My Journey With the Book of Mormon. Part 2, World-view Deconstruction
And I, Enos knew that God could not lie…Enos 1:6, Book of Mormon
This Book of Mormon verse has had a profound impact on my life. In the dualistic black and white way of thinking I was brought up with as a Mormon, there was God and Satan. God is the source of all truth, Satan is the Father of Deception. God CAN’T lie. One might wonder… well, if all things are possible with God and God can’t lie, then are all things really possible with God? This is a fair argument, and just one of many contradictions in the scriptures. So perhaps I viewed it more as I got older that God Won’t lie or Doesn’t lie. This includes God doesn’t deceive or plant evidence to deceive (or “test faith.”) This would make God deceptive by nature.
The very foundation of science is built upon the idea that there is a framework of integrity and truth in our universe. The laws of the universe ALWAYS work. At a minimum, one could define God as at least the universe (and many do). I don’t know about you, but I didn’t create myself. I was created… as were my parents before me. At a minimum we are all products of the Universe AND part of the universe. Created by something greater than us that we are also a part of. An omnipresent God. The Bible talks of Heavenly Father being over all, in all and through all. Sounds a lot like the universe (at a minimum) to me. Regardless of how we define (or don’t define) God, I think it is clear we are part of the universe. Therefore the universe is intelligent. Because we are intelligent. I have no difficulty believing that a higher intelligence exists than us, perhaps as a compilation of all the various moving parts of the universe. But I can’t prove it.
That aside, truth is truth. God doesn’t lie. The laws of nature DO NOT lie. This is at the very foundation of science.
All of Creation is the Book God has ACTUALLY Written.
So what this means/meant to me as my world-view evolved and my view of the Book of Mormon began to deconstruct is that God won’t run around planting evidence that is by its nature very deceptive. The Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Quran, and any other sacred text was literally written by men. A man was originally holding a pen with some ink… God didn’t directly do so. Not in a single case.
On the other hand, the earth, the rocks, all biological organisms, were directly written by God (or the universe, I don’t really care which term one prefers to use). We were all created by non-lying laws of nature. So… if there is a book of paper written with ink with a man holding the pen that says the earth was created 6,000 years ago and man has only been on the earth for 6,000 years… and there is another book of soil, rock, water, air and organic material that says man has been on the earth for over 100,000 years and evolved from lower life forms before that… I am gonna believe the book of soil, rock, water, air and organic material before the book of paper and ink. EVERY. TIME. Because THAT is the book God ACTUALLY wrote. We have only been learning how to read this Book of Life the past few hundred years, but we can now read it FAR better than the inhabitants of the bronze age, the same inhabitants that wrote much of sacred writ. And we are getting better and better at reading God’s Book. The Book God ACTUALLY wrote (and is still writing).
Scientific Dating Methods Contradict the Book of Mormon.
There are many dating methods science has discovered over the years. One of these is Carbon 14 (C-14) dating. It is often used to help date organic material. Current calibrations with varves (sedimentary layers in lakes created by altering amounts of vegetation coming into the lake with different seasons of the year) make C-14 dating viable out to 50,000 – 60,000 years. C-14 dating methods frequently come under attack as being “highly unreliable” by some religionists.
Many years ago, when my understanding of these methods of dating was on the far left aspect of the Dunning Kruger curve, before I came to know what I didn’t know, I used to believe some of the pseudo-scientific “creationist” apologetic arguments against C-14 dating.
I remain very familiar with these positions. However, as I took the time to analyze this issue in more depth to try to better understand WHY so many scientists (basically all of them) that have spent their entire lives examining this issue could get something so basic so wrong I came to the conclusion that it was MY paradigms that were wrong. The experts didn’t all magically happen to get it wrong. Nor were they all conspiring together to withhold truth from me. I now believe many advocating arguments against C-14 dating on various websites, etc. remain willfully ignorant or in some cases are being deliberately dishonest.
As mentioned, I don’t believe there is a grand conspiracy by nearly the entire scientific community to withhold evidence and deceive. Any scientist that could prove C-14 calibrations wrong would win a Nobel Prize. There is great incentive to find evidence that disproves. But instead we find evidence that proves. Here are some answers to creationist attacks on C-14. And here. And here. And here.
Bottom line, unless God is deliberately running around planting evidence to deceive, we have very good evidence that Carbon dating is reliable out to 50-60,000 years. And other forms of reliable dating methods take us well beyond that as well. Analogous to analyzing the rings of a tree, sampling layers of ice core in areas such as Antarctica with the variations that happen in snow fall and temperature with each new year can take us back 800,000 years ! Clearly the notion of a literal “new earth” is false. And there are MANY other reliable scientific dating methods as well. The fact is, the evidence STRONGLY says mankind has been on earth for OVER 100,000 years.
