From Newsgroups: soc.religion.mormon


This article consists of points and counter points between myself (former Mormon scientist--not rpcman) and B concerning B's assertion that there is persuasive evidence that the Maya are the mythical Nephites of Book of Mormon lore. The conversation began on 5 November 1996 when B wrote (responding to comments from P): --------------------------------------------------------------
There are many who are of the opinion that the Mayan and the Nephite/Lamanite are the same people. The evidence I have seen is persuasive.
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In response to these comments of B's, I offered (in part) the following questions: --------------------------------------------------------------
B, would you mind posting this "persuasive" evidence? Is if from scientific sources, or published by Mormon apologists? Does any of this "evidence" come from peer-review journals? Do non-Mormon archeologists find the evidence "persuasive"? Have any non-Mormon archeologists found the evidence sufficiently persuasive to join the Mormon church?
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B responded to my comments and questions 19 November. In one of his comments, B wrote: -------------------------------------------------------------
Can one only be scientific or apologetic? I wasn't aware they were incongruent. Has anyone told those Christian and Jewish researchers in Israel that they have to choose between science and religion? In all honesty I have no idea how the academic community has responded to the argument setup by my authors. But this leads me to question your own experience in such academic circles. I am glad to know you are aquatinted with the concept of peer-review. However, the distainment you show, does not indicate that you have experienced the training universities are attempting to instill in its students.
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An apologist is someone who speaks or writes in defense of a faith, a cause, or an institution (Webster's ninth new collegiate dictionary). Thus, an apologist is someone who argues in defense of preexisting beliefs, and feels compelled to defend them even if the physical evidence is lacking. In contrast, science (ideally) follows the weight of evidence. While the authors of a scientific theory might defend it, they must be willing to set the theory aside and consider it false if it is unsupported by the physical evidence. Of course, there is always a human predisposition toward bias, which is why science relies so strongly on peer- review. So, to answer your question: Yes. The underlying philosophical approaches of the scientific and apologetic methods are incompatible. Whether someone must choose between science and religion depends on the extent to which they let religion interfere with the scientific method. The only "distainment" I may have shown was toward the uncritical evidence acquired in Mormon seminaries, testimony meetings, and such. Are you suggesting universities encourage students to look to these sources in their research?

In another of his comments, B wrote 19 November:
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I have received such a witness [of the truth of Mormonism], my wife has received such revelations independent of myself, and their are many people who subscribe to this newsgroup who could tell you the same. If the sole reason for joining this church is based on archaeological evidence, we would not let them join. You may attend services, but you cannot be baptized a member until you can testify that you have received revelation from God that Joseph Smith was chosen of God to be a prophet, and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, as is the Bible, and a witness of Jesus Christ.
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This discussion did not originate because of your testimony. It originated because you claimed there is persuasive evidence that the Maya are the Nephites. If you are going to back into your testimony mode, you should not claim the existence of persuasive evidence. Your testimony is no different from those expressed by people who believe in space aliens or the resurrection of Elvis. It is the nature of our species to think emotionally. Consequently, I do not place much emphasis on your testimony, even though I am sure you are quite sincere.

In another of his comments, B wrote 19 November:
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Most of the information [supplied in response to my questions] is limited to one source, John L. Sorenson, a retired professor of anthropology. And, of course, he is an apologist.
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Then you failed to respond to my question. You have found one source (an apologist) upon whom you rely almost exclusively. You have failed to demonstrate that his opinions are shared by even a minority of archeologists. You have failed to show that his writings on the Book of Mormon appear in any peer- reviewed journals.

In another of his comments, B wrote 19 November:
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The label "steel" is considered problematic throughout the whole field of archeology. It is believed that steel as used in the Bible would be better described as bronze, however, it is known that prior to the Spanish conquest the Tarascans had steel helmets. It may have been bronze, and it may have been steel. The lack of evidence is not proof against actual presence. ..... Perhaps you may answer a question, what was the original definition of steel? It was "any firm substance." So just because it didn't meet 20th century standards of steel, it doesn't mean it didn't suit the purposes of Joseph Smith.
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You say "it is known that prior to the Spanish conquest the Tarascans had steel helmets," yet you failed to provide a reference. Why? You said the helmets were steel, then you say they may have been bronze, or steel. Can you not make up your mind? If the helmets were found, it would not be trivial to determine if they were bronze or steel. You suggest the steel swords were bronze. Fine. Give me scientific references to the discovery of bronze swords among the Maya. Bronze does not rust. What excuse is there for not finding them, if the Maya were really the Nephites and the steel swords were really bronze?

