FARMS vs Signature Books in the News

August 29, 2005

A news story in the Miami Herald reports the new mission call of Noel B. Reynolds in south Florida. According to the story,

Before coming to South Florida, Reynolds also headed a more controversial group within the church, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS). The Foundation studies Mormon scripture and publishes the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies.Although Reynolds is considered a moderate, other Mormon scripture scholars associated with FARMS have gone ”to extremes to defend the church,” says Ron Priddis, managing director of the Utah-based Signature Press, which publishes books on Mormonism.

In harsh articles, they have attacked some of his writers, he says. Seven authors published by Signature have been ex-communicated. But Reynolds says Signature focuses on publishing books that dispute LDS core beliefs. Within the church, he adds, there is a ”tiny minority on a mission” to persuade other Mormons not to literally believe The Book of Mormon.

Personally, I am glad there is a “tiny minority on a mission” at FARMS who are going “to extremes to defend the church.” When wolves wearing sheep’s clothing enter the flock, someone has to sound the alarm. Signature Books and the Utah Lighthouse Ministry of Jerald and Sandra Tanner have the same mission: To destroy the Savior’s church by tearing down the testimonies of the saints, and undermining their confidence in the Savior’s chosen prophets. And of the two, the Signaturi are more effective in this evil work because they use a facade of intellectualism and false objectivity. They are subtle and crafty.

Fortunately, the excellent scholars and intellectuals at FARMS have a big advantage over the Signaturi. Because they are true and faithful to the Lord and his prophets, they have the discernment that comes only with the companionship of the Holy Ghost. As a result, they are able to wage ideological war with the enemies of Christ using not only their intellects, but also their good hearts and the understanding of evil that comes only to those who know and believe the Book of Mormon. All true Christians admire and love these valiant men and women as they carry out their sacred work in defending the Kingdom of God on earth. We are grateful for what they do.

Gordon B. Hinckley on War and Peace

August 23, 2005

I am deeply confused about the war in Iraq. Was it right or wrong for us to invade there? Is making war there moral or immoral? Should I support the Bush policies in Iraq or oppose them? I have been an outspoken opponent of the war since before the invasion. I opposed the Gulf War in 1991. I am an anti-war conservative. Politically I am right of the Republican mainstream. All my life I have been anti-communist, opposed to the growth of federal power, admired our Founding Fathers, considered our Constitution sacred as originally written, strongly agreed with the Religious Right on social issues, and believed in a strong military for national defense. During the 1960s I joined the US Marine Corps, and I was a strong supporter of the war in Vietnam because I naively thought it was a war for freedom against communist totalitarianism. I believe in war when it is fought for the right reasons. My twenty-one year old son wants to make a career in the Marines, and I think it is a wonderful idea. I am no peacenik. But I am deeply troubled by the war in Iraq.

My confusion stems from disagreements I have had with close friends whose judgment I trust, people that I love like family. Like me they are deeply religious Mormons. They believe in and receive personal revelation from God by the power of the Holy Ghost just as I do. They love, admire and follow the living prophets just as I do. They understand and strongly believe the Book of Mormon just as I do. Yet we are divided on the Iraq War. They believe that we are fighting there for freedom and democracy, for a just cause, and I believe our invasion and occupation of Iraq is highly immoral because President Bush hasn’t told us the truth about the real reasons for the war, and he is being manipulated by people who do not have our nation’s best interests at heart. To make matters even more confusing, these friends quote my greatest hero, Gordon B. Hinckley, to justify their position. Yet when I read President Hinckley’s remarks, all I can see is justification for my own position. Or, to be more exact, President Hinckley seems to support both sides of the issue equally. This just adds to my confusion.

So this morning I went in search of President Hinckley’s words of counsel hoping that I could resolve the issue. Have I been wrong about this war? I have been wrong before. Could I be wrong this time? Fortunately, I learned that President Hinckley addressed this exact issue in his main talk to General Conference in April of 2003. Unfortunately, after studying the talk, I am just as confused as I was before. In his talk War and Peace he says:

And so I venture to say something about the war and the gospel we teach. I spoke of this somewhat in our October conference of 2001. When I came to this pulpit at that time, the war against terrorism had just begun. The present war is really an outgrowth and continuation of that conflict. Hopefully it is now drawing to a conclusion.

He seems to be saying that the war with Iraq is actually part of the war against terrorism, something that I have not believed but am willing to consider. He also says he hopes the war is now drawing to a conclusion. But that was back in April of 2003. Today we know that the war was not drawing to a conclusion.

Elsewhere he says:

War, of course, is not new. The weapons change. The ability to kill and destroy is constantly refined. But there has been conflict throughout the ages over essentially the same issues.The book of Revelation speaks briefly of what must have been a terrible conflict for the minds and loyalties of God’s children. The account is worth repeating:

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Revelation 12:7-9).

