A recent blog post by the writers at Book of Mormon Central piqued my curiosity on the recent Maya discovery. The expansion in scientific understanding came through the application of lidar mapping tools on the dense Guatemalan jungle. From my read of it, scientists used laser light to effectively scan the surface of the Earth, picking up on the very slight topographical changes which would occur due to man-made objects such as buried ruins. In reading about the discovery I became quickly dismayed that our friends at BOMC have decided that the latest findings give some level of credence to the claims in the Book of Mormon. Much like this post from 2013 by the National Geographic (hint, European DNA in Native Americans), Mormon apologists seem to struggle to read past the title of the article and quickly claim it is proof the Book of Mormon is true. So this post is simply a response to Book of Mormon Central, by pointing to 4 ways in which these discoveries definitively close the door on a Maya/Nephite connection. For this discussion we will use National Geographic’s coverage of the discovery as they were officially the first source to break the story. You can see the article here.
(1) The discovery highlights the cultural advancement of the population, reaching a peak between at around 900AD. The Book of Mormon people flamed out around 400AD, leaving nothing but the degenerate Lamanites. In fact Moroni says the following in Mormon 8:2 “And now it came to pass that after the great and tremendous battle at Cumorah, behold, the Nephites who had escaped into the country southward were hunted by the Lamanites, until they were all destroyed.”
Now an apologist will respond and say, “a few hundred years is not significant from an archaeological perspective, and perhaps the dating is just off.” To which I respond, perhaps, but not likely. In fact the closer to recent history you get, the more accurate it is. 1,500 years is very recent and 1,100 versus 2,000 is a material difference.
This article highlights the weakness of carbon dating into ancient history, primarily because we don’t have solid corroborating evidence for the exact breakdown of carbon 14. However, 1,500 years is easy to pinpoint as we have plenty of corroborating material from that time period by comparison.
From the National Geographic post: “The results suggest that Central America supported an advanced civilization that was, at its peak some 1,200 years ago, more comparable to sophisticated cultures such as ancient Greece or China than to the scattered and sparsely populated city states that ground-based research had long suggested.”
Lastly, what this article doesn’t say, but which has been discussed by none other than NASA, the fall of the Maya occurred around 900AD due deforestation and drought. The Maya had such a large population they were expanding, deforesting, and irrigating such that the had destroyed their source for sustainable food.
(2) The discovery has revolutionized our understanding of the size of the Maya population. In fact, the belief previously was that the population was just a few million people. From the article: “‘Most people had been comfortable with population estimates of around 5 million,’ said Estrada-Belli, who directs a multi-disciplinary archaeological project at Holmul, Guatemala. ‘With this new data it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there—including many living in low-lying, swampy areas that many of us had thought uninhabitable.’”
So why is this a problem for the Book of Mormon? I mean this might actually prove the Nephites were the Maya. One slight problem though, deoxyribonucleic acid, also known as DNA. The recent Gospel Topics essay produced by the LDS church admits that there is ZERO DNA evidence for the Book of Mormon. In fact, the argument is now literally: “Scientists do not rule out the possibility of additional, small-scale migrations to the Americas.” or stated more plainly, “the Lehites were such a small group, their DNA was wiped out by much larger populations.
This National Geographic article is stating that at a minimum, the Maya were one of these larger populations, and therefore definitely NOT the Lehites.
(3) From the article: “The ancient Maya never used the wheel or beasts of burden, yet ‘this was a civilization that was literally moving mountains,’ said Marcello Canuto, a Tulane University archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer who participated in the project.”
So here we have an archaeologist who is on the project, and who has just made this major discovery. Yet he comes straight out and highlights one of the MAJOR anachronisms from the Book of Mormon. In Alma 18:9 “And they said unto him: Behold, he is feeding thy horses. Now the king had commanded his servants, previous to the time of the watering of their flocks, that they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth to the land of Nephi; for there had been a great feast appointed at the land of Nephi, by the father of Lamoni, who was king over all the land.”
So the whole loan-shifting argument simply doesn’t work. I don’t care if a horse is supposed to be a tapir or some other deer. There is zero evidence for wheels or beasts of burden. Game over, you lost, give it up!
(4) Finally, this point is more about what is not discussed in the Book of Mormon than what is. Nowhere in the Book of Mormon do the Lamanites address the challenges of living in a tropical environment. In fact, Nephi specifically talks about “driven snow“, indicating that the author had some familiarity with blizzard-like conditions. Another example is in Alma 10:22 where Amulek discusses the floods of Noah, suggesting that this was the most relatable flood-like history, “yet it would not be by flood, as were the people in the days of Noah”.
This article, in contrast, highlights the impressive discovery of the vast causeways, reservoirs and irrigation systems developed to manage the water that comes during the rainy season and is absent during the dry season. Clearly the Maya were familiar with the changing climate, and knew the importance and dangers of water.
From the article: “Virtually all the Mayan cities were connected by causeways wide enough to suggest that they were heavily trafficked and used for trade and other forms of regional interaction. These highways were elevated to allow easy passage even during rainy seasons. In a part of the world where there is usually too much or too little precipitation, the flow of water was meticulously planned and controlled via canals, dikes, and reservoirs.”
I find it ridiculous for apologists to quickly claim that a discovery here or there “proves” or “provides evidence” for the Book of Mormon or any of Joseph Smith’s ridiculous claims. The fact of the matter is, there is no evidence for the Book of Mormon as a historical work. The sooner Mormons accept that, the sooner they will find a path to a sustainable Mormonism. The posts like the one at Book of Mormon Central make me laugh and consider a comparative example from around 120 years ago, when Oliver Huntington claimed science was proving what Joseph taught regarding Quaker-like individuals who lived on the Moon:
Astronomers and philosophers have, from time almost immemorial until very recently, asserted that the moon was uninhabited, that it had no atmosphere, etc. But recent discoveries, through the means of powerful telescopes, have given scientists a doubt or two upon the old theory. Nearly all the great discoveries of men in the last half century have, in one way or another, either directly or indirectly, contributed to prove Joseph Smith to be a Prophet. As far back as 1837, I know that he said the moon was inhabited by men and women the same as this earth, and that they lived to a greater age than we do — that they live generally to near the age of a 1000 years. He described the men as averaging near six feet in height, and dressing quite uniformly in something near the Quaker style. In my patriarchal blessing, given by the father of Joseph the Prophet, in Kirtland, 1837, I was told that I should preach the gospel before I was 21 years of age; that I should preach the gospel to the inhabitants upon the islands of the sea, and — to the inhabitants of the moon, even the planet you can now behold with your eyes.
That was just as ridiculous then as this Book of Mormon Central thesis is now.