A Biologist Examines
The Book of Mormon
by Thomas D. S. Key, Sc.D., Ed.D. (Biology), Th.D.
I have thoroughly enjoyed many Mormon friends. It is so refreshing to be around people who will stand up for their convictions. So, it is not with malice but with deep love and respect that I point out a few of the numerous scientific problems in the Book of Mormon.
I. Nephi 1:2 and Mosiah 1:4 assert that the native language of the Hebrews between 600 B.C. and 91 BC was Egyptian. Mormon 9:32 differs in saying that it was Reformed Egyptian around 400 A.D. However, it is well established that in 600 BC the Hebrews spoke Hebrew. As a result of the Babylonian captivity (560 BC - 538 BC) Hebrew was reduced to the language of the scribes, priests, and rabbis. Aramaic became the language of the Hebrews. Then in 70 AD Titus forced the Hebrews out of Palestine, and they acquired the languages of the nations to which they were scattered. The Hebrews had not spoken Egyptian since Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt many centuries earlier.
In consulting with professors of Semitic languages at the University of California and elsewhere, I could find no evidence of the existence of ''Reformed Egyptian,'' nor for the claim that the following words are Egyptian or Semitic at all: Shazer (I. Nephi 16: 13, 14), Irreantum (I. Nephi 17:5), deseret (for ''bee'' in Ether 2:3), Liahona (Alma 37:44), or the numerous names that are unique to the Book of Mormon.
I. Nephi 17:5 is an interesting description of Arabia which is ''called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey.'' Arabia is bountiful in sunshine, petroleum, sand, heat, and fresh air, but certainly not in ''much fruit and also wild honey,'' nor has it been since Pleistocene times.
I. Nephi 18:1 indicates that the Jews made a ship from the ample timber of Arabia. The same objection above applies here also.
I. Nephi 2:6-9 speaks of an abundant Arabian river named Laman that flows continually into the Red Sea! There has been no river whatever in Arabia since the Pleistocene.
I. Nephi 17: 26-27 speaks of the crossing of the Red Sea and the drowning of he Egyptians. Any good Bible dictionary will point out that the KJV translators did not know their geography. The Israelites crossed the Reed or Marsh Sea, not the Red Sea. Yet Mormons insist that while the Bible may have errors of translation, there are no such errors of translation for the Book of Mormon.
Amazingly, the numerous and detailed descriptions of North America cannot be correlated with any distinct geographic features such as the Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, Rockies, Niagara Falls, Appalachians, or any rivers.
According to the Book of Mormon, God led Nephi and other faithful Jews to leave the ''land of Jerusalem'' (sic) to go to the Promised Land of North America. We are faced at once with some serious botanical problems, for in I. Nephi 18:24 (591 BC) we read that upon arrival the Jews planted the numerous seeds that they had brought, and that the seeds ''did grow exceedingly, wherefore, we were blessed in abundance.'' As is well known, the dominant crops of the Near East were grapes, olives, wheat, barley, figs, dates, flax, onions, leeks, garlic, certain kinds of beans, pomegranates and sycamore figs, certain melons, various oranges, lemons, and peaches. Crops from the Americas such as potatoes, tobacco, blueberries, cranberries, eggplants, and maize (or what we Americans call ''corn''), were unknown in the Old World until modern times.
There is no evidence whatever that the Near Eastern crops ever ''did grow exceedingly... in abundance'' until modern Europeans brought them to the Americas. Admittedly, while modern European colonists did find grapes in the Americas, they are distinct from the Old World species.
Other botanical problems are encountered when III. Nephi 18:18 speaks of wheat in the Americas in 34 AD I. Nephi 13:7, Alma 1:29 and 4:6, Helaman 6:13, and Ether 10:24 speak of linen (cloth made from flax). Barley is mentioned in Mosiah 9:9; figs in III. Nephi 14:16, and olives in Jacob 5, I. Nephi 17:14, 15:7, 12, 16. None of these existed here at that time. ''Neas'' and ''sheum'' are mentioned in Mosiah 9:9 as two food plants that were prominent, and grew in abundance. Yet, if they were so prominent and important, why are there no references to them in Old World literature, and why have they not survived?
