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Conversations with a Non-Mormon Part II

January 22, 2010

This is really a continuation of the conversation I had with the person (and people) from “How do Mormons reconcile the contradictions in their religion?

As we went on from the opening question (and answers) I discussed in my last entry, the main questioner questioned whether Mormonism could be falsifiable under these criteria. He raised the dearth of evidence of Book of Mormon locations, and I pointed out that absence of evidence doesn’t mean evidence of absence (although, absence of evidence doesn’t alone give compelling reason to believe.) He eventually said:

I guess this is how I would look at it:

If Mormonism is true, you would expect evidence of this civilization
If Mormonism is false, you would expect no evidence of this civilization.

Strictly speaking you can only ever prove Mormonism true by that criteria since if you haven’t found the evidence it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist… but if you’re going to be intellectually honest, you have to say that the world we’re living in doesn’t look like the one the book of mormon describes

He actually said something later that related to the point that I thought was interesting too…

Which, while I realize I’m preaching to the atheistic/agnostic choir here, ultimately means that you could justify absolutely anything with that line of reasoning. Which means that Mormonism is consistent with all possible evidence. Which means that it ultimately predicts and explains nothing about reality.

I guess I haven’t thought a lot about that last part. But I did try to address his first message by saying:

Let me put your scenario to a different test.

“If black swans truly exist, you would expect evidence of these swans.
If black swans truly did not exist, you would expect no evidence of these swans.”

Indeed, we did not see evidence of these swans for a looooong time. But did that conclusively show that black swans do not exist? Well, when Europeans discovered Australia, I bet THEY were really surprised to find those black swans after all! Book of Mormon cities should be larger and more noticeable than our black swans, and we suppose that we know *where* to look…but we could be way off.

You say that “if you’re going to be intellectually honest, you have to say that the world we’re living in doesn’t look like the one the book of mormon describes.” But you play with fire. I’ll tell you something:

GLENN BECK IS MAKING A KILLING PRECISELY BY ARGUING THAT THE WORLD WE’RE LIVING IN LOOKS LIKE THE ONE THE BOOK OF MORMON DESCRIBES. When he invokes images of the constitution “hanging by a thread” because of America’s unrighteous pride, he’s pulling deep into Mormon lore and the Book of Mormon pride cycle. And apparently, as much as you or I want to believe he’s just a nutjob that NO ONE LISTENS TO, plenty of people (many non-mormons too…these people would probably flip if they realized Beck was one of the Mormons!) do listen to Glenn Beck (even if he’s still a nutjob).

Apparently, what the world looks like — and how it relates to any piece of literature — is in the eye of the beholder.

In hindsight, that’s one scary answer.

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  1. Not to split hairs here, but absence of evidence is evidence of absence, despite Carl Sagan’s quip to the contrary. Here’s the mathematical theorem that proves it.

    In layman’s terms, it’s like this.

    Suppose we determine that person X leaves evidence of his passage 99% of the places he goes. (He is a compulsive graffiti artist.)

    Now say we go to location Y and want to determine whether person X has been here. No evidence of his passage is found.

    This means there is only a 1% chance that person X could have been here and simply neglected to graffiti anything. It is highly unlikely that that is the case, though we have not completely disproven the possibility.

    And this, I think, is what Sagan meant to say. Absence of evidence is not PROOF of absence.

    Now, unfortunately, we usually cannot make quantitative determinations like the one in my hypothetical case. For example, we cannot say that if horses had inhabited the continent during Book of Mormon times, there is a 99% chance that they would have left evidence behind. We simply do not have the data required to make such a determination.

    But we can perhaps get a general idea of the kind of evidence we’d expect, by looking at how much evidence horses left of their existence in other parts of the world, and/or how much evidence other animals left of their existence during the same timeframe in the Americas. My impression is that the answer to both questions is, a lot. So since there is a considerable gap between the amount of evidence we’d expect and the amount of evidence we’ve found, I’d actually suggest that the evidence of horses’ absence is quite strong.

  2. Chris:

    This means there is only a 1% chance that person X could have been here and simply neglected to graffiti anything. It is highly unlikely that that is the case, though we have not completely disproven the possibility.

    And this, I think, is what Sagan meant to say. Absence of evidence is not PROOF of absence.

    We don’t seem to be in disagreement based on this.


    Now, unfortunately, we usually cannot make quantitative determinations like the one in my hypothetical case. For example, we cannot say that if horses had inhabited the continent during Book of Mormon times, there is a 99% chance that they would have left evidence behind. We simply do not have the data required to make such a determination.

