CES Reply: The Incredible Shrinking Anachronisms

This is a serialization of “A Faithful Reply to the CES Letter from a Former CES Employee.”  You can download the whole PDF here, and you can also participate in the Latter-day Saint Survey Project by joining or creating one of the Canonizer camps in the links at the bottom of this post.

This is a line-by-line response to Jeremy Runnells’s October 2017 iteration of the CES Letter. Jeremy’s original text appears in green, the color of life. My response text appears in black, the color of darkness.

4. Anachronisms: Horses, cattle, oxen, sheep, swine, goats, elephants, wheels, chariots, wheat, silk, steel, and iron did not exist in pre-Columbian America during Book of Mormon times. Why are these things mentioned in the Book of Mormon as being made available in the Americas between 2200 BC – 421 AD?

Unofficial apologists claim victories in some of these items but closer inspection reveals significant problems. It has been documented that apologists have manipulated wording so that steel is not steel, sheep become never-domesticated bighorn sheep, horses become tapirs, etc.


The second paragraph of your question is an acknowledgment that there are fewer Book of Mormon anachronisms now than in the past, which is demonstrably true. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Frauds always look clumsier over time, while precisely the opposite has happened with the Book of Mormon.


You added that second paragraph since the last time I responded, and while it includes a reference to tapirs, I’m glad it doesn’t refer to BYU Professor Daniel Peterson as “Tapir Dan,” which seems to be the preferred epithet you use when you’re not addressing Dr. Peterson as “Danny Boy.” For someone who bristles at even the hint of insults and ad hominem attacks, you often seem quite comfortable in slinging them at those with whom you disagree.

Regardless, Paragraph #2 here strikes me as an admission of the weakness of your argument. Because even in the two years since the first version of this reply, evidence has come forward that suggests perhaps these things are not as anachronistic as you claim them to be.

Just this year, carbon dating in Mexico uncovered new evidence for (non-tapir) horses in America at the time of the Nephites. LiDAR technology has uncovered astonishing evidence of massive ancient cities in Guatamala, the area where most believing scholars argue that the Book of Mormon took place. Researchers now insist that these people were far more technologically advanced than previously assumed, which means that many more discoveries likely await.

From my perspective, the value of the LiDAR data cannot be overstated. Modern scientific descriptions of “the ubiquity of defensive walls, ramparts, terraces, and fortresses” almost sound like they were lifted right out of the Book of Alma. LiDAR also has found compelling evidence of animal domestication that could make many more of your charges against Book of Mormon anachronisms obsolete. Of course, it’s impossible to predict the future.

What’s remarkable, however, is that the Book of Mormon, as your question’s second paragraph concedes, is actually less anachronistic than it was when you first wrote your letter.

It’s not supposed to work that way.

With the passage of time, frauds look increasingly obvious, and more and more anachronisms pile up. With the Book of Mormon, time has reduced the anachronisms rather than added to them. Long after Joseph Smith and his generation had passed into history, scholars discovered ancient poetic forms and authentic Hebrew and Egyptian names in the Book of Mormon text, and they’ve even identified specific locations along Lehi’s trail. Nahom is a significant problem, indeed, but it’s a problem for you, not the “unofficial apologists.”

“And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.”
- 1 Nephi 16:34. This 

is an altar at Nahom, a burial site discovered after Joseph Smith’s death, that is exactly where the Book of Mormon said it would be. A significant problem for unofficial church critics.

My late father tested the waters of unofficial apologetics when he wrote a book a few years ago titled Leap of Faith: Confronting the Origins of the Book of Mormon, which was published by Deseret Book. It offers a unique perspective I haven’t found from any other source, as it compares and contrasts the Book of Mormon with his firsthand accounts of modern frauds he encountered while working for billionaire Howard Hughes way back in the day.

Dad was the head of PR for Howard Hughes for several years until Hughes died, leaving no will behind. Shortly thereafter, a man named Melvin Dummar plopped a forged Hughes will onto the front desk of the Church Office Building. It left 1/14th of Hughes’s estate to Dummar, a Utah gas station attendant, because Dummar had supposedly picked Hughes up when he was hitchhiking in Las Vegas. (This became the plot of the Oscar-winning movie Melvin and Howard.) A lot of people were persuaded at the time that the will was genuine, but two glaring anachronisms doomed Dummar’s dreams of inherited wealth.

From Leap of Faith, pages 27-28:

The “will” contained many references to things considered known items of Hughes lore. Two examples:

It named Noah Dietrich as executor of Hughes estate and directed that the “Spruce Goose,” Hughes most famous airplane, be given to the City of Long Beach. 

Dietrich had been Hughes’ Chief Executive for many years and the plane had been housed in a Long Beach hanger for over three decades, so, for many reporters, these two provisions seemed very logical and demonstrated that Hughes had, in fact, written the will. Their stories treated it as genuine. 

For those of us who worked for the Hughes companies and knew his history, however, either one of these stipulations demonstrated conclusively that Hughes had not written the will. He and Dietrich had a serious falling out, and Dietrich was fired in a bitter parting. He would have been the last man Hughes would have named to handle his estate. 

As for the airplane, neither Hughes nor anyone close to him ever called it the Spruce Goose. The title had been made up by the press because the plane was made almost entirely of wood (metal materials were scarce in the Second World War) and Hughes hated the name, considering it a trivializing insult to a serious effort. He would never have written a will referring to the plane as anything but the Flying Boat or its formal designation, the HK-1.

These were the biggest mistakes Dummar made, but they were not the only ones. As time passed, the glaring errors in the fraud were transparently obvious. But whereas the Dummar Will is typical of forgeries, the Book of Mormon is anything but.

From Leap of Faith, page 216:

Picture a ledger sheet with the arguments of believers on the right side and of the critics on the left. Label it 1830.

In 1830, all the external evidence was on the left side of the ledger, in favor of the critics. Writing on metal plates? Ridiculous; an obvious invention. Large cities in America, inhabited by the ancestors of the Indians? Nonsense; the Indians are nomadic tribesmen who live in tents…

Think of the same ledger sheet, labeled 2009. Metal plates with writing on them, hidden in the ground for later generations to find? Joseph was right on that one; move it from the left side of the ledger to the right, as a mark in the book’s favor. Big cities among the Indians? Whether they were Nephite cities or not, there were clearly big cities with large populations in Meso-America before Columbus… Add to those items the others we have covered in the previous chapters that have come to light in just the last half century, and it is clear that the passage of time has put a good many new items on the right side of the ledger (in favor of the book) and removed some of the old ones on the left (against it).

Such a trend is significant, because truth is the daughter of time. With most forgeries, the farther you get from its date of production, the clumsier it looks. In the case of the Book of Mormon, the farther we get from the date of its production, the better it looks.

Since 2009, when that book was published, there have been more things that have been added to the right side of the ledger. And I’d be willing to bet there will be many more, as well as a decreasing number of anachronisms and an increasing number of “significant problems” for you.

Tomorrow, we discuss Book of Mormon archaeology. In the meantime, take a look at the Canonizer camps below – I’ve created a “Fewer Anachronisms” camp that reflects the position outlined in this post. If you think I’m completely wrong, you can join a camp that says so – or create one of your own!