One-Minute Answers by Stephen R. Gibson

Contents of One-Minute Answers

Did the Sniithsonian Refute The Book of Mormon?

Question: If the Book of Mormon is true, why does the Smithsonian Institute put out letters stating that there is no connection between the Book of Mormon and Central and South American archaeology?

Archaeological evidence or the lack thereof in no way affects the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. If someone's testimony of the Book of Mormon is dependent on archaeological digs, that person had better get a more profound spiritual confirmation.

Actually, the Smithsonian Institute is not giving support to anti-Mormons. The intent of their letter obviously is to back out of the debate, not to support one side's position. Their standard letter simply states that the Smithsonian staff knows of no supporting archaeological evidence for the truthfulness of the book. While the standard letter has varied over the years, John L. Sorenson has evaluated the 1979 version of the letter from the Institute. He has made the following points:

  1. The Smithsonian institute claims to have no staff memhers that are qualified to speak about the Book of Mormon.
  2. While the Smithsonian scientists are qualified to discuss archaeology, they do not claim to know everything there is to know about New World archaeology.
  3. Equally well-qualified, non-Smithsonian (and also non-Mormon) scientists have sharply disagreed with the Smithsonian scientists on questions which are pertinent to Book of Mormon archaeology and anthropology.
  4. At least one of the form-letter's statements about New World archaeology, one which detractors use against the Book of Mormon, has been contradicted by one of the Smithsonian's own scientists
  5. Several of the materials that the Smithsonian letter says were not used in pre-Columbian America were, in fact, in use by the Indians of Mexico, according to reports by the first Spaniards to come to the American continent.
In Joseph Smith's day there was no archaeological evidence for many culture items mentioned in the Book of Mormon, but in the last 30 to 50 years evidence has been found for those items. At the time the Book of Mormon was published and for up to 100 years afterwards, scholars scoffed at the mention of glass, iron, and steel dating back two thousand years before Christ. However, archaeologists, anthropologists, and other scientists no longer argue the credibility of such claims in the Book of Mormon as more and more significant evidence comes to light.

For example, the December, 1983 issue of Science 83 magazine announced the discovery of pre-Columbian barley in the New World. This is one more example of items mentioned in the Book of Mormon, the pre-Columbian use of which was unknown in Joseph Smith's day.

While archaeology can establish the existence of a civilization, the lack of archaeological evidence doesn't prove a civilization didn't exist. In 1975 the civilization of Ebla was discovered, though prior to this time no one could produce an artifact associated with the Ebla people. It is examples like these which demonstrate the utter nonsense of statements such as, "Archaeology has proved the existence of all great civilizations" (The Godmakers film).

Archaeologists in the Americas and around the world continually find evidence that they cannot piece together into a conclusive picture. Evidence collected in the Americas is likewise too scattered to either prove or disprove that Nephites once lived on this continent or that the American Indians were once called Lamanites.

It would be interesting if the Smithsonian wrote a letter regarding archaeological proof of the Bible.

For additional information see:
Nibley, Since Cumorah. 1967).
Nibley, Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites.
Sorenson, "An Evaluation of the Smithsonian Institutions." "Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon," Preliminary Report, Foundation for Ancient Research & Mormon Studies.