John A. Tvedtnes (FARMS) response to:
Ten Points for
Disbelief in Mormonism
Another in a long list of criticisms that have been previously answered. We here present the responses prepared by John A. Tvedtnes.
Points for Disbelief in Mormonism
While many (perhaps most) Latter-day Saints believe that all Native Americans are lineal Lamanites, serious Book of Mormon scholars acknowledge that there were probably other people in the New World at the time Lehi arrived here, and that there would have been much intermarriage. The DNA evidence does not and cannot disprove the Book of Mormon, nor can it prove it, since we don’t know anything about the genetic makeup of members of Lehi’s family. Research on mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down to posterity only by females, has identified four major matrilineages that are also present in various Asian populations. Critics generally refer to these as evidence against the Book of Mormon. A fifth haplogroup, denoting a different matrilineage, is called X, which is prominent in the Arabian peninsula and parts of Europe, whence some geneticists believe it came. More recent studies have demonstrated that it is also found in Asia as a minor matrilineage. What the critics don’t tell us is that about 30 minor matrilineages not attested in Asia have been identified among Native Americans. There is plenty of room to allow for small groups such as that of Lehi’s party to have immigrated to the New World and intermingled with native populations. [See the discussion of the DNA issue at BYU. (NOTE: This item is no longer available.)]
Most of the BYU archaeologists and LDS archaeologists working elsewhere that I know are believers in the Book of Mormon. I know of only two of them who have taken exception with the Book of Mormon account. But the author here confuses me. Where does he find words like “coins,” “glass,” “hieroglyphs,” “metal swords” (other than the Old World sword of Laban), “wheels,” and some of the others in the Book of Mormon? They are simply not there. While he’s thinking about that, let’s note that swords of various types (but not metal) are known from ancient America, chains are depicted on statuary, grapes and barley are both known in the New World, as are various types of sheep. The Book of Mormon never claims that figs and olives existed in the New World, so he hasn’t read the text carefully enough to know that these are Old World passages. A handful of horse remains have been radiocarbon dated to pre-Columbian times, including the time period in which the Book of Mormon events took place. Several are currently being tested and a published study should appear later this year or next. Mammoths, members of the elephant family, are known to have existed in the New World as late as ca. 2000 B.C., which places them well into Jaredite times. (See also Matt Roper's articles in FARMS' Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: 1996, 1999, and FARMS' Review of Books: 1997
These assessments have all been based on misinformation provided to those Egyptologists by critics of the Church. Moreover, since we don’t have the papyrus from which Joseph did the translation, how could they know? The prophet claimed that it came from a long scroll that he showed to visitors in Nauvoo after 1840, and not that it came from the smaller fragments that were mounted on paper in Kirtland in 1835. The writer is simply not up on the latest research on this subject.
The estimate is incorrect. It is based on the assumption that one of the descriptions of the size of the collection of plates is solid gold. But these were not one solid bullion block; rather, they were individual sheets bound together, which would mean they were not solid (plus one must take into account that they were engraved, meaning there were air pockets between the various plates). Nowhere does Joseph Smith say that these plates were of pure gold, which is assumed in the calculation noted above. This has been dealt with elsewhere. [See also:
Emma was well aware of the polygamy issue, though most members of the Church may not have been. I’d like to see a reference to discourses delivered “at pulpits” by the prophet denouncing the practice. I know that on one occasion, he denied in print that the Church was practicing it, and that was perfectly true, since the principle had not yet been revealed to the Church. How does Joseph’s practice of polygamy become “an act of treason in the young United States.” Joseph was arrested on charges of having ordered the destruction of the press used to print the Nauvoo Expositor, but the charge was afterward changed to treason with no explanation. He would never have been found guilty of treason, since he did not commit any treasonous acts. The U.S. government did not have laws governing marriage practices, but left those to the several states. We should also note that it was not Joseph who decided to destroy the press; it was a decision made by the entire Nauvoo City Council after consulting with lawyers who informed them that it was common practice in other states to destroy libelous presses. The writer needs to put himself in the shoes of 19th-century people and not judge them on the basis of his 20th-century ideas. How did Joseph Smith’s murder constitute “a gun battle”? He wasn’t just “hiding out in a nearby jail”; he had been arrested and was in custody, with a promise from the governor to protect him against the mobs. If these were merely a “state militia unit,” how does one explain that some of its leaders were not even residents of Illinois, but of Missouri? And if they were just out doing a militia’s job, why did they blacken their faces so they couldn’t be identified? Do 200 men armed with rifles vs. two unarmed men and two others with a pistol each (one a six-shooter, the other a one-shot pistol) really constitute “a gun battle”? In some of what the writer said earlier, I could excuse him on grounds of ignorance. But here he is just inventing and distorting things.