Isaiah speaks further concerning that great conflict (see Isaiah 14:1-–20). Modern revelation gives additional light (see D&C 76:25-29), as does the book of Moses (see Moses 4:1-–4), which tells of Satan’’s plan to destroy the agency of man.

Here he seems to be saying that the current war is part of the eternal struggle between freedom and slavery. If I believed that, then I would be a strong supporter of the war.

But then he goes on to say:

We sometimes are prone to glorify the great empires of the past, such as the Ottoman Empire, the Roman and Byzantine Empires, and in more recent times, the vast British Empire. But there is a darker side to every one of them. There is a grim and tragic overlay of brutal conquest, of subjugation, of repression, and an astronomical cost in life and treasure.The great English essayist Thomas Carlyle once ironically shared the observation, God must needs laugh outright, could such a thing be, to see his wondrous mannikins here below” (quoted in Sartor Resartus [1836], 182). I think our Father in Heaven must have wept as He has looked down upon His children through the centuries as they have squandered their divine birthright in ruthlessly destroying one another.

Here he seems to suggest the possibility that Bush and his neocon advisers are engaged in empire building, not spreading freedom, something that I have firmly believed. But if President Hinckley says it is not so, then I will reconsider.

He continues:

In the course of history tyrants have arisen from time to time who have oppressed their own people and threatened the world. Such is adjudged to be the case presently, and consequently great and terrifying forces with sophisticated and fearsome armaments have been engaged in battle.

I suppose he must be talking about Saddam Hussein here, but why does he use the subjunctive case when he says “Such is adjudged to be the case presently?” Does he think this, or is it merely “adjudged” by others? No one denies that Saddam Hussein was an oppressive dictator. But is that the real reason we attacked him? He was only one of many oppressive dictators, many of which our nation has set up and sustains. And was he really a threat to the world? President Hinckley doesn’t reveal his opinion here. I don’t believe Hussein was a threat to the United States or the world. If my understanding of the world is correct, Saudi Arabia is a much greater threat to the world, and so is China and North Korea. What about India and Pakistan? They both already have nuclear weapons, and they are constantly on the brink of war.

But then he confuses me further by saying:

But modern revelation states that we are to “renounce war and proclaim peace.”” (D&C 98:16)In a democracy we can renounce war and proclaim peace. There is opportunity for dissent. Many have been speaking out and doing so emphatically. That is their privilege. That is their right, so long as they do so legally.

Great. Fine. The Lord says in the Doctrine and Covenants that we must “renounce war and proclaim peace,” and the President of the Church affirms this in General Conference. I guess I’m on the right track by opposing the war.

But then he finally tips his hand. He adds a caveat in which he reveals how he really feels about the situation:

However, we all must also be mindful of another overriding responsibility, which I may add, governs my personal feelings and dictates my personal loyalties in the present situation.

Then he goes on to liken the current situation to the conflict between the Nephites and the Lamanites. He points out that there were times when the Nephites were not only justified in “fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church,” (Alma 43:45) but they are actually commanded by God to “Defend your families even unto bloodshed.” (Alma 43:47) Apparently, President Hinckley feels that this is such a situation.

He goes even further than that:

It is clear from these and other writings that there are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat, and oppression.When all is said and done, we of this Church are people of peace. We are followers of our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the Prince of Peace. But even He said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”” (Matthew 10:34).

He even goes so far as to add:

It may even be that He will hold us responsible if we try to impede or hedge up the way of those who are involved in a contest with forces of evil and repression.

What am I to do? My personal opinion is different from the personal opinion of the Prophet? He seems to have bought into the propaganda that Bush honestly wants to establish “democracy” in Iraq, and is not waging war for empire as I have believed. From my point of view, President Hinckley seems to be deceived. But how can I be sure that I am not the one being deceived? If President Hinckley is right, then I have to discount the teachings of President Benson who thought that a modern Gadianton Robber band had gained power over both our national political parties and reigned in Washington, D.C. Was President Benson deceived? I do know that he is a dead prophet, and he himself taught that following a living prophet is more important than following a dead one.

And why did President Hinckley make the case so well for both sides? Why did he stress that he was only voicing his “personal” feelings and “personal” loyalties in the “present situation?” I would hate to have a personal opinion that was different from the personal opinion of the Lord’s Prophet unless I had a really good reason. After all, the Lord has testified to me by the power of the Holy Ghost that Gordon B. Hinckley is His Man here on earth. Maybe I have been wrong about this. Maybe I’m right, but the Lord wants me to support the war anyway. Could that possibly be? If I am right, then President Bush and the neocons who manipulate him are trying to set up a corporate, fascist dictatorship here in the USA. And they seek to ultimately extend that dictatorship to include the whole earth even if they have to start a global, nuclear war to do it. If I’m right, and if they succeed, then perhaps I am endangering my life and my family by agitating against this war. Could that be? Maybe that is why the Lord wants me to follow the prophet even though he is wrong about the Iraq war being a struggle between freedom and slavery.

