Monday, August 6, 2007

Archaeology and the Book of Mormon

One fashionable criticism of the Book of Mormon has been that there are no archaeological evidences to support its claims. There are several answers to that criticism. Firstly, I don’t accept that there are no such evidences. We believe that the archaeological remains of ancient American civilizations, such as those of the Aztec and Inca empires, are those of the Book of Mormon people; but a clear link between them and the Book of Mormon has not yet been established; which is understandable, given that their languages have not been deciphered well enough to identify places and place names.

Secondly, Archaeology and paleontology are not exact sciences. The absence of archaeological evidence for something is not the same as evidence against it. The “archaeological” arguments against the Book of Mormon have always consisted of the absence of something, rather than the proof of the existence of something—i.e. there are no archaeological evidences that something existed, therefore it couldn’t have existed. That argument is logically flawed. It may have existed, but the archaeological evidence for it has yet to been discovered. The absence of “horses” in ancient America is a case in point. For a long time the argument went that the Book of Mormon cannot be true because it talks about horses in ancient America, whereas there are no archaeological evidences that they existed. Then archaeological evidence of horses in ancient America appeared!:

We know that the prehistoric horse came over from North America at the time of the last Ice Age, and soon after that time, four types of horse are noted in the fossil record. Whether the types split from one archaic Horse which left North America, or four types of horse came from there is unknown. The horse or horses seem to, for the most part, have followed the margin of the ice sheets across Eurasia, each becoming more specialized for the environment into which it settled as the ages passed.

Two basic kinds arose—the pony, suited to a wet, cold climate, and the horse, suited to a warmer, dry climate. While ponies were built to dodge a predator in swampy and forested areas until a hiding place could be found, horses were built to run, to run fast, and to run far—hiding was not an option. Source.

Most of the evolutionary development of the horse (54 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago) actually took place in North America, where they developed the very successful strategy of grazing (eating grass) rather than browsing (eating softer succulent leaves). These grazers had evolved specialized teeth for processing the stiff and coarse grass that was at that time becoming very plentiful on the Great Plains of North America. The sketch below, from Prehistoric Mammals by Jan Sovak, is the artist’s visualization of Pliohippus, the first primitive horse that had a single toe and hoof on each leg, like our modern horses. These small horses lived in North America some 6 million years ago, when they might have been preyed upon by Borophagus, the large, hyena-like dog shown in the sketch. Source.

Spearhead discovery puts horse on prehistoric menu

Site yields ancient mammoth, horse, and camel footprints and emerges as one of North America’s richest archaeological fields

“This site is one of the best preserved areas of ancient animal tracks in North America – possibly the world. It’s providing us with an astonishingly detailed picture of what the New World was like during the late Pleistocene Era. We can’t believe how lucky we are.”

University of Calgary archaeologist Dr. Brian Kooyman

Canadian scientists have uncovered the first unequivocal evidence that prehistoric North Americans hunted and butchered now-extinct pony-sized horses. The discovery adds weight to the theory that overhunting may have played a significant role in the extinction of ancient horses on the continent around 10,000 years ago. (Source no longer available on the Internet.)

Now that such evidence has been discovered, the critics have sifted their argument to something else. They say that horses disappeared 10,000 years ago! But archaeological dating is not that accurate. Archaeological and paleontological dates and timelines have at times proved to be off, or have been revised by thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of years. Every once in a while something new is discovered in those fields of study which makes scientist revise their estimates by a couple of thousands or millions of years. This link is a typical example.

Archaeology is not the kind of science that can actually “contradict” or “disprove the existence of” anything. The Book of Mormon is a lot more convincing than its critics think it is, even on archaeological grounds. The last of the three quotes given above mentions the discovery of something it calls the “mammoth” (an elephant like creature) as well as camels. The Book of Mormon also mentions, apart from horses and asses, the existence of “elephants;” as well as unknown creatures which it calls “cureloms” and “cumoms”. So what if we have discovered the evidence of “cureloms” and “cumoms;” would that prove that the Book of Mormon is true?

Thirdly, religion is a matter of faith, not of science or archaeology. We accept things on faith, even though there may not be a rational justification to support it. That applies to all true religions, in all ages of the world. Where is the archaeological evidence that Jesus Christ was the Son of God? There isn’t, and in fact there cannot be any. If we are lucky, we may be able to find some independent corroborative evidence from history or archaeology that a historical figure by the name of Jesus Christ actually existed, and that He even performed miracles; but that does not prove that He was the Son of God—and that is what makes religion. Where is the archaeological evidence that Elijah was a prophet of God? There isn’t, and cannot be any. If we are lucky, we may find some independent historical or archaeological evidence that somebody by the name of King Ahab existed; but it does not prove to us the words that Elijah spoke to him came from God—and that is what makes religion. How do I know that Jesus was the Son of God? In the same way that Peter did—by the testimony of the Holy Ghost: “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). That is the only way that I or anyone else ever could know. How do I know that the Bible is the word of God? In the same way that I know that the Book of Mormon is—by the testimony of the Holy Ghost. There is no other way.

