Wednesday, July 29, 2015

More from that First Morning in NSW

Our hike at Royal National Park near Sydney was so beautiful. It was a huge relief to be walking in the sun and breeze after coming from a hot and dry summer in the PNW; in fact, it was hard to believe it was winter there.

Anyway, we went through a lot of brush where we saw tons of birds that we first thought must be Willie Wagtails but later discovered some of them at least to be New Holland Honeyeaters. We followed a path along the coast above spectacular cliffs and crashing waves.

Cory gets even for all the picture-taking

Exuberant as we were at the scenery, we were careful not to do any handstands at the cliff's edge near Wedding Cake Rock (the way some guy fell to his death a couple of years ago, according to the guy at the concession stand at the park entrance).

Unfortunately, Wedding Cake Rock is thought to be about to collapse, sometime within the next 10 years.
Closeup of amazing holes "eaten" into rocks above one of the waterfalls

This is whale-watching season, so we thought we might see some migrating whales, but no luck on that count. Oh well, we saw so many amazing birds and plants --- and we can see whales when we get back to our own coast!

See that rock next to Cory---here's a closeup of it.

Just like the guy said in the video, the rock on top is tremendously undercut!

Pretty sure this is a cormorant

Another New Holland Honeyeater

Back at the park entrance, we found some very friendly sulphur-crested cockatoos

The ones not on your shoulders nip at your ankles.

Monday, July 27, 2015

New Holland Honeyeater

We saw this our very first morning in Australia, as Lisa took us to the Royal National Park near Sydney. It was a perfect way to start our visit, by the way: After a sleepless airplane night and a cross-over into a new day left us tired and out of sorts, we got out into the air and sunlight and breeze and took a walk in some of the most beautiful terrain I've ever seen.

I think it's a New Holland Honeyeater. 

Later: I found a better photo to compare it with so now I'm certain of my ID. 

Here's a closeup of the bird, so you can see its "whiskers" and its beautiful silver eye.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Why Do They Even Care?

Thinking about critics of the church who write so maliciously that you can't really believe they actually think they're rational about it, this quote from Sir Philip Sidney:

"Malice, in its false witness, promotes its tale with so cunning a confusion; so mingles truths with falsehoods, surmises with certainties, causes of no moment with matters capital, that the accused can absolutely neither grant nor deny, plead innocence nor confess guilt."

Philip Sidney, posthumous portrait
Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586)

(Thanks to Dan Peterson for the quote and the picture.) 

And why do we care what Sir Philip Sidney said about malicious critics?

For one thing, he knew whereof he wrote. He suffered at the hands of malicious critics in his own life. According to, he was even lampooned by Shakespeare, "including the character Master Slender in The Merry Wives of Windsor, referencing his marriage negotiations with Anne Cecil, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night (Sidney's face was scarred from a bout with smallpox and his birthday is St. Andrew's Day)."

What? His face was scarred by smallpox, and Shakespeare thought that was funny enough to make fun of him. And I thought modern-day literary bullies were obnoxious!

One more bit about Sir Sidney: He died after a gunshot suffered in battle turned gangrenous. And, "According to legend, in his pained state, Sidney eschewed a cup of water in favor of another wounded soldier, saying, 'Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.'" 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Mistaken? Who, Me?

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken. - Oliver Cromwell

Sunday, July 5, 2015

How Much Stupidity Is There, Anyway?

I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.

---Frank Zappa

Friday, July 3, 2015

Archaeology and the Book of Mormon (Again)

From LDS writer William Hamblin, responding to yet another attack from an anti-Mormon writer who claims that the historical veracity of the Book of Mormon can't be proven from archaeological finds, so it must therefore not be true.

