Raymond Richards
The Mormon church: anti-science and pro-repression. Still.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often called the Mormon church, has long been an enemy of science and the free exchange of ideas. It is hostile to the theory of evolution, for example, and to Mormons and non-Mormons who reject the church’s claim to be the fount of absolute truth. The latest news shows that the situation is not getting any better. The Mormon church still opposes some important scientific advances and people who discuss them. The church does this because the discoveries contradict traditional Mormon doctrines and because the science undermines the claim of church leaders to be the infallible voice of God.

That the Book of Mormon is full of nonsense should come as no surprise to any skeptic. After all, it was dictated in 1830 by Joe Smith, who was not a scholar or researcher; he was a farmer’s son with an interest in the weird and a teller of tall tales. Smith had been arrested for taking money in return for using a ‘magic’ stone to look for buried treasure. He then used the same stone to pretend to translate the ancient history of America from hieroglyphics on ancient, gold plates he dug up. He said an angel showed him where to find them.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, insists the Book of Mormon is the truest book ever written and that its revelations trump research. Because the book is divinely inspired scripture, what it says goes. Scholars supposedly have it all wrong. So, when the Lord’s word says America was settled about 600 B.C. by a tribe of Israelites known as Lamanites who crossed the seas from Arabia, the matter is concluded. The Lamanites supposedly were the ancestors of the Native Americans.

Mormons who doubt this fantasy are guilty of the sin of apostasy, and the church seeks to banish them in periodic purges. In 1993, six Mormon scholars were stripped of their church membership for questioning church teaching. Others excommunicated since then include David Wright, a professor of Hebrew studies at Brandeis University who was thrown out in 1994 for writing articles that said the Book of Mormon is a 19th-century creation of Joe Smith, not an ancient text. Margaret Toscano, a classics professor at the University of Utah, was excommunicated in 2000 for writing on feminist issues after being ordered not to. The last few years have seen two famous cases of the church censoring the same scientific information. In 2002, Thomas W Murphy was a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington and chair of the Anthropology Department at Edmonds Community College. He published an article about how DNA evidence destroys the Book of Mormon claim that Native Americans are descended from Israelites. He was ordered to recant or face excommunication in a trial for apostasy. After an outpouring of public support for Murphy – a modern Galileo – the church postponed indefinitely his trial.

Most recent was the case of Simon Southerton, a geneticist who works in Australia. He was raised a Mormon, but after training as a scientist, he saw that DNA evidence contradicts history told in the Book of Mormon. Scientists have developed DNA testing to the stage where the genetic code in a drop of saliva can yield traces of racial ancestry that entered a person’s family tree thousands of years ago. Native Americans have been tracked back to Siberia before their migration to America over 14,000 years ago. They are Mongoloid in origin, not Semitic. In 1998 Southerton decided to leave the church because he could no longer believe some of its teachings. Last year, he published Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Book of Mormon. His book tells how DNA data about Native Americans does not support the Mormon belief that the continent’s early inhabitants were descendants of Israelites. Church leaders discussed the book at length with him. He told them it was odd for the church to pursue someone who had not been active in the church for seven years. After a three-hour meeting on 31 July 2005 in Canberra, church authorities excommunicated Southerton – for “having an inappropriate relationship with a woman.” Southerton does not deny the relationship, which occurred two years ago, while he was separated. He refused to discuss his personal life at the meeting, instead asking his inquisitors why he was not answering to charges of apostasy. The church representatives said that if he tried to talk about DNA, then the meeting would be completed in his absence. It is easy to read between the lines.

Dr Simon Southerton’s excommunication makes him the seventh author from the Salt Lake City-based publisher Signature Books to be expelled from the church after writing a work contrary to Mormon dogma. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which claims to have 12 million members around the world, remains a force for ignorance and repression.

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