Monday, November 16, 2009

I Get Offers

atheism, mormon, lds, atheist, evangelism, witnessing,
Yours, Sincerely, whose name cracks me up because I sign about two dozen letters a day "Sincerely yours", has thrown down the gauntlet. Well, more like gently laid a velvet-covered gauntlet disguised as a rose on the table.

Hey PF, thanks for visiting my blog recently.

That's probably not sincere, because well, you can read for yourself. (I wasn't outright rude or anything, but I can't believe she truly enjoyed that.)

I sincerely hope you are feeling better and on the mend.

I will grant the sincerity there. Just because we totally don't agree on anything doesn't mean she wishes me physical harm or suffering. So, thanks for your good wishes, I'm doing quite well.

Please don't take this as sarcasm on my part when I say that I find your challenges (perhaps that's not the right word, but can't think of anything better) with the issue of God, quite interesting.

As every good pitchman knows, start your pitch by buttering up your target. I'm "challeng[ing]" and "interesting", and by implication, quite smart. Tell me more!

You are very good at pointing out the inconsistencies between Holy Writ, and human behavior (you know--when avowed Christians behave in a manner inconsistent with their professions of faith, or when their interpretation of Holy Writ is inconsistent with logic).

She's Mormon, which involves believing that the Native Americans are descendents of the ancient Isrealites, that horses were in the Americas prior to the coming of Europeans, and that a con man heard the voice of god. Or an angel. Or something. So, like every other belief system, entirely devoid of logic. The Mormon response to logic is simple: ignore it. So, yes, let's discuss logic, shall we?

I also notice you spend a fair amount of time grappling with the issues of the Justice of God, versus His mercy, and how to reconcile the two. I'm curious, do you really want answers to your questions, or have you irrevocably made up your mind? Regards~

This last is the gauntlet and framing the argument all at once. If I find her beliefs illogical and ridiculous, I'm being close minded. And who wants to be close minded? The only way to prove myself as smart as she implied I am is to agree that the entire human genome is lying.

Give it your best shot, I suppose.


  1. Well that ought to be interesting... particularly if she's willing to try to answer your questions rather than her questions.

  2. Well, I'm kinda bummed. I've been checking in on your blog now and then, and I've noticed that as sharp and biting as you can be, you seem sincere. And, I you do spend a lot of time pondering about God, even though, at least verbally, you have proclaimed a disbelief in Him. But you keep coming back to it. So, I wondered if you really wanted answers to your multitude of very fair questions. You ask great questions.

    Yes, you have left some kind of biting remarks on my blog. Do I resent them? Sometimes I feel a little irritated, but then I think of how much you've gone through, with health issues, how much you dote on your dog, etc., and I see a very likable person. In fact, there have been times when you've been ill, when I thought I would have been happy to help you out a little, with whatever, until you were back on your feet--bring in a meal, or pick up your mail, or bring by a gallon of milk. Now, before you get all " 'het up," thinking I'm feeling sorry for you, or that I'm being condescending, don't. I try to help all my friends, when they're sick (as they do for me). I mean, I do feel bad you've had to struggle with health issues. But I know how strong you are, and I admire that.

    I can totally see how you would suspect ulterior motives. And, I was afraid you might misinterpret my intentions. I can appreciate that you have no reason to trust me. I "dithered" for a while, as to whether it was worth it even to write at all. But, I wrote, knowing full well what you think of my religion. Our political, social, and religious paradigms are so different, I've often wondered if there could ever be enough common ground for even a basic dialogue.

    Well, now I'm rambling. :) And the housework calls. Please know that I think nothing but kind thoughts for you.

    But, and you will just have to take my word for this, I find you not only likable, but I really do hope the best for you, and hope that you will someday get all your questions answered. Really. No foolin.'

  3. If you like genetics, you might enjoy the following:

    I do love science, but the math trips me up. I have a close family member who is a head geneticist, and we have great discussions about this stuff--what DNA coding can do, and what it can't. Very cool stuff!

