By R. Scott LloydChurch News staff writer
Published: Saturday, Aug. 15, 2009
Though the Book of Mormon was never intended as a scientific texts, there are a number of items in the book that pertain to science and, hence, are subject to criticism by detractors, paleontologist Wade E. Miller noted at the conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research.
Brother Miller, retired professor of geology and paleontology at BYU, said he was surprised to learn that apparently many thousands of people have written to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., asking whether they had information confirming or refuting the Book of Mormon. Prior to 1998, the Smithsonian's Anthropology Outreach Office would respond with a form letter of several pages purporting to refute aspects of Book of Mormon content bearing on science. A more recent response letter has been greatly shortened and toned down, and appears to back away from earlier claims, but still is not an endorsement for the Book of Mormon.
In his presentation, Brother Miller took up some of the points in the earlier letter to rebut arguments against the Book of Mormon pertaining to science.
Steel in the Book of Mormon
"All it takes to produce steel is to take iron, and with enough heat provided to that iron in the presence of charcoal, you can produce steel," Brother Miller said. He added that the technology should have been available to the Jaredites, who immigrated to the western hemisphere from the old world.
Likewise the Nephites emigrated from Jerusalem, where steel has been found from ancient times,
Brother Miller said ancient evidences of iron and steel are rare, since they rust. However, such evidence of steel manufacture among Jaredites and Nephites may yet be found, he said.
Glass in the Book of Mormon
That Smithsonian archaeologists would use glass as a criticism for the book is puzzling to Brother Miller, he said. "If they read the book carefully, they would find out it never does make a claim of having glass in the new world," he said, although he assumes the peoples probably did have it.
Windows mentioned in the Jaredite barges in the Book of Ether need not have been comprised of glass, but could have been of other materials such as mica, he said. "But where are they at this time? They are in the Old World still, Also, when the brother of Jared obtained the stones that appeared like glass, to light the barges, they were in the Old World."
Linen and Silk in the Book of Mormon
Linen is a word that can be used in both a specific and a general sense, Brother Miller said, though some LDS botanists believe flax could have been brought over for the production of linen. "But whether it's cotton or flax, they still could be calling the same thing, linen," he said.
Silk technology goes back to at latest 3000 B.C. he said. And worms closely related to the silk worm were in the New World, he said.
Food Plants in the Book of Mormon
Old World grains such as wheat and barley could have been brought over by the Jaredites and Nephites, he said. "But if they're not cultivated, if they're let go for a long time, they don't look like the cultivated plant." In any case, he said, evidence has been found in the United States relatively recently for the ancient use of barley.
"Sheum," a word that occurs in the Book of Mormon that could not have been known to Joseph Smith, was later found in the ancient Assyrian or Akkadian language to denote barley or other types of grain, he noted.
Cattle in the Book of Mormon
Archeological exploration in caves in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico have yielded remains of domesticated cattle with artifacts in some cases, and in one case even an extinct horse, Brother Miller said.
"But we have our own kinds of cattle," he noted, adding that when the Spanish explorers came, they called the native bison "cows." Some animals, such as the shrub-ox, were native to Mesoamerica but are now extinct, he said.
Swine in the Book of Mormon
The extinct peccary is a New World animal closely related to the Old World pigs, and might have been familiar to Nephites as the swine mentioned in the Book of Mormon, Brother Miller said.
Horses in the Book of Mormon
Fossils in America show that the horse was present many millions of years before it was reintroduced by Columbus in his second voyage of 1493, he said.
Brother Miller also spoke of evidence for elephant-like creatures in the New World and other animals resembling sheep and goats.