Hamblin writes about the names of known Mayan kings and writes, "Only [a] dozen or two Maya personal names are attested in pre-400 AD inscriptions." He lists these names and adds:
"Thus, from all of the New World, we have the names of twelve kings before 400 AD.  That is a remarkably sparse data base to work with.  Basically we have insufficient information from inscriptional archaeology to tell us anything substantial about Preclassic Mesoamerican history during the BOM period (which is precisely why it is called the Preclassic).  There is plenty of archaeological evidence to demonstrate that there were many important cities and kingdoms in Preclassic times; we simply don’t know the names of those cities or kings.  Thus, again, the problem is not that the BOM somehow fails this test.  The problem is that there is insufficient data to undertake that test.  If we had for Preclassic Mesoamerica the amount of data we have for classical Greece, and there was no mention of plausible Nephites, that would be decisive evidence against the BOM.  But since we lack that quantity and quality of evidence, the methodologically sound response is that the issue is unresolved."

So, can we prove the Book of Mormon to be an historically accurate document based on current "inscriptional" archaeological knowledge? No, we cannot. So the people who argue against the Book of Mormon based on lack of evidence are wrong on that count, as well as the philosophical and scientific fact that you cannot prove something does not exist just because you haven't seen it for yourself.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Proving the Book of Mormon by Historical and Archaeological Methods

This is a follow-up to my two earlier posts about proving the Book of Mormon by scientific methods. By focusing on so-called historical proofs of the Book of Mormon, I'm assuming that history and archaeology use methods like those used by physical scientists: gathering evidence, fitting it in with previously known facts to reconstruct the past, and subjecting our conclusions to peer review and the potential for contradictory interpretations and further findings.

In my first post about science and the Book of Mormon, I wrote that the Book of Mormon cannot be "proven" by scientific methods  "... because that is not how scripture is 'proven' or 'disproven.'" I added a link to a short article by LDS writer and scholar Daniel C. Peterson arguing that in fact so-called scientific methods are not how most ancient documents have been proven. He gives the example of the discovery of the ancient city of Troy by Heinrich Schliemann, who did not in any way use the objective, peer-reviewed, scientific model of scholarship.

Then, responding to a comment from Jeff, who noted, "A scientific 'proof'' over-rates what science can actually do--and totally misses the point," I wrote:

 "What will it take for the world of scientists and historians and linguists to accept the Book of Mormon? Who cares? Who cares if scholars accept the Book of Mormon on their terms? It doesn't ask to be accepted on those terms. It exists for humble seekers of truth to read it, pray about it, and respond to the witness they receive."

Since writing that, I've been following some scholarly arguments about how we can "prove" the existence of ancient cultures and civilizations; these show, again, why it is a waste of time --- and counter-productive in every way --- to attempt to "prove" the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon through ancient texts or archaeological finds.

And I'm very disappointed to have write this, having heard and read many accounts of Mesoamerican archaeological sites where supposed baptismal fonts were found and reading more recently about some LDS travelers who found the three consonants "NHM" written on an altar in Yemen, supposedly corresponding to the place identified by Nephi as Nahom. Because here's the thing, or, I should say, here are several things:

1. Nay-sayers will always, and I mean always, have a response to every one of these finds. For example, an anti-Mormon "outreach" group has come up with a number of objections to the idea that the three consonants on that altar in Yemen mean the same as the word "Nahom." (As a student of Arabic, I must say their arguments are wrong; as a student of the Book of Mormon, I must say their arguments are misguided; and as a student of human nature, I must say their arguments reveal a singular snarkiness that undermines everything else they could possibly write.)

These people say, "Let us not forget that the LDS Church has provided no historical or archaeological evidence that Nephi or any of the unique characters mentioned in the Book of Mormon actually lived."