Plant grafting mentioned in I Nephi 15:16 and Jacob 5, yet there is no evidence that Indians practiced this in 600 BC to 421 AD Pruning mentioned in II. Nephi 15:6, and faces a similar problem. To describe seed and plant growth as ''swelling'' (Alma 32:28-34 and 33:23) is naive and grossly inaccurate. It reflects the error of preformationism.
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Contrary to what I. Nephi 18:25 asserts, North America had no cows, oxen, asses, horses, or goats ''for the use of man'' between 600 BC and the time European colonists brought them.
II. Nephi 21:6-8 plagiarize the KJV of Isaiah 11:6-8, and applies it to North America. (See also II. Nephi 30:12-14) But, North America had no sheep, lions, leopards, or the two snakes (asps and cockatrices) at that time.
Ether 2:2-3 and 5:4 explain that Jared and his family captured the birds, fish, and bees, and gathered seeds with which they populated North America. But American birds and fish are distinctly different from Old World species. Honey bees were first introduced by Europeans. Ether 6:1 claims that Jared and his small family kept alive for 344 days in the aquaria all of the species of fish that now inhabit the Americas.
Ether 9:18 and 19 contains several problems. First, it lists domestic cattle, oxen, and cows as separate species! Second, these did not exist in the Americas at that time. Third, domestic swine did not exist here then. Fourth, Jews would certainly not relish swine as ''useful to man!'' Fifth, horses, asses, and elephants did not exist in the Americas at that time. Prehistoric forms became extinct much earlier, and were not ''useful to man.'' Sixth, ''cureloms'' and ''cumims'' are not identified by Mormon scholars. Yet, it would be most unlikely for such supposedly useful and common domestic animals to go extinct.
There are some serious problems in the description of the behavior related to poisonous snakes, etc. in Ether 9:30-34. First, the notion that snakes increase as a drought increases is contradicted by the fact the reptiles are particularly sensitive to heat and lack of water, and would die off faster than other animals. Second, even with the large population of modern North America, only about twenty people die yearly by snake bite. It is certainly not realistic for Ether to claim that numerous people and animals were exterminated by snakes. Third, it is totally unlike sheep for all of them in the country to flee in one direction. Fourth, it would not be realistic for the sheep to be driven to the south by poisonous snakes as there are much fewer snakes in the north. Fifth, snakes never cooperate with each other in driving animals in any direction. Sixth, it would be impossible for people to have eaten in such few days the countless animals that had been killed by the snakes. Seventh, it is forbidden to Jews to eat animals that have died like that. Eighth, Ether 10:21, etc. tells us that the land was densely covered with people, while Ether 10:19 says that ''the land was covered with animals of the forests.'' Ether 10:12 speaks of raising much grain. All of this simply does not square with the idea of an epidemic of poisonous snakes. People, farming, and numerous predatory animals will not allow snakes to become numerous.
Satyrs (II. Nephi 22:21) and dragons (II. Nephi 22:22; 8:9; and 23:22) are mentioned as literal creatures, not figurative. Chickens (III. Nephi 10:4-6), and dogs (Alma 16:10, Mosiah 12:2, and III. Nephi 7:8) were nonexistent here at that time. In III. Nephi 20:16 and 21:12 lions are described as ''beasts of the forests.'' Contrary to popular opinion and the Book of Mormon, lions do not live in forests or jungles. They live in savannas (few scattered trees). And, lions never inhabited the Americas.
Silk is erroneously mentioned as being produced in the Americas at the time (I. Nephi 13:7; Alma 4:6 and Ether 9:17 and 10:24). But, silkworm moths had not yet been introduced from Asia. Clothes moths are mentioned in III. Nephi 13:19, 20 and 27:32, yet there were no woolen garments for moths to attack as sheep had not yet been introduced. Needless to say, clothes moths had not yet yet been introduced to North America.