What evidence is there that Joseph Smith was arrested and jailed in Ohio? The fraud claim never became a criminal charge and may well have been more of the lies invented by those who opposed Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims. The gullibility of the writer is showing; he seems to accept everything negative about Joseph Smith and the Church and ignore the positive things, with or without evidence.
None of the other 'factions' existed until after Church members voted to sustain Brigham Young and the Twelve Apostles as the Presidency of the Church. The term “Brighamite Branch” was later used by the few who didn’t follow Brigham Young to Utah, and it was never a real name, so why bring it up. The only pretender who laid claim to the presidency soon after Joseph Smith’s death was Sidney Rigdon, though the following year another claim was made by Joseph’s brother William, who was a member of the quorum of the Twelve Apostles and had originally accepted the succession of his quorum and acknowledged, in one of his letters, his backing of Brigham Young. There was a succession order from the beginning, with Oliver Cowdery being the Second Elder of the Church. In July 1834, David Whitmer was ordained Assistant President of the Church and became Joseph Smith’s designated successor. After these two (who were ordained apostles) left the Church, the Quorum of the Twelve became the second quorum in authority in the Church. The sustaining of the Quorum of the Twelve (of which Brigham Young was president) as the first presidency of the Church was acknowledged with virtual unanimity at the conference held in Nauvoo on 8 August 1844, just over a month after Joseph Smith's death, so Brigham Young didn’t need to “solidify his own rule.” And while it is true that less than half the Saints were with Brigham when he went to Utah, most of the rest were camping along the way in Iowa and points westward. Comparatively few remained behind in Nauvoo.
By “many Mormon
historians,” I presume he means D. Michael Quinn, whose book has been
thoroughly trounced by reviewers (see FARMS Review of Books: Gee
- 2000, Hamblin
- 2000, & James
- 2000. The
court record he mentions is merely a ledger notation by a justice of the
peace who noted that he had charged a specific amount to look into the
case. While it probably was
our Joseph Smith, no one can be certain, since there were several people
of that name living in the region. Wesley
Walters, who found the document, claimed that it proved that Joseph Smith
had been found guilty, but the document says nothing of the sort, and
indications from one of the trials at which Joseph Smith was accused of
using a stone to find lost articles is that he was found not guilty
because the witnesses testified that he really did find things for them.
“Egyptian treasure” is never mentioned in any of these
documents and is the writer’s invention.
Perhaps we should also note that Walters actually tore out the
ledger page from an official court document, bringing the ire of the local
non-LDS sheriff down on him.
[See also, Malin
[See also, Malin Jacob
Such hyperbole. There have been thousands of changes, most of them punctuation and spelling. Virtually all of the changes that do not fit these categories were made during Joseph Smith's lifetime, not by `the Utah Mormon movement.' As for the rest, the writer is merely relying on things others have told him or that he’s read in some of the anti-Mormon literature. Everything I’ve ever asked to see from the Church’s archives has been made available to me. Excommunication is not something that happens because one isn’t “politically” correct, but when one apostatizes or commits grievous sins. Most LDS historians are still active in the Church.
Most of this is pure blarney. If Church finances are so secret, how did he get the information? The LDS Church has a centralized financial system, while most Protestant churches do not, leaving such matters in the hands of local congregations, so there’s no real means of comparison. We know where the money goes, however. With tens of thousands of congregations around the world, much of that money comes back to the local wards, branches, and stakes in the form of meeting-house construction and upkeep, along with educational pursuits (three universities and various elementary and high schools in the developing world). The Church does not and never has taught that people will be damned for not paying tithing. It is incorrect to say that tithing money is not used for charity. Each year, the Church provides many millions of dollars on care of the poor and on disaster relief throughout the world. I’ve never heard anyone promise me a “’four-fold increase’ in wealth” and I don’t expect it. I pay tithing because I love the Lord, and I expect nothing in return. What really bugs me is that people like this who don’t pay tithing are the only ones who gripe about it. Those of us who pay tithing do it willingly and do indeed trust that it’s being used wisely. We see the many results that come from those financial offerings.