2. To that point, I say, let us not forget that, indeed. Let us not forget, either, that nobody has every provided any historical or archaeological evidence that the Council of Nicaea actually happened in the time and place we have all accepted for hundreds of years it supposedly happened. As LDS writer John Gee notes:

"From historical sources we know that Nicaea was near Constantine's summer residence. We have no archaeological evidence that he was ever there or ever paid any attention to the place. The lack of archaeological evidence does not prove Constantine was never there. On the other hand archaeological evidence tells us that the theater seated 15,000. I know of no historical evidence that provides us that information. The lack of historical evidence does not mean there was no theater."
John Gee also cites the difficulty of reconciling archaeological with historical evidence about the dynamic succession at Masuwari, concluding, "So we can only work with inadequate evidence." He concludes:

"Sometimes historical and archaeological evidence overlap. Sometimes they conflict. Most of the time they do neither. Each provides its own sort of evidence. One cannot just expect the two types of evidence to corroborate each other. Much of the material in the Bible, for example, is not and cannot be corroborated archaeologically. There are points at which the archaeological record does corroborate the Bible. But archaeology does not necessarily corroborate every point one might like."
3. Other LDS scholars have noted the fact that the Nephite civilizations of the Book of Mormon were so small that they were unlikely to have left behind large mounds or even small artifacts for us to find.

I note that the book itself recounts huge disruptions in the geography (See 3 Nephi 8, for example), so I don't get it when people speculate about where the geographical locations mentioned in the Book of Mormon might be. See for example this Wikipedia article which I have only skimmed through because I don't really care what anyone else thinks about whatever relationships there may be found between, for instance, Lake Ontario and the Waters of Ripliancum.

4. Again, I repeat what I wrote from the beginning: It doesn't matter whether archaeological or historical evidence is found that supports the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. If anything like that ever happens, it will be just another ancient record. People will be able to read it like they do the Dead Sea Scrolls, and marvel at the way the people lived back then, the struggles they had, the rules they made for their cultures, and so on.

The Book of Mormon is a divine record of God's dealings with His people, and it can best be appreciated through praying for a testimony of its truthfulness and its application to our lives now.

Because, as another testimony of Jesus Christ, its purpose is not to provide the world with yet another ancient record; its purpose, as the authors of the various books it contains keep reminding us, is to bring us to Christ.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

LDS Church on Same-Sex Marriages

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing all same-sex marriages in all 50 states, LDS Church leaders have issued a statement on same-sex marriage outlining the Church's policy. This statement is in addition to, and elaborates upon, the statement made immediately following the court's decision.

This statement reaffirms, "Marriage between a man and a woman was instituted by God and is central to His plan for His children and for the well‐being of society...Strong families, guided by a loving mother and father, serve as the fundamental institution for nurturing children, instilling faith, and transmitting to future generations the moral strengths and values that are important to civilization and vital to eternal salvation... A family built on marriage of a man and a woman is the best setting for God’s plan of happiness to thrive."

The statement includes an introductory letter, statement, and background material for bishops and branch presidents. Here is some more of the Church's statement:

Consistent with our fundamental beliefs, Church officers will not employ their ecclesiastical authority to perform marriages between two people of the same sex, and the Church does not permit its meetinghouses or other properties to be used for ceremonies, receptions, or other activities associated with same‐sex marriages. Nevertheless, all visitors are welcome to our chapels and premises so long as they respect our standards of conduct while there.

The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree. We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same‐sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. Indeed, the Church has advocated for rights of same‐sex couples in matters of hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment, and probate, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.

The Church insists on its leaders’ and members’ right to express and advocate religious convictions on marriage, family, and morality free from retaliation or retribution. The Church is also entitled to maintain its standards of moral conduct and good standing for members.

As members of the Church, we are responsible to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to illuminate the great blessings that flow from heeding God’s commandments as well as the inevitable consequences of ignoring them. We invite all to pray that people everywhere will have their hearts softened to the truths God established in the beginning, and that wisdom will be granted to those who are called upon to decide issues critical to society’s future.
As always, our Church leaders emphasize the ability of and necessity for all church members to "seek guidance from the Holy Ghost to help them in their personal lives and in family and Church responsibilities."

I am so grateful to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our leaders are called of God and inspired to act in His name, and they always encourage all of us in the fundamental principles and doctrines of God's love, His eternal plan of happiness, and our own free agency in choosing the course of our own lives.