I don’t really know much about who Mike Adams is, or what makes him think he is an authority on Mormonism, but his recent column at Townhall, egregiously titled “My Apology to Mormon Readers” is a complete slap-in-the-face. I am stunned that Townhall has allowed itself to be party to such blatant bigotry. In any event, because it exists, I am sure people will read it. Thus, I am writing a response, meant to show the problems with Adams’s statements. Adams is either unaware of LDS scholarship on these topics, or blatantly choose to ignore it.
Are Mormons Christians?
Apparently, this is not the first time Adams has targeted Mormons in his column. He has argued that Mormon’s are not Christians, eliciting demands from Mormon readers, one of whom is apparently named Stacey, to whom his apology is addressed. He does not go into this here, and neither will I. This is a topic I have taken up a number of times on my blog, and will encourage others to pursue the arguments I have advanced regarding the Christian status of Latter-day Saints.
Reading the Book of Mormon
Adams’s first apology is about reading the Book of Mormon. “I am sorry that so many of my Mormon readers have brazenly accused me of ignorance of their religion and suggested that I read the Book of Mormon. I am sorry that they were unaware that I read the Book of Mormon back in 2006.” If he has read the Book of Mormon back in 2006 (and presumably only that one time), then I would kindly recommend he read it again. You don’t become an expert on a 531 page book after reading it once, and the remainder of his column reveals that he is not much of an expert. I would also recommend he read some good secondary literature on the book written by faithful Latter-day Saints, so he can get a handle on how Mormons themselves understand and interpret the book. Since he wants to make claims regarding historicity, I suggest it is best he read the work of scholars addressing such claims, so that he knows not just how any-ole’ Mormon understands the issues, but rather how the most informed LDS understand those matters and how they interpret scripture in light of them. Doing that could equip him with the capacity to make more substantive criticisms.
As for accusations of ignorance about Mormonism, brazen or not, the column itself serves as confirmatory evidence of such an accusation.
DNA and the Book of Mormon
Adams then apologizes that “the science of genetics has refuted claims made in the Book of Mormon concerning the relationship between Native Americans and Semitic people.” This science “undermine[s] the entire historical premise of the Book of Mormon. As a criminologist, I suppose Adams can be forgiven for believing that DNA has dealt a decisive death blow to the Book of Mormon. In forensics, DNA has proven to be a decisive tool. But forensic DNA scientist Dr. John M. Butler reports that the methods that allow for such accuracy in criminal court are not applicable to ancestry studies.
I wonder if Adams could point me to even a single study performed by a population geneticist and published in a scientifically peer-reviewed journal that is designed to address the question of Book of Mormon historicity? Such a study does not exist, and according to Dr. Michael F. Whiting, a DNA scientist who has sat on the panel that reviews research proposals for the National Science Foundation, such a study could never be performed because we lack the kind of data and controls that would be required to make it acceptably scientifically rigorous. For that reason, Dr. Whiting has concluded, “It would be the pinnacle of foolishness to base one’s testimony [in the Book of Mormon] on the results of a DNA analysis.”
Dr. Ryan Parr, a biological anthropologist who has authored and co-authored studies on Native American DNA, specializes in ancient DNA, and has sequenced the DNA of Egyptian mummies, has concluded that DNA studies have not disproven, and could not disprove, the Book of Mormon because of many complicating factors. Dr. Ugo Perego, a population geneticist who has also published studies on DNA and Native American origins, has also explained why DNA does not disprove the Book of Mormon. (Perego’s response to Adams’s claims on facebook: “I am sorry this guy doesn't understand how population genetics work.”) So has Dr. David A. McClellan, another DNA researcher. I could go on.
Archeology and the Book of Mormon
Adams then apologizes “that while archeological discovery supports the claims of the Bible it clearly does not support the claims of the Book of Mormon.” First, many Biblical claims are not supported by archaeology, and second the kind of comparison he is trying to make is methodologically unsound. Old World and New World archaeology are entirely different beasts, and any text grounded in the New World should not be held to the archeological standards of the Old. Dr. William J. Hamblin, a historian specializing in civilizations of the ancient Near East, and Brant A. Gardner, who has a graduate degree in ethno-history specializing in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, have both discussed the implications this has for the Book of Mormon and archeology. Given the limitations, one would not expect to be able to find a ruin that can be specifically identified as Zarahemla.
Adams might like to know, that using the same kind of methods that archeologists use to identify otherwise unknown locations mentioned in ancient texts throughout the world, LDS scholars have made fairly reasonable correlations to Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon. I would recommend he try reading Dr. John L. Sorenson’s An Ancient American Setting for the Bookof Mormon, or better yet his magnum opus, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book, due out later this year. Or he can browse one of the six volumes in Brant A. Gardner’s Second Witness: An Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, or wait for his forthcoming book on the Book of Mormon as and in history.
Furthermore, Mesoamerican archeologist Dr. John E. Clark, has actually shown that over time, archeology has come to better support the claims of the Book of Mormon. Adams’s claim also neglects to deal with the archeological evidence that has been found in Arabia, which supports the claims of the Book of Mormon in its Old World setting.