    Now, we definitely aren’t in disagreement.

    I would go with your horse analogy more readily, but then I’d say though that apologists could easily slip around this in quite a few ways (were horses named/translated by analogy? etc.,) these may not be satisfying answers, but I could anticipate them.

    • Well, yes, there are ways to save the Book of Mormon even if pre-Columbian Mesoamerica had no horses. But my point wasn’t so much that the absence of horses disproves the Book of Mormon, as that the issue of the existence of horses in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica isn’t the unknowable quantity some would like us to believe it is.

      • FireTag permalink

        I am the last one who says one can prove the historicity of the BofM scientifically. I regard that book as a scientific ANOMALY — neither well-explained EITHER as an ancient or as a 19th Century document. I actually find the scientific evidence for the book as an ancient document BETTER than I expected it to be, but my basis for decision is personal subjective experience.

        But with that said, can we at least get rid of the notion that the BofM is in defiance of modern science on the ikssue of horses?

        The Book of Mormon, taken solely on its own internal evidence, claims the following: 1) the Nephites held a stable breeding population of horses; 2) these horses were too rare to ever be used to pull chariots in battle; 3) they were too rare to be owned by any but high lords (kings, “princes”, or, possibly, “dukes”; 4) they are only shown in use on formal state visits from one kingdom to another; 5) they are more likely to be eaten during a siege than to be “multiplied” to use for food production or transportation.

        So when we use Christopher’s method to test the BofM, we are looking for the presence or absense of a “signal” that matches this level of internal evidence — not the signal we anticipate from a horse-based culture.

        How large should that signal be? Should it be any larger than the few pre-Columbian horse bones turned up in Yucatan and cited by Sorenson and Givens?

        Well, by searching google for “polar bear populations in zoos”, I quickly found the addresses of at least 92 polar bears in the EU (not counting countries at various stages of joining the Union). There are 74 in the lower 48 of the US; I ignored Alaska, for obvious reasons. There are even a couple of polar bears in Mexico. And horses are easier to breed than polar bears.

        So, do you think anyone will be able to find more than an occasional scrap of evidence for polar bears in, say, Germany, 2000 years from now?

        I don’t think so.

      • marmot permalink

        Firetag, I imagine there will be written records aplenty.

  3. were horses named/translated by analogy?


  4. I just prefer to suggest there were horses in the New World before the Conquistadors arrived, but everyone simply assumed their weren’t.

    The problem with your formula Christopher that “absence of evidence is evidence of absence” is that it assumes a certain level of thoroughness in current empirical methods.

    My experience is that people in America today seem to have an almost childlike blind faith in “science” and it’s ability to adequately explain our world today.

    People who really know how archaeology works do not share this unfounded confidence. Archaeology is constant example of blind men feeling out the elephant. The fact is the VAST majority of all evidence of human activity in the world is quickly destroyed or lost. When you actually find an artifact or ruin, it’s a damn lucky find! Most of the time, you don’t find anything. People don’t understand that the majority of human activity and history is UNKNOWN to us and always will be. No matter how much archaeology you perform, it is incapable of deducting the majority of human activity on this planet.

    Swords rust into nothing. Bones decompose or are swallowed up in the earth. Records turn to dust and whatever is left over is lucky if it survives the ignorant purges of invading armies or cultures.

    So your formula Christopher, only works if you have a reasonably comprehensive and potent deductive method.

    You don’t.

    • Sadly, it’s true that much Mesoamerican human history is lost to us. This is especially true due to the destruction of the Mayan codices, and the lack of written language elsewhere on the continent. We can know much about their daily life and technologies from archaeological study, but the kinds of stories that history usually tells are simply unavailable to us.

      The study of fauna, however, is a rather different matter than the study of human politics. You might actually be surprised at the level of scientific thoroughness archaeologists have achieved in the study of North American fauna. As just one example, take this section of a book on North American Ice Age cave faunas. It discusses the varieties of North American voles, and lists numerous bone-finds for each of them, charting them geographically and temporally to determine the distributions of the various species in ages past. And this is just one example that I chose at random, because it was readily accessible online.

      I do not advocate “blind, childlike faith in science,” but neither can I condone the kind of epistemological skepticism you’re advocating. The individual archaeologist who discovers something may indeed be “lucky,” but the combined efforts of the entire archaeological discipline, IMO, would have had a very hard time missing evidence of pre-Columbian, post-Pleistocene horses if they had really been here– especially if said horses had been domesticated by humans.