II. Nephi 17:15 lists two foods at that time, butter and honey. But Indians had no milk animals or honey bees. Candles are made either of bees' wax, beef tallow, or paraffin so that a reference to candles in III. Nephi 8:21 is unacceptable.
Alma 46:40 specifically attributes ''the cause of disease to...the nature of the climate,'' instead of to filth, poor diet, or microorganisms. Alma 16:1 tells us that the stench of those killed in one battle was so strong that ''the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years,'' ''and their lands remained desolate.'' Action of bacteria, fungi, worms, insects, vultures, etc., would require no more than a few weeks at very most to dispose of these carcasses and their odors—not ''many years!''
III. Nephi 17:7 mentions leprosy in 34 AD, yet the first known case in the Americas was in 1758.
Ether 14:2 specifically says that ''every man kept the hilt of the sword in his right hand,'' and yet a distinct minority of Jews and Indians is left-handed. Alma 57:25 asserts that all in an army of 2,060 received many wounds, yet none died.
The implied reproduction rate in the Book of Mormon is astronomical. The story starts in 600 BC and extends to 421 AD It involves a mere handful of people who supposedly travel from ''the land of Jerusalem'' (sic) to the Promised Land of America. Every four or five years or so there are devastating wars that kill many thousands of people (Alma 28:2, etc.), or as Ether 15:2, says, ''nearly two millions of mighty men'' in addition to their wives and children. For this to be so it would be necessary for each couple to have scores of children, and for them to reach maturity in three or so years throughout the supposed period between 600 BC and 421 AD
The description of the resurrection body in Alma 40:23 is astounding to say the least. It says that nothing shall be lost, not even a hair. In light of the fact that we shed a few score body and head hairs every week, and we ''decommission'' countless blood, skin, and other cells weekly it is unrealistic to assert that all of these lost parts will be returned to us.
Physical and Chemical Problems
Ether 2:20 says that the Lord instructed Jared to make a hole in the top and one ''in the bottom'' of each barge! What was the hole ''in the bottom'' for—to let water and wastes out? Ether 2:23 explains that if windows were put in the barges, the barges would be dashed to pieces (sic).
In describing Messiah's crucifixion III. Nephi 8:20-23 says that the darkness was so great for three days (sic) that the candles and torches could not give off light! Why not?
Alma 24:16 speaks of burying swords in the earth to keep them bright. On the contrary this would speed their rusting.
It is erroneous for a book supposedly written in North America at that time to mention bellows (I. Nephi 17:11), fine steel bow (I. Nephi 16:18), swords (II Nephi 1:18, etc.) scimitars (Alma 2:12), sackcloth (II. Nephi 13:24), carts (II. Nephi 15:18, 28), chariots (Alma 18:12; 20:26; III. Nephi 21:14), numerous large buildings (Ether 10:5, etc.) many highways (Helaman 14:24), cement (Helaman 3:7, 9, 11), forts (Alma 48:8, 9; 51:27; etc.) javelin (Alma 51:34), bushel (III. Nephi 12:15), breastplates (Mosiah 8:10 and Alma 46:13), head plate and armor for the lions (Alma 46:13), compass (Alma 37:38, 44, etc.), spindles and spinning (Alma 37:40; Helaman 6:13), sickles, yoke (I. Nephi 13:5), strong cords (Alma 26:29), trumpet (III. Nephi 13:2), street corners (III. Nephi 13:5), chains (II. Nephi 1:13; 28:19; etc.), hoe (Ether 10:25), harp (II. Nephi 15:12), viol (II. Nephi 15:12), tabret (II. Nephi 15:12), plow (Ether 10:25), fuller's soap (III. Nephi 24:2), barns (III. Nephi 13:26), and candles (III. Nephi 8:21).