Since you apparently failed to read my Book of Mormon references, let's review a few of them here. For example, in 2 Nephi 5:14 it says: "And I [Nephi] did teach my people to ... work in all manner of ... iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores ...." Now, you apparently believe that the word "steel" did not really mean an alloy of iron (as we use the word today). This seems an odd and arbitrary interpretation. What, then, is your understanding of the Book of Mormon's reference to the word "iron"? How do you explain the fact the Book of Mormon discriminates between iron and its alloys? If "steel" really meant bronze, what was the metal the Nephites called "brass" or the metals called "copper", "gold", and "silver"? Were these all different as well?

These language games Mormons play are silly. The Book of Mormon provides not just words, but context. Read the context in which steel and iron are mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Consider, for example, the description in Mosiah 8:11: "And again, they have brought swords, the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust...." Would bronze swords be "cankered with rust"? Why would the Nephites have phrases or words that describe rust, and know of a metal that rusts, if they really did not use steel or iron, or if their steel swords were really bronze? How can you expect people to trust a book that says the Nephites worked in iron, steel, brass, gold, etc. when the word "steel" did not mean steel, and the word "iron" did not mean iron? If the Book of Mormon is so poorly translated that common words do not mean what they say (and not just in the 20'th century, but the 19'th century as well) how could god have been involved in the translation? Perhaps, "Jesus" does not mean Jesus, "God" does not mean God, and "true" does not mean true.

As for your argument that "lack of evidence is not proof against actual presence". This is a very worn out Mormon excuse. The lack of expected evidence most certainly does constitute negative evidence. Deriving conclusions based on a lack of expected evidence is an invaluable tool of logic, used in fields as diverse as nuclear physics to forensics. When a hypothesis predicts something that we expect to observe, and then we fail to observe it, we are logically inclined to suspect the hypothesis is false. Even if the steel swords rusted, the Book of Mormon describes swords with gold handles, and specifically mentions that even when the blades had rusted, the handles remained solid (see Mosiah 8:11). We should expect, therefore (if nothing else) to discover gold sword handles. Have any been found? Can you provide references to scientific sources, or are the only references available from Mormon apologists who operate under a forgone conclusion?

In another of his comments, B wrote 19 November:
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This goes back to the experiences of the person translating. You use the word that will convey the purpose of the item. An other animal [besides horses] may have been used, and it was used as we use horses, or it resembled a horse. There are pictures/figures of people riding deer. (Which if you think about it -- if that was a direct translation of how Joseph Smith would have been mocked for saying people rode on deer).
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You said there is strong evidence the Maya were the Nephites. Are you backing away from this assertion with arguments about "could have" or "might be"? Did the Maya use deer to pull chariots? Did the Maya ride deer? If not, how is your argument relevant? Are there any Maya stables, like those mentioned in the book of Mormon? Any Maya chariots? Roman art shows many images of horses and riders. How many such images are found in Maya art? Nephi came from an area that had both deer and horses. Furthermore, the distinction between these animals had deep religious significance, since horses are unclean, and deer are clean under the Mosaic law (the Nephites lived the Mosaic law). Why would people with this background call a deer a horse? Joseph Smith new the difference between a horse and a deer. So did his 19'th century audience. If Nephi, Joseph, you, and I all know what horses and deer are, what sense is there in using the word "horse" for animals that look like deer? How is the meaning of the translation properly conveyed if the animals the Nephites used to pull their chariots were deer instead of horses? If Joseph Smith really translated by the "gift and power of God" why did he not provide a clear translation? He was mocked for lots of things. Do you honestly think he would use the word "horse" instead of "deer" because he though people would mock him? Isn't a truthful translation more important than being mocked? Oh, yes. Before I end this paragraph, you have only addressed half the problem. Show me the Maya chariots. More importantly, of what value is a book where common words do not mean what they say? Do any non-Mormon linguists believe that the linguistic arguments advanced by Mormons make any sense? Isn't god a better translator than the average linguist? Do you believe god helped Joseph translate? Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon was (at least when translated) the most correct book on the earth. How could such poor translation be considered the most correct of any book on earth, and how could god have been involved in such a twisted translation?

