King of the Jungle: The Mayan Empire of Archaeologist Richard Hansen

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This fellow, Richard Hansen, has done much to uncover long-lost Mayan civilizations. Read the article here.  

As a grad student, Hansen made a significant contribution:

“The gigantic El Mirador complex had first been discovered in 1926, and it was assumed that owing to its sheer size and elaborate layout, it represented yet another classic-period city like Tikal, only in worse condition.

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But while excavating a chamber in the bottom level of a structure at El Mirador known as the Jaguar Paw Temple (the jungle cat had totemic significance for the Maya), the 26-year-old Hansen came across fragments of polished-red pottery, undisturbed for centuries, that could only be preclassic in origin. “That ceramic was only produced in the Mirador Basin, and I was the first one who identified that,” he says.

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It was a startling moment of revisionism: It meant that the entire El Mirador agglomeration dated at least five centuries earlier than anyone had thought, to a period that began before the time of Christ, and that the preclassic Maya, rather than being primitive forerunners of a more elaborate classic civilization, had built far bigger and produced an even more complex and powerful political and social organization than their medieval successors—until they, like their successors, precipitously abandoned their massive settlements during the middle of the second century. “

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Hansen’s freedom from the strictures of academia also helped him become one of the very first archaeologists to exploit a brand-new technology that has been to Mayanists of the second decade of the 21st century what carbon-dating was to the Mayanists of the 1950s: light detection and ranging, or LiDAR. The technology—using airborne lasers to “map” the topography of a given area digitally, revealing the natural peaks and valleys, as well as manmade structures, beneath the dense jungle canopies that otherwise mask them—had been used for decades by NASA to create digital maps of planet surfaces.

A few videos, highlighting previously unappreciated pre-classic (1200 years ago) developments in Guatemala:

Read the entire article above.  It shares the history of LDS-supported projects in the area.

LDS Magazine wrote the following article in February 2018 when the National Geographic story was published:    How an Incredible New Archeological Discovery Corroborates the Book of Mormon


Bruce and Marie Hafen: Understanding and Navigating Stages of Faith, Pt. 1

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Awesome podcast.

They discuss the class — Religious Problems — they took at BYU decades ago.  The format was that each student would introduce a topic about a “controversial” topic.

Topics included church history, Joseph’s polygamy, race and priesthood, living one’s religion, having the spirit, etc.

We should be able to discuss these things — doubt, faith, questions — in the open.  And learn from these topics.

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The Hafens gave a topic at BYU-Hawaii:  “Faith is Not Blind” and wrote a book with the same title.

 

 

JRR Tolkien and the Book of Mormon

Fascinating article:    What J.R.R. Tolkien’s Works Can Teach Us About the Book of Mormon:   New Study Reveals

Article text below:

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Skeptics have sometimes compared the Book of Mormon to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, including his epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings. If, they reason, Tolkien could create an entire imaginary world, with a large and detailed geography and a complex history that involves multiple ethnic groups, wars, and intricate subplots, it’s surely not impossible to imagine that Joseph Smith might have done the same.

Of course, there are some differences between them. For example, Joseph Smith was a marginally literate frontier farmer who dictated the Book of Mormon in less than three months and always insisted that it represented genuinely ancient history.

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By contrast, Tolkien, who created his Middle Earth over the course of many decades and never claimed it was other than fiction, was an accomplished philologist and translator. He taught at Oxford University as the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon and then as the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature.

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However, a new comparison of the Book of Mormon to the works of Tolkien is well worth considering. In their intriguing article “Comparing Book of Mormon Names with Those Found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Works: An Exploratory Study,” four Brigham Young University professors — Brad Wilcox (ancient scripture), Wendy Baker-Smemoe (linguistics), Bruce L. Brown (psychology, with specialization in the psychology of language), and Sharon Black (education, with a focus on writing and editing) — look specifically at the unusual names found within both Tolkien’s books and the Book of Mormon. (It’s published on mormoninterpreter.com, of which I am the chairman and president.)

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They focus on “phonemes,” the smallest units of sound, using a hypothetical construct that they term a “sound print” or “phonoprint.” This is a pattern of sound that — rather like the individual “wordprint” seems to characterize different writers or like the fingerprints that are used to identify and specify the perpetrators of criminal acts — appears to be distinctively characteristic of individual authors and could, therefore, serve to differentiate one writer from another.

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“Traditionally,” say the authors of this new study, “words have been seen as the smallest building blocks over which authors have some freedom to choose. This new line of research expands the fundamental unit of text into phonemes and proposes the possibility that we could produce a phonoprint that would differ from author to author. Despite that authors have fewer sounds with which to create words than they have words with which to create prose and poetry, there is some evidence that authors favor certain sounds over others when choosing or inventing names.”

