Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Get your rocks off..

So this is the magic stone that Joseph Smith used to help translate Egyptian script on a set of gold plates that he found in the woods in up-state New York. According to Smith (a convicted fraudster) God himself dictated the words to the book of Mormon to him via this stone (called the "seer stone") which he held inside a hat and stared at. In a bizarre twist God apparently spoke English to Smith but in an early 17th century dialect (i.e. in the style of the King James Bible). This amazing tale is the basis of a Christian sect that has roughly 14 million followers (mostly in the USA) but as is usual with religious relics of this kind (throughout the ages) whenever they fall into the public domain they mysteriously lose all of their special powers.

To modern ears this story seems ludicrous, I'd go so far as saying completely bonkers; but behold the power of isolation, peer pressure and childhood indoctrination. Not only is it amazing that so many people still believe/follow this blatant man-made scam but Mormonism is one of the few religions that has a foundational pillar able to be disproved by modern science. In concocting his myths Joseph Smith made some claims that were foolishly specific and falsifiable, a schoolboy error when founding a new religion.

In his story Smith claimed that American Indians are descended from a lost tribe of Israel who left the Middle East in 700 BCE; according to his tale this tribe then built a boat (presumably a very big one) and travelled to America. Ancestral DNA evidence shows this to be false, American Indians descended from Paleo-Indian tribes migrating from Asia across the Alaskan land-bridge at least 13,000 years ago (the age of the oldest human remains found on the continent). I believe Smith even claimed that Jesus himself also travelled to America, but since we have no evidence that Jesus even existed, that one is harder to falsify.

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