Can all of you see how confused I am? I feel like I’m groping in the dark. I guess I’ll have to ask the Lord and see what he thinks. I hope that he will bless me with the wisdom to sort this out.

The evolving clash of Darwinists and doubters

August 22, 2005

Here is an interesting article about the ongoing debate between Darwinists and advocates of so-called Intelligent Design. I have not done any reading to speak of about this debate, so I was surprised to see that some of the advocates of Intelligent Design actually have academic credentials in the field of biology. How could that be? If Darwinism is a proven fact, as I have heard so many claim, how could there be any credentialed biologists who are skeptical of evolution, the theory that all current species are descended from a single, common ancestor? Are all those guys religious nuts like me? These were the most puzzling paragraphs in the article for me:

Although the vast majority of scientists accept evolution, the Discovery Institute, a research center in Seattle that has emerged as a clearinghouse for the intelligent design movement, said that 404 scientists, including 70 biologists, had signed a petition declaring that they were skeptical of Darwinism.Nonetheless, many scientists regard intelligent design as little more than creationism. Despite its use of scientific language, they say, the approach offers only philosophical objections to evolution, not any positive evidence for the intervention of a designer.

Is truth determined by debate? Does the outcome of a poll determine what is and is not fact? If evolution is a scientific “fact,” how could there be any credentialed biologists who advocate Intelligent Design, let alone dozens or perhaps even hundreds? Are there any credentialed geographers who still advocate for a flat earth, or physicists who dispute the Law of Gravity or the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy? How could this controversy even exist if evolution was a proven, scientific “fact” instead of a theory? Or have evolution advocates been overstating their case in the heat of the debate?

I haven’t read Darwin’s Black Box which appears to be the bible of the Intelligent Design movement. And I don’t intend to either. I’m just not that interested in the outcome of this controversy. As long as I can, I will cling to the testimony of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie on doctrinal and scriptural grounds. Why? Because I have a testimony of them by that same witness I received of the Book of Mormon, the prophethood of Joseph Smith, and the Sonship of Jesus Christ. So I am a highly biased observer of this ideological conflict.

But I don’t see how that makes me any different from all of these scientists who see fulfillment of Darwinism in every scrap of evidence, and ignore any possibility that there might be another way of looking at the same data. It is clear to me that on both sides of this debate, those involved are looking only for evidence that will support their own argument. And such selective evidence gathering is hardly conducive to an honest search for the truth.

Mexico discovery fuels debate about man’s origins

August 20, 2005

Wouldn’t it be funny if eventually paleontologists learn what faithful Latter-day Saints have known all along, that the first Americans came from the Garden of Eden in Missouri? I found this curious news story about a discovery in Mexico that might be a piece from the skull of Homo Erectus, long thought to be one of the earliest “men” to emerge from continental Africa. Of course, paleontologists are just scratching their heads over this one. It can’t possibly be accepted as a genuine “find” until it is corroborated by massive, additional evidence. And who knows if that will ever be forthcoming?

I only post this here to point out how little we know about the origins of man either here in the Americas or anywhere. What we know is that we don’t know. The current scientific theories are based on a few scraps of bone and stone that could mean just about anything.

I have been studying the topic of “first Americans” online for a while, reading books from the library, and discussing what I find with a personal friend, Tim Heaton, a world reknowned paleontologist who is a BYU grad, Provo native who served a mission to Norway, got a PhD from Harvard and was a teaching assistant to Stephan Jay Gould, and is Professor of Geology at the University of South Dakota. I have had my eyes opened by how little scientists know for sure about American prehistory. And most of the scientists themselves will tell you as much. It is we lay people who tend to put their discoveries and theories into concrete and claim to “know” more about the past than the real paleontologists do.

Harvard to Search for How Life Began

August 18, 2005

According to Mormon doctrine, life is coeternal with God. That is, it never started. There has always been life in the universe. There never was a beginning. If that is true, then this project at Harvard is going to spend millions of dollars over a period of years that will produce nothing. Sigh. I wish science would spend more time and money investigating in more profitable areas. This money could be better used for investigating ways that humans can live comfortably, safely and profitably in space, something that cannot be learned by the use of robot probes on unmanned missions.