In another of his comments, B wrote 19 November:
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Of the hundreds of dialects in central America, which one did the Mayans use? With the number of languages and dialects in the area, where would I start? The work is just beginning to trace back to the 1 or 2 parent languages. As for the Book of Mormon references, how do you know it wasn't relating to the style of writing. Both Egyptian and Mayans used hieroglyphs.
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You said there is strong evidence the Maya were the Nephites. Are you backing away from this assertion with arguments about "could have" or "might be"? Do any archeologists believe the root language for the Maya is Hebrew or Egyptian? If not, how do you explain this problem since the Nephites used both languages? Do archeologists believe any ancient Amerindian language is derived from Hebrew or Egyptian? If not, how could the Nephites have existed in such isolation that their language did not influence those of their neighbors? The Book of Mormon does not say they used writing with similar style. It says they used modified Hebrew and Egyptian. Pointing out possibilities (and very remote ones at that) hardly amounts to persuasive evidence. You are the one who claimed to have such evidence, yet you have failed to provide any. Why? Can you find any practicing archeologist who believes the Maya language is a derivative of Hebrew and Egyptian, starting roughly 600 BCE?

In another of his comments, B wrote 19 November:
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You are limiting yourself to the group of Nephites. The migration from Asia (supposedly) by Jared and his brother to Central America still fits in with the early period. And to limit yourself, to say there was no influence between the Jaredites and the Lamanites and Nephites is not realistic. That is like saying Great Britain wasn't influenced by France, Germany, or Scandinavia.
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B, please go read your Book of Mormon. The story clearly shows no interaction between the Nephites and Jaredites. Since you believe this is unrealistic, perhaps you should reconsider your belief in the Book of Mormon. I like your argument about civilizations influencing each other, though. It makes it rather tough, don't you think, to imagine how the Nephites managed to exist in the Americas without leaving some trace of their civilization embedded in the Maya culture. According to the Book of Mormon, the Nephites and Jaredite cultures were separate. Contextual reading says they never mixed. Their first mention in the Book of Mormon is when a group of lost Nephites found their ruined cities, after the Jaredites had already been destroyed by a civil war. The Nephites could not read their writing, and seemed genuinely surprised at finding another civilization existing on the same continent. Why would they have reacted in such a way if the two civilizations had mixed? I made this very clear in my earlier post, and provide copious references. Apparently, you neglected to read them. For your benefit, I am repeating my earlier observations to that effect:

The Nephites never "melded" with the "Jaredites". They never intermarried. The Nephites were unaware of the "Jaredites" until a lost group of Nephites discovered their destroyed cities (Mosiah 8: 7-11, follow the footnotes). In the end, all but one of the "Jaredites" were killed in a civil war that wiped out their civilization. The last remaining "Jaredite" (by the way, the Book of Mormon never uses the word Jaredite) was discovered by the Nephites and lived with them for only "nine moons". (Omni 1:19- 22; Ether 15). The Maya were a distinct civilization before Nephi et. al. supposedly arrived on the scene. Given this, how can any intellectually honest person make the claim that the Nephites were the Maya?

In another of his comments, B wrote 19 November:
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What is the difficult part [about showing the Maya were Hebrews or Christians]? "And notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law be fulfilled. ..... 2 Nephi 25:25-26. Do you really need sources, on this one. The fulfillment of the law was the sacrifice of one Man. If you do not find references to similar sacrifices performed you need a new book. However, many people tied the appearance of Christ in the Americas to Quetzalcoatl.....
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Okay, I need a new book. Find an archeologist who describes Hebrew-style sacrifices among the Maya. You do realize, don't you, that animal sacrifices are common to many cultures? Hebrews, however, performed their sacrifices in a very specific way. Please, since you apparently have a book that supports this, show that the Maya (BCE) performed Hebrew ritualistic animal sacrifices. While you are at it, show that they practiced Christianity. I'm aware Mormons make this connection between Jesus and Quetzalcoatl routinely. I'm not sure their correlation is any more significant than the images people see in ink blots. Do any practicing archeologists find persuasive correlation between Jesus and Quetzalcoatl? These questions aside, I should point out that (as with so many other Mormon arguments) this one actually argues against the Book of Mormon. Follow along, and I will show you how.

