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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Free Will in Heaven

One issue frequently brought up against Christianity is that if there is a God, and Heaven is what we understand it to be, then the idea starts to not make much sense. If we cannot commit sin in Heaven, then what's the point of this life? If He's going to take away our free will in the end, then why bother creating us with it in the first place? 

I don't understand why this is an issue at all. In real life we have laws that must be followed or we get fined, imprisoned, or possibly put to death. Does this have any effect on our free will? If there is a penalty for murdering someone, then does that mean I cannot possibly murder someone? I am just as capable of murder as I would be if it were legal. The fact that there are consequences for our actions does not mean we are not free to choose those actions.

In other words, it is possible to sin in Heaven. A big part of the reason we're here in the first place is so that we can learn to live a life in accordance with the gospel. So that we can learn to choose not to sin. It's the reason some people won't be able to enter into Heaven, because they'd just screw it all up. It's why it's important to become a disciple rather than simply do what disciples do.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mormon's Heavy Metal

One criticism of the Book of Mormon is that the plates that Joseph Smith found would have been way too heavy. The argument is described here.

The gentleman in this video actually makes some valid points. Joseph Smith says, "engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold, each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long and not quite so thick as common tin.... The volume was something near six inches in thickness...."(Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons, v3:9, March 1, 1842, 707.)

If the plates were the indicated size, represented by his replica, then it would have been much too heavy for Joseph to carry. Many people don't realize this, but gold is actually denser than lead, and therefore heavier. Many critics of the Book of Mormon claim that the plates would have had to weigh a little over 200 lbs., and that's actually pretty accurate. A solid gold block of 288 cubic in. would weigh just over 200 lbs.

However, William Smith, a brother of the Prophet who had handled and hefted the plates in a pillow-case, claimed on several occasions that the set of plates weighed about sixty pounds, as did Willard Chase, while Martin Harris said that they weighed forty to fifty pounds.

So how do we answer this criticism? The math is legitimate. The science is sound. Solid gold would weigh much more than Joseph Smith claimed.

The problem is that the plates were not solid gold.

First of all, it was not solid. There is a difference between a solid block and a stack of plates, especially engraved plates. In his article, “Were the Golden Plates made of Tumbaga?”, Read H. Putnam says,
"A solid gold block of totaling 288 cubic inches would weigh a little over 200 pounds.... But the plates would weigh much less than a solid block of the same metal. The unevenness left by the hammering and air spaces between the separate plates would reduce the weight to probably less than 50 percent of the solid block."
But in addition to not being solid, the plates were also not gold, though they probably had gold in them. Joseph Smith never says that the plates are made of pure gold. He merely says that they "had the appearance of gold." This may sound like word twisting, but this interpretation is supported by the statments of others close to Joseph.

For example, William Smith, Joseph's brother, said that he understood the plates to be "a mixture of gold and copper". Other early church leaders gave other guesses regarding the composition of the plates. So while we may not know what exactly the plates were, and early church leaders could only guess, we do know that it is clearly not solid gold.

Heather Lechtman, in a 1984 article in Scientific America called "Pre-Columbian Surface Metallurgy", addressed the recent discovery of several large metal objects in South America. Most of these objects were made out of hammered sheet copper. When these copper sheets were first unearthed they were covered with a green corrosion. Once the corrosion was removed, however, they discovered that the copper had originally been covered with a thin layer of silver or gold so that these sheets “appeared to be made entirely out of those precious metals....”

Lechtman explains that the most important alloy discovered at these South American sites was a mixture of copper and gold known as “tumbaga.” When copper and gold (the only two colored metals known to man) are melted together they mix, and stay mixed after they cool and solidify. This alloy was known not only in South America, but in Mesoamerica as well.

Example of Tumbaga

 Tumbaga ranged from 97 percent gold to 97 percent copper with traces of up to 18 percent of other metals, impurities, or silver. Once the gold finish was applied to the tumbaga it would appear to be made of solid gold. Putnam explains that tumbaga “the magic metal, can be cast, drawn, hammered, gilded, soldered, welded, plated, hardened, annealed, polished, engraved, embossed, and inlaid.” Nevertheless, tumbaga will destroy itself if it is not stored properly. It is therefore interesting to note that the Book of Mormon plates were laid atop two stones which lay across the bottom of the stone box so that the plates would not be exposed to water or dirt.

 Too little gold in the Book of Mormon plates would have made them brittle, and too much gold would have made them too heavy as well as increasing the danger of distortion during engraving. Thus, according to Putnam’s calculations, the Book of Mormon plates (which were probably tumbaga) were between 8 and 12 carat gold and thus would have weighed between 53 and 86 pounds. To the eye, however, the tumbaga plates would have had the appearance of pure gold.

 The research of Robert F. Smith reveals that “if the plates were made of the tumbaga alloy, other details fit into place. Take the color of the plates: The plates are consistently described as ‘gold’ and ‘golden.’ When tumbaga (which is red) is treated with any simple acid (citric acid will do), the copper in the alloy is removed from its surface leaving a brilliant .0006 inch twenty-three karat gilt coating. Indeed, this process was used in ancient America. Plus, this surface covering is much easier to engrave. Likewise, pure gold would be too soft to make useful plates. But tumbaga is remarkably tough and resilient....”

So not only was the account of Joseph Smith plausible after all, but it was actually startlingly accurate, considering recent archaeological discoveries.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Einstein's God

The sometimes vague and ambiguous writings and speech of Albert Einstein have lead many to wonder whether or not he was an atheist. He is often quoted as saying,

 "I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it." 

 To be honest, this quote is not taken out of context, but just because he did not believe in a personal God does not mean that he does not believe in God. He also said,

 "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings." 

 Of the way his quotes are typically used to portray him as an atheist, he had this to say,

 "In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views." The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton University, page 214 

 An example of this is a quote by Richard Dawkins,

 "Einstein sometimes invoked the name of God (and he is not the only atheistic scientist to do so), inviting misunderstanding by supernaturalists eager to misunderstand and claim so illustrious a thinker as their own." The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins 

 This is exactly what bothered Albert Einstein. Dawkins either purposefully misleads readers or he has not done his homework. It is fairly common knowledge in academia that Einstein followed Spinoza's conception of God, but he did believe in a God. In fairness, he did not believe in the personal God of Christianity. In fact, he was rather critical of the idea, but he did believe in an intelligent force behind the universe. He was not an atheist.

 A few more quotes from Albert Einstein about God.

 "I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangements of the books, but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations." 

 "My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind." 
 "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." 
 "When the solution is simple, God is answering." 
 "God does not play dice with the universe."  
 "God is subtle but he is not malicious."
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