The Book of Mormon was supposedly written during the period in question, but there is no evidence that Indians had anything other than simple writing at that time. They wrote no books. It is not appropriate to find references to many official records (Helaman 3:15), jot and title (III. Nephi 12:18), scroll (Mormon 5:23, 9:2), and Alpha and Omega (III. Nephi 9:18).
Other cultural problems include references to mammon (III. Nephi 13:24), lawyers and judges (Alma 10:14, 15; and III. Nephi 6:1), acre (II. Nephi 15:10), ''south-sourtheast direction'' (I. Nephi 16:13), synagogues (III. Nephi 24:2), Gentiles (I. Nephi 13:19), rending of clothes, wearing sackcloth, salt trodden under foot, etc.
The Book of Mormon consistently and frequently refers to the ''heart'' in the sense of soul, yet Indians varied in their terminology from lungs, kidneys, liver, intestines, to heart.
II. Nephi 26:33 divides humanity into ''black and white'' and ''Jew and Gentile''—most unrealistic for the Americas at that time.
The Book of Mormon teaches that Indians originated from Jewish settlers in the Americas that wandered away from the Lord. I. Nephi 12:11 says that as the Jews wandered away in unbelief, ''they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people.'' I. Nephi 13:15 praises future Americans as being ''white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.'' But Palestinian Jews did not have pale skin like the British. II. Nephi 5:21, Jacob 3:3-9, and Mormon 5:15-17 say that God cursed the Indians with a dark skin. II. Nephi 5:23 and Alma 3:6-10 say that anyone who marries an Indian ''shall be cursed with the same cursing.'' If this were true, why do people who are only part Indian not look full Indian?
II. Nephi 30:5-7 predicts that when Indians accept the Mormon Gospel, that they will again become ''a white and delightsome people.'' III. Nephi 2:15 gives supposed examples of this. II. Nephi 13:24 says that punishment from sin shall include ''instead of well set hair, baldness,'' yet baldness is much more common among Caucasians.
Instead of Semitic origin, Indians are distinctly Mongoloid, having straight and black hair, brown eyes, high cheekbones, skin pigmentation occasional Mongoloid blue spot, certain blood traits, etc. Dark skin, instead of being a curse, is a protection against skin cancer. And, Indians are not innately more filthy, loathsome, or ugly than any other people.
Numerous historical and archaeological problems exist. The first editions of the Book of Mormon contained numerous grammatical and spelling errors. There are many contradictions between the Book of Mormon and other Mormon writings. And, the Book of Mormon contradicts the Bible in many places. Lack of space prohibits a listing of examples of the above problems.
It is hoped that this paper will help my Mormon friends and other seekers after truth for as Moroni 10:4 well says:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye should ask God, the eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true, and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
* II. Nephi 5:15,16 is self-contradictory about the presence of minerals
** Ether 15:30-31 says that the beheaded Shiz raised up and struggled for breath.
Article reprinted with permission: Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, Vol 37, No. 2, June 1985.
For a separate writing on the Origins, Characteristics, and Doctrines of Mormonism we refer you to the 1909 text by Dr. McNiece [PDF of McNiece's Chapter 10] or [PDF download of original complete volume from another website, therein see Chapter Ten]
Note: The referenced document gives an account that may be unsettling to some readers. As presented, the Book of Mormon is attributed to a literary work of theistic fiction. The history behind this, the promotion of the text as scriptural, and other aspects of the book clearly define Mormon beliefs in a distinctly different context from what we are often told. If you are a practicing Mormon, you will want to explore the claims to better understand what LDS really stands for. As Scripture states: 1Th 5:21 "Test all things; hold fast what is good."
For additional resources related to Mormonism, its teachings, and informational problems like those documented above, contact:
Ex-Mormons and Christian Alliance, P.O. 530, Orangevale, CA 95662
Also, a web page with Ex-Mormon Testimony and links to other resources.