The Mutt’s Nuts

Where religion is about as attractive as a two week holiday in Afghanistan

Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Sam Harris on religion

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On conversation versus dogmatism

Curmudgeonly Yours

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Written by Curmudgeonly

March 19, 2008 at 1:47 am

Potholer54’s “Made Easy” series #3

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Here’s two more videos from Potholer54’s “Made Easy” series.

The first video traces humankind’s migration out of Africa and, using DNA evidence, explains how humans came to cover the earth.

And the second one asks: Could God have designed DNA?

If you’ve missed his other videos, don’t worry, they can be found here and here.

Curmudgeonly Yours

Written by Curmudgeonly

February 10, 2008 at 1:48 am

Robin Ince on religion

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Comedian Robin Ince on Creationism and Intelligent Design.

Curmudgeonly Yours

Written by Curmudgeonly

January 30, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Potholer54’s “Made Easy” series #2

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I previously posted a few videos from Potholer54’s “Made Easy” series and I commented that I might post more at some future date, so here they are. Whereas the other videos dealt with the origin of the universe and the age of the earth, these are to do with the origin of life and the theory of evolution. Enjoy.

The Origin of Life Made Easy

Natural Selection Made Easy

The Theory of Evolution Made Easy

Human Evolution Made Easy

Curmudgeonly Yours

Written by Curmudgeonly

January 26, 2008 at 9:38 pm

Mormon Church (almost) bows to science

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A recent Associated Press article is among several to report that the latest edition of the Book of Mormon has a new word inserted in its introduction. So what? Why would one little word be considered controversial enough to merit its own news article? Although the introduction is not considered scripture by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the actual Book of Mormon definitely is. Because the introduction describes the Church’s stance towards the book itself, even a subtle change to its content can be an indicator of how the book is viewed by church leaders.

The Book of Mormon was described by the church’s founder Joseph Smith (revered by church members as not just a prophet but the Prophet) as “the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of our religion” (History of the Church 4:461).

From its publication it has been accepted by Latter-day Saints as an historical record of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas from 600 BC to 400 AD. One of its main assertions is that the Israelites are the ancestors of today’s Native Americans. It begins with the story of Lehi, a Jewish man, and his family fleeing Jerusalem at the time of the reign of King Zedekiah and being guided by God to “a land of promise” – the American continent. This family forms the basis of two groups of people, named after Lehi’s sons, and known throughout the book as Nephites and Lamanites. The Lamanites, being disobedient to God, were cursed with a darker skin, to distinguish themselves from their more righteous brethren, the Nephites. These dark-skinned people, the Church has always taught, are the progenitors of today’s Native Americans. The Book of Mormon goes on to record that many of the Lamanites eventually repented and began to lose their dark skin tone. It concludes with a huge battle between the two groups, with the Lamanites emerging victorious and the Nephites being completely destroyed.

As a young woman I served a mission to the native peoples of North America and one of our main – and most successful – missionary tactics was to tell them that the Book of Mormon contained a history of their ancestors. It was something that I had always been taught from my conversion to the church and, as a faithful member and enthusiastic missionary, I was only too happy to impart this good news to the people I believed to be the descendants of the “Lamanites”. I loved the people that I worked among and considered them to be particularly special because of their Book of Mormon ancestry.

A few years ago a controversy arose when scientists discovered that Native American DNA markers suggested that they originated from central Asia, not the Middle East as posited in the Book of Mormon. Although church leaders have never officially acknowledged that genetic evidence contradicts the Book of Mormon’s assertions about the ancestry of today’s Native Americans, some people believe that the small insertion into the book’s introduction indicates a tacit acknowledgement of those DNA findings.

The old introduction, which claimed:

After thousands of years all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians

has been amended thus:

After thousands of years all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians

With the use of the word “among”, church leaders have subtly changed the church’s stance on Native American ancestry. Leaders throughout the history of the church have commonly used the word “Lamanites” to denote American Indians. According to noted Mormon sociologist and historian Armand L. Mauss:

Since the very founding of the church in 1830, Mormons had believed that North American Indians were Lamanites, described by the Book of Mormon as literal Israelites, the seed of Abraham, who would flock to the church as lost sheep responding to the voice of the true Shepherd of Israel and would actually take the initiative in building a New Jerusalem on the American continent. (Armand L. Mauss, All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage, University of Illinois Press, 1993, p. 115)

This was certainly the understanding of church members and leaders when I joined the church in 1974 and remained unchanged during my 27 years as an active member. As an example, here are quotes from Spencer Kimball, the President when I was baptised into the church, and Gordon B Hinckley, the President when I left:

