Throughout my many travels I'm frequently asked by persons who don't know much about Mormons, Are Mormons Christians? With a smile I always give the same answer, "Yes we are, very much so."

Mormons quite often are referred to as Latter-Day Saint Christians due to the official name of the church which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But it's more than just a name, Latter-Day Saints strive daily to live the life of Christ and abide by his teachings and those of his apostles.

The Bible tells us the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (Acts 11:26) The word Christian means “a follower of Christ" but the word disciple means “student” or “pupil.” Hence a true Christian is not someone who simply says they believe in Christ but rather someone who ardently follows and studies the Savior their entire lives. Mormons do exactly that, therefore we are very much Christian in the truest sense of the word.

Monday, December 4, 2017

'Do the heavens declare the glory of God?'

(by Daniel Peterson 10-6-17)

A few weeks ago, a certain Christian conspiracy theorist gained notoriety with his prediction that the end of the world as we know it would commence on Sept. 23, when Earth experiences the disruptive pass-by of a mysterious (and probably non-existent) object called “Nibiru” or “Planet X.” He had, he said, derived his prediction by “merging” astronomy and the Bible through “numerology.” (Doomsday has since been corrected to Oct. 21.)

Some religious skeptics used the occasion to mock Christianity as plainly incompatible with reason and science. One wonders, though, why they chose to focus on an eccentric preacher who received no significant support from any portion of world Christianity rather than, say, on Owen Gingerich.

Gingerich, now a professor emeritus of astronomy and of the history of science at Harvard and senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, is also a devout Christian — and the author of such books as “God’s Universe” (2006) and “God’s Planet” (2014). Arguably, he illustrates the relationship between Christianity and astronomy at least as well as a man who seems to have ignored Mark 13:32: “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”

A sermon that Gingerich delivered some time ago in Tennessee — titled “Do the Heavens Declare the Glory of God?” and online at — provides a good introduction to his religious reflections on astronomical science.

He leaves his audience in no suspense. He tells them upfront that the bookplate that he uses for his personal library includes the motto “Coeli enarrant gloriam Dei” (“The heavens are telling the glory of God”), as Psalm 19:1 is translated in Joseph Haydn’s great 1797-1798 oratorio “Creation.” But the substance of his sermon remains interesting nevertheless, and well worth reading.

He freely grants that the universe as we know it is vastly larger and older than that of the Psalmist, so that, in a sense, when we wonder “Do the heavens declare the glory of God?” we’re asking a very different question than biblical peoples would have.

“We are no longer in ecstasy about the beauty of creation,” says Gingerich, “but we are instead crushed down by our insignificance in the vastness of the universe.” Instead of Psalm 19:1, we turn to Psalm 8:4: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” “Where,” Gingerich asks, “do we fit in as little specks in such an immense and ancient universe?”

He immediately responds with his conviction that our ability to reason about such matters — of all the millions of species that have existed on Earth, ours is the only one, so far as we’re aware, that raises these questions — suggests our connection with a greater, cosmic reason. And, ultimately, he will speak of God’s Son entering our world.

In the meantime, though, he points to a famous discovery involving the great astronomer/astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle (died 2001). I won’t try here to explain Hoyle’s theory of stellar nucleosynthesis nor, more specifically, his discovery regarding the resonance of carbon. (Read the sermon!) But it was enough, apparently, to shake Hoyle’s very vocal and public atheism.

Later, Hoyle wrote about his discovery in the CalTech alumni magazine (and Gingerich quotes in “Do the Heavens Declare the Glory of God?”):

“Would you not say to yourself, ‘Some supercalculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule.’ Of course you would. … A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”

Elsewhere, when someone suggested to him that the entire universe might be the product of thought, Hoyle responded thus: “I have to say that that is also my personal opinion, but I can’t back it up by too much of precise argument. There are very many aspects of the universe where you either have to say there have been monstrous coincidences, which there might have been, or, alternatively, there is a purposive scenario to which the universe conforms.”