      • Why?

        They still haven’t turned up any bone evidence the Huns in Romania had any horses. Which, of course, everyone knows they did – millions of them. But not so much as a femur to show for it.

        And listed flora in the Book of Mormon have been falling like dominoes. Most recently, pre-Columbian barley.

  5. And besides, Chris, your worldview is logically bankrupt and has way more contradictions, but you’re just playing lip service to it all anyway.

  6. Hi Seth,

    I can’t figure out how to reply to your comment directly, so I’ll reply at the bottom here.

    On the rumored lack of evidence for Hunnic horses, several things need to be said.

    First of all, the claim the apologists like to cite (i.e. that “not a single usable horse bone has been found in the territory of the whole empire of the Huns”) simply isn’t true. There are numerous documented horse bone finds at Hunnic grave sites. Take for example the five skulls found at the burial site of a Hun princess in Mongolia. Here and here are books on the Huns that refer casually to the skeletal remains of horses at Hunnic burial sites.

    Secondly, it should be noted that there has also been a huge number of human cultural artifacts relating to horses found in Hunnic lands. There are lots of saddles, harnesses, and whips in their burials and funeral offerings, for example. In fact, wherever horses have been domesticated, they have always left their mark on art and material culture.. That’s because horses gave a tremendous military and economic advantage to the civilizations that mastered them. Yet in Mesoamerica, although we have great deal of art, including vast numbers of animal representations, horses are not depicted. We find no saddles, no bridles, and no chariot wheels.

    And finally, the period of Hunnic rule was relatively brief. Even if there was a dearth of bone evidence for that period, as has been claimed, it would hardly be comparable to the several-thousand-year span in North and South America from which no horse bones have survived.

    As for your botanical dominoes, I’m not sure it’s fair to compare barley to a large-boned, domesticated animal like the horse. It could hardly be expected to leave the same kind of evidence of its existence. And yet, for all that, evidence of barley HAS been found. Evidence of horses still has NOT been found. So this is really just an example of how very complete our picture of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica is becoming, yet still with no horse evidence to speak of.



  7. yeah, my nested comments only go 3 messages deep, so after that, you have to either use the reply button above the comment or post at the bottom.

  8. Yeah? So?

    I didn’t say anything about Mongolia, did I?

    And as for written records… you do have that.

    It’s called the Book of Mormon.

  9. Seth,

    Let me get this straight: we’re taking a (supposed) dearth of evidence for an eighty year year period in Romania and comparing that to a 10,000-year dearth of evidence spanning two continents. Does that about sum it up?

    I’m not actually sure where one would even look to find information about archaeological digs for this period in Romania, specifically. But it should be noted that some historians have called into question how many horses the Huns actually brought with them into Europe. The climate and food supplies were not as well-suited to large numbers of horses as the Asian steppes. According to one source,

    [Attila’s] Huns had become a sedentary nation and were no longer the horse nomads of the earlier days. The Great Hungarian Plain did not offer as much room as the steppes of Asia for grazing horses, and the Huns were forced to develop an infantry to supplement their now much smaller cavalry. As one leading authority has recently said, “When the Huns first appeared on the steppe north of the Black Sea, they were nomads and most of them may have been mounted warriors. In Europe, however, they could graze only a fraction of their former horse power, and their chiefs soon fielded armies which resembled the sedentary forces of Rome.”

    So, if there is a dearth of evidence for horses during this period in Romania, it may well be because the Huns of the region didn’t have anything like the “millions” of horses you seem to think they had. This source suggests that the Hungarian plain (note: not just Romania, but Hungary also) could have supported no more than 20,000.

    Anyway, that’s about all I’m qualified to say on the subject of Romanian archaeology. But again, I ask you: how is this brief period in a small geographic range even remotely comparable to the situation in the Americas?



    • So, I take it you’re a fan of the continental model of geography for the Book of Mormon.

      Sorry, I’m not.

      Area the size of Guatemala at the largest.

    • There’s plenty of evidence in Czechoslovokia and Hungary (Germany, too) that the Huns had horses. Saddles and bridles have been found in burial mounds in the appropriate time period. If I spent a bit more time, I bet I could find some archaeological evidence in Romania too. But there’s plenty of other, written, evidence as well. Not at all comparable. Check the link at my sig.

      Nowhere at all in the entire two continents of the Americas has any horse stuff (bones, saddles, bridles, pictures, stables, written records) been found dating later than, uh, there’s a spot in Alaska that has horse urine found from 7000 BC. That’s the very latest that I’m aware of.