President Spencer W. Kimball:

The term Lamanite includes all Indians and Indian mixtures, such as the Polynesians, the Guatemalans, the Peruvians, as well as the Sioux, the Apache, the Mohawk, the Navajo, and others. It is a large group of great people. (“Of Royal Blood,” Ensign, July 1971, p. 7)

President Gordon B. Hinckley:

President Hinckley next visited Lima, Peru, where he met with missionaries and held two conferences attended by a total of 28,000 Latter-day Saints. …President Hinckley recognized the Book of Mormon heritage of his listeners in Lima: “As I look into your faces, I think of Father Lehi, whose sons and daughters you are. I think he must be shedding tears today, tears of love and gratitude. … This is but the beginning of the work in Peru. This work of the Almighty will go on and grow and grow.” (“God’s Holy Work” in Peru, in “News of the Church,” Ensign, Feb. 1997, 73).

Early revelations, supposedly from God, to Joseph Smith also used the words “Lamanites” and “Indians” interchangeably (see D&C 28:2 and 32:3). In an extract from Joseph Smith’s History, contained in another Book of Mormon scripture called the Pearl of Great Price, the Mormon Prophet speaks of a visit from an angel called Moroni who was one of the last writers in the Book of Mormon. Joseph records his interview with this personage in these words:

He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered the the Saviour to the ancient inhabitants” (Joseph Smith – History of the Church 1:34).

Joseph Smith, the Prophet taught that the Book of Mormon spoke of the “former inhabitants” of the American continent. The Book of Mormon describes the “former inhabitants” as originating in Jerusalem. Some of those “former inhabitants” became known in the book as Lamanites. Joseph Smith and subsequent church leaders referred to modern Native Americans as Lamanites. It is clear that the original teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the principal ancestors of Native American Indians originated in the Middle East.

Strangely, it is only since DNA evidence was shown to contradict this assertion, that Mormon apologists and, lately, Mormon leaders, have decided that Israelites are only one of a number of potential progenitors for today’s Native Americans. They are back-pedalling on a doctrine that has been universally accepted since the church’s inception. Although the word “among” still allows for the Lamanites to be a part of the Indians’ DNA mix, it has also introduced the idea that they may be comfortably thought of as not necessarily being responsible for the majority of Indians’ genetic make-up.

To me, this smacks of equivocation on behalf of the church and is the kind of thing that drove me away from the religion in the first place. I believed that I was a member of “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30), yet little by little, over its history, the church had made changes to original revelations and doctrines that undermined – in my eyes – its claim to be divinely appointed. This latest alteration, subtle as it might be, is yet another example of the church’s concession to prevailing science and culture at the expense of its historical roots. To me this is a cop-out, made all the more duplicitous by its insistence that the church is God-inspired. If God was content for his church to understand for nearly 180 years that the Book of Mormon peoples called Lamanites were the primary ancestors of Native Americans, why would he now approve this shift in thinking which describes them as only one of a group of potential progenitors? It may seem a small thing, and probably wouldn’t bother the majority of Latter-day Saints, but the principle of altering doctrine for the sake of expediency was the main reason for my loss of faith in the Mormon church and the fact that it is still happening only confirms the rightness of my decision to abandon Mormonism all together.

IslaSkye

Written by islaskye

January 13, 2008 at 1:33 pm

Potholer54’s “Made Easy” series #1

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I was never somebody who was interested in learning about the origins of the universe or the evolution of life on earth from a scientific point of view. Sad, really, now that I think about it. I just accepted the Genesis story – which actually plays a very important part in the religious education of a Mormon – as fact. I didn’t question it at all. But now that I’m a relatively new atheist, I find myself wanting to learn more about it, though it’s a daunting prospect as I imagine that my brain’s going to get quite a work out and I think it’ll be a long time before I feel confident enough to discuss the subject.

The reason for this post is to say that I’ve really enjoyed watching Potholer54’s “Made Easy” series which can be found on YouTube and, I guess, to recommend them to anybody who’s interested in this topic and is as ignorant as me. I’ve only posted the videos dealing with the origin of the universe and the age of the earth, but I may post others in the near future. Enjoy.

History of the Universe Made Easy (Part 1)

History of the Universe Made Easy (Part 2)

The Story of the Earth Made Easy

The Age of Our World Made Easy

Curmudgeonly Yours

Written by Curmudgeonly

January 10, 2008 at 7:45 pm