“A horse is a tapir, of course” (Mormon anthropology)

tapir

The American Family Association’s resident lunatic, Bryan Fisher, has speculated that the Church of Latter-Day Saints should be considered the fourth Abrahamic religion, along with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

I continually stress that an argument is what must be addressed and never the person. Dealing with the likes of Fisher is an excellent opportunity to test that principle. His views are, to be charitable, distinctive. He has argued that the United States is a Christian theocracy because, while the Constitution mentions no gods and forbids establishing an religion, the document was signed using the phrase “In the Year of our Lord.” He has called for the execution of whales and has argued that shaking iPod earbuds in their box disproves evolution. Less humorously, he has defended the genocide perpetrated against Native Americans since Christians needed the land and resources. 

But to do proper critical thinking, we must avoid poisoning the well (and other logical fallacies), and must look at each stance a person takes independent of their other views. And his take on Mormons is that their beliefs are so iconoclastic that they should not be called Christians. Fisher considers it blasphemous to believe that a man can become a god, that virtually no one besides Judas and the demons will go to Hell, and that there is a Mrs. God (sorry for the generic title, I’m not terribly well-versed in Mormon female deities lexicon).

I, however, consider Mormons to be Christians. They believe in the deity of Jesus, in the miracles attributed to him, in the resurrection, and in Biblical authority. At the same time, I think Mormons can be said to be a distinctive brand of Christianity, holding many beliefs not shared by any other Christian sect or denomination.  

Most of their views are untestable. There are many planets out there and there’s no way to determine if one is Kolob. Magic underwear could be tested for its alleged protective properites, but until someone produces it, that won’t happen.

But we are able to determine the Book of Mormon’s accuracy when when it tells of Israeli expatriate tribes that lived in the Americans from about 3100 BCE to 400 CE. These tribes – the Nephites and Lamantites – are now said to be the ancestors of the Incans, Mayans, and Aztecs, though this was shoehorned in about a century after Joseph Smith announced he had received the golden tablets. It was axiomatic at the time that the tribes and their descendants were white.

Even today, it might make Latter-Day Saints feel better to think the whites made it here first, but there is no evidence for that or anything else the Book of Mormon claims about ancient America. One racist rationalization is that God cursed the Nephites and Lamanites by darkening their skin. However, all DNA evidence from Native American tribes indicate they arrived from Asia via the Bearing Strait and not from the vicinity of Jerusalem.

Native American populations are in one of four main branches of the human genealogical tree and are characterized by their Y chromosome markers and mitochondrial DNA, which correspond to known early migrations from eastern Asia. These points are unanimous among biological anthropologists not employed by BYU. 

The website fairmormon.com defends its holey holy book against biology, archeology, anthropology, and logic. It embraces little science other than sometimes cherry picking an outlier that they asset lends credence to their position. It occasionally sprinkles in science terms to make it sound legitimate, but they are not testing their claims for falsifiability or reproducibility and never submit them for peer review.

They also rely on negative evidence, where the fact that we can’t disprove their assertion is counted as a point for their side. For example, the book of Mormon claims that steel was used by Nephite neophytes. With no anthropological evidence to support this, fairmormon.com speculates that a steel-like substance may have been able to be produced by hammering pig-iron. And maybe Walt Disney stole his characters from the Jew next door, then locked the creator away for 40 years. We can dream up any scenario we like, but should only assert as true what we can back up with the facts.  And all the evidence shows that many technologies and species described in the Book of Mormon were introduced to the continent in modern times. Moreover, the evidence also shows that all native Americans are descended from Asian migrations many thousands of years before the Book of Mormon has Jesus stopping by  what is today Arrowhead Stadium.

The Aztec, Incan and Mayan hypothesis requires ignoring the total lack of evidence regarding these peoples being of Israeli origin or that they worshiped the Abrahamic god. There is also no evidence they had access to many of the animals, food, plants, technologies, and implements Smith had them using.

Smith’s former golden plates tell of a Mesoamerican menagerie of horses, elephants, cattle, goats, swine, deer, and sheep, none of which were around during the time period specified. Some had been galloping and stomping around millennium before that, but the fossil records showed they had gone extinct around 10,000 BCE, and only returned when Europeans reintroduced them beginning in the 15th Century.

Besides creative anthropology, Mormons also show dexterity at linguistic contortions. As one example, they claim the horses mentioned in the Book of Mormon were actually tapirs. They attempt similar tricks with any animal mentioned in the Book of Mormon that is not confirmed by anthropology and biology. This is special pleading, as apologists insist on absolute literalism except when an item needs to be changed into a similar beast/plant/tool in order to make the overall picture fit.  This strategy is only used when evidence fails to back their scripture. For instance, if Smith references a buffalo, they never argue he really meant deer.

As to what these animals and their owners were eating and wearing, that too is anachronistic. Wheat and silk was introduced to America by Europeans, yet Smith writes of barley and silken clothing.

Onto the modes of transportation. Evidence of wheeled vehicles has not been found in Mesoamerica, nor would it have even been suitable in most of the land, yet the Book of Mormon contains chariot accounts. 

Also, steel are iron are mentioned several times, yet no evidence has been produced of iron being hardened to produce steel. Primitive metallurgy existed in South America, but metal use was limited to reasons of adornment.

Finally, Smith portrays the Nephites as writing a language with Israeli and Egyptian roots even though no known ancient American people were writing anything similar to hieroglyphic Hebrew.

There are plenty of fine books about imaginary people, fantastic creatures, and advanced civilizations. I suggest grabbing some Asimov, Verne, or Clarke instead.  You’ll get a more compelling plot, better developed characters, and you won’t be doubly criticized for downing a Coke and whiskey.

 

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