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Using this fresh and unusual research approach in an “exploratory” fashion, the authors examine the dwarf, elvish, hobbit, and human names created by Tolkien, as well as the Jaredite, Nephite, Mulekite, and Lamanite names found in the Book of Mormon. Although Joseph Smith always maintained that he had translated the Book of Mormon from an ancient record, his critics have frequently claimed that he wrote it himself, just as any ordinary writer composes a fictional narrative. Presumably, if those critics are right, he would have chosen the names for his imaginary world, or created them, just as other writers of fiction do.

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Their summary of their findings is worth quoting:

“Results suggest that Tolkien had a phonoprint he was unable to entirely escape when creating character names, even when he claimed he based them on distinct languages. In contrast, in Book of Mormon names, a single author’s phonoprint did not emerge. Names varied by group in the way one would expect authentic names from different cultures to vary. . . . Thus the Book of Mormon name groups were significantly more diverse than Tolkien’s. . . . If the Book of Mormon names were created by an individual, they were created by a very different process or based on languages more different from each other and consistent within themselves than those created by Tolkien.”

For Tolkien, the invention of fictional languages was a lifelong hobby that contributed substantially to his creation of Middle Earth. He began developing “Elvish” in his late teens, for example, and was still working on its history and grammar at age 81 when he died in 1973.

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It seems highly unlikely that Joseph Smith was better at inventing fictional languages than Tolkien was.

Evolution Proves God’s Existence

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William Lane Craig rightfully points out that Catholic scholar, St. Augustine of Hippo who lived from 354-430, articulated that creation wasn’t necessarily 6000 years ago.  Neither did Augustine required special creation with God “poofing” Adam into existence. This flexible conception of creation arose well before Science revealed the age of the earth and universe.

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Without intervention by God, Craig argues life wouldn’t have arisen.  Life simply would have been so improbable the Earth would have first been swallowed up by our dying Sun before life would have had a chance to develop.

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Latter-day Saints don’t believe in creation ex nihilo.  We believe in eternal matter and eternal spirits.  We believe God is the father of our spirits.   When men developed from their ancestors, at this point God may have given the first humans their spirits.

We simply don’t know how God was involved.  We welcome findings of scientists that demonstrate what occurred.  But we should all recognize there are limits to what Science can tell us.  We don’t need to adopt Scientism.  Instead, we should marry the best of Science and our faith.

 

Moroni’s Stone Box, protecting the Golden Plates

Fascinating topic.

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Informative podcast:

Details of box and location on the hill in this article:  Hill Cumorah.

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What ever happened to the box?  David Whitmer reported he visited the hill three times and saw the box.  Later, the box had drifted down the hill.  Read about it here.

The Maxwell Institute looked at a related topic in 2004:  Cumorah’s Cave.

Scientism: the (irrational) Faith of Many Atheists

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I recently completed my Google Slides presentation here.

Science isn’t in conflict with religion.  Instead, the problem is with Scientism: the irrational believe that Science is the only source of truth.

Scientism (and not Science) conflicts with religion and many other fields.

Jim Bennett Responds (again) to the CES Letter

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Jim Bennett, son of late US Senator from Utah, wrote a reply to the CES Letter in 2016.
Jim is an incredibly witty, entertaining, and talented writer. Not only were the answers helpful, but it was a joy to read, given Jim’s wonderful style.
 
Many of us know Latter-day Saints who have recently struggled with their faith, especially when unprepared and facing down a huge list of criticisms and unfamiliar context. 
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Drinking from a critic’s fire hose isn’t a good idea.  It’s best to get help and to see a line-by-line response to critics’ claims.  Jim provides helpful answers and insights for those sincerely seeking answers.
 
Jim updated his response here to this anti-Mormon PDF and released the update today.
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To review other scholars’ responses click here.   The answers to LDS critics are scholarly, fair, exonerating, and voluminous.

LDS Church Finances and Deseret Trust Company

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Bro. Roger Hendrix is an active Latter-day Saint who was a mission president in the 90s before he started working as a board member at Deseret Trust Company.  His career was in construction and consulting in Southern California before he was a mission president.

This fellow, Roger Hendrix, went onto LDS critic John Dehlin’s podcast to discuss the Church’s finances.  They discussed a range of topics, including auditors of the Church, Deseret Management Company (Church’s holding company), Bonneville, Ensign Peak and other investment entities, management of tithing, the Church real estate entity, financial transparency, the Church’s net worth, and other related issues.

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John repeatedly asked about conflicts of interest, nepotism, possible fraud, directing money to General Authorities’ kids’ startup businesses, the City Creek project, and other common critics’ claims and innuendo.

Bro. Hendrix repeatedly swatted those and related conspiracy theories away.  Where Bro. Hendrix worked for 18 years — Deseret Trust Company — was a business that followed the law.  And all his time around others in Church management operated just as he did:  ethically, professionally, and legally.