  10. I’m not talking about Book of Mormon geography. I’m talking about the existence of horses ANYWHERE on the American continents after the Pleistocene.

  11. Which I think is an open question with little reason for certainty.

  12. Sofal permalink

    Certainty is what Mormons have. The message that there is “little reason for certainty” fits much better when it’s directed toward a belief in something that is unlikely; like, for example, LDS Church truth claims. It’s just Occam’s razor. Horses probably did not exist on the American continents; but hey, if they did then sweet! The issue here is that some people are absolutely convinced that there were, and they tout incorrect platitudes about what the absence of evidence really means.

    Mormonism is a tiny religious niche in the world. Not believing in these claims takes no blind leap of certainty. It is the default and safe position, especially considering the lack of evidence.

  13. Until you venture out to tell that minority what is “proven” Sofal. Then you inherit a whole different burden of proof.

    If you just want to mind your own business, you’re not going to find much beef from me. But the moment you want to start telling me what is rational or likely for me to believe, you lose that position.

    • A contemporary (to Attila) reference to Attila the Hun having horses can be found at my sig. I’m not sure what “horse bones” has to do with the discussion, as we have multiple lines of proof that the Huns did, in fact, have horses in Europe, such as contemporaneous accounts, pictures, horse accoutrements, and so on. None of those exist at all in the entire western hemisphere. Nuh uh.

  14. Hi Seth,

    I’m not interested in telling you what is “proven”. But if you don’t think that the lack of evidence for horses in Pre-Columbian America makes their existence here at that time unlikely, then you’re in denial. IMHO.

    Not that choosing to be in denial isn’t your prerogative.



    • This ignores Christopher that Mormons have other good reasons to believe the Book of Mormon to be valid (that aren’t just based on warm fuzzies and how we were raised). Which puts us in a better position to rationally take a wait-and-see stance.

      Marmot, I don’t care about Czechoslovakia either. That wasn’t the point.

      The point was to demonstrate how evidence of a domesticated animal can vanish from a limited geographic area without a trace. I do not think that saying THAT is possible is archeologically controversial at all.

      Bringing in contemporary records about the Huns is merely confusing the issue, and irrelevant – because we aren’t talking about Europe here. We’re talking about one of the most poorly documented instances of a major civilization on the planet. The Maya, Aztec, Inca, and Olmec civilizations are horribly documented. This is due to a variety of historical and environmental factors.

      So to compare the record-keeping of Central America to the record-keeping of Dark Ages Europe is certainly a case of apples-and-oranges.

      The only reason I brought up a European example is to make an extremely limited point about how certain types of evidence can disappear. That’s it. This talk of finding evidence in neighboring countries, and contemporary records is completely irrelevant to that limited point.

      No one arguing for the Book of Mormon needs to have supporting evidence from neighboring locales. We believe the whole thing was geographically limited in a location we are unsure of. Evidence may be there, it may not be. But neither result would be dispositive for the Book of Mormon.

      You don’t even need to argue that horses existed anywhere else on the continent than in the limited geographical area of the Book of Mormon. Or maybe they did. French explorers penetrating the Louisiana Purchase lands reported encountering herds of wild horses. Everyone simply assumed they were from the Spaniards. Just like archeologists in the past have typically assumed that the presence of horse bones in their digs is mere “site contamination.”

      Or maybe it is a case of linguistic loan-shifting.

      The specifics of the horse issue aren’t really the point anyway. The point is Christopher that you are assuming a certainty about New World archeology that makes lack of present-day horse evidence highly damning.

      As I have been pointing out, that certainty is purely illusory. Without the false paradigm of certainty, the horse issue is still evidence, to be sure. But it’s just not really compelling evidence anymore.

      • Fascinating. What French explorers reported herds of horses? I’m not convinced. I would love to have more information on this.

        As to Romania, at my sig you can find a web page which mentions an inscription to Epona the horse Goddess dating from 251 AD, roughly, in, yes, Romania. If the peopole of Romania know about horse goddesses, then they know about horses. Know of any Meso-American horse goddesses?

      • Turns out there’s tons of horse bones found in Romania, as well as horse sculptures. Take a look at the document, again, at my sig, scroll down until you see the picture of the Black Sea (in the left-hand column) with a big orange arrow pointing to an area outlined in pink. That area is Romania. The text indicates that “horses averaged less than 6% animal bones….” indicating that horse bones were certainly found.