  4. And now I've been passive-aggressived by what seems like a nice person. Some of my in-laws specialize in this. Very nice people, and I like them, but sometimes I'd prefer a good slap to the face.

    Okay, I'll ask a question. If you do understand genetics, how do you explain the fact that Middle Easterners, such as Jews, Palestinians, Syrians, etc. share a genetic variant referred to as Y-DNA haplogroups J and E, which Native Americans do not have, if, as proposed in the Book of Mormon, Native Americans originally came from the Middle East? (NA's, btw, clearly originally came from Asia.)

  5. Well, I am not a genetics expert, so I'm going to have to refer to the work of others.

    Along with the previous article, the following:

    Plenty of scientific, genetic gobbldy-goo to wade through.

    As a rule, I try to avoid face-slapping. :)

    Don't know if the above will prove helpful, but will do my best. The field of genetics is still an emerging one, and they have barely begun to scratch the surface of what is known, versus what is unknown.

  6. Very simply, that article is hogwash.

    Look, your DNA does not come 50/50 from your parents. Your mitchondrial DNA (mDNA) is purely from your mother, making you slightly more related to your cousins by your mother's sister than to your cousins by your mother's brother (who have different mDNA).

    Men, on the other hand, get their Y chromosome purely from their father. It is handed down, father to son, the same, except for random genetic mutations.

    Therefore, it is possible to track ancestry by examining mDNA and Y chromosomes. Since most ancestry tracking is done by studying the Y chromosomes of men, I can only assume that that's easier to do.

    Long story short, men of Middle Eastern descent share a common portion on their Y chromosome, called the J and E haplotype. If you don't have these haplotypes, you're not from the Middle East (or at least your father wasn't). End of story.

  7. There is also the issue of how many people supposedly came here from Israel v. how many NAs were in North and South America when the Europeans first arrived.

    That few people simply could not have produced that many people, or that many varied languages/cultures in that short amount of time. Inbreeding would have led to horrible and/or bizarre recessive traits killing off people right and left, for one thing.

    For another, in places without health care, like Afghanistan, 1 in 7 pregnancies ends in death for either mother or child. With that kind of death rate, that few people would have died out, not grown into millions within a relatively short period of time.

  8. End of story?! Seems a little hasty to me.

  9. End of story?! Seems a little hasty to me.

    Only if you disregard the fact that it's a story tens of thousands of years in the making...

    The simple fact is that there is no conceivable way for the people in ancient Israel to have made their way to North America. The technology did not exist in any way, shape, or form. The first ships anyone in Europe or the Middle East had that were capable of reaching the shores of North America were Viking longboats. And they got to America simply by luck and using a route that took them from Europe to Iceland to Greenland, then finally to Newfoundland.

    Crossing the central Atlantic Ocean in anything smaller than a Carrack would have been inadvisable. Crossing in the small, shallow-draft galleys that made up the entirety of Mediterranean naval technology during the time that the Jews supposedly would have gone to North America would have been downright suicidal. They simply would not have made it.

    When we add this to the genetic argument, which PF has correctly enumerated above, it's pretty much a slam-dunk case. To that I'd add that the flip "NA's, btw, clearly originally came from Asia" doesn't even begin to approach the scope of the evidence available to support the notion that Native American stock originated in Asia.

  10. At the risk of intruding...

    Yours, Sincerely said:
    "I'm curious, do you really want answers to your questions, or have you irrevocably made up your mind?"
    "I really do hope the best for you, and hope that you will someday get all your questions answered."

    I selected those particular lines because they both seem to imply that there actually are meaningful, valid answers out there, and that finding those answers will naturally lead someone back to (some kind of) faith. It sounds, in other words, as if someone could only doubt the existence of G-d because they didn't have all the facts. For those of us who actually doubt the existence of G-d, that comes across as condescending, and/or a little insulting.

    I'm fairly sure that that is not the impression you were trying to create, but I'm sure that most non-believers are going to read it that way.

    The best way I can think of to express this is to reverse it. If I were to say to you, "You seem to have a lot questions about why your religion is wrong. Do you really want answers to your questions, or have you irrevocably made up your mind?" ...Well, it sounds a little rude, doesn't it?