For one to disbelieve all of this, one would have to believe the laws of nature are designed to deceive… that God literally runs around planting evidence to deceive. But GOD. CAN’T. LIE! GOD. DOESN’T. DECEIVE.
Alternatively, one would have to believe there is a grand conspiracy to suppress information and deceive by the scientific community. But again, scientists become famous by proving prior theories wrong. Science by its very nature EMBRACES having been wrong previously… this is how science advances. How Nobel prizes are won. Yet year after year, additional mountains of data accumulate showing that we are part of a very old earth. So what does this all have to do with the Book of Mormon then?
Other Scientific Evidence Contradicts the Book of Mormon.
C-14 dating methods, DNA dating methods, and other methods of dating clearly show mankind has been in the Americas for over 10,000 years, (long before the time-lines taught in the Book of Mormon) and that they originate from East Asia (not Jerusalem). Thousands of human DNA samples have been taken from across the Americas and not ONE SHRED comes from the middle East at the time of Lehi. For a more in depth discussion of this, please see the DNA section in my response to the LDS Gospel Topics essays.
Additionally, there are species the Book of Mormon says came over from the Old world as part of the Lehite and Jaredite migrations… specifically seeds for “all varieties” of crops that “grew exceedingly” and humans. But there weren’t any old world crops in the Americas before Columbus. It is not just a matter of these crops being absent in the archeological record, they weren’t perpetuated to later generations either.
Joseph Smith wrote the Anthon transcript, a “transcription” of characters from the Golden plates. But this series of characters have not been found anywhere in the Americas… or the world. The complete lack of evidence suggests “Reformed Egyptian” as espoused by Joseph Smith is a complete myth. And his abilities to translate are seriously called into question by the fact that we have Egyptian papyri he translated, and they don’t say what he said they say. And we have the Kinderhook plates, and they don’t say what he said they say. And there are many other issues.
While I was busy reading the Book of Mormon, “holding to the rod,” as mentioned in my prior post, one of the many things I studied was the Geography of the Book of Mormon. I figured it must have been important to look into or else Mormon (one of the proposed writers of the Book of Mormon) wouldn’t have included it! What I found is the Geography of the Book of Mormon is internally consistent for the most part, but it also doesn’t seem to exist ANYWHERE in the Americas upon close inspection. The closest “plausible” working model of the Book of Mormon lands is from John Sorenson from BYU, but it has many SERIOUS issues. There is no clear consensus amongst LDS scholars about exactly where the Book of Mormon took place, because there is no clear geography and archeological record that cleanly matches the Book of Mormon. At least none that has been found.
It is one thing to say there is no evidence of something… but that is not proof that something doesn’t exist. For example… some may say there is no definite proof of the existence of God. But the belief in God (as described by many) is not a disprovable belief. The existence of God as say a man with a white beard somewhere in the universe CAN’T be disproven because there is no way to analyze every particle of the universe in search for this conception of God unless one had the capabilities of an omniscient and omnipresent God oneself.
Disconfirming Evidence is FAR More Powerful than Confirming Evidence.
However, there ARE disprovable beliefs in the actual text of the Book of Mormon, something we DO have.
The Book of Mormon relies upon, even quotes texts that were written well after it was said to have been written (but before Joseph Smith). This includes passages of the Old and New Testament and books written in the 1800’s. Some may say perhaps some of these came from other older sources that both the Biblical and the New Testament sources relied upon… but this argument absolutely falls apart as we delve into this further.
The Book of Mormon says the brass plates Nephi carried from Jerusalem contains the Books of Moses as well as the writings of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The problem is, the Book of Mormon quotes extensively from chapters of Isaiah scholars know were written by Jews in post-exilic Babylon, well AFTER Nephi left Jerusalem. Isaiah was written in stages over a couple hundred years. This is known for a number of reasons, including the fact that later portions of Isaiah quote from texts known to have been written later than the first portions of Isaiah. Also Aramaic is used in later portions of Isaiah. A language not spoken by pre-exilic Jews. And there are MANY other factors that lead to the overwhelming scholarly consensus that many chapters Nephi quotes in the Book of Mormon were written after Nephi could possibly have obtained them. Truthfulness of Deutero-Isaiah Part 1 and Truthfulness of Deutero-Isaiah Part 2
Also, there is extensive evidence the five books of Moses were written LONG after they claim to have been written. Likely also after Nephi “left” Jerusalem… so they wouldn’t have been “on the brass plates.