        The picture to the right shows horse-head maces in, among other places, Transylvania, in Romania. I think, Seth, you should choose a different example.

      • hey, marmot, you know that you can include links in your posts, right?

        if you use
        <a href="insert link here">words</a>, then that’ll do it.

      • I’ll try to make this my last reply. As to the “certainty about New World archeology that makes lack of present-day horse evidence damning,” we already have it.

        We know that around 3000 BC there was contact between Japan and the Valdiva culture living in Ecuador because the Valdivan pottery suddenly got much more complex and looked like similar examples from Japan. How did Japanese get to the New World? Probably very few–a single boat, somehow got blown exceedingly off course. But the point is that such a fleeting contact 5000 years ago left a discoverable (and discovered) mark. This was discovered in 1966.

        The paper at my sig talks about the discovery from a hopeful LDS view, but what such a Japanese-Ecuadorian contact actually shows is that if there had been contact at a much later date between the old world and the new it would have been discovered by now. And then some.

  15. Seth,

    I think you’re confusing my arguments with Marmot’s. I said nothing about neighboring countries, written records, or certainty. My argument has simply and consistently been that a lack of horse bones during an 80-year period in Romania isn’t even remotely comparable to a total lack of horse memorabilia in the American continents for 9,000 years or so. And given the latter, the existence of pre-Columbian horses here is highly unlikely.

    As for your argument that the BoM only requires horses have existed in a limited area, I’m afraid that’s just not realistic. If horses were here, there’s no reason they should have remained in a limited area, especially if they were domesticated. The fact that “herds” of Spanish horses spread so quickly to the plains of North America illustrates very well the problem with the limited horse geography.

    But let’s say we are talking about a limited horse geography. You’re still comparing 10,000 years to 80 years. And the whole reason that the supposed 80 year lacuna in the Romanian bone evidence elicited any comment in the first place is that it is an anomaly. The absence of any evidence at all of horses in the Americas would be about ten times the anomaly of the Romanian case, if horses were ever here.

    And now this discussion’s fruitfulness is coming to an end, I think, so I’ll leave you to have the last word.


    • Chris, where are you getting the time period for horses in the Book of Mormon from?

      Who here is arguing a stable horse herd population in the Americas for an extended period?

      It’s the same issue with the whole “steel” thing. Critics take a few isolated mentions of the metal and try to blow it up into a massive military steel industry spanning the continent. You just can’t inflate your target like that.

  16. marmot permalink

    Seth, we know more about South/Central American prehistory than you think. In 1966, examples of pottery suddenly appeared in Ecuador that look remarkably similarly to Japanese Jomon pottery from the same time period. It’s pretty universally accepted that a handful of Japanese somehow made it to South America (a boat blown waaaay off course?) and introduced new pottery techniques to the inhabitants. 35 years later there’s still not a sliver of evidence of any old world-new world contact. Here’s an LDS write-up of the Japanese-Ecuadorian link, putting it in the best possible light.

    • OK, cool.

      Was this supposed to prove something about the overall burden of proof and evidentiary paradigm we’ve been discussing?

      • marmot permalink

        Yes. We know that some small number of Japanese showed up in Ecuador about 3000 bc because the pottery in Ecuador suddenly started looking like Japanese Jomon era pottery. But we have no evidence of any Jewish influence of any type anywhere in the Americas. If they existed, we’d have evidence, at least, in terms of some sort of old-world technology that they taught the people they encountered in the Americas. But this evidence does not exist. The Nephites travelled (?) to the Americas somewhere (?) in around 600 bc. 2400 years after we have proof of Japanese influence in Ecuador.

        600 bc (and thereafter) proof should be much easier to locate than evidence of cultural transformation from 3000 bc. Agreed? So, why isn’t there any?

      • So, you’re saying because we got lucky in one instance, we must therefore be lucky in all instances?

        You’re going to need a hell of a lot more anecdotes before you get to claim a rule or pattern.

        • marmot permalink

          No, Seth, I’m discussing the amount of knowledge we have of South/Central American prehistory. It’s much broader than you think. I find your argument that horses were used only in a few limited circumstances quite interesting.

          If you believe in the limited geography theory of the Book of Mormon you must believe that the Nephites and Lamanites interacted with surrounding peoples yet 1) never mentioned such interactions, and 2) actively misled in their writings about such interactions (II Nephi 1:6, for example.) This is an argument from silence. Nothing is said about any interactions with any other people except groups mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Nothing. For the limited geography theory to even enter the realm of possibility, things must have happened that weren’t written down. So, the record must be extremely incomplete.