    I realize this is off-topic for the current thrust of the conversation, and I do not want to contribute to any sort of "pile on the new arrival" dynamic; so please don't feel compelled to respond. I only mention it because it's the sort of thing you really want to avoid if you're trying for a respectful dialogue with unbelievers.

  11. Seems a bit hasty to you? Why? Do you have anything to add to that?

    There's also another mistake Joseph Smith made in describing life in the Americas prior to the coming of the Europeans: horses. Smith had never known a world without horses, so it likely did not occur to him that horses came with the Europeans. The NA's eventually made heavy use of horses, but horses did not originate on either American continent.

    Jack Chick made the same mistake concerning pumpkins. He described Jack-o-Lanterns as originating in England with the ancient Druids. The only problem is, pumpkins come from the Americas and wouldn't have arrived in England until after the Druids were already gone.

  12. So, to sum things up, thus far, based on your understanding and interpretation of current scientific data (subject to new findings, of course), the Book of Mormon (which is a religious book, and never intended to be scientific), cannot possibly be true because, up to date, available science has not proven it to be so? And, until science proves something is so, it is not to be believed.

    May I offer the following thoughts: To say something is "inconceivable" (reminds me of the guy in the Princess Bride movie), is not say that it can't be. It just means there are questions left unanswered. I would keep looking, asking, analyzing, and questioning--which is what science does.

    Speaking of the Book of Mormon, PF, have you ever read it, from cover to cover?

    My original intent in first asking you, PF, if you were really wanted your questions about God answered was not meant to imply that I, myself, could answer them, or, that you would even want me to. I try hard not to presume. Indeed, it is not my intent, nor is it within my power, or the power of any person, to convince you of the existence of God, or whether or not any one or all religions are true. I can truthfully only share my own experiences seeking out and finding God. I am always willing to answer any doctrinal question with which I have experience, and if I know how science meshes with a matter of doctrine, I would be happy to explain my opinions of how the two work together (as my opinion, and not as doctrine). I, myself, look forward to further scientific research, and the light it sheds on ancient American studies. But I do not base my belief in God, or the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon on science alone. For me, the scientific method is wonderful for answering some questions about Life, the Universe, and some things in Between, but not all. This is not to say I discount science. I have simply chosen to suspend judgement, trusting that, in due time, missing pieces of the puzzle will be revealed to show the entire big picture. It has been my experience that there are other tools for finding truth, besides the tool of science.

  13. Had to cut my comment in half--here's the rest:
    Well, with that caveat, and, again, not claiming personally to be a genetics expert, "Like mtDNA, Y-chromosome data have not on their own conclusively answered questions regarding either source populations within Asia or the number of migrations out of Asia into the New World. Clearly, nuclear markers from more populations should be examined to provide additional data relevant to these controversies, even though it is unlikely that additional data will significantly simplify what is a convoluted and complex scenario of migrations and postmigrational evolutionary forces. [xvii]" To me, that says the jury is still out. That's just my take on it.

    As well, it is not accurate to say (even for members of my church to say) that ALL native Americans are the decendents of only two families of unnamed size; the book itself does not make that claim. As well, when it came to getting here, the 2 families sailed over in a boat of which the builder, himself, said, "I. . .did not work the timbers after the manner which was worked by men; neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men." So, you are right--it would have been suicidal to try to come over in anything else. What kind of ship was it? Don't know. After what manner was it built? Don't know. But my not knowing just means I have to be patient until the answer comes--not that it couldn't be.

    For ancient medicine, seems as though I remember scientists finding evidence of ancient brain surgeries, which had healed over? Did the patients recover? Can't remember. Hope so! From the B of M, this small insight into their medicine:

    Alma 46: 40
    40 And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land—but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate—

    Again, no full discourse on their medicinal abilities, etc. But we do know that many plants in the Amazon are being studied for their medicinal properties, for all kinds of as of yet unknown cures, and who knows what the ancients knew, that we're not aware of, as of yet.