Adams claims, “Battles that were supposed to have occurred in specific locations in North America simply never took place. The archeological evidence just isn’t there.” This statement is utter nonsense. Before you can say that the evidence for battles in “specific locations” does not exist, you have to identify what those locations are. F. Michael Watson, assistant to the First Presidency, in a letter sent on behalf of the First Presidency, wrote “there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site.” So on what basis does Adams claim that we lack evidence in the right places? If we follow the Mesoamerican correlations mentioned above, then we do, in fact, find evidence for battles in the right times and right places.
Plagiarism, the Gold Plates, and Captain Kidd
The next paragraph is quite the barrage of criticisms.
I am sorry about the plagiarism of the Holy Bible that runs through the Book of Mormon. I am sorry that Mormons cannot see that Joseph Smith’s refusal to reveal the golden tablets is strong evidence of their nonexistence. The heavy plagiarism in the Book of Mormon puts the lie to the rest of the story of Smith, the former seeker of the lost treasures of Captain Kidd.
Plagiarism? Really? Plagiarism requires that an author take the work of another and claim it as their own. The problem is, Joseph Smith never claimed the Book of Mormon as his own – he said he was the translator, and nothing more. Furthermore, the ancient authors, such as Nephi, are usually pretty clear about the fact that they are quoting Isaiah or some other prophet. As for unattributed quotations, John A. Tvedtnes has shown that the same phenomena occurs in the Bible. Plagiarism is a wholly modern concern, thus charging the Book of Mormon with it is to fallaciously beg the question.
I can only regard his comment on the plates to be deliciously ironic. Joseph Smith did show the plates to others – 11 others, in fact. And their testimonies, along with the informal testimonies of others like Emma Smith, serve strong –very strong – evidence that they were real. So strong in fact, that some of the more reasonable critics of Mormonism have conceded that Joseph Smith had some sort of metal plates. They just don’t acknowledge those plates as being the source of the Book of Mormon. (Their arguments in that regard are, in my view, quite weak, but that is for another time.) The seminal work on this subject is Richard Lloyd Anderson’s book, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, yet another book I would recommend Adams get familiar with.
As for the Captain Kidd connections alluded to, I recommend Larry E. Morris’s review of those claims, as well as Mark Ashust-McGee’s lengthy paper on the notion of Moroni as Treasure Guardian.
The Fruits of Joseph Smith
Adams then launches into an assault on Joseph Smith, saying “I am sorry that my Mormon readers have put all their eggs in one basket by constantly writing to me quoting Matthew 7:16. So I am sorry that I must now apply that verse to the very first Mormon.”
Apparently, the only fruit of Joseph Smith worth talking about is polygamy. Yet Adams merely states a series of facts (or alleged facts) with no explanation as to why that is a problem. Since Adams appears to be a believer in the Bible, I must ask if he is also sorry that Abraham practiced polygamy? Is he also sorry that Jacob – the very father of the house of Israel – was married to sisters?
The whole laundry list of accusations against Joseph Smith, including those of coercion and lust, does not, according to Brian C. Hales, author of the three volume set Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, hold up to historical scrutiny. I recommend Adams try reading Hales work of the subject – at present, it is the most thorough and definitive.
Adams then uses the Jacob 2:24 to imply contradiction, but he fails to mention Jacob 2:30 which explains that exceptions can be made.
Adams says he is sorry that Joseph Smith spoke of exaltation, but I am not. This is the most empowering, enabling doctrine not just of Mormonism, but of any religion, period. It also truly exalts God and Christ – as the quote from Joseph used by Adams actually indicates. I am not sorry that I believe the Atonement of Jesus Christ is so powerful that it can actually make me like God. I am sorry, though, that Adams, the one who claims the Christian high ground, would limit the atonement in its capacity to enable men and women to conquer their human natures and partake in the divine nature. I am also sorry (for him) that the historical and scriptural evidence ultimately favors the Mormons on this doctrine. That must be a difficult fact to live with.
On Not doing His Homework
Adams closes with the statement, “I am sorry that my Mormon readers have unfairly accused me of criticizing Mormonism without doing my homework. But I am glad I did.” I’m sorry I have to say it, but no, Mr. Adams, you have not done your homework. If you did, you would not make silly and naïve accusations about “polytheism” or about “Mormonism teach[ing] that Christ was not there in the beginning.” Surely, if he had done his homework, he would have known that Mormons believe Christ – along with the rest of the human family – was in fact there in the beginning, in a pre-existence. It is also clear, given the above, that he hasn’t really done his homework on all the other topics. Or if he has, he has ignored it. This column is not well researched or well reasoned. It is hit piece journalism, taking the shotgun approach in an effort to overwhelm the average reader with just to many issues to deal with.
I am sorry that Mike Adams, who seems like a decent enough person, feels like he needs to disparage a religion with millions of adherents. I’m sorry that he seems to feel like his own religious tradition is threatened by mine. If I decide to go into criminology, though, I hope I can take some classes from him. Given the apparently low standard of “homework” he betrays in this column, I figure those classes must have a pretty light work load.