          With horses, you take the opposite tack in that you assume the record is entirely complete. Every interaction with a horse was painstakingly etched into gold plates.

          You don’t get it both ways. Either the record is incomplete or complete. If incomplete, you get interaction with people that weren’t explicitly mentioned in the Book of Mormon and horse/goat/sheep/cumon/curelom activities outside the BofM text. If complete, you get your list of restricted horse activities, but no other interactions with non Book of Mormon peoples. Choose one.

          • FireTag permalink

            I’ll go to the bottom to comment.

  17. marmot permalink

    Sorry, left off a part of a sentence. “… examples of pottery suddenly appeared in the archaeological record dated at 3000 bc.”

  18. Andrew…

    These threaded comments… gotta stop…

  19. Seth, only YOU (collectively) can prevent threaded comments!

    (well, I could disable them, but since comments aren’t numbered, I think it would get kinda confusing).

    • Sofal permalink

      This looks like the perfect place to insert my little mini-rant about comment tech:

      It drives me nuts when I visit blogs that serve as a place for discussion and yet they have either no nesting or very poor nesting of comments (three levels does not count). Forcing the linearity of comments does a big disservice to the readers, because inevitably people will go off into tangential conversations where #45 will reply to #15 and #79 will reply to #45. A lot of (but not all) people make up their own informal structure by prefixing their comments with the name or the number of the comment(er) they’re replying to. If you’re using a mobile browser then you’re screwed because the comments aren’t numbered.

      I feel like I’m in the Stone Age when browsing through these threads. It’s like nobody gets that online conversations naturally form a tree. We already have solutions for this crap! Boxes inside of boxes is the wrong solution. What we need is a simpler approach. Nobody needs a fancy avatar and 1000 pixels of padding for each comment. It should be something more like this site, except with collapsable threads for easy navigation.

      I’m really tired of jumping around trying to follow the ad-hoc structure of three different conversations in one gigantic 1-dimensional thread of comments. Am I the only one?

      • You’re definitely the only one. I, for one, want the LATEST message to be at the BOTTOM of everything. That way, when I’m checking for new messages, I can go to some threshold near the bottom and then read from there.

        My problem is when comments are not numbered. Whether mobile or not, this theme doesn’t support comment number and i’m too lazy/cheap/poor to buy CSS support.

  20. FireTag permalink


    Doubtful. Are you old enough to remember what a real “floppy” was? The Library of Congress is frantically trying to hang on to paper records only two centuries old. Elerctronic media are even a bigger problem, because the format changes so rapidly, and you must preserve records not only of the software but the hardware. Zoo records aren’t going to make the cut.

    Grant me an EMP detonation (or worse) sometime in the next 2K years to match the known destruction of the Mayan and Olmec civs and see how much archeologists can make of all these shiny little disks we all play with.

    On the other hand, you have the opposite problem if you assume uninterrupted growth of the internet; you drown in more important data, and still don’t ever come across the zoo records. NASA already generates more data than it can be searched, and the backlog grows faster than new techs for search can be developed.

    • marmot permalink

      Look up “Knut the baby polar bear” a book about, yes, bears in Germany. I’m sure there’s many more.

  21. FireTag permalink


    I’m a little confused about your point. There are many MORE books and electronic references about American Idol. Do you argue that Paula Abdul is going to be remembered 2000 years from now?

  22. marmot permalink

    Paula Abdul? If someone wants to do a scholarly work on that specific subject, I’m sure he or she could find references in 2000 years.

    • Certainty is the territory of religious zealots.

      Or so I thought…

      • marmot permalink

        Huh? We have books from 2000 years ago. Even older. We even have graffiti. What makes you think that things will change?

      • How do you survive F&T meeting?

        • I read good books and articles on religion. I even get up and speak my own bit sometimes. I just don’t use the words “I know.”

          On the other hand, I’ve got enough defects of my own that I don’t begrudge others a few as well.

          • marmot permalink

            That’s quite decent of you, Seth.

      • (that question was posed to Seth. Damn, I hate these threaded comments, too.)

      • you implicitly understand that whenever people say, “I know,” this is Mormontalk for “I believe.”

        But then again…wouldn’t you suppose that if religious zealots came out anywhere, it would be at F&T meeting?

      • No. I don’t think they’re saying “I believe.” They actually think they KNOW for sure.

        • I think you overestimate the testimony of the average mormon who bears his/her testimony, regardless of his/her use of “I know.”

