New Light on DNA and the Book of Mormon

Coming at the scientific community like a ton of bricks, it has been revealed that Native American’s are not of exclusively Eastern Asian heritage. As the National Geographic states, “Native American genes come from west Eurasian people linked to the Middle East and Europe, rather than entirely from East Asians as previously thought.” The discovery of 24,000-year-old Siberian youth and a second 17,000 year old human remains nearby contain a third of western Eurasians genomes related to Middle East and Europe ancestry.

Needless to say, the discovery has been shocking to scientists who have for years insisted that there was only one DNA explanation for Native Americans. In the linked article, co-author and ancient-DNA specialist Eske Willerslev, of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, says, “These results were a great surprise to us . . . I hadn’t expected anything like this. A genome related to present-day western Eurasian populations and modern Native Americans as well was really puzzling in the beginning. How could this happen?” Not that there weren’t clues that indicated things weren’t what was expected long before this discovery. According to the scientists, it answers some long standing questions and anomalies. The mysterious Kennewick Man, who to some doesn’t look either East Asian or Native American, might not be a complete anomaly. In fact, it has always been something of a puzzle why, “no contemporary East Asian populations really resemble Native Americans,” Willerslev said. The evidence is growing from genetic, linguistic, and physical evidence that America has ancient migrants from multiple peoples.

Despite all the evidence, there are some things that can be concluded and others not about The Book of Mormon and the DNA discoveries. It is not as clear cut for both sides, no matter how strong feelings are about the issues. What does this mean? That question will be answered in response to relatively standard comments already made by others. Continue reading

Videos on the “Reason for the Season”

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Here are some videos to ponder the birth of our Savior and all that the Son of God did for the World.

The LDS Bible videos Nativity

Popular “The Bible” clip.

A world record musical tribute.

Children tell the Christmas story.

Another good suggestion is to watch the 1977 television mini-series “Jesus of Nazareth” extended telling of the story as part of the complete production. It wasn’t included here because of length and copyright issues, but can be found on Netflix. The Nativity portion ends with the Holy Family standing together and giving a collective “amen” to the camera.

Wizards and Witches in Mormon Consciousness

o-NEW-HARRY-POTTER-COVER-facebookWhen the series Harry Potter first came out, especially around the time the movie version was announced, a controversy was plastered all over the news. Many Christians (and a few Muslims) became concerned that young children could be introduced to real witchcraft and occult practices. The early years of the publication gave the scandal loving press a field day of news about a small group of frantic parents wanting to protect children against dark forces. The argument is that the book series may be fantasy, but it contains clear occult and magical elements. As one critic, Richard Abanes in an interview, explained:

Can my child find information in a library or bookstore that will enable them to replicate what they are seeing in the film or the book?’ If you go to The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings what you see in, story magic and imagination, it is not real. You can’t replicate it. But if you go to something like Harry Potter, you can find references to astrology, clairvoyance, and numerology. It takes seconds to go into a bookstore or library and get books on that and start investigating it, researching it, and doing it.

There is some truth to this, although taken to the extreme considering the story as a whole. There are magical incantations, potions, interactions with the spirits of the dead, blood oaths, and more mixed in with the purely imaginative. Children could research the “real” behind the fantasy and get into witchcraft. Then again, the same can be said about any topics in a work of fiction. Continue reading

Toward A True International Church

It has been more than five years since the LDS Church counted more members outside of the United States than inside. For a Church that believes it will cover the whole earth, this is good news. That does not mean that it has reached “World Religion” status by a long shot. Although making the statement with a dismissive tone, Prof. Douglas J. Davis was right when he said calling Mormonism a World Religion at this point is dubious. Nor is it likely that it will be until the Millenium (but that is a topic for later). With 7 Billion people in the world and growing, 12 million doesn’t cut it as anything beyond a deeply humbling statistic. Missionary work has a long way to go.

Despite a long road ahead, the LDS Church is taking strides toward a true international church. Too many members are getting confused between the designation of “World Religion” with numbers, political power, and social influence and “International Church” where a sizeable membership lives in different countries. It is the latter designation that Mormonism has made progress with more promise.

A few have noted a diverse crop of international located leaders have been called in the lower ranks of general officers. It is a good sign that the future might be less U.S. centric. Leaders in lower positions can be called to the highest responsibility. South America is where the largest number of new leaders are emerging. Interesting enough, Cantonese turned out to be the first non-English language spoken in General Conference by Elder Chi Hong “Sam” Wong of Hong Kong. Hardly the most represented language of the LDS Church, although the Spanish spoken by Elder Eduardo Gavarret of Uruguay is for a large portion of members.

A few years ago former general authority Elder John K. Carmack predicted someday General Conference could be held outside Utah and even the United States:

“The international church may yet become stronger than in the United States,” said Elder John K. Carmack, an emeritus general authority of the LDS Church. “I’m not a prophet, seer or revelator, but I believe this will happen.

“I can envision general conference being held in Sao Paulo or Mexico City or Manila. . .”

Now, six years later, Carmack said, “We can see the dim outlines of the benefits that surely will come to the international church. Already, a not insignificant number of our leaders in areas with the program are coming from the ranks of PEF recipients.”

Carmack said the church’s area president for northern South America recently reported that more than 10 percent of the region’s stake presidents and bishops are PEF graduates.

Brazil is the clear hot spot for the fund, followed by Mexico, Chile and Peru.

The prediction General Conference will be held outside of Utah is not particularly feasible. Salt Lake City still remains where the central resources are situated. Technology has made logistical requirements for a traveling conference unnecessary. The LDS Church, however, will continue to have speakers give talks in their own languages. English and Spanish will be the two main languages over the pulpit, with others included as the leadership desires. Of course, that means that English speakers will have to get used to reading or listening to interpreters as a large portion of LDS membership outside the U.S. already does.

This is an exciting development. It is a tremendous opportunity. As Elder Carmack said, we are close to, “where it is time to trim the parts that are peculiar to the United States and not relevant to the international church.” That means asking what are the basics of the Church in a world of multicultural and political geography.

Into the Darkness and the Light

Pondering death can be tricky. There are several emotions that are involved with the thoughts, from hope of an afterlife to the fear of pain and suffering. Hearing about a person who took their own life, was killed by actions that could have been avoided, accidents and disease, or at the hands of another is always unpleasant. The saying, “they are resting and in a better place,” can be slightly reassuring, but that doesn’t take away the fact the person is still gone. Grief felt by the survivors heals over time or destroys the soul. Those who are religious believers are not alone in facing emotional pain. All people must face death eventually.

The beauty of most religions is a faith that there is much more than this life to look forward to experience. Every good and bad time here in mortality can be worth much more than what currently can be imagined. For Christians, this idea comes from the the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ where his mortal teachings are more than morals to live by because, “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinth. 15:19). How precious it can be to open the scriptures and read about Angels and Visions given to mortals as a witness that our person continues long after death. Joseph Smith said, “The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God” (History of the Church, 3:295). To live by faith is life eternal.

Despite the great blessings promised with faith, everyone experiences doubt. Perhaps all that we have been taught and come to believe is not true. The alternative is absolute darkness. Once our lives are over there will be nothing. It is a scary and sobering thought. While Joseph Smith discussed a vision he had of seeing family and friends rise from the graves on the day of resurrection to once again meet and hug them, he said, “More painful to me are the thoughts of annihilation than death. If I have no expectation of seeing my father, mother, brothers, sisters and friends again, my heart would burst in a moment, and I should go down to my grave.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 295). It is hard to imagine living with the idea that first we are here conscious of existence and then some day we are not. Continue reading