Faith and archaeological/scientific evidence do not go together. Faith comes by “hearing the word of God” (Romans 10:17); and especially as that “word” is preached by the power of the Holy Ghost through a great prophet of God such as Moses, or Peter, or Joseph Smith. It does not come by scientific, historical, or archaeological evidence. If faith is based on archaeological or historical evidence, than it is not true faith.

Genuine faith never comes by signs or by scientific evidence. The Jews had many signs and miracles wrought among them, but still they did not believe. To the unbelieving Jews the Lord said: “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; . . .” (Matthew 16:4). And to the doubting Thomas the Lord said, “. . . because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). The Book of Mormon clarifies it further as follows:

Alma 32:

17 Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe.

18 Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.

19 And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?

20 Now of this thing ye must judge. Behold, I say unto you, that it is on the one hand even as it is on the other; and it shall be unto every man according to his work.

21 And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.

And the Book of Ether further adds:

Ether 12:

6 And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.

I believe that the Book of Mormon deliberately comes without a lot of external evidence because it is intended as a test of our faith. It is a great sifter. It is designed to separate the sheep from the goats; the chaff from the wheat; the true believers in God, and those “sign seekers” who merely bring excuses, but do not really want to believe, and would not in fact believe even if convincing evidence was presented to them. This is made clear in the Book of Mormon:

1 Nephi 14:

7 For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken.

This “marvellous work” refers to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. In other words, the Book of Mormon is designed to either “convince people of peace and eternal life,” or else to “deliver them to the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds,” to their ultimate destruction. And it accomplishes that by demanding faith without evidence. You either believe it or you don’t. There is no “proof” about it.

Fourthly, the same reasoning from “archaeology” that is used against the Book of Mormon would undermine the truth of the Bible. Although there are some archaeological evidences in support of secular aspects of the Bible, there are also many more important events for which there is no archaeological evidence. There is no archaeological evidence that the Israelites ever lived in Egypt, or even that they were led into it in the first place. According to the Bible, the Israelites lived in Egypt for 400 years; and when they left, they were around two million strong. They provided slave labor for Pharaoh, and the Bible tells us that they “built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses” (Exodus 1:11). Yet there is not a scrap of archaeological evidence that the Israelites ever lived in Egypt. The Egyptians were very meticulous in recording their history in stone carvings and papyri, large numbers of which have been preserved in the dry atmosphere of the Sahara desert, and have been uncovered in great numbers. Almost the entire history of Egypt has been reconstructed from these manuscripts and inscriptions. Yet there is not a single reference to the Israelites—not even a graffiti on the wall by a disgruntled Israeli slave—to prove that they ever existed, or of their exodus out of it, or even of the plagues that Moses brought on Egypt. The Bible tells us that Moses practically destroyed the land of Egypt with his mighty plagues; slew the entire firstborn of the Egyptians, “from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon...” (Ex. 12:29); and finally drowned Pharaoh and the entire Egyptian army in the waters of the Red sea. Yet there is absolutely no evidence in Egyptian historical monuments and inscriptions that any of this ever happened.

There is no evidence that the Israelites wondered in Sinai for 40 years. They were around two million strong, and they wondered in Sinai for 40 years, and at times they encamped in one place for more than a year before moving on to somewhere else. Such large encampments always leave behind a lot of debris and environmental changes that can be identified centuries afterwards. Yet there is no such evidence found in the Sinai Peninsula. The Israelites were made to wander in the wilderness for 40 years so that those Israelites who were numbered to go and fight, but refused to do so because of their unbelief, had died. They were numbered to be “six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty” (Numbers 1:46). If you assume that an equal number of women and old people died also, that would make the total number of those who died in Sinai, before the 40 years were ended, to nearly 2 million. Where are their graves? Similarly, there is no evidence that the Israelites ever conquered the land of Palestine in the way that the Bible says they did.

There is no historical or archeological evidence that such a being as Darius the Mede (king of Babylon after the death of Belshazzar mentioned in Daniel 5:31; 6:9, 25-28; 9:1; 11:1; not to be confused with Darius the son of Hystaspes and founder of the Persian dynasty, mentioned in Ezra 4:5, 24; Ezra 5:5-7; Ezra 6:1-15; Haggai 1:1, 15; 2:10; Zechariah 1:1, 7; 7:1; or with Darius Codomannus, called Darius the Persian in Nehemiah 12: 22; the last king of Persia) ever existed. So, shall we disbelieve in the book of Daniel because it appears to contradict history or archaeology?

There are many archaeologists who use archaeological evidence against the Bible. Here is a typical example.

If that argument is valid against the Book of Mormon, than so is this argument against the Bible. Therefore those who claim belief in the Bible, but at the same time attack the Book of Mormon on archaeological grounds, stand on very shaky ground themselves


Anonymous said...

The Aztecs could not be BOM people because they did have a name for themselves. It was the Mexica, and their language Nahuatl is still around and we can understand their writings. They were not BOM people.

There is evidence of Israelites in Egypt too. See here for example

There is also evidence that Jesus was a historical figure. Just google Historical Jesus and you'll se what I mean.

Francisco Jose Ruiz de Mendoza said...

I don't think the Aztec civilization matches the BOM geography and time frame in any way. But even if the speculation about traces of Israelites in Egypt where true, where is the evidence of a 40-year massive exodus?