          Now, I do think there are some members who think they KNOW for sure as a result of some spiritual experience, etc., but I think many others are running on the fumes of tradition (and the phrasing is part of tradition).

  23. marmot permalink

    If you’re interested, paper is well preserved in landfills, because there’s not much air underground. So my point stands. Nyah, nyah, nyah.

  24. FireTag permalink


    Yep. Things won’t change in 2000 years. After all, we’ve been communicating on books just like you and I are doing right now for hundreds… Wait. Never mind.

  25. marmot permalink

    Thousands of years–two thousand to be exact, assuming the codex form (i.e., paged books.) If you count scrolls, then much, much longer. Where do you think the Bible came from?

  26. marmot permalink

    Magazines, newspapers and even that archaic form “books” still exist, FireTag.

  27. FireTag permalink


    Recopying. Perhaps my sentence to hell will involve several thousand years spent recopying Paula Abdul interviews over and over and over.

  28. FireTag permalink

    Re: Malmot’s choose complete or incomplete challenge:

    I’ll choose to go with the Book of Mormon itself and compare THAT to external evidence, rather than the straw men you’re setting up.

    The Book of Mormon, as shown above, says horses are rare — not common, not non-existent. The existence, but rarity of pre-Columbian horse findings in Yucatan MATCHES the Book of Mormon prediction.

    The Book of Mormon also depicts a Nephite people who met other peoples from shortly after they split from their kin after arrival and went inland. Since they were not expecting to find anyone, and came from a non-scientific culture, they attributed the fact that the people they met were Lamanites who had been cursed by God rather than realize that these were other peoples. Very soon thereafter, the Book depicts the Nephites generally calling anyone not part of their own religious circle Lamanites, even when discussing those they assigned to different Lamanite “tribes”.

  29. FireTag permalink


    Can you point me to a citation. I’d like to read the discrediting.

    • Most of the evidence cited by Mormon apologists in favor of pre-Columbian horses has been quite capably answered at .

      • FireTag permalink

        Christopher, thank you for a good scientific citation. It’s so long that I can’t get through it tonight in its entirety, but I see many points I can learn from.

        • FireTag permalink


          I generally found the discussion of the weaknesses in the Yucatan bone findings at your site more convincing than the Neal Maxwell Institute reply So I will not in future rely on the citation of the Yucatan evidence.

          The FARMS paper did mention a radiocarbon dated site in Florida that I did not see discussed on your site. Did I miss that discussion?

          Now I don’t feel so bad in challenging some other interpretations of Sorenson’s model.

          • Hi Firetag,

            I assume you’re referring to the rumored 100 BC date for some horse teeth in Florida. This claim has occasionally been attributed to Jim J. Hester, “Agency of Man in Animal Extinction,” in Martin and Wright, Pleistocene Extinctions, p. 185. I have a copy of this article, however, and it makes no mention of a 100 BC horse find. In fact, it places the terminal date for horses in the Americas at 8240 BP, with the latest-dated find being from Arizona.

            More often, the 100 BC date is attributed to an ongoing FARMS project to have horse bones radio-carbon dated. It has been rumored for at least five years that FARMS was going to publish radio-carbon evidence of pre-Columbian horses, but no such publication has materialized, so far as I am aware. The last time I heard from someone “in the know” specifically about the 100 BC horse tooth, I was told that the publication had “hit a snag,” but it was implied that the project was still ongoing.

            Well, I guess we’ll see. But I’m not crossing my fingers. Similar rumors have failed to pan out in the past, and when the FARMS folk got a post-Columbian radio-carbon result back on the Spencer Lake Horse Skull, they did not report their finding. I had to contact the museum curator directly to learn the result of the test.



  30. marmot permalink

    The Book of Mormon does not say that horses are rare. Rather, it rarely talks about the sort of animals that were around, and when it does, it mentions horses. Sometimes “many horses.” Plus, you, Firetag, forgot to mention that the Jaredites had horses.

    Double plus, where did these horses come from? The Book of Mormon indicates that they were wild.

    Triple plus, horses did pull chariots which brings up the problem of wheels, also not found.

    Quadruple plus, the Jaredites also had elephants which were explicitly called out as being very useful.

    I could go on forever at this point.

  31. marmot permalink

    Firetag says: “Since they were not expecting to find anyone, and came from a non-scientific culture, they attributed the fact that the people they met were Lamanites who had been cursed by God rather than realize that these were other peoples.” This is demonstrably false. How come the Nephites and “the people they met” shared a common language?