Consider these words from our wonderful hymn, If You Could Hie to Kolob:

If you could hie to Kolob
In the twinkling of an eye,
And then continue onward
With that same speed to fly,
Do you think that you could ever,
Through all eternity,
Find out the generation
Where Gods began to be?Or see the grand beginning,
Where space did not extend?
Or view the last creation,
Where Gods and matter end?
Me thinks the Spirit whispers,
“No man has found ‘pure space,’
Nor seen the outside curtains,
Where nothing has a place.”

The works of God continue,
And worlds and lives abound;
Improvement and progression
Have one eternal round.
There is no end to matter;
There is no end to space;
There is no end to spirit;
There is no end to race.

There is no end to virtue;
There is no end to might;
There is no end to wisdom;
There is no end to light.
There is no end to union;
There is no end to youth;
There is no end to priesthood;
There is no end to truth.

There is no end to glory;
There is no end to love;
There is no end to being;
There is no death above.
There is no end to glory;
There is no end to love;
There is no end to being;
There is no death above.

Where is the beginning of life in this scenario? This hymn makes me so happy. I am so glad that I have this little bit of understanding. Considering it all, it makes some of the efforts of man seem rather silly, like this new “Origins of Life in the Universe Initiative” at Harvard.

Did Adam Have a Navel?

August 16, 2005

Did Adam have a navel? The true answer is yes. Is this official Church doctrine? No. Let me explain.

While it is not clearly stated in plainness in the scriptures that Adam and Eve were both born of woman, it is strongly implied there and in the temple. And it has been taught by Brigham Young and other modern prophets. Once a General Authority personally told me, “There is only one way to make a man.” By this he meant the same way we make or organize our own children. And the Spirit confirmed to me that he was telling me the truth.

Luke taught in the New Testament that Adam was the “son of God” in Luke 3:38 which tells the genealogy of our Savior, Jesus Christ:

38 Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.

Brigham Young taught that

Here let me state to all philosophers of every class upon the earth, when you tell me that Father Adam was made as we make adobes from the earth, you tell me what I deem an idle tale. When you tell me that the beasts of the field were produced in that manner, you are speaking idle words devoid of meaning. There is no such thing in all the eternities where the Gods dwell. Mankind are here because they are the offspring of parents who were first brought here from another planet, and power was given them to propagate their species, and they were commanded to multiply and replenish the earth. 7:285-286. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 50)

And in another sermon he said

Things were first created spiritually; the Father actually begat the spirits, and they were brought forth and lived with him. Then he commenced the work of creating earthly tabernacles, precisely as he had been created in this flesh himself, by partaking of the coarse material that was organized and composed this earth, until his system was charged with it, consequently the tabernacles of his children were organized from the coarse materials of this earth.(Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 104

If this teaching was only taught by Brigham Young we could dismiss it because Brigham Young taught a lot of things that were only his personal opinion such as Adam-God theory. But Joseph Smith also taught it here:

If Abraham reasoned thus—If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also. Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way. Paul says that which is earthly is in the likeness of that which is heavenly, Hence if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also? I despise the idea of being scared to death at such a doctrine, for the Bible is full of it. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 373)

Bruce R. McConkie also taught this, as did his father-in-law Joseph Fielding Smith, and his grand-father-in-law Joseph F. Smith, the sixth President of the Church.

So there you have it. Adam had a navel. The modern prophets have taught it, and the scriptures strongly imply it as do our temple rituals. It is true, but it is not “official Church doctrine;” and no one is required to believe it.

When I first learned this teaching, shortly after I joined the Church from the Baptist faith when I was a senior in high school back in 1963, I immediately embraced it as a refreshing breath of truth piercing through the hocus pocus that so often accompanies the religious beliefs of traditional Christianity. It further strengthened my testimony of the Restoration and the Prophet Joseph Smith. But I have since learned that many Latter-day Saints are offended by it. No matter, it is not “official Church doctrine” and therefore and cannot be taught as something Latter-day Saints are required to believe, nor need they defend the teaching to those anti-Mormons who would attack us for this belief. Some truth is too hard for people to accept. And everyone needs milk before they are ready for meet. We all must learn to crawl before we can walk.

This teaching, incidentally, reflects badly upon the “scientific” idea that mankind evolved from the lower life forms in prehistoric times. Obviously, if Adam is the literal, biological offspring of Heavenly Father before the Fall, then he could not possibly be descended from so-called pre-Adamites.

What is Our Doctrine?

August 16, 2005

Robert L. Millett has written an excellent article that is available online answering the question, “What is Our Doctrine?” Basically he says that unless it is found in the standard works or is currently being taught from the pulpit by our living prophets in General Conference and other correlated sources such as lesson manuals or Church magazines, it is not “official Church doctrine” and we do not have to defend it as such. That is not to say that the teachings of the past are not true, just that they are not the official doctrine of the Church.

Robert L. Millett is the Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding and former dean of Religious Education at BYU.