    Sorry, this has been really long-winded, and I have kids coming home, which means the afternoon marathon is beginning.


  14. Thank you, Michael, for your insights. I do appreciate hearing that. I was thinking to myself, how hard it is to effectively communicate not only intent, but content, through cyberspace. For example, you are right--I do not mean to be rude, at all; if my delivery was rough, it's simply because it's so hard to convey feelings and body language by typing. I was reviewing what I had written, and wished I could have said things more eloquently. PF conjectures frequently about God. Observing that, and believing that He has provided the means of finding Him, and having some experience with not only the searching, but the finding, myself, I was merely curious as to whether or not she would consider the attempt. If a person has irrevocably made up their mind that there is no God, and by definition, no way of finding that which doesn't exist, then you are right--the attempt is folly, and a waste of time. But, just as believing in something doesn't make it true, necessarily, so does not believing in something not necessarily make it not true. Clear as mud, right? :)Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I will try really hard not to sound condescending.

  15. OK, I've tried to share some stuff about horses, and google has kicked me out 3 times. More tomorrow, I guess! Thanks for a stimulating discussion!

  16. Ok, had to compete with the kids for computer time.

    One last try for the night about horses in the Americas (take it as you will--I'm sure there's still more research to be done on this subject, as well.):

    "Horses weren't here in America after about 10,000 years ago according to Smithsonian archaeologists. As you know horses (and asses) are mentioned as being present among both the Jaredites and Nephites [2 separate civilizations mentioned in the B of M]. It might surprise most of you that the history of the horse is mainly here in America. The very first horses come from North America, and their record goes back to about 58 million years ago. Horses were small, forest dwelling animals at the time. It wasn't until much later that horses reached the Old World, being roughly the size of modern forms then. Columbus only reintroduced the horse to America. I've actually done a lot of work with fossil horses from many areas and from different periods of time. A lot of my work has been done on them in Mesoamerica, primarily in Mexico. While the vast majority of dates for these various kinds of horses are well before man was known in the New World, a few of the dates are very surprisingly young. I have Carbon-14 dates on horses that are as recent as 800 years. Other dates are only 1200 years to 1400 years ago. More dates in this range are needed to be able to convince others that horses were indeed here before 1493, when they were reintroduced. Other paleontologists have produced dates on fossil horses that show they lived here long after the 10,000 years before stated. This slide is of a partial horse skeleton that was put together with my colleagues in Mexico. An earlier slide showed the location where it was collected. It was that picture that I said to remember from Durango, Mexico, where a lot of fossils were found within one small area.

    Getting back to the book of Mormon, here is a statement by B.H. Roberts. I think you all know who he was—one of the Presidents of the Seventy in the early part of the 1900s. He said that evidence from natural phenomena (scientific evidence), is really useful and of first-rate importance and a mighty factor in achieving God's purposes. He went on to say that the Holy Ghost must, however, be the chief source of evidence for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement."

    The entire article is here:

    Wish they had provided a bibliography or source notes.

    Does it "prove" the B of M is true? Most certainly not. And nothing scientific will. The test for the truthfulness of the B of M requires a different set of "scientific" tools, and accessing them depends entirely on the investigator.

    Well, 'night all.

    Hmm, for some reason it's not giving me the option to post as Yours, Sincerely, so it will say "Anonymous," but, it's me. :)

  17. Whoops, forgot one more thing--it's funny you mentioned Halloween and pumpkin jack-o-lanterns. I read in some obscure place that they used to use turnips and other root veggies to carve up. Had you heard what they used instead of pumpkins?


  18. Yours, Sincerely said: "PF conjectures frequently about God. Observing that, and believing that He has provided the means of finding Him, and having some experience with not only the searching, but the finding, myself, I was merely curious as to whether or not she would consider the attempt."

    PF can certainly speak for herself, but my impression is that she conjectures far more frequently about the effects and influence of other people's belief(s) in G-d. Some of that is worded as if it were a conjecture about the nature of G-d, but the underlying substance of her inquiry is, I think, very different.

