not Nephites were Lamanites. At that point, I think that the genealogical distinctions were changed to a political distinction. Therefore, using set theory, we find that eliminating the Nephites, all others on the continent were by default Lamanites. Any group that the Lamanites might have entered into a political alliance with would be lumped into the classification of Lamanite. This could explain the seemingly large growth in Lamanite population; an increase not be birth, but by political alliance. This could also explain why the military balance, which was at a seeming stalemate for years, suddenly shifted in favor of the Lamanites.

The "former" inhabitants I read as Nephites, they all died out, but their culture did spring from Lehi, Nephi and the Mulekites. The Lamanites as pointed out in the previous comment were quite simply everybody else, a political, not geneologic grouping.

Dave, your original post hit on a fundamental problem with Blake's approach to the scriptures. He started years ago with the notion of the Book of Mormon as a modern expansion of an ancient text. In his Sunstone articles, he introduced the ideas of an ancient expansion of an ancient text (with Mormon/Moroni exaggerating geographical and populatino claims) and a modern expansion of a modern text (with Joseph Smith referring to Lamanites in the D&C as living in Missouri, contrary to the DNA and limited geography concept).

I thought Ron provided an important service in refuting a lot of what Blake argued.

Jonathan: Really? What did Priddis refute? And why is the expansion theory problematic?

Dave: i would also be interested in your futher take on Priddis's article and whether you see it as effective or requiring modification of anything I asserted.

Further, you seem to agree that scripture has been expanded and that the BofM is to some extent a reflection of Joseph Smith's ability to articulate and find language for the translation. So given that human interpretation is inevitable and inherent in every human experience and the use of human language, can we really do more than note these limitations and then work with the text as we find it, noting where it is reasonable that the text may overstate or rely on subsequent understanding in its expression? That is what i seek to do when reading the Book of Mormon. Do you somehow see that as unreasonable?

Matt re #9: your view regarding the limited geography seems to ignore why it was adopted in the first place. The text of the Book of Mormon won't allow us to take a hemispheric model seriously because it clearly and consistently reports the number of days it takes to travel from city to city. No one taking the text seriously could possibly believe that the entirety of two continents can be traversed in the time frame of days stated at several places in the Book of Mormon itself. It is really that simple why the limited geography model is demanded by the text itself.

BTW, Dave, you might want to link to my reply to Priddis.

One should note that Blake answers some of the criticisms over at Mormon Stories. (Priddis responds as well)

Didn't the Mayans think that Sagittarius (or the center of the Milky Way) was the residence of God? And didn't they calculate their calender backwards from the winter solstice of 2012, when the winter solstice sun will align with that center? Or is J. M. Jenkins up in the night?

Blake, I haven't really given systematic thought to the status of the BoM text in light of "the human element" as you are introducing it at the level of the underlying text. The problem I see is that it is the translation of the text by the "gift and power of God" via seerstones or the Urim and Thummim that really warrants the traditional LDS truth claim for the text. If one rejects that warrant and takes the unusual position that the Urim and Thummim, in many places, delivered an accurate translation of an essentially false statement, then it's not clear what actually supports the new, amended, and somewhat diminished truth claim for the translated text. That's the sense in which, in the original post, I described the approach as problematic.

David: There is a big difference between a statement that is false, one that is explanatory, and one that is not fully informed. I don't claim that the expansions in the BofM are "diminished in truth." Further, expansion and explanation are often necessary for any decent translation. I have given the example of translating the Hebrew term hesed, it can't really be grasped without an explanation of Yahweh's long-suffering love and constant faithfulness to covenant even when Israel has been unfaithful. So a translation requires telling the story of the exodus, rejection, continued faithfulness, and so forth.

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