According to the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites completely destroyed the Nephites. In Mormon 8:7 it reads "And behold, the Lamanites have hunted my people, the Nephites, down from city to city and from place to place, even until they are no more; and great has been their fall; yea, great and marvelous is the destruction of my people, the Nephites." In Moroni 1:1 it reads: "Now I, Moroni, after having made an end of abridging the account of the people of Jared, I had supposed not to have written more, but I have not as yet perished; and I make not myself known to the Lamanites lest they should destroy me. For behold, their wars are exceedingly fierce among themselves; and because of their hatred they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ." So, the Book of Mormon says the Lamanites completely wiped out all belief in Jesus around 400 ACE, yet you say the Maya civilization (not just a few escaped outcasts) continued to worship a Jesus-like god. How can this be? If the Book of Mormon is true, we expect to find no similarities between Christianity and Amerindian gods after 400 ACE. Like so many Mormon arguments, yours only works if you keep one eye shut. It only works if you manage to ignore some of the evidence. If the Book of Mormon is true, we should find evidence of Christian and Jewish religion earlier than 400 ACE. Then, we should see a dramatic shift in the dominate religion, with no remaining similarities to the earlier religion. If the Book of Mormon is true, we should find no evidence of a Jesus-like god after 400 ACE. Yet Mormons point to supposed similarities between Jesus and Quetzalcoatl as evidence for the Book of Mormon. How odd.

In another of his comments, B wrote 19 November:
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Being egocentric limits ones access to information. It is narrow-minded thinking that all you see is all knowledge known. You have the false assumption that all knowledge concerning the Mayan peoples is now present.
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I asked you to support your claim that there is persuasive evidence linking the Maya to the Nephite/Lamanite cultures. You have failed to do this. Asking Mormons to backup their assertive statements with reasonable evidence is not narrow-minded. At no point have I suggested that all we see "is all knowledge known." You are setting up a strawman argument. The issue is whether we are going to make logical conclusions based on fact. Forcing evidence to fit mythology never opened up new avenues of information.

In another of his comments, B wrote 19 November:
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Perhaps you should obtain a better understanding of how research is done, published and criticized by its own. Then actually READ the Book of Mormon for content and details. .... My book recommendations would be "An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon) by John L. Sorenson (Deseret Book). BTW, this book was published in 1985 -- if I had the time, I am sure I could find more evidence in current periodicals.
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I've read the Book of Mormon many times, and I've also read Sorenson's book (along with many others written by Mormon apologists). I specifically asked for references to peer-review scientific articles that specifically mention and support the Book of Mormon. You have failed to do this. If you believe my standards for evidence are too high, show me. How many practicing non-Mormon archeologist believe in the Book of Mormon? How many practicing archeologist have joined the Mormon church (after he or she had become proficient in his or her field)? Do you intend to indict the entire profession? I was an active Mormon for 37 years. Before I left the Mormon church I read the Book of Mormon 16 times. How many times have you read it? I have a large percentage of the Book of Mormon committed to memory. I left the Mormon church because, after all my study, I realized the Book of Mormon is not true. Eventually, I was simply unable to work myself into a sufficiently intense emotional state of mind to go on ignoring this obvious conclusion. The Book of Mormon is a fraud, and leaving the church was the only intellectually honest thing to do.

In another of his comments, B wrote 19 November:
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As for your own rantings, you have not given references, yet complain about lack of evidence.
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Your statement is false. Read my post again. I referenced Coe's book, and not less than a dozen verses from the Book of Mormon.

In another of his comments, B wrote 19 November:
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Just by citing what is written, doesn't mean that is all there is. But I will give you one more shot at trying to prove this again. Try a different approach this time. Remember, science extrapolates from the evidence. Archeologists posit theories on what they see and what they don't see. If you just copy, then you are either a bad historian or a Xerox machine.
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B, you have it backwards. You claim there is persuasive evidence that the Nephite/Lamanites were the Maya. This is a positive assertion. It is not my job to prove your assertion is wrong, it is your job to prove it is correct. You have failed to do this. I, and others, can only conclude you failed because you were incorrect in making the assertion in the first place.

B's saying at the end of his post:
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I almost think it is the ultimate destiny of science to exterminate the human race. --T.L. Peacock
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Thank you, B, for illustrating a common sentiment among Mormons. Of course, being a scientist, and an ex Mormon, I'm only too aware of the deep animosity many Mormons have toward the scientific community. Being familiar with the Book of Mormon, it isn't too hard to understand why.


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