Book of Mormon/Archaeology/Smithsonian statement

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    Smithsonian Statement about using the Book of Mormon for archaeology purposes

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Questions and Answers

Question: Does the Smithsonian Institution send out a letter regarding the use of the Book of Mormon as a guide for archaeological research?

In response to inquiries from Mormons and non-Mormons, the Smithsonian Institution sends out a standard letter denying that they use the Book of Mormon as a guide for archaeological research

The Smithsonian Institution sends a form letter to those who inquire about their use of the Book of Mormon for archaeological purposes. The National Geographic Society has a similar letter. The content of the letter has changed over the years; the current version (revised 1998) reads:

Your inquiry of February 7 concerning the Smithsonian Institution's alleged use of the Book of Mormon as a scientific guide has been received in this office for response.

The Book of Mormon is a religious document and not a scientific guide. The Smithsonian Institution has never used it in archaeological research, and any information that you have received to the contrary is incorrect.

Your interest in the Smithsonian Institution is appreciated.

The letter is correct: The Book of Mormon is a religious document and not a scientific guide

Taken at face value, the letter is correct: The Book of Mormon is a religious document and not a scientific guide. Its purpose is "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations" (Title Page), not to give a history of all (or even most) ancient Americans.

Previous editions of the letter contained a detailed list of alleged "problems" with the Book of Mormon

A previous edition of the letter contained a detailed list of alleged "problems" with the Book of Mormon. Critics of the Church use this older letter as proof that the Book of Mormon has no archaeological support and is therefore false. One critic even claims that "generations of youth" in the Church have been taught that the Smithsonian uses the Book of Mormon to guide their research.

John Sorenson, an LDS anthropologist, wrote a detailed critique and encouraged the Smithsonian to update their letter to reflect the latest scientific evidence:

For many years, the Smithsonian Institution has given out a routine response to questions posed to them about their view and relation between the Book of Mormon and scientific studies of ancient American civilizations. Statements in their handout pointed out what somebody at the Institutions claimed were contradictions between the text of the scriptures and what scientists claim about New World Cultures.

In 1982 John Sorenson wrote a detailed critique of the Smithsonian piece that was published by FARMS. It pointed out errors of fact and logic in the statement. He revised that in 1995 and included the recommendation that the Smithsonian Institution completely modify their statement to bring it up-to-date scientifically. FARMS officers later conferred with a Smithsonian representative who indicated a willingness to make changes. More recently members of Congress have questioned the Institution about the inappropriateness of a government agency taking a stand regarding a religious book. - Anonymous, "Smithsonian Statement on the Book of Mormon Revisited," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7/1 (1998): 77–77. off-site wiki

While archaeology could be useful in determining where the events of the Book of Mormon took place, the Book of Mormon does not contain the sort of historical detail that would make it useful for non-Mormon archaeologists.

That the Smithsonian does not use the Book of Mormon in its research says nothing about the book's divinity and truthfulness.

For further details, see: John L. Sorenson, "A New Evaluation of the Smithsonian Institution "Statement regarding the Book of Mormon," FARMS (1995).

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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