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Roger explained that he got a stipend when part of the trust company, but not close to what he earned on other boards.  In fact, Roger stated on other boards he’s “made a lot of dough.”   His stipend at the trust company didn’t change in 18 years.   Sounds like it was around $10K/year.  His colleagues who worked with him gave up lots of “dough”, according to Roger to work in a Church environment.

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Further, no General Authorities sit on these boards.  But back in the 1960s, N. Eldon Tanner started this trust company.  And other LDS leaders did sit on the board.  But not any longer.

No, the Church doesn’t steal money from ex-Mormons’ inheritance, though John Dehlin suggested otherwise.  Dehlin also suggested General Authorities’ families and companies directly and inappropriately benefited from the trust.  John made all these claims and pushed innuendo, all without evidence.  Out of thin air.

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Short answer to these claims:  no.  Such actions are unethical and illegal.  This trust company, like any other, is run according to state and national laws.

Roger described the bright, trained people that work for the Church.  He included that these same bright people have the Spirit, pray, and practice their faith.

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John repeatedly asked questions that revealed John’s ignorance of trusts, non-profits, and investments in general.

In my opinion, John is looking for a boogey man.  He believes in a sort of Bigfoot.  Something the Church is hiding, lying about.  Something he’ll never find. Cuz the Church doesn’t operate that way.  Never has.

More questions about Church finances, tithing, etc.

John Dehlin tried another gotcha interview with Michael Quinn.  Michael was excommunicated in the 90s, but despite not being a member today, still has faith in the Church.  He is an excellent researcher/historian and shares a lot about the Church’s finances.

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Michael details the history of stipends for LDS leaders and how the Church got onto solid financial footing.  He further shares details of the multiple entities the Church uses to invest and handle its assets and overall portfolio. The Church behaves ethically and in line with its mission throughout the globe.

In addition, Michael takes the side of transparency, saying that this would be faith promoting.  He quotes others who were connected to all Church finance details who suggest the Church has nothing to hide and would benefit from sharing financial information.

Michael even discusses the few financial abuses in our history:  Brigham and his son accumulated wealth, an accountant who embezzled in the 60s.

Yet, he explains that the values of our leaders have been exemplary in their attempts to manage the Church’s assets.  He finishes by saying faithful members should likely adjust their view by understanding Quinn’s data (book), but in his view, should remain faithful.

 

More Millennials Are Abandoning Religion For Witchcraft, Astrology

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Also attributed to GK Chesterton:

“A man who won’t believe in God will believe in anything.”

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The following article is by Jazz Shaw:

You may have thought it was just a couple of oddballs and a blip on the radar when some modern-day witches decided to cast a hex on Brett Kavanaugh. (I guess they didn’t use enough eye of newt in that effort since he’s now on the SCOTUS bench.) But it turns out that that wasn’t some niche effort. A new report at Marketwatch reveals that an increasing number of younger people (we’re looking at you again, millennials) are rejecting organized, traditional religion in favor of the divinations of astrologers and witches casting spells.

More than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry — which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services — grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.

Melissa Jayne, owner of Brooklyn-based “metaphysical boutique” Catland, said she has seen a major uptick in interest in the occult in the past five years, especially among New Yorkers in their 20s. The store offers workshops like “Witchcraft 101,” “Astrology 101,” and a “Spirit Seance.”

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“Whether it be spell-casting, tarot, astrology, meditation and trance, or herbalism, these traditions offer tangible ways for people to enact change in their lives,” she said.

Yes, the “Catland” referenced in this article is the same one that hosted the Kavanaugh hexing and seems to be the northeastern epicenter of this movement. It’s been building for a while now, however, and it’s not limited to the Big Apple. Back in January, John covered a story describing the growing ranks of “young American women who have been drawn to witchcraft as a sign of feminism and community building.”

 

Sure, some of them may just be dabbling in these things as an exercise in finding a new way to express their feminist ideals and resistance to the President. But in many of the cases detailed in the report, we’re talking about people who take their witchcraft seriously. I regularly listen to a few podcasts on paranormal subjects, not politics, and the hosts tend to be almost uniformly liberal. (Some of them regularly veer off topic to bemoan how horrible the world is since the 2016 elections and, frankly, I just consider that a bonus in terms of entertainment.)

But when they talk about spells and other witch-related subjects, they’re not joking around. Some of them regularly burn sage in their homes and offices to cleanse the areas of negative influences. There’s a thriving market for books, crystals and other witch paraphernalia.

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Is there some larger message here? Perhaps. When you turn away from the faith your family followed for generations and all the values it brings with it, all other paths are probably at least a bit “darker” in tone. And the fact that this trend is so much more common among the young on the left might give a few clues as to how we arrived at the situation we’re in today.

As for me, I’m not opposed to a little witchcraft… at least as long as Frank is singing it. Turn on the volume and enjoy this classic.