  32. Where does it say that they shared a common language?

  33. FireTag permalink


    So I can avoid wasting your time and mine with an answer that doesn’t speak to your real concern, would you tell me first whether you are a secularist (for which I’ll give the scientific argument), an evangelical Christian (for which I’ll make a Biblical argument), or something else, (for which I’ll take my pick or give both).

  34. marmot permalink

    I don’t understand your point, Firetag. When did the Nephites meet (presumed) Lamanites they couldn’t talk to? Feel free to make your best argument from among the three choices you gave, though I confess surprise that a “Biblical argument” could be made, as the Book of Mormon is extra-biblical (in ways you don’t seem to understand, and I don’t have the heart to tell you about). OK, changing my mind. I don’t want to argue with you any more, just believe what you want.

    • I imagine that Nephi wasn’t in a position to catalogue what his brothers were doing with the local population. Neither was his religious history geared toward documenting such interactions.

      The Book of Mormon mentions several source documents for Nephite history. First, we have the “small plates of Nephi.” On these, he recorded only the religious history of his people and things he felt were spiritually of note. Secondly, we have the “large plates of Nephi” on which were recorded a full history of the Nephite people. Thirdly, we have the Brass Plates, which were a history of the Jews containing much of the Old Testament, and also more than what is there apparently.

      The source for the Book of Mormon is really only the small plates of Nephi along with limited input from the large plates. Then you add on Mormon’s role in abridging the records he had to produce the Book of Mormon.

      When you take all that into account, there really is no particular reason to mention the natives.

  35. FireTag permalink

    Very well. I will not address this to Marmot, but to any other evangelicals who may be reading this.

    There is no chronology of the Jaredite crossing internal to the Book of Mormon. The “correlated” dates come from borrowing the dating of the Tower of Babel from the traditional Biblical chronology in which the flood and the tower are practically contemporary events with each other. So if there is a dating problem, it is a BIBLE DATE PROBLEM, not a BofM date problem.

    As a scientist, I have a problem with the BIBLE DATES, even if I believe the Biblical events to contain oral traditions of historically true events, because there are megafloods evidenced in human history, but they occurred roughly 10,000 years BEFORE anybody was building towers in ancient Iraq

    Correcting the BIBLE DATE allows interpretation of the Book of Ether in a way that is internally consistent with itself as a much later written record (reedited by Mosiah to match the Jerusalem dating of the tower and peopling of the earth) of the oral traditions of Ether’s ancestors. The later Olmecs may have claimed descent from the great founding prophet, but every culture on the continent could have made the same claim with equal validity, just as many in the Mid-east claimed descent from someone like Noah.

    Selecting the date of the megaflood as the “correct” historical date also helps make that record consistent with the early peopling of the Americas, the DNA evidence of a Siberian origin of those peoples, the divergence of languages and cultures throughout the hemisphere before the Olmecs developed high culture or the Nephites arrived on the scene, and for the presence of people on the same stage as Pleistecene megafauna such as “elephants” and horses, plus a few other animals for which Mosiah (let alone Joseph Smith) had no cultural referrent.

    Note that no less respected a BofM archeologist than Sorenson interprets the Nephite records we have in the Book of Mormon as a dynastic history, so what I am suggesting for the Book of Ether is simply a logical extrapolation of this idea.

    In this regard, the idea of “many” hourses must also be seen in terms of internal BofM evidence, since it is a qualitative, not quantitative term. The quantity can be estimated from the points I’ve made in comments above, such as the fact that everyone but high lords walks. (That’s ok, I’ve never been on a Presidential helicopter either!)

    Even Cecil B. DeMille knows enough ancient history to know that chariots are very useful in battle, and so are cavalry. But the BofM NEVER uses either in even the most complex military operations. So horses are rare among the Nephites on the basis of internal evidence — probably almost as rare as high Mayan or Olmec lords, and they survive only as long as there are high cultures with the luxury and cultural interest in maintaining them as symbols of kingly privilege and power.

    And notice, I have not even considered the alternative yet of linguistic options like considering a species of tapir as a horse.

    The Post “DNA and Dynastic Chronologies” discusses these ideas in greater detail here.

    • FireTag permalink


      Did I leave out the http:// when I typed the link, or did I mess up in a more fundamental way, since I can’t edit the link from my side?

      • Yeah, you left the http:// off. I fixed it.

        I wish I had a plugin to allow commenters to edit their own comments, but I don’t.

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