    Speaking entirely for myself, I am not a Christian for the simple reason that on a fundamental level, Christianity does not make sense to me. (This despite having been raised Episcopalian.) I wrote a little about that on my own blog, here, and if you'd like to contribute a comment about your experience in searching and finding, I'd be delighted.

  19. the Book of Mormon (which is a religious book, and never intended to be scientific), cannot possibly be true because, up to date, available science has not proven it to be so? And, until science proves something is so, it is not to be believed.

    This is the worst argument in favor of a religious book ever. I'm terribly sorry, but there's no other way to say it. According to the Bible the Earth is flat and the Sun revolves around it. Science disproved that hundreds of years ago. That means that what the Bible has to say about cosmology is wrong.

    The Bible also indicates in the Tower of Babel story that it was actually possible for the people of the Earth to build a big tower and reach heaven. According to the story the residents of heaven thought this was terrible because humans would actually reach heaven and become like god. Again, this is literally impossible. We have built buildings that are much taller than anything ancients could have built. We have created airplanes that can fly thousands of feet in the air. We have built spacecraft that can reach the edges of the Solar System and beyond. At no point during those journeys did we stumble upon a heaven occupied by a terrified god worried we were about to usurp control from the ruler of the heavens.

    Science has proved these Biblical narratives are wrong beyond a shadow of a doubt. Thereby, whether or not the Bible was intended to be a religious or scientific text, we know that things it claims are wrong. It doesn't matter that the people in Bible times didn't know science as we know it. If the book itself is an actual account of history that means that we should find evidence that what they recorded actually happened.

    It couldn't possibly have happened. Therefore it didn't happen. Therefore science disproves aspects of the Bible and there's no a thing that anyone can do to change that.

  20. Michael, I would love to contribute something to your blog. I will prepare some thoughts. Thank you for the invite.

    Geds, you bring up an excellent point: If God really exists, then why, with our great technological advances, have we never found Him in the heavens? Well, to do so would be to mimic the same reasoning the people of the tower of Babel used to climb up to God; the only difference would be the technology we use. What you have pointed out is consistent with God's own word. Christ, the Son of God, said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, by by me" (John 14:6). That was meant quite literally. No one will find the Father, without the advocacy of the Son. I have found that to be a consistent pattern throughout all scripture. I submit, also, that God the Father is not hiding Himself as did the Wizard of Oz, afraid to be found out, and jealous of us finding out His secrets; rather, He is jealous for us--views us as precious sons and daughters with whom He would like to share all things, if we will but carefully, methodically follow His instructions as to how to return to His presence. Again, the ball is always in our court, as to whether or not we will do what is required to find Him.

    I did a little digging about the Tower of Babel, and found the following article, if you would be interested in perusing it (about 1/2-way down):

    Also, some time ago I found the following quote helpful, in my own scripture studies, trying to wade through English translations of ancient texts dealing with centuries or millenia-old customs, traditions, languages, symbolism, etc.:

    "The Bible is the product of Oriental (Eastern) people, who are much more prone to use imagery than Occidental (western) people. When speaking, the Oriental paints a scene whose total effect is true, but the details may be inaccurate. The Occidental tends to draw diagrams accurate in detail."

    As for the accuracy of the Bible itself, "The position of the Church regarding the Bible is that it contains the word of God as far as it is translated correctly (A of F 8). Joseph Smith taught that “many important points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled.” He also said that the Bible was correct as “it came from the pen of the original writers,” but that “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.” (HC 1: 245; 6: 57.) The Church reveres and respects the Bible, but recognizes that it is not a complete nor entirely accurate record, and affirms also that the Lord has given additional revelation through his prophets in the last days that sustains, supports, and verifies the biblical account of God’s dealings with mankind."

    That quote comes from:

    Quite naturally, that p.o.v. gets us LDS into a lot of hot water with other Christians--but we stick to our guns. Members of my church love and revere the Bible--we simply don't see it as the complete word of God.

    Anyway, hope this provides some food for thought.


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