Gingerich, by contrast, is entirely willing to declare that the universe does indeed seem to have been designed for life.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Introducing 'An Introduction to the Book of Abraham'

(by Daniel Peterson 11-30-17)

Many papyri from ancient Egypt have been recovered and, by and large, only a handful of specialists pay much attention to them. In June 1835, a small collection of such papyri reached the American frontier town of Kirtland, Ohio. That would have remained merely a slightly surprising historical footnote had they not caught the attention of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was living there at the time.

The Book of Abraham has been controversial in some quarters since it was canonized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1880, and it has long been a favorite target of critics. While many believers (very much including myself) esteem it highly for the doctrinal richness of its short text — for, among other things, its invaluable disclosures about the pre-existence of all humanity with God — detractors of Joseph Smith have often sought to depict the Book of Abraham as the “smoking gun,” the decisive and irrefutable evidence that demonstrates his prophetic claims false, and, specifically, discredits his claim to have had revelatory access to ancient documents. If the Book of Abraham falls, some have argued, so too must the Book of Mormon, the keystone of Latter-day Saint faith.
I myself have occasionally waded into the debate. In January 1994, for example, I published an article in the Ensign magazine under the title “News from Antiquity.” It was subtitled “Evidence supporting the book of Abraham continues to turn up in a wide variety of sources.” Later, with John Gee and William Hamblin, I published a 2005 article bearing the title “And I Saw the Stars — The Book of Abraham and Ancient Geocentric Astronomy,” available online at I stand by both of these articles still today.

But nobody has devoted more time, expertise and effort over the past quarter of a century to the study of the Book of Abraham in all its aspects than the aforementioned John Gee. Trained in ancient studies at Brigham Young University and Berkeley and equipped with a doctorate in Egyptology from Yale, he holds the William "Bill" Gay Research Chair at BYU. From that position, he has contributed prolifically to international Egyptological journals and conferences while also researching the 19th-century background story to our English Book of Abraham and keeping an eye on the often-intense debates concerning it.

In 2000, Gee published a short “Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri,” offering general readers what was, nearly 18 years ago, an up-to-date primer on many of the basic issues.

Now, recently returned from a year-long research leave in Heidelberg, Germany, Gee has issued “An Introduction to the Book of Abraham” (Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2017). It replaces the earlier “Guide” — Gee describes this new book as having been “rewritten … from the ground up” — and provides a superb overview of the best information currently available. Moreover, compared to the earlier volume, it considerably expands the range of subjects covered. In calm, lucid, irenic and accessible style, Gee’s new book methodically leads readers to the basic facts that they need to know — and guides them through the arguments with which they may well be confronted.

“The goal with the ‘Introduction to the Book of Abraham,’” he explains, “is to make reliable information about the Book of Abraham accessible to the general reader. Although based on extensive academic research, it is not primarily an academic work.”

The book is divided into 17 concise and clearly written chapters, covering such topics as “Joseph Smith and the Papyri,” “The Contents of the Book of Abraham,” “The Ancient Owners of the Papyri,” “The Egyptian View of Abraham,” “The Contents of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” “The Relationship of the Book of Abraham Text to the Papyri,” “Historical Authenticity,” “Abrahamic Astronomy,” and “The Facsimiles.” In the last chapter, Gee responds to a number of “Frequently Asked Questions.”

“An Introduction to the Book of Abraham” engages virtually every significant issue raised by and connected with this important part of the Pearl of Great Price. Further, it’s elegantly (and often usefully) illustrated, and, beyond footnoted references, each chapter concludes with an annotated guide to further reading — citing not only relevant Latter-day Saint literature and some of Gee’s own academic writing in non-Mormon publications but several works by non-LDS scholars.
This is an admirable book. For any who are interested in deepening their knowledge about the historical background of the Book of Abraham, Gee’s new “Introduction” is indispensable.