In addition, it makes zero sense to me that technological advancements, such as writing on plates, would exist in a vacuum. The ancient scribes and copyists of Israel copying the texts again and again over time must have been such a pain. If an entire book was written on plates (the brass plates) why don’t we see this method of transcription having been passed on by many others in that area over generations? We don’t. We see a few isolated examples of writings on a few plates here and there throughout the archeological records of the world, but nothing like a complete book.
It is not just this, but the Book of Mormon also deals with numerous Christian topics that were the product of at least 1800 years of theological evolution. Well beyond Book of Mormon timelines!
I believe the arguments for authenticity of the Book of Mormon such as Chiasmus, Hebraisms, the difficulty of Joseph Smith doing this miraculous task, and the witness of the Spirit testifying of its truth begin to fall apart upon closer inspection.
The fact is, disconfirming evidence is FAR more powerful than confirming evidence. For instance, if I see a painting that purports to be from the 1700’s, but it can be clearly demonstrated that it uses a paint substance not in existence until the 1900’s, that painting is a fraud… regardless of how perfect every other aspect of it is. Regardless of HOW powerful the confirming evidence.
The Witness of the Spirit as the Elevation Emotion is Ubiquitous.
As I continued to diligently study the texts of Book of Mormon, what it actually says, the only way I could preserve my core belief in a God who doesn’t lie, was to come to the conclusion that the Book of Mormon is not what it claims to be, and that my feelings of “the witness of the Spirit” also didn’t mean what I thought they meant.
The entire foundation a belief in the LDS Church and the Book of Mormon is built upon is the concept of the validity of a witness of the Spirit. I am in the U.S. Army and was in Bagram for over 6 months in 2012, treating civilians and soldiers on both sides of the conflict as a physician, pledged to help heal.
Many Muslims over there have a tremendous testimony of the Quran. So much so some are willing to die for their beliefs in what it says and teaches. Many Muslims describe how when listening to the Quran in Arabic, one can feel the truth of the words and know to one’s very soul the truth of it from Allah. While over there, I learned the way they describe their testimonies of the Quran is very similar to how LDS share their convictions of how “The Spirit” testifies of the Book of Mormon. Similar to how I felt about it and the experiences I had with it, as shared in my prior post.
Later, after arriving home, I learned many other religions with contradictory truth claims also endorses a witness of the validity of their truth claims very much like how I felt the Holy Ghost had testified to me the veracity of mine.
In addition, there were some personal events in my life much closer to home where the “Holy Ghost” absolutely testified of the truth of certain matters, matters that I based MAJOR life decisions around. Matters that later turned out to be absolutely false.
I no longer believe “The Witness of the Spirit” is a reliable witness of literal truth. Rather I think this is part of “the Elevation Emotion.” Something we can see on brain imaging , and part of how we are programmed in the moral foundations of our psyches.
This emotion lies on the opposite end of the spectrum of disgust, and is activated when we see or participate in compassionate acts, or do things that are “opposite” of disgust. The presence of this emotion is in all societies and religions. It can help lift us to a higher plane, inspiring us to do good, but I do not believe it is a witness of literal truth.
One can “feel the Spirit” equally while listening to a sermon of Paul Dunn (prior LDS General Authority, known for his stories that weren’t true), Les Miserables, or the Book of Mormon. This feeling of the Spirit may be testifying to deeper truths for sure… love, compassion, mercy, forgivness. But to believe it is a witness of literal truth is to then often buy into a paradigm of “othering” that can lead to exclusion, shunning, and even killing of others.
The elevation emotion CAN indeed elevate us, but like every other emotion the Universe has created in us, it can be hi-jacked. And it often IS hi-jacked by many religious organizations. People don’t join cults or radical religious organizations because the leaders look creepy and psycho. They join and stay in cults because they FEEL Good. They FEEL they belong. They FEEL elevated. They FEEL loved. They FEEL peace.
Emotions are NOT a reliable way to determine the truthfulness of concrete, literal truth claims. This is known as “emotional reasoning” by psychologists and is a WELL known and described cognitive distortion … One that can really lead to problems in one’s own life.
In the words of the Biblical prophet Jeremiah: The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Indeed, our emotions may and often DO lie to us when it comes to matters of fact. If this wasn’t the case, there would have been no need for the Enlightenment, relying on higher processing orders of thinking rather than just the ancient superstitions founded on emotional based reasoning. Emotions may and do lie.
GOD. CAN’T. LIE.
Jason Harris is a Neurologist/Neuro-Ophthalmologist, Dad and Husband who shares his experiences leaving the Mormon Church and reconstructing a new World-View. He believes all religions and scripture are man-made and believes there is Divinity in all of them.
NEXT in This Series: Elevation Emotion, Confirmation Bias, Cognitive Dissonance and the Hero’s Journey, Book of Mormon Reconstruction part 3.